Category Archives: Getaways

Nerd Night With Kevin Smith

This past weekend marked the return of TerrifiCon to the Mohegan Sun Casino, an event that I’d been waiting for much longer than I should probably admit. Somewhat less excited was my wife, my sidekick for this year’s adventure. A child-free night in a hotel room and promises of dinner and drinks significantly aided in increasing her enthusiasm.

Part of the problem was my inability to properly explain what it was I was dragging her to. Yes, there were comic books, rows of vendors selling T-shirts, toys, posters, and books. Alongside these were booths for comic creators, legendary artists and writers like Neal Adams and Jerry Ordway available for signings. There were also people talking about comic books. She was amazed at the number of people willing to pack conference rooms for a lecture about the history of DC Comics or a panel discussion about Captain America’s place in pop culture over the past seventy-five years.

More interesting to a non-enthusiast was cool stuff like the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s Batman films and all the celebrity appearances.  On Saturday we saw Jason Mewes, Jeremy Landon and Katrina Law among many others.  Michael Cudlitz, Abraham from The Walking Dead, was a lot smaller in person than I would have guessed.

 

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People watching is about as entertaining at a comic-con as anyplace else that you will ever go. Where else are you going to see Freddy Krueger stopping for a quick chat with Iron Man?

 

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Equally as hard to explain was our night time entertainment, an Evening With Kevin Smith. Just describing what he does is difficult. In 1994 Smith wrote and directed the movie Clerks, using $27,000 of his own money and filming at the convenience and video stores where he actually worked. Shot entirely in black and white it’s one of my favorite comedies, and one of my favorite films in general. All of his movies feature prominently in my DVD collection.

He produces the television show Comic Book Men, a reality show set in a comic book store that he owns, co-hosts a late night talk show called Geeking Out, and plays Silent Bob in his early movies. His stints as writer of the Daredevil and Green Arrow comic books are some of my favorites with the characters and his two Batman mini-series are also bagged and boarded in my basement.

He’s a renaissance man, but most importantly he’s an extremely gifted storyteller, whatever the medium. The event we attended was billed as a question and answer session, something that he does often, but the audience questions could more accurately be called prompts, a jumping off point for musings and exposition on anything and everything.

We stayed for three hours and it was interesting, often hilarious, and sometimes poignant, as when he discussed his friendship with the late Alan Rickman, took the cellphone of an audience member who’s friend  was unable to attend due to a family death and called him, and when he came off stage to hug a veteran who told a story about his PTSD support group watching Kevin Smith movies together.

If it sounds like I’m a big fan, I won’t deny it.  As silly as I find it when people pay attention to the private lives of celebrities, I follow this dude across all his social media channels. I have a signed copy of a tongue in cheek book of life lessons that he wrote and he’s the first name I’d give if asked about famous people I’d want to have dinner with.

I also loved  the way he handled an Internet troll that posted some terribly cruel things on the Instagram page of his daughter, seventeen year old Harley Quinn. Instead of lashing out the way I probably would have, it was taken in stride, simply something that unfortunately happens to public figures. Instead he offered the offender some words of wisdom, telling him that “the better use of your time is to make YOUR dreams come true, instead of slamming others for doing the same. Show the world WHY we should be paying attention to you instead of anyone else. Create something nobody’s ever seen before and there is a good chance the world will notice you.”

Impressive magnanimity, and also good advice for all of us.

 

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Beaches and Biker Bars

 

When I wrote about our recent trip to The White Mountains of New Hampshire, I mentioned that I wasn’t planning on waiting another twenty years before returning. At that time, I wouldn’t have expected that it would actually only be about six weeks.

My wife’s birthday was once again upon us, much to her annoyance. Time was taken off of work and last year’s weekend in Plymouth had set the bar pretty high. Uncertainty about the teenager made it difficult to book anything  very far in advance, but a few days on the beach of Lake Winnipesaukee and nights in Laconia’s biker bars sounded pretty good.

For the past 93 years, Laconia, New Hampshire has hosted one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the entire country. Every June over 300,000 motorcyclists gather for nine days of music, stunt shows, races and more.

For all that, it turned out to be a very dry, very family friendly area, almost completely devoid of actual biker bars. I had spent a weekend there in my twenties and had remembered it as a pretty wild area. Like many of my memories from that decade, they were either outdated or simply too fuzzy to be credible. I’m going to use the passage of time as my excuse because my parents are probably reading.

That’s not to say that there aren’t fun places to go. We enjoyed the beach bar that was at our resort, The Nawa, and found a few other places to waste our evenings. We have a habit of making places less boring than prior to our arrival.

 

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The biggest benefit, of course, was simply being away. To be able to stay up late without thinking about that early morning tap on my shoulder. To be able to sit by a body of water in the sun and read a book without worrying about the five year old’s new desire to do underwater handstands or need me to “watch this” every thirty seconds or so. To be able to get some action whenever the mood happened to strike.

 

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I know people that never go anywhere without their children. That feel it’s unfair to leave them home and deprive them of these family memories. I understand this point of view, but am going to respectfully disagree.

Parenting is hard. It’s an all consuming job that naturally takes priority over all others. The problem becomes when the gap becomes too large. When being parents starts to get in the way of being a couple. It’s not an overnight process but a gradual stagnation. An emotional exhaustion.

I find time away together important to maintaining that spark. Date nights and stolen moments. Effort made to try and remember what brought you together in the first place.

It’s important enough that we decided that we weren’t done yet, taking advantage of a gracious grammy and driving across state to Hampton Beach. There we came across two of my new favorite nightspots on the east coast, The Goat Bar and Grill and Wally’s Pub. Great food, varied whiskey selections and better live music on a Tuesday night than I’m used to seeing on weekends at most other establishments.

 

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Check out this guy,  Rob Benton , Here .  He kicked ass.

 

After a relaxing few nights it was exactly the sort of rowdiness that we were looking for and quite possibly our destination the next time that we decide to run away from home for a few days.

 

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Family Time in the White Mountains

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It had been almost twenty years since my last visit to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Once my friends started moving or being stationed down south, time away became more about nightlife and free places to stay than mountain biking and admiring scenery.

This week wasn’t about those things either, but if my daughter and I continue to spend our time together hiking  and she’s eventually willing to take them to another level, it won’t be another twenty years before we go back.

 

Fox Ridge Resort was home base for Summer Vacation 2016, a nice place in North Conway with a playground, indoor and outdoor pools, and free mini golf that dispelled any hopes I may have had about her being the next Tiger Woods.  Friday night featured a bonfire and marshmallow roasting,on Saturday there were complimentary horse drawn wagon rides. One of the highlights for Alaina was a fairly large loft area for her and her babies to sleep in.

This trip was all about the amusement parks, and our first day was spent at Story Land, a children’s fantasy theme park with such attractions as Alice’s Tea Cups and the home of The Three Little Bears. Cinderella’s Castle was cool for anybody who’s never been to Disney’s Magic Kingdom and seen their version. The Roar-O-Saur is a legitimate roller coaster thrill ride that our normally fearless little warrior refused to ride for a second time.

 

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Santa’s Village was our next day’s destination, another hour north of where we were staying, but well worth the drive. A scenic path through the mountains, just the trip itself would have been the highlight of most days.

The place itself was fantastic, slightly cheaper than Story Land, but also with more rides, an easier to navigate layout, and an overall aesthetic that was more comfortable and somehow less commercial feeling.  The remoteness of the park and the surrounding country side made it easy for a five year old to really believe that she was close to the North Pole, even as she was careening down massive slides.

 

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The lack of personal appearances by the jolly old fat man himself was odd, but a chance to meet and feed his reindeer was very cool.

 

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Day three was a total washout, pouring rain that I thought would be combated by a day at Kahuna Laguna, an indoor water park at the sister resort to where we were staying. Unfortunately the place was closed to the public due to an influx of Girl Scouts being rewarded for exceptional cookie sales, something that very easily could have been added to the calendar on their website. After a great deal of initial disappointment, Alaina was content to spend the afternoon splashing around the heated indoor pool at our hotel. Daddy is hopeful  that nobody under eighteen was on the receiving end of his subsequent e-mail.

The plan for Monday was to drive home, stopping for lunch somewhere along the way. Still frustrated by the previous day I instead channeled my inner Clark Griswold and determined that we weren’t done having fun yet, driving to Old Orchard Beach, Maine. With nowhere to be until late Tuesday, my thought was to spend the afternoon at the Palace Playground and perhaps spend one more night away from home.

 

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After lunch on the pier, looking out over the ocean and the rides that weren’t open on weekdays yet,  York’s Wild Kingdom became the last stop on our trek.

The amusement side wasn’t yet open for the year, but we did enjoy a pleasant time at the zoo at discounted rates. Besides admiring the variety of animals, we had the added experiences of watching lions mate, a goat giving birth, and a group of very friendly deer that I would like to thank for some of the funniest moments in recent memory.

 

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It was becoming apparent that my brilliant plan to take our trip before the summer season officially started had allowed us to avoid the large crowds usually present at these places, but also had certain drawbacks. This will probably be the first vacation that Alaina will remember, and we were determined to make it one that she would treasure.  A few bumps in the road notwithstanding, I’m content that we were successful.

 

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Play Me Some Country Music

The early 90’s were a golden age for music. Bands such as Guns N Roses and Def Leppard were still releasing great hair metal, but the grunge revolution was also starting, with bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam  already beginning to lead the trend away from songs about girls and cars into much darker territory. NWA and Public Enemy pushed the boundaries of hip hop and gave us suburban white kids an almost cinematic glimpse into the inner city.

We listened to all of it. Skid Row, Pantera, U2, Alice In Chains, and the Wu-Tang Clan. The variety of different sounds was endless and my CD collection enormous. Most still sit in my basement, alphabetized and sorted by genre.

Try as we might, though, we were county boys at heart. When the sun went down and the beer came out, it was Mark Chesnutt, Randy Travis, and George Strait that we listened to. Music made for bourbon, bonfires, and bullshitting.

 

I’m very fortunate that my wife shares (most of) my tastes. We go to a lot of shows and over the years have rocked out with Motley Crue and Marilyn Manson, chilled with Robert Cray, and jumped around with Ice T.  We’ve sung along with Billy Joel and slow danced to Boyz to Men. In two weeks we’re going to see Irish punk rockers The Dropkick Murphys.

 

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Ask us our favorites, and it’s the country shows that fill most of the top spots. Tracy Lawrence, Brantley Gilbert, Kenny Chesney. We flew all the way to Las Vegas for a Garth Brooks acoustic show. ( Plus, Vegas. )

 

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Last Friday we spent the night in another casino, albeit much closer to home. Jason Michael Carroll was playing the Mohegan Sun Wolf Den, a small venue in an otherwise very big place not far from home. He’s been a favorite of ours since  Livin’ Our Love Song became our official anthem to those that never thought we’d make it this far. To my credit, I completely held it together during  Alyssa Lies , a song that usually turns me into a blubbering simpleton. I dare anyone that isn’t familiar with the song to click on the link and make it through with dry eyes. You won’t.

Listen, I know all the criticism of country music. The twang, the fiddles, the absurd number of songs about trains. Like any genre, there is good and bad. The difference is that when country music is good, it’s music about real emotion, real people, real stories. To paraphrase another Jason Michael Carroll song, it’s about “where I’m from.”

I don’t expect this little blog post to convert anybody who doesn’t already listen, but I will leave you with one more thought, gentlemen. It may be too late for Valentine’s Day this year, but if you dish out a few bucks for a hotel room and have a long-haired, tight-jeaned, Stetson-wearing baritone serenade your lady for a few hours while drinking copious amounts of Jack Daniels, you might just wake up with a new appreciation of the rodeo.

Giddy-Up.

 

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Stand By Me

There have been thirty seven movies made that were adapted from Stephen King books and stories. Some of them, like Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile were fantastic. Others were terrible. One of my favorites remains 1986’s Stand by Me.

Like the characters in the film, I was twelve years old when the movie came out. I remember that I thought it was pretty good, but the barfing scene seemed to fit much better in the novella than it did in the movie. Now I consider it a timeless classic that I will always stop on, at least for a few minutes, if I happen to come across it on television. There are many famous quotes from the movie, but the one that still resonates the most is the very last line. “I never had any friends later in life like I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

One of my very first blog posts was about the guys I grew up. One of my more recent was about one of my buddies going out of his way to visit with us on a weekend away in New Jersey. Its a recurrent theme because it’s important. My wife’s best friend is also somebody that she has known for the majority of her life.  I want my daughters to have people like that in their live’s.

There’s another quote from the end of Stand by Me that I always remember.  “It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of our lives, like busboys in a restaurant. ”

I’m creeping up on forty-one years of age and the list of people that I’ve called “friend” over the years is a long one. Facebook helps some, but the number of people I see and communicate frequently with is small. Some have changed jobs, moved away, gotten married and started families.  People change. More importantly, priorities change.

This past week I spent four days in South Carolina with a group of guys I don’t see very often. Some I’ve known since I was five years old, some less. We came from Connecticut, New Hampshire, Florida, Georgia, Colorado, and half the eastern seaboard. We played golf, drank beer, smoked cigars and told stories. Most of the stories were even true.

Wives that had previously heard some of these tales were understandably nervous, but we were there to recycle old stories, not create new ones. The most danger any of us faced was hitting our golf balls too close to the alligators that seemed more common than I remembered.

 

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We spent more time talking about football and cholesterol than we did about pez or what kind of animal Goofy might be. Manziel versus Winston at quarterback has replaced Mighty Mouse versus Superman as a topic of debate.  We were grey haired, pot bellied, and prone to nodding off during the late edition of Sportscenter, but if there is anybody that could have gotten me to dodge that train and “go see a dead body”, chances are they were on that trip.

 

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