Mark (mhaithaca) wrote,

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Great weekend in Springfield!

I was the only one from Ithaca who made it out to Springfield, Mass for United Fan Con this past weekend, but I got to hang out with several friends who I don't get to see so often. I roomed with Susanna, Matt, Loretta, and Francis, all of whom are from the Philadelphia area. (And all five of us snore to some extent. Matt and Francis were the unanimous champs.) We actually arrived at the hotel about two minutes apart on Friday afternoon.

The real sour note of the weekend was dealing, remotely, and mostly as an observer, with the crap that went on in Ithaca this weekend related to the Cornell hockey Internet audio and video feeds. Cornell Athletics has done a spectacular job of pissing everyone off, which, sadly, is what I warned them months ago would happen if they didn't proceed carefully with the plans they were considering to charge for Internet radio coverage of the hockey games.

Not surprisingly, one of the focuses of the weekend for me was the food! Not long after we arrived Friday, we went looking for someplace to eat dinner. My original plan to go to J.W.'s, the hotel's own steakhouse, was scuttled when I discovered it's been replaced with a trendy place called Currents! Big vertical monolithic running-water sculpture out front was cute, but the menu just wasn't at all appealing. Blah. So Sue flipped through the phone book and decided "Theodore's Booze, Blues & BBQ" looked good. Who was I to argue!?

We had a fantastic meal at Theodore's, finding lots of food for not too much money, and an atmosphere that seemed like a cross between the Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse, and Ithaca's Chapter House bar. I started with a pint of Berkshires Brewing Company Steel Rail pale ale, which I almost never get to have. When I recommended a "Texas Tea" (like a Long Island iced tea) to Matt, he seemed skeptical, and the waitress suggested I should make him feel better by having one too. So, that was my second drink.

I was the only one who seemed intrigued by the deep-fried pickle spears on the list of appetizers. Can't imagine why! So I ordered them, and everyone actually liked them.

The various combos, mostly ribs-and-whatever, only come with fries as a side dish, and I was more interested in the collard greens, baked beans, and corn bread that all came along with the pulled pork platter. So, instead of the ribs and pulled pork combo, I ordered the pulled pork platter and an appetizer of ribs... just $7... but the same half rack of baby-backs as come with the dinners! Hmmmm. Works for me. I prefer bigger ribs, but these baby-backs were tasty and tender, and quite good, especially with the Cajun BBQ sauce, one of several choices.

This place is known for its blues, and while they usually have local acts, Friday night's attraction was Coco Montoya! Alarmingly, I was the only one in our group who'd even heard of the guy. I guess Ithaca's got more exposure to blues than most places. Francis and I almost went back a couple hours later for the show, but relaxing and drinking seemed too engaging. (On top of a little bourbon and the drinks at Theo's, I then had two martinis at the hotel's sports bar, and a bit more bourbon and a Yuengling Black & Tan, imported from Philly, in the room. Not leaving seemed like a fine idea.)

On the way up in the elevator at one point, we rode with Gigi Edgley, one of the con's celebrity guests, and one of the key reasons Matt was there. I've never much liked "Farscape," which may be why Matt seemed much more smitten with her than I was. She wasn't unattractive, but I guess wasn't my type. Certainly way too thin, which isn't much more appealing to me than way too heavy. Matt managed to miss this and two more opportunities to invite Gigi to our Saturday night room party.

Saturday's highlights included spending the better part of an hour on the phone with Anita from Cornell Athletics. She called me during lunch, but I called back afterwards, and talked to her about what went wrong, getting a bit more of their side of the story. Honestly, I had the story down pretty well; they really did make a lot of stupid mistakes. Surprisingly, and to her credit, Anita admitted some of the problem was their stupid mistakes.

I also got to wander around and see a bunch of people I know, as well as meet a couple of new ones, such as Kate, the commanding officer of USS Konkordium. I used to have several friends in that STARFLEET chapter, which left the Fleet years ago but is coming back. It was also good to see Sal, Leslie, Rich, Pete, Jerry, and Dave and Leslie, among others, and good to hear a somewhat improved prognosis for Alan, who's been in the hospital for a month or so. He's been getting better, and since a couple of weeks ago it wasn't clear he'd ever leave, that's good news!

Sal, a big teddy bear of a man who I first met in 1997 and have mostly hung out with at STARFLEET International Conferences, including this year's, is recently unemployed, so he couldn't bring his wife and their daughter along for the day trip that replaced their planned weekend family jaunt. He's gotten some good job leads, phone calls from headhunters finding his resume online, but none in New England. He may end up in Detroit.

As for Leslie, she was there with her fiance whose name I never remember. I see him once in a while at cons, and if he has a personality, I have yet to spot it. Perhaps it just subsides when he's surrounded by Leslie's friends, many of whom are, if you can believe it, even more extroverted than she is! (Oh, J.C., she says hi back.)

I'm not sure, but I don't think I'd seen Jerry since UFC two years ago, when I actually roomed with him and his girlfriend for one night of the weekend. I'm embarrassed to say I can't recall her name offhand, and I didn't see her this weekend. Wonder what she's up to. She was cool.

Lunch was at a wonderful deli in the mall attached to the Marriott called Gus & Paul's. It turns out that this is the deli Laura has told me about several times that she remembers from her childhood, and that she and other family members always stop to get food from when they're gathering in the area for family reunions. I won't go into a lot of detail here, but you can read about it on the fledgling "14850 Dining" Springfield page I created today.

After lunch and the chat with Anita, I spent some relaxing time in the pool and hot tub. Sue had already gone down there, and we practically had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours, with just a couple of others coming and going, until six or seven squealing teenage girls showed up (probably ages 11-14) with one mother. I doubt they were all related, and I feel sorry for the poor woman who got stuck with all those kids. We only had to put up with them for about 45 minutes while they splashed around and shrieked. I got lots more of Roger Stern's "Smallville"novel, Strange Visitors, read, as well.

At the end of the afternoon, I made it down to the ballroom to see the guest I'd come to see, John Billingsley. He plays Dr. Phlox on "Enterprise," and you may have seen him in the "Chuck the Chainsmoker" series of stop-smoking television ads, taped about five years ago but still running frequently in several states, including New York. His show has only been on for a little over a year, so he hasn't done many cons yet, but he was a genuinely delightful and funny speaker. He happily joked about himself, his paunch, and his hair as readily as he quipped about his fellow actors on the show. He was very gracious answering questions from the audience, and several launched him into long anecdotes. A perfect guest, and I hope to see him again at future shows. He was supposed to be at Shore Leave this year, but had to cancel.

Matt really wanted to go back to Theodore's for dinner on Saturday, and Sue loved the idea, so why not? Different combo, this time the ribs and Guinness-marinated half chicken. I don't usually enjoy eating chicken from the bone as much as I do eating boneless breast meat, and that was true here, too. The chicken was a bit small for me to enjoy digging into the bones. Ah well. It was tasty, and the ribs were great again.

Remember that room party I mentioned, that Matt never mustered the nerve to invite Gigi to? Well, it was certainly a success. Before hotel security shut us down (one clear measure of a party's success) we had lots of fun folks chatting up a storm. I even met two guys from Fishkill, NY who work on IBM's PowerPC team, testing the next generation of chips that will likely run at the core of Macintosh computers. The high point of the party was when I noticed the door open a little and then slam back on the latch we'd left out to keep the door open. I popped out into the hall to see five women heading for the elevators, and convinced them it was OK, and they were welcome to join us.

The five turned out to all be from New Jersey, in town for the annual horse expo happening at the expo center across the river. They just happened to be staying in the con hotel, spotted one of our invitations, and were curious enough to drop by. They ended up spending the next few hours with us, and seemed to have a good time. They were certainly fun to chat with! One, a wiccan who talked about her pentagram and jade pendant, had piercing green eyes that her friends explained are really that shade of electric green. Her costume contact lenses, which we didn't get to see, are yellow with a red rim.

Sunday, we hoped to have breakfast at Gus & Paul's; since they serve breakfast all day they must be good at it, right? Unfortunately, they're closed Sundays. Just more evidence that Springfield's downtown, a serious business district with virtually no residents, simply shuts down on the weekend. That, and apparently western Mass has a lot of carry-over from the old blue laws that prohibited businesses from being open on Sundays, when of course everyone's supposed to be in church and with their families.

So, we had lunch at the Champions Sports Club in the hotel, and then I made a last pass through the convention area to say goodbye to folks before heading home. Also stopped into the dealers room to see if there was anything that needed buying. I ended up with a photo of John Billingsley that I'll be giving to a friend, and an "alternate pilot" DVD of "Smallville" with a British behind-the-scenes feature. Should be interesting, though I have a strong suspicion that it's pirated. As long as the quality isn't too bad! A counterfeit DVD at least has a chance of being much cleaner than a many-copies-later videotape.

The weather wasn't nearly as perfect for the drive back to Ithaca as it was for Friday's glorious drive east, but at least there was no significant rain... and the overcast meant the sun was rarely in my eyes as I drove west.

Partway back I called Laura to see if she was free so I could take her out for a belated birthday dinner. My timing was perfect; she'd had a lousy weekend and was delighted to be dragged out for some fun. Her fiance's away for a bit, making the timing even better. So I brought her a CD I'd gotten for her birthday a couple of weeks ago, treated her to a nice dinner at Turback's, and then offered a destressing birthday backrub. A while later, she told me that the backrub was a better present than the CD and dinner combined! Wish I'd known that earlier. While I worked on her back and neck, we watched last week's "West Wing," which she'd missed, and then last night's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," which neither of us had seen yet. Good episodes of both.

Oh, how uncharacteristic of me to not talk about dinner! I had the special, langoustines and scallops over spinach fettuccine, and Laura had the tenderloin with garlic mashed potatoes. We split the crab cakes appetizer (much too small) and a bottle of Duck Walk wine. For dessert, we had the special chocolate mousse with Chambord. Wow.

So it was a fantastic weekend, and I think what must be my longest journal entry ever.

Too bad Monday afternoon featured about two months worth of Mondayness. At least Monday evening was good!

And now, bed.

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