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