Au revoir, Atlanta

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Image from Atlanta magazine.
I came back to Atlanta in spring.

It was April of 1991, and I was still recovering from wounds inflicted by pieces of a broken heart. (I write this with apologies to my girlfriend at the time, who succeeded the one over which my heart was broken; she was instrumental in reawakening my soul, for which I’m eternally grateful.) Atlanta was where I had gone to school in the ’80s and stayed for a bit, working at a downtown hotel, feeling rich from the regular wads of tips I made as a bellman (which, in reality, probably added up to less than $15,000 for the year — but my share of the rent was $162.50 a month) and hanging out with friends from college. Some were figuring things out. Others had yet to graduate.

Four years later, some had left and returned; others had never gone away. I needed a place to start anew. I had $500 to my name and bills for many times that amount, but I felt comfortable in Atlanta. It seemed to fit.

And so I loaded my life into my car and drove back down I-85 into its hopefully welcoming arms.

Twenty-six years later, I’m getting ready to leave. I have a new job in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, and though I’m looking forward to it, I can’t say it’s been easy to prepare.

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Sunday read: Flying for the 1 percent

The United Airlines story couldn’t help but create a backlash. It wasn’t just United’s high-handed (and other-handed) treatment of the passenger who declined the airline’s offer to “re-accommodate”; it was all the things we dislike about airlines — the cramped planes, the seemingly capricious messages (we’ll pay you for your seat; no, actually, we’ll just have you randomly removed), the Hobson’s choice of scheduling — wrapped into one incident.

But not for everybody.

There are some people who are truly above it all. They have the benefit of flat-back seats, ample legroom and a nice drink to send them on their way. They are the 1 percent of flyers — first-class passengers all the way.

How the airlines accommodate them is the subject of today’s Sunday read.

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Sunday read: One day, LaGuardia will not suck

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Image from 6sqft.com.

I hate flying into New York’s LaGuardia Airport, and I’m not alone: It’s the poster child of overcrowded, dilapidated airports. As Joe Biden noted a few years ago, “If I blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you would think, ‘I must be in some third-world country.’ ”

To which he added, after his audience started laughing, “I’m not joking.”

I imagine he also wouldn’t joke about Newark, where last summer I sat at a gate with fans — fans! — blowing warm, humid air around because the air conditioning wasn’t working properly.

OK, so New York’s airports are shameful. What about O’Hare? LAX? DFW? They’ve all managed to add some bells and whistles, but they’re still not as sleek as their counterparts in Europe and Asia. (Though, at least, you can take public transit to some of them — which is the norm overseas. How nice it was to land at Amsterdam’s Schiphol many years ago and board a train into the city. Another demerit for you, New York.)

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A break from social media

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Image of Hendy Woods State Park from Wikimedia Commons.

I’m going to see if I can go the weekend without checking social media — or most any media.

I used to joke with my friend John Blake about how my media and political intake would increase during election years. I’d start out in January checking a handful of sites maybe once or twice a day, including social media sites like Facebook, to see what was going on. By October I was practically living in cyberspace.

Then the election would come, and regardless how I felt about the result, I would wean myself away, paying attention to major events but generally letting the country flow on the way it has for 200-plus years.

This election, of course, was different. The president loves his Twitter; his opponents and the news media do all they can to keep up. It’s wearying, and yet it seems like it’s all anyone can talk about. Or, more accurately, scream about. (A few days ago, I tweeted — sorry, even I can’t help myself sometimes — that we’re living in a “pro wrestling world.” I’d prefer a Dick Cavett world, but I’m very much in the minority.)

Yet instead of weaning myself, I’m probably clicking more than I did in October. So I’m going to try to go on a digital diet this weekend.

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My favorite city 

Image from MTLblog.

I love Montreal. I love it though the temperature this morning was -6F (or, as I joked to friends, 252 Kelvin), even though the drivers are crazy and Sherbrooke Street is a mess, even though Toronto and Vancouver are apparently much cooler Canadian cities to live in, at least if you’re an Anglophone coming from the States.

I love it because there’s a huge mountain in the middle of town with park landscaping courtesy of Frederick Olmsted. I love it because some parts feel like New York without the anger and other parts feel like New Orleans without the grime. I love it because it has a Metro system that still recalls the optimism of the ’60s (Expo 67, to be precise).

I love it because it can joke about a cavernous $1 billion Olympic stadium that suffered such cost overruns it was called the “Big Owe.” (Well, maybe “joke” isn’t the right word.)

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Road trip to #ThePetersen

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I’d been reading about the Petersen Automotive Museum since it opened in its brand-new building last December. The reviews have been sensational (except for the building — that’s been divisive), and I knew I’d have to make a stop when I traveled to Los Angeles.

All I can say is, Whew.

You can argue over the impact of the automobile on modern culture — though, let’s face it, the car pretty much is modern culture. No automobile means no freeways, no drive-thru fast-food restaurants, fewer and differently shaped suburbs (streetcar suburbs predated the car, but the classic sprawling sidewalk-less developments of today are all car-inspired), and a much poorer selection of Top 40 classics, just for starters. (What would Chuck Berry have done with himself?) The automobile has dictated the shape of the postwar world.

Anyway, there’s no sense protesting the car at the Petersen. The museum is a temple to Detroit iron, Stuttgart steel and Italian style, with a room dedicated to race cars and several examples (too many, for my taste) of customized vehicles. You may as well go with the flow.

And what flow. I’m no gearhead, but it’s impossible to look at a 1954 Bonneville concept car and not admire its sleek lines, or take in a 1930s Duesenberg and not be impressed by its sheer elegance. (Years ago, I asked a valet what it was like to drive a Rolls-Royce. “Like driving a house,” he said. There are a lot of houses at the Petersen.)

There’s also a display of Hollywood vehicles, including the “Back to the Future” DeLorean and Walter White’s “Breaking Bad” Aztek, and some quirky transports, such as the VW van-pickup. (I saw an Isetta behind the glass doors of the Petersen’s offices — put it out on the floor, people!)

It’s not restricted to just cars. There are several displays of car-related materials, including dashboard dials, cutaway engines, and a selection of maps. As a cartography geek, I could have spent my entire time just studying the 1922 booklet of U.S. highways, a time before route numbers and Interstates.

Best of all is the Vault, the Petersen’s working underground garage, where hundreds of vehicles are stored. Here’s where you’ll see presidential limousines, early Model Ts, an original Tucker, one-of-a-kind designs and even a sample from the Soapbox Derby. Fred Astaire’s 1927 Rolls is there, complete with his Louis Vuitton luggage and golf clubs, and so is director John Frankenheimer’s Rolls, which Robert Kennedy used to get to the Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968. After Kennedy was assassinated, Frankenheimer was so distraught he sold the car.

There was so much information the docent barely had time to take questions.

The Vault tour isn’t cheap — $20 a ticket, and you’re required to buy a $15 museum ticket first — but well worth the price. In fact, the Petersen as a whole is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. And you know what? One day you’ll even be able to take the train.