A proper Tiki bar has few (if any) physical windows to the outside world. Since they are meant to be an escape, their windows should be more virtual. These can take many forms, via artwork, music, or audio-visual presentations.

Trader Sam’s Volcano Window:

A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge is my real and virtual escape to a Polynesian Paradise. The virtual component takes the form of my Facebook page, this blog, my podcast, and my 8tracks radio station, all of the same name. The real part is found in the basement of our house, which we built 15 years ago with this purpose in mind: my wife gets final say on all furnishings above ground, but the basement is mine!

Like many Tiki bars in northern climates, my basement set-up is a welcome respite from the cold winter outside. It’s warm, with plenty of tropical decor, and very few real windows. In fact, there are only two small windows plus an egress door in the back of the space, which minimize the amount of natural light down here. The windows flank my home-office workspace, which is good to keep me connected to the outside world while I work my day job, but are far from the front of the space, which is also good for reasons I’ll explain later.

Now let me show you the virtual windows in my Tiki Lounge. As mentioned before, these windows take the form of art, music, and A/V presentation. Each help me create a faux Polynesian paradise in their own way. Let’s start with three pieces of art that I find particularly evocative of my own Bali Hai.

MAI-TAI SUNSET, Kevin-John Jobczynski, 2016

This first piece of art by Disney master artist Kevin-John was his first foray into purely Tiki art. I love that he found a way to print his art on an actual piece of driftwood, then mounted it on a burlap background with a dark bamboo frame. More importantly, this view from a seaside table really transports me to a tropical world. It is a window to a fantasy life, ironically hanging just below one of my small physical windows. I like this view better!

LAGOONSCAPE, Dawn Frazier, 2017

This second piece of art is a print by Dawn Frasier, a talented artist who was one of the original leaders of the Tiki revival at the turn of the century. Her work has been featured in many important Tiki events and publications, and I adore her art. This panoramic piece features the moon at night over a tropical lagoon, with Dawn’s amazing color palette lending a dark, cool aura to her world. The moon has always been a window into my soul. I find myself attracted to artwork depicting the moon, which leads me to the next piece…

PANDA’s ZEN, Mark Thompson, 2021

This third piece of art is an original painting by Mark Thompson, who is known for his Tiki, hot rod and pin-up work. I only recently discovered him, but I fell in love with this piece when I followed his progress posts on Facebook. The colors of the moon shadows on this tropical island are brilliant! Talk about a window into paradise. This piece, which I just received this weekend, has everything I love in an escape: the moon, palm trees, Tiki torches, and a panda perched on a Tiki by the water. Mahalo, Mark.

EVERY PAD NEEDS A HI-FI, Derek Yaniger, 2006

Next we move onto music. I have always taken my music very seriously, which I lampoon with the Derek Yaniger art I have hanging near my music collection. A. Panda’s Galaxy of Sound was a treatise I wrote on the five genres of Tiki music: Surf, Polynesian, Exotica, Lounge, and Space-Age Bachelor Pad. For a fun project, I created a physical model of this virtual concept and hung it above my Tiki music rack. This music is yet another window into the tropical escape that is Tiki.

Finally, we have our audio-video combo, the SHAG Tiki Room Theatre. This home theatre set-up in my Tiki Lounge is so named because it houses most of my art collection of Josh Agle a/k/a SHAG, the pre-eminent Tiki/Lowbrow artist of the last 25 years. This room also is in the front of the basement, far away from the actual windows, as I mentioned early on. This is important because natural light is the enemy of projection televisions.

My home theatre system includes a projection screen measuring 5-1/2’ by 8’, or 108” on the diagonal. Talk about your big window! This is much more than just a window into a Polynesian paradise. My family watches a lot of movies, shows, and sports down here. This has become extremely handy during a global pandemic, when going out to movie theaters, concerts and sporting events has been unavailable over the past year. No matter. We can come down into the basement, turn off the lights, fire up the projector and 7.1 channel surround-sound system, and go anywhere we want.

And that’s what an escape should be all about. You just need enough windows to make it happen.

Creativity, Diversity, Inclusion


Last week I wrapped up an entire year of daily posting in my other blog, Creating Stuff. This daily exercise, during a global pandemic, is one of the things that kept me sane in my splendid isolation. Supporting Tiki artists by buying their work is another. Engaging with my workplace’s efforts to support Diversity/Equity/Inclusion (DEI) is a third. How does this all fit together?

This morning, as I was cruising Facebook, I read a post where somebody listed a ranking of “Essential” and “Non-Essential” occupations. Artists were at the top of the latter list. Disappointing, but not surprising, as our society tends to value people who make a lot of money over those who engage in the so-called “soft skills.” What this view neglects is that those people in the Creative Class are the ones who make life bearable, nay, enjoyable, for the rest of humanity to thrive in!

I borrow the term Creative Class from author Richard Florida, who penned a book, The Rise of the Creative Class, in 2002. Three years later, I was fortunate to hear him speak at a Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation event, an organization I volunteered with. In a nutshell, Richard Florida argued that the Creative Class of people were essential to driving economic development, particularly pertaining to the return of our vibrant urban cores, cities.

As artists, entertainers, and other creative types flock back to the downtowns, the entrepreneurs and businesspeople were sure to follow. The lure of a better quality of life would be enough to entice people to move into the more urban areas, where they would raise their children and support the Creative Class who were already supporting them.

This has certainly come to pass in the Lehigh Valley over the past 15 years, where our cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton have seen a renaissance in their downtowns. Development projects like the PPL Center arena in Allentown, the SteelStacks complex in Bethlehem, and the Lafayette College Arts District in Easton are great examples of sports/entertainment, music, and art driving economic development. These and other projects have created jobs, spurred the opening of restaurants and stores, and most importantly, brought people back out of the suburban shopping malls and into the downtown districts.

Sadly, one of the things I remember about that LVEDC meeting back in 2005 was a boycott of it by certain older members of the economic development community. You see, one of Richard Florida’s more controversial ideas was the gay index, one of several measurements he developed to rate living areas. The higher the concentration of gay people in a city, the more likely that city was to have a creative core and attract development. Well, this idea didn’t sit well with some of the founding fathers of the Lehigh Valley’s redevelopment efforts. So much so that they chose to skip the LVEDC meeting rather than sit through Richard Florida’s great presentation. How very sad.

The good news: most of those homophobic old fucks are now dead. They’re probably rolling over in their graves, because many of the successful new businesses in the Lehigh Valley are owned by gay people. In fact, the region’s leading arts and culture organization, ArtsQuest, is led by an openly gay woman, who happens to be a good friend of mine. Kassie Hilgert is the president and CQO of an entity that generates millions of dollars in economic and community development for our community. God bless you, Kassie. We know what the “Q” truly stands for. 😎

Talk about diversity! I’m so proud to be a part of this. I’ve been a community volunteer with ArtsQuest for years, and now I’m also volunteering with the company I work for, Constellation/Exelon, to help spread the gospel of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our organization. Exelon was out in front supporting the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, after the senseless killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. We have also long been supportive of equity initiatives for women and the LGBTQ+ community in our workplaces.

In 2021, I’m working with good people within Exelon as part of our Culture and Education initiative. My part in this is to help create and facilitate a series of uncomfortable conversations we call Opting In, which will be offered to all Constellation employs this year. We will tackle DEI topics such as Being An Ally, Privilege, Social Justice in the Sports World, and many more. I can’t wait to get started, and I will continue to be an ally to those groups who have been discriminated against and treated inequitably.

These worlds colliding of creativity, diversity, and inclusion truly makes me happy.

P.S. – I neglected to mention my support of the Tiki artist community, which has been significant over the past year. Obviously, this also makes me very happy. Here’s a sneak peak of the latest piece of art I should soon be displaying proudly in the Tiki Lounge, compliments of Mark Thompson. Mahalo, Mark, and aloha, Panda’s Zen!

We The People


I love the United States of America. I was born in Philadelphia PA, the son of immigrants from Ukraine and Colombia. Don’t ask me how they met, I’m still wondering about that, and I haven’t seen my biological father since I was 5, so I’ll probably never find out. But that’s another story.

I love my country but I acknowledge that we have some problems. The year 2020 has really brought festering issues to light. From the COVID-19 pandemic response to systemic racism, political polarization and human rights abuses, Americans have a lot of areas for improvement. I don’t want to leave this country but rather prefer to fix it wherever possible. In order to do this, we need to understand where we come from as a nation.

I know the signers of America’s Declaration of Independence said that “all men are created equal,” but did they really believe it? Most of them were slaveholders, so did that make them hypocrites? Or by “men” did they actually mean white men, which excludes women and people of color? It seems ironic to me that this nation was started by people who fled religious oppression in Europe, only to create a legacy of disenfranchisement towards a large part of their own population. How did we get here?

I believe there are two concepts that inform American society today: Manifest Destiny and Rugged Individualism. Each, in their own way, help us understand how the United States of America, a nation created by rich white men, continues to be dominated by them to this day. We have done some horrible things over 400 years of our history, in the name of freedom and democracy. The ends do not justify the means.

Manifest Destiny is a phrase popularized in the mid-19th Century. It described (justified?) the right of the United States of America to expand its borders across the continent to the Pacific Ocean, as well as north into Canada and south into Mexico. This was done in the name of Divine Providence, meaning Americans were destined to bring their way of life to these lands. In other words, we were chosen by God almighty to bring freedom, democracy, and Christianity to the places where we chose to expand.

Sadly, there were people already living in the lands we decided to conquer, namely Native Americans. We tried our best to convert these heathens to our civilized way of life, but when they refused, we simply brushed them aside and took their land. This policy, along with slavery, were the two greatest evils perpetrated by the American people against their fellow human beings in our history.

Critics of manifest destiny argued that the idea of Divine Providence espoused by expansionists was just a cover for chauvinism and self-interest. This was the domain of rich white men who aimed to get richer. Sound familiar? I believe this trait in Americans exists to this day and explains how corporations have bred billionaires, at the expense of the common good. Greed and ambition are what drive capitalism, along with a healthy dose of arrogance and self-determination. Which brings me to the next concept…

Rugged Individualism is a phrase popularized by president Herbert Hoover at the start of the Great Depression. It has defined the character of the American ethos since the beginning: a combination of individual liberties and frontier spirit that helped us grow into the nation we are today. Hoover hoped the idea of Rugged Individualism would help us pull ourselves out of the hard times of the early 1930s without government intervention. He was wrong.

It took the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 for Americans to realize it would take more than self-determination to get us out of the Great Depression. FDR’s New Deal was a revolution in the United States of America: Socialism as a means of putting us on the path to recovery and positioning America to eventually become a global superpower. Many things we take for granted today, like Social Security, the SEC and the FDIC, all began with FDR’s New Deal.

Of course, Socialism is a dirty word in politics today. Conservatives cry Socialism whenever somebody suggests doing something for the good of all people, equating it with Communism. Liberals try to make the distinction between Socialism and Democratic Socialism in attempting to enact reforms, like the Affordable Care Act, designed to help the less fortunate. How ironic that we have forgotten the benefits of Socialist policies to benefit many Americans, except when it comes to corporations and the wealthy! The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. really nailed it when he said this in 1968:

So where do these concepts leave us today? In a mess! To me, Rugged Individualism is the biggest reason why the United States of America leads the world in the number of COVID-19 cases, illnesses and deaths. The idea of personal freedoms and self interest when it comes to something as simple as wearing a mask is absurd to me. If other countries can figure this out, why can’t we? Wear a fucking mask, if not for yourself, then for others. It’s basic human decency, people!

I spoke at length about racism in a previous post, Black Lives Matter. To me, Manifest Destiny helps explain how systemic racism exists in America to this day. It has to do with white supremacy and Divine Providence, or the belief that rich white men are destined to subjugate the rest of the world in the name of a superior way of life. In reading more about this, I discovered that Adolf Hitler actually referred to the American example of exterminating the Indians in order to occupy their lands, as justification for his quest to conquer all of Europe and eliminate all of its subhuman inhabitants (namely Jews and Slavs) in order to make room for the superior Arian race. Wow! That is not a good example we set for the world, yet it is downplayed in our history books while Hitler is (rightfully) vilified for his evil deeds.

We can and must do better. Although the Declaration of Independence had its flaws, I believe the United States Constitution mostly got it right. Especially when you consider that as a living document, it is open to amendments. Such as emancipation of the slaves; giving black people and women the right to vote; enacting term limits for presidents.

I believe we need to take that last one a step further and enact term limits for all Federal elected officials, and get money out of politics. I don’t think our founding fathers ever anticipated career politicians; it’s greed that makes that possible, and we need to eliminate politics as a money-making industry. This is how the rich get richer, by buying politicians to enact laws that ensure that they can maintain their advantages at the expense of others.

Finally, I’m saddened by the polarization of our two-party political system. We are divided as a nation like never before, and our leaders stoke this division with irrational fears and conspiracy theories designed to infringe on our perceived rights. Like it or not, we are all in this thing together, and need each other to get through this pandemic, correct wrongs against those less fortunate, and eliminate racism. It’s in our national DNA to act like jerks, and we fought a bloody civil war over 150 years ago because of the evil scourge of slavery. In some ways, we’re still fighting that war. Let’s finally end it so that we, the people, can truly become one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. We are better than this and deserve as much.

Signs of The Times


Every weekday, my son Ryan and I have been taking a walk together. Since he’s doing high school virtually, his virtual gym class requires him to walk 2 miles a day, for a minimum of 45 minutes. Ryan has a special app that tracks these walks for reporting back to his gym teacher. It’s really a good idea and great exercise for both of us.

Since this routine started a month ago, we’ve been walking the same route pretty much every time. Up our street, across the main drag, crossing into the older neighborhood to the east. Whereas our subdivision is only about 15 years old, our walking neighborhood is more well-established. We are solidly middle class, but the other side is a little more upper-middle class, with fancier houses and bigger properties.

We are now less than one month away from the 2020 presidential election in America. One of the little games Ryan and I play on our walks, to pass the time, is counting the political signs. When we first started doing this, there were more Trump than Biden signs, which isn’t surprising considering the demographic of the neighborhood. Our street is more culturally diverse, so I expect to see more Biden/Harris signs here, which we do. The older neighborhood we walk in is definitely more white bread, more affluent, more conservative. Today I noticed two Mercedes SUVs in the same driveway, and we usually have to dodge the big trucks belonging to the lawn service companies working both sides of the streets. These residents don’t cut their own grass. Not surprisingly, they were more Trump/Pence supporters.

This house gets an A for effort, but an F for decency.

It kills me every time I walk by this house. It’s not enough to have a Trump/Pence “Keep America Great” yard sign; these folks felt the need to hang Trump 2020 banners on the columns of their front porch. That’s fine and in character, I guess, but what gets me is the ironic slogan “No More Bullshit” at the top of the left banner. Who puts curse words on a banner in front of their house for all to see? I always tell Ryan how I’m tempted to stand on their front porch and yell “No More Bullshit” over and over again at the top of my lungs. I mean, that’s what they’re doing, right? But I don’t. We just keep walking and I smile to myself at the image.

Over the weeks, more signs started popping up in our adopted neighborhood, but a funny thing started happening. It seems the Biden supporters were starting to catch up to the Trumpsters. There are also more signs for candidates for the lower political offices, like US and PA congressional folks. In addition, I’ve started noticing some of the other signs that have popped up, not specific to any presidential candidate but political in their own way. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

Can’t we all get behind this?
Blue lives matter?
Isn’t it sad that we have to say this?
Oh no! When did Communism sneak onto the ballot?

People really show their stripes without naming their candidates, don’t they? In fairness, the “In This House We Believe…” sign was planted right next to a Biden/Harris sign, but all of the others were flying solo. Ryan thought we should count those houses for the presidential candidate that made the most sense for the sentiment expressed, but I told him that would be cheating. One can assume the anti-Communist is a Trump supporter, but with Putin potentially pulling the strings, who knows?

Finally, I find it funny that at least 3 sets of houses in this neighborhood have Biden/Harris and Trump/Pence signs directly across the street from each other. It kind of reminds me of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys! In each case I believe the Trump sign went up first, then the Biden sign was the reply. Shots fired across the bow! I wonder if these neighbors can picnic together after all of this nonsense? The funniest case had one house put up a Trump sign, only to have their neighbor across the street respond with 5 Biden signs, to which the Trump house replied with 2 more signs. This is fun to watch!

Regardless of your political leaning, please make sure you vote on November 3rd, 2020. God bless America! 🇺🇸

Trump on the left, Biden on the right; shouldn’t that be reversed?

P.S. – As of today’s count, the Biden houses have made a remarkable comeback and are leading the Trump houses, 14-11. We’re only counting the houses with signs, not total number of signs.

Black Lives Matter


The last two weeks have been a tough time in America. The murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by four policemen in Minneapolis, has unleashed a torrent of protests here and across the globe. Sadness, anger, frustration, and rage have been among the feelings I have been struggling with. I cannot imagine what people of color are feeling, particularly African Americans, who have been dealing with these emotions for over 400 years.

The sin of slavery is a grotesque stain on the fabric of American history. “That all men are created equal” was written by Thomas Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence, but did he really mean it? Jefferson was a slave owner, as were many of the signers of this important document. What hypocrisy! How can you say that all men are created equal when you continue to subjugate an entire group of human beings in slavery?

There is much that isn’t taught in American history books about slavery, and that’s sad. There are many reasons for this, and I believe a contributing factor is the ongoing undercurrent of institutional racism in our country. You don’t have to look farther than current events and the current occupant of the presidency to see this for yourself. I’ll get to those things shortly, but first I’d like to delve a little deeper into history.

You can get your learning on the subject of racism from many different sources. For me, the most recent education began when my wife and I went to see Hamilton on Broadway two years ago. What a wonderful show! The amazing thing about it was how Lin-Manuel Miranda used hip-hop music and actors who were mostly people of color to tell the story of one of America’s most misunderstood founding fathers. My first thought when I saw a black man playing George Washington was: how’s this gonna work?

Funny, Ron Chernow had the same thought. Chernow is the author of the definitive biography of Alexander Hamilton, the book upon which Lin-Manuel Miranda based his musical. Miranda also wrote a book about the making of Hamilton, and in it he noted that Ron Chernow was a consultant to him on the project. Chernow questioned the casting of a black man, Christopher Jackson, to play George Washington. Then he saw the man perform. In his own words, Chernow says that Christopher Jackson was the perfect choice to play Washington, as he nailed the mannerisms, the speech patterns, and the tone of the father of our country.

If an authority such as Ron Chernow can suspend disbelief and applaud the choice of a black man to portray George Washington, then I have to agree with him. And I do! Christopher Jackson was amazing in the role. Chernow should know, as he also penned a wonderful biography of Washington. After seeing Hamilton the musical, I bought Chernow’s book, Hamilton, and read it voraciously. Then I read his biography of George Washington. Finally, I read his biography of Ulysses S. Grant. Here’s where my education got heavy.

To his credit, Ron Chernow views his subjects through the lens of racial discrimination in America. First with Hamilton and then with Washington, Chernow’s treatments don’t shy away from the topic of slavery and his protagonists’ score in regards to race. With Grant, the narrative becomes much more acute, as his story corresponds to one of the most tumultuous periods of civil rights in America. The Civil War and Reconstruction were two events presided over by Ulysses S. Grant, with spectacular results.

Grant is a forgotten hero of American history. He was the greatest military leader of his time, and he was a champion of civil rights. He supported Abraham Lincoln in the emancipation of the slaves, and enlisted freed black men in the Union army. As president, Grant was a strong proponent of Reconstruction. He oversaw efforts to cement the rights of African Americans, including the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving black people the vote and sending Federal troops to the South to suppress the Ku Klux Klan.

At the time of his death in 1885, Ulysses S. Grant was arguably the most popular American in the world. Why, then, has this great man’s legacy been so tarnished? Why has Grant basically been forgotten? After the end of his second term as president in 1877, civil rights in America took a major step backward, and it took almost 100 years for many of Grant’s efforts to be realized. Much of the blame for these setbacks can be attributed to a concept I just recently learned of: The Lost Cause. It is best described in this excerpt from a Wikipedia post:

“The Lost Cause of the Confederacy, or simply the Lost Cause, is an Americanpseudo-historical,[1][2]negationist ideology that holds that the cause of the Confederacy during the American Civil War was a just and heroic one. The ideology endorses the supposed virtues of the antebellum South, viewing the war as a struggle primarily to save the Southern way of life,[3] or to defend “states’ rights“, in the face of overwhelming “Northern aggression.” At the same time, the Lost Cause minimizes or denies outright the central role of slavery in the buildup to and outbreak of the war.”

I first heard of The Lost Cause while watching a History Channel miniseries about Ulysses S. Grant, which was based on Ron Chernow’s biography. At the end of the miniseries, The Lost Cause is mentioned as the main reason why Grant’s legacy has been reduced to that of a drunk, a butcher, who just got lucky as the commander of the powerful Union army that was victorious in the Civil War. This same ideology glorified the exploits of Robert E. Lee, the losing Confederate general who is seen as the embodiment of the Southern gentlemen and antebellum society.

Ironically, coming back to current events brought the concept of The Lost Cause full circle. Yesterday I read an article where the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, announced that the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond would be removed. This statue has been a focal point of demonstrations recently, as a massive symbol of the Confederacy and a continuing insult to African Americans. At the press conference, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said this: “It’s time to put an end to the Lost Cause and fully embrace the righteous cause. It’s time to replace the racist symbols of oppression and inequality — symbols that have literally dominated our landscape.” This is a remarkable statement from the leader of the city that was the capital of the Confederacy!

Finally, I leave you with a conversation I had yesterday with my coworker and friend, John Rowe, who is a black man of Panamanian descent. In the course of our normal workday, I asked John how he and his family were doing during the pandemic and protests. Sadly, he told me of a conversation he and his wife felt obligated to have with their teenage daughter, about how to act if confronted by the police. This breaks my heart but is not surprising, as I told John of a story I had just seen the day before about a very similar conversation. Apparently this is a rite of passage in the black community, which is really sad.

I cannot put myself in John’s shoes, as I can’t imagine having to have this talk with my 14 year-old son. It’s a helpless feeling knowing I can’t do much to change this narrative. What I can do is be more vocal in calling out racism when I see it. When you shine a light on evil, it tends to dissipate, like cockroaches scurrying away. The current occupant of the White House may have done us a favor by fomenting division and attempting to normalize racism, bringing many alt-right Nazi racists out into the open. It’s our job to expose these people for what they are. Only then will we truly realize and live the idea that Black Lives Matter.

16th St NW, Washington DC, 05Jun2020

I highly recommend reading Ron Chernow’s Grant for a thorough understanding of the history of institutional racism. It was a gut-wrenching read for me. You can also get the short version by watching the History Channel miniseries, Grant.

Tiki Redefined


Tiki means a lot of things to a lot of people. At its root, the word Tiki refers to a god or idol, a symbol. As a purely American pop culture creation, Tiki was started in the 1930s in Hollywood as an escape. It borrowed heavily from Polynesian culture, including a love of tropical island motifs, music, and of course the carved statues know as Tikis. This phenomenon grew after World War Two through the 1950s, culminating with the statehood of Hawai’i in 1959.

There are those who accuse the Tiki movement of gross cultural appropriation. If you look at the Tiki of the 1950s and early 1960s, they may be right. I’d like to think it wasn’t intentional, but people during this time period used images and customs of Polynesian culture in somewhat insensitive ways. Everything from hotels to bowling alleys were decorated to look like tropical hideaways, often bastardizing Polynesian names and displaying garish versions of Tiki gods, all in the name of perpetuating the myth of an escape from reality. It was way over the top.

This in part led to the demise of Tiki culture in the late 1960s. The Summer of Love generation replaced their parents’ rum-fueled escapism with their own form, powered by drugs and free love. Not only did they see their predecessors’ ways as square; they also were offended by the artificial feel of it all. The hippie crowd was a back to nature movement, and they saw Tiki as a disgusting misappropriation of other cultures that was shameful.

This view of Tiki culture exists to this day in certain circles. Some people find it tacky and insensitive, but I believe they’re missing the point. Don’t get me wrong: I realize that our grandparents’ Tiki was 1950s kitschy Americana at its finest, and I can appreciate it for what it was – a slice of Mid-Century pop culture. The resurgence of Tiki that started in the 1990s was different from the original form from half a century before. Yes, we were very interested in how everything became so popular in the first place, but modern-day Tiki enthusiasts are digging a little deeper.

The work of people like Sven Kirsten, Leroy Schmaltz, Josh Agle, and Jeffrey Berry unearthed the original roots of Tiki pop culture. The study of Polynesian culture, from architecture to the varying forms of Tiki gods, helped identify the source material for American Mid-Century versions of these forms. Artistic depictions of Tikis became more genuine. Exotica music and its original creators came to be better appreciated as vinyl treasures were resurrected from the dustbins of history. And the history of Tiki mixology traced the lineage of these mysterious rum drinks to their origins in Caribbean bars, and fueled a resurgence of these craft cocktails as their secret recipes were decoded.

All this is to say that I believe modern Tiki is a form of cultural appreciation, not appropriation. I personally enjoy and have a deep respect for Polynesian culture, which includes knowing the difference between the peoples of Hawai’i and New Zealand and all islands in between. I appreciate the fact that most Tiki drinks were derived from recipes created by bartenders in Jamaica, Cuba, and across the Caribbean, and that most of today’s great rums still come from this part of the world.

And all Tikis aren’t created equal. A Ku from Hawai’i is very different from a Moai from Rapa Nui (Easter Island), which is in turn half a world away from the Maori carvings of New Zealand. My favorite Tikis come from the Marquesas Islands, and the one actual wooden Tiki statue I own was carved by a man in Kaua’i in the Marquesan style.

If you want to learn more about Tiki culture and the appreciation that is the modern Tiki revival, please check out the following books that serve as indispensable reference guides to me:

Sven Kirsten: The Book of Tiki

Douglas Nason featuring SHAG and Leroy Schmaltz: Night of The Tiki

Jeffrey Beachbum Berry: Potions of the Caribbean

In the mean time, please check out these respectful depictions of Tiki carving styles from different Polynesian countries. Mahalo.

All photos below taken from Night of The Tiki.

Hawaii – Ku (God of War)
Rapa Nui – Moai
New Zealand – Maori
Papua New Guinea – Mwai mask
Marquesas Islands – Fertility Tiki

Panda’s Ukulele Dreaming


My 37th music compilation CD and first of 2020 features the humble ukulele. A 4-stringed instrument most often associated with Hawai’i, the ukulele can sound exotic and wonderful, particularly in the hands of these musicians:

  • King Kukulele, also known as Denny Moynahan, a contemporary singer/songwriter and fantastic storyteller in today’s Tiki scene;
  • ukexotic, a very new musical group who just released their debut Exotica album online;
  • Herb “Ohta-San” Ohta, a traditional Hawai’ian musician who was featured on the original soundtrack at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort;
  • Jake Shimabukuro, a modern Hawai’ian musician who takes the ukulele to some incredible and unexpected places;
  • Israel Kamakawwo’ole, another classic Hawai’ian musician, who tragically passed away not long after his solo rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow mesmerized the world.

I was inspired to put this mix together after seeing Jake Shimabukuro in concert at the Musikfest Café in Bethlehem last month. I scoured my music collection for ukulele music and this is what I came up with. Here’s the playlist:


24 Hours in Orlando



So, this time last week, I was attending my company’s annual sales conference at The Marriott World Center in Orlando FL. It was the usual over-the-top event full of business reviews, strategy sessions, panel discussions, and an awards dinner (where I did not win…again). The highlight by far of the conference for me was the keynote speaker, Neil Pasricha. Neil got his start writing the blog 1000 Awesome Things, and he has now published many books including You Are Awesome, which all of us at the sales conference were given a copy of. I enjoyed his presentation so much that I went up to Neil afterwards and got him to personalize my book. We also discussed blogging in general, my blog and podcast, and I gave him an A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge sticker (I keep these on hand for just such an occasion). He said he would check out my sites. Thanks Neil!

The first two days of the sales conference featured miserable weather. Wednesday and Thursday it was in the mid-50s, overcast, rainy. Not exactly the escape a Pennsylvania guy was looking for in Orlando in January! Fortunately, the weather turned on Friday – 70s and sunny. The conference ended at noon, so this was perfect timing for the events I had planned. As most of my colleagues boarded taxis headed for the airport, I munched on my box lunch and waited for a ride of a different kind.

The real fun was about to begin.

Friday 24Jan2020

1:00pm. My brother from another mother George Borcherding arrived at the Marriott World from his home in Jacksonville FL. George is a fellow Disney and Tiki enthusiast who also happens to be a Walt Disney World annual passholder. He travels to Orlando at least once a month to get his Disney on, which usually includes a stop at our happy place, the Polynesian Village. Since I don’t live in Florida, I don’t have an annual pass, so my trip to Walt Disney World for a half-day visit would cost me a pretty penny. How could I justify this expense?

Here’s how. Last December I won the championship of my buddy Chris Benton’s fantasy football league. Not bad for my first year in the league! This is a 12-team league with cash prizes for 1st and 2nd place only. In addition, the champion gets to host a pretty sweet trophy. The cash prize was more than enough to cover the cost of a 1-day park ticket, a 1-night hotel stay, food and beverages, and spending money for souvenirs. So, why not? I earned the right to spend this found money on some great memories.

1:30pm. George and I drove to the Baymont Inn to check in, then travelled to the Hollywood Studios parking lot, where we boarded the new Disney Skyliner headed for EPCOT. I hadn’t been to WDW since they opened the Skyliner, so this was a nice treat and a cool way to fly to our ultimate destination.

2:00pm. We arrived at EPCOT, where the International Festival of the Arts was in full swing. Truth be told, the main reason I wanted to stay in Orlando for an extra day was to attend this event, where my Tiki friend and Disney Master Artist Kevin-John would be debuting his two new It’s A Small World art prints. I had my eye on the Polynesian print, and KJ was going to be at the event from 3-5pm today signing his art. We had an hour to kill.

George and I decided to cruise through the World Showcase, where they had tents set up for all of the featured artists at the festival. Although Kevin-John was my main attraction, I had also discovered another artist when browsing the festival’s website: Eunjung June Kim Atellier. June Kim had 4 works she was debuting this year, and I love them all, but the one I really wanted was Happy Orange Song. We found her art in the Wonderground Gallery tent in front of the Germany pavilion, and I bought the big print I coveted and postcards of the others. Sadly, June Kim wasn’t at the festival this week to sign her art, but I will track her down in the future.

2:30pm. We still had a little time to kill before seeing Kevin-John, so George suggested we do a little drinking around the countries. We started with a Tokyo Sunset in Japan, which was a tropical, Tiki-like concoction. Then we moved on to England where we tried some whiskey flights. I went Irish, George went Scotch. We timed our stop in England perfectly, as the typical 15-minute Florida rainstorm passed through while we stayed high…and dry.

3:00pm. The time had arrived to visit with Kevin-John. We wandered over to the Canada pavilion, where the main artists tent was located. When we got there, only one couple was in line in front of us, so we only had to wait about 10 minutes for our chance. George and I both bought the Small World – Polynesia print in the tent and had them ready for KJ to sign. I had brought an orange Sharpee for the occasion, which he gladly used. Kevin-John was gracious with his time and genuinely glad to see us. I think he spent 15 minutes with George and me, talking story and signing our art. I felt bad for the people in line behind us, which at this point had swelled to over twenty people deep. Everyone was in a good mood, though, and it turns out George and I knew many of them anyway, or at least they knew who we were. Ah, Tiki celebrity!

3:45pm. After we finished with Kevin-John, it was time to head over to EPCOT Future World and go on some rides. Sadly, this part of EPCOT is really torn apart right now, as they are renovating much of the park. My wife’s favorite fountain is gone; MouseGears is closed and ready to be demolished; much of the walking area is inaccessible as large walls have gone up to hide the mess. It really is only a 1/2-day park right now.

Fortunately we had FastPasses for Soarin’, the one must-do ride at EPCOT. Although I really miss the old ride, which featured scenic California, the new ride is pretty cool as you fly around the world. Thank goodness they didn’t change the pre-ride queue and briefing video, where Puddy still calls the shots. “Nice work, Pal.”

After Soarin’ we had FastPasses for Living with The Land and Spaceship Earth, but we didn’t need them, as both standby lines were less than 10 minutes. That was a good thing, as our half day at EPCOT was nearing an end and we had another happy place to get to. I bought some souvenirs for the family and as dusk fell, we hit the road.

6:30pm. George and I got back on the Skyliner, flew to Hollywood Studios, hopped in his Honda Pilot and drove back to the Baymont Inn, where we unpacked and got ready to head back out. At this point we switched to an Uber, as there was going to be some Tiki drinking involved tonight. No sense driving the rest of the night.

7:30pm. We arrived at the Polynesian Village Resort, our happy place and final destination of the day. I hadn’t eaten anything since that box lunch at the Marriott World, so we went to Captain Cook’s, where I ordered the Hawai’ian flatbread pizza while George chowed down on some pork fried rice. We sat out on the terrace on a beautiful evening, listening to music and enjoying the water wall.

While we were eating and chilling, we met up with some off-duty cast members and their friends. George knew everybody, as he comes here a lot! By the end of the evening, I would know them too. George also touched base with Skipper Nick, who was working at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto tonight, and put our name on the waiting list to get in.

8:00pm. George got a text from our friend Polly Allsmiller, who was hanging out upstairs at the Tambu Lounge with her husband Rich. Walter was tending bar tonight, so we headed up to get the best Mai-Tai on property and say hello to our friends. I had met Rich and Polly the last time I was at The Polynesian. They are wonderful people and tell amazing stories about their times at Disney, both in California and Florida. The Allsmillers are genuine ohana and I’m so glad we got to spend time with them!

8:30pm. George got a text from Skipper Nick that our table was ready at Trader Sam’s, so we finished up at the Tambu Lounge and headed back downstairs. Rich and Polly joined us as we settled in for a long evening of Tiki drinks and merriment with friends and cast members. Trader Sam’s is more than just a Tiki bar – it’s a Disney Tiki bar. If the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise had and alcoholic child, this place would be it. I’ve spent quite a few evenings here, and I hope I get to spend many more. I’ve also made quite a few Tiki friends here over the years, and tonight just added to my ohana. This truly is my happy place.

Saturday 25Jan2020

12:30am. After closing down Trader Sam’s, we headed back upstairs to the Tambu Lounge to hang out with Walter and the rest of the Polynesian cast members as they closed up shop for the night. By 1am George and I hailed an Uber and headed back to the Baymont Inn, where we called it a night.


9:00am. I had woken up a little earlier than this, but George was still sleeping, so I quietly packed my suitcase and headed down to the lobby for some breakfast. George was staying in Orlando until Sunday, and I was flying home today, so I didn’t bother him this morning. I ate my breakfast and called an Uber to take me to the airport. Aloha, George, and thanks again for hosting me for the day! I love you, bruddah.

10:00am. I arrived at MCO with lots of time to spare, as my flight wasn’t scheduled to take off until 12:50pm. I had heard horror stories from my colleagues flying out the day before about long lines getting through security. I didn’t want to chance it. On this Saturday morning it only took me about 15 minutes to get through security, so I had time to kill. I started reading Neil Pasricha’s blog, which is really good. It inspired me to read his book, the one he had personalized for me two days earlier. I finished it 3 days after I got home, and enjoyed every page. I can’t wait until his new book comes out, which he teased us with during his presentation at the sales conference.

After a leisurely lunch at Ruby Tuesday in the airport terminal (not many choices here), I boarded the plane heading back to Newark. So long, Orlando. Until we meet again.

1:00pm. Wheels up as I reflect on the past 24 hours. This truly was a wonderful trip, albeit a short one. It really made me happy to be able to see such wonderful people and do such fun things in the course of one day. I’m glad I took Neil Pasricha’s advice to spend the 20 minutes (well, maybe a little more) to write it all down. The 20-minute replay truly does give you the chance to relive the happiness, and will continue to do so every time I read this blog post. Mahalo, Neil. And George. And KJ. And Rich & Polly. A hui hou.

Ohana Means Community


Last weekend, I ran into an old friend at a concert. I know George Mowrer from the church we used to attend together and from some men’s retreats we enjoyed. Lately I’ve lost my desire for organized religion, so I hadn’t seen George for a while. He asked me if I had found another church, and I told him no, that I was giving that a break for now.

George and I are Facebook friends, so he knows of my Tiki obsession. When George asked me what I was doing to be in community, I told him my Tiki ohana was my community. He asked me to explain that to him, and I tried the best I could before the concert started and we shifted our focus to the music. I’m afraid my explanation must have been pretty disjointed. I will try to explain it better now, so if you’re reading this, George, this is for you.

My Tiki ohana is both real and virtual. I’ve written at length about the many aspects of it (Who’s Who In The Tiki Ohana): artists, builders, chroniclers, musicians, mixologists. I’ll now talk about some of the specific people I’ve gotten to know well, some in person, some virtually. I feel blessed to know these folks, as they truly make up a wonderful community for me.

Beth Lennon. A/K/A Mod Betty, Beth is the creator of Retro Roadmap, a really cool website devoted to spotlighting vintage and retro places across the country with the hope of preserving them. Years ago, Beth came across my A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge page and reached out to me to talk about Tiki. She noticed that there was an interconnect between my world of Tiki and her world of Mid-Century Modern, one that we’ve explored ever since. I invited Beth to come up to Bethlehem so I could show her Steel Stacks; she and her husband Cliff Hillis both came up and we immediately hit it off! Cliff is a musician, a singer-songwriter who is very busy in the Philly music scene. He brought me a copy of one of his CDs as a gift, and I gave Beth a SHAG art postcard that reminded me of her.

Over the years, we’ve crossed paths on many occasions. Beth came back to Bethlehem for a Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica concert I helped organize at Steel Stacks; I spent time with Beth and Cliff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale; and I helped Beth organize a Tiki weekender in Wildwood NJ, the MCM/Doo-Wop capital of the East Coast. It was at this Wildwood event that I met many people I’ve gotten to know in the local Tiki ohana, folks like Robin Cammarota-Nicholson and Michael Hirsch.

Michael Hirsch. Michael lives in New York City, but his parents live in Allentown, so he comes to my neck of the woods often. Michael has been to my Tiki Lounge a few times. He is an architect by trade, and he is passionate about historical preservation, having written a book on Doo-Wop architecture. Michael organized a tour of historically significant landmarks in Wildwood during Mod Betty’s Tiki Weekend. He also is involved with the Society for Commercial Archeology and brought a few of his SCA friends to the Tiki Lounge the last time he visited.

I’ve seen Michael in other places besides Wildwood and Bethlehem. He and I broke bread together at another Retro Roadmap event at the Village Diner in upstate New York, where I also met his parents, Anita and Syman. It turns out the synagogue they attend is literally across the street from my house! Michael also met my friend Bruce and me at The Polynesian, an upscale new Tiki bar in Manhattan.

Robin Cammarota-Nicholson. Robin is another New York City resident I first met at the Wildwood Tiki Weekend. She and her husband Ken live in Yonkers, but Robin travels the world in her job with the American Council on Germany. Everywhere she goes, Robin searchesm out Tiki hotspots to try out. Although I haven’t seen her as often as I’ve seen Michael, I did run into Robin at a Surf Music weekend in Asbury Park NJ and at a pop-up Tiki bar at Boilermaker NYC, where the bar was taken over by Tiki mixologist extraordinaire and historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

Jeffrey Berry. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is one of the most influential people in the Tiki revival movement which began in the 1990s. He has published multiple books on Tiki cocktail recipes and history, travels the world as a Tiki drink ambassador, and opened his own restaurant and Tiki bar, Latitude 29, in New Orleans. I first met Jeff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, where I attended his symposium on the dark days of Tiki drinks in the 1970s. I found him to be personable and kind, with no ego, as he spent time talking with me as if I was the only person there.

The next time I met The Bum, he took his generosity of spirit a step further. My sister Anita and I visited Latitude 29 while in New Orleans on some family business. Jeff agreed to do an interview with me for my podcast before we sat down for dinner. He was articulate, genuine, and a wonderful historian during our talk (you can check out this interview in my podcast episode here: Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya). During dinner, Beachbum Berry came to our table and shared a new drink he was working on with us, asking our opinion on it. What a nice gesture from a great guy! I consider it an honor to know Jeff Berry personally, as he is the most accessible and humble of the Tiki titans. Mahalo, Bum.

Steve Seifert. My wife Jess first introduced me to “Tikiman” Steve Seifert, who created a wonderful website dedicated to WDW’s Polynesian Village Resort: Tikiman Pages. Our family are Disney junkies, and The Polynesian is my happy place. Jess began following Tikiman’s website and Facebook page to keep up to date on all things Poly, which helped us better plan our vacations there.

Over the years, Tikiman has asked his followers to contribute to his website, whenever he knew somebody was at The Polynesian and he was looking for on-the-ground reporting. I helped Steve out when our family was on vacation there in 2014. In return, he helped publicize my blog posts through his audience, as I was blogging daily durning our stay (WDW Polynesian Day 1) and Tikiman’s followers took my readership into 5 digits!

A few years later, Tikiman decided to host a get-together for Tiki friends at the Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in The Polynesian Village. It was really cool to meet him in person, along with seeing other members of the Tiki ohana like Jim Hayward, Scott Deeter, George Borcherding, and Kevin-John Jobczynski.

Kevin-john Jobczynski. I’ve gotten to know and appreciate a lot of Tiki artists over the years (Tiki Ohana: Artists, Tiki Ohana: Artists, Part Deux), but I’ve only actually met a very few of them. Josh Agle was the first, and I’ve documented my interactions with him before (Stalking SHAG). One of my current favorite artists is Kevin-john Jobczynski, who has become somewhat famous as a Disney Master Artist.

I was fortunate to meet KJ at Tikiman’s gathering at Trader Sam’s, where he debuted a new art print created especially for the event. I had previously purchased a piece from him entitled Mai-Tai Sunset, which was one of KJ’s earliest Tiki-specific pieces of art. How cool that he printed it on a piece of driftwood with a bamboo frame and rattan matting! This print, along with several other Kevin-john works, hangs proudly in the Tiki Lounge.

George Borcherding. Like me, George Borcherding is a huge fan of Tiki. I first got to know him via our online interactions, but I have now spent enough time with George in-person to consider him a true friend. All of our meetings have taken place at The Polynesian, which certainly isn’t a bad place to meet. A Dole Whip and a Captain’s Mai-Tai are great reasons to get together!







George, like me, has his own home Tiki bar, which he puts a lot of work into making special. I’ve never been to Nui Keoki’s Enchanted Grotto, but I enjoy following along on his Facebook page to see the latest and the greatest in Tiki decor. I believe he feels the same way about A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge.

One of these days, I will visit George in Jacksonville FL, and I’m sure he will come to Bethlehem PA too. For now, we have many memories we’ve made together at The Polynesian, from the time we met with many of our Tiki ohana at Tikiman Steve’s event, and the time we were a couple of non-Polynesian gringos crashing Auntie Kaui’s birthday celebration in Luau Cove, to just chilling out at the Tambu Lounge sipping on Mai-Tais made by Walter. And we’ll never forget being served by Skipper Natalie at Trader Sam’s, which was sadly the last time we saw her before she tragically passed away at too young an age. Okole mauna, Natalie, and mahalo, Bruddah George, for being a good friend and a big part of my Tiki community.

Panda’s Exotica Island


Exotica. It’s a misunderstood term, unfortunately. Probably because it sounds a bit like “erotica,” which it is not. Exotica is a style of music that got its name from an album by Martin Denny. Think relaxing, island music, with plenty of vibraphone, wordless vocals, and bird calls. As if you’re in the middle of a jungle and don’t really want to get out. I consider Exotica to be one of the five pillars in the Tiki canon: Panda’s Galaxy of Sound.

The big three of Exotica were Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman. Les Baxter began it all with his Music Out of the Moon album way back in 1947, which featured the unusual sounds of the theremin to create an imagined lunar soundscape. Baxter’s music was lushly orchestrated, as he went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest soundtrack artists. His original version of Quiet Village remains the quintessential Exotica song. Martin Denny stripped down Baxter’s sound with his version of Quiet Village on his classic Exotica album in 1957. Denny’s vibraphonist, Arthur Lyman, struck out on his own and imbued the music with the soul of his native Hawai’i, including his album Legend of Pele from 1959.

Over the years, other artists have made Exotica music, and modern artists from across the globe have picked up the torch. Ìxtahuele from Sweden, The Left Arm of Buddha from Belgium, and Gold Dust Lounge from Florida, to name a few. This playlist celebrates a timeline of Exotica from its heyday back in the 1950s to the current day. I hope you enjoy hearing it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Here’s the playlist:

Panda's Exotica Island CD Back

Here’s the soundtrack you can listen to on 8tracks: