Theft and Travel, Two Examples

We are constantly reminded to “Watch for Pickpockets and Thieves”, but do we really hear it anymore?  Here are two examples to help refresh your memory.

In Prague, Czech Republic, the streets near the Old Town Square have glass drain-type covers in the sidewalks, which appear to be quite popular with pickpockets.  I photographed through one.   Amazing! And a real tourist buzzkill.img_8320.png

We were in New York City on New Years Eve at Times Square.  Crowds everywhere.  We were wearing coats and after clawing our way through a large group,  Lilly pulled a handful of SOMEONE ELSE’s credit cards from her coat pocket! Now these guys (pickpockets) have madd Skills!  Never felt a thing.

We always carry the minimum of cards/ID and they are stuffed deep in our front pockets.  We’ve been fortunate but others sure haven’t.  I still can’t get over the NYC thieves, sadly impressive.

That Last Day, Packing Ahead, Ugh @victorinox

imageToday is the last day, the day before you leave.  Time to see and do all the things you’ve put off and time to do that most horrible of tasks, pack.  Packing to leave is the worst, time to see just how far that new “expanding” suitcase expands…

A Hilton Points and Miles Beginners Recap @hiltonhonors

Everybody seems to have a blog covering some subject or another. Travel blogs are loaded with tips, links and references to every aspect of Travel including Points and Miles. I’m doing this because I just don’t remember one that helped you get started.


I’m on Hilton’s Gloriously easy-to-use web page  I’m thinking St. Louis, Missouri, February 24-25th, (you would obviously choose dates later in the year), Two adults, Use Hilton Honors Points…Yes (toggle on) and I’ve checked the AAA circle. Engage!

And there it is, a list of hotels. Most offer two ways to reserve your stay, dollars or points and at least one of them, has three! Dollars, Points AND Dollars+Points. Like it wasn’t complicated enough.

Here’s what matters: You need to know the value of a Hilton Point and do some math. I love this part, it’s now me against Hilton. I do enjoy a challenge. All points and miles have a subjective value and every month publishes them. This site is great source of information.

Since, apparently I have no life, I know them all by heart. Hilton points are valued at one half of one cent (.005). As we go forward you will see that .005 is rather pathetic at best, but it is what it is. Hyatt, for example is valued at .019 (almost two cents each).

Looking at Hilton again, I see Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark (I hear they have a baseball team). The rate is listed at $177.00 or 40,000 points (AAA rate). Which is better?

Remember, when you use Points to book a Hotel room, taxes are included. This can be a huge value if you stay in an expensive city (NYC, New Orleans, St. Louis etc…).

Doing the math, 40,000 points has a dollar value of $200.00, (40,000x.005). At Hilton, just cut the points required in half and lose a few zeros. I then go through the motion of checking the Dollar rate, 1 King City View at $177, yes, next screen AAA Hot Deals, Yes and then finally on the next screen, Total for Stay $209.50. (Don’t go forward in the process as you will book the room. (which are very easy to cancel and usually will have no penalties this far out).

Ok, this deal is meh…I could go either way. Most likely I would just pay the dollar rate, earn more points and save them for a better deal, like a $350.00 room for 40,000 points.

What about the room with Three Options? Mathtime with Michael again… St. Louis Union Station, Hmmmm, $126.00/40,000 hhpoints/ $65+16,000 hhpoints. Wow!

$126.00 with tax = $144.58
40,000 points = $200.00 in value
$65.00 + 16,000 points (16,000x.005=$80.00) $65.00+$80.00= $145.00

Which is better? Definitely NOT the 40k points! Whether you use Cash and Points or just pay Cash is a toss up. Or is it? In my next post I will show you why though they may seem to appear almost equal in value, often times they are miles apart.

Don’t Get Too Close While It’s Feeding!

I was hungry, scary sugar out-of-whack, feed me right now hungry.  In Springfield, Missouri is a restaurant called the Gem of India.  Indian food sounded perfect  and I love Chicken Tikka Masala, so in I went, alone and unsupervised.IMG_8204The buffet was in full swing, this place was busy.  Now, Chicken Tikka Marsala borders on being a religious experience for me so the buffet simply won’t cut it, the sauce is too mild and the temperature of the food is never “just right”.  Yes, I’m THAT guy.  The waiter, grudgingly, provides a menu, I order and then start gnawing on the table, waiting impatiently.

Quickly it arrives in a large bowl along with rice, Garlic Naan bread and Chai tea.  Add rice to the plate, then sauce, tear up the Naan…first bite, Wow! Perfect, too perfect.  I was using a fork but then discovered a large serving spoon nearby.  I could double the volume with this glorious instrument.  So I did.

I soon hear giggling to my right, it’s the staff watching me eat.  I notice that even the cook came out.  There I sat, my mouth stuffed completely full, oblivious to the world, a huge spoon in my right hand and a fork in my left (apparently I forgot to put it down) stuffing my face like a pelican and still finding room for the bread, while slurping down the tea.  It was THAT good.  The cook said something in “Indian”, most likely warning the staff to not get too close.  The waiter then cautiously approached asking if I was “OK”.  My mouth was too full to answer, so I mumbled out “Pepsi” and tried to smile which I’m sure only made it worse.  I then quickly finished and was scraping the shine off the plate when I was complimented by the waiter who said “normally this will feed two people”.  I surveyed the damage in front of me, they would need a new table-cloth and a vacuum.

In my defense, the “crud” I caught recently in Vietnam, had taken 6 pounds of my normal 162, so I was trying to efficiently maximize my dietary intake and also Lilly wasn’t there to supervise, so it’s her fault.

Gem of India makes a scary good Chicken Tikka Masala and when they let me come back, I’ll be enjoying it again.  If you’re traveling through Springfield, Gem of India is well worth the visit.  Remember to use your Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x Points) to pay the bill.  Gem of India, 211 W Battlefield Street, Springfield MO.


Business Class, Clearly They’ll Let Anyone In

In the past, as I would board a plane, I wondered how the 1st/Business Class flyers did it.  These were the Elite and I was jealous.  They just oozed “class”.

As I traveled more and began using Points and Miles to my advantage, I was able to move up from the cattle car to the big leagues.

Now, on a recent trip to Asia, I noticed that I’ve apparently become quite comfortable in Business Class.  Minions, Really!?  I can see United’s billboard ad already; “The New face of the United Airlines Elite Business Class Flyer”. I’m still waiting for their call…


At Least It’s Not A Crockpot, The Conclusion

She arrived at her destination and appears to be fine.  Her new window view looks spectacular compared to the view she had on my dresser.

To quote Dr Seuss:

How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?

35 years has past and that is that…You can read part 1 by going back a few posts and finding the post bearing the same title.  It’s worth the read.

The Lull Between Trips, Ugh

What to do?  I am in a travel “lull”.  Today I was asked about when I would be adding to my blog.  I stared back blankly, that neutered dog look.  I love to write good stories about life and travel but lately, just not feelin it.

It’s rare that I have three weeks without going somewhere, but here I am, doing home maintenance and…gardening.  I’m cleaning gutters, ladders and leafy crap are everywhere.   Having to fight off the urge to wrap that stubborn non-yielding garden hose around my neck and swan dive into the neighbors’ yard during his BBQ time. Now that’s a story.  Clearly it’s time to hit the road!  Off to Alabama soon, Vienna and Salzburg are calling in July (you won’t be able to shut me up then), Tennessee, Florida, Arizona and California later in the year.

The Big Bloggers always seem to find something to add; a retweet or share.  Little bits of helpful stuff we use everyday.  I thought about taking pictures of me walking away from the camera sporting the latest fashion jeans (good luck getting that picture out of your head) or a photo of a two headed lizard eating god-knows-what, both of which make me giggle and both of which are unlikely to appear in my blog.  Quality over quantity.

Anyways, I’m here waiting to be inspired….butterflies and puppy dogs, that’s what’s floating around in the flotsam of my mind.  That’s where I’m at.  Gawd, I need to be in Italy…and soon!

At Least It’s Not A Crock Pot. A Quasi Non-Travel Post.

After class ended, I hurried to the parking lot to meet two of my friends.  As usual they were already there and seemed curious as I walked up carrying a brown paper bag.  “What’s in the bag?”, asked one.  “You wouldn’t believe the class nightmare I just left”, I replied as I opened the bag and took out the musical doll.  They stared and then started laughing hysterically as I told them, detail by detail, what had just happened in Psych.  “Sell it in a garage sale or shove in it the closet”, the other suggested.  Still laughing they got into their cars and left, leaving me standing in a parking lot holding a doll in one hand and a bag in the other.  I remember thinking when I left the class earlier, that this day just couldn’t get any worse.  I was apparently wrong.  This journey was just beginning.

We are all Traveler’s in one sense or another.  Either traveling from point A to point B or traveling through time, living our lives from one day to the next.  We are also students of history, our individual history, as each of us is the product of our life’s unique experiences.  Simply said, we are who we are because of the life we’ve lived, the choices we’ve made and the lessons we have hopefully learned.  As for me, this particular life lesson began 35 years ago and it started with the gift of a well-travelled musical doll.IMG_8138

Psychology, it was my last class of the day.  The teacher, Dr. Waltz asked of us only that we pay attention and participate in class discussions, in exchange for which we would only be given a few written assignments and very little homework.  As a senior in high school and a slacker, this class was perfect and became an immediate favorite.  I could daydream or act interested when it suited me, allowing me to unwind from a hard day of doing as little as possible in my other classes.

It was a large class and the desks were arranged in a square “horseshoe” pattern, which means that no matter where you sat you were staring at a row of people who were staring back at you making it difficult to hide my disinterest.  My incessant doodling was reaching epic proportions as I appeared to be taking notes on the daily discussions.  One day though, in the middle of an intense doodling session, Dr. Waltz threw out a rare assignment which I’m sure was written down only to be later covered by circles and other doodles until it was lost on the page.

As I later learned, the assignment was to give something of intrinsic value, inexpensive in cost, to another student to experience the freedom of “letting go” of something you loved.  He left it wide open and up to us to search ourselves for this “something”.  We had about two weeks to decide.  Somehow names were exchanged and all that was left was to come up with the item.  My exchange partner was Kristine.  I knew very little about her other than that she sat directly across the classroom from me, was always nice and that she was a year behind me in graduating.  After class was over, I forgot about the whole assignment and went about my business thinking of other “more important” things.

About two weeks later, I wandered into class only to learn that an assignment was due today and that it involved the giving of a gift of intrinsic value.  Other students carried bags and boxes of this and that and were busy preparing a speech of some sort as we apparently had to do the exchange in the front of the class explaining to everyone why this “item” meant so much to you.  Panic set in as I had nothing to give.  Kristine had a large paper bag.  I was sick.  I began frantically digging through my wallet and miraculously found a business sized card with the name “Jesus” written in block letters.  The kind of card that played tricks on your eyes as you had to look hard to see the message.  My Mother had given me the card about 2 years before as a reminder to be a good Christian.  It had meaning to me but was far below the “standard” that I needed today.   I quickly concocted an elaborate story around the card which had then elevated its status to that of a precious family heirloom.  It was patently pathetic and I just hoped I could pull this off and in the process not be sent to hell for using the card in this scheme.IMG_8164

I gave my presentation.  I told my story.  I stared at the class, they stared back, clearly unimpressed.  She accepted my card with grace and then it was her turn.  I held my breath.

From a brown paper bag, she brought out a doll.  It was incredibly beautiful and if you turned her on her pedestal, she played music; Around the World in 80 Days.  The doll was clearly aged but well cared for and Kristine held her gently as she passionately told her story.  The doll had been given to her by her Great Aunt when her (the Great Aunt’s) Mother had passed away.  She (Kristine) was very young when she received this treasured gift and that at that time, things were very hard for her and her family.  Throughout this difficult time though she had this doll which represented both beauty and grace and she cherished it dearly.  It was a true family heirloom….and now she was giving it to me.

I’m going to be sick, I remember thinking, as I prayed for an earthquake, Tsunami or the Biblical end of times, anything to save me from this moment.  I wasn’t going to hell, they had refused and were holding a special meeting to find somewhere worse to put me.  I held the doll gently and returned to my desk, refusing to look up.  She returned to her desk with my card in her hand.  The class continued until the last gift was exchanged and then mercifully, it ended and I left as fast as I could.

That was in California and it was 1982.  Never in my life had I been so crushed as I was that day.  The guilt was overwhelming.  I talked to Kristine once over the next few weeks and tried to give the doll back, but she refused so I assured her that I would take care of her precious gift and asked her to write a note describing the dolls history, which she did.  Quietly, I promised myself that someday I would return the doll to her.  The semester ended, I graduated and time moved on.  I never heard from Kristine again and true to form, lost the note.

The doll became a part of my room, always being somewhere visible.  I remember being glad that it wasn’t an old crockpot or a gaudy painting.  I guess it really wouldn’t have mattered as long as the back-story was the same.  For many years, she has been on top of my dresser protected in a plastic display case.  My Children have all grown up with her.  I’ve told them the story which I’m sure has been long forgotten.  They just know her as “Dad’s doll” and know that she is not to be played with.  Over the years, we have moved many times locally and then to another state and in each new house, she has always been placed somewhere close to me, reminding me to be a better person and of the unselfish sacrifice Kristine had made.  Whether I’ve learned the lesson or not, can only be answered by those who know me, but she keeps reminding me to try.

35 years have now gone by and she hasn’t changed, still in her case, still able to play music.  It’s amazing how much time has passed and how far we have traveled since that awful  day.   I’ve started to feel different as I look at her.  It’s time to keep the promise I had made and return her to Kristine and her family.  35 years is long enough.

In April of this year I finally found Kristine who seemed shocked that I still had the doll.  We exchanged thoughts on how the musical doll had affected our lives.   She obviously had no idea of what I had done at the time and didn’t even remember the card I had given her. Kristine graciously agreed to take back the gift that she gave to me so long ago.  The doll was packaged carefully and has been shipped back to her.  I am grateful that she didn’t remember how awful I was and pleased that I actually did keep my promise.  It was difficult to say goodbye to such a precious gift that I held for so long a time.  I now have an empty spot on my dresser, perhaps I’ll try and find an old bowling trophy or some other meaningless trinket to fill the space.  Ultimately it really doesn’t matter what is placed there,  I’m sure that I’ll still see the beautiful musical doll reminding me of the girl who had the courage to give up something she cherished and loved to demonstrate the ability to “let go”.





Del’s Barber Shop, 53 (ish) Years and Counting. A Ventura California Landmark

In 1955, Del Corona became a licensed Barber.  In 1964 he became the owner of an iconic Barber Shop that, even today, still bears his name.  Located in Ventura California’s west side, an area colloquially known as “the Avenue”, Del, now 82, continues to provide excellent haircuts to many local residents as well as others who drive hours for a half- hour of his time.  I grew up here, I grew up with Del.

In 1973, my Mother dragged me kicking and screaming into Del’s Barber shop.  I didn’t want my hair cut and not by Del, especially.  We had just moved here and I wanted my hair cut by the other guy in the other city who I was used too.  But here I was.  Del was soft spoken but firm, I wasn’t leaving there without a haircut and that was that.  I grew to admire Del.  He never pulled a punch regarding advice or an opinion and you had to respect his impeccably groomed hair.

Del cut my hair from 1973 to 1991.  That’s 18 years.  During that time, one time, I got impatient and let another Barber cut it.  It was bad.  I was then forced to schlep my way back into Del’s where I then confessed to him my horrible sin.  Del looked at me, I imagine annoyed and disappointed, but still graciously fixed the mess on my head and sent me on my way.  When my son was about 8 months old, it was Del who gave him his first haircut.  With the exception of a stint in Army basic training, no one touched my “Do” until I moved to another state in 1991.

I’ve missed Del and have never built a relationship with another Barber that lasted longer than 3-4 years as they seem to be quite a transient lot.

I stopped by Del’s on a recent trip to Ventura and found that he was still there, in the same place cutting hair at 82.  He looked great, still taller than me, his black hair now gray but still perfectly groomed.  Del stared at me for a moment and then called me by name and asked about my Mother.  It had been 26 years since I had last walked through his door.  Del graced me with a photo and we parted ways as he had customers lining up.  I was jealous, I wondered if they knew how lucky they were…