After a 2-week, 2,500-mile and $120 in tolls driving expedition through the Northeast, I didn’t have much time left to write a new episode. So, I mined the audio files of recent TravelCommons interviews for some good stories that got left on the cutting room floor. We also talk about planning for a bike trip in Italy, a couple of things that might make the 2021 traveler gift guide, and we mourn the demise of American Airlines’ in-flight magazine. All this and more – click here to download the podcast file, go up to the Subscribe section in the top menu bar to subscribe on your favorite site, or listen right here by clicking on the arrow on the player.
Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #177:
Since The Last Episode
- Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
- Coming to you from the TravelCommons studio in Chicago, trying to get this July episode in under the wire, a bit delayed due to a 2-week, 2,500-mile and $120 in tolls driving expedition through the Northeast that started with a 12-hr drive from Chicago to Manhattan on the Friday of the 4th of July weekend with as much of our daughter and as much of her worldly belongings as would fit in a BMW X3, helping her move into a 5th-floor walkup in Midtown. I was very pleasantly surprised to hit only two backups on what was forecasted to be the first really big post-lockdown travel day; a detour around an accident in the Poconos on I-80 and then, at the end of our drive, the completely predictable back-up at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel. A completely and happily uneventful drive. I then spent the rest of the week finding a different spot every morning for my standard Manhattan breakfast — egg & cheese on a toasted everything bagel and making sure they don’t slip some milk into my black coffee order — before spending the day in front of my laptop on a not-very-big desk in our not-very-big hotel room while Irene helped Claire get her flat all set up.
- The next Friday, we left Manhattan for a week’s vacation in Maine with an intermediate stop in New Haven, CT’s Little Italy neighborhood for the classic white clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s. It was a bit of a wait — a 20-minute queue on the sidewalk and then another 45 minutes after ordering — but it was worth it. I’ve had many tries at white clam pizza before, but this one was, by far, the best — a generous helping of clams, garlic, and oregano on a cracker-crisp crust . We walked past other pizza places on Wooster St, but only had time to hit one, and so it had to be the ur-pizza joint, the classic, Frank Pepe’s. And luckily for us, it didn’t disappoint; the line along the sidewalk is well-earned. You know, the Michelin Guide says a one-star restaurant is ‘High quality cooking, worth a stop!’, a two-star is ‘Excellent cooking, worth a detour!’, and describes a three-star as ‘Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey!’ I’m not saying that Frank Pepe’s is a two-star place, but I will say that it was damn good pizza that was definitely worth our detour.
- We then headed up to Scarborough, ME, just south of Portland, for a beach vacation with friends. The traffic on the drive north was a steady stream of RV’s and pick-up tracks and cars with “roof bags” tied down on top and bikes lashed to the back that continued to thicken from I-91 to I-84 to I-90 to I-495 until it finally ground to a halt trying to merge onto I-95, which was itself filled with the same thick sludge of vehicles trying to make it north for the weekend. And then the weather wasn’t great — rainy, foggy, misty (now I know where Steven King got all his inspiration) so our time devolved into an week-long seafood fest — a bivalve-palooza of local mussels, oysters, and clams; intensive longitudinal lobster roll research; and, ignoring the current UK debate about crustacean sentience, multiple boiled lobster dinners — and taproom tour, hitting the big names like Allagash, Maine Beer Company, and Oxbow as well as some (many) other little guys. And then, finally, on the last day, sunshine.
- After a week of this, the rain started up again as we turned around and headed back home, getting on I-90 in Albany and not getting off until we hit Chicago. It too was an uneventful drive, but not in a great way. By the end of that day, we’d developed a deep, deep hatred of those miserable strips of boring asphalt and the hellhole rest stops that make up the Ohio and Indiana Tollways. I hope Claire loves her new life, ‘cause I really don’t want to have to drive that way again.
- Bridge Music — One for Me by SackJo22 (c) copyright 2009 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/SackJo22/21492 Ft: Haskel
- I have to say that the most important piece of travel kit on this trip was my USB-C to HDMI cable that let me mirror my MacBook Air display on the hotel and beach house TVs so that I could sit back with a beer and comfortably watch YouTube highlights of the Euro 2020 soccer tournament and the Tour de France on 40-60” flat screens instead of hunching over my 13” MacBook Air. I had a version of this in my 2019 traveler gift guide, but it got bumped off the 2020 version to make room for bring-your-own dining sets. But with restaurants and bars open and so not having to eat every meal in my hotel room, I think I’ll reverse that change and put this cable back on the 2021 guide.
- I don’t know if masks will stay on the 2021 guide — that depends on transportation agency rules — but I bought another batch of the evolvetogther masks that I called out in the 2020 guide because, even after in-flight mask mandates get dropped, I might still wear a mask on a crowded flight during the cold and flu season because, for the first time in forever, I didn’t get my usual killer cold last year. Without a mandate, I probably wouldn’t wear a mask in the airport and probably not in a fairly open plane, but I think so when it’s a full flight, when there’s someone next to me in the center seat. I think about it — they’re exhaling maybe 14-16 inches away from where I’m inhaling. No airplane HEPA filter is going to be able to get in between that exchange. I say that now, but I’ll have to re-visit it after in-flight mandates go away and I’m boarding an 8-hour flight to London; that’ll be the real stress test.
- In episode #175 back in May, I talked about making some Q4 bets on international travel — a Backroads bike tour in southern Italy in October and the UK in November. Back in the spring, vaccine roll-outs were choppy, especially in the EU, but I thought that everything would sort itself out over the summer making booking travel in the fall not such a risk. Now this was pre-delta variant, but while in Maine, we got an e-mail from Backroads with the subject line “Your Trip Is A Go!” followed shortly thereafter by an alert from Chase of a very large charge dropped on our Sapphire Visa card. Now we need to start tracking travel requirements. Back in May, the best bet for US travelers was to take a “COVID-free” flight on Delta or American to avoid the 2-week quarantine. Then, a month later in June, Italy significantly eased those requirements. Now, you fill out a pretty extensive on-line passenger locator form with all your trip information and your COVID vaccination card and you’re good to go… into Italy. Getting home, the US is still requiring a negative COVID test no matter what your vaccination status is. But, back in May, the CDC said Abbott’s at-home test can be used. It’s not quite as easy as a home pregnancy test — the Abbott test requires you to download an app and enough bandwidth for a video chat with a doctor to visually confirm your identity and the test results — but it beats having to hunt down at a testing place in a new city.
- In the last episode, I did a bit of “fun with numbers,” pulling daily air passenger numbers from the TSA’s website to look at Memorial Day weekend numbers and then a couple of weeks after that when, on June 11, passenger counts broke 2 million for the first time since the March 2020 lockdowns. Extending that analysis — from mid-June to now, the last week in July, checkpoint volume growth has plateaued — the TSA volume numbers averaging just over 2 million/day since the last episode. That’s more than 3 times the 623,000 daily average for the same time last year, but still 21% below 2019’s number. But to a lot of fliers, it doesn’t feel that way. It’s back to full planes, long lines, and tight schedules that can’t recover from inevitable summer thunderstorm delays. Airlines are minimizing schedule slack, trying to claw back some of their 2020 losses, but also because of labor shortages — from crews to ground-support staff, the people who drive the fuel trucks and cater the planes. Some of that is common to other industries — people slow to reenter the workforce or took jobs elsewhere when furloughed — but there’s also something unique to the airlines, staff in the wrong places because travel patterns have shifted. We’ve talked about this before, but with leisure travel snapping back much faster than business travel, the usual big travel destinations — LGA, ORD, DFW — are giving way to mid-sized airports. The fifth-busiest airport in the world is now in Charlotte, N.C., according to flight data. Charlotte had more flights in June than LAX. Made it tough to be able to spend any time in one of their famous white rocking chairs.
- Last month, American Airlines pulled the plug on American Way, their in-flight magazine. Not surprising. Delta, Southwest, and Alaska all pulled theirs out of their seatback pockets in March 2020 and, most famously, 5 year before COVID in 2015, Skymall disappeared into a Chapter 11 puff of smoke. I, for one, will miss American Way. I’ve always read in-flight magazines and liked that American Way came out twice a month, so it didn’t get as stale as the other ones. Way back in episode #15, waay back in 2005, I called them “reading safety stock” because if I was stuck on the runway waiting out a weather ground stop or sitting in Detroit’s “penalty box” for a couple hours waiting for a landing slot, I’d quickly chew through my own stack of reading material, because, back then, all electronics had to be turned off on the ground and below 10,000 ft to keep a “sterile cabin” for takeoff and landings, and most flight attendants were pretty particular about enforcing it. But all is not lost. United Airlines restarted the physical Hemispheres magazine in June after going all-digital in March 2020.
- And if you have any travel stories, questions, comments, tips, rants – the voice of the traveler, send ’em along to email@example.com — you can send a Twitter message to mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or the Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can post comments on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
- Bridge Music — Fall to pieces – Silence by mika (c) copyright 2010 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/mika/24945 Ft: Colab
B-Sides and Rarities – Interview Outtakes
- After the travel world was shut down in March 2020, I began wondering if TravelCommons would join the furlough ranks for lack of content. It’s tough to do a podcast that’s “more about the journey than the destination” if you’re not journeying. Grounded, locked down, I needed a different way to generate content, so I’ve been doing more interviews. Interviews aren’t less work; it’s just different. Instead of spending time writing, I spend it editing. The typical interview session is 20-30 minutes over Zoom (of course) which I edit down to a 6-8 minute segment which you hopefully find tight, focused and insightful.
- But doing some quick math, that leaves two-thirds of the interview on the cutting floor. Not all of that is insightful — there’s, say, pronunciation guidance… that I still manage to screw up. But there’s still good stuff that, for whatever reason, doesn’t make it into the edited segment. So for this episode, I’ve pulled out the full interview files and pulled out some stories, some conversational threads that I left behind the first go-around. They’re pretty much unedited, save for snipping out a cough or two — so you’re hearing the actual conversation.
- The first “b-side” is from my conversation in episode #166 with Dr. Emily Thomas, associate professor in philosophy at Durham University in the UK about her book The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad. I reached out to Emily after reading a review of her book in the Wall Street Journal. It was one of my favorite interviews; one that I couldn’t cut down to just 6-8 minutes. But even with the extended play, this thread about different travel styles — going deep vs. checking off a place’s “greatest hits” — didn’t make it.
- Next up are a couple of stories from episode #175 where I talked to Paul Melhus, CEO of ToursByLocals, about the local tour market. Paul first told me about the vagaries of selling shore excursion tours to cruise ship passengers and a story about the business challenges he faced in the first days of the COVID lockdown
- The episode before that, #174 if I’m doing my math correctly, was another extended play segment — 12 minutes — about taproom tourism, but that was cut down from an hour-and-a-half Zoom beer drinking session with Rob Cheshire host of the UK’s This Week In Craft Beer podcast. Here’s one of the many taproom stories that didn’t make the podcast. You can catch the full uncut session on the website or the TravelCommons YouTube channel.
- Now it’s not that I didn’t do interviews before the pandemic. Back in January 2020 in episode #159, I had Allan Marko on talking about trip planning, how he and his wife planned their 9-week sabbatical around Southeast Asia. I thought this was perfect timing — January is always a big travel planning time. Two months later, most of those plans got blown to bits. But, back in those happier times, here’s a story about the dangers of losing a bag while on a different city-each-day trip
- Editing last month’s interview with Dr Janet Bednarek, Professor of History at University of Dayton about the history of airports, I had to leave out this thread about who owns US airports.
- And finally, something that’s not really a B-side. Back in episode #163, I used a piece of Steve Frick’s Travel Stories podcast where we talked about the first TravelCommons episode. Here’s another piece of our conversation where we talk about where our travel paths overlapped.
- Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
- OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #177
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