Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Taking Responsibility For Christmas

Repeating History

Anyone who travels regularly becomes acutely aware of how America is perceived by the rest of the world. We are revered, envied, despised, and remain a source of puzzlement to other residents of planet earth.

This year our holiday season has demanded a full range of national emotion. While surrounded by the symbols of joy and rebirth, we have had to come to terms with senseless killing. We are a nation of partygoers who wake, stare in the mirror and see dark circles of anguish etched under our eyes.

Thoughtful people openly wonder why America "just gets crazier and crazier". And, surrounded by immersive media, it is easy to let our collective memory drift to a romantic time and place where Andy talked to Opie and "stuff like this" just never happened.

Now, with the benefit of a little over a half century as perspective, I suggest that the world has always  been coming apart at the seams.

I was born to parents whose childhoods endured the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Parents who faced world wars on both oceans followed by the advent of weapons capable of ending life on earth.

I remember the Cold War and wondering if the world would end during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember an unimaginable string of assassinations: President Kennedy, Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy, Oakland's School Superintendent Dr. Marcus Foster and San Francisco's Mayor Moscone.

I remember the gore of the Sharon Tate and later Nicole Brown Simpson murders. There was the University of Texas sniper, Dahmer, Gacy, and Judge Haley being taken hostage and eventually being murdered in Marin County. I remember the collective terror we all felt thanks to the Zodiac killer.

Then came mass shootings in Stockton, Aurora, Columbine, Fort Hood and Lynchburg. The list never really ends.

So, whats the point?

Just this. "Crazy" has no code date. Yet, I believe that as long as inexplicable murder results in profound national sadness, there is hope. And, with hope we must take the responsibility of mustering the strength and courage to create a better world for our children.

Hope is what Christmas is about for me.

It is the knowledge that we are loved, we remain capable of love, and that every birth renews hope for a better world.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

Sunday, December 9, 2012

2012 in Food


As 2012 comes to a close I look back fondly on a year of wonderful food!

The epicureal highlight of the year was found in Spain and Portugal where we immersed ourselves in the wonderful mercats selling fresh fruit, fish, ham and olives. Then there were all of the cafes that incorporated local foods. 

New things to love? Well one of them was Catalan Cream. It is Spain's version of (what in France would be) Creme Brûlée or (in England) Trinity or Burnt Cream (it was served at Trinity College, Cambridge). 

We enjoyed it at Granja La Pallaresa in Barcelona. It differs from Creme Brûlée in that the custard is infused with citrus zest and cinnamon and was traditionally only served on Sant Josep's (Saint Joseph's) day. Now this crunchy top delight is available year round. Also, in Spain the top is caramelized using a hot iron or broiling, not a flame.

Tea Time at Barcelona's La Pallaresa

I also loved the wonderful fresh combination juices at the various mercat's throughout Barcelona. The stalls have hundreds of the brightly colored cups each featuring two or three juices. It is a visual treat as much as a taste treat.

Juice at a Stall at Barcelona's La Boqueria Mercat  

In Madrid we trolled the restored (and very wonderful) Mercado San Miquel. Even in mid summer Its aisles were filled with olives, ham, and those delicious little bocadillo sandwiches (filled with salmon, ham or roast beef). 

In one stall a vendor made me the most amazing lemonade granita ever. But you can also shop for pastry or sip a glass of reasonably priced wine or beer.

The Mercado San Miguel

We left Barcelona with memories and a new cookbook from Spain's most famous avant garde restaurant El Bulli. How avant grade? Well it closes for 6 months of the year to experiment on recipes. When it opens for reservations each January about 1,000,000 people will request one of the 8,000 available bookings.

In Lisbon we enjoyed some wonderful cafe food. We found Lisbon to be a joy. There are lots of parks and each has a little stall selling sandwiches, beer and wine. This is a city that loves to eat, and knows what to do with its seafood (both fresh and canned.)

Lisbon Adores Canned Fish
(And I Love the Packaging)

In Lisbon we also quickly became additcted to their little custard pastry (Pasteis De Belem) which we found everywhere. Luckily our hotel always had a tray of these little gems out for breakfast every morning. 

During the rest of the year I enjoyed other great dinners. In May there was a visit to Bliss in San Antonio which featured a great entree of scallops and finished with Grapefruit Tiramasu desert.

Grapefruit Tiramasu

Other highlights included (another - can there ever be too many?) visit to that mecca of Southern cooking The Wilkes House in Savannah. I also visited Elizabeth's on 37th for the first time. If I lived in Savannah I'd double my weight in record time.......

The year also included great coffee at the Royal at the Biltmore and a few lunches at the Grand Central Market in LA.

LA's Grand Central Market

Soon it will be 2013 and Roadboy looks forward to another year of great markets, street food, and, hopefully, some fine dining thrown in for good measure!


Roadboy's Travel's © 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cool Christmas Gifts

Roadboy Shares A Few Secrets

With the Thanksgiving dinner dishes cleared, I can now officially start thinking about Christmas!

So while many fellow American's waited till midnight and lined up to buy bargain toasters at Target, I start a search for gifts that I think people will actually cherish.

One of the benefits of my travel is the discovery of lots of potential gifts. So here are a few gems that could transform you from an average gifter to a hero.

And remember, Roadboy is thrifty (cheap?), so everything I recommend here (in my opinion) represents a true value.

A lot of us must wear glasses. But few of us wear truly wonderful glasses.

Buy someone you love a pair of over-the-top, way cool, handmade Italian frames direct from Venice! Your lucky recipient can take them to almost any optical shop in the US to have lenses fitted for glasses or sunglasses.

These are not just any frames, these are amazing frames created of rubber or acetate. And, if available in the US, would fetch $400-$500 at a yuppie optical boutique. The colors are other worldy and the fit and finish is superb.

And, when you buy them direct from Danilo Carraro they run closer to $120 USD!

After the site loads click the "English" link. I've been to the shop in Venice twice, but have also dependably ordered from Ottica Carraro online. I have three pairs of Carraro's and constantly answer friendly inquiries as to where I got them. 

VooDoo Dolls:
Yep thats right voodoo dolls! You know the little dolls people stick pins in.

Imagine giving a little bit of magic from New Orleans. I'm talking a real honest-to-goodness voodoo doll! I love their rustic construction and abundance of character. Interested? Then visit Voodoo Authentica to order a doll for any purpose.

Enamels from Alaska:
While on the subject of pins....

Arguably the coolest pins (and zipper pulls) in the world come from Alaska. More specifically, from a little upstairs shop on Franklin Street in Juneau Alaska. All it takes is one visit William Speer's Studio and you will agree.

Mr. Speer has designed a zillion little cloisonné masterpieces. There are dinosaurs, little houses, halibuts, even a few inside jokes exclusively for Alaskan's (Spenard Divorce).

These pins are colorful, very inexpensive and make perfect stocking stuffers. The shipping is $3 if you order one or twelve.

Just visit William Speer.

The Art of Ray Troll:
If you have a fishermen (or marine biologists) on your Christmas list consider a tongue-in-cheek T-shirt or framable poster by Ketchikan artist Ray Troll. This guy sees salmon in his sleep. He creates art posters like "Octopi Wall Street" and "Salmanchanted Evening".

The Troll Studio 
Conveniently Located
Just off the 
"Married Man's Trail" 

I proudly have "D is for Dogfish" gracing a wall in my modest little mid-century rancher in Phoenix.

A true original, venture into the wonderful world of Ray Troll here.

Ruby Slipper Earrings:
I love shopping at Museum stores everywhere. After returning from many trips I come to realize that my purchases nearly all came from museum gift shops.

That said, perhaps my favorite museum on planet earth is the Victoria and Albert in London. And, it offers an online store that showcases items that reflect both its permanent collection and its special exhibitions.

Right now there is a special "Hollywood" exhibition! Reason enough to go to London in my book! It also means you can buy a pair of those ridiculously long Audrey Hepburn gloves from Breakfast at Tiffanys, or a pair ruby slipper earrings. I can hardly wait to see what shows up in the shop when the David Bowie retrospective opens!

Visit the Victoria and Albert here.

Chocolate Enrobed Northwest Cherries:
A lifetime ago I lived in Idaho, then Washington and then Alaska and Hawaii. Whilst living in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) I developed some addictions. Halibut cheeks (yep they have tasty cheeks, sable fish (black cod), king salmon from the copper river, huckleberries in jam, pancakes and scones, chanterelle mushrooms, and anything that combines big wonderful PNW cherries and chocolate.

To sate my cravings I simply pick up some dark chocolate cabernet or dark chocolate amaretto rainier's at the "Made in Washington" shop at SeaTac airport!

But you can visit Chukar Cherries online. Cherries so freakin good I double dog dare you to not order an extra bag for yourself!

Hopefully my little list has got you thinking! I mean, a few google clicks can deliver berry cider from Colorado, or maple sugar candy from Vermont, or garlic from Gilroy, or key limes from Florida, Pralines from Savannah.

The world is big. Your gifting possibilities are equally big. Get creative and stay out of those depressing lines!

Happy Holidays from Roadboy!

Roadboy's Travels © 2012 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why You Should "Opt Out"

Just Say No!

Update: 1-18-2013
The TSA today admitted that its inability to fix privacy issues in Rapiscan Scanners has resulted in the decision to remove all of them from the 30 airports where they are still in use by June 2013.

This colossal waste of taxpayer money falls directly at the feet of Michael Chertoff (who, as you will read, went on the become a lobbyist for Rapiscan after leaving Homeland Safety) 

So lets start at the beginning. 

Just before his departure as TSA chief Michael Chertoff pushed hard for the purchase of backscatter whole body scanners in American airports.

These are the devices that work like Superman's x-ray eyes. There are two types: an x-ray device made by Rapiscan and a millimeter wave device made by L3.

I currently have no gripe with the L3's other than their cost. 

In the Rapiscan you walk between two big pylons and get x-rayed. In the L3 you walk into a clear glass cylinder and get scanned with waves.

These devices are essentially designed to be electronic stripper poles. They produce imagery that leaves NOTHING to the imagination. The marketing material for these devices states that these devices may be "optionally" used where faces or "key parts of the body" are blurred. That is why their images may never be viewed in public.

Before their implementation if you needed supplemental screening you got a reasonable pat down. Once these devices came on-line, the TSA started administering such punishingly aggressive pat downs that it resulted in the famous "Don't Touch My Junk" You Tube.

The result? TSA backed off fully implementing their new $180,000 toys.

Then little by little TSA started easing them back on line. They had too, they'd spent a king's ransom on them. TSA gently got more and more pushy, eventually resulting in almost everyone getting hustled through them. 

The whole need for them mystified me. No other major country is using them. In Europe I asked why the EU isn't using them. The answer? "They cost a fortune, have not undergone any biological testing and may well pose potential health risks." So before using them on me they were never even tested on a rat?

Slowly, I noticed that flight attendants, airport employees and pilots were all being waived around them. Later I noted that expectant mothers and small kids were also being waived around them. This seems kinda stupid since many well publicized problems have originated by unstable airline employees.

This brings us back to our hero - Mr. Chertoff.

After leaving TSA what did he do? He founded The Chertoff Group, a major DC lobbying firm, representing, drum roll please, Rapiscan!

A good gig since whole body scanner mfr's have more than doubled their lobbying budgets of late. For a bit more on that read this Huffington Post article.

Then most recently came the revelation that Rapiscan may have falsified reports regarding its software.  Click to see Wired magazine's recent feature on that.

So lets summarize:
1. These devices came into being under questionable circumstances.
2. These devices have never identified a terrorist.
3. These devices are illegal in the rest of the world.
4. These devices have never undergone biological testing. 
5. These devices invade of your modesty and privacy.
6. These devices slow down airport screening.
8. These devices cost a fortune.

For all these reasons......

I'll continue to allow a little more time at screening and I'll continue to opt out.

Gosh I'm getting cranky in my old age....

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Free Wi-Fi Comes to LAX!

Today's Lesson: Happy Flyers 101

Over the years I have been amazed at the number of airports that claim to be "friendly" but then seem to charge exorbitant prices for everything. $6 Big Macs, $6 Starbucks, and $9.95 for an hour of internet hot spot services.

Some (like IAD Dulles) advertise "mall" pricing in stores and cafes (which is appreciated) and many airports now boast free internet. I contend there is no one single thing more appreciated by a modern road warrior than smooth functioning free airport internet! 

Of course "free" can also be an empty gesture if it is impossible to log on to or takes days to load a single page (Yeah, I'm talking to you Charlotte...). But most times with a little wait I can get logged on in Seattle's SeaTac, Phoenix's Sky Harbor, Salt Lake City, Portland, and sometimes....Charlotte.

Airports that are/were Wi-Fi unfriendly: all the DC airports, Saint Louis Lambert Field, Chicago O'Hare, and LAX. In LA Long Beach offered free WI-Fi (and it, like Burbank, is really a cute, old fashioned little airport!).

So I'm delighted to be writing this today on free Wi-Fi from LAX's Terminal 1. 

When I booted up I found a airport wi-fi portal and it gave various pricing options (including "free" if I'd watch a video.) It connected right up without any advertisement!

I noted at 60 minutes I was kicked off and had to reboot. But it was fast and much appreciated!

So much bad news for travelers this week, I'm happy to report some good news!

Thank you LAX! 

Roadboy's Travels © 2012 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Lincoln Museum and Library

A Home Run!

I recently had the good fortune to spend most of an afternoon in the Lincoln Museum in Springfield Illinois. Although most museum's aspire to creatively preserve and display artifacts, this one goes on to educate and provoke its visitors.

The Museum is part of a two building complex. On one side of the street is the largest presidential library in America. On the other is the museum. Sadly, the exterior of both buildings look vaguely like they were separated at birth from a Cheesecake Factory. 

But once inside the spaces and displays are truly inspired.

Visitors begin by entering a great central space called The Plaza. From there you select and proceed into the various journey's in Lincoln's life. In this museum, you do not passively view each journey. In this museum you experience each journey.

The Plaza
From a childhood in the wilderness to building and operating a flat boat on the Mississippi. From the horror of witnessing a family being ripped apart in a slave auction in New Orleans, to his adventures in courting, creating a family and building a law practice. 

From The Wilderness
Each presentation incorporates technology effectively. I particularly appreciated the portrayal of Lincoln's life in the White House. 

The White House tour starts with pomp and quickly becomes dark and claustrophobic. There are warped and twisting hallways in the "Whispering Gallery". You hear rumors fly from staff in the dark corners of the White House kitchen. Music from a state banquet eerily plays through the open door as you enter Willie Lincoln's darkened bedroom where the Lincoln's, having been assured their son is recovering, come to realize their son is perishing. Lincoln stands with vacant eyes framed in a doorway clutching his son's favorite doll.

You then move past Mary Todd Lincoln sitting in profound sadness all conveyed with raindrops washing over her face. The Illusion Gallery is filled with endless disembodied faces all speaking over each other in rage at the news of the Emancipation Proclamation.

As you move through the White House you come to realize that everyone abandoned Lincoln during his presidency. Bitterly vilified from both the right and the left, he persevered adhering to his own moral compass. The slave auction had left him with the conviction that all humans, despite the supreme courts morally bankrupt Dred Scott verdict, must never be considered "property".

Lincoln's lesson to us was clear; only a nation unified can stand.  America is the place where even a poor boy or girl from the wilderness can grow up to become president.

The Lincoln's Arrival in Washington 

The main film "Lincoln's Eyes" is presented in the Union Theater. In it an artist describes what he see's in Lincoln's eyes over time. During the presentation cannon's smoke, pyrotechnics explode and your seat lurches with every shot fired. 

The other major presentation Ghosts from the Library also leaves spectators dazzled. The presentation begins with a conservator on stage explaining the significance of the library. The presenter walks, picks up articles and sits in a chair whose cushion moves as he sits. During the presentation someone even called out from the audience to ask if the presenter on stage was real. 

Spoiler alert: That question was answered at the end when he dissolved before our eyes and the stage transforms from library to battlefield.

John Wilkes Booth
Lies in Wait
Alas photography is strictly limited to The Plaza. So I am limited what I can include here.

This museum is worth a special trip. And certainly anyone having reason to visit in Springfield should make sure not to miss it. It presents Lincoln in a way that inspires, and transforms. Visitors will come away with a new understanding of America's greatest president.

I found the implications of Lincoln's term to our modern America provocative. Indeed, how can America remain strong and thrive if we encourage the concentration of wealth and political power in fewer and fewer hands?

While in Springfield try to visit some of its other sights: both the old and "new" capital buildings, Lincoln's tomb, Lincoln's home and law office. Springfield is also home to the Dana-Thomas House (Frank Lloyd Wright's largest commission to date after leaving Sullivan's office) is a Prairie Style masterpiece.

Springfield Illinois - a wonderful first stop on the "Mother Road" Route 66!

Roadboy's Travels © 2012  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

DCA Renovations

Hold Everything!

Today I had to wait 4 hours at DC's National Airport. Now, I should preface this by saying that (aside from its totally psycho highway access), once you get to DCA the US Airways section is one of my favorite airports. It is spacious, light, and airy. It has nice shops, a good variety of restaurants and has excellent connections to the DC Metro.


Today they were doing some restroom renovations in the main terminal. And the renovations have lame signage.

All the main terminal signs provide no hint that the restrooms are closed for renovation.

So, when you arrive they are covered in plywood with an arrow saying "go that way". When you get to the next one. Yep! It's covered in plywood with another arrow that says "go that way". When you get to the next one. Hallelujah it is open! I walk in and overuse has resulted in it being both full and filthy. I've now walked the full length of the terminal. I figure I'll just go upstairs. 

Wait for it.

Yes, indeed! The first restroom I come to upstairs is.......

Covered in plywood with another arrow that says "go that way".  So I'm now walking the other way upstairs. The next restroom I come to is - you are good! Covered in plywood with another arrow that says "go that way". When I reach the extreme end of the terminal I find the last restroom upstairs is open I literally squeal!

It is, of course, filled with airport employees who know it is one of only two restrooms open.

So I wait.

When I was a kid once in awhile in the library you'd find some book that someone would have written a note saying "go to this or that page". When you got there, another note would direct you somewhere else. This would continue on and on until you finally arrived at the last page where you'd be greeted by the "F" bomb.

Today National Airport did the same thing to a weary road warrior slowly towing his luggage on wheels.

Please, National, next time, just put a map showing exactly where the ONLY two open restrooms are located.

I know that somewhere in the bowels of DCA is some fat guy in a chair with all the rubber worn off the armrests watching a tv monitor yelling "Hey, Chuckie, we got us another walker!"

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Autumn Walk in Toronto

Toronto - How Good A City Can Be....

Statistically Toronto is amazing. It is North America's most ethnically diverse and safest big city. Despite not having the natural beauty of a Vancouver or San Francisco, nor a perfect climate, it is wonderfully livable. 

Its biggest problem is its success - too many people want to live in it creating a struggle with housing affordability.

I always seem to leave thinking it is a city that just keeps getting better. At the end of the post, I'll offer Roadboy's thoughts why Toronto is so livable.

This visit to Toronto came with an invitation to participate in a panel discussion at an architectural symposia about repurposing buildings for public safety.

Happily, the trip allowed time to take two lovely walks. One in the morning (where I was dazzled by the kind of bright fall skies that foreshadow the onset of winter.) The other walk was at night where I just absorbed its energy.

Here are some photos of the buildings and street scene along the walks.

Arguably Toronto's Most Recognizable Icon Day or Night - The CN Tower 
(Or as an endless parade of numbskull yanks call it - the "CNN" Tower)

One of the Beloved TTC "Red Rockets" 

The South African War Memorial 
(Viewed From the Grounds of  Osgoode Hall)

The 1929 Canada Life Building and It's Weather Beacon

The Canada Life Weather Beacon has two sets of lights.

The Top Light:                                     
Steady Green = Clear                         
Steady Red = Cloudy                          
Flashing Red = Rain                          
Flashing White = Snow

The Rings of White Lights Below:
Lights Running Up = Rising Temperature Rising
Lights Running Down = Falling Temperature
Lights Steady = Constant Temperature

Yonge Dundas Square 
(Toronto's Mini Times Square)

The Banking Hall of the Toronto Dominion (TD) Bank 
(Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe's Largest Project)

Santiago Calatrava's Lambert Galleria 
(Just east of TD Bank)

Street Art at the New Shangri-La Hotel

The Shangri-La Tower
Arthur Erickson Once Commented that Concrete was: 
"The Noble Stone of the 20th Century" 
Roadboy Believes That Glass is: 
"The Design Cliché of the New Millennium"

The circumstances of this trip also afforded the chance to tour one of Canada's most revered buildings - Osgoode Hall.

Osgoode Hall is really a series of buildings that began with the Law Society of Upper Canada Building (what is now the East Wing of Osgoode Hall). Over the next 30 years various sections were added and rebuilt. The Regency structure is still home to the Law Society as well as the highest courts in Ontario and a beautiful law library. 

Osgoode Hall Center Section 
Main Entry

The Main Atrium

Spectacular Tile Floors

Floor Pattern in the Main Lightwell

The Main Lightwell Ceiling 

A Courtroom

The Scales of Justice

The Renowned Law Library Reading Room
(Books are Never Released - Everyone Comes to the Books)

The Stacks

So fast forward....

Why is Toronto so safe and so livable?

Roadboy contends that at least part of the answer is found in the post war urban planning efforts of New York City.

New York's redevelopment efforts of that era were defined by the ego of Robert Moses.

Moses was New York's "free-agent" urban planner. He wielded power by deliberately staying outside of government via establishing a series of public benefit "authorities" (i.e. the Port Authority of NY etc.) which he then used to generate revenue. By controlling the vast capital of these authorities Moses had the unchallenged power to reshape New York using Corbusian altruism. 

His programs were carried out frequently demonstrating utter disdain for any meaningful public participation.

Moses loved the automobile and left a legacy of amazing bridges, parkways and tunnels. He also left disastrous public housing projects, the headquarters for the United Nations and the twin World Trade towers. His aim was always as big as the Empire State.

While his transportation related projects modernized the city and, some argue, positioning NYC for modern industry, they also resulted in massive collateral damage. Usually in the form of widespread destruction of well-functioning neighborhoods and the displacement of tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

Eventually voices rose in opposition to his projects. Perhaps the most effective voice belonged to Jane Jacobs - whose 1961 book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" was to city planning what Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" was to the emerging environmental movement.

Jacobs became frustrated with Mose's plans for Greenwich Village and went on to challenge Moses's concept of urban design. She took on his car centric design and powerfully argued for strong neighborhoods where people both lived and worked. She demonstrated that neighborhoods that workers commuted into each morning and abandoned every night at 5 PM became dangerous and impersonal. 

The lessons Jacobs learned while living in New York followed her in 1968 when she relocated permanently to Toronto. 

In Toronto her influence became profound and today is exemplified everywhere. 

The Toronto we appreciate today is an amalgamation of dense, mixed-use, easily identifiable, neighborhoods served by a comprehensive network of public transportation. People live and work in very definable areas and take pride of ownership in their neighborhoods. 

The success of Toronto (low crime and high satisfaction in sense of place) is certainly in large part attributable to the implementation of her neighborhood focused planning. 

Now as downtown continues to explode with huge cold crystalline high-rise condominium towers all filled with little, low occupancy units, it will be fascinating to see if livability is enhanced, merely sustained or erodes.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012

Riding Light Rail To/From SeaTac

Roadboy Love's It!

On a clear day flying into Sea Tac airport is breathtaking. It is the most awesome big city destination airport in the lower 48 - especially when your pilot makes an approach from the south taking a victory lap around Mt. Rainier.

Majestic Mount Rainier

But once you land, if your destination happens to be downtown Seattle, your choices for ground transportation used to be limited to rental cars, cabs, or a shuttle bus / van. 

Rental Cars:
Roadwarriors who frequent SeaTac all (justifiably) groan about SeaTac's avalanche of car rental taxes and add-on fees. In fact the crushing fees frequently exceed daily car rental rates themselves. 

Until recently rental cars were conveniently collected in the airport garage. Alas, it is now closed. Now, all rental cars are collected in the new poorly sited, poorly shuttled, overly confusing consolidated rental car facility. Using this facility adds at least 45 minutes to the beginning and end of every trip.

Similar to DC, taxi service from the airport has always been a monopoly. For decades one company operates cabs and bus shuttles from SeaTac.

Shuttles & Vans: 
Personally I hate and refuse to use blue vans.

Link Light Rail:
This brings us to a new choice for the trip downtown - Sound Transit's new "link light rail" service from SeaTac. 

Getting There:
From baggage claim you simply cross a bridge to the garage and follow the signs to the bright and clean new Sound Transit station.

SeaTac Station

Buying A Ticket:
Personally, I find the ticket machines easy to use. But the machines seem to confuse many first-timers users. 

Simply decide on an Orca pass (you probably don't), a one-way ticket, or a one-day pass. Then select your destination (you'll need to determine which station best serves your hotel before you board). You then push a plus / minus button to select the number of travelers followed by "continue" to go on to "select your payment" option. The machine seems to prefer credit cards. Everyone trying to feed it bills experiences the usual paper money in/out dollar bill shuffle. I paid $2.75 one-way from SeaTac to downtown. Remember to keep your ticket as fare checkers randomly (and frequently) board the trains to verify that riders are paying their fares. 

On Board:
The trains have space for luggage and, since the airport is the end of the line, the immaculate cars will likely be empty when you board. 

The Trip:
During peak times train depart about every 10 minutes and take about 45 minutes to make the trip downtown (i.e. about the time you'd spend at the rental car zoo).

The trains zip north to the Tukwila station then turns and runs along the Duwamish eventually crossing I-5 and proceeding into the Rainier Valley / Beach neighborhood. 

From there it runs north before entering the Mount Baker / Beacon Hill tunnel. It then emerges in SODO by the old Rainier Brewery. There are stops at the stadiums and the International District (King Street Station - Amtrak and great Asian restaurants) before the train enters the downtown bus tunnel. Once in the bus tunnel there are stops at Pioneer Square, University Street (Benaroya - Symphony Hall, the Seattle Art Museum etc.) and finally Westlake Center (Nordstrom's flagship store, Seattle's Theater District, and the Pike Place Market). 

From Westlake Center you can also ride the last original intact Alweg monorail in the world for a 95 second ride to the Seattle Center (Space Needle and Experience Music Project.)

On Board

For additional (most current) information just click here: Sound Transit

I usually get off at Pioneer Square (since one of my client's offices are close by.) I also love that I come up near the wonderful Smith Tower. Once the tallest building west of the Mississippi. If you get a chance go in and ride to the observation tower in one of its original cage elevators.

A Seattle ordinance prohibits flying anything on top of a major building except a US flag. So when Seattle's beloved Fish and Chips magnate Ivar Haglund owned the Tower he flew a fish on top and happily paid his whopping annual fines to charity.

The Smith Tower

The Interurban
Everything Old is New Again

For Seattle this is the second time around with urban rail. The first time it was the famed Interurban Railway which operated only 26 years..... 

A lifetime ago. 

Ride The Wave.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

TSA Pre and CBP Global Entry

A Little Bit of Sanity and Dignity Returns

About a year ago I got a note from my favorite airline telling me they had nominated me for acceptance in TSA's new Pre program. I had no real idea what that was. So I googled it.

I found out that TSA was introducing a trusted traveler program. Since, I once belonged to the short lived "Clear" program in the US and have observed the efficient trusted traveler programs in other countries (like the fully automated walk-through one at Narita Airport), it was welcome news.

Well Pre has arrived at Sky Harbor!

Here is my new screening process:
1. No sir, leave your shoes on. Awesome!
2. No sir, leave your laptop in the bag. Huh?
3. Rapiscan? No sir, no Rapiscan for you. Just walk through the old fashioned metal detecter. Yes!
4. Have a great flight! I will!

Let me count the ways I love Pre: 1, 2, 3, 4.

I especially like the avoidance of the backscatter since I'm one of those dweebs who "opts out."

Yep, I'd prefer to have someone touch my junk than be x-rayed by a Rapiscan backscatter device.

Here's why..... 

Next time you go to your favorite airport notice that airline and airport staff (who pass through security checkpoints frequently) are ALWAYS waived around the backscatters by TSA. Similarly, notice that children and their moms are ALWAYS waived around the backscatters by TSA.

If these devices are so safe why don't pilots, fight attendants, baggage handlers, kids and moms go through them too?

To make the situation worse, it sure seems like recent air related problems have frequently been the product of disgruntled employees.....

Who were waived past the Rapiscans. 

And while we are at it, another factoid. Rapiscan type backscatters could not win approval for use in the European Union.

An finally (the best part!) the decision to use Rapsican products was made largely by the emphatic endorsement of former Homeland Safety Director Michael Chertoff.

Since Mr. Chertoff "retired" as Director of Homeland Safety he became the Rapiscan Corporation's highest paid DC lobbyist!

So, I opt out.

Where is Pre?
Pre is only available in certain airports and at certain checkpoints. And, properly, Pre members may still be randomly selected for full screening (I'm totally cool with that).

Frankly, I'd prefer to see those increasingly cranky flight crews get sent more often to full screening.

Either way, a little measure of Roadboy's self esteem and dignity have been returned.

CBP Global Entry
Well, I was so impressed with Pre I decided to apply for the similar program offered by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) called Global Entry. Once approved for Global Entry, you by-pass customs lines instead going to a kiosk that verifies your status and allows for expedited re-entry.

But, after going through the inane application process I concluded that unless you travel internationally a lot Global Entry may not worth the effort.

Here's why....

The on-line application process is a minor nightmare. First, you set up an account with CBP. Then you proceed to answer a very detailed (and unnecessarily confusing) questionnaire (make sure you have your passport handy when you complete the questionnaire.)

The CBP website is annoyingly cluttered and very confusing. Actually, it is beyond confusing, it is downright cryptic. Whoever created it should be sent to Singapore for caning.

Here's the best part. Only after you successfully complete the tedious questionnaire, are you informed of the $100 "application fee" and requirement to schedule an in-person interview with CBP.

Anyway, I'm trying to decide if it is worth it for the four or five times a year I re-enter the US. I understand it is good for 5 years.  Hmmmm. Do I get the pass or keep my $100 and wait in line?

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Cristan's and Las Palapas - San Antonio

Surprisingly Good

Made a last minute trip to San Antonio. It is a city I happen to love. 

But, I had absolutely no time to do anything fun. 


Arrived at the airport almost midnight, picked up my rental car. Off to sleep.

Up early. Drive to the local architects office. I am 2 hours early. I offer my thanks to the MS Outlook feature which auto sets for different time zones.

So now I troll the immediate neighborhood for some breakfast. I try a total dive called Cristan's Tacos on San Pedro. Zero decor. Totally blue collar. I love it.

I order my eggs. The waitress calls me sweetie. The eggs come with the bacon scrambled in. They are accompanied by perfect refried beans and two gloriously steaming flour tortillas. Add a mug of diner coffee and I am in breakfast heaven.

I leave a plate that is totally clean. Head to the local architects office. Great creative firm. Office full of marvelous art. We spend all day planning for that evenings interview.

We make the presentation. Nice community. I decide I would really like to win the project. Interview felt like it went pretty well.

Now I am really tired and really just want to sleep. Good thing the interview location was near the hotel.....

Garmin NUVI goes berserko. 

Drives me miles and miles (and miles) past my hotel to someplace where the freeway is under reconstruction and most of the off ramps are closed. So, even when I decide to get off, I can't.

Texas freeways are a different breed of cat. First, they build 'em big. Duh! Then they build huge frontage roads on either side. So you first have to get off the freeway, then you have to get off the frontage road. Frequently, there will be another road running next to the frontage road. Then they make these huge freakin overpasses with turnaround thingies that avoid the stop lights. This is engineering found nowhere else on planet earth. 

But I digress.

After some creative reprogramming I finally find my hotel. I sleep. Up next morning. Choke down an amazingly wretched Springhill Suites breakfast. Little monochromatic egglike circles and sausage patty's the exact shape and size as the little egglike circles.

Two conference calls.

Ha! The glamor of travel.

Shuttle to the airport. 

I am now ready for lunch, yet, I know that being in an airport, decent food may be elusive.

I try the "sit down" restaurant called Las Palapas. I ask my Eastern European server what a "puffy taco" is. She describes what in AZ we would call a Navajo taco.

Throwing my cholesterol count to the wind I order the puffy taco combo. One chicken, one beef, plus rice and beans.

The combo comes and I try the rice first. I have always believed that if the rice in a Mexican restaurant is good, the rest of the meal will probably be good.

The rice was good.

I mean really good. Perfect consistency with peas in it.

Then I taste the refritos. Also excellent, maybe just a tad over salted. On to puffy number one. Tortilla is fried and clearly fresh. Indeed it is puffy. Chicken was hot. Lettuce was cold. Salsa was just right. Taco number two. This time beef. Also perfect. 

Pretty bad when the highlight of a trip was a diner breakfast and lunch in an airport restaurant. I notice the Yelp reviews are kind of sketchy for Las Palapas. I guess they have off days.

All I know is, my lunch was just what I needed. No way was it haute cuisine. But it was hot, fresh, and delicious.

Going Home. I'm in the "B" boarding group. A middle seat for me. I see two fat boys have staked out the exit row. Sorry dudes. You'll just have to move all that stuff you carefully left in the middle seat to make me walk by. 

At least they weren't two short people. When stubbies sit in an exit row I spend the flight throwing bad karma at them.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

Barcelona's Street Art, El Ingenio and The Magic Fountain

Last Day in BCN

After 2 solid weeks of warm sunny days, it was startling to open the shutters to a sky filled with rain bearing grey clouds. What it really meant was that our last day in Barcelona would be delightfully cool and refreshing.

So we revised the agenda of our last day deciding against an exploration of Montjuc. Instead, we  decided to skip breakfast, pack our suitcases, and research TripAdvisor for a restaurant to eat lunch. We selected a highly rated small cafe in the L'eixample called Romero.

I had the plat de dia. It started with a wonderful tomato watermelon gazpacho. That was followed by my entree - baked brined sea bass over rice noodles. It was accompanied by a local beer. Desert was soft cheese drizzled with honey. Simple, lovely, and a true bargain at 11E.

Sated, we set out to tour the Museum of Catalunya and meander a bit more in the Bari Gotic. We needed to find gifts for friends and I wanted to photograph some Barcelona street art. 

Ahh, street art. In Barcelona and Lisbon there was an abundance of it. Some was even pretty good. Much of the street art in Barcelona is paper paste-ups (where they make templates on paper backers.) In most places fines are less for paste-up paper than vandalism fines for spray paint. 

I should state that tags and street art is vandalism and it is wrong. Personally, I'd rather live in a world where walls are clean and art is appreciated in museums. In Phoenix I devote one Saturday a month to removing tags. 

But (similar to most large European cities) in Lisbon and Barcelona street art is everywhere. Sadly, it has gone way beyond the point where anyone can control it. And, whether I like it or not, I have to admit some street art is pretty interesting and demonstrates real (albeit misdirected) talent.

Hands Down My Favorite Paste-up

More Paste Ups

Hallucinogens Had to Be Involved

This One Was Direct paint and Huge 
(Part of a Pair of Garage Doors) 

The Other Half

I'm Always Intrigued By Stencils

Sometimes They Come Across A Bit Creepy

Another Favorite
Assumed to be a Commissioned Piece

Here are a couple of the examples we saw in Lisbon. In Lisbon much of the art had political overtones tangibly reflecting the tension of a nation currently suffering from unemployment rates over 20% (and youth unemployment rates closer to 50%.)

Near Belem

At Lisbon's Funicular 

Along the way today we came across El Ingenio, this is the store in Barcelona where for decades they have made and sold elaborate masks and a full range of circus supplies. It was fascinating to see all of the unicycles and specialized supplies available to professional circus performers, jugglers and clowns.  

El Ingenio
(A Barcelona Institution - Reportedly a Haunt of Salvador Dali)

We finished our the day with a trip to Plaza Espanya for the nightly presentation at the Magic Fountain. A souvenir of Barcelona's 1929 World's Exposition, this fountain is actually a series of fountains that extend nearly a quarter mile from Montjuc to Plaza Espanya. Year round it is illuminated and choreographed to music on select evenings. 

It was wonderful but go early - even on a rainy summer night it drew thousands.

The Fountains Start One By One 

Then The Main Fountain Begins

Accompanied By Music

A magic fountain seemed like a perfect way to say goodbye to a magic city. 

A bit of my heart will always remain in beautiful Barcelona.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012