Florida: New York City Edition

My 20 minute trek from a restaurant by the Rockefeller Center to my hotel by the Chelsea district felt more like a jaunt through the University of Florida campus than one through New York City. How appropriate for the first day of Florida’s college football season.

Because it’s officially college football season, I had to wear a Florida shirt to mark the occasion. Wearing that shirt makes me stick out like a sore thumb among all the trendily dressed 20-somethings roaming the roads of the city, but it was the sole thing responsible for creating the environment that temporarily turned The Big Apple into Gainesville.

After only taking 20 steps out the door from Pasta Lovers, the 49th Street restaurant where I had dinner, I made eye contact with a face I had never seen in person before, but knew of from pictures on the internet. He had the same inkling and greeted me.

It someone from UF I have no recollection of seeing on campus, but was friends on Facebook with because of the old “Class of 2011″ UF Facebook group that existed when university email addresses and Groups actually meant something on Facebook. After accepting his friend request in 2007 and never actually meeting this guy — now a med school student working in the city — I randomly ran into him and spoke to him for the first time in America’s largest city. 

The world works in weird ways.

Afterward, I hopped to a Downtown D Train at the Rockefeller Center station and got off at the Herald Square Station, a maze of a subway station that connections the N, Q, and R lines with the D and F lines and the New Jersey PATH Trains. While navigating that mess to find the southernmost exist out of the station, I caught sight of a couple walking in the opposite direction of me who stood out of the crowd for the same reason as me — what they were wearing. While I was on the extreme side of casual clothing, these two were on the opposite end of the scale: The man was in your generic fancy suit, while the woman wore a black and gold evening gown.

As we approached the intersecting point of our walks, I made eye contact at the man first. He looked at me suspiciously, which left me confused. So I turned my attention to his partner, a gorgeous brunette who was already looking in my direction and smiling. When our paths crossed, the two words I should have expected, but didn’t expect because I was trying my best not to smile too much back at her, lest I want this guy to beat me up:

“Go Gators!” she said as crossed paths

(Oh, hey, a fellow Gator!)

“Go Gators!” I said, now forgoing any attempt to restrain myself from smiling back at her.

Yeah, I’m not sorry for stealing your thunder, dude. She and I and my Facebook med school bud all have an unbreakable bond because of our Alma mater. We’re everywhere. Go Gators.

 

The Line

The local Moe’s is one of the last places I would have expected to have some of my faith in humanity restored.

The staff of four at the Moe’s was already caught in the Friday night dinner rush when I entered shortly after 6:40 pm, with me taking the tenth slot in line. The shortage in chicken coincided with those in front of me ordering chicken dishes. A father and his daughter took their places in line behind me. A machine spit out the receipt of an order that someone phoned in; the staff had to divert their attention from a father, mother, and elementary school-aged daughter to take care of the orders for three tacos printed on the receipt. On top of all that, the air conditioning wasn’t working at that part of the restaurant. It created a warm, but tolerable, climate for those of us standing idly in line, but for the employees scrambling behind the glass to take care of everyone’s orders, the conditions probably exacerbated an already stressful environment.

And yet, no one lost their cool.

One of the women behind the glass apologized profusely to the family of three for the delays caused by the phoned-in order and the large meals ordered by the folks ahead of them in line.

“No worries! It’s fine,” the mother replied. Then mother, father (who wore an awesome “I void warranties” shirt) and daughter happily ordered their burritos.

A second employee calmly too care of my order. She and the other three with her weren’t visibly fazed by the growing line behind me; they somehow kept smiling.

Another logjam at the register have the father and daughter behind me some extra time to ponder ordering a side for their burrito bowls. They settled on a side cup of guacamole — but the father told the employee not to fill that cup all the way because “they wouldn’t eat it all” if it was filled to the brim.

Not wasting. What a lovely concept!

After 15 minutes, I finally reached the register to pay for the mountain of salt and beef and cheese my poor body would be inflicted with. The cashier apologized again for the wait, but it was nothing to worry about. They handled themselves well.

With the way society seems fixated on the instant gratification, the patience shown by everyone — employees and all the customers in line — was one of those little things that reminded me of the good we’re capable of. That alone was worth the wait.

——————Update:

A couple minutes after I posted this from my phone, I got up from my seat at Moe’s to refill my cup with sweet tea. One of the four employees was there, filling up a large cup with some red drink that I assume was Fanta. So, I started a conversation, complimenting them for how they handled the dinner rush.

“Thank you, thank you. Were you there for the fire?” she said.

Fire?

She explained the whole situation, A few minutes before I showed up, the grill caught fire and it spread to the lid.

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I tried blowing out the flames, but it kept growing.”

So she grabbed water and dumped it on the grill to extinguish the fire. While that put out the fire, it also ruined the chicken that was being cooked on the grill for the orders ahead of me and the inventory for later orders. That explains why there was a chicken shortage when it got to my section of the line. 

Thankfully, no one was harmed, the building still stands, and all the employees got a well-earned break with no new customers showing up shortly after 8 pm.

SmartPost

The staff at this website has used this as a vehicle for new experiences. In the spirit of “trying out new stuff” and technology’s continued shrinkage to tablets and smartphones, the staff is using this piece as an experiment.

This post will be typed in its entirety on a smartphone.

OK, so this isn’t a groundbreaking event, but it is an excellent test of patience for this very patient staff. For example: how many times will my left thumb hit the “R” key instead of the intended “E” key before I get angry and chuck my phone across the room?

It would be very rude to chuck my phone in the public setting I’m typing this from. Being the excellent mechanical engineer that I am, I pay the folks at Super Walmart to change the oil in my car for me.

The mechanic said that the service will be done in an hour and 20 minutes. That means I’m spending the next hour and 20 minutes sitting inside the pinnacle of American cuisine, McDonald’s, which has a restaurant built into the Walmart. I don’t want to chuck my phonr and accidrntally hit somr poor customrr brcausr my thumb krrps hitting “R” whrn I want it to tap “E.”

It took me 25 minutes to walk from the auto repair section on the south end of the Walmart to the McDonald’s at the north end, order a large fries and sweet tea, sit down at a table, and eat and type out the entry up until this point. I have no idea how I’ll survive the next hour before succumbing to boredom.

And now I’m out of fries. This is DEFCOM 5 on the boredom scale. At this rate, I may take up this special offer from the McDonald’s: make a $20 donation to the Ronald McDonald House to receive a bundle of Happy Meal Toys to keep myself occupied.

I decided against the Happy Meal Toys, because I just remembered that I am typing this on a Smartphone. (I can’t italicize smartphone because it’s a pain in the butt to highlight the word on a mobile device, then scroll back to the top of the page to tap the Italics button, then scroll back down to where I left off.)

Because this is a smartphone and I have an internet connection, I can surf Facebook and Twitter to my heart’s content. Or, more realistically, until my phone battery dies or a Walmart employee publicly shames me by announcing “BRYAN GARCIA, YOUR OIL CHANGE IS COMPLETE AND YOUR CAR IS READY TO BE PICKED UP AT YOUR CONVENIENCE.”

That announcement has happened to me before. Twice.

On that cheerful note, I bring this grand experiment in new age blogging to a premature end. I still have 40 minutes to go, but I think this has inflicted carpal tunnel on me. Smartphones are great for liking Facebook status updates and favoriting tweets, but, my God, I need a keyboard to write.

Out of My League

One of the hashtags I occasionally whip out on Twitter is #dyingalone. Apparently a lot of other people use this hashtag; I credit my awareness of it to one writer. The hashtag is my stupid way of taking swipes at myself and at the rural Connecticut way of life that I clash with, which makes it difficult for me to relate to the rare 20-somethings I meet in Conn. On Saturday night, though, it helped my brain dredge up a story from freshman year of college. While everyone I know on Facebook (and probably you) screened Guardians of the Galaxy, I sat alone in my apartment, finalizing my plans for a Sunday matinee of Guardians of the Galaxy, watching the Liverpool vs. AC Milan friendly, and piecing together this extended edition of #dyingalone. After seven years, I’m fine with laughing about it for all of the internet* to see and subsequently use against me.

Technical Writing was one of the five courses I took in my first semester at UF. It was a class that maxed out at 30 people and contained a hodgepodge of engineering students, business undergraduates who will be my bosses in 10 years, three softball players, and one Family, Youth, and Community Sciences major.

No, that FYC Sciences student was not Tim Tebow.

She was a junior in the FYC Sciences program, a lifelong southerner with long blond hair and calm brown eyes we’ll name Laura** for the purposes of this exercise. You could say she was my first crush in college, because when it comes to crushes, fear of rejection stops you from inquiring about a coffee date or because you automatically assume that it’s unrealistic for that person to be interested in you. As a naive freshman, I fell under both categories as a freshman.

The classroom was set up for peer interaction, though: two columns of tables that each had seats for three students and individual desktop computers for each student. The instructor set up in-class writing assignments and gave us the freedom to peer edit each other’s documents and help each other out with navigating that perplexing behemoth of a program known as Microsoft Word. Working with the other engineering students in the classroom limited my interaction with Laura in the classroom; I really can’t recall having to edit any of her papers or helping her find something on Microsoft Word.

Whenever I ran into Laura outside of the classroom, things were the opposite. She’d say “Hi!” and hug me and then actually hold a conversation with me for a few minutes. We encountered each other outside of our Rolfes Hall classroom for the first time at Weimar Hall, the College of Journalism building. Among a lot of biographical details exchanged that I’ve long forgotten, I learned she also taught a section of First Year Florida, a course for freshman to basically network and learn how to navigate campus, the registration system, and all those other academic details we should worry about. Maybe it was because her voice was of a higher pitch, but she always sounded cheerful when we spoke.

As a freshman, this was mind-blowing: despite little to no interaction in class, Laura knew who I was! Laura hugged me! I don’t hug anyone outside of my own nuclear family! I didn’t break out into a nervous sweat when we spoke to each other! Wait, why is she hugging me if we didn’t really speak to other class?

WHO CARES?!

This cycle of running into each other happened on more than a few occasions, usually around the Reitz Student Union area, thanks to how our schedules seemed to match up for passing through that area at the same time. If I had just a tiny ounce of awareness, I could have used one of these random encounters to take a punt and see if she’d be up for Starbuck at the Reitz. But because I wasn’t not that smart and aware, I forgot that “being the guy and initiating the next step” was an option, and I simply went about my merry way after each encounter.

Once I started the second semester of my freshman year, I lost all contact with Laura and forgot about her. I went about my merry way in that period, constantly questioning whether or not to continue with the engineering program.***

One year later, on a spring afternoon in the second semester of my sophomore year, I walked into the welcome center inside the Reitz Union. Laura, in an orange tank top and denim shorts for the victorious orange and blue combo, and her blond hair tied in a ponytail, just finished descending the steps from the bookstore to the welcome center and noticed me first.

I was caught off-guard that she would remember me of all people after a year of nothing. The meeting was like we still in that first semester, though: hello!, hug, catching up on what went down the past year for almost 10 minutes. Her getting for graduation and then heading to graduate school at USF (she sounded especially happy then). Me trying to find something interesting to say besides trying not to fail my Numerical Methods class. Or my Intermediate Engineering Analysis class. Or Circuits. Or — oh geez, I want to forget about my worst semester ever at UF.

With 1.5 years of college under my belt, I should have been mature enough to just take a punt and inquire if she’d be up for Starbucks at the Reitz before the semester ended. But because we already established that I wasn’t that smart or aware at the time, I said “congrats!” and “awesome!” and then we exchanged “great seeing you again after so long!” and “see you later!” before I went about my merry way to grab a body-destroying, fast food lunch at the food court upstairs.

I never saw Laura again.

In hindsight — as in, this past Saturday, when I thought about that whole story for the first time from a distance — I was a pretty oblivious fellow. Maybe she would have said no to the coffee date, but, in hindsight again, there seemed to be enough circumstantial evidence to suggest otherwise if some light switch flicked on in my brain and told me to ask. But all things work out in the end: my obliviousness gave me something to laugh about this weekend.

As for Laura, she has that Master’s degree, now works as a family therapist, and is married to a hot shot venture capitalist. Like I said, things work out in the end.

#dyingalone #retro #extendededition

————————–

* “all of the internet” = the average of 10 people who read this site every day. Hi, Mom and Dad!

** Not her real name. The name was arbitrarily chosen from the name of the actress who portrayed Peter Quill’s mom in Guardians of the Galaxy. Go see it.

*** I have my doubts about being one of those lifetime engineers, because I still have more fun writing. But I’ll always be grateful to my Calculus 2 professor — a PhD student at the time — for taking the time to listen to me vent those fears about staying the course outside of class time. Then he always offered advice on how to conquer those fears; his advice about college and life, in general, played a pivotal role in keeping me in the engineering program.

The Boss Behind Bugs Bunny

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A sign promoting What’s Up Doc, the Animation Art of Chuck Jones, at the Steinway Street stop in Astoria, Queens.

For Chuck Jones, the basis of all great animation was a straight line. Jones’s command of the straight line and his ability to teach that skill to his animators — plus a dash of comedic influence from vaudeville acts such as Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers — gave rise to a decorated career that lists him as the director of more than 300 animated films, the winner of three Oscar awards, and now the subject of one Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit that is at the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI) in Queens, N.Y. until January 2015.

That exhibit, What’s Up Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones, celebrates Jones’s 60-year career by diving into his approach to animation and supplementing that with sketches from the artist himself and footage from some of his most acclaimed work. The approach that Jones took was as meticulous as one that would be associated with an engineer; he provided direction on the most minute of details. In a model sheet for Bugs Bunny, there were back views, profile views, and isometric views of the character’s body and face. His artists had to follow Jones’s example when drawing Bugs, or any other of the Warner Bros. characters.

Jones would also create character layout sketches that would show how his animator should depict a particular action for a cartoon, and for emphasis, he would annotate those sketches with a Batman-like sound effect (“SPLOT,” “SPLAT,” “CLANG”) or a word like “BAL” (Balance) and “Hesitate” for timing purposes. Timing was important to Jones; one of his quotes in the exhibit specified that it took 18 frames for Wile E. Coyote to fall and disappear, and then another 14 frames until the Coyote made impact with the ground.

But in the end, everything went back to the straight line. In that model sheet for Bugs Bunny, Jones directed his staff to draw a straight line, then to use that line to shape Bugs like “a dollar sign” when he was “pooped.” Jones tossed angles, verticals, horizontals, and perpendiculars in his drawings as if he was an engineer creating a 2D sketch for a part, but his finished parts were entities that took on lives of their own and have entertained generations of Americans since the 1940s.

As such, the exhibit is also a trip down memory lane for Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y — you know, everyone in America who is not in elementary school or below. I sat in on a screening of Jones’s Duck Amuck, the famous short where Daffy Duck is tormented by some sadistic animator named Bugs Bunny, surrounded by grandparents, parents in their 30s and 40s with young children, and folks my age. It’s a testament to the timelessness of Jones’s work that when laughter broke out in the theater, it was always universal; the jokes transcended all of the generation gaps that we’ve arbitrarily defined in the name of social science.

For those parents who took their young children to the exhibit, it was as much about reliving the past as it was about introducing their children to the Warner Bros. cartoons. In one of my many trips to the television to relive the “Pronoun Trouble” wordplay of Rabbit Seasoning, I saw a mom and dad watch the scene with their two children, then the family acted out the scene using a poster of the script next to the television. Across the aisle, a mother towed her three children to the video screen showing Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century and went on to explain Planet X to her kids after they saw Daffy and Marvin the Martian both claim possession of Planet X. Jones’s work is in good hands for the future.

The exhibit helped me appreciate fully the finer points that Jones put into his work. Elmer shooting Daffy twice because of his pronoun troubles is funny in itself, but at MoMI, I watched that loop over and over for the nonchalant expressions and tone of voice from Bugs and Daffy that left me cracking up as I stared at the screen. I could now appreciate that What’s Opera, Doc? parodied Walt Disney’s Fantasia by giving Elmer a “magic helmet” that could create a destructive thunderstorm. The rules that Jones laid out for his Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons — including such gems like the “Road Runner must say on the road; otherwise, logically, he isn’t a road runner” or “Only the Coyote’s ineptitude or ACME products can harm him; no outside forces can” — reinforce the careful attention he paid to each cartoon, for the sake of consistency and believability in his characters. I could also celebrate Jones as an engineer in his field, thanks to the precision he put into his art.

And although Jones, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Feleng, Robert McKimson, and Mel Blanc get the most attention for their contributions to Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, the exhibit paid deserved homage to vital contributors whose names are less known: voices actors June Foray (Granny) and Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer); background artist Maurice Noble; background painter Philip DeGuard; and the many men and women who animated and colored cels under Jones.

As I took one last walk through the exhibit to admire the pencil sketches of Bugs, Daffy, Porky Pig, the Coyote, the Road Runner, and Pepe Le Pew, I constantly reminded myself that these are original sketches by Chuck Jones. I was looking at the animation equivalent to a Da Vinci work of art. But Jones, ever the playful type from what I gathered at the exhibit, wouldn’t want that praise. Instead, Jones would probably prefer to be associated with the final words in Duck Amuck, uttered by none other than Bugs Bunny.

“Ain’t I a stinker?”

Meet Leicester Holt

Just days after the 2013-14 Barclays Premier League season came to a close, the marketing wizards behind NBC’s coverage of the English league created a napkin to whet the American appetite for the 2014-15 season.

Lester Leicester

If you’re Stateside and confused, that’s OK. “Lester” is Leicester City F.C., one of the three clubs promoted from the Championship to the Premier League for the upcoming season. (They absolutely stomped through their Championship competition.) Now say the name “Leicester City” out loud: “Lester City,” not “Lie-ster City.” Got it? Great! Now, the next step is for the geniuses in the NBC marketing department to create a series of commercials centered on the club.

I know, I know. After reading these first few paragraphs, you’ve probably already thought of this idea that I’ll gush about; it’s low-hanging fruit. Heck, NBC has probably already thought of the same idea and [1] laughed at the stupidity of the idea and trashed it or [2] laughed at the stupidity of the idea and are now filming it as we speak. But I shall proceed, because America — nay, the world — needs to see this.

Lester Holt, one of NBC’s well-known news anchors, is a weekend host of Today. Leicester City F.C., ten years removed from its last Premier League season, is now one of the 20 best clubs in England. NBC needs to put them together and introduce us to Leicester Holt.

It’s a simple premise: the first commercial is Holt broadcasting a lighthearted segment at the end of the weekend edition of Today. A chyron error misidentifies Holt as “Leicester Holt.” After the show, a confused Holt confronts the graphics intern, a fan of the Premier League, over the error, which starts a string of events where the intern guides Holt as they explore the history and tradition of Leicester City. Get Arlo White, NBC’s lead play-by-play commentator and the most famous Leicester supporter known to Americans, in a 30 second spot where Holt interrogates him about the club. The final commercial will show Holt complete his transformation from curious journalist/American to a full-fledged Foxes fan, going so far as to tear off his suit and dress shirt in a rage of passion in the final on-air moments of an episode of Today, revealing a Leicester jersey underneath it all. Then the feed abruptly cuts to a startled and silent Rebecca Lowe, Kyle Martino, and Robbie Earle.

The brilliance of this idea is its stupidity simplicity. It’s all about the homophone.

NBC, you already went down the parody route last season with its series of commercials starring Jason Sudekis as a clueless American trying to coach Tottenham Hotspur. Now up the ante, NBC, with the Leicester/Lester homophone. Make your very own Lester Holt a superstar among us soccer fans who are illiterate in TV news. Commit to Leicester Holt like how we’ve committed to the Premier League. I’m sure he’ll be a swell lad.

Arlington National Cemetery

The most poignant, yet devastating, words I’ll ever read are etched in the west face of the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery:

HERE RESTS IN
HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN
SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD

The most painful part of reading those words is that the identities of the three soldiers who lie in rest at the Tomb of the Unknowns, one each for World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, will never be known to their families. They were sons, possibly brothers, possibly husbands, possibly fathers — but they were people taken from their family for their country and then taken away from this world far too soon. Their sacrifice and the sacrifice made by their loved ones will never be attributed formally to their names, but this sanctuary within a sanctuary gave me the opportunity to thank them silently for what they have given America.

I witnessed the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Saturday for the 6 pm watch. The magnitude of the occasion was not lost on me and the other visitors as we stood in silence, watching the Relief Commander direct the transition between the outgoing and incoming Sentinel Guards. As I watched the Relief Commander inspect the weapon and uniform of the new sentinel, I imagined the Relief Commander in a distant past, younger and as a relief guard being inspected. He then stood guard through rain, snow, and sun, until my mind wandered back to the present. In a distant future, the two men switching (watch duty) roles may be performing the duties of this Relief Commander… and the cycle continues.

The path along Roosevelt Drive to the Tomb of the Unknowns told the stories of countless American men and women whose military service earned them the privilege to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

I saw graves for men my age who died in Vietnam, too young for families of their own; instead of a spouse or children by their names, the names of their parents accompany them.

I saw graves where there was a gap of 10+ years between the passing of the two spouses buried together. It took some time, but they are finally reunited in this hallowed ground for eternity.

I saw graves where the dates under the name of the soldier are blank, but beneath that gap, is the name of a child and two dates for that child’s name. I can’t imagine the heartbreak of experiencing war, but then having to bury your child — some were as young as weeks old — in Arlington. As I walked past those graves, I hoped that those men and women found some solace in knowing that their child will be the first to greet them when that time comes.

The circumstances for each name I read in Arlington are different, but they all shared that bond of sacrifice in the name of the United States. When I left the cemetery at 6:30 pm, the air of solemnity in the grounds followed me out of the gates. I took one glance back at the gates of Arlington and saw the sunset over the hills of the cemetery. The beauty of that sight lifted the solemn thoughts floating in my mind and replaced them with thoughts of gratitude.