5 Things I Miss While Traveling

If this was your cat, he’d make your top 5 list, too.

There’s a fool I pity – and that’s the unlucky sucker who is in front of me while boarding my Asiana Airlines flight to Korea. Any slow movers in front of me might wind up with my hoofprints on their backs. And I’ll probably volunteer to herd every other passenger aboard and personally buckle them into their seats so we can take off. Yes, I’m that fired up.

But as excited as I am about my first Asian adventure, I know that there are things I’ll miss. I’ll be fine without them for a few days. But then -- they’ll pop into my mind. And here they are:

The Cat – For the past 10 years, Noir has been my furry little buddy. He is a very vocal, energetic, people-loving character. Not bad for an ill-bred, uncouth, back-alley tomcat! Unlike most cats, he also holds no grudges about my occasional long absence. And props as always to my bandmate and friend Todd, who looks after Noir during my adventures.

It’s hard to fit all these guys in the same frame.

My Band – I’ve been playing music in Hung Dynasty for seven years. The aforementioned cat-sitter Todd was one of the two co-best men at my wedding. The other two guys are just as awesome, as are the former members (Phung, Stacy, Laura, Matt). I love playing my instrument. I like the tunes we play. I thrive on the banter. Playing live music loud and nasty – it’s addictive. I miss it when I’m on the road adventuring.

The Bike – I can ride just about any quality bike and be happy. Bike shorts, shoes, pedals and helmets are another story. I’ve gotta have my own. And they take up a lot of room in a pack. So I forgo the mountain biking when I travel. Unfortunately, I often see people riding and I wind up with a series jones for some saddle time.

Both my AdventureMobiles …

The Mexican Food – Sometimes, I can’t even go straight home from the airport. I have to stop at Le Condesssa and get a quesadilla. And one of its many types of savory salsas – like chipotle, cilantro and even pecan (yes, you read that right). If I’m somewhere like Iceland or the Midwest, the craving gets even more powerful.

The Car – There’s something about my Subaru Forester, my personal Battlestar Galactica. Sitting in the seat, stickshift in-hand -- I just feel at home. I know every noise it makes, every quirk. And I can MacGyver just about anything from the contents of its backseat. It also out-drives just about any car I’ve ever rented -- except the Subaru Impreza I rented in Portland.

Scenes from Chicago in the Summer

If you’re planning to visit Chicago, summer is the best time. Check out the photos and you’ll see a city that comes alive when the weather gets warmer. To be honest, it’s nowhere near my favorite American city. But I still had a decent time. The architecture is very cool, and you can get just about anywhere on-foot with enough time. On the downside, the food is overrated and so is Navy Pier. The public spaces, as you’ll see below, are also first-rate with parks scattered throughout the downtown area.

It's a busy summer evening at Sky Harbor.
The amazing giant chrome bean of Chicago

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Travel-Writing Cliche – “Exploring”

Iceland, hiking, Wandering Justin, Landmannalaugur
Remote, rugged, even dangerous. But not unexplored ... the interior highlands of Iceland.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when my blog reads like some half-baked travel brochure. I’m trying really hard to watch what I say here to guard against it.

One of the sacrifices to the cause: the word "explore."

It’s become a mindless cliche. And I’ll admit I’ve used it carelessly.

Look -- I’ve been to some rugged, remote and super-cool places. But I haven’t explored jack. Every place I’ve been -- someone’s beaten me to it. By a long shot.

So I’ll leave breathless exhortations to "explore our pristine forest preserve" to the silly travel magazines.

And travelers: we do the same thing. We’re a self-aggrandizing lot, we are. We peck at our less-traveled friends, colleagues and relatives. We tell them to take a closer look at the world beyond them. We tell them to ring up some frequent flier miles. And we tell them to "explore." As if they’re going somewhere that doesn’t have electricity and flushing toilets.

I suppose you could argue that people can explore any spot that’s new to them. But damn, that is really weak sauce. It dilutes the mystique of exploration into a thin, lite-beer gruel.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with not being a true explorer. Just ‘cause you’re not first doesn’t mean you’re last (right, Ricky Bobby?). I don’t mind a well-marked hiking trail. A trail with a system of huts with water? Freakin’ bliss. Amenities like that mean someone else got there first.

Look around. Check the world out. Push your limits. But just remember: You’re no explorer.

Why Phoenix Can’t Be More Like Chicago

chicago bean
You'll never see anything like this in Phoenix.

In July, I dropped into Chicago for a four-day visit. Overall, I was underwhelmed. Some cool architecture, yes. But the city marinates in self-importance over its fading foodie scene. The pedestrians, cyclists and drivers are by and large savages. I’d much rather visit Portland, Seattle or Vancouver.

But -- Chicago has some terrific public spaces. I was puzzled. The last few years have been an economic disaster, and we’re only starting to poke through to better times. So where did Chicago get the scrilla to keep its public works projects afloat through lean times?

Through a city sales tax of more than 10 percent.

Interesting. This could never happen here in Arizona, where the city sales taxes hover around 2 percent, give or take depending on the municipality.

An outdoor concert venue - too visionary for small minds.

I’m not upset about not having to shell out another 8 percent per purchase (especially since an intern who’s from Chicago points out that at least half of the Windy City’s sales tax props up graft and corruption).

But you know, a 5 percent sales tax that’s effectively used wouldn’t bother me a bit. The first things I’d like to see? Improved bike lanes, quality city gyms, better parks, functional water fountains along the well-travelled canals, for starters. You know – stuff to make the city more liveable, to make people healthier and more active.

Why can’t this happen here? Because there are too many regressive bomb throwers like Sal DiCiccio, perhaps the most stunted person to ever sit on the dais for the Phoenix City Council.

DiCiccio’s notion of leading is to squawk "cut spending!" like a stuttering parrot. Somehow, I started receiving his "newsletters," which are little more than angsty screeds portraying him as a crusader for the little guy. I never signed up for this; I suspect his staff tapped into city data to find an audience upon which to push his small-time agenda.

Let’s look at some recent subject lines:
Your kids’ milk money pays for raises
Taxpayers misled: Food Tax for pay raises
Your Water Bill: Going UP -- You Can Stop It!
Expected Smears on Reformers
Phoenix can Lead Nation/Unions Stop Jobs
Phoenix Spending ‘ripe for abuse’
Union takeover – Phx City Hall

How sad. Not a single idea for how Phoenix can do more for its residents (nor any idea how to write better than amateurish hack level, but that’s another story). It’s all panicky demonizing and fear mongering. No inspiration, no original thinking. No innovation. DiCiccio equates good governance simply with spending less and taxing less -- and offering fat tax breaks to pet projects in the hope of a fleeting boost in low-paying jobs.

Improving city services? Offering amenities that truly world-class cities enjoy? Forget about it.

Sure, our current tax dollars could go further. Trimming here and there? Never a bad idea. But when that and squalling about unions is all a self-proclaimed leader can do, your city is in bad hands.

I’ve always wondered why Chicagoans who move to Phoenix constantly pine for their former city (well, during the winter months, at least).

Hmm, maybe the answer is the Sal DiCiccio mentality.