Monday, October 05, 2015

Japan trip 2015!

It's almost time for what's usually my favorite part of the year... Japan trip!

After so many visits, my wife and I are really starting to run out of things to do in Tokyo. We've gone to other cities, but speaking for myself, at least, I just never have as much fun anywhere else. But this year, the big centerpiece of the trip is going to be a ride on the Cassiopeia from Tokyo to Sapporo - this train is the last of a breed, a luxury night train with dining car service. And this is our last chance to take it - it'll be discontinued next spring. (I previously mentioned my attempts to ride the Twilight Express before it was withdrawn - well, this time we actually have tickets. This is happening!)

So, Sapporo - not even sure yet what we'll do there, but they do have a beer museum and garden. We can go and pretend to be interested in the history of Sapporo beer, then get drunk for cheap!

In fact, this has been one of our more last-minute trip plans - and we still don't have a lot of full days. We've got a couple concerts to go to (probably do some show reports when I get back!), the short Sapporo side trip, probably do some guitar shopping, and... not sure what else. We're staying in Odaiba this time, which I've always wanted to do - land of giant ferris wheels, VR theme parks, retro shopping malls and the best ramen in the world. So I'll probably do all that again too. Cool thing is we can also walk to both of the concerts we've got tickets to! (They're at Zepp Tokyo and Zepp Diver City Tokyo.) And I'll get to see the full-size Gundam on the way to the latter.

I'm sure I'll do some work stuff there too - every trip there now is a business trip.

We had enough miles on ANA this time to fly out first class, so I'll definitely be reporting on that! (We're flying economy coming back.) I've never flown international first class before, so I'm looking forward to it. Coming back in economy is going to be a huge letdown, I'm sure - it's already depressing enough to leave Japan, much less being crammed in a tiny seat with a screaming baby right next to us. (Oh, it's going to happen - it always does.)

I'll post as much as I can!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

BMW's run-flat tire scam

I'm mad. What you are looking at is my fourth flat tire in the 14 months or so that my wife and I have been leasing our 2014 Mini Cooper. At some point, it stops being an accident and starts being the car's fault. This just ain't right.

New Mini Coopers and even most regular BMW's come with run-flat tires standard - in fact, for the Mini, at least, there is no other option. (Or at least there wasn't when we ordered ours.) I finally figured out why with this flat tire, which was the first one to really hit 0 PSI and the first that had us calling up roadside assistance because of the horrible crunching noise that driving on it produced. It doesn't sound or feel much different than driving on any other flat. It's extremely disconcerting. It feels wrong, and like you're going to be shooting sparks any second.

Roadside assistance cheerfully told us that the two options we had were to drive it as it was, or to get ourselves towed - at our expense - to the nearest dealer. This despite the fact that our non-S Mini Cooper actually does have a spare tire - a fact that I know from actually looking at it and asking the dealer "is that a spare tire?", not that you'd ever know from reading the manual, which has no useful information on the subject whatsoever. (Sadly, the foresight to look up things on the internet like "how to remove the spare tire" and "where to place the jack" prior to actually needing to know eluded me.)

It finally dawned on me that the run-flats are a way to keep BMW from having to send someone out to change tires. It's a cost-cutting scam that's now literally cost me $1,000 and one very unsafe trip home driving through the streets of Manhattan, over the Williamsburgh Bridge and through Brooklyn and Queens on a flat tire.

See, I've discovered that the big problem with run-flats is that they would rather be flat than filled with air. I have never had a flat tire on any other car I've owned. It's just not something that I think of as possible, or at least it's something that happens to people with old tires who don't fill them properly. I'm a tire maintenance freak; I check and maintain air pressure religiously, and with any little strange noise I will replace a tire. So four flat tires in 14 months on the same car means the tires are physically defective. This just should not happen.

I don't know how this isn't national news, to be honest. Every time I've gone to the dealer, every single person in the room seems to be asking their service adviser what's wrong with their tires. I don't think I've heard anyone have a problem other than a flat tire - and usually it's not their first.

This is singlehandedly going to keep me from buying another BMW/Mini.

It's also convinced me not to lease anymore either. If I wanted to replace all four tires, I'd have to do it from a Mini-approved list, the cheapest of which is about $175.

Anyone want to take over my lease? I'm serious.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Foo Fighters at Citi Field 07/15/2015

Been almost a week(!), but above is some video I shot at the Foo Fighters' recent show at Citi Field on July 15.

I've been a Foo Fighters fan since the beginning - I still remember the video debut for "Big Me", and I actually came home from work early so I could watch premiere of "I'll Stick Around" back in 1995. (I was a Nirvana fan before.) That first album's still great, but it was "The Colour and the Shape" that sounded as if it was speaking directly to me and what I was going through myself at the time. Since then I've felt like Dave's a brother of mine. If I have a current rock idol, someone I try to emulate myself, it's Dave Grohl.

But this was my first-ever Foo Fighters show. I was a little embarrassed when Dave called out the first-timers in the crowd by sarcastically saying "we've only had a band for like 20 years, but you know, it's cool." I can't believe it's been that long.

The Foos had a pop-up store in the Lower East Side of Manhattan that happened to be only a couple blocks from the store my wife and I own. So we went for the whole experience, buying all of our merchandise there first.

My wife outside Citi Field in her "Broken Leg Tour" t-shirt.

The front of that shirt - I bought one too. Not that Dave could really hide the fact that he's got a pretty horridly broken leg, but he's embraced it fully on this tour, maybe even to the point of excess. To be honest, the first time I saw his now-famous stage throne, I threw up a little in my mouth. It seemed so pretentious. I would have preferred something a little more understated... like maybe this IKEA chair. He did joke about it (he called it "ridiculous" even though he designed it himself), and gave a full PowerPoint presentation on his leg break and the throne's creation.

That's Dave in the hospital on the monitors, during his slide show. And on his throne in real life.

Here's the set list for the show (from - I removed all the snippets and extraneous stuff):
  1. Everlong 
  2. Monkey Wrench 
  3. Learn to Fly 
  4. Something From Nothing 
  5. The Pretender 
  6. Up in Arms
  7. Congregation 
  8. Walk 
  9. Cold Day in the Sun 
  10. My Hero (Acoustic)
  11. Times Like These (Acoustic)
  12. Under Pressure (Queen & David Bowie cover)
  13. Let There Be Rock (AC/DC cover)
  14. All My Life 
  15. These Days 
  16. Outside 
  17. Breakout 
  18. Next to You (The Police cover)
  19. This Is a Call 
  20. White Limo 
  21. Arlandria 
  22. Breakdown (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover)
  23. Best of You 
  1. Stay With Me (Faces cover) (with Chad Smith) (Taylor Hawkins on lead vocals)
It was a good set. They've got a lot of great songs so no one is ever going to be 100% satisfied, but it hit all the necessary notes and threw in a few surprises. My one little disappointment was a cover they didn't play - I know at previous shows they had played "Tom Sawyer" by Rush, but at Citi Field they replaced it with "Next to You". (Dave let us n00bs know that the Foo Fighters are the "world's highest paid cover band.")

I'm usually not a fan of acoustic stuff at rock shows but one of the highlights on this tour has to be "My Hero", the chorus of which Dave sits back and lets the crowd sing to him. And it's pretty clear that we are all singing it to him. (Just listen to it in the video above.) Say what you want, the man deserves it. His leg's shattered in a million friggin' pieces, and he's coming out there every night and giving us close to three hours of music with as much effort as two-legged guys half his age.

At times it did seem a little more than even he can carry, though. I knew from videos I'd seen that his raspy voice is never really as precise live as it is on the albums, but he had practically lost it completely by about midway through the show at Citi. And after about the 15th song, you could sense a little energy drain, at least until the big finale with Chad Smith of the Chili Peppers. I finally had to sit down myself during "Outside", and I was up and down from then on. But "White Limo", "Arlandria" and "Best of You" are three of my favorite Foo songs, so they ended big.

This was probably my third or fourth outdoor stadium show, and it's no big secret that the only worse way to experience a rock concert is by staying home. The sound at Citi Field was pretty terrible, and at times Dave's voice was barely even audible. Even though we were on the field level, this was the furthest I've been from a band at a show since I saw (coincidentally) Rush in 1986 at Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey, when we were literally in the top row of the furthest possible corner from the stage. (At least for Pink Floyd and Monsters of Rock at Giants Stadium, we were on the floor.) I can't imagine the view, or lack thereof, of those few hardy souls in the upper deck at Citi Field.

But it was fun, I had some great food and a great time with great company (my wife!), and I finally got to see one of my all-time favorite bands on what's no doubt going to go down as a historic tour for them. Nooooooooooooothing to complain about here. Thanks, Dave, for making the effort for your fans.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Own a chunk of Titanic coal

A few months ago my wife and I went to Vegas for the first time. I haven't written anything about it because I just was never sure how to even divide it up - the whole trip was just one big drunken blur, like most trips to Vegas seem to be.

But one thing that didn't seem to fit the Vegas stereotype was just how into the Titanic disaster the whole strip seems to be. I bought this there:

It's a tiny lump of coal that sank with the Titanic.

I know from my obsessive internet scrubbing that coal is really the only artifact from Titanic you can buy, and RMS Titanic Inc. is the only company authorized to sell it. You can buy it online, but for some reason Las Vegas is the only physical place I've seen where you can buy it in person. (You would think maybe New York? No?) I think I paid $25 for this. They have bigger chunks in nicer cases for more money.

This is the Titanic artifact exhibition at the Luxor. The coal is from the "gift shop". (It feels weird to write that - a gift shop dedicated to a major disaster)

The exhibition itself was actually pretty amazing. They have lots of stuff pulled up from the wreck, and seeing it all up close really makes it a lot more personal. You see the movies and read whatever books about it, but it all still feels like a story someone else is telling. When you see somebody's glasses, their pocket watch, their socks right in front of you, it's no longer detached from you. These were real people.

They also have "The Big Piece", which is pretty awe-inspiring. Unfortunately they do not let you take photos of anything in there and I followed that rule, but there are some at that linked article. I can tell you that their pictures don't capture it, though. It's huge, and it towers over you in that room. It's amazing to look at it and realize that you are looking at part of the actual Titanic. The ship that's in the movies, that everyone's been talking about for more than 100 years, that I was actually alive before it had even been found - here it is.

Vegas is Titanic-crazy in other ways too, though - it seemed like every show we went to (even the topless shows) had some weirdly out of place skit about the ship sinking. All I can think is that it's a remaining vestige of James Cameron's movie mania. Hotels are torn down and rebuilt on a daily basis in Vegas, but it seems to take a lot longer to retool a show or exhibition.

I love ocean liners and I've always had an interest in Titanic (even - or maybe especially - before Cameron's movie), so this was kind of an unexpected bonus to our Vegas visit.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.

About Me

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I'm married. I like to travel. I have no kids. I have a house... that I'm bad at maintaining. I used to collect classic video games. I own a lot of musical equipment that far outstrips my ability to use it. When I was younger, I was in a band. I like gadgets, and I'm an Android guy. Someday, I would like to live on a different planet.


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