Art Travel

Vacation in the Time of Corona; Actually Ten Years Earlier

Ten years ago I took a vacation to a National Geographic Photography class in DC. I had a great time. I realize as I’m cooped up now that I stopped taking pictures soon after this post from 2009. What a great time to start taking them again. I’m going to go out tomorrow and renew my love of taking pictures and see if I can capture some of what we are now seeing on our daily travels … short as they might be. Here is the post from April 2019…

I haven’t taken vacation in close to three years. It’s clear I have trouble relaxing. I decide in this Obama mania of Change, Change, Change that I will take five days off. What to do? What to do? I receive my National Geographic Expeditions catalog in the mail and decide to sign up for the DC four day photo-journalism expedition.

First, I can add simple numbers. It’s not four days. It starts Thursday night at 5:30 PM and ends Sunday at noon. That’s two and a half days. Duh. Ok, rise above accuracy in logistics and get with the program.

I tell my friend Paula about the trip, and she decides to join me. I love Paula because she always reads everything associated with anything she does, and I know she will have the whole thing figured out by the time we get there.

One Month Before My Vacation Expedition

“You have to get a Mac and download Lightroom.” Paula is on the phone after having received her kit in the mail that I received weeks earlier and haven’t read.

“Huh? It’s a photography class.”

“Yes it is, and you need Lightroom which costs three hundred dollars, and you should be on a Mac.”

I always follow Paula’s directions and order one Mac laptop, one major screen, one cordless mouse and keypad. I buy Lightroom and add $5,000 to the $2,000 cost of the trip. Well, I needed to move to Mac anyway; everyone who is really creative uses a Mac and after the class that will include me.

One Week Before the Class

I put my camera in the car and take it with me to be ready for a few practice shots on the days before the trip begins. You never know when the next Katrina can hit when you are driving to and from work the week before your first photo journalism class. My camera is stolen from the back seat of my car two days before we are heading to Washington.

I go to the camera store and buy a new camera and lens that will serve as my “sure I know what I’m doing” calling card. $1,500. We are up to $8,000 for the trip. I’m realizing that perhaps there is a reason I never take vacation.

I’m ready to go. Bags packed. Check. New camera. Check. Batteries charged and ready to go. Check. DC here I come. On the way to meet Paula at the train station I make a mental note that I could be sent to Africa shortly after being discovered in DC as the best photo journalist discovered in a two and a half day class that so far costs $8,000.

Night One — Dinner with the Group

We head down to registration, drinks and dinner right on time and start to meet the group. No one talks about photography much, but instead get acquainted with where we are all from and what we do outside this trip. I look for those with indented shoulders thinking the professional photographers are worn from carrying bags, etc around the globe in their amazing assignments. Not too many are admitting they are photographers professionally. I start to relax.

We eat and then see a presentation by our PPL (Professional Photographer Leader), Mark Thiessen. He presents his work on fires and as he speaks I look around a bit wondering if anyone has the same thoughts as I do about how pyromaniacs love fires and perhaps the fact that for six years he pursued his fire story should be a tip off to the feds. That, of course, makes me wonder if we are going to shoot any FBI stuff and so the evening went.

Day Two: Really Day One After Night One

Everyone is stoked. We head over to National Geographic Offices. (Who knew they have three buildings and call Alexander Graham Bell their founder? Turns out that Bell left them a ton of telephone stock, and so they have plenty of real estate to call their own. I wonder what I will leave them when I win the Pulitzer for a shot I take after learning everything I need to know in the next four days, or two and a half depending on whether you are the payee or the payor.)

After breakfast we head up to the editing classroom we will be using. They tell us in the elevator that we are assigned seats. I say out loud, “Please let me be in the back row. Please let me be in the back row.” Everyone laughs but I know two things. You have to say what you want in life, and being in the back row means you can see what everyone else is doing on their laptops and know whether you should check out or not. We arrive, and no surprise to me I’m in the back row with some fabulous people.

backrowalley2-150x150Kate on my right and Martha on my left. Jack sits next to Kate, and they happen to have the same last name. We later dub our back row, Back Room Alley, and we know that we are the finest in the land for sure and support each other better than my Playtex bra in 1993 when I went through menopause and my breasts fell to my knees.

The morning is a presentation by Todd James, one of the editors at National Geographic. I’m sure he’s a very very nice man to have as a father. That said, his presentation was more a review of his favorite National Geographic stories over the past years (not sure but could be quite a few years).

He offered the following elements of editing:

Know your subject. Research Up; edit down. That was interesting. I’m not a strong researcher, but it makes sense. Learn about where you are going before going and then you will know the shot.

Find Meaningful Surprises. Are you kidding me? That’s like saying, “Make a lot of money,” or “Eat well and you will be thin.” How to find meaningful surprises would have been nice. Some examples of meaningful surprises would have been nice and how it wasn’t dumb luck (or was) would have been nice.

See what others miss. He’s kidding right? Todd, again, how does one see what others miss? How do you even know if others missed it?

Photograph what you feel. I have spent thirteen years in therapy trying to figure out what I feel. By the time I figure out what I feel darkness has set in and the shot is lost. But I know what he means. I do. I know that I need to shoot people not places because I feel people. M on my left who aspires to be a photographer and is one already shows me a shot on day two where there is a line of WWII vets lined up at the memorial, and I start to cry as she remarks, “You know they won’t be around much longer.”

Use photography as a language to tell your story. I like that one. I try it on, “I speak English and photography.” Yes, that’s it for sure. I realize it was worth the morning just for that. And, there were some shots over the weekend that did just that. One in particular was a line from the military at Arlington taken by John I think (will try and get it to upload). The soldier on one side is barking out an order and his mouth is in a perfect O that reminds me of the carolers that I put out at Christmas. I know he means that order big time, and I can hear the picture. I can hear it.

So, I’m glad that Todd, the picture editor who still prefers film rather than digital, spoke to us. I learned a lot and also I know I want to subscribe again to National Geographic.

We have lunch and head off to our first assignment. We are split into two groups; one goes to Dupont Circle and the other, including Back Row Alley, heads to Adams Morgan neighborhood. We are told to capture the culture of the neighborhood. The only thing I remember about Dupont Circle is in the movie An American President, when she keeps getting stuck in Dupont Circle, and I never heard of Adams Morgan. We are told that they are culturally diverse and that’s it. Now, I am a learner, and we were just told that we should research up and edit down, so I know this is not going to go well but I decide it’s all in the attitude. I put on my Geo hat (that’s what all the cool people at National Geographic call the company, and since I’m a photo away from my African assignment, I’m sure it’s ok to join them), hop in a cab with Y whose bag weighed more than I do and head out. I leave her at destination Adams Morgan Neighborhood so I can hear my feelings and stand on a corner for awhile waiting for my feelings to hit me. “Shoot what you feel. I speak Photographer. Editing down from researching up (liar!).” That goes on for quite awhile and I am starting to panic.

merserc_day1_-11-300x225I see it. Four thug young boys walking down the street. They turn the corner away from me. I’m desperate. I call after them “Hey tough boys, walk toward me. You can kill me when you get here.” I swear to God. Desperation does something to a person. They turn. I start clicking. And, it worked. One of the four kept walking the other way, but the other three turn and start walking toward me with a mixture of tough and fun on their faces. I love them and will pay for their college education. Now we are up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for this vacation depending on whether or not they choose Ivy institutions.

I spent some time talking to them. It was great. Promised I’d send the shot which I will do shortly.

We arrive back for the editing process and everyone is shaky – wanting like Sally Fields to really have their shots be liked. It was all very touchy feely during the review process and no real input from the professionals on what should have been done or what makes a good picture etc. I realize that two hours to edit (really meaning pick out four pictures to show the class) borders on a new level of narcissism. We in back room alley finish up in a half an hour and chat amongst ourselves as others painfully look at each of their shots over and over and over again to figure out which one pops. Truth is I only have one worth showing – my boys in the hood – but I feel good about it. Quality over quantity if you ask me.

Kate starts doing some work on her laptop, and I see she is in pharmaceuticals. I tell her I’m all about the drugs, and she doesn’t offer anything under the table. Martha and I talk about her sherpa husband and the class.

We see each other’s images, and the next day’s assignment presented. We are to go to the Lincoln Memorial at dawn, shoot in the new light and then get shots of tourists and meet back for “editing” after lunch.

A group of us walk to a nearby place for dinner and decide to meet in the lobby at six to head over to the Memorial. I take to heart the research first editing remarks and Google Lincoln Memorial at dawn images and see that the light appears to come from the left hand side. I tell everyone that the next morning. Turns out it doesn’t come from the left, but no one suggests that I was sending them astray on purpose.

shapeimage_1My shots of the memorial are not memorable. Martha, however, nails it with a shot of the Memorial with a man mopping the area. Kate and I compliment her shot, and we all marvel at Kate’s shots too. I have asked her to send me some to show.

I am grateful for the morning and my encounter with Reginald in the park. Paula and I go into the park near National Geo after the Lincoln Memorial, and Reggie is sitting on a bench. I know he’s not all ‘there’ but there was something about his face. I sit down next to him and realize that part of being a photographer is that you are not really you. You can do things like sit next to a schizophrenic on a bench and feel like you have something to say to him.

I hand him my large lens as I’m switching to something smaller, and he and I become friends. Reggie is trying to stay in the real world and in his mind is a great basketball player. He demonstrates his techniques which if I’d read the directions on how to work my camera I could have shot with repeat shutter controls, but of course I haven’t and so I am stuck with Reggie in one still.

p10102352-225x300I give Reggie twenty dollars. I tell him he earned it for helping me with my lenses He was so happy that he gave me a hug and a kiss. I won’t forget him.

When we got back to the editing room, our leader Mark gave a lecture on elements of good picture taking. It strikes me that having it at the END of the expedition was sort of strange, but whatever. he also shows us pictures from his personal collection. They are awesome. Kate notes that the Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns are all about the candles in them. The birthday cake picture is also all about the fire. She is so smart that Kate, and I tell her so, but she still doesn’t offer me any free drug samples.

We have our wrap up dinner and the helpers put together a video presentation (they are sending it to us and I’ll upload it when they do). I realize that we all learned a lot. I took my first vaca in years, and I realized that it’s about getting out of the house, away from technology. I intend to do it more often.

Paula and I skip the last morning tour of Mark’s lab; I doubt we will be using it in the future. We have a nice leisurely breakfast and talk about our favorite shots from the group. Great wrap. Great weekend with my friend. I will research applying for Pulitzers when I get hope. Research up. Edit down.

Personal Essays Travel

My Uber Rating Obsession

2016-09-26-04-26-39I didn’t even know Uber drivers rate their clients until I was told by my daughter, Sarah (about whom I am not allowed to blog). I’m not sure how it came up, but I was intrigued. She put her fiancé on the phone and he walked me through the process of finding out what my rating is.

“Oh, I see it now,” I said when I finally understood. “My rating is 3.68. Is that good?”

Pause. The kind of long pause that tells you your soon-to-be son-in-law is trying to make sure he doesn’t alienate you before he and his bride even walk down the aisle. Or maybe he was in shock because I’m the nicest person he knows and he couldn’t believe I had a rating of 3.68. I choose the latter of the two.

“Well, no actually, it’s not great. It’s out of 5, and I haven’t heard of one that low, to be honest.”

That was a few months ago, and since that time I have become obsessed. Obsessed, I tell you.

I check my rating after each and every time I take an Uber, which can be five or six times a day when I’m in New York City. And still, it stays the same. Okay, it went up one tenth of a point, but that just doesn’t seem fair to me. I am a great Uber rider. Seriously.

Here is the thing: I often take Uber from the Upper West Side to Downtown. They always want to weave over to the West Side Highway and go down that way and then weave back on over to the Sixth Avenue cross street that I might be going to. Not a good plan in my book. Or, if I’m heading to the east side, they want to go down to Columbus Circle to go over to 57th and Third, while I prefer to go through Central Park at 65th Street and head over that way.

Did you see Broadcast News? Holly Hunter has just had her heart broken and she gets in the car and tells the cab driver how to get to where she is headed and then goes back to crying. When I saw the film I totally understood that moment, while my friends all wondered, “Who would do that?” I’m a New Yorker, and I know how to maneuver through traffic, and politely suggesting the route I would like to take seems to be well within the bounds of good ridership. As is politely asking them to turn off the radio while I think during the ride. And politely asking them to hang up the phone so as not to endanger our lives while I’m in the car seems reasonable to me. So why don’t they like me?

Shonda Rhimes taught me in her book, The Year of Yes, not to care what anyone thinks. The total absurdity of this entire thing is that I have really stopped caring so much what friends and family think, and I do focus more and more on what I think. But when it comes to Uber, I have set in motion some really crazy shit to try to improve my rating. Is it because I don’t like having a D– in Uber ridership?

Here are just a few of the things I now do when I’m in an Uber:
· I now bring treats and offer them to the driver. Yep. Treats. Water bottles and the like.
· I ask them how their day is going. Now, I do hope they don’t really want to chat with me, but if they do,     I am better than Oprah at helping them through their day.
· I was giving them all great ratings and comments, even if they didn’t deserve them, until I found out         they can’t see what I do, so now I’m not doing that. I am relieved to be able to go back to being             authentic.
· I wish them a happy life when I’m getting out of the car, each and every time.

I write this in hopes of going back to the old me who was always trying to help the Uber driver get me where I’m going swiftly, efficiently, and safely. Yep, intention matters, and I’m leaving my rating behind. I’m not going to look at it ever again. And I’m losing the treats, which mostly I was eating myself anyway.


Unpacking. Putting Things Away.

imagesI don’t unpack in hotel rooms. It has to be said. I just don’t. Basically, I put my suitcase on the side of the bed that I won’t be sleeping in, open it up to let everything breathe, and then I do something else. It means I have to iron things in my room before I wear them, but I sort of like that. I iron in front of the T.V. It works.

My sister Leslie unpacks. She and I drove together to visit my mom a few years ago, and we stayed at a Hilton on Cape Cod. She said she needed to run into CVS before we checked in, and she came back to the car with a bunch of bags. We checked in. I did my thing with my suitcase which took maybe five minutes and then went to the adjoining room to see if she was ready to go to Mom’s.

She was running around the room. Her bathroom stuff was in the bathroom, lined up by the sink. She was putting the last of her clothes in the drawer and had hung the other things in the closet. She had her computer on the desk. I’m pretty sure she had a book by her bedside, but I might be making that up to make my point. She was unpacking water and juice and half-and-half from her CVS stop into the refrigerator.

I sat on the bed watching her thinking, Gosh I wish I did that. Then I thought, I could do that. Then I thought, I’ll never do that. There are people who approach things her way, and then there are others like me who do not.

It’s not just packing. Things that go into my car tend to stay there for a while. Dry cleaning, for example. When I unpack the groceries, I may leave a few things on the counter for a few days, or until I use them. When I bring up the laundry, I don’t always put it away.

Please don’t think that I am lazy. I am not. Really. I do more in a day than most, but I guess I don’t put things away. It’s different from laziness. I swear it is. Don’t judge me.

I am going to work on this. I think my life would be less chaotic if I approached things Leslie’s way. Yep, this could change my whole life. Now that I have written about it, I can change it. Go ahead. Stop by my house anytime you want and you’ll see. Just don’t look in the back seat of the car on your way in.

Movies & TV Travel

Movie Review: Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen: Genius writer, director, and actor—or narcissistic distorter of reality? Both, would be my answer, and Midnight in Paris leans toward the genius side of him. The dialog, the cinematography, the casting, and the characters will all remind you of someone in your own life—or sadly, possibly yourself. It’s a trip all right, and one worth taking.

I think Woody Allen inserts the narrator (usually himself) into his films better than any writer in film today. You find yourself watching him even when other characters are speaking, so you hear the words of the other characters and you see the narrator’s reaction, which gives you the point of view Allen wants you to see. It’s all about him. When he used to play the narrator himself, you could really “feel” Woody’s genius and his insanity. His face is an open book.

But now that Woody is getting older, he has found the perfect stand-in for his younger self in Owen Wilson. Wilson has great timing. You can see the words on his face, and you can sense his discomfort and his loneliness. Until I saw this movie I was not a fan of Owen Wilson (OK, I was a little bit of a fan in Marley and Me), but I love him in this role.

What also really hit home is how Woody Allen’s character never fits in anywhere. He doesn’t fit in with his future in-laws, he doesn’t fit in with the literary set of 1920s Paris, and he doesn’t fit in with Hollywood, even though he’s considered a success there. This made me realize that in all his films his character is a part of the scenery of life, but never in the middle of it, or really a part of it. And why should this surprise me? Woody Allen doesn’t fit in anywhere either—certainly not in Hollywood. He travels the world alone, and somehow he is not the worse for it, or at least not in his films.

I also realized that the plot in Midnight in Paris is sort of irrelevant, which is true with most of Woody’s films. He takes a slice of any time in his life and adds undercurrents of absurdity, humor, and dare I say, the strengths and weaknesses we all have? He is not about the results, but rather the journey. In other directors’ films you wonder halfway through how they will end, but in Allen’s films, the ending is obvious from the very beginning, and the ride is what matters.

Setting has never been so relevant in a Woody Allen film as it is in Midnight in Paris. The Parisian setting is everything, and I think it’s the first time I’ve seen that from him. Allen clearly loves Paris, and though I spent considerable time there when I was married to a Frenchman, I never saw it the way he does. It’s sort of an added benefit: come see Midnight in Paris and also get a magnificent tour of Paris’ cobblestone streets. France should use segments of this movie in their “Come See Paris” ads, if they do them.

Sometimes I don’t like Woody Allen’s films. Sometimes I find them silly or unbelievable. Sometimes I like a part of the film and not the rest of it, as in Annie Hall. Sometimes I don’t want to go because I’m still mad at him for seducing his stepdaughter, regardless of her age. But maybe the new me, non-judgemental and filled with forgiveness, is open to really enjoying Woody’s gifts in Midnight in Paris. I really liked this movie. It made me like Paris again, it made me want to learn more about the literary peeps he inserted into the film, and it made me appreciate once again that there truly is a difference between great films and commercial films that bring in a lot of money.



Laser Lights and Airplanes

I hate to fly. I am deathly afraid of flying.

When I was married and flew to Europe one or more times a month with daughter Sarah’s fabulous dad, better knows as H2 (husband #2), I had trouble taking advantage of the opportunities that were mine for fear of the flight there or back. I fly a lot now, and I use drugs to make it happen. But you wouldn’t want to have a meeting with me upon my arrival. On second thought, you might, because you could get anything you wanted. I’m out of it.

I remember once flying with H2 on a flight from Geneva to New York. It was perfect. No turbulence, but I was sitting next to H2, shaking. He was working; his papers were strewn around and on my side of the seat, which is probably one of the reasons I had to divorce him. (I have issues.) Anyway, he looked over at me, slowly put all his papers away, took my hand and gently said, “Ok. let’s fix this. Just what are you afraid of?”

“We are all going to die,” I replied with certainty.

H2 paused, reached down for his briefcase and said, “I can’t help you.”

Fear of flying is bad enough on its own, but the risk of terrorism adds some stress (although I never worry about that part of it, which in itself shows the absurdity of my fear). Fear of flying, I’m convinced, is caused by having to put your life in a stranger’s hands. So, with the terrorism thing, I’m sure that I could overpower the terrorists—all five of them single-handedly—and recover control of the plane for the pilots. Yes, yes, I know, I know. Ridiculous. But so is my fear of the safest form of transportation out there.

I always check out the pilots. I’m usually the first one in the waiting area and often see them boarding. I check them out, make sure they look like they can walk a straight line, and I chat with the flight attendants and see if they have flown with them in the past.

But I digress. I saw on the news this morning that pilots are aborting landings because people on the ground are shooting laser beams at airplanes landing and taking off, and these lasers blind the pilot. Are you kidding me? Do you really need to do this? Don’t I have enough things to worry about when we are taking off? I have to watch the take-off to make sure the plane gets its wheels off the ground before running out of runway. I have to listen for sounds that are not working for me. I have to check the flaps and make sure they are fully out. I have to look around for birds and alert the proper peeps if I feel they are about to run into us. I have to watch the flight attendants’ faces to see if they pause in any way. I do not have time to bring binoculars in and check for laser shooters miles away. This is the final insult.

Stop it. All of you idiots, just stop it. I mean it. I’m flying again in early January, which gives you almost a month to get rid of the lasers, or use them for your Powerpoint presentations, but I’m so not kidding. Finished. You are all to put them away and I don’t want to hear of it again. End of story. Have a nice day.

Politics Travel

Pat Downs

It was the talk of the week. Do you think being patted down when going through security at the airport is or is not an invasion of your civil liberties? To be honest, I don’t understand the question.

Ten percent of America’s working population is out of work. We are fighting so many wars that I can’t even think about it without great sadness. We have 50,000 troops in South Korea, a tiny little country that shouldn’t have anything more than American tourists buying bamboo at the airport. We rank 18th out of 36th in industrial nations in the world in the education of our children. We have an obesity problem in our country that means our children will not live as long as we will, and we owe so much money to China that I feel as if we will have turn over the next generation’s first born if we aren’t careful. But, let’s face it, they probably wouldn’t want them. And, what brings my country to a collective roar of outrage? Virtual strip-searches at airports. Please tell me you are kidding me.

I was patted down the last time I went through security at LAX a month or so ago. I never questioned whether it violated anything. It took a minute or so, and then I was on my way to my flight. Did I love it? Nope. Did I question it? Not for a minute.

My friend Cathryn just returned from India, where she said she was patted down by Indian military women before she went into the Taj Mahal and other tourist places. She suggested that we have military personnel do it like India does. I wish we had enough military personnel to put them at airports. Oh yeah, they are doing their third and fourth tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, with unfortunate consequences for their mental health, so we don’t have the personnel. Why aren’t you people screaming about that? What is wrong with this picture?

Israel has offered to help us train our peeps at airports, and I definitely think we should do that. Apparently, they ask questions of people going through security, rather than searching them personally, and based on how people respond they know whether to be concerned or not. That makes sense to me.

I was talking to a friend about the whole thing, and she said something that made me laugh. She said she was way too vain to blow herself up in protest of something. It made me wonder why we don’t have people blowing themselves up in our country? There was the lady who called 911 in a rage after McDonald’s wouldn’t refund her the cost of her hamburger when she didn’t like it. She might have been a recruit.

Here is my bottom line: I thank the US of A for fighting back and not changing the way we live in this country, no matter what the cost.


Las Vegas

I’m back. Thanks to those of you who called, emailed and asked me on the street where I’d gone. Two weeks off was great.

Now, let’s get back to business.

I went to Las Vegas last week. I’d never been. I was attending Catersource’s trade show (giving a speech on social media) and stayed at the Paris Hotel. Let’s start there. It wasn’t until day two that someone explained to me that you were supposed to feel as if you were in Paris while there. Are you kidding me? I’ve been to Paris maybe a hundred times. (Sarah’s dad is French and we were there more often than I’d like to remember.) Never once did I feel like I was in Paris while I was in the hotel. Nope, not once. Driving up, the Eiffel Tower mock up should have been a clue, but I didn’t notice it amidst all the “stuff” around.

I’m an ADD girl. Vegas is like watching Fantasia (the movie, not the singer) while vacuuming, listening to your iPod and having a conversation with two three-year-old toddlers. My head was spinning the whole time. I was exhausted, but what I couldn’t figure out was why whenever I was on the first floor of the hotel I got a boost of adrenalin and seemed to be energized. A co-worker explained to me that they pump oxygen into the lobby to keep you awake so you will keep gambling long after you should be in bed. Oxygen is my new diet coke. I might be seen walking around with an oxygen tank and that ugly nose thing moving forward. It was great. I love oxygen. If a company wanted to start pumping more oxygen in the atmosphere, I would buy the stock.

Cabs in Vegas don’t take credit cards, just cash. I thought that was odd. But then I thought maybe they are afraid the credit cards are maxed out and they won’t get paid unless you give them cash. I didn’t gamble, but I guess if you did gamble all your money away, you would have trouble coming up with cash to get a cab to the airport. I looked on the side of the road on the way to the airport to see if there were people walking their way to their flights but didn’t see anyone. I think all cabs should take credit cards like they do in the fabulous New York City.

I was with people from my office and noticed that Barry Manilow was playing at our hotel. I love Barry Manilow and have seen him in concert more times than I should admit. I sent an email to everyone asking if they wanted me to get tickets. I didn’t hear back from anyone, so I assumed no one got my message which happens at my office. So, I sent another one. Here is a sampling of the replies I received after asking them to please respond one way or another. “Is it time for you to retire?” “Not so much. Not even if you offer me a promotion.” “Sorry, thought it was your sick sense of humor.” And, so it went. I am not a bitter person and really think that even if you haven’t the acquired Barry taste, there is no need to be mean about it, but that’s just me. Needless to say, we didn’t see Barry.

I will never go to Las Vegas again. I don’t get it. I did wonder if astronauts can see it from space, lighting up the earth. I think they probably can. The electricity there could probably serve the entire continent of Africa, but I might be exaggerating. If you love Vegas, as I’m told some do, I am sorry if I offended you.

Shopping Travel

Taking things from the Hotel Room Service Tray

Now that I’m in Caleefornia and near my dear frugal friend, I’ve tried to become more frugal myself. I’m not sure if it’s because of her enthusiasm for frugality, or that this is also the direction our country is taking in general. Either way, I’m trying.

I was on a business trip the last few days and stayed at the fabulous Ritz in San Francisco. We were doing business with them and they comped the room (just in case your first thought is that the Ritz is certainly not on the frugal list). Coincidentally, the Ritz is full of things to take home to be frugal.

Here is a list of what I brought home.

Everything from the bathroom including Q-tips, the shampoo and conditioner, all bars of soap (I opened one and used it both at the sink and in the shower so there were two bars to bring home), two plastic laundry bags from the closet (not sure what they are good for, but whatever), the shoeshine cloth, and (drum roll) seven bottles from the room service cart including three jars of  orange marmalade (should I mention I hate marmalade?), one little jar of mayo, one jar of dijon mustard, two jars of strawberry jam (love that and wished I could have used it on my whole wheat toast but I didn’t think an open bottle would be ok to keep without refrigerating so I ate it dry), two bottles of catsup, and last but not least, the shower cap. They had 8 (not kidding) washcloths in the bathroom and I’m sure they wouldn’t have missed one, but I considered that crossing the line to thief, so I didn’t take it.

I was stoked, what a haul. It felt like Christmas.

Then I started to feel guilty. Is that stealing? What do you think the housekeeping department thought of me? Do healthy people do this? Then I started to worry that the bottles wouldn’t get past security. What if security opened my bag after all the bottles went through X-ray and everyone behind me saw that I was a stealer of bottles off the room service tray, and they would think to themelves “Are you kidding me? Who is that awful woman?” And what if stolen bottles from hotels means you get strip searched? Then I realized I better not look nervous or they will pull me over anyway. I was exhausted and guilt ridden by the time I got through security. I actually considered dropping it all off at a homeless shelter in Los Angeles. I’m not kidding. I got a grip and realized that the mind is one sick puppy when you let it go wild.

I unpacked it all when I got home. I think my refrigerator looks really cute with all kinds of little bottles in the door. And, I can’t wait until I have company and can bring them out and put them on the table. Fun. It might have all been worth it.

So, I’m a new frugal girl and proud of it. I’m considering picking up sugar packets at restaurants in the future. Is toilet paper out of bathrooms stealing if there is another roll right there and you aren’t leaving the stall with no toilet paper? Ok, I think it is but I’m clueless as to the fine line between frugal girl and robber. I am going to check with Cheap C and figure it out.


Vivien, My GPS Friend and Confidante

LA is a sprawling group of small towns connected by strip malls and occasionally tall buildings. While there are some clear east and west roads, generally anywhere you want to go calls for twists and turns off and on small roads and delta like convergences. I can’t help but wonder what people did before GPS systems were in their cars. Really, I would not have been able to maneuver without it.

I named my GPS Vivien after Vivien in Pretty Woman long before I moved to fabulous sunny LA. I didn’t have much of a relationship with her before the move. I used her occasionally when I was in the woods of the Hamptons, or figuring out a way off the Long Island Expressway when it was too crowded to stay on it.

I started to wonder about GPS history last night on the way home from exhausting Vivien with a number of entries. Here is what I learned.

Radio-based navigation systems were developed in the early twentieth century, and were used in World War II. As this technology advanced, both ships and airplanes used ground-based radio-navigation systems. The disadvantage of using a system that uses ground generated radio waves, is that a choice has to made between a high-frequency system that is accurate, but does not cover a wide area, and a low-frequency system that covers a wide area, but is not very accurate.

When Sputnik was launched into space by Russia on October 4th, 1957 it became known that “artificial stars” could be used for navigation. The evening after the launch researchers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology determined the orbit of the Russian satellite by noting that the Sputnik’s radio signal increased as it approached and decreased as it left. So the fact that a satellite’s position could be tracked from the ground was the first step in recognizing that a subject’s whereabouts on the ground could be determined using radio signals from the satellite.

The U.S. Navy experimented with satellite navigation. In the mid-sixties there was the Transit System that was developed for submarines carrying Polaris nuclear missiles. This system has six satellites that circled the earth in polar orbits. In measuring the Doppler shift of the radio signals the submarines could locate its position within fifteen minutes.

The Global Positioning System, now commonly known GPSwas designed and built and is operated and maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense. It used to be known as the Navstar Global Positioning System and was first brainstormed at the Pentagon in 1973 as they were looking for a satellite system that was error-proof. In 1978 the first operational GPS satellite was launched. By the mid-1990s the system was fully operational with 24 satellites.

Who knew Vivien had such a rich history? My peeps came over on the Mayflower but we had no use to society the way Vivien’s ancestors have clearly had. Go Vivien!

Vivien and I chat. I don’t go anywhere in LA without Vivien being in action, and since I’m still relatively new and don’t have tons of people to chat with on my cell phone on the way home because of the New York time difference, I talk to Vivien.

“Look at this traffic, Viv. Should we get off and try another route?”

“Vivien, I thought you meant the right lane, not the middle lane. Yikes! (I really don’t say Yikes to Vivien, but I’m always trying to appear more ladylike in my blog and so I tone down some of my dialog.)

Vivien and I are like that stupid ball Tom Hanks had a relationship with in that movie where he was really strange and almost got an academy award for it. I can now see how it happens.

If you have a GPS, name her. Talk to her. There is nothing like a passive voice in your life never judging you but always showing you the correct path. It really is an incredible thing. You can count on your GPS to also be at the same level of tonal presentation, always right with directions for any place you need to go. You can say you need quiet time, push a button and she becomes a map and keeps her mouth shut. That’s why she’s a woman. (Just kidding.)

Anyway, I pay homage to Vivien today, not just because she’s Vivien but also because I didn’t have any other inspiration to write about. That’s the thing about Vivien, she doesn’t mind being used and then shut off.


Pet Airways


Luke, the soon to be Pet Jet Traveler
Luke, the soon to be Pet Jet Traveler

I’m sure you are all as sick as I am with my move to LA, but I have to write about it once more. My dog, Luke, the fabulous Luke Merser, is heading to LA with me. He’s a little larger than a lap dog, however, and flying in the cabin is not an option. He’s fifteen years old, and I just know that putting him below in the cargo hold would not be pretty on the other side.

My friends all had opinions.

“Give him to me. I love Luke.” It still never ceases to amaze me that I look like the kind of person who would give her dog away. It galls me.

“You have to drive cross country with him. It’s the only way. Pack up the car and head west. It will take you a week, but he’ll be better off.” Hmmm. Not so much.

So a friend of mine who just moved to Chicago said, “Go on Pet Jet.” Pet Jet? You are kidding right? Like Net Jet, which my rich ex husband uses all the time? I had visions of Luke sitting upright while being served snacks as his jet flies by my commercial jet over the country.

Luke’s Plane

I checked it out. Pet Airways. Yep, Luke is flying in this cool plane to LA and instead of a flight attendant (I miss the term stewardess), he’s got a vet checking his pulse every five minutes. It’s not every five minutes, but I’m going to pretend that it is for my own peace of mind. Let’s face it, they probably won’t check him unless he looks catatonic.

His flight and mine cost about the same, but he also needs other things to bring along for the ride. He needs a portable water bowl, a large crate (I opted for the expanded flight seat version; extra money but at least he can stand up in his crate), some toys, a bed and treats. Sounds like Jet Blue. Don’t you have to bring your own pillow on Jet Blue?

They have their own terminal, and you can sit with your pet in the terminal until they call his flight. Doesn’t that just crack you up? My friend is taking him and I can picture her sitting and chatting with him while they wait for them to call his flight. “Luke Merser, we are ready for boarding. Please remember all your personal belongings and thanks for flying Pet Airways.”

I spoke to someone on the phone just to be sure they sounded legit. She was really nice and made me believe that she would fly her dog on this plane. Then I noticed that she had an accent. While I haven’t a prejudiced bone in my body, it occurred to me that most of customer service is in India these days, so I felt the need to trip her up if I could. I wish I were a different kind of trusting person, but I’m not and have tried to celebrate other qualities that I have and not focus on those that I don’t. How to broach the subject? Hmm. Be subtle Christine.

“So, have you ever been to Bombay? Were you born there?”

Pause. “Excuse me?”

“Well, we are talking about travel, and I’ve never been to Bombay and wondered if you had.”

“Well, no I haven’t. I live in Los Angeles and haven’t been to Europe although I hope to go.”

Alrighty then. I immediately felt guilty, and quickly thanked her for her help.

I got Luke’s confirmation in my email box and it looks just like my Delta confirmation.

So, Luke Merser is flying Pet Airways to LA, and I will pick him up when he gets there. I wonder if they will give him little wings like I got on my first flight when I was eight.