June 26, 2011

Rules of the Road

I'm going to begin this post with a joke. If you're from New England or familiar with the area, you'll probably (hopefully) find it hilarious. If you're not, well... just trust me, it's hilarious. If you ever find yourself in a room full of New Englanders and in need of a joke, pull this out of your pocket and you'll be the life of the party.

Four men were driving in a car, one from Maine, one from New Hampshire, one from Vermont, and one from Massachusetts. Part way through their trip, the man from Maine rolls down his window and begins to throw potatoes out of the car. The other men ask what he's was doing, and he says, "We have so many potatoes in Maine, I just want to get rid of some." The other men accept this answer, and they continue to drive along. A little while later, the man from Vermont rolls down his window and begins to throw out maple syrup. Again, the men ask what he's doing, and he says, "We have so much maple syrup in Vermont, I just want to get rid of some." The men nod and continue driving. Just a bit further down the road, the man from New Hampshire says, "We have so many of these in New Hampshire, I just want to get rid of some." Then he opens the door and shoves the man from Massachusetts out of the car. 

HA! ba-dum chi!

As anyone from New Hampshire knows, people from Massachusetts are constantly coming over the border and invading our state. They clog our roads, take our parking spaces, mooch off our tax free shopping, and make our lives hell. Ok, perhaps it's not that dramatic or apocalyptic, but it can get annoying, especially in terms of driving. It's a common saying here in NH that people from Massachusetts are your friends, right up until they get into a car. They didn't earn the nickname "Massholes" for nothing. It's not really that they're bad drivers, it's that they're obnoxious. New Hampshire drivers are by no means perfect, but I always feel like I know what I'm getting when I see a NH plate. They're my jumping off point (could be because I'm one of them) for all other drivers.

Anyway, what does this have to do with anything? Well, as I drive around New England on a relatively regular basis, most recently to Connecticut this past weekend, I can't help but notice, judge, and curse the other drivers I encounter. This is by no means a new hobby for me, either. When you live in a region with such small states, it's impossible to drive for an extended period of time and not cross state lines (unlike in California, for example, where you can drive for two hours and still be in Los Angeles). Therefore, we New Englanders are very familiar with the driving "styles" shall we say of various states' residents. We're also used to seeing a number of different license plates, so FYI, if you play the License Plate Game with us, prepare to lose. Anyway, over the years I've figured out the little tics of each state's drivers. It's gotten to the point now where I can identify cars by their driving styles before even seeing their license plate. So here's a handy little list of what - and who - to look out for when you're on the roads here in New England.

And if you're starting to think this whole post will be a bit hostile and acerbic, well, you're right. I wrote this with a fair amount of road rage still coursing through my veins, so it's not the most diplomatic thing you'll ever read. However, in my defense, I've seen drivers from MA put "Masshole" bumper stickers on their cars, so rest assured they're in on the joke. Also, some of my best friends are from the states I attack below, so I'm not a complete snob, I swear. Why don't we all just take a pinch of salt and keep going, shall we?

*New Hampshire - "The Baseline" - Yes I'm biased. I always try to give my fellow New Hampshirites the benefit of the doubt, but I really think we're pretty good out on the road. I never feel like a NH driver will cut me off or do anything stupid. I know what I'm going to get with them, and they never do anything I wouldn't do myself, whether that's good or bad is still up for debate. I in no way claim to be perfect.

*Massachusetts - "The Obnoxious" - As previously mentioned, when you see that dreaded blue and red lettering, watch out. Massholes will cut you off, tailgate, speed, veer through traffic, whatever they can to get where they're going just a millisecond faster than anyone else on the road. I was once told not to use my blinker in MA because then the other drivers would know what I was thinking and exploit it. I mean really? Massholes aren't necessarily dangerous, but they're definitely deserving of an eye roll and grown of frustration. I mean, seriously guys, calm down. You'll get there. But congrats on placing in the top 10 Worst Drivers in the USA year after year!

*Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island - "The Rest" - As New England drivers go, these guys are the least prevalent and least stereotyped (much like the states themselves, no?). We see them on the road, we pass them, and then we forget them. In the game of Mario Kart that is driving, these are the banana peels you avoid while trying to keep up with the rest of the field. Sorry, guys.

*New York - "The Ego" - New York is not a part of New England (thank gosh), but given it's close proximity, we see its drivers on the road all the time. New York drivers make moves much like the Massholes, but it's not so much obnoxious as it is egotistical. New Yorkers drive like they're the only ones on the road. You know that car in the fast lane going 55mph with 12 angry cars up its rear waiting to pass? Yeah, nine times out of ten, that car is from New York. And if the car got its plates updated within the last two years or so, you'll be forced look at the ugliest shade of yellow known to man as you plug along behind it. If there was one group of drivers I'd like to be more self-aware, it'd be those from New York. Let's agree to use the travel lane and not hog the road shall we, fellas?

*New Jersey - "The Sleepers" - Ah, Jersey. What are we ever going to do with you? Sometimes I think it'd be easier if New York just annexed you and got it over with, that way you could stop trying to be "cool" like them. I don't even have a lot to say about Jersey drivers. They're sort of like toned down versions of New Yorkers and Massholes. But while their actions are annoying, I have to give them points for at least putting some thought behind them. Jersey on the other hand, well they're just dumb. Blunt I know, but there's no other way to put it. It's like they're asleep at the wheel. Just today a New Jersey driver tried to come into my lane... while I was still in it. Not sure if you know this, Jersey, but we can't both occupy the same space at the same time. I'm also pretty sure New Jersey drivers are allergic to cruise control. Fast or slow, you gotta pick one.

*Connecticut - "The Worst" - Don't worry, I didn't forget you, Connecticut. No, I saved a special place for you on the list: right at the bottom, where you belong. If you took the ego of the New York driver, added it to the obnoxious nature of the Masshole, and then subtracted any sort of rational thought, you would get the Connecticut driver. They are their own breed. I struggle to make any sense of their actions behind the wheel and shudder when I see that fade of blue. Connecticut drivers have yet to master the concept of merging, and given that half the state seems to constantly be under construction, this makes sharing the road a treacherous experience. Always be sure to give these guys a wide berth, you never can tell what they'll do. Most recently I witnessed them stopping in the EZ Pass lane at the tolls. I don't care what the excuse is, there is no reason to ever, EVER to stop in fast pass lane. It's just asking for an accident. Frankly I'm surprised there wasn't a 17 car pile up. I have faith you'll get it together one day, Connecticut... but then again, maybe not.

And there you have it, my not-so-nice opinion of the other drivers on the road. Does anyone share my complete lack of surprise that NY, NJ, CT, and MA are always in the top 10 on the "worst drivers" list that comes out every year? Does anyone else have experience with drivers from these states? Do you think my assessment was fair? What about other states? And why the heck are people still using cash at the tolls?

June 24, 2011

Photo Friday - Silver Sands State Park

Silver Sands State Park, Connecticut

I know, I know. All I ever seem to post are pictures for Photo Friday. I swear I'll actually start to write legitimate posts soon. No really.

In the meantime, please enjoy this photo from Silver Sands State Park in Connecticut. My best friend moved to Connecticut right after college to be a big-shot TV producer, and when I visit, one of our favorite things to do is mosey along the boardwalk and take in the scenic views of the water. When the tide is out, a sandbar connects the shore to Charles Island, aka Thrice Cursed Island. We have yet to adventure out for fear of being trapped when the tide comes back in, but one day we'll brave the idea of potentially being stranded and forced to use the few wilderness skills we retained from Girl Scouts and make it out there. Anyway, as I will be visiting her again this weekend, I predict we will inevitably find ourselves here once again, so I figured the photo was an appropriate choice. (And hopefully a prelude to posts to come. Maybeh?)

June 17, 2011

Photo Friday - Roland Garros

Distance meters at Roland Garros

In honor of the French Open concluding two weeks ago and Wimbledon beginning in just two days, this week's picture comes from Roland Garros in Paris, site of the aforementioned French Open. I visited the grounds while in Paris with my best friend and fellow tennis-enthusiast. We found this sign marking the distance and direction to the sites of each of the other three majors very amusing. The OCD side of me wants to sneak an "S" onto the end of "Flushing Meadow," but I suppose the intent is still clear. Anyway, Vamos Rafa!

June 14, 2011

California Dreamin' (Day 3)

And so we come to Day 3, my last full day in California. After getting up early the previous two days, we allowed ourselves to sleep in on Sunday. We had no activities planned, so when we finally awoke, we were at the mercy of whatever we could dream up to do. That turned out to be acting like children at Disneyland!

During my last trip to California, we were hoping to squeeze in an afternoon at Disneyland. Unfortunately, the weather was crappy and the park sold out (ironic right?), so it was not to be. Therefore, I was thrilled to be able to visit this time around. I've also had the pleasure of visiting Disney World and Disneyland Paris, so the trifecta was now complete.

We piled into the car and made the drive to Anaheim, ready for a magical day. If you are not familiar with the overly perky nature of Disney, they insist you have a magical time when visiting the parks, so we kept a magic tally. When we arrived, we boarded a tram that takes you from the parking deck to the park. But it turns out our tram was broken. We putted along at about 1mph for a while before another tram was finally brought to rescue us. Our driver was great about it, though; a truly hilarious guy. He turned our crawl into a nature watch, pointing out such exotic flora as a tree and a bush. He also kindly tried to divert our attention away from the pedestrians who were walking faster than we were traveling. I found the whole experience far funnier than I probably should have. Ah, Disney, you brought the magic early.

Once we finally made it into the park, I was disappointed by the lackluster Disneyland castle. I appreciate the pink, but it was just so... small. Come on, Disney, you can do better than that. One point was deducted from the magic tally. Anyway, we made our way to Tomorrowland and got things rolling (literally) with a ride on Space Mountain. We were looking to ride Star Tours, but the wait was almost three hours - the shortest wait time for that ride all day. Having been on Star Tours in Paris (yes, I realize the rides differ slightly at each resort), I can safely say it is not worth waiting three to four hours to ride. I'm not sure I could justify that for any ride.

I won't take you through every ride we experienced, but we bounced around hitting the Matterhorn, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones (not the same as Paris and no where near as cool), Space Mountain again, Buzz Lightyear, and finally got soaking wet on Splash Mountain (+1 magic point for each). I was disappointed Big Thunder Mountain wasn't running (-1 magic point), but I suppose I can wait til August when I visit Disney World (blog foreshadowing!).

I wish we could have stayed for the fireworks, but we were already freezing, and we still had packing to do before our flights the next morning (lame!), so we called it a day and headed back to Burbank. On the drive back, we got to see LA by night and experience what California drivers are like when it "rains." I use the term loosely, because frankly, it was a light drizzle. Nonetheless, we went from 80mph to 40mph in about 6 seconds flat. Oh, LA, you slay me.

We also got to experience LA rush hour the next morning on our way to LAX. That was an experience I could have done without, but what's a trip to California without a little traffic? It's good for me since our idea of traffic is seven cars waiting to pass a tractor on a two-lane road. But again, I digress.

Nothing much to share about Day 4 seeing as it was just a travel day. I spent two hours sitting around LAX hating the idea of leaving and then another six on a plane wondering if my seat-mates would judge me if I weeped the whole way home. Now it's back to life as usual. Sad. Am I the only one who ends up with post-travel depression (PTD if you will)? No matter how exhausting it is to travel, live out of a suitcase, and get up early to sightsee, I never want it to end. Fortunately, I have more travels coming up soon.

P.S. For anyone doing the math, the final magic tally came to... some number around 10. I lost count between the delicious ice cream sundae I consumed on Main Street USA and the rude Disney employee who accused me of breaking a pen. NOT magical, sir.

June 13, 2011

California Dreamin' (Day 2)

Much like Day 1, we again rose early Saturday morning to head to Sunset Ranch in the Hollywood Hills for some horseback riding. As a former equestrian for about nine years, I was in absolute heaven. The ride begins towards the base of the Hollywood Sign and over two hours winds all the way through Griffith Park to the top of Mt. Hollywood. The views were absolutely incredible! You can see all of Los Angeles, Hollywood, Burbank, Beverly Hills, Glendale - whatever can be seen in 360 degrees really. At the top of Mt. Hollywood, you're also directly across from the iconic Hollywood Sign, making for an excellent photo op.

I took the pictures below with my Blackberry, which worked out great... until the end of the ride. My horse, Sundance, was very fond of the leafy green eats on the side of the trails and had been trying to sneak some nibbles during the entire trek. I'd been pretty good about keeping him on track; however, I got a bit distracted taking one last picture on the ride down, so he saw his opportunity and went for it. Now, these trails are essentially right on the edge of the mountain, meaning walking anywhere but the trails is a one-way ticket off a cliff. The horses certainly don't have a death wish, but nonetheless, they have no problem flirting with the edge, especially with treats in range. Sundance sensed my distraction and all of a sudden I found us reaching dangerously close over the edge for a quick bite to eat. I panicked, yanked the reins, and managed to drop my phone. I then panicked that he would back up and step on it, but fortunately a hiker was close by and scooped it up for me. Crisis averted! Phew!

Anyway, here are some of the shots we got.

The ride is also good for an ego boost. If you're in LA but lacking that "celeb, paparazzi" feeling, definitely get on a horse. You'd think no one had ever seen one before! I can't begin to tell you how many photos I'm now in. Eventually I just started to wave and smile. You're welcome, fellow tourists. Friend me on Facebook. According to our guide, we also apparently passed the lead actor from Brothers & Sisters, but I couldn't pick the guy out of a one-man lineup so it was lost on me. Darn!

After we got back to the ranch and gave our horses a few pats goodbye, we headed to In-N-Out Burger for lunch. Perhaps not the classiest or most special spot to eat, but when people act like it's the greatest thing in food, I had to try it seeing as we don't have it on the East Coast. It was very tasty, but I'm not sure I understand all the hype. It's still just fast food. I also find it cruel that the calories are listed right on the menu. Just what I need, more guilt. Thanks. And what's the deal with getting your burger "Animal Style"? And why isn't that on the menu? I feel like you have to know a secret code to order.

But I digress. After consuming far more calories than one could ever need and slipping into a light food coma, we headed to The Grove to walk around and check out the shops. Outdoor malls are another California luxury I find absolutely adorable but completely baffling. They would never work with the ADD weather we have on the East Coast. I'm pretty sure we passed Ray Liotta while we were there, too. Celebrity sightings: 2. Me caring: 0.

When we grew tired of the crowds (which didn't take long) and had procured a new pair of sunglasses for Steph, we headed to Studio City for more wandering around. We eventually wound up bowling and having dinner before it was time to head to the Hollywood Bowl to see Star Wars in Concert.

The Hollywood Bowl is a truly spectacular venue. It's a giant amphitheater with a view of the Hollywood Sign. Does it get any better? (Not really, though I wouldn't have complained if it was a touch warmer, but I guess you can't control the weather). The show itself was pretty cool, but still rather odd. Essentially you watch clips from the movies while the orchestra plays the score. When it gets dark they throw in some lasers too. The actor who played C3PO hosted the evening, and John Williams even came out at the end to conduct a song. Very cool.


When the show was over we headed to Sardo's for karaoke. I didn't sing anything as a courtesy to anyone with ears, but it was really fun and hysterical listening to the rest of the bar. I'd say the highlight of the night was a group of girls singing Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way." Always a hit! When we'd consumed enough alcohol and lulled ourselves into a comfortable state of contentment, it was time to head home and hit the hay.

And so we have the completion of Day 2. Up next, stories from our time at Disneyland, the *second Happiest Place on Earth (sorry California, Disney World holds that title).

June 12, 2011

California Dreamin' (Day 1)

As you know from my last post, I recently got back from a trip to California. A friend from college lives out in Burbank now, so I ventured west with another pal for a little reunion of sorts. It was only my second time visiting California, and given that the first time was for a family wedding, it was the first time I actually got to see and do things - beyond hanging out in hotels and partaking in many a champagne toast, that is.

I'm breaking the posts down by day, given my affinity for talking too much and getting overly into detail, thus preventing the mile-long post that would otherwise ensue. So here you have the tales from Day 1 of my three day excursion around California.

I flew into LAX Thursday night, and given the late hour and inevitable jetlag, did nothing but pass out. We were up early Friday morning, though, to head to Santa Barbara for a wine tasting tour with Captain Jack's Tours. The drive itself was gorgeous. I don't know why I'm still surprised by the palm trees and mountains that make up Southern CA, but they impress me every time. Santa Barbara was no exception. The weather was fantastic, though perhaps a bit chillier than expected, so we wandered around the beach for a little while before meeting up with our guide. We even stumbled upon an intriguing and artistic van and struck up a conversation with the hippy inside. Welcome to So Cal!

Soon it was time to get the wine tour started. Our guide, Peter, took us to three wineries around Santa Barbara - Santa Barbara WinerySummerland WineryCarr Winery - where we tasted about six different wines at each tasting room. This was my first time doing a wine tasting, so I was looking for a bit more guidance and information, but it seemed to me they assumed those tasting wine were wine connoisseurs. Not so. Peter tried to give us a few tips and tidbits, but my knowledge is still limited to only being able to differentiate between red and white (profound, I know). Still, it was great to taste all the wines and read the descriptions about what they pair best with. I also learned it doesn't take a full glass of wine to get tipsy. A few sips with nothing to munch on but some breadsticks will have you feeling happy all afternoon.

Peter did take us for lunch and an olive oil tasting, though, so there was some food to be had. Lunch at the Bay Roadhouse was delicious, but the oil tasting at Il Fustino was a bit bizarre. I love a good bread and oil plate, but this place expected you to drink the oil straight. No thank you! Fortunately we scrounged up some bread squares, but when those ran out, so did my interest.

To end the day, Peter took us to a local hang-out called The Brewhouse, which was recommended to us for their good food and house-brewed beer. The place is also known for their prawn dish featuring the Ghost Pepper, aka the hottest pepper known to man. My palette isn't brave enough for that challenge, but Peter and my friend, Steph, downed them. Their reactions ranged from a bit hot and teary (Peter) to crying, runny-nose, gagging, sweating, and eventually declaring the consumption of the world's hottest pepper as the "stupidest thing ever done; like swallowing a blowtorch" (Steph). Ahhh yes. Not regretting my lack of participation there.

We put Steph in the car (down a pair of sunglasses but up a stomach-ache) and headed back to Burbank. Before reaching home, we stopped at a look-out point off the famed Mulholland Drive for a view of Los Angeles. I love anything touristy, so I had a great time snapping pictures of the Hollywood Sign, downtown, the Hollywood Bowl, and anything I could remotely distinguish from a movie or TV show. 

All in all, a good Day 1. Come back for more about my trip to California, including (but not limited to) a horseback ride up Mt. Hollywood, Star Wars in Concert, and Disneyland!

June 10, 2011

Photo Friday - Los Angeles, CA

Hello travel bugs! So sorry for my absence, but I swear I have a good excuse. I was traveling! This week's photo comes from my recent trip and is a little teaser for my upcoming post about it.

If you're not familiar with that skyline, it's downtown Los Angeles, CA. I took this photo from a lookout point on Mulholland Drive. It was my first time getting a look at the famed city, and I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of smog. But more to come about all I saw and did later.