Monday, July 10, 2006

A Real Camp Update.

So I figured it was time to give you a real update about camp. It has been 2 weeks since first session began. It’s 1:30 am Sunday and now seems as good a time as any to finally get all of this stuff down and plus Jake has earned it and I am chilling out to Widespread Panic from the New Years show. (One the top 5 nights of my life)

Pre Camp:
I spent the early part of June moving from Savannah to camp. I spent a few days in both Virginia and New Jersey before dropping into camp. I needed to unload my gypsy wagon into the formally known “Kaczynski Kabin” now renamed the “Decompression Chamber”

So how is camp? There is no easy answer to that question this summer. While on the whole camp is great there is a strange vibe this summer and no one can quite put his or her finger on exactly why. It is as if you can see storm clouds but you are not sure if the are headed your way but you are somewhat concerned just in case. I also think expectations from last year were high and very hard to live up to. On the flip side is we still have 5 weeks to go. Of course most things are the same like the food, the weather, the conversations, the core of camp, which is nice. The drives so far this summer have been OK, the good ones start next week. What makes a good drive, that’s easy, any trip that goes north of camp into the heart of the Adirondack State Park, short or long. I have a trip next week to Lake Placid, while a 2 and a half hour one-way drive, is filled with great scenery along the way so it makes it worth the drive. The bad trips are the one when I go south and have to go into Old Forge and deal with the tourist traffic, which is a pain.

The weather has been great since the fifth day of camp. The first four where nothing but grey rainy days, it reminded me of Seattle. I weather before camp was too good to be true on a few days, low humidity and highs around 73, perfect picture weather. I have some shots that I am going to put up when I get the chance. Most of them are panoramas so I have to find the best way to display them on the web. I have one that I am thinking about trying to sell in the local area, it is the one taken from Bald Mountain. I also got a few great shot while in Vermont. I did miss, but I can still see in my head, as what would be one of my finest shots had I had my camera with me. I was in Portsmouth NH and the mist over the river on the Maine side was glowing from the streetlights on the far dock. Imagine my alleyway shot from Savannah and turn it on its side is the closest I could explain it. I will return to that spot and get the shot this fall, it will not bee hard to recreate, well the weather has to recreate it and since my mystical powers do not seem to effect the weather, at least on a large scale. And no global warming is not all my fault.

So far this summer my “Dr. Phil” sessions with a few of the counselors are higher this year than last. Part of it may be because some of last year’s counselors had winter problems stored up waiting foe me when I got here. But I still think that is my main function at camp. I know at least one person who is having a much better time at camp after a few nights just hanging out and talking. Communication is a wonderful thing; try it some time, especially if you are married. Oh by the way, being single still sucks less than being married, but everything is perception.

I found a great place for North Carolina (vinegar based) BBQ (pulled pork) about 40 minutes north of camp in Blue Mountain Lake. It is worth the drive and the risk of a bout with the gout for this BBQ. The owner is a guy named Willie from Raleigh, NC who moved up here two years ago and he and partner purchased a restaurant with some existing weekend rental cabins. He works out of a chuck wagon while they get the place finished up for the winter season. More of my trips bring me right by him so not stopping will be a challenge. I was on my way back today from Willies with Mark (camp’s jr. mr. fixit) when we spotted a young black bear in the road. I was able to get some shot of him, which should be up soon.

I have begun to form a plan for where I am going after camp and right now the quick answer is I am moving to the North East Kingdom in Vermont for the winter. I know what you may be thinking. You hate the cold, why live all the way up there? Again the short answer is it will give me time to find a place to build my cabin. I am looking for a small plot with lake access of a small boston whaler or a few acres with a great view. I will then put up a place no bigger than 16 x 20 and off grid. This will also give me some time to complete the movie I am working on. I will not give very much away at this point but I am knee deep in story ideas and character development. I hope to have it finished before Christmas so I can start principle photography on it right after camp gets out next summer. I will tell you it is the first of the trilogy I have planned. The base story is there for all three movies with an interesting metaphysical twist that if all three movies get made should work out well. It is a camp movie but you should have figured that out by now. I do have the first 5 minutes done and I believe the opening is going to be great. I may talk more about it later but for right now that should be enough. Oh yeah, I want Kevin Smith to direct it.

Finally I have decided to release the long lost blog from last summer, it is below, enjoy.

Looking west from VT

Looking west from VT
Looking west from VT,
originally uploaded by followsean.

Mt Abe in Vermont

Mt Abe in Vermont
Mt Abe in Vermont,
originally uploaded by followsean.

The Lost Post of Summer '05

The Balsams, A five star RIPOFF

It has been said that critics are "legless men who try and tell others how to walk". Well let me roll my legless body over and tell you a story.

I don't even know where to begin with one of the greatest scams ever perpetrated on rich people. I have trouble wrapping my head around it right now. Maybe I have a strange concept of money but when someone is paying 600.00 per night (this is for just my room, not the suite families with kids need, you will see this figure again just so you can imagine spending that kind of money for 3 hots and a cot) one should not have a laundry list of issues and not be infuriated about it. Now I don't want to give you the impression we (as a family) are not having a good time, far from it, all of the grandkids are enjoying the fact they are all together which to me is the main part of the trip. Kudos to Janet for making this trip happen and getting us all together for the first time in a longtime. So I will just start at the top of my list and work down. But first I will give you some background on the place.

The Balsams is a 5 star rated resort in Northwestern New Hampshire. Included in the 600.00 per night rate; all meals, all the golf you can play (carts are extra) tennis, a pool, a lake with a paddle boat and canoes, hiking and mountain biking trails. They also have other activities like shuffle board, billiards and the like. Now what's not included in the 600.00 per night rate that should be, any drink other than water, at these rates I should be able to get a coke and not have to pay 2.00 for it at the bar or 5.50 for a gin and tonic. Now on to the list.

The Room:
I will start on a positive note and say the room size is fine, with nice views of the mountains. That is the only nice things I can say, remember, 600.00 a night. Now the negatives. When you walk in you are walking on carpet that has been down for at least 15 years, judging by the wear patterns. Even in the spots under the desk and table where it looks fresh and new you can tell this is just cheap carpet, the same kind you would find in any high turn over rate apartment complex. The furniture is what really shocked me. I had expected with a resort of this age and distinction that the rooms would be filled with antique furniture or at least nice reproductions. Oh how wrong I was, it can best be described as, well "Unpainted Arizona". Let me explain that for those who have not seen the movie "Raising Arizona". (go rent it, that's 5 star entertainment) I am sure most of you have been to an unpainted furniture store and seen the "fine" collection of bedroom sets that you too can take home and spray paint in a light green avocado color just like my room. The bathroom looks as if it was redone in the late 50's early 60's judging by the tile shape and color. The floor tiles are white 1 inch hexagons and the wall tiles are 4 inch baby blue squares, very dated. The toilet is plain but functional. The vanity is my favorite so let me go into some detail. It is an older pedestal sink, I am not sure how old it may be but it is old enough to have individual hot and cold taps. But they are not hooked up that way. I guess at some point people complained they had to use 2 faucets so what they did was to remove the hot tap and plug it and replaced the cold tap with what I would call a short neck kitchen sink facet. I am not sure the technical term for this style of faucet but imagine your average kitchen sink faucet with a 3 inch neck (where the water comes out) as opposed to a 6 inch neck on a kitchen sink, and the single 3 inch handle that moves up and back and left to right for temperature and pressure control. The following two items are missing from the room, air conditioning and a television. The A/C I will let slide because we are in the mountains and it never gets that hot up here, or at worst nothing that a good fan (provided) couldn't take care of. The television is another story, I understand that this is considered a family resort and there are plenty of outdoor things to keep you occupied during the day, fine. But at night, after dinner the only thing to occupy your boredom is the game room. I asked at the front counter about this and they said in this area you don't get good TV reception. I guess the concept of satellite television has not made it this far north. I realize I have an affinity for television and the joy it brings most will never have, but your average joe likes to catch some sports scores, weather and maybe some Leno or Letterman before turning in for the night. The bed is a typical generic motel quality mattress. The bed linen are cheap and old. How can I tell they are cheap, they are a 50/50 cotton/poly blend that is starting to pill. Again I come back to the 600.00 per night, for that I should be sleeping on a pillow-top mattress with 300 thread count egyptian cotton sheets. I had better beds and sheets in most of the motels I stayed in while in New Zealand, at much cheaper rates. Now for the last thing, the screen in my center window. I have three windows all of which have storm windows attached for those cold winter nights here. The center one is missing the proper screen, maybe it was damaged or broken but what they decided to replace it with can only be described as an 18 inch high, adjustable width (much like a baby gate) temporary screen one would put in ones 5th floor walk up apartment in the east village because the landlord is cheap to get the screen for the storm window replaced. Now I could almost live with this expect the replacement screen is not wide enough to cover the width of the window, so what did they do to fix this problem? What any good old redneck would do, break out the duct tape and the plywood to fill the gap. I am not making this up. 5 star my ass.

Internet access
Lack of any real internet access save the 2 flaky internet kiosk (3.00 for 15 min) they have setup is one of the more surprising things I have found. I would expect for them to have a business center I could walk into, sit down at a computer and start surfing the net. Why would I expect this? Mainly because the people who can afford this place also need to be in touch with things back at the office, my brother in-law Johnny O. could attest to this fact, the company he works for got bought by IBM today . Lack of cell service makes it very tough to get work done. Now you could say why not plug into the room phone and dial out for internet. Well I was going to do that until I found out I get charged for local calls...charged for local calls even Motel 6 gives you free local calls and there rooms are nicer and much cheaper. It's not that I can't pay the 1.25 per local call I just won't out of principle, again remember 600.00 per night.

How to ruin a great bottle (or 4 great bottles) of wine.
Let me start by saying I am in no way a big wine drinker but even I know a few things about wine. First as the wine stewart I would not recommend the house merlot for dinner. (if I may quote from the movie Sideways. "I'm not drinking any fucking merlot.") And let me say to classify the "liquor lady" (her words not mine, I swear) as a wine stewart is an insult to wine stewards everywhere. I am sure if I was having dinner with a french man he would have gotten up and smacked her in the face and sat back down while mumbling obscenities in french at her. And for this thought alone I once again respect the French. So back to the wine, since it is our first night together as family my father orders a bottle of 1996 chateau lafeite (sp?) rothschild, I am sure this means something, all I know is one bottle cost only a third less than my room. So what does the "mixed drink mistress" do, she pops the cork and starts pouring. For the first time in my life I wished I was French so I could smack her. Even I know when you uncork a bottle of wine of that age it must be decanted and let breath. The other reason you do this is because after handling a bottle of this age you have disturbed the sediment in the wine and it must be decanted so it can settle again. Everyone's glass had sediment in the bottom when they where done. The sediment effects the taste of the wine in a non complimentary way, this I know. By the 4th bottle most where too hammered to tell the difference. To top off this, at the end of dinner when the "whisky wench" brought the check for my father to sign she began to recommend to us how we are to tip for tonight's service from herself and the wait-staff. I will go into greater detail about tipping later. As for the wait-staff, they where wonderful, when you could find them. I guess no one thought, "hey here is a large party of 37 people eating at four tables, two waitresses might not be able to handle that". But maybe I am asking to much of the duct tape and plywood mentality.

The Food
Those of you who have followed my exploits in the past know that food is second only to television for sheer enjoyment for me. A great meal is on par with great sex, once you find great food (or great sex), you tend to ride the wave as long as you can. The thing I looked forward too the most about my trip here was the food. I figured if nothing else the reason people come to a place like this is to eat like royalty for a few days. All I can say is, "OOOHH, sorry Chip that's incorrect, thanks for playing, we have some lovely parting gifts for you." I was very excited the first evening when I walked into the dinning room and saw what I call "Food on Parade" except we had to parade around it. What they do is put out one dish of everything on the menu for that evening so you can decide what you are interested in. Everything looked so appetizing, with the exception of anything that had vegetables as the main ingredient or vegetables in very close contact with the meat product of the dish. This factor took out about 80% of the menu for me, but I was not worried, the lobster and shrimp over pasta looked great. You would think that after 37 years of being bombarded with food ads on television, I would know you can make anything look appetizing, how else do you explain why every-time Micky D's brings back the "McRib I eat one. But I digress, shrimp was so tough I felt that I could shape it into a ball and bounce it against the walls like a .25 cent super ball out of a gum-ball machine outside Wal-Mart. The lobster was bone dry, I had to use some butter from my bread plate just to get it down. I also found out that my meal is not prepared for me, they just keep making up plates and the wait-staff just grabs what they need. How do I know this, a waitress told me after someone sent there first choice back and got a replacement in under a minute. There is nothing in the world more appetizing then a dish under a heat lamp. As for breakfast, most of you know I rarely eat at breakfast so I can't tell you what it is like. Then again it's hard to fuck up french toast but if anyone could, I'm sure they could, on a 5 star level. The lunch I had yesterday was hit and miss. After working at camp I know how to recognize last nights leftovers as todays lunch special. For lunch now I make a couple PBJ's and I'm happy.

Kids Day Camp
Now one of the main reasons Janet choose The Balsams for our "family (I am not sure what to call this) get-together" because of the fact we have 19 grandchildren to entertain. The place boosted about it's Kid's Day Camp, drop off the kids in the morning and they would be entertained for the whole day until dinner with activities and fun. The kids where looking forward to all the activities they had listed for them to do. The person who told Janet all about the camp failed to mention or didn't know that they could not handle that many children at the same time to do any of the fun activities they had talked about. By lunch time on the first day all the kids where begging to get pulled out of camp because it was lame. (Their words) So parents who where looking forward to a little down time or a round of golf now had to worry about entertaining their kids.

Murph and the Magic Tones
Right now I would not be shocked to see Bob Marley come back from the dead walk down to the pool area and kick the singer square in the nuts for what he is doing to the song "Three Little Birds". For the second day in a row I have been forced, yes forced, to listen to a tone deaf aging wedding singer destroy song after song. How was I forced, again the duct tape, plywood mentality, instead of setting up the speakers so only the people in the pool area can have blood dripping from their ears, the idiots have the speakers facing back towards the hotel. If I had an A/C unit so I could close my windows I wouldn't care but as mentioned above that option is not available to me. I swear these guys would get booed out of the Blue Room at the Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Chicago. Imagine Hollywoods version of a typical cheap Vegas show at old rundown casino and you will have some idea what I am dealing with here. What I wouldn't do for a rifle with a scope right now, I can see you from here you bastards.

When you check into your room you are shown the Official Balsams guest directory that explains everything you could ever want to know about the hotel and it's facilities. Now most 5 star hotels have these types of directories, and they are usually in a nice leather bound folio, this one looks like they are handing in a 40 page college history paper you had Kinkos copy and bind for you. But I sat down and started reading about proper dinner attire, lost and found, smoking policy, medical emergencies, etc. The part that caught my eye was not the section on gratuities but the size of the gratuities information. Let me set this up for you, each page is a 2 column setup and the gratuities section alone takes up 1.8 columns. I will try and paraphrase the section for you. They suggest 10.00 per day per person in your party for wait-staff. For those of you slow in math that works out to be 370.00 per day for our family. 370.00 a day for two waitresses that only bring drinks at breakfast and lunch (both buffets) and deliver food at dinner. Thats a racket I need to get in to. In addition to the wait-staff you are reminded to consider your busing attendant, your captain and the "Maitre d'Hotel" (there are strange accent symbols over the "i" and "o" but I can't recreate them here.) Please note that the cocktail and wine servers are not part of the wait-staff. Then personal gratuities for the housekeeper, the turn down service, golf, tennis and pool attendants can range from 1.00 to 3.00 per day. Of course you can't forget the bellman, pages, doorman and others in the service staff. Enough, at 600.00 per night you should be able to pay your staff a decent wage so they don't have to supplement their income with tips from me. Now, I am all for tipping good service but not out of obligation so the staff doesn't pee in my soup. Here's a tip for you, don't eat yellow snow.

God I miss camp.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Very Quick Update

Camp is Great.
I have gotten some good pictures.
Yes I am slack.