The Sheriff of Nottingham in the USA – Part Ten – Seattle

I thought today was going to be a write off. The flight up to Seattle should have been a short one at only 1 hour 25, but when it gets delayed an hour and you’re on a tight schedule anyway, its going to be hard to catch it up. But as Seattle was one of our really strong learning cities, as soon as we arrived at the hotel we got straight out again. From the time we checked in, to the time we left, took seven minutes. This was because we are staying next door to the Frank Gehry designed Experience Music Project and we had to see it in close up.

The light reflecting of the EMP building was breathtaking
The light reflecting of the EMP building was breathtaking

But jumping back a stage. What is Seattle famous for?

On the plane we had a little straw poll and between us came up with the following:

Microsoft, Boeing, Frasier, Amazon, Sleepless in Seattle, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Starbucks and the Space Needle.

The Space Needle
The Space Needle

We later discovered that it also is world(ish) renowned for being the home of WordPress (my blogging partner of choice), being a HUGE container port and a home to many cruise ships. Oh, and also the home of Laughs Comedy Club (even though this is technically in Kirkland).

To have names like this, which are ALL world class, must make it easier for any city to make big bold statements like the EMP, as it just breeds successful benefactors, which in turn breeds success. I was struck by how green the place is as we flew in on the bumpiest flight I have ever been close to throwing up on. Being close to the Canadian border shows. There are a lot of trees up here.

First impressions are that it is fantastic. My favourite city so far, and with a more European, cosmopolitan, cleaner, more organised feel than LA or San Francisco. I may be proved wrong on this tomorrow.

But on the plane, I also discovered that Seattle should be famous for Seattle’s Best Coffee. A smaller coffee chain than Seattle’s most famous, who sell through high street stores and who also provided the coffee on our flight. To get this contract must be amazing, but to get this contract in the home of Starbucks must be a cause for a major party. Shame the coffee tasted like dirty brown water – probably more to do with airplane service than their true coffee. We did see one later in Downtown Seattle, and because it was so awful on the plane, I can’t say I was tempted to rush in and get an emergency caffeine shot from them.

Seattle's best coffee is a pretty bold claim, especially when it tastes like brown dishwater
Seattle's best coffee is a pretty bold claim, especially when it tastes like brown dishwater

So anyway, back to the Experience Music Project (or as I incorrectly called it, the Rock N Roll Museum). This is a Frank Gehry designed building that sits just underneath the Sky needle and is one of the most striking buildings you will ever see. To some it’s a monstrosity, to others it’s a work of art. To me it’s an amazing landmark that people want to be photographed with. I have used the term iconic for a number of things we have seen, but in a city were it sits underneath one of the most recognisable structures in the world, it stands out as being truly one on its own. The setting sunlight reflecting of its shiny surfaces, was something that it will be hard to erase from your memory. I want to be photographed by it. It’s that good. I wasn’t though as I forgot to ask someone to do it. I’ll try and remember tomorrow.

So, did the inside live up to the huge promise of the outside?

If you are a muso, then yes. It had all the experiential opportunities that you could ever want. From creating your own CD, by working your way through the sound lab, to the odd synthesiser machines that you can play around with at will. It’s what the Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield should have been.

For me, it was slightly sterile. I was more interested in the structure than the content. Maybe its because I didn’t do the audio tour, but I don’t find a 100 metre run of different album covers that engaging – however coolly designed and 50’s space inspired they are.

The Space Babes Album cover display of 50's pop art
The Space Babes Album cover display of 50's pop art

Again, a demonstration of this is that I bought books about how the place was built, rather than souvenirs from the place. The architecture is so striking, it is in danger of overshadowing the whole deal. But it is cool though.

Next it was off in the Seattle Monorail. This is a High Tech looking that runs in through the side of the EMP. The obvious assumption to make is that they were built together. But they weren’t. the monorail came first by a good 40 years, having been completed in 1962, in order to transport visitors to Seattle’s World Fair.

The Monorail running into the EMP
The Monorail running into the EMP

Again, its remarkable value at only $2, but the ride is quite short – oh, and bumpy – this is not a super smooth Mag Lev device.

Seattle Monorail, built in the 60's for Seattle's World Fair
Seattle Monorail, built in the 60's for Seattle's World Fair

We ate in the City and as it was now deep into Saturday night, headed off over to Kirkland to the Laughs Comedy Club to see the remarkable Emo Philips. If you can’t place the name, have a look at some of his work here.

He is described by many as one of the best joke writers ever, and having watched him, I now have to agree.

The Sheriff at Laughs - but still looking a bit scary
The Sheriff at Laughs - but still looking a bit scary

Brilliant, simply brilliant. And he was brilliant off stage too, being delighted to sit down and talk ad have his photo taken with anyone who was interested in this tiny, intimate venue.

My new best friend Emo Philips
My new best friend Emo Philips

Before we came away, I said that it was going to be like seeing the USA in fast forward. There is no doubt this is right. It’s like a supersize visit in fast forward. Exhausting, exciting, challenging and brilliant all in one go.

There’s more to see in the morning. The Space Needle and then the Sci Fi Museum and then Boston in the afternoon. Three hour change in time zone and a five hour flight for a chance to catch up with some sleep.

The Sheriff of Nottingham in the USA – Part Nine – San Francisco to Seattle

A cold wet English summer’s day. It’s raining and we’re off to Seattle after breakfast.

I guess we’ll have all the usual grace and charm of the US airport staff and then when we land, its straight into the Rock and Roll Museum.

A Frank Gehry designed (he of Guggenheim Bilbao fame) building and a museum that draws totally divided opinions. From it being an architect’s public showing off (that’s the polite description) with no substance to the exhibition itself, to it being truly world class.

It’ll be good to see in order to judge for ourselves what world class means in terms of iconic buildings and understand the scale and budget of what they have delivered.

As usual, a fuller update with pictures later.

The Sheriff of Nottingham in USA – Part eight – San Francisco

We worked out a schedule, I blogged that schedule and we hit that schedule. It’s a first and a wonderful first at that.

Today was a day of Iconography and infamy. Our first call saw me change my name to Cristol. A surprise to me, but my accent is clearly so hard to understand that when I gave my name to the lady behind the breakfast counter, she translated John to Cristol. As well as free name changes, the breakfast cafe were experts in sourdough sculpture as you can see from these assorted Alligators and crabs.

Our breakfast destination was a place that did sourdough and liked to make it into funny shapes
Our breakfast destination was a place that did sourdough and liked to make it into funny shapes

We headed for the Golden Gate Bridge with a huge sea mist rolling in under its spans. Its not golden, so I really don’t know why its called that, but it is enormously popular. In the time we were there, there had to be 200+ people walking the bridge and nearly as many cyclists. This was on a day when you literally couldn’t see the bridge apart from a few brief glimpses through the mist.

The Golden Gate Bridge, peeping through the mist
The Golden Gate Bridge, peeping through the mist

Designed by Irving Morrow, it has a central span of 1280m, and a height from the top of the tower to the water of 230m. That is seriously huge. the cables to hold it up are as big as a sewage pipe.

If you're gonna use a cable to hold up the Golden Gate Bridge, use a big one
If you’re gonna use a cable to hold up the Golden Gate Bridge, use a big one

Built between 1933 and 1937, it links Marin County to San Francisco. The water underneath is very cold apparently and the temperature differential causes the now trademark fog, which is as common as the bad roads in the region. This freezing Pacific water is also the reason that Alcatraz is so hard to escape from. Freezing cold, combined with visibly strong currents gives it a menacing grace.

The sheriff of Nottingham under one of the huge Golden Gate towers
The sheriff of Nottingham under one of the huge Golden Gate towers

How have they commercialised it? Well, they haven’t really. No charge to walk over it, a tiny gift shop and an even tinier café. Bt even a taxi rank from which they can make money. I guess they appreciate that people come to the city for the view and enjoy all the rest if what it has to offer whilst they’re here.

So what do we learn from this? Well iconic works. Why would that many people come to see and walk on a bridge that is just that – a bridge. Because it is beautiful spectacular and on view from almost every part of the city. It also has a team of 38 painters who work full time, just trying to keep the old girl looking at her best. We spoke to one of them, Michael who chatted to us in his break, whilst the bridge creaked, groaned and swayed in the strong wind.

Michael - One of 38 Golden Gate Bridge painters
Michael – One of 38 Golden Gate Bridge painters

We have written in numerous presentations about how much our city needs something iconic. A Swiss Re a Pompidou or a Golden Gate. Again, something world class, that draws people for the sake of it. To see it to walk across it, to walk underneath it and to be photographed with it for them to add it to their little list of tick box ‘must see’s’.

Global warming also isn’t an issue in San Francisco as everywhere you go, if they want to draw you in, they have burning patio heaters, or in this case a huge open air (and totally pointless) heater.

Global warming isn't an issue in San Francisco
Global warming isn’t an issue in San Francisco

It’s also incredibly touristy in places. Looking along the road of the hotel we are staying at shows why. There are massive cruise ships stopping at the end of the road, unloading loads upon loads of twinset ridden tourist types.

A massive cruise ship at the end of our road
A massive cruise ship at the end of our road

We had booked a trip across to Alcatraz Island. A state controlled ‘attraction’ that draws 1.3m visitors per year. For $26 you get as long on the island as you want (although last ferry home is 6.15pm and don’t be late. You get an audio tour, all sorts of other escape and famous convict tours and absolutely no food and drink. None. Not even a token bag of crisps. It’s not as though you can do a runner with it. I can only imagine this is a covenant thing that they’re not allowed to sell food. They have a captive audience that are spending 3-4 hours on an island and they have no food. Derrrrr. If you sold them food, by UK averages, you’d make an extra $7m a year.

Alcatraz, infamy and iconography all rolled into one enormous visitor attraction
Alcatraz, infamy and iconography all rolled into one enormous visitor attraction

The shop is pretty profitable, as it takes between $20-30k per day. That’s a good $7-10m per year. Add that to the $30m or so they are getting from the visitors fees and you have a very big business.

One of the nice things they did in the retail outlet was sell exclusive merchandise. Almost every shop in SF sells Alcatraz stuff, but most of what you can buy there, you can only buy there. Clever way to make more from a (hungry and bloody thirsty) captive and captivated audience. When I wrote about the Alcatraz brand a few months ago here, I had no idea that I would experience it myself so soon, but now I have.

The full force of the Alcatraz brand is used in all of the merchandise
The full force of the Alcatraz brand is used in all of the merchandise

One of the crap things they did however was try to sell you a terrible photo of yourself posing against a backdrop’ of the island. Not even a shot in the real cells, but against an awfully printed backdrop. They printed the film and then tried to get you but two 7×5 prints for $22. I hung about, but I didn’t see anyone buying any. Perhaps a lesser price or a bigger single print, or maybe even digital technology to avoid them having to print, may enhance what they do quite badly.

The Island itself is very engaging. An excellent 45 minute audio tour takes you on a personal and slightly isolated (as you wear headphones throughout) wander around the prison and a tiny part of the grounds. This tour uses the voices (or claimed voices) of four former inmates and four former warders. It uses sound effects to an excellent level and it caught the imagination of all ages from kids to grandparents.

We can’t do our own island in Nottingham, and we can’t do a boat ride in with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but we just have to do an audio tour that catches people’s imagination like this.

We have Robin Hood, ghosts, caves and the story of the city itself. The technology they use is hardly break the bank stuff, but if it’s scripted right, we could manage the timings, the flow and the entire visitor experience for anyone from any country and with any interest.

The Alcatraz Audio Tour is powered by a clever little digital device with great sound quality
The Alcatraz Audio Tour is powered by a clever little digital device with great sound quality

I don’t think that you would see this unless you saw it. This system of capturing and isolating the punter on the way through really works. Its not always comfortable, but we have to learn from this and ensure we use it to our advantage.

And so to Segway. Or City Segway Tours to be precise. Number one on Tripadvisor in San Francisco – and I’m not surprised. It was phenomenal.

All abord the Segway's = the only way to travel
All aboard the Segway’s = the only way to travel

One of our party, Nick Hammond, summed it up by saying ‘it’s not often you get to do something that is totally new to you.’ And that’s it, its totally new. Very few will have ever ridden on a gyro balanced personal transportation device. When we got chatting to Pam, the proprietor, she said that they were ‘going gangbusters’. If this isn’t a huge part of the future of tourism i’d be amazed.

This is Pam, the owner of City Segway Tours SF
This is Pam, the owner of City Segway Tours SF

It was perhaps one of my highlights of the trip because (I am terribly geeky about technology) and I had wanted to have a go on one, since I first saw them on TV in 2002. I assumed it was an April fool or CGI because it looked so freakish, and I can now confirm that it is freakish, but also very easy to learn, master and enjoy.

Our tour, was beautifully managed by Larry, a publisher by day and Segway expert by night. It seems mad that having signed the biggest most wordy CDW, you are then allowed to take their $5k piece of kit on the open roads with ten minutes training and an ill fitting bike helmet – but this is the ludicrous situation of US law.

You can’t do a thing one minute without a lawyer, and you can hang of the side of a cable car and Segway the next. How does this stack up and who would want to pay their insurance? The waiver you sign, agreeing to pay the first $500 of any damage you may do to their kit does rather explain this, but who can blame them, or their insurers?

We rode around the town with Diane and Keren from South Dakota, with the group of us getting catcalls and questions from the walking public. It’s not an outing for a shy person as everyone watches you and children point, laugh and in one case, cry. Perhaps she thought we were alien robots?

At the end of South Beach Pier with Alcatraz as a backdrop for our Segway's
At the end of South Beach Pier with Alcatraz as a backdrop for our Segway’s

Pam described the value of their Tripadvsor placing as being central to what they do. To get to number one is hard, but to stay there is really hard. But there’s a reason they’re number one and that’s because they’re brilliant. Nothing was a problem and you weren’t a berk if you found it tricky.

We have to find a way to bring Segways to Nottingham. The hills in San Francisco are hillier than ours. The traffic lighter. A tour around the castle, the square and the park, is a sure fire winner, so I may be applying for a City Segway franchise as soon as we get home.

Anyway, Seattle tomorrow. Space Needle and the Rock and Roll Museum, that many rate as the best museum in the world. Its another very long day with only breakfast and lunch – due to the supersized standard portions) and another very late night, but San Francisco has been an incredible adventure that Nottingham just has to learn from.

The Sheriff of Nottingham in USA – Part seven

So lets see whether we can get anywhere near a schedule today shall we?

It’s an early start as we have lots to try and fit in, so we’re heading off at 8am, so this has to be brief.

First off is a trip over to meet the team at the Golden Gate. A world class attraction will hopefully have a world class team behind the management of it, so there should be much to learn from them.

This area of San Francisco is so amazingly touristy, it’s a bit like an American Blackpool, with Fishermans Wharf beings its rather nicer Golden Mile (or two).

We’re going over to Alcatraz after that, but it is dependent on being able to get onto a boat, which seem oversubscribed. This may have to wait until Midday.

At 4.30 I WILL do the Segway tour, complete with fetching Gilet and helmet.

And I’ve heard a rumour that there is a baseball game at the At&T stadium up the road, which starts at 10.15 tonight. If its on ad I’m still awake, I’m going!

I’ll report in later

The Sheriff of Nottingham in the USA – Part Six

Today, being a travelling day, was always going to be slightly frustrating and a reliance on the Internet, for opening times and full information made it even more so.

The day started well with a short walk in the blazing LA heat up the road to the Simmon Wiesenthal Center, the home of the Museum of Tolerance.

The simon Wisenthal center, home to the museum of Intolerance - sorry tolerance!
The Simon Wiesenthal center, home to the museum of Intolerance - sorry tolerance!

The first thing you would expect from a place called the Museum of Tolerance is, well, tolerance. Initial impressions were so entirely opposite to this that I found it hard to even enter the exhibition. After an ID check to allow yourself through the doors, you were faced with a pair of extraordinarily stoney faced receptionists, playing the role of sales prevention officers. Nothing to cause us a problem, was too much of a problem to them.

After paying and having to agree that we would stay for their minimum of 1.5 hours, we were subjected to a lecture by the search team. We were told that if we took a picture, our camera would be confiscated and not returned,. The smoker in our group was not just told to get rid of a cigarette lighter, they were made to put it fully in a litter bin outside. No explanation, no information, just surly and unnecessary unhelpfulness. I understand the obvious political sensitivities of such a display, but there is no excuse for this level of unpleasantness at a front desk. compared to the Getty Center, which had a far more wealthy benefactor and probably needed the cash more, it was truly awful.

We split into two groups. One to see the holocaust exhibition and the others seeing the general exhibits. As I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures, I can’t show you what I saw, but I will tell you, that the holocaust exhibition is comfortably the most harrowing exhibition experience I have ever been through in my life.

It is a timed exhibition where you move through multiple displays watching a series of films, posters and clips, moving from room to room as the series of lights dictates. We were told it would take 65 minutes and you were not allowed to leave before the end. The lady who took us down to the start, gave us each a plastic credit card with a child’s face and name printed onto it. We were to put this card into a machine (when we were told and not a moment sooner) and it would tell you the story of that child. As we began, an elderly gentleman who worked in the Center, came over and inserted a card that he held, which was his story. He had escaped from Poland in 1947 and was one of the very few Jewish children to survive. He also told us that Elizabeth, the lady who had showed us down, was also a holocaust survivor. By this time, we were forgiving the few surly people at the start and felt truly humbled.

Following through the exhibition, you are lead from room to room, with each one getting increasingly oppressive and cold. The material presented got harder as the plight of the Jewish people throughout Europe got more appalling. After an hour, we walked through a brick built corridor, given the choice of able bodied or one for women and children. This lead you into a full scale mock up of a gas chamber, complete with gas valves in the roof. There was a minute or more of silence before any lights came on and the appalling finale began. At this point, if a bit of dry ice had come from the ceiling vents, I would have run out in tears, but thankfully they remained quiet. I won’t retell the story here, but it is one we should all understand, perhaps all experience and certainly all ensure can never happen again. I was glad to leave, but distraught by what I had seen.

It was a silent walk back to the hotel.

It was in fact a silent cab ride to the airport.

And it was still pretty quiet when we boarded the plane to San Francisco. Their message had hit all of us, and hit hard.

The power of the exhibition was in the extreme nature of the material, but also in the dramatic monochromatic settings they took you through. The increasing tension, the increasing cold and, in truth, the increasing anxiety. This was far more than intolerance, this was a story of an horrific slaughter. Not comfortable material, but one I’m very glad I have experienced.

I can feel myself struggling to write this and that is over 12 hours later.

What a day to see such a demonstration of intolerance. 9/11. Intolerance doesn’t seem to do it justice. I can only imagine that they have called it this because no-one would surely want to see the Museum of harrowing, awful, appalling, unbelievable, tragic, terrible, hateful, outrageous, disgracefulness.

The airport and transfer was fine, apart from the now standard semi strip you need to go through to get into a departure lounge. Belt, shoes, wallet, keys change, laptop, drinks, sanity, dignity etc etc. You get through to the lounge needing a drink to be told that a Coke is $3.58. is this a sensible price, or an airport cashing in on the fact that people can’t carry a drink through these days. Judging by the $10 sandwich, my feeling is that it is nothing less than extreme profiteering. I skipped lunch.

Arrival at the airport was on time, luggage was waiting for us and a queue of taxis were in line for their waiting prey. Both groups, having been on an amazing drive from the airport, reported viciously rude drivers on arrival at the hotel. The difference in the architecture from LA to San Francisco is incredibly noticeable and so is the attitude of the cabbies. We followed route 101 into San Francisco – and the taxi driver wouldn’t speak – not even answering questions. I didn’t tip him. he spoke then. He insulted me. Bad ad for the city.

Route 101 into San Francisco from the passenger seat of an unpleasant taxi driver
Route 101 into San Francisco from the passenger seat of an unpleasant taxi driver

The one thing I was determined to do whilst we were here was the Segway tour. I have always wanted to ride on a Segway, so I’d been online and checked all their times. The last trip on their three hour tour left at six, so it was a rush to get all of the team over to the right bit of Fishermans Wharf in time for last orders. But no. the last one goes at 4.30. Just to rub salt into the wound, as we had a really late lunch at Buena Vista, they came past us, in their gilets and cycling helmets. I absolutely believe they rerouted past my café, just to wind me up.

My very own Segway tour coming past the cafe that I was eating in, 1.5 hours before it should have done, but considerably ater i had arrived for their 6pm tour!
My very own Segway tour coming past the cafe that I was eating in, 1.5 hours before it should have done, but considerably ater i had arrived for their 6pm tour!

This café, had a view from one window over Alcatraz out of one window and the golden gate bridge out of the other. They claimed to be world famous for their Irish coffees, but I’d never heard of theirs, so I didn’t have one. The good old Urban Spoon application gave them 87%. I’d say this was pretty fair.

After our late lunch, it was already getting dark and much colder. The mist was rolling in over the Golden Gate Bridge, creating a beautiful scene for the little banjo busker to play to.

The banjo busker, complete with all the chat and the mist rolling in under the Golden Gate Bridge
The banjo busker, complete with all the chat and the mist rolling in under the Golden Gate Bridge

Now, 29 years ago, my Dad came to San Francisco on a business trip, when he worked for Allied Breweries. He bought me back a small wooden model of the trolley bus, so it was something I had to do. $5 seemed a bargain for a thrill ride of my lifetime, hanging off the side, seeing scenes from every major cop show of the 70’s, bouncy ball TV ads and the chase scenes from Bullitt. It was like being in the filming of the Streets of San Francisco. An 100 year old system, that’s just as relevant today as I presume it was then. It had a queue around the block – admittedly the two groups in front of us were from Glasgow and London – but it was still an extraordinary experience that I will never forget. Its operational controls are still completely agricultural and it takes some physical strength to control it, but locals were jumping on and off, like it was a little local hopper.

I'm sorry this shot is out of focus, but bowling up a hill on a San Francisco Trolly Bus, with a view over Alcatraz was too much for my flash to cope with!
I'm sorry this shot is out of focus, but bowling up a hill on a San Francisco Trolly Bus, with a view over Alcatraz was too much for my flash to cope with!

If our Nottingham tram drivers displayed the level of character this driver did, marshalling his customers into their correct places, I would imagine the NET would be a huge tourist attraction in its own right.

We went to have a run on the Metro too. An underground system with little two car carriages buzzing around. Clean quick and efficient and again, well patronised. It was only $2, which makes the London Underground look extortionate.

And so to bed. Or rather for me, and so to write. All the others seemed to be flagging a touch, so I had to pop in to the 7/11 around the corner for a few Budweisers and some crisps. It’s sort of like writing fuel but less healthy.

Essential work materials - Budweiser and crisps - an essential for any writer
Essential work materials - Budweiser and crisps - an essential for any writer

Night night.

The Sheriff of Nottingham in the USA Part five

Today is our last morning in Los Angeles and we’ve still got plenty to see before we head off to San Francisco, but as I found yesterday, the planned programme is very much subject to change.

Our first visit today is to the Museum of Tolerance.

This is described as ‘remarkable’ by the LA Times and a ‘must see’ by the people at the Getty Center. It certainly looks like one we can learn from as it’s not only a stunning building, but its also aimed at people of all ages.

Then its back to the most hectic airport in the world LAX and an Alaska Air flight to San Francisco. We arrive there early afternoon and assuming that getting through the airport is not too tricky, we’re going to go on an Urban Safari.

This is an off the wall city tour and claims to be a real one of a kind. Whether this will be true is one of the reasons we have to see it. I can see a tour of Nottingham that takes in caves, waterways and some of our hidden gems, which are far from the beaten track. They’ve offered us a 50% off deal but we have to se whether their timings work as on the website, they say they only run them from 11am.

The alternative is a City Segway tour, which starts around where we’re staying in Fishermans Wharf and the last one goes off at 6pm. This could be our best option.

I’ll update again later and let you know how we got on.

The Sheriff of Nottingham in the USA part four

When we came to Los Angeles, I was staggered by the size of the place, I doubted we had a chance to get a handle on the city in such a short space of time, but today has proved that wrong. Completely wrong.

When they say the whole world is a stage, what they fail to tell you is that most of the actors are here. It’s a city of big characters, grand gestures, enormous wealth and incredible showmanship.

The timetable went out of the window almost as soon as we started and on listening to advice as we went along, so the day didn’t go exactly as planned, but I’ll try to summarise what we saw and what we learned. I’ll add as many pictures as I can to emphasise the points.

Paul Smith in LA doesn’t open until 11am, so we went along to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The latter is particularly significant as it is the favoured venue for Ridley Scott and Universal for their Premiere’s. it is therefore very likely to be where the premiere of the Robin Hood film on May 14th next year. Our first D Day.

The Walk of Fame is tourist heaven. Complete with Michael Jackson lookalikes crying at his paving stone and lighting candles in his memory.

The handprints were more interesting as we got some nice shots of the Sheriff at the Kevin Costner (from Prince of Thieves), Olivia de Havilland (Marian in the 1933 Errol Flynn version) and Douglas Fairbanks (Robin in the 1922 film). Whilst we can’t replicate this exactly, it was a great lesson in building a trail around an area and adding mystique to the characters. Maybe a trail around the city could be marked on pavements for all visitors to enjoy?

The Sheriff, his Lady and Kevin Costner
The Sheriff, his Lady and Kevin Costner

Grauman’s was amazing. A stunning period building and introduced to us by the amazingly charismatic Beverley White. A lady of South African descent who has been in the role for 15 years and seen more premieres than most actors will ever see.

Beverley White, our host at Graumans Chinese theatre
Beverley White, our host at Graumans Chinese theatre

A 90ft x 50ft screen (the biggest non IMAX in US) and 30,000 watt music system ensure it is still as relevant today as it was when it was built for $2m in the 1920’s and had a 30ft screen and had over 3,000 seats (it also shows how much American backsides must have grown since then). The cost was around the same as our own Council House built around the same time and offering similar grandeur that these pics can’t possibly do justice to.

We then went off to the Getty Center. A good hike outside the city and perched high on a hillside, that was bought completely to avoid others building and disrupting the view.

Funded by the oil Billionaire, John Paul Getty, it cost $1bn dollars and 14 years to build. No that’s not a mistake, it really cost $1bn to build. The architect was Richard Meier, who made his name on the place.

As a lesson in how to do world class, it was immense. From the moment you arrived and were guided through to the tram (which was actually a form of funicular railway) to take you from the parking area the 5/8 of a mile (that’s what the guide told me), it’s a masterclass in world class.

The tram at the Getty Center
The tram at the Getty Center

They have 600 volunteers to man the place. Many are ex teachers apparently and like the sound of their own voice. They are the most helpful people in the world and all beautifully clued up.

Entrance is free, but parking costs $15. This has had to be raised twice in the last year as their fund of $3bn has declined by 25% due to stock market falls over the same period and left them facing a major shortfall. It’s a million people a year attraction, and whilst amazing, is obviously Not commercially viable and couldn’t get close to surviving without their benefactor. There’s lots they do well. The food offers is brilliant, the paintings and artworks all, seemingly on open show with little to stop you touching and feeling some great works – but the numbers just can’t stack up.

The detailing however is outrageous. Perhaps the most telling fact that came out was the fact that the trees above the terrace restaurant are pruned every three weeks and 1 in 14 leaves are removed to keep the dappled effect of light falling across the courtyard. If we are to do world class, we have to get to a level of detail that learns from this, even if it doesn’t get quite so blindly anal about it.

Every three weeks, 1 in 14 of the leaves on these trees has to be removed to create the right dappled effect
Every three weeks, 1 in 14 of the leaves on these trees has to be removed to create the right dappled effect

The stones of many areas were left rough edged. It is an enormous undertaking to build with so much natural material and of such high quality but you could see the kids stopping and touching the stones, looking for the fossils, and seams that run through many. I would never claim to be anything approaching arty, but I was hugely impressed by the way they had gone about this build.

Stonework so tactile, you just have to touch it
Stonework so tactile, you just have to touch it

Having spoken to the VP in charge of visitors, who showed us round (and had to break away to see the Korean Arts Minister!) we decided to abandon Universal and head for Paul Smith back across town.

The 761 bendy bus delivered us close to where we needed to be. It claimed to be par of a ‘green’ fleet but it bounced ad shook us across every expansion joint the city had to offer.

The 761 bendy bus from the Getty Center to Wilshire Boulevard
The 761 bendy bus from the Getty Center to Wilshire Boulevard

Pretty soon the huge pink iconic building jumped out at us, from the low rise morass that surrounds it.

The big pink Paul Smith building on Melrose Avenue
The big pink Paul Smith building on Melrose Avenue

The Sheriff did his shots, we marvelled at the beautiful interior of the building which is far more characterful than the outside and pored over the mass of Nottingham images and connections that Paul Smith has littered throughout his store.

The Sheriff and the team at Paul Smith LA
The Sheriff and the team at Paul Smith LA

It as then off to the Farmers Market, which is like Covent Garden with attitude and a brilliant role model for Sneinton. It was clean, had great food smells throughout and a madly eclectic mix of retailers, food outlets and restaurants. A classy French restaurant sat next to a Mexican take out, which was in turn next to a peanut butter outlet and a place that sold really vulgar named chipotle style sauces such as Sphincter Stretcher, Hot and Horny and Colon Cleaner.

The fabulous Farmers Market
The fabulous Farmers Market

At the back of the site was a little stand called the Gumbo Pot which sold New Orleans based food, next to a karaoke stage. As tacky as this sounds, it was a wonderful place to be as a succession of incredibly talented singers (including one called Patrick Presley singing Elvis numbers) stood up to take their turn (as well as a few utter eejits who couldn’t hit a single note).

This would have to go down as one of the most chilled places I have ever been in the world. Couples, families, students, kids, old young, literally a perfect cross section of society sat, sang and ate together. If we can create something as good as this in Sneinton, we will be onto a real winner. It was world class amongst the world class.

And the finally it was over to The Grove. On the surface, only a street like London’s Carnaby street, but so clean you could eat off it.

The Grove is the cleanest shopping area I have ever seen
The Grove is the cleanest shopping area I have ever seen

It came complete with a beautifully restored trolly bus running up and down it. It only ran for the length of the Square down to Broadmarsh, but the driver and conductor (even though it was free) were oozing character and fun for the whole time we were on it. Could we pull this off in Nottingham? I’d like to think so, but we have to develop a much more intuitive service culture for it work at this level.

And it comes complete with its own trolley bus
And it comes complete with its own trolley bus

So that’s it for the day. Its 11.40 pm, I’m back at the hotel. Its 7.40 am UK time and I’m shattered. We’re off to the museum of Tolerance tomorrow morning (as this is one the people at Getty told us we just had to see) and then of to San Francisco tomorrow afternoon. Night night.

http://www.museumoftolerance.com

The Sheriff of Nottingham in USA Part three

09.09.09 – What a cool date to start the first major part of our trip

The first full day of our trip and a busy schedule to start with. I’m still reeling with jetlag, but my phone going off at 5.30 local time here gave me an earlier start to the day than I was planning.

So here’s how the rest of the day is shaping up, but its still subject to change, if more direction comes in from the people we are speaking to here and at home.

9.00am, we’re off to Paul Smith’s shop in LA for some promotional shots with the Sheriff. Paul Smith is one of Nottingham’s most famous sons and one of our most fierce and supportive advocates, so its great to be able to give him and his worldwide business something back for them to use in their own promotional materials.

10.00 It’s off to the Getty Center Museum, which is a beautiful building and a huge collection of different collections. Not quite sure what this will contain, but it will be interesting. We’ll be guests of their VP in charge of group visits, so we should be able to mine his knowledge.

12.00 Hollywood Walk of Fame. This is one to see as to how they have created a trail for tourists. Its one we have to learn from. How do we create our own Robin Hood trail throughout the city and county. Is it one to learn from or is it (as I suspect) a bit of a touristy nothingness?

2.00pm Universal Studios. This could be great. We’re meeting with some of their senior managers to find some behind the scenes info on how they do it, how they’ve funded it and how they manage their promotions and marketing. This could be one of the highlights of the trip, but I’ll add images and a full story later.

Sheriff of Nottingham London to Los Angeles Part two

Checking in at Heathrow with a Sheriff of Nottingham was always going to be interesting, but it was made more so by the reaction of the press at home and perhaps more importantly, the reaction of the readers of the local press, expressed through their comments. Some of these have been less than favourable, some have been silly and some have been positive, but for me, if Nottingham is to become a world class city, with a world class Robin Hood offer, we have to go and learn from the best in the world. Being insular and assuming we can do it all ourselves is a sure fire way to achieve exceptional mediocrity. Look at Sheffield and their Centre for Popular Music and look at what we mustn’t do. This cost taxpayers a small fortune and closed after six appalling months to become a publicly funded nightclub.

I don’t really intend to address those criticisms here, because I have paid for this trip myself through Purple Circle, in order to completely understand the market for visitor attractions across the US. As a business, Purple Circle already work for BeWILDerwood (rated by its own industry body the Themed Entertainment Association) TEA as a world class attraction and recent winner of a DBA Design Effectiveness award for ourselves) and Go Ape, who have won hundreds of business awards themselves.

If we’re going to advise them how to behave in a branding and innovations sense, how better to do it than to look to the best there is to offer in the worlds biggest market for visitor attractions? So I’m here under my own steam and fully intend to fill my days and nights with opportunities to see everything that the US has to throw at us. I have specific issues I need to address and questions I want answering by the best in the business.

But back to Virgin Atlantic. I’m not allowed to show you pictures of the Sheriff checking in at Heathrow, as we’re not allowed to take pictures at check in, so here’s one of him boarding the plane and turning right towards economy.

The Sheriff of Nottingham and his Lady boarding the flight to LA
The Sheriff of Nottingham and his Lady boarding the flight to LA

But it was smooth and efficient and remarkably short of drama. The first hint of a problem was when I boarded the plane and was given the wrong end of a boarding pass with which to board.

On normal plane with a normal company, this could be a problem, but not so Virgin. Rather than cause any fuss or bother, they had the brilliant solution of sitting me at the bar in the Upper Class section until they could sort it out. excellent plan. I spent the next ten minutes with my feet up and a glass of chilled Champagne. Oh to have problems dealt with like this every day.

Its quite a nice touch being given a glass of Champagne whilst the staff rush off and sort a little probem
Its quite a nice touch being given a glass of Champagne whilst the staff rush off and sort a little probem

The rest of the flight was completely uneventful other than to say that Richard had obviously listened to the voice of the passenger who wrote the world’s best complaint letter as the food en-route was gorgeous.

Airplane food - Virgin style
Airplane food - Virgin style

Our Cabin Crew Becky was full of personality and couldn’t have done more to make her passengers feel at home. I made a comment to her about how lovely the Gü pudding was and a few minutes later she turned up and sneaked another into my hand. This may be in the manual or it may not, but it certainly made me feel like I was a valued customer. This way of working simply has to be completely natural and far and away above mere training. You can teach someone to do a job, but I don’t think you can ever teach someone to smile and enjoy themselves whilst they’re working. This natural friendly openness is one of the reasons, that for me, Virgin has remained a remarkable Lovemark brand.

For the cabin crew, the LA flight must be quite a nice one as they get two night layover in the City of Angels before they have to fly home again.. I asked Becky what they did with their time and it seems like they swim, shop and party. Maybe that’s why Virgin have such happy staff, they have actually planned it so their staff have a life outside of work.

Anyway, LA tonight, no visits other than to a hotel and bed, so I’ll add more tomorrow. Night night.

The death of the Spanish brand

Spain has always been one of those places that people loved to hate. Torremolinos and Benidorm have been the butt of jokes, sitcoms and the building of concrete jungles since the early 1960’s when widespread air travel bought the sun, sea, sand and Sangria within reach of the masses.

The best ever Icon that completely represents all of Spain's brand values
The best ever Icon that completely represents all of Spain's brand values

But when Spain started using the Joan Miró ‘logo’ to represent the Spanish brand, the whole offer started to make more sense. It had in effect, displayed its brand values in one beautifully simple representation to show that it was all about fun, easy living and a lovely relaxed style. For me, it is one of the most beautifully timeless ‘icons’ I have ever seen.

But then it all started to go wrong when they started trying to sneak in a few extra brand values, namely profit and perhaps even profiteering.

One of the attractions for us Brits of a Spanish holiday was always that it was incredibly cheap when we got there. Cheap beer, freshly cooked fish on the beach and change out of £20 for a family of four. The introduction of the Euro saw the first real move away from this with money pouring in from the rest of the Euro Zone and a move towards comparative wealth in the most popular destinations.

But then it all went wrong.

People rushed to buy the cheap apartments, being promised and initially seeing, spectacular growth in value, fuelled by the cheap flights of the low cost carriers. But as we’ve all worked out, there’s no such thing as a free flight and there’s certainly no such thing as a free lunch.

Sun, Sea, Sand and a pretty poor branded investment with a superb view over the motorway
Sun, Sea, Sand and a pretty poor branded investment with a superb view over the motorway

Profiteering was rife. Land that was being bought for comparative buttons, was being converted to thousands upon thousands of Penthouse apartments, and in an exact mirror of the buy-to-let crash in the UK, there soon became a HUGE oversupply and the market tanked.

Where I was staying above La Cala, which was a lovely development, there were only one in eight apartments occupied. Around us in other developments, the figures looked much worse, with one opposite only having three occupiers in over 100 apartments – and that is in the height of their summer season. I personally know three people who are trying to sell (absolutely lovely) places in that region alone and all are now offering them at 40+% less than they were a year ago, with not even a sniff of a viewing, let alone any buyers.

The taxi drivers are reporting a 25% drop in traffic and the one I spoke to said he could not afford to have another summer like it. He had moved from selling timeshare, but he acknowledged, that dreadful mistakes had been made in the property market. Even the taxi market is massively oversupplied with over 400 taxis waiting at Malaga airport on one of the days I was there, for far too few fares.

The restaurants reacted by putting their prices UP, so that a meal for four is a struggle for less than 100 Euro. They too are reporting huge falls in numbers – which is hardly surprising either. The visitors seem to have reacted by staying away and buying from the supermarkets, which still offer remarkable value.

So Spain has completely trashed its brand values. It has stamped all over them and probably ruined them forever. Unless they can rebuild their business case with far fewer visitors and go back to their original values, their situation will get worse and worse and worse – and they already have 25% unemployment in some areas.

Spain is a lesson for any brand owner. Know your brand values, keep them steady and keep looking after your customers. Give them reasons to fall in love with you over and over again and never, ever put profit before quality.

Anyway, Turkey for me next year. If that’s not a Spain waiting to happen, I don’t know where is!