Archives: On the Ground in the Garden State
August 21, 2003
Montreal: It's Wasted on a 5 Year-Old (On the Ground in the Garden State)

For the first leg of our brief Canadian Tour, we hit Montreal. I used to live there, but my 9 word description of Montreal is: "Totally awesome, but totally wasted on a 5 year-old."

We arrived in mid-afternoon, and Paul led us to a sandwich restaurant near McGill, that he knows from when he used to live in Montreal (he was older, though). We spent some time trying to convince Etienne that our waiter (who immediately had us picked out as anglophones, and so spoke to us in English) was actually French-as-a-first-language.

After the sandwiches (totally awesome), we decided to swing by the hotel that we had booked on the "we'll tell you where the hotel is after you've booked it" system. On our way, we saw some banners for the Montreal International Jazz Festival; we wondered when it would be, and lamented the fact that we wouldn't be in town when it was on. It wasn't until we saw signs for "Jazz Festival Parking" that we clued in.

We then arrived at our hotel to discover that it was actually immediately adjacent to the festival. If you can accidentally book a Saturday night in a hotel whose pool overlooks the Montreal Jazz Festival, I heartily recommend it. Totally awesome. Before dinner, I got to see "Mountain High... Valley Low" arranged for accordian and electric zither.

We went for dinner at a bring-your-own-wine Greek restaurant, watched some jazz, and conducted an exhaustive survey of the local patios. This survey is conducted as follows in Montreal:
1. Stand on sidewalk facing street.
2. Turn left 90 degrees.
3. Walk 12 steps.
4. Turn left 90 degrees.
5. Enter patio.
6. Drink.
7. Exit patio.
8. if (time > 3h00) GOTO bed
9. GOTO 1

On Sunday, we went for brunch at a courtyard bruncherie (not an actual word) with live chamber music. Totally awesome. We checked out the Old Town, where Shin, who felt unprepared for the upcoming Canada Day festivities bought a shirt with the government style "Canada" logo. We stood around the entrance to the Old Port, trying to decide what the picketers were protesting (something to do with "The Youth of Quebec"), then went in anyway (though as a act of solidarity, we walked in as far away from the picketers as possible).

We walked over to the foot of Mount Royal to check out the tam tam, then climbed the hill and ate ice-cream. We also discovered that the furry creatures on Mount Royal are even more human-acclimated than those at UBC; there was a (fat) ground-hog that would stand up and eat food out of peoples' hands, and chipmonks that would actually climb onto people's hands to eat. On the way down, I cruelly tricked a squirrel into thinking that I had food in my hand; I hope he's learned a valuable lesson about the capriciousness of humans.

On the way back to the hotel, we caught another show at the Jazz Festival. It was a brass band from France who's show culminated in the "Quebec folksong," "Killing In The Name", performed on snare drum, marching bass-drum, trombone, guitar, and bull-horn. Totally awesome.

Loitering by the elevators in the hotel lobby while Paul checked out, I noticed that the guy with dreadlocks waiting for the elevator was none other than super-star Bobby McFerrin. I calmly and quietly indicated this to my companions ("Bobby McFerrin... The 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' guy."), but I think he overheard us; as he got on the elevator, he turned to us and said, and I quote, "Hi, guys." To us. With that out of the way, we left the city, stopping only to buy a dozen bagels at Fairmont Bagels (best bagels ever - the one thing I remember from living there).

To sum up: Montreal. Totally Awesome.

Posted at 12:46 PM | Comments (7)
August 20, 2003
Montreal and Ottawa: The Preamble (On the Ground in the Garden State)

At first, I was hoping to get away with writing up this travelogue a month after the fact; none of you are here, so who's to know when I actually go places? You can't even be sure that I'm wearing pants right now. Then I recalled that many of you may be familiar with the date of Canada Day, and so would be suspicious. So I'm not going to pretend that any of this happened recently - it's all a dim memory of a bygone time.

Anyway, as promised... Montreal and Ottawa!

Since our foreign correspondant, Etienne, was due to return to France on July 3rd, we decided, that if there is one thing a visitor to the United States must experience, it's Canada Day in Ottawa! After some convincing ("Don't worry, the INS is sure to let you back in, even though your visa expires on July 1st. They love French people."), Etienne was brought onboard on the condition that we would guarantee his return to New Jersey no later than midnight, July 2nd.

Ottawa being such a popular destination, Paul also decided to join us. This is good, because among Paul's many sterling character attributes is his has-a-car-edness. We also expanded our itinerary to include a night and a day in Montreal so that Etienne could learn how to speak French properly.


Posted at 04:18 PM | Comments (2)
July 04, 2003
Beltway Adventures (On the Ground in the Garden State)

As promised, our ExCITe (East Coast Investigative Team - with 'x' for edginess) conducted a reconnaissance of Washington D.C. (capital of USA) a couple of weeks ago. Herein lies our tale of not getting shot by police at all.

After finding out that the train is ridiculously expensive, we decided to rent a car, which required me to get up at 6:00 am to go to the Newark International Airport of Liberty (or something) to pick it up. I then picked up the rest of the team (recall French correspondant, Etienne, and photographer, Shin) back in New Brunswick. Then came the driving. Then the Waffle House. Then more driving. Then trying to find downtown Washington. Then the parking. The parking was quite easy, and free; plus 1 civic point on the Tim Scale of Civilized Cities.

Seeing as how it was near our parking spot, we decided to swing by the Canadian Embassy. As a disinterested observer, I have to say that it is awesome (on the outside, at least - it's closed on Sundays). We spent many minutes standing under the echoic dome, clapping like tourists.

Proceeding onto The National Mall, we established that the Capitol building is still there, and partook of the public water-fountains (plus 1 civic point). We then embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Smithsonian museums.

Free admission to museums. Plus 10 points. Baggage search. Minus 2 points.

First up was the National Air and Space Museum, which has some pretty impressive artifacts of the Cold War. Also, there was this red-headed kid in the gift-shop with an afro of radius ~30cm. We followed him around a bit hoping that he would wander under the Sputnik replica for a hidden photo opportunity, but no such luck.

For those who think that our team goes to strange cities with no planning whatsoever, I should make clear that we checked out the Smithsonian website the day before, from which Shin decided he wanted to see some Stradivarius violins, and Etienne decided he wanted to see an Enigma. We didn't really check which of the museums we might find these objects, so we did a bit of aimless wandering after leaving the NASM. After a brief swing through the Arts and Industries Building (thinking that violins are sort of arty, and computers industrial), we finally found the Information Center, and a map.

It turns out that both Stradivarius violins and German cipher machines are typical samples of American History. Shin (born in Nagasaki) got Etienne to take a somewhat tasteless photo of him standing next to the Fat Man replica. With only a few minutes left before closing, we split up and I did a high speed pass through as many exhibits as possible, so as to absorb the maximum amount of history. In his haste, Shin missed the misleadingly labelled Stradivarius section; Etienne saw it, and describes it as, "the best thing [he has] ever seen. [He] couldn't live with [him]self if [he] had missed it."

In a surprising display of planning, we moved on to the National Museum of Natural History, which is open until 7:30pm on Sundays (plus 1 point). I would rate their collection as fairly comprehensive, but I have to say that when one reads "Giant Squid" on a map and rushes upstairs with visions of titanic battles between submarines and the monsters of the deep, one is a little disappointed to find a 2 metre long pickled squid and a movie where some guys try to find some giant squid in their (the squid's) natural habitat and fail.

I took a wander through the Geology, Gems & Minerals section, planning to crescendo with the Hope Diamond (recall thorough planning). They have some great crystals, including my favourite, ulexite, which clearly transmits the writing on a card behind it, but makes it seem like the card is just below the surface of the crystal. I think you should be able to make an orthographic camera out of it.

To answer the question of how the security on the Hope Diamond compares with that around the Liberty Bell, the former's security consists largely of closing the Hope Diamond room 15 minutes before the rest of the museum so as to thwart last-minute jewel thieves. Shin saw it, and describes it as, "the best thing [he has] ever seen. [He] couldn't live with [him]self if [he] had missed it." I calmly mentioned that I'd seen it before.

After being flushed out of the last museum, we decided to check out the outdoor attractions. The Washington Monument was bigger than Etienne expected, and as closed as I expected.

We headed over towards the White House, hoping to take some pictures while keeping our hands where everyone can see them and making no sudden movements. We almost had a clear view, when we came to a crowd of people standing on the sidewalk across the road from the concrete barrier that is infront of the road that is next to the fence that keeps people off the lawn that surrounds the White House. We joined the crowd and tried to guess what was going on.

Basically, the crowd consisted of 2 kinds of people:
1. People like us who wanted to walk 10 metres further along the sidewalk so as to take pictures of the White House rather than the tree across the road
2. Sergeant Beretta. I don't know that he was a Sergeant, but it seems right for him. He was not about to let the fact that he is an agent of the National Park Police Department stop him from being as intimidating as possible. He kept his hand on his gun at all times.

The rumour that trickled back through the crowd from Sgt. Beretta to us was that "he" was on the move. We assumed that "he" referred to George Bush. Thinking that seeing a presidential convoy on the move might be exciting, we settled in for the wait. Sgt. Beretta was joined in his crowd control duties by a bicycle cop (we'll call him "dual-suspension") whose job was to stand on the far side of the concrete barrier and yell at anyone who tried to cycle down the road.

After a while, another bicycle cop ("hard-tail") came along and conveyed some secret signal at which Sgt. Beretta stepped aside. I guess our road was just the emergency escape route or something. We took our pictures and moved on.

We checked out the Vietnam Wall in quiet dignity, and walked by the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial. It's pretty big.

Walking. Driving. Pentagon. Driving. Taco Bell. Driving. Sleeping. Driving. Train. Work. Sleeping.

Stay tuned for "Montreal and Ottawa - They're in Canada!"

Posted at 02:26 PM | Comments (1)
June 09, 2003
Liberty Bells and Whistles (On the Ground in the Garden State)

So after being in New Jersey for nearly 10 months, I finally made it to the big city. Philadelphia. For this report, I worked in conjunction with European correspondant, Etienne, and Japanese/Canadian correspondent/photographer, Shin. On Sunday morning, we took the NJ Transit train in to Trenton, and then the SEPTA train onward to Philadelphia. The whole trip was actually all along one track; I think they just don't trust New Jersey trains in Pennsylvania.

Seeing as how we had no actual plans beyond the acquisition of cheesesteaks, we checked out the Amtrak info booth at the 30th street station in Philadelphia. After some inital confusion with brochures for New Hampshire (note for foreigners - New Hampshire is not in Philadelphia), we managed to locate a bunch of things to see, and a collection of maps of varying scope, resolution, and accuracy.

We started out on the West side of the Schuylkill river, in and around the University of Pennsylvania. I wasn't clear about whether this "University City" that was frequently referred to was actually a separate city, or just part of West Philadelphia. I kept my eyes open for the basketball court from the opening credits of the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" just in case.

We fairly quickly determined that not much is open in the University on a Sunday in the summer. Undaunted, Shin took several photographs of the outsides of buildings.

Heading back across the river to the down-town side, I persuaded my associates that the proper Philadelphia cheesesteak came not from a restaurant, but from a street vendor (based on my recollection of a snippet of an Oprah Winfrey show that I once saw for some reason - the one where she flew her entire audience to Philadelphia for cheesesteaks). After reassuring Shin that the vendor would be more toward the concession stand end of the spectrum than the "guy with a push-cart full of beef" end, we resolved to search for such a vedor.

In a park, we came across an outdoor art show - one of those affairs where there are a bunch of tents along the sidewalk, each with an artist trying to convince casual passers-by to pay $350 for an armload of art. We checked it out in case any of the artists had sensibly decided to bolster their art-based income with cheesesteak sales. Regrettably, none were so long-sighted. However, we did locate a cheesesteak stand on an adjacent block.

The map that we were working from at this time was one of those that, in an effort to make navigation fun! is more of an off-angle overhead picture than an actual map. A nearby block featured a large ice-cream cone, which we decided to check out in the interests of cartographic analysis. I hereby recommend the "Scoop De Ville" ice-cream store to any who visit Philadelphia; bear in mind that "Jimmies" means sprinkles.

We headed over to the old city to check out some fine American history, where we discovered that most of it is being protected by National Park Rangers inside security compounds. At the metal detector to get in to the Liberty Bell compound, I was cautioned to keep my butter knife in my backpack (I brought it to slice my cake). After taking in the historical washrooms (available only to those inside the compound), we got in line to go into the Liberty Bell shrine.

Inside with the bell (there's nothing else inside the building, not even any interpretive plaques), we listened to the recitation of the bell's history. When the time came for questions, I was unsuccessful in my attempts to get Etienne to ask, "I'm from France. What's the big deal with the bell?"

We left the bell security area to go to the Info Center (unguarded) to get tickets to the Independence Hall tour, which takes place inside a different security area. If you plan to visit this area, I suggest that you avoid our mistake and approach from the North - Info Center, then Liberty Bell, then Independence Hall - to minimize your trips around the outside of security perimeters. Also note that the security people at Independence Hall have no problem with butter knives.

As a side note, Shin feels that they should really knock down the office buildings behind Independence Hall to improve the composition of photographs taken from the

We swung by the Mint on the way to the Betsy Ross House. "Nothing to see here," the architecture says, "move along." Unfortunately, by the time we got to Betsy's house, history was closed for the afternoon. We wandered aimlessly for a little while, hoping to locate Ben Franklin's underground lair and museum, but didn't really try too hard before giving up and heading to the city centre to check out the Town Hall and the LOVE statue.

Town Hall: impressively tall
LOVE statue: disappointingly small
Local skateboarders: pretty good

From downtown we headed up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Etienne having stated his willingness to be the geek-of-the-day to run up the steps singing the "Rocky" theme. However, when we arrived at the bottom of the steps, it was clear that he wouldn't even be the geek-of-the-minute, as there were already a couple of guys taking their victory laps at the top. Etienne and Shin ran up anyway, whilst I took over the photography duties. At the top, we discovered the set of brass footprints that have been installed to show you where to stand to properly duplicate the scene. I feel it worth pointing out that none of us has seen any of the Rocky movies.

We walked triumphantly back to the train station, another town taken down. Join us next time as we head to Washington D.C. to compare and contrast the security around the Hope diamond with that of the Liberty Bell.

Fresh Prince - check
Cheesesteaks - check
Liberty Bell - check
Ben Franklin - check
Brotherly Love - check (statue)
Rocky - check
Bruce Springsteen - hmm... Feel free to sing along with me... on the streets of Phiiiiiiiiil-adelphia...

Posted at 12:17 PM | Comments (4)
February 17, 2003
Storm of the Few Years, Part I: Snow, Y'all. (On the Ground in the Garden State)

As you may not be aware, since the New York area is typically under-reported by the news media, we've had some snow here. Below lies the tale of my encounter with the storm...

The storm's involvement in my life basically started last Friday. The Rutgers ultimate team was planning to attend a tournament on the weekend at North Carolina State University. Many pessimists and meteorologists felt that committing to the 9 hour drive to Raleigh wasn't worth the risk of arriving to discover that the tournament had been cancelled. With a loud, "Sucks to you!" we set off at 4:00 pm.

Smugly, we checked into our hotel 9 hours later not even dampened by rain. The weather was great (by my standards - about 15 degrees, overcast, slight wind) all day Saturday. After our last game the tournament director came over to tell us that some of the teams were pulling out of the Sunday games and running home to their sissy Southern schools. He said he would get together with the team captains and let all the teams left decide how they wanted to play the next day, and that all would be revealed at the party that night.

By 9:00 pm the Sunday games had been cancelled due to the convincing evidence that the meteorologists were piling up in the East. New plan: go to the party, since reliable sources purported that all the men's teams except NC State and Rutgers were already heading home but the women's teams from both NC State and William and Mary University would be there, then depart at 6:00 am on Sunday.

New plan: leave the party right now (1:30 am), go back to the hotel and get the hell back to New Jersey while the getting the hell back was good (stopping to leave notes under the WM hotel-room doors inviting them to stop by Rutgers anytime).

For anyone who recalls Gene Hackman's line in The Birdcage about driving from Washington DC to Florida, watching the seasons change state by state, the drive home was pretty much like that, providing your seasons are:
freezing rain
lots of snow

Highlights of the trip include:
Virginia: Stopping every few miles to chip the ice of the windshield, the windshield wipers, and the headlights.

DC: Snow takes over as precipitation of choice. Lobbyists push for imported sleet. From this point on, (now that the sun is up), we can see cars littering the nation's ditches. Seriously, these people have no idea how to drive on snow; the highways were being plowed and were no worse than the Sea-to-Sky highway on a bad day, and yet we say the car in front of us go into a skid, slalom back and forth across all four lanes of the I-95 making no attempt to slow down. This was accomplished at about 40 km/h. And yet, in the tunnel from DC to Baltimore, we were stuck behind a car whose driver had trouble telling the difference between being on a snowy highway, and being in a tunnel; as a precaution, he drove 45 km/h just in case.

Maryland: We stopped at a Waffle House near Baltimore, Maryland for a touch of Southern hospitality. Say what you will about the South (where the South includes all Waffle Houses, everywhere), they are eerily friendly.

Delaware: Too small to notice.

New Jersey: Somehow, despite the fact that the highway has been relatively traffic-free (ie only two lanes full) the whole way from North Carolina, the New Jersey Turnpike has managed to maintain its default state of traffic-jam.

Halfway up the Turnpike, at about 2:00 pm, we finally pass out of the storm and onto totally clear (of snow) roads.

"Well," I said to myself, "I guess that's the last I'll be seeing of that snow-storm. I'm sure it won't continue up the state and dump snow all over Rutgers resulting in the University, the buses, and the whole town being totally shut down."*

*Foreshadowing. See Part II, forthcoming.

Posted at 05:16 PM | Comments (3)
November 20, 2002
Day 93... (On the Ground in the Garden State)

I now have a monitor at home and can surf the weeb from my bed. Now if I can just get all my stuff off the floor, I'll be moved in.

Posted at 12:15 AM | Comments (3)
September 27, 2002
In China, they just call it food... (On the Ground in the Garden State)

Here, it's called They gave me free stuff. On a related note, students here seem to take career fairs more seriously than I'm used to. Everyone was wearing suits.

Posted at 01:28 PM | Comments (0)
Always look on the bright side of life (On the Ground in the Garden State)

I've learned that there are worse things than being a foreign student arriving in the US to go to school here. Namely, I could be a foreign student arriving in the US to do a co-op term here.

Richard, a co-op student from Memorial University (pronounced "mun"), has arrived, after being held in immigration at Pearson airport for a whole day (he was allowed onto the last flight to Newark). Since arriving, he has been rejected at the social security office, the payroll office, and the id card office. But hey, he already has a place to live.

Posted at 01:00 PM | Comments (0)
September 16, 2002
Beer (On the Ground in the Garden State)

I miss Canadian beer. I don't even like beer. I just miss seeing it in stores, and knowing that it's there for me.

Posted at 01:24 PM | Comments (4)