The Long Way to Erie, Part 2

We left Niagara Falls – an oddly quiet and yet noisy town, and drove through the fog toward Buffalo. We took 190 to North Street through a quiet area of historical buildings and more churches in a 3 block radius than I’ve ever seen in my life. North Street took us to the corner of Main, and the infamous birthplace of the original Buffalo chicken wings: The Anchor Bar.

Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY

The Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY Taraka, 2019

That’s right – we went to Buffalo for one thing and one thing only. The Anchor Bar, on approach, looks like a small, old house. Until you drive around to the left, where the entrance is and ample parking. The walls in the bar area are plastered with license plates from all over the U.S. and Canada. I loved the atmosphere – betcha it’s a fun place on the weekends too. We were seated at a small table against the outside wall that felt a bit like we were sitting uphill (old flooring = uneven flooring?) The menu is newspaper-format, with lots of options for stuffing yourself. The waitress was about our age and warm and welcoming.

We ordered the original wings, which are “medium” and absolutely delicious. According to the website, they will ship wings anywhere in the U.S., which sounds like a fantastic idea. I also ordered a Caesar salad, you know, for balance, and it was huge! Definitely big enough to share. SO glad we put this on our itinerary – if you’re a fan of hot wings, you must make the pilgrimage. Or even if you just like checking off bucket list things, like me.

There’s a small gift shop inside and so Todd stopped there while I used the bathroom. He bought a f@#%ing t-shirt, so that ups his collection to 84. But he also bought a bottle of the Buffalo sauce and a pint glass for the bar we don’t have. Woot! And then we were off to Erie.

I booked the Holiday Inn Express because we’ve always had good experiences there. It was right off the highway and, it turned out, was a few miles out from downtown Erie. Todd didn’t exactly complain, but when someone mentions more than four times that it would’ve been nice if we were closer to the bowling alleys….well…I guess I should’ve looked at a map.

We had a room at the end of the hall on the third floor overlooking the highway, and I really tried to hide my hysteria when Todd noted the noise from the trucks going by. I really did. But the room was nice and comfy! And ice cold. I’m assuming they save energy until someone checks in. There’s also an indoor pool which is really quite nice, if you’re not surrounded by thirty kids under 12 who are splashing and screaming like howler monkeys. Too bad I forgot to pack our suits. This time there was a Keurig in the room, so we could use our own coffee in reusable k-cups.

We rested a bit and decided to head out to the Brewerie at Union Station for a bite. Erie’s Union Station opened in 1927 and saw many travelers over the decades that followed, from WWII soldiers to FDR and Harry Truman, to Babe Ruth. There’s some really interesting history there, like underground tunnels, if you visit their website. The restaurant opened in 2006 as part of a revitalization campaign in Downtown Erie.

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The Brewerie at Union Station Taraka, 2019

We sat in a back booth and ordered an Erie Brewery’s Railbender Ale for Todd and the Misery Bay IPA for me. We liked them both so much, we brought three cases home (can’t get it here). We shared pulled pork bbq nachos and fried pierogies – both equally delicious. One can also purchase beer to go – including their own craft beer in crawler or growler size. The Brewerie at Union Station’s own HopMonster IPA is excellent and, sadly, I didn’t get to bring any home and they don’t currently distribute. (Side note if you visit: they are not open Sundays.)

The next day, Saturday, we got up early, visited the complimentary breakfast bar downstairs (why are scrambled eggs on a buffet always watery?) and hit the road to Cleveland. When I told my mom that I was excited to add another state to my list of states I’ve been to, she said flatly, “Ohio looks just like Pennsylvania,” which is kind of a pessimistic thing to say to someone.

In keeping with the ongoing theme of haunting fog, the skyline of Cleveland was shrouded in an eerie haze. The museum was easy to get to, and parking was also remarkably easy, overlooking Lake Erie. We walked the short distance to the museum and were approached directly by a homeless man and “former Vietnam Vet” who wanted us to buy a paper to help him support his wife and kids. Okay, so I felt a combination of annoyance and compassion, since I remember the homeless selling papers on the subway in New York and it was generally accepted as a legitimate occupation. But, as Todd said, we didn’t drive 300 miles to be solicited outside a museum for money. He also called bullshit on the sob story.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, Taraka, 2019

So the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t even know where to start. The place was crowded, but nothing like the Majestic Theatre so I didn’t complain. Most of the exhibits were comprised of some iconic article of clothing, and other artifacts. I was completely enthralled by the clothes. It sparked something in me I cannot explain yet. There were art posters from the 60s. Tickets from Woodstock. (My mom and dad had tickets to Woodstock. But they decided at the last minute that this was no place for a two-month old, and so dad gave the tickets away.)

Some of the more memorable things: Jimi Hendrix’s brown suede jacket, Janet Jackson’s jacket from the “Control” video, a hand-painted guitar owned by Springsteen, a pair of Ziggy Stardust suits, one of Michael Jackson’s gloves (I’m not so naive to think that’s the only glove), ZZ Tops’ furry drums, Biggie’s Poppa jersey, and a disturbingly small shirt worn by Keith Richards. There was a disappointingly small case of items from Prince – featuring a set list from the only tour I saw and those lace gloves. And then all of a sudden I was fighting back tears. And of course there was little else, because it wasn’t what he was about.

The way out is through the gift shop, of course, and while there were some cool items there, we weren’t even the least bit tempted by the overpriced kitchsy merch … ie… a Woodstock t-shirt for $59. There was a good deal of vinyl for sale: one album I have owned for over 30 years they were selling for $49.99.

We returned to the hotel for some down time before the tournament, which started at 6 p.m. at a BYOB bowling alley. After, five of us went back to the Brewerie at Union Station for snacks and beer. Chris tried a Clarion River Pineapple Under the Sea, rumored to be very sour, but he said it tasted like pee. I don’t often pass up the opportunity to at least taste a new beer, but … no thanks. I didn’t ask how he knew what pee tasted like.

Sunday morning the previous three days of excitement finally caught up with me, about a half hour into the 8 a.m. tournament. I was finishing up The Night Bird (great thriller – should be a movie) and nodding off. I wandered out to the car, started the engine for a few, and then curled up under a blanket until the sound of car doors and voices woke me. The rain returned as we drove the long way home, making road conditions dicey along with monstrous traffic of no particular origin. 6-1/2 hours to home.

 

From top and left to right: Springsteen’s guitar, Keith Richards’ shirt (compare size to the album), The $59 shirt, Cleveland’s skyline

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On the Road Again: The Long Way to Erie

It’s PA State Bowling Tournament season again.  Todd and I took a long weekend, originally planning a side trip to Niagara Falls Canada, but the procrastinators in us didn’t get the passport situation handled so we opted for a 4-day tour through five states instead. Starting with our first stop – New York City. (This girl needed to “go home” for a day.)

We had tickets to see Phantom of the Opera, which I’ve never seen. I haven’t been in the city since I brought Veruca for her birthday six years ago. Todd asked me to drive, since he’s not familiar and/or not comfortable driving in the city. I made him promise me you won’t yell at me while I’m driving. Because truly, driving in Manhattan is not for the weak.

I tried to drive around Washington Square Park, which turned out to be partially blocked due to construction and now all I can think is they better move fast because graduation is coming up soon. In fact, there was construction everywhere in the village, making navigation tricky and frustrating and eventually Todd “gently” mentioned finding a parking garage. Forty five minutes later, as his voice creeped up to an edge where he threatened to get out of the car, I circled the theatre district trying to locate the garage.*

And then we sat there waiting to turn into the garage as 400 people continued to walk directly in front of my car halfway into the turn, without so much as a glance at us. AND THEN two girls stopped, right in front of my car, to take a picture. Todd was beside himself. Some things never change, but I curbed my natural instinct to roll down my window and start screaming.

We had a beautiful day in the city. The weather was perfect. Did some walking, got some pizza before the show. Stood in a monstrously long line at the Majestic, and then stood shoulder to shoulder with a hundred people inside waiting for the doors to our seats to open and I couldn’t help but wonder what the fire code was. A little girl ran in front of me and nearly knocked me down the flight of stairs I was standing on. Her mother grabbed her and… not so much as an apology. And then the two of them were behind us on our way to our seats, mom pushing against us with her bag until she could push past us to go to their seats. Which is when Todd finally snapped.

We had orchestra seats in row E, THIS CLOSE to the stage and it was fantastic. I was amazed by the way the stage and props move, and by how incredibly loud the music was. I’ve been to Broadway shows before but was still in awe of the production. We were also feet away from the closed-captioning/hearing impaired section and I was distracted by the closed-caption screen and the ASL interpreters who were literally acting out the scenes.

Afterward, we went to some non-descript pub for some light fare before hitting the road to Syracuse. I miss the city. I mean, I really miss it. Every time I go back, I tell myself I need to come back more often. For me. Todd, on the other hand, appreciates the city in small doses. It’s too densely populated with people. He’d go nuts here. He asked if I would move back. Most definitely. But I remember how easy it is to get burned out.

So we started on the long journey, but not before yelling at each other over changing “lanes” in the city to get to the Lincoln Tunnel. Todd was yelling at me to get over! And I’m yelling back, I can’t get over if there are cars already there! And don’t yell at me – I know what I’m doing! We had a great time.

I did the drive to Syracuse. It wasn’t planned, but once we were out of the city I just kept driving. It’s a long, lonely road, route 81. The route takes us back down into PA and then up into New York state. Did you know there’s a town in PA called Scotrun? If you glance at it quickly, it looks like scrotum.

Why did we go to Syracuse, you ask? We were there last year (see this post). It seemed a good stopping point from NYC to our eventual destination of Erie, PA. We thought we might make it to Kitty Hoynes – but we did not. We stayed at the Genesee Grand Hotel again, in a king suite which was lovely and cozy – which I only paid $7 and change for thanks to Hotels.com rewards. It’s under new management so no more complimentary coffee in the lobby. (We did attempt the coffeemaker in the room, but those are just terrible.) We ended up at a rest stop for Dunkin coffee a few miles out.

Next stop: Niagara Falls. Todd plugged it into the GPS but spelled it, Niagra – like VIAGRA. I found a single Oliver hair on my hoodie that morning – a hoodie that’s been washed several times since he’s been gone. It made my heart smile.

Niagara Falls was breathtaking. And crowded. It was chilly and overcast, and a little misty. The river is intense. You never think about the body that feeds the falls. I saw a black squirrel! I’ve never seen one before, and there were several, communing with the seagulls (or whatever they are – “rats with wings”). A black lab took off across the grass after a squirrel, and then doubled back to chase a grounded flock of geese. He was running with this big-ass smile only a dog can have, trailing his leash, as the geese took flight. Unbridled joy.

I took a dozen photos of the falls, marveling at the cloudy landscape that was Canada. Another bucket list item checked off.

We walked back to the car and I thanked Todd for bringing me here and for tolerating me lately. He gently stated that he noticed I’ve been edgy and grumpy lately. I told him to buckle up because the ride was just beginning. Welcome to Menopause! I said, I bet you never thought of this when we were 17. And he said, no, I just thought it’d be all sex, all the time.

We talked about bucket lists and doing things we’ve always wanted to do. I mentioned that meme: Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting Holy shit, what a ride! Which reminded Todd of that song from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Death by Misadventure…  face down in some dude’s pool. I prefer the former meme to this possibility.

Next stop: Buffalo.

 

*The Lincoln Tunnel is the way in if you’re going to the theatre district. I prefer the Holland Tunnel. It was always my point of entry, since I lived in the Village. And yes, it’s a thousand miles away from where we needed to park, but I wanted to go through the Village first.

**If you’ve ever driven in the city, you’ll notice that “lanes” are arbitrary.

***You wouldn’t have to pee so bad if you didn’t drink coffee all the way to New York. Just sayin’.

 

Photos copyright Taraka 2019

Cultural Things

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Chinatown Philly 2019

Last week I accompanied Veruca on a class trip to Chinatown (Philly). The Chinese teacher gave the students strict instructions to be respectful, walk no more than two astride, and absolutely “no frog on school bus.” I was given an itinerary with a list of students I was supervising (hey – I did NOT sign up for THAT) and we passed under the Friendship Gate – a beautifully painted arch that marks the entryway into Chinatown.

We split into 3 groups for shopping. The first store had knickknacks, books (particularly one on Chinese medicine, which I would like to explore again), dishes, some Bruce Lee Kung-Fu statues in various stages of combat, and beautiful CHOPSTICKS (which I bought). The second store was a Hello Kitty store – need I say more?

The last was a grocery – boxes of fruit lined up outside and large vinyl refrigerator flaps covering the entryway. I followed V and her friends inside where she snatched up a bag of these candies she’s always swiping from the nail salon. I wandered around, the funky “off” smell burning a hole in my sinuses, looking at the meat cases filled with normal everyday things and then some obscenely long pig legs with hooves still intact. I snapped some pictures of the fish display in the back, which was quite impressive, and no – I am not embarrassed. Someone said the fish area was disturbing but I still don’t know why, unless she was referring to the football-sized bloody fish head, its eyes facing the back wall. I wandered downstairs and bought chili sauce, sesame chili oil, and seaweed wraps.

Afterward, we walked around the block to a very small Asian bakery where we entered in waves. It was hotter than a South Street pizza shop in there, so I bought a butter cream bun and hightailed it back outside. V and friends bought Bubble Tea that resembled a pink smoothie with little black balls floating in the bottom that you’d suck up through the straw. They were oddly, simultaneously slimy and spongy and I was afraid to ask but I did. They’re tapioca balls.

Next stop – the Chinese restaurant that was booked for lunch. I googled this place the night before just to see what it looked like, what the menu was like, etc. and the first thing to come up was a series of Yelp reviews, which everyone knows is just a bitch-board because everyone’s a food critic. HOWEVER. One review pointed out the very real news that this restaurant was responsible for the largest food poisoning incident in recent Philadelphia history. Over 100 people in one day, in 2015. I googled the article and found more – as recent as last summer – meat stored at temps above 50 degrees and black mildew inside an ice machine, just two of TWENTY health code violations in a single visit. Who’s hungry now?

So we sit down. All I can think of is – what is the safest thing to eat that is least likely to lead to explosive diarrhea and vomiting? And – I’ll have water – NO ICE – thank you.

Anyway. The dishes were served family style – pork fried rice, lo mein, some sort of red meat on a stick (that V said was raw in the middle – I didn’t eat it), sweet and sour chicken, General Tso chicken with broccoli, orange wedges and fortune cookies. The two chicken dishes were good. Everything else? Nothing to blog about. Even my fortune – he who is shipwrecked the second time cannot lay blame on Neptune – what the heck am I supposed to take away from this? I’m safe to eat here this time, but don’t come back? Or perhaps a deeper message about watching for my ex’s other shoe?

I will say this – that peculiar smell from the grocery store followed me around the block and into the restaurant. It was also in the underground grocery we went to after lunch. In retrospect, although it isn’t a smell you want to encounter in a food establishment, it is a smell often encountered in city back streets that smell like wet garbage and rotting food.

The underground grocery is quite well-known but could easily be missed because it’s through a set of dirty glass doors and down a flight of gray concrete steps with fluorescent lighting reminiscent of old subway stairwells. There are live crabs and jellyfish, and FROGS in a Rubbermaid tote (presumably where last year’s student bought the live frog), and purple (black) packaged chickens that drew everyone’s attention. (They are Silkies, according to my birding friend Dave.) The kids bought a shit-ton of candy and I bought a 5lb bag of sushi rice.

In all, we had beautiful weather and no one got sick. I watched the folks who live and work in Chinatown, the tourists popping in and out of the stores, the men seated in the back of the bakery, looking like Asian Goodfellas and speaking in the hushed tones of their native language, and the boys in Veruca’s class all wearing those ridiculous Chinese straw hats (that screamed, tourist!) looking like they were headed to the rice fields. The boys – all of 13 or 14 years old and varying degrees of tall and short – the tallest boy seated at our table muttering about propaganda on the television and the shortest boy giggling like a chimpanzee.

*****

***Trigger Warning: The following is NOT kosher but (I think) hilariously funny, and may also be offensive to those without a sense of humor.

Friday night was Seder. Todd and I drove down to Baltimore to his parents’ house. Just a couple of their friends, Aunt Marilyn and cousin, Michael. We went through the motions like a drive-thru version of Passover, and got to the eating. Someone started talking about pigs feet and Michael said the hind legs aren’t kosher. But the front legs are, because they’re split-hooved.

I leaned over and said to Todd, I bet all the pigs in Israel only have back legs. Father-in-law’s shoulders started shaking, and then Michael said, they have to put them in those little carts so they can get around. Which in turn made me burst into red-faced laughter. But he wasn’t done. Because he said, but then they’d get stuck in the mud… so they have to put them in all-terrain vehicles, and I had an instant picture of those big all-terrain tires they put on monster trucks, which is where Michael was going and now there are tears running out of my eyes. Aunt Marilyn and I are falling into each other and the whole thing was monstrously inappropriate but we’re a fun family and if you’re offended you don’t have to join us for dinner next time. Oh – and YES – I KNOW that Orthodox Jews don’t eat pork.

 

Valentine’s Day and 100 Days to Go

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I read an article about all the things you should and shouldn’t do when you’re over 40. Exercise every day, but not too much. Don’t eat the junk food that sustained you in your 20s. Your body doesn’t like it. Don’t drink too much. Apparently your body doesn’t like that either. Make sure you get enough rest, but not too much. Don’t stare at your cell phone before bed… it affects melatonin. Sex is important. Spend time with your friends. But not while having sex. Well, unless that’s how you roll, but that’s none of my business.

Let’s see how we’re doing so far in 2019: Um, 1) not so good 2) reasonable food choices 3) failed 4) mostly 5) failed 6) none of your business and 7) yes. I can’t speak for Todd.

The T ~n~ T house hosted two parties the last weekend in January. The first was Opac’s… a crowd of about 17 downstairs playing pool, poker, and darts, and standing around the firepit outside. I stayed upstairs in the living room, stone cold sober, and watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey because I’m a classy bitch. Todd left the house for his usual bowling night. I finally broke out the wine around 11:30 as most of them were dispersing.

The following night was our quarterly poker party that in its infancy began as a group of about 6 guys, with beer and brats, pulled pork, and buffalo chicken dip. It has grown to a mixed crowd of about 22 including spouses and children, only a handful in the poker game and the rest playing pool and darts. Because I grew up “in the business,” I put out a spread I slaved and worried over all day and felt was adequate, and then was surprised that anyone was impressed.

Side note: Cards Against Humanity – Funniest. Game. Ever. Make sure you are properly sauced and have emptied your bladder. This is not for the faint of heart and definitely NOT for children. Shout out to Jonathan for knowing exactly how to entertain me.

Got my first round of injections in my L4-5 and L5-S1 which, I later learned, was a “test run.” WTF?? I woke up 5 days after with pain topping a seven, and Todd said, oh yeah, it’s been five days, right? That’s good – that means it worked. And I said, what do you MEAN, “it worked?” I repeat, W.T.F.

I’m going back next week to repeat it bilaterally, and then the week after to burn the nerves. Injections in the spine must be horrible, you say? Not so much. No one is more surprised than I am, that I have willingly submitted myself for injections ANYWHERE. No one likes needles, but when I was young I took it to a new level.

I’ve stopped wearing heeled shoes/boots. I’ve been wearing flat shoes or sneakers in an effort to curb some of the more intense pain. This new development for me is temporary, I assure you. My love affair with a chunky heel will not be curbed by back pain, numb toes, or my husband’s height.

Social life continues. Todd overbooked us last weekend and I spent the better part of Friday at work trying not to resent him focus on the lack of rest I was staring down over the next two days.

Friday night is always bowling night. It depends on my work schedule and my level of fatigue, whether I go with him. Last week I did. Friday morning he had “reminded” me of the tournament Saturday night that he’d never told me about. Saturday afternoon was a long-planned meetup with friends in Federal Hill to watch the Bayern soccer game. Which was great. We ate Schnitzel fingers and drank Stiegl Grapefruit Radler (light, refreshing, 2% alcohol).

We came home and rested a whole twenty minutes before we had to leave to meet friends for dinner an hour and a half away, before the tournament. Which, by the way, is roughly an hour and 45 minutes from home. The tournament is held in a firehouse bowling alley that has to be the only place north of Alabama that still allows smoking in the bar. But the drinks are cheap and the bartenders friendly. I was everybody’s drink bitch, since I was only spectating. We got home sometime around 12:30 a.m.

Sunday was a Dean-and-Mrs day; the college had an afternoon of music and fine arts presented by the faculty in Todd’s division. The music was great, but I was thoroughly distracted by the musicians’ shoes. Have you ever looked at musicians’ shoes? This led me down the rabbit hole of my thoughts until I was snapped out of my reverie by a lingering, and particularly foul, fart. What is WRONG with people?

Another weekend is approaching and there is a fundraiser that involves bowling and so here we go again. Somehow bowling has become my life and I don’t even bowl. Years ago I tried to make it fun, hanging out with the other bowlers and drinking, and cheering when they’d strike, which apparently is not something you do so I’ve learned to curb my enthusiasm and just stick to drinking.

****

Meanwhile, today – 100 days before my 50th birthday – is Valentine’s Day. Veruca was buzzing last night with the glow only a 13-year-old can have… hoping her crush would finally ask her out today. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d bet my life he isn’t going to be thinking, it’s Valentine’s Day, I think I finally have the balls to ask her out.

Back in school I remember Valentine’s Day carnations… white, pink, or red… available to buy and send to whoever you wanted… and the hoping against hope that you’d get one. And I’m not talking about Todd. Valentine’s 1986 – I filled his VW bug with balloons that blew all over the school parking lot when he opened the door. I gave him cards. He gave me cards, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a tiny bottle of his cologne, and a pink gold heart necklace. I tried to give him something else but – relax Dad – he didn’t take it.

I’m refocusing my energies on goals in the coming year. Not the least of which is writing that damn novel. There – I said it. Accountability is a thing, right?

 

Miscellaneous:

There is no vaccine for the stomach virus. (Oh yes, they did.)

If you’ve ever wondered if your hippie parents still smoke grass, the answer is yes. Also, if you walk into their house at the right moment, expect to be accosted with pleas to “just smell” this peanut butter cracker.

Leopards don’t change their spots. Shame on you for believing those days might finally be over. (Those unfamiliar: I’ll elaborate in another post, once I recover from the whiplash.)

 

 

 

New Year’s Eve, Then and Now

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16 and 17, respectively. Most likely our first official date.

Lying on the floor in my attic bedroom, listening to Prince on my stereo rack in the glass case… Purple Rain, Controversy, For You… talking about whatever teenagers talk about when they’re falling in love and getting to know more about each other.

His brown hair was soft and long, mine was long and curly. Two pairs of brown eyes meeting shyly and intensely across the space between us on the floor.

My parents were downstairs watching TV. I guess they weren’t worried about the daughter two floors up alone with a boy in her bedroom. They didn’t have to be.

We may have had snacks and sodas, I don’t remember.

We may have also cuddled close on that floor, kissing and feeling all the butterflies and fireworks, and falling irrevocably in love.

We may have also had the TV on, watching but not watching Dick Clark and the ball eventually drop, signaling the time for him to go home, because he couldn’t stay.

I went to bed, aching for him in that way that teens in love do, and couldn’t fall sleep.

 

2018

49 and 50, respectively. Our 9th New Year’s Eve together.

We sat at the table with grilled filet and baked potatoes, drinking a bottle of Wente Cab by candlelight, in an otherwise empty house.

He put on one of our MP3 lists, with Scandalous Prince. We talked about our families, those still with us and those who are not. We talked about all the dogs that came before Pi and Sabra, and how neither of us wants to love and lose another pet.

We talked about our plans for the future, airfare, and practical stuff like house renovations, and the next poker party.

His brown hair is short today. So is mine. Maybe his a bit thinner than it was in 1985, and shades of gray peeking through. My hair is a reflection of my original color; otherwise it would be heavily gray.

We sat on the couch and snuggled close and took selfies. I joked we should lie on the floor and make out; he said great idea, until we have to get up off the floor.

We watched Dark Matter on Netflix. The cousins in Oregon called and we had a lovely, long conversation.

We climbed into bed sometime near 11:30, and I fell asleep just 15 minutes before the ball dropped.