Archive for August, 2010

Road Trip – June 26, 2010

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

I am back, safe and sound (if a bit discombobulated) in Los Angeles having spent the last four days driving in a baby blue Town and Country minivan across the Southern United States.

A:  Nashville, TN B:  Memphis, TN  C.  Clinton, OK (after a drive through Arkansas)  D.  Santa Fe, NM  E.  Grand Canyon, AZ  F.  Los Angeles, CA

It is a long drive.

I have stayed in a wide variety of places (at a wide variety of price points)

I have eaten many things

I have had many, many good times

And one not-so-good one (easily recovered from – a flat tire in Amarillo Texas)

There’s almost too much to mention in a single email.

Every state is physically very distinct.  The red dirt of Oklahoma changes to the flat terrain of Texas.  New Mexico, red and craggy rolls into a green grey Arizona almost like there has been a line drawn down between states.  Maybe that’s how they decided where the borders would be.  LA is positively chilly in the mid 70’s – much of the drive was spent (in blessed air conditioning) with an external temperature over 100 degrees.  There was a rain storm in New Mexico that saw the temperature drop 30 degrees Fahrenheit in half an hour, then soar right back up again.  There can be a 50 degree difference from the floor of the Grand Canyon to the rim.  It is a land of contrasts to say the least.

Little Rock Arkansas is more charming that I expected it to be (the Ex-Pres comes by it honestly) with trolleys and nice architecture (although the Clinton Library looks like a giant trailer).

I watched 2 guys attempt to eat a 72 ounce steak each in order to get it for free at a place called the Big Texan in Amarillo.

That is my (delicious) 6 ounce version pictured above, complete with plastic cowboy boot of lemonade.

Beside that flat tire, and seeing THIS sign shortly after having traversed the area behind it:

Texas is lovely, and the people friendly and delightful.

New Mexico is ethereal.  I tripped briefly through Albuquerque, did NOT make a wrong turn (a little tip of the hat to Bugs Bunny with that reference) and wound up in Santa Fe.  The town is a bit high rent, filled with wealthy tourists, but the difference is that all the shops sell beautiful quality art rather than the typical T-Shirt detritus you find in the road side joints.  There is something abut New Mexico.  I don’t know if it is the air or the water or the light but I have to go back and stay.  I am almost reluctant to let the little atheist in my admit to a spiritual presence to it, but it is there.  Plus perhaps the best salsa I have ever had.  I actually took very few photos as I gave up any hope that I could capture the essence of the place.

I think I have to go back and rent a place and just soak it in. All musicians, painters, writers and other creative entities have to come with me.  Oh yeah.  That’s all of you.  I will get a big place.

Arizona is another place that will leave you gasping.  It doesn’t have the same vibe as New Mexico but the terrain is beyond description.  Flagstaff, the frontier town, has the advantage of Sedona lying to the south and the Grand Canyon to the north.  By map Sedona is only about 30 miles away but is takes forever to get to along a twisted road that winds down through a green green canyon filled with pine and cedar.  The town itself is nestled in a nook surrounded by red topped peaks.  It is a bit touristy (at least the area I was in, where I had a lovely bit of deep fried snake) but I am told the sunsets are incredible and it too has a reputation for the quality of light and a spiritual bent.

From Sedona there was a race up to the Grand Canyon in the hopes of catching a sunset.  Just made it.

I remember watching a documentary on the Blue Whale.  I was delighted to learn that the Blue Whale is not only the largest living creature on earth, but also the loudest in that their heartbeat can be heard underwater for dozens of miles.  That being said, they are almost impossible to find.  The Grand Canyon has that kind of contradiction, only multiply it a thousandfold.  The Canyon is so gigantic the mind reels at the concept except you can really see it until you are standing right at the edge.  Apparently people go tipping off into it all the time and it is about a mile from top to bottom.

I went back to the Canyon the next day, and took a helicopter ride over it to get a better sense of perspective.  Unbelievable.  needless to say I took about a million pictures, none of which begin to sum up the scope of the place.

Seeing Arizona and New Mexico makes you understand why there is such a thing as religion.  Some of the outcroppings look like castles.  Some look like giant toys that a youthful deity forgot to put away.  You need to ascribe some kind of anthropomorphic descriptions to things to comprehend their existence.

The latter half of day 4 was a bit of a letdown – the home journey.  I noticed at the Arizona border the common Southern response of “You’re Welcome” to a statement of thanks was ceding back to the common California retort “uh huh”.  (I hate that, I don’t know why).  I was heading back to a much colder place (physically and emotionally) whose metropolitan population is six times larger than the entire state of New Mexico.  The drive in was pretty enough (black mountains for part of it where the rocks really look charred) but the sense that the dream is over is very real.  Getting cut off fifty times in heavy traffic (at 10:30 PM no less) can do that to you.

Anyway, two days to adjust, get my foul laundry assembled and then back to Toronto.  Then I shall start harassing you all in person.

Let me know if you want to see any more photos of anything.  Cheers in a couple of days!

J

Graceland – June 24, 2010

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Well, I am a couple of days behind on my reportage as I travel at breakneck speed across the Southern States, but I DID make it to Graceland.

Graceland is much smaller than one would anticipate (smaller, I think, than the house I was raised in).

The grounds are huge but the house is dwarfed by the machine that Elvis has become.  Across the street lies the huge parking lot and the endless chain of  gift shops that individually specialize in the various aspects of his life.  HIs cars, his clothes, his movies, all get their own venue and there are at least three little cafes that cater to the patrons of the mansion.

The decor is as deliciously 70s as you would hope.

I particularly loved this wallpaper:

And the presence of what is called the “Jungle Room” brings attention to the fact that the Grotto seems to be a recurring theme on this trip.

There is a pretty remarkable display of his awards.  It is easy to mock him – the Elvis of my memory is the sweaty fat guy from Vegas – but the enormous number of gold records he earned is pretty remarkable.  And the fact that he was only 42 (!!!!!) when he died makes it even more amazing.

But really, it is all about the suits isn’t it?

Made it from Memphis to Oklahoma and am now camped in Santa Fe, NM.  On to the Grand Canyon, then home.  I will be reporting further on the journey (including a longer than desired spell at Discount Tire in Amarillo, Texas) and will be addressing the disparity in American hotel rooms in depth.

Cheers, and happy trails to you all.

J

Memphis – June 22, 2010

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

A short missive before Graceland.

I strongly suspect the next four days will be a study in hotels.  I am at the Westin just of Beale Street.  Could not be more different from Union Station in Nashville, which was a converted train station and pretty funky.   This is a very clean, very normal hotel, chilled to sub zero temperatures to combat the raging inferno that is the outdoors.

Next stop is Oklahoma City and the anticipated accommodations are a Motel 6.

Memphis is a very pretty town high atop the Mississippi River.

There is some really nostalgic charm to it (lovely old trolleys creak about the streets, universally empty it would seem), but a sense that the city’s time has come and gone.  Half of the storefronts seem abandoned but what was obviously the old warehouse district has been converted into condo warehouses that look pretty funky (asking price for a 1 bedroom appears to be less that $200K).

My hotel is just off of Beale Street which is the famous blues row.  It is really tiny – only about a block and a half long but it is packed with clubs, all with doors flung open, all with music blaring.  I heard an ancient old black guy doing a quite excellent rendition of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette”, Blues, style.

Beale by day, Beale by night.

Of course, there are the requisite neon signs

Do you suppose this is referring to the size of the beer, or is it some kind of prize for gluteal breadth?

I did manage to swing by the Peabody Hotel, which is famous for the ducks that swim around the lobby fountain.  Every day they are taking in a procession from their suite on the roof down the elevators where they waddle into the fountain (which is remarkably small)

I didn’t see the ducks as they had gone to bed for the evening, but I did eat a white chocolate model in effigy.

This for Brian:  My hotel is across the street from another enormous stadium.  This one is used by the Memphis Grizzlies who are, I discovered after a bit of research, a basketball team.

Off to Graceland then an 8 hour journey to Oklahoma City.  Then Santa Fe, The Grand Canyon, and home.

Elvis, here I come!

NAMM – June 21, 2010

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Finished up the conference yesterday, and have moved on to Memphis.  Drove down the 40 highway – remarkably the terrain looks a lot like Ontario with deciduous trees and rocky outcroppings and lakes.  Then you open the door of the air conditioned car and the heat whaps you in the face like a cricket bat.

Memphis is hotter than Nashville, and drier.  Anyway, I have done little in this town so far other than immediately overeat in a rib joint (some things never change), so I will include some photos of the conference and will share the Memphis picks once I have visited Elvis’ spread.

Here are some of the booths from Namm.  The place was huge.

Ukeleles were very popular.

Here’s a classic:

Here’s proof of the cool quotient:

And really, what trip to a music conference would be complete without a completely over the top homage to Kiss?

More tomorrow!  If I don’t explode/melt!

Nashville – June 20, 2010

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Greetings, Country music fans.

I have been off the grid for a couple of days and I would be happy to report on my continuing impressions of Nashville, if I actually had any.  I have been spending my days in the Nashville convention centre at the Summer NAMM conference (North American Music Makers).  I emerge to seek cupcakes and sundries, but otherwise am limited to making the three block journey from hotel to hall.

I did manage to escape for a moment to take in some of the area’s features.  (Catfish in a boy scout uniform.  Hmmm)

The conference itself is pretty interesting.  There is a decidedly carnival aspect to it all with more than a smattering of Vegas.  Imagine a huge hallway (as big or bigger then the One of a Kind craft show) where every single booth is designed to make noise.  It is cacophony, but if you really concentrate you can pull individual melodies from the din.  Everyone here is a music lover so there is a real sense of community.  Except everyone is yelling to be heard.

I have been keeping a dutiful eye out for the over the top Southern Belles, but they are not in evidence.  I did, however, manage to surreptitiously snap this fine example of male grooming:

And if I have achieved nothing else, I have found my true life partner:

More when I am more interesting.  (A promise or a threat?)

Nashville Landing – June 17, 2010

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Day 1 in Nashville.

First impression – the air here is sexy.  The air in Los Angeles is hot and arid and textureless.  The air here moves over you like silk.

The air is curiously odorless but for the occasional whiff of lilac.  Unusual, especially for a city by a river.

There is a generic downtown area

(Is this AT&T building making the rock n roll devil horn sign, or is it just me?)

There is also everything you would expect from a country music mecca.

Yes, this really exists

There are fully two immense stadiums, really quite close to one another.  Now I know I am singularly unqualified to comment on this, but I cannot come up with a single Nashville based sports team leave alone two.  I am sure one of you will be delighted to fill me in.

I checked into my hotel, which is a beautiful old building that used to be the train station.  (And yes, I rejected the first room I was given and now have a much more pleasant one).  Trains still rumble by which is slightly unnerving.

And this is directly across the street.  I am awaiting god’s pinch.

Checked in and immediately went on a search for food.  I am proud to say my record remains unblemished in my quest to not eat at a Hard Rock Cafe in every city I visit.  I decided to ease in slowly and would not eat in any establishment that featured live music, large TV sets on prominent display, anything named after a celebrity and any place where everything was deep fried, including the staff.  So after that didn’t work I settled in at Joe’s Crab Shack (a failure only on the final count).  Joe’s won the final draw because of their provision of bibs and the giant shark hanging from the rafters.

I had a rather pleasant caesar salad with a crab cake.

And sliced, deep fried tortilla chip shards(?)  I asked for a green tea and was met with a gaze like I had asked for a rectal exam.  I was brought an iced tea and a good serving of humility.

While I was wandering around I was struck with a sudden flash of insight.  I am sure this has happened to you all, and sometimes these bolts are very helpful.  (“Hey!  I think I remember where I left the spare keys”).  Sometimes not.   (“Hey!  I just remembered I don’t really like country music!”)  The latter is not so helpful when meandering about in the self proclaimed capital of country.   I am sure I will become imbued with the music and the culture in the few days I am here, and perhaps I may do a little shopping to encourage such a result.  Because you know what they do have here?  Boots.  Boots and hats.  Boots and hats and embroidered shirts.  I am going to full bore channel Marion Ross on the Happy Days western episodes and it will not be pretty.

More on the morrow.  I am going to turn in and lull myself to sleep with my new mantra:

“Ma’am is not an insult here.  Ma’am is not an insult here”

Pasadena – June 16, 2010

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

A you may surmise, I was in Pasadena today.  But first, I feel I must comment on the quality of radio in this town.  There are an enormous amount of drivers, and enormous amount of commuters, ergo an enormous amount of captive audiences.  And there are two “rock” stations that place pretty much exactly the same thing (in fact I have been flipping between the two of them only to discover they were playing the same SONG once, and it wasn’t a new release).  One of the stations’ tag lines is “We Play What We Want” and I suspect “We” are a bunch of 45 year old bong huffers who allocate about 3 spots a month for new releases (which they play the bejesus out of) and the rest is from whatever Cheetoh encrusted album they pull off the rug.  I have heard “Beth” by Kiss about four times since I got down here, which is about four more times that I have heard it since some wag slapped it on the turntable some 30 years ago.  Some of it is funny as hell, but really.  Whitesnake?   Duran Duran?  Any 1980’s band’s eponymous first album?  Sheesh.

Anyway.  I was in Pasadena today.  Pasadena is clean and pretty and wealthy and nothing bad ever happens in Pasadena.  I took some pictures, but basically all you need to know is the stores are like this:

There is an excellent tea shop

And I ate THIs fabulous meal which is … wait for it… a smoked salmon club.  With bacon.  On home baked bread with a little mayo and home made chips.

Snap!

Anyhoo, one really good reason to go to Pasadena is the Norton Simon Museum.  It is quite small and very manageable in terms of seeing it in a day (don’t try this with the Louvre, or the Met, or the Prado.  You will pass out from crucifixion overexposure alone in the case of the latter).  They have a smallish collection of 19th & 20th century art. Pretty much one each of the biggies, (Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Cezanne, Klee, Picasso, Pissaro, Matisse, Renoir, Seurat, Rousseau).  Not many really iconic ones, but some.

The do, however, have a whack of Degas, both sculpture and painting.

I love this one – remind me of me after my recent bouts of cake consumption.

The lower level is devoted to asian art and sculpture, much of which can be found in reproduction form at your local gardening centre or head shop.

And all the female sculpture had magnificent breasts, despite a palpable lack of support garments.  Genetic, perhaps.  Then again, I suppose they are all supposed to be goddesses …

There is also a lovely sculpture garden with a cafe which I will share with you later.

One parting thought.  I scooted into a bakery to buy a cupcake and was served by what looked like Lisa Loeb’s evil twin.  Which got me to thinking – why is the twin always evil?  I think I myself have pretty much got the malcontent angle covered – does that make ME the evil twin?  Would I have a twin somewhere that would be known as the Perfectly Nice Twin?  The Socially Well Adjusted Twin?  The Possibly Cherubic Twin?

Just a thought.  That’s what happens when you combine smoked salmon, bacon, and cupcakes.

Nashville tomorrow.  Yipes.

I Need A Date – June 16, 2010

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Yes people, resist the urge.  I know, I need a LOT of things.  But when I am back, I need a date.

Don’t know if you guys have been going to the movies much and I don’t know if this trailer will even have hit Canada yet but:

The Expendables

Ignore the add for cotton(?) that comes up first.

Sylvester Stallone

Arnold Schwartzenegger

Jason Statham

Jet Li

Dolph Lungren

Mickey Rourke

Eric Roberts

Steve Austin & Randy Couture (martial arts guys, Willard will know)

Big, big ‘splody bits.  I am there.

Carol Kutcher Simmons?

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

This was posted in response to the immediate inundation I received regarding my identifying the mural below as Carol Burnett.  Other possible identities included:

Jean Simmons

Alice Ghostley

Jennifer Jones

Michael Cera (in drag)

Ron Wood

3 distances.  I leave it to you.

I Am An Idiot – June 16, 2010

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Well, with that intro I know a number of you probably just said “Yep” and moved on to the next email in you mailbox, but let me explain.

Many of the store fronts in LA have metal shutters that are rolled down after hours, presumably for security purposes.  In my particular stretch of Hollywood Blvd many of these shutters have been painted with depictions of stars past.  Some are instantly recognizable:

Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy

Bing, Alfred

Some not so much.

Abbott & Costello, I am assuming Greta Garbo (Marlene Dietrich, I have since been advised)

Some, like in Dino’s case, they label to avoid confusion.

Here’s the idiot part:  I walked past this one half a dozen times and thought “Why the hell is Ashton Kutcher up here?”

Then I realized it was probably Carol Burnett.

Oh dear.