19 November 2011

Mental Block

So, this morning I got up and went through my rituals, then sat down with a cup of coffee at my laptop to do some research in hopes of being inspired for this year's Christmas card design. I pinned a few things on Pinterest but hadn't found anything especially fitting.

But as I poked through images at Plan 59, I happened upon this image for a 1941 Lincoln Zephyr ad with the caption, "Give them a Magic Carpet for Christmas." While this may not inspire a card design I think it's a great image and as you may or may not know, I love vintage advertising.

Suddenly, the redesign of the new Lincolns made sense to me. I remembered my first up-close-and-personal glimpse of the 2010 Lincoln MKT at Standiford Field over the holidays in 2009, where at first I thought, "I like that," but then wondered what they were doing up in the division's design studios.

Since Lincoln introduced its new look I've been perplexed, but intrigued. And now, I get it. The design looks to be inspired by that 1941 Zephyr. It has to be. Why else would the MKZ have first hit the market as Zephyr in 2006?

Digging a little further, Wikipedia offered this regarding 2010 and later cars: "In the front, the MKZ's headlights are new while its fascia and split-wing grille closely resembles that of the Lincoln MKR concept, a new approach towards giving all Lincolns a shared appearance inspired by Lincolns during the late 1930s, as demonstrated by the 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr."

Good Lord. It's only taken me two years to get here. I'm often curious as to why I don't immediately connect the dots for things which once "discovered" seem so obvious?

"Fiddle-dee-dee," as Scarlett O'Hara would say. I'll worry about that another day. I need to get on with designing our Christmas card.

Happy holidays.

09 November 2011

Christmas Tradition

It started with a simple question: What are your favorite Christmas traditions?"

The query was posed on Better Homes and Gardens' Facebook wall back in July. I answered and posted a link to this blog: Stumped.

Around 10:30 this morning Cameron went to Walgreen's to pick up his new prescription for Ambien. At 11:03 my phone rang. When I answered, he said, "Congratulations."

I said, "for what?"

He'd been checking the newsstands for the last week or two and this time he found it. If you pick up a copy of Better Homes and Gardens December 2011 issue, you'll find one of our Christmas traditions featured on the lead page of the "Better Family" story, page 197. I learned that it would be included in the magazine in August and have done my best to keep quiet about it until now.

To say our holiday season is starting with a "bang" would be an understatement.

07 October 2011

Air Travel: No PanAm

Cameron and I have been excited about ABC's new series PanAm. We both remember the cachet that accompanied the thought of air travel in its glory days. Alas, the climate has changed drastically with deregulation, cost-cutting measures, hijackings and terrorist attacks.

I've posted the following before but I was just reminded of it and thought it was worth sharing again. This version comes from Consumer Traveler.

Memo from an angry flight attendant

by Charlie Leocha on July 25, 2008

Here’s a letter from an unknown flight attendant that touches on almost every part of the flight experience that frequent and no-so-frequent fliers know all too well.

It is a reminder in this day of flight crews being booed and sued, and more and more canceled flights that the front line of pilots and flight attendants are as much victims of bad management as we, the passengers, are.

As this flight attendant so aptly says, “direct your hostility and frustrations in the direction where they will be most effective: The customer service department. They are the ones equipped to handle your complaint and implement procedures for change.”

When you do interact with your flight attendant, a smile, a kind word and a thank you go a long way — further than many of us know.

To the Flying Public: We’re sorry.

We’re sorry we have no pillows.

We’re sorry we’re out of blankets.

We’re sorry the airplane is too cold.

We’re sorry the airplane is too hot.

We’re sorry the overhead bins are full.

We’re sorry we have no closet space for your oversized bag.

We’re sorry that’s not the seat you wanted.

We’re sorry there’s a restless toddler/overweight/offensive smelling
passenger seated next to you.

We’re sorry the plane is full and there’s no other seats available.

We’re sorry you didn’t get your upgrade.

We’re sorry that guy makes you uncomfortable because he “looks like a terrorist”.

We’re sorry there’s a thunderstorm and we can’t take off.

We’re sorry we don’t know when it will stop.

We’re sorry you’re crammed into a space so small that if you were an animal PETA would protest.

We’re sorry a Super 80 has no music or video entertainment for your 3 hour flight.

We’re sorry we ran out of your favorite soda.

We’re sorry there’s no more sandwiches.

We’re sorry that Budweiser costs $6.

We’re sorry we don’t have diapers for your baby.

We’re sorry we don’t have milk for same baby.

We’re sorry you can’t hang out by the cockpit door waiting to use the bathroom. We’re sorry you can’t hang out at the back of the airplane.

We’re sorry you have to sit down and fasten your seatbelt.

We’re sorry you have to put your seat up for landing.

We’re sorry we don’t know when we’re going to land.

We’re sorry we don’t know whether your plane to (substitute any city in the world) will be waiting for you when we land.

We’re sorry we’ve been diverted because we ran out of gas waiting to land.

We’re sorry for these and so many other things that we have absolutely no control over but which we are held accountable for EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Please understand. Flight attendants are not the enemy. We share your space. More than anyone – we want to have a nice, pleasant travel experience.

There is a reason behind everything we ask you to do. It may be a FAA directive. It may be security related. It may be a company procedure.

We don’t just make stuff up. We don’t spend 8 weeks at the flight academy learning how to pour a Coke. There are many things that flight attendants are watching for constantly on every flight FOR YOUR SAFETY.

It’s not because we’re bored or so controlling that we just enjoy telling people what to do. I, for one, would like to have one flight where I didn’t have to repeatedly tell people to put their seats up for landing. Seriously.

Can’t you just do what we ask sometimes? Without the glares, eye rolling and disdain? For the record – putting your seat up for landing may not seem that important to your personal safety. However, it is very important for the person sitting BEHIND YOU. If you have ever tried to get out of a row where
someone has their seat back you know it can be a challenge. Try grabbing your ankles (emergency brace position) or getting out of that row quickly with smoke in the cabin.

Understand a little better now?

Many of the things we ask passengers to comply with are FAA directives. Like carry-on bag stowage and exit row requirements. When we can serve drinks (in the air) and when we can’t (after the aircraft door is closed or on an active taxi-way). We are only allowed to move about the cabin during taxi
out for safety related duties. We can’t get you blankets then, or hang coats, or get you drinks. It’s not because we don’t want to. It’s because we are held personally responsible if we fail to comply with FAA directives.

Meaning that the FAA can fine us personally up to $10,000 if we fail to comply or enforce an FAA Directive. Like no bags at the bulkhead. No children in the exit row. No one moving around the cabin during taxi.

Perhaps now you know why flight attendants get a little testy when people move about the cabin when they’re not supposed to. It’s not the company that gets in trouble for that. It’s us.

Personally, I wish the airlines would show worst case scenario safety videos. Like what happens if you walk through the cabin during turbulence.

There could be a guy who has just fallen and smacked his face on the metal armrest and now has a bloody, gushing broken nose. Or an elderly lady who now has a broken arm because someone walking to the bathroom fell on her.

Maybe a passenger with a broken neck because somebody opened an overhead bin during turbulence and a suitcase fell out and onto the person sitting beneath it. These things can easily happen in a fast moving, unstable air environment.

Please just trust that we are looking out for your best interest and stop fighting with us about everything we ask you to do. It is exhausting.

Finally, please, please direct your hostility and frustrations in the direction where they will be most effective: The customer service department. They are the ones equipped to handle your complaint and
implement procedures for CHANGE.

Think about it. Complaining to the flight crew about all your negative travel experiences is about the same as complaining to the office janitor because your computer isn’t working. It may make you feel better to vent about it – but it really won’t fix anything. More than anybody we are already aware of the lack of amenities, food, service and comfort on the aircraft. Please share your concerns with the people in the cubicles at corporate who need that information to make better decisions for the flying public.

It’s frustrating that so many people are in denial about what the travel industry is about now. The glory days of pillows, blankets, magazines and a hot meal for everyone are long gone. Our job is to get you from point A to point B safely and at the cheapest possible cost to you and the company. So be prepared. If you are hungry – get a sandwich before you get on the plane.

If it’s a 3 hour flight, anticipate that you may get hungry and bring some snacks. If you are cold natured – bring a wrap. Think for yourself and think ahead. Otherwise, don’t complain when you have to pay $3 for a cookie and are left with a crusty blanket to keep you warm.

We hear often that the service just isn’t what is used to be. Well, the SERVICE we provide now isn’t what it used to be.

When I was hired, my job was to serve drinks, meals, ensure that safety requirements were met and tend to in-flight medical issues.

Since 9/11 my primary job is to ensure that my airplane will not be compromised by a terrorist.

9/11 may be a distant memory now to many, but be assured that EVERY DAY a flight attendant reports to work he or she is constantly thinking about 9/11. We feel a personal responsibility to ensure that something like that never happens again. We can never relax. We can never not be suspicious
about someone’s intentions.

It is difficult to be vigilant and gregarious at the same time. Especially when most of us are working 12 hour days after layovers that only allow 5-6 hours of sleep. Not because we were out partying and having a grand time on the layover – but because the delays that you experience as a passenger also affect us as a crew, so that what was a 10 hour layover is now 8 hours which doesn’t leave a lot of time to recover from what has become an increasingly stressful occupation.

Despite everything, I still enjoy being a flight attendant.

I am writing this letter because I do still care about my profession and about the public perception of flight attendants. In the increasingly challenging travel world it is becoming more imperative than ever for people to just be decent to each other. I can go through an entire day without one person saying anything remotely civil. I will stand at the aircraft door and say hello to everyone who enters and maybe 50% will even look at me and even less will say hello back.

I will try to serve someone a meal who can’t be bothered to take their headsets off long enough for me to ask them what they want. Most of the time the only conversation a passenger has with me is when they are complaining.

Is it any wonder why flight attendants have shut down a bit? After suffering the disdain of hundreds of passengers a day it’s difficult sometimes to even smile, much less interact. We are human. We appreciate the same respect and courtesy that passengers do.

The next time you fly, try treating the flight attendants the way you would like to be treated. You may be surprised how friendly your flight crew is when they are treated like people.

author unknown

11 September 2011

Where was I? What was I doing?

I often wonder why it seems important for people to ask "where were you when...." And, I hear this often. "Where were you when JFK was shot?" "What were you doing when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated?" "Where were you when Elvis died?" With all of the media coverage over the last few days leading up to "ten years later," I'm a bit underwhelmed. I understand that people want to "connect" by discussing their circumstances as these events took place, but for me, my whereabouts at the time are unimportant. Nearly 3,000 people virtually vanished that morning and countless other lives were changed forever that day. Yet, I'm still here. I pray to do something meaningful today in honor of those that may have changed the world but didn't have the chance.

With that said, this is my recollection of September 11, 2001:

Ten years ago I was settling into our cabin on the Golden Princess for a nap as the ship prepared to leave the port at Kusadasi for Istanbul. It was about 4:30 PM. We'd spent a great day touring Ephesus and Selçuk with our guide, Anu. She, Cameron and I formed a mutual bond almost immediately. Working the summer as a guide in her native Turkey, Anu had plans to rejoin her sister back in Atlanta in the fall.

After a scary cliff-side bus ride to the House of the Virgin Mary, where it's believed Mary lived out her life, Anu instructed us to quickly go inside the shrine before "the Japanese tourists cut in front of you" as we waited in line to enter. The apparent leader of that group spat, "were not Japanese, we're Korean." Her response? "Same difference." Wow. Once the "official" tour concluded she asked if she could show us around. She escorted us to one of her favorite restaurants where we met some of her friends and ate a late lunch. During conversation we mentioned that we wanted to buy a rug. She took us to a merchant she knew and that's where we bought the rug that's in our living room today.

Not long after closing my eyes, Cameron's mother, Carolyn, came knocking on our cabin door. It was clear that she was distressed. She said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I remember saying, "it must be a movie." Alas, we sat on our beds and watched the entire event unfold on CNN until the channel was no longer available at sea. We switched to BBC and, as usual, the coverage turned out to be a much better alternative to the "hype" and continued instant replays found on our American "news" media.

The ship was eerily quiet that night. The only activity was the seemingly miles long line of passengers quietly queuing up to the Excursions desk to cancel their plans for Istanbul. There was a handful of folks that sat with us at a bar on the otherwise deserted pool deck. Among them were a couple of girls from the Bay Area, our German friends Georg and Barbara and a couple from Puerto Rico, Ian and Orlando, with whom we'd become acquainted. After nearly two weeks on board we'd gotten to know our bartender as well. She was a sweet, Romanian girl who at first was sympathetic to the events taking place in New York, but then she said, "now you know how the rest of us feel." I'm as nonplussed with comment today as I was then.

The next morning we cruised into Istanbul. As the ship approached it's berth we were stopped while Turkish military came aboard, all dressed in black, carrying AK-47 assault rifles. They patrolled the top deck of the ship while guard boats circled in the water the entire time we were in there. Through various announcements from the ship's captain and hearing the Call to Prayer dotted with the only intelligible word —"America"— we began to feel assured that we were safe in Turkey. Still, uncertainty permeated the air on the Golden Princess. The cruise line had their hands full. Not only did they have a ship full of people wrapping up their two week Mediterranean Cruise, they had another ship-load of folks waiting in port to board.

The second day, Princess asked us to turn in our personalized cards for on-board charges and gave us new ones without names. Confused, I didn't find out until later that they didn't charge for any expenses after the original disembarkation date. In addition, they contracted with charter buses to take hourly trips to the Grand Bazaar for those who had cancelled their excursions earlier who now warmed to the idea of getting off of the ship. I agreed to go with Cameron and his stepfather, Jim. Walking on the shady path to the marketplace, we were offered some tea. Everyone we encountered was welcoming and friendly. But I was still uncomfortable. We walked the stalls of the cavernous Bazaar and eventually stopped in a shop to buy some rings, but by this time I was so stressed that I only stayed long enough for one cycle of bus departures back to the ship. Once onboard, I slept for almost an entire day. Unfortunately, that was Cameron's and my ninth anniversary. Not so happy.

Some time later, we were ushered into the Princess Theatre for an evacuation presentation where too many among the audience were comparing bejeweled canvas shoes instead of paying attention to the presentation. During the Q & A portion of the program those shoe-sharing dingbats were asking questions that had already been covered. As you can imagine stress levels were fairly high and I remember saying something aloud that I later regretted about "turning up your Beltone."

Because air travel had been suspended our chartered jet was grounded in Atlanta. It seemed that once we were given evacuation plans they would change almost instantly. There was talk of sailing back to Athens or even Barcelona. Later, it looked like we might sail all the way to Fort Lauderdale. With each of the different announcement I left the ship for terminal and the lines at the telephone bank in an attempt to keep our families, our house/dog sitter, Lise, and our employers informed.

Every night, the captain would come on the PA and instruct us to put our luggage outside our cabins, telling us we'd leave the next day. Our bags came back to our cabins the next morning. Finally, on the fifth attempt, our plane had been allowed to leave the United States and was waiting for us at Atatürk International Airport. We got on the bus and made our way to a World Airways charter plane, which normally seats just over 200 passengers, that had been refitted to seat more than 400. With space being so tight, and many passengers' complete lack of regard for instructions, it was a miserable 10-hour flight. Inconsiderates were piling used food boxes in front of the emergency exits instead of waiting for the crew to collect them. Some clueless woman leaned up against a flight attendants' communications console while waiting in line for the lavatory and coincidentally managed to press the right combination of buttons with her butt to send a distress signal to the cockpit. One of the pilots came rushing back to the area yelling for everyone to take their seats.

After Cameron became acquainted with some of the crew he helped them get things back in order. We landed at LaGuardia late that night and boarded buses to a LaQuinta/Quality/Non-Descript hotel. It was chaos all around, on the grounds, in the lobby, and in the restaurant. We had a couple of drinks while we waited for something to eat, then went to bed in anticipation of our bus ride to JFK for another flight the next day.

It was a somber flight from New York with only a handful of passengers on board. Much like the morning of the attacks, it was a clear, sunny day giving us a clear view of the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center followed by a glimpse of hole in the Pentagon.

09 August 2011

“Green” your lawn with drought-tolerant turf - DIY Advice Blog - Family Handyman DIY Community

“Green” your lawn with drought-tolerant turf - DIY Advice Blog - Family Handyman DIY Community

Here are a couple of eye-opening factoids:

— U.S. homeowners spend more to maintain their lawns than the average farmer spends on each acre of crops.

— For the average home, 50 to 70 percent of the water bill is for watering the lawn.

If your community is among the many that has implemented watering restrictions to deal with water shortages, it might be time to change the way you think about your yard.

First, consider replacing some or all of your existing turf with ground covers and drought-tolerant plantings.

no mow lawn seed mixtureSecond, consider planting a lawn that requires less water. You might wonder if it’s really possible to stop watering (and fertilizing) so much and still have nice-looking turf. According to High Country Gardens, the answer is yes. The nursery offers water-wise grass seed mixtures and grass plugs developed specifically for different regions to look good while requiring less water and fewer chemicals.

The “No Mow” lawn seed mix has been developed for the cooler, moister climates in the upper Midwest, northeastern U.S. and high elevations in the West. For hotter climates and areas in the southern U.S., check out the “Low Work and Water” seed mix. These specially blended mixes of dwarf fine fescue grass varieties provide deep-rooted and dense turf that, according to High Country Gardens, requires little additional water except during the driest spells in summer. You can leave it unmowed for a wild effect or mow it once a month (!) to achieve a more manicured look ($30 per 5-lb. bag, which seeds 1,000 sq. ft.).

High Country Gardens also offers Legacy Buffalo grass plugs (70 plugs for $50) that duplicate the lush green of traditional bluegrass turf in low-moisture, high-clay areas while using 50 to 75 percent less water. If you live in a region with sandy soils, try Blue Grama grass plugs instead.

Even if you’re not interested in grass, check out High Country Garden's Web site ( It has an abundance of information about drought-tolerant landscaping and offers high-quality, water-wise perennials, ornamental grasses and shrubs for your specific region. I’ve purchased many of their perennials over the years, and I’ve been very impressed with their plants, packing methods and customer service.

— Elisa Bernick, Associate Editor

26 July 2011

Seems Pretty Simple To Me

I recently saw this from The New York Times:

And, I asked, "how could we solve this problem?" I like the way this looks much better:

Just as 'Ouisa says in "Steel Magnolias," "these are not difficult questions."

22 May 2011

Good Lord. Embarkation Day

I have been so busy. I was shocked last week to see how long it had been since I began this recap of our February vacation. Guess it's about like me sending Christmas presents -- that were absent-mindedly left under the tree here -- to Louisville and Biloxi in April. The lady at the post office laughed when I told her what they were, saying, "I would have made up something else!" Upon this revelation I finished this installment and clicked "publish," but I found two days ago that none of my work had been saved, let alone published:

Writing this on day two of our cruise, I figured that two days at sea would give me plenty of time to chronicle our adventure thus far since all we're doing at this point is sunning, eating, cocktailing and dancing.

Saturday morning we woke up early, and after making coffee, we packed, applied our Norwegian bag tags each piece of our "checked" luggage and made our way to the Mustang. We were surprised at how little traffic there was on the 405 that morning -- it made my plan: driving to the Westin, dropping Cameron and our luggage there, returning the car to Hertz and making it back to the hotel, a little less daunting.

Pulling into the hotel grounds, we spotted Andy and John out on one of the benches. I pulled up to the curb so Cameron and I could unload our luggage, then headed back out on Century Boulevard to return the car. At first I saw signs directing drivers to the various rental lots, including Hertz. But then for some reason after the first couple of signs my rental company wasn't anywhere to be found and I didn't see any arrows that instructed me to turn. I ended up driving all the way to the terminals at LAX before I saw another "rental car return" sign that took me on all sorts of loops, twists and turns before I spied the big yellow sign at the Hertz property.

After leaving the car I was whisked to the airport where I planned on grabbing a taxi back to the Westin. But when I got there a young woman directed me to a bus stop in the middle of a traffic island at the far end of the terminal where I should to wait for the blue bus. She told me it was free, but what she didn't tell me is that there are several blue buses, each of which go to two or three specific hotels. I began to get a little unnerved when I kept seeing shuttles for every hotel brand on Earth except Westin. I waited. I smoked a cigarette. I waited. What was likely fifteen to thirty minutes seemed like hours.

Since my focus had been on the LED route indicators on every blue bus coming through the terminal I didn't realize I was standing directly in front of the Theme Building with a clear view. In my previous trips to Los Angeles I've tried to snap a photo but have been thwarted by construction scaffolding, large machinery, parking garages, or what have you. I walked a few feet away from the shuttle stop to get a better view.

Finishing after a few quick snaps, I was messing with the lens cap and looked up to see that I'd completely missed the fact that a big, blue bus with the letters "W-E-S-T-I-N" flashing on the LED display was beginning to pull away from the stop. I ran toward the bus and used my palm to bang on the windows to let the driver know I wanted to be on that bus. Thankfully, she stopped. Boarding the bus, I thanked her profusely and explained that I'd been waiting for some time. She and I talked about why I was there as she meandered from terminal to terminal, finally leaving airport property and arriving at the hotel. As I hopped off of the bus she wished us a great vacation. Such a nice lady.

I joined our group and some new cruisers in the lobby where we waited for the shuttle to San Pedro and the Norwegian Star. A few of us made our way to Daily Grill to pass the time with breakfast, a bloody mary or a mimosa. Finding that we could smoke cigarettes on the patio where there were large, comfortable chairs in a conversation area with a stone fire pit we migrated outdoors for the delightful L.A. weather.

After anxiously waiting for what seemed like half the day the charter buses finally arrived. We paid our tabs, scrambled for our luggage and made our way out the door. Leaving our luggage to be loaded onto the bus, we climbed aboard and took our seats with a sigh of relief. It wasn't a long ride to San Pedro and before we knew it we could see our ship. The bus stopped and as the driver unloaded all of the bags we were instructed to walk in a particular door where we waited in line for security to check our passports and boarding documents. Once verified, we walked up two flights of stairs where the concrete block, windowless, sparse space opened up to a huge room filled with a cacophony of stanchions and hundreds of people waiting in line to approach one of the twenty or so NCL agents. The room was electric with anticipation. It was one of those times that everybody is a friend and complete strangers talked and chatted about their upcoming plans, where they're from, and what they did in Los Angeles before today.

We checked in, waved at those in our group who were still in line and began walking toward the ship to another long line. I could tell that some of the other people in line were beginning to tire of the process by how they leaned on any available object with sighs of boredom. Not me. I knew that before long we'd be in our cabin, on our balcony with many of our friends, waiting to leave Berth 93 for sunnier climes.

18 March 2011

Typical Tourists

Sunday, 6 February
At this point, We'd been on board the Norwegian Star for 24 hours. We joked that our stateroom on the Queen Mary was sure to be larger than our room would be on Norwegian Star based upon our prior experience on the Golden Princess. We were correct by about half. Our accommodations onboard this ship were nice enough, but our balcony stateroom is Lilliputian compared to the grand old ship in Long Beach.

The Observation Bar on The Queen Mary conjures up thoughts of 1930s glitz and glamour, but that ambience is all wrecked with the 1970s album rock soundtrack playing over the speaker system. The demographics were clear to me - this is a hangout for 50-something, salt-of-the-Earth locals. Yet during the second night of our stay the place was filled with conference attendees bearing Accenture name lanyards – a considerably younger, hipper crowd. This was a sharp contrast to the frizzy haired man we noticed both nights who, in the parking lot at one point said, "dude! don't do that to me!" I had gone out to the Mustang for something and hit the remote key, causing the horn to sound as he was digging around in his passenger seat adjacent to our rental. It was kinda funny, but I guess you had to be there.

Cameron and I had dinner at the Chelsea Chowder House and Bar for that night. And, since Anderton's closed a few years ago we rarely have oysters. And seeing "Oysters on the Half Shell" on the bill of fare we couldn't resist. Admittedly, these weren't the giant jewels from the Louisiana farm where Linda bought them, but I'm telling you, these little creatures were outstanding. The dozen was gone in mere seconds, it seemed. For dinner, he ordered a black cod sandwich with dressed seasonal mixed greens and balsamic vinaigrette. I ordered a rib-eye, medium-rare, Red Bliss Potatoes and the same mixed greens salad.

After dinner at Chelsea Chowder House we toured the ship for a while, snapped some photos, visited the Observation Bar and eventually turned in somewhat early so we'd be ready to see some sights the next morning. We woke up before dawn Friday and made coffee in the room. Once we were showered and dressed we headed outside to snap some photos of Queen Mary in daylight, then drove over the bridge to Long Beach looking for a Starbucks.

I'm not sure in which part of Long Beach we landed but we didn't find a Starbucks anywhere. A few blocks from the business district we began noticing that smart little shops were giving way to pawn shops and check cashing establishments. So we made a couple of rights and went back the way we came. Finally as the neighborhood improved (a little) we stopped at a Denny's and ordered breakfast and coffee.

While we ate I noticed many of the passers by possessed a certain unkempt quality. Some carried themselves in such a way that one might assume that they were mentally ill or drunk. Others toted tattered, mismatched grocery bags - the kind that twirl about the air and get caught in trees with the slightest wind - filled with what I suspect were not groceries. One character in particular, a gnome-like man wearing too many clothes, pushed a nearly overflowing grocery cart and would take a few steps, then stop, seemingly contemplating something with every pause. Then he'd begin walking again, only to stop. And, again. "Curious," I thought. I continued to chat with Cameron as I chipped away at my "NEW! Ultimate Skillet (fresh spinach, breakfast sausage, fire-roasted peppers and onions, mushrooms, grape tomatoes and seasoned red-skinned potatoes, topped with a smoky cheese blend and two eggs cooked the way you like them." Suddenly, in my peripheral vision, I realized the "garden ornament" had stopped walking altogether. And even though the sidewalk was removed by a six-foot-wide elevated grass ledge, he was standing right next to my window. Startled, I looked his way and made direct eye contact. He just stood there staring. I hastily turned my head and wondered to myself, "is there another way out of here?" This, I think, sometimes makes me think I'm a shallow asshole.

Truthfully, I'd much rather make donations to organizations that provide lasting help to the homeless/jobless/hopeless -- like guidance and counseling (in addition to food and shelter) -- rather than being accosted as I go about my mindless business. Such an intrusion is as jarring and unwelcome, perhaps, as is guidance and counseling to those who prefer not to have it. I liken the nature of this so-called help to the way I feel each time that the silly, roly-poly blonde woman accosts me in varying places on Union Avenue. I've run into her numerous times at the post office, Blockbuster, the grocery. Apparently, after more than 26 years, she's still trying to raise funds to hop a bus to Millington, you know, the suburb 20 minutes north of Memphis. At any rate, I didn't want to deny having any cash to spare. I didn't want to smell him.

Relieved, I was excused from an exchange with the Travelocity spokesperson when it was time to leave because he'd moved past the restaurant entrance by a few feet. We hastily got back to the Mustang, left Denny's and drove around the corner to Walgreen's for an eight-pack of bottled water, Kleenex and some reading glasses. I'd left my prescription pair at the hotel and I was finding it difficult to read tiny map type without some help.

Driving away from Long Beach we hit the 405 and drove toward Santa Monica knowing that we ultimately wanted to end up in the heart of Hollywood. And this would have been easier, perhaps, if I'd opted for Hertz's "NeverLost" navigation, but every time I've added the service I have found myself doing U-turn after U-turn because the guide's instructions often require immediate action which is very often impossible in heavy traffic. Exiting the freeway at Santa Monica Boulevard, we turned north on Sepulveda and ultimately made a right on Wilshire, heading east. I resisted the urge to stop and take a snapshot of Cameron in front of one of the iconic "Beverly Hills" signs as we entered into the enclave. Approaching Highland, we found a Starbucks!

After navigating the overly-crowded parking lot, we parked, and went inside. With coffees in hand we went back outside to smoke cigarettes behind the 7-Eleven where we'd parked and look at maps on our iPhones. I realized that if we drove north on Highland from Wilshire to Hollywood and made a left we'd be within blocks of a place I'd wanted to see since I was very young: Grauman's Chinese Theater.

Arriving on Hollywood Boulevard, we drove past the theatre, hoping luck would find us an on-street parking space. That didn't happen. We circled back and parked at Hollywood and Highland Center, beneath the Kodak Theater. A short trip on the escalators took us up to ground level where we walked out to find costumed characters such as Wonder Woman and Charlie Chaplin offering photo ops for the tourists (like us). Skipping those, we weaved our way through the crowd to the storied theater. By happenstance the first concrete slab I was able to stop and focus on was that of Bette Davis. I shot it and began walking around and snapping many of the other sentiments addressed to Sid Grauman, by the likes of Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, just as one would expect from a typical tourist.

We then started walking east on the Walk of Fame where other tourists (like us) were shooting memories of themselves next the symbols of their favorite stars. Looking north at Hollywood and Highland, we saw a perfect view of the HOLLYWOOD sign in the distance. I thought this was my best chance at capturing the image as the site online describes many convoluted, dizzying routes by which to approach the nearly unapproachable sign. I zoomed in quite a bit with my handy, dandy Sony and am quite pleased with the result.

We turned back to Hollywood Boulevard and walked east, seeing Pig N Whistle and Grauman's Egyptian. As a bonus, we stumbled upon Doris Day's star on the walk. I had to capture it in memory of our beloved Doris since she was named for Ms. Day.

Back in the car we made our way up Highland to Hollywood Bowl. Even though the place -- including the museum (which the site claims is open "daytime all year round") -- was closed, we were able to walk the grounds and see the magical, art-deco shell in person.

The place reminded us both of the huge ruins of amphitheaters we saw in Pompeii and Ephesus. In spite of the museum's inexplicable closure, we learned some history, statistics and highlights about notable performances from didactic panels posted next to directional signage all over the property.

Next stop: Pasadena. For years, I'd seen articles in Old House Journal of these perfectly preserved/restored neighborhoods brimming with bungalow homes in a myriad of styles and have dreamed of being able to live there, or at the very least, see them in person. Yet by the time we arrived in the hamlet I became distracted by signs pointing to "Old Pasadena." So that's the direction in which we drove. Housed amongst the many fantastic, well preserved cast-iron facades or tiled storefronts on Colorado Boulevard were the likes of Armani|Exchange, Crate and Barrel, Design Within Reach and a host of other stores that one such as myself cannot find anywhere near home in Memphis without an internet connection. Adding H&M, Diesel, Lush and Kenneth Cole to the mix, I'm sure Cameron would know where to find me if we lived out there.

We turned south at Pasadena Avenue and then east on Green Street to drive for several blocks, just taking in the tree-lined retail area -- "Oh, look! There's a Bang & Olufsen store!" -- with me hoping to find a glimpse of the beautiful neighborhoods full of pristine Prairie, Spanish, English and Craftsman bungalows nearby. I suppose I had imagined that the whole of Pasadena was a bungalow lover's paradise. Alas, as we left the business district and things started becoming more residential, we turned south on Michigan Avenue to see one such bungalow amongst other nondescript houses. By now it was getting late (just about time for rush hour(s) to begin) so we decided we were weary and it was probably time to head back to Long Beach. We made a right on Cordova Street and found a place to pull over and take yet another look at the map when "what to our wondering eyes should appear" but a big, black and white skunk tottering along the sidewalk next to manicured lawns and sprinkler systems. I grabbed my camera, thinking, "Really? In Pasadena? In broad daylight? Amongst this sparkly, expensive real estate?" I imagined the citizenry hunting down vermin such as this with fiery pikes in the middle of the night, forcing them into cages so they could to be humanely released in less savory parts of L.A. I wish my timing had been better as the shots I recorded didn't include the portly man of African descent walking across the street to approach the malodorous alien. The skunk raised his tail at this and I thought surely the man was going to need a tomato juice bath, but, apparently, he wasn't frightening enough for the critter to expel his "fragrance."

Driving back down CA-110 was a blast in our rental. I can only imagine the same trip in the Corvette we left behind. At 75 m.p.h., I liken the drive to navigating the switchbacks in Yosemite with much looser turns, and a hell-of-a-lot faster. It was intense -- and fun! How people do this while yakking on a cell phone, putting on makeup, eating/drinking or whathaveyou befuddles me. I'm certain it happens. I saw it.

Back on Board The Queen Mary just before 5, before going to dinner, we decided to peruse some of the shops that were closed on our first night's stay. The majority of the shops I wanted to see were inside the ship on the Promenade Deck while others were on the outside on the same level. Inside, all the contents of all of the stores with exception of the one filled with "cheap Chinese embroidery" were right up my alley: Travel paraphernalia (like "vintage" luggage complete with destination stickers and luggage tags), reproduction Cunard printed materials, vintage ship collectibles (like history books, silverware and ship's models) and antique Art Deco home furnishings and clocks. I really wanted a particular model of the Queen Mary to go along with my collection of miniature architecture, but tipping the scales at over $300 I remembered I was only on the second day of my 10-day vacation and that I should be sensible with my money, perhaps. I bought some of the destination stickers and luggage tags, reproduction post cards and a T-shirt instead.

That night we ate a light dinner at the Promenade Cafe and turned in early so we could drive to the Westin LAX the next morning, where we'd meet the rest of our party of 22, and catch a chartered transfer to San Pedro for embarkation without stressing over time.

14 March 2011


We will continue our regularly scheduled program shortly. In the meantime, enjoy Florence + The Machine in this Pitron and Sanna Radio/DJ Tonic VOD remix of You've Got the Love.

03 March 2011

A Warming Trend

Chronicling our escape from hellish weather here during the first week of February has amounted to a bunch of notes sitting upon the proverbial back burner for the last couple of weeks. I'm sure I'll forget something here or there, but for now, here begins a recap of our two days in Los Angeles followed by seven days on board Norwegian Star (with 20 friends) as we cruised the Mexican Rivera. I've decided to divide this mile-long post into more digestible and hopefully more interesting bits. Here's the first:

Thursday Afternoon, 3 February, 3PM Mountain
So, this morning after checking e-mail and packing up the laptop, I loaded the car with Billie and Georgia's gear and took them to their "spa vacation" out in BFE. They were very quiet on the drive out. I suspect with the cacophony of suitcases and laundry baskets whirling around the house during the last several days they couldn't help but know that we were leaving and they wouldn't be going with us.

Their somber demeanor made me worrisome for the drive even if it made the trip a little safer because they were lying down in the back seat instead of pacing back and forth, standing on the armrests and sticking their heads out of the windows. My mind always races with each of these seemingly never-ending treks to the "country." Will Georgia behave? Will Billie be a nervous wreck the whole time we're gone? Will she eat? Will the staff remember to feed them separately? I tried clearing my mind for the uneventful thirty minute drive once we left Midtown. Finally approaching the last intersection before turning into Berryhill...

..."DAMMIT!," I cursed.

I realized that I'd been racing through these mental lists for days and in doing so left Billie's prescription eye drops at home. After breakfast every morning she gets "a tablet"* (vitamin), her "drops" and a cookie. Because I had at least an hour's loose ends to tie up before leaving the house, I stuck them back in the refrigerator (where they must be kept) and made a mental note to grab them before I got in the car. FAIL.

Inside the facility I explained to the receptionist what I'd done and asked if she could call our regular vet, ask for the dosage amount and prepare a new prescription for Billie's stay. I didn't have another hour to waste on a trip home for the medicine, a trip back to drop it off and another trip home to get ready for our flight. As the kennel attendant and I were putting the dogs' beds in the pen and getting them settled, the receptionist came back to tell me that, "yes," they could provide the medicine. However, it seemed that it would cost just under three times what I paid at Park Avenue Animal Hospital only two days ago!

I wondered, if Adequan is Adequan, what makes it so special at Berryhill that it's almost $100 when I usually pay $36? Oh, yes. I remembered. I'm at Berryhill. A Sally Beaumont enterprise. There's more to that story but we're not going there now. "Whatever," I said. I agreed pay a king's ransom for the treatment. Her eye is healing from yet a second inexplicable** injury in six months, and I don't want to delay that.

"Let's do it."

Now, at 30,000 ft. (an hour out of LAX), I'm beginning to relax in spite of Billie's last plea. Putting her "hand" through the gap between the gate and the wall of their double-wide pen, she reached out as if to say, "don't leave me here." I thought, maybe she'll relax, as I hope to, on this fine Chinese New Year day. In just a few minutes we'll get off of this 737, pick up our bags, make our way to Hertz #1 Gold Canopy Service and hop into our Camaro. I hope.

I'd say Hertz has been running at about a 10% success rate when placing me in the car I've reserved over the last 10 or so years. For two different trips: "No, a Mercury Grand Marquis does not equal a Lincoln Town Car." And, no, a Toyota Sienna (seriously?) doesn't = a Pontiac G6. They did, however, give us the Chrysler Crossfire we reserved for a trip to Atlanta a few years ago. Maybe we'd have the same luck this time. Besides, I simply won't drive -- let alone pay $15/day to park -- a Kia Sephia. I'd rather take a cab to find an authentic Chinese dinner tonight.

At any rate, Long Beach and The Queen Mary, here we come!

After waiting for an eternity (close to forty minutes) for our bags to come off of the carousel we hopped on a bus to Hertz where I found my name on the #1 Gold list: [dminmem] 433. So, in space 433 we should find our Camaro. Confused by the signs we wandered through four lanes of shiny, parked cars looking for space 433. When we finally figured out where it was my thought was, "holy crap." But in this case it was a good thing.

This is not a Camaro.

Instead of finding a Camaro in our space, there sat a bright yellow Corvette Z-06 convertible. I was in shock and giddy with anticipation. Driving this machine for a couple of days would've been AWESOME. But, and there's always a "but," my imagination was immediately snapped back into reality. I knew we wouldn't get my steamer trunk-sized rollerboard in the trunk, let alone the rest of our bags. Believe me, we tried and quickly realized it was a futile exercise. I walked inside and spoke with a very sweet young lady to whom I said, "Bless you for giving us a Corvette. But our luggage won't fit in it."

Do you see that giant bag in the trunk? This was only the beginning.

"But we don't have any Camaros," she replied. "They were all recalled." After explaining that they had reached their mileage limits and were pulled from the livery, she said, "I think we have a Mustang convertible." She reworked our documents and handed me the keys to a shiny red Mustang convertible. Between the trunk and the backseat we were able to pack all of our gear and were on our way to I-405, South.

According to our previously printed map and directions, we should've expected a 20 minute drive under normal circumstances. Yet, after our delays at Hertz we hit the expressway sometime between 3:45 and 4 PM. YAY! Rush hour(s). Now, mind you, I understand that delays on Los Angeles freeways are inevitable and are fairly regular at any time of day, but God help us. Our trip on the 405 ended up being more than twice the time - :45.

I know. Quit whining - you're barely a day into vacation, dminmem.

Honestly, though, I didn't whine. Cameron and I just used that time to exhale. After all, traveling is never easy, but it can still be fun. By the time we hit 710, though, I was just about desperate to get to our hotel in Long Beach. I had to pee. And, if I hadn't been distracted with enthusiasm for having glimpsed the unmistakable bright red and black stacks of The Queen Mary as I crested a hill, I would have gotten to a toilet much more quickly. As it stood, though, I left the freeway one exit too soon, immediately did a U-turn and found the entrance back onto the freeway closed for construction. YIKES! Zig-zagging with a sense of which direction we should be traveling put us at the ship/hotel about an hour after we started the trek. I let out a sigh relief on so many levels but was about to come unglued - we were at The Queen Mary!

How incredible it was to drive up to this.

Walking through that piece of history conjured up feelings of gratitude for the vision that made its useful preservation possible. I think it's magnificent. Make no mistake -- it's not like staying at a Westin -- which is where many of our cruise mates were staying. But I hadn't tried booking a room there until after NCL's block was filled. The cruise line offered to request an additional room for us to which I said, "thanks, please do." I was instructed to call back next week. This started before Thanksgiving and dragged on for five weeks until they finally got a room for us at this ridiculous rate: $168 per person, per night. We declined. I remember saying something like "are you kidding? We can stay at The Roosevelt and rent a car for $700." With that, I logged onto and found a much better rate at the Westin in addition to some lousy reviews. Many guests complained about the cost vs. value and mentioned being nitpicked to death with additional charges like parking and internet service. Seconds before clicking "book" at The Roosevelt, which offered free wireless, I thought "I'll scroll a little further" and there was Her Majesty!

Stoic Stowaway. My handsome man.

It's fascinating for me to imagine the enthusiastic travelers on board for the ship's maiden voyage in 1936. Throughout the floating museum/hotel there are displays of china, menus and various artifacts from the ship's heyday. The Art Deco oceanliner is a shining example of the design style.

* I would like to thank my long-time friend, Greg, for introducing "tablet," in this context, into my lexicon some 26 years ago. I think I was asking for an Excedrin: "Do you need a tablet?"

** Inexplicable? Not really. Georgia plays too rough. And, I suspect that Billie's eye maladies are a result of her trying to put Georgia in her place. It's been a way of life for more than three years.

27 January 2011

Fond Memories

Once again I have happened upon a post that I began some time ago that was never published. This one is still relevant even though it's been six months since I began it.

The other day I was standing at the sink cleaning corn for steaming. As I pulled the last hairs of corn silk off of the bicolored ears I recalled how meticulously my friend, Don Blasi, would prepare corn, carefully inspecting every ear seemingly two or three times to make sure every piece of silk was gone. This of course brought back a rush of memories:
My now long-time friend, J.L., and I met by happenstance one hot, humid, "typically Louisville" Sunday afternoon at Cherokee Park. He took pity on the lonely boy in the baby-poop* gold Ventura with Indiana plates and introduced himself. Living on the "sunny side of the river" was our first connection, I suppose. After a little small talk, I hopped into in his Camaro (T-tops off, disco blaring) to a convenience store on the other side of Seneca Park near Bowman Field where we picked up something to drink and continued our drive back to Cherokee Park. As we were getting acquainted I explained that I had just come back to the area after my first year at Ball State and that I knew nobody in the Louisville community. I even suggested that I might put my experiences at Ball State behind me, but he encouraged me, telling me that I didn't need to do that. He asked me "is there anybody you'd like to meet?"

J.L. and a canine guest at one of our Oktoberfair parties, combining Oktoberfest and St. James Art Fair into one big time.

I had seen a large group of people gathering in a spot between what would become known to me in later years as the meeting place for the "Cherokee Bridge Club" and the road that lead out of Cherokee Park to Seneca. Amongst the folks laughing, talking and hanging out, I pointed out a thin, animated character with a sort of wedge haircut wearing a striped sleeveless shirt and shorts, doing pirouettes on the asphalt. My interest in him was that he seemed filled with the joy of living, and apparently wasn't ashamed at all about being gay. J.L. exclaimed something along the lines of "Oh! You want to meet Miss Blasi!

J.L., Lee, dminmem and Donnie on the roof kickin' it at 1436 St. James Court.

I had no idea at the time that both he and J.L. would become two of my dearest friends.

Almost immediately, J.L. was introducing me to Donnie, a theater and dance major at Western Kentucky University (this explains the pirouettes). In the coming weeks, months and years Don would introduce me to several of his friends and acquaintances, many of whom became my circle of friends, ones who helped create the memories I recall to this day. Lee McDonald, Alan Gallagher, Michael Campagna, Steve Soder, Michael Clancy and Mark Craven were among them. For the next several years if you saw one of us, some or all of us weren't far behind. We danced together, bowled together, traveled together, and sometimes lived together. At times we were inseparable. And, now another memory comes to mind involving a trip to wintry Chicago in Mike Clancy's "van full of queers" -- but that's going to have to be another post I suppose. Hell, explaining the quoted phrase in the previous sentence (which comes from a game we played during the 6-hour drive) would take some time in and of itself.

One of our ill-advised photo ops at Stewart Beach in Galveston, TX, circa 1983. From left, Donnie, Steve, one of Steve's friends and Lee.

On July 9, Donnie, would have been 54. As it is, though, he died six weeks after his 34th birthday, August 17, 1990. And - like Donnie - Lee, Alan, Michael, Steve and Michael have all left the agony of living in this world with AIDS for a peaceful hereafter. But, they're still here with me alive and well in my fond memories.

J.L. and Lee twirlin' on the bay window above my bed. Our friend (and landlord) Walt suggested that we get down from there. We did, reluctantly. Why would we give up such an audience otherwise?

*Thank you, Thom, for the delightful description for the color of my car.