Friday, July 31, 2009

it's Harry Potter day

When Jo Rowling made up a birthday for Harry Potter, she gave him one that would be easy to remember, her own. Happy birthday to them both!

On the night before "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" opened, I had great fun at the Einstein Simplified show. In one improv game, I played a video store clerk who was overly excited about the new film. Since today is a Harry Potter day of sorts, here is the video of that scene. The first time you watch, try skipping past the first 2 minutes and 17 seconds. During that time, the audience suggests three movies while I am outside in isolation. If you start watching when I re-enter the room, you can try to guess what the customers want to rent before I do.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

debbie dogs

A link in yesterday's post about my "portable birthday cake" led back to something I wrote four years ago about Twinkies. Back then I was griping about Hostess Cakes being overpriced. While at Walmart the other day, I saw some Little Debbie products that are low-cost alternatives to their competitors.

Obviously Golden Cremes look like Twinkies. The Chocolate Cremes look somewhat like Oreo Cakesters and a little bit like Whoopie Pies.

I wonder if there is any difference in the flavor of Marshmallow Pies and the famous MoonPies. The real thing is usually too dry for my taste.

Most interesting to me was the box of Devil Cremes. They look like Drake's Devil Dogs, a childhood favorite of mine but could they taste as good? Even at that low price, I resisted the temptation to buy them. I've had more than enough sweet treats lately and didn't want to buy a box of six. If I do buy some, maybe I'll eat one Devil Creme and freeze the other five for later, like I did two years ago with Reduced Fat Devil Dogs.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A recent movie reminded me of the trip that is responsible for my quest to visit all fifty states. My wife and I saw "The Proposal" after it had been out for a couple of weeks. I really liked it and was pleasantly surprised that the trailer didn't give too much away. Most of the film is set in Sitka, Alaska, although the credits indicate that it was actually filmed in Massachusetts. The beautiful mountains in the background were added by a special effects company in Boston.

When my mother and my sister invited me to meet them in Anchorage, I had nothing but time on my hands. The Comedy World Radio Network had gone bankrupt and I had not yet landed my first job in Knoxville. I arranged my flights from Burbank to Anchorage with a 24 hour layover in Seattle so I could visit my friend Bean and his wife Donna.

My mother had a Sony Mavica camera at the time. Before the trip, I bought a package of 3.5 inch disks to use as "film" in case I saw a moose. The only moose I saw was a baby at the Big Game Alaska Wildlife Center, which now has the more politically correct name Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. I remember buying two Christmas ornaments in their gift shop.

We saw some animals in their natural habitat during a wildlife cruise through the Kenai Fjords. The ship sailed past some cool-looking glaciers, pardon the pun, and a Dall's porpoise swam alongside.

The best part of the vacation was a Denali (that's Mt. McKinley to the non-Alaskans) "flightseeing trip" aboard a Talkeetna Air Taxi. The little Cessna landed on a glacier with a good view of the mountain. We got out of the plane and walked around. I used the opportunity to eat the "portable birthday cake" that my wife and kids had put in my luggage.

I didn't know it at the time, but on the way to Talkeetna, we passed right by Wasilla. Unfortunately, it is not possible to see Russia from there, no matter what Tina Fey says.

By the time I got home, I had been to 25 states, including the two hardest-to-reach ones. I set a personal goal to visit the rest within ten years. When my wife and kids were ready to move from California to Tennessee, we routed our trip mostly along I-70 instead of I-40 so I could add Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky to my list. As you probably know, my current tally is 43 down, 7 to go.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

batdisc drop

An email from my friend Bean boasted about the guests they interviewed on KROQ last week. On consecutive days they had Rhys Darby, Weird Al Yankovic and Adam West.

During the interview, which is available on Friday's Kevin & Bean podcast, Adam says that he has a newly redesigned website and is now on Twitter. Adam was calling from Comic-Con, where he debuted his new DVD.

In "Adam West Naked," the actor talks about each of the 120 episodes of my favorite television show, "Batman." If the classic program were legally available on DVD, this could be the commentary track. The disc was exclusively for sale at Comic-Con. It will soon be available at the store on, which, by the way, would be a perfect place for my relatives to do their Christmas shopping this year.

The same day that TV's Batman was on KROQ, I had a bat-encounter of my own. Check out the most recent little critter that I saved from drowning in my pool. He doesn't look that great in these pictures but he eventually dried off and flew away.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

lap land

When my daughter and I got new laptops a few years ago, my wife got stuck with our daughter's old computer. The keyboard doesn't work, so she has a desktop keyboard plugged into a USB port. The battery has no life left, so she has to keep it plugged in to the wall. Sometimes it overheats and shuts itself off right in the middle of whatever she's doing. Fortunately, an article in USA Today tipped us off that Walmart was putting a limited number of laptops on sale for $298 on Sunday morning.

Walmart was like a ghost town at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. At least the one in West Knoxville was. Meanwhile my wife was waiting in line at a different Walmart in Northern Virginia. Each person was given a ticket to show their place in line. My wife was the eleventh person there. The advertisement said each store would have a minimum of ten laptops. Fortunately that store had about 60 laptops available. If they had run out, I was on standby to buy one in Tennessee. She paid 5% sales tax instead of the 9.25% I would have paid in Knoxville, a savings of $12.67.

As you can see, the Site to Store display was much nicer in Knoxville. They still had ten computers left when I got there around 8:15. I would have gotten there sooner if I hadn't wasted time looking in the electronics department first. One of the employees told me they started with 21 bargain laptops and had already sold some that morning. They also sold some by mistake at midnight, eight hours too early. Meanwhile in Virginia, the sales clerk asked why my wife was taking pictures. Apparently the answer, "they're for my husband's blog," was perfectly satisfactory.

My wife is pretty happy that she has a new "lappy." She won't get to put her new Compaq Presario CQ60-419WM Notebook PC through its paces until after it has been on the charger overnight.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

hear the drums echoing tonight

Today was the last Sunday before moving day for many priests around the diocese. The reassignments announced in May will take effect on August 1.

At All Saints Catholic Church, there was a farewell reception for Fr. Augustine Idra after the 11:45 Mass. He is going to be chaplain of Notre Dame High School and associate pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga. They put his new mailing address in the bulletin for those parishioners who prefer to stay in touch via snail mail.

Fr. Michael Woods was the celebrant of the 11:45. At the end of Mass, he invited Fr. Augustine to come forward from the narthex while he made some moving remarks about his brother priest's birth during wartime in Sudan. Fr. Augustine sat down in one of the pews, right next to me. I gave him a nudge and whispered that he should step up to the altar and say something. His remarks were heartfelt and emotional. He repeated the joke he made on his first day at the parish, that all white people look alike.

The long receiving line in the parish hall reminded me of when Fr. Chris Michelson left the parish. They had cake and some other snacks. My friend Mike, who works for the Knoxville Symphony, brought his accordion and played the Chicken Dance in honor of Fr. Augustine. The beloved African priest is known for his rendition of the dance at many parish functions.

At the reception, I had a chance to visit with one of my favorite patient families from the annual Radiothon for Children's Hospital. Many listeners were moved to tears when their little Lindsey Ann said that the doctors took the cancer out and made her a princess. Lindsey was running around the parish hall until it was time to have her picture taken with Fr. Augustine.

A parishioner named Jane, whom I had met a few years ago, came up to me and said she had recently met my aunt and uncle. Wondering how that could have happened, I asked if she had confused me with someone else. No, she was sure it was me. Jane and her husband Ken were on a Mediterranean cruise aboard the Noordam and had dinner with a couple from Virginia. When the subjects of Knoxville and Catholicism came up, the man from Virginia asked the lady from Tennessee if she knew his nephew, which turned out to be me. She did.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Christmas in July

To remember our travels, my wife and I like to collect Christmas ornaments from the places we visit. They make perfect souvenirs because the memories are refreshed each year when the ornaments are unpacked. Sometimes it's difficult to find holiday decorations during our summer trips. Last year Byron Chesney helped me track down an ornament from Hot Springs, Arkansas.

We assumed there would be plenty of New Hampshire ornaments at Clark's Trading Post but didn't see any while we were there. Somebody working in the gift shop suggested it was the wrong time of year to be looking. Yeah, I know.

We did not find one at Lake Winnipesaukee either because we were too busy looking for a place to change out of our wet bathing suits. I'll have to contact some of the gift shops at Weirs Beach to see if I can order one over the phone or Internet since the lake was my wife's favorite part of the trip.

It was easy to find an ornament at our first stop in Vermont, Sugarbush Farm. At the time I thought it unusual that they would sell Virginia Tech magnets up there. Oh, wait.

It was a little harder to find one in Maine. We stopped at a few stores before finding Moody’s Giftshop, where we bought a miniature lobster trap that could easily be hung on the tree.

My wife found a brass ornament she liked at the Lexington visitors center. Its shiny surface made it as hard to photograph as a mirror. Eventually I got the idea to position so it would reflect some leaves. It is from the Lexington Battle Green after all.

At Hershey's Chocolate World, we bought a heavily discounted Kurt Adler ornament. Years from now we may find it confusing that the ornament says we went to Hershey a year earlier than we actually did.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

in this corner

When you're looking for a great cupcake, the first place that comes to mind is probably a bakery like Magpies or a specialty shop like The Cupcakery. Another contender has emerged in the most unlikely of places; a little shack on Middlebrook Pike called Two Sisters Sandwiches & Sweets.

I happened to stop by Two Sisters on their first day of business. Shortly before my vacation, a nice write-up by Carly Harrington reminded me it had been a while since I promised Ruby and Dixie that I would return. The opportunity presented itself yesterday. The sisters told me they will soon have a new signpost. They also plan to paint the gray cinder block exterior with a brighter color.

I got a great pulled chicken sandwich for only $2.50. For dessert, I chose a banana cupcake with chocolate icing. The sisters insisted that I also try one of their Death by Chocolate cupcakes, saying it was their best. Another customer swore by their Red Velvet cupcakes. There's no place to eat at the shack, so I took the food home for lunch. The cupcakes got knocked around a bit when the bag fell over in my car but still tasted great.

Banana cake has always been a favorite flavor of mine and I would definitely order one of the cupcakes again. However, the ladies were right about Death by Chocolate. I cut it up and shared it with my son, who agreed that it was outstanding. The frosting was perfect, the cake was moist and the chocolate chips interspersed throughout were a nice surprise.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

lex men

Eleven days before the anniversary of the moon landing, I went to the place where I watched the historic moonwalk as a child. My grandparent's cottage in Noyac was unrecognizable after the renovations by the new owner. While we were on Long Island, we were able to visit with my sister.

She had accumulated several old family photos that I hadn't seen in years. When she went into the city to run an errand, my wife and I removed some of the pictures out of their frames and took them to the CVS in Southampton. We scanned them at the Kodak Picture Kiosk and had them back in their frames before my sister returned.

Here are three pictures of my father from three stages of his career. He started as a newspaperman, eventually covering the New York State legislature for UPI. He served as assistant press secretary to Governor Nelson Rockefeller for a couple of years before moving into public relations. I liked the dramatic lighting in the third shot. My sister thought it might have been taken at the Cloud Club atop the Chrysler Building. I think the other man on the stairs is probably William Gaskill, my dad's boss at the p.r. firm.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

dot comedy

The guest on "Fresh Air" this afternoon was Judd Apatow, the writer and director of "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." His new movie has an Internet component that piqued my interest.

Terry Gross and Apatow talked about the fictional websites that were built for the characters in "Funny People." The site for George Simmons has well-made clips from parodies of cheesy movies. Be sure to watch "Merman" and "Re-Do." They also played a clip from a fake sitcom called "Yo Teach!" It was uncomfortably bad on purpose, which made it hysterical.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

cool summer

The unusually mild weather this past weekend inspired me to try on something I had been saving for the Fall. I eyed it on a previous visit to Sam's Club but didn't buy it right away. When I returned a few weeks ago and saw there was only one left in my size and at a reasonable price, I snatched it up.

In the hopes of extending my swimming season, I bought a Sea-Doo Springsuit. It's similar to a wetsuit, except with short sleeves. I foolishly thought the zipper went in the front. When my wife and son stopped laughing, they told me to go back upstairs and turn it around.

Once I got the suit on right, I started swimming laps but not before pretending to be a superhero. When I wear it again, I will have to get used to three unusual sensations. The suit made me more buoyant, which was great. However the air and water that got trapped felt weird as they escaped. The air bubbles rode up my spine and out the collar as I swam. The water that got trapped in the suit ran down my legs when I got out of the pool, which would be no big deal except that it had been warmed to body temperature and felt like something else.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

lunar love good

Today is the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest days in American history. Thank goodness things didn't go horribly wrong. Some foolish doubters still think incorrectly that it was faked.

Three years ago, I wrote about my memories of the Apollo 11 landing and linked to NASA's 30th anniversary website, which was the most current at the time. They now have a great new 40th anniversary site.

We Choose the Moon is a site that is streaming the Apollo 11 mission in real time. My family and I will be gathered around the computer screen at 4:17 p.m. for the landing and 10:56 p.m. for Neil Armstrong's first step.

Several other sites are also worth a look. The Smithsonian Institution has terrific photos and more. The Lunar and Planetary Institute is impressive too. I will be spending more time on the Popular Mechanics pages. What I've read so far of the "Untold Story" is fascinating. has 40 photographs in their Big Picture feature.

I didn't realize until yesterday that Mary Jo Kopechne was killed while Apollo 11 was en route to the moon. My wife and I learned that fact as we watched most of "Teddy: In His Own Words" on HBO.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

cupcake break

There is no way I could try every sweet treat that I saw on our trip. But I like window shopping for cupcakes even if I don't get to taste them. Here are some we saw at Hershey's Chocolate World on the second day of our trip...

...and some we saw at the Blue Duck Bakery Café in Southampton on the eighth day of the trip.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009


On the northbound leg of our vacation road trip, we stopped for lunch in Pennsylvania at Hershey's Chocolate World. We got salads for lunch and a S'mores Cup to share for dessert. It was basically a pile of sawdust-like graham cracker crumbs under a layer of melted chocolate which was covered with a layer of mini-marshmallows and a drizzle of chocolate on top. It tasted fine but could have benefited from being stirred before the marshmallows were added.

I saw a family ordering ice cream cones and couldn't believe my eyes. Here they were inside Hershey's Chocolate World and they ordered plain vanilla cones. One of them was happy to comply when I asked if I could photograph the insanity.

A few other treats caught my eye. The peanut butter cookies were decorated with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The Chocolate Iced Chocolate Mini Cakes appeared to actually be slices of cake covered in icing on all sides. I think local supermarkets that sell cake by the slice could steal this idea and add more icing.

When we saw the display of Hershey's Barbies, my son said, "I thought she would be bigger."

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Friday, July 17, 2009

the way it was

Walter Cronkite defined the role of anchorman. The iconic newsman died tonight at 92. When I see clips of his career on TV or the Internet, I wish that my parents had watched him more often. They were partial to John Chancellor on NBC and the Huntley-Brinkley Report before that.

Cronkite will always be most associated with his coverage of President Kennedy's assassination and of Apollo 11. As the 40th anniversary of the historic lunar landing approaches, I've been thinking about that night. We were on vacation and the only channel we could get happened to be an ABC affiliate.

I got Walter Cronkite's autograph twice. One year, my father took us to the Robert F. Kennedy Pro-Celebrity Tennis Tournament at Forest Hills. I asked several famous people to sign a program. Somebody else, who got more signatures than I did, is selling a signed program for $3,500.

When I was in college at GMU, a friend and I waited in line at a record store in Georgetown to get Cronkite's signature on a vinyl album set he had released. I remember that he advised my friend to major in something other than journalism if she wanted to be a journalist. Many network correspondents have law degrees or other areas of expertise.

CBS will air a tribute to Cronkite on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. I'll be setting my DVR to record it, how about you?

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

opening of an envelope

The last thing I really needed after my vacation was a scoop of ice cream but I couldn't say no to the invitation. Josh and Kara Lovett, owners of Soups and Scoops Café, wrote to say that their five-year-old son would be especially thrilled if I showed up. Of all the people there, little Joshua was the only one who knew the full names of the morning show and radio station where I work.

The invitation also indicated that there would be prayer service at 1:00 p.m. last Sunday. My wife and I made sure to arrive in time for that. Josh's father David read a blessing for businesses from St. Brigid in three parts. He started outside on the sidewalk, continued just inside the front door and then concluded in the work area. David appeared to have a rosary made from knotted cord in his hands. He showed me that each "decade" had only seven knots instead of the ten that I expected. It was an Anglican Rosary, which he gets from the Sisters of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati.

The Lovetts bought the business a few months ago. They are celebrating their grand re-opening this week with different specials each day. Thursdays are Bring Your Own Banana Day for discounts on banana splits. This weekend they are offering buy-one-get-one-free deals on Hilton Head Ice Cream. Soups and Scoops is the only place around selling Hilton Head. The Lovetts make the ice cream in their shop. I asked for a half-scoop of Bananas Foster and a half-scoop of Death by Godiva. Fortunately it was a less-than-lethal dose.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

do you believe in magic?

To get ready for Harry Potter Day, my wife and son planned ahead. On our road trip two years ago, it didn't occur to us to buy a CD copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" until we got to a small town in Illinois. This year they went to the Knox County Public Library and reserved an audio copy of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

We listened to Jim Dale's narration as we drove to Maine and back. I have the same complaint with the sixth book as I did with the seventh about the way Dale voices female characters, especially Ginny, Luna and Hermione. The only woman's voice he gets right is Professor McGonagall. As I heard the climactic scene, I couldn't help but think of the fake ending I wrote four years ago.

The detailed plot was fresh in my mind as we watched the excellent movie adaptation this afternoon. I was okay with the stuff they had to leave out. Both Harry and Hermione are dealing with their changing feelings toward a Weasley. It was fairly true to the book although there are brief scenes I might not have understood had I not read the novel. Specifically, I thought they did not do a good job of explaining the Room of Requirement. Of course most of the moviegoers will have seen "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which explained the Room fully.

A listener called to challenge something I said on the air this morning. I mentioned that there were two more Harry Potter movies to come. She said there was only one film left. I tried to get her to understand that one book was being divided into two movies but she kept insisting that it was one movie divided into two parts. I finally won the argument when I asked her if she thought she could see both parts with one ticket or if they would make her buy tickets to two movies.

I saw an awkward live segment at the end of the late local news Tuesday night. The reporter interviewed fans who could not get tickets to one of the sold-out midnight shows at the Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18. Most were young and dressed in costume and one guy was dressed as Dumbledore. The awkward part came when the reporter didn't know how to react to a girl who said she didn't even like Harry Potter. Meanwhile, I heard that some local girls got ready for the movie by buying used neckties from Sacred Heart Cathedral School, which has the same colors as Gryffindor House.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

citiots and faddicts

When she saw that I would be on Long Island for a day, my friend Jessica told me to be on the lookout for the guys from "Royal Pains," a new series on USA Network about a so-called concierge doctor in the Hamptons. I had to admit that I had never seen the show. Jessica has good taste in TV, so I made a mental note to try it. I didn't have to wait long.

After we ate the lobsters we had purchased in Newport the day before, we looked for something to watch on TV. I got the idea to see if Cablevision had as good an on-demand menu as Comcast does back home. Sure enough, the first several episodes were available. We watched the 88-minute pilot and the 44-minute second episode. On-demand shows have limited commercials. Now that I'm home, I have watched the third episode via on-demand and set up my DVR to catch the new episodes. Yes, I like the show and I'm hooked.

How do the locals feel about the way "Royal Pains" portrays them? According to Dan's Papers, the president of Southampton Hospital doesn't like the way the fictional hosptial on the show is called a "taco stand" and "the local cemetery."

Before our evening visiting with my sister, eating lobster and watching TV, my family and I walked around Southampton and Sag Harbor. On the way out of a favorite pizza place, my wife saw some almond cookies and thought they looked like they were covered with maggots. I thought they would be great for a party at the Body Farm.

Are you interested in buying a house in the Hamptons? At The Morley Agency, $3.95 million will get you a place on a "most coveted lane."

A few doors down at the Hampton Road Gallery, there was a photo in the window of some guy wearing a Tennessee shirt. Is he a famous artist that I don’t recognize?

My friend Bean could see this either bad news or good news. Is it a sign that the USPS is in trouble or is it the perfect way for Bean to spend his next vacation? The Southampton Post Office is for rent.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

east ender

Because we had a reservation, we had to make sure we got from Newport to New London in time to catch the 6:00 p.m. Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point. The boat was almost exactly the same as the ferry we took from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson on our road trip two years ago. This time we also took two smaller ferries to get us from Greenport to Shelter Island to North Haven. From there, it's a short drive to Sag Harbor and Noyac.

Once we were on Long Island, I tuned the car radio to the so-bad-it’s-good WLNG, which does stream online if you want to hear it for yourself. Rusty Potz would ask a TV trivia question, start a song and then interrupt the song a moment later to say "we have a winner, no more calls please."

I was saddened to hear of the passing of 92.1 WLNG's legendary Paul Sidney. Somehow I find it appropriate that he died on April Fool's Day. Or, depending on who you ask, April 2, which was the 92nd day of the year.

When my wife and I honeymooned in the Hamptons, Paul gave us a tour of Broadcast House and then gave us a ride in their newest mobile unit. He drove us to Main Street in Sag Harbor where Alan Alda was filming a scene from "Sweet Liberty." I had a chance to tell Alda that my father knew him when they were both enrolled at Fordham University. In subsequent years, we would vacation in the Hamptons and go see Paul at the Southampton Fourth of July parade. Long Island won't be the same without him.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

on the Rhode again

Massachusetts and Rhode Island were part of our itinerary two years ago during my son's college search. We made a three thousand mile road trip that circled from Knoxville to the Midwest, the Northeast and back to Tennessee. This year we did a 2,500 mile circuit to New England as part of my quest.

In 2007, Massachusetts was a "do over" for me. Technically, I had been in the state as a kid when my parents took us to a Boston Pops concert at Tanglewood. Two years ago we made a campus visit and drove through Boston although we really didn't have time to do anything touristy. This past Tuesday we ate dinner in Lowell at a popular local chain called The Ninety Nine, which is owned by O'Charley's. The next morning we had time to do a quick "drive by" at Lexington and Concord.

The Lexington Battle Green is in the middle of a suburban setting. It almost looks like a nondescript city park. The visitor center has a helpful diorama of the battle and a gift shop, where my wife bought a Christmas ornament. If we weren't rushing off to a lunch appointment with a college friend of mine, we would have done more than just drive through Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord.

After lunch, we headed to Rhode Island for another "do over." In 2007, we took I-295 around Providence, stopping only at a Panera Bread. This time, we took Route 24 into Newport to see the mansions on the Ten Mile Drive.

Right before we got to the Claiborne Pell Bridge, my son spotted a big red lobster above the door of Long Wharf Seafood. We had heard that lobsters might be cheap in Newport and we had promised my sister we would get some if the price was right. A chalkboard out front advertised "New Shell Lobsters $4.99 a pound."

Once we got inside, a very friendly clerk named Eddie informed us that new shell lobsters are a little deceiving. The claw may look big but the meat inside has not yet grown to fill it. Just for fun, he showed us the biggest lobster in the tank.

As we did the calculations to see how many lobsters we needed for four people, Eddie sensed that we were looking for a bargain. While I played with the behemoth, Eddie suggested we buy five culls for $33, which he would pack in ice for us to eat the next day. A cull is a lobster that is missing a claw and can't be sent to a restaurant or supermarket. He even threw in a bullet, which is what he called a lobster with no claws. Other places call it a pistol. You could always just ask for a nice piece of tail.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

oh thank heaven

Happy 7-Eleven Day! My friend Bean and I used to make regular trips across the street to the 7-Eleven on Lee Highway when we both worked at WAVA. Bean was such a fan that he... uh... obtained a 7-Eleven doormat for his home.

My family and I pulled into a 7-Eleven to gas up this afternoon on the last leg of our road trip. While I filled the tank, my wife and son went inside and noticed that they were giving away free 7.11 ounce Slurpees. They tried pouring a few flavors that weren't yet frozen before having success with a blue one that was labeled "Strawberry Pineapple Lime." Go figure.

I've been told that certain blue clothes enhance my eye color. Do you think a blue tongue makes my eyes pop too?

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Friday, July 10, 2009

lobster leftovers

Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine bring my total number of states visited to 43. It's time to make a new map.

We went into a gift shop in Maine looking for a souvenir Christmas ornament. I don't usually succumb to the temptation to buy other stuff but I couldn't resist a refrigerator magnet from Entertain Ya Mania. It shows some cartoon lobsters investigating a crime scene. Click here to see it for yourself. My son also liked the one titled "Lobster Horror Movies."

Road trips always produce a few stray photos that don't find their way into an earlier blog post. Here are three from Maine. While waiting in line at Red's Eats, I saw some old lobster traps for sale. I remember that my father once got one as a gift from my mother. Pandora, our Siberian Husky, chewed up the buoy with Dad's name on it. I told my wife that if I had a lobster trap, it would be funny to keep it at the bottom of our swimming pool.

We drove up to Rockland, site of the upcoming Maine Lobster Festival. They had a sculpture of the "World's Largest Lobster" across from the Maine Lighthouse Museum. I think it looks more like the lobster's alleged relative, the cockroach.

The flagship L.L. Bean store in Freeport is open 24 hours. We went there after checking in to our motel on Monday night. There were more employees than customers at that late hour. There may have been more trout in their giant fish tank than customers too.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

roll with it

The most anticipated destination on our current road trip was a lobster shack in my 43rd state, Maine.

Waiting at Red's Eats in Wiscasset was not a pleasant experience. It wouldn't have been so bad if the weather was nicer on Tuesday. A cold wind off the bay made 35 minutes seem like 70. The long lines at the tiny stand are due to its exposure on PBS, in dozens of magazines and in the book "1000 Places to See Before You Die."

There is no indication that Red's is a cash only business until you pull out your credit card and they tell you to go to the ATM across the street. There is also no indication of how much you will pay for a lobster roll. The signs only say "market price." Ours cost $16 each. The lady behind the counter poured melted butter out of a teakettle. Her hands were a blur as she wrapped our lobster rolls in foil.

I was surprised to see any other items on the menu. Why would anyone go to all that trouble just to order chicken tenders? Although I did see one lady order a lobster roll for herself and a grilled cheese for her young daughter. Another lady ordered the haddock. A handwritten sign announced that they were sold out of scallops, which means they must have been good. Our lobster rolls looked great. The meat was cold but the bun was toasted.

Red's also sells Whoopie Pies from Cranberry Island Kitchen, with a notice that they only carry Whoopies with chocolate cake and the traditional white filling. None of that crazy chocolate or peanut butter filling for Red's.

We saw a wide variety of Whoopie Pies at Wicked Whoopies in Freeport. I remember when they were featured on Oprah several years ago. I contacted them and asked for a sample. They sent a whole bunch of traditional Whoopies to the radio station where I worked at the time. On Tuesday we bought an assortment of flavors to share with family members in New York and Virginia this week. I had a banana Whoopie on Thursday and loved it. The gingerbread and oatmeal cookie Whoopies look pretty good too.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

the rain in Maine stays plainly on the brain

Quick, who was Knoxville named after? I thought I knew and should have stuck to my guns when I was told I was wrong.

Rain and a cold wind dampened our plans to visit the Maine beaches on Tuesday. Instead we drove along Route 1 toward Rockland, looking for interesting stuff. I saw in the AAA Tourbook that we would be passing by Montpelier, the General Henry Knox Museum. Why not stop there and learn about the man our city and county were named after, or so I thought.

The museum is a replica of the Knox family home. It was built around 1930 to house the family's original furniture, which was donated by the general's great, great grandson. During the tour we learned that General Knox weighed about 300 pounds and died three days after swallowing a chicken bone. He was only 56. The docent said the bone punctured his insides.

A second tour guide, who resembled the late Burt Mustin, seemed especially knowledgeable about the Knox family. He said that he sat at home in his recliner thinking about what he would tell his tour groups that day. I asked what he knew about the general's connection with Knoxville. The Revolutionary War general had never been to Tennessee, he said. That sounded familiar to me. Then the guide said that Knoxville was named after John Knox not Henry Knox. He also claimed that John Knox was the first governor of Tennessee, which isn't true either. Now unsure of myself, I left dejectedly.

It was hours before we got to our next hotel and I could check the Internet. I tried not to wake my wife as I excitedly showed my son the Wikipedia entry for Henry Knox. Just to be sure I checked the City of Knoxville website too. Both agreed that K-Town was named for big Hank. You can be sure that I will contact the General Henry Knox museum in Thomaston to set them straight.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

bear marketing

As the bear trainer went through his act, it occurred to me that if I told the same jokes three times a day and didn't get laughs, I would change my jokes. Not so at Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Early in the routine, one of the bears opens a mailbox. The trainer, one of the Clarks, wonders if the mailbox will contain another AOL disc or Publisher's Clearing House entry. AOL disc? Really?

Other than the patter, the bear show was enjoyable. The black bears raised a flag, dunked a basketball, rode on a swing and more. One of the bears rode a Segway around the ring as a promotion for the Segway rides available at the other end of the property. My family and I headed that way so I could finally get a chance to ride one myself. It was fun and I would have liked to stay on it longer than my allotted three minutes.

Before departing the 42nd state on my to do list, we paused for a swim at Weirs Beach on beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

green mountains

Number 41 in my ongoing quest to visit all fifty states is... Vermont.

First stop was Sugarbush Farm, a working maple syrup farm. They also sell locally made cheese, which they age and package right there on the farm. The free tour includes samples of fourteen cheeses and four maple syrups. A few farm animals are on display for the kids to feed. I saw a suggestion box for visitors to come up with a name for a female calf. In honor of Rev. Spooner, I submitted "Booger Shush."

To get to and from Sugarbush, we crossed the Taftsville covered bridge. On the way to Waterbury, we stopped to see the beautiful Quechee Gorge.

Everything I had read about the Ben & Jerry's factory tour said it was a disappointment but we went anyway. It was as lame as promised, if not more so. The so-called tour gives you less information than half an episode of "Unwrapped." The real reason to take the $3 tour is for the "free" scoop at the end. We went into the tasting room and found we had no choice of flavors. We were stuck with a white ice cream that had peppermint-infused chocolate chunks. It might have seemed better if they hadn't worked us up to try one of the new flavors like Mission to Marzipan. I couldn't even buy a cone of Mission to Marzipan at the Scoop Shop outside. It was only available in pints.

I always heard that Ben & Jerry had very strong political views. However I was surprised that they leaned so far to the left that the video presentation on the tour didn't even identify which president awarded them with a plaque as U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year in 1988. The video showed a close-up of somebody holding the plaque. Why not zoom out and show Ben & Jerry standing there with Ronald Reagan? At least the video did mention that Ben & Jerry sold their company to Unilever and no longer have anything to do with it. How capitalistic of them. Speaking of Ronald Reagan, I thought of him later when we drove past the Berlin Mall. Get it?

After dessert, we had some dinner in The Lounge at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. The three of us were able to each get a salad and then split an order of wiener schnitzel with spätzle. As you can see, it's a veal cutlet not a hot dog franchise.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

did it all for the Wookie

The Village of Saugerties has a fairly lengthy 4th of July parade. We found ourselves not at the official reviewing stand on Main Street, but farther down the parade route at a private home on Market Street. Since 1989, Greg DeCelle and his extended family have provided their own parade commentary during a beer-fueled block party that started well before the parade arrived at their house and continued until the fourth keg was emptied, long after the parade was gone.

Each year the DeCelles choose a parade theme of their own. In the past they've been cowboys or pirates, for example. Last year they dressed in superhero costumes. This year they dressed as "Star Wars" characters. Greg, the homeowner and ringleader, was in an Obi-Wan Kenobi outfit. His fellow commentators were Chewbacca and Darth Vader. Obi-Wan and Chewbacca were on a platform with audio equipment and two computers loaded with music and sound effects. Darth Vader stood on the street with a wireless microphone.

Some politicians, including Rep. Maurice Hinchey, looked uncomfortable as they walked past with forced smiles, waving as they went. Others embraced the insanity and spoke with Darth Vader on the microphone. I found out later the ones who walked by fast were possibly the same ones who couldn't answer any of the questions about the Constitution posed to them in previous years.

Each of the passing firetrucks was exhorted to sound their horn. Some played along right away. Others had to be repeatedly goaded. I like parade balloons as much as anybody but the inflatable Quisp head being used to promote the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival needs to be replaced with a new one.

Whenever there was a slight break in the parade, Obi-Wan would announce that it was time for the Chicken Dance. Spectators spilled out into the street to flap their elbows and wiggle their bottoms, with Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper leading the way.

Darth tried to interact with several of the parade entries, none more successfully than an equestrian unit. The family recognized a woman riding her horse in the parade. As she approached, one of them announced that a beer was to be brought to the street. The rider dismounted, accepted the cup and let Darth Vader climb onto her horse. It looked more "Spaceballs" than "Star Wars."

When a the driver of a private vehicle cut into the parade route, the fans on Market Street covered his vehicle with Silly String. They also sprayed a firetruck whose rider dared shoot some water from a fire extinguisher. Apparently this was mild compared to a few years ago when a similar exchange erupted into a full-blown water fight with a garden hose and water balloons. I heard they had to promise the Village not to do that again.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

feliz cuatro de julio

Happy Independence Day! After working the last two years on this date, I am celebrating the day off with family and friends. In the blog posts ahead I'll be filling you in on my road trip and the very unusual Fourth of July parade I attended this morning. For now, let's all get ready for the cookout and the fireworks with a couple of pictures from your friendly neighborhood Walmart. Perhaps you might enjoy some star-spangled s'mores I spotted in Martinsburg, West Virginia before you bash open one of the patriotic piñatas that I saw in Knoxville.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

hold everything

Dear Postmaster,

The Automated Postal Centers at the Post Office are wonderful things. I use them to mail packages without waiting in line at the counter. Postal customers have gotten used to the machines being available 24 hours a day.

At this time of year, many people need to stop their mail before going on vacation. The post office has a simple form on a yellow postcard for this purpose (PS Form 8076). During a recent visit to a local branch, all the "Authorization to Hold Mail" forms were locked up in the counter area. Wouldn't it make sense to have a stack out by the Automated Postal Centers? Perhaps the APC could be used to electronically send instructions to the carrier to hold the mail. May I also suggest that there could have been a sign informing customers that it is now possible to print the forms at home and (in certain zip codes) to put mail on hold online. Such a sign may have kept this unidentified man from using a Priority Mail envelope as a tool to retrieve a form after hours.

P.S. My friend Bean says hello.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

high in the middle

To accent our salads, my wife sometimes buys Bac'n Pieces or croutons. She recently found some croutons on sale that are pretty good. The package says they are made from French bread and cut into Texas-size pieces. Maybe they come from Paris, Texas. What I don't get is why the brand name for this product is New York Texas Toast Croutons. Like they used to say in the Pace Picante Sauce ads, "New York City?"

So where do famous New York brand Texas toast croutons come from? The Bronx? Brooklyn? I grew up in Yonkers and never heard of them. Maybe they are from someplace upstate like Buffalo or Rochester. Nope. The back of the package says that these New York slash Texas treats are made in... Columbus, Ohio.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

dying to get in

The recent spate of celebrity deaths has me thinking about two segments I did on the Comedy World Radio Network. I had the first interview with Tony Orciuoli about his then-new website, Tony wrote a program that will automatically email you when news of a celebrity death crosses the wire. Longtime blog readers might recall me writing about this in February, 2006. I sent a copy of the interview to Tony right after it aired. He put the mp3 file on his website, which I downloaded so I can post it here for your convenience.

My interview with a guy named Death Pool Dave helped me land a job in Knoxville. Of all the airchecks I sent to my potential future bosses at 100.3 The River, the one they mentioned to me was my conversation with Death Pool Dave. He would register with several death pool websites including the Lee Atwater Invitational. Dave won quite a bit of money by guessing which celebrities would die in a calendar year. The younger the star, the more points they were worth in the game. To determine the point value, subtract the celebrity's age from 100. I looked through some old discs last night and found a copy of the CD I had sent to The River. Here's the interview with Death Pool Dave from late 2000 or early 2001.

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