The Best Time to Travel

If March is “in like a lion and out like a lamb,” August represents another transitional month if you’re in the academic game. The beginning of the month treats us as gently as a lamb, but the end of the month beats us like a rented mule. However, the month of August also has the reverse effect on travel. As the kiddies go back to school at the end of the month, it becomes a lot easier to travel, especially par avion.

  • Airports become more pleasant. You begin to see fewer over-burdened families clogging the airport lines and more experienced business travelers zipping through security checkpoints and boarding areas.
  • The weather at most places begins to cool significantly. The heat waves that make most people too grumpy to do anything begin to dissipate in late-August. New Yorkers begin returning to our heat island around this time and stuff begins to happen again. It’s the same in Europe, they tell me.
  • Airfares drop from the stratospheric prices over the summer. It’s been years since I’ve flown to California over the summer because it costs about $500-$600 for a domestic flight to LAX this time of year. That’s double the usual fare. I still don’t get how people afford European summer vacations at these nutty prices.

As happens at this time of year, the off-peak travel season is nigh, and airlines have been discounting airfares for fall travel. That’s great because, as we all know, early fall is the best time of year to travel. Over the last month, several airlines began discounting flights between New York and Los Angeles, the markets I travel most frequently, to some pretty reasonable levels. Because I wasn’t deliberately tracking these fares, I don’t have exact figures, but I recall that it started with the LCCs and ULCCs.

  • Virgin America started a fare war with $300 round-trip fares, between JFK and LAX, for travel between August 25 and November 18.
  • Spirit Airlines offered a $260 fare, which shouldn’t even count as a discount because they will add fees for carry-on luggage and printing your boarding pass.
  • Sun Country did something similar, but every time I’ve searched their fares in the past, there was a ridiculously long layover in Minneapolis–St. Paul. It wasn’t worth it.

Then things got more interesting as the legacy carriers got involved, and these guys know how to wage a fare war.

  • American Airlines and US Airways began offering flights between LGA and LAX, with a connection, for $238.
  • American lowered the price on tickets on their own stock to an even lower price: $216. That is about as cheap as I’ve ever seen a non-mistake fare between NYC and LA.
  • On Wednesday morning, American offered two fares, LGA-DFW and DFW-LAX, that when combined could zip you across the country and back for $150.

I implored friends and family to take advantage of these fares, especially when it dropped to $150, because there’s no way that fare was going to stick around long. And it didn’t. By Wednesday night, that fare had evaporated and flying between LGA and LAX, via DFW, cost $370 round-trip.

On Thursday morning, I saw that United matched American’s aggressive pricing and offered its own $150 round-trip fare, between LGA and LAX via Chicago-O’Hare.

I couldn’t resist and booked a trip in mid November. Although September and October are the best months to travel just about anywhere, they’re also among the best months to be in the city.

I’ll head west as the temperatures begin to drop.

How Riding on the North Fork Could Totally Suck

In the days leading up to this past weekend’s ride to Greenport, Long Island, I noticed there was an uptick in anti-bicycling sentiments from officials in Southold, New York.

Growing up in California, particularly around Los Angeles, you were either within the city limits or were in an unincorporated part of the county. Since I moved “Back East,” on the other hand, it’s been maddeningly frustrating trying to learn the difference between a city, a town, a village, a hamlet, and a borough, in addition to each’s relationship to the county. Located in Suffolk County, the town of Southold includes all of the North Fork east of Riverhead. The last twenty or so miles of last Saturday’s ride to Greenport went through the town of Southold.

Southold town map

Since at least 2003, our “tour director and humble servant” Glen has organized a North Fork ride that begins and ends in Greenport. After 2013, he had to shut down the ride because the town of Southold essentially banned any for-profit rides that pass through that town. This year, he resurrected the North Fork Century by partnering with Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center. It was a clever workaround.

But now the town has banned all “race and bike events” between June 1 and November 1. It’s unclear if a club ride, such as a group ride organized by a local cycling club or an annual event such as the Suffolk Bike Riders Association’s Bike Boat Bike ride, is included in this ban. According to the town supervisor Scott Russell, “the blanket prohibition on running and bicycling events would help to put the brakes on the escalating problem, as bicyclists ride three and four abreast, running red lights and putting the public in danger.”

This ban, of course, won’t help to lift Suffolk County from its dead-last ranking as the worst cycling community in the United States, according to Bicycling magazine’s annual survey. Suffolk County is “always one of the most dangerous places in the United States to ride a bicycle. In 2008, the county was the site of 23.8 percent of all fatalities to cyclists in New York state, despite having less than 8 percent of the state’s population.”

Suffolk County being disproportionally responsible for mayhem on the roads extends beyond the roads not being “designed for bicycling.” Suffolk County is also the drunken-driving capital of New York, and last week, there was a ghastly fatal crash where an allegedly intoxicated driver killed at least four people in Southold. Strangely, the Southold police chief suggested that a limo being hit by a local driver was inevitable, seemingly downplaying the fact that a drunken driver plowed into the vehicle and was arrested at the scene.

As I reading through these reports, the Southold police and the town board are apparently discouraging any visitors to the town. This provincialist attitude was one of the things that bothered me about living in the Santa Barbara-Goleta-Carpinteria area, a region with 220,000 people compared to the 22,000 in Southold. It creates an us-versus-them mentality that isolates the community in a bubble. The town officials of Southold are prioritizing the rights of locals to speed on local roads—perhaps even while under the influence—at the expense of out-of-town visitors who might travel east by bus, limo, or bicycle on public roads.

It really makes considering another ride to the North Fork a disheartening prospect.

Going Green: Greenpoint to Greenport in July

Over the last couple of months, a few of cycling buddies and I have been entertaining the idea of riding along the north shore of Long Island to the North Fork town of Greenport. Like Montauk, Greenport is a worthwhile cycling destination because both towns are about 100 miles from New York City and are each the terminals of the easternmost Long Island Railroad lines.

This past Saturday, four of us rode the Ride Between the Greens, a 108-mile ride from Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Greenport, Long Island. Incidentally, we also rode a few miles south of of Greenvale and through Greenlawn.

Between the Greens, July 25, 2015

The ride takes advantage of the fact that the two locations are on opposite ends of Long Island and that they are similarly named. Green also provides a nice theme when it comes to designing a t-shirt.


Regular readers of this site will remember that I am not new to riding along the North Fork. I went on rides in September, October, and November last year. However, each of those rides started in Suffolk County, either at Huntington or at Babylon, where I caught an LIRR train to save about forty miles of pedaling.

This ride, like my now-annual ritual of riding to Montauk, started in Greenpoint, at Transmitter Park. There, a sign signals the end of the road that ironically was the beginning of our ride.

Ride with Between the Greens

The route followed some pretty major arterial roads that were lightly trafficked early on Saturday morning. We took Greenpoint Avenue, over the Newtown Creek, to Queens Boulevard and then east to Douglaston to ride the LIE Service Road for a 14-mile stretch to Syosset. In Syosset, we stopped for our first meal of the day at—where else—a Panera Bread location.

Ride with Between the Greens

After filling up on egg sandwiches and coffee, we headed towards Cold Spring Harbor and then to Huntington, where two of last year’s North Fork rides started. As a sign that we were riding on well-worn cycling routes, we spotted markings for several other rides, including the Huntington Bicycle Club’s Gold Coast Tour, the Suffolk Bicycle Riders Association’s Bike Boat Bike ride, and, yes, faded marks from past North Fork Century rides.

Speaking of well-worn places, we stopped at Briermere Farms for a peach-raspberry pie. The pie wasn’t to our expectations, which was a little disappointing considering that peaches and raspberries used in the filling were both in-season and especially surprising given that we were famished from this ride.

Ride Between the Greens

The ride was especially tough. As happened almost on every Long Island–ride last year, we faced a stiff headwind most of the day, and as we got closer to the end, the wind intensified. Four of us started the ride, but only three of us finished: one guy bailed about 70 miles into the route. Another rider was riding her first century ride and was challenged by the sheer length of the ride. But regardless of our experience and our training, we all were physically and mentally drained on this ride.

Ten hours and almost 110 miles after starting in Greenpoint, we arrived in Greenport just after 4:30 PM. As soon as we arrived, we went to the Greenport Harbor Brewing’s taproom to fill our growler—yes, I carried a 64-ounce glass bottle for over one-hundred miles—for the train ride home. We then went to the Little Creek Oyster Farm and Market for a bucket of two-dozen oysters we shucked ourselves.

Ride Between the Greens

We caught the 6:11 train out of Greenport—the last train that runs on weekends—back to New York City. Credit goes to my Tom Bihn Daylight backpack because, despite its apparently small size, it carried a full growler of beer, a pie, and my wallet, keys, phone, snacks, and the mirrorless camera I used to snap some photos that day.

Ride Between the Greens

As we nibbled on our pie and sipped our beers, I asked, “so, when are we riding the South Fork?” The silent but stern glances I got in response suggested that it was a little too soon to consider a ride to Montauk.

One of the coolest parts of the ride was, when in Greenport, Ian Wile, the proprietor of the farm and market heard about our ride and came to personally congratulate us. He confessed that he always wanted to do a ride like this. I was tempted to quip that I always wanted to run an oyster farm and market, but honestly, I would even know where to start.

Maybe I should send him a t-shirt.

Getting the Gunks Out

IMG 4405

Last year, I observed Bastille Day by riding to Philadelphia for a weekend with Sarah. We were met by two of my oldest and dearest friends, who travelled from Washington, DC, to meet us. I was never into doing “couple’s weekends,” but this one was easily one of the best weekends of my life. At the time, I regarded the weekend—consisting of a bike ride, perfect weather, a Bastille Day party, and some great exploring—as perfect.

Then it all fell apart. Sarah and I split shortly thereafter. To their credit, my DC friends still reach out occasionally to ask how I’m doing, but I am still reluctant to connect with them: it feels like I was expelled from the couples club, and I am too embarrassed to come around without a current membership.

For this year’s Bastille Day celebrations, I wanted to do something similarly epic to last year’s trip, but it seemed foolish to again ride to Philadelphia. My friend Brian, who I do a lot of long rides with, had a birthday this week, and we planned a three-day trip to New Paltz to ride around in the Shawangunk Range:

  1. Riding 80 miles to New Paltz
  2. Riding 70 miles around the Gunks
  3. Riding 30 miles to Beacon

Because you might someday want to do something like this, here are some details about the ride.

Going French

Wow, and just like that, it’s Bastille Day again.

A lot has happened in the last year, and in trying to not reflect on the many changes in my life, I decided to simply make a t-shirt for the occasion.

Birthday Bastille Day T-Shirt

The t-shirt saw some time out in the wild on Sunday, when I decided to observe the day on a weekend afternoon.

And, yes, I’ll be wearing it again later today.

Bastille Day only comes once a year, and I can’t bike to Philadelphia to catch a storm of Tastykakes at a completely historically accurate reenactment of the storming of the Bastille every year.

Let them Eat Tasty Kakes

But as easy as it is to get all self-absorbed today, it was great to remember our place in the universe because we have the best look at Pluto ever!

New Horizons Flyby of Pluto

Going Dutch

Last Thursday night, I was watching the LA feed of the Dodgers-Phillies game in Los Angeles. As is the case with all Dodgers home games, Vin Scully was calling the game. In the sixth inning, the Philadelphia pitcher Severino Gonzales was struggling with his control and walked Andre Eithier. After the walk, the Phillies catcher jumps out of his crouch and jogs to the pitching mound to calm his pitcher. Vin Scully colorfully narrated the mound visit, saying, “and Cameron Rupp goes out there like a Dutch uncle to talk to him.”

What on earth is a dutch uncle?

Many, many years ago, the renown film scholar Thomas Elsaesser, who is an Englishman with a post at the University of Amsterdam, visited NYU. At a large dinner held in his honor, he told me that the English have at least one-hundred expressions that are derogatory to the Dutch. He offered this pearl of wisdom after I jokingly asked Elsaesser whether we were each “going dutch” as we were presented the check, although I believe NYU ultimately paid for the dinner.

The many derogatory expressions makes sense considering England and the Netherlands are neighboring countries, separated by the North Sea, who fought a series of wars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries over trade routes and imperialism. It’s no secret that the people in one nation generally take a degrading view towards their neighbors. Consider the American expression Canadian tuxedo and the countless things people in the southwest say about Mexicans.

To the English, a dutch uncle is someone who advises by admonishment. It is, as the Wikipedia entry succinctly puts it, the opposite of someone who is “avuncular or uncle-like.”

This, of course, begs the question of the other English-language expressions that demean the Dutch. Sjoerd Mullender, a programmer at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica in Amsterdam has compiled a list of English-language expressions featuring the Dutch. As he points out, most of these phrases are “unfavourable” to the Dutch.

Some of these I already knew, such as…

  • dutch angle: In cinematography, framing at an unconventional, titled angle. I figured it was shorthand for a “weird” angle.
  • dutch courage: Newly found courage after a few drinks.
  • going dutch: Making everyone pay for their own meal. It is related to the term “dutch treat,” which Mullender notes is “not a treat at all.”
  • dutch oven: Something used for cooking. But I was most familiar with the definition Mullender describes as “a prank where one farts under a blanket while holding a victim there.”

But, of course, there are many others that are truly eyebrow-raising, such as…

  • dutch act: suicide
  • dutch generosity: stinginess
  • dutch headache: a hangover
  • dutch widow: a prostitute
  • dutch concert: A great noise and uproar, like that made by a party of drunken Dutchmen, some singing, others quarreling, speechifying, etc.

Read the whole list on Mullender’s website and try not to think about the even worse expressions the English have for the Irish. And vice-versa.

Soft Spot Turns 10, and I Printed the T-Shirts

On July 15, a day after Bastille Day, the Soft Spot at 128 Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is hosting its tenth anniversary party. I went three years ago to their seventh anniversary, where they played up the 7 theme by turning the joint into a fake casino.


For this year’s festivities, I was commissioned to print five dozen t-shirts based on this design.

Softspot ashgrey noaddress

Printing these particular shirts involved every aspect of what I have come to appreciate as an easy job.

  1. The shirts were mostly-cotton, heather grey shirts from American Apparel. It is much easier to print on light-colored shirts compared to dark ones because I can avoid…
    • using water-based opaque ink that dries in the screen and can extend production time
    • using discharge ink, which smells like rotting fish and is probably a little toxic
      It is also easier to print on all-cotton or 90% cotton because they ink adheres better to the fabric.
  2. The design involved only one color. It saved me from having to burn two screens, and I didn’t have to resort to any two-color trickery with my one-color printing station.

  3. It was easy to custom mix the ink. My ink supplier doesn’t make burgundy so I resorted to mixing a little bit of brown ink into vicon red which more or less made burgundy ink.

    IMG 4192

  4. I printed the entire run inside my studio space. Because of the noxious fumes involved with discharge printing, I often have to print on the front porch. As nice as that might sound, it presents some logistical challenges: it requires sunlight, which is hard to exploit with my work schedule, and it leaves me exposed to blood-thirsty mosquitoes. Here, I could print indoors with artificial light and some light air conditioning.

Once I had the ink mixed, I was able to load each shirt on to my printing station and churn out one shirt after another.

IMG 4194

As is common in the summer, the shirts air dry very quickly. By morning, they were completely dry, ready for heat treating, packaging, and delivery.

IMG 4199

Speaking of delivery, aside from sourcing the t-shirts from American Apparel in Los Angeles, everything used to make these shirts was sourced within Brooklyn and Manhattan. It seems fitting that I will be taking these shirts to the bar on foot.

Soft Spot 10th Anniversary

  • July 15, 2015
  • 128 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn

Experimental Films at Japan Cuts 2015

The Japan Society is hosting its annual festival of new Japanese films. Japan Cuts starts this Thursday, July 9, and runs through Sunday, July 19. Much like the New York Film Festival, this festival devotes a program commemorates experimental filmmaking.

Mono No Aware x [+] (Plus) celebrates the work of two filmmaking organizations: New York’s Mono No Aware and Tokyo’s [+]. The program of films screens on Sunday, July 12, beginning at 8:45 PM, at the Japan Society.

Almost all of the films in the program will be screened in New York for the first time, and many of them will be screening publicly for the first time anywhere.

Here’s the complete list of films:

Title Filmmaker Year, Time, Format Synopsis Premiere
Mono No Aware Direct Filmmaking/Animation Workshop Films Various 2015. Approx. 8 min. 16mm. Various 16mm works from the participants of Mono No Aware’s Direct Filmmaking/Animation Workshop held at Japan Society on June 21. World Premiere
RELAY Steve Cossman 2014. 11 min. Super 8mm to HDV A moving-image document of the visual environment created by artist Ei Wada that emphasizes his grassroots approach to instrument making and reflects his concepts about performance as art. New York Premiere
Koropokkuru Akiko Maruyama 2015. 5 min. 16mm. A moving portrayal of an ineffable force that can be humanlike or embody itself within displayed objects. Inspired by concepts from the Koropokkuru folktale within Japanese Ainu culture and The Invisible Man. World Premiere
Louis Armstrong Obon Joel Schlemowitz 2015. 14 min. Super 8mm and HD to HDV. A portrait of Japanese jazz musicians Yoshio and Keiko Toyama as seen through their annual summer pilgrimage to the grave of Louis Armstrong in Flushing, Queens. World Premiere
EMBLEM Rei Hayama 2012. 16 min. 16mm to HDCAM. Video footage for the research of Japanese endangered species of raptors is turned into a decorative fiction film through the conversion process between video and film. New York Premiere
Stella Nova Ted Wiggin 2015. 4 min. 16mm. Red blue green, circle square triangle, dog star man. The life and death of a star. World Premiere
Emaki/Light Takashi Makino & Takashi Ishida 2011. 16 min. 35mm & 16mm to HDCAM. Drawing on film by Takashi Ishida; edit and telecine by Takashi Makino; music by Takashi Ishida & Takashi Makino. US Premiere
sound of a million insects, light of a thousand stars Tomonari Nishikawa 2014. 2 min. 35mm. 100 ft of 35mm negative film was buried under fallen leaves about 15 miles away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station from the sunset of June 24, 2014 to sunrise the following day.
DUB HOUSE Experience in Material No.52 Kei Shichiri & Ryoji Suzuki 2012. 16 min. 35mm. Strict but exquisite evocation links two artistic disciplines and two visions of light and darkness. Architecture and film meet in the cinema. North American Premiere

Japan Cuts 2015: Mono No Aware x [+]

  • July 12, 2015
  • Japan Society, 333 E. 47th St, Manhattan
  • $10.00 – $13.00
  • Buy Tickets

Seasonal Creep and Back-to-School Shopping Season

Remember how upset I was when breweries started offering pumpkin beers in August last year?

Well, starting today, Monday, July 6, Amazon is launching its back-to-school sale.

Although public schools here in New York City just started their summer recess ten days ago, you might as well stock up now before the Christmas shopping season starts after Labor Day.

But seriously, buy stuff through the banner because I get a commission.

Bikes and Trains, Independence Day 2015 Edition

My favorite convergence of two nineteenth century technologies is that of bicycles and trains because they work well together. In fact, they complement each other much more than the two quintessential twentieth-century transportation technologies: airplanes and automobiles. Don’t believe me? Think about how onerous it is to pick up or drop off someone at the airport, let alone park a car there.

One of the great things about bicycling in the New York City area is that there are trains that can assist with planning your long bike rides. Having a train enables you to do a long ride that isn’t a loop. Thanks to the tireless work of bicycling advocates throughout the region, it is possible to ride for a whole day and catch a train—and an attendant nap—to whisk you back home.

Although we still have a long way to go compared to the west coast, where you can reserve a space and roll your bike onto many Amtrak trains, the New York City–area does have some excellent infrastructure to carry a bike on a train.

Except, perhaps, for holiday weekends…such as this coming Independence Day weekend.

The patchwork of separate railroads have implemented an array of restrictions:

These restrictions put a damper what seemed like a nice idea: an Independence Day bike ride to Philadelphia, our nation’s former capital city. Instead, it looks like I’ll be riding with some friends north through Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties this Friday. The ride will end in Beacon, but we plan to take a very scenic and hilly route by way of Amenia for a day-long double metric century.

And, yes, we’ll be taking a late Metro North train back to NYC.