Archive for the travel Category

Flying V Over Hilton Head Island

Posted in photos, travel with tags , , , , on Wednesday, 2009 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Dulles to Munich

Posted in essays, travel on Thursday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Wow, what a plane. Excuse me, AIRBUS. After an impressive-looking first class area, the rest of the plane had a front and back section, each almost as big as regular planes. There were 2 aisles separating the sets of 2, 4, 2 seating in each row.

I’d been on a plain like this as a kid when my family took a trip to Israel and Egypt. But that was 25 years ago. Jeez… back then I used to think just being 25 was old, or old enough. Now somehow I’m old enough to remember something I did 25 years ago.

I’ll tell you what, Lufthansa has nice service. Each seat had a fresh pillow and blanket it in plastic waiting for our heavy heads and weary bones. The plane started moving very soon after we all boarded. None of this shit we usually get on AirTran or Southwest where you sit there for a half hour in the stuffy air while the captain tells you that we’re waiting for other planes to take off so we can first start taxiing down the runway.

No, these Lufthansa peeps are all business. Once we took off, the little TV screens showed maps with a little airplane icon tracking our progress. It would zoom in on the DC area and then zoom out to bigger pictures showing the ocean we’d cross and marking our final destination of Munich.

Quickly, the efficient staff was serving drinks and some strange cheese-stick crackers. They didn’t have Jack Daniels, but I can’t complain: the drinks were apparently free. I opted for some Warsteiner premium verum: German beer. Pretty good.

It’s something like 10pm and they’re serving a hot dinner meal after coming around to give us hot/moist towels. Dinner came in little foil containers with either a veggie/pasta dish or chicken, green beans, and mashed sweet potatoes. I got the chicken. They came with a roll, a surprisingly nice salad and some tiramisu cake that was really good.

After dinner, the beer and Zanex team was starting to win the battle against the cramped seats and nearby crying children. It was time for Radiohead’s Kid A album to take me off to sleep among the clouds. I faded in and out, changing pillow positions and shifting in my seat and apparently sleeping for 2-3 hours. I’m really not sure.

Soon the house lights were back on, people were stirring and bright sunlight came through the few windows whose shades had been opened.

My eyes hurt, barely encouraged by the sight of the coffee and breakfast carts coming around. Didn’t we just eat dinner? It’s 3am, but with the time change it’s 9am. I’m tired.

As we approached Munich, we quickly realized we’d be landing at about the time our connecting flight to Athens would be boarding. Looks like we’d have to do an O.J. Simpson through the airport to make it to our gate on time. (Keep in mind, in this context, to “do an O.J. Simpson” means running and jumping over luggage if necessary to hustle through an airport like the old Hertz commercials, not stabbing and killing our ex-wife and her friend and dropping our bloody glove near our house and not going to jail and then coining a new euphemism: “Looking for the real killer,” which actually means “Playing golf and making smarmy comments at money-making appearances.”)

I’d heard how nice and modern the Munich airport was, and it was, but we didn’t have time to linger. We negotiated all the escalators and corridors following the signs for Gate G20. We got there just in time to join the end of the line of people boarding the flight for Athens.

Thank god. I don’t care how nice the Munich airport is, the next flight to Athens wasn’t till 7pm and the thought of sitting around for 8 hours in another airport was unappealing to say the least.

A smaller, regular-sized plane this time. Just a 2-hour flight. But once again, Lufthansa hooked it up: lunch was a hot rice dish and 2 more free Warsteiners.

Waiting at Dulles

Posted in essays, travel on Thursday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

We only got to the airport 6 hours early.

Better early than late, of course, but I don’t think I’ve ever checked in and gone through security a full 6 hours early. Talk about having time to kill… I needed an arms dealer and a warehouse full of explosives to carry out the bloodbath necessary for this wait.

We got to our gate, 45B, and it was crowded with people waiting to board a flight ahead of ours. I pictured them safe on the ground at their final destinations, knee-deep in their vacations, before we would even board our plane.

Fuck.

We sat at the next gate over, adjacent to ours. There were plenty of seats. We figured we could just shift over to our actual gate sometime in the next few hours once it cleared out.
Within about 12 seconds we were ready to take a walk. Find a snack, some drinks… maybe some window shopping.

My 75-year-old Greek father-in-law stayed sitting at the gate. We surrounded him with our carryon luggage and set off to explore what Dulles Airport had to offer.

The Tequilery, a small bar that served Mexican food. Dan’s Tap Room, a restaurant/bar that looked to have basic American fare: burgers, grilled chicken salads. A kiosk selling countless items printed with USA and America! Even shot glasses, nail files, towels, and toilet paper with the White House logo printed on it. How ridiculous. Who would want that shit? Even if you gave it as a gift, would anyone really think you stayed at the White House? Seems to me that commercialized crap like that does as much to soil the alleged sanctity of the office of the presidency as anything Bill and Monica might have done after a late-night pizza.

On we walked, passed a magazine shop with a Starbucks in it, a small Borders bookstore, and your other basic airport/pseudo-mall offerings.

Outside, the rain continues to pour down for the fourth straight day. It seemed like it had been raining for weeks. Between the rain and the waiting to board a 9-hour flight, I felt like a giraffe or zebra waiting for Noah to give me the “All aboard!” onto his ark.

Got a slice of pizza, sat around, took a walk, sat around, went for drinks, sat around, took another walk, stood around cuz we just couldn’t sit anymore.

At some point, I went for drinks with my brother-in-law. He ordered a rum and coke, and I got a Jack Daniels and ginger ale. For the extra $2 we both upgraded to “doubles.” So our $8.50 drinks had almost as much liquor in them as what a regular single drink should. Pretty soon the father-in-law shows up. If there were 2 things he could sniff out in an international airport, it’s a bar and his sons.

He’s an Ouzo man of course, but most American bars, especially these small airport/mall joints, usually don’t have Ouzo. So in restaurants he usually gets beer. Budweiser is his brand. Not Bud Light, or Select Ice Draft or anything, just “Gimme one Budweiser,” he says.

But now, here, in the midst of a 6-hour wait… after driving 2 hours in the rain from our house to his son’s hotel… after sitting in the hotel restaurant/bar for a 2-hour lunch that featured 2 Budweisers for him and the worst service known to man… after all this, and an 9-hour flight ahead of us, Budweiser wasn’t gonna cut it.

“You have cognac?” he barks quickly in his accented English.
The waitress says, “Sure, Courvoisier or Hennesy?”
“It no matter, just make-a for double!”

We drank our drinks and watched Spain and France play World Cup soccer, tied 1-1, and tried to pretend to recognize tripping fouls and show mild excitement if/when the ball neared the same zip code as the goal.

The waitress came back around and asked dad if he wanted another drink. He declined and she gave the clichéd flirty-waitress smile and said, “Oh well, I tried…” After she walked away, dad commented that she had a beautiful smile. He’s 75 years old. Tired. Impatient. But he still knew when a cute waitress had a nice smile.

On our way out, he even went so far as to stop her and tell her how beautiful her eyes and smile were. When guys half his age or younger pull that shit it’s usually somewhere between sad and desperate, and not far from creepy. But when he did it, it was as cute as her smile.

Back at Gate 45B, we were still serving out our sentence as other inmates began to fill in the seats around us. Outside, the rain pounded the runways and the sky darkened.
Soon we’d be taking off and joining the rain, clouds, and darkness up in the sky. Obeying that little light that tells us when we could unhook our seatbelts… about 362 passengers and a large crew would crowd onto this big plane… this giant tube with engines and wings… and trust the physics and technology that most of us don’t understand and hope we can safely sail 50,000 feet above the ocean and cross the whole damn thing.

Next stop: Munich.

BWI to LAX

Posted in essays, travel on Monday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

late august, 2005

Some guy named Crispin Sayo took my boarding pass and I walked down that weird telescoping temporary corridor that leads to the plane.

“If you follow every dream, you might get lost.”

Taxiing down the runway about to take off, I have my headphones on getting my first listen to Neil Young’s new Prairie Wind CD.

Can’t believe we’re finally sitting on the plane about to leave for California. The summer has actually flown by and now we’ll watch the summer set it’s sun where it always tucks itself to sleep: out west.

“I feel like I’m falling. Falling of the face of the Earth.”

We’re racing the sun. High above the big fluffy cotton-ball clouds we’re speeding toward California 3 hours faster than the sun.

It’s taken awhile to get here (stayed at aaron/tara’s, early cab ride…)

Flying really is a fuckin amazing thing. Just looking out amid and above the clouds it doesn’t seem real. Once you get up to cruising altitude the blanket of clouds off in the distance looks like pillowy, snowy plains.

The spaces in the cloud cover offer a glimpse of the miniature world of tiny mountains speckled with little trees. The minute buildings and shiny specs of cars look glued onto this little scaled-down world. Such meticulous detail, it all looks so real. Or fake.

Now we’re back above a huge stretch of white cotton ocean of clouds. The craters and snow drifts in the distance are so deceiving I wouldn’t be surprised to see sled dogs and snow mobiles go mushing by.

There aint no birds up here.

The new Neil Young album is perfect companion for a morning up in the sky. Prairie Wind sounds like the completion of a trilogy that started with Harvest and Harvest Moon. Not sure if it’s being marketed that way or if all the crap rock critics will anoint it as such. But it has a familiar rocking chair on a porch kinda feel to it.

I’m use to the short flights to Florida. This BWI-to-LAX thing is getting long. An hour or so into the flight they came around to give us complimentary sodas and sell us a fuckin snack. Sell? Goddamn fruit & cheese thing for 5 bucks. Shit, those snacks were small and crappy and worth complaining about back when they were still free. Five bucks? No thanks.

I had 2 blood mary’s instead. Nothing like drinking liquor before 9am. Then I went ahead and set my watch to west coast time so I was technically drinking liquor at 6am. Yikes. Bad news for the peeps traveling with me.

Soon after, they started the in-flight movie, which is always some second-rate romantic comedy starring the latest young hunk du-jour. This time it was something with Ashton Kutcher.

I didn’t plug into it. I stuck with my old friend Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Part of the way through, somewhere between the 5 Believers and the Sad-Eyed Lady of the Low Lands, I almost fell asleep. Maybe I did. If so, it was short lived. I’m in the middle seat with nowhere to lean. My neck kept hurting.

Outside, the flat and geometric properties of unknown mid-west plains states were starting to give way to mountains and desert.

And then, there it was: the Rockies. Wow.

I can remember when I drove out west in ’92, we could see the Rockies looming in the distance almost a full day before we’d reach them. From up here we could see the impressive topography as the almost-fake looking mountain range sprawled southward in a thick winding line like a huge river of rock and earth, dry and bulging toward the sky.

After that it was all bizarre stretches of red earth, mountain ranges, deserts, and a few scattered rivers and small communities. It was like a big 3-D mat that a kid might sprawl out on the floor so he can play “dinosaurs and dirt bikes on Mars” or something.

We were keeping an eye out for the Grand Canyon, hoping to catch a glimpse. Eventually the captain announced that we were passing it, but it was on the other side from where we were sitting. Asshole. Several peeps got up to stand in the aisle and look. The guy in the aisle seat of our row didn’t budge.

Okay, I’m ready to be done with this flight. We probably have about 20-30 minutes left. Is it me or are the seats really narrow and close to each other? I’m a pretty averaged-size guy and I feel like John Candy crammed into a baby seat.

I just looked out the window. Maybe I did fall asleep and the pilot really flew to Mars. I’m not sure where we are, but there’s some crazy landscape out there.

I cant believe we’ll be in California within an hour. Lunch at Venice Beach. That won’t suck. Then it’s the short drive down to Newport Beach to Joe’s house.

Seriously, where the hell are we? As far as the eye can see it’s just desert and mountainsand lines of dried cracked earth winding through where rivers must have once flowed. It’s like we’re trapped in a song from U2’s Joshua Tree album. or flying over one.

There’s another little community of tiny houses and some roads. Just this little patch of civilization in the middle of this vast otherworldly desert of nothingness. What the fuck to do these people do? Where do they plug in their goddamn fridge?

After the movie they showed some in-flight TV programs. I didn’t plug in, but I caught glimpses of Matt Lauer interviewing Madonna. He looks like a grape. She still looks good. I don’t know what they were talking about but I could tell that he was a nerd and she was cool. Then there was an episode of the American version of The Office and some feature on college football.

Then I look up to see Glen Frey, Don Henley, and a bunch of other old Eagles who tolerate each other while traveling the world collecting insane amounts of money. Memo to the Eagles: write a fuckin new song!!

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