Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Perfect Place in LA

The Farmers Market in LA

As an architect I tend to think that all good places have to begin with a grand plan. So it is painfully hard to accept perfectly wonderful places that just sort of happen.

These are the places where somehow a seed gets sown and with time they mature and become....dare I say it; perfect?

The Farmers Market in LA is one of those perfect places. After evolving for three quarters of a century it is now a delightful jumble of a place. In car crazy LA, this is one of its best pedestrian places imaginable. You can stroll, buy fresh meat / produce, eat foods from every corner of the world, people watch, and just laze about.

The Farmers Market Sign
An LA Icon

Like everything in LA, the Farmers Market is "World Famous". Indeed, its tower sign is truly a landmark. And the pies at DuPar's? Well they are icons as well and they are available 24 hours a day. DuPar's pies run the gamut from conventional "Mom comfort food" to mountains of meringue and apple pies with volcano shaped crusts.

Seating Can be Under Tents or Trees
The LIne is Blurred Between Indoors and Outdoors

Forget Foo Foo Ice Cream Flavors
Here is the Place for Great Chocolate Malt Ice Cream

There are few comparable places in the US. The Pike Place Market in Seattle comes to mind. It is even a bit hard to figure our how to get into the Farmers Market as it is surrounded by a gentle fortress of white clapboard walls and shops.

Every Turn Brings Something New

But once inside the sights, smells, and colors make for a perfect place. It is fun to walk and people watch.

Meat, Produce, Nuts, Everyday or Gourmet

Anyone that comes here will find something they want to eat. Food choices run from alligator tail to vegan.

Every Stall is a Show Kitchen

It could never be replicated as it now stands in complete defiance to every convention of modern building codes.

Perfect Location

Sort of ironically The Farmers Market now anchors the west end of The Grove a glitzy new shopping and dining venue that is everything the Farmer's Market is not.

The Grove
Uber Hip Lifestyle Mall

The Market is chaos, The Grove is Stepford perfect. The Market is compact, The Grove is blocks long.

A Place of Manufactured Icons

The Market has little shops and stalls, The Grove has huge shops and restaurants. The Market has a couple of small parking lots, The Grove has a huge multi-story parking deck.

Painfully Perfect "People Places"

The two venues actually balance each other out and add a degree of critical mass that seem to make each better.

If you are a Los Angelino pick a night and go. If you are a tourist, don't miss it.

Come On There's Pie!

An did I mention, there is wonderful pie waiting for you 24 hours a day?

I mean really, what injury in our hectic daily lives can't be repaired at least a little bit by a prescription that includes a slice of pie and and a cup of steaming coffee?

Roadboy's Travel's © 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Air Travel: New Rules

Consideration: What A Concept!

After flying RT across the US this weekend I decided I would like to create my own set of "New Rules" for air travel. My apologies to Bill Maher whose HBO concept I am shamelessly ripping off.

Herewith are Roadboy's New Rules:

1. If you are short - do not even think of sitting In an exit row!

If you do the hate rays you get from every person over 6' 2" walking by you are real. I will translate what they are mouthing as they walk by you "I would like to feed you to a wood chipper".

2. If you bring a big green burrito on board without first eating three tabs of Bean-O, the rest of the passengers have the right to perform surgery on you using plastic utensils without anesthesia.

Option 2: Sit in row 30 next to the odor masking Magic Blue Water!

3. If you need two seat belt extenders or need to raise the armrest to fit in your seat consider buying an extra seat, upgrading to first, taking a train, or walking (seriously it would do you some good). Anytime I see Jaba and the little Hutts coming down the aisle, I cringe till they pass my row.

4. If you sleep, do not drool on your neighbor.

5. If you bring animals, they must stay in the crate. The St. Bernard "Service Dog" scam is getting old.

6. If you are in Zone 2 or above, don't hide your zone number and crowd the entrance podium. You know who you are.

7. If you have consumed a liter or more of Dasani, hit the loo BEFORE climbing into your window seat.

8. Any travel day must start with a shower deodorant and Selsun Blue.

If hygiene "ain't your thing", then drive! I mean really, think about it! In your own truck you can roll down your windows, toss your empties in the back, and take along "Lumpy" your pet boa constrictor!

9. If I can lip synch the music coming out of your I-pod, it is too damned loud. I SAID "IF I CAN......."

10. Whoever sits in the middle seat OWNS both arm rests.

11. If you buy some bizarre shaped or delicate gift (an 11' long hickory walking stick), fedex it home.

Don't go getting all weird when someone actually puts a suitcase in the same bin with your new "Objet d'Art". News flash, if your precious artwork has any kids or animals with big eyes, is painted on velvet, or if you think anything by that "painter of light" guy, qualifies as art, believe me it is better smashed up and left on the plane anyway.

Other than stinky feet at the X-ray machine, I think we've got most of the bases covered!

Happy Landings!

Roadboy's Travel's © 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Air Force One

A Source of Pride

Just a quick post tonight. I flew out of Sky Harbor Sunday night and just as our flight was about to leave the gate our pilot come on to inform us that the airport was temporarily closed to due to imminent arrival of Air Force One.

I was flabbergasted when a groan went up from a few passengers in the cabin. It seemed that some of them were genuinely put out that they were going to have to wait 20 minutes or so to take off. I even overheard one nitwit complaining that the president should be in Washington, not taking his family on vacations to the Grand Canyon.

It made me think.

First off, I still get all goose bumpy seeing Air Force One. Damn it is beautiful.

Second, imagine how the two or three passengers in uniform feel. They are putting their lives on the line for us at the direction of their commander-in-chief who rides in that aircraft, yet their fellow passengers feel imposed upon at the prospect of a brief delay.

Third, Air Force One is the embodiment of everything our country stands for. It is elegant and graceful. Yet, it is powerful. It is the best plane, flown by the best pilots. It symbolizes our collective hopes and aspirations to the whole world as it travels in times of peace or in times of war.

I also realize I LOVE the fact that our president is taking his kids to see the Grand Canyon. It is one of the few places on this earth that even the most jaded human being cannot view without experiencing complete jaw dropping awe.

If we lose our sense of awe, then we risk losing our understanding of what life itself is all about. More importantly we may come to question why our country is worth every last measure of our care and protection.

That plane and its constantly changing occupants embodies the magic of our country. It reminds us that only democracy regularly allows for the peaceful transition of power based solely on our right to vote.

Air Force One
Touching Down on Runway 2 Eight

Taking a delay to catch a glimpse of Air Force One? Use that time to count your blessings.

Course I still think everyone can grow up to be president.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Damn FIne Ice Cream

Summer's Best Stuff

When I was a kid in Oakland we had Williams dairy. Williams ran a fleet of those snub nosed white trucks with real milkmen. They delivered whole milk in glass bottles sealed with pogs twice a week. They had the key to half the houses on our street and dropped off fresh milk directly into the frig. They picked up the empty glass bottles for reuse.

They sold heavy cream, butter, and sour cream that was superb. It had to be, they were in competition with Berkeley Farms, Challenge, and Dreyers.

My dad grew up on farms and milked cows each day. So I grew up believing that there should be a milkfat ring on the top of any good bottle of milk.

To this day I despise 2% milk and consider nonfat milk a complete abomination. Dad used to call it "bluejohn" milk (no idea why). So, If you send me to the store for milk don't bother specifying anything because I always return with whole milk.

If you want to really light me up ask me my thoughts about margarine.

With that background I have always believed a good day starts by walking the dogs and ends with with a dish of ice cream. Ice cream is my primary food vice. I will never give it up. I really don't care if it is summer or the middle of the coldest day of winter (although it somehow feels more morally justifiable to eat ice cream in summer).

Gelato in Siena

So when I travel I seek out the best ice cream everywhere in the world. I will veer off course to acquire a deep, dark, chocolate Tartufo on the Piazza Navona in Rome (one of those little dudes can set off a complete mood swing).

But my perfect sundae is made at Fenton's Creamery on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, California. If you saw the animated movie "UP" the ice cream store used in the movie was clearly based on Fenton's.  If you ask they will make a Jersey Sundae (it is no longer on the menu, but they still make it if you ask). A Jersey is sublime. Simply, the best ice cream confection in the world. They take rich vanilla ice cream and cover it in alternating layers of heavy whip cream and whip cream that has been whipped with milk chocolate and malt. A Fenton's sundae leaves you with "slick lips" a condition which verifies the amount of butterfat in the ice cream.

Drop me in any American city no matter how obscure, within hours I will know where every Dairy Queen is. In Illinois I likewise note every Oberweis shop (I even ignore the owner's goofball politics).

When ice cream is really good I eat it neat and savor each bite. If it is "everyday" quality I eat it in sundaes. And root beer floats in summer, well they are just a miracle. Especially when the root beer is Richardsons (Elmhurst Illinois).

World's Best Gelato
Grom in Florence

Now everyone has their hometown favorites whether it is Elena's Blueberry Pie at Graeters in Cincinnati or Chocolate Chewies' N Cream, Huckleberry Cheesecake, or Tutti Frutti at Leopolds in Savannah.

Here in Phoenix we have some local ice cream treasure's: Mary Coyle's Ice Cream has flavors like fresh honey banana and, with notice, will build you "The Mountain" their seven pound sundae that serves 10 (or more) people.

Then there is my favorite: Berto's homemade ice cream (available in local specialty stores like AJ's). Berto's flavors (like blood orange and prickly pear) are just wonderful. There are now at least a couple "G-spot" gelato shops in metro Phoenix as well. In Scottsdale there is the "Sugar Bowl". And Tempe is home to the Cold Stone chain which (I feel) has upped the ante of quality ice cream nationally.

Lately my list of "ice cream that I want to to try" has been growing steadily. Here are some I have on my list to sample as upcoming travel permits:

Bi-rite in San Francisco (Brown Sugar with Ginger Caramel)
ICI in Berkeley (Rose flavor)
McConnell's In Santa Barbara

So let the kid in you come out. Eat some ice cream - every day!

Roadboy's Travel's © 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Scott

Traveling to Survive

The reasons that we travel are as diverse and complex as we are.

We travel to visit friends or family for special events and reunions. We travel for war. We travel for work. We travel as part of our education. We travel for fun.

My own travel has been mostly for fun and profit.

But for my family, and just one generation back, the reasons for travel were very different, and rarely for fun.

The first trip my father made was on foot during the Dustbowl. He walked next to his 2 brothers and 2 sisters and my Grandpa Bev's Model A truck from Kansas to Pritchett Colorado.

Their journey began the day after goons hired by the local bank bulldozed my grandfathers farmhouse and everything he had worked a lifetime for into a heap of smoldering rubble while he worked for the last time in his own fields.

Once the family got to Colorado they simply dug a hole in the earth and lived in it for the duration of the depression working in Southern Colorado's broom corn fields.

But Dad's is a different story. You can read his story here.

This story describes my Mom's history. It occurred at nearly the same time and involves a journey also made by economic hardship. It ends when my maternal grandmother Magdalena (Lena) loaded her three daughters into the car of a family friend in Chicago and returned to her beloved California.

Grandma Magdalene Marie "Lena" Christmann
Age 15
Sacramento, California

This story also begins in California. As that is where my Grandmother grew up and eventually met and fell in love with a talented mechanical draftsman from Chicago named Ernst. Some mutual friends arranged their introduction and Ernst immediately fell for Grandma. They were married and began their family with two daughters arriving in quick succession. Ernst worked for various engineering firms and for the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. 

Ernst and Lena
Top Left

But the economic woes leading up to the Depression left him unemployed since he was not a "native son" to California. In those days that was the final question he was asked at every job interview.

Running out of cash he finally gave up and moved back to Chicago where his family had arranged a good job for him at the Mills Novelty Company. He got settled at Mill's and sent for his family. After the move to Chicago my mother was born. While my Grandma was happy to be reunited with Grandpa, she hated the cold winters in Chicago. 

My Mom, however, loved Illinois. She loved the changing seasons, the sweet corn in the fall and having lots of cousins from Grandpa's extended family to play with.

Grandpa did well at Mills and in the final years leading up to The Depression earned a decent income. In 1935 Mills' was actually thriving. Since the turn of the century Mill's had made coin operated musical devices. In 1935 they struck gold with Coca Cola's famous curvy vending machine. They also made cigar dispensers and slot machines. In the height of The Depression Mill's executives lived in Oak Park and owned yachts.

The backstory was that years earlier Herbert Mill's had seen the value in Charles Fey's invention of the Liberty Bell slot machine (nicknamed during the gold rush as the "one-armed bandit"). When Fey's San Francisco factory was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, Mill's history officially says they "collaborated" with Fey to produce a "look alike" liberty bell slot machine. Mill's slot machines pretty much came to dominate a burgeoning new market.

Grandpa worked on a number of inventions for Mill's but his work on the slots led directly to the patent for the modern payout mechanism eventually used in the devices made for the Mob's mega casinos being built in Las Vegas.

Grandma said Grandpa told her he knew the harm the slots would bring and he started to express guilt and misgivings for helping to create it. While at Mills he also took out patents for automatic (floor pad operated) doors, and linoleum with a coved base. He delighted in engineering and the tools he used each day. My mom remembers him measuring the width of her hair with his micrometers.

While times were good he splurged on a short wave radio. The radio was an E.H. Scott Allwave 23 made in Chicago. Scott's were handmade and referred to as the "Stradivarius" of radios. It was very expensive and it was Grandpa's prized possession.

Grandpa took on side jobs painting houses and developed a serious infection due to lead poisoning (from exposure to fresh paint.) He refused to go the doctor and by the time his brothers forced him to go, he had suffered brain damage which resulted in paranoia and schizophrenia.

His descent into paranoia left him convinced that "they" were after him. He stayed up all night using headphones listening to his Scott radio to intercept "secret messages". 

He chained the windows of the house closed and confided to a brother that he was contemplating harming his wife and daughters.

One of the Final Photos of Grandpa 
With His Daughters

Grandpa's brothers had him committed to a mental institution. Grandma lived for the next few years with Ernst's sisters waiting to see if he'd recover.

Mom in Chicago
After Grandpa was taken away many of the photo's of my Mom seem to convey a little girl unable to grasp what was happening to her world.

Once it was clear Ernst was not getting better Grandpa's sisters arranged for a family friend to drive Grandma and her three daughters back to California where she could live with her own family.

Mom's Last Photo in Illinois

Grandma W/ Mom (Left)
On the Way to California
(The Same Dresses Show Up in Every Photo)

After traveling back to California Grandma's world galvanized to a singular focus - to keep her family together. She had lost her father and an early boyfriend to the Alaskan Gold rush. Now she had lost her husband to mental illness.

She was hell bent not to lose anyone else in her life ever again. I have never met anyone that can match her resolve.

In California Grandma worked in commercial bakeries for 10-15¢ an hour. She and her daughters lived with her own mother until an unexpected inheritance seemingly came from nowhere. It was actually from the father that had disappeared to Alaska. This is the money that allowed Lena to buy her first real home for her and her daughters.

Eventually a real job with benefits came along working for the Southern Pacific Railroad as a billing clerk. Her resolve had paid off.

As for me. I never met my Grandpa Ernst. Mental illness in the family in those days was treated as a family secret. He never had a chance to see his wife or his three daughters again remaining institutionalized until his death.

Grandpa Was Buried in Chicago
Grandma Was Buried in California

I do wish Grandma and Grandpa could have been buried together. I guess that is kind of silly, they have a hereafter to be together, but somehow it just seems like it would have been right.

The Scott
(With Toys He Made for His Three Daughters)

There are so many questions I'd love to ask Grandpa that simply can't be answered in this life. I guess I'll just save them for the next.

In the meantime I will cherish the toys he made for his three daughters in happier times.

And I will take good care of The Scott.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My Favorite Planted Places

The Gardens of Summer

I love to stroll in gardens. Especially in the summer when they exude wonderful smells and are filled with insects. The critter noises, the bees and hummingbirds seeking nectar. They fill me with wonder and peace.

But all things planted are a complete mystery to me.

You see I am one of those people that loves gardens, yet kill anything I plant. A plant that I purchase is not an opportunity to nurture, it is a license to euthanize. I plant at the wrong time. I over and under water. I get the light wrong. It just is not in my nature.

Its a bit ironic since my lineage includes Golden Gate Park's master gardener John McLaren. He is the guy that did not give up on the idea of a huge urban park even when in 1876 Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington, and Charles Crocker tried to acquire the land for a racetrack. He lobbied for the windmills that provided a water source for the park. He is the guy that kept at it when the fiesty Olmstead's threw in the towel. He is the one that carefully planted all of those rapidly growing vines to conceal nearly every sculpture in the park. He is the one that blew off San Francisco's law of forced retirement at age 60. And later, when he reached the age of 70, was rewarded by Council with a charter amendment to exempt him from any mandatory retirement.

He went on to daily manage the park, living in McLaren Lodge, till his death at the age of 96 in 1943.

Lore has it that sculptures continued to be discovered for decades after his death.

So this post simply identifies some of the parks I love. Not a complete list by any means, but visiting any on my list will provide hours of pleasure.

The Lions Gate Bridge
Stanley Park
Vancouver BC

Stanley Park. Oh how I adore Vancouver's most magnificent park. It alone can serve as an "only reason" to visit this incredible city. While in Vancouver try to make time to visit the Queen Elizabeth Gardens as well.

Veranda Gardens
The Banff Springs Hotel

In Summer sitting among the blooms at the Banff Springs Hotel cannot be beat.

The Butchart Garden's. Victoria's gem. Lovely by day. Magical at night. A more perfect night cannot be found than watching its Saturday evening fireworks display in the summer.

Forsyth Park
Savannah, GA

Forsyth Park in Savannah oozes slow southern charm.

Volunteer Park in Seattle offers breathtaking views of the Seattle skyline, the Olympic mountains. It also hosts summer plays, and is home to a spendid deco era museum.

The Borghese Gardens

The gardens of Rome (Borghese), or Paris (The Tuileries), or London (Kew).

Balboa Park
San Diego

Balboa Park in San Diego is one of the most complete parks in the Nation. It has arguably the world's best zoo, gardens, and a dazzling array of architecture and museums.

Manito Park on Spokane's South Hill. Its sunken gardens surround the timeless and beautiful Davenport fountain. A 90 acre gem.

Phillip's Park
Aurora, Illinois

Portland's Rose Garden. San Jose's Rose Garden. Filoli near San Francisco. The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. The sunken garden in Phillips Park in Aurora Illinois. The Morton Arboretum near Chicago. Denver's Botanical Garden. Just about any major city in the will have wonderful parks and gardens to explore.

Many thanks to those that make the world bloom!

Roadboy's Travels © 2009