Monday, May 24, 2010

Southern Swing, May 2010, Day 7 - Charlotte

Here it is. The penultimate day of the Southern Swing. Tomorrow we fly back to Los Angeles. Today, we... literally do not have to do anything. We plan to meet Barbie's friend Lauren who moved to Charlotte from New York City, but other than that and the usual on-the-laptop work, we do not have to do a gosh darned thing.

The view out our window. It is raining. Before the rain began, there was a line of golfers whacking balls on that driving range. I suppose they are now lined up at the bar.

With our room and suite upgrade, we also get lunch in the hotel. Shall we?

The bar, where we chose to eat. Much more comfortable than the restaurant. And we got a bonus; two lunch meetings slash sales pitches going on next to us, so that we got to listen to the salesmen say, "We're here to do whatever it takes to get your business," and then hear the response, "To be honest, we need a better price," and then, silence.

When the hotel is treating, you treat yourself to three courses. Let us begin.

French onion soup. I should stop ordering this when I am not at Balthazar in NYC, because all other onion soups make me sad inside that they are not Batlhazar's Onion Soup Fondue.

Barbie's chicken club with sweet potato fries.

My turkey burger with bacon. Shame on me for two things. One, I did not ask for blue cheese. Two, I did not ask for BBQ sauce. Seriously. I am a fool.

Barbie's dessert, but I completely forgot what the stuff under the stuff was.

My dessert. Pretty obvious what this is.

This is the last golf course pic, I swear. I just wanted to share the pond and fountain.

With some time free in the afternoon, Barbie decided to fulfill her quest. What quest? In Charleston she spotted a young woman with, "awesome shoes." Barbie asked her where she purchased said shoes. Young woman responded, "Target." Guess where we headed off to?

Welcome to target. Us Awesome.

I can name, oh, eleventy people I know for a fact will be horribly annoyed that I flipped this picture vertically.

For the record, Barbie would never make me wait while she goes shoe shopping at home. But this was a quest. And for those who want to know... yes. The Target shoes of awesomeness were found and purchased.

The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel, indoor pools.

The wonderful Lauren came to our hotel suite. Amazingly, she lives down the street. Originally, we were planning to stay at a hotel downtown. Someone in Charleston recommended the Ballantyne, and we switched not knowing that this choice placed us literally next to the people we would be visiting in Charlotte.

Lauren came and we spent some time catching up in the room, and soon it was off to a local Spanish restaurant that Barbie had found on Open Table, Miro Spanish Grille. A restaurant named after one of my favorite artists? Sign me up. If you really, really know me, you know that I have an authenticated Miro lithograph my parents bought me in 1979 that looks exactly like my childhood teddy bear. Miro is not Picasso, but he matters.

I love when a menu is online. Get ready for food detail.

Platanos, fried plantains.

Manchego y Jamon, prosciutto and manchego cheese.

Vieiras, sauteed scallops in a sun dried tomato and peppers sauce.

Langostinos al Pil Pil, sauteed jumbo shrimp in garlic, olive oil, and paprika. (Yes, we nearly ate it all, but I took a picture of the last shrimp.)

Paella Valenciana, traditional Spanish recipe with seafood, chicken and saffron rice. It was almost as good as the paella we had in Madrid, and just about equal to the paella in Barcelona.

After a meal so good we did not even have room for dessert, we went back and talked with Lauren late into the night.

And then, after Lauren went home, we nerded out and ordered the LOST finale on the "Just Missed TV" section of the hotel's pay-per-view system.

The bags are packed. Time to sleep.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Southern Swing, May 2010, Day 6 - Charleston to Charlotte

Another wedding in the past, another bride and groom turned into just a married couple, and another day we eat lunch and get the heck out of town.

When the Sweetwater Cafe is across the street, why walk any further?

The bags are packed. Time to leave Charleston.

On the highway between Charleston, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina, I noted two points of interest. Both billboards. Both had a person's face on the left and a brief pitch to the right. The first, "Rush Limbaugh. Saving the Soul of America." The second, "Islam Rising. Be Warned." I am sure that for the first you are imagining the image correctly, but I am not sure. You see, one might have expected a terrorist type, and one would be wrong. It featured a wearing a burka. Oddly, not a flat black burka but a pretty one with purple trim.

Most interesting.

We crossed the state line from South to North, and soon we were approaching the home of our friends from Los Angeles who had relocated to Charlotte.

I was driving as we passed this mega church, the Calvary Church of Charlotte. I pulled out my iPhone and handed it to Barbie as fast as possible. The size of a sports stadium, this non-denominational evangelical church's sanctuary is 310,000 square feet and seats 5,106 people. I honestly cannot tell you if that is any bigger or smaller than the huge churches we have seen in Europe. But I will say that the architecture, for me, feels a bit temporary. I do not see people coming to this building a hundred years from now, but St, Peter's, Notre Dame, St. Paul's, and the Berliner Dom will still be there. (I had to name a non-Catholic building at the end there.)

The GPS took us right to Ari and Marcy's door, and soon we went from the hustled world hotels and restaurants to someone's home.

An actual home.

An actual child.

The answer is yes. The question is, "Couldn't you just eat her up?" For the record, this little cutie is Sephira.

Sephira's older brother, Shayne. A supercol dude. We got to play with him for a good while, and let me put it this way; if Ari and Marcy still lived in Los Angeles, we would be wanting them to go out with other friends so that we could babysit.

Sephira on Shayne's bed. You are wanting to eat her up even more now.

The babysitter arrived, and the four of us headed out to dinner.

Ari approaching... man, I forget the name of the restaurant. It is a British pub, which is appropriate because the British Colony of North Carolina named this city Charlotte after King George III's wife. Now you know why Charlotte is called Queen City and they have little royal crowns on most street signs.

For the record, the colonists thought that naming the city after his wife might make King George send a little favoritism their way. It did not work. And now I ask you to experience a "the more things change moment" and recall the small towns in America that have recently named themselves after corporations in attempt to gain favor.

Chicken Fried Chicken. Yes. Chicken Fried Chicken. Before you go judging my dinner, I have two things to tell you. Firstly, it was delicious. That creamed spinach was perfect. Secondly, it is not simply called, "Fried Chicken," because these are two boneless breasts. Fried Chicken is a piece of chicken fried, bones and all. So, you see, do not think of my Chicken Fried Chicken as some sort of super-fried monstrosity. Think of it as boneless chicken breasts, chicken fried.

We ate outside in the dark, and until Apple releases their 4th version of the iPhone I have no flash. Therefore, the above picture is brought to you in the light of Ari's Motorola Droid. A Google phone and an Apple phone, working together in harmony.

After dinner we went for a drive to downtown Charlotte, which they call, "Uptown," in an effort to give it that upper class vibe. As in it is a good part of town. They are very aware of such things in Charlotte. Before non-Charlotteans judge that little bit of verbal trickery, note that Charlotte was chosen the "Best Place To Live In America" by in 2008. You cannot win the big prize without a little strategy.

Yes, the people of Charlotte are officially called, "Charlotteans." I looked it up.

On our way into Uptown.

I absolutely love it.

Barbie, Marcy, and Ari, walking into the EpiCentre. A modernly designed outdoor mall with, no joke, the best theaters in North America, a bowling alley that belongs in Hollywood, restaurants, shopping, a W Hotel, and, um, everything else you could ask for.

The escalators up to the movie theaters. You can see my three companions get closer and closer while the lighting changes. These theaters feature huge, cushy seats and you can literally order a steak dinner and a beer and have them brought to your seat.

Hollywood-style bowling in North Carolina. Behind these bowlers is a massive bar and lounge area that was filled with young attractive people of all backgrounds. The Queen City shows her cosmopolitan side, my friends.

Not a great picture, but I have this thing about sky scrapers at night.

From the lobby of the W Hotel, around six floors up.

Alas, it is time for Ari and Marcy to get home and let the sitter go on her way, and time for us to head to our hotel.

The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel. Hey, that's what they have on every piece of paper in this hotel.

I find it funny that I have to take a picture of every hotel lobby.

Looks like home.

They upgraded us to a suite, which meant two large rooms connected by a door, but one room had a living room layout and the other a bedroom layout. Basically, enough room for us to spend the rest of our lives there. And two full bathrooms!

But, in spite of the fact that there was a two room suite for me to show you, this is all you get.

The bed. The TV. The feet.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Southern Swing, May 2010, Day 5 - Charleston

At long last, Saturday came. This entire trip was inspired by and designed around a wedding. And today, after a few cities and states and hotels and many meals, the wedding day has arrived. But what to do before the wedding?

We decided to take a walk down Meeting Street to the waterside. To the water and back should take just the right amount of time for us to return in time for someone's mani/pedi at the spa. And no, that someone is not yours truly.

When you walk down the street in Charleston, South Carolina, where one encounters more churches than Starbucks, you often find yourself saying, "You know, if I just walk out into the street I can get a great shot." And I did. Believe it or not, that is a heavily trafficked street. But I cared not. There was a picture to be taken.

We came across Washington Park, with a statue of our first President as well as a replica of the District of Columbia's Washington Monument. Oh, how I want to curse now. We were in a hurry, but just now I realized that we should have taken our time taking perspective shots with this Mini-Washington-Monument and then mixed them with pics from our last D.C. trip.

For the record, said D.C. trip was for a wedding. Seeing a pattern?

More dead people. I love that Charleston is like Europe this way, with easily accessible graveyards.

We made it to Battery Park along the waters.

Can you imagine trying to aim one of these? I mean, really, warfare before computers was extremely imprecise. It is ridiculous that we bothered, considering how inefficient it was.

A Failed Experiment. I thought, maybe I can do a panorama when between each shot I walk instead of turn. Not even an interesting failure, really.

Battery Park, old timey style.

A picture of Mrs. Howard taking a picture of a sundial monument. A monument to... I have no idea.

The Miles Brewton House. I took a picture of the plaque, which means that I can tell you that this is an, "outstanding example of Georgian Architecture in America. Built between 1765 and 1769 by Miles Brewton, with designs of Ezra Waite, architect..." The reason for the ellipse is that the plaque went on to list who the house was passed down to and that it was British Headquarters from 1780-82 and then Federal Headquarters in 1865.

There. History has not been ignored.

Barbie shows off another lovely home. At this point, we were walking home as fast as we could, behind schedule.

Behind schedule or not, I had seen on my iPhone's Google map the intersection ahead and I was going to get this shot.

We made it back to hotel, Barbie got her mani/pedi, and soon we were doing the sort of math that you do on a day you are going to a wedding. The math goes like this: the wedding is at such and such time, meaning the reception cannot be sooner, than so and so, which means that we will have gone this many hours without eating if we do not eat right now.

Directly across from our hotel is another cafe, the Sweetwater Cafe. Having tried Cafe Cafe yesterday, we thought we would try Sweetwater Cafe today.

It may not be pretty, but it will damn sure keep a man alive to fight another day.

What I do not have a picture of is Lori and Marshall, the groovy cool couple from New York City whom we met at the BBQ the night before. They walked right into Sweetwater Cafe as we were eating, and agreed to our pleas to join us at our table.

If our home had an entry hall similar to this, I imagine that we would have reached the point where absolutely everyone wants to slap us.

Showers were taken and clothes were donned. Time for a wedding.

The Huguenot Church of Charleston. If you read Colossal Waste during the summer of 2009 trip around Europe, you might recall that the Huguenots, or French Calvinists, were driven from France due to, well, intolerant Catholics. Amsterdam became a global power because Holland welcomed the Huguenots and Jews who were driven out of their home countries; if you study your history you soon see that everywhere a tolerant government or king allowed and protected the minorities being driven out of other nations, everyone involved thrived socially and economically from the shared knowledge and experience of the cultures interacting. Which is to say, not only is it that not knowing your history dooms you to repeat it, but not knowing your history might doom you to not repeat the good parts of history as well.

Apparently French Catholic intolerance made the trip across the Atlantic, as the Huguenots were banned from New France, soon to be called French Canada and eventually Quebec. In North America, Huguenots primarily relocated in New York and South Carolina. Who knew?

And, just to tie it all together, on the trip that has yet to make the Waste, the trip through South Africa in 2008, we visited Franschoek, the Huguenot region of South Africa where the Huguenots brought French wine making to a new continent in the late 1600's.

Sick of history? Understandable. Look at the church above again and pretend that I simply typed, "Pretty church."

Inside, the Bride and Groom and their bridal party. Am I the only one who has noticed that the word, "groom," is synonymous with, "groomed," or "grooming"? As in, a man is an unkempt beast until he becomes a Groom and gets his act cleaned up by a woman? Sexism abounds.

Back at the reception, the Bride smiles for the paparazzi.

In this reception shot one sees no fewer than five new friends that we made on this trip. How cool is that?

Sure, you have seen me get a pic of a pic being taken before. But have I ever gotten a good shot of the screen of the other camera? I think not. And look at that. In my shot you see the whole shebang, including the fact that Hilary has zoomed in on Lori & Marshall's faces. It is a bit dim, making the colors a tad off. Wait.

Ahhh... that is better.

People, I want to call them rude but I am not sure that is fair, kept stopping in the hotel lobby and staring into the wedding reception. Their faces all said, "Is that a wedding in there?"

Guest photographer Lori (last name, unknown) snaps one of yours truly. I should point out that I was the only man at the party who did the black shirt thing. Perhaps I do not fit in entirely well in the South. Still, trust me. The black shirt and green tie... fine, I will finally do a racially motivated Southern joke... made my skin look significantly lighter than it is, allowing me to experience a, shall we say, friendlier experience in the South.

I know that was wrong.

This caricature artist need a punch in the mouth. He made us, and everyone we know, look terrible. Seriously. His caricatures resembled the doodles of a cruel school kid who would draws the classmates he hates looking horrible just to mock them. And, for the record, the two models sitting there are two of my favorite people from the wedding. But, yeah, I share this pic not because they are cool to talk to but because they are pretty. Sexism abounds.

The rare shot of Mr. and Mrs. Howard, our animal magnetism so powerful that it made the photographer's hand shake.

We were very, very lucky. As the wedding wrapped up we were invited to go down the street to the superhip hotel with the rooftop bar. We were invited by Dimitri, who happened to be the head chef there. This meant that he ordered some amazing appetizers for us, including Duck Confit Nachos and Lobster & Scallop Ceviche and Mushroom & Lobster Pizza. Deliciousness. However, it was too dark for pics. Try to not cry.

Rooftop hipness. Thankfully, the rest of the wedding attendees made it over to the rooftop a few hours after we got there, and it became the official wedding after party.

It was like... being in Los Angeles.