Thursday, September 28, 2006

Chowing Authentic Buffalo Wings

Hooray for another Trip Goal accomplished: I have sucked the meat from a pile of chicken bones drenched in vinegar-rich hot sauce, served to me by the same kitchen that gave birth to the institution today known as the Buffalo Wing.

Frank and Teressa’s Anchor Bar claims to be the home of the original buffalo wing. According to their story, one night Teressa invented the wings for her son’s pals, and before they knew what hit them a phenomenon had swept the nation.

We go at mid-afternoon, after the downtown lunch crowd has finished up and well before the after-work crowd files in for happy hour pints. Our table is adjacent to the stage, which sits shrouded in drop-cloths protecting the instruments. The backdrop, a glimmering curtain that probably looks great at night under targeted colored lights, is delightfully tacky.

The wooden walls of the foyer and bar are plastered with license plates, some of which evoke the name of the venue (ANCRBR from Texas, BUFWNGS from PA). I have never been disappointed by a place that came fairly by its license plates, street signs, road signs, business cards, brassieres, and other miscellany tacked to its walls. Forget about the big chain restaurants, though: they have professionals dig up their swag, and sometimes, like a Hollywood production, they manufacture imitations. I’m talking about real places with real stories. Anchor Bar reeks of authenticity and spilled beer.

Our singular purpose for going is so I can down a plate or two of chicken wings. I have a soft spot for wings, despite my distaste for finger foods. When I was a child, Grandma’s teriyaki chicken feast was a Christmas Eve tradition. My cousin and I could pack those suckers away like nobody’s business. Just imagine two kids, twelve and ten years old, faces gooey with Grandma’s magical sodium-rich sauce, fibers of cheap napkins stuck to our fingertips, dozens of clean bones heaped on plates before us... Ah, the good old days.

The menu arrives in the form of a newspaper. Normal Girl unfolds it, looking for something that isn’t spicy. For me, the only question is temperature: Mild, Medium, Hot, or Suicidal. I’m kind of a wimp, truth be told, and I opt for Medium. To be extra safe, I also order a plate of BBQ wings. It’s too many wings, but when else will I be in Buffalo? (The answer to that question, boys and girls, is never).

More unique wall art: signed photographs of celebrities (mostly B-list, which I respect---you know they’re real) and letters of commendation from the governor, the City of Buffalo, the Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, etc., declaring various days as Anchor Bar Day, Buffalo Wing Day, etc.

Lunch arrives quickly. Wooden salad bowls, presumably for the bones, rest like lids atop the steaming plates. As expected, celery stalks and blue cheese dressing accompany.

I dive in with both hands. The wings are cooked perfectly: skin crisp and meat tender. The sauce is milder than I expected; I could have easily gone for the Hot and been okay. Some might complain that the wings are tossed in the orange-red sauce rather than saturated, but to me, that's another factor that makes Anchor Bar's wings better than the competition: the sauce does not overpower.

Having expected to be disappointed, instead I lick the sauce from my fingers, somewhat to Normal Girl's dismay. She shakes her head and unfurls a napkin.

I have two minor complaints:

  • The barbecue sauce is too sweet.
  • Wetnaps, please!
When the wings are gone, I eschew the ketchup and sop up the extra sauce from the plate with steak fries (aka Anchor Chips); the sauce is that good.

Overall, I have to give an Unqualified Recommendation to Frank and Teressa’s Anchor Bar. If you find yourself in Buffalo, don’t skip your chance at the original wings. While you're there, buy the sauce; it’s available in gallon jugs from the gift shop if you have space in your suitcase.

Frank and Teressa’s Anchor Bar
1047 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14209
Click here for the map from Yahoo! (Beta Version)

Some related links I enjoyed:

  • According to this link, Anchor Bar is opening franchises; the first will be in Charlotte (NY).
  • Check out this testimonial from someone who went to Buffalo for the sole purpose of eating at the Anchor Bar. Complete with pics of the table scraps.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Critique of Downtown Buffalo (NY)

I have this to say about Downtown Buffalo: City Hall (pictured above, left) is very impressive, and I might even say it’s beautiful.

Although the top is shrouded in scaffolding, the building is remarkable. Standing tall alongside a handsome rotary / roundabout, its grandeur impresses. On the façade above the grand stairs, friezes depict industry and agriculture. At the base stand statues of political luminaries, including Grover Cleveland, one-time Buffalo mayor, two-time President. Buffalo City Hall is bigger than I imagined city halls would be in medium-sized cities such as Buffalo, but perhaps that’s because I’m accustomed to governmental sprawl, the municipal offices of other towns and cities spread as they are across multiple sites.

A few blocks away, the Erie County Hall (pictured above, right) is worthy of attention.

On Main Street, the mirrors of the M&T Center and the reflecting pool across the street were together a welcome foil to the non-gameday bleakness of the HSBC Center. There was a certain utilitarian beauty in the above-ground commuter rail line running the length of Main Street, powerlines overhead like Boston's Green Line (below, right). The gilded dome of the old Buffalo Savings Bank (below, left) is a non-sequitur on this decaying avenue.

Beyond the few glimmers, Downtown Buffalo is one of the most depressing urban centers in my memory.

On more than one occasion, I had to double-check: "Today is Monday, right? It’s not a bank holiday, is it? Where the hell is everybody?"

I was struck by the volume of boarded up stores, sometimes entire city blocks. The streets were peopled with smokers puffing away beside the entrance to their offices, and few others. Now, I wasn’t looking for touristy venues—I realize Buffalo is not a popular tourist destination, except for the Falls, which rush twenty-odd miles away—but I would have been content with a few shops, maybe a local restaurant offering wings and a beer. I saw one café, in the corner of the first floor of the Liberty Building, which has replicas of the Statue of Liberty atop its two towers, but it failed to lure me in, partly because I expected to find another establishment a block down the way. No such luck. When the sign of life is a fan-powered inflatable stick figure outside the Nextel store, you know you're in trouble.

In my weak attempt at “becoming local” here in Buffalo, I tried one a hot dog (they’re white here) and a can of “pop” from a street vendor. It was the highlight of downtown. Finally, I found myself a Starbucks, ordered a cup of Earl Grey, and lost track of where I was.

Monday, September 25, 2006

On Location in Buffalo (NY): Strolling Delaware Ave

Last night, I inquired at the front desk about traffic.

"About how bad will the traffic be if we’re heading downtown around eight."

This is a pretty typical question; I’ve asked it before.

"Well, it’s a fifteen minute drive, but that time of day…" The kid's face twisted into a knot. Damn, I wasn’t expecting traffic to be a problem. The first appointment of the day (Normal Girl’s, not mine) was 8:30am, and I did not much care for leaving the hotel before 8:00am. But from the look on his face, it seemed I was looking at an early departure. "…it might take twenty."

Wow, an extra five minutes to account for traffic. That’s pretty rough.

I’m sure there’s rush hour traffic in Buffalo, but apparently it doesn’t have too much of an effect when you’re going from our hotel to downtown. Once we saw downtown, this factoid was less surprising.

On a side note, we set our GPS to Australian English, which adds a unique twang to driving. I am thinking of trying Canadian French this afternoon.

Our first stop was a high school on Cleveland Avenue, two blocks off Delaware Avenue. We arrived at 8:20am, and as Normal Girl started her busy day of meetings with high school students and guidance counselors, I hooked my headphones onto my ears and pressed play.

Naturally, my digital camera jumped from its case. Have you ever wandered a residential neighborhood and treated it like a tourist destination? People look at you funny. They wonder what on earth you’re taking pictures of, even when the neighborhood is gorgeous. Gardeners, cable guys, and housewives cast suspicious sidelong glances, wondering your secret. If their narrowed eyes are any indication, dark conclusions spring immediately to their minds.

You’re casing the joint for an upcoming robbery with your gang, the Wet Bandits.

You work for some development company who plans to sweep in, buy all the properties, raze them, and built a Target.

You’re a weirdo, moments from losing your shit.

Or, you’re a writer-in-progress, collecting photos for the low-readership blog you run.

[FWIW, I’ve been meaning to print business cards with the URL for just this situation, to hold up when some pool guy comes after me with a net, reminding me I’m on private property.]

Strolling forth undeterred by their suspicion, I turned right onto Delaware. For about a mile and a half, I continued my merry photo-snapping ways. Grand mansions sat on both sides of the road, most re-purposed as commercial enterprises or government affiliates (e.g., children’s services). Whatever the buildings are today, I found myself gawking.

That’s right, gawking at random office buildings in Buffalo, New York.

If you want to make someone nervous, take a picture of something they probably deem unfit for photography, tug a notebook from your pocket, and start scribbling.

I passed two historical landmarks, so far as I know: the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration, and "The Buffalo Club," of which three presidents were members. I took photos of the explanatory placards in case, you know, somebody challenges my claims.

This pleasant stroll down Delaware Ave filled me tremendous hope for the self-guided downtown tour that lay ahead…

More on that tomorrow... Right now I have to get my dancing shoes on...

Finding Puerto Rico in Buffalo, NY

Check out what I found in Buffalo, New York. It’s not nearly as grand as the huge banners mounted on the Puente Moscoso, but one particular route to the Peace Bridge (which connects Buffalo to Ontario) is dotted with the star and stripes. Having lived in Puerto Rico for the better part of the last two years, I must have passed four or five flags before realizing, wait a second, I’m not in Puerto Rico anymore!

Sure, I’ve traversed Luis Muñoz Marin Way in Spanish Harlem, driven slowly around the pride festival in Jamaica Plain (Boston), and photographed the aluminum flag stretched across four lanes in Chicago, but somehow I manage to forget the singular national pride of the isle of enchantment. It reaches even to Western New York.

This has nothing to do with Buffalo, but there will be plenty of Buffalo to go around over the next few days, trust me…

Two days ago, Normal Girl and I were in Brookstone, messing around with the gadgets. One item we tested was a blindfold with integrated speakers. I assume this was designed for the airplane… Anyway, the built-in soundtracks were the typical rest-and-relaxation variety: bubbling brook, crashing waves, rainforest. In the last, I heard the distinctive song of the tree frog. “Co-quí, co-quí, co-quí.” The familiar sound, one I heard every night on the walk through the Jardín Botánico (Botanical Gardens) from the office to my rental car, brought a bittersweet rush.

This is going to sound incredibly strange, especially if you’ve seen my bio photo, but Puerto Rico is one the very few places I’ve ever visited that will stick with me forever. Living there changed me.

How’s that for a random observation / admission?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Buffalo and Rochester: You're On Notice!

48 hours from now, Normal Girl and I will be settling into our Marriott-branded property on the outskirts of Buffalo, New York.

Western New York, I've been told, and a trip to Wikipedia proved the point.

I have to digress to say that I LOVE this key differentiator between Upstate and Western: "the use of the word 'pop' instead of 'soda' to refer to soft drinks, and the presence of Wegmans grocery stores." What a sense of identity!

It's a story for another time and place, but I would love to have maps defining what parts of the country use which term. Soda/pop is a good one. The pronounciation of "aunt" another.

Back to business...

You know, Normal Girl and I could drive out the parking garage, hang three rights, and ride the dream highway (that's I-90, fwiw) straight into Downtown Buffalo. It would take nine hours, but it can be done. No turns, just straight-up driving, six rest area breaks, three tanks of gas, two knotted backs, eleven bottles of Coca-Cola Classic...

Fortunately, we can afford airfare. Hers is provided for, mine's a write-off against potential profits from the string of articles on Buffalo and Rochester that all the glossy magazines are jonesing for... That, or a small price to pay for 100 digital pictures of Downtown Buffalo.

I'm planning to post my Rochester research/links over the weekend, but it would be fair to say that Buffalo either has a lot more to offer, or its websites have better designers. We'll find out soon enough for ourselves, and have the pictures and anecdotes to prove it.

So let's lay them out for you, our Trip Goals for this week.
Photo in front of Niagara Falls.

  1. Dance Lessons with Jackie (no photos allowed my orders).
  2. Self-Guided Tour of Downtown Buffalo.
  3. Devour authentic Buffalo wings, no matter the consequences (only me, since Normal Girl doesn't care for spicy foods... but she may suffer from the consequences).
  4. As much as I want to go to the Museum of Play in Rochester, I'm afraid I'll be profiled as a weirdo, so the George Eastman House wins the Golden Ticket.
  5. I'm planning to get through my reading list while Normal Girl brings home the bacon.
  6. Oh, and we'll be visiting 20 high schools, as Normal Girl stumps for Bentley College.

I'll be posting from the road with updates on our exciting adventures. Wish us luck!

- Normal Guy, reporting from Boston

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Exploring Buffalo, NY Online

I began planning for Buffalo the way I always begin vacation planning: by looking at the website for the local newspaper. In this case, you have The Buffalo News.

From there I learned that the September Buffalo News Book club section is Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond and that we narrowly missed the Dalai Lama's visit to the University of Buffalo. There wasn't much else of interest today. Perhaps closer to the weekend things will heat up.

Buffalo.Com - Everything Buffalo is an excellent starting point and provides the all important Event Calendar, where you might find the unexpected. There I found the first random event of our unusual trip: Dance Lessons by Jackie. So Monday night we'll be learning the Fox Trot and Cha Cha. Why not take a dance class in a faraway city? At least you know you'll never see those people again...

The best site I found (so far) for general travel information is Go Buffalo Niagra or "Wright Now in Buffalo" (playing off the presence of several Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the region). It's a very professional site that makes it easy to find information on historical walks, tours, etc. Many of the tours actually sound interesting. It seems there are quite a few museums in Greater Buffalo. Who knew?

One of the days, rather than tag along from school to school on Normal Girl's road show, I think I'm going to hop a cab downtown. Since many of the tours appear to have shut down in preparation for 250 inches of snow, I may be taking a self-guided tour of the city.

It never hurts to check out the nightlife (though since Normal Girl is there for work, we can't stay out late). Fortunately, I stumbled across Buffalo Bar Fly, which seems to have all the details I would ever need. For example, Sunday night we can "party with the hotties" after the "Bills kick the hell out of the NY Jets." Somehow I don't think that's quite what we had in mind. Merlin's Bar, though, has live music every night we're there, and an Open Mic on Tuesday. Maybe I'll hop on stage to sing "Free Bird."

That's as far as I've gotten so far... I need to start finding what Rochester has to offer and begin planning for the second half of next week. Is that feeling in my gut anticipation for a trip to Buffalo? I think it might be...

Monday, September 18, 2006

On Our Way Upstate...

Exciting news this afternoon: The planning is underway for our more thrilling travels, including a visit to the twin jewels of Upstate New York: Buffalo and Rochester. (We will complete the trifecta in October, with a drive to Syracuse).

I am only a few hours into my research of these fine cities, so you can look for more detailed articles on our Trip Goals and other planning topics in the next few days. For now, here is the general plan:

Sunday, September 24th
We fly from Boston to Buffalo in the late afternoon.

Wednesday, September 27th
After Keryn's visits are over for the day, we'll make the long drive to Rochester.

Friday, September 29th
Return to Boston from Rochester.

That's right, we're looking at 4d/3n in Buffalo, and 3d/2n in Rochester...

A logical question might be: "why are you going on vacation to Upstate New York?" I don't mean to offend any Upstate natives, but even you probably agree this is a fair question. Well, the answer is that it isn't exactly a vacation. Keryn is on the road for work and since I'm gainfully unemployed, I figured I might as well tag along. While I'm there, I figure to gain a lot of blog fodder, and maybe a few short stories that aren't set in Boston or Maine...

As I began my search for information, I noticed that the area does have a certain lack of confidence in itself:
"Buffalo, Who Knew?"

My first hour of research generated an unexpected level of anticipation... Seriously. I mean, when else will I "vacation" in Upstate New York? I can say with some certainty that any future trip that way will be for business rather than pleasure, so you can expect I'll make the most of this opportunity.

Look for more in the next few days: Normal Girl and I only have a few days to plan this trip!

- Normal Guy

DISCLAIMER SURE TO OFFEND: I have heard that there is a distinction between "Upstate" and "Western" New York. Unfortunately, I'm kind of a New York idiot (a fact that is soon to change), so to me New York exists in three parts: The City, Long Island, and Upstate. I beg your forgiveness for my ignorance.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Normal Girl On Ole Miss Football and the Upcoming Harvard-Yale Game

As Normal Guy has mentioned in his other blog, I have lived in many places and was fortunate to attend Ole Miss, an SEC school filled with pretty sorority girls (myself included-Go Theta!) and what I remember as the "khaki cloud"—fraternity boys in their requisite khaki pants, shirts and ties, and U of M baseball caps. It has been seven years (wow!) since I received my diploma from the University of Mississippi, but as they say, "One never graduates from Ole Miss."

Boy, do I love my Rebels!

I think my love of football began in high school. Having attended ninth grade in Vicksburg, MS (WCHS), I was spoiled cheering for an undefeated football team and dancing to an amazing high school band, “Big Blue.” I may not know every position in football or the difference between Division I and II, but I LOVE the sport. There is something about the crashing of pads and the blowing of referee whistles that really excites me. You have to understand that I am not athletically inclined. Sure, I can play Horse with the best of them, but I have never participated in organized sports. Ever. Cheerleading is as close as I came to being an athlete in high school. Still, I loved every minute of cheering my freshman year for a team that went on to win the state championship in my senior year.

It was a sad day when I learned that my family was moving from Vicksburg to Circleville, Ohio, at the beginning of my sophomore year; I never had the chance to cheer at that championship game. The first question I was asked upon entering homeroom at Logan Elm High School on my first day was, "Have you heard of the Pumpkin Show?" In all seriousness, I almost laughed in their faces. Sadly, that laughter was short lived when I learned how terrible LEHS’s football team played. During the two years that I cheered, the Braves were 3-7 and 2-8... yes, you read correctly, 2-8. I could not handle it. How do you cheer for a team that awful?! Nevertheless, I learned a lot about football in those two years and still get a rush in my chest when I hear the national anthem at a football game. It takes me back to a small football field in Circleville where the cheerleaders raised the stars and stripes while the band played on.

I will never forget entering Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the first time. I don’t remember who they played or the outcome of the game, but I got goose bumps (which is next-to-impossible in Mississippi in September) when I saw "HOME OF THE OLE MISS REBELS" painted on the press box. I followed the Rebels through five years of wins and losses. I visited Memphis in 1997 when Peyton and the Vols crushed us. "Peyton Who?" buttons were on nearly every Ole Miss student as a revolt against Peyton choosing Tennessee over his father’s alma mater. It was a proud moment in northern Mississippi when we learned Eli was going to be a Rebel. In fact, I cheered for him in the stands during a game in 2001 when I returned to Oxford.
When I talked to a co-worker at Bentley about going to the football game last weekend, he chuckled and said, "Didn’t you go to Ole Miss?" When you attend an SEC school, it’s hard not to have high expectations for tailgating and school spirit.

Sure, we lost to Mizzou last weekend, but I will always be a Rebel, regardless of wins and losses.

Normal Guy should have no fear. I am excited to attend the Harvard-Yale game in November. He might even get me into a Crimson sweatshirt.

Are you ready?
Hell yeah! Damn right!
Hotty Toddy,
Gosh almighty,
Who the hell are we? Hey!
Flim-flam, bim-bam,
Ole Miss, by damn!

- Normal Girl

Monday, September 11, 2006

"Becoming Local"

Think back to the last vacation you took. Now, can you recall the rough itinerary? Of all the things you did and places you saw, how many of them did you share with a host of tourists following itineraries similar to yours?

If your answer is "all of them," which it probably is, then you may not be quite ready for becoming local

Before I continue, I should clarify one possible mis-interpretation: I am not dissing tourist traps. Not completely, anyway. The Eiffel Tower, Fenway Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Washington Monument: these are “must-see” sights, no two ways about it. However, the cities those landmarks call home are far more interesting once you get away from the Midwestern family wearing socks with their Tevas, the Japanese tourists taking pictures of every concrete square in the sidewalk, and the college students weighed down by oversized backpacks.

In mid-August, Normal Girl and I embarked on a road trip to New York. As the pictures above may imply, we ascended the Empire State Building along with scores of tourists clad in I (heart) NY tee-shirts bought for $50 in Times Square. The wait wasn’t fun, but we found, somewhat to our surprise, that the view from the top justified every painful minute. Beyond the view, we learned a thing or two about the neighborhoods below us, knowledge that would serve us well the rest of the weekend. I highly recommend the audio tour, even if it is a little corny…

So, there: before I begin to advise you to look past the guide books, you have my admission of guilt. I am not immune to the traditional landmark. Hell, there is a photograph of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero in my bathroom.

However, one of the true joys of trip-making is to do things the residents do. After all, who the hell wants to hang out with other tourists? You take a long flight / cruise / drive someplace and go to a club where you become giddy to learn that all the other people there are from your hometown? Seems kind of silly when you think about it.

(For more on this, expect a future column about the Señor Frog’s phenomenon…)

Two years ago, I came upon this realization. I had already visited Paris and had gotten most of the major tourist traps out of my system. Although I planned to revisit a few carefully selected places—I am incapable of resisting the Musée d’Orsay—the trip seemed to me an opportunity to explore a strange city that was also somewhat familiar.

With my laminated subway map tucked in the back pocket of my jeans, I navigated to Métro stops I had not heard of, took the long way to choice landmarks, and sat in cafés asking for “what s/he is drinking.” (From this experiment I learned that Pernod is kind of yucky and French people drink a lot more American beer than I had expected).

I explored residential neighborhoods and took magazines to remote parks. I perused neighborhood pastry shops and bookstores where I laughed at the translations for popular "airport" novels. It was a great time, even if it created some tension when folks back home asked what I’d seen…and I had to hem-and-haw more than they were expecting.

For most of the last two years, I was on a project in Puerto Rico. There I really embraced this notion of becoming local. Admittedly, this tactic was not wholly rooted in free will; since we worked all day and flew to our stateside homes for the weekends, the typical attractions were rather out of bounds. By the end of my sojourn there, I was an expert in the nightlife and shopping, even if I couldn’t tell friends of mine visiting the island what beach to go to…

So the next time you land at your destination, take some time to hang out with the locals. Ask at the front desk where local people eat. Find out where your cab driver shops for his mother’s birthday. Open the local newspaper and find out if the nearby college is playing at home. See which way the tour bus goes, and turn one-eighty.

- Normal Guy

Friday, September 08, 2006

Forfeiting Frequent Guest Points… UGH!

During the last ten years, I have joined pretty much every airline and hotel rewards program you can name. Despite my membership in those programs, however, I have to admit I have not always earned as many frequent traveler points as I should have. In some cases the fault for this truth lies entirely with me, in other cases I have to point some of the blame toward hotel staff, computer glitches, etc.

The truly astounding thing (and something I had not realized until just this very minute) is that I have at least one horror story about each and every one of them…

To be completely fair, I have had the good fortune to reap formidable benefits, too. Some of my gripes certainly would portray me as the prototypical prima donna business traveler. I hate those guys…even though I’ve been one.

I will try not to whine too much. But I have to report the news from my morning, because it makes me feel incredibly stupid.

This morning I rose with a simple goal: to book a room for the trip Normal Girl and I are making to see the Circleville Pumpkin Show. (Much more on that in the coming days…) We don’t have many lodging choices, especially since folks apparently book rooms for this event a year in advance. No rooms within Circleville city limits. Fortunately, a Hampton Inn stands twenty minutes away, in Chillicothe…a small town that Normal Girl’s maternal grandparents call home.

As with all my frequent guest accounts, I have my number memorized. Upon confirming rooms were available at the Hampton, I proceeded to enter my nine digits and my best guess at my password.

Password Incorrect.

Tried another of my go-to passwords.

Password Incorrect.

Clicked on Forgot My Password, entered my account number, only to learn…

Account number has been deactivated.

I jammed the customer service number into my cell phone keypad.

After a minute or two of indignance, I calmed down and let the very friendly operator (let’s call her Diane) explain that after a year without activity, they purged the points and the account. The points I understood, the account, not so much.

“But I have this number memorized,” I whined.

“Let’s see what we can do,” Diane said, and upon keying my number into the system she was able to retrieve the shell of my old account.

“Oh my,” she said. “You forfeited quite a few points.”

“Yes,” I said. “I know.”

“I mean, a LOT of points,” she said.

“I know.”

“Shoot, you had enough points for a whole week someplace.”

“Thank you, I got it.”

“Mr. Shaffner, you do know that all you need to keep your points active is any kind of activity on your account?” she asked.

“Yes, but I have been staying in a Sheraton the last eighteen months.”

“But you can buy points online. For $12 you can buy 100 points, and that gives you another year,” she said. “You could have kept all those points for $12.”

“Really?” I asked. These are the kind of things I like to think I know. “$12?”

“Yessir,” Diane replied. “Now, I can’t reinstate those points, but I can give you silver status. Would that help?”

What is the point of this story? To capitalize on my own stupidity to remind the rest of you to keep track of the policies each program has for maintaining continuity (activity within one year is pretty common), and tricks for generating activity even if you aren’t planning travel. Many of the programs have options similar to the $12 HHonors offers, or you may be able to transfer points from one of your more active accounts into one that is about to close down.

This advice is especially crucial for those of you who travel less frequently, so you don’t find yourself starting over again and again, never accumulating enough points to surprise your sweetie with a free night of romance and luxury at the Chillicothe Hampton Inn…

- Normal Guy

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day 2006: The Aftermath

Despite the drama of today's posting, in general there isn't much to report. After every trip I take, it is my earnest intention to reflect, not only on how we did relative to our goals, but also how the trip affected our lives... Nah, nothing quite so dramatic as all that.

I have to admit, first off, that we failed to meet all of our goals. Specifically, it was too cold for the Jet Ski... The idea didn't even cross my mind from the moment we arrived at camp on Saturday afternoon (after our successful errand in Bar Harbor).

The other goal we only partly met was outside our control. For weeks and weeks, Normal Girl has been telling me about the kettle corn at the Windsor Fair. As we were set to leave the fairgrounds, we began a frantic search for a kettle corn vender. At each turn we were greeted with doughboys, french fries (served in a dog bowl and spritzed with vinegar, of course), ice cream, jerk-marinated chicken and ribs (!?!), sausages (available in many ethnicities), etc... But no kettle corn.

When I was growing up in Bucksport, Labor Day was always time for the Blue Hill Fair, which I remember as being quite an event. As I walked across the Windsor fairgrounds, I had to wonder whether my recollection of Blue Hill's grandeur was flawed or whether the Windsor Fair was simply smaller in scale. All the Midway rides were there, but since Normal Girl isn't much for rides, the only one we rode was the "big slide" (you know, burlap sack, plastic slope). I'm not complaining; I was far too full with fried food to consider such stomach-flippers as The Zipper or Round-Up. Games of chance and skill I could do, and Normal Girl has a Curious George toy to show for my skill popping balloons with darts.

If you're into forestry or livestock, Windsor has you covered. Hulking machines such as the Wood Beaver 3000 (or something like that) were available for demonstration and sale, and if you wanted to survey the hind quarters of beef cattle, empty bleacher seats awaited.

One section of the fairgrounds was quite interesting, something I do not remember from other state fairs I've frequented. At the opposite end of the grounds from the funhouse and wheel-of-fortune stood several buildings from the original settlement at Windsor. In several of them you could watch craftsmen at work: a wood carver (solid wooden fedora on his head) whittling maple into antlers, a copper smith building ladles without solder, a blacksmith pounding ball-peen hammer against anvil, stoking his fire, puffing his pipe, lumberjacks squaring off trunks into beams suitable for building (and using only an axe to do it)... I was most mesmerized by the blacksmith. I wasn't alone---in his shop sat a full audience of middle-aged men interested in the lost craftsmanship and young children awed by the gleam of red-hot iron pulled from the fire.

Most of the weekend we spent sitting quietly on the porch swing. That may not make for an exciting story, but it was exactly what the doctor ordered. I worked on an essay about fate while Normal Girl threaded a cross-stitch I swear she is never going to finish. We went fishing on Sunday afternoon, but the fish were as scared away by the threat of Ernesto's leavings as the tourists seemed to be; I've never seen such light traffic through the Hampton Tolls, holiday weekend or not. I caught one small perch, which positively thrilled me--I was terrified to come home having left TWO of my goals unmet... That might lose me the faith of my readers.

On the way home, I saw something I was unprepared for: a red-leafed tree. Labor Day weekend not even over and already the foliage has turned along Route 202. Almost time to plan a winter getaway to warmer climes...