I don't write code for work anymore. At the scale where you have 30+ people reporting indirectly or directly to you, you really couldn't do it even if you wanted to. At the same time, if you're going to make decisions about engineering, you should know what you're talking about, and what your leaders bring to you. I know how important this is from being on the other side (with managers who absolutely did not understand anything about engineering), and it makes a huge difference. To that end, having a project where I can always be building something serves as both a tool to keep me rooted in some kind of vague legitimacy, and also be a hobby. I also find that education in software development is super critical to the advancement of the field, and I can't just talk about it.
After Node.js came out and a massive world of front-end web tooling and frameworks started growing out of control, there was a crazy amount of specialization that started to occur between front-end people and everyone else. The specialization annoys me, because it's harder to find developers who can build something end-to-end as a vertical piece of functionality. But I'm a little guilty of this myself. Even when I was doing the consulting work a few years ago, I generally didn't get beyond some recreational basics around whatever front-end tech we were using (and in my defense, it was an appropriate level of knowledge for the job). I still never felt good about it though, because I had all of these false starts on Angular and React. A year and a half ago I toyed with Vue.js, and I really liked it, but never followed through.
For me to learn something new, I need to apply it to something in a practical way. So I decided that I would convert the admin area of my forum app into a single-page app using Vue.js. It's around 20 forms of various kinds, with some of it more interesting than other parts, and no significant validation or guard rails, because it's so infrequently used. But whatever, I wanted to at least port it to use Vue, and so that's what I did.
I really enjoyed learning about Vue. I'm no Vue-master (see what I did there?), but I now feel pretty confident about how to use it going forward, in the very hybrid way that the forum will likely go eventually.
It's a relief that after 20 years at this, I can still learn new tricks.
I've seen a number of younger friends, former volleyball "kids" and just random people on the Internets express some excitement over reaching various milestone ages. I'm surprised when I see it for some reason. Maybe because I've celebrated big birthdays, but not celebrated the act of reaching an age, if that makes sense. Heck, I basically glossed over 40 because it happened just before we moved. But there is something glorious about getting older.
Growing up is a somewhat painful process, full of carnage, but it sure is fun when you level up. I've said before that it feels like you encounter a lot of change every four years or so, and for me that's been like a new graduation every so often. I'm in the midst of one of those right now, I think, understanding myself better in terms of what I'm capable of professionally and as a parent and spouse. I think a lot of it comes down to leaps in confidence, all while understanding you've got blind spots.
More than anything though, maybe not every year, but as time goes on you feel like you've got something to show for it. It's easy to get caught up in all of the things that you don't know, or wish you knew, but give yourself a little credit. You're better prepared for today than you would have been a few years ago. With age comes experience, and it's OK to lean into that.
Yes, joints crack in weird ways and things hurt for unknown reasons as you get older, but the world is a whole lot less a mystery than it was. That's why getting older isn't all bad.
I had an annual pass to Universal Orlando for a number of years while I lived in Cleveland. The first time, it was because the math was so favorable with the hotel discounts that it paid for itself with one trip. But then there was a period where I went two or three times a year. In fact, I started going in 2002, and literally everyone I've ever dated seriously or been married to traveled there with me. All of those times I stayed at the Royal Pacific Resort, on-property, and was a platinum member of whatever Loews' crappy loyalty program was. In fact, the quality of service seemed to get worse every year, but the in-park perk of having Express entry into everything was worth it.
After Diana and I got married in early 2009, and pregnant shortly thereafter, we wouldn't return until 2011, flying in from Seattle, with Simon. That was after the first wave of Harry Potter attractions opened, and it was quite a change. In the old days, we pretty much had a run of the place, and City Walk would be so non-busy that we could always land there for dinner. The wizard made our little secret more crowded, but to be fair, there were few new attractions in the prior decade.
When we moved to Orange County in July of 2013, I figured we'd have passes to all of the parks by default, but it didn't happen. We bought Disney passes the day after Simon and Diana arrived, and got a comp and discounted SeaWorld passes shortly thereafter (because I was working there as a contractor, and a coworker generously offered). But we didn't buy Universal passes, I guess in part because we lived so close to Walt Disney World. I also thought it wouldn't be as fun, not staying there. I mean, I had never even entered the parks from the parking garages at that point. In those six years, we had visited three times, always on comps from friends who worked there, and only one of those times included Simon.
This year, they offered an 18-month deal on the passes, and we caved just before the promotion ended at the start of April. Because we bought the highest level passes, which include Express after 4 (there was no way I'd not do that), they were almost as expensive as Disney, but with 50% more time, I figured we would give it a go.
Simon and I have been twice, and Diana came along for the first time last night. Simon is surprisingly interested in the thrill rides, and to my surprise he volunteered to ride Rip Ride Rockit and Dr. Doom's Fear Fall. He also digs the big Harry Potter rides in both parks. He's still about an inch and a half too short to ride Hulk, but to my surprise he's interested in it. It's all good news, that he seems into it.
My impression is a mixed bag. I remember thinking the first time I saw Islands of Adventure that they out-Disney'd Disney. The two Universal parks desperately needed something new, and Potter was a big score. In the general sense, I'm very much in awe of the themed achievement there. It's so incredibly well done, in every detail, from the paintings inside of Hogwarts to the bank lobby of Gringotts, and especially the outdoor areas. Even the utilitarian design of Kings Cross Station is amazing. The Potter rides are so well run, as well.
Everything else is so hit or miss. The operations can be glacial in some places. The food service is generally mediocre at best and the food itself kind of sucks. The restrooms are almost universally (see what I did there?) a disaster. In recent years, everything has become a screen, often in 3D. There is litter in the queues and you'll still find a lot of food stands closed in the evening (unless they sell alcohol). It's frustrating, because they're on the verge of being as good as Disney even with their goofy mashup of IP, but they just don't run the place quite as well.
The future is bright though. This Hagrid roller coaster looks like it will be amazing. Apparently they're putting in a roller coaster in Jurassic Park, which seems a little light on theme, but that's OK.
It's fun to visit Universal, even if it is a different vibe from my "younger days" without child.
I wasted a lot of money in my 20's buying crap. I always got that little dopamine hit when I'd come home from Best Buy with some CD's or movies. Sometimes I'd buy more expensive stuff, too, but I couldn't tell you what any of it was. (Except for the pair of speakers I still have in my living room after two decades... those were a good purchase.) The worst part of it is that I bought all of that crap on revolving debt, so I was paying interest as well. But I still remember the feeling, even if it was momentary.
I've been feeling that desire again lately, but generally have not acted on it. There are a lot of reasons for that. For one, I almost never go into retail stores for anything other than groceries. In a rare exception, I bought my current laptop over a year ago by going into a Best Buy, but haven't been in one since. Most stuff I buy online, which even through Amazon Prime does not have the immediacy or pleasure of buying in person. I also view money completely differently now, because I worked so hard to reverse my financial situation some years ago, and I'm behind in retirement. I rather buy an experience than more stuff, and our tenth anniversary New York trip is a perfect example of how great that ideology is. There are some big expensive things I'd like to buy, like a video camera or a pinball machine, but otherwise, there aren't many things I particularly lust after. Heck, I even struggle with all of the packaging to throw away when I have something new. I'm literally not set up to spend like I did in my 20's.
But what's missing that I'm getting the buying itch? I haven't been able to unpack that. I love my family and my job, and I derive meaning and purpose from those things. I have my share of stress certainly (maybe more than I should), but I'm trying hard to be deliberate about "me time" and such.
It might be that we've had some really uninteresting expenses. For example, we're finally going to get a water softener because we're tired of water stains in the bathrooms, the hydrogen sulfide smell, the toilets growing stuff every three days, etc. That's about as un-fun as buying something gets, but those big ticket items kind of eat into any "extra" cash.
I'm sure it's a passing feeling.
A guy that I work with, in the context of some evaluation of some technical thing being discussed, declared that, "Hope is not a strategy." The discussion was about some work resulting in some kind of outcome, and the other guy said that he hoped it would mitigate the problem. Indeed, having hope does not lead to something tangible.
I was thinking a lot about that this weekend. We all have difficult situations in our lives, and endure probably more suffering than any of us deserve. The really hard to deal with stuff is the stuff we can't control. For the things that do fall within our influence, we can get so beat down by the world that we relent and fall back on hope or faith. Neither of these things move the needle.
Life has been more challenging than I'd like in the last few years, and some of that is certainly self-inflicted pain. However, some of that pressure has been lifted by first separating the things I can and can't control, and with the former group, understanding that I can't hope my way out of those challenges. I consider this one of the empowering things in the toolbox required to keep your head up. Knowing that you have to act to improve something seems common sense enough, but pair that with other realizations (like, most problems are transient, you'll be dead soon and don't have time to waste on feeling bad, you know more than you did yesterday, people will probably be there to help, etc.), you can be confident that you'll figure things out.
Hoping for things to change will definitely not work. It's not a strategy for betterment of any kind.
Friday night, we went out to Animal Kingdom for the evening and met up with one of our Cleveland friends. I thought that we hadn't been in about three months, but I forgot about a passholder night at Epcot we went to for two hours in mid-March. Either way, the point was that we haven't been in the parks much this year. And if that weren't enough, we caved and bought Universal Orlando passes as well, because the 18-month deal that ended about a month ago was too good to pass up. A friend also gave us his yearly friends and family comps for the SeaWorld parks, which includes all of them including the Busch Gardens parks. We're up to our eyelids in theme park options.
Then on Saturday, we met up with some friends from Cleveland who were staying at the Port Orleans French Quarter hotel. We hung out at their pool with fruity beverages while Simon made a new friend and did the water slides and stuff. Unfortunately they closed the pool because of rain, but we invited the friends to our house because why not?
All of this fun, entertainment and friends is possible mostly just because of where we live. When I get wrapped up in the harder parts of life, or just don't stop enough to pay attention, I forget how awesome this arrangement is, and the perks around living here. We can generally do the stuff that most people come here to do on vacation, but year-round. And if that weren't fun enough, the "most people" that we know from all over the world tend to all visit here eventually. That's a pretty sweet deal just for living here.
Today was a quasi-historic day, when I made my 500th commit to POP Forums. Sort of. Actually, it's just 500 commits since March of 2013. The history prior to that is not clear. I think (and my friends who worked on CodePlex might remember) that prior to then I was using Mercurial for source control on CodePlex, and there was some point where they were able to convert it to Git. While I had been publishing zip files of the source to my own site for years with every release, I didn't really start developing it in the open until I moved it to CodePlex in the summer of 2010. When I learned it would be shutting down, I moved the Git repo to GitHub in the summer of 2014.
I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I was getting back into working on this project, and I'm pleased to say that I've generally stuck with it. I've been streaky, but committed to at least make one commit a week. Things really picked up when I decided I would commit to having a non-trivial understanding of a new thing, specifically Vue.js, and that's going really well. It's the most fun I've had with a new framework in, well, I've never had fun learning a front end framework, so yay. I haven't adopted all of the best practices around the "right" way to deliver it, but it's fun getting in the weeds. I have a feeling I may try at some point this year to dive into various federated authentication mechanisms, which would be helpful for work, or a liability to the people I'm trusting to work on that stuff (#managerproblems).
I don't have a roadmap for the app, but I imagine there's some approach I'll take to sprinkle some front end, componentized goodness into it, in a way that doesn't break the Google juice that it benefits from. Seriously, I could never add another topic on CoasterBuzz and PointBuzz and I'd get organic traffic for decades because it's so well indexed, so I don't want to break that. But there's so much room to clean up all of the scroll loading, templating, login process, etc.
If I stick with it, I think I could definitely add another few hundred commits this year. I do plan to ship a release when I'm done rebuilding the admin side (that's the front end project), even though there's still a lot of mess and need to refactor. There are still remnants of bad decisions made 15 years ago in there, but those bad decisions are largely an issue of organization and testability, not (generally) one of performance.
There was a time in my late 20's and early 30's where I was obsessed with this idea of balancing the things in my life. I didn't take career very seriously, I was pretty fanatical about roller coasters, and coaching volleyball was emotionally taxing, even if it was rewarding. But I was pretty good at doing nothing and not feeling particularly bad about it. Things have changed, certainly, because now my priorities are trying (struggling) to be a good dad, and being more deliberate about my career progression. These can both be exhausting at times, but I'm not very good at relaxing.
Actually, I am good at relaxing, but the issue is that I don't feel good about it. I always feel like I should be doing something else, like engaging with Simon, thinking about work, exercising or cleaning the garage. Just kidding, there's nothing in the garage to clean. That's totally at odds with why I like to do nothing. I wouldn't go as far as saying that I meditate, but I do find ways to let my mind wander to places it doesn't have the bandwidth to at other times. I need that.
One of the things that genuinely helps is vacation. Turns out that's something I'm not good at either. The problem with unlimited PTO is that you aren't earning any to lose, so you have to be deliberate about taking time off. In my first year, I'm on track for only taking 16 days, instead of the 20 I did when it was earned time off. I'll get a few more within a few weeks after that, but still not 20.
And vacationing really helps, in the right context. Traveling without Simon is genuinely relaxing even going somewhere like New York, with all of the chaos that comes with a big city (specifically all of the walking and trains and such). And if we cruise with him, that's fairly relaxing too. We recently realized the hidden but obvious truth of why we do it so much: It's guaranteed that there's no issue finding things for him to eat, and he will without fail have plenty to do so we don't need to constantly supervise him. Cruises are total brain-off arrangements.
In the mean time, I'm trying to figure out how to optimize weekends. If I can get a few hours to go out and do whatever by myself, that helps (movies and bowling work well). If I make a specific plan to do stuff with Simon, that makes me feel better about doing something without him after he goes to bed or whatever. During the week, I find that doing things I enjoy just has to find a little time here and there... reading, Lego, coding, whatever... I just have to be deliberate about it.
I'm gonna keep practicing and get back into the relaxation zone. Man do I miss having a hot tub.
I didn't know this, but there's a non-profit called Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, which formerly didn't include the sons part. But whatever, workplaces have been doing some variation on bringing your kids to work for a long time. I was pretty excited when I found out that my work was sponsoring just such an event.
We have a little over 100 people working there now (well, not everyone works in the building because sales, remote, etc.), but we're totally set up for this kind of thing. We have a big common area and a "theater" room for larger groups, plus a chef who makes us several meals per week. Then there are great people who care a lot about what they do, so a number of people represented different parts of the company to explain what they do. My boss, the CTO, showed how to make a video game using Scratch, which Simon is super interested in now.
Of course, Simon being Simon, it was all of the functional things about the office that he found interesting. We have little tablets outside of our conference rooms, for example, that talk to Google Calendar and show green or red, or when they'll be reserved next, and he thought that was amazing. He loved our meeting stuff through Hangouts with little Chrome boxes to share screens. Heck, he thought it was cool that we have glass sliding doors. He had a really good time.
I'm glad he got to see where I work, even if he doesn't fully understand what we do. For a place that's mostly a bunch of desks in open areas, he thinks it's neat the way there are so many people there working. I hope I can keep him interested over the next few years.
If there's one thing that really bothers me about American politics right now, it's that the loudest voices sell a clear message: You are disadvantaged and here's who we can blame. The right blames brown people (and Democrats) for all of your pains, and by golly, you best get on their train to squish them all. The left blames rich people (and Republicans) for all of your pains, so don't trust those CEO's and Wall Street types. Either way, you're a victim.
The reality isn't either of those things, of course. Using pure data, the fact is that immigrants add to our economy and (legal or not) are less likely to commit crimes than natives. No reputable economist believes immigrants are a drag on the economy or taking jobs away. On the other side, those well-to-do people are not trying to keep the man down, and while the middle class shrinks, it does so because people are mostly rising to the upper class. The poor are stuck, and that's definitely a problem, but it's not because CEO Joe is trying to keep the little people down. There are a ton of problems that collectively create this situation, but it's not the people making millions.
In either case, the real problem is the people that we elect that subscribe to these camps. If you buy into this, and give them a job in Washington, you've already absolved them (and yourself) of any responsibility because they've got their scapegoats. If they do nothing, and they aren't doing much, you've already agreed with them that it's someone else's fault and they can't be held accountable.
This scapegoating nonsense is not constructive either. It doesn't move the us forward, it just lets us wallow in the status quo. Sure, there are no shortage or problems to solve, and many of them affect regular people every day. The "-isms" of the world, economic disincentive, amoral and immoral circumstances... there are countless things that keep people down. Trying to solve those problems will change things, but blaming people for them will not. It feels good to blame someone, but there's no lasting relief.
Insist on solutions and action, not blame.
As you know, Singles is one of the best movies of the 90's. Today I saw Bohemian Rhapsody, which follows the career of Queen. There's a band that wrote a lot of epic rock anthems, and in the movie they get crap for having long songs that "no one will play on the radio." For some reason this made me think of Singles, where Cliff is sitting complaining about all of the "beer and lifestyle music," and ponders, "Where are the anthems of our youth?" while his band (hilariously played by Pearl Jam) tunes him out and watches a PBS documentary on bees. Indeed though, where are the anthems?
My favorite songs, many of them, are what I would classify as anthems. "Sound" by the band James is an all time favorite. "Badman's Song" by Tears For Fears was an anthem. Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation," while not super long, was an anthem. The genres are all different, but they have something in common with Queen and classic rock songs, in that they build to something awesome and change. They're honest compositions and not the made-by-committee hook trash that is often popular.
I've come to realize that this is why I've been so into musicals the last couple of years. The good ones always have anthems, and they stand as cohesive works that you can lose yourself in for an hour or so (or two and a half hours, if it's Hamilton). Dear Evan Hansen has "You Will Be Found," The Prom has "Unruly Heart."
I've liked a lot of new music in the last year or two, but I wouldn't classify any of it as anthem material. I haven't bought a really great album (aside from musicals) in the last year either. I hope that changes soon.
Harry Potter is quite a juggernaut of fantasy literature at its core, but then wrap it with the movies, the theme parks, the endless merchandising... it's huge. It seemed both inevitable and unlikely that there could ever be a play around these characters, and here we are, with two plays, technically, that span an enormously epic story.
I certainly love the movies, and I've read a book and a half, which is to say that I'm a fan in a non-committal way. I won't go to Universal Studios and buy a wand or anything. At that level of fandom, I realize that there is enormous canon to draw from across all those books, and I've recently learned that people who know those details have some issues with the play. Cool story, bro, but I'm not going to consider any of that, and just focus on the storytelling, production and performance.
Cursed Child takes place many years after the movies, where Harry and Ginny have married and had kids, as have Ron and Hermione. As it turns out, Draco Malfoy had a child, too, though his wife died at some point. That child, Scorpius, and the Potters' second son, Albus, are at the core of the story. They're both socially awkward and have challenges in making friends, so it only seems appropriate that they end up being friends from the start, meeting on the Hogwart's Express. Both ultimately are suffering from daddy issues, because Scorpius' dad was a dick, and Albus' dad is Harry Freakin' Potter, the boy who lived, and how do you live up to that?
I won't spoil the plays and go deeper than that. The story arc is epic and interesting, and each of the first three acts ends with an epic cliffhanger. The themes around external expectations motivate a lot of bad decisions made by the kids, and while centered in the magical universe of Harry Potter, they translate pretty well to the real world. There are fundamental issues with acceptance and fit, into communities as a child and an adult. The boys have genuinely good intentions, largely designed to win the approval of their fathers and their peers, but it's a familiar story in how these actions lead to unintended consequences. For the parents, there's also a fair amount of time reconciling what it means to be a parent and protect your child from suffering. Without giving too much away, Harry and Dumbledore's painting have a pretty deep conversation about suffering as a key part of the human condition, and the level to which you can or should protect your child from that. As the father of a socially awkward kid with ASD, I live with this challenge daily.
But let's be real, this stuff is all wrapped in the best fantasy packaging. The almost universal appeal of Harry Potter comes in part from the fact that there are adult themes surrounded by accessible action and magic that kids appreciate. The plays work at that level, and J.K. Rowling's story treatment was adapted very well into a stage show. It has the twists and the depth that the books do, and it better because it's going to require about six hours of your time and about $400 for a decent seat at both shows.
The production is at a level rarely seen on stage, but before I get to that, let me draw out the one negative. The show is scored with music from Imogen Heap, and if you know me, you know I've been a fan for about 15 years. She's a genius. That said, the music used in the show is not original to the show, and is mostly a series of arrangements derived from her albums. If you aren't familiar with her work, this is a non-issue, but for me, it quite literally took me out of the moment on several occasions. There's this whole interpretive dance thing early in the first act to "Cycle Song," and I was like, "What is this?" But worse, some of those songs remind me of difficult times, like "The Moment I Said It," which to me always sounded like a break up song and reminds me of getting divorced. Hearing this music in this context was jarring, and I expect it would be for any fan of her music.
With that out of the way, the producers clearly are expecting a lengthy run, because they renovated the Lyric Theatre from top to bottom. That means "H" imprints on the carpet and a general decor that feels right for the material, including some stunning light fixtures inside. (I don't know if the WB film teams had any hand in this.) What I found particularly interesting is how tidy the auditorium is. Most New York venues are nearly a hundred years old, and you'll find some trusses in front of the proscenium with lighting and sound. You'll find none of that here, and most of it, save for a few fixtures here and there, are well hidden. I say mostly, because there are subwoofers sitting largely in the open around the perimeter of the room. If you look carefully, you might even spot some cable rigging for something I won't talk about here, but it'll blow your mind. Even the lobby is quite beautiful, and the merchandise is changed out before the end of the first part (second act).
The scene design is remarkably simple, with arches that invoke Hogwarts, and a pair of stair sets are used quite liberally in many scenes. When things do come on and off, I can't tell if it was all ensembleists (do you call them that in a non-musical?) or stage hands, because they would flip their capes as they moved with objects on or off stage. Being a semi-permanent installation, they are able to use trap doors and other things in the stage, but overall it's brilliantly simple movement from scene to scene.
Lighting helps set the scene and make detailed sets less necessary. I've seen this a lot in newer shows in the last two years, where areas of the stage are framed in lighting to direct focus, and in this show, narrow bands of light from the upstage floor would frame some things that were above the stage (you knew there would be flying). There are a couple of particularly dramatic lighting effects, one with a classic black light trick, another by using video projection mapped to 3D surfaces and fantastic sound design. The lighting also helps to keep you from seeing things that might reveal the tricks used for visual effects.
And wow are the visual effects impressive. The things you've seen in the movies are accomplished on stage, sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes not. Flying is rarely that impressive, but there are other gravity defying things, people being sucked into bookcases, glowing things, inanimate objects moving around, and my favorite, people transforming into other people. Some of these effects get applause in the middle of a scene.
The bottom line is that this show is everything you may love about the movies, but in real life. Even if you're not a fan, I think the story is compelling enough and the stagecraft so incredible that you'd have to be dead inside not to walk away impressed. If you see it, just be sure to plan you dinner, because the window isn't short, but it's New York, and you shouldn't wing it (we went back to Bryant Park, where there's a Whole Foods).
It was just over a year ago that we saw Waitress on the national tour in Orlando. Because I was listening to the cast recording on the plane and such when we went to New York right after, I kind of associated it with that trip. I loved it so much that I contemplated seeing it a second time, on the last night of its Orlando run, but didn't. I've regretted it since then, and wanted to see it again if we went back to New York. We did, so we did.
I wrote short reviews about all of the shows last season, but here's the important part:
I don't remember much about the film version, but the plot is about a waitress who makes epic pies while married to an abusive jackass that she won't leave. She and the other characters make a lot of fairly terrible decisions about their personal lives, but the show is ultimately about finding the people who really value you, and seeing that change is possible if you're open to it. It's a fairly straight forward journey, starting with the daily routine of sameness, and realizing a better life. We've all made that journey in some way, I'm sure.
The music is what makes it special, of course, and it's amazing that Sara Bareilles could write such a strikingly good series of songs, lyrically and musically. Her own music has always been good, and she's a storyteller for sure, I just can't believe how well those skills translated to an entire musical. The touring cast that we saw, led by Desi Oakley, was really outstanding. I remember sitting there during "She Used To Be Mine," struck by how sad it was, how trapped she felt.
I wouldn't change much about that review, except to say that the show is a lot funnier than I remember, with a lot more comic humping than I remember. Pie baking is used as a metaphor for all of life's challenges, like mourning your mother, getting pregnant and sleeping with your doctor.
The story at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is that they've been rotating in a cast of varying degrees of celebrity, which seems like a brilliant idea except when it might not be. Al Roker played Joe at one point, and if the package they ran on NBC is any indication, he probably wasn't very good and was taking the work of someone better. On the day we went, Joey McIntrye, yeah, from New Kids On The Block, was in his last week as Dr. Pommater. Eddie Jemison, who I know best as "Livingston" in the Oceans movies, played Ogie. That's notable because he played that role in the non-musical movie that inspired the show. Interestingly, Lenne Klingaman played Dawn, while Larry Marshall played Joe, both were on the national tour that we saw.
Good news, Joey has "the right stuff" (sorry, couldn't help it). Of course he can sing, but he belongs on stage. His comic timing and ability to be awkward is pretty great. Jemison, on the other hand, damn near stole the show. I mean, who knew? His portrayal of Ogie makes you want to shake Dawn and take him right away, whereas the guy on the national tour came off more stalker like.
As I indicated last year, "She Used To Be Mine" is the emotional center of the show. It's one of the most intense songs of any show that I've seen. It's too important to the story arc to phone in, and the actress playing Jenna has to give it all to make it work. Blame Jessie Mueller on the original cast recording, but she set a standard. Shoshana Bean has that role now, and she's the new standard. (See video below, which was posted just a few days ago.) Her performance of that show made some people cry and prompted others to give her a standing ovation, in the middle of the show. I've never seen anything like it. The material is extraordinary to begin with, but she takes it to a new level, and I imagine she does it every night.
The seriousness of abusive relationships and feeling trapped in a world you didn't want are serious subjects, but the show ends with such joy. You can feel it as soon as "Everything Changes" starts, and it carries through to the curtain call. A lot of shows based on existing IP feel like ephemeral novelties, while others are more valuable than the things that inspired them. This musical is in the latter category.
For our 10th anniversary, Diana and I went to The Prom. That's about 27 years late for me, but it was one of the most joyous experiences I've had in a long time.
Let me just get this out of the way now: I'm a little obsessed with this show because it was crazy good and only casually on my radar in the last few months. Having two nights unplanned for our New York trip, we spent the first on what I knew was largely spectacle entertainment (see King Kong), and we felt almost as though we needed to see something that was "high art" just to counter that. But then I was randomly scrolling about Twitter and ran into this:
Little late to @ThePromMusical but I’m so glad I made it.— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) April 3, 2019
This show has the biggest effing heart on Broadway.
Laughed my brains out
The score is WHIP-smart (“The Woman’s Improving” I mean COME ON)
Go see it. And may every high school ever perform it someday. pic.twitter.com/jqlh3PF0zl
If you know me, and about my Hamilton problem, you know that Mr. Miranda's opinion has some weight in these parts. It wasn't until later the next afternoon, and hours before curtain, that we ended up in the TKTS booth near Lincoln Center buying tickets (and the best seats for anything we saw on this trip, by the way).
The Prom is about Emma, a teenage lesbian, living in Indiana who is being held responsible for the cancellation of prom because she wants to bring her girlfriend, Alyssa. To make matters worse, her closeted girlfriend is the daughter of the PTA mom making all of the noise. So a bunch of Broadway actors teetering on irrelevance see an opportunity to raise their profile and score some solid PR if they get involved. Hilarity ensues as they make the situation worse.
This is a show that could come off as a terribly preachy assault on bigoted rural folk, but it also pokes at the liberal east coast types and celebrities as well. This level of self-awareness is part of the reason it works so well as a musical comedy. It takes a serious subject, the oppression of minorities and kids who are different (specifically LGBTQ kids), and takes shots at the adults who make the situation so volatile. If you're a musical theater fan, you'll undoubtedly enjoy an entire song filled with in-jokes ("It's Not About Me"), and they're littered throughout the show without being too inside baseball.
There are really three stories going on at once. The first is about the actors as they grapple with getting old and perhaps irrelevant, and these in turn involve one developing a relationship with the high school principal, two coaching Emma and one trying to be the less-than-hip mentor to the other students (while name dropping Juilliard as often as possible). The second is about the evolving attitudes of the townsfolk and students. The third is about Emma and Alyssa trying to find themselves, each other and a more inclusive world where they can just be themselves. All three subplots ultimately revolve around the dance, and all of this action is the reason that it's easy to get invested in so many characters. The girls, actors, the principal, and even Mrs. Greene, Alyssa's mom, feel like richly developed, real people.
The music and dialog tends to flip back and forth between silly and sweet, but never corny or contrived. The dancing is intense and youthful without being abstract or silly performance art. The writing is the funniest thing I've seen since Book of Mormon, without having to rely on borderline offensive humor. Every characters is a mess, so they have a lot to draw from. But what makes the whole thing so joyful is a happy ending. The heart of the show comes in the song "Unruly Heart," which I won't give too much away for, but it is the emotional center of the entire musical. Emma sings, "So fear's all in the past, fading so fast, I won't stay hidden any more. I'm who I am, and I think that's worth fighting for." If you're wondering if there's a soaring chorus after this and an extraordinary message of love and acceptance, yes, there is, and people cry, and the audience goes completely nuts for it. So much joy.
If the material itself wasn't enough, the cast is breathtaking. Emma is played by Caitlin Kinnunen, who brings a genuine sweetness and vulnerability that's so real you want to give her a hug. She's also got pipes like you wouldn't believe. I wondered why I had never heard of her, but along with most of the cast, she's been involved with this show for years as it was developed. Isabelle McCalla plays Alyssa with a similarly genuine performance, filled with the sadness of being stuck between who she is and her mother's expectations. Beth Leavel plays Dee Dee Allen, and looks and sounds like a classic Broadway diva, because frankly she is. She's over 60 and can audibly kick your ass. Brooks Ashmanskas plays Barry Glickman as the archetype of gay musical theater guys, but volleys between over the top and candid. Angie Schworer moves around with her "crazy antelope legs" as the chorus girl stuck in the ensemble for 20 years, with an appreciation for Fosse. Michael Potts plays the principal, Mr. Hawkins, and is the wise grounded character. For Trent Oliver, the Juilliard guy, we saw alternate Josh Franklin, who played the part differently than Christopher Sieber on the cast recording, but not better or worse. Every last one of them are A-players.
They announced this week that this was going to be made into a movie for Netflix for release by fall of next year, which is exciting because I think the world needs it. I am completely enamored with this show and I think it's completely brilliant. I hope it gets the Tony attention it deserves and a tour sooner than later.
For our tenth anniversary trip, we had no plans for the night we arrived. Air travel being what it is, you never even know if you'll get to your destination on time. But we ended up touching down at LGA a little before 3, so we figured we'd go see a show. There were already some things we were thinking about for the next day, but something made me want to see King Kong. I knew that the reviews were meh, but the sheer spectacle of it was intriguing. There's also a part of me that reacts to the somewhat elitist negativity toward known IP like existing movies, anything from Disney or Harry Potter. It sounds weird coming from an alt rock fan, but I don't like the idea that popular things can't be genuine art. And frankly, I just wanted to see a 20-foot, 2,000-pound monkey for real.
This is yet another adaptation of the story everyone knows. In the spirit of our time, Ann Darrow is written as an independent, strong, African-American woman, which beats the classic scenario where she needs saving. Let's just get this out of the way... the writing isn't good. This is all the more surprising because it's the same guy who ran with J.K. Rowling's mind-blowing story for Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, which we saw a few days later. The songs are throw-away filler to a large degree, though they do serve the outstanding dance numbers. The characters are all flat and uninteresting archetypes with no decent dialog to work with. In the span of two hours, you get exactly what you expect: Ann goes from naive and hungry to regrettably famous, Carl Denham goes from nice guy to ego maniac and sideshow Lumpy goes from exploited to slightly less exploited. The performers are all top notch, what you would expect for a Broadway show (including the understudy we saw for Ann), but the show's entire soul is wrapped in the monkey.
That's not a horrible thing. The puppetry of the King is extraordinary, as orchestrated by I think 10 people on stage, and another 5 backstage controlling all of the facial movement and sounds by remote control. I've seen it all compared to a theme park experience, but the annoying thing about theme parks, and especially the Universal parks, is that everything has become a screen and 3D glasses. It's refreshing to see this enormous, physical thing in real space moving around. The love and craftsmanship that goes into the puppet and its performance is obvious and deep. For that reason, even though you know his end isn't good, the emotions he communicates by his facial expressions and sounds feels genuine. The price of admission is worth this spectacle to me, even if the storytelling is basic at best.
In fact, the production design in general is mostly brilliant. It's the first show I've ever really noticed how great the sound is (and wouldn't you know it, the second such show is Harry Potter). I knew we were in for a treat when I noticed the usual stack of speakers was accompanied by a stack of subwoofers. The scenery is dynamic and anchored with a curved video wall. One of the most effective scenes is on the boat, as it bobs up in down on the water with a moving platform and synchronized video. The jungle scenes are made to be a little more abstract.
When the visual effects are married with the monkey, the results are mostly good, but there were some poor choices there. While the effect of Kong climbing the Empire State Building was brilliant, they decided to do a very long, gratuitous running-through-New-York scene that goes on long enough to bring you out of the illusion. Similarly, a fight with a giant serpent moves too slow to feel right. That one was particularly odd, because he wins the fight in shadow, so I don't know why he sustains an injury in unintentional slow motion.
The net product is what I might describe as a really amazing theme park show with an extraordinary budget. I've heard they spent $35 million on this, which seems like a lot, but I also happen to know that Disney has spent as much as $10 million on a sing-along show, so it's all relative.
In a world where Love Never Dies (the biggest steaming pile of shit I've ever seen) can continue to tour and evolve, I feel like this show just needs a v2. It may never get it, given the empty seats already, but one can dream. What does it want to be? An homage to the classic film and classic song-and-dance musicals? A feminist or animal rights opus? The Muppets Take Manhattan? Donkey Kong? There's so much love in the puppet and production design, and the human actors have little to work with. But they could... they could rebuild the story so we cared about the three principal human characters. They aren't background filler because Kong is so spectacular, they're background because the story is so thin.
I enjoyed the show, but I was still disappointed that the story wasn't better.
We went to New York a year ago for our anniversary, and I felt pretty strongly that we left unfinished business there. It was my first time, and Diana had only been back once since she lived there about two decades ago. This year's anniversary really crept up on us and we didn't really have any plans together until very recently. We got friends and family to watch Simon, but booking travel didn't come until a few weeks ago. Was it going to be lazy leisure travel (cruising) or adventure travel? We decided to pick up where we left off last year and go back to the city.
The only thing we booked in advance was the Harry Potter plays, and Waitress at the last minute. Seeing a bunch of shows was our first intention, and we planned to wing it the rest of the time. (Show reviews forthcoming in a separate post.)
We got in earlier than anticipated on Wednesday afternoon, and got into the city before rush hour even. Seeing as how it was our tenth anniversary, we were willing to spend more on stuff that was frankly unnecessary or excessive. That started with the travel, doing seat upgrades for the plane, and private cars to and from the airport. I had an overall budget in mind, a per diem cost, if you will, and we did stay under it. It was cheaper than our honeymoon. Flights were really cheap, we had some good deals on shows, and really the biggest splurge was on the hotel. That's the one thing I was a little disappointed with last year.
I wanted to stay in Midtown, generally close to the theater district, because I remember how fried I felt at the end of the day after shows and I wanted a quick walk back. We stayed on 41st next to Bryant Park in a hotel called Luma. It's about two-years-old, wedged between a couple of old office buildings, with only five or six rooms per floor. It's super trendy with beautiful rooms and exceptional service. It has a small restaurant and bar, but the building is not very large. From the 26th floor, our view was mostly the side of the Bank of America building and the back side of "the ball" at Times Square. We really liked it, as a not-cheap but not bank-breaking hotel.
To minimize friction after getting there, we hit this little Irish bar a few blocks away for dinner, eating there last year, knowing they had decent food. We got tickets for King Kong at the Broadway and started our week with that.
Thursday started with breakfast at the Red Flame Diner on 43rd, a very fast place to eat, also found last year. At this point we still weren't sure what show we would see that night, but after Lin-Manuel Miranda recommended The Prom on Twitter, that made it an easier choice. We figured we would get down to the TKTS booth at Lincoln Center later that afternoon to see what kind of deal we could get.
After breakfast, we made our way first to B&H Photo. It sounds kind of dumb to visit a store on your vacation, but understand that I've spent thousands there over the last 20 years on camera stuff. I wanted to go last year, but it was closed for Passover (a large percentage of the people who work there are Jewish). I got to see the two cameras I've been thinking about for a year or so, Panasonic's EVA1 and Canon's C200. My two previous video cameras were both Panasonic, as was much of my gear at my last video job. I was unimpressed with this offering. While it's cheaper, it feels like it, and it doesn't even have a proper viewfinder. The Canon, on the other hand, was very robust. Diana patiently waited while I nerded out for a little bit.
A few blocks away, we were going to meet up with one of Diana's friends for lunch, and hopefully see another who was working a gig at The Shed, a new performing arts center at Hudson Yards. It's always interesting to meet people from Diana's pre-me days. I know her pretty well after all of these years, but it's interesting to fill in the blanks with little bits. Her "sound guy" friend was there and gave us a quick peek in The Shed, and it's exactly what was described... a big open area with a roof structure that slides over it. It's hideous, but still pretty cool. After that, we had lunch with the other friend (also with theater history).
You may have seen recently that this big goofy structure called The Vessel opened. It's this big, 150-foot tall structure that looks kind of like a pineapple from the outside, and you can climb up all of the stairs in this open air thing until you get to the top. We did it, and the view is pretty cool when looking toward the river at least.
From The Vessel, we hopped on the 7 to Times Square, then jumped on to the 1 (or 2 or 3, I don't remember) up to Lincoln Center. I jokingly said we're checking off all of the Ghostbusters locations, but I didn't do a Bill Murray and twirl around or anything. The fountain has been replaced since the movie, and it was gloriously warm to sit on, so we did for a bit while the city chickens walked around us.
Two blocks up, we landed at the TKTS booth and scored tickets for that night for The Prom. The discount wasn't huge ($89 was face value I think), but they were the best seats of the trip, orchestra center, I think seven or eight rows back.
Next up, given the beautiful weather we were having, we decided to cross through Central Park and take the long way around back to the hotel before dinner. It's crazy to get into the park, surrounded by all of that chaos. I bet it's lovely (and crowded) in the summer. When we got back down to 59th, we got back on the subway and took it back to Times Square instead of walking the 18 blocks. We had already walked about 7 miles at that point.
After a robust nap, we ventured out to a Thai place call Pongsri near the Longacre Theatre, home of The Prom. Yeah, I can get curry anywhere, but it was so good, and the most satisfying meal I had. I did not leave a drop on the plate. From there we were two doors down from the show. After the show, we met up with the third of Diana's friends, this one an electrician at Kinky Boots, for a couple of glasses of wine.
On Friday, the weather took a serious turn for the worse. So did we... getting out of bed was a struggle, having logged about 8 miles and 30 floors on the Fitbit. We were seriously dehydrated, because when you aren't sweating a lot, because it's not very warm, you don't appreciate how much water you need to replace (#floridalife). We both had headaches and felt generally shitty. We went to this chicken place a few doors down called Sticky's that had some amazing sauces, and everything was hand-breaded. Fried food definitely helps. It was 39 degrees and raining, so we watched TV and hydrated. For dinner, we got stuff at Whole Foods across the street, and Tylenol at CVS.
We finally left the hotel, feeling much better, and went to the Brooks Atkinson for Waitress. We saw the tour in Orlando about a year prior, and I really wanted to see it again. They were currently featuring Shoshana Bean as Jenna, Joey McIntyre (NKOTB) as the doctor, and Eddie Jemison (the Oceans movies) as Ogie. Mercifully, Al Roker was no longer playing Joe. In fact, Dawn and Joe were the same actors we saw on the tour in Orlando. After the show, we had a drink at the hotel, because we certainly weren't ready to sleep.
The weather went back to amazing for Saturday, which in some ways is unfortunate because Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is a play in two parts. You see the first part in the matinee (2:00), the second part in the evening (7:30). We went out for breakfast, and from there just walked a few blocks out of our way to walk into Grand Central, just because, then up the Library Way. The shows were in the Lyric just across Times Square (did I mention I hate Times Square?), so it was easy enough to go see the first part, then return to the room with takeout before the second part. We capped the night by watching SNL, which was happening just a few blocks away.
This morning we went to breakfast again at The Red Flame, after getting up late, and before you knew it, our car was there to pick us up. It all went by so fast, and we had a lot of money left on our Metro cards (good for 18 months). I have a ton of thoughts about the city, again, but I'll write about them some other time. Again, I feel we have unfinished business. I wouldn't mind going back again next year, if we can find people to watch Simon, but maybe we'll wait until May, even if it's not our anniversary. I love visiting the city, but it reminds me why I live in Orlando. I don't care for the cold.
Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of that crazy day where we got married on a beach and partied on a boat. It feels more recent than that, until I consider all of the miles since that time. That, and the 9-year-old that we made.
Any time that I try to characterize my relationship with Diana, it tends to result in emphasizing the general lack of effort needed to maintain it. Well, on my end at least, because I know I can be difficult and and impatient, but I may take for granted how easy it is to get along with this lady. I've been joking for a decade that our biggest challenge is loading the dishwasher, but that's not even really an issue. If I dig a little deeper, I think what makes it work is that we keep each other up as necessary, and it's infrequent that we think we aren't getting what we need from each other. I'm not saying it never happens, because I can be needy at times, but for the most part we're a solid team. It usually takes us being separated for some reason, like a work trip, to make me realize how just having her there at the end of the day makes life better.
The hardest thing we do, of course, is parenting, and there is no better mom than Diana. When we met, I couldn't imagine her being a stay-at-home mom, but her commitment and drive to keep our little boy on track is something to see. We sometimes have differing philosophies about things, and she tolerates my sometimes inflexible opinions, but I think we get it right most of the time.
I think the biggest problem with life before Diana was that I wasn't very open to the possibilities that life offered. It isn't that she unlocked the new perspective, but she was the right person at the right time to share it with. We never planned to move six times through three metros, and I really had no idea what my career was supposed to look like, and I never anticipated turning into a cruise junkie, but here we are. Life is not dull.
So we'll begin the next year in New York City, since we weren't really done with it after our visit at nine years. Hopefully we've got another 30 or 40 years at this, because we got a late start. I love this woman. With all of life's challenges, she doesn't add to the pile, she makes it smaller.
In today's edition of "no one in politics gets me," I'd like to talk a little about the cost of college. While I'll be the first to say that I'm all for some kind of socialized healthcare (in part because nearly every industrialized nation but the US does it), I can't get on board with the free college thing. I don't understand the problem that it's trying to solve, or even the problem that college solves. This may seem counter to my general advocacy around education, but I'm not convinced that college is the answer that solves some particular problem.
So let me get this out of the way: I know college costs in real dollars have been on the rise for the last two decades, which is to say they significantly outpace inflation (source: US Department of Education). This narrative also often suggests that wages have not increased, which is true, but they have kept pace with inflation for about 40 years (source: Pew Research). I'm going to put all of that aside, because I'm saying the current debt loads being incurred by college grads is in fact manageable with the right budget.
Every figure I'm going to use here on out is in 2018 dollars, using the fed's numbers. Let's start with the basics from the DOE: The average debt for a 2018 graduate was $33,000, and interest rates varied between 3.76% and 4.66%. Let's say that averages at 4.5% even though it would be less. The loan term is 10 years. This puts the payments at $342 per month. Again, we're working with averages here, so don't bother me with anecdotes higher or lower.
I can't find an authoritative source about average starting salaries out of college, but for 2018 the sources tend to average about $50,000. (I found a lot of studies about expectations that put the number at $60k, with a fifth of people expecting $80k!) Let's work with a lower than average salary at $45,000. Assume that 30% comes out for benefits and taxes (and that should even cover a 401k contribution if it's available), and that gets us to a monthly budget of $2,625.
Quicken has a simple budget calculator, so let's use that! I'm going to roll with expenses here in Central Florida, which is generally not bad but the rent here is crazy high, like almost mortgage territory. Let's make some assumptions here: You share a place with a roommate, your car is a new leased Toyota Corolla with nothing down, a functional but inexpensive phone on Google Fi, etc. Here's what I came up with:
|Rent (your half)||$600|
|Renter's Insurance (your half)||$50|
|Utilities (your half)||$150|
|Cable/Internet (your half)||$50|
|Student loan payment (see above)||$342|
|TOTAL:||$2,123 ($502 unbudgeted... save or make extra loan payments!)|
Is this doable? It was for me, because believe it or not I still use the same version of Microsoft Money I did when I was right out of college, and I actually know what I spent money on. It was very nearly this budget, I drove a Toyota Corolla and had a roommate (then-future first wife) who was in grad school, no less. Things were tight for me, but where I went horribly wrong is that I was paying another $200 in credit card debt every month which I was actively replacing with about $200 worth of eating out and buying CD's and DVD's (these small plastic discs that once contained music and movies). I also didn't do any of the saving or retirement account deductions, so I really pissed away a lot of money.
Let's also keep in mind that I went to school for radio/TV and journalism, careers that I abandoned after four years to chase dotcom dreams. I never had any illusions of making a ton of money. Because I went to a private school, my student loan debt was actually more than today's average at $40k (adjusted), and my loans were all at 8%, so my payments were higher, too. My schooling had zero impact on my career: Nobody has ever cared where I went to school, and in recent years, didn't even care that I went at all.
But I digress... I didn't want to get into whether or not college was worth it, I wanted to look at the cost for today's graduate. There are all kinds of variables you could throw in here, like, "But I work in San Francisco!" or whatever. Countless people will say, "But I needed a masters degree, so my student loan debt is twice that!" Sure, we all make choices. I know a lot of MBA's who used to argue that they "needed" that degree to get ahead, but now say they're not ahead because the ROI wasn't there.
I know a ton of software developers who didn't go to college at all making six figures before they're 30. I've met trades people making a comfortable living on $60k a year contracting on their own terms. I know a guy who moved to Nowhere, Montana to work in radio there on $35k a year who lived comfortably. The more I look at the college debt "problem," the more I wonder if the underlying issue is a combination of choices and expectations. I'm not convinced that these factors have significantly changed in 20 years, even if the cost of college has. And if more people go to college, then the pure economics dictate that the cost goes up because of demand while the value of a degree goes down because of market saturation.
I'm digressing again. Tell me why that budget can't work?
A good indicator that a job has run its course for me has been when I find myself watching the clock or the days just drag on and on. Conversely, when I'm into a job, or at the very least keeping very busy with it, time goes quickly, week after week. The biggest thing that I notice is that my kid keeps getting taller. It's not a grind, but I'm acutely aware of a certain amount of monotony. This is made worse by the fact that right now I don't take time off frequently enough. I've committed to taking a week off quarterly, but each time I hit that point I'm anxious to bust out.
Which gets to the real problem: I need to bust my routine from time to time. It felt pretty obvious to me today. I started the day by going to work when I intended to take the day off, because I did not stand my ground, took meetings and had lunch with a new peer of mine (that part wasn't like work). After that, I got into the car to head to the hotel on the far side of town near the place where we have our annual Orlando Code Camp. This is my sixth year doing it, and it involves a speaker party the night before. Most of the time, I don't feel a great need to do stuff without my family, but this is a rare exception. Just driving out and doing something not routine during the work day feels good.
I'm off this week, with a little adventure travel for our 10th anniversary. I have to not wait for special occasions for routine busting.
Diana and I were comparing notes today, and discovered that we both took the remarkably stupid action as young children of putting our hands on hot electric stoves. I don't know why kids would do something like that, and by the way, I remember it vividly. That's not a memory I have ever been able to forget.
Simon had his first burn today, which I'm campaigning for parent of the year on, because I probably should have seen this coming. Generally speaking, we want the kid to learn how to do stuff and be self-sufficient, so today we helped him load a pan in the oven with some french fries. All went well getting them in. All went well getting them out, too. Then I encouraged him to dump the fries on to a plate, and that's where things went horribly wrong.
First, a little background. Simon has horrible situational awareness. Try as we might, it doesn't seem like a skill that we can teach him. It's part of the reason that he spent the better part of his first six or seven years finding new and inventive ways of hitting me in the balls. He often does things that cause spills, things to break or other things that hurt one of us. He immediately follows the event with, "It was an accident," but he's just not good at accident prevention.
Anyway, he lifts the hot tray, with oven mitts, and tilts it away from him. I'm behind him, so I don't entirely see what he's doing, but he tags the underside of his chin with the tray. He quickly puts down the tray, looks at me with the most panicked eyes possible, and bursts into screams and tears. I look, and I can see the skin peeled back where he hit it. The screams are not good. Eventually we get him calmed down enough that I can hold a bag of ice under his chin. Diana uses the video call doctor thing we get through our insurance ($10 beats an urgent care visit), and the doctor is able to basically see the damage and prescribe a cream to put on it. With some instruction about care, we're off in 15 minutes and the prescription is available within an hour or so.
We went on with our day after that, but of course I feel terrible. He didn't do the ridiculous thing we did as kids, he's just kind of clumsy. How he can have such poor situational awareness but master Portal is beyond me.