Category Archives: North America

Georgia: Savannah and Tybee Island

October 27-29, 2013 (Sunday-Tuesday)

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Tybee Island

We drove right past our hotel in Savannah and continued to Tybee Island where we enjoyed sunset on the beach.  This loggerhead turtle nesting haven was most mellow, though I assume the population swells in summer.

After, we had a fun dinner at the kitschy Crab Shack on an inland waterway.  Our $40 shared platter was enormous.  My crawfish skills are adequate at best.

The (Days) Inn at Ellis Square is in a nice location but I would probably prefer to stay some blocks south, say at or near the Ballastone Inn.  Jenni was sick so I walked on my own through City Market, east to Johnson Square with City Hall in the background and then I headed south on Bull Street which bisects several impossibly charming squares.

Each is filled with live oaks and a statue or memorial, and each time I think I have reached the prettiest I am soon proved wrong.  I saw another dog stalking a squirrel in the park, but unlike in Chicago this one’s owner was a hero and not an accomplice.

There are many impressive old buildings, churches and homes with wrought iron work.  On the south side of Madison Square is shopSCAD (as in Savannah College of Art & Design), well worth a visit for its creative art and home decor.  Forsyth Park is much bigger than the various squares, and not nearly as quaint.

I sought out Angel’s BBQ and Wall’s BBQ but they were closed, and Wiley’s BBQ was not walking distance.  No matter, I met Jenni for a very good lunch at Gryphon (across from SCAD) housed in an ornate old pharmacy.  It was not quite as tasty as it sounds, so one of these days I will attempt a better version of the sandwich with peanut butter, honey, home-made granola and banana.

After lunch we meandered up Abercorn Street, which like Bull Street bisects a number of squares and also a cemetery.  At the northern end we descended a steep staircase to cobblestone River Street lined with shops and bars plus a World War II Memorial.  Savannah Candy Kitchen has a huge selection of fudge, caramel apples, etc., and my free sample of praline was scrumptious.

The Olde Pink House comes highly recommended but no reasonable dinner reservation was on offer, so instead we got a couple slices at Vinnie Van Go Go’s in City Market.  This is a solid, hole in the wall type pizza joint with a counter, some outdoor seats and a little beer on tap.  The area was buzzing on a Monday night.  We laid low, did some work, watched a Red Sox victory and rested up for another long day on the road.

South Carolina: Charleston

The border on I-95 is rife with amusement rides and fireworks, clearing any confusion that you have switched states.

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We arrived in Charleston after midnight and I missed the turn off Route 17.  Just a few blocks from our intended destination, I stopped the car to re-orient.  I said to Jenni that it felt like the ghetto, which surprised me because I had previously considered only the touristy images of this renowned destination and we were so near downtown.  As we drove away, the lights flashed in the rear view and I got pulled over.  Two cops approached with flashlights on our faces.  The gentlemen on my side was a little scary himself with tats and a beanie, and he asked what we were doing.  Oddly enough we were not attempting to procure narcotics but only to locate our hotel.  He advised, “well you lost, son, you in the hood!”  He gave us directions and warned us not to return.  Things got much better from here.

October 24-27, 2013 (Thursday-Sunday)

Lacking a full appreciation of Charleston’s popularity and cost, we did not attempt to reserve accommodation until our arrival day.  We booked a private room in the annex building of the Not So Hostel at 33 Cannon Street, which was mediocre (squeaky bed, doors hard to shut, breakfast non-existent, toilet requiring my plumbing skills) but priced right at under $80 including tax.  Despite these flaws we might have stayed the next two nights but private rooms were sold out, and we preferred to keep alive our streak of sleeping in the same room as a married couple.  If you are really budget conscious and don’t mind a shared room, the regular Not So Hostel on Spring Street seemed to have a good vibe and the Cannon annex was not so bad.

Lovely home south of Broad

Lovely home south of Broad

A great many places were sold out or even pricier, and we wanted a premier location for two weekend nights here.  So we bit the bullet and paid $249/night for a fairly lousy Days Inn with a terrific location on Meeting Street.  Fine lodging was available much cheaper across the river in Mount Pleasant and elsewhere.

Friday was a lousy and stressful day.  City Lights Coffee shop on Market Street is a charming spot frequented by locals, but I would have preferred to spend fewer than seven hours here working on visa applications and logistics.  A couple more hours at FedEx and $1029 plus $39 for copies and shipping later, our applications for multi-entry India and China visas were in the mail.  Unfortunately, we had to miss the Friday parade at the Citadel.

White Point Garden

White Point Garden

It was unusually cold during our visit which meant perfect days and cool nights, similar to Los Angeles.  My initial impression is that Charleston is a charming blend of the south and the Caribbean.  There are palm trees and we passed a couple corners with guys playing steel drums.  Unique to this city is the eternal presence of young men wearing perfectly pressed gray and white uniforms of the Citadel.  I was struck by how many people are out cavorting day and night.  The crowd tends to be attractive and apparently this is a popular spot for bachelorette parties.  So pay attention all you single guys…

We walked to dinner at Slightly North of Broad (aka S.N.O.B.) and with no reservation on a Friday night were seated quickly at the chef’s table, which is a bar with six seats at the back of the room facing the open kitchen under a brick archway.  The space is pleasant with high ceilings and exposed pipe, but the pipe is closer to black than stainless and there are dark brass chandeliers.  The result is a nice blend of industrial and southern cozy.

The charcuterie plate arrived in an instant and was delicious.  Jenni’s favorite was the rabbit pate and at yesterday’s fair her favorite attraction was the rabbit barn, so we concluded she likes observing and devouring.  And since I said my favorite attraction of the fair was the pig races, a trend emerged.  The highlight of the meal was the butternut squash bisque.  I had a couple interesting beverages.  Smoke on the Water consisted of Cathead Pecan Vodka, chipotle puree, Oloroso sherry, orgeat syrup and orange peel.  In my martini I opted for pimiento cheese olives instead of my standard blue cheese order.  Overall the meal was enjoyable but nothing special.

The next morning we strolled to the Saturday farmer’s market in Marion Square, where I fell in love with Charleston.  Two sides of the square were lined with booths selling photographs, varied flavors of pecans, fruit, vegetables, shrimp, pottery, honey, flowers, pickled everything, various prepared meals, etc.

A woman with a raspy voice headlined the singer/songwriter duo well-versed in Bob Dylan.  Puppies were omnipresent.  Not just puppies as Jenni uses the word to signify any dog, but actual, adorable puppies.  We were surprised to see a Holocaust memorial on the southeast corner of the square.

It was not yet time for lunch but we were tempted by Ted’s Butcher Block which is a deli with great looking artisanal bacon and sausage and all kinds of meats and cheeses plus freshly made paninis.  The City Market was less exciting and very touristy with cheap jewelry and apparel plus knick knacks and a couple food spots.  Charleston Cooks is a nice little kitchen store that offers cooking classes, and it was here I first heard Everlast’s acoustic version of Jump Around.

Re-energized from this auditory gem, we walked through Waterfront Park with its fountain water pink for breast cancer month.  Whoever came up with that public awareness and fundraising campaign is a genius.  Rainbow Row on East Bay Street is worth a visit, and the homes become grander as one walks south towards the beautiful, live oak filled White Point Garden.  Many of the homes south of Broad are spectacular and some function as museums.  We were enamored of the huge porches which scream (whisper?) relaxation and good living.  Horse carriage tours are everywhere, and we preferred to walk but the informative nature might make these a good bet for orientation.

Our disappointment that Husk (a restaurant by James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock) had already stopped seating for lunch dissipated quickly inside Bull Street Gourmet and Market.  One orders at the counter, there is a robust collection of beers and wines, and my smoked duck club was delicious. Alright y’all, now I’m REALLY far behind as I’m sitting in Hong Kong at the moment, so I’m gonna blow through the rest of this!

We grabbed a nice exercise sesh in Marion Square and saw lots of folks in their tuxedos going to weddings on a Saturday night.  Pre-dinner cocktails at Closed for Business were pleasant, dinner at The Macintosh was near excellent.  The dessert menu was so impressive that I must share it with you.

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Yet another waiter who mistook us for bumpkins ignorant in the ways of burrata…After dinner we poked our heads in at Halls Chophouse which was vibrant and reminiscent of Mastro’s.  I think traditionally Calhoun Street was something of a dividing line, but at least now much of the hip restaurant and bar scene is on King Street north of Calhoun.

On Sunday, Sven at last went topless again and there were many folks out jogging as we crossed the bridge to Mount Pleasant.  Brunch at Water’s Edge on Shem Creek was OK, after which we walked around the boardwalk through the salt marshes.  I like this part of town.  And I learned that in the Gullah dialect, cooter means turtle.  How fun.

Boone Hall Plantation is about 15 minutes away and touring this still-working property was wonderful.

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I think there are other plantations on the other side of Charleston and don’t know which are the best, but I definitely recommend visiting at least one.  It is hard to imagine others have a more picturesque driveway entrance lined with live oaks.

Boone Hall began growing indigo and rice before focusing on cotton.  Apparently a plantation is a large farm focusing on one crop.  Pecan trees were their big thing at one time.  Now they grow blueberries, peaches, squash, grapes, strawberries and more, plus a little cotton and pecans and wedding venue business.  They filled some of The Notebook here, and Jenni was elated.  Oh, there is also a huge Halloween spectacle and corn maze, and a butterfly garden.

Charleston is a terrific city, just try to avoid making any wrong turns.

A Day in North Carolina

We crossed the state heading to Charleston, and though we did not spend a night, we did notch a couple more college campuses and one serious state fair.

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October 24, 2013 (Thursday)

With all due respect to my friends and family who attended Duke, I am no fan of the Blue Devils.  But game recognize game, so I had to check out the campus and Cameron Indoor (where I caught a quick glimpse of practice).  The campus is hilly and most beautiful, with masonry of gray and beige instead of the ivy-covered red brick to which I am more accustomed.  A short drive took us to UNC, and though I did not see enough of Durham for a fair comparison, Chapel Hill seemed like the more attractive town.

We had lunch at Top of the Hill on Franklin Street, the main drag which is lined with shops and restaurants.  Jenni made a nice southern selection of grit cake with mushrooms and shrimp.  See my BBQ post for details on the pulled pork sandwich.  This place is also a brewery.  A couple other recommendations we got were Crooks Corner in town, G2B in Durham and Foster’s Market in between.

A little further south we paid $10 to park across the street from the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, then $9 each to enter.  The village of yesteryear was our first stop, which is a big indoor circle with live demonstrations of how to make things like: soap, candles, pottery, guns, tin, origami, glass, horse hair pottery, brooms and more.  Duane Raver is a nature-painter there that Jenni’s family has known more years than I have lived.

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At the Neomonde Bakery artisan bread making show, Jenni guessed correctly that 200k people are born daily worldwide.  This earned her a gratis pumpkin spice cupcake with thick cream cheese frosting.  We fared less well at several games like toss the ring on the bottle, shoot out the red star with the rifle, knock over the blocks with a softball or lift the bottle with a pole and string.  I was quite disappointed with myself.  And with the game operators who pursued customers more aggressively than Allen Iverson avoided practice.

A highlight of the day was the pig race show, which entailed a string of races including the categories of piglets, baby goats, ducks and Vietnamese pot belly pigs.  The hosts had creative NASCAR names, and some of the clientele was entertaining.

We probably should have saved our appetite for things like BBQ turkey legs, fried oreos and sloppy joe’s sandwiches between Krisy Kreme donuts.  Instead, we ate only the fair classic of fried dough.

The livestock section was educational.  I did not know a cow could fetch $25k at market, nor that Zoe the Holstein could give 84 pounds of milk per day.  For $2 each we got a quick lesson in how to pull the udder.

There was an exhibit dedicated to honey bees, largely to raise awareness about their dangerously dwindling population.  A separate building housed the rabbits, and I was surprised by the wide variety of breeds.  I liked the furry white English Agoura.

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There was also an agricultural section, where we saw an 800 pound pumpkin, a 5 pound potato (and some really cool decorated spuds), and a 241 pound watermelon.  Jenni saw walnuts and thought they were truffles.  We are a long way from Cali, sweetheart.

On the drive towards Charleston I stopped for gas in Lumberton, North Carolina.  Based on the cast of characters at the station, you certainly should not if you can avoid it.  If we had more time, it would have been nice to visit the Asheville area where Dave’s mom and dad live or the Outer Banks.  Alas, one must leave with reasons to return.

Virginia

We spent a couple amazing days visiting Jenni’s family in Southern Virginia, where her mom grew up.  Except for Susan, this was my first time meeting everyone.  Jenni’s grandmother, Margaret Scheier, passed away last week.  May she rest in peace.  It is a blessing that we were able to spend time with her.

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October 22-24, 2013 (Tuesday-Thursday)

I knew on the drive down from D.C. that I was entering less familiar territory when some road tolls in Virginia required me to throw quarters into that plastic basket, and also when I spotted the first Confederate flag of the trip.  South Boston, VA was our destination.  It is near the border with North Carolina and the economy centers on manufacturing, which has not been easy for some time in America.  A short drive down the road is Dan River, which once was home to a textile company that sadly was the debtor in the first major bankruptcy assignment of my career.

Susan and Darrell kindly hosted us and the first night they had over nearly all Jenni’s aunts and uncles who live nearby, except James and June who were out of town.  Southern fare was in full effect, including bean stew with venison, fried chicken and fried livers, baked ham, biscuits, cornbread and jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon.  Billy brought the chicken and livers, and for his cooking prowess he is known as Billy Crocker.  Lynn informed us that grandma used to make biscuits with clabber.  Susan taught us a great trick: a mix of peanuts and candy corns makes a good treat.

Mid way through the evening some of the fellas disappeared and called Susan with instructions to gather everyone and come to the front porch.  The guys had driven across the road to the family’s property (where Jenni’s mom and her siblings grew up, though the house is now gone) and surprised us with a fireworks show!  After Devin’s in Maine, this was the second fireworks show in a few months courtesy of Jenni’s peeps.

I learned some new lingo like “fix” for cook, “reckon” for believe and “right xxx” which is hard to explain.  Molly and Hogan, Susan and Darrell’s Norwegian elk hounds, roll over when asked if they’d rather be Democrats or die.  We heard the story of how Jenni’s grandma Margaret loved the NC State Fair and each year she would get lost driving there.  She always said, “it’s OK, we’ll just the follow car in front of us because I’m sure they’re going there, too.”  As luck would have it, we were in the area during the 10 days this fair is open for the year and vowed to go.  Which you will read about it in my North Carolina post.

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One of Darrell’s two sons joined with his family and there was robust discussion of hunting, fishing and noodling.  In case you don’t know, “noodling” is yanking enormous catfish out from the muddy banks of rivers with one’s hands.  These creatures are often 40-50 pounds and have been recorded well over 100 pounds!  Gloves are worn often these days to minimize flathead rash, which is the painful looking injury inflicted by catfish bites.  Even gloves will not save digits if one is unlucky enough to find a snapping turtle hole instead of catfish.

There are different hunting seasons for different animals and implements.  My memory is a tad foggy by now, so please excuse any inaccuracies or omissions.  They hunt deer and wild turkey, along with various other animals.  Bow and arrow, muzzle loader, rifle or shotgun may be used for different targets and at different times.  A heavy contraption may be used to ascend and set up a platform in the trees.  Darrell’s boys have an impressive website dedicated to the outdoorsman lifestyle.  Check it out here.

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On Wednesday we went into the historic old town area and saw Susan’s friend.  The day before Jenni and I had stopped at Caffe Peroni which has a surprisingly eclectic beer selection.  A couple doors down is Bistro 1888, which is supposed to be good.  I saw a little structure selling 20 pound bags of ice 24 hours/day for $2, the first of many in the South.  Later we visited Margaret at the nursing home in Clarksville.  She was beyond thrilled to see Jenni and gave us ear to ear grins when she voiced her approval of Jenni’s good choice in marrying me.  Susan was wonderfully kind and loving to Margaret and is like the mayor there.  Afterwards, we passed a widemouth bass mailbox and crossed Buggs Island Lake before heading to Jenni’s grandpa George’s and Lucy’s home.

This is quite a special place.  George is a gifted carpenter and built much of the furniture in the home, including a bench that in a style I can only describe as pointillist writing since I don’t know the carpentry equivalent says “Caglayan” on top and “Open Sesame” on the side, which was the name of one of Alper’s companies.  George shared old photos of Jenni’s immediate family (by the way, when Devin visited at a much younger age he wore bright clothes to hunt and thus earned the name Rainbow, not Rambo) and told us his ancestors were brewers in Hungary.

He has a garage workshop where he used to make bullets, including shaping the metal and loading the powder.  He was an award winning archer.  There is a side house with an astounding collection of Native American pieces, dolls, spears, pelts of coyote, wolverine, and raccoon, and much more.

Then we got to the guns.  Tons of guns, as Guru would say.  Again my memory is foggy and I will not do this justice, but his collection includes several handguns, a Winchester 1873, the Colt equivalent of the Bushmaster AR-15, a Tommy Gun complete with violin case and all, and more.  I shot the plain old .22 rifle.  And I did the family proud.  After a couple rookie rounds, I hit my stride and from about 20-25 yards showed the paper plate who was boss!  Jenni let off a couple rounds, too.

Juices now flowing, Susan took us over to Danville to James and June’s home.  James is quite the artist.  He showed us many paintings and flawless woodwork he has crafted.  The man is passionate about wood.  (Yet again, that’s what she said.)  He sent us off with a handmade Brazilian cherry cutting board.  That night, Darrell grilled some ribeye steaks, Susan made baked potatoes and garlic bread, and we watched the Red Sox win their first of four World Series games.

Before continuing south on Thursday, we got a bit more QT with Darrell and the hunting tools.  I was slightly embarrassed when I could not draw his compound bow.  It is the wrong length for me, but more strength might have done the trick.  Darrell could not have been kinder, assuring me that it’s all about what muscles you use regularly and that even he struggles at the start of the season.  I reckon the latter was a pity nod.  Whether he struggles at the start of the season or not, he was masterful before our eyes.  He put two arrows in a blue dot the size of a plum from 40 yards out.

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We drove to some property that Billy leases by the river and broke out the big guns, literally.  Darrell’s collection rivals that of grandpa George, and he generously let me empty a bunch of rounds.  Ammo is not cheap for guns like these.  I shot a Sig Sauer 9mm with a 15 round clip and The Judge, an epic piece that can shoot .410 shotgun shells or .45 long colt bullets.  The AR-15 was probably my favorite, and I was pleased to hit a log sticking out of the river perhaps 90 yards away.  I was also pleased when my hearing returned to normal a day or two later.

Here are some other things I learned in Virginia…two new superstitions: (1) touch the windshield and make a wish when driving through a yellow light; and (2) it is bad luck to exit a dwelling from a different door than that which you entered.  Jenni’s family does not mind eating with hands nor off each other’s plates, just like my family.  There are a lot of towns around here that end with “ville.”  Hard work and being down to earth command great respect, and success is not begrudged.  The Midtown Market in Danville is said to be enjoyable.  Chains include Cookout drive through with lots of milk shakes, Bojangles and Sheetz Gas.  We saw gas as low as $2.89/gallon.  Spending time with Jenni’s family was a highlight of the trip for me, and I look forward to some hunting, fishing and Billy Crocker’s frog legs and pork shoulder on my next visit.

Washington D.C.

I finally made it to Chevy Chase, Maryland to visit Seth and Jill.  It was so nice to catch up with Chloe and Jumbo and meet Cooper and Winnie.

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October 20-22, 2013 (Sunday-Tuesday)

On our drive from Long Island to Maryland occurred three milestones.  1) The most expensive toll I have ever paid, $15 to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge; 2) The Delaware House Travel Plaza was such a vibrant highway rest area that it earns print; and 3) We crossed the Mason-Dixon Line.

The area where Seth and Jill live is great.  It really has a neighborhood feel to it.  Everyone walks with their kids to and from the elementary school.  Well, it is mainly nannies but the spirit is there.  In the weeks leading up to Halloween, ghosting abounds.  This is where you leave a bag of candy on someone’s steps, ring the bell and run.  Seriously.  “Bag of candy” is not code for some nefarious prank.  This is how they roll on the gentle streets of Chevy Chase.

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Nearby, on the rough and tumble blocks of Bethesda, we grabbed coffee at Dunkin Donuts where Seth and Cooper are famous.  Then we walked around Georgetown and got lunch at J. Paul’s.  My reuben was quite good and Jenni ensured we did not go too many days without a lobster roll.  We were both impressed by Georgetown.

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Jenni placed it high on the list of locations to consider living.  It is a beautiful area with colorful row homes, right on the Potomac River, and the university campus is pretty.  Commercial activity centers around Wisconsin Ave and M Street, and there are a few F&B spots down by the river.  Tucker drove down from Baltimore which was awesome; I love that dude.

While waiting for drinks at Saxbys Coffee, which has flavors like Grasshopper and Chunky Monkey, Seth asked Tucker a toilet question.  He said, “you told me you know how to curve wood so maybe you know something about plumbing.”  A candidate for that’s what she said?

Near the Mall, after Seth pulled an outrageous U-turn that should have alarmed the Secret Service, we debated whether the depressing David’s Tent display was a tent rental company or Jesus preacher.  It is the latter.  The buildings in D.C. are most impressive, and I believe the law still limits height to not exceed the United States Capitol.  This makes D.C. feel more light and airy than a typical large city.  The Washington Monument was covered in scaffolding but we saw the relatively new WWII Memorial across the pond from Lincoln.

That night, the Giants finally won a game (the first of four straight) and Jenni was a trooper while we perused boxes of old Tufts photos.  I already miss the Cohen family and look forward to returning soon!

New York: City and Wedding

I lived in New York for over six years, which is like 12 years elsewhere since New York moves twice the speed of any other place in America.  I am always happy to return.  My employed visits entailed non-stop meetings and business meals.  This time, I took more of a tourist approach and slowed it down a bit.

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October 14-20, 2013 (Monday-Sunday)

We arrived to Jack’s place in the East Village and had dinner with John and Ellie (Jenni’s friends from Cornell) at Café Mogador on St. Marks Place.  It is a cozy, subterranean spot with good food.

OK, I am having a hard time writing at this moment but feel compelled to catch up more so please excuse me as I do this post in bullet format…

  • Bagels, lots of them…tasty sable sandwich at Russ and Daughters
  • I love the energy of New York…it is not an exaggeration to say that in a five block radius one can find an assortment of restaurants, bars, shops and ethnicities to rival most mid-sized cities in America…actually, said blocks would easily surpass in the ethnicity category
  • The electronic walk signs count down the seconds remaining until the light changes, and when I cross an avenue I like gazing at the synchronized wall of vehicles approaching a few blocks away since all the lights are timed…and unlike in Los Angeles, you might get a ticket for not jay-walking

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  • I had my first experience at a TKTS booth…we walked from the East Village down to the South Street Seaport location and got two tickets to Jersey Boys for $177, not a small sum but a substantially discounted price for very good seats dead center in orchestra Row T.  The show was very good and a nice cultural injection since we so rarely see plays or musicals
  • After the show we had drinks with John at Annie Moore’s Bar, and while I figured this Irish pub next to Grand Central would slant towards men, I did not expect that Jenni would be the only woman in the establishment
  • For the first time I saw strollers with neat skateboard like attachments so the toddler can ride along and keep up with the adults pushing the infant
  • The Maine style lobster roll I got from the Red Hook Lobster Pound booth at Madison Eats rivaled anything I got in Maine…it might have been the best of the trip, with a dusting of paprika and perfectly buttery, toasted split top roll
Roberta's pizza at Mad Eats

Roberta’s pizza at Mad Eats

  • Eataly is pretty impressive with its huge selection of Italian food and beverage and rooftop restaurant
  • While watching Project X briefly before dinner at Redhead with Emily, Mike and Jayme, Jenni said “I bet this makes everyone in the world nostalgic for college.  Except Jack, because I bet it makes him nostalgic for last Tuesday night.”
  • For old time’s sake, I got my haircut at the legendary Astor Place
  • Despite unemployment, we paid the full freight $50 for two tickets to the Met…if you don’t know, ticket prices are merely a suggestion and you can enter free, but I decided to atone for some past transgressions.  The roof top affords some of the best views in Manhattan
  • We had a fun, Tufts group dinner at DBGB (solid burger) where I ran into Eduardo who is the sommelier and was an acquaintance in Los Angeles…so, Doug, I misspoke and there were at least three chance encounters on the road trip
  • Before meeting Ross for drinks at the swank top floor bar of the James Hotel, Jenni and I popped into The Dutch for a snack.  We were not dressed terribly well and struggled to understand the extraordinary treatment we received.  Sitting at the crowded bar, we did not even order alcoholic beverages and along with our lattes and two small dishes we ordered came cornbread, an extra oyster sandwich, broccoli gougeres and a piece of key lime pie with coconut sorbet.  Did they recognize alisnotlost and butitsonmylist?!
  • I rode public transportation more in a few days in New York than eight years in Los Angeles
  • Over drinks at The Wren I concluded that the pickleback has gone mainstream…someone even told me of a bar that offers several flavors of pickle juice.  This is a good development
  • We had lunch with cousins Nina and Jonathan at the Breslin and then saw Jonathan again the next day at my grandma Elsie’s house along with Mickey and Sharon.  Elsie just turned 97 years old!!  I always considered her house décor less than attractive, but Jenni was enthralled by the mid-century modern…and some outstanding photos of me and my family from days past!
  • My policy is to be sparse when discussing friends’ weddings, but I have to say a few things about Phil and Eileen’s nuptial bash, in addition to the supreme Guinness served at the Viana…
Did this spark the 4-game win streak?

Did this spark the 4-game win streak?

  • At the rehearsal dinner, Phil’s father spoke in Russian and Phil translated…it was pretty neat to see Phil talking about himself through his father’s voice
  • At the wedding itself, there was a pre-cocktail nearly hour with drinks, then a cocktail hour+, then a reception that lasted until about 2 am…with a bottle of cognac and Russian standard vodka on each table…then an after-party…I went to bed around 6:30 am

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  • Jenni had to drive the next day down to Seth and Jill’s house in Maryland, and Jenni had gone to bed not that much earlier…she was a tad displeased

So that was our time in New York in a nutshell.  Countless details omitted.  There is so much to see and do in New York and I make no attempt to offer comprehensive guidance, but in addition to the “usual” websites like Yelp or Tripadvisor or Citysearch (does that still exist?), you may find useful information at http://ny.eater.com/, http://www.timeout.com/newyork, http://nymag.com/, http://www.villagevoice.com/bestof/, http://gothamist.com/ and I’m sure lots of others…

New Hampshire + Massachusetts (Part II), and Frieda’s poem!

I spent some time in Longmeadow (Jenni went back to Maine for some of this time) where I grew up.  My grandparents moved there from Queens at the beginning of the year, so in addition to my Mom and Rich I also spent time with David and Frieda.  Then we all drove up together to Bretton Wodds, New Hampshire to celebrate Frieda’s 90th birthday (my fourth grandparent to have a 90th birthday!!) and her and David’s 70th wedding anniversary (my second set of grandparents to have a 70th anniversary!!!!).  I have some massive shoes to fill in terms of life and marital longevity 🙂

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Omni Mount Washington

October 6-14, 2013 (Sunday-Monday)

The masochist in me asked my Mom to tape the Giants vs. Eagles game so I could watch yet another defeat as soon as I got home.  Followed by a heartbreaker vs. the Bears on Thursday night.  Since Kenny is at Kellogg, we seriously considered attending that game at Solider Field.  I am very thankful we did not.

Time in Longmeadow included meals at Glenmeadow (the retirement community where David and Frieda live), working out at JCC, visiting the travel clinic at Mercy Medical Center (Jen was super helpful and kind and it cost $25 vs. the $95 I pay in LA), sending out personalized Samburu splash bash letters, getting large quantities of passport photos for visas etc. (we “borrowed” the white screen at CVS for background to use with iPhoto passport pic software), catching up on Boardwalk Empire and Bill Maher, a little tennis at the Field Club, MLB playoffs, and more.

I am elated to see how well my grandparents have settled into their new homes.  They really are extraordinary.  They pretty much never complain.  I may have already written this elsewhere, but if you ask how the Springfield Symphony is they never say anything like “it’s OK but doesn’t compare to the NY Philharmonic”.  They just say “it’s fabulous.”  You would be hard-pressed to find a pair who goes emotionally to that nostalgic sad place less frequently.  I also love how much my grandpa disdains white meat chicken.  If there is a menu option that includes chicken, as soon as the waitress says white meat he shuts down the conversation.

Burger quality was high in Western Mass.  Jenni and I visited Max Burger in the middle of Longmeadow.  This is a pretty hip spot where I had the half-pound Alfred burger with Comte, caramelized onions and rosemary aioli plus I added bacon.  I chose a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout from many draught options.  A couple days later I completed a solo mission to White Hut on my way to the travel clinic.  White Hut is legendary in this area.

It has been around since 1939.  While it is much the same it has always been, there were actually noticeable changes since I was last there.  They added a big menu sign, soft serve ice cream and shakes, raised the prices a bit and now accept credit cards.  It used to be cash only and they would always give half-dollar coins as change, if possible.  Most remarkable, there is now an Amherst location!  At the original, the flat top, metal stools with red tops and fridge full of Stewart’s remain the same.  As do both the perfect tasting thin and greasy cheeseburger with fried onions and the hot dog.

The Tuesday afternoon Forest Park farmer’s market was a welcome surprise.  My Mom had a u-shaped table set-up with lots of jewelry she makes.  The rest of the market was small but efficient.  Instead of several different types of each vendor, there was only one or two but the offerings still included lots of vegetables, meat, fresh eggs, seafood, dog food, jams and syrups, kettle corn etc.  Mom is kind of the mayor…everywhere she knows lots of people and is perhaps the most gregarious person you will encounter.

I'd direct you to her website, but...

I’d direct you to her website, but…

There is a Somali family that moved to Springfield years ago and my Mom has been very involved in their lives to help ease the transition.  Wednesday night we grabbed a couple pies from Pizza Works and had dinner together.  The parents were out, so it was just us and the TEN kids.  This family of 12 lives in a small apartment with ONE bathroom.  I helped Teta (sp?) with his math homework and then we bounced.  From my limited interaction, I suspect if these kids had the same educational opportunities and parental involvement that most of us had, they would be just as likely to succeed.

On Friday we set off for a long weekend in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.  I noticed my grandpa’s tire was very low so we stopped at a service station in Longmeadow where they convinced us to replace all four tires lest we have a blowout doing 75 on the highway.  This delayed us a couple hours but hey, better safe than sorry.  So we head up, stop in Brattleboro at exit 2 on I-91 in Vermont for the amazing Vermont Country Deli and then continue.  And as I am driving 75 in the left lane, wouldn’t ya know it:  TIRE BLOWOUT.  WTF?!?!?!  I guess they gave us some defective tires.  We called AAA but in the interim a true good Samaritan pulled over and backed up to help us change the tire.  He told us he was the youngest of 13 children and was raised right.  My grandpa tried to give him $20 but almost got run over as the man pulled away.

With that little mishap behind us, we exited the highway for Route 302 and drove through charming towns like Wells River, Littleton and Bethlehem before arriving at 4 pm to the impressive Omni Mount Washington Resort.  That night we had a very solid dinner at Stickney’s which is a pub, steakhouse and more.  The cheddar and ale dip was great, as were the ribeye and NY strip that Kenny and I split.

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My Mom had a great quote about my Dad, something to the effect of “they always said at Brown if you want to go out at night find Leavitt, but don’t ask him to cut class.”  I am not sure they really said that, but if you know Ronnie it was pretty hilarious.  Which reminds me of an even better quote that you will appreciate if you know Ronnie.  Last time we were all at Peter Luger in Great Neck talking about travel to developing countries.  And she said “that’s what I love about it, no privacy.”

91, I said

91, I said

Time at the resort included fun tennis games on red clay (shout out to David, looking mighty fine at 91 YEARS OLD!); live music and bar shuffleboard at the Cave (Kenny and I beat this couple 16-0, even though you only play to 15); mailing our taxes from the on-site post office; seeing the room in which the agreement establishing the IMF was signed in 1944; great lunches at the Golf Shed; walks on the paths by/through the golf course; playing a fun new game called Anomia; playing patterns, a family special that Leslie brought to us many moons ago; hot tub; and more.

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The property is gorgeous.  The lobby is a long room with white columns and hardwood floors.  I believe it would not be out of place in SoHo, except for the moose head above the fire place.  Breakfast was a good buffet spread with many options.  The service is definitely lacking.  The effort is there but the execution needs work.

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The time with family was fantastic, as always.  The three grandkids (Kenny, Sam and I) live in Chicago, New Orleans and Los Angeles but we all made it to this out-of-the-way destination.

The main event was Saturday night when we gathered pre-dinner for champagne and gifts.  I wore my tuxedo for the special occasion.  David and Frieda said what they are most proud of in life is their family and how well we all get along and come together.

Sorry to belabor the point, but I cannot stress enough how much I love and admire them.  My grandpa had his own animal hospital in Queens and did well, but the key is that they always spent on experiences and not goods.  They lived in the same modest house in Queens for over 60 years but traveled all over the world and spent generously on countless family trips and vacations and education for all of us.

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It has become a tradition for the grandkids to write a poem/rap to David or Frieda (and my mom for her 65th) for these major birthday events.  I have pasted below what we wrote, for your reading pleasure.  The night and whole weekend were a great success!

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Impressive pumpkin carving

For Frieda’s 90th birthday:

Once upon a time back in ‘23

The world’s greatest grandma came to be

Born in Borough Park, she was such a gem

Yes, a Diamond, and the youngest of them

Jennie and Phillip made a proper Jewish home

But when college came, it was time to roam

Cornell was the call, Balch was the hall

Grandpa was lucky, cutest gal at the ball

With flawless Regents she was a natural grammarian

And for her love of reading, became a librarian

From Alcott to Hampl, she knows good books

That perfect combo of brains and good looks

Frequents the symphony, she’s so cosmopolitan

Been to Burma, and each exhibit at the Metropolitan

Does crossword puzzles and quite the film critic

Packs a mean matzo ball even though she’s arthritic

Noodle kugel, potato pie and apple cake

Oh sugar, the lady can bake!

The number one fan of the New York great Knicks

After the roast chicken I be giving my plate licks

She’s so charmin’ it’s almost alarmin’

Always globe trottin’ with the Harmons

Aboard the QE2 it almost got legal

Accused of impersonating the Queen, but she’s just that regal

Silk shirt and pearls, parasol for the sun

Wears a lot of black and white, but she ain’t no nun

Nor is she loquacious, never mendacious

But definitely sagacious and perspicacious

Even though Migis threw a lobster-induced hissy

Grandma keeps us in good stead at Quisi

That’s no surprise since she’s always so classy

Brings the diplomacy when Ronnie gets sassy

She carries David in duplicate bridge

Despite that her man bought the wrong fridge

And so here we are, it’s been 70 years

Very few tears but a whole lot of cheers!

Now back to Frieda, there’s nobody sweetah

To join your party, we ran here like cheetahs

You’re an inspiration, a comforting soul

You bring us elation, and make us all whole