My friend Claudia, Aruba

Claudia has to be one of the most popular people on Palm Beach, Aruba. Her warm smile and engaging personality welcome friends and strangers alike. She used to tend bar at the Kibrihacha Bar, but has since moved over to The Beach Bar, near the Playa Linda. Here’s a photo of Claudia and I together.

The famous Claudia on the left.

I’ve known Claudia for quite a few years now. She puts up with my poorly spoken Spanish and teaches me the correct way to say things. She also makes a fine drink. So, if you’re on Palm Beach during your visit to Aruba, stop by and say hello. Bon dia.

Popi’s Restaurant, Philadelphia

In South Philadelphia, not far from the sports stadiums, you’ll find Popi’s Restaurant. This is a neighborhood place with lots of regulars, entertainment on weekends, and some very good food.

I’ve been going to Popi’s for years now, sometimes stopping in for a drink at the bar, other times having an expansive meal with friends. Either way, you’ll find yourself in a friendly environment, hosted by people who truly care about your experience.

Last night, my wife and I were there with a dear friend, the three of us at a corner table, relaxing, catching up, and generally having a great time. After a trio of salads we moved on to the entrees. Our friend ordered the chicken marsala, which is pictured below:

My wife likes Popi’s crab cakes and ordered them as her entree, as can be seen here:

I’m a simple guy and last night was looking for hearty food. Thus, I decided to go with rigatoni bolognese, an old standby.

Add a few glasses of wine, lots of conversation, a great waiter, and it all comes to a fine evening out. Popi’s is the kind of place you think of when you want a quality italian meal in a setting where you feel like you belong. The staff is on point, the hostess keeping an eye out, and everyone else in the place is enjoying themselves. That feeling is contagious, which is why I keep coming back to this place. Sometimes my wife and I will stop in just for dessert and a drink at the bar.

If you’re in the Philadelphia area, or not, give Popi’s a try. After all these years, they’ve never let me down.

Iguana Harry, Aruba

Harry the Iguana lives at the Paradera Park Apartments, located as you would expect in the Paradera neighborhood on the island of Aruba. Debby de Weerd, the manager at PPA took this photo of him.

pict0126Brilliant photograph of Harry, eh? There are tons of Iguanas on this island, most of them not very large. However, from time to time, you come across one that is three feet long. Just one of the many types of wildlife, like those owls I posted about a while ago, that can be found here.

More important, if you’re looking for a different place to stay for your island retreat, give the Paradera Park Apartments a try. They are located inland, away from the crowds of the high-rise area. Yet, the beaches, restaurants, and sights are only a short drive away. The rates are more reasonable, which allows for a longer stay on the same budget. Furthermore, you’ll meet interesting people who like to get off the beaten path, explore, and experience a culture from the inside out. This year, I had the good fortune of meeting Judith, who introduced me to her friend Will, and so on and so on and so on. This is an aspect of Aruba that makes it the cross-cultural mecca that it is, thanks to places like the Paradera Park Apartments.

So, if you see Harry, say, “Bon dia,” and if you’d like check out the Paradera Park Apartments, give this link a try: http://www.paraderapark-aruba.com/. It’s a good place to start your travel planning.

Bon dia from Aruba.

The Central Lunch

One of the places I remember visiting with my grandfather (the one who worked for Coca-Cola) was the Central Lunch. This little restaurant is located in Weissport, Pennsylvania, USA. In the photo below, you can see the place has recently been painted.

It sits beside the railroad tracks, serving quick meals to whoever happens to pass by. Originally there was a set of double tracks here. The line belonged to the New Jersey Central. On the other side of the building, out of view, is what remains of the Lehigh Canal. Both the canal and the railroad were instrumental in transporting anthracite coal which originated just north of this spot to Philadelphia, New York, and beyond. In those days there was also a fast steam train known as the Black Diamond that ran from Mauch Chunk (now called Jim Thrope, PA) to New York City. It provided regular service for the mine owners to meet the financiers of Wall Street.

In my short story titled Big Iron Holiday, two friends used to race each other along the tow path of the canal. The winner had to buy the other a slice of pie at the Central Lunch. Well, in the story, they are now adults, and the year is 1918. Ellsworth (“E.L.”) Botcher works for the railroad as the superintendent of a wreck crew. His pal Edward (Ned) Fry joined up with some other Americans to become a pilot during the First World War. As the story opens, it is Christmas Eve, the war is over, and Ellsworth is returning from a job with his crew. As they approach the Lehigh Water Gap he spots an airplane. Sure enough, it is Ned Fry, always a crafty character. And so, it is the iron horse versus the flying machine as they race yet again to the Central Lunch, just ten miles up the tracks, on the evening before Christmas.

I’ll have to figure out how to post longer entries like Big Iron Holiday. Then I’ll put it up for all to read. Ultimately, I’d like to turn this story into a book about these two men. Something like… Ellsworth climbs through the ranks of the railroad. Ned ends up flying airplanes for Hollywood and performing other crazy stunts. Ellsworth deals with the tragedy of train wrecks and boiler explosions, witnessing the death of a young protege that leaves him bitter but determined to press on as America becomes an industrial giant. Ned suffers his own losses as the movie business uses his talent but denies him stardom. The novel would culminate in World War II, D-Day, when both of them are much older men. Ellsworth, now a powerful railroader, helps organize logistics for Eisenhower. Ned begs him to use his influence to get him a spot in a fighter squadron. But they’re both too old, and too valuable, to be placed in such danger. They have to face the reality that their days of glory are behind them and that younger men are not only capable, but willing, to do the hard and bloody work of defending a nation.

All this from a stop at the Central Lunch. You never know where a good story will pop up.