February 23, 2011

Yokohama - Lawrence, KS

It happens to all of us. It's 10:00pm and it seems like all the good restaurants are closed. Just as you're about to give up and settle for fast food, you hear about a late night Happy Hour at a great sushi restaurant. That was what happened to my friend Mona and I the other night. Given our strange schedules of work and school, we often don't eat dinner until very late at night. And given our mutual love of good food, a late night happy hour at Lawrence's local sushi restaurant, Yokohama, is just what we needed.

If you're in downtown Lawrence and need a late night sushi fix, you can't do much better than happy hour at Yokohama. From Sunday to Wednesday at 9pm until 10:30pm and Thursday to Saturday at 10:00pm to midnight, you can order cheap and delicious sushi with a $5.00 drink order per person. So Mona and I settled in with wine and saki to explore their cheap and delicious options. The appetizers and rolls range from $2.99 to $4.99. While the options may be limited, they are at least very affordable.

Mona and I opted for the Ika Rings, Sunday Morning roll, and Las Vegas roll. The ika rings are calamari dipped in panko batter and lightly fried. I love calamari, but after enjoying these little delicious bits of fried goodness I don't understand why everyone doesn't use panko in them. The thick pieces of calamari are chewy and delicious, while the panko adds an amazing crunch. Our fried appetizer set the course for our meal - the vast majority of items on the happy hour menu seem to be fried, probably appealing to that desperate need for fried food many people get after a few drinks (or at least I do).

The Sunday Morning roll is aptly named. The roll is smoked salmon, avocado, cream cheese, lightly fried and reminds me of a great Sunday morning brunch (when I tend to order smoked salmon and cream cheese on an everything bagel). It is just a little bit crunchy with a deliciously sweet, savory and soft middle.

The Las Vegas roll is like the Sunday Morning roll, only a little more adventurous. It consists of eel, cream cheese, and avocado all lightly fried. Many people seem to shy away from eel when they are at a sushi restaurant, but I don't understand why. While it doesn't have that lush and smokey flavor of the salmon, it is equally delicious and has a little more of that briney seafood flavor that makes me love sushi in the first place.

If I had one complaint, it is that all the rolls on the Happy Hour menu seem geared towards those who aren't already sushi fans. There is the staple California roll and most of the others seem fried - it doesn't really have a lot of options for die-hard sushi fans like me who love the natural taste of raw fish. But despite my small complaint, you really can't beat the opportunity to enjoy good sushi and a few drinks late at night.

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

Total Time Traveled: 20 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 6 miles
Soundtrack: "Middle Cyclone" Neko Case


February 22, 2011

R.I.P. Muffler Man - Kansas City, KS

I've talked before about the tragedy of disappearing roadside attractions and how sometimes my trips to see them end in disappointment. While researching some fun new places to go, I was sad to learn that another Kansas roadside attraction has been lost - the Kansas City, Kansas Muffler Man.

Muffler Men are giant fiberglass men that can be seen by the road across the country, usually standing about 20-feet tall and holding full-sized car mufflers, or tires to promote various roadside businesses. (Fun Fact: Most Muffler Men were made by International Fiberglass in Venice, California). Muffler Man roadside attractions have a bit of a cult following. There are websites devoted to tracking the locations of Muffler Men and even classifying them by type. The one in Kansas City would have been known as a Halfwit. The Happy Halfwits are identified by their gap-toothed smile and jug ears, usually wearing a straw hat or baseball cap. There are many other kinds of Muffler Men, such as "The Classic" or "The Bunyan." Johnny Kaw in Manhattan would be identified as "Not Really Muffler Man", because while he doesn't meet the technical requirements he is still a really big fiberglass man and apparently deserves mentioning on these lists.

The Kansas City Muffler Man was reported gone in October of 2000. Supposedly, it was removed to make way for road expansion. But before modern development pushed the Muffler Man aside, it had stood there since the 1960's. Supposedly, it was a generic looking Halfwit Muffler Man at a convenience store called Poor Boy's Pantry. It was then repainted in the 1980s with a Hawaiian shirt tucked into his jeans and painted Nike running shoes. Supposedly, his final role before his disappearance was serving as a "bouncer" in front of an adult store.

While I wasn't lucky enough to see Kansas City's Muffler Man, there are plenty more out there. There is one in Wichita I hope to visit soon. If you are on a road trip and want to see a few Muffler Men of your own, check out this map to see where they can be found.

Photo Note: This is not a picture of the actual Muffler Man that was in Kansas City. I couldn't find one, so this is another halfwit Muffler Man to give you an idea of what it would have looked like if it was still around.


February 17, 2011

Lawrence Arts Center - Lawrence, KS

Lawrence is a community that doesn't just support the arts, it absolutely celebrates it! The Lawrence Arts Center is a collaboration between the city of Lawrence and members of the community who come together to support art. Recently, the Arts Center hosted a series of paintings entitled "Metamorphosis" by Susan Grace. Grace is a professional artist, living and working in Lawrence, who has been displaying her works throughout the country since 1992. But the Arts Center displays more than just paintings. They has also hosted exhibits of ceramics, mixed media, jewelry, glass, and other mediums.

The Lawrence Arts Center is about more than offering something pretty for people to look it. It also offers opportunities for members of the community to learn and grow as artists. The Arts Center offers a variety of classes - from dance and theater to new media, which includes the digital arts and media. It also offers education on visual arts including: bookmaking, ceramics, drawing, painting, jewelry/metals, mixed media, photography, printmaking and writing. There are classes for adults, families, and even youth to be sure everyone in Lawrence has the opportunity to grow and develop his or her creative talents. As part of its dedication to art education, the Lawrence Arts Center has started displaying students' works along with the professional gallery displays. It is a celebration of the artist in every person in the Lawrence community.

Recently, I was able to see my friend Mona Jurshak's work on display. Entitled "mon petit chou" (which means "my little cabbage" in French, a term of endearment similar to "my darling"), it is a display of a ceramic sculptures of brussel sprouts casted from molds. These little ceramic cabbages rest gently on little shelves mounted on the wall and form the shape of a heart beat. It really is a wonderful display, but even if you miss it then you should definitely stop by the Lawrence Arts Center to see the other professional displays and student works.

Total Time Traveled: 15 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 6 miles
Soundtrack: "When the Pawn..." Fiona Apple


February 15, 2011

Road Trip Philosophy - My Top Three Dream Romantic Destinations

The Huffington Post recently posted a list of 9 legendary romantic spots worth a visit. While the list was really interesting - it included the spot where Elizabeth Bennett first rejected Mr. Darcy and the balcony of Shakespeare's Juliet - I noticed a distinct lack of a few spots that to me are incredibly romantic. Although my concept of romance may be a little skewed, as evidenced by this list. So in honor of Valentine's Day, I am happy to present my top three dream romantic destinations.

Some little girls dream of their weddings in a big white dress and a chapel filled with flowers. I've never really been one of those girls. In fact, I can't really think of anything I would want less than a wedding that takes two years to plan and costs tens of thousands of dollars. My ideal wedding would be in Las Vegas, Nevada with an Elvis conducting the ceremony. To me, it is everything a wedding should be. It is fun and intimate. It is about two people celebrating their love by having a little fun and even being a little silly. "A Elvis Chapel" is of course not the only chapel where this is an option - there are at least a dozen chapels in Vegas that offer an opportunity to be married by the King. And I suppose the sheer number of places for this opportunity show I'm not the only one who thinks romance shouldn't take itself too seriously.

Many of the sites in The Huffington Post article honor tragic love, commemorating star-crossed lovers who are doomed to never be truly together in life. But to me one of the most enduring loves was between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After meeting Albert, Victoria wrote to her uncle Leopold to thank him "for the prospect of great happiness you have contributed to give me, in the person of dear Albert ... He possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy." They were happily married for 21 years and had 9 children. After Albert died of typhoid, Queen Victoria plunged into mourning. For the rest of her life, she would wear black and seclude herself from the world. In honor of her husband's memory, Queen Victoria renovated the east end of the choir of St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. Prince Albert's Memorial Chapel, as it came to be known, continues to commemorate royal true love to this day.

In cinematic history, Bow Bridge has often been a site for romantic scenes such as in "The Way We Were", "Manhattan", and "Keeping the Faith". (Fun Fact: I was actually an extra in "Keeping the Faith". Although my scene was cut, I can be seen in a group photo on Jenna Elfman's dresser in another scene). It is an iconic New York City and romantic landmark. The bridge stretchs 60 feet across the Central Park lake, linking the flowers of Cherry Hill with the woodland of the Ramble. In the lake, you can see couples in paddle boats and swans - who often mate for life. Bow Bridge also offers one of the most iconic views of New York City you can find. It isn't a surprise that this one of the most popular proposal spots in the country.


February 10, 2011

Cancer Survivors Park - Kansas City, MO

When Richard A. Bloch, co-founder of tax preparation giant H&R Block, was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer on March 29, 1978, he was given just three months to live. But he did live and he fought his disease. To inspire others, Bloch donated money to build Cancer Survivors Parks around the country. Currently, there are parks in Omaha, Sacramento, Orlando, Chicago and a dozen other cities. But the first was built in Block's hometown, Kansas City, in 1989.

Every Cancer Survivors Park has three elements. The first is a sculpture of eight life-size figures passing through a maze of cancer treatments and successes, entitled "Cancer...There's Hope." The sculpture was designed by famous Mexican sculptor Victor Salmones and those visiting the park may interact with it, walk through the maze and among the figures to share in the experience.

The second element in the park is a “Positive Mental Attitude Walk" where a visitor can stroll down a path and meditate on the 14 plaques. There are 4 inspirational plaques and 10 plaques of suggestions for fighting cancer. The third element is the "Road to Recovery". A red path leads the visitor past 7 bronze plaques with common sense advice to use during treatment. This path serves as a red carpet for "those who have the realization and the courage to change their existence into living."

Each park also has a unique element to represent the individual city. In Kansas City, it is the Arch of Triumph, the highest point in the park The Arch "represents a passage where one is symbolically in charge of their own life again."

The Kansas City has also added a colorful sculpture to part of the park entitled "Transformed Flower." This bright red, orange and yellow work combines art and architecture as it rises from a circle at the base to an eight-pointed star at the top. The sculpture was designed by Phillip K Smith III of California.

The architecture and art of the Cancer Survivors Park are visually stunning while its message of hope and survival are positively inspiring.

Total Travel Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Total Travel Distance: 90 miles
Soundtrack: "Muswell Hillbillies" The Kinks


February 8, 2011

Road Trip Philosophy - My Top Three Horror Movies about Hotel Rooms

Anyone who has been on a long-distance road trip knows the feeling - you've been driving too long, it's gotten dark, you're bleary-eyed, and one more cup of coffee just won't do the trick. It's time to stop and get a hotel room for the night so you can get back on the road in the morning. You start scanning the sides of the road for a sign or maybe you wake up a passenger to look one up on a map or a GPS device. But once you find the motel, the inevitable happens - you remember that shower scene in "Psycho." Hollywood has played on the fears of late night road travelers when they are forced to stop for a night for decades. And here is my list of my top three horror movies that make me think twice about stopping for a motel room on the road (or a hotel with a haunted history).

1. Psycho

The first time I saw "Psycho" was by accident. I was at Universal Pictures Studios with my family and we were on a ride showing how some of the most famous scenes in movies were made. One was the infamous shower scene in "Psycho". My sister and I were both very young, I think I must have been about ten and she was around eight. Of course, we were promptly scarred for life after seeing that scene. For years, we were terrified about showers. It would be many, many years before I would come to love this movie and other great Hitchcock classics (I am also particularly fond of "The Man Who Knew Too Much"). But that is the enduring power of "Psycho". Young or old, this film burrows in your brain and plants a fear that stays with you the rest of your life - and makes you think twice about taking a shower in a motel.

2. Identity

A raging storm traps a group of complete strangers in a motel, but they have more to fear from the deranged killer among them then the nasty weather. As their numbers start to dwindle, they turn on each other to try and figure out who the killer is. All the while we know there is a psychotic killer being examined before he is to be executed for grisly murders in the hotel. It is a psychological thriller, complete with twists and turns that make you question who is the killer, who is real, and what exactly is going on. This film takes the traditional archetype - people trapped in a strange motel - and turns it on its head. Complete with a twist ending that will make you yell, "What just happened?!"

3. The Shining

It's not really about a motel and it's not about travelers forced to stop for the night, but you can't make a list of top horror movies involving motels or hotels and not include "The Shining"! That's some kind of sacrilege to the movie gods. Stanley Kubrick has made some of the most enduring films in cinema - from "Dr. Strangelove" to "Full Metal Jacket". But none are as truly terrifying as "The Shining". A writer takes his family to a secluded hotel for the winter so he can work as a caretaker and write. But then things start happening. Their son seems to be the only one with any real awareness of just how bad things are going to be, as the father begins to slip into madness under the influence of the hotel. It is one of the greatest horror films ever made. Scratch that. One of the greatest films ever made. "Heeeere's, Johnny!"


February 3, 2011

Road Trip Memories - The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, AR

Since I shared a bit about the haunted history of the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence on Tuesday, I thought today I would share an old roadtrip memory about my stay at the haunted Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and the paranormal experiences I had there. That's right, I really believe it is haunted because I experienced some really strange things during my two-night stay, enough to convince me that The Crescent Hotel has earned it's title of "America's Most Haunted Resort Hotel."

When I was growing up in Oklahoma, my mother and sister and I would often take weekend trips to Eureka Springs for a weekend getaway. On one such trip, my mother and I decided it would be fun to stay in The Crescent. We were both fans of all things spooky but didn't put too much stock into the reports of apparitions and strange happenings. It was with this bravado that we checked into the room next door to Room 419.

There are numerous reports of ghosts and apparitions throughout the hotel. In Room 419, there is Theodora. In 1937, a man named Baker turned The Crescent Hotel into a health resort and promised miracle cures for cancer. There being no such cure, he was ultimately found guilty of fraud. But in Room 419, there remains the ghost of one of his female patients who introduces herself as Theodora to guests and staff. (Fun Fact: The ghost of Baker is also reportedly seen in the recreation room and on the stairway of the first floor).

Within the first ten minutes of entering our room, strange things started happening. We noticed the digital clock was wrong and so changed it to the correct time. But ten minutes later, the time had changed again. We corrected it several times before we really began to think about it. A clock that was changing the time by itself? Then came the television. It would turn on and off by itself, suddenly change channel, or just start showing static. For anyone who has ever seen the movie "Poltergeist", this was particularly freaky. The there was the flickering lights. They didn't turn on and off, just flickered oddly every once in a while. But still, my mother and I aren't ones to go screaming into the night because of a few electrical problems. We just made jokes about ghosts and let it go.

Until the next morning. I woke up in incredible pain. I was having stomach cramps like nothing I'd ever felt in my life. I remember lying in bed, curled into a little ball and clutching my stomach, with tears running down my face just moaning and begging for it to stop. While I was too distracted by pain to think about a cause, my mother decided she had had enough. She didn't know if there was a connection between the creepy room and my pain, but it wasn't worth the risk. She called the front desk and asked for a different room, explaining the strange things that were happening. The front desk didn't even question it. Apparently, it was not uncommon for guests staying in rooms near the haunted Room 419 to have problems and so we were immediately escorted to a new room in a part of the hotel that was supposedly less overrun with paranormal activity.

And over the next couple hours, my pain subsided. I don't know if it was being so close to that haunted room or if had anything to do with our odd clock, lights, and television. But it was spooky. My mother and I decided that we would stay one more night in our new room, then never stay in that hotel again. Sure, I love ghost tours and supernatural stories. But I don't have even the slightest desire to get that close to the paranormal again.


February 1, 2011

The Eldridge Hotel - Lawrence, KS

Few sites in Kansas can claim the spirit and endurance of the Eldridge Hotel. It has been at the center of two major conflicts in Lawrence - the fight between the Free State men and pro-slavery forces as well as Quantrill's raid. But through it all, The Eldridge Hotel still stands and offers the best in luxurious accommodations.

The original hotel was built in 1855 as the Free State Hotel. The name is particularly meaningful. It was called the Free State because the early settlers were determined that Kansas should enter the union in the Free State and it served as the headquarters of the Free State men.

But in 1856, the hotel was attacked and burned down Sheriff Jones and his posse of pro-slavery men (the same group that burned down Liberty Hall). But true to Lawrence spirit, it did not remain rubble for long. In 1857, Colonel Eldridge rebuilt the hotel with his brothers and swore they would rebuild it again if it were re-attacked. Colonel Eldridge must have had a premonition because the hotel was attacked and burned down again, this time by Quantrill's raid. In that infamously brutal raid, Quantrill and his band left Lawrence in ruins and killed 180 men and boys. In a mere four hours, they had decimated the city.

Quantrill and his men stomped the city but not the heart of Lawrence. The city adopted the motto, "From Ashes to Immortality," and set about rebuilding. Colonel Eldridge reopened The Hotel Eldridge in 1865. Over the years it has been through numerous renovations. Most recently, a group of investors with support of the city of Lawrence rebuilt the top four floors and restored the lobby in 1985.

In addition to its history, The Eldridge Hotel is also haunted. There have been numerous reports of ghostly activity on the fifth floor, including reports of elevators opening and closing on their own as well as people seeing apparitions. Room 506 is the primary source of these spooky reports. Supposedly, people have seen breath marks on recently cleaned mirrors, doors opening and closing, and even lights turning on and off by themselves.

If you need somewhere to stay in Lawrence and appreciate the rich history and endurance of the town (as well as enjoy a bit of luxury in your accommodations), then book a room at the Eldridge Hotel. Or at least stop by to see just how beautiful the hotel can be from ashes to immortality.

Total Time Traveled: 10 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 6 miles
Soundtrack: "Fever to Tell" Yeah Yeah Yeah's