Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong

I was 14 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  Everyone in our house gathered in front of our TV set to watch the broadcast.  I was into science fiction and science and UFOs (yes, I know that interest doesn't go with science, but, hey, I was 14), and I was bursting with excitement at the prospect of watching the first human take a step onto the moon. 

Mrs. Phillips, a woman in her late nineties who lived down the street, joined us.  She had ridden west as a child in a covered wagon, became a nurse, was too old to be a nurse in World War I, and retired into the first house in our neighborhood.  She was a good friend who helped me get lawn-mowing customers and who taught me a great deal about how a person should behave. 

Right after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon's surface and spoke his immortal line, I glanced around the room.  Everyone else was still watching, but only two of us, Mrs. Phillips and I, had tears in our eyes and mouths open in wonder. 

Years later, when they announced the first shuttle mission-specialist program, I applied.  I was turned down early; having one arm shorter than the other from a very bad childhood break disqualified me.  I knew it would, but I wrote an impassioned essay anyway.  I had to try.  I'd seen a man walk on the moon, and I wanted to do the same. 

Neil Armstrong showed up at a few SF-related gatherings, but not many, and none I attended.  I never had the chance to meet him or even hear him talk.  His influence, though, on a 14-year-old Florida boy was profound, and so I am grateful to him and to all the people who did all the work that made his famous mission possible.

With Armstrong's death, we've lost a national treasure and one of the few humans to have stood on another rock in space, looked up at the earth, and known a wonder still unavailable to almost all of humanity. 

Good-bye, Neil Armstrong, good-bye. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

On the road again: Portland, day 4

I'm home, which is a very nice place to be indeed.  I actually got some sleep last night, nearly eight hours, which was also quite nice.

Most of today went to travel.  On these days, I divide the trip into a series of steps, and I focus only on the one in front of me.  Get up.  Check.  Catch up on email.  Check.  Pack.  Check.  Shower.  Dress.  Check out of hotel.  Drive to airport.  Drop off rental car.  Get boarding pass and check luggage.  Get to security.  Go through security.  Check check check check check check check check.  And on and on.  One foot in front of the other, Marine, as I heard first when I was ten.

The first flight was a mixed bag.  On the one hand, I was in an exit-row seat, which is awesome.  On the other hand, I was on the window, and the guy next to me checked in at six-five and 320 easy, probably more.  Even though we leaned as far from each other as we could manage, his left shoulder and my right shoulder became better friends than either of us wanted.

DFW brought the delicious Red Mango parfait, which I ate in a chair with no one touching me.  Both were excellent experiences.

On the second flight, I lucked into a first-class upgrade, so I was able to work in comfort and have all the Diet Coke (no Coke Zero, alas) I wanted.

Our flight was slightly over an hour late, but it landed safely, and our bags eventually came off the carousel, so it's hard to complain.

And I'm home.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

On the road again: Portland, day 3

After a very, very late night working, morning today arrived entirely too early.  The vast majority of the daylight hours went to work meetings, which were interesting but which I cannot, of course, discuss.

Feeling draggy and exhausted, I turned for a pick-me-up to the small Cacao store located in the corner of the hotel.  A small glass of sipping dark chocolate beverage later, I was wired for sound and rolling on work.  I've never had a beverage that affected me as much as this one, which never fails to buzz me.

Dinner took me to one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Le Pigeon.  Owner and star chef Gabriel Rucker was working tonight, so I was able to sit at the bar in front of him and chat off and on as he cooked and I ate.  The meal was, as always, delicious.  It included my first taste of pork tongue, which was in Rucker's hands rich and flavorful and entirely delicious.  As I've said many times before, if I lived here, I'd eat in this place weekly.

Tomorrow morning, I head home for a few days before my travels take me to Chicago and the World Science Fiction Convention!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On the road again: Portland, day 2

Most of today went to work, as you would expect from one of these trips. 

At lunchtime, however, I took a longish break and wandered among the vendors at the mid-week farmers' market near the hotel, cut through a lovely craft shop, and wound my way to the food trucks.  After walking the one-block-square circuit of trucks, I settled on a delicious three-cheese grilled-cheese sandwich to which I opted to have them add a fried egg and some thick-cut bacon.  Damn, it was good.

A rare lunch-time dessert was a Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwich back on the edge of the farmers' market, a new flavor--dark chocolate cookie with salty caramel ice cream--that was obviously too good to resist. 

I ate the cookie while sitting on a bench staring through the slowly rustling leaves of the huge trees at the perfect pale blue sky beyond, an image I captured with my iPhone and will share later, time and bandwidth permitting.

I could have sat there all day.

Dinner was a delicious, as always, meal at Castagna, where Executive Chef Justin Woodward beautifully merges modernist cuisine techniques with local ingredients.  If you live here or visit here, you owe it to yourself to give this place a try. 

I'd post more, but it's the middle of the night (despite what the timestamp says), and more work awaits, so I'm outta here. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On the road again: Seattle, day 3 / Portland, day 1

Another day in a work trip, another day of which I can say little.

We spent the morning and lunch in the Seattle area, and then we drove to Portland.  The three-or-so-hour trip is lovely, though the traffic is almost always what would pass for rush hour back home.

Knowing that dinner would be quite late, and indulging me, we dropped by Salt & Straw, a Portland ice cream shop that has been making a lot of noise.

Boy, am I glad we did.

Salt & Straw may be my new favorite ice cream shop.  It is certainly among my top five anywhere.  Set in a corner of a corner building in a funky Portland residential-and-commercial area, it greeted us with open walls along most of one side and most of the front.  One of the breed of locally sourced ice cream makers, it proclaimed its mission loudly.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

Intentions are all well and good, of course, but for any type of food, the proof is in the taste.  The range of ice creams available certainly suggested both a familiarity with modern classics and a quirky eye for new flavors.

If you blow up this image and look carefully at the admittedly blurry (sorry second line after the flavor list, you'll see that the shop offers a tasting flight of four ice creams.

Yes, I did it for you, dear readers:  I ordered a flight so that I could report with some authority on the ice creams here.

In my defense, I didn't eat it all--but I must confess to having eaten most of it.  From left to right, we have here sea salt with caramel ribbons, strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper, pear with blue cheese, and chocolate with gooey brownies.  All the flavors were delicious.  The weakest, somewhat to my surprise, was the chocolate.  The sea salt with caramel flavor blended those tastes perfectly, as did the strawberry, in which the balsamic and the pepper and the citrus all merged into a whole that was vastly better than any of its parts.  The best of the bunch, though, was the pear with blue cheese.  I was skeptical, but it was amazing, managing to somehow remove all of the rough edge of the cheese and merge it perfectly with the pear.

Fortunately for me, because we were visiting Little Bird, a Portland favorite, dinner was many hours later.

That meal was as delicious as every other dinner I've eaten there.  Though my Portland favorite restaurant remains Gabriel Rucker's original place, Le Pigeon (where I will be Thursday night), Little Bird is a fine sibling and stands well on its own right.  Tonight's tasty treats included a creamy potato soup with a clam and bacon relish, and my first experience with the Le Pigeon burger.  Damn, that was a fine hamburger.

Now, work summons once again, so I will return to it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

On the road again: Seattle, day 2

As most of you know, I can't talk about my meetings on PT trips, so the only part of my twenty-hour day that I can discuss is the dinner. 

Fortunately, it was a good one at a lovely Seattle restaurant, Canlis.  Canlis was a Beard nominee for Best Restaurant, and its chef, Jason Franey, was a nominee for Best Chef, Northwest.  With that level of recognition, I had to give it a try. 

When you enter, you can't help but notice the water (Union Lake, I believe) that is visible through the mostly glass wall that runs along the rear of the restaurant.  The lovely setting upped its beauty a few notches as the fading sun changed the light washing the water from yellow to blue and then gradually to the darkness of night. 

All the dishes I tried were quite good.  A poached hen's egg in mushroom foam with Australian black truffles floating on it and bits of veggies hidden below was delightful, warm and rich and happy.  The cold foie preparation was a well-executed standard.  The small Wagyu steak was the weakest part of the meal, a good piece of beef but nothing to compare to the top-grade Wagyu at, say, Craftsteak in Las Vegas.

All in all, I liked Canlis and can recommend it, but to my taste its food is still not up to such giants of the region as Portland's Le Pigeon, Castagna, and Beast--two of which I'll be eating at later this week. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On the road again: Seattle, day 1

The plan looked good: Fly from RDU in the morning, but not the insanely early morning; arrive in Seattle right before evening; grab what promised to be an excellent dinner at Sitka & Spruce, a restaurant that's been making some noise; and head to the hotel with plenty of time remaining to finish the evening's work comfortably.

Unfortunately, the weather had an entirely different plan, so by the time we left RDU about 2:00 p.m., more than two hours late, I had downshifted my goals to a rather less ambitious set:  Arrive in Seattle late, hope our luggage had made it, and eat room-service dinner while working.

Matters then picked up.  I was lucky enough to receive an upgrade on the first leg, and that plane offered bandwidth, so I was able to work in relative comfort for the entire flight.  Our layover in DFW grew to almost two hours, so we enjoyed delicious Red Mango parfaits and then shifted to the Admiral's Club for more work.  (If Red Mango ever opens a franchise near my house or office, I am in so much trouble.)   The only open seats on the second flight were in first class, so it was upgrade city once again.  Dinner ended up being airplane food, but it was edible and bland, about as much as one can reasonably ask these days from a meal in the sky. 

At SEA, our luggage was actually in the first few bags off the conveyor. 

Yeah, we hit the hotel late, and, yeah, work had piled up a bit, but so it goes.  For a day with a huge travel delay, today went well.

And now, our IFAOTD (Ignorant Fucking Asshole Of The Day) award goes to GOP Senatorial candidate Todd Akin for one of the most offensive interview responses in recent memory

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Yeah, he apologized later, but, really?  No, you don't get off for that kind of comment. 

Let's hope that the good people of Missouri do not forget this sorry asshat's comments and send him packing back home on election day. 


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