Sunday, February 21, 2010

DSW in DC is the Sculpture Garden Ice Rink

On the first weekend without snow on sidewalks in the DC area in a long, long time, I jammed my feet into overused skates, with their dull edges and ratty laces, and sashayed around the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden ice rink without falling. I actually enjoyed being outside in the mid-40s; however, my sister was quick to reminded me that LA weather allows her to enjoy the beach in February. Whatever.

I got in the ticket line around 3:45 p.m. for the 4-6 p.m. session. Of course that session sold out before I could get my ticket so I stayed in line for the 5-7 p.m. session and warmed up in the sculpture garden's pavilion eatery. Suddenly paying $7 for a garden salad didn't seem so bad when it came with heat, glorious heat. As cheapo depot, I just sat a table reserved for customers and left with the same amount in my wallet as I had coming in.

Another thing off my DC bucket list.

Within minutes, the line for skate rentals reach 1/3 of the way around the rink so I left the warmth to grab my spot. I struck a conversation with some folks in line and realized that everyone skating here is required to say that they haven't skated in at least 10 years as the woman and her daughter said they haven't skated in 17 years. Quite an exact number.

I grabbed my skates and started laced them twice for maximum ankle stability that made no difference in the quality of my skating, but the piece of mind was nice. I talked to the folks on the bench across from me who hadn't skated in 14 and 11 years. Of course they hadn't in 10+ years.

Plenty of free shoes to take in the heart of DC. I'm not sure taking this picture was worth the strange looks I received.

One woman stopped after a few laps because her ankles hurt while her friend, who owned skates, said it was a good idea to stop because the ice rink was small, the surface was awful, and "people are out of control out there." Thanks for the reassurance before I head out. Sure sounds like a swell time! What a way to sell the experience I already paid for.

I rammed my shoes in a locker that was designed using the Smithsonian's collection of foot binding shoes. The lockers were raggedy and made me wonder if the peeling paint gave me a dose of lead for good measure. It was still worth knowing that my shoes were safe instead of leaving them under the benches and walkway. A locker's only $0.50 so why risk things to a rogue criminal with a shoe fetish.

Size 12 sneakers don't fit in the lockers nicely.

I walked to the ice and joined the parade of skaters, circling counter-clockwise like vultures over the carcass of a metro DC resident's bucket list - mine. I was finally skating in DC. I skated five years ago, but didn't want to be called out so I was ready to say it had been 15 years if anyone asked.

The flock of blades tore the ice and made it bumpy after 10 minutes of laps. At times my blade struggled to push off the slush, but come on, I'm slowly skating on the Mall! It's about the experience and not the ice quality. It's also about watching hot dog skaters fall on their tailbones. There are five types of sculpture garden ice skaters:
  • Experts - there are experts who pirouette in the center ice and cause no harm and experts who skate backward quickly, dash and dart among amateur skaters, and think wearing hockey skates gives them the right to violate the first two rules of the rink.
  • Non-expert backward skaters - backward skating defines good skaters from average ones and a few folks showed they can still fit into their hockey skates from high school. My mediocre skating skills developed from a handful of suburban rink experiences allows me to go backward very, very slowly; a skill I wasn't about to demonstrate here.
  • Tag Along Couple Kinetic Yuppie (TACKY) - the majority of couples around the ice had unbalanced skills; one person was walking on skates while the other partner was comfortable and could go faster. One couple was annoying as the guy pushed too quickly for her liking and created a human battering ram to toddlers everywhere.
  • Teenagers - decent teenage skaters took after the rude experts and skated too quickly for the rink's flow and also took spectacular falls onto the ice, against the rails, and into each other that I thoroughly enjoyed.
  • Parents with kids - in what made for many Kodak moments (how dated is that reference? maybe it should now be a "digital moment"), a parent shuffled along the ice holding their kid's hand, never losing touch.
Not even this Zamboni could keep the surface bump free after a resurfacing.

After a 45-minute skate, I waited to grab a few more laps on what should have been smooth ice thanks to the Zamboni. The ice was improved, but only for five minutes as long as I avoided areas the machine missed. I'm no Zamboni driving expert, but I'd like to think you want to resurface the entire ice in one pass.

After my right ankle was tired from constant left turning, I grabbed my shoes, returned my skates, and took a final glance at the rink only to see one more assclown skater eat the ice. Good times.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Great Super Bowl and Birthday Party That Didn't Happen

During Thanksgiving dinner, I talked to my parents about plans for my 30th birthday taking place this month. I should take a trip to a warm climate like LA or head south for some beach time. Then it hit me; I'll combine a Super Bowl party with my birthday all with the purpose of showing off my HD entertainment purchases. I called it my Super Super Bowl and Birthday Party Party.

2+ feet of snow in 24 hours reminds me why having a winter birthday party is tough to pull off.

Fast forward to last week. I chose to ignore predictions of increasing snowfall and went to Sam's Club in Virginia one week before the Super Bowl to stock up on copious amounts of food, booze, and silverware. Here's what I had for the big game and party:
  • 120 frozen buffalo wings
  • 40 bottles of beer
  • 10 liters of wine
  • 8 liters of Coke, 30 cans of Coke Zero, and 24 cans of Diet Pepsi
  • 6 pounds of tortilla chips, 1 large bag of sour cream and onion chips, and 1 large container of pretzels
  • 6 pounds of guacamole and salsa dips
  • 150 shrimp
  • 1 Transformer cupcake cake
  • Vegetable platter, fruit salad, and cheese and sausage plate
  • 60 bottles of water
  • 20-person sandwich platter and 15-person chopped salad
  • 45 jalapeno poppers
  • Pistachios
  • Dozens of my mom's famous homemade cookies
Mom's homemade cookies included: chocolate nut, cranberry shortbread, and Russian tea cookies.

So yeah, I bought a lot of food for the 30-person party. I held out hope that parking wouldn't be an issue by Sunday afternoon because the roads would be fine with 24 hours of sunny skies and plowing. It's just snow after all. This was my Super Bowl and 30th birthday party and damn it, it was going to happen come hell or high water (in the form of snow).

The snow made chilling drinks easier. It also prevented anyone from showing.

Turns out the roads weren't that great and parking was impossible. The cancellations poured in as I became friendly with my neighbors shoveling our parking spaces. Realizing that none of my friends would make it, I invited 10 neighbors, 4 of which showed. At least my parents and their dog made it to the DC area before the storm, right?

Not all was lost because of my no-show party; it spurred me to paint the living room, install 5.1 speakers, hide the wires inside, and even clean the house. Collectively known as the most home work I've ever done.

In this week since the big game and big party that didn't happen, I've done my best to eat the remaining cold cuts (ham, roast beef, and turkey), shrimp (mercury overdose anyone?), cookies (constant sugar high), and salad with an occasional Transformer cupcake for dessert. Despite quality meats, I'm at the point of cold cut exhaustion. Mixing toppings like tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers with mayo and mustard is appetizing only so many times.

Few got to see the Transformer cake actually transform into 30 cupcakes.

Of my pre-party purchases, I've knocked out 1/2 of what remained of the cold cuts, 2 cans of Coke Zero, two dozen cookies, 3 cupcakes, and the remainder of salad and shrimp. Here's what remains:
  • 9 liters of wine
  • 10 pounds of chips and chip dips
  • 32 bottles of beer
  • Much of the soda and water
  • 20 cupcakes
  • Pistachios
  • Many cookies
  • All of the jalapeno poppers
  • 110 buffalo wings
Could my plate be more non-Kosher? Shrimp, ham, roast beef, and cheese on the same plate!

Not one to binge eat forever, my party purchases will be made available for an NCAA Tournament basketball party in mid-March. Knowing my party weather luck, it'll be the weekend of a freak DC hurricane.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Don't Complain About Another City's Snow Handling Skills

During this morning's metro ride, taken because the federal government opened on time despite the 5 inches of snow on my sidewalk, two women from the midwest quipped, "I can't believe the schools around here are closed; DC can't handle it like back in Chicago."

At what point is it wrong for me to rebut publicly-aired opinions on a Metro train? I turned to these snowqueens and told them the following in so many words (of course I didn't, but they'll read this later and apologize, I'm sure).

To everyone who has ever turned their noses up at another metropolis because it can't handle X inches of snow, stop talking now. It is annoying that every winter someone must feel better about their home turf by disparaging another city's inability to handle as much snow nearly as well as their childhood local DPW.

A very scientific chart. The X-axis is snow fall and the Y-axis is arrogance. And yes, DC averages 22.3 inches of snow each season.

When it snows in Charleston, SC, for example, that's a major event because, um, it's the south where it doesn't snow. So most residents don't know how to drive in the snow because they have little opportunity to get experience. Even if a Charlestonian felt compelled to hit the road, I'd bet that most roads aren't plowed and treated because the local budget doesn't account for snow because, again, it doesn't snow there.

So you have two factors, inexperienced drivers and DPW budgets ill-equipped for more snow than the average amount. Take that and add a few inches as you head north and the scene repeats itself. The farther north you go, the more towns there are to look down at when boasting your area's civic snow handling pride. I'm sure DCers have wondered why Raleigh shuts down after two inches of snow.

Just what good is it for you to boast about your city's snowhandling skills? You're actually happy that you receive a foot of snow so regularly that it’s nothing, but routine? By all means enjoy being inundated with snow for 12 weeks and never seeing greenery until March. It isn't such a bad thing to have sunny days and dry lawns in January. This winter hasn’t been as kind though.

I admit to getting upset when area drivers go slower than necessary on snowy days, but I recognize residents don't drive enough on slick roads to get any better, just as a New Englander may think I don't go fast enough. It's all relative. Imagine what a Buffalo resident thinks when lake effect snow comes barreling through.

To everyone north of some city "that just can't handle snow like we can," take your civic snow pride and keep it to yourself unless you want someone south to visit in the winter and mention the warmer days you're missing out on because for some reason you don’t want to live in a nicer climate.