Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Girl's Night Out!

Last summer the girls in my group had a couple girl's outings - once to a club where they served three-course $9 dinners for girls on Wednesdays, and once just out for a bite to eat.

But now we are losing one of the girls to California (and a new job - congrats!), so we decided to take ourselves out for a last hurrah.

(Also, we were jealous of all the stories of the boys' nights out. Although we would never replicate what happens on the boy's nights - they get pretty wild, and we just don't drink that much...)

There are several options for ladies' deals around Boston, and we ended up going out to restaurant that offered free dinner (with $10 drink purchase, of course there is a catch...).

Figure: The ladies of my group
Of course, we picked a miserable day to go - rain and puddles everywhere. I discovered that the right foot of my rainboots is not actually waterproof anymore, but oh well - we all dried out eventually!

I have always felt so lucky to be surrounded by such fun and smart people in my group - and it's just a bonus that so many of them are girls! A good looking group we make, I think. :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Road Trip: Chicago

After Sonic, Eehern and I decided that the only way to make it to Chicago was by hopping between food stops. Next up, Zukey Lake tavern - a nostalgic favorite of his. It was really only fair - one of mine food picks, one of his.

Figure: Tavern on the lake.
Apparently, Eehern remembered this place as being down a bumpy dirt road, a only-the-locals-know type of retreat. But instead of a gravel parking lot next to a hole in the wall, now it's a newly renovated restaurant on prime real estate by the gorgeous lake.

Figure: We just hope the ribs are still as good.
We had called ahead from the car to place an order for ribs. We popped in, picked up the order, and went on our way!

Let me just note - did we eat in the car? No, no we did not.... :)

Figure: You can't see it here, but this is the twelve hour mark for us in the car.
We drove. And drove. And drove some more. That two hour block at the Canadian border really put us behind, (as well as my shopping, ahem...). We hit twelve hours in the car, and man I was tired. The energy was visibly leaking from the car.

I got sleepy and took a nap. I think I drooled, but I managed not to snore (I think). Eehern soldiered on. I woke up, and still we drove.

Finally, we both determined we needed one last stop before the final push.

Figure: Stop at the gas station, to fill up on gas and on that order of ribs. Miss Outlier's last road trip drink.
We still couldn't eat in the car, so we got out and sat at a picnic table to dig into the ribs. But oh - did I mention - the picnic table was right next to the swampy forest? And we were eating delicious meat? The mosquitoes came out in droves. DROVES, I tell you.

First they came for me. I started slapping and fidgeting trying to fight them off. The ribs were delicious, so I couldn't bear to stop eating. Eehern just laughed at me.

Then, they came for Eehern. Buzzing and humming, they honed in on any exposed flesh. Finally he was driven from the pool table, relegated to pacing back and forth while he ate to avoid the insects. Now who's so tough?

I was still eating as fast as I could, and the mosquitoes didn't even bother to find open skin - they bit right through my clothes. Ack! Moving on.

For the final leg to Chicago, Eehern was finally getting tired. We had talked about most other topics, so I asked a question on politics. Well THAT'S a conversation starter. Did you realize that Eehern doesn't think there is a fundamental right and wrong - that right and wrong are defined by majority vote? This means, of course, that absolutely anything, no matter how heinous, can be justified if a majority of people think it's right.

We killed an hour just discussing that.

Figure: Ah yes, just what the day needed. Rain.
As we got close to Chicago, it started to rain. I put on some country music to get us through the final push. My job is the iPod, you know.

Figure: Man, did the country music do this?
And it rained harder. It poured. The RainX had met its match.

Figure: Yikes! Okay, okay, I'll go back to Top 40 radio...
But rain or no, all things must end and we did make it to the destination city. We met up with his friend Sai Hei, who generously opened his home to us to stay for the night.

Figure: Thanks Sai Hei!
We found a parking spot for the car, I brought up my carryon to the room. I was thinking the night was just about over. But indeed it was not!

Figure: Eehern busting out the guitar. He's quite good.
Apparently, long ago Eehern taught Sai Hei how to play guitar. Men being what they are, Sai Hei wanted to show off how much he'd learned since then, and Eehern wanted to prove he was still better. So they jammed for a while. Sai Hei also got to show off his Linux program for learning new guitar songs on his huge gorgeous plasma TV, so all manner of male itches were scratched. I just sat and enjoyed the entertainment.

And then I thought, off to bed? But no! The night is still young!

We hopped in a cab and took off downtown. Can I just say - the financial district of Chicago has some well-heeled women running around. I loved looking at the street fashion!

Figure: We took ourselves to a comedy club.
A place called Second City is a famous comedy club in Chicago - a lot of comedy stars have come up through here. The trainees do really cheap shows at midnight, and it was here that we found ourselves.

Figure: Cozy little theater, just us and a dozen others.
I've never been to a comedy club, so it was a neat experience to see live improv. Honestly actors always make me a little nervous - I just think, "Man you are so over-the-top that I'm embarrassed for you!" But that's just my introverted, engineer hangup... I was glad we went!

We got back home, and plopped into bed. Right? WRONG!

The boys just couldn't let that plasma screen go to waste. They fired up StreetFighter, splayed themselves out on the floor, and proceeded to beat each other up. Just like my brothers - get them together, and the testosterone goes flying.

After one got fed up with losing to the other (can you guess which one?), they finally decided to call it a night. That might also have to do with the fact that I went ahead and crawled under the covers on the futon and went to bed. Even though the futon was in the same room as the TV (I just was too tired to be bothered by the video games).

And with that, my friends, the marathon day was finally over. From the honeymoon suite in Canada at 7am to the bedroom floor in financial Chicago at 3am, we did justice to the road trip.

And to all a goodnight!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Road Trip: Detroit

On Day 2 of the great adventure, the all-knowing Google doc once again said to leave at 7am. We had a long day of driving, and we needed to make it all the way to Chicago with time for two detours. Since I was in charge this time, I got up at 6:30, took a shower, and then woke Eehern. At 7:15am, we were outside packing the car.

Figure: Miss Outlier runs on time.
 This was Friday morning, and I needed coffee. Well actually, most mornings I need coffee. On Friday mornings in particular, I'm used to World's Best School coffee hour where I get coffee and a donut.

Eehern, as usual, needed nothing.

But we stopped along the highway at a Tim Horton's, which is supposedly a cult favorite. In fact, two World's Best School Coffee Hours have featured Tim Horton's donuts, brought all the way from Rhode Island.

Figure: Forget the donuts, I have COFFEE.

Figure: But the donuts were delicious too. I had two. 
 I'd like to point out here that along the ENITRE trip, we hardly went an hour without seeing construction. I know summer is known for road construction, but seriously it was ridiculous.

Figure: Orange cones, orange cones everywhere
 Along the way we noticed the beloved Subaru had a home even here, in the middle of random Canada.

And I noticed a store for shopping, not available in Boston. :)

Figure: I asked if we could stop, and Eehern said "Go for it!" So we did.
 I took entirely too long to shop, but again Eehern was a gentleman and didn't complain. I checked out with a new shirt, and I went to find him.

I looked.

I walked around.

I peered over the racks.

I checked outside.

I walked around again.

I had lost Eehern, in a foreign country. I didn't have my phone. And then I recalled when Eehern and I had spent a week in London. I also went shopping there (and again, took entirely too long. It's a vice. I'm sorry.) And AGAIN when I came out of the store in England, Eehern was nowhere to be found. And my phone didn't work. In  London, after I exhausted all my options I ended up sitting forlornly on a bench on the side of the road, waiting for him to come back. In Canada, I stood in the front of the store until he showed up.

I think he just likes to lose me. But he can't be tired of me yet, it's only the second day!

We continued on, heading toward the border. This time we had our story straight - Eehern was ready for the "So what do you have in your car?" question. Tough stuff, those customs agents.... :)

Figure: But it was not to be.
 Instead, we got stuck in traffic. We CRAWLED forward. We could see that waaaaay up ahead was a bridge, and we assumed that customs (and freedom) lay across that bridge.

But with that vision dancing ahead, we were painfully starting and stopping our way down the road. Half an hour. An hour.

I was getting bored. My legs needed to stretch. I wanted lunch.

Figure: Not getting anywhere anytime soon.
Eehern needed nothing.

And hour and a half, and still more of the scooting forward.

I was cramped and impatient.

Figure: I had run out of my road trip drink.

And finally - FINALLY - we found something that made Eehern ruffled.

He was watching the idle RPMs on the dashboard. Wasn't much else to do, really. And the idle RPMs were high - something like 2.5. And then they would wiggle. And then go down. And then go up. And then down.

Figure: It's the middle of the bridge, and Eehern is freaking out about the RPMs.
 He got so worried about the situation, he called up the Cambridge Subaru dealership.

"Hi," he says, "I have a question."

"Go ahead," says the cheery woman on the other end.

"Well," Eehern begins, "I'm wondering what the normal idle RPM speed is for my car. It's shooting up to 2.5, and then whizzing down to 1, and then jumping all around. And I really just want to know if that's normal."

The lady, trying to be helpful, replies, "Well sir I don't really know, it's not my area, but I don't think that's normal, and you should bring it into the dealer."

*facepalm* Lady, don't you know that now we are going to be worrying about this for an entire two week trip...? We spent TWO HOURS in traffic. As we were waiting the final last bit, which seemed forever, and I was hungry, and I needed to stretch, and I needed a bathroom break, I thought "We are never getting to America!"

But thankfully, we did. Next stop - Sonic!

Figure: Ah, road trip drink.
 Sonic is a nostalgic favorite of mine from Oklahoma. It's a drive-in restaurant, where you order from your window and the carhop brings your food out. I love it. I love the Supersonic breakfast burrito, the Chicken club toaster, and ESPECIALLY the Sonic Cherry Limeade.

We even got there during Happy Hour with half price drinks. I ordered my favorite combo, with tater tots, and even Eehern got a cherry limeade.

I practically inhaled my food, as it was like 2 or 3pm and I hadn't eaten.

As I was chowing down, I heard, "Um...." said Eehern, "Would you mind putting your tater tots on a napkin?"

I paused in the midst of chewing and glanced up. My tater tots were sitting in a cardboard fries container on the dashboard. I had my lap covered with a napkin. Seriously, man? Put a napkin on the dash under the already contained tater tots?

Okay, sure....

I finished, and asked Eehern how his meal was.

Picking at his sandwich, he confessed, "I'm not much a fan of eating in the car."

Laugh! Alright, I get it. :) No more eating in the car. It really didn't bother me, I just didn't realize.

When it comes to idle RPMs and fries on the dash, you don't mess with Eehern! :)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Road Trip: Niagara

After hitting the wings in Buffalo, we pressed on to Niagara.

Well, we TRIED to press on to Niagara.

Figure: Instead, we hit every red light in Buffalo.
No really, I counted. EVERY light. In a stick shift car. It was painful.

But several hours later, about 7pm, we made it to the American side of Niagara. I would like to note that Eehern didn't actually know where Niagara WAS, he thought we would just punch it in as a "Point of Interest" in the GPS.

I consulted a map.

We got out at Niagara and walked around the Niagara side first.

Figure: Observing from the spot where the first French guy saw the falls

Figure: Picture of me in front of the American falls
Figure: Large photo without me cluttering up the view
We walked around the island in the middle of the American side, across the river that feeds the falls.

Figure: Me trying to be artsy. Do you see the spiderweb? I want credit for the spiderweb.
Figure: Looking back at the American falls side.
After we had our fill of walking around, we headed through customs to the Canadian side. I had my passport out and ready, prepared to answer whatever questions the guard thew at me.

The customs agent started with the easy ones - where are you from, where are you headed. Then he threw this out there:

"That's a lot," he gestured wildly in the direction of the car, "of STUFF in there." Peering into the windows, he continued, "What all do you have?"

I turned confidently to Eehern, waiting for the answer.

"Uh...." he stammered, "Well, I have a lot of.... clothes.... and, um, clothes...."

Craning his neck toward the stuffed back of the car, he tried to recall what in the world he had packed in there.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, "and a laptop... computer.... and, um..... clothes."

Thankfully, the guard let him go at that. I have no idea why all of a sudden Eehern could no longer recall what was in his car, but I (and the guard) can only assume the boy has a lot of clothes.

Once through that hurdle, we stopped quickly as the light was fading to gaze at the Canadian falls.

Figure: Or, you know, gaze at me in this pictures.
It is indeed true - the view is prettier from Canada. The horeshoe falls are gorgeous. (So like America to call it the "American falls" while Canada calls theirs something useful....).

Figure: Apparently, they turn the falls off at night to harvest the water. Strange to think of all that power being shunted away. Go engineering!
Tired after the long day (and I had run out of my roadtrip drink), we headed to the hotel in Niagara.

I was in charge of booking the hotel. I picked a "Travelocity Top Secret" hotel, which means you get a great deal and they don't tell you which hotel you are getting until you buy. We got this one, which works because we aren't picky.

I noticed this sign on the way in:

Figure: It was a passing thought, "oh that's nice."
The friendly hotel receptionist at first couldn't find our reservation, and then to apologize (and since it was a slow weeknight) he offered to upgrade us.

Well sure!

So, upgraded room key in hand, we parked the car and gathered our bags.

Well, I gathered my bag. Eehern dug around for 15 minutes trying to find a shirt. Apparently he didn't think to put a change of clothes in a reasonable location....

Then we made our way to the room.

Let's see... one bed? Flowers on the table?

And what's that in the corner? Oh yes, a heart shaped jacuzzi. We'd been "upgraded" to the honeymoon suite of sorts.

Figure: Oh yes. Those are mirrors. Eehern considers this turn of events.
We decided to put aside the matter of the jacuzzi, and head to the casino. Eehern was convinced I was a good-luck charm, since I had never played craps before.

So we played craps.

Well actually, first we watched for a while as I tried to understand the rules. Craps in an insanely complicated game! I played for a bit, couldn't figure out what was going on, and promptly lost.

So we wandered around the casino, observing the local night life while I tried to iron out how the game was played. Buoyed by new understanding, we hit the craps table once more.

This time, I understood EXACTLY how I lost.

Apparently, I am not a good luck charm. Sorry Eehern!

But the night did end well for somebody. On Eehern's last roll, some guy at the other end of the table bet $800 on the "Do Not Pass" line. As I understand it, that means if the shooter craps out, you win.

Eehern sevened out.

The other guy won $800.

So at least somebody was happy!

Back at the hotel, I took a shower to rinse off the long day. When I came out (and I swear my showers aren't THAT long), Eehern was already fast asleep on the bed. I had brought my bathing suit, and I was excited to go swimming. 

But when I tried to fill up the jacuzzi, it turns out there was no drain plug! So any water I put in just drained right out. Not useful at all!

So sadly, there was no jacuzzi. I went to bed.

But all in all, Day 1 was packed full - an excellent start to the trip!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Road Trip!

Author's Note: Last weekend I went on a road trip with a friend from here to Chicago. Here follows an account of the trip.

The adventure begins on Thursday, August 12th. My friend Eehern is moving from Cambridge, MA to San Jose, CA by way of a convoluted path across the country.

I am the designated passenger for the Cambridge - Chicago leg. Note that I am not a designated driver, because Eehern doesn't believe I can drive stick shift. Somehow farm truck != beloved Subaru in terms of driving skill. I maintain that if I can navigate cow fields, I can totally manage highway driving, obviously. Same thing, right?

The plan called for leaving at 7am, but he and friends were out celebrating late the night before - so I had my doubts. So despite myself getting up dutifully at 6:45am, I heard not a peep from Eehern until 8:30am. Turns out after celebrating, he had been working from 2-4am the night before, taking care of such important tasks as delivering odds and ends to lab.

So at 8:30am he tells me: "I'll be over in twelve minutes."

Twelve minutes later he calls, "Did you remember your passport?" Yeah. Got it.

At 9:10am I see the Subaru pull in front of my building - longest twelve minutes I've waited in a while. :)

Figure: The car, packed to the brim. I was allowed one carry-on and one personal item.

We stopped at a gas station, and headed out. I always road trip with a beverage. To me, it's a part of the experience. I have nostalgic memories of driving from Stillwater OK to Tulsa OK, which takes exactly the amount of time to drink a Dr. Pepper.

Figure: Miss Outlier's road trip beverage, morning Day 1.
We drove from Cambridge MA to Springfield MA, where our first stop was the basketball hall of fame.

Figure: My grandfather would be proud. He was a basketball coach.
We wanted to, you know, actually SEE the museum, but it was $17 a person.

Figure: So this is what we did instead. Eehern insists there wasn't much there to see, I think that made him feel better. 
Now, before we go much further - let's establish what I was in charge of. My job consisted (since I wasn't allowed to drive) of the iPod, the EZPass, and the GPS.

Figure: So basically, if we didn't make it to Chicago, it was either my fault or the GPS lady. I'm sayin' the fault would be with the GPS.
But instead of relying wholly on the GPS, I thought it prudent to, you know, have SOME idea where we were headed.
Figure: Thus, I also had maps.
We headed out past Springfield, taking I-90 all the way to New York. About noon, I started to get hungry.

Eehern wasn't hungry. As I would come to find out, the boy doesn't need anything. No food, no water, no rest, no - ahem - bathroom stops. Apparently, I'm a high-maintenance passenger. He's always fine.

But he's also a gentleman, so we stopped for lunch.

Figure: Miss Outlier's road trip beverage, afternoon Day 2
We pressed on, heading to Buffalo and the promise of wings.

But Albany comes before Buffalo, and Albany had the following in store for us: rain!

Figure: Putting the RainX to work. Eehern has a devotion to RainX, to the point where he no longer uses wipers. Out of principle. And because his wipers aren't very good.
In fact, I recorded the occasion (and I was bored, having NO DRIVING to do - ahem). For your viewing pleasure:

At 3pm, we took a break. Once again, Eehern didn't need anything. But I needed to stretch and take a bathroom break. Perhaps those road trip beverages have something to do with it...?
Figure: Didn't stop me from getting another one, though. It's the principle of the thing. Miss Outlier's road trip beverage, late afternoon Day 1.

At this point I'd like to take a side tangent - it was at this rest stop I discovered another quirk. Eehern records all gas purchases.

Religiously, in fact. There is a whole lot of data here.

In face, Eehern once considered making a homework problem out of it - and making the students enter in all that data for analysis. At first I thought that was an awesome idea, then I realized he was my TA, and I would have hated that. In any case, there is a gold mine of transportation data here waiting for some industrial soul. Until then, we have absolutely no idea what all this data means.

Moving on.

I am including this just for A.J. - look what we passed on the road!

According to A.J., the world's best grocery store.

Moving on again.

We made it to Buffalo! Home of the original Buffalo Wing. Obviously, we stopped.

We wanted two toppings, and went for the Original and Mild. I think left to his own devices, Eehern would have gotten Original and Suicide, but we were going to be riding in a car for the next 24 hours. I insisted on Mild. 

It was delicious. We polished it off, with no sides needed save for a few measly celery sticks.

The carnage afterwards.

Full and happy, we checked off the first stop on the trip. Buffalo, been and done. On to Niagara...