Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fathers Day 2017

A Few Travel Memories

Travel was always an adventure in my family. For the fun trips (camping or going to a national park) the journey was mostly by car. That included hours of enjoying the spectacle that is the American west while scanning an AM radio for whatever I could find. 

It also meant nights looking up at an Arizona or Utah night sky through the spectacularly huge rear window of our 1960 Chevrolet Impala.

Until 1966 or so air travel was avoided as Mom was reluctant to fly.  After 1967 (when we got her a 30 minute flight around the SF Bay and she came to realize she loved to fly) it was still pretty much reserved only for major family events such as weddings and funerals.

So my memories of my own father sort of came down to goal oriented travel. 

Dad's idea of travel was the destination. We made it to the World's Fair. We made it to Crater Lake. 

He was all about the technical aspects of the journey. We made "good time". We made "good gas mileage". The new travel trailer "pulled well and nothing overheated".

And then there was just the "dad part". When we traveled in our Travel/Eze trailer we could not avoid his epic snoring. I spent many nights sleeping on nearby picnic tables instead of in that rolling aluminum acoustic nightmare.

One night at the age of 14 or so I woke up on my picnic table top about 4:30 am staring straight into the heroic cleavage of a hooker leaning over me working the rest stops. I let her know my interest was limited to sleep and rolled over.

At breakfast I informed mom and dad of my nocturnal adventure in Hoosier hospitality and dad just smiled. I said "what?" and he confessed he'd had trouble sleeping and saw her approach me and chose not to intervene adding that he was pretty interested to see how the event would unfold.

To those who will be in the company of their dad's today, put down your cell phones and treasure the now!

To those, like me, who've said goodbye to you're fathers, enjoy the memories!

    Mom and Dad Yosemite 1945 / Shingle Springs California 1988

Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

AA Realligns at LAX

Where Your Treasure Is, There Your Heart Will Be Also

Just a little blog post tonight. 

Just read American Airlines has pledged $1.5 Billion (yep, with a "B") to upgrade its operations at LAX.

Delta made a similar ($1.9 Billion) commitment to upgrade their terminal at LAX last week.

LAX is having quite a week. LAX is feeling the love.

But, those of us that fly a lot, know that airlines are all about the bottom line. So as AA realigns their hubs emphasizing DFW and LAX, they are slowly draining Phoenix (i.e. 500 pilots reassigned out of Phoenix etc.).

But as AA fades from PHX, my hope is that a truly great airline (like Alaska!) might expand into PHX.

Seems like PHX would make so much sense to Alaska Air Group.

Alaska's continued expansion eastward would benefit with the addition of at least one all-weather hub (i.e. one that is not closed by fog or rain and isn't an inch from the Pacific). Seriously; how can you truly support an eastward expansion only having hubs in Seattle, Portland and now SFO?

Here's an example. I'm in Denver and want to fly to Miami. Am I really gonna want to fly from Denver to Seatlle and then on to Chicago, before I fly to Miami? Odd business model.

Roadboys Travels © 2017

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Travel Using Crutches

Every Journey Brings New Insights

Travel is about learning. And sometimes the lessons we learn aren't the ones we set about to learn.

As an architect I've always been interested in creating a built world that meets the functional and aesthetic needs of my clients while being respectful of their budgets.

Design is a delicate balancing act.

My 38 year career has seen a profession completely change. I learned the fine art of architectural drafting, but today drawing is mainly on a computer. To this day I love creating while using a parallel rule and mechanical pencils. I am a dinosaur.

Also during this period America's building codes and regulatory requirements have seen sweeping change. Arguably one of the biggest changes came with the adoption of the American's with Disabilities Act (frequently referred to as the ADA). For new buildings it compels design that enables access for individuals with mobility, vision and hearing impairments. For existing buildings it established timelines for incrementally making older buildings and sites accessible.

While normal regulatory and code mandates are enforced by government, enforcement of the ADA is done via civil litigation (i.e. the threat of lawsuits). So if an architect misinterprets an ADA provision they may face a lawsuit. Lawyers love the ADA.

Yet, while some architects view accessibility requirements as just another burden and check off the minimal requirements during design, many of us have gone on to embrace a more holistic access design philosophy called Universal Design.

After fracturing my foot on this trip to Ireland / London, the reality of the beauty of a world based on Universal Design came much more into focus.

We live in a world of stairs, steep slopes and narrow doors.  In Dublin we were lucky and our AirBNB was a single level cottage offering great access to every space.

In London our AirBNB turned out to be a chamber of mobility horrors. There were stairs to get to the front door of the building, steep narrow corridors inside, tiny doors, then lots and lots of stairs into the flat. 

In Dublin my new airport hotel offered up a wonderfully accessible unit, with a great roll-in shower, wide doors and grab bars. Yet accessible rooms were inexplicably placed as far as possible from public elevators.    

Transportation really illustrates how the needs of the mobility impaired are overlooked. Many of London's famous Underground "Tube" stations still lack elevators (or even working escalators). And once in a station, pedestrian routes affording transfer from one line to another typically involve lots and lots of stairs.

Newer stations offer better access, but you still wind up arriving in stations that do not. It surprises me that over the 40 years I've been visiting to London it feels like little real emphasis has been placed on upgrading existing stations for true access.

Conversely, most public buses and trams in London and Dublin offer good accessibility. 

At the airport the situation varied. Mobility assistance at Gatwick was pretty awful (good luck making the journey from the train, garage or curb to ticketing and then on to the Mobility Services desk. 

Conversely, Dublin's new Terminal 2 offered a special curbside drop off zone immediately adjacent to the mobility Services desk.

Theaters and Restaurants
We had tickets for three blockbuster west-end shows. Wicked, Kinky Boots and Dreamgirls. In each case the theaters were all awful for mobility.

None had elevators. I just have to say that again. NONE had elevators. The Savoy (dreamgirls) is simply a nightmare. Even after I heal, I'll never go to a show in that wretched theater again.

Restaurants in both cities offered amazing cuisine with great service. Yet, almost all only offered toilet rooms located in the basement or up a flight of stairs. Only the newest cafes seemed to have a barrier free toilet on the same level as the dining room.

Museums and Attractions
Most of the larger museums have added accessible toilet rooms and elevators, but in many cases they are miles apart and require anyone who is mobility impaired to backtrack endlessly. 

In many of the museums and attractions we visited I found staff graciously escorted me to a lift or an (sometimes concealed) accessible route to get me where I needed to go.

I also found that some attractions provide exceptional access. On this trip Warner Brothers Studio London offered complete access and even offered me a zippy wheelchair for use during my visit. Other than the sloping cobblestones on Diagon's Alley and the chaotic gift shop at the end, WBS gets Roadboy's A+.

From the moment I put on my big boot and slipped on my crutches, I found that the people I encountered went out of their way to cross over and open doors. Uber and taxi drivers were wonderful; always offering to help with bags. 

The exceptions? Pretty much anyone using a selfie stick. I guess the very use of a selfie stick symbolizes self-absorption and narcissism.  

My take aways?
1. While mobility impaired solo travel is possible, it requires planning.

2. I will now research medical options in the destinations I plan to visit before I go. 

3. I will now purchase medical travel insurance before I take any major trip outside the US.

4. US insurance is pretty much a joke outside the US. Everywhere I went I was told "put your insurance card away, give us your credit card".

5. Plan more travel. Despite my little setback, this trip was amazing.

Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Friday, June 2, 2017

Harry Potter at Warner Brothers London

Day 13

A highlight of our London visit was a full day set aside to visit Warner Brother's London.  This is where the major sets for the Harry Potter movies are now on display.

The studio is about 30-45 minutes outside of London and requires reservations for the specific date and time you plan to visit. So planning for this trip is essential.

There are various ways to visit Warner Brothers. You can book your access online and then drive or use London's very easy and efficient train service

But, the easiest way to visit is just to book it as part of a package tour. With the tours you get a bus ride from central London to / from the Studio and your admission ticket. The downside is that the time they give you at the exhibit is IMHO too short.

If you want to be able to spend more time in the studio then plan to take the train. Its very easy. Take the underground to Euston Station. At Euston Station follow the signs to "London Overground" and then take the train that ends at Watford Junction. At Watford Junction depart the station and right in front is a Harry Potter shuttle bus (2.5 £ RT) that takes you right to the entrance.

In my reduced mobility mode I opted to check out one of studio's free wheelchairs. It was a zippy little unit that afforded me full access to the entire studio tour. My foot was so happy to get off of those crutches.

We booked a packaged tour, but wound up using the train one direciton. If I do this day trip again I'll take the train both directions.

The tour begins with a film introduction, moves into Hogwarts Dining Hall, then into the interior sets, forest, Hogwarts express, exterior sets and models. There are a couple of self serve cafes and a huge gift shop at the end.

They encourage photo taking, so here are some of my photos!

Hogwarts Dining Hall

Costuming and Millinery

The Floating Staircase

The Clock

Dumbledore's Office

Specialty Sets

Hogwart's Express

Diagon's Alley

The Major Model Room

Hogwarts Architect

A full day that will bring joy to any Harry Potter fan!

Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Sunny Saturday at Roadboy's Favorite Design and Craft Museum

London's Splendid Victoria & Albert
Pink Floyd

Day 12
We began the day with breakfast at the Chelsea Bun Diner (which was very good).

With my mobility issues now in the picture, we opted for a day at the very accessible Victoria and Albert Museum over a trip to the Tower of London (with its long lines and narrow corridors filled with twisty stairs etc.)

A Sunny Day at the V&A

The decision was a happy one for me as I've always loved the V&A (especially the Theater and Entertainment Galleries and its two masterpiece "Copy" Galleries). And, on a warm sunny Saturday it was an ideal place for family picnics and children walking in its big shallow reflecting pool.

A "Copy" Room
(One of two V&A galleries where copies of original sculptural masterpieces are displayed)

 A Fidelity Dog
(Dogs in sculpture or paintings are frequently there to symbolize fidelity)
And, upon arrival, we found out they also have a special Pink Floyd Exhibit. I had been to the V&A's excellent traveling David Bowie exhibit a few years back, so I knew this exhibit would likely be very interesting. It was.

 Pink Floyd's Inflatable Battersea Pig 
In a Poster For Their 1977 "Animals" Tour 
(They visited my hometown - Oakland!)

The Tropical Motel LA
(Just another room in the wall)

1994 Album Cover 
Division Bell by Storm Thorgerson  

The founding members of Pink Floyd met in architecture school (perhaps why the band was so interested in arts, animation and larger-than-life iconic graphics).

I finished my visit with a trip to the Architecture Gallery, and found it clearly getting dated.

The Architect
(Couldn't help but photograph this sculpture in the Architecture and Design Gallery)

Also as I was preparing this post I came to realize I had neglected to include a few pictures from Day 11's visit to Harrods Department Store after the RHS Flower show. Harrods was the famous (formerly chartered) luxury department store that offered "everything from birth to death".

I don't know if they still sell funeral's, but a return to its legendary Food Halls left me stunned at the beauty (and extravagance) of the place.

Harrod's Meat, Seafood and Poultry Food Hall

An Entire Section Devoted to Caviar

Harrods Food Hall Seafood Counter

 The Hall for Coffee, Tea and Chocolate

Good news, Harrods no longer charges 1£ to use their "Luxury Loo's". Yep, in one of my past visits they were charging customers to use their restrooms.

Just outside the store (in a single block on Sloane Street) I observed 3 Rolls Royce's, a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and too many Range Rover's to count parked. Along the same block there were dozens of camera ready paparazzi leaning against storefronts texting. I asked one who they expected and the answer was "whoever shows up".

In that context of mindless rich "Celebrity" Harrods makes sense.

We finished the evening at The Savoy Theater with Dreamgirls. The Savoy (with no elevator and dozens of stairs to every seat) is a complete mobility nightmare.

The show, however, was electric. The crowd jumped to its feet as soon as Amber Riley (formerly of Glee) began belting out her first song.  What a voice.

Roadboy's Travels © 2017