2009 Addendum (Avatar)

Turns out that Hollywood didn’t completely disappoint me this year. Avatar was the bright spot for me among 2009’s domestic releases.

The story is pure cliché, and nothing comes as a surprise. The movie was hyped to a level that no movie could possibly reach, including this one. The dialog is distractingly bad in spots, causing a couple of moments that pull you out of the story (Really Cameron? Is “Unobtainium” the best name you could come up with for a mineral that’s difficult to obtain?)

You know what?

No doubt, there are aspects of the movie that could have been done better, but hold that thought and look at the movie as just pure entertainment and it is fantastic. For not having the best story or dialog, I think the acting was actually pretty good, and of course the visuals stole the show. The movie does as good a job as any of transporting you to a different place for a few hours. This is escapism at it’s finest.

One final thought: Don’t wait for this movie to hit DVD. See it in a theater that shows it in 3D. It’s worth the extra cost (tickets were $4 more than the regular price at my local theater) and I’d say it’s even worth a bit of a drive if there’s no 3D theater near you. I’m sure it’s beautiful and colorful on any screen, but seeing it in 3D moved it beyond the status of “just another movie” to me. This is one of the very few times in my life that I’ve witnessed a movie that in some way changed my concept of what a movie could be.


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2009 Concerts and Shows

Books and movies are nice, but the year’s concert schedule was the true highlight of 2009’s entertainment. I got to see a few old favorites such as Dream Theater and Ani Difranco, a few great bands I’ve just started listening to this year like Muse and Metric, as well as a bunch of older bands I’ve listened to for years but never seen in concert like The Offspring and U2.

I just can’t pick a favorite show for the year. VNV Nation is great anytime I get to see them, and they had Ayria opening for them so it was a great all-around show. Tom Petty just played so many classics back-to-back that the entire show had everyone on their feet. Nine Inch Nails always put on a good show, and to see them opening for Jane’s Addiction made for a great show even if it was at the world’s worst amphitheatre.

Billy Joel and Elton John was a good show, but could have been a little better. I like Elton, but I guess I’m a bit biased. Elton John played everything I wanted to hear and then some, while Billy Joel only got to play about half of the songs I had hoped for. The Offspring were just fantastic. That and Metric made for the two shows that were probably the most fun all year. In both cases the crowds were completely into the show. My first U2 show was an event to remember, and I was thrilled that Muse opened for them.

Besides straight-up concerts, I did get to see a few theatrical presentations that were top-notch. American Stage in St. Pete opened their new location with Tuesdays With Morrie, which was a very engaging play based on the Mitch Albom book. I had second-row tickets to see Stomp again, and had front-row in the balcony of the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway to see Chicago, which was one hell of an entertaining show.

So that was 2009. Of course there was a lot to the year beyond mere entertainment, but like I said I wanted to focus on the positive moments. 2010 is shaping up to be an interesting year. Let’s see what we can do with it 😉

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2009 Movies & Books

I know I saw a bunch of movies this year. I’d have a hard time naming more than a handful though. There were a few gems, but looking over my list I see that all of them came from overseas. I guess Hollywood left me a little flat in 2009.

Departures was probably my favorite film of the year. It is a Japanese film about a man fallen on hard times who takes a job as an undertaker. Apparently this is the sort of profession that earns scorn in Japan, which makes life even more difficult for the man. He learns to do the job well, regardless of how he’s viewed, and he turns into a shining example of dignity and honor along the way.

Let the Right One In is a vampire movie unlike any other vampire movie you’ve seen. It’s a Swedish film that is dark and thoughtful. Much better than any “vampire” film filled with sparkly fashion-plates who are immortal yet act as if they are thirteen.

Ponyo, well, there’s not a whole lot I can say about the films of Hayao Miyazaki. Go rent it, pop it into the DVD player, and the next hour and a half of your life will become pure magic.

I did manage to get a bit more reading done this year than last. There were some really good stories that I was turned on to, and more than once I found myself closing a book and saying “Wow!” Back in 1990 or so I picked up the book “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I loved the book, and while I went on to read a slew of Pratchett books over the years, Neil Gaiman fell off my radar. This was the year that I re-discovered his writing. I liked American Gods, and think that the protagonist is one of the fictional characters that most closely resembles me. The real jewel of the year was Gaiman’s Sandman series. Yes, my literary high-point this year was a comic book from the 90’s, but what a story. I’d put it up there with anything I’ve read.

Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro is a novel focused on a girl growing up in an English boarding school in what would seem to be a normal childhood, but the children at this school are anything but normal. It left an impression on me for the way the characters accept their circumstances and do what they have to.

The other notable mention of the year was Timothy Egan’sThe Worst Hard Time” which is an account of the dust bowl of the 1930’s. In a year when the outlook seemed bleak, nothing puts things into perspective more than reading a true story where people and animals die from lungs filled with dirt, people go days at a time hiding from the weather, and get by on a diet of salted tumbleweeds.

Here are my favorites from 2009.



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2009 Travel

The year’s travel calendar was more conservative than it has been in recent years. No big new destinations, no stamps in the passport.

I took a quick trip out to Boca Raton for a weekend. It was nice to see the town I used to live in, although it was strange to think that I went to high school there (briefly) and had a strong emotional tie to the place when in reality there is nobody there who knows me anymore. I did stop to take pictures at Miami’s South Beach on the way there.

Green Theme

The big trip for the year was my long-overdue trip back to New York. I moved to Florida 18 years ago and hadn’t been back to New York at all in that time. As my plane approached JFK and Manhattan came into view I was grinning like a fool. Initially I was slightly nervous when picking up my rental car. I wondered if 18 years of Florida living had softened my brain regarding how to drive in New York traffic. Turns out I had nothing to worry about. I wasn’t even out of Queens yet before I was laughing hysterically to myself and thinking “everyone here drives like me!”

End of the Island

I got to see old friends & family. I got to see Montauk for the first time. Odd for a Long Island boy to not see Montauk until he’s 40 years old. I got to see one of the old towns I lived in, and I got to take a quick trip into the city to have dinner and see Chicago play on Broadway. Yes, I went to New York to see Chicago. Many things were familiar, but I don’t think I said “this is home” until I stepped out of Penn Station onto 7th Avenue. There’s something about that city I’ve always loved.

Rob in New York City

Thanksgiving was spent in Tennessee with Jennifer & her family. No sightseeing, just time spent in a place where people are happy to see me. I stopped in Atlanta for a night on the way back to see the band Metric play, which was a great show.

Beyond that, I made five trips to Titusville trying to see a shuttle launch before I finally caught one. It was every bit as memorable as the first one I witnessed.

STS-128 Lifts Off

No major new ground covered, but still a good year. 2010 could go either way. I’m trying to get another quick trip out west planned, but the way things are going my next vacation might turn out to be a one-way trip.

It’s been a while, but I’m no stranger to that concept.

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2009 Wrap-Up

2009 is winding down and these last few weeks will probably be fairly quiet beyond some time spent with friends and family through the holidays. It’s a time when many people, including myself, reflect upon the year past and look forward to the coming year.

Looking back I have mixed emotions about the last 12 months. This was a rough year for a lot of people. Personally it’s been a rough year for me as well, but I really have to consider myself lucky. Any difficulties I’ve had this year pale in comparison to those faced by my friends and family. I’ll just be thankful that my road hasn’t been as difficult as theirs this year, and do my best to help and be supportive when I can.

In that way, “thankful” really sums up my feelings for the year. A lot of things in my life are up in the air right now. As fluid as the situation is, I’ve been incredibly lucky thus far and once again I’ve grown to really appreciate the close friendships I have & the simple pleasures of life. I look forward to the new year unsure of many things. There’s no telling what life will look like 6 or 12 months from now, but I know that changes are coming. Oddly, whatever may be in store for me, I’m kind of looking forward to it. Once again I have the opportunity to grow and learn, and I see that as a good thing.

It is with that feeling of thankfulness and gratitude that I look back on 2009. The year brought plenty of less-than-stellar moments. I’d rather focus on the bright spots. I’m thankful for the people I have in my life, near and far. I’m thankful for my health, and the relative health of my family. I think in this year I’ve learned to accept love and kindness in many small ways, and I think that has helped me to feel not quite so alone in this world.

With that in mind, I’ll be making some posts about the bright spots of 2009. If you’re someone who takes the time to read my occasional ramblings here, then YOU are at the top of my list of things to be thankful for. I love you all, and I hope 2010 treats you all much better than this past year has.

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The big show that I’d been waiting for throughout the year has finally come & gone. I got to see U2 for the first time at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

I’d never been interested in seeing a show in a football stadium before. Even hockey arena concerts are usually too big & impersonal for me. I figured any show in a football stadium would be taking that to an extreme, and I figured the sound would be horrible on top of it. For the first time ever, I made an exception and back in April got tickets to see U2. Turns out, the sound was really good, and the seats were closer to the stage than many shows I’ve seen in hockey arenas.

I’ve never seen U2 before, so I was pretty excited by the time the concert rolled around. Muse was the opening act and I couldn’t have been happier since they were also at the top of my list of bands to see. The show drew the biggest crowd ever to attend an event at the stadium, even eclipsing the attendance for the two super bowls that have been held there.

U2 in Tampa

The stage setup was superlative. The superstructure that towered above the stage could be seen from outside the stadium, and the stage basically stretched from one end-zone to about where the 50-yard line would have been. Even a good chunk of that space had people in it, as the stage had space for people inside an outer ring.

Muse came out & played a solid show. They got a really strong reaction from the crowd, which was pretty good for just being the opening band. I walked in already a Muse fan, and their set made me into an even bigger fan.

U2 is probably one of the only bands that has the stature and sound to fill a football stadium, and I’ll be damned if they didn’t pull it off. Where many bands would be lost in a stadium that size, U2 almost made it seem cozy. The musicians were dwarfed by the stage, which was (barely) dwarfed by the stadium, but when 72,000 fans are singing along to “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” you end up feeling like you’re really not that far from the band.

“Still Haven’t Found…” segued into “Stand By Me” and brought tears to my eyes, as did “With or Without You.” “City of Blinding Lights” and “Beautiful Day” wowed me. “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” gave me goosebumps. This was one of the top 10 concerts I’ve ever seen.

Usually after getting myself up for a show, I don’t listen to the band again for a week or two because I’ve played them so much. I left the U2 concert an even bigger fan of both Muse and U2, and still can’t get enough of either of them. That’s saying something.

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I don’t remember many laugh-out-loud moments during Zombieland, but I did have a smile plastered on my face pretty much throughout the movie. Definitely worth the price of admission.

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What can brown do for you?

Not deliver a package apparently.

It took me two weeks to get a next-day package out of UPS. The first attempt made it to my house on the next day, as promised, but it went through countless sets of UPS hands before my delivery man marked the shipment down as damaged/missing contents. Even though it was a next day package that they apparently destroyed, they took three days getting it back to the vendor.

The next delivery attempt happened when nobody was home. Fair enough. The slip on my door said the next delivery attempt would be the following day between 10am and 5pm. Jessie was home all day, and we were late getting to dinner at my Dad’s house because we waited until 6:45pm for the UPS guy to show up. I looked for the UPS truck as we drove out of the subdivision. No dice. We came home to a slip saying he was there 6 minutes after we left, just before 7pm. 10-5 my ass.

This slip said that the next attempt would be the following day after 5pm. Jessie had to go run some errands, and sure enough the delivery attempt was made when Jessie was out at 2:30 in the afternoon, well before what they said. Jessie calls the number on the slip and they tell her i can pick up the package after 5pm that day.

I go to the UPS facility @ 6:30pm and they tell me they won’t have the package until the following day, but I need to call this number in a hurry so that they don’t return the package to the sender. I call the number I’m given, and I can’t use the tracking number, I need the info number from the slip that’s sitting at home. I finally get a hold of someone at UPS and they act as if Jessie never called earlier in the day.

Why give me a tracking number if I cannot use it to manage delivery of my package? Why put delivery times on the door slips if they don’t mean anything? Two weeks later, two trips to the UPS facility, two days of Jessie waiting for the delivery and several phone calls later, I finally have my package. Odd when you consider that UPS was the one that got paid to get it into MY hands.

What can brown do for me? Go jump in a lake.

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There are dead people in my address book

There are dead people in my address book.

I just can’t bring myself to delete them. For friends and family that are no longer here, it’s like a digital tombstone sitting on my disk drive. Here’s their last phone number; their last address; their birthday. It’s never been easy for me to let go, and this is a shining example. I can’t ever forget them, but I can’t bring myself to delete their names either.

I somehow have it in my head that the last memory of me won’t be anything that I said or did, but it will be some stale entry in a telemarketers phone list or a spammers email list.

Once that final entry is deleted, who will even remember that I was here?

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Midnight Ride

I drove across the state on a lark back in June, trying to catch a launch of the space shuttle. It didn’t go. Since I’d gotten my hopes up, I kept trying every time NASA had a launch scheduled when I could make it to the east coast.

I spent an entire weekend waiting through two scrubbed launch attempts. I watched dolphins and manatees play in the river. I got sunburned, rained on, and once spent 4 hours coming back from the east coast in what is usually a 2-hour drive.

I tried again Monday night, and I went into work tired after getting home at 2am following another scrubbed launch attempt. Friday night I bolted across state for the fifth attempt since June. I was still smiling about it (mostly) and the topic of scrubbed shuttle launches had become something of a joke.

By my estimate, I had spent $150 in gas in all of the cross-state trips. I spent about 24 hours total driving there and back, and another 24 hours sitting by the river waiting for a launch that never seemed to come.

Until Friday night. All of that effort was worth it to see this:
STS-128 Lifts Off
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

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