New York City Theater

On the second day of my weekend trip to New York City I saw two plays. My interest in the theater is growing more intense and New York City is a major source of inspiration. The major goal of this trip was to see “The Humans” at the Roundabout Theatre Company. “The Humans” was written by a playwright who grew up in Scranton,  Stephen Karam. In fact, both Scranton and Danville are mentioned in the play. I knew that because I read the script I bought on my previous trip.

I started my day with breakfast at the Theatre Row Diner. I knew this place was inexpensive and it is obviously associated with the theater. It is located near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I ordered two scrambled eggs with sausage, wheat toast, and fried potatoes. This meal cost me less than $10.00 which is pretty cheap for New York City. I had to return to my hotel to clean my teeth because unfortunately I sometimes get a lot of food particles caught between two molars which can be painful. For this reason I always bring a floss brush with me.

After that annoying diversion I got to work on a major photography mission. I had a long list of establishments to photograph for my notes. This might not seem a worthwhile activity but I did find my custom travel guide extremely useful on this trip and I visit New York City often enough to justify this major project. During the course of creating my notes I often come across many interesting details about the city. For example, the first establishment I located was the Ensemble Studio Theatre which was actually not far from my hotel. This theater has a reputation for developing new plays. Next I found the Irish Arts Center which will be moving into a new building in the near future. Some places I photographed just for the hell of it, like Tout Va Bien, the French restaurant I ate at on a previous trip. I proceeded to Circle In The Square, a theater which is hidden away in the Paramount Plaza building. Some of the high rise buildings on Broadway actually have theaters within the building. It is very easy to overlook these theaters since there is no exterior evidence of their existence except for some signs. I also located the New York City Center which is a Moorish Revival theater located farther uptown than I usually go. I then found two public sculptures, Robert Indiana’s LOVE and HOPE sculptures. I wasn’t sure if there were actually two different sculptures but I did manage to find them both. I also came across many other interesting things to photograph since I was in an unfamiliar section of the city but I will have to identify what I saw later.

Once I had found everything on my list, I wanted to head on down to Greenwich Village to locate the Off-Off-Broadway theater I was going to in the evening. I also had a list of other establishments to photograph in Greenwich Village. I took the 1 train from the 50th Street Station to 14th Street where I had to transfer to the 2 train to reach Christopher Street. Once I was on Christopher Street I managed to find my way to Waverly Place and located the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. This theater is very nondescript so it is hard to tell if you are at the right place. Basically it is just a red door with the word “Theater” over the door. A small message board is the only clue that this is the right place and it only read “Rattlestick”. So I took a photo of the door and then went off to locate more theaters in the area. I found the Lucille Lortel Theater and the Barrow Street Theatre.

Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre

Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre

I then walked towards Washington Park and managed to find John Barrymore’s apartment building. I’m going to be reading a biography of the Barrymores so I thought it would be cool to at least stand outside the legendary John Barrymore’s apartment building. This site was also made famous by the Paul Rudnick play “I Hate Hamlet”. He was inspired to write that play while living here and learning of the apartment’s association with John Barrymore. Playwrights are obsessed with John Barrymore’s ghost. Another play I’ve seen and read was Jason Miller’s “Barrymore’s Ghost”.

I then proceeded to Washington Park which was just down the street. I took lots of photos of the Washington Arch. There was a man playing the piano in front of the Washington Arch so I took lots of photos of him since he could not stop playing to beg for payment. I left the park to take a decent photo of The Players Theatre on MacDougal Street since they are constantly sending me spam. Along the way I saw the Provincetown Playhouse and Caffe Reggio. I did want to do some shopping in Greenwich Village but the stores I wanted to visit did not open until 11:00 a.m. so I had to wander around a bit until then. Eventually I decided to stop in at Caffe Reggio for a coffee since it was ridiculous to just photograph establishments without actually entering any of them. I ordered a cannoli and a cappuccino with whipped cream. The cannoli was good but it proved to be pretty messy to eat. I was glad I checked this place out because the decor was very unusual and bohemian.

After hanging out around Christopher Park and Sheridan Square for awhile, 11:00 a.m. finally rolled around so I went to Three Lives & Company, a nearby bookstore. I was undecided about which book to buy but eventually I settled for The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow since I’m going to explore Chicago some day. I then went to Bleecker Street Records where I bought a DVD, the Ramones Musicladen. This was a PAL DVD but I did not realize that until much later. Although it was only 12:15 p.m. by then, I took a 3 train uptown to ensure that I would be in the Times Square area by 2:00 p.m. I remember that the 3 train was extremely crowded and I was unable to hold onto anything so only the press of other people kept me on my feet. I got off at 42nd Street because the 3 train does not stop at the 50th Street Station. During the long walk to my hotel I took lots of photos of establishments in Hell’s Kitchen to add to my collection.

I dropped my purchases off at the hotel and then walked along West 49th Street towards Broadway. I came across a Susquehanna Trailways bus parked along West 49th Street. I bet that bus was doing a New York City tour which I could not go on because it was all booked up. I located the Laura Pels Theatre in order to take some photos but I was too early so I wandered around Times Square to take more photos of various Broadway theaters. I never get tired of wasting time that way! I should mention that I saw some heavily armed NYPD soldiers guarding Times Square due to the recent terrorist threats. One thing that I came across that particularly amused me was a sign that read “Super Natural Visions $10”. This must have been for psychic readings. I’m very familiar with supernatural visions but I don’t believe in psychics. An extreme form of creativity can seem supernatural if you manage to reach the deepest part of the psyche where you encounter that which is unfamiliar to the conscious mind. So it seemed very ironic to advertise this on Broadway.

Laura Pels Theatre

Laura Pels Theatre

At 2:00 p.m. it was finally time for the major goal of my trip, seeing the play “The Humans” by Stephen Karam. This show came to my attention because even the brief description mentions Pennsylvania. After learning that the playwright was originally from Scranton I became even more interested. Stephen Karam was apparently involved with the Scranton Public Theatre before moving on to bigger things. Eventually he moved to New York City and became a fairly successful playwright. It is great to find someone from the region living the dream! I’ve read in The Hollywood Reporter that this play will migrate to Broadway. Getting a play on Broadway is every playwright’s dream. It is exceedingly unlikely to ever happen so this is like winning the state lottery. I am really jealous, but it is encouraging in a way to see someone achieve this.

I have to admit that the title is not specific enough. What play isn’t about the humans? But I loved this play since it is the sort of subtle tragedy I prefer. By subtle tragedy I mean that you are not overwhelmed by the tragedy, but it is present to the same degree that tragedy is present in real life. People deal with tragedy without getting too emotional about it, even if they do feel deep grief in private. One of the things I love about theater is that it gives a voice to this silent grief and allows some eloquent expression of grief. Much of the tragedy in this play is very familiar; illness, losing a job, dementia, and economic hardship.

Both Scranton and Danville are mentioned during the course of the play. This alone is enough to thrill me since I have been exploring both of those cities. Danville is much closer to Williamsport and is considered to be within the area. As a matter of fact, I was driven through Danville by the Susquehanna Trailways bus on the way to New York City although we did not stop to pick anybody up there. Scranton is served by Martz Trailways which runs many buses to New York City. Of course, I wouldn’t like a play just for mentioning some familiar places. I would like this play without that.

The stage set was designed to represent a duplex apartment so there were two floors. This sort of thing would be hard to reproduce in community theater. I was a bit shocked by the unprotected edge of the upper floor since an actor could easily walk off the stage and fall to the lower stage. I half expected the character in the wheelchair suffering from dementia to start rolling towards the edge of the stage. It would have been horrifying to see her crash onto the stage below!

The play was your basic kitchen sink drama. There is a lot of criticism of this form of social realism but I don’t think such criticism is justified. You can’t very well write about royalty these days. Nobody could relate to the court intrigues of kings and queens. I suppose you could treat celebrities as royalty but writing plays about their lives would seem like tabloid exploitation. Elevating the tragedy of the common man is the only option. I’m inclined to view the failed artist as a tragic figure but this can seem self-centered.

I think I heard some people in the audience speaking Russian and this surprised me because the language barrier should prevent you from enjoying a play unless you are fairly proficient in the language.

At the end of the play, a few actors remained on stage and asked for donations to the Broadway Cares charity. I forgot to mention that the Laura Pels Theatre is below street level. After the show I was ready for diner. I was going to eat at Zuni’s in Hell’s Kitchen but I discovered that this restaurant had closed permanently. Instead I had to backtrack to Restaurant Row on West 46th Street where I decided to try the Brazil Brazil Restaurant. I ordered the Camarão no Coco, sautéed shrimps with mushrooms and herbs, coconut milk served in a fresh coconut shell, sautéed broccoli and rice. I also ordered a drink, a caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. I can’t find the actual name of the drink online but it was something like Limonada de Janeiro. This meal was very expensive, $55.00 with the tip, but at least the food was pretty good. I just hate paying a lot for a crappy meal.

Brazil Restaurant

Brazil Restaurant

I returned to my hotel to drop off the theater program, i.e. Playbill, and left at 5:45 p.m. to reach Greenwich Village for the final goal of my trip, a play at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at 8:00 p.m. The first thing I did in Greenwich Village was to retrace my steps to the Three Lives & Company bookstore where I bought a copy of “The Village” by John Strausbaugh. This book is a history of bohemians in Greenwich Village so what better place to buy it than in Greenwich Village itself? I saw this book on my previous visit to the book store earlier in the day and regretted not buying it. I then had to wait in a park for a long time for the show to begin. Fortunately it was chilly but not real cold. I played solitaire on my smartphone.

The play I saw at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater was The Bachelors by Caroline V. McGraw. This show wasn’t actually produced by the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. It was a production of Lesser America, a theater company which must have rented this theater. Everyone in the theater seemed to be in the line for the bathrooms and the show started 10 minutes late. This play had a lot of physical action with liquids being drunk and spewed back out. I was sitting in the front row so this was a bit alarming. The audience was mostly young people but there were two gentlemen sitting behind me speaking in such a thick Southern redneck accent that I thought it was a joke at first. They were sort of comical talking about trying to get into Bubba Shrimp after the show.

The play was about three bachelors and their sorry love lives. I’m not sure why a female playwright would write a play on bachelors since she could hardly sympathize with such characters. The behavior of each bachelor did seem slightly strange and overly forlorn. One bachelor had his girlfriend break up with him after she discovered she had cancer. She wanted to experience life to the fullest during the time she had left to her. Another bachelor was fired after touching a stripper on a business trip. And the last bachelor had a naked girl in the attic but unfortunately she did not appear in the play. The play ends with a door mysteriously opening like an invitation to life’s party. At least that was my interpretation. I thought it was a very abrupt ending and it caught me by surprise. A door opens. Oh, that is the end of the play? But I did enjoy the play. It seemed like something that talented college students would create to celebrate their lifestyle.

I took the 3 train back uptown again but instead of walking back to the Christopher Street Station I walked to the closer 14th Street Station to avoid making a transfer. I still had to get off at the 42nd Street / Times Square station. I walked though Times Square again before heading into the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.

That was the end of my successful trip but there are a few details about my departure which I need to record. Finding my way to Gate 2 in the Port Authority Bus Terminal was a little difficult. There was a kiosk like a giant touch pad that provided directions. I had to go down one level and then go down a concourse to reach the stairs to go down another level. Going down two escalators took me to Greyhound Gates 60 to 85 so that was a mistake. There are several Hudson News convenience stores in the Port Authority Bus Terminal where you can buy overpriced snacks and drinks. I bought a bag of pretzels and a candy bar for breakfast plus a bottle of orange juice and a Sprite. I must have spent $10 for all of that! I should bring my own snacks in my luggage on future trips. I did bring two bottles of orange juice and a bottle of Sparkling Ice to ensure I had something to drink. My hotel room had a small refrigerator which was empty so I was able to keep them cool in that.

In conclusion, this trip was a big success. I learned how to make a more extensive trip to New York City without spending too much money. It would still be more economical to make day trips using Susquehanna Trailways tours. Also I rarely have an extended weekend to make the trip worthwhile.

Posted in General, Theater, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New York City Overnight Trip

This weekend I made my first overnight trip to New York City making all the arrangements myself. An overnight trip is far more expensive than a day trip, but I had to make this type of trip to see the play I wanted to see. I learned a lot about this alternative way of traveling to New York City. It should prove useful for the future. Actually there was nothing terribly different about this trip. I just used the regularly scheduled Susquehanna Trailways bus service to New York City instead of going on a special tour. However there were a few changes in the procedure which are worth noting. I should mention that I left on a Friday and this was possible because Pennsylvania has not passed the state budget. My hours have been reduced at work so I have extended weekends. This gives me the opportunity to make worthwhile weekend trips.

I was able to order my bus tickets online and print them out at home. Although these tickets have a bar code and a QR code, it was still necessary to hand the bus driver the printed tickets. This is important to note because although I had images of the tickets in my notes on my smartphone as a backup, that would not have sufficed since the bus driver cannot scan the tickets. I had to switch buses at Lehighton, a small city near Jim Thorpe. There isn’t a proper bus station in Lehighton. The buses just park in front of a small park. When you need to transfer to another bus, hand the driver both tickets when boarding the first bus. My luggage was transferred from one bus to the other. I saw the Church Street Station in Hazleton and the Easton Bus Terminal. It was interesting to be driven through those cities because I have not explored them yet as part of my grand tour of Pennsylvania. The bathroom in the Easton Bus Terminal is a single occupant bathroom, although I did not learn that until my return trip. It took five or six hours to ride the bus to New York City because the regular bus service stops at a lot of cities on the way and does not take a very direct route. Therefore it is important to note when and where you could take a bathroom break.

The bus took me to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. This was the first time I’ve been inside the Port Authority Bus Terminal, even though I’ve seen the exterior many times. Finding my way around the interior was another learning experience. Susquehanna Trailways appears to always use Gate 2 which is on a lower level. I didn’t really exit through the terminal. Instead I found my way to the streets by cutting across the bus lane.

I had booked two nights at the Skyline Hotel. This is the same hotel that Susquehanna Trailways uses on its overnight New York City trips so I knew it was affordable and a quality hotel. Plus it is in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood so I knew where it was located. There are actually some other inexpensive hotels right next to the Port Authority Bus Terminal which I may try on a future trip. As it was, I had to drag my luggage for seven blocks! Fortunately that was not too bad and only took me 15 minutes. I saved money by not taking a taxi. I added a help topic on Tenth Avenue to my notes and really improved my knowledge of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. I also took a lot of photos to improve my notes. Hell’s Kitchen is to the west of the Theater District so I’m always straying into it.

Skyline Hotel

Skyline Hotel

After checking in at the hotel, room 737, my first priority was to have lunch since I had not eaten anything during that six hour bus ride. I found my way to the Obao restaurant on 9th Avenue. This Thai restaurant was highly recommended online and their prices were comparatively low. I ordered two appetizers and a glass of Thai Iced Tea for less than $25.00. The crispy pork belly was insanely delicious! The spare rib on sugarcane skewer was also extremely delicious, especially if dipped in the peanut sauce. Even the Thai Iced Tea was better than expected. It tasted like a Starbucks frappuccino only not as sweet. Obao will definitely be my first pick for an inexpensive restaurant on all future trips!

My second goal was the obligatory visit to the Drama Book Shop where I splurged on five books:

  1. Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom by Jennifer Haley
  2. Philadelphia, Here I Come! by Brian Friel
  3. Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks
  4. Clown Bar by Adam Szymkowicz
  5. Dancing At Lughnasa by Brian Friel

These books were all thin actor’s editions or single plays so they didn’t take much room in my luggage although I could have carried more than the usual amount of purchases home. I bought the Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks script in order to participate in the online conversation at the Reddit Play Club. Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom by Jennifer Haley was actually the play I was going to see that evening.

The Drama Book Shop Sign

The Drama Book Shop Sign

I returned to my hotel room to drop off my books. That is what I like about having a hotel room. On a day trip I would have had to carry those books everywhere for the rest of my trip. My next destination was the Whitney Museum of American Art. I had to rush through the museum on my last trip to New York City so I decided to kill some time by revisiting the place at my leisure. I only had to repeat the subway ride from my previous trip. I did add $20 value to my Metro card to last me for this two day overnight trip. While I was in the Meatpacking District near 14th Street, I managed to locate Google’s New York office and the Chelsea Markets. As before, the key to getting oriented to find the Whitney Museum of American Art was to locate the High Line and follow it downtown. I was a bit early for my 3:00 p.m. timed ticket so I sat on a chair outside the museum. They conveniently had some chairs arranged on the patio. Once inside the museum I made sure to visit all the floors which had art exhibits and I ventured out on all the terraces to take photos of the New York City skyline. The terraces of their new building are a major part of this new attraction. There is a lot of interesting architecture in view including a large water tower. Nevertheless I only spent an hour there.

Whitney Museum of American Art View

Whitney Museum of American Art View

From the Whitney Museum of American Art I walked east to Union Square Park in order to take the N train downtown to Tribeca. But along the way I came across The New School which has completed their new building. I remember seeing a conceptual drawing of this new building but I never realized it was built so now I must update my notes.  I needed to be in Tribeca to see a play at 7:00 p.m. In order to make this expensive trip as worthwhile as possible, I bought tickets for three shows. I could see two shows on Saturday by attending an afternoon matinee. Since I usually make day trips this was a rare chance to see an evening performance at the smaller theaters. Actually I would have picked something on Broadway but the ticket prices were outrageous. At their most expensive, Broadway tickets used to be $150 for a good seat at a hot show but now a ticket can cost as much as $375! I could not afford to see three plays at that price. So I choose two Off-Off-Broadway plays for a more reasonable ticket price. On this trip I was able to check out two Off-Off-Broadway theaters which I frequently hear about.

This evening’s show was Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom at The Flea Theater. This play was written by Jennifer Haley, a Los Angeles based playwright I had already come across while planning my trip to Los Angeles. I’m still planning that future trip. Unfortunately I arrived in Trebeca very early so I had to kill some time by drinking a coffee at a Starbucks. I needed some coffee to keep me awake for the play. It is not that I find these plays boring, but getting up early to make a bus trip to New York City is very tiring and I immediately want to sleep upon entering a dark theater. It is so tempting! While drinking my coffee I noticed a wireless charging powermat. You just plug your device into a Duracell Powermat ring and place the ring over a powermat. Your device then begins charging. I was able to charge my smartphone a bit while I was drinking my coffee! But I was still too early for the play so I went to a Pret a Manger food chain store and selected some gourmet items for a meal. I’ve never been to a Pret a Manger before and it seemed a better option than a fast food place like McDonald’s or Burger King which I passed. I had a slim chicken Caesar with bacon, a smoked ham and egg salad sandwich, some honey banana yogurt, and a lemon and lime soda. That meal cost me less than $20.00 and took a good while to eat. I also used the rest room before I left. I had to enter a four digit number to enter the single occupant rest room. This is worth noting because I have Pret a Manger food chain stores in my notes as having public rest rooms but this seems less than ideal.

The Flea Theater

The Flea Theater

The highlight of the evening was the play at the Flea Theater. The Flea Theater seems to have become a fairly famous theater even though it looks like a tiny community theater. For example, the current edition of American Theatre magazine has an article on director Niegel Smith, the artistic director for The Flea Theater. Another peculiar example of the Flea Theater’s fame is that this play was directed by the film director, Joel Schumacher. Joel Schumacher was the film director for The Lost Boys and Batman Forever. Why would such a big time film director want to direct a play for a storefront theater? Anyway, this was the New York premiere of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom.

The play was pretty interesting if you are a nerd. It is sort of inspired by text-based adventure games for the PC or online role playing games. The computer game, Neighborhood 3, uses GPS maps based on your real neighborhood and eventually the game play spills over into real life. The characters begin to kill their parents who are represented as zombies in the game. I would have thought this a dumb idea for a play but the trick is in the execution of course. You can write a decent play based on popular culture as long as it is well written, but I would avoid doing so because the concept might get your play dismissed out of hand. There were very few stage props and the stage set itself was very minimal with just a backdrop that curved upwards from the floor. It basically looked like a cheap community theater production. However, the acting was definitely better than average. I thought the play was an excellent example of theater finally beginning to acknowledge contemporary life which is heavily influenced by technology. The theater will have to deal with our addiction to technology to accurately reflect contemporary life and to appeal to a contemporary audience. You mostly see this in the use of cell phones in new plays. Characters are always on their cell phones in some plays just like real life people are always on their cell phones. Personally I am not always on my cell phone so I don’t create characters with the habit. One of the things that got a big laugh in this play was the actor’s AFK performance (away from keyboard). He swayed in place like a Second Life avatar and the hip audience roared with laughter over this clever reference to that ridiculous action.

After the play I took the subway back uptown to my hotel. I made sure to visit Times Square first since I can never resist seeing that spectacle at night. This was really just a half a day in New York City since I arrived at approximately 1:00 p.m. But since I was able to stay until late at night I managed to fit in a typical day trip’s worth of activities. I still treat every trip to New York City as a special occasion to be enjoyed as fully as possible.

Posted in General, Theater, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drama As A Form Of Literature

I don’t think the theater community does enough to promote drama as a form of literature. The conventional wisdom is that plays are written to be performed on a stage and not read. While it is true that you should prefer to see a play performed on stage, you should not be discouraged from reading a play. Personally I love to read plays because I am rarely disappointed by a play. In order for any play to be published, it had to be worthy of being performed since nobody publishes plays which were never produced. This generally ensures that any play you read will be intelligible and entertaining. You certainly have no guarantee that any novel you read will be intelligible or entertaining! Since most plays don’t run longer than two hours you are also ensured that reading a play will not take more than a single day or a few hours. Compare that to a Dostoevsky novel which may require you to invest a week into the reading of it.

I was reading plays long before I was able to go the theater to see them performed onstage. I only began to attend shows at the theater because I wanted to see some of the plays I’ve read performed live right in front of me. So the theater isn’t doing itself any favors if it discourages people from reading plays. Readers of drama are sure to become your future audience.

Unfortunately there are only a few publishers devoted to publishing plays; Samuel French, Broadway Play Publishing, Playscripts, Inc, Smith and Kraus Publishers, and Theatre Communications Group. The market for plays is assumed to be actors looking for monologues to perform for auditions. Smith and Kraus publishes collections of monologues and many of their books are labeled “Plays for Actors”. We need to encourage the general public to read plays, not just actors. Many plays are only published as cheap looking “acting editions” without even an attempt at cover art. Personally I don’t care for that because cover art can be inspiring.

Recently I’ve read the book, The Philadelphia Connection: Conversations with Playwrights, by B. J. Burton. I was surprised that I’ve never heard of any of these playwrights even though I try to follow the Philadelphia theater scene. Actually this isn’t too surprising. Obviously I can’t get down to Philadelphia very often. And none of these playwrights has had their work published in a very prominent format. I was able to buy a few of their plays from Playscripts, Inc (in acting editions) but it was expensive.  The Philadelphia Connection book really needs a companion anthology, a collection of the plays mentioned in the interviews.

There are a few other reasons I prefer drama over other forms of literature. Take poetry for instance. Modern poetry is often unintelligible. Poetry critics are so severe that a poet can only survive by being totally opaque. You can’t criticize a poem if you can’t decipher it. I don’t mind being mystified by a poem but it has gotten to the point where you can barely read the poem. A lot of poems are just jumbles of words that don’t appear to be trying to say anything at all. What has been sacrificed is eloquence and a heightened use of language. Fortunately you can still find eloquence and a heightened use of language in plays. Even contemporary plays can be more poetic than modern poetry and of course Shakespeare is the most eloquent poet of them all.

So what can the theater community do to promote the reading of plays? Some theaters are more devoted to playwrights than others and they are doing some things right. The Signature Theatre Company actually has a book store in their theater building where you can buy the published plays of the playwrights they are featuring this season. It is not just a table with some books on sale, but an actual store. A theater could also create a play library in their lobby so patrons could look through some books before the show begins. Playwrights Horizons is just up the street from the Signature Theatre Company and I think they actually publish the original plays they are producing using print-on-demand technology. Theaters could also create drama reading clubs and writer groups to increase the literary activity in their community.

Posted in books, General, Theater | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cabaret at the Mary L. Welch Theatre

Last night I saw the musical Cabaret at the Mary L. Welch Theatre on the Lycoming College campus. This was the second time I’ve seen this musical, since it was performed by the Community Theatre League in June 2006. I keep track of all the plays I’ve seen and this makes 130. I’ve seen 130 plays or musicals performed on stage.

It only cost $10.00 to see this musical which seems like quite a bargain after trying to find affordable shows in New York City. I tried to get a seat for Wicked but all the seats were more than $200. I’m sorry, but nothing the theater could do is worth $200! Fortunately I have three tickets for my overnight trip to New York City next week. I’m going to see The Humans by Stephen Karam at the Roundabout Theatre Company. I’m basically making this expensive trip just to see this play because the playwright grew up in Scranton. I read the play and he even mentions Danville in the course of the play. But I will also check out The Flea Theater and the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre which are Off-Off Broadway theaters that are frequently mentioned in the theater community. Since this will be an overnight trip I can see shows in the evening.

I have not been to the Mary L. Welch Theatre in a long time. You can order tickets online now. I enjoy the ambiance of a college theater since it reminds me of auditorium events from my school days. The show had some technical difficulties with what sounded like microphone plosives occurring for the entire night, even during songs. All of the actors wore mikes which might have been a bad idea. There was a hilarious accident when a pineapple fell though the bottom of a paper bag and the actor had to pick it up. He had to hide the pineapple behind the paper bag to continue the screen. Then when the other actor wondered aloud what he had for her, everyone laughed since we all knew what was in the bag.

Fortunately I won’t have long to wait until I see even more theater. You might think I’m obsessed with theater right now, but it is not exactly the theater that has me entranced. I would say I’m drawn to a grandeur that theater might achieve, but which isn’t necessarily always there. After my trip to New York City I won’t be seeing any more plays until January when my short play will be staged at the Shawnee Playhouse in the Poconos. That has been my major source of encouragement.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

New York City Again

I virtually repeated my trip to New York City from last week. I really wanted to see the play The Humans by Stephen Karam so I tried to find another bus trip to New York City. Susquehanna Trailways’ tours to NYC are sold out for November and December so I tried Sherry Ault Tours, an independent bus trip organizer, and she had a cancellation for her NYC bus trip. Unfortunately the show I wanted to see was sold out for its matinee performance on November 7, 2015 so I had to go see another play. I plan to make yet another trip to New York City this month so that I can finally see the play, The Humans by Stephen Karam. What I will have to do is take a regular Susquehanna Trailways bus to New York City’s Port Authority Bus Terminal and then stay overnight for two nights. I have already booked everything for that trip. Depending upon how well it goes, that might prove to be a great option for getting into the city more often. But it will be more expensive that way.

Fortunately no trip to New York City is wasted, not when you’re researched the city as extensively as I have, so I was still able to pack a lot of activities into this trip. The bus left us off on 6th Avenue, the Avenue of the Americas, close to Radio City Music Hall. So the first thing I did was take some photos of the Museum of Modern Art entrance because I’ve never taken any photos of it. I didn’t actually want to visit MoMA because I’ve been there and done that. Then I located  The Netherlands Club of New York which is housed in the same building as Woman’s National Republican Club and took photos of the exterior. Let me explain. The Netherlands has very little cultural presence in New York City. But they do have this private club to promote Dutch culture. I need a decent photo of the Woman’s National Republican Club for my notes. This may seem like a waste of time but I sometimes get requests by publishers wanting to use some of my photos from Flickr, particularly when I take a photo of an obscure establishment for which no decent photos exist online.

My next step was to repeat the subway ride from my previous trip, taking the 1 train down to Houston Street. Everything was exactly the same for this subway ride so I won’t repeat my previous description. I was able to quickly find Bleecker Street and this time I did not get lost because I had detailed notes on the entire street. I added a topic to my notes on Bleecker Street with every single cross street listed. I found photos of establishments on every street corner and used Google Street View to do a virtual walk through of the route. This worked perfectly! I was able to find my way to the Off-Broadway theaters I wanted to locate. I even took photos on many street corners to update my notes. For example, I see that the “Welcome to Greenwich Village” sign is gone from the intersection of Bleecker Street and Macdougal Street. I can tell from my notes that I got on Bleecker Street at 6th Avenue after walking north on 6th Avenue from the 1 Broadway – Seventh Avenue Local’s Houston Street station.

Anyway, I was able to find the Lynn Redgrave Theater on Bleecker Street. This is the home of Culture Project, a theater company which does political plays. Then I came to the Sheen Center, a relatively new performing arts and culture center associated with the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. I only discovered this place while doing my research on Bleecker Street. Various fringe theater companies could potentially use this performance space so it was worthwhile to locate it. When I reached the end of Bleecker Street at the Bowery I came across something completely unexpected, a beautiful mural of Joey Ramone right across from where CBGB used to exist. I would have made the trip down to Lower Manhattan just to see this! Next I found the Bouwerie Lane Theatre on Bond Street but the building is now an art gallery and had no theater signs. Further up Bond Street I located Gene Frankel Theatre. There was a large flatbed truck stuck in the street right in front of the building, but eventually it managed to get around a double parked car so I could get a decent photo of this theater. This is what I intended to do last week but I got lost. Mission accomplished!

Joey Ramone Mural

Joey Ramone Mural

I had two more places to locate now that I was in the area. First I wanted to see a literary landmark, the Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village. Then I wanted to visit the Housing Works bookstore. I walked a long ways along Houston Street to reach Avenue C in the East Village. I took a lot of photos of Houston Street because I’m working on a new help topic devoted to this street. I already did have a list of the cross streets in my notes and that was really useful. There is a lot of construction going on along Houston Street which shows up in my photos. But I think this construction has been going on forever because I remember seeing it years ago when I was in the neighborhood. I had no trouble finding Nuyorican Poets Café. Even though this is primarily a community cultural center devoted to poetry and literary events, there have been plays done there. I fact, I bought a book, Action: The Nuyorican Poets Café Theater Festival by Miguel Algarin and Lois Griffith.

Nuyorican Poets Cafe

Nuyorican Poets Cafe

Next I walked west on the other side of Houston Street to reach Housing Works Bookstore Cafe near where Houston Street crosses Broadway. This used book store is very popular in New York City and often features readings by famous authors. For example, Neil Gaiman and his wife Amanda Palmer did a book signing there and I used a few photos from that in my notes. I had trouble finding their bookshelf for Theatre but eventually I located it in the back of the store along the wall to the right of the cafe. I found two plays to buy; Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill and Albertine In Five Times by Michel Tremplay. These two books cost me $13.34 which is a bit expensive for used books, but the money goes to a good cause.

Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

My next goal was to head back uptown to buy more plays at the Drama Book Shop. I made the mistake of taking a 6 train uptown and it was ridiculously crowded as usual. We were packed in like sardines! At this point, I should mention that it was really hot in the subways. I was dressed for chilly weather but it must have been 60 degrees Fahrenheit all day. I was frequently sweltering in my light jacket with a light sweater underneath. Ordinarily I would need my winter coat for early November. Thanks global warming! I got off at the Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street and walked west and south to 40th Street. I felt a bit rushed at the Drama Book Shop but I managed to find two books I wanted to buy; Humana Festival 2009: The Complete Plays and In the Heart of America and Other Plays by Naomi Wallace. As I was paying for these books, the sales clerk made a curious comment about the Humana Festival 2009. Something about how one of the playwrights was rarely published. This really surprised me because that was precisely why I bought this book! It features a play by Alex Dremann, a Philadelphia playwright who has nothing published except a 10 minute play in this book. But I didn’t quite catch the name of the playwright and he may have meant Charles L. Mee, a playwright well known for making his work available online for rewrites. There was also a play by Naomi Wallace in this book which I did not expect.

I was in a rush to get out of the book store because I had a play to see at 2:00 p.m. Fortunately the theater was only a few blocks away but I felt I had to run to get there in time. Actually I was a bit early so I could use the restroom and get a drink from their water fountain. I was powerfully thirsty after sweltering in my warm clothing! The play I saw was Night Is A Room by Naomi Wallace at the Signature Theater on 42nd Street. I was not familiar with Naomi Wallace’s work but the ticket was only $25.00 and that is a bargain for Off Broadway. The Signature Theater has a book store and they were selling In the Heart of America and Other Plays by Naomi Wallace but I’d just bought that. There was a long line at the cafe so I could not get anything to drink. As I said, I used the water fountain near the restroom.

Night Is A Room was the greatest motherfucking play I’ve ever seen, because it was literally a mother fucking play, a play about incest. The play was about a man who leaves his hot wife to shack up with his frumpy mother. The audience members sitting next to me where really shocked by this play. I just didn’t buy it. The male actor, Bill Heck, was very handsome, like a movie star. He has been in a few movies. His wife, played by Dagmara Dominczyk, is smoking hot. However, the role of Doré was played by Ann Dowd and she looked like an ugly, middle-aged housewife gone to seed. So I just could not buy a handsome man leaving his beautiful wife for this lumpy housewife. Even great acting could not sell this to me. I almost think this was an acting exercise, see if you can convince the audience that you are attracted to this hideous woman. It was a very impressive effort but there was no way he could be attracted to her! So it was really shocking when Marcus french kisses Doré. I mean they really went at it with what should have been a very hot display of public affection. But I was just like, ew, gross! Now, I don’t know if this was bad casting. The drama would have been more intense if the mother had been old, but still attractive, like Ethel Barrymore. Then I could have accepted Marcus’ attraction for his mother. But maybe they wanted an actress who looks very motherly in order to increase the shock value. I almost forgot to mention that some soft yellow lights set to light the actors horizontally almost gave the impression of sunset, an interesting and beautiful effect.

After the play I went to Brazil Grill where I ordered a Passion Fruit Cosmopolitan drink and the Camarão Bahíana; sautéed shrimp, onions, bell peppers and garlic sauce. This meal cost me $50.00 with the tip. I think it was outrageously expensive for what it was. Basically I just got six jumbo shrimp with some rice to ladle the sauce onto. I will never eat there again! I should mention that this restaurant was actually recommended in my Playbill for Night Is A Room.

My final goal for this trip was to visit the Whitney Museum of American Art, which moved into a new building at the end of the High Line. You can buy a timed ticket for this museum online so I bought a ticket for 5:30 p.m. This proved to be too close to the time I needed to be at the pickup spot for the bus, 6:45 p.m. I would need at least a half hour to get back uptown and walk a few blocks to 6th Avenue and West 51st Street. I took a C Eighth Avenue Local train at the 50th Street station to get downtown and got off at the 14th Street station. From there it was short walk to the Whitney Museum of American Art but it was very dark out so I just got lucky in that I headed in the right direction. I really just needed to look for the High Line. I had to rush through the exhibits but I did go outside onto the terraces where you can enjoy great views of the city. Since it was early in the night the city was all lit up and the views were spectacular. I took a few photos but unfortunately my camera does not take good photos in low light so none of my photos from the terrace are any good.

In conclusion, this was another successful trip to New York City and demonstrates how important careful planning is when you have a limited amount of time in the city. You need to get around very efficiently if you want to pack in a lot of activities. Although my exploration of Lower Manhattan may seem a bit pointless, it lays the groundwork for future trips when I may need to arrive on time at an obscure Off Broadway theater.

Posted in General, Theater, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jackery Mobile Battery Chargers

On my recent trip to New York City I tried the Jackery Mini, a portable device charger. When you have to spend four hours on a bus, you depend on your mobile devices to keep you entertained. I usually have my cell phone with me. It is capable of playing music stored on a SD card so I can use it in a pinch. But I rely more on my smartphone which also has a microSD card filled with MP3s. I can listen to music for hours on end since a lot of my music collection is stored on the microSD card. However, since I also store my travel notes on my smartphone I tend to have it turned on while I’m exploring the city. So occasionally I will run down the battery. A portable device charger ensures that this will not be a problem.

You don’t have any access to an electrical outlet on a bus and you don’t want to sit somewhere during your trip and wait an hour for your device to charge. On a day trip I don’t have a hotel room so I can’t charge my devices in my room. A portable device charger is very handy for these kinds of trips. The Jackery Mini is only half the size of the portable device charger I was using but it appears to be just as powerful. I was able to recharge my smartphone in just 40 minutes.

I also take my Amazon Kindle on my bus trips. All of these mobile devices use the same Micro USB Charging Port so I only need one cable.

Posted in General, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Halloween In New York City

I spent Halloween in New York City. This was a typical trip to New York City since I didn’t do anything related to Halloween. As usual, I used Susquehanna Trailways to make this trip since that is still the most economical option. It had been over a year since my last trip to NYC so there were a few changes, mostly more skyscrapers.

The first thing I did on the trip was walk down to 42nd Street and then I walked east. This took me pass some sights I’ve missed on previous trips since I don’t usually go too far east of midtown. I got some great photos of the Grand Central Terminal, the MetLife Building, and the Chrysler Building. Then I came across some new landmarks for me like the Daily News Building, Tudor City, and finally the United Nations. From the United Nations I walked north to find Dag Hammarskjold Plaza and the Japan Society building. This walk served to improve my knowledge of Manhattan’s geography since it illustrates how 42nd Street theaters, Bryant Park, the Grand Central Terminal, the Chrysler Building, and the United Nations are all among the same street.

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal

After that I walked north to 51st Street and then west to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I was looking for the Netherlands Club of New York but I got distracted by St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Atlas stature. I think I took some of my best photos of the Atlas stature including an extreme close-up. While I was in the area, I also photographed Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center including the gold stature of Prometheus in the sunken plaza (which was converted into an ice skating rink already), the Top of the Rock observation deck entrance, and the Time Life plaza which I’ve recently seen in the film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) starring Ben Stiller. At this point I used my extensive research on New York City to good effect. I needed a bathroom and I knew that one of the best places to find a restroom is on the lower concourse of the Rockefeller Center. They have quite a few shops down there. It is like a shopping mall. The men’s restroom was very crowded since this is not a big secret.

Although I had a matinee show to see at 2:00 p.m. it was only noon so I decided to use the subway to head downtown and locate a few Off-Broadway theaters in NoHo, North of Houston. This turned out to be a mistake since I got hopelessly lost downtown. But first I should mention that I took the 1 Broadway – Seventh Avenue Local at 50th Street. This station is located in a sunken plaza. There was a lot of construction in the sunken plaza as the Mars 2112 restaurant is long gone. This is right across from the Winter Garden theater which is now showing School Of Rock and not Rocky. The 1 Broadway did not go all the way downtown due to some construction. I had to transfer to a 2 Seventh Avenue Express train and got off at Houston Street.

It was at Houston Street that I got lost and wandered into Greenwich Village. So now I will try to figure out where I went wrong. Let’s see, I walked towards Greenwich Street. That was the wrong direction! Then I found the Cherry Lane Theater to the north. I found Bleecker Street which was encouraging because some of my targets were on that street, but again I went in the wrong direction. I walked north on Bleecker Street until I came across Abingdon Square Park. This was interesting because I’ve read a play by Maria Irene Fornes entitled Abingdon Square, so I did want to visit this park. After that I walked even further north to find Chelsea Market. At this point I was panicking so I found the nearest subway on 8th Avenue and took an E train back uptown to 42nd Street (Times Square). Unfortunately my custom travel guide was not handy in this situation since the Google Maps I embedded in my topic pages did not show enough of the streets in the neighborhood to orient myself. What I will have to do is add some larger maps and some topics on the major cross streets like the Bowery and Houston Street. Then I’ll also need some notes on how to find the nearest subway station.

The play I saw was Travels with My Aunt at the Clurman, one of the six theaters of Theater Row. I wasn’t particularly interested in this show but I was curious about Theater Row which I’ve walked pass on many other trips. I discovered that these six theaters do not have individual entrances onto the street. Instead you have to enter the lobby with the ticket window and wait there for the shows to start. Then you are let in. I had to go downstairs to reach the Clurman theater. So these six theaters are not actually in a row. That is an illusion created by the neon signs outside! This show was put on by the Keen Company, one of the eleven resident theaters of Theater Row.

Travels with My Aunt was a comedy based on a novel by Graham Greene. The show featured four actors all dressed in identical costumes. They took turns playing the hero and all the other characters. It was slightly confusing. I thought it was an annoying example of actor virtuosity. Without costume changes or clearly defined roles, the illusion of the story was totally lost. Having four identically dressed actors randomly assuming one role was particularly annoying. At least the role of Aunt Augusta was consistently played by one actor in high camp, but he was wearing a suit and would sometimes become the dull Henry. I love travel and the story was about travel so I could appreciate that aspect of the play. I almost fell asleep during the performance but that is because I had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to catch the 5:30 a.m. bus to New York City. Once you enter a darkened theater you just want to sleep if you got up that early. This has been a problem on previous trips.

The Drama Book Shop

The Drama Book Shop

After the show I rushed to the Drama Book Shop to do some shopping. I had a long shopping list of plays to find. Unfortunately I only found three things on my list; Pocatello by Samuel D. Hunter, The Humans by Stephen Karam, and I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick. Samuel D. Hunter is a great playwright. His play, The Whale, is one of the great contemporary tragedies. I Hate Hamlet interested me because one of the characters is the ghost of John Barrymore. The Barrymore awards in the Philadelphia theater community were named in honor of John Barrymore. I should buy a biography of John Barrymore. I keep a list of all the plays I’ve seen and apparently I’ve seen I Hate Hamlet but I don’t remember a thing about it. Stephen Karam grew up in Scranton PA and has become a successful playwright in New York City. He must be the most successful playwright to have come from Scranton since Jason Miller. The Humans is actually playing at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre and I could have seen it on this trip since there was a Saturday afternoon matinee. Unfortunately, I neglected to check the Roundabout Theatre Company web site when searching for a play to see. However, I did walk pass the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre and took several photos of the theater windows advertising this play.

Roundabout Theatre Company

Roundabout Theatre Company

When I left the Drama Book Shop my next goal was to have some dinner. I wanted to try some Brazilian cuisine so I walked to  West 46th Street which is known as Little Brazil Street since there are a few Brazilian restaurants along this street. If you are into international travel, you will love the international restaurant scene in New York City which at least allows you to sample the cuisine of any country you are interested in, except the Netherlands, since there is no genuine Dutch restaurant in NYC. I selected Ipanema Restaurant for dinner but they had moved so it was a little hard to find. Fortunately they did not move far but the exterior was different. I ordered the Bitoque, aged angus steak in garlic and wine sauce topped with fried egg with fried potatoes. I saw a photo of this dish online and it looked delicious. It was delicious but more expensive than the online menu listed price. I also had a half glass of red wine but they did not let me pick the wine. Ipanema Restaurant is a nice restaurant with many well-dressed waiters who seemed to always be on the prowl to pounce at the first sign of an empty plate or used utensil. The service was almost too attentive, like having five bored waiters serving you.

After dinner I did my usual routine of wandering around Times Square and the theater district until it was time to get on the bus home. I thought about the play I’m writing. This play will be one of the most important plays I intend to write. It has a great concept and only I can write this play. I don’t have a good title for it yet, but it is essentially the shaman play since it will be about how I think shamanism relates to the psyche, the theater, and creativity. It is a fantastic concept and should be very interesting as long as I write it well. It is really hard to predict how it will be received though. Maybe I should be careful what I wish for, since this play might do better than I expect! It is important to remember that the American theater is not a monolithic institution. There are hundreds of theaters which are under individual artistic direction. So it is a mistake to be too pessimistic.

I have a few more details to record. First, I forgot to mention that I went to Kinokuniya Bookstore across from Bryant Park and bought a Blu-Ray DVD, The Ballad Of Narayama. The Susquehanna Trailways bus left us off at 49th Street and 8th Avenue near the Eugene O’Neill Theatre which is still showing The Book of Mormon.

Posted in General, Theater, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Final Day In Philadelphia

Sunday was my last day in Philadelphia for this trip. On previous trips, I high tailed it out of Philadelphia early Sunday morning to beat the traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway but I was determined to get the maximum number of hours in the city on this trip. This was a very expensive trip and I wanted to get my money’s worth.

The first thing I did was check out of the hotel at 8:00 a.m. I took my luggage to my car in the underground garage but I did not leave. I repeated my routine from the previous morning and walked along Race Street to Chinatown. I spent considerable more time exploring Chinatown which was practically deserted. I photographed as many establishments as I could given the early morning lighting. I can’t get a good photo with the sun shining right into the lens. After awhile I walked to Walnut Street and found the Forrest Theater and the Walnut Street Theater which I photographed extensively. Then I walked to Washington Square to photograph the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier. None of this was necessary since I’ve taken photos of these sights on previous trips but I had to kill time until the Reading Terminal Market opened at 9:00 a.m.

At Reading Terminal Market I decided to have breakfast at Pearl’s Oyster Bar instead of at the Down Home Diner. Pearl’s Oyster Bar was crowded but I managed to get a seat at the long counter. I ordered the Creme Brule French Toast, although it may have been named a little different, which featured vanilla custard brioche, berry compote, creme anglaise, Pennsylvania maple syrup, berries, and fresh whipped cream. It was really delicious! All of their breakfast menu items looked scrumptious with large portions. Fortunately I was very hungry and was able to eat all of my french toast.

Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market

After breakfast I walked along the Avenue of the Arts yet again and made my way to the Rosenbach Museum And Library which was to be my last museum to see in Philadelphia. Unfortunately they did not open until noon so I had to go to Rittenhouse Square to sit around on park benches for an hour. I did take many photos of the park in bright sunshine. Eventually I was able to return to Rosenbach Museum And Library which had a few tourists already waiting to get.

Rittenhouse Square

Rittenhouse Square

Rosenbach Museum And Library proved to be a worthwhile conclusion to my cultural trip. The Rosenbach brothers were collectors and dealers of rare books so their museum was a treasure trove of rare books. First I went on a tour of the town house which is filled with antiques, bookcases, and objects of art. I saw the the manuscript and typescript for Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. I also saw a drawing by William Blake, The Number of the Beast is 666. This was the biggest thrill for me since I am intrigued by this visionary artist and poet. I’ve read several biographies of William Blake and he is frequently referenced in the books I read on psychedelics and altered states of consciousness. The Rosenbach Museum And Library also has a recreation of Marianne Moore’s living room just as she lived in it, but unfortunately that was closed for renovations.

Rosenbach Museum And Library

Rosenbach Museum And Library

Before I left I saw the Down the Rabbit Hole special exhibit, Celebrating 150 Years of Alice in Wonderland, which included a pop-up display of the original manuscript.

I walked back to my hotel and managed to make my way out of the underground parking garage. I navigated the Schuylkill Expressway without incident but it was very crowded and slow going. On Interstate 80 in the Poconos it actually began snowing. It was like a blizzard even though the sun was still shining. That was quite unexpected!

My trip to Philadelphia was a great success! It was quite the cultural experience. I bought a lot of books which will take me years to read. I haven’t even read books I bought on previous trips to Philadelphia. Was it really necessary to travel that far for a great cultural experience? Williamsport has three theaters, which is a lot for a city this size, but the quality of their productions leaves a lot to be desired. The Community Arts Center never books anything with even the slightest cultural value. The Community Theatre League has been filling their season with comedies and musicals. The Lycoming College Theatre Department is doing Cabaret in November so I suppose that will be worthwhile. I just wish this region saw Philadelphia as a cultural resource so there would be more bus trips to the big city. Driving down there myself is a big hassle.

My next exciting adventure will be a trip to New York City on Halloween. I have not decided on what to do there, but it will probably be more theater.

Posted in General, Theater, Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Philadelphia Theater Trip – Antigone

The goals for my second day in Philadelphia were the Barnes Foundation museum, the Eastern State Penitentiary, and the Wilma Theater. But first I had to have breakfast. I was starving since I did not eat diner the previous night. I walked along Race Street to the Reading Terminal Market. Before I reached the market, I passed the Hahnemann University Hospital which had a huge mural and the Church of Scientology. I had breakfast at the Down Home Diner in the Reading Terminal Market. I ordered the Country Scram, barnyard fresh eggs scrambled with salt-cured ham, onions and mushrooms. I did not think it was very good. Maybe that is why I was the only person having breakfast there. I also had a cup of coffee because I was suffering from caffeine withdrawal.

I had a ticket for the Barnes Foundation museum which I bought online but it was for 10:30 a.m. so I had to find something to do until then. I decided to walk around Center City and attempt to locate a few more theaters which are not located on Broad Street. First I looked for the Interact Theatre Company which I read about often in The Philadelphia Connection: Conversations with Playwrights because this theater encourages new work. I did walk pass the Joseph Fox Bookshop and that was the only book store I resisted during my trip because I did not want to carry a package into the Barnes Foundation museum. Eventually I had to cut short my search for theaters in order to make it to the Barnes Foundation on time. The Barnes Foundation museum is now located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with the rest of the museums. There was a huge controversy about moving the Barnes Collection. It was against the wishes of Albert C. Barnes. There is a book about the controversy which I own but I have not read it yet. The Barnes Collection is a great museum of modern art with works by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Manet, Degas, Seurat, Prendergrast, Titian and Picasso. I even saw a few paintings by the metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico, one of my favorite artists. If you love modern art, you definitely need to visit the Barnes Foundation museum.  I wish I had seen the collection in its original home but it slipped my mind since the museum was then located on the outskirts of the city.

I used a museum map to make sure I went into every room of the museum. The organization of the art work was curious, since there were Japanese art placed next to modern art placed next to African artwork. After I was sure I saw everything I made my way to the Lower Level to use the restroom and visit the museum store. I bought a massive book, Masterworks of the Barnes, for $45.00 because they did not have a smaller guide book to the museum. But I did see a lot of great paintings that I would want to know more about. I did not use an audio guide during my visit.

Barnes Foundation

Barnes Foundation

I had to return to my hotel with that book since it was too heavy to carry around. In fact, I took all the books I had bought and put them in my car in the garage. I could buy as many books as I liked since they did not have to fit in my luggage! It did take me quite a while to locate my car since I was not sure which level I parked in.

Before proceeding to the Eastern State Penitentiary, I went to the see some public art which was located very close to my hotel. I found the sculpture, Freedom by Zenos Frudakis, outside the Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School, whatever that is. I then walked a very long way to the Eastern State Penitentiary. I could have used my car, but I really didn’t want to navigate the streets of Philadelphia any more than I had to. Also, I’ve watched many episodes of Parking Wars so I know what hell is in store for you if the Philadelphia Parking Authority tickets your car.

The Eastern State Penitentiary is a very creepy, old prison, which exists in a state of partial ruin. It is popular during the Halloween season for haunted tours. A prison is not my idea of a fun tourist attraction but this place was genuinely spooky and gothic. I had to use an audio device for the tour since it was part of the deal, but it was a self-guided tour. Actor Steve Buscemi narrated the audio tour. I walked through many cell blocks and saw many cells filled with debris. I saw Al Capone’s cell which had some furniture and creature comforts. This attraction didn’t really fit the cultural focus of my trip but it was very interesting.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

Across the street from the Eastern State Penitentiary I found the Bookhaven book store where I went on a mad buying binge. I bought five books:

  1. The Dog Problem and The Black Monk by David Rabe
  2. Sexual Perversity in Chicago and The Duck Variations by David Mamet
  3. A Life In The Theater by David Mamet
  4. The Bostonians by Henry James
  5. Two Trains Running by August Wilson

All of those books are plays except for the Henry James novel. Drama is my favorite form of literature.

I walked all the way back to my hotel which was an extremely long way to walk. I had to remove my socks and massage my feet after all that walking. I took an aspirin to keep going. When I was ready to go back out, my immediate goal was to resume the search for some more theaters. But first I had lunch at Cafe Cret on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I ordered a Cuban sandwich (toasted), a Yogurt Parfait, and a medium café au lait. This proved to be a big meal but I was very hungry so I ate it all. I went back to Sansom Street and managed to find the Liberti Church where Azuka Theatre should have been but I found no sign of any theater posters around the church. I walked to Rittenhouse Square and took a few photos in the park before finding the Plays and Players Theatre, a major goal since 1812 Productions uses that theater and it was one of the original Little Theaters in America. Philadelphia playwright George Kelly based his slapstick comedy The Torch Bearers on this theater.

I then went back to Rittenhouse Square and entered the Barnes and Nobles book store there. I bought three more theater books:

  1. Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar
  2. Race by David Mamet
  3. How I Did It: Establishing A Playwriting Career

Disgraced was the play I saw the previous evening. Race was the first play I saw on Broadway. And How I Did It: Establishing A Playwriting Career is obviously of great interest to me since I am writing plays. This entire trip was a reward for finally resuming my writing. I finally finished the play I began for the online playwriting course I took with the instructor Brooke Berman, although I only made it an one act play, and I wrote a 10 minute version of my shaman play for submission to the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Eventually that play must be longer because I think it will be my most significant work.

From Rittenhouse Square I walked north to Logan Square and then back to my hotel. For two hours I copied photos from my camera to my laptop and went online to check my email and update a few social media web sites with my news. This evening was the much anticipated highlight of my trip, the performance of Antigone at the Wilma Theater.

The Wilma Theater

The Wilma Theater

I was eager to see the Wilma Theater since it has a reputation for avante garde performances. The lobby had a wall of black and white photos of past shows. I’ve always liked theater photos which usually seem highly suggestive. The Wilma Theater’s photos were particularly intriguing. During this trip I got the great idea of creating some fake theater posters for my plays. I could use my graphic design knowledge to create a typical poster of a fantasy show. Unfortunately any performance of one of my plays may have to remain a fantasy. I snagged as many theater brochures as I could to add to my research of Philadelphia theater.

Antigone by Sophocles was directed by a Greek director, Theodoros Terzopoulos. I thought it was the greatest performance I have ever seen in the theater! Of course, it was the only avante-garde performance I’ve ever seen. The show seemed very profound and mysterious to me. It was very symbolic so I was able to give everything a grander interpretation than a more conventional staging would indicate. The actors used very precise body movements so their performance resembled modern dance. Maybe a fan of modern dance would have found it more hackneyed, but it seemed very strange to me. The only thing I could compare it to is Steven Berkoff’s Oscar Wilde’s Salome which I’ve seen on DVD. Some of the slow motion action was similar. The Greek Chorus kept up a physically demanding exhalation, like a prolonged gasp of horror. And the leader of the Greek Chorus stood stock still under a hanging knife, chanting furiously. It was all very surreal.

The actor playing Creon was sitting right in front of me before the play began. I was sitting in row B so I was often very close to the actors. Part of row A was used as Antigone’s tomb. Creon was played by a Greek actor, Antonis Miriagos, and he was very intense. He was the most expressive actor in the cast. However, all of his lines were in Greek and you had to read subtitles projected above the stage to understand him. The lines in English were spoken to make every syllable distinct so it sounded very harsh and overly punctuated.

This play was virtually a ritual. The review claims Antigone invokes a theatrical netherworld which is an excellent description. It was like a glimpse into a eerie netherworld where the tragedy was being mourned for eternity. I think you have to be familiar with the story to appreciate this play because the highly stylized performance does not allow you to get the story from the action. There was an onstage narrator to provide some of the background information.

Wilma Theater’s Antigone made quite an impression upon me. It was really dreamlike and offered the profound mystery I seek in the theater. I’m tempted to steal from it for my shaman play which needs a good attempt at performing a ritual. The desperate chanting by a mysterious and tragic figure was great. It is always thrilling when something supernatural is brought onto the stage, like a ghost, to haunt the audience.

So my second day in Philadelphia was an outstanding cultural experience. I saw all the great artwork of the Barnes Collection and the great artistry of the Wilma Theater.

Posted in General, Theater, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Philadelphia Theater Trip – Disgraced

Philadelphia is the cultural capital of Pennsylvania. I had an extended weekend so I decided to make a long overdue trip to Philadelphia to experience some world class theater. It has been three years since I last visited Philadelphia and there have been some major changes to the city. The night before I left, I finished reading The Philadelphia Connection: Conversations with Playwrights by Betty Jane Burton. This is a collection of interviews with Philadelphia’s playwrights. I figured it would be a good introduction to the movers and shakers of the Philadelphia theater scene. The cover features a great photo of the Avenue of the Arts (aka Broad Street) which is the Broadway of Philadelphia.

I usually drive down to Philadelphia which takes four hours. I usually stay overnight since I don’t want to drive four hours twice in one day. Since I had Friday off I was able to spend two nights in Philadelphia. I did encounter a traffic jam on Interstate 80 near the Milton Travel Plaza due to a traffic accident. Other than that the trip went very smoothly. I stayed at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel. On previous trips I preferred the Holiday Inn Historic District hotel but it has become more expensive. That hotel is also located further away from the Avenue of the Arts where all the theaters are and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where all the museums are located. I parked in the underground parking garage of the Sheraton, parking level 2 section 6F. I took a ticket but in fact you use a room key when you leave, not the ticket. There was a separate elevator from the garage to the lobby of the hotel. It let me out right next to the concierge desk. I’m describing everything in case I want to use this hotel in the future. My room was on the 9th floor. The nice thing about a road trip is that you can bring as much luggage as you like in your car and bring back as much stuff as you like. But I packed light since I was only going to be in town for a few days.

After dropping off my bags in my room, my first goal was to visit the Rodin Museum. This museum has been on my to do list for a long time. The Rodin Museum is a fairly small museum filled with bronze statues by Auguste Rodin. I’ve seen his work in New York City (at the Museum of Modern Art), in Washington DC at the Hirshorn Museum Sculpture Garden and even in Paris when I came across the Monument to Balzac. However I did not visit the Musée Rodin. I paid $10.00 to visit this museum but you could actually pay what you wanted. I waited around until noon for a guided tour. There were a lot of young art students wandering around the galleries drawing the sculptures. The students may have been from the University of the Arts which had a lot of campus buildings in Center City.

Rodin Museum

Rodin Museum

I found the Book Corner near the Barnes Foundation museum. This used book store is run by the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia. I bought a copy of the Dramatists Sourcebook, 25th Edition. I didn’t really need this book since I have a newer edition, but I wanted to make this trip a dedicated theater excursion. I returned to my hotel to drop off the book and to drink a little water. Then I headed back out to walk down the Avenue of the Arts so I could take photos of all the theaters on Broad Street. This was also my first opportunity to see the new Dilsworth Park which has replaced the Dilsworth Plaza on the west side of City Hall. Philadelphia has completely redesigned this area and it was one of the big changes I wanted to check out. The most striking change was the clear glass headhouses that serve as the entrances to SEPTA transit lines. I walked into the City Hall courtyard and discovered some SEPTA Broad Street Line entrances there for the city office workers. I never knew those existed.

I didn’t really need to photograph everything along Broad Street since I’ve done that on previous trips to Philadelphia but I figured I might get better photos on these bright October days. I particularly wanted to get a lot of photos of the Suzanne Roberts Theatre and the Wilma Theater where I was going to see shows.

My next goal was to explore Chinatown and have lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Philadelphia has the only Chinatown in Pennsylvania. After seeing San Francisco’s Chinatown earlier this year, I was more interested in the one in my home state. I had lunch at Sakura Mandarin on Race Street which seems to be popular with the local Chinese. I ordered the Seafood Delight which was vegetables and seafood in a sauce. It was very hot and I thought it was pretty good. I was glad it came with a fork and spoon because I was worried I would have to use chopsticks. I still have not learned how to eat with chopsticks! I also drank a glass of ice water and some tea because I was dying of thirst.

Next I walked all the way down Race Street trying to find the Race Street Pier but first I encountered Elfreth’s Alley, the cobblestone lane of Colonial houses. I stopped to wander down the lane with the other tourists since I was there. Actually before that I walked pass the new Metroclub Condominiums, a very modern building with a rounded facade and the United States Mint which I should add to my notes. My main interest in this part of the city was the new FringeArts building across from the Race Street Pier. FringeArts is the Philadelphia Fringe Festival which seems to have become a permanent institution with activities year round. My second trip to Philadelphia way back in 2002 was just to see the Philly Fringe Festival. There is also a restaurant, La Peg, located in the FringeArts building but I wasn’t hungry after eating in Chinatown. I got a great view of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from the Race Street Pier. This was the second big change to the city that I wanted to see. The FringeArts building and the Race Street Pier did not exist three years ago. Please note that I had walked clear across Center City at this point.

Fringe Arts

Fringe Arts

I walked a little bit in Old City and found the Arden Theatre Company and The Book Trader. I did stop in at the Book Trader because I cannot resist a bookstore. I bought two books of plays to continue my theater focus for the trip. I bought The Miser and Other Plays by Moliere and The Complete Plays of Joe Orton.

As I headed back toward City Hall, I passed and photographed the Benjamin Franklin Museum, the Ritz movie theater, the National Museum of American Jewish History, and finally Independence Park where I did slow down to take photos of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell through the window of its building. I did not actually get in line to see the Liberty Bell. Eventually I walked all the way back to Broad Street where I took even more photos of the cultural establishments concentrated along this street. By this time I had sore feet so I returned to my hotel to rest until the evening’s big event.

On Friday evening, my first night in Philadelphia for this trip, I saw the play Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. This play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2013. The Pulitzer Prize is probably the major award for a serious play. The play was put on by the Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. I’ve been to this theater before on July 9 , 2011 to see the one man show Long Story Short by Colin Quinn.

Suzanne Roberts Theatre

Suzanne Roberts Theatre

The theater was half empty for this play. I was the only person sitting in my row and all the rows behind me were completely empty. I was seated in the mezzanine, or balcony, so I was looking down at the stage from a distance. This seat was cheaper, only $36.00. I thought the set design was very impressive. It looked exactly like a fancy New York City apartment with a small patio. The play was a realistic drama about young professionals, including a Muslim lawyer who hates Islam. He gets in trouble with his law firm for appearing to defend an imam arrested for contributing to a terrorist group.

I did not go anywhere for diner after the show. I did buy a bottle of coke from the vending machine in my hotel. I really like vending machines in hotels. They are better than minibars in your room with outrageously expensive items. I did have to swipe my credit card to buy the soft drink since the vending machine would not accept coins or bills. I also had to pay for an hour of Internet time to check my email and post some photos of social media web sites.

In conclusion this was a good half day in Philadelphia. I had visited an art museum and saw a play. This satisfied my need for a little culture but tomorrow would be even better.

Posted in General, Theater, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scranton, The Electric City

Yesterday I made my fourth trip to Scranton, the third trip devoted to exploring the city. I was very undecided about making this trip but it was a beautiful day so I’m glad I got out of the house. I only had four items on my itinerary.

Driving to Scranton from Williamsport is actually very easy but it does take two hours. On the return trip my GPS device was not working right away but I managed to find my way out of the city and back onto Interstate 81 South without the slightest problem.

My first goal for the trip was to go on the ten mile trolley excursion run by the Electric City Trolley Museum. I visited this museum before but did not get to ride a trolley. Scranton actually gets its nickname, the Electric City, from the nation’s first streetcars powered exclusively by electricity. Getting to the Electric City Trolley Museum was a little difficult because I parked at the Casey Garage, only $5 on the weekends, and the Mall at Steamtown’s bridge to Steamtown was closed. I had to walk all the way down Lackawana Avenue and then up South Bridge Avenue, cutting across the railroad tracks to reach Cliff Street. But I did arrive in time for the first trolley ride of the day at 10:30.

Electric City Trolley Excursion

Electric City Trolley Excursion

I almost forgot to mention that I passed the Scranton Enterprise Center on Lackawana Avenue. One of my other goals was to take some photos of the Scranton Enterprise Center. The Scranton Enterprise Center is an incubator for businesses like Internet startups. As a computer programmer and web developer, I am very interested in Internet startups in my region. Scranton also has a co-working space called Coalwork.

Scranton Enterprise Center

Scranton Enterprise Center

The trolley excursion was a lot of fun. It was a five mile run out to the PNC Field, a baseball park in Moosic, PA just south of Scranton. We passed an abandoned coal mine and a waterfall along the route. But the most interesting thing on the ride was a mile long tunnel. Going through the tunnel was just like riding the subway in a big city.

After the trolley got back to Steamtown I spent a little time viewing the exhibits in the museum and then walked across the bridge to the Mall at Steamtown. I went to the Library Express store, a book store run by the local library, and bought a copy of Lord Of The Flies by William Golding. I wasn’t particularly interested in reading this classic but they had a poor selection of books. On the way back to Casey Garage I bought a copy of the Times-Tribune and picked up a free copy of the Electric City, a weekly entertainment tabloid. Buying a copy of the local newspaper was also one of my goals on this trip.

Next I tried to locate a bar, Banshee Pub, but it looks like they went out of business. I found a bar named Tequila where Banshee Pub was supposed to be. The bar was closed so I went to Carl Von Luger Steak & Seafood for lunch. This restaurant is located in the Scranton Parking Authority garage and seems to be one of the nicer restaurants in town. I ordered a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich with potato salad instead of home fries. This sandwich was the best BLT I’ve ever had and it was an affordable lunch, under $15.00.

After lunch I had nothing else in mind so I wandered around a bit taking photos of landmark buildings which I’ve seen before. I did get a lot of great photos because the lighting conditions were excellent. The sun was shining bright and there were no clouds. Eventually I walked all the way to Nay Aug Park on the east side of town. It was a mistake to walk because it was all uphill. I did pass the Geisinger Community Medical Center on Mulberry Street and it had changed immensely since my previous trip on September 29, 2012. The building was now all white and much larger than it had been. Hospitals and universities are always expanding. I’ve often compared them to empires that eventually overwhelm the community.

Nay Aug Park also seemed to have changed a bit with more signs and maps of the park everywhere. Before I went to the park I stopped in at the Everhart Museum. They had free admittance so it did not cost me anything to visit the museum. The Everhart Museum is small, but pretty nice for a small city. It has natural history exhibits, anthropological exhibits, Dorflinger Glass, and some artwork. The most striking painting was a portrait by  Adolf Konrad. You are not allowed to take photos in the museum so I memorized this artist’s name with the mnemonic; combine Adolf Hitler with Joseph Conrad to get the Heart of Darkness. Adolf Konrad was the “Painter Laureate of Newark NJ” but I cannot find any photos of this particular painting online.

There was a wedding being held in Nay Aug Park, or at least wedding photos were being taken, so the David Wenzel Tree House was open for the wedding party. I found my way to the Nay Aug Gorge which is a very scenic waterfall located in the park.

Rie Rie Overlook

Rie Rie Overlook

After a long walk back downtown I found the Lackawanna Historical Society in the Catlin House on the University of Scranton campus but they were closed. I also passed the McDade Center for Literary and Performing Arts and noticed that the University of Scranton Players were doing The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel.

That reminds me that my next big trip will be to Philadelphia from Friday to Sunday. This will be a dedicated theater trip. On Friday evening I will see the play Disgraced at the Philadelphia Theatre Company and on Saturday evening I will see Antigone at the Wilma Theater. I am particularly interested in going to the Wilma Theater because they present work by avante-garde theater artists. Unfortunately, nobody in my area appreciates Philadelphia as a cultural resource for great theater so I have to arrange these trips myself. Recently I have discovered a great book on Philadelphia playwrights, The Philadelphia Connection: Conversations with Playwrights, by B.J. Burton. A book of interviews is quite boring if you are not interested in the subject, but this book provides invaluable insight into the Philadelphia theater community. Philadelphia actually does a lot to encourage playwrights and new play development with its PlayPenn Conference. But I’ve never heard of a single playwright interviewed in this book which says something about the fame of playwrights. Even if you follow the theater, you are unlikely to become familiar with the work of regional playwrights.

My trip to Philadelphia will be an overnight trip with two nights at a hotel. This will make the trip very expensive but I’m not going to drive down there for four hours and then head right back home for another four hour drive. I also plan to visit the Rodin Museum and the Barnes Collection while I am in the city.

Posted in General, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


The final day of my tour was spent on a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey. We traveled south on the California State Route 1 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway). Our first stop was Pigeon Point Light Station, a state historic park, where there was a large light house. I got my first look at the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Coast. I really like the ocean. It has a certain grandeur and suggests voyages, travel, and adventure on the high seas. Our next stop was Davenport, a small town along the highway. It was not much more than a bus stop with a cafe, a bakery, and a few other buildings. I walked across the highway and climbed down a small cliff for a terrific view of the beach with waves from the Pacific Ocean crashing on the shore. I bought something to drink in the general store and used the restroom. I showed the tour guide my Clipper card but she did not seem to be familiar with them. I think she was from Washington state.

Pigeon Point Light Station

Pigeon Point Light Station

The scenery along the highway was quite unusual to me. It was all very different from the scenery in Pennsylvania. I saw lots of deep gorges, large farms, a few ranches, cypress trees, and pampas grass.

When we arrived in Monterey, we stopped at Old Fisherman’s Wharf. I thought Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row where the same thing but this was a separate collection of gift shops and restaurants along a wharf. I only had a crab cocktail and a glass of coke for lunch because I only wanted a light lunch. I saw a pelican right outside the window of the restaurant so I got up to take a photo of him. Several of the gift shops sold John Steinbeck books so I bought a copy of Sweet Tuesday. Before the trip I read his novel Cannery Row and watched the movie. That was fairly recently. I took lots of photos of the yachts tied up in the harbor and found a few seagulls to photograph too.

After driving through Cannery Row we proceeded to the 17 Mile Drive which actually took a lot of time on the trip since we made many stops. First we stopped at a beach where everyone was encouraged to dip their toes in the ocean. I walked out onto the beach and got close to the waves but I didn’t want wet feet for the rest of the trip. Next we stopped at Bird Rock, a large rock in the ocean where many birds and sea lions were resting. At this point it occurred to me to buy a textbook on Marine Biology since there was some mention of this branch of biology. Biology is the only branch of science which I find easy to understand. A physics textbook would be over my head.

Bird Rock

Bird Rock

After that we stopped at the Lone Cypress for a photo shoot. There is a set of wooden viewing platforms for a good view of this single tree, just like we have in some state parks at home. And finally we stopped for 20 minutes at the Pebble Beach Golf Course. One of the other passengers pointed out a golfer to me. Apparently he is a famous golf pro. I will have to identify him later from the name on his golf bag. There were many impressive mansions in Pebble Beach and the Del Monte Forest had impressive stands of Monterey Pine. And finally we drove through Carmel California and saw the Mission San Carlos. There were television crews there because Father Serra has been made a saint by the Pope.

Finally we returned to Cannery Row where I was given an hour to take photos and do some shopping before our final diner at Cooper’s Pub. I took lots of photos of the Cannery Row Monument, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Pacific Biological Laboratories, and everything else I laid eyes on. I bought another book by John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley, because that is actually a famous travel book. It would be a shame not to buy that travel book while I was actually traveling.

Cannery Row Monument

Cannery Row Monument

For diner at Cooper’s Pub I had soup (clam chowder), a very large pork chop which took me a long time to chew, and coffee cake with ice cream for desert, very delicious.

On the long drive back to San Francisco we took a different route and drove through Silicon Valley along Highway 101. It was very dark out by then so I could not see many technology company headquarters except for Evernote. The sunset was spectacular and the light lingered for far longer than I expected.

So I was on a bus all day but got to see a lot of the countryside and a wide variety of scenery. It is probably very boring for a resident but everything was quite exotic to me. I can’t think of any movies that really capture that scenery.

On the trip home I bought a copy of the authorized biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. This was a thick book but I could not resist buying an iconic book on one of the technology giants. I read almost 100 pages on the plane and in the airport waiting areas. I was already familiar with the basic story of Apple Computer’s early days from reading other books. But having finally seen a little bit of California and Silicon Valley it was more compelling and inspiring. I feel like writing some software to reinvent the world!

Posted in General, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Napa Valley Wine Train

Day three of my Collette tour of San Francisco was dominated by a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train. But first I had breakfast at Bin 55, one of the restaurants in San Francisco Marriott Marquis. I almost got charged for breakfast which would have been over $38.00! This was one of the meals that should have been included with my tour. I made sure to straighten that out after the price gouging I suffered the day before.

We drove over the Bay Bridge on the way to Napa Valley. I saw the old span of the bridge which was being demolished. We stopped briefly on Treasure Island to take some photos of the San Francisco skyline across the bay, but the morning was a bit foggy. The bus driver also slowed down at the spot where you can look down at the Bay Bridge so I got some good photos there. I had to shoot through the bus window but you can’t see any evidence of that in my photos. It was very grey and dismal but I can fix that a little using Photoshop.

Bay Bridge Highway

Bay Bridge Highway

The landscape of Northern California is very interesting to me because the vegetation is quite different from the East Coast. The hills in California are mostly tan with dead grasses but there are also some dull green trees. There are many palm trees and eucalyptus trees which are very exotic to me. I think we also went through Sonoma Valley with vast vineyards. It is hard to describe the scenery since I don’t know the names for California plants and geography. But I saw California coastal prairies which are grasslands. I saw what looked like a dusty ranch from the Old West, vast farmlands with nothing but dry brush visible. I find vast prairie lands a little frightening since it seems like you are a very long way from the slightest sign of human habitation. I can just imagine the endless trek you would face if you were abandoned out there.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley

The Napa Valley Wine Train was a long and relaxing ride. Our tour group was the last to board the train. The train passed the back yards of trailer homes on the way out of Napa. These were distinctively California trailer homes which looked like the 1950s style of mobile home with attachments that obscure their origins. Then we began to pass many vineyards.  I could even see bunches of grapes on some vines. Some vineyards had fancy houses, rustic cottages, or elaborate ranch houses but it was basically lonely stretches of vast farmlands. We got to taste some wine, only a half a glass of a red or white wine, and enjoyed appetizers. For lunch I had the soup du jour which was lobster bisque, mustard rubbed pork tenderloin, and crème brûlée for desert. The food was gourmet quality just like on the Tioga Central Railroad of Wellsboro. This reminds me that I’ve been reading some of the travel books by Paul Theroux. He is famous for writing about train travel. I’m currently reading The Great Railway Bazaar so this train ride was a small taste of what he describes.

We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge on the way back, through the tunnel on the Marin County side which is called the Waldo Tunnel, located on U.S. Route 101 between the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito. I remember that we did drive through Sausalito again because I saw the house boats and the yachts again.

I finally had an evening free to do something on my own in the city. I took a BART train to the Mission District. This was the first chance I got to use my Clipper card which finally registered the added value I put on my card. Once I reached the Mission District I walked along 24th Street to the Modern Times Bookstore where I bought two books; The Dramatists Guild Resource Directory for 2012 and Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein. I was particularly keen on finding theater books because I’ve recently completed an one act play which I started while attending the Primary Stages online playwriting class. I’m through writing ten minute plays. I think I will only write more substantial works like one act plays. I plan to write the definitive shaman play next.

Modern Times Bookstore Collective

Modern Times Bookstore Collective

There are three more major cities in the United States I want to visit; Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. I have already begun to gather notes on Chicago and Los Angeles. I think Los Angeles might be my next destination because I’m more excited about seeing Hollywood than anything else. While San Francisco’s technology companies provided the inspiration for my trip to Northern California, playwriting will provide the inspiration for a trip to Los Angeles. Writing plays is closely related to writing other types of scripts for film and television. Personally I think writing a screenplay on spec is a stupid pipe dream, but there is a lot of crossover with the playwright community. Anyway, I already have an association with First Stage in Los Angeles because I paid them to do a reading of one of my short plays.

I wanted to fully explore the Mission District but since I had such limited time on my own I only walked along 24th Street. However, I did see many Latino murals, two other bookstores; Adobe Books and Alley Cat Books, Mixcoatl Arts and Crafts, and Precita Eyes.

Anyway, after that quick trip to the Mission District I went back to my hotel and then walked to North Beach. I really wanted to visit City Lights Bookstore again. I bought two books there; The Playwright At Work and The Chickencoop Chinaman / The Year of the Dragon: Two Plays by Frank Chin, a San Francisco playwright. The performing arts books are located in the basement where it was so hot that I was dripping with sweat while I examined every single theater book they had, trying to decide on the best ones to purchase.

I had diner at a good seafood restaurant, Caffe Sport on Green Street. This is a Sicilian restaurant although most of the waiters seemed to be Latinos. The interior was filled with painted furniture and woodcarvings, an eclectic, kitsch-filled setting according to Google.  I had a glass of white wine. There was a house sauce for bread dipping which I mistook for soup so I ate it all without using bread. I think I ordered Cioppinno al’ Antonio, stewed seafood in white garlic sauce. There were shrimp, crab claws and one crab leg, mussels, clams, calamari (squid body rings like rubber bands), and baby octopus which I avoided eating because they are also rubbery and tasteless. This was a great meal and didn’t leave me feeling too full. It was great to be out and about the city late at night. I saw the strip clubs on Broadway which is the center of nightlife in San Francisco. The Transamerica Pyramid was not lit up as much as I expected but the Sentinel Building was floodlit so I tried to take many photos of that. Unfortunately my camera does not take good photos in low lighting or at night. Everything tends to look blurred.

After finally getting some time on my own to wander around the city I was more satisfied with the trip.

Posted in General, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Muir Woods and Sausalito

The second day of the tour began with breakfast at Boudin Bakery. It was a buffet breakfast. I had orange juice, coffee, sausage, scrambled eggs, pineapple, and sourdough bread. After breakfast I had time to see the small museum and watched bread being made. I also walked outside a bit and took photos of the Musée Mécanique entrance, the Red and White Fleet ships, the Franciscan Crab Restaurant, Alito’s, and Fisherman’s Grotto.

Then we began a bus tour of the city which did take me to some places I did not get to see on my previous trip. First we drove past the Maritime Museum and Ghirardelli Square. The we drove through the Presidio to reach the Golden Gate Bridge. We drove through some tunnels on both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge during the trip. The bus drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and we parked at Vista Point. We were given time to take photos of the bridge and to walk out onto the bridge but there wasn’t enough time to walk clear across it. Fortunately I did that on my previous trip so this was just a repeat.

After driving back over the Golden Gate Bridge we drove to the far west of the city to enter Golden Gate Park. This was more interesting to me because I never got this far west on my previous trip. I saw where the Sutro Baths were located and the Cliff House. I also got my first good look at the Pacific Ocean. In Golden Gate Park we drove pass the windmills, the bison paddock, and the beach chalet. I did not go that far west in the park on my previous trip. We stopped near the Music Concourse bandshell to use the restrooms. I saw some San Francisco Police Department cops on motorcycles ride up and down the steps to the bandshell. I’m not sure what they were doing; showing off for the tourists?, practicing their Dirty Harry chase skills? It seemed a little odd but I took some photos since everyone else felt free to take photos.

The bus then took us up the Twin Peaks where there was an excellent view of the city and the Sutro Tower. I don’t think you can get to the top of the peaks using public transportation so this was another unique benefit of the tour. I took some great photos of downtown San Francisco.

San Francisco Downtown from Twin Peaks

San Francisco Downtown from Twin Peaks

After the tour of the city was over a lot of the tour group took the option to see Muir Woods and Sausalito. We were dropped off at the Gray Line office near Fisherman’s Wharf. I had lunch at the nearby Hollywood Cafe while waiting for the 2:00 p.m. bus to Muir Woods. I had a Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich with fries. The bus driver for the drive to Muir Woods acted as the tour guide. He was very outgoing and made a lot of jokes while driving and kept up a running commentary. He said he was from Honduras. The bus drove pass Ghirardelli Square and we went across the Golden Gate Bridge again and into Marin County.

Muir Woods didn’t offer much of a hike but the redwood trees were fantastic! The redwood trees, Sequoia, looked like giants compared to the second growth trees you see in Pennsylvania’s woods. Redwoods have existed since the Pleistocene and Jurassic geological epochs so the woods looked ancient. You almost expected to see dinosaurs. I took a lot of photos but some of them might be blurry because there wasn’t enough light. I made sure to look up to see just how tall these trees are. We had an hour and a half to explore the woods so I walked all the way to Bridge 4 and then walked back. So I saw the Founders Grove, the Cathedral Grove, and the Bohemian Grove. The gift shop did not have anything that I really wanted to but but I settled for a small book Muir Woods Meditations and a 3D bookmark.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

Before heading back to San Francisco we stopped for an hour in Sausalito, a small village with many fancy boutiques. I ate a Three Scoop Sundae at Lappert’s Ice Cream. Then I went into a gift shop where I found some drugstore items for sale. I bought a Pepto Bismol Liquid 4 oz for $10.99 and Pepcid Complete Acid Reducer + Antacid with Dual Action, Cool Mint, 25 Chewable Tablets for $19.99. This was some serious price gouging! Amazon sells that small bottle of Pepto Bismol for only $4.57 and the Pepcid Complete Acid Reducer should be only $9.44. I was extremely pissed by these high prices and decided to forbid any further casual purchases during my trip. After that, I was a lot more cautious in how I spent my money. The store was probably Sausalito Drug Store at 701 Bridgeway. I can tell by their Yelp reviews that they have a history of ripping off tourists. Well they just got one more negative review!

Posted in General, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Return To San Francisco

This week I made my second trip to San Francisco. I booked this trip, a packaged tour with Collette, because it included many excursions from San Francisco. This tour really only used San Francisco as a hub city to explore Northern California. I thought this trip was ideal because I got to see many things outside of the city which were described in the travel guides I read. All travel guides include recommended excursions but you usually have to rent a car to go exploring.

The first day of the tour was spent in airports and on planes. It often takes all day to fly from the East Coast to the West Coast. I missed my first early morning flight and had to rebook. I arrived at the airport just after boarding was completed for my flight so I cut it too close. I had a short flight to Philadelphia International Airport and then a longer flight to San Francisco International Airport. Once I arrived at San Francisco International Airport I found a super shuttle to take me to my hotel but I neglected to give them my transfer voucher so that cost me $17.00.

I met the tour guide in the hotel lobby and received some travel documents. She had reported me missing in action. I went to the front desk and got my room key after giving them my credit card. The hotel was the San Francisco Marriott Marquis on Mission Street in the heart of downtown. I had considered this hotel for my first trip, it is sort of a landmark, but it was too expensive. Hotel Mark Twain was fine except for its location, but the San Francisco Marriott Marquis was even better. I was charged $14.95 a day for Internet access which was outrageous. For three nights I paid $44.85 which is more than I pay for a month of Internet at home.

The watchband on my cheap wrist watch was almost split in two and I was in danger of losing my watch so I went to the Target store across the street from the hotel. This is the Target store in the Metreon shopping center. They did not have a very good selection of watches but I eventually settled for a Timex Ironman watch for $32.99.

The only thing we did on the first day was to have diner at Swiss Louis on Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf. We all got on a Gray Line bus to be driven to Fisherman’s Wharf. Gray Line provided all the transportation for the trip. I can see on their web site that every excursion we went on is offered by Gray Line and could have been booked by myself.

I saw a Big Lebowski look-a-like in front of the Hard Rock Cafe and I managed to take a picture of him because he was busy taking a photo of someone else.

Swiss Louis was a nice restaurant with great views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance. The sunset was fantastic because the sun sets behind the Golden Gate Bridge. I had a salad, a bowl of clam chowder, and the Red Snapper Sautée plus two glasses of red wine. I shared a table with Philip and Gail Landers, a couple from Williamsport. They live in my neighborhood and Phil Landers taught accounting at WACC so I probably took one of his courses. He looked a little familiar.

After diner I had a little time to explore  Pier 39. I found a great spot where you can photograph Telegraph Hill and the Coit Tower all light up for the evening. I also found the shops a little more interesting than on my previous trip. I bought a nice seashell at The Shell Cellar for $5.00 as a souvenir.

Telegraph Hill

Telegraph Hill

I almost forgot to mention what I was reading on my Kindle during the long flights and waits. I finished reading Little Brother by Cory Doctorow and had time to read the entire novel City Come A-Walkin’ by John Shirley. Both of those ebooks are science fiction novels set in San Francisco. City Come A-Walkin’ had a ridiculous premise but I actually liked it a lot.

Posted in General, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Magic In Scranton

Yesterday I made my second day long trip to Scranton PA. This trip proved to be more interesting than I expected. It has been three years since my last visit to Scranton and I don’t think I have fully explored the area. The Scranton / Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area is a large and influential community. I’m sort of familiar with the place names from watching Newswatch 16 back when I had cable TV. Newswatch 16 covers the entire north east and north central portion of Pennsylvania. I’m slightly reluctant to travel to Scranton because of the complex road network and traffic. It takes me two hours to drive to Scranton so it requires a bit of an effort.

I drove to Scranton without using my GPS because the directions are pretty simple. I parked at the Casey Garage on Lackawanna Avenue. It only cost me $5.00 to park from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. One of the first things I did was to take a photo of the Casey Garage because it is important to document where you can park without getting a ticket or being towed. Taking photos was a major goal of my trip because it was a very cloudy day on my last trip and I did not get good photos. You also cannot find good photos of Scranton online since the city isn’t a popular tourist destination. Fortunately the day was bright and sunny with excellent lighting conditions for photography. One of the first landmarks I photographed was the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel which used to be the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Station. I should have gone inside to see the impressive interior but I didn’t really have any business being there.

Next I wandered around Courthouse Square where a large number of statues, monuments, and landmark buildings are to be found. There were many large tents set up, possibly for the big La Festa Italiana festival which will take place next week over the Labor Day weekend. I made sure to take another photo of the Jason Miller bust. Jason Miller wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning play set in Scranton, That Championship Season. There are two different movie versions of the play available on DVD.

I walked down a few other streets in downtown Scranton, taking photos of anything that looked like it might be a landmark building. I will need these photos to expand and improve my notes on Scranton. For example, I took better photos of the Hotel Jermyn which is where several failed theaters have held their performances, most recently, the Vintage Theater which still has their sign over a door. And I took photos of the Pennsylvania Paper and Supply Company which was made famous by the television series, The Office. I enjoy pretending that the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company is a real company located in Scranton. My photos of the building used in the opening credits will be useful in making jokes about it.

Apparently a tire warehouse suffered a major fire in Scranton this week and the blackened ruins of the six story building are being torn down. This made for an impressive, apocalyptic sight. I took a lot of photos of this industrial ruin because it really makes for a good photo. This was totally unexpected and made the trip more worthwhile. One of my goals was to have lunch at Cooper’s Seafood House, the most famous restaurant in Scranton, which was even mentioned in a few episodes of The Office. Cooper’s is located just behind the tire warehouse so I was lucky they were open. I was able to get a great view of the warehouse from the edge of the Cooper’s parking lot where a small number of people were gawking at the smouldering ruins.

Tire Factory Ruins

Tire Factory Ruins

I ordered a Sangria drink, fish and chips, and a root beer for my lunch at Cooper’s Seafood House. As I was eating a Newswatch 16 television crew showed up and interviewed a member of the staff right in front of me. The interview was about the tire warehouse fire which forced the restaurant to close for awhile, but I wasn’t entirely sure what they were talking about at the time. It was thrilling to see a Newswatch 16 television crew during my trip to Scranton since their newscasts were part of the inspiration for my trip. This was the second thing that made this trip more interesting than I expected it to be. Cooper’s Seafood House is decorated with a lot of Scranton memorabilia and everything related to the sea, which is strange since Scranton is far from any sea. There was also a model train going around a train track just under the corners of the ceiling. I watched this train go around the room several times since it took forty minutes to get my order.

After lunch I walked back downtown to reach my next goal, Embassy Vinyl. I visited this record store on my previous trip and I was glad they were still in business. Scranton seems like a tough city for a business to survive in. For example, I noticed that Marquee Cinemas was gone. At Embassy Vinyl I bought two CDs at random, the Run Lola Run soundtrack and Zero One, some sort of electronica music. Then I went to the Mall at Steamtown to use the restroom and do more shopping. I was looking for the Fye store which sells DVDs and CDs but they were gone. I did stop in at the Library Express store where I bought a book, Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata, a Japanese writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’ve read his novel, Snow Country.

The second part of the trip required me to leave the parking garage and journey into one of the many surrounding neighborhoods of Scranton. There are many satellite towns in the Scranton area but getting to them requires a careful study of the streets to plan a route and then some thought on where you are going to park. I took the North Scranton Expressway to reach North Main Avenue in a neighborhood known as North Scranton or Providence. The major attraction there is the Houdini Museum but I was primarily interested in the Scranton Public Theatre. I parked behind the Houdini Museum in a small parking lot where you actually blocked in other cars. I arrived shortly after 1:30 p.m. which was a half hour late for the only show which began at 1:00 p.m. I did not know that there was only one show per day. Fortunately I only missed the film at the beginning of the tour and managed to catch most of the tour and the magic show.

The Houdini Museum is a curious institution to find in a shabby neighborhood of Scranton. The tour guide told us the story of how it came to be there. The museum was originally located in Manhattan until they were priced out of the city by none other than Donald Trump. This is interesting because I’ve heard that many other artists and people in the creative industries are being priced out of New York City. Scranton has been an economically depressed area for a long time. I think the city might actually be close to being bankrupt now. Anyway, you can find some very cheap property in Scranton and some artists relocate to Pennsylvania to find cheap studios, lucky for us. The point I want to make is that seeing a magic show in a typical suburban community is kind of surreal. It is the sort of carnival occurrence in your mundane surroundings which is only experienced in a dream. This was the third thing on my trip that made it exceptional. I was only expecting a mildly interesting trip.

Houdini Museum

Houdini Museum

The magic show featured Dorothy Dietrich and John Bravo who also guided the tour of the two rooms filled with Houdini memorabilia. I’m not very interested in magic, but it was interesting from the perspective of entertainment industry history. I’m planning a trip to Los Angeles which requires me to become familiar with old Hollywood and the glory days of the film industry. Harry Houdini was part of that bygone world. I saw many vintage movie posters and entertainment industry memorabilia. The magic show itself was highly entertaining and quite intimate since the museum’s theater could only accommodate a small crowd. I enjoyed it as a kind of theater performance I rarely get to see. Actually I don’t think I’ve ever seen a professional magic show. It was also kind of old fashioned which reminds me of the steam punk aesthetic. Before I left I bought a book, The Secret Life Of Houdini, by William Kalush and Larry Sloman.

The only reason I visited the Houdini Museum was because it was in the vicinity of the Scranton Public Theatre. It has annoyed me that the Scranton Public Theatre doesn’t have a decent photo of their building online. It is hard to find an establishment if you don’t know what to look for. So one of the major goals of my trip was to take photos of the Olde Brick Theatre in North Scranton, which is where the Scranton Public Theatre does its performances. After parking in a closed strip mall parking lot I walked a long way along North Main Avenue to find the theater. I have to admit that it is lame to just take photos of theaters instead of going to a show, but it could prove useful later on. Along the way I encountered a picturesque corner formed by two old banks and a tiny parklet with a village clock. This seemed to be the heart of the old Providence neighborhood, town, suburb, or what? The Olde Brick Theatre was advertising a writer’s showcase which I read about later in the Electric City, a free local entertainment weekly.

The Olde Brick Theatre

The Olde Brick Theatre

Before going home I stopped in at Main Ave Ice Cream for a large strawberry milkshake because I was dying of thirst. Every festive trip requires some ice cream to make the fun outing complete. I did have to turn on my GPS to find my way back out of the city and onto the harrowing Interstate 81 South.

In conclusion, this was a much better day than I expected. Scranton’s economic woes cause a lot of people to have a poor opinion of the city, but it can still be a great place to visit. I achieved my goal of expanding my knowledge of the region’s culture and I got some more practice navigating the infuriating road system. I should definitely visit Scranton more often. However, I probably won’t go back next week because the La Festa Italiana festival is going to make downtown crowded and it will ruin many photo opportunities.

Posted in General, Theater, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Return To Jim Thorpe

Yesterday I made my third trip to Jim Thorpe PA, my favorite small town in Pennsylvania. Jim Thorpe is the prefect realization of everything that is charming in small town Pennsylvania. However, the major goal of this trip was to visit Lehigh Gorge State Park since I never really ventured into the park on my previous trips. Reaching the Glen Onoko Access Area was slightly difficult. You have to cross the 903 bridge over the Lehigh River over to East Jim Thorpe and then find the road that winds along the Lehigh River.

I noticed the progress being made on the new Jim Thorpe Memorial Bridge that is going to link Routes 209 and 903 in Carbon County. This will replace the current bridge which does look pretty old and decrepit. Unfortunately, I don’t think the new bridge will improve the traffic bottleneck that exists from having a bridge on the narrow mountain road into town.

There are several parking lots in the Glen Onoko Access Area but they were almost completely full even though I left early to reach the park at 9:00 a.m. I was particularly eager to see the Turn Hole Tunnel, an abandoned railroad tunnel which now exists as a sort of cave in the cliff above the river. However, I did not know exactly where to park to find the trail to this tunnel and I parked near a railroad bridge at first. I walked across the bridge and found a trail to one of the old canal locks. I explored that trail for a short while and then I went back to my car and drove further along the park road. Eventually I reached the bridge from which you can see the Turn Hole Tunnel and I tried to park at the Glen Onoko Falls Trail trail head but it was full so I had to turn around and park at the nearest parking lot. This turned out to be the right place. There is a very short trail from that parking lot to the tunnel entrance.

The Turn Hole Tunnel was so dark I could barely see the obstacles on the floor of the tunnel. There are a few boulders and buried railroad track ties which you can stumble over. There is a railing to prevent you from falling off the cliff into the river. In the middle of the river you can still see the piers of the old bridge which used to be there. The Turn Hole Tunnel was pretty neat. It was like being in a large cave.

Turn Hole Tunnel

Turn Hole Tunnel

My next goal was to hike the Glen Onoko Falls Trail. I saw the trail head on the other side of the river when I was trying to find a place to park, so I just had to walk over the bridge to get there. The Glen Onoko Falls Trail has a ridiculous number of trail signs to discourage you from hiking the trail. I saw several trail signs that read “Caution, Dangerous Trail” and “If you don’t have appropriate hiking boots, turn back now.” There were even signs warning you that people have been seriously injured or died on this trail. I climbed part of the trail and saw a few waterfalls. The trail was extremely steep in places and I gave up on it because it was exhausting and all the dire warning signs had me spooked. I don’t think I saw the major waterfalls but I saw enough to satisfy me. Back at the trail head I noticed a path to the river bank where you can take photos of the Turn Hole Tunnel. I overhead some other hikers speaking German which is proof that the Lehigh Gorge State Park is so popular it even attracts foreign tourists.

By then it was 10:00 a.m. and I had enough of hiking. I was eager to head into town. I parked in the large parking lot near the train station. It was still $6.00 to park there. I immediately bought a ticket for the 11:00 a.m. excursion train. I paid $18.00 for an open air car, a dollar more than I paid last year. Since it wasn’t quite time for boarding the train, I went to the rest room in the Visitor’s Center in the train station and picked up some brochures and a Jim Thorpe travel guide. I won’t describe the train ride since it was exactly like the first trip I made. I probably won’t bother with the excursion train on future trips to Jim Thorpe since it is very repetitive, although still kind of fun.

Train Rides

Train Rides

When the train returned to the station I was eager to do a little shopping and have lunch. First I went to Sellers Books where I bought a copy of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely. I don’t usually read mystery or crime novels but I may make Los Angeles my next big trip and Raymond Chandler is one of the writers most closely associated with Los Angeles. I picked a different restaurant for lunch, Tony Stella’s Encore, which is a charming little restaurant in a few rooms of an old house. I felt like I was having lunch in the parlor of a Victorian house. This restaurant also has an absinthe bar and sells absinthe drinks. I ordered the Death at Dusk drink which was extremely potent. This drink was a deep blue fading into purple so it really did look like dusk. It left me feeling so drunk that I had to wait over two hours before I could drive. For lunch I ordered a Classic Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. It was excellent and came with some fries.

Tony Stella's Encore

Tony Stella’s Encore

After lunch I was barely functional from the effects of the Death at Dusk drink but I did make it to Soundcheck Records where I bought a blues CD, Let Me Squeeze Your Lemon, the Ultimate Rude Blues Collection, which I thought might prove to be very amusing.

I returned to my car to stash my purchases but I didn’t feel sober enough to drive. I walked back up Broadway and climbed the Hill Road, looking for the Switchback Trail. This proved to be too far to walk to, but along the way I did notice the ruins of a stone mansion hidden in the woods along the road. I climbed a small path and took some photos of the ruins because you rarely come across ruined buildings. It reminded me of the ruins in the Roman Forum which I saw on my trip to Italy.

Stone House Ruins

Stone House Ruins

Back on Broadway I explored the Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation, an art gallery of Abstract Expressionist art in a former Presbyterian church. This is a curious establishment to find in a small town in Pennsylvania. It is further evidence of how touristy Jim Thorpe has become with slightly more upscale boutiques than you would expect. On the second floor there were impressive stain glass windows and many larger works of art and sculpture in a deserted nave. Apparently this foundation is associated with the Anita Shapolsky Gallery in New York City which specializes in the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. I take this as evidence of how popular this town has became with artists from New York City.

At some point, I went into a book store run by the friends of the Dimmick Memorial Library. This seems to be a permanent establishment and not a temporary sale because I saw the place on previous trips. I found a travel book On The Shore Of The Mediterranean by Eric Newby which only cost me $1.00. I’ve been reading many travel books lately, even for places I have no intention of visiting. Travel writing tends to focus on adventure travel to exotic places where the traveler risks death to brave the elements. I would prefer to read personal narratives on obscure and mundane destinations but nobody writes about that.

At around 2:00 p.m. I finally felt capable of driving and left Jim Thorpe. But instead of heading directly home I did have one other establishment I wanted to check out. I drove east on Route 209 to Country Junction, the world’s largest general store. This is a huge place full of crap goods. I wandered all over the immense structure and could not find anything I felt even remotely like buying. It was a complete waste of time except for the pet store and the overall atmosphere of country kitsch.

Recently I came across a novel set in Jim Thorpe, Mauch Chunk: A Novel of 1968 by Richard Benyo. I ordered this book on Amazon but it has not arrived yet. I was expecting to see this book for sale somewhere in Jim Thorpe but I did not see it at Sellers Books or Soundcheck Records.

I’m tempted to spend some quality time in Jim Thorpe, maybe book a weekend at one of the many bed and breakfasts, but it is an extremely small town with not a lot to do. On this trip I tried another restaurant, checked out the art gallery, and discovered some ruins but it was otherwise quite repetitive. I suppose I could see a show at the Mauch Chunk Opera House if I stayed overnight.


Posted in General, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Expedition To Bloomsburg

Yesterday I made an expedition to Bloomsburg, a small city located in the depths of Pennsyltucky. I made this perilous journey into uncharted territory to see what can be found there. I’ve often driven past Bloomsburg on Interstate 80 while on my way to New York City, the Poconos, or Philadelphia.

The most interesting thing about Bloomsburg is the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. I began my research on this city five years ago so this trip is long overdue. I still don’t have much in my notes on Bloomsburg. Bloomsburg is a college town. But I did not venture onto the Bloomsburg University campus on this trip.

The first thing to do when visiting a city is to find a place to park. I drove down a narrow alley at the first parking sign I saw. I parked behind the post office near West End Ale Haus. I found a parking stall with a parking meter and put in two quarters for two hours of parking. This was only a block down from Market Square. Market Square has a Civil War monument and a large fountain which is one of the most distinctive features of the city.

Bloomsburg Fountain

Bloomsburg Fountain

I walked up Main Street all the way up to East Street taking photos of establishments which have not previously been documented on the Internet. Very few photos of Bloomsburg existed prior to my expedition so I was eager to document this virtually unknown corner of the world. I will upload all of my photos online so future explorers will have better information to guide them on their trips.

At 10:00 a.m. I was ready to visit my first establishment, Endless Records. Virtually nothing is known about Endless Records. They don’t even have a web site. The store is quite small and mostly sells vinyl records. However they did have some used DVDs and CDs so I looked through those. I bought Alien from L.A., a 1988 science fiction film which somehow has escaped my attention until now. I also bought a CD, Murder Ballads, a studio album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It seems appropriate to make these media discoveries while on my expedition to Bloomsburg, the unknown city.

After returning to my car with this purchase I immediately went back up Main Street in time for the opening of The Cloak and Dragon Bookstore at 10:30 a.m. This is another establishment shrouded in mystery. No photos of this book store’s exterior can be found online so I took several photos for my notes. This used book store has a small stock of books but I did find a copy of Iain Banks’ The Player of Games, a science fiction novel I’ve been looking for so I was pleased to acquire it here.

The Cloak and Dragon Bookstore

The Cloak and Dragon Bookstore

At some point in my exploration of Main Street I caught sight of the Alvina Krause Theatre hidden away down an alley. This theater is the home of the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. I’ve only seen one performance presented by the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble and that was The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris which the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble performed at the Community Arts Center’s Capitol Lounge last December.

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble

I was going to have lunch at Capitol Restaurant, a restaurant in a converted movie theater, but they did not appear to be open so I ate at the Bloomsburg Diner instead. I ordered a Coke and a sausage egg muffin. I saw several other restaurants which I will need to add to my notes. It was hard to tell which ones were open. I’m glad the weather allowed me to visit Bloomsburg on Saturday instead of Sunday because the town is probably completely dead on Sunday morning.

I did make a few other observations. There was a small farmer’s market taking place near the Civil War monument. I think there were only five or six produce vendors.

Before going home I went to the Columbia Mall. This proved to be a waste of time because that mall was in really bad shape. It was practically empty except for its anchor stores. Well over half of the smaller stores were either shuttered or empty. There were very few restaurants. I did enter a sporting goods store to look for waterproof hiking boots but I could not find a salesperson. I’ve heard that many malls are dying but this is the first one I’ve seen in such a shocking state of decline. Our own Lycoming Mall seems to be doing quite well. It still has a book store and a DVD store so I still like to visit our mall. In fact, I went to the Lycoming Mall before going home.


Posted in General, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Bellefonte PA

On Saturday July 18, 2015 I continued my grand tour of Pennsylvania. I once again headed west and visited the Victorian town of Bellefonte. I’ve never been to Bellefonte before but the name is familiar because there are two exits to Interstate 80 from 180, the Bloomsburg exit to East 80 and the Bellefonte exit to West 80. It is slightly confusing because the town names are so similar, so actually visiting Bellefonte and Bloomsburg would help to create a clear distinction.

Bellefonte is mostly famous for its Victorian architecture. It has a few Victorian mansions which have been converted into bed and breakfasts and some Victorian commercial buildings that stretch for an entire block with room for many retail establishments. I did see a lot of empty store fronts so the town does not appear to be too prosperous. Bellefonte is in central Pennsylvania, far from Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, so it probably does not attract many tourists. It is close to State College so it may attract people attending Penn State games.

I parked beside Talleyrand Park. It rained briefly in the morning and the skies were cloudy so there wasn’t very many people going to the park. I saw the Talleyrand Gazebo, the Talleyrand Falls, and the High Street Bridge which was renamed Veterans Bridge. There was also a monument, Bellefonte Governors Memorial, to honor the seven Pennsylvania governors associated with the town of Bellefonte; William Bigler, William F. Packer, John Bigler, Robert J. Walker, Andrew Gregg Curtin, James A. Beaver, and Daniel H. Hastings.

I walked up High Street to the Centre County Courthouse but there was a small farmer’s market set up in front of the Andrew Gregg Curtin statue so I could not take a good photo of the courthouse. So I walked further up the hill to find the Union Cemetery which was completely deserted. I found the grave of Daniel H. Hastings, governor of Pennsylvania, and the grave of Evan Pugh, President of Pennsylvania State University. I did look for a circle of Civil War graves but I did not find it.

Bellefonte Art Museum

Bellefonte Art Museum

When I returned to the center of town I headed north on Allegheny Street and found the Bellefonte Art Museum, the Centre County Library, the Hastings Mansion, and the Reynolds Mansion. I was particularly careful to take a good photo of the Bellefonte Art Museum because I was unable to find a decent photo online. As soon as it was a little after 10:00 a.m. I returned downtown and went into the Plaza Centre to try to do a little shopping. The Plaza Centre is an antiques mall just like the ones I’ve seen in Lewisburg and the Poconos. Many dealers have booths or stalls in the mall filled with yard sale type junk. You rarely see anything worth buying. After wandering all over the shabby mall, the floors creaked, I finally settled for a Top 10 Boston (Eyewitness Travel Guide) book and a Playstation 2 game, True Crime Streets of LA. The final three major American cities I plan to visit are; Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

I had lunch at The Governors’ Pub shortly after 11:00 a.m. when it opened. I was the only customer in the restaurant. It took me about an hour to eat lunch and at Noon I was still the only customer, a bad sign. I had the Robert Walker Reuben which is their specialty and home fries. The home fries were delicious with seasoning that made them very tasty. I don’t think I’ve ever had better fries. The Reuben sandwich was good but not something that I particularly enjoy. A Reuben sandwich is a hot sandwich composed of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, grilled between slices of rye bread. It made for a heavy meal. I had an ice cream sundae for dessert.

I returned to the Talleyrand Park to put more quarters in the parking meter and to put my purchases in the car. I was also on a mission to buy a copy of the Centre Daily Times so I went to a CVS Pharmacy behind the park and bought two local newspapers. I spent some time wandering around Talleyrand Park and I was tempted to leave but the sun finally came out so I decided to get take some more photos in the strong sunlight. When I walked back up High Street I found the farmer market stalls were gone so I was able to take some good photos of the Centre County Courthouse. I retraced my steps along Allegheny Street and got better photos of the Hastings Mansion and the Reynolds Mansion. I also walked a little further and found the two Victorian bed and breakfasts; Our Fair Lady and The Queen. I only checked the room rates for the Reynolds Mansion and they were surprisingly low for the lavish accommodations. You could get a fancy room for under $150 which is about the best price you’ll find anywhere. I’m tempted to stay at least one night at a bed and breakfast but it would be in the Poconos. I would like to stay the night at Jim Thorpe but there isn’t much to do in that town. The Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap is another temptation.

Our Fair Lady

Our Fair Lady

I did stay in Bellefonte just long enough to visit the Bellefonte Art Museum which opened at 1:00 p.m. This was a very small art museum but they did have one Picasso print. Unfortunately it was very hot and muggy out so I did not feel like spending a lot of time outdoors.

Before I went home I drove south on Route 550 to Route 150 and found the Barnes & Noble Booksellers book store near the Nittany Mall. I was hoping to find some Penn State books there but they had very few local interest books. I did buy The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux, Fodor’s Los Angeles, and the novel Stoner by John Williams, all books I’ve been looking for at other book stores.

Bellefonte is not far from Penn’s Cave, the major attraction in central Pennsylvania, so I decided to squeeze that into my trip. I’ve been to Penn’s Cave several times before but it is worth a repeat. Penn’s Cave is the only cave in America that you can go through in a boat. The price of a cave tour has gone up $1.00. I have the price in my notes as $16.50 but it is now $17.95. I was tempted to go on the Wildlife Tour too but I heard the cashier say the next Wildlife Tour was for 5:30 p.m. and that was several hours away. I did not want to hang around in the heat that long. I was able to go on the cave tour right away. Penn’s Cave was a bit crowded that day and I had to park on the grass at the overflow parking lot. This roadside attraction is way out in the middle of nowhere, in rural farmland, so it is surprising that so many people can find it. I passed several Amish buggies on Route 192. The cave was nice and cool. I didn’t have a jacket but my long sleeved shirt was good enough and I needed to cool off anyway. There was a lot of mist at the cave entrance and exit because it was hot and humid out.

Penn's Cave

Penn’s Cave

Bellefonte was a bit smaller than I expected but the Victorian architecture was impressive. There really isn’t a lot for you to do there. I still think Jim Thorpe is the best Victorian town in Pennsylvania. Williamsport and Bellefonte tie for the second best Victorian towns. Williamsport’s Millionaires Row is not in the heart of the city, but it does have as many mansions as Bellefonte and the city itself is larger.

Posted in General, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

H. Beam Piper

H. Beam Piper was perhaps the most famous writer ever associated with Williamsport but the city has done little to celebrate his work. I’ve just finished reading a biography of H. Beam Piper by John F. Carr. I was curious about his connection with the city.

H. Beam Piper was born in Altoona PA and spent most of his life there working for the Pennsylvania Railroad PPR as a night watchman.  However, he did frequently visit friends in Williamsport and often traveled through Central PA. He never owned a car so he must have used the railroad which offered passenger service back then. Eventually Piper moved to Williamsport in 1957 and committed suicide in 1964, so he spent seven years as a resident.

One of the surprising things I learned from this biography is that Piper knew Colonel Henry W. Shoemaker and was a guest at Restless Oaks. He even wrote a catalog of Shoemaker’s gun collection. Henry W. Shoemaker owned a newspaper in Altoona and wrote a column for his newspaper so it seems obvious that they would know each other.

H. Beam Piper is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Altoona. It may be more proper for Altoona PA to celebrate his life and work since he was a native son of that city.

Several Williamsport institutions are mentioned during the course of the Piper biography. The James V. Brown library provided the author with research materials. Piper displayed his gun collection at the Lycoming County Historical Society. And he gave a few lectures at Lycoming College. His apartment was on West Third Street, across from the Fraternal Order of Eagles, although the precise building might have been torn down.

I have not read any of H. Beam Piper’s stories or novels but I intend to read a few. His first published short story is actually set in Williamsport, Time and Time Again, and you can read it online at Project Gutenberg. He also wrote a novel about  the adventures of a Pennsylvania state trooper who is accidentally transported to a more backward parallel universe, Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. In this parallel universe Hostigos City would correspond with Bellefonte PA and Nostor Town would be Hughesville PA.

Posted in books, General, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment