Love, Chaos, Dinner – My New Infatuation with Teatro Zinzanni

I’ll admit it. I was a Teatro ZinZanni virgin until a recent weekend performance.

For years Sports Leisure has been escorting groups to this very impressive and very unique dinner show and for years it has been on my bucket list of things to do in San Francisco along with Beach Blanket Babylon and a host of other activities one can only find in the City by the Bay. Now I can’t wait for the next performance.

Several weeks ago we learned the Teatro tent will be pulling down its poles to make way for a massive redevelopment of the city’s waterfront along the Embarcadero between the Ferry Building and Pier 39. The project anticipates the arrival of the final sailing races of the America’s Cup Series, scheduled for the summer of 2013. Teatro ends its historic run at Pier 29 with a closing show and party on New Year’s Eve. Unsure of where the performance will be moving, and when, I resolved to head to one of the final shows along with my wife Susan and our good friends Ted and Faye – longtime residents of San Francisco and themselves Teatro ZinZanni “newbies.” A matinee to accommodate the schedules of our respective babysitters suited both couples quite well.

We arrived early and took advantage of the beautifully decorated lobby. Before show drinks were available at the lobby bar, adjacent to the show’s kitschy boutique where one can dress up in purchased hats and feathered boas in anticipation of the performance. Shortly before noon, the doors opened and our costumed wait staff, who are themselves supporting cast members, seated us at our table.

Presented “in the round” the show changes themes regularly throughout the year but maintains a stellar cast of musicians, singers, and vaudeville-style entertainers. Jugglers, gymnasts, and acrobats joined a cast of very talented dancers and singers. The theme of this version of the show harkened back to the days of old-time radio and featured some beautiful songs, catchy jingles, and a little bit of the “chaos” for which the show is known. In between the impressive acts, a four course lunch was served: a starter of crostini, brie and fresh olives, a delicious spinach salad followed by a choice of three entrees, and an exquisite chocolate dessert.

After the show I had a chance to speak to a staff member who confided in me that Teatro ZinZanni will build a new permanent home on San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront to open by the end of 2012. The new site is a triangular parcel, located where Broadway and Davis meet the Embarcadero. With any luck, Sports Leisure’s next visit to Teatro ZInZanni will be announced toward the end of next summer. I know I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed!

S.O.S. – Save our State Parks

The phone call came a few weeks ago. The California State Parks Foundation was asking me to speak on the steps of the state capitol to a small rally. Comprised of concerned businesses, the folks at the rally were dropping off letters to Governor Brown supporting state parks and attending an Assembly committee meeting to discuss the impact of closing 70 state parks next year. I quickly accepted.

State parks are a tremendous resource for Sports Leisure customers and therefore, our business. We regularly visit state parks throughout California, many of which are on the closure list: Bidwell Mansion, Benicia State Capitol Park, Leland Stanford Mansion, and the Weaverville Joss House to name just a few. These parks provide not only products to sell and income for our company, more importantly they provide destinations for our customers to discover or re-discover.

Of course, they also generate income for the state through admissions and use fees. These figures say nothing about the local businesses adjacent to these parks that also rely on them for income; income that generates sales and employment taxes. In fact, the California State Parks Foundation estimates that for every dollar the state invests in a state park, it receives $2.35 back to its general fund.

Naturally these parks will never “close” in the traditional sense of the word. They will be operated under “caretaker” status. But how do you stop people from camping in parks? You can’t just erect a fence around an entire outdoor camping area. If the state has no money to keep them open how will they afford to keep out people who attempt to dismantle or deface buildings or other improvements? How will they prevent illegal activities from occurring? And what about parks that hold priceless treasures like the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento or Bidwell Mansion in Chico? How will these parks be secured? Will their contents be climate controlled to prevent irreversible damage? And what about the buildings themselves, many of which are on the register of historic places and in need of constant care?

It’s a terrible tragedy that our government is being allowed to sell off our inheritance. If you truly care about state parks and want to preserve them for yourselves and future generations, then you need to act. Speak out by contacting your representatives in Sacramento. Visit a state park or even better, volunteer in one. And spread the word to your family and friends or through social media outlets like Facebook. Only then can we assure these parks remain open to those to whom they truly belong.

To learn more about the state park closures and how you can get involved, head on over to www.savestateparks.org.

 

Around the Corner, Around the Bend

Sports Leisure’s 2012 Tour & Vacations catalog has hit the streets. After a nearly picture-perfect Tour Preview Day on Saturday, August 27th, at the Marriott before a crowd of over 600, the catalogs hit the post office and have been delivered to the nearly 8,000 Travel Club Members who weren’t a part of Preview Day.

The process began in the spring, when staff members are invited to submit destination ideas. An entire afternoon was spent sorting through the suggestions made by our staff and our travelers on evaluations and by mail and e-mail, deciding which ones might be on the schedule next year. A second “elimination” round followed two months later and a draft of the catalog was drawn up.

Next, vendors are contacted, pricing and availability negotiated. (Except with the airlines, they negotiate practically nothing. It’s take it or leave it with them. If only we didn’t need them to execute our travels together.) Hotels are chosen, restaurants and menus selected, attractions blended into the itinerary, timing is watched carefully to create a leisurely itinerary whenever possible.

Copy writing in up next. Each tour planner is responsible for writing their own copy. In that respect, the catalog doesn’t read like a book, because it has many different authors. It’s more of a collection. It represents the dreams of our staff and the dreams of our clients. It is the culmination of months of hard work and collective thought, while keeping in mind that not everyone is able to take a $5,000 trip (either physically or financially). In fact, some of our best trips are in the moderate price category.

I’m especially proud of some of my own new ideas for next year. There’s a 3-day trip to Weaverville, a gem in the Trinity Alps, west of Redding. Another features the town of Sisters, Oregon; a wonderful low-mountain community in the Cascades about three hours from Portland. Waterfalls and the great outdoors abound, with a naturalist guide that makes it all come to life. Finally, Chris Galloway and I worked together on a visit to Wendover, Nevada/Utah, a place we discovered had lots of promise on our recent Lincoln Highway tour, to create a new desert destination.

I‘d like to think there’s something for everyone who likes to travel within the pages of our catalog. Special commendation goes to my staff, who worked their buns off before during and after Preview Day to create and market our new dream book. I hope you find something in there that made your “bucket list,” a place you just have to visit. If that’s the case, then we have done our job.

One last thing. For 32+ years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to be involved in an amazing profession, the chance to take people places they’ve always dreamed of. It is a spectacular way to experience life, sharing it with others in special places. And while I don’t venture off the continent as much as I used to, I’ve found there are a multitude of wonderful places right here in North America. Some are just around the corner. My staff has found some that are around the world. Either way, here’s a toast to dreams coming true on the road in the year ahead. Thank you for the privilege.

Happy Anniversary to Us!

happy_birthdayI just can’t let the day slip away without casting a spotlight on this important week.  Thirty years ago on June 7, a wise-for-his-years (or at least he thought he was) 17-year-old in Georgia escorted his first tour, almost fulfilling his adolescent dream of growing
up and becoming Julie the Cruise Director of “Love Boat” fame. Over the next decade, the hobby became a part-time job, then full-time, then a career. Now, it’s safe to say doing what I’m doing is my passion, as is doing it right here, right now, for all my
beloved Sacramento travelers.

Passions need a place to hang their hat. Thankfully, two years prior to my launch into the industry, Mark Hoffmann opened the doors (so to speak—his first “office” was his apartment on Fulton Avenue) of Sports Travel, later Sports Leisure Travel, and for the
past decade Sports Leisure Vacations. Our first trip was a casino overnighter that left Sacramento on June 8, 1979 and returned on the 9th. We’re 32 years old this week!

And speaking of June 9, it was on this day in 1955 that a bouncing bundle of baby joy was brought forth into the world in Omaha, Nebraska. His name was and remains Mark Alan Hoffmann. Thank you for your dream, Mark. We are all better because of it!

Parting Thoughts…

The mood here in the office today is sad for sure. A lot is being said without a word uttered. You can see it in our eyes, and in her eyes too. Disbelief, sadness…trying to imagine what it’s going to be like in the office without her. We are saying goodbye to Diane today. She is retiring, and today is her last day here at Sports Leisure Vacations. I know. Shocking. For those of you unfamiliar, Diane Nowlan is our “travel agent” (we sometimes affectionately call her our “air head”). That means she books all of the air (and trains and cruises) for the company, plus takes your reservations, plus helps at the airport when a trip departs, plus makes sure no one’s birthday is ever forgotten here, plus, plus… *sigh*

I admire her, and to be totally honest, was a bit envious of her. You see, she was a stewardess back in the day. When they wore skirts and nylons and hats, and when they were all beautiful women. They weren’t called ‘flight attendants’ like they are now. Back then they were called stewardesses, and it was a dream of mine to be one. So much so that sometimes when I’m a tour director on the motorcoach, I do the “flight attendant safety hand motions” when Greg is on the mike talking about the exit rows on Supercoach. Yeah, I really do. I stand there and point and try to look important too. I loved hearing her tell her stories of when she was flying.

She’s been at Sports for five years. You will be missed Diane, more that I think you realize. It’s been great working with you. I will miss you here at the office, but look forward to having lunch with you…often. Aloha my friend and a hui ho’u…

In Memoriam…

I am not a current events junkie. I have to force myself to watch the news on television or read a paper. I learn of current events in sound bites while doing cardio at the gym or by scanning the front page of a paper. I never allow myself to go past the headlines. If it isn’t important enough to make it to the front page, it’s not that important, right?

KVIE often airs specials by Doctors Andrew Weil and Wayne Dyer. If one is a guru for the body, the other is likewise for the spirit. Their approaches to total health are quite different, but one thing they agree on is the public media in America. With all due respect to the First Amendment, much of the news we get in this country is distorted, sensationalized and extremely negative. The doctors ask why we would want to pollute our bodies with bad news, and advise against a daily intake. I couldn’t agree more!

It is in this spirit that I picked up the paper when arriving at the office at 5:50 a.m. this morning. My daily scan didn’t make it past the fold. In fact, I didn’t even take the rubber band off. The news that screamed out at me from the upper left corner of the front page was the passing of Elizabeth Edwards in her 61st year of life.

I did not know Ms. Edwards, but I think I would have liked her. Like many, I learned about her during her former husband’s presidential runs . . . his rise and demise. My interest was heightened because they were from North Carolina, so we were likely cousins.

It’s easy to like a person when everything is going well, when they are enjoying a flattering national spotlight. We think we really know them through titles and images presented by the mass media. College Sweetheart-Turned-Wife. Devoted Mother. Active Volunteer. Respected Lawyer. Christian. All that is so sweet. It’s fun being a Fair Weather Friend. But the true test of a man or woman is how they react to adversity. What do they and we do when the titles change to Cheated Wife? Cancer Patient? Divorcee? I was intrigued enough by this question to go beyond the headlines. My mother says you never really know a person until they are tested. This is where the rubber hits the road. For some reason, I wanted to really know Elizabeth Edwards.

It turns out I did really know her after all. Whenever I saw her in print media or on television, she exhibited the same positive qualities following the fall of the Edwards Empire as she did before. Even in long interviews, like the one where Larry King pelted her with tough questions for an hour, she always kept her composure. She never said anything bad about John. She only spoke of herself, her kids and especially her dreams for the future, most notably a body that was cancer-free. In the South, they call this Class, and she had a lion’s share of it.

Mary Elizabeth Anania Edwards was a true lady. The world was a better place because of her, and we are all better for having known her. I’m glad we got to walk this path together, if only for awhile. Godspeed . . .

Radio, from a Different Point of View

Born in ’87, radio is one thing I can honestly say I’ve taken for granted my entire life.  While I enjoy “tuning in” to my favorite music station occasionally in the car, the majority of my time is now spent listening to my iPhone or downloading my favorite talk shows online.  I love being able to listen when I want and skip the commercials.  In fact, it wasn’t until recently, when Mark started his own radio show called The Travel Guys that I truly began to appreciate all the hard work and time it takes to put out a quality radio program.

Every week, Mark scours the planet for interesting interviews, travel stories and oddities.  Whether it’s the local barber in a small city or a chocolate farmer in Hawaii, no stone is left unturned in his quest for quality content.  Each week, these random interviews and interesting tidbits magically (with the help of Tom Romano!) gel into the radio program you hear on Sundays.  It’s a lot of effort, but definitely worth it.  The Travel Guys is unique because it allows you to travel the world from the comfort of your living room or car.  This year alone I’ve been taken across The Lincoln Highway and back on Route 66; from Mackinac Island to Hawaii and the Florida Keys.  I’ve explored the farmer’s markets in Oregon, learned a little about cruise ships and shuddered at the idea of bed bugs.  Having now helped out with a little bit of the interviewing and radio process, I can appreciate these experiences all the more!

I recommend you dedicate some time and check out The Travel Guys, it’s on every other Sunday on KFBK AM 1530 from 12-1pm PDT.  Or, if you’d rather check out that commercial free version I told you about, just head over to www.travelguysradio.com.  You can listen to all the previous episodes and catch new ones just a few days after they air.

As of this writing, the next episode of The Travel Guys airs Sunday, November 7th at 12:00pm PDT on KFBK AM 1530

Our July/August Newsletter is now live

Mark and some fellow travelers meet Yogi Berra, Clayton talks about new security measures with the TSA and Sports Leisure is preparing for this year’s Tour Preview Day!

Check it out for yourself over on our publications page, or rest assured your copy is in the mail!

Our 2010-11 Tour Preview Day is coming up on September 11th.  This year’s show will feature the Food & Folk Festival, tons of entertainment, and as always – your chance to get the coveted Tour Catalog before anyone else!

Space is limited, and tends to go quick, so be sure to reserve your spot over on our Registration page or by calling the office.

Surprise “visitor” mars Open House for Hundreds

Sports Leisure News Bureau

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The annual Open House celebration at the Sports Leisure offices was a huge success last weekend, despite a rather strange visitor who insisted on interrupting each of the ten sessions.  A combined crowd of nearly 300 attended and were kind enough to bring along requested donations of toilet paper and Easter toys.  Nearly 1,000 rolls of TP were donated to Loaves and Fishes and 133 toys, mostly Easter bunnies, were given to Officer Zach Hatch of the Rancho Cordova Police Department, for delivery to low-income children as Easter presents.

Sports Leisure staff was on hand to share a lively presentation lasting a little over an hour.  Guests were treated to a continental breakfast or light lunch, depending on their arrival time.  Sessions were limited to a maximum of 40 to allow a more personalized experience for travelers.

A quick update of previously announced tours was given, with Scott, Ramona, Kevin, Clayton, Patricia and Mark giving one minute snippets on selected trips.  After a special interest feature presentation that varied from session to session, the schedule of short new summer and fall trips was unveiled.  All the trips will be listed in the upcoming Sports Leisure newsletter, which will begin arriving in members’ mailboxes at the end of this week.  Readers of this blog can access the new newsletter on line at www.sportsleisure.com, click on the new newsletter section in the middle of the home page.

As previously mentioned, the only obstacle to the otherwise perfect presentations was a visit from a character that insisted on referring to herself as “Honolulu Helen.”  Decked out in a grass skirt, coconut shells and a variety of cheap and tacky leis, she barged (and that is the only nice way to say it) into the room each time the program reached The Real Hawaii tour, regaling the audience with the virtues of the Sports Leisure package. We were only able to snap this quick, blurry photo of “Helen” before she darted out the door, but eye-witnesses report that the blurriness is actually an improvement over reality.

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Vice-President Clayton Whitehead, when asked to comment on the carnage…I mean visitor, could only shake his head and say, “Why, why did she have to come here.  Ten times in three days.  It’s just a tragedy.  We should have hired security to prevent that type of thing”

Mr. Whitehead’s comments seemed to sum up the shocked reaction of others in attendance.  Helen was last seen boarding a Super Shuttle van headed for the airport.  Despite (Helped by?) her antics, the program was a success, with many of the new trips reporting heavy sales interest this past week.

“Live from New York, it’s…Sports Leisure Vacations on the radio!”

Indeed, on Sunday, February 28th, The Travel Guys, our brand new radio show, hosted by yours truly and Sacramento’s number one radio man Tom Romano, was on the air, live from snowy New York City. (If you’d like to listen to the show, simply point to the blue “Cool KFBK stuff” button on the home page of our web site, and click. Then scroll to the bottom right and you can listen to the show, just as it was broadcast, but without news and commercials.)

So how does something like that happen, you ask? (Please ask, because otherwise, I don’t have anything to write about.) Well, first one of the radio hosts carries a briefcase full of wires and equipment to Columbus and Hartford, then through the snow-covered streets of New York. Well no, I guess the first thing is to actually have a radio show. But we have already climbed that mountain (see the previous post)…

Continue reading “Live from New York, it’s…Sports Leisure Vacations on the radio!”