I woke up Friday to terrible news. I have been a big fan of Anthony Bourdain since 2004 or so. He worked with French oyster fisherman for a summer as a teenager. He worked summers in Provincetown as a sous-chef in his twenties. He moved to New York in the 80s, working as sous-chef at The Supper Club, One Fifth Avenue, and finally Les Halles, where he worked his way up to executive chef in 1998. He used his gift of writing to compose both fiction and a journal, the latter of which became his memoir of long days, whiskey and beer lunches, and cocaine nights, Kitchen Confidential (2000). Instant fame followed, with two Emmy-award winning food travel shows (roughly the same show but on two different networks).
I just watched the Hong Kong episode of Parts Unknown on CNN. He spent half the shoot with Wong Kar-Wai's former cameraman, the always drunken and talented Christopher Doyle. It's a classic Bourdain episode, with him eating and boozing his way through one of his favorite places in the world. Tony's world was Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, New York, Provincetown and France.
And he took his life where his life began, in France. His best friend, hotel staff and Éric Ripert found his body in his hotel room Friday morning, June 8.
Our world is depressing. And if Tony Bourdain, a man who lived for travel, food, music and sex, lost his will to live, then that doesn't bode well for anyone.
He leaves behind an 11 year-old daughter, Airiane. I think he never wanted kids. He said so before he had one. And now he has hurt someone who didn't deserve this. Just like Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, who shot himself with what was probably a vintage .45 pistol in February 2005 with his teenage son in the next room. What is it with my favorite alpha male writers?
Most of us have gone on road trips, and not always as the drivers. Since 2011, my wife and I have gone on an ambitious annual road trip in the American West. We put about 4,000 miles on our New York City-based car per year. But on these Western road trips we don’t take the car we own but instead, we fly to our starting destination and put over 2,000 miles on a rental while meandering to our final destination. It took just one trip for us to get hooked on this.
This is a guide about next-level road tripping. This is the art of the remote road trip, well outside your home region. This isn’t about renting a camper, either (I might do that someday driving across Australia). This is about seeing your great country, where too many people fly over the best stuff it has. What would you want to see on an American road trip? Would you want to see cities and towns that look like your own, or would you want to see what Teddy Roosevelt once called “big things”? Wouldn’t you like to go big?
There is a cool way to explore the West without a tour group or an RV. It can be expensive, but it's worth it. You can fly to one city, take a week driving to a final city, and fly home from there. That’s 7 days, over 1,000 miles (or 2,000), and many photos and memories. This is the one-way American West road trip.
A quick note about timing: Summer is the traditional time to do road trips but it is also when a whole lot of other people do them. Some of our incredible national parks and monuments have traffic jams during the summer. The best way to avoid this? Go after Labor Day. I want to present my guide for you Jalopers to get inspired to go out there to see your great nation. Every part of it has something interesting, but my example is the West, since that’s where you can clock the most miles and see the most diverse things in a week.
A big reason to do a one-way rental road trip is time. Like me, you probably can’t disappear from your day job for more than a week at a time. So you only have 8 nights away from home. A one-way road trip gives you the opportunity to cover a single region in a week. Renting a car one-way usually comes with a hefty fee. But we’re in a golden age of internet price research. Even some of the biggest rental companies reduce their one-way fees for certain locations with high inventory, like Las Vegas or Phoenix. Once you know your starting and ending airports, you can do reverse searches on flights and car rentals to help decide which travel direction will cost you the least (either in time or money).
Everyone needs at least one partner for a road trip. I have my wife, my “navigatrix.” I recommend you don’t go it alone. That’s reserved for people who seriously need time to themselves. But you, fellow driving enthusiast, you need a partner to navigate you and help you chose what to see each day and where to sleep each night. Which brings us to preparation, and some rules. A road trip is not a race. I consider myself a boring, safe driver. However, I have been warned about my speed by small town cops on two different trips. You’re not an endurance or cannonball driver, either. You need to take this slow. A typical road trip day goes like this: you wake up, find a place for coffee and breakfast, and then drive to the next site on your itinerary. You should have an idea of where you’re getting fuel, as well as lunch and dinner, and you know where you are resting your head after sundown.
I got hooked on faraway road trips the first time I did it. But like a lot of first times doing anything, it was the least planned, as we had no experience. We did it in early November, which is too late for a trip in the Southwest. And, we only gave ourselves 3 full days as we weren’t sure that this would be enjoyable. We ended up seeing too much in too short a time. Here’s the route we took on day 1:
On that single day, we drove from the Vegas strip, to the O’Callaghan-Tillman bridge observation deck, to the south rim of the Grand Canyon (the serious way to see it), and then through a corner of Navajo Nation to Flagstaff for dinner, and finally our hotel in (Take it Easy) Winslow, Arizona. That was nearly 450 miles in over 15 hours on the road. Oh, and we were met by thundersnow in Flagstaff.
On the following 2 cold days, we crammed in 5 more major attractions, including, amazingly, Monument Valley, before arriving late in Albuquerque for our last hotel stay and flight home. Along the way, we caught a glimpse of Shiprock, a beacon for future trips. Since then we have been far better paced. Here’s what you need do to become a pro at this:
Find your flights and car combination. You can choose Midland (Texas), Salt Lake City, Denver, Albuquerque, Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, or smaller airports as start and end points. Play around with flight and car rental itineraries. Does it cost less to start or end the trip in one of your two cities? And with the car, skip the supplemental insurance from the rental company and buy a separate insurance policy.
You can rent a good car. I’ve rented respectable Infinitis, Fords, Volkswagens, and Chevys on these trips. There are some decent, comfortable cars to rent. It just requires research and sometimes a little persistence at the counter. If you do a full week trip, you could be spending over 50 hours in those car seats, so keep that in mind. Lately any Ford Escape EcoBoost has won out for me. The seats are right and it’s pleasantly zippy.
Plan your visits and stops. Research what you would like to see along your route. Then figure out your exact route so you can come up with a daily list of sites you want to visit. Start with National Parks and National Monuments, and then find things that interest you. It can be museums, cultural sites, cars, planes, or even joints featured on Guy Fieri’s TV show (I can’t be the only one who watches that). Note closing times of the places you want to visit. When is that Spaceport tour? What time does that restaurant open or close? What is the latest time you can get stamped at the park visitor’s center? Is that ghost town accessible year round, or only on certain days? Figure out with your navigator which stops are priority and what could be considered bonus objectives if you have time. You’re going to be keeping track of what you hit and what you can come back and visit on a future trip. And as you do this, plan out where you’ll sleep. Thanks to airbnb and VRBO, hotels and campgrounds are not the only options.
The distance between your start and end airports is not as important as limiting how many miles you cover each day. 200-300 miles per day is ideal. You want to do all your sightseeing in daylight. We’ve done Las Vegas to Albuquerque, Albuquerque to Denver, Midland to Albuquerque, Minneapolis to Las Vegas, Midland to Phoenix, Tucson to San Diego, and we have Albuquerque to Austin at the end of this summer. In all my trips, my navigator and I have chosen the overnight stops, and using Google Maps (or your preferred map site), we plot an exact route and watch the daily mileage total carefully.
Produce a travel binder. Remember Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women?” Well you are going to need a single binder full of trip information, in chronological order. Grab a binder and hole puncher (find a hole puncher where you work). Start with your flight reservations. Then your car and insurance documents. Print out your hotel reservations. Then for each day, you will insert printouts on where you’re going. Print out driving directions, as mobile phone coverage in the West is sparse. In fact, make sure you print out the address or GPS coordinates of every place you plan to visit. Also take a GPS device as a backup to your phone.
Learn to like Wal-Mart. I know. That’s a tall order for a leftie New Yorker. But in some small towns, Wal-Mart is the only source for beverages and snacks. Buy a styrofoam cooler, put ice in it at your hotels, and you have a mobile fridge.
The rest is up to you. If you love to drive, you ought to try it. Take a week off to see this amazing country and maybe you too will get hooked. When you are ready for the next level, there’s Canada and Australia to explore. Then you’ll know three nations with ‘wild wests’ and near-empty roads to drive. Just don’t speed. Local and tribal police know when big city people are headed their way.
As airline customers, we must suffer at baseline. And besides, suffering not only builds character, it reinforces an important social lesson. The natural order of things requires that we all understand that decent treatment is a privilege, to be purchased with money. If you lack money, you don't deserve the good treatment that only money can buy. If you have money, no matter how you acquired it, you are entitled to the best of everything. Furthermore, everyone must be conscious of the differences having money brings. So, if you're part of the great, unwashed masses, and you're miserable in airports, bus stations, subway stops and other places of public accommodation, the system is working, and the correct lesson is being taught.
Here's a question - does anyone know why tourists taking road trips outside of Las Vegas are predominantly Europeans (with a few folks from Down Under sprinkled in)? Why are they the ones visiting national parks like Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Zion Canyon and not us Americans? What's up with that?
Dalghren here. I spent last weekend (September 13-15) in charming Bermuda. It was my first time there. While it is not the secret beach paradise Vieques is, it still exceeded my expectations. It is a friendly, historic, expensive, lazy island, where dark rum flows liberally (and money laundering used to).
I could write about the rich 400-year history, the unique architecture, the island's use of cisterns for fresh water, the amazing Royal Naval Cemetery, the many beautiful pink sand beaches, or the resorts and expansive golf courses. But this post is about the luxury items owned by the local Bermudians - their cars. Bermuda, comparatively speaking, is one of the most eco-conscious places I've been to. They export scrap metal, use their landfill efficiently, and their electric power plant is nearly invisible. They also have their own bottling / canning plant for all major soft drinks, which recycles bottles and cans over and over.
But with insurance and re-insurance being their biggest industry, Bermudans have very high salaries (an average income of $70,000 per year, in fact). And those who find the island's thousands of scooters to be inadequate can import their own cars. There is a one-car-per-household limit, and all cars are registered with 5-digit numbers shown on their generic license plates. And to make these cars usable, there are no car rental chains on the island. Tourists may only rent scooters if they wish to drive themselves anywhere.
So what cars do Bermudans import? Mainly A-segment cars. Internationally, cars are separated into size classes, A, B, and C.
'A' cars are what we Americans call 'sub-compact.' 'B' cars are typically 'mid-size' cars and SUVs. And 'C' cars are the full-size luxury sedans, wagons, and SUVs. I might one-day be able to produce a sideshow using Brightcove, but for now, here's a list of the A-segment (and some B-segment) cars of Bermuda:
Endurance Runners (cars purchased in the 1980s and still on the road): I remember only three cars from the 1980s.
The venerable BMW 3-series (of course). A B-segment saloon.
The BMW 5-series (I'll always remember Norman Mailer owned one in Massachusetts). Technically, this is a C-segment car. But yesterday's C-segment is today's B-segment.
I saw two Subaru Justy's. Proof that the ECVT transmission, which was predicted to last just 100,000 miles, can last a lot longer than that. Amazing, really.
1990s cars still on the road: The 1990s are not well-represented in Bermuda, either. But I recall seeing three fine examples.
Renault Clio (2nd generation)
Skoda Octavia (1st generation). This is actually a B-segment car, but is still seen around Bermuda.
Mazda 323 Mk II Sports Sedan. A rare car, indeed. But I saw several in Bermuda.
Contemporary Cars of Bermuda (the vast majority of cars on the road): Most Bermudians drive cars produced during this decade. And these are the most interesting cars, as luxury features from the B-Segment have trickled-down to the A-segment due to market demand and cost-cutting in car manufacturing. And we are seeing better designs. We haven't seen bold or clever designs for A-segment cars in roughly 20 years.
Car fanatics might remember the Nissan 'Pike Factory' series from the late 1980s (the Pao, Figaro, BE-1, and S-Cargo). The practice of creating niche microcars on a shared platform continues today, and arguably has become fun again.
The most common car, it seems, is the first-generation Mazda 2, a sibling of the current Ford Fiesta and European Ford Fusion.
And the second-generation Mazda 2 is there as well. A hot new 2010 model, which shares its chassis with the next-generation Ford Fiesta.
The Suzuki Swift is still produced.
The European Ford Fusion. In Mexico, this is known as the Fiesta until the next-generation Fiesta is produced there in 2009.
There were a couple of Volkswagen Polos.
The popular new convertible is the Renault 206 Cabrio.
The Peugeot 206, the basis for the champion rally car.
And it's successor, the Peugeot 207.
The second-generation Renault Megane hatchback is there (third-generation coming soon).
And the Megme's cousin, the Nissan Tida (known as the Nissan Versa in the USA).
My girl loved the Nissan March. It should be noted that because the March is based on the old Nissan K10 platform, it is related to the cute 'Pike Factory' cars introduced in Japan 20 years ago. And like those cars, the March is unique, stylish, and is extremely appealing to women drivers.
And finally, a family mover that I thought was beautifully designed - the Honda FR-V. I am not a minivan guy, but it was hard not to admire the FR-V for maximizing interior space in a car slightly larger than a Ford Focus. It looks like a Fit, except it's fatter. It might be the widest new car available in Bermuda. I am no fan of front bench seating for three (or minivan-style, dash-mounted shift levers), but it is interesting that the FR-V is available with an old-school front bench seat. Besides the ugly Fiat Multipla, it is the only 6-passenger microvan in the world.
While Dan Riehl and other wingnuts will be yukking it up over Christmastime crimes, I am off to Prague (Praha) for a week. I will return on New Year's Eve. I'm going to clear my head, think about 2008, and drink lots of beer. Nashledanou!
I have to transport boxes to North Carolina this weekend. It's moving time for a family member. So I am hitting the road and driving down to the land of hogs, tobacco, NASCAR, and quality barbecue and minor-leage baseball. I'll be back next week.
I like Philadelphia. I don't love it. I came to that conclusion this past weekend as I went museum-hopping. It has a ways to go before it can be a 'Baby New York.' My Boston friends and I would laugh our asses off when we would see this commercial play during Red Sox broadcasts in 2003 / 2004:
I don't really want to knock the town that gave us the greatest document ever written by mankind, or was the last residence of Benjamin Franklin, the greatest of our nation's founders never to serve as an elected official. But I have to speak-up as a recent visitor of Philadelphia. It is not on the same level as Boston or New York. It ought to be, with its museums, universities, big train station, four major historic attractions, and very decent Center City (what they call downtown). Also Philly is known for cheesesteaks and very fine pretzels (either baked sourdough or chocolate-coated....mmmmmm).
Instead of giving a long-winded review, I thought I'd just touch a few topics by doing a list of pros and cons. Maybe the pros outweigh the cons. If I were a college student, Philly would be phine. But as a salaryman resident, Philly might kill me. Here's my list in no particular order:
1. Museums. Philly has the Franklin Institute Science Center. While not quite as good as Boston's Museum of Science (Boston has better permanent exhibits and a bigger planetarium), the Philly museum is bigger, and it won the King Tutankhamun exhibit through the end of September. It is worth seeing. Philly has a huge Museum of Art. It also has the Rodin museum, the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of France. Philly also has the Mutter Museum, the largest medical museum in the USA. It is modelled after British medical museums, and has some pretty incredible specimens. It has the liver that was shared between Cheng and Eng, Grover Cleveland's surgically removed tumor, a post-execution tissue sample from John Wilkes Boothe, and dozens of skulls and fetuses, displaying fatal defects, rare diseases, and fatal injuries. It certainly uses some freakish samples to draw the crowds, but the presentation is clinical and very informative. And it currently has a wonderful exhibit on the medical advances pioneered by Benjamin Franklin, as well as a history of Franklin's health and ailments. He lived to be 85, which is outstanding by even today's standards (85 is my personal goal, too).
2. Food. That includes pretzels, cheesesteaks, and ice cream (Scoop de Ville is awesome). And one of the best Cuban restaurants I've been in, Alma. Alma is part of the Starr Restaurant Organization, which has twelve restaurants in Philly, two in Atlantic City, and two new restaurants in New York. They are the best in town. And the locals and tourists alike appreciate the many Starbucks in the 'teens streets in Center City.
3. Compact downtown. Buses, and trolleys can get you pretty much anywhere you want to go for $2.00 per ride. The buses are frequent on weekend days, so they score good marks. Philly's downtown is only slightly larger than Boston's. Boston's downtown is very compact for a world-class city.
4. Theater district. It's decent. Maybe that's the only part of Philly that is like a 'Baby New York.' But with Boston rebuilding theatres in the last 10 years, Philly might have fallen behind Beantown. Not good for a city bigger than Boston.
5. Shopping. Philly has Macy's, Anthopologie, J Crew, Joe A. Bank, Nordstrom, and the American Institute of Architects (AIA shop - one of Philly's best small shops.
6. Pro sports. An American city isn't "big" unless it has at least two pro sports teams. To Philly's credit, they have four pro teams, all on the south side. Furthermore, all three sports venues are clustered together near the banks of the Delaware River. That's pretty good, similar to what Cincinnati or Baltimore has for their football and baseball teams. Plus, there is a charming minor league ballpark just across the Delaware river in Camden, NJ. It has one of the best views of any minor league ballpark in the nation. Camden is home to Campbell's Soup, so the ballpark bears the company's name. Does that count as a Philly attraction? I would say so.
7. Benjamin Franklin. Enough said. He was a scientist, ladies man, scholar, publisher, journalist, medial pioneer, ambassador, co-author and co-signer of the Declaration of Independence, and thus played a key role in founding the USA. He's Master Yoda to General Washington's Luke Skywalker. He's Bill Belichick to Tom Brady. You get the idea.
8. US History. Philly has the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, The Constitution Museum, the Betsey Ross house, and Christchurch (the church and nearby cemetery). That's six major historic attractions within a short walking distance of each other. And there are horse-drawn carriages and Duck tours, if you are a sucker tourist who is into those rides.
9. Higher Learning. Philly has some great schools, such as U Penn, Temple, St. Joe's, Drexel, the Art Institute, the Moore College of Art and Design, Thomas Jefferson University, the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts, and LaSalle University to name a few.
1. The Philly economy. Philly seems to have been left behind in the economic expansion of the 1990s. I hear the job market is stagnant. Restaurants are full and the tourist economy seems to be doing fine. There are better restaurants and hotels today than there were 10 years ago. There has been gentrification around the U Penn area, which used to be notorious for high crime rates. There are incentives for companies to come to Philly. The Chrysler Building-inspired Liberty Center still looks great 20 years after being built. The Comcast Center will be the tallest building in the state when it opens this fall. It is almost as tall as the Empire State Building. It is not fully-certified as a Green building, but it will feature some Green technologies, such as waterless urinals. When I look at Boston and New York seemingly rolling in mountains of cash, I can't say Philly is up there with them. In terms of overall quality of life, Philly is ahead of many inland cities, like St. Louis or Atlanta. But it seems to lag other coastal cities like Miami and Seattle (albeit, its cultural and educational institutions are above average for big cities in the USA).
2. The Delaware riverfront. There is none, right? There ought to be. There is demand for urban housing. There are people who want to live in Philly. But the waterfront is an eyesore. Philly will need to wait -as Boston did- for a beautiful waterfront.
3. The Schuylkill riverfront. It now has a park with jogging and bike paths on its east bank. But the industrial neighborhoods on both sides of the river need a lot of work. Aside from 30th Street Station and the Post Office on the west bank, the area is known for its red light district and unfriendly streets. Interestingly, violent crime in the area is low (most violent crime occurs west of the train station roughly from 50th to 63rd streets, and also in the North Side of town). But it is in need of development. Someday.
4. The drivers don't respect pedestrians. They just don't. Fortunately, car traffic in downtown is not as fast or as high-volume as midtown Manhattan. The narrow streets are similar to Boston's. But I have to point out that only a few drivers yielded to me, and blocking the box is also a common problem at red lights.
5. Are the locals of Philadelphia grumpy or is it just me? This needs to be studied further. But people in Miami and New York seem so much more....well, lively and happy.
6. Many businesses close early. I wanted to grab some chocolate-coated pretzels to take home. I saw them in a bakery on 17th Street on Sunday morning. I went back at 4:30pm to find it had closed at 4pm. Several shops on Chestnut, Market, Broad, and Walnut streets were closed on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon, in the middle of the hotel and tourist area (the 'teens streets, as I call them). What was up with that? Stay open, dammit.
So many great things about Philly. But I spotted some deal breakers as well. I had such high hopes. But it had been said to me back in 1998 by a former boss, that "Philly is the most boring big city in the Northeast." I wouldn't go that far. Washington DC is such a ghost town. But then again, isn't Baltimore more lively (I will know in 2008 or 2009 when I visit there)? Is Portland or Seattle a better coastal city in which to live (I *think* so, but they could disappoint me as well)?
Maybe I am too harsh? I like the 'thumbs-up' or 'thumbs-down' approach to travel destinations or restaurants. Right now, my thumb is pointing down.
Still, the WORST northeast city I have ever been in is Trenton, New Jersey. It was scary entering on foot in the morning, and it was scary leaving on foot at night. That was June 30th, 2002. It's the only city where a hooker approached me in broad sunlight. What a sad and scary place.