Richmond, Virginia

Give me Liberty or give me Death. I’m in Richmond, Virginia.

I drove thirteen hours straight from Alabama. Pulled in to downtown Richmond through a major rainstorm and booked The Commonwealth from the street. Scored with the room.

I’m overlooking the Capitol building and the room is the size of a large one bedroom Manhattan apartment.

I got lucky with a couple of those perfect crisp clear Autumn days for my walkabout. I’m back to jeans, no more shorts.

Close by Setton Coffee served an excellent mocha drip and pumpkin buns to kick off my day. Jenny And David have owned the business for 8 years. They live above their villagey cute store. The business struggled a little during The Plague, but with a number of the local buildings now converted to apartments things are picking up. Jenny & David expanded to serve wine and beer. They also get a lot of custom from the local government buildings.
It’s getting harder to get people to listen to me.

Their skeleton was named Karl. It was fate.

The First Freedom Center didn’t sell keychains so I bought a copy of the constitution. Cecily, currently in grad school and working part time behind the counter, recommended walking to their partner Museum. So I did.

Keary was nice enough to give me the meat juice history. Great souvenir store.

The Valentine Museum (1892), bequeathed by the creator of Valentine’s Meat Juice Health Toxin, houses exhibits that span the city’s 300 year history. It’s small and hosts exactly as much antiquity as I felt like looking at.

Mann S Valentine II created the toxin, squeezed from raw meat with spices added, to aid his ailing wife. Depending on how you tell the story it kept her alive for three years or killed her in three years.

Either way, you Can’t Beat Valentines Meat.

Meat Juice

The MJ (as locals called it) was produced and sold internationally until the 1970s. There are visitors that swear by it: AKA The Undead.

You can ring my bell.

I had to visit the Poe Museum, everyone kept raven about it.

Nevermore with the Dad jokes.

Poe spent a lot of his life in Richmond, though none of his residences survive.

APT (who goes by her initials) has worked three years at the location and is a self proclaimed Museum nut. She has worked at a few, including the Civil War Museum. APT was previously employed by The Girl Scouts of America.
As expected the Poe museum attracts an oddball crew. It has a broad selection in the gift store and two roaming house cats. The Poe Museum has the largest collection (if not the most valuable) of Poe artifacts in the world. This creepy Mausoleum will be 100 years old in 2022. Lots of events are planned.
So I’ve waited two years to see it and readers have waited over 50 years to see it done properly. I went to see Dune at The Regal Short Pump (coincidentally my college nicname). It’s a masterpiece. One of those movies that begs to be seen on the big screen. Dune outperformed anything I could have imagined from what’s considered the greatest , most influential, sci-fi book ever written. I will be rewatching this week.
The Lucky Strike Native American is gone. The giant model was moved from the baseball stadium to the roof overlooking the James River. It had been shifted twice previously because of complaints; it had it’s third Unlucky Strike. Out!

I had a sunny morning saunter along the Canal walk. Having grown up on Lower Canal Road, back in Galway, I’ve a thing for man made waterways. I still dream of living on Upper Canal Road. Siiiiiiigh.

Movie Updates (late): Both Asha and Brienne did excellent jobs with their research and presentations to the group the past two weeks.

Both Uncut Gems (Asha) and Psycho (Brienne) got 100% Thumbs up.

Next weeks presentation (bring the kiddies) . Thor Ragnarok.
I had a late night craving for pie and took a mile hike to the Sweet Spot Ice Cream Cafe. Mohammad, behind the counter, couldn’t have been more welcoming. A recent emigrant from Lebanon he is currently studying Political Science at The University of Virginia. We had an interesting chat about our homelands. Damn fine Oreo cheesecake.
Dolly Llama

Alabama

Sweet Home Alabama? TBD.

I went native for my last Natchez meal and had Catfish with coleslaw and cheesy hash browns at a C&W joint. The music was hopping and I will crave those spuds in the future.

A quick 300 miles and I’m in Birmingham, Alabama – former steel town and home of UAB (University of Alabama, Birmingham).

Crimson Toole

I parked in front of the Hilton and checked in with Hotels.com. That’s another ten bookings so a freebie room tomorrow. I’m all about saving money.

The hotel is close by The Five Corners, originally a hub for the city’s tram system, now a hot spot for restaurants and bars.

Craving coffee and pie I found Domestique coffee (with a little difficulty) off 20th Street and the smart and charming Evelyn behind the counter.

Two Big Thumbs Up For Evelyn

Evelyn was a font of local recommendations for the eclectic and she made an excellent Americano. Evelyn is in her third year studying Neuroscience.

Evelyn warned me that Birmingham is “a car city” – all points of interest are spread around.

For Dinner last night I hit paydirt with Chez Fonfon, a classic French Bistro, and Mike Costa the bartender.

Cheers Mike!

Mike , a huge music fan, had among many things worked as local liaison for Paul McGuinness when U2 played Birngham.

Mike gave me a solid list of new old listening for my road trip.

His colleague Pat Nolan is Pet Shop Boys / New Order fan. That probably makes two in Alabama today if you include me. We will both see the double bill in 2022 my West End Girlfriends!.

Necessity’s Only

Chez Fonfon is a winner, literally. I haven’t had Chicken Liver Mousse that good since before The Plague! The lemon tartlet was the most delicious ever; Chez has a James Beard Award winning pastry chef!

The Merengue was so good I dropped my iPhone on it and required serious club soda surgery to clean the camera. Expect yellow tinted selfies from now on.

Pie on my Lens

As I travelled back to my hotel I happened on a Misfits cover band hanging outside the Black Market Bar & Grill. I was not properly dressed for a Halloween party at the towns long standing Punk Club but I paid my $12 and joined the tattooed and studded and attempted to blend.

First act up : I watched a chubby ginger bearded dude staple a variety of paper products to his head and torso. Act two: chubby ginger bearded dude lifting weights with nipple chains. Act three: band aids.

Ginger, a volunteer act, made extra cash by stapling customer gratuities to himself. I tipped him four quarters. Not everyone thinks I’m funny it seems.

I chatted a bit with Brian Burx, the Halloween event organizer and t-shirt designer. Now I’ve got my costume for Brienne’s Psycho movie presentation Wednesday,
Tip me …. Pleeeease .

A night out at a hopping Birmingham Punk Club Halloween Party, a Goth Art Sale, a Misfit Cover Band, a self mutilating ginge, all made for an excellent start to my stay in Alabama.

Rebecca – a cake decorator by trade, is also an artist and single mother of three. Check out her website. I bought one of her fridge magnets. The red and black skull tic-tac-toe set was tempting but would look out of place in my office.

It was a quiet night in Birmingham. Crimson Tide was playing in nearby Tuscaloosa. The stadium alone takes 100k citizens, not including tailgaters. Still – The Five Points was hopping. The crew here do not strike me as football fans.

The Organ Donor Memorial dedicated to those that gave selflessly after death.

I got to Barber Motorcycle Museum an hour too early. It seems they open at noon Sundays. I found shopping outlets 2 miles away – score!

Jordan was a big help to me today tracking down any Crimson Tide labeled options for my travel swag. A junior in high school at Hewitt Trussville, Jordan was endlessly patient and helpful in the University store.
The Beatles Bentley

The Barber Motorcycle Museum houses the world’s biggest private motorcycle collection in the immaculate multilevel 250k square foot space.

You definitely get the kid in the candy store feel here. Just not candy you could ever afford.

There is a full competitive racetrack attached to the Museum. There were motorbike races going on today. Excellent viewing access is available when you exit at the back of the museum and there are beautiful grounds to wander around.

Mercedes, with their gigantic local SUV manufacturing plant, uses the track to test drive.

Sorry Elvis – this is the museum I will revisit. Screw Graceland.

Vulcan (left)

159 steps later … I’m back in Birmingham at the top of Vulcan. The worlds largest cast iron statue overlooks Alabama’s largest city from its highest point. And Vulcan has the ultimate buns of steel. There is an elevator option available.

Regular Peloton Usage
I had a great browse and chat at Thank You Books. Lea is working there a few weeks; Anne a student Psychology and religion – Kalamazoo College. Both are avid readers, lots of recommendations were traded.

Punk Halloween Parties; French Bistros; Friendly Local Bookstores and Motorcycle Museums were oddly my Sweet Home Alabama.

On The Road For A Bit #3:

Am I a man or am I a Muppet?

Graceland is the top tourist destination in Memphis and something I had to see. Once.

I’m a passive Elvis listener – Graceland is a Mecca for the fans. Because I’ve no patience I dropped the extra dollars on the VIP ticket – if only to skip the lines. Those common masses sure shuffle slowly.

Everybody wants to walk through a door marked private.

I did once again sit through the introduction video (8 minutes). The film does an excellent job representing the truly unparalleled cultural phenomena of Elvis. One billion albums sold; 1.5 Billion viewers for his global satellite concert – the first in history.

The King has Left the Building.

The VIP ticket meant a mini van to the house , a plastic seated waiting area for your group and immediate access to Graceland.

Elvis had terrible taste in décor , not a surprise based on his jumpsuits. The jungle and pool rooms are particularly hideous. The soylent yellow television room looks like a set from a cheap 1960s sci-fi movie.

I sped away from my crawling VIP group and powered through the house. I mean how much ooohing and ahhhing can you do over a gaudy dinner setting? The mini van tour guide was nice enough to get me a private van back to the Disney style franchised entry area.

Presley Motors

I didn’t bother with some of the exhibits but The Presley Motors collection is broad and impressive, including stunning classic American and European models I’d never before seen. There’s also a tractor.

Presley Pool.

It must be said that the staff working Graceland seem to adore the place. Both Tamica and Kristyn, I chatted with, have worked there for years. They raved how wonderful it is to have the world turn up at Elvis’ doorstep. Graceland is definitely a melting pot.

The souvenir store is fabulous, the biggest I’ve seen. I overbought like a maniac. Elvis gifts for all!

Join a line? F$&@ that!

Back on the road – Mississippi bound.

It’s the little things. My first cotton field.

As a halfway stop between Memphis and Natchez I called by the birthplace of another giant of the entertainment business. More influential than The King?

Kermit the Frog was born in Leland, Mississippi and there’s a delightful little Museum dedicated to the chirpy amphibian there.

Stephanie, now in her mid-seventies, was the most informative of all Tour Guides I’ve encountered. The lady knows her Muppet History and was so obviously proud of the colorful shrine she has volunteered in since 2014. Stephanie, a life long local, raised on a farm with the closest neighbor three miles away, loathes horses but raises Dobermans.

I may have bought more Muppet than Elvis product.

Three hours later I’m in Natchez, Mississippi.

I first got to know of Natchez through the Greg Iles trilogy. The Turning Angel memorial to victims of an explosion, situated in the City Cemetery, is said turn in grief as traffic passes. If you believe that I’ve got a dancing Virgin Mary in Ballinspittle.
I crossed the Bridge from Natchez to Louisiana to visit the Jerry Lee Lewis Museum. Closed. It’s attached to a drive through liquor store. I’m not sure I was missing much.

I started out late last night in Natchez looking for a place to eat. Late in Mississippi was 8PM. I happened on Kim on a Main Street corner and asked if she had any recommendations. Kim told me she was having dinner with her friend Dawn and that “This is the South. Join us.”

So I did.

The Kitchen: Kim:Karl:Dawn

Both Kim and Daw currently reside in Knoxville. Both had great stories to tell. Dawn is an Adoption Lawyer and has written the book on it in Tennessee. Kim is an expert in Preservation Strategies and is in Natchez starting a major project.

We dined at The Kitchen – I had House Deviled Eggs and Shrimp & Grits – when in Rome . All excellent.

Nachos in Natchez

I will definitely be seeing the two ladies next time I’m back in Knoxville. Thanks new friends. And I AM taking your recommendations for Alabama!

Under The Hill Saloon was established in 1836 and stands as the oldest functioning bar on the Mississippi. The walls are covered in remnants of the bars history.

I spent all day walking around Natchez. It’s everything I hoped a Southern Town would look like, choc full of character, characters and antebellum architecture.

Natchez sits perched above the Mississippi, looking across at Louisiana.

Christmas every day in Natchez. Gerry & Michael gifted me a spontaneous Natchez tour.

But then the cherry on today’s cake was bumping into Gerry & Michael late this afternoon on Main Street. They are both organizers behind The Weekend . The couple moved here from LA, in recent years, and have settled into Natchez. They would seem to know everybody. Michael introduced me to some of the other organizers and performers/competitors in the weekends drag events.

Dining Options are Diverse,

Their extreme generosity extended to driving me around Natchez for an hour to ensure I saw the beautiful, good, bad, ugly and improving sections in this great town. I couldn’t have asked for a better more personal tour.

Michael expects hundreds for The Weekend events. The Saturday event alone has sold 500 tickets – all to benefit https://www.yallmeansallnatchez.org/.

My walk to the City Cemetary took me along the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi. It brought me past many beautiful antebellum homes. This ones seen better days.
My biggest disappointment of the trip was not getting to see the toilet Elvis was straining on when he popped his clogs. The Graceland Tour does not allow you upstairs to view the King’s final throne. The staff at Sun Studio told me theirs is a similar model (if not gold plated). I’d like to think The King pinched one out with less catastrophic results right here the night he hung out with his Million Dollar Quartet buddies.

I’m digging this Southern Hospitality Thing.

On the Road for a Bit #2:

It could have been The Million Dollar Quintet

Blue Suede Toole

Memphis exudes music history like no other place I’ve visited. It may be known as the birthplace of Rock & Roll but it’s got deep roots in Soul, Gospel and R&B.

Before even checking into my hotel I drove straight to Sun Studio. I was paranoid with the staycation world that the limited Studio tours would be filled. They take 25 people each half hour.

I turned up five minutes late for a group that had already taken off. Mark on the counter admired my t-shirt for The Wire, we bonded, he discounted my ticket and let me catch up.

If you ever pass through Memphis stay at Arrive. It’s a 64 room boutique hotel. The best room I’ve booked solo on any travels and the lobby coffee and scone bar the tastiest to date. It’s close to everything.

It’s probably the oddest place to first understand what people mean when they say they felt history – but I felt it in that studio. Standing in the room The Million Dollar Quartet ( Elvis; Johnny Cash; Carl Perkins; Jerry Lee Lewis) recorded in on December 4th, 1956, listening to the original cut, got this cynical Paddy misty eyed. The last time that happened was the end of Spartacus.

Tour participants were allowed take photos holding the Quartets session microphone . It was left by the original owner on condition it could be held by visitors.

Needless to say I spent a small fortune in the excellent gift store. I’ll need a bigger office.

Krista, behind the bar at Grand Central Station ,could not have been more welcoming. She’s a multi talented musician .. violin, keyboards, mandolin….Check out some of the groups and artists Krista performs with on Spotify (Memphis Dawls; Dead Soldiers; Amy Laverne; Mark Edgar Stuart; Jana Jana). I’m going to take her recommendation to look out for some spots on the Mississippi Blues Trails.
We Don’t Need Another Hero

On the road from Knoxville to Memphis I pulled off in Brownsville to visit the Tina Turner Museum. It’s small, housed in the schoolhouse she attended. The movie fan in me was very pleased with Tina’s Thunderdome tunic. Great theme song, lousy film.

The Stax Museum of American Soul is located in the original Stax record studios. Much as I was tempted to skip, I sat through the 18 minute video history and it was an eye opening treat, covering the roots, influences (a little country a little Gospel) and history of Stax.

I had the immense pleasure of meeting NeShante Brown Executive Director of the Soulsville Charter School as I was parking for Stax. NeShante was nice enough to share the story of her magnificent school. I’m not going to do it justice so I’m adding a link. https://soulsvillecharterschool.org/

My favorite exhibit was Isaac Hayes pimped out Cadillac or whatever type of car this is.

I skipped bits. I did take a walk down daytime Beale Street (touristy) and visited The Blues Hall of Fame (too new and plasticy for the Blues). That didn’t stop me from buying things!

Of course not all of the History of Memphis is about song. The Lorraine Hotel is close by my accommodations. It was remarkable how a place I’d never been to before could look so familiar.

Tomorrow – The King.

Fritzel the Blues Hound (immortalized here) could pound out the first 12 bars of Hoochie Coochie Man on a Steinway Upright.

On the Road for a Bit #1

One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

I’m on the road for a couple of weeks again. I’ve put 1,600 miles on the clock since Saturday. The plan is to take Mississippi and Alabama off the list of non-visited States. That will leave me with only Texas and North Dakota.

But before that…

I hadn’t seen my good friend Peter Ackling in 27+ years. He’d looked after me during a down period back in my London days. Peter put me up for a few weeks in his Slough home and fed me bovril and toast.

We got together at the Route 66 Diner in Springfield, Mass. Do not make this one of your destination dining venues.

We both agreed from the onset that we looked fabulous and hadn’t aged a bit. That may have been a minor fib, but our friendship hadn’t changed. We will be catching up again soon. I’m coming to Texas !

Founded in 1636 as the northern most settlement of the Connecticut Colony, Springfield is drenched in History. Whatever.

However, the Dr. Seuss Museum and Sculpture Garden is in Springfield. I happened on it by accident as I was leaving the town. It is one of the most colorful, vibrant, and fun museums I’ve visited. Its part of a square that includes the History Museum, amongst others. But I didn’t have time for the adult stuff. Stacey and I had a wedding in Nyack.

Stacey and I looked fabulous.

You could tell it was an Italian wedding, not Irish, as there was an abundance of food and a shortage of drunks. The highlight for me was when the DJ played that song Mamma Corleone is dragged out for in The Godfather. I’m guessing it’s their Danny Boy.

Sunday, I took off and drove ten hours through to Blacksburg, Virginia – Home of Virginia Tech. Hokie, the school’s mascot looks like a turkey fucked a Ninja Mutant Turtle. Who designs these things?

I found the only open breakfast spot Bollo at 8AM the next morning and grabbed a mediocre coffee and a very good brioche-chive-cheese roll. It looked like somebody had a field day kicking in shop windows on Draper Street recently.

So – four hours drive and back to Knoxville. Hannah is now my must visited friend during the pandemic. I’d never actually visited the downtown during daylight, so we took a walk about. The lion’s share of shopping options is centered in and around Market Square.

Coffee and Chocolate served the best biscotti I’ve ever had and are the premiere chocolatiers in town.

Union Avenue Bookstore is a personality filled seller with a decent book selection but an excellent variety of gifts. I bought stuff.

It’s worth taking a stroll down the grafitti and mural alley. This was as close as I got to Dollywood.

Hannah as always went above and beyond with her hospitality. She treated me to Knoxville’s finest restaurant. Lonesome Dove describes its menu as Western Bistro. This very impressive establishment is in the renovated Old City section of Knoxville, a quirky cross section of converted 19th century buildings.

Was there ever any doubt?

Lonesome Dove (also my favorite book) is a high end, multi-level venue, with brown brick walls and antler lamp shades that gives off both a chic and welcoming atmosphere.

The menu is the best dining experience I’ve had in a couple of years. My favorite dishes were the rabbit and rattlesnake sausage and the elk sliders. The rabbit enchiladas were plentiful and delicious. All dishes came with a spiced kick. Be a little adventurous. Go hungry. None of our five courses missed a step.

And Hannah bought me a Lonesome Dove mug. Many thanks friend. Many thanks indeed.

Hannah and I looked fabulous.

I’m heading to Memphis.

Back & Bored #6

I love the smell of goat shit in the morning. Smells like…… Salisbury, Connecticut” – Bill Kilgore (Local).

“Baa-ram-ewe! Baa-ram-ewe!”

The aromatic ram farm is a centerpiece to the picturesque New England town of Salisbury.

“Its fun to watch,” continued Bill the retired Vietnam veteran. “Visitors collect their garbage through out the week and come here over the weekends and feed those stinking goats. One man travels all the way from upstate New York near Albany with the grandkids. He says they like eatin’ leftover chicken in black bean sauce best, which I find odd. That’s not like a sheep.”

Met up with my good buddy Cathryn for lunch this week. She’s moved jobs and is doing very well in her new position. Cathryn has started her own Rewatchables Movie Club at the new company. I’m feeling emotional!

Salisbury has that Wonder Bread vibe. As my bestie Kevin said when we went there for pie, it felt like a set for the Stepford Wives.

I continue to do my shopping in Connecticut. Le Bonne’s is an attractive, locally owned supermarket that I enjoy for its personality. You do pay for that personality. I had to hit up my Christmas Club account to purchase Filet Mignon.

Sweet Williams, on the main drag, is the regional go-to spot for pastries. They bake the best asiago and bacon scones I’ve had. And of course pie. This is where Kevin and myself had our Cheese Danish. The coffee is decent, not great. Get there early – product sells out. A must for Christmas & Thanksgiving orders. Their Black & White Cake is magnificent.

Pie!

Should it now be The Stepford Partners? I just completed additional compliance and diversity training and I’m confused. It didn’t help that my sound didn’t work for the online session and I winged the answers. I hope it was not a checklist.

Lakeville, the next door town to Salisbury has The Boathouse Restaurant and I believe a lake to offer. Their menu is an odd mix of Americana and Sushi (maybe fresh from the Lake?). The last time I was there a waiter dumped a full glass of red wine all over a brand new previously pink shirt. Maybe an accident – maybe I deserved it. It was back in my boozing days.

New Thing I’ve Done Because of The Pandemic #3: Got the Peloton. I’m a big fan.

The White Hart Inn, established in 1806, has an excellent country menu served in their elegant dining room. I’ve never had a reason to stay there but its a charming spot.
You Know Who You Are
Another big project completed . Our upstate driveway is 1/5 mile long and had badly washed out with the summer storms. There were troughs a foot deep in parts. Great job by Boyles Bulldozing and our good neighbor Terry. Terry also saved my lily white when the tree came down last year.
I found it I’d easier to just leave those shoes in permanently and slip my feet out.

Movie Stuff – Taxi Driver

Sally did an excellent job introducing and running the microphone. It was her first viewing, selected on a dice roll. She appreciated Taxi Driver thankfully.

Despite spotty reviews from the group it got a reluctant 100% Thumbs up.

Opinions were split between the older viewers (myself included) who consider it a timeless 70s masterpiece and those who found the first hour boring. They felt it would have benefited from an Avengers style climax to open.

On what was probably my 20th viewing I had a new thought. If saving Iris was Plan B is there anything at all heroic about Travis? Did he simply buy a hammer and look for any nail?

Kevin – I took photos of the handwriting – it’s different. Travis did not write the parent letter to himself.

Next week my book reading buddy Asha is presenting Uncut Gems. It was one of my movies of the year in 2019. Adam Sandler is usually like a cheese grater to the knuckles for me. Sometimes I enjoy a good cheese grating.

Trust me! It’s great.

Sunday I’m driving South. I’ve only got four States left to see on the mainland to fill my gaps. I’m taking this little buggy and starting back out to Tennessee. A sporty Mercedes with New York plates going through Alabama and Mississippi during a Pandemic. What could go wrong? Stay tuned. Time to milk the accent.

Back & Bored #5

My little Millerton became Pandemic Popular.

Strays from far and near who have forgotten the basics of crossing a road now gather mid-town on weekends and wander into traffic like deer on the Taconic. A recent NYT article would indicate that picturesque Millerton, before The Great Panic, was populated by pitchfork carrying rubes who would possibly eat your dog raw and needed out of town citiots (like myself) to motor in and save the place from itself.

It didn’t.

I watched today as an out of towner reversed blind from the Diner car park into a passing white Ford Bronco. It looked like lots of body shop work in some local’s angry future and possibly some body work needed by one weekender sooner. I moved along as the fireworks began.

My go to spot for the past 20 years of Millerton weekends is the Oakhurst Diner (the owners have changed over the years). I take my usual stool at the counter, overlooking Main Street, and have my usual healthy bacon egg and cheese on ciabatta (it’s organic) and multiple coffees. Theirs is the best in-house coffee in town and the friendliest most welcoming of staff. The outdoor seating gets a bit tricky – bee problems in the sun.

Harney

Irving Coffee have their roastery close by and runs a popular shop in town. Their bean variety is excellent – I get my grinder stock there (the coffee type). Irving has a decent limited breakfast and lunch menu and has a relaxed hang around and work on your laptop comfort. I’m not that douchy. They get a nice little gas fire going in the winter.

Harney Tea is worth dropping by if you’re one of those chamomile drinking hippies, or just like tea. I don’t.

As the ultimate consumer I’ve replaced all my favorite films on Blu-Ray over time. The local Library benefited. I recently dropped off a couple of hundred duplicate DVDs to add to their limited town collection. Masked at the time I laid on the accent double thick. What’s the point of being charitable if no one recognizes you and thinks you’re marvelous afterwards? Begorrah.

The local towns have done a spectacular job cleaning up and extending the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. The converted walking and cycling pathway now extends from Millerton to Wassaic, on one end, and Bash Bish Falls in the Massachusetts direction.

The trail kicks off in Millerton right by Tarot’s Italian Restaurant. Unlike Ohioan pizza Tarot’s crust is very good. They do still have a ridiculous cash only policy so attach a tender filled fanny pack to those show it all bicycle shorts if you’re feeling peckish after your trail spin.

Charlotte Taylor is still the best spot in the County when you need to pick up an impressive little gift. I’ve gotten pressies there ranging from handmade cloth toys to colorful cheese knives. All big hits.

I’m still spending vast fortunes in Oblong book. But whenever Uncle Karl plans a visit to the Westchester clan, I also get to splash out in their toy store. Oblong has an eye-popping dazzle of stocking stuffers and a welcoming sit down and read children’s book section. It’s a beautiful location to browse and always fun to talk to the well versed bookstore staff.

You know who you are kiddies!

The Millerton Saturday market, located in the church yard, hosts a scrappy selection of local merchants flogging their home scorched wares. Lots of organic. I got apple strudels the size of Rhode Island there recently. Meh. It’s still more scrappy than selection and usually features a local off-key musician selling self-labeled CDs. Harken to Ramblin’ Rita’s acoustic rendition of Nights in White Satin for the full fair experience. Or some dude with a banjo.

Millerton packs quite the variety into a quarter mile Main Street.

Movie Stuff: The Many Saints of Newark

When you try to serve two masters you end up with two unhappy bosses – or mob bosses in this case. The Many Saints of Newark attempts to appease long time Soprano fans/fanatics (like myself) and viewers coming in blind. It lets down both groups.

Where The Sopranos told the big stories from the limitations of a small screen Saints aims big, sprays blanks in all directions, and shits a hospital load of beds. It starts as an Oedipus story and ends as a pinky shake Michelangelo, taking in the Newark riots and a smattering of Frank Lucas with little reason. Even without the Sopranos link this film would be a weak, stereotypical, convoluted let down.

I’m looking for Halloween movie ideas.

The casting is dreadful – particularly the clown playing Silvio. All the uniqueness and intelligence of The Sopranos is lost. Any one of the plots in Saints (and there are lots) could be dropped, and the movie would only improve. That includes losing young Tony Soprano and demented Livia. No trope is left untroped, no family eating event left overfed, no great gangster film left un-borrowed from. The use of Liotta & Liotta is irritating and just plain silly.

Many Saints split the room 50/50 (telling that even the thumbs up found the Newark riot inclusion pandering and unnecessary).

But man, my shackles stood up when the Alabama 3 theme song kicked in.

You’ll understand if you watch the movie.

On the upside I’ve finally found a name for my new band – Venus Di Milos Douchebag. I’m giving this film a big rinse.

I’m psyched for next week’s movie. My Good buddy and multiple time host Sally Regan will be presenting Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver - Movie Poster

Back & Bored #4

Stacey’s horse-habit brought us to Sunbury, Ohio last year. You turn left at the middle of nowhere and there it is plugged in a cornfield.

The Gavel Sculpture at the Ohio Supreme Court

It’s a one horse town where the horse seems to have passed. We dined nightly on take out from the local Pizzeria; Goodfellas or Godfathers or Cousin Vinny’s or Mamma Mia’s – one of those names as I recall. Maybe Luigi’s? You haven’t lived until you’ve tried Ohioan Thin Crust Corn Pizza.

The owner of our Airbnb fancied themselves as an artist/decorator (translation – weird shit all over the house). I’m not sure if the plaster heads in multi-colored swim caps perched overlooking the sofas from a walnut cabinet or the female bust with the toxic red wig mounted on the wire sprung piano or the lost era sepia photographs of wide eyed infants creeped me out most. There was a locked basement door, at the bottom of too many freshly painted white steps, we were told never to open. That didn’t help the atmosphere. And I’m guessing there were children in that there corn.

I was glad I didn’t drink anymore.

Cornhenge – Yep.

We did take a tour around then plague desolated Columbus. I had been reliably informed that Ohio State sold Johnny Utah QB shirts at the campus bookstore. This Point Break fan was all in. I got dead-eyed stares at the register when I mentioned Johnny Utah. I left with a Buckeye Keychain, which looks like an elongated turd with a pink face. Never trust reliable sources.

The Topiary Park, Columbus – Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte in Hedges.
We were bushed after our visit (overdue Dad joke)

There were a number of farm cats that we actively had to keep out of the rental house – any briefly opened door and they were in. Some hours after departure from Sunbury, on my way back to New York, I found one asleep in the back seat of the Mercedes curled on my canvas travel bag. I dumped it out somewhere by a river in Belleville. The same reliable source told me that cats have similar homing skills to pigeons so I’m sure Fluffy was fine.

Eight Left

I did completely upgrade my wardrobe from the expansive Tanger Outlets, during the Ohio jaunt. The Plague has changed me to a relaxed sweatpants wearing redneck from the uptight French cuff wearing downtown douche I once was. One shopping year later – I’m still finding sweatpants with the tags on.

Wardrobe 2021

If I ever go back to Ohio, it will be for sweats.

Movie Stuff etc.

I’m a heathen where it comes to the stage. I prefer any mediocre movie over the best of plays. I hate musicals. No matter how many of you or how often you tell me how magnificent it is, I am never going to see Hamilton. I saw all I needed of it on Curb Your Enthusiasm. I would be Larry and fall asleep in the audience.

This weeks Club Movie was Glengarry Glen Ross, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning Mamet play. I’m hot and cold on Mamet. I tend to lean towards his adaptations of other people’s work, his collaborations, and his original screenplays over his plays. I’m going with The Verdict (Paul Newman’s greatest performance) as my favorite of Mamet’s work with Ronin and The Untouchables as two runners up. The Untouchables was the first movie I saw in the Cinema, at Whiteplains NY, when I moved to the USA, so I’ve a soft spot. Again, Connery doesn’t even attempt to hide the Scottish accent playing Irish cop Malone – got him an Oscar though.

I also took in Wag the Dog this week; the political satire is more relevant today that on it’s 1997 release. The Oscar nominated screenplay is sharp and hilarious. But the real revelation this week was Salesman, the superb 1967 documentary that follows a team of Bible salesman as they ply their trade, working from Catholic Church provided leads. See it. You’ll like whatever job you have way better afterwards.

Leather Lips – Monument to Forked Tongued Promises

The Movie group was 80% Thumbs Up for Glengarry Glen Ross, largely driven by the magnificent performances and the dialogue. One nay-sayer found the found language un-necessary and excessive, the same viewer thought Reservoir Dogs excellent. Help – I’m easily confused.

I stopped off and saw my young buddy Gabriel in Pittsburgh. This before he was completely wrong about Glengarry Glen Ross.

Where I completely enjoy GGR, and use the film’s most offensive quotes when ever possible, its not a film that completely takes the stage out of the play on screen. It does have the greatest cast of any movie in the past 30 years – six Oscars between four winners – all the remaining cast are nominees.

How did they ever find a kid that looks so like a young James Galdofini?

Next week the Movie Team is being lead on an experimental voyage by XO-Brienne Bannister. We are taking a dive into Many Saints of Newark, sight unseen.

You know who you are Nana!

Bored & Back #3

You know things have gotten tough when New Jersey becomes a vacation destination.

Woke Up This Morning…

Stacey was competing on the horses in August, so I booked for a few nights with her in Princeton. It was my first time there. As preparation for my trip to The Garden State I listened to a lot of The Boss and re-binged all six seasons of The Sopranos. I also studied up on some of the vernacular (Hoagie; Shoobie; Mutz; MAC) so I could talk comfortably with the locals. Stacey’s family resided in Teaneck all her life. I’d never ventured much beyond that 20 minute sprint out of Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel, past a scrappy green zone, for holiday events at her old homestead. It looked safe enough and there seemed to be lots of Diners. I love Diners.

My Second option after Galway Mayo Institute of Technology

Princeton is a picturesque walk-around town with the beautiful Ivy League Campus as a center piece. The University was established in 1746 so you’ve got all that history to enjoy. This is what I was expecting in Michigan – sorry Ann Arbor!

I had gotten some excellent recommendations in advance from some of my Jerseyite friends.

We stayed in The Peacock Inn; an 18TH Century Colonial converted into a boutique hotel off the main drag in Princeton. The service was excellent and the ambience superb; they host daily afternoon tea events. They looked dressy and lovely. I didn’t attend – do I look English to you?

The Peacock is great for a shorter stay – as a converted manor the rooms do run smaller. Great shower though and the heated bathroom floor made Stacey very happy. Whatever it takes.

The garden was closed one evening for a cocktail party/art exhibit. The paintings were goth awful, and the event had the feel of a party that rich daddy had sponsored for his little princess. Princeton feels like that kinda town. I did not buy a piece.

Our best dining experience was at Elements. The five course pre-fixe is pricey but worth every penny – it was our combined birthday/anniversary night out. Primarily fish dishes the accumulated food volume creeps up on you. We did not leave hungry. Elements provided some of the best service we have ever had and we have always been very nice to ourselves.

Why so many barbers in NJ?

I put on my shoobie shoes and shorts one evening and took a spin over to Avon by the Sea, to see my good buddy Kerry and husband (as of the Summer) Jake. Congrats again friends! They treated me to dinner at The Columns, a beautifully converted Victorian Mansion with a fun ocean front buzz – hopping with live music on a Thursday evening. It was a real pleasure to meet Jake, Brendan & Caitlyn and I will go back to Avon given the opportunity.

Back in Princeton, I tried to buy a t-shirt in the iconic Princeton Record Exchange. All they had was Kelly Green. I may not look English but I’m not that Irish. I left empty handed. I did overstock at the excellent Labyrinth Books on Nassau Street, however.

Potato Progress

No scones, but Small World Coffee had some of the best house coffee I’ve tasted and was a great space for taking a break from all the walking. It became my stop off spot during the few days there.

GOT Booze?

I did need to pick up a gift while I was in Princeton and scored with a bottle of Game of Thrones Scotch. They had individual distillers represent each of the GOT clans. Of course, I had to add a bottle to my bar – the incestuous Lannister’s were always my favorite. I had picked Cersei for the throne in the GOT Dead or Alive pool I ran, and I’m still devastated by the result.

Karl’s Hot Pickle

Things I learned to do during The Plague #3: How to Pickle Stuff. Combine two cups water; two cups white vinegar; 1 spoon of pickling salt; 1 spoon celery salt; boil it all together; chop up the fresh product; throw all the shit together in a jar. BAM!

I have had a very successful two years with Banana Peppers. It’s the closest I come to eating a vegetable.

Of course, I produced way too much so guess what you’re getting for Christmas!

Fibbing to the kids.. you know who you are.

Bored & Back #2

The Big House

Wifey and myself did get to spend a few days driving around Michigan in June. Though I had briefly dropped by to add to my visited State count during my sabbatical I’d never visited properly.

The Out House

I’d heard so much about the magical land of Ann Arbor it was of course a critical stop. Stacey booked us into The Bell Tower Hotel which is right beside a big Bell Tower. This was the hotel she never expected she would be able to afford to stay in back in her ramen-noodle eating days as a student in the University of Michigan.

Stacey gave me an extended walking tour of the campus and town and of course The Big House.

“Go Blue Go! Go Wolverines!”.

I don’t know a lot about the college system in this country but this one does seem to produce herds of fanatical lifelong football fans and friends.

I got to see some weird, spray-painted rock and a cube thing that twists in a circle when you push it. We also took in her old fraternity sister lodgings. I wouldn’t live there.

Someday I hope to give Stacey a tour of Galway’s second-best college and my alma mater, The Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. On a clear day you can see all the way down the Dublin road to the traffic lights near the hospital from some of the classrooms.

“Go Beige Go! Go Brown Trout!”.

As always, I tracked down the best bookstore in town – Literati. This well stocked independent store won the award as 2019 Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year. So of course I bought ridiculous amounts I didn’t need. I hadn’t been out of the house in months!

The highlight of the trip was three days spent on Mackinac Island. Situated on Lake Huron between the Upper & Lower Peninsulas the Island has maintained its old school charm and other timey vibe. You can only get there by ferry and no cars are permitted. All transportation is in horse drawn carriages. The place looks magnificent but smells like horse shit – a small price to pay for beauty and the roses grow great.

The island is small, just over 12 miles in circumference and is homeplace to the second national park established in the country; the forestry takes up most of the Island. A centerpiece of the town is fully intact Forth Mackinac, the oldest building in Michigan (1780). The compound boasts the cleanest public toilets I’ve ever seen – well worth spending a penny.

My favorite Island Moment was watching a local cop, hidden behind a tree, LIDAR horses for speeding on the road to our hotel.

As inconspicuously as possible we took a selfie with the hidden horse traffic cop behind

The Grand Hotel, where we lodged, is probably the most beautiful hotel we’ve stayed in. Boasting the World’s Longest Porch, the wraparound overlooks the Straits of Mackinac from a height. The hotel is old school to the extent that men must wear jacket and tie after 6:00PM and ladies are discouraged from wearing trousers.

The Triplets of Mackinac?

There was an extensive clutter of old dears flocking around the main dining room the night we sat for dinner at The Grand. They were dressed head to toe in purple with large floppy hats, flapping around like a Mardi-Gras funeral procession. I tried softening them with my bottomless Irish charm to milk some back story, but they showed little interest in me. They seemed very interested in Stacey and presented her with a secret purple business card she refused to share with me.

We would definitely return to Mackinac.

Movie Stuff

Of the seventy movies viewed by my company’s movie club few had 100% Thumbs Up: Sunset Boulevard (1950); District 9 (2009); The Hunt for the Wilder People (2016) & King of Comedy (1982). Today Crimson Tide (1995) joined the One Hundred Percent Club. These films were a complete popular success where The Godfather (1972) had dissenters and Blade Runner (1982), my favorite, split the room. What do I know?

Check out the Movie Club page for the full list (https://tooleingaround.com/t-shirts/)

As is my way, in preparation I did some Submarine binging (as did XO-Bannister), with mixed results.

Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) – this WWII standard pitting new kid on the block (Burt Lancaster) against old master (Clark Gable) still holds up. It succeeds in large part because they commandeered a real submarine for filming and had a grand old time hunting the high seas.

The Hunt For Red October (1990) – the most successful submarine film ever hasn’t aged so well. Alec Baldwin was never destined for lead man status, mainly because he can’t act (except one excellent scene in Glengarry Glen Ross). It never gets old listening to Connery burr away, not even trying for a Russian accent …. “Today we shaaaail into hsssstory”. Ahaar Sean!

The Bedford Incident (1965) – seemed to be a film thrown together for the sake of a cynical ending. Its a pretty great ending.

As a partner for the Nuclear Apocalypse Crimson Tide theme, I re-watched Failsafe (1964). It still terrifies and still ranks as one the greatest anti-war films made. Henry Fonda is at his best playing one of the great movie presidents, orchestrating a bleak ending that’s never been bettered.

And finally, the mac-daddy of all submarine movies, Das Boot (1981) – the German made U-Boat classic. Its a grimy, claustrophobic, realistic masterpiece. At 208 minutes the Director’s Cut is a long dive, but absolutely worth the plunge.

Today’s viewing crew found Crimson Tide to be the rare big budget film that managed to be entertaining and intelligent; a war movie with limited blood and violence that opened a broad discussion on duty versus morality.

It was suggested that Crimson Tide would be an excellent brand name for a line of tampons. Steadier heads explained that the title refers to the University of Alabama football team. The things I learn.

Crimson Tide was the first and best collaboration in a five-movie run between Denzel Washington and Director Tony Scott. The best Tony Scott features a different Alabama – the Tarantino scripted True Romance (1993).

Crimson Tide is not the best submarine film, that’s Das Boot. Crimson Tide is the most enjoyable.

Next Week: Movie #72 – the toxic Mouthy Mamet Masterpiece – Glengarry Glen Ross.