Autumn 2012 update

Janice and I didn’t take any long vacations this past summer because of our move this past spring and her employer’s acquisition. We did manage to see our families in Upstate New York in July, and we went to the Marshfield Fair in August and Waltham’s fall festival in September. More recently, we enjoyed a weekend at the South Shire Inn, a nice bed and breakfast in Bennington, Vermont.

Autumn leaves
Fall foliage

Among other things, we visited the Bennington Center for the Arts, the Bennington Museum — which included art by Grandma Moses — and poet Robert Frost’s house. The art galleries, antique shops, and early fall foliage were all good, as were the pubs we tried.

On Saturday, 29 September 2012, Janice and I went into Boston for a Boston Classical Orchestra concert at Faneuil Hall. On the way, we stopped at the book shops in Harvard Square, Cambridge, and got dinner at Quincy Market.

The musical performance itself was very good, with a relatively small but tight group of mostly string instruments and a few winds but no percussion. Conductor and composer Steven Ledbetter was dynamic and friendly. The program consisted of folk dances as interpreted by Bela Bartok and Johannes Brahms, plus some concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and a sinfonia concertante possibly by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

On Sunday, 7 October 2012, Janice and I drove out to the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass., for “A Knight to Remember,” a dinner hosted by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. We hadn’t been to that museum in a few years, and now that I’ve been taking a historical weapons class, it was nice to see the arms and armor exhibits again.

This past weekend, Janice and I went to a quilt show in historic Lexington, Mass. While the town is a bit upscale for my tastes, it does have good restaurants and a different character from postindustrial Waltham.

I’ve still been busy with work and keeping up with various games, which have had some schedule interruptions because of difficulty getting quorum. In addition, I’ve been meaning to post reviews of the new genre television season, current comic books, and more, but they’ll have to wait. We don’t yet have any big Halloween plans.

November is looking even busier, with two genre entertainment conventions, a reunion of college friends in New York City, and Thanksgiving with my in-laws. My thoughts are with ailing relatives and friends, and I hope that the coming holidays aren’t too stressful.

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Rochester, N.Y. visit, Part 2 — fun and games

David I.S. at the Strong Museum of Play
He does everything a spider can!

Please see my previous post for the first part of my belated visit to longtime friend David I.S. in Rochester, New York. We started Sunday, 10 July 2011, strongly with cheddar melts and turkey bacon. I met some cool hipsters at Park Avenue Comics and found a few more back issues in the disorganized but full stacks at Comics Etc. I’m impressed that a small metropolitan area with only 1 million residents can support so many comic shops.

Comics Etc. also had more tabletop gaming books than Millennium Games, but not as many comics as Comic Book Heaven, which reminds me fondly of Hole in the Wall Books in Falls Church, Va. In general, I collect DC’s superhero comics, and Dave tends to like independent and horror titles, but we’ve come to appreciate numerous genres and art styles. I’m glad to have stoked his and his friend Amit T.‘s interest in the medium.

We then went to the Strong National Museum of Play, which I’d compare favorably with Boston’s Children’s Museum and the Museum of Science. It was a walk down memory lane, with old board and video games, antique doll collections, and a superhero exhibit. Fortunately, the museum wasn’t too crowded on a late Sunday afternoon.

The famous Dinosaur Barbeque didn’t disappoint us for a late lunch/early dinner (“linner”). Dave and I ate chicken wings, pulled pork, mojito chicken, plus side dishes. While that may not have been the healthiest of meals, I had tried vegan jerky earlier in the day. It wasn’t bad, and partly relieved my guilt at eating intelligent, delicious animals.

After that, we walked to the Thomson Reuters and art deco Times Square buildings, as well as varied bridges. The Rochester Spillway and abandoned subway in the heart of the city are unique landmarks. We skirted the Genesee Valley Park and the University of Rochester campus before visiting the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

Dave recently got tenure at the School of Interactive Games and Media in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. He took me to his office and the cool Game Design Development Lab. While I’ve only dabbled in computer and console games over the past 30 years, I respect the creativity and hard work that goes into them. As with wargames, collectible card games, and board games, I still prefer my weekly pen-and-paper role-playing games.

That night, we created comic book dividers and talked about music and health. The next morning, I drove back to Massachusetts. This time, the lack of air conditioning was more apparent when I sat in traffic as the temperature reached the 90s Fahrenheit. I stopped at my sister-in-law Shelly’s house in Utica, N.Y., on the way for lunch and to spend a little time with her husband Melvin and children Laura and David.

Since then, I’ve been busy with work and trying to catch up on recorded genre TV and phone calls from friends before my next trip!

Rochester, N.Y., visit — food, falls, and funnies!

Dave and Gene, July 2011
Near Ontario Beach

This past week has been even busier than usual. It started with the Independence Day and 300th anniversary events in Needham, Massachusetts, continued through various meetings at work, and included a Pathfinder: “Holy Steeltelecom fantasy game.

On Friday, 8 July 2011, I drove to Rochester, New York, to visit college chum David I.S. On the way west, I realized that the air conditioner in my car still isn’t working. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t too bad, and traffic was light. Dave and I stocked up at Wegman’s and Beers of the World before returning to his current apartment to grill steak and chicken for dinner.

As usual when we get together, we stayed up late into the night talking about family, relationships, work, housing, and our circles of acquaintances. Among the beers we tried were a Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, Rogue Hazlenut Brown Nectar, and Imperial Chocolate Stout. The dark brews went well with the dry-rubbed beef. We also ate vegetable and fruit salads, kamut noodles, and chocolate frozen goat’s milk, among other things.

After sleeping in the next morning, Dave drove me to several spots along the Genesee River Trail. We didn’t have the time (or I the likely endurance) to rent a bicycle or fully explore them. I saw the strange megaliths near Lower Falls, the Fast Ferry pier and Ontario Beach, and Maplewood Gardens. Dave and I did a mix of “urban hiking,” viewing of bike trails, and strolling to take in the sights.

Rochester has poorer, African-American neighborhoods interspersed with more affluent, mostly Caucasian ones. I’m glad that Dave is aware of but willing to cross racial and economic divisions. I’ve said before that the Rust Belt isn’t confined to the Midwest — it begins in Worcester, Mass., and ends in Iowa or beyond.

We had a tasty lunch at Cheeburger, Cheeburger and visited a few comic book and game shops, including the small but well-organized All Heroes Comics, the friendly suppliers at Empire Comics, and the range and depth of the collections at Comic Book Heaven (CBH). In addition to meeting Dave’s local friends Amit T. & Krysta B., CBH proprietor Dan showed us the amazing archives in his old building, and we all hope to help his business.

Dave also took me to Millennium Games, which had a decent selection of role-playing games, if not as well-stocked as the best shops I’m familiar with in downstate New York, Northern Virginia, or eastern Massachusetts. We passed on local landmark Nick Tahou’s “garbage plate” for a simpler dinner at classic Jay’s Diner. That night, Dave enjoyed Superman/Shazam: the Return of Black Adam, especially the grindhouse Spectre short and the western/horror Jonah Hex one.

Coming soon: Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

BBQ and books in New York City

At Madison Square Park
Near the Empire State Building

To continue my report of David I.S., Thomas K.Y.’s, and my latest visit to Manhattan, on Sunday, 12 June 2011, host Corbin A.Y. got us a classic breakfast at East Side Bagel & Appetizing. After saying goodbye to Andria K.Y. and Maia Y. for the morning, we again headed downtown.

We met Thomas at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in Madison Square Park. (His host Stuart C.G. also rejoined us later.) While mostly college friends had joined us the day before, this time, the “Westchester crew” arrived — Damon F.P., Carlo R., and Ron J.K. Unfortunately, fellow Stepinac alumnus Steve M. was unable to come down from Connecticut because of a train fatality. Fellow Binghamtonians Dexter V.H. and Steve A.L. also eventually joined us.

Dave was pleased to find Dinosaur Bar-B-Que represented, and I enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches, sausage, and beer. The guys, some of whom hadn’t seen one another in years, caught up on relationships, jobs, and computer talk as we chowed down. It’s hard to believe that we’ve all been friends for 25 years or more!

Rather than waddle to the New York Expo or “Figment NYC” for even more food, Corbin graciously took us to his and Andria’s current offices, where we were able to lounge and talk without difficulty. As with “herding cats” the day before, I learned the value of including a private space for hanging out in the agenda for such visits. Who knows — next time, I might even run a one-shot game!

We then walked to the Strand Bookstore, one of the biggest independent brick-and-mortar booksellers left. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as much time in the stacks as I had hoped, because I had to get Carlo (who had met us on both days) to a restroom after he became ill from something he had eaten. Spicy or fatty food, undercooked meat, and overeating and fatigue are hazards no matter where one travels.

Carlo eventually got his second wind, and we “urban hiked” to more retailers, including Cosmic Comics, which had lots of back issues, and the well-organized Time Machine. Dave didn’t find the obscure titles he sought, but Carlo learned about recent events in the DC and Marvel universes. Both retailers had good indie selections.

Since Carlo and Damon were tiring out, we stopped at a Pinkberry for yogurt snacks rather than press on to Book-Off, Metropolis Collectibles, Midtown Comics, or St. Mark’s Comics. So much to see, so little time! As I noted previously, I should block out time for roaming separately from group gatherings.

As we gradually disbanded, Dave, Thomas, and I found ourselves back on the Upper East Side. We stopped by Corb & Andria’s place and then met Stuart and his sons Sammy and Benji. We first tried to get dinner at Flex Mussels, but that restaurant was full, and we didn’t have a reservation. Fortunately, our second choice, Ithaka, had traditional Greek food. Dave and Thomas lived in Ithaca, N.Y., when they taught at Cornell University.

On Monday, June 13, Corbin escorted Dave and me to Penn Station, where we departed for Albany and Boston, respectively. On the way back, I began reading the fantasy mystery The City and the City, which Janice had read. Thomas planned to grab another dinner with Stuart before catching a red-eye train back north early Tuesday.

Since then, I’ve been busy with my second annual review at work, turnover in my department, and getting over a bad cold that Ron, a co-worker, and I all caught earlier this week. Among other things, I also watched the recorded half-season finale of Doctor Who, which I liked, despite a spotty season.

This coming weekend is Free RPG Day, as well as the opening of Green Lantern (although this Muppet trailer is more amusing). My Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Landstelecom fantasy game and FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures: “Vortexspace opera will also resume for a few sessions.

Manhattan museums and herding cats

In the Metropolitan Museum of Art
At the Met's temple of Dendur

Friends, I hope you’ve had a good week. I’m taking a break — the first of several this summer — from the usual games and genre entertainment reports as I catch up after a visit to New York City. I enjoyed seeing friends from high school and college through grad school and beyond, but I was also reminded of why it’s important to plan when juggling various groups of people.

On Friday, 10 June 2011, fellow blogger Thomas K.Y. and I met at Boston’s Route 128 train station, where we boarded Amtrak‘s late-morning Northeast Regional. We chatted and read on the way, and we met David I.S. (who came from Rochester, N.Y., by way of Albany) and Stuart C.G. at Penn Station in New York. I normally don’t like being bothered by cell phones, but they were useful here.

Since I grew up in and around the city, I was glad to be surrounded by diverse throngs. We walked to the offices of Corbin A.Y. & Andria K.Y. in downtown Manhattan. They introduced us to their boss Franz J., a dynamic and personable speaker and expert on innovation.

From there, we went to the Museum of Sex, which was interesting and definitely not for the uptight or underage. Some of the exhibits reminded me of Isabella Rossellini’s lighthearted cable television shows Green Porno and Seduce Me. Thomas then left with his host, Stu, whose two sons (Sammy and Benji) were waiting. Their mother Zoe was out of town.

Corb took Dave and me to his new apartment on the Upper East Side, only a few blocks from Stuart’s family. We met Andria and happy Maia and checked out the pool and the impressive vistas from Hampton House‘s roof deck before going to dinner nearby. Dave and I were happy to get New York-style pizza, among other things, at Italian Village.

During each night of my visit, Dave, Corbin, and I would chat on Corb’s balcony and enjoy the views of the city until about midnight. The next morning, we met Thomas, Stuart and his sons, as well as Carlo R., Steve A.L., Brian D.H., and Erik B.L. & Wei T.L. and young Emma L. at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Since the weather was cool and rainy, we went into the museum rather than to the First Avenue Street Fair, the 116th Street Festival, or the Puerto Rican Day Parade. I hadn’t visited the Met in several years, so it was nice to see familiar exhibits, such as the temple of Dendur, musical instruments, arms and armor collection, or the Chinese Garden Court.

On the other hand, the crowded galleries, impatient children, and the fact that the museum wasn’t everyone’s first choice of venue did make it difficult to keep our group together. We had some good conversations about history, politics, and more, but I also found myself “herding cats.”

For lunch, our party of 12 went to Shake Shack, as Brian and others had recommended. I’d compare the small but growing hamburger chain favorably with Five Guys, although scarce seating (the rain didn’t help) led one patron to try to pick an argument with Wei.

As planned, we headed downtown by subway, aided by bicyclists Brian and Steve’s expertise in local geography. Stuart, Sammy, Benji, and Thomas left us at a Barnes & Noble to screen Super 8. They later reported that they enjoyed the retro alien-invasion flick. Wei (like other wives Janice, Andria, Michele, and Zoe) had other commitments. I was flattered that, despite their interest in the movie, Carlo, Corbin, Steve, Brian, and Erik stayed with us.

Dave and I were interested in comparing notes on comic book and game shops, so we visited Jim Hanley’s Universe, which had friendly staff, and the more touristy Forbidden Planet. We also went to the Compleat Strategist, a gaming chain with branches in Falls Church, Virginia, and downtown Boston, both near places I’ve lived. I picked up a few back issues and role-playing supplements.

In hindsight, meeting at the museum was a good idea, especially given the inclement weather. On the other hand, even it was crowded, and only a few people were interested in the various stores, so we could have managed our time a bit better. Next time, I’d try to have a few rendezvous points and less time roaming.

For dinner, we had good Ukrainian cuisine at Veselka (I had seven different pierogi),  followed by rich desserts at Vaneiro’s Pastry Shop in the East Village. Dave and I had been craving ethnic food, and we were not disappointed. Brian helped us get back to Corb’s place, but our weekend was only half over!