New York 2024

(Cleaning up my to-do list.)

Back in January, I took my first trip to New York since pre-COVID-19 days. I’ve already posted my theater reviews; I checked off two new (to me) jazz venues and made my pilgrimage to the Met’s Astor Court. This post is mostly about trains.

The trip stated off with a mess: a Northeast Regional train was out of commission ahead of our Acela, somewhere in the neighborhood of Aberdeen, Maryland. Our train picked up all the passengers and it was standing room only (and not much of that) all the way into Penn Station, an hour-plus late. I was very grateful for the comped snacks in the mini fridge in my hotel—they got me through the dinner hour—and even more grateful for the lone food truck that was open, in the rain, at Hudson Yards, after Here We Are let out.

at the terminalturnaroundThe next day, I checked off a new rail system: I rode the Staten Island Railway from St. George about halfway out the island, then turned around and rolled back. There are no fare gates at the interior stations: you scan your OMNY card in or out at St. George.

Much drama finding some place that would sell me an OMNY card; much thanks to the Bronx express bus driver who asked me, “just where are you heading?”

I made what will not be my only trip to Zabar’s on the Upper West Side. I brought back babka for the Dance Nation teams and a scrumptious fruit-filled confection labelled “Russian coffee cake” for me.

relicThere are still fire escapes to be found on Coenties Slip.

mostly in the frameAnother highlight of the trip: Sol LeWitt’s Whirls and Twirls (MTA) at Columbus Circle. LeWitt’s wall drawing style, accomplished in much more durable tile.

On the way back home, the Amtrak conductor was a little tongue-tied approaching Philadelphia, and it sounded like he was announcing “William H. Macy Station.” Now that would be something.

Dance Nation: an update: 5

We closed the show on Sunday, with a bit more drama. Sunday was a clean run for cues, except that at the end of the show we were high-fiving each other and I forgot the cue to bring the house lights up (the last of 80 light cues, which is a new personal maximum).

I missed Thursday through Saturday because I was chasing off a COVID-19 infection (first time for everything!). Swiss Army knife/ASM/understudy Trenor called the show, and do it well, by all reports. We spent four hours Thursday morning with me coaching him through my book and explaining (as best I could without the license key dongle) how to use the EOS virtual light board.

my deskYou can see the app running on my laptop here, along with my book, the god mic, a walkie-talkie, flashlight, scribble pads, water bottle, and Godzilla guarding it all.

step upclimbing wallHere’s that dummy electrical box and the climbing wall setup.

Wet towels to pick up the candy glass residue just made the deck sticky. Sweep, sweep, sweep.

Some links: 100

  • Walter Shawlee, slipstick reseller, has passed.

    Over time, his customers included a weather station in Antarctica, where many electronic gadgets could not take the cold; photo editors responsible for adjusting image sizes (they like slide rules for their clear displays of different values for the same ratio); an archaeologist who found that calculators got too dusty to work properly during digs; the drug company Pfizer, which gave away slide rules as gifts during a trade show; slide rule enthusiasts in Afghanistan and French Polynesia; and “guys from NASA,” Mr. Shawlee told Engineering Times in 2000.

  • Sorry, overwintering turtles don’t breathe through their butts.

    The notion that cloacal gas exchange helps North American turtles survive long winters trapped under the ice is pervasive in pop science, but to date, there is no solid evidence that hidden-necked turtles use cloacal gas exchange. The skin and mouth lining are where gas exchange happens during winter hibernation.

  • The Old English for spider is gange-wæfre (“walker-weaver”).
  • From Zack Stanton for McSweeney’s, “Morrissey or Trump?”

    This could only happen to me / Who has been through anything like this?

  • Guest column for Washington Business Journal by Alan Berube and Tracy Hadden Loh: “Caps and Wizards moving to Virginia isn’t ‘regionalism.’ It’s gaslighting.”

Dance Nation: an update: 4

We got through opening weekend!

On Thursday, a cast member reported a positive COVID-19 test. We were so fortunate that (a) we had designated an understudy for their role and (b) the understudy was actually prepared. Director Lee and I met with the understudy Thursday afternoon, coached him through some lines and bits of blocking, and he got through the PWYC preview with one line call, by my count. He handled the rest of the weekend smoothly. Since we have double cast the Moms character, we’ll end up with four different casts over the three-week run.

Sunday I got happy fingers at the top of the show (in part due to some garbled communication with my sound board op) and I had to back out of a cue live. This is not as intuitive as you might think on the ETC EOS command line. Again, fortunately, I had practiced this maneuver a few times.

We started about 5 minutes late on Sunday due to a late-arriving cast member, which ultimately meant that we lost the last 5 minutes of the show to a block-wide power failure. Aargh!

The continuing challenge: cleaning up bits of candy glass from the eat-the-light-bulb effect. Anything that doesn’t get swept up gets ground into the painted floor. One of our Stevens suggested soaking the floor overnight with a wet towel and an plastic sheet on top of that. We’ll try that this weekend.

At the park: 144

From this week’s report:

A surprisingly slow start for the season: we have two Wood Duck nests started, and no Hooded Merganser clutches. Lots of depressions in the chips, so perhaps we will see more eggs next Sunday.

For box #7, we will try to trim the U-bolts with a hacksaw so that they don’t protrude into the box interior. Box #5 needs some heavy clippers or light loppers to cut back the willow–we don’t want to give the snakes easy access. At the last box, #68, there’s a beaver dam in the vicinity, so I recommend walking a little farther downstream to skirt the dam (find your way through the smilax). We continue to jury-rig box #3 with a bit of tape on the roof.

Bonus birds heard and seen: Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)….

Thank you!

Back home, I’m sewing a new button onto my long-suffering field jacket and shoe goo-ing the seams of my chest waders.

Dance Nation: an update: 3

We are into the week of dress rehearsals after two 12-hour days of tech work over the weekend. How did I ever do this and work full-time too?

I am getting reacquainted with the Stage’s booth and the new tech in it. We now have walkie-talkies so that I can cue crew backstage. There’s a new audio system; the old light board is in there, but we will be running the show from a laptop with software from ETC: lighting designer Jordan has borrowed some fancy Selador lighting instruments that they will use for some fun effects during the “baby sexy robots” dance.

Major flubs starting the show last night: I need to position the laptop under my right hand and keep the god mic close by, as well as the walkie-talkie. And some other rookie mistakes: I stumbled and dropped a borrowed prop that McKenna rescued with super glue. No more jokes about actors breaking props.

So far, we’ve been more or less lucky, losing only one rehearsal due to weather, one due to the director catching COVID-19, and one due to multiple schedule conflicts. Early on, we ran a few rehearsals from the tiny space at The Actor’s Center in the city—no space available at the Stage. Shades of Metroing down to Chinatown for that somewhat regrettable Anything Goes gig. We had to switch out master carpenters, as our original builder was called away on a family emergency.

At board chair Jen’s recommendation, I’ve filled out digital rehearsal report forms (as Google Docs) until we moved into the theater. I found them slightly useful. Ideally, you one could use them to track things like, “Fran missed today’s rehearsal and needs the new blocking for page 12,” and notes for the various departments. But without the department leads subscribing to the report folder (pull), one ends up just copy-pasting a note to an e-mail message (push). And we still fubarred communication on an item or two. Next time, I think I’ll try something else. Maybe a groups.io group?

We solved the problem of how our actors can boost themselves up onto the ballet barres to climb the walls: we added dummy electrical boxes projecting from the walls, complete with unwired receptacles and conduit.

Grumble grumble: unplanned runs to Target for a mop and bucket (most of the Stage’s gear for cleaning up is filthy) and to Artistic Concepts Group for glow tape and gaffer’s tape. Not to mention by mentioning the buckets of Pine-Sol and Goo Gone that I used stripping old spike tape and gunk from the floor of the Leta Hall Studio. What knucklehead uses glow tape for a spike?

The Stage’s template for scheduling tech now sets aside Friday evening for a paper tech. This is a welcome luxury that I don’t believe that I’ve had before. I had already started setting up my cued script from the plots we had up to that point, but Friday’s meeting filled in a lot of gaps, especially in scene transitions.

I am super glad that I got out ahead of the props problem and started laying out the tables on our dry tech day Saturday, as my props lead’s first day wasn’t until yesterday. Generally, I ended up delegating a lot of the props work to my lead, the scene shifts to my ASM (participating by proxy yesterday), and spiking most of the deck to my director.

We still have some issues to iron out, particularly with sound cues, but I think we’re doing OK. The rush hour commute from Reston to Four Corners sucks, but I have a mitigation plan for PWYC Thursday and Friday opening. My inbox is full of unread notes from yesterday, so maybe the optimism of this post is unfounded!

Some links: 99

A Commedia Romeo and Juliet

Five players offer a 70-minute rollicking reduction of the Shakespeare classic, with two rotating casts (I saw the “Capulet” cast). All characters save the lovers (including would-be lover Paris) are in half masks (designed by Tara Cariaso of Waxing Moon Masks). Ben Lauer’s Jerry Lewis-infused Nurse is a hoot; Bri Houtman’s Juliet hits all sorts of levels in the balcony scene. There was a sweet impromptu moment of audience interaction when a little boy in the audience vocally noted that a bit of schtick was being reused; Natalie Cutcher responded directly to him with a “Right? I know!”

The inevitable deaths are handled tenderly. When Mercutio dies, his mask is left onstage while the actor exits. There’s a nifty moment in the tomb when Juliet awakes and Romeo dies with a kiss: the pair deftly exchange places on the bier. Of course, this is a comedy, so when the corpses are needed for the summing up, scarecrows are used, all the better for tossing about to explain who killed who and why.

All the important bits of text that we remember from high school remain in place, including that weird Queen Mab passage.

  • A Commedia Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, directed by Kathryn Zoerb, Faction of Fools, Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, Washington

Mid-winter trip reports

I assisted at Elklick Woodlands Natural Area Preserve for a couple of work days. (More days to come? subject to scheduling.) Park Authority staff are actively managing woody vegetation within several deer exclosures in order to re-establish and extend a rare forest community, known as northern hardpan basic oak-hickory forest. Thousands of trees were planted about five years ago, and those that have survived are about knee height now.

to be trimmedThe management is fairly aggressive: both native and non-native trees, all of them faster growing than the oaks and hickories, are cut back to the ground, for instance these Virginia Pines (Pinus virginiana) which would soon shade out the white oak at the right of the photo.

oak saplingMany of the trees that we’re nurturing are still very small, and have dropped all their leaves at this time of the year. So flags make it a lot easier to find them.


I’m also back at The Nature Conservancy’s Fraser Preserve, now equipped with a new tool: an Extractigator Junior, generically known as a weed wrench. For non-native invasive shrubs like Rosa multiflora and Berberis thunbergii, we need to remove as much of the root as possible. A garden fork and some steady pulling will accomplish this, but a weed wrench gives you some mechanical advantage and is easier on the muscles. The genius of these gizmos is that no springs are involved, so it’s unlikely that you’re going to mash a digit.

A composite of a couple of roses that I pulled: Dropping the tool into position.into position

Closing the jaws around the stems and beginning to pull back on the handle.jaws closed

The extracted crown of the plant.extracted

I’m still finding my touch with the tool. With smaller plants, I have a tendency to snap off the stem rather than pull it out with the roots. The Junior weighs just under ten pounds, so it’s luggable from Fraser’s parking area to our work sites.