I watch a lot of television. Because of that, I see a lot of commercials. Over and over again, I see the same commercials. Little by little, they drill their way past my disinterest to lodge brand names in my forebrain.
The worst of them are the drug commercials, with their happy people living happy lives. It’s rare that you can actually tell what condition a drug treats from the commercial alone- there’s a lot of couples walking on the beach, a lot of people playing with their children, a lot of people biking and hiking and dancing.
The mystery of what the drugs are for isn’t what got my attention though, it’s the names of the drugs. The names in these commercials are so multisyllabic and ridiculous that I started to play a little game with myself: Is this a drug from a pharmaceutical commercial, or an alien race from science fiction?
I think this is really funny, so I started to keep a list on my phone. I got this far along before I stopped:
The really ridiculous part is that I made this list a few months ago, and I’ve actually forgotten some of the alien species I added to the list.
Today is Pepper Day! While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery! Post something today. A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay! Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!
To celebrate Pepper Day, I will tell you about the day the music returned.
When the pandemic hit, music around the world ground to a halt. The last concert I attended was a show by Transviolet at a small club in downtown Orlando on March 1st. The week after that, I was in New York for work, and some of my co-workers saw Broadway shows on the last few nights before the Great White Way went dark.
By the third week of March, everything else started to shut down. Every concert I had remaining in South Florida – and several in other states- was either canceled or postponed. Conventions were pushed off. A big family gathering on the west coast was postponed, which killed my plans to see Portland and Seattle on either side of the family stuff.
By the time the dust settled, every single concert, convention, trip, or airplane ride I had planned for the year was wiped clean from my calendar. The few shows that did get rescheduled were all pushed off to next year, no earlier than springtime. I resigned myself to nothing live, just live streams and prerecorded stuff until the pandemic was behind us.
The Birchmere is a music hall in Alexandria, Virginia. First opened in 1966, the Birchmere has been home to rock, blues, jazz, country, R&B, and bluegrass artists. The main hall seats 500, with a smallish stage and food service.
The food is the key here: Because the Birchmere has food, it was able to open in July under Virginia “kinda-sorta restaurant” guidelines. Smaller crowds were necessary because of the reduced capacity during Covid, but the music continues.
On October 19th, I went to the Birchmere for the first time, to see a rock guitarist named Samantha Fish. This was one of two sold-out shows- where sold out is still roughly 25 percent of the music hall’s total capacity.
The Birchmere has had a lot of amazing shows, and their entry hall walls are lined with concert posters and framed photos, many of them signed by the artists. I haven’t the foggiest clue what made me decide that the Spin Doctors was the best example of this legendary musical talent represented in this hallway, but this is the one photo I took of the walls.
Because this was my first time at the Birchmere, I arrived a little earlier than was really necessary. Once I arrived, they took my temperature at the door and guided me to a table. I was seated up front, just a few feet from the stage and spaced a table’s length from any other people. I ordered the fish and chips and a Red Stripe while I waited for the show to start. This was my view.
I’m not going to lie- it felt weird to be out at a concert while the pandemic is still ongoing. Even with everyone masked, it was the first time I’d been around that many people in more than six months.
It was all worth it, though, when the show started. When the music returned.
Several of the other Nano Poblano participants this month have posted entries which led me to respond with comments about the set of rules that I have taken to calling my Prime Directives. Yes, that’s a nod to Star Trek, because of course it is.
Obviously I have to obey certain rules and customs to get along in this world, like wearing clothing to the grocery store and so forth. “Thou shalt not give people involuntary haircuts.” Aside from the basics, I don’t have a lot of rules though.
Being an adult with no real requirements on my time besides work and basic existence means I can pretty much do my own thing, and that means I get to set my own rules for getting along in life.
That’s where my Prime Directives come in.
This may not be a complete list- sometimes I add or remove directives on the fly, as they occur to me. I might also have forgotten something as I write this up.
For this precise moment in time, at least, and in no particular order, this is my list of Prime Directives.
Rule the first: Be kind.
This means exactly what it says. I try to be kind to other people, and I hope very much that when most people think of me, they think of me as a kind person.
Sometimes I’m bad at this one. Very few people in this world have seen me truly angry, but those who have seen my anger know that I can be a spiteful, vindictive, cruel bastard. I have Bruce Banner’s problem. It’s always there, the rage, right under the surface. I try to negate that as much as possible by choosing to be kind whenever possible.
It seems like the thing to do.
Rule the second: Never eat anything bigger than your head.
This one is lifted from a 1976 B. Kliban book I read when I was a kid. When I was little, it was funny to me, but as I got older, I realized it’s actually really, really good advice. I have stomach issues, and eating too much is a trigger for Very Bad Things to happen to my digestion. Plus I could make some earnest noises here about moderation being good for you, I guess.
Rule the third: Share the music.
Music is life. Music is very often the one thing that truly saves what’s left of my sanity – if I don’t listen to it for too long, I get cranky. It calms me, reduces my anxiety, helps me concentrate, and elates me.
If I had to choose, right now, between a life without delicious food or a life without music, I would say “sign me up for the cream of wheat, and then let’s go to a concert.”
It’s precisely because I love music this much that I believe it’s important to share it. When I was in high school, I made mix tapes. Later in life, I made mix CDs. Even now, sometimes I’ll put together mixes to share with people- the method changes over time, but the goal is always the same: “Let me play this amazing song for you! I hope you love it as much as I do!”
Music is life. Sharing the music means sharing life. It’s that simple.
Rule the fourth: Embrace your whimsy.
I am a silly, silly man, and don’t you forget it.
My second favorite thing to do with other people, right after sharing music, is to make them laugh. I’ve said on numerous occasions that my resting state is whimsy, and I think that’s basically true. If I am drained of my other emotions, and free of anger or ennui or despair, then what remains is just pure unbridled whimsy.
Leaning into my own whimsy helps me keep things light. Embracing my inner Muppet keeps me balanced.
Rule the fifth: Never wait longer than 70 minutes for a theme park ride.
This one is just good common sense for logistical planning. No ride is worth standing in line for more than an hour and ten minutes when you’re surrounded by the entire rest of the theme park. Especially when the entire ride only lasts five or six minutes. Just go do something else instead of waiting in line. You’ll definitely have more fun that way.
A Questionable Rule the sixth: Nothing good happens after 2 AM.
While I never heard this one articulated until I was watching “How I Met Your Mother,” it’s an often true statement. I can think of many, many times that I’ve stayed up late on the off chance that something cool would happen, only to have nothing happen, or worse, to have bad things happen instead.
I marked this one as “questionable” because I can think of a handful of times that I’ve had really cool stuff happen well after 2 am. Only a handful, though. Most of the time, it’s just better to go to sleep.
Everyone says you should get enough sleep, right?
Rule the seventh: Family is important.
I am fortunate to have a fairly close-knit family. My siblings and I get along really well, despite all the times they’ve tried to kill me. This extends to more than just that first ring of family, too. Just last week, I had lunch with my cousin because she’s not far away and I enjoy her company. It’s important to me to try to nourish those relationships when I can. Speaking of which- Happy Birthday, Older Brother! (Even though I’m positive you’ll never see this blog post.)
Obviously this Directive doesn’t work for everyone- I have loads of friends who don’t speak to their birth family or have disowned parents or siblings over long and sustained pain. That’s why this isn’t just limited to families of blood. Families of choice are important too.
The people you choose to thread through your life are another kind of family. I have friends all over the world, and many of them are, in my estimation, a type of family. There are people in Germany who are dear to me, and people in Orlando, and people in Long Beach, or in New Orleans, or in South Florida.
Family is important, whether you grew up with them or added them on later in life.
Author’s Note: This is the last of five posts looking to the past, to my trip to Hong Kong in September of 2008. Some of the details may be a little fuzzy because it was twelve years ago.
One of my favorite parts of this trip was going to Ngong Ping, for the Po Lin Monastery (which I forgot to walk inside of), and Tian Tan, the giant Buddha. To get there, you take the MTR to Tung Chung station at the end of the Island line. I want to point out just one more time that the MTR logo looks a lot like the Psi Corps logo. I’m just sayin’.
After you leave the MTR, you walk across a courtyard to the Ngong Ping 360, which is a cable car system. I quite like their mascot.
Boarding the cable cars is pretty standard fare for anyone who’s ever been on a cable car before.
One of my friends told me she took a curvy and terrifying bus up to Tian Tan. This way is better, in my opinion, but if you’re afraid of heights you might disagree.
The cable cars go past the Hong Kong International Airport first. The old Hong Kong airport had a single runway and planes basically flew directly into the busy Kowloon downtown- this must have been terrifying.
The newer airport seen here is an artificial island, created in part by flattening two other smaller islands and reclaiming some seabed. Construction of this airport added 1% to Hong Kong’s total surface area by the time it opened in 1998.
The cable car continues onward through a bunch of mountains until you get to Ngong Ping.
At 25 minutes long, the ride is long enough to make friends with your fellow cable-car riders.
It’s really quite spectacular.
Once you clear the bay, the cable cars go over footpaths up the mountains.
The cable car deposits you at Ngong Ping Village, a short walk from the Big Buddha. Lantau Peak (Fung Wong Shan,) the second highest peak in Hong Kong, is visible behind the Buddha.
This is the entrance to the Tian Tan Buddha. The Po Lin monastery is just across the way there, and I was so excited to see the Buddha that I completely forgot to look at the monastery. (This is not my most embarrassing tourism fail, but it’s pretty close.)
The stairway up to the Buddha has 240 steps. I realized about halfway up, while my legs were feeling like lead, that I am not in good shape.
Tian Tan is the world’s largest outdoor seated Buddha, though not the largest Buddha by a big margin. This bronze big boy is 85 feet tall from his base, on a lotus atop another platform.
Surrounding the big Buddha are six smaller (but still very large) bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas” that are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. Wikipedia says that these symbolize the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.
When I set out to see Tian Tan, I thought it was an antiquity. I thought, “here’s a Buddha who’s been here for hundreds of years.” Boy howdy, am I an idiot. Tian Tan was constructed between 1990 and 1993. My niece is older.
Oh, and there’s a gift shop in the base, because of course there is.
In the “things Steven finds amusing” department, this book was in one of the gift shops in Ngong Ping:
What’s the biggest bronze statue you’ve ever seen?
Author’s Note: This is one of five posts looking to the past, to my trip to Hong Kong in September of 2008. Some of the details may be a little fuzzy because it was twelve years ago.
On Sunday of the weekend in the middle of the trip, a small group of us got tickets to go to Ocean Park Hong Kong, a theme park on the southern side of Hong Kong Island. Ocean Park is the second-largest theme park in Hong Kong, right after Hong Kong Disneyland. In hindsight, I wish I’d chosen Hong Kong Disneyland for this day, but at the time I was thinking, “I can see Disney at home. I want to see something different and unique to Hong Kong.”
In that regard, I was not disappointed.
Ocean Park considers itself a marine mammal park, oceanarium, animal theme park, and amusement park. It’s really got a little bit of everything.
I didn’t see many marine mammals, there, but I think there was an Orca show that we missed. Here’s a couple of seals.
Apropos of nothing, Ocean Park is home to the single most entertaining bathroom signage I have ever seen. If there’s a sign, you know people were doing it.
There was a jellyfish enclosure, with a lot of the little floaters swimming past.
They also had a panda enclosure, and the signs pointing the way to it were just absolutely freaking adorable.
The entrance to the panda enclosure was lined with these corny panda bears. No, I don’t know why. It sure is cute, though.
The pandas themselves were basically giant oreo-colored goobers. We saw one fall out of the tree he was climbing, because he just didn’t care.
I shall caption this next photo, “munch munch munch.”
There was a cable car connecting the two sides to this park. A lot of the park was under construction when we were there- looking at the Ocean Park site as it exists today, I can see that they’ve added a lot in the last twelve years. They have penguins and meerkats! (Thankfully, not in the same enclosure.)
I may need to go back at some point. In the years since we visited the heavily-under-construction Ocean Park, they have opened:
“Thrill Mountain” with five more rides, one of which is a floorless rollercoaster.
“Polar Adventure” which includes the penguins, as well as snowy owls and Arctic foxes.
“The Rainforest” with a river rapids ride, an expedition trail, and capybaras!
“Aqua City” expanded the aquarium out quite a lot and added a sea life carousel.
Probably a bunch more that I didn’t catch in my reading tonight.
The cable cars took us from the animals to the rides.
The crest of the cable car line had a pretty nice view.
And then we were able to see the theme park rides ahead of us.
Once we were off the cable car, we could wander a amusement park side, between snacks and rides and things for kids.
This was a culture show with acrobatics and the like.
There were the usual thrill rides. I actually did go on the old roller coaster, which has since been converted to a virtual reality coaster. No, I don’t know what that means either.
One of my favorite things at this entire park was the adorable squid vending kiosks.
…and the squid design isn’t just to be cute- they actually sell squid there. By the way, don’t let those prices throw you off- $32 Hong Kong dollars is just over four bucks of US currency. The combo with soft drink for $42 HK dollars is about five and a half US dollars. That exchange rate is crazy.