Saturday, June 25, 2016

Roadboy Vists The Denver Botanical Gardens

Home of Colorful Blooms, Buzzing Bees and Lots of Dead Bodies
And (Until October 2) Thirteen Wonderful Sculptures from the Walker Art Center

This week I had few free hours to spend in Denver before my scheduled flight back to Phoenix. Confident in knowing that United Airlines would try to extract a ridiculous fee for me to stand-by for an earlier flight I opted instead to spend an afternoon at the Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG) in Cheesman Park. 

What a treasure.

The 24 acre garden is divided into various themed sections representing geographic and climatic zones.  The gardens of the west include gardens inspired by native Americans along with various low (and no) water gardens.

 From the Garden's of The West

The International gardens include Asian inspired gardens, tropical gardens and a South African Plaza.

 A Tsukubai (Water Basin) in The Japanese Gardens

There are ornamental gardens that feature an orangery, lilacs, herbs, water, fragrances, roses, romance and scripture.


Junge Frau (Young Woman) 1926
Georg Kolbe (1877-1947)
(Located in the sacred earth section, my favorite of the Walker sculptures)

 The Boy and a Frog 1898
Elsie Ward Hering 
(In the herb garden this piece is part of the garden's permanent collection)

 The Romantic Gardens

There are shady gardens featuring oaks, pollinators and low light woodlands.

 A Busy Bumble 
(It was Pollinator's Week!)

 Hare on Bell 1983
Barry Flanagan (1941-2009)

There are also two water gardens.

 Clouds Reflected in The Monet Pool

 Summer Blooms Everywhere

Strangely, when I visited the DBG website it offers zero "History of the Gardens".  I found that sort of odd. So I looked up the history of the park in which it resides (Cheesman Park). What I found is a perfect old west tale; gruesome, full of illegality and wrapped in money.

It turns out Cheesman Park was built on top of a very large graveyard. To be specific, it was the Mt. Prospect (or Prospect Hill) Cemetery opened in 1858 (the same year Denver became a city) by William Larimer.

The cemetery's first graves were destined for murdered gambler Jack O'Neal and his murderer John Stoefel. The cemetery filled quickly with the victims of typhoid and other diseases expected in an overcrowded boom town.

After about fourteen years the US Government realized the cemetery was actually located on federal land. The Feds then offered the land to Denver "as is" for $200.

So, in 1873, Mt. Prospect cemetery became the Denver City Cemetery. The City let it fall into neglect and it became an eyesore. However, the neighborhood surrounding it had become highly desired. So local developers and realtors determined if they could get the City to pick up the tab to convert the cemetery into a park they could make an even bigger killing developing the land that adjoined it.

So, in 1890, when the City announced it would build a park on the site it informed the unfortunate families with loved ones buried there, that they had ninety days to move them.  Most families did nothing. So ninety days turned into three years and by 1893 there were still about 5,000 graves left.

Denver then offered a contract to an undertaker to relocate the remaining bodies. The terms of the contract required that bodies be exhumed, placed in a new coffin and be reburied elsewhere. He would receive $1.90 per coffin. The undertaker then maximized profits by using cheaper child sized coffins. And since he was being paid by the coffin, not the body, he exhumed bodies, hacked them up, and put 1/3 of each body into three separate coffins. Newspapers soon reported the macabre larceny and Denver halted grave relocations.  Nothing else happened until in 1894 the City just started to build the new park over whatever/whomever was still left there. 

So, to this day, new DBG projects and construction in the park still "finds" more pioneer remains.

Roadboy's Travel © 2016

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Bye Bye AAmerican Pie

American Digs The Knife in and Twists It

(Rant Alert)

Thirty five years ago American Airlines hit upon an amazing marketing plan. It created a frequent flier program and called it American AAdvantage. The program was a way to recognize and reward the airline's most loyal customers.

The wildly successful program eventually enrolled over 60,000,000 members and went on to add various tie-ins such as an AAdvantage credit card.

But members soon came to realize that points earned today were simply devalued tomorrow by an airline that constantly increased its award levels. Road warriors all know that cashing in points requires skill, patience (and maybe a Ouija board?)

This morning, however, I knew something was afoot. 

As a 2 Million Miler with Lifetime Platinum status I periodically get e-mails from American. They are never good. I call them "spin" grams because they always arrive just before they announce some new way they plan to crap on their passengers. Today's message announced major changes to the AAdvantage program. The changes focus on abandoning everyone except their "Best" customers. After three decades of rewarding all of their loyal passengers, American will now switch pretty much to rewarding passengers who spend the most money. To the new American Money = "Best".

The spin gram also announced the addition of a new elite status level. Which (for me) was another slap. You see, for a brief moment a few months back, I found myself flattered to learn that my 30 years of loyalty was being recognized by lifetime Platinum status. Platinum is a very good place to be.

Soon however Platinum will become the new "Gold" level with the addition of a "Platinum Pro" level. "Platinum Pro", doesn't that sound more like the brand name for a condom than an airline elite status level?

After so many years of this declining service I had a premonition this was coming and back in October  / November I decided I'd quit automatically shopping for flights on American's website and would begin exploring my other options.

Happily I am finding there are some good ones!

I now begin each flight search using a macro site like Orbitz or I begin by unchecking Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant (they are too awful to consider at any price) and then I see what turns up.

For my most recent Trans-Pacific flight (after reading negative reports) I opted against American and United and chose Singapore Airlines (in their new Premium Economy class). What a great airline!

For my Trans-Atlantic flights I now opt for Emirates (another truly amazing airline). I am also a big fan of Air France, Virgin and La Compagnie (that little airline flying 757's entirely configured with value priced business class). Air Berlin is pretty darned good as is British Air, Lufthansa and SAS.

Need a last minute (i.e. high priced) domestic flight? Check Delta. I've been finding Delta frequently offers last minute first class fares for less than coach on American or United.

For west coast travel I now always try to fly Alaska (they fly consistently beautifully maintained / clean aircraft, offer friendly staff and still have a great frequent flier program).

I'd use JetBlue more if they just offered some real flight options from Phoenix.

My experiment has also disclosed some serious roadkill. My old friend Southwest? I've found it to have serious on time issues. It seems to be evolving into mediocrity in khaki. Of my last seven consecutive flights on SWA, 6 have resulted in delays and 1 in a cancellation. No more SWA for me.

Media reports inform that "Satisfaction' levels among the traveling public have steadily risen. I remain unconvinced. 

I believe passengers have simply become so desensitized that they just accept poor service, long TSA lines and endless fees, knowing that government consumer protections have largely vanished due to airline lobbying. Unless a traveler does a lot of homework, they have little real recourse. Big airlines in the US now just operate using computer models that precisely calibrate the sweet spot where profits are maximized through the delivery of as little as possible.

Today's e-mail from American is proof. So I'm responding the only way the airlines understand, I'm flying pretty much everyone else.

Hey American!


Roadboy's Travels © 2016