Sunday, April 24, 2011

Train Pain

The subway train tries to keep you informed. And this is a good thing, but this wasn’t always the case. Years ago if the train stopped or was moving slowly, you had to just assume their was a rat parade on the tracks and you had to wait until it passed before you could continue moving.

There was no information, no knowledge shared.

But the subway system in New York City has been better the last couple years about informing riders about what the hell is going on. It does this through 4 or so canned messages that are either delivered by their automated system or in a muffled lazy barely audible manner by the conductor.

These messages have become quite routine and it is not uncommon to hear all of them during one morning commute.

My favorite is when the train stops in between stations and you hear over the loud speaker:

We are delayed because of train traffic ahead.

Well yes train traffic ahead would make more sense than train traffic behind us wouldn’t it? But train traffic? What train traffic? You have a finite number of trains in the subway. Every single choo choo has a conductor on it and should be accounted for. It’s not like people can drive their own train onto the track.

Hello folks, yea, it looks like we got about 20 or 30 trains that we have never seen before on the tracks this morning. I know we are on the A, C, E line, but in front of us we have a P train, a 12 train, and a train that appears to just have a picture of a monkey on it. So we’ll go ahead and get you moving just about as soon we figure out what the hell is going on.

Train traffic. The whole idea of the train is that we all travel on the same effen translocational vessel, upon the same track, so we don’t HAVE to worry about traffic.

That would be like driving along the highway and seeing a sign that said:

This next 5 miles is only open for you Steve.

I apparently have no concept of how trains work, because I thought it was some sort of a scheduled type of thing. I thought you had to take a certain amount of time, and that all conductors knew how long that trip should be and they could arrive at each station at a certain time.

But no, instead we hear announcements like:

To maintain even spacing between trains, this train is being held in the station.

That means that somebody is driving their train too fast. Why are you in such a hurry? Drive at the same damn speed and we won’t have this issue. You realize what happens when you get to the end of the track, right? You have to just turn around and come back.

But again that is the opposite of:

We are currently waiting for connecting passengers on an arriving train.

Of course when you hear that announcement you are always waiting in the train, trying to get somewhere on time because you are already late. But it seems whenever you ARE on that connecting train, the train across the platform is doing its damndest to see if it can get out of the station before you get on it.

But all this presumes you have actually gotten on a train to begin with. It seems like the MTA has pretty much given up telling you when and where specifically they will be doing construction and have adopted the… “this is just going to suck” approach, as seen by their latest signage.

Deciphering when and where the trains may or may not stop on a particularly construction heavy weekend has not gotten easier with the new signage used. There are now more colors, numbers, and pages to sort through.

Instead of all that crazy verbiage, I’d almost rather just show up to the train station and see a donkey with a saddle and a sign that said “good luck.”

But sometimes you do make it on to the train and you don’t like the car you are on, but of course:

Ladies and Gentleman, it is against the law to pass between cars while the train is motion.

Excuse me, if I get onto a train and there is a “human” clipping their nails sitting next to somebody who is loudly describing the specifics of his manhood, there is a very good chance I am going to move between cars while the train is in motion.

Or another reason the train stops, according to the announcement is:

Excuse me ladies and gentlemen we are stopped because we have a red signal. We’ll be moving as soon as we can.

Ohhh OK a red signal. Considering we can’t see the signals we just have to go ahead and trust you now don’t we.

It’s like if you stopped your car at a green light and while everybody was busy beeping at you, you stepped out of your car and said:

Excuse me friends, the reason I am not currently driving is that my gas pedal fell off. As soon as I manage to put it back on I will drive away.


But sometimes there are situations that are beyond anybody’s control, like when there is a sick passenger on the train. You usually know this because the conductor says:

We have a sick passenger on the train.

And then you know, oh ok, well, something we could not foresee has happened, and now we are aware of it. But last week, when I was on a train with a sick passenger the conductor actually said:

If there is a doctor on the train please report to the second car we have a sick passenger.

And the response from the cramped car full of people was as if the conductor had asked everybody to get off the train, jump on to the tracks, and push the train to New Jersey.

It’s a sick passenger people! Somebody who was probably sick before they got on the train. It’s not like the conductor was walking through the train handing out arsenic gum to willing individuals.

Because if you are not nice, I can imagine the next announcement I will hear over the loudspeaker will be something like:

We are delayed because the passengers in car 7 are all a bunch of a-holes.

In which case I’ll just ride that donkey to work instead.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Twentease - The Pilot Webisode!

Here’s the timeline of how it happened:

First, I didn’t like my job. And desperate to find a way out, my mother emailed me a link to a video contest to win an amazing job. Make a 60 second video and submit it.

I had never done anything like before, but we learned on the fly and I became a finalist. I didn’t get that job, but I started doing video contests so that was cool.

Next, I was doing a favor for a friend of mine acting (which is to say pretending to be a 12 year old in a pit stained white tee) in a one-act play about the 60s. And while running around the stage firing an imaginary toy gun at another actor who was taking this way too seriously I thought two things.

1.    I am the worst actor in the world and don’t want to ever act again.
2.    I could write something better than this!

And so I got to writing my first plays and put them on later that fall. I didn’t become wildly famous from them, or wealthy, but I still got to put them on and I found something new that I loved, so that was cool.

And most recently I was sitting around in my apartment with a friend of mine after some very cheap wine and a dinner that had roughly the same amount of garlic as a vampire defense kit, and we were talking about some ideas I had for future projects.

And as we chatted without directly facing each other to avoid what is known as an “exhalation assassination” I spoke of the idea I had for a future play about people in their twenties not really making it in Manhattan. It would be like a cross between Sex and the City and Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

We both agreed we liked the idea, and then retired to our respective abodes to sleep off what I refer to as an Italian hangover (wine and garlic).

So the idea was ruminating in my head while I was getting ready to start making for short videos to enter into contests so that I could continue financing my vacations with free trips to exotic beach locales.

But then something happened.

I saw a contest for a web series pilot. The contest was based around decisions and the winning pilot would win 25 thousand dollars and the ability to make 6 more episodes. And I had one of those moments where your heart starts beating really fast. When that happens my first instinct is usually oh shit, I screwed something up.

But when I realized I hadn’t done anything wrong in days, I realized I was excited. This contest was perfect for that play idea my friend and I had talked about. So I put all of my other important obligations (laundry, dishes, dusting) aside and got cranking on a script.

I wrote it in one very neurotically and obsessive-compulsive weekend. And my friend and I spent the next 3 weeks editing it and trying to gather a crew.

We had to hustle because the deadline was only a couple of months away and Thanksgiving was fast approaching which meant people would be pretty much booked straight through to the end of the year.

And we didn’t just need a couple of actors, we needed:

5 Actors
A director of photography
A cameraman
A producer
An editor
A musician
Five locations

And the only thing I had… was an actor.

And while we were able to fill almost all of those needs in several weeks, I decided, against the better judgment of the universe, that since I knew I needed something specific for the lead role. I would just play it myself.

Is it considered nepotism if you give the role to yourself?

Oh wait, I forgot, that’s just called narcissism.

I hadn’t had a critically acclaimed (Read: Teacher Supported) performance since my turn as the Cary Grant role in the play Arsenic and Old Lace. And that role, which I played in 8th grade, was not uncomfortable at all seeing as I had to make out with a girl 5 years older than me on stage in front of my parents.

Noooo, not uncomfortable at all!

My theatrical roles in high school consisted of people who were either careless, emotionally exposed, or completely out of control. So I thought I was pretty well poised to play somebody in their twenties.

That and the fact that I am in my twenties. So… ya know… I could just be myself.

So that was it. We found a location that was willing to let us shoot before they were even open. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that fabulous place here.

Wine Bar
65 Second Ave
Between 3rd and 4th Street.

A great place for wine, laughter and friends.

That’s not their motto, but I think it should be.

So we had a location, we had actors, a crew, and a date. And we went and we made it happen!

Oh yea, and then I spent a million hours editing it using software I didn’t know how to use, bought DVDs to burn copies so I could submit it, then went to submit it in person but accidentally went to the wrong building and spent 20 minutes there before I realized I was an idiot, went to the correct location, dropped it off, then got an email saying none of the DVD copies worked so I went and bought new DVDs, re-burnt the series, snail mailed it, emailed twice to make sure they got it and found out they did.

Ta-Da! Easy enough. Now all I had to do was wait until May so I could get that 25 grand and make an amazing web series and become wildly successful.

Naturally we found out last week that we didn’t win.

::Deep melodramatic sigh::

But it’s cool, because in the mean time I wrote the rest of the episodes, which we can start shooting. And now I can finally show the pilot to my friends instead of fearing that I was breaking contest rules and hording it like some kind of troll.

So without further ado I present to you a show about people not quite making it in their twenties. All I ask is that you share it with your friends, post it on Facebook, tweet it out and whatever else. Let’s make this the most significant event in my life since that time I made out in front of my parents.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

36 Hours in London - Part 2

The minute I board my flight to London I am accosted by beautiful looking British women with accents I crave like ice cream. The minute they start talking to me and ending their sentences on an uptick I am instantly jealous.

But instead of just coveting their accents like a normal crazy person, I replicate them. Not just a generic British accent (I prefer a cockney accent myself) but the specific type of accent they have.

I don’t do this to mock them, I do it because it’s like test driving a life. It’s fun, it doesn’t cost me anything, and I get to see what it feels like.

I fake a British accent all the time. Not to confuse people, people I talk to seem confused enough by my existence already, but because I love the sound of it. I’ll speak to my coworkers like a London tour guide when trying to spice up a spreadsheet. Or I’ll do an accent for my friends when explaining something I know nothing about.

I.E. Lying.

It’s not just British accents either, all accents. Irish, Australian, French, and Italian are my personal favorites and appear the most frequently. But when I’m around people who actually have accents? Forget it. It’s like everybody is walking around with a tray of free cupcakes and I’m not supposed to take one, but I know I really can if I want.

So there I am on my flight and my flight attendant asks me if I want something to drink. And I answer but she doesn’t understand me and asks me to repeat my self. So naturally this time I say “water” with a British accent.

Damn it.

I tried. I really did. But I made it about 45 minutes. But I did it strictly out of a need to be understood. Because I have found in my clinical scientific studies (and by clinical I mean “beer fueled” and by scientific I mean “in bars”) that if I speak to somebody from another part of the world if I use their accent, it makes the words I’m saying easier to understand.

I think it’s because our ears become so attuned to the sound of not just our own language, but the tone and way that it is spoken. So to say even the same words, with a different tone or inflection, can seem tricky.

Really, what I’m saying here, is that I am doing the world a favor.

A perfect example of this is the usage of words pairs between different cultures. Like when my stewardess approached me and asked:

Would you like a muffin or a Danish?

I chose the muffin. And even though it was dark in my aisle I could still see that she was about to hand me something that looked like a disk more than a muffin. I took it from her, held it under the light and saw what it was.

Ah yes, a muffin top.

Now while this mythical foodstuff was glorified by Seinfeld, this was not really a muffin top. If anything it looked more like a muffin middle. I chose not to say anything, I just smiled and said thank you.

It also means something else that is entirely inedible. I will spare my own creative explanation for one that has been pre-approved by thousands of Internet denizens.

We finally arrive in London, meet our driver, and are immediately carted off to our presentation where we are scheduled to speak as soon as we get there.

Now I’m in a professional business setting listening to a room full of British accents. I feel like it has already been infused into my blood.

And I am about to make a presentation to a room full of European clients, including some British, and I find myself talking to my boss in a fake British accent when he stops me abruptly and says:

Rich, you can’t do that here!

Oh crap, right. These people know I’m from New York. Faking a British accent here will just make them think I am an ass or idiot… or both. And I don’t know these people. I still have a chance to make them think I’m bright and stuff.

Lucky for me, I made it through my presentation without faking the British, Spanish, Portuguese, Irish OR Scottish accents in the room. I didn’t anticipate so many accents. It was like a buffet of wonderful voices. I just wanted to sample all of them.

We finished our presentation and hustled out of there before I could do any damage. I arrived back at my hotel, dropped my stuff and tried to make the most of the 30 hours I had left. So naturally I took a long walk, had a beer, and a Nutella filled crepe.

I contemplated ordering both an accent, after all I didn’t stick out. I was in the one English speaking country on the planet with an entire population of people just as pasty white as I. But I opted against it and stuck to my normal speech.

And for the rest of my time in London I managed to keep myself in check, though I would occasionally find myself mouthing along with somebody else while they were speaking, like I was trying to learn the words to a song. Really I was just memorizing aspects that I could use when I got back home and was free to fake an accent again.

And I arrived back in my home country, got off the plane and into a cab with a driver who had an accent. But it didn’t excite me in the same way. It had been a long 36 hours, and I was just to tired to fake it…

For now.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

36 Hours in London - Part 1

It’s 6 am. I am at the Newark airport which is in New Jersey. I have just spent 75 minutes in a taxicab with a driver who though unfailingly polite, used the break way too frequently.

I stumble into the airport where I am greeted by a beautiful attendant from Virgin Atlantic. What service I think to myself.

Can I help you?

I go to respond but then I see my boss standing on my left.

No thank you. I’m meeting him.

I walk over, still nauseous and tell him how glad I am to not be in a cab. He says:

Don’t get too comfortable; you’re about to get back into one. Our flight has been cancelled.

No! It can’t be! This is my first business trip! The first time I was going to be sent to a place other than the Bronx on the company dime! London! LONDON! Sure it was only going to be for 2 days but still! I love London!


The morning had started out so perfect too. My car service had been right on time. Which, if you order a cab to pick you up at 4:45 in the morning, you’d hope he didn’t have something else to do.

And even though the roads were clear, my cab driver’s GPS seemed to insist he take local roads from my house to the airport. And by the time he finally did get on the highway every exit meant slowly alternate pumping the brakes and the gas.

I slouched down in my seat and tried to focus on the horizon because I don’t do well in cabs to begin with.

So by the time my boss told me I was about to get back in a cab I just about puked right then and there. Apparently our plane had never left London the night before.

What were we going to do? We were only to London for 2 days to begin with. Was it worth it to go? Luckily the airline gives us a 10-dollar breakfast voucher so we can mull over this important decision at 6 am with a muffin and a bagel respectively.

We decide, this trip is too important, we must venture on! We tell this to one of the lovely Brits who does her best to rebook us and assure us we should have plenty of room on the flight out. Thus we were promptly rebooked on the 9 pm flight, again out of Newark, which is still in New Jersey.

She then asks us if we have a place to stay until our flight.

Now, had I been thinking clearly I would have said no, and gotten some sort of a voucher to stay at an airport hotel nearby where I could nap and then just head back to the airport easily without worrying about traffic or cab nausea.

But I was operating on 4 hours of sleep and wasn’t at my mental best, so I said “oh I’m fine I live in the city.” Never mind that it would mean another cab ride across 2 rivers to get there… in morning rush hour traffic.

Damn it.

So she writes me a voucher for a cab. This is a local cab with no meter and no GPS. Though very kind he has no idea where I live. I ask him if he knows where LaGuardia airport in Queens is, he says yes. Perfect. That’s where I live. Wake me when we get there.

So I close my eyes for a little snooze but I am quickly punched in the eyeball by a fat ray of sunshine that will stay stabbed through my retinas the entire trip home, which will take an hour and a half.

So I wrap my scarf around my head like some kind of nap swami and pray for sleep. And praying was quite fortuitous because my driver listened to the Bible radio station the entire trip.

Now while that is not my normal auditory choice, it actually worked out well. I found the children’s chorus harmonically spelling out B-I-B-L-E after each commercial break to be quite soothing. And I passed out.

And I slept somewhat pleasantly. That is of course until my cab driver woke me up with a frantic:

Sir SIR! We are at LaGaurdia!

Oh ok… keep driving, it’s a little bit further.

Oh OK, I thought we passed it because you said you live near the airport.

So polite my cab driver was.

So he drops me off at my apartment. I take a nap. I watch a movie. I call another cab which picks me up about 7 hours after my last cab drive.

It is now 5 pm. And while I am excited to get on an airplane, I am not excited to be in a cab. In the heart of evening rush hour traffic. To once again drive to Newark, which is still in New Jersey.

My third cab driver of the day once again attempts to take local roads most of the way before getting onto and off highways so frequently I have no choice but to close my eyes and pray to not vomit.

I miss my bible radio.

But the eyes closed method would have worked had my cab driver not subscribed to the “OH SHIT” method of using his brakes. Several times I wondered if I would make it to the airport at all.

Luckily I had 90 minutes to contemplate this, especially the 30 minutes I spent at a stoplight in lower Manhattan because my cab driver thought the fastest way across town was on a one-lane cobblestone street.

But finally, 11 hours after I first arrived at the airport, after 4 hours of cab rides, not enough sleep, and one outfit change… I am back at the airport.

I check in, go to the gate and have a seat.

But now I had a new problem to deal with: My propensity for feigning a British accent… to people who actually have British accents.

To be continued…