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January 22, 2021 — Aloha ‘Oe: A Hawaiian Hiatus
Happy new year, everyone! I bravely took a break from life and visited the island of Oahu for a remarkable week in gorgeous, warm paradise. Read on to hear all about it!
As you’ll remember, in 2020 I produced 125 virtual performances between my FB Live shows, the showcases, the talk show, the song cycle and the virtual readings. That’s a lot of content to put out in 10 months! I was completely burned out. So, when one of the 224 virtual performers invited me to visit her in Honolulu, how could I say no? Hawaii began allowing tourists with a negative co-vid test in October, and so I decided to purchase tickets for January, after the holidays when travel dies down. Hawaiian Airlines had amazing deals and promised many safety protocols. Those combined with the fact people couldn’t even board the flight without a negative test, made me decide to take the risk. Hawaii itself, of course, has on average fewer new daily cases than Hell’s Kitchen, and since the weather is gorgeous and warm the entire year long, most things in Honolulu are either outside or missing a fourth wall. Not to mention they have a $5,000 fine if you’re not wearing a mask, so I felt very safe. Indeed, I saw 100% mask compliance inside and 99.9% compliance outside when within 6 feet of a person, besides a few tourists in Waikiki (one wearing a Reagan/Bush shirt – and I tried to get a cop to fine him, but we couldn’t find him so he wasn’t fined).
It took me a few days to upload my 1,028 pictures to the Facebook. Facebook has made it really hard to use on a desktop, and they don’t particularly seem to want you to put up over 200 photos in an album. Indeed, I have heard that some people have had trouble seeing all the photos on their phones, so I highly encourage you to get out your computers, and check them out because they are EPIC! I took fewer photos on my last European trip which was almost twice as long. That just shows you that Hawaii is exotic and quixotic, and unlike me not neurotic! But seriously, the photos are amazing, and you should go look. I will send photo highlights to those non-FB users on my list, but you will seriously be missing out because Hawaii is breathtaking!
The most stressful part of the trip was getting a negative co-vid test within the 72 hours before boarding that was given by a Trusted Partner of Hawaii. There are countless free tests in NYC, but unfortunately, Hawaii’s list of accepted tests is very short for the East Coast. There were 2 viable options (because any other clinic they listed said they couldn’t guarantee 72 hours): a mail in test from Vault and the rapid XPressCheck test at JFK. Obviously, the mail in one was cheaper, so I ended up doing that, but UPS lost my package! They sent it to the wrong hub in NJ, and even though they got the package to the lab 7am the day before my trip, the lab didn’t scan it in till 3pm. I was told it was likely I’d have a result in 12 hours, but could take 24. With my flight at 10am, and the plan to get up at 7am, there wasn’t really much extra time for me to confirm I had the test, then upload it to my Hawaiian Safety app. They are really big on QR codes in Hawaii, by the way. Anyway, i did end up getting the result at 3am, but I was sleeping. I got a full refund from Vault, and I went to get the more expensive rapid test in JFK. I actually was on the subway during the riots, so it was weird to come out of the train to a lot of texts. Anyway, the rapid test was more expensive, but super easy, and I had a negative result in less than a half hour, even if I had to go to JFK and back.
By the way, my friend Dan who works in transportation let me know that if you take more than 4 trips on the AirTrain, it behooves you to get a 30 day 10 ride pass for $25 since each ride is $7.75 individually. To that end, I don’t think this is likely, BUT if any of you need to take the AirTrain before February 5th, I can sell you the card which still has 6 rides on it! Do let me know!
DAY 1: THURSDAY, JANUARY 7TH
As I said, the alarm went off at 7, and I started uptown… or rather in Hell’s Kitchen. I put in my 8 hours… nope, I just took the E to the AirTrain, and JFK was very empty. I’ve never said on the AirTrain before. Security took no time at all, and then at the gate, they had roped off every other seat. The plane itself was about a third full, and everyone was very spread out. We had to wear masks the entire time, besides eating, and I made sure to stagger my eating with my closest neighbors. From the way the people by me were sanitizing their seats (they gave us wipes), I was not worried about any of those folks infecting me.
I can never sleep on a plane if there’s any noise, and unfortunately, there were 2 dogs on the plane and multiple kids. So instead, I watched the following four movies, none of which was all that great: Tenet, New Mutants, David Copperfield, Spies in Disguise. The David Copperfield movie was probably the best of the 4. None of them were horrible, at least, but it was obvious that the studios are holding back their better films for 2021 when hopefully theaters will be open again.
After an hour on queue to get my QR code confirmed, I was finally free to have an amazing time in Hawaii! So, Christie, my host, is the nicest person on the planet. She performed in two of my virtual showcases, and even though we hadn’t met in person, she encouraged me to come vacate, and I am forever grateful to her. She literally (real definition, not millennial definition) chauffeured me around the island for 4.5 days, and we managed to squeeze in 2-3 weeks of sites in just 1 week! Not only was she driving me and housing me, she also fed me! Her mom was so nice and got me the ingredients for my usual lunch: peanut butter, jelly and bread. And Christie got me muffins and zucchini bread for breakfast, plus some granola bars, and an entire welcome package which included delicious chocolate covered macadamia nuts! And also she got me a magnet, postcards, and multiple leis – one with real flowers that only lasted a few days, and one that was plastic for Smee to pose in!
Christie gave me a lot of history lessons, and taught me about the Aloha Spirit. Aloha means hello and goodbye, but also regards, kindness, compassion, affection and love. I also learned about the Shocka, which is shaking your hand with the middle 3 fingers down – it’s almost “I love you” in sign language but without the L. And that’s to greet people and to thank them, and of course, to pose in photos!
Christie lives in the post Hawaii Kai neighborhood (but would like me to let you know she wasn’t raised there), and the view out the window every morning was stunning (go see my photos!). It was 82 degrees and sunny every single day and only rained for 5 minutes the entire week.
Anyway, Christie picked me up from the airport, and we drove down to Waikiki. I was fairly exhausted having woken up at 2am HST, but being a night owl, I powered through. We stopped to pose with the Aloha Tower, and then parked down at the lovely Kapiolani Park and walked up the shore at Waikiki passing the statues of Queen Kapi’Olani and Duke Kahanamoku both of which were fitted with new leis almost daily as a sign of respect.
For dinner we ate at the Hula Grill, and had an amazing view of the sunset on the ocean, and I knew it was worth coming for. I ate Korean Fried Chicken, which was delicious, and we heard some live music from Duke’s downstairs. LIVE MUSIC! I almost cried. Then, we walked around Waikiki and she showed me some of the lobbies in the resorts. We went to the International Market Place, and ended up at ShoreFyre Grill where there was even more live music going on.
I was exhausted, so I was in bed by 10pm HST, which is remarkably close to my actual bedtime in EST.
DAY 2: FRIDAY, JANUARY 8TH
I took advantage of my body sleep schedule to actually go to bed by 11pm HST (4am EST) every night on vacation. Another few days, and I probably would’ve creeped up later, but I managed to be up by 8am every day but the last (good thing I set an alarm that day!). While staying with Christie, we set out to leave every day by 8:45, and mostly succeeded.
Friday started with going to Makapu’u Summit where there’s an uphill climb to a breathtaking view. We could also see the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse, Maui in the distance, and we even caught some whales spouting, or whales’ spouting. It’s amazing that that phrase can both have or not have an apostrophe while meaning the same, if slightly different things. It was a clear day, and you could almost see forever.
After the pleasant hike, we went to a hidden lagoon and just floated for an hour. It was heaven. The water was so blue; the sky was so blue; and I wasn’t blue at all! The night before, we had stopped at CVS to get me some Locals flip flops for $5.50, and they are the sturdiest pair I’ve ever heard, and will probably last me the rest of my life. I think the floating in the lagoon was one of the highlights of a trip with hundreds of highlights.
Next up, we stopped briefly by the Halona Blowhole Lookout to watch the ocean pop up from some rocks. Then we went to the iconic Hanauma Bay, which was $12 for visitors. We had to watch a video about not polluting, and then we went down to the beach. I went snorkeling for the first time! And I sucked at it. I had immense trouble breathing through the tube, so we scrapped it, and I just used the goggles and held my breath, which I’m really good at being a trained singer. I floated above the reef and saw many exotic fish, and it was crazy how they were right there! We saw a whole school come out (I guess it was about time for their lunch break), and it was like being in another world. Unfortunately, I nipped my finger and both my knees on the reef because it was really hard to focus on being flat, while not running out of breath, and while making sure to land only in the sand. Thankfully, this being a tourist trap, they had a lifeguard with bandages and Iodine patches, and I was able to stop the bleeding. I do have a scar on my finger still, though! I wonder if that will ever clear up… no regrets, though, as it was totally worth it to see those fish up close and personal! Nothing fishy going on there!
After that, Christie had to teach some virtual voice lessons, so she dropped me off at Koko Crater Botanical Garden where I took a 2 mile trail that included many beautiful exotic flowers, a cactus tree garden, dryland palm tree field, as well as an African and Madagascar section. I read for a bit, and was visited some Hawaiian rats and many birds including the white-rumped Shama Thrush and the Pacific Golden Plover. (Thank you to Foster Gardens for a bird guide!)
I went home to shower, then we went out to dinner in the artsy Kaka’ako neighborhood. Before dinner, we walked around to see this year’s POW! WOW! murals, which are kind of like what you see in Montreal, but they put up new ones over the old ones every year. Very unique! We went to Highway Inn Hawaiian Food for traditional Hawaiian food, which included Kalua pork, sweet potato, mac/cheese salad, rice, coconut dessert and poi (which needed a lot of sugar to taste decent).
On the way home, we stopped by Walgreens for gifts. I got my nephew/nice an exotic fish puzzle, a lei-ed seal (not to be confused with a laid one – indeed, Smee got lei-ed when I came home, but has never been laid), a magnet for my mother, postcards for some close friends, and of course bags of macadamia nuts and hibiscus hairpins for Emi.
DAY 3: SATURDAY, JANUARY 9TH
Christie had to work most of Saturday, so she dropped me off at the iconic Diamond Head State Monument, which thankfully reopened a few weeks before I arrived. On the way, she got me a Spam Musubi for breakfast, which actually wasn’t bad! I don’t think I’ve ever actually had spam before, besides in my inbox.
Diamond Head is a huge crater that was made in a mountain. You have to go through a tunnel to get there. Once there, there’s a trail to go all the way up to the top and see an almost panoramic view of Oahu, including all of Waikiki. It was fairly tourist filled, but masks were enforced. I didn’t find the hike that strenuous, as it was all paved and there were lots of stairs, and often I walk up the stairs from the MC level (about 11 flights) when the elevators are too full for my taste. The view was tremendous! (Go see my photos!) And I stayed up awhile to take it all in. Coming back down, there was a little picnic area in the middle of the crater, and I sat there and wrote out my postcards while hanging out with birds again. One the way out, there was a Dole Pineapple food truck, and I spent $5 on a delicious pineapple smoothie. I could’ve spent another $7 to have it in a pineapple, which seemed like a fun idea, besides the fact that you can’t really walk with a pineapple, and it also may get sticky. I could justify spending $5, but not $12. Also, since Christie drove me into the parking lot, I didn’t have to pay the $5 tourist fee since she flashed her Hawaiian ID. So that balanced out! (Her Hawaiian ID got us discounts on most dinners, too!)
When you come back through the tunnel in the mountain and walk down, there is a perimeter path called the Fort Ruger Pathway, which I walked a bit around on my way to Waikiki. I was planning on hanging out in Kapiolani Park, but I had this epiphany that post offices are usually open till 2pm on Saturday, and it was barely 1pm. I used my iPhone and Google Maps to find a nearby post office. I don’t usually like to use the phone, but even I had to admit it was pretty helpful in this case. (Google Maps would prove remarkable when it came to figuring out which buses to take after I left Christie’s for an AirBnB, as the express ones only come once a half hour.) Anyway, Google told me the post office was in Sephora, but it turned out it was actually in the mall next door on the second floor. I got there in plenty of time, and I’ll tell you, mailing postcards within the US is way cheaper than sending them from Europe or Asia!
Once I had already made it to the end of Waikiki, I realized that I could keep walking to check off some other spots on my list since I still had 4 hours before Christie could pick me up. I walked through Fort DeRussy Beach Park, had my sandwich on a picnic bench in the shade, found the Hilton lagoon, stopped for a bit, and then finally ended up in Ala Moana Park (with a few blisters on my toes b/c I overdid the walking). From there, I went to Magic Island, which is a peninsula that extends from the beach. Magic Island was truly magic, and I would say is my favorite place to just chill on Honolulu. It’s like Central Park, though it’s surrounded by the ocean, and if you go to the end, there’s a lagoon where kids swim, and rocks that are right on the shore. It actually rained for 5 minutes while I was there, but it stopped so quickly and it was nice to get a little wet after a long schvitzy day. Regardless, the view of the sunset was unmatched, and I was shocked that Magic Island wasn’t on any of the lists of the best places to see on Oahu!
As Christie didn’t want the stress (or cost, I imagine) of eating out every single night, she graciously offered to cook us a lovely mango curry dinner Saturday night. After being outside for 8 hours in the hot sun with pulsating legs and blisters on a few toes, I was happy to abide by her wishes. Originally I was like, but we have to go out, I’m on vacation, but seriously, after the day I had, it was a relief to stay in. We watched “Death to 2020” on Netflix, and it was really, unexpectedly funny!
DAY 4: SUNDAY, JANUARY 10TH
We were supposed to do all the North Shore on Monday, but thankfully Christie is a prepared person and decided to double check on a few things. Her number 1 spot that we had to go see was Waimea Valley and it turned out that because of the pandemic, they are closed Monday/Tuesday. So we rejiggered the schedule a bit, and made that our priority for Sunday. On the way, we saw a double rainbow in the sky, and I took that as a sign we were doing the right thing!
Waimea Valley is a wonderful nature hike with so many gorgeous flowers including hibiscus and ginger. They have a historical family shrine, and then at the end of the trail there’s a waterfall (Wailele in Hawaiian) where you can go for a dip! And they give you lifesavers (it was $20 to get in, so that’s part of what the money was used for), so you are basically just floating in a pool under a waterfall. It was also far less crowded than the last time I took a swim in a waterfall in Morocco. Also, I could get right up to the waterfall. Not quite as empty as the private lagoon, it was still a lovely way to spend some time.
Afterwards, we got Uncle’s Hawaiian Funky Monkey Ice Cream Sandwiches (I treated Christie to thank her for her hospitality) and I chose Caramelized Banana & Chocolate Chip ice cream on Tutu’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. This was a homemade ice cream sandwich, and it was the best one I’ve ever had. Well worth the $7! We also were hanging out with a peacock that wanted a bite, but I wouldn’t share! (Sharing isn’t something I do very well, even when it’s not with a bird.)
On the way out, Christie saw a sign for a luau that happens there. I had previously tried to find a luau, but it seemed they were all closed. It turns out the authentic ones at Waimea Valley were back as of December, so I was able to book it for Monday night! This made Monday really frazzled, but let’s finish Sunday first.
We briefly stopped by Waimea Bay Beach Park so I could get some pictures. I had sent some postcards of this one, so I felt it was important that I go in real life or I would feel like a liar. Next, we went to Ka’ena Point State Park which is the most northwest point on Oahu. The beach was gorgeous, and the ocean smell was divine.
Christie ended up with a family thing Sunday afternoon, and I had been asked by a random person on Facebook to do a Zoom interview for a student run NPR station in VA about being a composer during the pandemic, so I was able to squeeze that in. I’m not sure when that airs, but I’ll keep you updated if I find out.
Afterwards (and after a shower), we went to the iconic Duke’s where they have live music on Sundays. We saw the famous Hawaiian guitarist Henry Kapono who sang his song “Duke’s on Sundays” while we ate delicious food. I had shiskabob and then got the $12 Hula Pie for dessert. I offered to split it with Christie, but she only had 2 bites. I finished the whole thing – it had macadamia nut ice cream with chocolate fudge and whipped cream, and was amazing! And when I was done, the pie plate said “Hula Pie” with a hula girl saying “Aloha!” Totally worth it! I basically didn’t have dessert the first 3 days, so I thought it made sense to have 2 on day 4!
After dinner, we completed our tour of the resorts of Waikiki including theRoyal Hawaiian & Moana Surfrider (where apparently my friend Eloïse stayed once!). A lot of them had lobby displays or areas you could lie on tanning beds by the water.
DAY 5: MONDAY, JANUARY 11TH
We got a bit of a later start Monday. I believe it was closer to 9:15am. There were also some car issues that put us on a very harried schedule. However, we managed to get a ridiculous amount of things in on the way to getting to my luau by 4:45pm!
To start, we stopped by the Kahala Hotel & Resort. This is a resort where it would cost $400/night to stay. They have a pool with dolphins and if you pay more money, you can swim with dolphins! What? But we didn’t do that, we just took a few pictures of them getting fed. There was also a pond with exotic fish, including Hawaii’s state fish the humuhumunukunukuapua’a! Try saying that 10 times fast!
After that, we went to Nu’uanu Pali Lookout which is an amazing view of Oahu from very high up. We drove through a scenic tree-lined street before that, and then after taking a copious amount of photos, we went to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens. We took a lovely walk by a gorgeous lake, and then a muddy trail to a grassy patch in the middle of mountains where they have shot many things including LOST. It was worth the mud on the shoes!
Next up, we saw 2 beaches: Lanikai and Kailua. I took the iconic, essential tourist photo on the beach with 2 tiny islands off the coast at Lanikai and then went into the ocean for a bit. The water was clear and the sun was bright, and it was another wonderful half hour of being immersed in water. I realize that some people would probably spend hours just lounging on a beach, but to me, a half hour was plenty. We took the scenic route this time to the North Shore and saw Mokoliʻi Island, otherwise known as Chinaman’s Hat. And we stopped to take some photos of Koaloa Ranch where movies such as “Jurassic Park” were filmed! Indeed, I texted a photo fo myself with the hills and dales in the background, and my brother-in-law confirmed I was indeed at Jurassic Park!
We sped to the Dole Pineapple Plantation, which closes at 4pm. We got there at 3:28, so we could either go on the 20 minute train ride tour or try the world’s largest maze. And, of course, you all know that I picked the maze, and it was indeed a-maze-ing! We went around for a half hour locating 8 hidden stations in the huge maze with a giant pineapple made up of trees in the center. Afterwards, they left the grounds open till 5pm, so we were at least able to get a picture with our heads in a few pineapple themed cutouts.
We literally just drove through the Historic Hale’iwa Town, which consisted of basically one street. Sadly, we did not have time to stop. Originally, we were going to have dinner there, but with the addition of the luau, that would’ve been silly since they served so much food.
So, we got to Waimea Valley with 5 minutes to spare, and I went to Toa Luau: The Most Authentic & Intimate Polynesian Experience. It cost $115, which was a lot, but it included cultural demonstrations, a huge dinner, and then a full 90 minute show! And it was mostly outside, and when it was inside, it was a room with the fourth wall not there, so it was very well ventilated. The cultural demonstrations included breaking open coconuts, which I tried and failed at. There was peeling bananas, which was much easier. And they had a demo of making hot cocoa from scratch. Also, they showed how they get coconuts by having a few people climb the trees. (People in the show, not the audience. I don’t think I’d be very good at climbing trees.) They showed me how to braid a plant to make a headpiece, though the nice lady made me once since mine was really horrible. There was a welcome ceremony, and usually you’d all drink from the same bowl, but for this, they had little plastic containers instead, and I was picked as one of the leaders of the audience tribe.
The dinner included the following: pupukea green salad with papaya seed dressing, teriyaki chicken, kalua pork, mac salad, Furikake white rice, Lomi tomato, Hawaiian sweet rolls with guava butter, tropical fruits, and haupia cake for dessert. The food was unbelievably delicious, and we could have as much as we wanted. It was previously a buffet, but they had servers refill the food for you. I just got a second plate with everything again, and I was very full afterwards. Very, very full, and I skipped breakfast the next day.
The performance was amazing. They showcased dancing from all the different islands, including a hula and a fast hip dance that Hollywood claims is a hula but actually isn’t. I cried seeing live theatre again, and it was just magical. The finale included a fire dancer, and the whole cast was playing with fire outside by the end. The entire thing was indeed very authentic. The emcee was the producer with his wife, and his two daughters were in it, too. It was a total family affair, and you could tell they did it out of love and to educate tourists about tropical islands, not for money.
Afterwards, Christie picked me up (she was happy to use the time for audition sides), and dropped me off at the AirBnB which was in Central Honolulu at the end of a cul-de-sac off a dead-end street.
DAY 6: TUESDAY, JANUARY 12TH
Thankfully my very clean AirBnB (and a very nice super host!) was only a few minutes from an express bus stop. Dan had told me that a single ride on The Bus in Honolulu was $2.75 but a day pass was $5.50 so it always made sense to get a day pass if you needed a round trip. I took advantage of having a day pass Tuesday and took the bus 10 times!
My first stop was to go to Pearl Harbor and see all the museums and memorials there. Unfortunately, the parts on Ford Island are now closed on Mon/Tues, but I still got to see the main museum, watch the video, and I paid $1 online to get a reservation for the boat to the USS Arizona Memorial. The USS Arizona has been left where it fell in the water after being bombed, and they’ve built a beautiful and poignant memorial around it that you have to take a little ferry over to see. They have left the parts of the boat that are above water where they are, and you can see fish hanging out in the main boat through a hole in the floor of the memorial. It was really well done. The museum in the harbor was very educational, and they covered both the Japanese and American sides and timelines that led to the conflict. I thought it was very well balanced.
After spending a few hours there, I ran back to my room to get my bag since bags weren’t allowed on the ferry to the memorial. Then, I got back on the bus and only to transfer to another one to go Oahu Cemetery Memorial Park, which was really just a cemetery. Next I went to the close Lili’uokalani Botanical Garden, which was very tiny, but a nice little back to journal in and have lunch.
After that, I paid $5 to go to Foster Botanical Garden, which was much larger. They had a lot of beautiful flowers in their conservatory and some interesting trees including a sausage one and a cannonball one. They also had a macadamia nut tree, and a butterfly garden.
I walked back to the main road, and I had seen the bus pass the Hawaii Theatre Center, so I made sure to get a picture of that, as well as some of Chinatown, which was pretty small and a little sketchy. Next, I took the bus down to the Ala Moana Shopping Center. I had intended to just briefly walk through, but I found their center stage where they usually have hula shows. The mall is the largest open-air mall in the world, and has no ceiling. There are also little ponds of fish everywhere. I stumbled upon an outlet, and given that I was using my poor iPhone SE more than usual since I usually barely use it, I actually did the millennial thing and charged my phone there for 20 minutes while enjoying the free WiFi. After getting a view from the roof, I went back to Magic Island because, as I said, it’s my favorite spot. I took some great sunset photos, and stumbled upon the tail end of a hula practice, so that was almost like getting a free show.
I went to Ward Centre for dinner, and found a Thai restaurant called Maile’s Thai. Maile had a bio in the menu, and was actually at the bar. The massaman curry with chicken was sweeter and less spicy than NYC so I enjoyed that, but I didn’t enjoy having to pay an extra $3 for rice!
I took the bus home, and I did another millennial thing! I watched the new episode of “This is Us” on my phone! Thanks to switching to YouTubeTV, I can now watch anything on my DVR anywhere I am. It was really hard to watch on the phone – so tiny, so low volume wise, but I didn’t want to get behind on the show, and I have no regrets. I’m happy to be back on my TV now, though. Phone watching is not for me!
DAY 7: WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13TH
I had bad news on Monday when I found out my tour of Iolani Palace was canceled (got a full refund), but I decided to not rush out at all on Wednesday.
The first stop was the Bishop Museum. I had gotten a Groupon for only $16 (normal price $25). Since I had an extra hour and a half in my schedule, I tried to take my time. I actually ended up spending 2.5 hours there, as there was plenty to see.
First up, there was a special exhibit called Kaula Piko: The Source of Strings, which was about the history of Hawaiian music. What lovely timing, as the exhibit was only there for another few weeks! It was great to learn all about it, and there was the Hawaiian Royal Band on a movie screen (one of my regrets if I couldn’t see them live b/c they weren’t playing very much obviously). And there were a lot of guitars and ukeleles, and I even got to play a steel guitar. (They had picks and frets to use, and then you put them in the dirty bin. As I was the first on at the museum that day, I felt pretty safe.)
The other rooms in the main museum were very historical and also prehistorical: Na Wao no ka Po’e Hawai’i: The Realms of the Hawaiian People, Kahili Room and Pacific Hall. Kahilis are those long spears with feathers on them that servants surround royalty with. (See my photos!) Historically, I learned that the Princess Liliuokalani wrote “Aloha ‘Oe”. She became queen, and the USA basically used a coup to knock her out of power. It was very rude. But rather than start a war that would lead to her citizens dying, she stepped aside even though she protested in an official document. That is a true leader, caring more about her people than her power!
Finally, there was an exhibit called Mai Kinohi Mai: Surfing in Hawaii. There were some tutorials on surfing and some videos on the science of surfing, and then a huge panoramic film made up of surfing throughout the years, stories and songs. There was also a science exhibit hall, but most of the interactive stuff was closed.
I called Charise because it was mid-afternoon in California when she usually calls me, and we talked for an hour while I walked downtown. I took some photos along the way, including ‘A’ala Park, and I went to the free Hawaii State Art Museum, which consisted of two galleries and a sculpture garden. Free is my favorite price, and also it was air conditioned! It was modern art, and my favorite was a 1992 art piece made up of only cat whiskers called 803 Whiskers by Ruthadell Anderson. The sculpture garden was sequestered and there was a picnic table, so I took that as a sign it was a good place to have lunch.
After that, since the free walking tour I would’ve taken has been suspended, I took the one I printed out instead. Online I found a walking toward to 25 building in Historic Downtown Honolulu, and I found all 25 of them! It was kind of like a scavenger hunt! I got pictures of all 25 including the King Kamehameha Statue at Aliiolanie Hale, State Capitol (for Roger!), State Library, Iolani Palace and its grounds, the Mission Museum and King Lunalilo’s Crypt at Kawaiaha’o Church. It also included a lot of really interesting architecture — see my photos for details!
After my walking tour, I made a beeline for Kaka’ako Waterfront Park: Where Honolulu Greets the Sea. This park was almost as nice as Magic Island. It was a wonderful few of the ocean and the sunset. At the end of the park is Point Panic, which is an area used for bodysurfing. It also has a big community of stray cats, who weren’t very friendly but reluctantly posed for many photos. I found a bench in the shade, and I read a few chapters of “The Brothers Karamazov” which I sadly only got about 15% through on the trip because I kept getting distracted by the ocean and sunsets!
Christie had recommended this American Restaurant MOKU in Kaka’ako, so that’s where I went for my final dinner. It was delicious! I had butternut pizza for dinner and strawberry cream pie for dessert. They had it set up so you could get your own carafe of water, so I ended up drinking 2 full and still feeling dehydrated! Too much sun for me!
Anyway, on the walk down, it felt a little sketchy in parts of Honolulu, so that coupled with the darkness and my aching feet made me splurge $3 to take the bus home. If you’re paying attention, you’ll remember a one-way trip was $2.75. However, I hadn’t planned on the bus, so I didn’t have enough quarters, and they don’t give change during the pandemic. So I lost a quarter, but I did get home early enough to watch a movie on Netflix on my iPad, and the movie I chose was “Mank” which was really good.
DAY 8: THURSDAY, JANUARY 14TH
My final day I had to check out by 10am, but my host let me keep my bags in the living room. I actually got out by 8:45am, and it’s a good thing I set the alarm for 8:15am, or I might’ve been late meeting Christie in Waikiki! We were originally going to do a boat ride before Duke’s on Sunday, but when we rejiggered the schedule, we realized we could do this Thursday morning before my flight! And what a delightful way to end the vacation!
We took an hour boating tour on the Kepokai II for $30, and it was a perfect day on the ocean. We met a couple from Missouri who hopes to come see Love Quirks off-Broadway when they eventually visit NYC!
Afterwards, we got Dole pineapple soft serve (I actually got vanilla swirl) and I walked Christie her car and thanked her so very much!!!
It took 2 buses to get down, and 2 buses to get up, then I picked up my bag and my host gave me a Hawaiian mask as a present, so now I can take Hawaii with me whenever I leave my apartment! I took another 2 buses to the airport, and almost didn’t get off because I didn’t realize I had to ask the bus to stop at the terminal because the LGA bus always stops at each one automatically! Oops! I got off at Terminal 3, and then I walked to 1 because that’s where Hawaiian Airlines usually is… but 1 is closed, so I walked back to 2. Anyway, I was really early, so it was fine. There were some cool displays about former Senator Daniel K. Inouye whom the airport is named after. And I ended up splurging $4 for a 15 minute chair massage. The airport itself is mostly wall-less, so I was getting the massage while feeling the cool breeze.
The flight home was uneventful, and I had the whole 4 middle seat row to myself so I was able to get a few hours of sleep. A few. The movies I watched when I couldn’t get more sleep were: “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982” a Korean drama that was okay, the Japanese animated film “Weathering with You” which was adorable, and then I saw most of “Scoob!” (I don’t know why they don’t let you watch till you’re on the ground; I missed the last few minutes, but I assume it ended happily.)
I got off the plane around 7, and it took till almost 9 to get home from the AirTrain and the subway. I slept 3 hours, and then joined my MIT Mystery Hunt team for a virtual weekend of puzzling, almost 3 full days. I did sleep plenty into Saturday and Sunday, though, and after a week of being home, I’m pretty much back to normal.
Well, that’s my trip! I did want to say while I’m here, I’m going to be back to virtual showcases for February and March. Don’t Tell Mama is planning to reopen in April, and since there’s a new law allowing cover charges for outdoor shows, I hope to do some of those in the spring. Other than that, the year is still going to be pretty hard to plan out, but I hope for some movement on some projects at some point. But who really knows?
While I’m here, a shoutout to my father whose birthday was this week! I am happy to say both of my parents will be vaccinated completely by mid-February!
In other news, it’s absolutely bizarre how calm and optimistic I feel now that there isn’t a constant barrage of horrendous political news. The country is back on the correct track (the left one, not the right!) and I am confident 2021 will bring the beginning of good times again.
May 22, 2021 — Save a place, I’ll be there in Santa Fe!
Happy spring! I trust you have all gotten your vaccines and are reentering society. How amazing! Last week I went to visit my 31st state: New Mexico. I’m happy to share this trip recap with YOU. As always, you can see my 578 trip photos on the Facebook, but I did a Google Drive for those of you not on social media, but these photos won’t have captions and the quality is a bit lower. But you can view them all, here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1FATrGfeND1txIE-AjT3vuym1u-KrrkVY?usp=sharing
But first, let’s talk about what’s going on this summer in NYC!
1. Weekly showcases have resumed live performances at Don’t Tell Mama as of May 4th. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to be performing live in front of an audience again instead of a computer screen! The first 2 shows were electric with vivacious, ebullient audiences cheering! I will be showcasing singers Tuesday nights at 7PM through the summer.
2. My friend Celia and I are co-producing an AMAZING, JOYOUS concert of my songs featuring Broadway performers and a LIVE BAND on Friday, June 18th at 7PM at Don’t Tell Mama. This will be the first concert of my songs since 2019, and it’s going to be EPIC!!! You can see the performer lineup and reserve, here: https://www.donttellmamanyc.com/shows/main/6155-celia-mei-rubin-friends-sing-seth-bisen-hersh-6-18-21
3. The third season of my long-winded titled podcast, “Millennials are Ruining the World? an Xennial perspective: bridging the gap between generations X & Y — I’m not woke, but I’m awake” premieres Wednesday, June 2nd at 1PM! This is a fantastic season featuring 13 guests with topics ranging from the Muppets to streaming platforms to adapting a musical to plantation vacations to spirituality & suffering… and more! If you have not caught up on the first 2 seasons, now is your chance: soundcloud.com/sethbhdotcom!
4. I’m getting daily messages inquiring about “Love Quirks”. Unfortunately, I have no news to report at this time. There are still a lot of logistical things that need to be determined, but we are very hopeful that we will reopen the show this fall. I will, of course, keep you updated. In other LQ news, the cast album is finished and sounds amazing. We will be releasing it in conjunction with a link to tickets, so there is something for you Quirkies to look forward to!
NEW MEXICO DAY 1, WEDNESDAY, MAY 12TH: TRAVEL DAY
As long time readers will know, my best friend from MIT, Niki, and I always take vacations together every odd year. Usually we go to Europe, but obviously, this year we decided to stay in America. I had heard great things about New Mexico, which is named “The Land of Enchantment”, and when I googled it, there seemed like plenty to do for a full week. Indeed, I still didn’t see everything in the Northwest, and there were unfortunately a few places still closed because of the pandemic. However, I feel like we did a great job of seeing a lot of the highlights, and it was really wonderful to travel now that we are fully vaccinated.
To start, I knew that the trip was fated because the cheapest flight actually had a layover in Atlanta where Niki lives! So she met up with me for my almost 2 hour layover, and we went to the Delta Sky Club for free lunch. Then, we got to Albuquerque Airport, rented our car and headed into town.
My friend Marley had recommended this restaurant Frontier, and the food there was INCREDIBLE. We had breakfast burritos with pork and dipped them in green chile soup, and for dessert had sweet rolls that were so buttery. We checked into our hotel, and collapsed because flying is quite exhausting!
NEW MEXICO DAY 2, THURSDAY, MAY 13TH: ALBUQUERQUE
We started our first full day with a “Breaking Bad” tour. We were originally supposed to have a tour in a replica of the RV on the show, but it was overbooked, so the company asked if we would mind getting some money back in exchange for taking a private tour with this amazing guy, Luigi (http://breakingbadnewmexicotours.com). Of course, we never say no to a partial refund, and we were happy to have Luigi take us around the town privately showing us all the filming locations of the series and its prequel “Better Call Saul”. Luigi is a driver who is hired for a lot of Hollywood projects, and he was on set for a lot of the iconic outside moments of the series. He was a truly nice guy, and we got a bunch of swag from the tour including blue candy which was used for meth. Also, we met up with the RV group at Twisters which is the restaurant they used for “Los Pollos Hermanos” and while we ate breakfast burritos, they did some trivia. Now, they had said there would be trivia, so I googled some, and we went through 50 questions on this blog I found the day before. It so happens that the questions they asked were literally stolen from the blog, so we got them all right and ended up with some stickers and driver’s licenses for the characters!
The spots we went to included the houses used for Chuck’s, Jesse’s, Jane’s, and of course Walt’s family. The White house is boarded up behind a fence because too many people would throw pizza on the roof. We also saw the Dog House (which apparently has disgusting hot dogs), the parking area where that kid circled around on a bike before killing someone, a motel used often, the gas station where Walt exploded a car (which they used a stunt car for instead of the expensive BMW they were renting), a building that was exploded (and apparently was damaged and had to be rebuilt), the Car Wash that Skyler takes over, and the laundromat where the lab was hidden under.
The tour dropped us off at a mini-“Breaking Bad” museum attached to a gift shop in Old Town. I got great pictures with cutouts of some characters, and I got to be in the wheelchair with the bell and to sit on a bench that advertised Saul Goodman. We also had a great photo opp at the Candy Lady, where we could pretend we were making meth with Jesse and Walt. Of course, they send you there so you will buy candy… which we did!
We walked around Old Town for a bit, and got a bunch of souvenirs at the store where we were picked up because we were given 20% off of everything having taking the tour.
Next up, we spent a few hours at Petroglyph National Monument going on the Boca Nega Canyon, Rinconada Canyon and Albuquerque Volcano trails. A petroglyph has been scratched into rocks 400-700 hundred years ago by indigenous people and is still there. It was a lovely, sunny day and we had a good time walking some trails — a few steeper than others — and seeing these ancient artifacts and also the great views.
For some reason, they closed these areas at 5PM even though sunset wasn’t till 8, so at 5, we went to dinner at El Pinto, a restaurant Luigi had recommended.
Unfortunately, we were underwhelmed by the food here, probably because it was pricier than it should’ve been. We had “the best Nachos in the world” but they really were just okay. Then I had tacos, and everything was tasty, but at the prices we paid, I don’t know, I think we expected more. However, the sopapillas they gave us free for dessert were incredible, so at least that is something!
Given that nothing was happening at night, either due to the pandemic or because it’s a really spread out city which didn’t feel much like a city at all, we went back to the hotel and sat on the roof terrace playing Muppets Uno and Muppets Mad Libs, which was really fun! And we had a great view of the sunset over the city.
NEW MEXICO DAY 3, FRIDAY, MAY 14TH: ROSWELL
The next day we started off by heading to the Sandia Mountains to take the tramway up to the top. Sandia means “watermelon” in Spanish, and the mountains were named that because there was a chemical that tinted red on the crest. The tram offered a wonderful view of everything, including a plane that had crashed there in the 50s during a snowstorm. Up at the top, which was 10,378 feet in terms of elevation, we did a trail for a few hours that let us to a cabin where those who worked on the tram stayed with an amazing view. Then, we continued on to the absolute peak and it was a breathtaking view. We completed our loop, took the tram down, and then we headed to Roswell.
On the drive to Roswell, for a bit we were on the iconic Route 66! As we headed South, we were on a highway that is surrounded by lots of nothing. For a few hours, there was not much to see. It hailed on us for 20 minutes or so, and the hail was pelting the car quite a bit, but thankfully there was no rain at all once we arrived. One thing we did see were these tall picture stand-ups of cowboys just waving at each other on the side of the road. Very random and very odd.
The funniest moment of that car ride was when we were discussing when to fill up the tank. I said, without any joke intended: “Let’s see what gas we pass.” And, then laughter ensued!
Roswell was a cute little town with just one strip of things to do. We went to Classics for Frozen Custard, which was delicious! I got a chocolate with Oreos and marshmallows. We also had potato soup just to have something healthy for lunch.
Next we headed into downtown (it’s like 6 blocks off Main Street) and went to the International UFO Museum, which was totally worth $5! They had a lot of alien replicas there, as well as a lot of information about supposed alien encounters over the years. They had displays about TV and movies that were alien centric like “The X-Files” and “Roswell” as well. There was information on the different kinds of encounters, and real life stories from folks that claim to have been abducted. They even had a graphic video showing someone having an alien implant removed from their spine.
After that, we went to the UFO Spacewalk: A Blacklight Adventure, which was also totally worth $5. It took like 5 minutes, but we walked through a spooky blacked out, neon-filled room of various aliens. I even bought a tiny alien for $2 to take home with me!
We crossed the street, and saw Spaceport Roswell, which turned out to be a 25 minute virtual reality adventure recreating the story of the 1947 Roswell alien crash from the alien’s perspective. That was super fun and totally immersive!
We walked around town a bit more, then checked into our hotel. Next we set out for dinner at Pepper’s Bar and Grill. It started pouring when we arrived, but thankfully was done by the time we were done. I had a delicious BBQ bacon burger and a side salad, to be healthy.
Again, with no nightlife to be found, whatsoever, we went back to the hotel early and put on Netflix.
NEW MEXICO DAY 4, SATURDAY, MAY 15TH: CARLSBAD CAVERNS, EL PASO
We started Saturday with Roswell’s Bottomless Lakes State Park. There were a series of lakes, the last one you could go swimming in, but we didn’t have time. We had thought there was a half a mile trail to do, but we couldn’t locate it. It was still a nice place to start the day, though, and at least they had bathrooms.
We drove down to Carlsbad Caverns — one of the roads Google told us to take was flooded, but thankfully, we figured out how to navigate around it (go MIT degrees!).
Carlsbad Caverns were AMAZING. They should rename them “Carlsgood”!!!! Just breathtaking, really. We hiked down deep into the mountain, and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. When we picked our favorite thing we saw, we both instantly said the caverns. We spent a little more than 2 hours exploring, and it was just wonderful. And we didn’t see any bats! Unfortunately, the pictures didn’t all come out because it was so dark. So if you want to experience it, you will have to go yourself!
The drive to El Paso was 2.5 hours. Fortunately, there was a lot more to see en route than driving in New Mexico. We passed the Guadalupe Mountains, though we didn’t stop because it was hailing again. We’re not sure what happened, but we apparently switched time zones multiple times while traveling through Texas. We are still not sure if it was a blip or not, but it happened multiple times to both the car’s clocks and the phone’s clocks but only when the phones had service, which was also sporadic.
Anyway, our first stop in El Paso was Franklin Mountains State Park. We just did one trail up the mountains a bit because we were worn out, but we sat on the bench and enjoyed another remarkable view for awhile. It was actually 90 degrees and very sunny, so we couldn’t really linger too much.
Since Texas is completely open, we were able to find live music that started at 8pm, but we were done with the mountains closer to 6:30pm. So we decided to take the Mission Trail, which basically led us to 3 really old churches from when the Catholics were expelled from Mexico (which coincidentally was the subject of a book I had read in book club: “The Power and the Glory”). On the way, we ended up taking the Border Highway, which ran right up against Mexico. So, I’ve never been there, but I have seen it now! We actually saw the new patches of the border wall, and drove right past the actual border entry point into Mexico.
We went on to live music at a bar and grill in the college area of town. We passed a graduation for the class of 2020 and 2021, and they actually had fireworks while we were eating! The live music was a cover band called “The Retroz” and they did songs from the 70s and 80s, which is about the only pop music I mostly enjoy. I had a salad with chicken on it because I really felt like I had to eat healthier, but then I ruined it by having churros and ice cream for dessert. Oops!
It was really nice to be in an actual city for the first time all trip, and after so many early nights, it was nice to arrive home closer to 11pm than 8pm.
NEW MEXICO DAY 5, SUNDAY, MAY 16TH: WHITE SANDS, TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
Sunday started with an actual continental breakfast! After limited options of pre-packaged food in New Mexico, it was really nice to be in a state that allowed actual food. We filled up and ate so much that we didn’t need to find a place for lunch that day!
We headed back to New Mexico to go to the White Sands National Park. We passed signs for the Roadrunner Parkway, which I am sad we didn’t get to take. On the way, we were stopped randomly by border control, which waved us on very quickly when they saw we were white. I wanted to inquire about the legality of that whole situation, but we were on too tight a schedule. Also, on this patch, we started playing a fun game called “What does the TSA allow?” because our tour guide had given us pocket knives with his tour company embedded on them. Very sweet, but… you guessed it: you cannot bring a pocket knife on board a plane! So Niki took them both, and checked her bag, and I will get mine eventually when she visits here. They DO allow Harry Potter wands and even lightsabers because, as the TSA says, real ones don’t exist and the toys are fine. Oh, by the way, you can also bring live lobsters on the plane. Just so you know!
The White Sands were… very white. I saved the brochure, so here’s a quote: “Like a mirage, dazzling white sand dunes shimmer in the tucked-away Tularosa Basin in South New Mexico. They shift and settle over the Chihuahuan Desert, covering 275 square miles – the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. White Sands National Park preserves more than half of this oasis, its shallow water supply, and the plants and animals living here.”
It was a really unique view, and we did a few of the trails: the Playa, Dune Life Nature and Interdune Boardwalk. We decided not to bother renting sleds because there was a long queue and they seemed overpriced. Also, it felt like we’d get pretty sandy. (Not to be confused with Annie’s dog, who’d be a pretty Sandy.)
We drove on to Truth or Consequences, an oddly named town known for hot springs. We stopped by Elephant Butte Park to get a quick picture because we were a bit early for checkin at our resort. That park is mostly for boating and fishing, which we don’t do, so we were fine just snapping a photo.
We stayed at the Riverbend Hot Springs: Mineral Springs Resort & Spa and it was AMAZING. Best stay of our trip! Our rooms were called Artist Rooms because they had paintings by local artists for sale displayed in them. They had Direct TV, so I got have the Music Choice channels again… and also HBO so at night I was able to watch the new episodes of “The Nevers” and “Mare of Easttown”.
They also had these great wristbands that doubled as your key to the spas and your room, so you could leave everything in the room while you go to the hot springs! I saw a bunch of millennials with their cell phones near the pools, and I was very worried they would ruin them. One even was using it IN the hot spring! What is WRONG w/ that generation!? (See my podcast! Actually, I think that girl was Gen. Z.)
There were different pools of different heats; I mostly preferred the hotter ones in the shade. And the pools were adjacent to the Rio Grande. It was heaven. One even had hammocks that you could lounge in half-submerged in water! And at night, they had all these colored lights coming on — we think they were solar powered lights hidden in the bushes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera at that point, so it’ll just have to live on in our memories instead.
Anyway, we spent about 90 minutes lounging in the hot water pools in the afternoon and then I got bored, so we decided to look at dinner options. Thankfully, they had a bulletin board with menus, so we decided to get buffalo chicken pizza. We called and ordered for pick up. Before we picked it up, we stopped by a convenience store to fill up the gas and get drinks and chocolate for dessert.
While eating, it was a bit windy and I lost half a slice. There was a sweet cat on the premises, and he/she must be fed very well because he/she didn’t go after the pizza. I’m pretty sure Smee would have.
After eating, we got back into the springs for another 2 hours, even though they had gotten significantly more crowded by then. Still, it was just loverly, and it was definitely another trip highlight! I would stay at that resort again in an instant.
NEW MEXICO DAY 6, MONDAY, MAY 17TH: SANTA FE
Unfortunately, Niki had to head back Monday, so I dropped her off at Albuquerque Airport and then I headed onto Santa Fe.
By this point, we had figured out how to hook up our phones via bluetooth — something we couldn’t do while the car was in motion so it wasn’t till Saturday that we did this — and by this point, we had realized that Google Maps would display on the car itself through the phone! It’s actually pretty hard to drive while constantly checking the mini-map, but I’ll tell you, it’s the first time I haven’t printed out copious maps for a trip. We relied completely on Google, for better or worse. If it had said to drive into a ditch, I probably would’ve… also, the music was linked, so I was able to listen to the albums I brought with me on my phone for the rest of the trip instead of the radio.
It took me awhile to park in Santa Fe because I didn’t want to pay. Sadly, there was no way to get around it, so I ended up spending $4 for 2 hours. It was raining fairly hard for a few hours, but I had brought my umbrella thankfully. I walked around town for a bit before my 2PM slot at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and saw the Plaza and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
I enjoy Georgia O’Keeffe’s work so I appreciated this museum. It was much smaller than say the Van Gogh Museum, but as it started pouring outside, I lingered and went through the rooms thrice! Obviously there were many flowery paintings. There were a few paintings that you could not take a picture of, and obviously the lack of being able to made me want to take those photos the most! But there were still plenty of great paintings to take pictures of and I sat on all the benches taking the art in. Georgia moved to New Mexico after her husband’s death, so that’s why that is where the museum is located. She seems to have fallen in love with the state. There were a few photographs of her, and one was of her on a camel in Morocco, which reminded me of my own photo on a camel in Morocco! Who knew Georgia and I had that in common?
Afterwards, I had an hour to walk around Santa Fe, but it was pouring so I really only walked around for half of that. I went into a few stores and got Emi a really cute porcelain feline. I actually bought 3 cats figurines in total from the various cities. (You can see all the souvenirs I brought home in my photo album at the end!)
I headed over to Meow Wolf for my 4:20PM slot. This was a miscalculation on my point. I assumed that 1.5 hours would be plenty at each stop. In truth, Georgia took more like a half hour and I probably would’ve loved 2-3 hours at Meow Wolf. Oops! I think you could really spend all day at Meow Wolf. I hadn’t heard of it, but so many people suggested I go, that I listened. And I do not regret it.
I don’t even know how to explain Meow Wolf, so I’m stealing this from their webpage: “Meow Wolf is comprised of over 200 full-time employees and hundreds of other collaborators, creating and supporting art across a variety of media, including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography, video production, cross-reality (AR/VR/MR), music, audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming, performance, and more.”
Basically, it was very trippy, and there was a lot of bright neon colors. It was incredibly weird and quirky, which I appreciate. Also, there was a bit of a mystery going on. There was a family that has disappeared — something to do with the multi-verse and aliens. There are different aliens all over the entire place. I thought it was very large, but apparently the ones they are putting up in Las Vegas and Denver are going to be even bigger!
I walked around the whole thing for 90 minutes till it was closing. There were so many disparate crazy things that it’s pretty ineffable with words. There were QR codes in the house that you could scan on your phone, but they linked to lots of texts, and I really don’t like reading anything on a phone. (If you’re reading this on a phone, I have no idea how you do it! This is a long email!) So, I was going to save the links and look at them on my computer when I returned home, but most of them weren’t accessible anymore. I guess you have a limited time to read things once you have scanned them. I did figure out the code to a safe for a couple of Gen Zers. I had noticed all the clocks were the same time, and that ended up being the code. (Spoiler alert, though I doubt many of you will be in Santa Fe any time soon.) There was also one thing you could decode that went directly to a webpage. So if you want to get a sense of the type of things that these webpages have, you can go to: https://ihearmusicfromouterspace.com/.
Afterwards, I went to dinner at Cleopatra Cafe and had a yummy gyro platter. Then, I headed to my AirBnB which was very clean and very quiet. I had the master bedroom in a house for 2 days, and it was one of the better experiences, though there wasn’t a TV in the room, so I had to rely on watching Netflix on my iPad or YouTubeTV on my phone, which I prefer not to do because it’s so tiny, but I will admit I couldn’t handle not watching “This is Us” the night it aired. Though, I just jumped a day, so let’s get to that one, shall we?
NEW MEXICO DAY 7, TUESDAY, MAY 18TH: LOS ALAMOS, TAOS
Tuesday I headed to Los Alamos to start the day. I loved the TV show “Manhattan” about the Manhattan Project, so I figured it would be fun to go to the $5 museum about the history of the town… and it was! There were just a few rooms to explore, but they had one dedicated to the project. Apparently the project started in Manhattan, which is why they got the name, but then they moved to the secluded town of Los Alamos to develop the atomic bomb in secret. Indeed, when their families wrote them, they actually had to send letters to a P.O. Box in Santa Fe. While making little boy and fat man, the scientists worked 6 days a week, 12-14 hours a day. They had little blurbs on the major scientists, and though all the interactive exhibits where you would have to touch things weren’t available, it was still educational.
Apparently physicist Richard Feynman liked to play the drums, and also wrote a memoir called “Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” which I just put on my library queue.
After the museum, I headed to the Bandelier National Monument. This guy named Bandelier stumbled upon this mountain and the Frijoles canyon where Ancestral Pueblo people used to live. I took the main trail to see the dwellings in the mountain, which was made from volcanic ash and tuff. It was a really nice way to spend two hours! At the end of the main trail, there’s a separate trail to Alcove House where they would commune and congregate. Unfortunately, it was closed to visitors that day because they were closed for a LiDAR Survey which will be used to preserve the alcove. However, there was a really gregarious archaeologist informing people of the closure. There was an inquisitive couple, so we ended up hanging out and listening to a history lesson about the whole thing. The archaeologist was super nice and very happy to see people after spending so much time alone during the pandemic, so she answered elaborate questions, and it was probably better than getting to go up to the Alcove House anyway!
We learned that it’s a sherd of pottery but a shard of glass. And that petroglyphs were stenciled into a rock, but pictoglyphs are drawn on. She showed us a pictoglyph by the Alcove House, as well. She said that the reason the Pueblo habituated this area was because there was natural water that ran there. And that there are probably still things to find everywhere because they lived in every area for so many years. And to the tribe, it’s still alive as their ancestral home.
After this little history lesson, I walked the trail back to the visitor center, and then I stopped at the loo which had a cute sign of a bear in the mask reading: “FUR you and others”.
Next, I headed to Taos. On the way, I stopped by the Rio Grande Gorge Park, and took some lovely pictures, including one of a young cow. It was very moo-ving. I stopped by yet another St. Francis of Assisi church. I guess he’s very popular?
Finally, I ended up in Taos Plaza, where I walked around for a bit. Fortunately, the town had an area with free parking, which is most appreciated. My cousin had recommended Chokola for chocolate ice cream. Unfortunately, their ice cream machine was broken, so instead I had an absolutely delicious lemon and ginger chocolate mousse. The restaurant I had chosen wasn’t open for dinner till 5pm, so I had an hour to explore all the little shops, and I ended up buying a lot of inexpensive souvenirs to add to my cluttered apartment’s collection of trinkets!
Dinner was at Stella’s Italian Restaurant, as it was one of the top rated restaurants, and I hadn’t had Italian all week. I ate a wonderful chicken parmigiana with even came with a few vegetables! It was nice of them to let me eat because they were fully booked. Thankfully, most of the reservations were for 6pm, so it’s good I got there right when they opened for dinner.
Afterwards, I made the final stop of my journey which was Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. This bridge, at 650 feet, is the fifth tallest bridge in America. It was a really nice site; I walked the bridge both ways, and then drove back to Santa Fe. I ended up actually traveling straight through Carson National Forest, which was pretty underwhelming for a forest. Maybe there is another entrance with more trees? Anyway, there was no one on the road, so I stopped to take pictures of some cows, and also of the beautiful crepuscular night.
NEW MEXICO DAY 8, WEDNESDAY, MAY 19TH: TRAVEL DAY
I woke up the latest I had all trip, 9:30am, because I was in no hurry with a 2PM flight. I wanted to leave by 10:15am, and I easily did. I drove back to Albuquerque, had breakfast at Frontier because it was by far the best culinary experience of the trip. I had to pay $2 for parking, but I didn’t mind too much. Then, I filled the gas tank up one more time to make it full for Hertz. In total, I had driven 1385 miles that week! The flights back were uneventful; I had window seats, which is not my preference but better than the middle seat I had on one of the flights over. It was a long travel day: driving, 2 flights, a bus then the subway, but I made it home in one piece!
Smee seemed excited to see me, and he readjusted to my schedule in 24 hours! He also really seems to enjoy the new smells on my sneakers, as he spent an unusual amount of time playing with them. He didn’t really seem to like the tiny green sombrero I got for him, so we put it on one of my Miss Piggys instead.
Now that the library is going to start charging fines again on July 1st, I’m going to have to be more judicious about how many books I have out at a time soon. On this trip I brought “The Brothers Karamazov” — I’m now about a third done (301/897 pages), and hope to read another few hundred on my next vacation and eventually finish it. Anyway, here’s what I’ve read since the Hawaii vacation. 26 books isn’t too shabby; I suspect I’ll have less time to read as the summer progresses, but until theatre is back at full force, I should still be able to read quite a bit.
Infomacracy — this was a book club book and the first in a trilogy — the plotting was more impressive than the prose, but I still finished the whole thing.
Is This Anything? — Seinfeld’s new book was a bunch of comedic bits, fast read, some really great material.
Null States — second book in the Infomacracy series was better than the first.
The Secret Commonwealth — book 2 in the “Book of Dust” series was great — this is the sequel to “His Dark Materials”.
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares — I loved the Netflix show “Dash & Lily” so I had to read this YA trilogy, and I really loved it and I cannot believe they haven’t renewed the show for season 2 yet!
Once Upon a Time in the North — this is a quick book that’s in the “His Dark Materials” universe.
The Power and the Glory — another book club book, this is a “classic” from the 40s. It was incredibly dull and hard to get through, though.
The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily — second book in this series, just as good as the first!
State Tectonics — the final book in the Infomacracy series was the best
Luster — this was a fantastic new novel that was very sultry in parts
The Orchard — I really enjoyed this novel about an Orthodox Jewish kid who moves to more secular Florida from Brooklyn.
Mrs. Fletcher — This is a Tom Perrotta book that they turned into an HBO show — the ending of the book is different, but it was a fun read.
Nine Perfect Strangers — They’re making this Liane Moriarty book into a Hulu show so I thought I would read it first — it was amusing, if a bit far-fetched.
Serpentine — this is another quick book that’s in the “His Dark Materials” universe, and now I’m completely caught up on the whole thing.
White Ivy — I really loved this new novel about a Chinese American woman’s journey to finding love.
The Vanishing Half — this was rated one of the best books of 2020 and I agree. Just a tremendous book about light-skinned black twins — one who decides to pass for being white.
Leave the World Behind — this was another of the “best books of 2020” — it was okay, it kind of bends genres, and I think I prefer books that stick to one or at least don’t switch mid-book.
Master of Ceremonies — Joel Grey’s memoirs were a delight, as you’d expected!
Severance — this is a fantastic book, though it takes place in a post-pandemic world where most of the population is gone, so that was a little hard to read right now.
John Henry Days — another book club book by the Pulitzer Prize winning Colson Whitehead – I think we would’ve liked it more if it was 100 pages shorter.
Mind the Gap, Dash & Lily — as you can see, I treat myself to a quick, fun read after book club books!
Troubled Blood — this is the 5th book in the Coromoran Strike series, and I think it was the best so far.
Shuggie Bain — another “best book of 2020” but I found this one to be a super slog, to be honest.
The Truths We Hold — Kamala Harris’ book makes me love her even more. Anyone who sees inconsistencies with her, should read this book and its nuances should clarify any qualms.
The Queen’s Gambit — I loved this Netflix show so much, and the book didn’t disappoint — the show was almost an exact adaptation, which is quite a feat!
O Death, Where is they sting? a meditation of suffering — My friend Joe talks about his book on my podcast, so I made sure to read it. That episode will come out late August!
Neverwhere — I’m halfway through this quirky Neil Gaiman novel, and it’s pretty much a modern “Alice in Wonderland”.
Up next: old science-fiction: “Nova” for book club, “Where the Crawdads Sing” because lots of people have recommended it and the new “Acts of Desperation”.
I am very excited to announce I will be going to the actual movie theater to see “A Quiet Place 2” with Rori on Thursday night! I AM SO VERY EXCITED to see a movie on a big screen again!!!!!
I watched “Promising Young Woman” on the first plane ride, and it’s fantastic. On the way back I watched “Spontaneous” which was just okay.
Oh, we watched “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” one night on Netflix, and it was pretty good, too.
So much to watch, even I cannot keep things straight anymore! But here are some recent shows I’ve enjoyed:
Cruel Summer — this is my new favorite show of the spring. It’s on Freeform/Hulu and it’s told in 3 different years. Totally innovative and unpredictable.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist — NBC has yet to renew this musical show, but season 2 was even better than the first (more Bernadette!) and I really hope they get another season.
Invincible — this animated superhero show on Amazon Prime was really good (and twisted).
Love, Victor — I started watching this sweet Hulu show on the plane, and I hope to finish it this weekend.
Girls 5 Eva — Tina Fey’s new comedy on Peacock is pretty amusing — only 1 episode in, and we really like it so far.
Made for Love — this HBO Max show is fantastic.
Mare of Easttown — speaking of HBO shows, this Kate Winslet let mystery miniseries is also fantastic.
Wanda/Vision — this Disney+ show is the best thing on the platform besides “The Muppet Show” (which I have been rewatching!)
Kung Fu — the new version of this show on the CW is fantastic
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay — the 2nd season of this comedy has been wonderful.
Resident Alien — this SyFy show was really superb, and I can’t wait for the new season!
RIP to the hilarious “Superstore” and amusing “American Housewife” and “The Unicorn”. There will be a dearth of sitcoms next season, and no streaming platform will ever have a 22 episode full season of my favorite format. Indeed, more and more of the better shows are moving to platforms, and it’s quite disheartening. But I’m happy I switched to YouTube TV for only $65/month and given how much I watch on the CW and PBS, and also “Jeopardy” being unavailable most other places, I will probably stick with it for awhile.
Emi and I went to see Bill Irwin do a 15 minute play outside with the Vineyard Theatre. It was really fun, and hopefully there will be more to report in this section next time I write.
This was a fantastic trip. Thank you to my mother, my cousin Amanda, my friends Charise and Marley for suggestions as to what to see, and most special thanks to Niki for spending the week with me, and getting such amazing deals on hotels and the rental car! I think we should start our own travel agency because we’re really good at planning vacations together!
Next up in July I will be going to Alaska for a week because I found a $300 nonstop round trip flight on Delta. That flight is now $900, so I’m really glad I booked it when I did. That will be my 32nd state, and then I’m left only with 18 in the middle of the country…
I hope you are having a productive 2021 so far, and I look forward to seeing you all in person now that things are almost back to normal.
July 15, 2021 — I don’t know… Alaska!
For my third vacation this year, I spent a week in Alaska with my friend, Mollie! It was a lovely week, and I’m now up to 32 states. As always, there are 758 captioned photos on the Facebook!
On June 18th, my friend Celia and I co-produced an evening of my songs with Broadway performers and a live band. It was a surreal experience and marked a return to the dream that has laid dormant for over a year. We received a rave review, and you can read that here:
You can also see 8 videos of the show up under recent uploads at http://youtube.com/sethbh42 including a word premiere from my new musical!
Regular showcases resumed May 4th, and continue most Tuesday nights. The audiences have been so relieved to see live music again, and it’s really nice to be back!
DAY ZERO: FRIDAY, JULY 2ND: Travel Day
I don’t know if I should even count this, but I shall. Our flight was at 4:49PM, so I could get up normally, leave for the airport around 2, and land before my bedtime (9PM in Alaska, 1AM here). I read the entire flight, as there really weren’t any good movies that I hadn’t seen — detriments of everything coming out on a streaming platform these days so quickly!
Since Mollie decided to join the trip way after I had booked everything, we ended up staying separately, which worked out really well. And we ended up having to do 2 separate Seward cruises and Arctic Tours, which was fine. To get to my AirBnB, I would’ve had to take 2 separate buses, which ran only once a half hour, so I splurged and used this app called Lyft, which some of you may have heard of.
My first place was a 5 bedroom house with 2 bathrooms on Chess Dr, and the cross street was Checkmate Ave, which is fitting because of how much I enjoy chess — I just beat my friend Aaron on chess.com again last night, by the way! If you play chess, my username there is sethbh — let’s play!!!
DAY ONE: SATURDAY, JULY 3RD: Anchorage
I’ve learned after a flight, it’s very nice to allow yourself to sleep in, so we decided to meet up at the Anchorage Museum at 10am when it opens. (That’s 2PM Eastern time, and made for a much needed leisurely start to the day.) I took the bus down, and was dismayed that it only came once an hour on the weekend… but then I was even more dismayed to find out it wasn’t running at all on Sunday the 4th, meaning I would have to take Lyfts into town instead of the $2 bus! AH! I am too spoiled in NYC! Nothing ever closes!
The Anchorage Museum was fairly large. Four full floors. We saw (or rather listened to) an exhibit on Soundscapes where composers created music from nature. We went to a room on Women of the North called Extra Tough. Then there was an exhibition on Alaska (makes sense) and some art galleries. It took us a few hours to meander through the whole thing, so I felt like I got my $20’s worth.
After the museum, we got our souvenirs at “Once in a Blue Moose” in the mall, then went to brunch at Ginger. I had blueberry french toast, and it was delicious! After that, since we were around the corner from Wild Scoops: Handcrafted Alaska Ice Cream, how could we not get it? I had White Raven (Sweet cream + Oreos) and Spiced Hibiscus Sorbet on a waffle cone.
We walked around Downtown, seeing people doing salsa in Town Square Park, taking pictures with some moose statues outside of the visitor’s center, and then stumbled onto a free exhibit about Alaskan wildlife at the Federal Building. Next, we headed towards the water, and stopped by the Ulu Factory for some more souvenirs, and found the Ship Creek Trail — that’s just a creek where people fish, so we decided to skip that, and instead headed to the highly rated Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is an 11 mile trail around the coast (duh). On the way, we saw a lagoon with ducks and 2 parks: Woronzof and Kincaid. The trail comes right by the airport, so there were planes right over our head, and it was a bit scary! We also saw a few moose just lounging around. A couple on a bike warned us that they had spotted a bear, but thankfully we didn’t see one because that would’ve been un-bear-able! It took a little over 4 hours, and thankfully it was mostly level and completely paved. But that was a lot, and we were quite sore afterwards.
We decided we wanted to see the fireworks in Eagle River at midnight, where they were actually doing a carnival type thing from 6pm (this was 8:30pm) but first we needed to eat. We used the google to find a restaurant in Eagle River and took a 40 minute, rather expensive Lyft to the restaurant, only to find out that it closed an hour earlier than it said on Google (9 instead of 10) for the 4th! So we ended up at a place that said it was open till 11 (but really was going to close at 10 — Google is wrong sometimes, people!) and that was Chepo’s Mexican Restaurant. Thankfully, the beef burrito was delicious! By that point, we had become friendly with the Lyft driver, Alan, and he agreed to pick us up after we ate, drive us to the fireworks, and then drive us back to our places. At this point, we cut out the middleman, and I just paid him in cash, which I think was happier for everyone involved…
Anyway, the fireworks were only about 20 minutes — certainly nothing to write home about (or write a ledger about), but it was nice to celebrate the 4th in some way, especially after last year. We were pretty cold by midnight, even though the sun never sets in Alaska in the summer. Indeed, it was so super bright the entire trip! Also, there was a live cover band playing while we waited, and we saw Miss Alaska, who we actually saw on Sunday, too. And silly string! So much silly string! I do not envy whomever had to clean that up… anyway, we got home and to sleep around 1am.
DAY TWO: SUNDAY, JULY 4TH: Anchorage
Sunday again we decided to not rush anything, which was good because not a thing was open in Anchorage before the 4th. I had to Lyft downtown, but again I used Alan (sadly he wasn’t available when I was ready to go home that night, so that ride cost me twice as much!) who let me just pay what I wanted since he could keep 100% of it.
Mollie wanted coffee and at least something for breakfast, so we walked around confirming that everything was closed. Thankfully the little tourist cafe with free tea opened at 11am! I had banana bread and a delicious fireweed glazed donut for breakfast.
We then headed to the July 4th festival in Delaney Park, which was the only thing happening that day. We saw the Alaska Railroad 556 train car and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the park’s edges, but then also perused all the food, wares and music. There was a dance group and lots of cover bands. It was a really nice relaxing day, though the phone had said it would be cloudy so I hadn’t thought to put on suntan lotion… by mid-day it was super sunny, and I got super burned, and my skin is still peeling, which is very unappealing.
Other than sun, we had a lot of food throughout the day — corn on the cob with parmesan cheese, then for lupper or dunch, I had Southern food — chicken fingers, fries and peach cobbler. And then later on, who could resist a perfect parfait called Uncle Sam with vanilla/chocolate swirl and blueberries and strawberries (ie. it was very healthy) for dessert?
We made it an early night since we had an early start on Monday. While waiting for my Lyft at Mollie’s hotel, I played myself in chess since they had a set in their lobby… spoiler alert: I won! (And I also lost…)
DAY THREE: MONDAY, JULY 5TH: Seward
Monday morning we met at the airport at 8am (Alan drove me one last time) to pick up our rental car. It turns out that it’s really good that I booked the entire trip in April because getting a rental car in Alaska is near impossible post-pandemic. There is so much demand, and not that much supply! We ended up with a cute little compact car, which is great because I suck at parallel parking! (Not that I actually had to do any this trip.)
We drove down to Seward, and it was gorgeous out! Unfortunately, we didn’t have extra time to stop and take photos, and by the time we were coming home it had rained and was still raining off and on and cloudy. Ah, well. Our fjord boat tours (separate but equal) left at 11:30am, but began boarding at 11. We got into town around 10:40am. We ended up having to pay $10 for parking, but compared to NYC prices, that’s really not that bad.
My boat was a Major Marine Tour, and for 6 hours it made a circle around Kenai Fjords National Park. It was cold and rainy, so the sight lines weren’t great, but we did see plenty of frolicking sea wildlife including hunchback whales, orcas, porpoises, adorable otters, sealions, seals and lots of birds including kittiwakes, murres, cormorants and puffins. It was hard to take pictures in the rain and with the bumpy waters, but I did my best! Whale watching is quite silly, actually. You have all these people looking, and then someone is like – there, and every single person moves to that one spot, and the whale takes another few minutes to come up, and it happens really fast, and mostly you get pictures of fins. The other animals lingered a bit more. And the otters were having a wonderful time playing in the water — two were off to the side “wrestling” according to the caption, which is an obvious euphemism.
We also got a closeup view of Aialik Glacier, which is not something I could pronounce correctly. The cruise also came with a free lunch: turkey sandwich, chips and an apple. And there was unlimited free tea. I also paid $2 for a hot chocolate in the morning. After the cruise, they gave us freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, which I thought was a nice touch after a frigid, wet day.
For dinner we ate at Alaska Seafood Grill, which was one of the only options there on the strip. It’s good we hustled because there was an hour wait by the time we were eating. I obviously don’t eat seafood so I had a bacon cheeseburger with fries.
On the way back to Anchorage on Route 1 (there are very few routes in Alaska, we were mostly on 1 and 3 – 2 for the Arctic day) we stopped and took pictures of the views we missed on the way down, even though it was way cloudier at that point. We didn’t get till almost 10pm, and I slept incredibly well.
DAY FOUR: TUESDAY, JULY 6TH: On the road again…
Tuesday was a lot of driving. We decided not to rush, though, so we ended up getting a late start. I picked Mollie up at 10am after dropping my postcards off at the post office, and we proceeded back down Route 1. We had passed the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which had been on my itinerary at one point but had fallen off. When I realized it was 10 minutes away from the glacier hike we were going to do, I put that back on while taking off the Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Boardwalk that we passed Monday that was literally just walking along the highway. We did stop at Beluga Point to take some pictures, but we didn’t see any belugas, as it was pretty cloudy and rainy.
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is basically an outside zoo, but they save Alaskan wildlife, and every animal we saw was native to the area. We walked around the 1.5 mile loop and saw porcupines, elks, deer, bison, caribou, bears, muskox, moose and reindeer, as well as the Turnagain Arm Scenic Boardwalk where we took some great pictures. The elk were in rut, which is what it’s called when they are dying to procreate. Now, I’ve been in rut, and I’ve been in a rut, and I’ve also been in a rut rut, so I empathized with them! It was raining off and on for a lot of Tuesday, but it was off for this bit of it! For lunch, I had a blueberry muffin because I wasn’t sure we’d be around much food for the rest of the day. However, the gas in the car was hitting empty, so we decided to double back to the gas station at this point. This was unfortunate; if I hadn’t rushed to the center for what I thought was a thing at 11:15 which ended up not actually happening, we could’ve saved 20 minutes instead of doubling back for gas! Ah, well.
Next up, we did the Byron Glacier Trail, which was just a few miles to an actual glacier… which I walked on for a bit! That was super, super cool! And it was good that we brought our umbrellas because it was definitely raining at that point, which made everything a bit slippery.
We stopped by the gas station again for a rest stop and also picked up sandwiches for lunch (I got egg salad) and headed up route 1 to Chugach State Park where we stopped by the Mirror Lake, and then took the brief hike up to Thunderbird Falls, which was underwhelming given that I’ve seen one of the longest waterfalls in Africa… Anyway, at this point it was almost 5pm, so we excised two other lakes (Eklutna, Reflections) due to the time. And also, really, one lake is enough, don’t you think? It’s just water!
For dinner we landed in the charming town of Talkeetna, where the mayor is a CAT! How cool is that?! We stopped by Nagley’s Grocery Store where the mayor lives, but sadly he was out down by the river for the night. We had delicious tacos from a taco truck, and then home made ice cream at Nagley’s; I got a sundae with Moose Tracks and Maui Waui!
Afterwards, we stopped by Denali Viewpoint South and Denali Viewpoint North, though it was quite cloudy so sadly we couldn’t really see Mount McKinley.
That night we stayed in a little cabin I found on AirBnB at Cantwell RV Park. Thankfully, it had 2 twin beds, so it worked out that I booked it in April and then Mollie decided to come in June! This was a dry cabin, so there wasn’t any running water. We had to use the bathroom facilities a few feet away. Also, the WiFi wasn’t great in the cabin, but worked fine in the bathroom… for one night it was fine.
DAY FIVE: WEDNESDAY, JULY 7TH: Denali National Park
Well, Wednesday ended up completely upheaved, but it worked out way better! I got a call Tuesday that our 8am rafting trip was canceled because no one else had signed up for it, but they could move us to the 2pm. However, we were scheduled for zip lining at 6pm. So I called the zip line people, and they had just moved things around, and ended up with an opening for 2 at 10am! So we ended up swapping the order, which was really for the best. It also got us another 2 hours of sleep and out of town 3 hours earlier, which is a win-win situation! Originally, I had envisaging going into the park in between for a few hours, but I realized we could squeeze in the park on Saturday on the drive back if we swapped a few things in Fairbanks with Friday…
Anyway, zip lining was super fun! I was absolutely terrified before my first one (and Mollie took the video to prove it – it’s on FB!) but after that, I eased into it and it was really quite fun! And the views of Denali were exquisite. The final zip was a race, and Mollie and I went down together and completely tied. After zipping, we ended up having Subway for lunch because all the local joints were closed on Wednesdays due to lack of employees. This was a common theme in Alaska this summer – there was a huge labor shortage so most places were understaffed.
Next up was Rapid River Rafting down the Nenana River with Nenana Raft Adventures! I really loved this; being a Pisces, I’m always very comfortable with water. The river actually flows from a glacier, so the water was freezing. Thankfully we only had sporadic rain that day, though. We had a lovely time braving the rapids, though I think our guide purposely made it so we got as wet as possible. Their rhyming term for the water hitting our face was “glacial facial” and we had quite a few of those. They had us leave an extra pair of socks with our shoes, which was definitely great to have because even though were in dry suits, our feet somehow still got soaked! Super, super, super fun, though!
One of the guys at the raft place had recommended the Turtle Club for dinner in Fairbanks, which was a 2 hour drive away. We got there around 8PM. The turtle club had all these turtle memorabilia and figurines in glass cabinets. The food was exquisite. We had steaks with baked potatoes, and it came with a salad bar, which was so full and so filling. I also got fried cheese ravioli as an appetizer. In hindsight, it was a bit too much food, so we ended up taking half the steaks and potatoes home for the next night!
I dropped Mollie off at her hotel, and then I accidentally put 2nd St in the GPS instead of 2nd Ave for my hostel. As a New Yorker, I should’ve realized the error, but I ended up 10 minutes away on a street that didn’t look right at all. In my defense, I was really tired from only sleeping 6 hours, zip lining, river rafting and then driving almost 3 hours by the time I had made all the stops. Thankfully, I found the hostel, but then was dismayed that the parking garage I was told to park at was closed by 10pm, and wasn’t opening till 8am! (My day trip the next day started at 7:25am.) I called my host, and thankfully he directed me to a parking lot of a department store that also doubles as a bus depot. And that was free parking! I totally would’ve always just done that had I known – I don’t mind walking 2 blocks with my bags – it’s still closer than my walk home from the subway!
Anyway, I loved Fairbanks Downtown Hostel. I had a huge bed, and the room even had a TV. This one was 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, which is a great ratio. And it had blackout curtains, which was much appreciated!
DAY SIX: THURSDAY, JULY 8TH: Arctic Circle
As I said, my pick up time for the Alaska Wildlife Guide tour of the Arctic Circle was 7:25am. Thankfully, due to anxiety of waking up on time, I was up a bit early b/c the guy called me at 7:15am and was already there!
So, the Dalton Highway which goes up to the Arctic Circle is not suitable for rental cars. In fact, the rental agreement said I couldn’t take the car up there. I thought it sounded like a must to go to the top of the world, so I got this $200 day trip. Mine was sold out, so Mollie ended up on another one. Thankfully the one I was on had only 7 of us, and we were all pretty quick to see things, so we ended up getting back in 11 hours, instead of the 16 of her trip! But we checked and we saw all the same things; our group just didn’t linger much.
First up, we saw the Alaska Pipeline, though really we saw the pipeline the whole time because it was always on the side. We got some really great views of the great outdoors, including a few with a gorgeous rainbow! We stopped by the Yukon River, and a few mountains including Finger Mountain. Finger Mountain is a mountain in the shape of a finger that actually points pretty much directly to Fairbanks, so when you are flying a plane, you just line up from the finger. Then, we kept going till we were at the rim of the Arctic Circle to take pictures with the sign. If we had kept going 60 miles, we would’ve hit Coldfoot, and another 300, Deadhorse. I imagine these are pretty sparse towns.
My tour came with lunch and dinner included. For lunch we had turkey sandwiches, but they were way better than the one from the cruise. And also chips and a chocolate bar. For dinner, we had beef stew that they made specially for us. We ate at the rim of the Arctic Circle where we also received officially certificates saving we traveled up to the top of the world! Basically, I paid $200 for a piece of paper. But it was nice not driving for the day, and I could actually take photos. On way back, a moose crossed us, and I was the only one who got a really good photo because I had my camera out on my wrist! Phew! Why did the moose cross the road? So I could take its picture, duh! And then, actually a squirrel crossed, but I didn’t get the picture b/c it was really fast. But it was nice to see Moose and Squirrel still hang out together!
I was home a little after 6:30pm. I traded my shirt at my hostel and proceeded to walk around downtown Fairbanks, which didn’t really take very long. I saw Golden Heart Plaza, a park by the river with a clock and a church, and Veteran Memorial Park which had a gazebo where a homeless person was sleeping. There was really only 2 streets with anything happening. I saw there was live music at Goldie’s which was a bar in an alley, but I don’t drink, and I was pretty tired so I didn’t linger long. Also, there were a few theaters because Fairbanks has culture, and there were historical signs so I now know that the guy who the song wrote “Off we go into the wild blue yonder…” was named Robert Crawford and grew up in Fairbanks.
Anyway, I made it an early night because I was just exhausted. The TV didn’t have many channels, but they did have Me TV, so I watched an old episode of “Gomer Pyle” then “Green Acres” and made it an early night.
DAY SEVEN: FRIDAY, JULY 9TH: Fairbanks
Friday morning we met up at the Fairbanks Ice Sculpture Museum experience at 9am. We saw the Aurora movie first, which turned out to be a film with photos taken of the Aurora Borealis by a photographer decades ago using old equipment. His pictures were set to classical music, and it was a 40 minute movie. After that, we saw a 15 minute film on the ice festival that they do in March. Then, we went into the back of the theater which was a cooler where they had a bunch of ice sculptures including a bear, moose, a full ice bar and an ice slide that we got to sled down! After taking pictures and getting pretty cold, we settled back in the main theater to see the resident ice sculpture, Andy from China, do a brief demonstration of how he creates art. Totally cool — pun intended!
Next we had brunch at The Crepery, which was conveniently located right next to my hostel, which was also right down the block from the museum. I had a breakfast crepe – egg, bacon and cheese with orange juice, and we split a sweet crepe with cream, strawberry and blueberry. They were both absolutely delicious! Then, we ran to the post office so Mollie could mail her postcards, picked up the car and drove 8 minutes to the Fountain Head Antique Auto Museum. We had only an hour, but we managed to see all the old cars. Apparently, all but 3 of the cars in the museum are in working condition! They had the oldest cars from the late 1800s and then cars up till the 1930s. Also for those people who don’t like cars, they had old timey clothes, spectacles and hats displayed throughout. There were some old videos, including what is thought to be the oldest 35mm recording of a street in San Francisco. There was also some of the original snow mobiles, which were just converted cars. Quite worth the $15!
Next up, we hustled to the Running Reindeer Ranch for our 1PM walk with the reindeer! This was a trip highlight for me. It was super fun, and the reindeer were so friendly — almost more than Smee! (He is staring at me while I write this hoping I will feed him some more food. Actually, I probably should: hold on!) We learned a lot of facts about reindeer, but I didn’t take notes, so you can google them if you’d like to know more about them. And then we walked around a loop trail. The owner of the ranch’s daughter wanted to get some wildlife when they moved to Fairbanks, and eventually they settled on reindeer. At some point, friends of friends kept wanting to visit to take a walk with the herd, and it expanded into its own business. I believe it’s probably one of the only experiences likes this anywhere. After our walk, they gave us homemade cookies and lemonade.
After that, we went to the Museum of the North. I was pretty much over museums at this point, but I had put it on the itinerary to see the Dynamic Aurora movie at 5PM since we were not there the right time of the year to see the actual Aurora. (But no regrets: it was 55-70 all week instead of below freezing!) So, we got there a bit after 4, and it just made sense to see the museum. There was another gallery of Alaska, which was pretty much like the free exhibit we saw in Anchorage combined with the Anchorage Museum itself. We were completely underwhelmed by the movie; it was didactic, soporific and had barely any actual footage of Aurora. Afterwards, we went upstairs to the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery, which was more modern art with an Alaskan flair. When we got there, we decided to see the Arctic Currents: A Year in the Life of the Bowhead Whale as well, not knowing how underwhelming the first one was. So, we had already bought our ticket for 6pm. We had a bit of extra time, but thankfully the WiFi was topnotch! Also, I got a little thing of mints with a polar bear on the container at the gift shop for $2. (As you will know from my last trip, I will get most things at gift shops if they’re $2 or less! It’s very rare anything is, though.) The second movie wasn’t as boring as the first, but still wasn’t great. Ah, well.
Next up, we went to Pioneer Park where I had read there would be live music at 7. It rained a bit as we walked around. They have a little town there with old houses that had been moved from their original location. And there was a train that President Harding traveled on the Alaska Railroad with, putting in the golden spike in the center. We were very hungry, and the music was fine but not something we felt we needed to stay for, so we headed out for dinner downtown at Bobby’s Downtown, one of the only restaurants open till 11pm. It was a Greek-Italian hybrid.Mollie ordered the lamb chops, which took forever to come. Thankfully, we had salads first included in our meals. I got the meat lasagna, which was such a huge portion, I couldn’t actually finish it. It was yum, though, and came with garlic bread.
Since dinner took so long, we decided not to go see if the alley bar still had live music. After filling up gas at a really cheap place I had found, I drove her to her hotel then double backed downtown and got to bed by 11:30pm.
DAY EIGHT: SATURDAY, JULY 10TH: Denali National Park
Saturday morning, I picked Mollie up bright and early at 9:15am, and we headed to The Cookie Jar Restaurant for brunch. This was a highly rated place, and it was super crowded even before 10am! Who the hell wakes up before 10am on a weekend!? Anyway, for some reason, people didn’t want to eat on the patio, but we were happy to so we got a table quickly at least. Oh, the restaurant was hard to find; it was behind a bunch of car dealers but the GPS told us we were there, and we were confused for a bit, which lost us a few minutes.
Anyway, I had a stack of pancakes, scrambled eggs and orange juice. Then, we split a raisin cinnamon roll, which was so rich it made me not hungry for lunch or dinner!
We drove 2 hours back on Route 3 South to Denali National Park and Preserve again. This time, we actually went into the park, stopping by the visitor’s center, then going to see the Sled Dogs. Usually they do demonstrations with the dogs, but they weren’t having them this year due to staff shortages, but we still got to see them. And there was a bit of an exhibit on them, as well. Thankfully, they were mostly napping so none of them tried to say hi or sniff us or lick us or anything gross dogs do.
Afterwards, we drove up to the 12 mile mark, and did a mile Mountain Vista Loop trail. We really lucked out on Saturday weather-wise. It was perfectly clear, and we could easily see Mount McKinley in the background. Afterwards, we drove up to the 15 mile mark to the Savage River. Rather than do another 2 mile hike (we were about natured out and had a flight to catch), we just did a brief walk in a circle and took pictures. We got really lucky with parking; the lot was totally full, and we were just going to take photos from the window, but someone backed out of the last spot right as we got to it, and we snatched it up! Speaking of window photos, we saw a napping caribou. All the cars had stopped on the road, so we had ample time to take its picture.
So, only the first 15 miles of the park are available for cars. But all the buses that take you further had been sold out for the entire week by the time I realized the free shuttles didn’t go up that far. And those buses were mostly 8-12 hour trips, and we didn’t really have time for that anyway. Besides, as I mentioned, we were about natured out. There’s only so many trees you can see, after all!
It’s a really good thing we left an extra hour to get back to Anchorage because at the intersection of Routes 3 and 1, there was a traffic logjam. Apparently, all weekend they closed down all but one lane, and this being Alaska, there weren’t any other routes to detour. Unfortunately, we had to go that way, and we lost the extra hour I left sitting in traffic. I was freaking out, but Google kept assuring me we would be okay. We ended up getting back to the rental car drop off at the airport at 8:45pm for a 10:15pm flight. Not ideal, but totally fine given that Anchorage Airport does not have the security lines of JFK. I had an overpriced yogurt and fruit cup, because I knew our flight wouldn’t have anything but a snack.
We ended up having to drive the car back to Anchorage because there was going to be an extra $400 fee if we left it in Fairbanks, but it worked out because we had an additional 2 hours in Denali, which was a really nice way to end the trip. Besides, I told Lauren in the postcard I sent her of the sled dogs that I was going to meet them, and I didn’t want to become a liar. Incidentally, I mailed the postcards on Tuesday morning, and most of them arrived by Saturday, before I even got home! Good job, post office!
On the flight, I watched the movie “Five Feet Apart” and then decided just to close my eyes for the rest of the red-eye flight. I don’t think I ever reached deep sleep, but I faded in and out enough to survive the air train and E subway train home. The E was there the second I arrived from the air train, and I was very happy to be back in New York where public transportation exists! I napped when I got home, and then Sunday I was a bit of a zombie. Got all the pictures up on the Facebook Monday, which was an ordeal, as usual, as I got shut down for uploading too fast, then captioning too fast.
But now that this ledger is about done, I can consider the Alaska vacation archived! I totally recommend Alaska in the summer. I feel great about the trip, and I want to publicly thank Mollie for coming with me so I wouldn’t have to drive 20 hours alone! I also wouldn’t have been brave enough to try zip lining or river rafting without her, and I appreciate that she was willing to do both.
Here’s what I have read since mid-May:
Nova — This was our final virtual book club selection (since things are reopening, we disbanded!) and it was an old school sci-fi novel with some seminal moments for the genre.
Acts of Desperation — This was a great novel about obsessive love.
Where the Crawdads Sing — Very popular book about a recluse swamp woman which also featured a murder mystery.
Breasts and Eggs — I loved this book by Japanese author Mieko Kawakami and just got her second book “Heaven” out of the library.
Too Good to Be True — This is a “Gone Girl” type thriller about a marriage (or really marriages) gone awry.
Midnight Library — This is a book about alternate universes, nothing too original, but an easy read.
Second First Impressions — Entertainment Weekly had this on its list of summer reads, but it’s a typical romance novel, which isn’t quite my genre.
Who is Maud Dixon? — I read this thriller book on the plane to Alaska, and couldn’t put it down! Wonderful debut, and I didn’t see some of it coming!
Little Weirds — Jenny Slate’s essay collect is indeed quite weird.
Bridge of Clay — I just started this book by the author of “The Book Thief”. I like it so far!
I went to see 2 movies in the theaters since the last update:
A Quiet Place 2 — Decent sequel to the first movie.
Cruella — Fine movie with great performances, though fairly predictable.
Here are some good shows I’m currently watching:
Superman and Lois — The new CW version of Superman has been incredible!
Ricky and Morty — The new season has been completely up to snuff!
Hacks — This is the funniest show ever! It’s on HBO Max, and Jean Smart is riveting!
Mythic Quest — Season 2 on AppleTV is hilarious!
High School the Musical the Musical the Series — Total guilty pleasure on Disney+, but it’s quite funny.
Loki — More Disney+ — I love timey-wimey shows!
Why Women Kill — This is a really quirky show on Paramount+.
Atypical — This Netflix show just released its 4th and final season. I have to watch after I finish “Never Have I Ever”. Speaking of:
Never Have I Ever — OMG, this wonderful show is back tonight, and I can’t wait to watch!
Brooklyn Nine Nine — This wonderful comedy is back for its 8th and final season in a few weeks!
There have been live music events again — I saw the Philharmonic in Bryant Park, and I go to jazz on the pier every other week, but not too much theater yet. I am going to try to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare in the Park, but they no longer have a cancellation line, so it’s up to the virtual lottery whether or not I go…
Hopefully by the next ledger there will be some more shows to report on!
Only 18 states to go! Anyone in Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming who wants me to visit, let me know!
October 3rd, 2021 — Falling for the Falls in the Fall
Happy October! It’s been awhile since I’ve touched base, so this update will cover my last two trips: a weekend in Ohio to visit my friend Amy and the SethEmiStreet Honeymoon in Niagara Falls. Before we get there, let’s catch up on some cabaret happenings!
LOVE QUIRKS CAST REUNION
With the show still on hiatus, I thought it would be a wonderful time to get the original off-Broadway cast together for a concert! So, on Saturday, October 30th at 4:30PM at Don’t Tell Mama, I’m producing “The Musicals of Seth Bisen-Hersh” which will feature songs from 5 of my shows, including the new one and 8 songs from “Love Quirks” featuring its original off-Broadway cast! You can reserve your ticket, here:
What’s the new musical, you ask? R.C. Staab (my collaborator from “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”) are about two-thirds done with an adaptation of the Agatha Christie mystery novel, “The Secret Adversary”. It’s an unabashedly, old fashioned, traditional Broadway musical, and we’re very excited to premiere 4 songs from the show at this concert!
Other than that, I’m still doing live shows every Tuesday at 7PM at Don’t Tell Mama and probably will be till I die. On November 16th, we’ll be doing a special cabaret of just songs by Maltby & Shire, which according to the BroadwayWorld review from the June concert, I write in the style of. Other than that, regular showcases hit number 658 at the end of the year, and I estimate I’ve worked with around 3,500 singers in them at this point.
Finally, before I get into my trips, if you missed any episode of season 3 of my podcast, it was a fantastic, esoteric season filled with talks on the Muppets, Streaming TV, Plantation Vacations, Spirituality & Suffering and more!
A WEEKEND IN OHIO
The second weekend of September, I flew to Columbus, Ohio to hang out with my friend Amy for the weekend! We had a lovely time, and who knew there was so much good food in Columbus?
I got in on Thursday, and we went straight to dinner in the Short North neighborhood at Budd Dairy food hall where I had delicious Hawaiian BBQ pork over fries, a mango juice and then a mini-chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake for dessert!
Friday, we went to see the new Marvel movie for only $9 thanks to matinee prices! And we went out to eat at Easton Mall — Condados for tacos. After that, we had Jennie’s ice cream. And then later that night, we went to visit her sister in the downtown area, and went out to eat at a great restaurant called Sycamore.
On Saturday, we took a trip to the Early Television Foundation Museum, which is a cute little museum I found when I googled fun things to do in Ohio. This was such a great museum for only $5! There were old television sets from the late 1800s through to the 60s. I believe it’s the largest collection of old televisions in the world. They had a bunch that were actually functioning still, too. Quite fascinating to see the evolution of television, and super worth going!
Afterwards, we went to the Westerville neighborhood where there were cute antique and art shops to peruse. And we had Thai food, as well.
Saturday night, Amy got us comps to the Shadowbox Theater, which was sketchy comedy mixed with a live band singing cover songs, while we had dinner. Super fun!
Sunday, we went to the Ohio Renaissance Fair, which I think might be one of the biggest ones in the country. We walked around, bought some souvenirs, and saw a slew of live shows including a mentalist, a hilarious clown, fire jugglers and a guy walking on this huge wheel. There was also Live Chess, but I don’t think they really were playing an actual game, so we didn’t watch that for long. Food-wise, I had a delicious funnel cake with fruit on it (to be healthy) and some lamb shish kabob.
After 4 hours or so in the sun, we left the fair to head further south to Amy’s parents’ house in the suburbs of Cincinnati. Her folks were nice enough to agree to take me out to dinner in Kentucky so I could check off my 34th state! We had dinner at Riches Bar in Covington, and now I only have 16 states left to visit!
Monday afternoon we played mini-golf — 2 rounds of 18 holes for only $7! Amy won round 1, but then I clobbered her in round 2, so I won overall. We had delicious brunch at First Watch — I had eggs, banana granola pancakes, bacon and a fruit smoothie. Next, we stopped by a really cute half priced bookstore, and I ended up getting 4 books for $2 each: a book of Faulkner short stories and 3 W. Somerset Maugham novellas. Hopefully at some point I will get around to reading books in my apartment again!
Before the airport, we stopped by a field of corn cobs, which is a very corny art installation.
It was a lovely weekend, and thanks to Amy for hosting me! Next time I go to Ohio, I hope to do day trips to Indiana and Michigan.
SETHEMI STREET HONEYMOON
In case you missed it on social media, Emi and I announced the fact that we had gotten married by Rabbi Jill in Central Park on July 30th, 2020 on our anniversary in 2021. We had, of course, hoped to do a big wedding in 2021 and now even 2022 looks iffy, so we figured we would just make an announcement instead. Hopefully at some point, we can do an anniversary celebration to allow people to come to NYC to celebrate us! For those of you who might not have seen the slide show I made that ends in photos from our pandemic ceremony, you can view it, here: https://youtu.be/cTYqlhnAKpE
Since Canada started allowing tourists again a few weeks ago, we decided that it would be a good idea to squeeze in a honeymoon before it got too cold. So, we spent last weekend in Niagara Falls — don’t worry, we saw the Canadian side!
First off, on Saturday morning, we went to pick up our rental car. Dollar (odd name for a car rental place since the cars are way more than a dollar!) ended up giving us an SUV, which was just so huge. I always prefer getting compact cars because they get better gas mileage and are easier to park! However, this SVU was very swanky and had such features as: separate temperature controls for the driver and passenger side, seat warmer/coolers, a mirror light that goes on when there’s a car next to you in the dark, a countdown to let you know how many miles you have left on the gas, a camera when you’re backing up, and of course, bluetooth to play music and use Google Maps from a phone. I’ll tell you, in the old days I would’ve printed out lots of maps (I still did but we didn’t use them till we were in Canada), but nowadays, I really just follow Google. If Siri told me to drive over a bridge, it’s possible that I would! The car was so complicated that I accidentally turned on the rear window wiper at some point, and it took me almost an hour to figure out where the switch to turn it off was. Oh, also, this car doesn’t have a key! You just need the remote thing, and you press the stop/start button. I couldn’t figure out why the car wouldn’t start, but apparently you have to press down the brake while you press start! Who knew?
Anyway, there was thankfully not too much traffic on any day of our journey. We even got out of the tunnel fairly quickly. Since it was a 6.5 hour trip, I designed it with stops along the way to break it up.
First off, we stopped after 2 hours in Scranton, PA, so I could take a photo with some “The Office” stops. The sign from the opening credits is in their mall, so that doubled very nicely as a bathroom break, too. We got out of the mall within a half hour, so the parking was free! Then, we drove past the paper building, which is also featured in the credits of the sitcom. And finally, we stopped by Cooper’s Seafood House, where they eat a lot on the show. The house features the only place that has a mini “The Office” store, and I took a picture with some cardboard cut outs.
For dinner, we drove another 2 hours to Syracuse — though we didn’t see any boys! On the way, an alert lit up that one of our tires didn’t have enough air. So, I had to call my father frantically because while trying to fill it, I accidentally deflated the tire even more. Apparently, there’s an on button — oops! And it cost us $2 each time we turned on the pump, so I wrote Dollar to try to have them reimburse the $4. Sadly, no response yet; I might try calling them this week. Thankfully, the tire retained the air, so there wasn’t a leak or anything like that.
The restaurant we ate at was called Francesca’s Cucina and it was delicious. I had veal parm and Emi had salmon. This was also the only time that I had to get the SVU into a small parking spot, and it took me quite awhile to get out, but I managed to do it without hitting anything.
Finally, after another few hours, we arrived at the Canadian border. On the way, some of the radio stations blended together and for a few minutes I was listening to an unintentional mashup of Elvis with Journey. Anyway, we had no wait at all crossing over! We needed both vaccine cards AND negative tests to enter, which I believe is overkill, but we jumped through all the hoops and we were allowed to drive on to our hotel! We stayed at the Hilton (thanks to a great deal from Orbitz!) and the room featured a view of some of the falls and a jetted tub.
Friday I sent the alarm to be up by 9:45am. Since the breakfast the hotel offered was very expensive and unappealing, we just had snacks we brought with us. We walked down the main Niagara Falls street, taking in the gorgeous falls and taking lots of sunny pictures. There was also a really nice statue of Tesla we got a picture of. The first paid adventure we took was “Behind the Falls” which brought us down to tunnels that were underneath the falls. We ended up getting a bit wet on the viewing platform, but they gave us ponchos included! Lots of lovely photos ensued!
We walked on the river edge, again enjoying the views, and headed under the Rainbow Bridge to the Bird Kingdom. At Bird Kingdom, we saw so many tropical birds! And we were able to feed some lorikeets, one of which kept peeing on me. But it was a high-flying time, and certainly bird is the word for a reason.
We were hungry, so we double backed towards the main touristy area, and ended up eating lunch at The Secret Garden Restaurant. We had a lovely view of the falls; Emi had a salad and I had a burger with a side salad instead of fries. In the male bathroom, there was a stuffed moose peeing in a urinal.
Next, we went for a half hour walk to another tourist area, and took an elevator down to the White Water Walk. This was a boardwalk right on the river by all the rapids with some placards of facts about how the gorge was created by erosion.
Afterwards, we walked back to Clifton Hills, which was basically Times Square meets Disneyland. Lots of garish entertainment options. The one we decided to go into is the Upside Down House. It was pretty kitschy and silly, but it was still cute. Basically, you walk on the ceiling and the floor is above you. Everything is just glued on upside down, and it’s a bit dizzying and disorientating… but fun!
We had dinner at a New York style Chinese food restaurant. Dinner for 2 for only $40 Canadian! Wonton soup, spring rolls, sweet and sour chicken balls, beef with mixed vegetables and chicken fried rice. Needless to say, we were pretty stuffed afterwards.
Emi wanted to pick up some snacks she left in the car, and I managed to find the parking lot through my internal navigational system! There’s a reason I got a silver medal in Road Rally in the Science Olympiad in 8th grade! We took a little hotel break while we waited for the sun to set, then we got delicious gelato (I got pistachio and mango scoops) and took a stroll back down to the falls, which were lit up for the evening. Such a breath-taking site!
Monday we set off for home. We ended up coming back over the Peace Bridge, and again, there was no line for customs!
A few hours of driving on the way to Corning, we started to get hungry. Thankfully there was a sign for a diner! We ended up stopping at Brian’s USA Diner, which Google tells me is in Mount Morris, NY. Emi had a salad, and I had a broccoli/cheese omelette with hash browns and rye bread, which was cheaper and a larger portion than we’d get in NYC.
So we continued on for our main stop that day — the Corning Museum of Glass, which was incredible! We saw a demonstration on how to make glass pumpkins and another fire one on how to make little fish. And there were exhibits on al the different kinds of glass. Lots of scientific information, as well. Then, there was a gallery of glass from the last 35 centuries, and some modern glass art, as well. I did find one glass cat! And also a glass chess set, which was actually Hasidic Jews vs. Roman Catholics. If we had had more time, we could’ve made our own glass art, but I’d rather pay a little less and have it professional made. We bought a cute little glass cat, and a glass cat necklace for Emi that changes colors.
Since we were still mostly full from lunch and had to get the car back by 10pm, we decided to push through and get back to the city only stopping at one rest stop along the way. It was pretty exhausting, but I’m happy to say I survived the driving without any speeding tickets! Also, helpful hint to anyone renting a car in NYC: there’s a really cheap gas station in Hoboken that you can circle by on your way back into the Lincoln Tunnel! Siri didn’t like it, but she eventually forgave us.
To end the honeymoon, we out for Thai food at Yum Yum Too on 46th/9th since we didn’t really have much food in the apartment since we were gone all weekend. Smee was very, very, very happy to see us and has been especially sweet this week so we won’t ever go away again!
Finally, before I end this section, I want to publicly thank the 5 people who generously sent wedding gifts that funded this honeymoon. You know who you are, and we are so incredibly grateful to you!
Other fun things I’ve done over the few months include the following two things.
First, my friend Michaela and I went to the SpyScape Museum midtown. We had passed it, and I said aloud it might be fun to go there, and then the Facebook started showing me 2-for-1 ads for it! It was actually really fun — part museum, part fun activities and games. I also found a $10 book of Cryptic Crosswords, which are not easy to find. This one was published in London, and isn’t even available on Amazon! You can check out me trying to be a spy in the video on this page:
Second, on Friday 10/1, my friend Celia and I took a day trip to Irvington, NY to go to the Armour-Stiner Octagon House to take a historical tour. According to Wikipedia, “The Armour–Stiner House is one of the most visually distinctive homes in the world. It is a unique octagon-shaped and domed Victorian-style house.” Afterwards, we walked an hour to Tarrytown’s Main Street where we had some good Cuban food and home-made ice cream before heading back to the city.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SMEE
Smee continues to post every Caturday. He is turning 15 on December 18th! Can you believe it? Where does the time go? It’s insane! They grow up so fast. I will be throwing him a huge birthday bash with lots of boardgames and catnip, so be prepared to see some cute cat pictures that Caturday!
We feel like Smee is napping more these days (if that’s even possible), though at the moment, he is awake and begging for food, so not much really has changed in 15 years!
Here’s what I have read since the last ledger in July!
Bridge of Clay – This came out a few years ago; it’s by Markus Zusak, the author of “The Book Thief”. This compelling story was very well told.
Heaven — Mieko Kawakami is one of my favorite new authors — this book was a masterpiece.
What’s Mine and Yours — This is a new fiction book by Naima Coster — it was good.
The Mothers — This is the first book by Brit Bennett who wrote the amazing “The Vanishing Half” — it was very good.
The Other Black Girl — This is a fantastic debut novel by Zakiya Dalila Harris — I did not see the ending coming!
All’s Well — Mona Awad’s new book is a fun read about a college drama professor who puts on “All’s Well That Ends Well” and her life starts to mirror the show.
The Guncle — This is a super fun book by Steven Rowley about a gay uncle who has to take his nephew/niece for a summer. Super fun!
Hamnet — This is historical fiction by Maggie O’Farrell, which is about Shakespeare’s son who died of the plague.
Klara and the Sun — This is one of the best books of the year by the incredible Kazuo Ishiguro about an android with a heart of gold.
Razzle Dazzle — This is Michael Riedel’s non-fiction book about the history of Broadway theaters, and it’s a really juicy read about the industry’s past.
Good Company — This was a really great novel by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney about two couples and a theater company.
In the Country of Others — Leila Slimani is a fantastic writer, and this book about a French woman who moves to Morocco is a delight.
Altered Carbon — This is the first part of Richard Morgan’s trilogy, and I finally got around to reading it after enjoying the Netflix adaptation a few years ago. 2 to go!
The Turnout — Megan Abbott’s new book is SO GOOD. It’s about sisters who run a ballet studio. Twisted filled!
Matrix — I loved Lauren Groff’s last book “Fates and Furies”. The story of the new one was good, but the prose was pretty dense.
Up next from the library, I have: Sally Rooney’s new book, “Beautiful World, Where are You?”, Emily Itami’s “Fault Lines” and Colm Toibin’s “The Magicians” with Jonathan Franzen and Liane Moriarty’s new books on reserve! When I finish these 5, I will be caught up on new books from the last few years, and I have a few dozen more on my list, but soon I might actually get back to reading books that I have in my apartment!
It’s so nice that they are releasing new movies again, though half of these were released on streaming platforms instead of the big screen.
The Show Must Go On — This is a documentary on how “CATS” and “Phantom of the Opera” managed to keep performing in South Korea in 2020.
Coda — This movie that was released on Apple+ is SO GOOD. It’s about the only hearing daughter in a deaf family and her dreams to be a singer.
Suicide Squad — I liked the new DC movie, though I’m happy to watch it on HBO Max instead of paying to go see it in the cinemas.
Annette — This musical about a puppet baby is so weird. I really liked a lot of it, but it probably should’ve been a half hour shorter! It’s on Amazon Prime.
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings — This is the one we saw in Ohio, and it was such a good Marvel movie! Fun, funny, dramatic, if predictable.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye — I had a free preview to this movie about Tammy Faye Bakker, who I’ve only heard of a little bit. This was a great bio-pic, though, and Jessica Chastain should win an Oscar!
There’s so much TV to watch these days that I haven’t really tried anything new in the past month or so apparently.
Only Murders in the Building – This Hulu show with Martin Short, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez is so good!
The Premise — Hulu stole a few shows from FX including B.J. Novak’s new humorous and satirical anthology.
Crash Landing on You — Emi and I have been enjoying this Korean drama very much.
The Other Two – I recommended this comedy when it was on Comedy Central a few years ago; the new season is on HBO Max, and this is a LOL show!
Foundation – This is the only new show I’ve gotten to recently – I just watched the pilot on Apple+ last night, and I like it. It’s science fiction based on an Isaac Asimov story.
Star Trek: Lower Decks – On Paramount+, this animated “Star Trek” cartoon got much better in season 2!
The Outpost — This really cheesy but fun fantasy show I watch on the CW which is imported from Canada is ending this season, and I wanted to just give a shout out b/c I have enjoyed watching it as a summer show these past 4 years!
I have “La Brea”, “The Big Leap” and “Ordinary Joe” DVRed; I hope to get back to trying new shows from my YouTubeTV DVR soon! Right now I do DVR on Sunday/Tuesdays; Netflix on Mondays; Hulu on Wednesdays; Paramount+/HBO Max on Thursdays; Apple+/Disney+ on Fridays, with Saturday being Netflix or movies, depending on where I am with what I’m watching.
I’m so happy to report I have seen LIVE theater again! Woohoo! Such a relief!
Merry Wives of Windsor — What a fun production in Central Park this year!
Fabulous Fanny Brice — My friend Kimberly Faye Greenberg brought her one-woman show about Fanny back this fall, and I’m happy to report I will be playing for the next few performances of it! (December 2nd in NYC!)
Pass Over — The first play back on the Broadway!
Lackawanna Blues — Enjoyable one man revival starring Castle’s Ruben Santiago-Hudson about his hometown and family.
American Utopia — So nice to see live music again at this show starring David Byrne from the new wave band Talking Heads.
I hope to see more in the next few months, and will report back in my end-of-the-year ledger!
Well, there you have it! I hope you are doing well; feel free, as always, to respond to catch me up on YOUR life! I say that every time, but I never have many responses… I fear so few people get down to this last section…
December 25th, 2021 — Seth’s 2021 Year Recap + Please Vote for LQ
Well, we made it through another pandemic-filled year! I actually was feeling pretty sad about it, but then I put up the best of 2021 photos on my webpage (sethbh.com/2021-pictures), and I realized it was a decent year.
So, I’ve created this tradition for myself of new year resolutions, and even though Emi says I can break it, I can’t get myself to. So, it’s time to revisit last year’s resolutions, look at this year’s accomplishments, make next year’s resolutions, and then I will have some top 10 lists at the end after a few other updates.
2021 RESOLUTIONS REVISITED
1. Reopen “Love Quirks” off-Broadway!!!!! We will be one of the FIRST shows to resume performances!
Oh, well. I have to start the year with a big fail. However, in hindsight, 20-20 or really 20-21… it’s a really good thing we have not reopened the show yet. We cannot reopen the show till we aren’t worried about being shut down, or it would really shut us down for good, just like it has a few larger shows this month… so, while I feel absolute sadness over this and will continue to feel sadness till we finally can get the show back up, I am relieved that we have dodged the bullet 2021 would’ve had for us.
2. Write the score to a new musical. 4 songs down, 16 or so to go!
Ah, man! This is another fail — well, it’s a partial. We have 5 songs to go for “The Secret Adversary”! So maybe I can take .75 points on this one?
3. Produce more film projects. Yes, I would like to do at least one tv/film project in 2021. Let’s hope!
Oh, gosh. Well, this is another one that will get tabled to 2022, I hope.
4. Make my NYT Crossword Puzzle debut. I will keep trying for this one!
OH NO! I’m .75 for 4 at this point. BUT I will say I just got an email this week that I will be having my second puzzle in the LA Times in 2022!
5. Produce live cabaret again! Please! Even if it’s outside!
Okay, FINALLY. I finally have done one of my resolutions! I have been live since May, almost every week, and it’s such a relief to not only be performing live again, but to have fulfilled one resolution.
6. Another season of my podcast!
YES! I did another GREAT season of my podcast (sethbh.com/podcast) and it was really a fantastic one with lots of diverse topics! If you haven’t listened to all 39 episodes… what are you waiting for?!
7. Read 50 more books! (This year I got to 49… so close to 50! Though, if things reopen, then I will be less likely to make this one, which I will be fine with!)
Only 50!? I got to 60 this year! SIXTY! Can I get extra credit?!
8. See a Broadway show! It’s weird to put this on the list, and it’s not completely up to me, but I’m hopeful for a return to theatre, and I’ll even pay!
Yes, I have seen multiple Broadway shows. Phew! Maybe this wasn’t a horrible year after all…
9. Check off more states/countries in my Been app. This has to be doable in 2021! At least one more state!
Actually, I got FIVE new states this year, and that’s pretty amazing, I think!
10. HAVE A HUGE WEDDING!!!! I am very hopeful we can have our big wedding in the fall, though this might get pushed back to 2022 depending on how fast they get the vaccine out…
Oh, jeez. Well, as most of you know, as the year went on, we decided not to have a huge wedding at all. But maybe we can do an anniversary party in 2022 or 2023…
1. I produced (and co-produced) TWO major concerts of my songs featuring Broadway performers and a live band… the second of which also was a “Love Quirks” off-Broadway cast reunion. If you haven’t seen videos yet, there are 16 videos from them on youtube.com/sethbh42 (and if you would like to watch the full concerts, let me know, and I can send you those private links).
2. In addition, I produced 31 weekly showcases at Don’t Tell Mama.
3. We wrote most of the score to the new musical “The Secret Adversary”.
4. I put out another 13 episodes of my podcast “Millennials are Ruining the World? an Xennial perspective” featuring eclectic topics from the Muppets to Plantation Vacations.
5. I got another crossword puzzle into the LA Times! (And submitted a record number of puzzles to the NYT.)
6. I took 6 vacations, and visited 5 new states — Hawaii, New Mexico, Alaska, Ohio & Kentucky — with only 16 to go! (Th other 2 vacations were Niagara Falls (mini-honeymoon) & Atlanta.)
7. I read 60 books, which I believe is a new life record for me for a year.
8. I resumed seeing live theatre, which I will never take for granted again.
9. We adopted a cute new kitten. (See more below!)
10. We survived another year. I think that’s a pretty big accomplishment that we thankfully share with each of you.
I almost want to skip this section, but I guess it’s tradition… like a fiddler on the roof!
1. Reopen “Love Quirks” off-Broadway. (Please, I hope?)
2. Finish writing “The Secret Adversary” and produce a reading/demo recording.
3. Produce at least 45 showcases.
4. Produce season 4 of my podcast.
5. Produce a musical film project.
6. Get a crossword puzzle accepted by the NYT.
7. Visit at least two more states.
8. Read another 50 books. (60 seems pushing it now that things are opening again.)
9. Be a wonderful and more empathetic friend, family member, husband and cat parent.
10. Survive another year of things being out of my control and ridiculously unplannable.
2022 TENTATIVE PLANS
Project-wise, as I mentioned in my resolutions: we intend to finish up the Agatha Christie mystery musical “The Secret Adversary” in the next few months, and hope to do a reading and a demo recording sometime next spring or summer. There is a short film musical that we (I keep using we but it’s actually different “we”s each time) wanted to make happen in 2021, which got pushed back. Hopefully that will come to fruition in 2022. Other than that, as I mentioned I really do wish with all my heart we can get to a point where it makes financial sense to reopen “Love Quirks”.
I will most likely do another season of my podcast next summer — anyone want to be a guest? I only have 1 lined up so far! And I’m super excited about having another crossword puzzle in the LAT, which means my one acceptance was not a fluke!
In other news, I’m producing 4 Sondheim Tribute Cabarets, Tuesdays in January featuring over 60 singers. Details, here: https://www.broadwayworld.com/cabaret/article/Seth-Bisen-Hersh-to-Present-Sondheim-Tributes-Tuesdays-in-January-at-Dont-Tell-Mama-20211220. More on Sondheim in a bit… after that, I foresee doing regular showcases almost every Tuesday through 2021 besides vacation weeks.
Speaking of vacations, I very much hope to take some next year! I do have two working trips planned. I am accompanying the hilarious Kimberly Faye Greenberg in her Fanny Brice solo show. A few weeks ago, we did a critically-acclaimed performance at the NYC cabaret venue The Green Room 42. And in February, we are in Tucson, AZ and then in March: Kansas City, KS… but as you probably know, Kansas City actually spans 2 states — the other one being Missouri. Well, I’ve decided to go a few days early so I can explore the Missouri side before being in Kansas for the show itself. And that will check off 2 more states, thereby guaranteeing me a fulfilled resolution!
Internationally, things are still pretty much a mess. We would really like to go to Japan next year, but they are making people quarantine still. Also, I got invited to produce a cabaret of my songs in Australia, which is very exciting… except Australia isn’t allowing visitors yet, either. At some point, I have another few Europe trips to make happen, too. It’s possible by fall next year things will be better… but who the hell really knows?!
We were understandably bereft when Smee passed away in November. We held a sweet memorial party for him on December 11th to celebrate his life, and then on December 14th, I’m happy to report we went down to the Best Friends shelter in Soho and came home with an adorable 8.5 month kitten named Joni!
It took her about a week to adjust, but now she is running around the apartment like it’s hers. She spent the first few days in the closet, but she’s finally out! And if she’s a lesbian, we are of course fine with that… we did get a pussy cat, after all!
Joni is a tuxedo cat with a unique white stripe that starts at her nose and curves away from her chin — so she has a white nose and a black chin! So far she enjoys the boxes her cat food came in and has started to enjoy the plethora of cat toys we have. Additionally, with the help of some treats, she will cuddle with me while I watch TV for at most an hour a night! And today she started going into Emi’s lap while she was trying to be productive, so maybe one day she will venture into mine!
We love Joni very much and look forward to taking care of her for what we hope is a long time. Joni fills our lives with such joy, and it was truly fate that she was there when we went downtown to bring how our new best friend.
You can follow Joni on the Facebook at @jonithekitty and can view 27 pictures of her on her webpage, here: sethbh.com/joni.
SONDHEIM THE GREAT
The tribute below was posted on social media and emailed to a select few, but I don’t think all of you have seen it yet. If you have read this already, feel free to skip this section… or reread it if you like! Since I wrote this, one of my letters was featured on the Instagram: @sondheimletters and I was interviewed for an article in the Observer (which hasn’t come out yet).
I thought it would be fitting to commemorate Sondheim on a Sunday. I also needed a few days to compose myself. I am listening to his work on shuffle as I decipher all my notes about what I want to say. I mean, what else is there to say? My newsfeeds are flooded with dozens of recollections from people who knew him better personally, as well as hundreds of people who were affected by his work. The superlatives are all deserved. Steve was incomparable, in both personality and creative output. The loss I feel at never seeing his final musical is palpable. I know I’m not alone in my grief. (No one is alone, after all.)
Platitudes aside, what I have appreciated more are personal stories. I wish I had more, but I feel very lucky to have had a few. I guess I’ll start at the very beginning, which seems like a good lyricist quote to start with given that he was Sondheim’s mentor!
The first Sondheim song that I really knew was a Sondheim song was “Send in the Clowns”. Judy Collins performed it with a bunch of puppet clowns on “The Muppet Show” and that will always be my first association with it. It was also my grandmother’s favorite song, which I would play for her countless times over the years.
In fifth grade, we had a new music teacher in my elementary school. She is the one who got me started in community theatre, and she is also the one who started my Sondheim obsession. She gave me comps to see her in “Sunday in the Park with George”. I fell head over heels for the show. I just got it, and I felt like it got me and who I wanted to be one day. It opened up a path to something in my head and my heart, and from that moment on I was hooked. To this day, it remains my favorite Sondheim musical.
Shortly after seeing this production, I stumbled upon the Sondheim concert on PBS from Carnegie Hall. This was also the first CD I bought when CDs started to replace cassette tapes. I still think this is the quintessential Sondheim experience. Madeline Kahn, Patti LuPone, Dorothy Loudon, Liza Minnelli… and of course, Bernadette Peters, who took my breath away.
From that point on, not a day went by without me expanding my Sondheim knowledge. I slowly accumulated CDs and cassettes taped off library CDs of his shows, and got sheet music to his scores.
The first time I met Steve was fittingly at Carnegie Hall. Junior year of high school, my mother’s friend took me to see Bernadette Peters there as a Hanukah gift. (You can hear me wooing on the CD!) What a concert! I still have the “Love, Bernadette” ornament they gave out afterwards. Anyway, we were up in the nosebleeds, but I had brought binoculars and during intermission I spotted Steve sitting near the front. I sprinted down all the flights of stairs, and stood rather close while he was chatting with Bernadette’s voice coach. Eventually I worked up the nerve to tell him I was a huge fan and asked him to sign my program, which he graciously did. That was the best day of my life for some time.
The summer after high school I was in a youth production of “Merrily We Roll Along” playing Tyler the guy who invented the answering machine, while doubling as the on stage pianist. The director, a former Broadway actress, somehow had Steve’s address, and I totally stole it from her!
At MIT, I remember taking out the scores of Sondheim musicals and playing through them in my spare time, all hours of the night. Senior year, I produced a revue called “Simply Sondheim” where we featured at least one song from each of his shows. One of my friends was on a committee that was supposed to fund things on campus that would elevate the education experience. I remember applying for $250 — from a grant that was easily $250K — and I got approved. I used the money to buy every single Sondheim vocal selection book, and I still have them!
Senior year at MIT, I put on my first musical, “Trivial Pursuits”. At the time I was so sure it was the next Broadway hit. (Currently if it comes up on my iTunes, I cringe, but everyone has to start somewhere!) This was the first time I wrote Steve to invite him to one of my shows. Ah the follies of youth! I don’t know why I thought he would travel to Boston to see a random kid’s first musical, but spoiler alert – he did not come. He did, however, write me a really sweet note.
This would be the start of my pen palling the greatest writer of our time. I wrote him 18 times over 2 decades, and he responded every single time, usually within a few days. I invited him to many readings and productions over the years, but he always couldn’t make it — sometimes he would be incredibly specific in what his conflicts were, which was very appreciated. I felt like I was special enough to know his schedule! At some point he stopped signing the letters “Stephen Sondheim” and switched to “Steve S.” Can you believe it? I was on a first name basis with musical theatre’s god!?
As the years went on, the letters got shorter. The last time I wrote him was to invite him to “Love Quirks” off-Broadway before before the pandemic. He wrote back this:
“February 12, 2020
Dear Seth –
Thanks for the good wishes and the invitation. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to see your show. I’ll be up in the country from Thursday afternoon to Tuesday midday every weekend, except for two openings of my own. Please forgive me, and great good luck with the show! I hope it lives up to your expectations.
(It must be noted that Steve still puts 2 spaces after a period, like I do, even though grammatically only 1 is now standard!)
Well, I made it through writing this without crying until now. Steve would always say “great good luck” which I think is such a wonderful phrase. And leave it to Steve to cut through everything I was feeling to mention expectations as the key. Of course, if you never have any expectations, you can never have any disappointments, but what is life without them?
Anyway, I would go on to meet Steve in person 2 more times. The first was after the “Sweeney Todd” CD signing in 2005. I had rehearsal for something so I couldn’t make the actual signing, but I waited at the stage door. I thanked him for his correspondence over the years, and he said it was nice to put a face to the name. We took a photo together after he signed my CD. The final time I met Steve was at the “Sondheim on Sondheim” opening night party in 2010. At the time, I had a friend who worked at Roundabout, and she was so nice to bring me opening night and then to the party. Steve was inundated with people, but I managed to tell him I enjoyed the show, thank him again for everything, and get a really nice picture where we’re both dressed nicely that I now have framed in my apartment.
I wish (more than anything, more than life) that I had been able to get over my star-struckedness and had a more meaningful conversation with Steve that night, but I think it’s a miracle I managed to get a really good photo. I’m glad that I wrote him sometimes just to wish him happy birthday or to say how much I enjoyed his lyric compilations so that it wasn’t always inviting him to my shows. Regardless of content, though, he was always the epitome of cordiality, which is very unusual in this business.
At this point, I have seen every Sondheim show, most many times and each time, there is a new level I discover. I have practically all the professional Sondheim recordings. In fact, I consider myself enough of a Sondheim expert, I did a whole episode of my podcast on him, which clocked in around 90 minutes and still didn’t cover everything we wanted to say! I would travel the country to see specific productions like when I went to Chicago in 2002 to see the world premiere of “Bounce” and traveled down to DC to see one of the Sondheim weekends at the Kennedy Center, and again years later to see the out-of-town tryout of “Follies” starring Bernadette.
Sondheim’s work has without a doubt been the biggest influence on my own. I strictly follow his rules for scansion, rhyming and story-telling. When I found out Ravel was his favorite classical composer, I got out dozens of Ravel CDs from the library. My wall over my desk is covered with mostly Sondheim posters. And if you needed more convincing, just watch my sitcom/web series which is titled “Every Day a Little Seth”!
So, it will come as a shock to no one that I’m joining the Broadway community in mourning this brilliant man. Indeed, my phone blew up Friday afternoon as dozens of my friends checked in with me. Then, I was mostly in shock. Now, I am still pretty much in shock, but I’ve been able to write this at least. Honestly, I think we all thought he was going to live forever, but I am happy to hear it was a quick, painless passing.
I will cherish my 18 letters and 3 interactions with the master for the rest of my days. There are so many Sondheim quotes to choose to end this tribute with, but I will go with these 3 words:
“Isn’t he something?”
TOP 10 BOOKS I READ IN 2021
First, here are the books I’ve read since the last ledger, which brings me to a total of 60 books for the year!
Beautiful World, Where are You? — Sally Rooney’s third novel was an easy read, but I think her first two are a bit better. I still decry her non-use of quotation marks when people are talking.
Fault Lines — Emily Itali is a great new Japanese writer — I really loved this book (as you can see b/c it made my top 10 below!)
The Magician — Colm Toibin’s new book is very long but well-written. It’s about the German author Thomas Mann who I didn’t know much about. But I find historical fiction anti-climatic b/c you know a lot of the story beats.
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures — This is Emma Straub’s first novel, and I love all her work, and this was no exception.
Broken Angels — This is the 2nd book in the “Altered Carbon” trilogy, which is not even anywhere like the second season of the Netflix show. I have one more left to read in 2022.
Apples Never Fall — Liane Moriarty’s new book was a delightful read.
The Sentence — Louise Erdrich’s novel was the only one of the 3 on this list that featured the pandemic and didn’t make it feel shoehorned. I appreciate that fact.
Crossroads — Jonathan Franzen is pretty incomparable when it comes to writing about dysfunctional families. Even though the book was 560 pages, I wanted more… which is good b/c it’s the first part of a planned trilogy!
Singular Sensation: the Triumph of Broadway — Michael Riedel’s second book starts with the controversies of “Sunset Boulevard” which is about when I started paying attention to theatre, so it’s like a behind the scenes reveal book of things that actually happened while I was a theater fan. I guess you would say it’s historical, but that just makes me feel old.
Cloud Cuckoo Land — I’m a third through this new book by Anthony Duerr, and I really like it. However, I decided that I would keep it off my top 10 list because I haven’t finished it yet. I considered holding this ledger till I finished the book, but I really like checking things off my to do list, and this ledger is the last thing on my list for the year. But this book is on Time Magazine and President Obama’s lists, FYI, and his last one “All the Light We Cannot See” was one of the best books I’ve ever read.
And here’s my top 10 list for 2021:
1. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
2. Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
3. Heaven by Mieko Kawakami (Her “Breasts & Eggs” a runner up!)
4. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
5. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
6. Severance by Ling Ma
7. The Turnout by Megan Abbott
8. Fault Lines by Emily Itami
9. Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
10. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
TOP 5 MOVIES I SAW IN 2021
First, here are movies I’ve seen in a theater since the last ledger:
The French Dispatch — not the best Wes Anderson film, but enough eccentric quirks to make my top 5 list!
Antler — Keri Russell couldn’t save this horror film from its cliches.
Spiderman: No Way Home — This was a really good Marvel movie, and I somehow managed not to be spoiled for it! A bit long, though.
West Side Story — I actually liked most of the changes they made to this iconic musical, though I would’ve liked subtitles. Rita Moreno is phenomenal and should get another Oscar for this!
I haven’t seen enough movies this year to make a best 10, so I’m sticking with 5.
2. King Richard
3. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
4. The Eyes of Tammy Faye
5. The French Dispatch
TOP 20 TV SHOWS I RECOMMEND FROM 2021
I watch WAY too much TV, so I separated these out into best Comedy and best Drama/Fantasy — some of the lines between those categories are a bit blurry, so I just split them so that there were 10 in each…
BEST TV COMEDY of 2021
2. The Sex Lives of College Girls
3. Only Murders in the Building
4. Never Have I Ever, Season 2
5. The Other Two, Season 2
6. The White Lotus
7. Girls 5Eva
8. Made for Love
9. Star Trek: Lower Decks, Season 2
10. Love Life, Season 2
BEST TV DRAMA/FANTASY of 2021
2. Cruel Summer
3. Superman and Lois
4. Resident Alien
5. Dexter: New Blood
8. Kung Fu
9. Mare of Easttown
10. One of Us is Lying
TOP 5 THEATRICAL SHOWS I SAW IN 2021
Things are shutting down left and right the last few weeks, but I was fortunate enough to see quite a few things since my last ledger.
Letters of Suresh – 4 person off-Broadway play about interconnected characters via letters.
Chickens and Biscuits – Hilarious Broadway play that takes place at a funeral.
The Lehman Trilogy – Brilliant and thrilling 3.5 hour play about the Lehman Brothers.
Caroline, or Change – Wonderfully staged revival of this poignant musical I loved in 2003.
Morning Sun – Wonderful performances by Edie Falco, Blair Brown & Marin Ireland in this off-Broadway play.
Turandot – Seeing my favorite Puccini opera live at the Met brought so much joy!
A Sherlock Carol – Cute play off-Broadway that combines Sherlock Holmes and Scrooge.
Fairycakes – Hilarious, campy play off-Broadway.
The Alchemist – Exquisite adaptation of this classic comedy featuring a cast of pros.
Clyde’s — Lynn Nottage’s new play featured an incredible cast and lots of fun moments.
Mornings at Seven — Wonderful revival of this old play with a lot of veteran actors including the parents from “The Wonder Years”.
Kimberly Akimbo — This musical adaptation of the play by the same name was SO MUCH FUN and absolutely the best thing I’ve seen since “Love Quirks”!
Trouble in Mind — This revival of an off-Broadway play by Alice Childress finally lands on Broadway after almost 5 decades and is breath-taking theater.
Trevor: The Musical — This really sweet off-Broadway musical featured great choreography and a poignant message.
Kristin Chenoweth at the Met — Kristin was having a blast, and we were, too! So happy to see her in person again!
Slave Play — A bit long, but quite an interesting play which spurs discussion.
Flying Over Sunset — Lots of great moments in this new musical by James Lapine.
Assassins – Looking forward to seeing the CSC off-Broadway revival of this iconic Sondheim musical this week!
Emmet Otter’s Jugband Xmas — Looking forward to seeing the live puppet version of this Jim Henson classic!
Skeleton Crew — Looking forward to seeing Phylicia Rashad in this this week!
As I just mentioned, I’m seeing the last 3 this week, and it’s possible they will get canceled. I hope not, though! And my wonderful friend Leah is taking me to see “Company” on January 6th, and I really hope that happens…
*Update from the future: saw “Assassins” and “Skeleton Crew” but “Emmet Otter’s Jugband Xmas” was canceled, so we had to watch it virtually. Instead that evening, we went to the Met Opera to see Cendrillon.
And as with movies, since this wasn’t a full season, I am going to stick with a top 5:
1. Kimberly Akimbo (the Musical)
2. Caroline, or Change Revival
3. Trouble in Mind
4. The Lehman Trilogy
5. The Alchemist
FINAL 2021 THOUGHTS
I mean, in some ways 2021 was better than 2020; in other ways, it was almost worse because some things were back, but not all things. Regardless, I share the hope with every single person in the world that 2022 will restart life as we knew it. However, I am exceedingly grateful to spend every day with Emi, Joni and also to have seen so many friends and family this year. I hope next year brings more of that.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay sane. We will get through this, my friends. As always, please feel free to respond with your own resolutions and life updates.
Finally: a most happy rest of the year to you, and may 2022 be the best year yet for each and every one of us.