New York Pizza, Bagels and Corned Beef Sandwiches, Oh My!

When we travel to New York City, the foods we crave are pizza, bagels and deli sandwiches. Since we moved to Florida from the NY area, we have never found a local place that does any of them as well as they do in New York. Some people say it’s because of the water but places have even tried to import the water and it still doesn’t taste the same. An average slice of pizza in New York is going to be better than the best you can find anywhere else. You can argue this point with me, but you’d be wrong. 😉 Continue reading “New York Pizza, Bagels and Corned Beef Sandwiches, Oh My!”

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Hotel Review: Fitzpatrick Grand Central

We just returned from a long weekend trip to New York City, where our plans for the weekend centered around going to see the Classic East concert at Citi Field in Queens. When I was looking for a place to stay, there were not many options in Queens by the 7 train line that goes right to the ballpark. I saw that after leaving Queens, the 7 train’s first Manhattan stop is at Grand Central Station so my hotel search focused in on that area. There were several chain hotels in the area but when I looked at TripAdvisor, one independent hotel stood out – the Fitzpatrick Grand Central, originally built in 1916.

Continue reading “Hotel Review: Fitzpatrick Grand Central”

What’s Your Favorite Breakfast/Brunch Spot in New York?

We’re looking for your suggestions. Unlike our usual trips to New York City, we’re going to have time on Saturday and Sunday morning to go out for breakfast or brunch. We have no idea where to start looking with so many choices in New York, so we’re asking our readers, “what’s your favorite place?” We’re not tied to our usual Manhattan/Times Square locale, so hit us with your favorites.

If you’re really looking to impress us with your suggestions, we prefer to order from a menu instead of a buffet and would like somewhere that wouldn’t require us to dress up too much.

Let it be known that breakfast one day might consist of a meal that looks like this (Edit from Sharon: Excuse me but, ummm, might? MIGHT?!?!?! What is this “might” you speak of? The correct word is “will.” As in, “We WILL have a NY bagel breakfast.” “Might,” he says. [snort] HA!).

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Now that’s a breakfast @ Ess-a-bagel

Thanks for helping us plan our trips and for sharing your favorite places with us!!!!

20 Years Ago Today: When Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade Rode Up NYC’s 5th Avenue

It’s a special day!  #WBW! Way Back Wednesday!

Following in the footsteps of their very successful screenings of “Pocahontas” in Central Park in 1995, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame in New Orleans in 1996, on June 14, 1997 (20 years ago today! It’s not just for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), the Walt Disney Company, well-known for orchestrating large-scale special events both in and outside theme parks, took on the streets of New York City by bringing its world famous Main Street Electrical Parade to the Big Apple for a one-night-only ride up 5th Avenue. Part of a “Hercules World Premiere Weekend in New York,” the 3-day weekend of events that included a mini-amusement park at Chelsea Piers, it was all a promotion for its upcoming 35th full-length animated feature, “Hercules.” This all came on the heels of the Walt Disney Company doing their part to “clean up” the Times Square area with its purchase and renovation of the historic New Amsterdam Theater for its upcoming theatrical releases (the New Amsterdam had officially re-opened just 2-1/2 months earlier).

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The Hercules logo was painted all up 5th Avenue

Both the New York Times and Variety reported about the “herculean” event (do you see what I did there?) the day before it happened. Some fun facts included:
Continue reading “20 Years Ago Today: When Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade Rode Up NYC’s 5th Avenue”

Visiting The National September 11 Memorial & Museum

I grew up living in Northern New Jersey and  could see the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in the Manhattan skyline from the windows of my high school.  I’d been to the World Trade Center several times as a child to take in the sights from the observation deck.

During my first trip back to New York after the attack on 9/11, I remember driving on the New Jersey Turnpike and looking toward Manhattan. This was a drive I’d been on countless times before. I knew there was something missing. A huge empty space.

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Me and my mom on the observation deck of the Twin Towers (c. late 1970s)

September 11th means something different to everyone. We’ve talked about visiting the museum and memorial on previous trips but Sharon just didn’t want to go – she’s not ready. While I was traveling with my father on my most recent trip to New York, we had a free day and both decided that we wanted to go.

I’m not going write a review or give you thoughts about my visit. My feelings are very personal and I think that everyone has the right to experience the location without being told how to feel. What I will do is give you some tips and hints that I discovered during our visit that hopefully will help you plan your time there.

Things to know

The location is split up into two separate areas. There is the 9/11 Memorial which is the outside area which includes the park, waterfall and reflecting pools. This area does not need any ticket or admittance fee. The 9/11 Memorial Museum is the area located underground and holds the exhibits and displays. You can buy tickets online if you know your plans in advance. I’d suggest this as it will keep you from having to queue outside before entering. There are discounted tickets for seniors and veterans. Active duty and Retired U.S. Military are admitted for no charge. We arrived about 20 minutes before our ticketed time but had no issues in entering right away.

 

How to get there

Getting to the location is very easy using the subway. Since we were staying near Columbus Circle it was easy to catch a train and exit at the Chambers St. stop. I’d recommend using an app such as Google Maps  to tell you which train to take. This helps because it lists the train line and destination (that’s how you know you are getting on the correct train). It also shows the stops along the way and even when the train is due to arrive. The one caveat is that, unfortunately, the New York subway doesn’t run as efficiently as in other cities like the London Underground or Tokyo subway. In New York, it’s always a guess as to when the next train is coming.

After getting off the train at Chambers St., there is signage for which way to exit the platform for the 9/11 Memorial but the signs sort of stop when the time comes to figure out which set of stairs to take. We just picked one and it was easy enough to find our bearings once we got to street level. One of the first things we saw was the Freedom Tower. It was a short walk from there to the entrance to the museum.

You can also take an taxi/Uber/Lyft to get to the Memorial from your hotel. However, traffic in Lower Manhattan is usually horrible and there is a lot of construction in the area so it’s probably not your best choice.

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Freedom Tower

Self Guided and Guided tour options

The museum does offer a self-guided audio tour. The least expensive version is a free app which you can download to your phone or tablet from Apple or Android. The whole tour downloads so you don’t need to have reception in the museum to use it.  I had forgotten about this before arriving but was able to download it right at the tour desk on the upper level. The person at the tour desk watched to make sure it downloaded correctly. I didn’t bring headphones but they were able to sell me a cheap pair for $2. My dad has the new iPhone with no headphone jack and had left his bluetooth headphones at home. He had to rent the tour on a iPod-like device for $7 and leave his drivers license as a deposit.

The tour is narrated by Robert DeNiro and is very well done. It gives some information and leads you from area to area. It doesn’t lead you to specific items (except for a few iconic displays) but instead lets you look around and explore on your own. There are also several guided tours of both the memorial and the museum. They take 45-60 minutes and cost $15-$20. I’m not one for being led around in a large group so we didn’t sign up for one. You can purchase this with your ticket ahead of time or they were taking sign ups the day we were there. Even on an day that was not crowded, the tours did seem to be selling out for the afternoon time slots, so book in advance if that is your type of thing.

Entering and Touring the Museum 

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Entrance Building t0 the Museum

You have to go through airport-style security to enter the museum, including taking off your shoes and belt. They also do not allow large bags or backpacks in the museum so leave them at your hotel. The information desk, tour desk, restrooms and coat check are one level down from the entrance level; this is where the tour starts. It was a bit confusing on where to start the audio tour. There is one display on the top floor that is talked about and then you need to walk all the way down to the exhibit levels for the next stop. We kept looking for the next area so walked past most of these displays. In retrospect, you can listen to the opening, take your time walking down and reading and then restart when you get down to the main level. I know that sounds a little confusing but it makes more sense when you are there.

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The audio tour takes you from area to area and give some background. We followed the tour to the entrance to the Historical Exhibition. This is located in the original footprint of the North Tower. This, by far, is the most intense area of the museum. The audio tour says that if you have time, to enter the exhibit and yes, if I only had a limited amount of time, I would go to this display first. It is the most important part of the museum to see, IMHO. There were way too many displays to see in the time we had. They rightfully prohibit photography and usage of cell phones in this and several other areas of the museum. Unlike other places, most people were respectful of the rules but the staff also would remind those who were not.

Per the website:

Photography, videography, and audio recording is prohibited in the following Memorial Museum areas:
• Security screening area (ground floor entrance inside the Museum Pavilion)
• September 11, 2001 (the historical exhibition), except whereas otherwise posted
• In Memoriam (the memorial exhibition)
• Auditorium (second floor inside the Museum Pavilion)
• Rebirth at Ground Zero (film presentation)
• South Tower Gallery (interstitial space).

Cellular phones must be silenced, and not used for placing calls, while visitors are in the Memorial Museum’s Exhibition Spaces. Phone calls can be made from the Concourse Lobby level and from the Museum Pavilion’s auditorium level (2nd floor). If visitors are using a Smartphone with an audio component to provide information, they must use personal headphones, or keep the device silent, while in the Exhibition Spaces.

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The Last Column – The final piece of steel to be removed from the WTC site. It is covered with names, pictures and messages. It was transported from the site by an honor guard.

We finished making our way around following the tour in about 2-1/2 hours. There was still more to see but it is a very intense experience and that was enough time for us. Some of the displays are very emotional and the museum does suggest using discretion if bringing younger children (their age suggestion is 10 years).

There is a gift shop which sells all types of items related to your visit. They did provide my dad a discount for being a veteran.

From there, we headed outside to the Memorial. We had an early time to enter the museum so didn’t really walk around the outside when we got there.

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9/11 Memorial Reflecting Pool and Waterfall.

The 9/11 Memorial is more the thing that will come to mind when you think of the site. The iconic reflecting pools and waterfall were the first things to reopen and are the location of the remembrance ceremonies on 9/11. The size and scope of them is impossible to capture just standing there. We silently walked around for a while and then decided to call it a day.

I was thinking about how back in 2002 , I saw that empty space in the Manhattan skyline. That space was made very real when seeing the Memorial. It was right in front of me. A deep hole. However, when I left I didn’t feel a sense of loss or emptiness. There was a remembrance of what happened but also a sense of renewal. That in the face of the worst, we can be the people that we hope we are. I’m very glad my dad and I were able to visit.

 

Hotel Review: Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan/Central Park

I have my list of hotels where I usually stay in New York. This stay was different. I was going to see the screening of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the only idea I had of the location was “Lincoln Center,” which is not an area where we usually stay. So I needed to go back to my hotel searching roots. I went to TripAdvisor and it turned out there were actually very few places within walking distance of Lincoln Center. One hotel, the Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan/Central Park, did show up but had very few reviews – turns out that was because it had just opened this past October. I figured since it was a new place, it would still be in relatively good shape, so I took a chance and booked a room there. It was in the area we needed and the price was good – only $175 a night after taxes (which is a really decent price for a NYC hotel).

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Exterior of Fairfield Inn & Suites

We arrived for our first evening after a late flight into Newark and didn’t get to the hotel until around 11PM. The front desk staff were very nice, thanked me for being a Gold Member of Marriott, gave us our room keys and even provided special gifts for Valentines Day to my father and I.

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Valentines Day Gift from Fairfield Inn. How sweet.

When checking in, we were given a room facing the front of the hotel on the 12th floor, which only had 6 rooms on it. It appears the higher floors are up on the tower to the right of the hotel while the lower floors have more rooms on them.

Now, while searching for hotels, I had to find a room with 2 double or queen size beds since I was would be sharing the room with my dad. This was harder to find in Manhattan than you would think it would be. When we opened the door to the room, it seemed that it was quite a tight fit to put two beds into this room. The door just cleared the bed when going into the room.

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Yes, that is the door just clearing the end of the bed when going into the room.

It was a nicely appointed room, with just not that much room. However we hardly spent much time there over our 2 days and agreed that it was fine for our stay. If we were staying any longer, had any significant luggage, or just wanted to walk past one another, it was a bit lacking in space. Here are some more pictures of the room for your perusal.

The one thing I did find interesting for a new hotel was the design choice of putting on a plastic lampshade by just cracking a hole in the top of it.

One thing I did mention to the hotel staff was that our hotel thermostat was set to 90 degrees when we returned to our room in the afternoon. I figured it was payback for my article about how to hack your thermostat. The front desk suggested that the housekeeper must have been cool while making up the room so she turned the heat up and then forgot to turn it back down when she left. We opened the windows of the room to cool it off (it was only 35 degrees outside) but it took a while for the room to get comfortable again.

Another issue we had with this hotel was that they kept changing which door you used to enter and exit the building. This sign moved 3 times during our 2 night stay. We were told they were having problems with the automatic doors.

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We played a game of musical doors during our stay.

Another thing which was slightly odd was the stairs leading down to the lobby level. As the hotel is located on a bit of a hill, you have to walk down a flight of stairs to get to the check in doors from street level. The stairs have a very odd angle, where you walked towards what I suppose would be a small garden when winter was over, instead of towards the doors. It always made me feel like I was walking into an Escher painting.

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Angled stairway down to the lobby

Now, I don’t want it to seem like I’m totally negative about the place. We had a fine stay here but it was by no means a luxury hotel. They did have free wi-fi in the room which worked reasonably well. This was also the first hotel I’ve stayed in that gave you the ability to log into Netflix and watch your own movies. The hotel also did have a breakfast buffet room with a full spread that included with waffles, eggs, bacon, pastries, etc. The only problem with it was that they stopped serving at 9AM on weekdays. After attending a MST3K afterparty until 1AM, we did not make breakfast the next morning and ended up hitting a nearby diner for omelets.

So what did I think of the Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan/Central Park? Well, I would totally stay here again for the price we paid if I needed to primarily be in the Lincoln Center area again. But I think I would generally still go to my regular hotels in midtown Manhattan, if that was the area in which I was generally going to be, as it wouldn’t be worth going out of my way to stay here.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Lives Again – The New York screening and afterparty

We have movie sign!!!!!!!

That’s right. For the first time since August 1999, there is a new episode of MST3K. Thanks to the largest campaign to fund a media project on Kickstarter, Mystery Science Theater is coming back to television on Netflix for 14 new episodes.

When I saw the Kickstarter campaign, I knew I had to give something to bring back this show. When looking through the incentives, I saw one that I really wanted.

EXPERIMENT 752: JUST LIKE IN NEW YORK!

Tired of watching *us* sit in a theater watching movies while *you* sit at home? We can fix that. Grab a guest, put on your tuxedo jumper and join us at the theatre with TWO TICKETS to MST3K’s NYC PREMIERE EVENT*. Watch the pilot of the new season with the cast and creative team. Throw us your toughest curveballs during the Q&A. We’ll even cover your overpriced popcorn and soda.

*Travel/accommodations not included. See FAQ for more details.

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Poster for the first MST3k episode since 1999

I know this is a miles and points blog, so stay with me here. Sharon and I have been living with the motto, “Experiences, not things” for a while now. If there is something that we want to do, we will try to make that happen however we can. For me, collecting miles and points allowed me to not worry about how I was going to get to New York or pay for my hotel. I knew that would take care of itself. I just had to swallow the price of the admission. With permission from Sharon (yes, it was that much that I needed to make sure she was OK with me spending that amount), I went ahead and made my pledge.

That was back in December 2015. Since then the whole MST3K team has done a wonderful job of sending out info to the backers to let us know how the project was going. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, I got the email on Dec 29th, 2016.

You and a guest
are formally invited
to join
Joel Hodgson
& Special Guests
for
THE
#BRINGBACKMST3K
“WE’VE GOT MOVIE SIGN”
SCREENING EVENT
when:
TUESDAY,
FEBRUARY 14, 2017
early evening.
where:
NEW YORK CITY
(near Lincoln Square)

Now next to actually getting a letter telling me that they accidentally forgot to give me my letter to attend Hogwarts but could I still attend, this was most excited I could ever get over an email. I had a date to see the new episode. Since Sharon doesn’t really care for Mystery Science Theater, I asked my father to join me on the trip to New York. We were both fans of the original series on TV and I wanted to share this trip with him.

Shortly after that, I received another email to print my tickets to the event with an offer to upgrade to the VIP package including tickets to the afterparty. I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay more to go to the afterparty. I mean, I’m generally an introvert. I don’t like large crowds of people I don’t know. However, I read one line and I was sold.

Get your photo taken with Joel, the cast and the bots, get a reserved VIP seat for the screening, and enjoy free food, beer and wine while getting to know your new cast.

I’ve never been one to fawn over celebrities. They are just people, like me, who happen to do something which I find really cool. However, this one was somehow different. I really wanted to meet Joel. Tell him how much MST3K meant to me. How it helped form my sense of humor for the rest of my life. How I still have a stack of videotapes in the closet even though I still have the DVD’s. Just a second would be worth the money, and picture would be nice too.

My dad and I headed to New York and prepared for the event. Not knowing what to wear to a fancy event, I packed 3 versions of my outfit. I tried all of them on and decided to go with the most dressed up variant I brought with me.

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My first ever mirror selfie. The Chuck Taylor All-Stars were the one thing I wore to show I wasn’t taking the evening all too seriously.

 

EPISODE 1101

That’s all you’ll get from me about what was in the new episode. That’s because they asked us to keep it secret, as well as because I had to sign a confidentiality agreement before they would even let me into the movie theater. I can tell you it was a wonderful evening with plenty of laughter.

We arrived around 5:30 P.M., as was suggested in the email I received that morning. There was already a line forming but it wasn’t too long. We were only about 20-25 people from the front.photo-feb-14-5-53-04-pm

A little past the scheduled time, we were able to hand in our forms and hit the red carpet.

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From there we went into the theater, where we were able to grab some pretty awesome seats. Before we knew it, the show was starting and Joel was introducing the new residents of the Satellite of Love,  Jonah Ray (Jonah Heston), Baron Vaughn (Tom Servo) and Hampton Yount (Crow T. Robot).

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They worked the crowd for a bit but insisted on answering only “non-important” questions until later because they did not want to upset anyone who arrived later. So we found out what they had for lunch, how they liked New York and things of that sort. It did show that the new cast had learned how to bounce off one another, as the banter was very funny even though they were essentially talking about nothing.

Eventually it came down to the time where Joel was ready to introduce the new movie. After telling us a little about the episode, he wanted to make sure the booth was ready because this was “a big deal” and if the movie didn’t start, it would look really stupid. Of course, there was a uncomfortable pause between the introduction and when it actually started to which Joel threw in the line “They told me it was ready, oh here it is.”

I can’t say anything about the movie but if you are reading this so far, I’m sure you are going to watch it when it premieres on Netflix. It’s worth it. A really solid first episode.

After it was finished, the cast returned for a Q&A session which ended with Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo showing up to field some questions (and Tom even did some singing).

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Crow T. Robot, Jonah, Joel and Tom Servo take questions

From there, we left and headed to the after party, which was held about 10 minutes away at a club which was way fancier than I would ever go to. Flashing our special wristbands, we were granted admittance. While headed to the coat check, I passed Joel taking to several people. Wait…..what…..um….is that real? Looking around, the entire new cast was mulling around the club, talking to the guests. After taking a few deep breaths and checking my jacket, I found a corner of a table to calm myself. Remember I don’t do well with crowds or social situations.

Right around this time I lost my dad, who went in search of selfies. So I started to talk with the people around my table. Several of them were fans and one person with a lanyard indicating he worked with the show. We talked and I found out he was involved with new opening sequence, which was very cool. Turns our that the MST3K people went out and hired the company that does Robot Chicken to film the opening, which was who this guy worked for. So I was taking to someone involved with Robot Chicken at a MST3K party. I asked him if they could have possibly hired any more people from things I liked involved with this series. He laughed.

Dad returned with his selfies with Joel and Hampton and pushed me to go get some pictures. Some things never change; for my whole life he’s always been pushing me to be more social against my better judgement. Sometimes it pays off, like on this night.

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Me and Jonah Ray (after I totally embarrassed myself by thanking him for liking my picture on Instagram)
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Dad and me with Baron Vaughn

It was at this time I decided that the one thing I really wanted was a picture with Joel. Just a second to tell him how much the series was a part of my life. Unfortunately he was no where to be found. Dad and I took few more pictures (he was jealous because I got one with Jonah and he didn’t) and settled in to the party. At this time they announced that Jonah and the bots were now in the photo booth (a green screen made to look like the set) and taking pictures. The line was 1/2 way around the room but what the heck, so we got in line.

Then I saw that Joel had reappeared in the crowd. I told Dad to stay in line and I was going on my quest. I followed the first group he was with until it disbanded and he headed to a different area. This was a much smaller group and Joel introduced one of the other people he was talking with. It was Paul (of Paul and Storm fame) who worked with Joel and others in writing some songs for the new series.

Wait.

It just came over me. I told Paul that I saw him when he and Storm played in Orlando several years ago. He said, “No one was at that show.” I replied, ” Well, I was,” to which he gave a wry smile.

As I was talking to Paul, the people talking with Joel left. It was my time; I knew it.

I stepped in and introduced myself. I knew I had a bunch to say. But he’s been hearing stories from fans all night.

“I just wanted to tell you thanks. For everything.”

He was polite and thanked me for supporting the project.

Then I asked for my picture with him. He graciously agreed.

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JH and JH (no really, his handwritten initials look JUST like mine. For reals!)

I had done it. I felt my Experience Points going up after completing my quest.

But wait, there was the bonus quest. I turned back to Paul and said “You know there will be some of my friends who will be totally freaked out I met you. Can I get a picture?”

“Well, lets freak them out!”

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Me with Paul (of Paul and Storm).

Bonus quest completed.

Wait, I remembered that my dad was still in line for a picture with the bots and Jonah. As I got back to him and he was three people from the front, I then decide to ask what seemed to be an insignificant question. “Dad, which robot do you want to stand behind?” He didn’t care, but I did; I just didn’t know it until the choice was necessary to make. Almost instantly I said. “Crow. I want to be by Crow.” As it happened, when we got to the front of the line, the techs said it would be a few minutes because they needed to change memory in the camera. So we ended up talking to the puppeteer for Crow. We had a really interesting conversation about how many mutual acquaintances we had (with me living in Orlando and knowing people who do puppetry, who would have thunk). It was finally time for our picture and I don’t think I could have stopped smiling even if I wanted to.

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Crow T. Robot, me, Dad, Jonah and Tom Servo.

The party was wrapping up and we stayed around for a little while longer before heading back to our hotel trying to get over everything that had happened during the evening.

We went back in our hotel room, totally exhausted.  We had to get up the next morning and fly back home. It was one of the most amazing days I’ve ever had.

MST3K#2So yeah – “experience, not things.” It works for Sharon and me. And this was definitely an experience! We’re supposed to get a souvenir of the event in the mail one of these days, which will be a nice memento. And each of us afterparty attendees did get one really cool thing while we were there – an event poster signed by Joel Hodgson, Jonah Ray, Hampton Yount, Baron Vaughn, Grant Baciocco and Russ Walko (the latter two are the puppeteers for Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo). Since we have extra (my dad gave me his), we’re auctioning one on eBay, along with some other small things related to the event. Click here to see the listing. The auction ends during the evening of Sunday, 4/23/17 – please feel free to spread the word if you have any friends who you think might be interested. If you or your friends decide to bid, I wish you the best of luck!