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I Can't Forget Graceland

July 30, 2007 @ 09:40

No, I can't forget Graceland.

It's something I thought I'd never do. I'm not a big Elvis fan. I don't own any records or CD's and I can honestly say I've never initiated listening to Elvis.

I've haven't downloaded anything from Limewire and I've never turned up the radio when an Elvis song has come on.

I just don't care for his music.

Having said that, I couldn't visit Memphis without visiting Graceland. I didn't hesitate because I wanted the experience - regardless of the ridiculous cost.

Others may look upon a visit to Graceland as something spiritual. But not me.

Now if I could tour the "Dakota" in New York City that would be something. That would grip me like a visit to Graceland gripped so many around me on Friday.

But my visit to Graceland was more like a visit to an amusement park - a cheesy, over the top, money gouging amusement park.

And that leads me to this. If you'd like experience my perception of the Graceland tour, go here.

Please understand I couldn't video tape anything inside Graceland because it was too dark and they forbid video cameras. But it should still give you some insight into a situation that I'm sure would embarrass Elvis if he could come back for a look.

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Memphis, Tennessee

July 27, 2007 @ 10:02

We arrived in Memphis yesterday and immediately went for a stroll along Beale Street.

Beal Streat is similar to Bourbon St. in New Orleans, just not quite as long. Beale St. like Bourbon St. is closed to traffic and features a wide selection of bars and restaurants.

The heat was punishing here yesterday with the temperature flirting with 90 degrees. We had a brief thunderstorm in the afternoon, but it did nothing to take the heat away.

For dinner we went to the most famous rib place in Memphis. It's called "Rendevous" and although it's the most famous in Memphis, we didn't find the ribs as tasty as they were at "Jack's Barbeque" in Nashville.

Having said that, there's really no comparison between Nashville and Memphis when it comes to what the city core has to offer. Nashville was surprisingly quiet and somewhat depressed, while Memphis seems alive. Last night the streets were crowded with people.

Another bonus to Memphis from my perspective is the location of our hotel, the "Doubletree" on Union Street. It's right across the street from "Autopark Stadium" and tonight we plan on catching a Triple A baseball game between the Memphis Rebirds and Sacramento.

This afternoon we're making the trip out to "Graceland" to get sucked into all the touristy bullshit it has to offer, and we're also going to check out the assassination location of Martin Luther King.

Check back Monday and I'll give you the low down on Graceland and a few other things.

In the mean time, here's what kids do for tips on Beale St.

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Nashville To Memphis

July 26, 2007 @ 09:14

Today we're on the road to Memphis where we plan to take in more sights and sounds.

Even thought I could give two shits about Elvis I'm going to Graceland because that's what you're supposed to do in Memphis.

I'm anxious to get a taste of the music, apparently it's somewhat different than what's offered in Nashville. More soul and blues.

During our farewell night in Nashville, after a big feed of King Crab legs, we popped into several bars and once again were amazed at the talent level - at one bar on Broadway called "Roberts Western World" we discovered a band that was simply amazing. "The Travis Mann Band."

The blond guy in the forefront was simply amazing with his guitar.

Here's a small snippet. The blond guy in the forefront was simply amazing with his guitar.

And before I start the mini-van and point it towards Memphis, here's something else for you to enjoy. Some funny country music.

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Strong Dollar - Cheap Beer

July 25, 2007 @ 09:59

Nashville, Tennessee - I realize a strong dollar can be a problem for Canadian exporters, but when you're traveling in the United States, a strong loonie is fabulous.

Yesterday when I went to a bank machine and withdrew a couple of hundred bucks, I was amazed to find out the Canadian dollar was flirting with 97 cents - so for all intents and purposes, it's par. And in some cases its better than par.

Take beer for instance. Beer is so cheap down here when you consider what we used to pay on the exchange, and what we pay now, a lot of the beer I've been drinking is free.

Yesterday I was in a place called the Broadway Brewhouse in downtown Nashville which offers more than a hundred beers on tap and their happy hour runs from 11am till 7pm.

A 16 ounce glass of draft is two dollars. At home, the average price for a draft that size would be about five dollars.

Anyway, I did the math.

A few short years ago, yesterdays draft would have cost be three dollars Canadian, but yesterday it cost me $2.07 Canadian. So compared to when our dollar was worth roughly half of what the American dollar was, yesterday I drank a third of the beer for free.

Not bad eh?

Or, you can look at it from this angle. What cost me 2.07 in Nashville, would have cost me at least five dollars in Toronto. So it wasn't until my third beer yesterday that I actually started payin'.

Not too bad eh?

Restaurant food is another beast. I noticed this a few years ago when our dollar was still struggling against the American greenback. Menu prices in the States, in most places, mirror what they are in Canada.

There are exceptions, but who wants to go to a sloppy buffet with a bunch of fat geriatric Americans?

Yesterday we did some more sightseeing and it included the old and the new. First we went to have a look at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel which sits in the suburbs of Nashville.

It's one of those hotel theme-park things that is great if you travel down here with a family, but is next to useless if you really want to enjoy what Nashville is really supposed to be about.

It's got close to three thousand rooms and a huge atrium that's filled with stuff designed to suck every last dollar out of your jeans.

This area is also home to the new Grand Ole Opry, which seems weird. Weird that something so historic and famous would end up out in the boonies.

Afterwards we went back downtown and visited the Ryman Theatre, which is actually the authentic Grand Ole Opry that was rebuilt in the 90's after sitting empty for close to 20 years.

The Gaylord fella who built the big hotel outside of town donated eight million dollars to restore the Ryman when Nashville city council threatened to tear it down.

It's a wonderful place that reeks of history. If you're down here take the guided tour for 16 bucks. It's worth it, even if you're not really a country music fan.

The tour also provided a funny American story. At the beginning the tour guide asked everyone where they were from.

"Texas" said one.
"Maryland" said another.
Oklahoma and Nebraska were two others.

When it came to me I said "Toronto".

After a couple of other people named the States they were from I just had to ask the question.

"Hey people" I said. "Why do say the State you're from and not the city?"

"What are you talking about" said the woman from Maryland. "You named your country."

No kidding.

One other thing we did yesterday was have dinner at a place called the Cheesecake Factory. It's a chain my wife has visited while traveling in the States and she insisted we go to the Nashville location last night.

Fabulous. Especially the appetizers. The Avocado rolls and the Fresh Tai egg rolls are crazy.

That's it for now. Today we tour the Country Music Hall of Fame and then tomorrow we head for Memphis

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Blond Triplets

July 24, 2007 @ 10:45

Nashville, Tennessee - Nashville is one of those cities where reality is much different from perception.

When we first arrived yesterday the city looked small from the highway with only one skyscraper, but when it's surrounded by a large football stadium and a major league hockey arena you assume its just another major market.

It wasn't until we checked into our hotel and started to explore that we realized this is a tiny city.

The main attractions are lower Broadway Ave., 2nd Street and Printers Alley and that's about it - and you could probably walk the area in less than an hour.

Nashville appears to be hurting a bit with several closed down shops and restaurants throughout the tourist area, and there seems to be signs for office space everywhere.

A city with the image of Nashville tends to be inflated in our minds because of its significance to music, it's history and its exposure - it's also one of those cities that when you arrive you're not so much disappointed as surprised.

I expected it to be bigger than life and a lot more polished, something like New Orleans, but instead it's somewhat tired, and for the middle of July very quiet.

We did a walk about last night, and outside of one regular bar and one karaoke bar the streets were bare and there wasn't much going on.

Needless to say Nashville is a city that attracts up and comers, wannabes and losers and we saw a sampling of each yesterday.

In the bars the quality of performer is a cut above what you'd see anywhere else. Performers come here to be discovered and part of that strategy is to do bar gigs for nothing more than tips. Anywhere else and they'd probably be paid for their ability.

The karaoke bars are interesting because they showcase vocal talent to the hilt. Singers choose popular songs and belt them out. Believe me, Nashville is not a place for casual karaoke enthusiasts - at no time last night did I even consider getting up and doing my rendition of "Candy Man".

What would be applauded in Toronto would be laughed off the stage in Nashville.

The most amusing act we saw yesterday was a female group called the Maynard Triplets from Omaha. Blond, attractive identical triplets with fabulous voices - baby come on!

If they have one drawback its their weight. They tried out for America Idol and Simon Cowell said they looked like three overweight Jessica Simpsons, to which they replied "we promise to lose weight."

Judging by yesterday, they still have some work to do and I guess that's why they find themselves doing karaoke in Nashville.

That may sound cruel but it's reality. I don't have to tell you how tough breaking into this business can be, and looks, especially for women is a big part of it.

One other thing I noticed yesterday was the subtle campaign to keep the Predators in Nashville. Although most of the bars displayed "Tennessee Titan" banners and paraphernalia, there was very little "Predator" stuff.

Over the next few days I plan to engage a Nashvillian with a little hockey talk and I'll let you know what I learn. In the mean time, check this out.

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Air Canada Sucks Baggage

July 23, 2007 @ 09:02

Believe me; I know this is not unique. Everyone has an Air Canada story because simply put, it's just not a very good airline and Friday night a got a large dose of their incompetence.

What was supposed to be a direct flight from Toronto to Atlanta at 5:15, arriving at 7:20 turned into a connecting flight New York, departing at 6:30 and arriving in Atlanta at midnight.

Here's what happened.

Because my wife has an American Express Platinum Card through her work place, we have access to the Air Canada lounge and believe me, it's a nice perk for a beer drinkin', trailer lovin' redneck such as myself.

Anyway, we arrived at the Air Canada lounge at about four o'clock giving us about 45 minutes to have a couple of drinks and as we were showing our credentials at the lounge, the woman at he desk told us our flight had been delayed till six.

"That's odd" I said. "We just checked in and they didn't say anything down there."

"It just happened" said the woman.

No big deal we thought. It would give a little more time in the lounge, and a 45 minute delay was nothing to complain about. The woman told us to be at the gate at 5:30 instead of 4:45.

Me, my wife and our good friend Lori Love enjoyed ourselves in the lounge and about 5:25 made out way to the gate.

I knew there was something wrong as I approached Gate 166 and their appeared to be none there. No one except and Air Canada woman who quickly told me our flight had just left the gate and we had missed it by about three minutes.

"But they me it had been delayed until six" I said.

"I realize that sir, but it was changed back to 5:30 when some bad weather cleared."

"How was I supposed to know that?" I asked.

"We made an announcement throughout the airport" she said.

"But I was in the Air Canada lounge, and I didn't hear a thing."

"Unfortunately sir, nobody made a call to the lounge."
"Why" I asked. "Isn't that part of the deal."

"Normally yes" she replied, "but in this case the call wasn't made. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry. What good do does that do me right now? My flight is on its way to Atlanta and I'm not on it, so what do I do now?

"Go to customer service" she offered.

This story could go on forever, but I'll spare you all the grimy details. Just let me tell you from that point on, it was typical Air Canada arrogance and buck passing.

The guy at customer service was helpful, but he ended up putting us on a connecting flight through La Guardia that we had no chance connecting. We ended up on a nine o'clock flight thanks to Delta Airlines, but no before being tagged at security and having everything done to me just short of having a probe stuck up my ass.

A two hour direct flight turned into a six hour nightmare.

I should also make two other points.

In Toronto I went back to the Air Canada lounge to voice my displeasure with the woman who originally told me about the delay. I pointed out that if she had taken on the responsibility to tell me about the delay, maybe the system should have allowed for some important updates.

She was quick to retort that it wasn't her fault and if I wanted to continue the conversation I could do it with the police.

It seems some airport employees are taking the new security measures a bit too far, I'm not an idiot, I'm an excitable guy, but I hardly raised my voice to the woman - I was just adamant in my argument but she was embarrassed and her defense was to threaten me.

And one last thing. Apparently a major part of new security measures means no bag can be put onto a plane if the passenger doesn't board the plane.

In other words, if Fred Patterson arrives at the airport and checks a bag, and then Fred Patterson doesn't board the plane, then Fred Patterson's suitcase should not be allowed on the plane. Makes sense.

My bag flew to Atlanta, on time, on the original flight. So did my wife's and so did Lori's

How's that for security?

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Atlanta, Georgia - July 20 - 23

July 23, 2007 @ 09:01

The first thing you notice about Atlanta is how clean it is. It's like Toronto used to be.

It really hit home over the weekend.

In Toronto, and around the GTA we've always had this smugness about us while comparing ourselves to American cities. Well something shocking has happened over the past decade or so.

While cities like New York and Atlanta have experienced re-birth and revitalization, Toronto has gone the other way.

I didn't see a long of graffiti in Atlanta and I definitely didn't see much litter. The streets of Atlanta and the downtown core are very clean and it's really become a people's city.

We also had a rental car and Saturday night we traveled out to the suburbs, a place called Conyers which would be the equivalent of Mississauga.

There was no litter on the highways and no litter on the off-ramps. Completely different to what we've become used to in the GTA.

The downtown area of Atlanta is similar to Toronto with one distinct difference - It shuts down on Sunday. There's a completely different attitude towards the Sabbath in the south and most of the downtown stores were closed yesterday and its against the law to sell beer wine or liquor on Sunday.

It was only in recent history that restaurants were allowed to sell booze on Sundays.

Highlights of our stopover included a tour of CNN. Not the greatest tour I've ever been on, but worth the 12 dollars if you don't mind all the woman asking about Anderson Cooper.

We toured the Buckhead area of Atlanta which would be the equivalent of your Rosedale or Bridal Path. However, the homes here are of a different architecture and feel - obviously very southern.

They have an area downtown called the Underground which is exactly that, a mall underground, and close to the Underground area is something called Five Points which would be similar to our Queen Street West.

Last night we took the subway, or what they call the Marta to the Braves game against St. Louis. Atlanta is just another one of those cities to build a retro-park since Toronto built the Skydome.

It really is nice to sit outside on a summer's night in a park made especially for baseball.

In some ways the Skydome suits Toronto right now. Not quite in step with the rest of North America's major centres, cities like Atlanta that appears to have solved all the problems that David Miller is confused by right now.

If there is one contentious issue in Atlanta right now it deals with Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Since he was charged with that "dog fighting felony", it has split opinion in the usual way.

Those who don't like football or those who don't really care about sports want to see the skunks ass nailed to a wall. But then there's that element that just care about winning football games - those who buy into the attitude that pro athletes are above the law and should be excused from anything as long as they continue to deliver.

Vick has that attitude. Last week during an interview, he actually came right out and said it. "I'm Mike Vick, nothing's going to happen."

A racial division is also quite apparent. Most white people think he should be suspended from the NFL right now, while most blacks feel the opposite.

And just before I go I'll leave you with this. Last week I mentioned we'd be going to a Southern Barbeque on Saturday night, and we did.

Here is a video of my buddy Darren's plate.

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Won't You Come With Me

July 20, 2007 @ 09:33

Later this afternoon I'm flying to Atlanta, Georgia where I'll begin a nine day holiday through the south.

(And I'm sure some of you who read and misinterpreted yesterdays posting "Welcome to the Neighbourhood" will think this is where I belong.)

Three days in Atlanta, three days in Nashville and three days in Memphis. That's the itinerary and thanks to my laptop computer, my amazing Nikon camera and high speed internet readers are going to join me every step of the way.

In Atlanta we're going tour CNN headquarters on Saturday afternoon, go to a private southern barbeque on Saturday night, and then on Sunday night we're going to Turner Field to watch the Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.

On Monday we're heading for Nashville where we'll take in all the sights and sounds of music city including Printers Alley and a fantastic steak house that Neighbour John told me about.

We'll check out the Grand Ole Opry, go to some neat bars with live music and maybe I'll get the pulse of the city regarding the Predators.

I also plan to check out the Predators arena and maybe take a tour around the Titan's stadium. I'm weird that way. I love looking at sports venues.

I've talked to several people over the past few weeks and I haven't met one person who didn't have fabulous things to say about Nashville.

On Thursday we'll shoot over to Memphis and do all you're supposed to do in Memphis, including visit the home of that fat bastard who died on the toilet 30 years ago next month.

It may sound gruesome, but I wouldn't mind doing a drive-by of the motel where the great Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It's a bit of a downer, but it's history just the same.

It's going to be busy, but it's going to be fun so click on starting on Monday morning to see what's going on.

Loving yuz all, each and every one of yuz.

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Welcome To The Neighbourhood

July 19, 2007 @ 08:36

There's something very interesting going on in the city of Brampton and it all centers around a mosque to be built at the corner of Sandlewood Parkway and Hurontario Street.

The project has been approved and it was championed along the way by Mayor Susan Fennell who isn't stupid. She realizes the changing face of Brampton and the GTA means ethnic votes and she wasn't about to stand in the way of the mosque, even if it meant turning her back on long time residents.

It's a sticky issue. The Muslim population of Brampton and Mississauga is absolutely thrilled that this structure, which could easily be described as ugly by many, is finally going to be built.

Unfortunately, hundreds of other Bramptonites aren't so thrilled. They've lived the area for a long time, invested a lot of time and money into their homes, and they don't want a big Mosque in their back-yard.

They attempted to block the project through parking, noise and traffic concerns, but after virtually every angle was tested it couldn't be stopped.

Needless to say the opponents have been accused of the usual with intolerance being at the top of the list. They were also referred to as ignorant and it was suggested they were over-reacting to 911.

But is this really a case of intolerance or is it a case of looking after your own interests?

To deny that having a Mosque built on the edge of a residential area will affect property values and the image of the neighbourhood is just plain silly, because it will.

Put yourself in this position. If you are any faith other than Muslim, how would you feel about a 10 thousand square foot Mosque being built in your neighbourhood? A mosque with a 96 foot tower and a large dome.

A mosque that needs two levels because women are not allowed to pray with men.

There is absolutely no doubt that this will have an affect on property values because once built it will instantly decrease the breadth of cliental. Whether anyone wants to admit it, believe it or acknowledge it there will be house hunters who will immediately choose not to live in the area - and when you get right down to it, can you blame them?

And it won't necessarily be because they don't like Muslims or they're "afraid" of Muslims, it could be the property value concerns, or because the architecture doesn't suit the area, or maybe they just don't want to live near a huge mosque where common practice is to oppress women.

For the most part Canada is a tolerant and welcoming nation, noted for its willingness to accept dramatic change. But sometimes too much is expected too fast.

In this case why couldn't the roles be reversed? Instead of looking at the long time residents of this neighbourhood and asking them to understand and open their minds and accept change, why couldn't it have been the other way?

Why couldn't those in favour of the project have been asked to understand the feelings of those already in the neighbourhood. Those who worked hard to buy their homes and establish a neighbourhood they are comfortable in, those who weren't quite ready for a mosque to be built on the corner.

To tell you the truth, I'm sure that request was made, but it obviously fell on deaf ears because it's becoming abundantly clear that it no longer works both ways in Canada.

There is so much wide open space in Peel Region I'm sure a compromise could have been reached to situate this building where it wouldn't be such an imposition, yet easily accessible to those who support it.

But it didn't happen. The Mosque will be built. And if you don't like it, you bloody well better get used to it.

Or move.

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July 16, 2007 @ 09:20

On Saturday I was at a little General Store in a place called Big Cedar and while I was lining up to pay for coffee cream I noticed a shelf of canned goods.

The one thing that caught my eye was a can of "Puritan Beef Stew", and then I got to thinking, who eats canned stew any more?

In this day and age of healthy living and watching what we eat while we worry about Global Warming and an imminent terrorist attack, who would actually walk into a store and buy a can of beef stew.

Within a can of beef stew nothing tastes like its supposed to taste. Not that it tastes horrible mind you, its just that the potatoes don't really taste like potatoes, the carrots don't taste like carrots and the beef definitely doesn't taste like beef - and if it's been sitting around too long, sometimes you can actually taste tin.

There's really no need to expose yourself to such a thing and I've got to believe that the sale of canned beef stew isn't that significant today.

There was a time when canned goods served a purpose through convenience, but now there are so many other convenient products that offer much better quality - microwave dinners like Michilini's or Lean Cuisine.

I imagine if there's a market for canned beef stew its been reduced to college students who don't give a shit and like the price, or white trash that like the price and don't know any better.

When I was a teenager staying up north with a bunch of other kids without our parents sometimes we'd get hungry at night, and here's what we'd do.

Every kid would go back to his place and grab one canned good item, and no matter what it was - stew, beans, spaghetti, soup, chili, even sardines - we'd put it all in one pot and we called it "slop."

That was back in the early 70's, and I can honestly say it's been over 30 years since I last ate a can of beef stew. I never gave canned beef stew to my kids and I can't recall seeing anybody else give it to their kids.

So again, I leave off where I began.

Who eats canned beef stew any more?

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