Monday, July 30, 2007

And school's out early and soon we'll be learning and the lesson today is how to die...

As a founding member and semi-regular contributor of my friend Janssen's "Celebrity Death Pun & Conundrum Society" Facebook group, I always have my ear to the ground when it comes to the passing of celebrities of varying fame. It's always interesting to see what clever, esoteric, or (many times) belabored puns we can make about the deceased from Robert Altman ("Suicide would have been painless") to Peter Boyle ("Dead Frankenstein") to Charles Nelson Reilly ("When the doctor looked at his EKG, he saw a ______"). However, given the ever so mercurial nature of the Reaper one could go weeks at a time before a celebrity of a suitable pop culture pedigree (not that there's anything wrong with that; Karl Malden, Nancy Reagan, the cast of Golden Girls you guys keep on trucking) or have a ridiculous day like today when you have reports of three big passings all within a few hours. I am also fully aware that many other "notable" people die everyday like the patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Chairman of the Iranian Assembly of Experts, but one must agree that these people lack a certain pop cultural cache.

If you haven't heard already Tom Snyder, Bill Walsh, and Ingmar Bergman all passed away earlier today, all three (well to a lesser extent for Tom) were some of the most accomplished men of their respective fields. I mean there have been crowded days like this before but I found it interesting, the diversity of those that passed. How many Ingmar Bergman fans would know if Bill Walsh or Tom Snyder died, how man Bill Walsh fans cared if Tom Snyder and Ingmar Bergman died, does Tom Snyder even have fans? The final interesting note about the passings were that I learned about both Bergman and Snyder from watching the Critic. I also remember playing Bill Walsh College Football for the SNES at my friends house around the same time thus completing this bizarre 1995 connection.

So here are my final words on:

Tom Snyder
"The Late Late Late Show"
I'm far too young to have even existed for his more famous "Tomorrow with Tom Snyder" but I do remember watching the Late Late show, which for those of you actually younger than me was later hosted by Craig Kilborn and now Craig Ferguson. I recall viewing his incomprehensibly cerebral discussion show as the epitome of what being an adult was about...because it was so boring.

Ingmar Bergman

I actually haven't seen a single Ingmar Bergman film myself, although I did see "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" where they parody the whole playing games with Death thing from the "Seventh Seal". Now that I'm getting my Netflix going again maybe I'll get around to seeing at least one. However prospects seem low that there are any nudity filled sex romp action buddy comedies in his filmography.

Bill Walsh
"West Corpse Offense"

Unfortunately no Bill Walsh parody in the Critic to complete the trifecta but a crudely animated representation nevertheless. I again was far too young or not even born to appreciate the three Super Bowls won by his 49ers dynasty. When I watch the NFL films though, I really feel bad for the 1988 Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. I had for years mistaken George Seifert, who lead the 49ers to Super Bowl wins in 1989 and 1995, with Walsh. Although this mistake is quite understandable considering that they were both similar looking gray haired old white guys.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

You will find me in the matinee, the dark of the matinee.

Today I decided to break my standard summer time routine of laying around the house all day and went to the local multiplex to see a movie. I went to see "Knocked Up", thus becoming just about the last person in America to have seen this movie. I can write off the whole activity as an actually constructive use of my time though since it had been a summer goal of mine for a while. I can now proudly check that off my mental list of summer time goals (watch out "replace E string on guitar" and "spend some time on the treadmill" you might be next). The movie had come out just around the time I was heading off to Central America for a month so by the time had come back it had already run its course with everybody I knew. Being the odd man out of the loop I went to see it alone when I found out my local Loews was still running it.

So thus I found myself by myself in a movie theater at one in the afternoon on a Wednesday, with literally two other people (some old couple) watching a 2 month old movie complete with its totally dated previews. This was actually the second straight movie I found myself watching alone in an empty theater. Circumstances had prevented me from seeing the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters until about the last week in its brief theatrical run. After two straight such experiences, you know what? I kinda dig this whole solo movie thing!

I don't know how this unwritten law developed where you shouldn't go to a movie by yourself, unless its a porno. There's really nothing much of the standard movie watching experience that can be enhanced by having a group of your friends. I mean there are exceptions like going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show or maybe going to a notoriously bad movie just to riff on it a la MST3K, but for just watching your average Hollywood picture I might actually be starting to prefer the solo touch. It's main benefit is it bypasses the logistical issues: getting your friends together at the same time, agreeing on a picture, buying tickets, the awkwardness and difficulty of trying all sit around the same area; all that stuff. It's essentially all the issues addressed in "The Movie" episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and the gang try to go to the movies together and hilarity ensues. Also, going alone avoids a personal pet peeve of mine where after the movie everyone feels obligated to give their instant impression of the film or ask someone else about their's. I just want to let the film percolate for a while before I pass any judgment on it.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm now going to be some multiplex hermit or something. I still enjoy hanging out with my friends and if it weren't for the concept of the movie date I would have been forced to think of new and interesting activities every time I went out with somebody. I just think people should overcome the taboo and go out an experience the carefree solo movie experience for themselves. So whether you have a secret urge to see "License to Wed" without your friends knowing about it or you missed out on "Ocean's 13" and someone's still playing it somewhere, get out there and enjoy yourself.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I don't know how to put this but we're kind of a big deal

*Note: If you want to read a better written, more introspective, detailed, and grammatically accurate take on the Twisted Misters winning the WSOPC, then by all means check out Utz's definitive blog post on the subject. This is just my rambling personal take on the whole thing.

So in the end, through a potent combination of luck and skills (maybe about an additional 15 percent concentrated power of will), our little pop culture triumvirate were crowned the basic cable pop culture kings of the universe. As numerous forums and blogs all over the Internet will attest to, it was truly a case of the bad guys winning. It's like if at the end of Bambi the man comes back and takes Bambi down or if Schindler's List turned out to be a cook book. For some people out there it was the absolute worst case scenario, a complete downer to the entire series. More than a few claimed they wouldn't watch the next season or said they'd watch solely to see somebody take us out. All I've got to say on the matter is: more power to ya!

When my teammates and I hastily emailed our application to VH1 from the NYU computer center sometime in late 2006 my only dream was winning the cash, the minor fame I considered but it was mainly the cash. But, by the time we got to the regionals, took the test, gave the interview, and then competed with the other New York teams, I realized there was much more. Andrew U.'s view of the whole thing was far more noble than mine, he seriously viewed it as this grand opportunity of vindication for our supposedly wasted lives of pop culture obsession for which I gave him considerable flack for. I just figured it was a game show that could help us repay some of our NYU debt (and believe me nobody knows debt like NYU), it was like going to a casino or being on Press Your Luck or something. However as the three of us hung out in our hotel rooms our first day in, I realized this really was a once in a lifetime opportunity; everyone has a skill and pop culture was ours, this was the biggest opportunity that we could have to put this skill to the test. Of course I still dug the money and fame, but I started to understand the significance Utz put on this event.

It was also around that point that if we are going to compete, we were going to go all out for it. That is why I threw down the gauntlet at breakfast the next day by introducing our team as the "team that's going to beat you all". We had come ashore to this hostile land and I burned all the ships, no turning back. I remember it getting some standard eye rolling, groans, and moans but I, like Utz, was totally surprised by how much it resonated with some teams by the time the show aired.

This sort of segueways onto the issue of trash talking; our team (mostly me) got this reputation for trash talking but thinking back this seems like an unfair generalization. In terms of actually bad mouthing teams it was basically relegated to the on camera ribbing that was encourage by the show that everybody partook in. I don't believe I talked any ill will to any team backstage or in the green room. I wasn't doubting people's pop culture skills, knocking over their plates while they were eating or dishing out evil eyes. I never said a team was bad, just we were better. We (again mostly I) were guilty of cockiness, and showboating. This is a victimless crime. The only people who stand to suffer from this sort of behavior are the people boasting themselves up...if they fail to deliver. In the end I knew the risks associated with guaranteeing victories and proclaiming our dominance and put the pride on the line each and every match. And you know what? It was fun as hell! How often does one get the opportunity to just be a swaggering, grandstanding villain...and win...on TV of all places?

Also since when was it so taboo to say "I expect to win"? For all the friendly conversations and hugs and laughs, this whole event was still a competition and there was nobody in that room who would have said they'd like the other opponent to win because they're a nice bunch of people. I said our team would win at breakfast because I truly believed our team was good enough to win (even with Weber's terminal lack of confidence). I said we were awesome because well in the extremely narrow field of pop culture game shows we were indeed awesome.

Overall though, no hard feelings for all those haters out there. I really enjoyed the whole spectrum of perspectives on us from "OMG u guys rule...victor is so cute" to "OMG u guys suk...victor is such an asshole". There really is no such thing as bad press, and I was just glad to have people talking about us either way. Much props and love to all those people out there who for some reason or other dug our wild shenanigans. To all the female fans out there: I'm young, handsome, rich, and single so hey? While the jury's still out on if there really was a generational rift between us and most of the other teams, fan wise I've noticed the bulk of our fans were people our age and younger (especially high school girls) and some of the most vocal haters out there were older adults. I'm really going to miss checking back on my facebook and seeing 30 new friend requests and wall postings from strangers from all over or getting like a ton of myspace comments. What they say about fame is true, it's like a drug and when this fame dissipates I may just have to turn to drugs to feel this high again.

So I guess this is it for our little fortnight of pop culture glory, until next year. A final message to all the people out there at home who saw the show and thought to themselves, "man too easy, my two friends and I would totally dominate this show": BRING. IT. ON. You have no idea what it took for all the teams to make it here, let alone win it all, but I welcome all challengers. If you and your little friends can make it all the way up the mountain and get on in 2008, we'll be waiting for you. And you know what? We're Twisted Misters and we're the team that's going to beat you all!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sweep the Leg, Johnny!

A free piece of advice from a member of a team that has made it all the way to finals of the World Series of Pop Culture, know your classic 80s movies. However, failing that, make sure your teammates are experts at everything else, notably Bond movies and fictional modes of transportation. I guess I'm replacing the shot of the hole in my roof to a shot of the hole in my knowledge. It's funny, even though I haven't seen the Karate Kid in literally a decade, I knew the answer to every question in that round except for that crucial 5th. It just goes to show the random nature of these questions sometimes.

I'm placing some of the blame on my armbands, which I switched inside out before the semifinals. Of course some other blame goes to the 3 Men and a Little Lazy, who definitely brought it in that match. Kudos to some great competitors and a great bunch of guys.

Now that it has been shown that I can indeed bleed, what does this mean for the upcoming finals match up?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

In Other News...

A large chunk of the roof in my kitchen unexpectedly collapsed yesterday. Apparently there was a leaky pipe.

I had no idea I was making eggs in the use an esoteric reference.

Monday, July 16, 2007

How many of you are familiar with the concept of a "tontine"?

As I assume every home in America has, I've also been watching the first round of VH1's World Series of Pop Culture all last week (who's that sharp looking Asian guy on Twisted Misters?). It's obvious that the field this year is even stronger and well matched than the inaugural bunch as evidenced by the glut of tiebreakers thus far. I'm digging it, the matches for the most part are competitive and make for some quality TV. All these tiebreakers also got me thinking of what kind of random lists of things they'd come up with in the next rounds. What director's filmography are they going to ask about? What artist's list of top ten hits will they want? What show's ensemble cast will they want the names of?

That last question also got me thinking about a discussion I had recently with a friend about the Magnificent Seven and how Robert Vaughn, in real life, is the last surviving member of the Seven; thus granting him sole ownership of the Magnificent Seven tontine (assuming such a tontine existed). I'm assuming for most people my age the first, and possibly only time, you heard of a tontine was the, above pictured, classic "Curse of the Flying Hellfish" episode of the Simpsons. Just to make sure, to paraphrase Ox, it's essentially a contract between participants where upon the last surviving participant becomes the sole owner of whatever said agreed upon items, money, etc, etc.

So after considering some of the great ensemble casts of the past in television and movies, here are five random tontines that I think are starting to mature:

Gilligan's Island

Status: As of the writing of this blog it's a three way horse race between "Ginger" Tina Louise, "Mary Ann" Dawn Wells, and "The Professor" Russell Johnson. It was definitely a shocker when Gilligan Bob Denver suddenly died to throat cancer in 2005, up until then he was definitely a front runner. Of course the Millionaire and his Wife: Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer, and the Skipper too, Alan Hale Jr. were definitely long shots to win out. Frankly, I'm surprised the Professor is still going strong although he looks more like the Skipper, lately.

The Prize:
The long sought after solution to finally get off the island.

My Pick: As much as the Professor was my favorite, I've got to play the numbers and go with Dawn Wells. She's technically the youngest and I think she still looks pretty good. Tina Louise is only year or two off but I've always been a Mary Ann man.

Contemporary Tontine to Consider: The cast of LOST

The Dirty Dozen

Status: Forty years after its debut, the winner of this star studded tontine's still fairly up in the air. First the former members: John Cassavetes (Franco), Telly Savales (Maggott), Charles Bronson (Wladislaw), Ben Carruthers (Gilpin), and Tom Busby (Vladek). That brings the candidates list to 7, which in actuality for me is 5 with 2 MIAs. The definite five are Jim Brown (Jefferson), Donald Sutherland (Pinkley), Clint Walker (Posey), Trini Lopez...yes that Trini Lopez (Jiminez), and Al Mancini (Bravos). The other two guys Colin Maitland (Sawyer) and Stuart Cooper (Lever) both have very sparse imdb pages and have no credits beyond the 70s. I can only assume they're in hiding from an ambitious Jim Brown looking to cut down the list.

The Prize: I can only assume a fortune in stolen Nazi artwork...and an autographed picture of Lee Marvin with Ernest Borgnine.

My Pick: I've gotta go with classic bad ass Jim Brown. I feel like if he decided to come back into the NFL today he'd still grind out a 1000 yard season. My dark horse candidate would be Trini Lopez though.

Contemporary Tontine to Consider: I guess whoever Tarantino casts in the upcoming Dirty Dozen pastiche "Inglorious Bastards".

The Beverly HillBillies
Status: I guess this one's a pretty predictable setup. Although until his death in 2003, Buddy Ebsen (Jed) was really making things interesting by living for so long. The same cannot be said of (Granny) Irene Ryan who passed away in the 1970s. That leaves it a horse race between the two younger actors Donna Douglas (Ellie May) and Max Baer Jr. (Jethro).

The Prize: Obviously the sole title to the vast tracks of land rich with bubblin' crude, oil that is, black gold, Texas tea...

My Pick: I'm going to have to go with Max Baer Jr. He's a little bit younger and if he has half the fighting spirit of his father Max Baer aka the antagonist in Cinderella Man then I'm sold. Also Donna Douglas the hottie who played Elly May and "the really attractive woman who in actuality is considered hideous because every one on her world is a hideous monster thus proving the old maxim beauty is in the eye of the beholder" episode of the Twilight Zone hasn't aged well at all.

Contemporary Tontine to Consider: There really isn't any show out there now to match the high concept of this classic. I guess you can compare it to the cast of the 1993 film version.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Status: I suspect director Stanley Kramer's personal intention when making this movie was to have as many old school comedic actors on screen as possible before they all died, mission accomplished. With that in mind it's interesting to see after 44 years who's still in the hunt for the money. Of course if you consider the cameo cast of thousands this would be an entry all to itself. I'm just focusing on the 12 principle actors and actresses looking for the treasure. So from that list the one's who couldn't join us are: Milton Berle (Mr. Finch), Buddy Hackett (Benjy), Ethel Merman (Mrs. Marcus), Dick Shawn (Sylvester Marcus), Phil Silvers (Otto), Terry-Thomas (Hawthorne), and Spencer Tracy (Capt. Culpepper). The fortunate survivors are: Edie Adams (Mrs. Crump), Sid seriously he's still alive (Mr. Crump), Dorothy Provine (Mrs. Finch), Mickey Rooney...yeah he's alive too (Dingy), and Jonathan Winters (Lennie).

The Prize: Three Hundred and Fifty G's buried under a mysterious big W.

My Pick: Forget that all the women actors are younger, forget that he's 87 years old. I'm going with Mickey Rooney, he will out live us all. In the end it'll just be cockroaches and Mickey Rooney.

Contemporary Tontine to Consider:
The cast of the lame 2001 retread, "Rat Race". Breckin Meyer's career died many years ago.

The Golden Girls
Status: One of the great questions of the universe: How does a show featuring four senior citizens from twenty years ago still have no one who's passed on? It boggles the mind how every member of the Golden Girls are still alive and look about the same as they did in the 80s. Bea Arthur (Dorothy), Betty White (Rose), and Estelle Getty (Sophia) with the exception Rue McClanahan... spry 73 (Blanche) are in their mid 80s! I'll be long dead before this is settled.

The Prize: I think it's the secret to immortality and after a while they all just gave up and decided to split it.

My Pick: My pick is irrelevant, I guess I'll go with Rue McClanahan since she is on paper the youngest.

Contemporary Tontine to Consider: I guess the ladies of Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

10 Random comments about me I found on the Internet

About 48 hours after my cable TV debut , the blogosphere is buzzing:

"That Victor guy was awesome."

"Victor, will you be my friend? Heck, I'd party with all of you. You're taking 'power-geeks' as the utmost compliment, right?

(The haters just don't understand the sense of zen one gets when one is a self-realized nerd. It's their loss.)"

"Victor I'm sure made a lot of friends during the taping with his 'hello how are you doing today, can I get you a cup of coffee attitude.' Do the rules of hating allow for me to wonder if these guys have ever touched a woman (or man if thats their persuasion)? If not, then I will gladly redact that statement..."

"hey im watching you now and im masturbating to you too ;-)"

"Could that asian guy be any more obnoxious?"

"That asian kid, what's his name, Victor, I wonder if his arms got tired from doing faux guitar windmills all night. And then to say that the other team was "older but not necessarily wiser" was a total cocky thing to say when his team didn't handily beat the other team. I think he knew all those places in that Kokomo song because he probably spends a lot of time at home listening to it in his bedroom, while strokin it to the lingerie section of the Sears catalogue, dreaming he was in those places with a girl, ANY girl!"

"i heart victor lee

hes my weapon of choice"

"i don’t know The Victor myself but i wont lie he is cute in a dorky way but hey nothing wrong with that… it can be sexy … lol i’m sure these guys are gonna get a lot of groupies!"

"You don’t really expect a dorky Asian guy wearing a Spinal Tap t-shirt to be able to name all the place names mentioned in Kokomo, but he at least knew enough to beat the other guy"

"Victor is a bag of dick!!!!"

And if for all you livejournalers out there...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

This Time It's War!

So the World Series of Pop Culture has finally begun. When we finished with all the shooting in March, I couldn't even imagine this day even arriving. It was one of those inevitable days that you know will happen but despite your best efforts you can't begin to visualize, like thinking about your first day driving a car when you're ten, or the first day of school next year on your last day of classes, or the day I turn 30 (still not happenin').

Tonight I finally got to see what some teams were doing while Utz, Weber, and I were eating catered food and scaring the other teams by still talking about pop culture for hours in the green room. Apparently they were out there making good, but somewhat uncompelling television. I think maybe, since I was so eager for the show that my expectations were too high. Don't get me wrong, I mean there's little one can do if your match isn't as exciting as it should short of throwing games to make it closer. More power to you if you can kick some ass. Entering the tournament we were shooting to make many hours of uninteresting television in the form of a string of one sided sweep victories for us (you'll have to watch us to see just how boring we might get).

I'm not going to do a detailed recap or anything of the episode, you can check out this nifty little bracket on wiki. It's not an anti-spoiler reason or anything, I'm too tired to remember all the details and I forgot to tape it. Besides, by the time you read this, VH1 will have no doubt played this episode about a dozen times.

I don't want to come off as overly critical about the whole thing, there were definitely some good match ups with a bunch of tiebreakers, but at a high level of play like this, there should never (I repeat) never be 3-0 blow out rounds. And it's not like those categories where impossible, especially "80s Hits", that's a category everyone should be down least one answers' worth. The other was a category about songs about crazy people called "Loony Tunes" that wasn't all that difficult (even my pop culture greenhorn sister knew "Basketcase"). In defense of both the fat guy from Fat Guys in Little Coats and the chick from White Russians, lyrics categories are definitely the trickiest of categories, it's like a magic eye painting you either see it right away or never do (but come on you gotta know "When Does Cry?").

That's basically my two cents on this the critical first day of the tournament. The questions were pretty good, like most at home I was screaming in frustration when people weren't getting the ones I knew and quietly forgetting about the ones I didn't know. Now if you want to see some dynamite pop culturing action* you gotta tune in tonight at 9 (8 central) to see our little pop culture fire engine's push for glory.

We'll be having a little TV party tonight at Weber's pad in Brooklyn. You know where to reach me if you've got nothing better to do.

*dynamite pop culturing action not guaranteed

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Victor Abroad, Part I, 6/12 : Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

I'm pretty sure this is San Jose.

I suppose I'm being a hypocrite by writing a sort of travelogue of my recent trip to Costa Rica, after I condemned travelogues as one of my least favorite forms of written communication. However, in my defense this little series is created so I won't have to keep repeating tales of my trip when I run into people I know. I can just refer them to the site and they can get all the details themselves. Also, this won't be just your average travelogue, if I'm going to write about something it will obviously have a distinctly Victor angle to it, which aside from my trademark spelling and grammar errors will be quite different from most other travel blogs....hopefully. That being said I'm laying down a few rules:
  1. There will be no extraneous background explanation of locations or sites. I'll give a name and a little extra but if you want more, you're on the Internet, look it up.
  2. There will be no extraneous pictures. Aside from the map I'm limiting myself to about one picture per location (usually with me in the foreground). In the somewhat frequent instances where I forgot to take pictures, I'll just steal one from someone else's site like the image above.
  3. Some of the names of people have been fictionalized, mainly because I forgot them.
  4. As the days go by I might forget certain details of my trip so I may make them up. Try to guess what's real and what's false.
  5. I may lose interest in completing this series of entries so, fair warning, this whole series might end abruptly at any time (kind of like a mid summer replacement).
So without further ado:

My journey begins on a Tuesday morning around 8, Terminal 4 at JFK airport. It was kinda freaking me out that I, with my limited grasp of Spanish and the metric system, was actually there and would be outbound to Costa Rica in about an hour. Airports are one of my favorite places in the world. It's one of the true measuring sticks of a civilization. How large, advanced, and complicated one's airport speaks volumes and I was standing in one of the most prominent examples in the world, enjoying my overpriced bottle of concentrated orange juice and Snickers candy bar ($3.82). I'll randomly list the prices of things since I made a hobby of trying to account for every dollar (and colones) I spent on my trip. Hey, it always gave me a reason to write in my travel journal and give the illusion to the ladies how much of a sensitive, literate, guy I was.

Overall, I was mainly excited to get the stamp on my brand spanking new passport. Not counting my birth in Korea, I've traveled out the country only once in my life (a trip back to Korea in third grade) so all this was quite novel and exciting for me. I was a little disappointed at the cavalier attitude towards stamping that the customs agent had when stamping my passport. It was smudge and totally off center and on some random page in the middle of the book! I'd like a little uniformity and order in my stamps so I can proudly look back at them. As the trip went on I would find out that customs agents couldn't give half a crap about orderly stamping and by the end the book was a jumble of randomly stamped pages.

My flight was with TACA Airlines, apparently it was a large consortium of Central American airline companies that served as the official airline to the area. I never heard of them before, but they were cheap and according to a little background research didn't crash too often. My flight was to have a one hour stop in El Salvador before a short skip into San Jose, Costa Rica. The entertainment for the 4 hour plus flight from New York to El Salvador was suppose to be an episode of "Without A Trace" and a screening of "Pirates of the Caribbean 2", however due to turbulence we didn't get to see any of them (no big loss here). There was free drink service, a meal (some sort of egg...or huevos breakfast meal), and two servings of "Aerochips" (a sort of plantain chip that I found delicious).

When I arrived at the airport in El Salvador, I heard "Say You Will" by Foreigner, pretty apt for the occasion. Forget sold out shows, platinum records, or industry honors, the true measure that an artist has actually "made it", that they've left an impression is if one of your songs is being played in the middle of the day in a random foreign airport. The El Salvadorian airport was as modest as the small Central American country itself. It was a single terminal with a handful of gates, a few duty free shops, a snack court, and a couple of Internet kiosks. I didn't get my passport stamped but I did use their bathroom, which fulfills my personal requirement for having claimed to have visited a country. The short one hour connection to Costa Rica played a random episode of "Friends". The guide stated that these flights would either show that or "Two and a Half Men", I guess the former was the lesser of two evils. We also had one serving of "Aerochips".

The Costa Rican airport was a bit fancier than the El Salvadorian airport, as it should have been given Costa Rica's leading standard of living and overall stability. It was still a long ways away from JFK, as evidenced by the fact we all exited the plane via one of those trucks with the stairs right onto the tarmac. I kinda felt like the Beatles arriving in...JFK.

My official backpacking backpack came in through checked baggage intact, I got my sloppy stamp from the customs lady and I was out of the airport a lot quicker than I had expected. It was around 3 pm after setting my watch back two hours, which was the time that the shuttle from the hostel I booked was suppose to pick me up. As I waited in the busy pickup area, I noticed that it seemed nearly identical to the pickup area at LAX, my last trip on a place. The architecture, the heat, the palm trees, quite similar. These superficial similarities quickly disappeared as soon as the daily massive thunderstorm/downpour (June was the beginning of the rainy season) hit. Also, LA, didn't have such aggressive taxi drivers that swarmed every tourist exiting the airport.

It was while waiting for my shuttle that I learned the first a few Costa Rica Truths:
  • Costa Rican Truth #1: Nothing is ever early in Costa Rica, especially buses. Things either happen on time or a half to a full hour late. This is either helpful or annoying depending on when you're trying to catch a bus, ferry, or train.
About a half hour into my wait a man walked by with a sign for Hostel Pangea, which was my hostel. When I went to him to tell him I was expecting a shuttle he told me that the shuttle had broken down and that I needed to take his taxi instead. The hostel actually explicitly warned me about such scams so I told him I would wait. He later called me back to a pay phone where he claimed the front desk at the hostel was on the line to verify his story. The hostel also explicitly warned me about that too. Thus I learned:
  • Costa Rican Truth #2: Ticos (the colloquial term from native Costa Ricans) are a crafty bunch and many are out to con confused tourists like myself. On the whole though it could be worse, the only thing you have to worry about in Costa Rica is rampant pickpocketing and conmen, unlike a place like Columbia where the wrong taxi could get you kidnapped by FARC rebels.
I held my ground and waited a little longer. An hour past and I found myself waiting along side a surfer from Australia (there'll be many Aussies on this trip) named Matt, who had been waiting for a friend of his to pick him up for a couple of hours. Eventually the real shuttle finally came and it was the same guy who tried to con me earlier that directed me towards it, thus leading to:
  • Costa Rican Truth #3: Ticos are generally a disarmingly friendly bunch. Most Ticos I've met have been eager to help for no reason whatsoever aside from being helpful. Growing up in New York is this a fairly alien concept. Even people who tried to rip you off or put one over on you, once you acknowledge it are totally your friends.
So I packed in my bags and my surfer friend decided to jump in at the last minute and try to get in contact with his friend at the hostel. It helped me out since he split the $14 shuttle fee in half. Going down the highway I noticed it was very much like any highway in America, billboards, car dealerships, I even passed a very out of place Denny's. Inner San Jose was basically like any other large city I've been to, crowded, a bit grimy, full of gridlock, confusing roads, tons of stores. I was far more comfortable in this urban sprawl then all that wilderness that surrounded the country. I dig city life, no bugs, plenty of dinning options. The ride through the meandering alleyways and streets of San Jose were infinitely confusing, I kept expecting to see the hostel after the next turn or crosswalk. The whole process took far longer than the ride into the city and it was mostly in awkward silence since Matt and I had already gone over the usual questions of who, where, and why. Finally, before the awkwardness suffocated us all, we came across an intimidating barbed wire gate that looked like it should have belonged in front of a junk yard. The driver got out, spoke through a view slot, and soon the gates ominously opened up and I had made it to my first hostel and the starting point of my Costa Rican odyssey .

I'm in San Jose, the star in the middle. That's the capital for all you aspiring cartographers out there!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Five Random 4th of July TV Marathons That Have Very Little to Do With The 4th of July

Is it safe?

So I've finally returned from my Central American odyssey and what could be a more welcoming return to the country I love than a good old fashion Independence Day celebration complete with dozens of cable TV marathons? The 4th of July, more than Thanksgiving, Christmas, even New Years is the undisputed king of cable marathons. I guess in comparison it's the most sedentary of holidays, traditionally its barbecues at home rather than going out. For me since I've never had a job in the summer it has historically been the point where I really hit my stride in terms of summer vegetating and really decompress (or perhaps decompose) from a year of school and work.

Now I find myself on this particular 4th of July with the cable landscape as wide and varied as it has ever been, including marathons. This sort of proliferation in specific channels though has made it a bit trickier to follow the general spirit of the holiday; it's gone beyond just the slightly out of place Twilight Zone marathon on Sci-Fi (which has so ingrained itself with the 4th that I consider it just as important as fireworks and town parades). I'm not going to play Sam Eagle and say whether these five random marathons are right or wrong or throughly un-American or not, it's just something to consider. Who knows, perhaps in a decade they'll weave themselves in the red, white, and blue fiber of the 4th as well?

Discovery Channel - Mythbusters
This follows the usual plan of channels picking their most popular show to run continuously. It's like the Monk marathon on USA (which they'll break out for Secretaries Day). I'm not a big fan of that sort of thinking, if it's the most popular show it's overplayed enough already. I think the marathon platform should be used to help give a leg up on a show that has a lot of potential but never got enough exposure. We're better than cable Darwinism, let's share the wealth. Is this not the land of opportunities?

Possible Spin for the 4th: I guess Adam and Jamie demonstrate the epitome of the bold spirit of curiosity and Yankee ingenuity that helped make this country the superpower it is today.

HBO - Back to The Future Trilogy
This might be a tricky issue since as we all know that according to the network, HBO is not actually TV but some sort of transcendent independent entity altogether, but for the sake of argument let's assume it's TV. With that being said, I found this to be a welcome surprise. I have the DVD's but there's really something special about watching it on I can never gauge HBO's selection of movies, they'll play some big blockbuster one minute, Casablanca the next, and then like Blue Chips right afterwards. It's like they just blindly dig into a Walmart 9.99 DVD bin and see what happens.

Possible Spin for the 4th: Good old fashion American nostalgia? It's nostalgia for the 50s, but then there's nostalgia for the 80s, and then by the last one it's a like a classic western. That and I challenge anyone in America to not like a single movie in this trilogy.

BET - The Wayans Bros.
I guess it's a better choice than Moesha or Girlfriends? I actually watched this show a great deal when the WB premiered and the world seemed brimming with possibilities. This and Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher, we thought they'd be the future of television comedy. Actually though the Wayans Bros. was a pretty good show and it apparently ran I lot longer then I remember. I'm thinking it's the most high profile show for BET based on the current level of fame of the Wayans. It could have easily been Moesha if Brandy was a better driver.

Possible Spin for the 4th: At it's core it can be seen as a story about the American Dream. Two young brothers and their pop making it on their own. I think by the third season they end up buying their own business or something like that.

Bravo - Project Runway
This is another classic example of going with the superstar. It's also a reality series which is tailor made for the medium of marathons. I'm all about the instant gratification so that's one of the reasons (among many) that I've never been drawn into reality programming. However, if you're shooting them at me one after the other while I passively sit on my couch like a beached whale, I can't get enough. I think that's how I ended up seeing like two seasons of the Surreal Life last year.

Possible Spin for the 4th: Fame, glamor, cut throat competition, these consummate American values weren't just big in the 80s, they're timeless.

Boomerang - The Flintstones
I'm actually more of a Jetsons man myself. The Flintstones are about a handful of cartoons shows that have actually lasted long enough to sustain a proper marathon (sadly I think there are enough Scooby Doo episodes to do the same). I never realized how much of a standard sitcom this show was and how eerie and out of place a laugh track sounds in a cartoon. This could have easily been made live, but then they couldn't have had all those scenes where the living "appliances" complain about their lives. I miss the June Bugs marathon.

Possible Spin for the 4th: They're the modern stone age family aren't they? Also I think Midwestern fundamentalist conservative audiences might dig the strong creationism message of the show. It's a place right out of American history.