Friday, December 31, 2010

Striking Out in Erwin, NC

Every time I see a bowling alley, I get a little nostalgic. Not because I can say I owned my own bowling ball and shoes. (I did) Or that I took bowling as one of my PE requirements in college. (an easy A) But more about a particular holiday season many moons ago in Augusta, GA.

One year for Christmas, the company I was working for gave its employees the choice of a frozen turkey, ham or a folding golf chair as our Christmas bonus. Most of us being single, and used to cooking our meals in a microwave, opted for the chair. 

But some chose the turkey. These were obviously the very few of us that actually possessed real culinary skills.

And what better way to spend the holidays than with friends and little frozen turkey bowling?

In the spirit of the holiday season, and to take advantage of our recently acquired frozen butterballs, we held a very festive holiday party, complete with friendly games of frozen turkey bowling.

A couple of my coworkers had the perfect apartment to host our league. They had a long hallway with hardwood floors that ran the length of their apartment. Someone bought a plastic bowling set from the toy store and we were in business.

We didn’t have the conveniences of modern bowling lanes: computerized scoring, automatic ball return or mechanical pin resets. As could be expected, the bowlers were usually at the mercy of the folks at the other end of the hall to act as the turkey return/pin setters.

There was definitely a little bit of a competitive spirit in the air that night. But like bowling alleys, it’s not just about the sport. It’s also about the camaraderie. 

As for me, I left my bowling shoes at home.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hitchhiker's Travel Guide to the North Carolina Galaxy

This time of year brings a level of excitement and anticipation that knows no bounds. 

But I’m not talking about the excitement that surrounds the jolly old fat man that makes his rounds on Christmas Eve. I’m talking about the North Carolina Travel Guide.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on the travel guide for the past few years and always can’t wait until it’s finally unveiled. With a photo deadline around July, it’s about five or six long months before I can see my work in print. That’s five or six excruciatingly long months.

When you consider that most of our magazines have at most a three month turn around time from when the photographs are taken to when they show up in the magazine, that’s a long time. If you think about it, that’s almost three years in dog years.

But, it’s always worth the wait.

Check it out here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

S' Wanderful

It’s funny how little you know about a place even though you’ve been there numerous times.

Having been to Sumter, SC, on many occasions for work, I’ve passed under the footbridge on Liberty Street but never taken a gander at what lay beyond the fences.

To my surprise, behind the tall black fences lays a 120-acre garden, the Swan Lake-Iris Gardens, that contains all manners of flora, from camellias, to day lilies, to azaleas. But the most prized of them all, are the Japanese iris.

Swan Lake was never meant to become an iris garden and has been called by Southern Living Magazine a “lovely mistake.”

Hamilton Carr Bland first tried planting Japanese iris at his home in the 1920’s. After several unsuccessful attempts at getting them to bloom, Bland had the iris bulbs dug up and dumped into some swamp land.

The following spring to Bland’s surprise, the bulbs burst from the ground into what would become the Swan Lake-Iris Gardens.

But if the flora doesn’t impress you, the fauna definitely will.

Swan Lake is home to all eight species of swans from five continents. The first swans, Australian Black Swans, arrived in the 1920’s and the collection became complete with the addition of Bewick Swans in 1977.

The collection includes Royal Mutes Swans, Black Necked Swans, Coscoroba Swans, Whooper Swans, Trumpeter Swans, Black Australian Swans, Whistler Swans and Bewick Swans.

The birds and their waterfowl brethren are amazing to see. 

Over the course of several days, I visited the lake at different times, gathering video and pictures of these beautiful creatures. And I’m convinced that swans only do two things: eat and groom themselves.

(If they’re not doing those two things, it’s because they’re in transition from one to the other.)

They’re magnificent to watch as their heads and necks disappear under the water to feed on the vegetation at the bottom of the lake. Their bodies floating on the surface like a fishing bobber, mooning awestruck visitors. As they surface, water droplets dripping from the bills glisten in the late afternoon sunlight.

I think half my pictures and the majority of the video I shot in Sumter comes Swan Lake.

My only wish is that I would have found what lay on either side of that footbridge sooner.

For Swan Lake-Iris Gardens, truly is S’ Marvelous.

God Save the Queen (City)!

The epicenter of the Queen City lies at the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets. Standing at the four corners of the intersection are four sculptures created by Raymond Kaskey. Each one is a monument to what has made the city what it is. They stand for Future (features a woman hoisting a baby into the air), Transportation (features a very muscular railroad working holding a large hammer), Commerce (features a miner and a banker) and Industry (features a female mill worker, reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter, with a bonnet on her head.)

Charlotte has a lot to be proud of. It’s the largest city in North Carolina and the 18th largest city in the country. It’s also the 2nd largest banking city and home to Wachovia (which is now part of Wells Fargo) and Bank of America, second in size only to New York City.

But you have to be careful taking pictures outside one of these institutions or any other corporate headquarters located along Trade or Tryon. Security guards are everywhere and discourage picture taking, even from public places like sidewalks. Which is sad, because there are so many beautiful buildings with awesome architecture in downtown Charlotte. And it seems more are being added everyday.

Here’s an interesting tidbit, Bank of America actually started out as the Bank of Italy in 1904 in San Francisco, CA. 

Even our banks are melting pots.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Faster Than a Falling Acorn

The lab technician hovers over the young forest like a a mother bird stands over a nest of hatchlings, using a pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass to arrange the tiny seedlings on a petri dish.

In 2000, four companies came together to form ArborGen. US Companies Westvaco Corporation and International Paper and New Zealand companies Fletcher Challenge  and Genesis Research and Development pooled their years of research and expertise to develop a new breed of trees.

ArborGen in Summerville, SC, uses breeding and biotechnology to create what the company calls “SuperTree Seedlings.” A name that sounds like a lesser-known member of the Justice League, complete with it’s own set of super powers. The company’s goal is to produce trees that grow faster and produce more quality wood per acre, while being resistant to disease and cold.

Today, the company produces over 250 million seedlings a year, including four types of pine trees and numerous hardwoods including Eucalyptus, Oak and Black Walnut.

In a time when sustainability has become a household name, ArborGen is hoping their products will help meet the ever increasing global demand for renewable resources.

Sounds like a job for SuperTree.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One Scoop or Two, the Rent is Due

In a perfect world, more people would own rental property if the rent was paid in ice cream. And ads for personal injury lawyers would be replaced by ads for personal trainers. Life would be grand.

Now throw in an 18th floor view of downtown Charlotte and you have one of the prime rental properties in the city. Of course, the thousands of roommates you’d have to share it with might be a deal-breaker. And you just know a few of them aren’t going to clean up after themselves.

But such is life for the bees living on the rooftop of the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Charlotte. 

The hotel is the first LEED Gold certified Ritz-Carlton. They unveiled their green roof on the eve of Earth Day in 2010. It features a roof covered in sedum, a species of plants that is more desirable for rooftop covering than grass. The roof also has a few planters with vegetables, herbs and decorative flowers. But we can’t forget the roof’s centerpiece: the two beehives.

The bees’ rent for this week went to ice cream. The honey they provide also goes to flavoring other delectables when supplies and tastes permit.

For the bees, there won’t be a problem when their lease comes up for renewal because they’ve got to be great tenants. Besides, I seriously doubt the landlord’s going to kick them to the curb if their rent is late.