Monday, January 28, 2013
Finding Paradise in Napa Valley
by Michael Hartigan
February issue of Destinations Travel Magazine
Check out my article in the February, 2013 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine!
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Shut down the parties. Clean off the mudslinging. Ignore the partisan posturing, the media skewering and the talking head, well, talking. Do me a favor and take the politics out of it.
What are you left with? A group of 800,000+ happy, cheering and optimistic people gathered together amidst monuments and museums, looking ahead to the future - their individual future and their collective. Somewhere in there are left leaners, right leaners, reds, blues, donkeys and elephants, whigs, torries and maybe even some bull moose. But strip that all away and you just have a group of forward thinkers - and the simple, unalienable right for them to be that way. In free nations we have something that many other nations around this great spinning ball of ours search, fight and kill for. In short: Democracy.
I had the good fortune to be able to attend the 57th Presidential Inauguration on Monday, January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. It was an opportunity to do something I rarely experience while traveling: engage history in the present, not just visit spots from the past. Regardless of your political views, the experience was something that should not be missed should the chance ever arise. To watch a shining example of that privilege unfold surrounded by all the pomp and circumstance fit for a Royal Wedding, was awe-inspiring by its very nature.
Ask the little boy in front of me. When President Obama began to speak, his father hoisted the boy up onto his shoulders to see better. The boy was wearing an Obama wool cap and could not stop smiling. He glanced around the mass of people, which he now towered over, before resting his gaze squarely on the President, a couple hundred yards away. The boy smiled and stared at Mr. Obama for the entire duration of the President's address. He couldn't have been more than 10 years old, and I'm sure he didn't fully grasp every detail and policy pitch. But it didn't matter. That boy understood he was watching something special and will remember it the rest of his life. Maybe it inspires him to get into politics, or public service or just get out and see the world looking for more unforgettable moments. Maybe it is just a fond memory of a day he spent with his dad while that guy spoke for a while in the shadow of a great, big dome. But it doesn't matter. He was there, participating in history.
I had to wake up at 4:30am just to get to my spot, where I stood for hours until the ceremony even began. The crowd ebbed and flowed and swelled to enormous before settling into a cold, dreary waiting patience. When the heavy hitters of American politics began streaming onto the dais, I recalled that this was something special. When my toes got a little too cold, I glanced over at that boy perched on his dad's shoulders and the chill disappeared. I was in a nation where my rights, that boy's rights and those of everyone huddled together on that lawn are protected by the very thing we stood around witnessing.
It is one thing to travel overseas and walk the grounds of ancient ruins or the halls of a foreign palace - to learn about the past. It is quite another thing to engage history - to live the present.
A few more photos from the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, DC - January 21, 2013
Sunday, January 13, 2013
I’ve heard a lot of strange things at airports and on airplanes; children screaming about monsters in the overhead bins, one-sided phone conversations reminiscent of a shady drug deal, and impromptu reviews of recent food court purchases gone bad. Perhaps the funniest, and simultaneously most unsettling, was the Southwest flight attendant who forget to shut off the PA before take off and cited the need for a major, “lav dump in Albany.”
But in our nation’s capital, (to be accurate Dulles Airport is located in Virginia, but who’s counting?), the chatter seems more muted, at least when it comes to the odd or the interesting. Passengers are too honed in on checking their multiple smart phones and conversation is dominated, as it so often is in Washington, D.C., by legislative jargon and topical chitchat. You’d be more apt to overhear a two men in a suits verbally posturing for the promotion at their K Street firm than a memorable tidbit.
Then again, sometimes the travel gods toss you a surprise that you just aren’t ready for, and frankly aren’t sure how to react.
I was filling out a crossword puzzle, nestled in a seat waiting for my 6+ hour flight to London Heathrow. My wife was nodding off on my shoulder, her input on 24-across reduced to mere mumbles. I felt myself starting to doze when the airline attendant announced we would be boarding shortly.
Along with the other overseas travelers around us, we packed up our time-wasters and moseyed into a haphazard line. A businesswoman stood behind us, a young couple right in front and a businessman to the side. We all exchanged those courtesy half smiles – you know, the ones you give just in case you’re sitting next to these people for the next six or seven hours.
The airport-wide speaker made an announcement that some gate across the campus was looking for someone that was supposed to be boarding, some innocuous name like Smith or Johnson. Our individual gate airline attendant made an announcement about boarding.
We stood waiting. Another announcement from the gate attendant let us know we would board momentarily. So we waited some more. After ten more minutes and no boarding, the frustration of all travelers began to percolate in the form of shuffling in place and agitated glances.
Still more waiting. I wished we had stayed in our seats with our crossword puzzle.
After another ten minutes or so, that bubbling frustration was starting to spill over. One traveler made an off-hand comment to no one in particular that garnered a similar response from the person standing beside him. There was clearly tension as we approached that make or break moment when you hear the attendant say either, “now boarding” or “there has been a slight delay.” But our gate attendant remained silent.
Then the PA system crackled on and a gate attendant made an announcement. Unfortunately it was not our gate attendant but rather an airport-wide call for a missing passenger.
“Can I have your attention please,” the female announcer said. “Would Zurich passenger Get-A-Monkey-Bed please come to Gate C-25.”
Then she paused, everyone in line around me looked up at the ceiling for the omniscient metallic voice that just said something about a monkey bed. The pause broke and the announcer started again.
“Um, yes. Passenger Getta, um, Getta Monkey . . . Monkey Bed. Yes, Get – a – Monkey – Bed please come to report to Gate C-25.” Then she did something as unprofessional and yet wholly hilarious as I’ve ever experienced – she burst out laughing with the microphone still on.
But it had an affect on those around that I’m sure the gate attendant was thankful for, if not a bit mystified about. The tension that had been building form our delay erupted not in anger but in laughter.
The woman from the couple near me said to her companion, “Did she just say ‘go get a monkey bed?’”
The businessman replied to her between laughs, “I think she did. I think she just said ‘monkey bed.’”
When she came back on the PA system and announced it again a few minutes later, “Get – a – monkey – bed,” I think the entire terminal burst out in hysterics. Even the gate attendants were chuckling up at the desk.
I heard the practical businesswoman say, “I think she’s pronouncing that name wrong.” No kidding.
The comic relief must have spurred something because in the midst of laughter we were called by our own gate attendant to start boarding our flight.
Just before we started down the jet way, another airport-wide announcement was made – by a different announcer, a male voice this time.
“Can I have your attention please,” he said. “This is the last call for Ibed Gettamunk. That’s Ee-bed Getta-monk. Please report to Gate C-25.”
I’m pretty sure the incident made our flight to London a little more enjoyable. But I never did find out if Ibed ever made it to Zurich.