A Travellerspoint blog

November 2006

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Atlantic City

New York City, New York and Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA

rain 5 °C
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This weekend was the USA Thanksgiving Day weekend. Thanksgiving, for my non-North American readers, is a day to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. As far as I know, there are only two countries that have such a holiday, Canada and the USA. Canada celebrates there Thanksgiving in mid-October (due to the more northerly longitude meaning an earlier harvest), and the USA (with more southern climes) celebrates in late November. Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the Thursday, and traditionally take of the Friday as well, making for a 4 day long weekend.

The Thanksgiving weekend in the USA is one of the busiest travel periods of the year, when millions of Americans get in planes, on trains, on buses or in cars to travel to have family dinners at Grandma’s house. It’s an awful time to be in an airport, and so I decided to skip my usual flight home to Toronto for the weekend, and instead spend the weekend down in New York and New Jersey.

Spending Thanksgiving in New York meant I also had the opportunity to see an American tradition live and in person – the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade was started in 1920 by Macy’s department store to herald the arrival of Santa Claus to the store. As a Canadian, I want to point out here that the Macy’s Parade, while potentially more famous, was in fact inspired by the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, which was started in 1905 and is still one of the largest Santa Claus parades in the world.

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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Celebrating Turkey and Football

There is something that sets the Macy’s parade apart, besides for the international media coverage, and that’s the giant balloons. In 1927 a Felix the Cat balloon was introduced into the parade, and soon the tradition grew to include many balloons.

On Wednesday night I headed up to the west side of Central Park to see the balloons being inflated. This was an opportunity to see the balloons tethered to the ground, in the event that there weren’t flying the next day. Winds were projected to be high on Thursday morning, and for safety reasons the balloons might have to be cancelled to ensure no injuries. In 1997 a woman was seriously injured after the Cat in The Hat balloon hit a lamp post, knocking it into her.

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Scooby Doobie Doo, where are you? Oh, there you are

The next morning I got up and went to the parade itself. The weather was awful, rainy and cold and windy. The balloons were flying, but as a consequence of the winds, they were kept at a lower altitude than usual. I arrived somewhat late, so I had to try and take pictures through the crowds. Luckily, I found a place by the end of the parade where they were deflating the balloons, and I got some good shots there.

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The inexplicably French Monsieur Tete de Pomme de Terre

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Look, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no… it’s Super Grover!

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A certain square panted individual

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My Personal favorite, Dora, because she is an explorer!

Overall, I’m glad I went to the parade, but I probably won’t bother going again. Parades are generally pretty boring, and there’s a LOT of people around.

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Some participants try and weave through the crowds after completing their duties in the parade

After spending Thursday night in New York, I got in the car and headed down to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Atlantic City is a resort town 2 and half hours south of New York City. It’s always been a resort community due to it’s proximity to Philadelphia and New York City. On June 2, 1977, Brendan Byrne, governor of New Jersey, signed a law allowing casino gambling in Atlantic City, and New Jersey became the second state in the USA to allow gambling. There are a number of casinos along the famous boardwalk, and some newer ones have been popping up on the other side of town as well.

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Casinos

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Casinos

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Casinos

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Atlantic City’s boardwalk

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Atlantic City’s boardwalk

Atlantic City has never quite taken on the stature of Las Vegas. Las Vegas was the first and has always been the more popular gambling destination. The place also doesn’t have the same crazy, all out sin city atmosphere that Vegas has. It still has lots of sin, but it seems more muted. The casinos are noisy, but outside of the casinos seems quiet. There isn’t the same amount of sex on sale, either. The massage parlours are there, but there aren’t any people handing out escort service flyers on the streets.

I tried to come up with some potential explanations. It could be that it’s because Vegas was first, or perhaps because of Vegas’ criminal past. Perhaps it is because people in general have to fly to Vegas, whereas most people coming to Atlantic City drive or take a bus. They aren’t away, and thus don’t feel the same sense of being able to let go and be away.

My favorite theory, though, is that the sea is calming. Most of the casinos are along the boardwalk, and people walk between them along the ocean side. There is something calming and peaceful in hearing the surf crashing on the beach, feeling the sun on your face and smelling the salty air.

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Me on the beach

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Beach shots

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Beach shots

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Beach shots

Atlantic City, in addition to gambling, is also famous for it’s salt water taffy, a sticky sweet treat that comes in bite-sized chewy pieces. If you head down to AC, be sure to try some.

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Taffy shop – one of many along the boardwalk

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Piece of salt water taffy, this one flavoured like sour apple.

Most people will have a passing familiarity to the street names in Atlantic City, as it was featured as all the properties in the original Monopoly game (though recent versions have used other properties, and the UK has for a long time had a London based version of the game).

I was staying in a hotel on Pacific Avenue, which was considerably less than the $1275 rent for landing on the Monopoly square for Pacific Avenue with a hotel on it. The two most expensive properties on the Monopoly board were the Boardwalk and Park Place.

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Park Place is in fact a very desirable location. So desirable that the street barely even exists anymore, as the Bally’s hotel is built overtop of it and it has become mainly an entrance to the Bally’s Parking garage. A hotel built, literally, on the street.

Ironically, there was a Santa Claus parade in Atlantic City when I was there. With just one float (carrying the fat red-suited man himself) and one band, it was much smaller than the Macy’s parade I had seen two days earlier. It was, though, much nicer weather. And no crowds!

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Merry One Month to Christmas everybody!

Posted by GregW 19:21 Archived in USA Tagged events Comments (0)

EWR is NOT One of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Reflecting on the new 7 Wonders of the World in Newark, New Jersey, USA

rain 10 °C
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“I LOVE NEWARK AIRPORT!” Those are the first words out of my mouth as I wander into the United Airlines Red Carpet Lounge in Terminal A of Liberty International Airport, also known as EWR, also known as Newark, New Jersey, USA. The words are dripping with sarcasm.

It has not been the best of weeks for me. I am working, literally, in MON, New Jersey. MON is an acronym I just made up this week, which stands for Middle of Nowhere. It is a much more polite way of saying that I am surrounded by farmers’ fields and dense forest than the usual saying I use, which people who are familiar with the type of terrain that the phrase “squeal like a pig” was uttered in during the movie Deliverance will understand.

It’s a very, very strange area I am in. I have talked, I thought, quite lovingly about my time in New Jersey up in Rutherford in previous blog entries. Rutherford is a quiet suburban existence, close to New York City, similar to the place where I grew up outside of Toronto.

My new client in New Jersey, though, is located in space not at all like Rutherford, which isn’t to imply that I am in some rural backwater with nothing but sheep, cows and the occasionally tractor. In fact, Basking Ridge, New Jersey, where I find myself now, is probably as crowded and dense as Rutherford. However, it’s obvious that Basking Ridge used to be a rural area that has grown, rather ineloquently into its role of suburb of New York City.

On my way from my hotel, a nice Marriott off highway 78, to the client site, which is a massive complex beautifully designed by famed architect I.M Pei, I drive along twisty country roads and wide-open highways. The twisty country roads, though, are lined with large suburban houses. There are no sidewalks and no street lamps, as one might expect in the suburbs, just large, expensive houses along two-lane blacktops. The hourses are spaced not even 100 feet apart, and so traffic along these country lanes, built for occasionally tractor and pickup traffic, is bumper to bumper. In my two weeks down in Basking Ridge, I have seen many a dead deer lying by the side of the road, mowed down in a vain attempt to cross the street through the constant stream of traffic.

Once I get on the highway, the traffic is a crawl. There is nothing on either side of the highway but empty forest and farmland, and exits are spaced four to six miles apart. I finally reach the client site, and spend my entire day there, as there is nowhere to go to grab a coffee or a quick lunch other than the cafeteria on site.

I was thinking to myself, as I was driving from the client site to Newark airport on Thursday how much I miss working in a city, where I can pop out for lunch and have a million choices, where I can get by without having a car, where I can find dinner that doesn’t involve a 15 mile drive to a decent restaurant.

My mood does not improve as I arrive at the airport and find that my flight has been delayed 2 hours. Newark airport is one of three airports in the New York City area, which is the busiest air space in the United States. All three airports (JFK and La Guardia being the other two) suffer from chronic delays, even when the weather is good. Today, the weather is bad, and so the delays are even worse. I find myself with a lot of time to kill and Elite status in the Star Alliance network of airlines, which includes both Air Canada (which does not have a lounge at Newark) and United Airlines (which has the Red Carpet Lounge at Newark), so I head into the Red Carpet Lounge for a drink, a comfortable seat and a few slices of cheese.

I sit at the bar and try and work on the Suduko in the USA Today, but kind it hard to concentrate because the TV, tuned to CNN, keeps showing those ads in Australia’s so where the bloody hell are you? campaign. The ones with the beautiful shots of Australia’s coastlines and outback and charming, tanned beauties in bikinis. I look outside at the grey tarmac of Newark Airport, and watch the cold rain splatter on the pavement. Makes me wish I was somewhere else instead.

I finish the Sukudo, and flip through the USA Today’s Life Section. The USA Today and ABC’s Good Morning America are revealing the new 7 wonders of the world. Today’s entry is Chichen Itza in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Chichen Itza was one of the major cities of the Mayan Empire. The Mayan civilization flourished in the area we now know as Central America from about 250 A.D. until a mysterious collapse in the 8th and 9th centuries. Chichen Itza survived as a major centre even after the collapse of the Mayan empire, but by the 13th century, the city was abandoned and left to become overgrown by the jungle.

The Mayan people didn’t disappear. They still exist in Mexico and Central America today. They just gave up on city living and decided to return to farming. The reason for the Mayan civilization collapse is debated, and many possible explanations exist, including warfare, famine, environment collapse and disease.

As I am sitting in Newark Airport, I come up with my own theory, which I call urban exhaustion. The Mayan people, living in big cities like Chichen Itza, sitting around in the cartport, waiting for a cart to take them to Tulum that had been delayed 2 hours, and finally just said, “that’s it, I deserve better than this!” They walked away from the cities, and its traffic jams of llamas and carts, and decided for a more rural existence. I must admit that it’s an attractive suggestion, walking away from this stressful urban life of travel, trading in my laptop for plowshares.

I’ve been to Chichen Itza, back in February of 2000. It was my first trip outside of either Canada or the USA, to an all inclusive resort in Cancun (Cancun, woo-hoo!). The day trip to Chichen Itza was a quick break in what was otherwise an all-inclusive drinkfest. It’s strange to think that only 6 years ago I hadn’t really been anywhere.

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I’m not sure if you, dear reader, has been to Chichen Itza, but it probably wouldn’t surprise me if you had. It is very close to the resorts of Cancun, and is a very popular day trip for Cancun tourists. Even if you haven’t been to Chichen Itza, fear not, for I know that one of the new seven wonders of the world you HAVE been to.

One of the other new wonders (the one announced today, Friday, November 17) I’ve been to as well, the Serengeti in Tanzania.

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There’s four wonders on the list where I haven’t travelled. Those are:

Now, observant readers or those good at math will notice that I’ve only listed 6 wonders so far. That is because, my friends, I promised that I know you have been to one of the new wonders of the world. The 7th wonder of the world is MY BLOG! Okay, maybe not my blog specifically, but the Internet, which contains my blog. So welcome to one of the 7 wonders of the world.

I must admit, choosing the Internet as a wonder of the world seems a touch of a cop-out to me. It is not a physical place, but rather a concept. It would be like picking agriculture as a wonder of the world. Sure, without agriculture we’d still all be hunting and gathering, eating berries and getting attacked by elephants and squatting in dirty, muddy huts, which means agriculture is important. So perhaps agriculture is one of the world’s greatest concepts. But it’s no hanging gardens of Babylon.

Anyway, I suppose it is ABC’s and USA Today’s game, so they can set the rules.

Sorry for the cranky and whiny entry. I’ve just in a bad mood because of the flight delays and itchy hotel sheets. I shouldn’t complain too much, really, because next week is the USA Thanksgiving holiday, which means I have a 3-day week to look forward to, and because I will be in the area of New York City on the Thursday of Thanksgiving, I have an adventure ahead of me. As a teaser, let me just say, “Balloons. Big, big Balloons.”

Posted by GregW 06:30 Archived in USA Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

An Ode to My Little Green Bag

The importance of travel gear to the business traveller

sunny 2 °C
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I haven’t written much in the blog lately, because I haven’t been travelling. My last entry ended with me running through a sun-shower in New Jersey. Three days later, I was on a plane from Newark back to Toronto, and have spent the last 5 weeks here at home in Toronto.

My time at home ends on Monday, when I get back on a plane for a new project. Ah, yes, a new project means a fun new location! So where, you are asking, am I off to next. What exotic location? Dallas? London? Dubai? Sydney?

Nope. New Jersey.

Back to New Jersey, though a different client and a different location in the state (though still within 30 minutes of Newark airport). It’s just an 8 week project, but if things go well, I could be heading back to New Jersey for the next year. Hmmm, the glamour of this job has not been evident as of late. I miss last year, with it’s San Francisco and Paris trips.

While I haven’t been travelling the last 5 weeks, I have been thinking of travelling, because I have spent much of this time shopping for travel gear. Gear is very important in travel, as you spend much of your time lugging it around. I still haven’t managed to quite get the hang of leisure trip packing, and always seem to end up carrying around 5 shirts and 3 pairs of pants that I never end up wearing, but I have business travel down to a science. I can pack for a business trip in about 3 minutes, fit everything in the carry-on space on an airplane and travel with only what I really need.

I bought some business casual slacks to replace the pairs that have holes in the pockets and frayed cuffs. I threw out a few pairs of black dress socks with holes in the heels and toes, and bought some new pairs. Replacing and updating the wardrobe is pretty standard stuff, though. I’ve been forced into a few big purchases as some of my bigger travel gear has worn out or disappeared.

First was my watch. In 2000, I bought a nice Citizen Eco-Drive watch in Denver for around $US 250. It was a manly watch with a metallic band and a blue face. It was water resistant up to 200 metres, though I always figured if I was 200 m under the water, my biggest problem wouldn’t be what time it was. Most interestingly, it was solar powered. Unlike the digital watches that were very popular when I was kid, this one had no stupid solar panel and could hold a charge for up to 60 days. The only problem I would have is every year in mid-December the watch would stop because I’d had it hidden under long-sleeves for the past three months without any sun, and I would always forget to leave it out in the sun to charge. But one sunny afternoon, and the watch would be charged again and I wouldn’t have any trouble with it.

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What time is it? A freckle past a hair!

A few weeks ago, in what can be attributed to either a broken band, a light-fingered thief or drunken misplacement, my watch went missing, and after a week of searching, I have not been able to find it anywhere. So I’ve been shopping around to try and find a replacement. Unfortunately, it appears that the specific model I owned is no longer available, and none of the other watches look JUST LIKE IT. I am coming to grips with the fact that I will have to buy a watch that doesn’t look like my old one, but it’s a tough uphill climb.

I also bought a couple pairs of work shoes. Back in 2004, I was training for my Kilimanjaro climb, and would walk to and from work every day, about an hour and a quarter walk each way. Because I was going to work, I would wear my work shoes. After my climb, I continued to walk to and from work out of habit more than anything else. In April of 2005, I woke up one morning with an incredible pain in my right foot. I went to the doctor, and he said that I have Metatarsalgia, an inflammation of the balls of the feet that comes from over-use, especially if one is wearing shoes without adequate arch support.

So, after some extensive research, I went out and bought a couple pairs of shoes, both well known for their comfort and support, a pair of Eccos and a pair of Rockports. The Rockports are a bit more dressy, the Eccos a bit more casual. I’m in the process of breaking them both in, and both seem pretty decent so far. It’ll be nice to have a pair of business shoes I can walk in, as it will save me from having to lug an extra pair of shoes in my luggage. As I said, the lighter the luggage, the better off you are.

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New shoes!

I also bought a 19 inch roller-bag last week, a $60 Eddie Bauer bag (regularly $120). It’s nice, though seems a big tippy when the handle is fully extended, and the colour isn’t as bright as I would have liked. Of course, I was inclined not to like the bag too much right from the start, as it is replacing a very old friend.

In 1997, when I first started travelling, I bought myself a 19 inch bright green Jaguar roller bag. While I have all manner of luggage, from suit bags to backpacks to duffle bags that could easily hold 2 dead bodies, my little green bag was my most common travel companion. It’s probably travelled close to a quarter of a million miles with me, most often sharing the overhead space of the airplanes I was on, but sometimes relegated to the luggage hold (especially recently, when liquids were banned on flights). In addition to it’s duties as a transporter of my clothes, it’s served as a camera tripod, foot rest, door stopper and dinner table.

Over time, though, it's started to fall apart. The front zipper is broken, the main zipper sticks, the foot on the bottom is barely holding on, the bag tips over all the time, the handle is almost falling off and the fabric is frayed and thining.

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My little green bag (retired) on the left, my new bag on the right

I’m a little surprised that I have become so attached to my little green bag. Unlike other members of my family (you know who you are), I am not usually a pack rat and things usually go into the garbage pretty quickly once their usefulness is through. The old pairs of pants, socks and shoes have gone in the garbage already, replaced by their newly bought counterparts, but I haven’t managed to throw out the little green bag yet. I will, probably this weekend.

Before I did, though, I felt that my little green bag deserved to be remembered somehow. So I present this blog entry, as a goodbye to an old friend and travel companion. I shall miss you, my little green bag.

Ode To My Little Green Bag

Green and small, with wheels black.
A handy-dandy travel pack.
Full of clothes and toiletries,
like deodorant made by Degree.

You fit so nicely in the overhead
it makes me happy not check a bag instead.
You'll even fit underneath the seat
in a pinch, ain't that neat!

Kermit the Frog upon green did sling
the insult that it was like so many things.
And yet when I had to check, you were easy to find.
A green bag stands out against the other kinds.

So many bags of black complexion,
How could green not grab my affection?
Green with envy were the other flyers
as they saw the bag of their desires!

Green is the color associated with rookie players
But you quickly gained experience to quiet the naysayers
You travelled far and traveled wide
and soon became filled with pride.

But all of us age and grow tired
and soon you were dead and expired
and I say goodbye, my little green bag
travelling without you will be a drag.

- the end.

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Lookin' back on the track for a little green bag,
Got to find just the kind or I'm losin' my mind

Out of sight in the night out of sight in the day,
Lookin' back on the track gonna do it my way.

- Little Green Bag, George Baker Selection

Posted by GregW 07:32 Archived in Canada Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

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