My Vacation in Product Reviews

Let me be clear from the outset: I hate traveling.  I can barely stand driving across town twice a week for work, so you can imagine how I feel about flying across the country.  I hate flying, I hate living out of a suitcase, I miss my bed, my shower, my bike, my comfortable routine.

So that should tell you what a good friend Jeff is that when he texted casually that he was visiting America in a few months and perhaps I could meet him on the East Coast, I was shopping airfares within minutes without a second thought. Because when you get such an offer saving you several hundred dollars for a trip to England while getting to see your very good friend for the first time in nine years, you accept.

It helps that I have family back there (New England, not old England), which I highly recommend if you can manage it. I have sisters in Massachusetts and California; myself being in Colorado, I suppose I’m responsible for the middle of the country, which is a little more unwieldy to cover.  But the point is, I also got to see my 7-year-old niece, who is finally getting old enough to retain some memories.

This brings me to my first product review: Delta Airlines.

I have no airline loyalty; I’ll fly with whoever is the cheapest who won’t kill me in a plummeting fireball.  This time around Delta won my affections, and I must say, they’ve stepped up their game since we last met.  A bit of extra leg room, seatback  chargers and free wi-fi for the common folk were a pleasant surprise (although the wi-fi was wasted on me; as usual, I loaded my devices with enough podcasts, movies and eBooks to get me through a month on a desert island, then proceeded to sleep most of the way).  Also new overhead bins that actually comfortably fit four or five bags and not two and a half and done.

These new space-age ceiling consoles created the illusion of a new aircraft,  which was somewhat ruined when we got to the front of the line for takeoff only to be told we had to wait due to a “maintenance problem.” We had to see if it could be fixed on the tarmac or if we had to return to the terminal (it ultimately got fixed by restarting the engines, which reminded me of this guy:)

I wouldn’t be bothered by the wait only I had a connection to make in LaGuardia (would have preferred a nonstop but for some reason they’re prohibitively expensive).  As we lazily (or so it felt to me) approached New York, I expressed my concern to the flight attendant. He said, “Well, the good news is we have lots of other shuttles to Boston. Still, maybe you should put on your fast walking shoes.”

(This is one of the things I hate about flying: the complete helplessness to make the plane go any faster, no matter how desperately you need it to.)

I joked to my seatmates that I didn’t pack my fast walking shoes.  They commiserated with me, which was nice, but not as nice as when we finally started unloading and they formed human shields in the aisle to get me out faster.

Naturally my arrival and departure gates were on exact opposite ends of the terminal. I started out running, but there’s a reason I’m a cyclist and had to stop after a humiliating 100 feet or so.  I reverted to race walking and being ruder than I’m comfortable with to get past a few people.

I made it just as they started boarding First Class, so maybe I didn’t need to be quite so rude.

Anyway, in summary, Delta is definitely recommended for extra perks even for the folks in steerage.

My memories of New England summer include the words “unbearably humid,” “sticky,” “stifling,” “just gross”…I think you get the idea.  I hate it there. But I timed my trip just right: my sister said I had just missed a heat wave of 90+ degrees and accompanying awfulness, and the four days I was there were a perfectly manageable 80 degrees or less.

What I was completely unprepared for was a 7-year-old niece, who was a little angel until she wasn’t; who roped me into playing Skylanders (a video game, and a parents’ nightmare of endless expansion packs to buy) only to help her fight things and then let her collect all the gold; who quietly played Minecraft on her iPad in the car until suddenly having a fit because our talking in the front seat was “messing her up”; who, after a 2-1/2 hour drive to Laughing Brook (a hiking trail our parents took us to often and we remembered fondly), walked literally for fifteen minutes and then decided she wanted to go home–only to get upset when we got stuck in Cape Cod traffic because mommy inexplicably wasn’t “flying.”

I am happily and voluntarily childless for this reason and many more, so thumbs down to 7-year-olds.  (I’M KIDDING.  I don’t think of myself as being good with kids, so it always surprises me when they love me.  Still glad I don’t have one though.)

The real purpose for my trip was of course to see Jeff.  We talk at least once a week on Facebook, but I was a little nervous about seeing his father after 20-something years and what on earth would we talk about?  (I had known his father from work and of course from hanging out with Jeff waiting to go to work.)

My fears were instantly allayed the moment I stepped through the door. He was thrilled to see me and it felt like not a day had passed.

I won’t bore you with details, but we had a perfect day of swimming in the pool, lunch and dinner (and my sister got to try her first cup of authentically made British tea–two thumbs up), even three-quarters of a game of pool with Jeff like the old days (we’re both very rusty), and of course lots and lots of catching up. Worth every penny of my trip and made me very, very happy.

(Jeff was here for a whirlwind tour of America with his wife and kids, 7-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. I’m afraid we’re a terrible influence: they’d only been here a matter of days and were already refusing everything but Dunkin Donuts and Twinkies.  (Jeff’s dad, evidently living in a health food gulag, was taking full advantage.)  And, thanks to me and my sister, I think their daughter is going to want an Apple watch and their son tattoos after a day with us.)

Anyway, some before and afters:

Crazy punk kids, 1992 (?)

 

This makes me very, very happy

So, for another product review, five stars for a day with Jeff’s family.  I highly recommend it if you get the chance.

The rest of my trip was just relaxing with my family (for a day and a half, an extremely short visit).  The thing I forget about New England is how you never leave the house without swimwear, because there’s always the possibility of water-related fun. Very, very different from Colorado where we have almost no water, trees or oxygen.  (And this is my first real summer sans boobies. I would very much have loved to swim topless just once. My sister said, “Fine, as long as you don’t mind answering a million questions from the girls.” Not wanting to traumatize small children with still very obvious surgical scars, I contented myself with a tanktop, which was still worlds better than before.)

Time for another product review.

I have an inconvenient tendency to shop last minute for T-shirts before big trips. As my most recent obsession is “Stranger Things” (see previous post), I found a kick-ass design that I had to have.

I adore an obscure reference

The trouble is it was only available from Teepublic, a made-to-order site, so needed at least three days just to print it.  So, trying to be clever, I had it delivered to my sister. Miami to Boston shouldn’t take long, right?

Well, the only option was DHL (other than UPS which was twice as much).  I LOATHE DHL.  I always have problems with them, and this time was no exception.  Their projected delivery date would be the date I left.  Fine, I’d wear it on the plane.

I waited eagerly for the mail, and when it arrived I grabbed the package. Except it wasn’t my shirt but my niece’s new lunchbox.

I seethed quietly as we continued watching The Muppets: Most Wanted (which is funny, but not funny enough to make me forget my rage). I shot off a scathing email to Teepublic, and was genuinely shocked to get a response not ten minutes later. Profuse apologies, and they told me to keep the first shirt as a gift and they’d expedite a second to me in Denver.  Wow. A free shirt!  I was just hoping for a partial refund.

The second shirt was also sent DHL and took another week, hardly my idea of “expedited.”  So two thumbs up for Teepublic but, as for DHL, I’ve no idea how they’re still in business but I suppose they are Teepublic’s cross to bear.

My final product review is for LaGuardia Airport, where I had a much more luxurious layover this time of a few hours. Good thing because I was starving (and the miniscule plane snacks don’t help).  Bad though, because LaGuardia is renovating or something and there were no recognizable restaurants to be found (I say “recognizable” because they did have what looked like a miniature grocery store that from a distance looked very artisanal and pricey and off-putting to us less adventurous travelers.  Andrew Zimmern I am not).  I’m not the biggest fan of McDonald’s, but sometimes you just want something quick and easy where you know exactly what to expect.

Instead I ended up spending entirely too much on a magazine stand sub sandwich that might have been a week old, it was so chewy and tasteless.

Finally, I hope they plan to spread out their gates a little. There were about four crammed into the space of one DIA gate, which makes for an enormous crowd of passengers huddled together in one set of seats. Sort that shit out, New York. But three out of five stars for at least not subjecting me to mysterious mechanical delays seconds before takeoff.

Ahh,  DIA. One of my favorite parts of traveling is stepping off the plane in Denver, where the air smells cool and chlorinated (and might be slightly oxygenated, to give visitors a chance to get outside before crumbling to the ground with dizziness and lightheadedness).  Back to my bed, my shower, my bike, my comfortable routine. Five (slightly biased) stars for my home.

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