Wednesday, July 24, 2013


C'mon, much margarita money is enough? I wish you still put this kind of energy into your music.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vacation, all I ever wanted

Took a family trip last week. Some people summer at the Vineyard. Others prefer the Hamptons. I summered in Utica.

Tell someone you are going to Utica for vacation and wait for the confused look followed by one of the following questions:
“Seriously, Utica?”
“On purpose?”

Yes, Utica. While it might not be in its historic prime, Utica has a lot to offer a family. Here’s what we did.

Day 1: With lunches packed and the family truckster loaded, we got on the Thruway and headed out to Herkimer. Gems Along the Mohawk is right off NYS Thruway Exit 30. I had pre-bought Erie Canal tour tickets online ($19 for adults, $12 for kids ages 3-10). You might be able to find a cheaper deal if time an online coupon deal right.

We boarded the Lil Diamond 2 and cruised East on the Mohawk. Portions of the cruise tour are pre-recorded but the boat captain also provides a lot of the tour over a small PA system. In the middle of the tour, the boat goes up and down Lock 18 of the Erie Canal. If you have never gone through a lock on a boat, it's pretty freakin' cool. This lock provides about 20 feet of elevation change and made me want to take a Panama Canal cruise.

You start up here...
 and start sinking...
and sinking...
and sinking...

 and then cruise out the other end...

Then you do the whole thing in reverse. Fresh off the boat, we set off to our hotel which had an indoor pool. Universal truth: kids love pools. After a swim we headed out to dinner. I had always wanted to try Chesterfield Restaurant.

It was too dark inside to get good food pictures. Strangely, my family is starting to get used to me snapping food pictures. I went with Utica greens and chicken riggies and enjoyed both. They recently added a pizza oven. Our waiter said it was a few days old. The kids tore into a large cheese pizza and ate the leftover slices the next day. From the taste I had, Chesterfield’s is onto something very good pizza-wise. I’d definitely come back. We went back to the hotel and the kids pretty much passed out.

Day 2: I got up with the kids and brought them downstairs for breakfast (the hotel had a buffet). To sports fans, two-a-days means two workouts a day during pre-season training. When you’re on vacation with me in a hotel, it means kids go swimming twice a day. After breakfast, we changed into bathing suits and hit the pool. I remembered to bring these little sinking fish. The kids had a lot of fun diving for them. We woke up my wife, dried off and sunscreened up and then we were off to the Utica Zoo (found an online pass - $15.50 for a family of 4). Nice enough zoo. I thought the zoo in Syracuse was a little nicer, but we had a good time going around. The kids got to see a Gibbon take a piss and then a dump (they are 7 and 9 so this was quite hilarious to them). That whole Jurassic Park dinosaurs are birds theory...this crane made me a believer. It's creepy and makes it makes noises you wouldn't want to hear in the dark.

Somewhere at the zoo, we picked up Passport Coupon Flyer that had some coupons for places we were planning to visit. After our day at the zoo, we headed back for the second swim of the day and then we were off to the Franklin Hotel for dinner. I still really like this place. As recommended by Mr. Dave, I tried the fried hot pepper appetizer with a beer.

I really enjoyed the peppers and I’ll offer up this advice: When Mr. Dave endorses something, give it the benefit of the doubt. I’m still putting this rub he recommended on everything. We stopped at the pharmacy next door to the Franklin to pick up a few things. Most importantly, Birthday Cake Oreo Cookies. I don’t know why, but the kinds are under the impression that when you eat those cookies while watching a TV show in a hotel, that’s “a party.” Our room had two TVs. Putting them on the same channel was also mandatory at the party.

Day 3: We had to skip swimming and headed to the Utica train station after breakfast. We got on the Adirondack Railroad and headed north to Thendara. The ride was nice and the kids were excited to be on a train. The train had two passenger cars (I thought they were nicer than the Polar Express cars running out of Saratoga), a baggage car and a snack car. The baggage car was pretty cool. The doors were open to the air, but blocked off by a gate. A steady 40 mile an hour wind was flowing in and at times, you were close enough to touch the trees.

Once in Thendara, two school buses take you into Old Forge. We walked over to a place called Walt’s Diner. I wish this place was closer. Just a great, friendly little joint with good food. There’s a pretty big water park in Old Forge, but the layover wasn’t long enough to make it worthwhile. Next door to the park is a place called Calypso Cove. They have an arcade where you play games to win tickets that can be cashed in for little prizes. A handful of games including several rounds of skeeball netted us 142 tickets that got traded in for a slinky, a bracelet and a little plastic flip thingy. Calypso Cove has a few other things. There’s no entry fee. You buy $5 tickets that can be used for a zipline ridge, go karts, mini golf or bumper boats. That Passport had Buy 1, Get 1 Calypso Cove tickets.

After Calypso Cove, we headed back to town and did a little souvenir shopping. Then the busses took us back to the train. The train returned to Utica around 6:30 and the kids were a wiped out. We headed back to the hotel and had Franklin Hotel leftovers for dinner, followed by a quick Oreo party.

Day 4: We packed up and checked out of the hotel. Then we drove over to the Children’s Museum next door to the train station. (The Passport had an admit one child free coupon. Entry was $22 for a family of 4 with the coupon) It is a nice, quirky museum with some funky hours (make sure it is going to be open when you want to go) but it is all not-for-profit and run by volunteers. They had a plane the kids could sit in and move the flaps plus a lot of other nice exhibits.

From the museum, we headed to the FX Matt Brewery. There is also a Passport buy 1 adult, get 1 adult free coupon for the brewery and the kids were free. Each tour ticket comes with a voucher for 2 drinks in the tasting room.

I don’t think the tour guides really care about the drink tickets. So for $5, we got an interesting tour for 4 people, 4 pints of their soda, and 4 pints of beer. I’m not sure there is a better deal anywhere and the kids really liked having a soda tasting. Interesting little fact: The extra carbon dioxide generated during the beer brewing operation is captured and then used to carbonate the sodas.

On the way out, you can pose with Schultz and Dooley.

After the tour, we grabbed a few slices of tomato pie on the way out of town. We were off to my in-laws for an annual family picnic. And that was a good time too - except for shoveling out a barn, cutting down a tree and weed whacking a ditch, but you won't have to schedule that into your Utica trip.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for a relatively cheap mini vacation that doesn't require a ton of car time, check out Utica. You’d be surprised what the city has to offer.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Supermarket War Continues

While under construction, The Price Chopper in Latham now has a free valet parking service.

I didn't see anyone use the valet service and doubt it will be long lived. If only they could use this energy to bring their seltzer prices in line with other stores...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Nice day for a walk

As luck would have it, I had to go to Long Island on Thursday for work. Done for the day and staying at a hotel about a mile from a train station, I set off with my co-worker Harry for a long night in New York City or New York City!?! like in the old Pace Picante Sauce ads.

The train took us into Penn Station during rush hour. Don't know if you have ever been there, but a shit-ton of people are there for the evening rush hour. Escaping to the surface, we began our walk. From Penn station down to MacDougal Street in the Village (about 1.5 miles). We had reservations for the 10:00 show at the Comedy Cellar. We were a few hours early so we headed up the block to Artichoke Pizza Basille. This is one of the pizzerias owned by two cousins that recently had a show on the cooking channel.  (I snapped this picture of the outside a few hours after we ate there)

The two guys working there were very friendly. One was pretty tired - he was working his way through school. The other was everything you would expect a New Yorker to be. Nice, but gruff and quick with a joke. They had stacks of flour up front. Exactly the same as the flour I picked up a few months ago at Restaurant Depot. Depending on the time of year and the day (NYU is a few blocks away), they use 4 to 6 bags on a weekday and 8 to 12 on a Friday or Saturday. Pretty sure mine will go stale before I run out.

Here's the artichoke slice they are famous for making.

It tastes like really good artichoke dip on top of really good bread. Delicious, but very salty. It should also be noted that there was "the soft glow of electric sex gleaming" in the corner.

I tried their Margarita slice too.

I enjoyed it. Also very salty and the crust is nothing like the crust on the artichoke pie. Overall, I'd say OK slices. There are probably better slices to be had in the city, and given the choice between this pizza or anything from Pepe's, Pepe's is better. Still, we certainly enjoyed Artichoke Pizza Basille. All my pizza nerd questions were answered: their ovens are set at 550 and I was encouraged to buy a wood fired oven for the house. Preaching to the choir.

Fueled with pizza and with hours to kill we walked down to the Freedom Tower construction site. Probably about another1.5 miles. Lots of nice architecture, the occasional breeze and some good people watching. Along the way I tried to tweet something to the All Over Albany site and manage to pull of my first Twitter failure. I saw this:

So I tweeted: Didn't know @alloveralbany had a restaurant in NYC.

Unfortunately, I sent the tweet without the photo.
Very confused, and apparently with no plans to open a restaurant in NYC, @alloveralbany simply replied: ?

Such a powerful piece of punctuation. Maybe I'm projecting, but the one character combines the sentiment of "I don't get it" with "Are you drunk?" I don't know how I managed to delete the photo, but I did and the tweet just became a confusing typo. I'd like to go on record for the 22 people that may or may not actually read my @JonInAlbany tweets, I was sober when I screwed that up. In my defense, it was hot and there was a lot of glare.

With my Twitter fail sent off into cyberspace, we continued walking until we were at the Freedom Tower. The building is beautiful.

We asked a security guard if there was a way to still see the memorial and he gave us perfect directions. We were allowed in with the last group of the day. The footprint waterfalls are hauntingly beautiful.  Several of the names along the rails had been recently visited with a white flower left behind.


We started working our way back to the Comedy Cellar. The show was sold out so we were going to have to get there early to preserve our seat reservation since there was a stand-by list. So after another mile and a half, we were back at the club. With a little time to spare, we went into the Olive Tree. It is the restaurant above the Comedy Cellar.

When we walked in the bar, two musicians were in the middle of playing a TV theme song medley. We enter to the theme from The Greatest American Hero (I loved that show), it was backed up with the Golden Girls' Thank You For Being a Friend, the theme from Cheers and then they played one more before taking a break. The name of the group: The Jewbadours.

We took seats at the bar next to The Table. The table is a comedians only table. There are a lot of stories that revolve around The Table.And now there is a weekly podcast recorded at The Table. Would you like to see the majesty that is the myth, the legend, The Table? Here it is:

Nice, right? Another view for you: 

After a nice conversation with the bartender and one of the restaurant managers (and a Scotch), we headed out to check-in and get in line for the show. I went to get in line and Harry went to check in. Harry was asked if he wanted to sit up front and he said, "Yes." Now, I've sat close before. Up front at the Comedy Cellar is UP CLOSE! Like, my feet could touch the microphone stand. At one point, during one comedian's set, my feet were kind of getting tangled in the mic wire. When Sherrod Small bent over and looked at me, I think he was about a foot away from my face. There were 6 standups and a host. Everyone had some very funny stuff. Dave Attell was there and had to deal with a drunk lady that seemed to throw him off. He seemed torn between destroying her and trying out some new material. Then he kind of did both and didn't seem happy with his set. Judging by his offstage scream, he wasn't happy. I'd never heard of Nick Griffin and he was hilarious. It was a great time. Tickets are $14 and you have to buy 2 things in the club. They could be drinks or food. We spent $70 including tip. Really not much more than going out to a movie and a few drinks. Given the option, I'd definitely choose the comedy club over most movies.

The show ran a little long, so we started double timing it back to Penn Station. If we didn't catch the 1:01 train, the next one left after 3:00. After a few blocks, we realized we were heading in the wrong direction and hailed a cab. Perfect.

Plenty of time at the station to get our tickets and roam the station a little. Did you know you can get good beer to bring on trains? I knew you could get eh beers, but one place had a ton of beers on tap. It was like $6 for a 20 ounce Bass Ale. Got back to Long Island, walked the mile back to the hotel and went to bed around 2:30.

Got up the Friday morning, spent most of the day collecting data from a bridge site (which required a few miles of walking) and headed home. Slept in on Saturday. I'd do it again and I'll have to check out our local comedy club too.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

An Unofficial Start To Summer

Everyone has their own signs of the season. For me, back-to-school starts off Fall these days, Christmas and our annual New Year's in Maryland get winter winter rolling, the sheer pleasure of not bothering to clear off the driveway for that last, little snowfall that melts in 2 days kicks off spring. Summer, starts when the float goes out onto the lake. And it went out this Sunday morning.

Last Fall, we removed a very wet, kind of gross all season carpet from the float. A few weeks ago, we new carpet was installed on the float and we got it ready for the season. The kids had fun with some nails and it didn't take too long to set up.


Ready to go:

On Sunday, the float made it's way into the water in time for my daughter 9th birthday party. We brought a few of her school friends up to the lake for the day. The weather cooperated and we were spared any heavy rains. The kids had a lot of fun on the float. I went down a few times too. You know, to check it out and make sure it was safe for the kids. It's just good parenting.

Splash a few buckets of water on the slide and you are cleared for take off.


We had a light rain as the event at the lake was winding down. Nothing too bad. Hard to believe I've got a 9 year old though. Happy Birthday, Allison!