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Let’s Take This Halloween on the Road

October 28, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Halloween just couldn’t be contained. It started as a holiday we celebrated one day a year. But it was just too much fun to be contained by one measly day. Like a candy bag spilling on the floor after a night of trick-or-treating, the holiday festivities have spilled over and spread through the month of October. Some occasions just make for really good parties. Weddings come to mind, as does New Year’s Eve. Momentous occasions—occasions that celebrate change—make for the best festivities. And Halloween, in most parts of the country, falls at a time when early fall is becoming fall proper. There’s no better way to ring in the new season than some unique celebrations. The following are the most unique Halloween towns in the USA.

Anoka, Minnesota

Since way back in 1920, Anoka has been calling itself the “Halloween Capital of the World.” Big shoes to fill—I know. But Anoka’s got some big feet when it comes to Halloween festivities. Anoka can boast of being the first town in this great nation to have a Halloween parade. The parade was begun when the town’s fathers felt that there was far too much Halloween trickery going on, and not nearly enough Halloween treats. It seems that in 1920, the youngsters in Anoka associated Halloween with mild vandalism and general naughtiness. And I thought my generation invented that. In Anoka, they’ve got Halloween revelry going on starting mid-month. They’ve got a pumpkin carving contest, a 5k race they call the Gray Ghost Run, a carnival, and, of course, the parade (which takes place on the 26th, not the 31st). See the whole calendar of events here.     

Hollywood, California

From the people who’ve brought you some of the greatest scares of your life (via their movies) comes a Halloween experience like no other. Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights takes you inside the scariest movies and TV shows. This is like the haunted house from hell. Held on Universal Studios’ actual back lot, Halloween Horror Nights utilizes all of Hollywood’s considerable special effects and storytelling knowhow to shock and scare you at every turn. Amplifying the scare factor is the fact that the haunted houses are also mazes. Are you a fan of The Walking Dead? Then why not try walking with the zombies? It’s a scream. While you’re in town for some scary fun, take the Black Dahlia Tour. You’ll visit important sites, such as the Chancellor Apartments (where Elizabeth Short, victim of the still-unsolved Black Dahlia murder, lived) and the historic Biltmore Building (where Short was last seen). Before taking the tour, I recommend watching Brian De Palma’s great film about the case, The Black Dahlia.     

Keene, New Hampshire 

Keene’s Pumpkin Festival, which takes place October 19th, is legendary among jack-o-lantern lovers. It’s an all-day pumpkin party—with bands, a parade, a pumpkin pie-eating contest, and a pumpkin seed-spitting contest. But the real reason to come (the source of the festival’s slogan: “Let it shine”) is the jack-o-lantern lighting ceremony. Jack-o-lanterns literally numbering in the thousands are lit at the same time, and the night becomes a sea of eerily grinning pumpkins. This is an experience absolutely not to be missed.

After a day celebrating Halloween on the road, you’ll be ready to kick back and maybe eat some candy. The best place for this is an Extended Stay America hotel, where you can relax like you’re at home without having to chip in with the chores (they’ve got that taken care of).  

Great Barbecue Is Good for the Soul

October 23, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Barbecue can be so tasty that it’s a little hard to describe in words. Cooking barbecue on your grill at home is great for a party. But unless you’ve got your own smoker and you’re ready to put in many hours to get that perfect slow cook, you’re not going to be able to get that heavenly flavor. That’s why we flock to barbecue restaurants. Year round, they make it their business to craft the tastiest barbecue possible. Barbecue, of course, has southern roots. So let’s head south.

Luling City Market: Houston, Texas

They make the type of barbecue native to central Texas at Luling City Market. Houston is not traditionally known for its barbecue. But it is a wonderful city with a lot of history and culture. In 1981, some enterprising folks brought that distinctive barbecue flavor native to towns like Luling (which is fifty miles south of Austin) to the big city of Houston. True to Texas barbecue traditions, the cooking process at Luling City Market is totally gasless. The meat is slow-cooked in special barbecue pits using nothing but the best oak. There’s no faking the deep, smoky flavor you get when you bite into the brisket or ribs at Luling City Market. Everything is down-home and real here. The sausage at Luling City Market is homemade—the same way it’s been made for the past thirty years. Don’t mess with a good thing, right? And don’t mess with Texas.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue: Kansas City, Missouri        

Whatever your barbecue craving is, Jack Stack has got you covered. If you want to keep it simple and go with a sandwich, Jack Stack is the place. Jack Stack makes the best barbecue sandwiches west of the Mississippi, hands down. Actually, not hands down. You’ll definitely need both of your hands to eat one of Jack Stack’s massive sandwiches. The ribs are another specialty. Jack Stack’s ribs are some of meatiest ribs I’ve ever had. There’s a lot of biting before the bone on a Jack Stack rib. And they’ve got real panache at this restaurant. The onion rings, which are a perfect combination of batter and onion (neither too much nor too little of either), are served using a skewer made of shiny copper. Style and quality—what more can you ask for?  

 Full Moon Barbeque: Birmingham, Alabama

 Full Moon Barbeque cooks some great food. But what sets them apart from the rest is the sauce they use on their sandwiches. Called “chow chow,” this relish-style sauce can be found in many kitchens in the South. Chow chow adds both sweetness and spice to a barbecue sandwich that accentuates the meat flavor and adds another element to it. The chow chow at Full Moon is widely acknowledged to be the best in Alabama. And Alabama chow chow is widely acknowledged to be the best in the South. That’s one enormous reason to make the trip.     

 After a day chowing down on the country’s best barbecue, you’ll be ready to have a laid-back evening and maybe enjoy some leftovers. At the hotel, you can reheat your leftovers right in your suite; and after you’ve reheated your leftovers, you can watch a movie using the free Wi-Fi or flatscreen TV.

Explore Famously Smooth Criminals

October 15, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

We Americans romanticize some of our criminals. Criminals with outsize personalities, like Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone, become cult figures with legions of fans. They have been featured in films (like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables) and in songs (like Serge Gainsbourg’s “Bonnie and Clyde” and Prince Buster’s “Al Capone”). Bonnie and Clyde and Capone were big stars during their lives, and they are bigger stars now—stars who still have the power to impact our culture. When Penn’s film was released in 1967, it sparked a revival of 1930s fashions of the sort worn by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty (who portray Bonnie and Clyde) in the film. While you can watch films and listen to songs about gangsters, visiting interactive museums dedicated to them will take you closer to the action.

The Mob Museum: Las Vegas, Nevada

There’s no more perfect place for a museum about the mob than Las Vegas. Vegas is really a mob-built town. It was famous mob bosses, like Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, who brought the sort of glitzy vice to Las Vegas that it is known for today. The period that is widely known as the golden age of Vegas—the Rat Pack years—were the years when the mob ran the town top to bottom. The building the museum is located in (which was once Vegas’ federal courthouse) is likewise perfect. In 1950 and ’51, the hearings of the Kefauver Committee, which looked into organized crime in the US, took place in the courthouse of this historic building—which is on the National Register of Historic places, a very unique thing in a city known for its love of newness and embrace of the wrecking ball. Interestingly, it was after the Kefauver Hearings (which were intended to bring down the mob) that mob activity really took off in Las Vegas—which was America’s “wide-open town” at mid-century. Through the museum’s state-of-the-art theater productions, interactive exhibits, and historic artifacts, you will be taken back to these important days for Vegas and for our country as a whole.   

Alcatraz Island: San Francisco Bay, California

There’s no prison more legendary than Alcatraz—the Rock. The only prisoners who ever successfully escaped from Alcatraz (Frank Morris and Clarence and John Anglin) are believed to have died in the very cold waters of the San Francisco Bay. That’s how hard it was to get off the Rock. You will learn about this great escape (which is portrayed in the Don Siegel film Escape from Alcatraz) while visiting Alcatraz, which is now an engaging, informative museum. You will see the actual cells of the prisoners who escaped and see the air vents that they enlarged, digging with spoons night after night for a year. And you will see the very lifelike dummy heads (made of toilet paper, paint, human hair, and soap), which the prisoners left in their beds to fool the guards during their escape. These fake heads were so lifelike that at first guards thought the prisoners had been beheaded. I recommend taking the audio tour. You will hear actual testimony from former prisoners and guards of their days on the Rock.

After your day checking out our nation’s checkered past, you’ll be ready for a night that’s not checkered at all—one that is characterized by 100% comfort and relaxation. That’s exactly what you get at Extended Stay America.    

Memphis, Tennessee: It Doesn’t Get Any More Rock-’n’-Roll than That

October 9, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Memphis gave the world Elvis, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Big Star, and many, many more rocking musicians. It is the veritable Fertile Crescent of American rock, soul, blues, and country. Situated at a crossroads with Kentucky (home of bluegrass), Mississippi (home of the blues), and Nashville (home of country music), Memphis absorbed a wide assortment of influences and came up with the gumbo that has been the backbone of American popular music since the middle of the 20th century. There are not too many cities you can point to and say that if that town did not exist, world history would be drastically (or at least sound drastically) different. Memphis has had that sort of effect on world culture. If you visit Memphis, you can really see why it’s such a big deal.

Beale Street

James Baldwin wrote a novel called If Beale Street Could Talk, though that one was about New York City. If this Beale Street could talk, I don’t know if it would talk. It would probably sing and shout, though. Beale is one of the major streets in blues history. Every 20th century blues musician of note performed on Beale. B.B. King, before he left his regional roots and went on to national fame, was known as the Beale Street Blues Boy. “Blues Boy,” of course, has stuck (now it’s B.B. for short). These days, you can visit B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale. There are others in the country, but there are none as soulful as the original at Beale and 2nd in Memphis. If this street (and particularly this historic corner) could talk, and it wanted to, it would tell of all the great blues musicians who played for change here. The Memphis Jug Band loved to play its ramshackle blues tunes on this very spot for neighborhood folks to dance to. Robert Johnson would roll up and start playing right across the street from whatever bluesman was cocky enough to think he could hold the corner—a practice known as “cutting heads.” B.B. King’s Blues Club regularly features the local greats, such as blues singer and harmonica player Blind Mississippi Morris, rocking frontman and Elvis scholar Memphis Jones, and guitar god Will Tucker. They don’t cut heads anymore, but they will make you cut a rug.    

Sun Studio

You can still visit the actual Sun Studio, where Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and many others got their start. If Memphis is the birthplace of rock-’n’-roll, then Sun Studio is the maternity ward. Sun Studio is the room where Elvis recorded “Blue Moon of Kentucky”—his souped-up take on a Bill Monroe bluegrass song. When country music met rhythm and blues, you got rock-’n’-roll, and Elvis’ recording of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” is likely what introduced country music (which bluegrass is an offshoot of) to R&B. The world was never the same. You can visit this National Historic Landmark any day of the week. And make sure you grab the free Graceland shuttle from Sun Studio, so you can see how the King lived after creating rock-’n’-roll.   

After your day exploring the roots of American music and experiencing some of today’s best artists, you’ll be ready to experience the best of lodging. At Extended Stay America, you get all the comfort of home, and you don’t have to do any of the chores. It’s kind of like being a rock star.   

There Are So Many Reasons to Love LA!

October 1, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

LA has been known to get a bad rap. Woody Allen famously made fun of its laid-back pretentiousness in Annie Hall, and it’s famous as the US’s smog capital. The good news is that it’s not the ‘70s anymore. Somewhat less pretentious hipsters have replaced pretentious hippies. While hippies were concerned with avoiding bad vibes, hipsters are concerned with finding good coffee – definitely a plus when you need your morning fix in LA. Also, what with California’s strict emissions standards, the smog in LA isn’t much of a factor anymore. I’ve heard from old timers that it used to be so bad, it would make your eyes sting. That is certainly a thing of the past. The air is clear, and the people are cool. What more can you ask for?

Silver Lake

Of all of LA’s 272 neighborhoods, Silver Lake is perhaps the hippest—in both senses of the word. It’s loaded with hipsters (you might call it the Williamsburg of the west), and it is a really cool part of town. From great food trucks to great architecture, Silver Lake has a lot going for it. The food truck known as Frysmith makes the most indulgent French fries this side of the Mississippi. The chili cheese fries are to die for. These guys use some top-drawer chili on their fries. From the Angus beef to the chocolate and beer, this chili is loaded with great and interesting ingredients. It is super good on the sweet-potato fries. And for desert, why not stop by the Sweets Truck (a café and bakery on wheels)? From cakes to cookies to iced tea, these guys have the most satisfying sweets around. And the employees have super sweet dispositions. It’s like buying baked goods from your grandma—if your grandma were your age and had a bunch of piercings.

Looking at some of the futuristic-looking luxury homes of Silver Lake, you’ll feel like you’ve walked into a David Hockney painting. Silver Lake was on the cutting edge of urban modernism in the 20th century. That streamlined look (the sort of design that would make Howard Roark, from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, smile) flourished in Silver Lake. The space-age look of these houses really works in Southern California—where the sun glinting off of the giant windows gives these houses a magical-looking sparkle.

Westwood   

Westwood is pretty conservative compared to super-hip Silver Lake. Sometimes you don’t want to be surrounded by hipsters. When that time comes, head to Westwood. Westwood is a pretension-free place to get a bite and take a stroll in the California sun. The 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria serves some authentic, super thin-crust pizza (just like they make in Italy). This place is all about quality, and it’s all about speed. They give you one of humanity’s most time-honored foods in the time it takes to get fast food. That’s because of their state-of-the-art, super-hot ovens. Since Westwood is right next to UCLA, I recommend taking a stroll on campus. UCLA has a classic college feel. The buildings are old and venerable, and you get the feeling that many deep ideas have been born right where you’re walking.

After you’ve explored this gem of a city, you’ll be ready to head back to the hotel and chat about your day with your family. There’s no better hotel for family time than Extended Stay. You can make a family dinner in your suite’s kitchen and watch one of your family’s favorite movies with our premium cable channels on our flatscreen TVs or using the free Wi-Fi.