Thursday, August 28, 2014

More Summer Talk: 50 years of the Cape May - Lewes Ferry



The Cape May-Lewes Ferry celebrates 50 years of service this year; fifty years moving passengers and vehicles across the Delaware Bay from Cape May, New Jersey  to Lewes, Delaware. By my calculation that puts the start date at 1964. I started riding the ferry in 1965. I was thirteen.

I recall the 1964 ferry as a big boat; thick sheet metal, half-dollar sized rivets, layer upon layer of paint, rust, and a loud diesel engine that you felt in your toes and that shot a plume of black smoke into the summer sky (top picture). I loved it.

The highlight of a ferry ride back then besides the joy of being at almost-open sea was docking because I loved to watch the ship bump the telephone pole pilings, bend them back, and creeeeaaaak as the ship's metal bumper ground along the wood. Today, ferry-goers ride in tonier ships (color photo) and docking is smooth as silk since the old telephone poles have been replaced with neatly fitted pilings with plasticized cushions. And I'd guess ship docking is assisted by computers these days.

My most vivid memory of Cape May-Lewes ferry travel was a summer day in 1965 when my buddy Billy Velvel and I hitchhiked the five or so miles from our home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to Lewes, boarded the Ferry for a quarter, and then hitchhiked from Cape May up the Jersey coast to Wildwood or Atlantic City or Ocean City, wherever the ride took us. On this particular adventure the hitchhiking failed us on our return to Cape May and that last ferry ride home. So we ran and ran, hitch-hiked and ran, all the while hoping and praying that we were not too late. There would be hell to pay with mom if we missed that ferry because a). mom didn't know we were in New Jersey, and b). she or dad would have to make the four hour drive around the bay to pick us up.  Failure to make the return was certain death or worse. But we made it, barely, and I have never forgotten.

I get to the beach these days once or twice a year to visit family and to enjoy all that is enjoyable about the eastern shore. And more often than not, I stop by and visit the ferry and every couple of years I take the trip from Lewes to Cape May and back. I'm never, ever disappointed.

Except at the end because the trip is over, and because I still want to see and hear the old ship crash against the telephone pole pilings the way it used to.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Summer

A few days ago was the first day of summer, the solstice, or sun standing still.

Its beginning brings to mind a time when summer unofficially began on the last day of school. A time when summer meant endless play for what seemed like endless days. As a young boy we'd play baseball at the park down the street until it got so dark one could hear the ball but not see it, and at the older but still youthful age of seventeen we'd play basketball in the parking lot of the local high school long past sunset.

The last day of school was like standing on a cliff overlooking an ocean that went on forever. We knew the ocean ended in September but for now land was out of site... and mind. Thankfully, I still see and hear that hopefulness in my grandchildren and I cringe at the utilitarian notions of year-round schools, whatever that utility may be.

Back then there were no electronics to keep a child inside and television was a black and white, three-channel medium whose day time broadcasts consisted of soaps, game shows, and westerns. Air-conditioning, that which keeps any sensible person inside these summer days, was still a few years away, so to escape the house-held heat we children sat outside in the shade, and for the fortunate near a lake, the ocean, or a swimming pool.

Most of the time cooling off was done with the hose and a sprinkler. I recall lying on the sidewalk after getting doused and listening to the water sizzle on the hot concrete right under my ear. There were activities but almost none generated by mom and dad who had an easy solution for lying around the house causing trouble which was "find something to do or I'll find something for you" which meant work.

Boredom was a part of summer life and accepted. It seems children aren't allowed to be bored today, every moment of their lives filled with some constructive activity to make them a better person, or athlete, or artist, or scientist. I recall summer days riding our bikes as far as we could from home trying to get lost. The only purpose was the adventure of finding our way home. Now to be fair, my mother's disengagement probably had more to do with the fact that we were allowed to roam the neighborhood, she knowing that we would be gone all day and home for dinner. Mothers don't have that luxury today. When all the bike riding and ball playing were done we'd sit with a friend on a step or a swing, not saying much or doing much but altogether happy knowing we weren't in school. That was summer for us. And the beach. There was always the beach.

It is nostalgia, I know, and romantic, I know, but on these first days of summer it does recall the memory of waiting for that last bell to ring on that last class on that last day of school . . . and jumping into summer.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Rafain Brazilian Steakhouse, Fort Worth. All Good.

Marian after dinner and all smiles after a very enjoyable evening

Every once in a while I receive an invitation to sample the fare of a new, soon-to-open restaurant. Such was the case Friday night when Marian and I attended a media-event for the new Rafain Brazilian Steakhouse at West 7th (opening Tuesday, June 24).

A Brazilian Steakhouse as you well know is a little different than the American version. The primary observable difference being that servers carry skewers of assorted cooked meats from table to table. And the Brazilian Steakhouse always features a salad bar, unlimited servings, and fixed pricing. It works well and is particularly enjoyable with a group although Marian and I enjoy it just as much as a couple.

But about this steakhouse. . .

The "salad bar" at Refain Brazilian Steakhouse is better described as a salad/antipasto bar. It's really not fair to call it just a salad bar. There is the assortment of traditional salad fare: romaine, iceburg and other lettuce varieties, but also fresh vegetables like whole steamed asparagus, steamed broccoli,  a selection of breads and olives, and traditional antipasto items like albacore tuna salad, raw salmon, and blocks of assorted cheeses. And more, fifty items in all. I loved the cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs in a light vinaigrette and the red onions in balsamic vinegar.

Now, it's easy to have a salad bar with a selection of 50 items. It's not easy to have a salad bar where the food is displayed handsomely and where each individual item is prepared properly, kept at the appropriate temperature, and can stand on its own if chosen by itself. That's difficult because it takes time and oversight and someone caring. Refain does it very well.

But of course this is a steakhouse and, as I mentioned, in Brazilian churrascaria style, diners are served by gauchos with skewers of assorted cooked meats. Normally, I would keep close to the skewers of beef, but I wanted to try a little of everything so I did: Parmesan crusted pork, bacon-wrapped chicken breast, lamb, filet-mignon, spicy Brazilian sausage (was that ever good) and just when I was gasping for air, slices of roasted pineapple lightly dusted on the sides with cinnamon. By the way, most important to me: the meats are served right-off-the-grill hot. Brazilian-style is charcoal grilled which gives a smoky flavor and a little crust.

Lest I forget, add to each table a serving of polenta, piping hot bread rolls with a center of melted Parmesan, and mashed potatoes. All good.

But dining is more than good food and drink, it is good company, good conversation, and a comfortable, relaxed setting. In our view, besides the great food, Refain's provides the right setting and a helpful staff for a completely enjoyable evening.

This is the second restaurant in the U.S. for the Refain family (the other is in Dallas) who also own and operate a handful of restaurants in Brazil as well as a convention hotel in Brazil.

Refain Brazilian Steakhouse
2932 Crockett Street, Fort Worth, TX 76107
Opens Tuesday, June 24 for dinner. Opening for lunch at a later date.
Price: $31-$50 (price-fixed). Unlimited servings.

+ + +

Marian with the first serving of lamb (I think)

My first serving from the salad bar, the fried polenta is the dish behind the salad plate

The salad bar

 Marian with Restaurant Manager, Donilo Magalhaes (sorry for the out focus shot)

Marian with some hitchhiker she picked up on I-30. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Baseball Metaphor.

I'm lying here listening to the Texas Rangers play the Oakland Athletics. They're playing in Oakland so the game is on late in our Central Standard Time. The Rangers just hit into a double play and a third out followed quickly, we're down 4-3 in the 7th.

My son sent me a text the other day saying how nice it was to have the game on in the background of whatever he is doing. I agree. For me, it's a habit going back to childhood lying in bed with an AM-band transistor radio listening to Richie Ashburn do the play by play for the Philadelphia Phillies' games.

And for those of us so inclined baseball became the metaphor for life. Just tonight I used the phrase "it's a Mays/Mantle comparison," meaning whether you come down on the side of Mays or Mantle as the best player you're right.

Who hasn't said after a successful activity "I just hit one out of the park." Or the opposite. Maybe the boss threw you a curve ball when he said you could have Friday off but asked you to work Saturday. And your plans for Saturday are now a big swing and a miss. But the boss plays hardball and you just have to deal with it.

Many people face life with two strikes against them and hope just once someone would throw them a softball instead of the brush-back.

But that's life. If you bat near .300 you're doing pretty good. And if you really don't like something you can take your bat and ball and go home.