Just another summer weekend in Seattle

by Mac Lacy 30. June 2009 05:57

No one in Seattle stands still for long.  In less than two days here, we've seen two parades and a marathon.  Not to mention hundreds of weekend boaters and dozens of incoming and outgoing seaplanes.

I'm writing this from the dockside bar at Duke's Chowder House, a maritime institution of sorts here on Seattle's Lake Union.  It's Sunday afternoon around happy hour and the seaplanes are coming in from the San Juan Islands at the rate of one every ten minutes or so.  Most, I'd guess are bringing people back from weekend homes out there where they also keep their boats.  In fact, here at Duke's, we're directly in their flight path and most pass maybe 50 feet above my head during a steep descent into this sunlit lake before flattening out to create little more than just one more wake in this busy stretch of water.  That's because at the same time there are dozens of sailboats, cruisers and runabouts plying Lake Union.  In sum total, the scene that unfolds is definitely worth a cold beer and a few minutes of wistful relaxation.

Since we had to fly into Sitka from Seattle for a cruise of Alaska's Inside Passage on Monday, we spent the weekend in Seattle.  We arrive on Saturday and had lunch down at Pike Street Market, then headed over to watch the annual Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon.  More than 25,000 runners took part in this race that gets its name from this city's celebrated claim as an incubator for cutting edge rock music that has only grown over the past couple of decades.  By the time we got there, the runners were finished and the walkers had center stage.  Most of them waved and shouted to friends high above in the market area where we were.

On Sunday, we followed a group of green clad soccer fans who were walking and cheering in unison towards the city's Safeco Field.  These fans were enjoying a rare daily double--not only were their Seattle Sounders playing Colorado, but this was the day of the final in the Confederated Cup international soccer competition.  The United States had shocked the futbol world and were meeting Brazil in the finals.  So this crowd was pumped up.

No more so than the second parade we bumped into that day.  The annual gay pride parade made its way through downtown and thousands of marchers in a blazing array of colors and costumes took part.  We left them in Pioneer Square and could hear the revelry for blocks afterwards.

But now it's happy hour on Lake Union and the sun is setting fast.  I have a great seat for watching a weekend in Seattle come to a close and there's no place right now I'd rather be.

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Alaska Inside Passage Cruise

Get your kicks at the Rock Cafe

by Brian Jewell 25. June 2009 09:05

The Rock Cafe is the kind of place that made Rout 66 famous.

The Stroud, Oklahoma, restaurant has been a fixture of the Mother Road for decades. Even though Route 66 has been long decommissioned as a national highway, there are some 350 intact miles of it running through Oklahoma, and many of the classic restaurants and attractions that became popular with travelers along the old road can still be visited.

Rock Cafe is one such place. The restaurant is frequented by both locals and tourists, who come from far and wide to eat here. Several years ago, a crew from the Pixar movie studio stopped by the cafe for a meal during a trip to research their animated movie Cars.  The producers were so taken with the Rock Cafe and its owner Dawn Welch (pictured below) that they returned many times, and based the movie character Sally on Dawn and her family business. A couple of years ago, Food Network personality Guy Fieri visited to feature Rock Cafe on his hit show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

The restaurant has earned its fame over decades, but recently almost lost everything overnight. In spring of 2008, a fire originating in the kitchen extensively damaged the restaurant, forcing Dawn and her family to close down for more than a year to rebuild the business that has been central to their lives.

In May, the Rock Cafe reopened, with a brand-new, expanded dining room, but the same eclectic menu. Diners can come for chicken-fried steak, a shrimp po-boy or German-inspired schnitzel. When she knows that groups are coming, Dawn will make her way out of the kitchen and share the Rock Cafe story with her visitors.

It's places like the Rock Cafe and people like Dawn that make Route 66 such a loveable, memorable part of our American heritage... even if it only lives on in song. 

Discovering Will Rogers

by Brian Jewell 24. June 2009 08:44

Is there anybody today like Will Rogers? Will there ever be?

Will Rogers is a name I've heard before. But until I visited his boyhood home, as well as the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma, I had no idea how significant this man really was: An entertainer, a writer, a philosopher, a cowboy, a world traveler -- an everyman at the turn of the century, someone that nearly every man could relate to.

Rogers was born here in Oklahoma on a Ranch not far from Claremore. His birthplace home (pictured above) has been preserved, and today visitors can walk through and see the house as it likely would have looked during Will's childhood there. The working ranch also has cattle, chickens, a peacock and other animals that Will's family raised.

At the memorial museum in Claremore, the stature of this man comes more clearly into view. Exhibits show the breadth of the man's talent, and his influence on the American people. He starred in dozens of movies, and wrote a daily newspaper column that was at one time run by every major daily paper in the United States. In his heyday, he was the most famous man in the world, and remains one of the most beloved everyman figures in American history.

Rogers died tragically early, now a generation ago. I left the museum today wondering how he will be remembered by young people who have never seen his films or columns, and who there is in today's world to take his place. Certainly no Hollywood celebrity, or sports superstar or political figure rises to his stature.  And in today's fractured world of celebrity tabloids and red-state/blue-state acrimony, I doubt that anyone ever will.

Will Rogers was one of a kind. And even though I was not alive to know his work firsthand, I am glad to have learned about such an extraordinary man.


A moment for reflection

by Brian Jewell 23. June 2009 08:27

It's amazing how much can change in one minute.

I was 13 years old when Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed in April of 1995. I remember hearing about it at school that day, and I remember feeling a strange distance between myself in Kentucky and the victims in Oklahoma. Now that I'm here, standing at the site itself, I am disconnected no longer.

It was one minute -- 9:02 a.m., specifically -- that change Oklahoma City and the rest of the country forever. Today, that moment in time is commemorated between two large "Gates of Time," one marked 9:01 and the other marked 9:03, at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. In between, a large reflecting pool symbolizes that one horric moment of violence.

There is no other memorial like this in the country, where every element is so symbolic, so visceral, and so moving. From the large Gates of Time (pictured above) to the field of empty chairs (pictured below) representing the victims killed in the attacks, this memorial brings the personal tragedy of that day to the forefront of my mind.

In the memorial's museum, displays and newsreels detail the attack and the massive recovery efforts that took place in the following days and weeks. The experience is enriching but chaotic, encouraging and yet sobering.

Outside, though, the scene is quiet and peaceful. There is something soothing in the reflecting pool, and something humanizing in these empty chairs. Between the gates, I stand symbolically at one moment in time that happened 14 years ago.

It's amazing how much can change in one minute.


Tracking Storms in Tornado Alley

by Brian Jewell 22. June 2009 08:03


If you've ever had a television or radio show interepted by a severe weather warning, the alert originated here: the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

Situated on the Oklahoma University campus, the National Weather Center is actually a conglomeration of a number of government, educational and commercial weather monitoring organizations. Here in the middle of the Oklahoma plains, the staff at the weather center and surrounding buildings monitors weather conditions across the country, and even on the high seas. Among the many facilities in this large, high-tech building is the Storm Prediction Center, a series of rooms outfitted with dozens of radar maps and computer monitors that experts use to keep track of potentially severe weather patterns.

"The Storm Prediction Center is the source of every severe storm watch or tornado watch in the country," said Kevin Kloesel, who guided me around the weather center today. "The ration of monitors to people in this building is about 10 to 1. We have about 550 people working here, and more than 5,000 monitors."

The center has much more storm-tracking equipment, as well. Kevin walked me through the vehicle bay, where storm chasing vans have been outfitted with instruments to follow the tornadoes that are common in this area of the country in late spring. We also saw a massive mobile radar truck (pictured above), which can be deployed around the region to capture low-altitude radar images that stationary units can't always detect.

When groups tour the weather center, they get to see many of these same areas, and learn about how the agencies working there take advantage of the work of Oklahoma University meteorology students, whose original research at the center has lead to significant forecasting breakthroughs. Other highlights include a 360-degree spherical projection screen (pictured below), where global weather radar images from the last 30 days are on a mesmerizing moving display.

Leaving the weather center today, I had a whole new appreciation for the innovation and the hard work that goes into forecasting the weather, and into warning people across the country about dangerous weather situations.


Maumee Bay before the crowds

by Mac Lacy 5. June 2009 18:04

I beat the crowds to Maumee Bay State Park, just outside Toledo, at the bottom of Lake Erie.  My waitress this morning told me that when schools up here let out later this month, to watch out.  "We'll be full the rest of the summer through Labor Day," she said.

As it is, right now there are people walking in windbreakers and the lone life guard at the pool has a hoodie and sweats on to beat the brisk wind coming off this huge lake.  So summer in its fullness is still a couple of weeks away.

I'm in town at the invitation of Dave Nolan, CEO of the Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau.  They're hosting an industry golf event at this park on its championship golf course.  Dave's bureau is our back cover advertiser in Small Market Meetings and we appreciate this chance to come say hello.  This is a Scottish links style course and the way the wind is blowing this morning, it will play like Scotland in every respect.  I've put together a team that includes a sales person from Cedar Point, a meeting planner from Whirlpool corporation and a fellow with a promotions company.

This state park bills itself as "where Lake Erie starts".  It lies in a former marshland that was hundreds of square miles and centered around the Maumee River that runs here into the lake.  The marsh was left when Lake Erie was down-sized thousands of years ago and receded to its current size.  Most of the marshland is gone now due to hundreds of years of manmade intervention to bring development into this part of Ohio.

Lots of great wildlife still thrives here--bald eagles are coming back to the area and there are many species of snakes, frogs and birds in the area.  On a walk early this morning, I saw a flock of gulls and a flock of geese eyeing each other warily on the beach at this park.

I was pleased to find here at this state park, unlike the Kentucky state parks I'm used to, that I could have a beer with my Lake Erie perch dinner last night.    My waiter, Eddie, apologized for the meager selection.  "We're between seasons for beer right now--usually we have lots of British and German beers, plus our local brand, Great Lakes."  After dinner, two photographers with tripods and serious camera gear walked through the grounds to shoot the sunset over the bay.

Well, have to go.  Time to roll a few putts and meet my teammates.

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They built it and people came

by Eliza Myers 4. June 2009 17:50

Today I went the distance to discover a place I felt I already knew before I arrived from one of my favorite movies: Field of Dreams. I resisted the urge to quote lines from the movie out loud to my guide Karla Thompson from the Dyersville Area Chamber of Commerce as she drove me down the same road featured at the end of the film when cars sit bumper to bumper to come see the baseball field.

The Field of Dreams Movie Site awakened all the heartwarming feelings the movie creates, since the field looked just as it did when Universal Studios constructed it inside a corn field. Some children and adults were playing a pick-up game on the iconic baseball diamond while I walked around, since the owners keep the field free for anyone’s use.

Even though the corn was too short to be just like the movie, the stories of filmmaking made the field come to life for me. Tomorrow marks my last day of touring this small corner of Iowa at Quad Cities and Des Moines, with no doubt more amazing surprises in store.


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Adventures in Iowa

Iowa from the treetops

by Eliza Myers 3. June 2009 17:37

When I was little I always impatiently awaited my next chance to play in my friend’s tree house, which we would stay in until the setting sun forced us both inside. Today, I explored a tree house in Marshalltown, Iowa that made my friend’s one-room tree house seem like a dollhouse.

What started out as a hobby has turned into an attraction drawing people from all over the world. The man with a vision, Mick Jurgensen, built this tree house mansion with very little construction experience. As his grandmother gave me a tour of the sprawling 55-foot high house, she told stories of Jurgensen’s early fascination with constructing miniature structures out of wood and Lego blocks so elaborate they came complete with their own water pump system.

The childhood fantasy come true known as the Big Treehouse seemed even livable, with 12 floors, a television, grill, running water and zany fun decorations at every turn. After today’s enjoyable tours of Pella and Marshalltown, I anticipate more Iowa gems tomorrow at Waterloo, Dyersville and Dubuque.

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Adventures in Iowa

Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

by Eliza Myers 2. June 2009 23:55

After exiting the Des Moines International Airport this morning, I took a right turn and found myself immediately immersed in the bright greens of America’s heartland. Corn fields hugged both sides of the road and dairy cows munched on the lush prairie grasses as I drove past farm after farm. The peaceful countryside seemed even more beautiful than I imagined from movies like Field of Dreams.

I’m in my room at Honey Creek State Resort Park after touring the resort so new that all the concrete hasn’t finished drying. Opened last September, the resort features elegant accommodations with views of Iowa’s second largest lake – the Rathbun Lake. As I walked in the resort, the 60-foot fireplace drew my eyes upward at its mosaic designs of native Iowa fish and birds.

At the resort’s Lakeshore Grille, I was informed that any traveler to the state should taste the well-reputed Iowa chop. I’m still in a food coma from that delicious meal with baked apples on top, but looking forward to starting my whirlwind tour of Iowa tomorrow.

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