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UNCLE JACK'S WEBLOG
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Sunrise in Sonag, Wednesday July 29, 2009
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. are spending a few relaxing (?) days in Nags Head, primarily in the capacity of baby sitters for Mrs. U.J.'s adorable grandchildren, Michael, Sophia and Isabella. Since they last tended Michael, age 8 months, he has learned to crawl which has opened whole new vistas of potential disaster. Driving on the bypass requires less concentration than minding Michael these days.
       The trip down 95 from Baltimore on Monday was the easiest in memory. No accidents, no mysterious traffic jams, nothing but fast, forward motion all the way to the bridge. The last twenty miles on the bypass were almost enough to make Uncle Jack turn around and go home to Baltimore but he made it all the way to South Nags Head without mishap and that is where he will stay put.
       It's very hot in Nags Head and he read in the paper where a man got hit by lightning and killed while he was walking on the beach in Southern Shores on Monday. He thinks maybe it would be best to stay inside with the air conditioner running until he goes back to Charm City on Saturday. He also read in the paper where 18 people were shot in Baltimore last Sunday night so maybe he will do the same when he gets home.
      


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6:10 a.m. Nothing to write home about but right on time.

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Let's hope it doesn't fall on anybody before the summer is over.

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A "Basnight Pennant" flies over James Street.

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The new Jennette's Pier is no small undertaking.

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You can deduce from this billboard that the project has been heavily criticized in other parts of the state as an unnecessary expenditure in these troubled times.

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Farther up the bypass private enterprise rushes to provide Nags Head with another desperately needed strip mall and yet another Food Lion.

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Michael "Scooter" Sabatino, momentarily at rest.

posted by Uncle Jack at 9:30 PM

Comments [66]



Friday, July 24, 2009
How about a roller-skating rink? Friday July 24, 2009
       Uncle Jack read in the paper where the new owners of the Windmill Point property in Nags Head (namely the Town of Nags Head and the Visitors Bureau)are looking for ideas about what to do with that big soundside tract until they can get the scratch together to build a convention center there. This brought back a lot of memories for him because he lived on the sound just north of Windmill Point for twenty years beginning when he bought a house at the end of Lakeside Drive in 1970.
       There was no Windmill Point at that time, of course. Except for his two neighbors at the end of Lakeside he had the whole soundfront to himself as far north as Soundside Drive and all the way south to Whalebone Junction. By the early 90's when he moved to South Nags Head things were very different; the empty 400+ acre tract to the north had morphed into the Village at Nags Head and the great stretch of swampy land to the south was nearly filled with restaurants, miniature golf courses, boat rental facilities and other such amenities for the visiting tourist.
       One of the buildings in what is now known as the Windmill Point tract had a particularly interesting history. Uncle Jack can't remember exactly when it was built, probably the mid to late seventies, but he does know it was torn down just a couple of years ago.
       It started life as a roller-skating rink and thereby hangs a tale. It was the first facility of its kind on the Outer Banks (although another rink was built on Roanoke Island at almost exactly the same time which later became the first Albemarle Community College campus). If Uncle Jack remembers correctly the Windmill Point rink had a very short life, perhaps a year or two, before its owner/developers, two enterprising young Outer Bankers, found themselves in deep doo doo. It seems that they had financed their ambitious project with ill gotten gains from an aborted drug operation of some kind. They wound up in prison and the roller rink languished in their absence.
       Soon thereafter the owner of the Windmill Point Restaurant took over the moribund rink and converted into a multi-faceted entertainment complex called "Soundside" which never seemed to attract much of a clientele. It limped along for several years before it closed and was mercifully demolished, clearing the way for something bigger and better---perhaps even a convention center some day.
       So in the meantime why not try again with a roller rink? The first one was way ahead of its time and the management left a little to be desired but it could be different this time around. Many tourists are almost fanatically health-conscious these days (the ones who are not obese) and might welcome a nice outdoor facility where they could burn off a few fried-fish calories before they go jump in the ocean. Who knows---it might be successful enough to make the decision makers forget about risking millions on a convention center.
       On the other hand they might better just pave it over and turn it into a parking lot for the tens of thousands of bikers who will be descending on Nags Head a couple of times a year now that Myrtle Beach has finally had enough of them.
       If any readers have better ideas he will happy to pass them on to the appropriate authorities.
       Stay tuned.

posted by Uncle Jack at 6:40 PM

Comments [6]



Tuesday, July 21, 2009
AVAM, Tuesday July 21, 2009
       After reading about the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) when he first got to Baltimore Uncle Jack was not inclined to put it very high on the list of places he wanted to visit. Artwise he is pretty conservative, his tastes leaning toward Rubens's nudes and other artistic renderings of the female form (along with an occasional beach scene or lighthouse)so he didn't think he would care much for the avant garde stuff he thought was on display at AVAM.
       He and Mrs. U.J. pretty much forgot all about it until this past weekend when they learned that the crazy cars they saw at Artscape were much more representative of the kind of artistic creations they would find at AVAM than, say, the abstract drippings of Jackson Pollock or the distorted damsels of Pablo Picasso. As it happens the place is full of the creative outpourings of people who never darkened the door of an art school and it's more fun than a satchel of simians.
       Uncle Jack took a few pictures before a courteous attendant informed him that this was a no-no, even without flash, so he can only tell you that the pictures below cannot convey the full range of the "art" on display. If you are lucky enough to visit Baltimore any time soon do not miss AVAM, even if you have to forgo the Baltimore Museum of Art to do it.      


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Jim Rouse, planner/developer of Baltimore's Harbor Place and major benefactor of the Visionary Art Museum. Uncle Jack agrees with him about cities.

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The AVAM bus. One of a kind for sure. Jack Kerouac would have loved it.

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Boyz in the hood.

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"Cram Guy". A whimsical student/robot studies for an exam. Motorized and hilarious.

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A swipe at higher education.

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Who would have guessed that the sculptor had no formal training?

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Jimi Hendrix would have developed a hernia trying to smash this guitar.

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Playhouse to end all playhouses.

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Gigantic pink poodle with pearl necklace and ear rings. On wheels and ready to appear in your next parade.

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AVAM (foreground) from Federal Hill. Two more buildings are out of the picture to the right. The fanciful bus is in the lower right corner.

posted by Uncle Jack at 6:09 PM

Comments [1]



Sunday, July 19, 2009
Artscape, Sunday July 19, 2009
       Big weekend in Bawlmer. Every year at this time (for the past 28 years) the city throws a big outdoor party called "Artscape" in the streets of what is known as the "Cultural District" not far from Uncle Jack's digs in Charles Village. He and Mrs. U.J. and some out-of-town guests took in the opening session on Friday afternoon and had a ball. They wandered for hours among the many booths featuring the work of hundreds of artists and craftspeople from all over the east, listened to live bands playing at several outdoor stages, and watched dozens of street performers doing their thing. The weather was perfect and some 350,000 people were estimated to enjoy at least part of the three-days of festivities. They enjoyed it immensely and from the looks of it so did everyone else. And it was all free thanks to dozens of corporate sponsors and other contributors. What a great party.


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A small part of the Artscape crowd. Needless to say the food booths were popular. Uncle Jack had some excellent N.C. barbecue for lunch.

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A couple of tourists from Virginia pose with a tall, thin young woman in front of Penn Station.

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An assortment of hyper-decorated cars are always a big hit at Artscape.

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This one is a rolling Ipod.

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Need a camera? Take your pick.

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The original "Woodie".

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Lobster anyone?

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All dressed up for Artscape.

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Powered by Electrolux. Way ahead of its time.

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Sign in a parking lot in Federal Hill.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:08 PM

Comments [5]



Monday, July 13, 2009
Federal Hill, Monday July 12, 2009
       When Mrs. Uncle Jack's Baltimore daughter, Colleen, started her quiet campaign to lure them to Charm City last year she knew exactly how to go about it. She took her mother on a walking tour of the neighborhood known as Federal Hill which culminated in Federal Hill Park with its fantastic 180 degree view of the harbor and the downtown skyline. (See pictures below). Thus she planted the idea that moving from their beloved Outer Banks to Baltimore was not an entirely nutty thing to do.
       For many reasons they decided not to live in Federal Hill themselves but rather keep it, like Fells Point and Bolton Hill as a great place to visit when the spirit moves. As it happened the spirit did flip flops this morning as another in a long succession of extremely un-July like days dawned and they found themselves completely free of obligations of any kind. So off they went to Federal Hill for a walking tour of their own, culminating in Uncle Jack's first view of the city from the park. He will let the pictures tell the story.
       As Colleen said to her mother on their first visit to Federal Hill Park, "How can you not like this city?"


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The historical significance of the hill is summed up in this plaque in the park. The neighborhood is spread out below the hill to the west and south.

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A typical street in Federal Hill. Hundreds of 18th, 19th and early 20th century rowhouses have been rehabbed and are occupied primarily by people who work downtown.

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The proximity of Fed. Hill to the central business district can be seen here. Residents can also walk to the baseball and football stadiums nearby.

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The first brick house constructed in Fed. Hill in 1795. It was originally a boarding house.

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And this is the last frame house still standing in FH. Wooden houses were forbidden after 1804 in built-up areas because of the danger of fire. Very few remain anywhere in Baltimore city.

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Fortunately few houses in FH have been re-sided with "formstone" like this one, second from the left. Sad to say this ugly product was the siding of choice for rehab jobs in many parts of the city.

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The massive Federal Reserve Bank of Baltimore is one of Fed. Hill's less attractive buildings. Lots of residents work here doling out tax money to distressed banks and auto companies.

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Looking northwest from Fed. Hill Park. The building in the foreground is an amazing art gallery called the American Visionary Art Museum. It's high on our list of places to visit. The brand new Legg-Mason headquarters building is at the right rear.

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Looking north across the inner harbor toward the National Aquarium with its trademark triangular thingies. The four stacks are part of an old power plant converted into touristy restaurants and shops.

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M & T Bank stadium, where the Ravens play, looms over Fed. Hill. Orioles Park at Camden Yards is out of the picture to the right but even closer to downtown.

posted by Uncle Jack at 4:18 PM

Comments [7]



Thursday, July 9, 2009
Seduction, Thursday July 9, 2009
       Uncle Jack has lived in Baltimore for a little over six months now and he has to confess that each day he finds himself succumbing a little more to the charms of Charm City. This morning, for example, instead of going directly to the New York Times online immediately after his laptop booted up, he checked in first at the Baltimore Sun's website to find out how the Orioles fared last night against the Mariners. (They won!). He isn't sporting an Orioles T-shirt yet but it's probably just a matter of time.
       Yesterday, while walking home from the neighborhood Ace Hardware (something he could never do when he lived in Nags Head) he discovered an amazing bookstore hidden away on a side street near the Farmer's Market. It's called "The Normal" for some reason and it's a treasure trove of tens of thousands of quality used books, records and DVDs filling scores of rickety shelves in a rabbit warren of rooms. Uncle Jack added the Normal to his list of great places to spend some time on a rainy day and on the way out purchased a copy of Progressive Magazine, published in Madison, Wisconsin, which he read avidly as an undergraduate at the U. of Wisconsin during his formative years. The Progressive helped turn him into the pinko liberal he has remained all his life and its still as feisty as ever.
       This morning he read in the Sun that a new Louis Vuitton store was having its grand opening at the Towson Mall so he and Mrs. U.J. raced out there in hopes they might be giving away $1000 handbags to the first fifty suckers through the door. They were out of luck but at least Mrs. U.J. won't have to worry about attracting muggers with her LV bag. Not the best way to hide your mugger money for sure.
       Anyway he predicts a short, unprofitable life for the LV store whose timing is as bad as its merchandise is risible. There just aren't enough stupid rich people in Baltimore to make it work and their number is dwindling by the day.


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A street sculpture in Uncle Jack's neighborhood. That's the Normal book store in the background.

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The colorful fish stands in front of this colorful house across the street from the Normal.

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This elegant stinkpot in the inner harbor reminded them of Camden.

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A shipyard occupied this space for a century or so before this condo development. At least it's tidier.

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This hospital ship saw action in WWII and many times since. It's waiting in Baltimore harbor for the next major disaster.

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Hundreds of pleasure craft fill this huge marina in Fells Point where merchant ships once called. The gold domes belong to a Catholic church in Fells Point.

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The Pier 6 tent has been the venue for many of the top acts in the entertainment biz. Randy Travis and Joe Cocker are coming soon. Even Uncle Jack has heard of them.

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The largest screw pile lighthouse in Maryland is in Baltimore harbor. Eat your heart out, Manteo.

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The building on the left is not the Leaning Tower of Pisa but Uncle Jack is not sure which corporation owns it.

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One of the mega-hotels on the harbor. They're having a lot of trouble filling rooms right now. Great bargains are to be had if you have a hankerin' to visit Charm City.

posted by Uncle Jack at 3:16 PM

Comments [3]



Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Harbor Cruise, Tuesday July 7, 2009
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. have been waiting for the perfect day to ride a boat around Baltimore harbor and today was it. They bounced down St. Paul street on the Number 3 bus (senior citizens ride for 55 cents)to Harbor Place where they joined a half-dozen other tourists for a 45 minute tour of the inner harbor (a.k.a. Condo City) on one of the Watermark cruise boats.
       Twenty-five years ago Baltimore's harbor was a mess marked by abandoned and decaying buildings, rotting piers and stinking water. Today it stands as one of the country's finest examples of urban renewal on a grand scale. Where all the money came from to accomplish this miracle is a mystery to Uncle Jack, as is the source of the pelf it takes to own and live in one of the thousands of upscale condos that now ring the harbor. He is now primed to undertake some serious research that might answer those questions.
       The harbor doesn't mean that much to the many thousands of poor people who struggle to survive in the wretched neighborhoods made famous by the TV series "The Wire" but it's a great source of pride for Baltimore's movers and shakers, many of whom are Uncle Jack's neighbors in posh areas like Guilford and Roland Park. How the city will weather the current economic crisis is anybody's guess. The heavyweight investment firm, Legg Mason, has just built an enormous new headquarters building on the harbor but hundreds of employees will never see the inside, having been laid off in recent months.
       These are troubled times in Bawlmer but you wouldn't know it looking at the inner harbor from a tour boat.
             
      


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The USS Constellation, sister ship of "Old Ironsides", the Constitution, is a popular attraction at Harbor Place, along with the National Aquarium.

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Hotels and office buildings ring the north side of the inner harbor.

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Federal Hill, first described by John Smith in 1609, offers a splendid view of the harbor. It's now a public park.

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Condos, condos and more condos. These have replaced abandoned commercial piers.

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One of the few remaining industrial plants in the harbor. The huge illuminated sign is a Charm City icon, visible from Uncle Jack's condo three miles away.

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Tide Point, named after the Procter and Gamble soap once manufactured here. Now it's upscale office space---and condos.

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This gigantic grain elevator has been converted into you-know-what. Hard to believe but true.

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Fort McHenry from the water. This is where the sightseeing boat turned around and headed back in to the inner harbor.

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If you saw the wonderful movie "Avalon" you may remember this as the furniture warehouse that burned on Opening Day. Guess what it is now.

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The last remaining 18th century building in Fells Point that hasn't been converted into something else.

posted by Uncle Jack at 5:02 PM

Comments [9]



Saturday, July 4, 2009
Oh say can you see?---Friday July 3, 2009
       With the Fourth of July impending what could be more appropriate than a visit to Fort McHenry in Baltimore's outer harbor. This hallowed ground, now a National Park, is where, on the night of September 13, 1814, British warships unleashed a fearsome bombardment in an attempt to clear the way for an invasion of Baltimore. The fort held fast through the perilous night and in the morning a young American lawyer named Francis Scott Key, who had observed the action from the deck of a ship on which he had been detained, was moved to write a poem which, as every American schoolchild knows, became our national anthem. (Blame Herbert Hoover for that).
       Fort McHenry is a beautiful park in a spectacular setting. Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. spent several hours on Thursday strolling around the grounds, reading historical plaques and enjoying the magnificent views in the company of a handful of other tourists. It will be a mob scene on the Fourth so they're glad they went early. If you do get to Fort McHenry one day don't miss the excellent movie in the Visitors Center.
       Happy Fourth to all, wherever you are.
             


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The flag is still there, obviously.

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The Brits came from thisaway---Chesapeake Bay. That's the Francis Scott Key bridge barely discernible in the haze.

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These cannons, and lots more like them, kept the British out of Baltimore harbor.

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This colossal statue of the Greek god Orpheus, complete with lyre, stands in front of the visitor center. Presumably symbolic of Key, the lyricist.

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Inscription on the Orpheus statue.

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An interpreter holds forth on various minutiae relating to the battle.

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Major George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry at the time of the siege. Welcome Center, soon to be replaced, in the background.

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Side view of the fort from Armistead's statue.

posted by Uncle Jack at 8:02 AM

Comments [8]




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Except for short hiatus in Baltimore Uncle Jack has lived in Nags Head for over 45 years. He was a columnist for the Outer Banks Current and its successor, the Outer Banks Sentinel, for 20 years. A collection of his columns is available from Amazon Kindle under the title Uncle Jack's Outer Banks. He and Mrs. Uncle Jack, aka Sue, live in South Nags Head whence he observes and sometimes comments on the passing parade.
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