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BILL and SUE-ON HILLMAN: A 50-YEAR MUSICAL ODYSSEY
HILLMAN TRAVEL ADVENTURES

ROAD TALES III
USA
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TRAVEL NOTES FOR OUR MAIN USA CHAPTER
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ROAD TALES III

USA
BOSTON ::  JFK DALLAS :: ROSWELL :: USAF MUSEUM :: ROY ROGERS MUSEUM ::  REAGAN LIBRARY  ::  GRACELAND ::  SUN STUDIOS  :: CREATION MUSEUM  ::  CORRIGANVILLE MOVIE RANCH  ::  HIGH DESERT EDEN ::  HUBBARD HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS :: 9-11 GROUND ZERO :: ERB CONVENTIONS :: GRANDSTAND MUSIC TOURS


NEW YORK

On our first visit to New York City we arrived at rush hour and were hemmed in by a sea of yellow cabs. We escaped to Central Park where we stayed until the traffic was less hectic. We then made our way to downtown. The only parking available was in an alley where we had to leave our keys with a young black guy. Many of the buildings at that time were run down and there were many strange street people. We made our way along Broadway past a cat lady seated on a crate and covered with squirming felines. Farther along, we and the sidewalk crowd were hailed by a camera crew perched on a slow moving truck. We were directed to pretend that we were looking in amazement at stage coach going down Broadway while the cameras recorded our reactions. They were going to film the actual stagecoach later and mix it all together. I believe it was for an TV episode of McCloud. Soon after that we were rudely shoved aside by a guy running past us and down into the subway entrance. We heard a noise behind us and turned to see two police officers with guns drawn coming at us. Quite an introduction to the Big Apple. We learned later that the police were after a punk who had just robbed a liquor store. We sampled NY food at a diner and rescued our home on wheels to make our escape from Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel. We found an abandoned lot in New Jersey that had a good nighttime view of the Statue of Liberty across the Hudson River. Come the dawn we headed south to find more adventures.  New York would be a much different city when we returned 40 years later.

In May 2006, we were invited by Phil Collins and Danton Burroughs of ERB, Inc. to attend the Opening Night Celebrations for Tarzan the Broadway Musical at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City. We took advantage of our return visit to "The Big Apple" to marvel at the changes that had occured since our first visit almost 40 years ago. We took in all the famous sites and sights, but our visit to Ground Zero of the horrific 9-11 tragedy was probably the most emotional experience. On this 15th Anniversary of 9-11, we've included a few our photos of that visit in the accompanying poster collage. Be sure to click full size -- viewing on computer monitor screens is recommended.


NEW ORLEANS

A visit to New Orleans is a musician's dream. We had a great time exploring Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Strolling along this famous street overlooked by balconies from which ladies used to advertise their wares we enjoyed the almost non-stop music either by street musicians or emanating from the open doors of the long string of bars and clubs: exciting dixieland and blues. We paused to listen to Huey "Piano" Smith ("Rockin' Pneumonia) before entering Al Hirt's Jazz Club. Sometime during our Orleans stay we visited Fats Domino's fast food restaurant -- alas, no sign of Fats. We would see Fats on a future visit to Las Vegas however.


FLORIDA

On one of our many USA visits in the late '60s we slept in our station wagon most nights. When we reached the Sunshine State we spent the night in an orange tree grove. Later, we were suprised to learn that this was to be part of the location for Walt Disney World that opened in late 1971. We were working on a very limited budget but took in many tourist spots in the area. The area was just starting to expand into the major tourist mecca it became after Disney opened shop and we were amazed at how everything had grown when we returned with the kids about 25 years later.

CAPE CANAVERAL
The main Florida attraction for us on this early trip was Cape Canaveral where space and moon exploration was getting into high gear. On our late '60s visit to Cape Canaveral we were able to walk over the abandoned original launch pad that had been used to launch the first successful space missions. We were also able to explore an early command centre. While riding the shuttle bus to the mammoth VAB Vehicle Assembly Building -- the largest single-story building in the world -- the bus was stopped to allow the passing of a vehicle carrying a huge rocket. Actually the "huge" rocket was the escape rocket that can be see atop the main rocket. It looked much larger on the ground. It was on its way  to prepare for one of the Apollo launches. We also marvelled at the Missile Crawler Transporter used to transport spacecraft from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) along the Crawlerway to the launch pad. We were back in Canada on tour in North Battleford, SK when the later July 16, 1969 Moon landing took place. We watched it on our small portable TV in our music tour bus.

SOUTHWARD HO!
1991 seemed a perfect time to make a return to Florida. Our three kids were old enough to enjoy a road trip to Disneywolrd, we were celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary and we were about to move from our country home in Strathclair to Brandon where we were taking over SOO'S, the family Chinese restaurant. This was to be one of the last long trips made in our '70s Ford Funcraft camper. The kids slept in the large bed above, while Sue-On and I stayed below on the main pull-out bed. For much of the trip they entertained themselves with their Legos spread all over the floor.

There were a few hazards on the trail: 6-year-old China-Li fell out of the top bunk one night -- landing on us in the bed below. The American Southland was very hot. We had no air conditioning in the van and the heat from the engine kept us pretty toasty through the day and well into the night. Once in Florida we fell into a "Timeshare Demo" that offered an RV stay in exchange for listening to a sales pitch over a meal. The sales guy quickly gave up on us and we set up for a free stay in the Roy Rogers RV park. We parked by a small lake and the kids set up a tent for the night. It was only later that we learned that many of the local lakes were plagued with alligators. Luckily, the kids survived. The hotel we eventually checked into at Kissimmee with its A/C, shower, and soft beds was a welcomed destination and provided a comfortable home base for our week-long adventure.

WALT DISNEY WORLD
The highlight of the trip for the kids, of course, was "Wally World" -- a dreamworld for all ages. We took a few days to explore all the attractions and rides. Little China-Li was very disappointed when the wouldn't let her on some of the rides because of her age and height: Thunder Mountain RR, Space Mountain, etc., but the visits to Cinderella's Castle, Haunted Mansion, Downtown Boardwalk, Epcot, MGM, et al and the rides on the monorail, Jungle Cruise, Small World, Pirate of the Caribbean, lake boats, etc. made up for it. The nightly parade and incredible fireworks displays provided a perfect conclusion to each day.

NASA: CAPE KENNEDY
There were considerable changes at the Cape's Kennedy Space Centre when we and our three kids visited it in 1991. The complex had expanded greatly and had many more attractions for tourists. The control centre was far more advanced, rockets were larger and we watched the construction of the very first modules of the International Space Station. At that early stage of construction we were actually permitted to walk through the modules in the construction area. There were many attractions for tourists: museum, displays, I-Max, demonstrations and an actual retired space shuttle to explore. Shuttle Commander Terry Wilcutt is brother to our friend and fellow ERB fan, Dennis. Commander Wilcutt contributed an article for my ERBzine.com site Volume 0435 describing how the SF works of Edgar Rice Burroughs had been a major influence on him and his interest in space exploration.

RINGLING BROS. AND BARNUM & BAILEY CIRCUS MUSEUM
As a youngster, my first exposure to the razzle dazzle, lights, costumes, acrobats, music and excitement of live entertainment was provided by the circus when it "came to town." As a farmboy I had developed an appreciation of our many farm animals, but the circus was my introduction to exotic animals from far-off lands: elephants, lions, tigers, bears, show horses, huge snakes, et al. The thrill of seeing these animals has stayed with me and fueled a lifelong love and appreciation of wild animals and a love of travel to distant lands. 

During our many summer tours of Exhibitions we had worked and partied with many of the Midway performers -- often from the Conklin Shows. I also had fond memories of the Royal American Shows midway which thrilled me in my early days when they were part of the Provincial Exhibition in Brandon. Many of the midway performers and workers had told us that they wintered in Florida in the Sarasota area. For this reason when we visited Florida, the Ringling Complex in Sarasota was our first destination. We spent an afternoon exploring the multi-million dollar Ca D'Zan mansion, Mable's rose garden, the art museum with a huge collection of art, and a circus museum.

Ca d'Zan was circus owner John Ringling's opulent mansion. He and his wife Mable chose Sarasota Bay as the site since they loved the water, and it reminded them of the Grand Canal in Venice. We explored all the mansions run-down rooms. The mansion was in such a state of disrepair it was used as the location for Miss Havisham's decrepit mansion in the Hollywood remake of Charles Dickens' classic Great Expectations starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Close to the mansion was Mables Secret Rose Garden which featured over 1000 rose bushes and many statues of loving couples. The highlight for us was the statue
1200 rose plants are of the same varieties she planted.  The Circus Museum displayed costumes, wagons, performance equipment, posters, photos and other artifacts chronicling the history of the Circus.

BUSCH GARDENS and SEA WORLD
Busch Gardens were an interesting visit. An exciting feature was a 70 acre enclosure, the “Serengeti Plain"-- the largest free-roaming enclosed habitat outside of Africa. The Monorail was under repair but we rode the Serengeti Express Railroad to observe the exotic African wildlife. The motto was “where people are caged and animals run free.” We had lunch in the Moroccan Village, with cafes and Moroccan craftsmen along with entertainment from acrobats, belly dancers, sword swallowers, magicians and organ grinder monkeys.

There were a number of roller coaster-type rides in the park. We rode the Tanganyika Tidal and the Stanley Falls Flume. Both rides ended in a steep drop into a pool of water below. We were all soaked - quite refreshing on such a hot day. On our way over to a theatre show we passed the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, a group of Clydesdale horses used for promotions and commercials by the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company.

The film in the theatre had a Fantastic Voyage theme. This sounded intriguing, but when I learned that the highlight of the theatre was "jiggle seats" I was disappointed. We had experienced this effect in other theatres and I had always left the show with a bout of motion sickeness.  I left the rest of the family and walked over to the brewery that offered a free tour and beer tasting. I walked past a bird/animal show at the front of the building and rode a long, long escalator -- "the stairway to the stars" -- to the roof where the tour began. The tour was interesting and the cold Budweisser samples were refreshing. I rejoined the family and we drove over to Sea World. I had a fascination with this type of theme park since the early '50s via one of my Marineland View-Master reels. Sea World was closer and larger so it was the one we chose. The kids enjoyed the whale and dolphin antics in the pool and the many ocean realated attractions.

CYPRESS GARDENS
Cypress Gardens with its formation water skiers, vegetation, film location background, Butterfly House, and light displays used to be THE attraction in Florida. It appeal has been eclipsed in recent years by all the new theme parks. It had such a history though, that we felt it was worth a visit. Our kids seemed to enjoy it but remarked that it was full of old people. On the way back we visited another "old people" attraction: the Tupperware factory and museum. Sue-On found some useful containers to bring home.


TEXAS: THE LONE STAR STATE

During our first visit to Texas we stopped at Brownsville. My Mom and Dad had driven here for a short break from their Marshall Wells hardware store in Newdale and had stayed at the Fontana Hotel. A few years later they bought a small trailer a Mission. We moved on to Padre Island where we had a good time on the sandy beaches -- the first time that we had encountered sand too hot to walk in. The
Alamo was next.

The Alamo remains hallowed ground and is a Shrine of Texas Liberty. It was the site of the legendary battle between Mexican and Texian forces for the independence of Texas from Mexico. While the Alamo fell to the Mexican Army after a heroic 13-day battle, the efforts of defenders of the Alamo set the stage for eventual victory over Mexico. Despite its historical significance the Alamo didn't have to much to offer on our first visit in the early '70s. I remember that we had our first real taste of real Mexican food in a nearby restaurant - much better than our first experience. During our honeymoom in Banff we had brought a can of tamales back to our tent -- we weren't impressed :)  I was shocked though, at the filthy condition of the kitchen when I had to walk through it to the even filthier toilet. We just closed our eyes and and actually enjoyed the meal.

Forty years later we returned to the Alamo on our way back from an Edgar Rice Burroughs convention in College Station and Texas A&M University. The facility was expanded greatly to cater to the daily flood of tourists and we took many photos: Alamo Shrine front and interiors, Wall of History, Barrack, Arcade, Garden, Fountain, and Gift Shop.

We moved on to Austin where we explored the city streets, the impressive State Capitol Building and a large park. We were hoping to attend a taping of the Austin City Limits show but it wasn't in production during the summer months.
One of our main reasons to visit Dallas was to walk around the site of the Kennedy Assassination: the JFK Museum at the book depository, Dealy Plaza and the Grassy Knoll. I even stood on the X in the middle of the street that marked the spot where the Oswald's bullet hit the President. 
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Before leaving the city we toured the George W. Bush Library.

TO BE CONTINUED . . . MUCH MORE

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Bill and Sue-On Hillman Eclectic Studio
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