Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Show me the way to go home

June 17, 2008

For someone with absolutely no sense of direction — if you’re ever lost, just ask me which way to go, then do the opposite — this seems like a pretty silly concern:

For most people — the cab driver, the tourist, the business traveler — the ubiquitous GPS has become a lifeline, giving directions to the nearest bathroom, a pizza joint or the shortest route to the office.

But, just like with spell-checker before it, some experts believe that the guiding device gives less than what it takes away. The price we pay for the convenience, they say, could be our sense of direction.

You can’t lose what you never had. Some machines may have made us dumber — the mentioned spell-checker, the hand-held calculator — but GPS? Don’t think so.

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Be careful out there

June 17, 2008

If newspapers go out of business, who would there be to give us wise advice like this?

With thousands of young people now officially enjoying summer vacation, it’s time for everyone to remember that an enjoyable summer is a safe one.

[. . .]

Summer, with its many events, festivals and activities, is a time when people are always on the go. But don’t leave safety awareness behind when you’re out enjoying this time of year.

After reading in the editorial about all that could go wrong (swimming accidents can happen right in your back yard! Alcohol increases the chances of something bad happening!), I think I’ll just stay indoors and read a lot this summer. Wait, what about paper cuts?!

Unfriendly skies

May 22, 2008

I don’t quite understand the reasoning behind this:

Under a plan announced Wednesday by American Airlines, passengers already forced to pay extra for amenities like earphones, meals and even snacks will have to pay $15 to check a basic piece of baggage.

This seems almost designed to anger passengers. This is one more petty burden to bear for people who are already upset about what an increasing hassle flying has become. But it’s really a small percentage of the overall cost of flying, and people are used to price fluctuations and generally, if grudgingly, accepting of the idea that the cost of most things will go up over time. If American had merely added that $15 to the ticket price, this would have all died down after a day. As it is, it’s a much bigger story.

Yes, yes, I know. Luggage adds weight, which requires more fuel. But this doesn’t really seem designed to address that issue — how many people will really fly with less stuff, and how many will just try to cram more into their carry-on luggage? It would have been more effective to just decrease the maximum weight allowed for checked luggage before the extra fees kick in.

Back on the bus

April 16, 2008

Greyhound is starting to look pretty good, huh?

Getting hitched may be the right move for Delta and Northwest. But for beleaguered air travelers, it could usher in an era of higher fares, fewer flights, more confusion at the airport and even more crowded planes.

[. . .]

Mergers, combined with a recent spate of airline bankruptcies, mean passengers in many cities can expect fewer flights to choose from, and they’ll be packed even fuller than they are now.

I hate to fly anyway, and this isn’t going to make it any more palatable. What does it mean when the most advanced form of travel can’t find a profitable method of operation? For one thing, that basic economics are going to come into play, eventually, and fares will rise to where they need to be. We’ve come to expect low fares, but we don’t a have a right to them. Global warmists, at least, should be delighted.

Oh!Hare

April 7, 2008

I just had to go through O’Hare on my recent trip to Texas, and all I can is “Amen!”

Chicago’s O’Hare International, the most frequented airport for passengers leaving Indianapolis International Airport, is also the nation’s most stressful. That’s according to a survey conducted by U.S. News and World Report, which placed O’Hare at the top of its “Airport Misery Index.”

The magazine came up with the rankings by looking at delayed flights (33.5 percent for O’Hare and 19.6 percent for Indianapolis) and average load factors, which is the percentage of available seats that are filled with passengers.

Granted, one of the things adding to my stress was the fact that they had to put us on a new plane, and that’s the kind of snag that can happen anywhere. But it’s the kind of thing that seems to happen at O’Hare a lot. It’s certainly not the place to be if you’re bothered by noise and crowds. It’s almost worth having to make an extra connecting flight just to avoid  O’Hare.

And I still want to know why we can’t be Baer Field International Airport.

 

Bubba’s story

March 21, 2008

My visit with my brother was designed to coincide with my sister-in-law’s vacation with her mother, which leaves the house unprotected from the whims of its three male inhabitants — Larry, me and Bubba the Overlord. Bubba rules the place with efficient charm, getting what he wants when he wants it without being too obnoxious  or obvious about it.

bubbacat.jpgHe is a Maine Coon cat, if not pure, at least having most of the chracteristics of the breed. The fur  dripping from a Maine Coon’s neck is like a lion’s mane, and there is more fur everywhere than on the typical cat — in the ears, on the bottoms of the paws. They are made that way to survive harsh New England winters, which makes Texas a strange place for one of them to end up. They are said to be relaxed and easy-going, playful all their lives, fond of people but not overly dependent on them. I can say that is true of Bubba, but it is also true of most of the cats I’ve ever known.

My brother rescued the cat, which means more than it does in Fort Wayne — drive out to the animal shelter and choose a feline companion some Saturday morning. Bubba had been dumped by a vistor to the region, and he spent his time traveling between three houses — my brother’s one of them — all of them about a mile apart. He’d spend several days at each place, mooching and hanging around as he made his circuit. But one of the other places had more cats and the other had cats and dogs both, so Bubba ended up spending most of his time here, getting the undivided attention of the inhabitants.

My brother and his wife came back from a shopping trip or something one day and noticed the cat slumped under a corner of the house. They took a closer look and saw that his head was twice normal size. They rushed him to the vet,  who informed them that the cat had been bitten by a rattlesnake. Armed with antibiotics, they took the cat home and installed him in the utility room. After a few days, he started perking up and wandering around the house, inspecting his new surroundings. The minute he spotted the bed in the master bedroom, he hopped up and curled up. He was dubbed Bubba, and he has been in charge ever since.

He is now an inside-semi-outside cat, meaning he has the run of the screened-in deck. He sits there a lot of time gazing out over the property, perhaps thinking wistfully of all the other creatures he used to chase or gratefully about all the other snakes he will never encounter. When my brother and his wife wander their land these days, they carry sticks and revolvers loaded with “snakeshot,” special cartridges that basically turn a handgun into a shotgun. I have to say I’d never heard of that, but I can see its advantages for homeowners wanting to protect their property. Unless you live in D.C., of course.

Another brick in the walk

March 21, 2008

In Wimberley, Texas, near where my brother lives, is a wonderful outdoor theater where high school students perform Shakespeare under the Stars, and all kinds of concerts and community events are held. There is also a story behind the place — there would have to be, with a name like The EmilyAnn Theatre. Emily Ann Rolling was a 16-year-old Wimberley High School student in December, 1996, when she was killed in a head-on car collision. That would have been the end of her story, except for her parents, who decided to create a memorial for her so her name would live on. All the money their foundation raised resulted in the theater that the community now gets so much out of. Most cities across the country have  stories of remarkable people who make such marks that they become local legends. They aren’t usually even known outside the community limits.

But now I know about the Rollings, because I’ve also become a very small part of the story. When local veterans’ organizations were looking for a place for a memorial, the hill at the top of The EmilyAnn Theatre seemed like a logical  place, so the vets’ celebrations are now a part of the community activities there, too. aflag1.jpgThere is a littlz plaza framed by flagpoles, for the American and Texas flags and for the flags of each of the Armed Services. Radiating out from the center are walks, and the veterans raised money for the project by selling bricks in the walks — you donate the money, and your name, branch and years of service will be there on that brick for anybody to see.

My brother donated for a brick for the Morris veterans. Our brick is there on the Army walk. brick.jpgIt contains the names of our father, my brother Larry and me, my brother’s father-in-law and son-in-law, Army men all. Larry’s son-in-law, Sgt. David Walden, who is married to his oldest daughter, Shellie, is in Iraq, for his second tour. I’m proud to share the brick and a tiny space of Winberley with him, and look forward to the day when he can see the real thing instead of just a photo.

Outside the parameters

March 20, 2008

You can’t have a travel day without passing along a couple of airport stories, however tame:

1. Former Mayor Graham Richard was on the same Fort Wayne-to-Chicago flight I was yesterday morning. He was traveling alone, and I didn’t ask him anything, so I have no idea if Chicago was his final destination or not. Feel free to start whatever rumor you wish — it’s pobably nothing more exciting than a Six Sigma consulting gig.

2. They kept us in the plane for about an hour past our scheduled departure time from Chicago to San Antonio before the pilot finally announced that there was a fuel leak that the mechanics said was “outside our parameters” or “safety margins” or some such. They found us a new plane and we had to troop back through O’Hare, then sit on that plane for a while before finally taking off a couple of hours late. When I related this to my brother, he responded, “You mean there are some fuel leaks that are inside the safety parameters?”A little scary to think about.

Rugged country

March 20, 2008

My brother had his house built on 35 acres in Hill Country, Texas, just outside of Wimberley. Here is an aerial view to give you a little perspective. He took it from a neighbor’s plane (some people out here have their own runways). Pretty rugged country, but with civilization at arm’s length only.aerial1.jpg

Catch you later

March 19, 2008

Today is my travel day. I should get to my brother’s late in the afternoon — perhaps I’ll do a post from there. I don’t want to make you feel bad or anything, but check out the weather in Hill Country, Texas — mid to high 70s during the day, high 40s to low 50s at night. Cheer up — I hear the first day of spring is just around the corner.

Friendly skies

March 18, 2008

In preparation for my flight to Texas tomorrow, I went to the Transportation Security Administration’s Web site to see if there were any updates to the carry-on rules. I still have to check my blackjack, brass knuckles and throwing stars. Bummer.

Last in line

February 11, 2008

Include me as one of them:

INDIANAPOLIS Looking at a smart car from the outside, you immediately begin a mental list of people who wouldn’t touch an 8.8-foot vehicle with a 10-foot pole.

I will be in line to buy “the tiniest car marketed in North America” when every other vehicle on the road is that size or smaller. I want a fighting chance out there.

The current record will stand

September 27, 2007

Drat. Another vacation plan down the tubes:

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Attention climbers: Please keep your clothes on while climbing Mount Everest.

Nepal’s mountaineering authorities are calling for a ban on nudity and attempts to set obscene records on the world’s highest mountain, officials said Wednesday.

Last year, a Nepali climber claimed the world’s highest display of nudity when he disrobed for several minutes while standing on the 29,035-foot summit with the temperature about 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

Have you noticed what a “Guinness World Records” culture we’ve fallen into? On the home page right now, Guinness is featuring “heaviest weight dangled from a swallowed sword” and “most modeling ballon sculptures made in an hour.” Man, that’s real news. What superhuman, heroic achievements!

UPDATE: Some of the craziest Guinness records, including “longest distance walking over hotplates,” “record for milk squirting from the eye” and “most head spins in a minute.”

What a bunch of glamps

August 20, 2007

I try to keep the old fogy “this country is going down the tubes today” stuff to a minimum; I really do. But have you heard of “glamping“?

After typing “luxury” into a Google search along with “camping” and “Montana,” the couple settled on The Resort at Paws Up, a 37,000-acre getaway in the heart of Big Sky country. It’s a place for affluent travelers who want to enjoy the outdoors but can’t fathom using a smelly outhouse, a place where paying someone to light the campfire is a badge of honor, not the mark of a Boy Scout flunky.

The Bondicks, who live in a sprawling home on the edge of a state park outside Boston and hire a personal chef at home, shelled out $595 a night — plus an additional $110 per person per day for food.

It’s a hefty price to sleep in a tent, but the perks include a camp butler to build their fire, a maid to crank up the heated down comforter at nightfall and a cook to whip up bison rib-eye for dinner and French toast topped with huckleberries for breakfast.

The number of visits to U.S. national parks is declining, but “glamping” — glamorous camping — is on the rise in North America after gaining popularity among wealthy travelers in Africa and England, where luxury tents come with Persian rugs and electricity to power blow dryers.

I bow to no one in fondness for the indoors. But if you’re gonna do the outside thing, do it. No wonder Osama thinks we’re weak and vulnerable.

The last straw

August 14, 2007

Had to happen: fake cigarettes on the street:

Authorities seized nearly 600,000 packs of cigarettes with brand names like Marlboros and Newports, half of which are suspected of being counterfeits from China, prosecutors announced Monday.

Three Chinese men were arrested in the raid late last week at a warehouse in the Corona section of Queens, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said at a news conference. The cigarettes have an estimated street value of more than $3.4 million.

Wait, wait, it gets better:

Because the counterfeits originated in China, they were not subject to any regulatory review of their ingredients and could contain “dangerously high levels of tar and nicotine,” said Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.

You know, as opposed to the quite acceptable levels of tar and nicotine in ordinary cigarettes. Those wicked Chinese; it’s one thing to contaminate our pet food and toothpaste. But to make our cigarettes unsafe!

To the moon, alas

July 20, 2007

moon.jpgHappy 38th moon-landing anniversary. I can still remember how stunning it was to see Armstrong take that first step and hear him speak those words. It was the greatest step ever taken in human exploration. What would the world be like today if we had used that as a starting point instead of . . . just . . . losing . . . interest? (Here’s video.)

A mighty wind a . . . oops, never mind

August 29, 2005

Sure, we all like to visit places like New Orleans, but on days like this we should be grateful we live in tornado country instead of hurricane country. As scary as a tornado is, its terror is relatively short-lived. We hear about it coming and hide in the basement and the thing either hits your house or not, all of the action taking place in a few hours. Hurricanes terrorize people for days. Will it get here, or will it veer, will it build in strength or fizzle? Never mind hiding in the basement; it’s evacutate the city time. Probably why we’ve never bothered to give names to tornadoes.

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If you give it away, they will come

August 25, 2005

This is just such an awesome idea on so many levels. For one thing, it taps into our early history as a continent-filling, westward-moving inevitability. Useful ideas don’t go away; they just change. How would it be if the city of Fort Wayne just bought an empty building downtown and said, "Send us your ideas for using this space, your business plans, your financing proposals, and we’ll give the building to the winner"?

It also awakens the romantic dreamer in us. What if we could leave behind all the mundane dreariness in our lives, just pick up and move on? A few of us at work have been playing this game lately. First it was five acres in New Mexico that somebody saw on the Web. She started talking about it, and others jumped in, and before we knew it, we were fantasizing about starting an artists’ colony on 15 acres in Utah.

Don’t think this ever came up, though:

One of the most common questions she gets from prospective settlers is where the nearest Wal-Mart is located. "Some people are just addicted to Wal-Mart," she said. They drive 50 minutes to Salina to get their fix, or make do with mail order or Internet shopping.

   

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