August 26, 2011

The Art of Playing it by Ear

Hello my travel bugs! So sorry for my absence, but I have been off traveling! Surely that is a legitimate excuse.

I promise blog posts are in the works about my time spent at Disney World this past weekend, but I'll ask for a bit of patience on that front as I rant now about... just that, patience. And flexibility. These are two traits rather foreign to me, but traits I am currently exercising in light of Hurricane Irene and the havoc she is reeking upon the East Coast and my travel plans.

This weekend I am scheduled to travel to New York City to attend the US Open, which kicks off on Monday. I have dinner plans with some college friends Saturday night, tickets to see How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying starring the one and only Daniel Radcliffe on Sunday, and of course, day and evening session passes for the US Open all day Monday. Irene, however, has other plans. She is crashing into the entire East Coast from... that's right, Saturday to Monday. It could NOT be worse timing. Everything is shutting down, including NY mass transit, Amtrak, and potentially even the US Open considering it takes place entirely outdoors.

You'd think I'd be pretty flexible when it comes to weather given that I was born and raised in New England, and we're very familiar with crazy weather, but I think that's backfiring now, and I'm left jaded and annoyed. I'm sick and tired of weather ruining my plans. If I had a nickel for every show, concert, birthday party, sporting event, or general merriment I've missed in my life due to snow, floods, hurricanes, or what have you, I'd be a very wealthy person.

So no, I am not willing to just brush off Hurricane Irene. I have waited for this weekend for too long to have some swirling weather system of doom ruin it for me. I mean, really, couldn't she have just hooked a right and gone out to sea? Or take a sharp left, slam into the Carolinas and then fizz out over land (sorry Carolinas, someone has to take one for the team). There is a great chance my all-time favorite tennis player, Rafael Nadal, will be playing on Monday, and I do not want to miss the opportunity to see him. "There's always next year," you say... but I am not a patient person.

Therefore, I'm working to perfect the art of playing it by ear and making every effort to get to NYC this weekend for the Open. I've already changed my train reservation from Sunday to Saturday to try to beat the storm to NYC, but now I'm prepared to cancel it all together and drive to New York myself Monday morning should it come to that. Call me crazy, but I will get up at 3am and drive the 5 hours to the city to see some good tennis (obsessed? perhaps). I pray it doesn't come to that, but weather is almost impossible to predict and right now everything is hanging in the balance. I have books, a flashlight, and snacks packed in my suitcase should I risk the odds and head to NYC tomorrow, where I could potentially be stranded in a hotel room without power. I've checked all the "inclement weather" policies for Broadway and the US Open, and I'm ready to reschedule or forfeit tickets.

What would really annoy me is if we took all these precautions and Irene ending up fading to nothing more than slightly heavy rain. I don't want to cancel everything just to have Monday dawn bright and sunny, and I'm at home watching the Open on TV. And trust me, this has happened before. I appreciate being overly cautious to avoid potential damage and loss of life, but I can't help but be cynical too. I've watched the Northeast freak out over weather quite a bit just to have hurricanes turn to heavy fog and blizzards turn to flurries.

I guess playing it by ear is all we can do in situations like these, though. Travel, as with life, is all about being patient and flexible and making the best decisions we can with what we have to work with. I hope Hurricane Irene isn't causing you too much trouble this weekend, and if it is, stay safe and dry. Also, do you think we could get a billion or so of our closest friends together and blow this beast out to sea? No? Well, it was worth a shot.

August 12, 2011

Photo Friday - Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle - Paris, France

This week's photo comes from one of the most gorgeous sites in all of Paris, Saint-Chapelle, which is saying something since pretty much all of Paris is completely gorgeous and amazing. I wish any of my pictures came close to doing it justice. Standing in the middle of the chapel surrounded by huge stained glass windows on all sides is truly something to behold. It's also a stone's throw away from Notre Dame, so definitely make time to hit it while you're on Îll de la Cité. There's a good chance you'll wait in a fairly lengthy line to get in, but trust me, it's worth it.

August 5, 2011

Photo Friday - Belgium

Brussels, Belgium

This week's photo comes from my travels to Brussels. I actually visited the city twice while in Europe (it's not that exciting a place, that was just the luck of the draw), and this picture is from my second visit - when the sun was actually shining, and I didn't get insanely lost. I love how the buildings almost look rounded on the edges as they go around the corner. The distinguished photographer I like to think resides somewhere inside me desperately yearns for a panoramic lens to really play it up, but a girl's gotta work with what she's got at her disposal. I also love that I managed to sneakily capture my friend Jackie as she popped a squat to check out the fountain.

August 1, 2011

I met Josh Groban, and thus, life became complete

I know I promised this post last week, but I've still been coming down from cloud nine, plus a certain surprise had to shake out first. That surprise came to fruition today, though, and my feet are almost nearly back firmly on the ground, so please allow this slight deviation in posts as I talk about the (so far) greatest moment of my life: when I met Josh Groban.

For anyone who doesn't know me, I'm obsessed with Josh Groban. I mean, it's bad. He's so unbelievably talented, funny, and kind (not to mention easy on the eyes). The man really can do no wrong. I've seen him live several times before and even traveled all the way to London to catch him in Chess with Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal a few years back. Last Tuesday, Josh was at the TD Garden in Boston for a stop on his Straight To You Tour. And my oh my was it ever straight to me.

As a member of his fan-club, Friends of Josh Groban (FoJG), I was given the opportunity to enter a lottery for a chance to win meet and greet passes to meet (and greet) Josh before the show. Naturally, I put my name in and hoped for the best, but I never actually expected to win. So imagine my surprise when I whipped out my Blackberry to take a picture the Friday before while wandering the National Mall and found an email saying I'd won (that email is still sitting in my inbox. I refuse to delete it). If I hadn't been in public I probably would have screamed. Instead, shock hit me as I tried to determine the likelihoods of whether or not it was a sick joke. Fortunately, it wasn't, and I was now destined to meet the man himself. Holy. Crap.

When Tuesday rolled around, my friend Jackie (the lucky-duck who got to tag along but in return had to deal with my insane freak-out) and I traveled into Boston to spend the afternoon wandering and shopping. We had lunch at Cheers in Faneuil Hall and then wandered amongst the shops for a bit. A little while later we found ourselves at the TD Garden, so we decided to see if they had our tickets and passes yet (supposedly Will Call, where our tickets and passes were waiting, didn't open until 5:30pm). We did get our tickets, but the guy seemed unaware or at the very least uninterested in our passes and told us to come back for them later.

Of course, this meant I was back stalking the window promptly at 4:45pm. Jackie should be declared a saint for dealing with me. Will Call opened early at 5pm, and I bolted for the window. The guy said the passes hadn't been brought down yet, but he was hoping they'd be there by 6pm. I tried not to panic as I stationed myself across from his window and waited impatiently. Eventually (or like 10 minutes later) I saw a large stack of envelopes delivered. However, he'd decided to stop letting people come to the window, so we got in line and waited for 5:30pm to roll around and Will Call to formerly open. When we got up to the window, he didn't seem sure that our passes were there (more panic), but they were (less panic). The directions said to be at the meeting point by 6:40pm, a mere 10 minutes after the doors opened, so we made a B-line for the escalators so we'd be the first in.

While we waited, we found ourselves surrounded by three of the other meet and greet winners (we were also with the girl who would later sing with Josh. Small world!). We made small talk and decided to stick together in order to find the non-discript meeting point. Finally, the doors opened and we booked it for the floor, where we found the other meet and greet pass holders. FoJG may have only picked five lottery winners, but there had to be at least 50+ people waiting to meet Josh. I actually felt a little bad (a little).

Darren, Josh's head of security, came out after about 20ish minutes and moved us further into the hallway where he gave us the rules (namely, don't kiss, hug, or slobber on Josh; don't take pictures while in line; and don't talk too much because Josh is really chatty and they were behind schedule) and told us how everything was going to work (hand off your bag and camera (which shouldn't be "zoomed into an eyebrow" as Stefany told us), have your merch ready for Josh's autograph, smile for your picture).

After a few more minutes, Darren opened the door to another hallway right outside Josh's dressing room. Before I could process it, the door opened and out came Josh. Cue my freak out. I actually whispered "Oh my God" aloud. *facepalm* Luckily, there were two groups in front of me so I had some time to get it together. When I was next in line, Darren reached for my bag, which was embarrassingly heavy (and pink). I apologized, and he made a move like it was too heavy to hold and he was going to tip over. And thus, Darren became one of my new favorite people. He also helped put me at a little more ease. But then he waved me forward... and this is where I'm pretty sure I blacked out. So, from what I can remember or what Jackie filled in for me, here's how it went:

Me (extended hand) - "Hi, I'm Ellen."

Josh (shook my hand, smiled) - "Hi." (I actually have no idea if he said this. I assume he did.)

Jackie - "Hi, I'm Jackie." (Again, I have no memory of their pleasantries.)

Me (handed him my photo) - "Will you make it out to my friend Karen? She loves you, but has never been able to meet you."

Josh - "Sure. Is that with a K?"

He then turned and looked at me, and we were standing so close, I'm impressed I was able to remember any letter of the alphabet. Miraculously, I spelled her entire name. Josh signed it and handed it back to me. Jackie then handed him her CD.

Josh - "Is on the CD ok?"

Jackie - "Yup."

He signed it, handed it back, and then wrapped his arms around us and pulled us in next to him. Oh. My. Sweet. Lord. I will never forget the way it felt to stand there with my arm around his waist and his hand on my shoulder. Forgive the detail, but he was warm and cuddly, while also firm and strong. He was taller than I expected too, but I'm short so that's not saying much. What actually went through my mind was the quote from Finding Nemo, "I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy." I could have stood there forever. Unfortunately, Stefany, his tour assistant, snapped the photo, and we were done. Josh told us to enjoy the show as he released us, and I thanked him... probably about six times. He was so sweet and kind. I tried to remember to look back as I said bye, but I'm pretty sure I failed and ended up just booking it. Jackie stepped forward to grab my camera and our bags. Apparently she didn't trust me to function correctly. I can't ever imagine why. I then floated back out to the arena on cloud nine.

As soon as we found our seats, everyone around us started asking what it was like to meet Josh (our passes gave us away), and my phone buzzed non-stop with texts from friends asking how it went (I had highly publicized this meeting). My head was spinning. I was still trying to process it myself, not to mention describing it to anyone who would listen. Fortunately, ELEW, Josh's opening act (the most astute of you may also remember him from a brief audition on America's Got Talent), came on after a few minutes, and I was granted a brief reprieve. If I hadn't been coming off my brush with Grobanness, I probably would have enjoyed him more, but even with my brain operating at half-capacity, I found ELEW very entertaining. His piano style is a mix of rock, classical, and even a little comedy. He kept it light and short, perfect for an opener.

When he was done his set, I went back out to the lobby to get a program (I'd forgotten to pick one up earlier when I was still freaking out). The first station I visited had run out, so I moved on to the next one, where I was successful. As I was walking back to my seat, I ran into ELEW chatting with people at the first station. I'd left my camera at my seat (d'oh!) so I couldn't get a picture, but I almost went two for two! I returned to my seat and eagerly awaited Josh's set to begin. I was prepared for a torturous wait, but the time seemed to fly and soon the lights dimmed and the show got rolling.

I immediately turned around, knowing Josh would enter from the rear of the arena. The ladies behind me gave me an odd look as I was suddenly face-to-face with them and then sweetly asked if Josh himself had told me he'd be coming in from the back. I jokingly said yes before correcting myself when I realized they thought I was serious; that Josh had shared this secret nugget with me. Our discussion was short-lived, though, because Josh entered, and the screaming was deafening (I contributed).

We were just a few rows away from the B-stage, where Josh performed the first three songs ("Changing Colors," "February Song," and "You Are Loved"). Part way through "You Are Loved," Josh left the B-stage and hustled down our aisle to the main stage. I couldn't zoom my camera out fast enough, but he was right there! This happened numerous times throughout the night, and I flipped out each time. Bless B-stages.

Our view to the main-stage was equally fantastic; Josh did a brilliant job of making the show feel intimate. His lighting and graphics were sick, especially during "Machine" when all the lights acted as robots. Josh constantly engaged the crowd, too, even while singing! During "Alejete," one female fan hooted her appreciation, and without missing a beat, Josh raised one eye-brow in a "yeah this is pretty sexy, huh" look. I died (again). That man is so quick! He put that quickness to excellent use when he answered fan questions and invited some audience members on stage. Highlights include:

* How do you keep your gorgeous curls so nice? -- "I mix my own concoction: one part ketchup, two parts baby tears. I like to shampoo it every now and then as well. I'm very flattered you think I actually do anything to my hair; this is straight off the pillow, guys. I mean, I love you and all, but not a lot went into this."

* I'm a stage management major. Can I meet your stage manager? -- After making a joke about playing second fiddle to his stage manger, Josh invited the girl up, called out his stage manager, and the three of them had a hilarious exchange where Josh whispered calls into the girl's ear, she announced them, and we all got to watch the light cues change.

* Can my sister sing a duet with you? -- Josh asked if she could "bring it," dramatically threw down his note card, and then raced to her section, where they sang a great rendition of "The Prayer."

* Josh pulled a 21-years-married couple, a single 20-year-old lady, and a young girl on stage and brought out some inflatable couches for them to sit on while he serenaded them... with a song about cheating.

* While posing for the couple on stage, in some rather goofy and long held positions, Josh realized they were shooting a video and proclaimed, "Now I feel like an ass." He also asked what their secret to marriage was and they answered "patience." Josh would have said "booze." 

* When introducing "Bells of New York City," Josh talked about his recent move to NYC and commented on the infamous Boston vs New York sports rivalry. He rather sarcastically wished our city "congratulations" for our championships, and as fate would have it, the speakers gave off feedback. Josh ducked and then said, "Was that a gunshot?! Geez, I mention New York and boom!"

In addition to showing off his incredible humor, Josh also showed off his even more amazing voice. He sang for almost exactly two hours and included songs from all of his albums. Personal favorites included "Higher Window," "Play Me," "Machine," and "Voce Existe Em Mim" (drum solos!).

I could go on and on (and on) - heck, I already have - but I will leave you there. If you haven't yet seen Josh Groban live, DO IT! He's absolutely fantastic, and it will be one of the best shows you ever attend. He's on tour until November, so get to it!