Tuesday, September 02, 2014

In which we watch the season commence

Things start up pretty quickly, once they start up. All of a sudden I’m getting a million emails, about this, that and the other. I’d almost forgotten what it was like.

This morning I sent out the first of what will no doubt be regular Pups emails on this and that. The waitlist remains ridiculous, although there should be some falloff over the next week. Still, there’s no way everyone who wants to get in will. Not a good situation. Needless to say, sending an email saying there’s nothing you can do immediately brings responses from people demanding that you do something. Oh, well. We’ll clear the TBAs Friday, although honestly I don’t think it will help all that much. The whole process is more aimed at getting people to be realistic rather than a general purge. As CP says, you can always put in one name and then change it to another later. But that says that you’re really coming, as compared to thinking you might be marshaling your troops at some point. I mean, it’s in a little over two week’s time. People should have a handle on it by now.

This weekend there’s the NYCFL meeting, followed by a NYSDCA lunch. The former is the same old same old, where we argue about the rules for Congress and poke at the schedule and reelect one another and eat bagels. As for the latter, this is a good idea, an opportunity for coaches to get together without a tournament breathing down their necks to talk about whatever concerns them. The only problem is transportation from one to the other means that I’ll need to drive into Manhattan. I don’t mind that so much, but I’ve gotten used to taking the train and sleeping. You really can’t do that while you’re driving. Then again, I can make more progress on my endless audiobook pursuit of the Harry Potter titles. Ms. R does slow down a bit after the first four books.

Tonight is the last chez before moving back to the high school next week. We’ll gnaw a bit at the topics and talk about recruiting. And then the game will be afoot.

Can Bump be far behind?

Monday, September 01, 2014

In which we put DisAd14 to bed

I want to finish up this DisAd business and get back to the forensics universe.

There isn’t much to say about Animal Kingdom. We rode the rides, we saw the animals, we ate lunch in the shade. That night we stuck to the theme and went to Boma’s for dinner. Disappointingly, the cocktail lounge there no longer has its own drinks as it did last time; there had been some great ones there. Not that this stopped us, but when Disney cuts back on something unique, well, I can’t ever think that’s a good thing. Like there’s no more literal rope drop in MK, for instance, and no Mickey-hand waving on the way in. That’s small stuff, but the details are what make Disney Disney. Anyhow, as we were drinking away, Kaz returned, and our merry little band was whole again.

Friday was Hollywood Studios. Again, we did all there was to do, pretty much. O’C started out spending a lot of time going on Star Tours, which is new since our last visit, and which now mixes and matches possible experiences. He was wearing his Darth Mickey Ears, and by about the hundredth trip the ride operators were pretty much convinced that his guy was Nerd Numero Uno without a friend in the world. So when we all showed up with him later in the day, needless so say, we pretended we didn’t know him. (Not true, of course; in fact, even I stocked up on merch at Tatooine Traders.) In fact, because of the variations, the whole load of us rode ST twice, and it was indeed different. Another very nice upgrade. Another fun thing was watching the paduwan training. Little kids who could barely hold their little sabers in battle with Darth Vader. Highly entertaining and cute. Later in the day O’C got picked to be color in the Indy stunt show, which made his day on face, until he was there in the hot sun in a caftan for an hour waving his arms around; it always adds a pall to the day when they carry the extras out on a stretcher. After a longish day, Liz and I slipped out and met up with JV back at the hotel lounge. A nice glass of wine and a little salad instead of Fantasmic? Just this once, you betcha!

Saturday was our valediction, a bit of a sleep in and later start on Epcot. Liz and I tried the Behind the Seeds walking tour of The Land, a really interesting change of pace. OC and I agreed that next time (???) we’d do backstage at MK. Doing Seeds meant skipping Captain EO. Thank God! Then we did all the countries we hadn’t already done, snacking, eating, watching movies, shopping, etc., wrapping it all up with the now traditional (except next time I want to go somewhere else) dinner at Germany and, of course, Illuminations.

After the DiDeAd four years ago, it seemed as if the stars had come together just right, and that the fun would never happen again. That was not true. The stars were in whatever was the right conjunction, and the proverbial lightning did strike twice. 8 people, many but not all of them of the forensician persuasion, can come together for four days of peace and love and rock and roll—wait a minute. Wrong event. And it’s more like ten days of fun in the sun under Disney skies, provided a little planning to avoid lines and to secure good food is spent ahead of time.

In other words, as far as I could tell, a splendid time was had by all.

Friday, August 29, 2014

In which we swim, golf, eat, clog, ooh and ahh and consider assassinating the ten-year-olds who beat the crap out of us

Our second full day at WDW was a day off. Some of us went to Blizzard Beach and spent the morning flying down waterslides. Some of us went to Winter Park to look at Tiffany objects. O’C met up with friends for brunch. In other words, one does what one wants on the day off.

Blizzard Beach is fun, but like anything else, get there early before it crowds up. The 4 of us who went were only slowed down by the need to climb every mountain from which the slides commence. By noon, though, our quittin’ time, there were lines going up those mountains. By then I was navigating the lazy river portion of the experience. The others had gone on for a little more tobogganing before lazy rivering themselves.

By now, btw, Kaz had gone off to Lexington to learn how to be a teacher in her new job. Despite the fact that many of us would have offered expert testimony that this initiation was unnecessary, she was gone from Monday night to Thursday. This means she missed out on the Mini-Golf Tournament. We played at Winter/Summer Land, which is attached to Blizzard Beach. Lots of Santa and snow. After last summer’s hard fought battle in the shadow of Stuyvesant, the heat was on, but I managed to bring my record against Vaughan to one-one. We need a tiebreaker. Are there any tournaments on the circuit near to any mini-golf venues? That’s definitely a problem debate needs to solve.

That night we visited the Boardwalk and ate Greek food at the soon-to-close Cat Kora’s. It was pretty good, but not to die for. The next day was the first of two at Epcot. The new version of Test Track is a dramatic improvement over the original. You get to design your own car and that is what you are testing during the attraction. I went on with JV, who was thoroughly pissed that the two ten-year-olds sitting behind us designed a better car than we did. (Not that Joe is competitive or anything.) Then there’s a design-you-own-ride called Sum of All Thrills, sort of a hidden attraction, lots of fun. Then Space and, of course, Soarin’. After that, over to England, Japan and, for lunch, Morocco. And by now it’s way into the afternoon, and time for a nap, since the night’s entertainment was Raglan Road (Irish dinner with clog dancers), followed by Cirque de Soleil. Fantastic evening all around. Cirque is always a big crowd pleaser. The clog dancers were pretty good too, and the six of us had to tie Vaughan down to keep him from joining them, as he claims to have spent his entire youth in clog classes. Whatever.

I will point out that by now we were taking a relatively easy pace through the parks. They were no longer as crowded as they had been, plus by their nature, the parks other than MK at WDW are easier to handle. Even if there were no lines at all, I can’t imagine doing everything at MK in one day. Then again, at this point in my Disney life, I can survive skipping an attraction that I’ve already done. There’s always next time.

By the way, I've posted some pix of Universal on FB. I'll get the WDW ones up by the end of the weekend.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

In which the DisAd hits MK

We kicked off at Magic Kingdom, the most Disney of the WDW parks.

The day begins early, of course. You don’t go to Orlando to sleep in. One needs to be inside the gate at 15 minutes prior to opening to watch the welcome ceremony, which puts one in the proper Disney state of mind. Then follows the all-important first hour of E tickets. The best way not to wait on long lines at any park is to hit as many E-ticket attractions as possible within the first hour. This means moving along swiftly, but it pays off in the end. By ten o’clock we had done Space, Splash and Thunder plus Under the Sea (or whatever they call it). Then we headed to Haunted Mansion, a whole 20 minute wait, and the worst of the day. After that is was mostly walk-ons, thanks to having dispensed with the biggies, or scheduled FastPasses for them later in the day.

In the new FastPass+ system, you sign up in advance, so that’s another 3 E-tix, if you play it right. It was obvious that a lot of noobs were in the parks, especially on MK day (a reported 8 out of 10 crowd, per Touringplans.com). I mean, what’s the point of a FastPass for Space Mountain at 9:00 a.m. when you can just walk right on? Or what’s the point for a FastPass for an attraction that never has much of a wait any time of the day? Successful navigation of Disney parks requires a combination of Unofficial Guide planning, time management and FastPass savvy. Regulars know all this, but irregulars don’t. One morning we had off, we went to breakfast at our hotel at around 9:00 and the place was packed. These are the people who, later in the day, will be waiting an hour for a two-minute ride. I encourage them to maintain their late-sleeping habits, at least when I’m on property.

New stuff at MK? 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, a cute and short little kiddie coaster cum dark ride, not worth waiting for, but since it’s new, the line for this was humongous (in the sun in the heat). The aforementioned Little Mermaid, a simple dark ride writ large, also cute. Some kiddie and princess stuff we didn’t do (except for O’C, who after waiting half an hour for Cinderella’s signature examined said signature with all the tools of the graphologist’s trade to assure that it was the same as the signature of Cinderella 4 years ago, even though, as I’ve repeated ad nauseum, there is no Cinderella, and if there were, it isn’t her). Tiki Room back under old management, enjoyable to any Disney nostalgic. And I think that’s about it. Otherwise it’s the same old same old that we always love. It was a long day, ending with the electrical parade and fireworks and, oh yeah, one other new thing, a son et lumiere projecting images on the Castle, which was way cool.

And so to bed, with most of us having made it through the whole day. And one important note: Part of our traveling includes knocking little kids and invalids out of the way on our way to the exit buses. Please note that my attempt to take a shortcut through the Emporium was stymied by one doofus ambling along as if he was shopping or something. Those aisles are narrow and there’s no play, unlike Main Street where there’s always an opening. This is wisdom for the ages, people!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In which we start our debate season and wonder about the Pup backlog

We interrupt this WDW reverie to report on debate stuff.

Last night was the first meeting of the returning Hendronauts. Well, four of them, anyhow. A few were AWOL, and a couple were looking at colleges. We argued a bit about LD, my feeling being that a case should show that organ procurement is a social good, and therefore a part of a just society, versus the idea that a case should define a just society in such a way that organ procurement fits in. That just seems backwards to me. Then we listened to much whining about the PF pro, which no one seems to like from Stefan B on down, although intuitively I feel there must be something there. I uncharacteristically committed to doing some research. The thing is, I always think that the debaters should be doing the research, in that it’s part of their education and, to tell you the truth, I actually already know how to research and am not looking to improve my skills in that area. Shouldn’t I be training them to research for themselves? Silly me. Of course, I know a lot of coaches who disagree with this, who cut cards and whatnot. More power to them. I just feel that it’s not my job. Next thing you know, they’ll want me to write their cases for them! That’ll be the day.

We also ran through a little exercise. Shades of Soddy: I wanted them to do “Modern Major General.” The ones who read their email were shockingly good at it. I need to raise the ante a bit. “Getting Married Today”? After that we ran through some Robert Burns. If patter doesn’t get ‘em, the Scots will.

And it turns out that there are new Nostrumians among the Sailors. Great Googly Moogly! Who knew?

Meanwhile, the Pup waitlists in PF and LD remain larger than the accepteds. If you’re a reader of this blog, I would strongly suggest that sending me an email asking me to do something about that is a waste of energy. You’re better off emailing everyone else on the list and convincing them not to come. Hell, you’re a debater. Argue them out of coming. The thing is, most people think that
  • coming from a great distance
  • being the best debater since the creation of the human animal
  • living really close and always thinking that of all the Ivies, Yale is the best
  • demanding to speak to my manager
  • acting real friendly to me, buddy buddy (as if I can remember names and faces two minutes later)
  • slipping me fifty bucks (well, actually one’s offered to slip me fifty bucks, so that might actually work, if anyone wants to try it)
will somehow convince me to take other people out of the tournament and put them in. Or maybe they expect me to run up and construct an extra building or two? Beats me. Hope springs eternal, however. We should get a bit of a lurch next week when we drop TBAs, but as CP points out, most people will just fill in names of some sort. Most but not all, methinks.

We'll find out soon enough.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In which the DisAd switches venues

Arriving at WDW is way different from arriving at Universal. WDW is the size of Romania, for one thing. You drive quite a bit from the moment you enter the grounds to the moment you find your hotel. And once you enter those grounds, you know you are at Disney. It just feels like Disney, from start to finish. The underlying tissue missing at Universal is at WDW in spades. And keep in mind that, while figures on an individual park are hard to find (Disney groups the parks together), each one generates about a billion dollars revenue a year. There’s 4 parks at WDW, i.e., four billion dollars. Magic Kingdom gets about 19 million visitors a year (all of whom are often on line in front of you for Space Mountain). August is not a peak period, but the parks are far from empty. So let’s say that MK generated $4 million the day we were there, spent by about 50 thousand people. One park, one day. So while one is in awe of the physical plant that services a crowd of this magnitude (roughly times 4, daily, on an average day), one still feels that sense of "Disney reassurance" that certain critics have written about. I won’t go into that now myself. I just bring all this up because, predictably, at some point the members of the DisAd looked around and said Wow and started googling facts and figures to try to get a handle on it. Even people who hate Disney from the bottom of their souls are encouraged to go and study it just in terms of management of crowds, machines, hotels, restaurants, entertainment, etc. Tis a wonder.

We stayed at Coronado Springs, one of the moderate hotels. It’s the biggest of this category because it caters to business conferences, and at times one wished one were at one of the more intimate spots. The rooms are all the same no matter where you are, however, presumably short of the Grand High Poohbah Suite at Swan and Dolphin, and one doesn’t spend a lot of time in one’s room wondering what to do to pass the time, so ultimately it doesn’t matter much. The first thing most of us did on arrival was hit the quiet pool near our room, something repeated for the rest of the week at every likely possibility. When it’s almost a hundred degrees out, a dip in the pool is just the thing, even if the water is hotter than your shower that morning. Wet is wet.

Our inaugural WDW dinner was at California Grill, at the top of the Contemporary Hotel. This is a classy joint with a view of the MK to die for (and to stay for, if you want to watch the fireworks). Because we were celebrating about a hundred events, including an anniversary and a (belated) honeymoon, they decorated our table with little Mickey tinsel. Jason, our waiter, was memorable, and we went so far as to get our picture with him. The wine flowed like wine, the food flowed like food, and the main portion of the trip was underway. And so to bed early, for a c of d start the next morning.

Monday, August 25, 2014

In which we begin debriefing DisAd14

So first I guess we need to get the DisAd out of the way.

We arrived from the four corners of the earth (i.e., New York) on a Friday and met up at the pool of our hotel at Universal. To put it simply, it was hotter than Hades, and remained that way for the duration. Occasionally the skies opened up and the winds howled and you were reminded of India during the height of monsoon season, but mostly it was just hot and humid. To expect otherwise of Florida in August would be sort of, I don’t know, Polyanna-esque? Anyhow, after swimming off the muck of air travel, we moseyed on over to Emeril’s for our welcome dinner. It was much better grub than you might expect, and we were primed and loaded for the next day.

Staying on property at Universal gives you two things: access to the Harry Potter attractions an hour before the park opens to the riff and the raff, and line-passing for all the other attractions for the duration. This meant getting up at the c of d on Saturday, but the payoff would be not waiting two or three hours for the HP rides. Definitely worth it. Of course, on our way in Saturday, three of our hearty troupe got separated, confusing Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (some people just aren’t up on their Pottering), but a quick trip on the Hogwarts Express solved that one. The main agenda was Diagon Alley and the Gringotts attraction, and in a word, it’s amazing. You walk through the bricks and there you are. And the ride was by far one of the best around. After that, we (logically) rambled over to track 9 3/4 and rode the HE over to Hogsmeade. A few of us rode the dragon coasters. Fewer of us rode and rerode them. Then we looked at the line for Hogwarts and it wasn’t that long, so we staggered over there on legs still loosey goosey from the dragons, with the words of Sheryl K ringing in our ears that it was not much more than Soarin’ in its kindness and gentleness. It’s a great ride and all, but by the time it was over, at least Vaughan and I were reeling like drunken sailors on day three of shore leave. Apparently as the ride vehicle (so to speak) comes around after the passengers have disembarked, there’s a team with power hoses washing off the vomit, a tiny fact Kaz somehow overlooked. After digesting her review of Hurlwarts, more than a few of us vowed never to believe a word she said ever again. We also vowed next time not to ride the dragons first (or maybe at all). By the time we scraped ourselves off the pavement to line up for butterbeer, Kaz, who was with the wandering group, reappeared, and we beat the crap out of her with broomsticks. Butterbeer, by the way, is very sweet and probably best taken as an ice cream flavor. Somewhere in all of this I bought myself a Slytherin cap, but the maid at the Disney World hotel stole it—which makes cosmic sense to me—so you won’t see me wearing it at tournaments any time soon.

After filling up on HP, we did various other Islands of Adventures things, reminding ourselves that Spiderman remains one of the great dark rides. Having gotten soaked on Jurassic Park, we found some lunch and moseyed back to the hotel for a break just as the monsoon du jour started. A short nap later we were back at the other side, doing all the rest of the rides and whatever. Having gotten all of HP out of the way, we didn’t need to get up so early the next day, which was nice, and all in all, we did Universal efficiently and to the proper extent. There was a lot of fun stuff. Despicable Me and Shrek were cute. The Mummy was so good we did it twice. The Simpsons Ride was up there on the Gringotts/Spiderman level, and it’s hilarious from the moment you get into the line. If Back to the Future had to go, at least it went here. The new Transformers ride had a narrative that was completely incoherent, making it A) predictably Michael Bay, and B) a pale imitation of Spiderman. Oh, well.

Overall, with the exception of the HP areas, the theming of which is astounding, Universal remains a place with a lot of fun attractions, but no underlying tissue holding it together. I would recommend anyone interested in going to do what we did. Stay on property for the benefits of early and/or line-free access, in which case you’ll be able to wrap it up in a day and a half, as we did. It was a perfect start for the trip, and mid-afternoon on Sunday we packed up and headed over to WDW.