Late on Friday afternoon, Lyssa and I hurriedly packed our bags, jumped into the TARDIS, and set course northward once again for southwestern Pennsylvania and the general direction of home. As I've alluded to a few times, we're getting married in October and thus there are many plans to make, things to get, and arrangements to hammer out. In the early twenty-first century we can do many of these things over the net or on the telephone, but sometimes matters require the up close and personal touch. Things like tasting samples of wedding cake and taking recon photographs of the site to give to your photographer so that she knows what she's in for and can plan accordingly (doubly necessary due to the unusual architecture of the Stone Mansion Restaurant).
Leaving wasn't difficult. Rush hour traffic on the Beltway while rain was falling wasn't difficult. Trying to find somewhere to eat dinner that doesn't suck on 270-N was difficult, moreso when all travelers concerned are tired, hungry, and snapping at each other due to low blood sugar. On route 270 there are really only two places that you can get food, and they're both off of exits 31-A and 31-B. There's a Cracker Barrel out that way (which neither of us were terribly hot for) and there's a small yet upscale mall in the middle of nowhere comperable in niceness to Tyson's Corner in northern Virginia (which is to say, you can get Japanese hibachi, TGI Friday's, Italian, and a few other things all in one place). It's an oasis of food in a desert of cracked pavement, angry drivers, raised middle fingers, and roadkill, and as oases are wont to be, everyone and their backup goes there eventually. This presents to the weary traveler a problem that is obvious in hindsight: the fact that everyone and their backup goes there.
We drove around the voluminous parking lot for better than an hour looking for somewhere to park. Many of the restaurants there had waits approaching an hour in length, and judging by the fact that the International House of Pancakes on the outskirts of the mall had few to no cars parked out front, we feared that it was because their food was horrid. The fare of the IHOP there wasn't horrid at all. I maintain that the reason that they had few customers was because the yuppies who wanted to stop off for Japanese and a cold one before going to the cinema megaplex smack dab in the middle of the complex wouldn't be caught dead wearing designer leisurewear or $250us Birkenstocks at an IHOP.
Screw that. A burger and fries later and Lyssa and I were right as rain and ready to go. Total time: one hour. After that, it was back on the road home. The trip took about an hour longer than planned, I'm afraid, because I missed two crucial exits that could have cut our travel time through West Virginia significantly, mostly due to the fact that I was tired and fighting to get there in one piece, plus my back was bothering me (long drives always do). We finally arrived at Lyssa's parents' place around 2330 EST5EDT on Friday night, and after sitting up for a bit I headed to bed and slept for a good eight hours or so, only to find that we'd overslept slightly and had to rush to get ready.
Our day was pretty well planned out: Lyssa, her mother, and I had an 1100 EST5EDT appointment in the Strip District for a cake tasting, a few hours to kill, and then an appointment at 1500 EST5EDT at the Stone Mountain Restaurant to meet with the manager, tour the place, and work out further plans (such as the schedule, equipment, food, and what have you). While running a bit behind, we still arrived in plenty of time in the heart of Pittsburgh to get lost a few times due to roadway construction, drive around and around in loops on one-way streets because you really "can't get there from here," and be flagged off and cursed at by a truck full of yinzers because we have out-of-state license plates.
Have I ever mentioned that I get homesick sometimes?
The cake tasting went wonderfully, much to the chagrin of my waistline. Lyssa had set everything up, so we had three cakes to sample from - vanilla bean with chocolate filling, strawberry, and raspberry. They were all so good, but eventually we figured out what kind of cake that a) we'd like, and b) the majority of our guests would like. The top layer will be strawberry champaigne, the middle layer spice cake (which I lobbied heavily for), and the bottom and largest layer will be vanilla bean with raspberry chambord filling. That should feed somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred guests, the woman we worked with told us.
After the appointment was over and we'd hammered out what we wanted for our wedding cake, the three of us decided to go on a stroll through the Strip District in search of a drugstore (my back was killing me after the long drive) and lunch of some kind that didn't involve large amounts of sugar. After passing stalls full of Steelers memorabelia and sundry bits of Pittsburghese (I still love the term jagoff) we never did find a drugstore though we did decide on the Buon Giorno Cafe' (20 Stanwix Street; Pittsburgh, PA; 15222; phone 412-281-2980) for lunch. The Buon Giorno wasn't much to write home about, at least on a busy Saturday afternoon: service was unusually slow and the food was a couple of shades lighter than so-so, all things considered. The pepperoni and sausage personal pizza I'd ordered was a thin crust, which I don't ordinarily go for, but was tasty and very much enjoyed. The pasta dishes that Lyssa and her mother ordered, on the other hand, weren't up to snuff and in fact weren't cooked through in places, I'm told. After taking all of this into consideration, I'd give Buon Giorno two flareguns out of four - not terrible, but not wonderful either. Our service would probably have been improved if I'd had a flaregun with me to signal the waitstaff with.
After lunch and a hike back to the TARDIS we headed northward on route 79 and presently came to Wexford and the Stone Mansion restaurant, which you're no doubt familiar with from the wedding of 'lex and Marlise Pendragon. After an hour's drive, which also included a stop for water and analgesics at a gas station not too far off the highway, we came to the restaurant and got out to wander around the building and see what we had to work with. When last I was there I didn't have a lot of time to go exploring because I was too busy setting up for the wedding ceremony and frontloading the ceremony itself. I'll not give everything away, but it will suffice to state that we've got our plans worked out, we know what we have to work with, prices are known, and we know where we'll be and what kind of timeframe we have to work with. The manager of the Restaurant can also provide a PA system that'll work well with the space we're allotted, so there will certainly be a DJ and there will certainly be dancing.
Now I need to talk to Grandmaster Pegritz about a couple of remixes that we'll need...
Not long after we started the tour, my mother arrived and met up with us at the bottom of the staircase. It'd been about six months since we'd last seen each other, and it was good to catch up since Yule. My mom's always been good with logistics - the actual nuts and bolts of getting things to happen - so her help will be invaluable in getting things to come together. Unfortunately, we weren't able to go home and visit my grandfather while we were in town, though I'm hoping to do so in the very near future. He's getting up in years (age 89 and still going strong), but Time is a funny thing: you never know how much you have, nor can you be absolutely certain of what will or won't happen.
25 October 2008, here we come.
Much of the evening was spent sitting around the house watching television or otherwise not doing much of anything. Personally, I spent much time lounging around in the living root watching the History Channel and leafing through the various catalogues that have been accumulating in the mail pile over the past few weeks. Lyssa went wandering around that afternoon and took a large number of photographs in the woods she used to prowl around in as a child. Both of us passed out shortly before midnight in a vain attempt to catch up on sleep and recuperate for the trip home the next day, something that we still haven't quite achieved.
Sunday brought with it a barbecue in the back yard (courtesy of Lyssa's father), prowling through the local grocery stores to pick up a few things that we simply can't get back home (like kluski noodles, Wild Bill's Beef Jerky, and Snyder's Potato Chips), and wondering why so many people thought it was a good idea to drive on the wrong side of the road while going downhill. Lyssa's father had grilled steak and shrimp on the gas grill (of which I passed on the former in favor of the grilled vegetables), and we sat around the table as a family until it was tiem to eventually go home. We hadn't brought a lot of stuff with us to begin with, so the time required to pack up adn get ready to go was next to none, but actually getting underway is always the most difficult part. We finally set out around 1430 EST5EDT that afternoon, headed in the general direction of home, and arrived around 1800 (when you factor in a stop at Cracker Barrel for dinner).
The rest of the time was pretty low-impact, all things considered. Work and wedding planning have been taking up a lot of our time lately, though from time to time the opportunity arises to work on stuff around the apartment. Last week I set aside an entire evening to strip down and re-do the network in the shared office. It hadn't been touched since we'd moved in, so it was really time for an overhaul. On top of all of this, our neighborhood seems to have a power grid as stable as that in a number of third-world countries that I don't care to name right now. Due to the fact that we'd been using the same uninterruptible power supply for neigh a half-decade, and that APC charges as much for a replacement battery (plus shipping and handling) as they do for a brand-new unit, it wound up being cheaper to purchase a new Back-UPS XS 1500 from Micro Center, charge it for a couple of days, and swap it in.
It was the work of an hour to power everyone down, disconnect everyone, and then start ripping out ethernet and power cables one by one. I don't quite know how I managed to have three times as many sets of cables as I have systems (no, really - there were three ethernet lines for every server, and only the firewall has two network interfaces!), nor do I remember why there were four surge protectors when only one is actually used, but at least I figured out where all of my spares went. I was also able to run the vacuum behind the workbench for the first time since Lyssa and I moved into that apartment.
Very scary. I think that I committed genocide in doing so.
To top the night off, I nearly broke my thumb by slamming my hand between two (very large, very heavy) servers. The bone wasn't damaged, though I did lose a large amount of skin from that particular digit; it also took better than an hour to stop the bleeding, though that's probably more due to the fact that I refused to slow down than the actual injury.
After all was said and done, the office looks much better these days. I consolidated two workgroup ethernet switches into a single switch (the very same one that Grant gave me for Yule two years ago) and hooked all of the servers into a single KVM for usability's sake. I now have four blank boxes and a KVM free for laboratory (as opposed to server) use, four more power outlets available in that room, and you can even see the back wall these days.
I'm also very pleased with the state of things since I moved the Network's e-mail services over to a Google Application. It's one less thing to worry about, really - I've been able to repurpose Akara for some of the less critical functions of the Network's back end, such as acting as the UPS monitoring host with apcupsd and freeing up compute cycles for BIND. Because IMAP and POP access are enabled for the mail accounts at Google it's still possible to use PGP or GnuPG to sign and encrypt e-mail while still having the option of using the Gmail interface (though if you want to use that I'd highly recommend using the FireGPG extension for Mozilla Firefox). Mail service has been redirected there for a couple of weeks, and it's been rock solid. It's also been nice to have more bandwidth available because we aren't being slammed with spam all the time (though a modest amount still sneaks through because some spambots still transmit directly to e-mail servers instead of looking up the domain's MX records in DNS.