Monday, July 25, 2016

Philly to France, By Car, in 7 Hours

Philly to France, By Car, in 7 Hours

Or stop for lunch in Saratoga Springs and make it 8 hours.

In Montreal, French is not an affectation, a cloak, something the residents put on and take off as a reminder of their history and heritage. Something to impress the tourists.

Montreal is totally French, spoken everywhere, written everywhere, menus, street signs, store fronts, etc.

You are in France in many respects. As you walk by stores, you have to look in the window to see whether it’s a restaurant or a grocery store, a laundry mat or a vision center.

The only nod to English speakers is in the more touristy areas, like Old Montreal, where you hear more English and there’s usually an English version to whatever’s written, like on the menus.

Most of the residents can speak English, and do so willingly I’ve found, but it usually comes with a slight smile.

The people look and dress different here. On the subway, I was struck by the mix of races, and ethnics--Middle East, Asian, European, African, South American. Most of the passengers were either wearing headphones that made them look like Martians or looking at their phones which made them look normal.

While it seems more people here smoke, on the whole, people in Montreal seem fit, and thin.
We’re staying in a residential part of Montreal, the Plateau, where we’ve rented a 2 bedroom flat via Airbnb.

The plateau section is hip, stylish, trendy, young, and happening. There’s dozens of trendy bars, cafes and restaurants, all with open windows so the noise, the talking, the music spills out on the streets like a welcoming song. Off the main streets, the avenues are tree-lined, brick residential houses with curved metal staircases to the second and third floors.

Montreal is extremely bike friendly with clearly marked, designated paths on every street. You’ll often find cars parked almost in the middle of the street because to park against the curb would block the bike path.

Walking down Mont Royal, one of the main drags here in the plateau, the other evening, I looked down as some colorful pieces of paper blew across my path, like little bits of litter. I reached down to grab it and suddenly realized it was money, Canadian bills, 2 twenties and a five, that had fallen out of a man’s hand. I picked it up just before another guy and quickly found the owner, a young man who seemed quite grateful. The other guy asked the owner for the 5 dollar bill, and he gave it to him. I guess he figured it was good luck.

You often see people walking the streets carrying unopened bottles of wine, something Americans would probably hide in a bag.

In one big open area, there was this strange vehicle that had about a dozen people sitting on it, each sitting over bike pedals. They were all talking and laughing, some kind of pedal-powered party bus that road around town, some of the passengers dancing in the aisle to the loud music it played.

Normally, if stranded in center city Philadelphia, I wouldn’t know how to take the subway home if my life depended on it. But we all ventured down into Montreal’s subway system to visit Old Montreal. We each bought a 3-day pass for $18, which gives you unlimited use of all public transportation for 3 days.

Old Montreal is the more touristy part of the city, along the St. Lawrence River, and it’s spectacular, with lots of narrow, curving cobble-stone streets lined with shops and restaurants. Flowers are everywhere, adding a festive touch.  There’s a walkway that runs right next to the river where you can watch tour boats and other recreational boaters ply the waters.

Last evening, after walking all through Old Montreal, we came home and after a short rest, walked down to Parc la Fontaine, an enormous park with gently rolling hills that sloped down to a lake that snaked through the park. Although there were many people picnicking on blankets, some barbecuing, some playing games, the park never felt or looked crowded.

I’m told there are tennis courts somewhere in the park, an activity for another day.

We ended the evening at a crowded, small restaurant, where the main feature was poutine, French fries covered with fresh cheese curds, and topped with brown gravy. There are no limits to what can be added to a basic poutine, vegetables, ground beef, pork, you name it. It reminded me of how red beans and rice are a staple for dinner on Monday nights in New Orleans, the tradition being that people had spent all their money drinking on the weekends and needed some stick to your bones starch in their bellies.

The profit margin on essentially a French fry dinner must keep many restaurants in business.

Coming up, visits to McGill University, Mont Royal, and an underground city of shops and restaurants, the perfect place to spend a rainy day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Long Way to Lubbock


A Long Way to Lubbock

By Paul Greeley

Published: May 25, 2010

 

For many North Texas moms and dads, the end of the school year at Texas Tech in Lubbock triggers the annual trek in station wagons and SUVs via ancient migratory routes (in my case, RT. 114) to collect their sons and daughters for the summer. So like the swallows of Capistrano, I joined a flock recently to bring home my freshman son.

But this bird didn’t fly far before getting his wings clipped by a Bridgeport policeman for speeding. I tell the policeman that if he’d give me a break, he’d be preventing a crime.

“What crime is that, Mr. Greeley?”

“Murder,” I say, “’cause my wife is going to kill me if I go home with a ticket.”

Sadly, issuing speeding tickets trumps crime-prevention and humor in Bridgeport.

My first plan was to drive out one day, spend the night and drive back the next. When I tell my son that I plan on sleeping in his dorm room, he too fails to see the humor. I think the thought of his old man walking down the hall to the showers carrying a shaving kit with nothing but a towel around him must be horrifying.   

So I decide to make the trip out to Lubbock and back in one day. Alone in the car for 6 hours through empty miles of black cows and brown horses on a sea of green Texas grass puts me in a reflective mood. The years peel away to my freshman year at a college in Pennsylvania. I didn’t realize then that it was my first step on a journey away from my parents that would take me around the country eventually depositing me here in Texas. I think about my son and wonder--no, I know--that this is his first step, too.

 
At 80 miles an hour, the vast landscape seems other worldly. Oil derricks feed rhythmically on the ground like some strange robotic animal. In this part of Texas, head gear is dominantly of the cowboy variety and vehicles are predominately pick-up trucks, dirty pick-up trucks. Real cowboys drive dirty pick-up trucks. And like horses in these parts, trucks aren’t just for riding--they’re for working.

I stop for breakfast at the Green Grog diner in Jacksboro, where a group of guys joke with the waitresses in the corner. In the parking lot after, a big old good-old boy in denim over-all bibs who follows me out asks me if I got my share of abuse from the waitresses.

“No,” I joke, “I didn’t see it on the menu.”

“They serve it up anyways,” he says, laughing as he heads off, working a toothpick back and forth.

 
After my freshman year, I came home with a wispy, see-through mustache that I thought made me look older and distinguished. My dad thought otherwise and said so. It was just another point of view among many on which we seemed to differ. I wonder what changes, if any, I’d see on my son, and vow to say nothing if he has a mustache.

 
At a pit stop in Seymour, on the corner of California and Main, an older couple sitting in a big older van with a raised roof and extended cab with “American Cruiser’ stenciled on the side tell me they’re California-bound. They must have seen me eyeing the van curiously. I point to the street signs and say, “You’re already there.” The old guy cranes his neck out the window to see the sign and laughs, “how ‘bout that!”

 

The road kill is mostly armadillo, skunk and unrecognizable with an occasional coyote to break up the monotony. I’m in the middle of nowhere where even cell phones can’t reach. My GPS shows nothing but a featureless straight line---no Starbucks here for sure.  I drive past Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company, Since 1933, and into Dickens, a town where even if you know where you are, you’re lost. Where the Dickens are we?

 

Eventually, I pull onto the sprawling and beautiful campus of Texas Tech and find a spot right outside my son’s dorm. I’m anxious to see him. As he walks across the parking lot to my car, I hardly recognize him. He’s taller, straighter, wearing glasses and a broad smile. There’s no sign of a mustache. We hug and I tell him, “I like your goatee.”
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, November 6, 2015


If Only Leaves Had Value

By Paul Greeley

 

 

It’s that time of year again.

When Mother Nature turns trees into eruptions of color just before they disrobe for the winter.

That time when people ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ over how those boring green leaves suddenly turn beautiful shades of red and orange just before they die and fall to the ground where they become a major, worthless nuisance.

 

Somewhere, I hope there are teams of experts working on solutions to problems to  benefit mankind---an end to cancer, a cure for the common cold, and what the Kardashians actually do for a living.

I’d like to add one more item to that list—find a way to make leaves valuable.

 

I’ve got a couple ideas they can experiment on.

Everybody loves the smell of burning leaves. Why couldn’t Martha Stewart come up with a cologne or room deodorizer that could capture the smell of smoldering leaves?

What about dipping the leaves into hot oil, add salt and sell them as leaf chips?

Surely, leaves must have some nutritional value, so couldn’t we use them in salads and on sandwiches as a lettuce substitute. Let’s face it, if we can make lettuce taste good, leaves should be no problem.

 

If leaves were worth something, think how that would change the world!

 

More tress will get planted not so much for shade or beauty, but for the revenue source they’ve become.

Instead of blowing your leaves onto your neighbor’s yard when he’s not looking, you’ll be secretly sucking his over to your yard.

People will chase leaves blowing in the wind with the same fervor they chase dollar bills down the street.

They’ll be more room in landfills for worthy trash like outdated cell phones, record players, election signs, film cameras, encyclopedias, cassette players, bell bottoms, and landline phones. 

Busloads of tourists would trek to New England to see piles of leaves with the same fascination as people now go to Ft Knox or the US Mint to see mounds of money.

Lighting your cigar with a big leaf will replace lighting cigars with hundred bills as the ultimate expression of wealth.

If you’re falling behind in your bills, you’ll tell the bill collector that it’s almost fall and you’re expecting a bumper crop of leaves this year.

Nobody will burn leaves any more. That aroma associated with fall will disappear into folklore—remember when people burned leaves?

People will hold signs that say, ‘will work for leaves’.

Banks will look to take advantage---deposit your leaves and get a new toaster.

People will give trees names like cash-cow, money-maker, or bark o’ bucks.

When people mow leaves with mulching mowers, they’ll think of it as changing leaves into smaller denominations. 

And if leaves had value, when your kids ask you for money and you say, ‘you think money grows on trees’, they’ll say, ‘well yeah, dad’. 

 

 

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Like Paul Newman Needs Friends

By Paul Greeley

 

     I had a private moment with the late Paul Newman. At least I think I did.

     In 1989, I was working at WDSU, the NBC affiliate in New Orleans. At the time, Newman was in town filming, Blaze, about the bombastic Louisiana governor, Earl Long, and his love affair with the Bourbon Street stripper, Blaze Starr.

     I walk into the edit suite one morning to find the general manager’s secretary struggling to make a VHS dub of a segment from that morning’s Today Show. When I ask her what she’s trying to do, she says Newman had seen a feature on the show about his filming the movie and it showed some archival footage of Earl Long that he wanted to study.

     “Newman himself called?”

     “I think so,” she said, “said he wanted us to take the dub to him at his hotel.”

     As a huge fan of Paul Newman, I see an opportunity.

     “You care if I take it to him?”

     “No, here’s the address.”

     I sit down at the control’s and make a nice clean dub with plenty of black at the front and even font in a title with the date. As I’m about to finish, I get an inspiration. Knowing that Newman is going to be watching this, this is my chance to ‘talk’ to him privately. So as soon as the segment is over, I pull down the microphone and punch up some black and started talking.

     “How you doing, Mr. Newman, this is Paul Greeley, the guy making this dub for you from the Today Show. I just want to say that I’m a huge fan of yours, especially your early movies like Sweet Bird of Youth, Long Hot Summer, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hud, and Cool Hand Luke. Look, if you ever want to get a beer and shoot some pool,

I know this place, the F&M bar on Tchoupitoulas that’s open 24 hours.”

      I finish by giving him my phone number, tell him to call me anytime and to keep up the good work. I put a good label on the tape and jump in my car.

     Newman’s staying at the Soniat House on Chartres, from the outside, a small non-descript hotel near Esplanade. You don’t even know it’s there from the street. There are two big green doors at the address and when I knock, the manager opens one to reveal a big courtyard filled with beautiful flowers. I tell him I have a tape for Newman. He says he’ll give it to him. I tell him I have instructions to place it in Newman’s hands directly. He kind of smiles, says Newman isn’t here, he’s up the street shooting some scenes for the movie.

     I leave and walk to where I see some production trucks and camera equipment. I’m met by a young female production assistant wearing a headset, and tell her why I‘m there. She says Newman’s inside shooting some scenes and when I ask how long he’ll be, she says, “you know how production is, could be 10 minutes or 2 hours.”

     I tell her I’ll wait a while and grab a seat on the bed of a truck sitting there. After about a half hour, a beautiful woman comes around the corner from the direction of the hotel. She’s wearing a pretty summer dress, with a stylish matching hat and carrying a small purse. It’s Joanne Woodward. No entourage, no bodyguards, just her. She walks up to the production assistant and they start talking. After a few minutes, the production assistant points to me, and Joanne walks over to me.

     “I understand you’re the gentleman with the tape for my husband?”

     “Yes, I am,” I manage to say.

     “Look, all I have is this small purse, would you mind taking it back to our hotel around the corner?”

     I mention to Woodward that I had seen a picture of her by the early Louisiana photographer Fonville Winans, taken when she was a student at LSU.



     “Yes, I just love being back in New Orleans with all the great food here.”

     We talk for a few minutes and then I leave. I take the tape and give it to the hotel manager. He looks bemused.

     Strange as this may sound, I actually thought Newman would call. I guess I can stop waiting now.

 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Coffee, Tea or Tirade?


Coffee, Tea or Tirade?

By Paul Greeley

 

Did you hear the story about the flight attendant that grabbed some beer and triggered an inflatable emergency chute for a dramatic exit from a plane in New York?

When I fly, my idea of eternity is the time it takes the plane to stop at the terminal to when I actually get off. It seems like forever. So had I been on that flight, I would have shoved the attendant out of the way, grabbed his beers and been first to slide down. Wheeee!

I’m not surprised that someone did that, I just figured an impatient passenger would do it first. I’ve been on flights where a flight attendant appeals to passengers to let those with connecting flights get off first. That never happens. Instead, I’ve seen sweet little old ladies lower their shoulders like fullbacks and bowl over pregnant women with babies who are too slow getting down the aisle.

Flight attendants are on the front lines in what can be like a war between passengers and the airlines. Uniformed, visible, and available, with no chance of escape, they are easy targets taking the brunt of airline passenger frustration. Forget about giving weapons to under-cover marshals, it’s the flight attendants who should be packing heat.

I have some suggestions for how airlines can make more money and how passengers can save a few bucks.

Allow a few lucky passengers, for a fee, to exit the plane via that chute with drink in hand. If only the airlines can see how that attendant actually revealed a new money-maker for them and brought some fun back to flying for us! Seems like a natural for Southwest.

Charge passengers extra by their weight. It takes more fuel to fly a 300 pound adult than a 50 pound kid.

Passengers can pay extra to move their seat away from crying, fidgeting kids or snoring, drooling adults.

Smokers can pay a fee to open up a window and light up.

Passengers can avoid that luggage charge by putting on and wearing all the clothes they’ll need for their trip. It adds a whole new meaning to carry on.

Airlines should give passengers free drinks from wheels up to wheels down, but charge for use of the bathrooms. Do the math, hundreds of people guzzling drinks for a couple hours and only two bathrooms! I don’t know how much money airlines make charging for peanuts, but this idea has serious revenue potential.

Remove all the free air-sick bags. Then have the pilots bounce the plane in some fake turbulence and start a bidding process for each bag. If my seat mate looked green, I know I’d be kicking in a few bucks.

A friend told me a story about a cruel, but harmless prank he and his friends played on a flight attendant. They made a big show to the attendant that one of them was sick by barfing noisily into the bag. They rang the attendant to dispose of the full bag, and as the bag was passed to the attendant, my friend opened it, reached in and grabbed a piece of the contents and popped it into his mouth, savoring it with a flourish. Unknown to the attendant, the contents were really the remains of their dinner. Horrified, the attendant almost barfed herself. Had I been that attendant, I would have deployed that escape chute and been gone, even at 30,000 feet. Wheeee!

 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mall Madness


Mall Madness
By Paul Greeley

If you see me at a shopping mall, call the police. Because I joke that the only way I’ll go shopping at a mall is at gun-point. It’s not the mall’s fault; it’s me. I have trouble resisting their temptations--the sights, the smells, the sounds are capable of driving me into a shopping frenzy. When I walk by the stores that sell music, electronics, sporting goods, food, even fashion, I have to steel myself, put my hand on my wallet, stay the course in the middle of the mall, like Ulysses tied to the mast so he won’t be tempted by the nymph’s singing on Sirens’ Island.
“Your spirit is strong”, I say to myself, “but your Visa is weak.”
On the few occasions I do have to shop for Christmas or someone’s birthday gift, I attack it like a well-planned military assault. Make a detailed plan, then get in and get out alive.
I don’t need anything anyway. I keep shoes forever. And men’s shoes haven’t changed much since the Ice Age. They recently unearthed a neandorthal wearing wing-tips. And when they do come out with something new, they look old, like those square-toed dress shoes they’re selling now-- put a buckle on them and you look like a pilgrim! Plus, they ain’t cheap. I saw a pair of shoes on clearance at a well-known, high-end dept store recently that cost more than the gross national product of many small countries!
I see other men like me sitting on those benches in the middle of the mall. They’re not relaxing; they’re resisting. We nod knowingly to each other in passing, silent encouragement to keep it up.
But these days even the middle of the mall has its own temptations. Now they have kiosks, huts, stands, shacks, and tables lined up everywhere you walk displaying everything from hats (lids!) cell phones, computers, sunglasses (shades!), make-up, hand-bags, insurance, carpeting, landscaping, tropical fish, even cars. And of course, jewelry.  Nothing quite says love like when you buy your girlfriend a bracelet at a jewelry kiosk in the mall. Rosetta has a stand so you can practice Italian while you’re shopping and learn to say ‘ciao’ to your money.
By far, the strangest activity I recently witnessed at the mall was something new I’d never seen or heard about. A lady is sprawled out on a table while another lady hovers over her face working a long piece like some kind of magic ritual.  It looks like some kind of adolescent rite of passage you might see from Borneo on National Geographic. I watch in amazement wondering what in the world are they doing? I ask another lady who is signing up for the next appointment.
“Oh, it’s called eyebrow threading. It’s a lot less painful than wax.”
If they can have a side-show in public showing ladies getting their eyebrows plucked one by one right in the middle of the mall, what’s next? Plastic surgery?
“Honey, I’ll be back in an hour looking 20 years younger. I’m getting a face-lift at the mall.”
Definitely bring your Visa for that.