Category Archives: Culture

801 Cabaret

It is theater.

It is edgy.

It is familiar.

It is feminine.

It is masculine.

It challenges.

It is scripted.

It is improv.

It is truth.

It is lies.

It is pop.

It is punk.

It is psychology.

It is inclusive.

It is exclusive.

It is a craft.

It is art.

It is drag.

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Sushi
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Boa
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Raquel
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Boa
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Kylie
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Boa
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Dominique
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Dominique
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Sushi
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Sushi
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Jade
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Jade
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Boa and Marilyn
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Marilyn
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Boa
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Marilyn
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Kylie

The 801 Cabaret is one of our musts when we’re in Key West. Highly recommended.

If you want more portraits go here. This is just a sampling.

Exorcist Steps

IMG_8155One of the reasons we started Next Exit Travel was to share those amazing, unexpected moments that appear when you travel. Yesterday, I went to Washington, DC for work. With the meeting concluded, I was offered a tour of an iconic landmark in Georgetown. While there are 100’s of iconic spots all over DC, this was one I actually wanted to see – the stairs from The Exorcist. Better yet, I got to descend the steep stairs with not only a PhD in religious studies, but a pastor as well.

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In case you need to refresh yourself with the stair scene, check out this clip. This past Halloween the stairs were designated as an official tourist location. If you want to see the stairs out for yourself, they are at the corner of Prospect Street and 36th Street, near M Street in Georgetown.

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Bonus Exorcist trivia – Linda Blair is now an animal activist and wants you to adopt a companion dog.

Over the Next Dune

Dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park

The boy pestered me to jump.

I took off my shoes and rolled up my pants. The mercury was high for January – nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sand was cool, though not quite cold, to my bare feet. But the sun warmed my bare arms as I surveyed the vast high dunes – at 80 to 100 feet, the East Coast’s tallest – of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, one of the many natural wonders to be found on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Hiking the Dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park

Now ready, I joined my son in taking a flying leap from the top of the park’s tallest dune while Davida snapped our pictures. We laughed hysterically as we tumbled down its sandy face, steep enough that visitors can hang-glide from the highest peaks. At 9, he’s the same age now that I was the first time I visited this place in the mid-1980s.

Jumping the Dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park

At 40, I didn’t hesitate when he insisted that we climb back up and do it again.

Jan2016-VA-NC-0386The unexpectedly warm temperatures helped to perpetuate the magic of these “walking” dunes, which are subject to the whims of the temperamental winds and water. The last time I was here, in the very early Aughts, the shifting sands had yielded the defiant spires of a medieval castle – the ruins of a miniature golf course swallowed whole by Jockey’s Ridge years before. Their present absence said the dunes had once again reclaimed their bounty. Indeed, like the act of traveling itself, the dynamic nature of a barrier island ensures a certain degree of spontaneity; you never know what you might find just around the next corner.

A few tumbles later, I suggested that we walk up the next dune – toward NC highway 158, which like a fish bone forms the central spine for vehicular travel along the Banks – for a better view of the surrounding town of Nags Head. We gathered up our shoes and made our way across this oasis of sand in a saltwater desert.

Hiking the Dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park

It was the boy, of course, who made the summit first. When I caught up, he was staring intently at yet the next dune over.

That's Boba Fett!

“Is that Boba Fett?” he asked, referring to the bounty hunter from Star Wars.

“What?”

“There,” he said, pointing to the next peak. “Is that Boba Fett?”

I wasn’t wearing my glasses, having shed them and every other lose object on my person before tumbling down the hill. Years earlier I had lost my wallet doing the very same thing; thankfully, a park ranger had found it a short time later and taken it to the visitors’ center, where I retrieved it.

I squinted at the next peak, bustling with an unseasonably large number of people. I surmised that my son must be referring to one particular form swathed in a dark brown blanket.

“No, sport,” I laughed, “that’s just someone trying to keep warm.”

“No,” he insisted. “That is Boba Fett! Look!”

This time one distinctive figure, gleaming white from head to toe, stood out among the group. No, not Boba Fett…but a stormtrooper! Now I looked again at the blanketed form, this time realizing that it was not, in fact, a blanket, but a cloak. Obi-Wan Kenobi! And there, in their midst, stood the unmistakable form of the bounty hunter, Boba Fett.

Obi-Wan, 501st Legion Carolina Garrison OBX StormTroopers at Jockey's Ridge

Davida, toting the rest of our gear, caught up with us. I put on my glasses, and we told her about the cast of Star Wars inhabiting the next dune. Davida, noticing Obi-Wan (note: we’ve since learned that this was not Obi-Wan, but a Jedi of the wearer’s own creation) now walking toward our dune, suggested we go find out what was up.

501st Legion Carolina Garrison OBX StormTroopers at Jockey's Ridge

501st Legion Carolina Garrison OBX StormTroopers at Jockey's Ridge

Turned out, members of 501st Legion Carolina Garrison OBX StormTroopers, 501st Garrison Tyranus, The Rebel Legion, and Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club, also taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather, had gathered for a promotional photo shoot on the shifting sands of Jockey’s Ridge, which, when carefully cropped, bears a striking resemblance to Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tattooine. The full-costume groups regularly participate in charity events. Also on hand that day, among others, were the characters Rey and Kylo Ren from 2015’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. The costumers proved very friendly, and they graciously agreed to take pictures with our son, amplifying an already memorable experience.

501st Legion Carolina Garrison OBX StormTroopers at Jockey's Ridge

The sands grew cooler as the sun sank into Roanoke Sound, and I put on my shoes and sweatshirt as the fading daylight chased the troupe and its cameras farther and farther up the dune, the long winter light lending an air of drama to the scene. With the park closing at dusk, we decided to make our way back to our car. I remarked on the gorgeous sunset, in case Davida cared to photograph it, but doing so seemed a bit anticlimactic following our cinematic experience – one of those odd bits of happenstance that eludes the best-planned itinerary. Besides, further adventures awaited us, just over the next dune…

Sunset at Jockey's Ridge

 

Things To Do in Denver When You are Not Dead (But at a Scholarly Conference and Restlessly Curious)

Downtown DenverI flew out to Denver for a work conference, assuming the short (just over 50 hour) trip would be too jammed packed to offer enough fodder for a post. I was wrong and found Denver quite enjoyable. After a long cab ride from Denver International Airport (more on that later), I dropped my bags at the hotel and went out in search of food. Denver is amazingly vegan-friendly and had my pick of places. I decided on Watercourse Foods and devoured a plate of homefries, pancakes, scrambled tofu, and tofu bacon. I wandered for a while and eventually found myself at the opulent Brown Palace Hotel and headed into the Ship Tavern. I sipped a pear cocktail, read a zine, and filled out a few postcards. I enjoy these quiet, anonymous moments of solitary travel.

Brown Palace Hotel
Brown Palace Hotel
Sparkling Pear Cocktail: St Germain Elderflower liquor, Grey Goose La Poire, lemon juice, champaign
Sparkling Pear Cocktail: St Germain Elderflower liquor, Grey Goose La Poire, lemon juice, champaign

I returned to the hotel for the reception and dinner and decided I would maturely go back to my room and retire for the night. Thankfully a co-worker convinced me that was not in my best interest and cajoled me to go with her to a conference-related gathering. What had I been thinking?!

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Top of the clock tower (16th Street)
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Staircase to the top
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Clock tower (16th Street)
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View of downtown Denver
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Panorama of Denver after dark (click for larger image)

I’m glad she did, because I was not only treated to a view of Denver at night from the 22nd floor of a clock tower, I got to watch a thunderstorm breaking around the city from that height. One of my travel loves is seeing, hearing, and smelling thunderstorms in different places. We were even allowed to climb the spiral staircase to the very top of the bell tower. Giving people drinks and then sanctioning this activity seemed overly trusting.

City O'City
City O’City

Despite the semi-late night, I was up at 6am and exploring the city before a breakfast meeting with a friend who lives in Denver. We met at City O’ City, where I had scrambled tofu smothered in green chile, queso fresco, cilantro, homefries, corn tortillas, and some warm house-made gluten-free bread. Breakfast foods, especially at conference hotels, tend to be very gluten-y and not very vegan-friendly, so this was a huge treat and kept me going all day. So did such a pleasant meeting and good conversation so early in the day.

There are waffles out there...
There are waffles out there…

I was busy with work stuff the rest of the day, but the next morning awoke once again at the crack of dawn. City O’ City’s menu called to me on the 21st floor of my hotel room and I found myself wandering again, this time pondering the waffles I had seen on the menu. They make savory waffles. Waffles as food-food. This is perhaps the best idea ever. I ordered the “waffle of the week”, a tex-mex waffle topped with black beans, spicy peppers and onions, cilantro, a chipotle aioli, and avocado. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. Seriously.

Mouth paradise
Mouth paradise

I headed back to the hotel and got caught in the beginnings of the Pride festivities. Areas around the hotel were cordoned off with fences, but I made it back in time for the start of the sessions. I had a break and walked to Tattered Cover, a renowned local bookstore. Across the street is Rockmount, famous for their western wear shirts since 1946. They are well-made and very cool looking, but pricy and I ended up leaving empty- handed.

Tattered Cover mystery section
Tattered Cover mystery section
Rockmount Western Wear
Rockmount Western Wear

The airport is fairly far outside of the city, about 25 miles, and by Saturday afternoon we were all conferenced-out. I decided to leave a bit early with my boss and a colleague so I could explore the weird murals in what is a very weird airport. According to conspiracy experts, the airport is everything from a massive underground base providing safety to a new world order to a secret Nazi and/or Freemason site. It would appear there is an entire segment of the internet devoted to the DIA conspiracy (go ahead, Google it!). No matter what tin hat you are wearing, the airport is simply weird. Greeting you as you arrive at DIA is a giant blue horse sculpture with red glowing eyes dubbed Blucifer…that killed the sculptor. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

I've killed a man.
I’ve killed a man.

Inside the baggage claim area are four wildly colorful murals by Chicano muralist Leo Tanguma that promote world peace and express fears of mass extinction, but first you have to get past a giant, threatening gas mask-wearing, sword wielding figure and a lot of dead and crying kids to get the message. The images show misery and death, a quote from a child who died at Auschwitz, a dead jaguar, and kids toppling the gas mask figure. I just can’t figure out how this got past a public art planning committee. I wonder what weary travelers make of these scenes? Here are the four murals and some close ups:

Children of the World Dream of Peace, by Leo Tanguma
Children of the World Dream of Peace, by Leo Tanguma
Children of the World Dream of Peace, by Leo Tanguma
Children of the World Dream of Peace, by Leo Tanguma

Plaque explaining the mural:Children of the World Dream of Peace is a powerful mural expressing the artist’s desire to abolish violence in society. One section of the piece speaks to the tragedy and devastation of war and its impact on humanity. The mural then moves on to images of smiling children, dressed in traditional folk costumes from around the world, celebrating peace prevailing over war.” Detail: Children of the World Dream of Peace, by Leo Tanguma Detail: Children of the World Dream of Peace, by Leo Tanguma Detail: Children of the World Dream of Peace, by Leo Tanguma Detail: Children of the World Dream of Peace, by Leo Tanguma Detail: Children of the World Dream of Peace, by Leo Tanguma Detail: Children of the World Dream of Peace, by Leo Tanguma

In Peace and Harmony with Nature, by Leo Tanguma
In Peace and Harmony with Nature, by Leo Tanguma
In Peace and Harmony with Nature, by Leo Tanguma
In Peace and Harmony with Nature, by Leo Tanguma

Plaque explaining the mural:In Peace and Harmony with Nature references the social realist murals of Mexico while addressing a modern theme: the destruction of the environment. The first half of the mural shows children displaying great sadness over the destruction and extinction of life, as the second half of the artwork depicts humanity coming together to rehabilitate and celebrate nature.” Detail: In Peace and Harmony with Nature, by Leo Tanguma Detail: In Peace and Harmony with Nature, by Leo Tanguma Detail: In Peace and Harmony with Nature, by Leo Tanguma Detail: In Peace and Harmony with Nature, by Leo Tanguma Detail: In Peace and Harmony with Nature, by Leo Tanguma Further reading: http://diaconspiracyfiles.com/2009/05/12/more-murals-by-leo-tanguma/ And then there is this part of the train system that looks inspired by ancient ruins.

Paging Indiana Jones!
Paging Indiana Jones!

The airport is HUGE. It takes up 53 square miles and you need to take a train to your gate. There are rumors of underground bunkers and speculation about who really built the airport. The runways are said to be in a deliberate swastika shape. I don’t know about any of that, but I do know they have a TCBY that has vegan soft-serve and that really helped the storm-related delays. Denver is a seemingly unassuming place with unexpected (and often peculiar) treasures.

Among The Little People Now

National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin
National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin

Between the holdover time in Boston, the duration of the flight, and the five-hour time difference, we were thoroughly exhausted by the time we reached Clontarf Castle. Nevertheless, figuring our best bet for acclimating to local time was to forge on until bedtime, we checked in, threw down our bags, and after a short rest were off for Dublin Town.

Traveling with a 9-year-old (who’d held up amazingly well thus far) meant that our first stop should be of correlative interest. And so it was that we found ourselves at the door of the National Leprechaun Museum. Despite the hokey implications of its name, the Museum could be as easily marketed as a crash course in Irish mythology – Aos Sí 101 – which manifests throughout Irish culture to this day.

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National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin

As our seanchai led us through a series of exhibits depicting leprechauns of lore as well as their modern convention (rooted in the 1959 Disney film, Darby O’Gill and the Little People), elaborating upon the púca and bean sídhe, Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fenian Cycle, I recalled, of all things, one Friday night in high school, when a friend and I drove a half-hour to see Schindler’s List. However, we faltered at the ticket window. Were we, a pair of strapping lads perched at the precipice of the weekend, really up to facing three-hours of celluloid-induced depression?

Indeed, common sense prevailed, and we blew off the Oscar-winning Holocaust epic in favor of seeing Leprechaun 2 (which happens to contain one of the most hilariously inconsistent nude body-doubles ever committed to film, but that’s another story). I related this tale to Warwick Davis (who plays the namesake leprechaun) a decade later at a horror-con in Baltimore. His reaction belied an unparalleled sense of diplomacy.

William P. Tandy regaling Warwick Davis with his cinematic preferences
William P. Tandy regaling Warwick Davis with his cinematic preferences

But back to the matter at hand. A noteworthy gift shop awaits visitors at the end of this rainbow. However, a word of note: although the National Leprechaun Museum is indoors, there seemed to be no source of heating, so should you go there in January, dress accordingly.

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National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin
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National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin

Thank God We’re Surrounded by Water

Clontarf Castle
Clontarf Castle

Davida and I first crossed paths with Bram Stoker in January 2000, on the moors of North Yorkshire. With daylight bleeding out and many miles till Edinburgh, we arbitrarily decided to seek lodging in a brooding little waterfront town on the North Sea.

It was by chance, for us, that Whitby bears the literary distinction of being the point at which Stoker deposited his greatest creation, Count Dracula, on Albion shores. Although I had read Dracula, it had been many years since, and I had no recollection of the town or its role in the novel. However, this connection, we soon learned, has made Whitby, with its lurid tourist draws and ruined cliff-top abbey overlooking the sea, the Coney Island of goth culture that it is today.

We still travel this way – every January, often spending the night wherever the day has taken us. Ireland in the off-season, we figured, would be no exception. In fact, when planning our January 2015 road trip of the Emerald Isle, we had booked lodging for only one of our seven nights – the first, not far from Dublin Airport.

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Clontarf Castle

 

Online, Clontarf Castle had appeared a bit more upscale than our usual digs, but we figured some comfortable sprawling room might be in order following a full day and night of travel; plus, our son would enjoy the prospect of spending his first night abroad in a castle.

Clontarf Castle
Clontarf Castle

Now an affluent suburb on the north side of Dublin, Clontarf was, a thousand years ago, the site of an epic battle that in the annals of Irish history commands a hallowed status comparable to that of, say, Gettysburg for Americans. It was here, in 1014, that Irish Ard Ri (or high king) Brian Boru defeated a joint force of Viking marauders and contentious Irish factions from the kingdoms of Dublin and Leinster. Nearly every commander on all sides , including Brian, died that April 23 – Good Friday – but the bloody Battle of Clontarf effectively ended 200 years of Viking raids in Ireland. Unfortunately, with Brian’s death, it also spelled the end of the fragile alliance between various Irish clans that he had spent a lifetime crafting, setting the stage for socio-political unrest that would pave the way for invading Normans in 1169.

Battle of Clontarf
Battle of Clontarf

In the 1960s, songwriter Dominic Behan (brother of author and playwright Brendan Behan) poetically summarized the Battle of Clontarf in his oft-covered tune, “The Sea Around Us”:

The Danes came to Ireland with nothin’ to do
But dream of the plundered old Irish they slew
“Yeh will in your Vikings,” says Brian Boru
As he pushed them back into the ocean

Those combatants would recognize nothing of Clontarf today…save, perhaps, for nearby Dublin Bay. However, the extant Clontarf Castle, which dates (only) to the 19th century, might be a familiar sight for the area’s most renowned native son – one Abraham Stoker, born here in 1847, at the height of the Great Famine. Fifty years later, Stoker would turn loose upon the world one of the most enduring icons of gothic horror with the publication of his magnum opus, Dracula.

Bram Stoker's childhood home
Bram Stoker’s childhood home

While I knew Bram Stoker was Irish by birth, I could not have told you his particular place of origin – that was, until Clontarf, where, to our mutual astonishment, we once again found ourselves in his presence. Fifteen years and who-know-how-many-thousands-of-miles had found us on the very grounds of the ruined church in which he had been baptized, and but a short walk from his birthplace. Indeed, it was enough to render the most rational mind superstitious.

But that could be said for much of Ireland – and this was only the beginning…