Recently by Jesse Smith:

Showboat, Trump Plaza, and Revel to close

You wouldn’t have known from the long line of people waiting to check in that the Showboat Atlantic City Hotel and Casino would be closing in just one week. My partner Rob and I arrived at the Mardi Gras-themed casino a few minutes after 4:00, when check-in began, and already guests had formed a long line along the gaming floor. Many were traveling both light and heavy: They had backpacks and pillows from home and bags with bottles of liquor, even though a sign in the self-park garage said guests were not allowed to bring their own alcohol into the hotel. 

Jesse Smith is a writer based in Philadelphia.

Historic or kitsch?


There are two Gettysburgs. One is the battlefield, today preserved as the Gettysburg National Military Park. More than a million visitors come here each year to see the fields and forests where Union and Confederate troops met 150 years ago this July 1. Many will come this summer to celebrate the anniversary of the pivotal battle, the deadliest in North American history.

I first experienced this Gettysburg last year, when I took my dad — a budding Civil War buff — there for Father’s Day. We started at the new visitors center, where we watched “A New Birth of Freedom,” narrated by Morgan Freeman. We looked at the famous Gettysburg Cyclorama: a 130-year old, 360-degree painting that depicts Pickett’s Charge. Then we bought a CD guide in the gift shop and drove the 24-mile auto tour,… More…

Sort of like a terrible veggie burger


If you are an inmate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s prison system, and you misuse food items, refuse to return uneaten food items, destroy or throw food items, or use food containers to throw human waste, you may be assigned a Behavior Modified Meal the state calls “Food-Loaf.”

The public recently had a chance to experience Pennsylvania’s Food-Loaf at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. The historic site was the world’s first true penitentiary; with the urging of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, the state opened the site in 1829. It aimed to inspire true penitence through isolation and silence. Eastern State closed in 1971, but in 2013, it was back to serving meals, if only for two days.

Visitors that weekend could sample foods from three different eras in the… More…

Seeking the fountain of youth, finding Florida

For 500 years, Europeans and their descendants have traveled to Florida from somewhere else. For many, this is a hopeful trip. Spring Breakers come for a week of debauchery; retirees come for golden years of warmth and sunshine and no more gray winters of bare trees and snowy sidewalks to shovel. In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was (possibly) the first European to make such a trip. The popular legend claims he came in search of magical waters with the power to restore youth and vitality, but he was likely looking for gold. He didn’t find any. For five centuries now, Florida has been a place of promise. But the promise of a place can be a funny thing. As Ponce de Leon found out, it doesn’t always overlap with what you find there.


“Viva Florida… More…

*Not Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, but close.

Thursday, June 9 was an active night at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, as it was both Parmesan night at the airport’s Italian restaurant and the air disaster drill for the airport at large.


The Arnold Palmer Regional Airport lies 40 miles east of Pittsburgh and more than 60 miles east of Pittsburgh International Airport in a small town of 8,338. From Pittsburgh International, travelers can make direct flights to New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Toronto, Cancun, and Paris. From Arnold Palmer, travelers can fly directly to either Fort Lauderdale or Myrtle Beach on Spirit Airlines, and only to either Fort Lauderdale or Myrtle Beach, and only on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday.

I learned about the airport’s air disaster drill from a friend who traveled through Latrobe and saw a flier… More…

My kind of toys.

I collect thumb toys. Few people know thumb toys by name, but most everybody has seen one. Thumb toys are those small figures that stand atop a little pedestal that fits in the palm of your hand. Push a button under the pedestal and tension is released from strings within the figure; it falls. Let go and the figure rights itself.


I currently own 152 thumb toys. The breadth of the thumb toy world is impressive. The figures in my collection include robots, ghosts, elephants, turtles, dancing ants, circus strongmen, Curious George, a British cop, a bride and groom, a signing frog who swings on a cattail, Frankenstein, and the Fernsehturm television tower in Berlin.

I offer this as background to why I only started to personally click with the 108th Annual American International… More…

The Hoover Dam and its Bypass.

What is it about autumn and the dedication of major engineering projects in the American Southwest? Seventy-five years ago, on September 30, 1935, Franklin Roosevelt traveled to the Colorado River just south of Las Vegas to dedicate the Boulder Dam, better known as the Hoover Dam. On October 16, 2010, dignitaries and public spectators will gather 1,500 feet downstream to dedicate the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, better known as the Hoover Dam Bypass.

Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century by Michael Hiltzik. 512 pages. Free Press. $30.

The Bypass dedication ceremony is going by the name Bridging America. Its website warns attendees to expect high temperatures, dry and windy weather, little shade, minimal refreshments, long waits, and “walking on dirt.” One hopes that with such adverse conditions, spectators don’t fail to note the irony of marking the 75th anniversary of an… More…

America's secret pleasure.

Adjustable beds. Beer. RVs. Cigars. Cheescakes. If something is made in this country, chances are you can witness the process. The field’s main guidebook, Watch it Made in the U.S.A., includes more than 300 factory tours and company museums scattered across the country. Nobody ever really plans a vacation around a factory tour the way they do around, say, a national park or a battlefiled or a museum. But when you see a factory tour advertised on a highway sign, or in a brochure on a rest stop rack, you realize that you never really wondered how a guitar was made, but now that you think about it…


Factory tours’ silent presence on the touristic landscape maks a rich history that goes back more… More…

No problem!

Looking for some outdoor summer fun but hate the crowds of Yellowstone, the remoteness of Dry Tortugas, the heat of Death Valley, and the obviousness of the Grand Canyon? Maybe you’d instead enjoy picnicking in James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park in Georgia. Or swimming at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Kentucky. Or walking your leashed pet through Harry “Babe” Woodyard State Natural Area in Illinois.


If so, you should get on that now. This is not a good time for state parks. With economic conditions making employment and education seem like privileges, recreation is hardly thought a right. Which is why the state parks make easy targets for the nation’s 50 governors and 7,382 state legislators looking to cut costs. Which is why the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in turn, has placed state parks and… More…

The icon of an oil spill.

The moment I heard about the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, I knew I’d soon see depressing photos of animals. That’s how it goes with oil spills and oil leaks. Animals are threatened, and some die, and this is both news but also a source of dramatic imagery to accompany coverage of the accident.


And so it goes with coverage of the leak in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s estimated that more than 200,000 gallons of oil are leaking each day into the Gulf, a region rich with life. The impact has been illustrated with photos of dead sea turtles that have washed up along the Gulf Coast. Images from Ship Island, Mississippi reveal that dead birds, sharks, and other fish have been found there, too. CBS News created a bannerMore…