My First Four Hours in Denver Included This Burger and a Lyft Driver Almost Driving Off With My Luggage

The hamburger, Graham Cracker porter from the Denver Beer Co. and green chili is courtesy of City Grille in downtown Denver. It’s the consistently top rated top hamburger in Denver. While the bun was a little over-sized, it was eaten within minutes. The green chili was perfectly hot, very flavorful without being toxic.

Before that burger feast, I had another insane Lyft experience. To get from Denver Airport to the AirBnb, I took the new speedy train that will take you to Union Station for $9. Although the train car smelled like a toilet, it was $9 and simple to navigate. The plan was to get off at the nearest train station by the place and take a Lyft the rest of the way.

Order it on my phone and I can see the driver is 5 minutes away. Five minutes later she’s still five minutes away and making several u-turns. She gets within a minute and calls me, “Hi, I’m at the station. Do you see me?” I look at the phone and I’m standing right on the pin. I see she’s a block away at the bus station. I say, “it’s the train station. The address is Central Park Train Station.” If a train hadn’t arrived right at that second, I’d probably still be standing there.

She finds me and she sees my luggage. “Go ahead and put it in the trunk,” she says. The trunk is popped, but my crap in and close the trunk. She then drives away … without me.

I start scream and running like the opening credits of What’s Happening where Rerun chases after the truck. She got a good four car lengths ahead of me until she realized that I was not in the car, unless she thought I got in the trunk with my suitcase. For split second, I thought she was steeling my shit.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she says. She has a 5-star rating. Not anymore.

 

Impressions of Vancouver

Take the landscape of Los Angeles, mix it with the crunchy granola and rainfall of Seattle and set it up behind the skyline of Hong Kong without the showy lights and you have Vancouver.

With the comparison to Los Angeles, it’s a sprawling city with a massive downtown area surrounded by low-lying suburbs.  If Toronto is the City of Neighborhoods, Vancouver is the City of “What Neighborhood is This?” Then you have the movie industry that’s larger then you think, not only from American production but the Asian market as well. I came across three movie shoots during my four days.

Also with the local hipster population reminds me immensely of the prototypical L.A. scenster who trek from trendy places and complain that their movie can’t get funding.

With Seattle, Vancouver is a progressive city, filled with foodie options, an overwhelming craft beer scene and a small music scene where rainfull is expected every day. Sunday was 24-hours of rain, Monday was about 10-hours of rain with some hail thrown in. As a result, their are several coffee joints on every block.

When you cross the bridge from the South into Vancouver or take a transit ferry from the North, the skyline towers over everything. It reminds me of Hong Kong harbor in terms of the actually length and heights, but just no fancy lights.

The Canadian city is probably the most unassuming major city I’ve visited. There is pride in the city, but not boastful. The 30% Asian population have integrated into Canadian life seamlessly. You’re more like to hear or see an Asian language before you see French. Thus, you see Asian restaurants are the most dominate type in the city. That means glorious dumplings and tiny Japanese style eateries.

Just like Toronto, everything and everybody is chill. The transportation is extensive, with buses and a simple subway system. Most importantly, it’s cheap. $10CAN ($8US) for a whole day of travel.

There is a major problem in the city, and in every major city — the homeless population. It’s pretty rampant downtown and in small areas nearby where you see a great artist area with eateries, art galleries, breweries and the like, right across from a shantytown. You’re enjoying a wine flight with your good-looking, well-to-do friends talking about the latest TED talk. Meanwhile, there’s a tent city directly next door.

More on this and other sights and eats later. Onto Denver, where hopefully my AirBnb will having working wifi.

If Your Carry On Is a Garbage Bag, You’ve Failed in Life and Other Travel Observations

It’s been almost two years since I’ve flown, and ohhhhh, how I missed being around idiot tourists, weirdos and near-do-wells. I’ve done Newark to Phoenix with a two hour layovers, let’s get some thoughts down to pass the time.

I took NJ Transit to Newark Airport, not the quickest way, but it’s cheap and somewhat reliable. The toughest part of the journey is the block walk from the shebeen to the train station. I have my mobile train ticket. Another lady has luggage as well and sits across from me  — no ticket. The conductor starts to scold her, which you want before you travel, and she says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you have to buy a ticket before you get on the train.” I’m going to leave that little nugget there for you.

Then, on NJ Transit, you can move between cars, you just need to press the big green button that says PRESS HERE TO OPEN DOOR. A man struggled to grasp this concept as a tried to pull the door open manually for 10 seconds as I watched him. I yelled, “Press the button!” And he did and walked though. The struggle is real.

Check-in and TSA pre-check was normal. The metal buttons on my shirt set off the beeper. The guy let me through anyway.

Since this was a last minute trip, I got stuck in the middle seat for the 4+ hour flight, which I’m fine with. I’m not picky or fidgety. The man in the window was already there and he was on the phone. And I swear everything I’m telling you is true, this was his conversation on the phone, told in louder then normal voice, “Snookums, don’t worry about it … baby, I’ll be back … I know … I know … that guy is just a schmuck … he’s a suit …. he’s just a suit …. I’m telling you he’s a suit … I hear you, but he’s a suit.”

I felt like grabbing the phone and yelling into it, “Bitch, he’s a suit!”

He gets off the phone and says, “Hello.” I say “Hello” back. I noticed that has a Whole Foods shopping bag between his legs. “They made me check in my stuff at the gate, can you believe that?”

I said, “Okay.” That deflated the guy, because he was hoping I would join him in a rebellion over checked carry-on.

Then the man in the aisle seat arrived, he was carrying a white garbage bag as his carry on. Okay, if you can afford a Uniqlo puffer jacket and Oakelys, you can spring for a $20 backpack at Target for your shit.

We take off, I get out my book (Oral History of the Daily Show) and settle in for the flight. Both dudes fall asleep, which is fine by me. Window guy wakes up, fumbled through his grocery bag and gets out gum. One falls on the floor and he sort of screams (a tad above normal speaking voice), “Mother fuckers!” (plural) Loud enough that the guy in front of him turned around. Yes, all the outrage because your gum fell on the floor.

We land, window guy asks me if I’m from Phoenix. I said, “No.” He then asks if I play golf. I said, “No.”

Don’t know what he was trying to get at, but I’m glad he’s not moving onto Vancouver.

More to come…

 

It Should Take You 20 Minutes to Pack If You Follow These Simple Guidelines

If your stressing out about packing for a trip, you’re doing it wrong or you have some deep seeded neurosis that you should consult your doctor.

I’ve detailed previous my folding techniques, toiletries checklist and thinking behind what clothes to bring, so let’s boil it down in some easy to follow paragraphs with bold text subheads.

Wear the same clothes for trip, based on seasons
For this trip Vancouver and Denver, I’ll wearing the same outfit I do on every flight — blue cotton stretch pants, denim/chambray shirt, blue blazer and black shoes. A slightly classier, but comfortable outfit will get you respected by crew and fellow passengers. Plus, I’ll have lounge access so I should look like belong.

In terms of what I packed, I have the same items from previous trips — blue jeans, black jeans, traveler khakis (pants cut like jeans), white shirt, blue-stripped shirt and black and white check shirt. I subbed out a green light jacket for a new camo shirt jacket that adds versatility, warmth and a little color. Sneakers are packed because they take up less rooms than the shoes.

Thus, I don’t have to decide. I’ve made the choice before, it worked and it will work again.

Pick clothes that match with each other.
Everything matches with jeans and beige khakis. The blue cotton stretch pants and blue blazer I’m wearing on the flight will go with anything I’m packing.

Keep it simple — solids, strips and simple patterns.
See above. If want to add something with some personality — add a fun scarf or sweater.

Blue is your friend
It’s the no-brainer color. It ties everything together and makes you feel comfortable. Light blue in the summer, dark blue in the winter and every shade of blue in-between.

Refresh your travel toiletries in your dopp kit when you return to save time when you go back out.
This is my best travel hack. All I had to do was throw my kit in my suitcase. When I returned from my roadtrip, I put in new toothpaste, replaced my razor blade, filled my tiny bottles and added more drugs and vitamins. The shaver, toothbrush, deodorant and comb all stay in the kit. Thus, I was all set.

Take no more than 10 pairs of undies, socks and t-shirts.
I’m out for 7 nights, so I went with the 7 sets. I could do four sets and do a quick wash when I got to Denver. If you’re out 12 nights, take 6 pairs and do a wash with a Tide Travel Pack.

 

The Next Destination — Denver, Colorado

John Denver’s was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. Bob Denver’s real name is Robert Denver, but Bob Denver never sang “Rocky Mountain High” as far I know.

After getting my fill of fresh Canadian air, I’ll be inhaling some Rocky Mountain air in-between pints. Denver won out over Chicago for a second destination on my trip this weekend into next. I had never been to Denver and since the weather will not be deathly cold, it was a good time to visit a city that’s known for several things.

  • The mountains
  • The Broncos
  • The beer
  • The athletic residents
  • The omelets
  • The legal weed

Weed tourism has been a boom for local business. Unfortunately, I’m not a weed guy because my allergies and my displeasure of smelling like weed.  In any event, it was inevitable that the Mile High City would be the Mile “High” City.

Denver has always been a beer city even before the craft beer boom of the past decade. Golden and the Coors facility is 20 minutes out of the city. Dare a craft beer guy go to the place where crappy, watery beer is made? Hell, yeah. If anything, it’s chance to look at old timey beer cans.

There’s a confounding amount of big names in Denver and in neighboring towns  — New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Odell, Left Hand and Breckenridge are in the Top 50 of Craft Breweries in America. Then you have Great Divide, Crooked Stave, Avery, 10 Barrel and TRVE. My hope is I find the next big craft brewery to come from the area. There are only 100 to choose from. It’s why the Great American Beer Festival, the Super Bowl of beer, is held in Denver every October.

While the weed, beer and omelets are all well in good, Denver is one of the most psychically fit cities in America. This is due to the mild summers, low rain fall, low humidity and 300 days of sunshine. Then, the city, by design, is filled with public parks, bike lanes, running tracks and sports areas. As a result, it brings in young professional to study sports medicine, tech companies build offices there to appeal to fit people and obesity is at low levels. Let’s not forget that Colorado is one the great ski destinations in the world.

I’ll be spending 3 nights in the joint. I have to tell myself that I won’t be able to drink at all the breweries, but damn it I will try.

The Next Destination — Vancouver, Canada

Me and Deadpool are going to do some damage in Vancouver.

I haven’t even finish writing up my posts of my extensive road trip through the southern United States, and now, I’m heading out again. Try to keep up, snitches.

My Chase Sapphire Reserve points aren’t going to spend themselves, so I figure I put them to good use before I re-enter the workforce with a new full-time gig at the end of the month.

Imagine my dilemma — I have a full week and two weekends with $2,100 of travel credits to use and 3 days to plan. I gave myself four possible scenarios.

  1. Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina
  2. Vancouver and Denver or Chicago
  3. London and Milan
  4. Reykjavik, Iceland

No. 1 is possible to book something quick and I calculated the flights to be $1,200 with hacky-type tricks. The hotels/AirBnb are another story, but overall, an extensive trip to South America takes some more planning to do and I didn’t want to feel rushed. It’s better to do it properly, have more time and plan a more elaborate trip where I can visit other cities while I’m down there like Lima, Bogota and Machu Pichu.

No. 3 — There were no available reward flights on short notice using my Virgin Atlantic miles, which I have 210K worth. Even if there were, I would have to pay $1200 worth of service fees. With Milan, cheap flights are available on a whim, but I would have liked, again, to have more time to visit Turin, as well.

No. 4 — $550 non-stop round-trip flight from Newark. Sounds good right, until you are landing at 4am in Reykjavik.

The best bet and last-minute deal on American Airlines was $266 with a stopover in Phoenix. Even better, I leave at a normal time from Newark, 1pm. Most of the cheap flight leave at ungodly early hours or on shit airlines like Spirit or Frontier and then you have 2-3 stop overs in random cities. I’m not making that up.

In all, the three flights are free with the miles, but will only eat up only $695 of my rewards with plenty leftover and more to earn. It’s a great deal considering I’m going across the continent and back.

Now, why Vancouver. It’s the craft beer and foodie capital of Canada. Plus, I wanted to visit a country again that actually has a democracy. If you remember, I paid myfirst  visit to Canada last year when I visited Toronto.

I did get a little push over the edge with the New York Times last 36 Hours article. Especially, the picture of the Purebread pastry shop. I will be having everything there, thank you.

Vancouver is one of the best international eating cities in the world, with every cuisine represented. With that, they need an equally impressive craft beer scene.  British Columbia has 130 breweries in all, with 22 within Vancouver. All of them are new names to me, so I’m looking forward to discovering my new favorite Canadian brewery.

The other big thing that Vancouver is known for is the movie business. The nickname “Hollywood North” is appropriate because of the cheaper production costs and tax breaks. This started in the 90s when The X-Files filmed in studios and locations there. Since there, a good portion of movies have Vancouver doubling for another city and making use of their cheaper studio productions. Right now, The Rock is filming Skyscraper, a big budget action movie that suppose to be set in China, and Robert Zemeckis is directing Steve Carrel in the drama, The Women of Marwen.

So I fly out in two days, time to start organizing.

 

Beer Voyage — New Belgium, Asheville, NC

Forgive my intrusion in the main image of the post. When I visit a large beer factory, I can’t help my excitement.

While the New Belgium facility in Asheville, NC is not the original location, the grounds and brew house has the new beer smell that makes it a must visit for beer fans. Opened last year, it allowed New Belgium to become the fourth largest craft in America and eighth biggest of all.

For a long time, New Belgium was not distributed around the Northeast. It wasn’t until last year when I got to drink Fat Tire, one of the most important craft beers ever created. It’s the one that made the Fort Collins, Colorado brewery into what it is today. Co-founder Jeff Lebesch was inspired by a trip through Belgium where beer is a lifestyle. He fell in love with local beer. From Wikipedia:

The Fat Tire recipe originates from a co-founder’s bicycle trip through Belgium from brewery to brewery. The company promotes its Fat Tire ale locally by the public placement of colorful vintage bicycles outside its brewery, which is located adjacent to the public bike path along the Cache La Poudre River.

At the Asheville facility, which is within the city limits near the River Arts district, you can take an extensive free tour where you get a few samples along the way. While I’ve taken my fair share of brewery tours, and they are all the same, this one is worth it. You can reserve in advance, we were able to get on the next available tour.

The highlights of the tour include a tube slide that is surprising fast and thrilling, which is what you want after drinking a 8-oz. of Fat Tire. 

Along the way, you’ll see some neat beer and circus themed art. Make sure you notice the details like the lighting shaped like hops or the tiles shaped like beer bottles. On the hand, be aware of the creepy sad clown.

While it was a blistering hot day, the grounds have bike paths along the river that they plan to expand. Eventually, it will connect all the big name breweries in the area and other points of interests.

For the tap room, they have pretty much have everything and then some. The important thing for tap rooms from the big name craft breweries is to have beers you can only have there. It makes the trip more appealing and worth it when a brewery has pilot beers or brewery exclusives. They have their beers in bottles and cans to go, plenty of dopey merch, but not large format limited releases bottles.

In any event, here’s what I had in my flights:

  • Oscar Worthy Coffee (sour ale)
  • Tart Lychee (Lips of Faith)
  • Juicy Mandarina IPA (Hop Kitchen)
  • Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA (Passion Fruit)
  • Voodoo Ranger 8 Hop Pale Ale
  • 1554 Lager
  • La Folie (Lips of Faith) (2017)
  • Pilsener
  • Juicy Watermelon