Friday, October 30, 2015


October 2014

Up surprisingly early, I partake in The Langham’s classic English breakfast of scrambled eggs, Cumberland sausage, streaky bacon, flat-capped mushrooms, grilled tomato, and slices of buttered whole wheat toast with strawberry preserve, and three cappuccinos, before following my footsteps of the day before to transact Chelsea Boots (Paul Smith wins), fully understanding that my valiant two-week effort to lose weight has now been seriously imperiled.

Because then to lunch, at Il Vicoro, hidden on Crown Passage in St. James’s.

If there is a theme to this trip other than Mark Twain’s favorite hotel, and a wedding, it is friends and friendship.  And so it is a pleasure to meet John, a friend for 36 years, sharing many points of reference—too many to cover during a two-hour lunch.

A snooze transitions one friend to another, a Swedish buddy from high school—in this case a 44-year friendship.

In preparation for these encounters, I look to Mark Twain—never short on sayings—for his take on friendship: 

The proper office of a friend is to side with you when you are in the wrong.  Nearly anybody will side with you when you are in the right.

Clas awaits me in The Langham’s lobby at precisely 6:03.  

We enter the Parlor Bar and instruct the bartender how to stir two gin martinis.  

The best thing about the result is their fine crystal glass; it’s a good thing that, in life, I see the glass half full, because that’s what these are, despite a price tag of… forty pounds!  (A whopping $33 per martini.)

We return to Marylebone, the scene of our forging friendship forty-plus years ago:  a pub we knew as “Hennekey’s" while still teenagers at the American School.  

Back then (the early 1970s), you need look only 15 to order a drink, no false ID required.  

And back then, our tipple of choice was Double Diamond beer.

Over time our tastes have changed, both in venue and tipple. 

So after a quick photo op, we decamp around the corner to Caffe Caldesi, a true friendship enhanced by a nip or two of Jameson whiskey....

...awakening to Wedding Day, begun with a Marylebone morning:  up and down the main street of a village that remains English against all the odds as Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, Russians, and Arabs swarm the British capital. 

I truly awaken at The Providores, best cappuccino in London.  

Smart new boutiques have replaced many amenity-oriented shops, except for Daunt Books (For Travellers).  

I peruse the shelves, ultimately entranced by a slim hardcover, papered in black and silver entitled At Night: A Guide for the Wakeful.  

I intuitively discern it will provide stimuli for new road trip ideas.

On to Boots the Chemist for over-the-counter remedies unavailable in the United States:  

1)  Lemsip, perhaps the best reliever of cold and flu symptoms ever invented;

2) Veganin, a tablet containing codeine.

Time to squeeze into semi-formal dress for the wedding, barely buttoning my trousers in time for nuptials at the Danish Church in Regent’s Park.  

A beautiful bride and handsome groom
A bus is on hand to roll guests to The Langham, but on this balmy day I prefer to hoof it at my own pace, expecting my waist button to pop at any moment.

I like neither formal events nor crowds, especially when I don’t know most of the people around me; polite chitchat drives me elsewhere.  

I do my best, but when the wine cuts off and the band cuts in, I cut out—initially to smoke a Cuban cigar on the dank street outside, but instead of returning, I park myself in the Parlor Bar and sip Irish whiskey until jet lag dissipates and I'm ready to hit the sack.

My first novel about a road trip has been acquired by Skyhorse Publishing in New York City.

It will be published in Fall 2016.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


October 2014

The Airbus A340-600 kisses the tarmac at precisely 11:33 a.m. local time, only three minutes later than billed, and I hike the usual half-mile through Heathrow to Immigration (now called UK BORDER), discovering to my dismay that the IRIS program no longer exists.  

Which means I must speak with a real human being to gain entry instead of flashing my eyes at a scanner.

“What happened to the IRIS entry?” I ask a uniformed guardian of the border.

“Oh, we did away with that ages ago,” she says of the innovation thought to be The Future.

“Here’s the problem,” I say.  “I don’t have my old passport that shows I am a resident.  I expected IRIS to recognize me.”  I proffer the IRIS registration form that I’d prudently kept to demonstrate the authenticity of my claim.

This threshold guardian does not know quite what to do, so she calls a supervisor, who takes my passport, says he needs to “check records,” and disappears, returning ten minutes later to say, “There aren’t any records, but I believe you.”  

(Without a doubt, I am back in England.)

The Langham processes me into the bar for a complimentary cappuccino while housekeeping readies my Mark Twain Suite.  

Problem:  When I get there, a plaque states Chester Suite.  

I phone reception:  “I’m supposed to be in the Mark Twain Suite.”

She places me on hold, returns two minutes later.  

“We did away with Mark Twain.  It’s now called Chester.”

I ask, “How can you re-name Mark Twain?” 

But she is already gone.

A cursory unpacking, and I’m gone, too, a walkabout down Regent Street, New Bond Street, Old Bond Street, Burlington Arcade, and St. James’s. 

When I was a kid, the most comfortable shoes I ever owned was a pair of  Chelsea Boots purchased for me by my mother during a summer vacation to London in 1964.
I want another.  Hence my mission this trip:  find the perfect pair of Chelsea Boots, the sort first popularized in the early 1960s by The Beatles.   

The task this day is to scout and reconnoiter:  Crockett & Jones, Harry’s of London, Foster & Son, and finally Paul Smith.

The other item on my scavenger list is a tweedy jacket with elbow patches.  

Harris Tweed sounds right, but in reality this woolen from Scotland is thick and stiff, meant for hearty highlanders.

Later, to Marylebone, my old stomping ground and now London’s trendiest neighborhood, home to a chic new restaurant called Chiltern Firehouse. 

It is currently the hottest meal ticket in town, with a two-month wait, but my dine-at-the-bar trick gets me in, a glass of Sancerre and Deviled Eggs with Spicy Tuna—the best I ever ate.

Thereafter, Grilled Iberico Pork, their signature dish, with roasted turnips and sautéed watercress—plus a side of Smoked Cream Corn, with a glass of J. Christopher pinot noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon, capped by their chocolate tart with toasted hazelnut ice cream, and a glass of Tokaji dessert wine.

St. Christopher Place beckons afterward for a much-needed long walk (as my newly trimmed waist begins to bulge...)

My first novel about a road trip has been acquired by Skyhorse Publishing in New York City.

It will be published in Fall 2016.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


October 2014

Most established clubs enjoy reciprocal privileges with other such clubs elsewhere.  

I don’t know that the COW has truly established itself in its mere six months’ existence, but I do know I cannot easily take it across the Atlantic Ocean to England. 

The occasion: my nephew’s wedding. 

But add the COW’s spiritual mentor, Mark Twain, to the mix because Mr. Clemens adored London.  

His favorite hotel was The Langham, which, when constructed in 1865, became the largest building in London and set the standard as Europe’s first grand hotel.

So I decided to stay at The Langham, maybe I’d run into Sam’s ghost, a phenomenon (ghosts in general) for which The Langham is renowned. 

Napoleon II
These include:  a former occupant of room 333 who, garbed in Victorian evening wear, likes to hang during the month of October; a German prince who, at the start of WWI, jumped from a window to his death; and Napoleon II wanders the basement.

A hotel manager informs me by phone that they have a Mark Twain Suite, though I doubt the veracity of this claim.  Is it the very room in which Sam slept, or chosen by management at random?

The hotel went through many changes during its 150-year history, including a spell when the BBC turned it into a decrepit mess, and since then rescued by a Hong Kong group that spent tens of millions renovating to a very high standard.

A week after booking my room, I finally pick up the invitation to my nephew’s wedding.  

The reception, reads the engraving, will be held at… The Langham.

Two weeks before my intended departure, I undertake my annual (if late) doctor’s physical.

The good news:  On the eve of my 60th birthday, I come through with shining colors.

The bad:  I am about ten pounds heavier than I’d fooled myself into believing.  This would undoubtedly mean that I would not fit into my suit trousers.

In Santa Barbara, I have little use for a suit, so I did not intend to purchase a new one.  Nor could I be bothered to visit a tailor for alterations, which usually render the wearer looking silly.  

Hence, I laid a challenge to myself:  Lose ten pounds.

I have a simple formula for this:  Eat less, walk more, drink red wine.

And so I stuck to protein, avoided carbs, starch, cake, and cookies, and set out to Butterfly Beach each day for a forty-minute walk, which had the added benefit of bronzing my skin.

It worked:  From 181 to 171 in two weeks—and trousers that buttoned (just barely) at the waist.

And so, somewhat victorious, I careened out my driveway with Andrew at the wheel of his white Victoria, formerly a police cruiser, and currently perceived to be an unmarked police cruiser by most other drivers, who revere it with deferential aplomb.

Unfortunately, for Andrew, the real cops are not so deferential.  

Approaching Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway, he gets clocked doing 64 in a 45 mph zone. 

Emblazoned on this motorcycle officer’s uniform shirt is the word CASH.  

I’m not sure if this is the officer’s name or if Andrew’s account may be settled on the spot, but Andrew is too consumed with self-pity to ask, fumbling over himself, as usual, trying to cut a break that won’t cut.  

Short of this unexpected stop, we would have broken a new record (one hour, 33 minutes) from Santa Barbara to LAX.

Virgin’s Upper Class is very much like a club, with sleeper seats and a bar, where I stool myself with a glass of good Bordeaux.  

Though I hope to eat at the bar, a Rocky Mountain high interferes, dispatching me back to my seat to dine on British filet of beef, chocolate lava cake, and a cheese plate (to hell with my weight loss regimen), followed by a second glass of Bordeaux, followed by a transformation of my seat into a flat bed.

My first novel about a road trip has been acquired by Skyhorse Publishing in New York City.

It will be published in Fall 2016.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015


I see faces.

They are everywhere:  in clouds, in trees and bushes, in stone walls, marble floors, in paintings and photographs, and even on the moon.

Some seem familiar, some are expressive; some are mischievous, others angelic.

Some smile, others appear to be howling.

A psychiatrist might say I suffer Pareidolia.

Or maybe Aprophenia.

Or maybe not.   

I don’t believe the faces I see convey hidden messages, or that only I can see them.

They’re just there, and I see them.


If there is a look of trepidation on my face, it's because I'm slightly disconcerted about being among 37,902 human beings doing mob mentality...

Last time I was at a major league baseball game, Wally Moon was playing right-field for the LA Dodgers.


KC has no beach, no mountains.  

But it does have its sports teams.  And for KC, the Royals are a big friggin' deal.

Especially this year.

By happenstance, we were in town for a final Royals-Astros playoff.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Shipping Out

Brooklyn, 1942, heading to the European front.

Could have been my father, then aged 18, who shipped out to the UK.

Year of Peril




A world-class art museum.


Streamline Moderne, a later form of Art Deco.

Iconically delicious.

Because sometimes all you need is a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake...


Independence, MO.

The Truman Oval Office

A time when life was simpler...


"Follow the goat."

Friday, October 16, 2015


We dump the QX70 (substitute CoW) at KC International Airport and cruise back into town by taxi because...


No such luck.

Driving the road from St. Charles to Kansas City, menacing clouds soon part for a sunny blue sky.

Somewhere in Missouri on I-70


Found in St. Charles.

A strip of Kyanite.

Wave it around and you can break any blockage.

It is also used to recall dreams and promote lucid dreaming.


Near St. Louis, on the banks of the Missouri River, lies one of the quaintest historic towns in the United States.

Didn't even know about this place when we launched, driven here by forces beyond our control plus on-the-road research and spontaneity.

Substitute Clubhouse on Wheels