Wednesday, March 31, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: "Travels on Live TV"

This doesn't happen often: three former Oklahomans and one Ocean State ex-pat sitting together on a stage before a national audience.

Lonely Planet and Self magazine teamed up on a solo women's travel piece recently, and I wrote some tips on beating loneliness on the road, and we were invited onto the Today Show's rowdy fourth hour.

--> See the segment

The whole thing was surreal. When I arrived 90 minutes early, a guard outside 30 Rock thought I was looking for tours -- 'no I'm really a guest' -- and directed me to the wrong building, but I got in fine and ignored the bagels and half-sandwiches in the green room, before being taken down to hair & make-up. My make-up person didn't care for me much. When I was thumbing the phone, she snapped, 'Are we done with that so we can get this over with?' Another woman stepped in to comb my hair. She seemed more committed to her job.

Heading back, I saw Ann Curry pass by in the hall, and I tried to rehearse lines we'd never need. Someone mentioned that Tyler Perry needed Gatorade in his dressing room -- he was on right before us -- then we were led sullenly up some plain gray stairs to the upstairs studio with a kitchen crew in progress for the next segment. 'You're going to be great,' Lindsey (Self's wonderful publicist) told us. A camera guy with a goatee noted that he was going to Tuscany soon. We waited.

Moments after Perry's interview was done, in burst in the unmistakable duo -- Hoda and Kathie Lee -- with big-time 'it's spring!' outfits on. Shook hands. I said to Kathie Lee, 'Hey, I'm from Oklahoma. That means there are three former Okies here...' and she put it together for me: Hoda was born in Norman, she studied in Tulsa, but at different times. 'But I'm older.'

And then it started.

Being on live TV feels like being in a boiling vice. It started off unexpectedly, we scrapped Thailand, dwelled on elephants, and flowed forward at a speed more quickly than practice back home. But it was fun, and seemed to come off fine.

Afterwards, Cristina Tudino (of Self, formerly from Rhode Island) and I walked in a bit of a daze -- 'did that just happen?' -- and talked about everything back in the green room. Then got zoomed off in a private car to our offices.

'Robert, you get car #12.' And I took it.

Some days are less usual than others.

Sorry I couldn't get to a 76-Second Travel Show video this week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Knock Knock Joke of the Week

Knock knock
Who's there, por favor?
Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur who?
Koala lamp, ur, I meant to say polar bear lamp. Um, I gotta go...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is Capitol Art Travel?

For a few moments in my life, I toyed with the idea of going to every US state capitol and asking a capitol employee if they'd sketch the building. After two -- Nevada and California -- I went on to other more worthy travel tasks like counting moustaches, studying Spanish in Guatemala and pretending to speak at the capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky.

But still this capitol sketch–commissioning failed travel quest sticks with me. Particularly for that sunny afternoon in Carson City, America. I stepped into the quiet Nevada capitol and asked a serious guy in a tautly tucked-in security outfit about it.

'We have a lot of work to do here, I can't spend time drawing,' he snapped.

The younger capitol policeman sitting at his chunky elbow was listening. I asked him, 'What about you?'

'Sure, I'll give it a shot.'

Mr A. Rasor retrieved a brochure to model it after and a ruler. And allowed the empty capitol to go unguarded for a full 15 minutes while he drew it. The boss didn't say a word.

I think that counts as travel.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'NYC's African Burial Ground'

Episode #027
F E A T U R I N G * 3 3 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

One of the more fascinating recent New York stories was the discovery in 1991 of the African Burial Ground, a 6.6-acre site between the World Trade Center Site, Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian ramp and Chinatown in Lower Manhattan. During a construction project amidst the scramble of federal buildings just northeast of city hall, the site was found, including 419 graves from the only colonial-era cemetery of up to 15,000 Africans and African descendants.

It's since become a national monument, and a few weeks ago a museum opened at 290 Broadway. It's a small place, but tells a lot, with comparative graphs showing average lifespans of Africans and other colonials and shows many West African motifs, some of which were found in the 419 graves uncovered.

When I visited, I had the chance to talk with a few rangers as well as a visitor from the Central African Republic who couldn't believe she'd ever find something like this in New York.

Seems way overdue to me -- along with the Mall location for the National Museum of African American History & Culture in 2015 in Washington, DC.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Knock-Knock Joke of the Week

Knock knock
Who's dat?
Hou [pronounced 'who']
Hou who?
Houdini, as in Harry. I'm the first bloke to ever fly over Australia, 100 years ago yesterday actually. Certainly help sell tickets to my magic show.

RoT providds weekly knock-knocks intended to entertain and educate.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

7.6-Second Travel Show: "Two Types of Travel Writing"

Episode 26

Due to time restrictions -- involving bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, a van and semi-permanent geographic adjustments -- the 76-Second Travel Show happily offers this abbreviated version: one that disects the two main types of travel writing.

It is SSSTS' concern that the first of the two gets more than its share of coverage.

Monday, March 8, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: 'How to Meet People Flash Cards'

Episode #025
F E A T U R I N G * 2 3 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

Some spring breakers think you have to go to places like Cabo, Padre or Panama City Beach to meet people. With the 76-Second Travel Show's 'How to Meet People' Flash Cards, in this video, you can meet people anywhere.

Also see how one spring break changed my travel life.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spring Break Changes Everything

Spring break, as we know it today, kind of turns 50 this year. In 1960, the surprisingly frank film Where the Boys Are ignited a tourism boom of Fort Lauderdale, which gradually ballooned into a messy drunken sprawl of university students until the city said 'enough' in the mid '80s and forbid alcohol on the beach.

Then the party moved to Panama City Beach in the Florida panhandle.

Most people's idea of spring break -- beer, beach, ballyhoo (and jocks) -- was always about the opposite of my idea of a worthwhile travel experience.

During my senior year in college, I passed on South Padre Island invites from fellow University of Oklahoma students, and spent my memorable spring break on a long road trip through the plains of West Texas. Stopping at the dry town of Lubbock to see Buddy Holly's statue, past Odessa where a cop with crooked teeth and a dizzy look gave me a warning for speeding (despite the Oklahoma license plate!), playing pool at a weird bar in weirder Marfa, and spending a few days at wonderful Big Bend National Park.

Me, and the handful of Okies I coerced into going, began by pouring over the park's campsite map and simultaneously zeroed in on the same one: Mt Nugent. From our Nuge base, we lazily filled the days soaking in hot springs, boating across the Rio Grande to a crappy Mexican pueblo (the border closed after 9/11), and hiking through free-boulder zones that look out of Land of the Lost.

It changed how I saw travel. Every year before that trip, I joined overnight caravans to Colorado ski resorts for my spring break vacation. I've not been on a full-fledged ski trip since.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

76-Second Travel Show: "What Does Travel Teach?"

Episode #024
F E A T U R I N G * 4 5 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

The New York Times Travel Show attracts three types of people: crusty travel vets looking for contacts, casual travelers (some keen for group tour deals) and travelers pulling rolling suitcases to fill with freebies.

In two full days, I met dozens of vendors. I posed at for a Zapata-moustache pic at the Mexico section, where I also grabbed a pink drawstring bag. The three grumpy women at Russia's Intourist Agency set out 'Trans-Siberian' tours, but shrugged in silence when I mentioned I had (co-)written a guidebook to the train ride. (Russia, please regroup on effective ways to attract people to your lovely country.)

Enjoyed many panels too. New Yorker writer Susan Orlean, in a panel of travel writers MC'ed by David Farley, confessed to not being a travel writer, and that she believed in travel 'without preparation.' Sree Sreenivasan, of Columbia University, suggested Facebook's motto is 'if it's not broken, we'll break it.'

That panel, on social media in the tourist industry, ended with a slide show on Germany, where I learned that Germany has 16 federal states but that its list of musical geniuses included Bach and Brahms, but NOT Klaus Meine of the Scorpions!

Every day has its moment -- unless you stay in and write bad poems. Mine came Friday when I lost my favorite pen, a multi-ink-jet dealie that I left by the coffee. After an hour of re-padding my empty pockets, I walked back to the scene and found an employee, Nina. 'Um, I lost a pen -- do you know if anyone saw it?' Her eyes lit up, and she pulled it out (of her sock actually -- Javits Center uniforms have no pockets, I guess). 'You mean this?'

Travel is all about little connections and kindnesses made when you least expect, and if you're lucky, most want them.

Thank you Nina. Thank you Travel.