Don’t You Dare Miss It

Great places to visit, things to see and events to attend and be a part of – as Americans, we should be proud of the great diversity. Music. Food. Celebration. Parties. You could never see all of them but here’s a list of place-particular (and mostly annual) events I think you might want to put on your list before they’re sold to the highest corporate bidder or completely gone.

10. SXSW – Austin, Texas

People who’ve been going since the very first South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Festival might tell you it’s a shadow of its former self, but this event still brings together music, technology and social thinkers in original and fun ways.

9. Oregon Shakespeare Festival – Ashland, Oregon

What’s the best part of this festival? The plays? The production values? The acting? The naturally beautiful setting? The theater itself? All of the above. The audience is an exciting mix too.

8. College Basketball Final Four – Location varies

A good friend went to a final four years ago and still talks about the insanity of an arena filled with high-volume and high-energy bands, fans squeezed into replica team jerseys, plastic pig-heads and other totems of the teams playing.

7. Taste of Chicago – Chicago 

Chicago is an uncommonly beautiful city, especially during summer. Everyone who can is outside for as often and as long as they can be. Imagine a gorgeous lakeside park literally filled with the city’s best food and bands ranging from native blues to nasty hip hop.

6. Fleet Week – New York and San Francisco

I find it hard to completely describe the feelings Fleet Week stirs in me. My grandfather and father both went to sea, following a long family tradition, and I do feel somewhat at home on the water. The sailors who visit port during fleet week are young, smart, engaged and knowledgable – a delight to meet, and a source of pride for our country. The vessels themselves are of singular scale, gliding grey behemoths. And then, there are the insane flyovers by the Blue Angels.

5. Pride Parade – San Francisco

This parade stirs pride of a different sort. Since its wild Gold Rush days, San Francisco has  tended to make people of all stripes feel welcome. As a result, the city has always attracted people who have felt less than accepted, appreciated or loved elsewhere. “Come here,” San Francisco says, “and be yourself, completely. We’ll celebrate that together.”

4. Mummers Parade – Philadelphia 

Philadelphia may be known for a sort of button-down personality, but this is anything but. Insane, is what it is. Troops of men, painted in silver, clothed in wild color, carrying banjos, playing old tunes like “Golden Slippers,” marching down ice-cold winter streets of downtown.

3. Presidential Inauguration – Washington, DC

The particular identity of the person being inaugurated doesn’t matter. The party doesn’t matter. A million citizens come to the mall in our capital every four years to bear witness to the orderly transfer of power, one citizen to another, the result of an open, fair and free election, without force or coercion.

2. Mardi Gras – New Orleans

Famous and infamous. Superb music, insanely inventive floats, free-flowing drinks, a city full of people who just want to have an amazing time. What is there left to say about this month-long party in America’s party, music and booze capital? Laissez les bontemps roulez (let the good times roll, for non-francophones).

1. 4th of July – Boston 

The Pops come out to bring the enormous outdoor crowd to a frenzy of patriotism, even before the real fireworks begin. There are July 4th celebrations everywhere, but Boston gets it. Wicked.

What Is Love, Anyway?

It’s a question as old as human beings – what is love? Something that gives us strength? Something that lasts, that brings out the best in us? An obsession? Warmth? Companionship? Pain?

Answers here, some more unusual than others, in song.

Howard Jones, What is Love? (1983)

David Bowie, Heroes (1977)

Willie Nelson, Always on My Mind (1982)

Mink DeVille, Mixed Up Shook Up Girl (1977)

Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love (1988)

Chris Isaak, Wicked Game (1989)

Bonnie Raitt, Love Has No Pride (1976)

Rickie Lee Jones, We Belong Together (1981)

Billy Joel, You’re My Home (1973)

Tower of Power, So Very Hard to Go (1972)

Places I Love: Lisbon

It was only a bit of professional happenstance that brought me to Lisbon; the city was never on my list of travel must-sees. Yet, when I arrived, I somehow felt at home from the very first. Lisbon is a city of unique homes clinging to several hilly neighborhoods. The climate was mild and foggy and the city smelled of the many Australian eucalyptus trees planted long ago by Portuguese sailors returning from the South Pacific, just like my San Francisco.

I loved the trams that run on Lisbon’s streets, then turn into funiculars to climb its many hills.

Like Paris, Lisbon has several fresh markets for flowers, produce, housewares and, most importantly for this city with an historic connection to seafood, fish. Here, the Mercado Da Ribeira.

Connecting two very hilly neighborhoods is the Santa Justa, a real machine-age elevator and bridge. Yeah, it is as vertigo-inducing as it looks. This will give you a feel for the ride.

I live in one of the world’s great food cities and I’m not easily impressed but Lisbon’s food blew me away. The fish was fresh, varied, plentiful and prepared simply. Pick your fish and it’s pulled live from a tank, killed, cleaned, salted and grilled. Small side dishes include fresh beans, green vegetables, cured meats. Cod is served in hundreds of ways. All the wines were amazing, not just the port.

Lisbon is a city with a deep, and sometimes deeply sad soul. There is a music here, brought initially from Africa, called Fado (“fate” in Portuguese). The lyrics are sad, brooding, as fatalistic as its name would suggest; listening to Fado can take your breath away. Artists play in clubs and bars, at festivals and on the streets everywhere. A modern example.

I don’t know when or if I’ll be back but I think of Lisbon fondly, and often.

The World’s Funniest Men, Alive

12. Alec Baldwin – The day after he goes violently and publicly insane (which will happen, mark my words), people will be on TV saying how surprised they are because, “He looked like such a nice man.” Don’t believe it; this handsomely normal looking man from 30 Rock is evil incarnate.

11. Ty Burrell – The first time I saw Burrell, he shot his daughter’s date in the neck with a BB gun, then got himself caught in a lie after crawling into the bedroom of a busty neighborhood divorcee. Then there was the time with the fake mustache and porta-potty. Ty is definitely in the hizzle.

10. Jason SudeikisSaturday Night Live has had more than its share of funny people; with his rubber face, amazing range of recurring characters, and writing chops, Sudeikis stands among the best ever. His uncle is George Wendt, Norm from the TV series Cheers. ‘Nuff said; talent is hereditary.

9. Maz Jobrani – Brilliant, fast, Berkeley-educated, politically aware, cross-cultural, eagle-eyed observer of human behavior. Here, Jobrani discusses the true nature of the Iranian people. See, the Axis of Evil can be funny too.

8. Will Ferrell – Few actors have demonstrated the comedic range of Ferrell, from Elf to Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby to madly funny characterizations of George W. Bush.

7. Jerry Seinfeld – Innocent-looking Seinfeld is nothing less than a revolutionary. His eponymous show about self-involved people without any redeeming characteristics radically changed what TV audiences see, laugh at, and love. His film, Comedian shows how hard it is to be funny.

6. Dave Chappelle – “I’m Rick James, bitch.” Chappelle conceived, wrote, created and starred in a groundbreaking TV show that presented a fearless array of observations and characters. His standup routines are renowned free-form epics.

5. Fred Armisen – Impersonation of Barack Obama? Nails it. Billy Smith’s bizarre joke-telling? Hilarious. The “singing” of Garth and Kat? Brilliantly twisted. But Armisen’s true range may be on its best display in Portlandia.

4. Steve Carell – Like comedy giant Bob Newhart, Carell looks like any accountant you might see on the morning train downtown. But inside, there’s a big screw loose and you can sense it. This guy can explode, and often in hilarious and unexpected ways. His scenes with Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement in Dinner for Schmucks are pure genius.

3. Ricky Gervais – Among the world’s most courageous comedians. Will look like an idiot. Will offend. Will appear sadistic. Will seemingly do anything for a laugh. Said to a predominantly American audience at an awards show: “I’m from a little place called England; we used to run the world before you.” All the other people speaking on the stage that night gave their self-serving insipid little speeches, then he came up and blew the doors off the place. His version of The Office was such a brutally honest critique of modern business, you sometimes had to turn away.

2. Jon Stewart – It’s inherently funny that his pretend comedy newscast is independently rated America’s most trusted source for news, seriously. In the ancient tradition of political satirists, Stewart creates the opportunity for us to look at the absurdity of our lives by making fun of the powerful and their bald stupidity. Here, of course, is his secret: he’s blindingly smart and he reads everything. Also, he’s not cowed by the real powerful people he talks about and hosts on his show. He asks what our real journalists ought to be asking but are too afraid to.

1. Newt Gingrich – Let me get this straight: Newt brought his first wife divorce papers in the hospital while she fought cancer. He started having an affair with his third wife while married to his second wife, who was then fighting MS. He led the fight to impeach President Bill Clinton for lying about an affair with a White House aide while Newt himself, then Speaker of the House, was having an affair with a Congressional aide.  Then, seemingly impervious to the sweet irony, criticized a debate moderator as “close to despicable,” for asking about any of this. Do I have that about right, Newt? Now, that’s funny.

The World’s Funniest Women

10. Mindy Kaling – Ivy educated, versatile, completely plugged in (@mindykaling), and whip-smart. And smart is funny.

9. Frances McDormand – Probably known more for dramatic roles but ever her dramatic roles are rooted in real humor. Her character in Fargo? Hysterical. The film version of Madeline? Don’t get me started.

8. Jamie Lee Curtis – Honest. Seemingly no ego. Human. Funny as hell. It could be in the genes.

7. Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Get OUT! The classic girlfriend response from Seinfeld. Holds her own with the best of them. Goofy facial expressions light it up.

6. Catherine O’Hara – Purposeful yet effortless cluelessness. Would be in the Top 10 for Mighty Wind alone.

5. Sarah Silverman – Pretty girlishness meets an insanely foul-mouth. Although many people can take her the wrong way (is there a right way to take her?) and be offended, that’s really the point of her humor. Sarah Silverman is fearless.

4. Tina Fey – A gifted writer, producer and performer. Gifted in the sense that she keeps a million independent balls in the air simultaneously, and for comic effect. Not only couldn’t you keep them up, you wouldn’t even have thought of juggling those balls together in the first place. Brilliant.

3. Kristen Wiig – Who ARE you, Kristen Wiig? Just who the hell ARE you?

2. Betty White – Looks, talks and acts like my mom (really, it’s sometimes disorienting and frightening). Has been one of America’s funniest women for over four decades (think Mary Tyler Moore Show, Golden Girls). Packs serious heat.

1. Jan Brewer – Being funny is seemingly unintentional on her part, but still, credit where it’s due.