A sense of deja vu washed over me like the rainmaker shower head at one of my favorite hotels. Here I sat at the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando, enjoying one of my favorite meals under a dome adorned with a mural of rockstar angels. Robert Palmer's Simply Irresistible played on the various screens around the restaurant, while a pink Cadillac spins on top of the bar. This wasn't a subconscious connection to some imaginary event. I had lived this exact moment once before, and duplicated it countless times over.
|The Cafe and Hard Rock Live in Orlando|
Most 9 year old kids would have been over the moon excited about a visit to the brand new Universal Studios in Orlando. And for the better part of our short drive to Florida's theme park universe I fit the mold of most 9 year old kids. That is until we pulled into the Universal Studios parking lot and I caught my first glimpse of one of the world's most recognizable logos glowing in the distance. For the rest of the day, I wasn't interested in Jaws, King Kong, or surviving an Earthquake on the Los Angeles subway. No, the only attraction I cared about was dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.
|Robert Palmer rocking it out in Orlando|
After what I'm sure was several hours of constant nagging of my parents, that wish eventually came true. I can remember sitting in the dining room exploring all of the music memorabilia, like the wooden doors to Abby Road Studios, as well as a neon sign proclaiming "No Drugs or Nuclear Weapons Allowed Inside." I ordered the Pig Sandwich, and after admiring the rad collection of pins on our server's shirt - it was 1990, rad was still in - I again begged my parents to purchase one for me from the Rock Shop.
|Hard Rock Atlanta - Yes, sometimes I'm the first customer of the day.|
22 years and 23 Hard Rock Cafes later, not much has changed about my strange fascination with this legendary brand. In what I'd estimate to be close to 100 visits, the Pig Sandwich is the only thing I've ever ordered off the menu, although they now call it the Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich. I refuse to adopt this ridiculous new name and still call it the Pig Sandwich, a practice that always seems to prompt a simultaneous roll of the eyes from MJ and our server. In addition to my neurotic stance on the menu, I also pick up the same logo pin from new locations we happen to visit around the world. Oftentimes the only souvenir I bring home.
|The collection, although a few are missing...|
While the Hard Rock plays a part in nearly every trip MJ and I take, it has been intentionally left out of the various musings here about our travel. You see, to many in the travel blog-o-sphere, Hard Rock is the quintessential tourist trap. The kind of place no self respecting travel blogger would choose to eat over a destination's more authentic local cuisine. To engage my colleagues with an argument in favor of Hard Rock would be a complete waste of time because, the fact is, they're right. From Times Square to Fisherman's Wharf, Las Ramblas to the Las Vegas Strip, wherever tourists congregate in the world's largest cities, there's a better than not chance you'll discover a fair portion are carrying nondescript brown bags with that iconic logo stamped on the side. To admit that all of our travels involve a visit to the Hard Rock Cafe would mean risking a lifetime banishment from the travel blogger community. A risk that until now I simply wasn't willing to take.
|Hard Rock Key West - Proposed to MJ, then had lunch here...|
The fact is, many of my favorite travel memories involve a visit to the Hard Rock, so why hide them? For example, MJ and I visited the Hard Rock in Key West about an hour after I proposed to her. My brother and I once hiked 30 blocks to the old restaurant in New York, because I got us lost on the subway and he insisted we walk. While on a long layover in London I took a bus, train, and cab just to have lunch at the original location. There was no way I was setting foot in Londontown without paying homage to the place responsible for so many great memories.
|MJ and I hanging with The Script at Hard Rock Live in Orlando|
Just a few nights ago, as I looked around at my fellow Hard Rock patrons, I couldn't help but notice nearly all of them were transfixed by the swaying Robert Palmer and his leggy beauties. A knowing smile was across all of their faces, the same one which usually accompanies the first bite of mom's turkey on Thanksgiving Day. It was then that I realized that these people weren't smiling thanks to a ridiculously awful music video, but instead because it reminded them happy memories from the past. The same smile no doubt comes to my face each and every time I step inside a Hard Rock Cafe.
|Hard Rock San Francisco, the latest location scratched off the list...|
Yes, it's a tourist trap...there I said it. But for me, the Hard Rock Cafe is a beloved part of my travel persona. Few things bring me greater joy than opening my box of souvenir pins and dropping a new one inside. Not because I checked off a visit to some cookie-cutter restaurant, but for all of the other travel memories that are sure to have come along with it. To date, I've visited 24 of the 175 Hard Rock locations around the world, which means two things...
There's a lot more of this world left to explore, and I'm gonna need a bigger box.
Love All, Serve All