Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Camelot Days - Hollywood

My favorite South Florida event is the Florida Ren Fest which is coming soon. I've gone enough that I actually know some of the performers. One of my all time favorites is Joel Newlon who performs as Wonderfool. When I heard he was coming to Camelot Days  in Hollywood, I had to weigh the options. Small show, $12.00 admission, rain showers, $1,000.00 camera, my favorite fire eater. I tried to get a few of my friends to come along but random rain showers kept them home playing their video games and watching TV. I like my entertainment a little more live, a bit more unpredictable, and a whole lot more dangerous. I had to go.

My first stop past the gate was the  Hopeless Romantic show. Normally a very audience interactive show but because it was wet and early, the crowd was thin. Our small group had a very different and personal experience. I've seen Guido Libido perform many times so after the performance I got into a conversation. I found out this was the tenth anniversary of Camelot Days among other things. That is one of the universal things about the performers at the various Ren Fests. They are always willing to talk to the fans, pose for pictures, and generally are very approachable.

Kilt Sales Person
Time to head to the Wonderfool show. A few steps in that direction and a beautiful woman offered to get me out of my pants.
It took me a few seconds to realize she was from the Got Kilt booth. I had a few minutes so I toured the show room.

She almost had me convinced but I had to run.  In the end, I got a great photo and a number. Turns out to be the number to the kilt store. Who knows. Maybe she will get me out of my pants yet.

It's been my experience that a Ren Fest is equal parts craft fair, unusual food and spirits, and live performances. There are no clear dividing lines between them. I even bought a few gold coins at a very reasonable price from a pirate. Partly because I thought they would look good in my collection but mostly because the guy played his part so well I wanted to buy from him.

Just past the most adorable sign post I've ever seen, the Pub Stage and the  Wonderfool Death Defying Comedy Show.
Finally I've arrived.

If you have never had the pleasure, you are really missing out. Besides blowing gigantic fire balls and setting himself on fire, Wonderfool has a constant stream of comedy, stunts, and off the wall humor. I've seen the show a dozen times live and on TV. His latest claim to fame, his was the only act that made Ellen DeGeneres back away..... in fear I would imagine. It's one thing to set an outdoor stage on fire. Quite another to burn down a sound stage.

It's impossible to post the comedy here but like all Ren Fest performers, it's open to interpretation. The young ones won't get most of it. The teens will giggle with embarrassment, and the adults will fall off their picnic bench with laughter. Sometimes twice as the clever ones explain it to... well the rest of you.

Even though the showers kept coming and going, I still managed to indulge my passion and get a few photos. You can find them on my Flickr site. I managed to get a shot of Wonderfool cracking a flaming whip and with his pants on fire. Both new additions to the show. If you missed it, the Florida Ren Fest is just around the corner. Get off the couch and come on down.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cajun Zydeco Festival - Seminole Hardrock

Many years ago I went to the Cajun Zydeco Festival in a stadium and it was packed. They cooked crawfish one ton at a time and the dance floor had so little free space and so much consumed hot sauce, it was probably a fire hazard. I had such a great time I wanted to go back but for some reason, I either missed it or it no longer existed.

This year, after too long an absence, the Cajun Fest was held at the Seminole Hardrock Hotel and Casino. I had to give it a try and see if it was anything like I remembered.

The price to get in was $20.00 and the entire event barely filled my camera lens from the parking garage. Seemed like a pretty steep price for not much to see but I was there for the day so I rolled the dice and gave it a shot.

Even though this was a minuscule effort compared to what I remembered, I gave it some thought and realized what I enjoyed the most was the food and the music. After plunking down a few more bucks for a crab cake and crawfish etouffee I was right in the spirit to enjoy the first band.

Cajun music is clearly not for everyone but for those that love it, no other music exists. There were the casual listeners like me and the hard core fans with their own washboards strumming along with the bands. I was provided with a wristband to get in and out and I was at the Hardrock so I left for a bit to look around and throw away a few bucks in the slots. Yes - my attempt to win back my admission price was going well and would have been a success if I had only cashed out.

Right outside the casino was another band that was mesmerizing. I was shaken from my trance of enjoyment by thunderous applause from the handful of people gathered around to listen. I'm sure the band was much more accustomed to playing on the back porch with the sun setting and the only applause, the sound of crickets. I would have very much enjoyed listening on that back porch but it certainly was amazing to see the unexpected enthusiasm from the casino crowd.

In case you are wondering why I posted a fan shot - look close - That's Dennis Rodman. Retired basketball player and full time celebrity. As far as the crowd was concerned, The Magnolia Sisters were on the stage and they were the show. I was impressed enough to buy their CD even though I don't know a word of French. I'm sure I will listen to it through out the year and get ready for what will no doubt  be a bigger and better event next year.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nike Missile Site - Homestead

Florida, being a world wide tourist destination, spends much effort making sure our signs are friendly and welcoming. This sign is decidedly not that. Today's adventure -
Nike Missile Site HM-69.

I had never heard of this base and thanks to a tip off from a fellow blogger, The Florida Rambler, I had the rare privilege to take this amazing tour.

The base is pretty run down and there are no missiles lying about so the site itself is not all that impressive. A renovation and actual missile are in the works for the near future. The amazing part - our tour guide was an actual Nike missile veteran volunteering for the day and who loaded our tour with personal, living history experiences, and maybe a few military secrets hopefully now declassified.

We started our tour in the base briefing room and got a short history of the cold war in the 60's. The Nike missile named after the winged goddess Nike, was the most feared cold war weapon of all time. I well remember my proud father telling me as a kid how Philadelphia was protected by the Nike Missile as we would pass them on the way to the Jersey Shore. This missile was none to secret. It's purpose was to knock down nuclear missiles or bombers on their way to destroy America. The US really wanted the Russians to take note of that and put them in plain sight. One thing Dad might not have known was the tip of the spear on this winged goddess was a "physics package". Oh yeah - up to a 45 kiloton nuke. About 45 times the blasts in Japan. Whereas the Patriot missile is much like a bullet, shooting a bullet out of the sky, the Nike is more like swatting a mosquito with a stick of dynamite. Dad also might not have gotten the news that the Nike bases were number two on the enemy strike list after communications.

According to our guide, the missile breaks the sound barrier one second after launch and is miles down range in 3 seconds. How is that possible? A ten thousand pound missile sat on four, 150,000 thousand pound thrust rocket motors pushing the 41 foot bomb up to 3,000 miles per hour. I asked if he had ever seen one launched. The answer - six times and he was only too happy to explain in loud and graphic detail. I also learned the Nike was never fired in anger thankfully and the only proven way to stop it was with another Nike. There is nothing else in the world fast enough to catch it. The Nike came in different versions like the Ajax and Hercules, and had a conventional package that had a kill zone of 30 miles. Does not sound very conventional to me. The Nike's are no longer deployed in the US. We have bigger and better weapons. I didn't ask. Not sure I wanted to know. I was still digesting this bit of history. They are still relevant and are deployed by NATO in Europe.

Pop quiz soldier. What's the difference between a Police dog and a Military dog. Police dogs catch and release. Military dogs have a doggie license to kill and they don't care what uniform you are wearing. That's the kind of off the script info you get when a real military person takes you on tour. Our guide loaded us down with such anecdotal information adding much needed color to this dreary, run down facility. In one of the bunkers he told me he once had the privilege of holding the key that self destructs the base if it were to be overrun. Didn't take much imagination to figure out what would happen if that key was turned or the nerve it would take to turn it.

Now some of you out there are thinking how did we spend literally billions on this weapons system and never even shoot one off in anger. All I can tell you is Russian is a very difficult language to learn and I use my microwave oven every day. That's right - the microwave oven is a direct decedent  of the telemetry radar used to guide this missile system. Accidentally standing in front of the dish was one of the dozens of  ways to get killed or injured on a base like this. Our guide was very proud to point out how this one weapon changed the world in many ways.

We should all personally thank the 173 men who manned each one of these bases around the country and the world. They lived with these hazards and the stress of being constantly ready to fire one of these missiles in 5 minutes from notification -  around the clock. They kept the peace and never fired a shot because the price of their vigilance was just too high for any aggressor to pay. We only met this one Nike Missile veteran and we thanked him with two, loud and appreciative rounds of applause.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Jazz Brunch - Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale
One of my favorite events in South Florida is the SunTrust Sunday Jazz Brunch. It's one of those rare events that you don't have to wait a whole year for. This one runs the first Sunday of each month and has been running  for as long as I can remember. I've been going off and on for many years and I know the ropes. I have gone with plenty friends over the years and don't mind sharing my experience to help them get the most enjoyment out of the day. I thought today I would share with my readers.

I have gone every month of the year but I can tell you in August it is HOT! I went last Sunday and the temperature was Florida style perfect. There were two little rain events but nothing a South Floridian can't handle or just plain ignore. No one packed up and left, that was for sure, but those of us with umbrellas made a few new friends. Hard to believe there was any bad weather at all with the blue skies in these pictures.

OK - so you are interested. What should you bring. As you can see, the event is across the street from the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science.  They just had a major expansion which means I need to find a kid and check it out. Another day. The Jazz Brunch is in the empty park near the New River.

The first thing you need is $12.00 to park your car. Someone should talk to them about that. After that, it's free. You will need chairs, hat, snacks, booze, sun glasses, your pet, a beach umbrella or the increasingly popular four poster pop up canopy, and lots of sunscreen. Don't worry about plopping down right in front of someone and putting up your umbrella or canopy. Everyone does it. No one minds. This is more of a social event. If you are worrying about seeing the band, come about an hour early and set up in the front row.

This past weekend not only had near perfect weather but also featured the Bobby Rodriguez Orchestra. Not the typical  four piece band but a full orchestra playing an upbeat mix of jazz and oldies. By the size of the crowd, the word was out. There were people everywhere, some so far away they could barely hear the band. Better to talk with your big group of friends, have a glass of wine, kick back, and enjoy a picnic lunch -  with a Jazz backdrop.

I had a great time but you don't have to take my word for it. The little dog next to me could hardly take his eyes off the band. Or maybe the pink poodle two umbrellas down. I'll admit I gave that one a second look too. Normally I would head down to Riverwalk after and have a meal but Riverwalk is more or less dying. Still plenty of fine eateries on 2nd near the tracks. Even more choices on Las Olas if you like a long walk along the river or a short drive. Once I plunk down $12.00 bucks for parking, my car is set for the day.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bear Hollow Mountain, TN

One thing you can't get in South Florida is a mountain hike. You need to travel to the mountains for that. I grew up in the mountains and have trekked around the world so I know how to prepare and what to bring. Cameras - Check. New hiking boots broken in on bus tours of Norway and Iceland - Check. Food, water, knife, flashlight, Tylenol - Check. A hiking Partner, a sense of direction, good judgement - Left all that at home.

Through the miracle of GPS I arrived at my destination in one easy drive. Exiting the car was the last moment I had any sense of where I was till I got back to it. My goal was to see the Walls of Jericho. My poor trail map reading or memory skills took me elsewhere.

After driving into the mountains for about an hour, I came to a tiny sign and gravel parking lot in the woods where it looked like no one had been in weeks. I exited the car with backpack in hand, camera around my neck, and promptly stumbled on the uneven surface. A real eye opening start to the hike. The trip to the Walls of Jericho, a facinating geologic formation on the TN, AL border should have been about 8 miles round trip. If you would like to see pictures, you will have to do what I did and find them online. I didn't make it.

Past the sign you see above, and about 100 feet down the trail, you come to a tiny little plaque and a sheer 100 foot dropoff - No Guardrail! The only time I'm that close to a ten story drop in South Florida is looking thru a window. Taking a left turn I'm walking about 2 feet from a cliff edge. Who puts a trail in a place like this.

The drop is much larger than it appears here
According to the sign I did read, the trail falls about 800 feet during it's course of 4 miles. That means very little effort heading down but crawling back up was a challange. My new hiking boots were working perfectly but the benefits were substantially offset by my older, slightly heavier body. A constant fall of leaves totally oblitterated the trail which was marked by little metal diamonds nailed every so often to the trees. At one point, as I was huffing and puffing up a particuarly steep hill, I got off the trail and a sudden panic set in. For several minutes I was totally lost in the woods. Of course the trail markers are nailed to both sides of the tree with no real indication if you are heading the right direction. My iPhone has a compass which was useless as I didn't know which direction I had started. I soon realized I needed to go up, not down and made my way back up the trail.

Had I not gotten on the wrong trail near the beginning of this hike, I may have had a few more interesting photos but I took plenty which you can find on my Flickr page. This was a particularly difficult and potentially dangerous hike, especially for a Florida Guy. If you want to try it, go early and bring a friend. I pretty much walked non stop for 6 hours. I did take about 15 minutes to just sit and enjoy the forest sounds. There would be little chance getting back in the dark. This hike was worth every step and next time I will print a trail map Before I head out.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jack Daniel's and George Dickel

I'm not much of a whiskey or whisky drinker. I've heard the names but never sampled the product. I think I'll make up for that oversight when I get home now that I've taken the tours. Let me explain.

Close to my base camp cabin at the Tims Ford Marina, there are two world famous distilleries of fine Tennessee sipping whiskey. The Jack Daniel's distillery and the George Dickel distillery. As attractions go, these would not normally be my first choice but in this part of the country, they are pretty much the only choice. I started with a pleasant drive through the Tennessee farm lands to the minuscule town of LynchburgA town completely dominated by the Jack Daniel's distillery.

I arrived fairly early and was greeted at the door with a free tour ticket. In a few minutes I was headed on a short bus ride to the start of the tour.

Our tour guide was quick to give up all the company secrets from how the charcoal was made and used, to the ingredients, temperatures in the distillery and how to fill and store barrels. Lynchburg is in a dry county so there are no samples to be had but you can take a whiff off the fermentation tank. I inhaled about a quarter shot. You get a second chance at the charcoal filtering vat but I was already a little lightheaded.

From the tour you can take a short walk to the Lynchburg town square. You can buy every imaginable Jack Daniel's product except of course the actual liquor. You can also see the enormous barrel house - one of 80 - that overshadows the mountain top. It is hard to believe all the Jack in the entire world is produced from this one small distillery.

I had no intention of visiting two distilleries in the same day. I was more interested in checking out Tullahoma. After driving up and down the road a bit I saw the signs for George Dickel. Well why not. I'm here now. 

George Dickel is a much smaller distillery. Maybe that's why they left the "E" out of Whisky. Actually that's the way George wanted it spelled. Now the other tour I took was a fine tour, no complaints, and very close to the inner workings of the distillery. The George Dickel tour was more like visiting a friend with a big kitchen. We were so close to the action, I thought for a minute or two they were going to have the six of us turn valves and shovel corn. We actually got to see a 40,000 gallon mash tank fill while looking down into the mash tank. I thought I learned my lesson on the last fermentation tank but once again I inhaled a little too deeply and once again took a whiff that almost knocked me over. The George Dickel fermentation tanks are open and the one we were near looked like it was boiling. Once again, no samples. Even so I was very glad I drove a few more miles and took the tour. 

 Two very different tours for two nearly identical products made in the same way. Two of the best tour guides you could hope to find anywhere. All together a very enjoyable day. I picked up a couple of shot glasses while I was there. Now I just need to fill them, kick back, take a sip, and reminisce about the most pleasant bit of this country I've yet visited.

For more photos, visit my Flickr page.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tims Ford Marina – Winchester, TN

“A great place to get away”. That's what the sign says at Tims Ford Marina. So where am I and how did I get here? Well that's sort of a funny story.

I've been looking the last few years for a little getaway property in the mountains. Something picturesque, near a lake maybe, but not too far off the beaten track. I found a house in Tennessee online I thought I might like to check out and looked for a place to stay in the area. Up popped a couple of hotels and the cabins at Tim Fords Marina. Beautiful cabin on a lake? I booked without a second thought. Those came a little later.

To reach my destination, I needed my GPS, all five of my gears, and a tight grip on the wheel. At home I just need first and fifth. The only time I turn is at a traffic light. This was not really mountain driving but the roads are pretty slim with no shoulders and drop offs that could easily put me on the roof if I checked my phone. I'm sure in the dark it would take me all of five minutes to hit a tree or deer. When my GPS pinged “You've arrived”, my first thought, I was never going to make it back. This was a bit more off the beaten track than I bargained for it seemed.

When I walked in the door of the office/restaurant/bait shop I was greeted like I was expected. Well I was actually. This is not really the season for cabin rentals I was told. I pretty much had the whole lake to myself. I also got some information about the area, a map to the best place for foliage shots, and a darn good cheeseburger. Oh, and the cabin – Beautiful, modern, and with best view on the lake.
The cabin I stayed in

After my initial shock of being lost in the wilderness of my comfort zone, I realized I was about 10-15 miles from several towns and attractions literally in every direction. Just an hour to Nashville or Chattanooga. I may have picked this destination on a total whim but it made the perfect base camp for exploring the area. The one thing I did not have time for this trip was to rent a pontoon boat and explore the lake. The first thing I will do when I return.

Visit my Flickr page for more photos.