Friday, December 7, 2012

Tennessee, One Thousand Feet Underground


After driving about three hours north of Atlanta, Georgia, it has been at least ten years that I am heading in the direction that I am. I am going to visit a destination that has intrigued me for over thirty years.

Having attended college in western Kentucky, I have previously driven along I-24 many times headed south to Florida. Along the interstate no matter which way you are going, miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee, there is a roadside sign that is bound to catch your eye.


On a nice Saturday afternoon I am standing on Lookout Mountain taking in beautiful views of the home of “The Chattanooga Choo Choo”. In a few minutes after paying $17 admission, I am 260 feet below the surface. This is the approximate spot where Leo Lambert began an adventurous journey to make a remarkable discovery.

This afternoon we are fortunate that although our passage is still restrictive in some areas at least we can stand unlike Mr. Lambert who along with a few friends crawled about 650 feet into the unknown before he could first stand up.



12-166Pass interesting cave formations that over time have taken on some imaginative shapes from steak and potatoes to a donkey, we arrive at Ruby Falls. At about 1000 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain, I watch in awe and feel the cool refreshing mist of a 145 foot tall waterfall as it thunders down into a welcoming pool below.

This is spectacular Ruby Falls still as fascinating and awesome as the day it was first discovered in the late 1920's.

Thanks Mr. Lambert for sharing your discovery with the rest of the world. I am glad that this time I followed your sign instead of keeping the pedal to the medal.








Ruby Falls Link:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hawaii, Food And Fun Enjoying Oahu



2012-11-08 08.50.29After a long day of playing Co-ed Softball, a few of us meet for dinner at Duke's. Popular with locals and tourists, Duke's located on the beach is a Waikiki institution.

With pretty much open air seating and reasonable prices, dining or just hanging out at Duke is pretty hard to beat.





Dinner and a nice salad bar is about US$35 per person including drinks which you can only order one at a time. No stacking or ordering a drink for someone else (must be present to drink).

Stuffed from dinner or just wanting to test your hearing then head over to Maddog on Kuhio which we do. With a DJ spinning the tunes, a few of us burn off some calories and have a great time doing it. Although we have an early game to play in the morning, the fun last way past our bed time and it is going to be a very short night.



2012-11-08 12.46.54Hangin In Hawaii



Back at Kapiolani Park our round one playoff game goes as expected and for most of us we are happy it is over in a good way. Breakfast at Bogart's Cafe on Monsarrat Ave where we are accused by an irate customer of being “McCain and That Man supporters” then it is off to explore a bit of Oahu.


2012-11-08 12.51.37Following the coastline, we take in magnificent views of the rugged coast as awesome waves crash into it.

A stop at Sandy Beach and we are body-surfing the waves even as we are encouraged over a loud PA system to swim at another beach.

Sandy Beach is known as the most dangerous beach in America with a record number of back and neck injuries occurring here.






2012-11-08 15.31.30Kailua Beach




SAMNOV10 033This evening dinner is at Buzz's Steak House in Kailua where Presidents have been known to dine. I hope they were not given an exemption on the I am told “3 Mai Tai Limit”.

Dinner at Buzz's will set you back a little bit more than at Duke's. However, what is a Presidential experience worth to you?





My last day in Hawaii is as beautiful as my first although a little sad. It does end on a good note with breakfast at Moana Surfrider, the original Waikiki beach hotel.




2012-11-09 10.00.00Moana Surfrider Hotel




2012-11-09 10.17.36A breakfast buffet, US$30 per person is more than delicious with fresh banana pancakes and other breakfast delights along with a view and ambiance that is amazing.









Hawaii, Goodbye Sunshine


In my experience some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets in the United States occur in Hawaii. For my first night in Honolulu I leave the Grand Waikiki and head for Queen Beach to capture another one of them.


2012-11-05 17.43.15As sailboats move across the orange horizon, I enjoy the views of Diamond Head and the Waikiki waterfront as I wait for hopefully the “Green Flash” of a Hawaii sunset.

Anytime along the beaches of Waikiki seem to be a fun and relaxing for everyone.





From boogie boarders and surfers enjoying the crashing waves to others like myself enjoying the view and the fresh ocean breeze this is an experience not to be missed. For me, it is always relaxing to listen to the sounds of the sea and watch as the sun displays its brilliant evening colors.

This evening there is no “Green Flash” as clouds hangs on the distant horizon. However, the soothing colors of the skies and the wink as the sun says goodbye makes for an impressive experience.




Hawaii, Honolulu Cheap Transportation And Food


Arriving in Honolulu, I have a plan that will kill two birds with one stone. Leaving the upper level of the airport building I head over to the “City Bus” stop. A short wait and the No.19 bus arrives that will take me for US$2.50 to an important address in Waikiki.

With numerous stops along the way this is not the fastest way into Waikiki but the most economical that also serves as somewhat of a free introduction tour to the island. En route to my first stop, we past through Chinatown and in front of the Royal Palace. Both of which I am told are worth a visit.

This is my first trip back to Honolulu in about five years and as the surroundings become more familiar my taste buds are beginning to get that “Aloha” feeling again. Familiar to most island visitors, we finally arrive at Ala Moana Shopping Center. As I exit the bus, I head straight for Foodland.

I can already taste the sticky rice and fried chicken I remember from many years ago.



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Florida, Jacksonville 45 Minutes Of Terror


As is often said, one should not judge a book by it's cover. The same can be said of Night Terrors Haunted House in Jacksonville, Florida. Located in a strip mall on a busy street in Jacksonville, the outside entrance will lure you into a false sense of “how bad can this be, probably just a waste of money.” If those are your thoughts going in, you would be dead wrong, that is if you even make it out.

For the sake of comfort we make arrangements to go in with another group in line with us. That plan quickly falls apart when we are denied the option by the door keeper.

We must face this journey alone. As we are sterilized by military personnel and told that zombies have been reported loose in the area, a personal conflict develops between us. Who is going to be our group of two leader? Personally, I think I can better protect us by being a follower.

For the next 45 minutes our roles change multiple times not by choice but because one of us is a faster runner and stronger pusher than the other. Navigating dark and narrow hallways as zombies and clowns haunt us has at least one of us screaming at one time or another with both of our hearts racing a mile a minute.

Unfortunately, I was unable to capture the terror on video. However, I can tell you that even after returning to our car, we were still sweating and breathing as if we had just escaped from hell.

If you are not afraid of having stuff scared out of you or you are comfortable wearing “Depends” then Night Terror Haunted House is definitely worth the price of admission.



SAMGHOST 149As we prepare to leave Jacksonville after dark, there is one more stop we must make. It is at an Elementary School that is no ordinary school. Located near the I-10 and I-95 underpass, the old Public School No. 4 has some unverified stories behind it that has given it a haunted reputation.

From a furnace explosion that killed half the students in the 1960's to a principal that went crazy and ate students he kept in a meat locker, just looking at the building gives me the creeps.





As we set off to explore the fenced in building, I leave our car ready in case we have to make a quick getaway. I am just not sure who or what might be looking back at us from the dark shadows of this legendary place of evil and terror.




Monday, October 29, 2012

Florida, A Not So Haunted Lighthouse


After about a three hour drive from Savannah, Georgia, we arrive in the nation's oldest city St. Augustine, Florida. We are not here to discover “The Fountain Of Youth”, at least not on this trip but we are hoping to spot a goblin or two at the reported haunted St. Augustine Lighthouse.



SAMGHOST 123As we drive through town the weather is so nice that I am sure if there are any ghost that haunt the old lighthouse they are probably out and about enjoying a lovely afternoon.

Even with almost dashed hopes, we pay the US$9.75 and enjoy learning about the old fishing and shrimping industry in this part of Florida.










Although there is nothing scary happening at the lighthouse the views after climbing about two hundred winding steps is definitely worthwhile.



SAMGHOST 129I am just glad that I don't have to carry a 30lb bucket of oil up 219 steps in order to keep the lighthouse lamp burning.

Year round there is an After-Hours Paranormal Tour for US$25 person which allows you to climb the lighthouse at night. I am sure this tour would give you a better chance of a haunting experience than the one we did for US$9.75.





For now, maybe checking out “The Fountain Of Youth” is not a bad idea as I think I just saw a wrinkle.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

Georgia, Crystal Beer Parlor



SAMGHOST 121Following a recommendation from a local tour guide, on our last day in Savannah, we head over to Crystal Beer Parlor for lunch.

The Crystal Beer has its history deep in the prohibition era as it was an old “speakeasy”.





Today, it seems like it is doing as much busy as it did back in the 1930's. However, today we can consume the once prohibited liquid legally. Although moonshine like “Bathtub Gin” is no longer available, you can still find some old time stuff here like Iron City Beer, Schlitz and Ballatine Ale.


SAMGHOST 105Interestingly Ballantine Ale was the first beer that sponsored the New York Yankees on television. Under its cap you can also find something interesting, a puzzle.









SAMGHOST 107Red Rice, Fried Chicken And Sweet Corn



Crystal Beer offers a few lunch specials and one grabs my attention. Fried chicken with red rice and sweet corn for $7.95. So delicious it should probably be illegal.



SAMGHOST 112For sure sinful, their Savannah Mud Pie. A great way to finish any meal here.

With leftover from a way too huge homemade meatball sausage, we hit the road smiling and stuffed.

Our next stop, a haunted lighthouse in St. Augustine, Florida.






Georgia, Savannah Walking Ghost Tour


With our Spanish friends Calimochos in hand, we leave the Savannah Riverfront headed somewhere across town for our “Walking Ghost Tour” rendezvous point. Although the street lights are dim, in the distance we can see a small gathering of people in the area of where we think we should be meeting.

From reviews online, for $30 per person we have chosen to do our tour with Sixth Sense Ghost Tour. At about 9:30pm there are about twenty of us gathered at Clary's Cafe at 404 Abercorn Street in search of discovering some of Savannah's deadly past.



SAMGHOST 066Our first stop is at Jones and Bull street where we are told stories about a building facing us. Nothing particularly scary although some interesting stuff.

We are shown some pictures of what are believed to be ghosts that appear in some of the building's windows. Even with the help of my friend Calimocho and drawing on my huge imagination, I see nothing.







SAMGHOST 070Mercer Williams Haunted Home



Our tour continues criss crossing a small area of Savannah with story telling stops at places like the Mercer Williams house (Midnight In The Garden) and the famous Savannah Fountain. We are told that bridal parties pay about $1500 to have pictures taken at the Savannah Fountain which interestingly is placed on top of an old morgue in a tunnel just below it.




SAMGHOST 073For me, our next to last stop is the most interesting. An old hospital where we are told 666 patients died during a historical yellow fever out break in the city.

Although situated in an area with plenty of room to expand, the city in recent years relocated the hospital outside of town because of its spooky past.

Today, it is planned to be turned into a law school which indeed is very scary.




Although we took the tour for the thrill of it, I think the same effect could have been accomplished much cheaper especially if someone followed us around in a “Scream” mask.

There are numerous Ghost Tour companies in Savannah with all types of price ranges which I think from a tour stand point would not make much difference.




SAMGHOST 075I would add that once we got back to the hotel and spent more time with Calimocho in looking at the pictures we took, we are convinced there was a ghost looking at us from a third floor window of the old hospital building.

Or maybe, it was just a future personal injury attorney.








Georgia, Sweet And Musical Savannah


Besides its haunting reputation that has drawn us here, there is another side of Savannah that is literally sweet music to my ear and tummy.

For me, no visit to Savannaj would be complete without a slice or two of Vinnie Van GoGo pizza. Probably, the best pizza in the city especially when it is savored on a beautiful evening listening to local musicians perform near City Market.


SAMGHOST 062From City Market, we take a stroll down a set of steep stairs to the riverfront. Here a trip to River Street Sweet is a must. Just watching the fresh pralines being made, original and chocolate is at least 500 calories.

A few free sample bites and your diet is busted for the day. Of course, you can always start your diet tomorrow.











SAMGHOST 060With our liquid Spanish friend Calimocho, we sit outside of River Street Sweet and pass some time enjoying the riverfront.

In about an hour or so we'll be going with Calimocho on a tour that we hope will take us into some of Savannah's haunting pass.







Monday, October 22, 2012

Georgia, Tybee Island Lighthouse



SAMGHOST 047For a $8 admission fee, we are about to climb a piece of Georgia history. Completed in 1736, the Tybee Island Lighthouse is not only the oldest lighthouse in Georgia but it is also one of the first public structures completed in the 4th state of the Union.








SAMGHOST 039View From Tybee Island Lighthouse



After 178 winding steps, we are taking in awesome views of Tybee Island. I watch as a few huge cargo ships head out to the Atlantic Ocean. I am surprised to learn that Savanna is the nation's second busiest shipping port behind the combined New York and New Jersey Port Authority.

Back from about 200 feet above sea level, we pay for parking and then head out to the beach area. I am drawn to an information sign near the beginning of the path to the beach. It is cool to discover that this part of Georgia is where Loggerhead Sea Turtles come to nest from May to October.



SAMGHOST 049Did you know that the sex of baby turtles is determined by nest's temperature? Of course, girls are hot and boys are (very) cool.

Out of the thousands that are born here, only a small percentage will survive their beach birth to make it back to the sea.






It is a beautiful afternoon along the shore with a gentle wind giving the waves their soothing sounds. Along the beach there are swings were you can just relax and take in the calming views as small flocks of birds fly overhead.



SAMGHOST 052With a low tide it is easy to walk the wide beach area with just a few spots were pools of the cool ocean water remains.

The low tide also provides an opportunity for beach fishing. A couple sets up a pair of rods and beach chairs in the sand. Lucky, them.









SAMGHOST 053Surfers At Tybee Island Beach



At the far end of the beach from us there is a rock breaker where just on the other side surfers are enjoying some wave action. It is not Hawaii but it still seems like a lot of fun along the shores of the Peach State.




Saturday, October 20, 2012

Georgia, Tybee Island Museum


Our “Ghostmobile” arrives in “The Most Haunted City In America” while Count Dracula and a few of his friends are still taking their afternoon nap. Since we still have some time to kill before hopefully our next scare, we venture to the outskirts of town.

Not too far out of town we end up on Tybee Island. With a rich history tied to bootlegging and numerous wars, I am sure Tybee has some scary stories of its own.



SAMGHOST 011Our first stop at Sundae Cafe turns out to be something we are not expecting.

Instead of ice cream and sundaes, a Southwest Chicken Salad and a Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Homemade Potato Salad has us kneeling over with culinary excitement.







SAMGHOST 008Southwest Chicken Salad




We are almost dying with envy as we see the huge portions of other meals delivered to other patrons. It is killing me that I did not order the seafood platter that comes with freshly made hush puppies.


SAMGHOST 012Although not expecting to find any goons or goblins, after a late lunch we visit the Tybee Island Museum to see what we can dig up.












With artifacts from the War of 1812 to a diving suit with a helmet that weighs 35lbs although the museum is small, it does often a chance to learn a bit of early Georgia history. Climb a few set of stairs and you can get nice views of Tybee Island and our next destination, the historical Tybee Island Lighthouse.



Georgia, A Scary Road Trip


Although over the years we have spent many miles on the road exploring the land of the free, this is the first time we have set out on a road trip to scare ourselves. Our first scare begins just Northeast of Atlanta where strange creatures of the night roam an almost full parking lot just waiting to greet us.


My Ode To Getting Scared On The Road


Alas, it is that time of the year when for most of us goons and goblins will soon appear

From eating tons of candy, to drinking batches of witches brew


SAMGHOST 003Welcome to Netherworld








SAMGHOST 005Maybe your worst nightmare, or just a good Halloween scare









Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Texas. Longhorns, True Cowboys And Ribs



SAMSEP11 016Few things symbolize Texas more than “Cowboys And Steers”. Real “Cowboys”, ones in Wranglers and Ropers not Spandex and Nikes.

Men that can wrestle a thousand plus pound animal to ground better than any 300lb defensive tackle ever could.






SAMSEP11 021Fort Worth Stock Yards


I get to experience a bit this part of Texas during my brief visit to the Fort Worth Stock Yards, less than an hour's drive from about anywhere in Dallas. Here you can find The Cowboy Museum where on the outside wall is posted a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt (1885) concerning the Texans role as cowboys.


SAMSEP11 001“They are fearless... being unequaled in trying times … excelled only by the Mexicans.”






At 4pm, there is a little action up the street as a crowd waits to witness a daily tradition that has been going on here since the late 1990's. With strategically placed cowboys on horseback, the twice daily parade of Texas Longhorns begins towards The Fort Worth Stockyard Exchange.

These are some beautiful animals, with curved and twisted horns than span at least four feet tip to tip.




SAMSEP11 003Texas Longhorns And True Cowboys



SAMSEP11 007As the tail end of the herd goes by, one or two of them decide to leave a few presents behind for us.

Although I am hungry, I don't find their “Road Apples” all that appealing.






SAMSEP11 009Instead, with a worked up appetite, I end up at Riscky's Barbeque where for $9.95 I can have all I can eat of their famous beef ribs. Along with red beans, Texas toast, a Polish pickle and a Texas size Shiner Bock, I am ready to chow down.







SAMSEP11 014Riscky’s Beef Rib Platter



SAMSEP11 013Texas Size Shiner Bock

Filled from Riscky's ribs, I take a stroll toward The Texas Coliseum, birthplace of the modern indoor rodeo. A place visited by Governors and Presidents through out its history.

At the right time of the year, a place that I am sure would be lots of fun, at least 8 seconds or so at a time.






SAMSEP11 020Texas Coliseum




Monday, September 17, 2012

Texas, The Patriotic Rangers


I arrive at my hotel, the Baymont Inn at Six Flags with about 10 minutes to spare before the last Arlington Trolley makes it's stop there. The Trolley provides a free service from area hotels to Rangers Ballpark which is about a mile away. With no hassles to worry about parking, this is a nice option for seeing a Rangers game or watching that other team that thinks it is “America's Team”.


SAMSEP11 023Dropped off across the street from the main ticket booth area, $8 later and I can check another ballpark of the list to visit. Standing in an area along the third base side of the field, there is an unmistakable warm and positive energy in the home of The Defending American League Champions.

This is not my first time being in Dallas on the anniversary of 9-11 and in a few minutes I have bittersweet memories of previously being here. As we observe a moment of silence for the victims of that tragic day, you can almost hear a pin drop in the stadium filled with thousands.



“The Colors Of The United States Of America” is presented by members of the US Coast Guard and “The Star Spangled Banner” is solemnly echoed across the ballpark as a huge flag is unfolded down on the field. Like others, I have a sense that Texans are proud to be Americans and show the uttermost respect for those that serve our country. In this regard, I share their thoughts and feelings.

The AL Defending Champions are introduced and it is not long before the fans are cheering on their favorites.

“Let's Go Rangers, Let's Go Rangers”


SAMSEP11 028The Cleveland Indians are facing two opponents tonight and unfortunately for them, one of the opponents has a powerful friend with the right moves in their corner. As I am standing watching the excitement, I get a jolt as none other than “The King” brushes pass me. Elvis is a Rangers fan. Soon Elvis and his entourage are into a “Whoop There It Is” dance and now I know the Indians are really in trouble.

I know you have heard many things are “BIG” in TEXAS and you can have my word that at least when it comes to corn dogs that is certainly true. In fact, I am told by one fan, “It darn took almost twenty minutes to make this thing”.



One of the nice things for me in visiting ballparks is collecting baseball hats when they are not too expensive. An interesting opportunity presents itself for me to do so when I participate in a Rangers charity donation spin the wheel contest. I know you would not believe me if I told you, but I won me two hats. Now that's almost the nicest thing anyone has done for me at a ballpark.

“Cotton Candy, Cotton Candy Here”. No Cheese On It,.. Just Sweets For Your Sweet, I am told as I interact and video tape one of the stadium workers performing an entertaining routine.

“Cotton Candy, Cotton Candy Here”.

Somewhere in all of this excitement and entertainment a baseball game is going on. A little CSI deduction from the crowd's reaction and you do not even need to look at the scoreboard, you know the Rangers are winning. Night has fallen over the ballpark and I discovered another interesting thing about Texas. The stars are also “BIG” and bright deep in the heart of Texas.

Into the sixth inning the game takes an exciting twist that has the fans booing. A few minutes later our attention is drawn to the fact that the previous play is under review. This gives all the baseball “experts” including myself the chance to display and voice our expert opinions about the matter.


SAMSEP11 034Finally, the decision comes down and a short burst of fireworks explodes above center field. What was initially ruled a double is overturned into a Rangers Home Run. However, this is not the best part of the decision. This occurred during a “Promotional Inning” and now all the fans in the ballpark are going to get a “Free Crunchy Taco” from Taco Bueno.

As if to join in the celebration soon a few Texas Legends are racing around the field. Dave Crockett, Jim Bowie and Sam Houston can really move.



I am not sure if this is a regular part of Rangers tradition and it would not surprise me if it was. Once again, I feel honored that I am here as a tribute is made to the men and women of our Armed Services at home and around the world.

Regardless of your religious belief or political persuasion, I imagine it would be difficult to not be touched in some way by this tribute and the singing of “God Bless America”.

It's “The 7th Inning Stretch” and the crowd is just as excited about the game as they were in the 1st inning. As if the 34,765 fans needed anymore encouragement or bonding, soon we are all singing about “Minnnie The Moocher”.

Hidehidehidehi, Hodehodehodeho, Hedehedehedehe.

The Indians make a run for it in the last innings but after a few of their pitchers are given “The Texas Boot”, the Rangers finish them off 6-4.


SAMSEP11 030I guess they finally figured it out, “Don't Mess With Texas”.









Thursday, September 13, 2012

Texas. Root, Root For The Astros


Thanks to a “Fun Flight” on Southwest Airlines, I arrive at Houston Hobby airport about 45 minutes before the first pitch is scheduled to be thrown at Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston. Although this is a tight schedule, I will still complete one of my ongoing missions to visit every Major League Baseball Park in the country.

Following the signs for “Ground Transportation”, I find the local bus stop and wait for Bus No. 88 to arrive. Preparing to put $2.00 in the fare meter, I am asked by the bus driver, “Don't you have a quarter?” I respond “No” and unexpectedly get a discount. Instead of paying the $1.25 bus fare or $26 for a taxi, I am headed to downtown Houston for a buck.

Arriving in downtown, I exit Bus No.88 near Stop One. From here it is about a ten block walk to the stadium, less than twenty minutes.


SAMSEP11 053Starving after a long day of work and travel, my prayers are answered by a neon sign across an empty parking lot. My introduction to downtown Houston is complete with a slice of pizza loaded with pepperoni, sausage and vegetables from Franks Pizza.

With just the right amount of grease, it is delicious.




From a few blocks away I can hear the excitement of the game already underway inside the stadium. A quick stop at the Left Field Ticket Booth and for US$5.00 I have just bought myself entertainment for the next two to three hours.


SAMSEP11 020Minute Maid Park is a modern stadium with a retractable dome that comes in pretty handy especially during the months of July and August when it is “Texas Hot”. Tonight it is open as it is a beautiful and cool evening to watch balls and strikes under the lights.

Although the stadium is practically empty the crowd is still enthusiastic even if the majority of them are Cubs fans. This is not good for the Astros who are struggling with the bats.





SAMSEP11 032Minute Maid Park


However, there are still a few hometown favorites that get their share of applause and appreciation from the Astro fans.

Not a sport to watch for everyone but one of the things I like about baseball is the pace at which it moves. With no time limit, excitement in the game usually comes in short burst. A double play, strike out or home-run always energizes the crowd then it may be minutes or not until the next inning or two that something exciting happens.


SAMSEP11 027In the meantime, you can enjoy great “Tums Qualified”stadium food, a sip or two of a cold drink or the distinctive solicitation of one of the many hard working stadium vendors.

“Popcorn, here, Popcorn!” “Ice Cold, Beer!”







SAMSEP11 012The Kiss Cam


If the game itself is not entertaining enough for you then the other stadium offerings like “The Kiss Cam” or “Air Guitar” will be sure to bring laughter or the faintest of smiles.

Time for the “The 7th Inning Stretch” and the Astros can really use the motivation as they are still trailing the Cubs. I guess they have had their share of:

“It's 1,2, 3 Strikes, You're Out!”

Or maybe they are just showing the Cubs some Texas hospitality by letting them win.

I get my share of Texas hospitality at the Fan Accommodation booth where I am given a “First Time Visitor” certificate.


SAMSEP11 033This brings a smile to my face and I feel like a five year old kid, “Deep In The Heart Of Texas”. 

Maybe a hat and boots are next.

Thanks, Astros!