About Me

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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Matter of Influence

"That’s the thing about travel. When you start, the world doesn’t get smaller, it increases in size." - Samantha Brown

Like almost everyone in the United States, I watch my fair share of television. And, as you might surmise, a good portion of my viewing has to do with travel and all of its myriad sub-subjects. On television you can find nearly every possible permutation of travel program -- from the opulently opulent to the down and dirty dirt. And everything in between.

A truly good travel television show has got to do a handful of things, and the majority do them fairly well without seeming like a shill for the destination , wherever it may be (though Disney has such a glossy style of production that virtually any show that has visited the Disney resorts, cruised on the Disney cruise one or done something Disneyesque, they appear to be cut from the same editing machine). The best shows are those that stand out from the crowd in some way -- they have a style or approach that makes them somewhat superior to a travel documentary about *fill in the blank*. 

(This is where most Disney products tip their hat: they all smack of marketing rather than travel. The visuals, the interviews, the carefully trained Disney representatives, are all just a bit too clean and produced. Not that Disney is wrong for presenting this image, but every program I've watched has the same, very identifiable visual style.  They each use a bright, over-saturated look, with carefully lined up angles and "visitors" who have clearly emerged from Central Casting. The camera movements are generally beyond most of the lower-budget single camera travel shows, and the lighting is just a bit to pristine, as if the camera crew arrived at the park/ship/resort precisely at the best time of day for an optimal shot. For me it's an easy to spot video, and while I may watch it -- in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm a big Disney fan -- I tend to dismiss it as a marketing film instead of an honest review of a possible destination.)

But this column isn't intended to be about Disney.

It's about the best shows and hosts of programs which truly bite into the Travel Apple and tells us what flavor it is. If it's a particularly succulent fruit, or if there are a few worms under the skin. The best shows are those which add local flavor and texture to their show, and clearly convey what is good, what is bad, and what is downright ugly about a particular locale. Those are the shows I like to watch, and those are the shows most likely to give me the real feel for a place before I've gone. 

Some of you may be wondering why I've left Rick Steves off the list below and it's a valid question. Rick Steves is a consummate traveler and reporter, with tons of credentials and hundreds of thousands of miles to his credit, and he's someone who has earned a great deal of respect for authoritative work. The omission is strictly mine. While many people like his style and his company has thousands of travelers every year, I personally regard his programs as most post-cardlike than a real dig into the dirt taste of a region. To me that's the essential key to a good program: do I have a solid feel for a country or region or place -- not just what it looks like, or where the best shopping is -- I want to have a real talk with the locals, at a local level. It doesn't have to be an interview or even a major discussion, but give me an interaction that shows me I'm not watching a marketing film. Rick's program, like the Disney shows, has that feel to it. If I can assign a word, it's more of an advertisement than travelogue, and by that harsh word I mean that the show is a bit too polished towards showing you a destination than taking an honest bite out of it. It's like watching one of the omnipresent Best Of… countdown programs. Each segment is a highlights reel -- or sizzle reel in the current parlance -- instead of a visit. To me both Disney and Rick Steves are highlights shows for tourists instead of reality programs for travelers.

And, in a line from the old Seinfeld show: "Not that there's anything wrong with that". I attach the shows, you watch the shows, and they're popular in general. It's good, and it serves a purpose -- but neither of those categories (and yes, they're major enough to warrant "categories as a description) satisfies me enough to be labeled A Truly Good Travel Show.

(I can hear the "but, but, but…" of some of you when you glance below and see Samantha Brown's name. "Doesn't she do the very same thing?" you'll cry. Well, yes. For the most part she does, but I'll explain her inclusion in a moment. Relax. I'm here. It will be all right.)

It's a matter of individual choice, and that's the beauty of it. You may have a dramatically different list -- but this is my blog, so I get to pick my own list. It's one of the few perks of writing this sort of thing: no money, no prestige, no reward, but it's my world, my toys and my rules. So...


Anthony Bourdain -- (Where I learned "GET LOCAL") 

Bourdain is a literate, literary and gritty teller of truths. His first book, KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL proved he has a unique voice and style of communicating that is both sardonic and captivating. There is something about the way he describes a place, the way in which he approaches it, that pulls the viewer along -- not just as an audience member, an observer, but in a way, as Bourdain's friendly and personal confidant sharing in some of the less printable observations as well as those things that make a given itinerary more than merely an antiseptic jaunt from airport to hotel and back. 

Bourdain makes each destination live for the viewer, even if it's not always in the most flattering light. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty, jumping bare-ass naked into an Icelandic mud bath or South American river. His vocal style is unique, but if forced to define it I'd need to describe him as the illicit expositional child of Ernest Hemingway with more than a dash of Hunter S Thompson. And after some of the very rough nights of alcohol-infused cultural bonding, Bourdain resembles nothing so much as one of Thompson's spiritual and artistic companion Ralph Steadman's gonzo caricatures. But yeah, utterly brilliant and someone I deeply like.

Alton Brown -- (Who showed we should 'GET AWAY FROM THE MAIN ROADS") 

"What?" you ask, "Alton Brown, the cooking guy? What's he got to do with travel?" Good question. Typically we see Alton in a kitchen, be it small and houselike or huge and stadium-sized -- he's the main presenter in such Food Network fare as THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR and the American version of IRON CHEF. When he's not presenting those programs, he's Thomas Dolby's spiritual Blinded Me With (Kitchen) Science as he explains how yeast makes bread rise, or the lifecycle of grapes that make their way into your refrigerator. 

So what the heck am I thinking by putting him in my list of favorite travel program hosts? Simple. A few years ago he toured American backroads and diners, riding a BMW motorcycle as he made his way across the United States during two seasons of FEASTING ON ASPHALT (a third series this changed to FEASTING ON WAVES, as Alton traded his Beemer for a boat). Alton's series was a wonderful and earthy dig into the heart of American comfort cuisine. The highway diners and waystations true travelers might encounter should they find themselves on a bike trip across the continent.

Samantha Brown -- (Who taught me "IT'S OKAY TO INDULGE") 

"Okay," I can hear your voice in my head, "you're full of shit. Samantha Brown? Really?" Um. 

Yes. Really. I know, I know. Endlessly perky and indulgent, Samantha Brown is indeed the poster child for the pre-digested Disneyesque light travel fare that is the antithesis of the more rugged, grittier Bourdain, Carmichael and Alton. But I figure this is my version of a guilty pleasure -- Samantha Brown makes travel fun. Yes, there's a degree of cotton candy in the way her shows present things. Samantha is not about muddy hikes through the mountains in a downpour, hunkering coldly in a two-person tent with wet shoes and stringy hair. Samantha is all about the luxury -- and she does it in a way where it doesn't feel as much like an obligatory snooty indulgence so much as a well-deserved dip in a world the majority of us cannot afford. She's our surrogate, as if we're sharing a secret and whimsical confetti-check weekend before returning to the real world we both wink-wink recognize awaits us outside the door. And in that, she's on my list for letting us dream right along with her. She's kind of my travel BFF, but the girl-next-door variety who won't incur a jealous wrath from our significant other.

Todd Carmichael -- (Who is teaching me "BE PASSIONATE") 

The new kid on the block. If you're not familiar with Todd Carmichael it's not a huge surprise -- his program, DANGEROUS GROUNDS, is a recent addition to the Travel Channel schedule. Todd is the kind of guy you'd want in your corner when walking through dark alley downtown some night. He's a down to earth, genuine guy who clearly enjoys the adventure, and does a terrific job of explaining why certain things are worth the effort. A coffee guy -- the pun in the title, get it? -- who travels to some of the most unstable and dangerous parts of the world seeking exclusive deals on rare and tasty coffee beans. 

It sounds odd, and for the most part you have to view his passion through his own lens -- the risks and challenges he endures seem out of proportion to the single cup of coffee he inevitably enjoys at the end of each show. But the show is direct and honest, and the danger appears to be quite real. When he whispers to his cameraman to hide the camera as they approach a police checkpoint the fear is real, the danger palpable. With Bourdain leaving The Travel Channel for -- presumably -- more profitable digs, the channel has done a commendable job of giving us a traveler even more honest and gritty. While you might not mind joining Anthony for a few drinks in a dive bar somewhere in Vietnam, Todd isn't someone you'd want to travel with as much as share a drink with him in a perfectly safe bar in Philadelphia listening to his latest gut-wrenching adventure.

And then we come to this.

Phil Keoghan - (Who told us there's "NO OPPORTUNITY TO BE WASTED")

Arguably the best and most traveled of all of the individuals listed above, Keoghan has had a positive impact on the world through his No Opportunity Wasted brand of business. In many ways I have to attribute my love of travel and emergence as a travel photographer and blogger to Phil's philosophy. 

But, in the spirit of full honesty, "ethics" is a fundamental aspect of anyone who I endorse or respect. 

A few weeks ago I published a column detailing my issue with the complete lapse of integrity on the part of two of the teams in the current season of THE AMAZING RACE. In the subsequent weeks the Producers have publicly ignored the issue, and Keoghan went so far as to tweet that it was not "against the rules" for one team to steal money from another. And there we are -- there is the rub. Had Phil or the Producers made public comment and condemned the move that would be one thing, but it is clear to me -- and evidently to thousands of others -- that they do not intend to act. Worse, they themselves may have committed a crime in enabling the thieves -- when there is ample video evidence of the crime -- to leave the country.

That, friends, is unforgivable.

I am looking forward to the remainder of episodes -- two to go -- in the hopes that the silence is because the issue is handled, and to make a public comment spoils the impact -- but I really don't expect that to be the case. In fact, since there are four teams left, and two of them were involved in the crime and, in fact, had an unfair advantage due to the stolen funds, it appears the eventual winner may have a good chance to be tainted. And that would be truly sad for the show and the integrity of everyone involved. I would like to think it's simply a misunderstanding, but the silence is deafening. But I continue to hope and would be absolutely thrilled if I'm wrong.


So, there you are. The list of travel-show people who have had an impact on my own life and approach to travel. And since the objective of THE THUMBNAIL TRAVELER is to SHARE THE ADVENTURE, it's fitting to mention those who, by their own sharing, have encouraged me to do the same.

They're the ones who have helped me discover just how big the world is and how little of it I have seen so far.

Monday, November 19, 2012

In Pursuit of the Cool

 Like many people, there are times I find myself all wrapped up in the utterly dumb-ass cavorting of celebrities. A lot of people think that celebrities are cool. That they define cool. That cool is being just like that celebrity, at least in your imagination. 

Not cool
Now, given my tenuous connection to Hollywood and poorly hidden love of travel and glamour, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise or shock to anyone that I spend some time trying to be cool. Yeah, just last essay I discussed getting away from such things and focussing on the free and easy, which usually makes for a much more enjoyable trip. And that stands as both very true and very important. But in life one must have things which burn through and are adventures just simply because there is a cool factor built into them. I am lucky enough to hover close enough to the entertainment industry to get a few castoffs -- leftover donuts and bottles of water-- as well as every once in a blue moon to get a glimpse of what lies behind the gate. But it's less about being a celebrity than it is getting to do the sorts of things we all imagine that they get to do on a regular basis (We're wrong, for the most part, but it's part of the mystique nonetheless.) And many people consider getting behind that gate to be "cool", which gets me to thinking.
Backstage with Savage City 

I like doing cool things. And more importantly, as a traveler getting to do cool stuff just kind of comes built in to the program if I'm doing things right -- getting behind the gate, so to speak. 

Trapped in Space Mountain
A backstage pass is a cool thing. Eating at an exclusive restaurant and being given a tour of the kitchen is a cool thing. Touring the Boeing plant in Everett, Washington is a cool thing. Betting the number 32 on the roulette wheel in Monte Carlo is a cool thing. Sipping at exclusive wines in the middle of a vineyard is cool. Getting your fortune told in New Orleans is a cool thing. Vegas has made a tremendous industry of finding, defining, redefining and creating cool to appeal to visitors of all ages, sexes and incomes. Anyone with a pocketbook, to be precise. Life is full of very cool things to see and do. And that's kind of my point. Don't be afraid to do the cool things.

I know. That sounds kinda like common sense, but it astounds me the number of times people do the sort of thing I did as a young adult driving across country for the first time: press for the goal, not taking the time to enjoy the cool stuff along the way. There are a couple of things which brought this topic to mind.

Being cool in the Yukon

Inevitably, our favorite teams on The Amazing Race -- a program which has unfortunately fallen quite hard from my "respect-o-meter" as a result of the theft which occurred on the show and seems to have gained the tacit approval of the host and the show's producers -- are the ones who actively pay attention to the world around them and take joy in the adventure itself, not just the drive to get to the leg's finish line. Examples are Jet and Cord, The Cowboys, who set a new standard of sincerity when, at the end of one leg, realized they were doomed to elimination and so stopped and savored the moment. Realizing the inevitable, they completed the final task at leisure -- eating fondue in a swiss chalet -- and took the moment just to breathe, enjoy the company and savor the environment. That, my friends, is cool.

Best bud Jim being cool with volcanoes

Cool is being open to adventure, to the travel experience, regardless how small, particularly if it's out of the ordinary and different. Recently my wife and I were caught at the very top of Disneyland's Space Mountain when the ride broke down. If you're not familiar with the ride (and where the Hell have you been if you are not) it's a roller coaster ride though the dark inside of a massive dome. The sensation of being thrown around in near complete blackness is a chilling and yet fun experience. We had just summited the first hill -- always the tallest in any coaster -- and begun the ride when suddenly the lights came on and the car came to an abrupt stop (didn't know they could do that, and it's good information to have). And for ten minutes or so we sat, still kept firmly in our seats by the safety bars, looking down at the cavernous interior of the ride. For anyone who has every been through the Mountain in the dark, wondering about the proximity of crossbars and things which may be lurking in the dark, it's a fascinating thing to be able to see what you've just imagined. And, as I noted to my wife, an adventure in and of itself. It was cool. Not as in "Fez's are cool", but in a genuine "how many people get a chance to do this" sort of way.

On Abbey Road
While most people trapped on the ride were grumbling about passes and how long it had taken for the "rescue" teams to arrive, we sat joking with people in the cars around us, and not entirely having a bad time because the ride was off. And, being at the top, we did have fun at the expense of the poor park employees who arrived huffing and puffing from the five story ascent to retrieve us. But while most people were any and disappointed, we managed to have a good time -- and isn't that the purpose of being in Disneyland in the first place?

So cool is important, even if it's accidental. The true sign of an experienced traveler is to make the proverbial lemonade when only lemons are offered. No, I'm not being Pollyanna here. I get just as miffed as the rest of you when traffic, or flight delays or closures impact my plans. Yeah, it's annoying, but what are you going to do about it? Often, there's really very little, and if you relax and let the flow go it can make up for the inconvenience in other ways. Flight canceled? Don't berate the poor person behind the counter. Take the time to relax them and let them know you're on their side and they can often work a bit harder on your behalf than they would with the 13th irate person standing at their desk. Smile, joke if it's appropriate, and let the course take itself until things are worked out.

The ultra-cool James Moran eats at Philippe's

Cool can also be a preplanned event. Dinner at a cool place. (For the record Bubba Gump, Planet Hollywood and The Rainforest Cafe are not cool. Even the ones in Times Square. Especially the ones in Times Square.) A cool place for dinner -- unless you're willing to part with potentially hundreds of dollars for the Rainbow Room atop 30 Rock -- is the little chinese place you found in Chinatown. Or the coffee house in the bohemian side of town. Cool is a french dip sandwich at Philippe's or a hot dog at Pink's. Cool is not a hot dog at Der Weinerschnitzel or the french dip at Denny's. You can do that at home, so why in the Hell would you eat dinner at The Olive Garden on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach? (I'm not sure there IS one, but you know what I mean.)

Martinis and Jazz
The point of travel is to experience something unique. Otherwise, why bother? Right? The Cool is finding something representative of the place you're visiting. Even if you're at home, every once in a while you need to reach out and do something "local" -- and its finding that thing and doing it which is the cool part. Part of the cool is cultivating your friends and contacts to join in or recommend the fun things. Who is someone you look to for this sort of thing, and what is it they like to do? Is it something you think you would enjoy -- and is it something you're capable of doing? (Surfing Oahu's northern shore is cool, but would break my neck in twenty seven pieces, so probably isn't terribly smart for me to do.)

Do the things that ten years from now you'll remember and will be a mark on your cool merit badge sash of life. Will you remember that "fair" quesadilla at Rainforest Cafe, or will you remember the martinis at the little jazz joint down in the village? Looking back at a trip will you remember the queues at the airport, or the dinner on the water at sunset? Will you remember the hours driving miles on miles through the desert, or will you remember the ten minute stop at the cheesy roadside attraction with the paper mache dinosaurs out back?

Cool is getting a snot-nosed brat behind a counter at a concert asking if you want a straw with that split of wine you just ordered and telling them you do, then walking away sipping. (I saw someone do just this many years ago and it made a profound impact on my sensibilities that far outlasted the concert itself.)

It's a matter of cool, and taking the time to see it, recognize it for what it is and then just doing it. 

Be cool.

Just relax and stay cool

Thursday, November 15, 2012

They Call Me..."Roadie"

Often I find myself caught between two worlds, two sets of expectations. Often this is reflected in the kind of traveling I like to do, and what sort of planning accompanies each event.

On one hand, I am every bit the starry-eyed glitz and glamor jetsetter my minds' eye would like to believe that I am. (I'm not, but have enough credentials and miles under my belt to make it a stretching of the truth versus an outright lie.) (As I write this I am parked in an underground parking garage in Beverly Hills, escorting a screenwriter friend of mine around the various production companies in LA -- as a traveler, I've been to New York, Paris, Monte Carlo, St Barth's and Las Vegas, among other glam destinations. And consumed far more martinis in exotic locations than my liver would care to admit.)

And the truth is, I like a lot of the trappings of that kind of thing. Yeah, it makes me shallow and self-indulgent, but there's something to be said for the luxuries in life. If, of course, you can afford them.

Road Trip!!
On the other hand, there is a very strong part of my personality which is driven towards the humbler and more adventurous experiences in life -- and in most ways, these can be the more enjoyable and rewarding activities in a lot of different ways. Camping in a tent the day before going white water rafting is the sort of intimately personal and challenging pursuit which tells you more about yourself and your craft than does an evening in a bar tossing down expensive liquor. Give me a beer, some marshmallows and a campfire and I'm good.

All of which drives the decision making each and every time I go to plan a trip. Next years' adventures are already well into the planning stages and are, for the most part, circled around cultural and/or luxurious destinations. But in conversations with friends I've come to realize how many of the important memories come from times when the subject is the adventure of getting your hands dirty, and not in the glamor of a given situation.

For example...

If you ever plan to motor west...
I have driven or been driven across the continental United States more than a half dozen times. The three most memorable -- those which made the greatest an impact on my perspective and worldview -- involved the settings and events instead of just the participants. The first, with my father in 1971, had a profound effect on my understanding of this country. We alternated between campgrounds and low budget motels, more for the adventure than the cost involved. The car was a bright yellow 1966 Corvair Corsa, earning it the nickname "Chiquita". My father and I would set up tent in roughly half of the places we stopped, while every other night we would check into a Travelodge or Motel 6 or Holiday Inn to wash the grime from our ears and get a good night's sleep. We also experimented with small, local diners versus the now-omnipresent fast food chains which now seem to clog every interstate off ramp and were, even then, plentiful. 

Miles to go before I sleep
This set the tone for my own future long drives, particularly when it comes to food. Though there are times when fast food is the only option, I find it anathema to the very concept of travel and cultural experimentation. If every meal consists of chain store burgers and fries, why bother packing up and heading down the road in the first place?

The second of my three memorable trips across country occurred a decade and a half later when I set out on a solitary trip from Washington, DC, to attend college in Los Angeles. The car was an aging, green Triumph TR7 -- itself the source of a couple of sideways misadventures during the drive. It was on this particular adventure I discovered my own tendency to push forward rather than stop and rest. It's not a good habit, and in the intervening years I've forced myself to take breaks and stop for the evenings rather than push on. 

The worst of these marathons occurred on the first day of this particular voyage. In planning, I had intended to drive for six to eight hours before stopping for the night. Best laid plans, I guess. 

I left the DC area at 9- ish in the morning -- I had a final summertime dentist appointment before getting back to school for the semester. By the time I'd reached the southern border of Virginia it was beginning to grow dark. My plan was to make it to just outside Knoxville, Tennessee, before hunkering down for the night.

The Simple Stuff...so good!
But I kept going. I passed through Knoxville, following interstate to the South, changing plans and deciding I would overnight in Chattanooga. By the time I reached that town, however, I decided to continue on, stopping for a very late dinner at a little diner in the tiny northwestenmost chip of Georgia. Despite the late hour, and the nearly 16 hours I had been on the road, I pressed on, convinced I could make it well into Louisiana before the next morning. And I likely would have, had fate and a faulty alternator not stopped me for a day in the tiny town of Union, Alabama. (Town is an overstatement.) 

Since that point I've made an effort not to be so focused on the distance traveled as I am on the terrain at hand.

The third and final drive was in 1995 with my wife, who at that point had never seen the center of the country -- aptly, if derogatorily referred to as "flyover country". That trip, more than any other, allowed me to see the world through someone else's eyes. To see things as new and different, and seeking to find those things that make each and every place unique unto itself. I don't care how many minimalls or Walmarts or McDonald's may pop up, you can always find something that tells you about the local culture. Of what it might have been, even if it now is no different from somewhere just down the road or across the country.
The view from ground level

And it is those things, usually available for a shoestring budget, that full fare, you will never see except perhaps from the window of your luxury hotel. As much as I might love a three star restaurant, I will learn much more about a place in the $2 diner three blocks up and just around the corner.

Just sayin'.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Amazing Race: A LACK OF INTEGRITY?

No pictures for this entry. I really don't have anything which is representative, but even if one of my tens of thousands of archived photographs were suited to the occasion I wouldn't use it. I don't want anything to detract from what I am about to say.

Regular readers by now know that I am a strong supporter of Phil Keoghan's NO OPPORTUNITY WASTED philosophy. In fact, I've written very specific pages on my blog, and have a NOW page on my photographic website. It made a big impact on my wife and me when we read it a number of years ago.

Likewise, we are terrific fans of the CBS television series THE AMAZING RACE, hosted by, you guessed it, Mr. Keoghan.

I write this particular blog entry on the morning after an episode which left me stunned with the ethical lapses of four of the show's contestants. Worse, it appears, at least initially, that the show and host have no interest in punishing the contestants for their fraud.

A bit of setting is in order: 

Seven teams have successfully crossed half the globe to arrive in Bangladesh, a poor but proud nation in Southeast Asia. On the morning of the day in question, all the teams awake and are given instructions to proceed to a specific travel agency and make arrangements to fly to Istanbul. The lead team -- identified by many as "Team Rockers" -- arrived and were making arrangements. The second and third teams arrived. At some point during the stop, money fell out of Team Rockers' pockets. $100. (Each team is given a specific allotment of cash for food and incidentals, including taxi trips.)

While Team Rocker was occupied with their arrangements, another team, the so-called Team Twins (two sisters from Sri Lanka) found the wad of cash on the ground. They took the money and palmed it. When they realized they'd been seen by another team, they promptly offered to share the cash in order to avoid detection. To my amazement, no one took exception to the move. Team Rocker, when they discovered they had lost the cash, were forced to go out onto this impoverished nations' streets to beg for money. The reaction and generosity of the Bangladeshis puts many other cultures to shame. Soon Team Rocker was back on the road, finishing third for the round (after two successive firsts).

When Team Twins arrived at the pit stop at the end of this leg of the race, they were greeted by a smiling and seemingly oblivious Phil Keoghan. This startled me, because TAR (THE AMAZING RACE) normally boasts stellar communications of racings stats and actions. Then, this morning, I learned that "picking up money you find is not against the rules".

This is where I find myself angry.

First, a wad of American dollars in a travel agency catering to the American racers (all of whom are in the room when the money is taken), is NOT found money. It clearly belongs to someone else in the room. Pocketing it, under the circumstances, is an outright theft. Outright theft is illegal in most countries, and it would be interesting to note what the Bangladeshi authorities might have made of the legality of the Race's rules. One has to assume there are entries in the rules which specify that the contestants must adhere to local laws and customs., even if the rules themselves don't specify the laws.

(For example: in creating the rulebook, the program likely didn't feel it necessary to state that murder is against the rules, however anyone committing such a crime would certainly be in a lot of trouble. Particularly since it's on camera.)

Needless to say, I have suffered quite a loss of respect for Phil -- a man I held in extremely high regard as both a traveler and for the NOW philosophy which has had such a profound impact on my life. From all appearances, the show's producers and Mr. Keoghan are in the extreme minority for defending this as not against the rules. The CBS website, as well as Facebook and Twitter are nearly 100% against the theft and the lack of consequences. For years they have cultivated a reputation for quality work, for spectacular planning and execution, and for insisting upon a certain level of integrity amongst the contestants -- including previous punishment of deliberate attempts to trip up other teams through underhanded means.

It will be interesting to see the effects of the blowback. A loss of trust and integrity could prove fatal for the show, and could seriously damage everyone's reputation, with the exception of the admirable James and  Abba (Team Rocker). They have had more than a fair share of personal challenges and setbacks -- and from the previews there are more to come -- but they race with integrity, enthusiasm and heart.

As a travel enthusiast, I am deeply, deeply disappointed by Keoghan;'s  Tweet and the response from the producers in general. They have done themselves a grave disservice, and reduced the show's integrity by a substantial margin. Only time will tell if they make things right.

Poor job, guys. Very poor.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Short blog post this time. I have a lot to say, but when you get right down to it,most of it is off topic. So...

The Walt Disney Company has always fascinated me, so it probably is no surprise that I really love Disney Parks. I have an annual pass to the parks in Southern California, granting me access to both the original Disneyland, as well as its recently-awakened neighbor California Adventure. 

So, with last week's announcement that Disney is going to acquire Lucasfilm -- no real surprise given that Lucas has long been a DIsney collaborator -- I wanted to take a moment and mention the company. Disney is a major leisure industry leader, and the theme parks are a major part of that. 

But a funny thing happened when I sat down to write. I found myself going into quite a few business details that really are irrelevant to a discussion of a travel destination. Yes, Disney is a massive conglomerate, and the story behind the scenes is a truly fascinating one, but it has little to do with the experience inherent in visiting the parks. Disney operates a completely enclosed world (no pun intended), and that is part of what Walt Disney himself first made an important requirement when Disneyland first opened. The phrase "beyond the berm" refers to the fact that the berm -- the outside perimeter of the parks -- cuts the Disney experience off from the rest of the world. That once you entered Disneyland, the experience ought to be immersive and complete.

 This applies to the many lands found in the various parks. And nowhere is this more evident than in the brand new Carsland. It is a wonderfully immersive and full experience, and is solid demonstration that the Disney Magic is still alive in the company. A walk through it is to be transported to the desert town of Radiator Springs. At night, my own favorite time for visiting any and all of the parks, the forced perspective can give you a real feeing of being in the middle of a desert town. And it truly feels like no expense has been spared.

And this is the part of the secret, in my mind. If you're shelling out top money -- Disneyland can set you back $80 for a single admission -- you need the experience itself to be top notch. To their credit, the Disney Company has shelled out what was required to make the Disney Resort a great destination once again.

So, while it's tempting to go into the business details behind the changes, I'd rather just share a few shots from the four parks I've visited (Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom), and let you see for yourself.