Sometimes people are weird. Sometimes nature is weird. Sometimes it is a bit of both.
Walking along Factory Road and inside the state park lands we’ve found some weird shit. The weirdest we have no photographic evidence of. One day WPT and I were having an intense conversation, as one does in the woods, when two people on an ATV drove up and began dumping a body. We looked at each other and then back at the brazen body dumpers. 2020 has reached a point where very little surprises us anymore.
Turned out they were setting up a National Guard training exercise with a life-size body to be located and recovered. We lived to tell the tale, but regretfully did not get a photo of the body in situ. We also didn’t get a photo of the pregnancy test discarded on the roadside, but we did speculate. Much of what we find tells a story, even if utter fiction…
I volunteered to help organize a conference for work. An unexpected perk was that I needed to go to Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL to conduct site visits at three hotels and one museum. One of the hotels comped a night’s stay. I realized that Garnet was old enough to entertain himself while I worked and invited him to join me for a bit of adventure.
We had completed all four visits and intended to spend the evening swimming at the hotel pool. A thunderstorm disrupted our plans. We were up in the room watching the sky flash in the distance. Garnet was rather agitated because he wanted to buy a perfect birthday present for a friend. It was almost 8pm. I thought about how I felt at that age and asked if he wanted to go shopping. He nodded.
So off we went into the rainy, tropical night. We were in St. Petersburg, on Central Ave. waiting to turn right on 3rd Street. The light had changed, but there were pedestrians crossing the street. Behind me, a black Saturn Vue XR saw the light change, but missed me stopping for the pedestrians and slammed into the back of me when it skidded in the rain. I completed the turn and pulled over in front of a row of bars and restaurants. Seconds later a distraught young blond woman appeared beside my door, the rain and tears streaking her mascara. Garnet was upset by the noise and my sudden seriousness, but I assured him we were okay.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed an indigent man trying to make the chaos we created work for him. He was taking a grocery bag and hitting passing cars with it, then pretending the car had run over his foot. No one was stopping. I calmly told the crying girl to go back to her car. It was her first accident too.
I called Budget, who took the report and told me that in the state of Florida cops often don’t come out for minor accidents. There was a rap on my window. It was a bouncer from one of the nearby bars. He said that the indigent man was claiming that the woman who hit me had run him over. I got out in the rain and followed him over to the sidewalk where the man was in his death throes. I laughed. He was overacting his part something fierce. Pedestrians were stepping over him.
The bouncer said they had to call the cops and that we should wait. The bouncer said that the guy was a known local drunk and that the cops weren’t going to take his word over ours. So back to the car I went, glad that the hedge blocked Garnet’s view of the scene. It was then I realized the indigent man had been hitting the passing cars with a bag of ramen. The bag was now run over in the crosswalk, noodles crushed, scattered, and rehydrating in the rain.
I didn’t want to leave the girl to face the cops on her own, but they still hadn’t arrived after 15-20 minutes. I saw something going on in the rearview mirror and assumed another bouncer was confronting the guy, who had made a miraculous recovery. The first bouncer reappeared at my window and told me another bum had arrived on scene, saw the guy playing dead and called him a scumbag. They got into a scuffle and went off into the night. He suggested we leave, quickly, and if the cops ever came they would handle it.
Later, I would realize that I had gotten my learner’s permit in Florida and almost 30 years later was in my first real accident in the same state. You can say what you want about Florida, but the state has the best writers. I mean, where else can you have your first car accident resolved by a bum fight?
I 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.
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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.” 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.
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.
A friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years was coming to Baltimore. Her only tourist request was to see Edgar Allan Poe-related spots. We only had a few hours before her conference started, so the challenge was to put together a 3-hour tour (one that did not strand us on the island). The Poe House is closed until May 2015, so that left the graveyard at Westminster Hall and possibly areas around Fells Point.
I knew of another delightfully macabre site not far from Westminster Hall, which I thought might make for a fun surprise, and asked for a tour. And so it was that early one Saturday morning we arrived at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for a tour of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. (Note to self – you should probably tell people why you are taking them to the ME’s office in advance.)
Bruce Goldfarb, Special Assistant to the Medical Examiner, graciously agreed to provide a tour on his day off. The Nutshells are miniatures of crime scenes – essentially dollhouses of death – created in the 1940s by Frances Glessner Lee. She’s one of the founders of forensic science. Each scene shows a corpse in situ and students are expected to deduce if the death is homicide, suicide, accidental, or natural. The answers to the cases are closely guarded and only a few have ever read them.
The 18 diorama dollhouses include barns, bedrooms, living rooms, apartment buildings, suburban homes, a bar, an attic, and more, all done on a 1-inch to 1-foot scale. The craftsmanship and attention to detail are unbelievable, from printed newspapers to blood-spatter and buckshot camouflaged on patterned wallpaper to working light fixtures. The windows open, clothes are aged, and shoes just sitting in a closet are hand-beaded.
Glessner created the scenes to train investigators how to study a room. In addition to the Nutshells, she also created models of bullet wounds – showing the impact on flesh using various distances and calibers. She used her substantial inheritance to not only create these teaching tools, but she also helped fund the creation of a Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University. It was there the Nutshells were used until the department was disbanded in 1966. They then moved to Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore. They are still used to train investigators.
Highly recommended for lovers of that wondrous combination of history, art, and the macabre. Baltimoreans, next time you have an out-of-town guest, take them here instead of Café Hon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
“So…how long will you be here for?” the cab-driver asked in his heavy African patois. With our conference over, the three of us – Marilyn, Kat, and myself – had but a few hours left to explore Indianapolis before heading out for our respective home states; I nearly answered as much, until I saw the cabbie warily assessing a few distressed homes and unkempt yards surrounding us.
“An hour – maybe two,” I said, recognizing the seemingly questionable sense of three out-of-towners dodging the well-attended confines of their downtown hotel for a destination three-and-a-half miles west, in a neighborhood that grew rougher-looking by the block.
“Ah, good,” the cabbie said, exhaling his concern. “This neighborhood…might not find a cab back so easy.”
The four of us stared incredulously at the large, empty field surrounded by wire fence when his GPS announced our arrival about a half-mile later. It was Marilyn who finally noticed the non-descript sign that stood watch at the entrance to a long, flat driveway: INDIANA MEDICAL HISTORY MUSEUM.
“This is it,” said Kat, pointing down the lane.
The driver headed slowly through the open gate, coming to a stop a few hundred yards later in front of the Old Pathology Building, which houses the museum. The driver handed Marilyn a business card.
“You call this number when you are ready for pick-up,” he said. “They will send a driver for you.”
We stood before the brick Victorian as the cab pulled off. Built in 1895, the structure is one of the few remaining vestiges of the once-sprawling Central State Hospital, a self-contained psychiatric institution whose various incarnations operated on the site from the mid-19th century until its complete closure in 1994. Today, the Indiana Medical History Museum, housed in what was once called the Pathological Department Building, chronicles the earliest days of modern psychiatry and medicine.
Inside, we paid our admission and were directed to wait in the nearby anatomical museum for the next scheduled tour. Guided tours, which begin on the hour, are mandatory, and for good reason, to which the museum’s fragile artifacts and sometimes constrained presentation ultimately attest.
With the arrival of a few more paying customers, a very knowledgeable docent named John led us on an informative tour of the museum’s key features, including its teaching amphitheater, clinical laboratories, photography lab, library, autopsy room, medicinal garden, and a small brick outbuilding known as the “Dead House”, where cadavers were once stored for extended periods of time.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Indiana Medical History Museum lies in the immediacy of its displays, which often suggest a phantom staff of doctors, nurses, and administrators who were there one day and gone the next, leaving everything in its place. Photography is permitted throughout the building save for one upstairs room, which still houses old patient records. Ancient textbooks bearing titles like Sexual Truths and Journal of Insanity abound in nearly every room.
However, despite its collections of autopsy equipment and preserved biological specimens, the Indiana State Medical Museum’s presentation avoids ghoulish overtones, focusing instead on pioneering efforts to scientifically identify and treat various forms of mental illness. It will appeal to fans of places like the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia and Scotland’s Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (both stories for another time), and is well worth a jaunt for anyone living or staying in the Indianapolis vicinity. But those without their own transportation be warned: plan your return trip in advance.
INDIANA MEDICAL HISTORY MUSEUM
3045 West Vermont Street, Indianapolis, IN 46222
Website: http://imhm.org/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/imhmuseum
Hours: Thursday – Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (last tour starts at 3:00 p.m.)
Cost: $10 (seniors $9; students $5, with valid ID)
There is a wonderful, dare I say, magical hotel in NYC. It is an artist’s dream, a child’s fantasy, and a budget traveler’s deepest desire. I speak of the Carlton Arms Hotel.
The hotel is eccentric and has quite a history, but as a traveler I love that about it. Every room is painted (or sculpted) differently and nothing is plumb (it is a 100+ year-old building). Located at 25th and 3rd, there is a pedestrian area right outside the hotel with tables. It is within walking distance to a ton of stuff, including a fantastic all-veg Indian restaurant a few blocks away. There are also at least two hotel cats, which is always a plus in my book. Based on personal observation it seems to be popular with international travelers.
When I made the reservations, I didn’t specify which room I wanted (you can see them online), I just let them know we had two adults and a child and wanted a room with a private bath. For $150, we got just that AND we got the best room ever. As with all of their rooms, the art is amazing, but this room offers a scavenger hunt. It starts on the wall and leads you to the dresser drawer with another clue, a hidden drawers and notes, and eventually a hidden compartment in the floor with a box. Inside the box are notes and mementos from previous guests. As an adult I thought this was cool; for a child, the scavenger hunt made the Carlton Arms Hotel (and his first real trip to NYC) nothing short of magical.
Prior to traveling to Seattle, I did some research to make the most of my non-work free time. I read out about an underground tour near Pioneer Square. The website made it sound lurid and sensationalist. I love lurid and sensationalist! Instead, I found myself learning about Seattle’s early history in a way that harkened back to one of my history professors. Wait, wait, hear me out. In college I had this great history professor who knew the best way to get us to learn was to make us laugh. I still remember the lecture about early explorers starving while crossing the Pacific. In fact that might be the only lecture I remember from college, because the lecture included the crucial question, “Why didn’t the fuckers fish?” (that verbatim question was also on the final). He taught fact and context deftly slipped into the stories and jokes and so does Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour.
The tour starts with a 10-15 minute introduction inside Doc Maynard’s Public House. Bill Speidel saw the area around Pioneer Square in decline and historic buildings being razed for parking lots and did something about it. His first tours not only educated people about the area and the richness of history and culture, but they also gave him access to a public who would help him preserve the area. He did indeed succeed in having the area named a historic district.
Chris was the tour guide for my group and he was fantastic. He took us in and out of buildings and the accessible sections of underground, telling the fascinating story of Seattle’s founding, the later fire, and the rebuilding of the city that led to the “underground.” Did you know that the term “skid row” refers to this section in Seattle? Logs were cut down on the hill and send sliding (skidding) down the steep grade to the waterfront. And as with all waterfronts, one finds the carnal triumvirate of booze, gambling, and whores. Hence, Skid Row’s awe-inspiring reputation now extends to cities without trees or hills and a hair metal band.
The tour starts in the shadow of Smith Tower, once the tallest building in Seattle. While that was interesting, what made my nerd-heart sing was learning that it was built by the man who founded the Smith-Premier Typewriter Company, which became the Smith-Corona Typewriter Company. I should have toured Smith Tower, but since I didn’t someone else should and tell me about it.
From there, we descended down just a flight of stairs to what was once the street level in Seattle. Seattle was founded at low tide, which was even more problematic than one might expect. Exploding toilets anyone? In 1889, a fire leveled 25 square blocks and gave Seattle the opportunity to rebuild. The city decided to re-grade the streets and build them up above the tidal flats, but the businesses in the area couldn’t wait for the city, so they went ahead and rebuilt. Once the streets were finished, the first floors were now basically underground.
After three subterranean spots, we wrapped up with a surprisingly respectful history lesson about a brothel owner, Madam Lou, who helped build the city. Not only that, she left her estate to the school system.
There is so much I am leaving out, so if you are in the area and have 75 minutes to learn while being entertained, you really should take the tour.
Bill Spiedel’s Underground Tour Address: 608 First Ave., Seattle, WA 98104 Phone: (206) 682-4646
Hours: April – September: Daily, 9 am-7 pm June – August: Daily on the hour 9am-7pm and these additional ½ hour times – 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 3:30pm October – March: Daily, 11 am-6 pm
This was a work trip, but I was able to squeeze out exploration time by embracing the extra three hours Pacific Time offers and waking in the wee hours.
We here at Next Exit Travel have absolutely no corporate sponsorship, but one of us would sell-out to Timbuk2 in a heartbeat. I’m not sure when my obsession with their bags began, but it started with an innocent yard sale purchase some years ago. For the longest time they only had one retail store (in SF) and I made that pilgrimage in 2012. They now have a store in Seattle and I wanted to take a look (yearn longingly) at some of their new luggage. Their bags are waterproof and have lots of compartments. I’ve used one as my camera bag for years. I fondled just about every bag in the store and decided on my future suitcase (it has wheels and works as a backpack) and bought two bags on clearance.
Seattle is home to several locations of Veggie Grill, an all-vegan West Coast fast-food chain. I have spent the last year yearning for their creamy gluten-free mac and cheese and tempeh “fish” tacos. During my time in Seattle I had the mac and cheese, tempeh “fish” tacos, asparagus soup, and grilled corn on the cob. I wish we had these on the East Coast.
Near the Underground Tour (which will be covered in its own post) is Seattle Mystery Bookshop, which offers the mystery and thriller reader a convenient place to go bankrupt. New books, old books, imports, signed books, first editions, they have it all. The store is well-organized and the gentleman I spoke with was helpful and friendly. I left with some Icelandic mysteries and a signed James Lee Burke. I was almost afraid to keep looking because I knew I would find more and more. Great store, great staff, great selection.
Another great place to drop some cash is the Archie McPhee headquarters. I remember mail ordering ridiculous things items in the epoch before .com. Who needs wasabi toothpaste? I thought of two people, actually. Horror movie victims? A perfect gift. Hula coasters, schadenfreude mints, a patron saint of dogs, and other items all made it into my basket. I was tempted by the Bigfoot luggage tag, but somehow showed restraint. I would have bought the coffee can urn, but I already have one friends gave me years ago.
I had a breakfast meeting at Portage Café one morning and the coffee and “farmer’s hash” (vegetables, potatoes, tofu) was quite good, but I was curious about their pancakes. I was up early on my last day and went for a walk that took me past another location. They make gluten-free, vegan banana pancakes. Normally I am anti-banana, but in this case they were absolutely perfect. A lot of gluten-free foods taste like particleboard and despair, but these were moist and somehow light (I mean, aside from the fresh maple syrup I drowned them in). The breakfast bar offers all sorts of toppings, including coconut shreds and berries. The home fries were every bit as good as the pancakes. This meal will haunt me.
Before I make Seattle sound too sunshiny, the city has a weird vibe and crazy amounts of construction and these are connected. I was mostly in the downtown area this time and the demographics seem to have changed in the last few years. This is a major tech job/internet commerce area and because of that you see huge flocks of young, awkward, stressed out people. Amazon, Microsoft, and others are bringing thousands of jobs to the area and building new facilities left and right. Cranes fill the skyline. In a way, it looks like Seattle is having another boomtown period, only this time the frontier is the internet. This means that more and more people are being squeezed out due to rents increasing and the disparity between the entitled and the vulnerable is evident walking around downtown. It made me wonder what things were like outside of the downtown areas.
In line at security at Sea-Tac Airport my co-worker and I were fortunate enough to witness one of those travel moments where you wonder if you are watching a some form of performance art. These two middle-aged women were enacting a version of the airport security scene from High Anxiety, but with a personal shopping cart and unspecified large display. I started hoping they were genius terrorists.
Also at the airport is Metskers, a map store that offers travel books, maps, prints, ephemera, compasses. It you are passing through the airport, check it out at the end of concourse B. Should you need Bigfoot memorabilia, Sea-Tac Airport also has you covered.