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.

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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Travel Time: IND-PHX-SFO

More times than most, you get on a flight and everything goes according to plan. You get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, the flight boards and takes off right on schedule and you don’t have to rush to make your connection at the fly through destination. This was one of those flights. My trip took me from Indianapolis to San Francisco via Phoenix with no trouble whatsoever. Of course, it does kind of make for a boring story when you’re writing a blog about airports, but I’ll never complain when things go right. I did manage to be seated next to someone with questionable hygiene but other than that, all went well.

brace-yourself-the-hangry-is-coming-thumbNo fault of the airlines or even the flying universe in general, but when jumping multiple time zones like I did during this trip, I am left constantly hungry. I always eat a good breakfast regardless of where I’m going, but for the west coast jumps I can never seem to get satisfied. Because of the short turnaround time for my connection, I was not able to grab more than a yogurt parfait in Phoenix.  That was enough for the second leg of the trip, but as soon as I landed in San Francisco I was starving. I learned on this trip that the morning commute north into SF is not too bad which is surprising. This allowed me to get breakfast at one of my favorite go-to’s, the Brioche Bakery & Cafe on the corner of Kearny and Columbus. It’s a small place but good food and great coffee. It’s outdoor seating also lets me pretend to be back in Paris so that’s a plus.

The nice thing about west bound flying is the lack of time it takes away from your day. Since I had a few hours to kill after landing, I wandered around the city which is a favorite activity of mine even in places I’ve been multiple times.

IMG_2663
Greenwich Steps

From the financial district, I looked west and saw the Coit tower, a historical landmark I had not  yet visited. A quick Google search led me to the Greenwich Steps that take you directly from Embarcadero to the tower. It was a nice, breezy day so I figured a few stairs would not be an issue. Like many times before, I was wrong. Although walking through the wild flower lined staircase that passed many beautiful residences was charming, doing it in a suit while carrying a shoulder bag is not recommended. Four hundred steps later I was at the top. I was a sweaty mess but the views and the sense of accomplishment was worth it. I had plenty of time to cool off before my first meeting but I would advise avoiding this activity for the business travelers who come after me.

 

Northern California, especially the Bay Area, is a fascinating place. The many different areas to explore, the cultural diversity and the abundance of different food options makes it a great place to visit. On this particular trip, it was the amazing temperature differences around the Bay and in subsequent cities that I found interesting. desertIn SF it was 70 and breezy with cool winds coming off the ocean. In San Jose and the East Bay it was hotter but still tolerable since they do not suffer from the humidity we have back in the Midwest. In Sacramento and Davis, it was scorching and felt like I was Clark Griswold walking through the desert in search of a gas station! The amazing differences that just an hour in any direction makes is beyond what us in-landers experience. That’s just another one of the things that I love about this area and will keep me coming back.

I ate at my first Cambodian restaurant near my hotel in downtown Oakland. Basically it’s just Thai food that is a little less spicy. They did have a good amount of vegetarian options that I try to eat more of when traveling. In the restaurant, there were a group of six or seven twenty-somethings at the table behind me. People watching is my thing but people listening can be just as fun. With this group (and the size of the place) made it impossible to not eaves drop on their conversation. The word conversation should be used loosely because it was essentially one guy and six audience members. full of shitI didn’t catch it all but according this self-titled renaissance man, in college he stopped a multi-million dollar text book company from illegally operating in the Berkeley dorms, he caused Trader Joe’s to have to change a product name because they weren’t technically “potato chips”, he has been on NPR, in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other publications for his hobby of photographing post offices, and he enjoys playing some game called “sticky pants” which I left before learning the full scope of the rules. Anyway, I’ve heard my fair share of bull-shit and bull-shitters over the years, but this guy tops the charts. He looked to be about 15 years old but had his friends in awe with his never-ending stories.

The trip overall went great. I was able to spend time with a new friend and one of the two people on the planet who have ever read my dissertation. I also got to ride the BART system for the first time which is another dorky habit I enjoy exploring. My journey ended on a Friday evening red-eye back to Indianapolis which is given that name for a good reason. IMG_2669It departed at 12:30am and was full. The flight was great with the exception of arguably one of the world’s biggest douche-bags sitting in the window seat of my aisle. He was friendly enough but listening to techno music that bleeds out of  your over-sized headphones, wearing sunglasses on a midnight flight and having to use the restroom four times from San Fran to Dallas places you in the category of douche-baggery. I’m pretty sure he was using the lavatory as a make shift pharmacy but I couldn’t prove it nor did I care. At least when he got up he would start by saying, “dudes, you’re going to hate me but…”; I guess that’s better than nothing.

The second leg out of Dallas was a little more interesting seeing that we had to wait on the tarmac for an hour while a thunderstorm went through. I slept mostly but because of our wonderful jet stream, heading east after a large storm moves pass means that you have to fly through it eventually. In the first half hour into the flight we experienced some significant turbulence which doesn’t usually phase me but something (I still don’t know what) popped in the cabin which jolted me instantly awake. dont panicAgain, I don’t get shaken by much but afterwards the smell of smoke engulfed the cabin sending some people into a panic. The poor woman in the exit row was losing it and trying to get the attention of the flight attendants making everyone else around her more uneasy. There never was any announcement from the cockpit and I’m here writing this today so apparently it wasn’t anything big. Either way, I was wide awake afterwards and ready to get home quickly and safely.

Thanks to the Bay area for another wonderful time. You continue to prove why it costs so much to live there! Until we meet again…DPW.

coit tower view

38 Miles, Broken French, and Beaucoup du Vin Rouge: Our Week in Paris!

The universe has a way of messing with us. Some people think it comes from a Devine source while others think it’s just purely coincidence. Either way it happens to us all eventually and we either deal with it or just give up. This was my thinking about a month before my wife and I took our first trip to Paris wondering if some force was either trying to stop us or just throw enough obstacles in our way so that we properly earn our ticket east. Whatever was going on I can now say…with all respect to everyone’s beliefs, dogmas and philosophies…EAT ME UNIVERSE, WE FUCKING MADE IT!

McDearmon-MuttA few weeks ago, I had started a post about a trip to Nashville, Tennessee which was abruptly ended with the passing of my grandfather. Stewart “Mutt” McDearmon died on April 19, 2017. Although it was an extremely hard time and difficult seeing someone larger than life as Mutt laying in a casket, we can all be thankful that he had a great life, a loving family and will leave a legacy that can never be matched.

One thing grandpa would never want us to do would be to grief to the point of missing an experience that he was never to have on his own. On top of losing a relative, we also battled bronchitis, a sick pet and my wife almost being denied entry into Canada (more on the Canada thing later). After all that, I’m happy to report that we did in fact make it to Paris and back in one piece.

My travel posts usually start at Indianapolis (IND) but for international trips it’s just as easy (and less expensive) for us to fly out of Chicago (ORD). We booked an Air Canada flight several months ago after seeing a deal via the Points Guy. BLAME_CANADAWhen trying to check in the day before the system kept asking me for our Canadian permanent residency card numbers which of course we do not have. Believing it was a glitch in the system I opted to wait until we arrived at O’Hare and deal with it there. Of course, no glitch. Somehow Air Canada decided my wife was a Canadian citizen and had her on the “no board” list until she could provide proof. The agent even called the consulate which determined this was an error and then we had to fix it with the airline. Luckily it all worked out and she was cleared but talk about an odd way to start your vacation!

The flight over was uneventful except for the unexpected complimentary wine which we eagerly took part. A few glasses down and we were out for the overnight portion of the trip. img_2389The Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport (at least the terminal we traversed) was nothing to write home about but I didn’t really care. I was just anxious about getting through customs seeing we had flown in the day after a heated Presidential election. I thought we would be there for hours but the agent gave me one look, stamped my passport and sent me on my way. Actually, I think she had to use the bathroom and she wasn’t going to let a nervous American cause her to shit her pants! After that we hopped in an Uber and headed to the city of lights (or love or whatever).

I have found that when people ask you about a trip like Paris, they always start with “did you go to ?” I’ll simplify this by listing the destinations we actually visited:

  • Eiffel Tower
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Luxembourg Palace and Gardens
  • Paris Aquarium
  • Bois du Boulogne
  • Cathedral de Notre Dame
  • Isle St. Louis
  • The Louvre Museum (although it was closed for Victory in Europe Day)
  • Does the original Chanel Store count?Snapseed

I’m sure there are many people who visit Paris for less time than we did and have a much longer list but destination sightseeing is just not our thing. One thing you may notice is that there are no museums on the list. We don’t have anything against art, and especially the quality you can find in a place like Paris, but one little detail prevented us from making them a priority. THE WEATHER WAS FLIPPING GORGEOUS! How could you go indoors knowing that it was between 65-70 degrees (fahrenheit) and sunny outside.

SnapseedWe had the most fun just exploring new neighborhoods, sitting in random cafes enjoying a nice snack or beverage and just soaking in the culture of a great city. We specifically enjoyed wondering around what seemed to be an “old money” area in the 16th arrondissement (close to Bois to Boulogne) and the college town atmosphere in the 6th near Luxembourg. These contrasting neighborhoods along with the many more we traversed brought our experience full circle and allowed us to get a small glimpse into the diverse culture of the city.

For those who may be planning their own trips or if you’re just interested in my silly interpretations of the world around us, here are a few things I learned in Paris:

Contrary to popular belief (in the U.S. at least), Parisians are not rude. SnapseedThis is just one of those cultural differences that not enough people investigate before drawing a conclusion. Take for example going to a restaurant. In America, you are constantly waited on. You’re greeted promptly, given time to look over the menu, asked if you’re doing OK multiple times and then eagerly ushered out the door. In Paris it’s not this way at all. We were always greeted but never hassled to make an order until we prompted the server we were ready. If we needed anything, we had to ask and not just wait for them to come around again. And when we were done, we could sit there for hours if we didn’t ask for the check. From what I gathered, by bothering us during our meal/snack/drinks/whatever, that would be considered rude to the French. Once you realize this you’ll see that it’s just a different perspective than you may be used to.

If you speak bad enough French, anyone will address you in English. One of the tips I heard over and over was that most Parisians speak English but are appreciative if you at least try and talk in their native tongue. Therefore, in preparation for the trip, I dusted off my college level French by signing up for Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. In my head, I was fully prepared for speaking slowly and generally being understood by most people I encountered. That wasn’t the case. My words may have been on par but my accent wasn’t even close. My attempts seemed the frustrate more than communicate so eventually, just about every server/hostess/hotel concierge would just stop me and say “what do you want?” I did feel a sense of pride when I was able to have an even elementary French conversation and hope that this effort was not in vain. Either way, communicating was not an issue and am at the same time both happy with my performance and disgusted by the U.S. educational system.

American men need to come here and learn how to dress. Do I really need to write this? AfflicitionI mean, let’s call a spade a spade! I recognize that I am not the most fashionable person but I at least try to dress presentable and in clothing that is the correct fit. Unfortunately, that is not the mindset that prevails in the American male psyche. Pants that are too long, suits that are too big, camo, plastic shoes, Affliction t-shirts…where does it end? Parisian men really hit the mark on this one without having to work too hard. Even those in casual wear were put together, simply but in a way that displayed they had put some thought into the outfit before walking out of the door. The professionally dressed men were in well-fitted suits or sport coats supporting a “third” piece like a scarf or pocket-square. All-in-all, any man could take a lesson from the fashion in Paris and up their wardrobe without having to go on a spending spree. Of course, since I was there…I went on a spending spree!

Smoking dominates the landscape. With all the good things to say about Paris, the one obvious negative is the sheer amount of smokers in the city. Mad-Men-Don-barEverybody smoked; it was unavoidable. Every café was filled with smokers wall-to-wall and to the point where you eventually got used to it. Luckily the government was smart enough to ban smoking inside (or at least I think that’s the deal) so you could escape the second-hand clouds of death by walking through a set of doors. But again, the weather was great and we wanted to be outside so it was something we just tolerated for the time being. I can only imagine their lung cancer rates must be through the roof and hopefully they have a healthcare system that can sustain this habit. But again, it’s a cultural difference and not my place to judge. Of course, by the end of the week we felt left out and were tempted to start sparking up. Luckily the feeling passed and we didn’t pick up any bad habits.

Overall, our timg_2527rip was great! On the way back we were seated near some Griswolds who’s kids (ages around 18 months to 3 years) never slept or stopped moving in general. I actually started feeling bad for them. Here we are, on a flight or almost 8 hours and these two are constantly having to shift the kids around, get up and walk them around the plane and, as best as they could, try to get them to not scream bloody murder every five seconds. They did a pretty good job but it had to be exhausting (in their honor I decided to take a nap!). We flew through Montreal in route to Chicago which was a nice airport and our welcome back to the (North) American way of life. A meal larger than a family a four could handle, constant service at the airport restaurant and English…oh sweet English!

Thank you Paris for a wonderful time and we hope to visit again soon. There is much more for us to explore so we both decided that this would not be our last trip to the area. Au Revoir my new French friends…until we meet again!

Travel Time: IND-ATL

Air travel is an adventure. It’s an adventure when you first head to the airport, while you are on the trip, and when you reach the destination. Of course, like for most, these adventures include other people. Unless you have your own plane or are rich enough to fly in solitude, people come with the territory. Instead of my usual 6am departure this one started later in the morning. My path was Indianapolis to Atlanta via Charlotte which I know goes against convention since every airport has a direct flight to Atlanta. In this case Delta decided the flight home did not need to fit into my work schedule so American it was (a decision I would later regret).

I brought up the adventure part because of my departure. Even the mostly seeming, uneventful flight has its moments and mine started the minute we left IND. I am one of those flyers who usually ignores the person next to me. Through experience, I have grown a shield which prevents me from paying much attention to my fellow passengers. However, that day it must have been down. Next to me was a young girl, probably 11 or 12 (or 8 for all I know…I’m terrible at determining someone’s age). ShieldsAnyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in this position but she boarded the plane with NOTHING. Absolutely, nothing to keep herself entertained. At first I didn’t notice but after a half hour or so, my instincts kicked in and I noticed she was struggling. She wasn’t losing it…she was just bored. My empathy alarm started going off immediately. Here I am, iPad in hand, watching videos, reading, basically having a smorgasbord of entertainment at my finger tips and she has nothing. Damn my conscience.

Now my empathy tank usually runs on about a quarter full so I wasn’t ready to give up my iPad (would she really want to watch reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm anyway?). At the same time, I am a grown man and she is a young girl.

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Unblock Me

There is a very thin line on being helpful versus being creepy so I had to first decide if I was going to take that chance. After watching her open the airline magazine for the fifth time I decided to take a chance and see if I could help. On my phone I have a very entertaining game called “Unblock Me” where you move blocks around until the designated piece can escape the room. I asked her first if she like puzzles which she said yes. I showed her the game and handed it over which she seemed to really enjoy. I felt good about helping out but sorry for her at the same time. I can only imagine she was flying from one parent to another and this was probably routine. But who puts a child on a flight with nothing to do? It’s so easy to lose faith in humanity these days…

With the exception of some pretty heavy turbulence in and out of Charlotte, the rest of the trip went fine. I do forget that some people are still afraid of flying. One little jerk during the flight can send some on a full scale panic attack. On the second leg of the trip, the woman next to me kept doing the trinity cross thing on her chest after every bump. I don’t want to be the one to tell her but if we start going down, there’s no amount of praying that’s going to stop a 150,000 pound metal tube full of jet fuel from turning us all into a mountain of ash (all due respect to the faithful). Even for the most seasoned flyers, bad turbulence can make things uncomfortable and cause you to start thinking about what realturbulencely matters. Like did I clear my browser history before leaving or did I let the chance to tell someone they were an asshole slip by me forever. You never know what’s going to happen so for now on I’ll be more prepared! Anyway, for people like my new devout friend, I usually keep a few anxiety pills handy and will happily turn into the in-cabin drug dealer if anyone near me really starts flipping out. What can you say, I’m a people person at heart!

Atlanta really is a great city and someday when I feel like I’m up for the challenge, I’ll do a full review of Hartsfield. Until then, I’ll just ride the tram, get my car, and jump head first into the famous traffic of the ATL. IMG_2324I had quite a bit of stuff to write about during this trip but it all pretty much got trumped when I-85 caught on fire. No joke…the damn interstate caught on fire (Google it!). Luckily it did not affect much of what I was doing but the entire city went into a panic. The traffic there is bad enough without a large chunk of a major artery missing. Luckily nobody was hurt but the pain associated with increased time at the wheel is going to be felt by the natives for some time to come.

During my off hours I was able to see some of the new and old attractions of Atlanta. I was advised to check out the Ponce City Market, the new multiuse retail/dining/living monstrosity built on an old Sears & Roebuck building in the city’s historic fourth ward. IMG_2323It’s a pretty impressive establishment with lots of interesting places to eat and shop. Based upon the surrounding neighborhood, I imagine this is an attempt to gentrify another area closer to the heart of the city which is not isolated to Atlanta. Projects like this one are now a common sight in urban areas across the U.S. as the interest in moving closer to city centers has become the newest trend in American migration. The upscale clientele along with the fact you have to pay to park even in the surface lot leads me to believe the property values that surround the market are probably skyrocketing as I write this post. It was a nice place and I’m sure I’ll hit it up again on another trek south.

For me, no visit would be complete without a trip to the Zoo. Zoo Atlanta located just southeast of downtown is an impressive campus that sits within the grounds of Grant Park. IMG_2328They had many great exhibits and for an afternoon visit, the animals were very active which made the trip that much more exciting. Of course, it was 72 degrees out so why wouldn’t they be out and about. I have an affinity for the great Apes so I spent a good amount of time just watching them roam around their enclosures. No trip to Zoo Atlanta would be complete without stopping in to see the Pandas. This was a great day to do so because the 7 month old babies were playing together on the firehose hammock. There was a good crowd but not so bad where you couldn’t enjoy the view.

I really enjoy visiting Zoos when I get the chance because they are just one way we humans are still trying to maintain the natural world. Like many Zoos, Zoo Atlanta is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums which is dedicated to animal conservation. These facilities are not just fun places to see animals; they are places that will make sure these animals will exist even as we continue to destroy their habitats around the world. There are a lot of dedicated people who work for these organizations so let’s just say, a quick trip to the Zoo puts my faith back into humanity!

On the trip home I learned two lessons: One, the Atlanta airport punishes you for not flying Delta and two, you can pretty much be in Iowa and still be allowed to call yourself an Chicago airport hotel as long as American Airlines is paying the bill. My flight out was in the T terminal at ATL which can’t stand for anything other than “terrible.” It has limited amenities, small gates and in the afternoon, bakes in the hot southern sun.

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Yep…looks like a murder scene.

A delay in one flight meant mine was as well. It happens; nothing in air transportation is perfect. However, I did get the chance to miss my connection and take advantage of the wonderful accommodations provided by the airline. I imagine in 1985, this Holiday Inn (which calls itself an airport hotel even though it it 30 minutes west) was once a great place of business. Now it’s a $60 per night, John filled shithole where apparently soap is optional (maybe it’s a perk for the working girls!). The 70 year-old shuttle driver who proved that interstate lane lines are just decorations was entertaining enough to get me through the night. A few hours later, I was back at O’hare and on my way home. Like I said, it’s always an adventure!

Travel Time: IND-CLT

This week’s trip takes me from Indianapolis (IND) to Charlotte (CLT) for a three day stomp around the South.  Not often do I get to my home airport with enough time to just grab a

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Indy Car for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500

latte, sit back relax and just enjoy the environment. This has been my first later-in-the day departure in a while so I calculated in plenty of time for rush hour traffic. Luckily the roads were clear so I made it in no time. I also got to take an uber which is a treat in the rain. One covered pickup followed by a covered drop off and I’m on my way (yes, I’m a spoiled first-world consumer!).

Of course being here allows for a good amount of people watching and, subsequently, people listening which is another airport hobby of mine. Here’s a thing: at what point is it appropriate to intervene in a conversation? Not to break up an argument or god forbid, get into a political discussion (I would rather stand behind a jet at take-off) but just interject into the discussion. Of course I only ask this when you can add something meaningful in a respectful way that may actually do some good. A father and son were sitting next to me discussing if the young man should apply to his school’s honors program. The father was aloof about it but was not discouragiblog-interruptingng him either. As someone who has worked in higher education for a long time, I could easily persuade them to give it a try and even discuss some of the benefits they probably didn’t know about. That’s a rhetorical question of course but something that I’m sure we all face at one time or another. At this point I decided to just stay quiet and let it go.

The solitude of business travel life makes you rely on the antics of others for inspiration and sometimes entertainment. Like my seat mate on the way to Charlotte. She wasn’t an full time talker (thankfully) but I guess she worked up the courage to speak once we landed. I learned she had taken this trip to meet her father for the first time. She looked to be in her twenties so that had to be an emotional experience. It’s amazing what people will share like how he was abusive to her mother (before she was born) and how she had been raised by several sets of relatives over her short life. I guess sometimes the anonymity that comes with a short term acquaintance allows you to dump some of the pent up emotional baggage you had been holding in. No tears were shed but I could tell it was an experience she didn’t want to relive. I listened, sympathized, and wished her well.

The next was my shuttle driver from the airport to the hotel. He was a nice older gentleman who I guess enjoyed giving the occupants complete details on the ride including how many minutes we had remaining before arrival,

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Summit of King’s Pinnacle

the list of amenities at this particular property and the birthday and history of Billy Graham (as we were driving on the Billy Graham freeway). I felt bad for not asking him more questions but like the bus we were riding in, I was out of gas.

The trip went well and took me all over western North Carolina.  I went from Gastonia to Winston-Salem, even took a beautiful hike at Crowders Mountain State Park.  Unfortunately, I was only downtown Charlotte for a few minutes which is sad since it is a very clean and vibrant city.  The revitalization around the perimeter of uptown tells me that, like most medium sized cities in the U.S., there is a growth in demand for urban living around Charlotte as well.  The city is helping itself immensely with the continued additions of new train lines (slowly but surely, of course).

As of now, I’m back at the airport waiting to board and wishing that one of the rocking chairs that line the atrium would open up soon.  I’ll cover those more when I finally do a full review of CLT.  Off to the skies I go!

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Travel Time: IND-ORD-SFO

This trip took me to San Francisco via Indianapolis and Chicago. The day started with a dense, ghostly like fog to the point where I could barely see the signs into airport and the parking lot. Unfortunately I had to drive due to the lack of early morning Ubers. IND is an easy shot from my place so it’s not a big imposition. img_2145After parking, a creepy figure standing at the shuttle bus waiting area which ended up being just a nice lady with big hair. I would have loved to get a photo but the bus was bearing down on me so I had to pass.

For the first time in hundreds of flights, I was almost late. Of course my definition of being on time means having a comfortable amount of waiting before take off. Pre check was packed which is what led to timing issue but I made it fine.

The first leg was IND to ORD which is only about an hour from take off to touch down. Because it’s early I’m usually asleep before ever taking off. I find the thrust very soothing. As you can see, Chicago looked peaceful from 10,000 feet yet I’m not naive enough to things that’s true. Being originally from Illinois it saddens me to see what’s happening to that city. I still enjoy Chicago and ORD but has its share of issues. What city doesn’t?

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Chicago from 10,000 feet.

Thanks to our friends the Canadian plane manufacturers, we had to gate check all the roller boards since I guess up north you don’t carry on anything bigger than a child’s backpack. This is always entertaining when we deplane with the bottle necking that inevitably occurs on the jet way. Every time there is the one ass hat who

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Rebel or douche…

thinks he’s too good to stand in line for the gate checked bag. Probably the guys who drives a large loud vehicle and has a tiny you-know-what. Another guy stepped up and ran him off…good for you, bro!

The longest leg of the trip went great, especially since it was in a new aircraft and there was an empty seat between me and the guy in the window seat.  Sometimes being in the back of the plane has its perks too. There were plenty of entertainment options to the 4+ hours went by without noticing.

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Empty seat!

There was quite a bit of turbulence both right after take-off and as we approached SFO but nothing that set off my alarms. A few people around me started gasping but it wasn’t that bad.

SFO is a nice airport and I plan on giving it a review in a few months. At least the B terminal is clean and has lots of dining and retail options. It even has a Yoga studio somewhere on grounds which is not surprising. The airtrain is extremely efficient and quickly gets you from point to point. Once I reached the rental car garage I got a free upgrade and was on my way.  Off to rainy San Fran I go!