August 11, 2011

Three Midwest Cities for Book Lovers

I would like to take a momentary break from my posts about my trip to New York City to indulge in my bibliophile travel interests. There has been some great literary news lately, including Philip Levine being named the 2011-12 U.S. Poet Laureate. But recently as I was reading Huffington Post Books (my favorite source for book nerd news), I saw a link to the "5 Best Cities for Book Lovers."

It was not a surprising list:
1. Pasadena, CA (Vroman's Bookstore)
2. Washington D.C. (Politics & Prose Bookstore)
3. San Francisco, CA (City Lights)
4. Portland, OR (Powell's Books)
5. New York City, NY (Strand Bookstore)

I agree that these are all great cities for book lovers. I love the Strand and I love City Lights. I have to go to the Strand every time I go to New York City (as I've mentioned here before) and as a devout follower of Kerouac I am happy to say that I have made the "counter-culture pilgrimage" to City Lights.

But here's my problem with the list: Where are the Midwest cities? Every place on the list is East Coast or West Coast without anything in the middle. I know we tend to be thought of as fly-over country, but even with all the plans buzzing overhead we have still found time to enjoy a book or two. That is why I want to add a few places to this list. Specifically, three Midwest cities and towns for book lovers:

1. Kansas City (Rainy Day Books)

Regardless of whether you are on the Kansas or Missouri side of the state line in Kansas City, Rainy Day Books is your source for all great literary events. I have mentioned this bookstore here before, but feel the need to mention it again. Because if you want to make a list of cities for book lovers, it just has to include Rainy Day Books. To read more about it, visit my previous blog post here.

2. Chicago, IL (Women and Children First Bookstore)

This Andersonville bookstore, as the name would suggest, specializes in feminist and children literature. But the best reason to keep coming back is the author events. Powerful women, such as Hilary Clinton, have given readings there. I was lucky enough to attend a reading by Nora Vincent after the release of her book "Self-Made Man: My Year Disguised as a Man", describing her 18-month experiment to pass as a man in traditionally male-only venues (including everything from bowling teams to strip clubs to a monastery). It has an incredibly loyal group of patrons as well as local prestige as it was named one of the ten best bookstore in Chicago by the Chicago Tribune.

3. Lawrence, KS (The Dusty Bookshelf)

Okay, so I'm a little biased and put my current hometown on here. But it really is a great place for book lovers. On Massachusetts Street, the main street through downtown Lawrence, you will find my favorite used bookstore, The Dusty Bookshelf. This little shop is piled high with books - literally. Even with full shelves at the Dusty Bookshelf, you can still find stacks and stacks of books just waiting to be sorted through by a dedicated reader who enjoys the thrill of discovery just as much as she loves a good read.

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August 9, 2011

The Ramble - New York City, NY

After passing through Strawberry Fields, we moved on to the Ramble. As opposed to the manicured lawns and artfully gardened plots in other parts of Central Park, the Ramble is a natural landscape. It is 38-acre woodland respite that is home to some of Central Park's most famous attractions including: Belvedere Castle, Lower Bethesda Terrace, the Boathouse, and Bow Bridge (which I have previously mentioned as one of my top five most romantic places).

The Ramble was an integral part of Central Park's original design. It was created to be a "natural garden" that incorporates Manhattan bedrock, open glades an artificial stream, and intricate plantings of both native and non-native trees (Fun Fact: The Ramble is now mostly dominated by black cherry and black locust trees because they aggressively self-seed.) In the Ramble, it is easy to forget you are in New York City. As we walked along the dirt paths that are uneven with stones and fallen branches, I felt like was a kid again in the woods of Oklahoma. Lost among the trees and brush and rocky outcrops, it's hard for me to imagine that someone actually planted and designed it all. Nothing about it seems intentional. It is more like it all just rose up from the earth and simply is as all nature simply is.

The Ramble also has a slightly more illicit history. Throughout the twentieth century, the Ramble was a clandestine place for male lovers to meet. Men would go to the Ramble to meet other men and…enjoy the love that dare not speak its name. (Please note I’m trying to find really, really tactful ways to say these things. So bear with me and I promise to keep Wilde references to a minimum). As times have changed and society become more tolerant, the Ramble has become more popular for nature hikes than secret rendezvouses. But it retains its status as a New York gay icon, or at least the New York gay icon pre-dating Christopher Street.

Our visit to the Ramble was without the drama of illicit love affairs. No, we were simply a group of about 30 people dressed in wedding attire traipsing through the brush along the stony dirt paths. Although we did have some drama.

As we were walking through the Ramble, a very surprising thing happened. Someone tripped and fell. Well, that’s not really the surprising part. The surprising part is that it wasn't me. I have an impressive ability to hurt myself in random accidents. This includes tripping, slipping, falling, and on one occasion I split my finger open on a spoon (although in my defense it was a particularly sharp spoon). When we first realized someone had fallen, Joel turned around expecting to find me face down in the dirt. I also expected to find myself face down in the dirt. But to our infinite shock and amazement, I was upright and at no point fell or injured myself on our ramble through the Ramble.

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August 4, 2011

Strawberry Fields Memorial - New York City, NY

After the wedding in Wagner Cove, we paraded through Central Park accompanied by the accordion player. Our first stop was the Strawberry Fields, a memorial to John Lennon. The Strawberry Fields Memorial was designed by Bruce Kelly, the chief landscape architect for the Central Park Conservancy. It was dedicated on what would have been Lennon's 45th birthday - October 9, 1985 - by New York Mayor Ed Koch and Yoko Ono, John Lennon's widow. It was named for Lennon's song "Strawberry Fields Forever."

The original Strawberry Fields are located in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool, England. Lennon grew up near Strawberry Fields and as a child he would enjoy a garden party held there every summer. The Strawberry Fields Memorial was built in Central Park West at West 72nd Street, across from the Dakota Apartments, where Lennon had lived in his later years and where he was murdered. The focal point of the Strawberry Fields Memorial is the Imagine mosaic. The mosaic is surrounded by open lawns and rock outcroppings, bounded in by shrubs, treesm and woodland slopes.

The area is designated as a quiet zone, but it is rarely quiet. When we were there, some people were quietly lying on the lawns either reflecting or reading or just enjoying the sunshine. But around the Imagine mosaic, there was a large group of people and they were not quiet. There were tables set up where artisans and craftsmen sold their work, many of them celebrating the life and work of John Lennon. Many people are also there to pay homage to Lennon. I saw roses, candles, works of art, and even a hand-made Lennon doll placed on the Imagine memorial as people circled around and played music. These impromptu memorials are common and often attended by famous musicians and admirers of Jonn Lennon, including Jerry Garcia and George Harrison.

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August 2, 2011

Wagner Cove - New York City, NY

The wedding was held in Wagner Cove of Central Park. Wagner Cove is hidden in a shady corner of the Lake. It is easy to walk by again and again without ever noticing it is there. But one turn past the shrubbery and you'll see the path leading down to the edge of the Lake. There is the rustic shelter that dates back to the first years of Central Park when rowboats on the Lake would stop at one of six shelters along the edge of the Lake to pick up passengers and drop them off at another. The cove is named for Robert F. Wagner, New York City's mayor from 1956 to 1965.

Because of its rustic charm and its hidden nature, Wagner Cove is a very popular wedding site. As we were preparing for the ceremony, another bride and groom came by to have some wedding photos taken but were disappointed to see we had already claimed the spot. The popularity is well deserved. As an accordion player serenaded us, we slowly moved down the mossy stone steps into the little cove. Hidden away from the city, we stood on the edge of the calm Lake, surrounded by the lush greenery of the Park. It was almost mystical in its natural beauty, as though we had found a little place removed from time and space to disappear from the sprawling urban landscape around us.

The ceremony was beautiful and private, so I'm not going to share the details of it here. But suffice it to say, I can see why Wagner Cove is a popular spot to disappear from the city and celebrate a couple's love.

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July 27, 2011

Weird Things Happen in Harlem - New York City, NY

I woke up the morning of the wedding extremely hung over after the previous night of drinking at the White Horse Tavern. Law school has made me a homebody, so I don't drink much at all and hardly ever have a night on the town. So when I woke up that morning, I was surprised by how terrible I felt. I remember thinking, "Holy crap! This is what a hangover is like! I almost forgot!" Of course, it also may be alcohol taking revenge on me for my long neglect.

In any case, I stumbled around my hotel room in a state of confused, achey dehydration and gathered everything I would need to look presentable that afternoon. I was meeting the groom and some other members of the wedding party in Harlem to get ready for the festivities. This would mostly consist of eating greasy food, drinking beer, and trying to properly tie the gentlemen's bow ties. So I grabbed a bag and headed on my way.

Once I arrived at the apartment in Harlem, I decided to have a cigarette before going inside. As I was standing on the sidewalk people watching, I saw a very disheveled woman under the influence of some narcotic stumbling towards me. (This is the nicest way I can think to say, "I saw a homeless woman on crack.") She was slurring her words and yelling what I could only identify as syllables to no one in particular. After she passed me, she started to empty out a black plastic bag. But it was already empty.

Then she waved around...a shallot. To this day, I still do not understand why that woman had a shallot. Where did she even get a shallot? I often cook with shallots and know that they are expensive little delicacies; they definitely cost more than your average onion. So where on earth did a homeless woman under the influence of crack get a shallot? And why was she waving it around?

And thus ends my story about weird things that happen in Harlem.

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July 26, 2011

White Horse Tavern - New York City, NY

After our meal at the Spotted Pig, we walked up the block to have drinks at the White Horse Tavern. This was actually my second visit there. When I was in college and went with friends to New York City, we went to White Horse Tavern specifically to have a drink because of its association with Dylan Thomas.

There is a story that Dylan Thomas, the poet most famous for his line "Do not go gentle into that good night" and his ability to consume vast quantities of alcohol, supposedly went to the White Horse Tavern the night of his death. As was his style, he drank heavily through the night and uttered his famous last words, "I've had 18 straight whiskeys...I think that's the record" before slipping into a coma. This is mostly a legend, there were numerous rumors about what killed Dylan Thomas but ultimately it was ruled to be brain swelling from pneumonia (a lot less glamorous than death by 18 whiskeys).

Of course, Dylan Thomas is not the only famous person to drink at the White Horse Tavern. Over the years, the White Horse has become the watering hole for some of Americas most famous musicians and writers. The other famous Dylan - Bob Dylan - was also a patron along with Jim Morrison and Hunter S. Thompson. One of my other favorite stories about the White Horse Tavern is about Jack Kerouac. When Kerouac was living in the West Village, he frequently visited the White Horse. He was also frequently kicked out of the White Horse. Because he was consistently removed from the premises, someone scrawled on the wall of the bar, "Jack Go Home!" (Fun Fact: The golden years of artists drinking at White Horse are memorialized in Gene Raskins' song "Those Were the Days." The opening line, "Once upon a time there was a tavern" refers to the White Horse.)

So on the night before the wedding, the bride and groom were joined by friends to imbibe vast quantities of alcohol in the old stomping ground of this country's artistic elite. And imbibe we did. The patrons were incredibly friendly (although there was one table of particularly loud yuppies who had apparently decided they were entitled to break every rule of drinking etiquette). And the bar staff was amazing. One extremely friendly bartender gave me a couple free drinks when I told him I had come all the way from Kansas.

I cannot say enough how much I love the White Horse Tavern. It is part of American history and our artistic culture, but it also continues to be one of the greatest places to grab a drink in the West Village.

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July 20, 2011

The Spotted Pig - New York City, NY

One of the best parts of attending Aubrae and Joel's wedding was the food. Aubrae was trained at the Culinary Institute of America, so when she chose The Spotted Pig for the rehersal dinner I knew I was in for a real treat. The Spotted Pig in the West Village serves seasonal British and Italian cuisine, using local ingrediants whenever possible. It is one of the most famous restaurants in New York, tucked away on a hidden corner with no sign and just a literal spotted pig hanging above the door. Because of its fame and notoriety, I am hardly the first blog to write about the restaurant. You can actually read other blogs about the restaurant, many of them food-based blogs with much more knowledge of the gastronomy arts than I can hope to offer here. (Click here to read them.)

We took the room on the third floor for the evening, complete with a bar and a chef preparing our indescribably delicious small plates. On the tables were marinated olives and roasted almonds for us to taste in between the plates of appetizers and salads.

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!

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July 19, 2011

World Coffee - New York City, NY

Just down the street from my hotel, World Coffee became my coffee house during my stay in New York City. Because my hotel room did not have a coffee pot, it became essential to surviving my trip. For example, on my first day in New York I had been up since 4:00a.m. but was attending wedding festivities until 4:00a.m. that night. Enter World Coffee with a brilliantly strong soy latte that kept me awake for the rest of the evening. It was especially appealing because it was the only real independent option. There was a Starbucks not far away, but I only really stopped there when I needed a bathroom (honestly, it is impossible to find a bathroom in New York and Starbucks is about the only place to go. Luckily, there is one every couple of blocks).

I really enjoyed the coffee at World Coffee. The small lattes were strong, served normally with two shots of espresso and I can't say as a coffee fiend how happy that made me. But they did come with a steep price tag. But it was a nice place to get a nice cup of coffee and sit quietly while reading my book. Also with Central Park just across the street, it was easy to grab a park bench and sit sipping my coffee while people watching. It made for an especially enjoyable Sunday afternoon when the Farmer's Market was along Columbus street.

I also enjoyed their blueberry crumble cake, although it was a bit stale. But to be fair, all their pastries were a bit stale. I tried the fig pastry, but the filling was tacky with staleness and the pastry itself difficult to bite because it was so hard and dry. It seemed to be a common problem with their pastries. I tried the apple crumble cake as well and found myself wondering just how many days it had been sitting in the case.

Despite the stale pastries and the steep price for coffee, World Coffee became my regular stop for caffiene in New York. If you are staying on the Upper West Side, then World Coffee is definitely a great place to make your coffee shop.

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July 13, 2011

Gazala's - New York City, NY

Gazala's serves authentic Druze food on the Upper West Side. The Druze, also known as the "Sons of Grace", is a a small religious sect largely of Arab descent but they also have Iranian, Kurdish, and European heritage. By tradition, the Druze mainly depend on olives and fruits for food, but because of their wide range of ethnic and regional influences, Druze cuisine also includes Turkish bourekas and salads, Lebanese vine leaves, zaatar and olive oil, and Israeli falafel.

I stopped by Gazala's before my trip to the Strand, craving something refreshing and affordable. I ordered the Gazala salad - lettuce, tomato, cucumber, scallion in a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. It was a huge portion when it arrived and smelled amazing, the lettuce, tomato, and onion were all incredibly fresh and the citric scent of lemon was strong and refreshing. But unfortunately, it didn't taste as refreshing as it smelled. The dressing was completely overwhelming and had drenched the entire salad, to the point that there was a two inch broth of lemon and olive juice at the bottom of the bowl. Every bite tasted like an oily lemon, completely masking the lettuce and tomato and only letting the occasional bite of raw scallion through. It was inedible.

I spent about a half hour struggling to eat the salad while reading Virginia Woolf's "The Waves" at my table. But each bite was overwhelming and required at least a couple minutes of mental preparation for the intense rush of the dressing. After a while, I just gave up. I probably should have sent it back but I was far too shy for something like that in New York. In Lawrence, where I know the restaurants and often a lot of people who work there, I would have felt much more comfortable asking for a salad with about a gallon less dressing. But there I was too shy about it and so just let the majority of my salad sit there uneaten.

Eventually, I paid and went to the door to leave. Unfortunately, I was confronted by a heavy rain storm outside. I hadn't even packed an umbrella, let alone brought one with me and so I decided to stay and wait for a break in the weather. While I was waiting, I opted to order one of my favorite desserts in the world - baklava. The baklava was baked in a round and sliced into medallions of phyllo pastry filled with chopped pistachio nuts and honey-lemon syrup.

It was incredible. The filling had an incredible fresh and sweet crunch and the phyllo was flakey and crunchy. It also avoided one of the most troublesome aspects of baklava when the baking and the syrup make the bottom layers of the baklava impossible to cut. But by serving it in rounds instead of thick triangles, each medallion was no more than a bite or two big and avoiding some of the perils of eating baklava.

I had to leave my delicious dessert quickly when I saw a break in the rain through the window. So I ate my last bite quickly, savoring the sweet nuttiness of the filling, left my money on the table and dashed out to try and catch the train before the rain started again (but, of course, I've already told you how miserably that turned out).

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!

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July 12, 2011

Strand Book Store - New York City, NY

On my second day in New York City, I had an entire afternoon to wander the city before the wedding festivities began. Naturally, I decided to go to my favorite place in the city - the Strand Book Store. Of course, getting there proved to be a unique challenge. A sudden rain storm hit while I was on the street, soaking me completely through in a few minutes. And I couldn't get a cab to stop on Broadway to save me life (although one did stop briefly, to laugh and tell me there was no way he was going to Union Square).

So I spent twenty miserable minutes sloshing through the wet streets of New York before I finally made it into a train station. Of course, that didn't make it much better because everyone in the train station smelled like a wet rat...although that could have just been the smell of wet rats. As much as I love public transportation, I had subway train stations. They are dirty, cramped, and humid. Every surface has been covered with graffiti and some kind of bodily fluid, so I'm afraid to touch anything even accidentally. But the worst part is the stale air. I just find it had to breathe waiting on the platform and suddenly when the train comes flying past and brings a gust of fresh air through the tunnel, it is such a relief. I can breath and I can leave the platform, even if it is only to be packed into a crowded train car like cattle to the slaughter.

The trip itself was unpleasent, so naturally I was relieved when I finally arrived in Union Square. Although the city did have one final insult for me. As I was walking down the street and attempting to light a cigarette, I stepped on a grate that sent a gust of air up my skirt. With my skirt over my head and trying to balance my purse and cigarette, it took me about ten seconds to get it back down. In my Marilyn Monroe re-enactment, I flashed the city of New York City for about ten seconds. Not one of the moments in my life.

Luckily, the Strand was there to comfort me. Eighteen miles of new, used and rare books - the Mecca for nerds in the city. (However, I was corrected by one person. It is not the "Mecca for nerds", it's just the Mecca). As soon as I walked in the door, I was taken in by the displays on modern classics and staff choices. They had a great selection and I should know, because I had already read most of them (although I did pick up a copy of J.D. Salinger's "Nine Stories" from the modern classics table).

Strand was first built in 1927 on Fourth Avenue, New York's "Book Row", as one of 48 bookstores. Today, the Strand is the only one left. The family business has been steadily growing over the decades. In the 1950's, it was moved to 12th and Broadway where it occupied 4,000 square feet. In the 1970's, it had accumulated 8 miles of books. Today, it has 18 miles of books, about 2.5 million indiviudal books, and occupies 55,000 square feet. But it still remains a family business, owned by Fred Bass, the son of the original founder Ben Bass, and his daughter Nancy Bass Wyden.

Strand is not just a wonderful place to spend an afternoon wandering the stacks, it also offers full services for bibilophiles. Want a personal library? They will build you one designed to your tastes. They have even rented libraries for films, such as American Gangster, and television shows, such as Law and Order. You can also hire their book detectives to hunt down rare volumes, first editions, signed copies, and even fine bindings. You can even rent the rare book room for special events and celebrate your occassion surrounded by some of the greatest works of literature.

Strand is my favorite place to be in New York, so it was worth the hellish journey to get there. There is something amazing about being surrounded by that many great books, something comforting and relaxing. If I only had one day in New York, this is where I would spend it.

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July 6, 2011

Fette Sau BBQ - Brooklyn, NY

After the American Museum of Natural History, I went to my hotel to shower and change for the subway ride to Brooklyn. But first I have to say, I was not supposed to take the subway to Brooklyn. Before I left, my mother told me "Do not even think the word subway!" She was especially horrified at the concept of me going to Brooklyn at night. But it was Joel's fault. For him, I was riding the subway in the evening to Brooklyn for barbecue. It was Joel and Aubrae's joint hen and stag party, which I wouldn't miss for the world. And I wanted to see just how Brooklyn does barbecue.

I almost missed the restaurant walking by. It looks like just another garage or lot of autoparts on a street that seems full of similar locations. But then I saw a pink neon sign with a line of people stretching beyond the chain link fence interest. The restaurant appeared to be in a garage with long picnic tables for family-style eating. At first glance, the whole thing seems a little sketchy. But the food is as good as it comes. All the meat - beef, pork, cornish hen - are raised on organic and/or family farmed heritage breed animals. This is not the meat you buy frozen at the grocery store. And it is prepared with the same loving dedication that it is raised. It is smoked on locally sourced word and dry rubbed to perfection. Because it was prepared dry-rubbed, I opted not to try any of their sauces with my meat (although I heard they were delicious) just because I think dry-rubbed meat should be eaten dry.

The menu changes constantly based on what the farms are able to supple, which is both the blessing and curse of using small farms. Your product will be some of the best, but you may not always be able to get it consistently. Luckily, they had the one thing I will always order when I get barbecue - ribs. Specifically, they had Berkshire St Louis Style Pork Ribs. It was a little difficult to order because they don't offer them by number of ribs but by pound. I had never actually considered how much an order of ribs weighs before. I discovered it weighs 1/2 lb., which was something for me to think about as I tore the meat off the bone with my teeth. It was wonderful. Now I live in the land of Kansas City barbecue and I'm not going to pretend that Brooklyn barbecue comes anywhere near to taking our crown. But it was great barbecue, and not just for Brooklyn, it was just plain great.

However, the sides weren't so much. I ordered the coleslaw. Like sauerkraut on my hot dog, I always have coleslaw with my barbecue. Good rich and smokey barbecue needs the crunch and vinegary acidity of coleslaw, I think it is the perfect combination of flavors. But at Fette Sau, I just had slices of cabbage is some kind of oil. There was no flavor, none of that sour and vinegary tang that bounces off the earthy richness of the barbecue. It was just cabbage.

But overall, it was an amazing meal. So amazing that I ate way too much of it and had to run to the grocer next door for some antacids if I was going to make it through the rest of the night.

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!

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July 5, 2011

American Museum of Natural History - New York City, NY

After lunch at Shake Shake, I still had a lot of time until I could check into my hotel. So I headed across the street to the American Museum of Natural History. On all my previous trips to New York City, I had never actually been. I'd seen the Metropolitan Museum of Art a twice and the Museum of Modern Art once, but never the Museum of Natrual History. So I was extremely to see what one of the most famous museums in the country had to offer.

Unfortunately, the first sight I was confronted by were hoardes of children. And I don't mean a crowd of children or even a mob. I mean a literal hoarde of children like regiments of an invading army that occupied every floor, room and exhibit available. They were not polite hoardes, they were running, screaming, shouting hoardes with screams that echoed off every imaginable surgace. It was not how I had hoped to see the museum. That doesn't mean I don't like children, I'm actually fond of them. Just not when they seem to be re-enacting a scene from Dawn of the Dead.

The first exhibit I was was the Mammals of North America. It was extremely disconcerting because it was pretty much just taxidermy animals in backlit glass cases with plaques that were difficult to read in the dark hallways. Taxidermy has always given me the willies. It was also strange to see exhibits about animals I usually regarded as road kill, included one of the oppossum. I decided to skip the rest of the exhibits on the floor, mostly because I didn't have enough time to take in the museum in its entirity. So I hopped an elevator and jumped straight to the dinosaur exhibits.

I am officially not smart enough to appreciate any of the exhibits on palentology. Everything I know about dinosaurs I learned from "Land Before Time", "Jurassic Park", and the BBC sci-fi show "Primeval". These are apparently not reliable sources of scientific information. A lot of the displays focused on the claws and wrists of the dinosaurs. I was really confused by that and when I mentioned it to my mother on the phone later she explained at great length why this was important, but I still didn't get it. So my reaction to the most important palentology exhibit in the country consisted almost entirely of: "Cool, the skeleton of a T-Rex! Cool, the skeleton of a triceritops! Cool, the skeleton of that dinosaur with the really long neck! You know, the one Little Foot was in "Land Before Time"."

With my admission, I also bought a ticket to one of the special exhibits. There were several available, including one on the world's largest dinosaurs (which given my failure at understanding the permanent exhibits, I'm glad I didn't choose). Instead, I opted for the exhibit on the brain.

It was absolutely fascinating! It started with an explanation of the parts of the brain and their function with an introductory video similar to what you could have seen on PBS. But it continued with very thought provoking displays. The sensing brain portion focused on how our brain interprets sensory signals, such as what we see and feel. For example, you stood in one spot and saw a person walking in the rain while hearing a sound. At first, my brain heard it as the sound of rain based on what I was seeing but it was later revealed to be sizzling bacon. The display on the thinking brain was probably my favorite as it showed how our learning and developing can actually change the physical nature of our brain. For example, London cab drivers have to learn every possible route throughout the city from one location to another. In order to accomodate this incredible amount of information, studies found that part of the brain associated with long term memory in these individuals actually enlarged! The final portion of the exhibit focused on exciting new developments in brain technology, such as anamotronic limbs that can be controlled by thought. This would allow ambutees to control their prosthetics with their minds, like a natural limb.

By the time I finished the brain exhibit, I realized it was time for me to check my hotel. In about three hours, I had only managed to see a few of the exhibits, which made me sad. But I still was happy to see as much as I did and especially happy to have been able to see the special exhibit "Brain: The Inside Story."

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June 29, 2011

Shake Shack - New York City, NY

I had about three hours to kill in Upper West Side Manhattan before I could check into my hotel on my first day in New York City. The first order of business was to get lunch, since I had been up since 4:00am and hadn't actually eaten all day. Fortunately, I was on Columbus street, which was lined with great restaurants. Unfortunately, I spent almost every penny I had on airfare and a hotel room so I couldn't actually afford to eat at most of them. I had done a bit of research on cheap meals before I left and opted to walk to the Shake Shack.

The Shake Shack is a modern-day "roadside" burger stand, offering the American roadside classics of burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes. It was an instant hit when it first opended in Madison Square, with both local and tourist patrons willing to line up and wait. Even with additional locations, there is still usually a wait and often the line goes out the door. The Shake Shack is a chain restaurant, something I usually avoid on trips, but it got its start in New York City so it seemed an acceptable choice in spite of that. It has locations in New York City, Saratoga Springs, Miami, Westport, Washington D.C., and surprisingly the Middle East. (That one confuses me. They'll take their delicious burgers across the ocean to the Middle East but not to Middle America where I wait with bated stomach?).

One my first of two trips to the Shake Shack, I got the traditional cheeseburger and fries. At first, I didn't get what the big deal was. I mean, it's a burger! In New York. How on earth did they expect to compete with my burger palate that had been trained by decades of eating beef that was raised just down the road? Well, it was good. Really, really good. I don't think it was exactly the best burger I ever had but it was definitely worth the wait. The meat patty is hand formed by a butcher, which gave it that fresh rather than machine process taste that you get at most fast food burger joints. The potato bun was also grilled, which gave it a great burger-to-bun ratio but also gave it something fresh and wonderful to soak up the meaty juices.

On my second trip, I opted for the New York Dog, a hotdog with saurkraut. (For the record, hot dogs should always be served with saurkraut. Always. Anyone who says otherwise has no taste buds.) The steamed potato bun was perfect and definitely an improvement over the soggy, white, processed buns you get from roadside hotdog stands in the city. The hot dog itself was also great. I ate a hot dog later from a stand during my trip and found myself wondering what exactly I was eating. Because it really didn't taste like a hot dog is supposed to. At the Shake Shack, there was no questioning - it is premium Vienna all-beef hot dog. And the saurkraut was great, the cabbage was crunchy instead of soggy and it had the most wonderful sour, acidic flavor that perfectly complimented the grilled flavor of the hot dog.

So I learned my lesson. Don't eat a hot dog in New York City from one of the sidewalk stands. Do it right and get it from the Shake Shack, because that's how a New York Dog is supposed to taste.

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!

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June 28, 2011

Park 79 Hotel - New York City, NY

Getting to New York City was not as easy as I imagined. I woke up at 4:00 a.m. after a long night of packing to make sure I got to the airport on time and didn't actually arrive at my hotel until somewhere around noon. Only then to be told that I couldn't check into my room until 3:00pm. So the trip began with hurried exhaustion followed by exhausted waiting. Luckily, they allowed me to check my bags so I could go galavanting in my half-awake state around the Upper West Side.

Staying at the Park 79 Hotel was actually great, it is definitely an ideal place to stay for anyone looking for a hotel in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It is literally across the street from the American Museum of Natural History and Central Park, so I was close to some great attractions. It was also just off Columbus street, which is lined with wonderful restaurants. In particular, it was close to World Coffee that was a great place to grab my morning cup of coffee with some decent pastries (not exactly the greatest in the city, but definitely it hits a spot in the morning). One block up is Amsterdam with great bars and a block up from that is Broadway with some great stores, including one of my mother's favorites, Filene's Basement.

Transportation was also easy. It is just off Columbus, where you can usually catch a cab within five minutes. And for those taking the subway, it is just about a block or two away from a train station.

The hotel room was nice, although tiny. And I mean really tiny - it was easily smaller than my freshman year dorm room. But for the price and for Manhattan, it was very accomodating. There was enough room for the dresser and the bed, with a small bathroom inside. The bathroom was greatly appreciated because many places I was looking to stay required patrons to share...something I wasn't exactly comfortable with. The service was also wonderful. Any time I had a question about the amenities or finding a cab, they were happy to answer.

If I have any complaints, it is one small one. That is the slowest, hottest elevator I have ever been in. It was one of those antique jobs that moves at a glacial place. There was enough room for one or two people, maybe for one to swing their arms, but not much more than that. And as we climbed the floors to my room at the top, I began to seriously fear that it would stop and I would be trapped in the tiny gold and mirror plated coffin for the rest of my trip. It never happened, but I held my breath for the entire five minutes it took to go up or down.

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June 16, 2011

Road Trip Memories - My Four Trips to New York City

I have been to New York City four times in my life. The most recent will be this weekend to attend the wedding of my friend Joel and his wonderful fiance Aubrae, who I have mentioned on this blog before. In the course of planning this trip, I was eager to use some free time to visit some new places and re-visit some places I have been before, like Central Park. But I also want to share with you a little bit about who I was when I took those trips. It is a necessary context because who I was then and who I am now will affect how I view the City that Never Sleeps.

First Trip to New York City:
My first trip was in the 7th Grade on a school trip. I was incredibly eager because I believed it would offer me a glimpse into the future life I was destined to lead. My family had always known I would leave Tulsa. They said it was in my blood. When my grandmother (my father's mother) had turned 18 she left Yates Center, Kansas and moved to Omaha, Nebraska. Why Omaha? Because she didn't know anyone there. When my father turned 18, he left Nebraska and moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. When I turned 18, everyone assumed I would leave and go to some place where I didn't know anyone. And they were right. I moved to Chicago because it was a big city and I didn't know anyone there.

My visit to the city was organized as any school children's trip would be organized: visits to all the major landmarks and museums, little time for us to get ourselves into trouble (although we managed to do so anyway), and a few brilliant surprises such as chance encounters with movie stars. I'll share with a few of those stories in the coming weeks.

Second Trip to New York City:
My second visit was in high school. My friend Katy had moved to New York City to attend Columbia University. She was living the dream in my mind. With several high school friends, I flew to New York City to party like I believed people partied in the city. We slept on her dorm floor, literally taking up every little bit of floor space that was available. It's funny, but this is the trip I remember the least. There are only three events I remember clearly from this trip: (1) Cutting my finger with a spoon (yes, I really did that), (2) Going to see one of the early off-Broadway performances of "I Am My Own Wife" before it won the Pulitzer Prize, and (3) A friend who was with us getting drunk and speaking only in Spanish for the remainder of the night. Why is this trip the most unclear in my mind? I don't know. Maybe it was because I was being guided by a friend who lived in New York. I was seeing New York as she saw it, not entirely through my own eyes.

Third Trip to New York City:
My second trip was as a sophomore in college. With my friends MirMir and Bess, I went to New York City as cheaply as possible. We flew to Philadelphia and got a ride to Newark, Delaware where we spent a few days with MirMir's family. Then we took a bus to New York City and took a room in a dilapidated YMCA by Central Park. We weren't really interested in seeing the Statute of Liberty, our sightseeing adventures were a little different. We had an Italian dinner in Little Italy and a drink at the White Horse Tavern where Dylan Thomas went gentle into that good night. We spent most of the trip pretending we were in a fake goth rock band called "Meanwhile Back in Communist Russia..." and had very loud conversations about our non-existent drummer we were kicking out of the band and our debut album "The Mexican Icepick" on the subway. (Get it? The Mexican Icepick?)

It was an amazing trip of three girls play-acting at being interesting. I wasn't sure who I really was then, but loved being in a big city where I could try on different identities. A melancholy bassist in a goth rock band, an aspiring writer lingering in the bookstore where Jhumpa Lahiri shops, or a heavy drinker who could keep up with Dylan Thomas if he hadn't already succumb to his eighteenth whiskey. I was all of them and I was none of them. I was everyone I imagined I could be because I had no idea who I really was.

Fourth Trip to New York City:
My fourth trip to New York City is as an adult. This is also my first time traveling to New York City alone, probably because it is the first time I am mature enough to contemplate the difficulties of traveling alone in a big city. I found a nice little hotel on the Upper West Side, near where the ceremony would be. I planned some activities for my free time, mapped out subway routes, and calculated taxi fares. It is a trip I have planned and prepared for, something I haven't done on my previous trips. Most likely because I didn't know how and didn't know what I wanted. But this time, I do. On this time to New York, I am going as a whole person. I am not anticipating a future I still can't see clearly or experimenting with identities. I know who I am this time around. So does that make New York City a different place now? I don't know yet. I'll have to wait and see.

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June 14, 2011

The Green Monster – Topeka, KS

St. Gregory Apartments, a.k.a. the Green Monster, is a notorious eight-story building in Topeka, so-named for the hideous shade of green it has been painted. I’m sure when the building was first designed someone thought it would be fresh and cheery to have a minty green apartment building in downtown Topeka. But over time, the green tiles that cover the building’s sides have become more of a pus green than mint.

Despite the name and the sickly color of the exterior, it remains in active use. The lobby is the Disability Rights Center of Kansas while the upper floors are apartments. I went to an apartment on the fifth floor once and was immediately horrified by the smells. At one end of the hall, I could smell fried chicken. At the other end of the hall, I could smell something rotting, like a dead body. It was the most disconcerting combination of smells ever. I can understand an apartment hallway that smells like cooking flesh or a hallway that smells like rotting flesh…but both? That suggests nothing good in my mind.

And in all probability, there really could have been a dead body there. The Green Monster has been the site of numerous crimes, including murder. An article on a January 2011 murder in the building was met with anything but surprise and prompted the journalists to recount some of the more notorious past crimes committed there, including multiple murders and the brutal “stomping” that left a man with brain damage in 2007. Some people in Topeka have called for the building to be torn down or at least painted (maybe something about the hideous shade of green inspires some kind of criminal inclination in people nearby?) Maybe the building itself is out to get people. On at least one occasion, a tile fell off the side of the building and landed on a truck in the parking lot below.

I’ve heard the Green Monster wasn’t always a monster, of course. Once it was a popular building where government offices could be run in the lobby while government and political employees could occupy the suites on the upper floors. But something happened. Maybe it was when the shade of green began to shift from sweet to sickly. Maybe it was one when the tiles started to fall off the siding and crush the cars below. Maybe it was the smell. I don’t know. But the Green Monster continues to stand, inspiring confusion and maybe a little fear in the people of Topeka.

Total Time Traveled: 1 hour
Total Distance Traveled: 55 miles
Soundtrack: "Sainthood" Tegan and Sara

Photo Source

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June 8, 2011

Road Trip Philosophy - Why I Love Diners

No matter where I travel, I always look for the same place to eat - the All-American Diner. It is something so quintessentially perfect for a road trip. You pull off the road when you see the sign, usually a name and followed by apostrophe s, like Mikey's or Linda's (I always wonder if the name is a real person, or just a persona created for the atmosphere). The menus are always laminated but still slightly stained by customers who have come before. At least one item of the menu is always designated as world-famous, some claim to fame to entice diners although they never say how that acclaim was achieved.

The diner coffee is always good. (My friends and I had a theory it was because the coffee pots were always old.) Coffee is diners is not just a road trip staple, it is also something uniquely American. When the country was first beginning to rebel against England, drinking coffee became an act of American independence. When the English began taxing tea in America...well, you know the story of the Boston Tea Party and so on. Suffice it to say that as Americans began to reject tea as English, many of the country's first patriots began to prefer coffee. (Coffee has always been a bit of a rabblerouser. In the 17th century, Ottoman Sultan Murad IV banned coffee because he believed drinking it led people to question his rule. Supposedly, he roamed the streets with an executioner and beheaded anyone he saw drinking coffee.)

It's not just me who has a passion for diners. Movies, music, and television shows featuring road trips inevitably focus on the old, dusty diner where weary travelers can stop for a bite to eat and a strong cup of coffee. There's Katz's Deli where Rob Reiner's mother ordered what Sally was having in When Harry Met Sally. There's Olive ordering her waffles a la mode, because even pageant girls eat ice cream, in Little Miss Sunshine. Or the intricate discussion of tipping during the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs. Actually, I think Quentin Tarentino's films have particularly latched on to the mystique of the diner. Most of his films feature diners as prominent locations for important scenes. Pulp Fiction had the 50's themed diner with a $5 milkshake and a dance contest as well as the Hawthorne Grill where Honey-Bunny and Pumpkin tried to hold-up customers. Whenever someone makes a movie or writes a song about a road trip, there always is some mention of that diner in the middle of nowhere for wayward wanderers to stop.

It's not just about the coffee or the mystique of diners - it's also about the food. I love diner food. There is nothing better than a good plate of runny eggs with bacon and hash browns (as I've said before and will say again). Although everyone has a preferred diner meal. For some its french toast or maybe pancakes. Others might steer away from breakfast food (although I have no idea why) and go for the other diner classics like a burger and fries or chicken fried steak. But there's a sense of comfort to the traveler when she stops at a diner in a place she has never been and is able to find something on the menu that feels comfortable and homey.

Perhaps that is the best thing about diners - no matter where we are, they always provide sense of home through a familiar meal.

Throughout my travels, I've been to plenty of diners. Some have been great and some have been awful. One in Chicago gave me food poisoning. Twice. But no matter where you travel in this country, there will always be a great roadside diner with a cup of coffee, some world famous dish to offer, and a laminated menu with decade-old ketchup stains.

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!

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June 7, 2011

Road Trip Music - Cue the Theme Music Playlist

The last month has been extremely difficult for me. Between two weeks of final exams and starting new jobs, there have been some mornings as I drive to school or work that I'm just not sure I can make it through another day. That's when its time to cue the theme music. When I was in high school, my friends and I had those songs we would play as loud as possible in the car just to get our spirits up. Our favorite was "Minority" by Green Day. We always felt better about life as we shouted the lyrics out the window.

As I've gotten older, I still have theme music that I love to yell out the window. And so to get me through these past several weeks, I made a playlist to keep my spirits up.


"Cue the Theme Music" Playlist
  1. "Don't Stop Believin'" Journey
  2. "Carry On My Wayward Son" Kansas
  3. "Free Bird" Lynard Skynard
  4. "You Give Love a Bad Name" Bon Jovi
  5. "Gimmee Three Steps" Lynard Skynard
  6. "Smoke on the Water" Deep Purple
  7. "All My Life" Foo Fighters
  8. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Nirvana
  9. "Cold Hard B****" Jet
  10. "Back in Black" AC/DC
  11. "Whole Lotta Love" Led Zepplin
  12. "Don't Fear the Reaper" Blue Oyster Cult
  13. "Simple Kind of Man" Lynard Skynard
  14. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" Rolling Stones

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June 2, 2011

Artificial Cloud Sculpture - Tulsa, OK

Near the Center of the Universe, that site of spirituality and acoustic ingenuity, is a more depressing historical monument called the "Artificial Cloud" by Robert Haozous. The steel sculpture is a commentary on the destruction of society by technology. The material itself illustrates the destruction. The 72.5 foot sculpture is made of untreated steel that corrodes overtime, allowing the sculpture to fully articulate its message over time.

The long, center section features humans without hands among airplanes and rises to a point with a cloud on top.When I was younger, I though the artificial cloud referred to the atomic bomb. The rising cloud and sky full of planes depicted on the base made me believe the sculpture referred to the devastation wrought by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I have since learned the warning had nothing to do with foreign bombings, but rather referred to destruction must closer to home.

The statute actually refers to the effect of technology on American society. The statute represents the history of Native Americans subjugation after their first contact with the west. The human figures without hands are the Native Americans and then the sky filling with airplanes as technology continues to overtake the indigenous way of life. The cloud is the threatened hope for the future.

The lower base of the statute has shackles that are meant to symbolize the shackles placed on Native Americans during the early years of the nation. However, that is not a commonly known fact in Tulsa. Actually, most people think that the shackles are actually rings and supposedly banging them will have supernatural results. There are many urban legends about what clanging the steel rings at a certain time will do and sometimes at night you will see someone ringing them, though for what purpose I don't know.

It is interesting to me that a sculpture so incredibly meaningful does not have a well known meaning in Tulsa. As I said, I believed it referred to the atomic bomb for most of my life, until I recently began doing research on the sculpture for my latest trip to Tulsa. Also that a symbol of subjugation - the shackles - should become part of a silly mystical urban legend. Part of me wonders what the artist would think that even with the technology available to find the true meaning, his commentary on technology itself seems to be largely recognized.

Total Time Traveled: 9 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 522 miles
Soundtrack: "Cue the Theme Music" Playlist


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May 31, 2011

Donald W. Reynolds Center - Tulsa, OK

My recent visit to Tulsa was not entirely about sightseeing. I was actually going to see my little sister graduate from college. I was extremely excited to see her graduate and also excited to see the Donald W. Reynolds Center. When I was younger, I went to the old basketball stadium to see the University of Tulsa basketball games with my family. Funny story, that is actually how I found out I needed glasses. While watching a basketball game with my family, my mother asked me what the score was to see if I was paying attention. I told her I didn't know. She pointed to the scoreboard asked, "Can't you read that?" After squinting for a little while, I gave it a guess. That week, I got my first pair of glasses.

The Reynolds Center, named for prominent American businessman and philanthropist Donald W. Reynolds, was opened in December 1998. It was created by the Capital Campaign, spearheaded by Bob and Roxanna Lorton. Bob Lorton is a well-known Tulsan, as the Chairman and CEO of World Publishing Co., which publishes the local newspaper the Tulsa World.

The 138,000-square foot, $28 million multi-use facility includes an 8,355-seat arena, easily large enough to fit the whole year's graduating class and accommodate a stellar basketball team. (Fun Fact: Bill Self, the famed KU basketball coach, spent part of his early career at the University of Tulsa. He spent three seasons there, from 1998 to 2000, and compiled a Tulsa-best 74–27 record with two NCAA appearances.)

The facility is designed to both showcase the sports teams but also help them develop. The Reynolds Center houses the states only accredited academic program for athletic training and sports medicine. There are also facilities for state of the art film editing, to make sure game play backs are the best they can possibly be. And it is not just a home for the basketball team. It is also a prominent Tulsa event center. Since its opening, it has hosted concert performances by such famed acts as Reba McIntyre.

Total Time Traveled: 9 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 522 miles
Soundtrack: "Cue the Theme Music" Playlist

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May 26, 2011

R.I.P. The Camelot Hotel - Tulsa, OK

Ever since I was a kid, I can remember the once beautiful Camelot Hotel. Built in the 1960's, it was an elegant eight-story, 330-room pink castle, complete with turret, massive iron gates, moat, drawbridge and a swimming pool shaped like the top of a medieval spear. In the late 1960's, the Camelot was the hot place to be in Tulsa. It was a popular place for local events, including proms, reunions, and wedding receptions.

Of course, it was not so elegant in my memory. My whole life the Camelot was in decay, abandoned and broken down. But it was still a castle. I always thought there must be some kind of magic kingdom behind those broken windows. Perhaps a sleeping princess who would restore her castle to glory once she had awoken. But she didn't wake up in time because the Camelot Hotel was torn down and replaced by a Best Western. It was a surprise on my visit to Tulsa when I didn't see the turret rising over the buildings. I immediately felt an ache for that old castle, even if no one had stayed in it for years. Well, stayed in it as a hotel. Over the years, it had become home to many a vandal and plenty of vermin. But you could still see remnants of the old elegance and majesty.

In 1996, the Camelot was condemned for public habitation. But despite the condemnation, the people of Tulsa still loved that decaying old building. One survey found that up to 80% of Tulsans were opposed to demolishing the Camelot. Most probably for sentimental reasons. After all, many people had attended proms, weddings, and other major events at the hotel. It was once a site where prominent celebrities stayed on their visits to the Sooner State (including Elvis and Richard Nixon).

But despite the love of the city, the Camelot could not be saved. Demolition began in August 2007. In September, the ballroom had been torn down and the building had caught fire. The Camelot was finally gone in April 2008. It is truly sad to see such a beautiful landmark go, even if it had past its prime.

Total Time Traveled: 9 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 522 miles
Soundtrack: "Cue the Theme Music" Playlist


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May 24, 2011

Center of the Universe - Tulsa, OK

The Center of the Universe is on a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks. If you stand on the opposite side of the brick circle from someone else, you hear their echo, but not your own. If you stand at the center of the brick circle and talk, you will hear yourself echo, but others will not hear any echo. But it is more than just a cutesy attraction. For me, it has always been a place charged with a powerful almost spiritual energy.

The first time my Dad ever took me to see his office in Downtown Tulsa, he took me to see the Center of the Universe. When you stand at that spot, you can hear any sound you make echo back in your ears but no one else can. I remember standing there as a little girl, whispering and then shouting, always hearing every single sound come back to me. It seemed magical!

As I grew up (and after I learned how sound waves work from the Magic School Bus), the Center of the Universe continued to be an important part of my life. I would hang out in a coffeeshop downtown, not far from there, and I would often take evening walks with friends to sit at the Center and talk. Even then, when we knew the echoes were not magic, it still had a power to it. Sitting there, my friends and I felt free. I think those conversations were some of the most meaningful and honest I had as a teenager. We felt powerful there, charged with some sort of spiritual energy. It's a feeling I feel every time I go back.

Total Time Traveled: 9 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 522 miles
Soundtrack: "Cue the Theme Music" Playlist


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May 23, 2011

And We're Back!

Sorry for the radio silence last week. Between finals and starting three summer internships/clerkships (yes, three and yes, I'm crazy), I wasn't able to update last week. But don't worry, I'll be back to posting twice a week tomorrow with more about my recent trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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May 11, 2011

Village Inn - Tulsa, OK

Nothing makes me feel more at home than Village Inn. When I was in high school, I spent countless hours of countless evenings there. Most places in Tulsa close at decent hours. But that never really deters high school students from staying out way later than is reasonable. We would go and sit at Village Inn until all hours of the night. It was open 24 hours a day, had the ideal diner menu, and had great coffee. Plus, there was smoking allowed inside. We weren't the only kids heeding the call of Village Inn. Into the early hours of the morning, the booths and tables were filled with groups of high school and college-aged kids sitting around sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. It was the place to be.

So when I saw Village Inn, my heart leapt for joy. And not just any Village Inn but my Village Inn, the specific one where I spent the evenings of my wasted youth. I took a booth in the corner and took a look at the menu, although I didn't need to. I already knew exactly what I was going to order. Two eggs over medium, hash browns, bacon, and a biscuit. This is the meal that epitomizes comfort food to me.

At Village Inn, you have to order hash browns. They are the greatest thing in the world. When I moved away from Oklahoma to Chicago - a land of endless food options but no Village Inns near me - I spent years searching for some place that offered decent hash browns. The closest I ever got was Golden Olympic in Evanston, Illinois. But as good as their food was, it was nowhere near the pure hash brown joy of Village Inn. The other great Village Inn fare is the biscuits. (Are we noticing a trend in my love of carbs?) Biscuits are a Southern food art form. There is nothing worse than a heavy, stale, dry biscuit. But at Village Inn, the biscuits are everything they should be. Warm, moist and crumbly.

While Village Inn is a chain, so people may mock my love, it is the one diner where I feel truly at home. Sitting in that Village Inn, I felt connected to my past, to that awkward teenage girl who was quoting everything from Jack Kerouac to Robert Dahl to prove how smart she was. But then I am me. An adult, a law student, a woman who has left home to travel the country and the world. Sitting at Village Inn, I felt truly myself. Connected with my past, content in my present, and happy about my future.

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!

Total Time Traveled: 9 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 522 miles
Soundtrack: "Cue the Theme Music" Playlist

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May 10, 2011

Road Trip Philosophy - You Can't Go Home Again

This past week, I took a road trip back to my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma to see my sister graduate from college. It was an event I wouldn’t miss for the world, although it didn’t come at a particularly good time – the middle of finals week to be exact. So while my family went to a little soiree for my sister and her best friend, I drove around our hotel looking for somewhere I could eat and study for a few hours.

I was immediately struck by how different things are. I recognized the street signs and I knew where I was, but it was like trying to remember a dream. Everything had a vague sense of familiarity, but I couldn’t be sure about anything. I would look for an old landmark, like the decrepit Camelot Hotel (an awesome castle-themed building that had been around as long as I could remember and been abandoned just as long). But it was torn down and replaced by a Best Western. It was like looking at a jumble of puzzle pieces from two different boxes of puzzles – some pieces I recognized while others were there but felt out of place in my memory of what Tulsa is.

I started thinking about when I left this place six years ago. I was so ready to leave. Actually, I had been ready for years. I always thought that Tulsa was a place where you were “from”. It was never the place you went or wanted to end up. But driving through town today I started seeing bits of my life everywhere. That was the park where my friends and I had a picnic in the summer. That was the dollar movie theater where we went to see “The Emperor’s New Groove” at the 50-cent matinees every day for a week. Memories – good, bad, and banal – were around me. Even though the landscape had changed, Tulsa still felt like my home. I may be “from” Tulsa, but part of me will never leave.

Out of reflex or perhaps some sort of nostalgia, I drove towards my old neighborhood. I kept playing the same three songs on my stereo: “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Carry on My Wayward Son” by Kansas, and “Free Bird” by Lynard Skynard. I don’t know what it says about me that the best of mullet rock makes me feel at home, but it does.

Not everything had changed, of course. I found comforting little memories everywhere. But the greatest was the giant orange sign and the teal roof – the most comfortingly garish colors I know. Village Inn. Nothing makes me feel more at home in Tulsa, than I trip to Village Inn.

But more about that tomorrow.

Total Time Traveled: 9 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 522 miles
Soundtrack: "Cue the Theme Music" Playlist


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May 5, 2011

Celebration of Cultures Mural - Lawrence, KS

Murals are extremely popular in Kansas and Missouri. If you travel west from Kansas City, you will see plenty along the way. While most of the murals tend to celebrate important moments in local history, several in Lawrence tend to celebrate more general attitudes and beliefs. This includes the "Celebration of Cultures" mural on the arcade at 8th and Massachusetts.

The mural was a group project created in 1995. Community members assisted Lawrence artist David Loewenstein, the designer. Not much information is available about the mural or the project, which is sad because it is a beautiful work. It seems like there would be some sort of lovely meaning or at least some sort of community event to commemorate the work.

More is known about the designer than the work itself. The designer, Loewentstein, is a professional muralist. Though he is based in Lawrence, he is a internationally recognized artist. His works can be seen in Missouri, Arizona, Mississippi, Iowa and New York City and in Northern Ireland. He also co-authored the book, "Kansas Murals: A Traveler's Guide" (as a sidenote, I am really fond of this book and find it to be a great resource whether I am researching a mural I have seen or finding something new to look for).

For now, that's all I can seem to find out. But hopefully, with a little more time and research, I can update this post in the future with more interesting and helpful information about the Celebration of Cultures Mural.

Total Time Traveled: 15 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 7 miles
Soundtrack: "Yours Truly, Angry Mob" Kaiser Chiefs

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May 3, 2011

Road Trip Philosophy - My Top Three Bad Horror Movies about Hotels

I love bad horror movies almost as much as love good ones. But these...these are so bad they are not even funny. I'm almost proud I've seen them because that means I have sat through them, which is a testament to my endurance as a film fanatic. I've written already about some absolutely great horror movies that play on the fears of hapless travelers forced to stop for the night in a strange motel room and the terrible things that tend to happen as a result. But not all movies that try and play on those fears are actually good movies. Some are just plain terrible. And not so terrible that they are funny. Just plain bad. This list is more a warning not to waste your time with these terrible films.

1. 1408

This movie was one big disappointment for me. I have stayed in a haunted hotel before and am a fan of John Cusack, so I was absolutely thrilled to go see it. What followed was one big depressing let down. The movie wasn't really about a haunted hotel, it was about a father tormented by his grief over losing his daughter. He travels to haunted hotels and motels to write about all the creepy things happening but all the while he is hoping for a sign of an afterlife and perhaps a way of contacting his deceased child. But when he stays in Room 1408, he finds himself tormented and encouraged to end his own life as the only means of escape. But it isn't scary or even particularly creative. It's just...depressing.

2. Psycho II

Why someone would make a sequel to Hitchcock's masterpiece is beyond me. Some films should just not have sequels and this is one of them. After years in a mental institution, Norman Bates returns home to the Bates Motel. But is he free from his mother? He begins to get mysterious notes from her and then a teenage boy is murdered. The film tries hard to be a suspenseful thriller and recreate the terrifying magic of the original. But it just tries too hard. Even if you manage to suspend your belief long enough to be swept up in the mystery (Who is leaving the notes for Norman? Has he once again gone insane? Or is he simply tormented by those who won't let him forget the past?) you will spend most of the time rolling your eyes and wondering why they didn't just leave the great original alone, instead of marring it with this terrible followup.

3. Vacancy

The first half of this movie isn't really a horror movie. It's a bad drama. A bickering couple on the brink of divorce after the death of a child get lost on a road trip, only worsening their snipping at each other. Honestly, it was better when I saw it in "Rachel's Wedding." (Now that was a good movie.) But when we finally get to the scary stuff - a couple trapped in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of people who like to murder hapless motel guests for sport - it doesn't really seem worth the wait. The movie isn't about the scary killers (there isn't even a real backstory to explain why any of this is happening), it is about this couple rekindling their marriage by overcoming deadly adversity. The writers probably thought this would give the movie more depth than your typical horror film, but all it really did was make me wish they would stop whining already.

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April 27, 2011

C.W. Porubsky’s Deli - Topeka, KS

In the part of Topeka known as "Little Russia" there is a locally famous deli and specialty grocery store called C.W. Porubsky’s Deli and Tavern. Their chili, hot pickles, and cold cuts have been nationally and internationally recognized but in Topeka they are down-right legendary.

Despite several trips, I never seem to be able to make it there in during the few hours the Tavern is open for lunch. But this trip I did manage to make it in time to the Deli. The small space is filled mostly with the sort of items you would find in a gas station convenience store, such as prepackaged foods that can be prepared in the microwave. But just a few steps to the back of the store and you will find an amazing deli that also offers world famous hot pickles.

Personally, I don't tend to eat a lot of pickles (unlike some celebrities, although I don't know why they are famous). But I'm not going to pass up an opportunity to sample an internationally recognized Kansas delicacy.

C.W. Porubsky’s Deli and Tavern is so famous, it is having a documentary made about it. C.W. Porubsky's grandson, Matthew Porubsky, is made a documentary, entitled "Porubsky's: Transcendent Deli", about the deli's history and more than 60 years in service. Click here to learn more about the documentary, which is also available for purchase

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!

Total Time Traveled: 1 hour
Total Distance Traveled: 54 miles
Soundtrack: "The Meanest of Times" Dropkick Murphys

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April 26, 2011

Japanese Friendship Garden - Lawrence, KS

On a lovely day, there's nothing better to do in Lawrence than take a walk downtown on Massachusetts Street. Along the way, I happened to see a group of women dressed in kimonos at the Japanese Friendship Garden raising money for the survivors of the tragedies in Japan. There was a drummer performing and women were taking pictures of passers-by posing in kimonos. I passed (mostly because I'm not fond of having my picture taken) but did enjoy the opportunity to see a beautiful natural oasis in downtown Lawrence.

The Japanese Friendship Garden represents the cultural ties with Hiratsuka and Lawrence. It was built to honor the 10 year anniversary of Lawrence's relationship with its sister city, Hiratsuka, Japan. Hiratsuka sent representatives to Lawrence to help design, plan and work on the project. Hiratsuka shipped two major pieces from Japan, a lantern and a 15' stone tower to be displayed in the garden. Approximately 50 delegates from Hiratsuka, including Mayor Itsuo Yoshino and nine other city officials, traveled to Lawrence to attend the dedication ceremony, which was held on October 26, 2000.

The natural flora and fauna of the garden are inspired by our sister city: Japanese maples, yoshino cherry trees, yews, bamboo, juniper, and mugho pines as well as azaleas, spirea, viburnum, Siberian iris, and peonies. With the interesting artwork, beautiful landscaping, and quiet, shady gazebo this is a lovely downtown Lawrence oasis to wander for a moment or to relax and enjoy for an entire sunny afternoon.

Total Time Traveled: 15 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 4.5 miles
Soundtrack: 102.1 FM

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