Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Watching What You Eat

Insane and uncontrollable laughter is perhaps one of the best experiences one can enjoy in life. Unfortunately, this rare kind of laughter usually comes at the expense of a total stranger or better yet a lifelong friend. The latter played the role for Mariana and me, as one of our oldest friends and host (Stephen) treated us to a Mets game on a flawlessly beautiful spring day in New York. We started off the day by catching up with one another as we traveled the necessary trains from Manhattan to the ballpark. We talked about our mutual friends and laughed as we recalled classic stories that had been told countless times. The nostalgic hilarity of our reminiscence certainly helped Mariana and I feel at home, but we had no idea that another tale was going to soon join the ranks of those we were already sharing. Upon arriving at Citi Field, we all walked down the railroad platform and made our way towards will call to pick up our tickets. Being a longtime fan of baseball, I found myself immediately distracted by the countless shrines to players of old that surrounded the outside of the stadium. While I took pictures of Lenny Dyskstra, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver, my wife and our friend made their way to a colorful booth handing out free hand bags and snacks.

After some major nerding out on the historical monuments of one of the most storied teams in all of baseball, I made my way back to the long ticket line just in time to see Stephen rummaging through his newly acquired Mets handbag. Stephen had skipped breakfast with Mariana and I that morning to work out and was in desperate need of some sort of sustenance due to the dauntingly long line that separated us from the much anticipated beers and hotdogs waiting for us inside. Like a conqueror standing over his vanquished foe, Stephen pulled out a small bag filled with some sort of healthy snack resembling dog food. Not one to be picky during times of need, Stephen ripped open the bag and tossed a handful of pellets in to his mouth. A few awkward bites and a quick sniff of the bag in his hand soon led him to realize that he had in fact just consumed dog food handed out to willing patrons by the game day sponsor . Needless to say, insane and uncontrollable laughter erupted from Mariana, me, and a number of anonymous fans who had the great fortune to witness such a humiliating act. To be fair, Stephen has his MBA and is one of the most intelligent people I know, so I place complete blame on the vendor for not being clear in their attempt to market their product properly. Stephen’s only crime was being excessively hungry and not watching what he ate.

New York Inspiration

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys have been telling me for months now to give it up to New York and that its bright lights will inspire me, but I found something far more inspiring when Mariana and I finally set foot in the beautiful apartment of our friends Stephen and Sarah. They had a double-headed shower and a bathtub! Plus, as if that were not enough, they had the BIGGEST towels that I have ever laid eyes on. The towels were so plush that I felt like “Snuggles” from the old Bounty Softener commercials had come back from the dead solely to wrap me up in his softness. The sheer size of the towels rivaled the entire square footage of some of the hotel rooms that we stayed in while we were touring Southeast Asia.

Stephen and Sarah are newlyweds, so they have all sorts of cool attractions like coffee makers, big screen TVs, comfortable sheets, and a stocked liquor cabinet. I should be jet-lagged, but I am already finding myself settled in as a New Yorker and I am excited to get out and see the town. So I will save the bright lights crap for all of the rappers and hip-hoppers; just give me a hot shower, clean sheets, and towels so big that they could cover a king size bed.

Ash Thursday

Unless you live in a cave, you will know by now that all air travel was ground to a halt throughout Europe after an Icelandic volcano violently erupted. Fortunately I was bright enough to book us on an Iceland Air flight from Frankfurt to New York. For a week and a half, Mariana and I watched the news assuming that we were not going to make it back to the States in time for our highly anticipated visit to friends in New York. That was until we woke up on the Thursday morning of our departure and learned that Frankfurt International had finally opened up all of their outgoing flights. Next thing we knew, we were boarding a flight bound for Rekyavik, flying over an active volcano, and then finally landing safely at JFK. We felt so fortunate to have made it back the States safely, but I had no idea just how fortunate we were until I read the news the next morning. Iceland had just closed down their main airport indefinitely.

Ice Cream You Scream

There is an old adage which states that “an elephant never forgets”, but after spending some time with my cousins and their two young boys, I firmly believe that the word elephant should be substituted for five year old. Mariana and I were approaching a Sunday afternoon with nothing to do and were not particularly feeling like accompanying our hosts as they went to run some basic household errands, so we politely declined their invitation to join them and decided to go out for a lunch date by ourselves. My cousins, Joy and Zach, were completely supportive of our decision, but I soon learned that I made a grave faux pas by not consulting with their oldest son, Charlie, first. Charlie is perhaps one of the most intelligent and amusing children that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, but he is also prone to not quite understanding why on Earth someone would have the audacity of refusing his company. Thus, the negotiations began for an acceptable penalty to be imposed on my wife and me for ditching Charlie for a private lunch date. With his younger brother, Ollie, casually and curiously listening intently to our conversation, all parties mutually agreed that in exchange for our gross negligence, Mariana and I would treat Charlie and his family to the ice cream of his choice immediately upon their return from running errands. We all parted ways feeling quite confident that we had successfully circumvented a potentially dangerous situation. Zach, Joy, Charlie, and Ollie made their way to the grocery store as Mariana and I headed to the much anticipated “Schnitzel Parade” that only happens on Sundays at one of the favorite neighborhood eateries. After packing on some extra pounds of discounted Schnitzel, we returned to an empty house to catch up on some emails and watch a little undisturbed English television (quite a luxury after spending most of our travels without it).

Zach returned with his family a couple of hours later and decided that Ollie and Joy both deserved a much needed nap. Unfortunately, he made the same mistake that I did and did not consult Charlie first. We spent the next hour fighting a losing battle trying to explain our reasons for not immediately going to get ice cream as we had promised. I cannot speak for Charlie, but I can only assume that his reasoning was extremely sound: “so let me get this straight, you said that you were going to buy me ice cream as soon as I got home in lieu of accompanying me to the grocery store, and now you are telling me we have to wait because unnamed third parties want to take a nap!” Being the bright and intelligent boy he is, Charlie even offered logistical options to bring the ice cream home as his mother and brother slept. For instance, when presented with the problem of the ice cream melting, Charlie simply insisted that we could use extra napkins to quell any unwanted messes. After an hour of heated discussion and complete self-loathing on my part (due to making a promise I could not keep), Joy and Ollie finally woke up and we all headed out for some delicious cold treats. I have a feeling that Charlie, although extremely happy with his well deserved treat, will be watching me like a hawk now to ensure that I rightfully fulfill my promises to him in the future.

The Bavarian King of Biergartens

As a warm blooded male hailing from the great state of Texas, I have an inherent love of drinking beer. Consumption is usually paired with some form of social activity like barbecuing or hunting, but there is nothing quite like simply just sitting across the table from your best friend and solving life's problems over a nice cold one. So I naturally jumped on the opportunity to do so when it presented itself in the beautiful Bavarian city of Munich in southern Germany. Unaware of sound brewing historical significance I soon found out that I was also unknowingly sitting in the presence of greatness. There are literally thousands of great places to experience the authentic outdoor drinking phenomenon in Germany, but Mariana and I were fortunate enough to stumble upon the palatial King of all biergartens on our only day in town.

The Hofbrauhaus am Platzl is less like your typical biergarten and more like a sacred institution dedicated to the art of consuming massive amounts of brewing excellence. I am always worried about being offensive in the face of cultural differences, so I casually surveyed the Germans around me and monitored their actions closely. Within ten minutes, I confidently ordered 2 large beers, a small variety of brats (with mustard), potatoes au gratin, and a pretzel that was slightly larger than my face. Judging by the lack of awkward glares from my fellow patrons, I felt like I had made a sound decision. A few sips of homemade brew and a few bites of delicious fare later, I knew with all certainty that I was in fact sitting in the greatest biergarten in the World. Mariana concurred and we proceeded to have one of the greatest dates of our lives. Good conversation, great food, incredible beer, and an absolute knock-out sitting across the table from me. Are you kidding me? I wish these moments could last forever.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Das Autobahn

There is nothing more exhilarating than passing a cop on the highway at 100 mph. On the other hand, there is nothing more emasculating than being subsequently SMOKED by a Porsche doing 160 mph. Thus is life on Germany’s Autobahn and I hope to return there to drive again real soon. Too fun!

Broke and Broken at the Chicken Shack

After a fun day of exploring the beautiful city of Rudesheim that is located directly on the Rhein River, Zach and Joy invited us to join their family for some good old fashioned beer and fried chicken. With practically no self-control remaining and my gluttonous behavior nearly reaching its pinnacle I gladly agreed to chow down on some goodies. My only penance was that Zach made me ride his BMX bike all the way to the biergarten that they casually refer to as the “Chicken Shack”, although I am pretty sure that no amount of exercise can pardon a man’s consumption of half a fried chicken. Zach loves bikes and each member of the family has their own means of environmental transportation, so getting to the “shack” was easy. Unfortunately and unbeknownst to its owner, the bike that towed his oldest son had a slow leaking tire that became entirely flat while we ate dinner. To make matters worse, we were so distracted by the opportunity to eat good food and consume good beer that we didn’t stop to check if we had enough money to pay our bill. You see, places known as chicken shacks do not normally take credit cards, so cash is essential. We found ourselves emptying our pockets and counting change as the owner of the restaurant laughed at our embarrassment, only to find out that we were 4 Euros short of paying our bill without leaving a tip. Zach, being a man of impeccable character, jumped on his hobbled bike and vowed to return quickly with the extra cash. I, not wanting to look ungrateful, mistakenly decided to join him and tail him on the BMX. My overall biking inadequacies on a tiny bike with one gear, combined with three large beers and half a fried chicken, immediately made me one hugely obnoxious liability for speed. With a little big brothering from Zach and some quad burning hustle, we finally made it back to the house and grabbed some extra Euros. Needless to say, we took the CAR back to the restaurant and paid our debt to a pleasantly surprised waitress.