Archive for the 'travel' Category

Shocking photo!

Monday, March 31st, 2008

WiTW Exclusive!

GIANT MONSTER PIGEON ATTACKS GALVESTON HOTEL!


A young boy is shown about to fearlessly jump on the back of the gigantic flying beast in this exclusive pic taken by Mr. Toast during a brief mini-vacation last weekend in Galveston, Texas. However, shortly after this photo was snapped the colossal Columba Livia Domestica took flight and was last seen heading out over the Gulf of Mexico. Florida beware!

Hot Springs, cool town

Monday, November 26th, 2007

We’re back from our Ozark Adventure, having spent a nice relaxing week away from the hustle and bustle before the “holiday season” begins in earnest. Hot Springs is one of our favorite vacation spots; we’ve been making treks there for the past twenty years. For one thing, it’s fairly close at only about 250 miles away, which is a relatively painless four-hour drive. The main reason we like it, though, is for its incredible scenic beauty. Hot Springs sits right smack-dab in the middle of the part of Arkansas known as the “Diamond Lakes” region, which consists of Lakes DeGray, Hamilton, and Ouachita, plus a few other smaller bodies of water. Each lake has its own particular character. DeGray is a 13,800 acre Corps of Engineers project, thus commercial development is limited and the lake has a very natural feel. The primary recreational center is Lake DeGray State Park Resort, where we’ve stayed often. Wildlife abounds in the park, including winter nesting grounds for the American bald eagle. You can camp in the wild, stay in the park’s well-appointed lodge (with free Wi-Fi!) where you can dine in the restaurant and enjoy the massive stone fireplace, or even rent a Yurt for a different sort of outdoor experience.

Further north, spring-fed Lake Ouachita is another Corps lake; with 40,000 acres and 975 miles of shoreline, it’s the biggest lake in Arkansas. Also due to limited commercial development, the water is exceptionally pure, and the lake is rated by the EPA as the second-cleanest in the entire United States.

In contrast to the other two however, Lake Hamilton is a well-developed residential “city” lake with many homes, hotels, restaurants and other businesses along its shoreline, and this is where we went most often during the time we owned our boat. Some of our most enjoyable experiences involved dressing up in our fine duds, getting into the boat, putting over to a restaurant on the water where an attendant would greet us at the dock and valet-park the boat for us while we enjoyed a gourmet meal. Then afterwards, we would leisurely putt over to a nightclub on the other side of the lake where we would drop anchor just outside the marina and listen to the band for an hour or two before returning to our luxury lakeside accommodations. Good times.

Unfortunately, we no longer have the boat due to the increasing difficulty of maintaining it with my lung condition, not to mention the fact it was costing us an arm and a leg to operate it, especially when we only got to take it out a few times a year. (The photo shows me at the helm during happier times on Lake Ouachita.) As anyone who has ever owned a “boat” will surely tell you, the classic definition of the word is: (1) A small vessel for travel on water; (2) A bottomless pit, surrounded by water, into which you throw money; (3) Acronym used by boat owners for “Break Out Another Thousand”.

Still, even without the boat we love Hot Springs and try to get back there every now and then. Aside from the lakes, the downtown area is very quaint, with a turn-of-the-century art-deco sort of feel to it. The best example of this sort of architecture is the centrally-situated Arlington Hotel (where, again, we have often stayed) which has a colorful history. Back in the 30′s, it was a favorite hangout of Chicago mobsters like Al Capone, who was rumored to have his own private escape hatch installed in his suite at the Arlington in order to make a quick getaway from the law if needed.

After several fires and considerable neglect during the 50′s and 60′s, the hotel has been restored to its former splendor and looks today much as it did in the period postcard below:

Not seen in the photo, suspended into the mountain at the rear of the hotel, is a gigantic redwood hot tub in which we have spent many a drunken new year’s eve with a crowd of other revelers, the last time in 2000. The tub is fed by the thermal springs from which the town gets its name, alleged to have curative powers by the native Indians who frequented the spot long before the white man arrived. The custom of “taking the waters” to heal gout, ulcers, rheumatism and a variety of other disorders endured long thereafter, and beginning in the early 1900′s dozens of elaborate bathhouses sprang up along what is now Central Avenue, catering to throngs of health-seekers. These establishments, patterned after the ostentatious public baths of Roman times, were full of the latest equipment, pampering the bather in artful surroundings including marble and tile decorated floors, walls and partitions. Some rooms sported polished brass, murals, fountains, statues and stained glass.

Today, only two of these magnificent structures have survived. The Fordyce has been preserved by the National Park Service as a sort of museum of the historic grandeur of the times, featuring the furniture, steam cabinets, tubs, massage tables, chiropody tools, billiard table, grand piano, beauty parlor and hydrotherapy equipment prevalent in those days. And one other is in actual operation; at the Buckstaff Baths you can still get a ritual therapeutic bath and massage in the traditional manner. We’ve done it once, and it was an interesting experience to say the least — although I don’t think I’d care to do it again.

Finally, there’s the “Clinton Connection” which I hinted at in an earlier post. Without getting too political, I will just say that despite his personal shortcomings, I thought highly of Bill Clinton’s accomplishments during his term of office. As you may know, Hot Springs was his boyhood home, and during his presidency the town was simply beside itself in celebration. At one point during his tenure, Mrs. Toast’s sister and her husband (rabid Christian conservative Republicans who thought he was no less than the devil incarnate) accompanied us on a family lake vacation and we gave them a tour of the town, during which I took fiendish delight in pointing out All Things Clintonian: his former house, his former school, the parking lot where he got his first blow job, etc. I could see my sister-in-law getting progressively more agitated by this, until we finally pulled up in front of a souvenir shop and I offered to go in and buy her a Bill Clinton T-Shirt. At this point she could take no more, and blurted out that she wished I would because she needed something to clean her toilet with.

Another famous Clinton legacy in Hot Springs is McClard’s Bar-B-Q, home of some of the finest ribs and sauce in the entire nation. These culinary delights were a favorite of Bill’s for many years, and when he was governor, he would occasionally sneak down to Hot Springs from Little Rock in the middle of the night at which time the owners would open the place and cook up a batch of beef and pork especially for him. He also stopped by on several occasions during his presidency, and favored one particular booth near the middle of the restaurant. During one of our visits there a few years ago, “The Clinton Table” was available and I am excited to report that my ass was parked in the exact same spot that formerly had been occupied by the ass of the 42nd President of the United States of America. (There’s a Monica Lewinsky joke there somewhere, but I’m not going to touch it.) This time, however, we sat next to the window and chatted up our waitress who regaled us with several Clinton stories. It seems that whenever he came in as president, there were at least a dozen secret service personnel who surrounded him at all times to not only shield him from any potential drive-by shooting through the large plate-glass windows, but to give him some privacy while he ate. Apparently, many people wanted to come up to him to say hello and shake his hand. On one occasion there was a woman (not a fan, much like my sister-in-law) who was determined not to just meet Mr. Clinton, but to also confront him about some issue or another. When a secret service agent tried to keep her away, she jabbed him with her elbow in an attempt to push past him. This was Not A Good Move on her part to say the least — you do not want to fuck with the secret service — and resulted in some momentary chaos during which Clinton was whisked out of the restaurant and the woman was arrested. Our waitress also recounted that every time the president came in, ten to twelve large bags of food would disappear out the door to a group of people whom she never, ever saw. Presumably, these were secret service agents staked out on the rooftops of nearby buildings.

As you can see by the photo to your right, I thoroughly enjoyed our meal there last week, and we bought several bottles of sauce to bring back for Christmas presents. One of them will no doubt go to my sister-in-law.

Partons au Canada, eh?

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Mrs. Toast is off on another adventure in a foreign land this week, giving a presentation at the International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meetings being held in Toronto. This event, which attracts attendees from as far away as China, examines the relationship between technology and cultural heritage. Mrs. Toast’s recent work in this area during her trip to Mexico got her an invitation to present at this forum; she is on the cutting edge of academic librarians who are performing this sort of research, and will discuss various ways that documents, folklore, artwork and other physical objects representing cultural heritage can be stored, classified, and accessed electronically. According to the organization’s program:

This tenth meeting visits digital culture in the age of Web 2.0, contributed content, open source, broadband services, and ubiquitous computing, and seeks to survey the changing synergies of culture, heritage and informatics. This year we will again examine major trends, novel research frontiers, and possible futures. Best practices, innovative policies, disruptive technologies and radical business plans will be promoted and critiqued. And as always, economics, law, and public policy will be visited afresh.

Pretty exciting stuff, eh? After the conference wraps up, she will have a free day before flying back home and has decided to make a quick side tour to Niagra Falls. I’ve never been there myself, but the postcards sure look nice.

In the meantime, I am eating my own cooking again this week which is even more incentive for my wife to come home as soon as possible. Basically, if it can’t be prepared in a microwave I’m S.O.L, and I’m getting to be pretty good friends with the pizza delivery guy by now. However, it looks like this book might just be right up my alley, and I plan to study it carefully so that I can be a whirling dervish of culinary delight in the kitchen by the time she leaves for Costa Rica, Belgium, or wherever the hell else the library sends her next. These are your tax dollars at work, folks.

I’ve also asked her to bring back a souvenir of Canada for me, but I’m not sure what I’m going to get. Maybe some moose antlers, a hockey puck, or a case of Molson. Or possibly some smoked salmon — as long as I can cook it in the microwave, eh?

Mrs. Toast went to Mexico and all I got was this lousy paper hat

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007


Fetching, wouldn’t you say? As if it isn’t bad enough that I have had the Bloggin’ Blues for much too long now, my dear jet-setting spouse has been flitting all over the globe, only adding to my stay-at-home, do-nothing funkiness. Yes, following her fun-filled vacation in Venice just a couple of months ago, Mrs. Toast just returned from a business trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she was part of a group from the University sent to study the culture and folklore of the area in order for the library to develop international programs for high school and college teachers to enrich their social studies cirriculum. But of course, like any business trip it wasn’t all work and no play — she also picked up all sorts of cool trinkets like these:



But while the shopping was lots of fun, unfortunately for Mrs. Toast, she reported that she and her group were forced to stay in horrible third-world accommodations such as this:



Er, at least that’s what she said — frankly, it doesn’t look so bad to me. Maybe she was just trying to make me feel better about being left at home. They also have some strange road signs down in Mexico, for example:


I believe the one above, loosely translated, means: “Caution: Loch Ness Monster ahead in road.”

She also got to enjoy all sorts of tasty treats like those from the candy store pictured to your right. The “$” stands for pesos, and with the exchange rate each of those yummy sugar bombs are about 89 cents apiece.

Did I mention that this was a business trip, in which the library footed the entire bill for an entourage of five people to spend a week visiting craft centers, historical sites, girl scout camps and other locations to interview Mexican artists and craftsmen, and photograph various objects for the interactive web site the University has made? If you’re wondering “how can I get a job like this?” — sorry, you’re too late. I’ve already asked Mrs. Toast that question and have dibs on the next available opening.

Oh yes, and I should point out the significance of the Krispy Kreme hat is that at one point during their tour, the group stopped at a donut shop just outside of Mexico City and bought about humpteen boxes of them to take back to their hotel room. Seriously, with the value of the dollar versus the peso, a delicious glazed cruller was like six cents each. This may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think “Mexican food”, but hey … they were in Mexico, and it was food, so that’s plenty authentic enough. For some reason this particular K.K. was giving away free hats, so everybody in the party got one and Mrs. Toast brought one back for me too. (I would have preferred the cruller, but I don’t think it would have survived the return trip nearly as well.)

On her next international adventure coming up in October, the library is sending the group to Toronto, Canada. I’m not exactly sure of the cultural significance of this trip yet, but I hope she brings back more local souvenirs from there too. A case of Molson would be nice, eh?

“DoNut” subestime la energía del Kreme.

More Venice photos

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Much more scenery, way less pigeons:

Click above to begin

In Italy, the pigeons are lovely this time of year

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Good news, folks: I survived ten days of bachelorhood, as Mrs. Toast has returned from her trip to Venice. Here’s just a few random photos of the scenic beauty she enjoyed while there:




Um, are you sensing a theme here?



It is a fact that Venice is ever-so-slowly-but-surely sinking into the sea, and from what I can tell from her photos this must be due to the tons of pigeon poop that accumulates every year in the Piazza San Marco.

I think there are a couple of other photos on her digital camera that are not of pigeons, and I’ll try to pull out and post a couple of them soon. In the meantime, here’s one shot taken in London’s Gatwick airport that is sure to make Chandira homesick:


In case you’re wondering, the reason she took this picture is because she knows that I sho’nuff do loves me some o’dat Walker’s pure butter shortbread. Mmmmmm, yes. And there’s nary a pigeon to be seen.

Mr. Toast’s Household Hints

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Well, tomorrow’s the big day: I say “arrividirche” to Mrs. Toast, who will be heading across the Big Pond to begin her 10-day adventure in Venice. This has been a busy week, between packing, last-minute checks with the airline, making advance arrangements for her water-taxi from the airport to the hotel on arrival, as well as coordinating with the three other ladies who will also be escaping their husbands for a week to go on this trip. She’s quite excited about it, naturally, and has a long list of restaurants, museums, and other must-see spots.

Venice is one of those places that I think everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Who knows, in another 100 years it may not be there any more, as the city is being ever-so-gradually reclaimed by the sea. “Decaying” is a word often heard to describe it these days, as its population of permanent residents today stands at only about a third of what it was in the 50′s. Recurring flooding and rising tides have left many palazzos decrepit and uninhabitable, and at night parts of the historical city center are as abandoned as an empty movie set. Yet, when I was there in 2002, I was totally fascinated, awed and inspired by this place that is unlike any other on earth, and its graceful, sophisticated ambiance must be experienced firsthand to truly be appreciated. But while Venice indeed belongs on every traveler’s “life list“, there is a paradox there as well: the place is already completely overrun with tourists, and the more people that come, the more damage is done to the fragile ecosystem of the lagoon. There is also a danger of the city absorbing too much of the “foreign” culture of its visitors, to the point that it begins to resemble a parody of itself. But it has survived this long, and is resistant to change — even if maintaining old traditions can sometimes be difficult:

“Venice is an incredible, fragile city,” said Anna Somers Cox, the chairwoman of the Venice in Peril Fund, a British organization dedicated to protecting Venice from flooding. In her experience, she said, the city hews to the preservation of its cultural past at the expense of adaptation and rational city planning. “It matters terribly if you can’t introduce a new idea to help run the city,” she said.

Although I’ve been trying to help my wife prepare by getting her acquainted with the area around her hotel in relation to the other places to see that I remember from my own visit (with considerable help from Google Earth, I should add), I still feel slightly depressed about not being able to go this time. And, to be perfectly honest, the prospect of fending for myself for ten days is a bit daunting as well; I’m ashamed to admit that my cooking skills since marriage have deteriorated to the point where doing much more than opening a bag of Cheesy Poofs or microwaving a frozen burrito can be a bit challenging for me.

However, no need for you to worry, readers — I will survive, if for no other reason than with the help of the following tips that I received today from our local weekly ad-rag. Frankly, I never realized some of these things would actually work but I’ll have ten whole days to try them out and see for myself:

  1. Budweiser beer conditions the hair
  2. Pam cooking spray will dry finger nail polish
  3. Cool whip will condition your hair in 15 minutes
  4. Mayonnaise will KILL LICE, it will also condition your hair
  5. Elmer’s Glue – paint on your face, allow it to dry, peel off and see the dead skin and blackheads
  6. Shiny Hair – use brewed Lipton Tea
  7. Sunburn – empty a large jar of Nestea into your bath water
  8. Minor burn – Colgate or Crest toothpaste
  9. Burn your tongue? Put sugar on it!
  10. Arthritis? WD-40. Spray and rub in, kills insect stings too
  11. Bee stings – meat tenderizer
  12. Chiggerbite – Preparation H
  13. Puffy eyes – Preparation H
  14. Paper cut – crazy glue or chap stick (glue is used instead of sutures almost hospitals)
  15. Stinky feet – Jell-O!
  16. Athletes feet – cornstarch
  17. Fungus on toenails or fingernails – Vicks Vapo-Rub
  18. Kool aid – clean dishwasher pipes. Just put in the detergent section and run a cycle, it will also clean a toilet. (Wow, and we drink this stuff?)
  19. Kool Aid can be used as a dye in paint. Also try Kool Aid in Dannon Plain yogurt, or as a finger paint. Kids will love it and it won’t hurt them if they eat it!
  20. Peanut butter will get scratches out of CD’s! Wipe off with a coffee filter paper
  21. Sticking bicycle chain – Pam no-stick cooking spray
  22. Pam will also remove paint, and grease from your hands. Keep a can in the garage
  23. Peanut butter will remove ink from the face of dolls
  24. When the doll clothes are hard to put on, sprinkle with corn starch and watch them slide on
  25. Heavy dandruff – pour on the vinegar!
  26. Body paint – Crisco mixed with food coloring. Heat the Crisco in the microwave, pour into an empty film container and mix with the food color of your choice!
  27. Tie Dye T-shirt – mix a solution of Kool Aid in a container, tie a rubber band around a section of the T-shirt and soak
  28. Preserving a newspaper clipping – large bottle of club soda and cup of milk of magnesia, soak for 20 min. and let dry, will last for many years!
  29. A “Slinky” will hold toast and CD’s!
  30. To keep goggles and glasses from fogging, coat with Colgate toothpaste
  31. Wine stains, pour on the Morton salt And watch it absorb into the salt.
  32. To remove wax, take a paper towel and iron it over the wax stain, it will absorb into the towel.
  33. Remove labels off glassware etc. rub with peanut butter!
  34. Baked on food – fill container with water, get a Bounce paper softener sheet and the static from the Bounce will cause the baked on food to adhere to it. Soak overnight. Also; you can use 2 Efferdent tablets, soak overnight!
  35. Crayon on the wall – Colgate Toothpaste and brush it!
  36. Dirty grout – Listerine
  37. Stains on clothes – Colgate
  38. Grass stains – Karo Syrup
  39. Grease Stains – Coca Cola, It will also remove grease stains from the driveway overnight. We know it will take corrosion from car batteries!
  40. Fleas in your carpet? 20 Mule Team Borax – Sprinkle and let stand for 24 hours.
  41. To keep FRESH FLOWERS longer, add a little Clorox, or 2 Bayer aspirin, or just use 7-up instead ofwater.

With the help of this list, I should be more than prepared for any contingency. Now please excuse me while I go get some Kool-Aid and a bag of Cheesy Poofs; I feel a case of Orange Fingers coming on.

Be sure to pack your bathing suit

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

One thing you can say about the folks at Google, they’re about as wild n’ crazy as a bunch of software engineers can be. For example, they’re well known for their annual April Fool’s jokes like this one.

The guffaws continue at their mapping portal, where you can create a trip route to your chosen destination complete with the usual turn-by-turn driving instructions. Click on the “Get Directions” tab, enter Houston to Chicago: 1078 miles in 17 hours and 40 minutes. OK, typical stuff; any number of sites will do that. But on Google Maps, create a route between two locations not directly connected by roads — say, Houston to Frankfurt, Germany — and you’ll get this:

googlemap2.jpg

This is nerd humor at its finest, people.

You know the drinks are good…

Friday, April 13th, 2007

…when after you’ve had two of them, you can no longer feel your face. Such were the excellent Margaritas at Casa Rio, where we had dinner on the Riverwalk tonight. And check out this giganormous Mai Tai they brought Mrs. Toast:

maitai.jpg
This is not a trick of camera perspective folks, that glass is actually bigger than her head. But in her defense, she needed it after a hard day of pounding the show floor, picking up all the swag that’s given away at librarian conventions such as tote bags, pens, various stuffed tschotkes, and of course books. Lots and lots of books. Most of these books are in the pre-publication stage, with big “proof copy” labels on the outside requesting anyone who finds spelling mistakes and/or errors of fact to please contact the author before it’s released to the public and said author is embarrassed to death because they claimed in their book that Fidel Castro once played shortstop for the Washington Senators baseball team, or mention that thing with Richard Gere and the gerbil, or whatever. It’s also a fact that book-pushers are not shy about pandering to librarians at these events because they dearly want to get their writing into public collections. They will therefore come up with titles like this (honest):

Catalogue of Death! (A Miss Zukas mystery) by Jo Dereske. Jacket blurb: A diligent Dewey Decimilast, Miss Wilhelmina Zukas believes in doing everything by the book. But one night something sinister transpires outside her library window. While inspecting the site he’s generously set aside for the town’s new public library, local billionaire Franklin Harrington is mysteriously blown to bits! Since the surviving heirs are more inclined to build pricey condos on the designated land, Miss Zukas must defy her boss, library despot May Apple Moon, and delve into the Harrington’s affairs, because a murderer may be hanging off the family tree!

Think they’re counting on the fact that many of the convention attendees may be acquainted with a “library despot” or two of their own?

Anyway, we’ve had a great time but today wraps up our adventures and we’ll be homeward bound in the morning. Hope y’all have enjoyed my travelogue; I’ll have a bunch more pictures to post next week after I download them from the camera … and my hangover wears off.

More adventures in Margaritaville

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Today was the day of Mrs. Toast’s big TLA presentation, and I’m happy to report that all went exceedingly well. Leading up to her big dog-and-pony show, she had been very nervous about the idea of standing up in front of several hundred professional librarians, all of whom would be eyeballing her skeptically while thinking, “who is this person, and what can they possibly tell me about Collaborative Wikis that I might find remotely useful?” As you may be aware, most librarians are possessed with a vast amount of wisdom about everything in the universe, their brains full of knowledge to the very limit of human capacity. It can be difficult to squeeze in new facts without the danger of information they have already learned popping out from the opposite side of their brains to make room for them (aka “The Kelly Bundy Syndrome”); this makes them a very tough crowd to play to.

But as the lights in the conference room went down, the first of her PowerPoint slides appeared on the screen to audible oohs and ahhs from the audience, who were simply blown away by the awesomeness of her font selection, background imaging, and tasteful use of bullet points. By the end of her show, she had them on their feet applauding and cheering, and library groupies came up to her afterwards to ask for her autograph and to find out where they might catch her next presentation.

You think I’m making this up, don’t you?

Anyway, while Mrs. Toast was knocking ‘em dead at her convention, I decided to head back over to the Riverwalk. It’s kind of odd when I stop to think about it; the first time I came here was well over 20 years ago, and although it’s changed and grown over the years, it still hasn’t lost the casual charm and wonderful ambiance that I love so much about this place. With its unique combination of dining, lodging and entertainment concentrated in a spectacular riverfront setting, I don’t think there’s another place in America quite like it. It’s small wonder that the International Travel Association recently rated San Antonio as the #12 most popular city in the USA for convention and seminar travelers, one of the smallest cities on ITA’s list, even beating out major destinations like New York and Los Angeles.

However, on my way from our hotel, I again passed by the Alamo and was struck at the difference in the scene from when we had been there the previous evening. Gone was the respectful reverence displayed by the few people who were present last night; in its place was something like a circus sideshow carnival. Groups of small kids ran around screaming, oblivious to the solemnity of the location, their parents nowhere to be seen. Tourists mugged for the camera in front of the mission doors, some mocking the siege of 1836 by pretending to “shoot” each other. Across the street from Alamo Plaza, barkers attempted to cajole passing tourists to enter the Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, House of Mirrors, and some other unknown attraction that featured a ten-foot-tall 3-D animated cartoon caricature of “Davy Crockett” clutching a rifle and wearing an oversize coonskin cap. I thought it was rather appalling, and couldn’t help but wonder what Crockett, Travis, Bowie and the others might think if they could be here to see it now. Growth and popularity does have its negative side.

After a little bit I came to the Rivercenter Mall, which seemed like a much more appropriate place for commerce, and I think anyone who plans to visit San Antonio needs to spend a little time here. Now, I would not normally recommend something like this as tour highlight; after all, I’m not really a retail sort of guy. But how many shopping malls in America look like this?


For anyone visiting from out of state, this is definitely the one-stop shopping spot for all your tacky Lone Star souvenirs: cowboy hats, belt buckles, stuffed armadillos, fake longhorn antlers, giant coffee mugs and shot glasses, mini oil derricks, A&M T-Shirts, and other, er, items. I mean seriously, folks, what better captures the essence of “Texas” than shellacked petrified cow poop? No home should be without one.

The mall has a lovely outdoor foot court, where you’ll enjoy being serenaded by live music as you watch the cruise boats full of tourists go by. However, ornithophobics beware: the avian life here, including ducks, sparrows, big fat black grackles, mockingbirds, and pigeons — oh yes, most definitely the pigeons — are so used to handouts from humans that you will be mobbed if a crumb so much as falls out of your mouth onto the ground. At one point a woman stood up and offered a nearby coven of pigeons some sort of food item, and they swooped in and dive-bombed her like a squadron of fighter jets. Alfred Hitchcock immediately came to mind.

But I pressed on, looking for a place to hang out and consume all those margaritas you nice readers have been asking me to have for you; after all, I take my responsibilities seriously and wouldn’t want to let anyone down. Finally I found it: the Ibiza Bar (left), a funky little restaurant and watering hole that’s part of the Hilton Paseo Del Rio complex. I’ve always wanted to visit the Balearic paradise, and this Ibiza will probably be as close as I’ll ever get. The beverage that subsequently appeared on my table nearly brought tears to my eyes, it was a truly magnificent frozen concoction. And as I lifted it in symbolic toast, I honestly wished all of y’all could be here to enjoy one with me. We’d have us one hell of a fine time.

Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a souvenir on your way home; that petrified meadow muffin ought to look great in your den.

San Antone photos

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

We’re staying at the Menger Hotel during our visit to San Antonio, which is located right next door to the Alamo. The Menger is quite famous in Texas history; past guests have featured such notable personalities as Teddy Roosevelt (who recruited his legendary “Rough Riders” in the hotel’s bar), Babe Ruth, Mae West, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (although presumably not at the same time), just to mention a few. Much of the original hotel’s furnishings and artwork have been preserved, and staying here is a lot like being a guest in a museum.

The hotel is allegedly haunted as well, and many guests have reported sighting various ghosts and apparitions on the property, including “kitchen utensils that transport themselves,” according to the hotel’s PR staff. We haven’t seen any ghosts so far ourselves, but one vaguely spooky sighting did occur this evening while we were walking around the hallowed ground of the Alamo. Several blocks away is the Crockett Hotel, which features a large green neon sign on its roof. From a certain angle, the name “Crockett” seems to float over the Alamo, giving Davy somewhat of an enhanced presence here at the spot where he died.

There’s a picture of this phenomenon along with a few other photos I took today around the hotel; just click on the thumbnail below to view the album. Hope you enjoy them.

 

The need for speed

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

We made it to San Antonio in near record time today, covering about 350 miles in about five and a half hours. I could have done even better than that, except for encountering road construction while going through Houston (which is a little like saying “encountering water while swimming”). I confess that I can be a bit of a lead-foot at times; many years ago, I formulated a theory which I call “The 15-mile-per-hour rule”. It postulates the following:

1. Highway design engineers plan for roads to be traveled at a certain normal, safe speed, taking into consideration such things as sight distance, curve radius, road width and bank, pavement texture and smoothness, natural terrain, and a multitude of other factors;

2. Once the engineers design and build a section of road, they turn it over (along with their statistics for what normal speed of travel the road was designed for) to the policymakers who set speed limits for it;

3. Those lawmakers arbitrarily deduct 15 miles per hour from whatever figure the engineers give them. For example, if the engineers say “this road, being straight and wide with limited access, can be traveled safely by a normally competent driver at 85 miles per hour”, then the lawmakers set the speed limit at 70. If the engineers tell them the road is designed for 50 mile per hour travel, they set the speed limit at 35, etc. etc. They do this because they realize that — incredibly — not everyone in the country is as good a driver as I am. They must compensate for those less-than-outstanding, sub-average drivers who lack my precise control ability, lightening-quick reflexes, and advanced situational awareness. For example, there might be some damn old fool who will get all flustered going at 55 miles per hour down a perfectly straight, level, dry road because he’s afraid he can’t control his own bowels let alone a two-ton automobile, and the powers that be better de-rate that speed limit down to 40 so a tree doesn’t jump out in the middle of the road and bite his car, boy howdy!

Therefore the conclusion: since I am not only an accomplished but may I say (ahem) excellent driver, EVERY STRETCH OF ROAD, ANYWHERE IN IN THE UNITED STATES, CAN BE SAFELY (if not legally) TRAVELED AT 15 MILES PER HOUR ABOVE THE POSTED SPEED LIMIT. This is the speed that the designers of this highway — and dare I say, God himself — intended for me to go.

Now, I fully realize that my little theory is not going to be very persuasive when I am staring down the muzzle of a radar gun wielded by some tired state trooper, sitting in his black-and-white, just waiting to nail his last speeder of the night so he can make quota, stop for some coffee and donuts, finish his shift and go home. No siree.

The last ticket I got was nearly ten years ago, heading back to Texas from visiting relatives in Pagosa Springs Colorado. We were heading down Highway 285 out of Sante Fe, on our way to intersect I-40 at Clines Corners (“Worth Stopping For!”). If you’ve ever been on this piece of road, you know it’s about 45 miles of perfectly smooth, level highway that cuts straight as an arrow through some pretty barren countryside. The only thing you’re liable to encounter out there is a tumbleweed. So at two in the morning, with not another vehicle in sight for miles, I was proceeding at what I thought was a perfectly reasonable 80 mph, trying to make some time on the long drive home. (OK, it might have been 90. Whatever.) Suddenly, a pair of headlights topped a little rise coming at me and my radar detector simultaneously began squealing. I quickly braked down to legal speed (55? WTF?) but it was too late – I was busted, and I felt that sickening feeling of my heart jumping into my throat as he turned on his flashers, did a U and pulled me over. The nice patrolman gave me a “break” in that he only wrote the ticket for 70; if I had been tagged at more than 16 miles over the limit, the fine would have doubled. Still, as there was no way I could appear in court, that trip wound up costing an additional $140 mailed to the Great State of New Mexico after we got back.

Since then, I haven’t had another ticket — perhaps due to being more careful, maybe a little more lucky as well. I don’t take as many road trips as I used to, and I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy the scenery a bit more too. Sure the Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, and other wildflowers along the road are pretty to look at, but then there are times like today when you just want to freakin’ get there.

I did have one sort of close call on the way; we took Beltway 8, also known as the Sam Houston Tollway, around the outskirts of Houston. Coming up on the first toll plaza, traffic seemed lighter in the left hand lane, so I moved over. Suddenly I saw a sign and realized why – it was the EZ-Tag lane, but I was blocked in by traffic and couldn’t move back over in time. As I whipped past the toll booth, I was sure the automated camera had snapped a photo of my license plate, and I would be getting a notice in the mail to pay a heavy fine. At the second toll plaza near our exit, however, I mentioned it to the attendant and asked if I could pay the missed toll there in order to avoid a ticket. “Is it your first time?”, he asked, and when I said “yes”, he laughed. “Don’t worry about it, they won’t bother you.”

So I have learned (at least) two things today:

1. There are a certain number of “freebies” that you can get away with on toll roads within a certain period of time. The exact number and the exact time frame is probably not publicly available information.

2. Somewhere in a database on a computer at the Harris County Toll Road Authority, there is a record of my license plate number, noting its exact location at a particular time today. I have no doubt that this information would be readily available to any federal government investigator with sufficient clearance and/or reason to want to view it, say if someone thought I might be (gasp!) a suspected Toasterist Terrorist.

Don’t you just love domestic surveillance?

But as I said at the beginning, we got here safe and sound (Amen!), and San Antonio is as beautiful as ever. The margaritas are, if anything, even stronger than I remember them being from our last trip, as you may be able to tell from this post. I’ll have more to write about that later in the week.

Headin’ down to Alamo-town

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Hope everyone had a nice Easter weekend. After our unexpected snow storm on Saturday, the weather warmed up a bit and we were able to enjoy the festivities with the family yesterday. The only problem was our grand-niece and nephew, who became so irritably cute while playing with their pet Easter Bunny (named “Winston”) that we just couldn’t stand it any more and were forced to lock the children in a pen for the rest of the day:


Ha ha! I’m kidding – please don’t call the DFPS on my ass. But seriously, they were really adorable, and I hope that this photo of rabbity cuteness brings me oodles of comments. After all, it seems to work for Schnozz. Oh what the hell, here’s another pic:


Hey, if we’re going to pander, we might as well go all the way! I would actually consider getting a rabbit ourselves, if we didn’t already have three highly territorial cats who would no doubt be less than pleased at the obvious competition for the petting and ear-scratching. So, I guess whenever we need a bunny-fix we’ll go visit the relatives. (“Hi, we just came over to see Winston. Oh, and how are you guys, by the way?”)

In other news, we’re about to depart here tomorrow morning to spend a few days in beautiful San Antonio. Mrs. Toast is making a presentation at the annual meeting of the Texas Library Association, so I’ve decided to tag along, seeing how no air travel will be involved.* She will also attend various meetings and seminars as she learns all about the latest hoop-de-doo in Libraryland. (Pardon me; I’m using this technical jargon because I know that occasionally Actual Librarians may read this blog.) Those of you who have been following this journal for a while now may remember our previous trip to the Alamo City last year for ALA, when many margaritas were consumed and general hilarity ensued as we hung out with a bunch of other wild ‘n crazy liberrians, er librarians, from all over the country. We’re hoping that this visit will be equally exciting, although this gathering will be strictly Texas librarians … only a small subset of the greater information-resource culture that includes some serious party animals from Boston whom we were with last year. We’ll do our best, however, and depending on Internet availability at our hotel, I’ll hopefully have some further adventures and photos to post later in the week.

*Honestly, since her presentation also involves a laptop and digital projector, I suspect she is bringing me along mainly for the technical support.

Benvenuto a Venezia bella

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

Here’s the view Mrs. Toast will be enjoying in about six weeks:


We had waited until my doctor appointment last week to be sure I would be “in the clear”, so now that we know that I won’t be going under the knife for a while yet, it’s safe to announce that she is proceeding with her plan to visit beautiful Venice.

The way this all came about is sort of interesting. Mrs. Toast has a very close friend who is like a sister to her. (Since her friend has — more or less — successfully raised two teenage daughters, we will henceforth refer to her as “Psycho-Mom”. Any parents reading this will understand completely.) Mrs. Toast and Psycho-Mom are close to the same age and both sets of their parents were best friends long before they were born, so it was only natural that they grew up together. Even though P-Mom now lives over 500 miles away, they still stay in close touch and see each other regularly.

Last Christmas, Psycho-Mom received an unusual present from her husband (“Psycho-Dad”). You first need to understand that P-Dad is a big honcho in the Texas oil bidness; indeed, I suspect that at minimum, at least two cents of every single gallon of gas you and I buy goes directly into his pocket. With the booming price surge experienced by the industry during the last few years, P-Dad has therefore reportedly had to rent secure storage space in order to keep the huge bags of cash that have been piling up around their house. In fact, he can barely walk down the street without leaving a trail of money behind him, hundred-dollar bills falling out of his pockets like leaves blowing in the wind from an uncovered lawn trailer as it’s being towed down the street.

OK, I’m exaggerating — a bit — but the point is that P-Dad did have a pretty good year in 2006, and in a spirit of largesse gave his wife this present: a one-week all-expense-paid trip anywhere in the world for herself and three friends of her choosing. Fortunately, all those years of friendship paid off, as Mrs. Toast was invited to the party. We don’t know the other two women who will be going, but I suspect they will all become good friends very quickly as much Grappa is consumed. It’s gonna be one hell of a ladies night out.

I am, naturally, somewhat jealous that I won’t be able to go along, but this is tempered by the fact that I visited Venice by myself during my Great European Train Tour of 2002. I’m using the knowledge I gained during that trip to help Mrs. Toast plan her visit; I have maps, travel guides, and personal recommendations on sights to see and fun things to do, and will experience the city again vicariously through her. We’re all very excited, and I’ll post updates and perhaps photos of my previous adventures (if I can find and scan them – this was before I had a digital camera). In the meantime, when you next fill up your gas tank keep in mind that in some very small way, you’re helping to buy my wife a tasty gelato as she strolls through the Plaza San Marco. We sure do thank you.

P-Mom tells us that the decision to select Venice as her destination didn’t require a lot of thought, as she has always wanted to go there. There’s no question that it’s a lovely, fascinating place that everyone should visit once in their lifetime — but what about you? If someone offered you a week anywhere in the world, where would you choose, and why?

Passport to exotic lands

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Those who travel often are no doubt aware of this, but for poor stay-at-home schlubs like myself it came as somewhat of a surprise to learn that the government is about to require a valid U.S. passport to travel anywhere outside the country, including Canada and Mexico. Previously only a valid driver’s license or other picture ID was required, but beginning next week (January 23rd), all persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, or any other country will be required to present a valid passport. Note that only airline passengers are affected initially, however beginning January 1, 2008 ANYONE who wishes to cross the U.S. border, whether by air, land, or sea, will be required to present passports or other accepted documentation. According to the State Department’s website:

As early as January 1, 2008, ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea (including ferries), may be required to present a valid passport or other documents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security. While recent legislative changes permit a later deadline, the Departments of State and Homeland Security are working to meet all requirements as soon as possible. Ample advance notice will be provided to enable the public to obtain passports or passport cards for land/sea entries. The passport requirement does NOT apply to U.S. citizens traveling to or returning directly from a U.S. territory. U.S. citizens returning directly from a U.S. territory are not considered to have left the United States and do not need to present a passport. U.S. territories include the following: Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The new policy will affect millions of Americans, and has been planned by the Department of Homeland Security as a way to tighten U.S. borders by not allowing potential terrorists to exploit the relative ease of travel within North America. There have been previous occasions where terrorists were narrowly thwarted attempting to bring in material and operatives from Canada and Mexico. “We’re asking people to think of travel in and out of the U.S. [in this hemisphere] in the same way they would travel to and from Europe,” said Elaine Dezenski, a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. However, the new rules will also require significant additional trip-planning time, and drastically affect last-minute travelers as well as students who travel on school trips, or spontaneously, to Canada or Mexico. Tourism officials say that those under age 21 are much less likely to have passports than older travelers.

As far as I can tell, there is no exception planned for those who want to drive to our northermost state from the “lower 48″. Alaska may become unique: the only one of the United States that requires a passport to visit by car, as U.S. motorists have to pass through Canada to get to it. Tourism officials there can’t be too happy about the new rules.

These developments have been in the planning phase for months but somehow I managed to miss hearing about them before now. However, I am fortunate in two regards: (1) I obtained my passport in preparation for a visit to Europe a few years ago, so I’m all set, and; (2) the chances that I will be traveling to an exotic foreign destination like Moose Jaw (home of “Mac the Moose”, right) in the foreseeable future are best described as “slim to none”.

Touchdown

Monday, August 28th, 2006

The Toastcraft has successfully landed.


Here are a few statistics from the Toasted Tour 2006 Road Trip:

Elapsed Time: 44 days, 6 hours
Total miles traveled: 5,538.8
Gas consumed: 250 gallons
Average MPG: 22.1
Highest gas price paid: $3.09 – Kingston, NY
Lowest gas price paid: $2.46 – Gaffney, SC
States visited: 20 (plus District of Columbia)
Speeding tickets: 0
Accidents: 0
Near-misses: 1
Value of memories generated: Priceless

The pilot is a bit pooped at the moment, and will post further debriefing once he regains consciousness.

Farewell, New England

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America
-Paul Simon

I’ve always known that the route along the US northeastern seaboard between Boston, New York, and Washington DC is the busiest and most congested transportation corridor in the country, but I got to experience this firsthand this week as I began my long drive back to Texas from New England. After stopping off to say goodbye to my sister in Woodstock, this was the scenic view from my windshield for most of the way into DC:


After spending the better part of fifteen years fighting traffic in Houston, I thought I would be prepared for congested road conditions, but I was nevertheless surprised at the monumental gridlock I encountered. Much of it seemed to be caused by the toll plazas along the highway that are ubiquitous in the Northeast. I frankly have never understood this. While the rest of the nation seems to be able to finance road construction and maintenance through highway taxes, the northern states prefer to nickle-and-dime motorists to death on the pay-as-you-go plan. Oops, did I say nickle and dime? Excuse me, I mean “dollar”. Gone are the 25-cent and 35-cent tolls I remember from years ago; now a typical toll is two or three bucks every 30 miles or so, even to $6.00 at one particular bridge crossing. And of course, at each toll booth, traffic was snarled for miles as motorists were forced to crawl to a stop and dig out their wallets.

But eventually I made it to our nation’s capital, a place I have not visited since I was a very young child. Since my ability to get around is somewhat limited by the mobility restrictions of my lung condition, I decided to take a guided tour of the various monuments and government institutions on something called the Old Town Trolley. I opted for the “Monuments by Moonlight” tour, which promised “entertaining anecdotes and historical information along with a sprinkling of bewitching ghost stories of the spirits who haunt our nation’s capitol”. While waiting to board the bus at Union Station to begin the the tour, I spotted this interesting juxtaposition between a replica of the Liberty Bell and one of Washington’s many homeless persons:


The tour began just as the sun was sinking over the Capitol Dome, and our guide and bus driver Dave was a humorous fellow who spun some highly entertaining stories as we drove around. The bus stopped at a couple of specific destinations for a few minutes to let the 20-30 or so people on the bus get off to visit the site in more depth. Because I have difficulty walking distances, I stayed on the bus and chatted with Dave, and during our conversation, learned he was quite an interesting fellow; he worked as a tour guide in his spare time, and had a master’s degree in history (with particular emphasis on the civil war period). As if this wasn’t ambitious enough, he was also working on his doctorate at Cornell University — not something you’d expect from your average bus driver.

Near the end of the tour, I got a special bonus: our last stop of the evening was to be a 45-minute break at the FDR memorial. Because there was no place available to park the bus, Dave let everyone off (except for myself) at curbside and said he’d be back to pick them up at the allotted time. He then proceeded to drive me around, alone on the bus, for my own personal private guided tour of spots that no one else got to see! I was delighted, and have to say that this is one occasion when being semi-disabled turned out to be something of an advantage!

The next day I whipped out my little blue “Buzzaround” travel scooter and spent a couple of hours cruising through the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. I have always wanted to go here, and was thrilled to see such historic artifacts as the Apollo space capsule, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright Brothers first airplane, and many more.

All in all, this has been a fantastic extension to what started out to be a more or less “ordinary” vacation. I could never have imagined making this trip a year ago, much less doing it by myself. My lung disease had me thinking I would be drearily housebound, with nothing to look forward to but the spectre of a lung transplant which may or may not be successful. Most of you take for granted your ability to drive from town to town, stay in motels, and sight-see, but the fact that my health has improved enough to allow me to do this has been a phenomenal accomplishment for me. From here I have about another week or so to meander casually through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Mississippi before returning home to Texas, and I’m having the time of my life.

Hangin’ in the Hamptons

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

No, not those Hamptons. While the tony social elite may gather on the east end of Long Island, from Westhampton to Montauk, I’m referring to the delightfully tacky working-class resort of Hampton Beach. Situated along New Hampshire’s tiny 17-mile long Seacoast, Hampton Beach is a family-friendly town that features all sorts of typical summer amusements such as a boardwalk, arcades, rinky-dink souvenir and t-shirt shops, and plenty of junk food like pizza, fried dough, and salt water taffy. There are free concerts every night at the beachside sea shell bandstand, as well as nicer restaurants that offer succulent fresh lobster and a variety of other fine seafood. While there are a number of Atlantic beach towns north of Boston such as Salisbury, Rye, York and Ogunquit (to name a few), nothing can top Hampton Beach for it’s perfect combination of kitsch, ample accommodations, and of course, sun and sand.

I’ve made this pilgrimage to Hampton Beach due to its revered place in my memory, as this was a frequent vacation destination (along with Lake Winnipesaukee) when I was a child. I recall many a year here spent splashing in the surf, and playing pinball and skee-ball in the arcades. Although many of the older games I remember have been replaced by modern video consoles, I was pleased to see that skee-ball has persevered and appears to be as popular as ever. One can still spend five or ten bucks to win enough prize coupons necessary to redeem for some plastic trinket worth perhaps fifty cents at best. The fun of doing so, however, is priceless.

Saturday night featured a free concert by a Billy Joel tribute band called “The Strangers“. Despite lead singer Jon Abrams total lack of any physical resemblance whatsoever to The Piano Man, the band did a remarkable job at recreating the music and “feel” of an actual Billy Joel concert. From the instrumentation, to arrangements, vocal phrasing and inflection, I could close my eyes and reasonably believe that I was listening to the real thing, and it was quite enjoyable.

On Sunday morning, I buzzed up and down the boardwalk a few more times on my little blue scooter before heading out to continue my travels, and paused for a few minutes by the beach to reflect on all the fond memories this spot holds for me. To my delight, I experienced a brief yet perfect moment of Zen when everything came together; the pleasant nostalgia was amplified by the warmth of the sun on my face, the sound of the crashing waves and squawking seagulls mixed with the laughter of children, the smell of the salt air, and the view of brilliant blue sky and endless ocean in front of me. Everyone has found at least one sacred place in their lifetime, and this is definitely one of mine. Tacky or not, it will always be so for me.

What about you? Do you have a sacred place, either former or current?

Returning to my roots

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

An often-quoted statistic is that 50 percent of all Americans live within 50 miles of their birthplace, a phenomenon known as “propinquity”. However, in the small Massachusetts town where I was born and raised, this figure appears to be much closer to 80 or 90 percent. I know this because I’ve spent the last couple of days leafing through the alumni directory of my high school, which lists every graduate since 1959 along with their current address and occupation (if known). Accounting for the fact that the publishers most certainly had considerably more luck contacting local alumni than those who had moved away long ago, the overwhelming majority of my classmates still reside in what’s known as “The North Shore” … Hamilton, Wenham, Ipswich, Essex, Rockport, Beverly, and Salem, to name but a few towns in the area. Wandering around these places for the last week has brought on a strange nostalgia that I had not expected to feel, as when I was younger, I couldn’t wait to get away from here. Whether it was the tyranny of parental domination, the dreary cold and snow of New England winters, the fact that everything seemed so old, drab and “un-modern” in historic colonial Massachusetts, or merely simple wanderlust, I’m not sure. It most likely was a combination of all of these, but as soon as I was able, I moved to a tropical island in the Carribbean — a place about as far away from my hometown as I could get, both in distance and attitude. I’m one of the ten percent that got out.

So considering this, the fact that I have felt drawn to return some 1,800 miles on this trip from my present home to the place of my raising is somewhat perplexing to me. For example, this is the little shoebox of a house in which I grew up:


Can you believe that anyone could be nostalgic for this this little cottage, with barely 800 square feet of living space? Still, this tiny house holds a vast quantity of my childhood memories, and to be fair, not all of them are unpleasant. I can remember standing on that front porch having my picture taken during a long-ago birthday party; next to me and holding my hand was a little girl from my class who had stolen my eight-year old heart, and the look of bliss on my young face in the resulting photo was priceless. Other memories are not so good; the two upper windows were my parent’s bedroom, and my father would summon me there for a spanking when I had done something bad. Even now it makes me squirm just to think about that.

But having no choice in the matter, I was born here anyway, and eventually I suppose this small town will be my final resting place as well. I forgave my Dad for his cruelty to me, and we were thankfully able to reconcile before he died in 1979. My mother passed nearly ten years later, and they are both laid to rest in the historic Hamilton Cemetery. We own two more adjacent plots, so there will be room for me when the time comes … which hopefully won’t be for a very long while yet.

This week, I went to their gravesite to pay my respects, and cleared off some brush and weeds which had grown up around it. I would like to think that perhaps they were looking down from above approvingly at their prodigal son, at last come home to visit them and care for their headstone. I do miss them, and maybe that’s why I’ve felt drawn back here.

It’s either that or the clams.

Saturday Night Pants-Dance Fever

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

For the last few days, I’ve been hanging out with an high school friend here in my old home town, having a great time reminiscing about the past. This evening, my friend decided it would be fun to have me check out one of his favorite spots, a local restaurant in Danvers by the name of the “Village Green”. It seems that every Friday and Saturday night, this place hosts something they call a “singles dance”, featuring a disc jockey, buffet, and plenty of mixed adult beverages. Folks reportedly flock to this event from as far away as New Hampshire and Boston; my friend (who is single) qualifies as “a regular”, and reports that it’s a hoot.

Now even though Mrs. Toast is 1,800 miles away in Texas, I’m still not exactly single, so I had to make sure this plan was OK with her. Fortunately, she trusts me to behave myself.

She also knows that I’m not going to be able to get in too much trouble while sporting my spiffy oxygen tank and nasal cannula. This accoutrement does not exactly scream “sexy”.

So it was with much anticipation that I put on my best duds, coifed my hair, and prepared for a big night out on the town, which I have not done for many years. As we were getting into the car, my friend said to me:

“They’re not going to let you in wearing those pants.”

I had on crisp black denims and a black shirt, which I thought looked quite raffish in a Johnny Cash-sort of way; it was an outfit that any respectable Texan might wear to a bar or night club, and I scoffed at his suggestion that such attire might be considered inappropriate.

That is, until I met The Pants Nazi.

As we arrived at the club, at the door was a tiny blue-haired old lady collecting the $5 cover charge. In front of us was a man wearing nice looking blue jeans, who was in the process of receiving a lecture on Proper Attire for Gentlemen.

“No denim!” the Pants Nazi croaked, pointing to a large sign above the door stating that men must wear closed-toed shoes (no sandals), a collared shirt, and dress slacks. After haggling for a few minutes with no luck, the man said he was going to the local discount store to buy a pair of casual pants and would return shortly. I stepped up to her confidently and offered her my $5 bill, but she looked at me with disdain.

“You too,” she said. “No denim allowed.”

I tried to sweet-talk her, explaining that I had come all the way from Texas and these were the nicest pants I owned, but had no better luck than the previous gentleman (who was now monitoring my attempt to charm The Pants Nazi with great interest). “Hey, I’m going to the Mall to get some pants,” he said to me. “If you want to go too, I’ll give you a ride.”

For a moment, the whole thing seemed so absurd that I considered telling the Pants Nazi to take a hike, and leaving. Then, I thought of the old Groucho Marx phrase, “I would never want to join any club that would accept someone like me as a member”, and it became a freaking challenge to me. I suddenly remembered that I had another pair of pants outside in the Toastmobile; they were denim too, but of a much lighter fabric and color, with a pleated cut more like Dockers than jeans.

I looked The Pants Nazi in the eye and did my best Terminator impression: “Ah’ll be bhaack,” I said.

I felt like an idiot changing my pants in the car in the parking lot, and frankly I thought these pants were even more jeany-looking than what I had on to begin with. But change I did, and tromped back to the door to see if The Pants Nazi would approve the new cut of my jib.

“Whaddya think,” I asked her, doing a little catwalk-turn for effect. “Will this pass muster?”

The Pants Nazi looked me over through her bat-wing glasses. “Close enough,” she said. We were in! Not only that, she comped me the $5 cover charge because I had made the effort to change my pants. Maybe she had a soft spot after all.

Once inside after this fashion incident, I came face-to-face with one of the more bizarre sights I have yet seen on this trip: the blurb for singles night stated that the event was for anyone “from 30 to 60″, but every single person I saw was much closer to the upper end than the lower end of this range. Numerous couples looked to be in their 70′s. The sound of the Bee Gees boomed from the speakers while elderly men did their best Tony Manero and the ladies tried to “get down” without losing their false teeth on the dance floor. Holy shit, it was Disco Night at the Retirement Home! My oxygen tank and cannula was going to fit right in!

I’m certain that it’s highly unlikely that the elderly blonde woman in the black dress that barely covered her bony ass is reading this blog, but in case she is (and you know who you are, Grandma) let me tell you this: any dress that leaves considerable doubt as to where your sagging boobs end and your extended stomach begins is not an attractive look for you.

I thought the entire affair was just wrong on so many levels, and it has quite frankly ruined the Bee Gees for me. I will never again be able to listen to Barry Gibb’s sweet falsetto on Stayin’ Alive without seeing the disturbing mental image of Grannies Gone Wild. Disco may be alive and well and living in Massachusetts; it is certainly, at the very least, on life support.