I walked back into the 1960s in Woodstock and rewound into the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury.
I stood one small step from Neil Armstrong’s footprint in Houston’s Tranquility Park and dared to imagine before John Lennon’s memorial in New York’s Central Park.
I’m a sucker for popular culture.
And when a little pop trivia intersects with vacations or work trips, I’m there. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite places you’ve likely seen on a screen, with notes about what makes them fun to visit in real life.
I hope you’ll get a chance to visit some or all of them:
1. Mission Control at NASA. I toured Houston’s famed Johnson Space Center twice. Each time, it launched me back to the adventure of my lifetime. The Space Race. Mercury. Gemini. Apollo. The Eagle. One giant leap. The second time I went, my wife’s younger son was working there, and he took us to the Historic Mission Control floor. That’s where white-vested flight director Gene Kranz and his folks guided Apollo 11 to the moon and back. There are plenty of tours, and I highly recommend taking one.
I also landed an Alan Shepard golf-club-holding bobblehead in the gift shop for my inner nerd. I still regret not picking up some Space Food Sticks.
For information, visit the Space Center Houston site.
2. Monk’s from Seinfeld. You know that iconic shot outside the coffee shop? It’s not really Monk’s. It’s Tom’s Restaurant in New York City. We love the show, so we had to check out the place the last time we were in New York. The food was pretty good. And while ordering a big salad for Elaine is optional, you have to try to take a photo to match the “Seinfeld” shot. Which means keeping Tom’s name out of it. For information, go to the Tom’s Restaurant site.
3. Abbey Road, Great Britain and the Beatles. Sometimes, you just have to act like a tourist. Even if it’s cheesy. Especially if it’s cheesy. When I finally made it to London, I had to check out Abbey Road studios. Which meant I had to recreate the Abbey Road album cover. Which meant I had to walk the famed Abbey Road “zebra crossing” at St. John’s Wood. Which, I learned quickly, meant keeping an eye on traffic.
Don’t remember which foot McCartney put forward to help inspire the Paul-is-dead rumors? Better to think about it when you cross the Mersey to Liverpool and the boys’ beginnings. There are Beatles tours, Beatles shops, a Beatles museum, you name it. The redone Cavern Club is fab, but the highlight was our Hard Day’s Night taxi tour with character/guide Joey Lyons. Ask him about Bob Dylan showing up one day hoping to talk his way into the McCartney and Lennon childhood homes. Or let Joey take your picture on Penny Lane. Or at Strawberry Fields. Or here, there and everywhere.
4. Katz’s Delicatessen from When Harry Met Sally. This favorite scene from one of my favorite movies is, of course, Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm for Billy Crystal at Katz’s. Owner Jake Dell told Esquire a few years ago that people re-enact it a couple of times a week in the New York deli, and the good ones score with cheers. If you like deli, you’ll love Katz’s — even if you don’t point to the next table, act like Rob Reiner’s mom and say, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
5. Herb Brooks Arena. I was driving through upstate New York one day and suddenly I had to stop in Lake Placid. It was only a decade or so after the 1980 Olympic Miracle on Ice, and I was able to wander into the Olympic Center rink. This was where Mike Eruzione scored the goal that stunned the Soviets and electrified us all (even if we had to hear about it on the radio or watch it on tape delay in those days).
I also was able to roam around the site. I saw an old bobsled. (Or was it a luge?) I took a ski lift to watch folks ski jumping into some type of foam. (Or was it padding?) Today, it’s much more organized, with a museum that’s been around for about 20 years. But, really, it’s all about being there and remembering how we escaped from the hostage crisis and gas shortage and so much other strife 35 years ago.
For information, go to the Lake Placid site.
6. Olympia Restaurant from Saturday Night Live. The cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger bit is based on Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern, and the Belushi-Murray SNL send-up is pretty spot-on. I have been known to order a cheeseburger there myself. (“No … doublecheez.”) And a side. (“No fries … cheeps.”) And a drink. (“No Pepsi … Coke.”)
The place also started one of pop culture’s great hexes. In 1945, then-tavern owner and Chicago Cubs fan William Sianis tried to take his goat into Wrigley Field during the World Series. When told no, legend has it, the Curse of the Billy Goat was born. The Cubs lost the Series and haven’t been back. The Billy Goat also was a favorite watering hole of Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko and other ink-stained wretches when people still used phrases such as ink-stained wretches.
7. Metropolis for Superman. The southern Illinois small town of Metropolis declared itself Superman’s hometown in 1972. After a Superman amusement park plan failed and a 7-foot statue was vandalized, the town built a 15-foot bronze statue in 1993 and a Super Museum & Gift Store across the street. I stopped in to visit once during the early days and got a real kick out of it.
The museum still was getting organized, and the guy in charge (presumably owner Jim Hambrick) apologized for the state of things. He showed me a lot of quirky memorabilia of the Man of Steel and other superheroes. That included a Captain Action figure (think G.I. Joe with superhero costumes) I’d had as a kid. Someday, I have to get back there. Maybe for the annual Superman Celebration?
For information, go to The Super Museum site.
8. Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes. Yes, there is a Baker Street in London, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective lived and deduced. The Baker Street underground (train) station there features Holmes silhouettes. Outside nearby is a 9-foot Holmes statue. And a Sherlock Holmes Museum is officially located at, of course, 221b Baker Street — although technically it’s between 237 and 241, but why ruin the fun?
You’ll especially love the museum exhibits if you know Holmes’ cases/stories. If not, it’s still kind of fun. There’s a sign for Mrs. Hudson’s room. There’s a pipe collection. There’s even a Deerstalker cap … although one sign will tell you that Doyle’s original stories never included one. Or a cape. But imagine Basil Rathbone’s Holmes without them.
For information, go to the Visit London site.
9. Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. This is actually Mt. Airy, N.C. It’s where Andy Griffith grew up. I made the pilgrimage some 25 years ago. I walked down Main Street, ate at the Snappy Lunch, peeked in Floyd’s City Barber Shop, checked out the courthouse (with Barney’s lone bullet). Nearby was Pilot Mountain (the real Mount Pilot). The folks at the Snappy Lunch gave me some “Andy Griffith Show”-type drawings. Just to be neighborly.
These days, there’s more. In 2004, for instance, TV Land donated a bronze statue of Andy and Opie, straight out of the opening theme. Five years later, the Andy Griffith Museum opened, during the 20th celebration of Mayberry Days.
For information, go to the Visit Mayberry site.
10. Bushwood from Caddyshack. While reporting a Shula father-and-son coaching story in 1994, I stayed at Rolling Hills Golf Resort in Davie, Fla. Today, it’s Grande Oaks Golf Club, and it’s private, for members only. But it always will be Bushwood Country Club for those of us who can’t stop loving — and quoting — the 1980 movie filmed at the course.
And I will always keep the now-frayed and stained Bushwood sweatshirt I bought there in ’94. My boys are grown and can’t find the gopher head covers I snagged for them. That’s OK. It just makes me want to quote Bill Murray: “In the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre, ‘Au revoir, gopher.’”
Not a member? If you stay at the Ritz Carlton in Fort Lauderdale or the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, the concierges can arrange tee times, according to membership director Joseph Semmler. Otherwise, he says, you can visit the golf shop if you call in advance and follow directions and protocol for the gated club. Yep, there’s still “Caddyshack” merchandise. And “Caddyshack” conversation.
“Every day,” Semmler says. “There are always different lines being recited.”
For information, go to the Grande Oaks site.
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