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The Trick to Popping Up on a Surfboard

September 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Popping up on a surfboard

Put your best foot forward when you try to pop up on a surfboard.

The soft, spilling waves of southwest Costa Rica are perfect for learning to surf.  Even so, many beginners struggle  before mastering the art of standing up on the board.  Whether you are surfing in Costa Rica or anywhere else, learning to “pop up”, is the first challenge in surfing.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

To pop up successfully, you will need to put your best foot forward.  The question is: Which is your best foot?  You will need to determine if you are going to be riding “natural”, meaning you balance better with your left foot forward, or “goofy”, with your right foot forward.  It’s not a simple matter of being right-handed or left-handed.  Many right-handers, for example, are more comfortable balancing with their left foot forward.

To figure this out, imagine what you would do if you were walking on ice.  Most people will slide one foot forward in order to maintain balance.  Which foot is that?  That’s the foot you will put forward when surfing.

Popping up on a Surfboard – the Skinny

“Popping up” is getting to a standing position on your surfboard with the correct foot forward as quickly as possible.  It is the key to successful surfing.  To pop up successfully, grab the edges of the board just above your rib cage.  Arch your back and lift your shoulders and chest.  If you are a practitioner of yoga, the position you are in before popping up is similar to the cobra pose.

Keep looking forward.  Then in one fluid motion, bring your correct foot forward placing it on the board where your belly button was.  Turn your back foot down to your instep.  When you stand, you will be facing out to one side.  Remain in a low crouching position and ride.

Keep in mind that the correct motion consists of bringing your foot forward to be under your body.  If you find yourself kneeling on the board you are probably shifting your weight back over your feet.  To avoid this, try to keep your butt down and your head high.

Practice Makes Perfect

Before heading out to the waves, practice popping up on the beach.  Use a stick to draw the shape of the surfboard in the sand.  Lie down and try it a few times.

Once you head out to the waves don’t get too discouraged if you don’t master it right away.  Most beginning surfers experience a rite of passage when it comes to popping up.  Keep at it until you master it.

Few beaches are as forgiving to beginners as the beaches of southwest Costa Rica, but even surfing in Costa Rica will be a challenge until you master the art of popping up.

The 10 Most Romantic Cities in the USA

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment

The United States is full of gorgeous places to be in love, but these top ten stand out for the sort of ambiance and attitude that excite the passions and warm the heart…

#10 Woodstock, VT

Woodstock, VT

Classic New England.

Quaint, lovely Woodstock with its white steeple churches, covered bridges and lush green rolling hills is a classic New England getaway and the perfect place for pitching woo.  In autumn you can walk hand-in-hand through woodlands drenched in stunning reds and golds.

 

In winter you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a painting by Currier and Ives when you take a horse-drawn sleigh ride before stopping to dine at one of the village’s many fine restaurants.  Woodstock has a nice selection of historic B&B’s to choose from and provides a serene setting for hushed conversation over a candlelit table as a horse-drawn carriage goes clopping by.  Historic small town charm of the very best kind.

#9 Santa Fe, NM

Santa Fe, NM

When night descends on Santa Fe...

When night descends on Santa Fe and the desert moon hangs over the Sangre de Cristo mountains, romance is in the air.  Everywhere is the dream-like glow of warmly lit adobe.  Shop windows reveal a profusion of silver and turquoise, the color and symmetry of Navajo blankets, the red poppies and purple sunsets of Georgia O’Keefe.  The aroma of desert sage mingles with the scent of a crackling fire.  Somewhere in the distance someone is singing an old cowboy song.

 

On the Plaza at the head of the old Santa Fe Trail, hotels and restaurants abound, some in the Spanish Colonial style.  Here you will find nouvelle cuisine heavily influenced by Mexican cooking, rich red wines, peerless rib eye steaks, elk tenderloin and plenty of green and red chiles.  Enjoy a spa experience during the day or go for a hike along the Chamisa Trail.  For romance with a western flare, nothing beats Santa Fe.

#8 Charleston, SC

 

Charleston, SC

Spanish moss and magnolias.

Once upon a time, in the romantic antebellum past, southern gentlemen wearing swords and cravats bowed to perfumed ladies on the pillared porches of Charleston.  Today, Charleston retains much of the flavor of its romantic past.  Stroll along cobblestone streets past restored antebellum homes, stop to whisper sweet endearments beneath ancient oaks dripping in Spanish moss, steal a kiss before handsome wrought iron gates and rustling palms.

 

Down at Waterfront Park, amidst the gardens and fountains, find the porch swings and sit together, enjoying each other’s company, as you look out at the harbor, waiting for the sun to set, waiting for a sky awash in stars.  Afterwards, dine at one of Charleston’s many fine restaurants.  Daytime activities can include shopping at the famous King Street shopping district or a side trip to the beach.  At night you can stay at a restored antebellum hotel or a romantic B&B.  Charleston exudes romance, just as it did a hundred years ago.

#7 Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

 

Carmel, CA

Romance California-style.

Carmel’s cobblestone streets and whimsical old world charm make for a lovely idyll by the sea.  Just 26 miles up the coast from Big Sur via scenic Route 1, this small town with something more is all about romance, California-style.  Those wanting to immerse themselves in the vibe will want to start with a stroll through Carmel village with its art galleries, boutiques and specialty shops before picking up a picnic basket at one of the local restaurants and heading down to the white sand beach where plenty of secluded picnic spots await.  Here a couple can wile away the time on a blanket with a bottle of wine and some gourmet cheese as the waves crash and crawl on the sand.

 

Later, the happy couple can take in a film under the stars at the Forest Theatre, the oldest outdoor theatre west of the Rockies, or enjoy cocktails on the patio at Mission Ranch overlooking Carmel River Beach while listening to live jazz.  Five star dining is right around the corner and first rate accommodations are nearby.  Carmel-by-the-Sea is California’s small town song to romantic couples seeking a scenic seaside retreat. 

#6 Miami Beach, FL

 

Miami, FL

Miami gets the blood moving.

For those in love, Miami Beach can certainly get the blood moving.  Start by joining the poolside scene early at The Clevelander Hotel amidst the art deco gems on Ocean Drive.  Then slip away to enjoy one of the most unique and sensual dining experiences in the country at B.E.D.  This restaurant replaces tables with king-size beds so you and your significant other can cozy up as you dine.  Want some seclusion?  Just pull the drapes closed.  But be sure to let the waitress in to deliver the outstanding French/Brazilian cuisine.  You may be tempted to stay for the dancing but drag yourself away to enjoy a stroll down Ocean Drive where the sexy neon and art deco details lend a delicious flare to the Latin beats spilling out of hotel after hotel.

The next morning relax at the News’ Café.  Enjoy a café Cubano at a sidewalk table as you watch the models and celebrities stroll by.  Later you can rent a cabana and recline in privacy on lounge beds as you relax seaside.  Don’t forget to work in some time for shopping at dazzling Lincoln Road or historic Espanola Way with its Mediterranean Revival architecture hearkening back to the 1920’s.  Miami Beach is rich with ambiance and sensuality, a perfect getaway for those with passion in their hearts.

#5 Aspen, CO

 

Aspen, CO

A magical place for lovers.

For lovers in Aspen, world class skiing and shopping are just part of what’s on offer.    Start the day with a champagne brunch complete with chocolate-covered strawberries and flowers courtesy of Unicorn Balloon Company followed by a magical balloon ride across the snow-capped peaks.  Follow up with a gondola ride to Aspen summit and spend some time relaxing on the spacious Sundeck watching the beautiful people mix and mingle.  Return to Aspen village for a couples’ yoga class at O2 Aspen Spa, and follow it up with a couples massage at the Remède Spa at the St. Regis Hotel.

Your evening might include a horse-drawn sleigh ride to a rustic cabin where you can enjoy venison and caribou courtesy of Pine Creek Cookhouse before returning to your lodgings for a soak in a steaming outdoor hot tub.  Late night cocktails and dancing take place at Mezzaluna, and you can end the night with a quiet nightcap at the genteel Hotel Jerome Library Bar.  Oh, and did I mention, there is also world class skiing and shopping?

#4 New Orleans, LA

New Orleans, LA

Gas lights and jazz.

After dark under the palms, as you stroll past Creole cottages and the sound of jazz lilts in the air, you may stop to kiss beneath a flickering gaslight on a secluded street that feels for all the world as if it’s unchanged from a hundred years before.  You are in love in New Orleans and there are few better places to be.  In the morning it’s beignets and chicory coffee at Café du Monde before taking a stroll along the Mississippi river, gazing out at paddleboat steamers and watercraft of all kinds.  Back in Jackson Square before the resplendent white St. Louis Cathedral jugglers, street artists and fortune tellers gather to entertain you.

The warmth and authenticity of the people can’t help but mellow you and awaken a warm spot in your heart.  Take your lover to one of the world class antique dealers on Royal Street or stop by an art gallery.  Enjoy the culinary delights of Cajun and Creole cuisine, immerse yourself in the history and ethnicity of America’s only true Caribbean city, listen to a wonderful variety of music in the narrow warren of 18th century streets.  Enjoy a glass of absinthe, take a streetcar past the antebellum mansions of the garden district, retire to a quaint B&B with French doors that open to sultry streets, and kiss again beneath the flickering gaslights.  Romance in New Orleans is hard to beat.

#3 Honolulu, HI

 

Honolulu, HI

America's island paradise.

A thousand miles away in the middle of the Pacific lies America’s own tropical island chain, home to luaus and leis, ukuleles and tiki.  Hawaii’s charms seem made for those in love.  Friendly natives bow and slip a garland of blossoms over your head to welcome you to their domain, a place of white sand beaches, green peaks and fragrant flowers.  On a crystal clear Honolulu morning you can awaken to breakfast in bed at a luxury Waikiki resort, or take a stroll down the beach as crescents of surf spread out at your feet.

The Waimea Arboretum is an ideal place to wile away the time, home to a lush variety of tropical flowers spread out over 150 acres.  The scent of hibiscus will be in the air as you repair to the Na Hoola oceanfront spa for a couple’s massage  In the evening enjoy open air-dining in the formal dining room at La Mer with its picturesque views of Diamond Head.  The next day go scuba diving or learn to surf.  Take a sunset dinner cruise or hike to the silken waterfalls in Akaka Falls State Park.  Don’t forget to attend a luau and enjoy a fruity drink as you watch the hula dancers.  Honolulu has so much to offer couples in love.  This American city is truly an island paradise.

#2 New York, NY

New York, NY

A city legendary for Romance.

New York’s status as one of the nation’s most romantic cities is legendary.  Depicted in dozens of films and books, penned by writers as diverse as Neil Simon and Henry James, New York’s ambitious energy, flavored with just the right amounts of elegance and danger, create a heady mixture that seems bound to spark romance.

Everywhere you go you are reminded of other lovers who have been there before you.  Standing outside the windows at Tiffany’s you are reminded of Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak.  On the observation deck of the Empire State Building you recall Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember.  At the ice skating rink in Rockefeller Center you think of Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack in Serendipity. Under the Brooklyn Bridge at the River Café you are reminded of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Manhattan. And the carriage ride in Central Park?  Well, suffice it to say that the romantic places to eat, drink or recreate in New York City are almost too numerous to mention.  Suffice it to say, that New York’s wonderful electric atmosphere, unmatched anywhere in the world, make it one of the top romantic destinations in the US.

#1 San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, CA

Romance on another scale.

Being in love in San Francisco is an experience that everyone should have at least once in a lifetime.  The matchless charm and beauty of the City by the Bay are a powerful tonic for romance.  Everywhere is grace and sensuality, from the iconic span of the Golden Gate Bridge to the cable cars pulling gently up the hills overlooking the bay.  Whether you are flying a kite on the lawn before the Marina or watching a wedding in the columed rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts you can’t help but be struck by the romantic savor of the place.

Luxuriate in the Edwardian ambiance at the Hotel Majestic where you will have your own fireplace, claw-footed bath tub and Turkish robes.  Enjoy coffee at the Café Trieste with its historic Italian ambiance.  Dine in the middle of the bay at Forbe’s Island, the only man-made floating island in the world.  Sail out past barking sea lions and wheeling gulls and watch the sunset from the lighthouse.  From the narrow streets of Chinatown to the bowling greens and Japanese gardens of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco offers a wide range of experiences to excite and entice lovers.  When Tony Bennett sang about leaving his heart in San Francisco he didn’t mean that he’d left his lover there, he meant he would not be in love again as he had been in love in San Francisco.  Romance in San Francisco is love on another scale.  So San Francisco is our top romantic city in the USA.  ♦

Author and Client:  This article was written by Malcolm Logan for My American Odyssey.com

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Image credits:

Woodstock, VT, wallpaperweb.org; Santa Fe, NM, santafenm.gov; Charleston, SC, theothersideofme-tl.blogspot.com; Carmel, CA, public domain; Miami Beach, FL, socapa.org; Aspen, CO, public domain; New Orleans, LA, Sami Cetinkaya; Honolulu, HI, Cumulus Clouds; New York, NY, public domain; San Francisco, CA, Franco Folini.

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The 10 Best Music Cities in the USA

January 16, 2011 3 comments

Playing, listening, recording and appreciating, here are the ten best music cities in the USA in ascending order.

#10 Memphis, TN

Memphis, TN

B.B. King, Elivs and "The Home of the Blues"

Memphis is a legacy music town, which is to say that its greatest contributions are in the promotion and performance of its formidable past.  Home to Elvis Presley, B.B. King and Beale Street, Memphis spotlights its legacy with museums, tours and plenty of live music, all of which are great fun, but few of which suggest an organic scene beyond what can be trundled out for the satisfaction of tourists.

In 1977 Beale Street was officially declared the Home of the Blues, and immediately descended into urban decay.  It was only revived in the 80’s after Graceland was opened and began drawing Elvis fans to the King of Rock and Roll’s former home.  Today Beale Street is largely a cluster of plasticky chain establishments like Coyote Ugly and the Hard Rock Café, but the street music is reminiscent of New Orleans and what the area lacks in authenticity it makes up in enthusiasm, which is why Memphis makes the cut onto our list of ten best music cities.

#9 San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, CA

Birthplace of the jam bands

Back in the late 60‘s San Francisco gave the world a distinctive style of music known as The San Francisco Sound.  Among its greatest practitioners were Jefferson Airplane, Santana and The Grateful Dead.  That sound is rightly regarded as the predecessor of today’s jam bands.

However, following the 60’s, and during the next decades, the Bay Area departed from that singular focus and went on to produce a diverse, even disjointed, array of music from Journey to Romeo Void to Chris Issak.  Currently, it’s best loved native sons are Green Day and Counting Crowes.

These days San Francisco stands out more for the variety and quality of its offerings than for any single contribution.  You will find clubs devoted to every genre from jazz to blues to hip hop.  Music festivals like the Stern Grove Music Festival and the San Francisco Jazz Festival provide something for a range of musical tastes, and the San Francisco Symphony and Opera offer something for more refined palates.  If you love good quality music, you can find it in San Francisco.

#8 Portland, OR

Portland, OR

The new indie rock mecca

There is a gathering storm in Portland, a musical deluge that seems about to burst forth from the clustering of big name musical talents.  Portland’s unique dynamic is that, increasingly it is the home (literally) of successful musicians.  Everyone from Johnny Marr of The Smiths to Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Pepper seems to be moving there.

Last year Slate magazine declared Portland the new indie rock mecca largely on the basis of its formidable indie rock citizenry, noting that it is now the residence of Modest Mouse, the Shins, Pavement, Spoon, the Decemberists and Death Cab for Cutie.  Add to that Portland’s reputation for being a magnet for hipsters, artists, hippies and others seeking quality in authenticity, and you have the recipe for something big in the way of a musical breakout.  Portland is trembling on the verge of becoming a top American music city.

#7 Detroit, MI

Detroit, MI

Motown and much, much more

Detroit’s musical contributions are broad and deep.  For more than 75 years Detroit has produced groundbreaking musicians and sounds.  In the 1950’s Detroit gave the country a bounty of great jazz musicians including Elvin Jones, Paul Chambers, Yusef Lateef, Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell and Pepper Adams.

In the 1950’s it helped usher in the rock and roll era with Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”; and in the early 1970’s it introduced a raw and messy new sound with bands like MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges that eventually became known as punk.  Detroit has produced pop and rock artists galore.  The city gave us Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seger, Kid Rock and The White Stripes, not to mention Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder and Madonna.

But by far Detroit’s greatest legacy is Motown, that bastion of 60’s soul that produced hit after hit by such durable luminaries as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Martha Reeves, The Four Tops and Parliament Funkadelic.  With such a deep musical resumé and the promise of more to come, it’s nosurprise that Detroit makes it to number 7 on our list of 10 best music cities.

#6 Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles, CA

The home of surf music and hair metal

So much music is produced and recorded in L.A. that it’s no surprise it attracts a wide variety of talent, and there is no shortage of places to see them.  Legendary music clubs like The Troubador, The Roxy, and Whisky-a-Go-Go provide venues for more established artists while lesser known clubs and premeditated dives like Tiny’s K.O. and The Joint let newbies have their fling.

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With a rich musical legacy comprised of surf music from The Beach Boys, folk music from the likes of The Byrds and The Eagles, plenty of hair metal from groups like Motley Cru, Poison and Ratt, power pop from Van Halen, and the hip-hop inflected punk of Red Hot Chili Peppers, L.A.’s musical legacy is broad and deep.  This says nothing of the contributions of the gangsta rap subgenre of West Coast hip hop that burst onto the scene in the late 90’s and dominated airplay for the better part of a decade.  If one city can be said to be responsible for more record sales than any other, it would certainly be L.A.

#5 New York, NY

New York

A musical heritage that is second to none

The musical heritage of New York City is second to none.  The same city that gave us Tin Pan Alley gave us the Jazz giants of Harlem in the 1950’s, the folk singers of Greenwich Village in the 1960’s, and the punk rockers of the East Village in the 70’s and 80’s.  The clubs and venues are legendary: the Apollo Theatre, the Village Vanguard, CBGB’s and The Fillmore East.  The composers are justly renowned: Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, John Cage.

So why isn’t New York number one on our list?  Because today, despite its storied past, New York doesn’t possess the kind of pulsating soulful ferment that distinguishes cities with great music scenes.  The cost of living in Manhattan has driven artists out to places like Brooklyn and Hoboken, which, while they are certainly hotbeds of musical artistry, has dissipated what was once concentrated and intense, weakening a scene that once produced the greatest music in the country.

#4 Seattle, WA

Seattle, WA

An all-around town with a vibrant, magnetic scene

A vibrant music scene is one that is alive and flourishing, a magnet for players aspiring to a certain ideal.  Seattle certainly fits the bill.  Having produced minor tremors prior to the late 60’s, its first notable achievement was the emergence of native son Jimi Hendrix in 1966.  In the mid-70’s the band Heart took the charts by storm, followed by Queensryche and Candlebox.  But the real eruption occurred in the 1990’s when Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Nirvana blew the lid off the rock world with the powerful sound of grunge, the first uniquely local music sound since the San Francisco Sound of the late 60’s.

Unlike L.A. or New York, Seattle clubs are open and democratic.  They welcome players and enthusiasts alike with a down-to-earth, show-us-what-you-got attitude.  On the other hand, there is a strong musical establishment in Seattle in the form of the Seattle Symphony and the Seattle Opera.  There is jazz and blues.  There is alternative and indie.  Seattle is an all-around music town with a vibrant, magnetic scene that attracts aspiring players from all over the country.

#3 Nashville, TN

Nashville, TN

The undisputed center of the country music world

Nashville is the third largest recording center in the country after New York and L.A.  Its streets swarm with producers, session musicians and up and coming artists.  The acts recorded there read like a who’s who of country music from Johnny Cash and Tammy Wynette to Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson

Beginning with the birth of the The Grand Ole Opry radio program in 1927, Nashville became a magnet for country music artists.  From 1943 to 1953 the Opry attracted the likes of Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Lefty Frizzell and Faron Young.  In 1954 a teenager named Elvis Presley appeared on the Opry stage.  That same year Owen Bradley of Decca Records, with the help of Chet Atkins, built a recording studio on what would become Nashville’s Music Row.  By the mid-1960’s recording studios had cropped up all over town, many of them recording a unique style that would become known as the Nashville Sound.

Today Nashville remains the undisputed center of the country music world. Walk the streets of Nashville and sooner or later you will hear someone strumming a guitar.  Like all great music towns, music permeates the culture and is everywhere.  Nashville wears its moniker proudly.  They call it “Music City USA”.

#2 Austin, TX

Austin, TX

A torrent of groundbreaking new talent

In 1975 Clifford Antone opened a club called Antone’s on 6th Street in Austin which provided a venue for blues legends like John Lee Hooker, Clifton Chenier and Muddy Waters.  It also provided a showcase for exciting up and coming Texas blues artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Meanwhile outlaw country artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings settled in Austin to escape the more traditional country music scene in Nashville.  And at the same time a place called The Armadillo played host to a succession of punk/new wave acts like the Police, Joe Jackson, Blondie and the Talking Heads.

All this musical ferment provided fertile ground for the development of Austin as a premier music town, resulting in a number of top-notch musical festivals like the Austin City Limits Musical Festival, Blues on the Green and the nation’s most beloved music festival established by and for musicians, the South by Southwest Music Festival.

Today, Austin is home to great intimate music venues like The Continental Club, Threadgills and Emos, and produces a torrent of groundbreaking talent that melds American music from a variety of traditional forms into a unique and compelling new sound.  Few would argue, Austin is one of America’s greatest music cities.

#1 New Orleans, LA

New Orleans, LA

Sincerity, passion and authenticity

Walk the streets of New Orleans and music is in the air.  Brass bands play impromptu on the door steps, wander the streets aimlessly, or join in behind parades, blowing and thumping in high spirits.  Jazz trios improvise in cobblestoned courtyards.  Rock bands blare from open air nightclubs.  Blues players tinkle on old upright pianos in the backs of 18th century Creole houses on gas lit corners.  The culture of New Orleans is the culture of music, and has been for more than a hundred years.

As early as 1835 slaves congregated in Congo Square to dance and sing.  The influence of ragtime and brass bands on that  music eventually evolved into jazz.  The first practitioners, people like King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong, emerged in the late 1920’s and early 30’s, and New Orleans jazz went on to form the back bone of big band jazz and be bop.   It continues to thrive in the city today, proclaimed nightly by exuberant players who happily share the stage with players of Louisiana’s other indigenous musical form, Zydeco.

Most cities can’t claim even one unique sound.  New Orleans can claim two, both of which they cherish and proclaim with endearing ardor.  If sincerity, passion and authenticity are the measure of a great music city, New Orleans is number one.

Image Attributions:  BB King, Heinrich Klaffs; Haight Ashbury sign, Nancy; Portland, USGS (public domain); Motown, TMPuekert (public domain); Kreator Live at Hole in the Sky, Christian Misje; View of the Apollo Marquis; William P. Gottlieb, Library of Congress (public domain); Nirvana, P.B. Rage; Music Row Nashville, Malcolm Logan; Louis XIV at Emo’s in Austin, Ron Baker;  Jazz Funeral, Infrogmation.

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The 10 Worst American Cities to Drive in

December 24, 2010 2 comments

In my travels around the country over the past 20 years I have experienced agonizing traffic, confusion, stupidity, and recklessness.  But these ten hotbeds of vehicular misery top the list.  In ascending order they are…

#10 Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnati Traffic

Overzealous cops, bridges and bottlenecks

There’s more to a hellish traffic experience than massive traffic jams and recklessness.  Cincinnati wins the honor of being the smallest city on our list by unleashing the most overzealous state troopers in the nation.

Cincinnati has been known to create Byzantine speed traps and random check points, all in an effort to snarl traffic and remind you of what it’s like to live under totalitarianism.  If you’re travelling east or west, you’re sure to enjoy their jackbooted antics, and if you’re travelling south you’ll get the added pleasure of being squeezed down to a few lanes so you can cross over the Ohio River into Kentucky.  Not worth it.

A few toll booths would raise the same amount of revenue without all the fear and loathing, not to mention the totally unnecessary back ups.  Please.

# 9 Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas

Strip stand stills and 150 mile jams

The problem with Vegas traffic is that too many people coming from the same place are trying to get to the same place at the same time.   Namely, a healthy portion of the state of California is coming on a four lane highway through the desert and over the mountains to arrive on the Vegas strip at 9pm on Friday, and to leave promptly at 5pm on Sunday.

More than once, I have seen bumper to bumper traffic stretching literally 150 miles from Las Vegas all the way to Barstow through one of the most barren and unpopulated regions of the country.  This says nothing of the excruciating experience of crawling down the Vegas strip at 1am on a weekend night.

If you ever wanted to see the fountains at Bellagio, you will not be disappointed.  You will see them cycle through their performance six or eight times while the ball of your foot grows soar on the brake peddle and some drunk from Chino hurls on your hood ornament while crossing in front of your vehicle.  Jackpot!

#8     Tidewater Region, VA

Tidewater Traffic

Tunnels, bridges and too many people

Appalling traffic comes home to roost in those places where routes in and out of a city are reduced to narrow bottlenecks  as they pass through tunnels and over bridges.  It’s made worse when large groups of people are disgorged onto the highway system all at once, such as when tourists descend en masse to a seaside resort or when a large military installation releases its enlisted men for a holiday.

Tidewater has both these problems.  A sprawling naval installation, situated on the Chesapeake and accessed via bridges and tunnels, is backed by a seaside resort town.  Tidewater is the conglomeration of medium sized cities Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads, Chesapeake, Portsmouth and environs, and it’s cut through with rivers, waterways and harbors.

Woe betide you should you attempt to arrive or leave at the wrong time.  You will sit idling in a smog filled tunnel or creep slowly over an endless bridge wishing that you were some place more amenable, like the streets of lower Manhattan.

#7 Washington, DC

Washington DC traffic

Orbital hell and an ant's nest of frantic drivers

A city’s orbital freeway is supposed to free up traffic and siphon off congestion; Washington DC’s beltway has the opposite effect.  Given the lack of interior freeways, the beltway sucks up traffic like a sponge, creating a dense agglomeration of congestion that acts like a seal to hold traffic in, creating an ant’s nest of frantic drivers, trying to work their way out through neighborhood streets and parkways.

You will find few other places in the country where you will plod endlessly down a lovely 19th century tree-lined residential street trying to get to an intersection that seems tantalizingly out of reach, all to get some place that you can’t help feeling you ought to be able to get to by some more up-to-date thoroughfare.

But don’t get too overzealous, because one wrong turn could lead you to the beltway, and then your fun will really begin.

#6 New York, NY

New York Traffic

A pounding pace and a sea of taxis

Some cities have a worse reputation than they deserve.  New York is a case in point.  Given the fact that it’s shoved up against the Atlantic and perched on the prongs of various peninsulas, the traffic – which can be nightmarish to be sure – is remarkably manageable most of the time if you just use your head.

Don’t travel during rush hour, stay out of lower Manhattan and serve the taxis measure for measure.  Don’t back down to them, but if they are giving you leeway, don’t be a jerk.

I have often been impressed how accurate the traffic timers are on the Long Island Expressway.  If they say it will take you 12 minutes to get to the next exit, it will take you 12 minutes to get there.

One last word of advice: wear your glasses.  Traffic moves at a pounding pace, exits come up fast and there’s no backing up.  U-turns on surface streets can be prohibited for miles, and before you know it you can find yourself in Schenectady.  Stay alert, find the rhythm and don’t be stupid.

#5 Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles Traffic

Jack in the box traffic and weird congestion. Image by Bart Everett

Although Californians love to complain about the traffic in L.A., it only rises to number five on our list.  The problem with LA’s jack-in-the-box traffic?  You never know when and where it’s going to pop up.

I have been in traffic jams on seemingly innocuous stretches of eight lane freeways at one in the morning for no discernable reason.  The traffic just bogs down, lurches along, and then frees up, all for nothing – no accident, no cops, no construction – just a phantom traffic jam come to mess with you, and then, adios!

The good news is that the cops are reasonable, the alternative surface streets are many, the construction is virtually nil and the drivers are among the most competent in the country.  L.A. may suffer from the nation’s weirdest congestion patterns, but lord knows it could be worse.

#4 Chicago, IL

Chicago traffic

All roads funnel into one hellish stretch of misery

Chicago has to contend with virtually every demon known to the traffic gods: endless construction, horrible weather, potholes, random lane closures and toll booths.  But to make matters worse, the freeway layout in Chicago is probably the worst in the country.

Although they call it by different names in different stretches, all the traffic from the various interstates funnel down into a single expressway called the Kennedy/Dan Ryan.  This enormous bottle neck that runs through the heart of the city is routinely backed up in both directions from 6:30am to 10:30am, and then again from 2:30pm to 7:00pm.

Blessedly the cops are mostly absent from this hell stretch, and the drivers can wheel and maneuver in even in the most appalling conditions.  Chicagoans are nothing if not resourceful and if you ask they will reveal shortcuts and strategies that can keep you from taking your own life.  Otherwise, it’s tedious brake-riding for you, my friend, and an hour long trip to go 15 miles.

#3 Atlanta, GA

Atlanta Traffic

An invitation to traffic jams and a spaghetti bowl of surface streets

One of the ironic truths traffic planners have discovered in recent years is that you can’t build your way out of congestion.  If you add more lanes, you will only invite more traffic.  Atlanta has learned this to its eternal grief.

No less than 16 lanes of pavement deliver traffic to downtown Atlanta, every inch of it is mired in trucks and cars.  To make matters worse, any attempt to escape the sluggish metal river that crawls along past the Varsity Grill and CNN Tower will be met with an even more horrific experience of surface streets that twist and turn and bend back on themselves like a bowl of spaghetti.

If you have pride in your sense of direction and think you can beat this challenge, you will find yourself thwarted by the fact that every street has the same name.  The civic masterminds that named the streets of Atlanta were plainly obsessed with peach trees, and while I have never seen a peach tree in Atlanta, I have seen the words many times, while I was pounding my temples with my fists and howling at my dome light.

#2 Boston, MA

Boston traffic

Cramped, congested and riddled with one way streets and aggressive drivers

The plain truth is that Boston was not built for cars.  A 17th century seaside town of meandering cow paths has struggled to refashion itself for modern conveyance and it has done a poor job.  Not only is it riddled with one way streets that carry you back away from where you want to be, its signage is an insult to anyone without 20/20 vision travelling less than 10 miles an hour.

I’m convinced there are people who have gotten lost in Boston and are still there, endlessly catching a glimpse of a tiny sign, covered in graffiti, telling them where to turn, just as they’ve committed to a ramp that carries them up and over their desired thoroughfare to some decaying stretch of roadway that eventually turns into a cobblestone alley that abruptly ends at a chain link fence.

Add to this, needlessly aggressive drivers, crappy weather, potholes and toll booths and you get a pretty good picture of why Boston is number two on our worst cities to drive in.

#1 Miami, FL

Miami_Traffic

A cornucopia of terrible drivers and a funnel of traffic and congestion

Miami tops our list of the worst places to drive in the USA for one very good reason: it has the worst drivers in the country.  And we’re not talking just one kind of awful, but a cornucopia of bad driver archetypes.

In Miami you get the aggressive Latin driver in the roaring sports car weaving in and out of traffic at full speed, the tentative old lady in the oversized Buick driving under the speed limit in the left hand lane, the clueless immigrant who sees nothing wrong with parking his junker in the middle of an exit ramp while he looks under the hood, the alpha-jerk in the luxury sports car who thinks allowing another motorist to merge threatens his manhood, the shoulder rider, the tailgater, the joker who backs up when he misses an exit and the clown who slams on his brakes when he sees a cop.

As if this squirming snake pit of recklessness and stupidity was not enough, the nature of Miami’s geographical situation, sandwiched between the Atlantic and the Everglades, means that all of this gets dumped into a narrow corridor that cuts through one of the most densely populated regions in the country, a region whose population nearly doubles from January through April buttressed by yet another member of the bad driver club: the rubbernecking tourist.

Driving in Miami can take years off your life… if you survive the experience long enough to notice.

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Image Credits:

Cincinnati, Public Domain; Las Vegas, Malcolm Logan; Tidewater, Ben Schumin; Wasington DC, Public Domain; New York, Stefan Schulze; Los Angeles, Bart Everett; Chicago, David; Atlanta, Atlanta Citizen; Boston, Anthony Citran0; Miami, Infrogmation

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Salt Lake City: Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment
Bride crossing the street

In SLC a motorcyclist stops to admire a crossing bride.

This morning I woke up and realized I was in love.  I was looking out the window of my hotel room at Salt Lake City.  Wow, I thought.  This is the place.

Finding out that you’re in love with Salt Lake City is like finding out that you’re in love with the girl next door.  Salt Lake City is the girl next door of American cities.  There’s something clean and wholesome about her.  She’s pretty without being vain.  She’s smart without being smug.  And because she’s so quiet and unassuming she often flies under the radar.  But one day you realize she’s far prettier than most of the other cities you know, and before you realize it, you are smitten.

Sitting at the foot of the snow-capped Wasatch, Salt Lake City trumps Denver.  In fact, when it comes to cities with soaring mountain ranges for backdrops she is unrivaled in the United States.

Looking out in the other direction, you can see the haunting stretches of the Great Salt Desert, one of the weirdest topographical features in North America with its enormous dead lake in the middle.  Like a girl with a birthmark in her hair, it’s odd yet alluring.

Flowers in Temple Square SLC

In the spring Temple Square bursts with colorful flowers.

The lake is the remnant of a former sea that once covered much of western Utah.  Over the course of millennia it gradually evaporated and is still in that process today.  Due to the rate of evaporation in any given year the lake varies in size.  In 1963 it was 960 square miles.  In 1987 it was 3,300 square miles.  String together a bunch of 1963’s and the lake will evaporate entirely.

That evaporation is not without its consequences.  All that moisture has to go somewhere.  Much of it gets dumped in the form of snow on the higher elevations of the Wasatch.  Many spots get 500 inches or more per year.  Due to the low relative humidity in the mountains the snow has a dry, powdery texture, excellent for skiing.

If you are a skier and have not experienced Utah snow, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.  When piled up waist deep, it’s delightfully easy to break, throwing up long sparkling rooster tails as you make graceful S-turns down the mountain.  Skiing the mountains above Salt Lake City is one of the most consistently superior skiing experiences you can expect to find in the United States.

As I look back over the course of my relationship with Salt Lake City there are no dark spots.  She has always been good to me.  The last time I was here I took a jog through the This is the Place Heritage Park, the site at which Brigham Young stopped his long weary wagon train and declared that, yes, after years of

Bonneville Salt Flats, Dogs at play, May 2005

Playing with the dogs out on the salt flats.

persecution and fleeing, this was where the Mormons would settle down.  The site has a replica village with all the usual living history stuff:  blacksmith shop, glass blower, etc.  I got there in the morning before it opened and jogged through the village.  It was like being transported back in time.

Mormonism had been getting something of a bad rap in recent years.  There was the bizarre kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart and the faith-based pedophilia of Warren Jeffs.  Jonathan Krakauer’s book Under the Banner of Heaven whipped the mask off the dark side of Mormon fundamentalism, making a lot of people suspicious about Mormonism in general.  But the problem isn’t really Mormonism.  It’s the crackpot right of any religion.

Can you imagine condemning all of Christianity because of the irresponsible rabble rousing of its most venomous evangelicals?  It’s a short train ride from sanctimony to malevolence.  The truth is the vast majority of Mormons are as appalled by their polygamist brethren as most decent, churchgoing Christians are by the homophobic snake handlers and speakers-in-tongues of their lunatic fringe.

On the contrary, it’s the virtuous nature of most followers of The-Church-of-Jesus-Christ-of-Latter-Day-Saints that gives Salt Lake City its unique character.  You will not find a cleaner, better organized city in the United States.  The city has never gone through the blight and recovery cycle of many American cities, so you can see in its streets and neighborhoods the organic progression from small town to big city without the usual hitches and setbacks.

Liberty Park SLC

Liberty Park offers a zoo and an aviary.

The downtown of Salt Lake City is a vibrant, living place with shops and restaurants that continue to draw crowds even after the workers have gone home.  And yet you never have to wait for a table and there is always a place to park.  The streets are wide and easily maneuverable and the traffic is always manageable.  In the center of it all, sits the eye-popping Mormon Tabernacle with its soaring spires.  Inside, you can get an earful of the famous choir.

Liberty Park is one of the prettiest public parks in America with groves of mature trees and charming foot bridges over placid ponds.  The Tracy Aviary is the oldest aviary in the US and is home to over 130 different species of birds.  And the Utah Museum of Fine Arts houses masterworks on loan from international collections.

Salt Lake City has a lot going for it, but you can come and go from this place a half dozen times before you stop and take notice.  There is something wonderfully humble and self-effacing about her.  In terms of needing to be stroked, she is the anti-Los Angeles, a place with far more beauty and charm and far less grasping ego.  She is, on the whole,  just like the girl next door.  And definitely worth getting to know.

A Greenhorn’s Guide to Fly Fishing

November 19, 2010 1 comment
Fly_Fishing_in_Colorado

Even a pair of greenhorns can enjoy an exquisite sport like fly fishing if they have the right guide.

Fly Fishing has taught me to respect fish.  In two days of fishing I managed to hook six rainbow trout.  Yet during that same time I managed to hook myself no less than 9 times and each time it was a delicate, time consuming operation to remove the hook from my clothing or skin.  On the other hand, I hooked several trout that seemed to have no trouble at all slipping off the hook.  Fish are more resourceful than you think.

Our guide told us as much.  John Perizzolo, a quick-to-smile, goateed expert angler, pointed out that most trout like to lie face up against the current and wait for larval bugs and other insects to come sweeping downstream, and then dart out and swallow them.  All we had to do was mimic those bugs and we would be catching fish.  It seems, however, that the trout in these heavily-fished waters near Deckers, Colorado in the mountains outside of Denver had grown a bit jaded.  They had seen more than their fair share of expertly tied flies and only yawned and turned away when a pair of greenhorns like my buddy and myself came galumphing through their waters.

Fly Fishing in the Platte River

It's fun to fool a wily trout, but it takes patience, and plenty of coaching.

For that reason John Perizzolo tied the flies for us, his thick fingers moving nimbly around the monofilament leader, primping and snipping the colored fibers that would make a treacherous hook look just like an emerging may fly to an unsuspecting trout.  Mind you, this dressing of the fly occurred only after his expert eye had carefully selected the right fly from a box that contained rank upon rank of flies, each one mimicking a different insect at a different stage of development.  It seems trout can be quite discerning when it comes to dining.

John knew what the fish would favor at this time of day, at this time of year and in these weather conditions, and tied the flies accordingly.  Then he applied a piece of putty to the line to add weight and knotted a piece of macramé yarn to act as a bobber – except that fly fishermen don’t call them bobbers.  Fly fishing is considered a more cerebral and spiritual form of fishing than mere lake fishing and the terminology is upgraded to reflect that.  My bobber was now a strike indicator.  My lures were flies.  And standing there fishing was now called “presentation.”

The object of our efforts.

The object of our efforts. All fishing is catch and release in these waters.

Presentation is what you show the fish, the way your fly drifts through the water, mimicking the larval bug.  As I say, the fish are not dumb.  If they see anything that looks – well, fishy; they will not be tricked.  If the fly is moving too fast, John will increase the drag on the line by moving the weight on the lead.  If the fly is too deep or too high in the flow, he’ll adjust the length of the lead or change the weight of the line.  If the Mighty May is not producing strikes, he’ll change it over to a Sparkle Pupa or any of a thousand different flies that can produce a different result.  All of these tiny little adjustments and recalibrations are done on the fly (so to speak) while you’re standing thigh deep in a rushing mountain stream.  It is this nimble tactical expertise, and the rich array of options, that makes the experienced fly fisherman the Formula One driver of the fishing world.

The South Platte River near Evergreen, CO

The South Platte River near Evergreen, CO

Yet even with an expert tying your flies it’s ultimately up to you to set the hook, and with the peculiar good fortune bestowed upon the ignorant, I managed to catch five 14 inch rainbows on a particularly active stretch of water all in about 15 minutes.  My buddy, who had fly fished before, was stymied and kept casting baleful looks in my direction until John took pity on him and suggested we move to a different location.  Much to my buddy’s chagrin this involved hiking up and over a steep ridge and into a neighboring canyon where he had to sit down and catch his breath before he could begin pestering the trout again.

In this new location my good luck vanished and I stood there watching that mocking piece of yarn drift by again and again while my buddy earned some much needed pay back by hooking the biggest fish of the day, a sparkling 18 incher that seemed to roll its eyes in weary exasperation when it realized what kind of rube had bagged it.  The rest of the day saw a half dozen fruitless strikes, a good deal of fishy indifference and a lot of getting hung up on flotsam, rocks and bushes.  At one point I gamely fought a piece of tree limb until John helped me reel it in and offered to introduce me to a taxidermist who could mount it to good effect.

All in all, we had a grand time with our excellent guide angling in the waters of the South Platte River.  The fly fishing we were doing is called Colorado high sticking or nymph fishing, which involves dropping the fly below the water line and letting it drift with the current.  This is different than the better known dry fly fishing, which involves laying the fly on top of the water and coaxing the fish to lunge at it.  Nymph fishing is a little easier and more forgiving to the inexperienced angler, and my buddy and I needed all the help we could get.

The fly fishing season runs from Mid-May to Mid-October in the Colorado high country. After that you risk getting a load of buckshot in your rear, because hunting season kicks in.  Early season fishing is blessedly free of mosquitoes and other flying insects, but prepare yourself for the sun.  The thin air and reflecting water amplifies the burn risk.

Even if you’re a competent fisherman, hire a guide.  John came to us through the good graces of the folks at Blue Quill Angler, a full service outfitter based in Evergreen, Colorado.  Experts like John Perizzolo not only know how and what to tie, they are locals who know the country and have been fishing its rivers for decades.  Such expertise produces results, even when the anglers don’t know a Hare’s Ear from a Black Tailed Swallow.  And especially when the fish are so darned smart.