Diversions – Take a Walk!

As a recent convert to the principles espoused in Cal Newport’s breakthrough book Digital Minimalism, (http://www.calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism/), I’ve been taking long,  contemplative walks daily. They free my mind, focus my energy, and provide solitude in a noisy world. This week, such a walk yielded even more … a treasure trove of fun information just a few paces from my hotel room.

Judy was participating in a VIP event hosted by Brighton, the jewelry and collectibles retailer, at their headquarters just east of Los Angeles. While she was in handbag heaven, I spent my day eating lunch at one of my old aviation stomping grounds, then catching up on some work, hitting the gym, and enjoying the pool at our hotel in Arcadia, near Pasadena. With famed Huntington Drive (part of old Route 66) just a block away, I laced-up my runners and set out for a stroll to see what you can’t see through a car window.

I wasn’t disappointed! Within just a few blocks, I was at the heart of Arcadia’s early 20th Century Business District at the corner of First and Huntington, near where the Santa Fe railroad (now a right of way for the Los Angeles Metro “Gold” line) would drop off horse racing aficionados bound for the “first” Santa Anita racetrack. A historic storyboard at the intersection told the story of the first City Hall, a unique “Drive-In” market, and of course, the city’s horse racing legacy. 

Lining the sidewalks along Huntington were further tributes to that heritage … bronze plaques comprising the Thoroughbred Racing Walk of Champions. While I’m not a huge horse racing fan, I appreciated seeing names like “Seabiscuit” and “Laffit Pincay, Jr.” … names that are familiar even to the uninitiated.

All this was a reminder that there is so much to see and learn when you get off the beaten path, and this was on a 30-minute walk!  There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … often right at your doorstep. Talk a walk and go see it!

 

Diversions – Time Travel

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of time travel and love movies like “Back to the Future” and “The Final Countdown” that explore what would happen if someone were to go back in time and mess with the potential future.

But that’s not what this blog is all about.

No, this is about actual travel in the present day to explore a long-lost place, or to bring back memories from the past. This idea struck me a few nights ago when Judy and I watched “Xanadu” starring Olivia Newton John. While panned by critics and a box office flop, the roller disco fantasy movie also starred a place that brought back strong childhood memories … the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District.

Pan-Pacific_1956

The Pan-Pacific Auditorium in 1956

Built in 1935 in a Streamline Moderne architectural style, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium lived a long life hosting sports events like hockey and wrestling, radio shows, and political rallies. It pre-dated the much-larger Los Angeles Convention Center downtown. It was also the place that held the first sailboat show I ever went to with my father (we would attend later shows at the Long Beach Convention Center). My dad taught me how to sail and, along with building and flying model airplanes, this is where my dad and I “connected” at a time when his availability to spend time with me was limited. Going to the boat show was a special treat. As kids do, I dragged dad from model to model, firmly deciding that “this” boat was the one to buy so that we could race, cruise, or just hang out in the marina.

That first visit to the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was also special because I was fascinated by the architecture. I still maintain a strong attraction to the Art Nouveau and Streamline Moderne styles of the 30s and 40s. So I wept when the evening news 30 years ago carried live aerial footage as the facility, long in disrepair, burned to the ground.

I want to go back to where the Auditorium once stood, now a park. I want to relive those moments in the past, explore the smaller re-creation of the auditorium built on the grounds as a reminder of its golden age. I want to eat at the famous Farmers Market across the street, bringing back the sights and smells of the food we ate after the show.

Judy and I have done this before, visiting places we’ve read about in history books, seen the old photographs and maps, or simply heard about … places like Gettysburg and Route 66. We’ve visited other places of my youth, like the site of Montreal’s Expo ’67. It was there as a lad of only six, I marveled at the unique cubist Habitat 67 apartments created for the show and which remain residences today. In each instance, I try to transport myself to the past in my mind, remembering what it once was, and what it has become.

They say you can’t go back, but with a healthy imagination, this time travel brings happy memories and a unique perspective, one that makes even day trips fascinating. So the next time you have a some time to kill, hit the road and go see something from the past.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it…and travel back in time.

Diversions – Analog Traveling in a Digital World

One of the advantages of getting off the beaten path is that views, togetherness, and even dining choices vastly improve. Such was the case on a bright and cool Monday in central Ohio.

The back story: When a June wedding just north of Cincinnati called us to Ohio, we booked our tickets to Columbus, which offered direct flights from our Phoenix home base, and lower prices for both the flights and our rental car. After celebrating the nuptials, catching up with old friends, and doing research for some other projects over a couple of days, we had a final, entire day to drive back to Columbus for an evening flight.

With plenty of time to kill, we avoided the Interstates. As regular readers of this blog know, it’s our preferred way to travel. We looked at the map (yes, a paper map) and planned our route northeast on U.S. Highways 42 and 40. We drove through farm fields and small towns enjoying the “middle” at its finest. We stopped to watch an old Aeronca Champ airplane take off from a grass runway at Red Stewart Airfield near Waynesville, an “olden days” reminder that Ohio is the birthplace of aviation.

U.S. 40 takes you right through the heart of Columbus. Crossing the Scioto River, we decided to stop and get lunch. We left the smartphones in the car and walked up Broad Street. Fast food and pizza signs touted lunch specials, but we wanted more. Feeling like we were headed in the right direction, we turned left on High Street, then a right turn onto Gay Street, which looked promising. A sign down the block read “Due Amici” (“Two Friends” in Italian) … Jackpot! Italian always works for us.

We were shown to a table — there were about five other parties in the restaurant on that quiet midday — and perused the cocktail and lunch menus. We ordered a fried ravioli appetizer and split a chicken parmigiana over linguine with a rosé sauce. Both were excellent!  Our only mistake was not ordering wine to go with the entree. It mattered little, as the lunch could not have been better and our server, Josh, swapped smiles and stories. We ate, we drank, we laughed. What could be better?

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored, especially when you leave the devices behind and trust your instincts. Go see it!

 


 

Same Road, Different Season

saguaro-cactus_2705774

A recent drive across a short stretch of desert in Arizona has me wondering about a classic desert plant, the Saguaro cactus. These tall, prickly plants with their outstretched arms and stand-up-straight trunks, almost human-like, dot the landscape like guardians of the sand. This particular stretch of road west of Phoenix, will soon be a regular drive for us, but for now it’s still rare enough to notice seasonal changes in the landscape.

We drove it in February when the winter was full of cool breezes and the desert landscape was in a seasonal resting mode. Everything looked a little sleepy somehow. The Saguaro were green and healthy then but didn’t seem to reach for the sky.

We drove it again in May. It was unseasonably hot for spring and had been very dry for a long time. Those same Saguaro were looking almost gaunt. The trunks showed signs of drought – a little shriveled. The branches were short, thin and often falling off.

We were back last week in the heat of the summer. The monsoon season is a little more robust than normal. It’s clear the Saguaro love the bright summer sun and the recent thirst-quenching rains. The trunks are fat and green. The branches reach proudly for the blue sky.

I’m excited to see what fall brings to the Saguaro. Will they retain their fat, water-filled bellies? Will the stubby, new branches grow into thick upstretched arms like concert-goers cheering on the band?

Sometimes, going back to the same place can really change your outlook. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go see it in different seasons.

Diversions – The Lonesome Road*

“In the desert, you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain”
—  A Horse With No Name by America

 

The road before us stretches for miles, this oft-traveled section of Route 66 in California, near the Arizona border. Top down, the air cool in the February sun, we smile and sing along to the Eagles “Hotel California.”

The road is ours and ours alone. Most have foregone what was once America’s highway for the Interstates. Today, hurried minivan moms and dads choose to keep their kids entertained with DVDs and tablets, instead of joining in the Alphabet Game and looking outside the window to see the desert for what it is … vast expanses of nothingness … an  American West tamed by cowboys, miners and early settlers, yet teeming with life that can be seen by those who slow down and take a look.IMG_0222

A freight train looms in the distance on the tracks paralleling the road, its single headlight growing larger on the horizon. As the big diesel nears, we wave at the engineer. He signals back with a long blast of his harmonious horn. He rumbles by, tank cars filled with oil or some other chemicals; containers filled with consumable products destined for long, low warehouses built on cheap desert land, only to be transferred to trucks bound for your house and mine, ready to be used and thrown away, feeding our lifestyles.

I think about the engineer, and what he sees and thinks as he crosses this great land, day after day. Do others in passing cars wave hello? Or do they whiz by, oblivious to the train’s massive presence. Does he see the beauty of the desert? Or is it just another route on his way home?

For him and us, it is a lonesome road, but in its starkness, there is beauty and serenity that can only be found when you avoid the beaten path.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it.

 

(*Inspired, as they say, by true events.)

Diversions – There’s Something About a Train

There’s something about a train …

I started a new routine this morning that involves commuting from a town 50 miles from my office in the Washington, DC metro area. On the well-appointed Virginia Railway Express train, I felt a bit like Don Draper or any other of the executives who made their way from their homes in Scarsdale or Ossining to Manhattan, minus the blue pall of cigarette smoke. This seemed appropriate given that the house where we moved was built in 1958 and has a decidedly mid-century feel.

As I sat back and viewed the rising sun over the Potomac and beyond the overgrown trees and vines of Northern Virginia, I was reminded about the joys of train travel both on this continent and in Europe. From a comfortable seat, you speed by traffic while viewing the sights.

Potomac Sunrise

Sunrise over the Potomac River near Quantico

You hear the wail of the horn as the train approaches a station or grade crossing over the muted conversations of families and friends (or the silence of early morning commuters).

Trains have been a staple of our travels. We booked a sleeper on the overnight Amtrak Auto Train from DC to Florida so that we could have a car with us when we were married in Key West and for the honeymoon return trip. Fall colors dazzled along the Hudson River and Lake Champlain on our journey to Montreal.

In Europe, we’ve taken commuter trains from Frankfurt to Wiesbaden, high speed ICE trains from Munich to Nuremberg, and walked from the train station to the ski slopes in Switzerland. In Venice, we boarded the Frecciarossa for a day trip to Florence. In an earlier life, an English girlfriend and I took the Eurostar from London to Paris … a must-do trip for any train aficionado.

Train travel is not without its pitfalls. In the states, much of the track is owned by the freight lines which can cause some delays as you wait on a side track for a long-running freight to pass. In Europe, drunk passengers can get a bit unruly, but we usually book first class (which isn’t all that much more expensive), which helps keep you away from the riff-raff.

But the benefits certainly outweigh the cons, especially in Germany and Switzerland where timetables are strictly adhered to, and particularly over shorter distances. When you consider suggested check-in times and commutes to and from airports, it is almost faster to take a train from DC to New York than to fly.

Union Station 2

Washington Union Station’s Soaring Great Hall

My morning train entered sprawling Union Station, with its soaring Great Hall and the hustle and bustle of commuters scurrying to grab a cab, Uber, or a Metro ride to their offices. Some waited in line for the many Amtrak Northeast Regional and Acela trains headed north. Once again, my mind drifted to scenes from the heyday of the passenger diesels, such as when Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint met and made small talk over Diner-car coffee in “North by Northwest” only to later marry and embrace as the the train suggestively entered a tunnel.

Yep, there’s something about a train.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it … by train.

Union Station 1

Passengers disembark one of VRE’s morning trains

 

From Exes to Ohs

Greg and I make no secret of the fact that we are each other’s third wife/husband. One of the things we say is that it took three tries to get it right. It’s only half in jest. We both recognize that with age comes a self-awareness and comfort that makes it easier to know what you want … but more importantly, what you won’t put up with anymore.

Our exes didn’t travel, not like we do. Neither of them craved it. When we realized the intensity of our love of travel and experiences, it deepened our attraction for each other and our wanderlust. We went from camping and destination-based driving slogs to exploring downtowns and wandering on backroads. — from Friday and Saturday nights spent swatting bugs by a campfire to toasting friends at our local bar and snacking on brick-oven pizzas.

Pin Map

We mark the places we’ve been together, where we want to go, and where our friends hope to travel.

In my quest to see the world alphabetically, I went from being primarily focused on Europe because it’s the only place my ex would consider, to eyeing locations I’d never even imagined. As we look ahead to this year’s trip (we’re up to “O” in the ABC The World plan), we are excited to be taking our first cruise.

It’s a river cruise on the Danube. Yes, it’s back to Europe, but to the Eastern side. I have a map with pins of the places we’ve been; Eastern Europe is sadly almost entirely pin-less. (Colored pins on the map show where friends want to travel).

Europe map close up

Yellow pins are where we’ve been together. Colored pins represent our friends’ bucket list trips. The letters mark our “See the World A to Z” trips.

But we are not sitting around waiting for the cruise date in the fall. We continue to plan and explore and be amazed by our world. We have trips planned to Pittsburgh and its foodie scene, Arizona where our winter visit left us wanting more, and Minneapolis to check out the biggest mall in the US.

I joke that the only reason I have a job is to pay for my next trip, but it’s more truth than jest. I love that moment you see, taste, hear or feel something new. It’s an “Oh” moment for me. “Oh, wow, that’s beautiful!” “Oh, wow, that is delicious!” We’ve both gone from exes to ohs and we aren’t interested in slowing down. After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go find your “Oh” moment.