Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pride and a little bit of Prejudice

I didn't got to Pride Fest last year. It was hot, and I didn't have anyone to go with, and I didn't know if I'd see anyone I knew downtown, and I was probably playing video games or making deviled eggs or something and convinced myself that going would be a hassle and not fun.

This year, in light of the passage of Prop 8 in California in November, the inclusion of Rick Warren at the inauguration despite his anti-gay views, President Obama's postponing of his campaign promise to address "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", the Justice Department's recent brief supporting the Defense of Marriage Act equating gay marriage and incest, and the general tone of the country, I decided it was important to continue having a voice, and to be a vocal member of my community. While it's easy to support a Pride Festival in San Francisco or New York City, where attendance numbers in the thousands, it's just as important to support in places like Knoxville where LGBT people are a small, often forgotten minority.

Next thing you know, I'll even have a bumper sticker on my car.

Or an official pair of "Friend of Dorothy" shoes:

ruby slippers

Then again, I can't walk in heels as well as that guy did, so maybe not.

Not only did I go to Pride, but I brought Jess and Megs, even though they're straight. Jess wore her "Gay? Fine with me" t shirt, and I had on my "OUT" t shirt with our university logo:

out cake

When we were walking up to Gay Street (is it a coincidence that the Pride Parade route is right down Gay Street, of all streets in town?) from the parade staging area on State Street:

parade organizing

some guy and his wife walked past and looked at our shirts, and he whispered to her, "See? I think something's going on today." I think so, too, mister, but you didn't have to sprint for your car.

The three of us walked around for a little while, looking at restaurants and wondering if the lunch special was a coincidence:

rainbow special

and we watched the guy blowing giant bubbles for a while:

giant bubbles (1)

giant bubbles (2)

giant bubbles (3)

and then it was time for the parade in the 96 degree heat.

parade start

Our beloved Hard Knox Roller Girls turned out to be supportive, giving out flyers for the next home game:

roller girls!

I was kind of hoping they might clobber someone just for fun, but it probably better that they not do that on asphalt.

I was surprised by the number of churches that attended:

Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church

Westside Unitarian Universalist Church

Church of the Savior

I'm not really ready to go to church, and may never be (but I have been thinking about it and, believe it or not, praying lately; it turns out that I may believe in some sort of God after all, but definitely have not softened toward organized religion), but it's nice knowing that there are options nearby where I might feel welcome if I did want to attend.

While the churches were a surprise to me, the rest of the parade was not, because no Pride Parade would be complete without Dykes on Bikes:

dykes on bikes

shirtless dancing guys:

shirtless men

and a couple trucks full of drag queens:

drag queens

more drag queens

Hot, sweaty drag queens. Once the parade was over, we didn't stick around long, because it was really crowded and there was no shade:

Knoxville Pride Fest 2009

Right after I took that last picture, a guy walked past us complaining loudly to his friend that "they're all going to Hell, you know". That part wasn't terribly surprising, either, and that's why it's important to show up to this stuff even if it is hot and sweaty and you don't feel like leaving the house.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Vacation Day 7 and 8: End of the Road

On the seventh day, I rested.

OK, not totally, but I've always wanted an excuse to say that. On the seventh day of vacation, since it was my last one, I was still sick, and Sean had a whole bunch of work stuff to get done as well as needing his dishwasher replaced, I slept in and then laid around reading a book all day. Eventually Sean and I decided that we needed to do something, so he took me to dinner at Five Guys, where I had a delicious bacon cheese hot dog and fries:

dinner at five guys

Seriously, I might have dreams about that hot dog. The bacon was crispy, the cheese melted cheddar instead of melted processed cheez food, and the hot dog perfectly grilled. The fries were good, kind of like small steak fries, but really that hot dog was perfect. Sean said the burgers are, too, but I will always pick a hot dog over a hamburger if one is available, and especially if this one is available.

After dinner, we decided to go see "Drag Me To Hell", because we'd both been told that it was really good despite how cheesy and awful the previews looked. We were both lied to, but the movie was actually the kind of bad that almost wraps back around to good, like "Showgirls" or "Mommie Dearest". Not quite, but close, and also, what's with Sam Raimi's oral fixation? This movie was all about stuff going into mouths, coming out of mouths, mouths on mouths, and some bizarre denture moments. It also had a talking goat. I'm not really sure what else I can add.

After we laughed our way back from the movie, we did my laundry, then both went to bed. Separately. Sean isn't that kind of friend, nosy people who asked. You know who you are.

This morning I got up at five, loaded the car, and hugged Sean goodbye so that I could hit the road. The way back was over an hour longer than the way down, because I had to stop at every single rest area, a few gas stations, and a McDonald's along the way to pee. I don't know if it was the Mountain Dew or if the cold medicine I took has diuretic side effects or what, but I was counting the miles between stops.

Oh, and Georgia? Putting up a big sign that there are extra toilets at the rest area north of Atlanta doesn't excuse the fact that it's 136 miles from the previous rest stop. I'm not stopping in the middle of downtown Atlanta to pee, even if it does mean I might see Real Housewife Kim waiting for medical test results at Chili's. 136 miles is an unacceptable distance between toilets.

The free hot dogs at the welcome center almost make up for it:

free hot dogs!

As much as I enjoyed it, though, I'd rather have had the toilet.

Even with their excessive distance, though, Georgia comes out head and shoulders above Florida on the rest stop front, if only because none of the ones in Georgia feature this kind of warning:

poisonous snakes?

Poisonous snakes? Under normal circumstances, that would be enough to get me to skip that rest area all together, but today I had to pee so badly that the floor of the bathroom could have looked like the scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and I still would have gone in.

Thankfully, I'm home. I had a great vacation, even with this cold/flu/whatever I have, and now I just have to spend tomorrow getting ready to get back to work.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Vacation Day 6: And then I got sick...

I was feeling a little scratchy at the outlet shopping and the alligator viewing, but figured it was just strange foreign pollens in Florida assaulting my lungs. By yesterday, though, I was full out voice-cracking, hacking, coughing, vaguely feverish, it hurts to swallow sick. Since I can't come off of vacation and go right onto sick leave, I apologize in advance for sharing this with the office on Monday when I get back.

Being sick didn't stop us from driving over to the Jupiter Lighthouse yesterday afternoon, though. Nobody else wanted to go while they were here (understandably, since the baby can't go up the lighthouse so someone would have been standing around at the bottom the whole time), so we fit in the trip as soon as they were gone, signing up for our tour at the Gift Shop:

gift shop

Personally, I prefer when it's a gift shoppe, but since it's not Ye Olde Jupiter Lighthouse, I guess the abscence of the P and E is acceptable. We had a few minutes before the tour started, so Sean and I visited the three room museum, where we learned that the lighthouse has stayed continuously lit since the Civil War and that you can spell "Jupiter" with nautical flags:


We also learned that, no matter what the tour or the size of the group, there is always at least one person who annoys you. Yesterday apparently being our lucky day, we got two.

The first made me wonder if it's possible to be an expatriate from a state if you just move to another state, rather than another country. If so, I would like to be expatriated from New York, please, and thanks. Mr. Montauk, as we'll refer to him, let us know five different times on the tour that while the Jupiter lighthouse is "you know, nice and all", they also have a lighthouse in Montauk at the end of Long Island that was commissioned by George Washington himself, and that lighthouse is just wonderful. I think that if you love the Montauk lighthouse enough to bring it up every time the tour guide mentions something about the Jupiter lighthouse ("Oh yeah? Well our lighthouse in Montauk was commissioned by George Washington himself! Oh, and Donald Trump is a real prick.") then you should just stay at home in Montauk next summer and hang out at George Washington's lighthouse all you want.

Our other annoyer, Kathy, was more of a stealth job. You can see her here, in front of Sean (he's wearing the red shirt) as we climb the steps to the lighthouse:

stairs to the lighthouse

The tour only has two rules: Stay on the path, and stay together with the group. This is because the lighthouse is on a very small Coast Guard base, and the Department of Homeland Security will only let the locals conduct lighthouse tours if those rules are obeyed. In the beginning of the tour, Kathy only got separated from us a little bit, when she was snapping one more picture or two as the group started moving forward. By the end of the tour, she was full out wandering off on her own and arguing with the tour guide about the specific way he had phrased the rules. I had my camera ready in case someone came out to shoot her ("That guy there, the one from Montauk, I think they were working together! Shoot him, too!") but no such luck.

Ignoring the group members, which was sort of impossible, there was the tour itself, which was interesting, if short. We saw the bell from the first pineapple plantation in Florida:

plantation bell

Our tour guide rang it for us, but couldn't really explain why it was there. We also, of course, saw the lighthouse:

jupiter lighthouse

The lighthouse and the small storage building next to it are the only original buildings left, as the rest were destroyed by fires and hurricanes. I found it odd that the US Geological Survey Marker wasn't at the top of the hill, at the base of the lighthouse, but was instead on the steps:

jupiter lighthouse geodetic marker

but our tour guide couldn't really explain that, either. I was also the only one in our tour who did not actually climb the lighthouse. I intended to, but then I saw this:

the stairs

and then this:


I can't climb steps that I can see through. I got to the first landing and was already dizzy, and I figured there was no way I'd be able to get back down if I made it to the top. I wanted to see the light and the lenses and stuff, but it just wasn't happening.

Sean was nice enough to wave, though:

sean, waving

and the ubiquitous Florida lizards kept me company:

lizard and bricks

After we wrapped up at the lighthouse, Sean drove me around to the Blowing Rocks Nature Preserve:

sea grapes

rocky beach

back to the regular beach, where we saw someone training to kite board:

kite boarding trainee

and a sea turtle nest:

sea turtle nest

and then we went to dinner.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Vacation Day Five: Gators!

We all got off to kind of a late start again yesterday morning, but isn't that what vacation is for? Getting up late and lazing around reading and then finally deciding to leave the house? I'm going to say yes, since that's what we did. When we finally did all get up and showered and stuff, we decided to go for a walk down to Starbucks since it was a beautiful day and the first one without rain:

main street, jupiter

The walk was going well, the visit to Starbucks was going well (except for the girl who inexplicably tried to convince the Starbucks clerk that Lorraine was an exotic Polish name that a lot of people had trouble with; that wasn't really a problem so much as a "Wait? What? Is she serious? That's the mom from 'Back to the Future'. How could anyone have trouble with that?" moment), and then it happened: baby rage.

baby rage

I know from hanging out with Jeannie and family that this can happen at any time, any place that there is a baby. Everyone can be minding their own business, perfectly quiet and content, and then there are screams! Piercing wails and shrieking cries like nails scraping on the chalkboard of your brain! Baby rage has struck without rhyme or reason, and often there is no cure.

In this case, Etta was trying to drink out of the smoothie cup, but kept tilting it wrong so that the end of the straw wasn't actually in the smoothie. D kept trying to help her, but she didn't want help, and then she flung the smoothie aside like JLo tossing away a warm Diet Coke. Fortunately most of the smoothie was already gone by that point, so the spill was rather small, but still... baby rage. Someone should have a telethon or something to fight that.

Once we apologetically whisked the baby out of Starbucks, we decided to walk over to the grocery store so that Nastjia could get some post cards. On the way we saw some birds:

black bird

a molested local statue:

lipstick dragon

(maybe it looks cuter when the kisser is drunk; I know I've had that trouble with guys before) and some mushrooms that were huge, like Smurf house huge. We asked D to get in the picture by them to give it a sense of scale:

gigantic mushrooms

What the hell is dead under there that lets the fungus get so big?

Anyway, our walk ended up taking us most of the way into the afternoon, so we ended up laying around reading and watching TV until dinnertime, which was at the Cheesecake Factory. I had some pasta which was good but came in a red sauce not clearly described on the menu, and then the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake for dessert:

godiva cheesecake

That's a lot of chocolate, and I probably could have just had that for dinner by itself and still been full. After dinner we caravanned out to the Everglades to see the alligators, which become more active after sunset:

everglades sunset

There are four alligators in that picture. Seriously. For such large animals, they're pretty good at hiding, which is probably why the observation point had so many warning signs:

warning sign

That warning sign is a little confusing to me, as it makes it sound like, "Oh, hey, by the way, it's against the law to poke the alligators. Don't do that, or you might get in trouble." If I wrote it, the tone would be a little more serious, like, "ALLIGATORS WILL BITE YOUR HANDS AND FEET OFF! BACK THE F--- UP AND STAY ON THE DOCK!", but that's probably just me. Anyone stupid enough to drive out to the swamp under the cover of darkness, miles from the nearest hospital, to provoke a carnivorous animal the same size as they are probably isn't going to benefit from a warning sign, anyway, no matter how well it's written. There is no warning sign that can cure stupidity.

Aside from the alligators, we also saw some other wildlife:


but mostly we were just waiting for the sun to finish setting:

reflected clouds

so that the alligators would start hunting and become more active, and once it got darker they were happy to oblige. As we watched, a big one swam toward the dock:

alligator swimming

and then ended up pretty much right at our feet below the railing:

big gator

It was getting too dark at that point to get any good pictures, even with the flash:

alligator redeye

and we were all kind of tired, so we decided to pack it in for the night and head home.

The new season of "Top Chef" was starting, after all, and we can't miss that even for the joy of nature.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 4: Outlet shopping

Outlet shopping doesn't make for very good photos. It also makes for kind of a long day if you're trying to save money and don't really need anything, which would explain why I spent eight hours at the outlet mall and only bought a new pair of slippers from Target.

Nastja and I snuck off alone for the outlets, with her clutching the printed directions and me driving. As English is her second language and I get lost driving on my own campus sometimes, this was probably a recipe for disaster right from the start, especially given the bland sameness of Florida. How do people navigate this place without landmarks? It's all pastel buildings with short signs and lush greenery, so that if you're trying to, for example, turn left at the McDonald's, you can't even tell that building was the McDonald's until you're already past it and you see a little tiny set of golden arches hidden in a bush. Miracle of miracles, though, we only got lost once on the way there, when we missed the sign for the mall itself and had to turn around and double back.

When we got there, we decided we were starving and went into the first restaurant we saw, the Rainforest Cafe, which seated us under a fish tank:


I've never been a big fan of the Rainforest Cafe or the related and very similar Kahunaville. The food is ok, but I'm fully conscious while eating it that I've paid more for it just so that things like this can hang over my table:

parrot in the jungle

I've got the same issue with Disney, too. I've been to both Disney Land and Disney World, and while they're both interesting, I've never felt the "Disney Magic" that people talk about. I look around the park and see a place designed to separate you from your money, much like Vegas, but I'm more bothered by Disney because they are less honest about it. Vegas throws the slot machines at you as soon as you get off the plane, and makes it clear that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but most of what happens involves spending money. Disney, on the other hand, tries to cloak the whole experience in benevolent, almost altruistic motives, as if the Disney Magic was not cold-bloodedly engineered through a series of focus groups and customer feedback surveys.

I'm not saying that like I hate Disney with a burning passion or would never, ever go back or even that I didn't have an enjoyable time while there, but I'm unable to watch the parade and see Cinderella as anything other than a corporate shill, and I have trouble understanding how people can speak of Disney World (or Land, or Euro-Disney if anyone ever went there) as this magical experience that they were privileged to attend. Anyone with a checkbook can enjoy it, and if you have a bigger checkbook, it gets even more magical, which proves that there really is no difference between Disney magic and Pepsi magic, except better marketing.

Speaking of magic, and trying desperately to pretend this was a planned tangent and not an annoyed rant, there was also a little bit of magic at the outlet mall:

psychic fair emporium

A very little bit, based on the kind of trinkets they were selling:

pope statues

Statues of the Pope? Really? I may have my history a little confused, but I'm pretty sure that the Psychic Fair Emporium would have been burned to the ground with everyone inside by the Catholic Church as recently as the 1600's, but there's Pope John Paul II nestled in among the fairies, crystals, and lucky Chinese money cats. Oh, Catholic Church, how the mighty have fallen. I've never seen a psychic booth at the mall outside of "Mallrats" (there was a psychic lady set up in the food court once, though), so I went in to poke around. A ten minute reading with one of the five psychics on duty cost thirty dollars, which is more than I usually pay for that sort of thing.

I don't need spiritual guidance to know that I should hold onto my money.