Tuesday, July 29, 2014

William Wrigley Jr.'s Winter "Cottage"

A 50th Wedding Anniversary Gift
La Colina Solana

High upon a hill in Phoenix, in the shadows of Piestawa Peak, rests the venerable Mission Revival Wrigley Mansion. 

The Phoenix Wrigley Mansion

The original 16,000 Square foot "cottage" cost $1,200,000 to build (approximately $20,500,000 in 2014 dollars). Earl Heitschmidt of Los Angeles was the architect. Before designing the Wrigley Mansion Heitschmidt was a key designer of Los Angeles' Biltmore Hotel on Pershing Square. Heitschmidt's later projects include CBS Studios in Hollywood and LA's Park LaBrea.

The home, a wedding gift for William's wife Ada, was completed in 1931 and is the smallest of Wrigley's six homes. It contains 24 rooms and 12 bathrooms. Of the many bedrooms there were only 4 designated for the family. The intent was for the Wrigley's winter guests to instead stay at Wrigley's nearby Arizona Biltmore Hotel.

The Mansion's Main Entry Hall

The Wrigley imprint is found in almost every detail of the home including the rose above the front door, the chewing gum wrapper wallpaper in the telephone room and symbolic fresco references to Ada's French heritage and William's English heritage.

The Phone Room 
With Wrigley Spearmint "Wrapper" Wallcovering

A Rose for Ada 

The Crown Chandelier in the Entry 

The ceiling's were painted by Giovanni Smeraldi (who in 1923 worked with Heitschmidt painting  LA's Biltmore Hotel).

The Living Room

The beautiful tiles in the house were cast in the Pebble Beach Quarry and Tile Works on Catalina Island. Wrigley owned both the tile company and Catalina Island.

Catalina Tile

Door Panel
Woodworking Detail 

The mansion also happens to be where Wrigley died in 1932. After Wrigley's death the family kept the house, using it as one of their winter retreats for many years.

The home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and was purchased in 1992 by meat packing heir and musician George (Geordie) Hormel. Hormel carefully restored the home and enclosed its large porches which expanded it to 19,000 Square feet.  Since Biltmore covenants prevent the building from being used as a restaurant, Hormel opened it as a "private" club, open to anyone, for a token fee.

Geordie Hormel was somewhat of a legend as well.  His life included four marriages (the first being Leslie Caron), numerous children and a successful musical career of his own.

Geordie's September 1951 Wedding to Leslie Caron

Geordie regularly performed in the mansion on its magnificent Steinway until his own death in 2006.

The "Blank Check" Steinway

And the Steinway is not just any Steinway. This was one of only two ever created with a "jukebox" player feature. It was ordered by William Wrigley before the stock market crash and reportedly the Steinway Company offered to release him from the order for the piano. Instead, lore has it that Wrigley sent Steinway a blank check to confirm he still wanted it. The other Player Steinway is in the Smithsonian. Many of the mansion's guests played the piano including Liberace and George Gershwin. Liberace reportedly attempted to buy it but was told it went with the house.

Geordie's Lounge

After 20 years of living in Phoenix I had never made the trek up the hill to see William Wrigley's cottage. Last Saturday I corrected that oversight with a lovely lunch and a tour. 

Ada's Cottage on the Sunny Hill 

Like all good architecture, the building has outlived it's creators and benefactors. And, now 82 years after its completion, Wrigley's Sunny Hill still hosts new generations of Phoenicians and their guests.

Roadboy's Travel © 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Myth About "Them"

Rant Alert!

After traveling most of my life I always return home very much in love with my country. 

It is filled with wonderful people. People who work hard and play by the rules. People willing to look you in the eye and give you the shirt off their back.   

But, because I travel I also see firsthand what life is like in the nations I visit. 

So, when I return home it is hard to reconcile the stunning misinformation so many Americans readily accept from the American media. Misinformation that gets repeated over and over in vain attempts to make it feel true. These are people who rarely leave their own city, let alone country. Yet, they genuinely believe they know what it is like out in the scary "There". While the world keeps getting smaller, these folks never go experience it.

I believe America's current polarization is the direct result of an unreasonable national increase in fear and poverty.  It is now easiest to blame "Them". "Them" being terrorists or illegal aliens or any other scapegoat you choose.

Our current national fear began with Sputnik, simmered during the Cuban Missile Crisis and then cooked as global stockpiles of cold war era nuclear weapons just become larger and larger.

But I think the present tidal wave of national fear was unleashed when two airplanes hit the World Trade Center.

Why is fear so important to politicians? If not for fear, why, in the space of less than a decade, would Americans willingly forsake so many of the very civil liberties that used to be the envy of the rest of the free world?

Why would we welcome a poisonous "Patriot Act", or its subsequent spawn? How is it we have awakened to an era when everything we write, say or speak is recorded and becomes political leverage for whichever party is in power?

It is because we have collectively became frightened of "Them".

So, who are "They"?

Some of "Them" have skin pigmentation other than ours. "They" might even profess religions other than our own - or no religion at all. The point is "They" are frequently not like us.

And, in the process of becoming afraid, we collectively.....

1. Embraced "stupid".
We have devalued public education. We even allowed public tax dollars to be diverted from public schools to private ones. We sat back and idly watched our best educational institutions become reserved exclusively for the children of the rich. And, while teachers are revered in most of the rest of the world, we now treat them, not as scholars and educators, but as babysitters. 

Somewhere along the way we even began to ridicule our smartest kids, calling them "Geeks" and "Nerds". 

The US spends 5.65% of our GDP on education. While places like Cuba spend 13% of their GDP. "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"
Matthew 6:21

2. Became less healthy.
Because we (including our Supreme Court) now believe corporations are people, we allow insurance companies the right to use our premiums to lobby congress. As a result, we pay more per capita for healthcare than any country in the world. We pay for everything twice. Once to the insurance company then to the healthcare system. 

Yet our healthcare is now far from "the envy of the rest of the world" some keep professing. And deep down we all know it. Insurance companies are now gatekeepers that actively obstruct our access to healthcare. They care only about the bottom line, not our health.

In fact, when compared to the 180-200 or so developed countries in the world America's ranking is pretty shabby.

Life Expectancy - America ranks: 42
Mother dying in Childbirth - America ranks: 52
Infant mortality - America ranks: 56
In category after category we rank solidly behind every EU and industrialized country in the world. In fact, we rank below some not-so industrialized countries as well (i.e. Serbia, Croatia, Cuba and Slovenia).

So next time someone blathers on about how bad healthcare is in Canada or Norway or Germany. Or England or Italy, just say Bullshit! The fact is citizens in those countries pay far less for healthcare and live longer and healthier lives than we do.

3. Failed "Nation Building 101"
After almost five decades of failed "Nation Building", from Vietnam to Afghanistan we have mortgaged mega trillions of our national treasure in the Military Industrial Complex Dwight Eisenhower warned us about. Yet, all we have discovered over and over is that our blood and advanced weaponry never remakes another country in our own image. We've killed and maimed (physically and emotionally) whole generations of Americans. 

While other countries require compulsory national service of ALL their children (rich or poor), we give our rich kids a free pass to register for college and play lacrosse. Our poor frequently can only escape poverty by joining the military. I cringe when I hear someone insincerely thanking them "for their service" on planes and in supermarkets. I say thank them with good jobs when they return and instant access to first class VA Hospitals.

In countries with National Service the young serve where needed; the Army, cleaning up cities even maintaining trails in National Parks. 

4. Gave away our middle class
That ship has sailed. Our middle-class jobs (the ones that had decent salaries) now reside overseas. In the quest to create short-term dividends for retired shareholders, our children got screwed. Today few Millennial's expect a standard of living better than their parents.

In record numbers Millennials live at home and enter the workforce later. If they are able to go to college at all most emerge deeply in debt. Fewer get married. Even fewer attend church. Most are left with no choice but to postpone families. They rent years longer. Many cannot even afford to insure and operate a car (i.e. hence the rise of "Zipcar"). They are not lazy. In fact, I think Millennial's are downright heroic in their ability to remain optimistic.  

My data came from the Pew Trust and the CIA World Factbook. The CIA Factbook is fascinating, you can check it out here. 

So unplug your computer, dish or cable TV. Take a weekend and go visit the next city over, then the next state over, then the next country over.

The ones you've never been too, but think you know so much about. 

Get off your ass and out of your comfort zone. 

Go meet "Them". 

Perhaps American's will finally become "Us".

We will all be better for it.

Roadboy's Travels © 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Postcard From London

Ms. M Sends Photos

Today I received an e-mail with photos from Ms. M (who has relocated to London until November). She has been visiting both the normal tourist sights (British Museum and the V&A) and some less well known sights such as the Camden and Horse Stable Markets. 

She also went to see the Return of the Rudeboy and Tattoo Exhibits at the Somerset House. 

The Camden Market
(Home of Affordable Vintage Clothing)

Umbrella's at the Camden Market 

The Horse Stable Market

The Horse Stable Market

Make Your Own Designer Ice Cream Bar At Selfridges

Summer at the Somerset House

From the RudeBoy Exhibit

From the Somerset RudeBoy Exhibit

Part of the Somerset Tattoo Exhibit

Flattened Horns in The V&A

A Sneaked Photo of The Bridal Gown Exhibit at the V&A

Part of the Clock and Timepiece Exhibit
At the British Museum

She went to a concert by David Arnold (scored recent Bond Films and the Sherlock theme). She also got to see Martin Freeman (Watson in the New BBC / PBS Masterpiece Series Sherlock) in Richard III. She also has tickets to the Monty Python reunion.

Stay tuned!  As she keeps me posted I'll keep you posted.

Roadboy's Travels © 2014

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Post Euro Trip Wrap Up

Flying Through Dublin, Driving on the Left, Chip and Pin, Survey Hell

I am home again with a little time to reflect on my journey to Ireland and London. The visit was wonderful. We found a room in London for Ms. M to call home for the next 5 months. We also enjoyed our sightseeing time in Ireland and England. So, in no particular order, here are Roadboy's take aways.

Travel is Tonic
Travel can be frustrating at times. We get cold, hot, wet, and lost. But we also discover interesting new people, cultivate an appreciation of other cultures and (with the cell phones off) we actually talk to each other. We also find a lot to laugh at. I can't remember a movie I went to 3 months ago, but I remember a trip I took 3 months ago.

I always come home physically tired, yet mentally energized.

Driving on the Left
After much fear and trepidation Roadboy was able to master driving on the left after only a day or two. It takes concentration (especially at those roundabouts they love so much). And most rental cars in Europe are manual transmissions. Ordering an automatic transmission will at least double your daily rate. So, if you are able to drive a manual at home, it is probably wise to drive one here too. I can attest that they certainly get terrific gas mileage and every drop counts.

Rent the GPS!
Hands down the best safety expenditure we made on this trip was renting a GPS. At home I just use my I-Phone maps. But I-phone data plans are absurdly expensive in Europe, so I rented a GPS. 

Well, they have certainly improved GPS' in the decade since I bought my first Garmin! This little unit told us where we were and when we were about to exceed a speed limit (and it was dead on every time the limit went up or down). It warned where the speed cameras were (which is EVERYWHERE!) It did take us on one very picturesque "detour". But where it took us turned out to be the highlight of travel that day. 

Rental Car Credit Card Insurance - Not!
I am used to using my American Express card for domestic car rentals, it offers the best (IMHO) rental car insurance. The Visa insurance plan comes in second and Mastercard's is well back in third place.  So while renting I declining optional CDW insurance and presented my new AE card.

For grins I did price CDW coverage however. 

On a $12 / day car rental the CDW was either: $57 / Day ($100 deductible), or $37 / day ($1200 deductible). Basically, it only kicks in if you total the car. 

I passed.

Well, my flawless driving record has a new asterisk as I munched the passenger rear view mirror on my little Ford Fiesta on day one of my driving on the left effort. So I went online to check the fine print on my American Express Propel "World Traveler" card from Wells Fargo. And, I now know that AE cards offer zero car rental coverage in Ireland. So the teachable moment here is - check it before you go. 

Luckily, my car rental company (Dooley's - a Payless Franchisee) was exceptionally fair in their repair estimate offering the mirror and installation at dealer cost. Dooley's won my loyalty for any and all future trips to the Emerald Isle.

Americans (Or at Least Phoenicians) Are Awful Drivers
We drove 1000KM on the "wrong" side in medieval villages, on freeways, and on some of the narrowest country roads I've ever seen. After a week of travel we did not witness a single two car accident. In London, same thing; a full week, unbelievable roadway congestion, narrow streets, not a single 2 car wreck.

Within 24 hours of returning to Phoenix I see a wild two car, everything totaled, airbags deployed, wreck.

Dublin Airport (DUB) is a Bargain and Offers US Pre-Immigration
The Dublin Airport joins Madrid's Barajas as a Roadboy "Favorite Gateway to Europe". 

Here's why: If you fly from outside the EU into London's Heathrow or Paris' Charles De Gaulle your airfare must absorb $450 in airport fees per ticket! Conversely, airport fees in Dublin or Madrid are closer to $50.

And, once you've landed in the EU the price to hop to almost anywhere else is cheap. Plus, you can spend some time in beautiful Ireland or Spain!

Being the fourth busiest airport in the EU, the advantage Madrid's Barajas has over Dublin is the shear volume of flight options on to other EU destinations.

The advantage Dublin offers over Madrid is its US Customs Pre-Clearance Center (think Toronto Pearson). When you return to the US from Dublin your plane just pulls up to a regular gate and you avoid those awful crowded domestic US ports of entry (Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta NYC etc.)

It does mean you must allow 2-1/2 hours at the Dublin airport before you leave. That gets you through immigration, the second US security check point and still allows time for Duty-Free.

Chip and PIN
Before leaving I promised to report on my new AE Propel World Traveler card. It promised to work as a chip and pin credit card.

Well, it is a different beast. Before departing I routinely call my card issuers and alert them to the dates and locations of my intended travels. This trip was the same. But in years past AE told me that they expected their cardholders to travel and there was "no need to call in to report a travel profile".

So with great expectations I attempted to check into my Dublin hotel using the card and it was declined. 

I called the collect call number to AE and find that this card is more Wells Fargo, than AE. And Wells Fargo wants a travel profile. So after we got that squared away the card was presented again and again and it was (mostly) accepted.

What was odd was I was never asked for my pin. I inserted the card in the chip reader, then they swiped it and I was asked for a signature. It was declined twice: "We don't accept AE".

In each case I presented my Marriott Chip and Pin Rewards card (the card declined in Spain and Portugal last year) and this year it was accepted everywhere. Again, it was inserted for the chip, then swiped, then I was asked for signature.

When my free year is up I'll drop the AE card. My Marriott Visa card has no foreign transaction fees and it was accepted everywhere. Its annual fee is about 1/2 what the AE card costs.

First trip in five years where we did not see a single pickpocket!

Surveys, Surveys, Surveys 
This year I noticed how "over surveyed" travelers have become. I was asked for dozens of "reviews". After checking out of every hotel or returning every rental car. It seemed like everyone wanted a full report.

I routinely submit reviews to TripAdvisor and I rely on TA for hotel and restaurant recommendations. But lately I notice that after any hotel review I submit on TripAdvisor the hotel's GM "replies". What is funny is how their replies are all the same. If I say their beds are awful, they reply "Thank you for your comments. We were so happy to hear that you enjoyed your stay with us!" Huh?!

The worst offender for me lately is Thrifty Car rental. The decline in service and quality at Thrifty over the past few months has been meteoric. I used to rent there almost every week, now I try to avoid Thrifty. But lately when I do rent there I get a survey immediately after each rental. Sadly, I have no confidence anyone reads or cares about whatever the surveys say. I use the "canary test" method where you write something in the review they cannot avoid responding to.

Except they don't reply....Cause they are not reading them...

But asking us to fill in surveys we are left thinking our opinions somehow matter...

They don't...

Dear Travel Companies - RoadWarriors have approached full yelp out!

Roadboy's Travels © 2014