Memphis, TN - Land of the Delta Blues

And Barbeque, and Ole Man River. And not too far from the casinos in Tunica, MS. All in all, a great vacation spot.

If you are going to Memphis, do it in May. The Memphis in May Festival combines the World Barbecue Championship AND the best music festival in America. Either one would be worth the trip, but both, together, make it a MUST SEE.

I have been lucky enough to make it to the festival three times. It is not just a Blues Festival, the music includes Blues, Jazz, Rock, Bluegrass, Country, all going on all day on multiple stages. From Grammy winning mega-stars to local bands.

I was also lucky enough to be working a neighborhood and get invited to lunch by one of the Barbeque cook-off contestants, who was rehearsing. Best BBQ I ever ate, and he came in 3rd that year.

And besides the Festival, there is Beale Street, the legendary blues-club row. Just pop in anywhere, order up some grub and listen to some Blues.

And of course, Graceland, an obligatory stop, even for a non-Elvis fan like myself.
And last, but certainly not least - Union Ave, home of the original Sun Studio, whose list of artists reads like a Who's Who of American music. From Elvis to Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Conway Twitty, Roy Orbison and many more, artists who charted hits in every genre from Pop, Rock and Blues, to R&B, Country/Western and Rockabilly.

Besides the BBQ at the festival, there are great restaurants all over - including some good little soul food joints not far from Graceland.

If all that isn't enough to keep you busy - get a boat and get out on the river. Though the current is swift here, skiing and tubing are a lot of fun, as is cruising alongside the giant barges running up and down.

Finally, it is just a quick run down to Tunica, MS for some casino action.

All in all, a great place to be. In fact - Hope to See y'all there, next May.


Lafayette, Louisiana - Capital of Acadiana

Number 2 on my Top Ten Cities in America:

Forget N'Awlins - if you are going anywhere near Louisiana - Lafayette is the place.

First - the food. I have never had a bad meal in Lafayette. There are great restaurants on every corner.

Next - the people. Before traveling to Lafayette, I knew just a little about Cajun culture. Spend some time getting to know the locals. It is easy to do. They are absolutely some of the coolest, friendliest folks I have found. Happy to talk about their history (the Cajuns came to Louisiana from Canada, to escape religious persecution by the British), the challenges of maintaining their unique culture and language, their philosophy of food (some cuisines have recipes, the Cajuns, like the Japanese, have a philosophy)and fun (the Motto here is "laissez bon temps roullez", or "let the good times roll")

And finally - the music. Oh, the Cajun music. Now, I generally just listen to music - but bring out the zydeco band, and something happens to my hands and feet. They just start bouncing and tapping and clapping - and next thing you know, I am dancing. There is something about an accordion and and a couple fiddles (and incomprehensible lyrics) that just makes you want to move. Honestly, the only other music that affects me this profoundly is a Black Gospel Choir.
Some of the best evenings I have ever had were sitting in a cajun restaurant/club eating a boiled dinner, watching Cajun lasses in traditional dress dancing to traditional Cajun music. Ah, the memories.

Now, pretty much anytime, except high summer when the heat and humidity is dreadful, is a good time to visit Acadiana, but if you want a truly memorable trip - try a Cajun Christmas.
On my first visit, I was introduced to Deep Fried Turkey - I now own a fryer, and it has become a family tradition for me, on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. You should also try TurDuckHen - A chicken stuffed inside a duck, stuffed inside a turkey. I don't know who invented this dish, but they deserve a Noble Prize, both for Cooking, and Humor.

And between great meals, and great conversation, and great music - drive around the neighborhoods and see the decorations. These folks take Christmas seriously. My personal favorite was a sleigh, pulled by eight 6 foot tall crawdads with a red-nosed alligator in the lead.

Like I said, anytime is a good time to visit Lafayette. And whether you choose to go as a destination, or just stop in for a while as part of a longer trip, you absolutely will have a good time.

Stay Tuned for more of Dave's TOP 10 cities in America


Off the Beaten Track - Dave's Top Ten Cities in America

Since coming off the road about 1000 people have asked me what my favorite city was. It is impossible to say. America is just too big and too filled with stuff to narrow it down to one favorite. What I have done here is to pick my Top 10.

The criteria was rather fluid, but what they all have in common is A) they all taught me something about America you just can’t learn in school; B) with a couple exceptions, they are not "tourist" towns, and C) one of them isnt a place at all..

You can read about Chicago and San Diego and Wash D.C. from a million sources, but who’s gonna tell you what to do in Amarillo?

And, in all seriousness, if you are truly looking for something a little different, I would recommend any of these for your next vacation:

1 - Amarillo, TX
2 - Lafayette, LA
3 - Memphis, TN
4 - Sandusky, OH
5 - Panama City Beach, FL
6 - Greenville, NC
7 - Rutland, VT
8 -Indianapolis, IN
9 - Nashville, TN
10 - The Sunset Limited (Amtraks southern Trans-continental route)

What more needs to be said? Also home to the Cadillac Ranch and the Dynamite Museum.
First off, you gotta know Texans aren’t like the rest of us. And Amarillians aren’t like the rest of the Texans. The first thing you will see as you cruise in from the West, on I-40, is the Cadillac Ranch. A bunch of painted up Cadillacs, buried nose first and sticking up out of the field like cornstalks in July.

Brainchild of Stanley Marsh III, local legend/millionaire with more artistic vision than all the lofts in Soho. He is also the major funder of the Dynamite Museum. What, you may ask, is the Dynamite Museum? I have to tell you, this is what hooked me on Amarillo. The "museum" is a bunch of mock road-signs, planted in front yards all over the city, with cryptic, humorous, sage and ridiculous messages and/or pictures. From Walt Whitman’s "The fog comes on little cat’s feet", to a picture of a "Scuba Pig", to "Hear the Fat Lady sing, one block over"and "Hey, buddy, got a smoke?", to my personal favorite "I look really dangerous, and people hang on my every word". In and of itself, the Dynamite Museum is probably the greatest work of outdoor art ever, but the really cool part is talking to the locals about it. If you ask your waitress "What’s up with the signs?", she will look you straight in the eye and tell you they just appear in the night, and if you try to remove them, the city will fine you. If you ask someone at City Hall the same question, they might tell you the City wants them out, but Mr. Marsh will remove any Mayor who says so. And the next person will tell you Stanley Marsh doesn’t exist, the Chamber of Commerce is behind the whole thing. So, it is not just a work of art, but an inside joke, shared by the quarter million townsfolk, and a way to have fun at visitors expense. You could honestly spend two days, just driving around sign spotting.

Amarillo is also home to The Big Texan Steak Ranch. If you can eat their 72 oz steak, in under an hour, it is free. Since the 60's, only about 8,000 people have succeeded. On my second trip there, I gave it my best shot, almost made it, and was only sick for two days after. Of course, Harley was thrilled with the pound of meat I brought back to the hotel, and he was sick for two days as well. Of course, he may have been faking, in a bid for sympathy.

By the way, the human record is held by former Red’s pitcher Frank Pastore, who finished his in under 10 minutes, but the all-species record is held by a Bengal Tiger, who managed to snarf it down in 90 seconds, sitting on the front porch.

Also, should you decide to vacation in Amarillo, a drive south to some of the surrounding towns, where cattle generally outnumber people, is more interesting than it sounds. The sheer size of the feed lots is astounding, some with upwards of 100,000 cows milling around, waiting for a train.

Amarillo did embrace the title "Helium Capital of the World", a reference to helium rich gas mines located in the area, until major contracts to build the Osprey aircraft were won by local defense contractors, at which time it was changed, officially to "Rotor City, USA". It is also home to Pantex, the only place in America where nuclear warheads are assembled.

Now, coming from a place where a Wal-Mart causes controversy, can you imagine someone trying to sell the idea of building nukes here? And can you imagine the quarter million residents of our little valley, who generally have a quarter million differing opinions on what time it is, getting together to pull a little gag on visitors?

I would say the lesson of Amarillo is one of Civic pride. The people of Amarillo, Texas love their little town, embrace their eccentrics, and work together for the common good, whether economically or just for fun.

Stay Tuned


Narrowboating in the U.K.

Probably the most unique trip I ever took was narrowboating on the canals in the U.K.
For those of you who don't know, England is criss-crossed with canals built before the invention of the steam engine, and subsequent development of railroad transport. The many locks on these canals are 8 feet wide. So, imagine a boat, 50, 60 or 70 feet long, and only 7 1/2 feet wide!
Narrow boat indeed. And seeing as how these canals predate the Industrial Revolution, the locks are manually operated. So, you pull up to the lock, someone hops out, makes sure there is no one in the lock, or waiting in the other direction, then cranks a handle to open the lock, letting the water in or out, then swings the gate open, then you pull the boat in, close that side, and crank open the other side to let the water in or out, open the gate and proceed on your way, as the crank turner hops back in. Sometimes there is 5 or more miles between locks, but one particular stretch we hit had 11 locks in less than 2 miles, as we descended into Stoke-on-Trent.
What a morning that was!
There are many devoted narrowboaters in England, who own their own boats and hit the canals on weekends and holidays. Also (since the original canal boats were pulled by horses or mules) the towpaths that run alongside the canals are popular with hikers and campers. Since boats are limited to 3mph, you have time to exchange pleasantries with the walkers, and with other boats as you pass.
And aside from all that - what a fabulous way to see England. When the canals were built they were the "highways" and many old towns built up around the canals. Pubs, Palaces and Factories were built facing the canals. You can tie up and walk into a pub for lunch, or tour the Wedgewood Factory, or admire the gardens of the Earl of Litchfield, just a few feet from the dock. There are a few places where the canals are actually aqueducts bridging a valley, and subsequent motorways were constructed UNDER the bridge. Rather unique to be sitting in a boat watching cars and lorries pass below you.
Another stretch of canal (Harecastle Tunnel) goes several miles THROUGH a mountain. It is too narrow for two boats to pass, so the morning traffic goes one way and the afternoon the other, rather like the Suez Canal. For quite a time in the middle of the tunnel it is completely dark, with neither opening visible. And the ceiling is just inches above the pilots head (originally, boats were propelled through the tunnel by "tunnel walkers" who lay down on the roof of the boat and "walked" along the tunnel ceiling).
Most importantly, most of the canals run through the small towns and countryside. If you have only ever been to London and such (nothing wrong with London, but, let's face it, big cities are big cities), this is a whole different England. The people are fabulous, warm and friendly, and the minute they catch your accent, you have made a friend for life.
So, if you are feeling adventurous, and up for an off-beat holiday, call me. I can arrange weekly or weekend rental of narrowboats on most of the canals in England, with reputable companies providing safe and reliable equipment.

Disabled Cruising, Then and Now

As I alluded to in my profile, my very first cruise was in 1983 on Carnival's first new-build, the Tropicale, then in her maiden season. When I first approached my Mother and Stepfather with the idea of taking my brother on a cruise they were, to say the least, taken aback. In those days, only rich old people took pleasure cruises. And wheelchair-bound hemiplegics didn't go anywhere except the doctor's and physical therapy.
But, being all of 22 years old, and invincible and stupid - I prevailed, (did I mention I have always been a fairly good salesman?), and off we went.
On the big day, we drove to San Pedro and boarded (after 3 hours in line - after all there were nearly a thousand people) this behemoth of a ship (47, 000 grt, I think).
After getting aboard we went to our 160 s.f. stateroom, which, of course (remember this is nearly a decade before the ADA) had a 22" door to accommodate a 28" wide wheelchair. A little quick thinking on my part, and we did a standing transfer from the wheelchair to the desk chair in the stateroom, then drug my brother in and transferred back to the wheelchair. Whereupon we discovered the bathroom door was both 22" narrow, AND had a 3" lip. So, for the next 7 days, this became the 2-3 times daily ritual.
Oh, to be young and strong again.
And every other doorway on the ship had that same 3" lip. And their were 3 or 4 steps down into the dining room, with no ramp. This last is actually what sold me on cruising. Our first time to the dining room, upon seeing the wheelchair, the Maitre d' snapped his fingers and 4 busboys came running, to lift my brother, and his chair and carry him down the steps. For the next seven days, 3 times a day, we were met at the door by staff, waiting to carry him. Now, THAT is service.
Needless to say, we had a great time, despite it all.
Now, fast forward to 2007. Me and my brother cruised Hawaii on NCL's Pride of Hawaii. Upon arriving at the dock, we were escorted to a special line for handicapped passengers, and got on the boat in about 30 minutes. Whereupon we found our wheelchair accessible cabin, with a 36" doors at the entry and the bathroom, about 300 s.f., nicely arranged for easy access. And the various home medical items I had arranged to rent got to the stateroom before we did. In a week, I found one door with a lip, and there were ramps into every dining room and lounge that needed it, as well as a section of the main theatre where wheelchairs could park and see the stage.
Over the course of many cruises from 1983 to 2007, we have seen a steady evolution of ships to become ever more accessible. Cruise lines seem much more cognizant of the needs of ALL passengers than hotels, airlines, or any other segment of the travel industry. Combine that with the level of service on even a budget cruise, compared to lackadaisical hotel staff, and downright hostile airlines, and it is easy to see why, when potential clients with various disabilities ask me about the best vacation choices I nearly always recommend cruising.