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Archive for March, 2010

While complaints about the weather rank high on the list of things that make me want to pull my face off, I’m just an inch of rain away from releasing a rather feisty string of anti-weather words on the world. Rain has been a constant presence around here for weeks. Usually, really, I love the stuff–but enough is enough. Yet, realizing that the world did not need another weather whiner, I channeled my anti-weather fury into something positive. I waded through a flood of Flickr photos to find some right pretty rain. While rain falling on a NJ backyard like, say, mine, gets tired, rain falling over the spots below is a full-on event. (Click on each photo to see more of that photographer’s work.)

"A lovely rainy day in the Klamath Basin, southern Oregon. The Lava Beds National Monument is seen off in the distance." Photo by ex_magician via Flickr (Creative Commons).

"Rain Showers over the Grand Canyon." Photo by Corey Leopold via Flickr (Creative Commons).

"Rain Shower in the Big Bend area." Another photo by Corey Leopold--he shoots good rain--via Flickr (Creative Commons).

"Sheets of rain sweep across the mountains in the valley beyond the MCG Ranch in western Montana." Photo by Bitterroot via Flickr (Creative Commons).

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I’m pretty sure the people in literary agent Marly Rusoff’s 9 a.m. presentation Friday morning were not the same people who were reeling down Bourbon Street toting “Huge Ass Beers” on Thursday night.

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2011, is my kind of New Orleans fun: Feed the brain, feed the body. Repeat. No huge ass beers required.

After Rusoff’s presentation at the Historic New Orleans Collection, I strolled to the Coffee Pot for French toast and coffee. Then, back at the fest, I caught a seminar on book publicity and picked up my next read at the book fair. I wandered around the French Quarter for a while, stopping into Fleur de Paris to try on some extravagant hats, enjoying a particularly entertaining band of buskers, and ending up at Antoine’s Hermes Bar for a glass of wine and an Oyster Foch PoBoy. After hearing Jill McCorckle on writing short stories, I took another stroll (pause for pralines from Leah’s) before hitting a cocktail party full of writers, donors, students, and sundry, where a guy who works at the University of New Orleans explained to me what it means to love New Orleans. You can be who you want here, he explained, and nobody cares. Even if you’re crazy famous, like Brad and Angelina. (He also expressed puzzlement at Santa Fe’s popularity. “I got tired of brown,” he said. Which says as much about New Orleans as it does Santa Fe.)

Saturday started with a visit to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and The Museum of the American Cocktail before an SRO slide presentation, “Vieux Carre Circa 1930,” at the Cabildo, then a couple of Williams one-act plays at Le Petit Theater. I stumbled upon the New Orleans Roadfood Festival, where I snarfed a bowl of red beans and rice (practically health food this weekend), and finally wrapped up my festival-going with two panels: publishing professionals discussing their business, then writers discussing their art. I was pleasantly delayed by a ragtag parade on my way to dinner, which was a decidedly ungeenteel four-napkin po’ boy at Mother’s.

I’m not a party girl. Mardi Gras sounds like hell to me, JazzFest sounds not much better. But this five day word-nerd event (in two days, I barely made a dent in it—I didn’t manage to catch Cokie Roberts or Dave Eggers) is my idea of a PAR-TEE!

P.S. A special thumbs up to Coop’s Place, where I ate rockin’ shrimp creole Thursday night, before I started my festival shuffle. Hate to leave it out…

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Whether it’s for their kitsch factor or their elegance or that they just have an unexplainable X factor–so, an “it” place–there are certain museumshotelsfieldsVFWhalls that just scream, Rent me for the night! Let’s have a shindig! Some are close to home and others are destination party places we encountered while traipsing around the country.  Here, spots we would love to take over for a night (or a long weekend).

Joining us at the Three-fer party table this week: writer Gwen Moran. A great conversationalist and storyteller and all-around excellent person to hang out with, she’s at the top of my guest list for any and all shindigs. (And she’s a Jersey girl and Jersey girls know how to party.) A business writer and award-winning humorist, Gwen lives and works at the Jersey Shore (the place, not the reality television show). And, believe you me, those Jersey shore girls know from a party. (Want to hang out with her today? That’s what the Twitter is for: @gwenmoran.)

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There's a sign toward the back that says "BOOK YOUR PARTY NOW." It's a very good idea. Photo by Gwen Moran.

At the Silverball Pinball Museum on Asbury Park’s storied boardwalk, the tink-tink-tink of a silver orb racking up points on one machine competes for attention with the flashing colored lights of another. Standing at the foot of Evel Knievel, KISS, or Mata Hari, it’s hard to tell whether we’re really there or whether we’ve slipped into childhood’s boardwalk arcade memories. After several rounds of heated competition, perhaps a machine’s high score beaten and bragging rights earned, we walk next door to dine at the tropic-themed Langosta Lounge for a feast of fresh seafood or jerk chicken, washed down with cold, fruity drinks. Then, a walk on the boards. But which way? To the right, where Candyteria’s confections await? Or the left, where the glass artisans at Hot Sand create beauty? Or across the long, white beach?–Gwen

This is Sophia's idea of a good-time party house.

I don’t need a big, rowdy party. Some close friends in beautiful surroundings is my kind of bash. Meet me at the Montana Island Lodge. It’s been nearly a decade since I visited the place (called the Center at Salmon Lake back then) but it’s one of those frequent sigh…take me back memories. It’s marketed for small group meetings, executive retreats, weddings, that sort of thing but it will certainly do for my party. We’ll have the whole place: eleven guest rooms, game room with pool table, steam room, hot tub, decks with oh-my-gawd gorgeous views, meals are included, and you can BYOB. And, of course, it’s Montana, which brings a little something extra to any party. OK, a lot.–Sophia

It doesn't look like much now but... Photo by teofilo via Flickr (Creative Commons).

It’s been in my head for a long time. I want to transform a VFW Hall or an Elks Lodge or some other group’s kind of bare bones space into a huge all-American BBQ extravaganza. I’m talking BBQ from as many shacks and stands from across this great land as we can muster. Wet rubs! Dry rubs! And cole slaw with vinegar and cole slaw with mayo. We might need the parking lot out back, too. And perhaps the one next to it. We’ll doll the place up with streamers and eat off paper plates and drink the local beer. Root beer, too. Nothing diet. And it won’t be a competition. Competitions are fun but this one will be pure pleasure. No trash talking allowed.–Jenna

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The sign says "FREE Detroit souvenir Please take some home today"

Posts I’ve written in the past about Detroit inspired passionate responses. The city may be on decline, but it still holds a very tender place in the hearts of many.

Now I’m following with fascination the discussion about possibly downscaling Detroit by tearing down what are now blighted neighborhoods (“blighted neighborhoods” has become the Detroit cliché) and reverting them to farmland.

Details are still sketchy, even after mayor Dave Bing’s state-of-the-city speech last night, but the fact is, Detroit is (as one political consultant said) “flat, butt-naked broke,” and providing city services to near-empty neighborhoods is an unsustainable drain on city budgets. In the 1950s, Detroit’s population was 1.8 million. Today, it’s more like 900,00. That’s a lot of empty—by one estimate, 33,500 empty houses and 91,000 vacant residential lots.

Of course, tons of controversy lies ahead…what neighborhoods would go back to the land, and where those neighborhoods’ remaining residents would move (“relocation” is the dirty word in this discussion). But I have to admit, I love the idea of unsprawling urban sprawl. Especially abandoned sprawl.

I live in a part of Dallas that still has lots of undeveloped land, and though we need economic development, the cavalier manner in which developers abuse this wealth of space—building and then abandoning stores and shopping centers, leaving behind acres of concrete where once was prairie—fills me with despair. (An abandoned Home Depot upsets me every time I pass it.) Our outdated, near-empty, eyesore of a mall is an urban albatross—nobody can figure out what to do with it, though new plans are floated, then vanish, with depressing regularity.

If we’re not going to reuse these buildings, I wish we could just tear them down, plow up the parking lots, let the grasses encroach, let the rabbits and coyotes settle back in, let farmers stake out claims to keep our trendy farmers markets stocked with arugula and heirloom tomatoes. Granted, that won’t do much for our tax base, but it sure would be better to look at than cracked concrete and boarded-up buildings.

I found this Disney short on a blog called BC Planning, about city planning. It has a happy ending, but first it will break your heart.

Photo by Jessicareeder via Flickr (Creative Commons).

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The view from above of the Kennecott mill (ghost) town in Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

Write a blog for long enough and, at some point, your patterns will start to emerge. You’ll notice the themes you return to time and again, the grooves of the record that are worn deep. I have a thing for the abandoned and the dying: American ruinsRolley-Hole Marbles, Presbyterians. Psychologists, really, hold your tongues. I don’t care what it means.

So, while doing a bit of web wandering the other day, I got lost in GhostTownGallery.com. It’s a not-necessarily-beautiful-but-pretty-damned-fun travel blog written (and shot) by Daniel and Ligian Ter-Nedden, a couple who live in Zurich, Switzerland. They’ve visited more than 200 ghost towns in nine U.S. states. (Yes, I’m also keen on people who get mildly-to-completely obsessed with…whatever.)

And now I want to add a lot of what they’ve seen to my own ghost town experiences. (Yeah, add it to my list of travel to-dos.) The one in the photo up above, Kennecott mill town, sits high atop my list of favorite abandoned town experiences. But, until my next ghost town outing, I guess I’ll just keep myself busy on the Ter-Neddens’ site (amongst others) planning possible visits to places once known for their “wickedness, badmen, and ‘the worst climate out of doors,'”lawlessness, murder, and mayhem,” and gold.

Though they were all abandoned once, I don’t see it happening again.

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Road-trip Rituals

Any dedicated road tripper has rituals for the ride: Necessary preparations, must-listen-to music, requisite snacks. Speed limits, shmeed limits. These are the really important rules of the road.

For today’s Three-fer, we bring you always hilarious, excellently outrageous Joe Rhodes, a frequent contributor to TV Guide, Reader’s Digest and The New York Times. Joe has decided to live in a decked-out Mercedes van for the next few years, wandering the backroads of America “like Charles Kuralt in a bad mood.” He’s coming to your town, so protect yourself by checking on his whereabouts at Traipsathon.com. And for more Joe than you can control, follow his Twitter feed: @earlkabong.

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Joe Rhodes is coming soon to your town. You've been warned.

Before strapping in for a road trip (by which I mean putting on my Astronaut Diaper), I pack salves and unquents, jugs of water and Subway coupons I may or may not have stolen from the neighbor’s mailbox. I get my traditional Road Trip Buzz Cut, so I can stumble out of bed and into my vehicle without it being obvious that I haven’t washed or combed my hair. (Seriously.) I always have at least one new Road Trip Album (last trip: Radiohead’s Kid A), and find (often via Yelp) at least one new restaurant/music venue on my route. (Last trip: Flagstaff’s spectacular Tinderbox Kitchen). I double-check GPS, bluetooth speakerphone, IPod cassette/speaker connector, and hit the highway. Also, whenever I cross a state line, I wet myself a little. Those Astronaut Diapers are handy.–Joe

The best road trip album EVER. That's all.

I’ve heard that other road trippers like to compile a new playlist for every trip. That sounds nice but I never make time for it. Instead I rely on two playlists, or, I should say, need! to listen to two playlists over and over when I drive from here to there: Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and Yummy, a mix I created about a decade back. Car Wheels is, simply, the best travel album ever recorded. It works on highways, back roads, at rest stops… And Yummy, which remains, to me, as fresh as the day I created it, has a song for every mood, from Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Over the Rainbow” to Modern English’s “I Melt With You.”–Jenna

"A treat in itself." Note the "food groups" icon. Grapes, apples, nuts, gummy bears.

I’m not a foodie. (I like Peeps, fergawdsake. Also those orange circus peanut thingies.) So it makes peculiar sense that my road rituals involve food. And by food, I mean “food.” My road trip food groups are gummy bears, beef jerky, and trail mix. For variety, sometimes my gummy bears are worms, sometimes my beef jerky is peppered, and sometimes my trail mix contains M&M-ish things. I have never returned a rental car without gummys fused to the upholstery and trail mix wedged in the seats. And, by the way, I now know exactly what happens if you leave a bag of gummy bears in the glove compartment on a trip through Death Valley. It resembles this, only swirlier.–Sophia

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Really, there's no better place to hear Stormy Weather in stormy weather.

A loud pop and it was lights out. A nor’easter can shred a day’s plans in no time flat (especially when that day’s plans included some electricity-required online research and writing). So, with Saturday upended, I checked my phone for local movie listings and, hands firmly on the steering wheel, headed to Cedar Lane Cinemas to see the flyoveresque flick people have been going nutso for: Crazy Heart*.

I grew up going to the movie theater–it’s a five-minute drive from my house in Teaneck, New Jersey–but had no real love for it. Though they show first-run movies and the tickets are just $4.75, my movie-going life remained in New York City (where tickets are up to $12.50).

But…the storm. Already unpleasant when I’d headed into the theater, it had worked itself up to pure evil by the time Crazy Heart ended. I stepped outside, rethought my plan, and went right back through the in door to see what was playing next. I paid another $4.75 for the 7:20 showing of The Last Station** and walked upstairs and into a tiny theater.

There, sitting at the left side of the screen, was a man playing a pipe organ, a Rodgers Electronic Concert Organ. The pipes sit behind the movie screen. Though I had heard about Jeff Barker and his pre-movie live concerts, I hadn’t made it there to hear him. I really try not to hang out around Teaneck on Saturday nights, the only night he plays. But I might need to change that plan up in the future. I will encourage my friends to trek out from the city to see whichever movie is playing in that upstairs theater. (If you’re in NYC on a Saturday, you might want to do the same. Hop the 167 from Port Authority.) Sitting on a well-worn bench that owed its remaining strength to duct tape, Barker played Stormy Weather. He followed with Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. And, though it was too dark to see them, I think it’s a safe bet to say that the other five people in the theater that night also had big dopey I love this place smiles on their faces.

*Liked it. Didn’t love it.

**Loved it.

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