Monday, June 27, 2011

Fly to Live: Aboard Iron Maiden's Ed Force One

Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson has been flying jets for 10 years. Last week, I joined him on the Iron Maiden plane -- the infamous 'Ed Force One' -- on a flight for Iceland Express from Newark to Reykjavik. (The budget airline is expanding its North American routes, with Iceland-bound flights from Boston, Chicago, Newark and Winnipeg).

Bruce is a great guy, offering me jet views from the cockpit and the Iceland tarmac. He told me flying is a 'huge privilege,' like a 'miracld,' even a 'spiritual' experience when you get to hover over 'the earth's shadow.' That's why he keeps this part-time job, as a CAPTAIN pilot, amidst a summer Iron Maiden tour (after Iceland, he was jetting to Basel via London for a Maiden show -- in different attire, no doubt).

Ed Force One, as seen in the super Maiden documentary Flight 666, is 'a bit of a superstar,' to Dickinson. (Actually it's a bit dated, but fine to fly.)

I had fun watching boarding passengers in the terminal gawk at the plane out the window. 'Ohh, we're getting the Iron Maiden plane!,' I heard one voice, turning to find a 50-something New Jersey mom. 'What's the singer/pilot's name again?' Her daughter coolly answered, 'Bruce something.' I gave them the full name. 'Oh I hope he's flying today!'

He was.

I'll have more of my interview with Bruce soon, but thought I'd share some photos.

Photo: Iceland Horses

Last Thursday began with Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson walking me around the Reykjavik airport tarmac to see 'Ed Force One' (the Iron Maiden plane) from all angles. I then flew to Akureyri -- after an hour walk-around central Reykjavik -- took a car past fjords, snow-capped peaks, fishing streams, water falls to Husavik, to see its penis museum (more later), a whale-watching cruise (puffins galore, a few humpbacks) and then saw these guys: Icelandic horses, all lined up.

Not a bad Thursday.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Flying to Iceland with Bruce Dickinson

Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden (and very funny guy), is flying planes for Iceland Express in his off-season. That's too good to resist. So I'm going on his jet tonight from Newark to Reykjavik. Not a bad place to go for long weekend from US East Coast: links from Newark, Boston & Chicago; it's a shorter flight than NY-LA; and with US$600 fares just a couple days before departure.

So I go, with Bruce Dickinson at the wheel. (Did I make it?)

A bit on Bruce.

Bruce flies a big jet:

Bruce rides a Soviet tank:

Why Bruce is funny:

Bruce fencing on MTV. He once finished 7th in the UK. Guy's serious:

Oh yeah, Bruce singing. Here's 'Flight of Icarus' from the glory days (which are still going on):

Friday, June 17, 2011

NYC's East River Ferry: Free to June 24

This week the East River Ferry has brought back regular ferry service to the 18-mile East River, which is a nice reminder that New York -- down deep, away from skyscraper canyons -- is a river city.

New York was founded not because of the chunky rocks that glaciers pushed to present-day Central Park, but the Hudson and the East Rivers. The first ferry to cross from Brooklyn to Manhattan began in 1642, back when the colony was Dutch. In 1776, George Washington fled with 9500 troops after the disastrous Battle of Brooklyn -- escaping from wig-wearing Brits at night through Manhattan; the war was saved, and all because of the ferry. By 1870, 50 million annual passengers took steamboats across the river. That service ended in the mid 1920s.

Run by NY Waterways, East River Ferry's rides are free through June 24. Afterwards, visitors can buy a day pass for $12, nice considering MTA recently suspended the one-day 'fun pass' for New York subways and buses.

To help plan a day, I put together this planner for some of the main ferry stops for Lonely Planet. Just a $4 ride from Wall Street to Midtown sounds better than the subway too.

I also got to speak on all the new ferry fun at a New York Waterways/East River Ferry event at Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn last night... right after Brooklyn mayor Marty Markowitz.

Hope he's not mad that I said I live/work in Queens.

Monday, June 13, 2011

76-Second Travel Show: 'Who Is Dean Reed?'

Dean Reed, who died 25 years ago today in East Berlin, is my vote for one of the most fascinating people of all time. He outran a mule, picked up a random hitch-hiker with a Capitol Records contact that led to his recording contract, got huge in Uruguay, had dinner dates with Che Guevara, was the first rock star to appear in the USSR, and made movies with Yul Brynner, and eventually one billion people -- per some estimates -- knew who he was. About ten of which were Americans.

For free MP3s, see this German site.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Be a Jourblist

Question: Is "blog" a bad word?

It's certainly used dismissively by beacons of the traditional media world, who frequently see blogs and social media as pesky, Napster-esque flies to the real champions of thought and journalism.

In Evgeny Mozorov's book The Net Delusion, he writes of the online world as a playground for "a bunch of bored hipsters who had an irresistible urge to share their breakfast plans," while Andrew Keen in Cult of the Amateur claims all the online revolution is delivering is "superficial observations of the world... rather than deep analysis."

Too often, I have to agree.

Now that anyone can self-publish, unsurprisingly, the level of poor-quality writing sinks the playing field in broader perception.

While planning to make today's speech on "research" at TBEX'11 in Vancouver, I started to think "blog" needs an alternate name. A "blog" would remain the outlet for casual posters, sharing photos and online travel diaries with friends and family. But something else would be needed for those of us who treat blogging as journalism, as a potential for work.

So, until a better suggestion comes along, I'm suggesting this:

A couple years ago, I chipped in on a NPR panel after three Americans were detained at the Iraq-Iran border. A former CIA guy dismissed them as "Berkeley bloggers," suggesting they were poking around a place that's marked with a very clear border. "They had to know they were crossing into Iran," he said.

Before going on air, I had poked around Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, and found a blogger who had been recently to the same area, had photos of the region. I contacted him and asked, who told me, "I almost made the same mistake. It's very very difficult to know where one country begins and the other ends."

Not full-proof journalism, but -- unlike the CIA spouter -- he had actually been. So I quoted him.

Either way, I think it's time more of us try up our game. And never treat a blog post as "just a blog."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Vancouver Wins! (Game 5)

Just as TBEX 2011 kicked off, the Vancouver Canucks won game five of the Stanley Cup finals and the city erupted. I heard hoots till 5am. One local told me, 'The energy today is much much bigger than the Olympics." And they've not won the Stanley Cup yet.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Boley, Oklahoma

Oklahoma is known as 'Native America' -- at least per its license plates. No state has, per capita, more Native Americans than our 46th state, whose name means 'red people' in Choctaw language.

That's only part of the picture. Around the time of statehood in 1907, Oklahoma had over 40 'black towns,' settled largely from African Americans, chiefly freed slaves, migrating from the south and looking for more autonomy.

One of the greater success stories was Boley, Oklahoma -- about 10 miles northwest of Woody Guthrie's birthplace of Okemah. Now home to 1200 (though two-thirds live in state's nearby prison), Boley's heyday peaked at a population of 4000 prior to the Depression; much of that era is seen with boarded-up brick buildings on along main street.

It's a friendly place, with much history if you stop and chat, or get an appointment to see the Boley Historical Society (call Henrietta Hicks at 918-667-9790), housed in a century-old home you can arrange to sleep in for $35. There's a bank that Pretty Boy Floyd's gang failed to rob in 1932. And McCormick's Deli, on Highway 62, is the lone place to eat, known for its spiced 'pookie burger.'

Otherwise, the big draw is the 'Boley Rodeo,' a three-day 'black rodeo' held over Memorial Day weekend for, in some incarnation, since 1905, when it was staged merely to attract land-buyers. My favorite participant was Ross (above), a four-year-old barrel racer making his rodeo debut.

Around the arena, you'll find lots of food. The barbecue comes spicy, and nothing beats a cheese-covered 'potato-on-a-stick,' apparently a local invention by the hilarious Linda Sykes, a Boley native. I met her first in town. When she heard I had never had it, she instinctively took over the community center kitchen on Main Street, and fried me up a couple. (Ask around for her.)

My first visit here was ten years ago, while researching Lonely Planet's USA guide. It was a surprise. Though I grew up in nearby Tulsa, Boley didn't quite make my Oklahoma history classes. As one local put it, 'Black towns were wiped out of history books.'

It's time to put them back in.