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

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Membership has its Perks!

I know it’s a tad cliché but the phrase “Membership has its perks” is never more relevant than when travel as often as I do. Obtaining even the most minimum level of status on any airline, rental car company or hotel chain transforms your experience especially in certain situations. Most associate this to getting upgraded to something better than what you reserved. However, other times it is what you are allowed to avoid which makes these programs worth it.

This week took me to Phoenix and the self-titled “America’s Friendliest Airport “, Sky Harbor International. When I arrived at gate at quickly noticed (actually heard) two separate groups who were getting ready to board the same flight. On my right was a group of women going on girl’s trip. girls guys tripThey really didn’t even have to say it because they were all wearing matching T-shirts that read “Don’t Panic, It’s Just a Girl’s Trip.” Can’t get any more subtle than that.  Although as entertaining as they were, on my left was another group. This time it was a bunch of fashion-challenged men (see Dudes) who were off on their own adventure which we later learned (again heard loudly), it was a fishing trip to Mexico. It was 6am, the collective volume had already reached club-level and I thought to myself this was going to be a long flight…

This is where the perks come in. Given my status with the airline was able to upgrade to a premium economy seat which not only had more leg room, but was also in the very front of the plan. I smiled heavily as I watched both groups march south heading towards the rear in what I could only assume was about to be a bloody-mary fueled festival in the sky. empty sinkSources in back tell me they all talked the entire flight 3.5 hours. Any I’m being generous with the word “talked.” Apparently when you’re in an enclosed space with a couple hundred other people, yelling to the person sitting right next to you is not appropriate behavior. For a moment, I felt bad that I had a nice quiet seat with an open one between me and the window and no distracting assbags to deal with. No I’m just kidding…that’s their problem!

-DPW

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Airport Judgement Calls

A lot that goes into air travel is routine. Once you get into doing it more often, everything becomes second nature. How you pack your bags, the timing you set to get to the airport and, of course, the airport itself is just one routine after another. You just really don’t have to think much about anything which makes the process much less painful and it makes you a more efficient passenger.

Although there a plenty amount of good that can come out of routines, having situations arise that break them up can cause serious anxiety. routinesThings can always go wrong; there’s no way around that. Issues with transportation, delayed flights…yada, yada, yada…all can mess with your grand plan and throw you into a spiral. But it’s the times when you, yourself, could possibly cause the routine to collapse are the ones that seem to be the worst. This is what makes me bring up the idea of judgement calls and how sometimes your routine can go to hell!

There are plenty of judgement calls an individual will have to make during air travel. Some big, some little. Do you order a salad or the colossal burger with fries? Little. Do you take the stall with the broken lock because you don’t want to wiggle you and your luggage out to find another one? Again, little. Do you inform the proper authorities that a potential terrorist attack may be about to happen? Yeah, let’s call that a big one.

As you can imagine, I’m writing about something that recently happened to me before a flight. On this particular occasion, I get to the airport like usual and go through all my, and the airport’s routines before getting to the gate. I find my usual preferred seat; always facing the gate agent and never around children (don’t you judge me!) and then go about my other routine of getting out my iPad and wasting some time on Reddit before boarding.

This day, I happened to look over by the window and I saw a piece of luggage sitting all by itself. Usually I wouldn’t notice something like this but the bag was the brightest shade of pink you could possibly imagine. You couldn’t miss it. The best way to describe it would be if Hello Kitty vomited and some genius decided that this would be the perfect color for a carryon set. hello kittyAnyway, it was sitting at the end of the aisle with no one evenly remotely nearby. Immediately my mind went into panic mode thanks to the media/politician fueled rhetoric, force feeding us the idea that another attack is imminent. That and I couldn’t help but think, if ISIS was to blow up an American airport terminal, of course they would use a pink suitcase.

So here is where the judgement call comes to in play. Do I…a responsible citizen and frequent visitor to the airport…tell someone what I’m seeing or do I ignore it and go about my own business? Now, I know what you’re thinking, “hey Dr. Dumbass…tell someone. You’ve seen the billboards (if you see something, say something), there are lots of people around and you will obviously be deemed a hero if you thwart a nuclear detonation” (not that the hero thing matters to me…). report activityBut you don’t know the whole story. I was in Indianapolis…in January. It was 12 degrees outside. If I tell someone that the suspicious looking pink bag could turn this place into an ash-filled crater, I’d probably have to go stand outside for at least an hour. You see where I’m going with this?

Therefore, my options are, A: Report the bag and freeze my ass off. Or, B: Risk being blown to smithereens and…well, I guess that is about the worst that can happen here. I mean, it couldn’t be that bad, right? Given my proximity, the percussion shock would probably kill me instantly and I really wouldn’t be facing some blazing inferno (that would’ve been Terminal A…they’d been screwed). So, am I wrong to do nothing? Well in this case, my conscience got the best of me and I set off to find the nearest whatever officer. I didn’t even have a scarf and knew this was going to suck but better to be safe than sorry.

As I made my way down the terminal I looked over and noticed a young woman, sitting by herself with a backpack the identical shade of pink as the TNT filled roll aboard near the window. I stopped and asked her if that was her bag. She looked at me as if I had told her that monkeys were crawling out of her ass and in an almost inaudible tone, responded “uh huh.” its-public-shaming-time-n00bIn my head I gave her the public berating of a lifetime and shamed her into finally turning into an active participant in this little thing we call a society…but I didn’t. Instead, I gave her the look of “alright stupid” and walked away relieved by the fact that I was neither going to freeze to death or be splattered into a million pieces across southwest Indianapolis.

The moral of the story is, my good judgement along with my heightened peripheral vision saved the day even though nothing actually needed to be saved. Plus, my overall airport routine was not disrupted too much so win, win! Let’s just hope that next time I’m faced with the possibility of being the person between mass causalities and a happy ending, that we at least have good weather!

-DPW

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Planes, Trains and Ride Sharing Apps: NYC Never Disappoints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-DPW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Travel Time: IND-MIA

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

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

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-DPW

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International Travelers Guide to American Airports

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

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

  • Americans only speak English

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

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

  • Personal space is a necessity

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

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

  • Tipping is an unfortunate custom

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

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

  • Smokers are being phased out

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

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

  • Security will be tight

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

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

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

-DPW

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