Monday, January 18, 2010

Hotels I Have Known

The San Carlos in Pensacola

Camp Connell, Ca. - Part of my family history is told through the hotels I stayed in with my father when I was a child.

He traveled constantly for a living for the better part of 30 years. For several years after he and my mother divorced he pretty much lived in hotels from Miami to Memphis, and from Charlotte to Meridian. I got to ride along with him during the summers from 1947 to 1952. There were few motels at the time, and no Interstate system, and hotels were good safe places to stay in the business center of America's towns.
The managers knew my dad, and he knew them and their families. Sometimes I was allowed to wander around exploring the hotel during the day while my dad worked. The employees kept an eye on me.
I doubt if he ever was told "no vacancy." The hotel managers took care of regular customers to the point that on one trip we ran into a convention-packed town, and the manager gave my father a room on the roof, usually reserved for employees.

His territory covered most of the South, and he went from town to town by car auditing the payroll records of companies for insurance firms. The reasons for the audits are a little vague to me today, but I recall it had something to do with workman's compensation.
Thumbing through a few of the hundreds of letters he wrote while traveling is like taking a tour of a bygone era of America. Hotels were actually places real people stayed; working people; families; relatives from out of town; and tourists. The hotels he stayed in usually catered to traveling men like him, but you could meet all sort of people in the lobbies. They were inexpensive, and the man at the front desk knew your name.

The Purefoy Hotel has disappeared, but it's famous cookbook lives via Google. The Purefoy Hotel in Talladega, Alabama, was a favorite of mine because it served food family style at long tables, and the menus promised "air conditioned bedrooms" and "We serve at least 30 of the following dishes each meal."

The Hotel Cherokee in Tallahassee, Florida, held mixed memories for me. I remember playing tourist at nearby Wakulla Springs while staying there. but I also remember being carsick and throwing up in the hotel lobby. My dad slipped the bellboy a dollar to clean up and we left.

Here are a few others I found in the old letters:
The Tutwiler in Birmingham
The Tutwiler Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, was one of the fancier places -- this was when the steel mills were still booming. It was owned by the Dinkler family and managed by Ira M. Patton.
The Benwalt Hotel in Philadelphia, Mississippi, promised "Courtesy/Cleanliness" as well as "Modern- Fireproof."
The San Carlos Hotel in Pensacola, Florida, "The Grey Lady of Palafox Street," had everything going for it: a good restaurant with fresh seafood, a waitress I still remember because for her bright red nails and the smiles she gave a little boy, and a radio station on the roof. Motels and the Interstate system killed it, unfortunately, and it was torn down in the early 1990s.
In Montgomery my dad often stayed with relatives, but when he needed a place he always stayed at The Greystone where Mr. L Loeb was manager.
The Hotel Collins in Jasper, Alabama, had been completely "RE-decorated and RE-furnished," and proudly showed the AAA symbol on its stationary.
The Evangeline Hotel in Lafayette, Louisiana, served flounder for dinner but my father was mildly irritated that the drug store down the street closed the ice cream parlor at 5 p.m., too early for his taste.
The Hotel Dixie-Sherman in Panama City, Florida, had one of the oddest combo names I found, probably hoping for loyal Southerners and Yankees to check in. That hotel was "offering every comfort and convenience in the better hotels."
There are too many to name or remember but here are a few more: The Biltmore Terrace on Miami Beach; The Houston Hotel in Dothan, Alabama (Peanut Capitol of the World); The Hotel Patten in Chattanooga, Tennessee (where it snowed in March) and the Hotel Stark in Starkville, Mississippi, where my dad saw Choctaw Indians and wrote "the men dress just like we do."
After the divorce my father always stayed at The Battle House, a rather grand old hotel in the heart of Mobile, Alabama, where I lived. I spent more time there than almost any other hotel, and got to know the service corridors, the bellmen, and which deck clerk would tolerate me sliding down the marble bannister which lined the entrance to the dining room.
The Battle House is one of the few that I am sure still operates, though in a somewhat different manner. It is now known as "Mariott's Renaissance Battle House Hotel and Spa" and probably charges more for a single room than it used to for a month-long stay.
The facade is exactly the same, including the balcony where we used to watch Mardi Gras parades, but everything else was torn down and a new high-rise constructed which now bears the name Battle House.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Winter survival tips

Camp Connell, CA - Lots of people enjoy being outside in the winter, and very few ever need to know what to do if they get in trouble.
But it happens, and as a result I worked up a short version of a Winter Preparedness and Survival sheet for the docents at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. When the weather is good I occasionally lead snowshoe tours in the park, and usually try to impart some of these common sense tips to people.

I suspect it is ironic that shortly after doing this the snow melted, and I had surgery which precludes me from doing much outdoors activity in the cold for a few weeks. No matter: more snow is on the way and I am healing fast.

So, here is some information you may be able to use if you want to enjoy the outdoors year round:

Being properly prepared to enjoy the outdoors in winter requires no technical skills, but a lot of common sense and some preparation.

Be Prepared

The odds are great that you will never be lost or in a survival situation.
The best way to survive is to not get lost or hurt. Most people do that every day by exercising reasonable care.

Be aware that being properly prepared means for a worst case situation, not an average day’s walk in the park on a well-defined trail.

Conditions can change rapidly in winter. A short sunny stroll can end up in a freezing whiteout. Extra preparation helps make for a pleasant visit.

So, check the weather forecast , and dress appropriately.

The most critical item to help a person survive in winter is adequate clothing. You cannot overemphasize the role clothing -- and a good attitude -- play in enhancing the chances for survival if something goes wrong.

TIP # 1: Remember ABC = “Anything But Cotton.” We all love blue jeans and fashionable shirts, but when cotton gets wet -- either from melting snow or sweat -- it loses the ability to provide warmth and actually drains heat from wet bodies.

Wool and synthetics, worn in layers, wick away dampness and provide warmth when you are active. An outer layer(jacket and pants) should be water proof or resistant .
Extremities get cold faster than the core body, so boots, gloves and a warm hat are essential ingredients to avoid hypothermia and even frostbite.

If you can convince yourself to think of tennis shoes, cotton socks, long-sleeved cotton T-shirts and denim blue jeans as dangerous in a winter wilderness, you will be better prepared for anything.

TIP # 2: Carry essential items with you to make sure you can survive,--even on a brief day hike-- if something happens and you get stuck hiking or skiing in the snow.

The minimal list should include an extra layer of clothing for warmth when not moving, drinking water, an energy bar, and ways to stay dry and warm. (A complete checklist is included below.)

Survival Tips

Survival in winter requires staying warm, staying put in a safe location(except in extraordinary circumstances) and making sure someone can find you by enhancing visibility.

So, let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return.

And, before you go into a winter wilderness, prepare properly.

Remember ABC means “Anything But Cotton” and “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.”

Here is a longer memory jogger that outlines the essentials you should carry with you to assure winter survival:
Remember, For Wilderness Survival, Keeping My Cool Will Continue My Life

Remember ............Rope (long enough to rig a shelter, or make a snare)
For............................Food (granola or high calorie bars provide energy)
Wilderness..............Water ( absolutely essential)
Survival....................Shelter (large garbage bag, thermal blankets or a fly)
Keeping...................Knife (strong enough to cut branches or rope)*
My............................Map (a basic tool to locate yourself)
Cool.........................Compass (another basic tool; GPS will work)
Will...........................Whistle (one way to signal for help)
Continue..................Clothing (enough to keep you warm if sitting still)
My............................Matches (waterproof, or flint and steel and starter)**
Life...........................Light (small flashlight helps someone find you)
*Adding a wire saw would is worth the extra weight for back country trips.
** You may want a small amount of fire starter, or dryer lint. Also, if you carry a propane lighter, carry more than one. They fail often.

If you get lost or injured...

Remember to “STOP”:

S = Stop where you are. Don’t wander, calm down for a minute. Search and Rescue teams suggest we hug a tree to help calm down.

T = Think about where you are, what resources you have and what you need to do.

O = Observe your surroundings. Take note of the terrain, snow depths and conditions, weather, time of day, tracks and trails and anything else that might help you with the final step.

P = Plan what to do. Decide what is best to assure your survival based upon you condition, location, equipment and knowledge.

Your priorities should be:
Shelter -- Use clothing, a garbage bag, branches from trees, a snow cave or trench, or anything else that will protect you from wind and wet and cold. Separate your body from snow with something: a closed-cell foam pad is good, and lightweight.

Fire -- Low branches broken from a tree, or the inside of downed wood, will burn even if the exterior is damp. Split the wood. Start small. Add more wood slowly. Keep it going.

Signal -- Use your whistle, smoke, a mirror, bright colored jacket, or SOS stomped in the snow to increase your visibility. Try sending on your cell phone even if it says no service.

Water -- You must drink water to avoid dehydration. East snow sparingly. Melted is better.

Maintain a positive attitude. A strong will to survive, coupled with positive efforts to keep warm and healthy while awaiting rescue, has been the basis of many wonderful survival stories.

Some additional reading: (flash cards for children)

Compiled for CBTA

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

No more sun tans

Camp Connell, CA -- I gave up basking in the sun years ago.

I've always known that I had lousy skin, subject to burning and other sorts of afflictions. That's probably a result of the Scots-Irish heritage, which gave me blond/reddish hair, blue eyes and fair skin.

And when I was young, it was considered a rite of passage to get a good sunburn at the start of every summer. I never tanned well, but went through many a Gulf Coast summer with peeling nose and shoulders. The worst sunburn I can remember was at about 12 years old when I let the top of my feet get burned. That really hurt. I finally wised up and quit doing that, and any sunburns in the past 30 years or so have been by accident.

But, as a result of those years of damage and generally less-than-perfect skin I've been a regular customer of dermatologists for over 50 years, beginning as a teenager and continuing through this week.

When it caught up with me.

During a routine examination two weeks ago my dermatologist spotted some things he did not like, and ordered a biopsy.

And yesterday I had surgery for skin cancer.

Today that cancer is gone, but I am missing a chunk of my nose (not a part I use for anything), and have a patch of skin taken from behind my ear for a skin graft. This particular skin cancer had some deep roots.

The doctor -- my new best friend -- tells me I will have a circular scar.

I won't be any prettier, but then I never was proud of my nose anyway.

I am hesitant to say that I have joined the ranks of cancer survivors, since so many people suffer much worse and this particular cancer is both common and treatable. In many ways, this is not a big deal. So far all I have to give up is chopping and hauling firewood for few days, an encouraging thing, and I will lay low while the stitches hold.

But I will admit it has given me time to consider the benefits of modern treatments, the progress we have made in the decades I have lived, and the possibility that I am not immune to the ravages of age and bad choices made in my youth.

I certainly plan to continue doing the things I enjoy outdoors: hiking, skiing and sailing in particular. And I plan to continue to visit my dermatologist on a regular basis.

But my awareness has been raised to a new level.

And I hope my experience will encourage you to do the same, and that when my children reach my age they will be able to report on more progress on all kinds of cancers.


The following is a quick look at basal cell carcinoma, what it is and how it is treated. (This is NOT my nose, but a representative one...)

"Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting approximately one million Americans each year. In fact, it is the most common of all cancers. More than one out of every three new cancers are skin cancers, and the vast majority are basal cell carcinomas. These cancers arise in the basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (top skin layer).

"Almost all basal cell carcinomas occur on parts of the body excessively exposed to the sun — especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. On rare occasions, however, tumors develop on unexposed areas. In a few cases, contact with arsenic, exposure to radiation, open sores that resist healing, chronic inflammatory skin conditions, and complications of burns, scars, infections, vaccinations, or even tattoos are contributing factors.

"Anyone with a history of sun exposure can develop basal cell carcinoma. However, people who are at highest risk have fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue, green, or grey eyes. Those most often affected are older people, but as the number of new cases has increased sharply each year in the last few decades, the average age of patients at onset has steadily decreased. The disease is rarely seen in children, but occasionally a teenager is affected. Dermatologists report that more and more people in their twenties and thirties are being treated for this skin cancer. Men with basal cell carcinoma have outnumbered women with the disease, but more women are getting basal cell carcinomas than in the past. Workers in occupations that require long hours outdoors and people who spend their leisure time in the sun are particularly susceptible.

"Basal cell carcinomas are easily treated in their early stages. The larger the tumor has grown, however, the more extensive the treatment needed. Although this skin cancer seldom spreads, or metastasizes, to vital organs, it can damage surrounding tissue, sometimes causing considerable destruction and disfigurement — and some basal cell carcinomas are more aggressive than others.

"When small skin cancers are removed, the scars are usually cosmetically acceptable. If the tumors are very large, a skin graft or flap may be used to repair the wound in order to achieve the best cosmetic result and facilitate healing."