Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bus Lessons

Last Sunday, the Other Marie dropped me off at the Metro, at the end of the line nearest her house in Northern Virginia. When I was a kid, I'd take the bus from Del Ray to Old Town, then transfer to the 11D to get out to Springfield. Now, the Washington DC Metro ends there.

I got across town faster than I expected, so I stopped in Union Station to grab a sandwich. After 20 minutes, I jumped back on the Metro and headed to the Greenbelt Metro.

The day was blisteringly hot. I'd be glad to have the A/C of the BoltBus. But where was it? There was a map on the wall outside the turnstiles. I studied it for a while until I spotted the BoltBus label. Outside and to the right.

Benches were inside a three-sided clear bus shelter. That looked to me like a solar oven, so I sat on the ground by the bike racks, which was open but covered. I ate my sandwich and waited for the bus.

When it showed, we all piled on, eager to head to New York. The bus was almost empty.

Oh. Then it stopped in Baltimore and filled up.

The guy who sat next to me looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He carried a German-brand small backpack, a Time Out guide to Prague, a Lonely Planet Czech Republic, and he really liked to fidget. He'd get up. He'd sit down. He'd rustle, move his elbows, and shift his weight. At least he was thin.

The BoltBus headed north. When we hit traffic on the NJ Turnpike, the driver left the Turnpike and headed up 130. In my head, I congratulated his move.

Not so an hour later. I wanted to strangle the man.

We took the Holland Tunnel. What? The Holland Tunnel on a Sunday evening? Is BoltBus insane? The Lincoln has bus lanes. The Holland does not have bus lanes. Why the hell would you cross the Hudson exactly when everyone is coming home from their weekends away and all funneling into the same two lanes to go under the river?

But maybe there is a reason. We sailed through the EZ Pass lane at Exit 14C and barreled right into a massive hour-long queue that ended exactly at the turn-off for my neighborhood.

Turn off, turn off, turn off. Noooooo... don't get in that line! There is no return once you get in that line on the overpass with no exits. I silently issued orders to the driver. If he turned off there, went down Columbus, and left at Marin, he'd save at least 40 minutes of waiting. I'd seen plenty of other buses do this.

He got in the line.

We inched forward for an hour. Glumly, I stared at Eighth Street as we eased past it. I became agitated, jumpy, then resigned.

My romance with BoltBus is so over. Next time, I'm going with Greyhound which takes the bus lanes through the Lincoln, or even better, forking over the dough for the Amtrak.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


After Marie picked me up at the King Street Metro, we dropped by her mother's, had lunch up by our old high school (TC Williams), then headed over to South Glebe Road. When I was a kid, we would have called this area "over by Four Mile Run, past the Potomac Yards train tracks, near the Hole."

Nothing "Hole" about it these days. There's a fancy-pants shopping center where the railroad tracks used to be.

And in one of these shopping centers, there's a nail salon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Marie Makes a Bus Boo-Boo

On Saturday morning, I dragged myself out of bed at 5 a.m.

I used to be better at this, I thought. In Kuwait, I'd get out of bed at 5, color comic books until 8, go to work from 9 to 5, then write at night until 11. But now, I need a really good reason to lure myself out of bed that early.

I had a good reason. My $19 BoltBus to the Greenbelt, Maryland Metro (subway) stop left at 8:15 a.m.

I managed to get out of the house by 7:10, which had me a little worried. The BoltBus stop is right next to the 33rd Street PATH train—just a 26-minute ride—but I should have left a little earlier.

And then... I just missed my train. I skipped along pretty fast to the station, but I really shouldn't have stopped to download that last page of art for work. My train pulled out seconds before I arrived.

And I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Did you know that the trains that run every ten minutes on Saturdays actually only run every half-hour on Saturday mornings? Well, I didn't. Though I would have if I'd looked at the schedule. The train was due in at 7:53. That would put me at 33rd Street at 8:12.

At 33rd Street, could I run upstairs and down the block to the bus in three minutes?

Maybe. And maybe BoltBus would pull out a few minutes late.

I chafed and waited. The train was running a little behind, and then two guys with bicycles argued with the conductor about where they could ride with their bikes. We pulled into 33rd Street just a little late.

I still ran. In case the bus hadn't pulled out yet.

It had. As I emerged onto 33rd Street, I could see the orange BoltBus at the intersection of 33rd and 7th, pulling away as the light turned green.

I hurried over and tried to get on the 8:30 bus to Washington DC. It was sold out, and I don't even know if BoltBus does that sort of thing. I gave up and headed around the corner to the Eastern bus stop.

"No problem," said a woman with a change bag and tickets. "Just wait in this line."

One bus filled up and pulled away. Was I waiting on a 9 a.m. bus then? I pulled out my phone and went online.

There was an Amtrak train leaving Penn Station at 9:05. A glorious, comfortable, uncrowded train, where I could enjoy a bagel and tea in a snack car. Sure, it's a hundred dollars more, but standing in the sun in that crowded bus line, a hundred bucks suddenly seemed like a small price to pay for ease and comfort.

I'd like to say I've turned into a wuss, that in the old days I would have toughed out the bus. But if you've read my websites for longer than a few weeks, you'll know that when faced with spending a bit more for a good deal more comfort, I lose all sense of thrift and just give in. Which might explain why I'm not the best budget traveler.

The train ride was great, by the way. I had both large seats to myself. We pulled into Union Station at 25 minutes past noon, and 45 minutes later, I was greeting the Other Marie at the Alexandria Metro station.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Guess what the Other Marie and I did today?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tent City

I love the annual ritual of going to see free Shakespeare in the Park at the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park. What New Yorker doesn't? (And what Jersey City-er/ex-New Yorker doesn't?)

Many years ago, there was only one way to get in. You had to haul your butt uptown to wait in line all day. This was no problem, as my then BF (a then-unemployed fellow whose later fame means I can't even give him an accurate nickname, so let's just call him Drag-My-Ass-All-Over-Town-to-see-Michael-Powell-and-Godard... no, how about something shorter... like LP for Learn-to-Plow) was devoted to getting us tickets. All I had to do was nothing. LP would wait in line all day and get us a pair of tickets. He also would wander off to the half-price Broadway tickets booth at World Trade Center sometimes, and come home with tickets to see Madonna as a temp or whatever.

Later on, the Public Theater added the option of distributing Shakespeare in the Park tickets downtown at the Public Theater itself. No problem. This was a few blocks from my old apartment. It was especially no problem a little later when Turbo would go wait for the tickets.

Nowadays, they have replaced the Public Theater line with a virtual ticketing lottery. Which I have used with great success for other productions. But I have entered the virtual ticket lottery ALMOST EVERY DAY for Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino as Shylock, and gotten nothing.

So today, I trekked up to Central Park at the crack of dawn to wait in line.

And was about five hours too late. The last people assured tickets had gotten there at three in the morning.

Theater-goers were sprawled out on camping mats, air mattresses, inflatable beds, and cardboard boxes. They did not look terribly kempt. I suppose if I'd been sleeping outside Central Park all night, then moved into the waiting line at six, I wouldn't look real clean either.

I took my folding chair, muffin, reading materials, and bottle of water and went to the office. I'm still trying the virtual lottery. Every day. But in the end, I'll almost certainly have to settle for having seen the play before and having seen Al Pacino in the movies.

I'm sure LP has seen it though. And I bet he didn't have to wait in line.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bus Lessons

I am going to visit my friend of 28 years on Saturday (the Other Marie, for those of you keeping track) and I don't really feel like driving.

For one thing, driving is expensive, between tolls and gas. And another thing—I'm a screaming advocate of public transport.

And then there's my car having no A/C, and me not really wanting to show up looking disgusting. That's really why I rented a car when I went to visit friends last month. (I guess this didn't bother me when I was going to meet my mother. Sorry, Mom.)

Not wanting to drive to Marie's house in Northern Virginia is no problem. She's not too far from the Metro. Once upon a time, this would have been a hassle, as I would have had to fork over a lotta dough for the train or bus.

But for years now, we've had discount buses. First, there was an upstart company called Peter Pan. Then Greyhound acquired Peter Pan, squashing the discount bus market for at least ten minutes before buses from the New York Chinatown to the DC Chinatown took over. After a few years of the buses making serious inroads into the market, non-Chinatown discount buses appeared, mostly out of the Penn Station area in New York. New destinations were added.

Discount buses now weave around the East Coast, between all major cities but also to smaller destinations like Syracuse, Dover, and Hartford.

I scored a $35.50 roundtrip ticket this morning. That's from Penn Station (by the Sbarro, where all those people mill about the sidewalk and block pedestrians, for those of you who notice that sort of thing) to the Greenbelt, MD, Metro station. That's a great deal given the costs of tolls and gas to DC, plus I can sleep, read, or use the bus wi-fi. Which we all know I've "borrowed" in the past when buses pulled up near me in New Jersey Turnpike rest areas. And because I'm taking Boltbus and am a member of their loyalty program, I get first choice of seats.

But I didn't automatically go straight to Boltbus. Initially, I saw that the Boltbus I wanted was sold out and so I started looking at other possibilities. I didn't want to schedule a trip too early since it's hard to get out of bed and to the bus stop on time. But I wanted to arrive before 1 p.m.

First, I checked Boltbus and Megabus.

Second, I checked and compared these two bus search engines that feature other companies:

The former search engine considers Greyhound, Boltbus, Megabus, and several smaller bus lines. It only deals with major destinations.

The latter links to many tiny bus lines and covers the smaller destinations.

There is some crossover between the last two, but they do actually feature different routes and agencies. For example, GoToBus can tell you how to get to Connecticut or Ohio. You won't find that on BusJunction, but you will find Greyhound and Boltbus.

I almost bought a ticket on an obscure bus line, but then plugged my parameters into BusJunction. There, you can search by city rather than by the bus stop. So while I'd been searching for Washington DC proper on the Boltbus site, I could search by the entire region on the search engine.

Bingo. $19 to Greenbelt, MD Metro, and $16 in reverse. I get first boarding privileges on Boltbus, have to take the Metro to Alexandria anyway, and if I take 8 trips, I get one free.

I booked on the Boltbus site to get my points. I feel guilty—the search engine deserved the commission.

But I'm selfish about bus points. I'm well-trained from frequent flyer mile hoarding.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Day in Prehistory

Mom bought us two tickets to Dinosaur Land while I changed clothes in my car. The entrance and exit are through the gift shop, which still featured fireworks.

In we went, through the fiberglass trees with faces on them. Somewhere there is a photo of me and my family walking through these trees in the early seventies. Nowadays, I'm a bit taller.

Dinosaur Land claims to have 40 dinosaurs, but it's not clear if an octopus, shark, sloth, or giant gorilla counts as a dinosaur.

One thing Dinosaur Land has now that I don't think it had forty years ago is a lot of trees. These set a nice mood and create a wilder experience than the flat, sun-drenched dinosaur parks I've been to in Bolivia and that small country in the Caribbean.

Not all the dinosaurs have fared that well over the years.

But Dinosaur Land is still great. We toured the premises, posed with a few fiberglass friends, and then walked out to the parking lot. Mom headed south towards home, and I stopped in at the 7-11 to guzzle juice and eat peanuts, trying to rehydrate for the four-hour drive north.

More photos here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Roadside Attraction

Mom and I ate a late lunch in a cool, dark restaurant in Bolivar Heights, above the town of Harpers Ferry. We were both dehydrated from hiking in the 95-degree weather.

"What time do you have to go home?"

I shrugged. "Whenever. It's going to be a tough drive. I'm so tired."

I could leave now, or I could leave in the evening. Either way, the four-hour drive was going to be a battle of my willpower versus the exhausting power of the sun.

Mom thought for a moment. What would we do? We aren't really all that excited about shopping and it was too hot to wander around Harpers Ferry, which is an open-air town/museum.

Then I had an idea.

"How far are we from Dinosaur Land?"

Mom brightened. We'd stopped outside Dinosaur Land on Thanksgiving, but it had been closed. The last time we'd gone in had been about 40 years ago.

"I passed it on the way in. And then you'll be right next to I-81, and can drive home that way. Let's go."

And go we did, following Route 340 as it wound back and forth between Virginia and West Virginia. The drive was longer than I'd expected it to be, but finally, the neck of the rescinded-brontosaurus and a T-rex rose above the horizon.

We pulled in to the parking lot and Mom got out of her car.

"Um, wait a minute."


I stood up and motioned down at my soaking wet shorts.

"I have to change my clothes."

My 1990 Ford Taurus did have air conditioning when Turbo and I acquired it in Torrance, CA, on April 22, 2002 (my criteria being that I was a Taurus and it was my birthday, since I figured that buying a used car is a total crapshoot). But somewhere in mid-America, the a/c had broken. Turbo thought he'd fix it with some epoxy from Walmart. This was as effective as one might imagine, but Henry made his dissatisfaction known in an unexpected exploding sort of way, one day when I was driving alone.

I'd tried to get the a/c fixed a few times, but the estimates to fix an botched repair job far exceeded the initial estimate we'd gotten in 2002 prior to the Walmart disaster, and so I sweated.

And now, I crouched behind the wheel and slipped a skirt on over my shorts. This sounds lithe and breezy, but changing in place when wet is actually kind of tough.

The things we do for Dinosaur Land.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hiking Photos

I put up all my photos of yesterday's hike here, so have a look.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Walk Between Rivers

Roberta and I often talk about hiking the New Jersey section of the Appalachian Trail. At 72 miles or so, it would be a bear (and we'd see some of those too), so neither of us has pushed the other to actually do it yet.

But West Virginia... that section is four miles. That I could do. But who would be silly enough to go all the way to Harpers Ferry and do that little hike with me?

My mother, of course, who only lives about an hour-and-a-half from there.

I went straight to my garage on Thursday night, picked up my 1990 Ford (with no a/c), dropped off some Bundt cake with Michael Kraiger for his landlady (she dips it in her coffee), and headed south down the NJ Turnpike. By 10 p.m., I was ensconced in a motel just west of Baltimore.

(Wow, when did they start providing self-serve waffle machines at lower-end motels? That's totally cool. Not that I used it. But just the fact that you can make a waffle for breakfast at a cheap motel makes my days a little brighter. Less excited about their ethernet-only Internet access. My Dell Mini 10v "Mac" does have an ethernet port, but what if I had an iPad or Air?)

In the morning, I continued on to Harpers Ferry. I'd tried to figure out where the hike would start before we got there, but nothing on the Internet was that helpful in this regard. The border on the West Virginia/Maryland side of the Appalachian Trail was clearly in the middle of the Potomac River. The Virginia/West Virginia border wasn't so clear, and appeared to be in the woods.

"What? The woods? I thought we were hiking river-to-river," said Mom, when we met in a motel parking lot on the outskirts of Harpers Ferry.

"No, the Shenandoah isn't the border of Virginia and West Virginia," I said. "The actual border is south of there, somewhere in the woods."

"What? In Loudoun Heights? Are you crazy? It's 95 degrees out."

I wasn't sure what Loudoun Heights was, but it was possible to infer from the context that the "Heights" bit was not a friendly, cool jaunt through the woods. I envisioned a Walk in the Woods scenario, in which we were both throwing our spare junk—which would consist of water bottles, sunscreen, and cell phones—over the cliff.

"Let's go to the information office and find out."

The man at the central Appalachian Trail office—Harpers Ferry is the mid-point of the Trail that goes from Georgia to Maine, and Trail HQ is there—was extraordinarily helpful and friendly, but he backed up Mom's case.

"There isn't really much of a marker to show you've gone into West Virginia, and there is nowhere to leave a car near there. And yeah, it's a pretty steep hike up or down to Loudoun Heights. And it's 95 degrees out."


I let go of my scheme to hike an entire state section and agreed to hike river-to-river. Which is pretty wussy. We were on the pansy tour of the West Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail.

When I'd been at Harpers Ferry in 2002, Aussie Turbo and I had parked Henry the 1990 Ford Taurus at the visitor's center and taken the shuttle into town. When I suggested this, Mom looked at me kind-of sideways.

"There will be parking at the train station."

Don't argue with a local.

She left her car at the train station and we drove Henry up to the Shenandoah. I left him in the shade and paid the parking fee. The shade didn't stay put, of course, so by the time we got back, I couldn't touch the steering wheel.

After some debate about my footwear—I wanted to wear my street sandals since we were just walking up a hill and down into town but Mom made me put on my hiking shoes to avoid ticks—we climbed above the Shenandoah River over Route 340, and into the shade of the trail.

This was not a tough walk. It was a breeze, actually. So much that as we reached the top, three kids came scampering by at top speed.

"They're wearing sandals," I muttered sulkily. But they were traveling with a young woman, obviously a babysitter or cousin, not their mother.

We reached the crest of the rise, looked at an old cemetery and out at the Shenandoah at Jefferson Rock. It looked a lot like the Delaware Water Gap. That's when I realized that the 95-degree heat was a killer. The walk itself was nothing, but I was dehydrated and exhausted. I found myself wishing for a Coke or some peanuts or something besides just water, and remembered how dehydrated even super-athletic Turbo had been after his Grand Canyon hike. You can't just have water in the sun and heat, even on a wussy-hike. Junk food is essential. I'd intended to stock up on trail mix before we left but then hadn't bothered once we'd decided to do the wuss-hike.

"Ugh, let's hurry up and get into town. I need some salt."

We left Jefferson Rock and headed downhill into Harpers Ferry. The sooner we got to the Potomac, the sooner I could eat something bad for me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Happy Trails, Horsie

I already knew the fine art of tolerating lame jokes well before I was in high school. A tight smile, a slight eye-roll. Give the person enough that they don't feel totally stupid but not so much that they are tempted to repeat their joke.

And if I hadn't known it by the time I started as the Roy Rogers fast food hostess in the early eighties—that means I maintained the salad bar and was charged with being nice to customers in the dining room—I sure would have figured it out fast. Not a day went by without a clever customer smiling and asking for a Trigger-burger.

Yep, a Trigger-burger. Funny the first time? Maybe. I can't remember the first time I heard that. It was that long ago.

Sometimes, the extra-clever customer would wish me a Happy Trails on the way out. This wasn't so bad. They were just trying to get into the spirit of things.

The Other Marie and I went by the Roy Rogers Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, CA, in 1992. For some reason, I wore purple cut-off jeans. But that's not important. What's important is that I got to visit with Trigger, the stuffed horse who went for $266,000 at auction yesterday.

I wonder what they did with Bullet the dog.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More Classic JC

You can see the old Jersey City Medical Center from the elevated highway as you cruise in from the NJ Turnpike to the Holland Tunnel.

"It looks like Gotham City," the Other Marie would muse back in the late 80s. She went over in her car once and checked the art deco development out.

"It's a hospital," she declared.

Specifically, it was a Mayor Hague/WPA project from the Great Depression, with hulking towers that desperately needed infrastructure modernizing.

The hospital moved downtown in 2004 and the cool old Gotham City-like towers were converted to condos. Results have been mixed—the economy already had trouble supporting the number of new condo developments.

But the diner across the street? It hasn't changed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Search Of

What is missing from 7th Street?

That's right. The giant cat. MIA since late 2007. Where has he gone?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey and Daniel

Here's a link to an interview where Harvey Pekar, who died today at 70, interviewed Daniel Johnston.

"Hey, Daniel, do you consider yourselves to be famous?
I must be kind of famous because I’m making enough money to pay for the groceries."

Buffalo and Bears

A few months ago, Roberta showed me some photos of sculptures.

"Where is that?" I asked.

"Right up the hill, in the Heights. I pass them on my way back from visiting my family."

I asked Michael Kraiger about them.

"Oh yeah, my kid likes those. Buffalo, bears, and a lion."

I cursed at him a bit for having never told me about the sculptures before, then yesterday got my car out of the garage and took an excursion up the cliff.

A buffalo and a bear guard the northern and southern corners of Leonard J. Gordon Park, along Kennedy and Manhattan Avenues in Jersey City Heights. And down the hill is a small lion statue.

The buffalo and bear sculptures, by sculptor Solon Borglum (who was active in establishing our JC libraries), are 103 years old! They've probably seen better days, but they're still dramatic.

The lion hasn't fared as well. I can't even find any information on his age or origin.

Here are some photos of the buffalo, bears, and lion.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How I Own So Little Stuff

Visitors to my home frequently remark on how sparse it is, on how little junk I own.

I wish it were so. The truth is, I am a closet pack rat. Eight blocks away, here is what the inside of the garage that I own looks like.

I'll clean it soon. Honest. Well, sort-of intending to be honest. With any luck, we'll have a flood and I can just express regret and then throw everything away.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Time Machine

This photo will probably be greatly amusing to the six people who know both me and Stuart. The Marvel/Clive Barker/Akira (that's me) table was across from the DC Comics table at the World Sci-Fi Convention in Chicago in 1991. And that's when I first met then-editor Stuart Moore, who writes comics for me today.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Summer Night

Here's a view out of my front window. The lights are the newly renovated tennis courts. To the right is the mini-golf course. The soundtrack is thump - thump - thump - thump. Then at ten, psssssssssh—the park sprinklers come on.

Yes, it's been a hellaciously hot couple of weeks. I nearly lost my flip-flops into the melted tarmac of Eighth Avenue on the way to work yesterday. I've been googling how to escape from quicksand in case my feet get stuck too.

But it's gorgeous out too, in its swimming to the PATH, shimmering-pollutants sort-of way. Every day is perfect in its extreme-mad-heat. It's horrible, but I love it.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Should I Be Insulted?

I went over to Hoboken to Maxwell's on Friday night, first for dinner with Ken, Linda, and Otis, then I decided to see the Feelies, since the tickets hadn't sold out yet by the time I got there.

On stage, one of the Feelies announced that it was the 25th anniversary of their first July 4th Maxwell's show.

The woman standing next to me turned and glared at me. Startled, I looked back. Had I stepped on her foot or something?

Her glare softened and she laughed.

"I was going to say you weren't even alive 25 years ago, but obviously you were."

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Meanwhile, in Hoboken in 1990...

Maybe you had to be there. Which I was, but I don't remember it at all.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Robot School Final

At the final session of robot school, we dug right in and built our light-seeking robots.

Mine seeks light and moves forward. If his right bumper hits something, he reverses and goes left. If his left bumper hits something, he continues to proceed into the wall. He is a stubborn robot.

Here is what the robots are SUPPOSED to do. This isn't my robot. The photo below is mine.