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For Those Long Nights on the Computer

For some years now, Hotel Tonight has been offering last-minute rooms for some above average hotels. I haven’t yet been able to use the service because I have a brother who works at a major hotel chain and usually comes through with a family discount.

Today, Hotel Tonight announced Hack Tonight. The service, currently in Beta, is for people who are staying up all night writing code:

Up late coding? Unable to get home… or leave the office? We’ve got your back. Starting today, we’re rolling out HackTonight. HackTonight takes mobile to a whole ‘nother level – it’s the hotel experience that comes to you!

This sounds like a great service! I especially could use the Blue Bottle Drip and the Hoodie Dry Cleaning services. Please offer one for academics, too, and you got a lifelong customer.

How I Almost Didn’t Obsess About the Word “Baggage”

About a year ago, although it seems longer ago now, I installed Webster’s 1913 Unabridged Dictionary as an alternate dictionary on my Mac. James Somers gave a few compelling reasons to use this particular dictionary and outlined very detailed instructions for installing it on different platforms. (Sorry, Windows users.)

The great thing about the Dictionary app on a Mac is that you can simultaneously look up several different dictionaries and reference works to get a better “feel” for a particular word.

Take, for example, the word baggage. As I prepared for an upcoming trip, I was searching for a synonym for “baggage,” as in what one carries while traveling.

The default, contemporary dictionary defines the word as

personal belongings packed in suitcases for traveling; luggage.
past experiences or long-held ideas regarded as burdens and impediments: the emotional baggage I’m hauling around | the party jettisoned its traditional ideological baggage.

Those two correspond to the way I more-or-less hear and read the word. “It’s best to meet arriving passengers outside of baggage claim,” and “my last relationship left me with a lot of emotional baggage” are examples of those two usages.

But in 1913, the word had many, many more meanings

The clothes, tents, utensils, and provisions of an army.
The trunks, valises, satchels, etc., which a traveler carries with him on a journey; luggage.
Purulent matter. [Obs.] –Barrough.
Trashy talk. [Obs.] –Ascham.
A man of bad character. [Obs.] –Holland.
A woman of loose morals; a prostitute.
A romping, saucy girl. [Playful] –Goldsmith.

Wow! What a crazy word. The first two definitions survive, referring to articles and the bags used to carry them. The third, purulent matter, refers to pus, meaning that “baggage” once meant something excreting pus. Yuck!

The last four definitions apparently refer to something a bit more… colorful. Trashy talk? Men and women of ill-repute? And, a playful, romping, saucy girl? Are you kidding me? Those Victorians really had a word for everything!

Conspicuously absent from this list, however, is the meaning referring to “past experiences and ideas” that “burden” us. My guess is that anything like that, back then, was simply repressed and went unacknowledged.

I Miss Travel Hacking

It’s been a little more than two weeks since I lost my elite status with an airline, and I’ve already become sentimental about all the travel-hacking methods I used to use. Last night, I was working with yet another art historian, and we started to talk about travel hacking. I quizzed her with an easy one.

What is the difference between a direct flight and a nonstop flight?

Most humans don’t know the difference, and my friend didn’t either. So, class, let’s review:

  • a nonstop flight goes from A-B without any intermediate stops, whereas
  • a direct flight goes from A-B but makes an intermediate stop at C, without requiring you to change flights. However, you might have to change planes.

I think the direct flight is best compared to train travel. For example, I can take a direct train, on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line, from New York to Washington, but my train is going to make intermediate stops in Newark, Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore, if not more. However, a nonstop train would make no stops until it reaches its final destination. I know of no such train between here and our nation’s capital.

Most of us, however, travel via connecting trains and flights. For example, taking the train from New York to Los Angeles, which I will do one of these days, requires me to board the 20th Century Limited and then catch a connecting Southwest Chief train in Chicago. (Or something like that.) And remember that year I qualified on segments, not miles, flown? That was because each one-way trip required at least one connection. Sure, I got greedy a few times and booked a few six-segment trips to Southern California when there are always plenty of options to catch a nonstop between JFK and LAX, but I basically got silver status that year on about seven trips.

For our subsequent lessons, we’ll get into the finer points of perfectly reasonable hacks like open-jaws, stopovers, and free one-ways. We’ll also be sure to cover some sketchier tricks like hidden city fares, nested ticketing, and throwaway ticketing.

We’ll skip mileage running because, after all, what’s the point?

I’m No Longer an Over-Entitled Elite

Today is the last day of my elite status with Mileage Plus, or any other frequent flyer program for that matter. When United followed Delta in awarding elite status based on spending in addition to miles or segments flown, I stopped flying frequently since I knew I was never going to spend enough money to qualify… even for lowly silver status. I also was a little underemployed last year so I deliberately cut back on air travel.

I could not muster enough travel in 2014 to qualify even for Premier Silver.

I could not muster enough travel in 2014 to qualify even for Premier Silver.

Tomorrow, I join legions of ordinary travelers and other over-entitled elites, who earned elite status doing cheap mileage runs in February and October, and are now just general members of United’s frequent flyer program.

What do I lose now that I’m traveling in the back of the Snowpiercer?

  • No more priority boarding. Although it seems like everyone was in Group 2, this is going to sting the most because I always found room for my carry-on bag. Now I am going to be that guy who is gate checking it or shoving it in the overhead bin above some jerk in business class.
  • No more priority check-in or security line access. This was nice whenever I had an ex-JFK flight in the evening, when seemingly every other airline scheduled their flights, and the security line was jammed. But at LAX or SFO, almost everyone is an elite and only Global Services customers really see any shorter lines.
  • No more getting help during IRROPS. Elite status made a difference when something went wrong at the airport, such as flexible rebooking, free rooms, and a much shorter customer service line. I’m going to dread seeking help the next time something goes wrong.

The rest, I think, I can live without…

  • No more randomly getting PreCheck. This happened time-to-time but most frequently when I had a flight out of BUR, where there’s seemingly never a line for security. Ever!
  • No more free checked bag. It used to be two free bags for Silver/Premier/2P members, and three for Gold/Premier Executive/1P and higher.
  • No more complimentary Economy Plus seats at check-in. It used to be available at booking.
  • No more upgrades on domestic, non-PS flights. Since my most common routing was JFK-LAX, I almost never took advantage of these upgrades. And after the merger, I got upgraded exactly once: an improbable LGA-IAH with a companion two years ago. The rest of the time, I was always like #83 on the upgrade list between IAD and SFO. This guy, MON, J, always settled for a row-seven seat, which usually had more legroom than domestic first-class anyway.

But as with the other big change in my life, I’m now free to see what else is out there.

I’m sure I’ll find something to my liking.

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New Year’s Crash and Cold

My California adventure on two wheels continued unabated in the New Year because I have done something a bit foolish.

I got a used road bike off Craigslist.

West Coast Bike

Like the Green Monster I rode with the LA Wheelmen after Christmas, this bike is also from the late 1990s. Curiously, the late 1990s was about the time I started riding a bike more than a few miles at a time because gas prices spiked to the then elevated $2.00 per gallon, and I was unhappy paying more than $20 per week to fill up my tank.1

There’s a bit of lunacy in getting a bike that will sit in California while I live in New York, but I suspect that I will be coming out west a bit more frequently in the coming months. If that’s true, it might make sense to keep a bike to ride out there rather than renting one from time to time, as I’ve been doing. Also, my dad said he was thinking of riding it.

As soon as I got the bike, I made some minor though necessary repairs such as replacing a worn-out front tire, truing a rear wheel, and buying new bar tape. The chain could have used a thorough cleaning, but I was itching to get on the road the next morning and figured that the drivetrain might need more work than I was willing to do after getting it to my parent’s place. Instead, I said, “fuck it!” and rode to Oxnard on New Year’s Eve.

I rode the bike again on January 2. I had initially planned to ride a century from Orange County, where I was visiting my cousin for the day, to San Diego. But after talking with my family, I skipped that idea and decided to ride north towards Los Angeles.

Anaheim to Los Angeles via Long Beach

My planned route seemed easy enough. I would start in Anaheim and head towards the San Gabriel River Bikeway, where I would proceed south towards Long Beach.

Anaheim to Los Angeles

From there, I would ride along the beach and connect to the Los Angeles River Bikeway and head north towards Maywood and then onto surface streets to downtown LA.

Anaheim to Los Angeles

If you’ve tried to ride this route, between the San Gabriel River and LA River Bikeways along Long Beach, you’ll find that it’s not very easy to connect from one bikeway to another. The bicycling layer on Google Maps suggests that it’s just a matter of keeping the beach on your left, but it’s not quite that easy.

SG River to LA River Bikeway via Long Beach

When I finally found the bikeway on the beach, I found that the bikeway was closed due to construction, and there was no marked detour to continue. As I backtracked, I noticed another cyclist also riding to the closed section. As I looked back to see his course of action, figuring he might know something I didn’t, I ran into a curb and went over the handlebars. Ouch!

Fortunately, I was not seriously injured besides a sore shoulder and a bruised ego. After gathering myself for a few minutes, I got back on the bike and proceeded to Ocean Avenue in search of this elusive Los Angeles River Bikeway.

Los Angeles River Bikeway

The other blow to my cycling adventure came the day after riding from Orange County to downtown Los Angeles: I caught a pretty bad cold. That and the residual soreness from the crash basically kept me off the bike for the rest of the trip. I skipped two rides that I had wanted to do before heading back east. Instead of coming with a hundred-plus miles ridden for the new year, I returned to New York, where there is snow on the ground and temperatures that will not reach above freezing this weekend. I will also be nursing a tender left shoulder and a crushing sinus headache.

As I’ve said before, riding a bike sometimes requires a bit of insanity. I’ll be needing some of that to ride again in the coming days.

  1. It’s funny how gas prices, not adjusting for inflation, are about that price again at the beginning of 2015. 

Santa Clarita to Oxnard and Santa Barbara via CA-126

Until I was in high school, all I knew of Santa Barbara was that Michael Jackson and Ronald Reagan both lived near there and that it was the setting for a long-running soap opera. But one day, in my junior year of high school, a friend and I drove from the Antelope Valley to Santa Barbara for a day trip out of the high desert. Once we arrived, I was struck by remarkable differences in topography—desert versus beach, 2000-foot elevation versus sea level—but also by the drive. It was a much longer drive than I had done to that point: my parents didn’t really drive very far so most of our car trips were about an hour long and almost all contained within Los Angeles county. Driving over 100 miles, through two different counties, seemed to me then as extraordinary as biking 100 miles across state lines seems to me today.

A good portion of the drive from the desert to the sea is on CA-126, between Santa Clarita and Ventura. That road has undergone a lot changes since the mid-1990s. The thirty-two mile stretch between Santa Clarita and Santa Paula was more or less a one-lane country road, but today, it is a nice two-lane byway with a wide shoulder. Over the years, I noticed cyclists riding on this road, and at the time, it seemed crazy that someone would ride a bike that far, but as you know, I’m that crazy now.

On New Year’s Day, I hitched a ride with my mom to Santa Clarita and then biked fifty-odd miles to Oxnard for a friend’s New Year’s Eve dinner.

Santa Clarita to Oxnard via Santa Paula

It’s been atypically cold here in Southern California and on New Year’s Eve, it was downright chilly and windy. Fortunately, that wind was at my back for almost the entire ride and, to make matters even better, the ride is almost entirely downhill.

Santa Clarita to Oxnard: All downhill

My first stop was in Fillmore: a town that I kind of hated driving through because it forced me to slow to a pokey 40 MPH and even stop when I would inevitably come across a red traffic light. But on a bike, Fillmore was an oasis.

Santa Clarita to Oxnard

There are a bunch of places to stop and eat there, although I am convinced I picked the one that was the most expensive serving the most forgettable food. After eating a BLT, I headed back out on the country roads of eastern Ventura country, surrounded by citrus groves in full bloom. For whatever reason, as I rode through those roads, I kept thinking of two quintessential movies about the roots of modern Southern California: Chinatown and There Will Be Blood.

Santa Clarita to Oxnard

The next town on the route was Santa Paula, where the CA-126 turns into a freeway. At that point, I did something I had never done before: I rode through the town of Santa Paula, where I found another decommissioned gas station. This one however was not abandoned by adapted into an auto repair shop.

Santa Clarita to Oxnard

The rest of the ride was along Telegraph Road all the way to Ventura. The road runs parallel to the old railroad that ran through the Santa Clara River Valley, suggesting the strong historical connection between railroads and telegraph lines.

I arrived in Oxnard for a dinner with a few friends, and then to cap off the night, took a train to Santa Barbara for a New Year’s Eve party with some very old friends to, as they say, ring in the new year.

Santa Barbara obviously means a lot more to me today—both good and bad—than it did twenty years ago, when I associated it with two 1980s American icons and a soap opera.

Happy New Year!

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Seventy Miles in December

LA Wheelmen Ride to Santa Anita Canyon

Aside from some basic commuting-by-bicycle, I have been off my road bike for three weeks since I rode to Philadelphia with the New York Cycle Club, and as I’m still visiting family in Southern California for another week, I felt the urgent need to get on a bike. On Sunday, I rode with the LA Wheelmen from Alhambra Park east to the city of Upland for a seventy-mile loop to burn off some of my “holiday excess.”

LA Wheelmen: Santa Anita Canyon ride

The name of the LA Wheelmen club was a bit of a misnomer: we didn’t ride at all within the LA city limits, and there was more than one woman who rode with us. (Please note that I’m being sarcastic here.) The ride, called Santa Anita Canyon, was also misnamed as I don’t remember us stopping to admire a canyon. We did however stop at a Carl’s Jr for lunch, halfway through the ride, although it did seem like a long way to ride for an All-Natural Burger.

Normally, I hate eating a heavy lunch on a ride because we usually have hills to climb shortly afterward. But this club did things right. After lunch, we rode more or less downhill for the entire second half of the ride.

Santa Anita Canyon: First half up, second half down

In order to ride out here, I rented a green, 1990s-era Cannondale touring bike with finger tip shifters from Spinlister that I’ve dubbed the “Green Monster.” This bike is considerably heavier than my road bike, but it rides well, as you would expect from a touring bike. As I’m accustomed to riding a road bike, I had a some trouble adjusting to the 48t chainring. While it happens to be the same sized chainring as my single-speed bike, I didn’t really appreciate the difference a 53t chainring makes when I want to go fast.

But this is December, and who cares if I can’t pedal a bike faster than 17 MPH. It was a treat to ride seventy miles on a balmy (for me) and chilly (for them) Sunday along the San Gabriel Mountains with temperatures in the lower 50s. There were some nice climbs and decent views but, sadly, no beer stops.

Another funny difference with this group was how obsessed this group was with riding centuries. Like one a week…even in December. (They save the double and triple centuries for the warmer months.) They were a nice pleasant group and invited me to ride their Kick Off Century on New Years Day, which I was tempted to ride but ultimately decided to skip.

Of course, as is my custom, after finishing my ride, I was in search of a burger and a beer. As I browsed Twitter, I saw that Grill Em All, a celebrated food truck serving heavy metal–themed burgers, was doing a chicken wing special.

But I learned that they no longer get around on four wheels. They have a permanent store in…of all places…Alhambra. That was a mile and a half from where the Wheelmen finished their ride. My brother and nephew, who picked me up in Alhambra, met me at Grill Em All for a post-ride meal.

Grill Em All

Getting back to my parents’ house the next day was via a familiar way: commuter train.


Metrolink offers a pretty nice bike storage setup, allowing you to not only roll your bikes on board without a reservation but also to secure your bike with Velcro straps.

Riding out here with the group was a great way to test out bike riding in Southern California, and I look forward to doing more and more rides throughout my stay here.

Brewers, Growlers and Scofflaws

I’ve been in California a whole week now, and in addition to spreading holiday cheer with my family, I’ve continued my tour of local breweries where I order a flight.

Earlier this week, my mom and I headed to Little Tokyo near downtown Los Angeles. Over the years, I really got to know that neighborhood over the years, and Little Tokyo became my favorite neighborhood in LA. It’s centrally located with a good deal of public transit, including nearby Union Station. There’s some really good food in the area, and there’s a burgeoning nightlife scene, albeit an increasingly trendy one. And, of course, there’s also a brewery tap room at Angel City.


I tried to visit Angel City Brewing some years ago with a New York transplant friend, but it was closed at the time. Sarah and I went last year, and I finally managed to get a couple of pints last New Year’s Day, including an unusually light-colored stout.

Angel City Stout

After running a few errands with my mom near Little Tokyo, we headed to the brewery where I bought a flight to sample their offerings and to fill a half-gallon growler I bought at the brewery.

Angel City Brewing

She also kicked my butt at Jenga. Twice.

Angel City Brewing

After Christmas, it was time to venture on the town, lest I go completely stir crazy. Fortunately, the Antelope Valley actually has more than one local brewery. In addition to Bravery Brewing off Avenue L in Lancaster, there’s also Kinetic Brewing, full-fledged brew-pub on Lancaster Boulevard. As is my style, I ordered a flight of seven of their beers. At $10, it was an absolute steal.

Kinetic Brewing

When it came to time to leave, I took out my Angel City half-gallon growler and asked that they fill it. They refused because the growler came from another brewery. The only way they would let me buy beer to-go was if I bought a new glass growler from them. Perhaps emboldened by a few of their beers, I took to Twitter.

Nothing significant came of it, but I wondered why they refused to fill a growler from another brewery.

Was it a business decision? If so, it’s really short-sighted. Sure, they’re giving up a dollar or two on selling a new growler, but I’m offering them money to spill some beer into a glass receptacle. What difference does it make who put their trademark on it? Or…

Was it a regulatory issue? Is it not legal in California to fill a growler from another brewery?

It turns out, that it is the latter.

In California, a glass growler is subject to the same labelling requirements governing other containers, such as cans, bottles and kegs. The list of requirements is quite long, but the most relevant requirements for each label are…

  • the name and location of the manufacturer (city and state) and bottler (if different).
  • the name of the beer in the container.
  • the alcohol content, if 5.7% abv or greater. It is optional if below.
  • the net contents of the container.

As a workaround, any brewery is free to place their own sticker on a bottle, but the letter of the law is quite strict about doing so:

Any and all information pertaining to another beer manufacturer other than the licensee filling/selling the container must be obscured. All text and logos from a previous brewery must be obscured.

The California Craft Brewers Association, which published a Growler Clarification document for its members, also offers them a list of best practices in marketing growlers to their thirsty customers. As far as meeting the labelling requirements, they recommend brewers use a label that hangs from the neck of the bottle, instead of printing onto the glass bottles.

The California Craft Brewers Association recommends these hanging neck labels for growlers

As a loyal craft beer drinker, I hope that, in time, brewers throughout the state adopt this particular labelling technique. It is presumably cheaper than printing your own bottle, and it will make it easier for everyone to enjoy their products without resorting to acting like scofflaws.

Frequent “Flyer” Photos

A few years ago, when Instagram was becoming a thing and people started taking photos of the elegantly plated meals they had at restaurants, I remember reading a screed somewhere that criticized the practice. The author took issue with people using their smartphone cameras to snap blurry, heavily filtered, square photos of “blobs of food.” His rationale was that the image of the food alone didn’t communicate the excitement of the experience.

That spoke to me.

During a visit to Cooperstown in 2012, we stumbled into the dining room of the Council Rock Brewing. It was early October, and the brewery was commemorating Oktoberfest like any good beer supplier would do. Overwhelmed by the choices of beers available, I resorted to ordering a flight. At first, I was tempted to snap a photo of my flight which looked like an artist’s easel covered with several tawny pigments. But I resisted because that photo would not have captured the excited anticipation of sampling each brew. Instead, I posed for a snapshot.

Excited to Taste at Council Rock Brewery

Since then, it’s become somewhat of a theme for each time I get a flight at a brewery tap room. (What can I say? I like structure.)

Last year, I ordered a flight after a very hot, sixty-mile ride on Bastille Day from Poughkeepsie to Beacon via New Paltz. Although I look a little bit exhausted in the blurry photo, I was really excited to cap off a great ride with some delicious beer and kick off a great day in Beacon.


This year, I started to make a conscious effort to make these kinds of photos, as part of a series, especially when I buy a flight at the end of a bike ride.

For example, in October, I posed for a photo with a flight I got at The Vault Brewing in Yardley, Pennsylvania. If I don’t look like my usual content and composed self, it’s because I was suffering from an allergic reaction and was drowsy from a double-dose of Benadryl.


I was in slightly higher spirits carrying these beers in Patchogue at the Blue Point Brewery after riding there from Jamaica over Labor Day weekend.


And the following week, I posed with one glass from my flight at Greenport Harbor Brewing after riding to Orient on one of the greatest days of the year.

We Biked 90 Miles… Beer Me

Last month, I had a fellow rider shoot a photo of me posing with a flight at Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, Connecticut, as part of our ride to New Haven.


Another fellow rider more or less recreated the October 2012 photo with this shot of me at the Green Growler in Croton-on-Hudson.

Green Growler

Even on occasions where I didn’t ride a bike to a brewery, I still posed with the flight. I did so at last week’s holiday party at Rockaway Brewing.

Rockaway Brewing Pint Party

Speaking of the holidays, I am now in California for almost three weeks and this first week, I am spending it with my parents. We ventured to do some grocery shopping, and almost immediately, as if I were a computer programmed to do so, I found the tap room for Bravery Brewing, in Lancaster, California.


Twenty years ago, it seemed unthinkable to have a pretty solid brewery in the Antelope Valley. But I think, like an Irish pub and Chinese restaurant, any town worth a damn will also have a local brewery tap room.

And, of course, I’ll be there to order flight and get a photo of me excitedly waiting to try it.

B22 Ride to Philadelphia

When posting a ride for the New York Cycle Club, the ride leader is supposed to rate the rides based on the riding style (A, B, or C) and cruising speed we expect to maintain. I listed Sunday’s ride to Philadelphia as a B-ride, meaning that we would ride as a tight group but wouldn’t be pace-lining, cruising at about 17 MPH on flat terrain. However, I didn’t count on there being a really strong wind out of the north. That 10-15 MPH wind was at our backs the entire day and when it would gust to about 30 MPH, it was like a divine hand pushing us closer towards Philadelphia.

Five of us started pedaling from Bound Brook, New Jersey, at around 8:30 AM. At the beginning of the ride, we got a nice start, averaging close to 17 MPH. That was due to the fact that we were riding at 17-18 MPH and that we had open road ahead of us: there was no reason to slow down or stop. We made really great time to our first stop in Hopewell, twenty-three miles from the start, and continued at an accelerated pace towards the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. We arrived in Washington Crossing, 35 miles from the start, at about 11:30 AM, where we encountered a dress rehearsal for a reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776.

We didn’t have time to watch the whole thing, but we did stop to take a photo with a soldier.

Five Cyclists and a Revolutionary War Reenactor at Washington Crossing

We grabbed lunch in Yardley and even had time to each get a small four-ounce pour at the Vault Brewing, a personal favorite of one of our riders. Afterward, we sped through Pennsylvania, taking a different route than I did in July. Instead of riding through the industrial wasteland between the Delaware River and the Northeast Corridor railroad line, we rode along Trenton Avenue between Morrisville and Bensalem. It turns out that this particular road is designated as bike route PA-E and part of the East Coast Greenway. Over the twenty or so miles west of Yardley, we cruised at around 22 MPH. One guy in our group quipped, “I didn’t realize that this was a B22 ride to Philadelphia.”

Our hustle paid off, we arrived in Old City at around 2:45 PM. It was 15 minutes before our target time, and it gave us almost two hours in town before catching the ghetto train back to New York City.

We toasted our grand effort with a few beers at 2nd Story Brewing.

Cheers at 2nd Story Brewing

When our waitress asked me if I rode to Philadelphia from New York often, at first I said, “no, not often.” But then I realized that this might be a worthwhile ride to keep doing. As long as there’s enough daylight, a swell group of riders, and beer at the end, this really is the best way to get to Philadelphia.