Flight 93 Memorial --
Go now. If you think you will visit
the Flight 93 memorial in your lifetime, go now, before the full-fledged
memorial forever reshapes the terrain and the atmosphere of the place.
Millions of dollars already have been raised and plans have been laid, but
however grand the final memorial years from now, it will never match the
simple poignance of the makeshift tribute that rose in the weeks after
and nurtured mainly by the people of Shanksville and Somerset County, Pa.,
who hold the place in their hearts, the memorial began with a swatch of
chain-link fence upon which visitors left mementos — baseball caps,
T-shirts, belt buckles, hand-scrawled signs, all sorts of personal items.
In time the gestures became more elaborate, with bronze and granite
markers and benches etched with the names of the 40 who perished that day.
On-site work has not
begun on the big memorial — disagreements remain over the design and the
purchase of some key property. The National
Park Service now is entrenched. The land is unchanged, but already
things have shifted.
In July 2008 the memorial
was moved across the road. In the photo above, the new location is marked
by the flags on the right. The earlier location is marked by the two flags
on the left, next to a bare lot.
While the new site
preserves much of the ambience of the old, it is more orderly and
orchestrated than the original. The original was an open wound in the
months after 9/11, with visitors scrawling prayers and vows of revenge on
every available surface, including the metal guardrails around the small
parking lot. In the moving of the memorial, items were warehoused and
those that were transported now have a tidiness that was not there before.
I imagine that heartfelt
graffiti is no longer allowed — if you want to have your say, there is a
book available for writing comments. Security guards are on hand
during the daytime.
It is surprising that
seven years after 9/11, the “real” memorial has yet to be built.
Plans call for it to be dedicated on Sept. 11, 2011. But for those
of us who have visited this site, the makeshift tribute will always be the
“real” memorial. The inadvertently good news is that others
still have time to visit the site before bulldozers move in, as did more
than 150,000 other people in 2007.
Local residents will tell
you one more tidbit: that for a short time just after the federal
investigators finished clearing the crash site, a memorial existed much
closer to the point of impact, visited by families of the victims. But in
a short time it was moved a few hundred yards up the slope to where it is
today. (Oct. 12, 2008)
Gas pump absurdity in
Delaware. Driving south to D.C. on
the Delaware Turnpike on May 19 I was drawn to the state's only I-95
service plaza by the $2.99 gas -- the cheapest I'd seen all day. I pulled
up to pump 18 near the cashier's booth, unscrewed the gas cap, slid in a
credit card and winced as "sale cancelled" scrolled across the
display window. Another card brought the same message. So I walked to the
cashier's window and asked for $20 of cash gas.
pump's broken," the cashier said without a hint of regret.
"Why don't you put
up a sign saying it's broken so your customers don't waste their
time?" I asked.
She informed me it was illegal
to put a handwritten sign on a gas pump.
"That doesn't make
any sense," I said. But she insisted it was true and offered a small
About then the pump
behind me came open so I crawled into the car, backed up a couple car
lengths, got out, walked around to the gas cap -- then saw the
handwritten sign that said "Cash only."
Had someone lit a match
at that moment, the fumes around my head would have combusted.
I saw no point in
pointing out the absurdity to a disinterested service-plaza cashier, so I
pulled to another pump, filled up without further delay, and drove away,
convinced that on this day the state's tourism slogan should be not
"It's Good Being First," but maybe "A State of
A week later I spoke with
someone who said he once had a job pumping gas and he had heard something
about a rule prohibiting handwritten signs. If anyone can explain
the logic of that, let us know and
I'll post it here.
Meantime, if the service
station manager could just put a pylon at that broken pump ...
(May 30, 2006)
connections. The Abbey of
Gethsemani near Bardstown,
Ky., is renowned for the fruitcakes, fudge and cheese made there by the
Trappist monks, but what caught my attention in the gift shop was the
casket tucked along one wall, lid up. It was good-looking, as coffins go,
if unusual for a gift shop.
The framed sign sitting
on a lace doily atop the casket offered an explanation:
“This casket was made
by the Trappist monks at New Melleray Abbey in eastern Iowa. With wood from their own forest and a devotion to vintage craftsmanship,
each Trappist casket reflects the values of the men who made it:
integrity, simplicity, and reverence for nature.”
Who could argue?
everywhere are obligated by the order to support themselves, and each has
a specialty. Their gift shops cross-sell each other’s products, which is
casket ended up in
Two weeks later I found
myself driving out of eastern Iowa
and by coincidence my route took me within a few miles of New Melleray
Abbey, near Dubuque.I yielded to the call of the
coffin and after driving a loop road past a wonderful woods was soon
standing in the abbey’s own gift shop, which had not one but six
The three rooms of the
gift shop were en route to the chapel and were unstaffed during my
half-hour visit. A sign provided a phone number for questions about the
caskets.The big question
everyone has when I describe my shopping find is How much?That and more was answered in color brochures stacked on a table in the coffin room. They are convincing.
“Our labors are not
hurried – we take our time and do things right. Expertly crafted caskets
are the result.
caskets are made at our monastery by monks and hired staff. We devote
careful attention to each step in the process; from patiently managing our
hardwood forest, to the final detailing and upholstering of the
I’m a little wary of
that phrase “hired staff,” but otherwise who could quibble that anyone
is more qualified or desirable as a casket-crafter than a monk? If you
need someone with good connections to the Almighty, you could do no
Would you rather have a
cherry casket available at Costco for $2,700, or the premium rectangular
casket in walnut offered by the brothers at Melleray for $1,825?Your choice as you prepare to go to your final reward: a guy with a
Costco sales smock or a guy wearing a monk’s habit from a monastery
that’s been in business more than 150 years?With its own forest.
You won’t find simple
pine caskets on Costco’s shelves, but at the monastery they are available
“For urgent requests,
we ship caskets for on-time deliveries throughout the country, next day if
needed” continues the brochure.“For
those who like to plan, caskets can be purchased in advance of need and
stored by us until shipment is required.”
The Trappist caskets
price list, dated May 2005, looks like this:
Premium rectangular caskets,
walnut $1,975; oak $1,825.
Premium shaped caskets, walnut
$1,725, oak $1,595.
Simple shaped caskets, pine
$875, oak $995.
Simple rectangular caskets,
pine $775, oak $845.
Most next-day deliveries
cost $125 to $295, depending on destination.
The forest at New
Melleray Abbey, Iowa
The good brothers also
offer walnut or oak cremation urns and ceramic urns for $245.
It’s not fruitcake or
fudge, but by just about any standard the monks’ handiwork is a sweet
Dream towns. Long ago a
graduate school classmate dissed Davis, Calif., where she had attended UC-Davis,
and thereafter I had a negative impression of the place -- until I saw the
August issue of Outside
magazine with its "Where to Live Now" cover story that names
Davis one of 10 dream towns for adventurous, eco-smart living. Sounds
good, too, with its 50 miles of bike lanes, 31 parks, 20 greenbelts, and a
in the Top 10 are Salt Lake City; Littleton, N.H.; Fort Collins, Colo.;
Charleston, S.C.; Portland, Ore.; Chicago; Madison, Wis.; Buena Vista,
Colo.; Pasadena, Calif., and Portland, Maine.
ratings are staples of many magazines, whether Outside, Money or Men's
Health, and there often is a contrived quality to them. Looking at this
list there's a balance between East, West, South, middle, places you
knew fit the category (Portland and Portland!), some you never heard of,
the requisite Big City for small-towners looking to upgrade, and a few
tiny places for urbanites looking to downsize.
though they be, such feature stories are irresistible, and it's no wonder
magazines churn them out. Not only do they appeal to our thirst for places
that seem to be doing things right, but they also speak to our
you can add them to your list of potential
vacation destinations. Every one of them could keep you entertained for
a week, and every one has a Web site aimed at visitors or newcomers.
The summer of the frozen
water. As in much of the United States, it's been a sizzling summer in
Philadelphia, and street vendors have risen to the occasion by offering --
more often than I've ever seen -- frozen bottled water. It's almost
uncanny how they pop up everywhere, including along the traffic lanes
outside 30th Street Station ($2 a bottle) and between the Pattison Street
subway station and Citizens Bank Park, where the $1 sidewalk price seems
irresistible when you know that inside the ballpark unfrozen water goes
for $3 per bottle. But top honors for the best deal go to a woman selling
frozen water from a cooler in Atlanta's sprawling Piedmont Park. Her
price? Fifty cents a bottle. She must have low overhead. (July
Luggage deals too good to
be real deals. Friends called me from the luggage department of an outlet
store to ask if the rolling duffel they were about to buy was any
good. Fortunately they were looking at brands I knew and I
was able to assure them that the $200-plus price tag was, in
their case, reasonable.
buying luggage is like buying mattresses -- so many models and submodels
and advertising come-ons that anyone can have moments of uncertainty at
the last minute.
though, is this: Those luggage sets where you get three to
five pieces for some amazing price -- often under $100 for the lot --
probably are not a good idea if you plan to do any serious, checked-bag
traveling with it. And just because it has a name brand doesn't mean
it will endure.
the conclusion of a report in the August issue of Consumer Reports, which
tested six sets of luggage from various stores and found they all lacked
durability. The testers simulate rough handling by filling the bags with
35 pounds of towels and tossing them into their luggage tumbler.
CR's rating scale of excellent, very good, good, fair and poor, two of the
luggage sets rated fair for durability, four bottomed out at poor.
fair were the three-piece Optima Rolling Set from E-Bags and the
four-piece Pierre Cardin Expandable from Sears.
poor were the three-piece Sonoma Express from Kohl's; the five-piece
Ridgecrest Worldbound from Target; the four-piece American Tourister from
Wal-Mart, and the five-piece Skyline Venetian from Wal-Mart.
the Today Show, Monday June 5, 2005:
Tell me how Natalee's parents are holding up in particular in
light of this development over the last 24 hours that these two
men have been taken into custody in connection with Natalee's
CACCAVALE: Matt, any development is a positive one.
It gives the family hope, and it reinforces the fact that
authorities are working really hard to bring Natalee home. Beth,
Natalee's mom, is an amazing woman. She is very, very strong, and
when people say, `Where are you getting your support during this
time,' she simply says, `Because I'm Natalee's mom.'
Each question was swiftly
met by a response so smooth, reassuring, and positive that the normally
agile anchor seemed barely able to keep up with Carla Caccavale, whom he
identified at the opening as “a spokesperson for the Holloway family.”
What Lauer and his producers did not mention, if they knew, was that Caccavale is also a
partner in a New York City
public relations agency, Quinn &
in August 2003 was awarded a three-year
contract, reportedly worth $150,000, to promote Aruba tourism in the United
States for the Aruba Tourism Authority.
Anyone who knew Caccavale
was wearing two hats couldn’t help but listen with two sets of ears:
Which of her comments were serving the family’s interests and which were
serving the broader interests of the Aruba Tourism Authority?
For media observers, the
operative phrase is “anyone who knew.” We’ve been through this
discussion many times before, when the person in front of the camera
isn’t exactly what he or she appears to be.
raise two possibilities for NBC and a handful of other media outlets –
CBS, ABC, CNN -- that interviewed Caccavale: That they didn’t know she
was wearing two hats, or that they did know and decided not to mention it
to their audiences.
In a phone interview from Aruba, Caccavale said that she was asked by the
family to help out and that she considered herself a volunteer just like
the many other volunteers. "I have personally given full disclosure
to everyone," she said. "All the media here know exactly who I
Let's be clear: Aruba
has an obligation to defend its reputation as a Caribbean tourism
destination, and Caccavale has an obligation to act in the best interests
of her clients. The media also have an obligation to their readers and
viewers. Guess which of these three parties has failed to live up to its
Among those networks,
apparently only CNN ever identified Caccavale’s tourism interests, and
then only during Monday morning broadcasts at 7 and 10, based on
transcripts. Later in the day, her repeated appearances on CNN programs
identified her only as a family spokesperson, including during the evening
Headline Prime program with Nancy Grace.
Caccavale’s comments superbly represented the family, but they also
the tourism connection
Caccavale's appearances on Monday were confined almost entirely to
the networks and CNN.She
was not quoted in Associated Press reports, which were the basis
for most print coverage, including at USA Today.
Besides Lauer on
the NBC Today show, Caccavale was interviewed by Charles Gibson on
ABC’s Good Morning
, Hanna Storm on the CBS Early Show, and multiple CNN programs.
two CNN news airings early Monday mention Caccavale’s connection
to the tourist authority:
During the American Morning broadcast starting at
, anchor Soledad O’Brien introduced Caccavale this way:
Caccavale PR firm handles the Aruba
tourism account. Natalee Holloway's family has asked her to
act as their spokeswoman. Carla, good morning. Thanks for talking
During CNN "Live
show, a “Now in the News” segment included a taped interview
with Caccavale, after which anchor Daryn Kagan noted:
KAGAN:And that woman, Caccavale,
is serving as the family spokeswoman. She also works for Aruba's Tourism Authority.
Monday and Tuesday, CNN.com identified Caccavale solely as a
spokeswoman for the family.
the interests of
and cast it in a favorable light despite the grim circumstances. Not a
negative word was spoken.
From the Today Show
Carla, you talk about any--any development being a positive development,
but when we're talking about the arrest of two men, or two men being taken
into custody, do they not see it all as an ominous sign, especially as we
hit the one week mark here since Natalee was last seen?
CACCAVALE: Well, we're hoping with these men in custody, they can
tell us where Natalee is. And as far as the passing of time goes, the
family is so focused on the goal of bringing Natalee home that they're not
letting time bring them down. It's really one long day for them.
In fact, the spin control on
the Aruba situation could well become a textbook example of how resort islands and other
destinations can wisely handle a nasty situation.I don’t recall ever hearing of a local government giving
thousands of municipal employees the afternoon off so they could take part
in search efforts.
That is a public relations coup if ever there was one, especially when
viewed more closely:
From a CNN transcript for
the 1 p.m. "Live From" program, with host Kyra Phillips:
And joining me now on the phone from Aruba is the spokeswoman for Natalee
Holloway's anguished family, Carla Caccavale.
Carla, can you bring us up to date on how the family is doing?
SPOKESPERSON: Yes, absolutely. The family is very, very upbeat
today, because as you probably heard, the government of Aruba has released all government
employees from on this afternoon to -- to do a
massive island-wide, nationwide search for Natalee Holloway.
That is a stunning mental
image, and it's possible Caccavale truly expected that to happen. But according
the Associated Press, the government let 4,000 employees off work, and about
700 volunteers joined in the search. They also searched not the whole
island, but just the southeastern tip of the island.
Despite the heartbreaking
tragedy that seems to be unfolding here, when it is over, the lasting
will be of an island full of compassionate, caring residents who truly
felt the pain of the young woman’s disappearance and the anguish of her
Exactly the image you
want to burnish if you are in the tourism business.
Compare that to, say, the
ofSt. Croix, where repeated
crime a few years ago led in part to cruise lines bypassing its port; to
Jamaica, which struggles constantly to overcome reports of violence among
drug gangs; to Mexico, where each time the U.S. State Department issues a
crime warning, as it did recently for Cancun, the Mexican government fumes
and plays down any problem.
Those cases differ in
scale and theme from the
situation, but the bottom line is this: When the Holloway case is over,
however it ends, many American viewers and readers who have been inundated
with the heavy coverage will walk away with a positive view of
and its people.
of Aruba's strengths as a destination, by not fully identifying Caccavale,
some of the media have again aided and abetted the spinmeisters and failed to serve their readers and
viewers. (June 7, 2005)
shad gets short shrift. Forgive us for noticing, but the clouds
hanging over the Lambertville (NJ) Shad Festival on Sunday seemed to be
figurative as well as literal, and the shad gods can't be happy about
festival was held a month later than usual, well after the shad normally
run. Once upon a time, shad taken from the river were served, but years
ago that practice gave way to imported shad as the festival crowds grew
and the supply of local shad became unreliable.
decade ago I watched with scores of others as a boat pulled a net into the
river and, working with a shore crew, pulled it toward the shoreline where
we waited expectantly. Everyone pushed forward to get a good look, but
when the bottom of the net reached the bank it held about six tiny fish,
the food court this year, there was barely a mention of shad. The Triumph
Brewing Company tent offered "shad-seafood chowder," but when a
man asked why not just shad chowder, a woman behind the table told him:
"Shad by itself isn't any good."
sandwiches and steaks could be found at a single booth along Bridge
Street, near the bridge and away from the food court. It looked as if the
fish had been banished, that the other food stalls -- London broil
sandwiches, taco salads, chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks -- did not
want the competition.
shad stall had dispatched youngsters wearing sign boards to the food court
to drum up business. One placard-bearer returned to the mother ship to
report with youthful disbelief that the crab sandwich booth was telling
those who asked about shad that there was no shad to be had. Her
colleagues simmered like the North Carolina shad on their open grill,
where at times there was no customer line at all.
the food court, business was brisk, but the light turnout on a comfortably
cool afternoon had stall workers barking like vendors in an Italian
market. "Ice tea, lemonade, shad punch, no waiting," shouted one
woman at a drink stand.
Wing Fire Company 3 was selling batter-fried Oreo cookies, six for $5, for
the second year, having nabbed the concept from the Jersey shore. Asked
whether such artery-challenging treats might be good for the rescue
business, the firemen demurred, except for one colleague who offered:
"It could be all genetics, too," a line that sounded
suspiciously identical to a TV ad for an anti-cholesterol drug.
man, commenting on the absence of shad, said he didn't think it mattered
that much. "People just come because they want something to do,"
may be, but it's risky business for a shad festival to lose its focus. If
it's not going to be a shad festival, call it a river festival, or
whatever. But here's hoping this year's afflictions of spring flooding and
other drawbacks will be overcome in the future.
the crafts area, a booth offering "Shad-i-gras" beads did a good
business, judging by the many people who wore them. I got the feeling they
were grasping for something to salvage the shad element of the Shad
Festival, tenuous though it was. (May
26, 2005) Top
pizza star goes out. In May Philadelphia lost one of its finest pizza
restaurants -- in fact, its finest, according to pizza guru Ed Levine.
After seven years, Lombardi's
on 18th Street near Sansom became the victim of a condo project, and
family matters beckoned owner Mike Giammarino home to New York, where the
Original Pizza continues to satisfy palates at 32 Spring Street
(Spring & Mott) in SoHo.
Philadelphia location's final day of business was May 22, and a couple
days earlier a packed house of farewell diners was joined by Levine, whose
new book Pizza: A Slice of Heaven: The Ultimate Guide and Companion
(Universe, 2005) heaps praise on the Lombardi's dynasty.
spent three hours holding court, savoring the pizza and signing books,
then posed smiling with Giammarino in front of the coal-fired brick oven
the restaurateur built with his own hands.
(left) and Ed Levine
Levine could afford to smile
-- half an hour later he caught the train home to New York, where he has
easy access to the original Lombardi's, which is celebrating the 100th
anniversary of its being licensed by the city.
(May 27, 2005)
Solving the beluga whale
riddle. The whale swimming
in the Delaware River lately is the reincarnation of Benjamin
Franklin, it now appears. Using a special spectre-graphic lens, a marine
biologist shot a photo that provides a plausible answer to the question,
What's up with the whale?
addition, a forensic reconstructionist noted the shape of Franklin's head
bears an uncanny resemblance to the shape of a beluga's head.
is that Ben the Beluga has come upriver to call attention
to observances marking the 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth, Jan. 17,
2006. A year-long celebration is planned in Philadelphia,
Boston, and other cities worldwide starting late this year, including a
roving exhibit that opens at the National Constitution Center in
12-foot beluga's 130-mile voyage up the Delaware to Trenton calls to mind
another whale curiosity last spring off Vancouver Island, British
Columbia. An Indian tribe there maintained that a lone orca
whale swimming offshore was the reincarnation of its chief who had
died days earlier. The Canadian government ran afoul of the tribe when it
announced it would try to return the whale to its pod far to the
south. (April 14, 2005) Top
Notes from opening day
at Citizens Bank Park: The home team won on April 4 and the Phillies fans
in Section 114 along the right field line were delighted. Still,
Philadelphia moments abounded.
As the game began, the park
announcer made the usual comments about the dangers of foul balls and that
fans were expected to behave. But there were a few new twists, including
the threat of a $300 fine if you were ejected for bad behavior and the
remarkable announcement that ushers would seat fans only during breaks in
the action. It was a subtle mention, but if the Phillies actually enforce
this policy it will shift the stadium into a new arena of protocol, like
the Kimmel Center or the Academy of Music. (Sorry sir, you can only be
seated between movements once the program begins.)
some extent this isn't a bad idea. Even in the Diamond Club behind home
plate last year there were times when fan restlessness was distracting.
Perhaps this effort will bear fruit and Citizens Bank Park will become a
paragon of gentility. But c'mon, it's a ballpark. And Philadelphia isn't
St. Louis or Cleveland.
The Phanavision screen has a
new feature, too -- pop-up ads, sometimes coordinated with ads on the
stadium's many other video screens. XM radio was prominent, with its logo
showing often, then morphing into a full-screen image. For computer users
who constantly battle such advertising on the Web, this new stadium
feature can't be welcome.
Joann Leszczynsky aptly points
out the contradiction of building a stadium that hearkens to an earlier,
purer baseball era -- then bombarding people in a way that makes them feel
not so much like sports fans but like a target audience for advertisers.
Ballpark advertising has a rich history. I fondly recall the
Anheuser-Busch eagle flapping electronically across the Busch Stadium
scoreboard when Cardinals hit home runs. But no one wants to feel like
they're being bludgeoned by ads, and that's exactly what new Phanavision
When in the 6th inning the
Philly Phanatic was driven onto the field with his hot-dog cannon, the
crowd along the right-field line responded with cheers, which turned to
boos moments later when the first dog virtually dribbled out of the
cannon's bun-disguised barrel. A few attempts later it became clear the
cannon's air pressure wasn't enough to hurl the hot dogs to crowd-pleasing
heights and the Phanatic beat a quick retreat as play resumed. The cannon
couldn't go the distance, and fans were left with the suspicion that the
device had not been used -- or tested -- since last October.
When Terrmel Sledge lined a
home run into the right field stands in the seventh inning -- the first
ever for the Washington Nationals -- the fan who snagged the ball
threw it back onto the field, to cheers. But the guy behind me in Section
114 barked to his pal that the fan was "an asshole." It was the
first Nationals home run ball, he noted. "That's worth a lot of
When ace closer Billy Wagner
took the mound his first pitch -- a strike -- was followed by a few boos. Why? The
scoreboard speed monitor showed the ball went 92 mph, and the fans wanted
to see his patented 95 mph hurling. He obliged on the next throw. (April
5, 2005) Top
Fans of Jay Schwartz's
Secret Cinema in Philadelphia time-traveled last week during a program
of 10 vintage travel shorts, dating from the 1920s silent era to a 1954
Pan Am film promoting New York to London service aboard the new Boeing
707. Several films reflected superior Western attitudes that today
wouldn't pass the PC test; "His idea of luxury is a hunk of raw
meat" was how natives of one country were described. Ethiopians were
called "indolent by nature." Cairo was "where the tourists'
bankroll is painlessly extracted." In South Africa, "the
natives are friendly, childlike people."
past imperfect depictions brought cringes from the crowd at Moore College
of Art & Design, the final film, 6 1/2 Magic Hours, invited
whimsical ridicule as Pan Am prepared audiences for the launch of
transatlantic passenger service. "You arrive with no travel
fatigue," the assuring voice of the narrator insisted.
film establishes that even in those innocent days, the airlines already
were overselling the product. Even a 6 1/2-hour flight -- and it's curious
that New York-London is more like 7 hours today -- would not have been as
fancy free as this film made it seem. Even in the context of that era, the
scenes are too much. Smiling flight attendants lighting a passenger's
cigarette, bringing games to the family sitting in a comfy lounge, gourmet
dining. It was inevitable that such spacious fun would evaporate once the
genre caught on. In a final promotional tease, this one for
"seven hour" New York to Paris flights: "Once more you've
was before my time; for all I know people were hardier in the 1950s and
felt refreshed from a flight across five time zones. But I doubt it. In
any case, everyone enjoyed the Secret Cinema screenings, as they do each
month. Vintage film
connoisseur Schwartz never fails to put together engaging themes of
movies you've never seen and probably never will again. He says he has
many more travel segments, but it will be at least a year before he
repeats the theme in a regular show.
Cinema movies are all 16mm -- "not video, not ever," Schwartz
proudly notes -- and coming program and a mailing list signup can be found
at the Secret
Cinema site. (March 29, 2005) Top
N.J. Turnpike's genteel side. The Jersey Turnpike takes a lot of
flak for congestion and cut-throat motoring, but even hardened truckers
must melt when they discover fresh-cut flowers in the men's room at the
rest stops. I came across the blooms at the Richard Stockton service
plaza, and there's no doubt the shock value is almost as impressive as
their natural charms. A dozen service areas are scattered along the
118-mile turnpike, six for the southbound lanes, five for the northbound
lanes, and one accessible from both directions. Food options and other
services at each area are described here.
To check for backups in North Jersey, view the turnpike's
eight traffic cams. (March 29,
smoked 20 cigars a day? Mark Twain, that's who, according to the
animated guide who led me and a small group on a tour of the Mark Twain
House in Hartford, Conn. The cigar scent has faded since Twain's death in
1910 at age 74, but the house very much retains the author's aura. The
mansion and the adjacent museum are well worth a stop for anyone who
cherishes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, or other
classic works by the ace observer and travel writer.
of Twain's best-known works were written in the sprawling red-brick
building designed by Edward Potter, who specialized in churches. Its
beguiling entry hall is the work of Louis
sold the house in 1903, but many of the original furnishings have been
recovered over the years, and it is packed with personal touches that
reflect Twain's pixie spirit, including a milkable toy cow in his
daughters' bedroom and tiles depicting cock robin's death. His third-floor
study contains a billiards table that doubled as a work surface for
spreading projects, and papers litter the floor, as they did in the late
1800s when breezes blew in through the balcony door.
guide -- Matthew Waterhouse -- was excellent. He clearly reveres Twain,
delivery was a performance in itself, which made sense when I later
learned he is an actor who once did a one-man show based on Huckleberry
Finn. (He also had a prominent role in the Dr. Who series.)
admission to the house and museum is $12. The property is open daily. For
details, or to find what days Matthew Waterhouse is conducting tours,
contact the Mark
Twain House & Museum, phone 860-247-0998. (March
29, 2005) Top
Aboard Amtrak's Crescent. When I e-mailed a French friend in Atlanta that I was
headed his way aboard Amtrak, he wrote back, “I thought George Bush had
ended Amtrak.”Not just
yet, and on this day it was a good thing. Had I been flying today, I would
still be at the Philadelphia airport, delayed by snow and high winds. And
I would have spent the past two days wondering if I was going to get out
of town. Most of the aggravation we now associate with air travel
doesn’t show its face with train travel, and it adds a layer of ease to
the whole train experience, a bonus.(If it were an airline, they’d figure some way to assess a fee
All the passenger cars on this train are full, except
for the last car, which holds only passengers bound for Atlanta, and is a
bit more than half full. That gives it a more spacious feel, combined with
the roomier seat arrangement. The train arrived and departed Philadelphia
on schedule, and at least on my car there is a congeniality among
passengers, gained partly from knowing we’re spending 16 hours together
to reach a common destinations. Most everyone has a cell phone, but we
hear none of the blaring voices common in the Northeast Corridor commuter
trains. It seems everyone has a head set, video player, or a laptop. Each
seat pair has an AC outlet to keep the juice flowing.
The atmosphere is easygoing. A young man brings his
guitar from his seat up front to the midsection, where he sits next to a
young woman headed for Augusta, Ga., and tells her about its mahogany
construction, strumming softly. Three times he raises the long neck out of
the aisle, toll gate style, to let people pass by. You won’t see guitar
play on a plane.
Late in the afternoon an attendant brought pillows
for anyone who wanted one. At 10:30 p.m. the main car lights are switched
off and a half dozen seat lights flicker on. It’s quiet and peaceful.
It’s also a little warm, at least from the midsection back. To cool
things off, the back door is wedged open and as the evening wears on the
rest of the car loses its stuffiness and eventually gets too cool. An
occasional whiff of brakes makes its way through the car. The passages
between cars are spattered with swirls of ice and snow, fading evidence of
the nasty weather farther north.
By the time we reach northern Georgia, most of that
has melted, and when the car empties at Atlanta’s minuscule station
about 9 a.m., winter thoughts are far behind us literally and
8, 2005) Top
Amtrak’s Julie.If you’ve dialed Amtrak’s toll-free number in the past year,
you’ve probably met Julie, the automated reservation agent who is so
sweet and well programmed that you can start to like her if you’re not
careful. Unlike the automated airline operators, who make me immediately
I’ve come to appreciate Julie’s talents, though I
must report she has at least one pronunciation impediment.Last fall I found myself waiting for a train in Staunton,
Va., which is pronounced “Stanton,” not “Stawnton,” by the people
who live there. When I asked Julie when the train would arrive in
Staunton, she said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”So I tersely repeated Staunton, pronouncing it properly as STANton.This time she said, “Let me see if I’ve got this right, you
want to go to Hampton Roads.”
Eventually I hung up and started over, this time
intentionally mispronouncing the city as STAWNton.This time, Julie recognized the name and provided the arrival
time.(Unfortunately, no one
had told Julie the train was more than three hours late, but that’s
It seems that Amtrak could program Julie to recognize
both STAWNton for those not in the know, and as STANton for those who are.Or maybe Amtrak’s programmers don’t know.Should we tell them? (March 13, 2005) Top
pops up in strange places, including the travel world. Last week I watched
Rick Steves, the irrepressible travel tutor whose series is a PBS staple,
offer a surprising aside during an on-air fundraising session. He said that
when his European travel shows are made available to stations around the
country, the segments with naked statues -- yes, classic sculpture -- are
red-flagged so that stations in sensitive parts of the country are not
taken by surprise. The implication was that local stations can
excise the offending portions, although no mention was made of whether
that actually has happened.
It's a new twist on the naked statue theme, which gained the spotlight in
2002 when the Justice Department spent $8,000 on curtains to hide the
"Spirit of Justice" statue during news conferences by Attorney
General John Ashcroft. Spirit of Justice, a toga-clad woman with one
breast exposed, is located in the department's Great Hall.
guidebooks and tours promote the idea that travel should be a culturally
broadening experience and that the world becomes a better place when
people rub shoulders instead of just taking snapshots. In his soft-spoken
but insistent way, he also takes swipes at political currents that
undermine that theme. Steves' company is called Europe
Through the Back Door, and his philosophy gets an airing in one
chapter of A Sense of Place, a book of interviews with notable travel
writers by Michael Shapiro (Travelers' Tales, 2004).
(Feb. 6, 2005) Top
note. "Travelers may now face a new security problem. They could
set off radiation detectors meant to detect smuggled nuclear-bomb material
but that also sense the small amounts of radioactive elements used in
exercise stress tests and other increasingly common medical
procedures." So begins an article on page 8 of the March 2005 Consumer
Reports, raising an issue that deserves attention given the large
number of radiation-related medical procedures and the thousands of
radiation detectors installed in U.S. cities since 9/11. The magazine
urges people who have undergone any kind of treatment involving radiation
to carry a note from their doctor. How widespread is this problem?
"To date," says the report, "there are no figures for the
number of people who may have been stopped by these detectors."
Is this just a hypothetical
situation? The CR report is phrased in a way that makes you wonder. But it
turns out these stops actually are occurring. A short article in a
December 2002 issue of the New York Times said: "Such reports are
flowing into doctors' offices, physicians in the metropolitan region and
elsewhere say." The article can be found at the site of the Society
of Nuclear Medicine. The topic is covered at greater length in a 2004 story
in The Philadelphia Inquirer. If the reports are so common, it's
curious that no one is offering more extensive figures. But as with
airport security details, officials are loathe to willingly provide
statistics that they think would be compromising. So would-be terrorists
and the public are left guessing.
6, 2005) Top
musicians know the sting of playing clubs or bars where they have to
compete with chattering crowds or sports TV even as they try to perform.
That's not the drill at World Café Live, Philadelphia's latest venue
where both the audience and performers get a break. Last night during Amy
Correia's final encore, an a cappella version of "Starfishing,"
the guy next to me at the bar ordered a Petrone, shaken with ice. The
bartender put the tequila in the shaker then turned to the customer and
said, "I'm going to wait till she's done to shake it up." He
didn't want the sound of the ice to mar the song. That took a few minutes,
but no one seemed to mind, and it was refreshing to be in a place where
the music is at least as important as the social scene.
main act was Chuck Prophet, who quipped that he and the band had flown in
from San Francisco to put World Café Live "on the map," then
launched into a splendid 17-song set, including most of the tunes from his
latest CD, Age of Miracles.
Café Live opened in October 2004 and seats up to 500 people on three
levels. It's located at 31st and Walnut Streets, within walking distance
of 30th Street Station and the University of Pennsylvania Campus. The cafe
is in the complex housing WXPN, the Penn radio station whose syndicated
World Café program gave the place its name, and a 100-seat
bistro/performance space called Upstairs, which offers free acts almost
daily. Performance lineups and menus are at the World
Café Live site. (Feb. 2,
fans, rejoice: The U.S. State Department cares. Or so it would seem,
judging from a Jan. 28 public announcement offering advice for attending
the Bob Marley 60th birthday observance this month in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia. The reggae king died in 1981, but Ethiopian officials estimate
500,000 people will attend the celebration Feb. 1-15.
"Americans traveling in Ethiopia
during this time are reminded that traffic and public transportation in
the vicinity of the festivities concentrated in downtown Addis Ababa are
likely to be affected," says the advisory.
"Ethiopian authorities plan to enhance
security measures for the celebration. The security enhancements will
include increased checks for illegal weapons and drugs at ports of entry
and border crossings. Possession of marijuana is punishable by up to six
months in prison. Americans traveling in Ethiopia during this period
should be prepared for security checks and should have their valid U.S.
passports available at airports, ports, and border crossing points."
Thanks for the warning, Uncle. But does
anyone really think there could be a Marley celebration without weed?
Maybe there's an official wink wink going on here, noting increased checks
"at ports of entry." Once inside, you're on your own. The full
public announcement is here.
few years ago I checked in for a flight
at the St. Louis airport with a meat cleaver in my carry-on bag. It was a
Christmas gift from my brother, and although I knew there was a chance
the X-ray might detect it, I left it in its plastic wrap and figured
if I got stopped I'd simply check the bag and go on. But the bag sailed
through the X-ray machine and a few days later I was hacking chicken for
Today, of course, no sane
flyer would gamble on a cleaver getting through -- or on security officers
being benevolent -- which was driven home recently when again I was faced
with heading to the St. Louis airport with another gift from my brother: an
iridescent conch shell, its tip clipped so it could be blown like a
trumpet, islander style. Cupped in the hand, though, it seemed the perfect
bludgeon, and I questioned if it would clear security. The TSA's
list forbids brass knuckles, and the conch was at least as menacing as
those. I didn't want to face a delay for my 7 a.m. flight, so erred on the
side of caution and mailed the shell home.
As it turned out, delays
were plentiful at the Delta Air Lines counter at St. Louis International
Airport at 5 a.m. on Dec. 29. All the other airline desks seemed normal,
with few or no passengers waiting, but at Delta more than 100 people were
barely able to contain their panic. Delta's computers were not working, so
the staff was having to check in each person by phone.
But what caused the panic
was how Delta handled the situation. A hoarse staff member periodically
climbed to the front of the counter and shouted that flights were being
handled in sequence. Those on the 6 o'clock flight should line up here,
those on any 7 o'clock flight over there. In the middle were people
awaiting even later flights. This didn't sit well with those who had
arrived two hours early; it meant they were risking missing their flights
even though they had followed the airlines' instructions.
And after the counter
wait, there was still the security line.
The clincher, though, was
that after waiting in one assigned line for, say, the 7 o'clock flights,
passengers were instructed to move to another location at the opposite end
of the counter when the counter staff finally was ready to service
that batch of flights. Predictably, those who had been in that line for
half an hour or more balked at losing their place to those who leaped into
line at the new location. What followed was a scrum of sorts, where those
in the original 7 o'clock held their position but surged forward with
But the most surprising
twist was what happened at counter. You handed your I.D. to an agent, who
confirmed by phone that you were indeed booked on a flight. Then they
hand-scribbled your name on a blank boarding pass, with your gate number.
And that was it. So much for security. A piece of cardboard with a scrawl
was all that stood between passengers and the gate.
In the security line, a
woman who checked my I.D. against the boarding pass was especially
amusing. With an air of authority, she decided the counter agent's
handwriting was not sufficiently clear and that she should rewrite my name
in her hand.
The real lesson in all
this: Whenever possible, print out your boarding pass at home so you don't
have to deal with the desk at the airport. I had no access to a printer at
my holiday destination, but to avoid all that would have been worth a trip
to Kinko's the night before.
Questions often reflect the day's headlines, but this is the first season
readers have asked what it takes to move to another country for political
reasons. They started a couple of months before the election, mainly from
Kerry supporters nervous about their candidate's prospects. Top inquiries
from would-be expatriates: Canada, Mexico, and New Zealand. However good
it might sound, it's not that easy. For a rundown on possibilities, check Harpers.org.
know that feeling in a fast-food restaurant or store when the employees
are schmoozing and carrying on their social life behind the counter and
seem not to be paying attention to you? It's even more vexing in the airport security line. This
happened twice in rapid succession at PHL's Terminal E a few days before
Halloween, which made me wonder whether it was a TSA trick or treat joke. At the first checkpoint, two female agents were gabbing
away, one eating a doughnut, and I stood there for a few seconds as it
registered with them that a passenger had arrived. Finally one of them
said, "Oh, where's my pen?" as she shook doughnut crumbs off
her fingers, then signed off on my boarding pass. Down the chute to the
X-ray machine, two male TSA workers were talking finance. I heaved my
carry-ons to the edge of the conveyor and moved through the magnometer.
But even though I was the only passenger in sight, the front-man did not
immediately push the bags on through. As I stood waiting, the X-ray
operator said to his colleague: "If I get four hours in of overtime,
I get $1,200."
strange lights adorn yon craft booth?
Big Bang Party Lights, that's what. At Atlanta's Candler Park Fallfest the last
weekend in October, the shotgun-shell lights were strung along a pottery-jewelry booth run by Debbie
Fraker of Dirty
The lights are the handiwork
of Joan and can be ordered by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
They're $25 for a 50-light strand, $40 for 100 lights, and custom
orders can be placed.
Airlines began new service from Philadelphia
on May 23, and while its smaller operation did not generate the scale of
attention that Southwest Airlines’ PHL startup did two weeks
earlier, one segment of the flying public is certain to prefer
Frontier’s jets: kids. Each of Frontier’s Airbus and Boeing 737 aircraft has a wild
animal painted on the tail. Some are baby animals and are irresistibly
cute. Besides the delight of young passengers, parents
who are veterans of the Denver-based airline
say that when they phone home
before or after landing, their children always want to know which
"species" of plane they are on. At Denver
International, the hub where planes converge at rush hours, the Frontier
jet line's menagerie is an eye catcher.
expectations is the name of game for
of Collegeville, Pa., a
fan whose devotion makes the face-painted fans seem half-hearted. About
the seventh inning of an early May game my pal Dave noticed her in the
section next to ours, changing jerseys each time a new
batter came to the plate. You read that right. She carries with her
a personalized, autographed jersey for every player on the team, pulling
them out of plastic bags tucked around her, slipping them over her own
jersey, name side facing forward. She has the choreography down perfectly,
readying the jersey of whoever is in the on-deck circle, neatly folding
the jersey of the most recent batter and returning it to storage. When the
are in the field, she dons the jersey of the pitcher. After the
had lost dramatically in the bottom of the ninth, she told us she started
the routine in the 2000 season and had jerseys for every player except one
new acquisition. Later that evening Roberto Hernandez autographed the
jersey bearing his name and number; she also had Shawn Wooten’s
your cell phone abroad can be less expensive if it has a replaceable chip
in it – called a SIM card – that paves the way for you to be charged
for air time at a local rate. Not everyone whose phone is capable of such
a money-saving switch knows about it, but neither did a customer service
rep for my cell phone company, T-Mobile. While most people with multiband
international phones are delighted by the convenience alone, you can save
a substantial amount in air time charges by acquiring the SIM –
subscriber identity module – card. The cards are available in cell
phone shops; check your service provider’s Web site for affiliates in
your destination. In London
I located a T-Mobile affiliate where a friendly employee opened the
back of my phone and
inserted a test chip to see if it was compatible. It was, and I bought for
£10 (about $17 at the time) a Virgin Mobile card that included £5 in
airtime credit. With that card inserted, the cost of each call was cut in
half -- about 50 cents a minute instead of the 99 cents that even local
calls would have cost me using my home chip. With the Virgin Mobile chip
came a local mobile phone number, and additional value could be added
using a swipe card at a shop or by phone or online. Competitors offer
different deals and it may be worth asking around before buying. … To
get text messages and check e-mail sent to my usual T-Mobile accounts, I
had to swap in my home SIM card. … I called T-Mobile recently to ask if
Nicaragua. The young rep on the other end of the line responded:
“What’s the ZIP code there?” I explained it was a nation in
Central America, and she sweetly said she had never heard of that
bus on a Saturday afternoon in late January 2004 from
to see what it was like, and the ride was flawless. The one-way trip was
$12, it left on time and arrived a bit ahead
of schedule under two hours later. Every seat was filled. The inside
temperature was comfortably warm on a frigid day. I had none of the
complaints that some correspondents have reported – no fights over
seats, no loud movies, no penetrating odors from carry-on food. The
only drawback was that the drop-off point in
means additional travel time if you are making your way to Midtown or
elsewhere in the area. The drop-off point is at 88 East Broadway beneath
Bridge; the closest subway station is the East Broadway stop located two
blocks east. From there it took two trains and 45 minutes to reach my
Upper West Side
hotel. … The return trip the next day was on a packed Amtrak train --
$47 with AAA discount. Ironically for a trip that costs quadruple the
amount, my coach was uncomfortably cold, with a breeze moving through the
car at foot level. For the
bus schedules, visit www.chinatown-bus.com.
For Amtrak, www.amtrak.com.
We drove into Nashville
at midafternoon on New Year’s Eve day with a guaranteed hotel
reservation and were tempted to tour downtown before checking in. Instead,
we went directly to the Comfort Inn and what happened next illustrates the
value of arriving sooner than later, even when a credit card has
guaranteed your room at the inn. When we got to our room it had the
telltale odor of cigarettes, though we’d requested a nonsmoking room. I
picked up the room phone and asked that we be moved.
The hotel was booked solid, the receptionist said, what with the Music
City Bowl drawing thousands of college football fans from
. That may be, I responded, but we really would like a nonsmoking room. It
took nearly half an hour and a second phone call to nudge the harried
receptionist along, but we ended up in a suitable room. It put the whole
visit on a better footing, and I thanked her when we ventured out. “I
robbed Peter to pay Paul,” she said somewhat guiltily, noting that
someone else would end up in that smoky room. The moral: Be polite
but firm, and mindful of timing. Had we tried to switch rooms a few hours
later, we probably would have been forced to light the sage we carry –
our own tactic for combating foul vapors.
you love it when an agency tries to steer your inquiries to a Web site, then the
Web site fails you?That
happened last week when I looked at the State Department site to locate an
“acceptance facility,” a nearby post office that could help me renew
my passport. The site has a search engine for plugging in your Zip code
and getting a list of nearby offices. But repeatedly it gave only an error
message when I tried it. When I explained the problem to an info agent at
State’s toll-free passport hotline (which opens with a recording urging
you to use the Web site), the agent said: “That link is up and down like
an elevator.” She quickly provided the information I needed, but fretted
over rumors that she and her colleagues were going to be switched to same
site used by regular citizens – leaving her in the lurch as well. . . .
The DS-82 passport renewal form still lists an old pay-per-minute phone
number for the
that was replaced last August by the
toll-free number, 1-877-487-2778.
When the TSA’s man
in charge of security at
Airport, James B. Golden Jr., was removed from his
position in December, news accounts cited “improper hiring and lapses in
security.” The Transportation Security Administration said that he
"has been placed on administrative leave until further notice.” Golden
denied any wrongdoing and predicted he would be vindicated. Whatever the
outcome, something damning sticks in my mind: In an airport interview just
before the Thanksgiving holiday crunch, Golden told a Channel 29 reporter
that passengers should help speed the security process by leaving their
nail clippers at home. Trouble is, nail clippers are not on the TSA’s
list of forbidden items, and haven’t been since the period just after
9/11. The TSA Can I Take It? guide says nail clippers and files
are acceptable for both carry-on and checked luggage. If the head of
security doesn’t know what’s on the list, how can the TSA expect
passengers to know?
PHL passengers who
carry laptop computers have had it drilled into them that they must remove
their computers from their bags and pass them through the X-ray
separately. So conditioned, I dutifully took out my machine while
. The security man tending the X-ray
conveyor looked at me like I was a troublemaker and told me I should have
left it in my suitcase. “Oh, sorry,” said I, deciding he was probably
not interested in how it was done in
. But it was a small example of how
differing policies leave us wondering what the heck is going on.
Reports Travel Letter, 1986-2003
Consumer Reports Travel Letter
died early in 2003, and anyone who cares about travel should be
wearing a black armband. In the final issue, editor Bill McGee noted
that CRTL's circulation had been hurt by the many other sources of
travel information now available. But none do what the Travel Letter did
so well, and it is unlikely any publication will step in to snugly fill
* Travel Holiday
* Expedia Travels
In its 17 years, the newsletter set
the standard for objective examination of consumer travel issues. It
provided huge quantities of data that helped subscribers
make informed decisions on everything from selecting the roomiest
airline seats to choosing among interstate hotel chains to booking the
least-queasy cabins on a cruise ship.
It took our impressions – hotels seem to
be charging more for phone calls, airlines can’t be spending much on
these meals – and put a face on them, doing the nuts-and-bolts reporting
that provided comparisons, confirmed impressions, and gave consumers a
grip on issues and how to wisely proceed. The newsletter was steeped in
common sense and the conviction that travelers deserve to be treated
fairly. While its accumulation of data strived to be objective, its
editorial voice had the guts to take stands and recommend courses of
action. It gave voice to a traveling public that often grumbles, but often
has trouble finding ways to fight back effectively against the dynamics of
Consumer Reports Travel Letter was not
the only publication looking after the traveling public’s interests. But
it was unique in many ways, and with its voice silenced, the traveling
public has lost a champion.
The champion’s spirit is not likely
to rest in peace.