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, 2011-14. 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, 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

A Trip to Yesterday

Liverpool - Onondaga Lake Park -  July 2014  (3)

By Judy Berman

Nothing has changed and everything has changed.

During a trip to Central New York in mid-July, my husband, Dave, and I visit our old stomping grounds, and we return to a spot that was the scene of one sweet gesture many years ago.

We stand at the edge of a driveway staring at the home we had lived in until 1999. It is for sale.

What would it be like to live here again, to be among old friends with a shared history and memories?

Like an old family movie, scenes of our girls growing up here flash before me.

Then, as quickly as that thought crosses my mind, I dismiss it.

Nah! We’d have to re-do the landscaping, and get rid of the in-ground pool the new owners put in – which is only useful about two months a year in Central New York. Then, who knows what the owners changed inside the home we had built for us?

Plus, there’s the matter of our girls, our sons-in-law, our grandchildren, grandpuppy, kitties, grandkitties and our jobs. We couldn’t leave them in Florida to move back here.

You can’t really go back. You can’t occupy two worlds – unless you’re Bill Gates or a Rockefeller.

Beaver Lake Nature Center - Baldwinsville - July 2014  (36)

So we make the most of our visit. We meet friends at lunch and dinner to catch up on old times. Stunned to realize how much their kids have grown, just as ours have, and the changes in their lives – new jobs, etc.

Of course, we have to exercise to walk off all the meals. So we take a few strolls thru Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool. Since we left, 5 more miles of hiking trails have been added. We sit on the deck by the lake, and it still has that same calming affect on us.

We also return to Beaver Lake Nature Center and hike the 3-mile lake loop. Exhausting in the heat of the day, but also relaxing.

Then, we pour our tired bones into deck chairs at the center’s observatory. We chuckle as a little chipmunk outfoxes the bigger squirrels for the seeds that the birds kick out from the bird feeders.

Watkins Glen State Park - July 2014  (43)

A bigger hike looms ahead. We drive to Watkins Glen State Park, walk 1 ½ miles and climb 832 steps to view some of nature’s most gorgeous work – waterfalls and gorges carved out by ancient glaciers. Breathtaking.

Watkins Glen - Glenora Winery - July 2014

Seneca Lake is wine country. We stop at Glenora Wine Cellars to buy a bottle of wine for friends of ours when we return to Syracuse. As we look out over the fields, I am struck by how much it looks like a Monet painting. The wine cask resembles rolls of hay amid the greenest greens you can imagine.

That trip offers another treat as well – an overnight at the Showboat Motel along Seneca Lake. In August of 1993, it’s where one of the owners, Larry Jenkins, discovered we were celebrating our anniversary. See story here.

Watkins Glen - Showboat Motel - Judy Berman and Larry Jenkins - July 2014

That night, 21 years ago, Larry brought out two slices of Boston Cream Pie – with a lit candle on each one – and invited those at the restaurant to join in singing “Happy Anniversary” to Dave and me. I don’t think I ever told him then how special that one, small, sweet gesture made us feel.

But I did this trip. I re-introduce myself to him. Larry looks pleased when I tell him that his thoughtfulness capped the end of a perfect day and is a memory I still treasure.

Then we leave for Syracuse. On our last night there, we go to a cookout at the home of longtime friends of ours: Rick and Holly Moriarty. Dave and I have known them long before they married. They were witnesses when we renewed our wedding vows. Now,  their daughter is in college and their son is heading in that direction in a year or two.

Syracuse - Rick and Holly Moriarty - July 2014

It is a night I wish never had to end. This visit makes me nostalgic for Syracuse, for friends with a shared history and memories.

To paraphrase a woman interviewed by Humans of New York: As you get older, there are fewer of those people around who remember you in the various stages of your life.

“And they remind you who you are.”

Watkins Glen - Showboat Motel - Judy Berman reading

Is there a special time and/or place you yearn to return to – even if just for a visit?

 

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, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thanks to all our friends in Central New York. We had a great time and we miss you already. We’re sorry that we couldn’t get to see everyone we wanted to.

1. Main Photo – Onondaga Lake Park, Liverpool, taken by Judy Berman, July 2014. http://onondagacountyparks.com/onondaga-lake-park/

2. Photo – Beaver Lake Nature Center, Baldwinsville – Dave Berman, Baldwinsville, taken by Judy Berman, July 2014. http://onondagacountyparks.com/beaver-lake-nature-center/

3. Photo – Watkins Glen State Park – taken by Judy Berman, July 2014. http://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com/camping/watkins-glen-state-park/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NY&parkId=254

4. Photo – Watkins Glen – Glenora Wine Cellars, Dundee – taken by Dave Berman, July 2014. http://www.glenora.com/

5. Photo – Showboat Motel and Restaurant, Himrod, NY – Larry Jenkins, co-owner, and Judy Berman, taken by Dave Berman, July 2014. http://www.showboat-motel.com/

6. Photo – Rick and Holly Moriarty, Liverpool, NY, taken by Dave Berman, July 2014

7. Photo – Showboat Motel overlooking Seneca Lake – Judy Berman relaxing and reading. Taken by Dave Berman, July 2014.

A Gathering of Friends

Syracuse - Mark Murphy, Dave, Judy, Mark and Karen Bialczak - July 2014

By Judy Berman

Our strategy was all mapped out. By comparison, the invasion of Normandy might have seemed less complicated.

Private messages and e-mails outlined our plans before my husband, Dave, and I flew into Syracuse, New York, in mid-July.

Some may scramble for tickets to concerts, plays and other entertainment. Our quest was laser-focused. We aimed to see as many of our old friends as we could at lunch and dinner before returning to Florida.

Up until Wednesday, everything was going according to plan. That night, we hit our first snag when we were getting ready for dinner with my blogging buddies: Mark Murphy, Mark Bialczak and his wife, Karen.

Syracuse - Mark Murphy, Judy and Dave - July 2014

Mark Murphy and I became friends after I met him where he worked with my husband, Dave, at the Syracuse Post-Standard. We have kept in touch thru phone calls, e-mail and Facebook ever since we left Syracuse in 1999 to work at Florida Today, a Gannett newspaper based in Melbourne.

Our strongest link, besides a warped sense of humor, is a love of writing.

Coincidentally, that is also the link I have forged with WordPress blogger, Mark Bialczak. He also used to work with Dave at The Post-Standard. Karen worked at the front desk at the same paper. I worked in radio and at a competing paper, The Observer-Dispatch, in Utica.

When we lived in Syracuse, we all often hung out after work at softball games. Sometimes, after a late night at work, we’d also close a local watering hole – Dinosaur Bar-B-Q or Riley’s – and then go to breakfast.

Mark Murphy now works at Pinckney-Hugo on West Genesee Street. He showed us around the advertising agency. It was only then that I suggested we call my favorite Italian restaurant in Syracuse – Angotti’s Family Restaurant – for reservations.

It was not to be. No one answered the phone. Mark Murphy checked on the web and found it was closed that night as they were on vacation. Arggh!

This is where we had arranged to meet Mark and Karen Bialczak. I called them at home. No answer. I called his cell phone. No answer. I left a message both places.

Now, I’m not a fussy eater. But my requirement for sustenance this particular night had to be Italian. That is my main comfort food.

My phone rang. Mark Bialczak had the perfect place: Rico’s Ristorante. We’d never been there, but it was a delightful choice. Outside the restaurant, I spotted a familiar smile. It was Mark Bialczak. Dave recognized Karen from their days at the daily newspaper.

Syracuse - Judy, Mark and Karen Bialczak - July 2014

The years just melted away as we talked about old times. Then we chatted about our experiences in blogging, which stories drew the most readers, and most mysteriously, why has the Freshly Pressed Award not smiled upon us.

We just shrugged. Our attention shifted back to the food and the great time we were having.

Before we parted, Mark Murphy gave me a book he knew I’d love: “Trust Me On This” by Donald E. Westlake. It’s about a reporter who left a respectable newspaper to work at a sleazy tabloid. It’s a wonderful blend “of mystery and hilarity,” so said a Boston Globe blurb on the book.

I devoured it on our return trip to Florida and laughed at the outlandish tactics those reporters used to get the story. The author kept me guessing – until near the end – on who had it in for Sara Joslyn, the main character.

As I sat the book down, I smiled. It’s wonderful to be with people who “get you.”

They are all greatly missed as is Syracuse, the place I still think of as home.

** On Saturday, August 2nd, I’ll have more on our travels in “A Trip to Yesterday.”

Have you met any of your blogger friends and had dinner together? Were you friends in real life first with any of your blogger friends? What would be your go-to dining choice when you get together?

For Mark Bialczak’s point of view on this story, here’s a link to his blog: http://markbialczak.com/2014/07/25/old-big-daily-friends-new-blogs-to-talk-about/

For a gander at Mark Murphy’s blog, Murphy’s Craw, here’s the link: http://murphyscraw.blogspot.com/

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, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

1. Main Photo: Mark Murphy, Dave and Judy Berman, Mark and Karen Bialczak at Rico’s Ristorante.

2. Photo: Mark Murphy, Judy and Dave Berman outside Rico’s Ristorante.

3. Photo: Judy Berman, Mark and Karen Bialczak outside Rico’s Ristorante.

 

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 http://www.blueman.com/las-vegas/about-show

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, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video Clip: “Swingers” (1996) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlCprJPwBSI 

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, 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, 2011-14. 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, 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

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: http://themobmuseum.org/

Movie Trailer: Casino with Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBjmiE1kf_Q 

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, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: 60 Years: KLAS-TV Documents Mob’s Rise, Fall in Las Vegas     http://www.8newsnow.com/story/22881346/60-years-klas-tv-documents-mobs-rise-fall-in-las-vegas

Main Photo: Las Vegas – Flamingo Road – Taken April 24, 2012, by curimedia http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/Flamingo_road%2C_Las_Vegas_%287314950038%29.jpg/640px-Flamingo_road%2C_Las_Vegas_%287314950038%29.jpg

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 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/72/Las_Vegas_Mob_Museum_Wall_of_Mobsters.JPG/640px-Las_Vegas_Mob_Museum_Wall_of_Mobsters.JPG