The Beast Pageant in Boston

About this time last Thursday, I was arriving in Boston. As an actor in The Beast Pageant, I was tagging along with filmmaker Albert and costume designer Vanessa to The Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF). The Beast Pageant's artistic dream-logic metaphor was just barely appropriate for the horror-and-gore territory covered by the festival.

The opening-night screening was Hobo With a Shotgun at The Kendall Square Cinema (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA) — where all the rest of the films would be screened. I found "Hobo" fantastic — a 1980's action-exploitation film with Rutger Hauer, no less, in the lead role as a hobo trying to make ends meet but cornered into violent action. The bad guys are played with comic-absurd gusto as all parties are supported by a tongue-in-cheek script.

Afterward, that night's part was at T.T. the Bear's Place (10 Brookline Pl., Cambridge, MA), right around the corner from Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub (472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA). There were several bands and The Whore Church was performing live video mixing. Unfortunately it wasn't much of a place to chat (nor was there food) so we went to the Middle East for dinner which was pretty good. We weren't particularly impressed by T.T.'s as service was blasé and drinks were expensive ($2.50 for a soda, really? — but I guess that's Boston for you.) We got the last train on the Red Line to get home around 12:15 a.m.

On Friday we headed to The Gallery Diner (11 P St., South Boston, MA) which was fantastic. We made smalltalk with the friendly owners Paul and Colleen and the food was great. Exploring the Harvard Square area, we stopped at a few record and comic stores and I got an excellent fresh, locally-produced shake at the regional fast-food chain b.good (24 Dunster St., Cambridge, MA).

I checked out the "BUFF Family Values" short film program back at the festival and was pleased with all the films — some disturbing, some powerful, some funny, and some just strange. Later that night, we all saw Machete Maidens Unleashed which was a pretty decent documentary about the Philippine exploitation film industry in the 1970's and 1980's. I opted to see the 1973 film The Twilight People which was made in the Philippines during that era — a terrible film by nearly all counts. I recall listening to the dialog and thinking, "I wish they'd stop talking" and a scene later when they were walking through the jungle, "I wish there was more dialog". It was astounding to me that someone put this film together and decided they were done — continuity, plot, editing, and special effects came second to, well, cost, I guess.

Saturday started with an acceptable breakfast at Mul's Diner (75 W. Broadway, South Boston, MA). From there we went straight to the festival to catch "OMFG LMFAO!" and "Psychedelicinema" — a pair of shorts programs. The first offered a few chuckles but we didn't find it all that funny. The second was, in my opinion, a little better, but it was really abstract films and not psychedelic. We stayed for about half the program, skipping out partway through the 30-minute final film.

Between screenings I met Josh MacDonald, writer of The Corridor. I skipped the "Where the Music's At" music-videos short program, to see Josh's film. It was really excellent: evenly paced and gradually asking for suspended disbelief at the increasingly paranormal activity ensuing on screen. Despite its evenness, it delves into some extremely dark and gruesome territory — I found it highly successful.

We had a break and got to hang out (finally!) with other filmmakers at The Friendly Toast (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA) — and the only event to include free food. [I realize I'm knocking the festival for lackluster treatment of out-of-town guests, but I also know they're running on a shoestring budget and just didn't plan things out very well for us.] We finished the day with a pleasant at-home dinner with friends and family.

Sunday I met with my college friends at The Daily Catch (441 Harvard St., Brookline, MA). In 2002 I went to The Daily Catch (323 Hanover St., Boston, MA) and loved it, so I had to go back. The location in Brookline is bigger so Jan, Griffin, John, Michelle, Rob, Kevin, and myself could comfortably fit. Unfortunately they didn't open until 2 so we dawdled on the street, hanging out at the super cool Irving's Toy and Card Shop (371 Harvard St., Brookline, MA). At lunch I had the pistacio-encrusted swordfish which was fantastic. Everyone had a good meal for sure. We stayed and talked for a couple hours then Kevin and I headed back to the festival.

We got there a bit early and had plenty of time to get into the big event (for us): the screening of The Beast Pageant (and on IMDb). About 40 people showed up to watch it and, as best I can tell, really enjoyed it. It was fun to be part of the question-and-answer panel.

Afterward was the closing night party at Tommy Doyle's Irish Pub and Restaurant (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA). (The festival runs once during the weekend, and then nearly all the films are repeated during the week, making it possible to actually see every screening.) I had a celebratory shot of 18-year-old Glenlivet scotch — my first alcoholic drink since the beginning of December when I quit (I permit myself a rare taste of something extraordinary, or under truly extraordinary circumstances.) The Beast Pageant won a runner-up "Director's Choice" award for best feature.

On Monday things got amusing. We got up for breakfast and I headed out around 11:05 to get the train back home. We had been averaging 15 minutes to get to the South Station where I was to get the train, but today buses were running on a half-hour schedule rather than every 10 minutes. I called for a taxi around 11:30 and was promised one immediately; I passed on boarding a bus that arrived shortly after. Alas, the cab didn't show up in time. I took the next bus and got to the Amtrak station (Summer St. and Atlantic Ave., Boston, MA) about 20 minutes late — if only I'd have hopped on that 11:30 bus. Alas, I traded my unclaimed ticket for one tomorrow. At least I got to see "Future Imperfect" — the science fiction short film program. It was okay but not great. Kevin was kind enough to let me stay at his place.

That night he and I went out and got dinner at Punjab Palace (109 Brighton Ave., Allston, MA) which really had great Indian cuisine. After that we went to see bands play at Charlie's Kitchen (10 Elliot St., Cambridge, MA). We were disappointed in the first act and headed to The Lizard Lounge (1667 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA) for an open-mic. That was a blast and we stayed quite late. We got back to his house and I slept on the futon couch.

I left when Kevin went to work, taking the T into the city packed with all the commuters. I found the Banksy graffiti art that Kevin mentioned off Essex Street then went to The South Street Diner (178 Kneeland St., Boston, MA) for breakfast. The staff was friendly and the breakfast burrito was quite good. I hung around and chatted for quite some time, arriving at the train station with plenty of time to spare.

I was happy to be on the train home. I arrived in Albany a little late but had about an hour before it left again, so my parents stopped by and we had a quick and decent Italian dinner at (if I remember right) Rudy's V & R Ristorante (483 Broadway, Rensselaer) across the tracks from the station. I was worried for a bit but got back in time to get back on the train home.

2,509 total views, no views today

Vacation to Acadia National Park

In case you hadn't already noticed, there was no blog activity last week, and the events list might have been a little more erroneous than usual. The reason was that Ali and I left on July 18 and headed to my parents' house in Schenectady, my friends Jan and Shannon in New Hampshire, Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) for 3 days, Ali's friend in Boston, a brief stop at my parents' again, and back home on the 25th.

Naturally, when we got to Schenectady, we got a late lunch/early dinner at Jumpin' Jack's Drive-In (5 Schonowee Ave., Scotia) for their highly prized fast food. Afterward, we took a drive out to Frosty Acres (150 Skyline Dr., Schenectady) which is a local campground that I've seen signs for since I was a kid. By the time we left, we dubbed it "Shady Acres" — not only was the site that was recommended for us to check out a mud pile (and $25 per night), the clientèle was a mix of people residing there and/or passing through with no other living options. In essence: a bit of a rough crowd. Topping it off was the strict, literal enforcement of the 51⁄2 mile-per-hour speed limit. We ended up staying on the land in back of my parents' house, giving us a chance to fully test the tent and its set-up and take-down.

On Sunday we left for New Hampshire; this time taking the Turnpike through Massachusetts and forgoing the scenic, slower, and shorter trip through Vermont and New Hampshire. We hung out with Jan and Shannon, and my friends John and Michelle visited from Boston as well. We stayed through Tuesday before heading out to Maine.

Despite the rain, we decided to continue with the plan of following scenic Route 1. We got off Route 95 (which I guess now is 295 as 95 is now the toll road once known as 495 … thanks, Maine) at Freeport. We stopped at Classic Custard (150 Lower Main St., Freeport, ME) and had a hearty snack before continuing into town to visit L. L. Bean (10 Depot St., Freeport, ME) … I mean, how can you not, especially on a camping trip? I can only assume that L. L. Bean was there first and the shopping nightmare of "outlet" stores cropped up sometime later, but at least their store was competent … in my opinion, not worth a trip out of your way, but if you're a fan, it's worth it to at least stop.

Anyway, travel was excruciatingly slow and Route 1 is not nearly as scenic as it implies. That said, it's far more interesting a drive than Rt. 95, but the time cost is pretty high. We arrived at Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) around 8 p.m. in steady rain. We decided to sleep in the Roadmaster after putting the coolers outside. Ali also wanted to get some dinner more substantial than the snacks we had; she settled for cheese and wine. We also got a chance to check out a Ranger lecture on the geology of the area at the park's outdoor amphitheater, giving us a taste of just how engaging the park really is. The rain kept the crowd light and most of us joined the Ranger on the covered stage. The rain got heavier as we left and we were confined to the car for the night.

Wednesday proved to be much better. We got the tent set up and had breakfast at camp. We took the "free" [paid for by our $20 car fee and L. L. Bean; once again] shuttle from the campground to nearby Bar Harbor. We signed up to go to Baker Island on Friday through The Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (1 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) — apparently a family of 12 lived on the remote island some considerable distance from shore during the 1800's. We stopped by Alone Moose (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) and chatted with the owner Sherry, stopping at the gallery upstairs, The Gallery Upstairs (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) to check out works by J. Stan Mason that greatly appealed to me.

Sherry recommended The West Street Cafe (76 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) which was excellent — and refreshingly inexpensive. I had the Cafe Special which was lobster and shrimp tossed with mushrooms over linguine; Ali had the lobster special which included a 1 pound lobster, clam chowder, and a slice of blueberry pie which we shared á la mode. Everything was excellent, and with 2 local beers, we barely cracked $50.

We headed back to our campsite then walked to Sand Beach — pretty much the only substantial traditional beach in Acadia, and a place where you can go swimming. The water temperature is claimed to be around 50°F, and I believe most adults (like Ali and I) experience pain from cold by letting the water wash over our feet. However, I couldn't resist playing in the ocean as it's so rare that we get there, so I used the technique the Ranger from last night suggested: run at full speed into the water. It turned out to be not as bad as first expected, and I stayed in for the better part of an hour; my body apparently adjusted much better to total immersion.

We used the park shuttle once more to get back to camp. I couldn't get much of a fire started, but neither could anybody as everything was so damp. We ended up eating what we could cook on the camp stove instead. I stayed up for a while trying, but I never could get the wood to stop boiling off water enough to ignite.

Thursday was also a nice day. We hiked up Beehive: one of the small mountains in the area, although much of the climb is quite steep. So much so, in fact, that iron rungs were installed to assist along the trail when it went vertical. The climb isn't all that high — only 500 feet or so — but it does yield a dramatic view of the coastline. There's also an easier trail that leads through the woods past Bowl Lake which was startlingly serene.

The park shuttles transfer at Bar Harbor's town square, so we spent some time once again there. We had another good meal at The Thirsty Whale Tavern (40 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME): I with a fish fry club sandwich (fried haddock, bacon, lettuce, tomato), and Ali with a lobster roll (big pieces of lobster held together with a bit of mayonnaise). We shopped for souvenirs and provisions: particularly, fire-starting sticks such that I might be able to get a fire going that would be capable of cooking something.

We decided to get ice cream and Ali joked that was going to get lobster ice cream so I said if they had it, she'd have to get it. As it turned out, Ben and Bills Chocolate Emporium (66 Main St., Bar Harbor, ME) had lobster ice cream and it wasn't all bad, although I let her off the hook and just forced her to taste it. We also stopped by The Bar Harbor Brewing Company (8 Mount Desert St., Bar Harbor, ME) which we'd had at the West Street Cafe and picked up a sampling of brews.

We got back later than we wanted, but still with plenty of daylight. I set to getting the fire started which went much better with the fire-starting sticks, but the wood was still too wet to yield good coals to cook over. We used it anyway, and had steak tips and corn for dinner along with some beer. We decided also to take down the tent as it was supposed to rain that night into Friday. And it did: starting around 2 a.m., waking us with its drumming on the roof of the car.

Friday was the day of the cruise to Baker Island, and we had set alarms to get up on time. No shuttles run that early, so we drove to Bar Harbor around 7 a.m., leaving the waterproof items behind for the time-being. We had a mediocre breakfast at Jordan's Restaurant (80 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME), forgetting that in most areas, diners are a "theme" restaurant and as such, expensive. Ali couldn't get over the fact that an unassuming vegetable-and-cheese omelette ran $11 … I almost had to take away her placemat menu! Further, the ship to the island was cancelled due to dangerously rough seas.

Instead, we decided to drive around the park loop. We drove up Cadillac Mountain — the highest peak on the Atlantic Coast north of Brazil — although it was essentially a steep grade in a blanket of fog and rain yielding a view of the sides, tops, and bottoms of clouds. We got back to camp and the rain had subsided as much as it was that day so we packed up and headed out.

We had our eyes out for those famous Maine blueberries. We stopped at a farm stand but the berries in the area were still too tart. Nonetheless, the guy also baked pies and had a blueberry one in the oven right then. Ali wanted it but I didn't want to wait for it to cool. After much disagreement, we finally decided to get it: as it turned out, it would cool fine in the car even if it wasn't perfectly level (it wasn't going to slop out as I thought). We made our way through Maine on I-95 (the new one, including the toll part) and hit Boston right at 5 p.m. The remaining 10 miles to Ali's friend's place took another hour and a half, but we ended up having a really nice time.

Saturday we got up and hit the road, stopping one last time to visit the ocean. We got to Schenectady by 4 p.m. and arrived at Ali's parent's at 8 p.m. to pick up our dog, Lucy. By 10 p.m. or so, we were all done and ready to take some time off to recuperate.

I was kind of expecting Acadia National Park to be like Stony Brook State Park (10820 State Route 36, Dansville), but alas, it's more like Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) — only smaller in size. It would probably take a month to hike all the trails, attend all the Ranger discussions, and otherwise sample the whole place; much longer to savor it; and much longer than that to know it. I greatly enjoyed the "fractal effect" — that you could look at a grand-scaled wonder, then at the lay of the land and its geological history, then at the vegetation and stones nearby, then at the individual plants and the details in the individual pieces of stone, then at the lichens and mosses and their diversity — each time, there is something interesting to catch your eye.

1,539 total views, no views today

SoundRabbit at Boulder Coffee

I went to Boulder Coffee Co.MySpace link (100 Alexander St.) to check out SoundRabbitMySpace link. The place was dead with just a few musicians, myself, and the slowly building crowd for the Open Mic Comedy. It's too bad there weren't more people because SoundRabbit is a nicely rhythmic, expertly proficient acoustic-driven band. Several times they reminded me of Paul Simon's acoustic solo stuff, but maybe with a country twang. They teeter right on the edge of "jam band" but without the annoying vapid repetition of the latter — they reminded me more of The BuddhaHoodMySpace link than any of a billion Grateful Dead wannabes.

During the show Russ (the lead singer) was having problems with the sustain pedal on his keyboard — it seemed to be stuck. It got so bad he just unplugged it in the middle of the song and tried to hold notes manually — given the staccato style of most of the song it appeared to work. Between songs I dashed up to see if I could fix it. I didn't even make it back to my table when I noticed it had a switch on the side so it would operate as either momentary or push-on/push-off and it was in the undesirable position. They were all very appreciative that I had "saved the tour" (although I think they'd have figured it out somewhere in the van on the road before their next gig) and gave me a free CD.

Afterward I talked with them a little bit before they had to get going — the odd Sunday Rochester stop was a convenient one between Chicago and Boston. Since I've been to Denver quite a few times I'm familiar with Boulder a little as well so we talked geography a bit. Several of the band members are from Massachusetts originally so they were doing a stop at Mom and Dad's for the night.

Anyway, we also talked a little about the RBT Backstage program. Basically they invite fans to join the backstage program for $20/year and in exchange, they get access to all the music recorded that year (and presumably before) to download along with other perks — if you're "in" the backstage, then you get access to everything, and if you aren't, then you can go to shows and buy CD's like anyone else. What they then do is to donate their merchandise sales to charity rather than trying to scrape out a tour on the often not-so-deep pockets of people at the shows. I imagine it makes for a more relaxing tour — they said the travel money was mostly already budgeted with a few major college shows to cover the rest — so it's never an issue of selling enough stickers and T-shirts to fill the van with gas.

I'll probably send them a message tipping them off to the idea of Creative Commons licensing so they can make a (theoretically) legally binding agreement that their works are copyright by them and they license their works freely under certain circumstances — like to share in a non-commercial setting or to remix the works given the same license is provided.

930 total views, no views today

Traveling through 7 states and one district

On Saturday the 5th, Ali and I got the station wagon packed up and we hit the road toward Pennsylvania. We stopped for a breakfast snack along the way and got a couple of the breakfast wraps from Subway. They were entirely awful and expensive relative to the modest amount of food and low quality. The bacon was chewy like a dog treat, the egg was flavorless, the cheese tasted fake, and the tomato pieces I got on mine had so much dye to make them red that a few drops stained my shirt. What a way to start the vacation, eh?

Fortunately we stopped for lunch at Selin's Grove Brewing Co. (121 North Market St., Selinsgrove, PA) for lunch. It was excellent. We had a buffet of assorted appetizers — all of which were coincidentally vegetarian. Next stop was American Vintage Bed and Breakfast (5740 Thompson Rd., Stewartstown, PA) where we were staying for the night. We planned to relax in the hot tub but ended up talking with the proprietor for a few hours instead on all sorts of things. It was great fun. We were in the area for Ali's niece's and nephew's Baptism and we went to her brother's house later on. We got back to the B&B late but got into the hot tub anyway and had a relaxing soak. I guess technically it's a "spa" which is different from a "hot tub" and different from a "Jacuzzi" — it had water jets and a pump but the water temperature could only go up to 104°F which was fine by me.

Sunday started with an excellent homemade breakfast at the B&B. Then it was off to the Baptism so we went to church for the morning service. It was a "progressive" church so they had a rock band that wasn't bad, although like every other Christian rock band I've ever seen, subtlety and metaphor apparently do not concern the songwriters. The service itself was pretty good although a bit light-handed when it came to encouraging people to be more like Jesus. We were all quite amused at the suggestion to embrace the Holy Spirit by "sucking face with Jesus". I guess it's not just Barack Obama's preacher who says some peculiar things.

Monday morning I managed to squeeze in a barefoot run around the neighborhood. It was hillier than where I usually run and I think that running down a hill is how I ended up with a blood blister on the ball of my right foot. Thankfully it didn't hurt much at all. Later that day we explored an antiques store in the nearby town and went to Brown's Orchards and Farm Market (8892 Susquehanna Trail South, Seven Valleys, PA) which is a neat, sizable farm market.

Tuesday we headed out from there and went to Washington D.C. to visit with my brother, Adam. He was still at work but set us up with parking at his apartment building. He suggested we check out Lindy's Red Lion (2040 I St. NW, Washington, DC) for lunch. We took the metro — the stop is a block away from Adam's apartment — to the Foggy Bottom stop near George Washington University Hospital (2300 I St. NW, Washington, DC). Lindy's had great food at cheap prices. I had their hamburger topped with with fried onions and ranch dressing … so good. From there we started walking.

We passed The White House (1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC) which I found to be a bit creepy because of the security — I had the feeling that everyone was treated like an enemy of the state. Maybe if it was guarded more like a national treasure than like a military compound then I'd think differently. In any case, we headed around the corner and got to the National Mall. Even though it was only an hour before closing, we decided to visit National Air and Space Museum (Independence Ave. SW at 6th St. SW, Washington, DC). There's a lot of cool stuff there — often with descriptions that are just as cheesily written as at any other museum — but the items are things like real moon rocks and actual airplanes.

We headed out from there and went to a few bars with Adam once he got out of work. First was The Big Hunt (1345 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC) which was having a chicken wing special. For some reason, D.C. chicken wings seem to be boiled or roasted and then covered in Red Hot … at least they weren't terrible, just unusual. I was amused at the menu because — along with all the other domestic beers — a Pabst Blue Ribbon was $4. Anyway, we stayed out late and headed back to Adam's to sleep.

We left around noon or so and decided to head back through Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to I-88 to get to my parents' house. The idea was to avoid rush-hour in New York and instead we got to Binghamton around 5 and as such, saw no appreciable increase in traffic. Ali finally got to eat at Jumpin' Jack's Drive-In (5 Schonowee Ave., Scotia) — a locally-run fast food joint that's a de facto Capital District landmark.

Thursday we got going around noon again and headed through Vermont and New Hampshire for a scenic tour to get to see Jan and Shannon in Dover, New Hampshire — right by the little bit of coastline that separates Maine from Massachusetts. Visiting them was the highlight of the trip — it really has been too long. We headed out to a fantastic dinner at The Dunaway Restaurant (66 Marcy St., Portsmouth, NH) that night before returning to go to bed.

Friday we got up and Jan gave us a tour of downtown Dover. A charming little town … although the New Hampshire political climate of "spend nothing, ever" showed. We went to Newick's Lobster House (431 Dover Point Rd., Dover, NH) for lunch. They serve some great seafood: they're right on the bay where it comes from. The place is also huge and looked like it could seat 500 people — and it apparently does quite often.

We left early on Saturday (well, around 9:30 anyway) and headed back through Massachusetts. We stopped by my parents' place one last time before finishing up the long haul back to Rochester. In all it was about 1,500 miles of driving (for the whole trip, silly).

1,134 total views, 1 views today