Jet Blue, Rachael Ray & Dumb People

I took my virgin voyage on Jet Blue last week. I think they’re the only airline that offers non-stop service from Boston to Austin, TX and I am all about flying direct these days. I’ve heard from so many people how great Jet Blue is, so I was anxious to give ‘er a shot. The result? It’s an airline. I mean, really. The seats and the legroom are pretty much the same. The snacks and beverages are pretty much the same. The flight attendants are pretty much the same. All told, it’s not all that different, with one glaring exception: DirecTV and XM Radio. Here’s a smattering of what I enjoyed on my ride back to Boston on Friday:

  • Breaking news that Carlos Lee had been traded to the Texas Rangers. I love the trading deadline! I mean, I would have been fine if I had found out after the flight, but it was my first real “breaking news” that I watched live on a plane. That’s gotta count for something, right? It sure beats my boss’s first experience watching breaking news on a plane: the September 11th coverage. Yikes. Not sure about you, but I wouldn’t want to have seen that while riding on a plane, oh no.
  • Rachael Ray. This is the bodacious cooking chick who has made a gazillion dollars with all of her television shows and books claiming that you too can make 30-minute gourmet meals – quick and easy! Tell you what, darling, come to my house and prove to me that you can – start to finish – really make scallops and steak, steamed asparagus and a fresh salad with homemade strawberry balsamic vinegrette dressing all in 30 minutes and I’ll pay you $500 directly for each of your books. Nice profit margarine for you (like that food reference? Clever, inn’t?). But nobody in the world can actually do it, so I’m not worried.
  • Hitting channels 13 and 14. Repeatedly. Back and forth. Channel 13 is the Weather Channel, Channel 14 is the channel that shows you where your plane is. The Weather Channel showed a HUGE line of crazy ass thunderstorms plowing towards Boston. Channel 14 showed our plane, plowing towards Boston. Who would get there first, I wondered, with visions of sitting on the runway in Erie, PA or something. So four hour delays, dancing in my head, I asked the fight attendant what she thought and she said “we’re praying we make it before the storms.” We did. About an hour after I landed, it all came crashing down.
  • The ’40s music station on XM Radio. Again, been doing a lot of reading lately on the 1940’s – the Truman book first, now I’m deep into the Stephen Ambrose biography on Dwight Eisenhower, so ’40s music has been permeating as of late. More on Eisenhower later.
  • THANK you VH1 Classic, for being the best damn cable channel out there. Not only did I get to watch the videos for “Life In A Northern Town,” “Stray Cat Strut” and AC/DC’s “Jailbreak,” but they actually ran an hour long episode “Game Show’s Craziest Moments!” Now, I should stop here for a second and tell you how much I love this show. I’m so damn glad they still have the tapes from all the old game shows, because some of the answers people gave on these shows make me laugh so loud. It is so friggin’ funny. The clips they showed from old Family Fued episodes alone are enough to leave my stomach hurting. Here’s a sampling of some Family Fued questions:

Question: Name the first thing you take off when you get home from work?
Answer: Underwear!
(at that point, the creepy Richard Dawson said to the woman “next question, what time do you get home from work?”)

Question: Name a game that married couples like to play?
Answer: Kickball!
(Dawson’s retort: “I don’t know any married 3-year olds!”)

Question: Name a birthday men least look forward to?
Answer: Their wife!

You get the point. I was laughing out loud on the plane. Anyway, for entertainment value, JetBlue is a fine deal. Truthfully, though, the ONLY consideration for me when flying now is that little Expedia button that says “sort by duration of flight.” Whoever gets me there the quickest gets the money. Lately the whole delay thing seems to be getting worse and worse and worse, so much so that a couple of weeks ago on my way back from NYC, I gave up and took Amtrak.

Go To Your Room!

Not sure I’d want to spend $13,000 on it, but a home office like this one looks really cool to me. I’ve got the yard for it, too. Check out the three screenshots for close-ups.

Excellent and funny write-up of a friend’s visit to see Steely Dan and (gulp) Michael McDonald, he of Doobie Brothers fame. I have some appreciation for Steely Dan, although bunches of their music drive me nuts sometimes. I have no appreciation for Michael McDonald, which makes my friend’s article all the better.

The Roads You Will Take

Writing today from the insanely cool Hotel San Jose in Austin, Texas. I don’t know what happened yesterday – my post got cut off. Here’s what I wrote:

This week marks five years for me at That’s rather mind-blowing. It seemed like just yesterday when I was sitting in Chicago with a good friend, my professional life at a fork in the road. I had two job offers, one with (Ask Jeeves at the time) and the other with a long-established, non-internet entity. I had already been at two failed’s, so the idea of going to a third weighed heavy on my mind. But the money was (way) better and the job description seemed a little more interesting so, making the vow that “this would be the last job I ever take,” I accepted the position and started on July 24, 2001. Time has really flown since then and the progress our company has made in the five years I’ve been around has been stunning.

I have given a lot of myself and it has given back to me in spades on so many levels. Work is never without frustrations, but they are largely kept to a minimum and I’ve established friendships there that will undoubtedly last way longer than my tenure at Ask. The other night, out at dinner in NYC, I remarked to my boss how comforting it is to see that our small group of nine people (business development) is about the least political group of people I have ever worked with. That is difficult to find anywhere and much appreciated. My muse will undoubtedly take me somewhere else during this lifetime, but there’s a lot to like here. It is my longest tenure at any job – by double.

Money, Get Away

Our House, Maynard, MA
Originally uploaded by rustedrobot.

This is our house, located in Maynard, MA. When we first bought it nearly three years ago, it was in good shape structurally, but nearly everything else needed to be changed, replaced or updated. Oh, did we ever update. I won’t bore you with the details, but the house has undergone a near 100% revamping and I think we are both particularly proud of what we’ve accomplished.

So this morning I read, with mild speculation, a story about the alarming rise in foreclosures in the housing market in Massachusetts. It seems each week, the Globe runs a story about the foreclosure problem and each time I see it, I sort of shrug my shoulders, because while it is alarming, positioning it as a “crisis” is rather misleading. The reason, pure and simple, is that the amount of home sales have skyrocketed since 2000. Sell more houses, you’re going to have more foreclosures.

Finally, this morning Globe’s actually revealed what I had been looking for: the actual rate of foreclosures to mortgages/homes purchased. Surprise! The rate in Massachusetts is actually below the national average. According to the article, lenders have filed for foreclosure on 0.6% of Massachusetts mortgages, below the 1% national rate. My point: always read the whole story, not just the headlines, because there’s always more to it. Except in the Middle East – you can just read the headlines there, because it’s all the same and has been since WWII.

Luckily, Steph and I haven’t had to worry so much about foreclosures or making the monthly payment and I thank my lucky stars for it. I’m terribly conservative when it comes to money, so I just cannot see dropping the money some people are dropping on housing. It would be awesome to have a palace, but you know what? I’m not going to spend 75% of my income on it, like many are doing. I want (no, need) the option to put money away for retirement, emergencies, general savings or……improvements to the house. Hey, some people spend it, some save it. I save it.

This approach doesn’t allow me to live in neighboring towns whose tax rates and land values are often double what Maynard’s are. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll change our minds. But ithis approach allowed me to pay cash for a kitchen renovation in January of 2005 and the only debt at this point in our lives is our mortgage. An upcoming bathroom renovation will also be paid in cash. That is comforting to me. I also know that situations like this (paying cash for renovations) are not the norm and our much appreciated luck can change at the drop of a hat. But I honestly feel that carrying no debt is the reward we get for staying the course and that it’s not all luck, either, it’s careful planning as well.

Love Thy Brother

I realized last night that I only wrote one post last week. An extraordinarily busy business trip to NYC was some of the cause, but as mentioned before, the idea-meter for posts is running low lately.

So yesterday marked the 2nd anniversary of my marriage and we celebrated by wandering around Newbury St. in Boston for a couple of hours and stopping for a drink and a small appetizer at the frou-frou Sonsie. Sonsie is apparantly one of the restuarants in town that all the “players” and celebrities go to and if the foccasia bread is any gauge of the food quality, I know why. Great stuff. However, I must question the tact of the waitress who called me “girly” for ordering a rum drink. She smiled when she said it, but I think she may have meant it. Screw the beautiful people.

The highlight of the night, though, was dinner at a restaurant called Sibling Rivalry, an interesting concept, straight from the whole Iron Chef modus operandi. The restaurant’s chefs are two brothers, David and Bob Kinkead, and each of them offer a dish with one common ingredient. For example, black beans. David may offer scallops, pureed mashed potatoes, pork dumplings, all with a black bean sauce, while Bob’s recipe is Pork Loin w/ sausage, black beans and collard greens. Get it?

It was fantastic and one of the better Boston area restaurants I’ve eaten in over the years. The food was an explosion of flavors (I did opt for the scallops) and it was one of those truly great restaurants where the portions are not so huge that you leave the place feeling like there’s a cannonball in your stomach. Steph may argue that last point, as the steak they gave her (David’s version) was quite large, but both of us left there feeling like you should after a quality meal – ready for Erikson’s. Very very highly recommended, located down on Tremont St. in the South End near Hammersly’s and all the other terrific restaurants down there.

In other news, speaking of explosions, my vegetable garden is off the hook right now! The tomatoes are popping up like crazy and I’ve already pulled five cucumbers and eaten one. The red peppers are taking a little longer than expected, but those are just starting to emerge as well. This year was supposed to be an experiment and it’s been a successful one. Next year I plan on at least tripling its size and growing much more (minus so many cucumbers).

I keep listening more and more to the terrific album by The Whigs and as I mentioned before, I’m making the prediction that they’ll be a standard name soon enough. Right now it’s hard to find news articles, but I did find this one, a pretty decent article on the band. Word has it they’ve been signed to a label already, so we’ll see what comes of that. I’m of the opinion that bands really don’t need a label anymore these days, but that’s another post for another time.

Never Trouble Trouble ‘Till Trouble Troubles You

The subject line of today’s post is pulled from someone’s “quotation” in my dad’s high school yearbook. How I remember this, I have no single idea, because I haven’t seen that yearbook in many years now. I just remember it. Neat quote.

So, my brief respite from the blog (and from life) yesterday and today was spent up in New Hampshire on Golden Pond, or as it’s really called, Squam Lake, the much quieter cousin of Lake Winnipesaukee. The lakes each provide sharp lifestyle contrasts – the significantly larger Winipesaukee is more like America as we know it today: everything is big. Big houses, big boats, big SUV’s, big restaurants, big money. This also means more oppportunity for activities both fun and potentially over the top.

Squam, on the other hand, doesn’t allow motorboats over a certain size and has some issues around land trusts which have prevented the sprawl that its big brother has seen over the last twenty years. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find many living quarters at all right on the lake. And when you do find lodgings at Squam they are, shall we say, rustic. Each night you’re more or less guaranteed to wake up in the middle of the night and hear that familiar buzzing of a mosquito around your ear or a loon crying out in the pitch black. The structures (at least the ones I’ve stayed in) are cabins, pure and simple. Not houses. So, no television, no air conditioning, severely outdated electricity and old wooden doors & windows that never quite close correctly due to time and constant swing from cold to warm, year to year.

Each location has its significant plusses and minuses and these are not the topic of today’s post. While scanning and inspecting the old Squam cabin on Monday, I came across an absolute jewel – stacks upon stacks of old Life magazines, in very decent condition, spanning the years 1939-1948. I suppose it was serendipitous that I found these, then, because I have just completed reading the magnificent 1,000 page Harry Truman biography. The magazines essentially cover the very era where Truman and his predecessor were such momentous figures. Obviously the early ’40s issues of Life were laser focused on the war, with nearly every ad calling for us regular Americans to conserve whatever materials possible for our fighting boys around the globe. The latter half of the decade provided much lighter fare, my favorites being a 1948 cover story on someone’s pet deer and the “College Clothes” issue from 1946.

It is clearly no secret to anyone who has read this blog that I am very much a fan of history and that one of the recurring themes of my writing over the years is the simple passage of time, a topic which always has and forever will amaze me. I don’t know when it was that this harmless obsession came about, but once it did, it may have solved a lot of uneasiness I probably had in my life beforehand, for I’ve come to try and really appreciate every second I have here. Or, perhaps, the years just bring maturity. Probably both.

Regardless, at one point as I was lying there in an old, raggedy glider-couch on the weathered porch, I poked my head out of a 1940’s Life Magazine and just took a minute to look over the incredibly calm, quiet lake and thought to myself that this is, in all likelihood, exactly what it looked like in the 1940s. In fact, someone probably sat here reading this thing when it was “the new issue of Life,” and took a similar pause, then resumed reading, just like I did. Why I think this is incredible, I just couldn’t tell you. With any luck, someone 65 years down the road will leaf through the same issue and appreciate it all (the magazine, the view, the era, time passing) as much as I do today.