fighting the lack of good ideas


Continuing my new theme of including restaurant reviews of places I have been, I must praise Virage in Manhattan. On the corner of 2d Avenue and E 7th Street, is a self-proclaimed “mediterranean-style” restaurant.

I ordered their Monday special, which on that visit was lamb chops with roasted gnochhi and a charred tomato and pepper hot salad. For dessert, I went with their house sorbet – they had raspberry and lemon to choose from, so I got both: and the side-by-side presentation and flavor was delightful.

If you’re a fan of drinks, they have $5 margarita Mondays, and every one that went by on a tray looked really good.

As with most cities, there are hundreds or thousands of places to eat in New York. I can’t say I intend to try every one, but Virage was well worth my 45 block walk.


I met a friendly girl (Shelly) today at the subway station at 40th and 8th in front of the New York Times building.

But the only reason I bring this up is because she asked me how to get to the number 7 subway.

There I was, calmly reviewing the subway map so I could get to the Museum Mile Festival, and she comes over asking me if I knew how to get to the #7. Mind you, I live in Durham NC, and have only ridden the subway in Manhattan once before today. But she asked me how to get back to Main St in Flushing.

I must have inherited the “ask me directions to anywhere, I can get you there” invisible sign that my dad has. I’ve been asked directions, now, twice on this visit to New York. I couldn’t help the first guy, but Shelly I could.

I pointed-out to her that she had gotten off at the New York Times, and not Times Square. I showed her on the map where the 7 terminates on its west point (Times Square), and mentioned I was heading there myself. To which she asked if she could follow me. Sure, why not?

So up the stairs we headed towards Times Square. Once there, we headed into that subway station, and she found the 7 with no issues, while I went over to find the 3 to head up to Central Park North for the block party thing.

I really do wish I could see that sign, so I at least knew I wasn’t crazy the next time I’m asked for directions by some random person on the street – because I know it’ll happen again.


Since I now have a job that involves traveling quite a bit, I am going to start writing about the better-than-good places I find when I’m traveling.

Allora Ristorante, Marlborough Massachusetts. 139 Lakeside Avenue.

Entree prices range from $15-market (for fresh-caught lobster, etc). The first night I went, I had a fantastic lamb milanese.

Lamb milanese is like a parmigiana, but served over mashed potatoes. In the case of Allora, there was an arugula and caper hot salad with some sort of light dressing over the the top of the whole works.

I ended up eating at Allora all three nights I was out near Boston because the first night was so good. And each night I ordered something different, and was not upset with any choice.

If you have a reason to be out near where the Mass Pike and 495 cross, take a little time and pop north on 495 to exit 24A for route 20, and head east about a half mile.

You won’t be disappointed.


I just had the best haircut ever.

I’m in Manhattan this week for work, and on my way from the customer I’m working with to my hotel, I was accosted by a very friendly black guy who wanted to give me a haircut.

Now that sounds pretty wierd, but he was standing in front of a barber shop (Diamond Cut Salon and Barber Shop‎), and wanted to direct me inside. Unfortunately, I was carrying my large duffel and computer bag, and really wanted to get checked-in to the hotel I’m staying at so that I didn’t have to schlep 60 pounds of stuff around with me anymore.

After chatting with him for a minute, I told him that if he were still there in 20 minutes, they could give me a haircut (which I was in pretty desperate need of).

When I got back (it was only two blocks), he was heading upstairs with another gentleman who was starting to look a little shaggy. I followed him up, and sat down in the first available chair.

To get an idea of the layout of this place, you need to realize that it’s on the third floor of a building that also has a tattoo and piercing parlor on the second floor. The barber shop has at least eight chairs, and plays R&B and hiphop music loudly, but not so loud you can’t hear the guy (or girl, in my case) talking to you about what you want done to your hair.

I get my head shaved about once a month. The place I typically go in Cary won’t take a straight razor to anyone’s head like the place I used to go in Burlington did, but they get pretty close with trim buzzers.

When I asked for my head shaved here in NYC, the girl verified I wanted it bald – and then buzzed-off all my hair (a great start). Then she pulled out what at first felt like a palm-sander (it was an electric shaver, but didn’t feel like one 🙂 ) and proceeded to remove the stubble on my head.

“Great!” I thought – a place that will give you a shave when you ask for one! But she wasn’t done.

After shaving my head completely (so well that I couldn’t tell where my hair had been), she asked if I wanted my beard trimmed. I figured, “why not – I’m here”, so I said yes.

She deftly took a straight razor to sharpen the edges of my “Abe Lincoln”, as a guy at work calls it, and then trimmed it down with a buzzer and attachment. This was great – now, in addition to my head having a look I like, my slightly-ragged beard was sharpened and smoothed. But she still wasn’t done.

Before she finished, she took that palm-sander, which I now knew to be an electric shaver, and gave me a full shave – other than the now-sculpted beard line.

Let me tell you: if you’ve never had someone else give you a shave on your face, it’s a pretty wierd sensation – but was just about perfect in just a couple minutes.

Start-to-finish, I was there for under 30 minutes. If you’re ever in Manhattan, strolling down the east side of 8th Ave from 40th towards 39th – and you need a haricut – head on upstairs to this true gem of the city.

sloshing dessert

So, I was sitting at Cold Stone in Chapel Hill with a buddy of mine Saturday evening, enjoying my mint and peanut butter ice cream with pineapple and coconut mix-ins, when I piped-up with “this would be so much better with rum”.

Then it hit me: I need to open a bar and ice cream joint, and call it an Ice Cream Barlor. Or maybe “Lay you out on the Marble Slab Creamery”, or “Slushy Slosher”.

the society for creative anachronism

First off, what a great name for an organization.Second, I first heard about this group when I started researching knife-fighting techniques. One of the books I bought on the topic suggested that among the best ways to practice hand-to-hand combat is to join a local SCA chapter. I have spent more time recently learning about the group, and have become quite intrigued in their organization.

I have been interested in siege machinery, medieval weapons, horse-mounted combat, etc for a long time, but haven’t done much more than play various period-set games to acquaint myself with the terminology and technology of that bygone era.

The SCA, founded in 1968 in California (didn’t see that coming, did you?), places as its focus the recreation of the middle ages in today’s world. Currently comprised of 19 kingdoms around the world (though most are in the US and Canada), the SCA is further subdivided in feifdoms, barrons, etc – all old-world terms for the subdividions of kingdoms. Royalty is determined by competition at sanctioned events, and their is a full recreation of nobility terms, based on competition, favor of the current King/Queen of the kingdom, etc.

Most local meetings require medieval garb, and they have directions for making basic tunics on their website. Members make it their goal to learn (and perhaps master) ancient arts that have either long-since been forgotten, or have become passe in this modern era. Such disparate activities as sewing, metal working, armoring, jousting, and farming all come under the auspices of the society.

Even more fascinating than this, though, is the fact that the whole organization is voluntary. No one is forced to become a member to attend meetings (though to compete you typically must). The whole society is predicated upon respect and politeness – when meeting someone whose rank you do not know, a typical greeting may be “my lord” or “my lady”. Titles are earned, not merely bestowed, and each individual in the society works to create a simultaneous economy of pre-17th century Europe while living their normal lives in today’s world.

Upon joining the society, new members choose for themselves names (which must be period-appropriate) and occupations, with the only caveat being you may not have the same name as another member (no pairs of John Hunters walking about, but John Hunter and John Barber are fine). Depending on your locale, you may be able to join a guild of like-minded members to learn a similar trade, improve your fighting skills, or just converse.

Overall, the SCA has very few rules. Beyond disallowing conversation of modern-world things and events as a general rule, and requiring the donning of period clothing, they function as a live role-playing game.

From what I have read about the orgnanization, some members go so far as to design entire stories about themselves and their character name, so they have a ‘history’ in their anachronistic realm. Other participants are more in it for the fun of it, but have a chance to learn from others who have joined to actually live-out a personal fantasy and become very proficient at the occupation they have chosen.

Another bizarre feature of this society is the possibility of wars. No, not ‘real’ wars in which people end up dead, but wars for prestige of the kingdom, and (perhaps) the transfer of regions of a given kingdom to a neighboring one.

Since learning about these folks, and especially after my recent research into local meeting places, I have decided it would be fun to try it out for a while, and see if it’s something I would like to pursue as a hobby.

For more information, or if you have participated in the society and can give me some pointers, please leave a comment.