Category Archives: travel

‘The Grand Tour’ Watching Party

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All images by Lisa Kay Tate

There’s no turning back now. The Grand Tour is on its way this week, and is in full promotion mode.

Not to mention the show’s opening scene is being called the “most expensive TV opening scene ever” with 150 cars, 2,000 acrobats, jets, and no telling what else coming in at £2.5 million (around $3 million).

 With the debut just a month away, the only thing left for viewers needing their latest fix of the antics of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond isto wait.

Well, that and start the preparations for a weekly watching party. One of the reasons the enthusiasm for this show has been so high, in addition to people missing the hilarious magnetism between these three unlikely friends, is the anticipation of being an armchair passenger on this wild journey.

For those planning on tuning in with this well-traveled threesome, here are some tips in putting together the ultimate watch party for The Grand Tour:gtmapsGet Out The Map. These boys have a pretty extreme international journey ahead of them, so chart a course along with them. From what has been revealed so far, some of the countries covered include South Africa, the United States, Holland, Finland, Yorkshire, Barbados, Germany, France, and more. That’s a good amount of ground to cover.

Find a nice poster-size wall map of the world from a travel, craft, or teacher supply store. The vintage one shown above came from a craft store for around $12. Use stickers, tacks, or markers to keep track of their journey.

This is also a good opportunity to learn some facts about each place, like capitals, flags, food, and culture, or what (if any) makes of vehicles are made in the region. Even though not everyone will get a chance to travel the world, they can still learn about it, even in unlikely ways.gtretro-pmGo Retro. The “tent tour” set the show has planned is no mere camping trip. Their traveling studio is more posh (and larger) than many stationary homes. In addition to its vast picture window and studio space for a sizeable live audience, the sneak peeks at this massive mobile village have revealed vintage suitcases, bits and piece of safari-like travel fodder, and, most appropriate, retro racing posters.

Similar posters can be found and printed out online to adorn one’s own party “tent” or table, and small travel cases can be used to hold food and drink. Decorate these with some vintage labels from some of the countries featured on the series. Vintage and nostalgia sites like Retro Planet also have a large selection of vintage posters, metal signs, and vinyl stickers for travel buffs and racing fans.

Add some binoculars, old cameras, model cars, planes, motorcycles, and other travel trinkets to round out the look.

gtdrinksPack Some Road Snacks. What’s a road trip without some grub?

There are two directions to go here. One option is to hit the travel centers and pick up some of the snacks, like individual bags of trail mix, jerky, Cracker Jacks, fruit, or other forms of “eat and drive” items. Shops like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and World Market also have some more natural snack items, as well as snack items from around the world. Half the fun here is seeing what there is to find.

For the second option, try something a little more substantial. Allrecipes.com always has some cool “road trip” food. Serious Eats has some make-ahead ideas as well such as homemade energy bars, Pork and Guinness Hand Pies, and fruit leather.

Some gourmet shops and marketplaces may sell different soft drinks or beers from around the world, depending on age groups and preferences of the viewing parties, of course.

Some energy drinks also have some great motoring names like “Full Throttle” or “Kick Start,” but go easy on those, okay?

gtmusicMake A Playlist. One of the standouts of the most recent trailer was the inclusion of the band Kongos’ motivating hit, “Come With Me Now,” which helps make the series look like a feature movie in the works.

All road trips need a personalized, energizing mixtape, a sort of soundtrack to the trek, as it were. It would be impossible to speculate what is going to be featured on The Grand Tour, which might even sport original music. Names like Roger Daltrey, Wilko Johnson, and Hothouse Flowers have been tossed around online as possible theme song contenders.

Instead, find some favorite traveling or road trip or party songs, and put together a custom pre-show mix. Here are some suggestions:

  • “The Boys Are Back” (Dropkick Murphys)
  • “Party Hard” (Andrew W.K.)
  • “Highway to Hell” (AC/DC)
  • “Move” (Saint Motel)
  • “Life in the Fast Lane” (Eagles)
  • “The Distance” (Cake)
  • “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (The Clash)
  • “Roam” (B-52s)
  • “Route 66” (Depeche Mode)
  • “I Can’t Drive 55” (Sammy Hagar)
  • “Life is a Highway” (Tom Cochrane)
  • “New Four Seasons” (Nigel Kennedy)

Once all these travel essentials are in order, it will soon be time to sit back with friends and family and enjoy the scenic ride.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Grand Tour stops in California for their series premiere this Friday, Nov. 18 on Amazon Prime.

Originally published in GeekMom on Oct. 14, 2016. All images by Lisa Kay Tate

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A Family ‘Breaking Bad’ Adventure

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Breaking Bad may not be a family-friendly show by any means, but it made for some goofy family adventures around Albuquerque. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

It all started quite innocently enough.

We had no intentions of taking it any further than just the one picture, you know, for recreational purposes.

 But, somewhere along the way, we begin following the icy blue trail of the do-it-yourself Breaking Bad tour of Albuquerque, N.M.

We visit Albuquerque often for short getaways when we haven’t planned a big trip for the summer. This year’s main venture in town was to be a day at the BioPark. Simple enough.

Then, when we checked into our restored Route 66 motor hotel and saw the little lobby brochure:

Breaking Bad RV Tours! Now Touring Better Call Saul Locations!”

Tours depart Thursday through Sunday mornings from Old Town.

“Can you believe this,” I said, holding up the brochure. “People actually pay to drive around in a kitschy RV and look at everyday houses and business, just because they were in a television show.”

“And for 75 bucks a pop, no less,” my husband scoffed, examining the information.

We’re not huge Breaking Bad fans. We’ve seen up to the third season, but had to take a break. Frankly, it makes me sad. Still, the writing, camera angles, and acting are excellent.

We tossed the brochure aside on the table and forgot about it until the following evening. We spent a fun, and hot, day at the BioPark, had an evening swim, ate dinner, and were traveling up and down Central, waiting to see some neon lights flicker on.

On the way, we passed The Dog House Drive In.

“That was in the show,” my husband said. “Remember?”

“It is a cool-looking place,” I said. Without even thinking, I grabbed the camera and did a drive-by picture.

Then we passed the hideously authentic old Crossroads Motel, where we actually thought we saw “something going down.” Turned out to be college kids getting pictures of a Breaking Bad site.

We passed Burt’s Tiki Lounge, seen in the show. We usually get Tiki bar photos, anyways, because we like tiki stuff. Nothing to do with Breaking Bad, we assured ourselves.

It was then we crossed that dreaded line.

“You know,” my husband said, “we at least need to see Walter White’s house. It’s a real home”

This made me a little nervous, since words like “private residence” and so forth, tend to mean, “keep away,” with good reason. What if the owners don’t want people passing by?

As it turns out, we later read the owners of the home are apparently perfectly nice people, but thanks to the idiocy of some fans, they are a bit apprehensive of people on their own property. I read stories of countless morons wanting to relive notable moments from the show by hurling pizzas on their garage roof, among other acts of sheer disrespect for a person’s domain. So, stay off their lawn and driveway, please.

Tour busses—and RVs, as the case may be—pass through all the time, so taking photos from the street is a common occurrence. The house is part of the tours. Still, I was getting increasingly apprehensive, because that’s what I do. This didn’t stop my husband, who got out his smart phone, and logged the street into the GPS. When we approached the neighborhood street, my husband thrust the camera my way and said, “Here, get it!”

I hastily held the camera out the window at elbow level and snapped a pic as we passed, not even looking through the viewer. The next moment played out like a scene from the show–if it were written by drunk cats.

“Okay, go!”

“Did you get it?”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it!”

“No really, let me see.”

I handed him the camera. This was the result of my efforts:

walt's blur

Nothing to see here, carry on.

My husband cocked an eyebrow as my kids peeked over his shoulder and rolled their eyes.

“Really?” he asked.

“I panicked.”

Since the house is at the end of a cross street, my husband took the camera from me, drove around the block, and shot a couple of pictures heading towards the house up the street. All done. Yet, as we turned right to leave the neighborhood, the garage began opening.

Both my daughters screamed.

“Dad! Dad! They’re after us! Drive! Drive,” my oldest demanded.

“Are we going to get shot?” my youngest asked.

I had visions of a bald, intimidating Bryan Cranston walking out of his home to come after the intruders. Nobody followed us because nobody cared we took a generic Google Map style picture of the front of a house.

The questions from the back seat, however, didn’t cease until we were out among the businesses, which included a stop by Saul Goodman’s office.

The sports bar, now called Sinners N’ Saints, still had Saul Goodman’s Office info on the door and window including the bogus phone number and the welcoming “Se Habla Español.” That was pretty cool, so we got some shots of it as well. I got out of the car for this one.

That was it, though. We didn’t care about Jessie Pinkman’s house, and we didn’t know who “this Jimmy guy” was, anyway. We assumed he was one of Jesse’s hooligan pals, so we ignored those sites.

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The domiciles of Breaking Bad (clockwise from top left) Walter White’s home, Jesse Pinkman’s home, Jesse and Jane’s duplex and the official Breaking Bad tour RV. Images: Rick and Lisa Tate.

That night, we wandered around the peaceful Old Town Plaza. Most businesses were closed, but we enjoy sites more than souvenirs. We passed the little shop of The Candy Lady of Old Town, the sweet shop that produced the official prop blue meth seen in the television show.

It was probably upwards on $10 a bag, my husband estimated. I argued they probably had smaller bags for a couple of bucks, but it didn’t matter. We weren’t buying.

So we thought.

The next morning, my husband began looking over his phone at breakfast.

“Jesse’s house is actually pretty close,” he said, “and it’s really pretty.” We found the plush little neighborhood where Jesse’s house was, as well as the corner where he shared a duplex with his ill-fated landlord-cum-girlfriend, Jane.

We stopped by Old Town one last time to get a photo of the girls at the beautiful blue mosaic at the entrances. There, behind the girls, at the entrance, was the tour RV, getting ready to take a group past several of the sites we had toured and more, including lunch at a restaurant called Twisters (the stand-in for Los Pollo Hermanos).

The crowd was diverse, from a couple of college-aged boys to several “Grandma Big-purse,” tourist types. We were able to peek in the RV and noticed it was modified with some nice motor coach style seats. I had to admit, these RV guys had a good thing going.

Right around the corner from the departing tour was the now-open Candy Lady. Next door was the Routes Bicycle Tours of ABQ, who offer a Biking Bad Tour. For those interested, by the way, the Albuquerque Tourism & Sightseeing Factory also gives tours (and has a great online site map), Red Door Brewing Company hosts weekly Better Call Saul watching parties on Mondays, and the iconic purveyors of geeky donuts, Rebel Donuts, makes some nifty “Blue Sky” Breaking Bad inspired donuts. There is also craft beer, cocktails, t-shirts, fine art, and more offered at various local businesses.

“We might as well take a look at what the candy people have,” I said.

The Candy Lady’s Shop was filled with everything from trays of fudge to licorice from all over the world, but the aura of its part in the Breaking Bad legacy was prevalent. The back room held a large tray of the blue rock candy and some prop “Heisenberg” (Walter White’s street name) hats and glasses, I assume were for those wishing to do a little cosplay. We didn’t ask.

The friendly couple behind the counter was happy to show us the goods. It turned out we were both right on the cost. The big bag, identical to the prop meth used in the show, was $10, but it, of course, included a few little dime bags for distribution to friends. There were also a few little $1 cotton candy-flavored bags available, as well. Yes, all these things are available from them online.

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A trip down Central had several Breaking Bad sites including Burt’s Tiki Lounge, The Dog House and the oh, so luxurious Crossroads Motel. Images: Rick Tate and Lisa Tate

Thus, we finished our Breaking Bad adventure purchasing blue meth. The blue meth, to be exact. We got one $10 bag and a Los Pollos Hermanos shot glass filled with little bags, along with some little sugar skulls, a bag of German licorice for our teen, and a little VW bug filled with candy for our six-year-old.

I was happy just getting the little packs, but my husband noted, as the candy shop people explained, the $10 bag actually had, and I quote, “the Heisenberg clarity.”

As we headed back home via I-25, I got to thinking about why the heck we decided to spiral into this world of deviancy?

I’ve had relatives who have struggled horribly with drug addiction, and I know the pain it causes a family. I don’t even support recreational marijuana; that’s how extreme I’ve gotten from the experience.

So, why the heck did we spend a good evening and the following morning with our kids collecting photos and trinkets from a show about pair of meth dealers and their unscrupulous lawyer?

That’s just bad parenting. Right?

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The law office of Saul Goodman is actually a pretty nice sports bar. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

First of all, despite the meth-intensive show, neither the tours or the show itself advocate drug use. As a matter of fact, a good binge watch of Breaking Bad should do more than scare a person away from this lifestyle. Ironically, I would never let my kids, even my teenager, actually watch this show from which we traveled around seeing sites. One of the RV tour brochures even lists numbers for regional Narcotics Anonymous or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services hotlines for those who might struggle with or know someone with a drug problem.

Still, we dropped some green on a baggie of candy meth. Why?

I realized the reason when we got home and picked up where we left off on the show. We also started Better Call Saul, which I’m already enjoying way more than it’s predecessor.

“Oooh, so that’s Jimmy,” I overheard myself saying at the beginning. “We need to get his nail salon next time we’re up there. Bob Odenkirk’s the man.”

The main reason we temporarily fell in with this unsavory crowd for a day or two could be summed up in one word: Albuquerque.

Those who live in well-represented filming locations like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and even Albuquerque’s movie star neighbor, Santa Fe, are used to seeing their hometown as part of a television series or movies.

Those “badlands” from Albuquerque to El Paso are often relegated to a few westerns, a romp through Old Town, and a look at the borderlands from a wide-angle lens. There have been other movies and shows filmed in the area, but none that really show off the retro, quirkiness of making the Southwest your home.

It’s the murals on Central, the pottery light fixtures in the Route 66 diners, and the low camera angles that give you a sense of baking in the cloudless, yet amazingly, blue New Mexico and West Texas skies. It’s the neighborhoods, which vary from modern upscale to mid-century quaintness.

It’s the dilapidated strip malls mixed with the recently restored historic sites. It’s Blake’s Lotaburger. It’s the neon and Native American-inspired overpass art.

It was the references to the show’s “rival” DEA department, and my hometown, El Paso, and the gorgeous Sandia Mountains. More than anything, it’s getting beyond the tourist draws, and seeing the community off the main drag, good or bad, classy or trashy.

If we hadn’t ventured off the beaten path to see a few, non-descript homes or businesses, we never would have seen some beautiful gardens, creative public parks, front yard sculptures, and other hidden odds and ends that give any town its character.

It was also getting to see how a map and an RV can become a lucrative little business. It’s giving people, in search of a show about a very ugly side of reality, another reason to visit a very beautiful region of the country.

The main star of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul isn’t some actor. It’s Albuquerque, and she’s giving an Emmy-worthy performance.

In that sense, “breaking bad” can be a very good thing.

Originally ran July 14, 2016 in GeekMom.com.

 

Traveling The Route 66 “Art Gallery”

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Who knew America’s “Mother Road would be one of the best places to find off-beat interactive art installations, folk art and urban street art? All photos by Rick Tate.

Historic Route 66 is a veritable treasure trove for historians, classic car buffs, and nostalgia lovers no doubt, but

Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

the route is also an eclectic, colorful and quirky roadside art exhibition filled with everything from world-famous folk art pieces to interactive street art style installations.

Here are some of examples of art found on the historic byway that make Route 66 not only America’s Mother Road, but also America’s Best Public Art Gallery:

Cadillac Ranch. Amarillo, Texas’s world-famous installation of upended classic Cadillacs was commissioned in 1974 by art aficionado Stan Marsh 3, and created by an art co-op called Ant Farm. It attracts a steady stream of visitors, from curious travelers

Bug Ranch in Conway, Texas.

Bug Ranch in Conway, Texas.

armed with cameras, to would-be street artists armed with brightly-colored spray paint. The installation even inspired a similar attraction, Bug Ranch, just off the road in nearby Conway. Bug Ranch has also attracted its share of amateur graffiti artists.

Dinosaurs! There’s dinosaur and fossil art to be found along the entire route, but they seem tostatues to upscaled “junk” sculptures. Some are designated, “roadside attractions,” while others just pop up out of nowhere on the edges of businesses and private residences. Half the fun is discovering them.

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“Dinosaurs” near Grand Canyon Caverns, Arizona.

Standin’ On The Corner Park. Anyone who drives through or by Winslow, Ariz. has at least a brief passing thought of The Eagles’ classic “Take it Easy,” and the lyrics that helped make Winslow famous. Visitors along 66 can be part of the song with the installation created in 1999 . The park is prominently marked by a highway-shaped shield with the words “Standin’ on the Corner,” but even without it, it isn’t hard to miss. Look for the lone lifesized bronze guitarist statue, with a restored classic red flatbed Ford on the corner. Best time to visit is as night, as the corner is well lit and quieter, except for the classic Eagles music playing from across the street.

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‘Standin’ On The Corner’ Park, Winslow, Arizona.

Bottle Tree Forest. It may not be the oldest, most historic site along the road, but is encompasses everything that makes Route 66 unique, off-beat creativity and out-of-the-way artistic innovation. Located in Oro Grande, Calif. , this site features several poles of “bottle tree art.” These metal poles consist of several bottles, bowls, glass transformers and anything and everything placed upon a pole. Walking through these can be a surreal and peaceful experience, but remember this “ranch” is actually the home of Elmer Long, the creator of these folk art figures. Be respectful and go inside

Street art along 66.

Street art along 66.

only when the gates are open and welcoming guests.

Roadside Landscape Graffiti. Travelers who didn’t think to bring along their paint cans, can still leave their personal artistic signature along the route, by using rocks, debris, tire remnants and anything else they can find. The barren desert areas in California bear the highest concentration of this art where people have left their initials, names and other messages for future travelers. There’s also another community graffiti art opportunity on the ruins of one former town, as well as a “shoe tree” adorned with cast off

Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, California.

Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, California.

footwear. Much of the route along the Mojave Desert seems to welcome this kind of “do-it-yourself” art, so bring some gel markers, crafts spray paint, extra shoes and imagination.

Murals. Murals are by far the most plentiful form of public art along Route 66. Nearly every town along Route 66 has one, even the ghost towns. Unlike Cadillac Ranch and the Mojave Desert stretch, these works of art are the result of hard work from the artist or artists. Tucumcari, New Mexico even offers maps of their plentiful selection of murals. Some are faded remnants of advertisements on crumbling walls, and some are fresh, new urban creations.  Others are site specific large scale ways of welcoming visitors and passers-by into a historic community. Either way, they are everywhere, and many are impressive works of art. Some are even the last remaining reminder of the glory days of the route: more than enough reason to stop and take a photo.

For other Route 66 attractions, see the National Park Service’s site at nps.gov.

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Murals at the famed Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, N.M.

Originally published August, 2014.