Monday, March 31, 2008

Proud to be a dumb puppy

I was telling High Flying Bird that I have found that no one loves traveling more than the Australians and how, in my experience, they are always eager for the rest of the world to visit their country. For the past 10 years I have had an open invitation from one Australian or another for a free place to stay if I ever find myself down under.

Because they are a traveling sort, it isn’t surprising that Robert Schneider, a 26 year-old electrician from Adelaide, would be on the beach in San Diego. What is surprising and absolutely sickening is that he would be beaten with a skateboard and thrown into a fire pit by a couple of transients. Just last week Schneider was awakened from a medically-induced coma, which he had been in since the February 27 attack, as doctors performed skin grafts and surgeries on his burns and injuries.

Maybe because our country is just a “dumb puppy” (thank you, Johnny Depp), that also means we’ve got lots of unconditional love to give and it isn’t surprising, then, that Americans have gotten together to help raise funds for Schneider’s recovery. If you happen to be in San Diego, a fund-raising Australian barbeque will be held on April 13 from 2 to 6 p.m. at Bondi Bar & Kitchen, 333 Fifth Ave. For the rest of us, checks can be made payable to “Friends of Robert Schneider” and sent to Outdoor Travel Adventures, c/o Robert Schneider Campaign, PO Box 60084, San Diego, CA, 92166.

-- Clear Plastic Bag

Monday, March 24, 2008

If I could be anwywhere at the moment

While I perused last week, looking for my daily dose of Left Coast histrionics, I saw a personal ad (with accompanying sassy-date-me-I’m-super-fun photo), that said “if I could be anywhere at the moment: Playing the Roseland Ballroom with my new band”. And, I thought, if could be anywhere at the moment where would I be? An immediate, overwhelming answer did not jump to mind, which I found concerning. There are places I love, such as Paris, but clearly no place so soul-satisfying that it hangs in my sub-conscious, prepared to leap onto my tongue should someone ask if could be anywhere at the moment where would I be.

Perhaps I am just that content where I am at the moment, or, more likely, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. Not that I ever really need an excuse to travel, I feel I have a mission now. But I suppose never finding the answer could be just as rewarding as finding it.

Curious as to where others would want to be, I googled the phrase “If I could be anywhere at the moment” and there were 10,400 responses. The following are the first 15 that appeared (omitting the overtly cheesy such as "having intellectual, physical and emotional banter with someone that I share chemistry with” or “in the kitchen, cooking something hot and sweet for the woman who loves me.")

“If I could be anywhere at the moment…”

"Somewhere off the coast of Tahiti in a small fishing boat."

"I would be on a beach and seeing the ocean for the first time."

"I'd be in Cameroon, or Mali, or Colombia.”

"In Fiji with my new boyfriend discussing what to do next.”

"Ski mountaineering in Alaska, or in a jazz club in New Orleans."

"Simultaneously in the Black Rock Desert and in New York City.”

“Seeing U2 live in concert."

"On a pilgrimage to Dollywood. In a convertible. With a cowboy. An urban cowboy?" ...

"The Uffizzi - can't get enough of Caravaggio.”

"Japan would be fun."

"Colorado, in the mountains."

"Somewhere in the Georgia Mountains."

"Having dinner in Paris or exploring Vietnam."

“In Arles, Bouches-du-Rhone, France. It's the perfect place for an art colony, if only I could convince other artists ...”

“Anywhere but here.”

If you could be anywhere at the moment, where would you be?

-- Clear Plastic Bag

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Winter Spring Summer Fall

The Associated Press is reporting that Three Rivers Press has pulled the plug on a book by two former concierges at Chicago's Four Seasons Hotel because the two authors/concierges had signed confidenitiality agreements with the hotel. Apparently the two were going to reveal all on the inner workings of the luxury hotel and its various celebrity guests. Somebody please find those two a loophole because I think that would be a great read.
--Haiku Hannah

Fun "Local" Activity Alert: San Francisco

A friend has just had a new novel published, Serpent Box (HarperCollins), and will be making an appearance at Booksmith (1644 Haight Street) in San Francisco on April 3rd at 7 p.m. If you’re in San Francisco on that Thursday, go hear author Vincent Carrella read from his new novel, then, feeling quite literary and local hipster, stroll a couple of blocks to San Francisco’s famed Cha-Cha-Cha for dinner.

Planning suggestion: Cha-Cha-Cha doesn’t take reservations and is usually packed, but they do let you put your name on the waiting list and return later, so maybe pop into Cha-Cha-Cha before Booksmith, check out the wait, get your name on the list, and then head to Booksmith.

Learn more about Serpent Box.

Learn more about Cha-Cha-Cha.

-- Clear Plastic Bag

It's the most wonderful time of the year

I’d say at least 75% of my office is out this week on vacation for spring break. I don’t understand the standard vacation group mentality. By that I mean the people who hoard all their vacation days for spring break week and the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I am of a completely different mindset. I don’t want to waste my vacation time when the office is deserted and peaceful and nothing is going on. I want to be out when everyone is here stressing out and creating work. (I know some of you will say that you have no choice if you have the same vacations as your children. Hey, you were the one who chose to have children.) I have been enjoying the quiet all week. I’ve caught up on all my work and have been able to spend a lot of quality time contemplating my NCAA tournament brackets. Because it’s tournament time people, which means it’s the hap-happiest season of all!!!

--Haiku Hannah

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Freedom to Travel Action

The State of Florida is looking to suspend the license of American General Life Insurance for violations of the state's Freedom to Travel Act. The insurance company rejected an application by U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FLA) to increase her life insurance because she had future plans for international travel. Wasserman Schultz did not specify on her application where she intended to travel, but American General called and spoke with her husband who indicated that she might be traveling to Israel.

Application denied.


This is the first time the state's insurance commission has sought to revoke a license for a violation of the Freedom to Travel Act.

Look at Florida! They may just be getting something right!

-- Clear Plastic Bag

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Facebook Phenomenon

This morning I opened my weekly American Airlines NetSAAver Fares email and was greeted by a new offer from AA. “Start Sharing Your Travel Adventures! American Airlines is now on Facebook,” the email declared. “Keep your friends updated on your travels around town and around the world!” In and of itself, that seems to this High Flying Bird to be a useful add-on to one’s Facebook page, if one had one, as that is exactly what we try to do here on our blog. It’s the Facebook aspect that I found disconcerting.

Exactly how young and hip is AA trying to be? I clicked on the link from the AA email to the Facebook sign in page and you have four choices for “occupation”: in college/graduate school; at a company; in high school; and other. Then, the page specifically asks for your work email. Is Facebook for young professionals or for students? Either way, I’m afraid it’s not for me, as I did a quick search for others from my high school and found only three people from my class of 1986.

But that’s ok, because I find the whole Facebook and MySpace page phenomenon to be scary. Exactly how much do we want people surfing the internet to be able to find out about us? Eliot Spitzer’s “date” from the Mayflower hotel had to quickly scrub her MySpace page last week after her real name was released by the press. What if you apply for a job and your prospective boss routinely does a search of MySpace and Facebook pages to find out the real story about potential hires?

What do other High Flying Birds think about these social networking sites? And how about LinkedIn, a professional shared-contacts site that I have gotten numerous invitations to join from people my own age? Useful tool or potential trap for the unwary?

-- The Commish

Sunday, March 16, 2008

You're Getting Very Sleepy

Until I’m six feet under
Baby I don’t need a bed
Gonna live while I’m alive
I’ll sleep when I’m dead
- Bon Jovi

If I don’t get some sleep
I’m going to die and/or kill someone
- Clear Plastic Bag

My sister and brother-in-law bought a condo just one street over from Austin’s famed bar-lined Sixth Street. Very hip. Very cool. Very loud. It wasn’t so much the shouting of drunken revelers at midnight, but the 3 a.m. “bottle toss” that put a big, sleepless damper on their real estate acquisition. Their building is separated from Sixth Street by an alley running in the back of the bars lining the street, and at about 3 a.m. every morning, a trash truck runs down that alley. Thousands of empty bottles are tossed into the truck as it stops at each and every bar’s dumpster, every breaking bottle resulting in sleepless nights and splitting headaches. I was determined to solve the problem, and with a little research discovered the Marpac White Noise Machine Sleep Mate Sound Screen 980 Dual Speed Sound Conditioner.

This thing is miraculous. With a sort of whirring, whooshing air sound it drowns out any irritating noises around you. Unlike sound machines that produce rain sounds or maybe ocean sounds, you don’t focus on the sound, rather, it just seamlessly blends into your consciousness and before you know it you’re unconscious, drooling into your pillow. Moreover, unlike earplugs, it also lets you hear any important sounds you would want to hear.

After using it at their condo, I became addicted and now bring one with me when I travel. For rooms on the busy street side, hotels undergoing renovations, new travel companions whose charms do not include their snoring, or for rooms with “honeymooners” just one thin wall away, the Marpac can save a trip from sleepless disaster. The machine is just 3.25 inch high and 5.75 inches in diameter, and while the company says it weighs 1.6 pounds, it feels much lighter than that. Or maybe that’s just me, light on my toes after a restful night sleep. In any event, it tucks conveniently into a suitcase or overnight bag.

Thanks for the fist-pumping, rock ‘n roll anthem, Jon, but I’ll sleep when I turn on my Marpac White Noise Machine Sleep Mate Sound Screen 980 Dual Speed Sound Conditioner.

-- Clear Plastic Bag

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's like this and like that and like this and uh

I’m all over the place today so please bear with me.

There is one place I will never, ever travel to in my life. It is exactly where Silda Spitzer was standing yesterday and Monday. I would have told him if he wanted a woman standing next to him when reading his prepared statements about cheating on me with a call girl, he could go hire himself one.

The BBC has a report that at least 50 people in southern India have damaged their sight by staring at the sun hoping to see a vision of the Virgin Mary. Uh people, your mother wasn’t kidding when she told you not to stare at the sun or you’d go blind. In fact, I’m sure the Virgin Mary gave that same sage motherly advice to Jesus back in the day.

Hey Southwest, here’s a wild idea. Why don’t you take the $50 you have started charging your passengers for a third checked bag and get your crappy planes inspected, mkay?

-- Haiku Hannah

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Southern St. Paddy's

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, you might be saying to yourself that it’s time for a visit to Chicago or New York City, but High Flying Bird is here to tell you that the best St. Patrick’s Day parade this side of Dublin is in Savannah, Georgia, of all places! Billed as the second largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the United States, Savannah is expecting 400,000 visitors for this year’s 184th annual celebration. But be sure and go this weekend, as the parade will be held on Friday, March 14th, at the direction of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah—the 17th falls on the first day of Holy Week this year.

While you’re in Savannah, don't forget to go by The Lady and Sons restaurant for some wonderful low-country cooking by Paula Deen and her boys. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see Paula there. . . And High Flying Birds certainly won’t want to miss the world-famous Lady Chablis at the Club One Cabaret. If there’s time, you might also want to take a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil tour to see the Mercer House, the Bird Girl statue from the Bonaventure Cemetery (which now resides at the Telfair Museum of Art), and other sites made memorable in John Berendt’s novel. For the Girl Scouts out there, Savannah is also the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low.

Savannah is a wonderful Southern town in which all High Flying Birds will feel right at home!

-- The Commish

Lost that Budget Hotel Loving Feeling

My sister and I were in Dallas this weekend to help my parents pack up and move out of the home they’ve lived in for 31 years. While taking a very brief break on Sunday, we read a travel article on Puerto Vallarta in the Dallas Morning News. The writer took a clever approach by comparing “Old Puerto Vallarata” to “New Puerto Vallarta”. He stayed in the old part of town, while his sister and brother-in-law stayed at the new Four Seasons Resort. His article compares and contrasts money spent; his entire trip, including airfare, hotel, and food was still $200 less than just one night at the Four Seasons Resort.

In describing his Hotel Pescador, he says the inexpensive hotel was “quiet and clean” and while my sister and I both agreed that it probably was, we also agreed that certain hotels had forever spoiled our budget travel buoyancy. And no matter how inexpensive or how clean, we are always left a little deflated. For me, it began with the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica, California, and for her it was the Hotel Le Saint James in Montreal.

We still stay at the cheap, clean hotels, but no matter how cheap or how clean, that youthful bargain glee is gone unless the down comforters are sky-high, the linens crisp and white. A turn-down service perfectly timed to one’s evening return and *sigh*.

What hotel has forever spoiled your budget hotel glee?

-- Clear Plastic Bag

Thursday, March 6, 2008

It is time for you to stop all of your sobbing

The travel insurance company Access America commissioned a recent telephone survey that found 63% of families in the U.S. said they aren’t taking a spring break trip this year because of economic issues. Well boo freaking hoo. If that’s the worst economic issue an American family has to face they should be counting their many blessings. Do you have a roof over your head and food to eat? Then shut your whining pie hole and get happy. We never went anywhere on spring break when I was growing up. In fact, we often didn’t even get a spring break because the school board would take the days to make up for too many snow days earlier in the year. So cry me a river American families. You’re getting no sympathy here.

--Haiku Hannah

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Walking in Memphis

Historian David Cohn once wrote, “The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of The Peabody Hotel… If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby… ultimately you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta…” ( The fountain in the middle of the lobby is also the playground of the world famous Peabody Ducks, who live in grand style in their rooftop Royal Duck Palace and arrive and depart the hotel lobby via a red carpet to the tune of John Phillip Sousa’s “King Cotton March.” A trip to Memphis isn’t complete without a drink in the lobby bar while watching the ducks perform their march.

On my latest trip, however, in addition to seeing the ducks again, I was determined to find out why so many people rave about Memphis barbecue. I had been told by many that the Rendezvous (, located in a downtown alley across the street from the Peabody, was the place to go. The dry ribs (ribs smoked in a dry rub) there apparently epitomize Memphis barbecue. In addition to the dry ribs, however, closing on Sunday and Monday nights is also a tradition, which were the nights I was there. So on to plan B, Beale Street.

I had been assured that I could find wonderful barbecue on Beale Street, two blocks south of the Peabody, so after my drink in the lobby, I happily headed that direction, looking for “Pig,” which advertises itself as “Pork With an Attitude!” ( Along the way, I got a beer from one of the many beer windows on Beale, through which the bars sell drinks to passers-by ambling down the closed-off street. I also checked out a number of souvenir shops, where I purchased Elvis postcards for the family at Tater Red’s ( and a BB King CD for me, chosen specially by the proprietor of Memphis Music(

At Pig, I ordered the pork dinner, because Memphis, like the rest of the southeastern United States, is famous for its pork, as opposed to Texas’s brisket, barbecue. The dinner came with beans, coleslaw and a piece of white bread. The coleslaw was excellent—very light dressing with more of a horseradish base than straight mayonnaise. The beans and pork were a disappointment, however. The beans tasted like they had a vegetable soup base, and had no fire to them. The barbecue sauce was skimpy and the pork was. . .well, pork. After dinner, I saw a beer patio, just a shack, really, that advertised “Big Ass Beer.” So I stopped for one of those and chatted with the bartender about the redevelopment of the Pyramid sports complex, the Mississippi undertow and the West Memphis 3. Then one last Bud Light at BB King’s Blues Club ( and it was time to head back to the Peabody.

The next night it was raining heavily and the temperatures were plummeting, but that didn’t stop me from heading back to Beale Street to the Blues City Café ( I ate in the bar, which was very cozy on a cold and wet night. This time, I had the ribs, as Blues City is known for the best wet ribs (ribs are smoked in sauce) on Beale. The pork was as tender as advertised; it just fell off the bone, but again, the barbecure sauce was skimpy and it was pork, and I now know I’m not an aficionado of pork barbecue. The coleslaw was passable—not nearly as good as Pig’s—but the beans were truly fantastic, full of smoky, maple flavor. In addition, instead of a slice of white bread, I got a thick slab of Texas toast. According to the menu, however, “You ain’t been to the Blues City Café unless you’ve had fried pie alamode!” I was only to happy to oblige. It came in its own cast iron skillet, with the butter in the bottom still sizzling. The crust was light and doughy, almost like a beignet. Outstanding!

On my next trip to Memphis, I’m going to have those dry ribs at the Rendezvous just so I can say I’ve done it, and I’ll focus on the music a little bit more. In addition to my drink in the lobby of the Peabody with the ducks, however, I’ve also added the fried pie at Blues City Café to my list of things to definitely not miss!
-- The Commish

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tripping in the City of Lights

On the first day of my recent trip to Paris, I tripped, fell, and sprained my ankle. But I had on a scarf and beret, so I looked fantastique while doing so. Thanks to the “pharamacie” by my hotel and ibuprofen, athletic tape (you know when they tape a football player’s ankle on the sideline and then send him back out to play and you think “seriously?”, I’m here to testify that it really works), and the pain-relieving qualities of red wine, I was seriously side-lined for only a day, I just moved slowly and took frequent rest stops for the rest of my trip…err…vacation.

But, while hesitantly and painfully climbing and descending narrow stairs to bathrooms in cafes, shuffling over cobblestones through narrow streets, and heaving myself up a large step to the shower in my hotel room, I began to ponder how a truly physically disabled person could get around in Paris.

Others have pondered this as well, as there a variety of resources for “handicap travel” in Paris. The following will hopefully be a start for anyone who might need a little assistance maneuvering the City of Lights.

Access in Paris. This website is based on content from previously published “Access in Paris” guidebooks, the most recent being 1993. A new guidebook is now being written and is expected for an early 2008 publication. Per the website, the authors are working with the Association des Paralysés de France ( and with a group called Mobile en Ville ( who, among other things, have mapped the pavements in the whole of Paris for their surface and the height of any ramped curbs. Visit

Global Access News. This website has a wealth of information on travel around he world, but, if interested in Paris in particular, click on their “Travel Archives” which will lead you to articles outlining wheelchair accessibility of Paris attractions, hotels, etc. Visit

David Lebovitz’s “Accessible Travel in Paris”. As I understand it, Lebovitz is an ex-pat living in Paris. His website is devoted to things primarily food-related in Paris, and, in that regard, he has some particular tips such as when making reservations let the restaurant know in advance that you have special needs. He also recommends for foodies, Place de la Madeleine which is flat and where the sidewalks are wide. Per Lebovitz, here “you'll find fine foods shops clustered around the place like Fauchon, Hédiard, Ladurée,, Maille, and La Maison du Chocolat easy to explore. Most of the shops have access and the nearby Lavinia wine store has an elevator and a rest room.” Visit his website for all his recommendations.

-- Clear Plastic Bag