Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Back in the Garden State

February 12- 21, 2016:

It was a shaky start to my travel day at the United Airlines ticket counter with a log jam of travelers and only one attendant on duty.  There were several travelers with over weight bags and others not familiar with the self service kiosks which had the line backed up.  It took about 45 minutes to get checked in. They somehow need to make these self service machines easier, so infrequent travelers can work them.  The luggage situation on flights is also out of control these days with so many large bags being carried on to avoid the luggage fees.  The big picture was good though, all my flights were on time, the weather was clear and the flying smooth.  

I get an almost new rental car, took me a few minutes to figure out how to adjust the heat down and figure out how to put it in gear.  Whose idea was it to do away with the gear shift lever !  A rotary knob to change gears is just so wrong and why does everything these days have to be a touch screen ?  

The ride on the Jersey Turnpike is pretty horrible with heavy traffic, some snow flurry activity, but no delays.

My son Jeremy has grand daughter Sierra for the weekend and we go to a local favorite lounge, City Streets, for dinner.  They have a good sounding band doing a best of the 80’s music set.  

The temperature on Saturday drops throughout the day to near zero by dark.  We do a brisk walk around the block with Sierra driving her battery powered toy Jeep.  She is really good at driving it and likes to go fast, could be trouble ahead ?  After a trip to the Quaker Bridge Mall for valentine shopping, Jeremy makes an excellent baked Ziti dinner for us.

Sierra in her Jeep

Sierra with Zeus

We watch a great documentary, 180 Degrees South, about Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia company founder and Doug Tompkins, North Face company founder  Totally amazing, not sure if it is possible to do what these two accomplished in todays world.

A trip to the NJ State Museum in Trenton on Sunday with a stop for lunch at Pete’s Steakhouse for a pizza.  The main focus was the planetarium laser light show.  It is  a small museum but has many articles specific to New Jersey that are very interesting.  There is also much on local native americans and the early european settlers.

Sierra looking a pig skeleton

Jeremy and Sierra arranging blocks

Washington Crossing the Delaware Vase

Sierra with a picture she colored

I take a ride to the Jersey shore on Monday amid snow flurries stopping at an old favorite, “the Roadside Diner.  Happy to say it hasn’t changed at all, the owner and cook Alexandro came out from the kitchen to ask if everything was all right, same as the last time I was there 3 years ago. The bacon omelet was also perfect in every way, as usual.

The Roadside Diner

Diner interior

Renovation seems to be stalled on the Asbury Park carousel building and the Casino, it still remains interesting and nostalgic which will most likely be change when they finally do the planned massive restoration.  It will then look more like a new building, that’s progress.

The Carousel House in Asbury Park

The Casino at Asbury Park

Asbury Park Convention Hall

The Wonder Bar

Convention Hall details

The temperature goes from zero to 50’s resulting in heavy rain and a “big melt” on Tuesday.  A pond starts forming on the street.

Water hazard on street

I go for my annual physical exam on Tuesday morning and then to a local pharmacy to get a shingles shot.  Hopefully I'm done for another year.  The EKG gets more painful every year with all those tapes being pulled off, but I suppose it could be worse.

The 38 Dodge is soaking wet from condensation due to the temperature change, but as usual with a little starting fluid, regardless of the soaked ignition system, it fires right up.  The rain yesterday hopefully washed most of the snow melt chemicals off the road as it is defined and must go out for a good run.  That happens on Wednesday without incident.

The 38 Dodge compared to the new Chrysler rental car I am driving is a dinosaur, but there are things I prefer about it.  There is something to say about simplicity, distinctive appearance and style which has disappeared in todays modern cars.  When you drive the 38 Dodge, it’s two hands on the wheel, concentrating on the road, with a few simple manual controls. No complex controls involving touch screens, no phone connectivity, no music libraries, no digital displays, it is a enlightening feeling to be smatter than the car.  

While I am in this frame of mind, I am getting up to speed again on the New Jersey roads, actually it’s the driving style now in all the large cities.  Todays cars are so powerful and agile with their full race car engines and road course suspension and braking systems that everyone drives well over the speed limit, and the police don’t really enforce it.  The days of keeping to the right except to pass, maintaining a safe following distance, changing lanes abruptly in front of another vehicle, etc, etc are a distant memory.  The driving style today is much like being in a Nascar race, you are driving for a position, if you can gain a position, you accelerate and dive in, it’s full throttle takeoff’s, hard braking, drafting behind someones rear bumper, passing with abandon.  If you crash don’t worry, with all todays safety features, front and side air bags, crumple zones in the body, etc you will usually walk away just like the Nascar guys do.   

A trip to New York City is always an amazing adventure, it is a collage of crowds, hustle and bustle, sounds, smells, diverse cultures and language, wonders of the world, incredible buildings all flavored with a certain amount of anxiety and danger.

Great to see that my last project at NJ Transit 
is still going strong 

Sight across from Madison Square Garden

Ice skating in Bryant Park

New York Public Library

Street view

Chrysler building detail

Intricate building facade

Grand Central waiting room

Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building

Times Square

The Naked Cowboy at Times Square

I subscribe to an internet travel website/blog called “Wand’rly” who are a young alternative family who travel and work full time.  In a recent article they have a blog entry written by a couple who live full time on the road in a VW bus and are proponents of the “the Idle Theory".  It is interesting concept about the hustle and bustle of todays lifestyle and the need to simply relax, be idle, do nothing once in a while.  It is something to think about ?

A ski day at Camleback in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania is another form of anxiety and danger with people of all abilities skiing with abandon all around you.  Sierra 5 years old has been a few times now, is fearless and a natural skier, does not whine about the cold, will go all day, must be some nordic blood in her ?  Jeremy takes her up the chair lift to the top, she skies down the beginner slopes about as fast as I do, tethered or holding his hand and rarely falling.  I had a decent ski today as well, conditions were decent, crowds not too excessive, felt the magic again a few times and no injuries.

Jeremy and Sierra

Sierra on the ski lift

View from the top looking down

Camleback Mountain at dusk

Jeremy, Christine and I go to Laurita Winery near New Egypt, NJ on Saturday afternoon where a wine tasting festival is in progress.  We take the 38 Dodge there, a most appropiate way to arrive at a wine festival.  It is a huge building constructed with wooden beams, siding and flooring to resemble a farm barn.  Outside is a large picnic area and about ten food trucks. There was ice carving going on, but to be honest I’m tired of the corny bear sculptures.  We stayed until dark and drove the old Dodge back to Hightstown in the dark which is really special.  My son said it best when he said, “When you drive this car, you feel like you are operating a real machine, you can feel the heat of the engine, the vibration, the smell of oil, something you don’t get in a modern car.  I think Christine responded with, that must be a guy thing, I don't get it ?

The tasting room

The Vineyards

Ice carving

Driving in the dark

Later after getting the “machine” back in solitary confinement, we went to the “Tavern on the Lake” in downtown Hightstown to listen to the band.  The good thing is we can walk there from the house, no driving.  The Tavern’s clientele aren’t exactly high on the food chain but they seem to always have bands that fit perfectly.  It’s a mixed age crowd but mostly the music is 60-80’s vintage and pretty good. Christine is a dancer, when the music is right and they were playing her favorites.  As a result, a guy from the band gave her a free tee shirt and took our picture which may show up on their web site.

Jeremy and Christine with some old looking guy in between

I had the most amazing travel experience ever at Newark Airport on Sunday morning.  I was through the self check-in ticketing process within 5 minutes, no line !  I then went to security, again no line, a streamlined process, no shoes removed, no lap top out of the bag, no plastic tubs, walked right through in less than 5 minutes again.  All flights were on time, no delays, incredible.

Slick is back in Tucson again

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Dentists, Hiking and Sonoran Hot Dogs

February 1 - 11, 2016:

I have a dentist appointment and am told that I need a deep cleaning.  I had a deep cleaning a few years ago and am not looking forward to another, regular cleanings are enough torture for me.  Luckily I have good dental insurance that covers about 80% of the cost, but the prices for this service are ridiculous, at $1,000 for an hour and a half of a dental hygienists time. How can this be ?  I am wondering if it would be cheaper to get this done in Mexico without insurance ?  The most disturbing  thing is that other people in the campground, who have gone to Mexican dentists, say that the dental treatment there is much advanced over our US dentistry. How can this be ?

I go on another tough hike to Wasson Peak with the hard core Canadian hiker contingent.  Watson Peak, 4,687 ft elevation, is the highest peak in the area and the trail has a 1,900 foot elevation gain.  It is a very good cardiac workout and I am now possibly in my best hiking condition of the year.

I'm bringing up the rear

At the top of Lassen peak

Twinkles nervously agrees to go on an 8-10 mile hike with a large group from the campground on the Anza Trail between Tumacacori and Tubac which is about 45 minutes south of Tucson.  It is a flat trail along the Santa Cruz River that was once an old Spanish colonial trail from the Tumacacori Mission to the Presidio of Tubac. So much history has occurred here, you are walking in the footsteps of the native Pima Indians, the Apaches, the Spanish, the Mexican and the American settlers.

Trailhead sign

At Tubac you will find lots of ceramic items for sale

I especially like the Roosters

We next do a 5 mile hike at Brown Mountain to celebrate our glorious 17th year anniversary.  Later we go for dinner at the Nimbus Brewery followed by a gambling spree at the Casino. I am the big winner however in that Twinkles continues to put up with a loser like me.

Trail view

Nimbus Brewery has good beer, food and live music

There was an excellent concert at the campground by a bluegrass group called “Run Boy Run”, which is also a great name for a band.  They are very stellar musicians who tour extensively performing at bluegrass festivals and have also performed on the PBS show “Prairie home companion”, not once but twice.

I haven’t been doing much photography lately, sort of taking a break, or goofing off, but once in a while I see something that I can’t pass up.  I am reluctantly getting rid of my giant photo printer, after printing out a few last photos.  It is too large, too heavy and the ink cartridges too costly to lug around any longer. This life style is all about compromises.

A very ornate roadside shrine

Interesting Spanish conquest themed mural on S 12th street

On a narrow alley way running parallel to 6th street
is a wall with several nicely done murals

Another one

And another

I have been wanting to go to “El Guero Canelo” for a genuine Sonoran hot dog for some time and finally got around to doing it.  It’s two hot dogs wrapped in bacon with beans, onions and tomatoes in a special boat shaped bun.  A hot pepper is served with it and there is a table of other condiments to add. Almost across the street is arch rival “BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs”, both are excellent.  They are arguably the top rated places in Tucson for a Sonoran hot dog but there are many other contenders.  The Sonoran Hot Dog is an iconic Tucson food item not to be missed.

This is the general idea

The entrance at BK Carne Asada

A wall at El Guero Canelo displays a series of murals
depicting the history of the restaurant

I am flying back to New Jersey on the 12th to visit my son Jeremy and granddaughter Sierra.  I’ll be very busy and am thinking about a potential ski day, getting the 38 Dodge out for a ride, a breakfast at the “Roadside Diner”, a bar pie at Jo Jo’s, possibly catching up with some of my music friends, a ride to the Jersey shore and a day wandering in NYC.  My granddaughter, Sierra, age 5, told her dad that when we go skiing they will have to stay on the small hills so Pop-Pop can do it.  I’m going to have to show that kid my stuff !  

Twinkles will be holding down the RV fort in my absence, lounging in the heat while I am freezing.  Yes, the weather is finally warming up in the Tucson area to near record heat.  The weather forecast for New Jersey is the opposite, it appears that I will be there for a couple of the coldest days of the year.

Next Stop, Hightstown, New Jersey

Monday, February 1, 2016

Jazz, Dillinger, Hiking and the Gem Show

January 18 - 31, 2016:

The Tucson Jazz Festival is going on this week with performances at various venues around town.  On MLK day there was a free downtown event and we met a few of our neighbors there at the main stage.  The bands were Hispanic and it seemed to me more Salsa than Jazz, but jazz takes on many forms.  This is one of my least favorite music genres, but everyone else was loving it.  The highpoint for me was when I was walking around by the stage and some guy said; can I get a photo with you ?  I said sure, he posed with me while his buddy took the photo, a few onlookers gawking, then he said Kenny Rodgers right ? 

View from the crowd

 Over the years we have seen several wacky, happy dancing guys at bars and festivals, who usually dance wildly alone or with others, it doesn’t seem to matter to them.  Tucson has one who we have seen for the past three years at the 4th street festival and I have seen him twice during the past week at other places.  I sort of admire these types and wonder if they lead normal lives off the dance floor.

A happy dancing man

We are getting a run of warmer weather this week, in the 70’s, but the minute the sun sets it drops like a rock, even the Canadians get cold.  This usually limits the duration of “Happy Hour” which is probably saving us from alcoholism. A couple of key players in our Happy Hour are two Canadian couples from British Columbia.  The Canadian currency exchange rate is currently very poor and a usual topic of conversation.  They have about convinced us to travel up to Canada this year, visit them and take advantage of the currency rates.  

I am off hiking again with the more serious hiking crowd to the Romero Canyon Trail at Catalina State Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains. It was a difficult rocky uphill climb, but interesting with excellent views.  We topped a ridge and then descended to a wash with flowing water where we stopped for lunch at the second of the Montrose Pools.  It would have been a great place for an icy cold soak if one was so inclined.  Once back in the parking lot there was a store where we rewarded ourselves with an ice cream.  Also as the drive took us past the  “Total Wine store, a stop was made for happy hour supplies, or life saving products as Bill called them.

Water crossing

View from the trail

The going down is not so easy

Another water hazard

A cold refreshing mountain stream

Another great hike was taken in Sabino Canyon on the Esperero Trail up to “Cardiac Ridge”.  It was a strenuous hike in sections as the name reflects, but equally beautiful.  On the ridge top you are in the edge of the wilderness area with miles of views in all directions.

Heading uphill

On top of Cardiac Ridge

Twinkles and I do a more relaxed hike on the Star Pass and Yetman Trails in Tucson Mountain Park from the end of 36th street.  The Saguaros are so thick and lush in portions of this area and the views are great as well.

Houses with special views

Twinkles strikes a pose on the trail

Music this week was Miss Lana and Kevin at LaCocina with a local player sitting in for an especially nice rendition of “Blue Eyes eyes crying in the rain”.  At the campground we had the “Sonoran Dogs” who are a really good bluegrass band and quite comical.  Bands love to play at the campground as they have an attentive audience and usually make as much, or more, money than they would at a local club.

There was a campground yard sale and craft show on the 22nd and a group in our row set up a few tables.  The girls had much fun hawking the sale items.  We even had live music from Hughes who was selling his electronic keyboard and demonstrating it.  It didn’t help, no one took it for his $25 asking price and his wife was saying it couldn’t come back into the house.  Not sure what the outcome was ?  We made a whopping $18 in sales ! 

There were big happenings in downtown Tucson at the Congress Hotel with a “Speakeasy” event on Friday night with hundreds of people in 1920-30’s period clothing.  This was followed on Saturday with the annual “Dillinger Days” festival.  They do a very professional reenactment of the Dillinger gang and their rescue from the burning Congress Hotel in 1934 along with a description of their capture. There is also an antique car show, food and craft vendors and live music.  What would Public enemy number 1, John Dillinger, think if he could see how his life is celebrated and revered today in Tucson.

Dillinger Days poster

Watching the reenactment from over the fence and
over this woman head

Also from behind the 100% Italiam  ?

John Dillinger with gun

1939 Chevy University of Arizona bus

This week there is no way to avoid the Saturday night dance at the campground.  All the girls want me there ?  I am told that you can’t miss “The Retro Rockets”, they are the best.  It is a very fun crowd, the dancing is about on par with mine, everyone brings a food item and wine is provided, all for $10 a person. Everyone had to dance around Donna when “Donna” was played and then again around Sue (aka,Twinkles) when “Run around Sue was played”.  This is a senior event and there is a campground noise curfew at 10 PM, which ends the dance, after which a few of us tok a full moon hike in the desert behind the campground.  

It’s been a very social week for us with my old pal from childhood days, Gordon Tindall, and his wife Val made the trip from their home in Lanesboro, Minnesota  to Tucson to pick up an antique Pool table.  This table originally was installed in the Douglas Mansion in Bisbee, Arizona. Gordon is currently building a Pool Hall with several old classic pool tables he has obtained and a table that originally belonged to his grandfather.  This is a table that Gordon and I spent many hours playing on in our youth. If you are ever in Lanesboro, Minnesota you must stop and have a meal at his classic, “Spud Boy Diner”.  Lanesboro is also a beautiful small town to visit.

Two old "Spud Boys" getting ready to eat some good mexican

We then and old neighbors from New Jersey, Bob and Sandy, visit us for a day. 

Bob, Sandy and Twinkles

Then my sister Marie and her family come from Phoenix to meet us for a day of shopping at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.  This show is always amazing with vendors from all over the world selling mega tons of precious gems, rocks, fossils, dinosaur bones and all forms of jewelry.

Mid 1700's pipes for sale

Auto engine sculpture for sale

Dinosaurs on display

Leaf fossils for sale

Hand carved masks for sale

Fish fossils for sale

That’s all for January,
Twinkles and Slick