Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Roadboy Visits The Reagan Library and Museum


Spectacular Vista's and Air Force One


The National Archives, Office of Presidential Libraries, is charged with managing America's 13 current presidential libraries / museums. 

The creation of presidential libraries began in 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt donated land on his Hyde Park estate to house his presidential records. FDR believed that presidential records belonged to the nation, not each individual president. He felt that presidential records must be archived, preserved and made accessible to the public. 

The Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 made the process of presidential library building official, requiring they be built using private funds. The law decreed that upon completion the libraries would be federally maintained.

I've now visited the Eisenhower, Johnson, Lincoln, Bush (W) and Reagan libraries. All, except the Lincoln Library, are part of the National Archive's system.  

Clearly the location, character and size of each presidential library becomes the personal statement of its namesake. Some libraries are located in a president's ancestral hometown (Dwight D. Eisenhower's beloved Abilene Kansas for example). Other's are built in a place that comes to be associated with a specific president (President Clinton is clearly identified with Little Rock, Arkansas). President Reagan's library stands in California on top of a hill.

Much like a portrait captures only what an artist intends for the viewer to see, presidential libraries are not true museums, they are showcases where the carefully packaged legacy of a president is presented.

President Reagan

Ronald Reagan 
Ronald Reagan was larger than life; an iconic and charismatic leader whose legacy is equal parts actor, cowboy and president. He is also a man of many contradictions. 

He overcame humble beginnings with early achievements in sports and theater. A superb athlete, he worked summers in Illinois as a lifeguard and is credited with the rescue of over 70 distressed swimmers. He documenting each rescue by carving a notch in a nearby log.

Despite the depression, he was able to attend college. And, while admitting to only being an average student, he emerged a student leader. The first speech he is credited with was a loud protest of cuts in academic funding and increases in student fees. Ironically, after securing his own education, as governor and president he tirelessly slashed state and federal funding for education.

His love of school plays quickly allowed him to understand how best to exploit his looks and charm. Never lacking confidence, he left college for Hollywood securing dozens of movie roles.

After a couple of decades the number and quality of movie roles being offered to him declined to a point where he decided to embark on a new career in politics. 

Stubborn, yet never lacking in optimism, his innate charisma continued to serve him well. He knew what to say, how to say it, and perhaps most importantly, when to deliver his lines. The famous "Mr Gorbachev Tear Down This Wall!" was, in part, improvisation against the advice of his speech writers. 

He could flash a 30 megawatt smile and use his innate ability to read people to convey to them his sense of what was right. This allowed him to establish special, highly personal, and convincing relationships with the world's leaders of his day.

The courage and humor he displayed after the attempt on his life will stand for all time. 

On a personal note my father was always fond of Ronald Reagan. And, when the chance came to catch a glimpse of him, Dad took it. My mom said they arrived early and staked out a spot with a good view. And, when the president arrived he scanned the audience and, with deliberation, walked directly to my father. He stopped and shook dad's hand. He then turned, smiled, waved and left the room. 

It was like he came to see my dad, every bit as much as my dad came to see him.


Reagan's Oval Office is Accurately Reproduced 

The Reagan Library and Museum
The hilltop site of the Reagan library is blessed with sweeping views in every direction. Its architecture, however, is (at best) average. The building is '80's office park meets warehouse". It completely lacks the charisma and charm of its namesake. And, once inside the tour route is poorly oriented with no natural flow at all.

The library carries a steep (I think) $21 admission price. It is currently the most expensive of all presidential libraries.

I advise visitors to come with clear expectations. As with most presidential libraries / museums, the museum is just a big infomercial chronicling his triumphs: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, along with his success in nuclear arms reduction. He also takes credit for ending the Iran hostage siege and inflation.

Despite the clear impacts on his career and life, don't expect any mention of his first marriage, his parental shortcomings, his relentless efforts to bust trade unions, or the complete failure of "Trickle Down" economics.

His shameful complicity in Hollywood blacklisting is portrayed with a spin only a soviet propagandist could love. His legacy of explosive modern deficit spending to stimulate the economy (i.e. spending freely on defense, while cutting taxes and pushing debts to future generations), although emulated by most of the presidents that followed him, is ignored. And, if you seek understanding of Iran Contra, good luck. Only the most observant will find a small mention of it in the basement.

Much here becomes obvious only by omission. 

I encourage visitors entering the museum to carefully study the names of donors engraved at the entry. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"Luke 12:34 


Air Force One
The library / museum tour includes the huge new warehouse housing Air Force One - Tail 27000. 

This is the elegant 707 President Reagan used for most of his presidency. It is restored and freshly painted in the original Raymond Loewy livery commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy.

Tail 27000

Every Inch Gleams

The Loewy Livery

Tail 2700 served from 1973 until it was replaced by two new 747's in 1990. Despite the addition of the 747's, Tail 27000 continued to serve until 2001. This aircraft holds the distinction of flying more presidents, more miles, on more missions, than any aircraft in American history.

Its permanent home, elevated, and afforded a breathtaking (and seemingly endless) view of California's rolling hills, is appropriate and wonderful.

And its View

As an added bonus, while LA's Petersen Auto Museum is being rebuilt, the library is temporarily hosting some very cool cars.



There is a gift shop and cafe (serving decent burgers and sandwiches). 

Bring a camera and, If weather permits, (i.e. not too windy) spend some time exploring the grounds. President Reagan's grave is on the west side of the building.

Wear comfortable shoes since the (totally inadequate) parking lot is frequently full compelling visitors to park down a steep hill.  Flag down a shuttle if you need it!


Roadboy's Travels © 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

Perfect Vanilla Cream Caramels

Creation of a Holiday Tradition

For me this story began at Jerry's corner market near High Street in Oakland California. Jerry's closed decades ago, but when I was a kid that is where my best friend Paul and I went to buy candy. We went there because they had shelves of penny candy in big jars. There were jars filled with rock candy, jolly ranchers and candy pills on white paper. 

On my trips there, after much careful deliberation, I'd usually wind up with a little white bag filled with wax bottles filled with colored liquid, something chocolate and (always) a sugar daddy, small box of milk duds or a slo-poke. 

On a trip to Canada in my teen years I found Mackintosh's Creamy Toffee bars. Those are the splendid hard toffee bars that without patience will quickly adhere to your teeth and deliver you directly to a dentist's chair.  

As an adult my next true caramel revelation was delivered in a cafe in Palo Alto. The dessert there was a poached pear drizzled with a light homemade caramel sauce. Along with Banana's Foster I realized it was simply the most wonderfully balanced dessert I'd ever eaten.

All of this led me to want to start making caramels myself. And, for the past seventeen years, my daughter and I have made caramels for the holidays. We present them to friends as expression of love. 

In the past few years Ms. M. has taken over the ritual and has experimented with new caramel recipes in a quest for perfection. Although we started with this basic vanilla cream caramel, she now makes caramel sauces, chocolate chip caramels, mocha caramels and cinnamon caramels.

Vanilla Cream Caramels

Every year our little bags of caramels get mailed to friends pretty much all over the world. And, every year we get asked for the recipe. Usually people that ask for it confess that making candy scares them a bit. 

It shouldn't       

Here is the basic recipe we have been adapting from one originally published in Food and Wine magazine back in 1997.

Since each batch takes about 35 minutes of constant stirring we typically double the recipe and make double batches.

Before you get started you will need:

• A heavy 3 quart sauce pan with tall sides
• A quality candy thermometer (we use a Taylor candy thermometer from Grandma)
• A pastry brush and bowl filled with water
• Aluminum foil
• Wax paper

The Tools

For a single batch (64 caramels):

• 1 tablespoon canola oil (or some other flavorless oil)
• 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
• 1 cup light corn syrup
• ¾ cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

The Ingredients

Step 1
Line an 8” square baking pan with foil extending the foil over the sides of the pan.  Then thoroughly coat the foil with the canola oil

Step 2
In the saucepan combine the cream, corn syrup and sugar.  

Stir continuously with a long handled wooden spoon over moderate heat for about 5 minutes (until sugar is dissolved). 

Using the pastry brush dipped in warm water, brush down the sides of the pan twice to prevent crystallization.
                                                                                                                         
Step 3
Raise the temperature to Medium High and attach the candy thermometer to the side of the pan. 

Continue cooking the syrup, stirring constantly, until the temperature rises to 250°, about 30 minutes.

Remember....
250° is “Hard Ball” and makes the classic hard glassy finished toffee type of caramel that 4 out of 5 dentists adore. 

We prefer softer, more elegant, caramels and stop at 243°.

Step 4
Add the vanilla and the butter stirring till the butter is all melted. 

Pour the caramel into the foil lined pans.  Let cool on rack for at least 2 hours.

Mocha and Cinnamon Caramels
Cooling Down

Step 5
Use the ends of the foil to lift the caramel from the pan. 

Coat the blade of a large chef knife with canola oil. 

Cut the caramel into 8 strips and cut each strip into 8 pieces. 

Wrap each in wax paper.

Wax Paper for Wrapping

Tips:
Pick a pan with a heavy bottom and high sides. Although professional candy makers swear by stupendously expensive copper kettles, our Calphalon kettles work just fine,

Eliminate sugar crystals using the water and pastry brush.

Be patient and resist the temptation to raise the temp above medium high.  It takes longer, but delivers the best flavor and proper color.

Stir constantly with the wood spoon.

Remove from heat as soon as temp is reached (to stir in vanilla and butter) and pour it into the pan as quick as possible.  

Overstirring at the end makes the caramels grainy.

Make them on days with low humidity.  Perfect for Arizona!

Store in airtight containers at room temperature.

Put in Gift Bags Ready To Go!

Enjoy!

I believe that any recipe that emphasizes sugar, heavy cream, vanilla and butter makes life better. These are, after all, the ingredients we reserve for holidays and special occasions. 


Roadboy's Travels  2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Roadboy's 2015

Winter In Paris


As 2014 comes to a close it is time to start thinking about 2015. 

I believe 2015 will be a transformative year in travel thanks in part to rapid changes in the airline and hotel industry. To this observer it feels like most of the major airlines and hotel chains are staying up late searching out devious new ways to assure that our loyalty goes unrewarded (i.e. inflating reward levels and adding lots of new little fees).

Maybe it is just that roadwarriors are set in our ways. But it is hard to shake the impression that we are getting less, less and less from our travel dollars. 

I see a collision ahead. 

Many of us in the business community are coming to realize that our more savvy clients are increasingly receptive to us joining them via online meetings in lieu of reimbursing us for costly and time consuming business travel.  Online web chats are certainly reducing the number of business trips I take each year.

Perhaps the decline in business travel, when coupled with the dramatic increasing income disparity in the US, will net a corresponding shift in middle class recreational travel toward road trips and less expensive travel. And I think that may eventually compel a correction in the travel industry. I mean, sure the 1% will still check into a Four Seasons or the Ritz Carlton, but historically cost sensitive destinations (like Las Vegas and Atlantic City), along with modest hotels and mid-level cruise lines may find themselves competing over a shrinking customer base. 

As for me I am planning "50/50" travel in 2015. 

50% of my travel time will be exploring new destinations and 50% revisiting old favorites. 

I plan to begin with a mid-winter visit to Spain, France and England. This is the 50% revisiting old favorites part.

During a mid-winter trip to Paris a few years ago I realized how much I enjoyed the City of Lights under a light dust of snow. That magic powder scares off hordes of tourists. Yet this is when the fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens sparkles with a little ice and trees in the parks show off the precise box cuts they were given last fall. Of course, boulangeries still bake flaky croissants and restaurants are much happier to welcome visitors. The famous museums are all open and wonderfully uncrowded. And, Paris' famed department stores offer their biggest sales of the year. And, while I do not enjoy shopping much, I do find a perverted pleasure observing the world's richest (nouveau riche) and most entitled shoppers (quite literally) fighting over a few discounted Longchamp and Chanel handbags. And, while they "shop", thier army of limo drivers awaits at the curb with motors purring.  

As for me I prefer to see my Paris via a good pair of shoes, a set of "180's" ear muffs and a few layers of wool.

After Paris there will be a quick chunnel trip to enable a few days in London. And, since I love Spain's wonderful airports, the trip will begin in regal Madrid and end in lovely Barcelona (taking the edge off the cold at each end of the trip)!

As for the rest of the year? Well Roadboy is still contemplating a second trip for 2015. Costa Rica is high on my "To Do" list. But there are a dozen other destinations that beckon me as well.


Roadboy's Travels © 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Roadboy's 2014 Awards

A Year in Review


Travel can help solve the world's problems. Those who explore our world develop insight and respect for other cultures.

For those that do travel the process can be a challenge. And, frequently those that profit the most from our travel (government and the travel industry) deserve special recognition for exceptional and creative efforts to make travel harder and more expensive than it needs to be.

Herewith, I offer Roadway's travel awards for 2014.

1. The Worlds "Silliest New Travel Law"
Venice relies entirely on tourism for its economic survival, yet in 2014 Venice enacted a new law prohibiting "noisy" wheeled suitcases. The law allows "inflatable" wheels on luggage (a product that does not exist).

2. The "Up, Up and Away" Award
2014's plunging aviation fuel prices should have delivered some bargain airfares, right? No way, fares went up steeply in 2014. The fare hikes prove there is no link between airfares and operating costs. Fares are based on competition. Now that airline merger mania is nearly complete, airlines seem to be trying to perfect a S&M passenger experience. They are looking for ways to make coach seats even smaller. Legroom will soon cost even more. Want to print boarding passes at the airport, check bags or get a seat assignment? Open your wallet.

3. The "Welcome to The Garden State" Award
There were 3 tragic ebola deaths in the US in 2014. Conversely, zillions of Americans die each year from smoking and obesity related health issues. Our politicians, however, joined the "fair and balanced" Fox network nitwits in a full ebola aneurism. They described plane loads of ebola laden passengers arriving from Africa to infect us. Of course, once they realized there aren't any direct flights between the US and the ebola stricken countries they opted to simply asking arriving passengers if they've visited Africa anytime recently. Yet, in New Jersey anyone answering yes wins Governor Christie's full rendition and lock down treatment.

4. The "Bye Bye Same Day Cancellation" Award
Hotels pulled record profits in 2014, yet the hospitality industry (an oxymoron!), responded by quietly adding new fees and eliminating same day cancellations. So, when making reservations, read that tiny print. It will likely inform you that the era of "cancel by 6 PM date of arrival" is over

5. The "Disappearing Final Hotel Bill"Award
Hotels rarely slip final bills under the door preferring to e-mail them instead. Roadboy however, still asks to see the bill. It makes it easier to remove any "resort fees" I wasn't notified of (along with any $6 bottles of Fiji I didn't actually drink). In fact, in 2014 hotels imposed all sorts of new nuisance fees and / or penalties. Now at check-in I ask for disclosure of any penalties or fees (things like new "early departure" penalties) they might inflict. For instance say you get your work done a day early and want to leave, in many hotels you'll have to pay for the room you vacate (even if they re-rent it!)

6. The "Max Bialystock Award" 
This is my award for selling something you don't actually have (which we'd normally call fraud, right?) Well airlines do it everyday. According to "Fast Company" 26 million travelers in the US and EU in 2013 were denied boarding due to overbooking. Bumped passengers are typically offered airline vouchers. Airlines love those vouchers because only 15% of them ever get redeemed. Southwest is the worst offender, followed by United, Delta (Skywest), Expressjet and US Airways (and its buddies American, Mesa and American Eagle).

If you are "bumped" due to overbooking for more than an hour you have defined rights and may not want to accept a voucher the airline initially offers.  In fact, when you accept a voucher you waive your rights to full compensation. Here is what you are entitled to:

A delay less than an hour entitles you zip.
A delay of 1-4 hours entitles you to 200% of the one-way value of your ticket (capped at $650).
A delay 4+ hours entitles you to 400% of the one-way value of your ticket (capped at $1,300).

Only when passengers demand full compensation will airlines curb overbooking.

7. The "Out of My Way" Award
The Airline industry is probably the only one where staff demands priority over their best customers. I always find it ironic when flight crews walk past me at security, hold my bags into the X-ray scanner in order to cut in line. Some used to say "excuse me", now they just throw everyone stink eye whilst they jamb 3 bags and a schooner of fluids through the scanner.

8. The "Chertoff Legacy" Award
In 2014 the last of those $250,000 Rapiscan x-ray scanners disappeared. They were championed by then Homeland security czar Michael Chertoff. Then once most US airports had them Chertoff "resigned" his position to form the Chertoff Consulting Group. The Rapiscan's units never met specs for privacy and were soon removed, yet taxpayer's never got a refund.

Elsewhere in the world Rapiscan units were prohibited since "they had never been subjected to testing on humans". That is not actually correct. Here, in the US, they got a full test.....on you and me.

By the way, Rapiscan immediately became one of The Chertoff Group's biggest clients.

Remember just say "Opt Out"!

9. The "Websters Vs. T-Mobile" Award
This year T-Mobile advertised a new plan featuring "Unlimited" International Talk, Data and Roam". I wet myself. Roadboy's idea of "Unlimited" is: "my I-Phone works wherever I travel for a week or a month".

But when I asked "what if I stay 6 months in London?" the definition from T-Mobile of "unlimited" went all grey. So, I went online, called customer service and visited a store, still no answer. I then said "let me speak to your Supervisor". That is when I found out that T-Mobile defines "Unlimited" as two weeks or less outside of your "Home" network each year.

10. The "Welcome to the UK" Award
Ms. M spent nearly 6 months this year in the UK. We began the visit in Dublin where our Irish Customs officer emphatically advised: "BE SURE TO CHECK IN WITH BRITISH IMMIGRATION WHEN YOU GET TO LONDON!"'

So at Heathrow we walked all over the special arrivals hall devoted just to planes landing from Ireland (hmmm, go figure) looking for British Customs / Immigrations. We finally gave up and exited through those big frosty glass doors that lead you into the main terminal. In the terminal we consulted every map and directory we could find and asked three different OLP's (Official Looking People) where we'd find the Customs offices.

None could direct us to the British Customs Office at Heathrow. Why so stealthy? Of course since Britain never knew Ms. M arrived there was no issue with her departure. 

So there you go 2014 was a banner year!

Roadboy can hardly wait to start traveling in 2015!


Roadboy's Travels © 2014 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Blatant Art Theft! 


Roadway wishes everyone a wonderful holiday. Travel safely, eat well, drink well and be surrounded by those you love!


* I stole this artwork directly from my daughter's web blog (which I encourage you to visit!) Just click here: Iniquitous Fish!


Roadway's Travels © 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanksgiving in Phoenix 2014

Home Sweet Home

Frequently my holiday posts describe a visit to some other warm or scenic destination. This year, however, we are opting to enjoy our holiday in our home here in the Valley of the Sun!

So here is a holiday blog for those lucky enough to be visiting Phoenix over Thanksgiving 2014!

Welcome!

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. A Visit to the Desert Botanical Garden (or as we call it the DBG)
This is the perfect time of the year to visit the garden. Click here to visit the DBG website. 

 

The Desert Botanical Garden

The garden's holiday festival, Los Noches de las Luminarias begins Nov 28. It typically sells out, so go online to reserve tickets well in advance for that.  

2. The MIM!
Arizona's 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 Beyond the Beat: Drums of the World.  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. Will you be staying downtown? The wonderful District American Kitchen and Wine Bar at the Sheraton is offering a special Thanksgiving dinner. Adventurous? For amazing Mexican it is the Barrio Cafe or the new upstart Cafe Otro. For down home Mexican I love El Bravo in Sunnyslope. 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. How about some wonderful southern cooking? Then head to the Southern Rail at The Newton. 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

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 Denver and Orlando at the US Airways Center however the Cardinals will not play a home game (Kansas City) at Peter Eisenman's University of Phoenix Stadium until December 7th.

7. Shop!
All the museums above have great gift shops. But there are also great little boutiques like Frances near Camelback and Central. Another block west on Camelback is the new Newton with its Changing Hands bookstore and the new restaurant by Becketts Table (Southern Rail). 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 special holiday ornament marketplace November Nov 28-30.

10. Glendale Glitters
OK it isn't in Phoenix, but this will be the 20th year for the wonderful Glendale Glitters light show, so I'm gonna pimp it. It celebrate its "Spectacular" weekend November Nov 28-30.

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


Roadboy's Travel © 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Walk in Saint Louis

OK I Was Wrong.....

Over the years I have visited Saint Louis two or three times. One of those trips I was probably about 8 years old, so maybe that trip doesn't count. 

On subsequent visits I "had" to be there for a conference or client meeting. Those visits were planned by others and when we took time to go "see the city" we'd always wind up at the Gateway Arch, take a quick "car windows" tour of downtown and (sooner or later) land at a riverboat casino or some loud brewpub.

Between my previous trips and recent headlines concerning racial issues I have had the general impression that there really weren't many reasons to visit Saint Louis.

In fact for many years I have kind of gone out of my way to avoid trips to Saint Louis.

But every time I have badmouthed the city someone more familiar with it seems to tell me I've got it all wrong.

Well recently I returned to Saint Louis for another conference. But, this time I set aside a few hours to burn some shoe leather and see what it was that I had been missing.

And, OK I admit it, Roadboy had missed a lot.

In fact 3+ hours of walking on a sunny Friday barely scratched the surface.

OK....Here goes. I was wrong, Saint Louis is a truly marvelous city. 

Actually, my first impressions started to change as soon as I landed at Lambert Field and realized that TWA's former home airport was sure looking spiffy with its beautiful new copper roof and light filled ticket halls.

After collecting my bag I went to catch the light rail to my downtown hotel. Right there at the ticket machine a light rail rep was there to answer questions, offer me a city map and run through a first timers guide to buying my fare. I found Saint Louis' light rail to be clean and efficient. It connects both terminals to downtown for only $4 (the return fare is only $2.50)!

Once downtown another rep saw my confused look and offered walking instructions to my hotel.

Saint Louis soon became a customer service revelation.

At my hotel (the Hilton at the Ballpark) I met some of the friendliest and most professional staff anywhere. They introduced themselves and appeared whenever I needed them.

I began my walking tour at the hotel with its postcard view of the old courts building in front of Eero Saarinen's iconic arch (celebrating Saint Louis' role as the gateway to America's Western Expansion). Useful Note: Do you suffer from claustrophobia? Then stay the heck away from the arch tour. 

The old courthouse is now part of the Jefferson Expansion National Park. The original western court building was the site of the infamous Dred Scott citizenship case. Later the building was expanded to include an eastern wing and a dome.

The Old Courthouse and The Arch

The next landmark was the spectacular new CityGarden Sculpture Park. Here you will find 24 wonderful world class sculptures that invite you to touch and engage them.

Eros Bedato (Eros Bound)
Igor Mitoraj 1999 

The Garden Looking West

Two of my favorites sculptures were Big Hands by Jim Dine and Kindly Gepetto by Tom Otterness. There is a Cafe entitled Death in the Afternoon, a Spray Plaza to delight kids during Saint Louis' hot summers and a video wall (that was playing old Looney Tunes cartoons when I strolled through the evening before). 

Outside the garden to the west one encounters the massive Richard Serra Sculpture "Twain". As amazing and complete as the City Garden is, the Twain site is a perfect mess. Serra's concept for lighting, benches, and shade trees was never implemented and Twain's rusting core-ten panels now provide concealment for transients and are a magnet for graffiti and urine. This was the saddest place I found in an otherwise immaculate downtown.

The next building I came to was the deco infused and pyramid topped 1930 Civil Courts Building. This one is a masterpiece.

The 3 Story Guardians at the Civil Courts
  
Across the street is the massive Federal Courts building circa 1933. This WPA era buildingis a solid  block of monumental Federal architecture.

Moving west across Tucker Avenue is the French Chateau City Hall. This was the winning entry in a 1898 design competition. The building was supposed to be built in 2 years, but the City never authorized bonds and just kept dribbling out money piecemeal extending the construction to something like 14 years. 

Saint Louis City Hall

From here I walked past the ScottTrade Arena to Saint Louis' Union Station. This is not just any train station. Opened in 1894 and, at its zenith, was the world's largest and busiest train station serving 22 different train lines. It was expanded in 1904 to serve the Saint Louis Worlds Fair. and closed to rail traffic in 1978. It was rebuilt into a festival market / mall and hotel in 1985. The mall is now pretty dated with most of its shops sitting vacant.

But the spectacular Terminal Hall still delivers a sense of awe to any visitor in possession of a heartbeat.

Union Station's Main Terminal Hall

Stained Glass Over the "Whispering Arch"

Clocks and Lantern Bearers

The terminal hall hosts an amazing evening light show that should not to be missed. See a preview  video of it here: Technomedia Union Station Projection (be sure to turn the volume up and go full screen)! Then, of course, click your return button to come back to Roadboy!

From here I walked to the amazing City Museum. I'm convinced there no place like it anywhere else in North America. City Museum is equal parts outsider art and fantasy. It is part repository for architectural fragments and part fun house. In front is a big old airplane and ball park for kids to play on. On the roof is a Ferris wheel and a precariously perched school bus. Inside there are indoor skate(less) parks, slides (one 4 story and another 10 story), an aquarium, and a circus zone (where aerial skills are honed). All built (and constantly expanded) in an old shoe factory.

Please, do not miss City Museum.

Airplanes, A Rooftop School Bus and Ferris Wheel

Terra Cotta Relics

Fish!

And More Architectural Fragments


From here I realized my stroll time needed to come to an end and I quickly made my way past (sadly no time to enter) the Main Library and The War Memorial.

I loved the Turtles Supporting the Library Light Standards

The War Memorial

I passed beautiful churches, deco skyscrapers, and Adler and Sullivan's 1894 Wainwright Building. 

My take away?

I was wrong about Saint Louis and I will plan a return trip.

Next time I'll explore its neighborhoods, Forest Park (home to Saint Louis' History and Art Museums) and its Fox Theater.

In the meantime I sure hope Saint Louis is able to take some positive steps to repair its racial problems. A house divided cannot stand.

PS: If you get a chance go eat Peruvian at Mango at 11th street and Lucas. Yum!


Roadboys Travels © 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The George W Bush Library

50% "W"  /   50% Oscar

Last week, while on a visit to Dallas, I visited the new George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University. The building, designed by Robert A.M. Stern (One of New England's Starchitect residence designers to the 1%), is a square brick block surrounding a square brick lantern that pops up in the middle. The Bush library blends well into the brick collegiate architecture of the SMU campus. 

Only after leaving did I realize I was underwhelmed enough to have neglected to capture a single photo of the exterior. 

The first thing a visitor will note is a frustrating lack of parking. We went on a weekday, in the off season, and still had to join other cars in a fee lot waiting with motors idling until someone came to depart. Cars were idling in the lot before we arrived and when we left 6-8 cars where in the lot lying in wait to pounce on spaces as they came open. A very lovely white Aston Martin waited patiently for me to leave. 

Once you enter the library grounds you are met with a modest plaza from which you may enter the cafe 43, enter the gift shop or enter the library.

Once inside you must purchase your ticket in the main rotunda space. 

The rotunda IMHO is the most successful space in the building with its spectacular continuously looping jumbo-tron digital presentation that brings the space to life. It presents a sentimental series of Texas scenery and culminates in washington DC with a twilight flyover of the DC mall beginning right over President Lincoln's head and ending at the Capital lighting up at dusk. I stood in awe, watching it loop through two or three times.

The Living Rotunda

A Truly Wonderful JumboTron

The second thing you'll notice is it is relatively expensive to visit and it offers no free days. Whereas Austin's LBJ library offers free parking and, after 30 years of being free finally instituted a $8 admission, LBJ still offers free admission 8 times throughout the year. The Bush Library admission is $16 (seniors tickets are $13). Admission includes a little I-pod that narrates the visit. All three of the visitors in my party quickly gave up on the I-pod as it was hard to synch with our movements in the display area. 

In comparison to the other presidential libraries I have visited the display area in the Bush library was kind of small and a bit disappointing.

While most presidential libraries seem to present balanced displays that describe the challenges, achievements, of each presidency while not glossing over mistakes, missteps and errors in judgement, this library presents the Bush Presidency with a series of "this is my side of the story" exhibits. The worst example was the exhibit entitled the "Decision Points Theater". Here visitors are presented with a series of difficult situations encountered during the Bush presidency. But then are offered very limited information and a small menu of options that are clearly designed to manipulate guests into arriving at prescribed conclusions.

What is presented at the Bush Library was, however, very professionally executed. I think most visitors favorite display was likely the replica of the oval office.

Experiencing W's Oval Office

 Twisted Steel From the Twin Towers

The September 11 Exhibit

The balance of the exhibit space (roughly equal in size to the presidential exhibit space) seemed out of place. Although it contains some fashions worn by first ladies, it is hard to square why half of the Bush Presidential library would be devoted to a quirky, yet lovely, infomercial for the House of De La Renta.

The Formal White House

Oscar Does Hillary

Oscar Does Nancy

There is a large gift shop offering up everything from mugs to really expensive presidential dog collars and leashes. 

Roadboy's summation is that the Bush library is a couple of hours well spent, but take this one in after you have already visited Dallas' many other fine museums.


Roadboy's Travels © 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Expo Deco

The Texas State Fair


As a kid my family loved to go to fairs; county fairs, worlds fairs and state fairs. If, while driving around the country on our summer vacations, we'd come across a fair, there was a pretty good chance we'd make an unscheduled stop.

And stopping always paid off. We'd enjoy seeing kids all jazzed up with their 4H activities and exploring exhibit halls showcasing amateur arts and crafts. We'd enjoy local foods whether it was a good brat, fried chicken or whatever deep fried delicacy they were proffering.

To me, fairs are simply unfiltered Americana. They are color and light and midway screams all enjoyed with a hint of fresh horse / cow manure in the air.

Does life get any better than that?

He's Huge and He Talks Slowwww
Big Tex  Officially Welcomes 3,000,000 Annual Visitors to the Texas State Fair

Growing up in California I particularly loved California's old state fair in Sacramento. We returned to the capital city every fall. I loved walking those fairgrounds filled with huge shady trees. We'd  explore every one of its ancient brick and steel exhibition halls. There was even one esplanade that featured life-size photos of every Miss California since time began.

Then our first Hollywood governor decided we needed a year round "Expo" and built a treeless concrete nightmare and christened it Cal Expo. It was a place more appropriate for a rally of the Third Reich than a fair. And those old lovely state fairgrounds dissolved into a bunch of anonymous state office buildings and vacant lots.

But I digress.

This week while visiting Dallas I had the good fortune to spend an evening with old friends at the Texas State Fair.

The Texas Star Ferris Wheel

It had been more than a decade since my last visit to this fair, and I am delighted to report it is still (maybe more?) wonderful.

We visited on Dr. Pepper day, so we got in for half price by turning over one empty can each!

And, although this fair draws 3,000,000+ visitors a year, the same vivacious lady that welcomed us in through the turnstiles recognized us on the way out and bid us a warm "good night y'all". Everyone, rich or poor, is just the same at the fair.

So what is so special about this fair? First off, it is really big and it is really old.

It dates back to 1886, and over the decades it has overcome financial problems, catastrophic fires and closures during global wars.

Since 1929 the annual Oklahoma vs. Texas football game has been conducted during the fair. And, starting in 1930 they have all been played in the Cotton Bowl (which has been expanded from its original 46,000 seats in 1930 to today's capacity of 75,000).

Fair Parks Cotton Bowl Stadium

While I've not fact checked it...I suspect this is the only state fair that has also hosted a worlds fair.

In 1934, just two years after the spectacular Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago, Fair Park was selected to host the 1936 Texas Centennial Exhibition. For two years the fair site was completely transformed by Dallas architect George Dahl and Philadelphia's Paul Cret.

The Archer on the World's Fair's Texas Pavilion 

George Dahl was a prominent Harvard educated Dallas architect who built a national practice that designed numerous commercial and civic buildings from 1927 until 1970.

The Former US Pavilion 
(Now the Food Court)

Paul Cret was well known in Texas due to his role master planning the University of Texas and consulting on the design of Austin's iconic UT tower. Cret, a graduate of Paris' Ecole des Beaux Arts, designed the Eccles Federal Reserve Building in Washington DC and assisted in the design of Cincinnati's exquisite deco Union Terminal. Cret designed the Burlington Northern's celebrated streamliner; the Pioneer Zephyr and the Santa Fe's spectacular Super Chief. He won the AIA Gold Medal in 1938.

One of Four Cameo Reliefs 
In Front of the Centennial Building
Facing the Esplanade Fountain. 

In 1946 Neil and Carl Fletcher introduce the Corny Dog to Dallas fairgoers. And, in 1952 the fair debuted Big Tex. The year Roadboy was born 1956 Elvis performed at the fair. and in 1985 the worlds tallest ferris wheel (The Texas Star) was opened.

Tenor

Alto

In 2012 the fair celebrated 125 years and Big Tex turned 60. Then, on the last day of the fair Big Tex caught fire and burned to the ground.

A Mural to Agriculture

Only one year later the 2013 season welcomed a new Big Tex.

A Bronze Costing in and Entry Door Casting 

We strolled, I ate a piping hot corny dog and Frito pie accompanied by an ice cold local pale ale.

Four hours (and about 50 years) of my life pleasantly melted away on a summer night this week at the State Fair of Texas.


Roadboy's Travels © 2014