Monthly Archives: June 2009

Travel: Alaska’s Inside Passage

Photo uploaded by rowland-w

Photo uploaded by rowland-w

Everyone has a personal list of “1000 places to see before you die.” Frankly, a thousand is a lot of places. I’m not sure I could reach that number even if I count the local dry cleaners and Mexican restaurant. But one place that’s on my must-see list is the Inside Passage.

Along this 500-mile route are more than a thousand islands and 15,000 miles of shoreline. Rough, historic towns like Skagway, where hopeful miners debarked for the Klondike gold rush. And Sitka, Alaska’s first capital city. A visit to Juneau, Southeast Alaska’s booming metropolis (pop. 30,981) could be interesting as well. I’ve heard they have a pretty popular woman governor up there.

You almost have to approach the Inside Passage from the sea. It’s not like the Pacific Coast Highway, where you can drive along and see the coast unfurl before you. Alaska’s highway system only reaches three towns in the region. All the others are accessible by an extensive ferry system.

Uploaded by north/south connection

Uploaded by north/south connection

One of the highlights of the Inside Passage is the variety of wildlife. Whales, particularly humpback whales, are frequent visitors in these icy waters. Bears can be seen hunting for fish along the riverbanks. And Alaska has a thriving population of eagles, often seen circling above in search of salmon.

Snow-capped mountains. Glaciers and fjords. National parks. It’s scenery available nowhere else in this country, so no wonder it’s one of the 1000 things to see before you…you know.

Food: Starbucks Frappuccino

Uploaded by It's undecided

Uploaded by It's undecided

It’s now summer. The temperature flirts with 90 most days. And just when you think you’ll melt into a little puddle of blog reader, a Seattle landmark comes to your rescue.

No, not the Space Needle. Starbucks, with an icy cold Frappuccino.

Uploaded by PauloSP

Uploaded by PauloSP

They come in a variety of flavors, from the popular mocha to mint mocha chip with chocolate whipped cream. Really. There are blended creme varieties (try the strawberries & creme, trust me) and a blended lemonade flavor. There are even light varieties with as few as 110 calories. Just remember to say no to the whipped cream.

Now, don’t confuse this with the bottled drink of the same name you can buy in the grocery store. That’s made by Pepsi, and has different ingredients from the Starbucks version.

Today, the high temperature is supposed to reach the upper 80s. Say…care to meet me at Starbucks for an icy, refreshing, delicious Frappuccino?

Actor: Tom Hanks

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by oscarnow2009

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by oscarnow2009

What can’t Tom Hanks do? He’s acted in some of the most highly acclaimed films of recent years (PhiladelphiaSaving Private RyanForrest Gump). He’s mastered light comedy (Big) and romantic comedy (Sleepless in Seattle). He was a hit on TV (Bosom Buddies) and is arguably Saturday Night Live’s most versatile guest host. He brings cartoon characters to life (Toy Story). He’s been an executive producer (Evan Almighty), a producer (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), even a director and writer (That Thing You Do).

Which isn’t to say that he’s never chosen a bad film. May I present exhibit one, the interminable Cast Away. Exhibit two, the Coen Brothers rare gacker, The Ladykillers. And finally, one of the most hideous clunkers of all time, Bonfire of the Vanities.

Uploaded by drawgood

Uploaded by drawgood

Even in those films, though, you can’t fault Tom Hanks’s performance. When he takes on a role, he becomes you and me. He’s does exactly what we would do if we were that character. He’s genuine, and sincere, and appears completely at home in his own skin. Which, now that I’ve written it, strikes me as a terribly lame description.

Tom Hanks is only the second actor to win back-to-back Oscars (1993 and 1994), after the legendary Spencer Tracy. But if I could compare Tom to an old-Hollywood actor, it would probably be Henry Fonda. Compare Fonda in Fail-Safe to Hanks in Apollo 13. They both exhibit confidence in the midst of crisis, and I think the comparison is a pretty high compliment. To Fonda.

Travel: Charleston

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by BrianEden

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by BrianEden

Charleston may be the most historically rich city in the South. It began its existence in the 17th Century as Charles Towne, the oldest English city south of Virginia. Rice and indigo (popular for its blue dye) created a demand for labor, and the slave trade moved in to fill it.  Moving ahead, three signers of the Declaration of Independence hailed from Charles Towne. And, of course, Charleston (name changed in 1783) was the cauldron of the Confederacy, and troops firing on Fort Sumter led directly to the Civil War.

Uploaded by babyfella2007

Uploaded by babyfella2007

So if you appreciate history, you’ll love Charleston. But there’s a lot more here for you, even if you don’t care two hoots for its past. There’s beautiful architecture. Outstanding lowcountry seafood (Seafood a la Wando at Hank’s – oh my!) and award-winning restaurants. Interesting shopping. Stylish beaches, from Isle of Palms to Kiawah.

A great way to see Charleston is to stay in one of its many comfortable and historic bed and breakfast inns. Walk the city and see the gardens, the row houses, the galleries, and the famous battery. Go out and visit Fort Sumter. Let your hair down and ride one of the carriages, getting a primer on Charleston from a local character.

Oh, and here’s a tip. Have a meal at Gullah Cuisine Restaurant (http://gullahcuisine.com/) in neighboring Mount Pleasant. If you get there for lunch, there’s a buffet that includes collard greens, okra soup, succotash and cabbage, along with fried chicken and pork chops. In the evening, be sure to try Gullah rice. Oh, mama, shut my mouth.

I think I just talked myself into making another visit to this Great American city.

Singer: Johnny Cash

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by VeganMoonray

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by VeganMoonray

In its infancy, rock and roll quickly crowned its king. At the same time, another member of R&R royalty was making his name: The Man in Black.

Johnny Cash first gained fame on the Sun Records label. You might remember it best for producing a kid named Presley. In fact, along with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins, Johnny made up what the Sun marketing people called “The Million Dollar Quartet.”

His first single to make the Billboard chart, Cry, Cry, Cry, reached number 14. But it was 1956, a year in which he released two epic songs, that Johnny Cash became a household name. Seldom does an artist have back-t0-back hits with the power of Folsom Prison Blues and I Walk the Line. The latter became his first number one song.

Uploaded by popartdks

Uploaded by popartdks

Of course, if you know Johnny’s story, you know that his life spiraled out of control during the sixties due to drug use. God chose to bring him around as He often does – with a woman. June Carter not only sang some impressive duets with Johnny, but she and her family shared their strong faith with him, and patiently saw him through to a personal redemption.

Johnny Cash was the youngest person elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame conferred its membership in 1992. And in 1999 the Grammys honored him with a lifetime achievement award. He was honest, sometimes raw, and always electric. Which was obvious every time he stood on stage and said:

“Hi…I’m Johnny Cash.”

Film: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by quickbrownfoxjumpsoverthelazydog.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by quickbrownfoxjumpsoverthelazydog.

It’s perhaps the most quotable movie of all time. Fabulous writing, outstanding music. But, rather than use this post to talk about the movie, let’s recall some of the wonderful talk in the movie. (Feel free to add your favorites in the comments…)

Everett: “Well, ain’t it a small world, spiritually speaking. Pete and Delmar just been baptized and saved. I guess I’m the only one that remains unaffiliated.”

Pappy O’Daniel: “I’ll press your flesh, you dimwitted sumbitch! You don’t tell your pappy how to court the electorate. We ain’t one-at-a-timin’ here. We’re mass communicating!”

Photo courtesy of the-trades.com.

Photo courtesy of the-trades.com.

Delmar: “Hey mister! I don’t mean to be tellin’ tales out of school, but there’s a feller in there that’ll pay you ten dollars if you sing into his can.”

Blind Seer: “You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a… a cow… on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. ”

Penny Wharvey McGill: “The only good thing you ever did for the gals was get hit by that train!”

Pappy O’Daniel: “Wouldn’t we look like a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies, bragging on our own midget, doesn’t matter how stumpy.”

Everett: “I like the smell of my hair treatment; the pleasing odor is half the point.”

Food: Heinz Ketchup

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by rhombusleech.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by rhombusleech.

Actually, I had something different planned for today’s post. Then I typed “No. 57” in the subject line…and the perfect Great American Thing for today came to mind. Heinz Ketchup.

Heinz introduced its tomato ketchup way back in 1876. The venerable Henry Heinz his own self had just started his company seven years earlier selling bottles of his mother’s horseradish recipe. Well, let me be clear. He didn’t sell the recipe, he sold the horseradish.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by publictenews.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by publictenews.

But we were talking about ketchup. Today, Heinz sells more than 650 million bottles of the slow red goodness each year. And over 11 billion of those little single-serving packets you should get for your fries at the drive-thru but you have to remember to ask because the fast food people hoard it as if they were in possession of the last dozen packets ever produced.

Finally, let’s clear up two significant ketchup issues. First: Is it ketchup or catsup? Well, the sauce originated as a pickled Chinese fish sauce called “ketsiap.” But it was pronounced more like catsup. So you can see how we have this dilemma. However, pronunciations change all the time, and I agree that “ketchup” is a closer tie to the product’s origin.

And what’s the best way to get Heinz Ketchup out of the bottle?  Here’s what the company says: “To release ketchup faster from the glass bottle, apply a firm tap to the sweet spot on the neck of the bottle — the “57.” Only 11% of people know this secret. Now you’re ‘in-the-know.'”

Americana: iPod

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by schneefloeckli.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by schneefloeckli.

Ride shotgun with me as we go into the Wayback Machine. Let’s travel deep into the past, all the way back to the time when portable music meant a clunky Walkman or a boxy mp3 player. All the way back…to 2001. Look, Apple is getting ready to make an announcement.

Listen to the reaction: “The iPod? Oh, that’s crazy. It’s $400! It’s got that funny little wheel thing. It’s not compatible with Windows. It’ll never…oh, wait. Hey, you know, that’s pretty cool looking. You say there’s a whole store for iTunes? I think I might just get one of those things.”

Back to the future. Here in 2009, you may not own an iPod. Well, I’d like you to meet Stinky Stevens. Who’s he? He’s the other guy in America who doesn’t own one.

Sure, Apple got a little possessive of its product, and its DRM ticked off some of those who look to keep digital music as free and open as possible. But the company has relented (some), and is back on the side of good. Meanwhile, iPods now not only store music, but pictures, TV shows, even movies. Though I’m not sure why anyone would want to watch them on a screen smaller than a gum wrapper.

Is the iPod cool because Apple makes it, or is Apple cool because it makes the iPod?

Yes.

The Arts: Roy Lichtenstein

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by iggy.starbucks.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by iggy.starbucks.

Artists see things differently than you and I. It may seem that capturing a realistic scene on canvas is the ultimate accomplishment, but the art community would never accept that effort as great art.

Roy Lichtenstein looked at the world around him and saw art in places others overlooked. His earliest works were experiments in cubism and expressionism, but he always had an interest in advertising and modern culture. It was while he was on the faculty of Rutgers University in New Jersey that he first started producing Pop paintings using cartoon images. He appropriated the use of Benday dots from printing technology and incorporated them into his art.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Carol Luz.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Carol Luz.

Lichtenstein went from near anonymity when he produced his first comic book-influenced painting in 1961, to worldwide fame by the time he moved to other styles in 1965. Along with Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein produced some of the best-known examples of Pop Art. Though the style peaked in the 1950s and 60s, its connection to consumerism still influences the art world.

The next time you’re in New York (on your way to Patsy’s for pizza?), stop by the Museum of Modern Art and get a close-up look at these Pop masterpieces. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding them – MOMA has more than 60 Liechtenstein paintings in its collection.

Sports: Fenway Park

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by wallyg.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by wallyg.

Honestly, baseball “purists” often make too much of the classic ballparks. Which is more important, quirky outfield dimensions or having enough restrooms? A manually operated scoreboard, or being able to get decent concessions in a reasonable amount of time?

So no one really cared much when some of the old ballparks made way for new ones. Cleveland Municipal Stadium? See ya. Tiger Stadium? Wouldn’t wanna be ya. But no one wants to see Fenway go. If everybody loves Raymond, everyone idolizes Fenway.

It’s been around since 1912. And it’s seen some magical moments. Like the 502-foot homer launched by Ted Williams.  And Carlton Fisk’s 12th-inning homer in the 1975 World Series.

More than anything, though, it’s the Green Monster. It was actually covered with advertisements until it was painted green in 1947. It was originally wood, then was covered in tin and concrete, and now it’s coated with hard plastic. It’s 37’2″ high.

No sport guards its history more fiercely than baseball, and now that the old Yankee Stadium is gone, the Green Monster is probably the sport’s most distinctive icon. Chicago folks might argue for Wrigley Field’s ivy, and they’d have a case. I’m not trying to start a feud here. I think we can safely say that both Wrigley and Fenway have an undeniable claim to being one of the Great American Things.