June 27, 2012

June 27, 2012

Mind the Gap

“Stand back, doors closing.”

These words turn each and every DC subway commuter into an Olympian. We may be 20 yards away, but we can easily cover that distance in the 5 seconds between that announcement and the doors’ actually closing. I know because I have done it, and entered the train car with such velocity that I knocked over an entire class of third graders. (Not true, but I WISH.)

I’ve ridden public transit in several cities on three continents, and I’ve learned that they all have things in common. (With the possible exception of Seoul, which is incredibly calm and organized. Probably more to do with the Koreans than the system itself.) People rush to catch the train. Tourists get in the way. Someone will try to ride without paying. And there’s always that one person who doesn’t understand the difference between a blue line train going to Largo and a blue line train going to Franconia-Springfield (or equivalent: think Boston’s green line).

Imagine my joy when I found “The Tube” on YouTube: a series all about London’s Underground. (Episode 1 of 6 is here.) Turns out the Brits have to deal with a lot of the same problems. They just do it SO MUCH BETTER. Example:

The situation: Someone has thrown himself in front of a train during rush hour.

DC Metro radio call: “Holy f--- man, we got a person in front of the f------ train! Call Central!”

London Underground radio call: “’Ello luv, we got a ‘one under.”

DC Metro rider response: “What do you mean, the trains aren’t running? I NEED TO GET TO WHOLE FOODS BEFORE MY HOT YOGA CLASS!”

London Underground rider response: “This reminds me of the war. Carry on.”

And so on. The series shows us what goes on behind the scenes in ticket booths, control rooms, conductor cars, the lost and found, and other places. We see them repairing rail, and fixing trains, and cleaning stations. Brilliant, and I’m not just saying that because I have an unnatural affinity for this nation not my own.

Watch. Enjoy. Appreciate. Then go back to your subway system with wistful envy.

June 26, 2012

June 26, 2012

NeverSeconds

Though I like few things less than children, I like few things more than Britons and lunch. Imagine my surprise when my Sunday Washington Post perusal included a story titled “British girl's blog on school lunches stirs it up.” Um, yes please.

Turns out that a 9-year-old Scottish student named Martha has been blogging about her school lunches on neverseconds.blogspot.com for the past few months. She takes a picture of each meal and rates it on various criteria (taste, how long it took to eat, etc.). As the blog gained in popularity, students from around the world started sending Martha pictures of their own school lunches. Asia, Canada, Africa, etc. Martha notes how long it takes her to find each submission’s hometown on her globe (“San Francisco, California, USA…12 seconds!”) and makes brief commentary on the submitted lunches.

Frankly, it’s a combination of precociousness, food, and international flair that has me all aquiver.

I certainly wish I’d thought of it first. Not as any sort of social commentary; whether or not our children are getting nutritional lunches doesn’t chuff me either way. As a kid, my favorite school lunch was something called “mock chicken leg,” but I’m sure Milwaukee Public Schools had the very best intentions. I yearn for the days when I could get a full hot meal, with beverage, on a compartmentalized tray, for like $2.

Speaking of containment, that’s one of my favorite parts of the photos that get sent to Martha. Turns out that school lunches are dished up in a variety of ways around the world. Some kids get plates. Some get bento boxes. Some get trays. And the food. Oh, the food! Japanese students get soup, rice, and fish. Israeli students get falafel. Atlanta students get hamburgers and chips. Phenomenal!

What makes Martha a much, much better woman than I is her commitment to charity. Martha’s taking any money made from the blog, including solicited donations, and putting it all towards feeding children in Africa. Whereas I would be buying an iPad or something, she is trying to change the world. Maybe there’s hope for humanity after all.

Nah, probably not.

June 25, 2012

June 25, 2012

#PilotDay12

The Smithsonian’s Be a Pilot Day has been introducing kids of all ages to flight for about eight years. I’d never participated, or even heard of the event, until a co-worker at Cabinet-Department-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named tipped me off. See, in addition to all the stuff the public sees, a select group of people gets a special behind-the-scenes look at stuff. Including BREAKFAST AND LUNCH, word.

I signed up as quickly as humanly possible, and crossed my fingers. And for once, the fates were in my favor, because I got picked.

Then I found out that the day’s events started at 5:45. In the morning. IN THE MORNING.

But getting up at the buttcrack of dawn turned out to have two advantages. First, breakfast provided by the effing Smithsonian:

And second, the chance to participate in a Foreign Object Debris (FOD) walk:

The idea is to rid the runway of any sticks, stones, etc. that could get sucked into jet engines and go kablooie. Though I’m just an amateur, I took the whole thing Very Seriously. Here, my FOD:

One chick found a frog. A dead frog. Gross, man.

After the FOD walk, we sat and watched aircraft arrive. I was able to identify them only after painstakingly consulting an illustrated handout provided by the Smithsonian. Whereas the enthusiasts would be like, “Oh, yeah, it’s the Cessna 2330” when all I could see was a small spot near the horizon.

Then Marine One (well, whatever it’s called when the President is not onboard) landed and we swarmed like giddy schoolgirls.

Once the planes and helicopters were all settled, we were treated to a series of briefings from various Smithsonian curators. My favorite of which was the woman from the bird lab, who (no joke) does forensics whenever a bird hits a plane. Like CSI, but with birds. Rock on, bird lady. Rock on.

We were given a long free period at lunch to do as we liked, which for me involved taking a brief nap in the car and then enjoying lunch. I didn’t get a picture because I was Hulk-level hungry. But suffice to say the best coleslaw is Smithsonian Institution coleslaw eaten mere yards from an SR-71.

I had the opportunity to catch a brief talk by Gary Powers Jr. and a guy who wrote a recent book about Gary Powers (Sr.). At one point, a Silver Star was flashed, and it was like “O HAI.”

We got a guided tour of the museum’s highlights, including the SR-71, the Enola Gay, and some other planes that I was too tired to really pay attention to. Oh, and a statue of Billy Mitchell, who put the “General Mitchell” in Milwaukee’s “General Mitchell International Airport.” Between him and me, we did Milwaukee proud that day. Well, mostly him.

Most people filtered outside at this point to watch the planes take off, but it was 3 pm and I’d already been up for like 22 hours. Time to take out the earplugs and head home.

Good times, though. Even if you can’t tell your C-17 from your C-71. (In fact, one of both of those may not even be planes. Idk.)

June 18, 2012

June 18, 2012

In My Opinion: In Time

You’ve heard the saying “time is money,” right? What if that were actually true? Such is the premise of “In Time.”

(Oh, and also, let’s not mention the fact that I’m reviewing this film twenty-seven years after it came out. I just watched it on DVD, so shutup already.)

In the few-chuh, people have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. At that point, everyone’s inner countdown clock starts ticking. Everyone gets one year. Period. Give it away, get it from others, spend, trade, and otherwise use that year. It’s currency, baby.

Everyone’s remaining time is conveniently imprinted on their forearms. And you give someone time by gripping their forearm and turning to the left. You take time by turning to the right. (Maybe vice versa, but go with it.) It makes perfect sense, because humans today also have their entire net worth displayed on their bodies, and can give or take money by physical force! Seriously, is this not the rapiest* system ever? I mean, sure, they have a sort of banking system where you somehow put your time in a capsule, but still. If someone takes all the time you have on you, you are finito.*

As is always the case, few-chuh society includes haves and have-nots. The people with thousands of years and the people who live literally day-by-day. In the film, the haves are represented by the guy who plays Vincent “Pete Campbell on Mad Men” Kartheiser and Amanda “Crazy Eyes” Seyfried. The have nots include Mr. Justin Timberlake** and one of the dudes from “The Big Bang Theory.” Timberlake and Seyfried meet and fall in love and decide to take down The System, as couples are wont to do in these dystopian dealios. They just have to get past Seyfried’s dad (Kartheiser) and the law and a couple other minor obstacles.

Ridiculous logistics aside—don’t get me started on the impracticality of either using currency as time or stopping the aging process at 25—this is a film that does two things well: it moves fast and it looks good. I couldn’t believe most of it was shot in Los Angeles; I was sure it was Canada, or Europe, or possible the actual few-chuh. The world is full of more weird architecture than I realize.

I can’t totally get behind the idea of busting open the system and letting everyone have all the time they want. Too Communisty.* There’s a scene where Kartheiser opens a giant vault in his apartment to reveal a capsule holding his first million years. It’s so over-the-top and stick-in-to-the-99-percenters that I got a li’l shiver.

It’s a fun conceit to think about, though.

* Word? Not a word?
** Who got that SNL reference?

June 13, 2012

June 13, 2012

New York, New York

TheBoy celebrated a big birthday recently (I am not allowed to say the number) (it rhymes with "dirty"), so we celebrated with a long weekend in New York. Because he planned it, the trip was full of items like “Harbor Defense Museum” and “Brooklyn.” Who knew that MTA even left Manhattan? And though Brooklyn appeared to have “people” and “houses” and “civilization,” I most enjoyed the views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

I can see why Lily Van Der Woodsen-Bass-Humphries sticks to the Upper East Side.

One venture off-island, though, turned out to be surprisingly pleasant: Governor’s Island. The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt (currently closed for long-term renovation) is holding an exhibit there. IN case you didn’t know (and you didn’t, because I didn’t, and we’ve established that I’m the Smithsonian’s stalker), the Cooper-Hewitt is all about design. Graphic design, industrial design, etc. The exhibit on Governor’s Island focuses on graphic design, so you see a lot of great posters, fonts, logos, Google doodles, movie credit sequences, etc. Fab.

No pictures, though, because the docent was pretty strict about that.

What else did I love? Times Square, as always. This year, I was able to MEET HELLO KITTY, ZOMG.

I will literally never be that excited again.

Great sushi.

Central Park, which is second only to Boston Common on my list of “Tolerable Places That Are Outside.”

Hot dogs at Nathan’s.

Touring Rockefeller Center (not the NBC Studios, or the Top of the Rock).

And walking 8th Avenue from 16th to 52nd on one night, and from 96th to 52nd on the next. I love nothing more than walking in the city, and only in New York are my fellow pedestrians street smart enough to do it right.

Plus, it turns out that I could get a one bedroom apartment in Midtown for just $3600 a month! New York: one of the few cities that makes me less depressed about DC-area rental rates.

I miss it already.

June 12, 2012

June 12, 2012

It's a +K, Not a Vitamin

My Twitter alter ego is more popular than I am. I’m not talking about the account where I tweet as myself. I’m talking about the account that I created to use for giveaways, contests, and the like. I use this account when attending Twitter parties so as to save my followers from a constant barrage of tweets with strange hashtags like #ILoveKeurig and #LandsEndGiveaway.

You’re welcome.

But regardless of the name on the profile, the wit behind it is the same. And if I do say so myself, I can at times be effing hilarious. Dare I say it, I am occasionally even the hit of the (virtual) party. It’s at complete odds with normal life, and terribly disconcerting.

As you might imagine, being the hit of a Twitter party involves a lot of replies and retweets. Way more than I get during the normal course of tweeting fascinating and pithy things from my regular account. It’s quite possible that @PeriwinkleSays will soon have a higher Klout score than @medevam, and I’m not sure I’m okay with that. I don’t want the world to remember me as the world’s best small fictional cat, not least because Hello Kitty forever lays claim to that title.

Sigh.

Are you a Klout person? I still don’t understand the utility of it. The novelty, sure. But like with LinkedIn, I’m not sure that seeing my “network of influence” is going to give me anything besides crippling self-doubt. I hope you’re better off in that regard.

Though I do get a kick out of getting +Ks from people (wherein they indicate the topics on which they think I am an influencer). It’s a complicated relationship.

June 11, 2012

June 11, 2012

A Young Whippersnapper’s Plea

When were your grandparents born?

I ask because I’ve been hearing quite a bit about the Greatest Generation lately (what with D-Day and all), and how they’re the parents or grandparents of today’s federal workers (what with this being DC and all). In my case, this is true, because my grandparents were born in 1914 and 1915. But also, they had my dad when they were in their 40s. So the generation gaps in my family have always been a little off, and I have no idea how old other people’s grandparents are (mine are both deceased).

The point I’m slowly getting at is that not too many people my age had grandparents who fought in World War II, right? Weren’t the grandparents of most Millennials/Gen Y-ers born in the 1930s?

But, of course, today’s federal workers and the Millennial generation have little overlap. Little. Very little. In my industry, and probably in yours, the Baby Boomers just ain’t retiring. And it’s hard not to be a little bitter about that. I mean, the Greatest Generation did their bit and got out of the way when the time came; why can’t the Baby Boomers do the same? It’s like that scene in Men in Black, when Will Smith points to Tommy Lee Jones and says “Old and busted” and then to himself and says “New hotness.”

Not that I don’t like Baby Boomers, with their penchant for shows starring Mark Harmon and their disinterest in Tumblr. I share these exact same qualities! The difference is that I won’t be legally eligible for Social Security for over 30 years. And also, there will no longer be Social Security at that time. Plus side: we should have hovercars and robot butlers.

Did your parent or grandparent serve in WW2 (on either side; I’m not picky)?

June 7, 2012

June 7, 2012

You Dirty Rat

Now that the regular TV season is pretty much over, I’ve started pecking away at my Hulu and YouTube queues. Documentaries, mostly, with a few HGTV and Food Network shows that didn’t rate a view when they first aired. Since I can no longer spend my evenings with Gossip Girl, Castle, and Leslie Knope, I fill my brain with trivia about New York, crime investigation, and local politics. A ying-and-yang sort of a deal.

A recent YouTube query for “BBC documentary, long” popped out a series called “Filthy Cities.” As far as I can tell, this was a three-episode dealio produced by the BBC last year. Presenter Dan Snow and a first-rate visual effects team examine the cleanliness of a particular city, at a particular time. Take the episode I saw, “Industrial New York.” How dirty was industrial New York?

Answer: Pretty freaking dirty.

You had tenements sleeping twelve to a room and crapping two hundred to a potty. Animals, vermin, and bugs everywhere. And the poop. Oh, the poop. Feces of every kind stacked several feet (yes, FEET) deep. Add in the fact that few people had reliable water, and it’s a wonder anyone survived at all.

But Snow shows the whole picture, and spends just as much time on the improvements that cleaned the city as on the bedbugs and Typhoid Mary that made it dirty. We get to see the aqueduct that brought clean water 40+ miles into Manhattan. We learn about the Edison vs. Tesla electric current battle, and how light came to the city. We learn about the doctor who realized that people had to stop pooping where they eat.

I’m hesitant to watch either of the other episodes (“Medieval London” and “Renaissance Paris”) because this show was seriously disgusting. Snow had a live bedbug on his arm at one point, you guys. Eesh. But if he’s willing to go through that to educate us, the least I can do is watch.

June 5, 2012

June 5, 2012

There are Actually Nineteen of Them

As happens so often on the internet, one thing recently led to another and I found myself staring at an official Smithsonian blog all about the behind-the-scenes involved in the exhibits.

Mothership, I have found ye.

I mean, how freaking amazing would it be to work at any museum? But the Smithsonian? The SMITHSONIAN?*

Ironically, I did interview with the Smithsonian late last summer. Sadly, this interview took place in administrative offices. Though they were across the street from the Air & Space Museum on the outside, they looked just like every other office building on the inside. And if I can’t set up shop inside the skeleton of a dinosaur or the Spirit of St. Louis, I’m not sure the reality of a Smithsonian job would accurately live up to my dreams. (Also, I think my uncontrollable enthusiasm for the Institution threw them. Hiring me would be akin to a celebrity hiring his stalker as his new assistant.)

Museums come in second only to libraries in my list of dream workspaces. Nothing against laboratories, classrooms, cockpits, or wherever your dream job is. Those are all cool, too.**And I’m sure plenty of people would rather die than spend eight hours a day in a museum. Hence our society’s slow descent to hell in a handbag. Whatever.

So I’ve spent a significant amount of time learning how the Smithsonian workers make plants look so lifelike, mount snowboards, and install a triceratops. Phenomenal.

Wait, I’ve just clicked on a blog about food and culture. Smithsonian, you saucy minx!

* I am using synechdoche here, in which a part represents the whole. I, of all people, realize that there is more than one Smithsonian Museum.
** To varying degrees. It’s not like you ever see James Bond teaching a lit class.

June 4, 2012

June 4, 2012

On Fire

While some people would view two hours at a LaGuardia airport gate as time to sleep, eat, or discreetly stare at their fellow travelers, I took it upon myself to shut off my judgmental nature (twas vacation, after all) and soak in some good old CNN. The President’s laying a Memorial Day wreath! The defense budget is under attack! And the things they’re doing these days with laptop cases! Those two hours went by quicker than I could determine whether the group of eight Indian people was ever going to actually get on a plane or if they just lived in the airport.

Imagine my delight when the CNN ticker scrolled something like “DC-area man sets self on fire with homemade grill.” It had the local angle, immolation, and food preparation. I was intrigued.

Turns out that some dude in Maryland converted a barrel into a barbecue pit, but neglected to take into account the flammability of certain gases. Poof. Easy mistake, and one I have almost made many many times when trying to cook things on the stove. This is why I microwave, and why I believe that Trader Joe’s microwaveable meals have saved innumerable lives.

I think we must also consider this cautionary tale from a second angle: the outdoors is a dangerous place. Not that I need convincing, as I tend to stay inside as much as possible. I mean, if you look at game-changing events throughout history, very few of them took place outside. Yet almost all movie disasters involve the outside. Draw your own conclusions.

Perhaps you are lucky enough to be a student, teacher, or unemployed person commencing a summer vacation. Were you planning on having fun in the sun? Bad idea. Stick to books, movies, and TV dinners from Trader Joe’s. You are 99% less likely to get killed by a meteor, dinosaur, or alien with this approach.