Hash Browns and Hooligans

Diner - 1982 - starring Kevin Bacon

By Judy Berman

A four-on-one catfight in a garishly-lit eatery with tinny Muzak in the background is certainly a far cry from vicious attacks by roving thugs that you see on the nightly news.

Yet the five-woman brawl in the suburban eatery was a disturbing incident. It left me wondering how far it would have gone if restaurant workers, customers and Onondaga County sheriff’s deputies had not been there to stop it.

The reason for the outbreak is even more unsettling. The four women apparently just didn’t like the fifth woman’s looks.

What the restaurant lacks in atmosphere, it sometimes makes up for in free entertainment. This night, it was: “hash browns, but hold the hooligans.”

On a bleary-eyed weekday morning, some people are drawn here for the good, hot coffee. Fewer still for the food.

Most go there because it’s one of the few places that’s still open after the pubs close.

This setting is a familiar one to fans of the movie, “The Diner” (1982). In the movie college-age characters hang out at their beloved diner as they struggle with their passage into adulthood. The struggle here in this diner is real as well.

A typical overnight eatery

A typical overnight eatery

I take in the confrontation and suspect all five might have had a run-in earlier at some bar. Or maybe too much booze led to the overflow of insults that led to the assault.

One of the four women, a brunette, made no effort to conceal her contempt for the blonde who was waiting on a bench with two guys until they could be seated at a table.

The brunette, dressed in black, looked like she was itching for a fight. She verbally slammed the blonde for the way she looked and dressed, and for being with the two men. Any patron near them could overhear the steady stream of insults. The blonde said nothing.

But when the blonde and the two guys got up to go to a table, the blonde accused the women of being jealous.

Suddenly, the restaurant floor became a tangle of bodies. At first, it was only the blonde and the outspoken brunette. Within seconds, the brunette’s friends joined the fray, and all four of them were outside the blonde’s weight class.

When the going got tough, the blonde’s companions got going. They disappeared into the woodwork until the fighting was over.

Bystanders tried to break up the fight and pull the women on the floor apart. The brunette continued to kick the blonde while she was on the floor. Then, someone gave the brunette the bum’s rush outside.

Moments later, the brunette returned and renewed her attack on the blonde and on a man who had tried to pull them apart. Before police arrived, the brunette and her friends continued their scratching and gouging.

One of the girls delivered sly kicks to the blonde on the floor who was getting the worst of the mismatch.

A man who tried to end the fight earned a few bruises for his efforts from the brunette who jumped on his back and began pummeling him. The arrival of the men with badges didn’t initially dampen her ire, either.

The stories woven on how and why the fight broke out depended on the author of the moment. The deputies were doing their best to sort it out outside so the restaurant could get back to business – some of which it had already lost.

Two handfuls of blonde hair by the restaurant’s doorway were the only reminders of the brawl.

Coffee in a cafe - 2004

The blonde’s companions remained in the background during the questioning, just as they had during the fighting. The man who tried to stop the fight and tend to her injuries comforted her until the two guys decided to join the blonde.

Wild things run free and unchecked. But one Friday morning, years ago at 3.a.m., they were only a few feet away.


Have you witnessed an unsettling experience while dining out … or shopping?


Music Video: “Whole Lotta Shakin Going on” Jerry Lee Lewis …. (1964 live performance) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dC0DseCyYE

Photo: The Diner (1982) – Kevin Bacon starred in Diner alongside Mickey Rourke, Steve Guttenberg, Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin and Paul Reiser. http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01914/1982-diner_1914318i.jpg

Photo: Diner (not the one I ate at) – taken 2008 in Maine by Svetlana Miljkovic http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Denny%27sdiner.jpg

Photo: Coffee in a  Viennese café in Vienna, Austria – taken in 2004 by Andreas Praefcke http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/Cafe_Braeunerhof_Wien_2004.jpg/640px-Cafe_Braeunerhof_Wien_2004.jpg


Gone Missing

London Underground

By Judy Berman

Every morning, “Melissa” drove the same route to work. All day, she just typed stats. She was in a rut, and it was really getting to her.

What if she ditched her boring routine and took a detour?

That’s what a New York City bus driver did in 1947 and a famous author did about 20 years earlier.

“Melissa” parked her car near the airport, and watched as planes landed and others took off for parts unknown.

What would it be like to be on one of those flights?

She glanced over at a book on the passenger’s seat, and smiled as she looked at the author’s photo.

The author, a famous mystery writer, went missing for 11 days after a fight with her philandering husband. Archibald Christie wanted a divorce and left to spend the weekend with his mistress, Nancy Neele.

Agatha Christie - 1925

That same night, Dec. 3, 1926, Agatha Christie vanished. Her car was found abandoned, and it’s believed she boarded a train to London.

For 11 days, there was an intense search for her.

Her disappearance made front-page news, across the pond, in The New York Times.

What happens when a well-known author goes missing? Police seek out the usual suspects. The spouse is usually the first to fall under suspicion.

For Christie, the author of many who-done-its, it had the makings of a plot from one of her novels.

For such a recognizable woman, Christie managed to hide in plain sight at the Swan Hydrophathic Hotel (now “Old Swan Hotel”) in Harrogate. She had registered under a pseudonym.

Still, a man staying at the hotel recognized her, and reported it to police.

Some thought she wanted to frame her husband for murder. Others thought that her disappearance was just a publicity stunt.

Agatha Christie

In an article in The New Yorker, “Queen of Crime,” “It was hypothesized that (Christie) had experienced fugue, a form of amnesia, in which a person travels to another place and assumes another identity.”

Christie and her family seemed to have accepted that. “She claimed to have no recollection of what happened, and her autobiography says not one word about the incident,” according to The New Yorker article. (Aug. 16, 2010)

The Christies divorced in 1928. Two years later, she married archaeologist Max Mallowan, who she met at an archaeological dig.

For the writer who loved to keep us guessing as we read her novels, the mystery remains. Why did she decide to run off? Christie never did say publicly.

New York City bus driver, William Cimillo, had a similar urge in 1947. But he was quite clear as to what drove him to it. He got tired of the same old routine on his route – same people, same stops, same transfers.

One day, after nearly 20 years on the job, Cimillo decided to take a busman’s holiday. He said in an interview that aired on “This American Life” that he “decided to make a left turn instead of a right.”

Cimillo drove his bus out of The Bronx, stopped for some sight-seeing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Then, he headed for a beach in Florida.

It wasn’t until Cimillo was running low on money that he contacted his company. He hoped they’d wire him some money. Instead, they sent the cops, and he was brought back in handcuffs.

Bus driver - William Cimillo - who took a detour from the Bronx to Florida

For Cimillo, the publicity surrounding his escapade made him a hero. The company dropped the charges, and he got his job back.

“Melissa” could identify with that desire to get away from it all. She also wanted a change of pace.

She put her car in reverse, backed out of the parking lot. “Melissa’s” bags were packed. She was ready to go, and headed toward the airport.

Her final destination was uncertain, but not knowing was energizing and exciting – an abrupt departure from the same old, same old.

Would you take a leap and risk it all just to start fresh in a new setting?

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music Video: “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8jEapecSqc 

Photo: London Underground – taken March 16, 2014 – Author: Au Morandarte, London, Middlesex, England http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/da/Au_ Morandarte_Flickr_DSC00925_%2813231942933%29.jpg/640px-Au_Morandarte_Flickr_DSC00925_%2813231942933%29.jpg

Photo: Agatha Christie – British writer of crime and detective fiction. (1925) Source: http://www.themakeupgallery.info/lookalike/writers/christie.htm  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e2/Christie1925.jpg

Photo: Dame Agatha Christie (1954). (Photo by Walter Bird/Getty Images)    http://history1900s.about.com/od/people/a/Agatha-Christie.htm?nl=1

Photo: Bus driver – William Cimillo – who, in 1947, took a detour from his bus route in Bronx, New York, to Florida. http://www.radiodiaries.org/busmans-holiday/


Queen of Crime, The New Yorker – Aug. 16, 2010 http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/16/queen-of-crime

Agatha Christie – Official site – (videos and more) http://www.agathachristie.com/about-christie/christies-life/a-difficult-time/

This American Life radio show – “The Leap” – Ira Glass tells the story of William Cimillo, a New York bus driver who snapped one day in 1947, left his regular route, and drove his company’s municipal bus to Florida. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/539/the-leap?act=0#play

Buried Treasure

Treasure hunter

By Judy Berman

A beachcomber shuffles along the sand, shifts his metal detector slowly left, then right, in search of something shiny or black.

He scores a few bottle caps, loose change … and, then, he spots pieces of eight (gold), and silver that has a black silver sulfide patina on its surface.

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.* Treasure hunters today hope to strike it rich like Kip Wagner did in the 1950s.

Wagner, a retired Florida contractor, frequently went to the beach in search of driftwood next to the Sebastian River. Instead, after a hurricane, he found a piece of eight – also known as a cob, a Spanish silver coin dating back to the 1700s.

He wondered why gold and silver kept washing ashore near his home. None of the coins were dated past 1715.

He began working with his friend, Dr. Kip Kelso, in researching shipwrecks from that time.

They discovered that the treasure came from the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet. During a violent hurricane, 11 of 12 Spanish Galleons and one French ship sank between Sebastian and Fort Pierce.

About 700 people – crew and passengers – lost their lives, and the fleet’s precious cargo of gold, silver, jewels and jewelry now lay on the ocean floor.

Some 1,500 survivors struggled to shore and set up camp while awaiting rescue. This site, now known as the Survivors’ and Salvagers’ Camp, is in the Sebastian Inlet.

Treasure Island - book cover - 1911

Help did arrive within weeks. “Over the next four years, official Spanish salvors, Indian divers, English pirates, and privateers and river pirates of various nationalities flocked to the area to retrieve – or steal from each other – as much treasure as they could,” according to the McLarty Treasure Museum in Sebastian, Florida.

“Less than half the material originally listed on the ships’ manifest reached the Spanish treasury. The rest, so recently pried from the mountains (of Mexico and South America), now lay buried in sand and silt of the shore.”

Wagner purchased a $15 Army surplus metal detector. That led to finding the encampment, cannonballs, swords and artifacts from that site. Later, he took his search to the ocean and discovered remnants of one of the ships.

With the aid of their subcontractor, Mel Fisher, Wagner’s group – the Real Eight Company – salvaged the wreck of El Capitana from the 1715 Fleet.

By the mid-1960s, they hauled in “silver pieces of eight, gold doubloons, bars and plates of both metals, pearls, jewelry, and rare Chinese porcelains.”

Efforts continue to “coax from the seabed what 18th century divers left behind.”

Mel Fisher's Treasures, Sebastian - Oct. 2014 (4)

There are still untapped treasures and areas to explore along the Treasure Coast. Who knows what the next major storm will stir up from the ocean?

But some try to resist that siren’s call as young Jim Hawkins did in the last lines of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”:

“The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them, and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island, and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”


Have you ever searched for treasure? Gold? Books? Memorabilia? What was your best find?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: The Spanish ship Atocha Shipwreck Found – Gold Treasure Discovery – Mel Fisher Story. It also includes search for the 1715 Spanish Fleet.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNdi4pbUIwc 

1.Main Photo: Treasure Hunter

2.Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – book cover (1911) – Illustrator: N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945) http://www.openlibrary.org/details/treasureisland00steviala http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/77/Treasure_Island_title_1911.jpg/436px-Treasure_Island_title_1911.jpg

3.Photo: Mel Fisher’s Treasures – 40 pound “clump” of about 500 silver coins as a diver would find them on the ocean floor.

* Quote: “The, eh, stuff that dreams are made of.” Humphrey Bogart (Sam Spade) telling Ward Bond (Detective Tom Polhaus) what the black statuette is in the movie, “The Maltese Falcon.” (1941)

Link to: McLarty Treasure Museum at Sebastian Inlet State Park – http://www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet/activities.cfm

Ghost Tour in New Orleans

Misty Graves

By Judy Berman

Fog enveloped Bourbon Street. We stepped inside a dimly lit gift shop in New Orleans where we spotted a book on ghosts.

That inspired us to book a walking ghost tour that weekend. Our guide, Richard, looked like he stepped out of Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles.”

Like Lestat, he was an imposing figure – tall, dressed in black, and blond. But Richard’s hair was long and braided.

He could have passed for an outlaw, but he was a very entertaining storyteller.

Our tour was briefly interrupted outside voodoo Queen Marie LeVeau’s home. I doubt she was resting in peace as a heckler chose that moment to hassle Richard.

Several paying customers urged Richard to move on and continue with his stories. He did. Our next stop was at a voodoo woman’s home.

Except for a huge snake curled up in a cage, lit candles, burnt offering and dolls with pins in them (OK, I made that last part up), the voodoo woman’s home was like any other.

She gave us a quick tour. Then, we gathered in the backyard. The woman asked Richard if he wanted his future told. Perhaps, thinking of the unpleasant encounter, he just shook his head sadly.

“Knowing how bad my past was, I don’t want to know what my future will be,” he said.

The voodoo woman chided him, “If you know your future, your past may look good.”

We laughed and Richard joined in.

After we left her home, we continued our stroll through the French Quarter.

Each block appeared to harbor spirits. Richard stopped at one building, the Old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street, and told us about suspicions that it was connected to vampires.

Old Ursuline Convent, French Quarter - Chartres side balcony above entrance

In the mid-1700s, young women were brought over from France to be married off to men who settled in Louisiana. The nuns at the convent gave the girls shelter and an education.

While there were women in New Orleans already, some were plying the world’s oldest trade. Definitely not marriage material.

As the legend goes, 50 girls were sent here along with 50 “casquettes” or “caskets.” They were mockingly referred to as ‘casket girls.” (The number varies according to the storyteller.)

Odd! Many were dying in France at the time. So, there should have been a shortage of coffins – not chests – for their clothes and personal effects.

Their chests, containing a dowry, were locked in on the convent’s third floor. They would be opened when the girls married. But Richard said the chests were empty.

The shuttered gable windows on the convent’s third floor are nailed shut, he said. Superstitious residents say that was done to prevent any vampires – believed to be in the coffins – from escaping.

We hastened out steps as we left the sidewalk outside the convent. Would a light from the moon reveal that one of the windows was open?

Far from being repelled by holy things, Richard believes vampires are drawn to them. He said that’s why the vampires were sent to the convent. (I’m sure the church is delighted with this theory.)

Mysteriously, there is no record of what happened to the 50 coffins.

He wrapped up his story by telling us that in Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire,” the vampire has beignets (a pastry with powdered sugar) at Café du Monde.

Cafe du Monde - Cafe au Lait and Beignets, New Orleans

The truly spooky thing is that lighter-than-air beignets do vanish into thin air along with the coffee.

Richard’s stories, however, have stuck with us for many years.


Do you have a non-gory spooky tale to share?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music Video: Bobby Bare singing Marie Laveau, voodoo queen from Louisiana    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpZzehuWdM4 


1.Main Photo: Misty Graves – Easton Maudit churchyard, taken by R. Neil Marshman http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b0/MistyGraves.jpg/536px-MistyGraves.jpg

2.Photo: Old Ursuline Convent – French Quarter – taken March 1, 2010 by Infrogmation of New Orleans http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/44/UrsulinesFQExtChartresSideBalconyAboveEntrance.JPG/640px-UrsulinesFQExtChartresSideBalconyAboveEntrance.JPG

3.Photo: Café du Monde – café au lait and beignets – taken Jan. 12, 2013 by Ed Johnson http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b6/Cafe_au_Lait_and_Beignets_New_Orleans.jpg/640px-Cafe_au_Lait_and_Beignets_New_Orleans.jpg

Spring Break – Key West

Key West - SunsetBy Judy Berman

Salty ocean spray flew up as our glass-bottom boat sped toward its destination – a coral reef in Key Largo.

Just the island’s name conjures celluloid images of Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and tough guy Edward G. Robinson in the 1948 movie, “Key Largo.” They run thru my mind like reels at an old movie theater as we pull away from Key Largo’s shores.

The opening scenes of the movie were shot here.

A relic from another Bogart film, “The African Queen,” also can be found here. That boat was used in the 1951 film that stars Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. That boat was restored in 2012 to serve as a tourist boat, several years after our visit.

After we had a hearty breakfast nearby, we boarded the boat for a tour of a coral reef. Not recommended. The hearty breakfast and boat ride combo, that is. Top side, I felt much better.

After lunch, we headed to Key West. This is a nine-hour drive from our home, but getting here – well worth the view.

Seven Mile Bridge to Key West

The Seven-Mile Bridge, one of the longest in the world, offers breathtaking views along stretches of turquoise water. Clear, striking shades of blue from the ocean on our left, and the Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on our right.

Our hotel, the Almond Tree Inn, was conveniently located near the corner of the renowned and infamous Duval Street in Old Town Key West. We headed down to Mallory Square to see the sunsets.

On our way, a drunk staggered out of a bar exposing his shortcomings for all to see. Yes, this was our first exposure to the “wild life” there – and it was still early in the day.

Key West - Golden Man

A huge crowd gathered at the edge of the southernmost city in the continental U.S. to see the sun set. Street performers – jugglers who tossed flaming torches in the air, acrobats dancing along a high wire, and a dog jumping thru a hoop – were on hand before and after that magic moment.

The Key’s most famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, lived here with his wife Pauline from 1931 until the end of their marriage in 1940. He wrote several of his most celebrated books at his pool house office out back of his historic home at 907 Whitehead St.

Our guide, Joe, told us that, when Pauline remodeled the home, she replaced the ceiling fans with ornate chandeliers.

“During the summer, we think about her EVERY DAY,” he drawled for emphasis. Floor fans cooled the room this March day of our visit several years ago.

Outside, Joe showed us a pool that Pauline had installed for $20,000 during the Great Depression. When Hemingway returned from an overseas venture, he took a penny from his pocket and told Pauline she might as well take his “last red cent.”

Pauline did. She had it set in the cement next to the pool.

Ernest Hemingway House - cat on bed

There were 49 cats living on the property. Many have six toes and are descendants of “Papa” Hemingway’s six-toed cats.

One of “Papa” Hemingway’s favorite hangouts was Blue Heaven at 729   Thomas Street. While we ate lunch there, roosters, chickens, chicks and cats wandered around the open-air restaurant.

Key West - free roaming chicken family

There’s a photo of him there when it had a boxing ring. At various times, the place was “a bordello, a pool hall, a railroad water tower, a cockfighting arena, a boxing ring and ice-cream parlor.” And, now, a popular restaurant.

If you wander over to the Southernmost Point (of the continental U.S., at the corner of Whitehead and South streets), Cuba is about 90 miles away.

On a clear day, you might see it from your back porch. (chuckle)

A man, wearing an orange-and-white “Mile Marker O” offered to take our photo. Recalling the scene from the comedy, “European Vacation,” where the photo taker took off with the tourists’ camera, we waited to see how he handled the family ahead of us.

Like Blanche Dubois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” we often have to depend on the kindness of strangers.

And, many, thankfully, are very accommodating.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music video – Key West  – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Du4gR-_kLEs – 2012 Trop Rock Music Asociation Songwriter of the Year Nominee, Steve Tolliver, sings Key West Is The Best from his CD “Back To The Islands”.

Main Photo – Key West – sunset – taken May 30, 2011, by Serge Melki, Indianapolis. Link to http://www.byways.org/ Copyright http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7f/Key_West_-_Sunset_%285845637488%29.jpg/640px-Key_West_-_Sunset_%285845637488%29.jpg

Photo – Seven Mile Bridge – to Key West – Seeming to converge in the distance, the Seven-mile Bridge on the Florida Keys Scenic Highway west of Marathon, FL, runs parallel to the historic Flagler railroad bridge of the early 1900s with the Atlantic Ocean to the South and the Gulf of Mexico to the North. Taken March 20, 2003 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2d/Looooooong_bridge.jpg/640px-Looooooong_bridge.jpg

Key West – Golden Man – taken Feb. 1, 2008 by CederBendDrive, USA  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/03/Key_West_2008_%282337699559%29.jpg/640px-Key_West_2008_%282337699559%29.jpg

Photo – Ernest Hemingway House – cat on bed – taken March 16, 2013 by Abujoy http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/31/ErnestHemingwayHouse005.JPG/640px-ErnestHemingwayHouse005.JPG

Photo – Key West – free roaming chicken family – Taken Feb. 12, 2007 by Averette at en.wikipedia http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0a/Chickenfamily.jpg/640px-Chickenfamily.jpg

Music video – “Blue Heaven Rendezvous” (1995) by Jimmy Buffet. The Blue Heaven restaurant inspired this song.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrLvg2lykLI

Overheard While Just Passing Thru

alligator - marshamallowBy Judy Berman

As a tourist, you get only a quick glimpse of what life might be like in the places you visit.

What I’ve found is sometimes you’re in on the joke that the tour guides tell. Other times, you’re the butt of the joke.

Still others, it’s like you walked in the middle of a movie and leave before it ends. You’re left wondering how it turned out.

It took only a few minutes on a bus tour in Seattle, Washington, to realize there was a real culture clash between the logging industry and environmentalists who were trying to stop trees from being cut down because of its effect on the wildlife.

The bus driver, over the speaker, told his passengers: “We’ll be stopping for lunch. You can have the condor or the spotted owl.”

Many passengers erupted in laughter at the inside joke. Both are endangered species – and will not be found on any menu.

On a swamp tour in New Orleans, we saw nutria (a large rodent that is not a native of Louisiana), great blue herons and alligators.

To make sure we saw more than the bulging, beady eyes and snout that were just slightly above the water line, our guide threw marshmallows over board.

A gator scooted over to the boat and scooped up the bobbing treats from the water.

A woman, with a Boston accent, piped up, “Don’t you ever feed the gators anything but junk food?”

Clearly irritated, the guide retorted, “Sometimes we feed them Yankees. But I guess that’s junk food, too.”

Now, I’m from New York (Syracuse). Maybe I should have been offended, but I burst out laughing at the guide’s joke. Or, at least, I hope he was joking.

dog sled - Alaska

Mealtime can also provide a few laughs. At a restaurant in Fairbanks, Alaska, we chuckled over a meal offered on the kids’ menu: liver and onions.

Well, the little wrangler will be delighted to know that, even if he is real ornery, it’s unlikely his Mom and Dad will order the yuckiest thing on the kids’ menu. The reason? It cost $28,212.99.

Now, that’s something to cheer about. That and the folks in Fairbanks obviously have a wonderfully warped sense of humor.

What a long, strange trip it was when we hit the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, California. There, apparently, were still some folks there that looked like they were trapped in a time warp – leftovers from the Sixties when Flower Power ruled the area.

Haight Ashbury, San Francisco

As we walked along Haight Street, a guy ahead of us is trying to get the guy he’s walking with to change shirts with him. No dice.

“We got to get into a bar before the cops come,” he said.

As if on cue, a cop car pulls up. A cop steps up and politely says, “Can we talk for a second?”

“Sure,” the guys says, acting nonchalantly.

Ten minutes later, as we walk by on the other side of the street, the “talk” continues. Now, four cops are on the scene.

This is where I’d thought we’d stumbled into one of Alfred Hitchcock’s pranks.

Ever the Master of Suspense, he’d appear to be in the midst of a gruesome story when new passengers stepped into the elevator he was on. Naturally, they were all ears. But, as luck would have it, they reached the main floor before he wrapped it up. Which was Hitchcock’s mischievous scheme all along.

No telling what you’ll see and hear on your travels. But I sure wish I knew the rest of the story about that “talk.”

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Elevator Story as told by Peter Bogdanovich http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqXFtWSBBd4  

Photo: alligator – marshmallow – http://www.wwtid.com/2012/11/20/the-alligator-and-the-marshmallow/  

Photo – dog sled – Alaska – A musher departs Slaven’s Roadhouse in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve during the 2005 Yukon Quest sled dog race. Taken Feb. 5, 2005 by the U. S. National Park Service http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/Slaven%27s_Roadhouse.jpg/640px-Slaven%27s_Roadhouse.jpg

Photo: Haight Ashbury, San Francisco, California – Piedmont Boutique on Haight   Street. Taken by Bernard Gagnon, Sept. 3, 2008  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5d/Haight_Street%2C_SF.jpg/640px-Haight_Street%2C_SF.jpg

North by Northwest

North by Northwest - Cary Grant - plane - 1959By Judy Berman

Mistaken identify, darkness, light and double cross play significant roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s (1959) movie, “North by Northwest.”

In diabolical plot twists that even Cary Grant found difficult to follow, he is confused by the rapid-fire events that happen to his character.

He plays advertising executive, Roger O. Thornhill. Yet he winds up in a labyrinth of mystery and murder when an enemy espionage group mistakes him for George Kaplan, an undercover agent who really doesn’t exist. Or, does he?

“Cary Grant came up to me and said, ‘It’s a terrible script. We’ve already done a third of the picture, and I still can’t make head or tail of it,’ ” Hitchcock confides in Francois Truffaut’s book, “Hitchcock.”

Without realizing it, Hitchcock said Grant was using a line of his own dialogue from the movie.

It’s not the only deception going on in the film.

The spies believe that Thornhill is Kaplan. They kidnap him and take him to a Long Island country estate owned by Lester Townsend. He meets who he believes is Townsend, Philip Vandamm (James Mason), and his personal secretary, Leonard (Martin Landau).

His captors keep peppering “Kaplan” with questions. When they fail to get any information from him, Vandamm’s goons force whiskey down Thornhill’s throat.

They put an extremely intoxicated Thornhill in a car. Their scheme is to have the ride and Thornhill’s life end after the car goes over a cliff. But, as drunk as Thornhill is, he manages to escape. A police car pulls up, and the bad guys quickly drive off.

No one, not even his mother, believes his story.

North by Northwest - Eva Marie Saint shooting Cary Grant

Thornhill attempts to unravel the lies. He learns that Townsend is at the United Nations. At the U.N., Thornhill discovers that Townsend is not the man who held him captive. Enemy spies kill Townsend and frame Thornhill for his murder.

On the run again, Thornhill hops aboard the 20th Century Limited bound for Chicago. There, he meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who helps him hide from the authorities.

When they arrive in Chicago, Eve tells Thornhill she’ll call Kaplan for him. Then, she gives Thornhill instructions to meet Kaplan at Prairie Stop, which turns out to be in the middle of nowhere. He waits in the harsh, hot daylight. Another man waiting for a bus at the same stop notes that a crop-duster plane is dusting where there aren’t any crops.

After the man boards his bus, Thornhill realizes that the crop-duster is flying his way and zeroing in on him. Again, the bad guys fail to eliminate him.

Thornhill returns to the hotel. He finds out that Eve works with the spies and is Vandamm’s mistress.  When he discovers later that Eve is an undercover agent, he realizes his actions have put her life in jeopardy.

He warns Eve and helps her escape certain death. The spies are hot on their trail as Thornhill and Eve scale the shadowy heights of the Mount Rushmore monument in an effort to elude them.

As the pair scramble back down the face of the stone carvings, Thornhill tells Eve that if they get out of this alive they should get back on the train together. He’s talking marriage.

North by Northwest - movie trailer screenshot - climbing Mt. Rushmore

As they hang from Mount Rushmore, Eve asks why his two previous wives divorced him. “I think they said I led too dull a life,” (Grant) Thornhill says.

“The genius of Hitchcock lies in how he gets the audience as well as Thornhill (Grant) to believe in the existence of George Kaplan, until by the end of the film, it is Kaplan who survives, while Roger Thornhill simply ceases to exist …,” says Marc Eliot, author of “Cary Grant.”

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Movie (trailer): North by Northwest (1959) with Alfred Hitchcock  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRfmTpmIUwo  

Main Photo: North by Northwest – Cary Grant – plane (1959) http://cdn.hitfix.com/photos/2500715/North-by-Northwest-1959_gallery_primary.jpg

Photo: North by Northwest – Eva Marie Saint shooting Carl Grant  – movie trailer screenshot http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/07/North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_%2831%29.jpg/640px-North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_%2831%29.jpg

Photo: North by Northwest – movie trailer screenshot – Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climbing Mount Rushmore  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b0/North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_%2828%29.jpg/640px-North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_%2828%29.jpg