Oscar Nominations 2020

The 92nd annual Academy Awards (Oscars) air Sunday February 9, 2020 on ABC

Back again for 2020 are the Beard Blog Oscars picks.

I made a determined effort to see as many nominated films this year before the awards.

Overall I feel like this year was a hell of lot better than last year. Some big names really showed out this year and put forth a plethora of legendary performances. This is a very difficult year to not only predict but also decide on which film / whom I thought was the best.

Overall, Once upon a Time…in Hollywood was my favorite movie but I’ll admit I’m partial to both QT2 and LDC3 and I think they put together a great movie. Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie also had great parts in OUATIH.1

Scarlett Johansson had a great year with an amazing performance in Marriage Story and an interesting portrayal in Jojo Rabbit.

Parasite seemed to come out of nowhere and while I wasn’t excited about reading subtitles throughout an entire movie, they disappear into the great story behind them. This is also the 12th time a foreign language film was nominated for Best Picture. And also for the second year in a row after last year’s nomination for Roma.

1917 was a great war epic that was uniquely shot and looks fantastic. This will probably win a lot of awards thanks to the director/writer’s personal ties to the film.

I felt like Joker was a bit overrated, but I can see why people hold it highly just based on the performance by Joaquin Phoenix. This is considered to be another comic book movie, but if you’ve seen Joker, you’ll realize it was just set in the world of Gotham City.

One of the longest movies ever nominated (Gone With the Wind holds the record) The Irishman. This seems like the final chapter in a long career of great films between Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, and Joe Pesci. If you can get through the over three and a half hours this clocks in at, you’ll be delighted by how the story wraps up.

Knives Out was a great take on murder mysteries that also seemed to come out of nowhere. A great cast and superb writing could make this a sleeper this year.

I felt Ford v. Ferrari was a great bio film but may leave some audiences out if they don’t appreciate motorsports and/or the history of cars.

Jojo Rabbit is a weird look at WWII Germany. I found it entertaining and witty, but not Best Picture worthy.

The nominees are below, in bold is who I think should win, and in italics are what I think the academy will give the Oscars to.

  • Best Picture
    • Ford v Ferrari
    • The Irishman
    • Jojo Rabbit
    • Joker
    • Little Women
    • Marriage Story
    • 1917
    • Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
    • Parasite
  • Actor in a Leading Role
    • Antonia Banderas – Pain and Glory
    • Leonardo DiCaprio – OUATIH1
    • Adam Driver – Marriage Story
    • Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
    • Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes
  • Actress in a Leading Role
    • Cynthia Erivo – Harriet
    • Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
    • Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
    • Charlize Theron – Bombshell
    • Renee Zellweger – Judy
  • Actor in a Supporting Role
    • Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
    • Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes
    • Al Pacino – The Irishman
    • Joe Pesci – The Irishman
    • Brad Pitt – OUATIH1
  • Actress in a Supporting Role
    • Kathy Bates – Richard Jewell
    • Laura Dern – Marriage Story
    • Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
    • Florence Pugh – Little Women
    • Margot Robbie – Bombshell
  • Directing
    • Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
    • Todd Phillips – Joker
    • Sam Mendes – 1917
    • OUATIH1 – Quentin Tarantino
    • Bong Joon Ho – Parasite
  • Writing (Adapted)
    • Steven Zaillian – The Irishman
    • Taika Waititi – Jojo Rabbit
    • Todd Phillips – Joker
    • Greta Gerwig – Little Women
    • Anything McCarten – The Two Popes
  • Writing (Original)
    • Rian Johnson – Knives Out
    • Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
    • Sam Mendes – 1917
    • Quentin Tarantino – OUATIH1
    • Bong Joon Ho – Parasite

Disclosure – Movies on this list I have not yet seen at time of publishing:

  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • Harriet
  • Little Women
  • Pain and Glory
  • Richard Jewell
  • The Two Popes

Check out my Oscars predictions from last year!


1 Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
2 Quentin Tarantino
3 Leonardo DiCaprio

About Last Saturday Night…

This past Saturday night my wife and I went out with some friends for a low key evening in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The night started off just like any other Saturday but where it went was something out of a movie, like The Hangover. I’m writing about this to share the story but also for my personal memory as the further we get from the night, the less I will remember. Also, because I did not get permission from anyone, I will be changing all the names as to not identify people.

My friend Heather and I were texting back and forth about hanging out on Saturday and never really decided on anything. After her husband Chris got home from work she mentioned about having a herf at a local cigar lounge. Most of them in the area, including a new local spot nearby, close in the early evening. Heather recommended a fancy spot in the Strip District called Cioppino which is a restaurant with a Gatsby-style cigar lounge in the back. We decided on a time and had to change because this place has an unspoken business casual dress code. I packed up my own cigars and accessories before we left, I brought two different sticks because I wasn’t sure what I would be in the mood for later that evening. We left the house around 8:00pm, said goodbye to the dogs, and expected to be back within a couple hours.

When my wife and I arrived in the Strip District we were expecting to have to valet the car, but to our surprise there was a parking garage directly above the restaurant. We found a spot on the second floor right near the stairs we needed to descend to get to Cioppino. It was a warmer night than a usual late January evening so I decided to leave my coat in the car which would save it from cigar stench. At the bottom of the stairs we had to brave the cold wind for a moment to walk around to the entrance of the restaurant. When we walked inside we were immediately hit with the smell of fresh seafood and I remember thinking, “There’s a cigar lounge in here?”. I quickly greeted the host mentioning we were meeting friends but we weren’t sure where the cigar bar was. He replied eagerly, “Let me show you since most people get lost on the way, follow me”. We literally walked around the corner and straight through a door labeled “No smoking beyond this point”. I wasn’t sure how anyone would get lost on that treacherous journey. Walking in we were hit with the unmistakable aroma of cigars burning, but pleasantly surprised at how nice and welcoming the lounge was. After finding a table for four we sat down and ordered two diet Cuba Libre drinks and waited for our friends.

Heather and Chris arrived a few moments later and we start to enjoy our chosen stogies for the night. I went with a “M by Macanudo” which is a Columbian coffee infused cigar with an Indonesian Bezuki wrapper. This was very smooth and enjoyable. As I sipped my drink and smoked my cigar we all traded pleasantries and discussed how our respective jobs were going. Directly behind us was a couple who were obvious cigar newbies. They ordered two expensive large cigars and I thought to myself “Good, I’m glad they’re jumping right into it”. Later on, Chris told me to carefully look behind me and check out that same couple. As I glanced over my shoulder I immediately noticed the problem. Sometimes cigar manufacturers include a thin wrapper around the outer leaf made out of cedar. This is intended to protect the outer leaf as well as maintain the bouquet of tobacco aromas. Normally, you use this cedar wrapper to light your cigar or remove and discard. The couple behind us smoked their entire cigar with the cedar wrapper attached. That had to have been a bad experience. The cedar taste must not have deterred them because after they finished those they went back for two more.

About an hour and a half passed and I decided I was going to smoke my other cigar before the lounge closed up shop. At the table adjacent to us were two men having a good time but were clearly from out of town. One of the guys saw Chris’ travel humidor and began to engage him in cigar talk. They shared what they had with them and opted to trade each other cigars. Both Chris and this stranger are very outgoing and introduced everyone to each other. We all began talking about work, travel, and cigars. The two guys, Shawn and Brad, were naming all the places they’ve been and where to get the best cigars. Curious, my wife asked Shawn what they did for a living since they got to travel for work so often. Shawn responded, “well… you guys don’t seem like terrorists so we can tell you, we’re Federal Air Marshals”. We all gasped in shock because we weren’t expecting that as an answer. I’m not normally one to engage in meaningless conversations with strangers, but I remember thinking “Ok, these guys are actually interesting”.

The six of us probably chatted for an hour about cigars, whiskey, and air travel. Stephanie was in a daring mood so she was trying a new flavor of Jameson Irish Whiskey she hadn’t tried before. After that, Shawn ordered her a glass of some fancier, more expensive, Jameson for her to try. While it was nice of him, I felt like he may have been trying to hit on her. Shawn and Brad were wondering where they should go next since the night was still young. Chris half-jokingly said they should go to a gentleman’s club right up street. Shawn seemed all for it, but since it was late the four of us were going to turn in for the evening.

After more conversation and planning Chris offered to drive our two new friends to the gentleman’s club since they didn’t have a car. Chris also happened to know someone who worked in the club that would allow us to get in for free instead of paying the steep cover charge. Feeling a bit adventurous we all agreed to go along and see where this would end up. Personally, I love to say “yes” to things as much as possible, within reason, and that’s how situations like these arise. We quickly paid the bill, paid for parking, and exited the garage to head down the street. Upon arriving at Cheerleaders gentleman’s club they had mandatory valet parking for $8.00. Because I had no cash, I had to get my wife to pay for it and she brought me cash and we headed inside. We proceeded through the metal detectors and past the cashier, thanks to Chris’ friend, into the club. I went to get some change for the large bills of cash we had and by the time I turned around, Chris was sitting in a very large VIP area. I walked over and said, “is this for us?” He replied, “Hell yeah this is for us!”

This is when the night quickly escalated. Three of us ordered more diet Cuba Libre drinks and I headed to the restroom. Upon my return, instead of a glass of Captain Morgan and Diet Coke on the table I found an entire bottle of Captain Morgan. Shawn had purchased this bottle service for us. We were astonished and extremely grateful. Shawn and Brad continued to drinks glasses of Jameson whiskey, piggybacking on the ones they had at the cigar lounge. A nice middle-aged women came to our VIP area and offered neck massages for about $20. Earlier that morning I attended a yoga class so my shoulders were quite sore. Chris went first and gave his recommendation on the massage so I signed up to be next. It was a pretty good neck massage but it kind of creeped me out being massaged in a gentleman’s club VIP booth. After the massage we toasted to meeting new friends and continued to work on that bottle of Captain Morgan. If you have ever been around people that are drinking, it seems all they want to do is have you drink more with them. As the designated driver for my wife and I, I was making sure I wasn’t drinking too much. To not be a party pooper, I would drip a few drops of rum into my glass and fill it the rest of the way up with Coke. This worked most of the time until one of the drunken guys would make a drink for me. I must have had seven or eight glasses of Diet Coke that night.

If you ever been to a gentleman’s club or a strip club you may have experienced the sales tactics of the women who work the floor. They will continually come up to you and ask for drinks, dances, or whatever, just to make some money. I appreciate their hustle, but I will not be fooled into spending money on them. One young girl stopped by our area and started giving Brad the sales pitches. He wasn’t drunk enough to fall for it and she quickly left. Chris and I were the only sober ones in our six person crew so we commented about how crazy it was that we ended up here. Shawn would periodically make his way around the club checking out the girls, giving tips, and buying drinks. Meanwhile the four of us pretty much stayed in our VIP area, standing around drinking except for the several trips to the restrooms. Later the same girl who was working on Brad came back and must have sweet talked him just enough for him to agree to go in the back with her. Now I’ve been to a few bachelor parties and know what goes on back there (nothing illegal), how much it costs, and how long it takes. Brad quickly came back within two or three minutes. I knew something was wrong when I saw him walking back and then I saw his face. He couldn’t really speak clearly, whether he was in shock or just intoxicated, but all I really got out of him when I asked what happened was, “I felt bad for her, she’s so young, I don’t know, I just felt bad for her”. At this point I urged everyone to cut him off from drinking but this fell on deaf ears of his travel companion. The Jameson shots kept coming out in succession.

In the booth next to ours was a large group of young ladies, I’d say about 15 of them piled into a small sitting area. We immediately thought bachelorette party, but as the night went on, they didn’t exude that vibe. Finally, Chris asked one of the ladies what they were celebrating and how we immediately thought it was a bachelorette party. She scoffed at this notion and proceeded to explain how she used to work here and was working somewhere else, but is leaving that job, so they were all out celebrating her last day. Brad became completely interested in this girl and began talking to her and flirting. At one point Shawn, Brad, and the neighbor girl (I never caught her name) were playing a game where they bet shots on guessing age and ethnicity. She lost and had to take two shots, but I could tell she was nervous about taking drinks from these guys. I didn’t have any reason to suspect foul play so I didn’t interfere. At this point I lost track of how many Jameson shots these two guys had. Shawn was still functioning, but Brad could barely stand.

Shawn and I had some great conversations about being a Federal Air Marshal and how that impacts his home life. Without giving away too much personal information, Shawn is a second generation Air Marshal who has been serving for over 15 years.

Brad was still over talking to our neighbor who didn’t want to leave her party, but was interested in ours. At one point I saw him climbing over the wall between our areas, knocking over some glasses, and falling into the booth. Some of us thought, “He’s going to get us kicked out of here”. Our bottle of rum was about 1/4 full and we were ready to hit the road, it was 2:00am at this point. Shawn convinced us to stay and finish the bottle while he ordered up some more shots. I was standing by the railing, which separated our VIP area from the main bar area, holding my drink when two girls approached me. They reached out to shake my hand so I switched my drink to my left hand, wiped off any condensation on my jeans and shook their hand. They noted how cold my hand was and I explained it was because I was holding my drink there. They then started to comment on how big my hands where and made insinuating facial expressions. I know this as one their sales tactics, so I played along. One of the girls said to me, “you have really big hands, that must mean…” and she reached for my crotch and said “do you mind?” I said no, but motioned behind me and said “You’ll have to ask my wife.” They immediately said “oh no!” While quickly turning and walking away. I laughed and walked behind me and told the story to Stephanie and Heather. Those two were pretty intoxicated at this point so they laughed along.

Another nice young girl approached Brad, who at this point was swaying while standing up and had a glossed over look on this face, with the usual sales pitch. Shawn saw this and immediately came over, handed the girl $200 to buy him a few dances. As they walked away Shawn yelled “Happy Birthday Brad!” And we all joined in knowing it was definitely not his birthday. The girl escorting Brad away replied “Oh, that’s why you guys are out celebrating, happy birthday!”

We were wrapping things up and polishing off our drinks when we noticed Brad had been gone a lot longer than his previous trips to the champagne room. Shawn mentioned about them getting back to their hotel near the airport as they were flying out tomorrow. An Uber ride from the Strip District to the airport was going to cost over $80, so Chris offered to give them a ride much to Heather’s chagrin. Shawn then disappeared and the four of us collected our thoughts on how crazy it was that we were there and how all these drinks have been free. At one point, we were concerned that we have been scammed and could be stuck with the bar bill. All of a sudden we see Shawn talking to a police officer near the entrance. He waved us over in a way that suggested it was time to go. When we arrived at the entrance area, which also happened to be where the entrance to the champagne room was, Shawn was having a friendly chat with the police officer and Brad was standing there expressionless.

We walked out of the club, said our goodbyes, and thanked our new friends for the great night. They got in the car with Chris and Heather and headed towards the airport and Stephanie and I got our car and drove home.

Sometime later Heather sent me a few messages about what happened before we left. As of writing this I’m still not sure what happened exactly. Allegedly during one of Brad’s final interactions with the dancer, he removed his penis from his pants to insinuate an illegal act. This is a huge no-no for places like this, and most public places to be honest. Luckily he was not forcibly removed from the club or arrested. There could be more to that story, but it sounds pretty believable to me.

All in all it was a great night with old friends and new friends. No one got hurt (or arrested), everyone got home safely, and lived to tell the story. You’re probably reading this thinking “that really wasn’t that bad or hard to believe” but to us it was. Normally we have quiet adult evenings with our dogs, this took us out of our comfort zones and we had a good time. Hopefully we run into Shawn and Brad in the future, but if not I wish them the best luck!

The Best Songs of the Decade

2010 – 2019

Another decade is in the books and like the previous two it’s been a great 10 years of music.

As a music lover I decided to pick my best songs of the past decade. I had to constrict myself to certain rules in order to pick the “best”.

The rules are as follows:

The song had to be released as a single after December 31, 2009 and before then end of 2019.

An artist can only appear on the list once.

The selected song must have had a significant impact on popular culture.

Finally, the pick was a song that I enjoyed and listened to frequently over the past decade.

Let’s get into the list. The songs are not in order of best to worst, but in order of release date starting with the oldest.

  • Eminem – Love the Way You Lie (feat. Rihanna) – 2010
    • Eminem’s sort of comeback started off with this classic song featuring the already hot Rihanna. This would later lead to another successful decade for Eminem.
  • Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud – 2014
    • Considered to be Ed’s greatest song so far, Thinking Out Loud shot him into super stardom after the release of his album X. One of the few ballads we saw during this decade.
  • Mark Ronson – Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars) – 2014
    • Uptown Funk was so different and so good it started a new wave of 90s-style music that we saw even more of on Bruno Mars’ next album, 24K Magic.
  • Sam Hunt – Leave the Night On – 2014
    • Leave the Night On started the pop-country trend which opened people’s eyes to great singers like Sam Hunt.
  • Taylor Swift – Shake It Off – 2014
    • Widely regarded as the artist of the decade Taylor had a ton of hit songs during the past 10 years, but nothing impacted us more than Shake It Off.
  • Drake – Hotline Bling – 2015
    • Everyone remembers the dancing in the video, but Drake’s Hotline Bling was another pivotal song to defining the “twenty-teens” musical sound.
  • Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee – Despacito – 2017
    • I’ll never forget Despacito as being the resurgence of latino music in pop culture. This was a good song getting traction, then Justin Bieber hopped on a remix and it blasted it to the top of the charts.
  • P!nk – Beautiful Trauma – 2017
    • P!nk didn’t have a good start to this decade after having a great run the previous years. Beautiful Trauma signaled a comeback for the very talented singer and I picked this because it’s my favorite P!nk song to date.
  • Post Malone – rockstar (feat. 21 Savage) – 2017
    • Post Malone is a prodigy who keeps churning out hit songs one after another. Hopefully that doesn’t stop when this decade comes to a close. The song rockstar put Post in the spotlight and he has stayed there since.
  • Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey – The Middle – 2018
    • I still think this is an underrated song, even after all it’s success. Maren has established herself as not just a country-girl singer, but a crossover artist who has actual talent. It took a long time for Zedd to find a vocalist for this song, but when they heard Maren’s demo, they knew it had to be her.

Honorable Mention:

  • Nelly – Just a Dream – 2010
    • I chose Nelly’s Just a Dream not because it’s a personal favorite of mine, but because it came out towards the end of his successful run in the 2000s. Since Just a Dream we’ve seen many artists come on to the scene with very similar styles like Post Malone, Ty Dollar $ign, and Lil Nas X

I’m really looking forward to see what the “20s” brings us in the form of a musical sound. When we look back at previous decades, the “sound” from that decade can be easily heard. This decade may be one of the hardest to classify, but we’ll see if that get’s easier as we move forward in time.

See you in the 20s!

Side note – here are some artists I think will be on this list for the next decade:

Halsey, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Justin Bieber, Post Malone, and Shawn Mendes.

Beard Blog’s five best albums of 2019

My picks for the best 5 albums of 2019, ranked not by best to worst, but by release date. These albums were selected for their overall enjoyability. It is becoming more rare that albums are enjoyable from beginning to end.

Heard It In A Past Life by Maggie Rogers (1/18/19)

I fell in love with the album as soon as I heard. I’ve been enjoying listening to this all year and it will be in heavy rotation going forward.

Cuz I Love You by Lizzo (4/19/19)

Lizzo blasted onto the scene this year with some great songs. Glad to see someone shake it up a little.

No. 6 Collaborations Project by Ed Sheeran (7/12/19

An unexpected collaboration album from Ed where every song sounds different. This is starting to become one of my favorite albums of all time.

Supermoon by Dirty Heads (8/9/19)

If you haven’t yet heard of Dirty Heads, they are hard to describe what genre they fall into. Reggae rock with some hip hop is the best way to describe it. This album is a great taste of the talent and diversity they bring to music.

Hollywood’s Bleeding by Post Malone (9/6/19)

Another year another classic album from Post Malone. This guy keeps cranking out good music. I’m hoping he keeps this up.

Honorable Mention:

When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? By Billie Eilish (3/29/19)

This album has received a lot of critical acclaim. I do enjoy some of the songs from this album, but I feel it can’t stand up to the other five on this list. The albums I listed above are enjoyable from beginning to end where there are some spots on Billie’s album start to drift me into boredom.

Take time, before we get too deep into 2020 to take a listen to these albums if you haven’t.

Italian Vacation Diary: Chapter 3 – The Gondolorian

Waking up in Venice was a treat, in more ways than one. The weather was nice, so we slept with the windows ajar. Being that there were no screens on the windows, I was awoken by some flying insects that morning. The damp musty smell of the waterways next began filling my nostrils. I recall thinking “where am I and why am I being tortured like this?”. My dismay quickly turned to delight when I looked at the window and saw the astounding buildings and unique landscape Venice offers.
Once we all gathered ourselves we set out to explore Venice for the day. We stopped at a small café where I had an ‘American’ breakfast which consisted of a ham and cheese omelette which I enhanced with a croissant and a Coke Zero. At the café we spoke with a local named Andrea who gave us great advice on visiting the Tuscany region later on our trip. Andrea and Paul talked for a while back and forth in Italian and Andrea complemented him on his language skills.

Before our trip I had studied up on Italian so I could pick up some of the words being said. At one point, Andrea, Paul and myself started laughing which confused the rest of the group. Andrea had asked Paul if we were his kids, which Paul replied blushingly with, “No, no, no”.

By the evening we had hit all the major touristy spots in Venice. We got around by using the water bus which normally costs €7.50 per person per trip, but because we’re dumb Americans we rode for free, illegally. Navigating the tight “streets” of Venice is very difficult because of all the dead ends and bad GPS signal. Several times we headed out one way only to turn around and go back the same way because it was either a dead end or the entirely wrong direction. As the reluctant navigator I took a lot of harassment from the group for these antics. We learned words like sinistra (left) and destra (right) which didn’t help us navigate any better, but were fun to say.
Later we had dinner, I had gnocchi again, and this is where Mike became attached to the word limoncello which he said with a very humorous Italian accent.

After dinner as close to sunset as possible the six of us sought to find a gondola ride. Since this is a busy time of day for the gondoliers we had to wait for one to come available. I started dancing around like I had to pee and saw a public toilet sign not far from the gondola station. I quickly walked to the W.C. and was surprised to find that it would cost me €1.50 to use. I only had 10 Euros on me at the time so I turned around and sauntered back to the group. I found Mike and he lent me a one Euro coin to accompany the 50 cents I had in my pocket. Next I turn around and run back up the hill to where the public restroom was, and by this time I was almost ready to go in my pants. On my trip to find Mike and get some coin, the bathroom closed before I came back. I had no choice but to hold it for the entire 30 plus minutes of the gondola ride.

We all piled in the gondola in random order leaving me to sit in the front facing away from everyone. The ride was delightful and the gondolier was very unrevealed. We quickly noticed we weren’t going on the main waterways and found ourselves traveling down what we would call the ‘back roads’. I looked back a couple times at our driver who did nothing more than steer the boat, poorly, and duck under bridges as we approached them. After a while Mike and I started to smell a distinct yet familiar scent in the air. Each time it wafted by, we would look at each other and chortle. The gondolier’s phone rang and of course he answered it, but this led me to turn around again and glance his way. It was then we all noticed at the same time he was smoking a joint of cannabis. Mike and I laughed and abruptly my urinary pains came back. As we maneuvered through tight waterways, bumping into boats, our high-as-a-kite gondolier seem to have everything under control. All of a sudden we heard a loud thud and a splash. The boat rocked and we felt like we might go overboard. Looking back at our captain we see him half hanging off the boat, on his back, trying to keep ahold of his oar. Shortly after he regained his stability, apologizing, and saying that he is fine, we learned that he had failed to duck low enough to clear a bridge. The concrete bridge clipped his back on our way under and sent him straight to the deck. I think we were all laughing so much it was hard to breathe. I’m pretty sure, though I’ll never admit it in person, I urinated in my trousers a bit when our gondolier went crashing down.
Every bridge thereafter most of us shouted at our driver “Attenzione!” Which is a word we learned earlier when local delivery drivers would want us to get out of their way.
This was another thrilling end to another night of a long trip ahead.

< Read Chapter 2                                                                                                Read Chapter 4 >

Italian Vacation Diary: Chapter 2 – Venice

After we disembarked the plane, it was time to enter Italy through customs. We waited in a very long line with a lot of smelly sweaty people. When it came time for our turn with the customs officer, he either didn’t speak English or didn’t feel like talking because he said nothing. After a mumble, grunt, and a stamp, we were cleared to enter the country. Next we headed for the water bus and taxi area. The signs were both in English and Italian, but they still proved difficult to follow. We found a water bus to take us to the main island, bought tickets and 27 Euros later, we got in line. I’m not sure how many people the boat we were on was legally allowed to carry, but I feel like the passengers, crew, and luggage would have been over the weight limit. I was one of the last people aboard because I’m polite and let everyone go in front of me. They told me to sit on some wooden area that was clearly not a seat while everyone else got a padded area. I thought that it wouldn’t be that bad since it’s a short boat ride. I was wrong about that. Between not being able to see much and my lack of seat, the boat trip seemed to take hours. In actuality it was about 30 to 45 minutes.

We arrived near the Rialto Bridge bus station and started to drag our luggage through the small streets and over the hundreds of bridges. The first place we saw we stopped at to have a drink and some food. We had cappuccino and pizza at Gran Caffe aila citti di Torino. This was my first taste of Italian espresso and I was pleasantly surprised how good it was for not being a coffee drinker. Next we began searching for our airBnB which we had trouble getting to because of a lack of navigation or phone usage. Along the way we stopped at a TIM store to get local SIM cards for our phones. Because I’m addicted to the internet I decided that I should buy a one month data plan from a local provider. This turned out to be a great decision as I used over 25GB of data in two weeks and it only cost me 35 Euros. This is where we first got to experience Paul’s understanding of the Italian language. He translated what we wanted to the TIM clerk and we didn’t have any problems. The only downside was our phones weren’t active for another 30 minutes so we still could not use them to get around the city.

Eventually we found the area we were supposed to meet the host for the place we were staying. They were a really nice married couple who spoke pretty good English. They led us through the winding streets back some hidden alleys and we popped out at the place. It was a nice three bedroom second floor apartment with great views of the waterways. We all claimed our bedrooms and started to unpack. Later we headed out on the town to get dinner. We ended up at Dolfini restaurant which was basically empty. Being traveling Americans we had not yet adjusted our eating schedule so we were the restaurant’s first customers for dinner that day. I again payed close attention to Paul’s conversation with the wait staff as I was putting my Italian lessons of the past few months to work. We started with bread and some wine. I ordered gnocchi which has always been one of my favorite Italian dishes. It was dressed in a white alfredo-sque sauce. I ate it all very quickly and remember how delicious it was and how much better it tasted than any previous gnocchi I’ve had. Mike decided to be adventurous and order squid ink pasta. Basically pasta with black sauce all over it. By the end of the meal it had looked like he ate a couple bricks of charcoal; he had black teeth and tongue for a few hours after that. On the way back to our place we stopped at had some gelato, which became a staple for us on our trip. I opted for strawberry and cream flavor that was so buttery and flavorful I can still taste it.

1st Italian Cappuccino

Picture 1 of 4

By this point most of us were tired, but I was determined to stay up to a normal bed time. I found a nice loveseat that I could lay on with my feet dangling off the end and started to browse social media on my phone. The next thing I know I hear a loud bell ringing noise. Not the sound of a phone ringing or church bells, this was clearly a doorbell. I sprung up off the couch, now noticing it was darker than when I last remembered, ran to the door and tried to determine if anyone was there. I eventually unlocked and opened the door to find nothing there. I then heard the ringing bell again and it was definitely intended to be a doorbell. I was still confused on what day is was and what happened, but clearly I fell asleep for some time. Shortly thereafter Stephanie emerged from the bathroom after a fresh shower. It seemed she was trying to find a light and she pulled a string that triggered the doorbell. This was meant as an emergency alert system if you fell or needed help in the bath tub. Lesson learned and mystery solved. After that excitement we went to bed shortly have the sun had set.

 

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Italian Vacation Diary: Chapter 1 – Travel Day

Our first flight wasn’t until the afternoon so we had some time to sleep in and gather last minute items the morning of our trip. A two-week (15 days) vacation is a great idea, if you know how to pack for it. I may have overestimated how many different items of clothes I would need during the trip. Stephanie and I each had a carryon bag plus a backpack to bring on the plane. Additionally, we each had a larger bag to check. This much luggage for two people was not easy to move nor fit in many vehicles. We decided that for a 15 day stay we would get a ride to the airport from our home using Lyft rather than park a vehicle at the airport. To be sure we would get a ride and arrive on time, we requested a ride earlier than we needed to. In order to accommodate our excessive luggage we had to request what is called a ‘Lyft XL’. This is a driver with a larger vehicle such as a large SUV or minivan. Normally, this is for when you have up to six passengers, but in our case four of our passengers were bags of clothes. We were unable to find a Lyft XL in our area, so we had to go with Uber.

We arrived at the airport in sufficient amount of time, unloaded all of our baggage, both emotional and physical, and entered the airport. Some years ago I applied for the TSA Pre-check program which allows you to use the special security line which is usually shorter and less disruptive. Stephanie also got to go through the TSA Pre-check line because we booked our tickets together so we were both through security in less than five minutes. We walked quickly to our gate having shedded two of our bags at the airline desk. Upon turning the corner to the D section of the gates, we saw four smiling faces. Those faces of course were Paul, Natalie, Mike, and Alaina. They were all just as excited as us to get to our destination even though we had a long flight ahead of us.

We all decided that we better get some food before our first flight and we proceeded to the airport eatery. I believe between the six of us, we went to three different restaurants which is one of the benefits of airport and mall eateries; something for everyone. While we were eating Natalie saw someone she knew eating behind us. I usually refer to Natalie as “the mayor” because it seems like no matter where we go, she knows someone. This particular person turned out to be Reb Beach most famously of the band Whitesnake. He seemed nice but also in a hurry to leave, and so were we!

It’s now time to board the plane so Stephanie and I took our seats near the middle of the cabin. Back when we booked our flights I had the great idea that one of us would take the aisle and the other the window seat. With any luck we would have the middle seat empty for us to stretch out into. All of our luck must have been used up on a safe flight because a man sat down right between us. Normally I don’t mind sitting next to a stranger when that person is respectful of my personal space and doesn’t talk to me. The guy who sat between us, let’s call him Brian, took a phone call immediately after sitting down. Because I’m a nosey person I listened to his end of the phone call. In my opinion it sounded like he got good news from a medical test or health outlook. After thanking the person on the other end of the phone countlessly, he hung up, threw his hands up into the air and screamed “Whooooo!”. After a couple more “whooos” and fist pumps he stopped. I thought to myself, “Good for this guy, but I’m glad he’s done celebrating”. As other passengers were still finding their seats Brian decided to explain why we has so happy despite no one asking him for such information. Brian had received a phone call that he had been accepted into “his doctorate program”. Now I don’t know his history or even entirely what was involved in this but I don’t think this news deserved the amount of public display as Brian thwarted. I understand how exciting and proud someone can be when they achieve an education milestone but dude, you just got accepted. In my mind he just got approved for a huge loan in exchange for a future piece of paper. 

We both shared several “WTFs”, eyeballs, and giggles over our past two hours with Brian.

As our plane taxied out to the runway Brian turned his attention toward Stephanie and began to compliment her and ask her questions that made me think he was hitting on her. I know Stephanie is very polite and will never stop this guy or tell him that we’re together so I decided to let it play out. A few times things got weird with him touching her, but it wasn’t in a creepy way, more of friendly interactions. As we were taking off Brian gripped his armrests and put his head back like he had never been on an airplane before. I could see his hands turning white from how hard he was gripping the seat. I kept reminding myself of how I should have never willingly kept an empty seat between us.

Shortly after we were up in the air, Brian fell asleep and I had about an hour of peace on our short flight to Atlanta. Most of the time I listened to music as I was saving all my real entertainment for the long flight. As we descended into Atlanta Brian awoke from his somber where he seemingly forgot everything he talked about before falling asleep. Part of his short-term memory returned as he became instantly reinvigorated by his doctorate news. He mentioned again how excited he was with more fist pumps and “whooos”. This time he was talking to both of us instead of just Stephanie, but definitely didn’t know we were together. The one thing he did, that I will never forget, is he crossed his arms, put his head down and gave Stephanie and I both playful arm scratches from under his folded arms. He also let out a very weird and excited “Ewwwww!” as he touched us. I froze and didn’t know what to do because I never expected something like that. We landed safely and I rushed off the plane leaving Stephanie and her new boyfriend behind. I even saw Brian get Stephanie’s bag down from the overhead compartment. As I walked away I laughed to myself, “I’m a terrible husband”. They walked off the plane together and Stephanie joined me and I saw Brian walk away in defeat. We both shared several “WTFs”, eyeballs, and giggles over our past two hours with Brian. Now it was time to get ready for our nine hour flight to Venice, Italy.

We boarded the giant 767 plane and got settled in. Stephanie and I opted for the “Delta Comfort+” seating which gave us a little more room and two seats by ourselves. They were a lot less roomier than I imagined. This flight was much less eventful than the shorter flight before it. I tried to sleep and definitely fell asleep a couple times, but never to the point where I felt like I was rested. The person in front of me decided that they were going to recline all the way back like no one should ever do. He was essentially reclined back to in between my legs and I was left starring into the balding top of his head. I attempted to lean my own seat back, but didn’t want to disturb the people behind me like a good human being. They served dinner which was surprisingly good. I had brought a bunch of snacks and drinks but didn’t need any of it as they kept you well fed and well hydrated. Shortly after dinner, they served breakfast which was funny to me because yes we were landing in Italy in the morning, but we just ate dinner a few hours ago. Breakfast was also surprisingly good. We landed in Venice around 9am local time but really it was more like 3am at home. I can’t speak for everyone, but I was very tired.

 

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Italian Vacation Diary: Prologue

After a successful Outer Banks trip in 2016, Natalie, Paul, Stephanie and I tossed around the idea of the four of us doing an Italy trip together. The next year both of us couples bought houses and Natalie and Paul were unable to attend the follow up OBX trip so our Italy plans had become unknown. After settling in our new homes we had a chance to talk and we were all in favor of keeping the Italian dream alive. The planning commenced.

We decided that the next spring would be the target time and spreading it over Memorial Day would give us an extra day of vacation to play with. Word soon spread that we were going to Italy so it was expected that we would have some envious outsiders. Paul, Natalie, and myself work at the same company so we had a lot of time to think up ideas at work. Our coworker Mike quickly got word that we were planning this Euro-trip and expressed how he and his wife talked about going to Italy for a honeymoonesque getaway. We accepted Mike and his wife Alaina (who coincidentally works with my mother) into our travel group and began planning the serious details.

One late summer evening the six of us gathered at Paul and Natalie’s house and had a whiteboarding sessions of what and where we wanted to see. I was very ambitious with all the cities and landmarks I wanted to visit since this may be my only visit to Italy. We soon devised a plan to start in the north and work our way south. This was going to take a lot of driving and a lot of time.

As the autumn leaves began to fall our anticipation rose. It was still too soon to act on anything as flights were not available. By the end of the year we had pretty much solidified our plan as follows: Fly to Venice, travel south to Rome, maybe hit Pompeii before making the trek to Sicily. Easy enough right?

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2017… we booked our long and expensive transcontinental flight. We were leaving from Pittsburgh, stopping by Atlanta, and landing in Venice the next morning. It was going to be more than 9 hours on a plane, which was about 5 hours more than my longest flight ever. While I was nervous about the flight the once in a lifetime trip excitement conquered all.

After the flights were booked we set our sites on accommodations. We were going to stay in AirBnBs throughout the country as sleeping six in a house was much more affordable than hotels. Mike and Alaina decided that they would parts ways shortly after Rome and spend some time alone before heading back to the states. This was just another cog in our elaborate machine with shuffling of rental cars, hotels, and AirBnBs.

Paul and Natalie are Italy veterans. Not in the sense that they served in the Italian armed forces, but that they’ve vacationed in Italy a few times. They even made the trip all the way to Italy to get married. Paul is the ultimate Italian tour guide as he fluently speaks Italian and has family members living in the country.

We met one last time in March to go over final details and talk about logistics. You could see the excitement building the more we talked. By this time we had all the rooms, cars, and flights booked and I was pretty far into my Italian language app. The only thing we had left to do was pack. Packing for a 15 day trip is very challenging the subject may come up again later.

I want to write down my experience as well as share it with the world as I feel this was a vacation that may not ever be beat. Lots of adventure and great memories to share. Stay tuned.

Read Chapter 1 >

 

My Nelly Top 10 List

Some might call me a Nelly super-fan but I disagree. However, I will say that there are very few Nelly songs I dislike. When I first heard Nelly’s Country Grammar song way back in 2000, I instantly thought to myself, “Wow, I need to buy this album!” That was back before I had a job and buying an album was a big deal. I think I played the Country Grammar album from start to finish, 314 times. Nelly’s sound was different when he came out, it was more R&B but with a Hip-Hop rhythm. Even almost 20 years later, people are still emulating his style.

Nelly

Much like I did for Eminem, I’m going to list my top 10 favorite Nelly songs (with descriptions this time).

  1. Ride Wit Me – Country Grammar (2000) 
    “Must be the money!” This might be the song that put Nelly on the “map” and it was the first time we heard him really lean into the sing-songy melodies he became known for. Ride Wit Me is an ultimate car cruising song.
  2. Just A Dream – 5.0 (2010) 
    Hard hitting bass and strings backdrop make this song great. Just A Dream is easy to sing along to as well put on while cruising down the highway. “Tryin’ to get my Usher on, but I can’t let it burn.”
  3. Fly Away – Sweatsuit (2005) 
    Originally debuted in the movie The Longest Yard this song tells the tale of unfair treatment of prisoners, much like the feature film. Another R&B type song that Nelly makes unforgettable. “I keep a gamma ray, I’ma G-5 G, Take a G-5 jeep, G-5 deep…”
  4. Dilemma – Nellyville (2002) 
    A duet with the fabulous Kelly Rowland (Destiny’s Child) that brings back some great memories for me. There’s never a bad time to list to Dilemma. “Play my position like a shortstop, pick up everything mommy hittin’…”
  5. Grillz – Sweatsuit (2005) 
    The 1st Hip-Hop song on the list. Grillz came out in the peak of rappers getting teeth ornaments decorated with gold & diamonds. This song has a very memorable bass line as well as fun lyrics for a truly stupid fashion trend. “I got a grill I call penny candy, ya know what that mean? It look like now&laters, gumdrop, jelly n beans”
  6. Hot In Herre – Nellyville (2002) 
    Definitely a club banger, Hot in Herre is one of Nelly’s most popular songs because it’s fun, it’s hot, and makes you want to get up and dance. This might be the hottest beat The Neptunes have every produced. “Check your reflection, telling your best friend, girl I think my butt getting big!”
  7. Country Grammar – Country Grammar (2000) 
    Nelly’s first official single from his debut album introduced us to his country roots and melodic style. I obsessed over memorizing every lyric in this song and I still remember it all today. “Let me in now, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, let me in now.”
  8. E. I. – Country Grammar (2000) 
    A very early-2000s feel to this one, E.I. has everything from talking about clothes to buying drugs. This is another fun song to sign along to with the “uh-ooooohhhhh” repetition.
  9. ‘#1 – Nellyville (2002) 
    Nelly snaps back at all his haters and criticism in #1. This is one of my favorites because is able to deliver his message with crafty lyrics while still throwing in his melodic tendencies. “Straight emulatin’ my style, right to the down-down…”
  10. Hey Porsche – M.O. (2013) 
    This song might signal the end of an era as Nelly has yet to release an album since M.O. Hey Porsche is a fun double entendre song where he throws in a lot of car analogies seemingly talking about a girl named Porsche. “Come and let me slide under, so I can work on, work on you!”
  • Honorable Mention – Where the Party At – Jagged Edge – Jagged Little Thrill (2001)
  • Fan Favorite – Cruise (Remix) – Florida Georgia Line – Here’s to the Good Times (2013)
  • Best of the Worst – The Fix – Single (2015)
  • Best Remix – Girlfriend (The Neptunes Remix) – NSYNC – Celebrity (2002)

Apple Music playlist

It’s my top 10 list, I make the rules…

Oscar Predictions 2019

The 91st annual Academy Awards airs Sunday February 24, 2019 on ABC

Back again for 2019 are the Beard Blog Oscar picks.

I made a determined effort to see as many nominated films this year before the awards.

Overall I feel like this was a weak year compared to last. A lot of mediocre films made the list and we’ve now seen our film superhero / blockbuster move, Black Panther, make the nominee list several times. This could be signaling a shift in how the academy picks award winning films, but we shall see how the results play out.

My picks, based on my opinion, of which film or which person should win, are below in bold:

  • Best Picture
    • Black Panther
    • BlacKkKlansman
    • Bohemian Rhapsody
    • The Favorite
    • Green Book
    • Roma
    • A Star is Born
    • Vice
  • Actor in a Leading Role
    • Christian Bale – Vice
    • Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
    • Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate
    • Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
    • Viggo Mortensen – Green Book
  • Actress in a Leading Role
    • Yalitza Aparicio – Roma
    • Glenn Close – The Wife
    • Olivia Colman – The Favourite
    • Lady Gaga – A Star is Born
    • Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  • Actor in a Supporting Role
    • Mahershala Ali – Green Book
    • Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman
    • Sam Elliott – A Star is Born
    • Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    • Sam Rockwell – Vice
  • Actress in a Supporting Role
    • Amy Adams – Vice
    • Marina de Tavira – Roma
    • Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
    • Emma Stone – The Favourite
    • Rachel Weisz – The Favourite
  • Directing
    • Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
    • Pawet Pawlikowski – Cold War
    • Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
    • Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
    • Adam McKay – Vice
  • Writing (Adapted)
    • Joel & Ethan Coen – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
    • Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowtiz – BlacKkKlansman
    • Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    • Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk
    • Eric Roth & Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
  • Writing (Original)
    • Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara – The Favourite
    • Paul Shrader – First Reformed
    • Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, & Peter Farrelly – Green Book
    • Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
    • Adam McKay – Vice