Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Sat 26 Jul 2008 8:55 pm   //   Posted in: Travel

End vacation

Hello from San Francisco. I’m flying back to New York tomorrow after some time out west. I spent five nights camping in the Sierra Nevadas and Yosemite National Park with my friend Doug, and some time here in the Bay Area with my friend Millie. Photos and more stories to be posted soon.

Fri 18 Jul 2008 10:23 am   //   Posted in: Travel

The right way to silence your cell phone

When planning a vacation, I consider it important to check my phone company’s coverage map. Here’s where I’ll be next week:

That looks perfect!!

Tue 15 Jul 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Travel

Back to basics

This time next week, I’ll be high in the mountains on a five-day backpacking trip through Yosemite National Park. There are no towns or resupply stations on our route, so we have to carry everything on our backs. You really think carefully about how much stuff weighs when you travel this way. Right now I’m working on clothes. (Do I bring more than one shirt? How many socks do I really need?) I’ve already tackled food and other basic gear. Some of the things I’ve considered:

  • I’ve been comparing labels to figure out which foods pack the most energy per weight. Peanut butter is freakin’ amazing. Skippy has 190 calories in a 32g serving! But Smart Balance peanut butter is even better – 200 calories per 32g. Fig Newtons seemed like a good bet, but they only have 110 calories in a 31g serving. They’re staying back. Cliff Bars are coming. Dried apples are staying back. When was the last time you compared nutrition labels and bought the product with a higher calorie count?
  • Not gonna schlep a whole roll of toilet paper. I unspooled a few feet of Scott 1000 (one-ply). Then I wrapped it around a ball-point pen, took the pen out, and put the small spool in a Ziploc.
  • Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap is a must. It’s dish and laundry detergent, hand soap and shampoo all in one concentrated bottle.
  • Spare shoelaces are another necessity. They can also be used to repair a tent or a pack in an emergency.
  • A big thing of sunscreen got decanted into a small squeeze bottle.
  • The tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, water filter and stove are all of the lightweight variety. My flashlight is a tiny two-LED number that takes a single, miniature six-volt battery.
  • No iPod.
  • No cell phone.
  • No GPS.
  • No compass.
  • No Swiss Army knife. (I’m bringing a tiny Leatherman tool that has a blade.)
  • No shaving kit. No comb. No mirror either.
  • There’s a school of thought that advises cutting your toothbrush handle off, but properly cleaned teeth are a luxury I cannot give up, even for five days.

Tue 8 Jul 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Failure, Travel

The decay of aircraft

Concorde Jet Brooklyn

One of the old Concorde jets is parked out at Floyd Bennett Field, the abandoned airport/park in Brooklyn. Sitting alone on the empty tarmac, it is a bizarre sight (seen above in 2007).

From The New York Times comes this update: The jet’s nosecone was destroyed last Monday when it was hit by a truck hauling equipment to a festival in the park! Per the article: “Within 20 hours of the accident, photos of the damaged plane appeared on the Internet, and Concorde lovers were deploring the level of care it had received during its postretirement odyssey in New York.”

The NYC Aviation board has more pics of the Concorde carnage, which are labeled: “caution: disturbing photos.”

It’s amazing to think that this supersonic jet has basically been scrapped, like it’s an old DC-3 or something. I’m reminded of what happened to the Buran, the Soviet Space Shuttle. What remains of it can be seen in this photo.

Mon 16 Jun 2008 7:25 am   //   Posted in: Failure, Travel

So complicated

I’ve heard it said that Americans are masters of building and operating complex systems. Think about Wall Street. The power grid. The Internet.

The problem is we don’t always seem good at the chores it takes to keep these systems running. Like maintenance. Like educating newcomers about how things work. Despite the amazing incentives not to, Wall Street bankers still manage to make knuckle-headed mistakes that cost themselves and the public lots of money. After the 2003 blackout it became obvious that no living person really understands how our system of electricity works. I heard once that the Space Shuttle is so complicated that we – as in, humanity – do not fully understand it. Now we’re getting ready to scrap it. Sometimes knowledge is so decentralized that it becomes essentially lost. And when the entire system fails, no single entity is responsible.

And yes, I’m about to get to airplanes. Here in the U.S. we have a baffling system of air travel. Many different public and private entities are all working on solving the same problem: transportation. The problem, as I saw yesterday, is that the system was built by people more ambitious than the ones now charged with operating it. Sometimes it’s just that simple: The job is too hard. It’s impossible to get a guy and his suitcase from point to point in the time he was promised when he bought his ticket. We built this system, but we’re not fully capable of operating it. It’s kind of depressing.

Sun 15 Jun 2008 4:26 pm   //   Posted in: Failure, Over!, Travel

Air travel is so over!

Greetings from Charlotte. Wait, Charlotte? What’s he doing in North Carolina? I’m suffering in airline hell, that’s what!

I left Charlottesville, Virginia, this morning. I was supposed to board a 10:20 United flight to Dulles. But that plane was already behind schedule, leaving me no time to make my connection. The airline courteously booked me on an on-time U.S. Airways flight to Charlotte, where I could get a connecting flight to Newark. Fine.

Actually, not fine. In Charlotte, my plane left on time and taxied out. It sat on the tarmac for two and a half hours. Then it taxied back. Now I’m part of a planeload of passengers waiting in the terminal while the airline negotiates with air traffic control for permission to land its plane in Newark. The latest word is that we’re supposed to take off at 5:30 – four hours late. The official explanation for the delay? “Weather.” Except it’s an absolutely beautiful day all up and down the Atlantic seaboard, and the departure boards show most of the other flights are on time.

If I’d left my hotel this morning and kept driving to Brooklyn, instead of to the airport, I’d be there by now. Now I am further away from home than when I started.

Also of interest: At no point today has anyone asked to see my identification.

Update: The plane landed in Newark more than four hours late. The pilot explained that landings were slow-going into Newark due to “puffy clouds.” My suitcase followed about 20 minutes later, arriving on a different plane.

Fri 13 Jun 2008 10:09 am   //   Posted in: Travel

Flying goldfish

One thing that amazes me about air travel is that everyone acts like they’re doing it for the first time. Every airline employee is on their first day at the job. Every passenger is confused about what to do. The poor TSA folks are literally doing everything afresh, given that their instructions seem to change weekly. It’s as if no one in an airport has a memory. Every check-in is novel and exciting.

Even the people at the Dulles Airport Cosi yesterday acted like they’d never taken an order before (and I didn’t even deviate from the menu – I know better than to do that at an airport!). I was enjoying my sloppily made chicken pesto sandwich and chips (Chips? I asked for carrots! There are only two options!) when United announced my flight was open for boarding, all seats, half an hour early. This was a small flight, maybe 20 people, and we all got up and formed a line at the gate. There, we were scolded harshly by a United employee, who insisted that our flight had not yet been called. A mass hallucination, apparently.

Nearby, two passengers were pleading with a United attendant to let them board their flight – which was still at the gate, maybe 15 steps away, and wasn’t scheduled to depart for another ten minutes. The befuddled employee was ignoring their questions and instead scolding them for not being on time – now that flight was going to be late, since they will have to offload their luggage and re-balance the plane.

Still, it was a beautiful day for flying, and as always, the airline got me where I needed to be safely. My suitcase was another story. United finally delivered it to the hotel at 8 p.m., six hours after I arrived. This threw me a little off my game, but I still managed to get oriented yesterday and post this story.

Thu 12 Jun 2008 9:35 am   //   Posted in: Travel

Road warrior

I’m writing this post from the Newark Airport on my way to Charlottesville, VA, for a photography festival I’m covering for work.

My day looks something like this: R train -> D train -> A train -> NJ Transit Trenton Local -> AirTrain -> United plane to Dulles -> United plane to Charlottesville -> Avis rental car -> Red Roof Inn. Its a whole series of complicated systems meshed together. Travel is pretty amazing when the trains and planes run on time and everything works. So far it’s gotten me to New Jersey.

This is the first time I’ve traveled with my brand new MacBook (the company agreed to swap me from a desktop to a laptop). I really like this computer. It’s a substantial upgrade to my old personal laptop, which is a 2001 iBook (the first one Apple sold in white).

Fri 6 Jun 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Labeling, Transit, Travel

Say it: RFK Bridge

I hope the name “RFK Bridge” catches on as a the new name for the Triborough Bridge. The name change is becoming official this week, the 40th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.

RFK Bridge, Triborough bridge, Triboro

The Triboro is New York City’s most complicated bridge. It’s actually three bridges that interlock in a fascinating interchange with two toll plazas. Here’s what it looks like on Google Maps…

View Larger Map

Wed 21 May 2008 6:59 am   //   Posted in: Technology, Travel

Smoke and mirrors

Brian, who is working on relaunching a hostel in Rio de Janeiro, is keeping a blog about the experience. This week he looks into the shady world of online travel booking sites.

“Internet travel booking seems to be going through a smoke & mirrors faze, the same is true for Hotwire and Orbitz, right? In 10 years, you cannot imagine so many ‘companies’ pretending to be competing when in fact they are one in the same.”

Good luck figuring it all out, Brian. P.S. – Cool logo!