Road Warriors

Living out of our newly acquired Airstream for the past few weeks has taught us a few things about durability and reliability when streaming through America across Eisenhower’s Interstate. Years of nasty weather and million-mile road wear (with subsequent band-aid repairs) have left our highways in tatters and our bridges at risk (more on this at a later date), which has a pronounced impact on any home on wheels, considering that bumps and ruts on the outside often translate to shakes and rattles on the inside.

It’s always surprising to see what’s on the cabin floor after a stint of driving between locations. Potholders frequently jump from their hooks, and occasionally, I’ll discover a rogue screw from who knows where, or an A/C vent that’s fallen. However, it’s more disconcerting to find a drawer on the floor or a cabinet door ajar because the locking mechanism has failed.

There was a time when a glass jar of spaghetti sauce was tossed out of the pantry during a rough ride and smashed to bits across the carpet runner that connects our living space to the sleeping space. Leah and I were finding spatter specks years later, stuck to walls, bedding, and curtains. We learned our lesson; today, we look for plastic containers.

One of our more notable challenges as we prepared for this trip was finding an appropriate bedspread that had gone missing since the last owner. Because the queen-size mattress is rounded and shorter than usual–to accommodate the bedroom dimensions—Airstream charges $534 through their design store to replace it. Fuhgeddaboudit! There is no way any bedspread is worth that much. Yet, an exhausting internet search found nothing close to what we needed.

After continued research, I discovered Top Stitch, an old Airstream supplier, who promised to customize our bedspread for $199. Their first effort was a flat cover and a total flop, completely discounting the unique mattress design. However, after checking and double-checking measurements, and eventually signing off on a scaled drawing…

the project was successfully completed for a fraction of the cost. Hats off to Top Stitch!

Additionally, a stack of drawers under the galley sink—that should have been better secured—needs to be realigned to fit better and roll more smoothly; the left channel of the Polk audio system needs to reconnected; and a missing freezer door lock needs to be located and installed.

We were hopeful that a one-day stopover at Airstream’s Factory Service Center in Jackson Center, OH would satisfy our fix-it list, but only if we were willing to stay through September for the next available appointment.

Airstreams waiting for service

Uh…no! But we did stay through the night with full-service hook-up for $10.

The next morning, we were off to Indianapolis with Painter Tape across the drawers and freezer door to limit the number of surprises at our next stop.

It may not be pretty, but it works.

Natural Bridge

If you’re searching for a town that’s so proud of their community attraction that their town is named after it, look no further than Natural Bridge, Virginia. It’s an unincorporated town tucked within the Shenandoah Valley…

that unsurprisingly features a rock bridge of limestone located in Rockbridge County.

Leah and I masked up, and approached the Georgian-styled Visitor Center to surrender $18 to view this natural wonder.

Our downward trail followed a moss-laden terrace of twisted roots and vines laced with wisps of water…

descending into enchanted dripping pools falling on flat rocks…

until we reached a T-shirt concession at rock bottom and an imposing graphic…

that tells the story of Natural Bridge:

The arch is composed of solid grey limestone. It is 215 feet high (55 feet wider than Niagara Falls) 40 feet thick, 100 feet wide and spans 90 feet between the massive walls.

Looking up at Natural Bridge

The span contains 450,000 cubic feet of rock. If man had scales to weigh it, the mass would balance about 72,000,000 pounds, or 36,000 tons. The rocks that compose the bridge are early Ordovician, about 500 million years old. The internal forms of these rocks that break and fold in the layers were imposed on them during the Appalachian Mountain building process toward the end of the Paleozoic Era, more than 200 million years ago. At its highest point, the bridge is approximately 1160 feet above sea level.

This was Nature’s working material. Her tool, Cedar Creek–a simple mountain stream flowing toward the sea. With these, Nature achieved her miracle. She painted her masterpiece with dull red and ochre, soft shades of yellow and cream, delicate tracings of blueish-grey.

Before white men came to our shores, the Monacan Indians considered this ancient wonder a sacred site, and called it “The Bridge of God.”

According to legend, in 1750 the youthful George Washington, engaged by Lord Fairfax, proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia, surveyed the surrounding acreage of Natural Bridge. During his visit, he scaled some 23 feet upon the left wall of the bridge and carved his initials, which may still be seen today.

On July 5, 1774, Thomas Jefferson purchased Natural Bridge and 157 surrounding acres from King George III of England for the “sum of twenty shillings of good lawful money” (about $2.40). Jefferson visited the bridge often, surveyed the area, and even drew a map in his own hand. In 1803, two years before becoming the President of the United States, he constructed a two-room cabin on the grounds.

From the literary classic Moby Dick, to such paintings as The Peaceable Kingdom, Natural Bridge has been used to portray the ultimate wonder. Edward Hicks, one of America’s foremost folk artists, used the Natural Bridge in his oil painting of about 1825-30.

Amongst many artists to paint or sketch an image of the bridge was Frederic Edwin Church, followed in 1860 by Davis Johnson, a second generation Hudson River School artist.

In later years, Natural Bridge became a merchandising magnet.

Personally, I was equally as intrigued with Cedar Creek as I was impressed by the monolithic bridge…

Even today, Lee Highway (U.S. Route 11) runs across the Natural Bridge, and that’s a very good thing, because we crossed many times to access our KOA campground down the road, and more importantly to visit Elvis at the Pink Cadillac Diner.

High Octave Convenience

There was a time in St. Augustine–not too long ago–when we’d stop at a roadside gas station to “fill-er-up” and use the restroom. Perhaps, we’d pick up a scratch-off card, or a sweet or salty snack and a beverage before getting on the road. But what about all those times when we needed gas and a bikini, or a lawn chair and barbeque, or a pound of Texas brisket, a box of fudge or a jar of pickled quail eggs? What were we to do?

Well, now there’s Buc-ee’s!

Newly opened along I-95 by World Golf Village, Buc-ee’s, a Texas import now lays claim as the largest filling station in Florida with 104 pumps…

and 53,000 sq. ft. of convenience store space.

Pandemic aside, after a St. Johns County ribbon-cutting on Feb. 21, patrons were idling their engines at 4 am the next day, anxiously waiting for a taste,

an outfit…

and a hug.

But this eager beaver is not resting on its laurels. In one month’s time, Buc-ee’s will be opening in Daytona Beach with 110 pumps, damming St. Augustine’s bragging rights as Florida’s newest largest gas station.

Wise Guys

Despite the three years since Leah and I visited Mt. Rushmore, what could be more American than re-posting this visit on Independence Day? And still, there’s great turmoil within the country. A trip to Mt. Rushmore means many different things to different kinds of people. One person’s treasure is another’s abomination. To visit was once considered patriotic. Now it’s an act of partisan politics.



There’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July, than a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sure, the crowds were large; that was to be expected. But once the cars were garaged, the pedestrian traffic was easy to negotiate. And with everyone looking up at the mountain, the Presidents’ faces and intentions were never obstructed.

GW

Jefferson

Roosevelt

Lincoln

It was also a time to celebrate family. There were plenty of kids riding in strollers, hanging from moms in carriers, or balancing on dads’ shoulders. Generations of families–many of them immigrants–had gathered to pay homage to the principles of freedom that make our country a beacon for the oppressed and downtrodden.

Seniors were being escorted through the Avenue of Flags by their grandchildren. Extended families organized group pictures at the Grand View Terrace, unified by their love of democracy and their reunion T-shirts.

All expressed awe at Gutzon Borglum’s grand vision and remarkable achievement–the transformation of a mountain into a national symbol visited by approximately 3 million people every year.

long shot

The 14-year process of carving the rock began with dimensionalizing the Presidents’ portraits through Plaster of Paris masks, on view at the sculptor’s studio-turned-museum.

Sculptor's Studio

Additional exhibits detail the construction of the memorial, and the tools used by workers, like the original Rand & Waring compressor, which powered the jackhammers for all the finishing work.

compressor

An overlooked fact–Mt. Rushmore was once intended as a tribute to the “Five Faces of Freedom,” but funding ran short when Congressional appropriation for the monument approached $1 million during the Great Depression. Hence, the unfinished carving of the Great Ape to the right of Lincoln serves as a reminder that we are never far from our true ancestors.¹

Planet of the Apes

No less ambitious, and equally as impressive, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work-in-progress located 16 miles away in the heart of the Black Hills–considered sacred land by the Lakota people.

Crazy Horse LS

Conceived by Korczak Ziolkowski in early 1940s,

crazy horse model (2)

the memorial, when completed will stand 563 ft. by 641 ft. across, and is expected to be the largest sculpture in the world. Already, the completed head of Crazy Horse measures 60 feet tall…

Crazy Horse CU

…twice the size of any of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While the first blast was conducted on the mountain in 1947, the current prospects for the memorial are to complete the outstretched arm during the next twelve years. There is no completion date available for the finished carving, which has been financed entirely by private funding since its inception.

Mt. Rushmore was created by a Danish American. Crazy Horse was created by a Polish American. And visitors to both destinations manifest the melting pot that has brought us all together as Americans. It’s our diversity that makes us strong, our ambition and determination that makes us great, and our compassion and sacrifice that make us whole.

These are the values reflected from the faces we’ve immortalized in stone. Yet, we would honor them more by living according to these principles.

Happy Birthday, America!

Mt Rushmore1

¹ Just kidding, but the photograph is real and has not been retouched.

Bonnie’s Deadly Deed

A recounting of a 10-year holiday memory…



Finally, the nasty weather had given way to a brisk and sunny Black Friday, and Bonnie was eager to shed her restlessness. Three weeks had passed since our last outing, and I could tell she needed a proper walk. Her telltale kitchen dance with paws clattering across the hardwood floor made it obvious to Leah and me.

Merely grabbing her leash had Bonnie running in tight circles after her stubby tail, making her difficult to collar. She strained against her leash, pulling me past the front door. She leapt into the cargo space of my SUV, and curled into a ball, completely satisfied with her preparation.

One of Bonnie’s favorite walks takes us through the fancy neighborhood of Mountain Lakes, NJ for a closer look at how all the Blue Buffalo stew-eaters live, so off we went to walk among the Mountain Lake estates.

Fortunately, the local shopping malls had swallowed most of the area’s cars, so the four- mile drive to Boulevard took little time, and parking was a breeze.

The moment Bonnie’s legs hit the pavement, she eagerly sniffed for a place to do her business. Naturally, Leah and I were prepared for this moment, so out came a baggie that’s perfect for scooping.

But carrying a used baggie so early in the walk can be a bit annoying; it spoils my walking rhythm, and besides, it smells!

I believed the durable construction of the Rubbermaid barrel by the side door of the yellow house on our right would provide an ideal resting place for Bonnie’s poop, so off I went to make a deposit. I crossed through a hole between two hedges, and dropped Bonnie’s dirty deed atop a pizza delivery box with a cartoon chef declaring, “We Are Pleased to Serve You.” It seemed so apropos.

I secured the lid and rejoined my girls just as the homeowner cracked the side door, craned his neck and asked, “Can I help you?”

“No thanks,” I answered, “I’m just doing an inspection of garbage cans in the neighborhood, and I’m happy to say that you’ve passed!” I waved good-bye as Leah shot me a look, and we continued our walk.

We turned onto a new block and climbed a steep hill. Just as we were enjoying the fresh air and the scenery, a cream-colored Lexus sedan sped by, and cut us off. The driver’s side door opened, and the burly-looking homeowner emerged holding Bonnie’s holdings, but now sealed within a heavy-duty double-lined zip-locked baggie.

“I think this belongs to you,” he said, extending his arm with a dour look on his face.

And then came his rant. “My wife is seriously allergic to this! Do you realize you could have killed my wife and the baby she’s carrying if she was exposed to this? After eight goddamn years of trying, and spending tens of thousands of dollars on IVF drugs and testing, she finally gets pregnant. So now she’s on bed rest with two months to go, and here you come with your dog shit, and you’re gonna fuck it up for all of us.”

The veins of his forehead were bulging under his DeMarco Sanitation cap. I wondered if he would hit me, so I instinctively felt for the keys in my pocket and gripped them between my fingers as a defensive measure.

“I’m sorry,” I stated in my most solemn voice. “I had no idea that Bonnie’s poop was so treacherous. She’s only a cockapoo, and she really doesn’t mean any harm. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us.” I graciously took the bag of shit with my left hand, withdrew my right hand from my pocket and reached to shake his hand. “No harm, no foul,” I offered.

What else could I do?

As if by magic, he immediately relaxed and we chatted for a few minutes, trading personal histories. He introduced himself as Jason, and pointing to his cap, informed me that he owned a local waste management and carting company. I took a half-step back from him, my mind brimming with comparisons of Tony Soprano.

Jason revealed that he recently moved to Mountain Lakes, and hoped to raise a family in a clean and peaceful neighborhood. I wished his family peace and cleanliness, and I reiterated my apology for my faux paws.

With Jason assuaged and his forgiveness assured, Leah, Bonnie and I continued our walk, but now with a bigger baggie and a familiar problem.

After reaching the top of the hill, we discovered a new mansion under construction. A large dumpster stood guard in the front yard. I checked around in all directions to make sure we were hidden from view.

“Don’t you dare!” Leah threatened.

But I was already committed. I tossed the baggie into the heart of the steel container, and quick-stepped away from the property. Glancing back, I casually surveyed the new architecture with the over-sized receptacle in the foreground–emblazoned with D-E-M-A-R-C-O in large, white, stenciled letters–and reflected on my full-circle achievement.



RIP, Bonnie!

Balloonatic

While I’m on the topic of balloons (see Balloon Glowdeo™, and Botswana by Balloon) I’ve recalled my first balloon ride from two years ago:



“$450 for a balloon ride?! You’ve got to be kidding” I exclaim to the Rainbow Ryder rep on the phone.

“That’s the price, sir. We are the exclusive balloon ride provider for Balloon Fiesta, unless you’re willing to fly outside the ‘Albuquerque Box’,” she managed.

“What’s the ‘Albuquerque Box’? I ask.

“It’s a weather phenomenon peculiar to Albuquerque,” she points out, “where the lowest winds move in one direction, while the higher winds are moving in the opposite direction. That way, our pilots can take advantage of the different air currents–by floating higher or lower, and returning you close to your original launch point.

albuquerquebox
*courtesy of Drumlineramos

“Uh, Ohh-kay,” I shrug, “and that’s worth $450?”

“That’s the rate for a balloon ride during Balloon Fiesta, sir. And I only have a few openings left for Saturday and Sunday,” she warns.

“Your price is sky high,” I offer, “so I’m gonna have to think about it.”

And the call is over.

I turned to Leah. “Looks like my balloon ride went from bucket list to “fuck-it” list.”

And that was a drag, since Balloon Fiesta is the largest gathering of hot-air balloons in the world, with more balloons lifting off together (mass ascension) than anywhere.

Leah sensed my disappointment. “Maybe it’s cheaper if you found an outfitter outside the box. Would you still be interested?

“I think I could manage to get excited,” I lamented.

After a flurry of phoning and pricing, I secured a dawn launch on Saturday for $250 with World Balloon, albeit on the northwest side of town, miles away from the Fiesta.

Launch day bears all the markings for a picture-perfect take-off: early air temperature hovers in the mid-40’s; the wind is streaming from the north at 8 mph; and the sky is clear as shimmering water.

A group of fifty men, women, and children are sub-divided into five, and assigned to a pilot and his balloon crew. Each chase van carries two wranglers, ten passengers, and a trailer packed with gear. We congregate at a barren football-sized lot, and watch as five balloons are prepared for flight.

Baskets are unloaded,

unloading the basket

and assembled.

building the basket

The burners are tested.

testing the burner

With dawn breaking over the horizon, the balloon is unfurled, and rigged to the basket.

rigging the lines

An industrial fan blows cold air into the mouth of limp polyester, and behold, the balloon takes shape.

dawn

raising the dome

filling the balloons

Roy aims the burner flame into the mouth to heat the air,

lighting it up

fire and rigging

and eventually expands the envelope to fullness.

inflation

The buoyant balloon rights itself,

sunrise

and the six of us scramble inside to bid adieu to terra firma, and gently float away…

aloft

…one step ahead of a second balloon.

balloon sun glow

All the while, balloons below…

balloon party

…are preparing to follow our Airstream (wink wink, nod nod).

USA balloons

Our pilot, Roy pulls on the burners,

Roy the pilot

carrying us to 5000 ft. above the treetops,

fiesta panorama

where a birds-eye view of the valley below,

self portrait.jpg

reveals a cityscape punctuated by fantastic dots of floating colors.

Balloons over Albuquerque (2)

Yet closer inspection reveals the full dimension of a multi-colored mushroom gliding through an azure sky.

baloon portrait

After forty-five minutes of soaring and dipping through neighborhoods–arousing excitable dogs,

annoyed dogs

and adoring children–

delighted-children.jpg

Roy is tasked with finding a landing site along our flight path–wide open and away from wires–and accessible to the chase team who’s been following us since our launch. After a few false starts, we locate a large house devoid of landscaping, and gently settle back to earth.

attempting to land (2)

However, a chain-link fence lines the perimeter, and a locked gate gives us no way out. A woman from Birmingham, AL vaults over the side of the basket and runs to the front door to alert the owners to unlock the gate, but nobody’s home.

So it’s back in the air, with the van in pursuit, until we mobilize at a strip mall.

landing place

crew pulling us in

After a quick exchange of passengers (six out and four in), our balloon is re-released with its second set of aeronauts,

group 2 on board

drifting higher into the blue yonder.

group 2 aloft

Fifty minutes later, the vacant parking lot beside the church provides the perfect setting for a second re-entry.

holy touchdown

Whereupon, the balloon is quickly collapsed,

gathering air

and folded,

wrangling the rigging

and packed away, until next time.

wrapped up

Back at base camp, it was time for a champagne toast, and a recitation of the balloonist’s prayer:

The winds…

flight certificate

I loved it, and I’d do it again. I guess that makes me a balloonatic.

 

Bayernhof

“It’s a fine line between nutty and eccentric,” explained docent Jim Masseau of the Bayernhof Museum, “and the difference between the two is money.” Over the next two-plus hours, as Leah and I toured this residential mansion in suburban Pittsburgh, Jim’s definition proved to be an understatement, as we learned more about the behavior of Charles Boyd Brown III, the master of Bayernhof.

We entered the house through heavy double-doors, which opened into an airy vestibule sporting a heavy chandelier–

chandelier

befitting a man who made his fortune fabricating sand-casted aluminum lanterns.

floor mosaic

Along the way, we passed what appeared to be a life-sized Hummel figurine (later identified as bearing a likeness to his great-grandfather),

father figure

and gathered in the family room with the other guests, only to stare at Charlie’s portrait while we waited for Jim to begin the tour.

Charlie

After informal introductions, Jim fed us details about Charlie’s bachelor life (born in 1937) and the house he left behind.

Built high on a hill covering 18 acres, and completed in 1982–after 6 years of construction without blueprints–Charlie’s 19,000 square-foot, Bavarian-styled “castle” overlooks the Alleghany Valley, with views reaching one-hundred miles beyond city limits on a clear day.

overlook

However, despite Charlie’s dream of constructing a $4.2 miilion estate with German folk-flourishes–

painted glass ceiling

featuring 6 bedrooms…

guest bedroom

8 bathrooms, 3 full-sized kitchens, 12 wet bars, 10 fireplaces…

bedroom

a rooftop observatory with a 16 inch reflecting telescope…

observatory

a basement batcave made of concrete and fiberglass,

basement cave

a swimming pool with a 10-foot waterfall…

swimming pool

a wine celler with a working copper still…

wine cellar

a billiard room (starring a pool table thought to belong to Jackie Gleason)…

pool room

a home office…

office desk

and a boardroom (only used twice)–

boardroom

his house, unfortunately, would never be considered museum-worthy on its own. Charlie would need a gimmick to attract greater attention. And that’s when he started collecting automated music machines from the 19th and 20th century.

Charlie couldn’t carry a tune, and had as much musicality as a bag of bagel holes. But his appreciation for century-old music machines instructed his passion for collecting them, until he acquired nearly 150 working devices (many rare and unusual), now scattered throughout the premises.

A sample of instruments can be viewed in the video below:

 

 

 

As Charlie grew his collection, he loved showing them off, and held lavish parties for 5 to 500 guests at a time–always in charge of the cooking, and always dressed in one of his signature blue Oxford shirts. He owned 283 of them. Whenever he tired of his company, he would magically slip away through one of many secret passages, leaving his guests to fend for themselves.

Before Charlie passed away in 1999, he endowed a foundation valued at $10 million to convert his home into a museum. In 2004, the O’Hara Township zoning board granted his wish, and the Bayernhof Museum was born, with the stipulation that pre-arranged guided tours be limited to 12 people at a time.

Charlie’s Bayernhof got its big break when CBS News did a feature for its Sunday Morning broadcast earlier this year…

 

 

 

and the phones haven’t stopped ringing since.

Charlie would have been very pleased.

I know I was.

 

 

Randy’s Pot of Gold

Randy Gilson grew up dirt poor in a small mill town just outside Pittsburgh’s city limits. As one of six children from a “broken” family, he remembers being teased by schoolmates, who called him “dumb, stupid, dadless, welfare boy, and white trash.” But his mother, a minister, advised him to ignore the noise, and instilled in him a commitment to do good for others. Her voice became Randy’s moral compass, and he’s walked the high road ever since.

Randy

He recalls a childhood Christmas when there was no money for presents, so he scavanged the neighborhood trashcans in search of discarded toys, and placed a wrapped gift for each of his siblings under the tree. It was a powerful lesson.

He learned that “making others happy made me happy.”

torsos and painted rocks].jpg

He also discovered that traditional learning was a waste of his time. He was wired differently from others, and blamed his failing school grades on an unofficial diagnosis of “ADHD and OCD, mixed with a little bit of autism,” because he was never formally tested. Rather than depend on his brain, he reminded himself that “my eyes are a tool to see, my ears are a tool to hear, my hands are a tool to work, and my heart is a tool to help.”

garden gate

Randy’s first money came from mowing neighbors’ lawns, but in a roundabout way. At first, he furtively cut their overgrown grass as a goodwill gesture. The neighbors called Randy out for tresspassing, but eased their anger once they realized the benefit to their properties. Eventually, they hired Randy to tend their yards–where he honed his topiary skills on their hedges and trees.

red knight

Additionally, working on family farms over the summers taught him the value of nurturing seeds and the resultant harvest. In later years, Randy’s interest in horticulture blossomed into the Old Allegheny Garden Society, which resulted in planting hundreds of whiskey barrel gardens along the Mexican War Streets of Pittsburgh’s North Side during a risky time of transition and uncertainty.

swan planters

“Living his life” gave Randy the confidence to gamble on his future. In 1978, he moved to Pittsburgh’s North Side, because it was the best he could do at the time. When long-time residents fled to the suburbs, the gangs moved into the area, and a drug culture took root and held the community hostage. “The neighbors used to shoot off guns in the middle of the night. For them, it was particularly useful in keeping the rents low,” claimed Randy.

stairs (2)

But Randy stood his ground. Although planting gardens and painting murals raised eyebrows of derision and suspicion among grown-ups, the children of the streets gave Randy the benefit of the doubt. At first they were confused.

“Why would a stranger be doing all sorts of nice things on their streets?” Randy mused. “When I told them that I was doing it for them, then they wanted to help, too.”

The street became Randy’s parish, and he preached a gospel of stewardship and goodness. Soon after, his Pied Piper nature won over the rest of the community, and he was accepted as their resident eccentric (or eccentric resident). 

land beach

An opportunity presented itself in 1995. An abandoned building on Arch Street, earmarked for the wrecking ball, was saved from demolition when Randy bought the property from the bank with a $10,000 credit card loan covered by the bank.

Immediately, he began collecting litter, planting gardens and painting wall murals.

Randy house

That was the genesis of Randyland…

Randyland entry

a candy-coated, pie-in-the-sky habitat of repurposed whimsy and soul,

Welcome to Randyland

People travel to Randyland from around the world, and prepare destination arrows to indicate their country of origin.

every which way

They stop by for the novelty…

belonging

for the vibe and the energy…

sandbox

and to remember the child still trapped inside us all.

knit fish

Randy doesn’t pretend to be an artist. In fact, he disagrees with the characterization. “I’m not an artist. I’m a gay hippie that smokes pot, and believes in sharing my vision.”

Randy with paint photo.jpg

Randy’s charm is infectious; his energy is contagious;

neighbor paint

and his message is inspirational. His mother would be proud of him.

rainbow pergola (2)

What started out as a typical tour of a colorful outdoor habitat, turned into a surprisingly deep and endearing conversation with Randy, once Leah and I introduced ourselves.

Neal-Leah-Randy

Passerby cars with follow-up horn toots were a constant interruption, but Randy always had a quick response for them:

“Hey, pretty mama…”

“I love your weave…”

“Lookin’ good in the neighborhood.”

signpost

Randy is eager to tell his story and have his story told. He is also unabashed about his upbringing and background. Few people I know are so accepting of themselves. He easily shares the details of his life normally reserved for confidants or therapists. But then I realize that Randy’s candor is probably an ongoing part of his therapy…where he plays the therapist.

Randy placed a wad of business cards in my hand, and like a butterfly in search of its next flower nectar, he flew off to be photographed with his next best friends.

Say cheese

It’s easy spotting a rainbow, but following him to his pot of gold is a greater reward.

Heidelberg Project–Detroit

At first glance, the large number of vacant lots between derelict buildings on Heidelberg Street in Detroit, MI resembles a crooked smile through a handful of broken teeth. The gaps are filled with collections of discarded remnants from everyday life that could easily be mistaken for a flea market on crack. But first impressions are completely unjustified, and there is a purpose to the madness…to be discovered over time.

time to pray

time to grin

time after time

taxi time

kitty time

In 1986, Tyree Guyton returned to his childhood neighborhood in Detroit’s East Side, only to find a ghetto ravaged by drugs and poverty so severe that it touched his soul and roused his spirit. With encouragement from Grandpa Sam Mackey, he vowed to fight back with a paintbrush and a broom, which would eventually carry him on a celebrated journey–fighting his way through local partisan politics to national prominence.

automower

trucks and grins

shoes

playpen pals

boat of toys

To his credit, Guyton recruited sympathetic volunteers to change the face of their community, and after a massive clean-up, he incorporated the wreckage gathered from vacant lots, converting his neighborhood into an urban sculpture installation that has garnered world-wide attention.

vote-here.jpg

tvs and toy car garage

the rafters

purple transport

carhood ranch

For 30 years, Heidelberg Street has been a grass roots, work-in-progress. The HP (r)evolution continues today through personal donations and strong foundation support–providing funding for transformative paint-overs, and the acquisition of border properties to replace the homes lost to arson.

taxi depot

you

Time is now house

Love Sold house

Numbers House reno

dot house

porch-dots.jpg

During my visit, I crossed paths with several photographers who felt as I did–that we had walked into someone’s wild dream, and we were there to interpret his dream through our cameras.

shrink wrapped doll

TV and Rock

face on a gate

crutch cycle

brick shrine

the kitchen sink

However, should the art critics and cognescenti remain unmoved, or the public dismisses Guyten’s art as junk, there is more to the story at the end of the day. When all the visitors return to their homes, the residents of Heidelberg Street stay behind knowing that their plight has been replaced by pride and opportunity.

sign the house

Wise Guys

Although it’s been two years since Leah and I visited Mt. Rushmore, what could be more American than re-posting this visit on Independence Day?


 

There’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July, than a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sure, the crowds were large; that was to be expected. But once the cars were garaged, the pedestrian traffic was easy to negotiate. And with everyone looking up at the mountain, the Presidents’ faces and intentions were never obstructed.

GW

Jefferson

Roosevelt

Lincoln

It was also a time to celebrate family. There were plenty of kids riding in strollers, hanging from moms in carriers, or balancing on dads’ shoulders. Generations of families–many of them immigrants–had gathered to pay homage to the principles of freedom that make our country a beacon for the oppressed and downtrodden.

Seniors were being escorted through the Avenue of Flags by their grandchildren. Extended families organized group pictures at the Grand View Terrace, unified by their love of democracy and their reunion T-shirts.

All expressed awe at Gutzon Borglum’s grand vision and remarkable achievement–the transformation of a mountain into a national symbol visited by approximately 3 million people every year.

long shot

The 14-year process of carving the rock began with dimensionalizing the Presidents’ portraits through Plaster of Paris masks, on view at the sculptor’s studio-turned-museum.

Sculptor's Studio

Additional exhibits detail the construction of the memorial, and the tools used by workers, like the original Rand & Waring compressor, which powered the jackhammers for all the finishing work.

compressor

A little known fact is that Mt. Rushmore was once intended to be a tribute to the “Five Faces of Freedom,” but funding ran short when the Congressional appropriation approached $1 million during the Great Depression. Hence, the unfinished carving of the Great Ape to the right of Lincoln serves as a reminder that we are never far from our true ancestors.¹

Planet of the Apes

No less ambitious, and equally as impressive, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work-in-progress located 16 miles away in the heart of the Black Hills–considered sacred land by the Lakota people.

Crazy Horse LS

Conceived by Korczak Ziolkowski in early 1940s,

crazy horse model (2)

the memorial, when completed will stand 563 ft. by 641 ft. across, and is expected to be the largest sculpture in the world. Already, the completed head of Crazy Horse measures 60 feet tall…

Crazy Horse CU

…twice the size of any of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While the first blast was conducted on the mountain in 1947, the current prospects for the memorial are to complete the outstretched arm during the next twelve years. There is no completion date available for the finished carving, which has been financed entirely by private funding since its inception.

Mt. Rushmore was created by a Danish American. Crazy Horse was created by a Polish American. And visitors to both destinations manifest the melting pot that has brought us all together as Americans. It’s our diversity that makes us strong, our ambition and determination that makes us great, and our compassion and sacrifice that make us whole.

These are the values reflected from the faces we’ve immortalized in stone. Yet, we would honor them more by living according to these principles.

Happy Birthday, America!

fireworks1

¹ Just kidding, but the photograph is real and has not been retouched.

District Six

District Six was known as the soul of Cape Town, and home to nearly 10% of Cape Town’s population. It was a restless melting pot of freed slaves, persecuted Malays, and opportunistic Asians stewing as community artisans, musicians, merchants, immigrants, and laborers in a broth of grit, sweat, determination and talent. The vitality of the district inspired a body of poetry, prose, music and theater infused with swagger. 

Hanover Street

However, during the 1960’s, a generation of District Six residents lived in fear because of the color of their skin. The Afrikaner-centric government looked to apartheid as a means to squash opposition among the rank and file majority, prompting an official decree to rezone the district as a “whites-only” area, displacing more than 93% of the 60,000 residents.

The Segregated City

Government officials offered several reasons in defense of their policy. They regarded the district as a slum; it was crime-ridden and dangerous–overwhelmed by immoral activities like gambling, drinking, and prostitution. They claimed interracial interaction inside District 6 bred conflict, necessitating the separation of the races.

Pass Laws

By 1982, the government was relocating the “colored.” They were sent to dusty Cape Flat townships with insufficient infrastructure, while 25 km away, their old homes and businesses were bulldozed, leaving only the houses of worship behind. 

luggage

Despite government claims, most residents believed that the government sought the land because of its proximity to the city center, Table Mountain, and the harbor.

Table Mountain

By 1991, apartheid was repealed, and on December 10, 1994 the District Six Museum was launched in a historic Methodist Church building at 25A Buitenkant Street.

museum entrance

The museum serves as a remembrance to the events of the apartheid era as well as the culture and history of the area before the removals.

District 6 Museum

The ground floor is covered by a large street map of District Six, with handwritten notes from former residents indicating where their homes once stood.

street and feet (2).jpg

Other features of the museum include street signs from the old district,

street signs

displays of the histories and lives of District Six families,

Beauty Parlor vignette

and historical explanations of the life of the District and its destruction.

residence towers

In addition to its function as a museum, it also serves as a memorial to a decimated community, and a meeting place and community center for the residents of Cape Town who identify with its history.

Lydia in the Wind

Our tour of Cape Town’s darker side continued with a trip to Langa, Cape Town’s oldest township in Western Cape with a population of over 50,000.

Langa!

Originally conceived in the 1920’s as a company residence for shipyard workers from surrounding villages, the existing barracks are home to multiple families occupying a two-room unit.

township barracks

Our tour began optimistically with a walk through the Cultural Centre on the edge of the township that has partnered with local artists to rehabilitate the neighborhood…

studio

and reinforce arts education as a means of promoting self-esteem and securing a successful career path for talented residents through ceramics,

pottery studio

paper maché,

paper and paint

mosaics,

mosaic mural

and painting.

painting display

We continued our visit with a guided street walk through the neighborhoods…

Sozito Hair Salon and cabins

Over and over, we asked ourselves, “How can people live this way?”

Raba Cash Store

Realizing that we were a half-hour away from our luxury hotel made us uncomfortable and acutely aware of the abject poverty and abysmal living conditions surrounding us.

laundry

Unemployment stands at 40%,

Killing Time

and sanitation is an afterthought.

sheep heads

After negotiating with the house matriarch, our guide ushered us into a dank hovel fit for a family of four families. Several small children were playing on the floor, while adults went about their business of doing laundry,

Hut interior

preparing dinner,

cooking

or relaxing in front of a pirated broadcast on a vintage TV.

TV time

It was an awkward moment that may have been intended to shock us or educate us; I’m not sure which. But the people inside were nonplussed by our appearance, as if our intrusion was a routine occurrence.

If only we had been forewarned of this encounter, it would have given us an opportunity to gift them some wholesome food and clean water.

Water Carriers1

The citizens of Langa and the 2.5 million living in other townships on the edge of Cape Town struggle daily. Even now, as before, they rely on each other to survive, while the government offers little more than lip service in exchange for votes.

Vote ANC

A Walk Along the Cape Town Waterfront

Much of Cape Town radiates with modern appeal, brandishing its abundance of fashionable and trendy shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants, and hotels throughout the city. However, the crossroads where residents and tourists travel to find it all is Cape Town’s waterfront.

Leah and I took a walk through the waterfront district to see for ourselves, and found that one day was not enough to cover it all.

The heartbeat of the waterfront is the Victoria and Albert Wharf, where the city meets the sea.

V&A Waterfront

Grounded by a two-story mall, the Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre bustles with 450 retail stores, and over 80 restaurants and eateries.

V & A Wharf

Beyond a swinging bridge and a capsule of specialty malls stands the Clock Tower, where a ferry (calm seas and weather permittting) awaits to shuttle intrepid visitors to Robben Island…

Mandela Gateway

the one-time prison of Nelson Mandela from 1964 to 1982, but now a museum and World Heritage site. Unfortunately, high swells prevented us from visiting.

His importance to the city and country cannot be underestimated, as his name and face is omnipresent throughout the region.

The Four

Visible from all points of the city, and looming over the wharf is Table Mountain,

Table Mountain

accessible by cable car, with commanding views of the city below. Unfortunately, Leah and I never made it to the top because of gusting winds at the time.

Continuing south, we mounted a set of stairs…

Steps to Silo

directing us to the Silo District, where a 1920s grain silo…

Silos

has been repurposed into the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art,

The Silo and Zeotrope

having opened on September 2017, and boasting the world’s largest collection of African art.

The building also houses the Silo Hotel, occupying the top six floors within the one-time grain elevator. Daily rates during low season range from $900 for a luxury room to $5000 for a 1-Bedroom Penthouse. Leah and I thought we’d have a look around.

The elevator carried us to reception on the sixth floor, where we spoke to an attendant who eagerly escorted us to the eleventh floor open-air restaurant, lounge and pool.

Silo pool

Having missed out on a Table Mountain overlook because of weather, our surrounding views of the stadium,

Stadium (2)

the wharf,

Looking out to Robbens Island

the ship terminal,

Cruise Terminal

and the courtyard below were spectacular, and made up for our disappointment.

Silo Courtyard

Once back on earth, we headed past the shipyards…

Shipyard

and along the canal…

Canal

to Battery Park, a greenspace where families gather to skate and picnic.

Battery Park1 (2)

After reaching City Hall in the distance, we doubled back to the waterfront, eager to continue the next part of our journey in search of wild animals.

Giraffe crane

Much more to follow…

High on a Hill

High up on Hill Street overlooking Glasgow’s valley…

Glasgow skyline composite (2)stands a proper and prominent synagogue, as if telling all concerned, that the Jews of Glasgow are here to stay, and equally deserving of a splendid house of worship to celebrate Shabbat and festivals that can easily compete with a host of surrounding Anglican and Roman churches.

The Garnethill Synagogue is Scotland’s oldest, built between 1879 and 1881 with flourishes of Romanesque Revival on the outside,

shul exterior1

and Byzantine Revival architecture on the inside…

shul lobby (2)

leading to a grand sanctuary…

bimah and ark

once defined by an Orthodox tradition of seating women upstairs, apart from men who prayed downstairs.

Garnethill Synagogue panorama

But that edict has changed at Garnethill Synagogue for a different reason: there’s simply not enough of a remaining congregation to fill the seats. Men and women are now reunited downstairs, but (thank God) still segregated by sitting on opposite sides, gaining entry through separate doors.

Harvey Kaplan delights in telling me the story of Jewish immigration to Scotland.

Harvey

For the past 11 years, Harvey has actively advocated for the past. He leads the charge as the director of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, an adjunct to the Garnethill Synagogue, working to make Scottish Jewish heritage relevant to a shrinking Scottish Jewish community that now favors bigger Jewish population centers in Manchester and London.

His vision will soon reach fruition thanks to a grant and remodel to be finished by 2020.

SJAC lobby

I had contacted Harvey earlier in anticipation of my efforts to research of my mother’s journey as a girl through Britain during the Holocaust.

After a tour of the sanctuary, we got down to business. Harvey’s mission to preserve the nation’s Jewish identity became clearer to me as I reflected on my drive to Haddington and Polton earlier in the day.

Before my appointment, I first stopped at Whittingehame House–

Whittingehame House (3)

–one-time residence of Lord Balfour, Prime Minister, statesman,

Whit from the side

and architect of the monumental Balfour Declaration, which granted homesteading rights to Jews in Palestine after Middle Eastern maps were redrawn following WW1.

In the wake of Jewish children seeking refuge in Britain to escape the Nazi scourge, Lord Balfour’s nephew and heir, Viscount Traprain, offered his home and its extensive grounds, surrounded by twisted yew trees,

yew tree.jpg

as a farm school from 1939 to 1941 for teenaged refugees interested in making Aliyah to an Israeli kibbutz in the near future.

Sheep Meadow.jpg

I became aware of the change to the estate when I noticed an online ad (https://www.onthemarket.com/details/3579306) detailing a ground floor, 4-bedroom flat with an asking price of £1,850,000. But still, I had to see it for myself.

sign.jpg

Unfortunately, nobody was home. Perhaps, I should have made an appointment with the realtor.
Whit rear
From Haddington, I traveled to Polton, a community near Lasswade in Midlothian, in search of the Polton Farm School, the successor to Whittingehame Farm School, when Whittingehame closed its doors in September 1941.
The trip became more challenging after Google maps rejected my request, and left me hanging. I drove through several country hamlets looking for a sign (from God), and found the clue I was looking for by the side of the road.
Polton Inn
I spoke to the lassie tending bar at the Polton Inn, who admitted to being a born and bred townie who knew a wee bit of history about the area. As I spun my story, she perked up.
“You absolutely must go next door and speak to the gentleman of the house. Certainly, he would know better than anyone what became of the school, ’cause I know for certain there was a school there back in the day, for I believe the farm you’re speaking of is on the other side of our wall,” she said.
Polton Inn wall
I loved listening to her brogue, and wished I could perfect that lilting tone. “You mean I was that close?” I wondered.
“Will you come back and tell us what he said?” she asked.
If there was any doubt, the gates said it all.
Polton Farm
Unfortunately, the farmer turned me away, informing me that all the property was split up in the 1960s to make room for development. There was nothing more than that.
Harvey didn’t have very much on Polton House either, but he’s optimistic. Somewhere, he surmises, there’s an attic somewhere in Scotland filled with a treasure trove of documents and photographs that’s waiting to be discovered by the descendants of early refugees, immigrants, and freedom seekers who willed a way to make a life for themselves and their families.
And when that should happen (and it does happen), Harvey will be there with his troupe of volunteers to dutifully catalog it all in order to preserve Scotland’s Jewish identity while there is still something left to preserve.
When we parted ways, I returned to the Glasgow overview,
glasgow spires
and I realized that the sky’s the limit.

Up, Up, and Away

I’ve just boarded Thomas Cook Flight #2753 from Orlando to Manchester, UK for a 2-week adventure to conduct ancestry research for a book I’m writing (see Uncertainty) that chronicles my mother’s escape from Essen, Germany following Kristallnacht.

Non-stop flight reservations to Manchester were snapped up from Thomas Cook airline (first I’d heard of them) in February for an unbelievably low, inclusive fare of $129…or so I thought.

Little did I realize that my reservation was TraveLite. I discovered during check-in that the airline was assessing me $120 to check my luggage unless it weighed under 6kg. The suitcase empty probably weighed 1 kg.

After composing myself, I gripped the carry handle tightly and I braced myself against the counter as I listened to a potential work-around by the attendant:

“Why not purchase an upgrade from economy to premium class for $125, which also entitles you to one checked bag…and for the extra five bucks, you can enjoy unlimited alcoholic beverages and snacks, 2 premium meals, a wider seat with extra leg room, and priority boarding and priority luggage retrieval for the extra 5 bucks,” she proposed.

My original seat assignment was 42G, the penultimate row next to the toilets.

“Here’s my credit card,” I quickly offered.

“You will now be in 4D,” she announced.

“A no-brainer,” I surmised.

Premium Class (2)

Somehow, I talked myself into believing that paying double was a great deal; yet I was determined to get my money’s worth. After boarding the plane, I delighted in plying through the travel amenities piled high on seat 4D. In addition to an oversized foam pillow–which added an inch of compressed padding to the existing form-fitted seat–there was also a human-sized microfiber blanket in a sanitary wrap, and a zippered vanity bag with all sorts of goodies:

  • a blindfold
  • long socks
  • ear plugs
  • ear buds
  • a single-use toothbrush and vial of vile toothpaste
  • and hand sanitizer

vanity bag

…none of which I used.

A choice of complimentary champagne or orange juice was served in tiny plastic stemware before take-off (but not mimosas, unless one asked for one of each), and premium dinner arrived 45 minutes into the flight…

premium meal

…consisting of tired chicken breast glazed with a gooey berry syrup beside a peppery mash and a sprig of tawdry broccoli. MEH! Not to be confused with Cathy Pacific or Singapore Air cuisine.

Four tiny bottles of Smirnoff vodka made The Man from U.N.C.L.E. watchable on my video screen, and should have sufficiently prepared me for a nap, but the millenial seated in front of me chose to repose in full recliner- mode, which felt more restrictive than my knee-high compression socks.

seatbelt sign

The plane landed in Manchester ahead of scheduled arrival time, despite a 40-minute delay. Baggage claim was quick as advertised, and NOBODY was waiting in line for an immigration stamp.

Manchester

Alamo outfitted me with a Renault Kadjar at the off-campus car rental building.

Kadjar exterior

which required a small adjustment in dexterity and right-side brain coordination.

Kadjar interior

Left-side shifting on a right-side drive was initially challenging, but negotiating a busy urban roundabout was downright harrowing.

Taking a 1-hour detour to Liverpool’s dockyards…

church and docks

and neighboring North Park…

before driving 4 overcast hours to Edinburgh proved to be beneficial in normalizing the weird sensation of driving on the wrong/right side of the road.

BTW, this post marks the 2-year bloggiversary for me.

2nd anniversary (2)

There’s plenty of travel ahead for the year, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future.

Let the adventure continue!

Used Cars

On the third day of a four-day affair, the 1-mile approach to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel was thoroughly congested. In addition to stand-still traffic, an unbroken chain of cars akimbo were parked on both sides of the grassy shoulder.

A steady stream of walkers of all ages easily out-paced my Ford pickup on the way to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, north Florida’s premier destination for car connoisseurs–and in some cases–car collectors with deep pockets. They have come from around the world to claim bragging rights for owning many of the rarest sporting and cruising motorcars worthy of six to seven-figures.

Welcome sign (2)

We mastered the final quarter-mile in 30 minutes. Once past the event entrance, we took a quick right and followed the signs that led us to a string of ad hoc neighborhood parking concessions charging $40 for the day. Fortunately, as I approached the first backyard turn-in, a couple was just claiming their vehicle–leaving an open spot for me.

“Are you kidding?! I’m not paying that kind of money for a parking spot! That’s highway robbery!” announced Leah to me. 

“Is it any cheaper down the road?” Leah called out to the attendant/mansion owner.

“It’s the same, but if you’re willing to walk back about 20 minutes, you might be able to park somewhere for half the price,” he offered, “but you need to make up your mind ’cause there’s traffic piling up behind you.

I turned into the lot.

“Location, location, location,” I declared.

The sunny skies were a blessing and a curse. The weather was perfect for strolling along the 1st, 10th, and 18th fairways of the Golf Club of Amelia Island…

on the fairway

to gaze at more than 400 classic and exotic automobiles.

fountain (2)

However, the owners who were standing guard over their prized possessions were invariably hard at work, answering questions, overstating their cars’ value, and forever polishing away the glaring fingerprints of so many gawkers-turned-touchers.

volvo door style

A full representation of cars from every manufacturer was mostly categorized by brand, ranging from Datsuns…

Datsuns

to Porsches…

Porsche Sea

with occasional support provided by corporate tents and stages…

Rope around the green

showcasing concept cars…

Silver Arrow

Silver Arrow wheel

Prototype 10

Infiniti 10

steering wheel detail

elite production models,

Carrera GT modelCarrera GT

and vintage heirlooms.

Mercedes V10 (3)

BMW 700

There were novelties…

junk in the trunk

coockpit

clean and dirty

steamed-clean engines to admire…

Porsche engine

Bugatti racing engine

1930 Cadillac V12

and glorious paint jobs to behold…

Pink Panther

hexagons

car body

6 lite Porche

But most enjoyable was sitting on the sidelines watching a parade of auctioned vehicles…

antiques

Horch grill

as they were being polished,

yellow

and preened…

1930 Cadillac (2)

by teams of attentive handlers in white gloves…

Chrystler

before facing RM Sotheby’s gavel. According to the auctioneer:

Leading RM’s string of 19 individual million-dollar-plus sales and claiming top honors of the 2017 Amelia Island auctions was a striking 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Cabriolet, one of only three examples sporting rare coachwork by Vanvooren of Paris. Offered for public sale for the first time in its 80-year history, the highly original Type 57S sparkled under the auction lights during Saturday’s sale session, commanding $7,700,000. Just moments prior to the Bugatti’s sale, a well-known 1929 Stutz Model M Supercharged Coupe, one of only three supercharged Stutzes in existence, proved demand remains strong for great American Classics at auction, selling for $1,705,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $1/1.2 million. The strong sales price represents a new record for a Stutz at auction.

Friday’s sale session was also one for the books, with the Orin Smith Collection generating $31 million in sales with a 100 percent sell-through. A wonderful showcase of RM Sotheby’s expertise and capabilities in handling private collection auctions, the sale represented the first time RM has hosted a Friday evening sale at Amelia, and provided a fitting tribute to a man beloved by the Amelia crowd, drawing a packed sales room. The group of 63 vehicles was headlined by a stunning 1936 Lancia Astura Cabriolet Series III “Tipo Bocca” at $2,145,000. Other notable sales included:

  • the 1956 Bentley S1 Continental Drophead Coupe, just two registered owners from new, shattered both its presale estimate of $700/900,000 and the previous auction record for the model at a final $1,683,000;
  • a superbly restored 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Special Newmarket Permanent Sedan soared past its $1,000,000 high estimate at a final $1,237,500; and,
  • 1966 Aston Martin Short-Chassis Volante, the very first example of just 37 built, sold for $1,705,000.

The power of ‘no reserve’ exhibited at Friday’s Orin Smith Collection sale was witnessed again on Saturday with terrific results achieved for a well-known private collection of 10 sporting cars. Highlighting the group, a dramatic two-tone red and black 1956 Maserati A6G/54 Frua Coupe Series III, much-admired by enthusiasts during preview, provided one of the most intense and lively bidding contests of the weekend, eventually selling for $2,365,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $1.6/2.2 million. From the same collection, a 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 3.0 eclipsed its pre-sale estimate of $900,000 – $1.1 million to storm into the record books at a final $1,375,000 (an auction record for the model). Also commanding strong bids were a spectacular 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, which realized $1,358,500, and a stunning 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900C SS Coupe, which brought $1,100,000.

Other noteworthy sales of RM’s 2017 Amelia Island event include:

  • the 5,694-mile 1995 Ferrari F50, originally delivered to famed heavyweight Champion boxer, Mike Tyson, sold for an above-estimate $2,640,000;
  • 1938 Graham 97 Supercharged Cabriolet, exquisitely restored by RM Auto Restoration, set a new benchmark for a Graham at auction with its strong $770,000 final price; and,
  • ending Saturday’s sale session on a fun note, a 1963 Meyers Manx—the original dune buggy—doubled its pre-sale estimate to sell for a record $68,750.

Collective sales for 135 blue-chip entries generated nearly $71M in sales–producing a record high in the event’s 24-year history…

Cadillac hood ornament

…and at prices that would make a hood ornament blush.

 

 

Zoom!

Imagine playing recreational golf with one driver, an iron, and a putter. Accessing the game would be so much easier without the expense of all those clubs. And when playing the course, think how much time could be saved between strokes by not having to decide which club to select for each shot.

While it’s not the perfect metaphor, I’ve approached photography with the same minimalist philosophy. I’ve been photographing with a Panasonic Lumix digital bridge camera (fixed zoom lens) for the past few years instead of lugging around equipment that I might use, but most likely never would.

How do I know this? Despite decades of shooting a variety of photography disciplines (landscape, nature, portrait, street scene, architecture, etc.) that required a variety of prime and telephoto lenses neatly arranged in my equipment bag, I’ve noticed that I’m rarely disappointed by the versatility of the LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT 24X optical zoom permanently mounted to my Lumix DMC-FZ300, while also freeing myself of a senseless burden that would invariably sink deeper into my shoulder with every step and slow me down.

It’s truly a remarkable lens for nearly all occasions! The range and reach of the camera’s 25 – 600mm zoom has seldom left me needing more lens, or regretting my camera choice in favor of a full-fledged DSLR…until now…since there are times I’m wishing I could gain greater detail by getting closer to my subject.

For instance, walking across a boardwalk over marshland strictly limits my ability to get closer to wildlife. The following photograph is a hand-held shot of a heron that caught my attention at a scenic overlook while hiking along the Guana Loop of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM). 

heron on a limb

At 24X zoom, the image is acceptable, but if I choose to isolate the heron by cropping the bird to full frame, the resolution suffers greatly. Ideally, a tripod could have provided better image clarity, but the digital noise would still remain the same.

heron on a limb (4)

However, I discovered another available option that allows me to get a bit closer without relying on the camera’s built-in digital zoom–which I’m inclined to deactivate since I prefer to shoot RAW. Years ago, Lumix created a 1.7X tele conversion lens with adapter, extending the optical zoom to 40.8X, or the equivalent zoom range of 1020mm. But alas, this accessory has been discontinued.

Fortunately there’s a secondary market for almost everything photographic, so after a brief visit to the internet, I found a seller on eBay that offered the requisite 1.7X tele converter, a close-up lens, mount adapter, and tripod mount ring, all for a fraction of the original price of the tele lens.

And I bought it!

extender setHaving traveled to the GTM with my new/used acquisition, and having survived the burden of carrying extra gear, I assembled the lens and carefully threaded it onto the existing camera lens. I planted my feet, braced myself and shot the heron again!

heron on a branch (2)

A side by side comparison tells the story…

The image on the right is noticeably cleaner, even though the focus appears to be a bit soft, informing me that capturing a crisp, hand-held shot at 40.8X is not my specialty, and probably ill-advised.

Ugh! So now I’m forced to carry a tripod or monopod to make better use of the lens extender. Oh, well. There goes the economy of my photography.

marshland (2)

Then again, I could simply stick to the limits of the original lens…

GTM Estruaine (2)

but then again, with an impending trip to photograph big game animals in Africa at the beginning of May, I’m much better off adjusting to three golf clubs instead of one.

Ancient Light

The day in St. Augustine started out dreary, with passing drizzle and smoky cloud cover, but with the polar vortex finally loosening its grip on the Midwest, and the California coastline bracing for epic rain and mud, the local weather seemed well within the bounds of “I can’t complain” conditions for a Florida weekend.

Nevertheless, taking a chance on an outdoor activity seemed risky. So Leah and I hedged our bets and we traveled to St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, where $12.95 will buy a St. Johns County resident general admission for one year. We figured that we could always duck the rain…

Parabolic view

by browsing the Keeper’s house,

containers

and following the marble tiles to the landing anchorage.

approach

Then it’s 219 steps to the top.

signs 2 (2)

Congress authorized new construction in 1870 to replace the fading “Old Spanish Watchtower” by the shoreline, that’s evolved since the late 1500’s.

$100,000 funded three years of construction.

signs 1 (2)

Tourists have been climbing the corkscrew stairs since 1910. The Philadelphia iron works…

stair risers

hug the walls of the 165 foot Alabama brick structure,

signs 3 (2)

occasionally interrupted by keyhole glimpses of life…

looking out.jpg

until the stairs reach an opening…

looking up

to a 360-degree lookout… 

lighthouse view2 (3)

that’s capped by 370 hand-cut glass prisms arranged in a beehive shape towering twelve feet tall and six feet in diameter.

difracted fresnel

The original lens was restored in 1992 because of vandals, 

The Fresnel Lens (2)

and re-lit by a 1000-watt bulb the following year.

difraction close-up (2)

Today, the tower represents the oldest brick structure in St. Augustine, and shines a bright light on a community that preserves its heritage, protects through its presence, and invests in its future.

lighthouse overview

 

 

Critter Cam

Security at our new house in St. Augustine has been a concern from the beginning. While we truly enjoy our privacy, we are physically isolated from all of our neighbors–alone in an outlying cul-de-sac that so far has eluded the new home construction spike occurring throughout our community.

waterfront

However, it’s not as if we are inherently paranoid, or that we have a bucket full of anecdotal evidence to suggest that we have something to fear in our neighborhood. On the contrary, we’ve found our faraway neighbors to be friendly and caring.

But there are times when it would be nice to have some neighbors around to keep a watchful eye on things. Or have them circle the wagons in the event of an ambush.

Which would lead us to conclude that we are pretty much on our own when it comes to protecting our property.

home exterior

The other day, Leah and I were introduced to a new neighbor for the first time, who asked the all-to-familiar question:

“So which house is yours?”

Which was answered in a patterned response:

“We’re pretty much by ourselves. Just look for the lonesome house with the red truck on the remote cul-de-sac,” I replied.

screenshot (75)
Look for the blue lollipop–bottom left

Our neighbor responded, “I know that house. It’s very pretty and lush by you, but aren’t you scared being all alone? Maybe you should get a dog!”

Well, no! Although we are dog friendly, there’s no plan for a dog in our household. Certainly not while we still intend to travel.

However, we had considered getting an alarm system, which doesn’t require regular walking or a vet. After an exhaustive search on the internet that challenged my inner geek, I opted for the wireless and flexible RING system to best integrate all security components (video doorbell, front door smartlock, cameras, floodlights, sensors, keypad and base station) under one umbrella. And the monitoring system–no contract necessary–was a genuine bargain at only $100 a year, with COSTCO picking up the first year expense.

I hooked everything up over the course of a few days, despite dangling from the top of a 14 foot telescoping extension ladder.

screenshot (78)

With all devices connected and communicating, I believe Alexa was immediately impressed, but Leah, not so much. She was waiting for a sign that the installation was worth all the accompanying chirps, bells, and whistles of every indoor/outdoor motion or open door–all in the name of stranger danger.

And then we discovered the unintended benefits of exterior motion detection: CRITTER CAM!

In addition to raccoon reconnaissance, we’ve also observed possums, bats, feral cats and cougars, which gave us a better perspective of what was digging up our yard since our move.

But then, I wasn’t prepared for the camera-mugging bluejay who seemingly came out of nowhere to find an unexpected perch…

Realizing that the video capture happened in a blur, I dissected the imagery to secure a better understanding of what I was watching…

flight1a

flight2

flight3

flight4

flight5a

flight6

flight7

Again…

Little did I realize–to my surprise–that RING would open up a (w)hole new dimension of peek-a-boo. 

Otto’s Collections

The former Alcazar Hotel in St. Augustine, FL was originally built by Henry Flagler in 1888…

The Alcazar from the Ponce (2)

as an adjunct to the Hotel Ponce de Leon (see The Poshest Campus in America) to accommodate overflow patronage and provide recreational facilities to his guests. Built in the style of Spanish Renaissance Revival with Moorish overtones, the Alcazar was patterned after its famed royal palace namesake in Seville, Spain.

tower

The Alcazar enjoyed a storied history, hosting society’s gentry throughout the winter months, and at one time housing the world’s largest indoor swimming pool…

bathing-pool-casino_0 (3)

until the Great Depression forced the hotel to shutter its doors in 1930. The Alcazar remained uninhabited for the next seventeen years, and sunk into ruin.

Enter Otto C. Lightner, a Chicago editor and publisher who purchased the property in 1947 for $150,000…

portrait

and began an extensive restoration campaign in anticipation of moving his massive Victorian era arts collection from Chicago into a proper facility worthy of its size and stature.

formal portrait

Today, this National Register Historic Landmark features an elaborate courtyard with a stone arch bridge…

gardens

over a koi pond.

koi

koi frontal

The first floor of the museum simulates a Victorian street emporium showcasing shop front window displays of assorted paraphernalia,

eggs

pocket watches

porcelin-heads.jpg

shave-mugs-3.jpg

spectacles

spoons

toys

beer steins1

Industrial Arts inventions,

toasters

mechanized music machines,

Victrola speaker

and curiosities, like an Egyptian mummy and an aboriginal shrunken head.

shrunken head (2)

The second floor features the remnants of Alcazar’s Turkish and Russian baths…

bath plumbing

offering vaulted views across the courtyard.

circle window

Access doors to the baths stand at opposing sides the gallery vesibule.

2nd floor

Continuing on, the gallery boasts a prodigious collection of Victorian cut glass beneath a Tiffany chandelier,

glassware

The third floor exhibits fine furniture,

chairs and horn table (2)

relevant fine art oil paintings from the Renaissance,

Cimon and Pero.jpg

and additional collections, from match boxes…

matchboxes

to cigar bands.

cigar bands1

The Lightner Museum represents Otto C. Lightner’s legacy of collecting.

He endowed his collection to the city of St. Augustine upon his death in 1950, and continues to keep a close eye on his Chicago treasures from the courtyard, where his remains are buried.