Monday, July 28, 2014

Friends and a Purple Finish

For a Monday night, things were pretty busy on the water in Newport.
Rowing the Wedding Gondola, I ran into lots of friends out there -
all with happy passengers - out to enjoy the colors of the sunset.

Emerging from the Newport Blvd. bridge, I saw two boats from two other companies.  We exchanged hearty greetings from boat to boat. 

We crossed paths with Simon, rowing the Phoenix near the spot where we see the most wedding proposals.

At one point my passengers and I were talking about the different kinds of sunsets.  I told them that sometimes we get purple-water-sunsets, but that it doesn't happen often.

Later on, we were lucky enough to see one.

 The purple phase doesn't last long, but when it does, it's amazing.

(see also "Turning Purple" )

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunsets Never Get Old

photo by Joey Hamamoto

This just came in from my gondolier Joey - taken as he cruised toward the setting sun.
Steve Elkins can be seen in the shot, rowing the Phoenix.

Joey has been with us for 18 years now, longer than any other gondolier.
Steve, my right-hand-man, has the second longest tenure with Gondola Adventures at 14 years.
The first time Steve was on one of my gondolas, he was on a date!

Both these guys still love the job, and never get tired of the sunsets.

Life is good.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Border to Border SUP

As I write this, there's a guy named Will Schmidt who is paddling his surfboard somewhere off the coast of San Diego.  For the last 58 days, Will has made his way from the US/Canada border, all the way down the west coast, towards the border with Mexico.
This is an unprecidented stand-up-paddle expedition, and it's all being done to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.
Here's a local news piece on Will Schmidt and his journey.
"Weather! Water! Whales! O.C. man paddling from Canada to Mexico is seeing it all"
By the time you read this, Will may have already finished his journey.
As he approaches the finish line, I expect he'll have at least a few friends rowing, paddling, and motoring alongside - with that kind of moral support, I'm certain that he will finish.
So big congratulations to Will Schmidt!
Thanks for supporting a great cause, and inspiring all of us.

To learn more about this epic journey, go to
You can donate there, and also track his progress.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Back on the Water

After a long break from rowing, I was happy to get back on the water
and take some cruises.
Usually I defer to my great staff of gondoliers,
but tonight, due to some unavailability,
I was back in the rotation
(which does make me happy).
As usual, I monitored the wind from the time I awoke,
and when I showed up at the docks, I was greeted by winds that wanted to mess with me, but as the evening progressed, the wind disappeared and my passengers and I enjoyed conditions that could be identified as "dead calm".
The sunset wasn't bad either.
Just another night in the life of a southern California gondolier.
Life is good!  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

NOLA 300

The count began in 2004, when the gondola was in Pensacola.
The count continued, off and on over the years.
When he launched the beautiful Bella Mae on the waters of City Park in New Orleans in 2010, Roberto and his gondola started counting once again. 
They'd witnessed numerous marriage proposals in the years prior -
in Pensacola, Florida, San Destin, Florida and in Huntsville, Alabama.
In a previous life they'd been on the waters there in New Orleans, but that was before Hurricane Katrina came roaring through - see the post "Oblivion" - written  by Roberto.
When he re-launched his gondola at City Park in 2010, and another proposal took place, the counting continued.
In the last few weeks he's been getting excited, as the 300 mark was approaching.
Yesterday afternoon, with the 300th marriage proposal on the books for that evening, it looked like things might not work out - for him and the Bella Mae, and also for a guy named Ed and his unsuspecting girlfriend, Leiah.
Weather was the issue.
Roberto told me:
It's been like monsoon season here and I was not sure if I would have to cancel their tour or not.
But the weather cleared up, just in time, and the cruise was on.
For some time now, Roberto has been encouraging his couples to write on the underside of one of the bridges along the route
(see my post "Under the Bridge Club" for more details).

I'm sure that the bridge in City Park isn't the only place where people have written messages in chalk, but it's a very unique tradition in the gondola world, and one I wish I'd come up with myself.

As the gondola slid beneath the bridge, Ed reached up, with chalk in hand, and wrote "will you marry me" on the underside of the bridge.

Was she surprised?   Yes!
What was her answer?   "YES!"
Was Roberto thrilled?   Absolutely.
It was one beautiful boat full of very happy people.

I asked him "did he know that he was going to be #300?"
He said: I told them, afterwards.

Probably a good idea - after all, Ed already had a lot on his mind stepping into the boat.
The happy couple.

After all was said and done, Ed wrote to his gondolier:
We traveled all the way from the Midwest.

New Orleans is such a great city and me and my girlfriend had a blast.
But the best part of the trip was the Gondola ride where Robert came up with the Brilliant way for me to propose to my now fiancé.
He followed up with:

Thank you again for the great experience this memory will last Leiah and I a life time.

I asked Roberto how HE felt about this milestone, and about the job we do:
I still get goosebumps, every time I witness another proposal! 
They are each very special and unique!! 
This is much more than a job.... it's a calling!

It really is. As gondoliers we have the best view, the happiest clients, and it keeps us in excellent shape. Doctor? Dentist? Day-trader? No thanks! I'll take "gondolier" any day of the week.

So then I asked Roberto "how are YOU celebrating 300?"
Cold beer, spaghetti and watching the movie "300".
This is Sparta!!!!

Congrats to Ed and Leiah,
and congrats to Roberto and his gondola Bella Mae.

To learn more about Roberto's operation, visit


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Regata Report

Our friend Kathleen Ann Gonzalez - author of "Free Gondola Ride" is in Venice once again.  While working on her Casanova-based publication, Kathy crossed the bridge of boats over to la Giudecca and watched the regata.

Here's her report:
I sure wish I could have been there.

After reading that post, spend a little time catching up on her blog as Kathy has unique perspective on Venezia (and Casanova).
Seductive Venice

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Getting "Yelped"

photo by Cassandra Mohr
 First Impression
When Yelp first entered my world, I saw it in the same way I saw Facebook.
Before the world all picked up and moved their lives into this new network of friends, Facebook was just "something the kids were into".

With Yelp, people who didn't seem to matter to anyone other than those within their circle were discovering this new way to feel important,
and began fancying themselves as restaurant critics.

The way it was first explained to me:
"it's a fun way to tell your friends and other foodies about great unknown restaurants and other gems".

A Change in Dynamics
At some point it became more relevant. 
We started to notice that clients were choosing our service based on reviews they read on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and a few other online sources.

Yelp and it's travel-oriented cousin TripAdvisor were becoming the new Zagat.

For the longest time, customers only had three options when it came to recommending or recourse:
     1. hire that service again...or not.
     2. tell their friends about a company...or not.
     3. take that company to court.

In many ways, the customer was under-equipped to respond to poor service.  Unless you wanted to take someone to small claims court
(and had a solid reason to), you would be left with frustration.

Here's the phrase we've all heard before:
                                 the internet changed everything.

As a gondola operation, we found that our focus was shifting - leaning more and more towards encouraging good reviews, and doing everything we could to avoid bad ones.

A New Kind of Stress
Not long ago I found myself in the waiting area of a local Claim Jumper restaurant.  I was there with extended family, so we had a decent sized group.
The wait was annoyingly long. Unfortunately nobody had made reservations, so there was nothing to do but wait, get more hungry, and wonder when one of the other large groups would wrap things up and vacate so we could be seated.

Right there, in view of the hostess desk, there were two large tables with about twenty-five patrons.  Because we were waiting for them or someone like them to finish up, I was irritated that they had clearly finished eating long ago but were in no hurry to leave.  Realistically they had no reason to do so, and if I'd been in their group, I'm sure I'd have shared their desire to stay.
It was a dragonboat racing team, they'd just competed in a race and were out celebrating their experience.

Unfortunately though, I wasn't the only one bothered by their presence.
You see, their two tables were in the center of a room, but there were about ten other smaller tables and booths in that room, and the loud partylike noise coming from the dragonboat people was overwhelming. 
Some of the folks at other tables looked like they'd gotten stuck on a plane with a bunch of loud drunk fraternity brothers.

What does this have to do with Yelp?
As I sat there, I watched the dragonboaters, then the people at other tables, and then the manager - who was stuck in an unenviable position.

He could scold or shoo out the large party, and risk one or more bad online reviews, or he could do nothing and expect similar write-ups from the other patrons.

This sort of thing happens every day in businesses near and far, and it's not just restaurants. Hardware stores, plumbers, barber shops, pool cleaners.

I feel bad for businesses that sell things:

someone brings in an obviously used product to get a refund on, and a store owner is forced to choose between the loss of the purchase money or the potential greater loss associated with a bad online review.

photo by Kierlyn Densham

A New Kind of Weapon
This new ability to review is a two-edged sword.
There are many examples out there of crooked businesses being reported on review sites.  Some get with the program, others either suffer or shut down - unwilling to recognize their errors.

But there are also countless examples of businesses that have been unfairly targetted because someone was having a bad day and didn't like the temperature of their soup, or a new employee made a slight mistake for the first time and it rubbed someone the wrong way.

And then there are the darker scenarios:
one business trying to torpedo another,
or a customer feeling like they need to take out their wrath on someone without first trying to talk to the manager or owner.

In a way, this new technology can be compared to a sniper rifle - and not all who are given the rifle use it responsibly.

What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas,
but what happens on the internet is often there forever.
Barring a global power blackout, bad reviews will always be accessible to us.

Sadly, people seem more motivated to go online and criticize than give praise.  Unless someone is a habitual Yelper, they really need to be amazed to go out of their way to say that they had a great experience.

It's understandable, I guess:
the drive to warn others of a bad service experience may seem more urgent than to tell others about someone who's providing a good experience.

photo by Cassandra Mohr
There really is no better word to use in describing some of the things I've witnessed since people have discovered the power they can wield with this new weapon. 
I've seen people put up a bad review and then sit back and wait for the phone to ring.  I've seen small business owners, who work hard for every dollar, have to turn around and cough up hundreds, if not thousands of those dollars to a customer who's holding a bad review over their head. 
Sure there are times when a bad review is deserved, but then there are those opportunists out there who are not in any organized crime syndicate, but have still figured out a way to collect "protection money".
Now You See it, Now You Don't
As if the Yelp gods have nothing better to do, on several occasions I've seen excellent five-star reviews magically disappear a few days after they went up.  This is maddening; we work hard to provide an excellent experience,
and encourage our clients to submit reviews, only to have the good ones dematerialize for no reason I can surmise.

This usually happens to reviewers who have only done a few reviews, or who are first-time reviewers. It may have something to do with filtering out fakers, but it's not a good way to encourage folks to participate, and when I see a great review, that I know is legitimate, it's downright unfair.

For the record, I've yet to see poor reviews disappear in this mysterious way.

Power to the People...Whoever They Are
For the longest time it seemed that the general public had little power to tell the world about their experiences, and share their opinions on things.
Now we're seeing the opposite of that; the pendulum has swung hard in the other direction. The power is in the people's hands, but it sure looks like a "careful what you wish for" scenario.
Unless you know the person who wrote a particular review, there's no way to determine their levels of honesty, taste, or their mental state. 
There's no way to know if they have an agenda.  With the standard reviewing model, the reviewer would have to answer for a bad call.   
Not so in this case.

Not Just Happening Here
I ran this piece by my wife to get her thoughts, and was surprised to learn that she'd just read another report on a similar angle, but from the UK.
The Telegraph's writer, Alex Proud has some compelling thoughts on how the "reviewing by the masses" has changed things.
Read "TripAdvisor is democracy for the stupid" - it's an excellent piece,
filled with gems of wisdom. 

If I Could Ask One Thing
For better or worse, I predict that "reviewing by the masses" is here to stay.
As a business owner, if I could ask one thing of the "reviewing public",
it would be this:
Let your positive be quick, and your negative be mature.

I encourage you to take a few minutes immediately after a positive experience - and reward good service. Many businesses turn around and reward their employees if they are named in a five-star review.
If it's a win-win situation, don't put off reviewing.

In the case of a negative experience, don't hastily throw a bad review up for all to see, til the end of time.  Go to the owner or manager first to try and resolve something.  Believe me - nine times out of ten, they want the opportunity to fix something immediately.  Don't be afraid to have that conversation - it's what mature adults do. Walking away and retaliating in secret is childish, and sometimes even cowardly.

 photo by Cassandra Mohr
If you are reading this, and you're a business owner,
I wish you nothing but great reviews. 
If you are a gondola operator (even one who competes with me)
I also wish you nothing but great reviews.
It does none of us any good if there's a gondola business out there
making us all look bad. 
On the same note, it doesn't help any of us if someone who fancies
themselves a critic - is representing our business poorly.

For further reading on the subject, check out "Ridiculous Yelping".

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The "Bicycle Method"

Mark Schooling at Gondola Paradiso sent me a message recently
with these two images.

He was setting up to varnish an oar and came up with a clever way
to deal with the challenges presented by such a long project piece.

He wrote:
Use the tools you have.  Varnishing the old oar.  Handle on my old dining table with the bike frame weighing the oar down. 
Note to self, varnish handle down.  Easier to turn oar.

So Mark found the frame of his bicycle to be the perfect tool
to keep that remo in place.
The result: a nice, shiny, and well-sealed oar - which is ready to take to the waters of Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, California.

I love the task of varnishing oars.
The results are so visible, so tangible, but getting the oar to stay in place can sometimes be difficult.  But thanks to Mark, I might just try out this innovative "Bicycle Method" next time I need to do some varnishing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Snappy Sandolo Sighting

Before I photographed the red gondola last night,
I stopped off at the Naples canals, where the guys from
Gondola Getaway row most of their cruises.
Turning on Ravenna Drive, I crossed over the canal and spotted a beautiful sandolo heading towards the bridge.
I parked, grabbed my camera, and was there in time to catch the prow emerging from beneath the bridge.
They have a few of these classic passenger sandoli in Alamitos Bay.
John Kerschbaum and I got a chance to row one tandem last October and it was a fun time - especially with Andrew McHardy and Peter Dever aboard.

The sandolista rowed the craft deftly, moving her steadily
towards where the sun would soon touch down.

There are about three dozen Venice-built gondolas in North America,
but only a handful of sandoli. Each and every one seems to be in good hands, with appreciative passengers enjoying their experiences aboard.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Red gondola and Reflecting Moon

Driving through Sunset Beach tonight,
I took a quick detour off Pacific Coast Highway.
The moon was full and the tide was high.
I  was hoping I might just spot a gondola.
No such luck.
I checked a few good locations where you can sometimes
spot one of Tim's boats, then headed back towards the highway
when I caught a very familiar sight:
There's no other boat in the world quite like her, and she's found a nice home at Sunset Gondola.
Doubling back, I stopped on a bridge just in time to catch that remarkable gondola as she glided through the reflection of the full moon.
There was no time to dial things in and fuss over camera settings.
I hoped I'd get something and snapped away.

The results remind me a little bit of the "Starry Night" painting by Van Gough, with the moon and the clouds swirling around.

I'm sure that the passengers on that boat had some fantastic views of their own. What a beautiful night.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

In the Pink...and Purple

photo by Cassandra Mohr
Gondolier Steve Elkins and his passengers
taking in a beautiful sunset in Newport Beach.

No two sunsets are exactly alike,
but there are some traits that we see regularly.

As colors change later in the process, sometimes we see pinks and purples - often together. The purple is usually more on the water than in the sky.

Sunsets are beautiful, but nothing compares to a sunset on the water.
It's twice as dramatic.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

From the Passenger's Perspective

photo by Cassandra Mohr

It's easy to get used to things from only one point of view.
In fact it seems that the more time a gondolier spends on the back of the boat, the less in-touch they are with what things look like from the passenger's seat.

For this reason, I tell my gondoliers to take a moment after they've set their boat up, and simply sit in the boat - look at things from the passenger's perspective.
Suddenly all those crumbs, wrappers, and straps from life jackets come into view.  What you thought was a perfect presentation...needs to be dialed in just a little bit more, and that little bit can make all the difference.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pamplona (and Other Places)

If you run a gondola operation, and have other gondoliers working for you,
then watch out in the coming week. 
If you notice that some of your staff happen to be planning some travel to Spain, and they've taken red sashes and scarves with them,
your gondoliers may be heading to Pamplona to run with the bulls.

photo courtesy of Dan Devine

If this happens, it won't be the first time.
I've known several gondoliers who've traveled to Pamplona to partake in this crazy event - risking death, injury, or at the very least, international embarrasment as they are seen screaming like five-year-olds and running from angry bulls on worldwide television.

Gondoliers, as I have said many times before, are travel-junkies.
We love to explore, and a high-adrenaline event like the running of the bulls is a perfect fit for a lot of us.  In fact if I didn't have a wife and kids,
I'm sure I'd be heading out there right now.

The uniform isn't that far off:
most of us American gondoliers already wear red sashes and scarves.
White pants, thanks to the US Gondola Nationals, are already hanging in the closets of most gondoliers.
And who doesn't own a white t-shirt to swap out for the stripes?
Voila! The outfit is complete and you're ready to literally run for your life.

This spectacle of running bulls through city streets with people running ahead of them, risking death or injury for the thrill of it, is not exclusive to Pamplona, Spain.  Over the years I've heard of similar bull runs in Mexico and South America, as well as a few other countries in the southern part of Europe.

Last year someone announced that they would be bringing the thrill of bull-running to the United States. Here's an article in Travel and Leisure on them.
That company is known as the Great Bull Run - seems like they're following in some of the footsteps of Red Bull's Flugtag. This year's calendar includes events in six different locations - there's one in Southern California in November.

We Americans are always inventive.  In case you've always wanted to do this, but aren't sure about the whole getting-killed-by-a-bull thing, you can "roll with the bulls".
Next week in Hampton, Virginia you can live the dream of a bull run...with the 1,500 pound angry bovine replaced by roller derby girls!  The derby girls may be just as dangerous, but are sure to be a lot more attractive.
Check out the Hampton Block Party.

If you do choose to go bull-running, please send me a photo
(preferrably with a derby girl).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Back to Serenity

The madness of the 4th of July has passed, and our serene canals have returned to their normal placid state.
Here are a few photos I snapped from the back of the boat.

Passing Mike.
Passing Simon. 
enjoying the peace of Newport on a gondola.

A Colorful 4th of July

Rowing out to the turning basin where we view the fireworks from each year, one of my guests noticed the brilliant colors behind us.  We turned to admire the beauty and rich colors for a few minutes before pressing on.
The fireworks display was fantastic (and not very photographable),
but I did manage to get a reflection of it in the ferro of one of our gondolas.
Yeah, it's in there somewhere.

The 4th of July is very exciting, all day and into the night, but afterwards
I am thankful that it's gone.  I love the meaning of it, but the intensity,
and the way everyone gets crazy in Newport, is more than one city can
take for a long period of time.

Happy Independence Day, my friends.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Storm's Comin'

It may only be the first week of July,
but my heart and mind are already in October,
already in Providence,
already rowing and racing and having fun with fellow gondoliers from all over the country.

The U.S. Gondola Nationals is just over three months away,
but it feels like it's just around the corner
(especially when I think about training for competition).

Gondoliers in many American cities are rowing in local waters...but thinking about rowing in Rhode Island.
Thinking about seeing their counterparts from other areas.
Thinking about all the great fun and fellowship we all had last year thanks to Tim at Sunset Gondola.

A friend of mine in New England posted recently about how there was a storm front approaching (real weather). 
Meanwhile, Eric Bender (a.k.a. the "Oar Snapper") put up a photo of his own on facebook with the words "Storm's comin'" (proverbial weather).

Either way, it's brewing.
The U.S. Gondola Nationals will happen this October in the place where it originated - Providence, Rhode Island. 
This will be the third installment and I can't wait to experience it,
see old friends, and row a gondola in the famous Waterfire that Providence is well known for.

I know I'm not the only one who's excited.
Marcello just sent out a mass e-mail entitled "Gentlemen Start Your Engines!"
I think that pretty much sums it up.
I can't wait til October!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Newport Beach Magazine

My wife and I on the gondola with Steve Elkins in stripes,
In a magazine.
Bottom of the page.
Life is good.
That is all.