I'm back from vacation. I'm back a bit earlier than I expected, but the first part was great. Details follow:
The drive to NYC was uneventful - I drove about halfway there in the dark (the sunrise was pretty), and then slept for several hours at a rest stop, making my way into NJ around noon. I got a bit lost for the last part (partly because google mixed up 10 Penn Terrace, Chatham with 10 Penn Plaza, Newark), but a guy who looked and talked exactly like Jimmy Carter helped me out between helping children cross the street. Newark is, BTW, a total shithole that I hope never to return to. I saw a good amount of it while looking for a place to park (combined with streets that don't let people turned off of them), and it's the ugliest city I've ever seen. A train then took me into NYC.
Not long after I left the station, I met up with Jason, and he showed me around his workplace. It seems to be a pretty neat place, for a big company, with nice architecture and several interesting ideas on how to do business (some of which seem problematic, but .. eh). After a bit, I walked to Columbus Circle, which is a great place for people-watching. Until I've gotten my fill, I'd rather sit at a coffeeshop or other suitably high-traffic area for an hour or two than see a museum when on vacation. It's funny how much memories of Central Park have stuck in my head over the various trips I've made to NYC, and how many other random bits of the city I recall. The opera was fantastic - the whole thing was put together with a great sense of humour, and the singing was great. It had more plot than a Monty Python episode, although it was probably just as funny.
Afterwards, I took the subway back to Jason's place, and it was probably not such a bad thing that there appear to be no fulltime goth/industrial clubs around, as I was pretty tired. Instead, we went out for food, eventually finding the Yaffa café, which was a cute and weird little 24-hour place. I had some tasty crêpes and decent wine - if I lived in NYC, I get the feeling it would be a place I'd visit often. We then went back to Jason's place (which he shares with a group of strange gals) - while he doesn't like it that much because it doesn't have a view (and the gals don't keep it even remotely clean), the place itself seemed to have a lot of (wasted) potential. The next morning, we grabbed lunch at a (lousy) Indian restaurant, and I took the subway outta there back to Newark.
One of the thing I noticed about NYC was that my Sierra Club bag was by no means unique -- I spotted a number of them in town. I mentioned it to Jason, suggesting that the Sierra Club is a way for rich people to pretend to care about the environment while still being very safe. He said that described New York rather well - as he sees it, the high cost of living in NYC is both driving away the culture that made it a nice place to live ten years ago and contributing to harmful business practices across the nation - if the financial leaders of America need to make a certain amount of money just to get by in NYC, extracting that wealth from the nation at large, then that dominates the nation's economic thinking and prevents principle or harmony from playing a significant role in our economy. We talked about a number of other things - his thought has moved a ways from where it was when I last knew him, but I think that can probably be said of any of the group of thinkers I used to know. On the train ride back into NJ, I ran into someone from Georgia (I instantly recognised the accent, and was correct. w00t), with whom I chatted for the whole ride, initially about travel costs and finance, but then eventually about how people who win the lottery often completely mismanage their funds. Near the end of the ride, we talked about regional foods, and I mentioned that Pittsburgh has very few Hispanic people, and how much I miss having that available in Yank states. After talking a bit about what he liked to eat, he then remarked that how Hispanics tend to give really good service, giving me a weird look (was he testing how southern I am?) - I wasn't sure what to think about that.
Trenton (not actually Philly) was a set of endless strip malls - the drive there was pretty easy. The KOL conference started out reasonably well for me - I checked in, dropped off my stuff, chatted with a few people in the lobby, and went up to the main gathering area. I was a bit surprised (and honestly, put off a bit) at how many of the people there were really really obese and/or ugly, but not everyone was like that, and there were some cool people there (unrelated to the fat/ugly axis). Unfortunately, I started to get a killer migraine, and so I went to my room and went to sleep, missing all the Friday events, and waking up at 2am. I wandered around a bit, and then went back to my room, leaving the door open and playing on the computer - a girl wandered in and we chatted a bit about career choices, life, and some other things, and then I got tired, she left, and I went to sleep. This morning, I went out for lunch with two guys while waiting for the events to start, but shortly after we got back, the migraine came back and I knew I wouldn't be having any more fun this weekend, so I hopped in the car, and five hours (and a ticket) later, I was home. I'm irritated that Enterprise isn't really open on weekends - I suspect they do that to artificially extend rental times. Grr.
So basically, migraines ruined half the vacation. That's okay - the first half was great. If I had been smart, I would've remembered to pick up the new medication I'm trying for migraines before leaving, but at least I have it now. If this medicine doesn't work, I'll probably not travel again until the doctor finds something that will. The countryside between Philly and Pittsburgh was gorgeous, and something about driving into Squirrel Hill made me really happy - of all the places I've seen, I have to say that Pittsburgh (Squirrel Hill especially) isn't a bad place to live.
I don't really mind the ticket - I view the whole set of driving regulations as a game played between drivers and the state. The rules might not be individually justifiable, and they might seem awfully arbitrary, but as a whole the system serves to protect people. I speed, and I have no problem with doing so, as it's just playing the game, and in getting a ticket, I just lost a move and have to pay for it. *shrug* ... in retrospect, it would've been cheaper to fly (even without the ticket), but I'm glad that, not feeling well, I was able to choose with a moment's decision to come home. I feel better now, and don't regret the trip (even if some of the details might've gone better).