Travel Time: IND-MIA

One of the things I enjoy about travel is the chance to either confirm or expel rumors that circulate about a particular area. Rumors like everybody is rude in Paris. Well, as I wrote about earlier, that’s not really true but it is a matter of perspective. Or the one about how there are pubs on every corner in London. That one is definitely true and a treat for those of us who enjoy the taste of an afternoon ale (or three). AbandonedThis week I went down to the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area where the rumor is that during the months of July and August, everyone abandons the area leaving a trail or tourists and Cubans behind. That one, as I have now discovered…is absolutely true! However, it did cause me to miss a few clients, it also gave me the chance to explore, experience and, of course, people watch. And thank God the Cubans do stay behind…I could eat their food every day if it was an option.

Although most people head south during the summer for vacation, I went for business which once again confirmed my analysis of the Vacationers and their antics at the airport. 457821My first flight was pretty tame with the exception of me highly overestimating how early I needed to leave and the cohort of Haiti bound missionaries all wearing matching t-shirts and being way to excited at 6:45 in the morning. Not to get philosophical but I don’t fully understand what good is being done by sending a large group of Americans (or any westernized people) to a country with extremely limited resources for the sake of religious conversion. In 1942, Abraham Maslow introduced his still popular Theory of Human Motivation which introduced the “hierarchy of needs.” His theory suggested that in order to advance, humans must first satisfy basic fundamental concerns (food/shelter/safety, etc.) before being able to concentrate on higher states of psychological desires.

maslow-pyramid
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

With a place as impoverished as Haiti, I can’t imagine them being too worried about eternal damnation and more pissed off about the fact that a naïve band of Americans have come to their country, demanding air conditioning and three meals a day while also trying to preach to them on salvation and acceptance. Of course, I could be completely off since I did not engage any of this group during the flight. They could be going down to build a school or to help set up some needed piece of infrastructure but by observation alone, they didn’t exactly look handy. Oh well, I wish them the best and hope their vaccines were up to date.

I think it is time to have the talk about traffic. Everywhere I go I hear the same thing: Traffic here is terrible; be sure to leave early because of the traffic; this used to be an easy place to get around but not anymore because of traffic. Days of thunder 1After a while, you hear that word and start imagining scenes out of Days of Thunder where people are slamming each other up against the guard rails, illogically passing on the outside and where you didn’t get bumped, you got rubbed…”and rubbing son, is racing!” Yes, traffic is an issue all around but I’ve learned that in some areas there is meat behind these complaints. Atlanta…Yes, taking to the streets means your chances of survival pretty much hit zero after a few years. San Francisco…Yes, let’s put millions of people in an enclosed peninsula with limited public transportation options and see what happens. Charlotte…No, you’re just experiencing growing pains but before correcting any potential traffic problems, let’s first focus on who can piss where! Southeast Florida…well, that’s a whole different ball game.

When I was 15, the state of Illinois required me and every other teen to take drivers education before applying for your license. illinoisYeah, I’m shocked too that Illinois actually did something right; although, Chicago is still in the top ten places where you’ll probably die from a fiery car accident category every year. We learned the basics including driving on different road types, parallel parking, what to do in the event of an emergency and had to watch the video of some kid getting decapitated after failing to signal on a bright sunny day. I have to say that even though that class was a good chance to get some much needed sleep, I still apply the lessons I learned today and consider myself a decent driver. All this being said, I get the sense that Florida does not have the same regulations. Traffic volume may not be as bad as some of the places I listed above (although, Miami can give them a run), the sheer lack of basic driving rules is what makes this place a vehicular deathtrap in the making. Even with the thinned out population, Southeast Florida has a traffic problem that’s hard to even describe in words…but I’ll try anyway.

Here is a list of things drivers in this area CANNOT do:

  1. Merge both on and off a freeway: For some reason, the little man on your shoulder saying “Hey look, there is a car to your left, don’t turn” has vacated this area for quite some time. The best thing to do is just avoid being in the lanes adjacent to exits when possible and be prepared to use your horn (for effect only…it doesn’t do any good).
  2. Understand the maximum and minimum speed limits: The wealth in this area means a steady population of sport car driving enthusiasts’ eager to show off their horse power and will wiz by you at Mach 20 even on side streets. However, those going 30 mph on the interstate cause as much of a problem since they will do it even in the left most lanes where typically the fast traffic should have their right-of-way. This of course leads to an abundance of weaving by even the most conservative of drivers on the road.
  3. Use cruise control: When you find yourself on a fairly light area on 95 or the turnpike, frustration will still be present since nobody in the area uses the conveniently placed comfort of cruise control. This leads to more lane changing only see the person speed up when you try and pass and then slow down again once you decide to get back behind them. It can’t be some large conspiracy of “Everyone, let’s piss off the red-head in the economy rental” but a failure to use modern technology to their advantage.

There are plenty more of things I can go into but I feel I have sufficiently beat this horse to death. In conclusion, traffic sucks…it’s part of life…get over it.giant-traffic-jam

No trip to this area would be complete without taking in some seafood, hitting up a few tourist traps and, of course, visiting the ocean at least once. A client took me to dinner at an area staple, the 15th Street Fisheries in Fort Lauderdale located on…you guessed it…15th street! The view overlooked the famous Pier 66 and is a popular yacht parking spot for the rich and famous like Steven Spielberg and others whose names I now forget. irish sun bathingI spent one afternoon on the A1A trying my best to sneak into a resort pool (with no luck) and eating overpriced fish tacos while watching the street performers entertain unsuspecting families. As a pale-skinned, son of Ireland, the beach is not exactly a destination of choice especially when it’s 98 degrees out and you could fry an egg on the sand. Other than taking in the view from the few remaining shaded spots that were not occupied by sleeping homeless men, I took a few photos and got out of there before the monsoons started and then continued throughout the rest of my trip.

I must have been off of my game this trip because I broke several of my traveling rules. One, as I mentioned above, I timed my departing airport arrival way to early and need to re-evaluate my routine. I prefer being there about 30-45 minutes before boarding which is plenty of time out of IND. Second, I put too much faith in their being a gas station around the rental car drop off point. Unless absolutely certain, always research that beforehand so you’re not scrambling to find a place at the last minute or pay the $9 per gallon fee at the rental company. don't be that guyThird, if you have any type of status with an airline (including being a credit card holder), do not check-in until it’s absolutely necessary. I foolishly checked-in several hours before which caused an issue since my flight got delayed and by looking at the schedule, there was no possible way I would make my connection in Charlotte. Luckily the good folks at American Airlines rebooked me on a direct flight out of Miami (I was originally departing from Fort Lauderdale) but since I had already check-in, I had to stand in the ridiculously long customer service line at MIA. This wasn’t a major issue since I had plenty of time but…come on man…you’re better than this!

The flight back did include a screaming infant a row in front of me but I promised myself that I wouldn’t complain. As I covered in the Griswolds, there’s no reasoning with a baby who’s tired, probably hungry and who’s ears are popping for the first time in their life. These were enough reasons for me not to get upset. I just turned up the volume on my iPad and did my best to drown it out. I have to give props to the parents as their other kids (all under the age of 4) were well behaved which I’m sure was a relief to them as well as the other passengers. We landed without incident and went about our own business.

That’s all I got about my little trek to South Florida. Another day and another trip will come soon enough. Until we meet again…

-DPW

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International Travelers Guide to American Airports

Despite questionable travel bans, negative media coverage and an a politically divided rhetoric surrounding the entire country, travel to the United States (U.S.) is still as popular today as it has ever been. Travel for leisure, business, academics and myriad of other reasons keep the U.S. as a top destination for people around the globe. With so many flying in and out of the country every day, your good friend, Dr. People Watcher, is going to take a break from ridiculing various airport subcultures and instead put his knowledge to good use for the sake of our soon to be foreign friends. Statue_of_Liberty_-_4621961395I’ve chosen to focus on the airports because in many cases this is the first impression a visitor will have of our country and I would like to make it a good one.

Here are some useful tips that anyone traveling from outside the U.S. can utilize to help make your trip easier, stress free and less likely to start an international incident!

  • Americans only speak English

No matter where you come from, the easiest thing to do is just assume that nobody in the U.S. speaks a language other than English. In fact, only 1% of Americans are fluent in a second language which compared to other countries is a complete disgrace. Therefore, learning a little bit of English before heading over is not only a good idea, but a necessity especially if you plan on spending time outside of the major metropolitan areas like New York or Los Angeles.

englishIn the airports, be prepared to go English only the minute you land. Some of the larger airports have multi-lingual signage but it is usually restricted to Spanish, French, and maybe Chinese. However, just like anywhere else, following the crowds will usually place you in the right direction. America does have a fairly diverse population (again, mostly in the large cities) so you can find help there. Still, brushing up on your English and downloading some translation apps will go a long way after you land.

  • Personal space is a necessity

One thing America has in abundance is space. As the #3 largest country in the world (in overall square miles), we have plenty of room to grow which is a point of national pride. Unlike cities in Europe and Asia that were built in close proximity for protection against invaders, U.S. cities were built with space in mind and stretch for miles in every direction. This has created a space themed obsession amongst our population.

personal-spaceWhen you land in the states, keep in mind that Americans are accustomed to at least an arm’s length of separation from anyone around them. When getting off the plane, waiting in line at customs and getting your luggage at baggage claim, be sure to put enough space between yourself and those around you. Also, enjoy this as a luxury add-on to your trip. If your home country doesn’t have the same practice, this will be a nice vacation in itself.

  • Tipping is an unfortunate custom

The U.S. likes to brag that its low taxes (compared to other countries) keep the economy strong by putting more money in the pockets of citizens and visitors. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we will find any way possible to nickel-and-dime you during your trip. Tips are not just common courtesy; they are pretty much required. tippingBoth in- and outside of the airport, you are going to be inundated with hands reaching out for an additional payment for everything from being served meals, to giving you a (paid) ride, and even transporting your luggage. At the airport specifically, if you use the curbside check-in, sit down for a meal or even get a cup of coffee, the expectation is 15-20% for a tip. Exceptions being at fast food restaurants and retailers.

The best thing to do is to budget a certain amount of tips into your travels plans. You can also avoid some tipping outlets by not using the curb side check-in, carrying your own luggage and utilizing shared service companies like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. Of course, if you do run across a tipping situation, be generous. Many service workers rely on these to supplement their income.

  • Smokers are being phased out

Smoking is not allowed anywhere surrounding air travel including the plane, in the terminal and in some places, even within a certain distance from the airport entrance. This varies significantly by airport but many are phasing out the designated smoking areas to promote a healthier lifestyle amongst travelers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even outside of the airports, smoking is looked down upon. While growing up, most restaurants had both smoking and non-smoking sections which was abandoned city-by-city, state-by-state starting in the early 1990s. Of course, that practice was like having a pissing section in a swimming pool so it has been well received by most Americans. As a visitor who smokes, be conscious of where you can and cannot smoke especially near tourist heavy sites. You can still have your smoke break outside, but just keep it in your own lungs, not ours.

  • Security will be tight

After 9/11, airport security became serious business which has not subsided especially with the onslaught of terrorist attacks routinely happening around the world. With all governmental fingers pointing to sources outside of the U.S., visitors from just about any non-Western country can expect multiple layers of security while entering and exiting America. Even those from our more trusted allies are going to be thoroughly checked out upon arrival.

tsa-searchTo prepare, make sure you have all your documents ready and answer questions from security personnel truthfully and with a certain amount of confidence (uncertainty will just bring on more questioning). Don’t take anything personal as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) folks are just doing their duties and trying to keep everyone safe. In the event you have to go through additional screenings, just continue my advice from above and all will be fine. Unless, of course, they do a cavity search…that part sucks!

In conclusion, I hope these tips help you have a more enjoyable experience state-side. With all the great things we have to offer (unnecessarily large food portions, an entitled yet whiney population and people everywhere running around yelling “America is the greatest country in the world”) how could you not have fun. Thanks and enjoy our little piece of the globe!

-DPW

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welcome-to-america-sign

Vacationers (VAC)

The days of the annual family trips are upon us and airports are filled with small platoons of sun-seeking travelers dressed in their best polyester, Hawaiian print shirts and loud, obnoxiously colored flip flops. hawaiian shirt dayThe air reeks of coconut and sunscreen and the giggles of the overly tanned moms and daughters can be heard has they sip from their virtually virgin Pina Coladas. The family vacation which is a tradition that dates back to  after WWII is as American as gun ownership and apple pie. However, for those of us who still have to use the skies as a place of business, the Vacationers (VAC) can be nothing less than wolves in khaki-colored clothing!

Although the vacationers share many similarities to other groups on this site, they have enough unique traits that make them a separate category and therefore open to analysis. Also, not all vacationers are families and can consist of couples, friends, large tour groups and even loners who choose to see the world on their own. But because of their lack of airport experience and general disregard for anyone else around them, they are open to scrutiny and ridicule alike!

There exist two types of vacationers in the airport universe: Outbound and Inbound. batman two faceBoth of them are the same people, on the same trips, with the same ugly and out-of-date luggage, but they are completely different personalities when they hit the terminals. Outbound vacationers are usually upbeat, full of hope and excited at  even in the most stressful parts of flying like security lines or baggage claim. They glow with enthusiasm as their destination is something they’ve probably been looking forward to for a long time and its finally upon them, just a few hours away. Outbound vacationers spend money like its water. Snacks for the flight, souvenirs at the airport and they even splurge on the inflight booze just to keep their heads in “vacation mode” at 30,000 feet.

Inbound vacationers…well, they’re a little different. The depression of knowing their time of leisure is over and they’re heading back to the hell that is a meaningless and mundane job casts a huge shadow on this group as they move through the airport corridors. after vacation 2The smell of desperation and aloe engulf them as they stride with a thousand-yard stare leaving a trail of sand and misery. They watch every dime and are known for violent outbursts when the slightest delay keeps them from making it home right on schedule. Any relaxation that this group accumulated on their trip immediately evaporates the minute they hit the tarmac. The only reminder of better days comes in the form of slightly out-of-focus, iPhone photos and the temporary tattoos that are slowly fading away from their sunburned skin.

Vacationers can be further divided by sheer numbers. friends 1Couples are easy and are barely noticeable outside of the obnoxious honeymoon bound, newlyweds who insist on holding hands throughout the entire flight and feverishly try to talk gate agents into an upgrade (BTW, that never happens; thanks a bunch “Friends”). Loners too can be incognito with the exception of the chatty, world traveler who insists on peppering anyone who will listen with their endless stories of being chased by a pack of Baboons in Africa or swimming naked in the Danube with some fellow hostel guests who don’t speak English (why do all their stories involve naked people?). Families have been thoroughly covered (see the Griswolds) but vacations do bring out another whole dimension of insanity. The sheer thought that packing up a herd of children or teenagers, putting them on an uncomfortable, ear-popping, recycled-air, flying minivan and thinking they will by some miracle behave, makes me want to sprint to the near Urologist.

Tour groups have emerged as the new cluster-fuck of humans to avoid if it all possible. In fact, tour agencies now make up the third largest segment in the travel industry behind air transportation and accommodations. Imagine hordes of geriatrics or foreigners, wearing matching T-Shirts and large, straw hats, strolling at a snail’s pace as you race to make a connection. walking_dead_what_lies_ahead_zombie_hordThese groups come in like clowder of cats, wandering off into oblivion, needing constant herding and all wholeheartedly unprepared for any process regarding boarding a flight. There is usually a guide of some sort trying his or her best to keep them as a cohesive unit but themselves rendered with a look that makes you believe they have just rethought every decision they’ve made since college. If you get behind these groups in the security line, then go ahead and pop open your in-flight entertainment because you’re going to be there for a while. Hopefully their disruption of the airport force means they are getting ready for an experience of a lifetime which is little solace to those left in their wake.

Vacationers do mean well and enter the airports usually in a good mood which is nice to see amongst the crowds of annoyed frequent fliers. They’re stimulating the economy (or economies of wherever their heading) and for the most part are trying to inject a little joy into the world one trip at a time. So in essence, throw on your best floral prints and Jesus sandals and go out to find your own little piece of heaven. The rest of us will watch and judge, while planning a time soon enough where we will join you for a vacation of our own.

-DPW

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