Tag Archives: Travel

Costa Rican Paradise – only $135,000.00

I saw this article on BoingBoing a few days ago: A man moved his family to Costa Rica basically near the beach and rain forest. Makes you think what 135k gets you in the USA (bot-flys aside)

Check out the slide show here

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Hertz so bad…

I was asked to drive up to Connecticut for a team meeting earlier this week. I decided to leave Monday night and planned on coming home Thursday. When I arrived, the news of the big storm that was hitting the Philadelphia area seemed more grim than I was anticipating: While I enjoy my co-workers up north, if I am getting stuck, I am getting stuck at home. I decided to leave Tuesday night (after the big meeting). During my rush to leave the state, it dawned on me that my rental car might be an issue. I called the Hertz rental agency and spelled out the situation. This particular Hertz is run out of the back of an auto-body shop and closes their gates at 6 PM and didn’t have a drop box option, which meant I couldn’t drop the car off on Tuesday evening before the storm really ramped up.

The location manager was friendly enough and told me she would call me to let me know their status the next day (because I was concerned they would be closed). Sure enough, I received at call around 8 AM telling me that the branch was open but she wasn’t sure for how long. I asked her to let me know when they would be closing because I didn’t want to arrive to closed gates. The shoveling out began. I went inside to take a conference call around 10 AM and the manager called to let me know that they would be closing in an hour. I asked IF I could get the car over there, would I be able to get a ride back; she couldn’t commit to that and if I didn’t get it there today, I would be charged. Looking at the roads and the rate of the snow fall, I made the call to stay off the roads because I would have to endanger someone else so I could get home (I wasn’t walking 10 miles in a blizzard) AND I didn’t want to endanger myself/the car (it would be my luck I would get into a fender bender). I suggested we discuss our options in the morning and wished her safe travels getting home.

This morning I call to check if they were opened and they were. Once again I asked for and was denied transportation back to my home due to their (understandable) lack of resources. My wife and I dug ourselves out again and Allison followed me over to the Hertz rental office (in Woodbury, NJ if you were wondering). The manager informed me there was nothing she could do and gave me a corporate number to call. I gladly took it and went on my way with no ill feelings towards her. We safely arrived home and after a block of meetings I called the corporate phone number: the associate told me the company stands behind the decisions of the local office and there wasn’t anything I could do except call the Woodbury manager and plead my case. I called location manager back and repeated the corporate policy (which I get the impression she already knew, but wanted me out of there without a fight). She proceeded to tell me that the situation was essentially my fault since I was given ample time to get there (1 hour notice in a blizzard). I told her that I appreciated her good customer service and her attempts at informing me of their schedule, but at the end of the day the roads weren’t safe. She continued to repeat the line that she called me at 7:30 to let me know they were opened. I then offered a few thoughts/comments to see if I could change her mind:

  • From a risk management perspective, do you want your asset out in the middle of a blizzard to save the daily $40 rate – at the risk of a potential fender bender/insurance situation which would most definitely cost you more money?
  • From a business perspective – you are not losing money on that asset because the office was closed – nobody could rent the vehicle
  • From a customer service perspective – you don’t have the staff to arrange return transport (because of the storm you essentially said I am okay to be driving in) – which means I have to ask someone to follow me/come get me
  • This is a corporate account which brings Hertz steady business, do you really want to risk that? By the way, I work in the vendor management department and I am going to let my team know about this situation

She didn’t respond to my points, she just countered that they were opened and she made it in that day and customers did manage to get there. I responded with “just because you could open, it doesn’t mean it was a good idea… you had to close!” I could tell I wasn’t getting anywhere with her so I dropped it. I believe she was just following corporate orders, so I didn’t see the point in getting loud or angry with her (wow, personal growth!). With that said, am I going to drop it? No. I am going to take this post and forward it to Hertz and I will also send a letter (with some of my traffic reports for this site) and see if anything comes of it. Do I care about the money? Not so much. In this case, it really is the principle – they are a preferred vendor for my company and I don’t think they took care of me or their own asset very well. I am going to give them a chance to respond and make the situation right, and if they stand their ground, I will bring this to the attention of the better business bureau because I don’t think I am wrong… IN ANY WAY.

Be safe out there.

PS – Did anyone else have a similar problem with the storm? I’d love to hear about it and trade stories!

UPDATE (1):
One of my loyal readers was traveling this week and was in the same scenario but she used Avis. They PICKED UP THE CAR AT HER HOUSE and didn’t charge her for yesterday or today.

UPDATE (2):
Posted the story on Hertz Facebook Page. I have never performed such a direct move before, curious to see how this pans out.

UPDATE (3):
Hertz has responded via Facebook – check it out:

“Joey, I would have left a comment on your blog as well but it doesn’t seem to have that enabled. I’ll talk to someone in customer service about getting these changes sorted out. We absolutely do not want to endanger our customers or ask them to take unnecessary safety risks, least of all in extreme weather conditions. Please accept my personal apologies for the inconvenience.

On a humorous note, I really enjoyed your blog. The Lloyd Dobler post was great.”

UPDATE (4):
Hertz delivered on their promise to investigate. I am quite pleased with their reaction. Thank you Hertz!

Dear Mr. Lombardi,

This is in response to your post on FaceBook regarding you rental in
Woodbury, New Jersey. Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

We sincerely regret your rental experience with Hertz did not meet with the
high standards of service we strive to maintain. As a service oriented
company, we rely on customer feedback to help us maintain and improve our
service performance standards.

As a gesture of our concern, a credit of $87.57 will be processed to the
account billed for this rental. The adjustment is being made at this time,
but may not appear on the next monthly statement due to billing cut-off
dates.

Thank you for giving us the chance to respond. Your business is
appreciated.

Sincerely,

Kanda [Last Name Removed].

Joey Lombardi | Create Your Badge

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Chicago – Days 3 and 4

Our last full day in Chicago found us scrambling to get in as much as possible; the city is truly packed with things to do and 3 night were not enough to take it all in. The weather for the duration of our trip has been outstanding – I could not have asked for better bluer days and with those clearskies in mind, my top priority on Friday was to find my way on the water. I had read a lot about the famous Chicago river boat tours and was eager to be a tourist for one of these educational jaunts down the river…

Before we could get to the river, Allison and I had to visit the Chicago Center of Tourism right on Chicago & Michigan Streets. As I mentioned on my Day 2 summary, they have a booth that sells half priced tickets, we snagged seats for the High Fidelity play at 8 PM and we wanted to see Chicago comedy at Second City; thankfully they had tickets to “Stud Turkel’s Not Working” at 11 PM. Now that we had plans for the evening, we ventured down Michigan towards the river tours.

When we arrived, most of the tours were sold out. The “most famous boat tour” – the Architecture tour – was sold out until Saturday, but there was another company running a similar tour for $5 bucks less (and 30 minutes longer). We went for it not expecting great things, but it turned out the extra 30 minutes were for a boat ride on Lake Michigan itself – it was a PERFECT day for a boat ride and we had seats right in the front. The tour was educational – ORDERED CHAOS FACT: Chicago has wider “sofa shaped” buildings instead of the “wedding cake” (famous in New York) because there was more land available. The reason they do the cut outs was because when the buildings were put up, not every section had electricity so they needed more windows to let the light in.

After a great tour we caught a cab (the first time we used one the whole trip) to the Museum of Science and Industry. I had been fascinated with this building since reading Erik Larson’s “Devil in the White City”. The Museum was built as the centerpiece of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and it has withstood the Chicago winters to become a premier attraction in the city. The complex is massive – big enough to easily contain an entire train, a Nazi U-Boat, a full sized Boeing 747 and several un-used space vehicles. For Philadelphians , the Museum feels like a much bigger version of the Franklin institute. We arrived at 3:00 and were informed after waiting in line for 20 minutes that the museum was closing at 4:00 PM. We still paid full price and ran around like lunatics. This is a great place to take a kid, not so much for adults (but there were several attractions closed for renovations or due to it being late in the day). I wouldn’t mind giving the Museum of Science another go – but I will wait until I have kids who can really appreciate it.

Coming out of the museum, some drama occurred: I wanted to check out the grounds since it was on the site of the former World’s Fair. After walking around and taking pictures, we decided to skip the bus and take a taxi back and we hopped into the nearest one. As we were leaving, another taxi blocked our path. It seems that the taxi drivers expect customers to walk to the front of the line (which is a city block, maybe two) and take the taxi in the front. At first I was going to comply not wanting to break a social norm, but as another taxi driver demand my wife get out of taxi, I started to tell the other driver blocking our way to fuck off. This empowered our driver to hop the curb and get around them. Our taxi driver was a nice guy and we spent the rest of the trip discussed the Chicago climate.

Back at the hotel, I researched places to eat near second city and decided on Adobe Grill which was right next door to the second city theaters. A quick cab ride (it was a $6.00 fare) over to Wells Street and we were quickly seated. Before I knew it, our server was presenting us with delicious margaritas and had a girl come out and make guacamole right at our table – excellent. I took the waiter’s suggestion had a sampler of their lamb and marinated beef for dinner. The meat was cooked perfectly and the portions were just the right size. Allison and I ended the meal with a tres leches desert which was a nice way to cleanse the palate.

We went next door and waited for High Fidelity to open. While we were waiting, we heard and saw a man on his cell phone talking about the play’s finances (or lack there of). We saw the actors coming into the theater (you could just tell they were actors) and we both were amazed how late they were coming in. 20 minutes before the show was supposed to start and they open the doors and a crowd finally shows up (there were probably 30 people in total). My thoughts on the play? Here is my review:

*** High Fidelity: The Musical – Route 66 Production Company ***

Official Web Site: High Fidelity – The Musical: Chicago

When I purchased tickets for the show, I didn’t realize it was a musical; I thought it was a play – I hate musicals. The subject matter is near and dear to my heart, but I was getting bad feelings when I overheard the lead’s phone conversation about bouncing checks. Regardless, I cleared my head and went into the show with an open mind.

What I liked:
1. They managed to change the plot to make most of the story occur in the music shop. This worked out well and the minor differences were enough to make it feel different.
2. The two actors playing Dick and Barry (the Jack Black role) were excellent. The guy playing Barry was doing an impression of Jack Black but it was a good one and the guy who played Dick was a good singer and guitar player.
3. The stage set up – it worked out well for a small theater
4. The gentlemen playing Ian made me laugh, but my wife hated him – he seemed like he was having a lot of fun.

What I didn’t like:
1. The lead actor – every time he repeated a Cusack line from the movie it made you realize how much of a poor man’s John Cusack he was. In all honestly, this guy had all of the charm of a date rapist. The dude playing Dick would have been much better in the lead.
2. The songs – some were okay, most were not. A particular gripe – the song “Laura”
3. Most of the women in the play were not so good – the one exception was the girl playing Allison Ashmore/Ana Moss (duel role) – she had a good voice and seemed to be more natural.
4. The length: The play was longer than the movie – about 2 hours.

When the show was over, I was glad to get the fuck out of there. But my escape wasn’t very far because our next show was just a floor below…

*** Second City Players: Stud Turkel’s Not Working ***

I knew nothing about the show, the people in it, or who Stud Turkel was before seeing the performance and that was just fine. Stud Turkel was a real person – he was a Chicago humorist and radio star that passed away a few years ago; the show had nothing to do with him, they just named it after one of his books because the theme of the show was about the Chicago lifestyle, but it easily could have fit into any urban setting (not much was lost in translation to this tourist).

The show was a mix of sketches and improve with the audience and it was hilarious. The cast was excellent as they made funny and acute commentary on local and national affairs. I didn’t recognize any of the staff, but I wouldn’t be shocked if I saw any of these actors onSNL in a year or two. I could go into greater details, but I wouldn’t want to give the jokes or the improve surprises away should you happen to be in Chicago and catch the show. Just take my word for it, it is worth going to see.

*** End Reviews ***

By the time the shows were done, it was 1 AM and Allison and I had to be at the airport by 8 AM to catch our flights home. So back to the hotel for packing and a few hours sleep.

When the morning came, we grabbed our stuff, checked out of the Avenue Hotel, walked a few blocks to Chicago & State to catch the red line. We got off a Roosevelt to catch the orange line back to mid-way. It took 40 minutes but I don’t think a cab would have been much faster.

The luggage check-in lines were huge, but thankfully they moved quickly. We managed to get through check-in and security in about an hour and got to the gate with an hour to spare. I watched Drillbit Taylor as we waited for the plane and one of the little boys in the movie reminded me of my godfather’s son Antonio, but that has been happening a lot lately. The flight was without incident and I am now home to finish this post.

I am going to summarize my thoughts on Chicago tomorrow, but I will end this post by saying Chicago is one hell of a town and I can’t wait to go back. Thanks for reading, here are the last of the pictures I took (most are from the boat tour).

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Chicago – Day 2

Thursday morning found us feeling more refreshed thanks to an early nights sleep. We got up early and headed up to the hotel’s “sky lounge” for breakfast. I was hesitant to start putting items on my plate once I saw the instant eggs, stale bread, and mini boxes of cereal – been to too many hotels to fall for this scam – but my wife had already started. After a brief breakfast with a lovely view and $50 dollars later, we were on Michigan Avenue trying to figure out how to kill a few hours until the Cubs game.

We happened upon the Old Water Tower and the adjoining pumping station. The water tower was a bit of a let down (we weren’t allowed in the Tower part) and the pumping station didn’t let us get far in it’s innards, but it was next to Chicago’s Tourism Department and they sell half price tickets to shows. We managed to pick up tickets to the play form of High Fidelity and have to go back this morning to snag ticket for a Second City show after.

After getting the tickets we went to the John Hancock Center to catch the crazy views of Chicago that the city of skyscrapers is known for. The building did not disappoint. It costs $30 bucks to get to the top which makes it an official tourist trap, but it was still and excellent view. After taking some pictures we came back down and headed back to the hotel to dump our stuff and head to the game.

Once again we used the city’s excellent sub-way system (the Red Line) and managed to get to Wrigley Field before the game started. Sadly the Cubs were defeated by the Brewers… there were a lot of Brewers fans in the house. Why can’t the Cubbies get love in their own stadium? It was a fantastic day to see a game and we had an official Chicago style foot-long which Allison had to take the peppers off of.

We decided to visit the Art Institute of Chicago on our way back from the Cubs game. Once again my feeling is that while it was a wonderful museum, they aren’t as good as Philadelphia’s. There was a whole wing dedicated to modernist paintings (aka color splotches) – which I am completely convinced is a total scam. To each their own. After a solid two hours, it was time to go back to the hotel.

Knowing red meat was in my immediate future, I decided to hit the treadmill and my legs were like jelly from walking around the city all day. After a shower, my wife informed me that we were going to Boston Blackies. Our friends Jack and Lorraine recommended this establishment as one of the best burgers they have ever had. That was enough for me. The burger was outstanding, the onion rings were tasty, their own amber ale brew had me buzzing and our waitress was wonderful. At one point she sat down with us and talked Chicago politics and told us what “true Southies” thoughts were about the city and the new president. Outstanding.

It was dark, so we decided to head back to the hotel to plan the next day because if things go according to plan, it is going to be a long day packed with Chicago theater and tourist attractions.

To Be Continued….

Click here to read Part 3

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Chicago – Day 1

We had to wake up earlier than I had mentally prepared myself for yesterday and that cost me on our first day in the Windy City. The guy we use for airport service was booked solid and had to pick us up at 5 AM. When he says 5 AM, he normally means 5:30, but in this case, he meant 5. I couldn’t get to sleep before midnight so I was left with exactly 4 hours and 15 minutes of rest. I was tired when I woke up and I wouldn’t shake that feeling all day.

The Philadelphia airport was relatively empty and provided no obstacles (this is our of character for our fair city’s only major airport), so we actually manged to land in Chicago 15 minutes early. After reading very complimentary articles of Chicago’s public transit system, I wanted to forgo using a taxi from the airport, but Allison had her doubts… until her uncle Rusty (who has traveled to Chicago often for work) not only encouraged it, he said it was the best way to get to the hotel – Allison agreed. The train leaving from the airport is the Orange line and we found it with no issues. It cost $2.25 to get on (and this includes any transfer). Once we reached the loop, we had to get off and board the red line (which is a traditional subway) – we managed this very easily (well my wife did since she didn’t have to carry the heavy suitcase). Once we got off at Chicago Ave, Allison – who was acting as a navigator, got a little confused and we ended up going several blocks in the wrong direction. After 6 blocks of lugging the suitcase, I hailed a cab – by this point we were way off – so the taxi was a good idea. Five minutes and $5.68 later we were at our hotel. I should note that a taxi from Midway to the heart of the city is $50.00 flat fee and we ended up paying $10.18 and it was much faster (this city is all stop and go traffic).

We got to the hotel at 10:00 AM central time and they didn’t have our room ready. Instead of aimless wandering, I suggested we hit one of the museums, so the clerk told us how to take the bus to the Field Museum on Lake Shore Drive. The bus stop was around the corner from the hotel and a very helpful girl informed us which bus we had to take (the 146 line for those keeping score at home). Being on the bus, I got a feeling for Chicago traffic in the city and I think having a car in downtown would be impossible. The subway and train system is the way to go. The bus took about 30 minutes to get to the museum which reminded me very much of the Philadelphia art museum in appearance and in the interactive displays (but I think Philadelphia’s museum is better than the Fields – sorry Chicago).

The exhibits were great and we actually visited on a free basic admission day. One thing I didn’t like about the museum is that all of their special exhibits were extra cost (individually I might add). I think they should just charge you the cost to get in to see everything. We opted for an exhibit about pirates. It starts with their origins in slavery and the slave trade and then takes you through to the end of the “Golden Age” of pirates. It was educational and interesting. I felt that as a whole – the museum tries to hard to be interactive and kid friendly, Philadelphia does a better job at being interesting but letting the pieces speak for themselves. But as a whole – excellent start to the day.

Walking around for a few hours – and I was exhausted. It was almost 2:00 and I was hoping our room was ready, so back on the bus and to the hotel. Once we got back, our room still wasn’t ready, so we went into the attached bar for a drink or two to wait. And hour later, our rooms were done. Allison managed to get us an upgraded suite which is awesome and has panoramic views of the city. I decided to rest for a while, so I popped in a movie and vegged out (Watched Knowing based on a friend’s suggestion – FTP – we got to talk).

Once the movie was over, I felt rested so I hit the gym for a little cardio knowing that Chicago style pizza was next. A nice run and a shower later, we were off to the famous Gino’s East. It takes 45 minutes for a pizza to be made and there is always a line (our hotel clerk gave us a special skip to the front card – which I felt like an asshole for using, but I wasn’t standing in a line if I didn’t have to). 50 minutes later the monster came out. After eating one, I have trouble calling it pizza. It is excellent and tasty, but I think it is a meat pie not a pizza, but that is just me – I will also calling it filling – I could only handle two slices before I tapped out.

We walked back to our hotel and went to bed pretty quickly to rest up for the day head…

TO BE CONTINUED

Click here to read Part 2

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Nashville: Epilogue

I was going to type this last word about Nashville in the airport or on the plane but then opted against it because it was such a douche-bag writer cliche. I got home an hour ago, and I had to throw out some old food and pick up trash the wind blew on my front door. Now that I am settled, I can do a little more writing.

I said my peace about Nashville as a town in my post yesterday. I wanted to talk a little bit about the people today. Nashville is a very friendly town. The second we arrived, police officers stopped to make sure we knew where we were going and to suggest places to see, most of the bartenders and waiters were friendly and helpful, it was very pleasant.

For the single guys, there are a massive amount of pretty girls in this town (Hi Nate). The number of women strolling around the downtown area was staggering. A guy (like Nate) could really clean up. They weren’t just pretty, they were friendly and outgoing (REMEMBER THIS NATE). The guys all sort of looked like normal frat dudes, but friendlier.

I noticed plenty of smokers which made me a sad but I guess that is just a part of rural (and rural-metro) living. I didn’t see many of the cliches that you would expect from the South: no strong accents, nobody fit the “redneck” stereotype, people didn’t seem any dumber there than here (with one exception which we will get to in the next paragraph). One odd thing I did notice, for such a small city, I don’t think people like to walk too much (sounds like Nate’s version of Heaven).

Our hotel staff was very nice, but they didn’t seem all that bright as a group. When we arrived, I asked our clerk for visitation suggestions, and they were okay but that was about all he knew. I asked about restaurants and he had no idea what I was talking about (famous places in the area). Any time we asked if something was in walking distance the answer was no, but we walked it anyway and it was no more than 8 blocks. I mentioned the situation with the taxi service that they recommended which I choose not to blame them for, but if you know your guests are going to rely on taxi service and going to be shelling out 80 bucks round trip to get somewhere, you might want to suggest renting a car. When I saw new people checking in and asking the same questions and the clerk suggesting people go to SUBWAY around to corner for lunch, I finally had to step in. Nice people but they could help the tourism industry out by just knowing theirsurroundings. But we figured out their limitations pretty quickly and forged our own path so no harm, no foul.

Getting to the airport was no problem this morning and dropping off the car was a breeze. Nashville didn’t piss on me on our way out and I appreciated that. Nashville is absolutely a city we would visit again… hopefully we can take some friends and share in the fun.

PS: As always read the blog at it’s origin point: Joey’s Blog

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Nashville Blog: Day 03

Welcome back true be-loggers! Today is my last full day in Nashville (we are leaving tomorrow at 7 AM), my plan is to post the bulk of my thoughts today and perhaps offer a little epilogue tomorrow when we get home. We packed in alot today, so lets get to it. If you are just joining the blog this week and are wondering what I am talking about, here is PART 01 and here is PART 02. Let’s begin:

[The Big Bang]

I left you yesterday with Allison and I preparing to go to The Big Band Dueling Piano Bar in downtown Nashville. We were meeting up with my mom’s friend’s daughter (who moved to Nashville three weeks ago) and her (maybe) boyfriend (didn’t get a clarification and we didn’t ask). I realized late in the day yesterday that Big Bang was a chain which usually makes me less inclined to visit, but Allison used to frequent a dueling piano bar in Baltimore when she was in college and I thought she would like it. I wasn’t sure if the place served food which is why I was doing research online before we left. I didn’t get a clear answer but reviews mentioned dinner so I thought we were good to go. When we got there, the place was empty so we settled out on their deck facing Broadway and took in the mayhem below. Our dinner partners informed us that they didn’t drink alcohol which in turn, made me feel like an alcoholic asshole, but I got over that quickly and ordered some drinks (in fact, I was drinking when they found us at the bar next door… here’s to first impressions!)

As for the dueling pianos… it was fantastic. The players were talented and funny – one dude was BLIND and played awesome. The crowd started to shuffle in and it was clear that this was a bar for drunk girls to go to. I was one of the few men there. NATE IF YOU ARE READING THIS – YOU NEED TO GO TO NASHVILLE. I will make a quick note for anyone going to Big Bang, the food was terrible. Everything was deep fried and in nugget form. After a solid 4 hours we started to look for another place. At first I got the impression we were going to get into a car and go to a coffee house near Vanderbilt which I put the stop to – it was close to midnight, I was looking to wind the night down, not head off in a car and start up again (plus the prospect of being in a place that didn’t serve booze turned me off at the time – I wanted a final nite-cap). “Maybe Boyfriend” took this in stride and lead us down an alley into a respectfully dirty looking dive bar. I was into it until I walked in and smelled the smoke. You don’t realize how much smoke sucks until you are away from it. It didn’t help that “Maybe Boyfriend” enjoyed the cancer sticks and this bar allowed him to partake in his one vice right in front of my face. Add to the situation that we were immediately next to the stage and this crazy loud yet pretty awesome band was blowing my face off. I hung in for three songs and cut out. I felt bad to leave our company, but I had to get the hell out of there.

While walking back we mentioned that we were sort of hungry but sort of not, I suggested a pizza. We ordered from a place called New York Pizza (I know, I know…). It took them 40 minutes to get the pizza over and I almost vomited when I tasted it. They just dumped Italian style seasonings all over it, it had to be a total FU job, because there is no way this was an accident. It was that bad. So if you are in Nashville stay away from:

New York Pizza
2215 Elliston Place
Nashville, TN 37203
WORST PIZZA I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE

I brushed my teeth and went to bed wondering what I did to piss those people off…

[Hatch Show Print]

Website: Hatchshowprint.com

Over the last few days, we have heard about this awesome printing place that did all of the original posters for the Grand Ole Opry and the artists when they were on tour. The big draw is that this place still operates with wood block printing press which looks awesome. Allison and I took a walk this morning to buy some posters and check out the operation. Of course it decided to rain but we were not deterred.

The press was right on Broadway and looked like it was there for a 100 years because it probably was (or damn close). We picked up some posters and got some ideas to use the service in the future 🙂

[WhiteCastle?]

On our way to check out the “True South”, we came across a WhiteCastle. Ever since Harold and Kumor, we have wanted to go to a real WC and New Jersey doesn’t have one (yes the movie said Cherry Hill had a WhiteCastle, they don’t) Even though we knew we were eating lunch, we HAD to eat a real WhiteCastle slider.

I gotta say… The frozen burgers you can get at the store are just as good if not better and the fries suck.

I don’t know what they put in those microwavable frozen burgers to make them taste so good, but having had the “real” thing, my mind is blown.

[Bellemead Plantation]

Even though the rain was coming down, Allison and I wanted to do things outdoors today (because we didn’t have much of a choice). We read about Bellemead Plantation and decided it would be a nice place to spend the day. After a short drive, we were on the Plantation. We heard there was a restaurant on site and we hoped we could get a seat because we really haven’t had anything but bar food or BBQ since we got there. We managed to get a seat with 20 minutes left to spare on lunch seatings. I am so glad we were able to eat there. We had a great southern lunch: Biscuits, Fried Green Tomatoes, home-made cheese and fresh ham sandwich, Buttermilk Fried Chicken (we split all of this and the portions were not out of control thankfully) and we topped it off with a boysenberry tart with fresh ice-cream.

After a heavy lunch we were glad to be able to do a walking tour of the plantation. We signed up for a guided tour and got an educational 45 minute walk-through of the main mansion by an informative older woman named Anna. The Bellemead Plantation was the premiere horse breeding farm in the United States until the 1950’s. Almost every championship horse since 1870 can trace it’s bloodline to the first stud at Bellemead (which was one of five prize horses given to the US by Europe). We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the house, but if you have ever seen antique furniture from the late 1800’s you have see what is going on.

Once the house tour was done, we were free to roam the grounds which were massive and beautiful. Yes this plantation was host to slavery and I think it might have partook in what I call ‘the revisionist history” that I have seen in Nashville in regards to its involvement in slavery, but we will get to that later. In regards to the plantation and slavery they took pride in mentioning that their slaves were educated since the house hosted so many US and foreign dignitaries. The one remaining slave hut looked downright lovely, but the other five I saw in the pictures seemed to be missing…

Regardless, the Bellemead Plantation was educational, beautiful, and a great way to spend a few hours in Nashville.

[Cheekwood Gardens]

Five minutes down the road from Bellemead, Cheeckwood Gardens resides. If Bellemead was a beautiful girl, this place was the hottest woman on the planet. We arrived at 4 PM and were told we only had a half hour before it closed, so we were rushing through the several garden areas until we reached what is now called the Cheekwood Museum of Art. This massive, beautiful mansion was built on what became the Maxwell House Coffee Fortune. The home and the lands were eventually given over to the state to become a fine arts center. You have to see this place to believe it – the fact that anyone called it home is insane. I have see huge houses before, but nothing like this.

On the way out we checked out more of the gardens. I made a point to see the Japanese garden which didn’t look very Japanese to me. Regardless, this place was incredible.

[Passing Thoughts on Nashville]

My opinion of Nashville is that it is a city in transition. It is struggling to come to terms with it’s past involvement with slavery (they are softening up the exhibits to slavery, making it seem less harsh, they name streets after Rosa Parks and MLK) while trying to be this clean-cut family friendly country music haven. Even the music scene is shifting as more “mainstream” artists are moving into town and putting their stamp on the future. I think Nashville has the potential and will become much more. But as new sources of interest and income flood the city, it also had an odd influx of poverty.

In the three days I have been here, I have never seen so many homeless people. I am no stranger to the homeless, I do live near and work in Philadelphia, but homeless people are everywhere and there are two very distinct classes. It is clear that the arts community is bringing in a younger, artistic class of homeless that probably pass through for a while doing their music thing (or following a music scene) they reminded me very much of “Phish Heads” or “Dead Heads” (people who follow jam bands around). On every level I viewed these people as harmless and part of the Bohemian vibe the town was generating. But there was another plentiful group of angry older males who were obviously abusing drugs or alcohol. They were on every corner and sleeping in every nook; Did they bother us? No. But the sheer number had me concerned and curious. “Maybe Boyfriend” told me at the Big Band that Nashville is a big train hub and these men ride the rails to whatever their final destination is. My guess is the number of churches in Nashville means there are quite a bit of soup kitchens that will feed them which makes them stay a little longer.

In order for Nashville to become a truly great city, they need to address the homeless situation (and I don’t mean making them disappear NYC style). I hope these people get the help they need to get off the streets for good but they don’t crack down to the point where the artistic hippie vibe gets crushed.

Overall, Nashville has been a great city and I look forward to the next time we can visit (hopefully with Nate who can take advantage of the copious amounts of friendly girls in this town).

[Conclusion]

We are going to finish off our night with a nice dinner (hopefully) and then check out a few bars and finish the night at Big Bang. We have to be up at 4:30 AM to go home, so it will be an early night. Thanks for reading this week – but remember if you aren’t reading at my blog, you are not getting the full experience. Speaking of which… here are some pictures:

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Nashville Blog: Day 02

Welcome back true be-loggers. I am not going to waste space and bullshit, lets get right into part two (If you didn’t read part one, you can do it here:

[Bluebird Cafe]

To finish off the story of day one, Allison and I took a nap and then ventured to the Bluebird Cafe. The cafe is semi-famous in the music scene as a variety of musical veterans, newcomers, song-writers, famous, and non-famous artists come to try out new material and collaborate with friends. My friend Amber deLaurentis had played there last summer when she did a mini-tour of the area last summer and I made a mental note to check it out and I was sure glad I did.

The place was MUCH smaller than I had expected and the musicians basically sit in the center of the room in a circle and play. I guess there was a bit of a comedy theme last night as musicians Kacey Jones, Bill Floweree, Jesse Goldberg and Jon Mark Stone busted out some very funny jams (it was a unique take on the whole bastard/bitch husband/wife combo). The menu at the Bluebird had asurprising amount of greek influenced dishes which I did not expect, but as I roamed around today, I noticed more similarities. While the menu may have had greek influence, I am going to be honest and say that the meal was not mind blowing. It was solid, but nothing crazy, but honestly, we weren’t there for the food.

After the two hour set, I had to call the taxi to come and get us and they were very prompt, so I didn’t get a chance to chat with the performers (who apparently stay after to try to sell CDs and bullshit with the crowd – most of whom they already know). The taxi brings me to a little Nashville Travel Tip: Rent a car if you visit. The taxi cost $35.00 one way. Add the $25.00 to get from the airport to the hotel and you are at $100.00 for one day. To compare, we rented a car for the rest of the trip for $120.00 total (including insurance). After getting raped so badly by the taxi service, I went back to the hotel and fell asleep.

[Pancake Pantry]

After I got up this morning, worked out, and showered, Allison and I decided we needed to get a rental car. After we walked a couple of blocks to the rental place we decided to do lunch at the Pancake Pantry. I have been reading about this place for weeks, and I will admit I was concerned that it was going to be all hype. I am happy to report that the food was outstanding. I got sweet potato pancakes and Allison got blueberry. We split an order of “The Grill Cook’s Medley” which washash browns, ham, peppers, eggs, and all kinds of goodness.

Fully stuffed, we walked around Vanderbilt University campus shops, bought some books, and then hopped back into the car to go see…

[The Grand Ole’ Opry]

Thanks to the Blackberry’s GPS system we easily figured out how to get to the Opry Building. One thing about Nashville, you have to take exits to stay on the highway you are on, which is annoying and confusing. That being said, we got there without issue. Before going into the Opry, I had heard Gibson Guitars had an outlet store in the plaza. Well, I was sad to discover it wasn’t an outlet so much as it was their “Premire Retail Location”… bottom line – I wasn’t saving any money if I wanted to buy a guitar, but I could get free, tax free shipping (which I can do any time). So after wasting time on some excellent 6-strings and watching a mandolin being built, we headed to the Opry. We decided to do another tour against better judgement, but had to kill about 15 minutes, so we took a free tour of the museum. It was pretty good for what it was, and you got an idea of the history involved with the production.

Fifteen minutes later, we started our tour. Similar to the Ryman we looked at alot of freaking dressing rooms, but in this tour we got to see one of the Opry acts practicing for tonight’s show and also seeing some of the minor stars going into the building. Overall I got a better vibe from this tour and it was easy to see that there is a community element. One thing I don’t like is that the tour guides make it seem like big stars like Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson come in and hang out with everybody, and you know that isn’t happening, but I guess it makes people think they can run into them at one of the several gift shops.

I don’t mean to sound negative, as I actually liked tour and would recommend it, but it sure seems like there are alot of malls, shops, and “retail outlets” swarming around Nashville’s history.

[Conclusion]

Ok, I have to get ready to go to “The Big Bang” dueling piano bar… more to come on that later. Check out some pictures!

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Nashville Blog: Day 01: Part One

Today starts a series of live blogs in Nashville, TN. We had to get up at 4 AM to get to the airport within “the appropriate amount of time” and I am a little tired, but that didn’t stop us from hitting the ground running. We arrived in Nashville at 8:30 AM (local time) and easily secured a cab to our hotel. Our room wasn’t ready, but the hotel staff was happy to suggest places to kill time, so here is the run down so far:

[The Capital Building]

A few blocks from our hotel, the Tennessee State Capitol Building offered us a chance to kill 35 minutes. The Tennessee Capital building is one of the oldest still in operation today. When we entered, we were greeted by a very friendly state trooper who was quite excited to meet a real “Jersey Italian”. The thing that stands out about the building is that it is all stone. ALL STONE. From what I heard from the educational children’s tours, there was a massive stone quarry that was used to create most of the historic buildings.

The other “big feature” is that a few people are buried at the site: Samuel Morgan (Chairman of the Building Commission) and William Strickland (the architect). Besides that, the building has too many oil paintings of long dead historical figures and very slippery floors. The building itself is awesome, the stuff inside, not so much.

Moving On…

[The Free Library]

Right across the street from the Capital Building is the Free Library. We didn’t go inside, but the exterior courtyard was awesome (check out the pictures below).

[The Ryman]

One of my “must-see” places was the Ryman Auditorium. Home of the famous “Grand Ole Opry” during it’s peak, the Ryman now hosts tons of contemporary artists. I was a little shocked when we walked in and was told the walking tour would cost $14.00 per person: it’s basically a converted church. We opted for the tour anyway and it was conducted by a gentlemen named Bill who might have taken his job a little too seriously. Bill first took us to the “Johnny & June Cash Dress Room”. The room was built in 2003 and Johnny never used it… He proceeded to take a revisionist’s approach to Nashville’s treatment to the Man in Black (saying how Nashville eventually opened their arms to Johnny again, which wasn’t true as stated by the man himself in “Cash” by Johnny Cash) when I corrected him, he got flush and shot me a look, I think I was on his shit list for the rest of the tour.

We saw more dressing rooms that were named after people who never used them and eventually we got to see the stage. I will admit I thought it was awesome to see it from that view, but the tour was a total rip off.

[Jack’s BBQ]

We exited the Ryman and Allison noticed a BBQ place, we walked down the famous Ryman alley and entered a room that smelled of charcoal and pork. We ordered up some BBQ pork and Beef Brisket sandwiches. Very good, not mind blowing, but there is a strip of BBQ joints to go….

Okay, I am taking a nap. That’s all for now!!!!

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The Worst Vacation of my Life

NOTE: A few people have asked me to put this story in writing, so your wish is my command…

New Years Eve 1999/2000: While ringing in the Millennium at an airport hotel, my whole crew was kicked out due to another party raging next door. Scrambling for a place to ring in 2000, I called my mom and she offered up our house. My parents couldn’t have been any nicer about the situation, but I felt bad bringing 40 people to their house at the last minute and I vowed I would never do that again. A few weeks later Bobby and I both decided to go to Las Vegas for 2001. Over the course of that year both Bobby and I became involved with serious girlfriends and they were absorbed into our ambitious plans. Soon enough the people who organized the 2000 NYE party had also gotten in on our idea. Rooms were booked (Bobby and I were sharing one room with our girlfriends) and tickets were purchased.

My mother volunteered to get us to the airport, Bobby was late and this threw me into a VERY pissy mood. I will be the first to admit that I am very anal retentive when it comes to schedules and time lines and to this analogy Bobby is Lex Luthor to my Superman. We already started arguing. Bobby’s girlfriend Eliza was kind of new to all of this (my uptight nature, Bobby’s chronic inability to be on time or be organized), so it was a very bad way to start the vacation (I should also note that I am 90% sure Bobby was blaming the lateness on Eliza which was also uncomfortable). After getting to the airport and boarding the plane, we were on our way.

Once we landed in Las Vegas the chaos started immediately. I recall securing transport from the airport to the hotel ahead of time, but that fell through and we had to get a taxi mini-van. We crammed in with other travelers and eventually got to the hotel where we waited for two hours to check in. Things got very snippy in the lobby between Bobby, Eliza, Myself, and an ex-girlfriend whom we shall call Chrissy. Once we got into the room, tensions turned into arguments. Basically the only argument that wasn’t happening was between Eliza and I. Chrissy and I went for a walk and allowed things to cool down. I went looking for our other group of friends who had arrived earlier and was already site seeing. We didn’t find them so we walked around the strip.

Back at the hotel, we found Eliza sitting outside our hotel room, Chrissy stayed outside and I went in to talk to Bobby. I don’t remember the conversation, but things quickly got back to normal (or so I thought). We met up with the other couple, did dinner and the rest of the night was uneventful. The next morning we found out that during the holiday season, many shows are closed because the performers go home to see their families. Extremely long story short: The only shows in town were Wayne Newton and the Blue Man Group. Chris Issak was playing the House of Blues that night but nobody else wanted to go and I was too lame to go myself (I never got over not going to that show). We ended up getting tickets for Blue Man two days out and my college buddy Brock’s girlfriend pushed us into doing a Grand Canyon bus trip the next day. We spent the day doing all the normal tourist bullshit and went to bed early because the bus tour started at 4:30 AM. Bobby and Eliza went for a walk before bed and while they were gone Chrissy decided to tell me that Eliza was talking all sorts of shit about me. I found out later that it didn’t go down that way at all, but Chrissy was using Eliza to bring up all these issues she had with me and herself. Of course, I was now totally pissed at Eliza and it took YEARS to recover from that when I actually think about it. I went to bed very quietly and angry and didn’t say anything (which is a bad sign when you know me). The next morning turned into a train wreck.

I woke up still very pissed off. Bobby of course was running late, so he just took the brunt of my moodiness. I avoided Eliza and she had no idea why, and the small but rational part of my brain was starting to get annoyed at Chrissy for even bringing this shit to my attention when we were all confined into a room together. This would be a classic move that she pulled when we were on trips, but this was the first time in what would become a pattern and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Now we were on a bus first heading to the Hoover Dam where we all received a short tour. Two hours in a bus and two hours at the dam, we were down 4 hours already. Another three hours in the bus to get to the Grand Canyon; I will take this time to mention the week between Xmas and New Years is a big travel period for Asian tourist and our bus was full of them (Las Vegas looked like stock footage of a crowded Hong Kong business district during rush hour). During the three hour bus ride people naturally get hungry, and our foreign guests busted out smelly jars of pickled fish and other terrifying items. THREE HOURS. By the time we got to the Grand Canyon I went off by myself. This was a mistake.

I found a moment of peace, sitting at the very edge of the canyon, taking pictures, watching birds soar. I felt a tapping on my back and I naturally assumed it was Chrissy. It was not. An Asian tourist with a very large camera decided he liked the spot where I was sitting to take pictures. Since he didn’t speak English, he used the universal language of “push a very large Italian man who literally has one foot off the ledge”. Needless to say I did not take the invasion of personal space nor the pushing well, and the tiny Asian man found himself hanging off the cliff for a few seconds. I know he didn’t understand what I saying, but damn well knew what I meant. Of course people were looking because the man was screaming like a woman (I don’t blame him), so I hurried off before any park rangers got to me. I was now extremely embarrassed that I lost my cool, but very relieved that nobody in my group saw the whole thing go down because that would mean more questions.

In total we got 60 minutes to walk around (20 minutes at three different locations) and then it was 5 hours back in the bus – full of smelly hardcore Asian food. Once we got back to the hotel, I did some walking by myself and forced myself to focus and hold my shit together to make the most of the vacation, I would deal with everything else when we got back. That resolve didn’t last long.

Vegas is known for a few things: Gambling, Whores, Lounge acts, and eating. I don’t like to gamble, not into whores, and while lounge acts have a certain campy charm, that’s not what I was interested in. I wanted to experience all the crazy delicious restaurants and buffets. This was during the time Vegas was trying to come off as family friendly (while said whores walked the strip handing out flyers with naked pictures) so Vegas had a boom of top chefs coming in and setting up shop at the casinos. We didn’t get to go to any of them. We went to buffets, but then Bobby and Eliza stopped going to the buffets because Eliza didn’t each much and they couldn’t justify spending 20-40 bucks just for her to eat toast for breakfast. Rational Joey understood perfectly, but angry Joey was still pissed off at Eliza thanks to Chrissy. The lack of their company while breaking bread added to the problem and we really didn’t see them for the rest of the trip (even though we shared a room).

With Bobby and Eliza out of the picture we started spending all of our time with Brock and his very organized girlfriend. She had every minute planned and had Brock, Chrissy and myself running ragged. We ended up getting tickets for Wayne Newton which was such a terrible show that it was actually awesome. Newton was shaking his ass to the old ladies and must have liked the idea of having some younger girls in the audience. I do not think Mr. Newton was happy I was laughing at most of the show, but that was the only acceptable response besides demanding my money back. The next show she lined up was the Blue Man Group. Terrible. I think they hypnotized the audience. Everyone fell asleep at the same time. I checked my private areas later that night for blue stains, thankfully, all clean.

I was really losing it; the lack of private time from activities and sharing a room was getting to me (because of this trip I started a new rule, if you can’t afford to get your own room, you can’t afford to go on the trip). Brock’s girlfriend suggested we go to a buffet at the Rio, it was supposed to have everything. Of course it sucked but I heard her mention a bar at the very top of the hotel where you can see the whole strip. When nobody was looking I slipped off to the 51st floor of the hotel and entered the Voodoo Lounge. It was awesome and a fantastic jazz band was playing, the lighting was perfect and the women and drinks looked very appealing. I heard they did a drink in a normal sized fish bowl and used a whole bottle of rum. Talking to the bartender, I confirmed the rumor and quickly ordered one. He made the drink with stunning efficiency and placed the drink on the bar, adorning it with several straws. Luckily for me, I had no company. I took my drink outside and looked off the deck and onto the city. It had a certain beauty, but superficial like a pair of fake tits. I sat down, listing to the band, enjoying the cool air and drank. My peace did not last long. I felt a tap on my back after a few minutes. It was Chrissy and Brock and they were ready to go. I told them to fuck off, but they kept at it, Chrissy now taking a sip from my drink and making a face – too much rum. There could never be enough, not on this night. Their whines broke me down and instead of making a scene and being a buzz kill for the other customers, I left. I hated them all at that moment. Getting into the cab and setting off for the hotel, I remained silent.

Brock proved to be an interesting paradox on the trip. He was the perfect opposite to his very organized girlfriend. While she micromanaged every minute to optimize her vacation experience, Brock was very much a go with the flow type and seeing where the moment takes you. I enjoyed this about Brock because I was more like his girlfriend and that fact stressed me out. Brock’s girl didn’t appreciate his unfocused ways and tried to reign him in…this in turn made him rebel. I would get knocks on the door at 3 AM to go out when his wife had a day’s worth of activities planned starting at 6. It was too much. The few times I snuck out with Brock proved to be a waste of time because I wasn’t into clubbing. I thought I wanted to see the real Vegas… I realized now that this notion was bullshit because as I said, the real Vegas is whores, slot machines, and broken people.

The trip culminated on New Years Eve. Brock and his girlfriend convinced us to get tickets to see Dennis Miller and David Spade live. Bobby and Eliza did not want to go, so once again we were separated. Even though we were bickering all week, I wanted to spend New Years Eve with my best friend… so once again I was in a funk. I am going to make the next part very short: the stand up show was fucking terrible. David Spade had no material and just bitched about his flight for 35 minutes. I fell asleep during Dennis Miller. We were given champagne at midnight and then basically told to get the fuck out. We went outside and the strip was insane. People were drinking and dancing, and I realized I should have been out there having fun instead of paying $150 bucks to catch a nap.

Back at the hotel I saw Bobby and we broke out a tiny bottle of booze and made a toast. We had finally made peace. The next morning we were catching a red eye home. On the plane I didn’t say much: I was tired and processing everything. When I got home, I avoided everyone for 5 days, including Chrissy. Eventually things went back to normal for a time. Eliza and I still weren’t on good terms, I think took almost two years for us to completely reconnect. Today I can say that I talk to her 10 times more than Bobby and she gets along great with my wife. Speaking of my love interests, the behaviors Chrissy showed on that trip continued to get worse over the years and eventually we broke up. I make no exaggeration when I say I became a new man, a much better man, when that relationship ended.

I learned alot of things on this vacation: Bobby and Eliza had it right, do what you want to do and fuck everyone else (but just be nice when you tell them to fuck off), NEVER SHARE A HOTEL ROOM, and always have free time to relax – it is a vacation. Never visit a place based on an image, do the hard research and see if there is enough to sustain your interests for the time you are there. Have fun on your next trip!

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