Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Newseum: One Journalism Graduate's Review

I've never visited a museum in which I had more knowledge about its subject matter than the average person. I don't know much geology and paleontology at the Natural History Museum, I dropped art history so I'm at a loss at the National Gallery, and I've never committed espionage so I'm unfamiliar with the Spy Museum's gadgets.

This was true until my visit to the Newseum. As a reformed, no longer in the business, journalism degree recipient from the University of Maryland, I couldn't wait to see how the building would be filled with the objects, themes, and principles of a dying profession. Worst case scenario if the museum disappointed, I'd at least have a good view of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The display of the day's papers from around the country stop many people who fail to realize the papers are all online anyway.

The Newseum has a prime spot along Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from a few Smithsonians and a good fairway drive to the Capitol. It's glass facade doesn't fit DC's marble and granite style, but who isn't a fan of glass walls? Moved from its first home in Rosslyn, the Newseum boasts some 250,000 square feet with 15 theaters, and many galleries. It's the be all end all of journalism in its most spectacular, come hither and ignore the ugly side of the profession way.

The lobby opens to the top floor and offers enough space for a traffic helicopter, satellite, and gigantic video screen.

The ground floor houses the eating area, rotating exhibits, several theaters, and pieces of the Berlin wall. That's right, the Berlin Wall. Something better suited for a history museum is in the Newseum, along with a watch tower. The curators tried to put a journalistic spin on things, but I wasn't convinced. The massive stone slabs are off in a corner, on the other side of express elevators. It came across as an afterthought exhibit suited for the basement because other floors that discuss actual journalism couldn't support their massive, empty weight.

Help me out here, what does the Berlin Wall have to do with writing stories? It's called a gimmick.

The two exhibits available in the rotating space are photographs by SI's Walter Looss and the FBI's top news stories in its first 100 years. The sports pictures were stunning as were the stories behind how Looss managed to luck into being in the right place. The FBI section was really the history of the FBI's biggest stories with examples of articles about the criminals. I didn't think the journalism angle for this was strong. The fact that the Post printed drawings of the DC Sniper's van doesn't warrant a place in a journalism museum.

Seeing the Unabomber's shed for a house doesn't teach journalism. It just teaches us that he was a bad at building shelves.

The rest of the bottom floor offered theaters showing vignettes on what makes the news, sports journalism history, and a look at Walter Cronkite's career. I walked out of the 25-minute sports movie after 8 minutes because it didn't offer anything new. Anyone who has watched sports documentaries and countless hours of ESPN will also be bored. I was looking for more technical information on sports journalism such as how sporting events are produced, how stories are filed on deadline, what a typical team beat reporter goes through each game, and how your local sports newscast has changed because of ESPN.

Instead you're treated to a glossy review of sports journalism history hosted by Ahmad Rashad. Really Newseum? The best you could get was Ahmad Rashad? How does he represent sports journalism? The piece shows interviews with Bob Costas, how about using him? Rashad has never asked a cognitive question in his life and whose claim to fame is being buddy-buddy with Michael Jordan during halftime interviews in the 1990s. A big miss here.

My faith in the Newseum was restored after a forgetful concourse floor.

From the first floor up the Newseum begins to correct itself. An outstanding gallery of Pulitzer Prize photography is on display. These jawdropping shots stopped me in my tracks. A well-designed theater inside of the gallery was also interesting. The pictures were terrifying, exciting, haunting, and wonderful.

The Newseum knows who bankrolled its existence so it made no mention of how news pushes the views of it's conglomerate parent companies.

My first stop on the second floor was the ethics interactive exhibit. Believe it or not, there used to be ethics that journalists followed when researching, writing, and publishing stories. I decided to put my thousands of dollars in UMD journalism training to the test and "battled" a family of four to see who can answer ethical questions quicker to fill a front page. My dear parents, fear not, for I did learn something at school and won handily; getting every question right.

See? I did learn something at that cow college.

A favorite J-school teacher of mine teaching all visitors about ethics.

The floor also offered a suite of cameras for visitors to act as TV reporters. Only one person was doing his live shot when I passed by. I declined an offer to try my hand having done it far too often as an undergrad. The staff member told the visitor that the teleprompter moves at either an adult or child rate. It's too bad the staffer couldn't move the teleprompter as the person spoke because having predefined rates of display couldn't be more wrong. The teleprompter moves as the talent speaks, not the other way around.

Could my nose have been any higher when I, of all people, didn't participate?

The third floor offered a memorial to fallen journalists that should have been more prominent. Tucked in an uninviting corner, it's easy to miss when it shouldn't be. There's also a great display showing how electronic news has changed from the 19th century to today. The panels chronicled advances in radio, TV, and Internet reporting along with events that best represented those advances. It's the exact display you'd expect a history of journalism museum to offer.

Another display tucked away on this floor is one to Edward R. Murrow. Long before his image was abused by every media outlet as a false stamp of approval for talent and whose award is offered in so many categories and market sizes that everyone will win something, he was providing the first live reports from WW2. Murrow's area has poor lighting and takes less space than a display of first family dogs. Priorities, Newseum. Where are your priorities?

A modern control room, but no lessons to be taught. How about explaining what goes on behind the scenes?

The fourth floor was weak. Following the third floor's lead of hiding important exhibits, a gallery on the first amendment was also easy to miss. Seeing as how it's a foundation for all press, more space should be dedicated to this article of the Constitution. Visitors can also see a mock of the late Tim Russert's office. This was very creepy, unenlightening, and clearly done to appease a big sponsor of the Newseum. Nothing is gleaned from Russert's desk.

He did host Meet the Press for many years, but to give his entire office exhibit space is too much for just an interviewer. Russert is not on par with Murrow, the only other journalist receiving such space. The Newseum should have had more displays about the greats of journalism. Another missed opportunity.

The 9/11 gallery was well done and modest with a wall of front pages, the mangled broadcast antenna, and a small theater. I chose to not watch the movie and see those images more often than I need. The Newseum balanced the event's gravity with its technical and logistical impact to NYC TV news.

I would like to see more talk about how 9/11 was the first major news story to test the Internet's capacity to deliver breaking news and how web sites featured abbreviated pages because their servers were slammed. For the first time, TV was no longer the fastest way to get news nor was it everyone's first choice. No longer did I have to wait for TV to tell me breaking news when I could just refresh my browser from many, many sources. It stamped the Internet as my generation's source for breaking stories.

The Newseum's best floor is the fifth floor, home to its collection of historic newspapers. Offering 500 years of newspapers, visitors can pull out drawers of front page copies about major events. Walls are also lined with major objects of journalism history like typewriters and "portable" communication devices. There are also small theaters with documentaries on things like the civil rights movement and the media and Hollywood's depiction of the press.

An exhibit on Woodstock used the 100-foot screen, but I wasn't interested. The exhibit tried to argue that Woodstock was a boon to music reviews, but it was a tough sell.

The history of news panels finished with a small blurb about "Who Controls the News?" It mentions that major companies own media outlets because they're tremendous revenue streams and few of these companies have ties to journalism. The Newseum tiptoed around this so as not to insult its founding partners, but to be true to the craft, more honesty is needed when writing about today's journalism world.

This printer is so so can't even print double-sided, collated, colored, stapled, 3-hole punched, 11x17 copies from a network server off a USB thumbdrive!

Corporations own many media forms, influencing and determining a story's content, angle, and opinion. If the Newseum was honest, it would debate the pros and cons, even finding this to be negative in the changing landscape. Is it too much to ask the museum built to display journalism to not reflect bias in its own reporting? It's only the foundation for the entire ethics center on the second floor.

The final floor offers more front pages from around the world, views of Pennsylvania Avenue, and an exhibit (through February 2010) about Lincoln's assassination. I though this exhibit was well done, telling the story with newspaper prints, showing how journalism actually did impact the event. Curators were just lucky to make this more about the journalism because few artifacts remain; unlike the FBI exhibit that was all artifacts and little about journalism's impact because it had little.

Funny headline mistakes keep you entertained in the bathroom.

The Newseum should change exhibit space to explain how an event becomes a story, much like you'd learn how a bill becomes a law during a visit to Congress. I suggest taking a story like a burning building and show how it's covered in a newspaper, on the radio, on TV, and on the Internet. How do the stories differ? What does each medium offer or lack in trying to tell the story? The Newseum should explain the steps to storytelling, from the assignment editor to the reporter who then talks to sources, firefighters, and neighbors, writing shorthand notes before composing the story.

From there, the story is composed in different styles depending on the medium. How about getting NAT sound for radio or good "B" roll for TV? Maybe a multimedia gallery for the web site? The Newseum should explain how a copy editor proofs a story, how a video editor works with the reporter (in larger markets) to sync pictures with words, and how a radio reporter has to put you at the scene without pictures. How do you overcome each medium's drawbacks?

Finally, with the story ready for publication, the Newseum should explain how an editor lays out a front page, how a producer and director pull together a 30-minute newscast including a much deserving mention to those behind the scenes like cameramen, tape rollers, and the many people in a control room. It's more than just the pretty face on camera that makes it work. The Newseum must dive into the nitty-gritty of journalism and put the visitor in the position to really be a reporter and not just read a teleprompter.

The Newseum already had the satellite truck so why not continue telling the tale of how an event is told as a story?

The Newseum, as I touched on before, must have honest debates about the state of the profession. The big elephant in the room is the public's distrust of the media. There should be talks about how the image of a reporter has eroded so quickly in the last 15 years and what could be done to improve things. The filtering of news through mother company eyes must be out in the open, no matter who pays the electric bills.

Journalism is about honesty so the Newseum should be honest about journalism. Until then, it's as much a building about journalism as it is a glorified modern history museum with newspapers.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Let's play MINGO - Metro Bingo!

It's time for everyone's favorite commuter game...MINGO!

To play MINGO, click on the image below and print your official card. During your Metro rides, cross out the squares that you observe, experience, or hear.

To win, cross out five squares in a row, in a column, or on a diagonal. Then be the first to call out, "Doors opening, step back to allow customers to exit. When boarding, please move to the center of the car." For a greater challenge, try to cross out all of the squares.

It's that easy and fun!

Click the image and set your printer to landscape to print an official MINGO game piece.

Here's the checklist version of MINGO in order of difficulty starting with the most frequent:
  1. Someone runs to catch a train
  2. Early-riser (someone who stands before the train comes to a stop and gains no exiting advantage)
  3. Broken escalator
  4. Loud headphones
  5. Delayed train because of mechanical difficulties or "schedule adjustment"
  6. Passenger loses balance by not heeding conductor advice that train is moving forward
  7. Someone runs to the train only to barely miss it
  8. Seat given as an act of chivalry
  9. Seat given to person in need (blind, crutches, pregnant etc.)
  10. Seat given to a Senior citizen
  11. A stanapper
  12. Tourist can't figure out that a Metro card is pulled out to open the gate

  13. Good luck crossing off #24. It's the most dangerous square.

  14. Poorly designed ad on a train that requires close reading to understand
  15. Obnoxious newspaper reader taking up too much personal space
  16. Station or conductor announcement overwhelmed by a loud beep in the background
  17. Left side of escalator is blocked by someone standing in the way
  18. Dirty looks given to a cougher or sneezer
  19. Someone eating or drinking on a train
  20. Wake a rider at the end of a line's route so he (meaning I) don't ride the train asleep to the railyard
  21. Arm stuck in doors
  22. Someone snores loudly
  23. Burning rubber odor in a station
  24. Leg stuck in doors
  25. Woman applying eyeliner while a train is moving
  26. Parent gets separated from child by closing doors

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How I'd Improve Gas Station Pumps

Why must pumping gas be such an ugly, messy, and industrial affair? I have yet to find a pump that puts the consumer experience first. This needs to change.

I understand that because the nozzle tip is going into a gas tank, it needs to be plain metal, but there's no need for me to see it. I propose adding a retractable outer shell over the metal end that collapses as you put the nozzle into the gas tank. When the nozzle is removed from the tank, the outer shell would re-cover the nozzle and catch gas drops. Just imagine, no more gas drops on your shoes.

The retractable cover is based on advanced collapsible pink cup technology.

The lever that's pulled to allow gas to flow is very unappealing. It's A barren 3-inch metal strip that may or may not lock into position for hands-free pouring. I think there should be a button on the outside that you press once to get the gas flowing. Like its metal brethren, the button would return to its original place when the tank is full. This would make the nozzle piece sleeker.

With my improvements, this won't happen again!

All pump stations should ask if you want a receipt before pumping. There's nothing a driver wants to do less after returning the pump than answer whether or not a receipt is needed. I only want to sanitize my hands after dealing with gas and be on my way. Sure, people could just use gas gloves, but why make the gas pumper purchase protective equipment when that won't be necessary with these changes.

Gas gloves, like this one for U.S. Patent US6643846, won't be needed if I have my way.

With any revolutionary idea like this one, there are some hurdles in the way. There's the cost of designing a prototype, let alone a mass produced version. Building new pumps and retrofitting current models requires hours of work and manufacturing logistics. Selling station owners on the idea is hard because they might have to increase their prices by a few cents. I think customers won't mind the price if it means a guaranteed 100% clean gas pumping experience.

For clean gas pumping you can either hire me as a consultant to implement my idea or drive to New Jersey and Ohio to have someone pump for you. Who says New Jersey isn't high class?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Quest to Ride all 1,126 Metro Cars Begins

One day, I shared a Metro ride with fellow blogger MoCoLotion who pointed out that we were riding the first Metro car, #1000. With that ride, I began logging the cars I rode each way to and from work along the red line. I've compiled 40 cars that I rode since #1000 and will continue to do so until I forget to note the car number too often.

The momentous occasion demanded this cell phone picture.

So far I haven't had any repeats. It's not that surprising because the Metro system has 1,126 cars and will have a few hundred 7000 series models in the system in 2012. According to a recent press release, "There are 290 1000-series rail cars, 364 2000/3000-series rail cars, 100 4000-series rail cars, 188 5000-series rail cars and 184 6000-series rail cars."

I'll log future rides along the right panel of this blog where only the truly bored are welcome to follow along. For now, here are the trains that I've graced with my backside:
  1. 1000
  2. 1015
  3. 1032
  4. 1063
  5. 1064
  6. 1068
  7. 1101
  8. 1111
  9. 1143
  10. 1194
  11. 1195
  12. 1205
  13. 1246
  14. 1250
  15. 1271
  16. 3038
  17. 3075
  18. 3106
  19. 3107
  20. 3169
  21. 3196
  22. 3217
  23. 3221
  24. 3251
  25. 3255
  26. 3267
  27. 3270
  28. 3279
  29. 4001
  30. 4021
  31. 4031
  32. 4043
  33. 5056
  34. 5125
  35. 5147
  36. 6074
  37. 6102
  38. 6122
  39. 6136
  40. 6153
  41. 6182

Six weeks after beginning my quest to ride all Metro cars, I finally had a repeat car, #3023.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A 26.2-Mile Sibling Rivalry at the Marine Corps Marathon

I finished. Long ago, when I accepted that I wasn't going to keep pace with my sister after the first step, my goal was to finish and I reached that goal. 26.2 miles is a long way to go, no matter that my sister finished an hour ahead of me. Only in the last few hours have I started to understand the magnitude of this accomplishment.

A great bonus for completing this marathon was the full acquittal for all those things I quit when I was younger. Had I known I'd get a free pass for a marathon I would have ran one sooner! My father and mother told me I was forgiven for the following:
  • quitting karate in 3rd grade after two weeks because the Cosby show aired at the same time (yes, there was a time before Tivo);
  • quitting the trombone after three weeks because my buddy got a shiny new one;
  • after my dad asked me why I didn't tackle someone in a 5th grade football rec league game, I said, "well, I'll just wait for them to come to me";
  • overly dramatic tales of woe at three sleep away camps due to spectacular homesickness;
  • never playing a game of little league baseball because I always thought the ball was going to hit me and I have trouble following fast moving objects (even those going 40 MPH);
  • only raking Fall leaves when my dad was looking my way, otherwise laying low; and
  • quitting an etiquette class because I wasn't winning the "random" prizes.
Notice a quitting trend here? It ended on Sunday.

Pre-Race Morning
After three bananas, three egg whites, and 40 ounces of the water, I joined my sister and a friend we made the night before as we made our way to the Eisenhower Metro station. Everyone around me had run at least four marathons and were quite encouraging that the hardest part was done, meaning the training. Easy for them to say.

We made our way to the starting corrals in total darkness and waited in the cold for two hours until it was race time. Because we had arrived so early we got to enjoy unused porta-pottys that actually had toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Such a luxury! As the sun rose, so did our excitement as a member of the "Jersey Boys" show sang the national anthem. I took the NJ connection as a good sign. I was looking for all the positive earmarks I could find.

And We're Off!
With the blasting of a howitzer the race started; about 10 minutes later we finally crossed the start line. One step over the line I was tied with my sister, one step later she was gone in a flash; not to be seen until the family linkup after the finish. I was on my own. It was up to me to run this race, control my pace, and listen to my body. I kept telling myself, "you've trained for long runs so this is just another long run," albeit with water stations every two miles and closed roads for my route."

No turning back at the start!

Miles 0 - 2: Everyone, pee on the side of the road!
As I started my run, it felt like a roller coaster with the seat belt arm already down. I knew it was going to be a great ride despite my worries and I couldn't quit now. After leaving Rosslyn, we ran through some wooded areas which allowed several runners to turn them into their own bathrooms. Even a few female runners found some hidden places; I was certainly impressed with their ingenuity. 1.5 miles in I was ready to ditch my long sleeve shirt and conveniently found a charity collecting such clothes and tossed it their way.

Miles 3 - 4: I Flashed Women and They Laughed
These were the prettiest miles of the course because of the peak color changing in the trees. Is there a better drive in the DC area than the GW Parkway in the Fall? More wooded areas meant more pit stops for runners who thought nothing of leaving their marks. At mile 4 we would turn left onto the Key Bridge. 50 yards before I figured this was the last spectator-free wooded area and decided to become one of those runners.

I went off-road and took care of things with no runners around me. Only after I was finishing my business did I notice two female runners farther up the hillside doing the same and giggling. I thought it was in my direction and I wanted to yell, "It's shrinkage! It's 40 degrees in the morning!"

Shrinkage is not just for laundry.

Miles 5 - 9: Yep, Georgetown was Built on a Hill
A little after mile 5, I began my intervals of five minutes of running and one minute of walking that would carry me throughout the race. This Georgetown portion of the race went along Canal Road which only reminded me of how crazy it was for me to drive a 22' Penske moving truck along the way. Around mile 9 we were offered orange slices. I wanted no part of them as I wasn't about to mess with my racing diet at this point. Running through a road of orange peels left our shoes with super traction. I'm just happy I didn't have to worry about banana peels.

Miles 10-11: Familiar Faces and Tears of Joy
I was really hitting my stride (haha!) at this point. The crowds were great and I was so very familiar with this part of the course.  I saw my parents just before hitting Hains Point. After running 50 feet from them I turned around and saw my dad hugging my mom with tears in his eyes. For the first time all race, at least one drop on my face wasn't from sweat.

Cue the inspirational music.

Miles 12 - 15: Like Pulling a Thorn From the Lion's Paw
I was warned that Hains Point would suck thanks to the lowest amount of spectators on the course and lots of wind. While there were few spectators, there was no wind. It was a tight fit along the road, but we managed. Just after mile 13 and the water station, I felt a pebble in my right shoe. I tried running with it, hoping that it would move out of the way, but it didn't. I briefly step aside and tried taking my shoe off, but figured it wasn't worth the trouble. A 1/4 mile later the pebble wasn't an issue. I saw my parents shortly thereafter.

Miles 16 - 18: What Happened to My Left Nip Guard?
I got nervous when I saw the mile 16 marker. It was at mile 16 in my last long run that I hit the wall, hard. I limped my way to reach 20 miles that time when my goal was actually 22. I busted through mile 16 with surprising ease. I did a nip guard check. Right one, yep. Left one, nope! Uh oh.

Somehow at some point somewhere my left one came off. Without any backups I had to move forward. Only later did I find out that it fell to my belly button, surely doing a better job of stopping any minor friction cuts down there. Thankfully I was wearing a blue shirt that hid any, umm, bloody evidence that I wasn't protected on my left side.

Miles 19 - 21: I Fought the Wall and I Won
After completing the route up and down the mall, that took the shape of a male body part definitely not suffering from shrinkage, I saw my parents and sister's boyfriend as I made way over 395. My quads were on fire. They weren't too bad when I ran, but my one-minute walks had me checking to see if my quads really were smoking.

At mile 21, my calves tightened or gave out, maybe that's one and the same. I tried walking only to stumble a bit as my calves didn't want me running anymore. If I ran a certain way I felt a shot of pain through my groin. Yep, my lower half wasn't having any fun this day. I pushed forward and made myself run. Mind over matter in the truest sense.

Miles 22 - 23: The Longest Mile
I reached Crystal City knowing my pain threshold would be tested all the way to the finish line. I turned onto Crystal Drive and began the longest mile of the race. With runners running on the other side of the road I knew the turnaround point had to be soon, but it never came. The street was lined with colored flags that were nice at the start, but an annoyance at the end.

I kept seeing a flag over a hill thinking that it had to be our U-turn only to be disappointed time and time again. It was tough not knowing how far I had to go before I could run on the other side of the road. Eventually I made the turn, through a driveway no less, and had two miles left to go.

Miles 24 - 26: I Won't Quit on Myself
I really wanted to walk for longer than one minute, but I kept telling myself I'd be wasting the great running I had done earlier in the race. And quit for what purpose? Because I'm mentally fatigued? This was no time to quit in what might be my only marathon. I dug deep and pushed forward, thinking of a few select folks who are in worse shape then me and could only dream of having "quads on fire" as their biggest issue.

Mile 26.2: A Goal Realized
I turned up the Iwo Jima Memorial hill, ran by the grandstand, and put my arms up at the finish line. It was awesome. Two blood blisters were well earned this day.

Post Race: Wobbling Like a Wobble Toy
I swayed a few times as I reached the finisher medal line. With the medal around my neck, I sought out water and any food within reach. Cheerios and more water gave me balance after 10 minutes of leaning on a pallet of boxes. I waited as the massive crowd made its way up and over to Wilson Boulevard. In what seemed like miles away, but was only a few blocks, I found my cheering section in the Family Linkup as planned.

Oh I know this feeling now. Walking downstairs backward helps.

Hugs and kisses were given, more great pictures were taken by my sister's boyfriend, and tears were shed. I ate a Chipotle burrito and we waited in a fast moving line to enter to the Rosslyn Metro station. My sister received a Marine Corps music CD, we got our finisher coins, and my face was covered in salt, glorious marathon salt.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

14 Hours Until the Marine Corps Marathon

So here I am, less than 14 hours from the start of the Marine Corps Marathon and my stomach's doing somersaults full of butterflies. I'd love to have some great thoughts about all of the training and support I've gotten. How do I capture my thoughts about training for six months for something that will take me six hours to run. Errr, more like walk.

Maybe something about how it's all about the journey, or "it's about the climb" (thanks Miley Cyrus), but really it is about finishing. How I got back in shape and lost more than 20 pounds. How it's gotten me to exercise when I didn't want to. How it's given me massive amounts of self confidence that I can do what I want when I set my mind to it. Dare I say it, I have discipline.

How I can't believe I'm even at this point, on the cusp of running 26.2 miles. It seems like just last week when I was happy to run 40 minutes without stopping. I'm still flummoxed to think the Army 10-miler was a warmup run for me. I still remember calling my parents announcing I had broken double digit mileage, peaking too early, for the first time back in the Spring.

At first, I wanted to run this race because of sibling rivalry, but I quickly learned this was about me. I'll never match my sister's time (Vegas odds have her finishing 90 minutes earlier) nor her race count (this'll be #6), but I will match her will to finish. I want to do this for myself, I need to do it for myself, and I will do it for myself.

I've learned about motivation when the running gets tough. I know who I'll think of to keep me going when I hit the wall and curse ever signing up for this event. I know what they went through, still go through, and will go through long after I cross the finish line. What ails them makes my complaints weak in comparison. As if running is so tough to deal with.

I've learned the ways of those crazy running people who think nothing of long runs on a weekend instead of staying in bed for a few more hours. I've learned the rules of running and how to wave to other runners because we both know what we're going through. I've learned the value of nip guards, body glide, a GPS-enabled watch, and replacing shoes every few hundred miles. I've learned how to manage blood blisters, busted toenails, and shin splints.

I've learned how to be a runner and in 19 hours I'll join 0.1% of the population and learn what it takes to be a marathoner. I guess those are my thoughts the night before the race.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Field of Screams (Olney) Got No Screams Out Of Me

Ever wanted to go on a scary hayride that was neither scary nor on bales of hay? Then checkout Field of Screams in Olney! Seriously. This $10 experience was beyond atrocious. I must have been spoiled going to Markoff's Haunted Forrest a few years ago. Markoff's was spectacular, Field of Screams was craptacular. Sure a trail should be scarier than a hayride, but shouldn't a scary hayride be scary?

Let's breakdown how this Haunted Hayride of Hemlock Hill stole my money.

I should have known this wasn't going to be so great when there seemed to be chaos just signing waivers and buying our tickets. Could they be any more disorganized? After waiting in line for a bit, we came to this corral of sorts where we had to work our way to the waiver table and then make eye contact with one of the ticket sellers. Just poorly designed all around. Again, Markoff's was nice and orderly.

We walked across a lacrosse field to get to the hayride line, nevermind we were told the wrong direction to walk. FYI, telling us to walk toward the concessions area does not put us toward the hayride. We waited in line for about 15 minutes, during which only one hayride came by. I thought it was odd that only one hayride would be running, but chalked it up to being only 8 PM.

We began to board and take our seats, not on bales of hay as you would, you know, do on a hayride. Nope. We sat on wood benches whose lumbar support felt like a nun hitting me with a wide ruler, over and over again in the small of my back. Sure, I've never spoken to a nun, let alone been hit by a nun's ruler, but this night made up for that. The floor of the sitting area had hay on the floor about 4 needles deep. I was lucky to have any hay under my feet. I chalked this up to having a lot of kids at that hour pushing hay off the cart.
I grew up nowhere near a farm, but even I know a hayride equation requires 1 part John Deere tractor, 1 part cart, and many parts hay. We're not talking nuclear algorithms here yet Field of Screams got this wrong.

We finally get rolling and enter a dark trail with trees on either side making for a dark ride. Oh boy...time to get scared! Unfortunately, as you enter this trail you can already see the end 20 feet away. While we bounced through the "scary" scene a guy in camo fatigues was apparently getting attacked by someone or something. Bad character choice. My defenses were up for the rest of this ride.

Who the hell has a solider-like person getting attacked these days? What the F are these people thinking? That's not scary; it's stupid, messed up, and asinine. Scary events are meant to use people and semi-human stuff so there's zero connection to that zombie getting its head taken off or seeing Freddy Krueger lose his arm. Having a soldier get attacked is really poor taste.

Peeved by that decision, we exited the 40-foot, not-so scary trail and made our way along the baseball outfield fence. It's an odd choice for a hayride path, but I thought maybe something scary would come from the other side of the fence or maybe people would jump at us from the dumpsters on our right. Nope. All that happened was brighter and brighter lighting as we traveled toward the parking lot.

That's right, our hayride was interrupted with a parking lot crossing.

I couldn't believe we really were crossing the parking lot. Maybe we're being taken to a scarier part of the ride and that trail was a teaser? Sure, I'll chalk it up (again) to that, but whatever sense of scariness buzz we had going was squashed when we dealt with cars and people in full light. Why have us queue on the other side if the action happens on the other side of the property?

A REAL haunted hayride in Philly is where we needed to go.

We made our way around some old looking house that's dark. Here we go, time to get scared! Maybe someone was going to run out of the house and scare us. Maybe there'll be scenes in the windows. Nope. Nothing. We continued up a small incline and turned around trailers and a barn. On the way a 9-year-old girl saw someone hiding next to a tree and said, "You're not scaring us because we can see you." If you can't scare her, then get out of the haunting business.

Our hayride parked itself in front of the barn where some strobe lights showed someone cutting someone or something with a chainsaw. It was a decent effect. Not scary, but something interesting. The bar had been set so low I was looking for something to hang my hat on.

We kept looking around for people and saw characters approach from the white shirts! Hello! The easiest color to see in the dark is white so why are they wearing them? I smiled and laughed instead of being scared. Other people came out of the trailers being chased while two people came aboard with chainsaws blaring. Nobody was about to wet their pants.

A scary hayride that's never completely in the dark? Epic failure. There are even videos telling you how to make a hayride.

Thankfully we moved on. It has to get better, it just does. I'm looking for one good moment where I'm scared. I get scared easily so it's not asking for the moon. We turned beyond the barn and headed back across the parking lot for the second scary buzzkill of the night. We went back along the baseball outfield and through the trail. Nothing scary to be seen, heard, or felt. What a letdown.

I kept thinking it was the end, but there was one more stop in the cornfield. Ok, maybe this is it. There might be people jumping from all over that we actually can't see beforehand. I'll finally get a jolt of excitement. Nope. We pull up to four or five people on crosses (offensive, no?). Some master animatronics thing pretends to tell us a story about them living again. The trouble was the system sounded like a Metro station announcement or the Muppets' teacher, take your pick.

Of course the people came off of the crosses and tried to spook us. Others did come from the cornfield, but because the hayride uses this to make U-turn and needed a lot of room, we saw them between the corn and the hayride. We left the cornfield and returned to the start. The line was now 5x as long as before and I felt bad knowing they'll be really disappointed.

I won't speak for the haunted house, haunted trail, and haunted corn maze, but if Field of Screams can make a scary hayride a complete waste and disaster, I see no reason to be confident of those other attractions. The hayride didn't follow a "tree line of haunted woods." It followed a blueprint for the worst hayride ever. Scary hayrides can be scary. This one wasn't so don't go.

Markoff's is MoCo's choice for scary times forever and for always.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Breaking News: I didn't set the men's record at the Army 10-Miler

It's not that I didn't want to set a record. I ran at a moderate pace to ensure I'd finish and be able to walk tomorrow, but it wasn't enough. The men's record is now 46:59! 47 minutes into the race, I was coming up on mile marker #5. Even if I had a 5-mile head start he'd still blow by me. The women's winner also set a record taking 55:25 to complete the course. Just incredible.

A record registration of 30,000 runners with 23,000 of them finishing makes this the largest 10-miler in the country. Take that Philly's Broad Street Run!

This was the first race that I felt confident that I'd finish. Normally I start ultra slow because I fear that I won't have enough in the tank to cross the finish line, but with my marathon training, I sheepishly saw today as an easy run. I can't believe I would ever think of a 10-mile run as an easy run. I feel fine now and don't anticipate any soreness tomorrow. Go me!

Just a walk in the park in perfect race weather.

For the first time I felt like a legitimate runner. As if I belonged in races beyond 5 kilometers. I wasn't the newbie running 9-minute miles for the first 3 splits and burning out by mile 4. I was in complete control of my pace. I only walked for 2 minutes while I downed a Cliff Shot Block pack. The rest of the time I zigged, zagged, and enjoyed the scenery.

All hail black cherry chewy electrolytes and caffeine.

The route was great, as any DC race is guaranteed to be. Organizers had plenty of water and Gatorade on the course; however, the food selection was weak at the finish line. A Kashi trail mix bar that parched my throat, cinnamon raisin bagels that had all of 6 raisins, and muffins that were far to sweet for a post-race snack. I just downed a few bananas and. One Army tent offered pulled pork sandwiches, but I wasn't about to eat that after the race. Plus the line was very long.

Speaking of lines, there needs to be a better way to place the porta-potties. The portable johns faced each other meaning their lines backed into each other resulting in plenty of chaos figuring out where one line started and another one ended. It didn't help that we were all downwind of them.

I've come a long way since my longest run was on an NES Power Pad.

The only other issue with today's race was the great whiffs I took from cigarettes along the course as we came down Independence Avenue. People, when you're watching a bunch of oxygen-deprived runners, please don't throw your smoke in our faces. Just stand a few feet from the curb and we'll get along just fine.

Being sponsored by the Army, starting and finishing at the Pentagon, and having the race lead by wounded warriors, I felt weak complaining about a sore ankle when I walked around in my running shoes. It was empowering to run among double amputees and a blind veteran (Lt. Castro (sp) finishing in 84 minutes!). I was simultaneously saddened by the challenges in their lives, but also in awe of their wills to move forward.

I dare you to not be inspired.

Running by the Kennedy Center and cheering an amputee as he called out marching steps with his guide brought goosebumps. Seeing wheelchair-bound veterans hand pedal with the same grit and determination that they brought to the Army was just awesome. The constant "HOOAHs," bands playing the Army fight song, and cheering crowds willed all us to the finish.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Fine Time On The Left Coast (Part 3 of 3)

I awoke Sunday morning realizing that I only had about 24 hours left in this vacation of no rest. Though I wanted to sleep in, I just couldn't. The schedule didn't allow for it and this whole working as an adult thing the last 7 years hasn't allowed me to sleep in on days off.

We made our way to Marina Del Rey so I could rent a bicycle for exercise and 20 miles of sightseeing. Nothing says I'm a tourist more than renting a cruising or comfort bike, but I didn't care.

We made our way from Marina Del Rey to Manhattan Beach and onto Hermosa Beach.

The bike shop owner told me that riding the strand would be easy, but I needed to be careful that I not strain my neck because of the other bikers, boarders, and runners.
He's a sage.

How can anyone in southern California not exercise everyday with this weather and this bike path?

We stopped at Wahoo's Fish Taco. Of course none of us ordered the fish taco, but the burrito was good and the table service was even better. I thought that this was a special locals-only spot, but it's part of an area franchise.

Living near the beach means having a bike that can haul your boards. Dude.

A Labor Day volleyball tournament action shot. Nobody was any good though.

At least when compared to the best doubles team in the world. Extra points to me for finding their plaque in cement pier. Minus points for actually taking the picture.

It's clear all beach patrons were under the watchful eye Michael Knight.

Ummm, I mean Mitch Buchannon and C.J. Parker!

Folks living by the beach have it really good.

After a dip in the pool we got ready for dinner in the Valley at Cafe Bizou. Somehow I saw no signs of Valley girl stereotypes. I was disappointed. The food was great though.

Monday brought a final meal of chicken cutlet curry at Hurry Curry that left me with a new found love for Japanese curry.

For my final food of the trip I needed one more cup from YogurtLand. My belly was full for the one-stop 2:15p flight that landed at BWI at 11:30p. The jet lag was totally worth it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Living It Up in the City of Angels (Part 2 of 3)

I went to sleep around 1 AM Pacific time and tried claiming hardship over being awake for over 23 straight hours since getting up at 4:15 AM Eastern time. Always on the ball, my sister immediately shot that down reminding me of my naps on the plane and on her couch.


I was more or less awake for a long time and wasn't about to reclaim my lost sleep on Saturday.

We began the day driving to Santa Monica for an 8-mile run. I agreed to this to prove to my sister that I had in fact been training for the marathon (off and on) all these weeks. She agreed to this to remind me how much faster she runs. She was kind enough to run at my snail's pace for 7.5 miles until she said, "can we run at my pace now?" That was a low blow.

After noticing so many LA roadrunning groups on our path, I decided there must be gang turf wars between them. There has to be some bad blood between the LA Roadrunners (her group), LA Leggers, Santa Monica Running Group, and LA Roadrunning club. It's a sign that so many people in California can't help, but be healthy that they need many, many running groups.

We ran by muscle beach, but were fortunate to pass there before the meatheads arrived.

On the way back we apparently ran by Victor Jih, winner of the latest Amazing Race season. I guess that counts as my first celebrity run-in? How sad that he'd be considered a celebrity and it's all I've seen so far.

The multi-level Barney's in Beverly Hills was as nice as you'd expect.

And the brunch upstairs at Barney Greengrass was as great as you'd expect.

But the breadsticks were the stars of the meal, as you wouldn't expect. We had my sister, ahem, "grab" an extra bag and cream cheese. It was a great recovery after she stumbled asking the waiter for our 5th refill.

I bought my this dri-fit blue shirt as part of my official marathon clothing. I even purchased it at retail price in Beverly Hills no less! Actually, Niketown's prices were the same as the rest of the country.

We walked around the Grove before settling on dinner at the Farmer's Market. I destroyed a bowl of gumbo, though my sister's Brazilian meat dish was tasty too.

While lamenting that SoCal has open air malls while the left coast couldn't, we passed Daniel Dae Kim, aka Jin-Soo Kwon, from Lost. Too bad I couldn't appreciate the sight having never watched the show.

Nighttime entertainment came in the form of John Williams conducting the LA Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood as it performed his great movie scores. A real LA moment. The Bowl's stack parking method is stupid, but I was with locals so we used our secret lot to get out quickly.

There was far too much Harry Potter and he didn't play Indiana Jones, the Olympics theme, or Jurassic Park, but listening to the full E.T. theme performed live, conducted by the composer, and watching the in sync film brought goosebumps. Sorry, but I cried at that movie.

Of course Superman and a few Star Wars songs were very cool.
We didn't care for songs from Casablanca and Catch me if You Can. I didn't appreciate him coming out for four encore ovations only to have him come out the last time to say he was tired. Okay, enough complaining. The compilation of his and the music of others was nice.

The level of geekdom, dorkism, and nerd-alert went through the roof during every Star Wars song with way too many light sabers; however, they did make for a cool effect as Williams encouraged them. I thought he should have conducted with a light saber, but he is 77 after all. Note they move to the beat 40 seconds into the song.

Until the next day's recap. Same blog address. Possibly the same posting time.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

They've Got It Nice Out in Los Angeles (Part 1 of 3)

Last weekend I visited my sister and her boyfriend in LA. Unlike the visit two years ago, this wasn't filled with tourist traps, studio tours, and requisite souvenir purchases. Nope. This time I tried to hold on as they whisked me around town going for jogs along Santa Monica, bike rides along the strand to Hermosa Beach, multiple locals-only eateries, a Dodger game, and a Hollywood Bowl concert.

Still with me? Good.

There was also marathon "outfit shopping" in Beverly Hills, eating at Barney Greengrass, dinner in the Valley, walking around the Grove, eating at the Farmer's Market, lunch at a Wahoo's Fish Taco, lounging at the pool, walking the beach, and enjoying the 3-hour time difference to watch football games during breakfast.

I had had a long week and was plenty tired, but this wasn't time to sleep-in. It was time to always be on the move and see how they do things on the left coast. Here we go with Friday.


For a moment I thought I'd get a real meal of seafood for my Southwest flight. Of course the box went into cargo and I only got drinks, peanuts, and animal crackers for my cross-country flight.

Clear skies meant great mountain pictures, even with my 3.1 MP brick.

There it is...smoggy, wildfire smoke-filled Los Angeles. I felt like I needed my passport to visit. It's a different world.

We stuffed ourselves with sushi at SugarFish. A guy next to our table was talking about being "the head writer for a multi-generational Fox comedy." He was in a sad pissing contest with a younger writer about knowledge of ABC's skycams and Mad Men character development. Doesn't everyone in LA have some bogus project in development?

YogurtLand rocked! I went with the vanilla wafer topped with kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and Cap'n Crunch. My sugar level spiked to dangerously tasteful levels.

There's some wildfire smoke over the hills.

The stadium is showing its age, but the view of palm trees sure is nice.

I'm not sure why any Dodger fan would wear anything, but the royal blue caps.

Unlimited condiment station +

Foot-long Dodger Dog =

A mouthwatering meal. I ate two of them.

Look, it's Tommy Lasorda's bald head! A kinda-celebrity sighting. Also saw Larry King and Alyssa Milano.

Some Wetzel's Pretzels pretzels provided late-game stomach heroics.

Though they're nothing compared to these heroics.

Kids, if you look closely, this is the outfield grass where Manny didn't give 100% to catch a ball.

Lots of beach balls in the stadium; all the easier for LA fans to enforce their reputation and not watch the game despite the pennant race.

Fireworks after the show were great! We waited out traffic by throwing frisbees and footballs in the parking lot.

I was surprised the Dodgers allowed people in the outfield with so many of these divots from kids sliding on the grass.

Saturday's fun times are coming in the next post. What an exciting tease!