Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Roadboy's 2014

Should Be Exciting

Roadboy consistently avoids making New Years Resolutions. I find them to be a waste of time.

Instead on New Years I bring out a spreadsheet that I've updated for years. I use it as a planning tool to contemplate long-term travel plans. It overlays work and anticipated family milestones with opportunities for travel. I also use it to confirm prior year goals.

The key is to write things down. When I write my goals down, they seem much more likely to become real.

Well, my list is full!

And (with any luck) will stay full till I die!

I still have South America (Brazil, Patagonia, Mendoza, and Iguazu Falls) on my list. I still plan on a 6 month sabbatical to live in Guadalajara Mexico where I will take cooking and Spanish Language immersion classes. There is Machu Picchu awaiting. Across the ocean there is Tahiti, Bora Bora and the South Pacific. I still have a return visit to mainland China on my list. There is an African photo safari in there somewhere. And finally here is a trip to Istanbul and the Greek isles.

As the last few years of my life have been a bit chaotic, some of my goals have moved forward and some unexpected and spontaneous trips have emerged.

This year my daughter has decided to relocate to London for 6 months starting in the Spring. So I'll be using that opportunity to visit the UK. The trip will also allow time for a "roots" tour of Ireland.

Happy New Year!

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Looking Toward 2014

Peering Into Roadboy's Crystal Ball.....

Well for us road warriors, 2014 will clearly usher in significant change.

Expect to see lots of change in the hospitality industry. The seeming avalanche of "rebranding" will continue. What used to be a Hilton hotel may well be a Doubletree on your next trip. It seems like some hotel chains are finding it much easier to upgrade and rebrand their tired flagship properties, rather than undertake the type of renovation needed to maintain 'flagship" quality. So we can expect a lot of superficial paint and finish upgrades. The old toilet will remain but the shower will be surrounded in new tile.

As sad as this can seem, I must admit I prefer re-branding to what happened to many old Sheraton properties a couple of decades ago when the once venerable "Sheraton" brand was allowed to rapidly deteriorate. It got to the point where a visit to a Sheraton was an inconsistent hit-or-miss affair that spanned from great to really decrepit.

Hilton is the chain I'll watch the closest in 2014. Hilton was "flipped" (again) in late 2013 by its private equity owners. Sadly, when hotels slip into a series private equity potato tosses, they tend to simply extrude short term profits at any cost. Room rates go up and maintenance goes down. It may well also result in the degradation of the perks enjoyed by their most loyal customers. I am a diamond Hilton HHonors member, so I hope I'm totally wrong.

However, if I am right this situation will pose a dynamic window of opportunity for Starwood and/or Hyatt to attract many fXus once loyal Hilton HHonors clients ands sprint ahead in market share.

Hotels Become More Global
2014 will almost certainly witness the rapid transformation of an increasingly worldwide hotel industry. More boutique international chains will likely venture into the US. Hopefully even smaller chains like the wonderful Spanish Room Mate chain will choose to expand in key US markets. Even Ikea is starting a hotel chain.

And, some high dollar recent expansions suggest that the superb Asian Langham Hotel chain is positioning itself for substantial growth in North American. And while domestic chains seem bent on  reducing the value of our points (pissing off their most loyal customers), Langham has developed an amazing loyalty program.

Marriott seems to be steadily enhancing its selection of fine Autograph and Edition "code sharing" properties. I can only say "awesome!" Marriott also announced it will soon introduce America to Europe's design-forward and meticulously run AC Hotels.

Repackaging to the Millennials
Many hotel chains are currently working very hard in their "design labs" to create a new generation of hotels that are xvzmore stylish, techno friendly and functional.

While I certainly welcome creative enhancements I have to stress that hotelier's keep their eyes on the ball. In my last three stays in Homewood Suites and two Doubletree's I had one toilet that didn't flush, one heater that didn't heat, and one shower drain that didn't drain....

So....I ask Hotelier's to, first and foremost, remember that what Road Warriors really want are:
• Quiet rooms with acoustically rated doors.
• Great beds made up with great linens (Most of us don't care if we get 50 pillows).
• Rooms that have no smell of mold or mildew.
• TV remote controls that actually work.
• Luxury shampoo's and conditioners.
• At least two decent sized trash cans and one decent sized recycle bin.
• Robust WiFi that delivers netflix.
• AC's that cool quietly in summer.
• Heater units that heat quietly in winter without smelling like burning dust.
• Toilets that effectively flush and do not run all night.

And most of all.....
• Showers and sinks that drain (standing in water YUK!)

Frequent Flier /Loyalty Programs
Ever notice that as fast as most of us assemble frequent flier points, the airlines and hotel chains are annually increasing the redemption requirements for our points making sure that our hard-won points become less and less valuable.

So start using them!

The "New" American
The slowly improving US Airways will soon evaporate just like America West did before it.

As soon as the federally imposed 4-year moratorium expires, expect the "new" American to immediately recompose its hub and spoke airports. There will likely be some big winners and there will be some big losers (remember how PIT was decimated after the collapse of the old US Air?). I am confident Sky Harbor will not be one of the losers.....

I mean being that most fliers hate LAX almost as much (if not more than) Atlanta and O'Hare, preserving Sky Harbor seems logical.

I also predict the new American will absorb all of the bad characteristics of American's rather awful frequent flier and first class upgrade policies, while allowing all of US Airway's best perks to evaporate. New American! Please make this Chairman a liar!

In 2014 Southwest will end its much loved free checked baggage policy. They will also institute change fees. Deal with it.

Southwest's cabins will also lose that beloved legroom as their planes undergo reconfiguration. Seat cushions will shrink and an additional row of seats will get jammed into all those 737's.

As I've lamented in the past, IMHO Southwest has lost its way. All of the distinguishing features that made it special are continuing to disappear one by one. I'm sure a lot of the die hard Southwest fans will still keep flying it. But, it now frequently offers the highest fares and is rapidly becoming "just another airline".

Violence in Coach
New and reconfigured airplanes cabins are being designed to serve an increasingly poor America.

Hence, already cramped coach cabins are going to become (impossible you say!) even more cramped. Expect to see the end of reclining seats.

Sadly, as all studies show, such conditions will result in increasing violence.

Business / First Class Become More Lavish
Just as the evaporation of our middle class is resulting in more hellish coach cabins, the increasing concentration of wealth by America's uber rich is resulting in airlines starting to add lavish (and breathtakingly costly) new classes of business and first class cabins on domestic transcontinental flights.

On the other side of the drapes the 1% that does not own their own private jets will enjoy new business and first class cabins similar to those offered on long-haul transoceanic flights. Imagine Jet Blue with a section in front featuring lay-flat beds. Well Jet Blue's slumber suites are on the way.

The 1% have made it clear they are more that happy to pay whatever it takes ($3,000 to $4,000) to avoid having to share the misery found in the back of the plane.

Luxury Buses
As airline coach cabins become more and more awful, I expect more and more of the point-to-point luxury bus lines to emerge. Where they are starting to appear, they run from downtown to downtown, offer clean spacious cabins in new buses. They offer power for your tablet and free wifi. As travelers become more aware of their service I believe they will expand mainly in high traffic corridors.

Rental Cars
Rental car companies are in a state of absorption. And product identity just gets more and more confusing. All of the big legacy rental car companies struggle to figure out how to market their newly acquired "leisure" market rental companies.

Expect some new names too ("Firefly" has emerged at many of Thrifty's locales.)

And, as the big car rental firms price themselves into oblivion, expect to see the continuing expansion of the upstarts. Fox, EZ and Advantage all seem to be improving while offering rental rates that are typically 1/2 what you'll pay at Avis or Hertz. And their cars are frequently newer and cleaner. Of course the shuttle experience on the upstarts is typically spotty and miserable.

Ahhh Roadboy's crystal ball is now becoming cloudy....

Roadboy's Travel © 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Christmas in Cars Land

Shiny as a New Hubcap

Update 2014
After such a nice holiday visit in 2013 Team Roadboy visited Disneyland, California Adventure and Universal Studios again in 2014. This time we attempted to visit New Years Eve,  New Years Day and the following Saturday.  

While I contend the parks are at their finest between Thanksgiving and New Years, I must advise against visiting the days just before and after Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years.  The crowds are just too overwhelming.  See resulting blog post: Universal Nightmare.

Had the chance to visit California Adventure last week.  What a joy! All my favorite rides were open. It has been a few years for me and this trip I see that they have completely reworked a new entry (Buena Vista Street), added Cars Land and a first rate sit-down restaurant (Carthay Circle). The seasonal Worlds of Color Christmas show was spectacular and the whole park was festooned for the holidays.

By the way (as always) these photos are embedded at full resolution. Feel free to click them to see more detail!

The New Carthay Circle 
Restaurant and Lounge
(Home to the Member's Only Club 1901)

My Favorite Photo of Walt Disney
In The Shadow is His Favorite  Mouse
(The Photo Was in a Private Dining Room in The Restaurant)

A little digression; the real Carthay Circle was actually the theater built in 1929 at 6316 San Vincente Boulevard in LA. It carried sentimental value to Disney since it premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia (for which a sophisticated new sound system was installed). 

The original theater was decorated with early California motif's and unique in that it had a circular auditorium. Sadly, it was demolished in 1969. 

The new Cars Land was great. The imagineer's attention to detail is simply amazing. 

Radiator Springs Racers Zip By 
The Peaks Are An Homage to Classic Cadillac Tailfins

Christmas At Cars Land

Dining at The V8 Cafe

The "off season" near the holidays is a particularly great time to visit California Adventure and Disneyland! So go enjoy some Disney Magic. A word of advice, if you go over the holidays avoid weekends if you can. Except for Thanksgiving Thursday's and Fridays are typically perfect and have reasonably long hours! 

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Roadboy's Visit To Hollywood's Magic Castle

Just Whisper The Magic Words To Enter

For years I've heard about a club located at 7001 Franklin Avenue in the Hollywood Hills known as the Magic Castle. This is a one-of-a-kind club that is the exclusive domain of magicians. Every night  members practice their craft and perform both up-close and formal magic shows. Members and their guests from round the world come here to attend the presentations.

But, being a private members-only club, no one gets in without an invitation from a member.


Hollywood's Magic Castle

In 2013 the castle celebrates its 50th year. So this is the year I decided to finagle a visit. To do so I used the one loophole available to non-members. If you book a night in its adjoining Magic Castle Hotel you may ask them to book you a visit to the club.

Except for brunches on weekends club guests must be 21 years of age, pay a guest fee ($20) and book dinner in the club's dining room. But, after dinner you have full run of the club. 

Guests must adhere to a strict dress code (suit and ties for men, evening attire for women). No photos are allowed once inside the club. 

The building was created from the 1910 Rolin B. Lane mansion. In fact, the development of the Academy of Magical Arts and the club itself were the defining factors that saved the mansion from the wrecking ball in 1961. It opened as the Magic Castle in 1963.

The "castle" is much larger than it appears. After registering in the reception lobby you whisper the magic words and a bookshelf slides open offering you entry to the club. 

There are multiple bars, a small gift shop, an elaborately decorated dining room, a seance room, and a variety of showrooms. There is even a magic piano whose ghost (Irma) plays requests when guests leave a tip in her empty birdcage nearby.

We arrived for dinner at 6 PM and then enjoyed presentations by 4 magicians. There were 13 different performers in the castle on the night we visited. We chose one close-up show and the main Palace of Mystery show.

We left a little before 11 PM. The club closes at 1:00 am.

All those years of waiting paid off, our night in the Magic Castle was perfect!

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Real Magic At The Magic Kingdom

A Perfect Flight

Friends and I visit the Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks almost every year. And, while there are always new things to see, I tend to return to my old favorites time after time. 

My hands-down favorite attraction in California Adventure is Soarin' Over California. As a native Californian, it reminds me why the Golden State, despite failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and lousy governance, retains such a powerful allure to visitors from around the world.

Sadly, this trip we all noticed a rash of shoves, line cuts and general rudeness during our visit.

But, then, I witnessed the moment that made up for it all.

Once past the lines at Soarin' we requested to wait a cycle, letting others pass, so that we could sit in the middle of the ride. Next to us a family of four also waited. I took the family to be a mom and three sons. One teenage son was confined to a wheelchair where everything is adjustable and upholstered. 

During the wait the family adjusted this and that, smiled and talked in tones that conveyed nothing but pure affection to the young man who clearly had been in that chair a very long time.

While we boarded our hang glider they worked, with military precision, lifting him as a team, getting him carefully strapped in. It was a symphony of coordinated effort. While waiting I noted that, discretely, every one of them kissed him.

They were completely oblivious to a world that was sneaking stares. Their focus was laser sharp. 

They were in Disneyland and they were enjoying their day.

Some might argue they'd been dealt a bum hand. But the family I saw demonstrated no resentment at all. They were as special as the young man they accompanied.

In the space of a 4 minute ride, we soared together and I came to love them.

But I don't kid myself.....

They soared higher than I ever will.

Roadboy's Travels © 2013 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Philadelphia Street Art

Philadelphia Is America's Best Street Museum!

As most of my readers know, Roadboy is a total fanboy of good public art. I think my most "googled" post is one from back in 2008 showcasing my favorite public art from coast to coast. Click here to check it out.

A couple of weeks ago during a visit to Philadelphia I came to realize that this is a city rich in great public art. Walking in Philadeplphia is akin to a visit to an outdoor museum. There are iconic sculptures, fine traditionalist war memorials, parks filled with intricate bronzes (especially Rittenhouse Square) and, of course, there is the iconic "Love" sculpture. Philadelphia, I was delighted to discover, has arguably America's largest and most important collection of street murals.

Lincoln Legacy 
(A Small Section of Joshua Sarantitis' Luminous 2006 Mural)
707 Chestnut Street

A Peoples Progress Towards Equality 
Jared Bader 2006
(Note the Scale - Car in Bottom Left)
South 8th St. at Ranstead

Another of Philadelphia's Amazing 3,600 Murals

The evolution of Philadelphia's murals is a wonderful story. In 1984 Mayor Goode asked muralist Jane Golden (an artist who had developed a street murals project in Southern California) to establish a program designed to redirect the energy of the Philadelphia's graffiti "artists". Ms. Golden did just that. Over the following 30 years the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has grown, empowering a generation of young artists to "mend the aesthetic thread" of Philadelphia by beautifying, rather than vandalizing, neighborhoods. The mural program also employs art in restorative justice by offering opportunities for those recently released from prison. 

OK This Cracked Me Up

So after walking, appreciating murals, and window-shopping on Chestnut street, I arrived at Rittenhouse Square where I enjoyed viewing its various sculptures.

Duck Girl
Paul Manship 1911

Lion Crushing A Serpent
Antoine Louis Barye 1832

After Walking around and through the square, it was time to start heading back to the hotel. First up on my return was Philadelphia's most recognizable piece of public art: its "Love" sculpture. The sculpture is so emblematic that many residents refer to JFK Plaza as "Love Park". Nearby there are lots of other examples of not-so-successful pop art from the same era. Dominoes, chess pieces etc. All pretty much the worse for wear.  

Robert Indiana 1976

As I continued on my way I the huge "Crashed Grumman" and the giant paint brush outside the America's first school of fine arts, the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). PAFA is an amazing institution whose students have included Mary Cassatt, Maxfield Parrish, architect Louis I. Kahn and filmmaker David Lynch.

The Grumman Greenhouse at PAFA
Jordan Griska 2011 
(The Former Tracker II Airplane Now Grows
Nutritive and Medicinal Plants)

I finished my day in the section of the Pennslvania Convention Center that was once the Reading train terminal. It also has some great murals inside this huge awesome space.

Murals Romanticizing Rail Travel
The Right Mural Depicts Philadelphia's Stainless Steel Streamliner 
(Which Commenced Service Here in 1937)

All in all a wonderful walk, though a wonderful city. My sincere advice to anyone visiting Philadelphia? Take some good shoes, arm yourself with one of those little hotel street maps and go out exploring an amazing city!

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Heartache At LAX

Sorrow at LAX 

Over a lifetime I have spent too many hours at LAX as a traveler. As the world's busiest destination airport it is always chaotic. I guess it is simply a microcosm of LA itself.

More recently, I've had the opportunity to work there planning a new HQ for airports police. 

So yesterday's news of the shooting at Terminal 3 struck a deep chord.

My condolences to the family of the fallen TSA agent. And my prayers will beg for the full recovery of the other injured folks.

I know first hand that the LAX police are well trained and professional. I only wish it did not take such horrific events to remind us to thank them for the courage and willingness to run towards danger on our behalf.

Roadboy's Travel © 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Thanksgiving in Phoenix 2013

Home Sweet Home

Frequently my holiday posts describe a visit to some warm or scenic destination. Again this year we are enjoying a holiday in our home the Valley of the Sun!

So here is a holiday blog for those lucky enough to be visiting Phoenix over Thanksgiving 2013!


November is arguably the loveliest month of the year to visit Phoenix. Believe it or not, there are leaves falling (from all the big deciduous trees that fill North Central Phoenix.) And our nights are getting cold"isn" (this year the evening low for Thanksgiving will likely plunge to a bone chilling 55° F.) And, it gets dark early now, car headlights start popping on around 5:30 pm.

So what is there to do?

Well here are just a few ideas from Roadboy. My focus is Phoenix. I'm not into the snooty Scottsdale scene. Roadboy prefers "real".

1. Chihuly at the Desert Botanical Garden (or as we call it the DBG)
Nothing is more refreshing than a walk in "the garden". And returning November 10 is another glass exhibit by Dale Chihuly. This is the second time Chihuly has displayed at the DBG and, yes, it is a big damned deal. Click here to visit the DBG website. 


The Desert Botanical Garden

The garden's holiday festival, Los Nochas de las Luminarias begins Nov 29. It typically sells out, so go online to reserve tickets well in advance for that.  

2. The MIM!
Arizona's new Musical Instrument Museum is a treasure. This is a high-tech and very wonderful  addition to Arizona's cultural scene. The MIM displays musical instruments from around the world and with your GPS headset you hear most instruments being played as you walk near them! The MIM recently opened its blockbuster "Women Who Rock!" Exhibition. This is a knockout of a show with great music and Lady Gaga's meat dress. Need we say more?

Also, if you plan to visit any time in November or December the amazingly intimate MIM theater with its awesome acoustics) will host to the likes of John Sebastian, Shemekia Copeland, Rita Coolidge, Joey DeFrancesco, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, and the Manhattan Transfer is returning with their Holiday Show (saw that last year - Yeah it was awesome!) Click here to visit the MIM's website.

3. EAT!
A proliferation of spectacular new restaurants have joined my list of tried and true favorites. For scenery (and old Arizona charm) the best spot hands down is a lunch or romantic sunset dinner on the patio at Lon's at the Hermosa Inn. Adventurous? Try Restaurant Noca (who will feature a thanksgiving tasting menu.) For amazing Mexican it is the Barrio Cafe or the new upstart Cafe Otro. For down home Mexican I love El Bravo. For meet market Postino's wine bar on Central or Hanny's downtown should work. For wood fired yumminess it's Timo's in Sunnyslope. For neighborliness try Windsor. Want Chicken and waffles, its Lolo's. For N'awlin's it is Little Cleo's. How about a chicken fried turkey dinner? TexAz has got you covered. Or there's Maizies or Federal Pizza or brunch at the Lux Coffeehouse. And there is always a sandwich with house made mozzarella at Chris Bianco's Pane Bianco.

4. Culture!
The Phoenix Art Museum is a true gem. After two major expansions by the husband and wife team of Tod Williams / Billie Tsien it has wonderful space to display an extensive permanent collection as well as mount special expositions.

The Entry Courtyard of the Phoenix Art Museum

This Thanksgiving they have four special exhibitions: Latin American photography, Fashion Design: The Cape, Madelyn Albright's incredible Pin Collection goes on display Nov. 23, the Xul Solar and Jorge Luis Borges Exhibit continues, and The West Select western art exposition and sale will be on. Click here to visit the Phoenix Art Museum website.

5. Get Smart!
Antoine Predock's stark concrete Arizona Science Center is a perfect place to go with kids (of all ages). It has great interactive displays and a cool planetarium. Alas it will be closed on Thanksgiving.
Click here to visit the Arizona Science Center website.

6. For the Jocks
For the "get out and do it' set November is the perfect time to go mountain or road biking in Phoenix. Sip a Latte while getting fitted for a excellent rental bike at the Trailhead Cafe / Bike Shop at 16th Street and Glendale. From there you can pedal away on the nearby AZ canal or go single track at the North Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Visit the Trailhead's website here. For the "sit and watch" set the Suns play Portland and Utah at the US Airways Center and the Cardinals will play the Colts at Peter Eisenman's University of Phoenix Stadium on Nov. 24th.

7. Shop!
All the museums above have great gift shops. But there are also great little boutiques like Frances near Camelback and Central. For Black Friday there is The Biltmore Fashion Park - a perfectly sized outdoor mall featuring one-of-a-kind shops at its UNION "alternative" mall. It also features great restaurants plus an Apple Store, Saks, and a cute little 1960's vintage Macy's thrown in for good measure. On friday nights there are free movies on the lawn! All of the parking facing Camelback is strictly valet. The free parking is located in the big garage behind the mall. Visit the Biltmore Fashion Park website here.

8. Ogle!
Walk the Grounds of the Arizona Biltmore Resort. The only Frank Lloyd Wright inspired hotel left standing in the world. Since it opened every sitting president has checked in at the Biltmore. Marilyn Monroe opined that The Biltmore's Catalina Pool was her favorite......

9. The Heard
In the tradition of saving the best for last, I recommend the Heard Museum. In my opinion the Heard ties with the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum (near Tucson) as my favorite museums in Arizona. The Heard is the premier showcase of Native American art and culture. It has grown from "a little museum in a little western town" to what it is today - peerless.

For Thanksgiving the Heard presents its 4th Annual American Indian inspired Harvest Feast! It also features a special holiday ornament marketplace November Nov 28-Dec. 1.

Come for Thanksgiving. Enjoy our weather, our culture and everything Arizona does well!

Oh, and the Grand Canyon is "open" again!

Roadboy's Travel © 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Philadelphia's City Hall

Philadelphia's Enduring Treasure

After a day enjoying the historic area around Independence Hall, I spent my next couple of days admiring Philadelphia's historic City Hall, its thriving Arts District and Rittenhouse Square.

My day began by aiming my walking shoes toward John McArthur Jr's amazing City Hall. You really can't miss this building. City Hall resides on the center square site selected by William Penn himself and, with 700 rooms, it is the largest municipal building in North America.

Philadelphia's City Hall

Penn's 1682 plan for his City of Brotherly Love set aside five city squares with "Center Square" reserved for a monumental public building. Center Square would otherwise be the intersection of Market and Broad streets, but instead creates a driving circle with all traffic diverted around the building.

A site Designed to Interrupt Two Major Boulevards

Construction on City Hall took 30 years (1871 to 1901) and delivered a second empire masterpiece. It 's north tower is crowned with the 27 ton statue of William Penn himself.

When it was completed its north tower made the building the tallest occupied building in the world. The tower rests on 14' thick bearing masonry bearing walls.

The Main North Tower

Of course such an elaborate building was expensive to build and continues to be costly to operate. High on-going costs have resulted in obvious signs of neglect. Pigeon droppings and homeless encampments are barely concealed behind every major column.

Of course any building of this magnitude was born in controversy. In fact, controversy raged to the point that 50 years after its construction the city seriously considered the option of tearing it down.

Sometimes we just don't appreciate what we have…..

In building's of this era sculpture is richly integrated into the design itself. Arguably the best place to view its sculpture is within the main (North Portal) entrance where all of the column capitals symbolize concepts like the arts, science, voting rights, architecture and engineering. In the next hall Philadelphia's founding ethnicities are portrayed, European, African, Native Americans etc.

The Native American Column Capital 

The Magnificent Mosaic Column Bases

The stonework on the exterior is particularly radiant as it emerges from a cleaning that removed over 100 years of grime from its facades.

In this building seemingly every detail right down to the otherwise mundane was considered. I found my self stopping dead in my tracks admiring those little details. Even the smallest things like door handles and fire connections were richly embellished.

Bronze Fire Connection

A Snake Door Handle

Then there is that big old moose adorning one of its archway.

Moose Capital

The quality of this building is starkly demonstrated by the truly awful "Municipal Services Building" directly across the street complete with its sculpture of former mayor Frank Rizzo waving (which is, of course, scary on so many levels).

Philadelphia has many treasures. Its magnificent city hall is one that I could explore for days.

When I have more time in Philadelphia I will make time to do just that!

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Roadboy Takes a Walk in Philadelphia

An American Treasure

Roadboy just returned from Philadelphia for the 120th National Convention of the International Association of Chief's of Police.

The city played a perfect host filling the attendees up with ideas, culture, history and cheesesteaks.

The first morning, before going to the convention, I took a walk. I started out with a few major destinations in mind. At the very least I knew I wanted to see Independence Hall and get a glimpse of the Liberty Bell.

On the way I stopped for breakfast at America's oldest Farmer's Market The Reading Terminal Market. Inside, even on a Sunday I found the place awash in Eastern shore seafood, pumpkins sandwiched in with baker's and candy makers. I had a 3 egg breakfast cheesesteak and a steaming Latte from the Old Mill Coffee. I bought a big sour cherry, chocolate chip and sea salt cookie for later. Although my life was almost certainly shortened from my mornings gluttony, I will die happier. 

A Sign of Fall 
at the 
Reading Terminal Market 

My Breakfast Cheesesteak Was From Spataro's

From there my walk ventured through Philadelphia's colorful Chinatown with its little stores, dozens of acupuncturists and tattoo parlors.

Gateway to Chinatown

A Chinatown Tattoo Parlor Window Display 

Cast Aluminum(?) Dragons
Walking further I came to the Pennsylvania Constitution Center and the Independence Mall. A multi-block greenbelt that affords views of The Pennsylvania State House (the building we now refer to as Independence Hall). Across the street is the present day home of the cracked bell that once tolled from the statehouse prophetically inscribed "Proclaim Liberty throughout All the land unto All the Inhabitants Thereof".

The Pennsylvania State House
Independence Hall
The Epicenter of American Democracy

Entering Independence Hall just days after it's reopening from our recent governmental upchuck was especially telling.

"Proclaim Liberty"

This is the building where our Declaration of Independence created 13 sovereign states and formalized our state of war with England. From here Benjamin Franklin was dispatched to France as one of America's first ambassadors (to create an essential alliance with France against Britain). 

Arguably The Most Significant Single Room in American History 

By 1778 Britain and France were indeed waging war and a weakened Britain simply could not wage war with both France and its colonists in the new world. I now understand that France gave us more than the State of Liberty. In very real terms France gave us liberty itself.

Stairs Used by Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams....

By 1783 the "United" States signed a peace treaty with Britain resulting in a confederation of 13 sovereign states. Our first experience in pure states rights rapidly proved to be a failure with Shay's rebellion in Massachusetts. The states quickly realized a truly "United States" required a real federal government.

In 1787 a Constitutional Convention is convened. Convention delegates ratify a constitution, sending it to the state's for ratification. 

By 1788 all of the 13 states have signed.

In 1789 the first Federal Congress convenes in New York. 

By 1791 10 amendments - the Bill of Rights are ratified. 

In 1800 our new federal government moved from its temporary home in Philadelphia to Washington DC.

Hence, the common perception that our nation emerged quickly (and painlessly?) after the declaration of independence is pure myth. In reality a quarter century of war, chaos and economic hardship passed between the Declaration of Independence and the time when the United States finally had a constitutionally framed, fully functioning federal government in Washington DC. 

As I made my way back to the convention I passed countless architectural gems. Some were well utilized, many await new uses. I immediately realized that I will need many visits to fully appreciate Philadelphia.

One of the gems I passed was the depression era Federal Courts / Post Office Building. Built from 1937-1942, this pink granite and limestone moderne edifice (now officially the Robert N.C. Nix Sr. Federal Building) offers the street a gift of four Edmond R. Amateis murals celebrating heroic postal workers getting the job done in the extreme North, South East and West.

Mail Delivered In the West....

And In The Far North

I had been given the a gift of a sunny fall day to walk and appreciate the crucible of American democracy.

My take away.

Philadelphia's Independence Mall landmarks illustrate vividly the aspirations of a democracy that rewards hard work, empowers the powerless and promotes the equitable distribution of national wealth.

We need to remember that.

The events that took place in these landmarks demonstrate our founders fully understood what happens when corrupt leaders seek to divert power and wealth into the hands of few.

Like today?

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Roadboy Visits Portland

Sunshine, Flowers and VooDoo Donuts! 

It has probably been about 4 years since my last visit to Portland Oregon. And, when I received an invitation to participate in a conference there this week, I admit feeling a twinge of indifference. While I am very fond of Portland, after so many visits it is a "Been There, Done That" destination for me.

Don't get me wrong, there is a whole bunch of neat stuff about Portland that I will always love, and first time visitors frequently depart hatching strategies how to move there someday. But the weather is frequently crap and the "Portland is better than anywhere else attitude" of the locals can grate.

Perhaps, after a long hot summer in Phoenix it is just a case of good old envy! 

The Rose City

The Portland Theater
(Home of The Portland Symphony)

I mean it is hard not to envy Portland. It is a city filled with art. It also possesses a hopelessly photogenic downtown framed by lush green hills and the Willamette River.

It is fairly clean and offers great hotels, parks, museums, shopping and restaurants.

Reportedly The Second Largest Hammered Copper Sculpture in the US
The Largest Being the Statue of Liberty
Sadly it Graces The Awful "Portland" Building

Portland is also a diverse stew of humanity filled with emo's, bums, zero body fat people, kayaky outdoorsy all stirred together with a bunch of Intel techno geeks.

This is the city where America's young, artsy and hip successfully perfect underemployment right up to middle age.

Herewith, a few of Roadboy's impressions for 2013.

The Airport. 
PDX after its renovations is quite simply one of the nicest airports in the US. It possesses bright cheerful and downright lovely public spaces. Its internet is free and fast (O'Hare are you listening??). There are live musicians scattered about and some terrific local food outlets are represented. Some great places to shop in there too. My favorite is the Pendleton shop. Pendleton clothing is made from the superb wool from its own woolen mills. I think Pendleton clothing and blankets are a total bargain when you consider Pendleton products are timeless classics in design and they last lifetimes.

Portland Icons On Display At The Airport

The Tri-Met MAX Light Rail:
Max is efficient, inexpensive ($5 for an unlimited use all-day pass is a screaming deal) and comprehensively multi-modal. A helpful MAX representative was in the airport to explain the route map and how fares work. After her fast, friendly intro I found MAX served me perfectly for my entire visit.

Max does have faults. Like the DC Metro, it stops running too early (around midnight). It also starts attracting sleaze after 9:00 PM. After traveling on it the better part of a week I never encountered a ticket checker or anyone from transit security. The system would benefit with more of each.

The Airport Red-Line MAX Train 

Downtown Portland is filled with elegant city furnishings. I loved its modern bus shelters with excellent seating and those big brass rails to lean on. There are elegant four poster brass drinking fountains endlessly bubbling on every corner and canopy street trees abound. Bravo Portland!

The Food:
Great restaurants, ethnically diverse, excellent food trucks abound. If you don't eat well here it is your own damned fault. And (of course) Portland is home to VooDoo Donuts (yum - bacon maple bars)!

The Architecture:
Some really wonderful recent projects have popped up downtown, IMHO the best is the complete renovation of the US Federal Building. It is a solid 10+. 

The Newly Refreshed US Federal Building

The SERA / Cutler team delivered a tour-de-force renovation to a mundane, concrete clad old  building. With its new organ pipe westerly facade, an understated entry / lobby sequence, a huge sloping photovoltaic roof canopy, bird friendly glazing and spare, yet elegant interiors, this building is really proof that, with thought and care, old things can always be made better.

The other big new building is the new US Federal Courts building. It is markedly less successful.

I also noted that the waterfront is getting a new suspension bridge. I'll be interested to see that when it is  finished.

Teddy Roosevelt
In The Park

For those that have never visited Portland. Or, for those that haven't visited in a long time, pack that umbrella and return. For Me, the visit was nice.

But I'm still kind of tired of Portland.

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Music On The Road

You See This Guy

When I travel I listen to music. It has always been that way. Whether in the car or flying at 34,000 feet I use my travel time to listen to new music and old favorites. First it was on little plastic and leather clad transistor and AM car radios, later 8 tracks, cassettes, and CD's. Now my music comes from MP3's and is delivered perfectly from my amazing Sennheiser's. As you read this most of the songs listed are "clickable" if you'd like to listen to the song!

Over the years I have actually come to realize that certain songs and artists now immediately trigger memories. Many are wonderful a few are painful.

I believe each journey and adventure ultimately creates its own soundtrack. A soundtrack that is influenced by the language of the region, seasons and geography.

One of my first travel memories (I was only about 4) was my whole family singing "Hit The Road Jack" along with Brother Ray Charles on an AM radio while cruising who knows where in dad's red 1957 Plymouth Suburban station wagon. Pure magic.

In 1962 we packed up in the same wagon and drove north to the green Pacific Northwest for the Seattle Worlds Fair. It was amazing. Along the way I remember being astounded by the California redwoods and hearing Sam Cooke singing "Twistin' The Night Away" over and over from the car radio.

I loved Seattle and concluded it was the city of Tomorrow. I also decided that someday I'd live there. A goal I later achieved.

We spent the summer of 1963 (I was now 7) camping at Phoenix Lake near Sonora California. The campground had a cool camp store with lots of jars filled with candy. It also had a couple of pinball machines and a jukebox filled with surf music. When the sun set the music would blast out of two majorly crappy steel cone speakers serving an outdoor dance pavilion. As the music played I'd sneak off to watch the teenagers (lucky enough to possess dimes) play pinball. The clang clang of the pinball mixed with The Surfari's playing "Surfer Joe" (go man go!) and the instrumental "Wipeout" that began with some crazed beach bunny screaming "ha ha ha wiiiiiipe-out!"

On every road trip back then I commandeered the car radio attempting to tune in any 3 letter AM radio station I could find. The skiff routinely delivered KSL, KNX, and KGO. There were even still radio stations replaying classic radio shows like The Shadow. I'll never forget listening to "Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Minds of Men? The Shadow Knows".

We celebrated the Christmas season in 1965 with a trip to Denver on Southern Pacific's City of San Francisco. We left Oakland and climbed mid-winter over Donner Summit arriving into Reno in the middle of the night. The train parks right downtown with views of all the casino lights. Then it was off to Salt Lake City.

On that journey (I was now age 9) I met a young charismatic soldier who was returning from Viet Nam. He was so open and kind. He never treated me like the annoying kid I'm sure I was. He asked me what I wanted to do in life. He considered the sketches I was constantly creating. We played endless card games, he smoked, and I listened to him play his guitar.

In the very early morning, as everyone else slept I was wired, got up and wandered from car to car. The train was making up time in a race across the Great Salt Lake. Between rail cars snowflakes were sneaking through the tattered accordion pleated connectors. When I made it to the lounge car my soldier was there. We talked and laughed. He strummed "Flowers on The Wall".

He made a shy and gawky kid's first rail trip something unforgettable. And, I'll always love that song. I hope my soldier went on to have a long and very great life.

Road trip music was always special. Tunes like "We'll Sing In The Sunshine" by Gale Garnett. Brook Benton signing "Rainy Night in Georgia", and the spectacular tenor voice of Glenn Yarborough singing "Baby The Rain Must Fall".

During the summer of 1968 we made another summer road trip to the Hemisfair '68 in San Antonio Texas. Along the way I found myself doing road trip Karaoke with Herb Alpert singing "This Guys in Love With You". Some would argue that Herb Alpert should have stuck to the trumpet, but he delivered emotion and passion to that Burt Bacharach / Hal David song. And, to this day, when it comes on I stop whatever I'm doing to sing along.

Music can trigger a memory in the same way a smell makes me hungry.

Sometimes the memories aren't so good. Like the day a concrete truck made a sudden and illegal lane change in front of me in Coeur D'Alene Idaho. While it was crushing the front left fender of my '61 T-bird my car radio was playing Rhiannon. I can still remember "Would You Stay if She Promised You Heaven" mixing with the sound of skidding tires and crunching steel.

All those trips to Death Valley and Disneyland, Lake Tahoe and Mendocino, Coeur d'Alene and Moscow, Idaho.

Journey's with mile after mile all punctuated with the music

I heard along the way.

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013

Corn Tassles

Loving Chicagoland
Cherishing The End of Summer 
Hating O'Hare

I had a quick turnaround business trip to Chicago this week. And, as Roadboy's readers know I love Chicago and its handsome suburbs.

This is a nice time to leave my Sonora desert home as it reminds me that the rest of the world is starting to slide gracefully into the final days of summer. In Phoenix we tend to forget that since our triple digit summers last till late October.  

In the upper midwest this is that magical time when the first hints of fall are in the air and the sweet corn (my mom loved so much) is piled in bins at roadside stands.

Then it was time to return home via O'Hare.

Now, I should stress I allow an extra hour for travel at this airport because it is so hopelessly inept.

At Terminal 2 airlines still can't take checked bags. They tag them and then hand them back to you. And you must then walk them to the various screener posts that occupy much of the renovated ticket lobby. OK it has been more than a decade since new screening rules went into effect. They've had more than enough time to fix that. 

Then I made my way to the TSA Tweezer / Bottled Water Interdiction Zone.

Once again TSA's "Pre" line was closed along with the first class lane / premium lanes. Of course there was no signage regarding the closures, just a portly TSA guy barking out "It Is Closed!" to anyone who made it within 10 feet of the lanes.

But from those very long TSA lines, we had a great view of the flight crews whizzing by us each wtih 3 bags and a liter of water. And, of course, no glass box jumping jacks for them! Airlines have amazing service models. They sell more product than they actually have and give their staff better treatment than their best customers.

But, I digress.

Anyway, I still had some time on my hands and walked around a bit.

And as I strolled it occurred to me how horrible O'Hare's T-2 and T-3 have become.

Exhibit A:
Departure lounges are always filthy and so small that passengers frequently just sit on the floor.

Exhibit B:
Almost no power outlets for passengers. 

Exhibit C:
Hello! Even LAX now offers free internet! But O"Hare still requires passengers to purchase Boingo.

Exhibit D:
O'Hare has almost no good food choices (even my fall-back Quizno's is now gone). There is a tiny and always overcrowded Chili's, a oh-so-greasy Johnny Rockets and a McDonalds peddling $6 Big Macs (just the sandwich).

Seriously, the best food opton continues to be the popcorn stand.....

I give them a point for installing new chilled water bottle fillers.

Now, if we could just figure out that most vexing of O'Hare mystery's.....

Who got paid off to make them use those stooooopid electrically operated toilet seat condoms?

Those creep me out.

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summing It Up

Thoughts Flying Home

Well we are back in the US. The US Airways Envoy flight from Madrid was very nice. I viewed a couple of movies, slept a little and had excellent meals.

While flying I had to return to the reality of carefully adding up all those little receipts and filling in our US Customs declaration form. 

Trip Statistics:
17 Days
4 Country’s
5 Languages
8 Airline Flights
2 Rail Journeys
1 Funicular Railway 
1 Cable Car Tramway
1 Bike Tour
5 Hotels
4 Royal Palaces
2 Soccer Stadiums
264,000 Hilton Points
150,000 Marriott Points
285,000 US Airways Points

So, statistics aside what was the trip really about?

Well I know it will probably prove to be one of my last opportunities to travel with both of my (now adult) children.

I pushed in the clutch on them. I left them both spinning in their tracks for a moment as they anxiously chart their individual futures. 

Futures that will feature less and less time with dad.

This trip was simply a way to force us to take some time to focus on each other.

But, tomorrow we’ll settle into the remaining weeks of our respective year and be reunited with our (frequently) adorable pets. Saturday will include a haircut and washing 3 dust storms off of my cars. Sunday will begin with the 10 am church service. Hopefully it will be followed by brunch with my extended family from church.

Monday I’ll get right back on a plane for DC. 

So, what did I learn?

I am even more in awe of my kids. They are so full of dreams, energy and reckless confusion. They are dealing with the reality of their immediate futures. There is no failure to launch with these two.

It made me remember how anxious I was in my twenties. So far they are doing it better than me (I had developed an ulcer at 24).

Ms. M. is actively planning a six month relocation to England starting next spring. Mr. B is happy to be out of college, setting up his own house and is busy putting his cards on the table to see which to draw from first.

I cringe when thinking about where we will all be this time next year. 

So I strong armed a trip. I made us come together in the little window of time where I still could.

What did it deliver?

Lots of photos to cherish, tons of little maps, another years supply of shampoo and a ton of subway rides. There was lots of little tubs of gelato, a 22nd birthday for Mr. B, some schnitzel and a variety of pilsner beer.

There were very hot days, frayed nerves and miles of walking.

But everything now is all swizzled up into what will simply become….

fond memories.

Roadboy’s Travels © 2013