Tuesday, February 23, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'Here Come the Siberians'

Episode #023
F E A T U R I N G * 3 2 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Some of the reasons why virtual travel, while a nice aid, will never replace the non-virtual version. Recorded during my Siberian trips of 2005 and 2008 while updating Lonely Planet's Trans-Siberian Railway guide.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Non-Virtual Trans-Siberian

Did you hear you can 'ride' the Trans-Siberian Railway on Google? Last year a team spent 30 days on the six-day ride from Moscow to Vladivostok to roll a camera, during daylight, at a (sometimes maddening 25-degree angle) out the north-side window. Seven time zones worth.

I wrote on Lonely Plant that it missed the real highlight: what happens on the train.

But I'm not immune to the cubicle-locked past-times that sometimes lead to web browsable travels. A few months ago, I followed Google's street-view around Columbus, Ohio, and caught the Google photographer getting a Big Mac.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Meet the Cast of "The 12-Second Reenactment of the Shooting of James A. Garfield, Ohioan President"

Due to repeat questions -- two and counting -- we deemed it necessary to alert 76-Second Travel Show viewers that Charles Guiteau in the 22nd episode of SSSTS was not played by Robert Reid, but John Whitaker.

Here is the cast:

as 'The Ohioan President' (James A Garfield)

as Charles Guiteau

as Garfield's friend

as Garfield's admirer

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: "Chester A. Arthur Sandwich, The"

Episode #022
F E A T U R I N G * 4 5 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

I spent President's Day thinking about two presidents: Theodore Roosevelt, the only pres born in Manhattan, and Chester A Arthur, the only one where you can buy a Lebanese sandwich in his old bedroom. Plus Arthur had great chops. Plus he wore five pairs of pants a day. Plus he pronounced his middle name 'Alan' as 'alAN,' French-style.

On Monday, I visited his old home, at 123 Lexington Ave in New York City, and requested a particular-type of sandwich. One that brings all these Arthur components together.

Warning: this video features two simulated gunshots, some blood, and the acting debuts of John Whitaker (as Charles Guiteau) and Eric Davison (as James Garfield).

Friday, February 12, 2010

Best President's Day Ever

Lost between the Olympics, Chinese New Year, post-Super Bowl delirium and New Orleans' Mardi Gras, it's President's Day on Monday. I came up with 50 suggestions for presidential attractions, state by state, for Lonely Planet.

But here's three more key things to do on Monday.

Narrowly edging out Lincoln’s beard, and William Howard Taft’s peppery swoop of a 'stache (the last pres with facial hair), Chester A Arthur had the best facial hair of any US president. In a landslide.

This year, replicate it, by picking up a chop and adding a moustache. Caufield’s sells the chops – curiously called ‘60s sideburns’ – for US$8.49.

Speaking of facial hair, from Lincoln to Taft, only two presidents of the 11 went bare-faced – and didn’t fare well. Andrew Johnson, the VP who assumed presidency after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, was impeached; William McKinley was gunned down by a crazed Polish-Belarussian American (barefaced) anarchist.

Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George HW Bush, Ronald Reagan – every president since 1980 except W – were left-handed.


Last year was Poe’s 200th birthday and Richmond, home to one of a few competing Poe sites, recreated – curiously – his death. Wonderful. Let’s repeat it for the last Whig president, Millard Fillmore, an elected VP who became president when Zachary Taylor died in 1850. Here's how: Spend Monday in bed, having soup and uttering, nearly breathlessly, Millard’s last words: ‘the nourishment is palatable.’ He died at 11:10pm, March 8, 1874 if you’re curious.

Moving on, in non-presidential news, I took a stab at making an 'Oklahoma world map' for my favorite Oklahoma blog yesterday. It was fun.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: "$10 Luge Lessons"

Episode #021
F E A T U R I N G * 5 9 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Luge. A common standby for a quick Olympic joke -- along with Tanya Harding's faulty skate. The most most of us know about the fast-moving sport is that, in the good ol' days, the East Germans ruled it, and Dr Evil studied it in his childhood.

The Winter Olympics are back, and once again we'll see luge in brief snippets, amidst heavy doses of well-syruped tales of non-luge athletes' overcoming the death of an uncle or pet badger to compete in British Columbia.

But want I want to see more of is the luge. And its history. Its controversial history.

Some link 'luge' with a French word, others Latin -- some say it evolved from "sled," via "sledge" and "ledge." Some say the Vikings created it. Others, mostly quoting Wikipedia, but also the Daily Mail, say Caspar Badrutt did. This enviably named Swiss hotelier of the Victorian age apparently tried to keep wealthy Brits around when the Alps snows came. The first sled tracks were down St Mortiz's main street, and they finally built a proper track when too many horses and pedestrians were knocked off their feet by out-of-control lugers.

I contacted the Kulm Hotel, however, and learned that it wasn't Caspar behind the madness (click on PDF at bottom), but his father, JOHANNES CASPAR BADRUTT, who incidentally was not at all pleased when little Caspar started up a rival hotel in town.

You want to luge?

Olympic tracks, either charge a bundle or have minimal access to luge tracks (bobsleds are apparently less destructive than a luge sled going 80mph). Winterberg in Germany is about 78 euro, St Moritz Tobogganning Club (which turns 125 this week) is about US$560 for five runs, Lake Placid allows a try on Christmas only, and Park City, Utah's Wasatch Luge's infrequent beginner courses are already sold out for the season.

USA Luge, which makes the body-forming sleds you see at the Olympics (about $5000 a pop), tours a couple ski resorts a year to introduce luge. Next up: Patterson, New York, on February 27-28.

The luge secret? It's Michigan.

You can luge at Muskegon. But best is the natural track used by the Upper Peninsula Luge Club, which gets you a sled, some instruction and 15 or so runs a day. For $10! (Plus an annual membership fee for $25 extra.)

UPLC founder Fred Anderson (left), who helps beginners learn to luge ("that our point"), still remembers one of his first runs back in 1985. "I really got the groove coming down the track -- I could just feel it, the luge, the ice, the curves."

I'd like to feel that. And, at $10, it sounds like the best travel deal of all time.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why 76?

The New York Times City Room blogger J David Goodman flattered me yesterday by describing the latest 76-Second Travel Show episode as an example of how one should occasionally "treat one's own city as a tourist might."

I always feel that way. For the Nile Guide travel site last week, I made a similar sentiment when answering what is the most underrated destination I've been: "Hole, particularly after a trip." That's when the Curiosity Radar is still on overdrive and you notice the little things (street sign fonts, subway ads, roofs) that make your home special.

Goodman went on to question why a "76-Second" show often breaks the 76-second mark (linking the 3:11 length of Tuesday's show on Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy it to NYC's complaint line, or a Biblical verse -- it tickled me).

But, fair enough, why 76?

We at the SSSTS picked "76," a fairly American number, for its suggested brevity to question topics found at the borders between travel and regular life. Most people don't have time or inclination to watch even 10-minute videos on Minsk (this 7:39 one might work for some). Though the show frequently breaks the 1:16 mark, we only promise at least 76 quality seconds per episode -- whatever good comes after that mark is just gravy.

Plus sometimes we just need more time.