I'm flying to Chicago now, on my way home from visiting various friends in the NYC area. I have the new Harry Potter book to entertain myself with, but I love that I have my Sidekick with me and can get some writing done on the plane. Except now we're doing the landing part, so I gotta shut this down for now. I have an extra long layover in Chicago, though, so I hope to do a recap there.
But I didn't. Instead, I had lunch, read some of the seventh Harry Potter, and wrote a few emails. I feel reasonably productive for the time. Now I'm on the plane for Kansas City, which will hopefully take off in another 20 minutes or so.
I had a splendid time this trip. bard_bloom picked me up at the airport on Friday afternoon, and we chatted about Wrath of Trees, the book Bard had finished about a month ago, on the way back to his house. Then Bard, beetiger, projectmothra and I went to Umami, a nifty nouveau cuisine sort of place with an eclectic range of dishes. I had a very tasty sandwich and a bowl of truffled macaroni and cheese for dinner. Afterwards we hung out chatting for a while; I was conspicuously droopy for no very good reason. I went off to bed early, called Lut and koogrr, decided 9:00 Central was far too early to go to sleep even if it was 10:00 in my current time zone, and went out to talk to Bard and Vicki some more.
Saturday morning we went off to a wildlife conservation center to see wolves, because isn't that what everyone goes to New York City to do? Actually, my gracious hosts don't live in NYC proper, but about 50 miles outside of it. It's a bit of a schlep into the city, and I only made it for one day out of the four full ones I was in the area.
The conservation center was neat. They had 16 wolves. Four of them were grey wolves and used as 'ambassadors': they were habituated to human presence and when the center had visitors they were the wolves that the visitors saw. One of them, Atka, went on field trips to schools and had even been to Washington DC once, as part of a conservation event aimed at educating politicians about wolves and getting support for efforts to reintroduce wolf populations into areas where they've been killed off. The center receives very little public funding; something like 0.9% of their budget comes from federal grants. All the rest is private donations.
But even these four aren't 'tame' wolves; they're not particularly friendly or trained. They're just sufficiently accustomed to people that they're not frightened by them.
The other twelve wolves were Mexican red wolves and another species whose name escapes me. Those two species are endangered, with less than five hundred of either estimated still around. At one point they'd both been extinct in the wild, with maybe a dozen or so alive in captivity. But breeding programs and efforts to reintroduce them to their former habitats have been working so far.
So the twelve other wolves at this conservation center were reserved for this program. They're not accustomed to humans and kept as wild as possible, with the goal of eventually being shipped to areas where their kind has been reintroduced. Naturally, in order to minimize their contact with humans, we couldn't get to see them.
One interesting thing about the wolves was how much they looked like dogs. Two of them had classic wolf coloring -- grey backs and sides, lighter chest fur, etc. -- and if I'd seen one loose in the woods I'd probably think 'That's a wolf.' But the other two were solid white. If I saw one of those running around, I would think it was a large white dog. They're not particularly big, either; about large-shepherd size.
As we were driving back from the conservation center, I was lucky enough to get a call from Kalakh. There were several people in the area I'd hoped to see this trip: the Blooms, sandramort and her family, whom I've known eighteen years, Ysenda, a friend who used to live near Emerald City and moved to Manhattan a couple of years ago, and Kalakh, a long-time online friend of koogrr's whom I first met through the +terrible butterflies+ game. I didn't have any way to contact Kalakh except through email, and didn't even have his email address on my Sidekick (I've been bad about getting things moved over to the Sidekick). This meant that I kept forgetting to email him at any time when it was possible for me to do so. John had kindly emailed him for me at some point when I was on the phone with John, and sent him my phone number. So when Kalakh called me in the car, we made plans to meet for dinner at 6 o'clock, at a place Kalakh identified as 'the Oriental diner which is not far from Bard's workplace.' I was amused later to discover that "The Oriental Diner" was, in fact, the actual name of the restaurant and not a description of it.
The Blooms took me out to lunch at a Thai place, and then we went home to chill for a while. Rhys and Vicki showed me one of their newest Wii games, Super Swing Golf or something like that. It was very anime, including a large bag-shaped cat that served as your golf caddy and flew through the air after the ball when your avatar hit it. The gameplay itself looked very complicated. None of us were quite sure how it was supposed to be played, and I didn't attempt it myself. I did make up a Mii for their machine, which is the Wii's avatar-generation program.
I took a nap before dinner. Rhys does not need naps, but I do; I got one every day during this trip except for Sunday.
Then Bard and I went off to The Oriental Diner -- Vicki and Rhys opted to stay home. (Well, more like Vicki opted to stay home with Rhys. Rhys didn't get much of a say in the matter.)
I don't know Kalakh's real name. Neither does Bard, who has met him before for dinner. Or John, who had Kalakh visit him for a weekend in Florida. Or anyone else I know. We're not exactly sure why Kalakh doesn't tell people his real name. Once I asked him, and he said, "None of you would know how to pronounce it anyway." "But we don't know how to pronounce Kalakh, either."
Bard and I were making jokes about it as we walked from the car to the restaurant: "Do you think he'll be wearing a disguise?" I asked.
"Yes, " Bard said with confidence, "but it'll be the same disguise he wore the last time I met him, so I should be able to recognize him."
Kalakh met us at the door, disguised as a clean shaven ("Note the fake lack-of-a-beard," Bard said later) young man of about my height with a slender build, short dark hair, and very intense pale blue eyes. And when I say "intense" I mean intense. I don't normally notice the color of people's eyes, but his were very distinctive. A highly effective part of the disguise*, since I remember that part of his appearance most clearly. He spoke with a Russian/Ukranian accent, distinct but not so strong that I had difficulty understanding him.
* Yes, I'm kidding. Actually, his eyes weren't contact-lens-blue, which is usually a deep sea blue, but light, like a desert sky.
He also bore gifts! A souveneir pen and a box of Godiva truffles for me. <3
The Oriental Diner, it turns out, has two separate menus, one for Chinese food and the other for Japanese. Ordering proved to be very simple for us: Kalakh was a frequent patron and we went with his recommendations: a deluxe sushi/sashimi platter for three nicknamed 'the Titanic', and a seafood soup.
The food was, indeed, both excellent and abundant. For the first time in my life, there was more sushi and sashimi in front of me than I was capable of eating. I managed to polish off the sushi after the others were done, but Bard took the sashimi home as leftovers, and baked it the next morning with breakfast.
We chattered all through dinner. Some of it was about Wrath of Trees. Bard thinks about four people have read it so far (assuming you count the author), three of whom were at this table, so it was a good time to talk about it. Kalakh and I had both enjoyed it, but Kalakh thought it was something of a niche book, with its odd setting, alien characters, and frequent use of invented words. "Like unraveling a puzzle. People who enjoy solving puzzles will like it, and people who don't won't. I don't know how to make it more approachable for those who don't like that sort of thing without ruining it for those who do." I think the book has more mainstream appeal than that suggests, although I did recommend toning down the use of unfamiliar words at the start. We talked a little about web presence and anonymity, and many other things I can't remember now.
After dinner, we considered catching a movie, but I prefered to talk -- if I'm only going to see people for a few hours, I'd rather spend it interacting with them. I think Bard described watching a movie with friends as "a way to avoid paying attention to the people you're trying to spend time with". It was a nice evening, so I suggested we find some place outside to sit and talk.
Bard drove us to a nearby town with a pretty gazebo ("I shoot the gazebo!" "It appears unharmed") in front of a train station. The gazebo did not, however, have chairs. The train station had chairs cleverly disguised as works of art (no, really: they were cast in bronze and fixed to the floor, with a mismatched antique look, scattered along a covered bridge) but they weren't very comfortable. The three chairs out front came in small, medium, and large: it would have been very cute to get a photo of Rhys, Bee and Bard sitting on them. None of them were comfy so we quested on.
At length we found a few perfectly ordinary park benches in a square and sat down to chatter more. After we'd digested enough dinner to be peckish again, and all the talking had made me thirsty, we went into a nearby ice cream parlor for ice cream. The shop had a few wooden board games set out: checkers and Connect Four and a couple of others. Bard set up a peace-bound game of checkers: all the white on white, all the black on black. We spent another hour or two in conversation, and finally called it a night when the ice cream parlor started playing Dreamgirls on their big screen TV, and the shop became too noisy for comfortable conversation.
Kalakh had left his car at the movie theater near where we'd eaten, so we returned there. As we pulled into the theatre parking lot, Bard asked, "Where do you want me to drop you off?"
"In front of the theater's good," he said.
I laughed. "Right. We can't drop you off by your car because then we'd know your license plate and could find out who you were."
Kalakh made the excuse that it was because he wanted to make a phone call and there was more light by the theater, but Bard and I knew the real reason. :)
All tweaking about Kalakh's Aura of Mystery(tm) aside, I had a great time hanging out with him and am very glad I got the chance to meet him. Hopefully we can meet up again some time, next time I'm in New York, or perhaps if he and I visit Koogrr in Florida at the same time some day.
Beetiger was still up when we got back, so we hung out with her for a bit before going to bed.