If Only Airports Were Awesome…

*written at Houston Hobby Airport on what seems to be an endless layover 

It happened again. My 3:15pm flight out of Memphis was delayed due to the airline deeming it important to check tires (I’m totally OK with that) and 75 minutes after my flight was scheduled to depart, I was called up to the gate because it was clear I’d never make my connection, so I was put on the last flight out of Houston at 10:10pm. Yet again. Stranded at the airport…

But this isn’t the biggest problem in the world and it doesn’t make me full of rage. I mean, rage is just so tacky. In an admirable attempt to achieve pure zen-like consciousness (admire me, dammit!), I’ve resigned myself to the fact that any flight between New Orleans and another city that in actuality would only be a 1 hour flight or less but is so much more than that because there are no direct flights, is going to involve an entire day of traveling. I should be arriving to some awesome place where English is not the first language and exotic fruits await me. Instead, I’m arriving in another small city in the Deep South. Wait, wait– zen. Right.

I love New Orleans almost as much as I love my cats. The city is in my soul like no other, with the possible exception of my home, NYC. But. It can be such a bitch to get in and out of, and I’m trying to do this sometimes twice a week. It can be a bit much, but what’s a girl to do? I can blame the airlines instead. At their best, they all pretty much suck. I suppose I need to get on it after posting this and give Southwest yet another piece of my mind so I can at least get a travel voucher out of this inconvenience. My second, mind you, in less than 6 weeks.

I can create a brief airport wish list. Here’s mine so far: a single healthy eating option for vegan travelers. A gym. A cat cafe. A library. A movie theater. More outlets. Chic lounge areas for the masses.

This evening I’m stuck in Houston Hobby for practically four hours where not a single thing I’ve listed above is a viable option. I’m hungry as hell, having devoured my last protein bar while in Memphis that was supposed to be a late afternoon snack before a reasonable 8:30pm dinner. Now, my flight departs at 10:10 and I arrive home at 11. So much for all attempts at being zen. I fear anyone who has to personally deal with me after I land and I apologize in advance.

Wouldn’t be cool if I could run on a treadmill, punch a bag and then, after a great shower that’s also located in a comfy locker room at the airport, go pet cats? After that, I could get vegan pho with extra tofu and be all in a good mood to board my plane. Oh but no. Airports have to just suck, don’t they?

I will concede that some are not as bad as others. I just seem to never get to the good ones because I can’t think of a single time when I’ve wanted to actually go back to one the way I do, say, particular hotels, restaurants or haunted lounges in the cities that I visit. It’s hard to get that excited about yet another Hudson News that sells pistachios and an array of magazines available for purchase, designed to make us ladies feel bad about ourselves because we’re too fat/old/ugly or have jobs that are seriously uncool. I’m trying to love airports these days as I see them more often I do my backyard, but it’s really fucking hard. Silver lining? I’m not at my doctor’s office, but at least there the magazines are free to browse.

Here I sit, with a soy latte for dinner (protein), making notes to self so that I don’t do stupid things on my next voyage to Canada in 4 days, like think an hour is enough time to allow to get through Customs… or forget to add an international data plan to my phone or call my credit card company even though it’s a “travel card” and they’re fully aware that I travel as much as I do. It’s so fun getting your card rejected on your cab ride to the hotel from the airport at Midnight.

Inconveniently Vegan

*written at the Omni King Edward Hotel in Toronto and finished at Charlotte Douglas International Airport during a long layover

One of the questions I keep hearing is, so you do all this traveling and you’re vegan… how do you eat? I’m not exactly wasting away, people. Sure, it’s not easy in the South (it was worse twenty years ago). It’s extremely easy in places like San Francisco. But. It’s never easy in the airport, a bastion for bad food (and taste, but that’s another subject altogether). While I can assure you that generally, yes, I do eat, quite well in fact, on my travel days I have to do a lot of snacking. With so many layovers, many of them involving barely enough time to get from gate to gate, I’m not going to have time for a sit-down in a restaurant that may or may not have an acceptable overpriced salad.

I try my best to bring my own healthy snacks, but there are only so many Pro Bars one can eat without feeling sugar-sick. I love nuts, but I can’t control myself, eat too many and then feel kind of ill they get old, too. I’m totally prone to giving in to crap like Corn Nuts and my dastardly Kryptonite, the mini red can of Pringles. This stuff is available at every turn in all airports! How do I resist? I am weak! Some places started having “healthy” stuff available to grab & go, like Sabra hummus and Pretzel Crisps packs (these can make anyone feel like they are actually a fourth grader). I despise Sabra hummus and Pretzel Crisps, anyway. It’s yet more junk food and not that tasty at that. Might as give in the lure of the red can.

I’m happy to report there are some exceptions. Off the top of my head, T5 at JFK has a few healthy outposts with insanely expensive– but I expect nothing less– healthier snacks. The other night in Charlotte, I discovered Smart Fries and perhaps the holy grail of healthy salty snacks: LesserEvil. Their kale and roasted garlic bean snacks are just incredible. So incredible, I was immediately plotting my return to this stand on my layover back home. Hey, it’s the little things (and Louis Armstrong International Airport could stand to learn a thing or two in this regard). But snacks don’t always satisfy. Take right now, I’m stranded for a few hours and won’t be able to eat something that didn’t come out of a wrapper until I land in NOLA after 8pm. Why am I in these situations often enough that I can write about it, yet not plan better?

In my wildest fantasies, I land at a reasonable hour in any given city and find a decent hot meal conveniently located near my hotel. So, this is like, never. Typically I’m landing in cities that do sleep and their restaurants close by 9 or 10pm. So, room service. I know most people love them some room service, but if I can avoid this, I do. I can’t turn off my parents’ voices in my head: It’s a ripoff! And over the years, I’ve come to realize my parents were right. The food is never good enough to warrant the outrageous prices and ridiculous fees, and it’s not vegan-friendly, even in places like the Westin where they pride themselves on having a menu featuring an array of superfoods (ie the beef tips come with a side of quinoa). Even when I’m not personally paying for it, I rarely order room service unless I’m desperate. The other night I didn’t have time for dinner until 11:30pm. There wasn’t much in the way of anything open near my hotel in Toronto, so I ordered what turned out to be a 30 dollar (with all of the mysterious fees) grilled vegetable sandwich with the tiniest side salad and lousy dressing. It was merely OK, people! Sure, it arrives with pomp and circumstance and the promise of something special, but I just wanted some damn good food. The silver dome only covered expensive mediocrity.

You may be overjoyed to know that I wrote part of this while ensconced in a mostly empty stodgy old hotel bar at the Omni King Edward with a glass of Chianti. Yes, I love these types of bars that don’t possess an ounce of hipness because I’m secretly a grumpy old man who wants everyone off my lawn. Gimmie my cane and my Chianti, bitches! These old fogey bars often offer up a complimentary small bowl of nuts and crackers and I’m not ashamed to admit that sometimes this can count as my evening provisions – nuts and sesame sticks, along with flax seed crackers. That’s some good plant protein, people.

Good snackin' and much cheaper than overpriced room service!
Good snackin’ and much cheaper than overpriced room service!

Try not to die of envy. All of this and nary a loud mouthed fool to be found. It also included an interesting bit of culture shock: the bar was closed down by 10:30pm (Grandpas have to get to bed on time) and I also received a personal escort to my room because Canadian law (? might have been city?) prevents people from carrying open containers from the bar to their hotel room. Pushing aside all inappropriate urges of saying “would you like to come in for a night cap” out of my head (I didn’t actually want this, but I’ve always wanted to say it), I allowed the bartender to carry my glass of Chianti, which had to actually be covered with a piece of plastic wrap, as we traveled down one floor to my room.

And yes, I resisted the urge to take the leftover bowl of snacks, because I’m classy like that.

Short, Direct Flights + Drinkin’ While Airborne…

*written at home after a quick 70 min flight from Nashville to NOLA

The rare direct flight left me kind of yearning for a longer travel day yesterday… OK, that’s a big stinkin’ lie, but the reality is, such short flights don’t leave a lot of time for introspection and/or writing. And these short flights always seem to be chock full of turbulence, which means I’m usually too busy yearning for a cocktail that will never come because the flight attendants are advised to remain seated throughout the duration of the flight. I don’t begrudge them this, but I can’t deny that what with the delay in take off and all, a large small part of me was thinking, “hey, being that you know you’re hitting weather between cities, now would be a great time to start serving those drinks!”

I’m not that difficult, I swear. I’m not kidding when I say I’m nothing but sweet as pie to flight attendants, especially those on South West, because they really are my favorite flight attendants ever. Remember those short lived reality show, Airline? Well, it’s just like that! They make funny quips to each other on the PA, sing Happy Birthday and are prone to even saying stuff like, “Welcome to Sunny Honolulu” when touching down in a less than Honolulu-like city. They are so full of the funnies when I’m not consumed by mortal terror!

I don’t even really drink on domestic flights. Just those endless Transatlantic voyages. I mean, alcohol dehydrates you like nothing else. And it makes you have to keep peeing. But add a dose of weatherific conditions and I’m all but begging for the Chardonnay (I can’t do the cheap reds anymore and sparkling wine isn’t available on SWA flights). I have tons of free drink tickets (lucky you if you’re sitting near me b/c I tend to gift my coupons that are about to expire).

Stay tuned for next week when I’m on a very non direct flight to Toronto!

Maybe I spoke too soon… Or maybe some celestial being is bound to test my patience from time to time

*written at Orlando International Airport on a 3 hour layover to New Orleans

What a lousy travel day. Getting from one city to another that would be only an hour flight – if there were direct flights – is turning into travels worthy of a transatlantic flight to… I don’t know, Istanbul?!?!

I want to spare you the details, so here’s the Cliff Joi Notes:

12 noon CST: while in a meeting with a coworker, I get a text from Southwest that my flight to Tampa had been delayed. This meant that I’d miss my connection to New Orleans. Although this would have given me an extra hour to spend with my teammate, I decide to get to the airport by 2pm, an hour before my flight was originally scheduled to leave, to perhaps arrange an alternative flight that would magically transpire before my very eyes.

2pm CST: I check in at SWA and am immediately surrounded by people freaking out because they, too, were on the same doomed (perhaps that’s too strong a word) flight, and would be missing their connections to Nashville & Philly. The kind check-in lady found a flight leaving at 5:40pm, getting me to Orlando for an 8:55 pm EST flight to NOLA that would get me in at a reasonable 9:40pm, only a little over 2 hours past my original arrival time and in just enough time to get dinner at my favorite Bywater pizza joint. I kind of love Southwest even when there’s problems because they do things like give you a $100 travel voucher at the drop of a hat.

2:15pm CST: TSA at Bham is crazy easy.

4pm CST: I get notice that my flight to Orlando is delayed 10 minutes. Worried that this might make me miss my connection, I looked that up and found that no, that flight had been delayed to 10:45 pm EST. So, hello three hour layover!

4:05pm CST: I scarf down a bag of Corn Nuts. Plain. Not BBQ. Don’t judge. So far all I’ve eaten today is a hummus plate at 11am.

5:30pm CST: I board my plane and the woman in front of me loudly tells everyone that she’s a nervous flier and bring on the alcohol. I’m realize I’m lucky that I’ve overcome my fear of flying about 18 months ago (more on that, later).

8pm EST: I land in Orlando and find out that my flight to New Orleans now leaves at 11pm EST.

8:15pm EST: Realizing those Corn Nuts have zilch nutritional value (how I love my salty empty carbs), I try to find food. I’m happy to find Au Bon Pain, as they often have vegan soups, but the chairs were up and the entry blocked. Discouraged, I find a lousy bar & grill serving up frozen drinks and fried foods only to be told that the kitchen was closed. I order a glass of Chardonnay.

8:25pm EST: Last call

For the love of God, I’m still existing in a 7:25pm world and I’m made to feel like it’s the wee hours of the night. This is not good for my psyche. I expect to see people strolling by in their pajamas at any moment.

I’m scheduled to arrive home at around Midnight CST. My fridge is typically empty and NOLA isn’t exactly chock full of vegan-friendly options after closing time.

This is why I need to plan better. This is why I need not tempt the fates by gleefully posting about how I don’t complain about traveling.

But I hope you don’t think I’m complaining, friends. I’m just hungry and when I’m hungry, I get cranky. I also make friends! I just met a lovely older couple on their way back home to Ohio. We commiserated about the lack of food and drink options in this joke of an airport terminal at such an early hour. They bid me well as they left the bar to make their flight. I have faith in humanity. Just not in airlines (to be fair, Southwest does try their best).

I’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place

*written on a Southwest flight from NOLA to Dallas on at noon on Wed 5/6/15

I’ve always been bewildered by people who travel a lot for work but have this utterly loathsome need to be grouchy about it. Their seemingly forced complaints would especially amuse me. “Can you believe they asked me last minute to go to Dubai next week? Now I’ll have to miss being a bridesmaid in my cousin’s Disney wedding!” So outrageously unfair. Exotic world travel or participating in the Cinderella wedding? No brainer. But then, there’s me: never a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Here’s the funny thing: I have that kind of job. Well. Except for the “exotic world” part of travel (see my byline). As I write, I’m on my way to Birmingham, Alabama, y’all! Note: I am not being ironic. I’m pretty fucking thrilled if you must know, but I’ll get to exactly why in a moment. I may not get trips to Dubai or Paris (hey, I can do that on actual vacation time, thanks to accumulating those blessed credit card miles and this perk alone should make you mistrust anyone who tells you that traveling for work is such a bummer) but I do get all the benefits of traveling a lot for work: exploring places where I don’t live (cities in the Southern US and Eastern Canada), staying in hotel rooms, eating out in the city’s hottest restaurants (because, Yelp) and getting to find all those awesome things that make a city, any city, something pretty great.

Don’t get me wrong. I do complain during the course of my travels. Hell, I may be an Olympic gold medalist in the sport of complaining. But never the faux outrage of simply having to travel.

I have quite the manifesto going through my head at times, mainly directed towards the people who surround me on planes and in airports. Unsuspecting sorts, those who seldom travel and are typically on their way to vacation so they assume everyone else is too. They just don’t get airport etiquette. And on my better days, of course I can understand and accept this. On other days, not so much. After, say, three straight weeks in and out of airports, I’m often full of stone, cold rage. My patience is wearing thin as yet another person carelessly drags their luggage over my feet on their quest to make it over to Chick Fil A. And if I have to endure one more thoughtless fool who doesn’t understand one needs to remove that huge shoulder bag as they walk down the narrow aisle of a plane or else be knocking heads (I’m an aisle girl) or someone else who, in their haste to get ahead of everyone else, drops a too large “carry-on” onto my arm. But I get over it. I love traveling. I have a dream job. Life is good.

There are times I savor being home. I like, no, I love where I live (and if you don’t love where I live, we probably have nothing in common). There’s always something pretty amazing going on whether that be Mardi Gras (which I missed in 2014 due to work travel), a festival (though I’m not really the festival-going kind), a friend’s ultra cool art opening, my writing group’s monthly meeting or even a simple wine night at a friend’s house. And then I sometimes just yearn for moments spent on the couch binge-watching a series with my guy and my cats. Rest assured, I so do not complain about missing out on this stuff, though!

So. I have something I’m going to come clean about: I can barely contain my joy being on this plane right now because I am finally able to get out of my house.

My house isn’t a hellhole or anything, it just needs a lot of work and I know I’m not the only person who dreads having contractors invade my space. I’m currently having my bathroom remodeled (read: turned into something other than a glorified outhouse). This project started about three weeks ago, not accidentally coinciding with work trips to Fort Lauderdale & NYC. Danny, my boyfriend, is working alongside the contractors and purposely wanted to get the bulk of the dirty work completed in the 10 days I was away (really, it was extremely dirty work and I’m a tad fragile when it comes to grossness). I felt guilty as he sent me photos of the completely gutted room (down to a gaping hole in the rotted wood floor) while I enjoyed views of a South Florida beach or the Manhattan skyline. But then I returned and endured 10 days of horrors (I’m weak).

But now? Now I’m barely containing my joy as I start my descent into Dallas for my 2.5 hour layover to Birmingham, where I’ll be able to check into a comfy hotel with heavenly beds. And even if the bathroom still isn’t completed when I return to New Orleans, I will have missed almost three full days of having to ask the strange men in my house if they wouldn’t mind leaving the bathroom so I can pee. And again, I thank the gods: I have a job that I love that affords me regular travel and the ability to avoid stuff.

I’ve found that layovers are often what make me batty (or at least prone to poor eating habits). These days, out of ten cities in my region, only one of them allows for a direct flight (Nashville, sweet Nashville), one is a 90 minute drive (Baton Rouge) and one is my home city. Most of the cities in my territory require bizarre layovers (flying to Dallas to get to Birmingham?!) sometimes two of them. Many of them involve killing at the very least one and often more than two hours in an airport and let’s be real; not all airports are created equal. There’s work, there’s always work, but what to do during a much-needed break in order to de-stress and get inspired? Until airports have gyms or even regular yoga classes, I am left to my own devices. Speaking of, I can read one of the many books waiting for me on my Nook but then there’s this writing habit I’ve been neglecting and what if I took any idle time to share my musings, my rants, my unique experiences with people who seem to kind of like reading the other stuff I have out there on the interwebz?

Hence, this blog. Sometimes I’ll write from an airport. Sometimes I’ll write from the plane. Sometimes I’ll write from my hotel room late at night when I’m feeling kinda lonely and my best friend is the mini bar (or, worst enemy. See: mini can of Pringles). Sometimes I’ll give myself a time constraint (who knows what I’m capable of in an hour, right? Right!) and sometimes I’ll just allow myself to get it all out on the page (don’t worry. I edit like a motherfucker).

And you’ll always know where I’m coming from or heading towards. Well, sort of. Here’s to having my head in the clouds!