Retro TV takes wing with ‘Pan Am’

Hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed drama “Mad Men” comes the high-flying “Pan Am,” ABC-TV’s retro look at the swinging sixties. Debuting this fall the show stars Christina Ricci, Karine Vanasse, Kelli Garner and Margot Robbie. New York magazine is reporting that Jonah Lotan, who plays an ambitious new pilot, is being replaced.

ABC bills the show as full of “passion, jealousy and espionage. In this modern world, air travel represents the height of luxury and Pan Am is the biggest name in the business. The planes are glamorous, the pilots are rock stars and the stewardesses are the most desirable women in the world.”

The executive producer and writer is Jack Orman, who served in similar capacities on “ER” and “JAG.”

The show’s appeal may lie in its contrast with air travel today. No doubt the writers will handle body searches differently than the Transportation Security Administration. As for the soundtrack, producers have chosen the perfect backdrop for a martini-loving generation, Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me.”

Hopefully the show will fare better than the airline. A cultural icon of the 1960s, Pan American World Airways operated from 1927 until 1991. After declaring bankruptcy that year its assets were acquired by Delta Air Lines.

In search of the perfect orange, part 4

Left a good hotel (the Inn on the Lake) in an average town (Sebring) and drove not to Orlando as planned but to Mt. Dora, an hour north of the city. Drove past the small park we saw five years ago when we left the kids at Disney. Ate at the same restaurant near the lake and the railroad tracks, Pisces Rising—nice but a bit pricey. The town is quaint but overrun with hundreds of thousands of people during several festivals each year, according to a very nice woman at the local chamber of commerce.

We said we live in a resort area and complimented her on the sign hanging on the door: “We treat our visitors like family.”

She laughed. “But we treat our family like crap.”

“That part of the sign must have fallen off.”

Instead of touring the town, we headed to the post office. We have to carry heavy client training manuals home and decided that we’ll never get them on the airplane without hocking the rental car. So we’ll mail them. The guy at the post office was very friendly. Then we drove around Lake Dora and through Eustis (a tad too commercial) around Lake Eustis and north on CR 452 past Lake Yale (an OK place but few trees for that all-important shade in summer). Then west to Leesburg and Lake Griffin and Lake Harris and finally south to the Rosen Centre Hotel on International Drive. Dinner at Thai Thani, a chain that didn’t feel like a franchise, its interior dark and ornamental, the food spicy, the service attentive.

Tuesday, Jan. 11. The Rosen is a tall, wide hotel that aspires to elegance and succeeds in most ways. The public spaces are vast and tastefully decorated, the rooms small but comfortable. Some guests complained there were no refrigerators or microwaves in the rooms but we didn’t miss them. The hotel charges extra for everything—parking, Internet and use of the spa—but does a good job with housekeeping and food service.

Breakfast in the Café Gauguin was hot and fresh, a buffet with everything from oatmeal to eggs to fruit, although the orange juice wasn’t as good at the liquid gold in Sebring. We sat through a sales meeting in the afternoon for our client Aqua Glass, then joined a group dinner (14 of us) at the Everglades Restaurant in the Rosen. Very elegant, with three wait staff and pictures drawn on plates in edible gel. Big, rich, expensive meal but a nice way to kickoff the show, in the company of some very interesting and considerate people.

Sunset on Lake Eustis

Sunset on Lake Eustis

In search of the perfect orange, part 3

Breakfast at the Cabot Lodge (named for former UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge?) south of Gainesville was about the same at the Holiday Inn near Ocala only we sat near an open fireplace. And the orange juice is getting better, although nothing to write home about. (Is blogging a form of writing home?)

Driving south on Route 27 from Gainesville to Sebring we took a right on Lake Minneola Road because the name sounded nice and headed into the small town of Clermont. In the historic downtown we found clean, quiet streets for a Saturday, mile temperatures (long-sleeved shirt weather, maybe close to 60). Stopped at Liz’s Ice Cream & Deli for lunch with a table of about 10 senior citizens and Liz behind the counter making sandwiches. Very, very friendly people. Two were Kiwanians and one a Rotarian, in their 60s and 70s and maybe early 80s. They talked about sex and getting drunk the previous night. Must be the Florida heat.

We drove around the south shore of Lake Minneola and were impressed with the public spaces—beach and pavilion, walking and bike paths and what looked like an amphitheater under construction. Big lake with some chop from the wind but it wasn’t undergoing eutrophication as so many of the shallow lakes in this part of central Florida.

After lunch we drove to Sebring and checked into the Inn on the Lake, a beautiful three-story hotel in the Spanish style across the highway from Lake Jackson, with a view of Little Lake Jackson from the room. There was a pool for lounging and groups of friendly, talkative people. Golfers we guessed from the tournament sign-in sheet in the lobby. Most in their 60s, a few younger, a few older. They sat in the back of the lobby by the fireplace and talked about getting laid. What’s with this generation?

Drove through an industrial area for dinner at the Blue Crab, a cross between a restaurant and clam shack, a place for seniors, blue-collar retirees and (finally) locals. It’s owned by a couple of bikers. The waitresses looked lean and nicotine burned. Ours was named Mel. Before she took our order she introduced herself as Big Bird and said that her boss, Bill, calls her Turkey Buzzard. She leaned toward us and in a conspiratorial whisper said, “I told him, ‘You call me that because I eat a lot of shit around here, so it must be true.’” Then she reared back quickly as if she’d given offense. Not at all. If she wants to burn her ears she should hike up the road and watch the old folks strut their nine irons.

Sunday, Jan. 9. Finally we have reached the summit: at the Inn on the Lake the orange juice is excellent, fresh-squeezed, the waitress said, by a local company. After breakfast we drove south to the small town of Lake Placid to see if lived up to its name. It did, maybe a bit too much. In Sebring the business district consisted of a couple of stores and a consignment shop on a rotary. Here there isn’t even a business district. And once outside town things got thin rather quickly. Around the lake some homes backed onto water but they were crushed together, on busy highways and fully exposed to the sun. Not much fun in August.

Lunch at the Tower View Restaurant in Lake Placid—second time we stumbled onto one of the more popular restaurants for locals. Then north to the Sebring International Raceway, home of the 12-hour Grand Prix, where we spent half an hour watching small noisy cars race around a very long track.

Back home to have a drink by the pool, dinner at the hotel restaurant and a wild evening doing laundry. Tomorrow the real world beckons as we head to Orlando to cover the International Builders Show at the Orange County Convention Center.

Sebring Intl Raceway 448

In search of the perfect orange, part 2

It’s Wednesday and time for lunch with members of the Ocala Metro Rotary Club. About 25 Rotarians, a favorable mix of young and old, gathered in the back of the Marion County United Way Building, a blue stucco affair with dark blue pillars in a nicely shaded area. These people are fast as well as friendly. The entire meeting lasted half an hour, from the call to order through lunch, the recitation of the Four Way Test and the Pledge of Allegiance. Met the perfect host and greeter, a real estate agent by the name of Trish Kilgore, who said there isn’t much property on a lake near Ocala where motorboats are not allowed. She suggested we should consider a place on a river. We thought about that in New Bern when we visited the provincial capital of North Carolina last year but ruled it out for the moment.

Spent the afternoon in the Appleton Museum browsing the collections of European art and Florida paintings. “Reflections: Paintings of Florida, 1865-1965” included work by household names such as Wyeth and Tiffany but my favorites were the broad impressionistic works of Anthony Thieme (1888-1954), the Dutch-born painter who moved to Massachusetts. The exhibit contained three of his works: The Loquat Tree, Evening Light on the Suwannee River and Aviles Street Garden, all done around 1940.

It was ten of five, close to closing. The sky opened, the rain came down as if it meant someone harm. A museum guard loaned me an umbrella to run to the car and bring it in front of the building, and away we went to find an authentic place to eat, the kind of place the locals favor. Of course we can’t always deliver on that culinary mission and wound up at a barbecue joint called Sonny’s. (Didn’t realize the corrugated metal place was a franchise until we saw another one in Gainesville.)

Thursday, Jan. 6. After a late breakfast at the hotel we left Ocala for a drive through historic Micanopy. The buildings look worn and in need of reinforcement and paint. In this case the term historical means neglected. But it’s a quiet little town with dogs in baby carriages and friendly servers in the local sandwich shop. At the Coffee N Cream a half dozen men played cards at a table on the sidewalk, a dog at their feet, while we ate egg salad and chicken salad and sipped water and coffee (saving the juice for the AM) on the porch of the café and warmed ourselves in the sun. In early January. A treat in itself.

After that we headed north to the outskirts of Gainesville, home of the University of Florida Gators, and checked into a Cabot Lodge near I-75. Different vibe than in Ocala—more crowds, more traffic, with a card in the room warning guests to lock their doors and hide their cash and valuables. Sounds like Dallas.

Dinner at Amelia’s, just behind the Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville. I called the restaurant to see if they had any red sauce without certain ingredients and Chef Andy himself returned my call. None of the bad stuff, he said, and they make all of their sauces by hand. So we dined on eggplant parmesan and angel hair with marinara. Beautiful. Chef Andy, dressed in a double-breasted black smock and pajama pants, stopped by our table to introduce himself and see how everything was. Very nice, and within a few feet of the theater.

The highlight of the trip: two seats in the front row at the Hipp for the preview of End Days. Wonderful storyline, passionate acting. Directed by Lauren Caldwell, the play is funny, dramatic and touching, one of the first attempts I’ve seen that deals with the aftermath of 9/11. (I posed a review on this blog at the time called “It’s the end of the world and we like it.”)

Friday, Jan. 7. We’re sitting in Starbuck’s in downtown Gainesville using the free Wi-Fi network. We spent the morning at Palm Point Park at Lake Newnan, walking under live oaks shrouded with Spanish moss that looked like the shredded remnants of ghosts. After driving through the University of Florida campus and peeking into the bookstore with its lines of students buying and selling texts, we had a late lunch at Harry’s (a Louisiana gumbo kind of place that didn’t feel like a franchise) and wound up outside the Hippodrome Theatre again. We’re seeing the indie film “Nowhere Boy” about John Lennon’s teen years.

The film was bit slow but rich in detail about Lennon’s conflicted relationship with his mother, Julia, and the woman who raised him, his Aunt Mimi. And then, as the house lights went up, three old timers with acoustic guitars strolled in and led the audience in a sing-along of Beatles’ songs written by Lennon, including some challenging ones like “I am the Walrus” and “Day in the Life” and one that pushed the bounds of irony, “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” Nearly everyone in the theater sang along with the first six or seven. I couldn’t remember the words to “Happiness” but the woman in front of us with the sculpted gray hair knew the lyrics.

“How do you guys know all the words?” one of the musicians asked, a little disingenuously I thought but in good fun. He was a bearded guy who might have played with the Four Freshman or Peter, Paul and Mary, or he could have opened for Jesus.

“Because we’re OLD,” shouted one of the men in the audience and we all laughed, knowing this was more of a call-and-response since nearly everyone in the theater was a baby boomer. But not old. Young baby boomers. The trailing edge. Not a one of us breaking into the chorus of “When I’m 64.”

Hippodrome at night 448jpg

In search of the perfect orange, part 1

Two days after New Year’s we flew from Allentown, Pa., to Orlando International for a tour of Central Florida’s lake district and a search for real orange juice. I carried a mangled nest of electronic devices and cords for coverage of the International Builders Show the following week. My wife had packed a half-dozen books and manuals so she could rewrite her school district’s curriculum while I worked the trade show.

One of our suitcases weighed 57 lbs., 7 lbs. over the limit. I’m not saying whose suitcase. The airline people wanted to charge us $49 in addition to the $20 fee per checked bag. We carried the books on board the plane. The flight took off at 5:43 p.m. and landed about two hours later. We got in earlier than expected but still later than we’re used to flying. Nearly another hour to take the shuttle to ground transportation, retrieve the luggage and rent the car (present your pink rental sheet to the guy in the booth on the way out). Then a nearly two-hour drive north on great black highways through low-lying country to Silver Springs, just east of Ocala.

Tuesday, Jan. 4. Explore the Ocala National Forest. Drive east on Route 314 looking for 314A and lakes but they’re harder to find than you’d think, and all of the land surrounding them is privately owned and virtually inaccessible. Drove past great stands of pine, their trunks blacked from controlled burns. Past trailers and junk yards and small houses—quite a contrast to Lido Key and St. Armand’s Circle, our destination last year. Spanish moss hung like scarves from live oak trees, palms cracking, dry leaves scudding across the pavement.

We drove down sand-covered roads with dust billowing, clouds wispy, the sun warm on our backs as we walked a pier on Lake Kerr and watched the powerboats bob at the makeshift marina next door, dogs howling in the background, a trio of orange trees dropping fat fruit on a green lawn.

We pulled off Highway 19 for lunch at the Square Meal, a small restaurant near the office for the Ocala National Forest. The Square Meal looks like a local hangout, sandwiched between a real estate office and a Laundromat. Big red Coke sign on the wall next to a rack of fish hooks. Many of the men and two girls were dressed in camo jackets and caps. Several women ordered the special—fried pork loin with white gravy. Pay at the counter on the way out, cash only.

Dinner was ordinary but good at the Outback franchise near our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in Silver Springs, a new, clean and friendly place with complimentary breakfast. The only complaint: for the heart of the citrus industry, the orange juice was surprisingly bad, tasteless and watery. Florida supplies 40% of the world’s orange juice. Let’s hope they don’t get this stuff.

Lunch at the Square Meal

Lunch at the Square Meal

Seatbacks and tray tables up

Part 2 of the Tennessee Chronicles

So here we are again (with due credit to the Fountains of Wayne, whose song title I’ve borrowed), mashed into these seats on a commuter jet, our baggage along with our prayers for a safe journey jammed into the compartments overhead. The plane is nearly full and all seems well. Then the flight attendant with the frown says we can’t change seats because the plane is “weight-balanced.” “This plane has three sections, A, B and C,” she explains. “Each has to be weight-balanced so you can’t move.” She smiles at the guy who’s trying to change seats. Someone in the back of the plane chuckles. At least they’re taking things in stride.

The Canadair CL65 revs its engines and we rumble and rise, the high pitched whine of the controls cutting through the roar. Below, a boat plies the Delaware River, silver in the winter light. The white storage tanks of oil refineries dot the gray land. Subdivisions spread and lengthen their reach, the houses arrayed in rows like bullets in a bandoleer, the cars slowing as we gain altitude and speed, proof of Einstein’s theory that as a body approaches the speed of light objects elongate and time slows. Suddenly the plane stops shuttering and the stress drops away with the ground, the clouds a carpet of foam, the sky a crystal blue.

Nashville Intl Airport skylightIn two hours we drop from the heavens on Nashville, the hills folding into themselves like cake batter, the landing gear descending with a clunk, the concrete flowing rapidly beneath, and we’re down, wrestling bags from the overhead, checking phone messages and email, rolling through the terminal, down a flight to baggage claim and another to ground transportation and the rental car, a hulking beast that could seat a football team.

Annette is waiting for us, a short woman in her mid-60s with dark brown hair and glasses, a red chapeau and matching jacket, golden earrings like small boxes, a necklace of silver-white beads, a silver-gray purse with running shoes to match. She looks like a Christmas package, with wide eyes and a beneficent smile. Later I discover she used to be a nun, so the image fits. Since Carlene, Dinny, Karen and Annette have all worked together at various times for several companies, they exchange hugs and roll the luggage to the rental lot, where the car, and the journey into the heartland, await.

Tomorrow: the long and winding road.

Leaving a legacy

In 1271 the Polo family took the first step on a grueling journey of thousands of miles, from the canals of Venice through the desert plains of Persia to the fabled court of Kublai Khan. You know the name of that 17-year-old explorer (so does every child who ever hung out at a pool), but do you remember the names of the father and uncle who led the expedition?

Marco Polo’s famous descriptions of spice and silk, of desert raiders and healing springs, have fascinated people for generations. But Marco was not the first in his family to make the epic trip. In 1260, his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo set out to sell jewels on the lower Volga. They saw many of the same wonders Marco would report eleven years later. Yet few remember them. Why?

Because Marco wrote about the journey.

Marco also put you in the scene. Readers can feel the grit of the desert and the soothing waters of the oasis at day’s end. Those details, along with the description of the clothing and conversations he experienced, turned a travelogue into a fascinating tale. Centuries later, he’s still capturing the attention of readers the world over.

Today we’d describe Marco’s technique as a simple version of narrative nonfiction. Modern writers from Tom Wolfe to historian David McCullough employ the tools of the novelist to create compelling stories. While basing their material strictly on the facts, narrative nonfiction writers seek to recreate the actions, scenes and feelings that shape a country or a company. They focus on ordinary people who do extraordinary things. They put the reader in the scene.

Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) places this ancient principle in a business context when he says one of our highest aspirations as humans is to love, to learn and to leave a legacy. One way to do so is by sharing your hard-won knowledge with others through a memoir. I had the great good fortune to receive a call from a well-respected publisher a few years back that needed a writer for just such a project. The result was One in a Million, the story of a nurse who took her company from the coal fields of Scranton to the Nasdaq.

I’m not comparing her life to that of Marco Polo’s but like the famous explorer she realized that in order to leave a legacy you have to write about the journey. This short video on YouTube talks about that process.

Enjoy the trip.