Monday, July 30, 2012

Redbox: Utah Style

Melanie and I were recently perusing the movie selection at a nearby Redbox in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. We noticed that if you tried to put an R-rated movie in your “cart,” you were presented with the following message:

The notice seems friendly enough, but Melanie and I don’t recall ever seeing such a message when renting from Redbox in Florida. We find this rather amusing. Now, perhaps it’s simply that Utah has many more children per capita, and so Redbox is being extra cautious by trying not to rent to those who are technically below the recommended viewing age. (For the record, it’s not a law that persons under 17 cannot see R-rated movies, even without an adult. The MPAA ratings system is voluntary, and theaters and movie rental companies typically adhere to the recommendations as a matter of policy. But it’s not a legal matter.) However, I suspect that the age confirmation feature found at Utah Redbox kiosks is meant primarily to warn customers that they have added an R-rated movie to their cart, something that many Utah customers would hope to avoid. In other words, I take the age confirmation message to be Redbox’s thinly veiled way of saying, “Heads up! That’s an R-rated movie you just selected! Just warning you, in case you didn’t realize it!”

Of course, if Redbox has bothered to add this message especially to Utah kiosks, they must feel it is necessary. But why would that be? Can’t customers see that a movie is rated R before putting in their carts? Well, yes. But if enough customers have inadvertently rented R-rated movies in the past and then complained about it to Redbox, Redbox may deem it worth their time, money, and effort to update their kiosks to make them more Utah-friendly. I know, I know, this is something of a conspiracy theory on my part. But if there is any truth to my speculations, I have to roll my eyes. It’s ludicrous how much handholding companies are required to do of their customers. If you put an R-rated movie in your cart, that’s your problem. If you’re lucky enough to notice ahead of time and don’t want to watch it, don’t. But if you do watch it and then wish you hadn’t, don’t complain to Redbox. That’s like shooting the messenger, when really you should be shooting not even the message-sender, but yourself! Stomp your feet. Bite your pillow. Holler, “Gosh darn it!” But don’t waste the time of a Redbox customer service representative because you made a mistake. I can just imagine how these phone calls must go. “I didn’t know it was rated R! I don’t watch R-rated movies! I’m not going to pay for it!” “My kids saw something they shouldn’t have! I didn’t realize I was turning on an R-rated movie! What are you going to do about it, Redbox?” Lame.

Well, if that weren’t bad enough, Melanie and I recently went down to Utah county, which even by Utah standards is unbelievably Utah-ish. Movie rentals down there are even more extreme, with Redbox not at all pretending that Utah county residents are anything but strict Mormons who avoid R-rated movies as a matter of religious faith. Check out the warnings that appear onscreen as you try to rent an R-rated film at a Provo kiosk (you may need to click each picture in order to better read the messages):

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Utah: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

After approximately two-and-a-half weeks of work-vacationing in Utah, I can’t help but wonder how it would be to live once again in my home state. I have very mixed feelings about this, as I’ve expressed previously (see here). But as my time in graduate school draws nearer and nearer to an end, I can’t help but take the idea of moving back to Utah all the more seriously. I very well could end up back here if I try. And so the question is, do I want to try?

I’ve compiled and will now present to you, my faithful reader (Hi, Mom!), a short list of the pros and cons of moving back to Utah. To be fair, this list is based on the assumption that if I don’t come back to Utah, I’ll be staying in Tallahassee. Or, rather, this list compares my life in Tallahassee to my potential life in Utah. Thus, if I say something is a pro of moving to Utah, what that really means is that it is an area of my life that would improve if I moved to Utah, as compared to my current lifestyle in Tallahassee. Similarly, if I say something is a con of moving to Utah, what I really mean is that Tallahassee is better than Utah in that particular respect. (And, to be even more specific, I’m comparing living in Salt Lake City to living in Tallahassee.) When it comes down to it, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll stay in Tallahassee after completing my Ph.D., and so this list is only provisionally meaningful. There are certainly pros and cons on this list that would not be pros or cons if I compared Salt Lake City to some other city in which I could end up living. But you get the basic idea.

A final note before I present the list. I have not included proximity to family and friends as either a pro or a con on this list. Obviously, it is both. But I have purposely kept this list limited to those things that seem less personal, that are features of the state rather than features of particular people that happen to live here. None of my Utah family members and/or friends should be saddened by their exclusion from this list. Indeed, it may be for the best that I did not include you on it. Who knows what I would have said about you?

And finally, here are the pros and cons:

Pro #1: More to Do (Especially for a Family)
The Salt Lake City area is a pretty great place to live if you’ve got a family. There are lots of things to do. There are museums, a zoo, an amusement park a mere 20-ish minutes away, cool libraries, tons of movie theaters, recreational opportunities aplenty, professional basketball, baseball, and soccer, etc., etc., etc. There are lots of community events, especially at certain times of the year. There are tons of places to see fireworks on the 4th of July, for example, and there seem to be two or three free movies being shown in some nearby park or another almost every single weekend during the summer months. For the adults, you’ve got ballet, opera, live theater, restaurants of varying degrees of snootiness, casinos a mere two hours’ drive away (if that’s your thing), and contrary to what some people would expect, bars and sex shops! Even for a boring fella such as myself who predominantly enjoys going to the movies, Salt lake City affords one the opportunity of going to a different movie theater almost every week of the year! So many other cities are easily accessible from SLC that a sizable chunk of metropolitan Utah feels as though it’s right outside your door. But so are the mountains, meaning you can hike, rock climb, bird watch, ski, snowboard, and much more! Whether you prefer your nights on the town or in the tops of the mountains, you’re good living in SLC. Tallahassee offers jack squat in comparison.

Con #1: Traffic
Granted, SLC isn’t half as bad as places like Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Seattle when it comes to traffic congestion. But most of the main roads in the Salt Lake City area seem to be perpetually busy, at least (and especially) in comparison to Tallahassee. The freeway in Tally is, at its worst, much better than the freeway in Salt Lake City at its best, and Tallahassee rush hour is a less strenuous adventure than is trying to get out of a downtown Salt Lake City mall parking lot (regardless of the time of day). Road construction also is unending in Utah. The same roads that were whittled down to one lane in each direction back in 2011 are whittled down to one lane in each direction this year. As they were the year before that. And the year before that. Or so it seems. Honestly, I don’t know if the main road off of which Melanie’s parents live has ever NOT been under construction! Orange cones and barrels seem to have a permanent residence on SLC roads, and it’s obnoxious. Furthermore, Utah drivers suck. I didn’t realize that before, but man oh man, are they pushy … and impatient … and often times just plain reckless! Perhaps it’s simply that there are so many more drivers here than in Tally, but since our arrival, Melanie and I have rarely been on the road without having some futtface bonehead nearly drive us off the road. It’s a joke.

Pro #2: Food, Food, Food!
Not only are there more options for food in Salt Lake City than in Tallahassee, but the food available is of a much higher quality. This is especially true of Chinese and Mexican food. Since moving to Atlanta six years ago and then to Tallahassee four years ago, Melanie and I have found only one Chinese restaurant that we truly enjoy. We’ve found maybe one Mexican restaurant that we like, but in all fairness, we only like* it (that is, with an asterisk). It’s good enough to satisfy our cravings, since nothing else is available, but it pales in comparison to Utah Mexican food. (Some of you may recall me writing about this problem here.) But even apart from “ethnic” food, there are simply tons of great restaurants in Utah that far outshine anything Melanie and I have found elsewhere. Sure, we’ve come to have our favorites in Tallahassee, but they’re merely our favorites of what’s available. They’re not the kinds of places we’ll miss when we leave Tallahassee. Not a single one of them. Meanwhile, I could cry over some of the food in Utah and how dearly I miss it. It’s just that good.

Con #2: Culture
Salt Lake City trumps Tallahassee when it comes to the kind of culture I described in Pro #1. But it also trumps Tallahassee in another kind of culture—Utah / Mormon culture. And, in my personal opinion, this is a bad thing. One of the best things about living outside of Utah is not dealing with the ceaseless, in-your-face-ness of Utah’s predominant religion. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not the religion itself. It’s the people who adhere to it. And since there are so bloody many of them, advertisers and everyone else caters to those religious beliefs like there’s no tomorrow. Mormon-themed stores, products, and advertising permeate the scene. Even though I myself am a Mormon, I find it all a bit nauseating and offensive—in part because it has a tendency to marginalize those who don’t hold certain beliefs, and in part because it treats Mormons themselves like idiots who will lap up anything that bears even a fabricated relationship to their faith. Unfortunately, plenty of Utah Mormons do lap this stuff up, and that’s why religious affiliation is such a hot commodity in Utah. To put it as simply as I can, Mormonism is a brand name here. (Again, this has nothing directly to do with the tenets of the faith, but is merely an unfortunate byproduct of having so many Mormons living together en masse.) I feel like this is a topic I could go on and on about, and probably I will write about it again. But to keep things as brief as possible for the purposes of this post, I will say only that I hate the exclusivity and divisiveness that exists within Utah culture. As I personally aspire to be both an open-minded, intellectually honest person and a devout member of my faith, I sometimes find that I don’t fit comfortably on either side of Utah’s enormous metaphorical fence.

Pro #3: Radio
I was shocked when I moved from Salt Lake City to Atlanta and discovered that the latter had inferior radio stations. I thought that a big city like Atlanta would have more to offer. They didn’t. I found only one or two radio stations that were moderately enjoyable. The rest of them sucked. Tallahassee radio, surprisingly, has proven a vast improvement over Atlanta radio and offers a handful of stations that I genuinely like. Tallahassee’s WANK (conveniently pronounced “Hank”) 99.9 FM may be as good and enjoyable a station as any I have ever listened to in Utah. In fact, I’m not altogether certain that Utah radio is qualitatively better than Tallahassee radio. But it is quantitatively better, in that there is more of the good stuff in Utah. Of special note is Utah’s long-running morning program Radio from Hell (on X96.1 FM), which far outshines anything coming out of Tallahassee.

Con #3: Radio Commercials
Or more specifically, commercials and commercials and commercials and commercials and commercials. For the vast number of radio stations that I don’t mind listening to in Utah, it can be surprisingly hard to find any actual music to listen to. This is because Utah radio seems to play about 12 minutes of music for every broadcast hour. I don’t know if I can possibly be right about this, but I feel as if there is sincerely 2-3 times as much advertising on Utah radio as there is on Tallahassee radio. In that regard, listening to Utah radio can be a much more frustrating endeavor. And, of course, it’s all the worse to hear ads in Utah because of the kinds of ads you get (see Con #2 above and, once again, this previous post). Still, on those rare occasions when you find some actual music playing, Utah radio can treat you pretty well.

Pro #4: Mountains
I’m not an outdoorsman by any stretch of the imagination. I can’t recall ever doing anything that would count as honest-to-goodness camping (i.e. camping that wasn’t in somebody’s backyard and that didn’t involve a camper trailer or sleeping in the back of a covered truck). I’m not confident that the number of hikes I’ve been on would outnumber my fingers and toes. And I’ve never skied, despite growing up in one of the world’s foremost skiing destinations. But I do love the mountains. I do. Even when I lived in Utah, it was hard not to stare in appreciative wonder whenever I’d drive near to them. And the wonderful thing is, you get pretty close to them all of the time! Just walking out of Melanie’s parent’s front door, one’s eyes are assaulted with mountainous beauty. I don’t get sick of seeing them. They are stunning. And comforting somehow. If I find myself facing too flat of a landscape, I can sometimes feel as if I am drowning. The sky feels too close, and I know I can’t get to any ground that is higher than that on which I already stand. It can make me feel helpless.

Con #4: Trees
As beautiful as Utah’s mountains are, its trees cannot compare to those that grow outside of a desert. I fell in love with Seattle as a teenager, in large part because of the trees. And it’s not merely that a place like Seattle has far more trees than Utah does, although this is undeniably true. It’s that Seattle trees are so much more lush and green than those that grow in Utah. And when it comes to trees, Tallahassee (and even Atlanta) is much more like Seattle than like Utah. And this is one thing that I truly love about living in Tallahassee. When I drive to school in Tally, I get to drive down what’s known as a “canopy road,” a road that is absolutely shrouded in trees. It is gorgeous and never ceases to amaze me. And that is something I would miss about living in Utah. Granted, Utah has trees, and they look good blanketing the mountains. But Utah trees are to Tallahassee trees as VHS is to Blu-ray. If I move back to Utah, I will miss my high-definition Tallahassee trees.

Pro #5: Low Humidity
Yes, Utah gets hot. But the lack of humidity offers many perks in the summertime months that more humid climates could never afford. Even in late July and August, it is rare in northern Utah for the air outside not to feel pleasantly comfortable, and sometimes downright cool, in the morning and late evening hours. And even when it does heat up, you don’t get drenched in sweat the way you would in Tallahassee. In Tallahassee, at least for much of the year, you are hot and sticky from the very moment you walk outside—even if you do so in the middle of the night! And it’s an all-encompassing sticky sweatiness: your clothes, your head, your hair, your entire body—all of it feels damp and slimy within seconds of leaving a well air-conditioned home or vehicle. There’s just no way to put a positive spin on something like that. In contrast, sweating in Utah feels like something you do as a healthy biological creature rather than something that the weather somehow does to you. Put another way, in Tally, it’s as though the Florida air sweats all over you rather than that you sweat because of it. And that’s just gross. When I sweat in Utah, it gets under my arms, on top of my head if I’m standing in the sun. Natural, normal places to sweat. My entire body doesn’t begin to ooze simply because I’ve walked outside. My clothes don’t smell of must and mildew after I spend a few minutes in the Utah sun. In Tallahassee, it’s a whole other story. The lack of humidity alone could be a selling point for moving back to Utah.

Con #5: Dry Air
As always, there are two sides to every story. The lack of humidity in Utah has two major setbacks for me. One, I suspect it is the reason that I used to get somewhat frequent and seemingly spontaneous nosebleeds when I lived in Utah. Since moving away from Utah, I’ve had maybe one or two nosebleeds. Total. In contrast, I used to get at least 6 or 7 nosebleeds per year in Utah, and I’m trying to be very conservative when I make that estimate. It may have been closer to 12, or maybe even 15. I know they occurred frequently, but I’m willing to admit that having a nosebleed every five or six weeks would seem rather frequent to a person. Regardless, my penchant for Utah nosebleeds is probably related to a second problem with the state’s lack of humidity: very dry skin. In wintertime especially, my knuckles and elbows dry out quite a bit when I’m living in Utah. They crack and bleed and sting with pain. My dry elbow skin will even catch on my shirt or jacket sleeves and cause discomfort. I don’t think I ever had these kinds of problems in Utah during the summertime, but I worry that I’ve since acclimatized to Florida in such a way that I will suffer all the more if I ever move back to Utah. Even on this trip, the big knuckle on my right hand is feeling and looking a bit dry. Yikes.

Pro #6: The Library System(s)
Just as I was shocked by the qualitative discrepancies between their radio stations, I was flabbergasted (or maybe just flummoxed) when I moved to Atlanta and found its library system to be inferior to that of Salt Lake City’s. In my experience, at least, there was no comparing the two. Perhaps it’s just my personal tastes and the kinds of things I tried to find, but Atlanta rarely had what I was looking for. In contrast, the Salt Lake City library system had most anything I ever sought. This is especially true when you combine it with Salt Lake County’s library system, which I personally liked even more than the city’s. (Those who live in Salt Lake City proper have the luxury of utilizing both library systems.) As an added bonus, the libraries in Utah are themselves nicer and neater. While several of the Tallahassee libraries are located in strip malls, Utah libraries are located in picturesque old school buildings and churches, or housed in modern architectural marvels such as this:

Case closed!

Con #6: Winter
It’s so obvious, you’ve probably been wondering why I haven’t mentioned it already. Indeed, as beautiful as it may look from the comfort of your living room sofa as you stare out the window and sip your hot cocoa, there’s nothing fun about snow-heavy winters. Not when you actually have to go outside and deal with it, that is. Yes, the Utah snow makes wintertime commutes especially laborious. At best, your commute is slow, wet, messy, and cold. At worst, it’s literally impossible to get anywhere. And then there are the commutes that fall somewhere in between, where you get only partway to your destination before you skid off the road, or get stuck in a snow bank, or crash into someone else who is skidding off the road or getting stuck in a snow bank, etc. I’ll be honest, I fear that my current fondness for Utah would disintegrate immediately if I were to spend a few days here in December or January. And that means I stand a real chance of regretting a return to my home state. Of all of the cons on my list, this one would be the hardest to overlook. So that worries me. And even when and if road conditions remain semi-decent in the wintertime, as they sometimes do, it is such a pain to bundle kids into heavy coats and then try to cram them into their car seats. It makes going anywhere very unappealing. That’s just the truth. Now, I’ll admit that sometimes I miss the snow. It’s soft and peaceful, and when it decorates the entire city, it makes everything look timeless and serene. Wintertime in Utah has always been a very nostalgic time for me, and I miss that feeling. Even when I find myself wearing long pants, long sleeves, and a decent jacket in Tallahassee (if I remember correctly, this kind of weather is known to Floridians as “January 12th”), it lacks the distinctive ambiance of a snow-filled Utah winter. Even so, I have never once wished to myself that I could spend my mornings in Florida driving through the snow, or scraping the snow and ice off of my car before heading to school, or walking across campus in knee-high piles of snow that leave my shoes and socks thoroughly soaked. And that’s precisely what I’ll get living in Utah.

So there you have it. I’m sure there are other issues to consider, but I think this captures the most salient concerns—both good and bad—that I’ve had about returning to Utah. When it comes right down to it, I will admit that, at this moment, I do plan to at least try to make it back here someday. Despite my worries, I’m less iffy than ever about returning. And my fear of regret is slowly dissipating as well, which means I’m almost certain to return if given the chance. I’m even starting to take it for granted that I’ll live here again, which is dangerous because it’s not altogether up to me. Professionally speaking, the opportunity may never present itself. And yet at this point, I can’t help but expect to live here again. It may be wishful thinking, but more and more, it seems my return is inevitable. We shall see.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Utah 2012: Week 2

A continued chronicle of our Summer 2012 Utah visit:

Wednesday and Thursday of last week (July 18th and 19th) were pretty mellow. Melanie had plans with her mom to visit the new City Creek mall on Wednesday afternoon / evening. Wanting to have something fun to look forward to in the day, and wanting to make sure we had some time together as a family, Melanie and I took the boys to Sconecutter for lunch. We got the boys some kids’ meals, and Melanie and I ate our sandwiches, spicy fries, and drank Diet Dr. Pepper. We all then had some cinnamon and honey butter scones for dessert. It’s been years since I’ve eaten at Sconecutter, and I quite enjoyed myself.

After Melanie took off to City Creek mall around 3:30pm or so, I found myself doing little more than following Creegan around, trying to prevent him from destroying things in Melanie’s parents’ house. This was stressful and none-too-fun for me, so I decided to pack the kids up and take them to my parents’ house in the Midvale area. This was my first visit of the year to my own parents’ home. My boys are much less familiar with my parents than with Melanie’s, so they were a bit shy. Still, they handled things fairly well. By around 7pm or so, my parents offered to take me to dinner. I wasn’t feeling incredibly hungry, but they made me choose a place, so I had us all go to Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Melanie and I discovered Five Guys in Atlanta, shortly before moving to Tallahassee. We loved them and were sad we had discovered them so late. At the time, there weren’t any Five Guys in Tallahassee. As luck would have it, a Five Guys opened in Tallahassee shortly after we moved there. Regardless, Five Guys wasn’t in Utah when we used to live here. My parents had never tried it, so I thought I’d introduce it to them. Despite my not being very hungry, I ate plenty and thoroughly enjoyed every bite of it. I also enjoyed hanging out with just my mom and dad (and, of course, my boys). I don’t usually have an opportunity to visit my parents without at least two or three other family members being around. That can make it hard to get into deep conversations or to feel like you’ve had more than a superficial, casual exchange. So it was nice to have some concentrated time together.

Thursday was a work day. We stayed home all day. Not much to say. But Friday was full of adventure. It was Melanie’s dad’s birthday. We started the day by going up Big Cottonwood Canyon and hiking around Silver Lake (a very flat, kid-friendly hike). We packed a lunch and ate it before setting off around the lake. It was quite fun, and shady enough in most spots not to feel too uncomfortably warm. The kids loved it and wanted to stop every few feet to do this, that, or the other. Eddie and Peter enjoyed climbing rocks, and Edison frequently stopped to jump atop a rock and demand that we take a photo of him. Considering how short the hike is, we took plenty of time to complete it. Almost too much by the time it was all said and done. But it was fun.

On Friday night, we took to Melanie’s paternal grandparents’ house in Highland, about 25-30 minutes away (in good traffic, which we did not have) from Melanie’s parents’ house. We had an outdoor barbecue to celebrate Ron’s birthday. Once again, the kids had a lot of fun. Melanie’s grandparents live on a large property with lots of fun things for kids to do. They could explore, play on swings, drown in the creek, etc. They even had a chance to roast marshmallows, which Edison proved himself to have quite a talent for doing. It was a fun day.

Saturday was designated as a day to visit my family. We got up in the morning, got ready for the day, and took to my parents with a short detour to Beyond Glaze (yes, again!). This time around, I tried a Pumpkin Chocolate Chip donut and an Apple Crisp donut. I was mostly excited for the former, but I didn’t care for it a great deal. The Apple Crisp was quite good, though. At my parents’ house, I was able to visit not only Mom and Dad, but all three of my sisters. My dad generously took us all to lunch at a nearby La Frontera. It was a bit hectic with 12 of us, nearly half of which are young children. But I was pleased to get some good Mexican food in my system—two flour chile verde enchiladas, beans, and rice to be more specific. Melanie was thrilled to get a cheddar cheese enchilada, which doesn’t exist in the South, from what we’ve seen. After lunch, we hung out at my parents’ place for a bit longer and then headed home.

On Sunday, Melanie and I went to church with her side of the family (those that weren’t sick, anyway) and then headed back to my parents’ house. We saw all the same people again. Not much else to say about it. At night, Melanie and I watched the season finale of The Bachelorette. Melanie had watched the entire season, mostly because her friends have a weekly get together that revolves around the show. I had only seen one previous episode this season, but I enjoyed it fairly well, considering. (Mostly, I think just enjoyed hanging out with my wife, to tell you the truth.)

On Monday, I was abandoned to my work. Melanie had some friend and family visiting to do in the Layton area, and I spent pretty much the entire day in the spare bedroom of Melanie’s parents’ house, which is my office for the time being. After Melanie left in the morning, I literally saw nobody else until she got home around 5pm. It wasn’t as terribly lonely as I thought it would be. Shortly after 5:30pm, Melanie’s older brother, Mark, showed up and we had a big family dinner together. Melanie and I had originally planned on taking the kids to a baseball game that night, but she and the kids were understandably worn out by this point. We decided to postpone the game. I, however, was still aching to get out of the house. And so, after getting the kids to sleep, Melanie and I went on a drive. It was a rather aimless endeavor, but it was good for us. I made us stop for a late night snack at Taco Time, as it had been about 5 hours since we’d eaten. Taco Time is a fast-food Mexican restaurant that I used to consider rather delicious. I wasn’t very impressed this time around. It wasn’t bad, but I don’t think I’ll care if I never eat there again. (Sorry, Taco Time. Adieu, amigo!)

After a few relatively low-key days, Melanie and I had some special things planned for Tuesday. We had arranged to meet up with my sister JoAnna and her kids (and husband) to swim at the West Valley Family Fitness Center. We ended up being rather late for the gig, and it turns out my sister ended up being rather early. They were feeling about done by the time we got there, so we didn’t spend as much time with them as we’d hoped. But we were able to see them for a little while, and that was cool. Not that it was incredibly easy to visit with them anyway. The pool is large and has a waterslide, as well as lots of other fun things for kids to play around on/in/with. There are big buckets high above your heads that fill with water and periodically dump themselves into the pool (and generally on top of an eagerly waiting child). There are various pipes that spray water in various directions and with varying degrees of intensity. All of these things combine to make a lot of noise, and that makes it rather hard to carry on a conversation in the pool. (Not to mention the fact that you’re trying to take care of your kids and let them play around at the same time.) Alas, the visit was brief, but Melanie and I stayed at the pool for quite a while anyway, right up until they were about to close the place. Being Pioneer Day, a Utah holiday, they were closing up early, but we’d been there for about 90 minutes, which seemed like plenty to us.

After leaving the Center, we took to Trolley Square mall in downtown SLC. Last year, we had dined at The Old Spaghetti Factory during our visit to SLC, and it was a smashing success. The kids loved it, and it was a beautiful experience. We hoped to recreate that experience this year around. But Creegan was of a different mind. All he wanted to do was scream and throw things. It was quite awful, truth be told. Melanie and I had to take turns walking around the mall with him while the other one of us spent a few minutes at a time eating. Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy my food as much because of it. The Mizithra was delicious, but the noodles were a bit pastier than they should’ve been. I also had some of the clam sauce, which for the first time I realized tastes very much like the “milk spaghetti” I have had a few times in my youth. My blackberry Italian cream soda was good, and Eddie and Peter actually did a great job eating their meals. Once we left the restaurant, Creegan was fine and dandy. We let the kids explore Trolley Square for a while. I’ve always found the mall to be extremely picturesque, but despite its upscale nature, it’s quite good for kids. Much to the dismay of the retailers who are housed there, it seems there are rarely very many people inside Trolley Square. It feels like you’re walking around a large abandoned building, which I think is kind of cool. As did the kids, who ran around without the slightest hesitation. I took a lot of pictures, and I’m hoping some of them turned out well. I’ll post them in the future.

As noted above, Tuesday was Pioneer Day. It celebrates the day the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and Brigham Young famously (though not actually verbatim) declared, “This is the place!” In Utah, it’s like the 4th of July all over again, with morning parades and nighttime fireworks shows, etc. We hadn’t planned to go see any of the big fireworks shows, but we thought it would be fun to set off some of the grocery-store-grade fireworks at home. Melanie’s parents had purchased some, and we set them off around 9:30pm or so. Yes, it was another late night, but it was fun. It was also surprisingly redundant, in that people all over the valley were setting off fireworks of all kinds, and everywhere you looked, fireworks were exploding before your eyes. From the front yard of Melanie’s parents’ house, we could see three or four mini-fireworks shows, all of which were of the shoot-up-into-the-sky variety. Our fireworks were more humble – a collection of one-foot tall canisters that spit sparks for approximately 15 seconds each. Each firework seemed nearly identical to the last, but the kids didn’t seem to mind. They loved ‘em. It was a good night.

And those are the highlights of week two of our trip to Utah.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People

I wrote the following joke as I tried to put Creegan back to sleep shortly after 5 a.m. this morning:

Q: Why was the grim reaper roasting a marshmallow?

A: Because he was at death camp.

Thank you and good night!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Utah 2012: Week 1

Melanie, the boys, and I have now been in Utah for just over one week. Overall, things are going great. I forgot the cord that can hook our digital camera up to the laptop, so I can’t yet share any photos. But I’ll share some stories.

Melanie and I arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday, July 11th at approximately 11:30am local time. For the first time ever, I had a problem with luggage. The suitcase holding all of my clothes and a few of my school books didn’t show up. A representative from Delta assured me the bag had been put on a later flight and would be arriving several hours hence. They offered to deliver the bag to wherever I was staying, which I thought was good (and appropriate) of them. When the Delta rep asked for the delivery address, she said someone would call us before dropping off the bag, just to make sure I’d be available to receive it. She then asked if it would be okay if they called after 11 p.m. Before I could answer, she waved her hand dismissively and said, “We have to ask that of everybody,” as though it was absurd to think the bag would take that long to be delivered. Well, they did deliver the bag, but they didn’t call beforehand. And it’s just as well, because we were all asleep by the time the bag arrived—shortly after 11 p.m. Although they didn’t ring our phone, they did ring the doorbell. A startling awakening, but I was glad to have my stuff. I admit, I didn’t have the fullest of confidence that it would arrive.

On Thursday morning, our first fun Utah stop became Beyond Glaze Gourmet Doughnuts. We ordered a half dozen for the five of us. Melanie had raspberry mango, while I had nutmeg dash (quite yummy). Melanie and I also split a coconut cream donut, my absolute favorite that they offer. Any visit to Utah should include one of these masterpieces. I had selected a cookies n’ cream donut for Creegan, but he was asleep at the time. The donut ended up sitting around for a day, at which point Melanie and I put it out of its misery and into our bellies.

After picking up some things at a store, we stopped for lunch at Café Rio, one of the most popular Utah eateries (which has subsequently become a chain, with locations as far away as Virginia and Maryland). Melanie had a delicious beef salad with creamy tomatillo dressing, while I stuffed myself silly with a gigantic barbecued pork burrito, served enchilada style (smothered in cheese and salsa verde). Muy bueno!

More so than not, this needs to be a working vacation for me, so I’ve tried to be diligent about spending my days working on my dissertation. This has limited our playtime to evenings and weekends. On Friday night, Melanie’s brother Mark and his wife, Trina, came over for dinner. On Saturday, Melanie and I took the boys to see my side of the family. We all met at a park and brought our own lunch. Melanie and I brought Grinders 13, a personal Utah favorite of mine. We spent some good time visiting with family and letting our boys play. We then went “home” (which for the time being is Melanie’s parents’ house) for a little while before leaving Creegan with Melanie’s mom and taking Eddie and Peter (and Uncle Tom) to see The Amazing Spider-Man. This was our first experience with reserved seating at movie theaters, which I guess is pretty common here in Utah nowadays. It was quite nice.

On Sunday, Melanie and I went to see my sister, JoAnna, at her place. We hadn’t yet seen the apartment she moved into a while back, which is about an hour away from Melanie’s parents’ house. It was really great to see JoAnna, even if I more-than-not played spectator to her and Melanie’s conversations. Melanie and JoAnna understand each other in unique ways that give them a special relationship, one that both of them highly value, I believe. And that’s really cool for me, so I didn’t mind just being there around a couple of my favorite people. As a bonus, JoAnna had made brownies and some side dishes to accompany the polish sausages and chips (and Diet Mountain Dew) that Melanie and I brought for dinner.

Monday was another work day for me. Melanie went to Costco with her mom and picked up some muffins, which we’ve missed since our own Costco membership expired several months ago. Melanie made tacos for Monday night’s dinner, and Kaleb’s girlfriend Kaya made her first appearance since Melanie and I had arrived in town. A few hours later, Melanie and I very spontaneously decided to haul our kids to the drive-in movie theater, where we watched Brave. (We had no ambition whatsoever to try to watch the movie that would play after Brave.) We had adjusted to Mountain Time almost immediately upon arriving in Utah, so Melanie and I had no problem staying awake until the movie ended at about 11:15pm. I was rather surprised, however, that Edison stayed awake for the entire movie. And Peter pooped out only in the last ten minutes or so. Creegan had slept through the first 10 minutes of the movie, then spent about an hour awake, then fell back asleep. Probably because it was a Monday, the drive-in was not at all crowded, which was nice. And the vehicle we’re using while in Utah is a truck, so we were able to reverse park, flip open the back, and let us all hang out together in the truck bed. It was quite fun.

Despite the fun of the drive-in, that night ended up being a challenge. Creegan ended up puking about eight times during the night. He was totally fine after that, and nobody else ever felt ill. We suspect he drank some old milk that had started to sour. He’s fond of losing his milk cups and then finding them after they’ve been hidden for way too long. He’ll then try to drink the milk. Needless to say, Monday night was not a good one in terms of sleeping. Tuesday was a bit rough because of it, but we still had some fun in the evening. Kaleb and Kaya had asked Melanie and me to go to Noodles & Company with them on Tuesday night, and it turned into a family affair. Melanie’s Dad graciously bought everyone dinner.  (And Creegan is enjoying the Wisconsin Macaroni and Cheese to this day, thanks to an abundance of leftovers!)

And in a very small nutshell, that’s the first week of our trip. All in all, we’re loving being here. It’s a tiny bit of a challenge not to be in your own place. Creegan hasn’t been sleeping incredibly well, which makes nighttimes a bit stressful and restless. I wish the house I’m staying in was kept cooler, especially at night, and I’m probably fattening up as I type this, not only because we’re eating out at a bunch of places, but because the food we actually do eat at “home” is not the low-fat, high-fiber stuff I’m used to. But that’s okay. Indulgent food is a small price to pay for being with family.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Independence Day 2012

I’ve long regarded the Fourth of July to be one of the most stressful holidays to celebrate. It requires effort, patience, and more of competitive spirit than I’d typically like to offer. To get anywhere near a decent fireworks show involves becoming part of a mass exodus. Unless you want to be stuck watching the fireworks through a thicket of tall trees that nearly obscure them from view, you have to lay claim to a spot of land early. Unless you happen to live very near to a park or venue at which a firework show is scheduled, this requires driving somewhere and battling for a parking spot. Of course, if you’re going early enough to get a good spot of land on which to sit and watch the fireworks, you’re more likely to get a decent parking spot. Your payment will come after the show, when you find yourself smack dab in the middle of the chaos and have to fight your way out of it. In the past, it’s taken me hours to drive a few miles after a fireworks show. A cavalcade of vehicles trying to ford an unending stream of pedestrians is time-consuming business. If you’re content to watch the fireworks from afar, you might avoid some of this hubbub, but chances are you won’t avoid it completely. You’ll either end up just on the outskirts of the mania at the cost of a less spectacular show, or you’ll be competing with other folks who are trying the same alternative approach to observing fireworks that you are. The further from the show you get, the less the madness. But then you’re left figuring out where exactly you can go and still be able to see the show. Nothing comes free on the day we celebrate our freedom.

I mention all of the above only because I’m so extremely pleased by my experience this year. This was our fourth Fourth (and likely our final Fourth) of July in Tallahassee. One thing I absolutely love about this town is that, at its most manic, it’s not that bad. The busiest, most crowded places I’ve been have been quite tolerable. I’ll miss that if I ever move to a larger city (which I fully expect and hope to do). But even the Fourth of July can get a bit hectic around here. Probably the very worst crowd situation I’ve dealt with in Tally came two years ago, when Melanie and I took the kids to the fireworks show at Tom Brown Park. Tom Brown Park offers the granddaddy of fireworks shows in Tallahassee, and we found ourselves about as close to the show as was possible. It took forever getting out afterwards, and I hoped not to repeat that in the future. Last year, we ended up learning about a fireworks show that takes place at a small lake even nearer to our home than Tom Brown Park. We celebrated the Fourth at the lake in 2011, and it worked out beautifully. It still took some time getting out afterwards, but nothing like the two previous years. This year, we again decided to take to the lake, and it was an even more blissful experience. Here’s a quick rundown of the night’s events.

At about 745pm, we arrive at the lake, having loaded up on treats/snacks at a nearby Circle K. We pull right up to the park area in front of the lake, as close as you could possibly get to the “seating” area without driving onto the grass and killing people. A better parking spot could not have been had. As we get out of the van, the kids are excited by the presence of inflatable bounce houses. We didn’t see those last year, but it may be because we were slightly more removed and more late-coming to the festivities. I’m not convinced they were new this year. Regardless, the bounce houses were free. They were also giving away free snow cones, and possibly free burgers. The kids played in the bounce houses a couple of times during the approximately 90-minute wait until the firework show began. They also ran around a fair deal. The humidity was worse than I can remember it being since we’ve moved here, but everyone remained in fairly good spirits. We enjoyed our treats and the wait time passed quickly enough.

At approximately 915pm, someone sang the national anthem and the firework show got underway. Eddie and Peter were both fascinated. Eddie felt extreme pride over his lack of fear. Last year, the noise had frightened him enough that he didn’t even want to look at the fireworks. He refused to watch, even with his ears covered. When the show was over, he was devastated that he had missed it all. Needless to say, I was quite pleased that Eddie was nothing but enamored of the fireworks this year. He kept his ears covered, but as he himself proudly and loudly proclaimed to us in mid-show, he wasn’t scared at all. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Creegan. Before the official fireworks show got underway, some nearby residents were setting off fireworks. They were the kind that shoot up into the air and explode, but they were obviously nothing in comparison to the “real” fireworks. Creegan was curious about these lesser fireworks, but they did nothing to prepare him for the official fireworks show. As soon as the official fireworks started to pop, Creegan scrambled into Melanie’s arms and held on tight, burying his face into her shoulder. After a moment or two, he climbed over to me and I held him for the remainder of the show. I kept my thumb over his left ear as he kept his right ear against my shoulder. He never looked up, despite our occasional encouragement. The rest of us enjoyed the show.

When the fireworks show ended, nobody scrambled to their feet in a desperate attempt to get out of there before the traffic (pedestrian and vehicular alike) swelled. The crowd offered an enthusiastic applause, sat there for an appreciative moment, and then casually gathered their things and calmly walked to their cars. Melanie pointed this out to me, and I find the behavior quite telling. I love the easygoing nature of a smaller city. But despite the calmness, I was worried about getting away from the lake. Our van could not have been more immersed in the festivities than it was, and I assumed it would take a while for us to get out of there. But it didn’t. I didn’t even have to wait to pull onto the road. Once on the road, we had to stop immediately. We waited for a few minutes before I decided to flip a U and go the other direction. Once I did that, there was no stopping whatsoever, other than for stop signs and traffic lights. There was no slow down at all. We were home ten minutes later. That we could attend a fireworks show, have an optimal parking spot and a premier spot of land on which to sit, and be home within 20 minutes of the show ending is absolutely staggering in my mind. God bless America! Or at least Tallahassee!

And now for some photos:

I’m including this photo, just so you can see how sweaty Creegan’s head is. The humidity was killer.

Happy birthday, America!!