My extended stay in Southern California comes to an end this week, as I return to New York late Thursday just in time to teach a Friday morning, film history class at Pratt. In terms of my own physical activity, it couldn’t come at a better time, as my Apple Watch is keen to remind me.
Ironically, I am significantly less active in the mild climes of Southern California than in the less hospitable December weather of New York.
Much of this is because I have been staying in the suburbs, and it’s been hard getting in any casual exercise, such as bike commuting or walking around the neighborhood. But it was unseasonably warm in New York this December… to the point where it was as warm on Christmas Eve as on Independence Day in 2015.
One way to mitigate my lack of daily physical activity is to plan and take some long-distance rides. This month, I rode two.
The colloquial summer season in the United States, when most everyone plans their vacations and such, starts on the Friday before Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day. In 2015, the unofficial summer season was as long as it could be: a full sixteen weeks.
Memorial Day is always the last Monday of May. In 2015, Memorial Day was on May 25, which meant that the colloquial summer started on the earliest possible date, Friday, May 22.
Labor Day is always the first Monday of September. In 2015, Labor Day was on September 7, which meant that colloquial summer ended on the latest possible date, Monday, September 7.
For fans of summer like me, this was much better than 2014 when summer ended on September 1, and better than 2010 when summer started as late as Friday, May 28. Those years sucked!
It was also great because Independence Day, July 4, occurred on a Saturday. Most everyone I knew observed it on July 3, granting many workers a comfortable three-day weekend.
The winter holidays were similarly charmed. This past year Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, December 24 and December 31, respectively fell on Thursdays while Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fell on Fridays. That allowed many workers to have two successive four-day weekends! Take three days off in between, and you could have had with eleven consecutive days off. Not a bad way to end this great year.
I first noticed this in 2009, and I looked forward to it every year since. Usually, these kind of years occur every seven years or so, but we have two leap years coming: one in 2016 and another one in 2020. That will accelerate the frequency of this kind of year.
It will happen again in four short years: in 2020. That’s plenty of time to plan an extended summer vacation or midwinter getaway. Or both.
Pardon my silence over the last three weeks. I was asked to take an unpaid gardening leave for two weeks, and I stayed away from the computer as much as I could. And after my digital sabbatical was over, the beginning of the semester loomed on the horizon. Between the two, I stopped posting on this site.
I should have said something about it, but I was surprised as anyone that I would take such an extended leave from posting.
Before starting my leave, I planned to a bunch of awesome things, although tending to a garden was not one of them, including:
Visiting my friend Joe in Maine. He works there during the summer, and invited me to spend some time in the summer resort town of Northeast Harbor. Having never been before, it sounded like paradise.
Join my friend Steve in Baltimore as he watches a baseball game at a thirtieth different ballpark. Over the last three years, Steve leveraged all the spending his business generates into frequent flyer miles. Those miles allowed him to travel to a bunch of different cities to watch a baseball game at every current major league ballpark. His last stop was on August 17, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. He’s not sure whether he’s going to do the International League or the Pacific Coast League next…or whether he’ll ever attend another baseball game again.
Hit the beach. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been going to the beaches around here, and it’s pretty easy to bike to many of the beaches around here.
Organize my living and working space. Since I switched to the other side of the Newtown Creek, I’ve been uninspired to unpack the boxes I used to carry and hold my possessions. Going on cleaning and organizing binges used to be an embarrassing indulgence.
Go to Block Island or somewhere similarly exotic. As well as bikes and trains work together, bikes and ferries work even better. I had considered doing something like riding my bike out to Montauk and then catching the ferry to Block Island. But I could never find a time to do that.
As is the case with most of my grand plans, I did very few of these. Yes, I did go to the beach once, and I did go to Baltimore to watch the Mets play at Citi Field South Camden Yards with Steve and a few friends. But I didn’t visit any new places, such as the northeastern coast of Maine or one of America’s “Last Great Places”. Instead, I did a few familiar bike rides.
Biked to Peekskill. This was a Monday ride that turned into an opportunity to enjoy dollar-oysters at the Peekskill’s Brewery. It however started as a coin-toss ride. My friend Brian and I rode the Westchester and Putnam county trails to Carmel, then rode on NY-301 to the junction with US-9. There we flipped a coin. Heads: we turned right to Beacon; Tails: we turned left to Peekskill. Since neither of us had a coin, I asked Siri to do so. At first, it gave us a smart-ass response: “You’re never going to believe this, but the coin landed on its edge.” We flipped again, Siri said “tails,” and we headed south to Peekskill. I’m considering making this a formal club ride, calling it something like “Heads Beacon, Tails Peekskill.”
Biked to Philadelphia. I am planning to write a dedicated post about this ride. In the meantime, suffice to say that I had planned to ride all the way to Baltimore, over two days, to meet my friend Steve for that game at his thirtieth major-league park. However, after riding 97 miles to Philadelphia in 95°F heat, I decided it would be better to ship my bike back to New York and take a bus to Baltimore. The ride did serve as a testing ground for my canonical route to Philadelphia.
Biked to Amagansett. Like the aborted ride to Baltimore, this was supposed to a Babylon-to-Montauk ride. On the same day as this ride through the Hamptons, our house was hosting a BBQ—a DreBQ as we call it out here. Since I didn’t want to miss the party, I aimed to return to NYC on the 3:30 PM train out of Montauk, which would put me in NYC by 7:00 PM. A couple of mechanical issues delayed our group’s progress so I bailed in Amagansett to catch that Montauk train along its westbound route. Until we had those flats, after the first half of the ride, we were due to finish the whole 92-mile course in about six hours.
And since returning to work, I assembled syllabi for three classes:
With the long summer break and my own gardening leave behind me and the semester beginning today, I recognize that I didn’t completely “turn off” during the break or do something completely unfamiliar. But I did do things that I enjoy and do pretty well.
If March is “in like a lion and out like a lamb,” August represents another transitional month if you’re in the academic game. The beginning of the month treats us as gently as a lamb, but the end of the month beats us like a rented mule. However, the month of August also has the reverse effect on travel. As the kiddies go back to school at the end of the month, it becomes a lot easier to travel, especially par avion.
Airports become more pleasant. You begin to see fewer over-burdened families clogging the airport lines and more experienced business travelers zipping through security checkpoints and boarding areas.
The weather at most places begins to cool significantly. The heat waves that make most people too grumpy to do anything begin to dissipate in late-August. New Yorkers begin returning to our heat island around this time and stuff begins to happen again. It’s the same in Europe, they tell me.
Airfares drop from the stratospheric prices over the summer. It’s been years since I’ve flown to California over the summer because it costs about $500-$600 for a domestic flight to LAX this time of year. That’s double the usual fare. I still don’t get how people afford European summer vacations at these nutty prices.
As happens at this time of year, the off-peak travel season is nigh, and airlines have been discounting airfares for fall travel. That’s great because, as we all know, early fall is the best time of year to travel. Over the last month, several airlines began discounting flights between New York and Los Angeles, the markets I travel most frequently, to some pretty reasonable levels. Because I wasn’t deliberately tracking these fares, I don’t have exact figures, but I recall that it started with the LCCs and ULCCs.
Virgin America started a fare war with $300 round-trip fares, between JFK and LAX, for travel between August 25 and November 18.
Sun Country did something similar, but every time I’ve searched their fares in the past, there was a ridiculously long layover in Minneapolis–St. Paul. It wasn’t worth it.
Then things got more interesting as the legacy carriers got involved, and these guys know how to wage a fare war.
American Airlines and US Airways began offering flights between LGA and LAX, with a connection, for $238.
American lowered the price on tickets on their own stock to an even lower price: $216. That is about as cheap as I’ve ever seen a non-mistake fare between NYC and LA.
On Wednesday morning, American offered two fares, LGA-DFW and DFW-LAX, that when combined could zip you across the country and back for $150.
I implored friends and family to take advantage of these fares, especially when it dropped to $150, because there’s no way that fare was going to stick around long. And it didn’t. By Wednesday night, that fare had evaporated and flying between LGA and LAX, via DFW, cost $370 round-trip.
Last year, I observed Bastille Day by riding to Philadelphia for a weekend with Sarah. We were met by two of my oldest and dearest friends, who travelled from Washington, DC, to meet us. I was never into doing “couple’s weekends,” but this one was easily one of the best weekends of my life. At the time, I regarded the weekend—consisting of a bike ride, perfect weather, a Bastille Day party, and some great exploring—as perfect.
Then it all fell apart. Sarah and I split shortly thereafter. To their credit, my DC friends still reach out occasionally to ask how I’m doing, but I am still reluctant to connect with them: it feels like I was expelled from the couples club, and I am too embarrassed to come around without a current membership.
For this year’s Bastille Day celebrations, I wanted to do something similarly epic to last year’s trip, but it seemed foolish to again ride to Philadelphia. My friend Brian, who I do a lot of long rides with, had a birthday this week, and we planned a three-day trip to New Paltz to ride around in the Shawangunk Range:
Riding 80 miles to New Paltz
Riding 70 miles around the Gunks
Riding 30 miles to Beacon
Because you might someday want to do something like this, here are some details about the ride.
Sixty-eight years ago yesterday, on June 17, 1947, Pan Am launched the first round-the-world flight, Flight 001, between San Francisco, Honolulu, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Delhi, Beirut, Istanbul, Frankfurt, London, and finally New York. Flight 002 originated in New York and would transit through those same cities on an eastbound course. Over time, the particular routing and destinations would change, but it remained a route until Pan Am ceased operations in the early 1990s. The last airline to fly this route was United Airlines, in the late 1990s, and the last segment of this route to survive is United flying between JFK and LAX.
We have made the decision to move our p.s. service from New York JFK to Newark Liberty International Airport. Effective October 25, all of our p.s. flights between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco will operate out of our hub at Newark, and we’ll discontinue our service out of JFK.
This ends United’s presence at JFK airport and moves these venerable transcontinental flights to New Jersey. This is personally inconvenient for me because I live on the same landmass as JFK airport: crossing two rivers to get to Newark can take hours. But it is also a bit sad because of nostalgia. My first flight to New York, in 1998, was on United’s LAX to JFK route. Unlike the other United flights I had taken—especially the short-haul flights between California cities— this was a much different experience.
United flew the JFK to LAX route on a dedicated fleet of wide-body Boeing 767 jets.
The flights to and from LAX and SFO at JFK arrived and departed from a dedicated area at Terminal 6, while the flights to other destinations, such as London, Chicago, Hong Kong, etc. departed from Terminal 7.
There were three classes of service: basic Economy class, what United called Connoisseur class (equivalent to today’s business class), and an even more luxurious First class.
The flight numbers were low, like a prestigious Manhattan address. My first outbound to JFK was on UA 10 and my return was on UA 1.
Over the years, the flights changed. They were downgauged to single-aisle 757 aircraft in 2004, which made for a more fuel-efficient operation, and inaugurated the dedicated Premium Service (p.s.) fleet. Some time after 9/11, United moved its California-bound flights to Terminal 7 at JFK, which consolidated all of its flights to that terminal.
Then the merger happened, and there were more changes. United eliminated its First and consolidated its premium seats into a single BusinessFirst cabin. Then the flight numbers changed.
Flight numbers might seem meaningless to most passengers, but if an airline assigns a particular flight a low number, it suggests its importance to the carrier. The early evening flight to LAX was UA 25, the early morning flight to SFO was UA 3, and the redeye from LAX was UA 18 for many years. And my first flight from JFK to LAX was a segment of a round-the-world flight that United inherited from Pan Am. Flight 1 passed through New York-JFK, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Bangkok, New Delhi, London, and finally back to JFK, and Flight 2 did the same in reverse. But in recent years, JFK-LAX/SFO flights were assigned three-digit numbers. The only references to their distinct character was that some recent JFK-SFO flights were numbered 415—the area code of San Francisco—and some eastbound LAX-JFK flights were numbered 212—the area code for Manhattan. As an affront to my Angeleno pride, there was no flight 213.
But starting in late October, there will be no more flights to JFK. Flying to New York from Los Angeles or San Francisco will require a connection in Chicago, Denver, Houston or Washington to arrive at LaGuardia airport. Or it will require, what LaGuardia airport’s namesake hated more than anything: landing in New Jersey.
Last month, I travelled to California to attend two weddings—one for Nicole and Tom, and another for Jason and Jamie. Both couples are friends who live in Southern California.
The first wedding, though a worthwhile affair, involved driving from Los Angeles for about 230 miles each way to the Central Coast–town of Paso Robles. As someone who doesn’t care for driving much anymore, it was difficult to pilot a car for two four-hour one-way drives.
For the second wedding, I changed my approach. I would do no driving. Instead, I took Amtrak from Burbank to Santa Barbara on the day of the wedding with my California-road bike in tow. After spending the night on a friend’s couch, I would return to the LA area by bicycle. The morning following the wedding, I sucked down some coffee, a calorie-rich breakfast, and a couple of Ibuprofen tablets before riding eighty miles to Santa Clarita. From there, I planned to catch a direct Metrolink train back to the Antelope Valley.
This would match the longest ride I had done on the west coast. It’s not NYC-to-Montauk, but it’s still a long ride, especially after partying at a friend’s wedding.
From the Sea to the Desert
The first thing about traveling from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita is that the entire trip is actually along an easterly heading. Most everyone who drives a car thinks that Ventura is south of Santa Barbara because one takes US-101 South to get there. But between Point Conception and Point Mugu, the Pacific Ocean is mostly south—not west—of the California coastline, thus the trip is just as much east-west, as it is north-south.
The second thing about this trip is that there are two possible routes to take to Santa Clarita.
Via Ojai. This route is about 90 miles and is very hilly with about a mile of vertical gain. It includes a long eleven-mile, thousand-foot ascent before descending, almost as long and as steep, into the Santa Clara River valley just east of Santa Paula. When I mentioned this route to a friend, he referenced Greg LeMond, which turned me off to this option because of the requisite effort. Had I not been at a wedding the night before and carrying about 15 pounds of stuff in a backpack, I would have taken this route.
Instead, I went…
Via Ventura. This route is about 80 miles and is very flat. The route more or less follows “southbound” US-101 and then continues along eastbound CA-126. Taking this route gives a rider a taste of several Southern California terrains, including the sea, the desert, and the ‘burbs.
This route starts along the section of US-101 named “Pacific Coast Highway” and, because it is along the seashore, also appears to be one of the most popular bike routes in the region.
This stretch of the route ends in downtown Ventura, where you will come upon a quaint main street, appropriately called “Main Street.”
After downtown Ventura, I stopped by a little burger spot to get some lunch. I hear you can get things “animal style,” which isn’t as gross as it might sound.
As I waited for my food at In ‘n’ Out, I found two other cyclists who were more or less riding the same route—in reverse, from Chatsworth to Santa Barbara. They had some mishaps in that they were fighting a headwind the entire way—which was my tailwind gently pushing me east—and even had to escort a friend whose tire blew out back to a train station. I pitied them at first, but then I reminded them that the story of cycling is a lot better when someone asks, “how are you two holding up on this ride?” and respond with, “Great, but there were three of us when we started.”
After Ventura, the route traverses through some quintessential Southern California terrain: citrus groves, oil fields, and the banks of the desiccated Santa Clara River.
The terrain completes its transition to desert as the elevation increases and approaches Castaic Junction, where CA-126 connects with I-5, north of Valencia.
As I approached the last ten miles of the route, I came upon two stretches of CA-126, just west of Castaic Junction, that had no shoulder for me to ride.
I bypassed the first stretch by jumping over the barricade and riding on hard pack. But the second stretch was just a ravine: I had to “take the lane” on a road where cars regularly speed at 60-70 MPH. It reminded me of riding on Tyburn Road in Morrisville, Pennsylvania during my inaugural Cheesesteak Century where I had to sprint and merge onto a highway with big trucks barreling towards me.
Tyburn Road in Morrisville, Pennsylvania is an awful, awful place to ride a bike because it’s a heavily potholed highway. Yikes!
This might not be the most arduous ride, and judging from the Strava heat maps, it’s not the most unexplored route to take. But if you’re looking for a direct way, low-traffic route to get between Santa Barbara and Santa Clarita, this will do just fine.
Yes, I am aware that this site went all of April neglected like a dissertation chapter and a pile of ungraded, poorly written undergraduate. I didn’t get to update it much because I’ve been preoccupied with a few things:
Yes, I did get that MacBook Pro with Retina display. As you know, I decided the newly updated 13-inch model was the best computer for me…as long as we define “a computer” as a Mac portable. That turned out to be a curse because the computer and I have been inseparable since then. As is common at this time of the year, there’s a lot of work to do. A lot!
I made two, two, two trips to California in April for a couple of weddings. Despite being very sour on flying recently, I kind of enjoyed getting back in the air. If one can be in “mid-season” form going to an airport and boarding a plane, I was in it. Personally, I hate taking taxis to an airport, especially by myself, because of the disproportionate cost in traveling five miles to, say LaGuardia, compared to flying 2,500 miles to Los Angeles. And the chances of crashing are much higher in an Uber on the BQE than sitting in a Boeing six miles above the ground. Thus, I prefer to save some bucks and go multi-modal, using the subway and bus. That results in some just-in-time arrivals, which I don’t mind because it spares me from the gate lice. My friend Mark, a multimillion-miler on American Airlines, concurs with this approach.
Of course, the trips themselves were fun, too. I saw a lot of people, including lots of friends and family. I ate King Crab on a pier in Santa Barbara and fried scallops in the warehouse district southeast of DTLA. I even got to go on a bike ride.
And the weddings were great, too. I realized that, despite my earlier reservations, I like going to weddings. It helps that I don’t have to hear Sarah’s friends criticize every aspect of their own friend’s wedding, such as “can you believe this food?” and “this has to be the worst one yet!” Also, since there’s no immiment threat of staging my own wedding, I don’t feel that sense of failed dread I had when I was a teenager riding in my friends’ cars before I had even had my learner’s permit.
The weather is finally nice enough to enjoy cycling. Aside from crashing my bike on East Third Street in late March, I have really enjoyed being out on a bike. That crash, which happened on my way from Brooklyn to NYU, was bad enough that since then I’ve been unable to fully bend my knee. I can extend it just fine so I can ride a bike as far as ninety miles with almost no pain, but tying my shoes has been an entirely different matter. March was an especially miserable month for bicycling, and we had to two rides shortened because of icy road conditions. However, in the last few weeks, we’ve stepped things up and have been riding 80-90 miles on a single weekend day.
It’s softball season. Softball really is like the mob. No matter how hard I try to get out, I can’t not play. The only possible ways I can see “getting out” is to relocate to a far-off, remote place where no one knows I ever played softball… or to die. I wound up on four teams again, although I have missed a lot of games to that nagging cycling injury and because of my other commitments. However, it’s nice being out there again doing something I’m relatively good doing.
Now that I’m becoming accustomed to this new pace, to carrying around a heavy backpack and a light sweater, I’m genuinely excited about breathing and such. No, seriously. Not only has it been a hard eight months, but over the winter, it literally hurt to breathe that bitter, icy air. I’ll settle for the occasional allergy attack.
Around 2009, I began noticing Wi-Fi on more and more flights, especially on transcontinental flights between New York and Los Angeles. Regardless of the airline I flew, such as American, United, or Virgin America, the service would always be provided by Gogo Inflight. The price varied, especially as the product got off the ground—so to speak. One could score promo codes fairly easily or buy a pass before a flight to get a discount. In 2010, Gogo offered prepaid multipacks, and I bought a six-pack that I used over the years. The price was always about $10-12 for an entire flight. On a six-hour westbound flight to California, it was worth the price to get a lot of work done.
A few days ago, I knew that I had a lot work to do on today’s flight to LA, and I looked into getting online for the flight. From the looks of things, the best option for me was the $16 day pass.
But as far as I could tell, there was not any discount for buying a pass in advance so I held off and waited to buy one in the air. After all, all-day passes bought online were about $15 a few years ago and buying in advance cost saved only about three dollars or so.
That proved to be a rookie mistake. Buying an all-day pass in the air costs a sky-high $34, compared to the $16 it costs on the ground.
I recognize that this was the ultimate first-world problem—that it cost $18 more to buy inflight Wi-Fi in the air as it did on the ground. But to me, it was steep enough to do some offline work and wait until I got on the ground, at a fussy coffee shop near downtown Los Angeles, to get online and do my work.
Just as our long, brutal winter ended in the northeast, major league baseball swiftly returned last week to usher in the new spring season. It couldn’t come soon enough.
Although I didn’t mention it on this site at the time, baseball—along with late-season bicycling—was a welcome distraction last fall as my life was basically falling apart. Baseball seemed like an unlikely source of solace at the time because I had essentially missed the entire 2014 regular season. As a cord cutter, it was impractical to watch a game on television. Also, watching baseball at home was, to me, not unlike drinking—it’s kind of fun but socially unacceptable unless you’re doing it with other people.
The unthinkable happened: I managed to miss an entire season of baseball
Even more unusual for me, I didn’t attend a single baseball game in 2014. I hadn’t gone an entire season without going to a baseball game since the Clinton administration. The closest I came to following the 2014 baseball season was catching a few occasional glimpses, such wood-cover notebooks for the hipster set that resemble baseball bats, better-than-perfect games, a film about the late Doc Ellis, and yes, Derek Jeter retiring. It was so bad that I was basically shocked to learn that the Washington Nationals were considered a favorite to win the World Series.
As I was sleeping on a friend’s couch in late September, I learned via Twitter that the As and Royals were playing perhaps the best one-game playoff in the history of the game. That excitement, that connection to other people, and that feeling of not-knowing the outcome are why I loved watching baseball in the first place. After that game, I was determined to watch as much baseball as possible to reconnect with friends and strangers alike. I had felt alone for the past two months and, even if I was always around my friends, they were around mostly to console me. With the baseball playoffs, however, it was an activity we could all share that wasn’t about my own emotional pain. In the end, I watched every almost game of the playoffs anyway I could: on a television screen at a friend’s place, on a projected image at a local bar, or through a streaming device using a VPN. By the time the World Series finished at the end of October, my life seemed to make a little more sense than it did before the that crazy game in Kansas City.
All I want is one more baseball game. “See you tomorrow night!” I need the distraction
For all the relief baseball brought me last year, I had basically missed spring training and was vaguely aware that baseball was starting this year. But last week, while I was in California for a wedding and some other business, my brother came through with an irresistible offer: he had tickets to Opening Day at Dodger’s Stadium.
I forgot how exciting it is to go to an Opening Day game. It had been close over ten years since I had been to one, most recently at the now-demolished Shea Stadium. It had been even longer, since 2001 or so, since I had seen an opening day game at Dodger Stadium: I remember Chan Ho Park pitching a shutout against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Last Monday was a truly exhilarating experience that included several highlights.
The Dodger Stadium Express bus didn’t exist more than five years ago, but it was a very popular way to get to the stadium that day. When we saw the long lines of people waiting board the bus, one guy in our crew called an Uber to take us to the stadium. It was a foolish decision because the driver couldn’t get us any closer than a mile from the stadium. We ended up getting out of the car and hiking up the hill. After the game, however, we waited patiently to board the bus, but it took close to an hour to travel down the hill to Union Station. The interminable trip however did not dampen our mood: most everyone remained festive recounting the game’s highlights and debating about the best option for post-game revelry. By the way, the duration and popularity of this shuttle bus service convinced me there are two places in Los Angeles that could really use direct rail service: LAX and Dodger Stadium. I hope to see it happen in my lifetime.
Two things happened around the same time. Pitcher Yimi Garcia entered the game in the seventh inning to relieve Clayton Kershaw, and new Dodger and veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins hit a three-run homer to break a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning that ultimately won the game for the Dodgers. First, we learned to pronounce Garcia’s first name—Yee-mee!— in the seventh. We later repurposed it for Rollins in the eighth—Yee-mee!
Getting reacquainted with Mexican slang and their colorful uses at a ballgame. Although this is hardly what I would call a “family blog,” I won’t get into any details here.
Watching the game in person was not only the best way to watch the game, it was probably also the only way for most people. For the second season, most fans can’t watch the Dodgers on TV because of a retransmission dispute between SportsNet LA and most area MVPDs, including DirecTV. My guess is that the game was available on TV for as many people in 2015 as it was when Dodger home games were available only on ON-TV in the 1980s.
It was not only a great way to start watching baseball again, it was the best way end this awful and depressing winter.