Bienvenido a Miami 1: We Love Our Horns! (Fri)

With the appropriate soundtrack, of course: Will Smith, Miami

Who in January would not opt for a little sun and sand to take the winter blues away? For such an excursion, little to no excuse is needed. But my wife and I have one, and will for all time, as our wedding anniversary is on the 27th of this month. So I booked the flight and hotel some 83 days prior and waited with anticipation, and mounting dread as our government went through its perturbations, to set off for the deliciously warm locale of Miami, Florida.

Friday, 1/25

2:30 Am rolls in, and as a kid would on Christmas, I finally give up on sleep and head to my writing and reading room that we call a “man cave” to make time go a little more quickly. At 4:30, after a final check of baggage to ensure that I am bringing everything along that I wanted, I book the Lyft ride and we head over to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU).

We sail through security with relative ease, being helped by workers in order to speed things up a bit. I keep beeping as I am forced to disassemble my electronic assemblage and my new belt with its big shiny buckle. That done, we grab the overpriced bottles of water past the checkpoint, because they know they can get you as you aren’t able to bring water through, and sit at our gate to await a 7:04 AM departure.

No other issues occur, and we board and take our seats only three rows up from the restroom. American Airlines charges extra for every row beyond 21, so I end up taking those far back seats. They also have very little legroom, as compared to our usual experience aboard JetBlue. The flight does touch down in Miami on time though, so I guess I can give them credit for that.

As we scurry through the relatively larger airport, I call for an Uber and there is some confusion as we discover that we need to be in arrivals and are in departures. The driver kindly waits the 7 minutes or so it takes us to make our way through the elevator and outside, we throw our things in back, and settle in for the long ride to Miami Beach. At least it is longer than it probably has to be as he opts to take a street-level route instead of the highway. She says we pass through a dilapidated section of the city with interesting graffiti that she decides not to comment on. Then we bounce onto the Bay Causeway and finally arrive at our destination, the M Boutique Hotel.

I am initially alarmed, because there is a gate into which we must enter a code and no one answers the phone when I call inside for assistance. The email had given me this code, but it had also stated that we would not need it until 3 PM. As far as I can tell, the code remains active at all times. Once I recited it to her though, she was able to successfully enter it into the keypad.

We enter a small, clean-smelling lobby where a French-speaking receptionist awaits. This is the first clue to the unusual atmosphere we are about to encounter. There are only 11 rooms in the entire building; 5 on the lower floor and 6 on the upper. Inside of the room, the sink has a faucet that is strangely canted and drains into a bowl placed in a metal frame. The shower comes straight down like rain. The room itself only contains two stools for sitting at the kitchenette table, but the bed is one of the more comfortable I’ve experienced at a hotel. As she says though, this is a room for couples, definitely not a business-type establishment. I love it’s location within easy walking distance of the beach, bus line, and several restaurants.

Once inside of the building at 11 or so, we are told that we will not be able to check in until 1. So we drop our luggage and head over to the nearby IHOP, reasoning that eating breakfast at a chain is ok as it’s well, breakfast. As we walk along the streets, the origin of my subject line becomes unavoidable: those folks honk at any and everything without provocation! Their leaning on the horn was at least on par with, if not exceeding, that I experienced when visiting Manhattan. It must be a pastime, an ingrained part of the culture.

The restaurant is absolutely packed, as it will be for the majority of our trip. Today I settle on a build-your-own-omelette with sausage and American cheese, and some hash brown. The orange juice is a bit pulpy, but tolerable, I guess.

After filling our bellies, we still have a little time to kill so we make our way down to the water. We quickly discover that there is nowhere to walk along the shore without falling in, as the sand slopes down to the sea. So we plop right in that sand and enjoy the stiff breeze and abundant sunshine. She says the water is a blue-green there, more beautiful than she has ever seen. I note how the waves sound a lot gentler, as if someone is flinging the water around. It’s as I’ve heard when listening to anything that takes place in the tropics. So pleasant and relaxing.

And speaking of relaxing, we are finally given access to our room where we crash on the bed for a couple blissful hours. Half of a vacation is enjoying the ability to sleep at will anyway, right. As I slip under, I can’t help but marvel at how incredibly different this feels, very much as if I have traveled to another country and not just a new American city.

Once we resurface shortly before 5, we determine that it is time for dinner. For this, we head to our pre-selected choice of Las Vegas Cuban cuisine. I select Pollo de Milanesa, a delicious chicken filet topped with Spanish Marinara sauce, ham, and melted mozzarella. Fries on the side, but a Cuban pineapple beverage that we both like. She has a fish platter of unknown type that she also enjoys. We hav the restaurant nearly to ourselves, though there is a steady stream of people picking up to-go orders. We surmise that Miami must be more attuned to a later eating schedule, which is fine because it creates the kind of quiet atmosphere we most favor.

We wrap up the day by venturing into their Publix, a grocery store and liquor store in one. The groceries are accessed on the second floor so we take an elevator up, a fairly unusual concept. She says that if you have a lot of items in your art and don’t wish to wheel them onto the elevator, there is an escalator that will take them down below for you to grab when you arrive. We only get a few snacks and more water.

And that wraps up the first day. Clearly, this expansive trip will take at least a couple more entries for me to get it all in. More soon.

A Little More of the Juice: My Acquisition of the Apple Watch Series 4

I must admit when first I heard of Apple developing a watch, I wondered what good it could do me. Attached to the iPhone? Most of what one would do with it run basically by the larger device? And running one a few hundred dollars? Probably little more than a fashion item.

And from what I hear of the first two series of these items at least, they were basically that. Someone let me try his watch once, and I found I could barely hear VoiceOver (the talking software included on nearly all modern Apple devices) and what I perceived sounded scratchy at best. So I had no pressing desire to invest in this product.

But times change. Get it? Time? A watch? I know I know, that’s bad. And given that my cell phone company allows me to get one and attach payments to my bill, paying it off over time, I finally decided that the time was right. What! I can do that if I want.

So shortly after the new year began, I put in my order. On taking it out of the box and attaching its sport band, I was immediately underwhelmed by this accessory until, at least I think, I finally figured out how one is to wear it. Now it’s a lot more comfortable and no longer gets in my way as I conduct daily tasks and move around at work.

With the watch itself, I was pretty tempted to send it back after that bumpy first day. I couldn’t figure out how to get it to stop telling me time at wrong intervals (had to turn off the annoying raise-to-wake feature), and I initially struggled with the concept of setting everything via the iPhone.

I also had a hard time, and kind of still do really, getting it to reliably vibrate to tell me time instead of talking. One of the primary reasons I opted for this thing is so that I might check time during the night without having to put in my aids, tap the iPhone’s home button, and hope that it doesn’t speak so loudly that it wakes my wife up. Not being able to easily check the time actually makes the night feel a lot longer, and having to go through too many exercises to do so wakes me up to the point that sleep can not be easily re-obtained. Anyway on making the watch vibrate, I’ve discovered that I can get it to more consistently do so if I double tap it with some aggression, rather than sort of soft tapping. I wish they hadn’t used the double tap gesture as one’s means of activating this feature, since it is also commonly used to work with VoiceOver.

That minor flaw aside, I have come to like the watch in the end. This is because of its many health-related features. For example, it gives me percentages on my move, stand, and exercise goals throughout the day, easily allowing me to see when I need to be more active. It also tells me to “stand” at 10 minutes to every hour. My wife and I joke that this would be more effective if paired with a mild electric shock. Oh yeah! I’m standing up now.

The watch also has a pretty cool app called, boringly perhaps, “Breathe” that prompts you to breathe in and out in tune with taps on your wrist and measure the effect it has on your heart rate, as a proxy for relaxation. I’ve found this to be particularly useful to deploy at work, as I can do so relatively silently when between assignments, and it helps me feel a lot less stressed. I’m hoping that will prove good for my blood pressure in the long run as well.

Those are just some of the practical ways I have found the watch to be beneficial to me. It also helps me when reserving Uber/Lyft rides, as I no longer have to hold the phone or extract it to see notifications on the status of my ride, making it possible to schedule them as I sprint out of my workplace and get into position. I also like the easy weather-check feature on the Nike Watch face, as well as the fact that I can actually check email and other incoming notifications considerably faster with it than I can on the phone. Finally, it’s just easier to check the time either with the “aggressive” double tap method already mentioned, or a single tap to the face to have the hours and minutes (with seconds in the Classic watch face which can really be pretty cool) spoken.

No this thing isn’t perfect, but from what I have seen the Series 4 is a lot better than any other version thus far. And I got the one with the 44MM screen; I don’t know if that really makes a difference but the VoiceOver sound, while not very loud, is a lot clearer and generally discernible for me in quieter settings. I know about and definitely considered some of the blindness-specific smart watch solutions, but am finding that the Apple Watch actually works fairly well for me. Especially if you can get it via your phone company, I would recommend it.

What I Read In 2018: A Review

Yes, I know we’re already nearly 3 weeks into 2019, but finding the energy to sort through my previous year’s book choices had thus far eluded me. Why is this? In short because I consumed more content on this go-round than ever before, putting in a crazy cram session at the end to complete 60 books for the first time. How some of you reach 70, 100, and beyond will probably always remain a mystery to me, as I was pretty sapped after just those. I guess it’s because of the way I tend to read, being more of a savorer than a speedster. But to each his or her own, as long as the books bring enjoyment.

And I can say I still found a lot of that in my selections. All told, I read 50 works of fiction, including 18 contemporary, six historical, twelve psychological, and fourteen sci-fi/fantasy. I also took in ten nonfiction books: five of them to do with travel and five memoirs. The latter category has become more interesting to me lately, as many tend to narrate their own these days. And speaking of narration, 43 off my reads were as audiobooks, which I would surmise is also a record.

With that breakdown in mind, I thought I would give you my top five works of fiction and my top three nonfiction pieces. I’ve been trying to read more of the last, but I guess I still tend to lean toward escaping reality when possible.

Wings Unseen, Becca Gomez Farrell

My first book of 2018, I particularly liked this by an author who had met me via Twitter a few years ago after having promoted my blog to someone else. It’s an epic fantasy adventure full of travel, royalty, tests of loyalty, and a fight against some rather scary-sounding insects. The depth of description in her cities was something I’ve rarely encountered, and truly made the story come to life.

Alone, Brett Archibald

This is a story about a guy who fell overboard into the Indian Ocean after becoming ill on bad food and tossing it into the sea. He was forced to survive in the waves with frightening sea life for almost a month, losing nearly all of his weight in the process. It documents the beginning of this process, tales from his friends as they related them to him later, and other things. I think I finished it in three days.

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Ok this one made everyone’s list I’m sure. Another fantasy, it takes place in a Nigeria-like country and involves magic, a gladiator-style battle, treks through the wild with mysterious animals, and royalty dethroned. I wasn’t sure if I would like this one, but was hooked as soon as I started; being so unable to sleep in anticipation of reading more tat I got up around 2 on a workday to complete it.

The Story of Arthur Truluv, Elizabeth Berg

A quiet story, this work spoke to the peace of growing old with someone, and the challenge of accepting that person’s passing. Arthur, in an unnamed but large urban area, still hops on the bus to visit his wife’s grave and have lunch with her every day, in all kinds of weather. He befriends a lonely teen, and along with some of the other elderly neighborhood residents helps her turn her life around. Read by Berg herself, it is at times humorous and slightly sad. But I was touched.

Ruthless River, Holly Fitzgerald

Similar to alone but different, Fitzgerald writes about she and her husband eating lost after an ill-conceived rafting trip down an Amazon tributary, the Rio Madre de Dios. Their honeymoon across South America was supposed to come to a spectacular end, but it almost cost them their lives as they were forced into a tight spot from which the raft could not be moved by an unexpected thunderstorm. Food nearly ran out as well as hope, until… well you’ll just have to read. I don’t know why I just have a thing for these kinds of stories, but they definitely made up a significant chunk of last year’s reading.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree, Ingrid Rojas Contreras

A slightly compressed history of Columbia’s dark days in the late 90’s and early 00’s, as seen through the Santiagos, a rich family in Bogota, and the the Sanchez’s, a family that produced Petrona, one of the Santiagos’ cleaners. We see the rise of Pablo Escobar and what he did to his opponents, as well as the events that led many to become refugees at the height of militant groups like the FARC. This is a good read for anyone who wishes to understand why so many in that part of the world are scrambling to try and enter the US, and is thus a good contemporary consumption as well.

This Burns My Heart, Samuel parker

Another that sheds light on a different culture, this book takes place in Korea a few years after the Korean War. A young woman there, Soo-ja, struggles to deal with a marriage that was largely forced upon her and cope with lost dreams. We see this within the context of Korea itself as its identity)ies) were shaped by forced within and without. It was also vivid, giving a real sense of what it felt like to walk the streets of large city and small town alike in the mid to late Sixties over there.

Educated, Tara Westover

Another that nearly everyone read, my wife and I enjoyed sharing this, as well as something like four others over the course of that year. And this title in particular gave lots to talk about. Westover explores what her life was like in rural, deeply devout Mormon Idaho; living largely off the educational and cultural grid of the U.S. Estrangements from violent family members, entry into and excelling in the college system, and learning to cope in the wider world made up the story’s breadth. On the whole I found it enjoyable, if disturbing.

And that’s a relatively small subset of what I read. I think it gives a fairly accurate sense of the diversity of titles I navigated. If you want to see my full list as it unfurls, as was the case last year, follow me on Twitter and watch for my book tweets in which I state the book number, tag the author if he or she is on there, and give a short description of the book’s contents. I really need to do more writing in 2019, but till then, here’s to plenty of happy reading in all of our futures!