Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hello, my name is Juror #0034

My exciting adventures in life continued today as yours truly was summoned for jury duty. For those of you scoring at home, the past few days have seen me venture to Milwaukee, Newark past 10pm, and even San Fran for 24hrs.

This was my first time in jury duty and the experience was odd, funny, painful, and unexpectedly enlightening at the same time. Sorta like 6th grade.

A couple of quick takeaways before my thoughtful and emotionally moving conclusion at the end

  • I always used to think that peers, as previously defined by my school and work included other kids in AP classes, those of the same year, or even those from Southern California. Now as I look at the masses that would constitute a trail by my peers (if I should ever go to court) it would include all people between the ages of 18-75, many of whom display a deep love for wearing plaid, one individual who has a minor issue with touretes, and a man with a skull and crossbones bandanna (perfectly good juror attire if you ask me)
  • The juror intro included a speech by Hispanic woman followed by a 20minute video on the role of a juror in the court system. For anyone who ever missed those old science or social studies videos from high school, this is your chance to get back in touch with your roots. The video shown to my jury pool of 200 people had it all: strange characters, weird clothing (mostly fashion from the early 80s) , overly dramatic acting during the fake courtroom scene, and terrible background music. The last time I had seen something so spectacular was when I saw the famed drivers ed video, "Blood on Asphalt." (where the promise of seeing a gory crash scene is thwarted by the reality that you really just see red ink on asphalt at the 30minute vignette's climax)
  • The best quote from the videos was "Unlike TV dramas, the action in a court room is not as exciting!"

The case I was selected on for the first day was a doozy. I was sorta expecting typical cases revolving around traffic incidents, maybe disruptive neighbors, or a dramatic divorce proceedings…you know typical stuff you see on Judge Judy or The People's Court.

Not quite.

The judge immediately let the jury pool know that it has the chance of going a week: the case was surrounding a guy who was accused of selling heroin on a schoolyard. Shits. What's next, are we gonna tackle some federal wiretapping issues? Maybe we would also examine Turkish atrocities to Armenians during World War I.

As the jury pool thinned out, each one of us was called to individually get interviewed in front of the judge, the other 50 jurors, and the (accused) heroin dealer. While half the questions were related to thing issues of whether we were predisposed to be biased about certain issues, the other half were things about our lives. The judge was literally asking each person what they liked to do for fun, favorite TV shows, where your hometown is. Thus a very weird thing started happening: as much as I wanted to get out of this week-long case I wanted to share all these funny jokes that were developing in my head. I could see it now:

Judge: What do you like to do for fun?
Me: You mean besides jury duty?
Audience: bursts into laughter
It was going to be awesome. As each juror was getting interviewed the anticipation was building. This was going to be the greatest moment in the history of jurisprudence since Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954). After 40 grueling minutes they finally got to me. The lights dimmed. The crowd was ready. My moment had come...and yet...

...Before I had a moment to say any of my one-liners the judge dismissed me as a potential juror based on my response that I was biased against a defendant who decides not to take the stand. My moment was gone. The sun had set. The funny thing is I sorta knew there could be a few answers which would make me seem biased as a juror and I was debating on changing them just to get to the fun-answer-round. The grand prize of course: a week long heroin trial.

Anyhoo all jokey joke aside, the thing which really struck me was how much people were giving up by being in court. At the beginning of the jury selection process you're given the opportunity to mention any issues with the scheduling of the trial with your life. Sure I needed to be at work, but there were people who were concerned about missing work on their second jobs or people who couldn't afford a babysitter for more than two days.

It made me feel pretty pathetic for wanting to simply say "Um, I just have to be back at work for an important meeting." So I just sat on my hands for that part. And with that I've gotta say the whole experience was good to me. On my second day today when the woman in the jury room (the pool of 200 people) announced that everyone could go home early the crowd bursted into cheers. I mean these are like grown adults yelling and hollering like kids let off for summer break.

Who says the law can't be fun?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

30,000 hits!

Not too shabby! I didn't even think I'd keep writing this long. But after a year and a half, that's something close to 47 hits a day. Hooray for me. They love me. They really love me. Sorry I would love to write more but I have to go back to continuously refreshing this page so that I can get the counter up to 40,000...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Milwaukee: land of a thousand people trying to get the hell out

A 6:30am Monday morning flight to Milwaukee is splendid way to start off the week. It helps act as the perfect bookend to my weekend that more or less begin with Newark. It's funny while trekking through Europe you see all sorts of awesome cities within 2hrs or so of each other by plane. Amsterdam, Geneva, Paris. Just looking at the departure screen at an airport makes you feel like a badass traveler.

Meanwhile back here the same flying radius leaves a fantastic trail of cities, from Milwaukee to Cleveland to Raleigh. Um, it's not quite the same. However lately I've been wondering if people in Europe sorta have the same dread of cities as we/I do. Like is Brussels the business person's equivalent of Newark? Does a meeting room in Frankfurt drum up visions of Detroit? Why are people in Europe able to get away with wearing combinations of pink and brown that make no sense in any other hemisphere.

The last one isn't exactly keeping with the travel theme, but it's important in my books nonetheless.


Today's trip was just lovely as the 3:45am wake up call was well worth the joy of watching two of the senior people on our deal proceed to get into a argument (albeit friendly) in front of the client which culminated in one calling the other an asshole. Fantastic. The real funny part is that this sorta happens frequently and clients who know us actually find it amusing.

Seeing that only verbal abuses were let loose on members of our own team the meeting was declared successful and rather than using the ensuing 90 minutes before our flight to make sure we get back to the airport on time, a senior-in-command commandeered our trip to include a stop at Madars, which was voted Milwaukee's finest ethnic restaurant (German). Our 30 minute stay included a round of beers, some fried thing, and chicken with saurkraut. Go figure And you know what? It was fantastic.

At some point you gotta put aside the practicality/disbelief of trying to make your flight and go along with the crowd. Do it for the story. And I did. And it was good.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

hello newark !! / nuns in hell / cookies on ice

When someone thinks an exotic city that you'd wanna spend a Saturday night at, Newark is a common answer. Jokey jokes aside, their new hockey arena could be a reason people actually want to come to the city. So anyhoo the opening night of the arena coupled with the first home game of the season made for a lovely evening...

Well sorta. While the devils lost,the evening did produce some bizarro scenes. And by bizarro I don't mean the fact that the nacho cheese that was spilled under my chair was the first time the yellow-goo touched the floor of the sparkling arena.

By bizarro I mean the fact that I spotted a nun in the hot dog line. You don't normally expect one of God's messangers to be supporting Satan's hockey team.

And what trip to a frozen indoor pond would be complete without spotting Cookie Monster. You can't blame the blue bastard to being drawn to Canada's second-placed national sport...behind lacrose (no I'm not making that up)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

San Francisco: now hill-ier

Ancient mariners once said that there's no better way to enjoy a city than to spend less than a day there. Actually this is not true. In fact the only ancient Mariner that I sorta know is A-Rod. Well in any case in the weird work travels, my Wednesday involved a 6hr flight to San Fran only to turn around and take the red-eye to back at work by Thursday morn. A lovely 20hr adventure across 3 time zones and back.

But I'm not here to write to you about my traveling. Oh no no. Instead I thought I'd point out that SnFran is like geek central. Why does everyone feel the need to wear bluetooth phone ear-pieces. I mean seriously when it's 11pm at the airport, are you really expecting a ton of phone calls?

Secondly when I look at half the shmucks who wear them, I wanna tap them on the shoulder adn be like "Hey ass, does anyone ever call you? Do you have to always be on-guard in case you get that one phone call from your 'Nana?"

I spit on you. All of you. The Grouch does too.

Monday, October 22, 2007

this is why no one in south india practices safe sex

You'd think that teaching people about safe sex would be a simple task that has benefits for everyone. Well think again. After seeing public services videos like this one, I can see why people are scared and horrified of condoms.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

hooray for Amtrak! hooray for being indian! hey you're fat!

In a shocking move Amtrak has started to provide discounts to Indian people. The move grew out of the growing number of riders who felt that they should be privy to some sort of fair and just consideration.

You can see this new "Indian people" option on the screenshot below
The Indian discount has been added shortly after another decision to profile "Fat People" (as seen above). Indian officials were initially incensed because their discount was positioned under "Military Child" and were eventually appeased by locating Indians under infants.

Fat pricing however has been highly controversial because the "Fat" ticket costs more during rush hour times but less during off peak hours, compared to normal pricing.

Amtrak instituted the policy because they wanted to encourage fat people to become more "mobile," yet simultaneously to quell new mobile urges away from times that others move.

Furthermore both Indian and Fat checks are being done by train ticketing personnel. The test programs are scheduled to run for 6 months before they are reassessed.

[back to the top of the blog!]

Friday, October 19, 2007

taxi cab confessions

New York cab drivers rock. One moment you can be yelling at them on why a 10minute ride to Jersey shouldn't cost a fixed rate of $40, the next moment you're sitting with them discussing US politics. In my particular case my cabby, Dev, decided to tackle a cornucopia of topics ranging from state tax codes to the CIA.

In the middle of the Holland Tunnel Dev decide that our trust had been built up enough to unleash a bombshell: "Kenneth Lay.....the Enron man, I think he alive. Probably the Caribbean."

Say what?

What was disturbing about Dev's conspiracy theory is that Dev felt that need to turn around in his seat and let me know. Um, dude you're driving. As for the deceased Kenneth Lay my cabby felt pretty good about the theory because once he passed away, all the news stories about him ended and people stopped investigating his fraudulent company. While this is all true, it's kinda bizarro that a man would have this pent up frustration like 2 years after the guy died is beyond me. But to be fair Dev was fired up about all issues including "Scotter Loobey" (apparently it's someone related to Scotter Libby).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

i guess we were born to run....Springsteen @ MSG

Dude I only knew half the songs, and half the words to the ones I knew, but the show was awesome. Never have I seen so many old people rock out in the aisles...also unlike an Interpol show it was okay to be happy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

sign #189 that my friends have more interesting lives than me...

Upon hearing that my friend Tyler had gotten married after returning from a trip , I asked him when and where it happened:
"Ty-land of course! traditional Thai Wedding in a Buddhist Temple. Me, Kim, 10 Monks, 2 Elephants, and 7 Village Elders and a photographer. I always wanted to meet a village elder and we had 7 of 'em!"

The closest thing I have to exciting news like that is the time I peed in my pants going on Space Mountain at Disneyland when I was 7 or 8.

Monday, October 15, 2007

51-year old woman decides to destroy entire Social Security system; others to follow

In an act of heinous, unforgivable destruction, a teacher from Maryland has decided to actually retire and ask for her Social Security benefits. The woman, who is 51, is the first baby boomer to ask for her social security benefits.

Baby-boomers are defined as American born between the years 1946 and 1964, and by being born on Jan 1, 1946 (at 12:01am) the selfish Kathleen Casey-Kirschling is the first one of her generation. Way to go Kathleen. Because of you the great downfall of the Social Security system will begin. I hope you're happy.

The President is quoted as saying "I mean what's worse a system which isn't going to be good on its promises or a woman who is willing to be the hay on the camel's back. What a bitch?" While the need for a question mark at the end of Bush's statement is debatable, the awfulness of Mrs. Kirschling isn't.

Here's an excerpt for the newsire earlier today:
First Baby Boomer Asks for Social Security Benefits

By Brian Faler
Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The first Baby Boomer applied today for Social Security benefits, a milestone marking the approaching retirement of a generation of Americans whose eligibility for government payouts threatens to overwhelm the federal budget.

Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, a retired Maryland teacher who was born at 12:00:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 1946, applied this afternoon for early retirement benefits. She'll become eligible to receive benefits in January when she turns 62.

``This is the first drop of rain in the flood,'' said Bob Bixby, the head of the Concord Coalition, a Washington-based advocacy group that promotes balanced federal budgets. ``It's the beginning of an era. It's symbolic but it reminds us that we're not doing anything to prepare for this.''
I think it's pretty clear that Kathleen is really ruining the party for everyone. Besides what does a retired person in Maryland do? Hunt quail? I mean killing birds has gotta nullify your Social Security status or something, right?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

pee-pee, poo-pooo

The Japanese are a mysterious and dangerous people, and should be treated as such. This video depicting traditional family interactions is proof of this.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Arm-Rest Whores / my flight home

I have returned triumphantly from Europe and I guess I could continue my recent string of thought-provoking essays on my adventures but that would seem almost too easy. You know people often stop me on the street and say "Hey Shakes, I like your work, I really do, and while we think your postings that are applicable to most readers are enjoyable we would like to continue to hear more of your thoughts on what annoys you and how others can change their ways to make it a better world for you."

I echo these sentiments.

And with that I shall skip over any lingering thoughts that I may have about Naples/Bratislava, kind words for the Italian people, or the lovely people at Kohinoor restaurant in Rome (Italy's top-rated Indian restaurant, although I'm not sure how much competition they have) who were very frank about the cruel experiences of Indians & South Asians in the city

Instead I shall focus on the women seated in seat 19E on my flight back to the Badha (hindi for "big") Apple. 19E would be the seat that was empty until about 30 seconds before the plane doors shut at Rome. 19E would be the seat next to mine. 19E would be a large elderly woman who shared much in common with Santa Clause's wife, Miss Clause. However after her behavior on the plain, I think the name Miss Claws is more appropriate.

(19E is also the person which the guy in 19F said "Oh fuck!" when she came storming down the aisle because in one fell swoop the visions of an empty seat between us vanished.)

For anyone who doesn't know me, hello, I'm Shakes and this is my blog. This is a bit of an awkward time to do introductions seeing that I'm in the middle writing a post and that you've somehow landed up on my blog. But in any case hello. For those of you that know me, you know that the preservation of my personal space is important to me.

However in the land of 3 airplane seats you have a classic case of limit arm-rests. Between 3 seats there can only be 4 arm rests. And therein lays the timeless question, who should get the extra arm-rest?

On one hand you can argue that the person in the middle should get the extra arm rest since the two guys on the end (19D & 19F) get the added benefit of sticking their legs in the aisles if they please.

However I would say that a more common development is for the slight sharing of arm-rest. One person takes the front half of it, the other the back half....and you know what, I'd be okay with this. Only Mrs. Claws/ Arm-Rest Whore 19E (ARW19E) had other intentions. ARW19E stuck our her elbows in a such a way that invaded my seat space. My seat space is like a no-fly-zone for other humans. As it is there is barely enough room for my knees to fit, and with the ass clown from seat 18D leaning back almost immediately after take-off I was infringed upon for nearly all of my 9 hour fun fest in the sky.

I tried to gently elbow her back, which worked occasionally, but time and time again she corked her elbows into my side. When a person buys a ticket and chooses their seat deep down this is the scenario we all hope to avoid. While one can freely change from seat to seat, the experience on a plane can vary dramatically based on the person next to you (am I sitting next to a kid? is the person going to be a cougher? what is their arm-rest etiquette?).

For the sake of journalism I managed to take a picture of ARH19E's old hand clearly on the arm-rest (she's the old white hand, in blue). You can't see her elbow because it's behind my arm. This my friends is a most egregious violation of my seat space and explicit proof of it.

As it turns out there isn't much else to mention in this story. There really wasn't much that I could do. I mean, she was like old and stuff. So to show how mature I was the only thing I did in retribution was to cut her off in the customs line. That's how we roll bitches.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pompei rocks.

Pompeii, the sad city destroyed/preserved by a volcanic eruption, is about 30 minutes outside of Naples, which in turn is about 2 hours from Rome. The problem with it is that everything is like broken. Sadly however the most noteworthy thing about our day-long travels wasn’t the destination, but rather the voyage back to Rome. We had started out our travels at 6am with the notion of eventually eating pizza in Naples. After all this is where pizza was created, according to my brother’s travel book that is. While Pompei seemed cool, my attention deficit disorder struck earlier than usual here. At some point all ruins look the same. I can only visualize the grandeur of half torn walls for so long.

Upon returning to Naples at about 3pm our family burst onto the scene in Naples, and the result was shocking. Maybe it was a lack of sleep striking in. Maybe it was a good premonition. But I have never come to a city with the incredible desire to leave it immediately as strong as I had with Naples. It reminded me of a scene from the epic movie “Euro Trip” when the wind up in Bratislava. My brother had also warmed us up to the city by reading aloud from his travel book that the city was known for crime and shady alleys. Good stuff. Where’s the beef?
After about 5 minutes in the city we did a family poll. Dad was the pollmaster, and hence exempt from voting. The question: “What should we do in Naples”
My Brother: “Well, the pizza place is
a few blocks in that (pointing) direction…but it’s just pizza…”

Mom: "I'm okay with

Me: "I wanna get the F out of here"

And the funny thing is that I'm not just saying "the F" in some sorta post-conversation-tough-guy-sounding dramatization of events. I actually said to my parents "I wanna get the F out of here." This is a pretty big moment in Indian parent-to-children relations. Anyone who has watched "A Christmas Story" knows that you can't just drop the F-bomb without facing some sorta retribution. But there's something about Naples which rendered all normal laws moot. Instead our family sprinted back into the train station and bought tickets for a train leaving for Rome in 11 minutes. After a mad dash we hopped aboard our train and looked forward to our 6:30pm return to Rome.

We ended up arriving at 11pm.

Train delays in foreign countries are a funny thing. When a train stops mid-trip unexpectantly, it seems like a curious almost adventurous addition to journey. In fact this was the case for the first 30 minutes...and then the next hour. After 3 hours amidst the pouring rain and thunder things started getting painful.

When you're bored, the mind has an incredible ability to read and do almost anything to occupy it. Reading the boring articles of a newspaper, the same ones that you would turn the page in a heart beat, suddently are enjoyably. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, think about the last time you went to the bathroom in a public stall. You'll find yourself reading everything etched on the doors and if you're really lucky someone has left a newspaper on the ground for you to stare at. Occassionally you'll try to turn the page with one toe while holding the paper with the other foot.

In the midst of the wait I hit upon two revelations:

  1. The cartoon strip "Garfield" really is not funny in any way whatsoever. In fact most cartoon strips are really pretty stupid. I dunno who finds them funny. They should not be in a colorful section labeled "The Funnies." It should be called the unFunnies.
  2. Soduku is the devil's game. I watched my dad play it and decided to finally learn how to play it. The game is like mental torture, only without the satisfaction that you're leading to something great.

When we finally got to Termini I had never been as happy to be in Rome during the entire trip. Go figure.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Day 6, Rome: it’s like Little Italy, only bigger

While taking our cab ride from the central train station, the Termini to our hotel, I was convinced that I was going to die on at least 3 separate occasions. It wasn't our cabbies speeding which bothered me, he rarely got past 40mph, it was his blatant disregard for stationary objects. Usually when most drivers see a parked car in front of them they will change lanes…after all, why wait until the very end when you know you have to do something? *

*PS: It's this mentality which caused me to accidentally eat hot chilis on my dinner plate when I was a kid because I saw them on my plate and I didn't wanna ruin the rest of my meal thinking about how I have to eat them. So I stuffed them in my mouth and chugged like 5 glasses of water afterwards. It turns out I didn't need to eat the chilis in the first place because I accidentally had taken my dad's plate. But I digress…

Instead our cabbie felt the need to accelerate and turn ever-so-slightly at the last moment. As it turns out this is a driving style adopted by most Romans. When in Rome…

Rome is the first city that I've ever been in that made me have an incredible desire to wanna leave immediately…then utter comfort….and then a sort of acceptance. All within the first 45 minutes. As for the city it reminds me a lot like Bombay: constant noise and confusion, but a weird underlying order. It's akin to listening to Rage Against The Machine warm-up. The city is incredible from the standpoint that it literally is a modern city built on top of an old one in its many incarnations. Walking down a narrow shop-lined street only to have it open up and reveal a massive fountain or relic from over a thousand years is a sight to behold. The juxtaposition makes the relics seem even nobler, rather than taint them from their less worthy new context.

Okay enough touchy feely stuff. I've gotta say that out of everything I've seen, the most anti-climactic moment was the Coliseum. It's one thing to view the Taj Mahal or something in person, because not only are you looking at something that was incredible in its time, but it continues to look incredible. Furthermore you just can't build stuff like that. The Coliseum is the opposite feeling. First of all it looks far better in "Gladiator." Secondly a cynical side of me can't help but look at it and think "I think Giants Stadium is bigger and grander than this."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Day 5, Venice: I am a hamster; where is my cheese

Most great European explorers came from Italy, and after one day in Venice it’s easy to see why. They basically used the endless maze of narrow passageways as a training ground before

scampering around the world looking for places to infest with diseases. At some point you just wanna jump in the Grand Canal because that is the only landmark (err watermark) that is vaguely useful in getting one’s bearings.

Okay, so that nonsensical prelude aside, Venice is nuts. It’s like walking through Epcot Center or Disneyland EXCEPT it’s like, real. The city itself revolves completely around tourists, as every 2nd building is a hotel, and last I checked Venice isn’t quite a financial center. The problem with places that know they’re there to only cater to tourists is that they can charge an arm and a leg for the basic reasons people come. For example: gondola rides. If there’s one thing that you think about when you’re thinking about Venice it’s that the city is pretty much fucked due to global warming. I mean forget beach erosion and hotter summers, these people are gonna have their city drown. That’s serious.

If there were two things you think about when you think of Venice, it’s the aforementioned global warming impact AND taking a romantic gondola ride down the canals. Well as we all know, romance comes at a price… gondola guys were asking for 100 Euros (~$140!) for a cruise. If you’re a young couple you’re probably thinking that you pretty much have no choice but to pay because that’s the whole reason you came down there in the first place.

Anyhoo aside from that the only slight bitterness that I have is that the Venice train station has like no direct connection to any cabs. So basically if you have bags and wanna use the station, you have to lug your shit over some multi-stepped bridges and cobble stone roads. Awesome. The worst part is that there really isn’t a direct bridge from the nearest taxi drop off to the station. You basically have to cross the Grand Canal, walk like a half kilometer, then cross over the bridge again. Hooray for Italians.

All that being said the, city is gorgeous, but you don’t have to take my world to believe it. Here look, I’ve attached pictures. They are to be looked at and enjoyed with your family and loved ones.

Monday, October 1, 2007

London, Family Vacay Day 3 1/2: Sitting in my hotel room, A Tale of Two Nights, & Radiohead

3:30am on a Monday morning in London is a good time to contemplate the question: why would I fly to London to watch two hockey games featuring your beloved LA Kings when I could’ve just watched it on TV? Oddly enough it’s the same question that most Brits asked me as well. The answer, much like Sir Edmund Hillary told his trust Sherpa: because it was there.

After watching a fantastic opening game won 4-1, the Kings returned to last year's mid-season form by returning the favor and losing 1-4 last night. While Saturday’s seats placed me smack dab in the middle of a Kings fans from home who made the journey, for Sunday my fate evened out as I was sadly planted next to some drab Europeans who didn’t seem pleased when I would occasionally yell “Kill Jack Kill!” as a sign of positive encouragement for particular youngster.
Dude when even wikipedia admits that a kid's nickname is Jack "MoFo" Johnson, you know things are serious.

If there’s one thing that sucks about London it’s the fact that the US Dollar means less and less to these people. Going to HMV is as humbling experience as the initial excitement of a CD on sale costing 10 subsides as you realize it’s 10 quid…or $20. It’s like paying 1991 CD prices all over. I know England is full of history, but there’s no reason to keep some of those painful chapters alive. Either way it still didn’t stop me spotting a lucky buy when I saw one, as Radioheads’ hard to find mini album “Airbag/ How Am I Driving” release from 1998 single release was my music catch of the weekend.

It’s infinitely easier to find music now on the internet than it used to be from putzing around store to store, but there’s something about finding that rare gem at the ol’ record shop that’s infinitely satisfying. The winner and still champion: Me? Well perhaps, but definitely HMV’s sales department. I basically bought an album which I already have digitally and at $30 the 5 song album costs an average of $6 dollars/song making it a relatively expensive addition to the music collection. But having music its original form is a big thing in my books. Not quite priceless, but close.

Next stop: Venice.