5 Things I Learned on my Summer Vacation


There's nothing like spending two weeks back east in the middle of a nasty heat wave to make you appreciate the remarkably balanced, dry weather we've had in Los Angeles all summer. Now that I'm back in the saddle, here's some random highlights (in random order) from what I learned along the route from LA to NYC, NJ, Philly and Pittsburgh over the last weeks.

1. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore

I lived in NYC between 1991 and 2005 and somehow I never made it to the Statue of Liberty. Yes, I'd been there as a kid on a school trip, but whatever I learned back then has been forgotten. Acting like a tourist in my own city was sorta fun, especially seeing some of the landmarks through my son's eyes. He has had an especially affinity for Lady Liberty since he was old enough to talk, and was really looking forward to seeing her up close and in person. There was a bunch of interesting tidbits gleaned on this leg of the trip, but most interesting was the story of the famous poem that we all associate with the statue. "The New Colossus" was penned by Jewish poet Emma Lazarus in 1883 as part of an art auction to raise money for the pedestal Lady Liberty stands on. Lots of artists, like Walt Whitman, donated works to help raise funds. When the statue was unveiled in 1886, the poem played no role whatsoever in the festivities. Lazarus died in 1887 and those famous lines were all but forgotten until 1903 when a friend of hers tried to memorialise her by getting the poem engraved inside the statue. Obvioulsy, he succeeded. However, if you look closely at the plaque where the poem is engraved, you'll notice that the line "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" reads "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" - a typo that's never been corrected since 1903!

Here's the whole poem as she wrote it in 1883.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

2. The largest working game of Operation is in Pittsburgh

Because my wife is from Pittsburgh, we spend a fair amount of time there each year. We've been saving up a trip to the Carnegie Science Center for when our son was old enough. Having just turned three (on the trip!), it was finally time. Here you see him hanging out with Cavity Sam--the largest working Cavity Sam on the planet, according to the good folks at the Center. While you can buy your own imitations, like

this one

(Cavity Sergei?) or

this one

(Cavity Liam?) or create one out of dominoes, like you see in the video below, only Carnegie's looks exactly like the John Spinello 1965 original.


3. American Airlines now charges for peanuts

And I don't mean Charles Schultz's Peanuts, either... Okay, so paying $25 per suitcase is bad enough, but peanuts? What's next in the nickle-and-diming scam of our lifetimes? A surcharge for the air you're breathing on board? For the sun that's shining through the window? When I asked the flight attendant if she was serious about charging me for the little bag she said she absolutely was, but that the airline might not be charging for peanuts for long because of the U.S. Department of Transportation's recent proposals to ban packets of peanuts on all domestic flights due to the fact that about 1.8 million Americans suffer from peanut allergies.

4. There is a Mascot Hall of Fame

No surprise that my son's favorite part of the Phillies game he saw at Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia was seeing the Philly Phanatic in person (as opposed to the doll he has back in LA, or the t-shirt I have, etc.). What was surprising, however, was to learn that the first Phanatic, Dave Raymond, who was working originally as an intern in the team's front office before suiting up in that lovable green costume for fifteen years, from 1978 to 1993, also started the Mascot Hall of Fame. Great idea, right? It's a virtual Hall only, at least for now, but you can visit it and nominate your town's mascot right over here.

5. A Tree grows on Death Avenue

Did you know that freight trains used to roam at street level through NYC's midtown west side as recently as 1930? There were so many accidents between these trains and pedestrian/car traffic that 10th Ave was dubbed Death Avenue! So a massive project was undertaken to move the freighters 30 feet in the air. The 13-mile long infrastructure, named the High Line, was built in the 1930s at cost of more than $2 billion (in today's money) and eliminated more than 100 street-level railroad crossings. When I moved to Manhattan in the early 90s, trains were no longer running on the High Line. NYC's industrial district had moved off the island and the trains went with it in the 1980s.

So what to do with all that elevated track? Why not turn it into a majestic park?

The new High Line

is an example of urban landscaping done right. It's interestingly developed, gorgeously decorated, and retains all the old-world charm of industry. This photo of my son was taken at a part of the park that's covered with beautiful colored windows.