More than seventy years after he left this earth, Thomas "Fats" Waller's joie de vivre and infectious humor continue to be a strong calling card. Yet Waller's talent as a brilliant entertainer sometimes overshadowed his unparalleled skill at the keyboard, both as a composer and a performer.
Sitting nightly at a piano, Waller pounded out his ditties, pouring himself a shot or two of gin and cracking wise with the crowd. One of the most prolific musicians during the golden era of jazz and an originator of swing music, the 6' 2", 285 pound Waller had a hearty appetite in every sense of the word.
One of his most popular recordings was “Ain’t Misbehavin,” heard first on Broadway in 1930. Nearly fifty years later Richard Maltby, Jr. co-created the original stage version-- a high-spirited musical revue and tribute to the black musicians of that era. In 1978 Ain't Misbehavin' took home four Tony Awards and ran for 1,604 performances on Broadway. It also launched the jukebox musical genre that is still going strong on Broadway today.
As a small boy I used to tag along with my grandparents on visits to the neighborhood butcher shop. I can still can recall walking through the door to the sight of the front floor covered with fresh sawdust. The sawdust was strewn about to soak up the juices that dripped from the meat when sides of beef were hauled through the front door. My eyes as big as saucers, I witnessed that scene a couple of times.
While you can't plug into that high drama at the Meat House in Chadds Ford, what you will discover is a modern version of the old neighborhood butcher, and much more.
"It is an old idea that’s new again," says proprietor Scott Gagnon. "We wanted to recreate the strong sense of community that the neighborhood butcher shops used to provide. Getting to know our customers. We have great products, but we back it up with good people. Our goal is to provide an incredible food experience.”
The store opened on Route 202 (across from the Wawa) on February 28 bringing "fine dining hospitality" to the retail business. Doors are opened for every customer, bags are carried out and each supervisor can offer suggestions on food pairings and cooking times as well as advice for anything in the store. Shoppers are greeted, given a tour if it’s their first visit, and are offered samples. The Meat House has hired an executive team with culinary training and years of experience in the service industry. Seven of their 22 employees are chefs.
It was touted as the gold standard. It would stand up to a deluge of rain and all sorts of harsh weather. It would take away track bias and require minimal maintenance. By early 2008 synthetic surfaces for every day racing had been installed at nine tracks across North America.
They were represented by names like Polyturf, Cushion Track, Pro-Ride and Tapeta. Safety-wise the racing surfaces have lived up to their billing. In the latest study released in early April by the Equine Injury Database of The Jockey Club it showed that synthetic surfaces were far safer than dirt or turf, producing proportionally much fewer fatal breakdown.
It was the high-profile, catastrophic breakdowns of Barbaro in the 2008 Preakness and Eight Belles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby spurred the rapid transition to synthetics. The rush to judgment was especially swift in California. In 2006 the California Horse Racing Board mandated its four venues install the new all-weather racetracks.
But not long after being installed the artificial surfaces pivoted from a source of intrigue to a litany of complaints. It was too slow. It favored stretch runners. It left gamblers bewildered which led to a sharp decrease in betting handles. The surfaces lessened the concussion factor when compared to running on conventional dirt, but some horsemen said it sometimes caused hind-end, soft tissue and muscle injuries.
It is an annual pilgrimage for artists, nature enthusiasts and curious onlookers.
They turn up at the Myrick Conservation Center in search of sunflowers-- 20 acres of the burgeoning vibrant, yellow blossoms-- which peak at the end of September. Planted in July, the fields attract mourning doves for the fall hunting season, but also cardinals, bluejays and scores of migrating songbirds that feed on fallen sunflower seeds.
Still, the highlight of the avian year is springtime when millions of brightly colored songbirds pass through the Brandywine Valley. It’s an optimal stop-over point for refueling during long-distance journeys from Central or South America to northern breeding grounds. One of the most stunning birds is the Scarlet Tanager with a blood-red body set off by jet-black wings and tail with a staring doll’s eye.
A spring layover at the Myrick Center is ideal since the grounds are flush with insects that provide ample food for raising young. There is also an added bonus-- perched high in the forest canopy, their joyous songs can brighten any day.
Six miles west of West Chester, Myrick’s 318 acres provide a varied habitat for more than 125 bird species. Skipping from treetop to treetop the birds can be spotted in the woodlands, wetlands and meadows that are also home to white-tailed deer, squirrels, wild turkey, and waterfowl.
When Thomas Rowe unveiled plans for his masterpiece in 1926, it was considered an architectural marvel. A flamingo-pink grand hotel with Moorish bell towers and turrets, it boasted Mediterranean styled arches, red clay tiled roofs, balconies, private baths, penthouse suites and a ballroom for 1,000 dancers-- just steps from the turquoise waters of Gulf of Mexico. The Irishman spent a staggering $1.2 million to build his “dream castle.”
A 30-minute shot from Tampa airport, it’s quite a sight driving up the steep rise of the entrance to the Loews Don CeSar Hotel's grand porte-cochere entrance. Silhouetted against the bright Florida sky, the hotel can be seen from miles around. It blends European grandeur and seaside elegance into an enchanting experience reminiscent of yesteryear. Alternately dubbed “The Don,” the “Pink Palace” and the “Pink Lady,” the hotel celebrates its 86th anniversary in 2014.
It all began with a story, one of lost love. While attending university in England, Rowe saw a Spanish opera singer named Lucinda in a production of Maritana. He fell madly in love. The two met regularly after her performances at an ornate fountain near the Royal Opera House. However, their plans to elope were foiled by her parents.
They come in droves. They leave clutching paper bags stuffed with old-fashioned cinnamon-dusted apple cider doughnuts. Moist and golden, sturdy yet delicately sweet, bakers have been churning them out for more than 25 years at the iconic fieldstone barn on Route 842 outside Unionville.
The journey to Northbrook Marketplace is a scenic country drive through open woodlands, past horse farms and country estates. For generations it was the site where folks showed up to pick apples in the orchard and the go-to spot for pumpkins and those delectable doughnuts.
Back in 2008 Rob and Christine Boone purchased the property, transforming its rustic roots into a beautifully restored gastro-destination, a casual country market by day which focuses on local and sustainable cuisine and an elaborate tasting venue for private get-togethers at the 22-seat chef’s table in the evening.
Housed in a massive red plank and stone wall 1850s barn, when you step inside your eyes are drawn to a far wall adorned with a U. S. flag that flew over the Capitol, a mounted “authentic” jackalope fur, a bleached Texas Longhorn skull and an imposing 60-inch longhorn steer’s horn.
Much of America’s best art is illustration. Just gaze upon John James Audubon's depictions of birds. It’s also true of N.C. Wyeth's mesmerizing images of pirates and giants.
Everything Wyeth did was on an epic scale. His illustrations for children's classics such as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Last of the Mohicans, Robin Hood, and The Yearling captured the imagination of generations of readers with their action-packed drama.
Wyeth's career spanned the "golden days” of illustration and the expanded use of art in advertising. In the early decades of the 20th century, Wyeth (1882-1945) along with Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, and Norman Rockwell were looking to reach a much broader audience for their work, as well as a steadier income than from just images for books or magazines. They turned to creating works specifically for advertising calendars.
“A Date with Art: The Business of Illustrated Calendars” at the recently renamed Brandywine River Museum of Art introduces visitors to the once-thriving, lucrative business. The exhibition, which runs through May 18, explores the various ways these famous illustrators integrated calendar work into their careers, adapting to shifting views of contemporary art, illustration and business.
For the past fifteen years I’ve been a contributing writer to a variety of national & regional magazines, prominent daily news-papers and websites. I have written about an array of topics such as arts & culture, chefs, food & drink, business entrepreneurs, travel, history, thoroughbred racing, and the animal and natural world.
I'm currently a regular arts & culture contributor to WFIT's website (the NPR radio station in Melbourne.), Vero Beach Magazine and Florida Today newspaper on a number of topics. Over recent years my work has been published regularly in Blood-Horse, Long Island Boating World and The Hunt and PA Equestrian magazines.
I am a regular contributor to the websites JustLuxe.com and SeeTheSouth.com. JustLuxe is an online magazine featuring the best of luxury lifestyle and travel, while SeeTheSouth features truly unique southern destinations. My travel articles also regularly appear in Florida Today, Long Island Boating world and the Delaware County Times, a major daily newspaper just outside Philly.
I've also contributed a variety of articles to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, the Delaware County Times, and the Montgomery County Newspapers. I have been an Arts & Culture correspondent for Newsworks, the website for WHYY-TV (PBS in Philadelphia). I have been a correspondent to ESPN.com, America's Best Racing, the Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.
After spending the past two decades in Wilmington, Delaware, my wife Jane, our Toller retriever Smarty and I have moved to Melbourne Beach, Fla. Located on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River, Melbourne Beach sits on the southern end of Florida's "Space Coast." The famed coastal highway A1A runs directly along the Atlantic. Melbourne Beach (pop. 3,000) offers unspoiled beaches with sparkling blue-green waters and thousands of beautiful seabirds and long-legged shorebirds.
Head north 35 miles on A1A and you arrive at Cape Canaveral, for decades our nation's gateway to exploring and understanding our universe. Today, Cape Canaveral is a hub for many of the most exciting new private space projects such as SpaceX, the rocket and spacecraft company founded by Elon Musk (manufacturer of Tesla vehicles). Upwards of 30 launches are planned in 2017.
Back down to earth traveling on two-lane A1A south from Melbourne Beach's compact business area brings you to a series of secluded and undeveloped natural beaches. Bonsteel Park's two-acre beach provides an excellent vantage point to catch glimpses of passing dolphins, while the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is recognized as the most important nesting area for loggerhead turtles in the western hemisphere. It's also home to the gigantic leatherback turtles.
Nearby is Sebastian Inlet State Park which connects the Indian River Lagoon with the Atlantic Ocean. Its jetty break is recognized as one of the surf world's high-performance hot spots. Three generations of world-class surfers have surfed here, including 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. The 600-acre park is also celebrated for world-class fishing, and plenty of seabirds and wildlife.
Through my writing over the past decade I have traveled to spectacular destinations such as Lake Tahoe, Calif./Nev. and Sun Valley, Idaho; Cody, Wyoming/Yellowstone Park; Saratoga Springs, the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs and Rhinebeck, New York; Port Clyde and Monheghan Island, Maine; Avalon and Stone Harbor, New Jersey; Middleburg, Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia.
Other travel adventures have included Tampa and St. Petersburg, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, Florida; and St. Simons and Jekyll Island, Georgia. My travel articles thoughtfully explore the history of the region along with museums, music and the arts, chefs and restaurateurs, wineries and craft breweries, outdoor and sporting adventures as well as profiling intriguing personalities of those regions.
In addition to my writing career I owned a marketing company where I represented a diversified list of clients in the areas of publicity, marketing and business development-- such as the famed Baldwin's Book Barn, Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Kahunaville restaurant chain. In another life I was the founder, publisher and editor of Life Sports Magazine.
Along with Jane and Smarty I look forward to writing about new adventures in Melbourne Beach, the "Space Coast" and other Florida destinations. That's Smarty below with his pals Willie and Nelson.