The end of an era: Saying goodbye to Hoboken and hello to Basking Ridge

On Aug. 30, my life will undergo the third most dramatic change of its 44-plus years, behind somehow suckering Mrs. 9 into saying yes, and welcoming 0.9 to the family.

When I wake up on the morning of Aug. 31, for the first time in my life, I will not live in a city. We are leaving the mile square of Hoboken for the friendly confines of Basking Ridge, N.J.

We would have had to move eventually, anyway, because the next good word I hear about the schools in Hoboken will be the first, but Mrs. 9’scommute is just too long. And since my commute is measured in steps and not miles, I could not put up a convincing argument to stay. Besides, it’s time.

This will be a huge adjustment for me, as I have only lived in Manhattan and Hoboken. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows that I love to throw back a few good beers on occasion — days that end in “y” count as occasions. Not being able to walk to a bar will be a culture shock. And I would never think of drinking and driving.

We will actually be walking distance from the Basking Ridge New Jersey Transit station, which is a huge plus. It will be nice to be able to sneak into Hoboken or Manhattan occasionally and not have to worry about driving home. I may try to do it for a few Dallas Cowboys games this season, to avoid having to add DirecTV to the long list of goods and services we are investigating or purchasing.

We are also walking distance from the downtown area, but that statement needs a little perspective. Downtown Basking Ridge looked really nice when we drove through it, with some cool shops and restaurants, but downtown Basking Ridge is not Washington St. in Hoboken, or any street in Manhattan. It’s still nice to have the option of walking over, rather than being a typical suburbanite and having to drive everywhere, but I didn’t happen to notice any sports bars, taverns, pubs, beer gardens, or other watering holes.

Another radical change for me will be learning how to do small repairs and maintenance around the house. I have spent my entire life in apartments, where you call the superintendent with any issues. When you buy a house, a superintendent does not come along with it. I am not completely incompetent, but calling me handy would be a stretch, to say the least. The only yard I have ever had was a really tall glass filled with beer. I have never had a lawn to mow and maintain. I have never owned a grill that didn’t say “George Foreman” on it. I am more than willing to learn, but I have already decided that anything involving electricity or plumbing will result in an immediate call for professional help. I will not be responsible for blowing up, burning down, or submerging our house.

I couldn’t be happier with the house we found, though. I love the location. In addition to the proximity to the downtown area and train station, it is also really close to schools that have good reputations, so 0.9 can work on that full scholarship. The yard is a great size — large enough to have a catch, but not so large that it will be difficult and costly to maintain. There is already a neat little patio area built into the yard, which will be the new location for 9’s Outdoor Office, Beer Garden & Wine Bar. There is a small deck right next to the kitchen that is perfect for a grill. The house is pretty set back from the street. And it comes with its own Christmas tree for us Jews, as there is a huge pine in the front yard.

I moved to Hoboken in September 2000, and I have loved my 12 years here, but it’s just not the same anymore. It really hasn’t been the same for me since Ted & Jo’s, my absolute favorite bar and living room, closed in March 2008. And while I still have several friends here, many of my closest friends have let “real life” run its course, married, had kids, and moved elsewhere. Hoboken in July 2012 for me is nothing like Hoboken in September 2000, or any time between then and the untimely demise of T&J’s.

I can’t talk about Hoboken without mentioning another bar where I have felt like part of the family from the get-go: The Shannon. I don’t go there much on weekends because I am old enough to be the father of most of the patrons, but going there after softball games has been the source of some of my most fun nights in Hoboken. Everyone has always treated me and the rest of the various softball teams very well, from the owners, to the bartenders, to the bouncers. With T&J’s gone, The Shannon is the only bar in Hoboken I would even think of going to alone.

One of the biggest advantages to living in Hoboken is the ability to go out every night, with the entire town within walking distance, and between being married, having a son, and not having a lot of my close friends around anymore, I barely go out, so it’s a wash.

I’m sure we will find some decent places to eat, and hopefully a few that deliver, especially Chinese. I would have to turn in my barely used Jew card if I didn’t have regular access to Chinese food. However, after 12 years in Hoboken, I’ve developed an addiction to certain restaurants and dishes, and they will be difficult to replace:

  • Precious: When I moved from Manhattan to Hoboken, I thought I was saying goodbye to good Chinese food. Fortunately, I was mistaken. Precious is as good as any of the places I ever ordered from in Manhattan, and I am convinced that sorcery is the only explanation for how quickly they show up. Chicken Amazing is one of my favorite dishes of all-time.
  • Maru: Sushi from Maru is always fresh and delicious, and some of the specialty rolls are off the hook. I think the Hawaiian Roll is my personal favorite.
  • Rosario’s: I have never actually set foot in the restaurant, but Triple Fiesta is one of the best pasta dishes I have ever enjoyed, and it has been a delivery staple in our household.
  • Fiore’s: Roast beef, gravy, and fresh mozzarella — need I say anything else?
  • Leo’s: I will truly miss this genuine, family-run, inexpensive Italian restaurant littered with Frank Sinatra memorabilia. The stuffed mushrooms appetizer and the marsala sauce are to die for.
  • Zack’s: Bizarro Ted & Jo’s (same owner, nearly identical to the old homestead) imported Balsamic Chicken from the old T&J’s menu. After making the mistake of removing it for a while, it returned, due to popular demand. The beer selection is fantastic, too.
  • Three A’s: I will miss the outstanding dirty martinis and the second-best pork chops I have ever had, trailing only the ones my dear friend and old roommate used to cook up.
  • Philly’s Cheesesteaks: OK, it’s not Tony Luke’s, or Jim’s, or even Lee’s Hoagies, but the cheesesteaks here are the closest to real Philadelphia cheesesteaks I’ve had up in these parts.
  • Cucharamama: I have yet to refer to this place by its actual name, usually alternating between Cucaracha and Coochie Mama, but the Spanish food is outstanding, as are the cocktails. I could use a Mojito right about now.
  • Zafra: This is another source of excellent Spanish food, minus the cocktails. I only wish it had more than three tables (OK, I’m exaggerating on the number of tables, but not by much).
  • Biggie’s: I have been neglecting this place, and the new location where Clam Broth House used to be has an expanded menu, for those who haven’t been. I must treat myself to clams steamed in beer, very soon.
  • Hoboken Bar & Grill: This is another place I have neglected recently, for no good reason. It has a fantastic menu and an equally fantastic beer selection.

I will also miss Pier A, the park with the best possible view of Manhattan. I don’t know Basking Ridge well enough to know what bodies of water are nearby, but I’m pretty sure none provides the view of Manhattan across the Hudson River.

Naturally, there are some things I will not miss about Hoboken, although, as I said, I wouldn’t trade the past 12 years for any other place.

It will be great to invite people over to the new house without worrying about where they will be able to park. Parking in Hoboken is absolutely nonexistent, but we have a small blacktop area that could probably fit nine cars, if needed.

Speaking of parking, I won’t miss the parking area in my current building, and the assholes who believe ownership of a BMW entitles them to park free-of-charge while the rest of us pay $200 per month.

I will also not miss the corruption that runs rampant throughout politics in Hudson County in general and Hoboken in particular. I am under no delusions that corruption doesn’t exist in Basking Ridge and Somerset County. Corruption exists whenever a person gains control over decisions that affect others. It’s human nature. But when you have a mayor who begins serving his term July 1, 2009, and is ousted July 31, 2009, you have some serious issues.

I will not miss the inevitable traffic that comes with trying to get in or out of Hoboken, due to its proximity to the Hudson River and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels. I am sure Basking Ridge has its own traffic trouble spots, as a map of New Jersey should accompany the listing for “traffic” in the dictionary, but I am just about done with sitting under the covered roadway (if you live anywhere near here, this requires no explanation) for minutes that seem like hours.

I am also sure that living in the suburbs will come with its own driving challenges, but I will not miss driving in Hoboken, as the stupidity level of people behind the wheel seems to accelerate at a more rapid rate than the price of gas. Every time someone stops at an intersection when they don’t have a stop sign, I want to pull over and kick their car. Doing that only causes accidents, as people are unsure whether to proceed or not. And the same people who stop when they don’t have a stop sign usually fly right through the intersection when they do have a stop sign. Plus, double-parking is a fact of life, especially with the dearth of available parking I mentioned earlier, but it would be nice if people tried to get as close as possible to the legally parked cars, rather than just sitting in the middle of already narrow streets.

I will not miss having upstairs neighbors. I have no beef with anyone who has lived in the apartment upstairs. The problem is that my building was constructed in the typical Hoboken method of getting it completed as quickly as possible and cutting every corner, so there is absolutely nothing muffling the sound of the people walking upstairs. I jumped out of bed a few times the first couple of weeks I lived here because it sounded like someone was walking through my living room.

I will not miss Cablevision in the least. I have hated that company and its piss-poor service and treatment of customers for years. Having worked for a weekly newspaper that covered the cable industry, I also know about the detestable Dolan family, and I hate them, too, particularly cokehead James Dolan. Fuck the Cablevision-owned Knicks and Rangers, as well. We could have gotten Verizon FiOS in our current apartment, but we knew we were moving, so there was no point. FiOS will be a welcome addition in Basking Ridge, however. There is no way the Internet service won’t blow away Cablevision’s spotty, overrated Optimum Online, which seems to get slower every day.

All in all, I am looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life. As I said, it will be a huge adjustment on many levels, but I am confident that it will turn out to be a good move in the end. Hoboken: It’s been real. Basking Ridge: Duck, punk! Here we come.

In the city that never sleeps, the street fairs are one big snooze

While on my way to my freelance job in the Grand Central area last Friday, I noticed vendors setting up for a street fair on 43rd Street between Third Avenue and Lexington Avenue, so I decided to forego my usual Five Guys Friday lunch and treat myself to something at the fair.

Yummy stuff, but the same stuff at every street fair

I was disappointed, although not surprised, to find that this street fair had the exact same food offerings and merchandise offerings as virtually every other street fair I’ve attended in the past decade or so, and I really can’t figure out why.

Anyone who has attended any of these events in the New York area can rattle off the list with little prompting. When it comes to food, visitors are pretty much limited to Italian sausages, cheesesteak, crepes, fried plantains, some sort of Asian offering, corn on the cob, zeppolis and fried Oreos. Not that this list sucks, but there are so many other types of food that would work well at street fairs, yet it seems that no one ever tries to bring anything new to the table, so to speak.

The same goes for merchandise. The only stuff available, for the most part, is New York T-shirts, snarky T-shirts, hats, cell-phone accessories, handbags, cheap sunglasses and that one dude who sells reggae CDs at seemingly every single event in the tristate area. Again, there are so many more products that could be sold, and I don’t get why they aren’t.

So I did a little research into the process of becoming a vendor at street fairs. Naturally, there are costs involved, because nothing is free.

The first thing potential vendors must do is secure a permit, which costs $10 per month and requires the litany of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo forms one would expect from the New York City government. recently published a guide to becoming a vendor at street fairs, which contained information about the three main organizers. Two of them require $45 annual fees, and the two organizers that provided with per-event information charged $195-$650 and $275-$475, respectively, for food vendors, and $55-$650 and $125-$185, respectively, for nonfood vendors. Sure, it’s an investment, and a significant one, at that, but it doesn’t strike me as prohibitive.

The fees clearly eliminate the Norman Rockwell image of kids selling lemonade, or the Charles Schulz image of Lucy charging five cents for psychiatric help, but they don’t strike me as overly prohibitive.

So why the lack of variety? Is there behind-the-scenes politicking and corruption? Are available permits and spaces scooped up by the wily veterans? Are the organizers keeping tight control over who secures spaces at their events?

It would be nice to see some new faces and products at some of these street fairs, instead of the same old crap.

Hawaii honeymoon highlights

My wife and I — and yes, I know it’s only been two weeks and change, but it still feels weird using the words “wife” and “husband” — just got back from the greatest vacation ever, our honeymoon in Hawaii, specifically Maui and Kauai.

Much as I did after our previous trips to Washington, D.C.; Napa; Boston; Cape May; and Newport, I wanted to share the places and experiences we really enjoyed. This is by no means meant to be an authoritative and comprehensive list, but merely places that were special to us. If it helps anyone on a future trip, excellent!

I’ll start with Maui, since that’s what we did. First off, if you spend any time on Maui and have access to transportation, and you don’t eat at Mama’s Fish House, you suck at life. Our meal there was one of the absolute best I’ve ever eaten, and the setting is brilliant, both inside, as the walls are full of countless pictures and items that bring the place tons of character, and outside, where the sunset over the Pacific, just yards away, is breathtaking.

Road to Hana

Second, driving the Road to Hana is an absolute must. Ignore all of the naysayers and guide books that make it sound as dangerous as baiting a starving shark with a sushi platter: The drive is challenging and a bit nerve-wracking at times, but as long as the driver is on point and paying attention, it’s risk-free, gorgeous and definitely worth doing. Don’t be a sally and a wuss. Do it. The ocean views and the waterfalls are spectacular, as are some of the lesser-known spots.

However, one thing I noticed about Hawaii in general is that the road signs and street signs sort of suck and are very hard to see until you’re right on top of them, and this is especially evident on the Road to Hana, so I definitely recommend making the trip with both a guide book and a guide CD (we bought ours from a Shell station at the beginning of the route) so you don’t miss out on some of the hidden gems.

If you’re in Hawaii, you have to go to a luau, right? Everything about Old Lahaina Luau was fantastic — the food, the drinks, the show, the setting. I can’t compare it to other luaus because it was the only one we did — my stomach can’t handle more than one luau — but I can’t fathom the experience being any better.

Snorkeling in Maui was a tremendous experience and, for those who want to devote a half-day to it and hit spots you can only reach by boat, I definitely recommend the Trilogy trip to Molokini. The two snorkel spots could not have yielded better results, from a bevy of colorful, huge fish to being inches from a very charming and friendly large turtle. The lunch was delicious, and I don’t mean delicious for a boat ride: I mean flat-out delicious. The cinnamon rolls were to die for. And our crew — Captain Brett, dive instructor Dave and the two others whose names are escaping me — were friendly, hilarious and helpful.

Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

If you can deal with leaving your hotel room by 2:30 a.m. (doing it early in the trip, before your body adjusts to Hawaii time, is probably best), the sunrise from atop the volcano in Haleakala National Park is worth every second of lost sleep and tricky driving. The pictures don’t do it justice. As strange as it sounds to say this about packing for Hawaii, bringing warm clothes is a must, and I don’t mean one long-sleeved T-shirt. The temperature was 41 degrees the morning we went, with very strong winds, and those who didn’t dress properly were not happy.

Because I have a supernatural ability to find freshly brewed beer no matter where I am, one of our free nights (no reservations) was spent at Maui Brewing. The food was decent, but the beer was outstanding, particularly the Coconut Porter, the McGrumpy’s (a red ale) and the Black Pearl, which is the Coconut Porter aged in oak rum barrels. Prost!

Other excellent dinners we shared were provided by Plantation House and Lahaina Grill.

Sunset from The Beach House

Moving on to Kauai, our meal at The Beach House was a very close second for the trip to the previously mentioned Mama’s Fish House feast, as was the view of the sunset over the Pacific. It was another incredible experience on many levels, and the place is definitely recommended.

My wife and I in our Yamaha Rhino

One of the most fun days on our trip was the four-hour ATV tour from Kipu Ranch Adventures. The scenery at Kipu Ranch is breath-taking, and you can see why several movies were filmed there. The ATV (a Yamaha Rhino) was easy to learn and handled all of the bumps, rocks, roots and mud with ease. My biggest laugh of the trip came after watching a peacock wind up and kick a wild pig while the group of animals was being fed. We got to swim in two watering holes, one under a waterfall. And our guides, Troy and Randen, were a hell of a lot of fun.

The North Shore of Kauai was probably my favorite region on the trip, and I could easily see myself spending a full week there and taking full advantage of the numerous hiking trails, wealth of drop-dead-gorgeous beaches and fun and interesting local villages and restaurants. If you go to Kauai and have access to a car, the North Shore is a must, period.

Naturally, I found beer in Kauai, too. The Grove Café is the home of Waimea Brewing and, while I liked the brews from Maui Brewing better, the Waimea offerings were no slouches, particularly the porter.

I also found the best hotdog I have ever had (sorry, Rutt’s Hut): Puka Dog. I’m already going through serious Puka withdrawal. I tried Puka Dogs with both the coconut and papaya relish, and they were both worth drooling over. Puka Puka Puka!

We spent the last real night of our trip on Captain Andy’s Na Pali Sunset Dinner cruise, and the honeymoon couldn’t have ended on a nicer note. Na Pali is captivating, and it can only be seen via plane (which we did, as well) or boat. Captain Trent and his crew (Hans and Sterling) were engaging and entertaining, the scenery and sunset were rich, the food was excellent, and the Sneaky Tikis were quite sneaky, which is why I switched to beer. And depending on the time of year, you might be lucky enough to see a whale!

Whale sighting on Captain Andy's Sunset Cruise

We also had memorable and tasty meals at Plantation Gardens, Dondero’s (located in the Grand Hyatt, where we stayed), Wrangler’s Steakhouse and Keoki’s Paradise.

Our last official day was spent in Honolulu, at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, which was sobering and touching, and in Waikiki Beach. I was stunned to find out that the U.S.S. Arizona still leaks oil every day after nearly 70 years. As for the Waikiki area, truthfully, it did absolutely nothing for us. The beach was tiny and didn’t really have a boardwalk area, and the hotels and stores are on top of each other. And the stores were the same ones you’d encounter in any mall on the mainland. Dinner at Roy’s was great, but overall, Waikiki was like Los Angeles with a few more palm trees, and not spending a lot of time there turned out to be a sound decision.

This trip was one wonderful day after another, and I really didn’t want to leave. Hawaii and its people are fantastic, and I hope we get to go back someday (we’ve been joking about returning for our two-month anniversary). If you ever get the chance to go, jump on it immediately, even if you have to get married to do so!

Kipu Ranch

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival: Why can’t there be one every week?

I’m not saying that the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival that was held at la.venue on the West Side of Manhattan Saturday was geared toward men, but the first thing I saw when walking into the venue (pun intended) was a young, attractive blond woman in a checkered shirt with most of the buttons undone, tied in a knot at the bottom, and Daisy Duke shorts, and she was holding a plate of bacon. You do the math.

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival

All kidding aside, plenty of women were there enjoying the festivities, as well, and any woman who likes any combination of beer, bourbon, bacon and barbecue is OK in my book.

I am by no means trying to pass myself off as an expert, nor am I claiming that the brands I’m about to recommend should be considered the best, but a few of the spirits I tried left impressions, and I wanted to share those.

Buffalo Trace a Kentucky bourbon, was one of the more hearty samples of the day.

I had tried Woodford Reserve previously and, while I didn’t hate it, I wasn’t that impressed, either. I don’t know what I was thinking. This was one of the best spirits I tried Saturday, if not the best, and a bottle will adorn my shelf soon.

Once I was done chuckling at the name, because acting like Beavis or Butt-head will apparently never leave my system, I also enjoyed George Dickle, another Tennessee whisky.

1792 Ridgemont Reserve was probably my favorite bourbon. I’m not going to try to throw reviewers’ terms into this blog. All I can say is I took one sip, pulled the glass away from my mouth and could do nothing but exclaim, “Wow!”

Blanton’s Single Barrel was another fantastic bourbon. One of my friends had enjoyed it before, and she (yes, she, believe it or not) was spot-on with her recommendation.

One of the more interesting spirits I tried was Hudson New York Corn Whiskey. I’m pretty sure that if I poured this stuff into the gas tank of my Honda Accord, the car would run. I actually really enjoyed it, but I seriously doubt I could drink more than one. It was one of the strongest things I’ve ever tasted.

As far as beer, I had already tried most of the selections at the show, but other than the joke of Coors Light having a table there (give me a break), it was a stellar beer selection.

One of the beers that were new to me was Sixpoint Sweet Action. This was an outstanding cream ale, and that’s a style I don’t drink very often.

My favorite beer at the show, by far, was the Heartland Brewing Sumatra Porter with Chicory. This stuff tasted like very strong, very good coffee, and it was the only beer that made me go back for seconds (thirds, too, if I recall correctly).

A San Francisco-based brewery called Speakeasy brought two very solid brews: Big Daddy IPA and Prohibition Ale. Both are highly recommended.

I’m sure there were a few other bourbons and beers that I enjoyed, but cut me some slack: After all, I was drinking all day!

In any event, if the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival comes to your city, do NOT miss it. Trust me.

Contemplating homicide at BJ’s Wholesale Club

I played the percentages while choosing a checkout line at BJ’s Wholesale Club in Jersey City yesterday and lost, big-time.

BJ's Wholesale Club

The self-checkout lines are not an option for me, as I have proven time and time again to be thoroughly incompetent when it comes to using them, so my choices came down to a line with an elderly couple ahead of me, and a line with an Asian couple who looked to be in their early 50s. I generally have bad luck when stuck behind elderly people in checkout lines, as I always seem to wind up behind the ones who question the price of every single item and claim that the sales tax on a purchase of more than $100 is off by a penny, so I chose the line with the Asian couple.

The Asian couple had quite the haul of merchandise, but most people who shop at BJ’s wind up with similar stashes, so I wasn’t overly concerned. I overheard them chatting while waiting for the person in front of them to finish paying, and they spoke nearly flawless English, so I felt pretty good about my choice.

And then, the fun started.

First, the Asian couple proceeded to break up their purchases into four separate groups, each to be rung up and paid for separately. This added a good five minutes to my waiting time. Luckily, despite the complete lack of consideration and the perception that they were the only customers who mattered, I wasn’t in a hurry, so I sighed, rolled my eyes and decided it wasn’t worth saying anything or moving to another line.

Now, for the action that spurred my homicidal thoughts: After paying for the first two batches of merchandise in cash, the Asian couple attempted to pay for the last two with BJ’s gift cards that had no money left on them. The cashier was nice enough to try each card a couple of times, but they kept coming up empty. Suddenly, the people who were speaking perfect English moments ago were the victims of a shocking memory loss, as the ability to speak the English language was unexplainably removed from their memory banks and their communication with the cashier was reduced to a series of gestures and grunts. How convenient.

After two trips to the customer-service desk, during which the gestures became more animated and the grunts became louder, the situation was somehow resolved, and I was finally able to pay for my purchases after a 13-minute wait.

I had almost calmed down from the boiling point of my anger until the husband from the Asian couple turned around with a goofy grin and chose option No. 1 from the list of Asian stereotypes: “So solly!” I am dead serious and not trying to pass on a racist joke: The man actually said “solly,” not “sorry.” I am truly amazed that I resisted the temptation to unleash a right hook at his jaw.

I was the solly one – solly I chose that checkout line. I hate morons.

Dunkin Donuts tuna sandwich: Who thought this was a good idea?

Dunkin Donuts came out with a foul-looking tuna sandwich in early November and, at least around Hoboken, the company has been promoting the hell out of it. It seems like two-thirds of the billboards on roads around Hoboken are advertisements for this vulgar creation. And I don’t understand it for the life of me.

Dunkin Donuts tuna sandwichA disclaimer: I hate tuna. I like tuna steaks and sushi tuna, but canned tuna never did it for me. Yum yum Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna? My ass. And even though Jessica Simpson may be one of the biggest dimwits on the planet, and she thought Chicken of the Sea was actually chicken, and not tuna, she and I are in agreement about not having any desire to eat it.

So why is Dunkin Donuts running ads everywhere with a picture that makes its tuna look just as bad as canned tuna, if not worse? News flash: The food is supposed to look better in the ad, not worse. If someone ever served me a Big Mac or a Whopper that looked like the ones in the respective ads from McDonald’s and Burger King, I might pass out from happiness. Yet Dunkin Donuts is using this picture that doesn’t look the least bit appetizing, and I don’t understand it.

I’m guessing that Dunkin Donuts is trying to make inroads into lunch and not being knows only for breakfast, but tuna? And foul-looking tuna, at that?

I keep waiting for this monstrosity to disappear, but it’s still around. Let me get this straight: Dunkin Donuts offers delicious, fantastic pumpkin iced coffee for a limited time only (it was pulled on Thanksgiving Day), but cat food on a bagel will be around forever? Why?

A very, very close call at jury duty

I just finished serving a day-and-a-half of jury duty in Jersey City, and it was the longest day-and-a-half I’ve experienced in quite some time. The stress jury duty puts people through is worth far more than $5 per day, no matter what the state of New Jersey seems to think.

jury duty

jury duty

I left myself plenty of time to get there Monday. I wanted to arrive early so I could secure one of the cubicle-like seats, plug in my laptop and get some work done. It’s a good thing I left myself so much time because, as I found out later, I could not have taken a dumber route from the Journal Square PATH station to the courthouse. I knew the courthouse was on Newark Street, so I found Newark Street on a map and walked to it, then turned right toward the courthouse, which turned out to be about a nine-block walk. However, making the first right off Kennedy Boulevard, onto Pavonia Avenue, rather than walking all the way to Newark Street, would have shaved about six of those nine blocks off the total, so keep that in mind if you ever get stuck serving in Jersey City.

Despite my Vasco da Gama-style route, I arrived early enough to get a cubicle and immediately started working, which was a wise move when you consider my part-time status: If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. A couple of panels got called, but my name wasn’t among them, and I actually had a fairly productive day, including working through our lunch hour because I didn’t want to lose my seat.

Then bad luck reared its ugly head. My name was the last one called for what I later found out was the last panel called on Monday, so at approximately 2:30 p.m., productivity went down the toilet, as I was summoned to a courtroom where, obviously, computer use isn’t allowed.

The case was a civil case involving an automobile accident that took place in July 2005. It’s great to see that our justice system just hums right along, isn’t it? I barely remember last week, much less four years ago. The eight-person jury box was filled, questions were asked, some jurors were dismissed, and then we were allowed to leave early because the judge had another panel set to convene at 3 p.m., but we were told to report back to the same courtroom at 9 a.m. Tuesday (today).

If I may interrupt for a sidebar (legal term!), there are some downright ugly women in Hudson County. Men are always looking at women, no matter what our status is. Anyone that says they don’t is flat-out lying. If our eyesight and our imagination are toast, then our other vital parts are probably toast, as well. But you can throw out the Ginger vs. Mary Ann debate: Mrs. Howell would have been the sexiest one in this bunch. Having no eye candy around was a big disappointment. Eye candy definitely speeds the day.

And if I may interrupt for another sidebar, the only benefit of the long route I took to the courthouse was discovering a White Castle on Kennedy Boulevard. Once I was dismissed for the day, was there any doubt what lunch would be? I freaking love White Castle.

I returned to the courtroom Tuesday morning, taking a much shorter route thanks to the tip from my lovely fiancée. My experience in the courtroom Tuesday provides the clearest example possible about why jury duty is so stressful. I honestly couldn’t decide which way to “root.” Did I want the process to drag on in hopes that my name never got called, so that by the time a jury was selected, I’d hopefully be dismissed? Or did I want the process to end quickly so I could return to the relative calm (and Internet access) offered by the jury room? Were the events of the morning a good sign or a bad omen? The complete lack of control over my situation and the unpredictability were just draining.

The judge had a long list of questions that she planned to ask every potential juror, and the first batch of questions seemed like they would weed out the most people, so when we got through that first batch and several potential jurors had been replaced by people other than myself, I started to feel a little better about my odds of escaping a trial that we were told would likely last through Monday.

Then the bad omen arrived. A woman who appeared to be Indian was seated as juror No. 1, and I immediately knew in my heart that she would end up completely screwing me. The odds were still about 25-1, as there were 25 of us left in the audience, but I just got this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Some people have no business whatsoever being in jury duty, and she was one of them. I’m not one of those people who demands that every person on the planet speak perfect English, but she obviously did not have nearly enough command of the language to get through a trial. The judge, who spoke clearly and slowly, had to repeat each question two or three times, and she was called up for sidebar conferences with the judge and the two attorneys on numerous occasions. Someone must have finally come to their senses and realized that having her on a jury would likely double the length of the trial, because she was excused. Out of the 25 people left, yours truly became the replacement juror. I knew it. Why, I don’t know, but I knew it. I was no longer a free man: I was juror No. 1.

I had two low cards that I was hoping would save me. One was the fact that Yom Kippur occurs on Monday, which was expected to be the last day of the trial. Anyone who knows me also knows that I’m not the least bit religious, except when it comes to Yankee baseball, but with my last name being about as Jewish as last names can be, I thought I had a shot. However, since the judge strongly felt that the trial would end early Monday, I struck out on that count.

I’m pretty sure my second card was what saved me. As I said, the trial was about a car accident, and one of the questions asked whether any family members or close friends had recently been involved in an accident. Unfortunately, one of my friends was indeed involved in a very severe one a few weeks ago, which he was lucky to walk away from. The accident in the case took place on Tonnelle Avenue, and my friend’s accident also took place on 1/9, but further south, on the Pulaski Skyway. I was called up for a sidebar conference, described my friend’s accident, and returned to the jury box.

At this point, things weren’t looking up for our hero. I didn’t think there was any way to avoid serving on the trial, and I was resigned to completely wasting the rest of Tuesday, as well as Wednesday, Thursday and Monday (Friday is a day for motions, so juries aren’t involved). The only chance I had was being excused by one of the lawyers, but I didn’t think my answers to any of the questions raised any red flags.

We finally got to the point where all of the questions were answered, and it was up to the two attorneys. The plaintiff’s attorney excused one juror, so we all had to sit there while his replacement answered the entire line of questions from the judge. The defendant’s attorney then excused another juror, and the same drill happened with replacement No. 2, but this one took much longer, as he was called up for a couple of sidebar conferences. At this point, I was utterly and completely defeated and just wanted the trial to start already, as I saw no hope of not being part of it. However, I didn’t realize that the attorneys could remove more than one juror each.

Then, the magic words came out of the mouth of the plaintiff’s attorney: “Your honor, I would like to excuse juror No. 1.” Did I just hear that, or was I hallucinating? Relief washed over me as I gathered my belongings and returned to the jury room, where another pleasant surprise awaited: I was free to leave.

I have never been happier in my life to log onto my two work e-mail accounts and get busy. But the two hours and 15 minutes or so that I spent in that courtroom this morning were among the most stressful I’ve experienced in quite some time, and I have no desire to repeat the experience, even for another $10. Today’s experience was way too close for comfort.

South South South South Jersey

I spent a long weekend in Cape May, N.J., with my girlfriend, my old roommate and her husband. I’d never been that far south in New Jersey: Exit 0 on the Garden State Parkway, to be exact. It was a hike, but it was well worth it, and I’d definitely go back.

Carroll Villa

Carroll Villa

We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast called the Carroll Villa. It was a little larger than the traditional B&B, and had a full restaurant and a really fun bar with great martinis tucked away in the back and almost hidden. The food at the restaurant, The Mad Batter, was good, especially the breakfasts, which were outstanding. The location couldn’t have been better: One block from the beach and less than two blocks from the main shopping area.

Since all we did besides lay on the beach was eat, why not write about it? Our first meal was at The Lobster House. If we had any doubts as to how popular the place was, the huge line out the door to be seated for dinner at 4:30 melted those. Great, fresh seafood dinners for all, and very generous portions, made for a great dinner.

We also had dinner at 410 Bank Street, which was fantastic. I took a break from seafood and had the blackened prime rib. It was one of the best pieces of red meat I’ve had in quite some time, and I’ve had many. The restaurant is BYOB, but they sell wines from the local Cape May Winery, and the Cabernet Franc was a perfect fit with the steak.

Cape May Lighthouse

Cape May Lighthouse

And when we weren’t eating or sunning, we were looking for dolphins. We took a 6:30 p.m. dolphin cruise and, even though my photography skills and camera sucked way too much to present any tangible evidence, we saw many and several groups of dolphins. They are truly fascinating creatures.

I also found out that human beings are as dumb as dolphins are fascinating. One of the sights you pass while on the dolphin cruise is a sunken concrete battleship. That’s not a typo: CONCRETE. What genius thought it would be a good idea to build a ship out of concrete?

One thing I did notice about Cape May that I found a little odd: There were tons of families with kids, but there didn’t seem to be a lot for the kids to do. There were a couple of arcades and a couple of miniature golf courses, but that was pretty much it. I personally loved Cape May, but if I were a child (SHUT IT!), I fear that I’d be bored out of my skull.

Anyway, all in all, it was a fantastic weekend, albeit too short. I could easily see spending a week in Cape May, and I’m already looking forward to heading back down to South South South South Jersey.

The Beach at Cape May

The Beach at Cape May

God made me eat Cajun fries

I meant to have salad with fat-free dressing, a turkey sandwich on wheat bread and fresh pineapple for lunch today. I really did. But that’s not what ended up happening. I blame a combination of God, Mother Nature and Lonn Trost (just because).

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

I went out to run a few errands in Hoboken and found myself having to walk all the way up Washington Street to 5th Street to get a copy of the New York Post. As much as I love being online, I’m still a traditionalist when it comes to newspapers. Even though every article in the paper is available on the Web, I still like to actually read the paper, and Washington Street is lacking places that sell newspapers.

So, Post in hand, I started walking down Washington Street to head back home, when the skies absolutely opened up and it started pounding rain — I’m talking Noah’s Ark rain. While searching for shelter from the downpour, what should magically appear across the street, but Five Guys Burgers and Fries?

So, what was I to do? I couldn’t seek shelter in the establishment without sampling some of its fine culinary goods. One cheeseburger, one order of Cajun fries and one Mr. Pibb later, the rain miraculously stopped, and I was on my way back home.

And to anyone who feels the need to point out that I was actually much closer to Pita Grill when the rain hit than I was to Five Guys, kindly shut the hell up.

Opening Day? Fail! Dinner at Waffle House? Win!

In my ongoing quest to take advantage of the free time I have due to being unemployed, I did something I’ve never done in my illustrious career as a baseball fan: I went to Yankees Opening Day on the road.

The good news is that I showed up. The bad news is that most of the Yankees didn’t.

Yankees and Orioles line up for Opening Day

Yankees and Orioles line up for Opening Day

The drive to Baltimore started in silence — one hour of silence, to be exact. It turns out that when I got the transmission fixed on my car, they obviously had to disconnect the battery. When the battery is disconnected, it activates an incredibly annoying security feature in my car stereo that requires inputting a five-digit code before it will work again. If three attempts are unsuccessful, the stereo locks up. My mechanic apparently tried three times, and the only way to unlock the stereo is to drive for one hour with the system on, so I had no tunes until I was nearly off the New Jersey Turnpike.

Lack of audio aside, I pretty much drove through car-wash-like sheets of rain for the entire trip, but on the bright side, there was very little traffic, as only a moron would drive from Hoboken to Baltimore for a baseball game in that kind of weather. was dead-on, though. It stopped raining literally seconds before I parked my car, and the precipitation held off, other than a half-hour shower right before game time, which delayed the start a bit.

My first stop was Pratt Street Ale House, an outstanding brewpub a couple of blocks from the ballpark. It used to be known as Wharf Rat. My visit there consisted of a pint of outstanding porter, a pint of decent stout, another pint of porter and some good-natured ribbing from Orioles fans, whom I affectionately refer to as Baltimorons.

Then I entered Oriole Park at Camden Yards and headed straight for Boog’s BBQ and the pit beef platter. I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Orioles fans are lucky. Camden Yards was built just before suites and luxury boxes became the top priority for a ballpark. As impressed as I was with the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, frankly, I’d take Camden Yards over either one of them. Of course, neither of the New York ballparks has something like the warehouse building to work with, and, as I mentioned in my blog about Citi Field, the Yankees were trying to keep attributes of both previous renditions of Yankee Stadium prominent. But Camden Yards set the standard for the wave of new ballparks, and it’s still a special place to catch a ballgame.

My seats were also in a great area that has no counterpart in either New York stadium. It’s called club seating, but it’s nothing like the various clubs and suites in Yankee Stadium or Citi Field. For $50, I sat in the first row down the right field line — very decent vantage point — and had access to a climate-controlled indoor concourse area with various restaurants, bars and its own bathrooms. I first sat there on a 102-degree Sunday a few years ago, so I welcomed the air-conditioning break. Of course, Baltimore is going to be cheaper than New York, but neither the Yankees nor the Mets offer anything resembling this value.

Anyway, everything was great until the game started. CC Sabathia had nothing and the Yankees’ bullpen had even less. In a mirror image of too many games last season, the Yankees stranded 10 base runners and wasted numerous opportunities. Final score: Orioles 10, Yankees 5.

Dinner, Waffle House-style!

I figured I’d break up the three-hour-plus drive home with a stop for dinner, likely at one of the fast-food restaurants in a rest stop on I-95. Then, a stroke of genius occurred: WAFFLE HOUSE!

I absolutely love Waffle House and would probably weigh more than a circus elephant if there were any locations in New Jersey. In fact, the woman behind the counter told me the company explored expanding into the Garden State but didn’t do it because the way they clean their dishes doesn’t conform to New Jersey’s regulations. This made me sort of nervous, but it’s been more than 24 hours and I haven’t dropped dead yet.

After a waffle the size of a small pizza, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon and toast, I bid goodbye to Maryland and headed back home, defeated but full.

Mmmm … Waffle House!

Waffle House

Waffle House