Friday, April 24, 2009

Losing Its Luster

I travel a lot for a living. My schedule can have me away from Miami just about every other week, sometimes weekly, for anywhere from 2 to 10 days at a time. As a result, I spend a lot of time in airports and on airplanes.

For the most part, I really enjoy it. Whenever Im traveling I am on the company's dime so its easier for me to save money. In Miami, I need to pay to feed myself and fight the temptation to go out all the time, a battle that I usually lose. I also get to see and experience the sights, sounds, and history of my country. A lot of people have never left their home states. Ive been to 39 of the 50 states in the USA* and hope to knock off a few more later this year. I also get to meet new people from different walks of life which has been an awesome learning experience. The travel perks are another bonus. Ive been on some pretty sweet vacations using my airline miles to get me there and my hotel points to put a roof over my head.

The drawbacks are minimal in quantity though somewhat hefty in quality. Being on the road and living out of a suitcase kinda blows. Its not bad when youre staying in one hotel for a few days at a time because you can unpack and get comfy. Bouncing from hotel to hotel and living out of a suitcase gets tiresome though. Then coming home and having to unpack and do chores before I leave again usually leads to me being lazy and neglecting my condo which sucks cuz Im kind of a neat freak. Also, it seems that I miss out on a lot of cool events with friends because I happen to be out of town when they take place, be it a concert, beach party, or local Miami event.

The fine line has always been flying. I love to fly. I think man inventing the commercial airplane and flying passengers all over the world in a giant hunk of hollowed steel is pretty freakin awesome. Have you ever seen a plane just about to land or after its just taken off? Look at how big those suckers are! Blows my mind. Lately, however, flying has been quite daunting.

I can deal with the nuances of the airport, even Miami International which is by far the worst and most annoying airport in the country. I can deal with the ticket lines, security lines, taking off my shoes, and removing liquids and metals from my persons and baggage. I arrive anywhere between 1.5 and 2 hours early and sit quietly while waiting to board my flight.

What I cant deal with lately is the way airlines have reacted to the economic situation and how it has affected airline passengers who then affect me. With the airline industry hurting, airlines have adopted a policy of making passengers pay for checked baggage. The result - people now cram everything they can into a suitcase, or multiple suitcases, and begin the battle for overhead space. Passengers flock to the boarding area, trying to get on the plane as fast as possible to secure the most overhead space possible. Airlines allow one bag in the overhead but most asshole passengers will throw 2, sometimes 3 up there without the airlines doing anything to stop them. This really pisses me off, mainly because of the lack of consideration shown for fellow flyers. It also delays the boarding/takeoff process because there is always some poor sap that cant find overhead space and then has to have his bag checked planeside. Another thing that drives me nuts as a result of the current economic situation is how airlines have cut routes and now jam pack and oversell flights. Nothing is worse than being on a packed flight. The cabin temperature pre-takeoff gets really warm with all of those bodies in there. Plus, people are so effing inconsiderate its not even funny. I sit in the aisles and get wailed by carry-on luggage as people walk by without even offering an "excuse me" or "sorry".

My last 4 flights have really sucked due to fellow passengers being inconsiderate. First there was the parents who couldnt get their kid to stop kicking my seat to the point where I had to turn around and say, "Dont do that again." The dad finally reacted after ignoring this for 2 straight hours and got the kid to stop. Then there was the kid from India who talked loud NONSTOP for 2 straight hours on an 8am flight to Charlotte. This kid didnt take one goddamn breath. I knew his whole effing life story by the end of the flight which technically qualified me to bludgeon him to death with my luggage because he was that lame. The next flight was warm when we boarded the plane. It was a quick flight from Charlotte to Norfolk in a small plane on a nice spring morning where the air was brisk but the sun was hot. Due to the fact that we weren't moving, the air vents weren't pumping out a lot of cool air. The pilot was clearly trying to fix things but the plane kept losing power and restarting again. The guy behind me thought that if he bitched nonstop like a 2 year old to the flight attendants or pilot or anyone who would listen, that the plane would miraculously be fixed and cool off. This went on for 45 straight minutes before me and the woman next to me started talking very audibly about how much of a baby he was. The last flight was a 6 hour Miami to San Fran nightmare. Sitting in my usual seat 10D on a nonstop 8am American flight, I was feeling good. Id only gotten 3 hours of sleep but I knew I could pass out and get some more shuteye on the plane. Not so fast. I had 2 old geezer women and a big fat momma sitting behind me who made it a point to constantly raise and lower the tray table and yank down on the back of my chair while trying to get out of the row to take a leak. Why think about others' comfort? I maybe got an hour of sleep and now Im in a different timezone trying to stay awake so I will wake up on "normal" time and not be a zombie in my meetings tomorrow.

Its these things that have now got me thinking that the allure of travel is losing its luster. Ive found myself dreading trips that I normally would enjoy just because of the flights involved. Its probably just a phase where Im becoming easily irritated and suppressing it so it all boils over like it has in this rant. Another thing is that I travel so much and try to be considerate of others so I expect it even more. Its a necessary evil that puts money in my pocket so I'll suck it up and deal and hope I get back that "lovin feelin" for flying again. At least it gets me out of Miami for a little bit, a positive that cant be topped.

*In order to qualify as a "visited state", I have to actually do something there (i.e. - eat at a restaurant, go to a tourist spot, etc). Simply driving through or sitting at an airport during a layover does not count.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bourbon & Blues @ Bourbon Steak

This past Wednesday, I headed up to Aventura to check out Bourbon Steak's "Bourbon & Blues" night where they offer 25% off all bourbons, 1/2 price on select cocktails, live blues, and a new bar menu that offers small bites and custom burgers. For a guy like me, anything involving discounted bourbon and live blues is a huge winner but the burger did a good job of adding to the good time.

After sipping a few bourbons and listening to some kickass country style blues from the "Nouveaux Honkies", I decided that I would give their new burger menu a shot. For anywhere from about $12-$18 you have your choice of beef, lamb, falafel, turkey, and/or salmon as the base of your burger. Bacon is an additional $3 and seared foie gras is an additional $18. A fried egg is an additional $2 but, hey, its organic...

Once youre done selecting the base flavor, you are allowed to select up to 6 items to add to the burger from the following catagories: cheese, veggies, greens, and sauces. I went with the beef burger ($14) with bacon ($3), bourbon caramelized onions, pepper jack cheese, shaved jalapenos, mesclun greens, and the "special sauce" that had been recommended to me. The result was a pretty kickass burger with lots of flavor. The combo of the shaved jalapenos and the special sauce was awesome and probably made the burger for me. I loved the crunch of the jalapenos and their heat combined with the flavors of the special sauce. The onions were a nice complement too. The only buzzkill was that they forgot my bacon... The bartender gave me a side and didnt charge me the $3 but it kinda sucked because I ate the bacon AFTER the already killer burger. With bacon added to each bite, Id have been in burger Xanadu. The only complaint outside of the bacon incident would be the bun. Restaurants need to realize that the bun is a key part of the burger and a weak bun base can cause much discomfort. In this case, the bottom of the bun was super hot and kinda moist. Being trained in burger CPR, I knew to flip the burger onto its thicker top bun to let the bottom cool and salvage it. I didnt like having to do that but Ive become accustomed to it.

I also chose to add a trio of duck fat fries to my burger just because it seemed like the right thing to do. It kinda sucked that it was an extra $5 to do so, but hey, youre in Aventura. Gotta pay the tax... The fries were pretty frickin good though. My favorite was the garlic fries paired with onion sauce. The fries paired with the spicy ketchup were a close second. The paprika fries paired with bbq sauce didnt really do anything for me though.

The 3 different bourbons I sampled were all great brands but all overpriced. Then again, youre in Aventura and the prices werent that far off what you would see elsewhere. Add that to the burger and fries plus tax and tip and I was at about $70. I didnt feel bad about it though. Sure, there wasnt a sole in there within 20 years of my age, but I had a great time listening to the band, chatting with the bartenders, and chowing down on a pretty tasty burger paired with a nice bourbon selection. I hear that they have a different band that also plays there so I'll probably go back again on another Wednesday to check it out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Weighing in on the Bus Blog Battle

Recently, a mini-battle between Tom at Coconut Grove Grapevine and Gus at Miami Beach 411 led to trading barbs about which area deserves more tourists, which is the better area, or something silly to that effect. It all started with Grapevine waxing poetically that he came up with an idea for a bus that commutes people around and brings them to the Grove from other areas and then a bus showed up in the Grove that said "Miami Beach" on it so Miami Beach must have stolen his idea. You can read about it here and here. An added swipe at "some rude guy named Gus" probably instigated a response even further. So, we were served one by Gus here.

Gus associates the Grove as a place that "if you've never been, youre not missing much" and likens it to a giant outdoor shopping mall with a weird comment that the Grove somehow revolves around a Johnny Rockets that just happens to be at an intersection in center Grove. Another swipe at Grove restaurants associates them with that of a mall food court and not much more. He them moves on to point out that the college crowd isnt what it used to be in the Grove and that the AMC Movie Theater is in need of some major work and argues that there is no comparison between the Grove and Miami Beach. That last sentance is pretty true. I dont know how you could compare the 2 as they are vastly different. Not to be labeled as a "hater", Gus does go on to point out 10 things to like about Coconut Grove and includes a video link (and gratuitous plug) from his Tour Company's ride thru the Grove. In a final response to the "rude" comment from Tom at the Grapevine, Gus calls him "disillusioned" and then takes the high road and offers 8 free tickets on Miami Tour Company's ride around Miami. Nice. The comments on both blogs take it from there with defenders of the Grove piping up to shoot down some of the comments made by Gus, some "Toronto Tourist" who I think is a made up individual, and a guy named "Doug" who commented that the Grove isnt what it used to be and isnt walkable.

As someone who lives in the Grove, I have to disagree with Doug and Gus on its "walkability". I live in center Grove a few blocks from Cocowalk. I walk into the Grove quite often to grab a bite to eat or have a few cocktails with friends. I also walk to the post office or UPS store, down to Fresh Market (which is a bit longer of a walk but I try not to be too lazy haha), jog on South Bayshore and along the marina, and Scotty's Landing/City Hall is also walkable. I like being under the canopy of trees in the various Grove neighborhoods or walking along the boat docks in the marina. If I want to walk to more of a busy area, I walk to Cocowalk. A few blocks away I can return to peace and quiet. Its nice and its all within walking distance.

While there has been somewhat of a revolving door of restaurants in the Grove over the past few years, there are a few great ones. Jaguar is a fantastic spot. The Frenchies at Le Bouchon du Grove and George's in the Grove have some great dishes and unique vibes. Newcomers like Akashi (a South Miami favorite of mine) and Sekai are great for your Asian food fix. Little cafes like Focaccia Rustica and The Bookstore provide nice dishes and quick service.

Notice that all the restaurants I named above places are not national chains like Chili's, Johnny Rockets, and Cheesecake Factory. Thats what I like about the Grove but that is fading. If you want to point out the demise of the Grove, which I believe the Grove is rebounding from, look no further than our very own government. For some reason, Coconut Grove is different from everywhere else in the City of Miami and needs to have a 3am closing time for bars and restaurants rather than 5am like everywhere else. Bye bye college crowd. Even though staying up until 5am and drinking is a bit excessive, college kids dont like limitations. They may only stay out until 2am but give them the option. Telling them they cannot stay out until 5am like they could anywhere else in Miami means they will look elsewhere. Tom at the Grapevine has done a good job at exposing this weird parking tax that restaurants are required to pay as part of being in the Grove. What does this mean? Well it means its a real bitch to have your own private family restaurant and I guess it also means that the people in charge would rather have national chains like Cheesecake Factory and Chili's in town. This completely robs the Grove of its character and makes me thing that the people in charge are old farts who complain about 5am closures and who also have a bland palate. In a comment on the MB411 post, Doug also mentions that another reason the Grove isnt walkable because of a lack of sidewalks and cars speeding thru neighborhoods. I havent gone and surveyed every Grove neighborhood but most that I walk thru have a sidewalk on at least 1 side of the street. There are some that dont though which brings his comment some merit. Considering that our City government decided to piss away money on things like "traffic circles" in neighborhoods with little traffic, black kiosks that were supposed to be "information booths" but instead look like empty newsstands, and whatever the thing is pictured by Grapevine in this post that was installed on Tigertail and remodeled about 4 times while doing nothing to curb speeding or traffic, its no wonder why Grove streets arent more pedestrian friendly. I'll end my ranting here and save everyone now from having to read more of my anti-Miami government tirade...

Miami Beach is a totally different scene. Hotels and corporate names everywhere, media coverage like no tomorrow due to its nightlife and beaches and celebrity draw, and much more accessible transit from buses and cabs. Miami Beach is its own city, Coconut Grove is a suburb of Miami (though technically its not but it sure seems more like that way...if only it could separate). Miami Beach may have a few nice parks and a sandy beach, but to me its a concrete jungle. Dont get me wrong, this is not a bash. I love Miami Beach, mainly for the sand itself and Lincoln Road and the SoFi area. Its just not a place I personally would want to live. Im not a city person. I find Miami Beach to be a lot more busy and a lot less peace n' quiet, constantly exposed to the sun with little greenery. Its a different place altogether.

As for the restaurants on Miami Beach, I am not impressed. Sure, I am a fan of Sardinia, Talula, lunch at the Dilido Beach Club, the pizza at Spris, and the falafel wrap at Pita Spice, but outside of that there arent really any restaurants that I find appealing. The majority of restaurants on the Beach are overpriced hype and nothing more. In fact, as soon as you cross over that causeway you gotta be ready to pay more for everything. I call it the South Beach tax. I guess its understandable because youre paying for your beach environment but most of the time its quite excessive. This is where I thank god for places like the 17th Street garage ($1/hour parking) and Zeke's Roadhouse ($4 beers, 180+ varieties). Those places make me feel hopeful and happy. They also make me wonder why other establishments cant be more price-friendly...

I guess you could also say that Miami Beach is more walkable and pedestrian friendly than the Grove but you'd have to put an asterisk by that entry because that would only be true if you were able to get around without getting hit by some asshole speeding thru neighborhoods like a madman (See also: Donte Stallworth). Even driving thru the neighborhoods off of the main streets can be shady due to speeders. I do often park up at 17th and walk down to 2nd Street with little danger but most of the time Im on Washington, Collins, or the sand itself. Those areas are hella walkable and quite fun to walk amongst the denizens of SoBe. Lincoln Road is also a great pedestrian road to walk as is Espanola Way.

Overall, I enjoy both areas and what they have to offer me very much. Do I think one area is "better" than the other? Not really. I just dont think its an apples to apples comparison. Plus, with Miami Beach not being raped by the City of Miami, I think they have quite an advantage (oops, Im back out on my ledge again...). Do I think a shuttle between the 2 would be a good idea? Sure. But I think that you have to expect that if a shuttle comes to and from both areas that said shuttle is not "stealing tourism" from those areas. Each area offers their own sights and sounds, eats and drinks, and activities along the coast in a different way. While I prefer to live in Coconut Grove for the atmosphere, I usually head to Miami Beach to play. The battle for tourism is only going to heat up with the economy in South Florida hurting and areas of Miami like Brickell, Midtown, and the Design District really starting to heat up. Hopefully each area will develop its own niche that will attract tourists and locals alike so our little patch of sunshine can start growing without setbacks and attract more people to discover why people like me enjoy living here...for the most part anyways. :)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April Fools

No marriage in the near future. Sorta got a long distance thing going on and surprisingly dont feel the need to go out and pick up women on a nightly basis anymore. I do get the occasional urge though.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Freedom Ride is Over

Well folks, after 31 years of being a bachelor and doing whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want, and with whomever I want, Ive found someone that Im willing to give it all up for. Thats right folks, Im getting married. The details are long and I dont feel like blabbing on and on about how we met, where we will live, etc, but its nice to know that I am actually capable of having feelings.

So, stick a fork in Single Me. Thou art dead.