Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bike Rides and Zebra Cakes

I make no claim to being a particularly athletic person.  But I'm not sure that saying is true about never forgetting how to ride a bike.  What is true, however, is that whenever my mother decides we need to have a "Family Bike Ride" I am reminded of just how terrible at it I am.

It was a little concerning that before we'd even left the parking lot, my left contact declared war on my eye. I managed to remove it (the contact, not my eye) only to discover that it had folded itself in half.  I didn't even know that was possible.  I put it back in after rinsing my hands off with some of the water we'd taken to drink, looking in the van's rearview mirror.  It was no more comfortable now than it had been when it was folded in half, but at least I could see.

After our friends finally showed up, we headed off, and with the wind in my eyes, both eyes were about equally painful.  Besides, it didn't take long for the burning in my thighs to completely overpower any discomfort inflicted by my contacts.  We had gone a mile at this point, maybe.  I'm still no better at riding a bike than I was when we started.

I spent a good portion of the ride drafting one of my friends until he noticed me and decided it was his turn.  We must have gone at least fifty miles before we turned around.  Actually, it may have been more like four, but who's counting?  I was on the brink of death when the two guys with us stopped on each side of the trail and pulled out water bottles.  I whizzed past what looked like the icing pattern on Zebra Cakes and slammed on brakes.  Dust flew.  I turned around.  I was right.  I walked slowly, straddling my bike, back to my friend.  He held out the package.  They were squished, but I didn't even notice.  With shaking hands, I tore open the plastic, and pulled out the flattened mess of processed sugar.  

It was amazing.  I try to avoid hugging people whenever possible, but I hugged him then.  I was so happy, I could have cried, but that might have been the contact that I had been successfully ignoring for a while reminding me that it was still there and that it wasn't above crashing my little sugar party.  Nevertheless, I rode the last hundred or so (maybe closer to two) miles with a smile on my face and the taste of Zebra Cake on my tongue.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Planners Make My Day Better

Right now I'm sitting on a low brick wall, being poked in the back by a bush (which in all fairness was here first), trying to access my class schedule, so I know what classroom I'm supposed to be sitting in at 11:20.  I learned this morning that simply knowing the name of the building where your class is located is not enough.  The problem I ran into then was about a thousand freshman also realizing that knowing the name of the building where their classes were located was not enough, all trying to log on to the same server at the same time.  Last I checked, they're all still confused, because it's an hour and a half later and I still couldn't get on.

The great thing about a college campus is that in any given spot there are at least four unprotected wifi networks available.  I have now successfully accessed my schedule, because I'm on the "guest" network instead of the student one.  As it turns out, there aren't too many guests checking their schedules.  Go figure.

More great things about college?  I just bought a backpack from the campus bookstore.  It was 25% off.  And it has a laptop sleeve.  And it's cute.  I wanted to buy a planner, because I still actually know how to write by hand and prefer it to typing when the opportunity presents itself.  So I balked at the idea of using "iCal" to keep track of my homework.  Plus, Target had these really pretty planners in the "back to school" section.  I carried around one with polka-dots for a while.  But my mom told me I was wasting my money, that I didn't need a planner.  She also made me put back the panda pillow pet I'd been carrying around.  I did get a cute recycled notebook though.  I used it in Spanish today.  I firmly believe I pay attention better when I'm happy about my supplies.

Anyway, I wanted a planner, couldn't get one, and for the past day and a half have been grudgingly using "iCal."  But just a couple of minutes ago, I'm walking across campus to my next class, and this guy standing in the middle of the path looks at me and says, "Would you like a planner?" and holds one out to me from the stack he's got.  Um, YES, I would like a planner.  And it was free.  And I'm going to write my homework in it.  By hand.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


By the end of this week, I will have a new car.  If I'm still alive.  It's proving to be a very stressful process.  I wanted a Nissan 350Z.  That's the only car I bothered to learn the name for, because I'd been admiring it forever.  The problem (as you may have guessed based on the fact that is has a "Z" in the name) is that it's a sports car, and as a general rule, those are pretty expensive.

So we had it narrowed down to a 2010 Kia Rio and a 2010 Hyundai Accent.  They're the same price, both in great condition, and they even have the same engine.  They're basically the same car.  The safety ratings, however, are less than stellar.  So now we're looking at Toyotas, which is pretty ironic, if you ask me, seeing as how it was Toyota, and not Kia or Hyundai, that recalled thousands of cars because they were unsafe.  I don't want a Toyota.  I want the Kia Rio.  It's cute.  But that's about as far as my knowledge goes.

Pretty much every car I look at is an improvement from the 1996 Buick LaSabre I'm currently driving.  Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of that thing.  I won my high school's yearbook award for "Gimpest Car" for driving it to school everyday. I referred to it after that as my "award-winning vehicle."  And it's about as safe as a Sherman Tank, which is a plus.  But it helps to keep a little perspective when you're comparing a Kia to a Hyundai to a Toyota and thinking it's all too much.  After all, we're comparing them all to that Buick Houseboat.

My mom wanted me to get an Accord, because she's a Honda person.  But the Accords are all very expensive, compared to the other two.  I'm thinking, "MPG" pretty much nonstop because that's what's coming straight out of my wallet.  And without a job, I'm looking for a car that gets about 150 Highway. Unfortunately, that doesn't exist yet within our budget.

I wanted to live on campus.  That would have solved all car problems.  But then I would have had to pay room and board, I guess.  Six one way and all that.  Feel free to weigh in on Hyundai, Kia, or Toyota if any of you faithful readers have any knowledge or opinions.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

I went into this one with high expectations.  When you make a movie with Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Thirteen from House in it, that's what you're asking for, really.  But I'm pleased to report that it was not a disappointment.  In fact, I was impressed.  It had everything: blasts, chuckles, and chases, with a couple of tearjerking moments as the cherry on top.  In a word, Awesome.  But I've got lots more words.

For starters, the concept of the movie was brilliant.  I've seen a couple of terrible alien movies in the past month (don't waste your time watching Super 8 or Battle: Los Angeles), and one good western a while ago (True Grit, despite reviews from disappointed John Wayne fans, was excellent).  But as soon as I saw the first trailer for Cowboys & Aliens, I was excited.  Why do aliens only attack in present-day situations? Because we can send the Marines after them now? Because a covered wagon transforming into a giant robot seemed unlikely?  Because a movie can only be one genre at a time?  I say it's because it never occured to the writers to try anything different.  If Transformers sells movie tickets, make a Transformers 2.  It's easy.  It's boring. (By the way, Transformers 3 wasn't a total disaster, but take a deck of cards or something--the final battle gets a little monotonous after 45 straight minutes of explosions and screaming.)  But I digress.

Cowboys & Aliens, although a gamble, was a success on both fronts.  Not only was it a western complete with Indians, cattle, and saloons, but it was a sci-fi flick with all the bells, whistles, and blue-ish pulse-like ka-booms.  I especially appreciated the fact that all of the technologically advanced rays and blasts were accented by plenty of good, old-fashioned shotguns and pistols.  Add to that a tribe of angry Native Americans with spears and arrows, and you've got yourself a nice little final battle that doesn't grow boring and actually carries the plot forward (unlike a certain recent release I have already mentioned.)

I also appreciated that although Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is introduced with amnesia and later identified as a dangerous outlaw, time is not wasted on his quest to recover his memory.  That wasn't what the movie was about.  The loose end is tied up about halfway through, and the story can move along without having to worry about tripping over its shoelaces.  If I remember correctly, it's also around this time that we are told why the aliens are there.  I won't give it away, but it fits both the plot and the time period, and doesn't feel like an afterthought the way it did in Battle: Los Angeles.  ("Aliens! Aliens! Oh no!! Oh, also, they're after our water... That doesn't sound too far fetched, does it?")

Apart from the plot, the camerawork was exceptional.  Many of the scenes were so high-contrast and edited in such away that they could have been photographs in their own right, had you paused the movie.  It's not something you usually see on the big screen, and it worked.

John Favreau had a pretty good leg up with his cast, but he didn't fall short on his end, either.  The dynamic between Jake Lonergan (Craig) and Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) as enemies-turned-allies was a flawless blend of banter and facial expressions that drew laughter from the audience at every turn.  Craig's cowboy-tough posture (head down, hat brim low, arm poised above his gun) sold his character perfectly.  We even get to see Harrison Ford's iconic half-smile toward the end, when I had begun to worry it wouldn't make an appearance.

There's another element to every movie that's easily just as important as the characters:  the score.  The Cowboys & Aliens score met the same standard as did every other element in the movie.  It was different, interesting, but in a very good way.  It was western music woven with sythetic alien-sounds, as well as choral arrangements that represented the otherwordly angle.  What I noticed the most was how animated it was.  Most scores are meant to be almost unnoticed, a background sound that tells you how you're supposed to feel about whatever is taking place on the screen, just like a laughtrack tells you when to laugh or gasp at a sitcom.  But composer Harry Gregson-Williams (who, interestingly, also scored Unstoppable, and you know what I thought of that movie), really took advantage of scenes where there was no dialogue, bringing the music forward with more melodic pieces and complex tunes that did more than offset the visual component, they accompanied it.

This movie was the whole package.  A seamless blend of two popular genres.  Go see it.  Seriously.  It's better than whatever you have planned for this weekend.