Armchair Peregrinations

April 23, 2006

This time of year I get a real powerful urge to get out on the road and see the country. Spring to me is the best time of year to travel. The trees are greening, the air is fresh, and the temps mild. The sunshine is so inviting and cheery. All outdoors seems to invite you out into it just for the sheer joy of being alive in Spring. I love this time of year.

My first round-the-country road trip began in April of 1984. I spent two months researching and wearing out a road atlas locating and planning how I would visit countless interesting towns, state, county and national parks, historic sites, out-of-the-way places, and other choice spots worthy of backroad rambling, as Willam Least Heat Moon called those roads he traveled down and later wrote about in his classic book "Blue Highways."

I am sitting here now just thinking of al the possibilities for trips, inspired by a Web photo blog that I came across a couple of weeks ago. The truly amazing and talented photograher who maintains the site lives in Durham Township which is in Bucks County, Penn. She posts a photo a day, all from near where she lives.

I have seen most of the country except for New England, the upper Midwest and Pennsylvania. I plan to go there one of these days. There is so much to see.

Take a look at this gorgeous photography site and see why I want to visit that part of Pennsylvania and the rest of the state, for that matter.

April 16, 2006

When I was in grade school we had these odd disks called 45 rpm vinyl records. (Instant recognition, right?). I used to go to the dime store and look through the top ten records for that week and maybe buy one. We all had record players then as opposed to iPods and CD Walkmans, and RealPlayer and Windows Media Player on computers. There weren't any home computers back then. The 45s spun fast as compared to the albums which were 33 and 1/3 rpm. It's hard to believe things were so "mechanical" in those days before Intel chips.

It's interesting how when we look back to our youth and formative years, there are always songs and albums that seem to bring things back vividly. Who knows why certain songs remain with us all these years later? I am going to try to recall now my favorite 45 singles and the years they came out.

*** The Peppermint Twist by Chubby Checker (1962).. I think that must be one of the first 45s I ever bought. The twist immediately became passe when the Beatles came on the scene a year or so later. I found that out the hard way. (See my OD entry here) .

*** The Little Old Lady from Pasadena (Jan and Dean, 1963) and Surf City by the Beach Boys, again around 1963. I played those records so often I think I wore out the vinyl grooves. They seemed so cool to my 7th and 8th grade musical sensibilities.

*** Green Grass by Gary Lewis and the Playboys, 1965) Now that song just had it. It was something special as I recall even today, and yes, I have the Greatest Hits album of theirs and play it from time to time. Every one of their songs spoke of the innocence of being young and free. Notice this is definitely before the hard rock that entered the music scene in the late 60s and early 70s.

*** I'm a Believer (The Monkees, 1966). Mickey Dolenz could really sing, and Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith were good musicians, despite the manufactured nature of their pop tunes. Davey Jones was a teen idol. It all seems rather quaint now. Also, I might point out, Michael Nesmith went on to produce some really excellent solo albums.

*** Conquistador by Procol Harem and Little Green Bag by the George Baker Selection (1968 or '69). What can I say? Procol Harem and later the Moody Blues just led the way with their sweeping and majestic orchestral accompaniment. and their originality. What a great time it was to be experiencing the music of that period in our history.

After I got in college I didn't buy 45s too much. Mostly I purchased albums but never had a whole lot of them as comparred to today when I have hundreds of CDs.

Some of my favorite singles from my college years were: Alone Again Naturally, by Gilbert O'Sullivan; Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts; My Love by Paul McCartney; The City of New Orleans by Arlo Guthrie; Heart of Gold, Neil Young; Country Road by John Denver; Killing Me Softly with His Song by Robert Flack; Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn. By 1977 there was one album that everyone was listening to and the songs still bring back many many memories. It was Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.

This site, The #1 Song on This Date in History helped trigger my memory for some of the songs I just listed. It's a lot of fun and a real memory maker.

April 9, 2006

I have been thinking a lot about New Orleans. It seems there is never a day when there is not a news or featurre story in the New York Times or on the nightly news or CNN, an endless series of stories about this broken city and how the people who live there are coping and trying to bring their hometown back to life. I read stories about how the thousands of people still displaced and living elswehere in the country are grappling with the unprecedented decision about whether to return and rebuild or continue their lives in their new homes, far away from the city they had called home. What a very strange and bizarre story, still unfolding six months later. And, for many months and years to come.

My mother talked to an old friend who lives in the higher part of the city's Uptown area that escaped the flooding, and she told her you would never think a disaster had struck seeing that area and the bustling city life that is there. Only a mile away going north, however, is the devastation of the Lakeview and Gentillyi sections of the city, still largely empty and uncleared.

Of course when I think of New Orleans, I recall memories of my childhood and teenage years in junior high and high school and then four years of college at the University of New Orleans. After college I left, never to return permanently.

I was reading the online version of the city's newspaper, The Times Picayune" the other day, and saw a list of links on the right, one of which was for Dorignac's grocery store. Now that was where I worked at one of the two jobs I had in high school, besides my lawn mowing jobs around the neighbhorhood.

For part of one school year, and I can't remember how long, I was taken to Dorginacs and one other food store, and dropped off there by an area representative of the Gibson Greeting Card Co. Once inside, I checked with the manager who directed me to the boxes of greeting cards which needed to be stocked in the display racks near the front of the store.

Everything was a mess from the previous time I was there. Not only did I have to put in new stock, but I had to straighten up the chaos people had made of the display in the interim.

Out of the boxes came wedding, birthday, sympathy, get well and assorted other cards. Busily and efficiently, I would restock the display at Dorignac's.

It was sort of fun because how many people did you know who worked for a greeting card company in high school? Customers and store employees would pass by, some to look at cards or get in line to check out.

About midway through the three-hour stretch, I would indulge in the highlight of the evening. They had a great food concession/snack shop (today they are all known as bakery/deli sections) where they made extra delicious po-boy sandwiches, a New Orleans speciality. Those consist of half a loaf of crusty French bread, sliced and filled with fried shrimp, oysters, or sausage, or, my favorite, hot roast beef with gravy. When you are 17 years old and hungry, nothing quite satisfies the hunger like a hot roast beef sandwich, on French bread, gravy and mayonnaise soaking into the bread. I loved it.

Then, it was back to stocking new cards and tidying up before being picked up by the company representaive. He was making rounds of other stores while I was stocking cards, I believe.

To this day, when I go to a greeting card display in a store, I sometimes recall, even if subconsciously, that experience back in the late 1960s. Seems like eons ago now. My other job in high school was as an usher in a movie theater, and I think I may have written about that at some point in the past at OD.

Apparently, Dorignac's has long since been remodeled into the fancy supermarket that it is today, but back in the day, it was a more humble building, but big by grocery store standards of the time. From what I can tell, it is in a part of neighborhing Jefferson Parish on the side of one of the canals where there was no flooding. So it appears. The store seems to be operating today.

Not a day goes by that my mother says she is not sad about what happened to New Orleans, but the friend she talked to this afternoon says she is optimistic and hopeful about the future of the city. It celebrated Mardi Gras this year, and deep down I do believe it will come back and be a thriving place again, just a changed and altered city, one which we who grew up there will have to learn to accept.

For a fascinating tour of the city along one street and how the storm and flooding affected the areas along this 3.8 mile-long thoroughfare, see this article in a recent issue of U.S. News. New Orleans is a city of streets and boulevards that define and shape its character, and Freret Street is no exception.

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