12.31.2000

My bands

I've been playing drums since 7th grade - first in private lessons and then with the spectacular bands you see here. All of these bands had at least one gig and exactly zero groupies.

St. David's Handbell Choir

Bell Ringing
Since the bell choir has kicked into gear for Fall 2002, I decided I should add the choir as an official "band". I've been ringing bells for years, both in Tulsa and here in Austin, and I really enjoy it. The music sounds really cool, I love the teamwork involved in playing in such an orchestral environment, plus all the weird notation in bell music is really fun. I generally play C4 and D4 (middle of the bass clef), which are great bells because they have a full sound but don't weigh 50 pounds! The bell choir performs about every six weeks or so downtown at St. David's Episcopal Church.

Stella

Jazz & Blues
Stella was basically born out of the breakup of Round Midnight - we all wanted to keep playing, just with a different guitarist. After we finished out our line up, we were rehearsed and playing gigs in no time. I like playing with Stella because I want to keep up my jazz chops, since I was originally taught jazz way back when I was a little tyke taking lessons (thanks, Mom & Dad!). We've managed to play some nice swanky gigs, and the audience seems to enjoy what they hear!

Round Midnight

Jazz Standards
My pal Jonathan (who is also in The Greatest American Heroes) answered an ad in the Chronicle for a trumpet to play with a jazz combo, and asked me to try it out, too. This combo featured guitar, standup bass, trumpet, and of course, drums. We played some mellow restaurant and party gigs, but just didn't have the right mix of personalities (meaning, the guitarist was a loser). One glorious night, he proclaimed "Ze Round Midnight is no more!"

The Greatest American Heroes

Surf TV Themes
In the last few months of 2000, some pals from Works (Chris and Barron) along with some former Day Jobs (myself and Ernesto) got together to try playing some surf tunes. As we started to have fun, we decided it would be even cooler to play old TV theme songs - the first one we learned was The Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not), so that became our name. We think everyone wants to hear TV themes and The Greatest American Heroes are ready to deliver!

The Day Jobs

Swing
Just when the neo-swing movement was hitting, some new Austin friends and I started a totally fun dance band, and soon were playing up to four times a week. It was incredible - out of town gigs, dancing followers, weddings and clubs (including over 60 Monday nights at the Caucus Club!). Alas, neo-swing is pretty well dead, and our sweet singing Matt just moved to Japan, so The Day Jobs are now enjoying retirement.

Empty Pockets

Folk
While I was in Stone Bluff, I was also playing some very mellow congas with a folk guitarist and flute. We were the typical Borders band, and played some other coffee houses and outdoor gigs, too. Once again, I sang backup, which was a blast. And just like Stone Bluff, we got a really sweet regular gig offer just as I was leaving.

Stone Bluff

Jazz
Most of the folks from Light of Day along with a few others under the guidance of consummate jazz man Larry Sheer. I was trained in jazz drumming, but really didn't get to use it until this band. We were pulling off some really funky stuff and shooting to be in a jazz festival downtown, and we got the gig just as I was leaving the band to move to Austin. Had a ton of fun practicing in the boonies and eating the goodies Larry's wife would make for breaktime.

Loose Brix

Poetry Beat
During the heyday of my beatnik days at Tulsa's Gold Coast, I joined this totally wacky band that backed up the poets (including me) as they read. We had a guy who played guitar through about 12 different effects pedals at once, and we did really weird arrangements of things. It was totally unstructured, which was great for poetry, but I couldn't handle it forever, so I was outta there.

CITGO All-Star Rock & Roll Revue

50s Rock & Roll
A bunch of folks at work, old and young, living out their rock & roll dreams. The main problem here was keeping everyone happy - we usually had to find something for four guitars to do at once. At one point we had 15 musicians, counting vocalists and horns (including Nick). We played many fun dances, all for charity, and even got to be on the news ("Meet Michael Walters - computer whiz by day, rock & roll drummer by night").

FineLine

Goofball Pop
Crazy college and high school kids trying to make music - only one of us had any experience making music, and that was a high schooler who was in it for the chicks (never found any). We played U2 and The Cars, plus our own silly compositions (the tapes are priceless - especially the "spooky wind" opening of our masterpiece). Lots of good times, until our rehearsal space was robbed and I lost my beloved Sears drum kit.

Haiku

It's 2001
Wake to greet the Obelisk
Tomorrow morning

12.28.2000

Quills : 4 of 5

I hope Amazon.com is braced for the increase in Marquis de Sade book sales - this is an excellent film. I had to see it immediately due to the role of my Number Two Obsession Kate, but this is a great movie in addition to her loveliness (which is severely played down, by the way). I should also give sighing credit to the sweet cherub who awakens to the powers of seduction and bitchiness. Amazing acting all around, humor, sadness, sex - Quills has it all. My only complaint is the story ends too perfectly, just like a bad Twilight Zone episode, but by all means, see it anyway!

Traffic : 4 of 5

Initially I wasn't interested in seeing this film, mainly because I knew it would be depressing and would present no answers to the insolvable drug problem. I was right, but I'm still glad I saw Traffic. The movie is made quite precisely - every shot is well planned and the plot interweaves three stories so well that you can keep track of everything easily (the perfectionism is probably possible since this is a remake of a TV mini-series). The scenes in Mexico are all shot with grainy, brown stock, adding to the poverty or third-world aspect and in high contrast to the rich-kids' world just across the border. Yes, Traffic is depressing, but it's also an important film of extreme quality. As an added bonus, now I can say I know how free-basing is done.

12.21.2000

Code Complete / Steve McConnell : 3 of 5

I've read about a hundred mentions of this book over the years - they all say this book is essential to good programming, even that it has "changed lives", so to speak. I finally decided to read it, since I'm developing some pretty cool software for levelfield that really needs to hum. Code Complete was an enjoyable read, giving me tons of ideas for code improvement and performance enhancement (I even took notes as I read). The best chapters give concrete examples (in several languages) where a technique really works - the lesser chapters are super-esoteric and talk a little too long about project management and the like, but they can be skimmed quickly. I have to admit that I didn't read anything to really 180 my programming style, so I must be pretty good already.

12.15.2000

Weezer / Weezer : 3 of 5

This is a really old album, of course, and I picked it up at Tower Records for super-cheap. I used to like the goofy energy of The Sweater Song when it was on the radio, and I remember the Buddy Holly video was cool (set in Arnold's from Happy Days). After buying the CD and listening to it, I'm pretty happy with it, since I've discovered several more funny jammin' songs, especially In the Garage, which talks about Dungeons & Dragons and KISS. A few tracks are just terrible - I can't even listen to the opening cut - but all in all, Weezer is a lot of fun.

12.06.2000

Haiku

Talking to myself
Pretend the dog understands
Stanze knows the truth

12.05.2000

Babe : 3 of 5

For someone like me who loves kids movies, it's a shame I never saw Babe in the theater. Oh well, it was a great movie to watch while I recovered from a cold. I have to admit that the effects weren't as spectacular as I was expecting - I didn't realize how often they used puppets rather than computer generated mouths on real animals. Overall, though, the story was fun, and I liked seeing the talking puppies and listening to Chuckie from Rugrats do Babe's voice, But what was up with those inane singing mice? They added nothing to the picture, weren't funny, and were just plain annoying - yuck.

12.04.2000

Antz : 4 of 5

Poor Antz - this movie got such a bad rap. It was made at the same time as A Bugs Life, and when they were both released so close together, everyone thought they were rip-offs of each other and the Disney flick won the battle. I love A Bugs Life, but I also think Antz is great - it's completely an adult film. In fact, it's a bona-fide Woody Allen movie. The story is fantastic and funny, and the animation isn't bad (though not nearly Pixar quality). The best thing is the plot doesn't suffer from any goofy sidekicks - nothing is thrown in for cute factor alone. More people should give Antz a try - help save it from the fate of bad timing!

12.03.2000

American Psycho : 4 of 5

Since I make an effort to read anything by Bret Easton Elllis (I'm almost finished with Glamorama now), I was very interested to see how they would make this movie. The book is actually a great satire of 80's super-rich culture, but of course, includes some of the most disgusting and graphic prose ever written. I saw American Psycho in the theater and really enjoyed it - they did a great job of reducing the violence and increasing the surrealism, and ended up with a great movie (of course, everyone thought it was either too tame or still too graphic). I rented the DVD because of the "uncut" claim, only to find about three more minutes of footage (a scene with prostitutes). Oh well, it was good to see it again anyway, and the interview with Christian Bale was interesting just to hear his British accent (I think it's amazing when British do an American accent!).

12.02.2000

Alice in Wonderland : 4 of 5

God, I love the old Disney features! When I watch these I am instantly five years old and enjoying every bit of the sappy music. Of course, today I can be impressed by the creativity of the animation for its time and be simultaneous disgusted at how many great poems were cut from the original book for the movie (I guess Walt knew that kids wouldn't want to know about the Jabberwock's head getting snicker-snacked by the vorpal blade). Alice is too cute - her overly polite accent is just right.

12.01.2000

Forbidden Planet : 3 of 5

One of the best classic science fiction movies, Forbidden Planet introduced not only the incredible Robby the Robot, but also the "sound effects as music" craze that swept through many more films of the era. The story is fairly interesting, though the surprise ending is too easy to figure out. Much more intriguing are the matte paintings to create the huge sets - they are far from realistic, but have that wonderful pulp look. The interaction with the girl of the story is kind of fun, but it's even funnier how the crew members get over death so easily. Leslie Nelisen plays the lead, and the agent guy from The Six Million Dollar Man is in there, too. No features on the DVD, but at least it's an excellent 16:9 presentation.

Edward Ruscha : 4 of 5

AMOA has done a great job recently getting some really interesting artist retrospectives together. Ruscha is brilliant, and the exhibit is huge and quite complete, full of photography, prints, and many smaller works, too, including laminated reproductions of his published "art books" so you can flip through them (complete with blank pages). I love the works in which Ruscha combines text with an image, abstract or otherwise, giving a single word so much power that it makes an impression lingering for hours.

Atari Historical Society

Since cutting my computer teeth on my Atari 800, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Atari. I remember being excited about seeing the Atari logo in Blade Runner, since that meant the company would be around in the far-flung future. Well, that didn't quite work out, but now you can drink in every last bit of Atari goodness at this site - all about the home games, computers, video games, you name it!

Visit site: Atari Historical Society

North By Northwest : 3 of 5

Another Northside place right smack in the middle of movie theaters and superstores, but this one has a micro-brewery! Sad to say, but I've not yet tasted their beer, since I've only been there on work lunches. I can say that the food is very good, though - they have a half-pound hamburger with very fresh fixins, and really amazing seasoned fries. I think at a previous visit I had some kind of shrimp pasta and I remember it being very tasty. The atmosphere is basically a single huge room with a nice fireplace (though only a few tables get to enjoy it) and some windows that don't offer much to look at. No pre-meal munchies here, but otherwise a nice place.

Mario Party 2 / Nintendo 64 : 4 of 5

I don't own this one, but have had two rousing games with Barron and Chris, and this game is phenomenal! It's basically a cutsie Mario board game, but after every turn there are tons of little mini games that everyone gets to play - sometimes in teams, three on one, or everyone against each other. In several hours of play (this game takes forever), I've only seen the same mini game once or twice! Don't buy this one unless you have human friends.

11.30.2000

My cars

Years ago I never would have guessed how many cars I would own. It always seemed like cars last forever before you get your drivers license - then you realize they wear out as fast as tennis shoes. Now that my career is treating me well, it feels so good to have a nice, reliable car - it also feels good to drive fast!

1998 Acura Integra GS

Auto Demise: Still driving (but dreaming of convertible)
Once I was in Austin and enjoying self-employment with The Michaels Group, I bought my first luxury sports car (I wanted a red one, but it was purchased while I was deciding!). I love this car - more power than I've ever had, although I immediately wished I had gone for the VTEC engine in a week. I love to drive because of this car. However, if they make an Audi TT with an automatic transmission, I'll be switching in a flash.

1990 Mazda Protege

Auto Demise: Sold to Ernesto, now seen all over Austin
When I started my big fancy job at CITGO, I bought my first new car for a whole $10,000 (which was pretty much equivalent to my credit card debt at the time). I had to go no-frills, including manual window rollers! Still, this was a wonderful, shiny car that I could squeeze my whole drum kit into, and it brought me to Austin. Now Ernesto proudly tools around in my old wheels.

80s Mazda 626

Auto Demise: Threw a rod on the Turner Turnpike, Oklahoma
Dad bought this car, too, so I got to drive it when he upgraded to something newer. This sure was a nice one - my first sunroof. For some reason, this thing ate batteries like a Walkman, but I managed to get about 130,000 miles on it. After the rod was tossed, I sold it for $100 scrap and declared a loss on my taxes.

1979 Mazda GLC Hatchback

Auto Demise: Totaled in CHiPs-style accident, complete with roll
My first car was a hand-me-down from Dad. It was brown and conservative, but the rip in the seat sewn up by Mom with huge stitches gave it so much charm that I named it Frank. Lots of dating Cheri in this car, until the fateful day I rolled it trying to fix a broken stereo speaker (The Beatles Back in the USSR was playing on the radio). The ticket read "failure to control vehicle" - how truthful.

11.28.2000

What Women Want : 3 of 5

This movie was actually pretty funny, even though I can't stand Helen Hunt - why anyone thinks she is attractive and funny is beyond me. The only Mel movie I've liked was Hamlet, but What Women Want did keep me entertained - his best scene involves dancing around his stylish apartment gulping wine while singing along with Frank Sinatra (which coincided nicely with my reading of Sinatraland). As an added bonus, Marisa Tomei is every coffee drinker's dream come true. The end is abrupt and poorly paced, but that's a make-a-buck holiday film for you.

Cast Away : 3 of 5

You have to admire a movie that gets away with a 45 minute stretch without dialogue or score - truthfully, the movie goes downhill when people start talking. I really think things would have been more effective without the opening sequence emphasizing time (which Tom is about to have a lot of). Tom Hanks thankfully doesn't over-sentimentalize this one, and did a great job of making me believe he's really desperately alone (but the "tooth extraction" scene is completely gratuitous). The best thing about Cast Away is that Helen Hunt is not on the island, and Tom ends up with a cute Tori Amos-ish chick instead.

11.24.2000

Haiku

Five bottles of wine
Two more bottles of champagne
Happy Thanksgiving

11.21.2000

Songs of Innocence and of Experience / William Blake : 4 of 5

During my college days I became addicted to poetry and generally focused on older, traditional styles. Most poets I chose generally had romantic or spiritual themes, and I loved lurking around the old library stacks finding musty books that seemed to have been neglected. William Blake certainly is too popular to be forgotten, but he still fit my taste at the time. I was recently reminded of him while watching some students reading at Mozart's, and decided to buy some newer editions and check him out again. Songs is a wonderful book, full of light fun poetry as well as dark brooding works, with amazing illustrations (all by Blake). The commentary in this edition is really great, too. Anyone who hasn't read more than The Tyger is absolutely required to read the rest of Songs!

11.15.2000

Matthew Sweet / Girlfriend : 4 of 5

Of course, I had heard Matthew Sweet on the radio a million times - who didn't get sick of Sick of Myself? But recently I heard some tracks from Girlfriend on LAUNCHcast, so I decided to buy the CD. A very excellent decision, I must say - Girlfriend has a few pop goodies, but also a lot of guitar just slightly rough around the edges. The lyrics are actually pretty cool - lots of breakup songs and even some spiritual themes (Divine Intervention, Evangeline). As a bonus, there's even a steel-guitar ballad for crying into your beer enjoyment.

11.05.2000

Heavy Metal 2000 : 3 of 5

I don't know the whole story behind the release of this movie - I know it didn't make it to the theater and instead went straight to Showtime. Well, I don't have Showtime, so I was happy it made it to DVD. Unlike the first Heavy Metal movie, this one is one long story with all the typical elements: grimy spaceships, scumy dudes, and buxom babes in leather. In fact, there is a bathing sequence that is really close to a similar scene in Heavy Metal (but not as well done, since the original was rotoscoped). The sound is excellent, and some of the animation is good, although some of it looks like it came from Thundercats.

11.04.2000

Ichabod and Mr. Toad : 4 of 5

Having grown up so close to Disneyland, I have always been a huge fan of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, one of the bizarre little romps in Fantasyland. I had to rent this DVD just to see what the inspiration was! The story of Mr. Toad from Wind of the Willows is completely enjoyable, with fun songs and goofy cockney animals, though not nearly as exciting as the ride (though the red car in question looks exactly like the cars at Disneyland!). Ichabod in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is also a treat, with ridiculous Bing Crosby songs and fantastic animation (which clearly inspired Tim Burton) - also terribly scary! I had no idea that Ichabod actually disappears - where's the happy ending? The disc also has a great trivia game with a bonus cartoon if you win, plus still another Mickey, Donald and Goofy ghostbusters cartoon to complete the theme. Ah, the golden age of American animation.

Haiku

Waiting at bus stop
Higher and higher it goes
Kyoto red skirt

11.03.2000

Infinity's Child : 2 of 5

One of those CGI drug trips that people originally bought DVDs for in the first place, Infinity's Child has no real story, just a bunch of semi-interesting scenes accompanied by new age music. Truthfully, the quality of the graphics is extremely low by today's standards, even though this disc is only a year old, I believe. Still, some of the visuals are creative, and it was even better after swallowing some cognac. The only way to enjoy this is to turn it up loud, watch it with no lights and be sure you are on the brink of inebriation.

11.02.2000

Interiors : 4 of 5

I'm a big Woody Allen fan - I love to sit down, hear that 40's jazz, and see that serif font come up. I don't like the early Bananas-type comedies, but everything from Manhattan on is brilliant. I figured it was time to watch the serious stuff. Interiors is pretty fantastic, though downright depressing. Some of the shots are set up so perfectly, and the dynamic of all the subfamilies of the main family is so well crafted. I couldn't watch it often, but I'm sure I'll watch it again someday.

11.01.2000

Jurassic Park : 4 of 5

I got the super-cool Jurassic Park boxed set for Christmas, and I've really enjoyed watching it. I had forgotten so many things about the movie - how scary some of the action sequences are (and how incredibly gross it is to see the lawyer get eaten by the T-Rex), and does anyone remember that Samuel L. Jackson has a prominent role? What a surprise! The bonus features are excellent - the funniest thing is watching pre-production meetings and seeing everyone kiss up to Spielberg. He just sits there spouting ideas while everyone around him pipes "Great idea, Steven! Brilliant, Steven!"

Die Walkure : 4 of 5

Austin Lyric Opera did a wonderful job of making Austin's first performance of Wagner a big event. I had once seen Das Rheingold on TV, but this was my first experience with the standard four hours plus Wagner extravaganza. Die Walkure was incredible, with excellent performances (Brunhilde being my favorite) and sets, and the music is just so wonderful that the time really does pass quickly - long arias are made truly exciting by sheer orchestration alone. The story is fantastic pre-Tolkien fantasy, which satisfied my non-opera pal Chris who went along for the evening. Now I would love to see the other three operas of the Ring Cycle!

Echo

Echo is the newest internet radio site with a spin on earning points while you listen. However, unlike some others I've tried, Echo does it right - excellent quality music, a very nice interface with great use of Flash, and the point system is pretty easy - generally one week of listening at work will get you $18 bucks at Amazon.com! The only downside is the beta status - quite often they limit the number of listeners. But it's worth it - I've already earned cash listening to Spice Girls!

Visit site: Echo

Sushi Sake : 4 of 5

This Japanese restaurant just opened in October, and I went with Chris and Eliza on a spur of the moment dinner outing. I love Japanese food, but unfortunately haven't explored all of it as I should. Now that I've tried Sushi Sake, I think I'll being trying much of it soon. The decor is very upscale without being intimidating, and the staff seemed to be 100% Asian (I hate going to PF Chang's and listening to some frat boy pronounce everything wrong). We had excellent miso soup and then sushi (Caterpillar, Philly, and Tiger Eye), which was good, but I'm not fond of the wrapping - each piece was extremely large, spoiling the necessary "one bite" requirement of sushi. The taste was great however, and I'll be back (if only to get a glimpse of the kawaii hostess again).

Monopoly / GameBoy Color : 3 of 5

Talk about an flight-time killer - this game is it. A completely faithful version of the board game, with a fairly easy interface. The computer players are pretty stingy with trades, but otherwise it's pretty easy to win and have fun doing it. Nice use of color for the game board.

10.31.2000

Japan

Now I'm a world traveler! I simply had to go to Japan since I could travel with Barron and Mariko and stay with Matt. Nine jam-packed days took me to Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto and Himaji, experiencing shrines, temples, culture and nightlife (which means beer and sake!). Enjoy the Japan Journal, and be sure to claim your prize if you actually view all 600 photos.

Japan Journal 2000

From October 27th to November 5th, 2000, I made my first truly exotic trip by traveling to Japan. I had two compelling reasons for going - to visit my pal Matt, who had recently moved to Osaka, and to travel with my friends Barron and Mariko, who were visiting Mariko's family. All nine days were packed with fun experiences and exciting culture shock, so I kept a daily journal during the trip. Here on WEBmikey, you can read each day's detailed exploits with selected photos, or click the camera icons to sort through almost 600 other photos!

Japanese Girls: Very fashionable clothes are the norm (lots of leather jackets). Schoolgirls wear uniforms and hold their mouth to giggle at gaijin (foreigners) like me.
Cuteness: Doraemon (robot cat) and Anpanman (bread-head superhero) are popular characters found everywhere. Even businessmen have cute characters on cell phone straps and antennas. Everyone reads manga (comic books).
Oddities: Bathrooms don't have paper towels - people carry washcloths. Street crossing signs play music or bird sounds when crossing. Everything is available from vending machines, even sake or bottles of whiskey. Because trains stop soon after midnight, most nightlife ends early.

Day One: Traveling, Osaka

After careful packing, I leave my passport at home! My only excuse is that Barron has my ticket, so I don't think about anything except clothes. Thankfully, Barron's first question to me at his house is "Do you have your passport?" So after freaking out, we swing by my place on the way to the airport and still have lots of time to spare. Now Barron is keeping my passport and tickets for the trip. Mariko tells me to call him otosan (father), so that's what I call him. In Dallas we have cookies at the Admirals Club, and we score on a business class upgrade, thanks to Barron's wiley mom. Now I'm having my second glass of champagne in my plush seat. Mariko is reading a Japanese newspaper, Barron is playing with his camera, and I am writing. Osaka is 6688 miles away - here we go! Barron tells me to say "you're welcome" as "don't touch my mustache" (do itashe mashte). Everything is funnier after champagne, and we're wearing slippers now, too. Six more hours - I try to convince myself that it's 9:30 am and that my two hour nap was my night's sleep. Barron and I keep getting up for a Snack Attack, as they list it in our menu.
Two hours to go. This is when I go crazy - I've watched all the TV, read a whole book, and there is nothing to do but snack. I'm playing with a deck of cards and drinking coffee. My ears hurt from the headphones. First evening in Japan - we arrive, take a sleepy bus ride to Osaka from Kansai Airport, then a cab ride (complete with bow-tied driver) to Mariko's mother's apartment. It has been raining lightly, and I leave my kasa (umbrella) in the cab, of course. I remember at the last minute and snatch it before the cab gets too far. Mariko's mother meets us at the doorway with a konban wa (good evening). I meet her and Mariko's sister and have tea seated on cushions on the floor of the small but beautiful apartment. Barron and I watch baseball and laugh at okashii (funny) commercials. I use my entire Japanese vocabulary in minutes and wish I knew more.

Japan 2000 Day 1

All of us venture out for a quick train ride to Osaka Station to meet Matt at Big Man, a jumbotron TV in the station. Matt seems perfectly integrated, wearing his MD player and looking spiffy in suit and tie. All of us walk together to an okonomiyaki restaurant - a kind of pancake with lots of great ingredients, made on a griddle right in the middle of the table. We drink some nama biiru (draft beer) and enjoy the food. Barron and Mariko and family head home, but Matt and I meet with Glen, a fellow teacher from Australia, and head to a bar. After some terrible ordering, we talk and drink a few highballs. At Matt's apartment, we have more whisky and watch TV, taking some time to catch up. Tomorrow is shopping day. Tonight I will sleep on the floor and rest well after being awake for so long. Good night, Japan.

View photos: Japan 2000 Day 1

Day Two: Osaka

I watch Pokemon in Japanese while Matt runs to the convenience store to buy a towel for me to use. It has been a cold night, and I'm looking forward to coffee and shopping. Matt returns with excellent coffee in cartons that gets me going, and we head off in the misting rain, passing a park being cleaned by a group of young boys. We ride the train to Osaka Station and meet Barron and Mariko, who are already shopping for shoes. By now I need more coffee, so we have some along with ham-stuffed pastry. Next we all go to a camera store so Matt and Barron can shop - all of this still in Osaka Station, which is a huge maze full of multiple levels of underground shops and restaurants.
Matt leaves for work, and Barron and Mariko and I continue to shop. I am amazed at the number of hentai magazines available - the Japanese cartoon porn industry - as well as the number of respectable men who read it. Mariko's mother and sister meet us for lunch, still in the labyrinth of the station, and we go to an incredible restaurant serving breaded fried pork. The meal is traditional with rice, miso soup, green tea, and the main course. We stuff ourselves.

Japan 2000 Day 2

After lunch Barron and I head out on our own to Osaka's electronics district - store after store of computers, cell phones, DVDs, MD players, and arcades. I buy some trinkets for myself and friends, and marvel at the salesmen wearing headsets, literally running to their next customer. Barron tries all day to convince me to buy an MD player, but I never do. (However, as I write, I wish I had - maybe tomorrow!) He buys his second MD player, and is pleased. We rest after shopping with two oki (large) beers as it starts to get dark. We leave and head back to Osaka Station to meet Matt and Glen. We go to a nice bar/snack place to meet their boss, an Australian woman who is leaving for another school. Barron orders wonderful new drinks for me - Calpi Sours, spiked Oolong tea and a drink with a plum sitting on the bottom of the glass. We munch on various snacks - fried pumpkin with cheese, ikayaki (grilled squid), and even pizza. At another table we see a formal "farewell from a job" party with tears and gifts and lots of bowing. Afterwards we spend some time at an arcade and eventually split up and walk home. After a quick white grape soft drink from a vending machine, I am asleep instantly.

View photos: Japan 2000 Day 2

Day Three: Osaka

My clothes smell like smoke, but I wear them since the mornings are so cold. Matt and I sleep in a little today, but finally head out in what is the first sunny day here - no need for my coat. We have breakfast coffee and pasty at Hansel, supposedly in Nishinomyia since 1917. Most of the customers seem to have been coming since then. On to the station, where we have more coffee (canned, from a vending machine) and talk to Ernesto, who calls Matt. Then suddenly we are back in Nippon Bashi (or as Matt tells me, Den Den Town), where I finally join the MD revolution and purchase the player I couldn't convince myself of yesterday. Back to the train, where we locker our things and ride to the coast to visit Osaka Aquarium. Next door to the aquarium is the world's largest Ferris Wheel, which is slow and enclosed and fantastic - excellent views of the Port of Osaka. We get so many laughs today from students and young kids - even parents point out us gaijin (foreigners) for their kids to see. Older students in their uniforms giggle when we make eye contact.
Before the aquarium, we buy souvenirs in an adjoining mall and eat wonderful fast food at First Kitchen. I have a pork cutlet sandwich and seasoned fries. Everything is tastier and wrapped so carefully - even fast food workers care about their job. On to the aquarium - spectacular tanks with spiraling pathways so we can view them at many levels. The aquarium is home to the only whale shark in captivity - huge and majestic. Along with dolphins, seals, penguins and sharks, they also have a huge selection of jellyfish and eerie spider crabs.

Japan 2000 Day 3

Time for a beer break back at the station and then we take the train to the neighborhood of Matt's office for dinner at a fast food udon counter. After paying at a vending machine for a ticket, we eat wonderful food and watch a single employee preparing food for an entire counter full of customers as well as doing dishes - running from one end to the other, working with precision and care. Back to Umeda, where a young saxophone quartet has just started playing, doing arrangements of Glenn Miller along with the Carpenters' "Yesterday Once More". After a medley of 50's hits, the crowd applauds and empties their pockets into the open saxophone case. We find out that one of them has done all of the arrangements - what talent. A nice train ride home with stops for convenience store snacks, and I finally meet Matt's Australian roommate Mitch, a very nice fellow, and charge my new MD player. Tonight Matt loans me a heater for my room, and I sleep well.

View photos: Japan 2000 Day 3

Day Four: Himaji, Osaka

I sleep in a little, then get up and watch some Ranma 1/2 (two episodes I haven't seen) in Japanese and eat some Pocky while I write. Last night was chilly, but the space heater in my room made everything comfortable. Matt's roommate Mitch awakes and tells me there was an earthquake last night! I slept though the whole thing. Matt tells me he felt it and wasn't scared. We get dressed and head out to breakfast at Kohekan (Coffee Can) and have a small cheese sandwich and coffee, then travel to Umeda to buy our shinkansen (bullet train) tickets for tomorrow. At first we are worried aboiut the language barrier, but it turns out to be incredibly easy to spend 13,750 yen a piece - one way! Now we are next to broke, but have just enough to today's trip, an hour's ride to Himaji. The ride is relaxing and runs by the shoreline, so there is plenty to look at. Once we arrive in Himaji, we walk up the main street until we are greeted by Himeji Castle - the best in Japan. As we buy our tickets and approach the entrance, we are stopped by Kazuhiro Monguchi - a 70+ year old Japanese man who wants to speak English! He was a high school teacher ten years ago and now it seems he has been hanging around waiting for Americans like us to talk with. He accompanies us the entire time in the castle, providing extra history and reading kanji to us along the way.
The castle is huge and impressive. We carry our shoes with us in bags and wear slippers, which makes it very difficult to climb the six flights of narrow, steep steps! The view is worth it, and the structure of ancient cedar is simply breathtaking. After the castle tour, our new friend says goodbye and Matt and I walk the surrounding area, enjoying a display of bonsai trees. We're trying to find a beer and end up in some unusual neighborhoods, where pedestrian, bicycle and auto traffic is directed at each intersection by four police! Finally we find a nice place labeled "Salaryman's Stand", full of only men enjoying yakitori and beer, and we relax with two Asahi.

Japan 2000 Day 4

Next is the ride back to Osaka, then we travel to Shin Saibashi to use one of the few ATMs that work with American bankcards. Once we are rich again, we walk the crazy streets of Dotomburi, full of people, neon, noise, and excitement. We stop for pork ramen, which we eat sitting on tatami mats, and watch the Japanese equivalent of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" on TV. After a long day, we're ready to head home a little early. Once we are in Matt's neighborhood, we stop at his local Shinto shrine at night for a little exploring. The shrine is peaceful and beautiful in the dark, with plenty of lantern light for atmosphere. Back at the apartment, a little Japanese whisky is all it takes to put me to sleep. Tomorrow is Tokyo.

View photos: Japan 2000 Day 4

Day Five: Tokyo

Matt and I wake up early and get dressed (Matt says it's the earliest he has been up in Japan!) to ride the train to Shin Osaka so we can catch the shinkansen to Tokyo. We arrive almost 45 minutes early, but the time goes quickly as we read a Tokyo book and enjoy some vending machine drinks. We watch other shinkansen pull into the station, filled with men in suits. At last our train arrives and we board to find our assigned seats. The interior is just like an airplane with more leg room, and when we leave the station, I can't believe how smooth the ride is - like we are hovering. The scenery changes quickly to mountains and traditional Japanese housing, all covered in fog. Women 'flight attendants' push carts of coffee, sweets, and beautifully packaged meals down the aisle - I have coffee and almonds while the businessman next to me has fish and rice. Matt and I listen to our MD players and sleep a little, and three hours later we are in Tokyo. Tokyo Station is full of people, of course, and we are a little confused about how to escape. We also need to ride a train to Shinjuku to find our hotel. We find an information desk and all is well. We arrive at Shinjuku and see our first of the streets of Tokyo - huge buildings, huge neon, and seas of umbrellas flowing over crosswalks. We stare at a map deciding which way to walk, and a nice Japanese man who turns out to be a math professor offers to help, and even walks with us several blocks out of his way to our hotel. (Actually, he takes us to the Hyatt, but our Hilton is right behind it.)
Once in the hotel, we check in, marvel at the view, and then prepare to venture out again - today we'll see Shibuya and Ginza. We walk back to the station, easily catch a crowded train to Shibuya, and begin to explore this youthful, trendy area. We are starving, so we eat some Chinese food and have a beer, then spend more time walking the streets. We call Barron in Gifu to find out where the intersection featured in the anime "Lain" is, so I can see it in real life, and it looks very similar.

Japan 2000 Day 5

As we try to discover how to get to Ginza, we are helped twice more by strangers who direct us to the correct subway. Soon we are in Ginza - an upscale shopping area with more huge neon, jumbotron TVs, and classier people. Every intersection in Tokyo looks like Times Square - very different from Osaka. We decide to shop in a seven story department store and I buy many little things just because they have ridiculous English on them. We next find a coffee shop and relax overlooking the street. After that, it's more wandering, maneuvering our umbrellas and being distracted by the sights and sounds of Ginza. But we are tired, so we ride back to Shinjuku and at last find the hotel again, after getting just a little lost. At the hotel, we find hot water and green tea waiting in our room, along with Japanese robes. We go to one of the hotel's seven restaurants for a buffet and completely devour everything in sight, then have coffee and listen to piano. Afterwards, I am asleep (in a bed this time) in minutes - I think Matt has some tea and relaxes a bit before nodding off.

View photos: Japan 2000 Day 5

Day Six: Tokyo

I wake up early and enjoy some tea while looking out the window to Shinjuku, 26 stories below. After Matt wakes, we take advantage of our free Tokyo Hilton breakfast - I choose an American breakfast for old times sake, while Matt eats rice porridge and fish. We gather our bags and check out of the hotel and head to Tokyo Station. After finding lockers for our bags, we attempt to buy return shinkansen tickets for this evening. The latest we can leave is 5:00 PM, and once again, no credit cards are accepted, so we are next to broke. Fortunately, we don't need much money for today's adventure - Sen Shoji Temple and Akihabara.