Monday, July 30, 2012

New thing #37: Panda-monium

I love zoos! So when work took me to China and I found out the zoo was within walking distance of my hotel, I made it a point to go. My first stop was the giant panda exhibit, since I've never seen a real one. Six fat bears, reacting to the extremely hot and humid weather in Shanghai in July, preferred to lie nearly comatose inside their dirty glass and concrete cage instead of going outside to frolic in the bamboo trees of their enclosure. But many of the other local exotic animals were out and about. I got to see red pandas (adorable), a Chinese tiger (looked like any other tiger to me) and the hilarious expressive sun bears (my new favorite!) I stayed away from the pet zoo, which I'd heard was unpleasant, but the rest of the zoo was pretty nice. I enjoyed the park-like setting and the wide variety of wildlife, including an albino wallaby! Or maybe it was actually a giant rat. Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the zoo:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

New thing #36: Ann Arbor Art Fair

My best girlfriend asked me if I'd ever been to the Ann Arbor Art Fair. I'd never heard of it, but it sounded fun so we went along with her. It's actually made of four separate award-winning art fairs held at the same time near the downtown campus of the University of Michigan.  Besides the university and the art fairs, Ann Arbor is full of great architecture and lots of cool shops and restaurants.

The last time I went to a professional art fair was in August 1990, in Lewiston, NY. It was a more traditional, less intera
ctive event. We bought a print titled "Guards of the Abbey" that still hangs over our fireplace. But my main memory is that it was the first time The Girl ever went into a port-a-potty. She was about two years old and past due for a nap. She leaned over the hole and, mesmerized, started to ask what the heck This Thing Was. Unfortunately this caused her favorite and much-loved 'Binky' to fall out of her mouth directly into the hole, where it floated helplessly. There was a beat of stunned silence followed by a bloodcurdling scream. It was years before she would enter another port-a-potty.

No such adventure this time.  It was a perfect summer night, the drive was easy and we found cheap parking right downtown. We walked out into the State Street Area Art Fair, one of the four festival sites. It was in full swing, with enough of a crowd to be festive and fun yet not herd-like. Every third booth seemed to be selling jewelry or tie dye, which was kind of lame. But the booths in between were fantastic! Every type of media was represented and the artist was present at every booth. They would come out and talk to you about their work, and a few of them were actually working on their next creation. Since I struggle to draw a good stick figure, I was impressed. All types of music were being played throughout the streets, including an elderly one-man-band dancing and singing on a corner. Various types of food and (non-alcoholic) drinks were for sale, and various social causes were being promoted. Some of the more memorable artwork were the huge abstract oil paintings, photography letter signs, body art, delicate pottery (except for this one teapot that looked like it had a goiter), stained glass frames, trays woven together from recycled glass, scrap metal wind chimes with a beautiful tone, and one guy who painted pictures of your dog sitting in a giant martini glass. But by far my favorite artist was the one who took apart old watches, toys, tools and various other items, and reassembled them into intricate and whimsical birds, memory boxes, bracelets and other curios. I didn't buy any of the pieces, which were well out of my price range for thingamajigs. I also didn't get their card, nor could I find their description listed in the art fair directory, so I regret that I can't give the artist proper kudos in this blog. If anyone knows who it is, please reply to this post. 

When the fair closed we stopped at a neighborhood bar to have a nice cold beverage, arriving just in time to watch the Tigers' win (and spotting our neighbors, who were at the game, on TV).  Great company, fun atmosphere, tasty food and drink - I haven't spent much time in Ann Arbor, but I already want to go there again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New thing #35: Fremont Street Flightlinez

Harnessed up and ready to go!
Fremont Street Flightlinez is a zip line ride that runs for 800 feet right over Fremont Street, a.k.a. Glitter Gulch, the casino area in downtown Las Vegas. We wanted to ride it at night after all the neon lights were in full Vegas mode, but a thunderstorm rolled in early in the evening and lingering lightening shut it down. With our plans foiled we postponed our ride until the last day of our vacation, which also happened to be our 28th wedding anniversary.

Fremont Street is Old Las Vegas, before the current day mega-resorts took up residence on Las Vegas Boulevard just outside the city limits. Shabby casinos vie for attention with street artists, musicians and hustlers along this popular tourist destination. Vintage signs of the neon museum tour are displayed along the street. You can eat a Bypass Burger at the Heart Attack Grill, do some shopping at the Harley store, and ride the Flightlinez.

To get there, Senior and I rode the Deuce, a double decker bus full of loud, drunken tourists, tired casino employees and scary locals beating the heat with a 24-hour ticket to air-conditioned comfort. The seat in front of me was occupied by a huge Samoan man. His neck was tattooed with an eerie pair of woman’s green eyes; the collar of his shirt acting as a veil for the rest of her face. She watched us nearly all the way to our stop.

It was a short walk to the Flightlinez storefront where we weighed in and signed legal disclaimers before purchasing our tickets. Then we took an elevator to the top of a parking garage and joined a line of people waiting turns to suit up in the harnesses. They had a crude yet highly effective numbering system taped to the staging area that kept the lines moving smoothly.  It was pretty funny how many people couldn't figure out directions like "stand on number 3".  When it was our turn, staff members helped us into our harnesses while chatting politely, probably to gauge how nervous the clients are before throwing them off a 67-foot-high platform. We climbed a final flight of stairs onto the launch zone. Safety was a priority and they made sure my harness and lanyard was clipped to the framework at all times. I stuffed my shoes into a bag and promised I would not spit or throw things on the tourists below or try to turn somersaults in my harness (as if!). Then they gave my line a tug and I was off, soaring through the air at speeds we were told reached up to 30 mph.

The ride was surprisingly smooth. The initial drop was the most fun, but other than that it didn’t really get the adrenaline flowing. It felt a lot like being on one of those observation decks with glass floors, looking down at the street below. Pedestrians whooped at you as you zoomed over their heads. Along the way my harness rotated in a slow lazy spin, offering a full 360° view of the surroundings. Senior trailed along behind me on a parallel line. I ended up hitting the end of the line facing backwards, feeling a small jolt when the crew grabbed the harness. They quickly slipped a two-step ladder under my feet to stand on while they secured my gear, then helped me step down off the landing pad. We took off our gear, posed for the requisite touristy pictures, and headed back down to the street.  

The zip line was a lot of fun, and if the line was shorter I would have gone again. Instead we packed up and got ready to head back to the hotel, stopping only to look at those pictures they snapped of our ride. Luckily they came out really awful so there was no temptation to purchase them. Instead we have our memories of a fun and unique way to celebrate another great year together.

New thing #34: Sunless tanning

Stalking the Perfect Tan
a Doonesbury classic by G.B. Trudeau
Senior and I were headed to Vegas. Since temperatures over 100° were predicted, I planned on packing shorts. Then I took a look at my legs and the burgeoning roadmap of tiny blue lines slowly taking over the surface. It was time for some camouflage.

I considered my options. I briefly contemplated sunbathing, but I’ve been a sun block devotee ever since my mother (the sun worshipper) started sprouting little precancerous horns called solar keratosis. A tanning bed is definitely not the route for me. I tried them back in my younger years and hated it. Laying down in a smelly, bright coffin that was the repository of hundreds of other persons’ sweat beads always creeped me out. And I’ve never really liked tan in a can, because it’s smelly, sticky and doesn’t last. So I decided to try a spray tan.

There’s a place near me that has the VersaSpa sunless tanning system. It’s a booth with two nozzles that move up and down on a track, covering you in a fine mist. The three-step process included sprays of a pH balancing conditioner, a sunless, skin-bronzing formula, and an anti-aging, skin firming moisturizer. I spent about 15 minutes waiting for my turn alternating between chatting with the manager, who spends most of her day cleaning up other peoples sweat beads, and worrying about the expired inspection tag on the fire extinguisher next to my chair. When it was my turn, the manager demonstrated the process and explained how to use the various tools (hairnet, barrier cream, alcohol wipe). The automated system repeats the instructions as you go through each step, so it’s pretty idiot-proof.

I considered using the booth au naturel, but decided I wanted tan lines so I could see the contrast (not to mention that I’d recently seen this cartoon which hit a little too close to home). The Spa was a little slippery from the last wipedown, so extra caution was needed as I stepped inside. I rotated through the various front, back and side poses on command, looking like an extra in the Bangles’ “Walk Like An Egyptian” video. It only takes a few minutes for the whole process, and about 12 hours for the color to develop. I’d chosen a medium tint, but in hindsight I’d go darker. While I was happy with the overall color, I was still a long way from the George Hamilton Cocoa Butter Open.

The sunless tanning system was pretty cool, and it did what I wanted. I was able to sit by the pool (covered in sunblock) without resembling a fish belly. But overall I discovered is that spray tanning is smelly, sticky and doesn’t last. So it’s probably better to save twenty bucks and go back to the can.