I'm a Little Bit in Love with this Woman

Monday, April 23, 2012
I'm glad I met this Cleveland woman, who had just found out she got a free ticket to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and did two cartwheels. We could all learn a little from her.

Here's to Richard Reid

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Perhaps we should judge a life by how one is remembered. My dad, who died 10 years ago today, had a SRO funeral. A few hundred Tulsans filled the aisles around seats fit for 200. Many were people I’d never met. Friends from high school. And patients without medical insurance my dad, ever the old school doctor, had visited on unbilled house calls, often bringing him at odds with his more business-minded peers.

My dad was right. He made a habit of taking little self-deprecating comic jabs at the well-to-do, the privileged, the millionaires of Tulsa — and there are many. The chic Utica Square shopping mall became, in a purposeful self-mocking drawl, ‘OO-TA-KEE Square.’ He called Toyotas ‘tee-OH-tas.’ He once, in a moment of weakness, bought a red Cadillac, then traded it in a week later he was so embarrassed to drive it. Often he’d stop on the way home from work, to look for and collect golf balls overshot by richer doctors outside the walls of a country club. My dad shunned and ignored status, be it ‘MD’ or otherwise. A lieutenant in the navy, he’d pass the officers table in the mess hall to dine with the privates. His favorite people tended to be waiters and clerks and cash attendants. When I’d get upset over something — a book report grade or a football game — he’d say, good-naturedly in a hilariously over-pronounced voice, ‘someone is taking things a LIT-TLE too seriously.’ It let me know that in the end very little that consumes us really matters that much.

Nine months before he died, Lonely Planet sent me on a research trip around the Great Plains, and I cajoled him away from work for a few days of South Dakota roadtripping. I drove the whole way, letting him soak in scenery he’d never expected to see and always wanted to. I purposely approached Mt Rushmore the back way, weaving through the stunning Needle Highway, until we reached, suddenly, a full frontal view of four US presidents in stone. ‘Oh!,’ he said by impulse. Usually one who remained dryly hilarious about everything he did, I’ll never forget this unguarded reaction of joy. Somewhere video exists of the trip, but I’ve still not had the heart to watch it.

The day after he died, I flew back to Tulsa from San Francisco and we found a manila envelope filled with instructions of what to do. He had pre-paid for a gravestone to be beside his brother’s in Bartlesville. He wanted to be cremated. He include a few quotes he wanted to be shared at his service, which included words from Lincoln, Gandhi and the Talmud. Not your standard material for a First Presbyterian service in Oklahoma.

But what was best was his suggestions for who to direct it. An African-American South Baptist preacher patient of his I had never met. Tulsa remains a pretty segregated place, sadly evident from the tragic shootings in north Tulsa a week ago. And I have to think my dad’s choice might have raised a few eyebrows. Good. But I know why he picked him: because he respected him, his passion; he was a friend.

But best of all, finding that envelope on that sad day ended up a parting gift. A chance to collaborate with my dad again, on one last thing. It brought him back to life again for me. Like he always will be.

As I said at the service in 2002, I’ve accidentally been called ‘Richard’ on occasion most of my life. It’s a mistake I’ve never minded.

I've Never Been to Cleveland

Wednesday, April 11, 2012
In January, the Atlantic did a survey of an issue that often overlaps with my feeling of why travel is so important: perception. Often we find outside perceptions of a place immediately burst when you go. Things like, oh, that in the '90s, that Americans should be leery of traveling in Vietnam, travel to places like Colombia or Mexico is too dangerous to consider, that all Russians or Parisians or New Yorkers are unfriendly. All you have to do is go to know better.

The survey looked at the 50 biggest cities in the US and which had the most positive and negative associations. The positive 10 included lots of coastal cities with Seattle at #1. The negative list predictably ran through the Rust Belt, with three Ohio cities in the top 10, and Cleveland at #3 (behind #1 Detroit and #2 Birmingham).

I wonder how many of the people surveyed had been to those places?

I've never been to Cleveland, the city Liz Lemon linked with sandwiches in a '30 Rock' episode and has been misspelled for years (it's named after Moses Cleaveland), but always have wanted to. I go tomorrow to attend the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony this weekend and see some rock sites.

Before I go, I thought I'd document a few things I think I think about Cleveland.
  1. It won't always be pretty but I'm guessing there will be particular pride in the place that championed its own 'You Gotta Be Tough' slogan on t-shirts since the early '70s. I learned a bit of that while talking with locals for my '9 Reasons LeBron Should Stay in Cleveland' post for Lonely Planet a couple years ago.
  2. Cleveland really is the heart of rock'n'roll. A lot of people wonder how Cleveland got the Hall of Fame. In the early '50s, DJ Alan Freed famously used the term 'rock'n'roll' to make R&B more attractive to white kids. A writer for the Plain Dealer said, 'It wasn't Alan Freed [that brought the hall to Cleveland]. It was $65 million.' Ie Cleveland raised the money before places like Memphis or Detroit (or New York) could. I think I think it's more than that.
  3. The Cuyahoga is not on fire. Pretty much any article on Cleveland -- a travel story, a political story, a sports story, REM song ('Cuyahoga') -- mentions that its river was so polluted it caught on fire in 1969. (It burned for 20 minutes. Actually a 1952 fire, one of 12 others over the years, caused much more damage.) Since then, the city's been committed to cleaning up the river. The fish are back. I kayak it on Sunday.
  4. Joan Jett and Michael J Fox aren't still slow dancing, as brother/sister (weird), at the 'Euc.' In the rather bad 'Light of Day' film -- that was almost a Bruce Springsteen movie called 'Born in the USA' years before his album -- Jett and Fox 'bond' at the Euclid Tavern. I'll go tomorrow to see that fabled dance floor, and have a burger.
  5. Axl won't show. G'n'R are getting inducted, and I think the question of will/won't he? will hang over the whole evening. [Looks like I was right.]
  6. It's not boring. And I'll wish I had more time.
We'll see once I get there.

NYC checker-cab food tour

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
My article on Famous Fat Dave's checker-cab food tour of NYC (link here) appears in the April issue of Lonely Planet magazine. I seriously enjoyed it more than I expected. Perfect if you have three others as a mini splurge that will get you into parts of the boroughs you wouldn't see otherwise. I've been in New York for 13 some years, and I ended up going to places I'd passed unknowingly for years in NYC. And I will definitely go back to that Yunanese place in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Chacala, Mexico

I really don't know why people stick with big-city beaches. This one, Chacala, a kilometer wide bay with perfectly soft brown sand, is 90 minutes' drive north of Puerto Vallarta. Twenty years ago it was a tiny fishing village you had to hike into from the highway. It's still only partly developed -- with no resorts or ATMS (or smooth roads). I liked how locals and tourists played volleyball together, musicians played to play (not for money), and a new married couple went right out into the waves -- in full wedding attire -- for photos.