Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More Nonsense About Our Car

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I bought our new 2006 PT Cruiser ("Touring Edition") through Carmax. Of course, no company is as good as they say they are, but I was drawn to their basic principles of 'no haggling' and such. And they came through. The price online was the same price as when I got there, and there were no hidden or last minute fees or anything. I was further impressed with the fact that they handled all the governmental stuff, so that I literally do not have to step foot in (or even talk to) the DMV.

I also financed through Carmax. But that wasn't the original plan. I figured, that with my excellent credit (it's, like, the one thing I've got going for me), I'd be better off getting pre-approved by someone else before I went in. And this proved to be true, even if it didn't quite work out.

So I called Bank of America, and they approved me for a 5-year, $10,000 loan at 4.35%, which I thought was pretty decent. Unfortunately, they got hung up on my physical address. My driver's license lists the house on Cook Street that I sold three months ago, all my mail goes to a PO Box (which are dispised, for some reason, by any company or government agency whose primary function is doing paperwork), and I live in a hotel. This simply would not do for BofA, who insisted that my driver's license would have to match the address on the title, at which point I would have to somehow prove that I lived there.

Now, to some degree, I get that. They want to make sure they can find me if I stop paying my loan. Makes sense. On the other hand, I have excellent credit, I've never missed a payment or defaulted on anything in my life, and--quite frankly--how, exactly, does a piece of mail with a house address on it prevent me from driving off in my new car and never looking back?

Anyway, rather than sort through all that, I just went with Carmax, who didn't seem to give a shit. Of course, their interest rate for the same loan was 7.25%, but I guess that's the price I pay for my itinerancy.

Proving, once again, that if you want to be normal, you have to be normal.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

The Blue, Suffocating Chain of Freedom

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Today, I bought a car. Then I drove home and blogged about it.

Am I doing it wrong???

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Footloose and Fancy Free

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For the last four years, I have been car free. No, that's not a typo. "Car free." As in, I have not owned a car. This usually amazes people. First they tell me that they could never do that, then they ask me confusing questions like, "What if it rains?" (Um, I said I don't own a car, not that I don't own an umbrella.)

Anyway, I've really enjoyed it. But it seems that it's about to come to an end. In preparation for moving back to Orlando next year, Misty and I are going to buy a car. Possibly, tomorrow.

Which is why, today, I did one of the most terrifying things ever: I bought auto insurance for a car that I have not yet purchased.

Why? Well, because otherwise I won't be able to drive the-car-I-intend-to-buy-tomorrow home.

Y'all live in a complicated world.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

A Life of Amusement, Part 3: The Way to My Heart

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I’ve written a bit about how I first got into amusement parks. Now I’d like to talk about how I look at parks now.

Perhaps a more interesting question than “what is my favorite amusement park,” is, “what do I look for when judging a park?” Sure, there are lots of intangibles. But I’ve come to realize that, for me, there are four very specific physical things that a truly great park needs to possess.

It may seem a bit arbitrary, but the more of these four things a park has, the more I tend to like it.

1. At least one roller coaster that I want to ride over and over.

This is the trickiest of the four to pin down, but also probably the most important. For me, a good roller coaster should be wild, but not beat me up too badly. Most likely, this means a relatively-smooth wooden roller coaster, or a steel one that mimics the traditional thrills of a wooden one. And “airtime” is always a plus.

2. A dark ride.

A traditional dark ride is a low-thrill attraction where you ride through a building in a little car and look at stuff. But most modern ones will give you an electronic gun so you can shoot at things. Either is good with me. In fact, even a boat ride will do--as long as it’s mostly indoors and there’s stuff to look at, I’m happy.

3. A sky ride.

An amusement park staple that isn’t being built much anymore, the sky ride is not only a great way to travel from one area of a park to another, but usually offers some pretty cool views, as well. Also, they’re kind of scary--so that’s always good.

4. A full-service restaurant.

This one may seem weird, but I consider a park’s food to be a part of the total experience. And it’s a nice break in the day to be able to sit down, relax, and have someone bring you food--instead of having to find a dirty metal table outside somewhere to plop down your tray of greasy french fries.

Lots of really good parks have two or three of the above, but very few have all four. In fact, at the moment, I can only think of one: Indiana Beach, in Monticello, Indiana.

Which, interestingly enough, just so happens to be my favorite park.  :O)

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hammer of the Gods

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I love compiling things. There's just something about determining order that I find fascinating. As a kid, I made mixtapes. Later, it was CD's. And now...well, now, everything is on the internet.

I'm sure you've heard of Led Zeppelin. But have you heard their ten best songs (as determined by me) in the order I would put them in?? I'm betting not. BUT NOW YOU CAN!!!

You lucky black dogs, you.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Distracted By Flying Santas

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Why is it that you can do the same job over and over for years and never give it a second thought, but the moment you put in your two weeks notice, every day becomes a struggle just to go in?

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Is It Too Early For a "Year in Review" Post?

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It was Misty and I’s first full year together. We finally unloaded the house we’d been trying to get rid of for forever, visited 10 different amusement parks, saw Matthias and stayed with both of our respective families in Orlando, hung out with Seth for a couple of days in Sandusky, introduced Misty to the world best ice cream (Toft’s), and pretty much did every touristy thing we could think of here in Pigeon Forge in anticipation of moving back to Florida next year.

So that's pretty good, right?

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Erik’s Incredible Movie Reviews: GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

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Rumor has it that the original GI Joe script was a straight-forward action piece. Luckily, the studio decided to go the spoof route instead, resulting in a hilarious send up of every action movie cliché of the last 20 years.

It starts with an army platoon transporting a top secret “super weapon.” They’re engaged in standard pull-my-finger tough guy action movie banter, when they’re suddenly attacked by an alien spacecraft piloted by one of the army dudes’ former girlfriend, now inexplicably a ninja. The movie is full of “plot twists” like this--but not to worry, it’s all part of the fun; they’re not supposed to make sense.

The army platoon is wiped out (in rather humorous fashion), except for our hero and his wacky black sidekick--who are saved by a crack, international squad of Americans called GI Joe.

Soon, our heroes have become initiated into the ways of GI Joe, equipped with super-powered suits of armor, and sent to Paris to stop terrorists from destroying--what else--the Eiffel Tower.

Of course they’ll succeed, right? Not so fast. It’s an indication of how darkly clever this movie is, that not only do our heroes not prevent the destruction of the Eiffel Tower, they destroy half of Paris in the process! (Meaning, literally, that the city would have been better off had no one even bothered to try to save the day. Take that, action movies!)

Later, we learn that the bad guys have constructed a huge underwater base beneath the polar icecap. Which, when discovered, prompts this spontaneous exclamation from our heroes (and my favorite line in the movie): “The perfect location!”

The perfect location for a trap, that is! Once our heroes arrive, the villain detonates explosives hidden in the icecap, causing huge icebergs to fall and crush his own liar. (I particularly like this spoof of action movie physics. After all, if the hero can jump and ride the wave of an explosion, why can’t ice sink to the bottom of the ocean when blown into slightly smaller chunks by the villain?)

The villain turns out to be the disfigured brother of the hero’s former girlfriend, whom the hero failed to save and thought was dead, and who is also responsible for the brainwashing of his own sister into being a super-powered ninja and a whore. The hero makes the girl honest and submissive again through the power of love, the villain gets away, and GI Joe goes down in history as one of the funniest movies ever made.

Spoilers: Make sure to stay through the end credits, or you’ll miss Jonathan Pryce’s amazing “whistling president” scene!

Erik’s Rating: 10

Who It Works Best For: Your mom!!!

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Walking In a Winter Dollywood

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Before Pigeon Forge, I’d almost always lived in warm states. In fact, I never even saw snow (other than on TV) until I was 30.

So when it does snow here in Tennessee, I get really excited. And instead of looking for excuses to stay in (like a sane person), I start looking for reasons to go out. Like, for example, the fact that I haven’t checked my PO Box in over a week. Those Christmas catalogs must be really piling up by now!

But wait. Today is Saturday. Dollywood is open today. I mean, sure, I have to work at 3:00pm--but I could just go for an hour or two, to take pictures. I mean, when am I going to get another opportunity to take pictures of roller coasters in the snow??

You might notice a theme in the following photos: namely, the complete lack of people. But no, I did not break in. The park was, in fact, open--at least, for a while.

Of course, later--on my way to work--I passed by the Dollywood Information Center, and their sign said that the park was closed today. So I guess it’s good that I went early.

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Eight more photos of snow-covered Dollywood can be found in my Smoky Mountain Adventures thread over at Theme Park Review.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

A Life of Amusement, Part 2: All Grown Up

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For the majority of what I like to refer to as my adulthood, my preoccupation with roller coasters has manifested itself not only in visiting amusement parks, but in working at them, as well.

It started at Disneyland, with an experience that I can only describe as a disaster. Part of it was probably my fault: It was only my second job, and frankly, I really didn’t know how to be a good employee, yet. But they certainly didn’t help matters. They put me in a completely different job than the one they trained me for, and then blamed me for their disorganization.

My experience at Knott’s Berry Farm was much better. I was given the job that I wanted, trained properly for it, and unlike at Disneyland, I finally felt that, “wow, I’m working at an amusement park” feeling. Unfortunately, I eventually had to quit it, in order to do something that paid a bit better.

I tried a few other jobs. The extra money was nice, but--just being jobs--they weren’t much fun.

So when the opportunity to move to Ohio for the summer to work at Cedar Point presented itself, I jumped at the chance. I’d never even been to the park before when I started working there, but I’d heard lots of good things about it. And while working there was mostly fun (in a completely insane sort of way), it turned out to not really be my kind of park.

I did some software tech support for a short time after that, which sucked. And then Orlando, where I worked at Universal’s Island of Adventure for four years, followed by a brief stint at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove. Both operations impressed me a lot, in different ways. But it’s Islands of Adventure that remains the most fun I ever got paid for.

My friend, Seth (whom I’ve actually worked with at two different parks now), once asked me, “Do you still want to be doing this when you’re 40?”

I said, “Yes.”

When I came to Pigeon Forge, I wanted to work at Dollywood. But finances were again an issue. Working at an amusement park for the money is like trying to break into Hollywood by sleeping with the writer. I tried my hand at hotels instead, and was pretty good at it. I also didn’t completely hate it, which was nice. And as Misty and I prepare to move back to Orlando next year, it looks like I probably won’t ever get the chance to add Dollywood to my resume.

I’m not yet sure what sort of job I’m going to get in Orlando. But there are lots of amusement parks there.

And, by then, I’ll be 40.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Life of Amusement, Part 1: Childish Things

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“A nerd is a person who uses the telephone to talk to other people about telephones.” -Douglas Adams

The other day, someone asked me how I first became interested in roller coasters.

I grew up close enough to Disneyland to see the nightly fireworks from my house. I went as often as I could. Which is to say, as often as I could talk my family into taking me. Knott’s Berry Farm wasn’t too much farther away. It was different, but I liked it, too.

Visiting some relatives in Minnesota one summer, I got the opportunity to visit their local amusement park, ValleyFair! (It’s not that great. The exclamation point is part of the name.) I didn’t ride the coasters, though. They scared me. So did the ones a Knott’s. I loved the parks, but only Disneyland’s roller coasters were tame enough for me to try.

There was another park two hours north of where we lived: Six Flags Magic Mountain. I wanted to go. But there was a problem: No one wanted to take wussy Erik to a coaster park.

A deal was struck. They would take me to Magic Mountain, but only if I agreed to ride all the coasters.

I loved it. I rode all the ones at Knott’s and I loved them, too. I sought out all the information on roller coasters that I could find. But there wasn’t much, this being before the advent of the internet.

Still, I found a few mentions here and there. My greatest coaster treasure became a People magazine from 1984, with an article that purported to name the country’s 10 best roller coasters. One I’d ridden. Two more, I’d heard of. The rest were all alien to me. The Beast, Mind Bender, Thunderbolt.

I’ve been on all of those, now. And I just found a link to that article on People’s website: Hold on Tight

I no longer have to walk 10 miles through the snow, uphill both ways, to get to school. And milk no longer costs a nickel. But I still love roller coasters. It’s more about the total amusement park experience for me now, though.

Maybe it always was.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Punched In The Face By The Fist of Christmas

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Ah, December! And that means Christmas music. Which means, once again, that it’s time for me to tell you what my favorite, and least favorite, Christmas songs are! But don’t think of this as me repeating myself, please. Think of it more as my own little Christmas tradition.

My favorite Christmas song is undoubtedly “A Marshmallow World.” Not so much because it’s good--though it is certainly catchy enough--but because it’s completely crack-smoking. And sometimes that’s a good thing.

Of course, one could argue that it’s not actually a Christmas song at all, since the lyrics only ever refer to winter. Of course, one could also argue that it sounds like the innermost thoughts of a junkie who just scored big on Christmas. Plus, there are Christmas bells in it--so shut up, you.

Those are marshmallow clouds being friendly / in the arms of the evergreen trees / and the sun is red, like a pumpkin head / it's shining so your nose won't freeze

In the imaginary video of this song that exists in my head, an alcoholic mouse puts down his bottle and swears the stuff off forever after Dean Martin walks by singing that.

My least favorite Christmas song, on the other hand, is a toss up between two particularly nasty concoctions: “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Santa Baby.” Both have the same basic weakness: the incongruous inclusion of sex.

Don’t get me wrong. I like sex. When I see an advertisement for a new automobile, I expect there to be a half naked cheerleader draped across the hood. And if there’s any hope at all of getting me to watch a romantic comedy, it damned well better have Katherine Heigl in it and not Renee Zellweger. But if there’s one thing that sex doesn’t need to be a part of, it’s Christmas songs--especially if it’s going to be done this ham-handedly.

“Santa Baby” always sounds to me like a prostitute explaining her price list. And to make matters worse, the lyrics read like they were constructed by HP Lovecraft on a dare:

Santa cutie / fill my stocking with a duplex / and checks / sign your 'X' on the line / Santa cutie / and hurry down the chimney tonight

I mean, I guess “duplex” rhymes with “checks.” But after that, you’re pretty much on your own.

The sex element in “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is far more chaste, but it cranks up the creepiness factor to 11 by having its young protagonist ponder how amusing it would be to watch his parents’ marriage destroyed:

Oh, what a laugh it would have been / if daddy had only seen / mommy kissing Santa Claus last night

Yeah, that would’ve been awesome, kid. Now go back to bed and resume dreaming of torturing small animals.

Objectively, I’m sure there are worse Christmas songs out there. There can always be something “worse” of anything. No doubt “Larry the Cable Guy” is working on an all fart noise version of Carol of the Bells right now. But, at the moment, these two are the worst, most popular, most I’m-completely-sick-of-hearing-them Christmas songs in Erikland--where it is also, coincidentally, a marshmallow world.

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