USA

Lufthansa A380 at MIA. Photo courtesy of Aero Icarus via Flickr.
Lufthansa A380 from Frankfurt landing at MIA

Despite its setting amid a flat, wildly sprawling car-topia, Miami International Airport is an aviation geek’s dream. Airliners from places as far away as Moscow and Buenos Aires or as close as Key West and Nassau, cargo planes all the way from China, the Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger aircraft – riding heavy over Biscayne Bay on its way across the Atlantic; if you look in the sky long enough, you’ll see it all. And unlike most big-city airports relegated to the boondocks, MIA is right in the heart of town.

TAM departing for Brazil
TAM departing for Brazil

Vantage points are everywhere: you can catch the afternoon arrivals from Europe at the LA Fitness on Northwest 12th Street, the planes so low you can almost touch them – Iberia, Alitalia, Virgin, Swiss, and British all in a row. Commuters on the Dolphin Expressway course alongside the south runway, sometimes racing TAM to Brazil, LAN to Chile, or Copa to Panama. Delta and United and Avianca and TACA and FedEx and UPS skirt the towers of downtown Miami throughout the day. But all-day, everyday, it’s American – old American, new American, big American, small American – it could be to Tallahassee or Tegucigalpa, somebody’s going somewhere on American.

AA dominates MIA
AA dominates MIA. They’ve been slow at repainting with the new logo.

Nearby Fort Lauderdale might have the most dramatic landings in the region, jets just barely missing the tops of the semis speeding up and down I-95. But Miami’s got the most diverse range of aircraft, airlines, landing patterns, and striking silhouettes of any city I’ve ever lived in.

Swiss airliner at MIA
Swiss prepping for the return to Zurich

So if you’re driving past the airport and see someone creeping along on the expressway at 5 miles an hour trying to snap a shot of a departing AirBerlin jet on their phone, it’s probably me. I really have to stop that; it’s just not safe.

Terminal J at MIA from Dolphin Expressway
Terminal J at MIA from Dolphin Expressway

Oh…and is anybody else but me excited that Qatar Airways will be flying here come next June?! Nobody? Bueller?

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On November 19, 1962, an Eastern Airlines flight from Newark arrived and pulled up to your iconic Space Age terminal, replete with those infernal yet endearing “mobile lounges,” and a new era in Washington’s aviation history began.

Originally built to relieve tiny, overcrowded National Airport and named for President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State (that’d be John Foster Dulles), you were seen as a boondoggle, a waste of money, a “white elephant” because you were out in East Upper Buttcrack, Virginia, and no one in their right mind wanted to traipse that far away from civilization to catch a flight. But development grew towards you and time and politics have allowed you to flourish and become the international gateway to our capital city.

You were the first American airport to host the Concorde, the Boeing 747, and the Boeing 777 in commercial service. You have surpassed National Airport in passenger traffic, with more than 23 million travelers passing through you every year.

I have flown through you 45 times, on Air France, Air Tran, British Airways, American, United, Delta, and Independence Air. And though your security lines are ridiculously long and your concourses ridiculously cramped (and low-ceilinged), the airline geek in me still gets excited when it catches a glimpse of the mid-century modern styling and sleek, timeless terminal building.

Happy 50th Birthday, Dulles Airport!

Images by theqspeaks, Pierre Metivier, and Jennuine Captures.

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You get off a 10-hour red-eye from Rio, tired and cranky and just ready to get home, and upon arrival into JFK, you realize you’re stuck in the Immigration line behind passengers coming in from Dubai, Buenos Aires, and Tokyo all at the same time. You’ve got two options: 1) Wait an hour in line with the other poor souls while the immigration officer triple-checks and fingerprints a permanent resident with shaky English and three rambunctious children, or 2) Breeze right past the whole lot of ’em after a quickie automated entry procedure. Give me option #2!

That quickie automated entry procedure is called Global Entry, an expedited immigration program for US citizens who travel frequently and have gotten tired of long lines at Immigration when returning home. I travel a lot, and I’d seen the kiosks, but I remained skeptical. The application fee is $100, which you don’t get back if you’re not approved, and the whole keeping my prints on file and other Big Brother-type governmental intrusion into my life—fuggedaboutit. Besides, I’ve been living abroad for the last seven years, my passport had been stolen once before, and the replacement misspelled my name, so I figured my chances of being approved were slim-to-none. Y’all ain’t keeping my $100.

Hmmm, I don’t know.

Well, my hunch is that someone must have started trying to use the stolen passport, because the immigration officers’ questions started getting funnier and funnier each time I came into the States, and I ain’t talking ha-ha funny either. Eventually, two immigration officers in a row told me, forcefully, “you need to get Global Entry.” So I scraped up my pennies and applied online. The application didn’t ask for any more information than would a potential employer with even the remotest security requirements (like an airline or bank), and the only hassle for me was trying to remember previous overseas addresses.

After a few days, my application was pre-approved and I was asked to schedule an interview within the next 30 days at one of at least 20 different airport locations. It was even easy to reschedule the interview when my travel plans changed, so the convenience factor is a plus. Once back in the States (the immigration officer looked at my record on screen and stamped me in, no questions asked—no “Welcome Home” either, but I rarely ever get that from our taxpayer-funded national gatekeepers), the interview lasted about ten minutes and consisted mostly of me verifying my whereabouts for the last five years (no use trying to be evasive—they already know where you’ve been, and how much private information have you already given up to Facebook, anyway?). The fingerprint scan and brief kiosk tutorial followed, and I was on my way.

No, that’s not me.

The only thing I can say about Global Entry since using it is that I can feel people staring laser beams into the back of my head when they see me at the kiosk one minute, then walking towards Customs the next. As I usually don’t check bags, I’m already headed towards my connecting flight or into town while the first set of folks is still being asked about how much crap they brought back from Germany. Skipping the Immigration line (and the often surly immigration officers) is well worth the $100—and I’m cheap!

I’m Fly Brother, and I recommend Global Entry*.

*No, they didn’t pay me to say this, but they should!

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In an effort to see as many friends in New York as possible during Fly Brother Week, while simultaneously attempting to keep expenditures down to a bare minimum, I challenged some of my local peeps to take me to their favorite place for food and drink costing $10 or less. Several of my friends met the challenge handily, unveiling their neighborhood faves, serving up engaging convo, and helping me fill my belly at the same time. Here’s some of the highlights.


* Salacious Southern gul Uche of Hip Hop is for Lovers invited me to The Meatball Shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I had the succulent, spicy pork balls with creamy Parmesan sauce over pickled veggie salad for $9. Then I cheated and ordered a $2 cream soda, which tipped the scale over the price ceiling, especially with tax and tip. Stick with the free tap water if you want to stay on budget.


* Budding film producer and college classmate CJ of The Dream Factory Productions lured me over to the far end of Restaurant Row, near Times Square at 46th and 9th, with the promise of cheap and tasty Thai at Yum Yum Bangkok. Lunch portions of salad and beef Panang, with a Thai iced tea, clocked in at under $8 including tax.


* Another college bud and fellow Floridian, Amery (who doesn’t blog), took me to Café Au Bon Goût (276 5th Ave) near his job in Koreatown. Among the ample salad and hot food bars stocked full of tummy-filling goodness, I had a half rotisserie chicken, heapin’ helpins of veggies and sweet potatoes, and a canned soda for $6.35. That’s good eatin’.


* Art enthusiast and uptown girl Jenna of hrlm guide (and other endeavors) quickly whisked me up to Harlem on the A Train, where after bandying several options about, we settled on Doug E.’s (yes, as in Fresh, located at 2245 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.) for chicken wings and fries, pretty much the only thing on the menu not over $10. I did indeed lick my fingers.

* Connecticut Yankee and former rowing coach (in fact, my former rowing coach), Adam of 3 Chords & the Truth enticed me with a thick, juicy, succulent, meaty, off-the-hook burger and sweet potato fries at Black Shack Burger in Murray Hill. There’s no picture of the food because, well, I forgot my camera, so you also get an old photo of me and Coach.


* Journalist and fly sister Stacy had me braving the student throngs of the East Village to dine at Mud, where I had a tasty half-an-egg-salad sandwich and salad. Needless to say, I was hungry shortly thereafter, but the intellectual sustenance I acquired during my conversation with Stacy tided me over until I was able to grab a slice uptown. 😉


* But the coup de grace of the whole shebang came from Bronx-native Brian (you rock, son!) of No Debt World Travel. This fool took me to Prosperity Dumpling in Chinatown, where I had ten scrumdiddlyumptious—and filling—lightly fried pork dumplings for TOO DOLLAZ! An older Chinese lady apparently affiliated with the joint insisted that I return the next day for more, especially since they’d been given an A rating by the city health department. Don’t worry, ma’am; I’ll be back soon. Shouts to Cat for gracing us with her effusive presence.

Stay tuned for Good Food in NYC for $10 or Less, Vol. 2, which will be posted in a few weeks, immediately following my next sojourn to Gotham.

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"Africa" by Lois Mailou Jones (1936)

Of all the famous painters you can think of, how many are women? Four? Five? Well, until my recent visit to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, I could only think of two: Kahlo and O’Keeffe (which is just as well, as their paintings stand side-by-side in the museum).

Housed in an elegant, century-old former Masonic temple on New York Avenue in Downtown Washington and celebrating its 25th anniversary, the museum opened in 1987 as an outgrowth of the private art collection of Wilhelmina and Wallace Holladay, who noticed a dearth of women painters amongst the classical canon of artists revered and studied in America. Over 4,000 paintings, scuptures, and objets d’art from the 16th century to the present are on display or in the vault of the museum, the only one solely dedicated to the work of lady artisans from around the world.

"Rainy Night, Downtown" by Georgia Mills Jessup (1967)

As a man of color, I appreciated learning about how women had been kept out of the field historically, either by deliberately sexist educational policies, social convention, or financial limitations. I also appreciated the museum’s attempt at including the work of artists of color, like Harlem Renaissance painter Lois Mailou Jones, Pamunkey Indian Georgia Mills Jessup, and contemporary black artist Chakaia Booker. It’s a good start.

The museum’s temporary exhibitions are also eye-catching (when I visited, “Royalists to Romantics” honored French artists like the prolific portraitist Henriette Lorimier and impressively-named Adrienne Marie Louise Grandpierre-Deverzy), as is the unique sculpture garden running up the median of New York Avenue. What a way to infuse art into life!

"Self Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky" by Frida Kahlo (1937)

So, on your next trip to DC, guys and gals, make sure you stop through the National Museum of Women in the Arts and brush up on your artsy ladies.

Keep up on the museum’s happenings via their blog, Broad Strokes.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN IN THE ARTS
1250 New York Ave NW
Washington DC 20005-3970
202-783-5000, 1-800-222-7270
www.nmwa.org

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1. The Skyline
Atlanta’s sparkling skyline stretches over two miles from Midtown to Downtown, a line of striking, gem-cut towers punctuating the Southern sky. Whether it’s heading towards the city along one of Atlanta’s interminable freeways, catching surprising vistas of the array peeking above the treeline, or ambling amongst the towers on a Friday night bar crawl, the commanding presence of the city’s skyscrapers asserts‬—physically and visually, at least—that as a metropolis, Atlanta ain’t no small potatoes.

2. The World’s Largest Hub
Delta Air Lines and AirTran (quickly becoming Southwest) call Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport home, but it’s Delta that is known for its mega-hub at ATL—the world’s largest, with 1,000 daily flights to 215 destinations around the world. As a Southerner, I’ve always been more than a little bit proud of not having to traipse all the way up to New York to access the rest of the globe, and as an airline geek, that’s just a cool fact. I love that Delta’s inspiring presence—“Fly Delta Jets” one vintage billboard reads—is felt throughout the city.

3. The Legacy
There was Selma, there was Montgomery, but Atlanta formed the epicenter of the American Civil Rights Movement that earned equal treatment under the law—on paper, anyway—for the black citizens of this country. The combination of a large and upwardly-mobile black professional class, influential black colleges and universities, and fearless campaigners like MLK set the city aloft as a beacon of black cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievement. It didn’t last (see: integration not exactly being the great societal panacea it was cracked up to be), but the historical legacy—and way more than a few black folks in Benzes—remains.

4. The Food
Say what you will about the healthiness of Southern cooking, soul food, barbecue, and what not, I have but two words to offer you: Waffle House.

5. The Accent
Many of us grew up with the clichéd dichotomy of Scarlett and Mammy informing us of what someone from Atlanta (or a plantation in the immeejit viciniteh might sound like), but anyone who takes the time to actually listen to the fashionable ladies shopping at Phipps Plaza or the round-the-way girls on the MARTA can perceive that native speech patterns include a little bit of both. Living abroad, urban Southern speech (NOT hick tawk, ya heah meh?) is one of the things I miss most about the States and it’s one of the first reminders that I’m back home. It’s just nice, like unlimited refills of sweet tea.

What are the things you like about Atlanta?

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Sunset from the front porch.

For a week now, I’ve been trying to write a post about the decline, nay, decay of my hometown Jacksonville in general, and of the black community that I grew up in, in particular. It’s been hard; I still haven’t figured it out. After this last trip home, I agree even more with my parents’ assertion that integration wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. My mom was, after all, fully 30 years old when the school system in my hometown finally desegregated, and both my parents remember well the benefit of having successful, accessible community leaders in the community. I remember it, too. It almost feels like I’m from the last generation to actually have that benefit, since nowadays, the only community leaders seem to be drug dealers and thugs. Despite everyone else in our family staying on the straight-and-narrow, we’ve got one little knucklehead who just refuses to do right. I say it’s all that hip-hoppin’, gang-bangin’ garbage they’re listening to these days (or is that just me getting old?), since he certainly wasn’t brought up that way. Then, I question my own role as a “community leader” who, while not necessarily all that financially successful, can certainly stand as an example of how staying out of trouble can lead to an extraordinary life. But then, I left the community, too. The reasons are various and justifiable, but the fact remains that I went back to my hometown, observed the sorry state of affairs amongst what should be a proud people, reasserted my conviction to never move back there unless absolutely necessary, and flew back off to my own life. So the quandary, then, is how to have my own life and still serve a community that I do care about and am still a part of. Or is there no longer a place for community-mindedness in “post-racial” America? And who, exactly, is my community?

The answer will come.

For a little background, see Missing Middle Florida.

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Source: Watts/News

Often, the best way to improve skills in a language different from your own is to utilize them under adverse circumstances. As proven by The Nanny, New York’s true mother tongue is Yiddish, and my 24-hour ordeal to fly from The City to Jacksonville on a buddy pass provided ample opportunity to strengthen my flimsy, yet precise grasp on the language. Observe these vocabulary exercises:

  • Shlimazel (n., receiver of bad luck) – I became a shlimazel the moment I tried to fly from LaGuardia during the summer, with one runway out of commission at neighboring Kennedy Airport, all flights oversold by nine or ten people, and five thousand airline employees/family/friends trying to leave town from whatever event they’d attended in New York that weekend (TBEX, Gay Pride, the New York Junior Chess Championship).
  • Shmuck (n., someone who’s intentionally nasty or uses their power for ill) – All the gate agents who seemed hell-bent on making sure I knew how much they held me in contempt for daring to fly on a buddy pass (a job perk that those same gate agents even have) are shmucking shmucks: “You’re on a buddy pass? Pssshhht! You’re not making this flight.” ~or~ “Your ‘buddy’ should have warned you of the realities of buddy pass travel.”
  • Shlemiel (n., a clumsy, inept, pathetic oaf) – I stood there like a shlemiel as I got the shpiel* about buddy pass passengers being the lowest of the low, only cleared from standby AFTER all employees, their spouses/domestic partners, their family members, their former roommates, their cable guy, and their masseuse make the flight, with THAT list then being sorted by employee hire date.
  • *Shpiel (n., a story, sales pitch, speech).
  • Putz (n. a nasty, unlikeable man who has no real power, except to make your life miserable or at least unpleasant) – I couldn’t tell if the agent was calling me a putz or insinuating that I shouldn’t become one by informing me of the airline’s “act up” policy in which the friend who gave me the buddy pass would lose her privileges if a customer “acted up” in the airport, such as “demanding a seat.” The ambiguity lies in the fact that I never technically “demanded a seat,” but either way, they tried their damnedest to make me feel like a putz.
  • Punim (n. face) – All I could do was give ol’ girl the gas punim and get back on the “Help Line” to change my routing yet again. She looked trigger-happy enough to invoke the “act up” policy just to send one of her own kind to jail, the shmuck (and yes, if the “act up” policy had been invoked, there would have been some furniture moving around that terminal).
  • Shlep (v., haul, carry, drag either something or oneself) – After not making the 8:05 departure Monday night, I shlepped over to the Upper West Side on the M60 bus because my friend in Queens wasn’t getting home until 2am. Then, my buddy told me I was booked on the 6:10 morning flight to Detroit, meaning I had to shlep back over to LaGuardia on the M60 at 4am. Once it was certain the 6:10, 6:45 to Memphis, 8:42 nonstop to Jacksonville, and 10:29 to Cincinnati had no room for me, I shlepped back down to Long Island City where I had to shlep my bag off the bus, up the stairs to the elevated, over the turn-style, then back over the turn-style, down the stairs, and fifteen minutes up the road to my friends place in New York summer heat.
  • Shlump (v., sag; hang around in an unkept manner) – I shlumped around the airport in the limp polo and khakis I had worn for two days in the New York summer heat, and under imminent threat of deodorant failure.

Finally, one of the agents who’d seen me attempt to escape New York the night before had pity on my soul and got me on the very last seat on the very last row of the very last flight to Jacksonville.  I was whisked onto the plane, my carry-on left in the jet bridge to be stowed, as the overhead bins were full.

Needless to say, it did not arrive with me in Florida, despite the 30-minute delay in pulling back from the gate.

“Oh, you unfortunate shlimazel,” I heard the baggage agent say in my mind before I realized I was back down South.  “Well, baby, you were flyin’ on a buddy pass,” she said as she logged my missing bag into the system.

Oy vey!

This weekend, I’m in The City for a travel blogging conference, TBEX ’10.  And while I stood sweating in the sweltering Times Square subway station today with every color and creed on the globe represented on that platform, I remembered a post from last year, in which I compared the two capitals of the English-speaking world after visiting London; I’m convinced now, more than ever, that Noo Yawk’s betta.

Originally posted as I ♥? LON on Sept. 8, 2009:

The comparison is overused, but with London and New York City being the pillars of global culture and finance, as well as the launchpad and rocket booster, respectively, of the new millennium’s lingua franca, there’s almost no way to avoid comparing the two cities. Even culture bible Time Out London had to ask if New York was the better, upgraded, 2.0 Beta version of the swingin’ British capital.

Though New York isn’t a national capital and was never the center of a colonial empire, it’s always been a magnet for immigrants from overseas and transplants from the nether regions of the US. Still, London has a greater percentage of its population born outside of the UK and is home to much larger groups of various ethnic communities, whereas New York has a little bit of everyone, but certain groups have greater numerical dominance. London wins the diversity prize.

Speaking with some of my newly-minted black British friends in London, it’s interesting to see the relative lack of a unified identity similar to that of black Americans (which, essentially functions as our ethnicity). Unlike black Americans, who’ve been an established part of the US since its very inception, the black British experience has essentially been one of immigration over the past five or six decades, so each different group, be it Nigerian, Kenyan, Jamaican, Belizean, has a different set of identity markers and occupies a different place vis-a-vis other immigrant groups on the path toward assimilation into “British” culture and society, a necessarily basic response to being an immigrant. Folks are too busy trying to survive in a new and sometimes hostile environment to focus on carving out a shared identity with other strivers. This means a less coherent sense of pan-African/”black” identity and therefore less organized efforts to fight discrimination or encourage community empowerment. My friends also tell me that the black professional class in London is comparatively miniscule. Score one for the NYC.

That being said, I certainly see more thorough interaction between people of various ethnicities in London than in New York. I once went to a hip-hop club in Manhattan where there was an even mix, numerically, of blacks and whites. But even though people danced in close proximity to one another, they remained clumped into their racial groups, the dancefloor from above looking like a Dalmatian fur rug. In London, I saw countless racially-mixed friend groupings and a few black American expats in the city confirmed that day-to-day interaction in the UK is less yoked by racial baggage than in the States. London’s up on this one.

Notting Hill Carnival was fun, but much more subdued than I expected. There has been recent violence, and a teenager was killed this year, so with ordinarily staid British society trying to deal with that, maybe some of the flavor was lost. We Americans are some violent, aggressive, gun-totin’ brutes, so a shooting at a street festival doesn’t faze us as much. Besides that, summer in Noo Yawk means West Indian Day, Puerto Rican Day, Brazilian Day, Dominican Day, the Irish Festival, concerts in Central Park, house music in Fort Greene Park. Seriously, can hottie watching get any hotter?

Tranportation: New York, all the way. 24-hour subway service. Stations every few blocks in Manhattan. One-way, undiscounted cash fare, US$2.25 (compared with £4.00 on the London Underground – thas almost $7). Though “This is the Piccadilly line for Cockfosters” does sound better cooed over the PA system in Received Pronunciation than “Stand clear of the closing doors (ding, ding)” in some random chicken-fried twang.

Overall, I found London to be exhilirating in some aspects (people-watching in the Circuses, space-age window displays, the accents, the history!), underwhelming in others (semi-wack nightlife, uninspiring pubs, very average-looking people). I had very high expectations of the city and was all set to have it sweep me off my feet as it has several of my good friends, to consider a move to “the centre of the world” and knock ’em dead as the Next Big Thing From Across The Pond (yeh right), but that just never happened, despite heavy lobbying by my London peeps, Lord love them. I liked it. I didn’t ♥ it.

I’ll be back, though.

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