It’s The Googlemobile In Connecticut

Not to be confused with the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, this vehicle cruises America taking photos for Google Maps street level view.

google-streetview-I91.jpgMy friend Peter Sachs (who originally installed the software for this blog–five years ago) was driving westbound on I-95 near the Q-Bridge yesterday when he saw an odd looking vehicle. Since Peter spies for a living he had no choice but to speed up to get a better look. It was the Googlemobile!

Not to be confused with the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, this vehicle cruises America taking photos for Google Maps street level view. Unfortunately, I can’t embed a map with the street view turned on, but it looks like Google has been shooting and posting street view photos from much of the Hartford area and north.

Memo to Sergey and Larry: Is this how you want people to think of Google–as a company that sends out guys driving underpowered, bland Chevys?

The fun part will be going through the images frame-by-frame trying to see if Google was shooting Peter while Peter was shooting Google. That will be fun, right?

Blogger’s addendum: Peter has sent me the photo of his car taken from the Googlemobile. It’s not Earth shattering, but in the interest of completeness it’s posted here.

History Channel’s 1968

For me, 1968 was the seminal year. I graduated high school, left the comfort of my family to travel out west with a pen pal I’d never met, and started college.

I watched Tom Brokaw’s paean to 1968 last night. The History Channel is running it.&#185.

For me, 1968 was the seminal year. I graduated high school, left the comfort of my family to travel out west with a pen pal I’d never met, and started college.

In July 1968, I was working at Sears on Northern Blvd. Flushing. It was a store so obscure, until I worked there, I didn’t know it existed (I’d lived in Flushing nearly 15 years at the time). I was saving my $1.50 an hour wage to buy record albums.

In 1968 I bought Janis Joplin, Blood Sweat and Tears (pre-David Clayton Thomas), The Doors and Cream albums. As I remember, the going price for an album was $2.79. I was also going with my Cousin Michael and our friend Larry to concerts at the Fillmore East in the pre-stylish, quite seedy, East Village.

1968 is when I registered for the draft.

The Vietnam War was raging in the late 60s. The real controversy started a few years earlier, but by ’68 it was a festering national sore. Even with film instead of videotape, and without the immediacy of satellites, we were seeing more of the battles and horrors of war than we do in Iraq. Anti-Vietnam War sentiment was rising – rising rapidly.

1968 was the year the police went wild at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. I remember the horror in the face of Dave Kulka’s mom as she watched (while Dave and I didn’t) at their hillside home in Greenbrae, California.

Lyndon Johnson was abandoned. Bobby Kennedy as killed. Richard Nixon was elected. Men circled, but didn’t land on, the moon.

Of my 57 years, 1968 was undoubtedly the most historically significant. I wonder, in retrospect, if I was less cognizant of the nuts and bolts of the social and political tumult than I thought I was at the time? There was so much going on.

I liked how Browkaw treated this year. I remembered most, though not all of what went on. He connected some dots that I had not. I was disappointed in myself for not doing that sooner.

It was funny to see Tom Brokaw talk about his suited and skinny tied self, while portray his inner life as significantly hipper. Was he, or was he just a wannabe?

If you get a chance, this will be two hours well spent.

&#185 – The good news about cable TV is, even if you’ve missed it, it will run again… and again.

The Desert Riviera

“Take some snacks.” Those three words best summarize what this little hotel, the Desert Riviera,” is all about. They were spoken by Larry, the owner, as Helaine and I were about to leave for Joshua Tree. He was offering bags of pretzels, chips and cookies.

This is a definite departure for us. Helaine and I try to stay in well known national chains when we’re on the road. Not so this time. The Desert Riviera is an independent boutique hotel.

We looked at TripAdvisor, where the first Palm Springs listing was for this hotel. Not bad, since order is dependent on member rating.

The comments associated with the hotel fit within two categories: “I love this place” and “There are too many good reviews without any bad – it can’t be true. Beware!”

The reviews are true. This place is a gem. I can’t think of anything bad to say… OK, a few little things, but so tiny as to be inconsequential.

The Desert Riviera is a ten room hotel run by Larry, his wife Patty, and his sister Judy. As he tells it:

Our love affair with the hotel literally began just a few months ago, when Patty and I happened to stroll past and noticed a For Sale sign in front of a very tired but charming small old hotel. As they say… the rest is history. Little did we know, we were about to add another gem to the growing number of mid-century masterpieces brought back from the edge of oblivion.

Our room is modern with accents that scream 1950s. It’s dominated by a king sized bed. On the wall is a large flat panel TV. Off to the side are a bathroom with stall shower and stoveless kitchen. Our room… in fact each of the ten rooms borders the pool.

Every time I walk out of the room, I see what’s in this photo. It’s like I’m in a private residence or club. There’s the pool with stark desert mountains as the backdrop.

There are chaises – certainly more than there are guests. Around the clock, each chaise has a pool towel folded over its reclining head. The pool (currently an amazing 88&#176) is lit and open around the clock.

Adjacent to the pool is the fire pit I’ve written about before (and where I’m sitting now, writing) and a hot tub. There are also a few round tables with umbrellas to block the harsh desert sun.

Limo transportation is provided for free, both to the airport and into town. There are also a few bikes (including a bicycle built for two) in front of the office.

Either Larry or Judy is always here. They run the place as if it’s their reputation on the line. Of course, it is.

Yesterday, Helaine pointed out there are no telephones in the rooms. They’re really not necessary anymore, are they? I can’t think of any adult who doesn’t travel with a phone in his pocket. Anyway, the office is only a few steps away.

As if to make up for it, there’s a cordless phone in the vestibule leading into the office. It’s available to guests for making free calls around-the-world.

There is no way a chain hotel or even larger independent could be as accommodating as Larry and Judy are. With ten rooms, they really do know our names.

So, what’s the downside? The hotel is pretty close to a main road, so you do hear the traffic a little. It was worse when the motorcycles were in town, but I’m guessing that was universal within Palm Springs. I also found the water temperature in the shower fluctuated a lot (though the pressure is great and the towels are large and fluffy).

This was a very positive experience for us. I would definitely come back. It’s also encouragement to find this kind of place when we travel elsewhere… if this kind of place actually exists elsewhere!

The Fillmore East

Earlier this afternoon, my Cousin Michael sent an email to me. All it had was a link, the poster you see on the left and this date: May 10, 1968.

Were we there? Did we see Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore East? I don’t remember.

He responded:

I was. I think you were too. I was 15.

I was nearly 18&#185. That winter and spring Michael and I, along with our friend Larry, spent a lot of Friday and Saturday nights at the Fillmore East.

Actually, when we began going it was called the Village Theater, the same name it had when it was a legitimate Yiddish theater. The name change came after Bill Graham of San Francisco took over.

I’m sure there’s nothing like it now, nor was there anything else like the ‘Fillmores’ then. The theater itself was a large house with a balcony. The seats and carpeting were threadbare and torn. What the Fillmore East had going for it were the acts.

I know I saw Grateful Dead there (on the bill with Moby Grape). I think I saw Cream, maybe Credence too. Even in New York, these big acts really had nowhere else to play. And ticket prices were low – $2 or $3, I think.

What I remember most about the Fillmore East was the Joshua Light Show. This was a multimedia presentation before the word multimedia was coined. It was usually rear projected on a screen behind the acts.

In the psychedelic 60s, Joshua was… well, it was very psychedelic. I marveled at what they did and often came up blank trying to explain how they did it. This was a pre-electronic, pre-computer rough hewn multimedia experience. It was all optics and ingenuity.

I really wasn’t a crazed music fan in the 60s. I covered at work for someone else so he could go to Woodstock, missing the number one event of the decade. Still, being at the Fillmore East transcended the music. It was as much a statement of who I thought I was, as an experience.

If I could step back to ’68 and see myself in that decrepit Second Avenue theater on the (at that time) unfashionable Lower East Side, I’m sure I’d cringe. The past is never kind.

Back then it was totally right. Back then, I was hip. Really, I was.

&#185 – Back then, being 18 meant you could drink. It didn’t mean you could vote. The legal age for voting was 21.

Off To New York City

When you’re riding back to the house after a trip to New York City and you ask the family, “How many days have we been gone,” you know it’s been a full day!

A few interesting things happened today, which I’ll write about later. I’d rather talk in generalities right now, because I’ve renewed my love affair with New York City.

New York is misunderstood by outsiders. Outwardly, it’s gritty and grimy. It’s a place where a subterranean flower shop in a subway station’s vestibule isn’t out-of-place. When you probe New York City a little deeper there’s a lot to like.

Today was the type of day where New York shines. It was partly sunny and comfortably warm – an outdoor day, followed by an outdoor evening.

New York is a city made for being outside. I know that sounds strange, because you think of New York as congested with tall buildings – and it is those things. But because everything’s so close, so at hand, it’s all walkable.

Restaurants that use their outdoor seating 90 days a year, had outdoor seating going today. With Good Friday tomorrow, and many people off from work, street traffic was probably above average.

Tonight, as we walked up 2nd Avenue, a couple sat in an outdoor cafe, their dog next to them. It was that kind of night.

Helaine and I walked with Steffie through areas I frequented when I was 18. That was especially true on St. Marks Place in the East Village.

Back in the late 60s the East Village was coming into its own as the ‘hippie era’ flourished. St. Marks Place was full of counter culture. Greenwich Village (not yet known as the West Village in 1968) was hot. The East Village was coming up, but still very scruffy.

There were record stores and weird little boutiques. You could buy posters in loads of little places.

My Cousin Michael and our mutual friend Larry, would come down for concerts at the Village Theater, which later became the Fillmore East. We saw some unbelievable acts there in that old, decrepit theater, rundown from its days of Yiddish vaudeville and plays.

The Village, East and West, were my first non-parental introduction to Manhattan. I was too naive to imagine how one got to live there, but the whole scene was appealing.

The East Village is more subdued and gentrified now. It’s still got a counter culture feel. Instead of posters shops, I saw a few places offering piercing and tattoos. The restaurants are more upscale than the Blimpies we’d sometimes eat at.

When I see Stef look at New York and appreciate it… maybe even desire it a little (though it’s not her ‘ideal’ destination after college), I can’t help but smile. The city has a sophistication she understands. She is not intimidated by it by any means.

If I had my druthers, and could do it right, I think living in Manhattan would be as good as any life could be. Maybe in my next lifetime.

The Tire – The Conclusion

I woke this morning to find a message from someone at AAA in Connecticut on my voice mail. I returned the call and found he had been in touch with his Florida counterpart and had gotten to the bottom of my waiting problem from last night.

There was a longstanding problem with the tow truck operator. I have been told (and I believe) that there will be an in person trip to see him and a warning that this has happened the last time.

It is possible, because I’m TV boy, that I’ve gotten better or more thorough service here. I really don’t know. I will say there’s never a “Do you know who I am?” moment. I never bring it up.

However, I am not shy about letting my thoughts be known when a company has let me down and I find most want to be responsive. I try to write, but be succinct.

Sometimes that means making a complex story less so by leaving out details – details that might benefit me. Brevity is more important. A short, well written letter will get more response than something that needs to be waded through.

The Connecticut AAA manager offered to reimburse me for the valet who finally did the job. I said no, I didn’t want anything. He then said he would extend my membership six months – I accepted. I felt this wasn’t actually the same as money, since we hardly ever need AAA. It’s like insurance.

Meanwhile, my parents’ car sat in the parking lot with the donut on the left rear tire.

This morning, about 11:00 AM, one of my parents neighbors came by to tell them the donut was flat! Unreal. He also came by to offer his miniature compressor so we could inflate it.

That a neighbor of theirs would have a fully functional miniature compressor, in its original box and in pristine condition is no surprise. We’re in a community of people who have survived because they’re a little more prepared, maybe a little more anal.

The tire was finally repaired at BJ’s here in Boynton Beach. Larry, the technician, looked and looked. It was almost as if the tire had healed itself. Finally he found what we think is the actual leak, from the valve stem.

So, it’s mid-afternoon and we’re pretty much where we were yesterday afternoon. Tonight I’ll be taking my parents out for their 57th wedding anniversary.

Cousin Michael

Over the past few months, and more so recently, I have renewed my friendship with my cousin. That’s not a big deal in most families. My family is very small.

My dad is one of three children, my mother two. Much of my mother’s extended family never made it through World War II. I shudder to think of their fate.

I have one sister and she has three children. None of us live near each other.

My sister’s in Wisconsin – her children away at school most of the year. My folks are in Florida, living the ‘Club Med for Seniors’ lifestyle. Uncle Murray is still in Queens, New York – but his children are in Maryland, Florida and California. You get the point.

And then, there are the relatives I don’t speak with. I won’t go into it here, but it’s my guess every family has its dysfunctionality. Us too.

Cousin Michael was among my closest friends growing up. Through our late teens, in the late 60’s, we were together all the time traveling with friends to Manhattan on Friday’s and Saturday’s to see rock acts at the Village Theater (aka Fillmore East).

Michael was there when I saw Grateful Dead and Moby Grape on the bill with the Joshua Light Show. For a few bucks we saw dozens of shows in that ratty old theater with torn seats on the Lower East Side.

I remember summer evenings with Michael and our friend Larry, taking the subway to Greenwich Village and then walking down McDougall Street past the record stores and head shops. Sometimes stopping at Blimpies for a meal.

In those politically charged years we talked lots of politics. The Vietnam War was raging, and we were of the age to worry about being asked to go there, Michael, who was bolder than I, was much more active. We were all opinionated.

When I left for college, and then a few years later moved to Florida, we drifted apart. It’s only now that I am hearing about what he did during those years. His life would make a pretty compelling book. It would be interesting as fiction – but as a true life tale, it’s fascinating, spiced with familiar names in unfamiliar surroundings.

Michael’s life is very different now. He and his wife Melissa, and their son Max, live on the West Coast. Over the years, Michael mastered the art of education, and has all manner and form of degrees. A few weeks ago he added a PhD to his collection.

I think being married and having a child has been really good for Michael. I’m confident Michael is good for them too.

Recently, Michael and I have been spending more time together on the phone. It’s a shame he lives so far away. I get the better of the deal, calling when my minutes are free – and his probably not.

He is intellectual and analytical a good conversationalist and good sounding board. It’s a shame we lost so many years of friendship.

He, Melissa and Max will be joining us for vacation this summer. I’m looking forward to seeing them again. Las Vegas is not Greenwich Village. Though maybe, in 2004, we go to Las Vegas for the same reasons we went to Greenwich Village. I’m sure we’ll have this discussion later.