Monday, July 26, 2010

Mad Men Season 4 Premiere: Be Careful What You Wish For

Want to go rogue and start your own ad agency? Well you just might get it.

Welcome to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a "scrappy upstart" of an ad agency, that Creative Director Don Draper has just put on the map with a very clever Glo-Coat TV spot.

Now Don Draper is the headline name of the company, even though we all know that's not his name. But as Don plays "modest" to an Advertising Age reporter, he comes across as aloof. In one of Roger Sterling's signature one-liners, he spells it out to Don, "You turned all the sizzle from Glo-Coat into a wet fart."

So the one-story agency isn't growing as fast as the partners would like, no matter how many chairs Don kicks around in the non-conference room.

Want to save the Sugarberry Ham account, with a bold plan to stage two women fighting over a ham Thanksgiving week? And make an end run around Don? Be careful what you wish for, Peggy and Pete.

When the play fight turns real and assault charges are filed, the bail and hush money escalates. And Peggy gets a tongue-lashing to boot.

And there's the suddenly sympathetic figure, Henry Francis (thanks to a very well-placed scene with his mother).

Want a beautiful trophy bride? Be careful what you wish for. You just might get Betty Draper.

As much as I love the ad agency, this is the storyline that resounds. Henry's mother calls Betty a "silly woman," and he's seeing it himself. A spoiled child, who went straight from Daddy to Don to Henry, Betty still lives in Don's house and does nothing but badger her own children.

And for those of you who think Sally Draper is an annoying, ill-tempered child - you obviously don't own the feisty Daddy's Girl home version.

The whole episode comes full-circle, when Don's smart, somewhat risque presentation to a potential ladies swimwear client strikes out. He realizes that being modest is ignorant and tells the Wall Street Journal the more confident and appealing Don Draper story.

Maybe next Thanksgiving, Don won't have to hire a prostitute to smack him around (not pictured).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 16: The Voyage Home

This entry's subtitle was borrowed from Star Trek IV. As a plot refresher, Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise crew had just commandeered a Klingon Bird of Prey and traveled through time and space to late 20th century San Francisco to transport humpback whales to the future to save humanity.

I merely transported some precious cargo through 15 states in 16 days, but we returned home and humanity was still intact.

When we left Busch Gardens last night, daughter fell sound asleep almost as soon as we got in the car. So as we foraged for takeout dinner and snacks on the back roads outside Williamsburg, I put us in the hands of my GPS to get us to our hotel in the northernmost part of North Carolina. Bad move.

Garmin directed me to the Jamestown Ferry. I was not prepared for this, so I chickened out, doubled back to I-64 and lost an hour. In retrospect, it may have worked.

So we wheeled into Roanoke Rapids NC right around 10 PM. I threw the bags on a luggage cart and propped a sleeping son on top of the pile. Daughter had woken up from her nap, so Gramps took her out for some late-night chow.

We woke up and saw the weather report for the region. High of 103 with heat indexes approaching 115. Good thing we were headed south.

First stop was to drop off my dad at RDU for his one-way flight back to JFK. His contributions were tremendous on the evening drives the last two nights. And there's no way I would have made it through Busch Gardens with the two kids without him.

Then we had a 5-hour drive home from there. Remarkably, we only made one stop. It was a place I had seen several times, but never visited - the iconic Carolina travel respite.

South Of The Border...let's just say there's truth in advertising. There was virtually no AC, smoking allowed everywhere, and no restrooms in the restaurant or the gas station. Instead there was a public restroom building next door that was just as gamy as you can imagine. Think of a below-average gas station bathroom, but 20 times the size.

And the restaurant was a real greasy spoon.

The kids were good with their hotdogs, but I decided to go native applying the "When In Rome" philosophy south of the border. I went with the beef and bean enchilada with the Mexi-fries. Wasn't half-bad (tasting). Would I pay later? At least I'd be home when I found out.

It was a very smooth and uneventful 3 hours home from there. And after the trip of their lives, the kids got home to a very happy reunion.

My dad asked me last night if the trip was everything I wanted it to be. I thought for a minute.

Maybe I should have re-connected with more people than I did back in NYC. But much like my situation, a lot of my friends' lives are not their own anymore.

Maybe I shouldn't have tried to cross Pennsylvania in one day, and bunked up back in Syracuse for a night. But that's easily tabled for another summer.

That's all. The kids never cried once that they wanted to go home. They were as into the adventure as I was. I devised a strong plan, and it was executed without (much) drama. The trip was everything I wanted it to be. And now, I was glad to be home.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 15: Muppet Mayhem

The penultimate day of the family journey began overlooking Cal Sr. Park at the Ripken Baseball Academy from our hotel room in Aberdeen, Maryland.

Ripken has become a brand name in youth baseball over the last several years, drawing little leaguers to the complex from around the country, and consequently filling up the adjacent minor league stadium.

Naturally the address of the hotel was on "Long Drive," and we were off on hour 3+ hour trip to Busch Gardens Williamsburg for the brand name in youth everything, and a much more famous address...

The Sesame Street Forest of Fun at Busch Gardens. I don't know if I'd call it "fun for all ages," but I definitely got into the spirit on Prince Elmo's Spire.

Even Gramps got into the act, riding on Oscar's Whirly Worms.

And after several hours running around in near-100 degree heat, with never enough to drink and no nap, there was a great kiddie cool-off. Fortunately Daddy was on top of it with sunscreen, bathing suits, and towels (the ones that didn't cost $20 in the gift shop).

And speaking of the heat, how do you think you'd like to be dressed as a muppet as your summer job?

The chroma-key green background is so they can sell you overpriced pictures of your family with their favorite Sesame Street characters superimposed on some sort of background from the actual set of the show - much like how your favorite weather lady appears in front of a regional map.

I wasn't going to pay for that picture when they still let you take off-center snapshots against the green. But there was one picture that I bought, framed even, since there's no recreating the moment.

The kids took their first ever roller coaster ride on Grover's Alpine Express. I tagged along, expecting a kiddie ride. It wasn't. It was a real roller coaster, though a very short ride. I'd call it a junior coaster. The kids had a blast and rode it over and over again.

And sitting next to my 3-year old girl on her first roller coaster ride ranks right up there in the highlights of my life. But I am surely aware that the real roller coaster ride is only beginning.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 14: Iron Birds

Today, our last day in NYC, had no family support. My sister had flown home and both of my folks had to work. I wasn't about to drag the kids around the city all day by myself, so we became one with the country.

Not really, more like the suburbs. Actually Paramus, New Jersey - the town with the most shopping malls per capita in the United States. But also home to the New Jersey Children's Museum. For the record, the third children's museum we've hit on the tour.

It was a pretty good way to kill a couple hours. Lots of hands-on practical things - my daughter probably manned the register at the grocery store for a half-hour. But also creative play and role play.

So after a long day at the construction site, we did what any New York-area union workers would do - take a long lunch. Burger King and Baskin-Robbins did the trick sustaining us through heavy traffic back into the city, where we packed and split.

It is 13 hours back to Savannah, so this has been planned like everything on the trip, thoroughly plotted out and segmented. Like any good producer would.

Gramps came with me and the kids as the first leg went from Central Park South to Aberdeen, Maryland. This was a good stopping point for the pivotal journey to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg tomorrow.

We pulled into the hotel in Aberdeen just as the crowd from Ripken Stadium was exiting and the lights were still on.

The Aberdeen IronBirds took one on the chin tonight against the Tri-City (that's Albany, Schenectady, and Troy New York in case you were wondering) ValleyCats 6-2 in a NY-Penn League Single-A battle. The crowd was listed at 6,550.

So it would seem that Aberdeen owner/proprietor Cal Ripken Jr. continues to work hard and do things the right way.

The Ripken work ethic will serve as inspiration for me on the last 48 hours of this family journey. It's been just one fortnight in the books which begs the question, "how did Cal Ripken do it?"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 12: Zoo Times Two

That stuff I said last week about New Yorkers being wimpy about the heat - that lasted until the Monday morning downpour. The rain didn't cool things off, just made things steamier.

Who knew a family trip to the Central Park Zoo would include the "Rain Forest" package free of charge.

The kids wondered where all the animals were, but they were only doing what all our instincts were telling us to do: find a shady spot and take a nap.

The penguins have the right idea for July. I know I told you the one about the guy who was supposed to take the penguins to the zoo, but he had some money left over, so he took them to the movies.

But others are just meant to triumph over the dog days of summer:

As evening rolled around, it was time to visit a very different zoo. This one located in a Rockwellian manor on an acre of land just off the Saw Mill Parkway in Mt. Kisco. But don't let the serene setting fool you.

Inside there was another kind of zoo, where two solo Dads armed only with their Syracuse education took on four little critters from dusk through dawn.

In this case, feeding the animals was required. And some fat and happy animals were successfully tamed.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 11: Your Tax Dollars At Work

Since I was spent, I decided not to spend. And take the kids on some more convenient public (read: free) offerings in the New York/New jersey area.

First was the Asser Levy Recreation Center on Manhattan's Lower East side. It was a very clean outdoor pool setting, and very tightly run. It was if Mayor Bloomberg himself made sure that nobody brought a cell phone, gym bag, or water bottle poolside.

But tight rules make for careful and respectful patrons, and the free pool experience was fun for everyone. Not to mention we beat the Sunday rush at 11 AM.

Then after lunch it was off to Van Saun Park in Paramus, NJ. Free admission here as well, with all the basics to occupy a couple of kiddos for a couple of hours. Like the carousel (photogenic daughter not included):

Or the expansive playground:

Or checking out where the Bergen County buffalo roam.

The Sunday funday ended at Bischoff's Ice Cream shop in Teaneck, or as my GPS called it up "Bischoff's Confectionary." Bischoff's has been in one spot since 1934 while the world has changed around them. It's a landmark whose ice cream sodas alone are worth your tax dollars.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 9: Another Day In The Park

New Yorkers call today "hot." While I still consider myself a New Yorker in my mind, my body lives in Savannah, and I've achieved Climate Conditioning Transformation.

Got a late start out this morning and it was the warmest and most humid since we got here. The Grandparents and I took the kids over to Central Park to the Victorian Gardens at Wollman Rink. It was the standard kiddie fun fair, for kids of all ages.

For 3-Year Old Daughter it was a chance to ride some "big kid" rides that she'd never been on before. For 6-Year Old Son, it was just another chance to get overheated and melt down after a couple of very active hours.

So the next stop was one of the playground/fountains, where the kids got their swimsuits on and got to cool off a little. But there were lots of camp groups and some pushy kids, so the Buddy System was in full effect.

Anyway, after 4 hours in the sun, my kids' nerves were frayed and my parents' energy was zapped. This is where my Climate Conditioning Transformation (CCT) comes in handy.

The rest of the day was indoor play in the AC, and after the usual practices, the kids had to invent their own entertainment.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 8: Interlocked

I already live in Lego Land. I had no desire to visit there.

That's where Grandparents come in handy. They think your kids' quirkiest traits are just adorable. And there's plenty more I'm looking forward to do with my children in Gotham. For Legos, I can curb my enthusiasm.

For a while on the Central Park playground my kids bickered and partnered and were "interlocked like Legos" like a couple of my favorite HBO housemates.

But ultimately, the older child won the adventure competition taking on the park's giant rock structure. And for a brief moment, he was part of the skyline.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 7: Eastbound and Downright Frustrated

I doubt there is a more depressing stretch of road in the eastern United States than the length of the state of Pennsylvania on I-80. 310 miles of nothingness, broken up only by tedious road construction and landmarked only by a couple of nuclear power facilities.

No wonder they call Penn State "Happy Valley." It's because people are so happy to have found civilization.

So we woke up this morning in Cleveland, Day 6 A.D. (After Decision). For the short time I was there, the city seemed no more or less depressed than it normally is. Cleveland is actually very nice - in July.

You'd think that losing LeBron is like any major city losing their #1 commodity, akin to Detroit losing GM. But basketball still wasn't "king" in this town.

There was a lot of local coverage on the death of Cleveland native George Steinbrenner, the American Shipbuilding magnate who tried to buy the Indians in the early 70s but was thwarted. The rest is history in two cities.

But baseball doesn't reign in this town or the state for that matter. You see, George Steinbrenner's role model and mentor was Woody Hayes. Everything in Ohio is football. LeBron's headline news cycle runs until the day Browns camp opens. Period.

As I was cruising the streets on the Baldwin-Wallace campus near my sister's house in Berea, there were football tributes on your average street corner.

So now came the single hardest leg of the trip (at least thus far), the one day trip from Cleveland to New York City. After four stops, a 45-minute construction crawl, and a ton of junk food, we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa's place 8+ hours later.

Now we get to stay in (generally) one spot for a whole week. And a pretty cool spot it is. Six stories up, overlooking Central Park. And tonight we were greeted by fireworks. Bastille Day! Who knew?

Now the hard part of the trip is over, and the real fun can begin. At least until the 13-hour drive home next week. But that's still a long way off. Bonne nuit!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 6: Back to the Future

In 2007, Kalamazoo was in the rearview. Today was time to re-live history.

We pulled into Kalamazoo kind of late last night, but it was hard to notice. It's about as far west in the eastern time zone as you can get so the sun didn't set until about 9:30. The kids went to bed late and that may have thrown them this morning.

When we last lived in the home of the Western Michigan Broncos, our son was 3 years old. This morning, Sonny did his best impression of a 3-year old getting into a couple of territorial skirmishes on the McDonald's playground.

First I get talked out of a free Hampton Inn breakfast, then I'm pulling two crying kids back to the car in a crowded McDonald's parking lot. I was naturally beginning to second-guess a lot of things.

But we visited Son's old pre-school where I learned his particular teacher had retired. But everyone else there recognized him. He wasn't so sure. His memory is fast becoming legend in his present digs, but his memories of his previous life aren't as clear. But he remembered the big slide.

Then we were off to his former speech therapist. He said he didn't remember her, but he acted very familiarly there. The floortime and specific reinforcement moving forward was worth the trip by itself. So the second-guessing was now over.

Then we went downtown and checked out both of our former apartment buildings. We went down to the Amtrak station where we went on countless walks and stroller rides.

We hit Irving's Market, which is housed in our former building and we were treated like returning heroes.

Then we hopped across the street to Caffe Casa, where I got my coffee almost every morning for three years. We were recognized and greeted instantly, though they couldn't remember my "usual." The kids split a big brownie.

We went to the Arcadia Park playground to get some ya-yas out. Even though it was crowded with some rowdy kids, both kids were perfectly content and kept their cool.

Then it was one more trip to The Root Beer Stand for lunch, where a car-hop recognized my car and the kids, nonchalantly asking, "What's it been, two years?" Almost three actually.

So the purpose of the 20 hours back in the old hometown was to see what the little man remembered from there. And specifically I'm not sure he recalled much. But he seemed familiar and comfortable.

We left town and headed for my sister's house in Cleveland. With Kalamazoo in the rearview, my son said he wanted to come back next summer.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 5: Easy Riders

The world is out there. But you have to leave your comfort zone to experience it.

Through years working on the road, I have lots of madcap stories to tell. Like many of us in the industry, I live "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" for several months out of the year. There are no situations that shock me anymore. It's all within the comfort zone.

But when you do it as the solo honcho for a 3 and 6 year old, that would fall outside the protective bubble. What with the tummy aches and the potty breaks, fighting over snacks and DVDs, and generally tugging in opposite directions. But all in all, they're major troopers.

We started this morning outside Louisville and drove 2+ hours to Indy, where we hung out at the Indianapolis Children's Museum. We spent two hours there and could easily have spent two more at the multi-level facility.

The theme this summer was Rock Stars: Cars & Guitars. It features equipment through the years, automobiles from vintage movies and music videos, and the original Kiss costumes. Pictured below is the collection of Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, featuring guitars owned by B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and of course Rick Nielsen (see if you can spot that one).

There were a million other things to do there as interactives as well as some of the current exhibits: miniature houses (I was looking for Lester Freamon's signature), the 50th anniversary of the Etch-A-Sketch, the typical Indiana black community of the 1960s, and a trip to Egypt. The kids sat first class and landed in Cairo without incident.

The museum also has a pretty good food court. Another thing to beware of on these type of hit-and-run family trips is the food. I've eaten tacos, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs in just the past two days.

The next order of business was the 3 hour and 30 minute ride to Kalamazoo, Michigan - where we lived for three years, and where our daughter was born. Mercifully, one-third of Backtime's editorial department snoozed much of the way - and it wasn't the one who was driving.

When we arrived at our destination, we jogged the young man's memory by hitting Jungle Joe's for an hour of bounce time.

That got them good and exhausted before hitting another favorite joint. The dog lovers ate it up.

We've got a few more memory cells to unearth in our man. He was three-and-a-half when we left here.

So tomorrow we're gonna party like it's 2007.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 4: Been Down This Road Before

Just played a 48-hour game of Running Bases on I-65.

I returned to Al Obama last night to pick up the kids for the journey north today. Stayed at my Father-In-Law's lake house, which is gorgeous and expansive, but has sketchy cell phone service and no internet (thus no road trip blog entry for yesterday).

Anyway we were off this morning, boomerang ready to launch. Two hours later, we were at the Nashville Zoo. One of the things that lured me there was the "Jungle Gym."

On the zoo's website, it describes the playground as 66,000 square feet with a 35-foot tall "Tree of Life." So we had barely waved to a couple of gibbons and squawked at a macaw, and my son was off to scour every inch of the structure.

Just over an hour later, in 96-degree heat, both kids were over-heated and under-nourished. The snack bar was the last stop in the zoo. The rest of the animals would have to wait until the next road trip.

So as I re-traced my steps back up to the greater-Louisville area, we passed the exact spot where I sat still on I-65 for over 3 hours Friday. I was listening to the Yankees-M's game on my never-leave-home-without-my XM radio. It was then I learned of the passing of legendary Yankees Public Address Announcer Bob Sheppard. Since I had been somewhat information-deprived, this was the first I heard of it - it was like the day the music died.

Sheppard was 99, and was the P.A. voice of the Yankees, Giants football, and St. John's basketball, where he taught speech for a quarter-century. Growing up in New Jersey literally minutes from The Stadium, everybody knew, and everybody mimicked Sheppard. Imitation is after all the greatest form of flattery.

My favorite Sheppard impersonation came from Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play man Jon Miller, who would have Sheppard ordering breakfast at Denny's.
"I'll have number one. Eggs...and toast. Number one."
We appropriately passed Shepherdsville, KY en route to Brooks, KY, where we crash for the night. And if the kids were dragging from the long trip (and there's plenty more of that to come), there was an outdoor pool and Papa John's on the menu. Hopefully things go swimmingly from here.