Category Archives: Travel

Planes, trains and automobiles

No secrets

Having just opened today’s mail, I eyeballed a credit card statement for accuracy before I put it in the queue for payment.

There was a charge I didn’t recognize, from a hotel in which I stayed on a recent business trip. All expenses for the trip had been put on my business card and charged to my client. This one, for $39.77, was a mysterious personal charge.

I called Marriott and was put through to the corporate billing office. When I reached a human being about the charge, which had been tagged “F&B” for food and beverage, the billing clerk and I together determined that the charge was made at the hotel gift shop. This still did not jog my memory.

The clerk delved deeper in to the system.

“Our system shows that you purchased 13 paper items.”

“Paper items,” I questioned myself silently, while staring at the stack of greeting cards that has towered on my desk, neglected and unaddressed, for the last three weeks.

“Oh, those must have been greeting cards,” I remembered aloud.

“Yes,” said the clerk, adding, “and one candy bar.”

Embarrassed, I replied, “Did you have to remind me of that?”

She was  not amused. “Would you like me to e-mail you an image of the itemized receipt?”

“No, that won’t be necessary,” I huffed back. Now she and whoever monitors the call for security purposes are privy to my greeting card and sugar addictions.

With a little nudge, I remembered the gift shop, I remembered the candy and I remembered the cards. If you have a June or July birthday or anniversary, I have this great card for you. I just need to remember to send it.

The moral of this story had something to do with memory but I can’t for the life of me recall what it was.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Foibles and Faux Pas, Food, Holidays, Travel

Party crashers

In May, when I was conferred the Versatile Blogger award from Susan at Coming East, as a condition of receiving the award, I was asked to share seven things about myself. The list generated some requests for stories about these odd factoids. I recently came across the list and realized I hadn’t delivered on my intention to do so.

The item that received the most requests (a total of two) was the statement that my husband and I accidentally crashed a private Hollywood party.

Recounting the story publicly could get me busted and banned if I ever return to Hollywood. I’ll take the chance.

To tell the story right would involve some seemingly trivial details so I’ll get those out of the way briefly. 1. I had bought a very cheap but funky looking handbag to take on the trip. 2. With a lengthy connection at the Salt Lake City airport, I followed a whim and bought a slinky black dress, for no particular occasion.

On our one free evening, I wore my hot new dress to dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills. When Mr. Puck stopped at our table, I tried diplomatically to secure an invitation to the upcoming opening of his newest restaurant in Washington. He asked for my card and said he’d get us added to the invite list.

After dinner, my husband suggested we drive down Sunset Boulevard, as neither of us had ever seen it. We tooled down the Boulevard until we saw major doings. Paparazzi, spotlights, a large crowd gathered for what looked to be a press conference of some sort. We wedged our rented Ford Focus between a Maserati and Ferrari and stepped out to take a peek. Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman was making remarks to reporters in front of a night club. The line to get in extended to the end of the block, but somehow that didn’t quite register. My husband suggested we go in and I headed up the stairs to the entrance. Two doormen opened the doors and welcomed us in.

The bartender looked at us as if we were crazy when we tried to pay for our drinks, while shrimp was offered. When I turned around and saw Teri Hatcher, I realized we were at a private party. We put clues together and surmised that the soiree was being thrown by designer Badgley Mischka to celebrate the renewal of Hatcher’s spokesmodel contract.

Little Miss Pathologically Compliant here wanted to leave immediately because I knew we weren’t supposed to be there. As I wondered aloud how we had the doors opened to us in the first place, my husband credited my little black dress and naïve self confidence. I asked him to set down his drink and head for the door before we were discovered.

Too late. People wanted to talk. A woman approached me.

“I love your bag. Is it Prada or Isabella?”

Because I didn’t know Isabella (Fiore) from Isabelli Rossalini. I slipped my DSW special behind me and lied, “Prada.”

“Are you a designer or retailer?,” asked the boutique owner from Newport Beach. “Where are you from?”

I replied, “I’m a lobbyist from Washington, D.C.” Stupid answer, I know, but I had to make up for the lie I had just told. From here on, no more lying.

She asked, “Do you have a card?”

I replied, “Sorry, I just gave my last one to Wolfgang Puck.”

I excused myself, grabbed my husband and sprinted toward the exit.

A woman stopped us. Uh-oh. She said, “Don’t leave without your gifts,” and handed us each a gigantic bag filled with hundreds of dollars worth of Beverly Hills salon certificates, electronics, perfumes and costume jewelry.

We ran to our rental car and sped off, as I phoned our friend Nell, a Beverly Hills native whom we had seen the night before.

“You’ll never believe what we just did,” I squealed, and told her the whole story. We promised her she’d be getting the gift certificates, as we were leaving the next day.

A week later, Nell called me. A friend of hers had told her about being at the Badgley Mischka party.

Nell said, “A friend of mine was there. She said they had great gift bags.”

Her friend replied, “I wouldn’t know. They ran out before I could get one.”

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Filed under Beauty and Fashion, Foibles and Faux Pas, Movies, Television and Radio, Travel

Global cooling

It’s July in Washington. The weather is forecast to be sunny and 90 degrees, with 40 percent humidity, for the next 10 days. Ah, sweater weather!

This time of year, I don’t go anywhere, except maybe the beach, without a sweater.

Now that we finally have central air in our home, I sometimes put my bathrobe on over my clothes.

Don’t get me wrong; I welcomed A/C with open, goosebumped arms. It’s great. I sleep like a baby.

But overall, I feel that air conditioning is overdone. Do humans really need to spend their days and nights in 65-degree temperatures? I don’t know about you, but too much A/C makes my nose run, gives me a headache and makes my muscles ache. Can we just tone it down a little and maybe save the planet in the meantime?

The last office in which I worked was like a walk-in refrigerator. While my burly Norwegian colleague controlled the thermostat on our hallway, our boss came in every morning and did a Mister Rogers ritual, exchanging suit jacket for cardigan sweater. Everywhere I go—the mall, the grocery store, the movie theater, church, any hospital, every office building, every airplane, airport and restaurant—the air is cranked so high (or is it low?) that I can barely function without cover. When I travel, I carry a big shawl that doubles as a blanket. I can’t recall a flight in the last few years on which I haven’t buried myself under it. I’d wear gloves and a nosebag if I thought to pack them.

Are there any environmental scientists or engineers out there who can tell me how much energy could be saved by bumping up thermostats up a few degrees? Wouldn’t businesses also save huge amounts of money? Could we put a dent in our nation’s economic and environmental troubles with a simple flip of a switch?

If you agree, let’s huddle together and make it happen.

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Filed under Health, Rants and Raves, Travel

Folks is folks

My folks—excuse me, my parents—have a few pet word peeves they’ve passed on to me. I’ve written of several already. Another class of them: the way we address each other collectively.

My father hates it when people in service roles, such as waiters or store clerks, call customers “you guys.” For example, “I’m Jason and I’ll be your server. How are you guys doing tonight?”

Similarly, my mother hates it when people refer to other people as “folks.”

Naturally, I’ve become attuned to this and, when I address groups at work, prefer “ladies and gentlemen.” My ears perk up and bristle when I hear “you guys” or “folks.”

Last Friday night, I was on a plane experiencing a delayed departure. After taking an snooze and finding the plane was still on the ground, I began my favorite game of sizing up my fellow passengers and imagining their stories. Seated across the aisle from me were two young gentlemen wearing shorts and flip-flops (an air travel pet peeve of mine), and speaking a language I couldn’t discern. I surmised it was a European language of some sort.

Just then the pilot came on the loudspeaker for his second delay announcement. And for the second time, he began his announcement with “Folks, …”

The gentlemen beside me responded to this in an amused and animated fashion. In their indeterminate language, the only word I could understand was “folks,” which they uttered several times as they seemingly pondered the meaning—or, more probably, the context—of this word.

It sounded to me something like:

 Wat het proefgemiddelde door doet; mensen? Ik heb dit woord “folks” gehoord alvorens maar niet kan begrijpen waarom hij het gebruikt om de passagiers op dit vliegtuig te richten. Ik dacht ” folks” was een word dat wordt gebruikt om ouders te beschrijven. Wij zijn niet de kinderen van deze loods. Ik ben benieuwd waarom hij hij die ons richt deze manier is. “Folks?”

At that moment I decided to not look down on these young men for wearing beach togs on an airplane and instead admired them for questioning the flight captain’s language in addressing his paying passengers with such familiar informality.

 To my mind, a flight captain’s calling us “folks” is the same as our saying to the pilot upon deplaning, “Later, dude.”

Ladies and gentlemen, are you with me?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Rants and Raves, Travel

Everybody dance now

Life’s awkward moments come in many flavors.

One situation I often find awkward is a one-on-one conversation with the driver of an airport shuttle when, obviously, I am the only passenger. You wouldn’t think this would be the case, as I’m able to hold a conversation with just about anyone, whether the person wants to or not. But sometimes, after the first two or three pleasantries, it’s hard to keep it going. I don’t mind riding in silence, but when the driver makes an effort, I feel an obligation to connect.

Yesterday I took a shuttle bus ride on a steamy afternoon. I had waited a long time for the bus in the Miami heat and was physically and mentally wilted when I boarded. When the young driver tried to make conversation, I tried to offer more than a terse response.

“How was your flight?”
“Fine. I came in from Washington, D.C.”

“Was it sunny there?”
“Yes. And hot.”

[Banter about traffic, followed by awkward silence]

Just then, one of my favorite songs came on the radio. It was Madonna’s La Isla Bonita from 1987. I love that song. I know every word. I refrained from singing, though it took some effort. I tapped my foot instead. I noticed the driver banging out an impressive bongo solo on the steering wheel. I bopped my head a little. It was a nice moment, communicating with this young man without words.

The next song was another good one, Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now), recorded by C.C. Music Factory in 1990. (Who remembers how it was used in the movie Man of the House?) I danced in my seat while my driver did another rocking drum solo. Another great moment.

Until I said, “Wow, they’re playing some great music here.” He replied, “Yes, this is our oldies station.”

Here, have a moment of your own. Whether the music is part of your adulthood, your childhood or your I-wasn’t-even-born-yet-hood, I dare you not to sing. Or dance. (For some Friday fun, if you’re in your office, crank that second one up really loud and see if you can get your colleagues on their feet.)

  

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Filed under Music, Travel

Overseas aid

They say everyone should have a current résumé and a valid passport.

I have both. Neither one gets much love these days. In fact, I just noticed that my passport was renewed five years ago, so it’s at exactly the halfway point of its valid life. The sad part is that neither the passport nor I have left the United States since 2001. It’s waiting, in its safe place, along with all the passports I’ve had since age 10 (when, by the way, I apparently stood at 4 feet, 11 ½ inches tall). My current passport is stiff and uncreased and has a pretty good photo if I do say so myself. I just wish a customs agent could see it.

My last passport saw some action and it shows. In the years before it expired in 2006, I travelled to Switzerland several times, France several times, Greece twice, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Aruba. I like to look back at the pretty visas inserted by countries that require them.

I still travel often, but to places like Detroit and Tupelo and Cleveland, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that my passport and I are itching to fly beyond U.S. borders for a change. We just need a reason. And a lot of money.

I am reminded of an I Love Lucy episode in which the wives tried to raise money to accompany their husbands to Europe. They staged a raffle for a bogus charity called Ladies Overseas Aid. (“We’re ladies, we want to go overseas and boy, do we need aid!”)

This lady needs to come up with a clever way to see the world on someone else’s nickel. Any ideas?

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Filed under Movies, Television and Radio, Travel

Speaking from the heart

It seems that lately, Mondays are difficult days on which to blog. I imagine they’re also difficult days on which to read blogs. So perhaps I’ve done us all a favor.

My excuse this week? I got in from a trip in the wee hours of Monday morning, after missing a connecting flight and being fortunate to have secured the last standby slot in the last flight back to Washington late Sunday. It was a grueling day following a lovely business-with-pleasure trip, so I tried to keep my spirits high.

Sure, I shot dirty looks to a young mother who smacked her infant for squealing in a gate area. I sighed audibly and walked away when I overheard a couple engaging in senseless political rants. I even snapped just a bit at a gate agent, but later thanked her warmly when she found me that last seat on the plane back home.

That last seat happened to be beside a woman whose husband was in another row. When she asked if I might be willing trade my aisle seat for her husband’s middle seat so they could sit together, I obliged.

I was glad I did. The conversation I had with a gentleman in my row turned out to be so enjoyable that it made nearly three hours pass in a flash. We discovered much in common, including that we both think a lot about words.

He shared that he is making a concerted effort to avoid beginning sentences with “but;” not so much as a matter of grammar, but as a matter of harmony. “But” can erect a wall in a conversation. It can minimize someone else’s point. I found that interesting.

Then he shared a challenge that had been on his mind. I am not sure if he’ll ever read this and, if so, I hope he won’t mind my putting his dilemma out for discussion.

 His stepdaughter is getting married soon and has asked him to give her away, in place of her late father. This man will undoubtedly be called upon, formally or informally, to speak about his role at this occasion, and he wants to have just the right words at hand.

My fellow passenger never met his stepdaughter’s father, but thinks that, based on what he knows of the man, that they might have been good friends. There were even some interesting coincidences. I got the sense he is honored to be asked to step into the role.

I told him about How to Say It, a book that suggests the right words for almost any occasion. I suggested that he simply speak from his heart, express his affection for his stepdaughter and go from there.  I had told him that I have a wide circle of creative and sensitive readers, from whom I learn much nearly every day. While we didn’t exchange contact information, I did give him my blog address.

Based on knowing him for three hours, I have no doubt that John Q. Passenger could speak from his heart quite beautifully on this occasion. Still, I’d love to help him out.

So, on the off chance he finds his way here (and provided he didn’t give up after seeing no post yesterday), may I ask you to share your advice about what he might say, in conversation or perhaps in a toast during the wedding festivities—again, as the stepfather of the bride, who has the honor of walking her down the aisle?

I know you’ll have some good ideas.  Thanks!

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Travel

Y’all come

We all form impressions of the places we visit, based on how we’re treated by the locals. There are many stereotypes: New Yorkers are impatient and rude. Parisians are snooty. Washingtonians are self-important blow-hards. Based on my experience, with only the fewest exceptions, these stereotypes couldn’t be further from reality.

Our nation’s capital is host to millions of tourists. The crowds can be overwhelming, for them and for us. Our grid can be confusing and our subway system can be intimidating to the unfamiliar. I try to be a gracious host by making visitors feel welcome and helping them find their way around along the streets or on the Metro. I know I’m not alone.

As we approach a big holiday weekend, I would like to share a letter to the editor that appeared in The Washington Post yesterday and remind all of us who live in tourist destinations how much visitors appreciate a little hospitality.

Mickey and Nancy Choppa of Queensbury, N.Y.,  wrote:

“We just spent a week in Washington, and its residents have renewed our faith in people. Our first trip on the Metro brought confusion, but a man approached us to ask where we wanted to go. We told him, and he directed us to the proper train. This happened frequently during the week — without our asking for help, it was offered often. Whenever we seemed at a loss, someone would ask if he or she could help.

“The icing on the cake came the day after we got home: We received a letter with a Washington return address. As we don’t know anyone there, we were curious.

“In the envelope was our luggage tag and a note saying that the writer found it on the street and thought we would like it back.

“Who does this? I called the woman, thanked her and said that she was an example of the fine residents of her fair city. Thank you, residents of Washington, for making our trip wonderful.”

This letter didn’t surprise me one bit. We really are nice people. Come see us!

Note: Last summer, Washington Post columnist John Kelly published some tips for Washington tourists to follow in order to get along better with the locals. It wasn’t penned in very welcoming tone, but if you follow even one or two, we’ll be extra extra nice.

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Filed under News, Politics, Travel

For real

The City of Buffalo has long been the butt of jokes. Even my father, who’s from there, used to say that Buffalo came into being when “they cloned Cleveland.”

This week, there are new jokes as Buffalo—The City of Good Neighbors, The Queen City, The City of No Illusions, The Nickel City, Queen City of the Lakes, City of Light—takes on a new motto: “Buffalo For Real.”

I learned about this not from the city’s own announcement, which includes a new tourism video, but from the swell of snickers and criticisms from within Western New York and around the country. The blogosphere bubbles with mockery while Twitter tee-hees abound.

Advertising Age slammed the slogan, calling it meaningless. (But do check out their map of the most absurd city slogans in the United States.) Buffalonians don’t appear to be crazy about it either, but they’ve been quick to come to the defense of their city, as they are often called to do, pointing to the depth of Buffalo’s history and culture. One commenter suggested “Buffalo: Leave for the weather, come back for everything else.” Commenters from other cities were cruel (“Denver: at least it’s not Buffalo”), while others were happy to be out of the spotlight for their own cities’ inane slogans.

But back to Buffalo For Real. If the city’s marketeers had consulted me, I’d have suggested some punctuation. Mabye a comma or a colon following Buffalo. On the surface, “Buffalo For Real” does sound a little meaningless. But if you look at the campaign, there’s a broader theme: Buffalo for art, Buffalo for architecture, Buffalo for families, Buffalo for food, for nature, for history, for shopping, for sports, for performing arts. The tourism video addresses the “real” part. The narration holds the city’s past troubles and blemishes up to the light and assures visitors of the vast rejuvenation taking place. “We’ve had our share of hard knocks.” “Some might say that time has left our town behind.” “Neighborhoods given up for dead are being given new life.” Even the snow has an honored place in the script.

Juxtaposed against tourist destinations in which weather is the draw, with little authenticity behind sun and spa, Buffalo stands out as real. Blue collar and white collar workers alike have withstood decades of economic devastation and year after year of bone-chilling temperatures. The people remain ever cheerful, trust me. The city by Niagara Falls has a lot to be proud of.

I like the new slogan. I just wish the video had been narrated by someone with a Buffalo accent.

Now that would be real.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Technology and Social Media, Travel

Sunny in Orlando

We know someone who tells people he meets that he’s from “Orlando, Florida.” I always wonder to myself why he doesn’t just say “Orlando.” I mean, are people going to think he’s from Orlando, Oklahoma? It turns out that they might. Or Orlando, Kentucky, or Orlando, West Virginia.

I snicker when I hear people—usually ones who don’t travel very much—refer to “Paris, France,” or “London, England,” or places where the country is implied. Everyone knows Paris is in France; you really don’t need to say it. Or do you? There are at least 10 cities in the United States called Paris.

I do travel a lot, and I consult Weather.com before I go anywhere. The Weather Channel’s website has an auto-search feature that, when the name of a city is typed in, offers a choice of the top cities bearing that name.

Going to Philadelphia? Don’t mis-click, or you’ll get the weather for Philadelphia, Missouri, or Mississippi or New York or Tennessee.

Just a little trivia for geography buffs from some of my recent searches (or perhaps geography buffs already know this):

Charlotte: In addition to North Carolina, Charlotte is in Arkansas, Vermont, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Tennessee and Texas.

Dallas: Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin and West Virginia

Atlanta: Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and New York

Sacramento: Kentucky, New Mexico and Pennsylvania

Detroit: Alabama, Maine, Oregon and Texas

Phoenix: Maryland, New York and Oregon

Denver: Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, New York and Pennsylvania

Raleigh: Illinois, Mississippi, North Dakota and West Virginia

Miami: Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia

Richmond: California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota

Minneapolis: Kansas and North Carolina

Syracuse: North Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Utah

Well, I’d better go check the weather in San Antonio. Oops, not New Mexico.

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Filed under Technology and Social Media, Travel