Monday, August 13, 2007

Three Week Old Travel Stories

Because you didn't demand it! Because it's the story that didn't have to be told! Because I don't not have better things to do!

That's right! It's the travelogue!

So, what's to say about a trip I took three weeks ago? I can tell you one thing, United Airlines sucks ass. I bought a bargain basement flight from Dulles to Denver to Salt Lake City with United since I had a credit from the big SNAFU last Christmas. The first bargain basement flight they tried to sell me would have cost exactly $1000.00 after the Christmas credit. I said to the United rep on the phone, I said, "You've got to be kidding me." You know what he said? Nothing. So I says to him, I says, "Are you serious?" I think he sensed an attitude change on my end of the line, he responded apologetically that it was the lowest rate he could get on the days I had. I finagled the days and times a little bit and brought my bill down to $350.00 after the credit. Things had not started auspiciously.

When checking into my flight at the kiosk at the airport, I was offered the option to "upgrade" to economy plus for an additional $45. I figured that there was no way it was worth an extra $45 just to add the word "plus" onto the end of my assignment. As it was, I didn't get a seat, just a message telling me to check in at the gate. Turned out I got an economy plus seat for free since they had sold out of their economy seats. Meh, I figured it couldn't be that big of a deal.

On the flight I noticed that I did have considerably more leg room than was usual in economy. It was nice, but I didn't figure it was worth $45. I was sooooo wrong. My flight out of Denver was delayed by three hours, but I had plenty to do at the airport. I was reading Neil Gaiman's Stardust, both at Jon's recommendation and to prepare for the movie. They also have a huge Crocs booth at the airport, presumably since Crocs are based out of Colorado. When I finally boarded my flight, I made my way to the baaaaaack row. Very back, right in front of the lavatory. I didn't care, it was just for a couple of hours. I didn't care, that is, until I sat down. Turns out that the extra leg room in economy plus wasn't taken from first class (yeah, right) nope, it was taken from economy. I couldn't even lower my tray table after my seat was in the reclined position.

United has found another way to squeeze blood from a stone. It was so uncomfortable that on the trip back, I footed the bill for the economy plus seats and did not regret it. Well, that's not entirely true. I regretted flying United and having to pay extra for what I should have with the base price of a ticket. Stacy and I have resolved to avoid United in all but the most dire circumstances. If Jet Blue or Frontier flies to where we're going from Dulles or Reagan, we're going with them. United sucks ass.

As for the actual visit, that went swimmingly. The first night out, Stacy and I spent the night at a themed bed and breakfast called the Anniversary Inn. We've spent quite a few anniversaries there, but this was the first time we stayed in the Egyptian-themed Mysteries of Egypt room. It was pretty damn sweet.

Who doesn't like ram/sphinx guardians where they sleep?

The face staring at us as we watched The Aviator was kinda creepy

Yes, that's a friggin' spitting cobra as a shower head over the two-person whirlpool tub. Stacy had a little bit of a problem with the giant snake, so she faced out, I thought it was pretty wicked.

Probably the least-used room, the little study was still cool to look at.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves with a night out on the town and an evening in the highly stylized interior of a pyramid. If you ever find yourself with a romantic partner in Utah, I highly recommend a visit to The Anniversary Inn.

The next day Stacy and her dad had a joint birthday party so I got to see all of her side of the family. That was fun, even though I'm still not very comfortable with 90% of them. I still feel very much an outsider with her dad's extended family. Good thing I get along great with Stacy's grandparents and siblings.

We hosted a barbecue/pool party/Wii session at my in-law's residential club house for my side of the family the next day. It was a blast seeing all of them there. I didn't get enough time to visit with everyone one-on-one, but my time there was short. Only my dad and his son could make it up from Southern Utah from his family, but it was nice meeting with them.

The rest of the time was spent either at Stacy's dad's place or my brother's house, the de facto hang out for my side of the family. We even got to help out with my youngest niece's sixth birthday party there. She was born shortly after Vicki.

It was a good time, well worth the traveling hassle. Most importantly, I got to see my wife and children for the first time in three weeks. I had to make the visit last for another three weeks as well. Thankfully, the long six weeks are ending tomorrow. I will be picking up my beautiful Stacy and wonderful girls at Reagan National Airport and filling my house back up. It's been entirely too quiet with just Blue and I around.

Still to come (maybe) My Exciting Experience With The Incredibly Expensive Coaster or, My Hard Drive, My Destiny. AND! Some thoughts on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows or, The Most Timely Post Since Three Week Old Travel Stories! AND! My Narrow Escape From Death Hurtling Twenty Stories After Being Set On Fire By An Angry Grizzly Bear or, This Never Actually Happened, Sorry To Get Your Hopes Up!

Killer Wasps Attack!

I was mowing the lawn today and noticed a large amount of dirt mounds scattered around the yard, many of them clustered around the doors to my shed. I like to keep the shed free of vegetation so the doors swing open easily, apparently that is what attracted the creators of the dirt mounds. This is actually the second year we've had them. I am not fond of insects at all. They make my skin crawl. Probably one too many bad sci-fi movie about mutant bugs back when I was a kid (ever see Bug from 1975? Cheesy as hell, but it still gives me occasional nachtmares, so does Arachnaphobia.) So I could just imagine what monstrous horrors lurked in the gaping holes of the many burrows I was tromping over during my chore. It wasn't long before I discovered what they looked like as one of these suckers came flying right at me.


I had turned my weed eater over to fix the spline when the thing buzzed my head. Not cool. I panicked for a second, dropped the weed whacker, and retreated. The gigantor wasp, two inches if it was an 1/8th, backed off for a second too. I took the opportunity to rethread the weed eater and brandished it Texas Chainsaw Massacre style at the mammoth bug. I spun the spline at it a couple of times, hoping more to scare it away than do any real damage, though I wouldn't have been averse to seeing some dismemberment as well. No bug gets the best of me in my yard! The huge wasp zipped out of the yard after a couple of close calls with the weed eater. In retrospect, I was lucky that it was the particular breed it was, considering yellow jackets and hornets are aggressive and probably would have stung my ass a few times extra for good measure.

I wrapped up my weed killing before the B2 of wasps made its way back so I headed inside to do some research. Turns out my adorable little friend is none other than the Sphecius speciosus, or the Eastern Cicada Killer. This little feller is solitary as opposed to social, which means that it will not attack a human unless handled roughly, even to defend its burrow. Further more, the only ones to actively investigate people are males, ensuring that we're not other males encroaching on territory or a female ready to mate, I assure you, I was neither. However, even then, males can't sting, they can just poke with their sharpened tails.

The females create the burrows, paralyze cicadas and other insects, plant them in a chamber in the burrow, and then deposit an egg with the victim. The egg hatches over the summer and the larva overwinters in a cocoon after feeding off the cicada. Matter of fact, that image up nort' there is of a female cicada killer bringing a victim back to her burrow. Interestingly enough, it's not alive, but posed that way by one Professor Chuck Holliday (with a name like that, what's he doing outside of a recording studio?) from whom I got most of my cicada killer knowledge. Sure, there's a Wikipedia article, but I found his information, not to mention extensive picture and movie collection of the monster wasps much more enlightening.

They're fascinating bugs, but I'd rather not have them buzzing me when I'm out in the yard. You never know what batch of radioactive nuclear waste it was floating in earlier.

Just an example of a burrow, nothing to scale, but that hole is big enough to toss a dwarf down.

Here's a smaller wasp hitching a ride on Professor Chuck's hand after an exhausting cicada killing.

Thanks to Professor Chuck HOLLIDAY (what a frickin' sweet name) for all the cicada killer lore. Check out his excellent site on the subject if you're curious at

Debris from a Fiery Ball of Gas Otherwise Known as...

Was Stardust a good movie? Let's get that out of the way right off the bat. Hell yeah. I'll admit readily that I am a bit biased, loving both the author's entire body of work so far experienced and the actual book in question. However, my bias plays only a small portion of my instant fondness for the movie. As with all movie adaptations of books, whether they're full text, comic panels, or a mix of both, things change when moved from pages to screen. In most cases, if I've read a book before I see the movie, these changes serve as minor annoyances. Sometimes the changes make sense, sometimes they don't, they're almost always unwelcome.

I don't know if it was Neil Gaiman's extensive involvement in the production of the movie that helped or the creators' obvious love for the source material, but the changes between the two mediums did not bother me in the slightest here. Some of the differences were drastic, too, such as the entire climax. They felt as if they fit into the story, though. As if I had attended two different tellings of the same story by equally masterful storytellers, both of whom know how to weave the myriad pieces together to form a pleasing whole, no matter that the ingredients differ slightly.

The casting was well done. Everyone from the guardian of the wall (David Kelly) to the shady Ferdy the Fence (Ricky Gervais,) both of which are new characters to readers of the book. Original characters fared equally well with the protagonists Claire Daines playing Yvaine and Charlie Cox as Tristan (one odd change, removing the "r" from his name.) I am not a big fan of Daines, there's usually something about her eyes that bugs me. However, she and Cox did very well. The casting of the seven brothers of Stormhold was fitting as well, but you really have to see the movie or have read the book to understand where they come from. I loved seeing Peter O'Toole as the King of Stormhold. I could have used with more realistic arm throwing action, but I suppose when you get as old as O'Toole, you can spend your scenes reclining luxuriously in a magnificently appointed bed as well. Michelle Pfeiffer, no stranger to the role of villain, plays a delightful witch who you can't help but sympathize with every once and a while. That is, when she isn't busy transforming hapless goats into inn keepers (Hilario Dawson!) Perhaps the most notable bit of casting comes in the form of a very talented supporting actor, one Robert DeNiro. His Capt. Shakespeare is a considerable departure from the book, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Those of you that have seen the movie know why. He definitely stole the scenes in which he was featured and showed us a new layer of the DeNiro talent. Oh, and snagging Ian McKellen as the narrator is just badass.

Now that I'm done name-dropping, I can tell you that this is definitely a movie to add to your list of must-sees. It has high-fantasy, excellent action, magic, intrigue, quests, and a fair bit of romance. Whether you like fantasy movies, action movies, romantic comedy movies, or any combination of the above, this is one that will satisfy. My regards to the original creators, Messrs. Gaiman and Vess as well as those behind the movie, Vaughn and Goldman. I hope this one does well enough so we can see more of Neil's work make it to the big screen.

I give this movie seven out of seven slaughtered princes on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.