Archive for the ‘Offbeat’ Category

Take A Walk On The Wacky Side: Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade

April 29, 2010

Here’s a sad side effect of the time I spent living in New Orleans: Once you’ve been to Mardi Gras, most other parades seem downright dull by comparison.  The one notable exception, of course, is Pasadena’s annual Doo Dah Parade.

This year’s event—the “34th Occasional” version of this terrifically tongue-in-cheek sendup of the city’s stuffy Rose Parade—rolls down a new route along Colorado Boulevard in East Pasadena this Saturday morning at 11.  What thankfully hasn’t changed is the full-on wackiness of the festivities.

pasadena doo dah parade

My kind of parade float!

Just how oddball can a parade actually be, you ask? Well, part of what makes the Doo Dah Parade so much fun is that you never know quite what to expect, though long-time crowd favorites like the Men Of Leisure synchronized napping team, the BBQ & Hibachi Marching Grill Team, the Benzedrine Monks, and the official band Snotty Scotty and The Hankies are all expected to return for 2010.

For details on the official parade route and after-party—not to mention finding out how you can be in next year’s Doo Dah Parade—visit the event’s website here

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES:

A Mind-Blowing Mardi Gras: How To Go From Spectator To Participant in One of New Orleans’ Glitziest Parades

Full Moon Fever: These 3 Unique Events Will Give You Lots Of Tales To Tell

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Extraordinary Event: RoboGames Gives You The Chance To Say “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto”

April 23, 2010

RoboGames Domo Arigato Mr RobotoFor those of us who grew up on sci-fi movies and television shows like Forbidden Planet and Lost In Space, the idea of a world full of robots seems like some far-off fantasy.  Which is precisely why this weekend’s RoboGames—a three-day event certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the planet’s largest open robotics competition—seems like such an extraordinary experience.

This six-year-old San Francisco-area geek-fest features the highly imaginative creations of individuals and teams from more than 20 countries, competing in dozens of events ranging from soccer to sumo.  The stars of the show, of course, are the battling bots that come in sizes from 5.3 ounces to 340 pounds.  But there’s a more civilized side to the event as well, including robots who make music and mix a mean cocktail.  There’s even a chance to meet techie celebrities, including MythBusters wiz-kid Grant Imahara.RoboGames robotics competition

For an entertaining look at what to expect, check out CNet’s great RoboGames audio slideshow.  And if you go, remember to say thanks—or should we say domo arigato—to all the automatons you meet.

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS:

Shuttle Launch Sideshow: The Next Best Thing To Blast-Off

Spain’s La Tomatina Festival

Tanks For The Memories: 2 Unforgettable Tank-Driving Adventures

April 14, 2010

Tank Driving adventuresOf all the extraordinary experiences I’ve had over the years, the chance to take the controls of a 55-ton British Chieftain battle tank has to be among the most memorable.

Unfortunately, the Dallas-based operation that gave me that opportunity is no longer in business.  The good news, however, is that I’ve found a couple places that still allow ordinary civilians to have similar tank-driving adventures:

Lazer Tanks

This small mom-and-pop shop located just north of Reno, Nevada is now the only place in North America where individuals and small groups can spend time in the driver’s seat of Cold War classics including a Soviet-era T-55 battle tank and BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle.

Tanks-A-Lot

Think of this well-established British operation as a military hardware theme park, where you can run British Chieftain tanks on a dedicated off-road course that includes the uniquely geeky thrill of driving one of these massive machines over a parked car.  They also usually have a number of tanks for sale in case you’d like to bring home the ultimate souvenir!

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES:

Bulldozer Daze: Dig This Offers Big Kids A Chance To Play In A Life-Size Sandbox

Summer Skirmishes: Playing Army At The Annual War & Peace Show

Never A Dull Moment: These 3 Unique Events Will Give You Lots Of Tales To Tell

April 12, 2010

Spock Days Vulcan AlbertaEven if this is your first visit to XTRORD.com, it won’t take long for you to figure out that this isn’t your typical “travel” website.  No stale tales of traditional vacation destinations or generic activities like cruising.  No “hot tips” about new low airfares to Europe or last-minute discounts to some mega-resort in the Caribbean.  Mainly because that stuff bores me to tears.

Instead, you’ll find these pages filled with reports of truly extraordinary experiences you never knew existed.  The kind of once-in-a-lifetime adventures that will give you great stories to tell for years to come.

Which brings me to a handful of upcoming events that seem especially novel.  But, please, don’t take my word for it—get up off the couch and go see for yourself:

No BS Event

Test your arm against the locals in Beaver, Oklahoma’s World Cow Chip Throwing Championship (Warning: The record here is an amazing 182 feet!).

To Boldly Go…

Be “transported” to another  world as Trekkies take over the small Canadian town of Vulcan, Alberta June 11-13 for a three-day Spock Days/GalaxyFest party that’s out-of-this-world.mooning of the Amtrak

Full Moon Fever

Join hundreds of fun-loving locals for the 31st Annual Mooning Of The Amtrak Day as they, ahem, greet each and every one of the three dozen Amtrak passenger trains that roll past Laguna Niguel California’s Mugs Away Saloon.

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS:

Off To The Races: Ducks, and Camels, and Ostriches Oh My!

Magic Man: 2 Places Where The Spirit of Houdini Lives On

Adventures In Aviation: Zeppelin Flights

April 7, 2010

zeppelin flights san franciscoIn a world where many people have come to view flying as an ordeal to be endured, there are still lots of us for whom the act of leaving terra firma behind remains an adventure to be savored.  If you’re one of us, you owe it to yourself to book a seat on the first zeppelin to take to the skies above the U.S. in more than 70 years.

The company responsible for the zeppelin’s return to America, Airship Ventures, offers one- and two-hour flight-seeing tours around San Francisco Bay in the 246-foot helium-filled Eureka, as well as occasional cross-country flights as they reposition the zeppelin for tours in southern California or Monterey (if you have your private pilot’s license you can even take a turn at the controls). Between the zeppelin’s gentle flight characteristics—three 200-horsepower engines in rotating nacelles allow pilots to make this 747-sized airship hover, climb, and descend like a helicopter—and its huge panoramic windows, there simply isn’t a better platform for airborne rubbernecking out there.

Then, of course, there’s the sheer rarity of the experience.  The Eureka is the largest airship in existence and one of only three zeppelins operating anywhere in the world, facts that should earn you some bragging rights back home.

Ultimately though, all that grown-up appeal vanishes the moment you climb aboard.  From aerial views of Alcatraz and the city’s dramatic skyline to an amazing Golden Gate fly-by, even serious “been there, flown in that” aviation geeks (umm, like me for instance) are likely to find themselves with their noses pressed up against the glass like wide-eyed 10-year-olds.

In the end, it’s this sense of wonder that makes these zeppelin flights such an extraordinary experience.  Even for all those poor jaded folks who insist they don’t like flying.

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES:

Full Of Hot Air: How To Be Part Of A Mass Ascension At The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

High-Flying History: Take Off In A World War II B-17

Lindbergh’s Legacy: Powered Hang-Gliding Flights Above Lucky Lindy’s Maui Home

Cool Camps (Part 2): Why Let Kids Have All The Fun?

April 2, 2010

If you read Part 1 of this series, which featured seven way-cool summer camps for kids, you may have come away wishing there were a way us grown-ups could get in on the fun.  At least I know I did.

Camp Winnarainbow founder wavy gravy

Camp Winnarainbow's Wavy Gravy

Which lead me to put together this list of adult-only “camps” that’ll give the tweens and teens in your life just as many reasons to be jealous:

Hollywood TV Star Fantasy Camp

Get ready for your close-up as you play your part in this “made-for-TV” crime drama.

Tritone Jazz Fantasy Camp

Five days of jamming in laid back settings ranging from small combos to big bands.

Camp Winnarainbow

Run away to join the circus at this far-out program put on by hippie legend Wavy Gravy.

World Poker Tour Boot Camp

Raise your game to the next level at these two-day clinics taught by tournament pros.

Space Camp

Space Camp

Always wanted to be an astronaut?  Well, now you can at least train like one!

Bull Riding Camp

Here’s your chance to experience the longest eight seconds of your life from atop a rodeo bull.

CIA Boot Camps

Foodies can join Culinary Institute of America instructors for the tastiest “camps” anywhere!

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES

Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

Michael Jordan’s Basketball Fantasy Camp

Magic Man: 2 Places Where The Spirit of Houdini Lives!

March 24, 2010

Trolling around the internet last week, I noticed that today is Harry Houdini’s birthday.  Which got me thinking about the state of “magic” in our culture and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

In an era of computer-generated trickery ranging from software-doctored photos in magazines to entire computer-generated worlds in movies like Avatar, the idea of someone performing old-school prestidigitation seems almost quaint.  Just the same, anyone who’s ever been wowed by updated versions of these traditional magic acts as performed by the likes of David Blaine or Penn & Teller understands that there’s some part of the human psyche that truly enjoys the experience of being mystified by illusions so finely crafted and deftly executed that the word magic definitely seems to apply.

Whether you’re an aspiring professional magician or just a curious amateur looking to pick up a few simple tricks to amaze and amuse friends and relatives, I think you’ll find these two annual events to be true extraordinary experiences:

Society of American Magicians Annual Convention

June 30 – July 3, 2010; Atlanta

Founded in 1902, Harry Houdini was the longest-serving president of this organization whose members include everyone from Siegfried & Roy to David Copperfield.  Their annual get together includes special programs for young magicians, a circus sideshow-style midway, contests, and nightly gala performances.

International Brotherhood of Magicians Annual Convention

July 6-10, 2010; San Diego

With 12,000 members in 73, countries, the I.B.M. is the world’s largest organization for professional magicians and amateur enthusiasts. Their four-day convention includes lectures and workshops taught by internationally known magicians, a dealers area where you can try and buy some of the latest tricks, and several large-scale nightly magic shows.

MORE COOL STUFF:

There’s A Spell For That: How To Magically Transport Yourself To The Land of Harry Potter

A Visit To Hollywood’s Magic Castle

Sailing Away: 2 Extraordinary Cruise Ship Alternatives

March 1, 2010

Royal Clipper Cruise ShipAs a general rule, I’m not a big fan of cruises.  The idea of watching the world pass by from atop a floating high-rise hotel, visiting over-commercialized ports-of-call with thousands of fellow passengers in what feels like an invading tourist army, and sitting through sequin-encrusted musical revues just isn’t my idea of a good time.

Which makes it all the more surprising that I find myself drawn to these two remarkable “cruising” adventures.  Though they differ in scale, both offer a chance to have true extraordinary experiences that go way beyond simply oohing-and-ahhing at the elaborate ice sculpture anchoring a traditional cruise ship’s midnight buffet:

Tall Ships

While the region you’re traveling through is the most obvious attraction to any cruise, there’s a lot to be said for sailing aboard a ship that has its own unique appeal.  Like the 439-foot Royal Clipper, for example.  With its 42 sails unfurled from five masts, the world’s largest sailing ship is an imposing spectacle you’re not likely to see again anytime soon.  And if feeling yourself being carried along by the power of the wind isn’t enough of an adventure for you, there’s the chance to visit distinctly less touristy destinations and try once-in-a-lifetime on-board activities like climbing up to the crow’s nest to enjoy the panoramic view.

Small Boats

While the idea of chartering a sailboat and island-hopping through the Caribbean sounds romantic in theory, from a practical perspective the lofty price tag and steep learning curve put the experience out of many people’s reach.  Which is where the idea of being a crew member aboard one of the luxury sailboats that ply the waters of this yachter’s paradise comes in.  While you’ll need some sailing experience for most paying gigs, there are a few boats that will take complete novices who are willing to pay a reasonable daily rate and invest a little sweat equity by raising sails and pitching in with a few chores.  To learn more and get an idea of whether this affordable cruise ship alternative is right for you, check out this New York Times story of one such trip aboard the two-masted schooner S.V. Illusion.

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Making Waves: Take The Wheel While Sailing Aboard An Authentic America’s Cup Yacht

Horsing Around: How You Can Ride Into History With Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

February 27, 2010

Buffalo Bill's Wild WestWhen I read that today was William “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s birthday, it made me wonder whether anyone out there was still putting on the kind of Old West extravaganzas this larger-than-life showman made famous in the waning days of the American frontier.  What I discovered will surprise city slickers and delight all those folks for whom cowboy skills are much more than just quaint historical relics.

You see, it turns out that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West is currently gearing up for its 39th season full of trick riders, fancy ropers, stagecoach robberies, Native American dancers and much more.  Modern-day impresario Montie Montana Jr. says he likes to think of this blend of history and theater as the kind of show old Buffalo Bill himself would be putting on if he were still with us.

While that’s all well and good, what makes this such an extraordinary experience is the fact that Montana holds open tryouts the morning of every performance.  Virtually everyone who turns up can earn a spot in the over-the-top grand finale of that night’s show, while a lucky few may be offered a permanent spot in the show’s internationally touring cast.

To find out where you can see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West—and possibly audition for what’s sure to be an unforgettable moment in this living-history spectacle—check the show’s online calendar.

More Cool Stuff:

3 Family-Friendly Living History Adventures

Cool photos of the original Buffalo Bill

Blown Up: Indoor Skydiving Offers A Much Saner Alternative To The Real Deal

February 23, 2010

Indoor Skydive--Las VegasAs I look around this tubular chamber, a random thought occurs to me:  Aren’t rooms with padded walls usually reserved for crazy people?  Before I have a chance to consider what lying spread-eagled on the wire mesh floor of a two-story padded room says about my mental health, the gentle breeze generated by the giant fan beneath me quickly builds to hurricane force.  And suddenly I find myself flying.

Granted, the concept of “indoor skydiving” may seem a bit loony in its own right.  But the fact is this is about as close to the exhilaration of free fall as a relatively sane person—herein defined as anyone with more sense than to jump out of a perfectly good airplane—is ever likely to get.

When my friend Todd and I decided to give the sport a whirl we headed to Vegas Indoor Skydiving, one of only a handful of places in the U.S. that make these 120 mile-per-hour vertical wind tunnels available to the general public.  Our instructor K8 (her spelling, not mine) started out by showing us a short video that demonstrated proper body-flight technique, the hand signals we’d use to communicate, and—most importantly—how to tuck-and-roll properly to guarantee a safe landing on the chamber’s well-padded rim if we found ourselves flying out of the airstream.

After getting us decked out like escapees from some low-budget sci-fi flick in brightly-colored flight-suits, helmets, and goggles, the three of us headed for the wind tunnel.  Once inside, K8 had me lie face down on the trampoline-like wire mesh in the center of the chamber as she signaled the wind tunnel operator to crank up the huge fan in the building’s basement.

As the wind speed approached 75 miles-per-hour I was literally blown up, with K8 stepping in with an occasional tug on a sleeve or pants leg to keep me positioned in the center of the airstream.  Once I started to get the hang of flying sans aircraft, I was able to stand on the rim of the chamber and dive head-first into the airstream in a move not unlike Superman taking flight.

While most of this operation’s customers are satisfied with a couple of three-minute flight sessions, I flew for a total of 12 minutes as Todd took his sweet time snapping photos.  Then it was his turn to fly with K8, whereupon he quickly decided that this off-the-wall form of flight is a lot harder than it looks.

Having done a couple of tandem skydives I can tell you that, while this indoor version of free fall lacks the full-on sensory overload of the real deal, the overall experience is pretty darn similar.  It also happens to be the best way I know to get a taste of skydiving without making folks think you’ve lost your mind.

MORE COOL STUFF
The Ultimate Thrill Ride: Tandem Skydive

List of Other Indoor Skydiving Centers