Where’s Waldorf?

I stayed in two Waldorf Astoria hotels on consecutive nights in two different cities.

The Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in NY is famous.  But did you know the following (taken from the WA website):

William Waldorf Astor, heir to John Jacob Astor III, built the original 13-story Waldorf Hotel on the site of his Fifth Avenue mansion. Opened in 1893, the Waldorf immediately became the gathering place for the world’s wealthy and society’s elite.

Four years later, Waldorf’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV built the adjacent 17-story Astoria Hotel. Separate, yet equivalent in grandeur and prestige, both The Waldorf and The Astoria were designed by acclaimed architect, Henry Hardenbergh, who in an act of great foresight added a three-hundred-foot-long marble corridor connecting the two hotels. This corridor, built to connect the two buildings, became an enduring symbol of the combined Waldorf and Astoria hotels – it is represented by the “=” in The Waldorf=Astoria.

For years I had the privilege to stay at the Waldorf 2-4 times per year because it was close to the NY headquarters of the company I worked for. It has been awhile.

For those who have not been there let me share a picture. It defines old world elegance, not opulence. Not that it does not have a feel of opulence but it is also understated in its show of riches. Toward the Park Ave. side of the lobby frescos grace the walls just below the incredibly high ceilings. Marble,  dark woods luxurious carpet surround you. The main floor lobby is enormous.

I arrived Monday night. As I walked the lobby it felt as if the Waldorf was its own little world. The bustle of well dressed people was palpable. By well dressed I mean both dressy and casual chic. The service staff was friendly without being intrusive and was everywhere. They make you feel as if you are one of society’s elite even if you are just a guy from Chicago.

Check out the picture gallery for the Waldorf=Astoria here.

Tuesday I flew to Orlando, Florida. (Two planes, 8 hours but that is a story for another time).  The Waldorf Astoria website lists 20 properties under the Waldorf Astoria corporate umbrella. Only one other uses the Waldorf Astoria name. It is located minutes from Disney World. Go figure. After over 100 years I cannot fathom why the only place beyond NY would be Orlando.

Having said that the hotel is beautiful. It is new world elegance but elegance nonetheless. The decor is more modern but not modern in that W Hotel kind orf way. The colors, the artwork, the wood trim all let you know that this is a Waldorf.  The hotel is new having opened about 6 weeks ago.

I had a two room suite with a small kitchen area as well as a living room and bedroom. There was one flaw. While the two closets in the living room were spacious and had an umbrella as well as the usual iron and ironing board, there were no hangers. None. A quick call and more hangers than I needed were rushed to the room. The bellhop rang the doorbell. Each room has one of course.

While the design of the two Waldorf Astorias differed the feel was similar. Still one must continue to question why the second Waldorf Astoria in the history of the world is  down the road from Disney. One would think that the answer to the question “Where’s Waldorf ?” would be a more urbane city.

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Dorm Life Gets Spoiled

Luxury, amenities, walk-in-closet, view of the river, privacy, heated pools. What do all of these words have in common? They are not meant to be associated with college dorms. And yet…

Purdue, Boston University and Arizona State University among others offer luxury dorm living for the already spoiled college student. It is bad enough that these kids all had rooms of their own at home and got to drive daddy’s (or mommy’s) luxury sedan while going through high school. College is where turning into an adult is supposed to happen. That means, along with other things, getting along with others. Learning to make it on your own. Living in less than ideal conditions.

What can you learn living in your own room with a jacuzzi nearby? I am sooo glad that my son’s dorm is just basic housing, bad mattress, used furniture and fairly small room shared with another. Bathrooms down the hall. No air conditioning. Really, this is not like being in a third world country walking a mile to the river for clean water.

I know why the colleges build these luxury dorm facilities…because someone will pay for it. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune these are the first rooms to go.

What are these parents thinking? I will never get constantly spoiling your kid–just ask my son. When will these kids grow up?

What a waste of a good recession.

The Swimmer

In 1968 “The Swimmer” was a movie starring Burt Lancaster  as a man who swam to his suburbia home from a party by swimming though all the swimming pools lined up one after the other in people’s backyards. This was all I had know about the movie last week before googling the movie and finding more.

A summary of the movie taken from the NY Times has this to say:

John Cheever’s “misery in suburbia” short stories, brief and to the point, have always proven excellent TV fodder. Director Frank Perry’s The Swimmer, adapted for the screen by Perry’s wife Eleanor, is a rare, and for the most part successful, attempt at offering a Cheever story in feature-length form. Dressed only in swimming trunks throughout the film, Burt Lancaster plays a wealthy, middle-aged advertising man, embarked on a long and revelatory journey through suburban Connecticut. Lancaster slowly makes his way to his split-level home by travelling from house to house, and from swimming pool to swimming pool. At each stop, Lancaster comes face to face with an incident in his past. Informing Kim Hunter that he once harbored a secret love for her, Lancaster is mildly upset by Hunter’s indifference. Elderly Cornelia Otis Skinner is incensed at Lancaster’s intrusion in her backyard and orders him to leave. At the next home, Lancaster tries to seduce the nubile Janet Landgard, who’d once baby-sat for his daughters, but she regards him as a silly old man. And so it goes: as each subsequent suburbanite peels off his self-protective veneer, Lancaster grows more and more disillusioned with what he thought was his ideal lifestyle. 

Excerpts from the the 1968 NY Times movie review written by Vincent Canby adds:

Neddy Merrill, an aging country club Lothario, decides one afternoon to swim home across the county. As he makes his way through one friend’s pool and then another, portaging across lawn, garden and highway, it becomes increasingly apparent that gung-ho Neddy is a failure, a man whose vision of life has always been slightly bent, as if refracted through water. Neddy is swimming through his past to the nameless horror of an unrefracted present….

It’s too bad that—because of factors over which he has no control—Lancaster is not better in the role. He does have the physique of the aging athlete who has kept his form, if not the youthful texture of his skin. However, try as he might; he simply can’t project Neddy Merrill’s vulnerability as a foolish, ridiculous WASP.

Why my fascination with a 40 year old movie I have never seen? Last week in Punta Cana in a very small way I emulated the physical aspect of the movie by swimming from near the lobby of the resort to the beach by swimming through the various pools. My trip had more to do with being able to say I did this than any concerns about the failure of my middle class suburban lifestyle. I would not mind, however, being referred to at least once as an aging Lothario or having the physique of an aging athlete.

I made my way top the furthest corner of the furthest pool and quietly slipped into the water. I began. I am not a swimmer by training but made it through the first pool with minimal stops to catch my breadth. After climbing out and diving into the second pool I was starting to breath heavily and my stops became more frequent. 

As I stood at the edge of the third and last pool I contemplated the gulf between the middle middle class and the upper middle class. This last pool was technically off limits to me because though part of the same resort I was illegally about to enter the Club section. I think the people in this section had a special lounge to go to,  additional amenities of various kinds, and certainly their private pools. (The only amenity I coveted was that they had beds lining the pool for lounging in the sun. These were tres cool.) The other thing about the people in this section is that they hardly moved. They used their expansive pool as a large wading area if they ever got out of their outdoor beds at all.

Anyways, nothing was going to stop me from completing my mission. Well, almost nothing except the resort employee who came over as I was 3/4 of the way through this pool to let me know that I was not welcome. I am guessing that the splashing noise made by my swimming disturbed the sensibilities of the Clubbies and they sent for security to remove the trespasser. The employee was actually quite nice and apologetic. I did not even look around to see the reactions of the suburbanites Clubbies. I was not going to give them the satisfaction. Let’s see them swim the resort end to end. Of course they wouldn’t. Then they would have to mix with the masses.

A Tale Of Two Boots

It was the showiest of boots, it was the most humble of boots.

In the airport for hours. A few seconds apart the following happened.

The black boots with the fringe, kinda chic cowgirl style, moving left to right caught my eye. Boots in summer? Attached to the boots were legs that rose up to meet the shortest of white shorts. I mean short. The legs by themselves could pull this off but, as a whole, the petite girl running down the concourse in the “look at me, look at me now” outfit did not quite.

Seconds later.

Another boot. Moving left to right. Plain as can be.  Not a hint of style. Rising out of these boots were army fatigues worn by an early twenty something girl. Nice enough looking young woman but covered from toe to head. Walking slowly, purposefully.

Same place. Nearly the exact same time. Totally different.

It was the showiest of boots, it was the most humble of boots.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor…and Your Gorgeous

From the pages of The Economist comes a story of great pathos. It seems Anthony Weiner, a New York congressman wants to help a group that has fallen through the cracks of the system…foreign born fashion models.

Here is the key to this near tragedy as reported by The Economist.

It’s not often that fashion models are paired with IT workers, except in the lurid fantasies of computer geeks. But because of a decision made back in 1990 they must compete for the same over-subscribed H-1B, a temporary work visa for specialised occupations. Until 2004, when the government lowered the cap on the number of H-1Bs it issued, it didn’t matter so much. But now demand has far outstripped the limited number of visas available, and many foreign models are being denied the chance to sashay down America’s catwalks.”

OH MY G-D!  What are these poor waifs to do. If it is up to Tony they will get a special exemption. Is this a great country or what!

George Carlin: From Buttoned Down To Hippy Dippy

George Carlin was the uber-seinfeld long before anyone ever heard of Jerry. His work was sharp, topical, insightful and clever. But most of all very, very funny.

The tributes I have heard the past few days often discuss his keen devotion to his craft. He worked hard at being funny. That may sound like an oxymoron but it ain’t. I would guess that most great comedians are naturally funny but the best work at just the right phrasing and tinker with the timing until it is perfect.

Few remember Carlin in his early days. The quotes throughout are from an interview with George printed in a story on the NPR website here.

His early act was marked by clever wordplay and spoofs of popular culture. He showed up on Ed Sullivan or The Tonight Show in his suit and tie throughout the 1960s. America loved the clean-cut New Yorker.

“I went through about eight or nine years of what essentially were the extended 1950s, sort of a button-down period. But that was when the country was changing,” he said.

Once he changed to embrace the times, he became part of the change. Certainly his Seven Words That You Cannot Say On Television became the focal point of his attack on hypocrisy and stupidity. Heck, they  got him arrested for disturbing the peace and later became part of a Supreme Court ruling. Even though the Court ruled in favor of FCC control over when that bit could be to be aired, I have this image of the Justices playing the tape over and over while laughing their asses off in chambers.

This is how George thought of his  later work.

“I like to find out where the line might be drawn and then deliberately cross it,” he said during an NPR interview in 2000. “There are an awful lot of taboos. … I just enjoy squashing them and stepping on them and peeling them apart and trying to expose them to people. For some reason, it makes me happy.”

While not controversial, I always enjoyed the Hippy Dippy weatherman bit.  In fact every time I heard him I cracked up.

Unfortunately there will be no new George Carlin material. Fortunately he left a treasure trove behind.

Thanks for the laughs George.

Job Choices For Urban Youth: Drug Dealing Or Starbucks

An article in The Economist titled “Back from The Brink” tells the story of the falling crime rate in Baltimore. The story describes such things as community policing and new laws which have aided the effort.

However it was the following paragraphs that caught my attention. They present the sad, shocking truth of the employment choices for many urban youth.

A big problem for the police (and more so for respectable ghetto residents) is the unfortunate truth that for many young men, gangster culture is alluring. Apart from the low pay and the high risk of getting murdered, drug-dealing is not a bad job, says Peter Moskos, a sociologist who spent a year as a policeman in Baltimore’s eastern district. You hang out with your friends. People “respect” (ie, fear) you. You project glamour. You get laid.

You also become otherwise unemployable, says Mr Moskos. To survive on the street, you learn to react violently and pre-emptively to the slightest challenge. This is a useful trait for a drug-dealer, but, oddly, managers at Starbucks do not value it.

What do you mean “Apart from the low pay and the high risk of getting murdered”?  Isn’t that an oxymoron? A path that doesn’t build employment skills in Corporate America. Too funny in a very dark, twisted way.

At a charity fund raising dinner last Saturday, a speaker told a roomful of high acheivers that we cannot take too much credit for who we are no matter how hard we have worked to become successful. His point was that we do not determine when we are born, where we are born or who our parents are.

I do not think I fully understood the point until I read this article. I was fortunate to be born in the middle class and not in a dangerous urban environment or in a poor third world country. I am one of the lucky ones.