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A Weekend Near Canada [1]

Preparing

Ordinarily I don't like being read to, but for long trips, I prefer listening to spoken word instead of music, because it's more likely to keep me alert. I knew this would be a long drive, and I wanted an audiobook to listen to. Audible.com has an introductory deal where the first audiobook costs just $9.99, regardless of list price. I picked George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, which is more than thirty hours long, as I wanted to be sure I got my money's worth. The download comes in a proprietary format, but they allow burning to audio CD - but not to MP3.

So, I spent most of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, burning audio CDs on my laptop, and then ripping them to MP3 on my desktop. Finally, a reason for me to have two computers! Then, late Wednesday evening, I started to burn MP3 CDs. Sadly, my desktop seemed to feel that I was expecting too much. It rebooted itself on the first attempt on each of the first two discs, and refused to burn the third disc at all. I stopped trying after a while, figuring that I wouldn't need more than the first two for this trip anyway, and I could figure it out when I had more time.

Thursday

I woke to find that my freezer door was open, and the frozen food had been defrosting all night. It's just as well that I'm generally non-verbal for the first hour after my alarm goes off, because it's never a good sign when your first words of the day are a string of imprecations. I really don't know how I can have managed that. I had last opened the freezer at around 7, and I'd been sitting at the computer all evening. I would have thought I would have noticed the draft. I threw out the melted food and cleaned up the mess. Luckily, there wasn't that much in the freezer, and some of it hadn't thawed yet and could be saved. These things do happen, and I wouldn't be nearly so annoyed with myself, if it hadn't been just a few months ago that I'd had to do this when the old refrigerator broke.

It only delayed me a little, so I did manage to get on the road by about 10:20 (I had intended to leave at 10). I've never driven more than about 20 minutes west on Route 80 before, and I was looking forward to some new scenery. I stopped at the first scenic overlook, but while it was certainly overlooking something, I couldn't tell what, and it wasn't especially scenic. The second overlook came up so fast that I couldn't pull over, and then there weren't any more. I had hoped there would be something at the Delaware Water Gap, but there were just park exits instead, and I wasn't feeling that adventurous. What I saw was pretty, though.

I stopped for lunch on 81, at what I discovered thereafter was the last exit in Pennsylvania. I stopped for gas at what turned out to be the most expensive rest area along the New York Thruway - all the ones I'd passed had been reasonable, and the one after it was, but I picked the one that was an extra 20 cents per gallon. However, it was time for a bio break, and that takes precedence over good prices.

I reached our hotel just before 5, and had enough time to settle in, check my email, and get into (but not out of) the shower before amy_pearlman, demongrey, and museasylum626 arrived. Amy and MA ran out to prevent a fashion emergency, leaving me and DG to find somewhere for dinner. We liked the names of Disfunction Junction (their spelling, not mine), Yings Wings Things, Curry and Kebab, and Mighty Taco - which turned out to be a chain. None of them sounded like a good choice for food, however. We ended up just down the street at Montana's, a Canadian chain with just three US locations near the border, which was an excellent choice of Amy's. After dinner, we went to the bookstore, and by the time we got back to the hotel, soupkills and calloocallay (henceforth E, as CC would be confusing) had arrived. Everyone chatted, and I placed a call to leftsphenoid to confirm the plans for the next day.

Friday

The talks began at 9, so we all rose early and made the first of many caravan-trips around Buffalo. We had no difficulty in finding the campus, but it turned out that none of us were certain which was the building we needed, which might have been a significant hindrance to the plans. Luckily, the first guess was the correct one.

There were two talks before leftsphenoid's, and both of them had been at the same program. They'd been working on some of the same projects, and I found myself wishing they'd coordinated their presentations a little better, because there were places that they were giving the same information, and could have used the time to go more into the differences. I understand that each presentation had to stand on its own, but I think they could have still managed the overlap a little better.

I've never before seen LS as nervous as she was when she started speaking. She did fine, though, and she was much more entertaining than the people ahead of her. I thought it was all very interesting, and it's nifty to see what she's been working on for the last year, and hear that the solution to the big project was Slime!

We left during the break, instead of staying with LS to listen to the rest of the talks. After changing clothes and getting lunch, I convinced everyone else that they wanted to come with me to the Buffalo Zoo. Their site claims that they are the third oldest zoo in the country.[2] I'm a zoo nut, so I probably would have gone anyway, but I was delighted to have everyone else accompany me. The zoo pictures are up here. Some of them aren't too clear, due to glass or chain-link fence, especially the ones of the baby macaque. I did get pictures of the Buffalo buffalo, a baby hippo, and giraffe feeding time. And, since neither blackfog nor daernhelm were with us, there were four polar bears on exhibit, and I got so many good pictures that it's hard to pick just one. I also made an effort to take some pictures with people in them, since usually I neglect to do that.

We returned to the hotel for a little down time and to change back into nicer clothes, and then went back to meet LS at the reception. While we waited for her, we discussed what the correct term would be for throwing someone in through a window, given that throwing someone out a window is defenestration. We consulted BlackFog by phone, and he suggested that it might be just fenestration, as the opposite of deforestation is just forestation. However, fenestration is "the design and placement of windows in a building" (dictionary.com), so I think we would need a prefix after all. My vote is for infenestration. Then Soup and MA took turns telling increasingly inappropriate stories for public gatherings, until we started to attract attention.

Once LS was free, we headed off on another team-driving tour of Buffalo, this time to a nice little restaurant that served excellent roast beef. I had been told that the traditional meal is Beef on Weck, weck being a salt-encrusted bread. I ordered it, and as I expected, there was quite a bit more salt than I really wanted, but the beef was very good indeed.

Amy and I made a Walmart run on our way back to the hotel, to pick up a variety of things that had not been packed or expected to be needed. I stopped by Pocky Central to deliver one such item to E, and saw that she and Soup had added bubble bath to their jacuzzi. Bubbles, everywhere. I made a hasty retreat back to my room, played some computer games, and went to bed.

Saturday

Everyone was in need of sleeping in on Saturday morning. I finally got up and moving just in time to be in the shower when DG called, for the second time in less than 48 hours. LS and her friend C met us at the hotel. We had lunch at a restaurant offering pizza and wings. Many, many wings. After lunch, we headed toward Canada, making it across the border with only one significant injury during the journey.

It was a beautiful day at Niagara Falls, warm enough that the cool mists felt good, but not too warm to be comfortable moving around. I have pictures here as well, including a nice one with the rainbow and the Maid of the Mists boat. We ran out of time before we could go to the Ripley's Museum, which I know disappointed MA very much.

After depositing me back at the hotel, Amy, DG and MA left for home. Soup and E planned to go to a movie, but first we went out to dinner, ending up back at Montana's. They provided crayons and paper tablecloths, so after I declined the opportunity to play multi-dimensional tic-tac-toe[3], Soup convinced us to play Hangman for the Overeducated. It's a much more entertaining game when played with people who naturally think of obscure and unusual[4] words of 11 and 12 letters. The food and the company were both most enjoyable. I returned to my hotel, where I spent my evening much as I would have had I been at home - I played a computer game, chatted on IM, and watched sports on TV.

Sunday

I checked out at about 10:30, and waited for Soup and E, and then we had brunch before getting on the road. The waitress clearly mistook Soup for oidhche, as she teased him and smacked him with the menus. We revisited Hangman, and exercised our imaginations in other ways. I said something which E declared to be a memorable sentence, and wrote down. I saved it, but it's not with me. It was something to the effect of, "Well, if you're wearing a wet suit, I don't even object so much to the ground beef!" It made a little more sense in context.

I got on the road around noon, and made good time all the way home. The roads had been crawling with police cars on Thursday, but I didn't see any on Sunday until I reached New Jersey. I stopped for a bio break at a rest area in PA. About half an hour later, I pulled off for gas at the first Shell station I'd seen. To my great surprise and pleasure, the regular was $2.89 per gallon, which more than made up for my bad gas luck on the drive up. Traffic got heavy about 15 miles before the NJ border, and stayed heavy all the way home, but it didn't slow me, and I was home at 6 p.m.

I had a wonderful time, and I'm really glad I decided to go. I know the PA contingent had a bad hotel room, as well as a bad cold, and they weren't very happy for much of the trip. I'm very sorry it wasn't better for them, but I'm glad that I was much luckier.

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[1] There's a song called Canadian Sunset that I learned in high school chorus. The bit that tends to stick in my head goes "A weekend in Canada, a change of scene, was the most I bargained for." Well, only a few hours of this weekend were spent in Canada, but we were certainly near Canada, so I kept humming it that way.

[2] A little bit of web research tells me that among the oldest zoos in the country are Philadelphia, Buffalo, the Bronx Zoo, Chicago, Baltimore, and Cincinnati, but none of the information is consistent, and I couldn't find a comprehensive list quickly. Buffalo claims to be the third oldest zoo, but so does Baltimore, and so does at least one other. Rather a lot of places indicate that the Philadelphia Zoo is the oldest, but several suggest that the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is the oldest. It appears to me that Philadelphia was planned first, but Lincoln Park was built first. Clearly this requires more research on my part, either to find a comprehensive and reliable list, or to try to put together one of my own.

[3] I don't like playing games I'm no good at. I don't mind losing, but I like it to be a fair competition. It was only supposed to be 3-dimensional, which I could have managed, but I don't know the strategy. However, after Soup had some difficulty in the drawing, I suggested that he could turn it into a larger number of dimensions. There, I really would be challenged, because I have difficulty visualizing beyond the third dimension, and I'm not assuming that the same is true of him. I suppose that's a sign of geekiness in and of itself.

[4] To calloocallay: to clarify my usage, I did look them up. From Merriam-Webster, "OBSCURE implies a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge." From dictionary.com, "Unusual: Not usual, common, or ordinary." I would argue that palanquin is unusual, because it doesn't come up often in ordinary conversation, but that it isn't difficult to understand, especially in context. Androgyne and peripatetic would also be obscure, because even we overeducated people discussed the meanings to be sure we had them right. Meanwhile, the one I used, thermokarst, is unusual, obscure, and in fact esoteric, "Of or relating to that which is known by a restricted number of people,"(Dictionary.com again), since even the online dictionaries didn't have it listed. Obviously I'm picking and choosing my definitions from those available, but I think that's reasonable for this purpose. Another word that applies to me: pedant. :-)