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Bullet Sunday 434

Posted on May 24th, 2015

Dave!I can see Russia from my hotel room... because Bullet Sunday from the great state of Alaska starts... now...

   
• Double Daylight! "In Anchorage, visitors from more southerly latitudes are often surprised to see the sun set at 11:41 p.m. on the summer solstice, but the actual 'solar time' is 9:41 p.m. This is because at 150° W, Anchorage is a full solar hour behind the legal time zone and observes daylight saving time as well. Some local residents refer to this phenomenon as "double daylight time."Wikipedia.

Which explains my panic when I awoke after dozing off thinking it was 9:30am instead of 9:30pm and I had slept through two alarms. As I write this now at 10:45pm, there's still daylight out there...

Anchorage Double Daylight!

I can't fathom how insane it must be to visit Nome, which is still in the Alaskan time zone with Anchorage, but technically two hours in actual time zones further back. Their sunset is after midnight!

   
• Rock! The purpose for my Memorial Day weekend excursion is, of course, to visit the new Hard Rock Cafe that opened up last year here in Anchorage. This is Hard Rock No. 166 for me, and (finally) gets me caught up with all the North American properties again...

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage, Alaska

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage, Alaska

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage, Alaska

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage, Alaska

There's an upstairs with a second stage and bar...

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage, Alaska

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage, Alaska

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage, Alaska

Overall it's a nice property with a great staff and a terrific location... right in the touristy section of town... but the decor is lacking. Memorabilia is stretched a bit thin throughout, and there's a Rock Shop and massive stairwell that's devoid of any artifacts at all...

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage, Alaska

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage, Alaska

This is a massive oversight which is unimaginable to longtime Hard Rock fans who remember when the cafes used to be packed with so much stuff that you could spend hours looking around and keep coming back to see stuff you missed. I mean, holy crap... look at this shot of the old Salt Lake City cafe where you can barely see the walls...

Hard Rock Salt Lake

That's what a Hard Rock is supposed to look like, and Anchorage falls way short. Putting in the effort to visit a new property is supposed to be an overwhelming experience... but more and more I find myself saying "I traveled all that way... for this?!? I dunno. Maybe they'll eventually add more cool stuff to give Anchorage the Hard Rock it deserves, but right now it's hardly destination-worthy.

   
• Burger Me! On the plus side, the food was pretty good...

Hard Rock Cafe Veggie Burger

Even if I had to build my own to avoid all the crazy shit that the Hard Rock usually puts on their veggie burgers.

   
• Market? I was told by my airport shuttle driver that the Anchorage Summer Weekend Market was going on and I should take a look if I had a chance. It was supposed to be open until 6:00, but most everything was torn down by 5:20...

Anchorage Market Sign!

Anchorage Market Gone Empty!

Bummer, I guess.

   
• Murder! Much like Starbucks locations in Seattle, fur shops in Anchorage are on every street corner...

ANCHORAGE FURS!

I'm vehemently anti-fur, but might change my mind if I could walk in a shop and pick up something that was personally slaughtered by Sarah Palin. Like I'm guessing this poor bear was...

Stuffed Bear in Gift Shop

By Grabthar's Hammer I will avenge you, bear!

   
• Drop! Holy shitballs do I wish Apple would get off their fucking asses and get crap fixed that's been broken for ages. Like AirDrop, their miraculous file-sharing technology that's been a steaming pile since day one. When I sent the first photo looking out my hotel window from my iPhone to my Mac, it was no problem. AirDrop found my MacBook immediately. But when I tried to send the next shot (below) 45 minutes later? I just spent 10 minutes trying to get my iPhone to see my Mac, but it absolutely won't do it. And yet... my Mac can see my iPhone just fine? WHAT THE FUCK, APPLE?!?

AIRDROP AND APPLE'S BUSTED FUCKING SHIT!

Why don't you use some of the BILLIONS OF FUCKING DOLLARS that people have paid you because of the promise of things like AirDrop TO FIX ALL THE CRAP THAT DOESN'T FUCKING WORK?! Every time I turn around now-a-days I'm having to deal with Apple's busted shit and I'm just sick of it.

   
Annnnd... I suppose I should get some sleep seeing as how it's now 11:30pm and the sun is finally going down and all...

Sunset in Anchorage. At last.

   

Lake Tahoe

Posted on May 4th, 2015

Dave!"What's the bare minimum amount of money and effort we can sink into this thing and get away with calling it a Hard Rock?" —Warner Hospitality

Or so I assume.

The property currently known as the "Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe" began as "Del Webb's Sahara Tahoe" and was a pretty big deal back in the early 70's because Elvis performed here regularly...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

Eventually the property was rebranded as the "Horizon Resort" before ultimately becoming a Hard Rock in January of this year. As it's not part of the "authentic" Hard Rock portfolio owned by the Seminoles, I was prepared for it to be underwhelming. Because they usually are.

But this one didn't even reach that far for me.

Not that it's not a nice hotel... it totally is... but the complete lack of excessiveness and rock-n-roll theming that defines a "Hard Rock" is just not here. And it starts from when you first pull up to this rather boring building...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

If it weren't for the signs, you'd never guess this was a Hard Rock at all. Things are slightly better on the other side, where at least there's a giant guitar...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

Inside isn't much better. The reception desk is boring as hell. No effort whatsoever was put into making your first contact with the property be special. No guitars. No cymbals. No art. No nothing. Just blank walls to stare at...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

I mean, seriously, what the hell?

There are some nice showcases on the back wall, but it's just not enough...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

At the far end is my favorite piece, a passport belonging to Johnny Cash...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

About the only attempt at making the lobby feel in any way special is a display for one of Michael Jackson's gloves. Which is nice, but it does nothing to pull you away from all those blank walls behind it...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

And then there's the rooms. Again, nice... but where's the "Hard Rock" here? An orange wall, a teddy bear, and a couple of prints is all we get?

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

At least the bathroom has something rock-related. Even if it is just a tiny guitar print...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

Seriously... this could be any mid-range hotel anywhere in the USA. There is absolutely nothing about it that makes you feel like you're in a Hard Rock except when you look closely at the water bottle tag, the shampoos, and the guest services book. About the only unique thing about it is the fire sprinkler in the closet...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

I guess they have a real problem with guest's clothes spontaneously combusting or something.

Oh... and thank God I paid the extra money for a "lake view" room. I would have hated to have missed this beautiful view of... the parking lot?!?

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

I mean, yeah, there's a lake way back there... but I'd hardly call this a "lake view" room. When I booked it, I was expecting to look out my window and see something like this...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

...which is a shot I took when I pulled off the road on the drive here.

Oh well. The casino isn't much better. Absolutely nothing on the casino floor. Just a couple of cabinets scattered at the entrances...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

And some guitars scattered without presentation down a random boring hallway you have no reason to visit...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

The pool is total shit... though there are signs everywhere about a fantastic new pool area that will be debuting this summer, so maybe it'll improve...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe

Overall, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe is a massive disappointment for Hard Rock fans. There's just not much here to see. If you don't care about the Hard Rock, it's a nice enough hotel, sure... but for those who do care, it's hardly destination-worthy unless you're a hard-core completist.

Which, unfortunately, is me.

UPDATE 5/5/15: You know, it may not sound like it, but I was trying to stay positive here. But when I went to check out everything kind of came to a boiling point in my head. First of all is the idiotic "resort fee" I had to pay... $22 ($26 with tax) which basically got me internet. It's not like I could go lie by the pool or anything (given there's no furniture). But even worse was the service. When I checked in, you're supposed to get complimentary valet parking, but the ONE guy tending the drive was too busy talking to somebody to bother and, after I had to interrupt to find out what the fuck I do with my car, he positioned valet parking as a "well, if you really want to..." situation, so I ended up self-parking. THEN, when I went to leave in the morning, I asked the guy at the reception desk if they had a postbox. No. Can you put my postcard with your outgoing mail? No. Now that's service! They wouldn't even mail a damn postcard. Seriously, fuck this place. I wish I had never come. A complete stain on the Hard Rock brand if there ever was one.

Contrast and compare to the positively gorgeous "authentic" Hard Rock Cafe next door at Harvey's Casino. It's an absolutely mesmerizing property that's got a "Tahoe Ski Lodge" aesthetic going on. And it's packed to the rafters with fantastic rock-n-roll memorabilia and classic theming. So much love went into this place...

Hard Rock Cafe Lake Tahoe

Hard Rock Cafe Lake Tahoe

Hard Rock Cafe Lake Tahoe

Hard Rock Cafe Lake Tahoe

Now THAT'S Hard Rock! That's a destination-worthy property. That's why I am a Hard Rock fan.

sigh.

Anyway...

Before driving to Lake Tahoe, I got to have lunch with the Blogger Formerly Known as Floating Princess, so the day wasn't a total loss. We had most excellent pizza at Pirate's Pizza in Reno... it is, in fact, the best pizza in the whole world...

Pirate's Pizza Reno

Pirate's Pizza Reno

Pirate's Pizza Reno

Dinner tonight was another excellent meal... across the street from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe at the Lucky Beaver...

Lucky Beaver Sign

I like the place very much... excellent service and a cozy atmosphere. But the food is way pricey... $12 for a burger and tots! Though their black bean veggie option is really good, so I guess it was worth the money.

And that's my day. Time to walk back to the Hard Rock and see if I can get some sleep.

I'm not much of a gambler, but I was compelled to put money in the "Ellen DeGeneres Show Slot Machine" until something happened. Five dollars later and...

Ellen DeGeneres Show Slot Machine

If you win something special, cartoon-body Ellen dances across the screen and she talks to you. Cute.

Tomorrow? The journey back home.

   

Vancooovah

Posted on April 20th, 2015

Dave!And so I'm leaving a place where recreational marijuana is legal to a place where it is illegal on 4/20. I'm guessing this is ironic. Except Alanis Morissette, though Canadian, doesn't actually live in Canada for me to ask (DOUBLE irony? I dunno).

The flight to Vancouver, BC was uneventful. What happened when I landed was anything but.

I'm getting ahead of myself though.

I've been to Canada many, many times. Mostly after driving across the border, which has never been a problem. I've also flown into Toronto a couple times without incident. But flying into Vancouver? I'm now four for four on getting completely screwed by immigration and customs.

After arriving at the border agent's podium, I got the usual round of questions. Why are you here? Have you been here before? Who are you meeting? Where are you going? What do you do for a living? Etc. Etc. Etc.

No matter how I answer, I always get routed to customs. Apparently a graphic designer who is a Hard Rock collector in town to visit a casino and have dinner with a friend is highly suspicious. It doesn't matter than I have a hotel reservation. It doesn't matter that the only thing I'm bringing into the country is a change of underwear, a fresh shirt, my laptop, and an iPhone. It doesn't matter than I have a return ticket for the next day. It doesn't even matter that my double-passport book is packed to the rafters with entry/exit stamps and a wad of visas marking me as a frequent traveler.

My entry card gets marked like this...

Fucked by Vancouver

I have no idea what "682" means. I think it probably goes like this...

FUCK YOU FOR COMING, ASSHOLE! GO SPEND THE NEXT 90 MINUTES STANDING IN LINE AT CUSTOMS AND SEE IF YOU EVER FEEL LIKE VISITING CANADA AGAIN, BITCH! NOW GET THE HELL OUT OF MY SIGHT!

Or something like that.

And so off I go.

Despite a line of 17 people, there are only three desks open. The first is occupied by a guy from China who thought he could just show up in Canada and go to school. The officer in charge of his case makes it known in no uncertain terms that he is mistaken. "There's a right way to do this, and you've done everything wrong!" After some back in forth, the officer grows impatient and starts threatening the guy with a stay in their jail. Over an hour of questions and typing later, the Chinese man is released and allowed to spend the night in the city... but if he doesn't return by 11:00 to arrange his flight back home, a warrant will be issued for his arrest.

The third desk is occupied by a guy who apparently just wants to visit the province for a month. For this he ends up having to unpack his three large suitcases to the last sock and answer question after question after question for over an hour.

The second desk is the only one moving people through. Albeit very, very slowly.

On occasion a random officer will show up and pull somebody out of line that they consider an easy interview. This moves the line forward, but any progress is ruined by people showing up in a second line on the opposite side of the building and jumping in line ahead of people who have been waiting for 40 minutes or longer.

Eventually I was called out by a random officer... but only after an hour and fifteen minutes of waiting. I then had to explain my situation, again, and stand there for fifteen additional minutes while the officer went into another room and did whatever she had to do with my passport. It probably wouldn't have taken that long, but she had to joke around with other officers there about how long the line was. Nice.

All told, I was stuck in customs for just over and hour-and-a-half.

For an hour visit to a casino over a stay that's less than 22 hours.

I don't doubt the need for all of this drama. On the contrary, protecting your borders is a very important job that deserves a serious amount of care. The results could be catastrophic if you don't.

But the way it's handled is abysmal. Indeed, it's the worst of any country I have visited. Ever. Excessive wait times, gross understaffing for the volume of people, and unfair line-jumping is not the impression you should be making on your guests.

Anyway...

A 30-minute ride on the SkyTrain and I'm at my downtown hotel. An hour ride on the Expo Line followed by a bus transfer and I'm at the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver that's actually not in Vancouver, it's in Coquitlam...

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

By joining their Players Club, I get $10 in free slots money. It's blown through in two minutes playing a slot machine I can really plug my hair into...

AVATAR: THE SLOT MACHINE!

AVATAR: THE SLOT MACHINE!

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

Time for pins at the Rock Shop (which is very nice, by the way...

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

The main bar is called "Asylum," which feels kinda forced, but looks pretty...

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

There's a surprising amount of memorabilia awaiting you. And it's some really good stuff too. The problem is that the casino is kinda big, so the artifacts are ultimately rather sparse. The clustered memorabilia in showcases is really cool though...

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver

There is no Hard Rock Cafe on the property. The people responsible for the place only have a license for hotels and casinos West of the Mississippi. Because of that, your Hard Rock Rewards card/points are useless. They don't even give you an AAA/CAA discount. If you sign up for the player's club (Free!) you do get a 10% discount on everything, however, which is nice.

I ended up eating at their burger joint. The veggie burger I had was a bit bland, but perfectly edible. The fries, unfortunately, were undercooked and oversalted, which meant most of them ended up in the garbage.

On the hour-ride back to town I saw the old Expo 86 dome, which looks pretty much as it did back when the World's Fair was going on...

World's Fair Expo 86

Here it is in 1986...

World's Fair Expo 86

After arriving back in Vancouver proper, I stopped at Tim Hortons' for some Timbits and a Coke. Because no visit to Canada is complete without Timbits!

Tim Hortons, bitches!

Tim Hortons, bitches!

Tim Hortons' Timbits, bitches!

And that was that. I'll spend the rest of my evening working, then head back home in the morning.

Hard Rock No. 164 accomplished! It was probably mostly worth the trouble to visit.

   

Memphis

Posted on March 23rd, 2015

Dave!There have been three times in my travels where I have forgotten my camera.

The second was Austin, Texas, in 2002 where I was visiting the terrific Hard Rock Cafe that used to be on 6th Street. This was an especially painful mishap, because the cafe closed before I could get back and document this amazing property. I did manage to find a disposable camera at a local drug store, but all the photos turned out terrible.

The third was while visiting Osaka, Japan in 2003, where I managed to purchase a cheap plastic toy camera at the Universal Studios Osaka gift shop to get shots of the new Hard Rock Cafe there.

And the first time?

When I visited Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee way back in 1995. And, despite returns to Memphis over the years, I never went back.

So my grand plan today was to run out to Elvis's house... THIS TIME WITH MY CAMERA... and take some photos. Except when I got up this morning I realized that, when it comes to Graceland, once is enough for me... photos or no photos.

And so I was off to Hard Rock No. 163, bitches!

Hard Rock Cafe Memphis Tennessee

Hard Rock Cafe Memphis Tennessee

Hard Rock Cafe Memphis Tennessee

Hard Rock Cafe Memphis Tennessee

Hard Rock Cafe Memphis Tennessee

Hard Rock Cafe Memphis Tennessee

Hard Rock Cafe Memphis Tennessee

Hard Rock Cafe Memphis Tennessee

Hard Rock Cafe Memphis Tennessee

As always, I was prepared for the worst. Yet another ugly hipster Hard Rock with only a smattering of memorabilia. Which would be a real slap in the face for Memphis, because their previous cafe was so awesome. So imagine my surprise when I visited this new property and found that the new location is in a primo vintage building with plenty of history and character... and they had a decent amount of rock-n-roll memorabilia to make it actually worth your time to visit!

Nice.

The Hard Rock is located at the head of famous Beale Street. The location is hopping at night, but fairly sedate in the daytime...

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

The one big tourist attraction in Memphis I haven't done yet was to visit Sun Records, which is the birthplace of rock-n-roll. And home to some very famous musicians. Like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many, many others...

Sun Records Memphis Tennessee

Sun Records Memphis Tennessee

Sun Records Memphis Tennessee

Sun Records Memphis Tennessee

Sun Records Memphis Tennessee

Sun Records Memphis Tennessee

Sun Records Memphis Tennessee

Sun Records Memphis Tennessee

Sun Records Memphis Tennessee

Well worth a stop if you're ever in the Memphis area. The tour cost me $11.50 and lasted 40 minutes. Our guide was fantastic, and really made the place come alive.

And that's now I spent my only day in the city.

And now? I'm going to dinner at Faiqa's house and you're not!

UPDATE: Uh huh...

Dinner with Faiqa

   

Dave14

Posted on December 31st, 2014

Dave!For those who only read one of my posts each year... or anybody wanting a recap of the past year here at Blogography... this post is for you! As usual, I've jettisoned loads of the usual junk so this entry is "mostly crap" instead of the "total crap" they usually are.

This year presented me with some harsh struggles, unwelcome challenges, and a lot of bad news. But there were some good moments in there that kept 2014 from being a complete disappointment, so here we go...

   


JANUARY

• Explained why I'm in favor of legalizing marijuana even though I don't use marijuana...

Yes on Washington 502

   

• Jester and I visited the Walt Disney Family Museum at long last, then saw the amazing Betty Who in concert...

Betty Who in San Francisco!

   

• Made time to add another section to my forearm tattoo.

   


FEBRUARY

Got angry.

   

Everything is awesome.

The LEGO Movie Poster

   

• With much sadness, I had to say goodbye to a friend.

   

Penis! Vegina!

   


MARCH

How I read.

   

• Flew to the Netherlands for PATATJES MET!

Patatjes Met!

   

Visited Glasgow, Scotland for Hard Rock No. 153...

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow

   

• Revisited Florence, Italy for Hard Rock visit No. 154...

Hard Rock Cafe Florence

   

• Then went onward to Nice, France for Hard Rock visit No. 155 and nearly got killed in the process...

Hard Rock Cafe Nice

   

Visited Friesland, the land of my forefathers, with The Dutch Bitch... then continued to the resort island of Schiermonnikoog.

   


APRIL

• Back to San Francisco for work and the same old routine, which means... MINI DONUTS!

BAG-O-DONUTS!

   

• Can't go to San Francisco without another tattoo...

Om Mani Padme Hum

   


MAY

• Visited the new Palm Springs Hard Rock Hotel, which is No. 156 for me...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

   

• Discovered the best damn veggie burger ever while in Chicago...

GAH! IT'S SO DELICIOUS!!!

   

• And so... Apple is definitely broken.

   

TILTED WITH HOT COFFEE GIRL... ZOMG!

TILT! at Hancock Center

   

Finally saw Morrissey in concert on a trip to Tampa... AND HE DIDN'T CANCEL! WOO-HOO!

Morrissey Concert Interlude

   

• Ate the world's best potato salad with Certifiable Princess then explored Ybor City where we found... THE BAD MONKEY BAR!!!

Bad Monkey Bar

   


JUNE

• Once again flew to the amazing city of Pittsburgh and got to spend time with HelloHaHaNarf Becky, one of my most favorite people on earth... LET'S GO BUCS!

Becky and Dave2
That's right... bask in our adorableness!

   

Becky and I drove to Ohio so I could visit the Northfield Park Hard Rock Casino (No. 157) and Hard Rock Cafe (No. 158)...

Hard Rock Northfield Park

   

• Thanks to my sister, I got to watch a Mariners game with field-level seats!

Dave!

   

It's over.

   


JULY

Fuck you, you fucking fucks.

   

• Managed to live through another fire seasons in Central Washington...

Wildfires

   

• Visited Pigeon Forge, Tennessee so I could check off Hard Rock No. 159...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

   

Visited some lighthouses in Maine and ate the best blueberry crumble I have ever had in my life...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

   


AUGUST

• Saw my favorite movie of 2014... Guardians of the Galaxy.

   

If you've never suffered from severe depression... if you've never stood by helplessly as somebody you care about battles depression... if you've never made an effort to understand what depression is or what it does to you... then please, for the love of God, shut the fuck up about it.

   

• Bought a new camera lens... my first telephoto glass in many years.

   


SEPTEMBER

• Flew to Salt Lake City and got to meet one of my childhood fantasies... ERIN GRAY!

Me and Erin Gray

   

• Went to the Retro Futura Tour with Marty from Banal Leakage to see TOM BAILEY OF THE THOMPSON TWINS LIVE IN CONCERT!

Tom Bailey Retro Futura Tour 2014

   

• Added Hard Rock visit No. 160 to my list in Johannesburg, South Africa...

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

   

• Fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Africa and go on safari with a trip to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe...

Lions in the Shade

Elephants in the Zambezi

   

• Photographed lions while visiting Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe...

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lion Cubs

   

• Accidentally discovered a love for astral photography...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

   

• Flew to Victoria Falls to see the largest falls by volume on the face of the earth...

Victoria Falls

   

THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT A SAFARI VACATION IN AFRICA!

   


OCTOBER

What's in my camera bag?

   

• Took a short vacation from my vacation with a trip to New Orleans... and tattoo No. 6...

No matter where you go... there you are.

   


NOVEMBER

   

• Had the extreme pleasure of attending a reading by my favorite living author, David Sedaris...

Sedaris Autograph

   

A look at blog stats.

   

God bless America? If this is what we've come to, I sincerely doubt it.

   


DECEMBER

Try showing a little class...

   

• Took some time to do some night photography while I was in Portland, Maine...

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

   

• Stopped by Minneapolis to meet up with some blogger friends and visit the Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America, which would be No. 161 for me...

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

   

• Flew to Sioux Falls so I could drive down to Sioux City and see my last Hard Rock of the year... a hotel and casino No. 162...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

   

• Closed out my travel year with a stop at the World Famous Corn Palace.

   


And that was my adventures in 2014.

Here's wishing everybody a terrific 2015!

   

Siouxland

Posted on December 9th, 2014

Dave!And so today I flew into Sioux Falls so I could rent a car and drive down to Sioux City... home to the latest US Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. It's nothing overly-fancy, but it does have some nice pieces of memorabilia and pretty good theming throughout.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

As you can tell in that last photo, the hotel part and the casino part are two separate buildings. The hotel was the former Simmons Hardware Company Warehouse (which you can read about here)... then they plastered the casino building right up next to it. You can see that they used the original exterior wall as the new interior dividing wall when you use the rear entrance...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

The lobby is beautiful and decorated nicely for the holidays...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Lobby

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Lobby

Interestingly enough, the reception desk has a full bar behind it. I don't know that I've ever seen that before!

The rooms are great, but not terribly "Hard Rock." With the exception of a guitar painting and a strip of photos next to the toilet, there's just not much to distinguish this from a "regular" hotel room... albeit a very nice one...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Rooms

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Rooms

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Rooms

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Rooms

Hallways are pretty mundane and memorabilia-free, except for the carpet and door art...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Hallway

Memorabilia is fairly good once you get to the casino portion. Not so much on the casino floor, but all the way around it...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia
A shirt worn by Elvis Presley!

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Rock Shop

Not wanting to spend all my time in a casino (I'm not much of a gambler), I decided to head out into the city and see what museums could be found in walking distance from the Hard Rock. The first I ran across was the Sioux City Art Center... which is not an actual museum, but they do have a small collection. The building itself is one of their best works of art, however...

Sioux City Art Center

Much to their credit, they had a beautiful Dale Chihuly seaform vase in their collection...

Sioux City Art Center Chihuly

And a series of paintings focusing on cornfields. I couldn't really tell if they were painted to be faded and tough to make out... or if they were badly faded from sun damage or something. Still interesting. Though I found it impossible to photograph them well...

Sioux City Art Center

Much to my surprise, they also have a Jackson Pollock on loan...

Sioux City Art Center Jackson Pollock

Not one of my favorites by him, but Polock's works are alway great to see in person... the way the paint layers up is an interesting effect that gets lost in photos.

From there I walked to the Sioux City Museum, which focuses on the history of (you guessed it) Sioux City...

Sioux City Museum

There's a lot of history in a relatively small space... almost too much at times, because it gets so cluttered you don't know where to look...

Sioux City Museum

Sioux City Museum

Sioux City Museum

A nice museum, really... and totally free (though you can make a donation).

After a while I decided to head back to the hotel... disappointed that both cities I visited bearing the name of the Great Sioux Nation didn't actually have a museum dedicated to the Native Americans which inhabited (and continue to inhabit) the region. A teepee and a few crafts in the City Museum were about it. Perhaps one of the Indian reservations would have a museum, but they're so scattered I wouldn't know where to begin looking. I've done some cursory Google searches and came up empty. Guess I need to find a book.

Oh... and I found this cool shot along the way...

Sioux City Alley

Dinner was an interesting side journey.

Three days ago, Blogography reader "Omaha Carl" left this comment...

As always, just LOVE it when you share your travels.
If you ever get to fly-over country. i.e. the Omaha region, consider me for a guide, or at least for suggestions.
Carl Mann
(NOT the country singer from the 50s and 60s)

Smartass that I am, I replied with this...

I’ll be in flyover country day after tomorrow… see you then! :-)

It was a joke... but then I got to thinking about how Omaha couldn't be more than an hour-and-a-half south of Sioux City. So I Googled it and, sure enough, an hour and thirty-four minutes...

Google Maps

So... a couple emails later and I was off to Omaha for a terrific dinner with Carl...

Anthony's in Omaha Nebraska

If you're ever in Omaha, Anthony's makes a mean bowl of pasta (and it's way more than I could eat!). I'm just sad that I didn't have room to eat a salad with some Dorothy Lynch dressing (which is apparently a very Omaha thing to do given that it was invented in the city of St. Paul, due East of the city).

Thanks so much to Omaha Carl for the great evening!

   

Day Three: Johannesburg

Posted on September 19th, 2014

Dave!And so here I am in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I added a full day layover in the city to recover from the long-ass 30-1/2 hours of travel I put in yesterday. Originally I was going to fly into Cape Town, but they don't have a Hard Rock Cafe there anymore, so Johannesburg it was.

The property is of the new-style "hipster cafe" variety. Usually I hate the cold and impersonal approach of these Hard Rocks, but this one is not so bad. It has a nice assortment of memorabilia, at least (even if it's not as big as it could be)...

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

The Hard Rock is located in the district of Sandton on Nelson Mandella Square, where they have a very nice statue of him...

Nelson Mandella Square in Johannesburg

And so... after posting this I'm off to bed with hopes of getting some sleep before a rather busy day tomorrow. Though I doubt I'll get to update my blog because the hotel internet is utter shit...

Crappy internet connection error

Good preparation for when I have no internet at all real soon now.

That'll be interesting.

   

Pigeon Forge

Posted on July 26th, 2014

Dave! And so here I am in Knoxville, which is pretty much just a landing point for my real destination: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The city is kind of a resort area that built up around Dolly Parton's theme park, Dollywood, and there's all kinds of interesting things to see and do.

But I'm not here for the attractions. The Hard Rock Cafe in Gatlinburg (one of my favorites) closed up shop and moved up the road to Pigeon Forge, so I decided to check it out with some friends who came from Chattanooga. From the outside, it's nothing special. They painted it purple, but it's still incredibly boring. No giant guitar. No unique Tennessee-inspired architecture. Nothing very special at all...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

As expected, the interior is inspired by the newer-style Hard Rock "hipster lounge" design aesthetic I loathe. The good news is that they toned it down a bit so it's not quite so douchey. No giant flowing curtains and other crap obscuring the joint. Inexplicably, there's a lot of ropes hanging above the bar. If this were a port city, that might make sense... but Pigeon Forge is about as land-locked as you can get, so I guess it's some kind of S&M-inspired tribute to Fifty Shades of Grey or something...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

Holy crap do I miss the "old-style" cafes that were packed to the rafters with rock memorabilia! These newer cafes are style over substance, and all you get are a few scattered pieces of clothing... a few guitars... maybe some hand-penned lyrics or something. It's as if the people designing for the chain now have no fucking clue what the Hard Rock is supposed to be about...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

Case in point... they had one of Dolly Parton's dresses hanging on the wall. And while they do have a plaque below the piece explaining its history, there's no photo of Dolly wearing it... or note from Dolly about it... which is what you'd likely find in an old-style cafe where they were more interested in the memorabilia telling a story instead of a merely using it as a design accessory...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

Sad, really.

But anyway...

After parting ways with my friends, I decided to wander down the street to The Titanic Museum. I was curious to see how it stacked up to the "Titanic Experience" I visited in Orlando.

It certainly looks really impressive...

Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge

Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge

But then, tragedy struck.

I noticed a sign saying "no photos or video"...

Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge

Disappointing, but not a deal-breaker. Yet. Before buying a ticket, I head to the gift shop to see if they have a souvenir guide to the museum. If I can't take pictures, a book will have to do.

Except they don't have a guide book.

Fuck. That. There's the deal-breaker.

I am sick and tired of museums who don't allow you any way to re-visit your visit. Don't want me taking photos? Fine. But sell a fucking guide book so fifteen years from now when I want to remember my visit I have something to actually remind me. I visit a ton of museums, and it's not like I can remember every damn thing I've ever seen in them.

So screw the Titanic Museum. I am done supporting this kind of crap.

My friends recommended that I visit the Pigeon Forge Gem Mine before I left, which sounded interesting...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

What you do is buy a bucket of dirt that has a random assortment of gemstones and other goodies hidden in it. There are al kins of choices, depending on what you're interested in, and the prices range from $15 to $200...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

I bought a more modest bucket that was like $20 or something...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

Once you've paid for your dirt, you take a seat at a water trough where you can start mining for your treasure...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

After dumping a couple scoopfuls into your screen box, you shift it in the trough so that the dirt washes away...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

That leaves you with gemstones, agates, fossils, and other interesting stuff...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

Once you've finished your bucket, you can go inside to have them evaluate your haul. This can take a while. There was only one "assayer" on duty, and she spent twenty minutes with one person who must have been mining for days because she had bags and bags of rocks...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

Luckily, I was in no hurry, so I visited the... uhhh... "Gem Museum" they had...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

Eventually my name was called and I got to learn what all I had. Which was nothing too spectacular, really. I rather like the nice piece of amethyst I found though (the purple-ish thing at the top)...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

I also got some nifty minerals, a couple fossils, and a really cool agate (on the far left).

Mine Your Own Gemstones

If you want, the shop will clean up your pieces, polish them into something pretty, and make it into some jewelry for you in 24 hours. I wasn't interested in spending any more money, so I took my bag of rocks and left.

Overall, the Pigeon Forge Gem Mine was a pretty cool experience, and a good waste of time (I was there for just over an hour). Some people were spending hundreds of dollars on bucket after bucket, so you could probably make a day out of it if you wanted to.

But don't be there too long, or you'll miss out on the many dinner theaters going on. There's musical theater. There's church theater. There's Hatfields vs. McCoys theater. There's all kinds of dinner theaters. There's even Lumberjack Feud theater, which looks like it would be a total bloodbath...

ZOMFG! LUMBERJACK FEUD!!!

I wasn't sticking around for dinner theater, but I did want to stop at the souvenir shop where Jesus saves...

Jesus Saves Incredible Bargains!

It's a junk-lovers dream come true, as they've got every kind of crap you can think of...

Jesus Saves Incredible Bargains!

But I didn't have time for shopping (or paying $3.50 to see the live bears they keep out back), so I headed back to Knoxville... where I finally decided to venture into the city, which is quite nice...

It's Knoxville!

The highlight of my visit was the Mast General Store, which was a lot of fun...

It's Knoxville!

It's Knoxville!

I ended up finding some really nice shirts on sale, so I bought a bunch to take home...

It's Knoxville!

I could have bought a lot of things, but I only have one small suitcase, so I had to pass. I did grab a bag of bulk candies, however...

It's Knoxville!

And there you have it. My one day in Tennessee. In a few minutes I'll be off to the movies and then calling it a night so I can pack up for my flight out tomorrow.

After I've eaten all my candy, obviously.

   

Bullet Sunday 384

Posted on June 8th, 2014

Dave!Take time to be kind... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Window. My first time visiting Pittsburgh... back in 2002... I flew into the airport, rented a car, then headed into the city. Unlike most cities where you can see the buildings in the distance and know what you're getting into, Pittsburgh is hidden. Mt. Washington obscures the skyline so you have no idea what to expect until you drive through a tunnel that leads to the city. And for somebody like me who was expecting a run-down, dirty, old steel town, it's a spectacular surprise. Which I've finally managed to film on my fourth try...

Pittsburgh is a beautiful city filled with terrific architecture and lots of green spaces. That it has one of the most amazing reveals of any city on earth is just the icing on the cake.

   
• Hard Rock. The bulk of my Sunday was spent kidnapping Becky and driving to Ohio so we could visit the new Hard Rock Casino and Hard Rock Cafe in Northfield Park, Ohio. Sadly, it's a franchise property, so it's not in the same league as other Hard Rock properties, but they still did a very nice job...

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

I ended up winning $40 on my first pull in a slot machine, so that pretty much paid for the cost of getting here... how cool is that?

   
• Bridge. On the way back to Pittsburgh, Becky navigated us to Banks Covered Bridge, which is near Wilmington Township, Western Pennsylvania...

Banks Covered Bridge

Banks Covered Bridge

It's a nice old bridge that's in really good shape... having been "rehabilitated in 1999, 110 years after it was built in 1889.

   
• Bridge Deux. Not far from Banks Covered Bridge is McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge, which has a state park built around it...

McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge

McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge

McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge

McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge

McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge

The bridge is unique in that it uses something called a "Howe's Truss" in its construction... something that's apparently rare for Pennsylvania bridges.

   
• Meal. After an afternoon of excitement, it was back to Pittsburgh for dinner. This time to the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where even the hipster mannequins are battling receding hairlines...

HIPSTER MANNEQUIN!!!

Killer goatee though. Apparently that's the default facial hair configuration in the greater Pittsburgh arean.

   
And now? Time to lapse into a coma of relaxation...

   

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Posted on May 6th, 2014

Dave!I did not set my expectations very high for The Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs. Even though it was a HR Corporate project, the website gave it the feel of a crappy quick-and-dirty "conversion property" like Tulsa and Albuquerque. Those lazy hotels where they just slap a few pieces of rock memorabilia on the walls, change a few door-handles to be guitar-shaped, hang a logo above the door, and call it a Hard Rock...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Nope, despite outside appearances, the Palm Springs hotel was actually really well done. Much more than just a coat of paint and some superficial decorations. The lobby was beautifully themed with rock instrument sculptures, a lot of music-themed details, and a surprising amount of memorabilia. The design is beautifully eclectic and authentic Hard Rock, featuring a full lobby bar, a restaurant, and a merch shop... all really well done.

The reception desk...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

The very nice bar in the lobby area...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Lobby staircase and FUN...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Speaker sculpture...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Sessions restaurant...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Memorabilia case at the entrance...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

But the biggest surprise? They actually put some effort into theming the rooms! Many times they don't even bother with a hotel conversion, but it looks as thought they gutted everything and made it be Hard Rock style...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

The only disappointment in the conversion was the pool area. Not only is the pool tiny, there was no effort to make it look very Hard Rock. They half-heartedly spray-painted a few Banksy-inspired murals on a couple walls and that's about it...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

   
Overall a pleasant surprise. This is a great hotel... and a great addition to the Hard Rock family. The staff was terrific. Everything is clean and impeccably-maintained. The location is fantastic, just one block off Palm Canyon Drive downtown. Even the pricing seems comparable with similarly-equipped hotels in the area (i.e. a bit expensive). I enjoyed my stay very much.

Except...

In keeping with the growing trend of screwing your guests, of course there's a fucking "resort fee" you have to pay at checkout. The Hard Rock Palm Springs charges $30 per day, which is definitely on the high-side. It includes the usual... local calls nobody will ever make because they have fucking mobile phones and don't know anybody local... access to the gym which nobody will bother with because they're on vacation... access to the pool, which you've been getting free at every hotel since the dawn of time... internet access, which should be included in the room cost anyway... basically, bullshit amenities that are valued a hell of a lot less the $30 a day. I'd give you a complete breakdown of what it includes but, of course, a complete breakdown cannot be found on the hotel website because they want to camouflage this fucking bullshit charge as much as possible. I dunno. Maybe it also includes parking, which helps justify the cost IF you have a car... but $30 a day still seems fucking insane.

I only stayed for one day and didn't have a car, but I did get a ride to the airport and use the internet, so I'm trying not to be sore about paying $30 for nothing (seriously, if you still charge for internet, you're a fucking nickel-and-diming douchebag of a hotel). I could not stay here longer than two days without feeling as though I were being seriously ripped off. I would not.

But this is how it works now. Hotels want to grab people with cheap-ass room rates on the discount sites, but don't actually want to give their customers a discount. Hence the "resort fee" bullshit.

Oh well.

If you're looking for a nice place to stay and don't mind being violated with a mandatory fee for shit you won't use, by all means give the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs a look.

   

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