Pyramids and Rivers

[This series of posts is brought about by my attempt to relive what I did on my vehicular walkabout which lasted from December 8, 2013 to May 3, 2014. I’m attempting to sorta keep pace with myself last year.]
I liked what I wrote last time, so that stopped me from writing.
I don’t even think what I wrote last time was all that, but yet… I was pleased with it. So I congratulated myself on finally writing something I didn’t hate completely, on being able to see the smallest glimpse into my own potential, and I shelved it amongst the laundry, dishes and recycling, caused by the xmas carnage of two expensive cameras, lobster dinner, and life.
I really need to stop that. I need to commit to the daily process. Sometimes I write relatively well, sometimes I suck – but that is part of the process. Just keep writing.

My desire to relive and document my experience from the now – as it happened a year ago – seems vitally important and I cannot let it get away from me. There is something here to learn that I’m quite sure I can pinpoint if I look closely enough. Some juxtaposition between then and now and the past. I think.

Trying to remember what each city felt like to me. How I felt when I was there. What stills stands out with its memories and its lessons yet unnoticed?

So yeah. It’s an exercise in writing – but more than that it has the added benefit of learning what the point is. I hope.

I left myself off headed to Nashville in the last post and that leaves me quite far behind myself; for as of today, one year ago, I was in Tucson. That means I am 2000 or so miles behind myself. A lot happened that week. I’ll get as much of it as I can today.

Nashville meant nothing to me. I stayed one night, felt nothing at all and moved on.

Oddly, and part of the dimming of Nashville I’m sure, Memphis was calling to me. Who thinks of Memphis? I certainly hadn’t. Not by a long shot. And yet here I was, close enough to hear it beckoning.

I loved everything about Memphis. One planned night turned into three.
The downtown décor, where I landed,touched me. It seemed soft and elegant while at the same time a bit rouge. Untamed. Blue. Blue stands out in my mind. Memphis
The trolley cars were gaily decorated with wreaths and garlands and pine and bows. Everyone was as friendly as can be. Jolly and welcoming. I gave xmas cookies to the front desk clerks and the valets, Trolley drivers told me the stories of their lives, the history of Memphis, and that if I ever visited in May I’d never leave. One kindly driver with sparkly eyes grilled me about my own life choices as I rode the trolley loop around and around. And too, I’d come from Atlanta, where MLK’s presence loomed, where his tomb rests, to the place where he was killed. I passed the Lorraine Hotel every day. Somber.
The Pyramid that was a developer’s dream, a concert venue for a minute and now defunct with hotel dreams. The majestic river and bluffs that account for Memphis’ placement in the world. The Peabody Hotel and their famous ducks – ducks that spend their days in the lobby fountain and their nights in a luxury duck penthouse. Watching them parade towards the elevator to call it a day, as tourists jostled for a view from the mezzanine around the massive xmas tree. Famous record studios and radio stations and many music museums. A Cotton Museum that I truly enjoyed. Housed in an old cotton exchange, they made it seem like the entire history of America as we know it pivoted on cotton. I had a very strong moment of… recognition?… when I came upon the small tools for carding the cotton. Something akin to a wire scrub brush, raked across another of its kind in order to comb the cotton. I’ve seen this before. I’ve DONE this before. I still cannot place any event of such in this lifetime of mine but I have deep awareness that I’ve used these tools. I knew at once the certain way it had to be done, the angles that make it work smoothest. It was a powerful moment. I stood there with my head cocked, thinking, reaching, trying to remember, trying to understand the moment.

I didn’t go to Graceland. I had joked that it was required since I was here, but I felt liberated in not going. I didn’t go to Al Green’s Church either. I also didn’t go to the Museum at the Lorraine Hotel – but that was only because I saved it for my last day only to realize all too late that they were closed on Wednesdays.

Here in Memphis I met another old friend that I only knew online. Dawn.
Back in the day she ran a newsgroup for diarists and artists called Purple Ink. We were in close touch for years. She even wrote a couple or three articles for my magazine when I had it. But as the years had gone on, newsgroups faded, life went on, facebook came along and she never joined the lemmings. We’d lost touch. I only remembered that she worked for Downtown Memphis which made her pretty easy to find. Bonus points – Her office was about three blocks from my hotel.
Any city gains extra layers when you can explore it with a local. A nice drive around the city outside of downtown revealed coffeehouses, restaurants, bookstores, and all of it in the conviviality of the Holiday Season. Dawn’s crew had been responsible for most of the holiday decorating I was appreciating so much, so I got a full tour of trees and lights. We ended that evening with a late night wander along Beale Street. Dawn was a trooper on a work night and I had so much fun meeting her and hanging out. So classy she is, with things like a personalized glass drinking straw that she carries in her purse for her iced tea. I hope I get to visit Dawn again someday.

And.
Memphis had my favorite restaurant of my whole journey. There’s a few others that stand out – but none quite as much as Flight. Found by accident on my first arrival night because it was the only thing open near the hotel. Anything could be ordered in a full size app or entrée, dessert or drink, but their brilliant concept was that everything was generally offered in flights. Everything you can imagine came in flights. This was made for my way of wanting to eat. I always want the different tastes.
Wines flights determined by region or winery or type. Martini flights, bourbon flights. Salad flights and soup flights! Ah the choices! The flavors! Beet Pear Salad, roasted veggie soup, – Ah! Where have I put the menu? Of course I took a copy. I salivated over every option both times I visited. Suggested flights could be mixed or matched to one’s choosing. The Fish Flight, the Meat Flight (which had better names) with Bison, Elk, Filet Mignon. The Foul Flight with small portions of duck, Cornish hen and chicken. And Oh! That chicken dish. I have yet to recreate it, though I talk about it often. It was my first ever chicken and waffles. And though I tried many more chicken and waffles dishes on this journey, none was so inventive and well executed. The key was the mushroom maple cream sauce. Yeah, I want that again – I will have to invent it soon.

From the food to the land to the people – Memphis mattered.

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“Well Nashville had country music but Memphis had the soul
Lord, the white boy had the rhythm and that started rock and roll
And I was here when it happened don’t you all think I ought to know
I was here when it happened, yeah, yeah, yeah
I watched Memphis give birth to rock and roll, Lord, lord yeah.”

Roy Orbison

The Inn at the Park – San Diego

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I fell in love with a tree in Balboa Park.

I want to write about the truly awesome hotel I stayed in while visiting Balboa Park. (I say visiting the Park, as opposed to visiting San Diego, because I barely saw anything of the city except the Park and this fabulous hotel.)

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2013

One of my dearest friends, who happens to be a gay guy, had told me I should aim for the Hillcrest neighborhood because it is artsy and cool. I didn’t much give any thought to his sexually oriented perspective, but this information landed me at what the concierge told me was the gayest hotel in “San Diego’s best gayborhood.” It was also a short walk to everything I wanted to see in Balboa Park. So I checked in.

From the outside it’s just a rather large brick building, looking like any old nondescript apartment building.

Apparently that’s a deserved look as the place started out in 1926 as a luxury hotel and apartment building called Park Manor Suites. It was designed by Frank P. Allen Jr. who was quite the impressive architect.

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From SanDiegoHistory.org – (heavily edited text follows)

“Frank P. Allen, Jr., came to San Diego in 1911 to work on the Panama-California Exposition and left an indelible imprint on the architecture and landscape of the city. By profession, he labored as an architect, contractor, and engineer, as well as a sensitive self-taught landscape designer. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1881 to Frank P. and Mary Allen, Allen received early training in the architectural field under the tutelage of his father, a Michigan architect. In his early twenties, after a stint in the Spanish-American War, Allen and his father practiced architecture in Grand Rapids under the firm name of Frank P. Allen & Son.

 

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Frank P. Allen Jr.

Allen moved to Chicago in the early 1900s where he worked as a draftsman. He left Chicago in 1904 and headed west. He received a contract for the nine-story Perry Hotel in Portland, Oregon and completed it in unheard of time-two months and two days. He served as consulting engineer to Portland’s Lewis and Clark Exposition, held in 1905. His accomplishments in Portland led to his employment as the Director of Works for the Seattle exposition which opened in 1909. Seattle wanted “a man who could work fast and save.” Allen was given two and one half years to complete his portion of the work for the exposition. He finished it in one year and ten months. Allen was hired as the Director of Works in San Diego for the Panama-California Exposition in January 1911. His first order of business involved the topographical survey of the area which he felt needed to be completed. Allen found fault with the Olmsted recommendation of an exposition set along the Florida canyon site and proposed the actual site, “pointing out its advantages from a scenic point of view.” But exposition directors fought him, arguing “it would be impractical to build a bridge over the Cabrillo canyon, that the cost would be too great.” Allen demonstrated that his plans would be cost-effective, and in the end he won his battle. Allen “volunteered to shoulder the responsibility” for the exposition planting. He implemented an irrigation system for Balboa Park and devised a landscaping plan. The Cabrillo Bridge, built of reinforced concrete at a cost of $225,154, extended 916 feet across the canyon. With great ceremony, the bridge was dedicated April 12, 1914, and the first person to ride across it was Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Allen contributed his architectural, engineering, and horticultural expertise to a number of other Balboa Park and exposition designs.

Allen left San Diego in 1917 but returned two years later with thoughts of staying. He designed and built the Park Manor apartment building on the west side of Balboa Park at 6th and Spruce in 1925. Allen and his wife Mabel lived there until they divorced in 1931 and Allen moved to Los Angeles. He died an accidental death on July 5, 1943 at the age of 63.”

I’m unsure when the name changed to Inn at the Park but that’s rather irrelevant, yes? The canopy over the front door still reads Park Manor Suites, so I suspect it wasn’t that long ago.

IMG_2483The room I had was HUGE. I’m told each and every IMG_2472room is different.  Mine had a large purple bathroom with a circular inlaid marble design on the floor. It also had a small but complete cooking area attached to a dining room with a stylish retro kitchen table. Opposite the massive and comfortable bed (with quality linens) was a large comfortable couch and an equally large glass deco coffee table. The closet was as big as the bathroom and both closet and bathroom had french doors stenciled with black and purple designs on the door’s inner panels. The whole color scheme was grey, purple, white and IMG_2477black. The art brought in splashes of yellow. It really was a joy to behold.

That said, when I first arrived I was conflicted and experiencing a love-hate relationship with the hotel. The only elevator was old enough that I would believe it if you told me it was original to the hotel. The hallways were kind of musty and smelled like a grandmother’s house. The Piano Bar downstairs was dark in a grungy way as opposed to dark in a pleasing way. I didn’t want to eat downstairs as it looked like only the most awful tasting food could possibly come from such a room. I do not know if that impression was correct. I never ate in that bar/restaurant. Instead I ventured out into the surrounding blocks for my IMG_2479nighttime eating. That first night I went to sleep considering that I might leave in the morning.

IMG_2465In the morning however, I was introduced to the true gem of this hotel. The roof top restaurant. It’s only open for breakfast and lunch as far as food goes, but it becomes a bar on Friday nights – but more on that in a moment. The views of the city and the park in the brilliant sunshine, and the planes landing at San Diego airport, skimming by so close you could practically reach out and touch them were truly glorious things to experience with my morning coffee.

IMG_2436So – coffee on the roof and the days spent walking through the park convinced me to stay.

My second day there was Friday. When I returned from the park my concierge friend told me there was a Friday happy hour on the roof. He totally warned me it was mostly gay men who attend. Mostly! Ha! If there was 3% women there I’d be surprised. And if more than .02% of them were straight I’d be even more surprised.

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I met interesting men and their husbands. I met bankers and lawyers and broken hearts. And they were all in the 40-60 age range it seemed, so I appreciated that. Admittedly, this party was a big part of what makes me say that my stay in San Diego was great! Big hellos and shout outs to Dave and (separately) Angelo who were my two favorite people that I met that night.

But here’s the thing about the Inn at the Park and its Friday night Happy Hour on the Roof – it’s ending. This month. January 31st will be the last of these top of the city parties. The men I met were melancholy about this fact, as could be expected. This party’s been going on for over 20 years, some said 25 years. What’s causing this tragic winding down of an iconic neighborhood weekly party? It’s the fact that The Inn at the Park has been sold to Wyndham properties and they will be turning the hotel into a time share property. And the roof? That will be converted into a fitness room, a sales center and an owner’s lounge. Some men were admittedly angry that their beloved Friday scene could be so heartlessly ripped from them; angry that a corporation could just swoop into their neighborhood and dismantled what they consider an institution.

I have to admit it made me kind of sad too. This really was a splendid evening. It was a long-standing happening, important to the self perception of an entire generation of gay men in the area. I got a little drunk and I felt special to have gotten here to experience this fabulous tradition, this hotel, this roof top, these men, before the end. I didn’t even know the end was coming, but I managed to get here to see it in all its glory before it fades into memory. Mine. Theirs. And San Diego’s.

Ah San Diego.

I’m not going to make this blog post much longer or I’ll never get it posted, and I’d like to end on a more upbeat note so let me give a shout out to some of the awesome things I enjoyed in Balboa Park.

I loved the Spanish Village Art Center.

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And the Botanical Building Designed with a lot of input by our esteemed architect Frank P. Allen Jr.

 

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The Botanical Building 1920s

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The Botanical Building 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the special exhibit at the Museum of Man – The Instruments of Torture.

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Oh and the Timkin Art Museum – small but very worthy.

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Maybe next visit I’ll actually check out San Diego….

 

 

Rainbows End Down That Highway

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I should always see Birds of Paradise in my everyday existence.

So a concerned reader wrote and said “Don’t let the sadness of Tony stop you from blogging. Why haven’t you written again?”

Ok. Ok. This is a place for truth. I have no concerned readers. It was actually my best friend who wrote and said that.

I’m sorry to have given that impression. It wasn’t at all “the sadness of Tony” that stopped me from writing. It was, instead, a couple of other things.

1 – The sadness of Tony wasn’t really Tony’s fault. Nor was it overwhelmingly his sadness I felt. His was real and true. But what weighed on me so heavily was the town itself, the other energies and people there. Once I left, things got better instantly.

2 – It was that I’ve been quite busy. I’ve been on the move. Socializing. Seeing people and doing things. I’ve been to the Salton Sea, to San Diego, to Laguna Beach for a few days, to visit friends and their four adopted Chinese daughters in Hermosa Beach in a house bursting with activity and lined up lunch boxes every morning. I’ve been to gajillions of Museums, had dinners with friends, and wandered on beaches for hours on end watching strangers wandering on beaches, I’ve been contemplating the lives of shore birds and enjoying the weather immensely.

3 – When I left Connecticut I imagined this blog would be something awesome, something thoughtful, educational, intriguing, worth reading. And I have a couple different blog posts half way shaped in my head, but none of them are yet fully formed (read: good enough to be what I want them to be.)

4 – I’m an active Toastmaster. I’m the VP of Public Relations at my home club. I promised to keep up my social media posting duties AND more interestingly, I’ve been visiting Toastmaster Clubs in some of the cities in which I have stopped. When I do that, I write a blog post for my club blog about their club, their meeting and my visit. So when I HAVE had time to write, I’ve been doing that first. Because it’s easier to write a report than it is to write something perfect thoughtful, and I’ve wanted to write those before the impressions fade.

But now I’m mostly caught up on Toastmaster blogging. And as of late last night I have landed at a friend’s house with some peace and quiet, no need to jump in the car to move on, nothing particular to see nearby, and he’s off at work for the next 8 hours.  So maybe I can work on this.

Oh, and if you want to see posts about Toastmaster meetings – that blog is here: Cromwell Community Toastmasters.

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(I do not know these people:)

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(Or these people either.)

Dallas – It’s Where They Shoot Presidents.

I really did like Dallas.
Everything in my history, everything in my DNA told me I would not. could not, should not like Dallas. But I did.
When I said the above to a friend, expressing that I wasn’t sure where my preconceived notions came from, he said “It’s because they shoot presidents in Dallas.”
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When I first arrived in Dallas I stayed with a friend I met online 5 or 6 years ago while playing poker. He lives in a fabulous apartment in downtown Dallas with a balcony to dream about and spectacular views of some of Dallas’ most iconic buildings. He had to go to work for a few hours and I had no clue what I wanted to see or do in Dallas. Since it wasn’t too far from his apartment, or his office, he suggested the Sixth Floor Museum.

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He told me what it was. But I still wasn’t prepared.
The Sixth Floor Museum is located in the Texas Book Depository, from where it is said Oswald shot Kennedy. From the sixth floor, (obviously.)
Props to the curators. The museum is tasteful, or at least as much as such a commemorative museum can be.

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We explore just a bit of Kennedy’s life and not only what brought him to politics, but what he brought to the political scene. We consider some of the decisions he made that didn’t please every American. We’re told enough about the local political scene in Dallas to understand some of the prevailing tensions of the moment. We see interviews with local police and with Secret Service as they express their concerns about this visit. Not enough concerns to curtail his Texas five city tour but enough to have been mentioned.
The hopefulness of the country and of the young presidential couple is viscerally implanted in museum goers. At least it was well implanted in me. So even though I know how this story ends, I still held my breath as I journeyed the hallway with minute by minute pictures of the crawl of the motorcade down Houston street, turning onto Elm.
And then, here we are. At the corner window on the 6th floor. Looking at onto the street from the same vantage point Oswald supposedly had when he supposedly shot the 35th President of the United States of America.
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.
As I write this I, once again, immerse myself in the realities of what went on in Dealey Plaza. And it feels kind of ickky.
I say ‘supposedly’ above, because, like much of America, I’m not sure I can buy into the idea that the shots came from that 6th floor window. Standing there. Intuitively. It makes more sense. It FEELS more like the shots came from the grassy knoll. But what do I know? I wasn’t even born yet. So lets just keep my intuitions out of this missive. It does none of us any good at all for me to have an opinion on this matter.
Jackie’s actions and her poise intrigue me.
It’s no secret that the woman had class. And style. But it seems she also had a good solid grip on reality and the brutality and messiness that life contains.
Jackie wore a now infamous pink wool suit that day. It got spattered with blood and brains, yet she refused to change her clothes.
At the hospital she was urged to wash her face, her hands, her legs, and change her clothes.
No.
“Let them see what they have done.”
She also refused to leave JFK’s body. The only time she left his side was for a brief moment on Air Force One to stand beside LBJ, in her gory pink suit, as he was sworn in as President.
Only once she was back at the White House, only after she’d given instruction for his memorial (to be done much like Lincoln’s was done nearly a century earlier), did she finally leave his side and go change her clothes.
The suit is locked away in the National Archives in Maryland and won’t be available for public viewing until 2103.

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To be cliche about it all, there’s something that’s hard to look away from. Its like a train wreck. Craning one’s neck to see ever more twisted bodies.

The Grassy Knoll

I went back a few days later. Not to the Book Depository, but to Dealey Plaza itself. I walked around, took pictures, read all the plaques, and contemplated the need of us all to see those Xs painted onto the middle of the street, representing the deadly shots.

Fucking Harsh America. Fucking Harsh.

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(As my poker-playing lawyer friend said, this happening forever hovers in the psyche of Dallas. But still, I didn’t hate the place.)

Atlanta Whirlwind

I had these images of having plenty of time to write interesting, informative and pleasing blog posts about the things I’m doing.
Instead I find myself running ragged ever since I left CT – with no end in sight.
Yesterday in Atlanta I visited The Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library, the historic home that Margaret Mitchell lived in while she wrote the majority of Gone With the Wind, and I ended the day visiting The High Museum of Art ( It was half price on Thursday nights!)
I really enjoyed The Carter Center. As a child my first awareness of politics was Watergate. (Wait. What? What’s a President? We have a President? And he lied?) So by the time Carter was being elected I totally wanted him to win. I had a teacher at the time who made us engage with the political process by choosing sides and visiting the local Party offices and volunteering.
I was so displeased by what I’d seen since becoming aware of politics that of course I chose to campaign for Carter.
Since leaving the Presidency the man has done many commendable things in this world and I enjoyed immersing myself in the facts of it all.
Plus it was kind of awesome to stare upon an actual Nobel Peace Prize.
A helpful museum guide named Tony broke the rules and took some pictures of me. He also gave me the Jeopardy-worthy little bit of trivia: There are only two cities in the world which house two Nobel Peace Prizes. One is Atlanta (I went and saw King’s today!) and the other is Soweto, where medals for Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela reside.
Somehow I enjoyed that tenuous connection, what with the week’s news being filled with the goings on at the memorial ceremony to honor Mandela’s passing.

(More text below photos.)

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Here in Atlanta I’m staying with a nice older gentleman named Al. It’s a booking I made via Airbnb – a service born of the sharing economy whereby you rent out extra bedrooms in your house, or pay a cheap price to stay in someone else’s extra room. I’ve been renting out my extra room that way for a few years but this trip is my first chance to really utilize it for myself. (If you don’t know Airbnb yet, do check it out.)

Anyway, Al lives just on the outskirts of Little 5 Points. I spent a good amount of time here in the 80s when Vette (my lifelong best friend) lived here.
Today I started the day with a short walk to Little 5. Truly worthy coffeehouses and a collection of stores I wish I had access to on a daily basis. I spent a few hours wandering and browsing. Enjoyable day.

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A Facebook post, saying where I was, got me a message from a friend saying she had people not too far from here and that I should visit and deliver a hug and greeting.
So I did.
That introduced me to the Lake Claire Land Trust.
What a fantastic place! With land bought from Marta, they have created a meandering little city oasis with playgrounds, sweat lodges, a small amphitheater, performance spaces, and I met an emu named Lou!
That was a great detour and addition to my day!

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Then I jetted off to The King Center to pay my respects and learn a thing or two. The complex is rambling and covers many blocks. I got to see Atlanta’s second (or was it the first?) Nobel Peace Prize.
I was somehow humbled to stand near his tomb. The gravity of it all. A friendly pool cleaner named Lawrence took my photos for me.
I really like meeting real people to chat with.

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I was going to go back to the Lake Claire Land Trust tonight for a Friday night friendly jam but that’s not gonna happen.
I walked a couple blocks from Al’s for dinner at a place called Babette’s and, at 9pm, have landed next door at JavaVino – a coffeehouse wine bar combo and I’m downing more wine than would allow me to be comfortable driving back to the Land Trust.
Here I sit writing this bit on my iPhone in hopes that when I get back to the house I’ll upload some photos and make this a real blog post.

My original plan for this trip was to cruise along the northern reaches of these southern states as I head west but a Facebook post last week from a friend might be sending me north from here to Tennessee – to McMinnville – where there is a concert tomorrow known as Bluegrass Underground. Once a month they have concerts that (I think) are filmed for PBS and December’s is tomorrow and billed as “A Pirate’s Christmas.” So yeah. I think I’m changing my plans and going north tomorrow.

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