Destination America

August 3, 2008

Summer is winding down, but there’s still some time left to take that vacation you’ve been putting off. Things have intervened—work, school, relationships, selecting a vice presidential candidate—but everyone needs to take some time away from their everyday lives to maintain their sanity.

There are a lot of popular destinations within the United States to travel to. Here are some of the more popular places for you to go to blow off some of that well-earned steam:

Orlando, Florida

What’s There: Disney World, Universal Studios, and more alligators, handguns, and cocaine than you ever thought humanly possible
Why You Should Definitely Go: If you have never been to Disney World you are officially a communist.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: After spending ten dollars on a plastic souvenir cup of 90% ice and 10% unidentifiable sugar water, you’re probably going to become a communist.

Las Vegas, Nevada
What’s There: There are a few casinos there, but it’s mostly a vast, sticky morass of vice and debauchery.
Why You Should Definitely Go: It is a vast, sticky morass of vice and debauchery.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: There is a small chance that some of your time spent in Las Vegas will not involve gambling, eating unhealthy food, waking up in a pool of your own vomit, ingesting illegally obtained prescription drugs, or a final trip to the free clinic on your way to the airport. Also, your chances of getting your skull cracked open by a mafia goon increase approximately infinity percent once you enter the city limits.

Atlantic City, New Jersey

What’s There: It’s basically Las Vegas, but for losers.
Why You Should Definitely Go: Atlantic City is great if you are too old, broke, or too much of a pussy to go to Vegas. Also, you get to see all of the Monopoly streets, which means you’ll spend about three hours of your life being bored until someone finally says it’s time to go to bed and flips the board over when the winner disagrees.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You have any dignity. Also, it’s in New Jersey, which is enough of a gamble in and of itself.

Niagara Falls, New York/Canada
What’s There: A huge waterfall, and more overpriced kitsch than at a Beverly Hills bris
Why You Should Definitely Go: It’s kind of awesome. And there’s a small chance some idiot in a barrel will kill themselves, and that’s never a bad thing.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You have to deal with a boatload of oddly-shaped currency that you’ll bring home and not be able to spend.

Hollywood, California
What’s There: About twenty photographers and four thousand waiters wanting to be actors for every actual actor.
Why You Should Definitely Go: The glamour, glitter, and bright lights of the motion picture industry. Also, a massive amount of low self-esteem and heroin.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You will leave without a soul.

Grand Canyon, Arizona or possibly Colorado
What’s There: Nothing. Quite literally. I mean, seriously, you’re basically looking at what isn’t there. Doesn’t anyone else but me find that a little bit creepy?
Why You Should Definitely Go: Donkey rides.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You’re most likely going to run into a bunch of eco-tourists who are fueling their vacation via their own sense of self-importance, or a messy collection of fat vacationers emptying their RV’s septic system in one of the natural wonders of the world. Either way, you’re going to hate them.

Some Random Beach in Maryland or one of the Carolinas
What’s There: Fat people in speedos and old people in stuff that was out of date when the Kaiser was eating Gerber’s Sauerkraut. You will not see any hot women.
Why You Should Definitely Go: Beaches are fun, in that “please kill me now” kind of way.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: Horseshoe crabs are kind of icky. Also, hypodermic needles, sand collecting in rather unfortunate places, and the possibility of vacationing in the South or, worse, Maryland.

The French Quarter, Louisiana
What’s There: Ever been to Vegas? This is Vegas without laws.
Why You Should Definitely Go: If you have already contracted all known STDs and therefore don’t have a whole lot to lose.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You will leave Louisiana either being an ordained voodoo priest, requiring an AA sponsor, or becoming a libertarian.

Mount Rushmore
What’s There: An absolutely huge sculpture of our most influential Presidents, and about what I estimate to be about six billion novelty T-shirts showing the other side of the mountain, complete with the bare asses of our esteemed Founding Fathers. God bless America!
Why You Should Definitely Go: You want to see the world’s largest and most expensive fanboy project. I mean, besides the Phantom Menace.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You don’t feel like being depressed over the fact that, if the sculpture were remade, it’s extraordinarily doubtful any new Presidents would be added.

The Alamo
What’s There: A world conceived exclusively within the admittedly creative imagination of Texans.
Why You Should Definitely Go: Every other state in the union is closed for renovation.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You are anyone else besides a Texan.

Cruise Patrol

November 25, 2007

Now, by nature, I have a very adventurous desire to go a lot of foreign and exotic places, such as going to get my driver’s license renewed. I would love, for instance, to see the aurora borealis, which I suspect could possibly be cooler in person that on my Windows screensaver. However, I also have a burning desire of not pissing away money on things I could conceivably do when I’m retired and inflation has ravaged all my savings away so I might as well hitch it to the North Pole to evade the tax authorities and soak in the local flavor, and also see if I can get a decent price for the trip via my future robot travel agent.

But cruises never struck me as a particularly interesting method of transportation. To me, they’re just self-contained petri dishes of stomach flu and chlamydia, isolated from any form of vaccine or Coast Guard by design. I’ve been told otherwise, but I picture cruise ships as being one big lobster buffet with baccarat and Mrs. Robinsons defiling the sanctity of youth and, eventually, a murder mystery involving an antique revolver and a gramophone.

In a way, the cruise ship is ingenious. Going on vacation is fun, but the transportation to get there sure isn’t. You can either travel by car, which involves the suffering heat, sweltering boredom, and the dull hum of the highway as you drive to the bank to cash in your savings bonds to pay for the gasoline. Or you can go by plane, assuming that the Terrorist Threat Level is lower than “Don’t go any place where they eat lamb.” Or if both you and your destination happen to be in a congressional district influential enough to have a train, you can do that, too, as long as you enjoy quietly riding in the physical manifestation of the color gray and have no self-esteem.

But cruise ships—well, there you go. Not only is your arrival going to kick off the fun, the transportation is equally fun. By taking the down time you would normally spend reading billboards or ignoring that loud old bat sitting two rows behind you who WON’T SHUT UP about her no-good son-in-law and converting it into an all-night party, cruise lines have tapped a lucrative and creative market for vacationing individuals. It’s maximizing the fun potential of the entire trip, provided that you have no problem with the off chance that someone on board is extraordinarily happy that extradition treaties have no force of law in international waters.

Of course, things change when there is a chance that you will hit a freaking iceberg. Which, of course, recently happened to an unsuspecting boat about a week ago or so. The cruise line in question specializes in “extreme” destinations, such as the Amazon and Detroit—in this case, they went to Antarctica, a place not generally known to be highly rated by AAA. Even more puzzling is that the cruise originated in Canada—and here, I assumed they would want to get away from a Canadian-like environment. Though I suspect there are a lot less fussing about with dollar parity in Antarctica.

The ship itself was built in 1969, which, for me seems like an eternity in Cruise Ship World. If I’m going to be ramrodding it to a desolate area even scientists are afraid to go, I want to make sure it’s something that wasn’t built before Kissinger was. I can only assume the thing was lime green and ran on kerosene and still had the Led Zep II 8-track stuck in the stereo.

The captain of the rescue boat helpfully and amusingly stated that Antarctica is the “windiest” continent, that particular adjective being the one for him that sticks out as notable, I guess. I would have assumed “darkly treacherous,” “desperately isolated,” and “suicidally dangerous” would be more apt, but, then again, I’m not the captain of a Patagonian rescue boat.

Though, to be fair, the Antarctic is a lot more violent than I assumed. Certainly, I wasn’t going to nominate it as the next location of the house-of-cards-building exhibition, but I kind of assumed all of those end-of-the-world locates were kind of all eerie and spiritual with their stillness. Turns out it’s actually a grade-A class one menstrual cycle tempest in a teapot down there, and it was equal doses good fortune and miraculous luck that the place wasn’t wound up like a four-year-old after a nutritious breakfast of Oreo cookies and raw sugar cane.

Thankfully, everyone involved is safe and rescued, despite the fact that both the Chilean Air Force and Argentine rescue teams were involved. (Not to slight the Chilean and Argentine forces, mind you, it’s just they’re usually rescuing copper mine executives from rioting miners and extraditing tinpot dictators, not actually throwing inflatable rubber rafts out of helicopters.) I’m sure some of the passengers on the cruise were excited about the crash—they were going to Antarctica, after all, and certainly weren’t expecting to lay around playing Magic: The Gathering and watch Air Bud: Golden Receiver the whole trip. But one has to assume that the next trip most of these individuals will desire somewhere that will be less wet, less cold, and less of a change to capsize after hitting an iceberg. Like, for instance, their den.

Canadian Lament

May 23, 2007

It had been quite some time since I was in Canada. To be fair, even those times in my childhood when I had ventured into the Great White North, it was no further than Niagara Falls. No offense to the folks at the National Parks Bureau or the Cheap Plastic Bottles Of Water Supposedly Filled From The Raging Waters And Charge A Sawbuck For The Damn Things Retailers Association, but saying that Niagara represents the Canadian spirit is like saying you’ve experienced the isles of ancient Greece by getting Combo #2 at the Gyro Hut down at the strip mall.

So during my much-needed but as-yet blissfully wasted vacation, I decided to visit Canada for a short trip to meet a friend. A trip to Canada is not one to be taken lightly. Due to the events of September 11th, of course, traveling from Canada to the United States, and vice versa, is the equivalent of Defcon Five. Visiting the AAA educated me to the fact that I (or, more accurately, my mother) would have to rifle through what I estimate to be six million cardboard boxes in our attic to find my birth certificate and cross my fingers, knock on wood, and chant the name of Tom Cruise’s agent that it had the divine Raised Seal on it. Thankfully, it did, and so my ticket to the frozen paradise was assured, assuming that a disgruntled Al Quaeda nutjob didn’t hijack a moose and toss a pipe bomb on the ice at Game Five of the Sens-Sabres game.

I decided that it was also time to invest in a passport. I didn’t really feel the need to have one up to this point; the only time I was going to go to any other foreign country besides Canada was the one time I almost hitched a boat to Bombay when it seemed my Dell computer was threatening to not be shipped out in an appropriately timely manner. Unfortunately, I found out that passports are to be personally inspected by the conjured dead ghost of Dean Rusk, since it costs approximately two month’s salary and takes about three presidential terms to arrive. Needless to say, the passport application sits contentedly on my desk, staring balefully at me, knowing that some day I’ll get the urge to book a trip to, say, Austria in three months and then who is going to be sorry, huh?

Driving to Canada, of course, was a chore unparalleled, unequaled no doubt since the days of Sieur de La Salle. There are four highways, all interchangeable, that are required in order to get to the Toronto area. They all have the same droning pitch that lulls you to sleep, the same food court amphitheaters with the same Sbarro pizza and KFC/Pizza Hut shops, and the same lack of adequate bathroom facilities if one discounts particularly hardy scrubgrass as cover. About the only thing to differentiate these highways is the fact that if you’re unfortunate enough to be using the T9 text entry mode on your cell phone, the Queen Elizabeth Way, conveniently abbreviated to QEW, also spells out SEX, which can create some highly amusing communications for those of us who are foolishly paying more attention to driving than typing.

Many people will tell you that, all things considered, America and Canada share enough cultural influence that it’s not all that different. To me, it’s comfortingly familiar yet exhilaratingly different. It’s like the entire nation is on Daylights Savings Time and no one has told me. They export comedians and decent beer and we send them ugly chain restaurants. That said, the culture shock is more than social, it’s mathematic. I can’t imagine the shock and amusement I provided to my fellow North Americans with the following exchange:

Canadian: So, are you cold up here?
Me: Nah, when I left Pennsylvania it was like sixty degrees out.
Canadian: Sixty!
[Awkward Pause]
Canadian: Oh, Fahrenheit.

The Metric Question was paramount in every accomplishment I made in Canada, which seemed to pretty much be relegated to irritating store clerks with American money and getting gasoline. The latter, I should point out, is a true-blue DP of a transaction in Canada, because you have to worry about the Liters-to-Gallon ratio as well as the Canadian-to-American-Dollar conversion. I could have been buying fifty gallons of leaded kerosene for a thousand dollars and I doubt I would have realized it.

Of course, this is nothing compared to the Tim Hortons-to-infinity ratio, which I’m pretty sure was close to one. I had always heard stories about how addictive Tim Hortons coffee was, and how there much be some sort of habit-forming additive in the recipe; an obvious elaborate fiction, much like how the makers of Carmex are accused of adding ground-up glass to their jars, crack cocaine is added to frozen Zingers, or how nicotine was surreptitiously added to cigarettes. But, damn, it was good coffee, and I would have gladly also partaken on what probably would have been the single best baked good of my choice had my companion not reminded me that my sugar intake for the trip would have rivaled Violent Beauregarde’s the time that Eastern morning fell on Halloween.

However, my friend also treated me to a breakfast pizza, which I found to be a quintessentially pleasing experience. Now, we certainly have breakfast pizzas in America, but all of the ones that I have managed to eat have garlic sauce and instead of meat have some sort of synthetic pig-related product that is crunchier than the cardboard used as its crust. These are almost exclusively found in horrible gas station kitchens, an insult to the word kitchen, and the occasional two-for-one special down at the hardscrabble convenience store. This breakfast pizza, though, was made with a wonderful red sauce, had real bacon on it, and the best cheese I’ve encountered since the last time I sat through Terms of Endearment. It was a delight, and I know no matter what ingredients I purchase, or what small nearly bankrupt mom-and-pop coffee shops I knock on the door of, I won’t match anything close to what I ate that morning.

One of my favorite things to do in Canada is look at the candy bars. Don’t know why, of course, since you can only rearrange chocolate, nuts, and nougat so many different ways. And yet the Canadians, via what appears to be a monopoly by the Nestle corporation, manage to do it pretty well. There was something called “spongy toffee,” a lie perpetuated by my companion into thinking it was sponge-like in texture, when in reality it was just toffee with a bunch of air bubbles blown into it and hardened to the consistency of a constipated diamond. And Canadians are apparently into bubbles-in-their-confections. I purchased about a half dozen versions of the “Aero” candy bar, which as far as I can tell is pretty much a chocolate bar that someone forgot to turn some random air valve off on when it was being molded into squares. They’re also really into maple, which is as close to a war crime as Ottawa is going to get to.

Traffic has an amusing spin about it, too. I noticed that plenty of roads seemed to have X’s painted on them, and I grew somewhat concerned that there was some metric traffic law I was not complying to. I was then informed that in Canada that simply means that there are railroad tracks ahead. A bit confusing, of course, since in America X’s on a road generally mean that construction crews have removed a bridge about 300 yards hence. There are other rather comical traffic oddities, such as bewildering flashing green arrows and the rule that apparently U-turns can be performed pretty much anywhere without repercussion, an act that in America sends you to Gitmo. There’s also the rather annoying habit of streets being renamed every fifty feet (excuse me, every fifteen and a quarter meters) to some completely unrelated and apparently random, which adds about fifteen unnecessary extra steps on Google Maps directions.

All in all, though, it was great to reconnect with the preferred vacation spot of my childhood. I got to connect with a good friend, experience a culture that is slightly different than my own, and realize just how forgiving the New York State Police are to speeding drivers. Eh?