Vegas, Baby. Vegas!

Blue Man Group 5 - Las Vegas - 6-7-14

By Judy Berman

Just mention you’re headed to Vegas, and immediately you get those knowing looks.

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” the stewardess jokes slyly as we board our flight out of Orlando.

“That’s what we’re counting on,” I respond with a smile.

We hardly fit the image of the characters in the 1996 movie, Swingers, who take a road trip to Sin City. Their mantra: “Vegas, Baby. Vegas!”

Nah, the gaming tables and one-armed bandits hold no appeal for us.

It’s the entertainment and off-The-Strip action we crave.

Mt. Charleston Lodge - June 2014 (5)

OK, we’re here to visit my brother, too. Hank waves front-row tickets he bought for all three of us to see the Blue Man Group at the Monte Carlo. Score!

When we arrive, I’m nervous. Our seats hold a plastic, hooded, full-length cape that we’re expected to wear to avoid flying water, cake batter and other unexpected assaults.

During the concert, one Blue Man steps onto the armrest next to me and proceeds to hunt down his next victim/volunteer to pull up on stage.

Their skits are interactive, humorous and spot-on ribs at our culture.

It’s a “thrilling, energy-infused performance that introduces wildly inventive musical instruments, a humorous look at robots and creativity, and a mind-blowing (literally) tour inside the neural network of the human brain,” according to its website

Mind-blowing? How about an Elvis sighting? No visit to Vegas would be complete without that.

Vegas - Madame  Tussauds - June 2014  (13) - Elvis and Judy Berman

Not only did we see him at Madame Tussauds, but Elvis offered me a ride in his car.

What a guy! Hanging out with the strong, silent type is right up my alley.

Vegas - Madame  Tussauds - June 2014  (15) - Marilyn Monroe and Dave Berman

Dave lucked out, too. He bumped into Marilyn Monroe. What a doll!

Before we left the wax museum, we saw the 10-minute film, Marvel’s Super Heroes 4D.

The audience really is in on the action. Again, watch out for liquid spray from the screen, things that go bump in the dark and unknown things that race by your chair.

Squeamish yet?

Vegas - Madame  Tussauds - June 2014  (21) - Hulk

OK. Your heart’s pounding, but there’s no need to call for paramedics.

Forget Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay or Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden at the Mirage. You need something far more soothing than a voracious shark or a white tiger eyeballing you.

Head on over to Bellagio’s Casino. There you can enjoy the water works and the action from afar. The Fountains at Bellagio – there are more than a thousand of them in front of the hotel.

Vegas - Fountains at Bellagio - 2014   (9)

Depending on the time of day, you can be mesmerized by the dancing waters every 15 to 30 minutes. Light show and music are thrown in for free.

Then, it’s back to the Vegas’ best attraction: people-watching. It’s the best show in town.

And, if you’re feeling really lucky, scope out the casinos. As they said about confidence in Swingers: “You’re so money and you don’t even know it.”

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. 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,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video Clip: “Swingers” (1996) 

Main Photo: Blue Man Group performing at Monte Carlo Casino, Las Vegas, taken by Judy Berman, June 7, 2014.

Photo: My brother, Joseph H. Fiet IV, and me at Mt. Charleston – about 50 miles outside of Las Vegas

Las Vegas photos taken June 7 and 8, 2014 by Judy and Dave Berman:

* Elvis Presley and Judy Berman. Madame Tussauds wax museum.

* Marilyn Monroe and Dave Berman. Madame Tussauds.

* The Hulk at Madame Tussauds.

* The Fountains at Bellagio Casino.


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, 2011-14. 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,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music video – Key West  – – 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 Copyright

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

Key West – Golden Man – taken Feb. 1, 2008 by CederBendDrive, USA

Photo – Ernest Hemingway House – cat on bed – taken March 16, 2013 by Abujoy

Photo – Key West – free roaming chicken family – Taken Feb. 12, 2007 by Averette at en.wikipedia

Music video – “Blue Heaven Rendezvous” (1995) by Jimmy Buffet. The Blue Heaven restaurant inspired this song.

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, 2011-14. 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,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Elevator Story as told by Peter Bogdanovich  

Photo: alligator – 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

Photo: Haight Ashbury, San Francisco, California – Piedmont Boutique on Haight   Street. Taken by Bernard Gagnon, Sept. 3, 2008

The Mob Built This City

Las Vegas - Flamingo Road

By Judy Berman

Did the mob once run Las Vegas? Some dispute that, but few would quibble about the explosive growth in Sin City as a result of the Mob’s presence.

This reputation is one that The Mob Museum in Las Vegas capitalizes on. The $42 million museum opened two years ago on Feb. 14, 2012.

That date is probably no coincidence. One of the artifacts on display on the third floor is the actual wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.

A Chicago Tribune newspaper clipping reported that gunman dressed as policemen lined seven men of George “Bugs” Moran’s gang up against the whitewashed wall and gunned them down.

“It was the most infamous of all gangland slayings in America, and it savagely achieved its purpose – the elimination of the last challenge to Al Capone for the mantle of crime boss in Chicago.”

Mob Museum - Las Vegas - Wall of Mobsters

The way the museum tells it: “This is truly the underworld uncovered.” It’s billed as “An authentic exploration of the endless tug-of-war between organized crime and law enforcement.”

Last July, my husband and I spent more than two hours in the museum and, truthfully, we could have spent much more time there if we didn’t have a pressing engagement. (No. Forget the scene in Goldfinger when James Bond referred to a dead mobster who was entombed in a crushed car.)

On the second floor of the museum is the courtroom. This is the same federal courthouse where the 1950-51 Kefauver Committee hearings were held to expose organized crime. Here, you can see film clips of those hearings.

Las Vegas - Mob Museum - July 2013 055

Longtime locals are fond of saying that Vegas was better when the Mob ran the casinos. They felt there was less crime and the mob took care of – policed – their own.

The tour quickly dispels that notion by showing some of the innocent bystanders who were rubbed out by those “connected” to the Mob – along with a few of the bad guys, of course. The focus is not just on the Mob that infiltrated Vegas nightlife, but on major cities throughout the U.S.

Some of the exhibits aren’t for the faint-hearted. There are gory ones that show what happens when you run into the wrong end of a gun. For example, you can see the barber chair that mobster Albert Anastasia was murdered in on Oct. 25, 1957, in Manhattan, New York.

You can listen in on authentic Mafia Omerta induction ceremony or to actual FBI surveillance tapes on wiretapping equipment.

For a more glamorized look of the mob, sit a spell in the theater room and watch clips from gangster movies.

Parting words from philosopher/mobster Al Capone, “You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.” This quote is just one of the souvenirs I picked up from the gift shop at the Mob Museum.

Hey! They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. But I took an oath not to reveal it.

Not to be a Wiseguy, but you can get the total scoop on the cost of admission, hours and attractions at The Mob Museum’s web site:

Movie Trailer: Casino with Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone 

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. 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,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: 60 Years: KLAS-TV Documents Mob’s Rise, Fall in Las Vegas

Main Photo: Las Vegas – Flamingo Road – Taken April 24, 2012, by curimedia

Photo: Mob – The Skim at the Flamingo – my photo collection

Photo: The Mob Museum – Las Vegas – Wall of Mobsters – Taken Feb. 14, 2012 by Kremerbi

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.”

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. 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,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie (trailer): North by Northwest (1959) with Alfred Hitchcock  

Main Photo: North by Northwest – Cary Grant – plane (1959)

Photo: North by Northwest – Eva Marie Saint shooting Carl Grant  – movie trailer screenshot

Photo: North by Northwest – movie trailer screenshot – Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climbing Mount Rushmore

Into Costa Rica

Costa Rica - Arenal volcano at nightBy Judy Berman

With minimal Spanish skills, we ventured into Costa Rica for its Cloud Forest, beaches and its active volcano. This is a favorite destination for eco-trekkers and surfers.

Our first test was after our plane stopped at a landing strip in Tambor, on Costa Rica’s west coast. Before the pilot would let us aboard, he weighed us. Groan! There were four of us, another man and the pilot. The plane was crop-duster-size, like the one that chased down Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

We’d barely landed when the fifth passenger bolted from the plane, leaving his baggage and heading for the only car there. He tried to snag our ride. Good thing I’d called ahead.

Our driver, Gilberto, gave us a quick tour of his community and the school where he learned English. On our travels, he stopped and showed us a huge iguana sprawled across a tree limb high above the road. The iguana turned his head slowly, gazed steadily in our direction as if to acknowledge us, and then ignored us as we continued on our way to Montezuma, a village on the Pacific Coast.

Costa Rica - Green Iguana up a treeOur hotel, Amor de Mar, had a view of a tide pool bigger than some swimming pools. But no one ventured into it to swim other than a dark, moving mass of crabs. The hammocks beckoned, promising a blissful snooze. After lunch, we did just that.

By dinnertime, we took a leisurely stroll to an open-air restaurant. Food was cooked outside over a wood-burning grill. Dave, always the adventurous one, had shark. The rest of us had honey-glazed chicken. Our dinner was lit by candles, a fire and the stars.

The next day, after breakfast, we went horseback riding with Deanne Sharer, a Florida State University grad and former St. Petersburg resident. Her Catahoula, Leona, kept pace with us as we trotted thru the village, up into a wooded area and down onto the beach.

Her horses rested under shade trees while we scaled rocks to get to a waterfall and pool. At the top, Deanne sliced open fresh pineapple and speared a slice for each of us. The juice trickled down our faces, and I can’t remember having one sweeter than that – ever.

We stayed a day or two at our hotel before Mauricio drove us to Monteverde Lodge near the Monteverde Cloud Forest. We had to wait in line for the ferryboat. It took 1½ hours to cross, another 2 hours on the road after that. The ride was torturous because it was over rocky road.

The highlight of our ride was when Mauricio spotted an iguana crossing the road and a black Toucan in a tree. The memories of that jarring ride just melted away when we got to the hotel, relaxed in its jacuzzi, and basked in the hotel’s first-class cuisine and service..

Costa Rica - Quetzal bird - Monteverde Cloud ForestThe next day, we toured the tropical forest. It was raining, but the forest’s canopy acted like a huge umbrella. One of the guides spotted a Quetzal, an exotic bird, the most beautiful in Central America. It has a green crown. Its top almost looks like a brush cut. Its chest is red. The males have long, green and blue tail feathers.

We heard monkeys, but I was the only to see one scramble down a tree. Hummingbirds were also fluttering about around the feeders. Our guide, an ex pat, apparently didn’t know the names of many of the plants and referred to them as “houseplants” or “in the family of.” We still chuckle about that.

Back at our lodge, seven white-nosed Coati foraged around the grounds for insects. They didn’t seem to be fazed by our presence. They walked up the hill and went by us like we weren’t there.

On the road again. This time a four hour ride to Arenal Lodge, a private reserve, about 5 miles from Arenal volcano – which is active.

Theoretically, our rooms and the dining area had an unobstructed view of the volcano. We heard rumbles and thought we saw orange flashes – indications of seismic activity. But, heavy, persistent cloud cover prevented us from seeing the cone-shaped volcano

During our 18-hour visit there, our thoughts were always on the volcano. I recall this was our only disappointment when we vacationed in Costa Rica that December.

Some day, I’d love to go back to have a clear view of the volcano, revisit the places we’d been, and again talk with the friendly people who live there.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. 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,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video – Arenal Volcano Eruption at night  

Photo – Costa Rica – Arenal volcano at night  – taken April 7, 2006 by Scott Robinson (Clearly Ambiguous) from Rockville, MD, USA

Photo – Costa Rica – Quetzal bird – Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – A male Resplendent Quetzal photographed in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa  – taken Oct. 19, 2008 by Dick Bos

Photo – Costa Rica – Green Iguana up a tree – taken Feb. 17, 2013 by Charlesjsharp

Goose Bumps and Shuttle Launches

Kennedy Space Center -Kaitlyn and Connor - 11-29-13By Judy Berman

Peering into the night sky, we’ve often waited impatiently for that streak of light that means a shuttle is heading into space.

Since we moved to Florida, we’ve watched the launches from Jetty Park and from our back yard. Last weekend, the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which has traveled more than 125 million miles in space, was just a few feet away from us.

Our family went to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to watch a movie that showed the rocket launch. Smoke swirled around it and, then, began to disperse. The door went up, and what happened next was awe-inspiring.

“That’s when I had goose bumps when I saw how massive the shuttle was,” said Keith, our son-in-law.

This shuttle, after 33 successful missions to space and back, is now the main attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Merritt Island, Florida. The $2 billion orbiter is in the “new six-story, $100 million, 90,000-square-foot exhibit that celebrates the people and accomplishments,” according to its website.

Kennedy Space Center23

What was even more impressive was when we talked to people who actually worked on the shuttle.

“(Jean Wright) was one of the women who hand-sewed quilt patterns on the shuttle and used threads that could withstand up to 2,400 degrees,” said our daughter, Danielle.

Wright told about how she helped make those quilted tiles which replaced 7,000 of the heavier tiles, mostly from the top of the shuttle. The quilted tiles made by the “Sew Sisters,” made the shuttle lighter and they were less costly to produce.

Terry White also chatted with the guests. He showed us a square of the material that made up one of the tiles. Our grandchildren, Kaitlyn and Connor, watched along with the rest as he poured water into the tile.

“The cool thing was how the material for the tile could soak up as much water as he poured in, but it still didn’t feel wet,” Danielle said. “It can also withstand high temperatures, but remain cool to the touch.”

Space Shuttle Atlantis launches from KSC

Our grandchildren aren’t hankering to clamber aboard the next shuttle. They say there’s still too much that’s unknown. But they found it thrilling to see the Atlantis, knowing it was in outer space and in orbit.

How about you? Would you be up for a ride to the Space Station or to another planet?

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. 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,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Earth View From Outer Space 

Photos taken by me or family members at Kennedy Space Center, November 2013:
* Atlantis shuttle and our grands, Kaitlyn and Connor
* our grandson Connor at one of the activity centers at KSC

Space Shuttle Atlantis launches from KSC  – May 14, 2010 (NASA photo)

No Place Like Home

The Wizard of Oz - Haley, Bolger, Garland, Lahr - 1939By Judy Berman

Sometimes, you don’t know what you got until it’s gone.

That thought comes to mind when I consider a little girl who’s swept away with her best friend to a very strange land. She spends the bulk of her time trying to return to a place of comfort and love.

I’m talking about the ultimate road trip movie, “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).

This movie might seem an odd choice for a Thanksgiving offering. But it has it all: a buddy movie/road trip made up of an odd cast of lovable characters.

Just like many of us gathered around the table this holiday, each has a different personality and a personal quest. For some, it’s the drumstick. For others, it’s something much deeper.

For Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), an orphaned teen, she’s trying to avoid a nasty neighbor, Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton). The cranky woman, upset that Toto bit her, threatens to have Toto put to sleep. Dorothy runs away with Toto to protect him.

She didn’t get far when she ran into a phony fortune-teller, Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan). The Professor tells Dorothy that her Auntie Em (Clara Blandick) has fallen ill worrying about Dorothy.

Dorothy returns home, but the family is hunkered down in the storm cellar trying to avoid a tornado. Dorothy darts into the house with Toto and is knocked unconscious. When she awakes, her home drops right in the middle of the Land of the Munchkins.

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy says as she surveys the neighborhood.

Good news. They’re OK and the little people – the Munchkins – are welcoming. Bad news. Her house fell right on top of the Wicked Witch of the East and she’s deader than a doornail.

The Wizard  of Oz - Margaret Hamilton and Judy Garland - 1939

Her mean sister, the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), is not too happy about this. She warns Dorothy: “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!”

Before she can carry out her threat, Glinda (Billie Burke), the Good Witch of the North, comes to Dorothy’s rescue. Glinda quickly transfers the dead witch’s ruby slippers onto Dorothy, telling Dorothy that they have powerful magic and will protect her. Dorothy and Toto go skipping off down the Yellow Brick Road in search of the Wizard of Oz who will surely help her get back to Kansas.

On the road, Dorothy runs into a talking Scarecrow (Ray Bolger). When he finds out where Dorothy is going, he asks if he can go along. He hopes the Wizard will give him a brain. Soon, they spot a rusted out Tin Woodman (Jack Haley) and oil him up. He’s in search of a heart. The last one to join this little group is the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who confides that he’d like the Wizard to give him courage.

Wizard of Oz - 1900

In their travels, they encounter the nightmare that most of us do. Flying monkeys. (Hey! We’ve all been there. Right?) Fatigue. For us, it’s the long road trip and the big meal. For them, the witch casts a spell as they’re running thru a field of flowers.

“Poppies … poppies will put them to sleep,” she cackles.

Eventually, Dorothy turns the tables on the old bat. When the witch tries to set the Scarecrow on fire, Dorothy throws a bucket of water to douse the fire … and drenches the witch … which proves her undoing.

“I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!” the witch screams … and, then, she is no more.

In a road movie, the main character grows as the story progresses. Such is the case with Dorothy and her friends. They find that they had it within them all along to achieve the things they went in search of.

Glinda tells Dorothy that she’s always had the power to return to her family.

Dorothy clicks her heels together three times, repeating the magic phrase that will take her home, “There’s no place like home … There’s no place like home.”

Soon, Dorothy and Toto are back with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. And that curmudgeon, Miss Gulch, is no where to be found.

Now, if only a turkey wishbone had that kind of magic.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. 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,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie trailer – The Wizard of Oz - 

Main Photo: Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Judy Garland, Bert Lahr – The Wizard of Oz (1939) – MGM film

Photo: Margaret Hamilton and Judy Garland – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Photo: Wizard of Oz – Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first edition. Illustration by W.W. Denslow (d. 1915)

Into the Wild

Alaska - big bull mooseBy Judy Berman

I was just 17. Mad at my folks because they wouldn’t let me go on an end-of-the-year school picnic.

It was 5:30 in the morning. I stepped out of my bedroom window onto the back porch. No packed bags. No money. I got as far as turning the corner of our ranch-style home by our front porch.

Dad always said I thought seven steps ahead. Sure enough, I begin to fret on how I’d make a go of it with no money, no skills, not even a high school diploma.

Then, I turned around and entered the house the way I’d left and went back to bed. I never mentioned this to my folks.

But, what if? What if I’d left? Forget the gender ramifications. In all likelihood, like “Alex Supertramp” in Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild,” I probably would have starved to death.

“Alex’s” real name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. On the book’s cover, we learn that, in April 1992, this “young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mount McKinley.”

“He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter.”

I read Krakauer’s book after we returned from Alaska years ago, and Alex’s experiences haunt me still.


It’s odd how I can relate to a character that I have little in common with. What intrigued me about Alex is that he did what I’d wanted to do for decades – just run off, on my own and see the world. The difference is I thought about the ‘what if’s’ and how I wouldn’t want to hurt my family.

Alex was a likeable guy, intelligent, musically talented and well-read. But it seems that any time people got close to him, he’d pull another vanishing act. He’d bummed around the country for about two years, doing odd jobs and living with people he met along the way.

He aimed for Alaska, a place he’d dreamed about since he was a kid. Alex/McCandless told a friend “about his intent to spend the summer alone in the bush, living off the land.” He wanted to be alone in the wilds and “wanted to prove to himself that he could make it on his own, without anybody’s help,” said Gaylord Stuckey, a trucker, who drove Alex to Fairbanks before they parted ways.

Jim Gallien was the last one to give Alex a ride. He thought Alex’s “scheme was foolhardy and tried repeatedly to dissuade him.“ When Gallien couldn’t, he insisted that Alex take “an old pair of rubber work boots.”

The only food Alex carried from Gallien’s truck was a 10-pound bag of long-grained rice he’d purchased, “plus two grilled-cheese-and-tuna sandwiches and a bag of corn chips” that Gallien had contributed. Alex’s backpack also contained library books that included Thoreau and Tostoy.

Grizzly Bear, Denali National Park, Alaska

Grizzly Bear, Denali National Park, Alaska

Some 20 miles into the wild, “he stumbled upon the old bus beside the Sushana River. It was “outfitted with a bunk and a barrel stove” and other provisions left by previous visitors.

In time, he missed the companionship. In his remaining days, he noted: “Happiness is only real when shared.”

Perhaps, Alex discovered some truth in Henry David Thoreau’s quote: “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

Young moose, Alaska

Young moose, Alaska

In August, “McCandless penned a brief adios: “I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!”

“Then he crawled into the sleeping bag his mother had sewn for him and slipped into unconsciousness. He probably died August 18, 112 days after he’d walked into the wild, 19 days before six Alaskans would happen across the bus and discover his body inside,” Krakauer wrote.

No longer that starry-eyed teen who once fantasized about running away, I now look at Alex’s journey thru a mother’s eyes. I wish he’d been able to say good-bye to his parents, as well as others who missed and loved him.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. 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,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie trailer, “Into the Wild:” 

Photo: Alaska – big bull moose. Photo was taken in 2005 in Chugach State Park, Alaska.

Photo: Denali – Grizzly Bear, picture taken by Jean-Pierre Lavoie in 2004.

Photo: Alaska – Young moose near Point Woronzof, Anchorage. Taken: April 2008.

Good Times Camping

campingBy Judy Berman

Tenting: I don’t do Spartan bravely. On these outings, I miss my warm bed, home-cooked meals, and indoor plumbing.

I wondered if we’d need a Sherpa to help us survive “roughing it” for several days in the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York. From the mound of stuff still to be packed, we’d definitely need a trailer to haul it off.

This is from the way-back files when our girls were little, but the memory burns as brightly as the campfires we sat around at night.

About 200 miles into our trek, I realized I’d left my pillows and air mattress at home. Groan!

When we returned home, I shared my woes with my neighbor. But he just clucked unsympathetically, “What, no water bed?” I rolled my eyes. That was absurd. The TV and the vacuum cleaner took up all the room in the trunk.

The camping area, built at a 90-degree angle on the side of a mountain, was not the remote, idyllic spot to pitch a tent that I’d imagined. It looked like tent city.

There was no privacy. Our tents were so close that I could hear the guy next to our campsite lick the stamps for the postcards he was writing by the firelight.

I opted to sleep in the car while my husband used my sleeping bag for a pillow. Our girls nodded off an hour before, tuckered out by the day’s activities. Actually, I slept rather well, except for: the discomfort, my intolerance for frostbite, and an unrelenting need to “take a pause for the cause.”

campgroundThe latter caused me to wake at midnight and 4 a.m. At midnight, I fought the feeling and went back to sleep. By 4 a.m., it was no longer a question of choice. I left the car. As our only flashlight was in the tent, I groped toward the object of my quest.

Earlier that evening, on a similar errand, I’d gotten lost leaving the restroom as I headed toward our tent in a downpour. That time, I had the flashlight. So, understandably, I left the car with misgivings. I had no sense of direction and a magnum of suspicion.

Campers had complained about bears foraging thru the garbage cans for food. Not wishing to run into any wildlife, I double-checked every shadow to be certain the Masked Marauder wasn’t lurking in the bushes.

Then … a loud crash. I froze, unable to move … for what seemed like an hour. There, cloaked partially in shadows, was the Masked Marauder. We locked eyes.

Those beady eyes. I'd know him anywhere.

Those beady eyes. I’d know him anywhere.

His beady eyes were behind a mask. He had a long, pointy nose. I’d know him anywhere. It was a raccoon. He grabbed a bag of food from an insulated cooler and ran off, leaving a trail of groceries in his wake.

Boy, those folks are in for a rude awakening come morning.

Slowly, I stumbled back to the car.


The ultimate outdoors’ person successfully navigated the total distance from tent to john – in a direct line – of 200 feet.

About 2 hours later, I was awakened by screams from the neighboring tent.

“John!” a woman shrieked. “All our food’s gone. It’s scattered all over the campsite.”

Not to worry, I thought. The nearest Waffle House was just 15 minutes away. I’d checked the map as soon as we put the tent’s stakes in the ground.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. 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,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo – Camping  – owned by Environmental Protection Agency

Photo – Campground – owned by Environmental Protection Agency

Photo – Raccoon hiding in the branches of a maple tree – taken by Ken Thomas