Happy Birthday

No, its not my birthday, I’ve had enough of them in the past. More about birthdays later.

Thursday

Michelle doesn’t work Thursday mornings, so we had a morning together. It was spent with us going for a 4-5 mile walk round Horsley and up into the surrounding countryside towards Hadrian’s Wall. I always marvel at having Hadrian’s Wall so close to Michelle’s home.

I can’t recall the last time I walked so far other than sightseeing or on a pub crawl! Still it meant I got to see Michelle in lycra leggings – and to think she thought I was struggling to keep up with her and that was the reason I was walking behind her.

The weather was great for walking. We will have to do this again soon. Yes, eating healthy salads, walking etc. I’m clearly getting old. Don’t worry though Michelle has ensured I undo all the good work by keeping my wine glass topped up all week.

Michelle had to go to work on Thursday afternoon unfortunately, so I took the dogs out for a walk. Yes, 2 walks in a day! I then visited a friend to drop off some video clips and went out shopping to buy a final item for my son Tom’s birthday.

Friday

Sadly Michelle was at work all day today. I did offer to ring in sick for her, but sadly she was sensible and went to work. She did leave me a list of chores so I spent the day:

  • cleaning the patio – bloody dogs
  • sorting out her washing – despite her threatening my life if I brought any of my dirty  washing from the USA trip to her house
  • vacuuming the house
  • making the beds
  • doing the washing up
  • going shopping
  • walking the dogs

After doing all that lot, I only just had enough time to watch The Jeremy Kyle Show, Loose Women and Judge Judy! I tell you this housework is never ending.

Friday night, Michelle and Josh were off to Solway Holiday Village for the weekend as Josh was playing for Ryton in an end of season football tournament. This meant that I was left at her home alone for the night. I could have driven home, but I was due in Rothwell near Kettering on Saturday as it was Tom’s 18th birthday. So, I spent Friday night with Michelle’s dogs. They were a little thrown by the fact that I was there, but Michelle & Josh weren’t there.

I could have spent the night drinking wine, except Michelle had left a bottle with one glass of wine left in the fridge & took the remaining eight bottles with her to the holiday village!  Oh well, I suppose I can’t really complain as she bought the wine.

Saturday

Today was Tom’s 18th birthday. Can’t believe I have an 18 year old child offspring. So today, I was was meeting Louise, my ex-wife and going out with her, Tom and Louise’s partner Steve for a meal in Kettering.

I set off to drive down to Kettering and had arranged to meet my parents for a spot of lunch in Sainsbury’s in Bishop Auckland. I managed to turn up 30 minutes late, and its only 40 miles from Michelle’s to Bishop Auckland! I have to say it wasn’t my fault. I drove down the A68, a single carriageway road which is difficult for overtaking and got stuck behind:

  • A Sunday driver (on a Saturday!) who was apparently unable to go above 30 mph even in a 60 mph zone; then when he turned off
  • An HGV carrying heavy plant machinery; then
  • 2 vehicles towing horseboxes at different points on the road
  • Another Sunday drive who read the 40 mph speed limits as 20 mph and was determined not to risk accidentally exceeding the limit
  • A slow moving white van man – I know its hard to believe & if I hadn’t seen it I wouldn’t have believed it

It was good to meet up with my parents. Shame it was such a brief meeting. The next time I’m in the North East, they are away on holiday.

I eventually got down to Rothwell to see Tom. I gave him his birthday card and presents. It turns out I gave him the same card as Louise did ( and my parents gave him the same card when they saw him on Sunday). Then it was out for a meal with Tom, Louise & Steve.

After the meal, Tom & I went for a pint with his friends & he had his 1st legal pint.

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I then headed back to London as Tom was heading for a nightclub in Kettering. Seems I’d cramp his style if I came along! (PS the time on the photo is 5 hours out- I’ve forgotten to adjust my camera since I got back from the USA)

Sunday

A day of rest. Apart from a bit of food shopping, I did very little and enjoyed it. I managed to unpack my bags from America and put on some washing, but not much else.

Monday

Today was the 2nd birthday function of the weekend. I was invited by a friend to the 1st birthday party for his little one. The function was at a Hotel @ Chessington World of Adventures. It was a really good do. It was good to meet up with an old friend and spend sometime chatting with his relatives whom I’ve not seen since his wedding some years ago.

As well as a fantastic spread for a buffet lunch, Kevin paid for drinks for everyone- shame I was driving. The zoo staff at Chessington had been asked to bring over some of the animals, so there was a chance to discuss insurance with the Meerkat, See a parrot performing tricks and finally see a ferret – not putting them down my trousers though.

Kevin had even thought to hire the Wii room for the kids to play in. All in all, a great function and you should be thanked for such a good day Kevin.

This evening, I got to speak to Michelle at length for the first time this weekend. I did say at length didn’t I? I get free phone calls up to an hour in length, so I had to call back more than once. Quite how we can chat for so long and who steals the time I do not know. It sounds like her weekend was more eventful than mine. She handles delicate situations better than my sledgehammer approach.

Finally, on a football note, Swansea City won promotion to the Premiership today. I need to just advise all those Mackems that a trip to Swansea does not count as a European game.

Police Unity Tour: Why?

This year there have been 75 officers killed so far in the USA. Since 1791, there have been 20,579 known line of duty deaths in America

The most recent death was today. The account is very sad

Police Officer: Kevin Will

Houston Police Department, Texas
End of Watch: Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tour of Duty: 1 year, 8 months

Police Officer Kevin Will was struck and killed by a drunk driver as he investigated a hit-and-run accident involving a motorcyclist on the North Loop at approximately 3:15 am.
Officer Will was interviewing a witness to the motorcycle accident when the drunk driver drove around barriers and emergency vehicles that were blocking the closed freeway. Seeing the vehicle approach, Officer Will warned the witness to jump out of the way. The citizen was able to jump to safety moments before Officer Will was struck and killed.
The driver was taken into custody at the scene and faces charges in connection with Officer Will’s death.
Officer Will had served with the Houston Police Department for almost two years. He is survived by his expectant wife and two children.

Someone simply doing their job killed by a selfish dangerous idiot who not only driving whilst drunk, drives around barriers closing off a road. The officer it appears saved the life of a civilian and in doing so lost his own.

This is one of 23 deaths involving automobiles this year.

 

Total Line of Duty Deaths: 75

Aircraft accident: 1
Animal related: 1
Assault: 4
Automobile accident: 13
Duty related illness: 4
Explosion: 1
Gunfire: 32
Gunfire (Accidental): 2
Heart attack: 5
Motorcycle accident: 3
Struck by train: 2
Struck by vehicle: 3
Vehicle pursuit: 2
Vehicular assault: 2

 
By Month

January: 18
Febuary: 14
March: 20
April: 11
May: 12

 
By State

Alabama: 2
Arizona: 1
Arkansas: 1
California: 3
Colorado: 1
Florida: 10
Georgia: 2
Indiana: 1
Iowa: 1
Maine: 1
Maryland: 2
Michigan: 3
Missouri: 2
New Jersey: 2
New York: 6
North Carolina: 1
Ohio: 6
Oregon: 2
South Carolina: 1
South Dakota: 1
Tennessee: 3
Texas: 9
Tribal Police: 1
U.S. Government: 8
Virginia: 2
Washington: 2
Wisconsin: 1

 
By Gender

Male: 68

Female 7

 

 

By contrast in the UK there have been 2 officers killed this year, one in a road accident and one by a bomb in Northern Ireland.

In 2010 there were 5 UK officers killed (all traffic accidents) : In USA there were 158 (61 by gunfire)

In 2009 there were 12 UK officers killed : In USA there were 135 (49 by gunfire)

In 2008 there were 13 UK officers killed (including 4 in a single traffic accident) : In USA there were 151 (42 by gunfire)

 

The figures come from the US website Officer Down Memorial Page and the UK website Police Memorial

 

All these people deserve to be remembered for the sacrifice they made. However, it goes beyond that, all are somebodies son/ daughter/ brother/ sister/ father/ mother/ husband/ wife. They all leave people grieving and who deserve to be remembered and supported after the loss of their loved one.

 

Another story was brought home to me this year.

Sergeant Anthony Michael Wallace

Hoonah Police Department, Alaska
End of Watch: Saturday, August 28, 2010

Age: 32

Tour of Duty: 4 years

Badge Number: 102

Cause of Death: Gunfire

Date of Incident: August 28, 2010

Related Line of Duty Deaths

Officer Matthew Tokuoka Hoonah, AK

Sergeant Anthony Wallace and Officer Matthew Tokuoka were ambushed and killed by a lone gunman.
Officer Tokuoka, who was off-duty, was in his car with his family when he stopped to talk to Sergeant Wallace who was standing outside his vehicle. Sergeant Wallace’s mother was visiting him in Alaska and was accompanying him on a ride along at the time.
A man who the two officers had arrested on several occasions in the past walked up to the officers and opened fire. Sergeant Wallace was shot first and Officer Tokuoka went to render aid and was then shot.
Officer Tokuoka died early Sunday at a clinic in Hoonah and Sergeant Wallace died during surgery in Juneau.
The suspect fled to his house and barricaded himself inside while 100 officers, including SWAT teams from the Alaska State Troopers and the Juneau Police Department, responded to the scene. The suspect surrendered to officers after remaining barricaded for two days.
Sergeant Anthony Wallace, who was legally deaf, had served for the Hoonah Police Department for four years. He had previously served as a non-sworn public safety officer with the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. He is survived by his mother and daughter, father and step-mother, three brothers, and grandmother.
The badge numbers of Sergeant Wallace and Officer Tokuoka were retired following their murders. The Hoonah City Council proclaimed the memorial service day for both officers, September 8th, as Anthony Wallace and Matthew Tokuoka Day.
In April of 2011, SGT Wallace was posthumously awarded the Police Medal of Heroism by the Governor of Alaska.

Michael T one of the Ohio riders was riding in memory of Tony. His mother who had been present when Tony was murdered and had to radio in the shooting; and his girlfriend Cara Were in Washington at the end of our ride and attended the Candlelight Vigil as members of that group no one wants to join – the survivors of officers killed.

I was fortunate enough to get to spend a very pleasant evening with Debbie ( Tony’s mother) and Cara and two other riders. It brought home to me the real tragedy behind each death. It is not just the officer who loses his life, but the relatives and partners have to live with their lose forever.

When you are asked by me for donations for this event, it is to the memory of people like this and to support their relatives and loved ones. Please remember them next year when I ask for sponsorship.

 

Police Unity Tour 2011: Reflections

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The Police Unity Tour is in its 15th year now. It started off with 18 riders. This year there were around 1500 riders riding from New Jersey, Virginia and on the Challenge Ride. There is also an army of volunteers, police motor cycle riders etc. contributing to this event.

On the chapter 1 ride alone there were around 650 cyclists plus helpers. Thus in each town we stopped accommodation had to be found for the best part of 1000 people. No mean undertaking.

The purpose of the ride?

According to the PUT website it is as follows:

  • The primary purpose of the PUT is to raise awareness of Law Enforcement Officers who have died in the line of duty
  • The secondary purpose of the PUT is to raise funds for the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial and Museum.

There are in my personal view a number of other purposes of the ride including (this is not meant to be an exhaustive list):

  • Providing a place where officers from across the system, both county, state and federal officers as well as international officers can meet and share a common purpose. This in my view helps bring a better understanding of the whole legal system.
  • Helps provide support for those officers who have experienced the loss of colleagues.
  • Helps provide support for those relatives of fallen officers, who choose to ride the event. The fact that survivors come back to ride again proves this.
  • The ride raises the profile of law enforcement officers across the USA and reinforces that they are normal people doing an extra ordinary job.
  • The ride provides a challenge to the participants many if not most of whom are not regular cyclists. Riding 300 miles over 4 days is a challenge to the body.
  • Perhaps the most important thing it does is let the survivors know that they are not alone and that all us riders care for them and the loss they have suffered. The sight of so many PUT clad people at the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial during Police Week is an indication of this to the survivors and the thanks and gratitude of the survivors to the riders is humbling. We only ride  bikes, their spouses gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Thanks To The People Who Make It Happen

The planning of such a ride is a task that is beyond the imagination of me. The booking of the hotels in each town, the arranging of transportation of luggage, the arranging rest stops and the necessary food and drink as well as portaloos, the route planning, the obtaining permission for road closures etc.. Not to mention the first aid, mobile workshops, sag wagons etc. There is a whole army of people involved.  I don’t want to start to list people because I’d be bound to forget some and offend them. Every single support person raises funds to enable them to take part in this event. They are the real heroes.

The people who were handing out the sunscreen at the rest stop when we had forgotten ours. The people who managed to find spare kit when we had lost or damaged ours. The people who were there with words of encouragement when the going was hard. The people who somehow managed to find lost luggage. The people who managed to help arrange for friends and relatives to meet us in Washington.

The people who volunteered to pick us up at all times of day or night from Newark Airport and drive us to East Hanover for the hotel.

Great Riding Conditions and Route

The route followed a similar pattern to previous years except this year we were able to ride through the Holland Tunnel into NYC and past Ground Zero. The route is not flat, neither is it too difficult for an experienced rider.

Day 1 is mainly around Newark and Jersey City, the roads are very potholed, there are a lot of short steep ups and down. The pace is varying. It is a bit like riding a criterium racing, lots of speeding up and slowing down. It is relatively short however.

Day 2 was the longest day at just over 100 miles. There were several short steep inclines and at around the 85 mile stage was the Commodore Barry Bridge which is over 2 miles up and over. This is a toll road that is closed for us.

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THREE VIEWS OF THE COMMODORE BARRY BRIDGE

Day 3 was another relatively long day at around 90 miles. It is traditionally the fastest day. We are travelling a relatively flat route through the Maryland countryside. This year we reached the afternoon stop 1 hour ahead of last year.

Day 4 was a short hilly ride to DC and then the fantastic parade into the memorial. All 1400+ riders from the three rides.

The weather for the ride could not have been more perfect. We had four days of glorious sunshine with temperatures hitting the 80s. There was little or no wind. The only dangers were sunburn and dehydration. On day 2 I drank the best part of 6-8 litres of fluids.

Good Company

I must mention Team Ohio for their great company and support.

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Part of Team Ohio – Erik, Lisa Craig Floyd (CEO of the NLEOM), Myself, Michael T and Jeremy

Michael T – who talks to anyone and everyone and who invited me and also Lisa to ride in the PUT. I roomed with Michael T this year and he had the cheek to complain about MY snoring.

Dee & Michael – State troopers from Ohio. Dee I rode with for miles last year and Michael who had done the ride before, but wasn’t there last year

Erik – the most laid back of the Ohio riders. Again, he rode last year. This year we spent the day of the candle light vigil sight seeing. Erik took me to the restaurant that was the first President Obama was seen eating in in Washington after his election. The very unpretentious Ben’s Chili Bowl.

Jeremy – along with Lisa, He was a PUT virgin. He also tried to get the record for the most water bottles lost in a single event. I think by the end of the ride he understood that water bottles go into the bottle cages, not dropped onto the road. Jeremy shared his photos with Lisa and I, so some of the pictures on here belong to him. They were taken with his mobile phone- a Motorola Droid and are simply excellent quality pictures. A great lad and I hope to meet him and his charming wife again next year.

Lisa – like me, Lisa is an adopted Ohioan for the PUT. Again, like me Lisa is an employee of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Lisa is a Canadian and as I said above was a PUT virgin this year. Lisa who hadn’t ridden a bike until last October proved to be not only a good rider who completed the ride easily, but she was also a dab hand at massage, sewing, a provider of herbal potions and substances for easing aches and improving performance ( well maybe not performance enhancing).

Finally, I must just say thanks to everyone who sponsored me. The ride has raised over $1.5 million this year so far. Your sponsorship is much appreciated

 

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The National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington – the destination of our ride

Ground Hopping: Shankweilers Drive In Cinema: Orefield, PA 22nd May 2011

Ever since I first travelled on part of Route 66 and saw the outside of a Drive In Cinema, I have wanted to attend one. Unfortunately everytime I have been near a drive In, it has been closed or gone dark (closed for good).

This trip to the USA, I decided that I would try to plan my route so that I could get to an open cinema. At this time of year, most Drive Ins are only open on weekends. This would limit my options. I also knew that I would have to drive the 400 or so miles from Hudson Ohio to Newark and did not want to do all that on the day I was due to catch my flight. So, using the internet to find Drive In cinemas and Google maps to locate them, I came across several cinemas between Hudson and Newark. Take into account the fact Philadelphia Union were at home on 21st May and I set on the Shankweilers Drive In @ Orefield in Pennsylvania. This was apparently  the 2nd Drive In in the USA and is the oldest still in operation.

The hotel I booked was only 4 miles from the cinema and 80 miles from Newark Airport, so ideal location. Excited, you bet I was.

The first sign of the cinema was the classic neon road sign

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This pointed towards the entrance which again had the neon sign.

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As the weather was not so good, the cinema was not very busy- no more than around 30 vehicles. It cost $8 per person to get in. Cheaper than the UK for a normal cinema. There was a double bill, Pirates of the Caribbean : On Stranger Tides and Soul Surfer.

I parked up and took a wander around and got to meet Paul the owner of the site. He kindly told me about the history of the site. It originally started with someone showing film from a table onto a screen, all in the open. Nowadays there is a central projection hut that also serves as the toilets and the snack bar. The cinema and all drive ins face an uncertain future as films move from 35mm film to digital film. It will cost $85,000 to purchase the necessary equipment. Drive ins generally only open daily at the height of summer and weekends only in spring and autumn. I can understand Paul’s dilemma but it would be sad to see drive ins die out. They are an iconic part of the image of America. This cinema is now some approximately 80 years old.

The cars park next to poles, 4x$s and larger vehicles next to yellow poles and others next to white poles. I was surprised to see some vehicles parked facing away from the screen. Was that a reflection of the quality of the film? The truth soon became apparent. It was part of the American tradition of tailgating. People had food etc. at the back of their vehicle and some sat in the boot of their 4×4 to watch the film. Other people sat in fold away chairs in front of their vehicle.

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The latter picture shows the hut that is the projection hut,toilet block and refreshment hut.

The first film was not listed to start until 20:40, a bit late I thought, but of course they need to wait for it to be dark before they can show the film. No turning down the lights here.

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The sound for the films is obtained by tuning your vehicle stereo into the relevant FM frequency. Not sure how us cyclists would cope here!

One big issue is keeping all vehicle lights off, not just headlights. This is not as easy with modern vehicles where lights come on automatically when you open a door and stay on for 10 seconds or so after door is opened. On older cars it was easier to turn lights off, but I was not sure how to do this. So, I no doubt caused disruption to others when I went to the toilet.

What was the experience like? Well I can report that I did not fall asleep in this cinema, so it must have been a better experience than a normal cinema. Would I attend a drive in again – definitely. I’d rather go to a drive in than a normal cinema.

Here’s hoping that Paul and other drive in owners can find a solution to the cost of the new digital equipment.

 

Admission $8 – very reasonable in my opinion

Food – range of food and drinks including burgers, pop and of course buckets of popcorn – again very reasonably priced

Sound – via FM radio and excellent quality

Film Quality – As its my first time at a drive in, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was excellent

Home & Away

Since my last blog post on Sunday, I left Philadelphia, drove to Allenstown Pennsylvania, saw a drive in movie there, flew home from Newark Airport and then drove to Michelle’s. So a busy few days!

SUNDAY

After breakfast at the hotel in Philadelphia I drove to an outlet mall for a bit of retail therapy. Well, I had space in my bags so it would have been rude not to fill the bags. I went to Philadelphia Premium Outlets Mall which is not actually in Philadelphia, but is about 40 miles away!

These outlet malls are a rather good way of getting clothing cheap. For example Timberland selling t shirts @ $8 i.e. about £5.

One thing there that amused me was the labelling on this Banana Republic Shirt.

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A slim fit shirt – what’s wrong with that? Well, its a slim fit XXL size shirt. Its surely only the Americans who can have an XXL size and call it a slim fit.

I then drove the 40 miles from the Mall to Allenstown. Well when I say 40 miles, I mean 60 miles as I got hopelessly lost going down some minor roads and  eventually found a road that I knew took me to Allenstown and followed that. The map I bought is not detailed enough  to cover anything other than major roads. A fail on my part.

I eventually got to the hotel which was not the poshest I’ve stayed at. It appeared to be in a layby on a main road. Still, the room was clean and the air con worked.  So who was I to complain- especially as I chose a cheap hotel. Also it was near the drive in movie at Orefield that I was going to and only 85 miles from Newark Airport.

I will post separately re the drive in visit.

A late night ensued though as after the movie, I had to repack my bags to ensure that all fitted into my 2 bags and that I had in my hand luggage items I would need on the plane. I also had to find things like my passport and the phone number of the car park @ Heathrow etc..

MONDAY

After breakfast in the hotel, I checked in online for my flight. I was unable to printout a boarding card as I hadn’t got access to a printer. I am sure I had same issue last year.

I left the hotel at 0800 as i had to have the car back at airport by 11am. In the first hour I managed to drive 5 miles – not a good start, but after that the roads were clear and I was at the airport in plenty of time.

I had driven 1250 miles in just under 8 days. Driving an automatic car was easy. It makes me wonder why we drive manual cars in the UK

To get to the airport from the car hire terminal you have to take the air train- a light rail service. So here I am with 2 big bags, my rucksack and bike box all balanced on a trolley. All good until I get into the terminal and find the life from the platform down to the terminal is out of order. So, how do I get all my luggage down the escalator without the benefit of a trolley? I asked the terminal staff who said to take it down a bag at a time and leave the rest of the luggage unattended whilst doing so! So much for those notices saying about not leaving luggage unattended.

I now had hours to kill at  the airport- thankfully there was Wi-Fi and I had my book to read. Its amazing how long you can make a cup of coffee last. As it came nearer to check in time, I was following the progress of the Ash cloud, especially when the incoming flight was delayed. Was I going to be stranded in Newark?

Fortunately the delay was not due to the ash cloud, but to a baggage problem at Heathrow delaying the flight leaving. I checked in and managed to get an exit row seat, so was happy. I went through security, including the new body scanner device. Now it was 18:00 and time for a meal, a bit of duty free shopping etc. before the flight.

No it wasn’t. The part of the terminal we were in was undergoing modernisation so there were no bars or restaurants, only a grumpy lady selling cold sandwiches and the tiniest duty free shop I’ve ever seen. Oh well, four hours of surfing the net then.

TUESDAY

The flight was fast – only 6 hours after taking off and we were in London. A quick drive home and it was time to drive up to Newcastle to see Michelle. Where was the traffic? I have never had such a simple and smooth drive to Newcastle. It was good to see Michelle. Its funny how it is so much harder being apart when you are abroad than just at other end of the country.

WEDNESDAY

I got up – erm that’s about it really. Time to catch up on sleep and to walk the dogs oh and have some wine.

Actually, I acted as Chauffeur for the day for Jack, Michelle’s eldest son. I’d have brought my hat if I had known!

Ground Hopping: Philadelphia Union v Chicago Fire 21st May 2011

For my second ever MLS game I went to PPL Park the home of Philadelphia Union. The ground is not actually in Philadelphia, but in the town of Chester PA. This is about 15 miles from the centre of Philadelphia.

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Having done my research, I knew that Philadelphia get home gates of 18500 or so in a ground that holds around the same. I therefore went to the ground early to get a ticket for the game. Arriving some 2-3 hours before kick off, I discovered that the ground was in a rather down market area of town. Apparently the ground was built here to try to regenerate the area.

Car parking at the ground was $20! I was not going to pay this until I knew I could get a ticket at a sensible price, so a quick chat with a steward and I was directed to park my car on a roadside verge near the ticket office whilst I went to get a ticket. I got my ticket and decided to leave the car where it was. Parking saving $20.

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Ground on left : Car on Right : Parking Cost $0

After getting my ticket, the question came about what to do next? I chose to have a look around the ground from the outside. This is a purpose built ground and only in its 2nd season. Most MLS clubs are using stadiums originally built for other sports. This ground is built on the banks of the River Delaware and there are no facilities nearby. No shops, bars or restaurants etc.

The club shop at the ground was my first port of call. This was stocked with the usual football club stuff, shirts, t shirts, hats, scarfs, mugs, key rings etc. It was staffed by rather ignorant staff who were unable to answer which of the three Philadelphia kits on display was the home kit. The kits all have a shirt sponsor “BIMBO”. Hopefully they do not have a women’s team! Bimbo is apparently a firm of bakers.

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Immediately outside the ground there are a number of stalls and a children’s play area. There was even a band playing on a stage to entertain the crowds.

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In the nearby car park, many people were tailgating – i.e. having BBQs and picnics. At the far side of the car park, I could see a number of gazebos and a crowd gathered, so I had a wander over there.

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There was a DJ there and a couple of stalls selling T shirts.

This it turned out was a gathering of a group calling themselves “The Sons of Ben” – an apparent reference to Ben Franklin. I understand this is the Philadelphia supporters club who are styled on the Italian Ultras. They occupy the members only section of the ground called the River End. There was a large BBQ and beers or cans of pop there. This all appeared to be free. There was nothing to stop me going into the section and chatting with the members. It would have been rude not to make the most of the hospitality on offer in the form of food and beer. [ I’ve since googled them and it seems they are an official supporters group and it was a members only event– whoops]

 

Onto the ground and the game itself. The ground is a very new single tier ground with the two sides covered and both ends open. There is an electronic scoreboard on each side and a big screen TV/ scoreboard on one end. The River End is the home of the Sons of Ben and is where all the noise comes from. There is even an away fans section (if needed) in one corner! Not many travelling fans when some teams are 5 or more hours away BY AIR.

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ACCESS DENIED TO THE RIVER END!

The announcement of the names of the Chicago team names was greeted by the chant “sucks” after each name. The referee was invited repeatedly to “suck my balls” after controversial decisions. In fact, everything seems to suck in Philadelphia.

The game itself was a lively affair and ended 2-1 to Philadelphia with the winner being a great strike from 30+ yards out. Both teams seemed to lack a decent striker, so I suppose Emile Heskey would fit in well in the MLS.

Miscellaneous

They take drinking seriously and expect under 40s to provide proof of age before they will serve drink in the ground!

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good job I wasn’t under 40 as my driver’s licence is UK issued, so I would not have been able to get a beer.

 

Just my luck that I ended up next to the Scottish section!

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3,000 miles and still I’m next to the Sweaties!

omparison of English & American Fans

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English Fans (above) & US Fans (below)

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Now tell me which looks better

Philadelphia – History or Hollywood?

Today, I spent the day in Philadelphia. A place steeped in the history of the USA or so we are told.

The day was a beautiful day and started off well as I got to chat to Michelle for more than an hour. A good way to start the day Smile

After breakfast I checked out of my hotel and headed off into the centre of Philadelphia to visit the Liberty Bell Centre and the historic sites related to the Declaration of Independence and the early days of the US.

After leaving the visitor centre, the first thing I came across was this building.

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This is Independence Hall. now, look a bit closer and you will see the top of the picture is actually a picture hung over the scaffolding of the works they are carrying out. So people have a photograph of a picture of what the hall will look like when restored!

Next up was this building which is called the presidents’ house and refers to George Washington and Samuel Adams. Now, this is a structure built on the site of the President’s house, it is not the actual presidents’ house.

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What is interesting is that when he lived here as President, George Washington had nine slaves. Now, cast your mind back to the Declaration of Independence which contains near the beginning the following text

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

Now also remember that George Washington was the first President of the USA. Can you see the slight conflict in everyone being equal and have the unalienable right to be free? Perhaps George Washington was not the great and honest person we were lead to believe!

It gets worse when one reads the plaques there. If the slaves had remained in Pennsylvania continuously, they would have earned their freedom under state law, so Washington ensured the slaves were rotated out of the state to prevent this happening.

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Next to the presidents’ house is the home of the Liberty Bell. A quick Google search reveals the following statement

The bell was probably rung at the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia (on July 8, 1776). It rang to announce many important events in early American history, including Presidential elections and deaths

Again we are lead to associate the bell with the Declaration of Independence. This is quite simply not the case. The bell was commissioned by the state of Pennsylvania in 1751 to remind residents and visitors to Philadelphia of its important position.

1776 the bell rings out at the Declaration of Independence? Well not so it seems

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The photo of the bell below is interesting. Can you notice what is unusual about it?

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Well this picture is made up of 25,000 soldiers! – see the close up below. A quite novel picture.

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The campaigners for the abolition of slavery renamed the bell the Liberty Bell. So, some 50 years after the Declaration of Independence that all men are equal and have the inalienable right to liberty. The so called land of the free still has slavery.

 

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The bell itself is displayed for all to see in a permanent building only yards from its original home.

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Amongst the other places I visited was the Franklin Museum. This was under the site of where Franklin owned 3 houses only yards from the Independence Hall. This museum is a strange place. Look at some of the inscriptions accompanying some of the exhibits.

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Hmmm, a museum that has exhibits that MAY have belonged to the subject. Not items that did belong to the subject.

Now, lets move to another exhibit – this one an interactive exhibit.

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Now, the plaque introducing this exhibit that consists of lots of telephones also makes it clear Franklin never used telephones as they did not exist, so why have a hypothetical exhibit in what is supposed to be a museum, not a fantasy world.

Nearby to this is the first post office in America. This post office pre dated the formation of the USA and as such is the only one in the USA not to fly the Stars and Stripes

 

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Now, it was time for me to return to the visitor Centre and view the advertised 30 minute film on the history of Independence. The electronic display board indicated the next one started at 14:30, so at 14:30 we all gathered to watch it, only to be told there was no film and instead there was a talk on Asian Immigration into the USA. So, once again what people are led to expect is not what it seems.

Oh well, off to gift shop. Now amongst the usual gift shop fare including key rings, copies of the Declaration of Independence sayings of Benjamin Franklin and historical items etc..

 

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TELL ME & I FORGET

TEACH ME & I REMEMBER

INVOLVE ME & I LEARN

Benjamin Franklin

 

I found the following the following items.

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Yes, that’s right, in a historical gift shop dedicated to the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence, there are T shirts and other memorabilia relating to that historical character Rocky Balboa. Sorry, did I say historical character, I meant to say Hollywood invention Rocky Balboa.

Actually, I thought it was quite appropriate as lots of other things about American History seems to be more Hollywood rather than historical.

I did however find someone who clearly models his clothing style on Simon Cowell.

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Look at the waistband of those trousers – sad!

 

This evening I went to see Philadelphia Union play Chicago Fire in the MLS at PPL Park in run down Chester. I will be writing about the game in a separate Ground Hopping post. However, I could not pass up mentioning that I was re united with an old acquaintance at the ground. Well, when I saw acquaintance, I really mean an old foe.

The ground is situated on the North bank of the Delaware River in the shadow of the Commodore Barry Bridge. This was the big bridge we rode over towards the end of Day two of the PUT ride. We had done 80+ miles before we rode over the bridge. The bridge is 4240 meters long and is a long climb from river level to the top.

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The above pictures show the height of the bridge above the river. As we cross the bridge it begins the decent and even after passing the length of the football ground it is still way above the height of the football ground. Some 200+ yards after the river the bridge is still a long way above ground. It descends much more slowly than it rises from the New Jersey side. We rode up the steeper side.

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Ground hopping: DC United v Colorado Rapids 14th May 2011

This was ground hopping with a difference for me. This was the first soccer match I had been to outside of Europe.

As you will remember I was in Washington DC on 12th & 13th May having completed the Police Unity Tour and attended the Candlelight Vigil on 13th May. I was due to leave DC on 14th, but having realised that DC United were playing at home that night, I decided to extend my stay there.

Unusually perhaps for US sports venues, this one is well served by public transport, being on both the blue and orange lines on the underground / metro / subway. As there was extensive engineering works on the metro I left central Washington early to ensure I got to the ground in time for the game.

As sod’s law would have it, I managed to get a train easily and was at the ground around 1 3/4 hours before the kick off. The ground looked rather familiar when I got off the train. Why? Well only54 hours earlier I had arrived here at the RFK Stadium in the Police Unity Tour. It was at RFK that we met up with the other rides.

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Getting there early was very useful. I had been in touch with the club and had been given a code to buy tickets at a discount price – thanks to Brad Snook at DC United. Sadly, when I tried to buy the tickets online I was unable to as the Ticketmaster US site cannot cope with anyone from outside the US. As I could not put down a state in my billing address!!! I went to the ticket office and explained the situation and after speaking to a second person there I was given a ticket at a discount price. I bought a ticket for the cheapest section. The game would be the same wherever I watched it from.

I knew from the last two PUTs that RFK was not a new stadium, but that is all I knew. Once I got my ticket, I went straight into the ground. Turnstiles are much less imposing than in the UK, but it seems that people in the US are more honest and do not try to force their way into grounds without tickets.

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Immediately inside the ground, there was a table where they were giving away programmes and team sheets for free. Are you listening Mike Ashley? That price was FREE. Oh and they were giving away free DC United T shirts to the first 5,000 people in the ground. So, I got a ticket for the game, two programmes and a T shirt for under £10. I call that a deal.

The ground itself was originally built in 1961 and was the first major stadium designed specifically as a multisport facility for both American football and baseball, It is rented by DC United from its owners. Looking around the ground, it was clear it was not built for soccer. The seating is set out for baseball and American football. There are no lower tier seating sections behind each ground. It has hosted international soccer matches in the 1994 FIFA World Cup, 1996 Summer Olympics and 2003 Women’s World Cup.

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For DC United games, only the lower tier of seats is opened. That is a good thing as the lower tier alone was not anywhere near full. The ground capacity is 45,243 and the crowd for this game was 12,499.

I was in the ground early so had a walk around the ground. Under the stand there are wide open walkways with lots of food and drink concessions. The prices are not cheap though. This did not seem to stop the locals feeding their faces during the game. Crowds at sporting events in the US tend to “tailgate” i.e. have picnics or BBQs in the parking lots before the game, so I was surprised how busy the concessions were.

After wandering around the ground, I found my seat – which was located near the corner flag at the one end of the ground that had seating behind part of the goal line.

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The teams came out onto the pitch and lined up together before the national anthem. They play the national anthem before every Major League Soccer game. The game itself was a classic game of two halves. Colorado played the way my neighbour told me they would – i.e. very physical. At half time they were leading 1-0 and it looked as if there was only going to be one winner.

However, the second half was a very different game and DC dominated. They should have been awarded a penalty when there was a clear foul in front of us. Somehow the referee despite being perfectly placed waived play on. I suspect he knew he was wrong as a few minutes later he awarded DC a very soft penalty from which they equalised.

I must give a mention to the two males sat next to me, Kyle and David who were with their wives, Robin and Jamie ( hopefully I have their names correct). They were good company and very knowledgeable about the game, both in the US and across Europe.

They pointed out and explained about the “Screaming Eagles” who were stood on the halfway line area to my left. This is effectively the singing section of the ground. They did their best to make some noise and atmosphere despite numbering around 1000 at most in a huge open bowl of a stadium.

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The day had been a beautiful sunny day, but by the end of the game it started to rain, so we had to move seats further back in the stand. This is one advantage of a big ground – you can move seats.

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What about the standard of the football? Well, it was a lot better than I expected. I would have said that both sides would easily hold their own in the Championship in England. Both sides lacked someone to lead the line for them. The approach play was there but the goal scorer was lacking.

In the second half, Colorado showed themselves to be tactically naive. DC had a man wide on the right touchline and he was not once picked up by either the Colorado left back or another player. All DC’s attacks came this way. I would have expected someone to have marked the wide player, but no one did. Strange.

After the game, I made my way in the rain back to the metro station and got on the train next to someone wearing a Manchester city top. After chatting to him about their FA Cup win that afternoon. He turned out to be a Colorado fan. I must have found the only travelling fan at the game – a distance of some 1500-1700 miles each way. Not exactly a local derby then!

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would happily go back to watch MLS games. Surprisingly given that there is no rivalry between fans, there was still an atmosphere and noise at the game. Due in no small part to the Screaming Eagles

American Heroes & a Bald Knob!

Now, that’s got your attention hasn’t it? No, oh well…….

Today’s blog is going to have a number of American heroes in it.

On Thursday, my friend Phil was again busy at work, so it was left to Tiffany to entertain me. The weather looked as though it might rain later in the day so we went for a walk in the morning. When I say morning, it was lunchtime before I got up and got ready to go out.

We went to a lovely local park, Hudson Springs Park which has a 50 acre lake which we had a pleasant stroll round. It was good to have a chance to chat about life the world and the universe. We sat for a while on a little secluded peninsular chatting, much to the obvious disappointment of a teenage couple who turned up expecting a quiet location.

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Beautiful isn’t it?

 

Thursday evening, Phil, Tiffany and I went to Canton in Ohio to watch Their 15 year old son Nick play in a state cup football (soccer match). It was interesting to watch the difference between U16 football in the USA and in UK:

  • There was a much higher level of ball control and ball skills in US game
  • There was an almost lack of physical contact and any contact was penalised by the referee
  • There was no dissent whatsoever even when the referee gave a very dubious penalty
  • There was no diving and no play acting
  • There was a lack of appealing for decisions e.g. throw ins, corners etc.

If this U16 team were to play an English U16 team with a European referee the English team would win owing to their physical style of play. However, the US players are more skilful and this must hold the US in good standing for the future. Skills need to be learned earlier.

Once back home, it was time for my last supped with Phil & Tiffany & a fitting supper it was. We had Salmon in a spinach sauce. Yes, I ate fish & spinach!

Friday morning saw me having to leave Phil & Tiffany’s home and set off on the 400+ mile drive to Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. Before we said goodbyes, there was just time to reminisce about our time and comrades at university back in the 1980s – Rusholme Curry houses, The Phoenix Pub, The Whitworth Hotel, The Gemini Takeaway, Owens Park, The Odeon Cinema – Moss side, Broadfield Park, The Moss Lane Black & White Cafe. Whalley Range High School for Girls etc.

It was sad to sad goodbye. The two of them over the years have looked after me in so many ways, from Phil in Benidorm after my accident some 24 years ago, through their wedding and my trip to Ohio last year. Even when they pay their all too infrequent and too short visits to the UK, they always make time to see me and invite me to family get togethers. They are true friends and have made my last two trips to the USA so very enjoyable. Let me be self indulgent for a moment and say a public thank you to them both for the time and effort they have gone to for me this year and last year. They are the first of my American heroes today (ok, well Phil is English!).

After leaving Phil & Tiffany I made a quick stop at Wal-Mart to stock up for the journey. Lots of bottles of diet Dr Peppers and some CDs for the journey. Trying to find CDs that I like or would listen to was not easy in a vast selection of US musical horrors. Could I find Oasis, The Clash, The Jam, The Sex Pistols or anything like that? Not a chance.

I ended up with a double (ok triple) Bruce Springsteen CD, Michael Jackson’s singles, A Motown compilation and a Who CD. I also bought a road map. Then it was time to head south and east.

After around 150 miles, I got off the interstate at Somerset in Pennsylvania and stopped at McDonalds there. You may recall that last Sunday I was posting on Facebook from there about how I didn’t know where I was. A quick use of their Wi-Fi enabled me to deal with a number of emails relating to child welfare issues at LVYCC. Amazing to be dealing with issues nearly 4000 miles away.

After leaving Somerset PA, I headed towards Shanksville PA to find the memorial to those who died on Flight 93 on 9/11. This was the flight that crashed in the countryside after the passengers fought back against the hijackers. The hijackers fearing they may be overpowered crashed the plane to ensure they were killed and not taken prisoner. The 40 passengers and crew realising it was a suicide mission  tried to regain control of the plane and as a result prevented it from crashing into the Capitol Building in Washington.

I came across the 9/11 Memorial Chapel and  the memorial on the road from Somerset to Shanksville.

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There was no mention of where the plane had crashed and there was no signs on the ground. I was about to get back in my car when Patricia, a lovely lady from Florida pulled up to see the Chapel. She took the picture below of me at the Chapel.

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She then asked if I had been to the crash site. When I asked where it was she volunteered to take me there. It was a drive down several back lanes and a number of miles away.

When we got to the memorial, I had a chance to speak with her. She was driving back to her current home in Virginia from visiting relatives in Michigan. She had spent the previous night in a little town called Bedford PA and was following the route from a guide book. She kindly told me about a very scenic route from the memorial back to the Interstate taking in several covered bridges.

As a result of her encouragement I tried going the Bald Knob way! (oooh errr Missus!). Bald knob is a mountain summit in Somerset County in the state of Pennsylvania (PA). Bald Knob climbs to 2,930 feet (893.06 meters) above sea level. What did you think it was.

This summit is on Route 30, which is the Lincoln Highway.The Lincoln Highway was the first road across the US, from Time Square in NYC to Lincoln Park in San Francisco and opened in 1913.

Not content with doing all this for me, Patricia even gave me the pages from her guide book to help me find the route with the covered bridges. The best of America was displayed by Patricia and I’d like to thank her here if she is reading this ( I did hand out my blog details to her!). I must comment on how nearly everyone I have met on this trip has been so very helpful and kind to me.  The US knows how to make people feel welcome, if you  show them respect. Thank you Patricia.

The Memorial to Flight 93 is still being built and is due for completion in 2014. At present it is a hut on the site of mine workings. It was also the first vantage point the world saw of the crash as it was here the press gathered and also the location the rescue effort was co ordinated from.

From reading the full story of what happened and reading details of the phone calls and cockpit conversations which are at the museum, it is clear the passengers and crew on this flight were indeed true heroes. They prevented Flight 93 crashing into the Capitol Building in Washington DC.

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Above, the crash site with the memorial taking shape

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One Day a True and fitting Memorial Will be Here

When I left the crash site, it was now around 16:30 and I still had around 220 miles to go to get to Philadelphia! It was going to be a long drive. Route 30 was very interesting and reminded me of driving Route 66 which I did in 1998 and 2006.

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Route 30 – The Lincoln Highway – A Long Road

The drive to Philadelphia was long, but relatively easy, apart from the 3 or 4 very heavy downpours I had to drive through. It is easy driving in the US, just get up to a decent speed and set the cruise control and chill out listening to music on the cd player. Not sure that the variety of music had any common theme to it. Oh, I forgot to mention I also had a Black Eyed Peas CD as well.

I was in two minds about driving to Philadelphia today. Phil and Tiffany tried to persuade me to stay an extra day with them. I was very tempted to do so and drive early on Saturday morning from Hudson to Philadelphia to get there in time for the soccer game tomorrow night. I reluctantly decided to go today so as to give me time to go to Shanksville and have more time this weekend to see Philadelphia. I am  pleased in the end that I did go today, partly because I got to see the memorial and met Patricia but also because it gave me time to think about my life and what I want out of it.

Driving over 400 miles alone today gave me time to do a lot of thinking and enabled me to think about who and what is important to me and also who and what is not important in my life. I can safely say that I am clearer in my mind where I am going and who and what are not important to me. I have some plans to work through to get to the position in life that I want. One thing I do want is to be back in the US next May for the Police Unity Tour as the last two trips have had significant impact on my life, my thinking and my goals.

Tomorrow, its hopefully going to be a visit to see some of Philadelphia and then to see an MLS game at Philadelphia where the Philadelphia Union are playing.

I love Rock n’ Roll

 

I saw him dancin’ there by the record machine
I knew he must a been about seventeen
The beat was goin’ strong
Playin’ my favorite song
An’ I could tell it wouldn’t be long
Till he was with me, yeah me
And I could tell it wouldn’t be long
Till he was with me, yeah me, singin’

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come and take your time and dance with me

Ow!

He smiled so I got up and asked for his name
That don’t matter, he said,
‘Cause it’s all the same
Said can I take you home where we can be alone
An’ next we were movin’ on
He was with me, yeah me
Next we were movin’ on
He was with me, yeah me, singin’

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me

Ow!

Said can I take you home where we can be alone
Next we were movin’ on
He was with me, yeah me,
An we’ll be movin’ on
An’ singin’ that same old song
Yeah with me, singin’

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me
I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with
I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with
I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with
I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me

With apologies to Joan Jett

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio was the place I ended up today.

I did not know that Cleveland was the home of rock & Roll until Michael T told me last night. Then co incidentally, today, Tiffany had decided to take me there! God works in mysterious ways!

Rock and roll has been part of Cleveland’s fabric from its beginnings in the 1950s through the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1995 and up to today, with Kid Cudi rocking the iPod, and Ante Up Studios recording the groove of the future.

Cleveland has always loved rock and roll, and its role in rock is a critical one. The Ohio city helped lay rock’s foundation at Record Rendezvous on Prospect Avenue near Cleveland’s Public Square.

Picture this downtown record store packed with teens eager to shell out their money for the latest tunes. The listening booths are jammed, and the music is loud and sweaty. It bugs parents. The kids love it. The music’s got a beat, and while the style still lacks a name, this blend of rhythm & blues, country music and the blues is starting to coalesce as rock and roll.

Rock came together in American urban centers like Cleveland after World War II. Cleveland was prospering from the steel and automobile industries, its labor force swelled by people who moved from the South in search of a better life, their taste for “race” music and hillbilly music in tow.

The term “rock and roll” was mainstreamed by Record Rendezvous owner Leo Mintz and WJW-AM deejay Alan Freed. It became a brushfire when deejay Bill Randle squired Elvis Presley into some of his first shows north of the Mason Dixon Line—in Cleveland. It established what would become the baby-boomer soundtrack in the Sixties over legendary Cleveland AM stations WIXY, WHK, WERE and WJW. It became big business in the Seventies and Eighties, when Cleveland brothers Jules and Mike Belkin mounted extravaganzas like the World Series of Rock at the Municipal Stadium.

I have to say that the Hall of Fame is a fantastic museum. Tiffany and I spent some 6+ hours in there today, and I could easily have spent more time there. Sadly, pictures were not allowed to be taken inside the museum, so I can’t show you the exhibits.

The museum trip starts off with some interactive displays allowing you to listen to early artists that were the fore runners of RnR. There are some very good time lines including:

Mersey Beat

LA

San Francisco

Seattle,

Detroit

Memphis

Punk Rock

These timelines all had memorabilia and video footage and montages. Fascinating viewing. Obviously there are large sections on Elvis Presley and The Beatles, but not on Cliff Richard or The Brotherhood of Man.

Two floors at the top of the museum are dedicated at present to “WOMEN WHO ROCK” This includes all the women you’d expect, except Suzi Quattro and Kylie, but it does include Britney Spears. Personally, I think it should have been two floors dedicated to Debbie Harry and Clare Grogan.

 

You may be wondering what is the relevance of these pictures to this blog. The answer is there is no relevance other than my lusting after them!

The 3rd floor is the hall of fame itself and there is an 81 minute film taking you through all the inductees into the Hall of Fame from 1988 to date. Ringo Starr is the only ex Beatle not to be in there as a solo artist!

Artists inducted more than once:

The museum really should be on the “Bucket List” of all music lovers. It really is that good a museum. There are some great exhibits and some brilliant music. I have to say that six hours were not enough and I could easily have spent longer there.

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Cleveland itself is a lovely city from what I saw of it. It is a city built on the steel mills which dominate the town. The town has clearly been through hard times and is coming through the same. There is a fascinating mix of old warehouses and buildings next to new buildings.

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Cleveland was also where they filmed “A Christmas Story” film. The two pictures below are at the scene of the house in the film. One for film buff, I know

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