Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pensées de Paris -- Thoughts from Paris

A recent trip to Paris left my Moleskine filled with thought bubbles, scribbles and observational commentary. In a journalistic attempt to "capture the moment", I found myself twirling my favorite blue Bic pen between my fingers and writing feverishly as I walked down brick paved boulevards, sat in the crowded Metro or laid belly-down on the many grassy sections of the city.

A forthcoming Paris review will draw from these recorded thoughts as well as my deep trodden memories. Every writer has an inspirational creative process. When I decide to sit and write about a trip or event, I like to let the thoughts ferment in my soul for a while. The memories burrow inside me and germinate into unexpected emotions. Sometimes, I may feel something at the particular moment it's happening, and then after the event sits for a while it grows into something completely different - something completely unanticipated.

These are my thoughts from Paris; organically jumbled and unrequited feelings. No one, not even myself, can fully appreciate or understand why I decided to write what I did - it's just what happens when pen meets paper. J'espère que vous apprécierez -- I hope you enjoy.

Arriving into Paris at the morning's sunrise is a variable sorbet serving, marked through the sky in layers of peach, raspberry and dark currant. The Atlantic Ocean glimmers over the coast; the waters calm and rippling as if beckoning all who view it from this height, "Come -- lay at my shores".

Phillipe Auguste to Tour Eiffel
M2 - Direction Nation
M6 - Direction Charles de Gaulle-Etoile
Bir-Hakeim (Grenelle) walk north!
Champs Elysees is also N E (across the Seine)

The beauty of the Eiffel Tower is overshadowed by the loss of my camera. It's not the monetary cost but the mistrust -- the sheer criminal act of it all. I should have been more careful but I carried around an air of Detroit cockiness. Criminals in Detroit are brash and forward, hastily demanding your items, forcing the steel barrel of a pistol in between your ribs.
Criminals in Paris are stylish and calm -- debonair even; fitting in confidently with everything else in Paris, the food, the architecture and blase attitudes. They swoop in, quietly and unexpectedly -- before you even realize you're lost, you are.

Richelieu Drouot

xx xx xx xx xx

Metro 2 Direction Nation
Line 1 Defense (Grande Arche)
-Palais Royale
Musee Louvre

Weds June
I am beginning to understand life in Paris. A day out equals a big bag, two pairs of shoes -- comfortable but stylish and stilettos just in case the day takes you into the night. Drinking wine along the Seine or having a beer with friends at a cafe. There is never a plan in Paris -- only life.

I find myself more attracted to the Louvre itself than the actual paintings and sculptures inside. The Louvre's cool marble floors, plaster walls and ornately painted ceilings are art within themselves. I suppose only a place of true magnificence would be worthy of housing the most beautiful pieces of art in the world.

Venus de Milo has a whole wing -- how amazing is that?! Even the Mona Lisa shares a room...

The air around the Grand Sphinx rumbles and growls like a low cautious warning.

I love the smell in the Louvre Medieval. It's musty and old. Dark with history.

Pecheur dansant la tarentelle -- I love his happy face and body position. My favorite sculpture.

M2 - Direction Pt. Dauphine station stop Blanche

Sitting in the Jardin de Luxe. Children (teens) are playing and talking. I am drinking my beer of choice, Kronenbourg and eat brie with freshly bought baguette. People to my left are making out.

Gay or European? The quest American girl's unquenchable desire to know. Ha ha.

Kids as young as 13 and 14 years old look, act and dress like adults. C'est bizarre!

J. Martin at Club 67 "Do you ever go out and get a whiff of penis? Because I just did..."

"Apparently in France they have both douchebags and douchebaguettes"

Monday, April 27, 2009

First-Class for Man's Best Friend

If you're an animal lover like myself, you cringe every time you consider the thought of traveling with your pet. For those of you with cats and teeny tiny lapdogs, it's no big deal. Sure, you have to pay the extra cash to bring Fifi as your carry-on, but trust me, you're not panicking at the thought of your beloved pet freezing in the bowels of an A330 at 20,000 feet. 

After reviewing a website that documents the dozens of deaths and injuries to pet passengers throughout the years (Alaska Airlines, Continental and American are the WORST), I would never consider checking my dog in for a flight. To be fair, most deaths occurred with brachiocephalic (short nosed dogs ie. pugs, bulldogs) but there were numerous reports of lost dogs, dogs who injured themselves out of fear or anxiety and unknown deaths. 

So, when I received an email about the new Pet Airways  I was ecstatic. With introductory prices starting at just $130 each way, the price is well worth it. Knowing that your pup is safely traveling in the cabin area (with regulated temperatures!), being monitored by certified pet care specialists and receiving adequate food and water and oxygen -- is worth every penny. 

So far, services run between New York, Washington D.C., Denver, Los Angeles and Chicago. And with endorsements from companies such as the Best Friends Animal Society (National Geographic's 'Dog Town'), you know your little pawsenger will arrive at your vacation destination safe, secure and happy. 

My pup Lucas gives Pet Airways 2 paws up; well you know, if he wasn't so lazy...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Los Angeles, California

Travel Dates October 9, 2008- October 12, 2008
Flight # NK706 Spirit Air from DTW to LAX

The Michigan summer was winding down, ushered in with cool Westerly winds and signified by the crisp turning of the leaves - from lively green to varying shades of sepia. I was determined not to let the hot summer sun leave me in such haste so I decided to go searching for it - in California.

I purchased a ticket through Spirit Air's $9 Fare Club for $35 and boarded the aircraft with my single carry-on bag. California flights are exceedingly long and thus require several miniature bottles of Cabernet in order to endure. I struck up a friendly conversation with my Canadian aisle mates as we shared a few drinks together, including a mixture of vodka and smuggled in Red Rain, the Canadian equivalent of Red Bull. We eventually parted ways at baggage claim as I hopped into a Super Shuttle on my way to Hollywood Boulevard.

I handed the driver my luggage and he tossed it in the back of the van with a sharp thud. I sat down in the middle bench-seat, directly ahead of a lithe, blonde girl. Her style was distinctly European and I expected her to have a Swedish accent when she spoke. A few other people began to pile into the van with us; a towering male whose skin was the color of dark roast coffee, hair piled at the crown of his head in twists of moplike cord, an older Latino man who carried no luggage and young guy in his mid-twenties whose arms were covered up and down in bright, fantastic ink.

The driver sauntered to his side of the van to get in. "Where to?" He asked, and we all gave him our respective addresses. After 45 minutes of driving, everyone was dropped off at their stops and I was the last one left. The tattooed youth was the first to exit, walking off towards a Taco Bell. We hopped back on the expressway for a few minutes and then the other two males got off in the same dismal area: rows of pink stucco houses with bars crisscrossing the windows. We continued to drive and finally turned onto what I knew to be Hollywood Boulevard. The driver cursed as traffic came to a complete stop.

"They must be shooting a movie or something," the Swedish-looking girl said. As it turned out, she was not Swedish at all.

Eventually, after several turns, we stopped in a beautiful hilly area just near Hollywood Boulevard in front of a very large vintage condo complex, complete with a doorman. The blonde gathered her things and stuffed a $50 into the hands of the driver. I got the sense that she was a reluctantly spoiled only-child who rebelled against her parents in subtle ways, such as taking the Super Shuttle home from LAX instead of a taxi.

After a short jaunt later, the driver pulled down a dimly lit road and stopped in front of a long maroon awning. "USA Hostels," he said. I slid the van door open and stepped out onto the street. After tipping the driver, I pulled my luggage up to the front of the building and looked at my new surroundings. Atleast a dozen people sat mingling around the patio, smoking and drinking Budweiser. A bulky boy wearing sunglasses, even though it was nighttime, welcomed me up the steps. He spoke with an Irish accent, the r's whirring in the back of his throat and he held a lit cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, which were tattooed in black Old-English letters.

I checked myself into the hostel and followed the German hostess as she gave me the guided tour. First, there was the kitchen; large stainless steel cabinets sat clunkily along the wall and a breakfast bar jutted out near the door separating the cooking area from the small dining room. We then made our way up the steps to the lounge, which included a bar with a small booth and chairs upholstered in crushed purple velvet. Finally, she led me to my room. The steel door was painted an absurd blue and the door opened with the use of a plastic key card, punched with a specific combination of holes - the technology of which remains questionable.

My roommates were mostly sleeping by the time I arrived, so I softly opened the door to my locker, placing my valuables, including my Ipod, wallet and shiny black pair of $700 Christian Louboutin's inside. I didn't spend much more time than it took to haphazardly organize my things, before I gathered my ID and debit card and made my way back outside. My airport buzz was slowly wearing off, I decided that I needed a drink. I began to walk towards Hollywood Boulevard when I saw a long line of bodies snaking their way inside a building. The front of the building was inconspicuous, long vertical planks of lightly stained oak ran thirty feet up the walls and the doors slid easily open along long tracks - there were no windows. I walked past the long line and up to the doorman.

"What is going on here?" I asked.

"Are you on the list?" He asked. My first taste of the concocted self-righteousness only found in LA.

"No, I just got off a plane and I need a cocktail"

"Are you with these people?" He asked, motioning to the couple standing behind me.

"No, I'm by myself"

He lowered his hand and swiftly unlocked the red velvet rope, gesturing me inside. Wearing the same outfit I wore on the plane, I felt out of place. Skinny jeans, an off-the-shoulder grey sweater and grey platform booties did not mesh well with the sea of glitter, bottled blonde and Ed Hardy. At this point, I almost threw up. "People are still wearing Ed Hardy?" I asked myself. Apparently, yes. I needed a cocktail more than ever. I walked up to the bar and ordered a vodka-sugarfree Red Bull.

"We don't have Red Bull at Opera, we have Rockstar" the bartender informed me.

Ummm, what?

"Ok, I'll have a vodka-soda with lemon" I responded. I paid the $12 tab and grudgingly sipped my drink. Looking around, I picked through my clutch and lifted out a cigarette.

"No smoking in here" the bartender piped in.

Ummm, what?

I regretfully jammed the cigarette back into by purse and mingled around the bar area for a while, people-watching. I soon discovered that despite the non-smoking rule, there was an area inside the bar where people were lighting up, so I found my way through the thick crowd of gyrating bodies and slowly lowered myself onto a bench.

"Hej, do you 'ave a ceegaret I could barrow?" asked a tall (taller than me)blonde. He was attractive, dressed in a grey tailored shirt and grey slacks. I pulled a Parliament from my purse and handed it to him. We smoked and talked for a while - then I followed him over to his table. He was in town on vacation via Norway along with several of his friends whom he introduced to me. One was blonde as well, although much lighter - his face flushed with the obvious signs of drinking. The other was taller, skinnier with a mess of teased, backcombed and artfully mussed black hair. He was dressed in a full suit with a skinny black tie. It was an overly done - completely undone style. I liked them immediately, they were all fun - partiers, although the skinnier rocker type seemed annoyingly bemused with the flock of women invading their VIP space. The drinks flowed all night and then into the street as the lights turned on and people began to make their way outside. Girls tottered in their stilettos, fighting to remain stable. Guys flooded the streets, making cat calls and starting fights. We waited across the street from Opera, standing in line with a dozen others, waiting for a taxi. A petite blonde girl joined our group - I assumed she was with the guys from Norway but as it turned out, she was just another bottle blonde Californian.

The taxi arrived and we all got in, squeezing our bodies into the tiny seats. The taxi swerved up and down through the Hollywood Hills, the driver making sharp lefts, steep rights. Countless glasses of vodka now sloshed against the walls of my stomach, making me uneasy. Finally, we stopped in front of a complex with dark wooden fronts, brass number plates flashing from the lights of the taxi.

"Macapa Drive," the driver said and we piled out onto the dimly lit street.

"David Hasselhoff lives down there" said one of the guys. I wouldn't doubt it. The tall, skinny Norwegian opened the door and turned on the lights. The place was immaculant. The rooms where filled with modern furniture, but not the Ikea kind - more expensive, West Elm perhaps. The large kitchen and dining area was separated from the livingroom by a floor-to-ceiling double sided fieldstone fireplace. The back wall was made up of 8 large glass panels and several french doors that opened up onto the teak deck, overlooking the Hollywood Hills. The view was breathtaking, the air even smelled different as the smog settled amongst the streets below.

I made myself a drink, whiskey on the rocks. We talked politics, the Norwegian guys were equally as excited for the upcoming election and subsequent win of Barack Obama as I was. The conversation turned to my vegetarianism, in which the bottle-blonde California girl, in an obvious vodka-induced confrontation, began screaming obscenities. She left in a rage and we all breathed a sigh of relief as she slammed the door. We took a shot celebrating her early departure. The conversation eventually took us out onto the deck as the morning sun began to rise above the tops of the hills in graduated hues of yellow, orange and red. I decided that I should probably get back to the hostel so one of the guys called me a cab. When I got back to my room, I softly changed into a pair of pajamas and crawled under the itchy wool blanket just as I heard the ringing of an alarm clock and watched as a ray of sun pooled onto the floor.

I woke up sometime in the afternoon and dragged myself out of bed. Several of my roommates sat in their bunks, one typing on her laptop as the other scribbled thoughts into a journal. They introduced themselves. Australian and British. "Are you signin' up fo' the pub crawl at half nine tonigh'?" asked the Brit.

"Sure," I said, "You guys going?"

"Not 21 yet" replied the Aussie "Bloody American laws..."

"Yeah, I'm goin'. If you'd like ta meet us here la'a we can 'ave a pint before" said the Brit.

"Thanks! See ya then," I said as I threw on a pair of jeans, sandals and a tee shirt; making sure not to forget my extra large sunglasses, to hide the fact that I was out all night. I grabbed my camera and handbag and made my way outside. The sun was bright but a distinct breeze flowed through the streets, stirring up garbage as it moved. I walked down towards Hollywood Boulevard and turned right, onto the main strip. My eyes focused down at the sidewalk and I read each individual star along the Walk of Fame as they passed under my feet. David Bowie, Alfred Hitchcock, The Munchkins, Paul Newman. I stopped for a sandwich at a small deli above a gym. Two exceedingly tanned and toned men stood in front of me, each ordered a salad, fat-free dressing. Gack. I ordered my sandwich - double provolone with extra dressing, dripping in mayonnaise - and ate it outside; far away from the judgmental eyes of the gym rats.

I walked to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, snapping pictures of the large stone lions guarding the ornately carved doors. The massive crowd of tourists gathering in the area pushed me to the corners of the piazza. I watched as plump women crammed their chubby fingers into the handprints of Marilyn Monroe; their bottoms up in the air, the fat squeezing from the tops of their jean shorts. Marilyn was a size 16 you know, yeah right. I mistakingly responded to a man dressed as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. "Dorothy, where are you going Dorothy?" I begrudgingly posed for a picture with him and then lied when I said I didn't have money for a tip. Sorry, but standing in the street wearing silver facepaint and a funnel on your head is not exactly deserving of my hard-earned money.

I continued down the Walk of Fame, snapping pictures as I went. Morgan Freeman. Edith Head. Johnny Cash, Zsa Zsa Gabor. I made my way into the Hollywood Toys & Costumes, a seedy costume shop with fabulous window displays. The store was dirty and slightly boring, considering Halloween was only weeks away. I walked through the aisles, poking through the shelves of false teeth, tangled wigs and stage makeup. I decided I needed to nap before another night on the town, so I walked back to the hostel, stopping at the information board to sign myself up for the pub crawl.

After a long and needed nap, I walked with my towel and toiletries into the bathroom. Expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised. The bathroom was clean with a white tiled shower, the top of which was lined with miniature bottles of shampoo, conditioners and body wash. The blue walls were faded with tiny flecks around the sink and mirror, no doubt from the many people who accidently flicked their whitening toothpaste onto the walls while brushing. I was interested to know just how many countries were represented by these tiny, bleached spots. What countries manufacture or import whitening toothpaste? I took a long shower, the hot water never ran out and I spent ample time applying my makeup in the mirror.

Once I finished dressing in a blue satin dress, black tights and black heels, I met my roommates in the hostel lounge. The Irish boy, who helped me carry my luggage inside on my first day, was opening beers behind the bar. He asked what I would like and I ordered a Miller Lite, since the well liquors were all Crystal Palace in plastic fifths. More and more people began to trickle into the lounge as house music boomed from the speakers above. We eventually organized ourselves and began walking outside. We made a left out of the hostel and another left onto the next street where we found ourselves inside a British pub. I ordered a water from the bar, as I found myself with an increasingly painful headache from the previous night's events. We eventually moved from the pub back towards the hostel, passing it and walking onto Hollywood Boulevard. Again, I saw a long line of bodies standing on the outside of another inconspicuous building, this one with an large wooden door carved with deep, decorative etchings and painted with a distressed white stain. One thing I noticed about the clubs in Hollywood is that there are no signs detailing the name of the bar or club. During the day, I walked right past this same building and never realized it housed a nightclub. Eventually, however, I learned this particular place was Mood, a club known for it's snobby clientele and ruthless entry policy. Thankfully, I did not have to endure any of this as our group was headed by a well-known LA party promoter.

I spent my time at Mood wandering from the bar to the smoker's patio and back again, occasionally stopping to chat with some of the people I recognized from the hostel. I eventually ended up back at the bar, standing near two guys from our Pub Crawl group. They were both slightly taller than myself and equally as slender. They exuded an obvious foreign coolness, typified by their trendy wardrobes and tepid expressions. They stood, hips cocked slightly as they swilled red wine from oversized glasses. We talked for a while and they convinced me to have a glass of wine with them, as my morning hangover was slowly dissolving. As it turns out, they were both visiting up from San Francisco where they were involved in an internship program through their University in Paris. They asked if I would like to join them as they visited Rodeo Drive and Venice Beach in the morning; I quickly agreed and soon after excused myself back to the hostel. It was only a little past midnight, but my minor jet-lag and exhaustion were easily catching up to me and I needed the rest. I walked out the front door of Mood and turned down Hollywood Boulevard, walking past the long line of day-glo tanned, peroxided and overly-dressed wannabes still waiting to get inside.

I woke up in the morning feeling refreshed. I pulled the wool blanket off my legs and opened the window at the foot of my bed to relieve the stuffy air that seemed to linger heavily throughout the hostel. After a quick shower, I met the two Europeans downstairs in the kitchen. We were also joined by a German couple and after a brief introduction, we soon walked ourselves across the street to their rental car. The greyish-green Pontiac was not exactly meant to hold five grown adults, but with the litheness of the Europeans and my small frame, we managed. I trust that five bulky Americans would resort to a cutthroat game of rock-paper-scissors to determine who would be staying behind.

We took the expressway towards Beverly Hills, exiting onto a tree lined boulevard. The homes of Beverly Hills were large, but not the expansive mega-structures with rolling gardens and multiple tennis courts that I had imaged. I found the area rather ugly to be honest. Dozens of homes were under construction on each street, the lawns decorated with orange construction fencing and the architecture hidden behind three-story wooden scaffolding. The dust from unfinished lawns swirled into the sky as cars drove past, choking us as we closed the sunroof. We eventually found a nice parking spot near Rodeo Drive between two Land Rovers; apparently the it car of the Greater Los Angeles area. We walked through the stores, pausing at Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Dior, Yves St. Laurent. Ralph Lauren exuded it's typical Connecticut cottage kitsch and YSL's white lacquer walls were the perfect showcase for the constant loop of runway video playing out across multiple 42 inch plasma televisions.

We had lunch at a small sandwich shop, not far from the concocted stuffiness of Rodeo Drive and then squeezed ourselves back into the Pontiac, headed towards Venice Beach. The weather dipped into the 60's by the time we arrived and the windchill made it feel in the 50's. I bought a cup of hot tea from a stand along the boardwalk as we surveyed the area. Street vendors spread their trinkets, widgets and nonsense onto Apache style blankets. They sat in low lying folding chairs, hidden behind tufts of white hair and yards of fabric. The native drumming of a half dozen strangers triggered an impromptu tribal dance. Shoeless people writhed together in a circle, seemingly unaware of one another; occasionally shouting unintelligible phrases as if invoking the rain Gods. A black man crushed glass bottles beneath his feet and panhandled for money from unsuspecting tourists. Venice Beach was a hippy haven, interrupted briefly by the non-sensical rantings of a few McCain-Palin supporters who pulled up in a black limousine, brandishing 'Vote Maverick!' signs.

My last day in Los Angeles, I rode a bus for the first, and notably last time in my life. I spent a rather enjoyable afternoon people watching at The Grove, a combination outdoor mall and market. I forked giant spoonfuls of The Cheesecake Factory's dulce de leche caramel cheesecake into my mouth while straddling a stone wall next to a fountain. The sun, which had been lost the entire time I was in LA, finally pushed past the dense clouds and coated the sidewalk in bright, warm light.

I spent an evening at the Kress Club, the only bar I actually enjoyed myself at. The thump of house beats knocked my vodka soda off the ledge and it dumped it's watery contents onto my dress. I saw a girl nearly break her ankle, attempting to sashay gracefully down the marble hallway, after slipping in the wetness. The bar itself was 4 levels, each with their own individual DJ. The third level offered a french baroque style, with lavender walls and white suede wingback chairs. I stayed until closing and truly enjoyed myself as I walked arm in arm with a friend from the hostel back to our room.

Los Angeles, your reputation precedes you. My whole life I have had grandeur visuals for Hollywood built into my mind's eye. I imagined glamorous movie stars, beautiful people who stalk the streets in designer furs, their toy poodles tucked bitchily under their arm. I thought the sun paced slowly when setting; to stay lingering above the city, casting it's bright lights onto the streets. What I found was quite the opposite, I don't feel Hollywood delivered what was promised, or did it? A city known for its creation of fanciful, imaginary worlds; where New York, New Delhi and Atlantis exist within minutes of one another, their boundaries clearly marked by blank plywood walls, supported in back with crisscrossed lumbar. A city whose notable inhabitants include storm troopers, bullwhip carrying adventurers and teenage wizards. A city in which even the Governor is a rogue cyborg assassin - so wasn't it all a bit fake? The imagined wealth, the false beauty and delusional importance seems to be engrained in LA culture. It must appeal to some, as droves of young, hopefuls flock to the city in search of their own star on the Walk of Fame. Most eventually flee back to their hometowns, hearts crushed, pockets empty and skin irreversibly weathered from years of neglected SPF application and Hollywood rejection.

Maybe some people need to live in the land of fantasy but my heart felt a little more free, a little more real as my the plane landed at Detroit-Metro, the skies grey with impending winter. Detroit is depressing at times, not ashamed to put its blight urban decay on exhibition; the downtown skyscrapers vacant, windows gaping and broken like the gory remains of a violent tragedy. Sometimes it resembles a post-war movie set, the kind Hollywood types would spend months preparing, artfully sandblasting freshly painted brick and burning timber frames until they are black and ashen. Some may choose the bright lights of Hollywood's paparazzi lined streets, but I prefer something with more substance, fewer charlatans and a big tall class of Faygo pop - damn I missed my Rock & Rye!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cheap Flights to Mars on Expedia!

I know what you're thinking. You need a vacation. Somewhere peaceful, quiet, serene; somewhere away from it all.

Just when I thought the flight deals couldn't get any better, Expedia is now offering roundtrip fares from several Earthbound locations to Mars for just $99. Yes, that Mars - the fourth planet in the Milky Way Galaxy. 

Apparently, by using Faster Than Light (FTL) Wormhole technology, you can be at your vacation destination in just days! Schedule your out-of-this-world vacation on Expedia today! No seriously. Do it. 

But hey, if Mars just isn't your thing, you can always check out Jupiter, Florida, Venus, Missouri or even Pluto, Texas (I still consider Pluto a planet - no matter what they say!)...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Delta to Unveil New Northwest Looks

Delta just announced that it will be unveiling its new brand identity for Northwest flights, including signage, uniforms and inflight food, at Detroit Metro Airport and other NWA hubs in Memphis and Minneapolis this week. 

All Northwest signs will be replaced with the Delta logo, Northwest planes will be repainted to mimic Delta's look and feel, and all Northwest staff will be donning their new red and blue Delta uniforms. 

The final steps of the acquisition, including the merger of the NWA and Delta reservation systems are expected to be completed in late 2010. 

Delta and Northwest finalized the $2.8 billion merger in October 2008. Northwest continues to be the largest carrier at DTW, with more than 500 daily flights. 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Need a Million? I Know I Do...

More good news for cash strapped travelers. Not only are airlines slashing summer fares like a wayward ninja but just announced it is giving away 1 million frequent flyer miles on Continental Airlines plus $5,000 cash to one lucky winner! The sweepstakes is open to all legal U.S. residents 18+ and the contest ends May 4, 2009. 

I've personally never won a thing in my life but I figure, someone wins, right? The chance at a million miles and some spending cash is worth the spam if you ask me...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Northern California: The Final Chapter

I was sitting in a beautiful little Italian restaurant in a fascinating historic California town with the most handsome man I had ever met, and I wanted to leave it all. I politely asked the waitress for our check, threw down a twenty dollar bill and hastily gathered my things. He remained seated, struggling to form worthwhile sentences. But I knew, nothing could make me sit back down and finish this meal. I was sickened by the placid perfection of Northern California and felt like a mockery in it all. I coolly walked towards the door, my mind blankly focusing on an image of my black luggage, tucked away in the corner of his bedroom.

Back at his house, I began to gather my things; brushes from the bathroom, clothing strewn about, "I can't forget anything" I thought to myself. He stood silent in the bedroom doorway, the dull light from the moon illuminating his figure. As I hastily stuffed my belongings into the suitcase now laying open on his bed, he silently moved from the doorway and sat down next to it, placing his entire arm over the top and raising his eyes to look at me. 

"Erin, I..." he stammered, searching for the words. Suddenly, I saw the brims of his eyelids fill with tears. He blinked and the droplets streamed down his face, zigzagging along the scar on his cheek. Again, I felt an intense maternal impulse to comfort him as I did days ago when he was ill. I moved the half-full luggage away from his side and wrapped my arms around his neck, rubbing his back in small, comforting circles. He began to cry, first in tiny quivers I could feel as the muscles in his back twitched and then in large heaping sobs as his lungs gulped for air. I sat bewildered by the scene unfolding in front of me like the culmination of a melodramatic made-for-tv movie. It was all wildly romantic but lacked any real answers. 

"What now?" I thought to myself. 

He slowly regained his composure and sat with his head down and hands across his lap in a position of emotional defeat. Suddenly, he stood up and wiped the wetness from his face, breathing purposefully and said "I have to take a shower and think. I can't even remember the last time that I cried and I just...I have to...I'll be in the shower" and with that he turned around and walked from the room, softly shutting the bathroom door behind him. I remained seated on the bed, cross-legged and fingered the clothing tossed haphazardly into my suitcase. I was unsure what to do next. Should I continue to pack? Stay seated on the bed and stare aimlessly towards the walls in the darkened room? I could hear the water from the shower falling onto the floor around his feet, the sporadic splashing as he moved around - no doubt attempting to scrub away the emotional regret displayed in front of me just moments ago. 

I suddenly felt completely exhausted. My eyelids sank and I breathed in deeply as my body collapsed onto the bed. I curled my body into the fetal position and brought the pillow over my head, blocking out the light that formed a glowing bar from beneath the bathroom door. Just then, I heard the shower curtain being pulled back with a single  swift movement and it jerked me back into awareness. A few seconds later, he slowly opened the bathroom door and stood in the doorway with a towel wrapped around his waist, water still dripping from his hair. I raised myself to a seated position and stared at him intently without saying a word. He gave me a faint half-smile and made his way to the bed were he sat down next to me and cupped my hands into his. "I'm so sorry," He said. "I understand why you would want to leave. I haven't been treating you the greatest and it wasn't right for me to ask you to come here". 

My heart sank and a burning anger began to stir from within my stomach. I pursed my lips and gritted my teeth, fighting away the tears that were pooling in the corners of my eyes. 

"And I realized something today," He continued "I can't stand to see you go. I want you to stay. I want you to be with me and I want to be with you. I think we can make this work". 

I felt relived. Suddenly the pressure that was forming from behind my eyes released itself in a stream of happy tears. I laughed and nervously fidgeted with the blanket underneath of me. "Honestly?" I asked. "Are we really going to do this? No more 'ex girlfriend' talk?" 

"I can't stand the thought of losing you."

He went on to explain that he brought me out to Northern California to see if he made the right choice of breaking up with me before he left. He realized once I made the decision to leave that he couldn't stand to not be with me. Everything began to make sense to me now.
"Why do men have to be so difficult?" I thought to myself. Even more exhausted than before, I tugged the luggage off the bed and let it spill onto the floor. I crawled under the covers with my back against the wall and we sat facing one another. My stomach let out a tiny growl 

"I guess maybe I should have finished eating before I walked out of the restaurant" I joked. That night, I may have went to bed with an empty stomach but my heart was was very full. I was complete. 

The rest of the week played out as romantic and intimate as I wished this trip to be. The day following our recommitment, we met up with his roommate Ryan and his girlfriend, coincidently also named Erin, at the reservation she lived in as a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. We pulled into the reservation and were greeted by a tall wooden statue of a Sasquatch. "They say this is where he lives," she said, reading our quizzative expressions. From the lush greenery and deep valleys now surrounding us, I wasn't the least bit skeptical. After purchasing some snacks at the store, we piled into her black Jeep and headed down a dirt path. Through a clearing in the towering trees we stopped at the edge of the Trinity River. I crawled from the backseat of the Jeep and smiled at the scene around me. The bronzed bodies of a dozen Native American teens glided effortlessly through the water towards a towering rock on the other side of the river. I watched as one black-haired boy jumped from the very top of the cliff and disappeared beneath the water's surface, leaving an echoing ring from the spot he landed. I shook out my beach blanket and laid belly-down on top of it, now embarrassingly aware of my paleness. As the California sun poured down on to every inch of my body, I reveled in the heat and watched amused as the boys joined the teens in diving from the cliff-top.

After several hours in the sun, we packed up our things and headed back to Humboldt. Ryan's girlfriend was playing in a soccer game that afternoon so after a quick lunch of deli sandwiches we made our way to the soccer field. The closer we drove towards the ocean's shore, the warm inland sun began to sink behind the clouds. When we arrived on the field, we sat together on the metal bleachers with a coarse wool blanket covering our legs. We sipped hot coffee together and he rubbed my hands in between his to keep them from freezing. When the game finally finished around sundown, I tossed the blanket across my shoulders and we walked onto the field. Humboldt, known for it's trademark fog, was lush with greenery. The crisp night air rushed in and rustled the leaves on the surrounding forest trees, creating a spooky scene as we realized we were the last people left in the stadium. We crossed the field as wisps of white clouds began descending onto the grass, swirling around our feet as we walked. He pulled me close and grabbed both of my hands, twirling me around and humming a lullaby.

On my last full day in Northern California we again walked to downtown Ferndale to the Victorian Village Inn, an idyllic hotel on Ocean Avenue. The Inn houses it's own fine dining restaurant, Curley's, opened by restauranteur Curley Tait in 1999. However new the restaurant may be, there is no lack of old world charm and decadence. The bartenders even wear arm garters, reminiscent of the Wild West Saloons I'm certain peppered the area during the Gold Rush. After finishing our delicious meal and treating ourselves to a very large piece of chocolate cake with vanilla sorbet, we wandered down the dimly lit streets of Ferndale, hands clasped together. Not far from the Victorian Village Inn we passed an inconspicuous glass door etched with a word I was immediately drawn to - Jewelry. "Let's stop in here," He said, reading my mind. He pushed down the brass knob and opened the door. A little bell tinkled above me as I walked inside. The dimly lit store was nothing like the cheap, flashy jewelry stores I was used to. The carpeting was tattered but evoked a period of wealth. The woolen loops of intricate patterns snaked across the length of the room to form a hallway flanked on either side by waist-high glass cases filled with glimmering trinkets. Walnut frames hung from walls covered in Victorian paper and several crystal chandeliers were suspended from the ceiling, surrounded by ornate plaster molding. 

A quiet voice suddenly rang out from behind a pillar to my left. "Hello, welcome." I could barely see the tiny woman whose gentle utterance was almost lost in the dusty air. She walked towards us, her hands gesturing in hospitality. "Come in, come in," she said "What can I help you with?" She was tragically small, no more than 4 and half feet tall. Her body was frail and her face was creased, the skin comically elongated in the way only old-age can bring. 

"We're just browsing" I replied warmly. I walked along the glass cases, eyeing each shiny gem as they sparkled. I stopped halfway down the aisle and inhaled slowly in admiration at the object now facing me. Inside the safety of the glass case perched a large blue sapphire ring, encased in a platinum facet, surrounded by at least a dozen small diamonds. The gem itself was deep cobalt with a clarity I had never before seen in a sapphire. 

"Do you like it?" she asked. 

"Oh yes of course. It's beautiful!"

"Would you like to try it on?"

"Oh no no, it's alright. Honestly I-"

"I wouldn't hear of it. You must try this on"

With that she reached around her neck and pulled a cord over her head. The attached small brass skeleton key opened the glass case. She pulled out the ring and sat it in front of us. I nervously bit my lip and forced my hand in front of me, fingers spread apart as he slipped the ring onto my finger. I smiled, delighted and sheepishly looked at the price tag. 

"$15,000..." I mouthed to him. He smiled back. 

"Why don't you try this one on dear?" She suddenly began pulling out diamond rings, ruby bracelets, shimmering earrings and large necklaces that covered my decollate in brilliance. Within twenty minutes I was covered in thousands of dollars worth of dazzling vintage jewelry. We laughed as I gawked at myself in the mirror. After several minutes, I reluctantly began slowly removing the beautiful pieces of antique bijoux and placed them gently back into the delicate hands of the shopkeeper.

"Maybe one day we can come back to this place and I can buy you that ring," He said. 

"I'll keep it safe here for you until then," the little lady joked.

We exited the jewelry store into the crisp night air and walked gleefully back to the house. I didn't want to admit that this was our last night together before I took the 2,500 mile flight back home - but I couldn't escape the unavoidable anticipation of loss. We settled ourselves into bed and pulled the covers up close to our chins, facing each other for what I knew would be the last time for quite a while. We talked for hours that night, about us, about how much we were going to miss one another, about the many simple privileges of togetherness most couples take for granted. I fought to keep my eyes open, to spend as much time awake with him as I could before the sun rose up from the East. As the night reached the peak of darkness, I closed my eyes and did not open them again until the sun began to peek it's way through the windows. 

My final morning in Northern California was rushed. I was running late for my flight as if my heart was trying to sabotage my return home in favor of just a few more moments with him. I hesitantly stepped out of his car in the airport parking lot and waited for him to retrieve my luggage from the trunk. We walked together through the glass doors and stood in the ticketing line. I leaned against him as we waited and felt the electricity jump from my body to his and back. We held hands and walked towards the security line. I could feel my soul deadening my feet as I walked. He kissed me gently on the forehead and wished me a good flight as I made my way through security. I handed my ticket over to the agent and looked behind me. He stood there with a smile of encouragement on his face. "Be strong honey," he said "I will see you soon". I summoned the courage to continue walking, blew him a kiss and turned the corner, waving to him until he disappeared... 

The small propellor plane whirred as I sat facing the window, searching for any sign of him. Once we began the take-off I felt a renewed sense of relief. I gazed out the window again to view the tiny landscape below and smiled to myself. The bright blue Pacific ocean glistened as the painted landscape passed underneath me - where he would be living, where my spirit would never leave. 

Our tiny trees, tiny rivers, tiny roads. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cheap Flights to Moscow on United!

Privyet fellow jet-setters! Craving a little Russian R and R? Here's a deal that will be sure to send your scrambling to find your passport!

Today, United announced they will be launching daily service to Moscow, Russia (DME) via Washington Dulles (IAD) beginning March 29, 2009. To celebrate the new flight schedule, they are offering low introductory fares on

Terms include:

- Purchase by March 26, 2009 (7 day advance purchase required).
- Travel valid on Monday-Thursday between March 29-April 30, 2009. 
- Saturday night minimum stay required and maximum stay of 30 days permitted.
- Additional checked baggage fees may apply. 

Here's a sampling of some of the great one-way fares you can find with this deal!

Baltimore $195 Boston $184
Chicago $198 Charlotte $209
Denver $217 Hartford $210
Indianapolis $225 Jacksonville $236
Las Vegas $246 Los Angeles $208
Miami $211 New York City $139
Philadelphia $201 Raleigh $213
Richmond $214 San Francisco $244

Also, earn double miles when flying to Moscow between March 16 through June 30 while staying in the newly restored and renovated Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya. This exclusive hotel is only three miles from Kremlin and Red Square and close to the city's cultural and shopping areas. 

So if you've been throwing around the idea of a little Russkaya recess, here's your chance to score some serious savings!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Northern California: Part 2

When the flight landed, I gathered my things and followed the rest of the passengers down the plane steps and into the salty Arcata air. It was hard for me to believe that just eight hours ago I was leaving behind the smog-ridden and paper strewn streets of Detroit. I walked into the airport baggage claim area, which coincidentally was located in the same room as ticketing, security, and the departure and arrival gates. I grabbed my black luggage from the turnstile and made my way to the front doors. Just then I heard someone yell my name.

"Erin! Erin, is that you?" Startled, I turned around to find an airport employee. "You've taken the wrong luggage dear. I'm sorry, here's yours". A bit embarrassed but mostly bewildered, I passed the black luggage over to her in trade of mine.

"Wow. This certainly is a small airport", I think to myself.

As I walked back towards the double glass doors I see the glimmer of a silver car pull up front. It parks and a man walks out in a dark blue uniform, shiny black military boots and a baseball cap. I was suddenly filled with complete excitement. I dropped everything I was carrying and ran towards him, arms out and we embraced. He tried to keep a smile on his face but something was amiss. Was he nervous? Doubtful? Regretful? As it turns out - he had food poisoning and needed to go home, immediately. I guess it wasn't the egg salad sandwich I thought would do me in, but rather a bad batch of Hamm's beer he'd had the night before.

We drove to his home in Ferndale, through the hills and perfectly asphalted streets. There was a beautiful green field with a big red barn right before we made the turn into his military housing subdivision. Wordless, he led me to the door and turned the key, we went upstairs to his room and I put my luggage in the corner. I looked into his eyes and I saw him in a way I've never seen him before. He was very ill and all I wanted to do was to take care of him. I made him a little bowl of applesauce and then we laid down into bed together, pulled the sheets up over our eyes and fell asleep, his arms wrapped gently around me.

In the morning, the California sun poured through the thin linen drapes. I slowly opened my eyes and remembered were I was. He still hadn't woken up yet so I kissed his face and traced the scar on his cheek, smiling to myself. I tip-toed out of bed and made myself a glass of orange juice. The apartment was large and bright. Tiled floors remind me of Florida vacation condos, so feeling their cool, hard surface under my toes reassured me that I was far away from home.

Unfortunately for us, having a guest in town did not excuse him from his military duty. He ambled down the stairs, in the same starched blue uniform I've grown so accustomed to seeing on him. He touched me tenderly around the waist and introduced me to his roommate, Ryan.

"This is my ex girlfriend, Erin" He said. The statement hit me like the sting of cold bath water. Feeling a bit numbed, I managed to turn my lips upward into a forced smile and introduced myself. With that he turned around aptly and headed out the door for work. I heard his car start and the sound fade as he pulled away. Ryan hung his head for a second and then lifted it up with a smile on his face.

"So you're the girl huh?"

"I'm sorry...yes I suppose so." I responded.
"He hasn't stopped talking about you since he got here. He's always talking about this girl he left in Detroit. He's in love with you, you know. Don't let him fool you."

My stomach was starting to make its way into a knot and I laughed out of nervousness. Before I could make another comment, Ryan interjected and said "Come on, let's go - He told me to take care of you today and that's what I'm going to do. Let's go shopping."

Shopping. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the way to mine is through the door of Macy's. I liked Ryan immediately.

He took me to the Bayshore Mall, just outside Arcata in another small California town whimsically named, Eureka. When I walked into the mall, I used the ATM to pull out some cash for shopping. The first store we walked into was Anchor Blue. I immediately found several pairs of jeans, earrings and an ivory sweater shrug. As I stood in the checkout line I began searching for my debit card. I couldn't find it. I started to panic - Did I drop it? Leave it somewhere? Then, it dawned on me. Oh my God, I left it in the ATM. The ATM ate my card, I'm 2,500 miles from home and I have no money. I asked the store clerks to put my clothes on hold (I may not have any money, but when I find a good pair of jeans, I'm not letting them go!)and I raced to the ATM. My debit card was obviously no longer there and the ATM glared at me with that smug, self-righteous look. What if someone saw me walk away from the ATM without taking my card? What if they took it and were now quickly depleting my checking account buying Roombas for their extended family at the Sharper Image? Suddenly, Ryan snapped me out my self-destructive though pattern and suggested that I check with mall security. "Maybe someone turned it in," He suggested.

Enter my cynical Midwest skepticism. Coming from a town where people will steal the wheels off your car while you're sitting at a red light, I did not give this option much hope. However, given my vulnerability, I decided it was at least worth a try. We found the security office and I asked the round, sloppy guard if anyone happened to turn in a debit card. To much of my surprise, he opened the black metal drawer to his left and pulled out a glimmering gold card with his chubby hand. "Is this it?" He asked.

"Well, you're certainly not in Detroit anymore, Dorothy" I thought to myself.

The next day, I spent the morning jogging into downtown Ferndale. With the mountain views and crisp California air, I was in a state of absolute content. Downtown Ferndale is the type of town that renovates it's historic buildings instead of tearing them down in favor of efficient and bland modern amenities. In fact, the entire town is considered a historical landmark. Films such as Jim Carrey's The Majestic and Dustin Hoffman's Outbreak have been filmed here. While jogging downtown, I had three people wave to me. At first, it startled me. I thought perhaps they were waving to someone else, but then I realized that this is what happens in quaint towns like this. You don't have to know someone to give them a friendly little wave.

Later that night, when he returned home from work, we decided to go out for a few drinks in downtown Eureka. Arriving at Lost Coast Brewery, we were escorted to our long wooden table to meet with several of his friends. Lost Coast is just like any other hometown brewery; with an eclectic mix of garage-sale decor, frosty micro-brewed beers and colorful clientele. You are immediately greeted by a giant styrofoam black widow spider, dangly precariously over the front entrance. As we sat down with the rest of his friends, he cordially introduced me to everyone, "Hi everyone, this is my ex girlfriend, Erin."

Trying to prevent the wave of bursting capillaries now covering my body in an unavoidable crimson hue, I again forced a smile while clenching my jaw in bemusement. We finished our meal of deep-fried vegetables and downed the remaining drops of Great White lager. On our way down the 101 towards home, he pulled over on the highway and turned the car off. "Come on, get out," He said.

"What are you talking about?"

"Follow me."

We walked down the rickety set of wooden stairs, blades of grass poking out between the planks. It reminded me of Detroit, with it's untended lawns and forgotten architecture. Just then, we reached the end of the boardwalk and the sky suddenly lit up like someone switched a bare lightbulb on in a room full of mirrors. The moon was full and the ambient light reflected onto the ocean's water in a million glittering facets. The water rushed onto the sand, only to be drawn back into the sparkling tide and the low rush of the sea softened my mind into a trance. The Pacific Ocean, warm and peaceful was so different from the sharp and unforgiving waters of the Atlantic I had visited before. We stood there, arms wrapped around one another and stared into the horizon, the offshore buoys rocking gently and I thought to myself, "This is it. I made the right choice coming here. He is the one."

The next few days were filled with elation; my heart bursting with champagne bubbles of lust, love and the assurance of a man who loved me. We decided to have dinner together in downtown Ferndale at a little Italian restaurant called the Ferndale Pizza Company. A small and simple diner, the restaurant had an outdoor patio space and tiny indoor dining area complete with red checkered table cloths. We sat down in the empty restaurant, hands clasped together loosely across the table. Our server walked up, introduced herself and took our drink order. She suggested we try the pizza here, "It's famous to the area". she quipped. Being the only pizza joint in the one square mile radius of tiny Ferndale, it better be a big hit with the locals. We chatted for several minutes until the server returned carrying a large silver platter with a hot, melty cheese pizza on top.

"Are you guys visiting the area?" She asked.

"Well, I live here," He said, "But she's just visiting."

"Awww, you guys make such a cute couple."

"Actually, this is my ex girlfriend."

That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. For the last time, I pursed my lips and bit my tongue until I could taste the salty warmth of my own blood. I put my palms face down on the table and pushed myself backwards in my chair.

"I want to go home." I said poignantly.

"Alright, we can get this food packaged up and we'll go."

"No, I mean I want to go home. To Detroit. You're doing nothing but wasting my time here. I don't even know why I came."

Finally, all my feelings of rejection and humiliation came rushing out all at once. I was defiant and very serious. I wanted to be on the next flight out of this God-forsaken Land of Oz. I wanted to be back in the nitty-gritty city. I didn't want people to wave at me in the street, I wanted people to mug me. At least in Detroit, I felt safer emotionally than in this town, in this restaurant, with him.

"I want to go home." I said again. And this time, I truly meant it.

To be continued...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Buddha Machine

The brainchild of China-based musical duo, FM3, The Buddha Machine is a small musical loop player that can play any combination of 9 repetitive ambient sound loops. The idea is derived from a similar loop player that plays a continuous loop of Buddhist chants. This player was created for on-the-go Chinese Buddhist who were unable to make it to temple for prayer.

Resembling a small transistor radio, The Buddha Machine has a volume control, headphone jack and a switch to move between the 9 ambient loops. But unlike the I Pod, music can not be uploaded onto the machine. 

I am currently obsessed with the practical usage of this little gizmo. It's perfect for relaxing while traveling and requires little to no user input. The ambient loops create a total calming effect - perfect for tense take-offs and landings. If you crave a little Buddha Machine action right now, or if you'd like to learn a little more about can check it out here at Zendesk