Saturday, August 29, 2009

Back in Florida...

We arrived in Florida a couple of days ago, and are still recovering from the cross-country drive of 2880 miles.  Even though tiring, it was fun road trip, and we got to see part of the country neither of us had seen before, parts very disappointing and other parts quite unexpectedly beautiful.

On the disappointing side, Palm Springs and nearby southern California desert communities were at the top of the list.  For all the wealth that flocks into Palm Springs, the town itself is among the tackiest we've ever seen.  I cannot imagine why anyone would want to vacation there, much less live there.  We could hardly wait to escape the hedonistic cheapness of it all.

On the upside, we found that Sun City, Arizona, where my old high school buddy John Mueller lives, was pretty comfortable.  We still can't imagine living in the dry southwest, but the community was really clean and not at all tacky in the way of  Palm Springs.  We spent the night at his home, played music and talked away the evening, and then went out to breakfast before we set off again on our trip.

We put some miles on from Arizona through New Mexico, driving through a dust and rain storm, and following Interstate 10 down to El Paso, Texas, where we spent a night.  I considered taking a job in Las Cruces, New Mexico, back in the 1980s, and driving through only convinced me I'd made the right choice to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area and teach at De Anza College rather than New Mexico State University.  The country side was pretty, but who could be this far from the water?  Certainly not Penelope or me.

The drive through west Texas, I've been told many, many times, is deadly - flat, barren, and dry.  But we found it quite beautiful.  The rock formations between El Paso and Fort Stockton were wonderful, and the ranching country on to San Antonio was not so deadly as we expected.  Of course, the 80 mph speed limit made it fly by quite nicely.  We spent a night in San Antonio, and then drove through the hill country (you know, Lyndon Johnson's world), and on to lunch with Marty Melosi, a friend of mine at the University of Houston.

The next leg of our trip took us to Baton Rouge, where we spent a night in preparation for a couple of hours drive to New Orleans the next day.

We arrived in New Orleans at about noon, got a room for $55 in the French Quarter at the Prince Conti Hotel just a block off Bourbon Street.  While folks said this was their slowest week in the year, it was slower than we could have imagined.  Almost no one walked the streets, and we felt as though we had the French Quarter to ourselves.  We had coffee and beignets at the famous Cafe du Monde down near the French Market, enjoyed some street jazz and later some blues.  We had an expensive and well-worth-it dinner at Broussard's, just across from our hotel, and then went down to hear jazz at Preservation Hall.

The next day we left late morning and drove through Mississippi and Alabama to Apalachicola, Florida, home to wonderful oyster beds.  We paid almost twice as much for a room here as New Orleans (that's a sign of things, I think), but we had a very economical and superb dinner of oysters and lobster bisque at a little waterfront oyster restaurant.  The next morning we found a wonderful little breakfast place called Tamara's Cafe, and easily could fall in love with this little town on the northwest gulf coast of Florida.

Our last day of travel across Florida was through a constant downpour of rain, which lifted only when we got within about sixty miles of De Land. ... As far as road trips go, this one was pretty good, but I think I prefer the sailing voyages over the highway ones.

More photos

Thursday, August 20, 2009

California to Florida - a gradual start ...

We left Silicon Valley on Wednesday the 19th, heading for Santa Cruz and Highway 1 down the coast of California.  A gradual start is the best way to describe it.  We stopped in Los Gatos for breakfast at Lou's, a hole-in-the-wall breakfast spot that I discovered several years ago.  Then we drove slowly through Los Gatos, so I could show Pen one of the nicest little villages in what now is known as Silicon Valley (actually, the Santa Clara Valley or "Valley of Hearts Delight" from the days of orchards and farming), and finally began our climb over the coastal range to Santa Cruz. 

Driving down Ocean Avenue in Santa Cruz, I called my friend Tony Kirk and we arranged to drop in on him briefly after we went down to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, California's last real seaside amusement park.  We got there to stand in the cold morning waiting for the Big Dipper roller coaster to open.  When it did we had the tooth-shaking, rattling, thrilling ride on the 1924 wooden roller coaster.  Really a blast!  And, then we drove up to Tony's and visited for a few minutes before heading off to Monterey.

I called another friend, Kent Seavey, in Pacific Grove, as we drove south toward Monterey, and we arranged
to meet for a late lunch.  Kent and I have know each other for thirty years, and we had a wonderful visit, catching up on his life and ours, and having lunch at a first-rate little taco place in Pacific Grove.  After lunch, we drove over the "hill" to Carmel, stopped and walked a bit on that village's Ocean Avenue and down to the cottage on Lincoln (2 blocks off Ocean Avenue and 8 blocks up from the beach), which my mother sold in about 1962 (for about $22,000 ... today it's probably worth $2 million).  Looks the same, as quaint as can be ... I wish my mother had never sold it.

We drove around the scenic road tracing the ocean side of Carmel, and then headed south down Highway 1 along the beautifully rugged coast line to Big Sur.  After a long ride past artist colonies, spa resorts, and Hearst Castle, we reached Morro Bay and eventually found a Best Western in San Luis Obispo.  We went to dinner at a little Thai restaurant I discovered with history friends a year or so ago in San Luis, and we had an incredibly good meal. 

Our first day ... we went 236 miles.  Not a great start, but what fun!

Thursday, bright and early ... well not too early, but early enough ... we rolled out of bed, had an "American hotel breakfast" (nothing like the rest of the civilized world), went to the super for munchies for the road, put ice in the cooler, got Starbucks and hit the road.  Our trip led us through what Pen called some of the most beautiful country, rolling hills along California's route 101 (the historic El Camino Real), through Pismo Beach, Halcyon, Santa Maria, and so on down to Buellton, the home of Andersen's Split Pea Soup.  We stopped for soup, and we both loved it! 

Then it was on to Santa Barbara, where we visited the mission and grounds, and I regaled Pen in the story of the water system of the missions, complete with artefactual visual aids: the aqueducts, filter house, lavenderia, fountains, and so forth.  The mission's reservoir, built in 1806, is the oldest extant and in-use municipal water reservoir in the western United States.  Following the walking lecture, we drove through Santa Barbara, and Pen decided that this is the place she wants to live!  Hooray.  Now, if we can only find a hovel we can afford.

The road then led us south through Ventura (not as good as SB but acceptable), and then Los Angeles, which we skirted and headed as quickly as possible to Palm Springs. 

Hmmmm.  Neither of us had been to Palm Springs, and we both agree.  Who in their right mind would want to live here, or for that matter visit?  Of course it's summer, low-season, hotter than hell (108 today), and maybe the winter has some redeeming quality, but it is clearly not our idea of a pleasant place to be.  But, Pen was struck by the amazing wind farms that dot the landscape heading in, and it's really quite something to see them along the highway.

Tomorrow we head out for Phoenix, where we'll spend a few hours and a night with my old high school friend John Mueller.  It should be great fun, and maybe we will have made a total distance in three days of 800 miles.  As I said, a gradual start to our California-to-Florida road trip.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's a whirlwind ...

I am at my townhouse in California, which my daughter and her guy are living in.  Arrived yesterday, after spending only a day in Florida on our return from New York City.  Pen flies out on Monday, and then we're taking my car back to Alizee in Florida, thence embarking on Alizee for the Chesapeake.  ... What an incredible whirlwind of travel this has been!  We're ready for a break.

We arrived in New York City from our London and Budapest travels, and we spent a wonderful week with Neil and Ruth Cowan at their home in Glen Cove, Long Island.  Neither of us are used to traveling by rail and subway everywhere, but it's what we did on jaunts into the Big Apple for sightseeing.  Not so bad really, but I'm glad I'm not commuting any more. 

Jet lag and general weariness limited our New York sightseeing.  We walked the new Highline, an elevated freight rail line that has been converted to a garden walkway above the streets of the city right along the Hudson.  We saw the public libraries (the two main branches), strolled 5th Avenue and other well-known streets, had lunch in a great little Italian place downtown near the start of the Highline, dropped into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and generally soaked in the busy city life.  We took one day and went up to Nyack to visit Pen's step-daughter Jill and her husband Mark ... they treated us royally and Mark cooked a massive dinner.  And, we took part of another day to go to Queens and have dinner with Sue Horning, history colleague of mine and singer in the Email Special jazz group (unfortunately, she couldn't play with us in Budapest).  We also had a couple of dinner parties with Ruth and Neil, one with some of their old friends and the other with her daughter May's family. 

All in all a wonderful time!  We look forward to seeing them again soon, but we're aching for a traveling break.  The upcoming road trip will be fun and different, but I'll bet we just veg for the week following it.


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Budapest ...

Pen and I have been in Budapest for the past week, drawn here by my annual symposium with the International Committee for the History of Technology.  The meetings are usually small, perhaps 90-125 people, but this year we met (as we do every four years) as part of the larger International Congress for the History of Science and Technology, so there were about 1300 participants.  Our group is a bit eclipsed by the larger doings, but we still have great fun and share good papers in sessions.

We spent three days in London before getting here and had a great time padding about the center of that amazing city.  Our hotel was just off Trafalgar Square, so we were well situated.  Nothing planned, of course, which it seems is the way we both like traveling ... seeing people, wandering into things (like the changing of the horse guards), and enjoying local food and drink.

When we arrived in Budapest, three days before the congress began, we followed the same course and felt good and acclimatized by the time friends and colleagues started arriving.  Our friend Peter Jakab, who's mother and father came to the U.S. from Hungary in 1956 (that's right ... in the wake of the revolution), had a special task on this trip to his homeland.  He brought his parents' ashes with him to scatter in the Danube, and we and some other friends joined him in this wonderful memorial.  Afterwards he hosted the most wonderful wake at one of the nicest restaurants in Hungary, and it was truly a delight to be able to share this with Peter.  We plan on getting together in D.C. when we sail up on Alizee in October for a Hungarian meal aboard ship.

For me another highlight was my election as president of the International Committee for the History of Technology (ICOHTEC, as it is called).  I first came to one of ICOHTEC's symposia in 1984 in Lerbach, Germany (outside Cologne), and this meeting (our second in Budapest), is my twentieth.  It's been a core part of my scholarly life in history, and I've been privileged to serve on the executive committee and be vice president of the organization.  But being elected president is very special honor.  It looks as though, while I may have retired from teaching, I haven't really retired from the scholarly/academic life.  And that's a good thing!

Another aspect of this Budapest trip has been a reprieve of the first time the ICOHTEC jazz group - The Email Special - played together.  The first time was in the Jazz Cafe in Budapest, a little basement jazz club.  This time the venue was a bit plusher: The Budapest Jazz Club, where I played a Steinway grand (as opposed to a tired-out electric keyboard) and where on the whole we sounded better than ever.  If I'm counting correctly, this is our 15th gig - 13 at ICOHTEC meetings and two at meetings of the U.S. based Society for the History of Technology (SHOT).  We figure we've played for two weeks, just spread over 14 years.

So, the congress concluded with a big banquet last night, which, although we had tickets to go, we decided to beg off.  Just too much excitement, I guess ... truth is we're exhausted, and since we fly to New York City on Monday for a week's stay with friends Neil and Ruth Cowan, we want to rest up.  Today is probably one to spend sitting in a sidewalk cafe watching the world go by, maybe while I plan my upcoming administration...

More photos