Thursday, February 28, 2008

Blowin' in the wind.

My travelin' companion (my mom) and I headed out to Las Vegas on Interstate 40 on a Wednesday morning in February. We planned to go as far as Flagstaff, AZ the first night, and made it in around midnight.

We saw a lot of interesting things along the side of the road
-- a Horse Hotel, a Bug Yard (five hulking remains of Volkswagen Beetles on end), and remnants of Route 66. But one sight kept appearing all along our journey.

We saw the first one not far across the Oklahoma border. A few more here and there -- and then in a little town called Weatherford we were surrounded.

By what, you may wonder?

By wind turbines.

The silent three-armed white giants dot the roadsides all along the I-40 corridor west of the Arkansas state line. They range in size from 30 feet tall to virtual giants, most of them white, all of them gracefully pawing at the air in slow, graceful arcs against the sky.

Weatherford seems to have more than its share of the giants.

As we drove along I-40 into town, we noticed a series of wind turbines off in the distance. I was hoping for a closer look, and fortunately, I had my shot.

Each of the 98 wind turbines is 262 feet tall. The blades on each one are more than 122 feet long. The bases are 14 feet in diameter -- and each of these beauties can generate up to 147 megawatts of power. A computerized generator at the top of each one is set to angle the blades so they take the best of the wind each day.

FPL Energy and the Public Service Corporation of Oklahoma got together on the Weatherford Wind Center Project in 2005. Now it’s the eighth largest such operation in the nation, and it provides electricity to more than 44,000 homes.

Weatherford didn’t appear to be that big of a town, and these silent giants seem a bit large. But they are graceful and beautiful -- and they’re not putting smoke into the air or using up coal or even nuclear power.

After a while, we passed into Texas, where even more wind turbines graced the fields on either side of the road. They provided a nice counterpoint to dull tan and green fields and a brilliant deep blue sky with its jet trails.

As we passed into New Mexico and saw yet more of the silent giants, I started wondering…

Wind turbines aren’t just something that big cities and big corporations can afford. With a little help, the rest of us can, too. A residential wind turbine system costs an average of $6000 to $22,000 per home. That may seem like a lot right now, but think about your electric bill…

Seeing all those wind turbines spinning in the breeze like so many pinwheels in the sky, just made me wonder one thing.

Why aren’t there any along Arkansas’ roadways?

Seems to me there’s plenty of wind available along I-40 and I-30 and Hgihway 65. I could envision the gentle giants peacefully spinning atop Crowley’s Ridge or out in the fields near Eudora, no sweat.

And there’s always a lot of wind at the Legislature to think about, too.

Just a thought to share from the road.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Day and a Night in Memphis

As seen in Today's Man magazine

Our new monthly travel column takes us to the Birthplace of the Blues, to share great ideas for your next trip across the Mississippi. Here are some of the great places to eat, stay, and be entertained during your downtown visit.

The Blue Plate Café on Poplar is a long-time Memphis staple. Now another location has been opened downtown at 113 South Court, just off the Main Street Trolley Line. You’ll still enjoy oversized portions of omelets, pancakes, flat waffles, biscuits, and more for undersized prices. Try the Huervos Rancheros ($7.59) for a new take on the classic -- eggs, cheese, and salsa on a crispy tortilla with black beans and cheese on the side. Comes with biscuits and your choice of pancakes, grits, or hash browns. Opens at 8am every day. Call (901) 523-2050.

Alcenia’s is home to incredible Southern home cooking, with hand-battered fried chicken, excellent pork chops, and tasty fried or baked catfish ($7.25-8.50). The side items are full of spices and flavor -- and you get two with your order. Be sure to get the cornbread rolls -- they’re sweet and hearty. This home cookin’ shop with soul also shares some of the richest desserts you’ll find downtown -- and everything‘s served on colorful plastic ware that matches the bright kitchy décor. Find it at the north end of the Trolley line, at 317 North Main (just north of I-40). Open 11am-5pm Tuesday-Friday and 8am-5pm Saturday. Try the Saturday brunch, with excellent salmon croquettes! (901) 523-0200.

Big Foot Lodge is a new entry to the Memphis eatery scene… but it’s sure to become a big hit. The restaurant’s unusual Canada-meets-Memphis fare is full of savory goodness. Hits include deep fried Cornish game hen, BBQ Egg Rolls, and Corn Brats (a different take on corndogs) -- but it’s best known for the Sasquatch Burger, a mammoth four pounds of meat and three and a half pounds of bread and veggies that you get for free if you eat it in under an hour. Only one person has succeeded… so far. Open 11am to 2:30am, seven days a week. It’s across the block from the Peabody Place Retain and Entertainment Complex at 97 South 2nd Street. (901) 578-9808.

And if you’re searching out martinis and sushi late night, try Swig’sThe eclectic modern addition at 100 Peabody Place boasts of a martini list more than 70 martinis strong, as well as an additional mixed drink and cognac list. The sushi bar’s menu is also extensive, with over 40 offerings. Try the Surf and Turf roll for a delicious late night repast. Live music offered most nights. Open 3pm to late, (901) 522-8515.

Lodging - The Secret
One of the best kept secrets in Memphis, the Talbot Heirs Guesthouse is literally in the middle of everything. This eight suite boutique hotel is across the street from the Peabody, on the same block as the Big Foot Lodge, and two blocks to Beale Street.

Rooms are large and spacious, with living areas and full kitchens and baths. One suite features a grand piano once owned by Bobby Whitlock of Derek and the Dominoes. Gracious hosts Tom and Sandy Franck greet guests at the door and help with luggage.

Kitchens are stocked with water, juice, and breakfast items like yogurt and biscotti. With advance notice, your kitchen can be stocked the way you like (for an additional charge). There’s a loaning library of DVDs and CDs, with stereos and DVD players in each suite.

You can even request a piece of exercise equipment. Free local calls and internet access (both Ethernet and WiFi available). Rooms run $130 to 275 a night. 99 South Second Street, (800) 955-3956.

Lodging - The Traditional
You can still watch the ducks at the Peabody Hotel. The Memphis landmark still offers comfortable accommodations for those traveling through -- along with a selection of fine dining opportunities. Originally opened in 1925, Belz Enterprises renovated the hotel in 1981 and reopened it.
Today, the hotel boasts of 468 guest rooms, lots of places to shop, and two restaurants -- Capriccio’s Grill and the world class Chez Philipe. Rates start at $200 a night. 149 Union Avenue, (901) 529-4000.

Lodging - The Bargain
If you’re more concerned with location than frills, check out the Sleep Inn at Court Square. This budget minded option is located right on the Main Street Trolley Line, just six blocks from the Beale Street Entertainment District, four blocks from Autozone Park, and steps away from the Blue Plate Café. Though the rooms are small, they come well equipped for business travelers, and the staff is courteous and generous. Rates run around $110 a night, but are sometimes cheaper during low-traffic days. 40 North Front Street, (901) 522-9700 or

There’s no such thing as being too old to have fun. Jillian’s at Peabody Place caters to those folks who don’t want to grow up. Three stories are packed with every sort of game you might want to play -- whether it’s Skee-Ball and video games, pool, virtual racing, basketball, or bowling.

The ultra-hip bowling alley in the basement features oodles of video screens, a rainbow-hued martini bar, and neon colored bowling balls -- a cool scene for hep cats any night of the week. You'll find this playground for
adults inside the Peabody Place Retail and Entertainment Complex.

Speaking of the Peabody Place Retail and Entertainment Complex, it’s also home to lots of shops, Dan McGuinness Pub (which was built in Ireland and shipped over to be reassembled in Memphis), and the Muvico Theater, a 14 theater complex that features a 550 seat, 60 foot tall large-screen theater. 150 Peabody Place.

The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum celebrates the music born in Memphis and the South, tracing its roots from cotton fields and rural farmhouses into the city and through the years. Here you will find costumes, musical instruments, and personal effects of such stars as Minnie Pearl, Carl Perkins, and Isaac Hayes. Be sure to check out the large selection of jukeboxes through the years. The address for the museum is 191 Beale Street -- but the facility is actually located right by the FedEx Forum, about a half block off. $12 admission. (901) 205-2533 or

The best souvenirs:

Need something? Whether it’s soap or underwear, unusual souvenirs or incense, washtubs or flip-flops, you’ll find it at A. Schwab’s Dry Goods Store on Beale Street. This throwback has been in business since 1876. The family has been running it all this time. In the back, on the landing
between the first and
second floors, you’ll find a virtual museum of antique cash registers, clothing, and newspaper articles from more than 130 years of business. Whether it’s a hat for Sunday meetin’, an Elvis necktie or a novelty hat, you’ll find that perfect gift for the one you love here. 163 Beale Street. (901) 523-9782.

Looking for something a little more unique? You can’t go wrong at the Center for Southern Folklore. The gift shop on the Main Street Mall features works from local and regional artists in all sorts of fashion, from hand-thrown pottery to original paintings to quilts and pillows made from Crown Royal
bottles. Local musicians often come play on the small stage in the shop. Further back in the building, there’s a separate café and performance stage, colorful and bright and rentable for your next business conference or gathering. And it’s the one place in Memphis where you can enjoy
great music, a cyber café, and a Moon Pie Sundae, all in the same place. (901)525-3655.

Things you should know
Trolley fare is $1 a trip, but you can purchase an all-day pass for $3.50. The Main Street Trolley runs within three blocks of most of the major hotels in downtown Memphis. Trolleys run every 11 minutes between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and every 25 minutes between 6 p.m. and 11:45 p.m.

There is an active campaign underway to curtail panhandling downtown. Old parking meters have been set up in various locations for change donation that is distributed to area charities.

There are few places to park for free downtown. However, the restaurants and attractions mentioned in A Day And A Night In Memphis are all located within easy walking distance of most hotels. Parking ranges from 20 cents for 25 minutes to $10 for some parking decks.

Signs that read “Be Nice Or Leave” can be found all over downtown Memphis. They are the brainchild of New Orleans resident Dr. Bob, who was relocated to Memphis after Hurricane Katrina. His artwork and signs are available for sale at the Center for Southern Folklore.

For downtown visitors who need quick groceries or toiletry items, a Walgreens store is located on the Main Street Trolley Line at #2 North Main Street.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sophisticated, relaxing, not a touch of lace.

An unusual city deserves an unusual hotel. For Boston, that would be the Onyx Hotel. The ten story edifice in the Bullfinch Triangle isn't your average beige cookie-cutter room and a bed you'll find in almost every city of size in America. It's something different and new, geared specifically at the male traveler.

This Kimpton property is one of three managed by the company in the Boston area (the Marlowe in Cambridge and Nine Zero on Tremont are the others). It was designed by Group One's Lynn MacMurty, with architect Harry Wheeler. The 112-unit hotel features whimsical designs such as bright red furnishings, black and white checkerboard patterns, and locally furnished artwork.

The Onyx Hotel and Ruby Room have been operating for the past four and a half years. When it came time for Klimpton Hotels and Restaurants to place a lodging facility in the area, they chose a lot on Portland Street, for its proximity to a large number of male-centric sports bars and to the Banknorth Garden (formerly the Fleet Center). The focus -- the traveling businessman who wanted a relaxing home away from home, not a frat house.

Everything about the hotel was designed with that in mind. Rooms are bold -- with striped wallpaper, heavy modern furniture, and leopard print bathrobes. The amenities (Aveda bath and shower products, shaving kits, leather appointed desk sets) are masculine yet luxurious. Hallways are appointed with works from artists affiliated with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Travelers will find in their closets a handy umbrella, and cozy socks they can purchase to take home.
The bathrooms are accessorized in chrome and the tubs and sinks are ceramic -- not the plastic, "could be anywhere" you'll find in a typical franchised hotel.

General manager Mark Fischer says a big part of the hotel's success is knowing what its clientele wants, and putting those things into guestrooms. That can range from making sure there's an appropriate beverage on-hand in-room, to catering to male-specific functions. "We have two penthouse suites, and they can be used as one big penthouse for when the guys are going to the big game. We can have a bucket of beer, pretzels, and Sports Illustrated waiting on them."

And then there's the Ruby Room. On entering the hotel, your eye is immediately swept to the gigantic red light sculpture over the serpentine bar that dominates the back of the room. A partial divider separates lobby and bar ergonomically, embracing both of the room's functions. Group One also designed this fantastic centerpiece of light and sound. The music is soothing -- a cross between trance progressive and smooth jazz. The area is designed so that conversations can still be intimate, even though the space is vast. The bar is well appointed, and there are plenty of comfortable nooks and soft spots to recline.

I got the impression from my first entrance that this wasn't your average hotel. An attentive doorman pointed me in to the front desk, where three (three!) attentive desk people were ready to assist me. My check-in took less than five minutes -- and I was asked if I'd like wine sent to my room, if I needed any transportation made for the night, and whether I might like some dinner suggestions.

On entering the room, I was greeted with sunlight. The ninth-floor room looked out onto the horizon and into the valley of buildings along Portland Street. It took a little craning to see the street below -- but the floor to ceiling windows were clean and clear and the day was beautiful.

The rooms each feature a desk with a booklight, phone, and leather desk accessories (the full-size, easy grip pens were a surprise bonus).
The desk chair's ergonomic and more comfortable than it first appeared. There are wet bars and foods available for snacking (for an additional fee), red suede chairs to relax in, and plenty of magazines and literature about Boston and the area. I was pleased to find a comfortable pair of black slippers and a leopard print robe already laid out for use. The water pressure in the bathroom was great, and the water was always hot -- something I can't say I find everywhere, sadly enough.

I found quickly that I could ask the concierge about just about anything. The men and women who staffed the desk always had good information on just about anything I asked about -- sporting events, the Haymarket, Faneuil Hall at Quincy Market, the Freedom Trail, even the T. The concierge asked if I'd be interested in attending a Celtics game (I thought it was a sellout, but he insisted he had connections if I was interested in going) or a Bruins game the following night.

I spent a lot of time during my visit walking through the area -- and every time the doorman saw me he greeted me by name. In fact, almost everyone at the hotel greeted me by name -- the good folks at the front desk, the guy at the Ruby Room bar, even some of the housekeeping staff. I was mightily impressed.

The Onyx Hotel offers some things I wasn't expecting from a hotel. For one, I was pleased to hear about the availability of in-room massage. The idea is, going to a spa may not be a "manly" endeavor -- but most guys would welcome a chance to have a private massage session in their rooms.

What surprised me more, though, was the large number of pet services available. Having traveled quite a bit recently, I'd noticed just how many properties required hefty pet deposits -- if they allowed pets at all. Most hotels have rules that include not leaving your pet unattended in a room. Not here. When the folks at the Onyx find out you have a pet, they'll set you up with a pet-friendly room. Good dogs are greeted in the lobby on arrival with a sign and even a bowl of food. Snackies and walkies are available and even encouraged -- and there's even a pet massage service, would you believe? If it weren't for the difficulties you might imagine in bringing a Great Dane on an airplane, I could see the possibilities of bringing my own dog along for a stay!

The Onyx Hotel does offer a breakfast to guests in the Ruby Room. For those who aren't staying over, it's $13 for adults at $6.95 for kids (the entire visit, I didn't see one child). The buffet offers a variety of great items -- eggs, sausage, bacon, and the usual, sure -- but also granola, fresh fruit (including blueberries, melon, grapefruit, and kiwi), yogurt, a wide selection of bakery products, several different types of juice and milk, and several teas and coffees. For someone who tends to avoid typical breakfast fare, I enthusiastically enjoyed this repast.

For travelers on the go like myself, there's also a business center downstairs with internet access and a printer/copier. For the fit-minded, there's also an exercise room with a pretty decent selection of equipment. And if you're needing to have a client meeting, there's also a 500sf meeting room available.

If you're traveling in the Boston area and like a place that takes care of you without being bland, you'll want to check out the Onyx Hotel. You'll find it at 155 Portland Street, about two blocks away from Banknorth Garden and about two and a half blocks from the T. You can actually take in the T from Logan International and save the cab fare. There's also valet parking available.

For more information about the Onyx Hotel or the Ruby Room, call (617) 557-9955 or check out the hotel website.