Sunday, 29 August 2010

The bendy bus and more Argyle woe

Over the years I have been challenged to do many things through my radio show. One of those was to put myself through the bus drivers' test which involved a lot of work to get through the practical and the theory.

Fortunately, I passed first time, and have since jumped at any opportunity to drive a bus.

When I was invited by CityBus to get behind the wheel of a bus that is on trial in Plymouth, it was too good an opportunity to turn down - especially as it is a type of bus I have never driven before.

The 'bendy bus' is a Mercedes, and at 19 metres long is by far the longest vehicle I have driven.

Brian and Kev were assigned to look over my shoulder as I climbed into the cab.

After just two rounds of the bus depot at Milehouse, I felt comfortable enough to get onto the road.

Driving a bus involves plenty of mirror work, as with quite a swing of the rear of the vehicle on turns, extreme care must be taken.

It was a joy to drive, and I did notice that other road users were more defensive, particularly when considering whether to overtake such a long vehicle.

If all fails in radio, I have been assured there is a job waiting for me at CityBus.

The latest episode in Plymouth Argyle's season saw the visit of Peterborough United to Home Park.

I was hopeful that a few ghosts could be laid to rest.

No home wins since March, and that last success was against Bristol City. It turned out to be the final game in charge of City for Gary Johnson.

As manager of Peterborough, he was making a quick return to Home Park. But, the omens were not good as Argyle met United in the final game of last season. I described that meeting on radio as 'The Wake'. Both sides were already assured of relegation from The Championship, but United were more than willing for a final hurrah before dropping into League One.

Craig Mackail-Smith scored twice that day. For this latest game, he was still in the side - and repeated his feat of two goals in the game.

Unfortunately, the Devonport End goal net, pictured, did not bulge. All the goals came at The Barn Park End during the second half, and Mackail-Smith left me in admiration of his overall performance and finishing.

An Aaron McLean goal sealed a 3-0 defeat and left Argyle fans to trundle home feeling somewhat deflated.

Without a game next Saturday, there is a period of two weeks before The Pilgrims have an opportunity to kick-start the season after the solitary win on the opening day at Southampton.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

It has been a little while since the last blog, but life has been busy. The new football season has seen a return to rituals, updating stats after each game and preparing stat sheets for each commentary game.

With three league games played it's one of each - a win, draw and a defeat. Hopefully, manager Peter Reid is now getting a good idea as to what pleases him, things he needs to change, and business he wants to complete while the transfer window is still open.

He was in great form when we went head-to-head for 'Ready Steady Cook' as part of Flavour Fest. Peter teamed up with Chris Tanner while my chef was again Peter Gorton.

It was the seventh year of competition and I had a (not) proud record of played six, lost six coming into this year's event. The form book was true to its' word, although Peter (G) didn't help when he reached for caster sugar, but instead sprinkled cornflour on to my souffle.

Never mind his Michelin stars, TV shows and award winning food on his CV. I think Peter is the common denominator as my 100 per cent record was maintained.

I am also back in the swing with a 13th season of 'Green Barmy', the weekly retro themed column surrounding Plymouth Argyle. This season's theme is notable events off the pitch. I think with the history of The Pilgrims, I won't be struggling for subject matter to last me until early May.

'Good Morning Plymouth', my weekday show on BBC Radio Devon, seems as strong as ever. A great production team, lots of talking points and the movers & shakers of the city as my guests all make for what I hope provides plenty of interest.

But when we have a good interactive feature, I get a real buzz. This morning's worked a treat.

The culture minister, responding to declining figures in the use of public libraries, has suggested that the facility could be extended to supermarkets and even pubs.

So, in an unashamed pun fest, listeners came up with a great list of books that would be suited to reading in the local boozer. Here are the best:

From Beer To Eternity
An Ale Of Two Cities
Alice Through The Pint Glass
Bleak Public House
Rin Tin Gin
The Forsyte Lager
Whisky Galore
West Cider Story
London Pride and Prejudice
Huckleberry Gin
Stout of Africa
Olive and a Twist
Scotch for all seasons
War and Peanuts

Finally, look out for the 'bendy bus' that's on trial in Plymouth. If you see it on Thursday, you may find me behind the wheel as I have been invited to take it for a drive. I will see if I can drive it anywhere near a supermarket - should be able to fit a week's worth of groceries on board without a problem!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A busy week, and it's not over yet!

Busy, but rewarding. Had some great guests on the programme and interesting discussion which is a good combination for radio.

I met a young lady who is qualifying as a funeral director, and talked to an MP who was on the phone from a very unusual location.

Then there was the discussion about the Civic Centre. The councillor responsible for the city budget revealed on the show that the crumbling building, still used on a daily basis, would be sold - although that may prove difficult. As with many stories, it was picked up my other areas of the media (it often happens, but I like to think other areas of the media are helping to boost our listening figures, of which more in a moment).

That was followed by a piece with a member of the 20th Century Society, the body responsible for applying to English Heritage for listed status. My immediate first point, informing the listeners that the lady from the society does not, or never has, lived in Plymouth did not go down well with her. It kicked off.

On telling her that the actions of the group led to a decision that did not affect her as a taxpayer, she seemed to stumble around her words.

The reaction from listeners showed that the item had certainly got people thinking and feeling that their views had to be aired - whether in favour of pulling down the building or not.

While each guest is an important part of the programme, I particularly enjoyed Gyles Brandreth. The former MP and well-known writer and broadcaster did a piece about our relationship with the French.

This followed a news story that reveals we still have the same stereotypical views of the nation and its people as a generation ago, but they, too, have views about us.

He was humourous, and just as I hoped he would be - essentially eccentric.

The official radio ratings were released and both programmes I present each morning have received a good increase in numbers. Always a good thing to hear - it's our equivalent of sales figures.

Of course, we are hoping the next set of figures, released in three months, also reflect good audiences for our football coverage. Again, BBC Radio Devon provides live and exclusive coverage and the first match takes place at Southampton on Saturday.

A new season means preparing a new stats book and refreshing myself with all the records I keep on individual players and on the club in general.

So after my on-air duties on Friday morning, I will be travelling to Hampshire in readiness for Saturday's match at Southampton.

With a new manager in Peter Reid and player personnel changes that always occur at football clubs, hopes are there for a good result to get Plymouth Argyle underway as The Pilgrims look to recover from last season's dismal season which ended in relegation.

A win, or a draw, and the drive home will be so more enjoyable. Particularly as it is a lunchtime kick-off. I would hate to see Argyle lose and hear about other teams scoring goals and claiming points in the afternoon matches.

But hopefully, it will be the rarity of arriving home in daylight from an away game. All being well, I can meet up with a group of friends that I normally only see on Saturdays after home matches - The Coffin Dodgers.

I may reveal more about this odd group on a future blog.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

It has been an interesting week.
Getting into the swing of using the new studio layout has been more fun than I anticipated, then on Friday I moved back into Studio 1A after temporarily presenting from the all-new 1B.

With the studio I normally use all ready by late Thursday, I arrived at work on Friday morning with a note left to say that everything was ready.

Not only a whole new set of desks and screens, but the studio has been 'turned around' so that I am now facing my producer. This last week, James was the early producer, but from tomorrow Jenny has that honour and the misfortune of having to look at me through the glass.

It was nice to let the hair down (what is left) on Friday night when a summer party was held for all BBC staff. Don't worry, no licence fee payers' money went towards it!

It was something of a party weekend as Saturday saw the annual Fantasy Football barbeque and presentations.

Andy, one of my neighbours, hosts the party in superb fashion with great food and cold beer. Once again this season I did not trouble the awards, although I have won in a previous year.

But there was good banter among all the 'managers' of the teams in our mini league. Now the competitive element will begin again as we choose our teams for the forthcoming season.

When I got home, switched on the TV and was surprised to see the end of a programme about the guests of 'An Audience With ...'

Then I received text messages and there were Tweets as well saying I had been spotted on national TV.

Now, a few years ago, with fellow members of The Great Bruce Forsyth Social Club', I took part in 'An Audience With Bruce Forsyth'.

I went to the website and looked at the programme on the replay facility, and there we were. My hair was certainly darker in those days.

In the interviews, former MP Edwina Currie said nice things about us, but she did get our name wrong! I live in hope, but I am not expecting extra royalties dropping onto the doormat.

Hoping for as good a week on the radio as last week when international swimmers were among the guests. Also, it was good to see Michaela Breeze again before she goes to the Commonwealth Games. You may recall Michaela went through agonies at the Beijing Olympics when her back gave in during her weightlifting competition.

She is adamant she is retiring after the Commonwealths, although I tried my best to persuade her to carry on until the London Olympics of 2012.

All being well, Plymouth Argyle manager Peter Reid will be on the show this week giving his view of how the squad looks ahead of the new season which starts on Saturday.

I know he was watching our first opponents, Southampton, this weekend in a pre-season game. We can only wish him well for his first competitive match in charge of the team in our season after relegation.

Let's hope we are challenging to return to The Championship at the end of the season!

Monday, 26 July 2010

Back in the routine

No photos with this blog, which I hope does not make the content seem rather plain.

I am now back in the groove, having returned to my radio show this morning after what seemed like and endless weekend of travelling.

I decided to go to JFK airport at 11am on Saturday even though check-in had to be by 6.00pm for the 9.00pm flight.

The reason was the New York heat. At 100 degrees and stuffy humidity, the city was not the place to be. I went to Macy's, purely to use the restroom. It was up five floors but the air conditioning was so welcome.

There was no way I could spend the whole day wandering around the shops and taking in the sights in such conditions. So I used the airport as a place of refuge.

A conversation with an English businessman between flights passed away an hour, and the purchase of the New York Post passed another.

As I finished reading the printed press from cover to cover, I began an encounter which was to last a full 90 minutes.

A young Brazilian gentleman sat next to me and asked if I knew of any hotels in the area. I managed to decipher that he had arrived at the airport, but his connecting flight to Brazil was not until Sunday evening.

When I tried to explain about hotels surrounding the airport, albeit with limited fine detail, the conversation became more difficult as he only had limited English and I have no knowledge whatsoever of Portuguese. So we continued our chat via an English/Portuguese translating website where we both typed in out own tongue and pressed the translate button.

On visiting websites of well known chains, the nearby hotels were fully booked. So I had the idea of a comparison website and typed in JFK. Hey presto, a room was found and he was delighted at the prospect of not having to endure sitting in the airport for around 30 hours.

The address of the hotel was noted and I accompanied the young man to the taxi rank. I'm glad I did. Immediately we stepped out into the heat, the 'bandits' offering a taxi and would have no doubt ripped him off were approaching.

We went to the front of the official taxi rank, and the genial yellow cab driver agreed to my request of giving my new Brazilian friend a quote to ensure he knew what he would expect to part with.

My flight was busy, but behind me was a spare row of two seats - the final row at the rear of the aircraft.

I told the gentleman sat next to me I was going to move back and he seemed as delighted as I was with the prospect of more space to stretch out the legs.

I am not a good sleeper on planes, but did manage to nod off for two brief periods. Transatlantic flights on the return journey always seem strange when breakfast is served around three hours later than the evening meal.

Then, at Heathrow, the menace of queues. Welcome to Britain!

Numerous planeloads of passengers, and only two customs officials at the UK Passports line.

My luggage had probably done a number of circuits by the time I reached the carousel., then the wait for my bus to bring me back to Plymouth.

Managing eight hours sleep, I felt better than expected when getting into work this morning.

Luckily, my producer, James, had agreed to come in early as I was using a new studio for the first time.

Faders that work in the opposite direction that the old studio, buttons in different places and touchscreens for some controls. The new carpet is quite nice as well.

Fortunately, at 9am and after my four hour on-air stint, no mishaps occurred.

I could sigh a breath of relief more confident that tomorrow I will feel comfortable and it wasn't as daunting as I may have feared.

So where does this leave my blogging? Do I continue every few days with experiences on the show? Maybe there could be interest in my football broadcasts with any odd stories that pop up.

I have my Twitter account running, but maybe if I am asked to continue to blog my life away, then I shall succumb to furthering my social networking.

Comments welcome!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Celebrating Christmas before hitting the road

Yesterday was Christmas! Well, in a way.
Through my friends at Positively Cleveland, I was introduced to a group of writers visiting the area. After a great meal, we headed out to Fat Head's - a brewery with bar and restaurant that had brewed, in limited supplies, its' Christmas Ale.

Christmas In July is something that has evolved over the past few years in Cleveland. Ted, the big chief at Fat Head, was only too willing for us to taste eight different brews.

They were just a small selection of those available. Christmas Ale was tapped on the day we tasted and, without prejudice, tasted superb.

Whilst there, I met one of the locals who was around 70 years of age and had visited over 300 breweries and tasted - wait for it - over 8,000 different beers! He keeps a log book of the beers tasted, but had not a trace of beer belly on him!

This morning was the time to leave Cleveland to head towards New York before Saturday's flight home.

A couple of hours into the journey I stopped for brunch. A fantastic corned beef has with real American (loosed) has browns on the side and scrambled egg.

A hearty meal was needed as I was only a fraction into the drive. As I ate, I was watching the local news channel that revealed that the overnight low of 75 degrees broke a record that had stood since 1935 in that county.

Plenty of iced water was again the order of the day. The drive was not helped by four major sets of roadworks on Interstate 80 East, one lasting for 11 miles.

Tuning to 1640AM gives traffic and weather reports, wherever you are. It proved to be company as I was motionless for quite some time as lane closures caused tailbacks, and took a photo to show the highest temperature of the day.

But also, the accuracy of the weather forecast - sorry, truecast - again didn't fail to amaze.

The weather guy read out storm warning number 521 (I presume for the year), with possible lightning strikes for the rest of the day, and a severe thunderstorm warning for 2.13pm tomorrow. I shall be checking my watch at 2.13pm and make a complaint if there is no storm.

Or will I? I fly tomorrow, and can do without any of that nonsense!
Roadsign of the day was spotted on the I80: Buckle up. Next million miles.
It wasn't quite that far to New Jersey, but I have arrived and booked in to a bed for the night.
Tomorrow, it's just a 30-minute drive to Manhattan, traffic permitting, for my trusty Subaru and I to part company.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Bowled over and right (not left) around a roundabout

Today’s blog is something of a photo fest, but hopefully will help to illustrate the accompanying words.

Last night, met up with all of my friends who work at Positively Cleveland: Mark, Freddy, Sam, Jeff, Bob, Lexi and Corinne. The food at our meeting place was superb with both the ham and the cheese hot.

We then moved on to the oldest bar in Cleveland. As we arrived in the area known as The Flats, a mural depicts the area when it was once full of drinking establishments. The graphic was in the form of the well known board game, and entitled Flatsopoly with a map of the area showing where each public house could be found.

The Harbor Inn opened in 1895 and the bar was one of the longest I have seen. I am sure that all the drinking houses in Cleveland are in competition with each other to see which one can stock the most number of beers.

It is a place to enjoy yourself, as not only are there pinball tables and plenty of video games, but one of the more popular pastimes in these parts. Bar bowling has been around for a few decades and the machine at The Harbor dates back to around the 1960s.

Mark, pictured, is looking in very competitive mood. After he, Bob and I had something of a warm-up game, it then got serious. It was suggested that $20 each, to make it interesting, was put down. I declined, as I don’t gamble. Anyway, I didn’t want to take their money.

I may have been the visitor and fresh to their game, but with a score well in excess of 200, they were humbled. Only now shall I reveal to them that I used to play in a skittles league many years ago where the pins are at the end of a long alley, not a few arm lengths away.

Many a time after a night out, the customary burger or kebab has been consumed after a good evening testing liquid refreshment, but the guys suggested a local delicacy before calling it a night.

We stopped off at a 24-hour hot dog emporium where the list of dogs alone was equal to the list of beers previously seen. I opted for the Slaw Dog. Remember that phrase I mentioned a couple of days ago? ‘If it ain’t on your face, you ain’t eatin’ it right.’ That certainly came to mind as I tried to contain everything within the bun.

Today, I went to Crocker Park – a retail park on the west side of Cleveland. The short drive ended with a successful negotiation into the multi-story car park, then out on to what can best be described as a mini town.

All low level, it is beautifully laid out. The seats to relax with a coffee are so comfortable, but as I looked across, I noticed something I had only ever noticed once before in my previous travels to The States, and that was in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

A roundabout!

I just had to go around it before leaving the park. Just to break the monotony of driving in straight lines.

With that in mind, tomorrow I head back to New York. It will be the final, yet longest leg of my journey of 470 miles before I get the flight on Saturday night that will take me back to Blighty.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Truckers and a free lunch

Last night was special because of the company I was in, but could have been more so had Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers not cancelled their gig. But there was to be something of a compensation for that.

I met up with old friends, Sam, Jeff, Mark and his wife and after a great meal in a bar of the Westside of Cleveland, we went to the other side of town to visit another hostelry that had a choice of pinball tables.

I think there should be a call to bring those back into English pubs!

Jeff, being a music journalist, is a man in the know. He heard that a ‘secret gig’ was taking place at The Beachland Tavern. Jeff and Mark were up for a late night.

We arrived at around 11pm to find the night’s entertainment coming to an end in the main arena.

The three of us did some research on the bar before venturing next door where there is a smaller stage.

The gig was with a band called The Drive-By Truckers who have been supporting Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers on their tour.

The word is that they were ‘phoned by the venue to ask if they would play, and initially declined. But, a few minutes later, the call was returned when one of the band members said: “You know? We’ll do it!”

So, instead of performing in front of around 15,000 people last night, they played before an audience of approximately 150. Thanks to Jeff, I was one of those 150.

A local cop was on hand at the door to ensure only those with a special ticket could gain admission but, despite that, there was a long queue of people hoping to get in.
If you can't see the small print of the notice on the door, it reads: Sorry ... yes, that means sold out ... like no tickets left ... for real ... thanks.

Not big in England, but pretty well-known in The States, I loved their music and from their style could understand why they had been chosen to support Tom Petty.

The beer made sure I got a good night’s sleep. My hotel is like no other I have stayed in before. It is in an arcade, of which the ground floor is a retail area. The colonnade style upper floors contain the rooms.

Today has been spent wandering around Cleveland. I am biased, and in this no way puts down the other great cities I have visited in The USA, but because of previous visits here, Cleveland is special to me.

It’s the city that Americans like to mock. Maybe there’s a similarity here with Plymouth. The sports teams have been starved of success and the big story here has been the departure of LeBron James from The Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team.
The guys here know I have a LeBron shirt in my case – they want to burn it tonight – just like many Cavs fans burnt their shirts and other memorabilia when he recently left town to sign for Miami.

The sports shops have Lebron Shirts at knockdown prices. I asked one assistant if they are still selling, and she said just a few.

They say there’s nothing as a free lunch. Wrong! I had one today.

I was making my way down to the waterfront area to the stadium of MY team, The Cleveland Browns. Just along the way is The Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a beautiful location, just north of the main downtown area and on the shores of Lake Erie.

I noticed a number of tents and a large crowd. A local radio station was giving away free lunch as a promotion.

So after queuing for a hot dog with great onions and mustard, it was to the ice cream stand for dessert and then a drink to round it all off.

Others were queuing for various games that were taking place, one with prize money of over $100,000.

This evening, I am meeting with the guys who I spent a great night with last night, and a few others as well.

Just call it community service – saving the Great Lakes Brewing Company’s beer from going off!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Tom Petty - he did back down

This morning was time to leave another city like those I have visited previously have had many things of interest to see and friendly inhabitants throughout.

When thinking of the problems in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, people I talked to around the town – on discovering I was a foreign visitor to their city – could not apologise enough. Even though I did not witness the shootings that occurred, I felt I got a real flavour of Indianapolis and, as news broadcasts were reporting, the trouble was caused by a very small minority of the 100,000 people that were visiting for the weekend event that was taking place.

With Indy disappearing in my rear view mirror, I was back in the car for a 320-mile drive to Cleveland. Even though I left at 9am, the road was being well used, but not a rush hour jam and everything was free flowing as I joined I70 West.

On leaving the State of Indiana and into Ohio, the speed limit was reduced from 70 to 65mph as the I70 took me back to Columbus. From there it was north in the I71.
Just north of Columbus, I managed to tune into the only commercial music radio station worth listening to. There are a number of interesting sports talk stations, but when it comes to music, I am biased as I know one of the DJs, but it is still locally owned, plays the music it wants to – not what most commercial stations tell its presenters to play – and there are no limited playlists where the same records are played on rotation.

WONE 97.5FM is based in Akron, and I was delighted I could pick it up a good 50 miles south. With 30 minutes without commercials, it was playing great rock ‘n’ roll and the DJ I have met a couple of times in previous travels (not only in the studio, but shared some good beer with), TK O’Grady was on air.

One of the commercials was presenter read. For a beefburger company, the tag line made me laugh:“If it ain’t on your face, you ain’t eatin’ it right!”

But then, as I approached Cleveland, TK gave out an announcement that would soon make me forget the commercial humour.

I was due to see Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers this evening at the Blossom Music Center, just south of Cleveland with a couple of old friends from previous visits.

But on Sunday, guitarist Mike Campbell collapsed during the outdoor concert at St Louis which saw temperatures at around 105 degrees. Doctors had advised complete rest for a few days, and TK’s announcement added that tickets would good for a future date to be arranged.

Can’t see Marble Office (the boss) letting me have a couple of days off to fly back for the gig.

As the city of Cleveland approached, there was something comforting about the fact that I knew the road well north of Akron, and then the familiar skyline came into view.

Going to meet up with Mark and Jeff as planned anyway, and maybe save from beer from going off.

Monday, 19 July 2010

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog about the Children’s Museum. Couldn't resist posting one of the photos I took there of the dinosaurs that I was quite happy with.

Today, I have been exploring the fact that there is more to Indianapolis besides anything to do with motor racing.

Among the great number of museums is the Eiteljorg Museum, dedicated to the history of American Indians and Western Art. There are totem poles, wigwams and plenty of other exhibits that can be classified as fine arts.

On the lower level is an interactive stagecoach exhibit. I was quite happy strolling around having a look at everything, but one of the guides insisted I climbed aboard to get an experience to what it was like to ride one of the oldest forms of transport.

Inside, there was no video or audio (which I was expecting as the ‘experience’ of riding in the carriage). But as I sat down, the lady walked around the back to vigorously shake the carriage, making it rock.

On another hot day, being by the water would be a good way of keeping cool.

I headed for the White River State Park, and found it hard to believe that such a place was just a 10-minute walk from the downtown area. Some lovely fountains act as the entrance to a vast park that stretches for many acres.

After enjoying that area, I walked back towards the city, but followed one of its’ hidden gems – hidden, that is for those who may frequent the shopping area only.

Following the water pathways lead you around external pieces of art and through to the Central Canal.

The large blue building is a new hotel which is due to open next spring.

One way to use the pathway is by hiring a Segway (spelling may be incorrect). With a platform to stand on between two wheels, they are motorised by battery power. I am sure that when these were invented a few years ago, part of the development was done in Plymouth – rings a bell!

The canal stretches for a couple of miles and goes under a number of bridges where the traffic heads into the main area of town, while on the water, several people were easing their way around by pedalboats and canoes.

Took some time to do some shopping this afternoon. Prices of clothes in America compared to home are ridiculously cheap. If only I didn't have to bear in mind the 50lb limitation on luggage when I get to the airport.

I write as I prepare for my final night in Indianapolis. I think I could be tempted to return to the Slippery Noodle to enjoy a beer and some live blues music. I have had solids - and possibly the most unhealthy meal since being in The States. A double steakburger, fries, and a side dish of chilli that was filled to the brim with beans.
Maybe I should return to the mall and look at larger waist sizes.

Tomorrow morning I hit the road for a 320-mile drive back into Ohio, but this time to the north as I head for Cleveland.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

On the track of the Indy 500

Navigation around most American cities is usually very easy, and although I had a few miles to cover to reach the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was just two turns on the drive to the edge of town.

The tour of the racetrack is done on a bus, and the line of the day from the guide revealed the fact that cars do around 230 mph on the racetrack - we're just going to manage around the 30 mark.

The scale of the place is amazing. When you consider that it can take well over 400,000 spectators, it may be surprising to learn that the privately owned venue only holds three races each year.

The bus leaves the main entrace of the venue to head straight for the tarmac known the world over.

The scale of the place is amazing. When you consider that it can take well over 400,000 spectators, it may be surprising to learn that the privately owned venue holds only three races each year.

Although I would confess to not being the biggest of motor racing fans, it was quite a feeling to be between the seemingly endless stands and to be on the surface where the Indianapolis 500 is held each year. Each lap is two-and-a-half miles, which means each of the straights are over a mile in length.

The tour bus stops just ahead of the finish line so visitors can get off the bus and walk around the track and take photos of the famous brickwork that extends across the line.

Next Sunday, a NASCAR event is taking place and some of the teams have already started to arrive.

They are placed in an area called 'Millionaires Row' It is aptly named, as all the motorhomes there are worth well over $1million each.

After completing a circuit of the track, it was to the museum where many of the winning cars over many decades are housed. It was good to see the cars of British drivers such as Jim Clark and Graham Hill.

As I made my way to the car, I was relieved that the weather had held off for the tour as a thunderstorm began.

The drive back to the city took me to The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

With five floors, there are many exhibitions which include a very popular section full of dinosaurs.

The exhibition that particularly took my attention celebrates 50 years of Etch-A-Sketch.

There were examples of the most intricate images completed by professional artists that took up to 80 hours to complete.

Bet they would have been upset if they accidentally erased their masterpieces when part way through!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Columbus to Indianapolis

Interstate 70 West took me all the 160 miles from Columbus, and it was virtually a straight road all the way. It was getting to the point when I wished there was a bend in the road to add some interest to the drive, although it was an easy ride over very flat terrain.

Stopped at a rest area 20 miles from Indianapolis where a machine invites the user to push a button for a free map of the area. With the temperature touching 92, there was a little more freshness in the air today as I headed towards Indianapolis in the State of Indiana.

As I crossed the State line, it became apparent that the local authorities don't take kindly to driving offences, as can be seen in the photo taken in the downtown area.

Also noticeable was the amount of people walking around the city, much more densely populated than Columbus. But as I returned from an afternoon walk, the TV news revealed the reason why. Over 100,000 people had descended on Indianapolis for the Black Expo Summer Celebration.

I am writing this blog at 11pm, so imagine my surprise to learn of what happened 90 minutes ago just a couple of blocks away.,0,2573408.story

I had spent the evening in a nearby bar enjoying some good beer, nice food and great local music. A blues bar called The Slippery Noodle was recommended to me as a live music venue used by locals who are very knowledgeable about their music, and I soon got talking to some regulars who were only too pleased to talk about the acts that frequent downtown Indy.

At the time of writing, lightning can be seen in the distance. The teatime weather forecast was predicting - to the minute - where storms would strike. They were expected to miss Indy but were all around.

Just listening to the news channel. If the weather forecast wasn't good enough in predicting to the minute when certain towns would arrive, the weather man has revealed there has been over 7,000 lightning flashes around the city. I never knew there could be that many in one area in a short time, and never knew weather people counted them!

The hotel I am staying in is right across the road from the Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts.

Already, a number of major sports stadiums have been seen on my journey, and tomorrow I will be visiting another that has its' own museum - and it has nothing to do with American Football, but a another sport that is legendary in these parts.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Gone to the dogs after a morning vodka

The day started well and my full day in Columbus, Ohio was fascinating.

Fantastic scrambled egg, Greek style, at a local eatery before a look around the city. Yes, it has skyscrapers but most of the city is low-level and very well spread out. It was also noticeable that, for a large city, there was no mad rush as everyone went about their business.

Visited a local vodka distillery with a difference, where the two guys who recently launched the business took a huge risk in that they had to have everything in place before a licence could be granted to distil.

Now, they have started producing OYO vodka, the name taken from the original spelling of Ohio.

I was asked if I wanted a taste. It would have been rude to refuse. But first, I had to taste a 'major brand' vodka, so I could then compare the locally made vodka.

I usually take vodka with lemonade, but as there was none on hand, I sampled the OYO 80% proof and it was wonderful! Even at 11am. I know a local bar that serves it, so may well head there tonight.

From there, to the sobering confines of the Ohio Statehouse.

I found it quite amusing that on the steps of this grand and historic building, lunchtime concerts are held on Fridays.

Inside are where all the big decisions are made, from where the elected speaker oversees order as the representatives from each county within Ohio discuss and vote on State law.

I'm not sure if any Senators would frequent the place I went to for lunch.

Most main courses are $3 (around £2). The place was full. Everyone having a good time as they eat real hot dogs from an expansive menu that contained all manner of sauces, pickles, meats and chilli to go over the dogs.

Could you imagine a Senator saying: "Just popping out to Dirty Harry's".

Elizabeth, the owner, runs three other eateries in Columbus. She is bringing good, old-fashioned food to the masses.

I opted for the dog called 'Whoa Nellie!

It was crammed with meat. There was a sausage in there, somewhere. But there was so much meat I could barely see the sausage.

I knew this was going to be messy if my untrained hands picked it up. I must have stood out like ... well, an Englishman in America as I ate it with a knife and fork.

During the afternoon, met a very interesting guy called Dan Dougan. Dan is no stranger to radio in Columbus and also has had a big say in promoting and staging music events over a considerable amount of time.

Could have talked with him for hours as we discussed great gigs, the hottest bands and also the very strong local music scene.

The day out was completed with a peek at the first purpose-built soccer stadium in the country.

Columbus Crew are still at the top of their division, despite a recent dip in form.

The Crew are the reigning league champions but need to get back to winning ways as they face 2nd-placed New York Red Bulls tomorrow, who could overtake them with a win. The big news is that The Red Bulls have just signed Thierry Henry. It remains to be seen whether he will make his debut in Columbus.

Much as I would love to see Columbus win, especially if playing against the cheating Frenchman (who had the audacity to claim a 'handball' against an opponent in The World Cup), I will be making my way to Indianapolis tomorrow - after sampling a night on the Columbus North High Street.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

A hot day on the road.

After another great breakfast at the B&B (Muffins, fruit and stuffed French bread with cream cheese), there was time to visit a couple of attractions before heading west.

First to the Hershey Hotel. Of course, built by the great Mr Hershey, but recently added to with around $60million dollars worth of extended facilities. The outdoor leisure park was something else. Wish I had my speedos!

The on to experience the history of the Hershey dynasty on an interactive tour with items that were out of this world as far as technology is concerned.

It was then on to the open road to continue west.

After a short drive on Route 22, Interstate 81 took me to the Pennsylvania turnpike and onto I76 then to I70. That was the road that would take me all the way to my destination, so I reckoned it was a good time to stop for coffee. As I crossed the state border into West Virginia, the speed limit signs were set at 70 - they had been 55 and 65 all the way to this point.

As I pulled into a rest area, the lady said it was free coffee, as it was the bottom of the pot. Where would you hear that in England? Of course, I left a good tip, and then returned to Interstate 70. It was then I realised a problem. Coming up to 5pm - rush hour - and road works had closed the road ahead.

All traffic was being diverted off I70 onto I470. But the diversion was three miles ahead and nothing was moving ... for ages. 45 minutes later, the traffic crawled to the exit for 470 - it was now rush hour and the temperature gauge rising.

Eventually, the traffic started to move a little quicker. I kept to the speed limit, but others flew past me. Then one car got stopped by the Highway Patrol. Pulled over and no doubt a big fine.

260 miles down and 120 to go, the boards on the side of the highway counted down the miles. When Columbus came into view it was a welcome sight.

Checking in at the hotel, found a great place to eat and then a bar for, what I consider, to be a well-deserved couple of beers - first in two days.

Tomorrow, a day to explore the rich history that Columbus has to offer.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Chocolate town

Everything in Hershey is chocolate themed. Hershey street names, lamp posts that are shaped like Hershey's Chocolate Kisses - you can't avoid the reference to chocolate.

So, a tour of the chocolate factory and the tour of the Hershey estate was a must - as was the chance to make my own bar of chocolate.

Not only can you decide what goes into the chocolate bar (vanilla, sprinkles etc) and choose plain or dark but you get to design your own label as well.

It is suggested that it is eaten quickly as it may melt over 72 degrees - not good for someone living in and out of a suitcase at present.

On the subject of food, breakfast part of the B&B experience was amazing. Fruit, and to follow - a warm cinnamon cake. Then, something Peter Gorton - celebrity chef and regular on my show - would be proud of. Eggs presented inside layers of bacon to look like a flower - and REAL hash browns. Not that rubbish we get in England, but loose and without the casing.

After the chocolate factory, a visit to the nearby motor museum, and I had to get a photo of this beauty. Does anyone know if the city of Plymouth (the original) get any royalties from the use of the name?

Imagine my delight when I discovered that one of the exhibition areas is full of ... buses! It all got rather sad at the stage as I wondered how drivers spent so long in those old cabs withouth the aid of power steering. (Those who regularly listen to the show may recall I passed a challenge to learn to drive buses - and have the licence to prove it).

Seeing the Pennsylvanis Capitol Building in Harrisburg, where Senate makes its' decisions, and also the American Civil War Museum gave the opportunity to learn about American history on another busy day.

Thursday will see a long drive after a morning in Hershey - and following another superb country breakfast. I will be heading for Columbus as my journey continues west and into the state of Ohio.

Through rain storms and onto the pitch at the new Giants/Jets Stadium

Picked up the car from the rental dealer. On booking it was a Chevrolet or similar. I got similar.

But the Subaru has enough leg room and my luggage can get into the boot. Sorry, trunk.

Fighting my way through the New York traffic from Mid-Manhattan was an experience. Most drivers use their horns. I don't know why. I bet most of them don't know, either.

Then, the rain came. It was a heavy downpour that lasted a couple of hours. There was relief from that as I found my way to The Holland Tunnel to go through the Hudson Rover and into New Jersey.

The sights were quite amazing. All roads had surface water that was reaching the bumpers of cars. An 18-wheeler overtook me at speed an engulfed the Subaru in what seemed to be a tidal wave.

I saw a couple of cars which had seemingly cut-out with the water reaching up to engine level. As I flicked through the radio stations, one report stated that four inches had fallen in little more than an hour.

I navigated my way through the road works taking place in time for the opening of the New Meadowlands Stadium.

Seating 82,000, it will soon host its first game - a pre-season game between the shared occupants: The New York Giants and The New Jork Jets.

Then the season begins in earnest. But the big story is that before it officially opened, it was awarded the Super Bowl in 2014.

So imagine my delight when I was invited to walk across the pitch! The new turf was similar to a new carpet being walked on for the first time.

The drive that lay ahead would take me a short distance through Delaware before entering Pennsylvania and to my place for rest for the next two nights.

I had a reservation at a B&B. But I have never seen a B&B quite like this!

Between Hershey and Harrisburg with a postal address of Hummelstown, it is off a very quiet country road with stables across the way and so peaceful after the hustle and bustle of New York.

Frank, the owner, was on hand to welcome me at the end of a tiring day. He was certainly a sight for sore eyes after the rain and a long afternoon/evening drive.

Monday, 12 July 2010

King Kong was here - 86 floors up

After the experience of the 'Top of the 'Rock, today was the day to go even higher.

The morning weather forecast promised temperatures well into the 90s, and I was hoping that the outdoor viewing platform of the Empire State Building would be a good place to catch a breeze.

Built in 1931 it is one of the most recognisable buildings on the planet, but there was no time to think about that as the left went up at an incredible speed.

With my slight discomfort of being at such a height, I waited a moment before venturing forward.

It was more than worth it, with the city skyline the subject of endless numbers of clicking cameras.

I have come to the conclusion that however much of New York City you want to see, not just in Manhattan but in all the boroughs, you won't have enough time - unless you live here. Never a dull moment.

Last night I walked from My hotel to Soho - a far trek that built up a thirst. Soho is a cosmopolitan area with narrow tree-lined streets, one of which was full of chess shops. I wondered why they were all together where any potential customer of chess boards, sets, tables etc could easily compare prices.

But that was of little concern to those playing on tables all the way along the pavement ... sorry, sidewalk.

Met an interesting guy this afternoon. Christopher Heywood is the vice president of NYC and company, the guys that look after with a whole host of ideas, traveller tips and a great knowledge of everything NYC.

So, tomorrow I bid farewell to The Big Apple until my flight home a week on Saturday.

I pick up my rental car and a very short drive to the New Meadowlands Stadium for a look around the new home of the New York Giants and The New York Jets.

Then its an afternoon drive of 160 miles to Hershey and my hotel for the next two nights at Harrisburg.

Wish me luck as I remember ... steering wheel on the left ... drive on the right ... no gearstick.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

NYPD Officer confirms I am crazy

The thought of entering buildings to make use of the air conditioning, or being by the water, has been at the forefront of my mind to cope with the combined heat and humidity.

It was with that I aimed for The Rockefeller Center. I knew my fear of heights would be tested, but with stunning views promised I bit the bullet - and bullet would be a good way to describe the speed of the lift.

I was told it was fast, and within seconds the doors opened. I braced myself.

A uniformed attendant then told me to "step this way" for security. I was on the first floor.

Then, after passing through the bag check, came the bullet. Up 67 floors.
Looking across was fine, but looking down. I felt twinges in the stomach.

A strong coffee was needed after getting back down to earth.

From there I ventured down to the Staten Island Ferry and across to see close-up The Statue of Liberty.

The cool air off the Hudson River was wonderful and the Saturday afternoon throng of thousands of tourists clicking away at their cameras pointed not only at the famous landmark, but the incredible views of lower Manhattan across the water.

Sunday meant planning around The World Cup Final. I wish I hadn't bothered and read the reports online, such was the disappointment of what was supposed to be a spectacle.

At least I found a bar that I discovered would be showing the game - and they sell Bass on draught.
Before the game, some sighseeing in Times Square and Broadway ... and the comment from a female police officer.

I guessed it would be safe to change the lens of my camera while stood next to her, so that I did. Because of the lens I wanted to use for an idea, I pointed straight up to the sky, to try and centrally position all around me in the wide-angled lens.

I think I got the shot that I wanted, but noticed that the officer was staring at me.

"You taking a picture of the sun? Are you mad?"

I explained myself, and all was well. Not so stupid after all - well, maybe.