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People, Places, Stuff

Little Las Vegas

A strange, but wonderful coincidence took me to little Las Vegas, NM, last summer.

I'd stayed at and loved the historic Posada Hotel in Winslow, AZ. I even covered it for the LA Times.

When I heard that Allan Affeldt had bought two more historic hotels in LV, I visited and did a story.

Along the way I fell in love with funky LV, its singular history, location right on the border between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Great Plains, and its vintage American architecture.

I got a one-year posting to teach English at LV's New Mexico Highlands University and moved into a Sears catalogue house nearby.

Students from my Travel Writing class created an Insider's Guide to Las Vegas website. Check it out.


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A Tale of Two Swimming Pools

Among the many blandishments of Santa Barbara are two remarkable beachfront swimming pools that book-end the town’s long, lush stretch of Pacific Coast. One, the Coral Casino on East Beach, is the very private province of the California Riviera rich and elite; the other, Los Banos del Mar on West Beach, has been a glorious public facility, operated by the city, since it opened in 1937.
In town recently--and as constant about swimming as about travel--I went looking for a place to do laps. I stopped first at the Coral Casino just across Channel Drive from the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel, a Spanish Colonial beauty shaded by tall Monterey cypresses that opened in 1927. Marked by a graceful white Art Deco tower, the 51-meter pool--famously one meter longer than Olympic size--became a haunt for movie stars like Lana Turner and Clark Gable when it was added to the hotel in the mid 1930’s. It overlooks Bonnymede Shores where surfers challenge roiling breakers and chat up pretty co-eds at work on their tans between classes at UC Santa Barbara.
By the front door I looked yearningly at the pool’s glistening water, wide lap lanes, Jacuzzi and cabanas where waiters were delivering drinks. But you have to be a hotel guest or club member to enter and the front desk clerk wouldn’t even let me take a picture. I stopped a nice lady with plenty of jewelry on her way in who told me she paid big bucks for membership although she didn’t even swim.
Then, leaving behind the land of BMW’s, I drove along the waterfront to West Beach where I found Los Banos del Mar near the harbor at the foot of Castillo Street. Honestly, it’s almost as gorgeous as the Coral Casino and arguably more historic. The first swimming facility on the site opened 1901 with segregated steam-heated pools for men and women.
Now there‘s one big 50-meter pool with 7 lap lanes, heated to 80 degrees and open year round. The young woman at the front desk said I could do laps there for $5 and invited me to stay on for an afternoon pool party. The women’s locker room was immaculate, the pool deck surrounded by tall palms with an adjacent weight room for the most dedicated members of the Santa Barbara Swim Club, which makes Los Banos del Mar its home.
I dove right in. The water was delightful and the lanes so long that there’s never a traffic problem. Aquatic bliss for populists, grace à the bountiful and charming city of Santa Barbara. Read More 
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Indian-Americans Moving Up in the Hotel Industry

In India: A Portrait, a new book by Patrick French, I found this curious travel tidbit: A potel is a motel run by someone from the Gujarati community of Patels; Indians now control around half of all U.S. lodging properties, and the officers of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association are Hemant D. “Henry” Patel, Tarun S. Patel, Chandrakant I. “C.K.” Patel, Ashwin “Ash” Patel, Alkesh R. “Al” Patel and Fred Schwartz.

Fascinated, I did a little more research and discovered that there are 3 million Indian-Americans, 50,000 of them called Patel. The name is especially common in the Indian state of Gujarat, originally meaning village headman. But how did Patel come to be synonymous with hotel ownership in America?

Chandinand Rajghatti, a writer-editor for The Times of India, told the story in one of his Indiaspora columns from 2004. The trend took shape in the early 1970’s when dictator Idi Amin expelled some 70,000 people of Indian background in an effort to make Uganda homogenously black African. Many of the refugees landed in England and the U.S. where they entered the lodging industry at the lowest level, as in Mississippi Masala, a 1992 film about a forbidden love affair between a black carpet-cleaner (played by Denzel Washington) and the daughter of an Indian immigrant from Uganda (Sarita Choudhury) who works in the housekeeping staff in a small motel.

From there an article in USA Today picked up the story. Gujaratis have long had a reputation for hospitality, making them naturals for the hotel industry. A willingness to live on the premises and do the hard, menial work of motel-keeping instead of paying staff, made them prosper especially in limited-service, budget accommodations. Gradually, though, Patels moved up, buying into major hotel chains like Marriott and Sheraton. For instance, Philadelphia-based Hersha Hospitality Trust, begun in 1984 with a single motel, now has 78 properties--including Hiltons, Hyatts and Wyndhams--accounting for over 10,000 rooms.

The high-tech savvy of Indian-Americans is well know; in iIndia: A Portrait author French notes that they are responsible for one in every 6 Silicon Valley start-ups. But their domination of the hospitality industry came as good news to me in these hard-pressed times, with the gap between the rich and the poor looking ever more uncross-able. Talk about a good old American success story. Read More 
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