The Six Airports I Passed Through on This Trip — Ranked

As much as going to airports can be a bit of a nightmare for the novice traveler, I still enjoy and look forward to passing through new airports to see the quirks, similarities and differences. Elegant and stylish train stations are few and far between (Denver’s Union Station is a wow!) and bus stations are just atrocious places to be any time of day.

I hadn’t flown in two years, so I got to experience the modern upgrades (faster check-in, bag tracking) and aspects that haven’t changed (weak food selections, repugnant bathrooms). On this trip, I got to walk through four new airports. Here are all them ranked.

1. Vancouver — The whole airport (which is actually in Richmond) reminded me of the best in European airports. It makes you feel like your in a wide-open space and not closed off from the outside world. On top of that, some design flourishes makes it more of an experience. Coming in at around 8pm, you’re greeted with a criss-cross pattern of overhead lights as you walk through some artificial scenes of natures. It was like arriving at a natural history museum.

There’s a train that will take you to all points north into downtown Vancouver for about $7.50CAD that you can purchase at the kiosks. Although to get to the train, you have to go outside and play Frogger with passing traffic. Leaving, there’s an overpass that gets you to arrivals.

When I checked in going out on Delta, they actually secretly took a photo of your checked baggage. When I got through passport control, the agent showed me a photo of my luggage and asked if that was mine. That’s some deep secret ops shit right there. As an added bonus, I finally saved time with my Global Entry.

In the international terminal, there is the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s along with Asian fast food options. Pho to go, anyone? There was a nice wine bar, which every airport has to have, but can we get a decent beer bar going? The bar dedicated to the Vancouver Chanucks is unspectacular.

As I walked around, you can see some North American Indian art and totem polls like this one below. RAWWWWW, enjoy your flight!

2. Denver — The Denver International Airport has the distinction of being the largest airport in America by total land area with the longest public use runway. It’s also one of the most energy efficient with one of the fastest snow removal systems in the world.

Within the past year, they’ve added a highspeed rail that will take you to downtown Union Station for $9 in about 40 minutes with a few stops in-between. This has been a big deal for the city in hopes to give the town some improved infrastructure to relieve traffic. Even though I switched cars because the first one I was in smelled like a toilet, it worked like a charm. As an added bonus, the airport station has this funky mood lighting that’s support to resemble the northern lights I guess. It was as if Brian Eno designed a transit hub.

DEN is one of those airport where you have to take a quick train to get to the terminals from arrivals and departure halls. For a little levity, when the train arrives you hear the first chords of Fulsom City Blues (I hear the train a comin’) and a steam train whistle. Inside the voice of the Mayor of Denver welcomes you and tells you what the city has to offer.

On the Friday morning I left, the East terminal was a hub activity. There are dozen of places to eat but particularly appealed to me. I did three laps to determine what overpriced, calorie laden breakfast sandwich I can inhale that will sustain me through two flights. I went with Quiznos and an iced coffee from Dunks. While the main hub of the terminal has some large abstract art, the rest of the terminal wasn’t just sort of there — nothing offensive, but nothing that stands out.

3. Minneapolis — Natural light is important with airports and Minneapolis-St. Paul is flooded with it. That helps when you step out from a full, cramped flight.

When I was switching flights, I had a 15-minute walk where I passed two portraits of Prince alongside elementary kid’s artwork. I’m trying to figure out the connection.

While I only had an hour in the airport, I didn’t see any eating that stood out besides a Chik-Fil-A with a 20-person deep line. That’s just cruel. They should build a hot vending machine that dispenses chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.

4. Newark — This is my home airport and never ceases to amaze me how it’s been under construction for the 21 years I lived in the area. The motto should be — EWR: We’re Working On It Since 1928.

More than ever, I can’t escape Terminal B. It’s where Delta, American and Virgin Atlantic fly from and it feels like a place you’re trapped in. There’s a small Ruby Tuesday and a forgettable fish place that sells $14 fish tacos.

On the plus side, they finally set-up a TSA Pre-Check in the Delta/Virgin gates. This is my first trip where I finally used the service the whole way.

As a side note, I love how people in the premium check-in are determined to use their special lane when clearly the regular coach check-in line is shorter.

5. Salt Lake City — They’ve got nice views out the window. The main photo is from out the window. You can enjoy it while eating from Krispy Kreme, because that’s the first thing that’s greeting you when you enter. That’s about the extent of your options. I had an 80-minute layover so I could find a bar to see if they had local beer. I find the random airport bar and asked if they had any local beer. That confused the bartender as he fumbled to form an answer, so I asked what’s on tap instead.

6. Phoenix — When good air conditioning is your highest compliment, you know you should spend as little as possible in the terminal. I had been there in 1999 and it seems nothing has changed. Sad looking shops and a restaurant not designed for people with carry-on suitcases. There’s that dance you have to do when your dragging something around a terminal. I gate check mine so I am free of it. Unfortunately, other people don’t do this. I wanted to sit at the bar and pretty much had to climb over obstacle of pilot suitcases and rolling duffles.

At Burial Beer Co., A Sloth and Magnum P.I. Mural Welcomes You

Heyyy, youuuuu guuuyyyysss. Let’s drink beer! HAAA HAAAA!

Sometimes, you should not ask questions when you see Sloth from Goonies and Magnum P.I.-era Tom Selleck painted on a side of a brewery. You kind of just accept it and order some beer.

Alas, since I visited the Asheville, N.C.- based brewery Burial, I looked up the answer from the owners. As they explain….

Many moons ago, we were loaned a rare and beautiful velvet Selleck to display our taproom. Soon after, a portrait of Sloth made its way into our hands and the hearts of all who gazed upon his likeness.

Meanwhile, on the outside of our brewery, a need to fill the blank canvas of our bare concrete wall began to grow and gave way to a night of long, arduous and soul searching among Jess, Doug, and Tim to decide what things were important enough to them to immortalize forever. Should it be our logo? A portrayal of our belief in the beautiful and aching cyclical nature of life and death? A light side/dark side piece that is reflected in all our labels?!

Sometimes speaking the most important thing about yourself to the world, means speaking about thing that makes you laugh and brings you joy without fail. And sometimes that means your self portrait looks like a world where Sloth and Tom Selleck are best friends on an urban farm brewery nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, just living their dream of being best buds.

Best buds, which means they were high when they decided to do this.

Besides 80s memories and velvet art, Burial makes beer — GREAT beer. Burial is a name that sporadically makes his way up to the tri-state area.  Their Blade and Sheath saison is the most common title that I’ve had before. Thus, their taproom is where to try their wide array of styles. You can also get some grub at the Salt & Smoke truck outside in the stone beer garden.

Burial was my favorite brewery in Asheville. Wicked Weed is the most popular brand in town, but I have hand it to Burial. The beer tasted fresher, each one had a distinct taste and the vibe in the joint was laid back.

Here’s what I had:

  • Skillet Donut Stout (took home a six-pack of this bad boy, so good)
  • The Rise of the Merciless saison
  • Winnower Porter
  • Machete Extra Farmhouse Saison
  • Surf Wax IPA
  • Both Ways India Pale Lager
  • Billows kolsch

 

 

The Best Way to Visit Graceland is as a Day Trip from Nashville

The King died 40 years ago today. Let’s put it this way, the human vessel made of muscles, bones and organs that carried the soul of Elvis Presley ceased to exist. The legend and spirit is still very much alive.

Visiting Graceland is the best way to experience the life of Elvis and pay your respects to the man and his legacy. While Memphis is best known as a BBQ capital, Graceland draws people from around the world. Beyond these two things, there’s not much else to do.

The best tip I can give for visiting Graceland is to do it after your BBQ lunch. A timed ticket between 2-3:30pm is what you should aim for. Here’s why — the actual house is a 90-minute visit at most. Every body who has visited says the same comment — “it’s smaller than I thought.”

People make the mistake thinking that it’s an all-day event. The Presley family and Elvis Inc. have been revamping the experience to make it more for an all-day thing with a new museum of clothes, cars, airplanes and artifacts. This can run you $60-$159. You can skip that.

The Graceland only tour is $40 for a timed entrance and you can buy in advance the day before. It saves you 15 minutes. The tour is fantastic and how they kept the house exactly as it was when Elvis lived there should be commended. The tablet with John Stamos narrating the tour is a little cumbersome but it gives your tour context. There are no museum placards in the house to tell you what is what.

In all, I spent 2 1/2 hours total there which included a short intro video, van ride to the house from the main headquarters and proverbial stroll through the three gift shops.

Thus, there’s no need to stay overnight in Memphis unless you really like barbecue. From Nashville, it’s a straight 3 hours and 20 minutes drive. You can spend that time like I did by listening to the Elvis station on Spotify or playing Paul Simon’s Graceland album on repeat. The road trip nature makes it seem much more like a pilgrimage.

I left Nashville at 9am. Rolled into The BBQ Spot for lunch just after 12:30pm. Did a quick stop at Sun Studios (skip the tour, just walk in and out) and then went to Graceland. It’s about a 10-minute drive from the city center in a not so exciting area, unless you think gas stations, seedy hotels and strip malls exciting.

After my visit, I was back in Nashville by 8pm for hot chicken and cheap beer — the way Elvis would have liked it.

Tales from AirBnB — If a Cat Dies, Am I Responsible?

After 2826.5 miles through the Unites States, I returned back to the homestead to the welcoming embrace of my own bed. In tow was about 150 cans of beer, 6 bags of coffee, an expensive pair of jeans and a small cartel of stickers.

My AirBnB experience ranged from the best ever to “Am I going to be the asshole who ruins the guy’s 4.9 rating?’ Since this was a last minute trip and I’m on a tight budget, I bypassed the chain hotels in favorite of staying in a stranger’s spare room. Sorry, Captain Obvious and Trivago Guy & Gal.

Of the five places I rented, two of the hosts were never there. Apparently, this is common practice in the AirBnb world. People let a complete stranger into their home without them being there. I could easily set-up a brothel like in Risky Business or just steal all their crap. “Yeah, but they have your info.” Sure, but AirBnb doesn’t know the real me.

The usual procedure is that your key is in a lockbox, you get the combo and you just follow their guidelines. Not to go into specifics, one place went completely smooth, the other was almost a disaster.

Basically, the guy had a cat. I knew this going in and was fine with it. He then told me a five days before I arrived that he was going to be away. Okay, then. I got the lockbox number and instructions. In the instructions was to not let the cat out.

In the back of my mind, I assumed that the cat would be with him, with a neighbor or in a shelter. I wasn’t informed how long he would be away.

I get the key, open the door and not even within a second, the cat darts out and runs away. FUCK!!!! It runs under the house and I can’t see it. In a slight panic, I get down and try to whisper for it. At this time in the afternoon, it’s about 96 degrees. I’m sweating profusely.

Instead of looking for the cat, I start to unload my crap. I find the cat’s food and water bowl and leave it out. Nothing. After 20-30 minutes, I’m starting to get lightheaded from the heat and panic. I eventually call the guy. He tells me to leave the back porch screen door open a crack, put the food inside the porch and the cat will eventually come back.

So here’s the thing — why the fuck am I taking care of your cat, bro? A coyote or dog could easily mangle your cat while you are away and I’m there. I’m renting your room, not your cat.

AirBnB has no policy on this, and a few AirBnb message boards suggest that you remove the pets if you are not there. One place I rented had two dogs, and they were put into the bedroom when they were not there. There could be one of a thousand bad circumstances that ended badly for me. Even if the cat didn’t get out, my luggage could have tipped over and crushed it.

I leave for a few hours, and come back. Thankfully, the cat made it to the porch and I let it inside.

Fast forward to the night, I get home at midnight and I’ve had a few drinky drinks. Not falling down drunk, but just want to get to bed ASAP. I close the door, get into bed and I hear scratching at the door and meowing. STFU please.

I eventually passed out and woke up a few hours later needing to use the bathroom. I opened the bedroom door and the cat darts in. I did my business, came back to the bedroom and don’t see the cat. “Whatever,” I think and left the door open. I got into bed, turned off the light and then the sheets staredt to move. The cat is in the bed with me. I shoo it out the room and close the door. This fucking cat.

When I went to pack my stuff and get it into my car, I lock the cat into the bedroom. The last thing I did before I left was let it out.

This wasn’t cool. I have nothing against cats, but common sense would tell the AirBnb host that you shouldn’t leave your pet in your house with a stranger when you are not there for a long time. Between the escaping and not leaving me alone while I slept, it was an awkward and unpleasant situation.

I decided not to review my stay, but contacted AirBnb about my story to see if there is any policy about pets and owners not being there. Mainly, if this cat never came back, could the host sue me for damages.

I will let you know if they respond.

Atlanta is Great If You Want to Get Stuck In Traffic and Be Among Dude Bros

Atlanta’s motto should be: “Atlanta — What Can You Do?”

Two days were plenty to get a sense that I wouldn’t be able to fit into the city. I’m sure lifelong residences swear it’s the greatest city in America, and bully for them.

I had this internal debate at which city has the biggest preppie/post-fraternity brother dickheads — Boston, NYC or Atlanta. I have ample evidence that ATL is pulling in from behind. Case in point … Sweetwater Brewery on a Friday night at 7pm.

I see about one and half women in a sea of backward hat-wearing dude bros.

This is indicative of Atlanta traffic, you’re going to be stuck in a crowd by yourself with no place to go. Yes, it’s Friday, there’s going to be traffic, but on a Saturday at 8am! Where are you people going? I’m just trying to get donuts.

I had two things on my agenda that I didn’t get to because I just gave up. I would have liked to have visited the Museum of Civil Rights, which is next door to the World of Coke. After my Coke visit, I was walking over to the Museum and there were a sea (and I’m not exaggerating) of 100 to 125 people all wearing the same t-shirt blocking the ticket the booth. The t-shirt — Johnson Family Reunion 2017. I think it was every Johnson living in Atlanta. In any event, I couldn’t figure out if there were just standing there in line or waiting for something. There was one person at the ticket booth. They might all be still there for all I know. I gave up.

Plan two, visit Atlanta’s modern art museum, The High Art. Well, it’s open for a whopping 7 hours — closing at 5pm. I get my car, follow the GPS, 12 minutes, I’m looking for the building. I don’t see any signs. Next thing I know, I can’t make a left or right, have no choice but to go forward. Forward is onto the highway, loaded with traffic.

I gave up and went back to Athens. More on that later.

 

Mama’s Boy in Athens Takes Care of All Your Southern Breakfast Needs

One of the things I’ve realized on trip is how much I’m missing out on Southern cuisine in terms of barbecue, biscuits and all things fried. We all think that our Northeast versions of these things are “the best” around. It ain’t.

That’s evident with my first stop in Georgia. After a 50-mile drive on a one-lane highway through Georgia backwoods and farmland, I ended up at Mama’s Boy. The 12-year old restaurant  serves southern goodness in biscuit, breakfast and fried form. Then smother all that in gravy and you’ll need a nap afterwards.

Since I have a full-day of activities ahead, I went gravyless, but asked for a little taster cup like you would ask for a taster at a craft brewery. It was so good, thick and savoy I was taking my finger and digging around the cup for every last part.

I also had a fresh-fried donuts in Asheville beforehand, so I didn’t want to kill my waistline in one day. I went with the fried chicken breast on a biscuit, sweet tea and a side salad, like that salad would make a difference. Wait, there’s more! Jalapeno raspberry jam to spread on parts of the biscuit not covered by fried chicken. All this was served by a fine southern gentleman in a trucker hat. He could have been a roadie for the B-52 for all I know.

Since this is a popular local spot with a positive reputation in the region, there’s a wait unless you do what I did … sat at the counter. It takes up to 4 people, and you skip waiting outside in the hot Georgia sun. I was even lucky in the small parking lot and got a space right in front of the door. It’s one of those situations that you think it’s a handicap spot, but in reality, it’s the best spot. If there is overflow, there’s some open lots behind the joint.

You can even take the food to go, but why would you? You can soak up some southern hospitality in the dining room. I did take home their coffee and stickers. For this trip, I’m all about the free stickers.

The Next Destinations — Louisville and Columbus

Completing my loop around the South and heading back to HQ will be a couple of day trips. Louisville wasn’t on my radar as a place to stay, but there’s a couple of interesting things that make the Kentucky city worth a look in. Then, in Columbus, Ohio, I have to visit the new BrewDog U.S. headquarters.

More than anything, I wanted to break up the trip back to New Jersey from Nashville. A 13-hour drive is much more tolerable if done over three days and two overnight stay overs.

You might not realize it, but Louisville is known for many things. You have Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby and mint juleps. There’s the iconic Louisville Slugger, where there’s a museum and factory tour. It’s the birthplace of Muhammad Ali, where there’s a large museum dedicated to his legacy. Finally, for booze hounds, it’s the epicenter for whisky and bourbon.

Let’s not to forget that it’s the headquarters for Kentucky Fried Chicken, which I’m sure is a mark of distinction in the town. I shall pass, but there’s no shortage of fried chicken places in the city.

For my beer adventures, Against the Grain brewery is located in town, and will meet my beer needs.

It’s a lot to pack in for 24-hours, but I got to move onto …

Columbus, Ohio! Umm, yeah? I joke, but the capital of Ohio has also become a small beer destination in the state. Being that it’s the home to THE Ohio State University, a dozen or so craft breweries have popped up. The Scotland-based BrewDog being the big new player in their push to get into the growing U.S. market. The facility will eventually house a hotel/spa where you can bring your four-legged friends.

The only other attraction is the city’s large German immigrant population, bringing with them some fine German foods and baked goods.

After the visit, it’s an easy 8-hour drive home, where I plan to diet and exercise off all this added fun weight I’m putting on.