Saturday, June 30, 2007

Community in the Post-Newspaper Age - Follow-up

Yesterday I chatted a bit with San Jose Mercury News columnist L.A. Chung. She called about a piece I'd posted in May, entitled Community in the Post-Newspaper Age. But it's difficult to trace our conversation to its start. Let's see...

Technically I emailed her first, sharing a blog-post I'd written about her commencement address to the students of San José State University's Department of Communication Studies. That evening Chung offered a thought-provoking call for students to consider how their arts and sciences contribute to the public sphere, and I wanted to share my thoughts about her speech.

Perhaps this dialogue began with her speech, the first such address among many that made me want to write something in response. And yet Chung herself was surely responding to a lifetime of her own encounters with people, from family to school to work, not to mention the countless letters she'd received as a columnist for the Merc. So, who started all this talk?

It seems that "we've" been talking about public life for much longer than the existence of this internet blog or that newspaper column. And for good reason. As our individual range of rights and freedoms continues to grow, paralleled by our expanding frontier of mobility, job opportunity, and lifestyle choices, the common sphere of meaningful, consequential interactions and shared responsibilities seems to shrink. One's expansion does not lead to another's collapse, though the relationship between frontier and sphere are intimately linked.

We wonder about the permeability, indeed the viability, of public life because more of us may more easily abandon it than ever before. Indeed I've created a blog-project called Why Do You Do That? because so many of us suffer quietly amid troubling encounters with strangers (and sometimes with friends) that offer no scripts for meaningful discourse. We may ply the public highways with bumper stickers that announce our political affiliations or our opinions on controversial issues, but we are generally not trained to speak, to debate, or to engage in dialogue about the things that bother or inspire us, at least not beyond slogans.

I thought about this when I picked up the phone yesterday, because I was scared. Chung emailed earlier and said that she'd call. I replied that I'd be happy to chat, but that my family was seeing a movie that evening, so time was short for a call. I wondered: was she unhappy with my blog post? Certainly I must have taken unintentional liberties with the recitation of her ideas. No hastily written essay can accurately express the complexities of a person's public oration. Perhaps, I wondered, she might continue the dialogue with a column pointing out my numerous errors in exploring the thinning tendrils that connect newspapers and their publics. My blog has been read by a few hundred folks. Her column is read by many, many more people. Like I said, I was scared.

Her first question, her first words: "What movie are you seeing?" Chung was simply continuing the dialogue from our email, which started with my blog, which began with her speech, which...

Turns out, Chung wanted to chat in a more immediate and vivid way than can be found in electronic media. She'd planned to mention my blog in her column, and she wanted to know me before quoting me. She also wanted to have a conversation about our conversation about public life. I think that's pretty cool. So today, inspired by her column about the need to express thanks to strangers, I write an extended thank-you-note to L.A. Chung, and to you. Thank you for expressing some interest in my blog.

It is, after all, a kindness whenever a stranger writes another stranger with warm appreciation or illuminating critique. It's a kindness when strangers talk to each other with a reverence reserved for friends. It's a kindness to say, in effect, "I recognize you. I know that you have something to say. And I care." It's this kind of random, unexpected encounter that affirms the possibility of public life. We still have our frontiers, the open road alone with no congestion. And yet it's nice to return downtown, even to the traffic of ideas. Amid the cacophony of honking horns and rude whistles, we still can discover the joyful noise of conversation.

Friday, June 29, 2007

From Deco to Googie

Christopher Wigren wrote an article in the Hartford Courant that does a pretty good job of explaining 30s- and 40s-era art deco architecture, noting its transition from the jazz-age decorative school to the Depression-era streamlined school.

I particularly appreciate Wilgren's description of the Moderne style. He describes buildings that "typically have strong horizontal lines, both in their massing and in bands of ornament or long, ribbon-like windows that reinforce that overall shape. Corners are frequently rounded off to emphasize the horizontal movement by carrying it smoothly around the building. Glass block is a favorite material, and sometimes there is a suggestion of nautical or aerodynamic styling."

The article illustrates its terms with references to deco-architecture found in Hartford, Connecticut, but the general theme of the piece is useful to the beginning student of the style, regardless of location. In honor of Wigren's piece, I thought I'd upload some matchbook covers from my collection that illustrate the streamline moderne aspects he noted: horizontal lines, nautical theming, relatively simple ornament, and an evocation of futurism and progress.

Incidentally, I've also found an article by Richard Foss in Los Angeles City Beat that describes that city's particular transformation of the Moderne sensibility into googie, a reflection and response to the international style that itself flowed from the modern (if not the "moderne") period. Foss quotes architect Victor Newlove who explains, "We embraced the international style, with lots of glass and modern materials. We wanted the screens, the walls, the artwork to be part of the dining experience. There’s no cultural anchor. Look at the Norms coffee shops that had a roof like a flying wing. It was evocative of an age, the age of speed."

Happily, a number of preservationists and entrepreneurs agree that some life may yet be left in a style that once signified tomorrow.

Learn More

Deseret News, Modernism brought radical new look

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Japanese American Internment Memorial

Recently I was asked to shoot some photographs of the Japanese American Internment Memorial at San Jose's Robert Pekham Federal Building. The request came from an Alabama professor whose forthcoming research calls for her to analyze this site. She'd seen it years ago, but her travel plans would not bring her back to San Jose soon enough to take the pictures herself. I've worked in San Jose since 1998 but I'd never seen the Memorial, so I was happy to take the job. I even accepted an unofficial "honorarium" that would buy me a decent lunch after the shoot was done.

Circling the site and thinking about ideal angles I flashed on the coolness of a total stranger asking me to help in her research simply because I'm a fellow academic. I've never met her, and I couldn't pick her out of a crowd, but I'm happy to collaborate on her project. I've recently begun negotiations to sign a contract for my own new book, so I was happy to lend a hand, hoping that good karma goes both ways; one day soon I might ask a similar favor.

The bronze monument I was asked to photograph was sculpted by Ruth Asawa and unveiled in 1994 on the East Plaza of the Federal Building. Visiting the site I encountered a moderately thick slab covered on both sides with bas-relief images depicting a timeline that ranges from Japanese-West Coast immigration through barbed-wire internment to efforts to publicize the plight of people who were jailed solely due to their ancestry. One additional component that drew my attention was a reproduction of the executive order forcing American citizens of Japanese descent to leave their homes, businesses, and friends because of war-fed panic. Given that Ruth Asawa was herself forced into one of these camps, I felt a vivid sense of the history that the monument evokes, a sad story that is unknown to many Americans.

Today most of us assume that jailing more than 100,000 citizens in response to war or terrorist attack would be unthinkable. There's no way we would repeat those sins. Yet in the past five years I remember stories of Arab Americans, hell, just people wearing turbans, being threatened and harassed by officials within the government, and by thugs outside its control. To those Americans, I imagine that the difference between officials (at least some of them) and thugs has grown thin since 9/11. Walking around the Memorial I find myself thinking about the narrow divide that separates our worst impulses from our highest ideals, and I wonder how close we are to abandoning the American balance of assimilation and pluralism.

I wrote these notes while enjoying my honorarium-meal at Asqew Grill. I sat among an eclectic mix of folks whose ancestries surely represent a mini-United Nations, I marveled about how far we've come since those bad old days in which we used war as an excuse to ignore the basic humanity of all people, especially our enemies, and I thought about how far we yet have to go. Just then a business-attired fellow breezed in and asked a friend whether this restaurant was any good. He explained, "I've given up on all those places downtown where they don't even speak English." His friend smiled wanly and said something noncommittal. The inquiring fellow surveyed the long line of patrons queuing to give their orders and decided not to wait.

I disagree with his attitude, but I share some of his urgency. Deciding how our nation will protect our values while we maintain our security is a challenge that demands our most thoughtful and engaged discourse. There's a long line of problems waiting to be tackled by the next administration, the one that will inherit the current Washington mess. But that administration, all of us really, must recognize what was eloquently described by Martin Luther King as the "fierce urgency of now." We can't wait.

Note: Photos Copyright Andrew Wood

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Media Nostalgia

Recently I posted an entry on malstalgia, a longing for bad experiences. Reflecting on that note I thought I’d explore the term's relationship to another phenomenon in which "nostalgia" does not evoke a locale -- a place imbued with time and character -- but merely a stylized evocation of the past manifested in some cultural production such as a television show or book: media nostalgia. As the idealization and performance of simulacra, this kind of nostalgia may be placed among a range of desires to relive things observed but not experienced. An episode of The Simpsons provides vivid illustration, when Homer anticipates seeing his high school friends at a reunion:
Homer: It'll be great to see the old gang again. Potsie, Ralph Malph, the Fonz.
Marge: That wasn't you. That was Happy Days!
Homer: No, they weren't all happy days. Like the time Pinky Tuscadero crashed her motorcycle, or the night I lost all my money to those card sharks and my dad, Tom Bosley, had to get it back.
The episode gently mocks our tendency to recall our lives and our personal histories through the lenses of popular culture, blurring any distinction between mediation and reality. Media nostalgia, what William Gibson terms the search for "semiotic ghosts," has been used to explain the odd fetishization of old television shows or even the ironic usage of "dead media" such as the use of an old telephone bell as a mobile phone ringtone.

As such, media nostalgia shares important resemblances with the related term, kitsch. Loaded with a class-based distinction between high and low culture, kitsch is generally identified with tastelessness. To illustrate, again borrowing from a Simpsons episode, the original painting of The Last Supper represents (to some) high culture, but a "Last Supper" TV dinner tray is kitschy low culture, a cheap and artless imitation. Certainly, scholars of postmodernity have well articulated the collapse of the high/low culture dichotomy, and an industry of artists has arisen to generate an eclectic collection of kitschy productions whose acquisition and performance signify a brand of cool. And yet I cannot help but wonder if media nostalgia emerges from a still larger phenomenon in which we abandon altogether the search for any meaning in our own "real" lives.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Searching for Westfield Drive-In

This showtime calendar comes from a long defunct Route 20 New York drive-in. For a time the Westfield Drive-In was attached to a motel, though guests could not see the screen from their rooms. Today the Theater Motel survives - without the theater.

Elsewhere, the only functioning motel-drive-ins that remain are the Movie Manner Motel in Monte Vista, Colorado, and the Fairlee Motel and Drive-In Theater in Woodstock, Vermont.

Do you have any recollections of the Westfield, either as a motel or as a drive-in? Please leave a comment.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Memories of my Grandfather

This is another in an occasional series of entirely autobiographical narratives about my early years. Lately I've been writing a bit too much about road trip stuff, and I thought I'd take a detour into some personal memories. Today I'll write a bit about growing up with my grandfather.

Preston Frazier wore a crewcut and carried a metal lunch pail to work. I didn't know him all that well, even though my Mom and I lived with him and my grandmother Charlene for a few years. Granddaddy didn't have a lot of patience for a loud kid running around the house, and I don't ever recall him laughing. But sometimes he'd tell stories. My grandfather was a World War II veteran, and occasionally he would share his experiences as a radioman on the Enterprise. He'd served in the Battle of Midway and in Korea. But mostly I remember weekends in which he'd sit in his easy chair and watch television pretty much all day and evening.

On Saturday afternoons Granddaddy watched ABC's Wide World of Sports, Hee Haw, and The Lawrence Welk Show (I'd go to bed hearing that jaunty tune, "Good night, sleep tight, until we meet again..."). On Sundays after the ball games he'd watch re-runs of Mutual of Ohama's Wild Kingdom, so I did too. My grandfather had married a strong and salty woman, and my mom and I had no problem making our presence known, but that house on San Helen Drive indisputably belonged to Preston Allen Frazier. We watched what he watched.

On weekdays, my grandfather would leave the house before sunrise and drive to the Sperry Rand plant, a place he labeled "the salt mines." His expertise was electronics, but I have no idea what he did there. In the evening he'd return home, sit in his chair, and order up a highball. Both he and Charlene drank regularly, and the house was often tense. Granddaddy in particular could be a scary drunk. But on occasion he could also be a pretty cool guy. I remember sitting with him in our back porch and repeating "Roger" and "Wilco" back to each other, pretending we were sailors in the Pacific theater. I remember that he'd make room for me in his easy chair so we could both pet the family poodle, Gigi. And I remember that Granddaddy was so grief-stricken when the paper carrier ran Gigi over with his car that he cancelled our subscription and announced he'd never buy a local newspaper again.

Granddaddy's garage held boating gear and a swell worktable covered with complicated gear, but I don't remember seeing any of that stuff used. For the most part, the Frazier family stuck to indoor pursuits. When my mom and I lived there in that ranch house in Dunedin, Florida, the adults would often play Bridge in the dining room. I'd listen to their mystical incantations about trumps and tricks and wonder what the heck they were talking about. More often the family would sit in the living room under paintings created by Charlene and talk. And I'd find a place on the L-shaped couch covered with thin blue cushions and try to participate.

Recalling those conversations, it seems that Granddaddy was opinionated about almost everything, announcing that the various screw-ups of the world needed to "straighten up and fly right." When people got their justly deserved comeuppance, he'd explain, "That's the way the cookie crumbles." And when the conversations turned to hot items like Vietnam or busing -- well, remember that we were living in the deep south. My mom told me about some of his right-wing political views and how she and he used to debate the civil rights issues of the day from sharply opposing sides, but I didn't follow those arguments too closely. I simply remember hours of conversation sprinkled with the phrase "this, that, and the other thing" serving almost as a comma.

Preston Frazier argued a lot, drank a lot, and died too early. He succumbed to a heart attack in 1976 at 61. My Aunt Linda tells me that Granddaddy died one day before he was set to retire. He'd done his time but had no opportunity to enjoy life after work, which seemed pretty unfair to me. His was the first funeral I ever attended, but I don't remember what people said about him. Instead I remember growing up in a town where high school kids practiced playing bagpipes in the afternoon because my grandfather moved his Frazier family to a Scottish-founded community. I developed a taste for broiled steaks because that meal was a special treat in his house. I still hum the Mutual of Omaha jingle on weekends because he watched that show every Sunday. And when I'd pissed away my chances for college after high school, I looked to the memory of Preston Frazier for inspiration, and I joined the Navy. I never heard him laugh, but I always hoped my choice might have made him smile.

L to R: Preston Allen Frazier,
Sandra Finch (née Frazier),
and Charlene Frazier (née Faught)
Burial Site

According to Rootsweb, Preston Frazier is buried in a West Virginia Family plot: "Located on the property of Norma Frazier Johnson off to the right of Teays Valley Road, State Route 33, and between Beechwood Estates and Mooreland Place. This is on a knoll surrounded by pasture land."

Learn More

Florida Ranch: a small page dedicated to the domestic architecture of my youth

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Searching for Houston Motels

It's not too long now before we embark upon our Southern Roots BBQ Tour, and I'm anticipating a few hours photographing the motels on Houston's Old Spanish Trail. I'm betting that many of the old properties once gloriously portrayed in garish color on crisp linen postcards have now fallen into disrepair, if they have not yet been demolished. I hope to photograph a few relics that have survived -- and perhaps celebrate the efforts of those few that may have been preserved in some semblance of their early- to mid-century charm.

If you have any suggestions (or warnings) please leave a comment.

Learn More

Highway Host: Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts: Houston page

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Wildwood Motels

(Starlux Boutique Hotel Photo by Jenny Wood)

Anne McDonough writes in The Washington Post about the efforts by preservation groups to save the New Jersey Wildwoods' googie motels.
They're just a few of the styles known as doo-wop, the '50s and '60s throwback look that was once all the rage in the Wildwoods of New Jersey. But because of changing aesthetics and demand for shorefront condos, more than 100 of the old-time motels have met the wrecking ball in the past few years, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
She correctly uses the term "doo-wop," which is what local boosters call that 50s and 60s-era convergence of sharp angles, amoeboid shapes, glowing neon, and space-age iconography, but I just can't take the term seriously.

It reminds me of those cheesy Time-Life music informercials where they dig up some ancient pop fossil, stick him in a nouveau-neon "diner," and use him to sell overpriced CD collections ("original songs by the original artists!"). That kind of "doo-wop" pitch -- malt shops, poodle skirts, and '57 Chevys -- aims for a much different demographic than folks like me who just love the architecture. But regardless of what you call it, mid-century Wildwood is a treasure worth saving.

On our most recent visit, we stayed at the Starlux Boutique Hotel, which offers lava lamps and a reading room filled with books on googie, doo-wop, and populux design. We found that it's best to get reservations early; rooms fill up fast. And don't be surprised that the price for lodging in this oceanfront town can get a little steep. But the vibe is fun and the staff is friendly. We'll be back soon.

Learn More

  • Motel Americana: New Jersey motels

  • Wildwood Doo Wop: an "online catalog of hundreds of motels and other "Doo Wop Spots" around The Wildwoods"

  • Woodland Shoppers Paradise: Modernaire Motel
  • Friday, June 22, 2007

    The Pennsylvania Turnpike

    Known as America's first super-highway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike realized what was promised at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair, where General Motors depicted the fabulous world of 1960. In GM's "Futurama" exhibit, a major topic in my Rhetoric and Public Life course, fair-goers were promised a world of limited-access interstates that would crisscross the continent, bypassing congested cities and bringing progress to the nation. In 1940 that dream was fixed in a concrete toll road: a (mostly) four-lane highway stretching 160 miles from Middlesex (west of Harrisburg) to Irwin (east of Pittsburgh). In terms of size and ambition, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was the first of its kind in the United States.

    No longer would motorists meander around curvy hills with limited sight-distances. The Pennsylvania Turnpike promised broad roads, limited curves, and level grades. As a result, motorists could zip along straightaways at 100 miles per hour, if their tires could handle that speed. Phil Patton writes in Highway: America's Endless Dream that the Turnpike was built to accommodate automobiles that had not yet been built. As a result, this road became a symbol of tomorrow.

    Designed in the waning days of the Depression, the Turnpike was primarily a make-work program, transforming old railroad grades and tunnels into the new super-highway project. One early Turnpike postcard reports that 51,345 "man years of direct and indirect employment" were dedicated to the road's construction. The Second World War halted extensions of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but the idea had been fixed in the American consciousness. And after the war, the U.S. saw an explosion of roadbuilding that culminated with the post-1956 interstate highway system and the subsequent rise of omnitopia. Roads like the Pennsylvania Turnpike transformed the United States -- for good and for ill -- into so much of what it is today.

    Learn More: Pennsylvania Highways Turnpike history page

    Thursday, June 21, 2007

    St. Francis Hotel Courts - Before and After

    The St. Francis Hotel Courts were an Alabama-based offshoot of the Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts, a southern motel chain often cited as an inspiration for more ambitious brands such as Holiday Inn. The authors of The Motel in America explain that W.G. "Mac" McGrady refurbished the Mobile property in 1968, abandoning the ersatz Spanish mission look for something more "contemporary." The property has since been demolished.

    Learn More:

    Highway Host: Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts: Mobile page

    Jackle, J.A., Sculle, K.A., & Rogers, J.S. (1996). The motel in America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007


    In an article entitled Berlin hotel recreates East Germany, Associated Press writer Jacob Comenetz describes an attempt to sell memories of Communist-era East Germany for tourist consumption:
    The four clocks behind the reception desk of Berlin's new budget hotel Ostel show the hour in Moscow, Berlin, Havana, and Beijing. Time, however, appears to have stopped here sometime before 1989, when communism was still entrenched in all four capitals.
    Rather than a nostalgic “homesickness” for better times, Ostel offers an example of what I'd call “malstalgia,” a longing for bad experiences. Malstalgia may be ironic and commodified (Grindhouse and its potential sequel Machete come to mind), but it can also be genuine.

    I know the term malstalgia is etymologically redundant (it means, roughly, bad-sickness). But I like the notion anyway. And I'm not alone. Aryn Baker describes a similar phenomenon in a Time Magazine piece entitled Cashing in on Mao-stalgia. In these cases we celebrate the "bad old days" in a manner that is somehow therapeutic. I am reminded of Susan Sontag's description of Camp sensibility: "it's good because it's awful."

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    Favorite Places - Part 10 - South Beach

    Every couple of years when we return to our home state of Florida, Jenny and I enjoy a mini-Honeymoon at Miami's South Beach. Even though I could be sitting by the ocean within a half-hour here in California, Miami's blue water maintains a special hold on my imagination, so much that I often take a mental vacation to the Florida coast whenever I'm in traffic or anywhere else I'd rather not be. It started in 1993 when I attended a conference of the (then-named) Speech Communication Association in Miami and took a bus tour of South Beach neon. Besmitten, I took my family on a 2001 architectural pilgrimage to visit the Miami art deco historical district, a one-square-mile collection of hotels and other sites built between the 1930s and the 1950s. On that trip we discovered a gorgeous array of tropical-colored "moderne" designs: nautical-themed details, streamlined "speed lines," raygun emplacements, fields of glass block, and plenty of neon. Jenny and Vienna thought it was pretty cool, but I was blown away. So ever since that first trip, Jenny and I have made regular overnight visits to South Beach part of our family tradition.

    (Photo by Andrew Wood)

    When it comes to my favorite places, I tend to build and follow certain vacation habits. So here's my ideal trip to South Beach: Since our Florida trips tend to be based in Largo (where our extended family resides), we begin our Miami vacation early in the morning, leaving Florida's west coast no later than five to arrive in Miami by noon. Jenny detests early mornings, so she sleeps a few hours while I cross the Sunshine Bridge and head south toward Alligator Alley. Passing through Florida's swampy interior I keep an eagle eye for highway patrol cars waiting to pick off speeders. Jenny wakes up at this point and we chat for a couple of hours before entering the Miami metroplex. We rarely consult a map anymore, and consequently we often get a bit lost trying to find the right bridge that leads to the barrier island beaches. Once we spot the proper road I turn on my Miami playlist and we cross Biscayne Bay. Essential tunes include Donald Fagen's "The Goodbye Look" and "Walk Between the Raindrops."
    In my dreams I can hear the sound of thunder
    I can see the causeway by the big hotels
    That happy day we'll find each other on that Florida shore
    You'll open your umbrella
    And we walk between the raindrops back to your door

    (Photo by Jenny Wood)

    One of us checks into our hotel -- usually a smaller place on Collins Avenue -- while the other parks the car in a public lot. After freshening up in our room we walk to one of the outdoor cafés on Ocean Drive near the Breakwater Hotel. I always order a Bloody Mary and buy a cigar, much to Jenny's chagrin. We drop by the Miami Design Preservation League welcome center, stroll through their museum in back, grab some gelato at a nearby shop, and then amble to the beach. Even on a crowded day we can always find a nice spot to rent an umbrella and some deck chairs. Jenny puts on her sunglasses and relaxes while I jump into the water. I love splashing under a clear blue sky filled with advertising banners dragged from low flying airplanes and the occasional para-glider. After a while I turn around to face the beach, watching shadows slowly cover the big hotels as the sun heads west.

    (Photo by Andrew Wood)

    Eventually I return to the shore, surprised at how far the currents pulled me from our chairs. I walk by a happy and relaxed crowd of beach-goers, some women sunbathing topless, some men wearing Speedos. I sit near Jenny, draping my feet with a towel and listening to tunes on my iPod. We chat about the weather, gawk at South Beach fashions, read diverting books, and nap for the rest of the afternoon. By about five or so we pack up and return to the room, change our clothes, and walk the length of Lincoln Avenue in search of a good dinner vibe. It's hard to find a bad meal along that lovely promenade, so we simply hunt for that certain combination of ambiance and selection that speaks to us on that trip. Jenny loves pulled pork and plantains, so we usually aim for cuban food. For dessert we usually splurge for sundaes at Ghirardelli's. Sometime that evening I'll take out the cigar I failed to finish from the afternoon and puff a bit more, but only while walking outdoors. While the kids are just starting to hit the clubs we take one last walk along Ocean Drive, enjoying the sublime glow of neon on the deco hotels before heading to our room for the night.

    (Photo by Andrew Wood)

    The next morning we sleep in, waking when our appetites command us. We store our bags and head out of the room one last time on our way to the Delano Hotel for brunch. I love passing through the flowing white curtains and entering the long dark concourse that leads to the outdoor restaurant in back. Uniformed workers open doors for us and smile even though we all know that the Wood family can't yet afford to stay in a place like this. We take our seats in the restaurant and enjoy consistently pleasant service. A few years ago I asked our waiter to bring me a different kind of rum drink than my standard Mai-Tai, something cuban. He introduced me to a Mojito long before I'd ever seen them advertised relentlessly on television, and he said the first one was free. I ordered two or three and thanked him for his advice. That really is a great Miami drink. One day we'll ignore budgetary reality and stay a night at the Delano, proving that there's no such thing as a free Mojito after all.

    (Photo of Andy dancing on stage at Mai Kai taken by Jenny Wood)

    Afternoon is usually spent back on the beach, wishing we'd worn more sunscreen and recognizing that warming glow as the promise of two or three days of peeling skin. By early evening we depart our beloved South Beach and head for Fort Lauderdale. To me, it's hard to beat a night at the Mai Kai, one of the last great Polynesian-themed restaurants in the country. The evening becomes pricey pretty fast when you include parking, "island libations," and an elaborate stage show. Even when we skip the show we always allow time for a walk through their garden under the shadow of tiki idols and glowing torches. After our meal, we make a quick visit to the gift shop and depart. If it's late we take the interstate back, otherwise we take the slow road around Lake Okeechobee. We usually arrive sometime well after midnight, exhausted and a bit "bronzed." And even as I collapse into bed, I yearn of our next visit to South Beach.

    (Photo by Andrew Wood)

    Learn More

  • South Bay Deco: a website I built to celebrate art deco architecture. To learn more about the style, start with my Deco Dictionary.

  • In Cold Blood, and a neighborhood near you: Matt Heller's blog entry that describes the current status of the Somerset Hotel (postcard at the top of this entry), now the Ocean Walk Condominium.
  • Monday, June 18, 2007

    Why Do You Do That? Update

    A trickle of new Why Do You Do That? replies is coming in. So far, the question earning the most responses is Why do you procrastinate?

    Two of the answers include:
    I procrastinate because it feels so good to do anything other than what I know needs to be done. This might be dodging the question but sometimes I actually appreciate when I get headaches so I can't say that I am procrastinating but that I just don't feel well. Oh, I like to wait till the very last minute because then, I feel like I will work well under pressure but really, I don't. Oh my goodness, procrastination is just lovely! To just sit there and do a whole lot of nothing feels so wonderful and this is why I procrastinate. :)
    The only thing I procrastinate is writing.

    I'm a writer, so this is kind of a problem, duh... but ever since I can remember my brain has been trained to go into this mode where things marinate and process until The Last Minute, when I scribble it all down. If i sit down before The Last Minute, nothing but garbage--half baked ideas and poorly-worded thoughts--comes to me. I can sit there all day and the magic won't happen. This used to frustrate me and scared my editors (Where is it? Why can't we see it yet?). But finally I just came to terms with it and now at least I don't stress. I just know that the night before an article is due, or the month before a book is due, are going to be marathons for me... just like in college, sigh.
    Also, students from a Tennessee course in interpersonal communication have emailed me three questions to add:

  • Why don't you use your turn signal?

  • Why do you wear clothes that don't fit?

  • Why do you curse?

  • Learn more about the origin and development of this project - and add your comments.

    Sunday, June 17, 2007

    Great Speeches - Gettysburg Address

    For father's day, my daughter presented a memorized recitation of one of my favorite speeches, the Dragnet What is a cop? speech from the episode, "The Interrogation." You may laugh, but I've always gotten a kick out of that oration. And I loved hearing my daughter recreate that staccato rhythm that made Jack Webb famous.

    Of course, memorizing things is a family tradition. A few years ago, Jenny, Vienna, and I memorized the state capitals during one of our road trips. On our 2001 President Trek we tackled the names of all the presidents in order, sung to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. Last year, visiting Washington D.C. during our 2006 summer road trip, we committed the Gettysburg Address to memory. I've forgotten some of the previous things we memorized, but that speech stuck with me.

    Every once in a while, I'll run through the Gettysburg Address and think about its words. Jenny tells me that she sometime uses the Address to lull herself to sleep at night. Vienna probably never practices, but she can race through the speech with little or no error even a year later - her memory is that good. But I have found the Gettysburg Address to be a solemn and meaningful kind of civic prayer that I utter to myself now and again. The Address demonstrates the power of visionary statesmanship.

    Recently I came across a reading of the Address by Sam Waterston and I found myself understanding the meaning of some words and passages with even more precision. Waterston's use of emphasis, pause, and intonation shows real insight. His pacing is slow, much too slow for a contemporary stage. But one gathers clearly from his oration a sense of where the Address was delivered and why.

    Prior to listening to Waterston's reading, I used to emphasize the we in Lincoln's reminder: "We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate..." For the life of me, I can't say why I missed the better choice to focus on the rhyming nature of those two phrases: "We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate..." Also when Lincoln declared, "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us," I chose to emphasize the words us and great task, but I missed the chance to punch the word before. Listening to Waterston's rendition, that third moment of emphasis adds a sense of presence, a recognition that long and bloody days lay ahead.

    Similarly, Waterston's respectful and dirge-like recitation of the phrase honored dead and the word here in the phrase "that we here highly resolve" remind the contemporary listener of a vast field of fallen soldiers, lives that would be obscured by a faster reading. Finally, I appreciate Waterston's emphasis of the word people at the conclusion of the Address. Arty speakers might punch of, by, and for, but doing so merely celebrates a clever turn of phrase and misses the underlying meaning of that coda. Consider the difference: "and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

    I hope I can be forgiven for comparing such eloquent oration to what passes for political discourse in today's troubling times, and finding far too many of our television-age politicians to be dreadfully lacking in their ability to produce such stirring sentiment. Modern public speakers who come from the spiritual tradition, those who practice the art of repetition and respect the value of rhythm, impress me the most. But far too frequently, even their words are distilled into commercial soundbites and empty talking-points.

    Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was only a few minutes long. But he had already demonstrated his ability to face the great orators of his day in much more elaborate venues. As you'll recall, Abraham Lincoln battled Stephen Douglas for hours at a time during their famed 1858 debates in which both speakers demonstrated erudition and élan that is sadly lacking today. I often wonder if a return to public financed campaigns and a change in the nature of our presidential debates might inspire a rebirth of the kind of powerful oratory so clearly demonstrated by our sixteenth president.

    At least here at home I can enjoy Vienna's oratorical skills and wonder if she might have a future in presidential politics. On father's day, her seventeenth, I can't help but wonder what my daughter will accomplish next.

    Learn More

  • NPR, Sam Waterston's reading of the Gettysburg Address
  • Saturday, June 16, 2007

    Searching for Webb's City

    I grew up hearing about Webb's City in St. Petersburg, but I never had a chance to visit that famed shopper's paradise. The so-called "World's Most Unusual Drug Store" had already closed in 1979. But during its heyday, Webb's City was renowned (and attacked) for its "stack it high and sell it cheap" philosophy and its fearlessly tacky gimmicks that included dancing chickens, mermaids, and dollar bill-sales (95 cents per buck). Webb's City was a southern tradition.

    Launched as a cut-rate drug store in 1925, Webb's City grew fast during the Depression thanks to "Doc" Webb's willingness to do anything to attract customers. He was particularly beloved for his two-cent breakfasts in those early days, when anyone who could scrounge up some pennies got an egg, a bacon strip, and a side of buttered toast, along with a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. Thus fortified, anyone could go shopping at Webb's.

    Webb fashioned himself as a man of the little people, selling goods below prices set by their producers and fighting lawsuits that challenged his cut-rate tactics. In St. Petersburg and the Florida Dream: 1888-1950, Raymond Arsenault quotes Webb's philosophy, "I don't care a damn about money . . . I wanted customers."

    At its zenith, Webb's City included 77 stores covering seven city blocks, selling groceries, hardware, surgical supplies, electronics, clothes and, of course, drugs. Webb's City offered a combination of history, hucksterism, and value that can only now be experienced, I suppose, in South Dakota's Wall Drug. I'd love to learn more about Webb's City, so if you ever visited "Doc" Webb's beloved xanadu of values, please leave a comment.

    Learn More

  • Crazed Fanboy, A profile of J.E. "Doc" Webb - - Florida Folk Hero and Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

  • St. Petersburg Times, Follow the dancing chicken
  • Friday, June 15, 2007


    I hear that Robert Rodriguez is planning to release a sequel of sorts to Grindhouse based on one of that movie’s faux shorts: Machete. Given the box office failure of Grindhouse I admire Rodriguez's moxie for attempting a follow-up. And I hope he pulls it off, because I loved that movie. Grindhouse delivered that illicit film experience I heard about when I were a kid, the really bad films that my mom would never let me see. She was pretty cool about movies, too. She took me to see Saturday Night Fever, even though she had to explain what a condom was afterward. We saw Animal House, All That Jazz, and various other films that were a bit advanced for my preteen years. But some movies were off limits. When I was a teenager in the eighties that meant sneaking into "hard R" films like Maniac or The Beast Within. But even then, I recognized limits that could not be easily trespassed.

    The most hardcore films, the ones that went all the way, resided somewhere beyond the suburban confines of the multiplex. They were too far out, the subject of myth and legend, cheap and cheesy movies like Faces of Death. These were the "exploitation" flicks that floated on the periphery of the legitimate film industry, as they have since its inception. From the turn of the last century, exploitation films have trespassed against the norms of polite society with genres like "hygiene" films that sometimes included footage of live births (e.g., Mom and Dad), drug "warning" films whose supposedly principled lessons justified scenes of depravity (e.g., Reefer Madness), and documentary films that titillated far more than they educated (e.g., Mondo Cane). Comparable to circus sideshows, exploitation films promised scenes that would shock, appall, and amuse: a vacation from the mundane, entertainment on the outskirts of morality.

    During the late sixties and seventies, "grindhouses" showed exploitation flicks in decrepit inner city theaters, "grinding out" awful films all day and into the early morning hours. In his book Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History of exploitation films, 1919-1959, Eric Schaefer describes the grindhouse as more than a place, but rather as a heterotopian liminoid between authorized and seemingly unauthorized pleasures, a site for "films that existed on the border between Hollywood product and the underground world of the pornographic stag reel . . . it was a place in between" (p. 322). With their sticky floors and rancid selections, their reputations as being places where you don’t ask for butter on your popcorn, grindhouses inspired future film directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez who gulped double- or even triple-courses of low-budget movies in varied flavors of sleaze: hicksploitation, sexploitation, and blacksploitation, not to mention creepy hybrids such as Women in Prison film meets Nazi Fetish film (Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS) and the even odder Nazi Fetish film meets blacksploitation film (The Black Gestapo). These movies existed solely to shock (and make a few bucks).

    Whether shown on skid-row screens or packaged for rural drive-in theaters, grindhouse prints shuttled from site to site, getting increasingly degraded along the way. Every scratched and missing frame signified bad cinema: low quality, low budget, and low culture -- not "deliciously," or "ironically," or "cleverly." It was just bad stuff. Of course, in the same manner that disposable pop culture often becomes appropriated a generation after its passing from practical use, many of these films are now cataloged and debated by aficionados, their poster art is displayed in pricy books and museum exhibits, and their contributions to cinema history discussed by serious minded experts. That's why a studio was willing to pony up $60 million (some say much more) to recreate the "grindhouse experience," complete with slipping sprockets, burnt out projectors, and missing frames (entire scenes, actually) that joyfully mangled the film's narrative beyond comprehensibility. And Jenny and I showed up at the Skyview Drive-in to see Grindhouse on its first night of release. That night, the projectionist announced over the speaker system that the film's visual and auditory imperfections were intentional; we should not complain to management about missing scenes. Happily, no one seemed to mind. But the place wasn't exactly packed either.

    So now Robert Rodriguez may direct Machete, box office be damned. I say, good for him. Based on the trailer, the story will follow the adventures of a day laborer hired to commit a murder and then take the rap, who then turns on his bosses and forms an army of the dispossessed to raise hell. Ideally Rodriguez will not just make a fake low-budget film, he'll actually limit himself to a "Grindhouse" budget (accounting for inflation, of course). Exploding squibs instead of CGI effects, no-name actors rather than Hollywood A-listers, that sort of thing. And I hope Machete isn't aborted as a straight-to-DVD toss-off; I hope that it screens in all its tacky glory at ancient second-run theaters or maybe even abandoned drive-ins reopened for a few weeks in the summer. I'd enjoy that kind of Machete for the same reason that I love visiting architectural relics like abandoned motels and defunct gas stations. I love "grindhouse movies" because they contain time capsules of yesterday’s fashions, styles, and attitudes that don’t belong in the present. In these 'scapes (begin with "e" if you wish) we see the past that hasn't been cleaned up, polished for new consumption, and transformed into merely more of the perpetual present. There, amidst the rubble, we run the risk of being surprised by something genuinely new. That's why I’m looking forward to Machete, if Rodriguez can pull it off. Even if this flick is another glorious failure, I'll be first in line to ride it all the way down.

    Follow-up: Here's my review of Machete (the movie).

    Learn More

  • Seattle Times, Q&A: The guru of Grindhouse

  • Visit IMDB's post on Grindhouse

  • Visit IMDB's post on Machete
  • Thursday, June 14, 2007

    Route 66 Motels on Endangered List

    (Photo by Jenny Wood)

    The National Trust for Historic Preservation has added Route 66 Motels to their 2007 list of America's 11 most endangered places. Here's a quote: "Affectionately called “The Mother Road,” Route 66 is known for quirky roadside attractions and unique mom-and-pop motels, constructed between the late 1920s and late 1950s and often clad in neon. In recent years, Route 66 motels in hot real-estate markets have been torn down at record rates, while in cold real estate markets, motels languish and are being reclaimed by the forces of nature."

    Here's a list of my blog-posts on Route 66.

    (John's Modern Cabins photo by Andrew Wood)

    Learn More

  • National Trust for Historic Preservation

  • John's Modern Cabin News

  • June 14, 2007: USA Today, Route 66 motels stamped historic

  • June 15, 2007: Victorville Daily Press, Route 66 motel to be restored

  • June 18, 2007: Carthage Press, Route 66 icons listed endangered - focuses on Boots Motel
  • Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Favorite Places - Part 9 - St. Petersburg, Florida

    St. Petersburg desperately wants to be young and hip, but I prefer its older self. My mom and I lived in the city for a while before moving to Dunedin and ending up in Countryside. As a kid, St. Petersburg ("St. Pete" to locals) was home to Haslam's Bookstore, introduced by my mother as a wonderful place to play, and Aunt Hattie's, which allowed kids to pick a toy out of a chest (if they cleaned their plates). Even then St. Pete was also covered with the thick patina of older memories and places: sprawling waterside mansions and stuccoed hotels, bustling downtown restaurants filled with shoppers and strollers, and a strict racial geography that distilled the world below Central Avenue into "South St. Pete." Even as a kid, I understood the euphemism. Most of all I remember St. Pete as the land of old people.

    St. Pete was once called the City of Green Benches, a reference to its multitudes of seemingly eternal resting places for its many senior residents. Talk to anyone who lived in the Sunshine City before the 1970s and they'll reminisce about those rows upon rows of benches, often shaded by trees and always filled with elderly pensioners or vacationers seeking to perform the laid back Florida lifestyle. A 1959 Time Magazine article entitled The Old Subscribers recalls how the local paper increased its obituary space from two columns to five every fall when the oldsters would fill the green benches from morning to late afternoon, chatting, relaxing, and scanning the paper intently for errors. The benches are gone now, thanks to misguided efforts to rebrand the city.

    St. Pete was also once the shuffleboard capital of the world. Again, you can thank the old-timers for that. Folks recalling long-ago sea voyages yearned for lazy afternoons on the shuffleboard court where they played an approximation of the ocean liner game. In shuffleboard, you gently push a heavy puck along a narrow alley toward a triangular target area, earning points for the accuracy of your aim. It's kind of like a dart game, but with almost no velocity. I remember even the tiny mom and pop motels of that era boasting their own shuffleboard courts. Again though, shuffleboard was always associated with St. Pete's elderly population, so today's chamber-of-commerce-types generally shove that element of the city's sporting tradition off the edges of their pamphlets.

    Finally, St. Pete was home to the famed "Million Dollar Pier," a fishing promenade extending 1,400 feet (boosters claimed one-half mile) into the bay, culminating with a Spanish-style recreation center. Opened in 1926, the Pier featured an open-air ballroom (later enclosed), a casino, and even studios for WSUN. The pier also included parking spots for 1,000 cars. Previously, St. Pete piers were privately owned affairs built by railroad magnates and local business leaders, but they suffered the wrath of various hurricanes that blew into the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. Even the first Municipal Pier was wiped out by a 1921 hurricane. But the Million Dollar Pier lasted for generations until its demolition in 1967. Today tourists and locals flock to a new gathering place simply called "The Pier," an inverted pyramid that offers a nice collection of shops, museums, and restaurants. The structure is cool in a sort of EPCOT Center way, but most folks of a certain age wish the city would have simply renovated the old pier. 

    These days I live in California, but I still consider myself a Floridian. So once every few years I return to the pier, amble through the nearby Salvador Dali Museum, poke through downtown antique shops, and visit the old apartment complex by the bay where my mom and I once lived. All the while, St. Pete continues to struggle like so much of Florida with shifts in population and property values. Some say that the Sunshine City's best days are long gone. But I have hope that folks will continue to search out places where time runs slower than usual. Who knows? The city may one day bring back those green benches.

    Have any St. Pete memories? Please post a comment.

    Also, look for my future post on one of St. Pete's most famous attractions: Webb City.

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007


    I don’t know what else to call them, those advertisements that grab my attention solely because of their nonsensical natures. They plop onto my web browser (or television), ooze into my consciousness, and stink up my day with their annoying non-sequitur imagery. I’m pretty sure you’ve sat through one or two non-sequiturds today. Even so, let me offer one all-too-vivid illustration.

    The most annoying manifestation of the non-sequiturd phenomenon must be that awful “Lower My Bills” ad that appears on otherwise reputable websites. The ad-box contains supposed “video footage” of a woman dancing in an office, badly. She seems to have no idea that her awkward gyrations are being taped until - in shock - she spots the camera. The image freezes on a close-up of her face caught in a horrified grimace. For some reason this ad sells mortages.

    From this example, non-sequiturds may be defined as crappy ads that draw attention through their depictions of random imagery. Typically non-sequiturds integrate a sense of sexual titillation into their appeals, often in mildly disturbing ways. Another dimension of these ads: they would fool only the dimmest viewers. Thus one watches the ad thinking at a meta-level, “This ad is pointless, and it really sucks!” As such, non-sequiturds cut through the clutter of an exploding mediascape, inspiring critique by otherwise inattentive viewers. And garnering attention is the first step to garnering a sale.

    I am told of the relative ease with which one may configure a web browser to avoid accepting ads from certain domains, supposedly banishing non-sequiturds to the land of wind and ghosts. But I fear that one death-click would simply seed the flowers of more egregious ads, resulting in an internet version of whack-a-mole. On principle (and just a bit of laziness), I won’t attempt a tech-fix.

    I’d rather mock non-sequiturds when I see them, rebuking them with merciless laughter even though my response is meaningless. No matter how valiantly I rebuke these things, someone will click through. Someone will take the bait. Someone will smile at the random image of a dancing office worker and stare at her horrified freeze-frame and say, “Yes, Yes! I will take a second mortgage!” I shudder to imagine that this person will also drive a car and may even vote.

    So I am stuck with a weary smile and bemused acceptance of things I can scarcely control: “Ah, joy. Another non-sequiturd.”

    Incidentally I claim no origination of the word “non-sequiturd.” A google search reveals some other appearances of the term (though some may merely be misspellings). Either way, I will joyfully weave “non-sequiturd” into my occasional media critiques, gaining small pleasure in the rhetorical spit that drips from the name. Ah…Non-sequiturds: I feel better already.

    Learn More

  • Lower My Bills Watch

    Want to vent about a non-sequiturd you’ve seen? Leave a comment.
  • Monday, June 11, 2007

    Searching for Grison's

    While flipping through my postcard collection I spotted this gem: a wooden postcard mailed in 1939 for Grison's Steak & Chop House, a San Francisco landmark long gone. On the back of the card, Walter Winchell (just "Winchell," actually) is quoted about the need to keep customers happy: "One dissatisfied customer can do your restaurant more harm than the praises of a thousand others can undo. So, if a man has a tough steak, don't give him a sharp knife, give him another steak." Apparently Grison's followed his advice.

    Old-timers report that Grison's was one of the greats, weaving itself into the city's mythic architecture. Writing about his beloved "Baghdad-by-the-Bay," Herb Caen mentioned the place in a 1949 San Francisco Chronicle column: " Grison's, a beautiful married blonde is having a cozy dinner with a handsome bachelor attorney (and that's not news because her husband just happens to be out of town and they're only good friends anyway)." Sounds like the kind of joint you'd find some film-noir or between the pages of a detective novel, classy, but with some intrigue.

    The prices shown on this postcard certainly take you back: a whole broiled California baby lobster for a buck, a New York sirloin steak for a quarter more. Then there were the odd items you don't often see on menus today: celery hearts, mushrooms on toast, Roquefort Cheese for dessert, and something called "English Mutton Chop Kidney." Can you imagine taking a time machine visit to San Francisco in 1939? Hit the Golden Gate International Exposition by day and grab a steak and a highball at night for under ten bucks, with money left over for a decent tip... That would be a fun day.

    More than twenty years ago a steakhouse called Harris' took over Grison's 2100 Van Ness Avenue location. One day Jenny and I might drop by Harris' for a thick slab of beef (and one three-olive dry martini for me), and we'll see if we can still experience that bygone chop house vibe. In the meantime, I'd love to learn more about Grison's. If you have any memories or photos to share, please leave a note in the comment section.

    Learn More

  • San Francisco Chronicle: Herb Caen's Present indicative
  • Sunday, June 10, 2007

    Route 66 News

    (Photo by Andrew Wood)

    Lisa Chamberlain has written an article about efforts to cash in on nostalgia for Route 66. Her piece includes efforts by Albert Okura to revive Amboy, California; the status of endangered motels in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and the mission of the Society for Commercial Archeology. Along the way she notes some motels that have endured the coming of the interstate, including the Blue Swallow in Tucumcari, Wigwam Villages in Arizona and California, and the Munger Moss in Lebanon, Missouri (above).

  • New York Times, New Kicks on Route 66 for Commercial Builders

    Kevin Sheedy has uploaded photos from his recent drive through Oklahoma and much of the Texas panhandle. Check out his Gallery.

  • Wichita Eagle, Time travel on historic Route 66

    Learn More

  • Society for Commercial Archeology
  • Saturday, June 9, 2007


    As part of my occasional series of entries about favorite seventies-era Saturday morning kids' shows (starting with Thundarr the Barbarian) I've decided to write a bit about Shazam!, a live action Filmation series that ran from 1974-1976. The television show shared almost no similarity to the comic book, but I didn't care; it had cool music and awesome effects. Shazam! followed the adventures of Billy Batson and some old dude named Mentor (that's right: "Mentor") as they traveled "the highways and byways of the land on a never-ending mission: to right wrongs, to develop understanding, and to seek justice for all." Actually, as I recall, Shazam! generally focused its attention on other kids getting into trouble: joyriding, falling into mine shafts, disobeying their parents, that sort of thing. The dialogue was pretty awful.
    Technician: "This is a restricted area. They're testing missiles today."
    Boy: "You mean the kind that explode?"
    Technician: "That's right."
    But the threats seemed real enough to me. Fortunately, Billy and Mentor would drive by in their Winnebago and lend a hand. Inevitably things would get rough and Billy would be compelled to evoke that magic word: "Shazam!"

    Suddenly lightening would strike the teenager, and Billy would receive the awesome powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury -- and become Captain Marvel. And I was struck too. Billy's transformation, the swelling music and those special effects, was the point of the whole show. I remember waiting impatiently for Billy to accept the inevitable and call for the powers of the world's mightiest mortal. That's when Captain Marvel would take over, flying around, smashing through walls, and chasing off mountain lions that threatened the neighborhood children. Afterward, Captain Marvel would chat with the kids, sharing some moral lesson about pride or prejudice or something similarly heavy. Then Billy and Mentor would board their RV and hit the highway in search of new adventures. Thereafter, I'd usually go outside after a long morning of cartoons and live action shows (skipping Isis) and run around the apartment complex with a jacket tied around my neck, pretending to be Captain Marvel.

    Looking back, I can vaguely remember that the "Big Red Cheese" was played by two guys, Jackson Bostwick and John Davey. The former looked the part and seemed like a pretty cool dude. That latter was a bit chunky and never seemed too happy in the role. These days Bostwick is fairly busy on the convention scene and trying to publish a book called Myth, Magic and a Mortal, promising tantalizing details about his early departure from the show. John Davey worked in television through the seventies and eighties, but I have no idea of his whereabouts now. I think it'd be cool to have a low budget Shazam! comeback featuring both actors in a sort of Jekyll and Hyde struggle for the soul of Captain Marvel, maybe even with competing "morals to the story," but that nerd-dream will never come to pass.

    See the Shazam! intro - Sorry, it can't be embedded.

    Learn More: Epguides Shazam! episode guide

    Friday, June 8, 2007

    Favorite Places - Part 8 - Blue Swallow Motel

    I'm certain one can stay at other perfectly nice motels in Tucumcari. The famed New Mexico town of 2,000 motel rooms (now advertised at 1,200) boasts a twinkling, glowing collection of neon motel masterpieces, such as the Americana, the Buckaroo, and the Palomino. But the Blue Swallow Motel pulls me off the highway every time. We first visited the Blue Swallow in 1996 on our first family road trip vacation and discovered immediately why so many travelers around the world love this place. The motel itself is pretty basic, an L-shaped assemblage of rooms tucked off Tucumcari's main street, with a clam-pattern stuccoed facade topped by glowing blue swallows. Yet this motel offers more than just a place to crash. Once a set of cottages built in 1939, now a beloved holdout against interstate homogeneity, the Blue Swallow is one of the nicest motels in the United States.

    In 1996 Lillian Redman was still running the Blue Swallow, as she had since 1958 when she received the property as an engagement present. Lillian had met countless folks by the time we dropped by, and yet she had plenty of time to chat with us about her memories of traveling from Texas to New Mexico in 1916 by covered wagon, her work as a Harvey Girl in the 1930s, her motel's fading fortunes with the arrival of I-40, and her belief that a motel should serve as a spiritual sanctuary for traveling souls. Lillian charged awfully low rates (about eleven bucks) for a simple room with hardwood floors and a black and white television. Her motel had no phones and no frills. But you could park your car in a covered garage right next to your room, and you could sit out front beneath the glow of the blue swallow and watch the cars stroll by.

    By our first visit in 1996, Lillian's story was well known and often repeated. She'd been featured in Smithsonian Magazine, photographed for books and magazines around the world, and transformed into an icon of the Mother Road. But she was 86 and getting tired. I recall that she used a wheel chair to get around, even as her mind was quick and her spirits warm. We chatted for about a half hour, looking at old pictures and sharing stories about the road. Jenny and I knew we would visit with her every time we returned to this part of the country, just to hear her stories. But she soon sold her motel, and on February 21, 1999, Lillian Redman died.

    With Lillian's death, many folks fear that the Blue Swallow may fade into history. Dave and Hilda Bakke purchased the motel, refurbishing the property without harming its integrity. And yet they soon had to sell. More recently Bill Kinder and Terri Johnson purchased the property, embarking on further restorations that aim to return the motel to its 1950s-era appearance. So far the response to their plans has been positive. But lovers of the Blue Swallow know that its existence remains tentative as long as motorists stick to the interstate. We hope, but we have no promises. Even so, Jenny and I will return to Tucumcari sometime in the next year and we'll chat with Bill and Terri. We'll tell them how much we appreciate their efforts to keep a roadside legend alive, and we won't mind paying recently increased room rates as long as the Blue Swallow continues to glow.

    Learn More

  • Route 66 News Blue Swallow Motel Seems to be in Good Hands

    Searching For...

    This undated postcard in the middle of this post (showing a man and a woman in an inset box) appears to be post-1958, but the names on the back of the card are "Mr. and Mrs. Ted Jones." Can you help solve this mystery for me?