Tuesday, March 23, 2010

come together

Tourism is big business in East Tennessee. Dollywood, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, recently hosted a forum for the gubernatorial candidates on the topic. I saw something in St. Louis recently that might be worth stealing for the Great Smoky Mountains region. An entrepreneur could even sell a ten-second advertisement to play before the message.

In the complex beneath the Gateway Arch, I saw a sign promoting a call-in service for sightseers like me. By dialing the toll-free number, tourists can hear more about the Arch or several other attractions in the area known as the Confluence. The only problem I had was that there was no cellular service in the underground bunker.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

archie's place

They say that New Yorkers don't visit the Statue of Liberty. I never have, even though I grew up in the nearby suburbs. I try not to repeat that mistake when traveling, which is why I'm surprised it has taken me this long to make it to the top of the Gateway Arch. The Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis.

On our 3,000 mile road trip in the summer of 2007, my family had the bad luck of visiting the Arch two days after a power outage caused all sorts of havoc. I got some nice pictures from the base, but did not ascend. We thought about going to the Arch in January, but it was completely engulfed in fog.

This past weekend, my wife and I made a quick trip through St. Louis after picking up our son at college. We had enough time on Saturday to go up in the Arch and to see the excellent (although dated) movie, "Monument to the Dream." I just put the DVD on my wish list.

The documentary shows how the landmark was constructed in the early '60s. It made me wish I could go back and see television news coverage from the raising of the last piece on October 28, 1965. I did find a good YouTube video with some pre-Arch history. A model outside the theater shows the last piece being raised into place.

The land below the Arch looks like a quiet, grassy park. It conceals an underground complex with two theaters, gift shops, a museum and more. The Museum of Westward Expansion featured lots of information about the Louisiana Purchase and an interesting smaller exhibit about baseball teams moving and expanding to the West. The warning not to touch the taxidermied animals amused me. Apparently not everyone knows that dead bison grow no hair.

The view out the city side of the Arch was more interesting than the view out the river side. Looking toward the north I could see the Edward Jones Dome. Looking toward the south I could see Busch Stadium. I really want to attend a Cardinals game there some day.

Because our plan was to leave early enough on Sunday to get home to watch the Oscars (we made it with minutes to spare), we wanted to go to a vigil Mass on Saturday night. St. Louis has a plethora of Catholic parishes and we hadn't decided which one to visit. I even asked my friend Fr. Ragan Schriver for suggestions. Once we had seen the movie and looked at the Museum of Westward Expansion, it was after 5:00 p.m. and we didn't have time to get to either of the churches Fr. Ragan had mentioned. I was collecting some brochures from the ranger at the information desk when I realized the answer was on a flyer in my hands. In fact, two hours earlier, I had photographed The Old Cathedral from 630 feet up. We could easily walk there in time for the 5:30 Mass.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

holy spirituals

The bellman said that the Catholic church nearest to our downtown Norfolk hotel was the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. He wanted to make sure I knew that it was a Black Catholic church and that the liturgy would have a Baptist feel to it. I've joked that my home parish in Knoxville, All Saints, is very Baptist-friendly because of all the converts in our congregation. Besides, how Baptist could it be if the church is named after the Virgin Mary? As it turned out, the experience of worshiping at St. Mary's was rather different from All Saints.

Besides the obvious reversal of the race ratio, I noticed that the last seven pews at St. Mary's were elevated on risers. My daughter noted the absence of a center aisle and my wife pointed out that there were no kneelers in the pews. The cover of the hymnals was designed with an African feel to it. "Lead Me, Guide Me" is from GIA Publications and had several informative essays about Black Catholic worship.

One of the terms I picked up from the hymnal was "dialogical preaching." During the homily by Deacon Calvin Bailey there were some exclamations of "amen" and the like. The congregation applauded after the sermon, as they did after most of the hymns. The choir swooped and swayed in their robes while they sang "I've Decided to Follow Jesus," "Amazing Grace" and "Let Us Break Bread Together" among others. My wife, who knew that last hymn, found it ironic that they sang "let us break bread together on our knees" in a church with no kneelers.

The congregation remained standing during the parts of the Mass when most American Catholics are kneeling. The sign of peace differed somewhat too as altar servers and congregants left their places to walk around the church and embrace their friends and loved ones. The readings and prayers were right out of the Roman Missal. No liberties were taken, which I've heard may happen at some other parishes in the Diocese of Richmond.

After Mass, a parishioner who introduced herself as Carol Swank approached us. Being white and all it was fairly apparent that we were visitors. She told us a little about the history of the building and took us to three areas of interest. From the choir loft we got a good view of the whole sanctuary and saw the area where African Americans had to sit in the 19th century. The old pre-Vatican 2 altar was turned 180° and moved forward, creating a space for a Blessed Sacrament chapel. Two pieces of the old marble altar rail were saved from the trash pile and placed there also.

The most interesting thing Carol showed us was something the hotel bellman had also suggested I see. The first church that stood on the adjacent plot of land was torched in 1856 possibly as a hate crime against Black Catholics. Only one thing was pulled from the flames of the burning building: a huge, hand-carved wooden crucifix. Next to it is a framed news article from the Virginian-Pilot telling the story of the crucifix.

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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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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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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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