Traveling

The Avengers Endure

I’ve written before here about my enduring appreciation of The Avengers (NOT The Marvel Avengers.) On June 25th of last year, an inevitable day came to pass when series star Patrick Macnee died at age 93 of natural causes after a long and full life. I held off from viewing any episodes for four or five months after that, as I wasn’t sure if knowing that Steed (the central character) was no longer with us would affect my perception of the many episodes he left behind and continuing to watch the show.

When I did pull out the DVDs again, I deliberately chose a Steed centric episode from what many fans consider the series’ best season, its last in black and white, to honor Macnee in my mind. To my surprise, the episode endured in nearly the same way as before, and I even felt I was looking at it with fresh eyes. This could have been because of a long gap in viewing episodes, the changed circumstances without Macnee, my long-lasting appreciation of British culture on the whole, or some other reason entirely. Whatever the case, not only did the episode continue to feel like “visual comfort food” – my occasional term for watching the show – it still felt fresh in the present day, now just over 50 years after it was first transmitted.

2015 Timehop recollection of a 2007 visit to an AVENGERS filming location in England.

2015 Timehop recollection of a 2007 visit to an AVENGERS filming location in England.

In the past couple weeks, for one reason or another, that appreciation has grown into a celebration, as I’ve watched more episodes in a month-long time frame (or so) than over the past five years. They all continue to be emblematic of the 1960’s era in which they were made. However, based on certain aesthetic choices of the series producers, perhaps centered around decisions to have limited extras and not too much rooting in that same era, the episodes can come forward in time and still remain just as entertaining and relevant. If Steed and his various partners were seen dancing in Swinging London or hanging out at a Stones or Beatles concert (which they may have done in their off-screen time), the impression would be more nostalgic and arguably dated.

As it is now, the shows stand on their own terms, and they are each like little mini-films within themselves, as more than one writer about the series has come to observe. And I know I’m not the only one for whom this continuing appreciation of this series endures.

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marin county, Traveling

Marin County (still) relies on Golden Gate Transit

Coming to the end of a visit back to my “California homeland” of Marin County, my Yelp page has turned into a blog for this trip. I looked again at a Yelp review I wrote in 2011 of the local transit provider. It was quite wordy!

I’m coming to the end of 2 1/2 years of relying on GGT for a regular Marin to SF commute and returning home back over the bridge.

If you commute on a typical 9-5, Monday-Friday, schedule, GGT has your number. Very efficient and frequent service, especially on routes 4, 24, and 54, from various North Bay locations. As noted with the 4, they seem to have a soft spot for Mill Valley commuters, and I’m not exactly sure why that is. In the afternoons, I’ve often seen back to back 4s where one is very crowded and the next one not at all. Lack of information as to the next bus at SF stops can be irritating, although I have heard that they are working to update this in the near future. Last fall, they introduced a new fleet of ultra-modern larger buses that seem to be in service mostly on the Sonoma County routes.

They also offer service to the East Bay on routes 40 (express) and 42 (local). I have taken those buses a few times and find them to be mostly efficient. It’s nice to not have to pay the Richmond Bridge toll. A discount when going on to BART would be appreciated.

On the other hand, late night and weekend buses are another story. The 101 semi-express bus (which was surprisingly only introduced in 2009) stops running after 8pm, leaving the only options as the 70 to Novato or 80 to Santa Rosa, which alternate on the half hour up to 10pm and ONLY run once per hour following that time until 1am. Also after 10pm, the buses will make Every. Single. Stop. along Route 101, including an awkwardly long initial jaunt through Sausalito and awkward stop-over in Marin City, as they proceed north. (The buses do seem to have done away recently with the long layovers in Marin City, although the northbound 22 – a local route – still halts for no apparent reason in San Anselmo.) As you might imagine, this long journey home can be excruciating when you either just want to get home or don’t have anything to read or write on the bus. Those same “basic” routes (so named by GGT) are often populated by a considerably more diverse cast of characters than the typically business suited commute bus rider.

It’s no secret that Clipper (formerly TransLink) cards will give you a discounted fare on GGT, but I am surprised how many people seem to still not know that. GGT seems to be aware of where their income comes from, as they claim that Clipper can not be used for the popular AT&T Park ferry, when it most certainly could if you tag in and out at Larkspur.

On the ferry, the service is also reliable and comfortable. The early morning departures and 5:00 hour returns from/to Larkspur are filled with strong representation from the financial district. It’s always amusing to notice how the ferry becomes a tourist line between 10am and 3pm or so, and then thins out drastically for the last few runs back to Marin after 7pm. But why does it not run later than 9:30pm??? (More on that later…) Meanwhile, weekend ferries never run on time and seem to be populated with a large number of passengers who have either never been on the boat(s) before, treat it as a party boat complete with beers or other beverages, or are only there every few months.

As you can tell, GGT is well organized and mostly supportive of its riders and clientele. They even have “advisory committees” for bus and ferry passengers to participate in.

But as a frequent and loyal rider – admittedly with no other public transportation option – I have a few persistent questions:

1) Why continue with the constant raising of your fares? I moved to Marin in early 2009; San Rafael – San Francisco was $7.28 roundtrip on TransLink cards. Now it is $8.40. Not everyone can afford the constant rising in costs, and I don’t believe the haughty statement that it “keeps pace with inflation” – having some stability or consistency with these costs would be welcomed.

2) Don’t assume that everyone who is on GGT goes to SF for business. It’s clear that the schedulers may think that, based on the ratio of commute to general bus service.

3) Give us more options to get home to Marin at night. As stated above, the 70 or 80 can be excruciatingly long or an unappealing prospect. What about one or two buses around 11pm that go direct to San Rafael? Or Santa Rosa? Marin residents deserve more options. Not everyone here has a car or the luxury of being able to drive across the bridge as they please. I read somewhere that there was once a late night Friday and Saturday ferry to Larkspur. Why not bring that back?

4) You’ve bought two brand new ferries to add to the fleet within the past two years. Why not use them on the weekends and permanently retire the older Spaulding vessels?

5) Be more transparent about yourself, GGT.

6) WHY DO YOU NOT OFFER A MONTHLY PASS??? YOU SHOULD.

I’ve enjoyed my time with you, GGT. I know you can be better. I look forward to seeing you mature.

And if you read this far, here is a throwback video to one of my many Golden Gate Bus rides across the bridge…

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marin county, Movies, Traveling

Revisiting Into the Wild

In anticipation of my upcoming return to the West Coast, I decided to take a look, for the first time in several years, at a seminal “West Coast” film for me – Into the Wild, originally released in the fall of 2007. Hard to believe that is almost a decade ago at this point in time!

ABQ Movies

Revisiting the same cinema in Albuquerque, February, 2014

The circumstances of when and where I first saw the film likely contributed to its lasting impact. I was spending a few days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, accompanying my mom to a conference, but with an open-ended personal schedule, just like the main character in the film, to some extent. The New Mexico crisp quality of light, color and air was in full abundance in the late October time of year, and it was my first time ever seeing the state. I’d just had a phone interview, while on that trip, that led to my first job in California, and the prospect of that transition and opportunity was even more eye-opening, again in a more structured way to what the main character of the film anticipates with his journey to Alaska.

I saw the film again 4 or 5 months later at The Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo, California, still one of the friendliest movie theatres I’ve ever spent time in. By that time I had settled in to the California lifestyle and the film took on more of a “reinforcing” of the open road feeling, as opposed to the potential of the earlier screening in New Mexico. Still, there was a yearning there, and many possibilities existed for where my path could go at that time, in a way that I see now is characteristic of one’s early 20’s, and I was right in the same age bracket that the main character of the film was during the narrative.

For some reason I was less familiar with the original story and circumstances of Chris McCandless’ life at the time, probably because the main events took place when I was much younger. However, I was aware the author Jon Krakauer was a highly-regarded fellow Hampshire College alum – yet another personal connection to the story. And the director Sean Penn would later briefly be a down the street neighbor in Marin County.

So, in 2007 and 2008 the film made a lasting impact on me, with its wide vistas of Alaskan scenery and intense story of abandoning one’s personal possessions and family members for a back to the land life. Eddie Vedder’s original songs continue to be on my personal playlist from time to time, including one particular track (that I’d forgotten is not actually featured in the film) which feels emblematic of just driving around on the West Coast, and the sense of sky and open space that is so unique to the region.

In 2015 the film feels like a time capsule to me. First on the level of its featured actors professional trajectory, such as lead Emile Hirsch perhaps finding it difficult to top the performance he gives in this film, and running into some personal troubles with law enforcement earlier this year. Of the supporting actors in that age bracket, Kristen Stewart appears in a small role and looks noticeably younger, while Jena Malone has since branched out further into a mix of popular and independent fare. The older actors in the group soldier on  in the industry, but their fortunes have also varied, with Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughan and Marcia Gay Harden among the group. And IMDB tells me director Penn is preparing his first directed film since this one for release in 2016.

I guess I wasn’t expecting to feel the distance from the narrative that I felt on this re-viewing. I’ll still continue to regard it as a key film in my West Coast life, but … I also feel how time has passed.

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Traveling

Sometimes I miss that British way of saying things

Just received a form email from British Airways, and their distinct phrasing caught my eye. Wouldn’t it be nice if USA organizations sent emails as straightforward (yet stylish) as this.

Dear JP,

You have previously confirmed you would like to receive information about the latest offers, products and services from British Airways.

We are currently carrying out some housekeeping on our database and we’d like to ensure you are still happy to receive this information.

If you wish to continue receiving communications from British Airways, you need do nothing further. If you no longer wish to hear from us, you can unsubscribe here

Yours sincerely,
Customer Services

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Michigan, School, Theatre, Traveling

Inspecting…

It’s good to be sitting in the dark here in the Hilberry Theatre instead of sitting in the quiet at my house while the acting company puts the finishing touches on our current production, Inspecting Carol, before it enjoys Opening Night and a (total) three week run beginning Friday night.

This is somewhat keeping me away from focusing on end of the semester writing assignments, but that’s clearly par for the course at this point. If anything, it is pleasing to note that the tail end of the semester seems to be delivering more focus for me than at other times so far during this academic year. Perhaps there is something to be said for working under pressure and deadlines in a collaborative environment.

Continuing with my recent theme of “focusing in on the minutiae” I’d like to note an odd, but fun experience while driving into work this morning. As opposed to the aggression of eight days ago, which I noted in a corresponding blog post, this time I was much more “go with the flow”, although I had decided that today would be my weekly stop at the Tim Horton’s on the way into work. (I’ve come to treat it as a game of sorts to not go there every day.)

Not long after departing the Tim Horton’s (which was having a clusterfuck parking lot moment, so I’d parked in the adjacent lot), I flipped radio channels to my semi-regular station 93.9 and the song I’d thought and hoped might be playing was right there on the station!

Of course, this is as much a commentary on the station’s possible lack of variety as it is to my own keen intuition – a Jedi Mind Trick of sorts – but it still was a nice coincidence.

Yesterday's sunset from the office window

Yesterday’s sunset from the office window

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Massachusetts, Traveling

End of this Road for now

Here we are at the end of this New England road trip and I’m attempting to write a post on my Smart phone for the first time in quite a while. Unfortunately it feels glitchy.

But it does feel good to have covered a large number of miles today, possibly my largest ever on a single day of traveling around in this part of the country.

And I think I do want to note an actual “wow” feeling that came at the end of the day when I reached my destination and fought back to realize how far of a distance had come since my start of the day.

crossing from Kittery ME into Portsmouth NH today

 
 

The inviting sands of crane beach (Ipswich, MA) today

 

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Massachusetts, Traveling

The Road Geek Returns

US 101

With a familiar highway in California

This week has seen a sudden return to my “old habits” of geeking out about road related matters, specifically road signs. I’d love to know when and where this attraction originated… but it’s been a fascination as long as I can remember, most notably with a long-running childhood project of drawing exit signs.

In this regard it’s exciting to live in Michigan, with its oh-so-slightly different standards of signage to the rest of the US – if anything, more close to European standards than you find elsewhere in this country. Some examples of this include the angular directional signs that are sometimes seen on highways going in different directions (one good example being here on the way into Ann Arbor) and a general penchant for smaller, angular signs that say what they need to say in a more compact orientation than one might find in another state. Finally, those same signs often don’t indicate the cardinal direction of the route, as I memorably captured in the photo below at an earlier point this year.

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BUT, all of this interest in signs somehow generated itself from growing up in Massachusetts, which has its own infamous system of highways that were designed one way and then went another, courtesy of the freeway revolts of the 1970’s and a (rightly) growing sentiment that the region shouldn’t be decimated by a ring of urban highways tearing apart neighborhoods.

The highway to my hometown in Massachusetts

The highway to my hometown in Massachusetts

So this renewed fascination has taken me onto a few highway forums, most notably this one, from which I learned that Massachusetts plans to belatedly convert all of its highway exits to mile-marker based, as opposed to sequential, over the next year or so.

I feel like there should be more to say about my home state catching up to the rest of the country in this regard. But … it’s all well and good. And I’ll believe it when I see it.

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Michigan, Movies, Theatre, Traveling

Blogging is an Art

One of my cousins started a blog. And it’s not simply a commentary blog, it’s a detailed personal blog about life in the Big Apple. I’m not sure I would want to do the same thing for life in Detroit and surroundings, but it does remind me of what I call “the old days” of blogging, first when a long update on life via LiveJournal – sometimes several times per week – was the norm, later in a more public blog off and on for a few years, then morphing into Twitter updates that continue through to this day, and finally embracing the increasingly verbose and visually sophisticated art of Facebook status updates, which now IMO are currently more about the art of the “share” from another source, and less about the actual written status of the friend.

All of which to say is that this blog was originally intended as a way to “go back” to the habit of a more detailed description of daily life, and since its creation in 2009, I’ve come back to that objective periodically. But recently, for one reason or another – starting with no internet in the place I lived over the summer, and then going into a new residence from there and choosing not to have internet – this blog has felt more distant. It’s time to correct that!

SO, this weekend I spent a good deal of time in Canada, which I generally like to do, since it is literally right down the street and there are many subtle, fun cultural differences in going just over the border. At some point I became aware that the artistic culture is different as well, and I also learned that the Canadian film culture is occasionally ahead of the game from its US counterparts, as in a film is released earlier or simply comes to the area but doesn’t come to southeastern Michigan. And this fact is the most apparent when the Windsor Film Festival rolls around for another year, as it did this past week.

On the final day yesterday, the festival director excitedly noted that 17,000 tickets were sold during the five day event, a new record for their offerings. Three of those tickets were from me for three distinct films.

45 years posterFirst up on Friday night was 45 Years, a buzz-building drama expected to be rolled out in the US around Christmas. Star Charlotte Rampling is also expected to factor in the end of year awards season conversation for her role in this film. She plays Kate, a retired schoolteacher living in rural Norfolk, England, with her husband, Geoff. The couple is mere days away from their 45th wedding anniversary as the film opens, and due to some health problems they experienced five years before, they’ve decided to host a large scale celebration this time. The drama gets going when Geoff receives an unexpected reminder of his past, and the narrative moves forward from there.

I notice that the synopsis sounds more like a mystery or horror film, and 45 Years very much treads in that realm at times during its 95 or so minute running time. A crucial choice made by director Andrew Haigh involves leaving many details to the viewer’s imagination and almost nothing spelled out in the narrative. That is something that I greatly approve of in film storytelling, and is yet all too rarely seen!

It’s not a surprise that Rampling (whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform onstage in 2004, sort-of met after the show, and owe my appreciation of her work to this Avengers episode) ably carries the film on her veteran shoulders. But it was refreshing to see her drop a certain steely demeanor she’s become known for IMO in some of her recent roles over the past 5-10 years – she was believable as a person who enjoys the more relaxed side of life, and life in retirement phase. But when her husband’s surprising news affects her as well, there are many questions and she conveys the lonely confusion and disarray that envelops the character’s life.

As for the other two films, I’ll have to do a separate entry.

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Traveling

Visits with Secret Agent Friends

Paying homage to The Avengers (at one of the series' primary filming locations) while back in London.

Paying homage to The Avengers (at one of the series’ primary filming locations) while back in London.

My recent visit back to England gave me some nostalgia over my original introductions to British culture, which came in the visual entertainment format of The Avengers television show and the James Bond film series. So I decided to re-visit some of their output during some downtime back here in the USA.

First up was the Avengers fourth season episode entitled A Surfeit of H20. This story comes right in the middle of the series’ best season, and it made me quite unsettled when I watched it in my younger years. It seems to take a more unique spin on the standard Avengers formula than the episodes surrounding it, with two particularly eccentric guest allies complimented by two particularly devious guest villains. As always, the story is anchored the inimitable Patrick Macnee as the suave John Steed and Diana Rigg as his stylish partner Emma Peel. As an aside, the episode’s plot gets summed up rather well via Tumblr.

In the modern era it is intriguing for me to look back (or rather look again) at many of the episodes which were frequent childhood/younger years viewing material for me. This had its ebbs and flows, coming first with the series showing regularly on the A&E network around 1990, and then a few years later on the Encore Networks “Mystery” channel from around 1995 to 97. The point is that I got to know the material very well.

But, of course, with the now-older personal perspective, the material seems … different. wittier. more classic as time goes on. Those feelings felt particularly evident in the case of this episode, which, as I mentioned, spooked me when I was younger with its atmospheric black and white sequences, but now more amused me. At the same time it stands as a hallmark of the series’ black and white filmed era, with a tight attention to detail, location filming, and carefully chosen guest stars.

Avengers DVD setNext up was a look at one of the color episodes of the Emma Peel era, Something Nasty in the Nursery. This is another one that I remember particularly enjoying when I was younger, but somewhat neglecting in the years since.

The story takes a more pedestrian slant than most of the earlier tales in the series, but it’s indicative of the general campier and goofier direction of the series at this point in the production history. Steed and Mrs. Peel are tasked with discovering why top secret “hush hush” secrets are (again) leaking from higher-up government operatives. Turns our that the men in question had (conveniently) all been disciples of one Nanny Roberts, who later oversaw development of “GONN”, the Guild of Noble Nannies, a seemingly well-mannered finishing school for ladies in training. But it turns out that the current leaders of GONN, a Mr. Goat and Miss Lester, have other plans.

This episode lacks the memorable style and depth of some other installments, and has a number of continuity errors (or simply bad edits) that detract from its appeal. A side plot involving an ultra upper class toy shop is more intriguing than the primary plot. But the story continues to show the series’ careful, deliberate and tasteful attention to style – especially in the color era – with vibrant hues bouncing off the screen and distinctive characterizations that live up to what writer Rodney Marshall calls the “subversive champagne” of the series, where dramatic layers are presented subtly with a slightly humorous edge.

Finally, my re-viewing extended to a pair of James Bond films made thirty years apart – Casino Royale and The Spy Who Loved Me. But I will save those thoughts for another post.

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Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, Movies, Theatre, Traveling

The Star Gatekeepers of Martha’s Vineyard are fading into the Menemsha Sunset

The recent death of Mike Nichols, well-chronicled in various newspapers, but most notably to me in a Vineyard Gazette article, reinforces a feeling I’ve had over the last few years.

Martha’s Vineyard’s celebrity gatekeepers – those who come to the island and value their privacy, aren’t intruded upon, but are also willing to stand up for community causes and events when they choose – are disappearing. In his passing on, Nichols joins Art Buchwald, William Styron, Mike Wallace, Katherine Graham, Walter Cronkite, Patricia Neal and others of the literati/glitterati set who were known for their visiting/residing and support of the Island.

To me as a lifelong part-time Island resident/visitor, these were all people who appreciated what the Vineyard has to offer. More importantly for the locals, they weren’t shy about using their cache to improve the life and resources of those who are there on the Island full – time, which was and is perhaps best seen in the long-running Possible Dreams Auction for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.

But who will take their place? Others remain, with Carly Simon perhaps seen as the primary standard bearer.

But there aren’t really many people my age, or a little older than me, who are taking up the mantlepiece as the celebrity statesman. I don’t know if that’s a pro or con for an island that values its own individual community. But I do know that it’s a change that will continue to be subtly felt.

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