Week 29: Alexandria

Locations: Mountain View, CA; Alexandria, VA


Dates: 3/2/97-3/8/97

Sunday I took Sarah to the Farmer's Market, then we met Thida and the GREX folx for lunch. Hung out with them, chatting and being silly, 'til it was time to meet Gerry at the Stanford Theatre for a film noir double feature.

Talked to Chris T a little on the phone that night, then went over to Sarah's to talk with her and Thida. For the first time since I started the Words & Stuff column, missed my self-imposed deadline of midnight Sunday. Stayed up too late talking, then far too late getting column posted.

Monday I spent most of the day at SGI: worked with Josie on minor edits for the putative second printing of the Handbook (which will only happen if the first printing sells out, of course), had lunch with Doug, talked briefly with Tamara, chatted with Wendy and Sandy. In the evening, had dinner with Arthur; then we rented a movie.

I never did get to see half the friends in CA whom I'd intended to see this visit. I guess two weeks (with time out for a professional conference) just isn't enough time to see 30+ people, at least not without getting worn to a frazzle... Apologies to those of you I missed; we'll just have to settle for email for now. When I'm back for good (tentatively August), I'll have a party...

Tuesday morning, returned various items to my storage unit, returned rental car, got on plane. Spent most of the flight reading, updating my journal, and napping. The vegetarian lunch was awfully bland (plain rice with a little corn mixed in); I think United needs to hire a vegetarian to plan their veggie meals. There were several minor annoyances of the sort I would barely have noticed if United's superb service on the flight out hadn't raised my expectations—things like a reading light bulb burning out, cramped seating on the first leg of the flight, and being seated in an exit row without anyone mentioning that fact to me ahead of time on the second leg. (I don't mind at all being in an exit row, but you'd think the person doing the seat assignments might find it worth asking about...)

Arrived at National Airport at 11 pm, took a cab back to Barbara's. Stayed up 'til 1 doing email and Web stuff that I really didn't need to do.

Spent Wednesday lazing about, updating this travelogue, and making phone calls I should've made while still in CA.

Thursday Barbara and I met some friends of hers for lunch and a matinee. In the evening, I worked out plans for going to Europe.

Friday I left the house later than intended because my car wouldn't start, again. I hope it was just that the battery wasn't fully charged before it sat unused for three weeks. I got another jump-start from AAA—the AAA guy had a cool portable device for jump-starting (I oughtta get one)—and headed to the Metro. Once in DC, got passport photos taken, then went to the passport office. Waited in line for half an hour to get a number, which would eventually be called to tell me it was my turn. I had some time to spare, so I wandered around Dupont Circle for a bit and had a burrito across the street. Got back to find that I still had 30+ numbers to go. They seemed to be announcing numbers in groups of ten over the PA system, so I settled myself in an out-of-the-way corner (where I couldn't see the displays showing what number was currently up) and read. And read. And read. And finally wondered why it had been so long since they'd announced the group-of-ten before mine, so I found a number-display board. Which indicated that they were fifteen past mine.

I asked what to do, and was told that the only possible thing I could do would be to go stand in line again, get another number, and wait for it to come around. I was also told that I should've been watching the display board, that numbers aren't called out in the area where I was sitting, and that I must be the only person ever to go through the number line and not be told I had to watch the board. (Note that the big signs all over the room say "Watch and/or listen for your number." I figured that meant I could safely listen.) But the most irritating thing, to me, was not that I'd missed my number but that they wouldn't take me at a time *after* my number. What possible purpose would it serve to make me stand in line for another half-hour, then wait another hour-plus? I had all the materials I needed; everything was in order; it would've taken minutes for them to process me. But no, they had to punish me for missing my number. Grr.

Early hang glider
Early hang glider

I stormed out; no way was I going to spend the rest of my last day in DC waiting in the passport office. By the time I got to the Air & Space Museum I had only a couple hours left before closing. Saw some cool space stuff, some nifty early-flight-era stuff, a sobering and somewhat disturbing exhibit on the Enola Gay, and at least a little of most of the rest of the exhibits, but didn't have time to look at anything in much detail.

Eagle lander
Eagle lander

Spent some time looking unsuccessfully for gifts in Union Station, had dinner there, headed back to the Alexandria Metro station.

Where my car wouldn't start.

Eventually got a friendly passerby to jump-start me (doing my best to appear non-threatening, since it was dark and the parking lot was near empty), and decided I needed to run the car for a while to charge the battery. Also decided I needed something to calm me down. So I drove to the video store and rented a tape. While turning left to leave the parking lot, I cut off a pickup that was behaving perfectly properly (I guess I thought I had a protected left turn); fortunately the driver braked in time. A few minutes later, I saw an ambulance coming and pulled off the road to let it by—thereby blocking the driveway it was trying to turn into. It was not a good day.

Saturday morning my car started and I drove up to see Cathy again. We had a nice walk and talk in the park. I proceeded to a Washington Romance Writers meeting in Bethesda, where someone was giving a talk on screenwriting, which was the nominal reason for my staying in the DC area for the rest of this week after I got back from CA. The talk was rambling and not terribly coherent, and didn't give much in the way of useful advice. Barbara and I had a fairly nice dinner at a Moroccan place in Old Town Alexandria (called Casablanca); I spent the rest of the evening packing (in preparation to leave on Sunday) and watching the video I'd rented the night before.

Movies, Books, etc.

Murder, My Sweet
Not quite as good as The Big Sleep, with which it has a lot in common, but more comprehensible and a bit funnier.
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Some good acting and mood-evocation, and some nicely unexpected plot developments and pacing shifts (including possibly the shortest courtroom scene in any movie ever); but too heavy-handedly moralistic for my tastes, and several parts seemed a bit contrived. I suspect the book is better.
The Court Jester
I've been hearing the "vessel with the pestle" bit from this for years, so was surprised to find it one of the lesser highlights. Danny Kaye is a delight to watch, especially if you're in a silly enough mood to not care about such trifles as plot, consistency, or realism; and it's nice to see Basil Rathbone and an amazingly young Angela Lansbury in supporting (if somewhat two-dimensional) roles. (Note: I had no idea that the "Get it?" "Got it." "Good" exchange was from this movie; I've heard people quote that since I was in elementary school, but didn't know what it was from.)
The English Patient
Extremely good, and much less fluffy than I'd expected; it's more a war movie (in the sense that Casablanca is a war movie) than a heartwarming romance. The leads (Ralph (Strange Days) Fiennes and Kristin Scott (Four Weddings and a Funeral) Thomas) are superb, while the rest of the cast is only remarkable; the story/structure is occasionally surprising (in mostly good ways); and the movie deserves every bit of praise that's been lavished on it.
Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner
As with Brunner's other future-setting books of the period (Shockwave Rider and The Sheep Look Up), and for that matter like certain other if-this-goes-on books of the period (such as The Female Man), this book (specifically addressing the still very relevant topics of overpopulation and genetic engineering) alternates between being remarkably on-target about certain aspects of how modern life has come to be, and being severely dated about aspects of society that have changed significantly. This space is far too narrow to provide an adequate review; I hope to write a Spinrad-style essay comparing this book to Always Coming Home at some point, but haven't done so yet.
Only You
Surprisingly fun romantic comedy starring Marisa Tomei as a woman who believes she's destined to marry a man named Damon Bradley. Romantic and funny (with a mostly quite good supporting cast); what more could you want from a romantic comedy, after all?

(Last updated: 11 March 1997.)

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