Arbol Cafe

Another reason to love Philly.

Go south down 2nd street, past the Man of La Mancha statue on Girard, past the new piazza and walking dining/district, not all the way to where they start calling it “two street”, but right across the intersection from The Standard Tap.  There, on the northeast corner, is a reason to learn to parallel park; the Arbol Café.


I have never been to Paraguay but this place makes me want to go.  Then again, thanks to this place, I don’t really have to go anywhere; except 2nd street.  This town is crawling with cafes and coffee shops, but thanks to the husband and wife team of Beth Molines and Oscar Acuna, the Arbol Café stands apart.

The inside is a bit small, I think that’s called cozy, and the kitchen isn’t big.  I suppose it only really needs to be big enough for Oscar to go back and work his magic.  O yes, he is magic.  His “Sandwich De Lomito” which they describe as simple, stacks steak, turkey, ham, egg, lettuce, tomato, cheese, with a bit of mayo.  I think those are five of my six favorite food groups. {meat, meat, meat, meat, meat, and cheese}


The outside patio is a great spot to take in Northern Liberties on a weekend evening especially in the summer months when they host live music.  I’m perfectly happy when the patio hosts a Baked Empanada Paraguaya; beef, hard boiled egg, and cranberry are touched off with some sauce that someone from Paraguay could explain.  My mouth didn’t need an explanation.

Now all of these things are fine and reason enough for a visit.  That’s not why I’m writing.  All that stuff makes them just as good as everyone else, but Arbol is home to celestial herbal refreshment.  Arbol café is all about Yerba Mate.

A rough day made "all better"

If you have never tried it, Oscar or Beth will teach you.  If you already love it, they will celebrate along with you.  And most importantly if you are out of Paraguayan mate at the home front; they have a selection of the finest yerba available.

I don’t speak Spanish but I speak fluent mate.  Trust me when I say the Arbol Café is muy exellente mate!

Arbol Cafe

209 Poplar St. Philadelphia, PA 19123.   215-923-3150

Easy & Elegant Life, the interview

He played the part of Gerald Murphy, I was Ernest Hemmingway.

Christopher Cox, the author of Easy & Elegant Life

The Murphy’s were known as the ever gracious hosts, bringing together artists and writers to be stylishly entertained in the Riviera of the 1920’s.  Chris Cox instructs the masses on how to stylishly entertain wherever you are in 2010.  I decided to see if Mr. Cox was indeed, gracious.

We arranged to meet at the Can Can Brasserie in Richmond, for coffee. As I navigated my way through the capitol of the old south it struck me that I, who spends half his time living in a van, was on my way to sit down with a man who gives advice on dressing and presenting like Cary Grant for a living.  I became very aware that this could turn out horribly.

I arrived a bit early but not as early as my host.  He looked genuinely pleased to see me, shook my hand, and quickly won my undying favor by ordering me a Shirley Temple.  He had done his homework.

Mr. Cox will tell you he was an army brat, the simple son of a soldier.  The truth is his father’s abilities, especially with languages, led his family to exotic ports in Central America and Europe where the Sr. Mr. Cox was assigned to work with NATO.  Simple soldiers do not find themselves the lone American in a NATO office.

Cox’s sartorial training began early with the requisite jacket and ties of a Virginia private school.  He laughed easily as he told me tales of the prepsters of his day painting their ankles black to not expose their refusal to wear socks.  I think kids at my school were wearing socks with sandals.  Upon graduation he descended to the ranks of a state school; William & Mary.  How many public schools boast educating three U.S. presidents, two who would be considered founding fathers?  Not exactly  Bo Diddley Tech; an elegant choice.

Not being familiar with the menu I just followed his lead.  The aforementioned Shirley Temple had the surprise addition of a jasmine syrup and orange wedge.  Nicely done.  I soon had frites and oysters competing for space on the table with my elbows and notebook.  I’m not sure, but I believe he ordered without actually looking at the menu. I do know for sure that he called the waiter and host by their first names. They were not wearing name tags.

Me taking some lessons in deportment.

Gerald and Sara Murphy are said to have pioneered the practice of sunning on the beach in the French Riviera.  Before them people would occasionally take a swim, but the idea of sunning oneself on the sand was foreign.  The Murphy’s lengthy and relaxed picnics changed that.  After school Mr. Cox found himself in the South of France relaxing with the future Mrs. Cox.  They went there because they wanted to be warm.  Who doesn’t?

The Murphy’s came home when their children took ill.  The Cox’s did not repatriate for medical attention, but Mr. Cox soon needed it.  I listened as he told of how he survived cancer only to have it return 20 years later.  That wasn’t part of the plan.  “Chemo and the whole bit?” I asked.  He smiled easily and said the doctor’s were unable to take that route as he is allergic to the CT scan dye.  He said the whole experience gave him a little perspective.  The illness, and his wife, helped him to realize he should slow down and relax a little.  He did.

Mr. Cox scaled back his involvement with his then career as an ad man and copywriter.  His friends had always commented on his unusual ability to pull off a successful dinner party after having only planned it on the commute home from the office, and they convinced him to begin writing on the subject.  He enjoyed the pursuit.  He wrote more and what began as a book grew into a blog.

Watching him as the conversation moved from cancer to his quest to convince us all to slow down and enjoy life, I could see he had taken his own lesson to heart.  “People should open their horizons, dress a little better than they have to.  People act better when they do.”  He made the declaration easily with no accusations.  His complete lack of pretention throughout raised my suspicion.  I decided to see if I could find where he had hidden it.  “So what is your sartorial pet peeve?  What ensemble do you see and cringe at?”  He let silence interrupt us for the first time and thought for a minute.  He truly looked at a loss.  “I suppose it would have to be when people simply don’t try at all,” he guessed. Boxing taught me to throw punches in combinations so I continued, “what about the standard corporate logoed polo with Dockers?”  He smiled at my offering and said, “I suppose if you are actually standing at the tradeshow, but otherwise they could probably do better.”  His answer was not exactly cutting.  I had done a little home work myself and threw my final haymaker at him, “what about jeans?  You are getting dirty in the garden, working on a car, still you won’t wear jeans?  What’s wrong with jeans?”

Surely this one would rev him up, get him to rant angrily.   “Ahhh, I simply don’t feel comfortable in them.  I feel like I’m acting rather than being me,” he laughed.  Touché.

He told me elegance is an attitude.  The day he bought his first pair of brown suede shoes in London, he felt like the best dressed man in the world.  He even told me I was doing fine in my choice of attire; of course I had to ask.  He advises that a Navy blazer will take a man far, yet he paused again when asked his favorite item of clothing.  It seems he was being honest with himself when he said it wasn’t the clothes but the attitude.

Oysters, frites, and a great Shirley Temple.

We talked past the end of the Shirley Temple and even through my caramel hot chocolate.  He chatted easily till the alarm on his phone, the phone he apologized for earlier, went off to inform him it was time to go pick up the little one from school.  I’m sure Hemmingway could afford his own meals but I imagine the Murphy’s always paid.  I had arranged the meeting and argued in vain as Mr. Cox insisted that it was his city and therefore I was the guest.  He wrapped up his silk scarf and buttoned his overcoat while inviting me to pay a visit to his home on my next pass through town.  We had met an hour ago but I felt he meant it.  I will probably take him up on it.

With a shake of the hand and exchange of cards, he walked back to the manse, and I climbed inside the van.

One could not ask for a better host.

Riding Side-Saddle on Socio-Economics

Contemplating something near Lexington, NC.

Some unfortunate side effects of solo hours in a vehicle are the degradation of verbal skills and mental tangents.  If you want a demonstration of the previous just call on me once I return from 5 days driving and laugh as I stumble over pronunciations, search my mind’s vocabulary for simple conjunctions, and most of all stare in amusement as I scramble to express a weeks worth of stored up ideas.

For an example of the latter; I decided that my desires for my children’s future financial status can best be described through a metaphor, or a simile, or a movie, but not a Lifetime movie.

If the middle class is the workhorse of the American economy, I hope that one day my girls will learn to ride side-saddle.  It must be said that I have no idea how to actually ride in this manner but am confident I can find an instructor.  An instructor for them, not for me.

I will spend my life riding western.  I will have one leg stirruped solidly in the lower class, one reaching for the upper, all the while seated firmly on the back of the middle.  Riding western, with saddle bags packed, a large utilitarian horn, some adornments stamped onto the leather, and maybe silver buckles.

Is that phone ringing? Should I answer it?

I mounted from the left early on.  Not really poor, but with no real view of the other side.  It was a tall horse.  I’ve gotten off and on from time to time, but always to the left.  I have in fact been bucked off a horse, been bit by a horse, even had one stand on my foot till I punched it in the ribs.  My punch was ineffective and the horse did not lift its hoof till it got bored.  When the ride got wild you never know in what direction, which side of the horse, you will fall too.  You simply hang on for dear life and hope for the best.  No matter what your purpose, riding western is really meant for work.  You can have a nice view, go fast, slow, and over any terrain.

I want my girls to learn side-saddle.  More specifically I want them to ride with both legs to the right.  Is this how its done?  I don’t know or care (being western), but that’s how I want them to do it. 

I want my girls to ride froma position that implies propriety but still allows them the adventure that horseback entails.  I want them to be able to reach down to the left.  To be useful.  To be productive.  No retreating to the comfort and protection of the carriage where your hair never gets wet and you don’t get all dusty.  I want them to experience, to work, and to serve. If the ride does get too rough, if they get thrown from the horse, I want to make sure they fall into comfort and safety.  I want to make as sure as possible, they fall to the right.

       “Turn left in 100 feet… recalculating.”

Was that?… Man, I missed my exit again.  Ooh look, cows!

(1 week in a car, imagine a year in solitary.  Is it more interesting that I thought this or that I typed it?)

Notes from the road

Red line is where I've been this month. All the other lines are still available.

As stated on the “about” tab, there will soon be few places on the East Coast I have not been.  I would say that a bunch of the places I have been thus far are still not anywhere, but thats not really true.  Everywhere has something, you just have to look a little harder.  Or maybe just pay attention.

Somewhere between W. Virginia, Virginia, NC, and TN. Not exactly sure.

Ocean City, Maryland

The boardwalk is a different place in winter. 

pre dawn boarding on the boardwalk

The usual joggers and bike riders stay home.  They stay home in another city.  The city streets are lined with beach houses with realtor signs out front and the countless motels are all closed.  The amusement parks are all locked and the Ferris wheel looked frozen and rusted.

I parked in one of many open spaces next to “the Ocean Gallery.”  The outside of which, sports claims of celebrity visits, cheap art, and an impressively large Michael Jackson memorial.  Out front are palm trees lamenting that they weren’t planted in a tropical clime, the boardwalk, and rows and rows of comfortable benches; all of which face the store fronts and not the beach.

The tree would rather be in Maui

I have been known to make midwinter polar bear plunges into the ocean… in South Carolina,  I did no such thing in Maryland.

Warm yerba mate on a cold morning


If all you know of this fine city is The Wire, you may be right.

But I’ve never watched that show and love this place.  The Inner Harbor area has first class accommodations, walking access to Camden Yards, a little bit of history, and lots of fine dining.  Sounds perfect to me.

the USS Constellation, launched in 1797 saw action in the war of 1812, fought pirates, and they champion the fact that it helped forcefully close the transatlantic slave trade. Tours are available.
the USS Constellation is docked next to USCGC Taney, and the submarine USS Torsk.

Now while fine dining is great, sometimes fun dining is better. 1 block away from the Naval museum is the ESPN Zone.  The food is perfectly acceptable, the video games are great for a man’s night out, but the real draw of this chain, the crowning gem, is the row of recliners set in front of a movie screen sized TV on which whatever big game is being played will be shown.

Recliner, steak, and football on the biggest screen possible... is this heaven?

If you are staying over night I recommend

Admiral Fell’s Inn in the gas lamp district.  Its a quick water taxi ride across the harbor and offers the perfect alternative to your usual bed, TV, and a stock faux piece of art on the wall.


I inherited from my father a tendency to be early to everything. 

Again I found myself in Appomatox before the park opened.  On April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee arrived there early as well. He sat and waited, impeccably dressed, for Grant to arrive, mud spattered and in regular issue uniform.  The war was over.

This meeting took place in the parlor of Wilmer McLean.  Mr. McLean once said that the war started in his front yard and ended in his front parlor.  It is true in that the first battle of Bull Run took place at his then home, causing him to move, then later the final battle at Appomatox happened on the property he had retreated too in order to be more safe.  Some guys have all the luck I suppose.

McLean’s home and property were looted as everyone left.  Gen. Custer, who received the desk the final treaty was signed on as a gift from Grant, was said to have handed McLean a handful of cash as they marched away.  Some see this as one of the tragedies of the war but as I stood and looked at the building, a rather nice building, I also looked at what it had in common with many other manors of the day.  It also had a small grouping of shacks surrounding it.  Maybe those that should have carried away McLean’s possessions were the one’s who had lived in those shacks and labored to allow McLean the lifestyle he had previously enjoyed.

The actual surrender between Lee and Grant took place here, in the front parlor of the McLean house.

The official surrender happened some days later at the courthouse.  Lee wrote to his troops:

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

The courthouse.

It was the end of America’s bloodiest war, the beginning of a unified country, and most importantly the ushering in of our countries most studied, written about, and debated era.  The focus of 8 out of 10 American amateur historians.  A war turned into a hobby. 

Rugby Tale

It’s my favorite of all the rugby jerseys I own.  It lives in my gym bag, which lives in my van.  The bag lives in my van for the same reason I have a pair of cleats wedged into the frame of the back door of the same vehicle.

“Uh, why are there shoes stuck in your door?” a friend once asked.

I thought the answer, “because I play rugby,” was sufficient but he was not satisfied.

Any true rugger, especially an American one, is always prepared for a game.  It is not some hopeful infatuation with the game, it is a responsibility. 

You see; I am a prop.  Better yet, I play both loose and tighthead.  I play that one position that if a team finds themselves without, the game is ruined for all.  A rugby game with uncontested scrums is like a basketball game with four foot hoops… only worth playing if you are five years old.  So I must always be prepared to play.

This leads to why this is my favorite jersey.

On one occasion when I only intended to watch, I was asked to play.  The hosts of the Hogfest tournament were short on their B side.  This B side was especially “B” in that their A side consisted mostly of players who had the experience of one season behind them.  I had ten.

B sides are usually a motley crew and this was no different.  I fished into my bag for a blue jersey to make an attempt to match the rest of the guys who themselves struggled to piece together outfits that could be called uniform.  I normally won’t wear the jersey of a team I haven’t played for in anything but a social setting and I was surprised to realize that since college I haven’t played for a team that wore blue.  The royal blue of Samoa was not the navy that would have worked best, but it separated me from the Crimson of the other team and that was all that could be hoped for.

We were playing the A squad from HBS.  That’s HBS as in Harvard Business School.

I have little recollection of how that game went.  I’m sure we lost.

Here is what I do remember:

A major feature of rugby games with inexperienced players is a major mess conglomerated around the ruck.  People dive over each other, shove for no reason, and the ball is usually killed.  These are the games I find myself most useful because a killed ball results in a scrum.  I’m sure we scrummed 500 times that day.

At one such breakdown HBS had skillfully cleaned away our entire pack leaving one lone forward posted over the top of the ball, patiently waiting for his team to set up behind him.  With all the other forwards in a pile making little attempt to untangle themselves, and this guy sitting there like he ruled the world, I cleaned him.

I put my shoulder in his stomach, wrapped both arms around one of his legs, and drove him one meter into the air, two meters back, and about five meters into the ground.  It was quite rewarding and completely legal.

Play went on behind us, I popped up to my feet and offered my hand.  He accepted my help but once on his feet exclaimed, “you f_ (insert homosexual slur here)”, and took a wild swing at me with his free hand.  He was obviously no boxer and I easily ducked under his hook and stood right back up nose to nose with my attacker.  I looked at the rage in his eyes and inexplicably started laughing.  I jogged back to join the game in progress and could not wipe the smile off my face.

At half time many of the guys gathered around to tell tales of what had happened thus far.  Some brought up my rucking and many excitedly talked of how that guy had tried to fight me.  I chuckled and brushed it off as no big deal.  With further urging I recounted my memory of the brief event adding commentary to try to make it interesting.  In summation I said,

“Really, he left his chin just hanging out there.  I should have hit it, he would have been out like a light.  In fact, I really should have done it because I have waited my entire life to knock out a privileged rich kid without fear of being sued.  Who knows when I’ll get a chance like that again?”

The response from the guys was unexpected.  No laughter, no relating acceptance, no support.  My comment was met with blank stares.  Well, not blank exactly, more like petrified.  I think one guy faked a nervous chuckle.

It took me a few moments to realize what had just happened.  One of the drawbacks of being prepared to play whenever and with whomever, is you may not fully appreciate who you are playing with.  It wasn’t till after the game that I fully realized that the one school that outranks HBS scholastically and is in fact ranked number one in business, was the one I was on.  I learned that day that no matter how excited, no matter how good the story, never forget your audience.

Thankfully those guys are an understanding bunch, or possibly just undersized, as they have repeatedly invited me back.  I am convinced they are the best bunch of privileged rich kids I have ever met and I no longer have the desire to knock anyone out for the previously stated reason.

That being said, and thanks to these guys, I don’t trust that I will pass up the opportunity again if it ever presents itself.

I now have a jersey in the appropriate colors, and the pictured one has gone back in the bag.

Go Hogs!

Fort McHenry


statue memorializing Francis Scott Key on the grounds just north of the fort.

In 1814 the British had already burned the U.S. capitol in D.C. and were set to invade Baltimore.  The death of a major General stalled their on-land attack but the British navy ruled the world at that time, and popular opinion had that it would soon rule Baltimore as well.

O say can you see?

In 2010 the fort defends an industrial pier and rail yard.  My thermometer said 10 degrees, my watch said 7 am, and from my view over the ramparts I watched legions of joggers circle the fort below me.  They made me feel lazy.

Bombs bursting in air

While the British amassed their fleet outside the inner harbor, Francis Scott Key watched from a ship behind British lines under a white flag.

The bombardment of the fort lasted 25 hours.  Over 1,500 bombs and rockets were launched from the English warships and in the morning, only four Americans were killed, 24 were wounded, and the 30 x 40 foot flag was still waving over head.

The sight of the flag and the American victory inspired the song we sing at every sporting event worth attending.

Broad stripes and bright stars

When I showed up I was hoping for Old Glory but due to the windy conditions I got Glory Jr.  The museum is first class, the place is restored wonderfully, and no one there could answer my questions about the Fort Pitt stamp on the mouth of the large cannon pointing out over the harbor.

Stratford Hall, VA

I once had a small handbook titled “How to Speak Southern.”  Under the heading Robert E. Lee, the book had the definition, “The finest gentlemen to ever walk the face of the earth and greatest example of what it means to be Southern.”  I believe it was the only part of the book not written in jest.

Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E Lee

Robert E. Lee was born in 1807 at Stratford Hall, only a few miles from where George Washington was born, on the Chesapeake Bay.  Lee was the product of Colonial gentry and his father was a revolutionary hero (Light horse Harry).  Built in the 1730’s, the home remains enviable to this day.  It is everything you would expect for the original Governor of Virginia and the very definition of “landed gentry.”

Stratford Hall was the home of "Light Horse Harry", Revolutionary war hero and Lee's father.

There is a fee to enter the grounds and when you do so they take some general information for their visitor’s log.  When I told the man in the little booth my zip code he paused, “that’s Philadelphia isn’t it?”

Turns out he grew up 3 blocks from where I now live.  He asked if the area has gotten any better to which I had to reply, “not really.”  He knocked ten dollars off my admission.


The place is closed for winter renovations and I could see carpenters at work through the frosted windows.  The brochures talk of how the estate was a self sustained village and center for colonial life.  That looked as if it was true, with the palace in the center and village shacks surrounding it.  Upon closer inspection all the small shacks were labeled “slave quarters.”  The larger shacks or buildings were the stables and barn, or the detached, large, kitchen that served the main house.

One room duplex built to house "house slaves."

I have often read of the struggle Lee had at the outbreak of the war, as to which side he would join.  He was invited to lead the Union forces but declined in order to serve Virginia and become the most storied General in the Civil War.  Looking at the grandeur of his childhood I wonder how much of an internal struggle he may have really had.  Here, before me was a level of comfort I would never aspire to gain, but it was his heritage.  Here I saw a way of life that anyone would hope to one day gain, but he had it before he entered this world.  It was who he was.

It would have taken a remarkable person to join and fight for a side in which victory meant the destruction of the world from which he came.  If the North prevailed, places like Stratford Hall would be unsustainable.

Then again, Lee would have had a front row seat to the horrors of slavery.  Lee would have seen what it looked like to degrade another person for your own benefit.  He would have sat at the table being served by people who were good enough to raise your children, but then beaten when displaying independent thought.  How could someone who saw this first hand pick up the sword in order to defend the right to kill and maim another person without punishment?

Many will think me unfair in my thought process and wondering here.  Many will say I cannot judge a man in history by present standards.  Many will tell me to relax and temper my zeal.

None of those leveling that criticism will be black people.  The ones descended from those who truly had the most at stake in Lee’s decision.