2 Big Ol' Geeks on the Bridge of the Enterprise

So Lucie is able to leave work a little early today, and we've got a few hours of rare weekday daylight time together. And to celebrate that, we decide to go someplace we've been meaning to go for a while, the Star Trek Experience at San Jose's the Tech Museum. Lucie's sort of a closeted Star Trek fan (Kirk, not so much Picard) and I'm a sci-fi fan (general all-around geek), so it sounds like a good time for both of us. It's only in town until the new year and we figure most people are either at work or our shopping, so it should be fairly empty.

I'm actually looking forward to this; I haven't been to the Tech since last year, when I went to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit they had (which was way cool in a mechanical engineer wannabe sort of way) and I figure it's high time I paid it another visit.

Parking is a little sparse, as Christmas in the Park is going on right across the street and the normal business parking lot is closed, but there's a public parking structure a block away where we find an open spot, so we have a small hike through the carnival rides that are set up for Christmas in the Park, and we eventually arrive at the Tech.

There's no line to buy tickets, which makes us happy. After buying tickets we realize that our scheduled time slot for entry isn't for another hour, which makes us grumpy. We sit for a few minutes by the entrance; there's hardly anyone nearby to get in, which makes us wonder why they're rationing the crowds so heavily. I eventually go back through the line and ask why we need to wait for an hour before entering, and the guy apologizes for typing in the wrong time -- we can go ahead and enter any time we'd like, he says, which makes me a little murderous and not at all Christmassy in spirit, but I get over it, he survives the day, and Lucie and I enter the exhibit.

It's a Star Trek geek's paradise -- costumes and props (some of them replicas; some of them the real thing) from a myriad of characters from all of the shows and movies. Everything from the outfits from all of the original series' characters (McCoy's shirt didn't look nearly as fuzzy when I watched it on TV), to tidbits and trivia about the actors (I never noticed or realized that James Doohan lost the middle finger of his right hand during D-Day and just tried to hide it on set), to a replica of the original bridge complete with Captain's chair where we get our picture taken by an official The Star Trek Experience Wants More of Your Money worker. We also get our picture taken in the Transporter Room, for a "holographic" picture where we appear and disappear (maybe it's just me, but for some reason the official worker here seems relieved that he can make the image of me and my tie dye outfit go away.)

Walking through the rest of the exhibit, we say hi to a tribble, ooh and aah at the assorted weapons, mock a picture of Wesley Crusher, get a headache trying to follow the huge Star Trek timeline display that takes up an entire wall and covers everything from Star Trek: Enterprise (hi, Sam Beckett!) to Star Trek Nemesis (so long, Bob Wheeler!), and buy several cans of Romulan Ale, a Star Trek themed energy drink which gimmick I wholeheartedly support. We also buy a picture of Lucie in the captain's chair (looking very commanding and in charge), me in the captain's chair (looking decidedly less so), and our holographic transporter room picture (complete with rocking picture frame to best view the disappearing act.)

Geeked out, poorer, and happy we came, we leave the Tech and wander back through the Christmas in the Park carnival toward the parking garage. We stop long enough to win a pink-frog-in-a-Santa-hat stuffed animal; buy a caramel apple for Lucie, a bag of cotton candy for us to share, some caramel corn on a stick for me (because it's caramel corn,on a stick) and a funnel cake in case the other stuff doesn't have enough sugar in it; and continue on back to Meg.

We pay way too much for parking (not surprising) and drive home. If you're near San Jose and like the show or movies (and dislike your money and want to get rid of a bunch of it), I do recommend going to the exhibit. I wouldn't recommend wearing your Star Trek shirt or Spock ears or anything, though, 'cuz that might be going just a bit overboard. And, uh, we didn't think of it.

Merry Geeksmas.

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 12: "Do You All Know What It Is You're Carrying?"

Dawn breaks on our last day in Hawai'i.

We don't notice it, on account of we're sleeping at the time. We saw one sunrise here; that's enough for one trip. However, we do eventually wake up, and busy ourselves with packing everything up (it even fits, though one of the suitcases feels a little heavy) for our trip back home. We pay our hotel bill (which, especially when combined with the bar tab, is not quite insubstantial) and load up our poor abused rental car, wave our last goodbye at the ocean (which waves back) and head on out to the airport.

I drop Lucie off, we pay someone from the Hawaii Porter Service not nearly enough to struggle with our suitcases and check them in for us (it's well worth the minimal cost to have someone else lug our bags for us), and I return our convertible to the rental agency. We spend part of our remaining time poking through the airport gift shop, where I buy two bags of One Ton Chips for snacks (first had some from the Volcano Village store when we bought gas -- they're mild in flavor and oddly addictive), some more goodies for friends and family (my carry-on bag's seams voice their concerns), and another ball cap. I don't usually buy ball caps -- I've grown accustomed to bandannas -- but on this trip I've bought four; not exactly sure how that happened.

Our flight to Honolulu is uneventful, but apparently they've entered us into a local iron man competition at the airport, since we have a half mile long outdoor hike to our connecting flight to Oakland. We get a little lost trying to find the right gate, but once we decide to follow the trail of fallen bodies of other passengers on the same hike we eventually find our way. We take a very welcome rest in a slightly cooler terminal for a while (no air conditioning apparently, as they're doing construction on a nearby section of the building) and board our flight to the Mainland.

A pretty impressive dinner for first class -- a crab tomato salad with wasabi vinaigrette, macadamia nut crusted ahi with lilikoi sauce and pineapple chutney, ginger chicken stir fry over garlic rice, and a Kona coffee flan -- and some cold drinks (guava juice, guava juice with champagne, and ginger ale), an in-flight movie of Julie & Julia for the foodies among us, and Lucie watches Mama Mia on her personal video player (free rental for first class) while I study Japanese on my iPhone for the rest of the flight, and another safe touchdown in Oakland. In just a few short hours, we've gone from a hot, humid, and sunny day to a cold, rainy night. It's one heck of a change, and it takes me a little while to adapt.

We have trouble finding our luggage -- which is surprising, as mine is a bright red Hawaiian print. Turns out they sent half of our plane's luggage to a different carousel, so there's a slight delay leaving; but eventually we gather all of our belongings and wait for our limo for the ride home. We don't recognize it at first, as our original Lincoln town car from the ride up has grown into a stretch limo... which is a nice surprise indeed. Our driver is once again Dean (the guy whom I contacted at On Time Limousine is named James, this guy's name is Dean, and there's driving involved... just sayin') and he welcomes us back and starts driving us home. Turns out he's from Fresno, so Lucie and he chat amiably most of the way home while I relax and stretch my legs. I can't hear the conversation, as I'm in the back of the limo and Lucie's near the front, but I've got some binoculars so I do my best to read lips from a distance.

We get home safely, give Dean a bag of Kona coffee as part of his tip, and lug our bags inside our apartment. We find two notices from the TSA saying they've inspected our luggage -- one in Lucie's bags and one in mine. I can only assume that we were carrying home so much coffee that the drug sniffing dogs assumed we were trying to smuggle cocaine (admit it -- we've all learned that from watching Beverly Hills Cop) and they had to check us out. I understand it's done for everyone's safety and all that, but when it happens that often it's just a little creepy.

Our trip to Hawai'i is over. It'll take us a while to recover financially (we spent an awful lot), but as soon as we can build up our vacation fund we're going back. Lucie suggests next March; I'm thinking it might be just a little longer than that, but hopefully not too much longer. Aloha, mahalo, and see you again soon.

Coffee consumption: 1 can of Royal Mills "island mocha" and some coffee flan.

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 11: "Today We Were Kidnapped by Hill Folk, Never to be Seen Again. It Was the Best Day Ever."

Our last full day in Hawai'i begins with the sun bright and the sky cloud-free... and with no cruise ship. Yay for the sun, at least.

We don't have a plan for the day, so we're just going to relax and do what comes to mind. We opt for the breakfast buffet at Don's (the restaurant, not the mai tai bar.) It's purely average fare, with powdered eggs and country potatoes; not even bacon or Spam as a protein, although they do offer miso soup for the Asian crowd... but at least they overcharge us. Even the coffee tastes a little off, which is a terrible thing to do to 100% Kona. Ah, well... that's why we don't eat  here on a regular basis; Don's mai tai bar menu is actually cheaper, tastier, and not as pretentious as Don's sit-down restaurant menu (though they do make more profits in tropical drinks when we go there.) However, as we sit there eating our food near the water, Lucie looks over and sees our very first green turtle in the water below us, poking its head out of the water occasionally as it eats its own breakfast. We say hi to the honu, briefly regret the fact that we don't have our cameras (OR either of our iPhones) with us, and enjoy the rest of our meal with a better appreciation for the outdoor dining experience.


After breakfast, we do a little bit of packing for the trip home... and by that, I mean we figure out what we won't be able to fit in our suitcases without them being overweight (which is a considerable amount) and pack it into boxes to ship home from the UPS Store in town. Goodies for Lucie's family to Fresno, goodies for my co-workers to me at work, more goodies to the Nacordas in Georgia, coffee to my Watsu therapist, and our swim fins and other snorkel gear to our apartment. We're still not sure everything will fit, but at least we've got a better chance now.

From the UPS Store, we head back down the Mamalahoa highway for the last time this trip. Packing actually took a bit longer than we'd thought, and it's almost time for lunch; Lucie and I have seen this Mexican place called Adriana's every time we pass through the town of Captain Cook, and it's gotten decent reviews on Yelp. What better place to try a new Mexican eatery than the Big Island of Hawai'i?

The quesadilla is a simple and uninspired cheddar and tortilla number, what I used to make when I was a teenager before I discovered garlic powder. The free chips they give us are clearly out of a bag, and I strongly suspect that the accompanying refried beans have recently been spanked out of a tin can. However, the chile verde burritos are good -- really good. Spicy, fresh, tender, very slightly bitter, very very meaty, and HUGE. Couldn't fit it in our trunk huge. Would have to ship leftovers back through the UPS Store huge. Couldn't get it to bite if we were on the Camelot burritofishing using sliced jalapeños as bait huge. We do what we can to pick apart our burritos and just eat the tender chunks of pork, and agree that had we known how big they were we would have split one.

We sit for a while, drinking the huge bottles of cold water we ordered with lunch, and make plans for the rest of the day. I mention that there are a couple more coffee places I've been wanting to visit just for the names, but that we haven't for various reason -- Sacred Grounds has been closed every time we drive by, and Kona Lisa is way off the beaten path; at the intersection of two different roads we've never heard of and aren't on the main Coffee Tour map. Lucie agrees, so we drive further down the Mamalahoa to Sacred Grounds... and they're closed AGAIN. By my count, that's five or six different times we've come by this place and they've been closed every time. Okay, their loss. I look up Kona Lisa Coffee's location on their website using my iPhone, and I ask Lucie to use her iPhone's GPS app and guide us there by way of Google Maps.

This is a very acceptable and helpful use of technology, and anywhere other than the Big Island it would have worked. The directions it gives us even look right -- take Middle Ke'ei Road off the Mamalahoa highway and drive down the winding road until you get to Painted Church Road. Simple enough... until you take into account the fact that road intersections off the Mamalahoa are few and far between and not always clearly marked, and that our actual location is approximately a quarter mile off and 30 seconds behind where the GPS coordinates show us to be. Hey, that's no problem; we should be able to find our way even with those tiny little challenges. It's the Big Island; how lost could we get?

The answer is: a lot. The directions take us to an unmarked driveway near the Royal Kona coffee plantation we visited a few days ago; it sure looks like a private drive, but a hundred feet or so in, it starts to widen out, and looks like a real road. We relax a little, and continue following the green line on Lucie's phone.

The road turns a sharp right, and turns into... an empty and unkempt parking lot behind Royal Kona. We stop, and I have Lucie swap out her iPhone with my iPhone's compass app combined with the Google Maps directions; they indicate we should go the far right end of the parking lot, where we do in fact see a previously hidden driveway, and to turn left. Lo and behold, there's a road going to the left... sort of. It's actually more of a dirt road consisting of two worn strips for car tires, and weeds and grass growing everywhere else. Heck, the ATV paths along Waipio Valley are more clearly defined, but it's where the iPhone is telling us to go. We try to relax a little, and continue following the green line on my iPhone.

The "road" goes straight for a few hundred feet, then turns right again, down a steep and narrow path, large rocks jutting out of the dirt and overgrown trees and bushes encroaching on the roadway. I stop the car (there's no place to turn around) and take a closer look at the iPhone; sure enough, there's us, the blue dot, and we're right on the green path that says "Middle Ke'ei Road" and the compass is pointing the right way, and it says we should drive down the hill and we're on the right path. We pretend to relax a tiny bit, and cautiously continue to follow the green line on my iPhone.

At the bottom of the hill, the ever-narrowing "road" takes us past some coffee trees. I take this as a good sign, and continue to follow the green line.

After the coffee trees, just when I start realizing that we don't hear the traffic from the Mamalahoa highway any more, and I start thinking that maybe I put a little too much faith in technology this time, and Lucie and I are both looking around waiting to be kidnapped and taken hostage by Hawaiian hillbillies, and just as I start to imagine hearing dueling ukeleles playing, the road straightens out and turns into... someone's personal "driveway", with an old and worn down and probably haunted house sitting along in a small clearing, and with no sign at all of life or anywhere else to go. I make a hair-raising nineteen point turn in the narrow confines as my inner soundtrack speeds up the dueling ukeleles, and I get us the hell out of there. I'm concerned that the poor rental car won't make it back up the hill, but I think it's actually as scared as we are, and it gets us to safety. Lucie and I nervously look at each other, unsure of just how close we were to becoming the protagonists in a horror movie, and try to figure out where to go from here.

Sadly, as scared as I am from our small mishap, I still want to find this place... it's more a matter of principle than anything else at this point. We agree to drive just a little bit down the highway and see if there's anything; otherwise, we'll head back to Kailua-Kona and figure out something else to do. It's a reasonable compromise, so off we go.

About a quarter mile down the highway, we see a prominently displayed sign for Middle Ke'ei Road, followed by a well-paved road complete with double yellow striping. Lucie loves me so much she doesn't even say anything as I take the exit, make a sharp right, then drive a little way before following the road as it turns sharply to the left, goes straight for a few hundred feet, then turns right again... basically, exactly the same route the iPhone told me to take, only starting from the correct location. Apparently, this is important when you're driving somewhere... so today I learned something new. And Learning is half the battle. The More You Know.

Anyway, we eventually find ourselves at a small driveway  leading to the Kona Lisa Coffee Farm, a small mom and pop place run by an older married couple (and actual mom and pop, coincidentally enough.) Mary, the mom in the arrangement, comes out of the house and greets us as we find a parking place in the driveway area. It's not a large coffee plantation like Mountain Thunder; it's not even a small plantation with a gift shop like Hula Daddy; it's a residence sitting in a six-acre property where Mary and her husband Ron grow coffee, bananas, papayas, Hawaiian sweet limes, macadamia nuts, passionfruit, and mangoes. And apparently tuxedo tabby cats, as there are a couple of them lying around; one of them, Mona, follows us around as Mary takes us on a short tour of the place. We see the small drying floor they have for the cleaned beans; we see the flowering coffee trees and the pile of macadamia nuts stored for selling at the local farmer's market; we have a seat on the house's shaded front porch and have a great conversation with Mary as we talk about our mutual appreciation for good coffee, their history of falling in love with this farm (actually named Cornerstone Farms) several years ago and deciding to buy  the place and retire here, her passionate fight to keep Kona coffee a viable crop for independent farmers, about a dozen different things that I can't even remember any more but which were fascinating at the time. She's a genuinely good person, open and friendly and honest, and we like her a lot. Mona hops up on the bench we're sitting on and makes herself comfortable. I find us talking like we're old friends over coffee, instead of vendor and customer talking about buying coffee, but I'm not even sure how blurred the line is; I think we're both customer and friends even though we just met and she doesn't even know our names.

It's a great conversation, and I gladly buy several bags of Kona Lisa coffee as we somewhat reluctantly get up to leave. I mention that we also wanted to stop by Sacred Grounds but they've been closed, and she tells us they had one of their machines catch fire earlier this year and burn down half the processing house, and have shut down until they can recover financially (if they can recover.) Another mystery solved.

We make one more stop on our way back home at Kona Coast macadamia farm, where we buy (surprise!) goodies for us and for folks back home -- the dry roasted macadamia nuts with cayenne pepper are quite good -- and we head back to our hotel. We spend the last hour before sunset alternately swimming in the hotel pool and relaxing in nearby lounge chairs, being waited on by Halley's Waitress (we see her once when we order piña coladas, and then she doesn't come back for decades.) We watch the sunset, order burgers from the mai tai bar to have for dinner in our room, and head back upstairs for the night.

It's our last full day in Hawai'i... we had some mediocre food and some great food, we had one of my favorite coffee plantation visits ever, we got lost and drove through heavy underbrush in a rental car, and we relaxed and watched another beautiful Hawaiian sunset. It's a good day, with all four of the main ingredients: food, caffeine, thrill, and lazy.

Coffee consumption: coffee with breakfast, and a cup of coffee at Kona Lisa.

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 10: Putting the A'a In Ha'awai'i

It's a day of firsts -- we sleep in for the first time today to make up for yesterday's early morning, and when I open the doors to our balcony I see my first real nene!  I quickly have Lucie take a picture of it for posterity before realizing it's actually just another cruise ship.  Maybe there are nenes on board... or maybe it's as I've always believed: the nene's just a myth.  It's like someone saying they went shopping at a Whole Foods and DIDN'T see a Prius in the parking lot; just doesn't happen.

Anyway, we're feeling a little volcanic today, so we decide to drive on down to Volcanoes National Park -- we made a quick visit last trip, but wanted to make a day of it this time.  We cruise down the Mamalahoa Highway; past Kona Joe, past Kealakekua, through Honaunau-Napo'opo'o, through the Kipahoehoe Natural Reserve, past acres and acres of pastureland where we wave to all of the mukau, and a couple of hours later we pull into Na'alehu for sustenance.

We walk into the Punalu'u Bakery, buy some goodies for co-workers and family, and some of the malasadas for us for lunch; Lucie goes for the lilikoi-glazed version, and I grab a chocolate-filled as well as a guava variant.  The guava dough is sweet and subtle, the chocolate filled is dense and filling, and the lilikoi glazed is ten pounds of sugar in a two-ounce pastry.  This place is not for those watching carbs or with weak tooth enamel, but we sure like it.  I wash down my malasadas with an iced mocha, in case the sugar needs reinforcements.

We noticed a small craft fair next door at the Na'alehu Assembly of God church, so once we regain our senses from the sugar rush we cross the street and poke through the stalls, seeing what they have.  Lucie picks up a bracelet with hua weleweka seeds, hard gray berries covered in a soft fuzz that's hard not to play with; I also get a pair of sterling silver and coconut shell earrings that I think she'll like (and does.)  I also toy with the idea of picking up a hand-carved fishhook pendant on a woven cord, but when the price goes up from $25 to $40 when they say they need to lengthen the braided cord, I politely walk away; I'm happy enough with my honu pendant from last trip.

Done with shopping for now, we get back into our car and continue down the highway and make another small side trip to stop at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach.  The wind is fairly strong today, so the waves crashing against the black rocks are impressively big and white and frothy, and very picturesque.  We wander around the smooth lava rocks for a while, take a bunch of pictures, and dip our feet in the water.  This turns out to be a bad idea on my part, as over the years I've apparently turned into a major tenderfoot, and I hop and limp my way back to solid ground where I can put my Keens back on.  I learn two new things -- black sand is a lot more coarse and poke-y than white sand, and I'm kind a wuss.  As it turns out, though, a tour bus is pulling into the parking lot as we leave, so we actually beat the rush and end up leaving at a good time.

Not much further down the road, we arrive at Volcanoes National Park.  We're near the southeast side of the island where it rains more, so we put up the top as we go into the visitor's center.  I get my picture taken with a fake nene (the ONLY kind of nene there is!) and we get a few souvenirs.  Kilauea has a new vent that opened up at Halema'uma'u Crater, so Crater Rim Drive, the road that circles Kilauea's caldera, is closed.  We actually took that road last time and passed on Chain of Craters road, the road that winds past multiple craters from older lava eruptions and leads down the ocean where the lava from the current eruption is flowing into the sea, so we decide to take that road this time around.  It continues drizzling off and on -- not dry enough for us to put the roof down on the convertible, but dry enough so we can stop and take pictures at most of the vista points.

The Chain of Craters Road is a very interesting thing... it's a landscape of stark black rock, with occasional beautiful blue ocean visible on one side, and with gorgeous green and lush foliage sometimes visible on the other side.  There's no food, water, or gas available anywhere along the road -- it's all lava and trees, and of course "nene crossing" signs... as with Crater Rim Drive, those signs are everywhere.

Side note -- it's also almost impossible for me to say "chain of craters" out loud on the first try.  The entire time we're here I find myself saying "crane of chaiters" instead, despite numerous attempts and deliberately speaking slowly.  Maybe it's volcano goddess Pele messing with me for mocking her imaginary nene.

Anyway, we drive to the end of the road, where it's blocked off (flowed over after the current eruption started in 1983) and stop for a look at the distant spot visible, where we can see the huge clouds of steam rising from the ocean as the lava flows into it.  We don't have the supplies and we're not dressed for the long hike it would take to get a closer look, but the view from here is still awe-inspiring.  It's the birth of new land; it's Hawaii's youngest and largest island in a geological growth spurt.

We stay for a bit and take a bunch of pictures, then head back up to the park entrance.  I'm a little nervous, as we're nearly out of gas and driving uphill almost all the way, but we should be fine.  We stop along the way and Lucie snaps a great shot of a rainbow stretching out over the black desolate landscape; we stop again at the Thurston Lava Tube but opt not to hike through it -- my knees let me know they aren't up for the trek.  Once out of the park, we make a quick stop at the nearby Volcano Village for gas (I expect it to be grossly overpriced, but it's actually cheaper here than in Kona... which makes you think) and make the long drive back to Kona.

We stop at Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill for dinner -- as with the other places we've been, the reviews on this place are great, and we have to agree -- the appetizer platter of coconut shrimp, short ribs, poke, and tempura veggies is impressive, and our entrees are equally so; Lucie gets the seafood special of grilled ono over purple sweet potatoes with a pineapple mango salsa, and I opt for the steak special, a New York grilled to a perfect medium rare over garlic mashed potatoes with a bordeaux reduction sauce.  It's one of the best steaks I've had since Alexander's, and definitely in the top 5 I can remember eating.

Sated and happy, and tired from the drive, we head back to our hotel and fall blissfully asleep for the night.  We never even make it down to the mai tai bar.

Coffee consumption: 1 can of Royal Mills iced coffee, one iced mocha.

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 9: "You All Got on This Boat for Different Reasons, But Y'all Come to the Same Place."

We begin today before the sun does -- we've got an appointment at the Honokohau Harbor at 6:15 for sportfishing and due to lack of planning we need to buy some supplies first... water and snacks in case we get hungry while we're on the boat, and an ice chest and ice for all the fish we're going to catch.

We also bring along the snorkel gear we rented from Snorkel Bob and the fins we brought from home -- part of the fishing trip is a short stint in Kealakekua Bay, where the water's clear and beautiful and warm, and where Lucie's read that there are two "relatively tame" reef sharks there. Personally, I really didn't need to hear about sharks in the bay before we went there, but we've each got our different ways of preparing ourselves.  All I know is, I see sharks and the water's suddenly less clear and a bit more warm, that's all I'm sayin'.

At any rate, we get to the harbor only a few minutes later than we'd like but there's no problem with being a few minutes late (Big Island mentality and all.) We meet Captain Mark and his first mate JT (or JD, or Jay-Z, or DJ, or something... in all the excitement of us catching all those huge fish I forgot his name.) The boat, the Camelot, comes well recommended and has had a lot of success in pulling in large billfish before, so we're hopeful. We clamber aboard, stow our gear and supplies, and we head out into deep water. Shortly after we leave, we get a rare (for us) glimpse of a Hawaiian sunrise; also beautiful in its own way, but I still think I'd like them more if they happened later in the day.

For two and a half hours, we cruise through the ocean waiting for the marlin to strike. Apparently, however, the marlin are *on* strike instead, as there isn't a sign of anything other than us (and the occasional other fishing boat) around by the time we near Kealakekua Bay. No worries, as the day's not even halfway through yet; I'm certain we'll get something on the trip back. I take a few pictures of the Captain Cook monument -- accessible only by boat -- as we move slowly past, and then Captain Mark and PJ moor the Camelot in the bay fairly close to shore for our snorkeling pleasure.

Kealakekua Bay's name comes from the Hawaiian language's ke ala ke kua, which means "the god's pathway". I can understand that, based on the beautiful blue sky, the lush and abundant greenery along the coastline, and the nearly crystal clear water (a little brackish, as the bay is an estuary and it's been raining recently) in which we're floating. I grab our underwater camera, we put on our fins and masks, and we get into the water. My mask immediately starts to leak... it fit okay at Snorkel Bob's, but the added torquing of the head strap by the snorkel causes the seal to break, regardless of how I play with it. It's possible I didn't trim enough off the top of my mustache; it's possible that my head swelled up overnight; it's possible that either Captain Mark or OD swapped my mask out with a smaller one as a joke; regardless, it just isn't happening this time. No problem, really; I brought along my swim goggles, so I use those instead and just don't breathe with my face underwater.

This works out just fine, and Lucie and I toodle around in the bay for a while, taking turns with the camera and looking out for things with teeth. I get several shots of the bright yellow fish (yellow tang) and the brain coral, we remain shark-free, and Captain Mark and OT take a picture of us in the water for proof (the picture of course comes out somewhat grainy and will no doubt end up like one of those Bigfoot or nene pictures everyone thinks is a fraud. However, unlike Bigfoot and the nene, this actually did happen. I have photographic proof!)

The adventure of trying to get us back onto the boat is best left unwritten. Suffice it to say, there's no ladder on this boat because it might break the fishing lines, so Captain Mark and DA are forced to recreate the time they hauled in that marlin in order to get me back inside. No pictures of it; didn't happen.

On our trip back to the harbor, we see some school of small silvery fish leaping out of the water, and we think we see a whale fin very briefly, but that's it. Not a single bite, so no picture of me posing with a 1,200-pound swordfish to use as a screensaver. Instead, we'll have to content ourselves with having had a fun boat ride with Captain Mark and OJ, seeing the sunrise, snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay, and not getting eaten by sharks... so all in all, it's the better part of a day well spent.

We relax for the rest of the day, sitting on our lanai and watching the ocean, enjoying our evening drinks at the mai tai bar. Lucie has a mai tai quencher, consisting of silver rum, pineapple juice, Sprite, and coconut rum, and a green flash -- mango rum, pineapple juice, and orange juice layered over Midori; I have a mango daiquiri and a Royal Dream (vanilla vodka, coconut rum, lime, and pineapple juice), with a Lava Tube (a Kahlua, amaretto, coconut rum, and ice cream shake) for dessert.

Coffee consumption: 2 cans of Royal Mills iced coffee

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 8: "If You Can't Do Something Smart, Do Something Right."

Morning comes, and lo and behold, there's a cruise ship in the bay; all is right with the world.

We can't have a visit to the Big Island without a repeat of our last trip's tour through the Kona coffee belt.  My heartrate still hasn't quite recovered from two and a half years ago, but I figure it's still up to the task.  We're not planning it as thoroughly as we did last time -- though we do have an appointment at Ueshima Coffee Company to roast our own coffee again -- so we figure we'll just drive down the coffee belt road and stop when we see something that catches our eye.

Our first stop just so happens to be the first place we see, a relatively new company called Hula Daddy that wasn't here last time.  They've got a relatively small plot of land, and a nifty restored clock tower from the 1800s as part of their plantation and store.  We have a sample of their freshly brewed coffee as our hostess shows us the awesome view from the balcony... acres of coffee trees down the mountainside, with Kailua-Kona at the bottom, and the ocean (with cruise ship) stretching off to the horizon.  We manage to pull our eyes away from that particular view to see another one almost as great: a group of workers below us sorting out the ripe coffee cherries by hand.  We make our way down there and take a closer look, as well as getting a look at their coffee roaster, a cute little number by Renegade Roasters; shiny and new and very small compared to the large roasters at Mountain Thunder (and downright miniscule compared to the monster roaster at Kona Joe.)  I buy an espresso mug, Lucie gets a T-shirt with their "Who's your Hula Daddy?" logo, and we pick up some coffee (peaberry, whole bean, city roast.)  We wave to the webcams for anyone watching online, then continue on our way.

Our next stop is at Ueshima Coffee Company's new location for our coffee roasting experience.  Their previous building was down at the bottom of a narrow windy road near Kealakekua Bay; the new digs are further up the mountain (closer to their actual coffee trees), with another fantastic makai (downhill) view of Kona trees, Kona town, and then ocean.  Our guide and roastmaster for this visit is a nice pregnant gal by the name of June... wonder how much that baby of hers must kick!  We take a small walk through the coffee trees, where June lets us each pick a ripe cherry (Lucie beats the odds and gets a peaberry, a single bean in place of the usual two halves.)  Inside the cherry is the raw bean, wrapped in parchment, and covered in a slimy mucilage that's sweet to the taste.  From here, the bean would be soaked in water overnight to ferment and for the mucilage to wash off; then it would be dried for 2-3 days; the parchment would be removed; and then it would be time for roasting.

Speaking of segues, June takes us to our next stop, the row of little mini roasters.  She goes through her roasting speech about how to listen for the beans cracking, the different colors the beans turn and the name for each, and the different grades of coffee based on bean size and quantity of defects.  Before long, our own beans crack, then darken, then brown to a perfect city roast; we let them cool and package them up unto our custom-label bags, then head back mauka (uphill) back to the open-air gift shop.  We buy additional coffee, some chocolate-covered coffee beans, have some free samples of both, and I enjoy a small dish of Kona coffee ice cream to help with keeping cool (if jittery.)  We pack our purchases into the miniscule trunk of our car, and wave goodbye as we continue down the road.

Our next two stops are repeats of our last trip; the Ferrari store in Holualoa where we sample some coffee and buy some for gifts, followed by the Blue Sky plantation where we have coffee, some chocolate-covered coffee beans, and I sample then buy a jar of their lilikoi and Hawaiian chile jam, a delicious concoction that starts off densely sweet and ends with a spicy hot and sugary finish -- very tasty combination indeed.

We take a quick break in the town of Captain Cook at the Captain Cook Baking Company, where we share a mini-loaf of banana-pineapple-coconut bread, and Lucie scores some chocolate-covered coffee bean scones for later.  Honestly, their plain banana bread isn't as good as Lucie's, but their banana-pineapple-coconut loaf is mighty tasty indeed.  We get some sodas to drink (yeah, like because I haven't had enough caffeine yet, right?) then we continue on our way down past the Kealakekua Bay turnoff to the Royal Kona plantation.  We get there about the same time as a tour bus, so we join a bit of a crowd as we get coffee-themed gifts (including a coffee bean lei that Lucie finds for me), check out the small coffee museum they have downstairs, take a picture of both the coffee bean beaded curtain they have on the windows as well as the cool carved tree they have towering in the back of the property.

We're ready for a real meal as opposed to the light snack we had in Captain Cook, so we drive just a bit further and pull into Big Jake's BBQ.  It's gotten good reviews for flavor and tenderness of meat, so we give it a shot and aren't disappointed... Lucie's pulled pork sandwich is moist and delicious, with a slightly spicy and slightly sweet barbecue sauce; my pork butt plate is similarly moist and flavorful; and the hot link sandwich is crisp, hot, and sets my mouth on fire (in a good way.)  A freshly squeezed lemonade helps quench the fire, and we both get -- and finish -- huge bottles of water since it's still blazingly hot today.  We doze off for a bit after the huge meal, then waddle to our car and continue on our way.

 Not much further down the highway is a Keoki's Surfin' Ass Coffee store.  Originally called BadAss Coffee, they had to change their name to Surfin' Ass due to a name dispute with another BadAss Coffee in Maui -- what are the odds?! -- but regardless of the name, their coffee smoothie is rich and sweet, the chocolate-covered macadamia nuts are freakin' HUGE, and the coffee itself smells and tastes great.  I get my picture taken with the big inflatable Keoki outside, and we proceed down the highway just a little bit further.

Our final coffee stop for the day is a ramshackle and condemned-looking building with the sign "Bong Brothers (& Sistah!) Coffee."  We assume it's a Chinese-run place named after the proprietors, but we're waaaaay off base.  Judging by both the smell and the look of the interior of this place, it's very definitely named after a particular item of smoking paraphernalia.  Feeling both creeped out and dirty for having come in here, we make a quick purchase of coffee to keep up appearances and get the heck out.  While I certainly looked like I belonged there with my groovy purple tie dye ensemble, it's not exactly a place I'd want to visit again, ever.

It's getting late -- and I'm afraid to have any more caffeine because I've had so much today I'm expecting my heart to burst out of my chest like it was a baby alien -- so we head back up Mamalahoa to our hotel.  We unpack our purchases, then head down to the bar for our drinks at sunset.  A mai tai and a piña colada bring a refreshingly cool and sweet end to the day.  We enjoy tonight's view of the ocean -- the wind's higher than usual today so the waves are large and frothy as they crash against the rocks -- and head back upstairs.

Lucie goes to sleep; I continue buzzing and twitching for several hours after that, but eventually fall asleep as well.

Coffee consumption: lots!

Hawai'i 2.0, Day 7: "We Have a Little Problem With our Engine Sequence, So We May Experience Some Slight Turbulence and Then...Explode."

Our seventh day in Hawai'i; our sixth full day; our third full day on the Big Island... and still no cruise ship.  That's just weird.

We run a bit late for our scheduled activity for today -- another ATV tour along the rim of Waipio Valley with Les & Renee -- but because this is the Big Island it's not really a problem.  And that's a good thing, because as we leave Kona and head across the island through Waimea to Honoka'a, our driving speed slows as it starts to get cloudy... then drizzly... then rainy... then downright stormy.  After two and a half years, Les & Renee still remember us ("weren't you also wearing tie dye the last time, but yellow?" they ask me) and we're suddenly close friends again.  We laugh, we reminisce about the last time, we fall back into friendly chatter, and I remember why I like these guys so much.  They're ohana.

We get our ATVs, put on our helmets, and start off along the rim of the valley, rain switching between mere downpour and outright deluge as we ride.  Our last time here, the sun was shining and there were only one or two small puddles along the path; this time we're splashing through some fairly wide and deep puddles every hundred feet, mud flying from the wheels as we race along the rocky mountain paths.  I start off wearing my sunglasses even though it's raining buckets, more as protection against water in the eyes than for light sensitivity (it is overcast, after all), but I start wondering if they're a hindrance or a help, as the water spots and streaking make it a little difficult to see the fine details of the path; after our first pause I take them off and tuck them away inside my shirt.  No way to keep them dry (at least our wallets and the car remote are in a plastic bag protected from the rain) but if I figure if I end up crashing at least they'll be a little protected.

After a while of riding through the downpour, my hands start getting a little bit numb due to the constant vibration of the handlebars and the rain, but I'm still able to keep the thumb lever pushed forward to keep the ATV moving as I follow Les along the path.  Behind me is Lucie, and Renee takes up the rear of the caravan.  At the first of the amazing lookout points, Les pulls close to the edge of the dropoff, then slowly turns to his left and stops so we can get off the vehicles and look out over the valley.  I try to follow him, but as I try to turn slowly to my left I accidentally keep my right thumb -- now thoroughly numbed -- on the throttle lever.  Instead of slowing and turning to the left (away from the dropoff), my ATV jumps forward and to the right, off the cleared path and into the high grass.  I see the dropoff getting far too close far too quickly, and in one of those moments where you react before you even realize you're doing so, I leap off my ATV and go tumbling through the grass and rocks.  Without my thumb on the throttle, the ATV suddenly stops; without the ATV under my butt, my movement also suddenly stops.  I lie there for a second, trying to see if anything's broken or missing -- or if I'm sliding down the mountainside to my doom -- and after a brief moment of introspection and inspection I stick my arm up into the air  with a "thumbs up" to let everyone else know I'm okay.

Once we all realize I'm still alive, my near death becomes the most hysterical thing we've ever known:

Me: "Oh my God, I almost died!"

Les: "I know!"

All four of us: "HAHAHAHAHHAHAHA HAHAAAAHAHAHA!"

Renee: "I thought you were going to drive off the cliff!"

All four of us:  "HAHAHHAAAAHah HAAAHAHHAAAHA!"

Lucie: "Don't you DARE do that ever again!"

All four of us: "HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHA!!!"

Me: "Seriously, though, have any of you seen my left shoulder blade?  I can't find it, and I'm losing a lot of blood..."

All four of us: "HAAAAHHAHAHAhHAAAA *gasp*  HAAAAHAHAHAHAAAHAHAHA!!!!"

Oh, man... good times.

Anyway, we continue on our ride, with me being much more careful whenever we're making turns.  We stop by another vantage point just as it clears up briefly enough to where I can snap a few quick pictures of the valley below; mist hangs in the air and makes the distant farmhouses below us hazy and nebulous.  A small flock of white seabirds slowly flies below us, reminding me of just how far up we are (or how far down the floor of the valley is, or a combination of both.)  Renee points out the white-roofed house they own down there, where they have their taro plants growing (they live primarily in a house in the small town of Waipio where we met this afternoon, since they like things like electricity and phone service and those other small comforts, but they do stay down in the valley at times when they're harvesting.)  We chat about our jobs, and when I mention I work in the semiconductor industry at an LED company, Les and Renee perk right up; seems they're friends with a guy who started an LED company, and who recently moved into town.  We decide to stop by after our ATV ride and say hello.  Wow; small world, isn't it?

We circle around and finally end up back at the beginning of the trail, with Les pointing out and picking some fruit from the guava trees we ride past.  Lucie panics momentarily when she actually loses sight of my pink heart tie-dyed shirt and red helmet among the trees after I turn at a fork in the path ("I never actually thought I'd lose sight of those clothes," she later says) but no further mishaps occur, and we clamber back into the all-terrain van to head back into town.  It's been raining almost constantly; our clothes are literally dripping wet, we don't have a clean or dry spot anywhere on us (especially me, after my near death), and Lucie and I are both grinning like fools because we've had the time of our lives.

The guy Les & Renee mentioned is a friendly person by the name of David Allen, co-founder of Laughing Rabbit Inc., a flashlight company using LEDs in their products.  Heck of a nice guy, thinks my almost dying is pretty darn funny (all five of us: "HAHAHAAAhHAHAha HAAHAA!!"), loves living near Waipio Valley, and apparently gives gifts to people who almost die, since he hands a nifty mini LED flashlight to both Lucie and myself as we say our goodbyes.  I tip Les & Renee the money we planned to (which I of course kept in my shorts pocket during the trip, and which now consists of several bills basically fused together into one mega-thick and very wet bill) and we sog our way back toward Kona.

We make a quick stop in Kona for gas and to get takeout food from Kamuela Deli, get back to our hotel room (still soaking wet), change into dry clothes, and spend the evening in our hotel room eating dinner, drying out, and still laughing every once in a while about me almost dying.  I'm still not sure why it's so darn funny, but it is.

(Oh, and my sunglasses? Completely unharmed. Turns out tucking them into my shirt worked perfectly.)

Coffee consumption: no coffee, no alcohol.  How weird is that?!

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 6: Livin' la Vida Mocha

Another bright new day on the Big Island, and it's the day of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival parade. Partly by plan and partly by plan -- err, luck, we just so happen to be on the Big Island during the coffee festival, where everyone celebrates all things Kona. And as they say: when in Kona, do what the Konans do (only not as barbarian-y.)

And as it turns out, the parade starts right outside our hotel, so we grab a seat on the rock wall, backs to the crashing ocean, and watch the parade go by. We stand and show proper respect to the Pearl Harbor veterans in the Army jeep; we say "awwwww" at the young girl crowned Little Miss Coffee Blossom 2009; we wave at the Hispanic float in support of the Mexican workers who pick the coffee cherries from the trees and prep the beans before roasting; we even listen politely to the bagpiper from the Shriners club who I'll diplomatically say was probably the very best bagpiper on the Big Island that day who was participating in a parade and wearing a kilt.
The parade finishes moving past our vantage point on their way to the final festival location, and Lucie and I decide to go grab a quick breakfast before we head over there, to avoid the traffic (traffic on the Big Island, LOL) so we groove on down the Mamalahoa Highway and have breakfast at the little cafe at Kona Joe. I go for a simple cheese omelet, Lucie goes for a simple bacon-eggs-and-toast combo, and I have two espresso smoothies, one of the best coffee drinks I've ever had, which I still remember fondly from two and a half years ago on our first trip, and which are every bit as good as I remember. Yum!

We make the obligatory stop at the gift store where we buy gifts for family, coffee for ourselves, and then some coffee for ourselves; then it's off to the Kona Coffee Festival. We find a parking space surprisingly close by, wander through the stalls, and then realize we spent almost all of our cash at Kona Joe's when we could have used plastic, and almost none of the vendors here take plastic... and there's no ATM nearby. Arrrgh!

We spend our last few precious dollars buying cold water and a plate of Filipino food, take a seat in the open-air auditorium and listen to the live music for a while, and take a gander at the ikebana displays and the handmade leis that were entered into the contests.  The grand prize lei is [of course] a coffee themed number with unripe coffee cherries, ripe red coffee cherries, dried but unprocessed beans in parchment, processed but unroasted green beans, and roasted beans at what looks to be a full city roast; one strand of each wrapped around each other. It's a very nice display, a true and loving homage to Kona coffee, and it gives me a little bit of a caffeine high just taking its picture. Me likey.

We do find a few vendors who are set up take credit, so we buy what we can (I pick up some sterling silver coffee bean earrings), get business cards where we can't buy, and drink more cold water. After the rainy days on Oahu, the massive amount of sun we're getting on the Big Island seems almost brutal, but it's part of being in Hawai'i so we'll take it and be happy. Hot, sweaty, and reddened, but happy.

After we get done with the coffee festival, we decide to continue on up the Kohala coast and see how far we can go. There's a statue of King Kamehameha up at the very tip of the island in Hawi, but the rental car we have isn't very good at mountain inclines (which is unfortunately not the best thing in Hawai'i, but it's a convertible which is a must) so we just decide to see how far we end up going; no pressure. We realized our last time here that this is the best and most relaxing attitude to have, and one that's shared by many on the Big Island.


But first, I want more coffee. We make a quick stop at the Kona Coffee & Tea Company store, I get an iced mocha and Lucie gets a piece of mac nut pie for later, we buy some gifts for family, coffee for ourselves, and then some coffee for ourselves, and we continue on up the road. We pass the Kona airport, we pass by the white beaches and expensive resorts, we pass by the beginning of Saddle Road (which would take us up toward the summit of Mauna Kea if 1) our poor underpowered car could handle the road, 2) the road wasn't forbidden by almost every car rental company on the island, or 3) we survived the trip, which on the Saddle Road is always in doubt), and we make it to Spencer Beach before we stop to stretch our legs. Spencer beach was closed about this time last year due to sightings of 14-foot tiger sharks, but today it's shark-free (as far as we know) and welcoming. We dip our feet in the water and enjoy the view for a bit before we continue on. We stop at a roadside orchid stand in Kawaihae, and get some shave ice at the shave ice stall just a bit further up the road. Plants that need specialized watering and refreshments made of frozen syrupy water are odd to have in the driest city on the Big Island (less than 10 inches of rain annually, compared to over 240 inches annually north of Hilo) but we don't question; we just enjoy the pretty colors and fruity flavors.

It's getting late the road only gets steeper from here, so we decide to head back to our hotel for dinner and the sunset. We end up just missing the sunset (I get sidetracked and stop at a discount fabric store where I get fabric for some Hawaiian shirts) but we enjoy a nice dinner at Don the Beachcomber's and some tropical drinks at the mai tai bar (a mango daiquiri and a mai tai -- it is a mai tai bar, after all) and a dish of Kona coffee ice cream for dessert. Coffee ice cream might not be the smartest thing for someone to have before bedtime, but I am no mere low-caffeine-tolerance mortal. I am mighty.

And several hours later, the jitters go away and I'm able to fall asleep.

Coffee consumption: a can of Royal Mills iced coffee, 2 espresso smoothies, a large iced mocha, and two scoops of Kona coffee ice cream.

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 5: "I am a Reef on the Wind..."

Our first morning on the Big Island, and while the view from our hotel room is awesome it's also a little strange... there's no cruise ship in the bay.  Maybe tourism is down, though it's not very evident based on the crowds; the place actually seems a little more crowded than the last time we were here.

We start our day with a trip to the Beach Dogs cafe, where I enjoy a breakfast sandwich of eggs, thick-cut bacon, and cream cheese on Hawaiian sweet bread... this is a cool combination of flavors that really hits the spot, especially combined with a pineapple-mango juice.  We hit a few stores also in the area, then head on to our first coffee plantation for this trip, our good friends at Mountain Thunder.  Bert isn't available, but we're greeted by Trent, the owner, who brews for us a tasty cafe Americano (a shot of espresso with water)... he was going to make a straight espresso, but wasn't able to find the right cups.  We sit down to watch a few TV shows about the plantation (the piece on Dirty Jobs we've already seen, plus several more we haven't) and halfway through Trent finds the espresso mugs and serves us an espresso to go along with the first drink.

Trent is good.  We like him.

Trent leaves, and his son Brent (I'm not making these names up) shows us around a bit.  We get another action shot of freshly roasted beans coming out of the roaster to go along with last trip's, we buy some coffee and other coffee-related items, and head off to our first actual scheduled stop on the Big Island, the Ocean Rider seahorse farm.

Actually, we're a bit early for our appointment, so we stop by an empty beach along the where we enjoy the ocean view and I have a slight panic attack as I see a tree full of coconuts waiting for its next hapless victim.  I back away slowly, and manage to escape unscathed... this time.  We continue on our way, and arrive at Ocean Rider right on time.

Ocean Rider is one of the largest, if not the largest providers of farm-raised seahorses in the world; they started their business as a method of helping protect the wild seahorses from being further endangered by breeding them in captivity for longevity and aquarium acclimation... seahorses caught in the wild last no more than a year once captured, causing continuous replacement by commercial aquariums for their exhibits, and species endangerment.  Ocean Rider seahorses, on the other hand, last much longer -- their first horse acclimated to aquarium life is still alive after 10 years.

And besides, seahorses are wicked cool neat and stuff.  I've always been fascinated by seahorses and jellyfish; the sheer... alien-ness of how they look and their biology has always intrigued me.  So I'm geeking out as our totally awesome and mystical tour guide dude Christian shows us the breeding tanks (pregnant males), birthing tanks (baby seahorses less than a centimeter in length), feeding tanks (sea monkeys galore!) where we're able to send some seahorses into a feeding frenzy, and all the different species they have, including the rare and completely funky Leafy Sea Dragon and its cousin the Weedy Sea Dragon.  If you've never seen a picture of these, check them out.

Anyway, the highlight of the tour for me is when we're able to form a makeshift reef with our hands and let a seahorse curl its tail around our fingers for a while.  It's an unreal experience, and one I won't soon forget.

We help support the Ocean Rider cause by buying some swag at the gift shop, then cruise back to Kona where we have a late lunch at Kona Mixed Plate.  Lucie goes for the loco moco, and I opt for fried shrimp and spicy pork, which has a very good grill char and just the right amount of heat  to the sauce.

From there, we wander through the shops along "downtown" Kailua-Kona and stop at Kona Henna where I get some (hopefully accurate) kanji on my arm, and Lucie has both her ankles decorated.

We end the day at Don's mai tai bar, where I wash down a personal pizza with a Paradise Found and a Mojito Sampler tray (a pomegranate, a mango, a ginger peach, and an original mojito), and Lucie enjoys a sesame chicken salad with a piña colada.

Lots of haze on the horizon so the sun disappears before it actually hits the ocean, but that's okay by us.

Coffee consumption: hotel room coffee, a cafe American, an espresso, and some chocolate covered coffee beans.

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 4: Island Hopping

Our last day on Oahu dawns, we finish packing our luggage, give our last tip to the parking valet, and head to the Honolulu airport.  I pay an exorbitant amount to the car rental place for gas (we end up running too late to fill it up ourselves that morning), we check in to the airport, and pay another exorbitant amount to Hawaiian Airlines because all three of our suitcases are too heavy.  We wince, and keep telling ourselves "you're helping the economy recover!"  A short hop to Kona, and we say goodbye to Oahu until the flight home.

Now, I don't want to say anything bad about Hawai'i, but Oahu is a serious rollercoaster when it comes to blood pressure... driving through Honolulu and Waikiki is frightening during the best of times, with turn-only lanes popping up at every corner, and with almost no advance warning, causing everyone to make sudden turns, slam on the brakes, change lanes quickly without signaling... in my opinion, it's worse than driving through San Francisco.  And yet, you drive out of town for ten minutes, and there are beautiful green mountains, calming scenery, quiet beaches (scattered among the crowded ones at least), and places that are relaxing as any place I've been.

...And then the rains come down and your blood pressure goes through the roof again as you try to navigate safely along mountain roads (although technically, I suppose every road in Hawai'i is a mountain road) and you're tense until you get back to your hotel, where you can hear the ocean and feel yourself relaxing right up until the police sirens scream by.

Heck with the treadmill; if you want a cardio workout, stay a few days on Oahu.

Anyway, the Big Island.... we get our rental car (a convertible this time), have a grand and entertaining time trying to fit our luggage into the back seat and the trunk that's all of two cubic feet big, and make our way to the same place we stayed last time, the Royal Kona Resort.  We'd thought about trying some new (and maybe cheaper) place, but the existence of Don's Mai Tai Bar is the selling point that make our decision for us.

We unpack, and Lucie finds a nifty note from the TSA telling us they checked her luggage for safety reasons.  How thoughtful!

We take a short trip down the Mamalahoa Highway (just because I like saying "Mamalahoa") and hit a Chinese place for dinner before heading back to our hotel to make sure the quality of the mai tai bar hasn't gone downhill since we've been here last.  The mango daiquiri is still awesome, and piña colada still smooth and refreshing, and the poke needs a little salt but that's okay.  We face the setting sun, enjoy our first Big Island sunset, and feel ourselves relaxing.



Welcome to Kailua-Kona; enjoy your stay.

Coffee consumption: 2 cans of Royal Mills iced cappuccino.

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 3: "Eating people alive? Where's THAT get fun?!"

So, our original plans for today were to maybe go to the Valley of the Temples and visit the Byodo-In Buddhist temple, or maybe stop by Pearl Harbor and pay our respects at the U.S.S Arizona, before heading across the island to go to our scheduled Luau.  However, the weather is so nice when we get up -- clear blue skies for the first time since our arrival -- that we forego our driving and instead walk out to Sans Souci Beach located in our hotel's back yard and relax for several hours instead.  We play in the surf a little bit, we just lie back and look at the clouds, and we watch as the lifeguards put up jellyfish warning signs.  The hardcore beach lovers promptly ignore the signs -- or use them for shade -- and continue to play in the water; Lucie and I, however, decide not to tempt fate and head inside to the hotel's restaurant for a late breakfast, where I have salmon Florentine Benedict (eggs Benedict on a fresh sage biscuit, with salmon fillets, spinach, and a dill Hollandaise sauce on top); Lucie has a more traditional breakfast plate with eggs, sausage, and poi pancakes; and I have (of course) freshly brewed Kona coffee.

Stomachs sated, blood sugar raised, and wallet lighter, we then decide to go where everybody else goes on vacation in Hawai'i; namely, the Apple Store in Kahala Mall, just on the other side of Diamond Head.  See, I'd forgotten to bring along our FM transmitter, so we're unable to listen to the Bruddah Iz and Makaha Sons songs on our iPhones like we'd planned, and it's either buy CDs to play (which we already have at home and don't really need) or buy another FM transmitter (which we could always use.)  With those two options, we (I) decide (eagerly anticipate) to use (embrace) the newer technology (yay!) and buy an FM transmitter at the Apple Store.  Parking at the mall is surprisingly easy, we get a space on the top level right near the doors to the escalators, and the escalators drop us not twenty feet from the Apple Store.  Now that's luck!

We head back to the hotel and spend a few more hours on the beach, although we stay on dry land this time and just watch everyone else play among the jellyfish rather than participate.  Lucie had read that there might be a box jellyfish migration to Oahu during our visit, and the prediction was spot on.  Odds are we wouldn't get stung -- lots of ocean out there, and relatively little of it inhabited by stinging dudes -- but we'd prefer to do our gambling in air-conditioned buildings on Native American tribal lands, thank you very much.

We wash off the sand, head upstairs to change, and then head on out to Germaine's Luau, located (of course!) on the other side of the island.  After a few missed turns (the highway exit signs aren't as helpful as we'd like once you're away from Honolulu) and some frustration finding the place (Germaine's is located in the middle of an industrial area, with road construction causing detours that weren't mentioned by the nice lady on the phone when we made the reservations), we get a parking spot and head inside.  We get our free shell leis, get our picture taken for free (of course, buying the pictures later will cost us), hit the gift shop, and sit down at our reserved spot (or what I'm guessing is our reserved spot, since the name is spelled... creatively.)  I promptly spill my piña colada.  Thankfully, someone covers up the spill with a floral print tablecloth, and I forget all about it as we watch the sunset, take pictures of the traditional uncovering of the imu for the Kalua pork, get our food and sit down to watch the show.

Unfortunately, I'm guessing the moisture and/or sugar from the drink attracted the wildlife, because my legs immediately start to itch like crazy as I'm bitten repeatedly by mosquitoes, or sand flies, or flying Hawai'ian leg leeches, or an unholy combination of all three... and of course I'm wearing shorts because it's warm and humid out.  I do what I can to stop the feeding frenzy, but by the end of the night both legs have well over a dozen bites on each, probably upwards of 20.  We politely refuse to participate in the group hula lesson on stage, quietly mock the drunk 20-something girls who seem to be looking for a pole as part of their hula routine, and enjoy the fresh pineapple on the table (although we'd already had several pineapples' worth at the Dole plantation, it's awfully hard to get sick of fresh pineapple ), and I have a second piña colada without further spillage.

After the final hula, we go ahead and buy the luau pictures, head back to the car, and drive back to Honolulu for the night.  We've got some packing to do since we leave for the Big Island (what we're considering our "real vacation") tomorrow.

Coffee consumption: 2 cans of Royal Mills iced cappuccino, 3 cups of coffee with breakfast.

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 2: Sweets, Surf, Samoans, and Celebrities

Our first full day on Oahu, and a busy one at that. We head out of Waikiki up through the middle of the island toward North Shore. What starts out as a slow and nerve-wracking drive through Honolulu (something I'm starting to realize is the norm in this area of the island) quickly thins out, and we have a much more relaxing drive from then on.

We make a quick detour when we see a sign for a technology park, just to see what is considered a technology park here... an AT&T building, a cable company, and several logos we don't recognize. How cute!

From there, we wind our way around the streets for a while, trying to find our way back onto the highway; this proves fruitless, so we use Lucie's iPhone's GPS and take city streets to where we think we should be, and eventually find our way to the Dole plantation. We shop, and shop hard. We also share a pineapple soft serve sundae, drink an obligatory huge and fresh pineapple juice, I have a tasty coffee smoothie, and Lucie buys a loaf of Hawaiian sweet bread with Kona coffee baked into it, which looks and smells fantastic.

From there, we continue on up to North Shore. There are supposed to be a huge number of shrimp trucks along North Shore, and we've been looking forward to trying them for ourselves. However, the small snacks we had at the Dole plantation only served to increase our hunger, so before we actually come across any of the shrimp trucks we end up stopping in Sunset Beach at Ted's Bakery, one of the more popular eateries along the way. Lucie has their garlic shrimp plate (consistently voted one of the best out here), and I opt for the mahi mahi plate lunch. Both are equal parts expensive and tasty, and Lucie's plate comes with a free slice of their famous chocolate haupia cream pie. The gray skies finally open up and it starts to rain as we eat lunch, but we just move in a little closer under the table's umbrella and continue to enjoy our meal.

We get back into the car, and five minutes later we hit what I can only refer to as Shrimp Truck Row, where shrimp trucks sit along the sides of the road like hippies in Berkeley, and hordes of cats stalk the streets looking for leftovers and handouts (come to think of it, also like hippies in Berkeley.) We're still too full from Ted's so we decide to come back later, and continue on to the Polynesian Cultural Center just as the rain slows, and then stops.

The PCC is everything we expect it to be; educational, stereotypical, entertaining, and (of course) expensive. We catch the Pageant of Canoes, or the Parade of Floats, or the Boatloads of Natives, or the Rainbows of Paradise, or whatever it's called, where each of the different cultures shows off their clothing, greetings, and dancing. In the case of Samoa, the dancing is so energetic, and it rocks the float so much, that the poor guy steering the float also ends up giving a swimming demonstration as he falls off the pontoon into the water. My first thought is that it's staged just to give us ignorant tourists something to talk about; but the guy looks legitimately irritated, the dancers look embarrassed, and a closer look at the cleanliness of the water leads us to conclude that this isn't something they'd planned on. Good thing I got pictures!

We wander through the surprisingly huge grounds, going from culture to culture and checking out the different buildings, war boats, and gift shops that the cultures are known for. For example, I had no idea at all that the Maori were able to produce such intricate refrigerator magnets using their primitive tools, but I suppose that's what the PCC is here to teach. After several hours of walking through the various villages, sweating profusely in the cloudy and extremely muggy weather, we head back to the shrimp trucks for an early dinner.

Giovanni's is listed on Yelp and other online review sites as one of the better shrimp trucks in the area, so we stop by there and get a garlic shrimp plate and a spicy shrimp plate to share, and sit under the provided tarp to eat. The shrimp are huge and well-seasoned, the drinks are cold, and the tent under which we're sitting is sturdy, which is very fortunate indeed: a sudden downpour ensues as we're eating. This isn't one of your usual rainstorms that you see in California; this is very nearly a full-on tropical monsoon, with the rain coming down so hard on the tarp we can't hear each other speak, and everyone sitting near the sides of the tent suddenly feeling much more friendly with neighboring tables, and with our shoes suddenly wet as water pours in from outside. This has us very happy we'd decided to stop and eat rather than be caught out driving in this downpour.

And then, fifteen minutes and what seems like six inches of rainfall later, the water just... stops. We wash our hands (using rain runoff from the tent, which works surprisingly well) and head off back toward our hotel on Waikiki. What follows still comes back to me in my nightmares: dark, narrow, windy mountain roads with inadequate lighting. Sudden torrential downpours, with the windshield wipers unable to cope with the amount of rain. Badly cleaned windshield (both interior and exterior) that's alternately smearing, fogging, streaking, and mocking me. Towns with names like Ka'a'awa. And my underwear bunching up... but maybe I'm saying too much.

Suffice it to say, the ride home is not as relaxing as I'd like it to be, but by the time we hit Honolulu (and its traffic jams) the weather has cleared up, the roads have straightened and widened, the windshield has been defrosted into submission, and we make it back to our hotel safely.

And, as we sit in the bar having some alcohol to calm our nerves (I have an incredibly minty mojito and a "mangotani", while Lucie tries out drinks called a Lava Flow and a Honolulu), we notice that Bruce Vilanch is sitting at a table nearby, with a crowd of attentive people flitting about attending to his needs. It takes a while for us to recognize him, as he's apparently recently shaved off his Muppet beard, but a quick search on Google shows that he's performing in Oahu, so it's definitely him.

So, since we've been married we've met Penn & Teller, Bruce Campbell, Alton Brown, and now we've run across Bruce Vilanch. Maybe someday we'll even meet someone famous!

Coffee consumption for the day: a coffee smoothie from Waialua Roasters at the Dole plantation, 1 can of Royal Kona vanilla macadamia flavored coffee.

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Hawai'i 2.0, Day 1: Arrival

So after two and a half years of anticipation, and months of planning (and budgeting), our second trip to Hawai'i has arrived. We revisit our limo ride from our apartment to the Oakland airport, allowing us to relax and wake up slowly while Dean, our driver, stays alert and has to deal with morning traffic.

We arrive at Oakland airport without incident, get through security without incident, and even enjoy an unexpected hula display in the terminal as we make our way to the gate. As it turns out, Alaskan Airlines is making their debut flight to Hawai’i today, and they’re providing free entertainment for the passengers.

A short wait, a five-hour flight, an in-flight showing of Pixar’s “Up”, and a safe touchdown in Honolulu. The high humidity and 85-degree temperature here is a far cry from the low 70s of the Bay Area, but it’s a burden we’re willing to face. I get our rental car and promptly get lost on the way from the rental location back to the airport to pick up Lucie, but eventually find her, pack our luggage away, and we make our way slowly down to our hotel, the New Otani Kaimana Hotel in Waikiki. Valet parking only here, so we start throwing money away early as someone parks our car and someone else takes our luggage upstairs to our room, where we have a nice view to Diamond Head from our lanai.

We stretch out for a bit, then venture out to find food… and where better to go for food than on the other side of the island? We cross the rock to the town of Kailua, where we find our first destination: Chip & Cookie, the latest establishment by Wally Amos (no longer allowed to be called “Famous Amos” due to unfortunate trademark disputes.) The shop smells wonderful, the cookies are delicious, and the shirts are all too small (that last part not being terribly surprising), so we buy a ball cap and a bag of assorted cookies, and we head back to Waikiki.

Once there, we find a parking space at the Waikiki Town Center shopping megaplex, manage to squeeze our car into it, and wander through the International Market Place's myriad stalls and stores until we get to our dinner destination, Puka Dog. We first saw this place mentioned on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”, and again on the Food Network, so we’re interested to try it for ourselves. It’s a bit different than other hot dog places in that they use a sort of dough pocket instead of a standard bun. They squirt your choice of relish and/or sauce into the pocket, then stick the hot dog down inside, resulting in a “pig in a sleeping bag” (rather than a pig in a blanket) with such flavor combinations as jalapeño sauce with mango relish, or habanero sauce with papaya mustard. The mango relish was a little sweeter than I would have liked, but the habanero and papaya combination was very good indeed – very spicy, slightly sweet, savory, and just the right amount of messy.

We eat our fill (which doesn’t take much – the dogs are large and filling), hike back to our car, and head back to our hotel. We stop by the convenience store located (conveniently enough) in the hotel parking lot, pick up some food for our hotel room, and end our first day in Hawai’i with a drink at the hotel’s open-air bar, listening to the sound of the ocean. I opt for a Midori daiquiri, and Lucie goes for soda.

Coffee consumption for the day: 1 can of Kona Gold iced espresso, 1 can of Royal Kona iced mocha.

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24 Hours From Now...

...Lucie and I will be watching the sunset from Waikiki.

Hawai'i 2.0, coming soon to a blog near you.

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3GS, for a 2 iPhone Family

You could see this one coming a LONG way away, couldn't you?

So a few weekends ago, we were taking Lucie up to Palo Alto (yeah, I know; on purpose no less!) to her favorite new find, Nordstrom Rack. I've been working an awful lot of overtime lately, and we wanted to spend some money frivolously to make ourselves feel as though our long hours haven't been entirely in vain.

So we find surprisingly close parking and enter the estrogen-rich and discount-frenzied environment that is the Nordstrom Rack. I actually find a pair of sunglasses that fit decently (later to find out that they effectively destroy any peripheral sight, thus making driving MUCH more exciting when trying to see my blind spots), and Lucie follows the sound of fairy-like tinkling bells and heads toward a column of softly beckoning light on the other side of the store, where she scores her first Dooney & Bourke purse, a brown suede number that's more than half off the regular price (which is still expensive, but a very good deal.)

Now, I'm a guy. I don't understand purses. I don't get the big deal of why D&B is on par with Coach, or why Kate Spade is good, or any of that stuff. But Lucie's ecstatic, which is good enough for me. And after my first attempt to find relativity by asking if her finding the Dooney & Bourke purse is kind of like when I was able to find the Jerry Garcia-patterned Birkenstocks back when Gilroy had the Birk outlet store makes Lucie wince as though she just tried swallowing a pine cone, I stop trying to understand and am content with just seeing her happy.

Or, to be more precise, I'm content with just seeing her happy AND with talking her into stopping by Valley Fair Mall so I can press my face up against the glass like a child outside a candy store, only with a little more drooling. See, the weekend we're doing this is the same weekend that the new iPhone 3GS is out, and I want to enjoy the experience vicariously through others. I've still got a year on my indentured AT&T servitude, so can't really justify the extra money just to upgrade what is already an awesome phone. Thankfully, Lucie is still so dazed and slightly goofy from her recent retail conquest that she agrees to this, and we're off from the Nordstrom Rack to the Apple store (and yes, my wallet just hurt a little when I typed that.)

We arrive at Valley Fair and I prepare myself to silently mock those suckers who're willing to wait in line multiple hours just to buy the new iPhone on opening weekend (ignoring the fact that I waited in line for almost 3 hours LAST year to buy the iPhone 3G three weeks after it had come out.) Ha!, I mentally sneer, you losers are such technogeeks that you're willing to wait in a line of humanity 500 people long just so you can be the first one you know to get-- OH HOLY CRAP THERE'S ALMOST NO LINE! I want to be the first one I know to get this phone! I don't care HOW long it takes!

Willpower goes out the window like a cigarette butt on the freeway, and the dry roadside brush that is my plan to wait until next year before upgrading goes up in flames, fanned by my hyperventilating gasps of excitement and fed by the tinder of the rubber I burn running to the end of the line.

Half an hour later, I get to the front of the line, and experience eerily familiar fairly-like tinkling sounds and softly beckoning light from the 3.5-inch screens of the display phones. I nod absently at the words the Apple pimp is telling me without hearing a single word, mindlessly sign my name wherever he tells me to (if we ever have kids I think the first one might be going to Cupertino; I don't really know for sure) and try not to wet myself when I'm handed the box containing my new 32GB black iPhone 3GS.

Angels sing. Bunnies and predators dance together and rejoice. And, although it only lasted for just a hundredth of a second, I'm pretty sure peace was achieved in the Middle East.

Not knowing or caring why my finger has a drop of blood on it, or why the Apple pimp grows horns and laughs as he rolls up a contract written on parchment, I wander out of the Apple store and find my way home. I'm pretty sure I drove, or maybe Lucie drove while I held the iPhone box and made cooing noises, but at any rate I get home.

Shortly thereafter, Lucie gets my old iPhone 3G set up with her old phone number (sorry, Tmobile) and I change over to a family plan with AT&T, with dual data service plans so we can both surf the net on our glossy black rectangular surfboards.

Life is good.

Life is suddenly a bit more EXPENSIVE as well, but good nonetheless.

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1 More Example of Why Raymond + Money = BAD

So I've been getting hooked on Guitar Hero III and all its brethren (GH: World Tour, GH: Metallica and Rock Band 2, and come September 9th Rock Band: The Beatles) as of late, which given my semi-obsessive nature isn't all that surprising.

...And I recently got in a new batch of tie-dye for my birthday, which I've been doing for the last few years now, which also isn't all that surprising.

So, given those two character quirks (NOT flaws; quirks) combined with my appreciation for bright (some might say "frighteningly ugly") clothing, and my inability to have money for any length of time without feeling an urge to spend it frivolously... well, let's just say there are down sides to having some money left over after a trip to an Indian casino.

Like, going to the Converse web site and custom-ordering shoes that "match" the tie-dye clothes I got. ALL of the tie-dye I got. At the same time. Which is why I use the term "match" somewhat loosely... I mean, you make a pair of shoes that match red, orange, blue, yellow, and green, and your shoes don't really match anything that much any more, really.

Although... come to think of it, green, red, yellow, blue, and orange are also the fret keys on a Guitar Hero guitar, aren't they? And I've got a geek crush on that game, don't I? And my band's name is Stinkfoot, which also sort of goes along with the concept of bright and gaudy shoes that almost resemble what clowns might wear when they go bowling, doesn't it? And Converse, as part of their design-your-own-shoe idea, does offer free customized embroidered letting, don't they?

And me having a little bit of extra money lying around when I go online is BAD, isn't it?

Well, no, not as far as I'm concerned. It certainly keeps me entertained, though.

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1 More Reason to Dig Tahoe

So last weekend was the first heat wave of the year, and I'm such a temperature wuss that the mere thought of a 95°F average weekend was enough to convince me to head for cooler locales. So while most of the Bay Area headed off toward Santa Cruz to enjoy beach weather, Lucie and I headed inland.


No, no -- I'm not really an idiot, honest; I do understand that if you head inland away from the ocean breeze it does get hotter... but if you head inland further still, you end up near Tahoe. And there ain't NOTHING as cool as Tahoe.

Except maybe hitting a casino, so we did that first. After work on Friday, Lucie and I headed up to Folsom where she'd found a really great price on a hotel room (which coincidentally happened to be literally right across the street from the outlet mall.) We check in, check out our hotel room, I crank up the AC, and we immediately head toward the new Red Hawk casino not half an hour away, where we figure we can find comfortable temperature-controlled (albeit smoke-filled) goodness.


We've been to a lot of Indian casinos (because we hate money and want to get rid of it as fast as possible), but I totally appreciate not only the insanely easy driving directions but also the valet parking they offer here. Most casinos, you have to drive miles and miles of curvy and poorly-maintained mountain roads just to get to a place where you have to park and walk uphill (no, NOT both ways) for another half mile just to enter the aging casino building. Not with Red Hawk... they're located right off the freeway, so literally less than a minute after leaving Highway 50 you pull up to a shaded entryway where they take your keys, give you a bar code ticket, and you can walk the 25 feet into the building. I swear, it's like they WANT you to go there or something. And they only opened like earlier this year, so the place still has that new casino smell (which of course still smells very much like cigarette smoke.)


Anyway, we lose a chunk of cash (take THAT, checking account!) and have a really tasty meal (seriously the tastiest chicken fried steak I've ever had -- a little overdone, but the breading and the gravy were top notch) before heading back to the Folsom hotel room we've turned into our evil lair for the night (actually, two nights -- we check and there's a cancellation, so we opt to keep our room another night, and they even let us keep the discounted online rate.)

The next morning, we decide to head on over to Tahoe for the day... from Folsom, it's only another couple of hours of driving, and my trusty iPhone says it's in the mid-70s there, so there ain't NOTHING that can stop us. We take a quaint little back road to a mile or so up the freeway to avoid a severe backup (some truck driver got tired so he decided to lay his truck full of pesticides down on its side to sleep, which caused a fire, damaged the roadway, and blocked all lanes of the freeway for about 10 hours), and find almost zero traffic all the way to South Shore. Not that I'd suggest this as a normal way of doing things, but if you can block all lanes of a freeway and then get around said blockage, traffic REALLY lightens up from then on. Just saying.


So, yeah. Tahoe.


There's still snow on the mountains -- heck, there's still snow alongside the road in some places -- and it's a nice cool 70 degrees when we arrive. We say hi and wave to the lake, and immediately get away from nature and into our comfort zone, the casino. We enjoy a good meal (it's no chicken fried steak, but the pastrami sandwich on a pretzel bun with sweet potato fries is still quite tasty), do our part to help the poor casino owners in this time of economic hardship, and start to head back to Folsom.


And then, it appears. A sweet, sweet respite from the health food loving, granola sucking, tree hugging ecological freak quickie wedding chapel snowboarding second home in the mountains sameness into which Tahoe is turning... The Energy Drink Outlet. My new caffeinated Mecca. My Stimulant Stop. My Jolt Joint. My Buzz Buddy. My Xanthine Alkaloidal Lair.


Our remaining money doesn't stand a chance. Ignoring the terrified screams from my kidneys, I pull over, run inside as giddy as the day I got my iPhone, most likely humiliate myself bouncing through the store ("got it, got it, had it but didn't like it, ooh! haven't had THAT yet, want it, got it but want another...") and walk away with a box full of C8H10N4O2 goodness. Incredibly sweet Bawls, with 50% extra caffeine added. Caffeinated Snickers bars. Three different kinds of non-carbonated caffeinated fruit juice blends so I can survive morning meetings at work. A couple of bad choices that I later find out taste like the crotch of a warthog (which happens; energy drinks are not normally known for their outstanding flavor.) A couple different flavors of my high school standby, Jolt Cola.


I grab a business card so I can visit the web site, I have Lucie take a picture for posterity (third attempt; the first couple of pictures I came out blurry for some reason), and we head back to Folsom for something or other. Apple Hill, Jelly Belly factory, Red Hawk again, blah blah made it home okay and all that, but come on...


CAFFEINE.


Yeah.


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