March 31, 2011

Road Trip Philosophy - My Top Three Road Trip Horror Movies

I have written before about how much I love movies about road trips and about how much I love horror movies about traveling, so it only makes sense that I should make a list of five road trip horror movies that I love endlessly. Now this is a list of good horror movies, not bad horror movies. That is a list I'm saving for later.

1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre

This iconic film created one of the most enduring horror movie killers of all time - Leatherface. A group of friends are on a road trip in rural Texas, but they make some classic horror movie mistakes. First, they pick up a hitchhiker (If you didn't learn not to do that from this movie, then watch "The Hitcher" and you'll know that speeding past a sketchy man by the side of a rural road is a good idea). Then they go into a strange house with an unlocked door. Finally, they split up. These are all things you simply don't do - in real life or a horror movie. But of course, it is now too late. They are at the mercy of the murderous Leatherface and his family of cannibals. Violent and terrifying, this is a classic film and no matter how many times they make sequels and remakes - nothing will ever be as good as the original.

2. Jeepers Creepers

Two siblings are going on a road trip home from college in a classic car along a back country road. What could go wrong? Apparently a Creeper awaking from his nap to go on a killing spree can go wrong. Darry, the brother, sees the Creeper dumping a body and convinces his sister to help him investigate. What he discovers is a horrifying collection of bodies and parts. They run to get help, with the Creeper close behind. Once he decides one of the siblings has something he wants, he's not going to stop hunting them until he gets it. Complete with a psychic trying to help and police who don't seem to be able to do a thing to help, it is a thrill ride as what supposed to be a nice trip home becomes a run for their lives from the supernatural. (By the way, the sequel to this is actually pretty good. As far as horror movie sequels go.)

3. House of 1000 Corpses

This film scares me and not many do. But maybe that is just because it is set up like a road trip I would go one. Two couples set out on the road to write a book about off-beat roadside attractions (sound familiar?), but then they make the same mistake as our travelers in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" - they pick up a hitchhiker named Baby. But Baby leads them right into a trap. The couples end up at her house to celebrate her strange family's even stranger Halloween traditions. After dinner, the family puts on a Halloween show for their guests, but Baby takes things a little too far and is threatened. Mother tells the friends to leave, but as they try to do so they are attacked. What follows is a horrifying mind-trip into the frightening depravity of this sick and twisted family. This movie is definitely frightening and yet another reminder to never pick up hitchhikers - or you might end up having dinner with a family of crazies in the middle of nowhere.

Honorable Mention: Death Proof

I can't count the number of times I have seen Death Proof. The only reason I am reluctant to put in the top three is that I'm not sure it really qualifies as a "road trip" movie or even a "horror" movie. But in the spirit of thrillers like "Duel" and "Vanishing Point", this film will have you on the edge of your seat. Part of Robert Rodriquez and Quinten Tarantino's "Grindhouse" double feature, "Death Proof" is half the story of a serial killer stuntman with a car who likes to kill girls in car accidents that only he survives. But then he messes with the wrong girls who aren't about to go down easy. This film is part car-chase thriller, part twisted-psychological horror, and part girl-power. I can't recommend this movie enough, even if you only watch it to see Zoe Bell perform jaw dropping stunts while strapped to the hood of a car.


March 29, 2011

Fire Hydrant Garden - Topeka, KS

While many of the roadside attractions I see are placed prominently on display, some oddities are tucked away in a quiet neighborhood. One example is the fire hydrant heaven (and doggy playground) in Topeka, Kansas. On a recent trip to Topeka, I left the main roads and took drive through the residential areas where I saw the fire hydrant garden. Surrounding a nice white house on the corner were more fire hydrants I had ever seen in one place. Each loving painted a different color and style with two dogs running around, as happy as they could possibly be.

According to "Claude Belshe started to collect and install old fire hydrants when the garden he and his wife planted was trampled by their two dogs. The hydrants have become heaven for the dogs! They have all been lovingly repainted by his stepson Jeffery. Claude plans for the garden to continue to grow and is always on the lookout for more hydrants. The entire garden can be seen from the street as his dogs are very aggressive to protect their paradise!"

When it comes to lawn decorations, this has to be one of the best I've ever seen (not as great as The Beer Can House in Houston, Texas but still pretty good). Which of course raises the question: why would you decorate your lawn with a bunch of pink flamingos or garden gnomes you can buy at any store when you could make your own decorations that express your own unique personality?

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


March 24, 2011

R.I.P. World's Largest Meat Cleaver - Topeka, KS

I've talked before about the tragedy of disappearing roadside attractions and how sometimes my trips to see them end in disappointment. Most recently I wrote about the missing Muffler Man of Kansas City, Kansas. Sadly, I have another roadside attraction to add to the list of those fading from the fair Midwest - the World's Largest Meat Cleaver in Topeka, Kansas.

The World's Largest Meat Cleaver used to be at the corner of 6th Street and Jackson Street in downtown Topeka. It was not the only oversized roadside attraction in the Kansas capitol city - I have written previously about my visit to see the World's Largest Wren. But sadly my search for the meat cleaver came too late. It was first moved to Topeka in 2006 but by 2009 it was nowhere to be found.

I did a bit of research and found that the meat cleaver was part of a downtown topeka art project known as "Art in the Heart of Topeka" by Downtown Topeka Inc., the Future Heritage of Topeka Inc., and Washburn University.

The meat cleaver was officially called "Untitled II" and was created by Robert Craig, then an associate professor of art and the chairman of the Department of Art and Design at University of Iowa. The work was part of a series called "Skeuomorphic Works," in which he would take utilitarian objects (like a meat cleaver) and construct them on a larger scale. Craig explained his project, "My interest is equally sustained by awareness that these objects were designed for hand use and they are artifacts of a time when technology was still largely dependent on manual processes." His other works can be found throughout the country. "Untitled I" is currently in Skokie, Illinois, which I think is supposed to be an antique ship rudder. "Untitled III" is in North Carolina, and I think it is either a woodchipper or a pizza cutter.

As for the fate of "Untitled II" or the World's Largest Meat Cleaver, I have absolutely no idea where it has gone to.

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


March 22, 2011

Topeka Computing Museum - Topeka, KS

The Topeka Computing Museum, also known as Ed's $48 Collection, is not so much a museum as it is a window display of old computers.

There are not really any explanations of what the computers are or their history, but I did a bit of digging on the museums website and found a list of their exhibits. You can see: Apple II computers, Atari, Commodore, CP/M machines, calculators, DOS computers, handhelds, kid's computer playthings, Pong, and other contraptions. I recognized some of the machines from my school days. For example, I used to play this great game on a Mac Computer where you would type in the words as they were falling or they would destroy the city below - basically, an educational version of Space Invaders. So that gives you an idea of just how much I know about computers.

I spent a little bit of time looking at the display, trying to have some sort of reaction. But it was like staring at a painting that you don't have the point of reference you need to understand it. All I saw was a window display of obsolete machines.

Total Time Traveled: 1 hour
Total Distance Traveled: 54 miles
Soundtrack: "Sing Loud, Sing Proud" Dropkick Murphys


March 17, 2011

Roadtrip Music - St. Patrick's Day Soundtrack

Back in my younger days, I was quite fond of whiskey, bourbon, and scotch. While other girls my age were sipping on cocktails and martinis, I was nursing a neat glass of Talisker single malt scotch aged 10 years or maybe just knocking back some Jack Daniels. But over time, my love has waned. More accurately, my ability to bounce back from a night of drinking has significantly deceased throughout the years. But once a year (and only once a year), I still drink whiskey.

And that time is tonight: St. Patrick's Day.

My relationship with St. Patrick's Day is a little difficult. While I think it is a great day to celebrate Irish heritage or just get blind drunk, I am not Irish. I am Scottish. When I was little, my grandmother on my mother's side would sit me down with her and tell me about our Scottish heritage. My family has also embraced our heritage. One of the funniest things I've ever seen was my parent's reaction when they found out my sister was dating a guy with the last name "Cromwell." (For those who don't get why that's funny, brush up on your European history a little). In pursuit of my Scottish roots, I actually spent some time living in Edinburgh and reading Scottish literature. Suffice it to say: I'm really, really into being Scottish.

So tonight I will be wearing my shirt that says, "Suck It, I'm Scottish" and joining my friends with a glass of whiskey to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. And of course, I have made a playlist to drink to.

Let's Drink Until We Can't Feel Feelings Playlist
  1. "Kentucky Bourbon" Murder by Death
  2. "As Long as There is Whiskey in the World" Murder by Death
  3. "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)" The Doors
  4. "Bottle of Jesus" Beth Heart
  5. "My Alcoholic Friends" Dresden Dolls
  6. "Alcohol" Gogol Bordello
  7. "When the Heat Dies Down" The Kaiser Chiefs
  8. "Leeds United" Amanda Palmer
  9. "The Seven Deadly Sins" Flogging Molly
  10. "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" Dropkick Murphys
  11. "Drunken Lullabies" Flogging Molly
  12. "The Spicy McHaggis Jig" Dropkick Murphys
  13. "Another Irish Drinking Song" Da Vinci's Notebook


March 15, 2011

Mill Creek Park - Kansas City, MO

Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri is a popular but busy location. Full of trendy stores and restaurants, there is always a crowd shopping, eating, or just taking a stroll down the street and taking in some beautiful sites. But just a stone's throw away from the Plaza is a beautiful, natural respite from the bustling city - Mill Creek Park.

The sprawling, grassy landscape is a beautiful open green space. As someone who has lived in a large city for several years, I can tell you that the smell of grass, the beauty of trees, and the site of wide, open greenery offers a comfort to the soul that can be hard to come by in the urban cityscape.

The open space of the park appeals to groups for games, outdoor gatherings, fundraising events, and weddings. The main body of the park is circled by an trail, a little over a mile long, that has become popular with joggers. It has especially become popular with joggers training for the 5k, apparently a double lap will really help you prepare for the long run. For those with children, there is some playground equipment. But honestly, you don't need a jungle gym for Mill Creek Park. You really just need a picnic basket, a frisbee, a few friends, and maybe a dog (although the dog will have to stay on a leash according to park rules). One a nice day in the Plaza, Mill Creek Park is great place to take in a breath of nature and escape from the bustle of the city.

Mill Creek Park is also home to the JC Nichols Memorial Fountain, the most photographed and most famous fountain in Kansas City, the City of Fountains. But, I've already told you about that!

Total Time Traveled: 2 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 86 miles
Soundtrack: "Jukebox" Cat Power


March 10, 2011

J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain – Kansas City, MO

Kansas City is the “City of Fountains” and if there is one fountain that encapsulates the meaning of that title, it is the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain. It is easily the most famous and most frequently photographed fountain in the entire city.

Although the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain is a Kansas City landmark, it has an extensive and colorful history before it came home to the City of Fountains. The fountain was originally made in 1910 in Paris by French sculptor Henri Greber.

Later, it was moved to Long Island, New York where it adorned the estate of Clarence Mackay until 1949. (Fun Fact: Mackay disinherited his daughter when she married Irving Berlin against his wishes. You may know Berlin as one of the greatest American composers of the 20th century, writing such classics as “White Christmas” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business”). The fountain became the centerpiece of the large formal gardens and was known as “The Mackey Fountain.” But during that time, the estate was destroyed by fire and the figures of the fountain were vandalized. In 1951, the figures were sold for salvage.

Members of the Nichols family purchased the figures and transported them to Kansas City. The fountain was refurbished and dedicated in 1960 to J. C. Nichols, the developer of the Country Club Plaza. (Fun Fact: The Country Club Plaza was the first suburban shopping area in the United States.)

The J. C. Nichols Memorial Fountain consists of a large pool with a two-tiered basin at the center. The 80-foot diameter pool is encircled by four equestrian figures standing over a ten feet high. The four equestrian figures, representing four rivers: the Mississippi River, the Volga River, the Seine and the Rhine. I’m not sure which river is represented by each figure, but I do know the Mississippi River is represented by the Indian riding the horse fending off an alligator. At the center of the fountain is a two-tiered basin that shoots water up to thirty feed in the air and around the central basin are figures of children riding dolphins that shoot water towards the center.

If you're traveling through Kansas City or talking a stroll through the Plaza, be sure to stop and see the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain. It may have began in France and New York, but now it is part of the beautiful City of Fountains.

Total Time Traveled: 2 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 85 miles
Soundtrack: "Jukebox" Cat Power


March 8, 2011

Nomads - Lawrence, KS

When the weather is nice, I enjoy wandering down Massachusetts Street in Lawrence. It is a great way to spend an afternoon. You can enjoy the history of the town, with markers all over the street telling the stories behind the buildings and their survival of tragedies like Quantrill's Raid. There is also plenty of shopping to do. For travelers like me, there is one store I always stop in - Nomads. Nomads is a locally-owned travel store that offers both major brands and small brands that you won't find anywhere else. The selection is also exclusive. They never order more six items of each piece and don't re-order, so once it's gone then it's gone for good.

For the travel fashionista, they offer a great selection of clothing and shoes. They are comfortable and versatile but also stylish so you won't be embarrassed wandering around the couture streets of Paris or rural America. For those in need of stylish accessories, there is a wide selection of jewelry and scarves.

I usually tend to go just to look at the different backpacks and other luggage options. I'm always looking for a lightweight, but affordable, backpack that is large enough to carry everything I need for at least a week but small enough to bring as a carry-on on a plane. A tall order, I know, which is probably why I haven't found one yet. But I know if and when I find this mystical backpack, it will most likely be at Nomads. They understand the needs of a traveler and strive to meet them. Every conceivable packing device you need is available at this store. Need a money belt? They have all different styles, colors and materials. Need a purse or messenger bag? They have a unique and wide variety of options that will make you wonder why anyone would go to a department store for a bag.

I know this sounds a bit like an advertisement (it's not, I wish Nomads would give me store credit for raving about them but a girl can only dream). But I know there are other travelers like me who are always looking for a place to buy their travel necessities from a local and independent store, without destroying their travel budget in the process. So if you're in Lawrence or just passing through, stop by Nomads when you're on your stroll on Massachusetts Street.

Total Time Traveled: 20 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 6 miles
Soundtrack: "More Adventurous" Rilo Kiley


March 2, 2011

Road Trip Memories - Meeting a President at Carmen's Pizza in Evanston, IL

Tuesday, I mentioned that I have been lucky enough to shake the hands of a former President and two Supreme Court Justices. Because I think it is rather interesting, I thought I should share the story of how I shook the hand of former President Jimmy Carter.

I had just left Oklahoma and moved to Evanston, Illinois. My mother came to town to visit me and offered to take me and my roommate, who was Bess of The Unplanned Misadventures of MirMir and Bess, out to dinner. Choosing where to eat was easy - we were college students and our diet consisted almost entirely of pizza and PopTarts (literally, that is not an exaggeration. If it couldn't be delivered or gotten from a vending machine then we probably didn't eat it that year). So when offered a free meal at a restaurant, we opted to go to Carmen's Pizza. But before you judge our monochromatic tastes, you must understand just how good Carmen's Pizza is. Pizza isn't just a food, it is an art form in Chicago and its suburbs like Evanston. Decades of craftsmanship go into these delicacies so restaurants inspire fanatical devotion in their patrons for the best in Chicago-style pizza.

When I first moved to Chicago, my loyalty went to Carmen's although as I continued to live in Chicago I would eventually spend at least one year of my life living on a steady diet of pizza and wings delivered from Chicago's Pizza. But that particular evening, Bess and I insisted on going to Carmen's Pizza. When we arrived, the restaurant was full of people sampling the thin pizza, stuffed pizza, and traditional pan pizza. Their stuffed pizza is what made them famous. It is stuffed with toppings and topped with their special, secret tomato sauce then baked for a full 35 minutes. It is definitely worth the wait and in the meantime, there is salad to munch on and dessert to anticipate. You can't go to Carmen's and not have the cannoli for dessert. Carmen's cannoli is everything a cannoli should be - crispy shell overflowing with sweet ricotta and chocolate chips and dusted with pistachios. (In my opinion, it's not a real cannoli without the pistachios).

As we were waiting on our order, my mother, Bess, and I began to notice official-looking men with ear pieces and dark suits standing by the door. We made a few jokes about the Secret Service, but didn't realize we were actually right until the entire restaurant stood up and started clapping. Over the patron's heads, we saw President Carter descending the stairs. He exited slowly, taking his time to greet customers and shake hands. Including Bess's and my hands. As my mother and I were in shock, trying to process that our dinner had lead to a chance encounter with a President, Bess asked "Who was that?" (Bess is Canadian, she can't help it).

In addition to being an amazing experience - meeting a Former President and shaking his hand - it also gave Carmen's some clout in the Chicago pizza debate. After all, they can now claim a President prefers Carmen's pizza when he's in town.

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


March 1, 2011

The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics - Lawrence, KS

Recently, I have been thinking I must have done something well in my life. I have been lucky enough at my young age to have shaken the hands of a former President and two Supreme Court Justices. The first Justice I met was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. I attended a luncheon with a dozen other young female law students and had the incredible opportunity of speaking one-on-one with the first woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. The second was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who recently hosted a Question and Answer Session with law students and members of the community at The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence, Kansas.

After Bob Dole lost the 1996 presidential election, he received a proposal to entrust his 35-years of congressional papers to the University of Kansas, where Dole had studied before leaving to serve in WWII. Together Dole and KU established the Dole Institute, which houses Dole's papers and also offers programs for students and members of the community to learn about American politics and public service. The building was officially opened to the public in 2003 and since then has hosted numerous national and world leaders, including President Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and former President of Poland Lech Walesa. Justice Sotomayor is not the only Supreme Court Justice to visit the Dole Institute; she was preceded by Justice O'Connor, Justice Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts.

While the Dole Institute offers an opportunity for the people of Kansas to hear famous politicians, justices, journalists, authors, historians, and public servants speak, it also offers interactive opportunities with the Dole Fellows. Dole Fellows are individuals with extensive experience in public service, who offer public study groups on a political topic. This Spring, Walt Riker (former Vice President of McDonald's) and Hon. Dennis Moore (former US Congressman for Kansas) will be the Dole's Fellows. Riker will be leading a study group on Corporate Responsibility and Moore will be leading a study group on Life in Congress.

These unique educational opportunities at the Dole Institute are quite inspirational. After a visit, Tom Brokaw had this to say:
“I was just at the Bob Dole Institute at the University of Kansas, and I recommend to everybody watching this broadcast that if you get anywhere near Lawrence, Kansas, go to the Bob Dole Institute.....and you'll see some bright young people who are entering public life or are interested in the issues of the day. And you'll see a remarkable small museum about Bob's astonishing life. It is a great tribute to a great American."
In addition to the great service it provides, the Dole Institute is visually stunning. It is reminiscent of the federal buildings in Washington, D.C. It even includes a 32,000 square foot reflecting pool, similar to Washington's Tidal Basin. But even with its national influence, the Institute is still uniquely Kansan. A fourteen-foot replica of the Kansas state seal crowns the building's facade. Inside, the Dole Institute honors its namesake in the Hansen Hall with exhibits about Dole's military service, personal life, and political career. At the south end of Hansen Hall, visitors can see a soaring, 29-foot tall stained glass American flag window, and two eleven and a half foot steel columns which were salvaged from the World Trade Center and presented to Senator Dole by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Dole Institute is a shining temple to the ideals of American history, politics or public service. Whether you stop to simply admire the architecture and exhibits or to learn from one of the Institute's many speakers and fellows, it will certainly enrich your mind and inspire your soul to those American values of freedom, democracy, and public service.

Total Time Traveled: 10 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 2 miles
Soundtrack: "Let It Bleed" Rolling Stones