Friday, June 09, 2017

Notes from my 1-Day NC Business Trip

Notes from my 1-Day NC Business Trip
Martin Bodek

As usual, I arise before dawn and have a hearty breakfast like it’s a fast day.

Abel picks me up in his Uber three minutes before my lawn sprinklers start. Nice timing.

TSA yells at people. That’s what they do. It’s part of the job description.

Now, I always say, life never happens in a straight line. You can’t just go get gas, get the gas, and come back home. Something always has to happen in between.

George Costanza was wrong. There’s no such thing as a show about nothing. Life is everything.

So, here’s what happens: I want to get through security, so I do what I’m told, and everything will be okay, right?


I thought I had this whole process down to a science, but life, John Lennon said, is what happens when you’re making other plans.

TSA loses my shoe.

That’s right, they lose my shoe. All my belongings go into the scanner nicely, then I go through unimpeded, and everything comes through the other side, except for my left shoe.

Here we go.

First thing I do is tell myself to be patient with every idiot I encounter. That’s the fastest way to get through this.

I also look at the clock. I give myself a deadline, after which, if I don’t have my shoe, I’ll just lose the right one too, buy some slippers in the terminal somewhere, and figure the rest out later. I’ve got a plane to catch.

Now I predict what’s going to happen: anyone I ask for help will pass me off to someone else.

That’s exactly what happens.

This is how it goes for me, as I approach TSA ninny #1:

Me: “Excuse me, hi, I’m sorry to trouble you, but it seems my shoe got stuck in the scanner. I’ve got everything else. Can you help me out, please?”

TSA1: “Ah can’t leave mah post! You goan make me leave mah post? I gotta stay right here! You ask that guy there!”

Me: “Excuse me, good day, I’m sorry to bother you, but it seems my shoe got stuck in the scanner. I’ve got everything else. Can you help me out, please?”

TSA2: “Nuh uh, sorry, I can’t leave. Talk to him there.”

Me: “Hello, sorry to trouble you, good morning. My stuff came through the scanner, but it seems my shoe got stuck there. Can you help me out, please?”

TSA3: “Talk to him over there, the guy checking bags.”

Me: “Good day sir, it looks like my shoe got stuck in the scanner. I have everything else with me. Can you help me out, please?”

TSA4: “Wait.”

So I wait.

And I wait.

We’re now moving in on shoe-chuck time.

And TSA4 gets my shoe, plucking and handing it to me with that metal reacher thingy.

You see what I’m saying?

Now I’m going to just go ahead to my gate, right?


Because I’m in the wrong terminal!

Now how in the world did I go and screw this up???

I didn’t. I check the four different methods of confirmations I received. Two have me in Terminal A, and two in Terminal C. To add to the fun, United has planes in both terminals.

Who designs this stuff?

I locate a shuttle that ferries travelers between terminals.

I anticipate I’ll go have to go through security again, maybe lose my other shoe this time.

I’m spared the agony.

The driver of the shuttle bus drives directly under the wing of an airplane en route to our gate. I have to imagine he did that because he’s a moron.

As I board, I hear someone behind me say, “Is there such a thing as an Unknown Crew Member?”

I look aft, and I see a porter with a “Known Crew Member” ID badge.

Ha! Good question!

I don’t even get to finish the magazine crossword puzzle when we start to land. The trip is that short. Then I think, who would I show off to anyway if I finished it?

I’m rotten egg off the plane. Non-membership has its privileges.

I’m in RDU. I love some small airports. Love them. Staff has time to deal with you if you have issues, and everybody is friendly and nice. I’m not in EWR anymore.

I get my car rental, then I realize work is 3.1 miles from the airport. I can run there in 22 minutes. Next time I Uber. Uber is the best.


Upon leaving for the day, I discover that my 3.1-mile ride results in my gas dropping significantly below the full mark. Seriously now? Someone is cheating.

En route to the car rental place, I encounter no gas stations whatsoever, so I’ll pay the $872.32 fine. Whatever.

I get patted down by security. Always a, ahem, pleasure. The dude begins the encounter by saying, “I have to pat you down.” Nice come-on line. I could have thought of something better.

Cultural faux pas: while waiting at my gate, I overhear the following: “Would passenger please report to gate C15. That’s Charlie 15.”

You do not refer to an Asian as Charlie. You dig? Do I have to do all the sensitivity work around here?

My flight is delayed. Uh oh. The flight after mine is delayed too. Uh oh uh oh. But the flight before mine is delayed too!

“Can I get on that one?”, I ask the nice lady. Yes I can! I love small airports!

As I wait five minutes instead of two hours to board my new plane, they announce that my old plane – and the one after it – are both delayed further. My new, delayed-perfectly plane that’s working out for me? I’m already on, baby. I love it when a plan comes together.

I fly, I land, I Uber, my driver passes wind audibly (not kidding), I’m home in time for dinner, and for kiddy bedtime.

Really, I just replaced my regular train commutes with a couple of planes.

All in a day’s work.

Notes from my 4-Day UK Business Trip

Day 1:

3:45 AM: Rise and shine, slightly later than
Roher Standard Time (vehamayvin yavin) and have an early meal like it’s a fast day.

Bukola is my Uber driver for the morning. He doesn’t smell and gets me there in one piece. That’s worth five stars.

TSA proves, once again, what a fun-loving on-the-same-page bunch they all are. 50% of the scowling, hollering staff yells at you to move forward, whilst the other 50% snarls at you to step back. Which is it? Literally a coin flip, isn’t it? I go wherever the heck I feel going, when I want to. That works out for me this time.

I pass the United customer service desk en route to my plane. Not a fun place to be these days, I presume. Nobody’s being dragged past the desk, so that portends for a good flight, I hope.

My kosher plane meal is nice and cold, as it shouldn’t be.

I watch movies to pass the time:

Allied: ooh, intense, and sexy. I’m talking about Brad Pitt, of course. I met him in person a few years ago (He asked me for directions to The Waldorf); his goodlookingness isn’t normal.

The Magnificent Seven: fun, cool, heartbreaking.

I also beat the whole plane on the in-flight trivia. My last Jeopardy! test was 6/1.

I also continue reading Digital Gold, by Nathaniel Popper because I’m a nascent Bitcoin nerd.

I hate turbulence.

Landed safely in an alternate universe called Heathrow Airport, where everything is described with extra words. Examples: Car park, baggage reclaim, moving stairs. This funny guy is partially right, but the Brits are worse offenders, and I’m available to debate him:

I see a BA Airbus A380 on the tarmac, in motion. The largest plane in the world. It is…leviathan.

I realize I left the US before dawn, and landed in the UK after dusk. Wow. A whole day in flight, technically.

Plan A: If early enough in the evening, grab a shuttle bus to Oxford, then grab a cab from the bus depot to the hotel. Too many hops, and too late at night. Scrap that.

Plan B: Grab an Uber from the airport. I can’t figure out how to navigate out of the premises, and find myself a spot from which to be picked up. Scratch that.

Plan C: Grab a taxi and take it straight to the hotel in Oxford. That’s the option I use. You don’t wanna know how much that cost.

I get to the hotel. My room has no fridge. The hotel doesn’t allow it. Great. However, Hermolis has responsibly delivered half of my 3-day order of food, and the hotel was nice enough to place it in a corner of their fridge, accessible to me. Fantastic. It’ll do for my stay. I grab a quick meal from the pile, then Facetime with my family, and it’s lights out.

Day 2:

5:45 AM, rise and shine, greet the day, and see where I actually am. Weather is cool, but, having, just two days ago, run 42 miles in celebration of my 42nd birthday, I’m not up to running just yet. I didn’t even bring my gear. Feeling how I feel – about 90% - I might come to regret that.

I grab my breakfast from the hotel fridge, then load up my lunch and dinner, and I’m off to work, just about a mile away. I walk. It’s lovely.

Turns out I’m in The Shire. Everything is lush and green and wet and aromatic and small and gorgeous.

I panic when I see several cars that kids are apparently driving. Then, I realize, oops, duh, they drive on the right here.

I pass lots and lots of colleges and lots of coffee shops. Nice to see some non-Starbucks ones for a change.

Looks like the median, mode, and mean age of everyone is 20.

Along the way, I find still water (Mineral water and I are not on speaking terms) in a “cooperative,” an alternate term for “grocery.” Who knew?


I learn that my Plan C option was the right one, as Uber drivers don’t drive from London to Oxford. They stop at the border. Tax reasons or something. Pshew.

Post-work, I’m scheduled for dinner with my mates (Look at me, talking all British already!), but I call ahead to the restaurant to see if I can bring my own meal. Absolutely not. So I have my meal in the office, head over to the restaurant and sip Tiger Beer (All good on, while I watch everyone else scarf away until I’m free at last.

It’s 1.5 miles from here to the hotel. I’ll walk it with my flatmates (Okay, seriously, do I even know what a “flat” is?).

I walk past the bus station from which I’ll alight back to London. Turns out, you can’t book a bus if it’s not the day of. I don’t think this is as efficient as they think this is. Whatevs.

I notice that people don’t walk around here with their head in their smartphones. I’m told the folk here in this little town are conditioned this way because the narrow streets demand vigilance, lest you get whacked with a bus mirror. Perhaps, but I just think these people here are extra chill.

We walk past The Eagle and Child, the bar where Tolkien, Lewis, and Carroll drank together, and received inspirations, and noodled over ideas. I did not know that. That is cool. I knew I was in The Shire!

Back at the hotel, I grab another dinner. It’s been hours since my last one.

I check out what’s on the telly (Seriously, how long have I been here?).

Let’s see:
  •          Talk shows with bearded hosts.
  •          Game shows galore. All of them of the quiz variety.
  •          Law & Order all over the place.
  •          BBC1 through 234. Do they not have unique names for channels here?

I settle on nature documentaries, before I Facetime with the fam again and hit the sack.

Day 3:

The weather is gorgeous again, and cool, and this is the stuff I just love to have in my lungs, and I’m at 95%, and really, I should be running, but I don’t have my gear, and this seems to have been a big mistake. I consider going barefoot, but that might be an even bigger mistake. Live and learn. Next time I visit, I probably will not just have run an ultra a few days prior.

I take a different route to work, get a feel for the neighborhood. Pretty and peaceful no matter where I go.


People like to say “X, y, zed” and “A to zed” a lot here.

The night is young, but no good movies are playing in downtown Oxford proper, and no good shows to see.

I pass The Phoenix House, and according to the posters, Antony & Cleopatra is playing tonight! Ooh! Shakespeare! I’m in!

But wait! It’s simulcast across UK movie houses from another location. Bah. I want the real thing.

Back to the hotel I go.

Know what’s cool about this town? When pedestrians press the button to cross the street, it actually works!

Back at the hotel, hooboy, Hermolis has delivered more food! I eat like a king, catch up on e-mail, flip through the channels, watch more documentaries, and then I find a great movie:

Run Fatboy Run. Anyone ever hear of this? Thoroughly charming, and a good amount of silliness, with a nice dose of gravitas for balance. Check it out.

Facetime, and sleepytime.

Day 4:

I pack up while mumbling and grumbling to myself over my lack of running gear. It’s even gorgeouser today than it has been all during my stay, and I need to breathe this delicious air deep into my lungs. I won’t make this mistake again. My gear will come with me every time.

On my way out, I thank the hotel staff profusely for allowing me free access to their fridge.

I boinkadoinkadoink my luggage for the mile walk to work.

I notice the runners in this town don’t use devices much. No dangly thingies pouring out of ears, no armbands holding phones, no beep-a-bleep-boop. This town is truly chill.


Done with work. I say my goodbyes and walk over to the bus depot, Facetime with the fam one last time, and it’s London, ho!

The bus rumbles by Alice’s Shop, whose interior, apparently, was the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland! Check it out: I’ve got to stop this bus and have a look! Okay, I’m not that desperate, but I’ve got a growing list of things to see and do when I return to this place. Problem is, like Washington D.C., everything closes at 4 PM. Arrgh.

The Great Hall, from the Harry Potter mythos, is also somewhere ‘round these parts.

I zone out for the trip, admiring the Britty Britishness of the lush countryside, and before I know it, I’m back in Heathrow

Now here’s the interesting thing: the signage for getting you out of the airport completely stinks, but the signage for getting you in and through is fantastic. Supwiddat?

The “TSA” in this place practically commits random acts of lovingkindness. EWR this ain’t.

I get to my gate two hours early, because I’m like that.

I’m sitting comfortably in my seat, when suddenly the world’s largest Guinea-Bissauan, or perhaps Central African Republican, squashes me into the fuselage. Behind us are 30 empty seats, but I don’t want to confuse the crew vis-à-vis my undercooked kosher meal, so I endure. I’m not asking a giant Sierra Leonian to go sit elsewhere.

The Israelites aboard try to put together a mincha minyan before taking off. The operation is shut down by the flight crew, who actually understands what they’re trying to set up. Rescheduled for in-flight.

I get my kosher meal, and my new Djiboutian friend asks me if I paid extra for it.

For this codswallops? I don’t think so.

He’s confused, the poor guy.

I lose myself in my movies. My ribs hurt enough from being squished. Conversation will only exacerbate the issue.

Let’s see, I enjoy:

Jason Bourne: too formulaic at this point. How many more people can he hunt down? Stick to great films like The Martian.

The Shallows: a quick popcorn fright, but the protagonist’s resourcefulness is most entertaining. Good film.

Doctor Strange: fun, and a shtickel different from the usual fare. Tilda Swinton is clever casting, and chews through every scene.

I hate turbulence.

We land. I get my bag fairly quickly, get quickly through passport control, land an Uber lickety split with Paola (her last run of the day, which started at 4 AM. That doesn’t make me so comfortable), and it’s home sweet home in a flash.

Nice way to stick the landing.

Glad to be home. Who needs Facetime when I can have the real thing?

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

My Book is on the Shelves in NYPL!

OMG OMG OMG, my book is on the shelves in the New York Public Library. It is on the shelves. Of the NYPL. N. Y. P. L. I am self-actualized. I have made it to the promised land! I have reached Valhallaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Somebody tell me what to do with myself, because I am going to just expLODE.

Siyum TaNaCH Speech in Honor of Our Daughter, at Her Bat Mitzvah

Good evening everyone, and mazel tov.

I will be conducting a siyum on TaNaCH in honor of our Bat Mitzvah girl, but before I do so I wanted to take a minute or two to express some thank yous and appreciations.

Firstly, I want to thank everyone for coming, for partaking, and for being here. I appreciate the various tirchas you’ve endured to make it, and to spend your time with us. I have kids, I know what it’s like.

As for the British contingent – who are today’s recipients of the S’char Halicha Award – you’ve had to deal with airport security. Now grant you, it’s much easier at Heathrow, as I’ve recently experienced, but it’s not going to be pleasant for the way home. It’s going to stink. I apologize for that.

I also understand that we have parties joining us from Washington and Boston – and even the Upper West Side. Vehamayvin yavin.

I’m also thankful to those who have spent the weekend with us, and to those who have hosted all our guests. Thank you for opening your homes and being so welcoming.

Secondly, I want to thank my wife, in general, but particularly for the incredible efforts she put forth to assemble this phenomenal weekend. She probably doesn’t want me to prattle on too much, so I therefore looked for as concise an expression possible that fully expresses how exemplary the work has been.

I could simply say she’s “geshikt,” and everyone would probably understand what I mean when I use the all-encompassing word, but I found a pasuk fragment in tehillim which gives perfect expression to how I feel.

In Tehillim 19 it says, “הָרָקִיעַ מַגִּיד יָדָיו וּמַעֲשֵׂה.” The expanse proclaims your handiwork. It should be self-evident to all, simply by observing how this weekend has gone, how fantastic your vision, leadership, organizational skills, kindness, and elevated sense of hachnoses orchim actually are. Underlying all this is the reason all this came to be!: the pure, true love that you have for our daughter. I continue to be the beneficiary of your gifts, as does your extended family. I’m grateful for you, and I love you.

Finally, before my siyum, I want to thank Naava for being an amazing girl. She has been into this event. She has made it a joy to put together all the prep work. She hasn’t sat idly by while her mom did all the work. She sought to be actively involved.

Again, I prefer to be succinct so I don’t embarrass her too much – I’ve been embarrassing her enough with my dancing – but it’s apropos to say that she is proving to be as geshikt as her mother before her, and her grandmothers before her. I continue to grow in the presence of such women, and it looks like – as you grow up – I will continue to.

I also want to thank you for learning Maseches Peah with me. It was a delight and a joy. Peah has eight perakim. It was just around Perek gimel that I suddenly realized that you were my first true, regular chavrusah since beit medrash, and that was just a joy for me, an absolute joy. Thank you for partnering in Torah with me. Thank you for taking on the responsibility. I’m very proud of you, and I love you.

This brings us to the siyum, which I’m dedicating to Naava today.

Now the learning isn’t just a nice thing to do for our daughter. There is a message and a purpose behind it.

L’ma doover domeh?

A few months ago, I decided to take on an indoor marathon. 26.2 miles around a 400-foot, banked track. It was quite an insane undertaking, and it was physically and mentally taxing.

One of the amenities they had at this race was a live feed, which you could view on their website. The runners were easy to keep track of, as they were making 211 hakafot. You couldn’t lose sight of a runner, unless he or she took a bathroom break. My wife watched some of it, along with our children.

I finished the race. When I came home, my wife gave me a compliment. She said that until she saw me running around the track at this indoor marathon, she had only ever seen me at punctuated points during a marathon, and that, for the large part, I also usually looked chipper and merry. But when she saw me struggle and fight and endure, she had a better appreciation for what it takes, and was proud of me for finishing.

Now it was true what she was saying. My family meets me every year at the NYC Marathon at mile 22.5. At that point, it’s gotten a little tough for me, but nevertheless, no matter what I’m going through, I like to run the last few blocks to them, and meet with them with a sever panom yafot. I don’t want them to see me suffer, because I’m actually very happy. So I might as well look happy too.

So, Naava, there’s a subtle difference in our approach to life, between your mother and me. When it comes to many different things – and they are too many too enumerate – whether it’s personal, leisure, business, family-oriented, what have you, I like to set up things, and begin to go for them. Your mom loves that too, but what she really likes is sticking the landing, finishing what you started.

The gadol hador, Alec Baldwin, once said, “Always be closing.”

For me, the thrill is to start something fun, interesting, and meaningful. Finishing is just something I have to do, because I started it. For Mommy, the thrill is finishing, because that’s what matters.

Of course, we can differ on the subtleties of this, but that’s how I feel it breaks down. Feelings aren’t facts. Right, Tati?

Naava, every day, we try to inspire this in you and in your siblings. Set goals up; knock them down. That’s my six-word life lesson for you.

This is what you showed us when you started and finished Peah with me, and when you started and finished your chesed project, and when you start and follow through on all the things that you’re interested in.

And this is why finishing TaNaCH in your name is such a pleasure for me.

For those of you who are not friends with me on Facebook, this is what I posted on May 1st, 2017 (bear in mind, I’m quoting myself from a few weeks ago. Otherwise what I’m saying today doesn’t make sense):

“Hadran aluch Sefer Divrei Hayamim Beis, U'slika luch Ketuvim, umesayim TaNaCH, B'H, for the 2nd time!

The learning was done in honor of our beloved daughter, on the occasion of her upcoming bat mitzvah.

Two years ago, she overheard me mentioning to my wife that I intend to finish Shas again in time for our eldest son's bar mitzvah. She approached politely and said, "Can you finish TaNaCH for me?"

How is a father supposed to decline such a beautiful request?

I reprioritized all my learning and reading, and made deadline with weeks to go.

My wife and my children are marbitz my torah to me. My cup runneth over, and I feel blessed, for it is they who have helped me to start other tractates and books, and to complete them, to learn and to teach, to observe and to enact and to fulfill all the words of the teaching of the Torah, and of the secular, with love.

I will make an official siyum during the Bat Mitzvah event.

Mazel tov to you, Beautiful Light of Mine, and thank you for inspiring me.

The first time I finished TaNaCH, I was inspired to do so by a bar mitzvah boy. The second time I finished, I was inspired by a bat mitzvah girl.

Aizehu chacham? Halomed mikol adam. Perhaps if I continue allowing inspiration to motivate me from anywhere, I'll be zoche to be one.”

With that said, b’rishus my wife, Harav, my mothers and fathers, v’chul hamesoobin kan, and lichvoyd biti Naava Leora, let us finish TaNaCH together…

(Mention ups and downs of Jews, and rewards and punishments; mention how history repeats itself, and this may be the first such instance in history)

(Conclude by saying that summary of all Torah seems to be an invitation to ascend to Jerusalem and rejoice with the Lord)

(Add to conclusion by saying that we, too, will be ascending to Jerusalem later this year to celebrate Jordy’s bar mitzvah, and bless everyone to be able to travel far and wide to attend family simchas)

(Switch to Yiddish, complete last pasuk, remember chazak part and to insert Torah, Neviim, Ketubin anywhere it says Bava Basra)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Finally Won My First Race!

I Finally Won My First Race!
Martin Bodek

If at first you don’t succeed, try 228 more times. Then you’ll finally get it right.

I think that was the lesson when I finally won my first race after running for 21 years.

The lesson took me a long time to properly learn, but I got hints along the way.

It has always been a dream of mine, but I’ve never known if it would ever be fulfilled.

Some Masters have been making the news lately, beating the pants off of neophytes, especially at long distance racing and loooooooooong distance racing. A 57-year old won a marathon in Colorado, a 61-year old won a marathon in India, a 77-year old won a 48-hour race in Tennessee. Would I have to wait that long?

The highest I had ever placed, prior to recent events, was a bronze medal finish at a JRunners race many years ago. First place seemed sooooooooooo far away, and I was very happy with my little glass trophy, but I also thought: when is it my turn? What do I have to do? How fast do I have to be? How much weight do I have to lose? Do I have to do speed training? Fartleks? Do I need a coach or trainer? What? Do I have to kill myself, when I really just want to enjoy myself?

I wasn’t listening to the answer, but I got another hint.

A running friend of mine “accidentally” won a marathon when he signed up for a 50k on a looping course, but legally cut his day short and finished his day at the marathon finish line. Turns out he was the first one in! He won! I marveled at this strange, good fortune, but never internalized why he won in the first place.

A jolly friend of mine – a bona-fide Cyldesdale – managed to win a small race in Brooklyn, putting in a quick – but essentially pedestrian – speed, to emerge the victor. I was too jealous to realize why he’d won. All I thought was: I’m a Light Clydesdale. Why him? Why not me? How small a race does it have to be? I don’t want to be a pony.

Three times the charm, they say. Right?

A good friend of mine – looking for a mid-week marathon – joined up with a series called Mainly Marathons. They pick regions in the United States to stage 5 different marathons in 5 different states over 5 consecutive days – obviously all travelable within a few hours – plot a course, and have at it. He won, twice, and I thought: why can’t I win? I show up enough to these things, don’t I?


What was being shown to me all along – and what I finally internalized – was that if you show up to enough of these things and maintain good fitness, eventually things will go your way. You don’t have to do speedwork, rip up muscles, and wind up on the shelf, miserable for months.

How about another cliché?: chance favors the prepared.

So how did I win my little race? Well, essentially, by doing what all of the above did: showing up enough, putting in more and more easy-does-it long mileage, and finally having something fall my way.

The story goes like this: I’m a big Festivus fan.Yuge. Two years ago, I was looking for a Festivus race, so I could appreciate the holiday from all angles. The only one I could find that I could attend was a virtual 5k one. Interesting. You run whenever, you report your time, you get mailed a medal. Sweet. I signed up, ran, and placed sixth!

Last year, I signed up again for the 5k, and placed 2nd! Whoa!

Enjoying my Silver Medal this time, I looked for more virtual races, as I was excited by my sudden success. I signed up for the New Year’s virtual race, at the 10k distance, and placed 2nd again!

Nowhere to go but up, right? Right. I signed up for the Virtual Martin Luther King, Jr. 5k, and not only improved my virtual Festivus 5k by a big chunk of time, but I placed first. First!

I kept checking the website, day after day after day, to see if anyone had reported a faster time. No one did. I was the fastest, I won. Me. Champ.

As a bonus, I got my MLK Gold Medal upon returning from a vacation to Washington DC, where my favorite part of the trip was anything to do with Dr. King, a man I admire very much.

So here’s the lesson I finally learned: show up enough, and you’ll get what you want. It may take some time, but you’ll get there. Just keep plugging away, run lots of miles, and it’ll happen for you (Ed Whitlock inspired me down this path, and he passed as I was writing this. May he rest in peace). I don’t think I’ll be 57 before I win a race in the non-virtual world. It’ll happen some time before that. Because so long as these good, strong legs keep carrying me, I’ll be out there, and I’m going to make things happen. Along the way, I might even get a little faster too, as BQing is another of my goals.

Because, as a wise man once said: if you hang around the barbershop long enough…sooner or later you’re gonna get a haircut.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Notes from Our 3-day Trip to DC

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Wanted to be fresh for the day, so instead of waking at 4 AM to run for 2.5 hours, I instead start my run at 11:15 PM, run for 2.5 hours, hit the sack at 2 AM, and wake at 6. Yes, that’s refreshing. Such is the life of a runner. I spend the time listening to Mitch Hedberg. Relevant to this discussion, as you’ll soon see.

We’re all out of the house at 9:09 AM. Fantastic timing.

Fog joins us along the way. Visibility zero.

So foggy, that I notice flocks of birds are flying much lower, staying beneath the clouds as they migrate. These are the things I notice. I know I’ve got your attention so far.

The buses we pass are all headed our way. Silver Spring and DC await!

The kids choose Ghost Dad from the 20+ CDs we freshly bought, and brought with us for the trip. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

I like taking pictures of state “welcome” signs. Beneath the Delaware sign, a cop has pulled over a speeder. Helluva way to be welcomed to a state.

We pull into a 7-11 at the midpoint and switch driving duties. I got the wheel.

The kids are now watching Cop and a Half. Hey, 80s movies is what we’re familiar with.

We pass Blue Ball Road. We’re not even *in* Pennsylvania, state of a million innuendoes.

The Eagle lands in Washington and we get a nice preview of The Mall – post-inauguration and women’s-protest – en route to lunch. We’re famished.

We pass the Washington Monument – I point out the change in color one-third of the way up – and the Watergate Hotel. We try to explain to our kids what exactly “scandal” means.

I notice immediately that traffic patterns are weird here. Hmmm.

Char bar is where we land, one of few kosher options in DC proper. Food is very, very good. Kids enjoy.

We cross the Potomac and head for Arlington National Cemetery. We’re basically following President Trump’s inauguration-weekend footsteps. A hard rain falls.

We observe the changing of the guard. Arresting and deathly serious. My wife opines that it’s emotionally cold.

We pay our respects to JFK. We didn’t know Jackie lost a child months before losing her husband. Gosh.

We drive past The Pentagon, the world’s largest office building. Did you know that because of its shape, no single point is more than seven minutes’ walk from any other point? That’s crazy.

Usually we spend a day or two in a vacation spot before witnessing road rage, but as we exit VA back into DC, we see our first traffic-induced middle finger. Feels like home.

We circle back around The Mall and slingshot all the way back up to Baltimore to have dinner with an old friend of my wife’s. Food and company is excellent.

We head back to DC. I have some monument-gazing in mind. Kids revolt, demand to get back to hotel, as they’re exhausted. Having filed a successful petition and protest, apropos to where we are, my wife and I comply. We arrive at the hotel in MD and collapse.

Now, to quote Mitch Hedberg: “I can't tell you what hotel I'm stayin' in, but there are two trees involved. They said "Let's call this hotel 'Something Tree'". So they had a meeting, it was... It was quite short. "How 'bout 'Tree'?" "No." "'Double Tree'?" "Hell, yeah! Meeting adjourned!" "I had my heart set on 'Quadruple Tree'" "Well, we were almost there!”

You’ll see the relevance shortly.

Monday, January 23, 2017

It’s cold and rainy in the deep, dark night, so I choose paradise by the treadmill light.

In other words, duh, because it’s sloppy outside, I do a 5k in the 24/7 hotel gym to start my day.

We’re out and about pretty quickly, and head to Goldberg’s New York Bagels for a filling breakfast.

Dude behind the counter is wearing the same Alf shirt my wife bought me ( I give him the appropriate compliment.

Food’s good. On to DC!

Kids watch Sgt. Bilko en route.

We try to get a peek at The White House as we head towards The Mall. That’s not so easy. The Treasury and Eisenhower building flank it to the east and west, a park with obscuring trees, statues, scaffolding, and cranes protect it from the north, and clearly, they drive pedestrians batty when attempting access from the south. Directional signs are also confusing. Hmmmmmm.

We’ve taken the car, as you can tell, as opposed to the train. Lots went into the calculus, but we made the right decision, especially because of the cold rain.

We use a two-hour parking option, and alight from there to visit the National Air and Space Museum.

Upon entering, and unzipping from the layers against the cold, I immediately get a compliment for my t-shirt, also a gift from my wife ( I guess it’s give a compliment, get a compliment.

My wife bumps into another old friend, two of ‘em actually (how come I never get to?)! They used the train and are soaked to the bone, validating our decision. Yay!

The place is Valhalla to me, but we can never predict what would interest or disinterest our children. It’s always a crapshoot, and we do our best guesswork. Well, this is what The Mall is for. Everything is free, and if the kids don’t like something, off we go (Philly, we hear, is like that too. We’re making plans).

The biggest mind-blower is the Wright Flyer. Why? Because this ain’t no copy, this thing is no facsimile, it isn’t a mock-up, it is the real deal, and it’s magic. My daughter wrote a book report on it for school and was proud to pose in front of it. The boys? Moving right along.

A rock from the moon does fascinate everyone, but everyone’s raring to go.

So be it, back into the rain. Feed the meter, and we trudge across to the National Gallery of Art, where  - to my wife’s and my utter surprise – we spend more time here than we do than at any other place we’ll visit during our stay.

Why? Simple: they have these audio guides you hang around your neck. They have kiddy versions and adult versions. Punch in the number of the painting and a narrator gives you background information, and details of the artistic elements. Wonderful! The kids soak it up!

Our favorites:

·         Daughter: almost anything by Giovanni Paolo Panini, but most especially “Interior of the Pantheon”:
·         Big boy: “Watson and the Shark” by John Singleton Copley:
·         Me:  “The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” (because of the propaganda of all the little details:, “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” (just look at the tension in his every muscle):, “The Fall of Man” (NSFW –gosh so many beautiful details):, and “The Veiled Nun” (because look at it and tell me how you can sculpt marble to appear translucent):

Time’s up! Back into the rain. Feed the meter, and we trudge across to the National Museum of American History.

The day is waning, so we don’t get to see the whole place, but we are greeted at the entrance by a ye olde Yiddish ad selling mohel knives ( Now that’s interesting.

The girls are enamored with the First Lady dresses, the boys by recorded JFK speeches, and me by the Presidential Death section of the museum. They have the hat Lincoln wore when he was murdered. It mesmerizes me that it has been preserved.

I ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Back out in the rain and off to the car, where we witness the car in front of us get towed from its spot for overstaying its metered time, presumably. Whoa, they mean business here!

I do a calculation of how far we walked today on the grounds between the three museums: 4.5-5 miles. Yikes.

We head back to Maryland for dinner.

Kids watch Honey, I Shrunk the Kids on the way.

We land at Max’s and have a very good, very hardy meal.

Burp; off to our hotel, where we chill for a bit, then it’s time for the pool!

Not so fast, though.

We arrive at the pool, and the lifeguard on duty has an interesting story for us. See, a little girl was here and vomited into the pool. The lifeguard removed the stuff, poured in the chemicals, which need three hours to do their thing before the pool can be considered safe. How long ago was that? One hour. When does the pool close? Two hours. Easy math means we’re out of luck tonight.


This place of two trees is partnered with the place across the street. I can’t tell you what it’s called, but there’s a house and lumber involved. We can just tell them what happened, and they’ll let us use their pool. Okay, cool. Can we take some towels with us so we don’t freeze to death outside? Yes. Well isn’t that nice.

It’s 40 degrees and we’re in our swimmies and meager towels, and if we attempt to go to the corner to cross at the light, we’ll become human icicles, so we make an exception to our traffic-light rule and scurry across mid-street together, and survive.

Upon landing at the hotel across the street, a woman asks me, “Did you just come from an outdoor pool???” I say, “Ma’am, it’s a long story.”

We also survive the trip back across the street, in our wetter conditions.

Well, that was certainly a chavaya!

Showers, and I watch this new show “Hunted” with my big boy (interesting, but it’s rigged for the hunters), and we conk out. Lots of calories burned today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Still raining, and still cold, so I start my day the same way: with another 5k in the gym.

However, milk’s gotta be gotten because we wanna eat quickly, head immediately for DC, and have a fun, busy day.

I run to a local CVS, which is open 24/7, but is closed, which is interesting. Right across is a Whole Foods, which opens at 7:00 AM. It’s 7:01. Perfect.

We have breakfast in our room. I make me a good, strong coffee, and we’re on our way.

As we roll on into DC, we encounter four posts in the road, in a diamond pattern, with connecting lines drawn on the pavement. It’s hard to describe, and even harder to figure out what to do with the blasted thing when we encounter it. I’m telling you, this district is designed by either willful conspirators, or blithering idiots, or both, directed by either or both. Perhaps vehicular frustration is some sort of terrorist-aversion maneuver. Who knows. The city layout is confusing.

We find some more good two-hour parking and venture off to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to experience the fastest tour on Earth. The orientation film is longer than what the tour guide walks us through. It’s like the place really wants to show off what they do, but they don’t really want to give us too close a look. The place is cool, but a tease. They don’t let you handle the paper, or watch a design crew at work. This place can be organized better, and be a true experience, but I get it. Security concerns. Shoyn.

Interestingly, though, we spend better quality educational time in the gift shop, which houses neat toys and lots of fascinating information.

We then walk past the Washington Monument (closed for repairs until 2019) and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (I don’t like the exterior. Rusty like the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Rust is not attractive. Rust reminds me of rusting things), and walk towards The White House, and aim for the top of The Ellipse, which is the best public view.

Not so fast.

A Secret Service guy tells us the area is inaccessible for the next 20 minutes.

We do the only thing we can do: ask him if he can take a picture with the kids. He obliges. Neat!

(At this time, we later learn, someone had put up a sign that said “Resist” on a crane behind The White House, and Secret Service was likely dealing with this at the very moment we arrived)

We then have a quick snack, and walk through a severely squishy Ellipse field to get the second-best view of the White House possible, as we don’t have 20 minutes. Gotta get back to the car.

The pedestrian countdown lights in this city are not uniform. Some are 20 seconds, some 30, some 50, and many other variables. I suppose not knowing when pedestrians cross somehow confuses terrorist activities. Can’t ram that building if you can’t figure out when pedestrians will clear the way for you. Something like that, maybe? Who knows. Getting around this place is frustrating.

We get back to the car before the city has a chance to tow us, and we have some homemade sammitches for lunch.

Off to visit the two men I admire most: MLK, Jr., and Lincoln.

My wife parks ingeniously between a forklift and a smart car. Impressive work.

Now I always say that to truly experience something, you need to see it in person, and set your own eyes upon it.

Prior to arriving here, I didn’t quite get the MLK memorial. Carved out of stone? Half a sculpture? What’s he holding? Why’s he facing that way?

But then, immediately upon setting my eyes on everything at once, the entire grounds, that I understand how gorgeous, and relevant, and beautiful it is.

The thought behind everything, as fashioned, is to represent a salient sentence from his “I Have a Dream” speech. I suddenly realize what the note is that he’s holding, and why he’s facing exactly the direction he gazes upon. Now I understand. The execution is breathtaking (though slightly flawed: the likeness is far from perfect, and other quibbles). I won’t tell you what the sentence is, and how the sculpture represents it. You have to see it for yourself.

Fully inspired, we head back onto the mall, past the DC War Memorial (overly simplistic), the Korean War Veterans Memorial (My children don’t know about this, nor do I think this it’s generally taught in school. It truly is the Forgotten War.), the Reflecting Pool (I tell my daughter to remember this spot, for when she’ll see Forrest Gump), the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (I think this is almost too powerful for young children. There are people always present who are in lots of pain - as has been my experience), and finally reach the grand and awesome Lincoln Memorial (At the foot of the memorial is no marker to declare from where MLK made his famous speech. I think this is an oversight).

I take the time to admire the statue, read the speeches again, and truly take in the place. I encourage my kids to read the speeches too – at a bare minimum the last paragraph of the 2nd inaugural speech; a thing of beauty.

While there, my daughter’s Fitbit hits 10,000 steps for the day. She’s delighted, and shows me the little fireworks.

We depart, and bump into another wave of runners, who are all over this city in droves. I love it. It strikes me that this mall from end to end – that is, from the Potomac to the Capitol - is 3 miles wide, with green spaces north and south and over the bridge into Virginia, and all different kinds of distance permutations can be drawn up and enjoyed. Perhaps I’ll take partake one day.

We alight unto the National Building Museum, which is a place completely opposite what we thought it would be.

Thought: a building featuring architectural exhibits and accomplishments within, which sometimes stages grand events, like inaugural balls.

Is: farkert, as they say in Yiddish. It’s an event space, into which was retrofitted a museum.

The architecture: wow. The contents: meh.

We head off from there to the National Portrait Gallery, which we have high hopes for, but the kids are not enticed, and are quite antsy, and they don’t have the good audio thingies. We at least try to get a glimpse at the presidents’ portraits (Obama isn’t in yet! Much less Trump).

The real stunner is The Four Justices ( My daughter, who also wrote a book report on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, poses for a pic in the empty spot on the couch. You never know!

Time for dinner.

All the traffic peculiarities I’ve been warning about? They come to a head. As we slingshot around The Mall and towards MD for dinner, chaos ensues. Two lane highways suddenly become one; exits are suddenly closed; there is no signage explaining any of this, and cars are whipping all around us. If not for my wife’s astute handling of the wheel, we could have gotten in big trouble, but survive.

We pass the Watergate hotel again (Oh look! There’s Forrest Gump’s room!), and we explain to our daughter why everything ends in “-gate” these days.

And now for a little surprise for the kids.

They know we’re headed back to MD for dinner, but we don’t get very far before we pull over. Their Spidey Senses tingle, and they don’t stop asking what’s going on, until we arrive at:

Krispy Kreme.

We deserve it, what with our calorie-burning by walking all over the place (six miles for the day). We dig in and enjoy, and the kids are satisfied.

They watch Honey, I Blew Up the Kids on the ride.

Man this “I Can Make Your Hands Clap Song” is pretty catchy.

Besides for runners and awful traffic layouts, this city is filled with creative license plates. We spot STPTXTN. Heh.

We arrive at Siena’s for dinner, and eat hardily. Food is very good. My wife meets another old friend.

We chill back at the hotel and head to the pool again. Always an adventure.

A cockroach welcomes us upon entry. My wife points it out to the lifeguard.

He says, “Kill it.”

Stay classy, place that involves two trees.

Another roach is waiting for us in the pool.

Lovely. We have our fun anyway.

Back in our hotel room, I watch “Chopped” with my daughter, and we all crash.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The weather has warmed up a bit, so I finally venture out for my 5k. I meet all the nice homeless people and run over the MD/DC border and back (I make sure to take a picture under the sign. Neat).

CVS rejects my bathroom requests, Giant accepts. That’s where I’ll buy my milk, thank you very much.

We bid our hotel farewell. Before we exit, my wife heads to the front desk to complain about our roach companions. They comp our parking. I suppose that settles the roach problem the hotel has.

I’m telling you, the city planners are functionally insane.

Back in DC, we pass through the embassy area. I show off my flag recognition skills to the kids. Yay me.

We arrive at Ford’s Theater.

Now remember when I said that to truly experience something, you need to be there, to feel it with your own eyes?

This place is like that, on a whole ‘nother level.

The museum is on the small side, but filled with excellent information on Lincoln’s presidency, and everything that led up to the fateful day.

They have the actual weapon used, they have a pillow with the president’s bloodstains still visible upon it, they have details of the much larger conspiracy (of which I was ignorant), and they have something truly arresting: two timelines, side by side, of April 14, 1865; One of Abraham Lincoln’s day, and one of John Wilkes Booth’s day.

Then it gets real.

Ford’s still stages productions throughout the year, and the president’s balcony is preserved as it was, with most furnishings intact. That’s where the president got shot. Here is the stage onto which Booth jumped and broke his ankle. This is the place that history took a massive turn.

You’re also allowed access to the balcony. Your viewing point is right where Booth stood as he fired his shot. The president sat. Right. There. The experience is eerie. Do you smile with the scene in the background? Difficult to figure out the mood (which is slightly uplifted by a site employee asking me about my Everett Aquasox cap [I like the froggy] – man they’re friendly and inquisitive here!).

We’re then led across the street to Peterson House, where Lincoln died nine hours after his fatal wounding. The first room is where the First Lady sat, receiving updates of her husband’s condition. The second room is where Secretary Stanton directed the investigation. The third room is where Lincoln died. I gathered all this in, and, staring at the bed, I dare say, I became emotional, and after my family moved on to the next room, I remained for an extra beat, feeling the history as best as I could.

The rest of the museum walks you through the aftermath of the event: how the news was reported (some in big type, some in teeny-tiny), the arrangements of the many funerals (the first of which was on my birthday – that gave me a start), and the manhunt that ensued before Booth’s pathetic death.

Quite the immersive experience.

Stuffed with more knowledge of history, we head to the eastern part of The Mall.

First stop: The Supreme Court, swarming with more exterior cops than any other building we’ve seen so far.

Our arrival is perfectly timed with the next tour available of The Court Chamber. In we go!

For the half-hour talk, our kids are perfectly behaved, taking it all in – because truly, what happens here is fascinating, and important (duh!).

During the Q&A session, my wife asks why cameras are still not allowed in this setting, and why, in today’s day and age, sketches are necessary to convey the proceedings.

The answer is because the justices consider it invasive and distracting.

Mmhm, so why can’t we take pictures now?

Impressed – and impressed upon - by the experience, I tell my wife I just put it on my bucket list to attend a session here, because it would blow my mind. She advised in turn that she just did the same! We’ll be back!

We have sammitches again for lunch, as we ambulate towards The Capitol.

We take a looooooooong walk around the entire building (I notice runners circumventing too. The grounds are that big), snap some pictures of the Inauguration Aftermath (So nationally traumatic, I’m putting it in caps), take our official vacay selfie with the little flags my wife packed, and attempt to land ourselves a tour of The Capitol before leaving.

Not so fast, we need to contact our Senator or something. Okay fine, next time, so we go through security just so we can use the Capitol Bathrooms before leaving (I’m perfectly happy using any of the thousands of porta-potties, but my family is not quite used to the idea), and we head back towards the car, parked in a lot this time.

As we take our leave, I take a quick poll on everyone’s favorite part of the trip:

Wife: Supreme Court.
Daughter: The 1st art museum.
Big boy: Anything to do with MLK/Lincoln.
Little boy: The 1st art museum.
Me: Anything to do with MLK/Lincoln.

Some trends here.

We grab some pizza bagels from Goldberg’s New York Bagels before we go. My wife takes a business call, and with the kids stuffing their faces and watching King Ralph (This is a kids movie? The language!), there’s some peace and quiet. I take the wheel.

In Delaware, we make a rest area pit-stop, and surprise the kids with some Carvel. Wife at the wheel now.

State sweet state.

Home sweet home.

Upon arriving at my front steps, I find a package waiting for me. Nestled within is my medal for the - how fitting! - Virtual MLK, Jr. 5k, which is the first race victory of my career in my 21st year of running.

And that story needs an entirely different writeup to tell.

I write books. These: If I continue vacationing and reporting, I may just have to publish a travel book.