Tag Archives: Travel

Coffee, Tea or Pee?


There are lots of monumental problems in the world, but for the moment let’s ignore them. Let’s instead focus on the latest unpleasantness to occur on airlines: dogs. It seems that while we’ve been losing legroom, meals, snacks, magazines, and dignity, pups have taken to the friendly skies. The rise of the cabin canine (versus the baggage hold hound) is due to the (relatively) new loophole of “emotional support” animal. If your dog (or pig, monkey, or cat) is designated as giving you emotional support he/she must be treated like an assistance animal. Passengers and crew are not pleased by this trend and for good reason.

Allergies to animals are far more prevalent than peanut allergies. Being trapped in the sealed can with a dog is the worst nightmare for many people. Uncontrollable itching, hives and difficulty breathing are now part of the trip for many. There is no limit on the size of the animal when its owner has a prescription. It is conceivable that Marmaduke would be sprawled on top of the passenger next to you (riding for free!) These animals pose a threat to trained service animals. Unlike a Seeing Eye dog, an emotional support animal’s only qualification is that the owner likes having him/her around. Seeing Eye dogs can be trapped in a small space with butt smelling, barking, peeing and perhaps biting dogs. An airplane can quickly and unexpectedly become a place from which people need to flee. It’s horrifying to consider what would happen in an emergency with a pet and a trained assistant dog on board.

There is no doubt that people feel better with their animals. There are people with robust mental health who benefit greatly from the demands and love of an animal. There are also very few people who aabsolutely must travel on an airplane; save for the crew who it must be said are legally entitled to carry a dog on the beverage cart. If we are a bit too timid to impose restrictions upon where people may bring their comfort pets perhaps we could at least take the issue a little more seriously.

Currently all one needs is a letter from a health care professional and WHAM, the entire terrain changes. With one letter, from someone who may or may not be treating me for an actual disorder, I can force my landlord to allow Fido in, I can walk into any bar, restaurant or hospital with Fluffy and I can sit next to you at the opera with my potbelly pig. None of these animals have been screened, trained or licensed. The first step is to legitimize the “prescription” writing process. More than one mental health provider must sign-off and at least one of them must be treating the patient. Having your cousin the dermatologist sign the form should not be sufficient. Comfort animals must be certified to obtain the same privileges as assistance animals. They need to have a clean bill of health, be trained in how to act around people and other animals and be certified.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone who legitimately needs to be holding their pet at all times would actually balk (or should we say; bark) at such guidelines.


Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Travel, Well-Being


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You May Find Yourself In Another Part Of The World*


We are all creatures of our environment, often to a degree not realized until we step out of that environment. It is tempting and predictable to assume that one’s small sliver of the world is an accurate sample of a larger reality. It is only when we step away, even briefly that we have a “Yowza!” moment. If you’ve ever spent time in Times Square you’ve seen the “Yowza” expression synchronized on hundreds of faces. Many of those people have never seen anything so brash, so bright and so ludicrous in one place. They will go home & tell their friends how overwhelming New York City is. And they’d be right; for them NYC is overwhelming. For a New Yorker the equivalent experience would be traveling anywhere that is not NYC.

For many the disorientation starts with food. We all know that seafood should not be eaten in landlocked areas, and that Chinese food is best prepared by those who’ve eaten it. A decent bagel or thin crust slice of pizza can be challenging to find between coasts. However seeking something as mundane as skim or soy milk for a good cup of coffee can also take on mythic proportions. (The holy grail of morning beverage can become all-consuming and sometimes it’s best to just switch to tea for the duration.) Familiar foods are very important to people; it’s why there are McDonald’s and TGIFridays in Times Square. But eventually a traveler adjusts (an average adult can go for three weeks without food) and can take a good long look around.

Much of what we know about the mood of the nation is through what we read or watch. We might be tempted to cherry pick stories and developments that suit our own political agenda. We might be lulled into thinking that people think as we do (a dangerous and narcissistic assumption if there ever was one.) It is by traveling out of our comfort zone that we discover how discomforting the world really is. It is embarrassing to discover how ignorant we really can be about our fellow Americans. There are few issues in America that are as topical a gauge as race and gay rights. It is tempting to assume that we’re rounding a corner and headed towards a finish line of sorts. Popular culture and media would have us believe that gay is the new, well, the new black. And black? Well black has been beautiful for almost fifty years, no? No.

One person’s experience in a Midwestern area (right outside of a major city) is hardly scientific, but it is illuminating nonetheless. Walking through downtown areas, socializing at large events, dining out and taking in culture, I was struck by the racial divide. Beyond the staff & entertainment there were few if any faces of color. I saw only heterosexual couples (which is barely anecdotal let alone scientific.) Far more telling were the conversations I overheard. If any reference was made to homosexuality it was in regards to entertainment. (Some readers might recall a time when African Americans were often only discussed in terms of entertainment.) I overheard an educated woman discuss attending a Halloween party in black face. It was so popular amongst the party guests that she did it again the following year. Twenty years ago Ted Danson, at the very height of his popularity, almost lost his entire career because of a similar antic. Twenty years ago.

I’ve no doubt that many of the people I encountered would find my way of life confusing if not abhorrent. Without question people are entitled to live the way they wish. It is imperative however that we all realize there is a larger world. We may choose to live amongst people who are like us (i.e., of like mind, religion or skin color) but we must stay conscious of the bigger picture. We cannot lose sight of the fact that not everyone views human rights as progress. We cannot discount what may very well be the majority sentiments of this country. It is far too tempting to look around our mini universes and slide towards complacency. Yes, it’s comforting to be surrounded by what seems “right” to us. But it’s important to keep in mind the larger reality. Taking that decaf cap with skim for granted is one thing (we can always get tea) but we should never take progress for granted.

*Once In A Lifetime (1981) – Talking Heads

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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Travel


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The Fundamental Things To Fly

When Rick tells Ilsa that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world and that she must get on that plane the audience holds its collective breath. Will she stay in Casablanca or join her husband to fight the good fight? It’s a suspenseful few moments; this romantic struggle. To this day, my stomach clenches with anxiety; will she really get on that tiny prop plane during such a thick fog? For me any follow-up film wouldn’t answer romantic questions but instead whether Victor, Ilsa and the pilot got there in one piece.

Ordinarily travel in film was depicted (and often actually was) kind of glamorous. There was a (relatively) brief period of time during which air travel was regularly available and pricey. People dressed, not to teach yoga, but to travel. There was such a thing as ‘travel outfits’ that did not include a u-shaped pillow (presumably for the neck but identical to a hemorrhoid pillow.) We can all agree those days are over. But what has taken its place? Slowly but surely you can (or will be able to) buy or finagle your way into civility. There are ways to avoid the TSA hall of mirrors screening. Cavity searches and arbitrary confiscations can be bypassed with elite registration. You needn’t wait at the gate/Ellis Island Great Hall if you pay for V.I.P. status with an airline. You can eat cubed cheese behind closed doors, for a price. Passengers can pre-board as V.I.P.s as well. Pre-board? Why would anyone care to sit in a can longer than necessary? Well, claiming space in an overhead bins is a sweet (and at times elusive) victory. Airlines now charge passengers for the opportunity to have one’s luggage damaged, stolen or lost. Those bins fill up fast and with items you wouldn’t think could fit through the aircraft door let alone a bin.

So if you’ve paid your additional memberships and registered accordingly, you have gotten onto the airplane in a civilized manner. You’ve still carried your bag like a sherpa and purchased your own magazines, newspapers and meals. But you haven’t stood on endless lines or worse, in large unwieldy clusters. You’ve not been checked for scurvy or glaucoma or had your name changed. No, you and your burlap sack of boiled potatoes and sausage are seated comfortably with your worldly possessions within eyeshot. You are seated comfortably, aren’t you? Okay forget about your legs for a moment; you’re okay right? What’s that? You’ve no sensation in your shins? No, I’m sorry those seats (with extra legroom) in the emergency row cost extra. That’s right you get to pay for the privilege of agreeing to assist 150 people out of a crashed airplane. Now just sit back and try to relax. Here, have some recycled air. Your air blower doesn’t work? Let me see if I can flag an attendant to help you. Hmm, all I seem to see is people wearing jeans and bright pink tops. There seems to be a woman in an electric pink housedress maybe she can help. It would appear that this Delta flight is not only cross-listed with Alaska Air, KLM, Bob’s Plane, but with Barbie Air as well. (*Note-flights are now cross-listed like college courses. Don’t ask why; don’t even think too much about it, just check and re-check which terminal has your plane.) Wait it seems it’s not Barbie Air. No, it’s a charity campaign. Yep! If you act now not only do you enjoy the posh pleasures of flying in a can, providing your own meals, entertainment, and blankie, you have the opportunity to donate to the charity of your airline’s choice!

No doubt the airline is looking for some good will. You know what might create some good will? Have the attendants wear uniforms. Don’t have the pilot stand in his shirt sleeves (and white plastic sunglasses) showing the attendants photos of his wild antics last night as passengers are boarding. Be on time and be nice. Stop making the seats smaller and closer together. In fact; stop making the seats. There should be two classes; first class (for which a ticket is never less than $5,000 each way) and upright. Yes, upright. Just straps us in like parachuters. You could fit a lot more people in that way and eliminate the need for any bathrooms! Flying is already like riding the subway in so many other ways; I say take that last brave step for mankind. Nothing will create goodwill faster than just getting me there in one piece after such a harrowing experience. I’m willing to wager that Ilsa and the pilot of that prop plane are probably the ones that lived happily ever after.

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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Travel


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Flying Solo




If you’ve been out in public during the past ten years you may have noticed that there are few “adult” domains dotting our landscape. I don’t refer to the “Live” “Nude” Times Square of decades past. I refer instead to any and everywhere. The stroller set has infiltrated your local coffee shop and bar (hey after a long day playing in a sanitized million dollar soft-edged heat-proof playground, you’d need a stiff drink too.) Restaurants whose white tablecloths and staggering bills once signaled and adult oasis, now have nuggets of processed foods on the menu (because after all small children do enjoy fine dining they just don’t enjoy actual food.) No doubt much of the free-range high pitched squealing you experience (in restaurants, bars or Holocaust memorial museums) is mostly due to a parent not wanting to deny themselves anything of their pre-parenting life. It would seem that some people skipped the “What to EXPECT when you’re expecting” chapter. Life should continue unaltered save for many more accessories.

But what of the scenario in which the presence of one’s own child ruins the experience of the parent. Clearly ruining other people’s experience is a great motivator, but what if your own child negates your pleasure. No, we’re not venturing into “family bed” territory. Instead we’re looking at high-end travel. Not private plane, private island, private ecosystem travel. Just ordinary 5-star travel. Why would a person choose to fly first-class with a child younger than school age? If we assume both are healthy and that the child(ren) are not actual owners of the airline; what in the world would compel an adult to fly first-class with a small, squealing, squirming child? It can’t be the free food, children don’t seem to eat real food. (Oh for the love of all decency, don’t tell me they now serve nuggets in first-class!) It’s almost certainly not the free booze, although it could be that warm wet towel. The parent’s experience could not be improved by being in first class. Unless the flight attendants actually relieve the parent of the child, how is the parent enjoying the benefits of first-class? Is it merely the mustache twirling delight in having ruined everyone else’s first-class experience? Doubtful.

Once the aircraft has taxied to the gate and the fasten seat belt sign has been turned off, where are the little tykes staying? Are they off to visit relatives or perhaps moving into their new home? No, they’re off to the 5-star hotel/resort with zero child-centric amenities. Their parents will play running, screaming games of hide and seek in the plush penthouse level hallway at 10:30 PM. These adults will encourage the practicing of door slamming (“good boy!”) throughout the early morning hours. And we are left wondering why. Why would anyone choose to spend so much money to not enjoy the quiet, the plushness, the afternoon tea, the romance and the restorative nature of a very posh hotel? Why in an area dotted with chain hotels and motels catering to children and their nugget ways would anyone think that children should be in a place created for the pleasure of adults? Is it merely an extension of the ‘not being denied’ anything of one’s pre-parenting days? Does it matter not a whit that you spent the money and didn’t actually have the experience for which you paid? Is it an insistence of not lowering one’s standards just because one has decided to parent? (Note: Entitlement isn’t really a standard; it’s more of a pervasive and toxic behavior.) Could it be something even slightly more disturbing? Could it be that the child/infant is an adult security blanket? The world and/or social gatherings are far less daunting when you can dress up a little person and spend the day deflecting. That motivation would certainly explain the appearance of children/babies at funerals and weddings. “Pay no attention to the adult behind the baby!” It’s enough to make a person miss the security blankets that were smoking and sedatives.


Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Childhood, Travel


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The Fun Of Getting There

Millions of dollars are spent on selling travel as glamorous and/or restorative. There are entire magazines dedicated to this pursuit and big chunks of space reserved for it in newspapers & travel blogs aplenty. Television shows and networks are dedicated to the cause. There are clothing and accessory manufacturers specializing in travel accouterment. The fashion industry still adheres to a season-ette known as Holiday/Cruise in mid-winter. Everyone’s in on the action (except for travel agents, g-d rest their souls.) Let the good times roll.

Yet have you ever heard (or experienced) anyone traveling commercially, return and declare; “Well bust my buttons that certainly was glamorous and/or restorative?” Probably not. Getting there (and sometimes even being there) can often be one big pain in the bum.

It used to be you would pack your bags, grab your ticket and head to the airport. Today, after packing your bag with teeny tiny sample sizes of health and beauty aids (in ziplocs or out, depending on the airport) planning an outfit without metal embellishment or laced shoes, packing enough food to make it through the flight and the predictable delay; you are, woohoo, on your way. But to where exactly? You booked your flight on one airline (or so you thought) but these days they are cross-listed. You trek to the USAir terminal only to discover that USAir flight 6403 is in actuality a United flight 760 (and listed as Lufthansa 23, but that’s too odd to even address.) If you’re lucky those two terminals have a shuttle system. So maybe, just maybe, if the g-ds are smiling upon you, you make it to your gate. You must go buy a bottle of water however since bringing one with you would jeopardize national security (as would a nail clipper which is amusing when you think that a punch to the jugular is far more impactful than threatening to manicure someone.) Your $7 bottle of water secured, you bypass the food-like options that fill you with a school (or prison) cafeteria wistfulness. (Airports might be the only place where a chef known for inventing gourmet duck topped pizzas is now serving orange slop in containers emblazoned with his name.) You sit and watch the parade of (pajama-clad) humanity elbow their way to special treatment; “We’re a family, we’d like to sit together.” “My husband needs a seat without an armrest” What century are you people in? You will be lucky to get on this overbooked flight even with a seat assignment, checked luggage and wearing an airline uniform.

Getting onto the plane takes all the chutzpah and sharp elbows usually reserved for a Macy’s white sale. Overhead space is the holy grail. As the plane fills the desperation is palpable. Your goal is to avoid the attendant being “pleased to check your bag for you.” You’ve made it this far; you will not give up without a fight. Finally as the passengers settle down and it looks as if every bag is secured, the stand-bys appear. These people have made it onto the plane. They have a killer instinct and a rugged determination that is certain to squash your hat or break your duty-free liquor bottles. The more extreme sport of these stand-bys will make it work. The guy sauntering on with both his case of wine and of entitlement? His attempts might not end as well.

But everyone’s seated and here we go! Here we go. We’re not going. Why are those reflective vested people walking on and off the plane? Why is it 20 minutes past our departure time and we’re still sitting still? Ah, an announcement. It seems a light bulb is out. Well better safe than sorry (whatever the hell that means on a plane with over a hundred bulbs.) So we wait. And wait some more. An hour after departure time the mystery unfolds and a lesson is learned. Don’t ever have your light bulb go out during a maintenance worker shift change. The (it’s almost the end of my shift) worker refused to get the bulb and would not tell the (it’s the start of my shift) worker about the need for a bulb. One hour and fifteen minutes later, the bulb was replaced (at a cost we won’t even begin to imagine) and we’re on our way. So glamorous, so restorative.


Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Travel


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