Fuck... what happened to all of that variety in music? That's a lot of very different stuff from a particular year. Recent years' mixes are not nearly that diverse.
So now I can put the anxiety of tryouts behind me and replace it with the anxiety of making the team everything it could be. I think defensively it's pretty strong, and that's where games will be won or loss. I think I have what one of my former parents used to call "big bangers," the kids that get up and pound the ball every chance they get. If they buy into the offense and the setter works out to be as good as I hope she is, it could be magic.
My expectations this year are just going to be neutral. I had a skilled team last year that didn't believe they were capable of big things. Granted, most of the kids in this case were on big-deal teams, so perhaps they have the attitude and beliefs that will lead them to great success. I really want to make that trip to the big show.
I'm launching a volleyball site, hopefully in the next couple of days. I promised myself I'd have it done by the end of November and, well, the clock is ticking. Going back to that code now...
Fortunately, I think the holiday has evolved well beyond that, and these days it's more a day to be with families and such. That makes it particularly tough for us, because we don't have very good relationships with our families.
But I think that our marriage serves as the basis for our new family, which might only consist of us and our two cats for now, but it's certainly something to be thankful for. For me at least, there's no better feeling than waking up in the morning and knowing someone loves you, and even supports your ridiculous need to work out being your own boss. I'm sure that lesser partners would have me be miserable in a job that I don't like.
In fact, for the four years we've been married, Stephanie is the one thing that has never been wrong. How many things in your life can always be right? So on this day of giving thanks, I give thanks that I married the best wife ever.
The worst thing is that these are things mostly outside of my control, and I've gone a long way in trying not to let such things bother me.
I guess the interesting twist is that I'm starting to care about stuff again, the way I did in college. You know, causes, crusades, taking a stand in things. It's not that I ever stopped caring as much as too many other things were keeping me down (like The Man). Yet another interesting development in the realm of self-employment. Who knew looking out for Number One would end up benefiting everyone else?
After spending time at the show Thursday, we checked in at the hotel. I signed-up for the "Loews First" program a couple of months ago, because it had some nice perks, among them being a room upgrade, when available, and complimentary beverages and nuts. Despite booking on the Loews site (they operate all three Universal Orlando hotels), apparently it was a discounted rate and the perks weren't available. They upgraded us to a pool view anyway (which was pretty awesome), and promised us the beer and nuts as an act of good faith since their Web site doesn't really detail the conditions of the "amenities." It never happened. Not a big deal, really, but it was still kind of irritating. They need to figure that out.
Overall, this is one of my favorite hotels I've stayed at anywhere (only the Sheraton Kauai would rank higher for me). For the most part they do earn their four-diamond rating. It's clean, fairly new, the housekeeping is fairly transparent, the pool is very nice, and you can't beat the tropical feel, right down to the faux beach. Like everything in Universal, they tend to hide everything and submerge you in the theme. The only thing endangering their rating is scuffed up hallways. Paint and carpet cleaning are in order.
That night we hit City Walk and ate at Margaritaville. City Walk has been just slightly more crowded every year on Thursday nights since 2001, and we'd find out later that Orlando tourism is certainly back in style.
I'm no Parrot Head, but the food at Margaritaville is really pretty good, and the vegetarian choices for Stephanie were adequate. The live entertainment was a nice touch, and their walk-up beer service on the side of the building never seems to have a wait.
We did find a shortcoming about City Walk that night. As best we can tell, there are only two restrooms that aren't inside one of the clubs or restaurants. One is hidden between The Groove and Latin Quarter, the other is tucked under the movie theater next to the NASCAR Cafe. Both are poorly marked with inadequate signage. If there are others, we couldn't find them. Doesn't that seem kind of odd in a place where you can buy alcohol approximately every 100 feet?
We drank quite a bit and did a great deal of people watching. There aren't many places I can think of where you can safely do this every day of the year outside. Even on this non-crowded evening, there was security and police everywhere. If places like Cleveland's Flats or Baltimore's Inner Harbor had this kind of presence, they'd be far safer and attract more people.
Friday was theme park day. We started with the character breakfast at the Confisco restaurant in Islands of Adventure. No, it's not cheap, but the food isn't bad and you can eat until you barf. Plus you get photos with Spiderman, Wolverine, Cat-In-The-Hat and the budget costumed Grinch.
We defected over to Universal Studios from there and went straight for Revenge of The Mummy (warning: spoilers ahead). Much has been said about this ride, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not enough. This ride kicks more ass than Dakota Fanning on a Ritalin-speed cocktail. I think that as far as themed coasters go, this one is a home run.
The loading platform arrangement is very well done, with express pass guests loading on the opposite side of one of the dual-loading platforms, while the main queue comes up the middle between the two. We did the main queue the first time to see what was in it (hotel guests get express access to everything), and had a walk-up. I got enough of the story to get it, but I'm sure we missed a lot.
The cars are comfortable despite the Premier foot canisters. The cars appear to be propelled by some kind of flat LIM's in the center of the track. I noticed for the big launch that there were vertical "sandwiches" on both sides of the track, but I couldn't tell if those were brakes or the traditional LIM's. The first part of the ride is all flat, with no incline, so the cars are moved after the station switch by these flat devices, not kicker tires.
The first encounter with the mummy (the creepy bastard from the first movie) is really impressive. He's not overly animatronic looking at all. In the next treasure/mummy room, however, it's a little disappointing that these critters don't have any movement at all (unless that's the point). That's the only real fault I can pin on the ride.
The bug room is impressive because of its audio component more than anything. The projected images might not otherwise be as convincing. One element I didn't notice was the physical beetles coming out of the center of the front wall until the third time we rode. It was pretty seamless with the projected images. Steph kept talking about a beetle slot machine jackpot and I didn't get it until then!
The movement from there, with the reverse and the track switch is very smooth, and very crazy. The top of the launch pops you out of the seat hard then throws you into the side before you come back down. Excellent. I have no idea what the track does from then on, and it doesn't matter. It feels very out of control.
I knew ahead of time about the fake ending, but wow, all three rides we took, the people with us fell for it every time. The shot out of the fake exit platform is really fun, down into the mist. Unfortunately the mist doesn't cover the entire ending helix on every lap, so it's a little less impressive if it's thin.
Overall, I really dig the ride. It's a lot of fun, and I feel really good about the ride element of PKI's Italian Job being in Premier Rides' hands.
We didn't want to spend a ton of time in the studios, so we hit a few more things before leaving. We missed Woody Woodpecker's coaster last year, so we snagged that for the credit. Steph had never been on E.T., so we walked on to that. For 15-year old technology, it's still kind of impressive (especially the queue). We also did Men In Black because it's a blast. We finished with the second and third Mummy rides, this time bypassing the line and walking right on.
Back at IOA, we caught lunch at the place in Jurassic Park next to the splash down area of the River Adventure. The food wasn't bad... Steph had some kind of wrap without the chicken, and I had roasted chicken, corn and new potatoes. Not really that pricey for the portion size. We had fun watching a couple of young families mess around in the water after they finished eating.
Finally, for the first time in three years, Pteranadon Flyers was operating. Unfortunately, it had a 45 minute wait and no express entry, so we skipped it. Foiled again!
We made our way back to Dueling Dragons and took a lap on each. The park by this time had a fairly significant crowd. Needless to say, even with "only" four trains, the dragons just eat people. Really good crews certainly help.
The Sinbad show was one of the few attractions we had not seen, so we made it a point to hit that. Not bad. Yeah it had the corny family-friendly jokes, but the stunts were cool, and the female lead really kicked ass.
Looping through Seuss Landing, we stopped at One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, another ride we never hit before. It's a fairly typical circular ride where you can raise and lower the sweeps of your car, the trick being the water spouts at all levels that can tag you when you least expect it. Anyone know who built this?
It was warm enough, so we did Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls. Best. Flume. Ever. This is another ride where the express pass is nice just to bypass the huge queue. Did they change the boats? I don't remember individual seat backs before. After a five minute ride restart, we rode with a little girl from Maryland that was skipping gymnastics practice to be there, along with her mom. She was ridiculously excited. Unfortunately, the little girl and her also little mother got in at the back, which put my relatively heavy ass in the front. I knew that would be bad news, and I got soaked. To make matters worse, they put those coin-op water cannons right next to the trough, so the spectators can nail you point-blank. Lame! Still, what a blast. The only flume I know with floater airtime.
After ringing out, we got our obligatory lap on Spiderman. The heat effects helped us dry off a bit. Dr. Doom was next, my favorite S&S towers anywhere, followed by Storm's "tea cups."
We finished our day on The Hulk. Ouch. What the hell are they doing with this ride? It's ridiculously rough. The road wheels were visibly not in good shape, and the springs are so loose that you can see the trains shift all over the place if you sit in the back. It's not comfortable at all. Normally on any B&M you can press your head against the shoulder restraint and it will be quick movement without the head banging, but not on this one. I actually had a minor headache getting off. This ride needs a little love.
We ended the day with a stroll through the Port of Entry shops.
After a day of theme parking and drinking the night before, we settled for just dinner at Pastamore on City Walk. Steph's primavera wasn't bad, but the alfredo I had sucked. Worst I've had in awhile. The waitor was a moron as well. Maybe he wasn't a moron, but he couldn't multi-task.
Saturday was all about chilling. We left the grounds for breakfast at Denny's. I hate that dump, but we wanted to go cheap this one meal, and surprisingly the service wasn't bad.
We hit Pirate's Cove for some mini-golf. They really have the best courses. The only negative was that the waterfalls weren't running. I won. :)
Back at the Royal Pacific, we did some pool lounging and ordered food. This is why I love the hotel... they're very attentive to your needs. They had no problem doing grilled cheese for Steph even though it wasn't on the menu, and I had some of those "gourmet" chicken fingers to satisfy my fried food craving. Towels were plentiful, the service was great, the spas were hot and shade was adequate if you wanted it. Plus there was the B&M roar of Hulk and the S&S hiss of Dr. Doom. Beautiful settings.
That night we finally hit the Hard Rock Cafe. Another perk: priority seating as a hotel guest. The line was absolutely huge. Whatever doubt I had about the rebound of tourism in Central Florida was erased. City Walk was packed. This is apparently the largest HRC, and I believe it. The memorabilia collection is also impressive. Many of the servers are "our people" (the well-groomed pierced and tattooed types). Food was excellent, and there's a lot of stuff for vegetarians to eat. There was an impressive bar mitzvah taking place in one of the private rooms, complete with light show and a DJ.
City Walk was hoppin' like I had not seen it before. So much eye candy. Again, quite an impressive show of security and police. The "street" performers were doing their thing, every club and restaurant was packed, and if I was an NBC exec I'd have a huge smile on my face.
We closed out the evening, and really our trip, by chilling on the "beach" watching the boats deliver party people back and forth between the hotel and City Walk. It was a short, but really fun trip. I could easily spend a week there and never leave the property. It's hard to believe it's all so self-contained, on a relative postage stamp to the size of the Disney property. We might go back next year, even though IAAPA will be in Atlanta. We've yet to have a bad time as a Universal guest, and IOA is easily my favorite theme park on the planet. Good times.
What's exciting about it as of this moment is that absolutely anything is possible. There's no telling which kids from the area will show up, how they'll work together, how they'll work with me, etc. It scares the hell out of me.
I had a couple of kids that I knew tryout early on Sunday, so I think I've got my libero and one middle lined up already. That leaves a setter, another middle and five outside hitters to fill in the gaps. If just three of those outsides are big, and can really work my offense, it could be the year.
I'm insecure about a lot of things, but my lack of certainty that I know what I'm doing as a coach probably affects me more than anything. I don't think the kids key in on it, but I'm my own harshest critic. I think I'm finally coming to terms with that though, given the realization that every year gets better and better, despite having I think a fairly level skill plateau with the kids I've had. I'm comfortable pushing the limits of what you can do with the sport, and adapting it to what the kids are capable of. My teams have all been pretty firmly in the middle of the rankings for our region (one of the toughest in the country).
This year's challenge is to figure out what motivates the kids, and gets them to believe in themselves and their abilities, both as a team and individually. That's tough because I think you need to invest a lot into it emotionally yourself, something I haven't been able to do well in past years because of one shitty job after another.
So tonight I begin, for the seventh time, that journey toward a rewarding and successful season. Hopefully this journey will end in Salt Lake City.
It's hard to really peg them into a category. It's like Bjork meets any band with a strong female vocalist (and significantly less odd). I was turned on to them when they covered "I Feel Love" with Blue Man Group (the girl in the video is in the band). The final push to buy something from them from iTunes was the song they made from the Alias theme.
I bought their new EP and their album from last year, and for the most part, I dig it all. There are a few tracks that don't really grab me, but there are others I really like.
It's nice to have found something new that you can get into. I've encountered all kinds of "new" stuff in the last year, but few things have grabbed me as stuff I can really listen to over and over.
First off, we saw The Incredibles last weekend. Loved it. Best Pixar movie yet. I guess what I liked best about it is that it showed a family coming together to be something not entirely unlike normal. Stephanie and I have no idea what that's like.
We rented Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. Loved it. Yes, it was weird, but it made total sense to me. What I got out of it is that relationships are always worth a second try even with the risk of them failing miserably. It also touches on that idea of keeping the good memories of a failed relationship despite the bad times.
Finally, we've had all of the volleyball tryouts for 12 through 16 as of today, leaving my own 17's and the 18 club team for this Wednesday. I already have a middle that played for me last year, and I'm pretty sure I'm settled on a libero that had to tryout early with the 16's today. Two down, seven to go! If I can land four strong outsides and a smart middle, I'll feel good about the potential this year. The setter is up in the air, but we had four between our two 16's teams last year, plus anyone else that shows up, so odds are I'll land someone.
My head is all about volleyball right now. I always get this way leading up to tryouts, and a little stressed. I hate that because I've been able to, for the most part, not get stressed about things things that I can't control. But at this point my brain won't take a break. Selfish as it might be, I need to prove to myself I can coach a team into nationals regardless of their ability. That's a bitch, because the Ohio Valley Region is easily one of the most competitive in the country, especially at the older levels. The Cincy/Dayton teams get national bids like clockwork, as do two of the Toledo clubs. Without a day job to distract me, maybe this is the year I figure it out.
This room was always a favorite of mine during unemployed periods, or on sunny weekends. Because our house has all of these eight-foot windows, this room on the south side of the house gets crazy sunlight and cures the cold weather blues that come from being inside all of the time.
The room started to become unusable, however, for a mix of reasons. The carpet was in nasty shape from socked foot traffic for one, which tells you something about how cheap the carpet was when the builder handed us the keys three and a half years ago. Also, because of Luna's psycho problems and illness, she turned the corners of the room into her very own toilet. In other words, the room smelled like cat piss and looked like crap.
We had new carpet installed this weekend. On one hand, it's a crappy expense because it's supposed to be a new house. On the other hand, we now have a room with really nice Berber carpet that's durable, looks and feels great. We rearranged the furniture slightly, and it's like having a new room.
So here I sit checking e-mail and reading the latest Business 2.0, just like old times. A perfect place to contemplate the crossroads I now reside at...
Honestly, that makes Bush's re-election just a little easier to deal with, because I don't think anyone in the Bush administration is a bigger asshole. That guy had to go a long time ago. His push to hold American citizens without trial under the Patriot Act, not to mention his fight against porn and free speech, made him the most dangerous dick in Washington.
I'm already disappointed. I can't believe that Americans bought into the fear nonsense and flag waving from Bush. This has been a shitty four years for me, and I can credit Bush's decisions with at least a third of that shittyness. More to the point, I can't believe people think Iraq and terrorism are the same fight, or that they overlook Bush's total disregard for fiscal responsibility.
Ohio voters passed Issue 1, which basically says only man-woman couples can be married and be entitled to said benefits. Idiots. Even our Republican governor and senator (which I voted for, because I'm not a party-line guy) said it was a bad idea. That "domestic partner" health insurance Stephanie and I had before we got married would be gone now. I'll never understand why people give a shit what others do in terms of relationships, and how someone else's actions somehow lessen the significance of their own.
Sigh. It's gonna be a rough couple of years.