P.S. Atlanta…I’m Really Starting to Like You!

Any frequent traveler will tell you that loyalty programs have great benefits and reward handsomely those who stick with one particular brand through thick and thin. It’s not always because the hotel, airline or rental car company gives you the best service (although, the hope is to at least like them) or even have the best options, it’s an opportunity for both the company and the consumer to mutually benefit from a long term relationship which is rewarded through consistent use and free stuff. dems vs repubsI mean let’s be honest here, the travel based companies aren’t exactly mom-and-pop style operations. They’re more like trying to compare Applebee’s to TGI Friday’s. They’re the exact same thing just packaged differently and each serve unhealthy portions of absolute crap (I guess the same goes for U.S political parties!). Therefore, it’s best to pick which crap you’d rather shovel down and stick with it. At least with the airlines and hotels, you’ll eventually be granted better access or free flights/rooms instead of a constant need for Imodium.

My current brand loyalties are to Marriott, Avis and American Airlines. When I started flying, I was in and out of Philadelphia which consistently put me on U.S Airways. loyalty programsAfter they merged with American in 2015 my miles transferred over and I’ve been sticking it out ever since. The one problem with loyalty programs is of course the times when you have to go with another brand either out of convenience, price or just the general lack of options. This is the case when I fly to Atlanta because Delta has a lock on the area and the convenience of it over the other carriers far outweighs the perks associated with my home brand. I’ve never had an issue with Delta so losing one flight of miles is no big deal. Plus, it was a fairly new 737 with in-seat entertainment so kudos there.

Beyond the perks, loyalty programs feed on the psychological in-group/out-group dynamics that is prevalent in human behavior. Take a biteOnce you sign on to these programs, you’re not just choosing a brand for potential free rooms, flights or cars, you’re also joining a club of sorts that binds you with the others that have chosen those same companies. Even if we are treated poorly or have a bad experience, we are part of a club and will defend the decision to use their services again because of the fear of being abandoned into the abyss of lost travelers. I know, I’m getting a little deep here but for business travelers especially, this belonging can be a layer of comfort in an otherwise lonely experience. When I walk into a Marriott or step on an American flight, there is a little piece of me that feels at home…and that’s worth all the points in the world. (George gif your one of us you’ll take a bite)

On the flight down, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the poor bastard in front of me who was seated in a row of Outsider teens who had obviously never been on an airplane. Just the boarding process was input overload for these two as they picked, pushed and prodded at every little moveable (and removable) part of the seating area. I guess no one explained to them that the flight attendant call button was a neither a bell for their personal butler or (to their disappointment it seems) a self-destruct button. airsickGrandma must have given them a plate full of snicker doodles and a case of Red Bull pre-flight which would explain why they were so awake at 5:45am. To make things worse, the kid in the window seat bolted to the lavatory before we even hit 10,000 feet as we later learned he had severe motion sickness. During a 90-minute flight, this was repeated 3 times including us actually landing while he was still in the bathroom. I watched all this from the comfort of the aisle with an empty middle seat to my left. I guess I could’ve offered it up to help this situation…but come on…why would I do that!

Before this year, Atlanta was always just a pass through city and I never really had the chance to explore it much. I have to say, after just three visits I’m really starting to enjoy this place and can see why it has experienced a population explosion over the last few decades. Yes, I know, the traffic is a mess and the last time I was in town the interstate caught fire but that has not deterred the impressions that the rest of the city has made on me to date. Most of my time has been spent in Buckhead and Midtown but I’ve also been able to explore others areas like Decatur, Westside, the northern suburbs, Old Fourth Ward and finally downtown. Atlanta has a ton of stuff to offer for just about any area of personal interest and the amount of construction that can be seem throughout the skyline means that there is only more to come.

I think I should be given a medal on this trip because for the first time, I actually spent more time walking than driving.

Snapseed
Buckhead Station

Any chance not to put a 4,000 pound, gas-powered bullet on the Georgia highways should be met with celebration. This was possible because of MARTA and another opportunity for me to nerd out on a train system. MARTA is a small but efficient system consisting of just four different train lines running either north/south or east/west. It does provide a line directly to the airport which I think is a plus that every major city should consider at some point (I’m looking at you Indianapolis…).

As much as I enjoy the experience of the cities, every now and then I need to cut loose, get some fresh air and stretch my legs by finding a hiking spot that is both challenging and convenient. SnapseedI had several hours to kill before my flight home so I spent them at appropriately named Sweetwater Creek State Park located about 20 miles outside of Atlanta. The 2,500-acre park is divided in two by…you guessed it…the Sweetwater Creek and his home to the New Manchester Mills Ruins site, an old civil war era cotton mill that was set on fire after being captured by the Union Army. The red trail which runs along the creek and by the Mill site was amazing, especially after reaching the 1-mile point where most of the families turned around and went back to the trailhead. SnapseedThe trail continued past the creek rapids and eventually turned westward into the woods. The white trail which traversed the western perimeter was actually a little disappointing since it mostly consisted of an old access road and didn’t exactly provide much challenge. I can’t be too disappointed because I got my steps in for the day, burned some time and reconnected with mother nature (whatever that means).

Back at the airport, everything was pretty routine. Unhealthy food, people talking way to loudly on their phones for 9pm and the anticipation of heading home once again. I’m not sure why the nice but slightly geriatric gate agent decided to provide more details into the boarding process than was actually necessary. She was like one of those White House tour guides: “we’re walking, we’re walking, now we’re stopping.” Late night flights on Friday’s aren’t exactly for the first time travelers but no one seemed to mind. sheldon brain betterUsing the power of airline apps I once again scored an empty row in a fairly full flight. It’s all about timing and a little bit of luck.

Thank you again Atlanta…we’ll be in touch!

-DPW

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5 Cities, 5 “Go-To” Restaurants

One great thing about traveling is the chance to experience new things. New sites, new people, new cultures and, of course, new cuisines. When I’m on the road, I always try and eat a places that I cannot get at home or sample the local delicacy as a way of trying to grasp a real understanding of where I’m at. I’ve had real Philly Cheesesteaks (I prefer provolone, not Cheese Whiz), Maine lobsters, New Mexico Chile’s, New England Clam Chowder and all the great American BBQ (Texas Spicy, Memphis dry-rub and, still my favorite, Sweet Kansas City). I still have a lot of new flavors to try which is another reason my wander lust has never really gone away.

Although, new is good, sometimes familiarity is a nice thing as well since traveling itself is not always the pleasure-filled adventure us bloggers make it out to be. With this in mind, if there is a city I go back to often, I love having a “go-to” restaurant which brings forth good food, consistent service and a sense of comfort that you don’t always get from a hotel or airport. Whether it’s a simple coffee shop or a place of fine dining, this list is a sample of the restaurants I consistently visit when I’m jet-setting around the U.S.


New York, NY
NoHo Star
(330 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012)
New York has over 24,000 restaurants just in the Manhattan area alone which means you could visit a new one every day for the next 65 years and never eat at the same place twice. For someone like me who visits about four times a year, I’d have to live to be over 2,000 years old before I could even make it to midtown. As much as I love exploring new places and new areas of the city, NoHo Star is still one of my favorite places to go for breakfast, lunch or just relax with a cup of coffee.

noho-star07Located in the neighborhood of (you guessed it…) NoHo, NoHo Star sits on the corner of Lafayette and Bleeker streets and offers a diverse menu consisting of breakfast stables, interesting sandwiches and even Chinese options for dinner. The food has always been fresh and they have an outside dining area that adds to the people watching experience. I personally prefer their breakfast/brunch menu with basil scrambled eggs, omelets or even avocado toast (eat shit Tim Gurner). Top that off with some homemade jams and fresh coffee and I’m good to go for wandering around the streets of NYC. This is definitely a place to try on your next trip east.

Chicago, IL
Francesca’s on Chestnut
(200 E Chestnut St, Chicago, IL 60611)
Nothing says comfort more than a great Italian meal and I always to try to grab one at my favorite place in Chicago. Francesca’s has been a staple of the Chicagoland area for over 25 years with 19 locations scattered throughout the region. Because my work usually brings me downtown, I mainly stick to the location on Chestnut street a block away from the Water Tower Place and the Hancock Building.

francescasFrancesca’s is open for both lunch and dinner (brunch in some locations) and has a wide array of Italian antipasti’s, pizza, pasta dishes and fresh meat courses. They have a vast wine selection to fit every palate and I have found that their sommeliers are very accommodating when helping you find the perfect bottle in your price range. Add on a great dessert menu and you’ll leave needing to walk the entire downtown loop before attempting the buckle your pants again. It’s best to make reservations especially for dinner but don’t be afraid to walk up to the bar if you’re in town on your own. You won’t be disappointed…my guarantee!

San Francisco, CA
Brioche Bakery & Café
(210 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133)
Sometimes simplicity is key when you’re out on the road and in need of a quick meal or pick me up. Brioche Bakery & Café, located on the fringes of Jackson Square, Chinatown and the Financial District, is a small but well established place to just stop and relax amongst the fast pace of the city. They’re limited seating, which extends outside along Columbus Avenue, gives it a cozy atmosphere to enjoy lunch, a light breakfast or just a cup of coffee. They also have free Wi-Fi and decent bathrooms which is a luxury in many cities this size.

brioche1Brioche offers a great selection of brunch items, hot and cold sandwiches, salads and other entries. Of course, being a bakery, you can also grab a freshly baked pastry, dessert or an assortment of artisanal breads all reasonably priced for downtown . They even have cakes you can order in advance although I’ve never been in the need on a trip to the Bay area. When the weather is nice, you can grab a drink and sit out on the sidewalk watching the always entertaining San Fran population go about their daily business. Drop in sometime and tell them Dr. People Watcher sent you…they won’t know what the hell that means but I can still pretend!

Fort Lauderdale, FL
Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine
(7015 W Broward Blvd, Plantation, FL 33317)
Ok, technically this place is located in Plantation, just west of Fort Lauderdale but for the sake of geographical referencing I’m leaving it be for this post. When I’m in the area, I can’t help but get a craving for Cuban food which I believe is a celebration of the culture this misunderstood population has brought to southeast Florida. Add to it the fact that every dish comes with a side of fried plantains and I’m hooked and coming back every chance I get.

lasvegas_plantation_insideLas Vegas Cuban Cuisine has been in business since 1984 when the Vilariño family decided to open their first location in Hollywood, Florida. What started as a small family restaurant has now exploded into 15 locations in the greater Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas. They offer traditional Cuban staples including Ropa Vieja (shredded beef), Masas de Cerdo (marinated, fried pork cubes), several different Emparedados (sandwiches) and much more. Their friendly service and family like atmosphere makes even the most naïve gringo (like me) feel right at home every time I return. I recommend stepping out of your culinary comfort zone and give Cuban food a try. You’ll be rethinking that embargo in no time!

Nashville, TN
The Local Taco
(4501 Murphy Rd, Nashville, TN 37209)
My obsession with this restaurant began in college at the University of Kentucky which I was excited didn’t have to end after graduation. With locations peppered across several cities in the south, I can get my taco fix without returning to Lexington and having to wade through a sea of college students, administrators and people I pissed off before heading north (it’s a family trait!).

local tacoThere are three locations in Nashville alone so no matter where I end up, I’m steps away from great food and great music. What else do you need? This small, but charming chain offers unique taco combinations, amazing tomatillo salsa and great sides that keep me coming back for more. Everything is made fresh and the company prides itself on acquiring local meat and produce in order to support the communities where their stores are located. Even as an order-at-the-counter style restaurant, the service has always been great and efficient which only adds to the quality of experience you can expect. If you find yourself in the country music capital of the world, go grab some great tacos before hitting up the honky-tonks. This is a winning combination all around!


Hopefully you’ll swing by one of these establishments or find a place yourself that becomes a go-to. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below and maybe it will make the next list in the future!

-DPW

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Techies (TEC)

Since the first commercial flight in 1914, airlines have been working feverishly to improve all areas of the flight experience including the reduction of turbulence, passenger comfort (which has regressed in the last few decades) and, of course, in-flight entertainment. in flight movieIn the early years, passengers were entertained mostly through reading, lavish meals, liquor and even reeled movies that airlines start showing as early as 1921. It wasn’t until the mid-90s that many airlines installed seat-back screens for longer flights as a way to keep passengers occupied. For the shorter hops, passengers have pretty much been responsible for their own amusement which continues even today.

Luckily for fliers, technology has been supplying us with an almost endless array of options in order to keep us distracted both before and during a flight. The first portable Walkman (believe it or not, was introduced by Sony in 1979) gave passengers their choice of their own music without having to rely on the channels broadcast by the airlines. From there we moved to CD players, handheld game consoles (a Gameboy accompanied me on my first flight), portable DVD players, laptop computers and eventually the phone/tablet based devices we know today. Cuddling with multiple devicesThere are those who carry a device or two but can easily walk away from them for a good book or a friendly conversation. Others, however, are wired in. So reliant on their technological devices that every glance down at their phone or firing up of a new app is like getting a junky’s fix where they are always reaching for that first taste. These individuals are part human, part robot, roaming around the concourse surrounded by an invisible shield of Bluetooth and wireless wavelengths and wrapped in a blanket of copper wire. These are not your normal, everyday passengers; these we simply refer to as…the Techies (TEC).

Unlike some of the groups I have wrote about in the past, Techies are quite easy to spot. They can usually be found surrounded by a self-constructed fort of laptops, smart phones, tablets, iPods (if that’s still a thing) and a sea of chargers, Bluetooth devices, speakers and other accessories. These flyers come to the airport equipped with the latest and greatest devices which enhance productivity, make the time pass quicker and limit the need for any sort of human interaction. You can usually spot them sitting on the floor huddled around outlets, making sure that every device is at optimal level before boarding. christmas vacation outletThe new outlet hubs which many updated terminals now employ brings forth a whole new level of power for the Techies as they now can charge all of their devices simultaneously and do so from the comfort of the gate seating area. This revolution also highlights one their best superpowers which is the ability to ignore the deep rage burning from the other passengers who just want to get a few minutes of juice so that they can listen to a podcast or text onboard even after it’s no longer safe to do so. The Techies can move past the eyes burning holes into the backs of their heads or the passive aggressive comments from those around them. It’s all about the electricity for the Techies…the lifeblood of their obsession.

The electrical sexcapade doesn’t end in the terminal; it continues for the duration of the flight, from the boarding process all the way to baggage claim. headphonesTechies are usually sporting large, Mickey Mouse looking headphones that are designed to keep out any distraction including in-flight instructions or crew requests. If you’re ever seated next to one them, be prepared to assist the flight attendant with a quick elbow during the beverage service. They’ve also been known to mentally miss a flight altogether as they are so engulfed in the matrix that the plane can take off and land and they never knew we ever left the ground. I’ve experienced this phenomenon personally yet not at the hands of my devices. It’s usually a few glasses of wine and a pharmaceutical that does the trick!

One good thing about the Techies is they usually keep to themselves. With the exception of the panic attack that can happen when a crucial piece of wiring goes missing, this group is one of the more pleasant to be around. The-Bing-Bang-TheoryThey can go unusually large amounts of time without needing to hit the lavatory which makes them the perfect seat mates. This of course is probably due to hours of Call of Duty or World of Warcraft in their parents’ basement which is great training ground in this domain. They’re also a helpful bunch. In our new, smartphone based world, there’s an app for everything and the Techies know them by heart. Want to find a highly rated restaurant for your layover…there’s an app for that. Need the fasted route from one gate to the next…there’s an app for that. Interested in writing a poorly written blog about the people you see in airports…yep, there’s an app for that too! Anything you need is just a download away and the Techies are a dictionary of information when it comes to this part of the travel experience.

The Techies actually represent the new normal of airport life. everyone phonesTechnology has allowed for individualism to take hold in just about every public setting that still exists. Look around the terminal and you will see it slowing taking hold of everyone in sight. Kids, parents, business people, flight crews, even the elderly, all have their necks bent downward, engulfed in their own little pixelated biosphere while the world goes on around them. Although the Techies will always be the first to have the newest technological terror to hit the market, the rest of the population will continue playing catch-up and follow suit as new innovations take us to places we never thought possible.

So play, watch, listen, work and create on my Techie friends. We’ll be right behind you…every electronic step of the way!

-DPW

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Planes, Trains and Ride Sharing Apps: NYC Never Disappoints

After a couple of years and hundreds of rides, I finally decided to update my status in the 20th century and downloaded the Lyft app. I’m really not sure why this hasn’t happened yet, but for some reason I’ve had an artificial loyalty to Uber. Free marketDon’t get me wrong, I still like Uber and have enjoyed many great rides. But when a normally $17 ride to the airport pushes $40, it’s time to start thinking competition. Add in an extremely crowded parking shuttle to the mix and, BAM, I’m off to let free market capitalism work in my favor.

Being a frequent flier I often forget how new this experience is for many people. However, I never thought the day would come when I would actually see someone who didn’t understand that for a roller board suitcase to work properly, you must first have it facing wheels down. doing it wrongI watched a woman drag her upside down suitcase through the IND terminal seemingly without a clue that she was doing something wrong. On this particular morning, it was too early to stop and explain to her the friction reducing qualities of wheel technology so I just let her be and hope that her destination doesn’t include a carpeted concourse. I do owe her a bit of gratitude. If people didn’t continue to do stupid shit all the time in the airports, what would I have to write about and why would this site exist in the first place.

I had an uneventful flight with the exception of the party going on in my head for the empty row and the fact that I was heading to one of my favorite places on the planet: Good ole’ New York City! Ever since my first trip here when I was 16 years old, I’ve always had a love affair with New York. The noise, the people, random street fights (that I actually witnessed), people parking illegally to grab a slice of pizza and not even having the courtesy to move before chowing down…it’s a pleasure!

Maybe it’s because of my small town upbringing but the anonymity associated with NYC is one of my favorite characteristics of this city. I can only imagine this may be a factor on why so many famous people have come from here because it’s one place where you can be whatever you want and no one cares. self-consciousness_0Are you a singer? Then belt our your highest chords while walking down the sidewalk…no one cares. Are you an artist? Then set up shop on some street corner and give it a go…no one cares. Are you an entrepreneur, performer, social media sensation or just someone who wants to be left the hell alone? You guessed it…no one cares. This may sound illogical seeing that the common held belief is that we are supposed to be pushed in order to fulfill our dreams but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. I think the first step is to lose any self-consciousness towards whatever you are interested in and use that to your advantage. Always being worried about what other people are thinking is a debilitating disease when it comes to inspiration and I’ve never witnessed that in New York. Good work New Yorkers! Your blatant disregard for what others are doing is actually causing a great deal of positive momentum in the world. What a town!

Speaking of abilities, I saw the Broadway show Bandstand while I was in town. This show was choreographically different than any other show I’ve experienced but still amazing. The movement never stopped which was interesting given that the setting was based on the days immediately following WWII. SnapseedThe amount of talent displayed by Broadway actors goes beyond my imagination every time I’m in the audience. Singing, dancing, acting and even the playing of musical instruments were all on display throughout this show. I can’t imagine the amount of work it takes to make it to the level but my hats off to those who do it. Even if you never make it to NYC, I recommend for everyone to try and catch a Broadway show somewhere (even community theater). It’s a great experience and will change the way you look at what it means to be in show business.

If you’ve read my site before, you probably know that I completely nerd out when it comes to public transit. However, I do need to clarify…I like trains. I don’t care how many there are, you won’t catch me dead on bus. I took a Megabus once to Chicago and after a snowstorm, a bat-shit crazy driver and nonexistent Wi-Fi, I decided cut that out forever. subwayWhen I’m in NYC I take the trains everywhere. It’s not just the convenience I enjoy; I like everything. I especially enjoy the moments when you’re barreling down the track and the squeaks and squeals are noticeably in the background but all of a sudden, they stop, and the silence left behind makes me feel like but I we are floating above the track. I’ve noticed this on many different occasions and each time and brought forth a momentary sense of relaxation amongst the chaos of the city. It’s the little things that make travel interesting and keeps the wander lusters of the world coming back again and again.

The whole trip wasn’t exactly peaches and cream. I did make several mistakes which almost bit me in the ass. One, I relied on public transit which made me extremely late for a meeting (BTW…I’m never late). Yes, I know…I just had a literary orgasm over the subway system in the last paragraph but it still has its faults. Things happen which cause delays and I failed to plan accordingly. Luckily I wasn’t too late so it worked out in the end. funny-tourist31Another issue is I booked a hotel way to close to Times Square. On your first trip to NYC, go for it…Times Square all the way. On your 2nd and beyond, stay as far away as possible. Of course, I was being budget conscious so that was my reasoning for choosing this location but it does add an extra layer of annoyance having to wade through the tourist who are either looking up at the buildings or down at their phones while they walk. This immediately turns me into the loud sighing, fast walking, pushy asshole, but you have to do it or get caught up in the swarm. At least there are several subway stations nearby so escape is easy to achieve.

The rest of the trip included lunch at the Yale Club, people watching at Washington Square Park (who saw that coming!), a tour of the new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island and some time in Brooklyn. One thing I’ve come to realize is that I have not spent enough time in Brooklyn and will remedy that on future trips. It’s a quieter, more eclectic part of New York that still gives you a glimpse into why the city is still the cultural hub of the U.S. What a great place and I’m looking forward to visiting again.

LaGuardia didn’t disappoint. Here are some quotes from an actual conversation I overheard while waiting on my flight: “I like talking to you because you are talking coherently and I am talking coherently. weep for futureI’m usually drunk or you are asleep…or you are wasted and I’m am too. You would tell me if I’m drinking too much right?” These obvious overachievers also made reference to digital dope (which is apparently better than analog dope), the thought that going to a bar and sitting next to “some old guy” will eventually land one of them a high paying job, what actually makes up the definition of “hater” and an unusual amount of times saying the words Dim Sum. As entertaining as it was, I’m pretty sure I’m dumber now than I was before choosing my unfortunate place to sit.

The trip ended with my first, first class upgrade! How many thousands of miles and hundreds of flights did it take for this to finally happen but it did. It wasn’t random and upgradeI’m a true believer of creating your own luck so I basically approached the gate agents and asked. After telling them I was $200 away from Gold Status, and them learning I had never been upgraded, they took pity on me and gave me a seat. Dress nice and act naive; it hasn’t failed me yet! It was only an hour and forty-minute flight but I still enjoyed the free wine, having everyone file by me one-by-one and being one of those guys I wrote about a few month’s back (see First Classers). It closed this chapter on a very high note and makes me look forward to my next adventure. Onward and upward!

-DPW

Snapseed

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Hiking in Philly and Questionable Food in Maryland: What Could Go Wrong?

Routine becomes a big part of every frequent traveler’s life. It not only helps us be more efficient in regards to our excursions, it brings forth a sense of comfort that that is sometimes absent when constantly leaving your home again and again. Mine is usually the same. Pack the day before; wake up early; eat a larger breakfast than normal to avoid airport food (at least at the beginning); and always take an Uber to the airport (yes, Lyft is just as good; I just haven’t jumped on that train yet). This trip started no different than normal but had just enough variation where I became annoyed, intrigued and curious all at the same time. That always makes for a good story…at least in my own head.

The last part of my routine is always the wild card and can either be pleasant or unpleasant depending on lots of circumstances. smoke in carI have a personal policy in regards to rating (and now tipping) of Uber drivers that I consistently use across the board. Smokers never get tipped and I usually deduct one star per ride for the inconvenience of the nasty smell I have to endure. No matter how much they try, there is no amount of air freshener that can mask the scent of stale cigarettes in the fabric of a car which of course always transfers onto my clothes. Now that Uber has caved and has tipping as a part of the post-ride experience, I’ve become more stringent on my policy: If my ride sends me to the dry cleaner, you’re not getting anything extra…period. If you haven’t figured it out yet, my ride on this particular morning was a smoker who had a thing against air conditioning. A few requests and several sighs later, we finally made it to the airport, both happy for me to get the hell out of the car.

Once you’ve logged enough flights, you cringe at the idea of having to check a bag. Unfortunately for a five-day trip that included transporting some work materials, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. bag claimEvery part of bag checking is terrible from the check-in procedure all the way to the hell that is baggage claim. Speaking of hell, I think that if everyone ends of having their own personal place of damnation, mine would probably include waiting at the bag check line for one of the lanes to open up. The little demons would constantly be walking away, making other damned souls reduce their baggage weight or spend hours answering ridiculous questions like, “no, you can’t retroactively apply all your past flights to the miles program you just enrolled in” (a conversation that happened as I was waiting…seriously). Luckily, the terminal wasn’t too busy so I made it through without blowing a gasket or getting a sneak peek at the final resting place of my soul. Call me dramatic but many frequent fliers would agree that they would rather be force fed airline hummus until they vomit than have to send even one bag through that process.

Although, my routine had been shattered at this point, I moved on and made it to Philadelphia unscathed. I even scored an empty row during the flight which let me relax on the way in while also saving another passenger from inhaling from the smoke invested blazer I was still supporting. phillyI’ve always liked Philly. For my first job out of college, I traveled often and was assigned to the Northeast. Philadelphia was one of the first major cities I encountered during that time which left a great impression that stays even today. It’s an interesting city that incorporates a combination of history, modern luxury, many different transportation options and, of course, a large population, many of which walk around looking like they want to hurt me. After being there long enough, you get used to the East coast attitude and stop taking it personal. Philadelphians have dealt with a lot of shit over the years, so a little bluntness in their communication style should not be unexpected. The fun part is when you give it back to them. Just as a tip, do it with confidence…otherwise, you’re fucked!

One thing I like about East coast cities is Diner Culture. Maybe it gives me some nostalgia for the post-war era which I never lived or, being a huge fan of Seinfeld, makes me feel like one of the fantastic four hanging out at Monk’s Coffee Shop every day. Either way, I had two clients want to meet at diners throughout the city which were both parts charming and disgusting at the same time. IMG_2755They are all pretty much the same. Worn out vinyl booths surrounded by outdated décor, juke boxes and a greasy smell that will remain, even if the building is someday torn down. The waitresses look exhausted, wearing the same outfits from the 50s and doing their best not to stab the asshole who keeps sending back his home fries because they’re not crispy enough with a fork (not me by the way). Their monotone voices, expressionless faces and lack of interest in anything other than their next smoke break makes me believe that no amount of tipping is going to make up for a lifetime of bad decisions. Regardless of outward appearances, they’re to-the-point, efficient and are obsessed with refilling your coffee mug. My last sentences may have sounded like complaining, but truth be told, I feel at home within the diners and always enjoy trying out a new one when I’m in town.

I had an afternoon off so I decided to go a little historical by visiting Valley Forge located several miles north of Philly near King of Prussia. ValleyForgeWashingtonWithTroopsValley Forge was the winter military camp for the still new American Army under the leadership of General George Washington. From what I learned, the Army spent a miserable six months at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778 while the British lived like Roman senators 18 miles south in Philadelphia. Valley Forge is now a National Park dedicated to preserving the sanctity of this area which was considered to be a psychological turning point for the American rebels. Although if you plan on visiting anytime soon…prepare to be disappointed.

The visitor’s center and theater area are impressive and the grounds are well maintained but that’s about where it ends. At least during this visit, most of the main roads which take you between points of interest were closed off for construction and only accessible for the official tour bus that cost $17 per person (nothing like topping off those tax subsidies). My main goal was hiking some of the park which I also found to be a challenge. According to the park map, several trails can be accessed through the parking lot west of the visitor’s center. I guess you need to be a fucking revolutionary scout yourself to find the trailheads because I sure as hell couldn’t figure it out.

I decided to take the paved, Plumb trail up to Washington’s Chapel only to discover that the chapel itself had nothing to do with the continental army. Washington had probably been six feet under decades before that thing came to be. It was old and pretty but I felt a little cheated. IMG_2764I made my way back on the Chapel Trail because the description mentioned “steep sections with great views of the Schuylkill River.” The only thing I saw were downed trees, gnats and an old railroad line that looked like the place where Wil Wheaton and the gang found little Ray Brower’s body in Stand By Me. It emptied back closer to the visitor’s center but not without first making me walk by three identical, boarded up houses which I’m pretty have been (and will be) the scene of a gruesome murder. Let’s just say that my sense of Patriotism wasn’t elevated after this trip so the next time I’ll just go to the casino instead.

The second half of my trip took me out of Pennsylvania and on to College Park, Maryland; home of the University of Maryland and the mighty Terrapins. It may just be me, but trying to invoke some sort of fear into your opponents by way of a turtle is quite silly, but I guess they’ve made it work. The university is very nice with matching brick buildings and the stadium situated right in the middle campus between the alumni center and the residence halls.

I was attended a conference on campus which is not uncommon in my line of work. This gives me the chance to compare and contrast the facilities staff at many different institutions. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say I hope the University of Maryland doesn’t pride itself on its hospitality. rude waiterDuring the program portion of our pre-dinner reception, the bar tenders decided it would be a good time to take turns working on their aim while throwing empty bottles of wine and liquor into the recycle bin. Nothing turns a celebratory atmosphere to shit quicker than the sound of broken glass echoing throughout a very narrow room. The dinner staff wasn’t much better and thought the invocation was a great opportunity to bring out 300 dinner plates and not so quietly stack them and their metal tops against the walls. I won’t even get into the quality of the food but if you’re currently a tuition paying student at UM, get a refund or a box of Imodium…both you’re going to need sooner than later.

My trip home was routed through Reagan (DCA) instead of Baltimore (BWI) because, one, I hate Southwest which is the only direction option to my home base (IND) and two, I get to ride the DC metro to the airport, a thing me and only a few others in the world actually enjoy. DCA was pretty busy for a Sunday afternoon but tolerable in the C terminal. I did watch a guy pull the “excuse me” pitch while walking right by everyone in the pre-check line for no other reason than (as I can imagine) he was just an asshat. Bravo to him for acting-as-if and getting away with but some guy in security did stop him before hitting the X-ray machine. Some people were just born without a conscience I guess. I flew home in another empty row so I have to say that, all and all, this was another successful trip and definitely not my last. Thank you East Coasters…until we meet again!

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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.

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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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