Big Cats in Tampa

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I’ve always loved cats.

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I learned that from my mom. At one point, when I was a child, we had as many as nine cats. My Mother was simply incapable of turning away anyone or anything that was hungry or unloved or needed a place to crash for a while. So you can guess that every stray animal (or human) ended up at our house.
She gave me a good foundation in responsibility to animals.
I’ve always had a cat or two or four in my life. I’ve always helped turtles cross the road. I’ve always helped animal rescue organizations when I can. And I’ve always known it’s a bad idea to personally own a tiger or a lion. But at the same time I’ve always wanted to own a medium sized cat of my own.
I love cats. They are all gorgeous. And their personalities please me. All of them. Even the mean and crotchety. So the idea of owning an extra large house cat-well it can’t help but be appealing.

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The truth is that big cats, even the small big cats, are not meant for house living.

Last week, in Tampa, FL., I paid a visit to Big Cat Rescue.

What a fantastic organization!

They are one of the world’s only accredited big cat rescues. And they are very good at what they do.

A tour of the grounds consisted of a leisurely meander among the cat cages, heartfelt tellings of many of the cat’s individual stories, and a good dose of education about the plight of large and medium sized cats forced to live in quarters designed for humans.

I’m very glad an organization like this exists. They take great care of these majestic felines and it shows. The cats are happy and lolling about smiling and grunting and licking bloodsicles. (Bloodsicles are just what they sound like.)

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Many have access to lakes and ponds for swimming if they like. Animals who were rescued together continue to live together. Ah, the story of Cameron the lion and Zabu the white tiger, rescued from a zoo. Or the five servals saved from a NY basement after nearly 14 years!
The biggest cats have a sort of vacation land. They rotate time on multiple acres where they can run with enough room reach their top speeds.

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I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed my visit to Big Cat Rescue.  (And just for the record, I’ve given up my desire to own a bobcat.)

If you have 10 or 20 or 100 bucks you’d like to toss their way, you can find their donation page here and their wishlist page here.

If you aren’t moved to do that then consider a donation to your local dog or cat shelter.
It’s good karma to help beings that cannot help themselves.

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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….

 

 

Shoutout To TripAdvisor

Seriously, I just want to give a huge shoutout to TripAdvisor.

I’ve been using their app to find places to eat or visit.

Now on the eating front… I love that they rank places. ALL the places in a city. So you can look at them in order #1 through #2784. Or you can look at the ones near you. And even when you look at it that way it tells you what rank they are.

Yesterday in Dallas, as per recommendations from TripAdvisor, my friend Aryn (who just happens to be in town headed north while I’m in town headed south) and I ate at the following places:

The Velvet Taco – #18 of 2,962 – The place was AMAZING! Order at the counter, long communal tables, your name will be called. The menu was short and sweet and the girl at the counter asked “Have you been here before?” Then gave us a menu and circled all the best sellers. The menu is also on the wall and features a WTF special – that’s the weekly taco feature. I had the Rotisserie Chicken taco, and Ahi Poke Taco (which is raw tuna in lettuce) and the Rotisserie Corn – which was a delicious little cup of shaved Mexican corn on the cob goodness. If you are ever in Dallas – eat here!

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Cedar’s Mediterranean Mezza & Grill – #77 of 2,962 – Yay! It’s a salad bar. Sorta half Latin, half Greek, half oh I don’t even know but wow. Turkish salad, hummus (in three flavors), eggplant (five different ways), stuffed grape leaves, citrus potato salad, mint cabbage salad, roasted potatoes, Babaganoush, Tabouleh, pita pizzas, couscous salad with almonds, three different bean dishes, and more. The added bonus to our visit is that there was a large party in the main room that was fun to watch. It was a beautiful princess celebrating her Sweet 16. (Is it normal that she was dressed exactly like her cake topped figurine? Do they sell the dresses, hair pieces and figurines together?) It was joyous to watch her. No sarcasm at all here – the food was phenomenal and the party was sweet.

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Today we ate at:

Ellen’s Southern Kitchen – #157 of 2,962 – We went here for Brunch because it looked good and not expensive. “Breakfast served AL day because Grits RULE!”I had the Big Ol Country Breakfast – which was Biscuits and Gravy, scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns. Aryn had poached eggs with garlic and spinach on grits. She said the grits were great. Lots of alternative looking folk working here and dining here (along with sweet little old grandmas and such…) Definitely worthy.

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Asian Mint – #45 of 2,962 – We were both wiped out from a day of (free) museum walking (The Dallas Museum of Art is quite good.) and a visit to Dealey Plaza to honor America’s past and ponder brutality, reality and life in America. So we decided to just grab some food to take back to the hotel. Orange Chicken, Summer Rolls, and Coconut Soup. The place was packed as we waited for our take-out and we were delighted at how good it was. (I didn’t get any photos here.)

So yeah, Thanks TripAdvisor

Tennessee (Jed?)

 

 

 

 

(The title of this post is just a nod to a song I love. Sadly, I don’t know anyone named Jed in Tennessee…)

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December 14th.

I left Atlanta early and headed for McMinnville, TN. I wrote this while waiting for the concert to start:

No cell service here underground. Nor should there be.
A short walk deep into a mountainside leads to the cavern in which I now sit. They’ve turned it into a great little concert venue.
I’m here for the Pirate’s Christmas Bluegrass show. Signs around the place here tell us that by entering the area we are agreeing to be filmed for publication or play on the internet or on tv.
There’s hipsters and older folk and women in fancy dresses and heels. There’s families and big beards and a long hair or two. I have even seen a dancing bear tie dye in the crowd. The place holds 500 people I’m told.

This concert cavern started life as a saltpeter mine for the Confederates during the Civil War. Saltpeter was then shipped to Nashville where it was essential in making gunpowder. I enjoy knowing the history of a place.

(Now back to the present.)

It all sounded awesome. It did, right? But it turned out to be a little too cutesy and just average musicians with a gimmick. Not to say it was bad. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t totally spectacular. And did I mention all the cute cute children joining the band on stage? Oh and Santa. He was there too. I’m glad I went. The venue was very very cool. But I wish I could have seen an amazing band/musician there rather than a cheesy Pirate show.

On the plus side I was given a little cache of loot as a prize for being the one in attendance who came from farthest away…

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When I left McMinnville I *thought* I was heading back south – either to Hixson (just outside Chattanooga), or maybe Summetown where a good friend lives. But somehow, some way, my car headed north and next thing ya know, I was in Nashville.

Props to the bartender who told me where, in Nashville, to go – ie – East Nashville.

Dec 15th –

I spent the day wandering the Five Points area of East Nashville. Cute little independent stores, a great brunch place with organic and local food, and it’s fun to travel places while they’re all decorated up for Xmas.

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I fell in complete love with this Xmas tree made by a local Nashville artist. If I was rich, this baby would have been mine!

 

 

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Sorta steampunkish, sorta natural, all the way cool!

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After all this, I’d had my fill of Nashville. It just wasn’t calling to me. No matter what people say, I didn’t feel much heart or soul here – at least not for me.

So I left and headed for Memphis…

I Visited The Georgia Guidestones Today

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I drove through some gorgeous back highways of South Carolina and Georgia to reach Elberton, GA.

I pulled in and there was a stylish woman there with a camera and a tripod.

I walked over and said Hello.

She said “Hi, I’ve been waiting for you.”

Or waiting for someone… lol

Meredith is a University of Georgia student working on her senior thesis. She’s into exploring Georgia’s oddities. She’d been there an hour and I was the first person to appear.

I’m not going to say much about the Georgia Guidestones except that some people refer to them as America’s Stonehenge, and there’s a bit of controversy about it all. If you are intrigued – google it. There is much of interest to read and consider.

I enjoyed it very much. There’s something special and awesome about the place. I stayed for a few hours hanging out with Meredith, being interviewed, modeling, suggesting shots, watching her interview the few other folks who came by, and helping with her voiceover thoughts and clips.

Perhaps later I’ll have a link to the interview she did with me.

For now – here’s some photos from the day.

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Edit 12-30-2013

I got this link from Meredith and thought I’d share it here –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3nw6_a8ndk