Ban the Flights! Which Flights? How?

That guy from Liberia who died from Ebola in Dallas – patient zero, right? Well, so far, there have been only two cases of disease transmittal, and they were both his nurses. The 21 day quarantine is over for everyone else who came into contact with him, and no one else contracted the disease.  There are, therefore, two (2) cases of new-onset Ebola in the US in its history, and everyone is freaking the hell out.  

That’s fewer people than have been married to Rush Limbaugh. 

None of this has stopped craven politicians and their ignorant media enablers from demanding an as-yet undefined travel ban. 

Rob Astorino thinks that the governor of New York can ban international travel? Under what legal authority? Wouldn’t this be something to be decided in Washington, or by the carriers themselves? How would the governor of New York gain access to the passenger manifests that federal agencies maintain? Would the governor demand to place State Police alongside customs or immigration agents at JFK – the only airport in the state with regularly scheduled transatlantic flights? Under what authority? Are we banning an entire Delta flight because one passenger connected in Paris from a west African nation? 

While the WHO declared Nigeria (a west African country) “Ebola-free” yesterday, most of the Ebola outbreak in that part of the world has been in the countries of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. It might surprise you to learn that there are no flights to the US – no flights to JFK – from any of those three countries. The only regularly scheduled flights to the US from that region originate in Ebola-free Senegal, Ghana, and Ebola-free Nigeria. 

As this study by Five Thirty Eight shows, the stricken countries have very few flights through Europe – only 18 weekly flights connect Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone and half of those aren’t operating – so 9 weekly flights that could connect to flights to the US. 

Rob Astorino and other hysteria whores want to ban individual travel between JFK and as-yet-unnamed west African countries, but there’s no state-level authority for that, it wouldn’t work, and it would cost untold money and resources to do the requisite monitoring and banning of flights, and for nothing. If Nigeria can contain its Ebola outbreak, I’m pretty sure the United States  can, too. 

 

Remember the Rochester Fast Ferry?

Via Wikipedia

About 10 years ago, the City of Rochester invested in a fast ferry service between that city and Toronto. The service ran into cost overruns, fuel fees it couldn’t afford, and maintenance issues almost immediately. Per the Wikipedia article, these problems doomed the service from day 1:

  • Slow progress by the Toronto Port Authority in constructing a permanent ferry terminal in Toronto. The delays in getting even temporary terminal facilities built in Toronto during the spring of 2004 was another reason for forcing a delay in starting the service until mid-June.

  • CATS felt that it was being charged excessive Canadian customs and immigration costs. U.S. port of entry services were being provided in Rochester at no cost to CATS whereas Canadian port of entry services had to be completely covered by the company, resulting in a hidden charge on each ticket price.

  • CATS blamed U.S. customs for not giving approval for the Spirit of Ontario I to carry freight trucks and express cargo, claiming that this altered the original business plan.

  • CATS endured criticism from both nations for a decision to have Spirit of Ontario I registered under the flag of Bahamas, a flag of convenience nation, allegedly for taxation purposes. CATS was able to do this since the vessel was operating in an international service; additionally, since the Spirit of Ontario I was a foreign-built vessel, CATS would have had to pay significant penalties were it to register the vessel in either Canada or the U.S. (particularly the U.S., given the domestic-content restrictions of the Jones Act).

  • Because of the foreign flag registry for Spirit of Ontario I, CATS was required to pay for pilotage services on every crossing (approx. $6000 per crossing). Canadian and U.S. registered vessels are exempt from requiring the services of pilots while navigating on the Great Lakes.

A last-ditch attempt to have a professional ferry company run the service didn’t work, and the ship was sold in 2006. The crossing took just over 2 hours at high speeds – significantly less than the approximately 4 hour drive around the lake. 

Now? The ferry is running between Aarhus and Kalundborg in Denmark, after a 5-year stint running service between Tarifa, Spain and Tangier, Morocco. 

Here’s the current route: 

The boat today: 

Via Wikipedia

And the Spanish route: 

It made the crossing from Europe to Africa in 35 minutes. 

Via Wikipedia

Trucks to Lewiston? Good Idea!

The Sunday Buffalo News published a story about a ultra-top-secret plan to divert all truck traffic away from the Peace  Bridge and onto the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. A lot of customs brokerage jobs would have to be moved from Buffalo and Fort Erie to Lewiston and Queenston, but neighborhood concerns over diesel particulate would be assuaged. 

Funny, because here’s what I wrote in February 2008 – six years ago:

The Peace Bridge Expansion is Dead. That’s my prediction. It is never, ever going to happen. Not in my lifetime, not in yours. Frankly, I think that increased traffic capacity isn’t needed in Buffalo anyway. Why shove it down Buffalo’s throat if it so clearly doesn’t want it?

The Ambassador Bridge to Black Rock? Not going to happen. No one’s going to build a plaza and new interchange on the US side with the Scajaquada and 190 right there, particularly given the fact that the push now is to downgrade the Scajaquada to a boulevard of some sort.

While an ideal crossing would be across the river just south of Grand Island, so that it would connect up with the I-290 and I-190, that disturbs residential neighborhoods in Canada.

Instead, we should completely jettison the Peace Bridge expansion altogether and instead increase capacity at Queenston-Lewiston. That single span gets a tremendous amount of truck and vehicular traffic, and recently received an upgrade to five lanes. The Q-L bridge provides direct access on both sides of the span to a major highway; the 405 to the QEW on the Canadian side, and the I-190 on the US side.

If there was any semblance of forward-thinking on the part of the CVB, it would already have been in talks to develop and construct a gorgeous visitor’s center that is run locally – not from Albany. Lease some Thruway property from the Authority and give border crossers a reason to come to a whole host of attractions in Western New York. The fact that there is no “Welcome to New York” or “Welcome to WNY” center on this side of the border underscores just how backwards and simple our supposed tourism promoters are. They’re at Thruway rest areas, but not at the border. How patently stupid; you have to wait until you get to Pembroke or Angola – well on your way out of the metro area.

There comes a time when you just say “enough”. The Peace Bridge project has spent ten years in environmental review, design review, and negotiations over the now-dead shared border management. We can sit and wait another few years for a new administration to change its mind, but it’s been almost ten years now that nothing tangible has happened. The preservation community has drawn a line in the sand as far as the neighborhood that would be adversely affected by a new plaza on the Buffalo side, and we all know about Al Coppola’s threat to move his Pan Am house. What else could be more persuasive?

So screw it. Enough. Everybody wins.

Expand the Queenston-Lewiston bridge with a second, signature span across the Niagara River, right at the escarpment with a gorgeous view of the meandering river leading to Youngstown, and Lake Ontario beyond.

I think that the current Peace Bridge span should be replaced with a more modern, signature span, and that the current steel span should then be demolished. We should move forward with shared border management, which would allow US-bound traffic be pre-screened in Fort Erie with perhaps only spot-checks on the US side. The problem isn’t just neighborhood anger, the access to the I-190 is very poorly laid out, with the southbound ramp located about 1/4 mile west from the northbound ramp access road.

 

And it’s still a crime that we don’t have a visitor’s center to promote local businesses and attractions to Canadian visitors coming off the bridges, or really any tourism services of any sort, such as currency exchange. Ontario maintains one on the 420 in Niagara Falls, and another on the QEW near Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Let me know if I can help you with any other ideas. 

Post-Bratstvo i Jedinstvo

License plates are little, mundane slabs of metal or plastic that generally serve two purposes – to identify vehicles, and to promote a culture. I find them fascinating.

We just returned from a phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime 3-generational tour of the former Yugoslavia, from where my parents emigrated in the 60s. Since breaking up in 1991, these countries have gone from waging war against each other to varying degrees of recovery. Slovenia is in the EU, and Croatia will join this July. Bosnia and Hercegovina is almost perpetually in political / ethnic crisis, while Serbia and Montenegro have just recently gone their separate ways, having dissolved their confederation. Macedonia is plugging away, nestled between the Serbia-Kosovo conflict and the Greek economic crisis. 

The title of this post is the slogan of the former League of Communists of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – Tito and his successors promoted “Brotherhood and Unity” among the Southern Slavic peoples, who were united after World War I under Serbian rule and then fought each other mercilessly during the second World War. Perhaps it was always doomed to fail, as the Yugoslav nations had distinctly dissimilar backgrounds – Slovenes and Croats were under the Austrians and/or Hungarians for centuries. The Serbs, Macedonians, Kosovars, and Bosnians under Ottoman rule. Serbs and Croats essentially share a language, but the Serbian Orthodox Christian heritage didn’t always mesh with Croatian Catholicism, and while the former writes in Cyrillic, the latter uses the Latin alphabet. Small differences that, with the right spark, can result in inexplicable cruelty and violence. 

I have a similar fascination with international frontiers. It seems astonishing to me sometimes to think how an arbitrary, imaginary line on a mountaintop or the middle of a creek can so starkly separate two distinct languages, histories, religions, and cultures. 

During our trip, I cataloged the plates I saw that represented a once-united country. The only ones I didn’t see were Kosovo’s (although I saw several new and old-style Albanian plates, which were unheard-of when I was a kid and Albania was Europe’s North Korea.) 

Only Slovenia can display the blue Euroband with the gold stars of the EU. All the rest, except Croatia, have a blue area for the Euroband without the stars, but with the country’s international vehicle registration code. (Slovenia = SLO, Croatia = HR, Bosnia and Herzegovina = BIH, Montenegro = MNE, Serbia = SRB, Macedonia = MK, Kosovo = RKS – note that Kosovo used to be a province of Yugoslavia and then Serbia, and the two countries have not yet resolved their dispute over Kosovo’s independence). Croatia has no Euroband, but left room for it to the left of the regional code that precedes the Croatian coat of arms (shown here is PU for Pula). 

A lot of blood was shed to get to this point, where there now exist seven independent and sovereign republics where once there was one federal entity. The irony, it seems, is that they all seek to enter a troubled European confederation where the movement of people and goods would once again be completely without frontier or limit. 

Shoes

UK Border

During my recent travels, I was lucky enough to encounter a security scheme that was distinctly post post-9/11 and rational.

Security at Toronto Pearson and London Heathrow did not make us remove our shoes.

At Pearson, it was because my family holds NEXUS passes, meaning we are pre-screened and designated as low-risk, trusted travelers. We flash the NEXUS card and get to cut the line, and when we arrive at screening, we were able to keep our shoes on. Oh, glorious day! 

Although Heathrow made us remove iPads as well as laptops from our carryons, shoes could stay on there, too.

When approaching security at T5 at Heathrow, there were greeters at the entryway handing out free liter-sized ziploc bags for passengers to use for liquids. There were easily 20 open security lanes, all moving rapidly with minimal lines. The bins used for loose items were conveniently obtained via an automatic dispenser under the conveyor belt – not by having to go back for a mess of buckets for 4 people and their stuff.

But the shoes – not having to remove shoes makes a huge difference in terms of speed and at least perceived convenience.

Leaving and Coming Home Again

I was out of town for a week visiting London, and neither know nor care what may or may not be happening in WNY politics, much less general American politics. So, instead, just a few logistical observations: 

1. The HAILO app that works in New York, Boston, and Toronto, is fantastic.  It tells you how long you’ll have to wait to hail a cab to your location, tells you when the cab is coming and sends you a receipt. You can pay by credit card with an automatic tip precalculated. Check out the screenshot, which identifies the driver who’s coming, and see how the license plate given matches up with the car that pulled up. I was impressed. You can tell the driver via the app where you’re headed, and when it’s particularly busy, the app gives you the option of letting prospective drivers know that the fare will exceed a certain threshold, bringing a quicker response time. The driver was great. 

 

2. One of the secrets of traveling with little kids is to just let stuff go. Didn’t make it in time for a parade? Go somewhere else. Also – put limits on museums. Two hours max is plenty, and be choosy about what you see. Get a map, select what you like (say, 15th – 17th century Flanders art) and go see it, then leave. Take the kids for ice cream or something. We found that the kids actually enjoyed and didn’t complain about the museums, ice cream notwithstanding. We went to one museum 1 1/2 hours before it closed, so we were forced to keep it short, but learned it was one of the best of the bunch. Another museum was a bit disappointing, so we just left after about an hour. Be flexible, and check your coats; museums suck when you’re too warm. Also, if you go to foodie paradise like Borough Market and it’s 34 degrees out and windy, you don’t eat street food outside while standing up, after 2 hours at the Tate Modern. You find a little Italian place, warm up, sit down, and have pizza and pasta. 

3. Bus vs. Subway – subway bypasses traffic, so it gets you places quickly. However, you see nothing. Bus may be slower, but you see things. Also, kids love the upstairs of double-deckers.  We used buses maybe 85% of the time we were commuting. 

4. From London, we did a day trip to Canterbury to see the historic cathedral of Thomas Becket and Chaucer. It was something of a counterpoint to seeing Chartres two years ago. The cathedral has guides wearing sashes who are all too happy to tell you stories about the history there, and the town itself is a charming reprieve from London bustle. To reach it, we took the high speed rail from St. Pancras, which reached speeds of 140 MPH. 

5. Rent an apartment as a home base. We used www.ivylettings.com and rented a one-bedroom apartment that had a washer/dryer. It had plenty of room for 4 – it was difficult to find affordable hotel rooms for 4 – as well as a full kitchen. We bought groceries like locals and became regulars at local restaurants and cafes.  It was cheaper than most hotels, and although you sacrifice things like daily maid service, the washer/dryer meant we could pack a lot less clothes. 

6. The signage at Toronto Pearson Airport for the Viscount Discount Parking Garage is atrocious. Upon arrival after going through immigration and customs, the first sign we saw for it was a small plaque by an elevator up on the departures level. There was all kids of signage for the daily lot across the street, but nothing for the airport’s own discount lot. This is also true of the signage as you approach the airport – I had to circle both terminals before I finally got a sign directing me to that lot. 

7. I thought this was the coolest food truck: 

 

Away

It’s nice to not think about politics for a week. It’s nice to not pay attention to any news, except maybe for the weather, for a week. It’s nice to get away from western New York for a time.

(All that was excepted only by a flurry of text messages I received and sent in the wake of Jim Heaney’s report about Dino Fudoli’s deliberate, knowing, unjustified refusal to pay property taxes on various properties, of course. What a joke this guy is. Hey, Lancaster, next time why don’t you just elect Bauerle caller “Rambo Jim” as supervisor?)

If I have a non-food related passion, it’s travel. We spent a little less than a week in Williamsburg, VA and about a day in Washington, DC.

In DC, we continued our slow, interrupted process of seeing all there is to see. This particular instance involved a walk to the Tidal Basin, where we took out some pedal boats, and around to see the Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. We hadn’t seen the last two yet, and they’re magnificent additions. The FDR memorial is a series of dark stone reliefs, waterfalls, statuary, and quotes from the President’s speeches. He presided over a particularly tumultuous period in American history, and the memorial reflects that. The King memorial also features quotes and a magnificent statue of the man carved out of solid rock – the “stone of hope”, hewn out of the “mountain of despair”.  It accurately reflects the fact that the civil rights struggle of the 50s and 60s involved, to a degree, a cult of personality regarding Dr. King. 

We enjoy eating at chef Jose Andres’ restaurants in DC, and this time we tried Zaytinya, which features eastern Mediterranean (Ottoman?) dishes, and a newly reconstituted Jaleo, which offers Spanish tapas. It was our first visit to Zaytinya, and the food there was fantastically done – it’s a new favorite. 

From there we drove down to Colonial Williamsburg, the preserved and reconstructed colonial capital of Virginia. For a reasonable fee that goes to fund the foundation that operates the village and interpretations thereof, you get a great 200 year-old experience. On one end of the town, you see the houses and facilities that supported the gentry and the King’s governors. A walk through the town lets you visit the various trades that supported colonial life, including brickmaking, textiles, wheelmaking, the jail, government buildings, shoemaking, etc. There, artisans use period technology to create today what was used 200 years ago – oftentimes contracted for by other, similar facilities. The town of Williamsburg itself also hosts William and Mary College – only Harvard is older – so, it’s not just a tourist town, but a college town, as well. 

One added attraction that was great for kids and adults is called “RevQuest“. Participants get a packet of clues and props, and wander the town following these clues and send text messages when they solve puzzles. In the end, you get a prize and you’ve seen a lot of the town, but you also learn something – in this case, the quest is to be a colonial spy for George Washington. A spy whom the British never suspected because he was a slave. I can’t stress enough how much fun this is for kids and adults – the day we participated, it was raining, so we were tagging along with a couple who worked at the stables and got the day off because of the weather. This is the second RevQuest they’ve hosted, and they’re so popular that they will be writing more and cycling through them year after year. 

Now, I return home where people are actually pushing Chuck Swanick for elected office. Where can I go next? Get me out of here. 

Winter Break in the American West

Presidents’ Day week, my family and I spent some time in the great American Southwest. Because every school in WNY has that week off, airfares from Buffalo are notoriously expensive, so we opted to save 50% and fly out of CLE. To make the early morning departure even easier, we stayed at a Sheraton on-site that offers a stay & fly package, which includes long term parking for up to 2 weeks. Now that you have to arrive 2 hours before your flight to accommodate a stressy security procedure, a little extra sleep goes a long way.

Saturday morning, the hotel shuttle drove us about 1/4 mile to departures, and we were on our way to PHX. We try to do most of our flying on Southwest or JetBlue, which both give you one free checked bag. Continental/United, however, does not, so each of us had a carry-on suitcase and a piece of hand luggage. It was a bit unwieldily because, really, a 5 year-old can’t be expected to do this, but we made it work. The payoff is walking off the plane in PHX, out of the security zone, and directly to the shuttle to the centralized rent-a-car facility.

In-n-Out Burger

Similarly, by joining Dollar rent-a-car’s free “Express” service, I didn’t have to wait at a counter, but walked directly to the garage, to my waiting car. Although I had booked a full size car, I was surprised to see a Nissan Altima sitting in the spot. It was relatively new, very clean, smelled like a new car rather than an air freshener, and while its engine was a bit wheezy – especially at altitude, it more than accommodated the four of us and all our bags.

Sedona

The first day we drove to Flagstaff, about 100 miles north from Phoenix. We stopped off for lunch at In-n-Out Burger and cut through the gorgeous scenery of Sedona en route to Flagstaff, where we would spend the night before hitting the Grand Canyon.

From Outside

Last year, I had followed the story of Flagstaff resident Caleb Schiff, who was writing for Eater.com’s Slice blog, detailing his process in opening a genuine Neapolitan pizza place. When I read about the delivery of his Stefano Ferrara wood-fired oven, I made a note to go out of our way to try his place out. We got our wish.

Caleb at work

I had been Tweeting my excitement to try Schiff’s place (@pizzicletta) and when we arrived, he took the time to come out and say hello. His pizza slice-shaped little restaurant is small and cozy, but offers up everything you could possibly want – good beer, excellent wine, phenomenal wood-fired pizza, friendly people, and homemade daily gelato. It’s a remarkably simple menu, and everything is superb. There are two seating areas – a counter facing a window, and a long table that promotes getting to know your fellow diners. We met people from Montreal who came to Pizzicletta from their current home in Phoenix, on their way to ski the Arizona Snow Bowl. We met locals who were there to try the new guy out. It was busy, and Caleb is living what’s clearly his dream. He’s a talented chef who has a really great thing going. I hope to return sooner rather than later.

Flagstaff itself is a sleepy little place that I can only describe as a cowboy version of a New England college town. It reminded me of places like Northhampton, Massachusetts and Middlebury, Vermont – a gritty charm that works perfectly for the young people who pass through it and the bars, restaurants, music venues, and cafes that go along with it. Driving through its downtown, I found a courthouse, a law firm, and a mid-60s era Bank of America office building. Everything else was retail and services.

The next morning, we headed northeast out of Flagstaff to take the longer, but more scenic eastern approach into the Grand Canyon National Park. We stopped off in Cameron where there’s a mega-kitschy tchotchke shop, which was loaded with Japanese tourists, before heading west into some low clouds, which quickly turned into an on-again, off-again snowstorm.

Looking East

We came upon the Watchtower at the western end of the park and could see absolutely nothing. We were in a cloud bank, with winds so strong it was snowing up. We hung around for a little while to see if the clouds would lift, and they soon did. With a little patience, we were greeted with the cloudbank lifting, revealing the Grand Canyon in her cloudy, snowy glory. It was truly a magical experience.

The drive west to our hotel in Grand Canyon Village, however, was less magical. Although there were a few magnificent views from occasional pull-offs we took, the roadway was mostly untreated, and downright treacherous. We saw three accidents due to the compacted snow that turned to ice underneath. It’s a somewhat winding and hilly road, with only occasional guardrails, so the 15-ish mile drive was a bit rough. Having rented our car in Phoenix, we didn’t even come equipped with an ice scraper.

From Grand Canyon Village

Food at the Grand Canyon is mostly one thing – expensive. Quality is something of an afterthought. Think banquet food + captive audience. So, before leaving Flagstaff we had stopped at a Safeway to pick up provisions like peanut butter, baguettes, sodas, and other snacks. Breakfasts and lunches were made from these raw materials, as well as some we picked up at the Delaware North-operated grocery store at the park. The meal we had at the Bright Angel Lodge was passable and inexpensive, but dinner at the El Tovar Hotel, which is quite an expensive proposition, was only marginally better. Baguettes with ham or chocolate peanut butter were more satisfying, and much cheaper. Also, the Safeway in Flagstaff didn’t just sell ice, but dry ice. No watery mess!

Sunset

Colorado River

From the Grand Canyon, we headed west into California to visit relatives and make a stop at the Getty Center and Jose Andres’ restaurant, The Bazaar. I love driving out west, so the 400+ mile drive didn’t make for many problems, and a well-timed lunchbreak in Kingman, AZ gave us a second opportunity to grab another round of In-n-Out.

To LA

The Getty Center is perched above the 405, in the Santa Monica Mountains towards the west side of the L.A. basin, near UCLA. You pay $15 to park in an underground garage, and take a free tram ride up the mountain to the free museum, which can only be described as magnificent. The view was unparalleled, stretching east from Hollywood and downtown LA, west to the Pacific Ocean, which was mostly obscured by a thick marine layer. The Getty’s design itself is something to behold, and unfortunately we had only limited time to check out a smattering of the many exhibits they feature, including some Classical statuary, Impressionist paintings, some photographic exhibits, and some abstract sculpture. The Getty itself is worth a visit to LA, and a full day’s attention.

Al Fresco

The 405

From there we caught Wilshire to head east towards Beverly Hills, where we dined at one of the most whimsical and delicious restaurants I’ve ever experienced. Honestly, to include a review of this phenomenal restaurant in this general travelogue wouldn’t do it justice. But what struck me about Bazaar wasn’t just the inventive menu, the talented kitchen, or the perfect execution of really complicated dishes – instead, it was the service. Our server made sure this wasn’t just another feeding frenzy, but an experience – when’s the last time that your server, in explaining the menu, told you to ask questions and have fun? This, we did. There are some pictures of the food in my Flickr set.

The next morning, we bade family farewell and took a quick detour to show the kids the part of Hollywood in and around Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Kodak Theater. Everything was being prepped for the Oscars that coming Sunday, which gave us a taste of what Hollywood is really about – superficial self-promotion. Take note that there’s a Beard Papa cream puff bakery there, as well as a Crumbs cupcake shop.

Kodak Theater

In-N-Out on Sunset

We stopped for lunch at a mall in Rancho Cucamonga that’s built entirely outdoors and resembles an old-fashioned small-town downtown. These types of malls, known as “lifestyle centers” have been all the rage throughout the country for years now, yet the closest one to Buffalo is the Legacy Village outside Cleveland. As we continued east towards Phoenix, we stopped again at Indio in the Coachella Valley to try a delicacy that I can highly recommend: Shields’ date crystal shake. Shields started growing dates back during the depression, and soon became a popular roadside attraction. Shields invented the date crystal, which they use to soften and dissolve into soft vanilla ice cream to create their date shake – a confection that’s simple, delicious, and hard to compare to anything. It’s one-of-a-kind, but you can give it a shot yourself. They sell date crystals online.

Shields

Date Palms

In Phoenix, we stayed at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler. It’s a resort located on an Indian Reservation, and like the Grand Canyon resorts, it’s very family-friendly, but also quite expensive. Well, the original reservation we made for three nights through Starwood.com was $250/night. But as our trip approached, I kept an eye on Hotwire.com, which gives you great deals but only describes the hotel – it doesn’t identify it. But by using betterbidding.com, I was able to decipher that a $120/night deal was being offered on a hotel that I was 99% sure was the Shertaon Wild Horse Pass. When I bought the reservation, I was right, and saved almost $500. But the food there was pricey, too – two bagels and two coffees ran us $22, so from then on we got breakfast and some lunch provisions at the closest thing they have to Wegmans – AJ’s Fine Foods. They even sell beer, wine, and hard liquor. How bout that.

Night Driving

'Pomo

'Pomo Margherita

I had never spent any time in the Phoenix area, and fully expected it to be a baking, seedy and horrible place. But while I found the Los Angeles area to be somewhat seedy, I had no such opinion of Phoenix. In fact, I quite liked it. A lot. I thought the downtown was in great shape, and had lots to see and do. Their light rail is modern and functional, serving more than just one street. I got to thinking about our local attention to “sense of place”, and decided that Phoenix, despite being a new, sprawling, Southwestern place has “sense of place” of its own. There’s no mistaking where you are, with the blue skies, strong sun, and gorgeous mountainous setting. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it there, although I’m not sure I’d go back in summertime. Next time, we’ll reserve some time at the Bondurant driving school and explore the surrounding mountains a bit more.

Dino

The Phoenix Art Museum was phenomenal – situated in a gorgeously designed facility, it had some wonderful exhibits. We particularly loved the contemporary art wing, the Impressionist gallery, and a great exhibition of Frank Lloyd Wright designs (including the one for the Larkin Administration Building). One of the things I learned about Wright was his vision for the “city of tomorrow”, which wasn’t so much a city as it was a sprawling, car-dependent community where every family lived on an acre. Broadacre City was never built, but they had a Wright-built model of it on display. It was thought-provoking – not 70 years ago, Wright foresaw a car-based, non-urban utopia whose population density would be miniscule in comparison even with that of Phoenix. How times have changed. Perhaps we’re too quick to assail those who came before us and brought about urban renewal and suburban sprawl. These were not only mainstream, but downright progressive in that time, when cities were not particularly attractive places to live.

In order to make sure we could zip up our bags in such a way as we wouldn’t have to pack them, we made a couple of stops at the post office to send stuff home to ourselves. Those flat-rate priority boxes were the difference between closing some bags, and checking others.

Corral

Aside from golf and a nearby casino and wild-west replica town, the resort had a horse ranch where the kids were able to ride a horse for the first time. The woman taught them how to groom the horse, clean its shoes, put the saddle on, and then to ride. It was 2 really special hours that those sisters will always remember.

Old Town Scottsdale is wild-west kitschy, but the art galleries to the west were like museums in their own right. As for dining, we found another Neapolitan place called ‘Pomo, which Pizzicletta’s Caleb Schiff had recommended. As I approached the pizzaiolo to take a snapshot of the gorgeous red-tiled wood-fired oven, he waved me over and chatted me up in barely comprehensible Englalian. Later, Fabio the master pizzaiolo sent out a delicious garlic & red pepper oil condiment to use on our pizzas, and a limoncello nightcap that had a wonderful “orange julius” creamsicle consistency. We went back the next night because, hey – there’s no Neapolitan places back home, so we stuck with what we knew was good before a hectic day coming home.

Scottsdale Old Town

And so it was that we filled up the tank at the Chandler Love’s truck stop before getting some shut-eye, leaving Sunday morning at 5am to return our car and catch a 7am flight to CLE. Thankfully, the weather back home was decent, and the ride back to Buffalo was quick. I did notice, however, that almost every other highway sign in Ohio seems to have a solar-powered K-band radar gun. I don’t know if they were attached to anything or transmitting anywhere, but the radar detector went off every couple of minutes like clockwork. I guess Ohio decided that they wouldn’t ban detectors, they’d just harass you.

 

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=109615

Friday Videos

Here are some videos I favorited recently on YouTube.  

Last week, I had this song in my head for no reason whatsoever. I thought this rendition from 1994 – just a year before Jerry Garcia’s death – was particularly good. 

 

Check out this French guy “EKLIPS” beat boxing:

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pilot. Watch this incredible compilation video done by a pilot for a Brazilian airline. I love how the newer Airbus aircraft have a joystick controller, and the panoramas of Rio de Janeiro are breathtaking.

This man witnessed the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and went on a game show in 1956 to talk about it. This is the sort of real-life time travel described in this article.

I’m not a huge fan of Bob Dylan as a performer, but he is a great songwriter. Here’s another video from the Dead performing “When I Paint My Masterpiece”. It’s a favorite of mine.