Thursday, April 19, 2018

Another trip north and another grand adventure!

View of lower Manhattan after hiking across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Feeling a bit restless and having a few hundred bucks in airline credit to burn, it only made sense for the lovely Miss Wendy and me to take yet another nibble out of the Big Apple earlier this year.

We had visited New York in December, but decided to embrace the ancient Talmudic belief that you can never be too thin, too rich or visit Manhattan too often!

Atlanta chums Margaret and Peter, also in need of a chilly getaway, joined us on the trip north the first week of February, adding a whole new level of fun and adventure.

We spent the first afternoon zig-zagging our way about Midtown, strolling by Central Park and the Plaza Hotel, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center, Times Square and the Broadway Theater District.

Yummy way to end the day when visiting NYC.
Another ten minutes and five blocks along Broadway and we found ourselves in front of Ben's Kosher Deli -- can you say righteous hot pastrami? Can you say yummy? We can and we did!

An hour or so later, after a deli-licious dinner of corned beef and hot pastrami, chopped liver, matzo ball soup and a choco-licious slice of warm babka, we managed to shuffle our way onto Broadway and back to the Theater District.

Margaret and Peter were off to see "Come From Away", the Tony Award-winning musical focusing on the residents of Gander, Newfoundland and the thousands of airline passengers stranded there following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Wendy and I had seen -- and enjoyed -- the musical on our last trip to New York, so we decided to spend the evening with Bernadette Peters, aka Dolly Levi, and say "Hello"! It was a splendid, toe-tapping choice and a grand way to end the day.

Up early the next morning, Peter greeted us with the news that New York's a wonderful town, explaining giddily that the Bronx is up and the Battery's down. Okay, I'm playing a little fast and loose with his words so I can get the lyrics of "New York, New York" into this post. But I'm not exaggerating the ebullient vibe that had us all psyched and ready to take on another day in the city.

Wendy and Peter crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
After a little "ride in a hole in the ground" -- yes, that's another musical reference, this time to the city's world-class subway system -- Margaret and Peter headed over to Ellis Island in search of their ancestral roots, while Wendy and I strolled around the World Trade Center.

In recent years we've visited the "footprint" fountains on the site of the downed Twin Towers and the nearby museum raised in honor and memory of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks. But we'd never actually been inside the new building.

The structure towers over lower Manhattan, 104 stories of glass and steel soaring a breathtaking -- and symbolic -- 1776 feet high. There are 54 high-speed passenger elevators, a special few that can zip you up to the One World Observatory on the 102nd floor in a stunning 47 seconds.

Both the ride -- the elevators are equipped with digital screens that offer a unique glimpse at the history and growth of the region -- and the observation deck are 21st century amazing!

Wendy and I enjoyed all the bells and whistles that greeted and welcomed us, took time to watch one last video that set the scene, then stood in amazement as the screen lifted revealing a jaw-dropping vista that stretched off to the distant horizon.

World Trade Center towers over lower Manhattan.
The observation deck -- actually two floors that include a snack bar, restaurant, meeting rooms and gift shop -- circles the tower, offering a 360 degree view that includes Manhattan, Queens, Harlem and Long Island to the north and east, the Hudson River and New Jersey to the west, and Staten Island, much of Brooklyn and the Jersey shore to the south.

If you're lucky -- and we were -- you can see forever. A gaggle of skyscrapers, roadways, bridges and green space dot the landscape. It all blends together like the phantasmagoric work of a master builder, a mighty ode to the greatness of America.

During a 30-minute stroll, high above it all, we managed to spot Central Park and Rockefeller Center; the United Nations, Chrysler and Empire State buildings; the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Verrazano-Narrows bridges; Times Square and the Statue of Liberty.

After making our way back down to earth and meeting up with Margaret and Peter, we wandered about Greenwich Village, visiting Chelsea Market, the nearby High Line, a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail, and Washington Square.

We then began a slow and chilly trek up Fifth Avenue. In fact, trekking pretty much filled the next day or so.

Margaret takes a little spin on a carousel in Brooklyn.
Before calling it quits and heading back to the land of cotton and warmer temps, we criss-crossed midtown yet again, traveled back to lower Manhattan and hiked across the Brooklyn Bridge into the Heights and the gentrified district of DUMBO.

We then stumbled about SOHO, NOHO and the East Village before making our way to Rafele -- can you say sangria? It's one of our favorite New York restaurants just the other side of Bleecker Street in the West Village and only a hop, skip and a cannoli away from Rocco's, a pasticceria worth visiting if you're in the neighborhood. We were and we did!

Weary, but happy, Wendy and I bid our traveling companions a fond farewell the next morning and returned home -- Margaret and Peter hung around Gotham another two days. To paraphrase Julius Caesar: We came, we saw, we ate, drank and conquered. And so it goes!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Bailey Boo and New York, Too!

Bailey, Bubbe, Lauren and Josh out and about in NYC.
Our winter getaway this year was a family affair to New Jersey and New York, a couple of days to attend and celebrate our grand niece Jessica's Bat Mitzvah, mixed with a few days to chomp away at The Big Apple yet again!

Highlights included Bailey flying the friendly skies of United for the very first time and riding a train, then venturing in to Manhattan and getting chilled to the bone, dancing the night away at her cousin's party and filling up on enough sugar to keep her spinning about for hours.

We also spent some quality time with Lauren and Josh, first in Jersey with family and friends, then into the Big Apple for a quick trip around Times Square and Rockefeller Center. Then we were off to the Upper East Side to try out the pastrami at a little hole in the wall, The Pastrami Queen, that came highly recommended. Two words: Good Eats!

On Sunday, after a few days of folks and fun, Wendy and I returned to the city after dropping Lauren, Josh and Bailey at the airport in Newark. We generally spend a longish weekend in Manhattan in late January, but decided to go ahead and eat our way across the city and attend a few shows since we were already in the area.

Great view of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights.
We mostly wandered about the neighborhoods in Chelsea and Greenwich Village, revisting a few of our favorite restaurants and bakeries -- Rafele and Rocco's in the West Village and S'MAC, always a cheesy delight, just this side of SOHO. We also took a walking tour that had us trekking across the Brooklyn Bridge, offering up amazing views of lower Manhattan, with stops in Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo -- trust me, it's a New York sort of thing!

We only had time for two shows and decided to take a chance on the Rockettes and the annual Christmas Spectacular at Radio City. It was definitely a spectacle, sort of a mega-cruise ship production on steroids. I'm thinking it's the type of show that a kind and forgiving critic would roll their eyes at, then report truthfully that "a good time was had by all!"

We also made it to Broadway to see "Come From Away," the Tony award-winning musical focusing on the residents of Gander, Newfoundland and the thousands of airline passengers stranded there following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

"Come From Away" funny, sad and delightful.
It's a creative and energetic production, funny and sad, filled with music that manages to be both uplifting and melancholy. The story had Wendy and me laughing, crying and up on our feet cheering with the rest of the sold-out house when the final curtain came down!

The trip, unfortunately, became a bit of a jarring adventure, thanks to the weather and an electrical fire that messed up the return journey home. The kids' flight was delayed, then canceled when the airport in Atlanta suffered a blackout that played havoc with flight schedules around the globe.

Lauren, Josh and Bailey were forced to spend an extra night in New Jersey; thanks and a tip of the cap to our niece and her family who provided them with a place to rest for the night and got them back to the airport the next day. The flight delay and cancellation eventually had them flying to Nashville, renting a car and driving the final four hours back home to Atlanta.

Josh, Lauren and Bailey finally on the way back home.
Meanwhile, Wendy and I boarded our flight right on time, but flew smack dab into a torrential thunderstorm hovering about northern Georgia. We spent 30 minutes of the flight being battered by high winds, then white-knuckled our way through an aborted landing before arriving safely, if a little shaken, at Hartsfield Jackson -- aka, the Atlanta airport!

I'm holding on to the idea that often a trip is just a trip, but when something goes wrong it all becomes an adventure. So I'm pretty sure that our little trip up north this year was a grand holiday and one heck of an adventure!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Turbulent flight home a white-knuckling, shaky affair

Sky cloudy, but calm in Newark as we board afternoon flight home.
Most everyone has an "airplane" story, and now I do as well.

Wendy and I returned home earlier this week from a trip to New Jersey and New York, a couple of days with family in Jersey and a couple of days chomping away at The Big Apple yet again!

We were flying United Air out of Newark and managed to make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I was worried the flight might be delayed or canceled since the weather in and around Atlanta was bad -- fog, rain, possible thunderstorms and high winds.

But the boarding call came right on time and we were in the air and headed south just as the sun was casting a golden glow across the western horizon. All was good, for the moment. About an hour or so into the two-hour flight, the plane's PA system squawked to life and a flight attendant calmly announced that the captain had just reported there might be some light to moderate turbulence in a few minutes.

There was; a little shaking and rattling, then a bit more, followed by nothing but smooth air -- at least for the moment. The PA squawked to life yet again 30 minutes later and the flight attendant announced we were on our final approach to Atlanta and would be landing soon. Just a few minutes later there was a gentle nudge that had the plane dipping a bit, followed by a series of bumps that rattled my teeth and had me and others grabbing for anything solid within reach.

The buffeting continued, growing more intense with each passing second. There was now a jarring blend of nervous laughter and squeals mixing with the rattling of stuff as the plane shimmied and shuttered its way to the ground.

Storm clouds, high winds and rain made for a rocky flight.
A young woman, sitting in a seat directly in front of me, had become increasingly agitated as the turbulence intensified, finally calling out for help. Most everyone wanted to help, but short of latching onto a skyhook, there was simply no way to battle the elements and stop the shaking.

I heard the plane's flaps and wheels lowering and it seemed we'd be touching down in a minute or so. Unfortunately, the turbulence continued to intensify. One moment we were headed down and an instant later the engines roared to life. We picked up speed and began rising above the airport. The shaking and rattling strengthened, the frightened woman in front of me rolled into a fetal position and more than a few passengers, I imagine, were quietly chatting with God.

After another few moments, that seemed like an eternity, the turbulence slackened and a moment or so later the PA came back to life. It was the pilot this time, talking in his very best "Right Stuff" voice and explaining he'd aborted our initial landing because of high winds and rain, that we were circling back for another try and would be on the ground in 15 minutes.

Fortunately, this time around, the weather had improved and the captain stuck the landing to relieved applause.

I happened to pass the distraught young woman in the terminal who told me she'd never fly again. I lamely responded that, yes, it was a very difficult flight but that she should remember that a trip is often just a trip, but when something goes wrong it becomes an adventure.

A few minutes later I saw a group of flight attendants from our plane and, curious and looking for a little context, I asked them what they thought of the flight. One young attendant began to shrug her shoulders when an older colleague blurted out, "bumpy as hell!"

And so it was.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Island Hopping: Out and about aboard the Regal Princess

Larry, Amy and Wendy say howdy from St. Thomas.
The sun was well above the horizon, mirrored in the calm waters of Antigua harbor as I made my way to one of the upper decks of the Regal Princess. Wendy and I, my brother Larry and sister-in-law Amy -- along with 3,000 or so cruising companions -- were relaxed and joyfully content after casually drifting about the Caribbean.

We were only three days out of Fort Lauderdale, had already visited St. Thomas and Princess Cays, a spit of sand nestled up against a tropical rain forest just this side of Nassau, and for the moment were treading water in a five-star cruise ship parking lot.

Off to port was a few hundred million dollars of floating real estate, Celebrity's Silhouette and Eclipse, while on our starboard side was the Disney Magic. The thousands of tourists -- and their tourist dollars -- pouring into Antigua was good news for the area. After all, the region had been hit hard by the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria in September and early October.

Afternoon tea: A little snack between lunch and dinner.
All of the ports we visited, at least around the shopping and downtown districts, were in decent condition; but it was clear much work was still needed, especially in and about the interior of the islands, before life would return to anything resembling normal for local residents.

Meanwhile, normal aboard the Princess Regal meant that Wendy and I were up and about with the rising sun. After breakfast and a quick workout in the ship's fully loaded fitness center, a shower, change of clothes and light mid-morning snack, it was time for a nap! The afternoon began with lunch, obviously, followed by a little light reading, a brisk walk around the ship's promenade deck, afternoon tea -- scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam -- and another short nap. Then it was time for dinner! Well, I'm guessing you get the idea. I did mention there was food, right?

Calm sea and clear sailing out of the port of Antigua.
There were also other distractions and happenings of note: Memorable sunrises and sunsets; calm, expansive seas and deep blue skies; a vast night canopy filled with an achingly beautiful full moon and an infinite number of stars spilling into tomorrow. Oh, there was also a bit of testosterone-fueled, horn-blowing one-upmanship! I'll explain.

When heading out to sea, ships sound their horn, a loud -- very loud -- wail that can be heard over great distances. As often as not the horn is a Johnny-one-note, a basso profondo on steroids that will rattle your teeth if you're in the neighborhood. In recent years, cruise ships have added a few additional notes to their repertoire, allowing them to play a short tune, as often as not a little ditty linked in some fashion to the parent corporation.

Disney Magic toots goodbye with a little ditty!
The Regal Princess is part of a line of ships that is inextricably linked to a television show, The Love Boat, that was hugely popular for a decade or so beginning in the mid-1970s. Each show began with a theme song that is now the little ditty -- at least the opening notes -- played by Princess ships when leaving port.

On this day the Regal was docked next to the Disney Magic in Antigua. As you might imagine, Disney ships have a huge number of songs to toot on its horns, but only one that defines The Magic Kingdom and mega-corporation: "When You Wish Upon a Star ..."

The Magic, leaving port in the late afternoon, sounded off. The Regal responded and the game was on. The ear-shattering play only lasted a minute or so, but brought a smile and applause from most everyone milling about the two ships and port area.

Truth to tell, there was something grand and fun and over the top that the horn play captured, a fitting -- if loud -- bow on our vacation package getaway.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Big whopping "Zero" makes this birthday special!

Another birthday and it's time to celebrate.
There are birthdays and then there are birthdays! This one comes complete with a big whopping "zero" to remind me that time and tide wait for no man.

With that in mind I've spent the last year out and about -- Boston and New York, Vegas and Salt Lake City; Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon; Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon and the Grand Staircase Esplanade! Later this month the always lovely Miss Wendy and I will be cruising about the Caribbean and we'll finish up the year back in the Big Apple.

I began 2017 by seeing "Dear Evan Hansen" and "Chicago" on Broadway and will end it in December with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and, back on Broadway, seeing "Come From Away"! Filling up the time and space from there to here was a smorgasbord of outings with friends -- dinner dates and movies, parties, holiday meals, walks, hikes and meaningful chats; and, certainly worth noting, a mini-reunion with a few folks who I worked and played with at the Red and Black, UGA's student newspaper, when Richard Nixon was still president, computers were the size of a ginormous room and fed with punch cards, and an apple was a snack that, ostensibly, would keep a doctor away if eaten once a day!

So, how old now? Well, just count the candles!
It's also been a year when I've been lucky enough to spend some quality time with my brothers, traveling with them to a few of the top spots on my ever-diminishing bucket list; doing, um, family stuff with my extended family and staying close and busy with my remarkable and amazing daughter, Lauren, and son-in-law Josh. And then there's Bailey and Avi, my absolutely perfect grandkids who fill my life each day with renewed wonder and constant love.

Oh, there's also the lovely Miss Wendy, my wife, partner and soulmate who has been willing to put up with my nonsense for well over four decades; the person most responsible for keeping some semblance of balance in my life with her half-glass-filled vibe and upbeat attitude.

But I digress ... and where's an editor when you need one! The point of this post is to share a bit of distilled wisdom it's taken me nearly seven decades to learn. Plastics, despite the advice offered up by Mr. McGuire to Benjamin, isn't the answer to the big question of life. Who Knew!

Okay, truth to tell, this note is actually my incredibly long and windy way to thank you, all my Facebook friends, for your recent birthday wishes. It's nice to know that, if only for a moment, a gaggle of family and friends was thinking of me and wishing me well on this special day!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

National treasure hidden away in plain sight!

Antelope Canyon: A surrealist dream come to life.
Antelope Canyon spread all about, a swirl of colors and twisting shapes, beautiful and poetic. Climbing down into the lower canyon is like tumbling into a serpentine maze that manages to be both claustrophobic and expansive. The hidden space -- it's beneath the scarred and sun-bleached landscape of northern Arizona -- is just one of many highlights on a recent trip out West with two of my brothers and a nephew.

The journey began in another colorful place, Las Vegas, a jarring mix of ginormous hotels and casinos, souvenir shops and bars, upscale retail stores, malls and specialty restaurants. Hordes of tourists, conventioneers and locals jostle their way along the city's neon-soaked strip, the air heavy with the stench of cigarette smoke, hope, greed and, yes, sadness.

After all, only a week earlier a gunman had murdered 58 people attending a country music concert in Vegas and injured hundreds of others in what is now considered the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. That's not to suggest that the city has gone dark. It continues to twinkle, especially at night when a pleasing blend of music and lights offer up dreams of hedonistic delights that add weight and meaning to the city's marketing slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!"

Las Vegas: Still twinkling despite recent tragedy.
For me and my traveling companions -- Gary, Larry and Ryan -- the city was mostly a footnote on this trip, a brief stop and gathering spot. Truth to tell, we were much more interested in spending time with Mother Nature then ogling showgirls or feeding the slots!

The good news is that it only takes a moment to shake the Vegas vibe and find a welcoming landscape of craggy hills and sun-baked plains nearby. I-15 splits Vegas and crawls across the southeast corner of Nevada, just touching the northwest tip of Arizona before playing out in southern Utah.

Mother Nature has done a splendid job here, filling the region with natural wonders and beauty: soaring mountains and majestic canyons; verdant meadows and burbling brooks; pristine rivers and lakes and an abundance of wildlife. So it's not at all surprising that the area has a number of state and national parks featuring a wide range of awesome sights.

Finally out and about, our little group took a short break at Valley of Fire State Park, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. It's mostly a bleak and desolate prairie filled with brilliant formations of eroded sandstone and sand dunes, all aflame in shades of orange. The landscape is grand an unique, both bizarre and beautiful.

Zion National Park: Grand and Unique, stunning and beautiful.
Truth to tell, such words and thoughts could be mixed and matched and easily used to describe the half dozen or so places we visited over the next several days, including Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah. We then turned south and, backtracking a few hours, explored the Glen Canyon National Recreation area and a couple of slot canyons buried in a rocky and remote area of Arizona known as the Navaho Nation Land.

The canyons, the last stop on our mystical and magical dance with Mother Nature, provided a colorful exclamation point for the journey. Only a day earlier we had been walking about the ancient hoodoos of Bryce Canyon -- tall, thin spires of rock that spilled across the landscape -- certain that we had been privy to the very best Gaia had to offer.

Au contraire mon ami!

Bryce Canyon: Bizarre hoodoos dot the landscape.
The lower Antelope Canyon, on the outskirts of Page, Ariz., is a surrealistic dream come to life, a glorious blend of light and color, eroded rock and Navaho sandstone. Flash floods helped form the undulating corridor, smoothing out hard edges over time and creating "flowing" shapes in the rock.

The canyon, opened to the public in the mid-1990s, is about 120 feet deep. You enter from above, gingerly working your way down a series of metal steps, in some spots having to squirm through small openings in the rock with little to hold onto. Once on the ground you'll have to weave your way along the twisting canyon floor, squeezing around spots where the path becomes pinched and outcroppings of rock block your path.

The traveling gang: Ron, Gary, Larry and Ryan.
The trip, of course, is worth the effort.

I've been fortunate enough to see a number of natural and man-made wonders in my life: the Grand Tetons and Grand Canyon; the Eiffel Tower and Tower of London; Masada and the Western Wall; the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge!

The Antelope Canyons easily rest alongside these other places as wonderful and wondrous. The lower canyon is both beautiful and awesome; its colors and shapes an ode to the quiet, unyielding power of nature. Given the right frame of mind, it's here and in other such sanctuaries that I find the static of life gives way to something grand and sacred, a national treasure hidden away in plain sight!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Las Vegas: Twinkling lights and a memorial for the dead

Vegas Strip remains bright and dazzling despite recent tragedy.
The first surprise when stepping onto the Las Vegas strip in early October is the weather. The blast furnace of summer has clicked off in recent days and been replaced with moderate temps that hover in the low 80s. It's still warm, but not unbearably hot, and crowds of tourists are out and about like bees in search of nectar.

For first-time visitors, getting around can be an unexpected challenge. The massive scale of the hotels and casinos that line Las Vegas Boulevard -- Caesars Palace and Circus Circus; the Luxor and MGM Grand; Bellagio, the Venetian and a dozen or so others -- give the impression that a festive playground is easily within reach. It's not.

The resorts are huge and trekking about is a tiresome and time-consuming affair. The illusion is only magnified when the sun goes down and the Vegas lights come fully alive, offering up a dazzling, multi-colored fantasy land.

Memorial honors 58 people killed by deranged gunman.
It's this twinkling world, filled with dreams of hedonistic delights that adds weight and meaning to the city's marketing slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!" Tragically, the dream morphed into a nightmare earlier this month when a deranged gunman opened fire from his suite in a high-rise hotel, the Mandalay Bay, raking a nearby concert venue with thousands of rounds of gunfire.

In just a little over 10 minutes, the shooter managed to murder 58 people, injuring hundreds more in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Police report that in the midst of one 31-second span, the shooter fired a staggering 280 rounds, roughly nine bullets every second.

I'm in Vegas to meet up with two of my brothers and  nephew, a brief stop and gathering spot for a trip that will take us across southern Utah to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. But for the moment I have joined with dozens of other tourists to walk about a temporary memorial resting at the foot of the neon-soaked sign welcoming visitors to "fabulous" Las Vegas, Nevada!

And off in the distance a yuuuge golden blemish.
The space is filled with a jarring mix of balloons and banners, flowers, candles and personal notes and prayers for the victims. A line of wooden crosses, one for each person killed, cuts across the grounds, a sobering remembrance and reminder of this most recent madness.

This isn't the first such memorial I've visited. Last year I was in Orlando only weeks after 49 people were murdered at Pulse, a gay bar on the southern fringes of the downtown area. The Vegas memorial echoes the melancholy vibe found there and, sadly, in another few days, perhaps a week or two, the lawn here will be swept clean and Las Vegas will become yet another painful memory of a place where evil once visited.

The names of the dead and injured in attacks stretching back decades are mostly forgotten in a world moving at the speed of light. Inevitably, the locations are what we recall: Columbine, Blacksburg, Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood and Charleston; San Bernadino, San Ysidro, Washington, D.C. and Tucson.

City a jarring mixture of hope, greed and really expensive cars.
The full list spans the country. No region is immune to the momentary madness of mostly boys and men directed by hate, fear and a grotesque anger fueled by job and personal issues, teen angst and mental illness.

Our political leaders, starting with the yamster-in-chief in the Oval Office, have offered their thoughts and prayers while, yet again, failing to take any sort of legislative action to deal with the problem. Their tepid response, a predictable show of institutional madness, is simply to ignore the issue. It's a rancid position -- bought and paid for by the NRA -- that will certainly result in additional slaughter, thoughts and prayers!

Some "patriots" argue the lack of gun control, the shootings and mass murder, is the price of freedom. If that's the case then the cost is too high. That becomes clear in the heartbreak that hangs heavily above the Vegas strip this day and the knowledge that other innocent victims will be picking up the check in coming years.