The book I’ve been waiting several years for is here!


With great anticipation I’ve awaited the next book in a series of imaginative fantasy-science fiction books set in England. You’re probably thinking I’m talking about Harry Potter, but you’re wrong. Today I’m celebrating the US release date of Jasper Fforde’s First Among Sequels. This book is the fifth installment in the Thursday Next series.

If you haven’t heard of Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next, check out the previous four books (from your local public library or purchase at an independent book store of course): The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, and Something Rotten. The books defy categorization into any one genre although science fiction works since all the books are set in an alternate universe and mystery works as well since Thursday Next is a detective in SpecOps 27 who investigate literary crimes. In the Nextian universe, the populace is obsessed with literature and the greatest delight of these books is that they’re full of literary references and puns.

Jasper Fforde reads from First Among Sequels at Brookline Booksmith on Thursday July 26th. I plan to be there and that’s when I’ll pick up my copy of the book. Once I’ve finished I’ll post a review here (if I ever catch up with my book and movie review backlog).

And yes, I am reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows right now.

Trip to Southern California: Los Angeles


After arriving at Union Station, I found a display of all the Los Angeles bus schedules in the Gateway Center. I find it hard to believe that I’m holding up Los Angeles public transportation as exemplary, but other cities could benefit from having full collections of bus schedules and maps available in public places. I took the ones I needed and then boarded the sleek Red Line Metro train to Hollywood. Like Munich, the Los Angeles Metro (not to mention the trolley in San Diego) requires purchasing a ticket, but there are none of those pesky turnstiles. It’s kind of a honor system (although once while I was on the San Diego trolley officers came around to check tickets) and once again Los Angeles is ahead of the curve on public transportation. Too bad nobody uses it.

View all my photos from Southern California.

I checked into my lodgings at Orange Manor Drive Hostel and did a little necessary shopping before taking the Metro back to downtown Los Angeles. I liked downtown LA because it actually felt like a city and one that seems to have been frozen in time around 1960, albeit buzzing with the commercial activity of the local Hispanic population. I followed a walking tour of Historic Downtown from my Lonely Planet guidebook. Along the way I saw Los Angeles City Hall star of film & tv, the Bradbury Building with it’s spiffy interiors used in Blade Runner, the Grand Central Market, several abandoned theaters, the Art Deco Oviatt Building and Pershing Square. Across from the park stands the Millennium Biltmore Hotel which my guidebook claimed was the location of JFK’s nomination in 1960, so I wandered the ornate interiors wondering where the convention took place. Later I read that the convention took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena so that guide book author was speaking out of the butt. I was much more pleased with the Los Angeles Public Library across the street and raced around its labyrinthine interiors. Back outside I climbed the Bunker Hill Steps and strolled down Grand Street past the Gehry-ific Walt Disney Concert Hall.

There was more to the tour, but I was running out of time. So I did something that maybe no one has ever done in history: I walked to Dodger Stadium. The walk wasn’t bad through the scruffy neighborhood of Echo Park and across the sea of asphalt ringing the ballpark. Dodger Stadium isn’t so bad it’s definitely a relic of the early 60’s much like downtown LA. It’s kind of neat that it’s built in a ravine so that the upper deck entrance is at ground level. It was kind of annoying to walk down so many steps to try to find the entrance to the pavilion seating. The interior has the advantages of bleacher seating in the outfield (which I think should be mandatory at all ballparks) and open concourses so you can still watch the game while at the concession stand. Other than that, I really don’t see how it’s so different from Shea Stadium and why people make such a big deal about it. It certainly could be better served by public transit. For more on the ball game, visit my Mets Week in Review post.

The next morning I took a couple of buses out to Santa Monica. I wanted to visit the famous Santa Monica Pier and walk along the “boardwalk” to Venice Beach. Unfortunately, the pier was rather anticlimactic and I had forgotten that I really don’t like the beach. But I did do the walk feeling dehydrated and drained by the the unrelenting California sun. I got to Venice, was not to impressed and then had to take a bus back to Santa Monica. I did like the city of Santa Monica at least, and had a pint Ye Olde King’s Head.

I boarded a Rapidbus (it’s really called that) for downtown LA and endured a hot, sunny, endless slog across the endless series of strip malls, concrete, and palm trees. If I lived in LA, I would hate riding the bus too. But I finally made it downtown and completed my walking tour visiting the monumental historic section of Union Station, strolled the marketplace at El Pueblo De Los Angeles, and visited the magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels. The last stop was definitely a highlight of my visit to Los Angeles with it’s modern architecture, diffuse sunlight, and unique religious iconography. After visiting one cathedral I returned to a cathedral of baseball for another night of the Mets upsetting their hosts.

On my final day in Southern California I visited the Getty Museum. I decided to avoid another long bus ride by taking the Metro Red Line to the Metro Orange Line to Van Nuys and catch a bus to the Getty Center from there. They fooled me! Like the Silver Line in Boston, the Orange Line is just a big bus, but at least it runs on its own road (adjacent to bike paths) so it moved quickly and smoothly. Not a bad idea actually. The Getty is a magnificent work of art in it’s own right. I started with a garden tour learning that the architect intended the plantings to be his palette and thus the colors are changed with different plantings throughout the year. I also learned that the gardening is rather fussy, such as removing every other leaf on the trees to create a dappled effect. After the tour I wandered through the galleries which contain some magnificent art. The museum is a chameleon adapting to becoming an traditional gallery for older works and a starker room for newer works. Really the architecture and gardens overshadow everything.

To finish off my LA visit I went to Mass at St. Paul the Apostle in Westwood and met up with a priest I know from when he once served in Boston, Fr. John (who presided at my wedding among other things). He generously invited me to eat dinner with the other priests and then drove me to the airport! From there I flew home overnight and didn’t sleep well at all.

It’s funny to come home and discover this travel article in The Guardian about the unthinkable: Walking in LA!

Walk. Don’t walk

Most people only walk in LA if there’s a red carpet involved. Yet downtown it’s a different story – as Dea Birkett discovers when ditches her Chevy and hits the streets. Guardian Unlimited. Tuesday July 24 2007

I guess I’m a trend setter.

Trip to Southern California: San Diego


I returned to Southern California after a 27-year absence in order to add to my collection of ballparks and see the New York Mets play in San Diego and Los Angeles. I visited Los Angeles when I was six years old. This was my first visit to San Diego.

View all of my photographs from Southern California.

I flew to San Diego by way of Cincinnati. The last leg of the flight passed over desert, including Death Valley. Being a Northeastern boy this is the closest I’ve ever been to a desert. As we approached Lindbergh Field, the plane flew low over the city of San Diego. I caught the swift 992 bus downtown and dropped my bags at my hotel, 500 West.

After grabbing a sandwich, I boarded the Blue Line trolley to the border: Tijuana. I was surprised that the city and the suburbs extended all the way to Mexico. In fact near San Ysidro I saw dense urban settlement on the distant mountains only to realize later that it was Tijuana itself. Both countries are built up to the border with no frontier between them.

Crossing the border is rather humorous as all about are signs that say things like “Left Lane for Mexico,” “U Turn For US,” and “To Mexico and Parking Garage.” I followed that last sign where a long line of pedestrians entered a fugly building of corduroy concrete that straddles the highway crossing the border. I walked up a long twisty ramp, crossed the highway, came down a twisted ramp on the other side, passed through a revolving gate and voila! I was in Mexico. On the southern side of the border I was greeted with a concrete plaza surrounded by concrete buildings that resembled parking structures. These buildings contained shops selling prescription drugs without prescriptions and lots of tourist tchotchkes. More carts staffed by aggressive vendors and cute children lined a ramp up to the bridge crossing the dry Rio Tijuana. At last I made it to the main tourist zone in the Avenida Revolución. Here were more aggressive vendors for me to shake off, Mexican zebras (sad donkeys with stripes painted on them), shady bars and “erotic dance” locales. It was all overwhelming. Even when I walked over to the less tawdry shopping district for the locals, I felt so crowded that I could not even stop to look at my map.

My guidebook recommended visiting the more upscale Zona Río so after getting my bearings I walked over that way by way of a desolate warehouse and auto parts district. At least I was away from the crowds. Avenida Paseo de los Héroes is relatively more elegant than La Revo but it is merely a palm tree lined boulevard of strip malls and office buildings similar to many a suburb in Southern California. Unlike the tourist area, the locals were business people chatting on the sidewalks during lunch break. Tijuana is actually one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico which is all relative based on the decrepitude and poverty I’d seen overall.

 

I found myself evaluating why had I come to Tijuana in the first place. Basically I wanted the novelty of crossing the border by foot and then wandering around to see what’s here. With that in mind I chilled out a bit. Finding nothing of interest open on Avenida Paseo de los Héroes I decided to return to the La Revo area to visit the cathedral and then return across the border. Having had time to acclimate I found it much more entertaining to wander around on the second visit. I stopped in the busy cathedral — a dark, cool, glistening place on a hot day — and then bought some postcards. Before crossing the Rio Tijuana I stopped at a sidewalk bar and had a bottle of Pacifico beer. I was liking Tijuana a little better. Perhaps if I came with my buddies when I was 19. Of course I didn’t have buddies like that when I was 19.

Crossing the highway on the Mexican side I felt rather smug looking at all the cars backed up at the border crossing (where they had a last chance to buy tchotchkes from vendors on the side of the road). Then I saw the line of pedestrians waiting to get into the United States. For the busiest border crossing in the world the twenty minute wait wasn’t so bad.

I took the trolley back to San Diego, checked into my hotel, and grabbed supper and beer at Karl Strauss Brewing Company (which feels like the Boston Beer Works with different signs). Then I walked to Petco Park. The ballpark is located right in the revitalized downtown area and has nice local touches such as sand-colored walls and palm trees. Most famously the Western Metal Supply Co. building is incorporated into the stadium and from the exterior it looks like just another old building fronting the street. Beyond center field there are bleachers with a beach for kids to play at and even beyond that a grassy knoll where people can watch the game or look at the stars. There’s also a wiffle-ball park where a tired looking Padres employee pitches and dozens of children attempt to field. It’s a very walkable park with open concourses and for the first night I spent a lot of time walking around seeing the game from different angles (and no one stopped me nor made me feel like I shouldn’t be there). You may read about the game itself in my Mets week in review post.

Post-game I walked through the Gaslamp Quarter which seems to be mostly restaurants and hotels with the bars being on the chi-chi side. With nowhere else to wet my whistle I settled on Ghiradelli’s for a chocolate malt.

Day 2 in San Diego began with a trip to the San Diego Zoo. I love zoos and I’ve heard great things about San Diego since I was a kid. The staff tried to sell me the full package which includes the bus tour around the park but I preferred to walk so I purchased the cheaper admission. Inside it seemed at first that many of the roads were dedicated solely to the double-decker safari buses and like Southern California cities, pedestrians were marginalized to a narrow sidewalk. Then I discovered the central part of the zoo where there are paths going up hills, down ravines, and over exhibits on skywalks in a way that was not only great to see the animals but just a wonderful landscaping design overall. Best yet no motor vehicles could get into this part of the zoo at all. I saw many animals I’d never seen before at other zoos such as koalas, pandas, and meerkats and so old favorites like polar bears, gorillas (and boyillas), and big snakes. I really enjoyed this zoo.

Continuing through Balboa Park I was sorely tempted to visit the San Diego Museum of Art and San Diego Model Railroad Museum but I decided I needed to keep my time and money budgeted. I did pay a quick visit to the Botanical Building and the small art collection in the Timken Museum. Then I walked across the western part of the park where planes fly very low en roue to the airport. I continued my walk into Little Italy where I visited the small Our Lady of the Rosary church and admired the paintings on the ceiling. Then I had supper at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto where chianti bottles hang from the rafters. The food was good and the chianti divine.

After working out at the YMCA attached to my hotel, I attended another Mets-Padres game at Petco Park, walked down a different street of the Gaslamp District, and visited the Princess Pub in Little Italy that sadly had no cask-conditioned ales on tap. The next morning I had plans to stroll along the waterfront, exercise the Y, update my blog at the web cafe, and eat breakfast. I fell back to sleep and the maid service awoke me at 9 am so I only had time for the latter eating at the Grand Central Cafe in the hotel. Then I went to the spiff mission style Santa Fe Depot and bought my Amtrak Pacific Surfliner ticket for Los Angeles. The clean, smooth double-decker train hugged the coast for much of the trip and made stops at places like San Juan de Capistrano and Angels Stadium in Anaheim. Had I known this ahead of time (and the Angels were playing at home this week) I would have incorporated those two stops into my itinerary. Good to know for future reference that they are accessible for the car-free traveler.

Mets Week in Review: 16-22 July


The Mets week in review is much like my week in review as I traveled to see the Mets play in San Diego and Los Angeles. The 7-game Southern California swing was a test of the Mets who in the 6 weeks prior to the All Star break played very poorly. Winning three of four against the bottom-feeding Reds was not the evidence I needed to prove that the Mets were turning things around. Since San Diego and Los Angeles are two of the top teams in the National League and since historically the Mets struggle on the West Coast, these seven games would be indicative of whether the Mets are contenders or pretenders.

And the verdict is??? Good. The Mets won four games, a decent showing overall. They lost the series to the Padres but ironically it was in their loss to the Padres in the rubber game of that series that proved to me that they’ve regained their fighting spirit by rallying to tie the game in the 8th inning. That revitalized spirit carried into Los Angeles where they won 3 of 4 from the Dodgers and continues at Shea where they’re now playing the (admittedly bad) Pirates.

Before reviewing the game, let’s review where I’ve seen the Mets (and other ball clubs) play in my baseball travels. It should go without saying, but I’ve obviously seen the Mets play countless home games at Shea Stadium as well as numerous Red Sox games at Fenway Park and I won’t enumerate each of those games here. Games not involving the Mets are in italics.

1985: Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium (I recall attending at least two other games at Yankees Stadium earlier in my childhood)

1997: vs. Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards

1998: vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park (this was a road trip for me at the time)

1998: vs. Philadelphia Phillies at Veteran’s Stadium

1999: vs. Montreal Expos at Stade Olympique

1999: Chicago White Sox vs. Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium

1999: vs. Philadelphia Phillies at Veteran’s Stadium

2000: vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park

2001: Montreal Expos vs. San Francisco Giants at Pacific Bell Park

2001: vs. San Francisco Giants at Pacific Bell Park

2004: vs. Chicago Cubs (3 games) at Wrigley Field

2004: Tampa Bay Devil Rays vs. Chicago White Sox at New Comiskey Park

2004: vs. Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park

2005: vs. Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium

2006: vs. Milwaukee Brewers (2 games) at Miller Park

2006: vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park

2006: Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium

2007: vs. San Diego Padres at PETCO Park

2007: vs. Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium

In total I’ve been to games at 12 active ballparks and 3 former ballparks seeing the Mets play in 12 of the 15.

16 July
Mets 1, Padres 5

An ugly start to the road trip that didn’t make me feel like getting up for the 6 am flight to San Diego the next morning. The Mets played lethargically and seemed to revert to their miserable June ways. The only highlight is that Jorge Sosa returned from the DL and threw a decent game and wasn’t too shabby at the plate either. The other highlight was that I wasn’t here to see this dismal game in person.

Players of the game (I award up to ten points, maximum of 6 points to one player, distributed among the Mets players who had the biggest impact in the game):

Feliciano .50
Gotay .50
Loduca .50
Reyes 1
Schoeneweis .5
Sosa 5
Wright 2

17 July
Mets 7, Padres 0

My first game at a Petco Park and it was a good one. Orlando Hernandez pulled out one of those gems he sometimes throws with seven shutout innings AND he followed Sosa’s lead with a good day at the plate and even stole a base! Better yet, the Mets offense came alive led by Carlos Delgado, Jose Valentin, and Paul LoDuca. I had a good time watching the Mets play good baseball.

Beltran 1
Delgado 1.5
Hernandez 3.5
LoDuca 1.5
Valentin 2

18 July
Mets 4, Padres 5

For six innings it looked like the Mets had reverted to their sluggish play of Monday night getting nothing going versus Greg Maddux. But then the team rallied in the 7th & 8th innings, capped by David Wright’s three-run homer which tied the game at 4 runs apiece. Unfortunately, the Padres were able to rally back off an unusually sloppy Joe Smith in the 8th inning. I have to admit that even though it meant watching my team lose that I enjoyed the vibe of Trevor Hoffman’s heavy metal entrance and the Padres’ fans cheering him to another win. The funniest part of the game is that Scott Linebrink, who surrendered Wright’s game-tying home run, was booed mercilessly as he departed the field at the end of the 8th inning. Yet he was the pitcher of record when the Padres regained the lead and thus got a win for his poor efforts. Baseball rules are delightfully weird.

Despite the loss, the Mets rally made me feel more positive about this team than I have in quite some time.

Delgado 2.5
Feliciano .5
LoDuca .5
Maine 2
Schoeneweis 1
Valentin 1.5
Wright 2

19 July
Mets 13, Dodgers 9

I love a pitchers duel. With future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine and former Red Sox postseason hero Derek Lowe taking the mound in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, one would expect to see few runs scored. One would be wrong. This was an ugly, sloppy, messy and far too long game. Yes the Mets won, and it’s certainly good to see the offense on fire, but as a baseball purist, I just have to say yuck!

Anderson 1
Beltran 1
Castro 2
Delgado 1.5
Gotay 1.5
Green .5
Reyes 1
Sele 1.5

20 July
Mets 4, Dodgers 1

This is more like it. The wonderful Oliver Perez was a master on the mound. Carlos Beltran slugged a 2-run homer to help put the Mets ahead for good. Even the Dodgers run came via a home run by old friend Nomar Garciaparra, and I can’t deny him that.

Anderson 1
Beltran 2.5
Perez 3
Reyes 1.5
Valentin .5
Wagner .5
Wright 1

21 July
Mets 6, Dodgers 8

I was busy visiting the Getty Center and going to church so I missed the Mets only loss in the series versus the Dodgers. From what I read the offense is still on fire and got the Mets off to an early lead, but shoddy pitching and fielding couldn’t hold it. There are worse ways to lose and the sting doesn’t hurt so much if the team rebounds and wins in dramatic fashion in the very next game.

Beltran 3.5
Castro .5
Delgado .5
Milledge .5
Mota 1
Sosa .5
Wright 3

22 July
Mets 5, Dodgers 4 (10 inn.)

I missed this game too since sleeping off my redeye flight took precedence. It sounds like a good one though, perhaps one of the classic games of the season. It’s already being called the Chip Ambres game since the player called up only to play a handful of games delivered a 2-out single to drive in the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th.

Ambres 1
Feliciano .5
Heilman 1.5
OHernandez 1.5
Milledge 1.5
Reyes 3
Wright 1