Thursday, January 07, 2010

That Travelin' Life

SinceI was home for awhile, I thought I would be able to actually cook and blog and dust. And, I thought I would write about traveling. (I think this is my lame attempt at irony.) As you can see, I might have dusted...possibly...maybe.

So, anyway, I thought I might throw my .02 worth out there about my travel experiences. Luckily, I seem to have fairly good flying experiences, and interactions with airline employees. I think the key is following that old "Golden Rule" about treating other people as you want to be treated. I have watched many a gate agent be screamed at by people who should know better, because contrary to popular belief, gate agents DO NOT control the weather...Pudge does. I think it might be rather entertaining to watch a gate agent scream back. Probably lose their job, but I bet it would feel good for the moment.

I spend a lot of time in airports...lots and lots...and while people generally bitch about hanging out in airports, I really don't mind it. It's the one place where I actually don't have to be doing anything other than waiting for a plane. (Yes, if I had an aircard, I could work, but no one has given me one of those yet, even though I asked, so I'm just going to think of the time I spend in airports as extended coffee breaks! Although, it is interesting that the smaller airports have free wi-fi...and if I can find free wi-fi, I will check email and do work stuff. I are a good employee that way.)

Since I spend a lot of time in airports, I'm always up for finding things to amuse me or good to eat during layovers. Yes, I could read, which I often do, but because I'm a bit of a speed reader, heaven forbid that I run out of reading material in flight, and I can only carry so many books with me at a time. The people watching in airports is usually pretty choice, but after you've seen one whacked out outfit too many, you just have to walk around and take a break.

And while all the inflight magazines wax poetic about lots cool things to do that are "just a cab ride away," seriously--who really wants to or has time to lug all their crap out to the front, possibly be delayed getting back, and then go back through security. I can imagine doing this if I had a layover of 4 or more hours, but not for anything less. Knock on Formica that I haven't had a loooong layover in quite some time...but it is a new year after all.

So, I look for things to do...sometimes, I get lucky and the airport itself provides something, whether it be an art exhibit or unusual shopping/dining. Mostly, I'm flying domestic, with quick turnarounds, because I'm not going to the most glamorous of places. Here's a few highlights from my trips:

In the Jackson-Evers Airport, Jackson, MS, there is a fish tank in the East
Concourse (I think) gift shop that houses some young channel catfish, a product for which Mississippi is famous. The restaurant just down from the gift shop serves a mean bacon and egg breakfast quesadilla. How often do you see fish in an airport that isn't in a bun?

More and more airports have art installations--the Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson Airport has a great permanent exhibit of African stone carvers in the walkway from Concourse T (Terminal) to Concourse A. If I fly out of ATL from Concourse A, I always walk from T to A. Sometimes, I ride the moving sidewalk (staying to the right, of course) and pretend I'm in an episode of The Jetsons, and I'm in a museum with George and the rest of the Jetson family. (When you travel as much as I do, sometimes you get a little jet fuel fume crazy!) There's music along with photographs that describe the stone carvers work and show scenes of African wildlife.

Provided I'm not running to make a connection, I also like to ride the moving sidewalk in Detroit Metro through the Northwest World Gateway tunnel between the terminals. The walls have a neat light show in time with music, and it feels rather futuristic...and Jetson-like.

Detroit also has a Mediterranean place near Gate's actually called "Mediterranean Grill," and you can get falafel, hummus, and kebobs in a sit-down place.

If I'm stuck in the ATL during breakfast, I use that as an excuse to eat Popeye's. It's soooo bad for you, but sooooo good. The 3-piece chicken tenders, spicy of course, and a small red beans-n-rice IS the Breakfast of Champions. Although, I have sworn that I will lay off that little treat and try to eat better in the airport. There's a new sushi bar in Concourse E that I need to check out.

(It is rather interesting to see what chain places that don't normally serve breakfast come up with for the airport concession. The ATL Popeye's is slinging grits, gravy, and biscuits, as well as most of the regular menu. The Asian places sometimes have bacon and eggs, but usually they are whipping out General Tso's chicken and lo mein...and yeah, I've had airport lo mein for breakfast before...I've never been locked into having "breakfast food" for breakfast.)

Memphis has Lenny's Subshop in Terminal B, which has a lovely Italian cold cuts sandwich and makes a mean Philly cheesesteak...ask for some of the hot pepper relish. (You might possibly have a Lenny's near you...about 4 months or so ago, I finally paid attention to all the little shops in the Staples shopping center, where I go to make copies of my expense report receipts, and found one there...a closer source of the hot pepper goodness is a good thing!) And, you must not forget the Elvis memorabilia either...lots and lots of Elvis stuff to be had. There's a nice Asian and Judaic art exhibit near the Delta Crown Club Room, as well as various other exhibits of local artists throughout the concourse.

At the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport, you can get some mighty good brisket at Cousin's, and also in Austin at Salt Lick.

I still haven't found anything decent to eat in Chicago's O'Hare...I had a rough case of food poisoning from an O'Hare chain sports bar hamburger several years ago (yes, Fox Sports Bar, I am talking to you), and I'm still wary of eating there. Am open to suggestions if anyone has any.

In Midway (O'Hare's quieter, neater, shinier little sister), you can grab a sandwich at a Harry Caray's outpost. It's basic pub food, but not too bad. I had a fun meal there when the hostess offered to seat me and 2 other "singles" was either that or wait for another 40 minutes...that was a no brainer. The guy with the biggest expense account bought a round of drinks, and we were instant friends. There's also a quickie Tex-Mex grill in the Midway Boulevard food court that is pretty good, too.

The Wasatch Brew Pub in the Salt Lake City airport was a most welcome food, and most importantly, beer on tap! in a place where I didn't expect to find beer, because, well, you know.

Portland International has a small Powell's Books, which is nice...I can always kill time in a bookstore. And, I got a hotdog for breakfast at Good Dog/Bad Dog.

Ontario, California is a nice option instead of flying into LAX, and they have a terminal and a Boeing 747 cockpit mockup where production companies can film scenes for movies. John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, is also a good option to alleviate the craziness that can be it is closer to Disney Land...and has a huge bronze statue of the Duke. LAX does have an In and Out burger close by, which you can take a parking shuttle to and walk across a parking lot to get some of that yummy goodness. (I have not actually tried this; I overheard some guys telling other guys in the waiting area where they got their In and Out cups. Why there's not one in LAX proper, I have no idea. Seems like it would be license to print money.)

The thing I really hate about Toronto is the lack of a Tim Horton's after you go through Customs.
There's no less than 5 Tim Horton's at Pearson, but as of October 2008, there wasn't one past Customs...or at least not where I was herded. (If anyone knows where one is hiding, let me know!)

There's a place called "Toast," which is Tim's aunt's younger sister's cousin thrice removed or something like's really just a Starbuck's clone. Ottawa, on the other hand, has a Tim's right in the Transborder Hold Room, i.e. international departure waiting area, where you can grab a big ol' coffee, a donut, and stock up on bagged coffee. Thank you, Ottawa!

You can eat crabcakes at Phillips in Charlotte, which were good...a bit overpriced, but that's the airport for you. Airports are a lot like movie theaters in that you pretty much have to buy the food in them, because you really don't have any other options. Charlotte also has art installations throughout the airport, and shopping.

Reagan International in DC now has a 5 Guys Burgers and Fries! Do not be tempted to get the large fries, unless there are at least 4 people in your party...4 tater-lovin' individuals--because the fries are a generous portion.

In Syracuse-Hancock International, there is a play area that is a mock-up of the airport. You can sit inside a fake cockpit, see how baggage is handled, etc. It's pretty cool and seems to always be in use.

And, the airport that I used to hate the most, Cincinnati, has now become one of my more favored ones...the reason I used to hate it was that the Delta terminal seemed to be the red-headed stepchild terminal...sort of like an afterthought, a place that no one really wanted to think about. There were virtually no amenities after you rode the bus across the runways...which is always a bit scary...except for vending machines, and the chairs just sucked. Now, that terminal has restaurants, shopping, and is much nicer to wait out the layover in. The main Cincy terminal has a ton of shopping and all sorts of food options--chili, of course, and a Wolfgang Puck Express...the pizzas are very nice.

The airport that I do hate the most is George Bush Intercontinental in Houston. It takes for bloomin' ever to get to the terminal once you touch feel like you could have driven to Texas in the amount of time it takes you to get there. And the traffic trying to get in and out of Bush is horrendous. Given my druthers, I fly in and out of Hobby, where I can hit a Pappadeaux or Pappasito's Cantina. Chain, yes...but Houston-based chain, so the food is generally better. I will say that the one shining light at George Bush was the Shipley's Donuts...the cinnamon sugar ones are pretty good...although you can be bit sticky for the flight home.

Another tip for Bush is that if you are meeting a co-worker, check your voicemail BEFORE you leave the terminal and pass the point of no return with security. If you find out that he is going to get in 3 hours later than originally planned, there is NOTHING to do or really to eat outside the concourse area. Trust me on this one. The only interesting thing to do is take the shuttle to International Arrivals terminal and see people greet their loved ones...the signs they wave around are entertaining. You can see some lovely places to eat on the other side of security, but they are verboten to you, who has already flown.

I won't even talk about Newark or JFK, and I've been to dozens of other airports that I can't really remember anything about at the moment, so I'll just call it a post now and be done with it.

As the year progress and I travel more, I'll keep you updated on any new finds of the aeronautical flavor. Ironically, my first trip this decade ( I know--where the hell did all of 2009 go?) is a driving one, though. Back to the wilds of Kentucky...more barbecue! How could that be a bad thing?

1 comment:

J said...

I'm with you on O'Hare. The Vienna Red Hot Chicago Do is a thing of beauty but you have to leave the airport to get a good one. The Wolfgang Puck restaurant which I think is terminal H or I has a tasty pizza.

Memphis - there's a barbecue joint in one of the terminals and one night I stopped there and had what was one of the best pork sandwiches of my life. I went there the next time I flew through and it just wasn't as good.