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Halloween 2014: The Corn Maze and eating corn for dinner!

I wrote another Halloween blog about my experience in the haunted corn field attraction and the Factory of Horrors. Well, I have been to 30+ Halloween mazes and attractions. They are all sort of similar, but each with their individual touches. This time I wanted to try something different. I bet it is common in the Midwest to go into a corn maze. But, if you live in Los Angeles, we don’t have a lot of this type of attraction for obvious reasons. So, I tried it. I was a bit afraid of getting lost in there for a long time. But, the night was young, and we had eaten and had plenty of water to drink, so I figured I’d last an hour. The staff told us it would take 40 minutes to an hour to get in and out of there. From the outside, the cornfield didn’t seem that large. And you could see by the lights and the music which end the exit was. So, we were not in that bad shape.

The corn maze
We walked into the maze. There were other people mulling about. We decided to go to the far end which was not difficult to get to. At the far end we saw a map of the maze. I never knew that these mazes had maps, but I’ve never been to a maze like this before either. Luckily I brought my keychain flashlight with me so we could actually see the signs. The sign was a map of the maze with a you are here dot. I decided it would be fun to walk to the other side of the maze just to see what it was like. We had to walk almost all the way to the front, and then to the right and then all the way to the back. We saw another sign in the back. It was fun, and now it was time to leave. Little did I know we would get stuck. We walked for a few minutes to the front of the maze. We got to yet another sign. There was a small circle in the corner of the field where we were and four paths that diverged from a spot twenty feet behind where we were standing. The problem was that each of these four paths branched out and got twisty and confusing. As an experienced navigator and road trip taker, I figured I would just look at the map and get it right the first or second time. Each route I took led us the wrong direction. Then, I tried a third approach being very careful this time. That led us back to the circle. My last attempt was the fourth attempt and did get me out of there to the front where we easily found an exit. We were only somewhat lost for about ten minutes, and it added to the excitement.

Grilled Corn
After the maze, we waited in a two hour line to go back to the Factory of Horrors that I wrote about in another recent blog. The Thursday line was 10 minutes, the Saturday night line was close to two hours. So, we decided to have a discussion about all the countries in the world. My house mate had been studying up and knew almost all 192 countries. I didn’t know that Trinidad was not a country. The name of the country is “Trinidad and Tobago.” Well, excuse me! The discussions we had were very interesting and probably never would have happened if were were not stuck somewhere for a long time. It reminded me of an adventure we had had in 2001 when we went to the Grand Canyon together and we were imitating all of the different languages on the headset for the tour guide of an air tour we signed up to take (which was really expensive for 45 minutes.) We had a lot of fun on that trip, and were having a lot of fun on this adventure too. The Factory of Horrors was a lot different with all those people going in at the same time. There was no more elevator, and I already knew what the scares were, so I was not that scared. Oh well. You live and you learn.

So, after the mazes, we couldn’t figure out what to eat. Should I get a hot dog? No! I’ll get corn. There were some older ladies grilling corn. I bought one for $3 and she showed me all the seasonings. I love cajun, so I put some on. I bit into the corn and said, “Wow, this is the best corn I’ve ever had in my life.” It was very fresh since they are based in a cornfield. It was so good I got a second piece, and my housemate got an ear too. This time the lady recommended I try the “Slap ya mama” seasoning — in moderation because it was hot. Wow! It was excellent. I’ll remember that simple pleasure of eating fresh corn for a long time. She mentioned that her son created the mazes. And then out of nowhere her son appeared. He was about 50-ish. I talked to him for about 20 minutes about the business aspect of running a haunted attraction since that is one of my goals. He told me the realities, the costs, the profits, and market segments, etc. I wanted something more realistic and scarier, and he said that would appeal to a smaller market segment and would be harder to find a following for. It was great talking to him, especially since I’ve been dying (no pun intended) to talk to someone who had a haunted attraction about ideas.

Four Corners part 2: New Mexico

I started writing about Four Corners in a blog published a few days ago. I suggest you read that before you read this part!

Onward Ho!
I didn’t spend long there, but I appreciated the art work and hearing the Navajo language on the radio they had playing there. They have a very different culture from anything I’ve ever seen, and I appreciate them and the stillness of their land and their way of life. I drove on my way to Chama, NM where I had decided to spend the night after a long day of driving. I got a chocolate bar at a gas station and then was back to my journey. But, there was a noise.. The noise kept getting louder. Finally I decided I might have a flat and pulled into a store. I was very lucky that that store was there, because where I was driving there was nothing for 20 miles in a row. I think my guru must have been watching me. He asked me to inform him before I left for my trip and I did. Some nice native people helped me change my tired and I drove to Chama on a donut tire which was low on air.

Chama is a picturesque little town in the mountains of New Mexico near Colorado. The only attraction of the town is a little narrow gauge railway for tourists that goes once per day to Colorado. I didn’t want to waste a whole day on a little train, but I drove the same route the train takes. It was a little different than the view from the train tracks, but the color scheme was amazing, and I enjoyed the trip. But, before that, I had to get my tire changed and engine light looked at. There was a gas station run by a nice older guy. He sold me a new tire and did some quick diagnostic work to see what was wrong with my car. It was the catalytic converter. But, did it need to be changed or was it just bad gas? We started out with some fuel additive to clean up whatever was in the tank. If the check engine light came on again, then it was not the gas, but an expensive part that would need to be changed. The interesting part of this quick trip to the gas station was that my psychic said that the guy running the station was my son in a past life! Wow! And I really liked him too. He was just like me. He worked all the time, and then would take a few days off per month and go out of state. That is exactly what I do too.

The Drive
The mountains of Colorado were wonderful with the leaves changing from light green to dark green, orange, red, and there were yellow colors too in the hills. The little town the train ends at in Colorado was not a pleasant place and I got out of there fast without finding a place to eat. Then, I drove East to the 25. The sky opened up and the land was flat. I felt like a sandwich between the ground and the sky. It was such an odd feeling and at such a high speed. Finally, I got to the 25. I drove South and then investigated the town of Trinidad. There was a historical house there that I wanted to see. Trinidad is a very old town with many historic buildings and perhaps a few ghosts too. I was disappointed that the house I wanted to see was part of a museum that was closed for the season, but I enjoyed the house. After that I drove down to Raton after crossing into New Mexico and took the road to Taos. Raton was a little town with older homes. It was not too fascinating, so I got back on the road to Taos. The scenery unfolded before me on the highway, with amazing desert mountains that eroded so gradually into the desert floor. I kept driving until I got to this tiny artist town of Cimarron. I had an ice cream shake and chatted with the lady who ran the place. She was a few years older than me and told me how she worked hard on her business and made pretty good money in that tiny town. She sold art, hot dogs and ice cream. An odd combination. But, it is fun to meet other entrepreneurs who work hard and do well, especially if they are friendly. After that it was on to Taos.

The Taos Burger.
I stopped at Martyrs Steak House to use the bathroom. I was really hungry and didn’t know the town well. I wanted to eat. So, I decided to try their green chili burger. Green chili is the state food of New Mexico, so it is common to find it in all types of dishes that you might not associate it with. This burger had a delicious charred and rich flavor. It could have been the best burger I’ve had in my life. After that, I went out on a stroll to see what the other restaurants were like. None of them appealed to me, so I’m glad I ate where I ate.

To Santa Fe
After my little driving adventure, I wanted to see Santa Fe more closely. I had been there before and “done” the major tourist attractions. But, I wanted to do more walking, and try more restaurants. I had to take the car to Beaver Toyota and got to know the people there well. But, I had to go every single day to order parts and get my work done. They drove me downtown where I did my sight seeing. I enjoyed Tapas at several places, and took a leisurely walk around town many times seeing art galleries with native art, Spanish, Peruvian, and Tibetan art. I had a fun time, and met some fun people. Of course, no trip to Santa Fe is complete without a trip to Kakawa Chocolatiers for the best hot chocolate in the world. They have a revolving menu with over a dozen types of hot chocolate with Mayan and other flavor schemes which are completely unique and masterfully executed. I tried an African place too and enjoyed some African curry chicken. Walking around got more interesting when I met a drum dealer from Africa and sampled his goods. He was a professional and did a little drumming for me. I met a guy from Jerusalem who told me his story and he had some of the best Indian jewelry I had ever seen. I met a very spiritual guy at one of the tapas places and we talked about life, spirituality, the universe, and sustainable practices which is something he specialized in. I also took a drive to Chimayo and sampled some local style New Mexican food at several places including a lamb burrito which is something I’ve never experienced before. I enjoyed my mini food tour, but honestly, tapas place #2 where I met the spiritual guy is my place. I had a rabbit sausage sandwich with a harissa spiced salad. I long to return there. The bread was soft, and the people were warm — it was perfect.

After a few days, my intestines sent a message to me. The message was that eating too many pinto beans in the same day just gives me too much gas. I also noticed that my health had not gotten noticeably better in Santa Fe. My psychic later told me that a lot of very important health work had been done on me by the spirits in Santa Fe, but the results were not immediately noticeable. I noticed from earlier trips that certain places make me feel happy, sad, relaxed, or desirous to work. Albuquerque scored high in the happiness department. I stayed for three nights at Comfort Inn. I tried some various restaurants there and enjoyed a daily hike in the mountains East of the city. The hiking was very happy, and I started feeling better right away. But, by day three I was really happy. I tried Nepali food, more tapas downtown including “blood sausage” which was interesting, and visited a few other restaurants. My favorite restaurant — Street Food Asia had closed down for good which was very sad. But, since Albuquerque is happy for me, I was happy anyway — in a disappointed way.

My trip to Four Corners Part 1: NV, UT & Four Corners

I take trips to the Southwest regularly. I love the desert, and love the scenery and the feeling. Arizona and New Mexico are favorite destinations for me, even if the weather is not the best. I still love it. I often take the Southern route from Los Angeles through San Diego to Yuma, Tucson, and Southern New Mexico on the 10 Freeway. But, this time, it was the end of Summer and I wanted to do something different. So, I took a route through Utah and down into Four Corners.

Mesquite, NV
I started driving at night and made it to Mesquite, Nevada. I enjoyed a wrap at McDonalds. It wasn’t that great, but wasn’t that bad either. I stayed at a Best Western and enjoyed a comfy night. The next day, I drove through Utah. I wanted to see Capitol Reef National Park and experience parts of Utah far from the highway. So, I stopped at Panda Express in one of the towns along the highway. Whenever I go to these inner states, I am always amazed at how American everything is and how white everyone is. There are always minorities, but in Utah — if you are a minority, you are really a minority. It’s not like Los Angeles where the minorities are the majority!

Capitol Reef
So, I got off the highway and started driving on the smaller roads. I got to Capitol Reef after a while. I went hiking around Chimney Rock for half an hour. It was picturesque. But, I got this feeling of suicide. I wanted to end it all. But, why? I had been feeling sad for a month or two before this trip and I thought the trip would cheer me up. I was right, but not about this leg of the trip. I missed the opportunity to have rattlesnake cakes with aioli. I’ll have to go back, because that is too much to pass up. But, I arrived in a little town called Hanksville. That is where things took a turn in the wrong direction — literally. I had dinner at a nice little place. I got to talking with the locals. They warned me not to stay at the hotel across the street which they thought was like Bates hotel. Thank God they told me otherwise… who knows! In any case, I enjoyed my brisket dinner.

The Ghost & Suicide at Chimney Rock
But, when I went to the bathroom and opened the door, the towel machine started churning out a towel. I asked them about the ghost in their bathroom. They said that they had a ghost, but not in the bathroom. The towel machine was sensitive to the light. The ghost was in the back room that none of them dared to go into. Apparently there had been a brutal murder there over 100 years ago in the other side of the restaurant at a particular table which they pointed out to me. A lady was killed there. Her ghost inhabits one of the back rooms and has for decades. They also told me that many people had committed suicide in that town during historical times. No wonder I felt so suicidal at Chimney Rock.

No Hotels
Since there were no hotels, I made my way up 55 miles North to the highway where there was a Ramada. They were having a melon festival in town, and I got their last room. Lucky me. It was not the most well kept hotel, and not cheap either, but it got me through the night. The guys running it were young and had saved up their money working hard and invested in the hotel with their parents! It’s nice to see that I am not the only entrepreneur in town!

It rained the whole day
I drove back down to Hanksville, fueled up and was off to my next top. I wanted to drive through the canyons. It was pouring rain the entire day, but due to my incredible luck, the rain stopped every time I got to a scenic viewpoint. I drove to the lookout for part of Glen Canyon and it was a very unusual view. Maybe not my favorite, but the texture of the rocky landscape was like no other. Then, it was off to Four Corners. I had a lot of driving to do that day and it wasn’t going to get done by itself. So, I drove further and noticed my check engine light was on. That was not a good sign. But, was it serious or not? I knew I shouldn’t have gotten gas in Hanksville.

Never buy gas in Hanksville
So, I went to a gas station in Blanding Utah. That is a little town in the middle of nowhere. I always feel that in that part of Utah, the spirits blow with the wind. The metaphysical atmosphere is thin there, and strange things happen. I started chatting with the blue-eyed lady at the gas station. She was very friendly and told me all about all the interesting places she had lived in her life. I met some local Navajo folks who were also very friendly. But, the guy had a wild look in his eye. Not a scary one, there was just something crazy about him. I fueled up while I checked the engine. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. The oil and fluids were okay. Maybe it was that gas I purchased in Hanksville. Maybe it was not filtered. Three days later I learned that it was not the gas I had bought. It was my catalytic converter. It was ten years old and needed to be changed at great expense.

Strange things started happening.
While I was fueling up, the Navajo guy yelled, “Your gas is overflowing!” Normally gas stops when your tank is full, but not in Blanding. Small towns in the middle of nowhere don’t have big city standards. So, I ran and pulled out the nozzle. I had lost more than half a gallon. But, how did this happen? In this part of the country, spirits roam wild and like to play tricks on the living for fun.

Four Corners & the dogs with the crazy eyes
So, I enjoyed meeting these nice people at the gas station. You never know where you will meet the most interesting people of your life. Normally I meet them at ashrams or ice cream places, but gas stations could be a good spot too. I was off to Four Corners. On the way, I made a wrong turn on the wrong highway. It had a very similar number to the one I wanted. 262 vs. 162. So, I turned around. Then, a few minutes later I got to 162. I drove a little bit, and there were two doggies sitting in the middle of the road. I was concerned for them as I didn’t want them to get killed. They had no sense. But, they had the same exact crazy look in their eyes as that Navajo guy had. I wonder if there is some karmic relationship between that man and those dogs. People can sometimes be very related to animals as we evolve out of animals spiritually! So, I went around the dogs and made my way to Four Corners. I parked in the dirt parking lot. The first thing I did was to get a Native American taco. They are made with fry bread, seasoned beans, diced tomato, lettuce, and hot sauce. It was wonderful, and it had been a decade since the last one I had. Then, I stood at Four Corners and jumped from state to state like a child. I chatted with the Navajo art dealers. It was fun to see their perspective. One lady said she had traveled to Pennsylvania, but everything was so close, that she couldn’t get used to it. Over there you can see for miles with the wind blowing in your hair.

To be continued in a few days…

Stone soup at Hotel Bel Air – a dessert I’ll remember forever

I am a frequent visitor of Hotel Bel Air. I am very impressed by their staff, and their excellent food. Once in a while I like to write about something unusual that they created, and now is one of those times. I’ve ordered most of the desserts on the menu at one time or another. I remember one of their desserts had a bunch of items that didn’t seem to belong together such as cantaloupe, ice cream, tres leches cake, berries, and a more antiquated elegant type of ice cream. All of the components were excellent, but somehow they didn’t quite belong together. But, the ingredients in Stone Soup went seamlessly together!

Stone Soup
I am a bit sad to say that although I wrote down the ingredients in Stone Soup, I can’t find where I wrote them down — and they are not available online. I remember that there was nectarine, granola, ice cream, and a pretzel shaped object that looked like it was made out of hardened marshmallow. I remember a touch of mint which was wonderful as well. There were more ingredients, but I can’t find where I wrote them down! The impressive part was the peach sauce which was poured on after the fact. As I wrote above, often times, fancy restaurants will put lots of different ingredients together that don’t necessarily gel together. But, this Stone Soup really was unusual, and the ingredients went together flawlessly. I’m surprised that I have never heard of this soup before.

Oh, and by the way. There were no stones in the soup. I’m not sure how this soup got its name!

What to do first & what to leave for last in London!

To my absolute surprise, the most popular things to do in London were reality games. One game had you try to escape from a locked room. How scary! But, I’m more of a touristy type. I have never been to London, but have spent a lot of time reading about it on the web. Here are my best ideas of places to go in order!

Theater attractions are quite popular in London. I will be mentioning very few of them. But, for those of you who like theater, you can browse the internet and find many very top-notch venues.

(1) Buckingham Palace
This is the administrative headquarters of the Monarch. It boasts 775 rooms including 19 state rooms 52 bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms. The palace is also used for Royal ceremonies. If you want to see the changing of the guards, please look up their schedule online. They don’t change guards every day, so plan ahead!
It is possible to book a tour of the palace, but tours are expensive. It is 75 pounds to take an exclusive evening tour of the state rooms for example.
I chose this location to be first on my list since it offers the quintessental London experience!

(2) The Tower of London
This castle is the Queen’s abode. It comprises 12 acres and is located on the North bank of the Thames. The building over time has served as an armoury, treasury, and a menagerie, a mint, public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. I chose this location to be second since it played such an important role in history.

(3) Big Ben
Big Ben is a huge and world famous clock tower in London. Tours of the interior are not open to foreign travelers.

(4) Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is one of the most stately and picturesque draw-bridges in the world and well worth a quick visit.

(5) The British Museum
This museum hosts many different types of exhibitions including ancient Egypt and Sudan, Greece and Rome, prehistory, The Middle East, Asia, Africa, Coins, prints, drawings and more!

(6) Regent’s Park
A beautifully maintained garden park. You’ll have to see the pictures to see why I’m so enthusiastic about this place! England is a country that pays a lot of attention to gardening. There are many other gardens in the city. My advice is see the pictures first before you plan your garden tour!

(7) Victoria and Albert Museum
This is one of the world’s largest museums and has a collection of more than 4.5 million objects. They specialize in ceramics, glass, textiles, costumes, silver, ironwork, jewellery, furniture, medieval objects, sculpture, prints and printmaking, drawings and photographs. They also have some of the best Islamic and East Asian exhibitions in all of Europe! If you have several hours, or perhaps several days, you can enjoy this museum to the fullest!

(8) London Dungeon (Theater)
This is a venue that hosts ten shows about London’s 1000 murky past including Sweeney Todd which you might already be familiar with. Shows are affordable and this seems like an unusual and interesting place to visit.

(9) Brick Lane Music Hall
Enjoy traditional foods and great music for those of all ages. Tripadvisor names this the #2 most popular attraction in the city!

(10) Churchill War Rooms
An underground headquarters of the British High Command during WW2.

(11) The Royal Opera House
A great destination for Ballet and Opera, and a classic building built in 1732 as well!

(12) Palace of Westminster AKA The Houses of Parliament
This is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords which are the two houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom. Tours are held in this building, but they are not held every day, so plan far ahead!

(13) The National Gallery
Enjoy 2300 paintings from the mid 13th century until 1900.

(14) Sea Life London Aquarium
See sharks, rays, penguins, piranhas, jellyfish, clownfish, crocodiles, turtles, and even lobster (without the lobster sauce.) This seems to be a much more interesting aquarium than any others I’ve even dreamed of!

Places I would skip or put last on my list

(St. Paul’s Cathedral
This is the seat of the Bishop of London and is the mother church for the Diocese of London. It is located at the top of Ludgate Hill which is the highest point in the city. This cathedral has been used for many famous weddings and ceremonies for hundreds of years! Although this is one of the main attractions in the city, and the architecture is fantastic, it seems more of a place to see if you finished your itinerary of more interesting destinations and have a little left-over time!

The London Eye
This is a huge Ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames. Although it gives you a bird’s eye, well perhaps more of an eagle’s eye view of the city, it seems to be a bit of a time waster. Keep in mind that hotel prices range from $250 to $600 for average accommodations. Each hour you spend standing in line or on a slow attraction is costing you more than you think. If it were me, I would prefer to go to the top of a tall building with a panoramic view, where I can control where I’m looking, rather than have my viewpoint changed by the controllor of the Ferris wheel.

The River Thames
If you want to arrange for a cruise up and down the river, that might be an efficient use of time. You would be able to see many great buildings. But, a special trip to the Thames doesn’t seem necessary. Many of London’s main attractions, so you will see it as a matter of course even if you are not trying to see it.

St. James Park
St. James Park might be more centrally located than other parks, and has more reviews, and many positive reviews too. But, for garden lovers, there are many other parks in the city with more spectacular gardens. Shop around before you decide which gardens you want to see first!

A resource management problem at Yosemite

A resource management problem at Yosemite

I contacted Yosemite National Park and informed them about their shortage of parking places and other resources. They tweeted me back with a link to a 200+ long page plan called the Merced River project. I read through parts of it. It might take hours to read in its entirety. Basically, they are trying to rebuild some of the parking lots and change how they manage various stretches of the Merced River. It looks like no final decisions have been made so far, but the options are on the table. I wanted to include a few of my own suggestions for very basic park management that would enhance the user experience!


Yosemite Village Area
There are modern parking lots near the Village Store that are well designed. The problem is that there are more cars than parking spaces, even as early as April in many cases. The dirt parking lots on the other side of the main road are very disorganized, and cars tend to move at the speed of a snail. Finding your way through the walking paths in this maze back to the village buildings is a convuluted task at best. You have to cross the street twice which is annoying and creates systematic traffic jams.

Yosemite Village Dirt Parking Lot Congestion
The dirt parking lot near the village needs to be better organized. Pedestrians are forbidden from walking in the driving areas, but they do it anyway.

(1) Better signs and education about where to walk in the dirt parking lot would help.
(2) Individual parking spots need to be clearly identified to eliminate inefficient spaces between cars that occur in dirt parking areas. (a) Paving the lot over would make it a lot easier to use. (b) However, the use of large logs used diagonally at the heads of individual parking spaces would be an attractive and effective way to ensure an organized use of the facility.

Congestion on The main road:
The main road near the village gets backed up as early as April. The reason for this is that there is only one lane traveling West, and an endless disorganized flow of pedestrians who cross the road, and then have to cross the perpendicular road to the Village Store to get to the Village. Nobody can move. In July, this area is a nightmare.

Having two lanes going Westbound near the main stop sign would eliminate much of the backup. Having a wooden treetops bridge for pedestrians to cross the road from the dirt parking lot to the Village area would be a cost effective solution. A pedestrian bridge would also eliminate the need to have a staff member guide traffic during busy times of the year.


Curry Village

Curry Village Area parking problem
Curry village has a section of the parking lot which is very well organized near the stores. But, the side road and the back of the parking lot is very difficult to use and doesn’t have clearly marked spots. Additionally, there are not enough spots to go around.

(1) Clearly mark parking spots and number them. Assigned parking for guests would make life a lot easier, particularly in the evening when it is dark and confusing.
(2) Create more parking spots. Yosemite has a plan to integrate rows of trees into the Curry Village parking lot. That is an attractive way to create more parking.
(3) The road from Curry Village through the tents to the Mist Trail Wilderness parking area could have parking on both sides of the road.

Curry Village bathroom problem
Curry Village has several bathrooms that are generally large. When it is cold at night or early morning when you are groggy, you have to walk to these bathrooms. The walk can be long, and bathrooms are often closed for cleaning which means you might have to walk a half a mile to the next closest shower. How inconsiderate!

(1) Create mini-bathrooms that are designed to be used when the other ones are being cleaned, and could be designed to be closer to the residents.
(2) Only close part of the bathroom during cleaning, but allow people to use the parts that are not being cleaned at that particular moment.

Curry Village Noise Pollution
Rather than waiting for guests to complain about late night noise and screaming children, it would be better if the staff takes a proactive approach to noise control and makes rounds of the property identifying noise issues.

Weird hours for services
Curry Village has many restaurants and cafes. The problem is that each on has their own unique and bizarre hours. You might go for days without having a hot dog simply because they close at 5pm, and you always get there at 5:15pm. Services should be for the convenience of the visitors, and not shut down the minute usage becomes sluggish. A more generous schedule for services would make the user experience more favorable.


The Mist Trail
When I visit Yosemite, I know where the services are, where reliable parking is, and when to go where. But, the problem is that the hours and availability of services change so much day to day, and month to month, that what you rely on can be swiped from you at any moment. Normally, this is only a headache, but in the case of vital supplies, it can be serious. The Mist Trail (appropriately named, because you will feel that you MISSED it if you don’t visit for a long period of time) is a wonderful and invigorating place to hike up a steep trail next to a raging waterfall. Even when the waterfall is on low during autumn, it is still a mesmerizing experience.

There is a bathroom and a water source an hour up the trail next to the bridge. The problem is that they close these down. So, if you are expecting to be able to refill your water bottle and go to the bathroom, you might be left high and dry. Your water bottle can be refilled by hiking down to the river. But, your bathroom problem might not be so easy to remedy. Keeping services open year-round adds an element of predictability, reduces user frustration, and is considerate of the visitors.

My feeling is that Yosemite functions for its own convenience with little consideration for their guests in terms of providing easy to use parking, restaurants that don’t have long lines, bathrooms that are not closed, etc. On a brighter note, the staff at Yosemite are always nice and fun to be around. “Inconsiderate” resource management is the source of most of the problems at Yosemite. Perhaps they will think from the perspective of the guest how to provide a more pleasant experience

Roots of the Palestine Israel Conflict are not purely religious

The roots of the Palestine / Israel conflict are not religious

Many not so intelligent people in America and other countries have simplified the Palestine Israel conflict to a level comprehensible to a three year old. They feel that all Arabs & Muslims hate all Jews, and vice versa. I know thousands of Arabs and Jews and it is simply not so simple. The truth of the matter is that it was the Romans who destroyed Israel and removed many (not all) Jews from Israel roughly 1950 years ago. It was Muslims (Ottomans, not Arab Muslims) who were the first to invite Jews back to Jerusalem in the 1500’s. I am not a historian and am very fuzzy on exact dates by the way!

Additionally, Muslims rescued Jews from persecution in Spain during the Inquisition. Jews were given acceptance in all Muslim countries in the Mediterranean as a matter of fact. Most of the Islamic prophets are Jews as well, not to mention certain Jewish habits like wearing an enlarged Yarmulkah, and putting a cloth over their heads during prayer. Even their dietary restrictions have many parallels. There were no major conflicts between Arabs and Jews until the advent of Zionism in the 1930’s. The ideology of Zionism was that the land of Canaan (I’m being politically neutral using this word here which is almost synonymous to the word Palestine or Israel geographically, although not culturally.) should be reclaimed by Jews, and that everyone else would have to pack up and go. Not a very friendly ideology. A more friendly ideology might be that Jews should repopulate their traditional homeland, but without stepping on the toes of the other people who live there — unless absolutely necessary.

Since Muslims and Jews have lived as brothers for over one thousand years, and still do in France, Neve Shalom, Kerela, and Westwood, CA (well at least most parts of Westwood,) I think I have proven that there is no innate conflict between Muslims and Jews.The problem is essentially a Real Estate dispute that got nasty and has created generations of resentment due to systematic violence and other injustices that have accumulated over four generations. In the very beginning of post British Jewish life in Israel, there were raids on Jewish villages, and Jews retaliated with violence against Arabs, and kicking many of them off their land.

The history goes on and on with the major events being the massacre of Deir Yassin, and 700,000 Palestinians running for their lives who were then not allowed to return to their villages in 1948. There were many years of terrorism by extremists against Jews, and many years of Jews slowly and systematically moving in on Arab lands, including the establishment of an endless list of settlements on disputed land. Once again, I am not a historian, and you could write a book on the back and forth of violence and cruelty between Palestinians and Jews. But, that is not the point of what I am writing.

My point is that there are OTHER causes of the conflict which have nothing to do with religion that I feel are spiritual in nature. Let me elaborate. Let’s start by criticizing the Jews.

Criticizing Jews (in a nice way)

In Jewish culture, there is a tradition of excluding people who are not Jewish. Jews always complain about antisemitism which is sometimes used in false accusations, and sometimes a bloodthirsty reality. But, Jews, historically exclude those who are not of their faith which is anti-nonsemitism or anti-semitism in reverse. Chassidim (the ultra orthodox) will typically and by virtue of their customs not be willing to talk to any Goi (non Jew,) or even any Jew who is not Orthodox or part of their sect. Additionally, there are divisions between Chassidim of Hungarian, Ukrainian, Polish and Russian descent. It is divide and conquer with twelve children per family for these guys! Secular Jews with drive on Shabbat, go to gentile schools, not practice Judaism much if at all, and then exclude non Jews. Or worse, they will date a non Jew and then after they get close, tell that nice Shiksa that they can’t marry them because their parents would never approve. What a horrible way to double cross someone. If you have a culture that has been excluding and discriminating against people for thousands of years, that can make it easy to have a very unfriendly long lasting conflict!

My next criticism of Jews is modern in origin. When I meet Jews, and in particular Israelis, they are generally polite and friendly. You can talk with them about many interesting topics, and their points of view are regularly very intelligent. That is until I bring up my future trip to Dubai. “Dubai? But, those are Arabs!” The inherent bigotry in so many of them comes out of hiding the minute you talk about anything having to do with the Arab world. In real life, places like Dubai and Morrocco are extremely tolerant and have churches, synogogues, and peace between the religions. 99% of what Jews have to say about Arabs is negative. I am not saying that their statements are not true, but the statements tend to be biased on the side of negative.

Additionally, in Israel there has traditionally been a huge intolerance of “Eastern” culture which is a problem since roughly half of their population (before the Russians came) was Eastern in origin. There were Sephardim from Arabic and Turkish speaking countries, Arab Jews, Iranian, Iraqi, and Yemenite Jews. (Clarification, many misapply the label Sepharic to all Eastern Jews, but it rightfully only belongs to those with Spanish Jewish lineage which doesn’t apply to Iran, Yemen, from the best of my knowledge)

Criticizing Palestinians (in a bizarre way)

On the flip side, the Palestinians have an evern more interesting and disturbing brand of intolerance which has been breeding for milleniums. The Middle East traditionally has been a very inhospitable place. Yes, the bedouin and other nice people are known for their hospitality. But, even since the time of Abraham and before, if you try to move to a new place, you will need to wait for five or ten generations before people get used to you and welcome you. Jews accuse Palestinians of being “Just Arab.” Palestinians claim to be “A people,” and a unique people. The truth is that people who have lineage in British Palestine can call themselves Palestinians and in a sense they are a people due to some common shared geographic and political circumstances. Under the Ottomans there was no Palestine and was only Syria which included what is now called Palestine by Palestinians.

However, Palestinians in my opinion are not a people, and are not Arabs either. Palestinians are a patchwork of various tribes of completely different origins who have been in-breeding for hundreds and thousands of years. The largest ancestry of Palestinians is from the ancient Jews (they will deny this, but let’s talk after the DNA test results are disclosed please.) The next most common ancestry is from Jordanian groups like the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites. I am not sure if those entities are collections of tribes, names of historic empires, or what, because I am not a historian. The Greek islanders created a huge presense in Western Palestine near Gaza. There were tribes with ancestors from the Persians, Canaanites, Crusaders, Arabians, and even Romans. Wow! One point here is that Palestinians traditionally would not marry even with those from next door villages. They had very tight knit clans. To me, I consider this behavior to be discrimination, but that is because I grew up in American, and in America we thrive on accusing others of discrimination — part of our culture.

The next issue with Palestinians is the “us only” phenomenon. It is common for ethnic groups to be ethno-centric, but Palestinian ethno-centrism goes to the level of a sickness. It is common (how common, I don’t know, but I have heard many accounts of this) for Palestinians and Lebanese to exclude 2nd and 3rd generation Arab-Americans. It is common for them to tell their own children and grandchildren, “You don’t belong with us.” One fair-skinned Lebanese American went to Lebanon, and they called him “Ajnabi” the whole time which means foreigner. This is amazingly sick and abusive behavior. It is shameful, and yet goes on. One Arab-American girl took an interest in her heritage and tried to speak Arabic to someone from Palestine who had been living in American for thirty years. The Palestinians had only insulting things to say about why is this stupid girl trying to speak Arabic — she is American and should just stick to English. As abusive as Israel is, at least when American Jews learn Hebrew, they are welcomed, and no door is slammed in their face! If you are an Arab-American of mixed ancestry, and the father is not Arabic, then you are ensured to face a life of brutal exclusion and heartless discrimination for no reason other than pure intolerance.

My point is…

With two cultures so deeply entrenched in a tradition of discrimination and cruelty, it doesn’t seem like they can possibly get along as peoples. They can sign as many peace treaties as they like, and have as many peace process dialogues as they like. But, without coming to terms with the deep-set inhumane and cruel tendencies that both groups have with has its roots in disrespect — there can be no peace.

The Arabs and Jews don’t need a peace treaty — they just need to be peaceful.

On a brighter note, there are communities where Arabs and Jews live together, respect each other, and have peace. Neve Shalom / Wahat al Salaam is one such example. Westwood, California is another. France has had a few synagogue bombings, but for the most part the large Muslim minority and the Jewish community live together without killing each other. The City of Cochin in Kerela (Cochin means pig which is not Kosher) has a large population of Indian Jews (or used to until most went to Israel,) and a huge Muslim population. I visited there, and they basically live in the same several block area in peace and happiness simply because they are all nice people.

The road to peace

The road to peace is not paved with contracts. After all, California and Nevada do not have a peace treaty. If you have peace, you don’t need a peace treaty in the first place. The Arabs and Jews keep dishonoring peace treaties, and then keep making new ones. Newsflash — a peace treaty is a piece of paper, nothing more. Without the good intentions to back it up, it is worthless. If people can learn to respect others as human beings and care about others, there would be peace. It would be hard for a caring human being to pull the trigger and murder someone even if that other person had wronged him multiple times. Think about it. When you respect people as humans, it doesn’t matter what religion they are — they are human. And a respectful person would respect animals and trees too which might prevent deforestation and animal cruelty as well. That might not matter to you, but Mrs. Meao says it matters to her (she told me in cat language.)

The next aspect of the road to peace is that peace is about sharing. When there is a shortage of land, water or other resources, it is hard to have peace when you don’t share them in a way that seems fair to all people. Forget what the Torah says, and focus on what seems fair to all people. The All for me and none for you mentality in the Middle East is a primary reason why there isn’t peace. If people there would create a culture and momentum of at least trying to be fair — although fairness is interpreted differently among different people — then, a mutual sense of respect would grow. If someone treats me fairly from what their point of view of fairness is, at least they are trying, and they would gain at least some respect from me even if I felt somewhat shortchanged!

From a spiritual slant

Four of out of five gurus surveyed say that peace comes from within. If you have inner turbulence in your soul, you will not have inner peace. And those who have turmoil within are the first to grab a gun and go shooting. Doing your spiritual work and working on inner peace is a long road. It can take decades if done correctly. Sure, that is a long time, but much preferable from never gaining inner peace. The peace you create within can be taken into your next incarnation — your other possessions can’t! Do the math!

Do not disburb means do not disturb

Do not disturb means do not disturb!

Have you ever gone to a hotel, put the do not disturb sign up, and got disturbed anyway? It seems that maids either can’t read, won’t read, or don’t read! Do not disturb means do not disturb! It is not rocket science to understand this sign!

I am a regular guest at various Comfort Inn & Suites and Best Western branches. It seems that each hotel is individually managed, and these managers regularly compromise the integrity of the branding of the mother company. Every time you are rude or stupid towards a customer, the mother company loses credibility. Comfort Inn used to be my favorite brand, but now I realize that their management system is very laisez-faire. The branches can do what they like for the most and there is no consistency in their behavior. Basically, they will disturb you if they feel like it!

There are different types of hotel guests. There are early birds who complain that there is no breakfast available at 5am. Then, there are the normal types who check out between 7am and 9:30am. Then, there are weirdos like me who like to meditate after breakfast, and perhaps check out at 11:30am or noon.

If a maid sees a do not disturb sign and think you are checked out, or should be checked out, do they bother to check? No, they disregard the sign. What is the point of having such a sign if you don’t abide by it?

Additionally, some hotels have confusing double sided signs. If you put it on with the do not disturb sign pointing outwards, but the time it goes around the door handle it reads “please make up my room immediately.”

It seems that maids function more as invaders than service providers. They don’t care about your comfort or peace of mind. They want to get into the room that you paid for and tear it apart as fast as possible whether you like it or not. God forbid you go to breakfast without putting the sign up — your room will be torn to shreds by the time you get back. There doesn’t seem to be any respect at economy hotels.

If economy hotels were smarted (they would be luxury hotels, but putting that point aside) they would ask the customer when they plan on checking out the next day. They would ask if and when they would like maid service. Instead of protecting yourself from unwanted rapping on your door from invaders, they could function as people who work on your behalf, instead of in spite of you!

The worst is when the maid makes that ticking sign with a plastic card on your door. You ask her to come back in an hour. Then, the phone rings with a pestulent front desk lady harrassing you.

Then, you ask her for more time. Then, in 20 more minutes while you are naked in the shower, the maid returns and attempts to enter your room without your consent. Some hotel chains have no respect for their guests!

If you feel the need to disturb someone, hand the situation over to a competent manager and let them deal with it. Offering a little hospitality and leeway go a long way in hotel branding!

Thanks for reading my article and once again — do not disturb!

New Orleans — my 2008 trip

My 2008 trip to New Orleans was very interesting. I came back to Los Angeles feeling very refreshed physically, and with many wonderful memories of my trip. Please forgive me if the details of my trip are fuzzy as it is five years after the fact!

I flew to New Orleans to meet up with my friend Ravi. I had known him for years and we both enjoy travel and a glass of good wine! We arranged it so we would land at the New Orleans airport at about the same time. We arrived without incident and took a cab to our hotel downtown. We were both excited about this trip and ready for our first night’s activities.

A haunted tour
We took a haunted tour of New Orleans’ French Quarter — “Le Vieux Carre.” I had read a lot about the haunted buildings in New Orleans and was “dying” to see them first hand. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go into any of the buildings, but the stories were compelling.

Lesson #1 — don’t try to punch a ghost
There was one story about a man who went up the stairs, was confronted by another man. The first man swung a punch at the other man, but the punch went right through him and into the wall where he broke his hand. In another building, a man had cut his fiancee into pieces and put her in a box. I forget what he did about the stench. In another house, they did experiments on their slaves and cut off and reattached body parts. It was too gruesome. I like haunted attractions, but don’t like the gory stuff!

Dinner at a pub
We ate at Flanagan’s Irish Pub before our ghost tour since it was close. The food was excellent. Later we learned that the food is more authentic at local pubs and restaurants that “the locals” frequent. Tourists in New Orleans are mostly from the American South where they like bland cuisine!

The Cathedral
We visited the St. Louis Cathedral and Pirate’s Alley which is a block or so away from it. It is supposed to be haunted at night, but I didn’t see any ghosts!

The Ballroom!
There is a very dull building with a very interesting heritage. The Quadroon Ballroom is a block or two from the Cathedral. It was a place where French men could have a Placage (an arrangement to have a permanent mistress) with racially mixed women. As these marriages continued throughout the generations, children of women with African matrilineage became whiter and whiter and whiter, but still, legally were never recognized as white people. The children of women who had these placage arrangements went on to be mistresses of the next generation of wealthy French businessmen. Africans had chidren who were mulattos, who then in turn had children who were quadroons (one quarter black and three quarters white), and then octaroons, so on and so on. What a strange history! This practice was common in parts of France and the French Caribbean! In any case, the Quadroon Ballroom was a place where men could get to know these women and dance with them before figuring out if they wanted to have an arrangement with them! Not much happens in 2013 at the ballroom. I went inside and it was empty and quiet. Not even any ghosts!

Cafe du Monde
We had our first authentic New Orleans breakfast at Cafe du Monde. They have a very small menu that consists of coffee, beignets, juice, and a few other items. A beignet is one of the most famous New Orleans culinary item. It is sort of a square donut made using evaporated milk as one of the ingredients (very sweet) and powdered sugar on top. Not a good choice of food for someone on a diet! We had heard stories about how New Orleans was supposed to be enjoyed by having mocha with beignets while listening to jazz. Unfortunately, jazz is an outdated part of the local history and mocha was not available. But, we loved the beignets so much, that my buddy insisted on taking a cab to this place every day that we were in town!

The swamp tour
Unfortunately, I didn’t read the reviews. Since Katrina, the swamps have been decimated. The tour we took was along very straight channels carved into the infinite swamps by oil companies. We saw a few gators, and it was fun, but not what I had wanted. I wanted to see a dingy swamp with overhanging branches, and little cabins with people playing the banjo. After reading more, that type of scenery has been obliterated — banjos and all, but a Mississippi swamp tour approximates what I want to see a bit more than where we went in Cajun country. Despite my lament over choosing the wrong tour (because I didn’t read the reviews), I did learn that the local gators all are fluent in French, and will love you if you offer them some bread. You live and you learn!

We enjoyed some fine dining at a variety of local restaurants and ordered all types of dishes. I remember that the gumbo was very mild and herbal where we ate. Did they tone it down for the white tourists, or is gumbo really a mild dish? I was told that after the hurricane, the really good chefs packed up and went to Baton Rouge. That will be the scene of my next trip. I enjoyed pecan crusted oysters and local bourbon flavored bread pudding — the highlight of my trip!

A parade!
We saw a Mardi-Gras type parade. We learned that the locals can’t live without having a parade at least once a week. This was a small one. I’m not the parade type, but it is interesting to see an entire city so devoted to partying other than Vegas!

The local museum
We went to a museum of local history near Jackson Square. I don’t remember the name but it might have been The Cabildo. It was interesting to see the entire history of this fascinating city. It went from Native American rule to Spanish, French, and then American rule. The culture, cuisine and language has gone through a lot of evolution!

The Plantation
Although we Yankees tend to be very anti-slavery, seeing an actual plantation was fascinating and the tour was excellent. We saw the fields, and had a detailed view of the house. They brought slaves directly from Africa who were master carpenters. The building technology they used was straight from Ghana on the house we visited. Other plantations chose to get master rice planters straight from West Africa. In school we learn that random Africans were brought over, but the skill level of some of these slaves was top notch! I also learned that in local culture, the closer you know someone, the closer to your bedroom you bring them in a business transaction. The house we visited was a wine merchant’s home and many business deals were made in the bedroom! Later on, the lady of the house wanted to save money buying slaves, so she bought a handful of females and bred them over and over and over until she had an army of slaves that she didn’t have to pay a penny for. The irony is that the population of that town consists mainly of the descendants of those slaves who chose to stay. The sad part of the visit was due to my ability to senses spirits. There was a very sad West African spirit who just lingered there year after year, for presumably more than 150 years. Slavery was devastating for the slaves as we all know, but I sensed his misery face to face (although I couldn’t actually see it, I sensed it clearly).

The WW2 Museum
New Orleans is filled with museums. If I ever go back, I could visit two dozen more, but one of the best museums I have seen anywhere was the WW2 museum. We went there because my friend read the reviews — something I neglected to do. It took me hours, but I saw the entire unraveling of WW2 from beginning to end. There were so many audio exhibits, that you feel like you are back in time and actually in that war — perhaps in Normandie, Germany, or some other location! “Yavol…”

That was the end of our trip. We had a great time, and maybe we will go back to New Orleans, or maybe to another fascinating location!

Review of Popeye’s in Blythe, CA

I went into Popeye’s and ordered Chicken and Jambalaya. The chicken was crisp and firey; there was a crunch in every peppery bite–moist on the inside, crispy on the outside. Maybe they should call it Sabra fried chicken…

The Jambalaya was a mildly spiced rice and chicken mixture and my biscuit had the pungent flavor of buttermilk in every bite. There were murals of New Orleans in the late 1800’s (not bad for a fast-food restaurant), and the mid-2000’s soda machine (a great centerpiece) created a “this could be anywhere” ambiance that seamlessly brought these two non-consecutive centuries together.

The shrimp popcorn is crunchily exquisite…and I don’t want to say anything more about it. It’s just like the chicken…except that it’s shrimp.

I enjoy this restaurant thoroughly and visit every time I drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles

Let’s finish this review with a quick song entitled, “If I had a Po’ Boy” based on a song in Fiddler on the Roof.

If I had a Po Boy…
yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda –YO!
All day long I’d be chillin’ with ma girl
If I was a poorer boy.
I wouldn’t have to study hard…
yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda ya– whateva’
If I was a biddy biddy po’
yadda yadda yadda yadda boy!

I’d build a shanty with cardboard rooms by the dozen
right in the middle of the town.
A fine tin roof with laminate dirt floors below.
There would be one cardboard staircase going to the roof
and one even longer coming down
and one more going nowhere–what the hell?!