Thursday, December 23, 2010

Robust Christmas II

Last year, especially for Christmas, the 76-Second Travel Show tracked a surprising surge in the usage of the word 'robust' on both sides of the Atlantic:

A year later, we're noticing the trend in the US has continued its spike upward.

The New York Times rose from over 900 usages of 'robust' in 2009 to over 1400 (1406 as of Dec 23, including online references), while the UK's Guardian dropped slightly to 1885.

Does that say the UK is over robust, while the US is just getting started?

Either way, 76 Studios is looking forward to a very robust 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Most-Inspiring Travel Destinations

I recently spoke with Guideposts about the most inspiring destinations/themes for travel. Yes, I squeezed on sports and, my ultimate favorite destination, home after a long trip:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'What's the Harvard/Yale of Travel?'

Episode #046
F E A T U R I N G * 8 5 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Those who think the Red Sox/Yankees are the best rivalry in US sports ought to spend more time around college football. Considering the numbers of times baseball teams square off each year, and -- then -- how meaningless each game really is, nothing beats college football.

Particularly when it's two teams playing for nothing but pride. Harvard and Yale were, historically, instrumental in CREATING the sport of football. Unlike the big BCS teams, they have no polls, no bowls, no championships looming -- just a regular-season schedule capped with one of the biggest unseen rivalries in the country.

Sports in general is an underrated way of connecting with locals anywhere you go. And I found the same joy from mingling in the whirlwind of overcoats and scarves at Harvard Stadium a week-and-a-half ago. It was fun. And different from games back in Oklahoma. No merch stands, programs were free, and there were a lot of people in overcoats and scarves. One woman, a proud Crimson fan, told me, 'The boys sing 10,000 Men of Harvard in the locker room after each win.' So?, I thought. 'First in English, then in Latin.'

Football players who sing in Latin? Definitely not in Oklahoma anymore.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Talking 2011 on ABC News Now

Yesterday I appeared on ABC News Now to discuss some of the lists made in Lonely Planet's new Best in Travel 2011. Talked about Albania's Ottoman-era houses, Japan's $40 guesthouses, the notion of 'communism travel' and re-enactments from the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War (here's my video on how they decide who dies first). Yes, I squeezed out a Will Ferrell movie idea and (not unrelated) Teutonic Knights.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'What's Worse: Airport Scanners or the Shoe Deal?'

Episode #045
F E A T U R I N G * 3 5 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Everyone's mad about the new X-rated airport scanners. Some groups are rallying the 812 million annual air passengers in the states to opt out of the scanners on November 24, the busy day before Thanksgiving. Opting out means pat downs -- which are more detailed than they used to be. Recently, one guy faces a $10,000 civil suit for saying he'd have TSA agents arrested if they touched his junk.

All of this cannot compare with the single greatest energy-wasting project of all time: taking on/off shoes at airport checks.

At 0:36 to take them on/off -- per a 76-Second Travel Show sample test -- this security measure equates 923 years of combined personal effort to show some sock at TSA security checks... each year. That means every year, air passengers in the US are spending more time shedding shoes than it took to build the Empire State Building (about seven million man hours, or 799 years of personal effort).

TSA rep Sharon Horowitz told me by email they're trying to find ways to axe the shoe checks. But, she says, the scanners -- 385 units in 68 airports, a cost of nearly $70 million apparently -- do a better job of detecting 'metallic and non-metallic threats,' like stuff in shoes.

Richard Reid, are you laughing?

This video features 'Give Peace a Chance' by Dean Reed: one of the most remarkable cover versions of any song recorded behind the Iron Curtain.

Friday, October 29, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'How to Time Travel'

Episode #044
F E A T U R I N G * 6 4 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Did you see that Charlie Chaplin video yet? I like how George Clark, the director, says three times he's screened it for 'about 100 people,' calls the woman in question 'butch' a few times, starts with blatant self promotion, and -- a director -- rambles on way too long and shoots his deal in bad lighting.

Considering that, AND that it's the 25th anniversary of a more relevant time-travel (and Huey Lewis) vehicle Back to the Future, it's time to weigh in.

Can you time travel? Is it better to go back or forward? And what when would physicist Paul Davies, with a time machine, head to?

My ranking of the Charlie Chaplin traveler, out of five possible clocks:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'Monopoly Travel to Atlantic City'

Episode #043
F E A T U R I N G * 1 8 2* B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Question: Can a Monopoly board be used as a guidebook?

Why yes! In Atlantic City, it can!

Parker Brothers first published Monopoly 75 years ago this year -- it began in various forms decades before as 'Landlord's Game.' Some people don't realize that the color-coded properties encircling continuous layout -- eg Connecticut Avenue, St James Place, Marvin Gardens, Park Place -- are based on real ones in New Jersey's famed seaside beach destination. And with the exception of one -- St Charles Place -- all can be visited, and doing so (sometimes) leads to Atlantic City's best survivors from past-gone eras.

I followed the board around Atlantic City recently. Several locals independently advised that the Baltimore Grill on Atlantic Avenue served 'the best pizza in the world.' It didn't -- and didn't have a grill either -- but I loved the '50s-era throwback. Meanwhile, at the corner of Vermont Ave & Pacific Ave, I peppered the keys of an antique pianola in a 19th-century lighthouse, now surrounded by housing blocks.

But the best stop? Easily St James Place, home to a classic pub and hotel at the Inn at the Irish Pub? Most memorable stay in an American hotel I've had. Like walking into a Little Rascals set, with picks from local estate sales that date to the Depression, lacy curtains blowing in AC-free rooms, slanted floors and -- in my room at least -- an embroidered Norwegian scene hanging opposite an inspirational quote taped onto a paddle.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Vienna's Top 1: Artful Pencil Displays

I've been calling the act of tying a sweater around one's neck, or draping a coat over one's shoulders as 'Vienna style' ever since I spent a few too many days there on a four-day visit 18 years ago.

I had ended up Vienna on a Eurail-free trip across Eastern Europe 18 years ago. I had come in via Bratislava and expected to see Mozart's wig then go onto Budapest, but trains OUT of Western Europe were inordinately more expensive than those going in. So I became a Viennese prisoner to my drained budget. Sticking around the hostel, eating their free meals, throwing fallen fruit around a park with two miserable Polish brothers in the same situation. I could just barely stay, but didn't have the money to leave.

Someone get this to Don Henley for lyric fodder!

I did come away with a couple things: One, Vienna is ridiculously gorgeous. Two, if you're going to spend money on anything, don't pick the Freud museum over the Kunsthistorisches Museum (my mistake for my lone museum splurge).

And three, the Viennese tended to employ a rather curious fashion sense. Many men wore scarves in late summer, this I accepted with relish. But nearly as many wore jackets hanging draped over their shoulders, with each blase arm danging nearly out of view beneath. Stubbornly resistant to the notion of sleeving.

I unexpectedly found myself in Vienna for half a day yesterday. Europe airport strikes led to three missed Sofia-bound air connections and the night off, finally, in Vienna. And it converted me. I'm a fan. I loved my after-dark walk around the gorgeous center, popping into the Fake Art Museum to learn how one forger ended up with his head bashed-in by a shovel (and how one Matisse fake may be real -- a 100 euro investment that could yield one million more), having some ice cream and beer, and stopping at a cafe that didn't have sandwiches but could make me 'bread with cheese, ham and vegetables on top.'

The top real highlight, for me, was peeking into closed shops with artful displays of pencils propped up at geometrically pleasing angles with the tiniest of nails.

But there was another 'take-away,' as they say in conference-table culture. Eighteen years later, I saw it again and again: jackets worn over shoulders, arms dangling out of sight, everlasting 'Vienna style.'

Thank you Vienna. Thank you European airport strikes. Thank you travel!

Friday, September 17, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'Are the English the Champs of Travel?'

Episode #042
F E A T U R I N G * 5 0 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

It has to be said. Stack'm up: Graham Greene, Eric Newby, Jan Morris, Colin Thubron, even Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson in one corner; Mark Twain, Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson, uh John Steinbeck (considering this week marks the 50th anniversary of his 'Travels with Charley' trip), maybe Elizabeth Gilbert in the other? The English, the former group, will win every time -- at travel writing.

What can the Americans do to catch up?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why We Travel (Flashcard Version)

As co-host of the TBEX NYC event tonight, I debuted a theory: all trips can be broken down into one or more of six primary reasons why we travel. Making up, like primary colors, all blends of trips we take. A periodic table of travel elements.

Here they are, in portable flashcard version:

We travel to communicate. Uncle Sedgwick moved to Oregon? Go see him.

Like relaxing with bad TV, we sometimes travel to veg out -- on a beach, in a forest, on a mountain. To forget the muck of ennui our lives have become. Or a job. Or a relationship. Or a college football score.

We travel to 'tick off' a bucket list of dream places, experiences around the world. Like the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal or St Louis' Gateway Arch.

A natural partner in 'ticj-off' travelers is showing off. That comes when we pick up experiences solely for talking points to bore friends and family members when we get back. Eg 'Dessert? Did you just say dessert? Reminds me of the Sahara -- I went on a camel safari there in '98...'

[Note: Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods actually stole -- with permission -- this 'Show-Off' flashcard at TBEX.]

The flip-side of showing off is what we personally absorb when traveling -- when we travel to learn. Of different cultures, languages, biting habits of strange gray dogs.

But food is biggest, for many -- and often for me. I sometimes call those monuments, museums, markets and parks we visit on trips as the 'space between meals.' Often, it's the food that anchors the trip. Even when the pizza comes with ketchup applied in fat dollops.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Football is back!

College football is back, baseball and summer are fading -- isn't life great? To celebrate, here's a 2007 video demonstration of America's best sport

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rush's Toronto (Under Construction)

Just back from GoMedia, a Canadian tourism conference in Toronto. I squeaked out a little free time to follow Rush -- the bronze medal winner in total gold and platinum records (after the Beatles and Stones), though completely snubbed by the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, which found a place for the Hollies.

More to come, but meanwhile, please enjoy a still of my serious conversation with Dave Glover, aka 'the kid in the Subdivisions video,' along with the 'high school halls' of L'Amoreaux Collegiate Institute, where the video was shot in 1982.

I am delighted by travel.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'What is a Travel Animal?'

Episode #041
F E A T U R I N G * 7 9 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Animals are going berserk of late: whales jumping, like Simon Le Bon, aboard private yachts in South Africa; bears hijacking Toyotas and ramming them into trees. Are they protesting our travel? Or just trying to tag along?

I've tried to promote 'travel animals' before -- such as the walrus, the pig and the prairie dog. But the notion has changed for me. It's time to refocus toward animals who travel, not just animals to look at.

Some will liken the best 'travel animal' to those who travel the longest distances, like the arctic tern which travels the equivalent of three trips to the moon over its life. But distances, just like ticked-box countries visited, doesn't equate to travel value. Instead, I'm looking for are animals that combine relaxation, fun with curiosity and escape.

We have one suggestion. Do you have any candidates?

If bored, visit the full 76-Second Travel Show archive.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Avoid the One-Pillar Pagoda

It's fun debating friendliest, prettiest, ugliest place in this world of travel. But some negative superlatives can strike me as particularly careless or hollow -- particularly when based on a quick, solitary visit.

It's what I call the 'one-pillar pagoda.'

No opinions should be built on the back of a lone observation or experience. But often they are. I can't say the number of times I've heard swipes at Vietnam -- 'greedy loud locals ripping off tourists' -- from visitors who stuck with the deeply rutted backpacker trail from cafe to cafe, travel agent to travel agent. Go a block or two in any direction -- away from the fly-paper tout zones of banana pancakes and Internet cafes -- it's another story.


I fight this urge to demean or overly sell a place all the time. In fact, one of the key things I've learned from updating a couple dozen Lonely Planet guidebooks has been to NOT trust yourself. At least not always. Particular giddiness or fortune in meeting/knowing locals that connect you to a place, or the presence of an untimely headache can greatly alter how one sees -- and talks of -- a destination for years to come.

This same principle, of course, works in life too. One-pillar structures exist (like the Hanoi pagoda above), but there's a reason most buildings are built on at least four supports.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to Fly Right

A few years ago, on a flight from Magadan to Vladivostok, Russia, a couple thin, well-dressed Russians in suits looked across the aisle to me, one shook a vodka bottle and asked 'you drink with us' -- no question mark intended.

After a few shots on the flight, we landed and I watched the two exit first and proceed to immigration, where they turned on their heels and began checking documentation. After clearing me, a trio with vodka breath, they offered me a ride into town in their SUV.

Never know who you'll meet on planes.

It was a rather different story for the ex-JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who is getting his fair share of high-fives around the travel community for sliding into airline history.

Here's my take on how NOT to enrage your flight attendant for today.

The photo above is of a cargo plane that wrecked in Manitoba; no one was killed.

Monday, August 2, 2010

76-Second Travel Show's Greatest Hits

It's self-indulgent and unnecessary, but to commemorate the first 40 episodes of the '76-Second Travel Show,' I'm doing it anyway: 76-Second Travel Show's Greatest Hits.

Manhattan Bridge's 100th Birthday

I'm still steamed that the city celebrated the centennial of this iconic, overlooked bridge two months ahead of time because, essentially, the weather's better. (Some videomakers didn't mind.) The 76 had other ideas -- going deep into the New Year's Eve snow, and commissioning an original song, to celebrate the bridge ON ITS ACTUAL BIRTHDAY. Because that's just the sort of birthday befitting a bridge like the Manhattan. And yes, we did clean up all that confetti.

Love for Cold Travel

I've long last track of how many 'unreasonable' days -- or sightings of pants-staining butt sweat on subways -- we've had to endure this summer in New York. All I know is that winter is way underrated as a time to travel (or explore your own home). Media-wise in this ep, we were able to get in hand-drawn signs, telephone calls, a couple interviews and random Bulgarian footage in this one.


Is San Francisco Better than NYC?

By far the most controversial (and viewed -- with over 10,000 clicks), this episode's simple question sent San Franciscans and New Yorkers onto the defense. One recent YouTube commenter lashed out, 'Is this guy for real?' Actually the SF/NY question remains is open-ended, never answered. There really is no 'better' in travel. And the video never claims it.

Chester Arthur's Pants

It didn't do well -- a trifle of exposure compared with some -- but the 13-second reenactment of 'the Shooting of an Ohioan President' remains my personal favorite moment in all 40 episodes (or any aspect of my career). AND, I think, the fun fact that you can order Lebanese sandwiches in Chester Arthur's former bedrooms (and that he had a pants fetish) is worth the price of admission. (No, I'm NOT the presidential assassin; that was handled by John M Whitaker.)

Billy Joel's Long Island

It willfully defies the 76-second limit by the longest shot imaginable -- it's nearly 7.6 minutes -- but following Billy Joel's lyrics across mid-way Long Island, with a fun group of contest winners including BrooklynNomad, led to meeting some unforgettable characters and meeting Julie Chang of Fox 5 NYC. More importantly, I'll never hear 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant' quite the same way again.

Vikings vs Pirates

Hollywood refuses to ask a key hypothetical question of our past -- who'd win in a fight, Vikings or pirates? -- travel, once again, comes to the rescue with Viking/pirate sites chipping in.

Goes to Sesame Street

I first learned of 'uptown' and 'brownstones' on Sesame Street. Finally I got to visit the source. And to quote Ciccone Youth, it felt like seeing New York for the first time.


$10 Luge Lessons

Anticipating an mass mockery of luge during the Olympics -- and a few days before the tragic death of one luger in warm-ups -- I went Ponce de Leon on a question NBC's exhaustive Olympic coverage over the decades never bothered to ask: where can you luge? Turns out Michigan rules the day. And, at ten bucks, the best travel deal outside of DC's free museums. So 76 HQ is happy. (Though we're all still waiting an answer regarding Apolo Ono's inexcusable 'soul stripe.')

Is Marco Polo overrated?

In the very first episode, the 76 template was conceptualized/focus-grouped/shot/edited/released in about 25 elapsed minutes, including artwork of the signs. Really don't want to confess how long the Billy Joel one took.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'The Real Orlando'

Episode #040
F E A T U R I N G * 6 0 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

I met up with a number of travel insiders recently and Orlando came up. 'Awful city.' 'Hate that place.' And around the circle went a chorus of dismissive nods of approval.

It's an easy reaction to a place famed for amusement parks (and I've shared it at times), but travel usually knows better. And when I went last month -- to attend the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- I stayed in town, and carved out time to see the city, and ask locals what the 'real Orlando' is. People like Bob Kealing, who wrote 'Kerouac in Florida,' about the beat writer's surprising connection with the Sunshine State. (Read Thomas Swick's excellent take on Kerouac's Orlando.)

And I liked it. A lot actually.


* 'Little Saigon' (or ViMi) around Mills and Colonial has excellent cheap Vietnamese restaurants -- as good as any I've had outside Vietnam.
* The 'naive art' of Earl Cunningham at the Mennello Museum, who painted scenes to scale of his interest (houses and people usually very small, birds very very BIG).
* The wee 'Milk District' at Robinson and Bumby has a handful of bars/eateries (great beer selection at the Social Chameleon) in the shadow of a milk processing plant.

Oh, and the Simpsons ride at Universal -- the best of all time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Robert meets Robert Verdi

Yesterday I met with Robert Verdi, fashion/jewelry expert of the Robert Verdi Show, to talk travel and travel fashion (I lost the nerve to bring in some of my regrettable Wrights Brothers-esque travel pants) as well as the Professor on Gilligan's Island and Robert's Travel Twitter party 7-8pm Thursday (EST) -- you can follow it at #rvtips on Twitter.

Monday, July 19, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'How to be a Reenactor'

Episode #039
F E A T U R I N G * 7 2 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Last year, I traveled to Gettysburg to answer the immortal question: how do reenactors decide who dies first, in what order, during mock battles? I never really got a straight answer. And the 2009 version of the battle -- Gettysburg's legendary Pickett's Charge -- led to zero Confederate fatalities, unlike the real event which was a slaughter leading to bloodied gray uniforms. But I liked the reenactors. They meant what they did, were happy to share their world of wool uniforms on 100-degree days, and share why they did it.

This year I wanted more. And got 'INTO' the role, and see how it feels on the INSIDE of the world of reenactments. Well, a little.

Every July 8, Philadelphia quietly holds an annual reading of the Declaration of Independence at Independence National Historic Park with a couple dozen reenactors taunting and celebrating the document. And they were kind enough to sit aside some buckled shoes, knee pants and tri-cornered hat for me to wear. And, at a last-second debriefing of that reenactment plan, a ponytailed ranger asked for 'Loyalist' volunteers, and I naturally raised my hand.

It was fun. Yelling 'traitor!' and 'hang him!' before the Independence Hall. But it wasn't easy. Nerves swelled walking into the mass, where visitors quickly learned I supported the king, and let me know their disapproval, and with it the realization I don't know the history of the time as well as I should.

I asked why they did it, and one reenactor -- a ranger by day -- told me, 'Each year we have people say they didn't know that some people were against independence. That's pretty much the answer.'

Thanks to the park and Steven Edenbo, aka 'Thomas Jefferson.'

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Eight Songs You Shouldn't Like (But You Do) -- Part One

Some songs are better than others, and some are just off. But specks of golden nugget shine from these piles too. To find what I mean, throw out the music with any ironic or pure nostalgic appeal -- Poison, Britney Spears, "Material Girl," "We are the World," Cyndi Lauper -- and sift through those musicians that tend to take themselves a bit to seriously, put a little too much spice in their mustard. They aim for Dylan, but end up a bit south of Joel. And I love them for it.

If you read this list, and say, 'hey that's actually really good.' Well, yeah, you're right. But know that you/we are are bonehead wrong too. Because we shouldn't like them.

Don Henley, "The Heart of the Matter."
There is no songwriter in the history of music that is harder to blare on your car speakers at intersections than Donald Henley. Look, he's good (and don't pretend you don't like "Desperado," plus his worst is much better than that Eagle dufus Glen Frey), but he's too uppity and chumpity to take too seriously. Plus he drums. This song -- from "End of the Innocence," an album where he actually stooped to collaborate with Bruce Hornsby -- is deceptively good, with a tolerable bridge (the '80s were hell on bridges). And I like how you never know who cheated on who, and how he says "I think it's about forgiveness," but not sure.

Oasis, anything Oasis.
I once dared a friend to walk down St Marks Place in the East Village with an Oasis shirt on. He didn't do it. And I don't blame him. Oasis are kings of songs you shouldn't like, but you do -- and yes, you do like them. The reason? Because Oasis are very very good. And the more they try to be serious, the more delirious the guilt is. Plus their haircuts are cute.

David Gray, "The Other Side."
David really really wants to be taken seriously; he has that little head bob when emotion gets the better of him, as his fingertips pepper the piano keys in his aim to heart-break a sad-eyed lass of the Midlands. But that head-bob, seriously, I have to look the other way every time he does it. But dammit, the guy's good. This song is as embarrassing as any song I've heard over 10 times, willingly. And I'm charmed by the tenacity (couldn't quite say "specious") of the line "love is a raven when it flies." Um, no David, it's not.

Jefferson Starship, "Find Your Way Back."
The Bay Area is a hotbed of musical mediocrity. I don't care about Metallica and CCR -- or rather not enough to change my mind -- but it cannot make up for a city built on rock'n'roll, Huey Lewis' sax solos, the kneel-down cries of "you're motoring!" at the end of "Sister Christian" or anything Steve Miller. But this -- sung with a dandy of a moustached singer -- is just good. The 12-string acoustics, the Ramones-like chorus progression freckled with unnecessary organ. Listen in during the second verse for that tacked-on, scaled-down segway ("you got no place to be/still you wonder where you're going") with all sorts of bearded NoCal bandmates chipping in on the vocals. Well done Jeff Star.

Stevie Nicks & Don Henley, "Leather & Lace."
Henley, I'm telling you -- he just crumples all he touches. This little tender one from 1981 doesn't seem to get the airplay it once did. Expect a revival soon. But you shouldn't like it for a very clear reason: the image of Stevie letting her lace down, with Don -- bearded, hairy Texan Don -- leaning in towards her, covered in LEATHER (!?), then giving that long, meaningful pause in his second verse after he sings "and sometimes I cry..." He lets that hang for a while. Giving you the chance to just imagine him -- a serious Texan -- putting his hand down on his leather chaps and looking up to reflect, with mirrored tearways equally running across both of his bearded cheeks. Don, and I mean this, thank you.

Collective Soul, "December."
Oh, this one hurts. There has never been a bigger group of posers than Stockbridge, Georgia's C-Soul. For proof, just listen to their first big song "Shine," and how Ed Roland -- apparently in all seriousness -- pops in that affected "yeah" at each pause of the inevitable testicular riff (children, don't do what I've done). But "December." Despite the break into occasional palm-to-forehead-slapping Eddie Vedderish growls, easier-going "December" bubbles with violins, Byrds-y guitars with nice guitar crescendos and air-conditioned backing vocals layered on top of the building outro. OK Roland, you win.

Elton John, "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues."
Elton, you had me as soon as you had that overly earnest, possibly English-as-a-second-language backing chorus echoing you at the end with overly enunciated lines "laugh-ing like chil-dren, livv-ing like luvv-errrs." Not to mention that fake Stevie Wonder harmonica solo. Rule: Never do that. But Elton did, and in the end some songs are better without rules.

Ringo Starr & the All-Star Band, "Love Me Do."
This is very simply the best song of all time -- and I sort of mean it. Adding an extra minute to a song he never sang for a 1998 VH1 special, Ringo and his cast of almost-huge bandmates (including Jack Blades of Night Ranger) try to fill every possible gap, with oversung vocals, 'oh yeahs,' and guitar trills that had no part, with reason, in the original. It's overstuffed with effort, and love, and for some reason it absolutely works. Perhaps just because Ringo makes everything happy. Actually I DO play this loud at intersections.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: "Potter versus Potter"

Episode #038
F E A T U R I N G * 8 5 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Andrew Potter calls travel the 'quest for difference,' and that the more different the better. Sure about that? I think it comes a lot closer to home that too. And his case that searching for authenticity is a 'hoax,' which comes as a 'betrayal and sin' against humanity and modernity, comes a little thinly argued -- to me. At least once he moves from art and marketing to travel.

I decided to put his Authenticity Hoax to the test versus another Potter: Harry. At the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.

In the end, I'm not sure who won, but I had fun -- particularly mixing with people whose ongoing search comes with shrieks, delirium, personal financial sacrifice and a joy that rubs off.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why You Should Still Go the Gulf Coast

A week after my research trip to Florida's Gulf Coast -- driving between Pensacola and Panama City -- oil has finally splashed on the same beaches. But I still think visitors should go the region, as I explained in this blog entry for the Huffington Post.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Harry Potter Opens in Orlando

The complete opposite of being at the Florida Gulf Coast? That'd be the opening of the Universal Studio's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Unreal. Standing a few feet from the cast, seeing teens in school uniforms squeal Ed Sullivan Show-like, and trying to drink the 'butterbeer.' Here's my take on opening day for Lonely Planet. And a few photos. Video to come...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'Gulf Coast Tribute'

Episode #037

I will not forget my few days in the Florida Gulf Coast anytime soon. Most valuable lesson learned from locals: see it while you can.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup opener in Brooklyn & Queens

Work is no excuse for missing a key World Cup game, like the opening game in the first-ever World Cup in Africa. I split the game in two locales: spending the first half in Brooklyn's South African restaurant Madiba in Fort Greene -- a raucous, butt-bumping, shoulder-scraping SRO scene -- then the second Sunnyside, Queens' inviting Haab Mexican Cafe, where things were already tensers as I walked in a minute after South Africa took a (surprising) 1-0 lead. Things got looser after Mexican tied it up.

Monday, June 7, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'America's best beach'

Episode #036
F E A T U R I N G * 4 2 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Dr Beach, aka Stephen Leatherman, has picked America's best beach for 20 years, based on all sorts of factors like sand condition, temperature and whether you can smoke on it or not. Over the years Hawaii has dominated like a German bobsled team, taking the honors 12 times. Florida has six gold medals, North Carolina one and (this year) New York one, as Coopers Beach in Southampton* took the honors.

It's worth pointing out what this means.

Sorry Brian Wilson, but New York is a better beach destination than California. It's also better than more commonly considered beach destinations like Texas, Oregon, New Jersey, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Alabama.

I went to Southampton a few days ago to talk with year-rounders about the effect of the news ('surprise!' was a word I heard a lot, even the mayor said so). But one guy -- my favorite -- was not moved by it all. In fact he was disgusted.

Sitting on a giant chopper in the center of Southampton Village, outside Dunkerley's stationery store (travel rule: never go past a stationery store without stepping in), on Main Street between (Ted) Nugent Street and (Mick) Jagger Lane, he had the single most-impressive Viking helmet of all time. Triumphant horns -- closer to tusks -- shot out either side, and a swoop of plastered-on Mohawk hair ran between. And his dog -- a sweet collie with a Jimmy Buffet bandana on -- was in the bike's back basket.

I asked him about Coopers Beach being America's best. 'You kidding? I'm from Montauk. Come to Montauk and I'll show you real beaches.' I told him I believed he would. 'Really, come out there and we'll BS awhile.'

I'm guessing it won't be hard to find him.

* That's right Coopers, not Cooper's. No one seems to know when the apostrophe dropped. Fewer care. The Cooper in question is John, an original settler from 1640 -- and the guy who ran the lone tavern, fish-drying and whaling business. Quite a Cooper, that one.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'How to get Lost'

Episode #035
F E A T U R I N G * 1 8 7 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

That TV show 'Lost' is over. Thank goodness.

Here's my take for Lonely Planet.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'Billy Joel's Long Island'

Episode #034
S P E C I A L * 7 . 6 - M I N U T E * V E R S I O N

One of these days we'll all go through a Billy Joel renaissance -- making amends for the delay as a 'Joelky' and pour with fervor through his catalog to find the nuggets that didn't reach MTV, like 'Vienna' or 'Laura' -- then debate whether the Innocent Man record is even listenable? (It is.)

The problem with Billy's legacy is that he's a bit of a 'shlubby guy' -- he said so himself at one of his two 'last night' shows at Shea Stadium. It doesn't necessarily help that he touts a working-class area New York City likes to make fun of -- Long Island, or 'guyland.' And unlike Bruce Springsteen, who successfully translates the wastelands of Jersey -- a catapult shot over the Big Apple -- into the enduring hearts of rock fans, Billy's never been cool. And he never will be.

But that, as Chuck Klosterman writes in Sex, Drugs & Coco Puffs, never meant he wasn't great.

I'm naturally inclined to the overlooked places in travel, and Long Island's heartland (on/off the Long Island Expressway, in neither here-nor-there towns like Hicksville where Joel was raised) strikes me as something of 'New York's Kansas.'

Also, Joel seems like he kinda deserves a break too.

So the SSSTS staged a Billy Joel roadtrip contest, and three Brooklyn-based winners -- Sherry Wasserman, Andrew Hickey (aka BrooklynNomad) and Matt Watt -- shrugged off the B-Jo critics to join me on Billy Joel's 61st Birthday Eve.

But where to go? Simple, just follow the ultimate Long Island guidebook: Billy's songs.

As part of the exercise, we ranked each of the stops on a zero to five 'fires' system. The results, shown above, show a deep valley in places with no local interaction (eg 'Miracle Mile') while it peaks in places like Hicksville home to many Joel-linked characters. Says something about what sorts of 'travel' works best.

Now, 'Billy Joel travel' -- ie, with devoted 'Joelkies' hanging out in suburban streets of middle Long Island -- may not transform the travel landscape for good, but having done a Joel trip now, I can attest that I'll never hear 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant' the same way again.

Billy's high school, where he finally got his diploma in 1992.

Is Syosset's Christiano's the 'Italian Restaurant' from 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant'? Many say it is. In the June 1977 concert in the bonus CD of the 30th anniversary edition of The Stranger, Billy dedicates the song to Christiano's. Though some say, including David Fricke in that album's liner notes! -- that it's based on the now-closed Fontana di Trevi in Manhattan. You decide, but my vote is with Christiano's.

Billy's former neighbor Bob Hess tells us Billy's home (shown above) used to be red.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tribute: Ronnie James Dio on Travel

During my first crossing of Siberia, in 2005, I was smitten by the kindness of Russians on trains, the beauty of Lake Baikal and Kamchatka and -- even more so -- the flood of 'Dio' posters plastered on street signs in places like Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk. It left me to wonder, maybe heavy metal didn't die when Kurt Cobain donned his flannel -- maybe it just moved to Eastern Europe?

Turns out, Ronnie James Dio -- who died Sunday from cancer -- was beginning his 2005 tour in, of all places, Khabarovsk's Theater of Musical Comedy (above), a five-plus day train ride east of Moscow. I was blogging about my trip for Lonely Planet and just had to ask about this, and talk with the man who invented the heavy-metal 'devil horns' salute about travel in general.

After relentless efforts, he agreed.

In tribute to Dio, here's his take on travel, grunge and that famous salute, from my interview in 2005.

RR: How do Russians 'rock' in comparison with fans in other countries -- say Belgium or Canada?

DIO: Russian rock fans are like good rock fans everywhere. They're loyal, knowledgeable, and they live for the music. We found them to be great in every way.

RR: Do you travel much?

DIO: I travel enough while touring so I don't need anymore. Home is a very welcome sight.

RR: If you got a couple tickets and a week or two to go anywhere you haven't been, where would you go?

DIO: I'd go where ever they don't have phones, so I guess it would be some where in the wilderness, if there's any left.

[Note: The Far East of Russia is a very good place to look for it.]

RR: Some might say that 1991 was a bad year for communism and heavy metal. The USSR collapsed, and Nirvana brought on a decade of grunge and flannel shirts. Is the 1990s something the heavy-metal world would like to forget?

DIO: I think if you forget about the bad things in your past you can never correct them, because music and life travel in cycles and it just wasn't our time any more. A new generation of fans wanted their music, and not their brother's or sister's songs or bands, so they embraced Grunge because they could make what they heard and liked their own. Luckily metal never went away and now enjoys somewhat of a renaissance.

RR: And how is the state of heavy metal in 2005?

DIO: Metal in 2005 is thriving, as judged by the huge turnouts at festivals, and can actually be heard on the radio again. It looks good.

RR: The new tour starts at the Theatre of Musical Comedy in Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East. The Theatre of Musical-Comedy? Is there something we don't know about this tour?

DIO: I guess it means our drummer Simon, is going to rehearse his stand up comedy act in Khabarovsk, but the band will still play the show!

RR: I listened to some of your first and last solo albums recently and am impressed at how much you've stayed with the same type of music (ie no duets with Phil Collins) -- dark, hard, fast, titles like 'Dream Evil,' 'Evilution' and 'God Hates Heavy Metal.' Why so dark all the time?

DIO: Dark themes are generally about things we can never see, so you must use your imagination. After all, who has ever seen a dragon. They are also a great match to the heavy, almost always minor keys that we write around, and who wants to talk about love and relationships when you have these dark vehicles to use.

RR: What's the most surprising CD in your collection?

DIO: Sergio Mendes' 'Equinox' and 'Brazil 66.'

RR: One of your more recent albums is 'Killing the Dragon.' Is the dragon anyone we know?

DIO: The dragon represents bad government, brutal rulers, and technology. Bad governments and harsh rulers speak for themselves, and if we let technology get out of control, we may end up controlled by it.

RR: Many of your photos shows you giving 'the sign' -- pinky and forefringer raised, middle fingers curled under your thumb. Is that really a 'devil sign' or what?

DIO: The "sign" is a superstitious symbol used by many older cultures. It's meant to intercept the evil-eye and other curses, and what better place to use it than at a metal show?

--> If you haven't heard Ronnie, 'Rainbow in the Dark' from Holy Diver (1983) is a famed solo single. 'Man on the Silver Mountain' from Rainbow's first album (1975) is another enduring song.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Why I'm not speaking with Cleveland's Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame

I'm not on speaking terms with Cleveland's Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame -- that is, not until the greatest Canadian three-piece prog-rock band RUSH gets inducted.

Any place that takes rock seriously -- and presents fame badges to the likes of a Seger, Hollies and Jackson Browne -- needs to stop what they're doing and watch this:

Seriously, if thousands of model-looking 20-year-olds in RIO can be moved by dorky aged Canadians playing unrhythmic songs about black holes, space ships, Toronto's airport and Ayn Rand -- never mind how many millions of people who've bought tickets to Rush shows -- they probably deserve a slot in the lakeside museum.

That said, I think LeBron needs to stay in Cleveland. Only a champ makes a champ out of his home-town's eternally losing sports teams. And the Knicks simply don't deserve him. I posted my eight main reasons LeBron should keep his Cleveland Cavalier uniform on Lonely Planet.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'Airline Logo Awards'

Episode #033
F E A T U R I N G * 4 6 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

There are two reasons why I've been bit by the travel bug most of my life:
  • my dad buying me a sun idol outside the 1st-century pyramid at Teotihuacán outside Mexico City at five years old, and
  • looking out over the pastel-colored Braniff jets at the rainy Dallas/Ft Worth Airport on the way there. And dreaming.
Airports birth many travel dreams. Looking out over runways and seeing exciting, artful planes named for far-off countries you hadn't heard of before. Some with funny logos. Others starting with 'Q' and featuring winged kangaroos. Certainly as a kid, I loved any chance to be at airports -- to me, diesel fuel in the morning smelled like victory. But mostly I loved Braniff.

It was the jet that took us most places in those early days -- trips to San Diego, to Mexico, to San Antonio, to Chicago. And it was the first jet to get serious with colors in its 'end of the plain plane' movement that led to sculptor Alexander Calder's imaginative designs for Braniff tails and fuselages in the mid '70s. Airplanes as art.

Braniff, it should be noted, originally began in the Oklahoma oil boom in 1928 as the 'TULSA-OKLAHOMA CITY AIRWAYS,' one of the great airline names of all time. It'd evolve, then it'd collapse by 1982 -- shortly after J.R. Ewing got shot on the TV show Dallas.

Considering that United/Continental -- curiously -- will be known as 'United' from 2011, but look 'Continental,' I thought it was time to tribute the best of airline logos, particularly Braniff's love of art.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: "The SSSTS Testament"

Episode #032
F E A T U R I N G * 2 1 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Letters pouring into the (new) Long Island City, Queens, HQ of the SSSTS have indicated some concern that the show is veering 'off course,' that subjects like Vikings, beards, mis-celebrated birthdays, Billy Joel don't 'gel' with the notion of travel confined to museums, bus tours, parks and lake-side villas.

The SSSTS disagrees.

Thus we introduce the SSSTS Testament: to reach for truth (in travel).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'Hobo Packing Tips'

Episode #031
F E A T U R I N G * 5 7 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Did you know hoboes meet every August at a National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa and vote on a hobo king and queen? Some call this 'fauxbo' -- for more hobo outsiders than the real deal. For that you'll still find folks riding the rails on/off the Burlington line -- and at hobo gatherings like the one recently in Amory, Mississippi.

I had the pleasure of traveling with Kim Mance and Courtney McGann of to Amory (to shoot an upcoming episode that I'm honored to be a part of). We met with hoboes like Stretch, who has been on the road for 27 straight years. And we learned how to pack like a hobo, why hobo travel beats taking the 'blue highways' across the country, and how one local even won Rush tickets in Atlanta by covering himself in cake and being licked.

We also learned how to survive in a dry county: just follow the hoboes, pack in your own liquor.

(More on hoboes to come...)

Some trips are more memorable than others.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'Billy Joel Winners'

Episode #030

The love we're seeing at the SSSTS studios regarding the emerging notion of 'Billy Joel Travel' has been astounding. And pleasing. But only three winners could be chosen for the first-ever 76-Second Travel Show Road Trip, on Joel's 61st birthday -- Sunday May 9.

And those winners are 'Rutila,' 'Brooklyn' and 'Matt.' I seriously hope you can do this. We'll be back before dark.

Email reidontravel[at]gmail[dot] com for details.

Trip in brief:

* we'll get a Cold Spring Harbor breakfast
* track down the 'village green' Billy sings of
* see the 'Miracle Mile' from 'It's Still Rock'n'Roll to Me'
* maybe see a Billy Joel car-wreck site
* see if we can find someone Billy Joel beat up (he boxed) or other Billy Joel experts
* AND grab either a bottle of red or white at the restaurant which MIGHT be the 'Italian Restaurant' from 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.'

Meanwhile, check back for more Billy Joel Travel updates, including a road video and theme song 'We Didn't Invent Travel.'