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.

Friday, March 28, 2014


"Try to start a conversation at a cocktail party about how much you love your old-line carrier and see how long it takes someone to throw a canapĂ© at you."           - Fred Reid

My fellow frequent flyer...
There are times when the dichotomy between passengers on a flight amuse me.

To my left, in the last row of the cabin, sits a little boy of perhaps seven or eight. He's already a seasoned traveler, he tells me in an enthusiastic voice, having flown, by himself, some eight times. His parents, presumably divorced, live in Long Beach and Seattle, respectively. Or at least those are the airports at either end of his journey. He's what in Hollywood they would call "precocious" on a casting call sheet, though in a sweet way. Very assured of himself, he will opine on any topic (asking what game I was playing on my iPad, he labeled Scrabble boring!) (The exclamation point was his.) He's well behaved and a rather nice young boy, though prone to trying to get attention by singing along to music on his headset a bit louder than warranted, and speaking in a tone of voice best reserved for an outdoor playground under a busy flight path. And scrambling across the seats when it comes time to visit the lavatory.

To my right, across the aisle, is a younger woman, dressed in a pink hoodie, who seems disinclined to socialize. Head down on the tray table she's giving off the strong vibe of being seriously hungover and just wishing the world would go away. Not unpleasant, just distinctly not wanting to be awake at the moment.

Next to her are two women who, from appearances, are mother and daughter. Both adult. Very nice, they are spending their time watching Food Network (we're on JetBlue) and trading comments every once in a while. Pink Hoodie couldn't care less.

In the row directly in front of me is a woman with two preteen girls, who are delighting in talking to each other and Mom. A very active conversation, without being distracting to other passengers, the two girls are clearly having an adventure. There's a little bit of voyage narration from the one next to the window, keeping her seat,ate apprised of the various spots and sights she is viewing out of the porthole. 

"I can see clouds. I am looking down on the tops of clouds."

"There's a big mountain down there. Look!"

"We're over California now!" The middle seat sounds impressed. "No, I saw it on the map on the tv screen."

And so on. The girl in the middle seat seems to be having some issues with the tv screen not being a touch-screen. Ah, youth. What would they make of the Commodore 64, I think to myself.
Pink, sleeping
Across the aisle from them is a single woman who is doing a good job of sitting back and watching HGTV while munching on pretzels and a 7Up. A dad and his son sit in the middle and window seats. Dad us focused on ESPN while the kid is tuned to the Cartoon Network.There are three attendants on board, and I get to know two of them pretty well. One is quite young and I think relatively new. I overheard her ask the more seasoned attendant if she could make an announcement. The more seasoned is a very pleasant woman with the appropriate name "Song". She and I trade a few niceties during the flight, and she clearly understands that a single male business traveler is not the best seat partner for a kid traveling solo, but we're making the best of it. The boy is really a nice kid, if enthusiastic.Okay...the kids just interrupted me..."look, look look!" I looked over in time to see a final scene from an animated tv show clearly meant for adults. Two characters, animated, partially undressed and having a good time, were rolling ardorously across the table at some sort of dinner event. The people at the primary table were doing their best to ignore it, but the kid next to me excitedly told me about how they were rolling around and almost naked. He described in a distinctly non-golf voice. Naked! Exclamation point!
The ever-popular lavatory

Okay, I'm not a parent and normally these things don't bug me, but what do you tell a kid who just watched that sort of thing? Really. I want to know!

The flight is beginning to wind down. According to the flight map we're approaching the Los Angeles metro area, though still at 35000 feet at moving at some 600 miles per hour. The flight's pretty choppy, but this doesn't prevent a handful of people from making that last-minute haj to the lavatories.

A sudden dip and change in the engines indicates we're beginning our descent into Long Beach.

Just another day at the office, I guess. Next week I'm starting an extended vacation and, as promised, you can follow along here and on Twitter. Headed to the Land Down Under...where men ..... And women......

Or so I've heard.

Ah. Seat belt light is on, and it's time to make ready for landing. Catch you on the flip side.

The Friendly Skies

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Things to Come

I think Australia has to be a country which has the 'Welcome' sign out.
                                                    Paul Keating

In just a touch over a week from now, as I write this, we will be winging our way Down Under for three weeks exploring the coasts of Australia and New Zealand. It's our first time south of the Equator despite a lifetime of travel -- I've seen a good chunk of the Northern hemisphere, which I gladly point out means I still have a lot of the world to explore.

As I write this I am aboard JetBlue flight 606 from Long Beach to Seattle. From the looks of it we're somewhere over the Sierras of Northern California. In fact, just ahead to the West I can see the clear conical silhouette of Mt Shasta, with a large lake I would presume to be Lake Shasta just below.

This year has proven to be a breakout year for my time on the road. It's only the tail end of March and I am close to recertifying Silver on USAir/American's Frequent flyer program, and solidly there for my hotel benefits. And that's without any personal time on the road.

The trip to Australia and New Zealand are the first vacation time this year. We are on a three week bender -- a quite long time to be on vacation with just about any employer -- simply because of the distance involved. It's a fifteen hour flight in both directions, and this doesn't include the intra-regional flights, which themselves can last for more than five hours.

Given the scope and scale of the trip we had to make some hard decisions. What was it we wanted to accomplish, and how much time would be required in each destination to do it. Planning required we give up some of the more remote activities -- I'd wanted to drive the Great Ocean Road south of Melbourne, along with a visit to the Faerie Penguins in the same general area. In fact, other than a pass through the Melbourne airport in our transit from Perth to Auckland, we had to give up the south of Australia in its entirely. It's a continent, kids, no way to see everything, even in three weeks.

But we are hitting some major highlights. Sydney, of course, with side trips to the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley Wine region. Our second stop will be north of Cairns in a town called Port Douglas, which gives us a day out on the Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling, plus two days each in the Daintree Rain Forest and in the mountains just west of Port Douglas.

The third destination takes us to the West Coast of Australia to dip our toes into the Indian Ocean for the first time, plus a weeklong visit at our friends' house in Perth, with side trips to the Margaret River and Swan Valley wine regions, and Freemantle -- ironically this last puts us within striking distance of having been in each of the cities which have hosted the America's Cup. Not by design but by happy happenstance.

And our last destination finds us on a swing through New Zealand's North Island for a few days in Auckland (also an America's Cup locale) and the Bay of Islands for a little swim with the dolphins.

So there are some exciting times ahead. I'll be posting Dispatches on a regular basis using lower res shots from the iPad, with some follow-up posts in a month with some of the more illustrative shots from my Nikons.

Stay tuned.

On the Road Again

Monday, March 3, 2014


It's a Road Thing.

It comes as no surprise that I will state that I love a good road trip. Something like 1/3 of my blog entries reference that, so it shouldn't come as a shock.

There are pluses and minuses to spending a long time on the highway, but for me one of the really great parts is discovering a very cool place to eat. It might be a regional chain, it might be a Mom and Pop stop, or even just a roadside barn with fresh fruit. Nationally there are the likes of Bob's and Cracker Barrel (though the latter isn't precisely a diner...a roadside eatery?) Regardless, it's something you completely miss out on when you're in Flyover Mode. Plus it often gives you a much more true sense of an area than does a stop at the next Burger King or Subway.

This sort of thing first started with me years ago on a couple of cross country trips with my parents. On the first, a two-person jaunt in a maroon Corvair, was with my father, around 1971. We spent half the time camping, and the other half in cheap motels. Budget trip, obviously. But it gave us some terrific father/son time, which given a Navy lifestyle was something quite special for me as a ten year old boy.

On that trip, from Rhode Island to California, we found ourselves along route 40 for much of the journey. After a couple of camping nights we opted for a motel as a chance to sleep in a real bed and get a shower. Not surprisingly I think this was much more my father's preference than mine...I was perfectly okay with no shower and camping out. Again, 10 year old boy. The motel was a basic no-frills roadside affair, with a diner in front. This was, essentially, my first exposure to roadside diner breakfasts, which remain among my favorite experiences to this day. There is something quite special about the kind of meal and service you get at a counter in these places, and it's always fun. (For some reason I just flashed on the Mel's Diner counter set for the long-running tv show ALICE...a highly romanticized version of the sort of thing I love.)

The second memory, and the one that reinforced the practice for me, was a visit to the now sadly defunct Copper Pot restaurant which used to be along 40 in the woods of Tennessee. True roadside installation, complete with a dining room and a cheap souvenir shop right next door. My family stopped there in yet another trip across country, though this time it was with my mother and sisters as we moved from Washington, DC to San Diego. The Copper Pot made such a strong impression I dragged my at-first skeptical wife there on our own coast-to-coast journey a couple of decades later. Sure enough, she too loved it.

Some of my favorite roadside stops along major highways:

The Ludlow Cafe in Ludlow California, just adjacent to Highway 40, along the remainder of Route 66. It's a real desert roadside diner with sharply angled roof and formica tables. Really good food and a wistful ambiance of days gone by.

The Rustic Table in the middle of the Sierra Mountains just off of I-80 between Reno and Sacramento, roughly 45 miles from Lake Tahoe. Truly delicious burgers (handmade) and a coffee bar right next door.

The Village Inn in Wyoming, Minnesota (Yes, you read that right) - Yeah, it's a chain. One I was unfamiliar with until running across them off of I-35 north of Minneapolis. Really good food and very pleasant service. Two steps up from Denny's, but in the same category.

The Florida Keys offer many, many great options for highway-side dining, but one of our favorites is Made to Order in Tavernier, on Islamorada. It's a perfect spot for resting and enjoying the seaside scenery while having a sumptuous breakfast or lunch.

Country Kitchen in Joshua Tree. One of my favorites. No decor, just good food. This is the sort of place I could sit for hours, people watching, talking to the owners and eating food that will give me a heart-attack within hours -- but what a way to go.

There are, of course, many, many more. Some of the best ones are right around the corner...we have Babe's Kitchen right here in Long Beach. And Emma Jean's in Barstow, and so on and so on and so on.

Some would call these places a dying breed. But from I can see, they're something special and those which are still around...are doing just fine.

See you on the road.