Pushers (PSH)

In the world of airports, the airplanes themselves allow you see as much interesting and crazy stuff as you would throughout the terminals. As a frequent flier, I completely understand this. 21st Century Torture DeviceCrowding a few hundred people on a space the size of a single-wide trailer and expecting them to just magically get along is insanity in itself. There are always going to be issues but luckily most passengers have been conditioned enough to go with the natural order of things. Unless you are someone who just doesn’t think that way…that’s when there’s a problem.

As I have written in the past, air travel is made up of routines. Routines for the passengers: getting to the airport, going through security, queuing up to board and taking your seat. Routines for pilots: going through the checklist, constantly checking and re-checking equipment and controls, also queue up the plane for take-off and fly to the pre-determined destination. sxdwnAnd of course, routines for the staff: assign everyone a seat, usher passengers into the plane, work through the safety announcements and serve meals/beverages.All of this makes up the working order of air travel and is widely accepted by the general public. However, when someone decides these routines just don’t work for them, or they feel somehow they are above the socially accepted rule of order, things can get uncomfortable for others on the flight. It doesn’t always turn to a melee that is diverts a plane and is forever captured on YouTube…but it can be just as annoying.

One group in particular who seems to forget the fact that the planet is made up of other humans and chooses to break one highly coveted and necessary routine when de-boarding the plane is the topic of this post. This is the group that chooses not to wait on retrieving their bags from the overhead bins regardless of the distance between their seats and their luggage. They push, squirm, and claw their way back and forth through the throngs of increasingly impatient passengers to claim their prized possessions while not trying to lose their spot on board. This group is known as “The Pushers!”

Pushers have distinguishable qualities that a trained eye can spot sometimes even in the boarding area. They usually come equipped with a designer bag either covered with brand initials or some sort of animal print that I guess is supposed to impress the rest of us waiting around. They’re always relatively high-voiced either on the phone while everyone is trying to hear the crew instructions or with the rest of their party where they continue telling some obviously over-exaggerated version of a story that, again, is designed to somehow elevate their social status. the-rich-daddys-girl-starter-pack-6091394The final, and almost required quality of the Pushers, is that they have been assigned to the LAST group to board the plane. This is where the trouble begins because in the minds of these self-absorbed, members of a pretend royal family, their upgrade to the highest level of first-class should have already been secured. That and being caste into economy class like some hobo is just an oversight that will be dealt with the next time they brunch with the airline CEO.

It’s not until everyone is actually on the plane before the rest of the passengers can start seeing the true nature of the Pushers play out. With the recent addition of fees for checked luggage, the overhead bin space on a full flight has the real estate value of a two-bedroom condo in San Francisco. Flight crews know this all too well and begin informing passengers before boarding gets underway. itll-fitOf course, the “it can never happen to me” syndrome that plagues human nature is in full effect; even for those in Group 9 who watch hundreds of their now enemies walk down the jetway roll aboard in tow. Pushers are never deterred by this spectacle and have already established  that their bags will be safely stowed in the fuselage regardless of the irrefutable laws of physics. To their credit, they’re usually right! Even if they get on right as the cabin door is being closed, a Pusher has the unique ability to get their bag stuffed somewhere in the overhead. This is usually 10 or more rows back from their own seats. At this point, we wait, anxiously as the insanity will inevitably begin the minute the plane safely hits the ground.

Something interesting happens every time a plane lands. It’s hard to explain it but a sudden burst of energy courses its way through the aircraft causing passengers to suddenly turn into a classroom full of un-medicated ADHD 6th graders all with a sense of doomsday-style urgency as they frantically pack of their stuff for arrival. This is when the Pushers really come to life. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, the Pushers are already putting together an elaborate plan to rescue their prized, PVC-made Louie Vuitton. 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 - Day SixThey work out every step and mentally move all obstacles that could possibly get in the way. You see them looking back down the aisle, finding the weakest links and plotting their course well before we hit the gate. And like Usain Bolt during the last leg of an Olympic trial, the ding of the seatbelt sign propels them into a legacy building dash as they fly aisle by aisle towards the bin in which their treasure awaits. They get there in record time, just as planned. However, the battle has just begun. Their seat is now several rows in front of them…and waiting is not an option.

In most cases, I try and create a name that cleverly disguises the true nature of the population being examined leaving enough detail to the imagination (see Griswolds, Techies and Outsiders). However, the Pushers earned their name through sheer force; they literally push their way back to their seats. This is part that I don’t understand. Years of public school education included lining up in an orderly fashion to efficiently move from the classroom to just about anywhere else in the building. single fileTo me this creates a sense of relaxation knowing that years of operant conditioning will allow us all to be guided one-by-one towards the front and eventually to the openness of the awaiting terminal. Apparently, Pushers went to schools that were more like Hunger Games arenas where everyone was out for blood and the need for cooperation was just a disguise. Pushers will use every physical, verbal and nylon-constructed weapon at their disposal to get back to their original spot. The dozens of bodies and luggage in front of them is no deterrent. The endorphins from success must be orgasmic as they seldom fail. They are, however,  usually accosted at least two or three times during the journey. Although, I want to say, “my hats off” to the Pushers and their determination, I secretly plot with my fellow passengers to halt their advance for nothing more than a few minutes of frustration-breaking entertainment.

So push on Pushers! Your impulse to reunite with your carryon obviously outweighs the wants and needs of everyone else on board. Why should you give in to societal norms that say to sit down, shut up and wait your turn? Keep on marching to the beat of your own drum which, of course, is leading you in the wrong direction. I can’t say that I will discontinue my desire to purposely get in your way, making the trek that much harder. Who am I kidding…I definitely going to keep doing that! Best of luck in your quest!

-DPW

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Tostis, Trams and Tulips: Our Week in Amsterdam

As a self-proclaimed expert in all things travel, I’ve taken the liberty of categorizing  tourists into two distinct groups : Box checkers and Absorbers. 2a17imBox checkers are busy. They visit 12 countries in 15 days, stop at every Rick Steves’ recommended tourist trap they can find and constantly harass the concierges with statements like, “we want to go where the locals eat.” Their primary objective is to put a completed stamp through every item on their bucket list including their hand-picked list of destinations without taking the time to actually experience what each place has to offer. This group has also been known to interject their travels into every conversation, think that a pair of Merrells and khaki socks will help them blend in and come home with an annoying habit of saying they had a great “holiday” instead of vacation.

The absorbers are the more laid back, enjoy the scenery, smell the roses type crowd. Their approach to travel is to soak in as much of a destination as possible; really trying to get a feel for every place they choose to visit. Snapseed copy 2This, of course, is the group I more identify with and why I’m not spending a paragraph making fun of their quirks and habits! This trip took my wife and I to Amsterdam, the canal covered, leaning house, jewel of the Netherlands that should absolutely be on the destination list for box checkers and absorbers alike. It’s charming scenery and friendly atmosphere made it a great place to visit; even for pessimistic and overly sarcastic travelers like me!

Alright, let’s get the annoying part over with: No, we didn’t smoke weed nor did we solicit services from the “ladies of the night” while in Amsterdam. I know…weird, right? Who wouldn’t want to travel halfway across the world to use a drug that is readily available everywhere else on the planet and potentially contract a venereal disease. emma-stone-wayfarer-sunglasses-easy-aIt’s a true shame that when you mention that you are traveling to or just returned from Amsterdam, the aforementioned activities are the first things asked about followed by a series of IQ lowering puns and chuckles. Much like the unsuspecting high school girl whose notoriety is sealed after just one back seat handy during the homecoming parade, Amsterdam suffers from a reputation that just never seems to go away. Even if the distinction is without merit (yeah right Nancy…you two were just “talking”), clearing that stink off and starting with a clean slate is a tough thing to do.

All that aside, Amsterdam exceeded our expectations on all fronts. Not that we had bad impressions going in, it’s just been my experience that this city is mostly a stopover on a long European itinerary and never a primary destination. The good impressions started at the airport (of course, I would mention that!). Schiphol Airport is an amazing facility. E8C0974E-5A4F-4617-84C0-B55905412BA2-420-0000001B057EFCA9It’s basically a shopping mall, train depot, supermarket and corporate business park all rolled together with a few hundred planes flying in and out in the background. Even the taxis were impressive. We rolled into town in a brand new Tesla Model X driven by a well-dressed, an extremely efficient chauffeur. It actually makes me feel bad for the Dutch people who visit America only to be met by taxi fleet made up of beaten up, old Buicks and minivans that smell like cigarettes, body odor and bad decisions.

 

I’m not going to bore anyone with every tiny detail of our trip but we our plan was to explore, experience and see as much of the city as we could. We opted out of the over-crowded, mass produced tour boats and instead took a nighttime tour on a private cruiser operated by Leemstar. hdrThis was a great way to see Amsterdam while also learning a good amount of history from our very charming and knowledgeable captain, Arnout. Not only did he point out the various interest spots, he dove into the rich heritage of the city with little anecdotes we never would have picked up on our own. As much as I would have enjoyed being packed in to a glass-topped, floating oven with a hundred of our closest friends, going the route of a classy and very much more pretentious private tour is more my style!

Coming from a car-centric part of the world, I’ve always enjoyed the public transit options in Europe. Amsterdam was no stranger to this and have many to choose from. Buses, trams, trains and even an underground rail (which is hard to believe since the entire country is basically underwater). Snapseed copy 5The trams were definitely our favorites. Think above-ground subways cars, hovering through the streets and completely ran on electricity. They were fast, efficient and you could count the seconds between one taking off and another one approaching. We learned quickly not to be in a hurry to catch the tram…sometimes they were actually sitting on top of each other.

The other transportation phenomenon in Amsterdam are bicycles. Oh my! Bikes were everywhere. They had dedicated lanes all throughout the city just for bikes (and mopeds) which were really where you had to pay the most attention when crossing the road. mr beanFor the safety of everybody in this city, we didn’t even dare rent bikes and try to navigate around. Within the first five minutes I would have caused a massive pile up that would have ended in nothing less than an international incident. The bikes definitely ruled the road and cars would yield to them on demand. That is so much different than in America where we have an unwritten points-system for how many cyclists you can take out on your daily commute!

When we booked the trip, we were ignorant to many things. One, it was the spring holiday season including May Day (the EU’s version of Labor Day) and the week leading up to Liberation and Remembrance Days. These are times the country celebrates the end of WWII and pays homage to those who lost their lives. Snapseed copyThis was also the height of tulip season which we learned the Netherlands is the largest producer of tulips in the world. We therefore took a day trip to Keukenhof Gardens and were blown away the grounds. Over 7 million bulbs make up the garden and are arranged in very unique and and varying displays which seem to have no end. As beautiful as it was, I think I’ve had my fill of flowers for the next few years!

In conclusion, any chance you get to spend time in Amsterdam…take it and take it all in. History, beauty, good food (tosti’s are the perfect light lunch) and, yes, the ability to sin on multiple levels are all available in one amazing spot. A big thank you to all the great people who helped make this trip a success and we hope this is not the only time we’ll spend time in your city. Until we meet again!

-DPW

Snapseed

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It’s time to stop picking on United

My grandparents used to tell me that when televisions first started becoming popular the news stations had only one job: report the news. It was really simple: here is the story as we factually know it and presto…news! oh-how-the-media-likes-to-sensationalize-things-82123Once the networks realized that sensationalizing a story and essentially beating it into the ground was profitable, there was no stopping them. Everything now is breaking news and having the most up-to-date details, no matter how trivial, can equal millions in extra revenue. This of course means that networks have to continually provide new content and what better way to do so than to go back and further scrutinize a person, business or organization that you have already slammed before. At this point, it’s no longer called news…it’s called bullying…

The easiest way to describe the behaviors of news organizations is by comparing them to a middle school gym class playing dodgeball. The networks are the taller, stronger kids whose pubes have already started sprouting and have the cool parents who let the kids get drunk at their house because they say, “it’s safer under our own roof.” The target organization is the overweight, nearsighted sci-fi nerd who accidentally shit his pants in 4th grade and still hasn’t lived it down. dodgeballOver and over they pound him with red balls and insults, laughing at his cries for mercy and mocking his very existence until he finally cracks and (well, I’m not going to go there…do have some resemblance of a conscience). Celebrities, oil companies, fraternities and sororities, and political parties (varying depending on what channel you watch) are all easy targets that never make it off the bench before taking a round, rubber bullet to the side of their head sending their glasses screeching across the gymnasium. Airlines are in the same boat. Every now and then, one airline will screw up big which will put them in the media drawn crosshairs for at least a few years. Right now it’s United’s turn…and there seems to be no end in sight.

I’m sure United has gone through their share of issues but this particular onslaught seems to have started with one incident which I’m sure we’re all too familiar by now. Let me provide a recap: guy purchases a United ticket from Chicago to Louisville; while buying this ticket he also checks the little box which, paraphrasing, says something like, “I agree with the terms and conditions”; guy gets on United flight; guy is asked to de-plane because of overbooking (here is where those ‘conditions’ come into play); guy refuses (therefore, violating those ‘conditions’); 170410170634-united-airlines-mobile-cut-full-169guy gets dragged off by security allowing another passenger to become a momentary Twitter sensation. Remember that? Immediately following came a serious of unfortunate events including a rabbit dying, two girls not being let on a flight for wearing leggings (or tights…what’s the difference…), a musician fighting a flight attendant and a parent getting pissed for her snot-nosed little brat having to share her seat. All of these things seem to suggest incompetence amongst the airline. However, as bad as they are, this is just the nature of air travel…plain and simple.

Airlines exist for two reasons. To fly passengers and cargo from one point to another and to make a profit while doing it. 26_DrunkPlaneThat’s it…nothing else. And they have to do this while also facing constant public scrutiny, regulations from every government agency on the planet, tight schedules, exhausted employees, new technological breakthroughs, political correctness and the person in seat 30F throwing pretzels down the fuselage because the airport TGIFriday’s served him one to many. Oh and at the same time, do all of this on the cheap because, lord knows, people get pissy when an airline tries to send up a 200,000lb, gasoline filled Megabus across the United States for more than $300.

The one common denominator for all the issues faced by any airline including United are humans. Yes, I know, a rabbit is not human but it was a person who decided that the fucking Easter Bunny needed to fly economy that day. All being said, people are what causes the problems on flights. f129046538de1d7dc688a4e2377ed284People refuse to follow FAA regulations and crew member instructions, people bring their precious animals on board and let them shit all over the aisle, people book tickets way too late leaving them a crappy seat and people dress in provocative clothing and then get mad when it’s brought to their attention. Jerry Seinfeld said it the best, “people are the worst!” He wasn’t kidding.

I have no emotional or economic reason to be defending the airlines but I feel it is necessary to be a voice of reason when it comes to all the bad things we hear about one over another. I’ve had plenty of issues while traveling but never let it get to me. Don’t let the media be your deciding factor when choosing who to board. All airlines are going to have their problems from time to time but for the most part, you’re going to take off, land and live to enjoy your final destination. United we stand (no pun intended) with you through this time. It won’t we long until another carrier screws up enough and you’ll be off the hook for a while. Until then, I’ll see you at the airport!

-DPW

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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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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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Travel Time: IND-MIA

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

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

maslow-pyramid
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-DPW

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International Travelers Guide to American Airports

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

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

  • Americans only speak English

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

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

  • Personal space is a necessity

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

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

  • Tipping is an unfortunate custom

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

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

  • Smokers are being phased out

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

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

  • Security will be tight

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

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

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

-DPW

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