Monday, December 11, 2017

GFJ and I: Day 3 & 4 - Bolton Landing

Bolton Landing. It's not much of a town during the off season. But it is much nicer to walk through, when more of the stores are open for browsing than in Lake George.

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I didn't know what to expect from The Sagamore (see above picture).  Yet, I know that GFJ may have spent a pretty penny for two nights here, given the rate card I saw online. However, GFJ may have saved a lot of money by making last minute reservations direct to their front desk instead of using an online service. It would not be appropriate for me to ask her how much she spent, but I know I wouldn't have spent this money on my own.

The first night, we decided to eat at the hotel's restaurant, and it was a feast for two.  They had no problems turning a side dish into a vegetarian main course that GFJ would eat. As for me, I had the Chicken Saltimboca, and would recommend it to anyone dining here. (Please note: I am compensating for my taste buds being a little bit "off" due to the medicine I've been taking.)   Afterwards, we went outside and enjoyed a S'more cooked over an open fire pit.  Then we went to the top floor and captured the view of the fire pit and the area around it.

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The next day, we took a tour of the hotel's kitchen, hosted by the hotel's Sous Chef. It was a fascinating behind the scenes look at what makes food service work here.  Out of respect for the guide, I did not take any photos of the kitchen - one does not look at the man behind the green curtain.

Later, we went outside where I captured the photos below:

Aren't these lakefront views priceless?

After a short hike on the nature trail, it was time for dinner.  This time, we went a different place in Bolton Landing and were not the only customers. Although the food was nothing special by NYC standards, it was a pleasant place to eat. And I'd recommend Frederick's if in town during the off season.

Once we were done with dinner, it was back to The Sagamore to relax.  GFJ took a swim in the pool, while I relaxed watching a movie. One thing I know, that after this trip, I will have to cut out as many carbs as I can from my diet.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

GFJ and I: Day 1 & 2 - Lake George

Lake George.  Almost 70 years ago, my parents honeymooned there. And it as still as beautiful as it was then - if you can get away from the roads and get close to the lake. Otherwise, you will be disturbed by the large number of businesses dedicated to Summer tourism.

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GFJ had arranged to take a seminar near Lake George village, so that she could maintain a business certification. Since it was an all day conference being held about 3 1/2 hours from her home, it made sense for her to book a room the night before, stay overnight, and go home that day or the next. So she decided to treat this trip as a working vacation, and spend two days at one hotel, and two days at another hotel.

Although I was already moving early on Wednesday morning, I knew that we would not make it to our arranged meeting point on time. Both of us were running late, and I took a relaxed drive to the Kingston park and ride.  Although I was a few minutes late, this wasn't a problem, as we would likely miss much of the traffic in Albany's rush hour.  So I put the "Club" on my car's steering wheel, and away we went. We reached Albany during the early part of its rush hour, and encountered tolerably slow and crowded traffic on the Northway. And we reached Lake George around 5 pm, with no incident.

While in Lake George, I wanted to make a stop at the last Ho-Jo's restaurant standing. As much as it being a crap shoot for restaurants to be open out of tourist season, I expected this place to be open when we arrived.  It wasn't.  So we went up the hill to the Hampton Inn where we checked in for the night.  While checking in, we asked about the Ho-Jo's down the hill, and the staff gave the place a very bad review.  They wouldn't bother with the place, even for a cup of coffee. So instead, we went across the street to a BBQ joint, and had a nice meal.  After dinner, we took a drive to where the conference was to be held the next morning.  And we were surprised to find that it was being held on the site of one of Paul Newman's "Hole in the Wall" camps for kids with serious diseases.  (Now we know one location where the profits go from Newman's branded products.)  Then, it was back to the hotel for the evening.

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The next day, I dropped GFJ off for the conference. She tried to reach me to tell me that the conference ended at 2:30 pm. Since there was abysmal cell phone service at that location, she was barely able to pass along this info after the conference started. Once I had this information in hand, I proceeded to drive up and down the Route 9 strip, and saw that most of the local businesses were closed. Around lunch time, I decided to stop into Ho-Jo's only to find out it was closed - after I entered the building. The owner let me know that the place would be open the next day, but it was very unlikely that I'd bother going there with GFJ for breakfast when our hotel provided our morning meal as part of its standard service.

After driving up past Bolton Landing and back, I stopped by a local diner and had a bite to eat. Then, I picked GFJ up and we took another drive before going to an early dinner. Again, the car made its way to Bolton Landing, and we picked the first year-round restaurant we found that was open. This was a minor mistake. We were the only customers in the place, and the food left a little to be desired. If anything, I feel that this place may not have had the customer volume to justify the limited menu being offered. So I'll be kind and not mention the name of the restaurant.

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What I haven't mentioned so far is that GFJ could have cancelled going to the conference with no financial penalty. This meant that she could make last minute reservations for the hotels we were to stay at. And she made reservations for the first hotel's two night stay while we were driving to Lake George, then made reservations for the second hotel's two night stay as we were driving to dinner. This is a nice thing about traveling in the off season - it is very easy to make last minute reservations, and it allows for greater flexibility in traveling.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Travel Memory I wanted to Preserve - The Hotel that made Purgatory Worthwhile

This entry has nothing to do about being transgendered. But it is meant to serve to preserve a memory of a hotel I stayed in once, would love to stay in again, and never will be able to do so.

The same year that I traveled through Los Angeles, I also went to Chicago. And my stay at the "forgettable" Ritz Milner was balanced by my stay at the Seneca in Chicago.  For every bad thing I could say about the Ritz Milner, I could say a good thing about the Seneca.

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Two days after leaving Los Angeles, I arrived in Chicago. And I used similar requirements to select this hotel, save that I wanted to be in the "Near North" of Chicago.  This would place me in the vicinity of both the Water Tower and the John Hancock building.  (The Seneca was one block away from the Hancock building and just off the Magnificent Mile.)

When I arrived at the hotel, I immediately felt a sense of warmth (not temperature related) from the entire staff. This time, my card keys worked, and when I opened the doors to my room, I was greeted with a nice surprise - a kitchenette!  Given that Chicago is known for its deep dish pizza, I could being back leftovers, and save money eating in while deciding what to do with the rest of my day.

Unlike the hotel in Los Angeles, there were no signs of extension cords, there was more than enough space in the room for even me to get around, and the place was up to date. When I went to the bathroom, I found another surprise - a Jacuzzi!  I began to wish I could extend my stay in the Windy City for another couple of days. But I had to go back to work the day after I got home, so this was not an option.

While in Chicago, I made use of almost everything in this hotel, save the exercise room. In fact, I even used the washing machines late one rainy night when I couldn't sleep, and was able to avoid having to take care of two weeks of dirty laundry when I got home.

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Although this hotel had mixed reviews, I would stay there again if it were possible. Like the hotel in Los Angeles, it is now closed and just a memory. Like the hotel in Los Angeles, it is a reminder how most things in life are related to random chance, and that one has to take the bad with the good to ever have the chance of enjoying the best life has to offer.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Travel Memory I wanted to Preserve - The Hotel from Purgatory

This is a picture of the former (Ritz) Milner hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The place had seen its better days long before I got there in 2011, and is no longer open at the time I write this entry. And even though this entry is not related to my transgender experiences, it does touch on my travels with Amtrak and the things one must be able to deal with when traveling these days.

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I had planned to make a trip from the SF Bay area to New York via Amtrak for a while. And I finally saved up enough vacation days to spend a week in San Francisco, followed by two days on a train to Chicago, a three or four day stay there (I can't remember how many days), and a day's ride to my home in New York. So I booked this trip, and pre-paid for my stay in Chicago to get the best rate possible. This last element was the most salient factor in my travels, though I didn't know it at the time.

A couple of weeks before my trip, one of the transcontinental train lines was washed out East of Denver, somewhere in Nebraska. I didn't think too much of it, but knew that Amtrak was canceling trains on my route.  Since I didn't hear from Amtrak by the time I had left for San Francisco, I figured that all was OK. Boy, I was wrong. They were trying to call me shortly after I left for the airport. So when I arrived in San Francisco, I had to start making alternate travel plans. Thankfully, I had my netbook computer and an internet connection.

When I called Amtrak, they presented me with several options for travel:
  1. Emeryville (a SF suburb) to Denver, with a 5 hour bus ride to connect (in Trinidad, CO) with the train from LA to get us to Chicago.
  2. Oakland to either Portland or Seattle, with a connection to Chicago. This trip would not avail me of having a sleeper for the days I needed to travel - a non starter.
  3. Oakland to Los Angeles with a 1 night sleep over, followed by a evening connection from Los Angeles to Chicago. 
I chose the latter option. But this meant cutting my stay in San Francisco short, and finding a place to stay in Los Angeles for the night.

My requirements were simple. The place had to be:
  1. Clean.
  2. Safe.
  3. Within a one and a half mile radius of Union Station.
  4. Two or Three star rated.
  5. Inexpensive (preferably less than $100)
And the Ritz Milner (as it was then known) fit these requirements.  So, five days later (instead of six), I was off to Los Angeles instead of going directly to Chicago.

The trip from Oakland to Los Angeles left Jack London Square at approximately 9:30 am. Like Steve Goodman's trip on the City of New Orleans, it passed houses, farms, and fields. (I couldn't resist that reference.) There was some priceless coastal running towards dusk, where the train was the closest thing to the ocean - in some cases, less than 300 feet away. The train finally arrived in LA around 9:30, a couple of hours too late to make the Eastbound connection on the same day. And this brings me to the story of the Ritz Milner hotel.

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The Ritz Milner hotel is a business that had seen its better days. Did they have the right to use the name "Ritz"?  Who knows? The hotel itself had been in business for years, and could have licensed the right to use the name "RItz" - but I doubt it.  I didn't care. The place met all of my requirements, but in a way that made me wish I could have done more and better research while I was in San Francisco.

Entering the place, I noticed that it was warmer in the lobby than it was outside.  ("But it was a dry heat."  Yeah, right!)  I approached the desk with my 3 bags, and was greeted by a gentleman who must have had his own zip code, as he was that obese. (Yes, I know I am fat, and can share a zip code with one person - preferably female.) While he was checking me in, he was interrupted by someone complaining that there were no towels in the room, not giving him a chance to finish checking me in. Although he stalled the lady for a moment, I should have known that there were problems to come.

The fellow gave me the electronic card keys and told me that my room was on the 6th floor. The elevator looked like it was around since the 1920's, and they had hidden (on the main floor) wood railed staircases now considered emergency staircases. As the elevator opened up on the 6th floor, I saw the narrowest of hallways, barely big enough for my luggage. And then I looked up at the ceiling - they didn't bother to hide the piping for the emergency sprinklers, nor did they bother to hide the wires for the cable TV. This place was becoming a bigger and bigger mistake the more I explored it.

When I arrived in the room, there was no way that I could dispute the conclusion that I had made a bad choice in hotels given the view of the room. (Click here to see sample photos on Yelp.)  The Air Conditioning wasn't working that well (but the room was cool), the TV wasn't working, extension cords were being used to connect devices to electricity, and one had to be a dwarf to be comfortable in the tiny bathroom. Yet, the place fit all my requirements. So I decided to call the man at the desk and see if he could get the TV working.

Soon, the man came up to help me. And he had trouble maneuvering in the tiny room. But he was able to get to the TV and play with a few things before saying that the cable box was fried, and that he'd be giving me a new room.  A few minutes later, he came back and gave me new card keys to the room directly above me. I went upstairs, and found that these keys didn't work. So it was back downstairs, where I found this man arguing with the same woman who was pestering him for towels when I first arrived. And finally, it was back to my room and off to sleep after calling my uncle and arranging to have lunch the next day.

Awakening with the sun (something I don't do much these days), I confirmed things with my uncle and went downstairs for breakfast. For those of you unfamiliar with "continental" breakfasts, I consider you to be among the luckiest people in our species. One either eats well at breakfast, or eats somewhere else. But only having starches for breakfast is not healthy, and that's what one got for "free" with one's stay at the hotel. And I had a fresh waffle with some fruit.

Again, I surfed the internet for a while, then packed up and left the room. Leaving my bags with today's desk clerk, I proceeded to read a book in the lobby (whose air conditioning was still not working) while waiting for my uncle to arrive.  He had never been in this area of town before, and needed his GPS to find me.  We had a nice lunch nearby, and after an incident at the parking lot where his car was parked, we went back to the hotel, picked up my luggage, and dropped me off at Union Station where I cooled my heels for several hours.

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Would I go to this place again?  Absolutely not!  It met all of my requirements save one I didn't articulate - it wasn't well maintained.  Although I didn't see some of the worst things found in the Yelp photos, I did see enough that made me want to stay elsewhere. For example, the tiny bathrooms were likely a result of remodeling an old hotel to break apart shared bathrooms which were common when the hotel was built. I'd have been appalled at the use of extension cords anywhere. And I would have ran for the hills had I seen in-window air conditioners. This was a place which needed to total gut job and rehabilitation, and given that the place is closed today, others probably feel the same way about the place.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Getting my ducks in a row

I have several things I need to take care in the next few weeks, and I wonder whether I'll have the time to take care of all of them.  There is a to-do list sitting on my desk, and not enough time for me to take care of them with the attention these tasks deserve.

At the time I wrote this entry, I had the following items on my task list for the next few weeks:
  1. Find Mario's Bathing Suit (for use in hotel's indoor pool).
  2. Pack bag for several days away with GFJ, where she's tagging a break from the office onto a business trip for continuing education needed to retain a business certification.
  3. Hold mail for several days while on trip.
  4. Pay bills (Con-Ed, Cable, etc.)
  5. Order Medications from on-line pharmacy from COBRA insurance company in advance of need.
  6. Buy cold weather garments to wear while in upstate New York.
  7. Spend time with GFJ away from home.
  8. Schedule appointment with Dermatologist while under COBRA health insurance.
  9. Change date for meeting with health care enrollment aide.
  10. Meet with health care enrollment aide. 
  11. Co-Op December Board Meeting.
  12. Co-Op Board business not part of regularly scheduled meeting.
  13. Buy Christmas gifts for Brother/Sister in Law, GFJ, the Children of Yonkers Game Night Host/Hostess, and my Cleaning Lady.
  14. Laundry.
  15. Pack bag for several days away with GFJ, taking her to hospital for surgery and being there for the first few days of her recovery.
  16. Hold mail for several days while with GFJ.
  17. Spend time with GFJ while she recovers from operation.
  18. Buy Dad a birthday present.
  19. Clean up apartment for cleaning lady to do her magic.
  20. Pay bills that must be taken care of by month end.
  21. Attend Year-End PMI meetings for Westchester and NYC, getting back in contact with people who I might need if I decide to try for a project management job again.
  22. See the Cat Lady, and have a belated birthday dinner with her.
There are other things I can add to this list, but some things must be done in less than a day and a half, and other things must be done over the course of a full month.  I know that some things will be dropped, and other things will be added to this list. But if I didn't have such a list available, I wouldn't be able to set my priorities for the next 5 weeks.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Doctor, Doctor, have you heard the news? I've got a bad case of Rhythm and Blues.

Tuesday.  The last full day at home before going North to be with GFJ for a day or two. There's a part of me which would rather stay home. But we have so few opportunities to get away, and it's nice to be able to do so - even just before the beginning of Winter.

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Since I had a doctor appointment at 10:00 am, I figured that this would likely be a day spent mostly in Mario Mode. I wasn't sure that the appointment was "on," because I didn't get a confirmation call the day before.  So I showered and dressed, and went out the door in time for a 10 am appointment.

Arriving at the doctor's office, things appeared to be running slow. So I had to wait for a half hour before having my yearly physical. Not much had changed since last year, so I expected the usual instructions to lose weight. However, having mentioned my aches in my knees, he mentioned some exercises I should do to strengthen the muscles in my legs. Strengthening these muscles would help prevent further damage to the knees, and I expect to try out the exercises to see if they help reduce the pain.

After I was done, I went home and rested. Before I realized it, the clock had already reached 7:30 pm, and I still had some minor errands to run.  Not only did I not reach out to our building's super to arrange to replace the wax ring in my toilet, but I had failed to reach out and reschedule a meeting I had with an insurance navigator to buy health insurance on the Obamacare exchange. 

Oh, well.  I can take care of most of the things on my to-do list when I'm back home.  I still could buy some of the cold weather gear that I'd need before tomorrow. And any remaining packing I need to do could be done in the morning.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Monday, Monday - an abbreviated time to be spent as Marian this week.

This was going to be the only day I could be solely in Marian Mode this week.  Tomorrow will have me visiting the doctor as Mario for my last annual checkup by him (I'm changing insurance companies due to the impending expiration of COBRA benefits), and the rest of the week will be spent with GFJ.

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Often, my apartment is warm when I get up - even when I've left the windows open overnight. Today was different - the apartment was cooler than expected. I hope this isn't an omen for the week ahead. GFJ has reminded me to find my cold weather gear, and I don't have as much as I once had. Not only have I been spending more time as Marian than Mario lately, but I have adjusted to the heat island that extends about 30+ miles from the New York City core.

Although I woke up around 9 am, I decided to relax under the comfort of my blanket until 1 pm when Lili called. She was reminding me that she needed to buy formal shoes for the upcoming party in Vietnam, and wanted me with her to do so.  Given that she's very unsure of her taste these days, and that she has never worn anything formal since she got married over 25 years ago, she wants a sister to keep her company. So this was as good a reason as any to get showered, shaved, made up, dressed and out the door for the day.

Before I left, I made an appointment with the folks who I'll be buying my health care from next year, so that I can have insurance when my COBRA expires.  It's a shame that it took government intervention to make health care insurance "sort of" affordable for older folk at the expense of youth. But this is part of the complex equation (imperfectly resolved in Obamacare) which helps to prevent insurance companies from cherry picking their most profitable customers, and leaving others unable to afford the health care they need.  I am grateful that the ACA's cost sharing is potentially available to me, as I would not be able to afford health insurance at the rates which would have been charged otherwise.  Until the GOP can come up with a free market program which has been shown to work elsewhere in the world, I am not likely to believe anything they say - especially with a president in office who is a pathological liar.  

But enough about politics and health care....

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I met Lili around 3:30 at Barnes and Noble.  Before we went next door to shoe shop, we enjoyed some coffee. Shortly afterwards in the shoe store, she started to get violently ill and needed to vomit.  This was the second time in a row that she has had a problem drinking a Starbucks Latte. So we bailed on finding shoes for her, and went our own ways.

If I didn't have a doctor's appointment tomorrow, I'd have agreed to go with her to go shoe shopping tomorrow. She even gave in to the idea that we should trek out to Globe Shoes to find something that fit her perfectly. But there would still be a second problem - she's going to see her plastic surgeon on Long Island in the morning. This makes it highly unlikely that she will consider going out to New Jersey when she gets back home tomorrow.

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Later on, I decided to get out of the house and take a drive.  I ended up at The Avenue where I finally decided to break down and buy a red dress that I hemmed and hawed about earlier this season.

The dress lends itself for me to use accessories with it to make the dress "pop."  And I intend to do so when I get the chance to wear it....