Jun 27, 2012

Tourist Weekend

Had a fun weekend- this was Saori's first weekend here in town as well.

Friday, Chuck, Saori and I went to Davis square northwest of Harvard and we had a drink and dinner at this amazing cheapish counter service Italian place. The menu board had easily 100 items, and they served all kinds of draft beer. I ordered a new item, the seafood canneloni ($13) and cranning my head around to the handles on the beer taps, ordered a "Hooker". Hooker turned out to be a variety of light beer served with large chunks of watermelon floating on top, which added a heavy watermelon flavor to the top portion of the beer. Interesting. Not quite my favorite.  The canneloni was delicious, however. The draft beer came in three different sizes, and the 'medium' was a heady draft, more than enough for the pre-dinner, during dinner- and after dinner drink.

Saturday, Saori and I went shopping in the 'Pru' mall. I got a pair of light canvas slip ons from Aldo, and then Saori and I went down to the Haymarket fruit and vegitable market. This is a market that one of Saori's coworkers described as "Panamanian" in that its a dense market of people shoulder to shoulder, plywood slab tables overflowing with fruits and vegitables, vendors shouting and arguing, cash waving in the air, all under the tarp canopies. Great prices, perhaps half of the supermarket tickets. I got four oranges for a dollar, and Saori picked up a bag of cherries.

We ate lunch at a middle eastern place with AlJazeera on the tube and delicious falafel pita wraps, right off the marketplace. Just a tiny, hole in the wall place, where the vendor addressed me as "my friend!" and the other clientelle were mostly Turkish, Arabic and north Africans.

Prior to heading to the market, we'd bought tickets for one of the famous "Duck" tours of Boston. These are tours of the city in open topped former amphibious assault vehicles, which drive you around the city and then drive right into the Charles river and become boats which cruise around giving you a view of the city from a completely different vantage point.

It's kind of an expensive tour at $27 for students, but we really wanted to do it and we picked up a ticket for Chuck so we could all go together. Heading back towards the Pru in the back bay where the tours leave, we ran into Chuck on the metro, which was quite shocking. I saw him first and then said loudly "mind if I sit here?" before proceeding to sit in his lap in an effort to flabbergast Saori until she saw who it was.

The Duck tours are campy, cheesy, but actually quite fun and informative if you can get through the stale jokes that every duckload of tourists must get through. As it started to pour rain as we drove away in the Duck, ours was not a happy boatload of tourists, although the "doctor McQuack" who was driving our duck could not be more cheerful and enthusiastic. Actually all the "conDUCKtors" have to adopt character identities, but at least they don't have to refer back to it or stay in character during the trip. Anyway, they drove us around Boston, talking about the city and its history and the geomorphology, with a few bad jokes thrown in, and then the highlight of the trip was actually driving the duck into the Charles river and cruising around to get a different view of the city. It was still raining, but it was really fun to be on a boat in the river, getting the low aquatic view of the back bay, MIT, and the science center.

After our duck adventure ended 80 minutes later, we ended up walking along Newbury street with Chuck, and having a lavish dinner of tapas, sangria, and paella. It would have actually been very reasonably priced if we had stuck to simply splitting the paella (which was more than enough for three people) and limiting ourselves to one glass of sangria (especially at $9 a glass). It was a very pleasurable evening, and Saori and I actually ended up walking home since we were actually quite close. (Actually, everything in Boston is quite close, especially when your reference city is Phoenix, Arizona.)

Sunday, we had a lazy morning of lounging and using the free wifi of the rec center next door, before we set out and did a little shopping. An unusual museum, the old waterworks of the city of Boston, caught my eye and we set out to the reservoir to the east of the city, easily accessible by two green lines. This turned out to surprisingly interesting. The reservioir, pumps, and pump house had all been built in the early 20th century, and the pump house was made to look like a large country estate or church, dressed in granite and elaborately carved sandstone. Behind the facade was a huge space three stories tall to the roof and extending two levels below ground. This was the pump room. There were three massive steam engine pumps which filled the space, extending in age from 1887 through the early 20th century. Beautiful, massive engines with giant flywheels, shafts, and piping. It's a steampunk wet dream, and the visitor experience was very well done with small monitors showing the pumps in action and diagramming how the water and steam moved through the complex machinery.

Jun 20, 2012

Pros and Cons

So we moved into an apartment sunday late afternoon. The owner came up from New York to drop off the keys and show us around.

  • Lingering musty smell. I think its mold or mildew, Saori thinks is some strange, pungent asian spice.
  • No air conditioning.
  • No internet.
  • We're sleeping on a folded out futon.
  • No kitchen furniture, so we're using small coffee table as a table, a tiny square ikea end table as one chair, and a folding chair as the other chair.
  • It's totally filthy.
  • We're on the first floor so we can't leave the windows open all the time to ventilate the apartment.
  • Coin op laundry in the basement of another building.
  • We are all of one minute walking distance to a green line stop, five minutes walking distance to Ruggles stop on the orange line.
  • Commuting time to the seaport district where I work is about thirty minutes, which is fantastic.
  • Next door to the Museum of Fine Arts, one the highlights of Boston.
  • Not horrifically expensive as far as Boston goes.
  • Walking distance to Back Bay, Prudential Shops, Symphony Hall, and Qdoba.
  • We don't have to share the apartment with anyone.
  • Two minute walk to the emerald necklace park system.

Jun 16, 2012

Photos from the first week in Boston


Office life

I survived my first week of work!

The first day was mostly spent getting used to everything, getting familiar with the office layout, figuring out how and what I was going to be doing. The task I was assigned was to build a model of a mixed use university building that is being designed in the office, so that the people working on the project could have a physical model to swap in and out facades, test ideas, that kind of thing.

My first day, monday, I wore a tie and followed Chuck to work. The office is located in the seaport district, about a quarter mile from the harbor and the Institute of Contemporary Design. It's in an old warehouse or office, over a hundred years old, with a brick exterior and the interior is all massive wood timbers and wood columns. It's kind of fascinating to be on an upper floor of a commercial office building made of 100 year old wood timbers. The office takes up the entire floor, and the elevator opens directly into the office, so there's really no moment to collect yourself before you're in the office. You enter in the small building lobby downstairs, you go in the elevator, and boom, you're at the front desk.

I'm working as a kind of catch-all guy. Mostly making physical models, but I'll also be dragged into picking up redlines as the SD package gets ready to go, and then friday I had to answer phones all day in addition to working on the model, which was more than a little nerve-wracking.

My instructions were pretty simple but kind of complicated in the relationship between the instructions. For example: the founder of the firm and main principal, Mike Mikasa, has a large public profile as the face of the company, so I need to screen his calls well to keep random people, telemarketers, salespeople etc. from bugging him. But, we were also expecting to hear from a few universities as to whether or not we had won projects based on interviews, so they should definitely be put in contact immediately with him. And also his family will also call, so I got their names. On top of this, I still don't really know people's names or positions in the office, so I'm pretty much reliant on the phone chart in order to connect people to the right line, and I pretty much have no clue whether or not people are actually in the office.

The worst call was when a woman called for Mike Mikasa, and I asked her which organization she was with. She said something which I didn't catch because my handset was really bad, and so I had to ask her again. She said very stiffly and slowly, "I'm Mike's wife." I apologized and transferred her immediately, and I'm sure the first thing she said to him was "who the heck is manning the phones??"

Anyway, the office is a lot like my old firm in Phoenix. They have free coffee, a fridge stocked with cokes and beer (50 cents in the honor jar, and the beer for friday afternoons). Donuts and bagels friday morning, and a pretty casual working environment. The casual side of business casual, and I'll probably come in with jeans sometime next week.

The walk to work from the T station is nice. It's a huge business crowd of professionals going to work and it's strange to be a part of that community already in a city I've just entered for the first time. We walk by the huge and strange Fed building, cross a great old bridge, and then walk through the seaport district, which is filled with architecture firms. My office building with six floors actually has three or four architecture firms inside, as well as an office furniture showroom, and a domestic robotics company. It's kind of a design professional area. We're also pretty close to the Boston Architectural Society.

Two lunches were provided for us last week by lunch and learns. The catered sandwiches are better than they were in Phoenix, but the speakers seem a lot more worn and tired, and uninterested.

There is something in the people of Boston that I've seen that seems more tired, more worn than what I'm used to in St.Louis or in Phoenix. People seem more closed, less friendly and less outgoing. If not openly hostile, they seem to be more wary. There are definite counterexamples too, but the hustle of the city seems to take a toll.

The people in the office are a mixed group. Only a handful have come up to introduce themselves to me. One employee described the office as the largest collection of individualists she's ever seen. People tend to keep to themselves. My team seems pretty outgoing though in comparison.

Jun 15, 2012

The tricky quest for housing

So, when I got here, Chuck agreed to let me crash the floor of his room. Very kind of Chuck. Chuck sublets from a Chinese couple who are charging him a lot of money for someplace this far out of the way, but they were cool with me staying a few days, or so we thought. I even thanked them in Chinese and gave them a deck of playing cards from St.Louis as a welcoming gift.

So, monday night, I go out apartment hunting for a single bedroom, around 400 a month, sublease. Tricky proposition. Really nothing available so I widen my search to around 600 a month. More chances there.

Then, tuesday, Saori tells me she's coming out and I figure its better to get a place together and split the rent. But it makes it more complicated since the place I was going to go doesn't want two people in the same room.

So the search began anew. The problem was, we were pushing the day that I was supposed to be out of Chuck's apartment. Not so much a problem with Chuck as it was with his landlord who happens to live in the same house. Last night (thursday) Chuck went to talk to them, and they were unjustifiably ugly and insulting to him, accusing us, of other things, of being possible terrorists, coming and going in the night. We get home late after looking at properties.

Chuck and I, a couple of dangerous radical extremists. Right.

Anyway, after subjecting him to about twenty minutes of screaming abuse, they said I could stay for the rest of the week if I paid the sum of.... five dollars a day. Listening to the insane old chinese woman yell, you would think that she wanted fifty bucks a night, or that I could hit the road. Nope, all that fuss, and driving your paying tenant to regard you as a hostile insane old hag, for the princely sum of $35. Well done. You really showed us.

Anyway, it gave me the flexibility in time to find an apartment for two, and Saori also did a lot of legwork online, trolling craigslist. We finally settled on a place, even without seeing the interior, because the price was good, the owner was out of town, and the location is fantastic- good access to the trains and to the city. Its not ideal, but we're both exhausted from looking. I was spending two to three hours a night looking at apartments. At this point, I'm just ready to graduate from sleeping on the floor. Chuck has been a great host, but I would really like to sleep on a real bed or something approximating a bed.

There was a pretty funny moment- Saori showed me one of the craigslist ads she replied to, and I read it, and it sounded great. What we both missed, somehow, was the line "Clothing optional atmosphere," right in the middle of the ad. So Saori talked back and forth with the guy a bit, and around the third email, he said "so, since you responded to the ad, how do you feel about the clothing optional atmosphere? If you want, I can put on underwear and shirts if you want to have textiled guests over."

And Saori was like WAIT WHAT?

I got a bad case of the giggles at the office, mostly snickering over the term "textiled guests." I don't consider myself textiled, I consider myself clothed.

Anyway, the place we found we couldn't see because the roommie and the landlord can't show it until monday, so the original owner is coming from NYC to open it for us/give the keys/collect the rent. We'll see sunday night what we got ourselves into.

Anything's tolerable for one summer, right? Even textiled guests.

Jun 14, 2012

Boston: Day 5

I can't believe its my fifth day in Boston already. What have I been up to?
  • Four days of building a model at the architecture office
  • Two lunch and learns at the office
  • Amazing seafood hotpot dinner with Chuck and his roommate
  • Visited two apartments as possible places to stay
  • Walked through Harvard, peeked into the GSD
  • Burgers at Mr. Bartley's with the best sweet potato fries I've ever had
  • Free beers and bike info at the Boston Architecture Society 
  • Faneuil hall and terrible clam chowder in the food court hall next door
  • Walked around back bay
  • Walked along the fan pier
  • got a CharlieCard
  • Took orange line, silver line, green line, and red line all over city
  • Grocery shopping at the Chinese market
  • Really good Pho in chinatown
  • Walked around Northeastern University
  • Visited about 30,000 craigslist apartment listings
  • learned about the three secret things you're supposed to do at harvard
    • Pee on the famous statue of John Harvard
    • Sex in the library
    • Take part in the Naked Run
  •  lunch on the pier across from the famous Institute of Contemporary Art
Work goes well, I get paid friday (!!!) and Saori and I may have found an apartment. The other exciting thing is that Saori's going to be joining me here for the summer! She got an internship at a much cooler firm than mine. She gets here sunday, and hopefully we'll have a place by then.

Jun 10, 2012

Boston: 1 Chinatown to Chinese house

After about an hour of sleep on the short flight from Chicago to Boston, we touched down and I got my first view of the city out the plane window. From the first glance, it doesn't have the commanding skyline of Chicago- the tall buildings seem more anonymous. Then there is the relationship to the water, which twines with the city, a city of piers and water and the dozens of tiny sailboats and ferries in the harbours and rivers. There is the unmistakable hint of salt in the air from the ocean. Cooler, more humid air.

Chuck met me at baggage claim, he was excited to see me, and we rode into town after I bought a week -long metro pass ($15). I'm going to have to suck it up and get the monthly pass once we hit July ($70) as its the cheapest way to commute daily. (there's a fare hike in July). Then we were in the city, in the financial district, and we walked to Chinatown.

Boston feels a bit like London- I catch glimpses of a certain type of architecture, with dark stone facades, and slate shingle mansard roofs, cobble streets, worn brick. The age of the place comes through. But at the same time, the feel is thinner than london. London chokes on its own history, especially in the city centers. Boston is more contemporary. More glass, more banal corporate architecture, a lot of old brick buildings. But surprisingly low-rise. There is something nice to the old 5 story buildings- there is an intimate scale of the city like Helsinki. I got into the city late, so I never got a feel for it's pulse. It doesn't seem as cosmopolitan or vibrant as Chicago, but it could be where I went and when.

People really do have a Bostonian accent. They're not as friendly as the people in Chicago, but probably not as brusque as New Yorkers.

Chinatown was hopping. Lots of restaurants, a recommended Pho place to check out. We hit a nice hotpot restaurant and met up with Chucks' roommate, Dillian, a young actuary just out of school. Good food. We loaded up the seafood. Dillian was impressed I was eating everything, and I surprised myself with my appetite.

Metro and bus back to their apartment. They sublet from a Chinese couple and the couple renting above them are also Chinese. The landlord didn't speak much English, but I presented her with a St.Louis deck of cards for letting me crash here for a few days.

So, I'm showered, internetted, got my clothes out and just about ready to crash for the night in Chuck's chair. Work tomorrow at 8:30 am, and then the sublet hunt is ON.

Made it to... Chicago!

Made it to Chicago, that airport I now pass through pretty much anytime I go anywhere now that St.Louis is no longer a hub airport.

I sucked up the $6 access fee and got on wifi since I really needed to wade through craigslist's listings of sublets.

$400 a month is turning out unrealistic or highly unsafe anywhere near the city center (within 5 miles) , so I'm looking more towards the $600 a month range. For a room. Not a 1 bedroom apartment, or a studio, or an efficiency, a room. A cheap room, which may or may not include furniture.

As far as a I understand it, Boston is actually one of the highest cost of living cities in the US. We'll see how expensive.

My friend Chuck is meeting me at the airport and I'm going to crash in his cheap room for the night and hopefully find something later today or tomorrow night after my first day in the office.

out of the blue

Maybe a month ago, the school career center sent around an email with a position in Boston with a largish firm there. Let's call them Mikasa architects. Anyway, a lot of people applied, including me, and I didn't hear anything about it until after school ended.

Shopping at the outlet mall, I ran into my friend and old roommate, let's call him Chuck (although his real name is zhouli), and he told me he got the position. Good for Chuck. If Saori and I didn't get it, I would have wanted it for him. I do think he's one of the most talented and sincere and nice people in the school. So Chuck flies off to Boston and Saori and I go off to Chicago and tour Oklahoma for two weeks and apply and interview around, hoping something will bite.

Then, a less than a week ago, Chuck posted on facebook that Mikasa was looking for a model builder. I hurriedly replied to Chuck to ask him the specifics of what was wanted. I sent in my resume and portfolio. Then, monday, he writes me back in the late afternoon that I should email a certain person a copy of my resume and some images of my work, so I go ahead and sent it tuesday morning. The in the afternoon, I get a phone call.

Even with all the backstory, it feels like it's a call out of the blue. All the other positions I've gone after was a long. long. waiting game. Interviews. Phone interviews. Portfolios. etc. So to get a call the same day felt surreal.

It was kind of a surreal call, an informal interview, and then I got offered the position, and I negotiated to fly out and start work monday.

Wow, wait. what happened?

 I took the rest of the day to reconsider. I'd really warmed to the idea of spending an idyllic summer in St.Louis, although I'd probably have to double the amount of financial aid I was taking out since I'm seriously getting low in funding.

The next morning, I called the firm in St. Louis I'd interviewed with and who seemed interested, but they said that if I had an offer, I should take it since they really weren't ready to make a decision either way.

So, I bought a ticket to Boston. I leave tomorrow (er, this morning).

Tay is here, he came up friday afternoon to return my car and get his back, and to hang out and see Prometheus in 3D at the IMAX with us.

So tomorrow, one a new adventure begins.

I have no housing set up since I'm having great difficulty getting people on craigslist to set me up without actually meeting in person, so I'm going to crash on chuck's floor for a few nights and find something hopefully sunday afternoon or monday afternoon.  And I start work monday (as in, technically, tomorrow).

Jun 5, 2012

the end of an adventure

The wedding and the reception for Josh and Andera was both nice events, carried off without a hitch. The wedding chapel was nicely decorated, Andera and Josh both looked great, and Andera was so excited walking back down the aisle that she showed off her ring to her side of the family and excitedly whispered "I'm married! I'm married!!" I did end up sitting us on the wrong side of the aisle, but then again, I didn't recognize anyone on the Perkins side anyway apart from the group up at the front.

The ceremony was very religious, which is fine, but the pastor was unaccountably morbid. He started with a story about how he had just this week visited a couple whose marriage was coming to an end- not by divorce, thank God, but because the wife was dying of terminal cancer. And then he told another one. I'm not sure what the message here is. I'm assuming that he's talking about the heroic loyalty qualities of love that drive people to stay with fatally ill spouses, but it's way out of line for a wedding. It was fucking morbid, and I don't know why he felt it appropriate to tell those stories. The other slightly strange thing was the lighting of the Unity Candle, which is where Josh and Andera light individual candles, then light the Unity Candle with both of their candles, and then they blow out their candles. I'm ok with the symbolism, but then they waited with backs turned to the audience while the song played out for about five minutes. The song, by the way, was "Love never fails."

I have no doubts about Josh and Andera, they will love each other forever, but seriously, his father and both of his uncles had their marriages end in divorce. But then, I'm a bit of a cynic. After the wedding, there was a big photoshoot mostly directed by Andera, who called up grandparents, parents, step parents, cousins, friends, in numerous but planned combinations. I even got to be in a few. Here is a girl who is not afraid to be girly, but also not afraid to step up and take control of a situation.

The reception afterwards was held in the clubhouse of a nearby country club. There's something relentlessly bland about Edmond, Oklahoma. It's like an entire class of white collar worker decided collectively that they wanted to recreate the experience of the anonymous three and half star chain hotel. Everything looks exactly the same- the same type and color of roof, the exact match of the brick, the homogenous distance between things. I have a disturbing feeling that if I peeked into the nearly identical houses, I would find the same bland artwork hanging on the same walls with the same furniture from the same store.

The clubhouse at least, was nice. The food prepared for us was surprisingly good, and we got little glass coasters with the picture of Josh and Andrea as take home gifts. The speeches were excellent and emotional. Andera's father, Robert, a very nice guy and experienced truck mechanic, got a little choked up reading his speech, and when uncle Jeff came up behind and put his hands on Robert's shoulders to show his support, Robert nearly attacked him in surprise. Actually, the speech was very touching, and mine were not the only misty eyes at the table.

During the rehearsal dinner, I overheard him telling a story to uncle Jeff- apparently the week before, Andera had suffered a flat tire. Robert said that well, he should have just said, call your fiancee, (especially since Josh is also very mechanically inclined), but since he was giving her away at the wedding, it was a moment he realized that she wasn't going to call him for car trouble much, so he came out and helped her. It must be a hard thing to be a father. Someday, I should be so lucky.

Anyway, we stayed too long at the reception. Because Tay needed to be back in Bloomington sunday night early enough to rest, we had to take off for St.Louis from the wedding reception. We got a long goodbye from uncle Jeff who was incredibly happy we came for the wedding, but we didn't want to make a big scene with the wedding couple who were happily line dancing, so we quietly spit. We loosened our ties, took off our jackets, and hit the road.

Took about eight hours to get back to St.Louis. We pulled in around 4 am, after making a memorable pit stop in Vinita. We stopped at the Braum's for some fries and root beer floats right around the time that the local rodeo was dispersing, so we got a Braum's full of cowboy hatted folks, where everyone from the gentleman with the long white beard to the kid bouncing in his seat all wore cowboy boots.

What a trip! Thanks to brothers and grandmothers and uncles and aunts and cousins and granduncles for hosting/feasting/feteing us!

Jun 2, 2012

Rehearsal dinner

The rehearsal dinner was great. Valet parking at Nonna's, an open bar with actual beer with an actual alcohol content higher than 3.2%. There were about fifty people there I should say, with the wedding couple at a long table in the middle. I was lucky with my table- I was sitting with Taylor, Saori, Grandma, Ashley's mom and dad, Ashley, and I sat next to the emcee, a.k.a. E.W. Marland, my Uncle Jeff, who was master of ceremonies for the whole thing, with occasional prompting and commentary from his "sidekick" Ashley.

It was a really fun evening. They had a slideshow going with pictures from both Josh's and Andera's childhood, and we all mingled for awhile before taking our seats and tucking in. Salad starter, followed by a choice of entrees. I got the lasagna, Tay got the sirloin, and Saori opted for the panko fried pork chop. It was all really delicious, and Uncle Jeff and I talked back and forth and had a good time. We both lamented the fact that dad couldn't have been there, and we talked about what my mom was up to with her law school.

Before dessert, there was a general roast where guests took turns talking about Josh and Andera as children. The recurring theme of the evening was the chirping birds people always saw around Cinderella's Andera's head, (she really is as light and warm and sunshiny as a Disney princess), and the way that the Edmond PD kept appearing in stories about Josh (who was somehow able to maintain a clean record (and actually, the worst you could say was about those incidents was more mischievous rather than any real harm)).

I racked my brain to think of a suitable story about Josh from our time together as cousins, but to be honest, we probably saw Josh once every two years or so as kids, and he was always very quiet. Tay had a good story, but it's his to tell so I won't relate it here.

Anyway, it was a good night and we lingered well past the time the restaurant closed.

Jun 1, 2012

the wedding rehearsal crashers

Yesterday, we went to the wedding rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner for my cousin Josh and his lovely intended, Andera. This was my first wedding rehearsal, but I didn't have to do much for it, except meet people and watch. It was a little strange because the guests were a mixture of the Perkins side of the family (whom I see very infrequently), the bride's side of the family (whom I'd never met before), and Josh and Andera's friends. It was fun though, to sit a few pews back and be spectators and commentators, whispering back and forth between Saori and Taylor. The ceremony seemed highly scripted. Turn this way and that, place your daughters hand in his hand like so, enter from this door and stop at this step. I would imagine that directing a wedding could be a lot of fun.

You have a cast of actors, two leads, the minister, and the audience, who can also be commanded to basic actions en masse (stand, sit, turn). The chapel is a really a stage set, with a variety of doors for entrances and exits, aisles for processions, stairs, balconies, spotlights, and a dramatic backdrop. The only real requirements for the scenario is that the bride and groom meet at some point with the minister and exchange vows. And the vows can also be rewritten as well. People seem to have a certain expectation of how it all is generally supposed to go, and expect it to be relatively quick. With very little experience with how weddings are supposed to work, I think it would be a lot of fun to make one up from scratch.

Anyway, the practice wedding was fine except one of the groomsmen apparently thought the rehearsal was only dinner so we only met him at the restaurant.

Josh, Andera, and the family were really very accommodating for us, with our very late intention for going to the wedding. Tay RSVP'd early, but Saori and I only let the family know a few days before. I wasn't even expecting to be invited to the rehearsal dinner, but we were all invited along, and I'm really happy we were.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...