All Beers Are Not Created Equal

Deutsche Bank has performed a useful service for travelers who enjoy a fermented beverage now and then:  its latest Mapping The World’s Prices report includes a pint of beer as one of the cost items being surveyed.  As a result, beer fans (like me) can get a sense of the comparative cost of a glass of suds in 50 different cities around the world.

save-pubs-hed-page-2018According to this year’s report, the most expensive pint is in Dubai, in the Arab Emirates, where the average cost of a cold one is $12.  Oslo, Norway is the only other city to exceed the $10 barrier for a brewski.  The most expensive beers in the U.S. are found in New York City and San Francisco — no surprise there — where you’ll pay an average of $7.70 and $7.40, respectively, and Boston isn’t far behind at $6.70.  The cheapest pint can be found in Manila, in the Philippines, where beer afficionados can slake their thirst for only $1.50.  Columbus isn’t one of the 50 cities on the list, but in my experience the beer costs here are closer to the Manila end of the spectrum — which is one of the many nice things about living in Ohio’s capital city.

But while the Deutsche Bank report is useful for travelers who might want to factor in beer costs to their trip planning, it really doesn’t tell the whole story.  A beer isn’t always just a beer.  To me, at least, whether we’re talking about a lager, an ale, one of those infernal bitter IPAs that seem to dominate beer menus these days, or something else, would make a real difference.  Even $1.50 for an IPA would be more than I would pay.

And the setting is important, too.  I’m guessing that someone coming into a pub from the fiery heat of Dubai might consider $12 for a cold one to be a bargain.  And speaking as someone who particularly enjoys the dark, warm, woody ambiance of a real British pub like the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden, I’ll gladly pay $7.20 that is the average cost of a beer in London.

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Ode To The Airport Shuttle Driver

Kudos, Lord of the airport shuttle drive,

For picking me up at 5:45

I’m grateful there’s your bus to take

‘Cause at 5:45 I’m barely awake

Your sense of place must be quite strong

Running on the same loop all day long

And patience must be your virtue, plus,

E’er enduring mindless talk from the back of the bus

You’re anonymous, but your importance is prime

To get me to the plane on time!

A Bridge Too Far

Over in the Far East, they’ve just opened the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge.  Connecting Hong Kong, Macau, and the Chinese city of Zhuhai, the bridge cost $20 billion and is 34 miles long.  It took nine years to build, involved the creation of artificial islands, dips into a tunnel under a busy harbor area, and is supposed to be designed to withstand earthquakes, typhoons, and collisions with oversized tankers.

551478a8-d1f0-11e8-81a4-d952f5356e85_1320x770_022145It’s an impressive engineering feat, no doubt — but when I read about the bridge I mostly felt relief that I wouldn’t have to drive across it.

I’m not a big fan of driving on those lengthy bridges that span bays or harbor or rivers.  The towering height over the water, the slightly claustrophobic feeling of being penned in as you cross, and the concern that you are putting yourself totally in the hands of approaching drivers who might be hedging toward the middle — or, even worse, trying to take a photo with their phone — combine to make a long bridge crossing an uncomfortable experience for me.  I grip the steering wheel a little tighter as I cross.

I’m not alone in this.  Years ago, when Kish and I once traversed the colossal Chesapeake Bay bridge, we learned that some people simply could not bring themselves to drive across it — so many people, in fact, that there were drivers stationed at each end to help people make the trip.  Perhaps that’s at least part of the reason why most drivers won’t even have the opportunity to drive on the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai span in their own cars; they’re required to park in Hong Kong and take a shuttle bus or a special hire car to cross the bridge.

If I ever have to cross this new, world’s longest sea-spanning bridge, I’d be happy to have somebody else do the driving.  A 34-mile-long bridge might be a bridge too far for me.

Rating Restrooms

I flew through the Houston Hobby airport recently, and when I made a pit stop I saw this restroom rating apparatus on a wall near the exit.

My first reaction: a touch screen rating device, in a public men’s room in a busy airport? Really? I mean, really? I don’t think I’d touch a touch screen device under those circumstances even if my best friend was responsible for restroom hygiene and his job depended on getting good ratings. How many people are going to provide ratings using that methodology?

My second reaction: why even offer the smiley face option? How many people who use public facilities at airports do so with an ear-to-ear grin, even if the restroom is spotless? The best rating I would ever give is an impassive face with a flat line for a mouth — neither happy nor sad, but at least not enraged or disgusted by the condition of the restroom.

My third reaction: I know airports want travelers to think they really care about restroom hygiene, but soliciting ratings seems like an empty gesture. Why not take whatever you would spend on touch screen ratings devices and use it instead to buy better quality paper towels that don’t dissolve upon first contact with a wet, soapy hand?

Air Fare

Once, far in the past and well beyond the recollection of modern travelers, American airlines used to serve actual food on planes.  To quote Steely Dan, those days are gone forever, over a long time ago.  Now, on most flights, it’s a quick offering of lukewarm coffee and some kind of “snack.”

And it’s not like the “snack” options present the air passenger with a broad smorgasbord of mouth-watering choices, either.  Typically, three choices are offered, and two of them inevitably are peanuts and pretzels.  Any time, day or night, whether you’re on an early morning flight or trying to just get home before midnight, you can get twice your daily quotient of sodium by having the flight attendant hand you a tiny bag of greasy peanuts or stale pretzels.  Somewhere, somewhen, airlines entered into a devil’s pact with the peanut growers and pretzel bakers of America and agreed that they would comprise two of the three choices offered American air travelers.

Do you ever wonder what kind of exotic, interesting, and possibly non-salt-laden food is offered on Air India, or Air Mozambique flights?  What does Finnish Air furnish to its passengers?  We can be reasonably certain that peanuts and pretzels aren’t on the menu in every airline flying anywhere in the world.  It makes you want to fly on an international airline just to see what kinds of alternatives might actually be presented.  This is a radical notion, but perhaps — just perhaps — the offerings move beyond the already overused nut and salt categories.

If, like me, the idea of eating pretzels or salty peanuts isn’t all that appealing on a 7 a.m. flight, your focus is on the third option.  If you’re lucky, it’s some kind of granola bar or trail mix — something substantial, and chewy, and maybe with a fleck or two of dried fruit in it.  If that’s not available, you hope for the generic faux biscotti cookie/cracker, which at least is edible and not overpoweringly sugary or artificially flavored.  But sometimes, you get some mad airline food buyer’s failed experiment — like the maple-flavored cookies I was handed on a recent flight.  Really, maple-flavored?  How many people really crave the maple taste on anything other than a stack of buttery pancakes?  Can’t airlines at least aim for the middle, and try to identify food offerings that are reasonably calculated to appeal to a significant chunk of the weary air travelers of America?

I ate the maple wafers, of course, and I can say that while they were maple-flavored, at least there weren’t many of them.

It’s time to start booking some overseas travel.

 

 

Tangible Signs Of Abject Failure

Any experienced traveler knows that you want to avoid the C and D concourses at LaGuardia if at all possible.  They’re old, and cramped, and noisy, and horribly overcrowded.  It’s embarrassing that many travelers get first exposure to New York City by passing through one of these ancient, unpleasant, and inadequate buildings.

Yesterday I had to connect through LaGuardia, arriving at a gate in concourse C and leaving from a gate in concourse D.  This meant that, unlike virtually every other modern American airport, I had to go back out past security in leaving concourse C and then go back in through security, again, as I entered concourse D.  It also meant that, as I was making my way through the crush of humanity, I got a good look at the latest additions to these hopelessly outdated concourses:  rentable workspace cubicles that promise the stressed-out traveler who is willing to fork over a few bucks the ability to “think/create/connect/recharge.”  They’re called a jabbrrbox, and they come equipped with a bench, a computer screen, an electrical outlet, and a glass door to shut out the ever-present LaGuardia din.  Their motto, which apparently is not ironic, is:  “Your private office, whenever you need it.”  Being on a public concourse at LaGuardia, I wouldn’t exactly call it “private” — but maybe that’s just me.

Could there be a surer, more tangible sign of the miserable failures that are concourses C and D at LaGuardia?  The conditions on these concourses are so appalling and unfavorable for working or reading that someone decided that they could actually profit from the fiasco by selling travelers hoping to gain a few minutes of solitude the chance to sit in a phone booth-sized glass cubicle where they can be gaped at by everyone passing by.  And never mind that these boxes just add to the clutter of already narrow walkways.

I didn’t see anybody actually using one of these contraptions yesterday.  Perhaps other travelers react to them, as I did, with a mixture of astonishment, disgust, and rueful resignation.  Who knows?  If the jabbrrbox approach doesn’t work, maybe the powers that be at LaGuardia will actually consider trying to improve conditions for everyone.

 

A Quiet, Peaceful Place

Yesterday we took a hike around Lily’s Pond. In the summer it is a popular swimming spot, but yesterday, with the season over, not a soul was around. It was totally silent, and there wasn’t even a breath of wind — leaving the water unruffled and as reflective as a looking glass.

They say everyone needs to have a peaceful, happy place to think of when they need to escape the hurly-burly rush of modern life. When I need to mentally visit that quiet place, I’ll be thinking of Lily’s Pond, just as it was yesterday.