Making like a tourist

Looking at a map, Memphis is pretty much in the middle of the country.  Being here, it’s the South.  Really, really South.  That makes Gail want southern food, and to her, that means gumbo and etouffée.

Googling for “best etouffée Memphis” led us to Kings Palace Cafe.  On Beale Street, the home of the blues, in the middle of the two blocks permanently closed off to cars to make the Memphis version of Bourbon Street.  Kings Palace is a dump, a dive, a trashy joint specializing in beer and blues and really good Cajun food.

Alcohol enforcement laws are strict in this tourist district–all the bars have signs insisting that ID must be shown for all liquor purchases.  Gail was not amused when they insisted on seeing her drivers license to get a glass of white, but thems the rules.

The menu had a considerable variety of Cajun delights; rather than choose I opted for the “Cajun Feast for Two”, a $33 extravaganza guaranteed to shorten your lifespan by 6 months.


A huge platter of etouffée, gumbo, “voodoo potatoes”, fried catfish, grilled chicken, rice, bread and fried green tomatoes.  A big pile of paper napkins attended the meal, although none of this is finger food or particularly messy.

Mostly, it was great.  The etouffée was made from a blond roux, rather than a dark one, which gives it much less flavor.  I still liked it.  Gail is the gumbo lover, okra and all.  She pronounced this version excellent. The grilled chicken wasn’t very interesting, but the catfish more than made up for it.  These were the best fried green tomatoes I ever had, especially when napped with just a touch of the attendant horseradish sauce. “Voodoo potatoes” turn out to be just mashed spuds, but they are always satisfying.

Service was deep south friendly, and that’s hard to beat. I ordered a slice of the pecan pie for dessert, and a cup of ice mysteriously appeared alongside.

The whole bill was under $60, including a goodly tip. Minimum wage for tipped workers in Tennessee is $2.13/hr, so I try to be generous.

Sometimes you want to go to some upscale, 5-star palace of fine dining, but if you want down-home  cooking, you have to go to a down-home place.  Kings Palace Cafe fills the bill admirably, doesn’t hurt your wallet will leave a smile on your face.


The wheel that squeaks gets the peach pie

Quickly in and out of DFW, we got to Memphis. The world keeps changing and there were nice big, clear signs showing the way to the Uber/Lyft pickup area. Airports are now embracing what they so recently tried to ban.

Once inside the Sheraton, we started thinking of food. The room service menu looks decent, including a beautiful peach pie dessert and something called barbecue soup.

But we were at a national. I come to these things for the socializing as much is for the bridge. The lobby and the restaurant would be full of people I know from all over the country, so I didn’t want to hunker down in our room. We put our shoes on and headed down to the restaurant, which was still open for another half hour.

On the phone, room service swore they had the same menu as the restaurant. Room service lied. Everything was different; there was no barbecue soup and, most importantly, no peach pie.

I ate my club sandwich, whining all the way. There was peach pie in the kitchen, but bureaucratic bloody mindedness was saving it for room service. So close, so far away.

Then the night shift boss lady came by and heard my sad tale of woe. Miracles were arranged, bureaucracy was slaughtered, and look what appeared in front of me.

Hot, fresh Georgia peach pie, caramel, ice cream and whipped cream. Heaven on a plate.

I guess a business needs to have systems and policies and rules. It great when line management knows when to break them to keep the customer satisfied.

Doing the Dallas Dash

So where else would I be in March? Changing planes in DFW, on the way to Memphis for the spring NABC.

Gail and I left home at 7:15 this morning die our 10 am flight.

Which took off at 12:30. At least we got to play one session of Bridge Base Online. And we won!

We missed our connection in Dallas with the delay, so I’m standing in line to get new boarding passes for the next flight. It’s great living the jet set life.

A Satire of Love, Life and Talking Lizards


Ellen McLaughlin and James Carpenter face a talking lizard in Edward Albee’s Seascape (Photo from ACT webfiles)

Edward Albee is far and away my favorite playwright, so when ACT announced  Seascape I knew we had to go.  It was the right thing to do.

This play is directed by Pam McKinnon, the ACT Artistic Director and a veteran of 11 prior productions of Albee plays.  She was a long time friend of the author and is ultimately qualified to bring this production to life.  It is a total coincidence that Gail and I saw the first Albee play she produced, The Play about the Baby,  because we were in Philadelphia and casting about for something to do one night 17 years ago.

The set is a seashore with dunes, extending over the edge of the stage, but there is no backdrop.  You can see the back of the building, and all the lights in the flys.  There is no illusion that this is anything but a theatrical production.

Set on the shore, Seascape tells the story of a long-married couple, John and Nancy.  They are involved in a discussion of what to do with the remainder of their lives–Nancy wants to travel and spend life on beaches everywhere.  John wants to do nothing at all.

The colloquy extends to their history, the 7-month depression John once had and Nancy thinking, for a week during that time, that she wanted to divorce him.  Phlegmatic John is upset at this decades-old news, not being able to see past his own boring steadiness.

Then the lizards enter.

Great big honking lizards. Walking on two feet talking lizards. Green scaled, horned, taloned lizards.

Meet Sarah and Leslie, (Sarah Nina Hayon and Seann Gallagher) lizards who have emerged from the sea.  They know nothing about humans.  Humans know nothing about them.  It’s time to get acquainted.

They begin with fear: John and Nancy adopt strange poses of submission lest they get killed and eaten.  Leslie approaches, smells and pokes at them, but does no harm.  Slowly, a conversation begins.  The concept of the handshake takes some time to convey, but it breaks the ice.

Then a discussion about bodies and reproduction. Sarah lays eggs all the time and has no concern for the outcome. She can’t imagine having only one child, or caring for it.  Because she needn’t feed her young, she has no breasts and is fascinated with Nancy’s, who shows hers to Sarah. When Leslie wants to see them too, John gets jealous and possessive, emotions that confuse the sea creatures.

Leslie and Sarah don’t know how to talk about their emotions: they don’t even know what emotions are. John and Nancy, who know very well what emotions are, (not that they can discuss them well), endeavor to teach their reptilian visitors.

Asking Sarah what she would do if Leslie disappeared causes her to cry, the first real emotion she has ever had or shown. And now Leslie is the one to get possessive and angry, assaulting John because he made Leslie cry.

This is Albee: nobody lives happily ever after, but they are somewhat enlightened, they have reached a new understanding of their lives and relationships, and perhaps the audience does too.

I loved it.  Gail loved it.  You will too, if you can open your mind to talking lizards.



New Knees are Good Knees


There it is, my new knee.

Yesterday I had my 6-week checkup;  they were kind enough to print out the x-ray for me. Gail won’t let me post it on the refrigerator, so I’m putting it up here.

You can see the new metal parts.  The open space between them is a plastic spacer (invisible to x-rays) that should last a lifetime–and they can replace it with relatively minor surgery if I have too much fun and wear it out.

The recovery has been awfully easy and quick, so I was surprised to be told that it can take 12 to 18 months to get full recovery and all the muscle strength back.  I have to keep stretching the knee out as much as possible, both to straighten it and to flex it back as much as possible. 67 years I’ve been dodging regular exercise, it finally caught up with me.

There doesn’t seem to any way to milk this for extra kindness, concern or chocolate cake.  I can’t even get a temporary handicapped parking placard.  I’ll just have to face a world where I can walk up and down stairs without pain.  Life is good.


Birds of West Coast Florida


Driving in Cape Coral, we noticed three people with big cameras on bigger tripods just standing around staring at a distant tree.  Since I had my camera with a big lens handy, we stopped and found them staking out this eagles nest, waiting for great light.  I didn’t have all day to wait for the great light; this was the best I could get on short notice.  The giant eagle’s nest is a local landmark, and this mating couple are well known to the local birding community.

We were heading to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a marvelous part of the national park system right in the area of Cape Coral. Fortunately, the government foolishness had ended the day before, and the park was re-opened.

(J.N. “Ding” Darling was a nationally known, Pulitzer prize winning political cartoonist whose love of birds and nature was the driving force behind the creation of this park.)

There is a 4-mile long one-way road through the park, where you can drive on the left and park anytime on the right, to stop and see the multitude of wildlife available.  We cruised slowly down, and i was able to get pictures of some of the birds that pass through here.


Roseate Spoonbill and great egrets


Roseate spoonbill


This is a brown pelican taking off.





Here are white pelicans–they are considerably smaller than the brown.


I don’t know what this guy is:


These are, I believe, great egrets.


Here’s a gallery I can’t all identify.  My cousin Nick will know all of them.

Two more:

As you can tell, I’m not much of a birder.  I like looking at them and taking their pictures, I just don’t know which is which.  Fortunately, that isn’t required to enjoy this magnificent national park.

Last one, this time for the composition and the reflection.


South Beach, Miami

Wednesday night, Gail and I took a drive to South Beach. Like an idiot, I forgot to bring my good camera. Thursday, therefore, we drove right back to the same spot and slowly motored up Ocean Ave so I could try to capture the lights of all the nightspots that make this such a famous strip.

This is just the first place I liked the look of. There was a trace of rain, which made the street shiny and reflective. Professional photographers hire water trucks to wet the pavement, I just got lucky.

Same place, slow shutter to get some tail light streams.

Some of the buildings have a variety of color schemes, you can just sit there and watch. (Wait for slide show)



This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are more classic styles mixed in with the flashy:



The ubiquitous palm trees are wrapped in a panoply of colors and styles.


All the best tables are right on the street, so you can see and be seen.  Each restaurant has a different style and color scheme.



We stopped for a bite at the Carlyle because I liked the way the outdoor heaters looked.  In California, we mostly have the flameless variety, which are more efficient by less decorative.  In always-warm Florida, appearance is more important so the heaters throw big flames to add to the ambiance.


Gail had the nachos and I had some seared Ahi.  Neither were all that wonderful: I suppose the owners know that all their customers are tourists and there will be little repeat business.  

In front of the restaurant was a young woman with a tray of cigars for sale, working from a tray that looked like the cigarette girls of old in the Vegas casinos.  I didn’t see her make any sales.

Another building with a light show.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We were getting to the end of the street, with just a few more places to see.

Something about this couple caught my attention.


The classic lines of the design, and the warm colors of the dining area opposed to the cool colors of the sign drew me.


And then we drove back to our hotel.

South Beach is a hot spot for the young and the tragically hip.  I’m neither, but it was a delightful evening, not hot and crowded like it would be in the summer, not cold, just a touch of rain for atmosphere. Just a perfect place to take your sweetie for a ride and a snack and a bit of gawking.


Sometimes clean living pays off. Gayle and I were just cruising around the streets of Fort Lauderdale, looking at all the immense mansions that are replacing ordinary homes on streets near the ocean.

We were listening to the radio and the story about Roger Stone being arrested today. Then we noticed a lot of television cameras.

Photo by Gail

What could they be waiting for but Stone returning home?

I turned onto the street, and was instantly met with this fine gentleman.

Photo by Gail

We asked if this was the street Stone lives on and he said “maybe”. I told him I would just turn around immediately and he was friendly as heck.

There are helicopters hovering over downtown Ft Lauderdale that you can hear in the CNN broadcast.

Nothing here is important, but it’s kind of interesting to find yourself in the middle of the news.

Some good news

Gail and I are off to Miami to visit friends of hers from high school. I have been worried for sometime about getting through security with the current government foolishness.

I was very happy to find that security at SFO is provided by a contractor, not by the TSA. These people, while no more competent than any other security theater, are at least getting paid and therefore showing up for work.

We were through security in a very short time. There was a brief hold up because my new knee will not go through a magnetometer without beeping like a jackpot on a quarter slot machine. Hence I had to go around to the x-ray machine and hold my hands up in submission to the government while they decided I was not a threat.

Arriving in Miami, we picked up our baggage after almost an hourlong wait in the busiest and most crowded facility I’ve ever seen and then faced a trek of 3/4 of a mile to the car rental facility. Fortunately much of it is on moving walkways which are about 100 yards long. Then you walk off, drag your luggage 50 feet to the next one and repeat.

Arriving at last at the large sign for the rental center, you turn left to face yes, yet another moving walkway. This one is twice as long and half as fast as the previous ones. At the end of it, there is a train. Finally finally finally you arrive at the rental center claim your car and try to find your way out and to the Marriott hotel

Since it was almost 10 PM we decided to call room service for a meal. This used to be an upscale experience with the waiter pushing a table cloth covered tray into the room and your food on China under metal covers. At the Marriott Dadeland, a person knocks on your door and hands you a bag with your food packed in clamshell styrofoam containers, wine in weak plastic glasses and no condiments or seasonings. There is no Romance whatsoever.

This, at least, was an interesting meal. It is a rice bowl with corn and black beans, avocado and pico de gallo, topped with grilled chicken. It would have been better with some spices or salsa or Tabasco sauce but that was not to be. Still a moderately healthy and pleasant meal.

After a few days in Miami, we are driving to Cape Coral to visit Karl Rowley . Home next week.

All I want for Christmas is a new right knee

This was my knee a week ago Monday morning. Original equipment. Completely stock, and completely worn out. I groaned every time I got out of a chair. I had to grit my teeth in pain on every stair case, either up or down. Couldn’t dance. It was time to have it replaced.

The process at Kaiser Hospital was not particularly difficult. I saw the orthopedic surgeon, had many x-rays taken, and then scheduled the surgery at their Antioch facility.

Things at a hospital proceed at their own pace, and you have absolutely no control over it. It is wisest to show up with a fully charged phone and a spare battery, prepared to be patient.

Here I am, in one of those absurd hospital gowns , mainly shaved and prepped, waiting. I did a lot of waiting. The large white hose to my right is blowing warm air into a balloon like blanket that covered me and kept me warm yet weighed nothing. It is a wonderful design.

In the fullness of time the surgeon and the anesthetist showed up, asked a bunch of questions I had already answered many times, then marked and signed my right knee. There will be no errors.

Finally, I was taken into the operating room. Then something happened, and I woke up in recovery. The most unpleasant part of the entire process was waking up to find I had no sensation whatsoever below my waist. They had given me a spinal anesthetic, and I could neither feel nor move either leg.

Another surgeon appeared to insert an anesthetic drip into the leg. The spinal was wearing off and a physical therapist presented herself to show me how to use a walker and take myself off to the bathroom. Yes, that means I was walking on the new knee in just a couple of hours. It also meant I had to prove I could pee before the let me go home. Remember the part about no feeling below the waist? There are situations you never really foresee.

Gail and granddaughter Tessa picked me up, and since I hadn’t eaten all day we headed for the most understaffed Burger Kind we could find.  A long time later we managed to get some food and headed home. It was a long day, but I managed to use my new walker and get into the house unaided.

The next morning Kaiser sent a physical therapist to the house to see that I was doing alright and to start the rehab process.  He was incredibly prompt, right to the minute, got me going and pointed in the direction of activity and flexibility.  He took the wrap off the leg.

Wednesday, I played bridge.  This surprised some people, but I could sit at home or be with my friends, which was better?  The short walk from the car to the club was required exercise in any case.

Friday I played again.  People were no longer surprised. Each day was better than the last, I got up easier, moved faster, had less pain.

Pain.  That’s a big subject.  Kaiser gives you a ton of hard narcotics and lots of information on how not to get addicted.  What they don’t give you is an option to use a milder, non-narcotic pain reliever.  I had to call the Orthopedics office, work my way through the phone tree, leave a message and finally get a call back to be clear that I could use up to 3500 milligrams a day of Tylenol.   That solves all my problems and you won’t find me standing on a street corner selling intrafinesses for drug money.

Saturday we had a party, and I overdid it. Too much fun, too much racing around enjoying our friends.  For the very first time in my life I told Gail I was going to bed before the guests left.  The next day, I did nothing and slowly recuperated.

Monday, Christmas Eve, I had my first PT appointment at Kaiser.  People had warned me that this would be difficult and painful, but it was neither.  There is another one tomorrow that may be more intense.

We went to Fresno for Christmas Eve dinner, and I even drove part of the way. Cruise control helps a lot, but I still needed Gail to help drive on the way home Christmas day.

I’m getting around pretty well. Sometimes I find myself walking without the walker because I just forgot. I’ll likely graduate to a cane within the week.

Knee replacement is so common I’m thinking of it as the old guy’s tonsillectomy.  It isn’t fun, but it’s not awful and soon I’ll have the flexibility and strength of a youngster of 60.