Podcast #200 — Wrapping Up the TravelCommons Journey

TravelCommons’ final stop

Finishing up 19 years of thinking way too much about travel, I indulge in a little bit of nostalgia and talk about my personal travel philosophy. But before that, we compare three Mid-South river cities — Nashville, Louisville, and Memphis — talk about the recovery of business travel, and enjoy a full listener mail bag. 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 #200:

Since The Last Episode

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you, for the last time, from the TravelCommons studios in Nashville, TN after a couple of road trips, one up I-65 to Louisville, KY for a pre-Kentucky Derby bike ride called (of course) Tour de Lou, and then the next week, out west along I-40 to Memphis. It’s given me a chance to compare, if I throw Nashville into the mix, three mid-sized, Mid-South river cities that I’ve lived in. Nashville is the largest of the three both in population and area; Louisville and Memphis are a bit smaller and pretty much the same size. And Nashville feels bigger — more buildings in the downtown skyline when you drive in, and more big cranes putting up more. Nashville’s neighborhoods feel more linked up, more contiguous space to walk, with fewer “flat spots,” places you feel like you should walk a bit quicker. However, the older, more established neighborhoods of Old Louisville and Midtown Memphis offered more interesting walks. Memphis’ Overton Park is the best city park, with a mix of lawns, gardens, some old-growth forest to walk through, and a concert shell built in the 1930’s where, when we passed by, a hip-hop group was doing a rehearsal walk-thru. Glad the federal and state governments failed to plow a good bit of it under back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s when they wanted to route I-40 straight through the city.
  • As I said, all three are river cities — Memphis on the Mississippi, Louisville on the Ohio, and Nashville on the Cumberland. And maybe because the Mississippi and the Ohio are much bigger rivers, Memphis and Louisville do much more with their riverfronts than Nashville. We walked along the Mississippi through the just renovated Tom Lee Park in Memphis — guys were putting some final touches on the walking paths and garden beds — and I biked along Louisville’s Waterfront Park; both really nice spaces, almost like “front lawns” for those cities. And maybe there’s something to that. The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers are boundaries for those cities (and indeed, those states) where the Cumberland River winds through Nashville which, in many ways, seems to turn its back to the river. I mean Chicago does much more with the much smaller Chicago River than Nashville does with the Cumberland.
  • But, of course, Nashville’s music scene is way beyond what Louisville and Memphis offer — even beyond the honky tonk maelstrom that is Lower Broadway. Live music starts in the airport and follows you throughout the city. Irene and I joke there must be a city ordinance mandating live music in any gathering of 10 or more people. Memphis tries hard with its Beale Street district. It has a number of clubs with live blues, R&B, and rock music coming out the windows into the street, but it doesn’t have the density, the concentration of Lower Broadway, and Beale Street tails off after a couple of blocks, into one of those “flat spots” that make you want to look over your shoulder a bit more often.
  • Next road trip is out east to Chattanooga. Feels like we’re drawing a circle with a radius of a 2-3 hr drive time and hitting all the cities within it for a day or three each. Kinda trading summer TSA security lines for summer construction traffic jams.
  • Bridge music — Another Way by Psykick (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Psykick/52938

Following Up

  • Long-time listener Thelma Stubelt wrote in about the last episode’s biometrics discussion
    • “I really enjoyed the last episode. I work for immigration. They are working on making Green Cards part of the Apple Wallet. I know Global Entry is doing it as well. We have also been simplifying the biometrics process. A lot of the documents being produced had a fingerprint on the card. That is no longer being put on.  I’m going to Vegas in the fall. Looking forward to seeing TSAs new system.”
    • Thelma, thanks for that. My brother-in-law still has the Green Card from when he came to the US with his Hungarian refugee parents in the late ’50’s; with his baby picture on it. We get a chuckle whenever he has to pull it out of his wallet. Somehow, I don’t see an Apple Wallet version of that doing the same job. But, as Henry and Sheldon said in the last episode, the move is toward more, not less biometrics. And Thelma’s note adds a few more data points that confirms that trend.
  • Of course, automated facial recognition might be more efficient, but is not always resilient. The UK’s facial recognition eGate system was down for 4 hours last week for a “system network issue.” They had to fall back to old-school manual facial recognition — that is, an immigration officer looking at you and then at the picture of you in your passport. This seems to be becoming an annual event in the UK. Last May, they had a similar 3-4-hour eGate outage. Note to self — don’t fly to the UK next May. But at least it’s happening in a country that prides itself on orderly queueing.
  • Back in the COVID era, in episodes in 2020 and 2021, I was skeptical of predictions like Bill Gates’ that 50% of business travel will go away; hot takes that virtual meetings are the “new normal”. The reality? First quarter earnings calls from travel companies all saying that business travel is back. Alaska Air and Southwest both said corporate travel sales grew over 20% and are back to pre-pandemic levels; as did Hilton and Hyatt. Regression to the mean, you might call it “behavioral inertia”, is a strong force. Just ask all the folks laid off from e-commerce companies.
  • And, as always, thanks to the notes from folks who listened all the way to the end of the previous episode where I said that this episode would be my last. I have to tell you that, if I was a listener, I wouldn’t have heard it. I’d be hitting the “next track” button on Overcast within the second bar of Evangeline’s Pictures of You song.
    • Thelma, in her biometrics note, also said “I have been a listener of yours for I believe 18 years. I will miss your show but wish you all the best. My old time fav was your love of bashing TSA. Another favorite thing on the podcast was the outro music. When you played the whole thing I couldn’t help but sing along.”
    • Thanks very much for sticking it out for pretty much the full duration. Either I’m mellowing with age or the TSA finally cleaned up their act 3 or 4 years ago, or maybe PreCheck has taken away the reasons for those old debates about shoe sole thickness or the definition of a solid.
    • Another lifer, Jerry Sarfati, wrote in “I’m sorry to hear that you will be ending the Travel Commons podcast. I am a LONG time listener, I guess about 18 years.  I found your podcast when I was a “road warrior”.   Now I’m retired, but still enjoy listening to you.”
    • Rob Cheshire of This Week in Craft Beer wrote “Truly the end of an era!”
    • Roger Nash left the Instagram comment — “Going to miss you, sir”
    • And @LAflyr hit me up on Twitter to say — “Sad to hear about the upcoming end of the journey.  However, reaching 200 episodes is truly an achievement.  Thanks for all the stories and entertainment over the years!”
    • Robert Fennerty wrote – “I will miss the Travel Commons podcast for many reasons. In increasingly important order, here are my top 3 reasons:
      • Travel Tips: I have incorporated many of your ideas and devices into my travel regimen. Most recently, the Super Bagel has become my go to power center and it has reduced the weight of my laptop bag, thereby allowing me to stuff other less useful junk inside. 
      • Cogent Observations: The show has had so many cathartic YES I KNOW moments. For example, every time I walk into a hotel bathroom and the bottles have unintelligible labels, I think of you. In the example below, we know that my hands will smell like magnolia after I depress the plunger on one of those bottles. But will I have washed my hands or moistened them? No one can know for sure.
      • You: Every time a new episode enters my podcast feed, I smile. Your voice is very reassuring and I think it lowers my pulse a few beats per minute. So I will miss your company, especially when I’m on the road.
  • Wow! Thank you very much Robert for that. And to everyone who wrote in. I really do appreciate your comments; they mean a lot. 
  • Now this is the point in this segment where I usually say, if you have any travel stories, questions, comments, tips, rants – the voice of the traveler, send ’em along to comments@travelcommons.com or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or to @travelcommons on Instagram or Facebook. Well, feel free to keep doing that. I’ll still be there, but it’ll just be between you and me.
  • Bridge Music — release.JOY.release by SackJo22 (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.  Ft: essesq, Haskel (hej31)

Wrapping Up the TravelCommons Journey

  • So here’s how it started 19 years ago
    • This is the first TravelCommons podcast, so bear with us. We got kind of a lousy microphone and we’re gonna be trying some new stuff along the way, but I hope you enjoy what we gotta say. Why should you care, why should you listen, why should you even think about subscribing to this podcast? Well, if you’re interested in travel, that’s what we’re gonna talk about — the ground level experiences of a traveler, someone who’s in airplanes and hotels and rental cars every week. That’s me. We’re talking to you today from the bathroom of the Wardman Park Marriott. I don’t have fancy reverb filters and all the other great stuff. So instead, I thought I’d just surround myself with a lot of tile and hopefully this thing will sound pretty good. So, anyhow, Wardman Park Marriott in Northwest DC. 
    • I’m on kind of one of my normal triangulation trips. Last week, I was out on the West Coast. This week, I’m out on the East Coast. Started off in ORD yesterday afternoon. Typical ORD day — 6 am thunderstorm shot the entire schedule to hell in a hand basket; 60- to 120-minute delays the whole time. I tell you; it was a mess. And then today flying down from New York, taking the shuttle out of LGA, they push us back and then we sit for 45 minutes on the runway because we got caught right in the middle of one of those times when LGA takes the entire 30 airplanes that are out on the runway and tell them all to turn around and go the other way because the wind shifted. It was beautiful. It’s been a beautiful trip; kind of a normal trip actually.
  • And here’s how we’re ending it — with, if nothing else, a lot better sound quality… and a bit more effort in clean-up editing. But I do think the through line, from episode 1 to 200, has been consistent — capturing the voice of the traveler, and through being more about the journey than the destination. 
  • A few years back, Rob Cheshire turned me onto a podcast called Steal This Beer. Their tag line is “A candid discussion about beer, over beer, by a couple of guys who think about beer way too much.” Swap “travel” for “beer” and it could make a better tagline for this podcast — “A discussion about travel by a guy who thinks about travel way too much.”
  • And I would think too much about travel because, as with many road warrior listeners who would chime in over the years, travel was one of the main drivers of my day-to-day existence. There was a stretch of time — years, actually — where I would travel all but 6 or 7 weeks in a year. So 80+% of my life would be dependent on how well, each week, the FAA, the TSA, 2-4 airports, 1-3 airlines, 2-3 hotels, and Hertz did their respective jobs. The joint probability of that many independent variables all lining up in the right way for me to get to where I wanted to be on time is vanishingly small. Looking at it this way, it’s no wonder I sounded so cranky so often on this podcast.
  • Some road warriors who “think way too much” go full-on George Clooney in the movie Up In The Air, obsessively collecting “travel hacks” to swerve lines, precious metal status levels, doing whatever they can to be able to move through their travel days with minimum friction and maximum efficiency. I’ve called that over the years “living in the travel bubble.”
  • If I’d gone that way, this podcast would’ve ended maybe 100 episodes ago. I’ve talked a lot over the years about breaking out of the travel bubble — by taking subways and commuter trains instead of taxis and Ubers, searching out local beer joints, and just roaming randomly around a city — or what the cool kids call flâneuring. I always figured it’s a symptom of adult ADHD; a short attention span, a need for external stimuli. As you might guess, I’m no fun on a beach vacation. Going to a new place or digging into new bits of places like New York or San Francisco where I’ve been, what, 50 times before — seeing, experiencing new things would hit that dopamine button and make up for having to grit my teeth through the umpteenth flight delay at ORD or LGA.
  • And to lay further back on the analyst’s couch, I find that when I’m traveling, when I’m in the midst of all this new stuff, I’m often better able to dig down and think about things that, when I’m home, the day-to-day activities get in the way. Travel can keep my day-to-day stuff at arm’s length — 2 arms’ length if I’m not in an English-speaking place. I can tune out a lot of the peripheral chatter — the television in the corner, the adjacent conversations — because I don’t understand it. 
  • But even when I can’t understand what’s being said around me, I found travel still expanding my understanding, my perspectives. It’s one thing to read about the size of China’s population or the poverty in India or the humid heat in Vietnam or the homeless encampments in San Francisco, but it’s a whole next-level to see it and experience it in person. What seems black and white from a distance starts to dither into gray when it’s up close. It forces me to do a much better job of seeing the other side, to see how my actions could be perceived by others, and I hope it ends up making me a more empathetic person. Which is why I never bought into the “new normal” predictions of Bill Gates and others that travel would never be the same. There’s too many people like me.
  • But the lack of travel during the Covid shutdowns, the move to more virtual work, and my own slouching toward retirement has made it more of a struggle to generate new and what I thought was interesting content that is “more about the journey”. Two years ago, I wrote in a note “I’m definitely not making it to episode #200”. I surprised myself by making it here, but it seems like a good point to wrap it up — landmark episode number and 19 years after the first episode in May 2005. 
  • So what’s next? I’m not really sure. Actually, no. I do know that I’m going to clean up the TravelCommons website — fix the SSL certificate Robert Fenerty pinged me about last June; delete the out-of-date posts. And reconfigure it to focus more on the written work, the blog posts than the podcast because I think that’ll be what comes next — written stuff that’s more about the destination than the journey, to flip the tag line around. 
  • I’ve done it pretty infrequently in the past; the podcast took priority. The last one was about our January 2021 trip to Tucson. But I’ve found myself giving out a lot of travel recommendations recently — from guys around my age who know I’ve done a bit of travel asking me “What should I do in this place?” Like last weekend, I ran into a guy at a taproom who, when I sat next to him at the beginning of the year, asked me for recommendations for Rome. “That beer bar down that alley in Trastevere you recommended was great!” he said. “And that neighborhood too! We wouldn’t have gone there if you hadn’t suggested it.” Maybe travel writing editors have over-rotated from “tell me where to go” to “tell me a story about a place”, but it’ll be good to have something to keep me occupied.


  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #200
  • I hope you enjoyed this last show, and thanks so much to all of you who have been along on this ride. 
  • As I said earlier, you can still ping me at comments@travelcommons.com, mpeacock on Twitter, the TravelCommons page on Facebook and Instagram, and the travelcommons.com website will still be around. I’ll put links to any new posts on all the socials. If you aren’t on social media — which I can completely understand — and want to know when I post something, send your email address to me at comments@travelcommons.com and I’ll email out a link to new material. Who knows, maybe I’ll do a TravelCommons newsletter.  
  • Thelma’s comment in her note about the outro song, Pictures of You by the Scottish band Evangeline, got me digging in through the archives, all the way back to episode #14 where the band leader explained the origins of the song. It only seems right to close out this last episode with his words and his full song.
  • As always, safe travels; and thanks for stopping by the TravelCommons.
  • Willie Evans – “Hi, I’m Willie Evans from Scots Band Evangeline sending good thoughts to Mark and all the listeners of the TravelCommons podcast. Touring is a part of our job that we love. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s energizing, and it’s great to get out there and meet the fans and see new places. The downside, however, is that it can be a bit boring and predictable, with each day being pretty much the same as the day before. And inevitably, we all miss our friends and our loved ones back home. The song Pictures of You from our Hard Way album is about that longing for our wives and families. And whether you’re an entertainer or musician or perhaps a salesman or businessman who travels a lot, then I hope you can identify with it. Hope you enjoy the song. Have a great day.”
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