Friday, July 30, 2010

What I Read on Vacation

In a process similar to the NCAA bracket, I narrowed down a pile of books and picked a few to take with me on vacation. Curiously enough, of the seven books I took with me on vacation, none of them was fiction. I ended up reading four from start to finish, kicking off the week by reading the last few chapters of a fifth. Here's what I read in chronological order:

"The Big Short," by Michael Lewis. I had hoped to finish this one on the trip that preceded by vacation, but that didn't happen. So I read the final eighty pages or so the first night I arrived at the beach cottage in Connecticut. I like the way Michael Lewis writes, and it's not simply because he's married to Tabitha Soren, or because I had the chance to meet him (following an industry event when he was promoting an earlier book, "The New New Thing.") Lewis translates very complicated topics and presents them in a way that makes you wonder why you had problems understanding them in the first place. His break down of the financial crash in 2008 is top-notch.

"The Last Lecture," by Randy Pausch. At times a tear-jerker, I brought this book since it's been on my reading list forever. It's tough to argue with a man who passed after suffering from cancer, but there are some things Pausch believed that I disagree with. He argues that life is black and white; not sure how that's even close to the case. Still, his verdict in the final chapter is right on: If you live your life the right way, good karma will take care of the rest. Your dreams will come to you. Randy's kids should be very proud of their dad.

"Bicycle Diaries," by David Byrne. Yes, you read the author's name right-- It's David Byrne from The Talking Heads. I saw him in concert in Boston in 2001. Byrne chronicles his many trekks, on his bike, through cities around the globe. Like Byrne, I am a city person (I think, anyway), and his extolls on the benefits of cities strike home to me. The first section of the book, which follows Byrne through several second-tier U.S. cities, is a must read. One also must love how he speaks in striking and disparaging terms about his hometown of Baltimore. This was the book, above all the others, that I was definitely looking forward to read on vacation.

"The Five People You Meet in Heaven," by Mitch Albom. I wasn't expecting this book to be fiction, given Albom's first book. However, this was a surprisingly touching read. We are all connected on this planet. Not sure if anyone reading this has seen "The Sliding Doors," but the interconnectedness of who we meet and see each and every day can have significant consequences. And many the afterlife is when we actually figure that out.

"Bringing Down the House," by Ben Mezrich. This book had been on my reading list since I went to Las Vegas something like five years ago. The pages are even starting to yellow. The only problem with this book is it will give you the consistent urge to drop everything and go to a casino. I resisted the temptation, even though the two Connecticut casinos were mere minutes away from where I was staying.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Crazy Weekend Ahead?

Point O' Woods Beach
South Lyme, Conn.
July 22, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Baseball is a Radio (Beach) Game

At the Cottage
Point O' Woods, South Lyme, Conn.
July 21, 2010

Pull up a beer, and it's like you are at the ballpark. I am listening to the Yankees play the Angels this afternoon while on vacation in South Lyme, Conn. I bought a cheap Radio Shack radio a few years back, and I use it to listen to games while I am on the beach (or sitting, as the case may be, at the table in the back yard of the cottage).

Baseball is a game that is paced for the radio. When I watch baseball on TV, I typically have a few things going on at once. I am paying bills. I am catching up on correspondence. The game is in the background. With a 162-game season, how could one possibly pay attention to each and every pitch?

Baseball is really the only game I can listen to on the radio. For that reason, it's tailor-made for the beach. You can hop in the water in-between innings.

For the record, the Yankees are beating up on the Angels right now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Connecticut Beach 2010

Point O' Woods
South Lyme, Conn.
July 20, 2010

I am back on the Connecticut shore this week for vacation, staying at the Levanto family compound. Ok, it's not really a compound, but it's a nice cottage that I co-own with my brothers and my parents.

Connecticut doesn't have a public shoreline, like California and some other states. And there are not many public beaches in the Nutmeg State, either, so I was fortunate that my grandfather owned a cottage at Point O' Woods, a private beach in South Lyme. I have been coming here since I was born.

Now, I am old enough, I guess, to have some "when-I-was-a-kid-and-walked-uphill-both-ways-to-school" types of stories, and they are popping out while I have been here. The biggest one, as an example, involves bicycles.

When I was a kid, I rode my bike all over Point O' Woods, which is a collection of cottages on private land. The rules were simple: As long as I did not go under the railroad tracks that marked the main entrance to the private beach, I was fine. I was not alone; dozens of kids like me rode around in their bikes, exploring the tapestry of roads and pathways.

This week, I have not seen many bikes at all. There are many golf carts, however. The kids don't ride their bikes, because they hop in their golf carts and ride everywhere. It makes me sick.

Then again, I am on vacation, and it is nice to be here. Back in my home state, where I can watch the Yankees in HD as part of regular cable. By the way, a random fun fact: Three years ago, when I was on vacation at the beach in Conn., Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th career homerun. This week, while I am here, he might very well hit is 600th.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Quest For The Perfect Beach Chair

Two years ago, I had the perfect beach chair. It sat low to the sand and was rugged enough to handle a 210+ pound man. It provided full support for my back and my butt without any support bars pressing my contour in uncomfortable ways. It was easy to carry. Its colors were attractive to the eye.

Someone stole my chair two years ago at the end of the summer, for when I returned to my family's beach cottage in Connecticut, it was gone.

Since then, I have been on the quest for the perfect beach chair. It some ways, the quest has reminded me of a great West Wing Episode featuring the quest for the perfect turkey carving knife. The President (played by Martin Sheen) sends his personal aide Charlie out on a mission to find a carving knife appropriate for Thanksgiving dinner. Charlie tries time and time again but cannot find a knife to the President's liking. As the episode is nearing its conclusion, Charlie finally brings a knife to the President that is acceptable. As a reward, the President givens Charlie a knife from the family heirloom, which just happens to have been first created by Paul Revere.

Well, my beach chair hunt was equally as time consuming. Last year, I went to Walmart and purchased a chair that is acceptable, though not early perfect. It has trouble keeping a specific reclining angle-- the handle often slips and causes my back to jerk back. There is a support bar under my derriere that is rather uncomfortable depending on my seating angle. While I used the chair all last summer, it was not satisfying.

After coming up empty this year at Walmart, I went to Target. I purchased a nice beach chair that is also not the perfect chair. It's a RIO Beach SC68OC 2010 model, nicknamed the "Genuine Beach Bum(TM) Beach Chair." There's a lot to like about the chair. It's got a beer bottle holder. It also has a head rest, which is quite comfortable. However, the chair sits high off the sand and is rather difficult to carry. It's also a bright reddish-orange color. I bought the chair for 50 bucks.

Despite a few trips to other stores, no luck on finding a better chair, so this weekend I took my RIO to Cape Cod and it performed well under the elements of Red River Beach in Harwich.

Then this morning, on the way to the Pancake Man, the magic happened. I spotted my old chair sitting at a beach supply store. It's a beach mania sand chair in rainbow colors.

The perfect beach chair? In my apartment in Boston.
July 11, 2010

It's as close to the perfect beach chair as I can find. The only problem is the chair doesn't support my head when I sit in it. However, it was so close to perfect I bought the chair they had on display at the store, called Pizazz on Long Pond Drive in South Yarmouth. I paid 42 bucks for it.

By the way, it turns out the beach chair industry is quite a beast. There are different types of beach chairs and many different models. It would seem the perfect beach chair means different things to different people.

Happiness Is...

...copious amounts of Beacon Hill parking in the summer. My car is visible in the distance below, with numerous spots behind it on Chestnut Street. This much parking on one Beacon Hill street happens once a decade, and it happened on Friday.

Chestnut Street, Beacon Hill
July 9, 2010