Monday, June 27, 2011

Takin' to the Streets

If you travel as much as I do, which may not even be possible, you know that food can be a big part of your vacation budget, and an easy way to really pack on the pounds. That's just one of the many reasons why I love timeshare travel. You see, almost all timeshare units come equipped with a full kitchen or at least a kitchenette, unlike the mini-fridge and a single-serve coffee maker most hotels offer (if they offer anything at all). And while no one wants to spend their vacation cooking and cleaning dishes, not eating out three meals a day saves a ton of money, and gives you more control over what you consume. Have you ever eaten a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich just because you found yourself at the Graceland snack bar at lunchtime? Been there, and done that. I typically eat breakfast in, pack a lunch, and then treat myself to dinner and dessert out, reducing my meals purchased at eateries by two thirds. But when you really just want to grab something on the go without breaking the bank or wrecking your diet, I have two words for you: street food.

If the words "street" and "food" seem unappetizing together, well... you have point there. My mom always told me not to eat anything that had been on the ground either. But "lunch trucks" don't exactly have the best reputation either. Let's just call it "curbside cuisine" and you'll have to trust me when I say that it is all the rage. As more and more American cities shake off the doldrums and once again become centers of commerce (and tourism), a new interest in fast, affordable, and healthy meal choices has arisen. And as the workforce draws more and more upon recent immigrants from countries where street food is part of the culture, aspiring entrepreneurs have capitalized on the demand. Imagine owning a restaurant that you could drive to wherever the customers are, and if times get really hard, one that you can sleep in too?!

Of course this is not a recent trend in places like New York City and the Greater Los Angeles area. Home to waves of immigrants (and their street flavors) for over a century, these mega-cities have had lunch trunks since... well, since there have been trucks. But tight economic times combined with a demand for better food choices have made this a golden area for big city street food. In NYC, don't miss Daisy May's Barbecue usually parked near Radio City Music Hall. You can rent a nearby timeshare and walk right to it. In the LA area, be sure to try Tere's Mexican Grill in Hollywood. You can get a timeshare in nearby Anaheim.

But even smaller cities are enjoying the boom times. Miami Beach is loaded with streetside Cuban fare that you are not likely to find anywhere outside of Havanna, and of course great timeshare resorts. If you go, try the Latin Burger and Taco Truck. And if think you might like to start a truck of your own, look up the folks at Food Cart USA while you are there. They've been making USDA-approved trucks in Miami since 1979. If you find yourself on the West Coast, try Spencer on the Go! out of San Francisco. They were rated the #1 Lunch Truck by GQ magazine, and the City by the Bay has several fine timeshare resorts to choose from. Feel like something with a Polynesian flair? Look no further than Marination in downtown Seattle. They've got everything from kimchi quesadillas to Korean short-rib tacos, and even a designated area for customer hula-hooping. Not sure about that last part, but hey, that's Seattle for you. From Austin to Milwaukee and Portland to Portsmouth, lunch trucks are popping up like mushrooms, and more and more urban centers are opening up to timeshare development. And they go together like peanut butter and... well... fried bananas frankly (don't knock it 'til you try it).

Well,I am off locate the CoolHaus truck in the Culver City neighborhood of LA. They specialize in artisinal ice cream sandwiches in edible wrappers. That's right, the wrapper is made from potato and is imprinted with soy inks. So when you've finished your brown butter with candied bacon or wasabi ice cream (not kidding), you knock back the wrapper too, and there's no waste at all. Don't try that with a Big Mac.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hot Town Summer in the City

So summer is officially here, and the longest day of the year has come and gone. Had civilization left it up to me to notice that the sun stayed up just slightly longer yesterday than any other day of the year, we'd have no summer solstice at all. I guess I would have made a lousy pagan, but ever since it was pointed out and explained to me, I've had a special reverence for the first day of summer. I hope some day to travel to Stonehenge and witness the solstice in an observatory built specifically for that purpose. But it is very popular with the neo-druid, "crystals and patchouli" crowd, and lodging is a real challenge. Besides, I hear it rained there all day anyway. So I opted for the Big Apple instead.

Now I know what you are thinking: why head to the asphalt jungle to celebrate summer? The short answer is: yoga. That's right, the ancient physical and mental discipline from India was on full display in New York's Time Square, and I was right in the thick of it. For eight years straight, an event dubbed Mind Over Madness Yoga has brought thousands of people from all over the world to search for peace and tranquility in the heart of the most frenetic city in the world. It's an odd juxtaposition to be sure, but since I love New York and have always been curious about yoga, I thought I'd give it a try. Organized by the Times Square Alliance, this free, all-day yoga session was led by a professional instructor, and all participants were given a free yoga mat by event sponsor Lucy Activewear.

I have to say that taking your first yoga class in the heart of midtown Manhattan is probably not the best way to learn the basics. Sort of like taking your first guitar lesson in the parking lot at a Van Halen concert. Just the same, the event is really more about connecting with the energy associated with the solstice and trying to carry it with you for the rest of the year. I don't know about any of that, and I am not sure that I had any kind of spiritual awakening as a result of the various poses, but I will say I felt great afterwards. Super loose and relaxed. And the spectacle of thousands of people in the street doing yoga as the rest of the city went about their business - seemingly unfazed - was worth the trip. Further, you are not likely to see this much spandex in one place outside of a Dolly Parton concert.

While in Gotham, I am staying at The Roosevelt Hotel. And no, I haven't abandoned timeshare rentals for my trip to NYC. The "Teddy" underwent a $65 million renovation in 1997 and is now home to timeshare accommodations. I am renting a studio unit with a kitchenette. Built in 1924 and dubbed the "Grand Dame of Madison Avenue," it was named in honor of 26th president, and is emblematic of the "Roaring Twenties". It is also famous for launching the careers of both Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk (if you are old enough to remember them), and has appeared in numerous feature films, including "Wall Street", "Quiz Show", "Malcolm X", "The French Connection", and many more. The onsite amenities include a great restaurant, health club, concierge service, child care, and much more. But its location at Madison Ave. at 45th St., and its meticulous restoration, are what makes this place so special.

Well, I am off to Billy's Antiques and Props in the Bowery. You may recall the Bowery as New York's skid row for most of the 20th century, and city-dwellers (let alone tourists) rarely ventured down there at night. But not anymore. You are more likely to find a Crate & Barrel, Whole Foods or Starbucks there as you are to find anything seedy. Except Billy's that is. You see Billy's is a "last hold out" of sorts of the old Bowery, and his signature green tent on East Houston Street is home to all manner of oddities, antiques, and just weird New York stuff. I am on the hunt for a real glass eyeball (don't ask) and I am told Billy has a first rate collection. I wonder what he'd give me for a very lightly used yoga mat?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Burn Baby Burn

So far this spring I have managed to get myself stung by a bloom of poisonous jellies in Florida, suffered an epic altitude-enhanced hangover in Lake Tahoe, and can now add to my 2011 miseries a wicked sunburn suffered in Cape Cod. Now I am normally so careful about applying sunscreen at regular intervals, that I am a bit embarrassed that I let this happen, and in quite a bit of pain to boot. You see, I bought this new sunscreen with an SPF rating of 100. It was the same price as the SPF-50 I typically wear, and figuring it lasts twice as long, I'd be getting twice the protection for my money. Judging by the fact that I look (and feel) like I was rolled around in a frying pan, I have decided to take some time indoors and bone up on my sunscreen facts.

So I assume you know that SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, but do you know what that really means? Do you think that SPF 100 enables you to spend 100 minutes out in the sun, or that it blocks twice as much sun as SPF 50 (like I did)? Well, you'd be wrong on both accounts, and find yourself sitting in your timeshare rental burnt to a crisp, just like me. So here's the deal: there are three types of Ultra Violet (UV) rays - A, B and C. The ozone layer, when it doesn't have a big hole in it, keeps almost all of the UVC away from us. UVA is what you seen under the lights at a disco, or if you are not as old as I am, a rave. UVA travels through windows and penetrates deep into your skin, and are the rays typically associated with premature aging of the skin. You ever see those old folks at the beach who never seem to burn, but instead look like large, greasy raisins? That's UVA's handiwork, and those folks may not be as old as you think. UVC, on the other hand, cannot travel through barriers like glass, and are most responsible for sunburns, and certain cancers of the skin. SPF refers the the blocking or reflecting of the UVA and UVB rays.

So what are the SPF numbers all about? As a starting point, there is a set time limit each of us can spend in the sun before our skin begins to burn. For me, this is about 10-20 minutes. Everyone's base number is different, and like IQ or net worth, just about all of us overestimate this figure. So SPF is the factor by which you can extend your time in the sun. So my usual SPF-50 extends my time before burning from 10-20 minutes to 500-1000 minutes. And therefore, SPF-100 takes me up to 1000 - 2000 minutes. There's only 1440 minutes in a day - so how the heck did I get a sunburn?

The fact of the matter is that almost no one applies enough sunscreen. Do you know how much sunscreen it takes to cover your body in order to satisfy the SPF number? Try 1 oz. That's a shot glass folks, each time you apply. Another way to think of it is that the 3oz tube that has become so popular since carry-on liquid restrictions went into place is enough to last just three applications. Now this may seem like a tremendous amount of sunscreen to you, and you might suspect that I am getting some sort of kickback from the sunscreen industry, but the fact is that the SPF number is based on a 1 oz application. If you are like me, and I hope you're not, you put your sunscreen on very thinly, and that 3 oz tube will last you all summer and beyond. All I can say is that sooner or later, you are going to end up looking like a strip of bacon.

So aside from the fact that I getting about 1/10th the protection I think I am by not applying enough, sunscreen degrades as you wear it. Quickly. Swimming, sweating, and sunlight break down sunscreen in about 2-3 hours - even the waterproof stuff. And as anyone who has ever been to the beach knows, swimming, sweating, and sunlight are pretty much what it is all about. So regardless of your SPF number, you are pretty much out there naked (figuratively, let's hope) after 2-3 hours.

So my advice to you is to apply a high SPF sunscreen liberally and often, and don't overestimate how much time it takes to burn your skin. Feel free to continue to lie about your IQ and net worth, however. No one believes you anyway.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Hangover Too

So what did you do this weekend? Did you get totally loaded at your niece's wedding and make a complete ass out of yourself? Well, consider yourself lucky. I, on the other hand, was apparently the life of the party and will be ducking my relatives until at least Christmas. By that time someone else will surely have dethroned me as idiot king. But for now, I reign supreme.

I did learn a two important things this weekend, however. First, high altitude can significantly increase the effects of alcohol on the human body. In fact, it is estimated that once you get up above a mile in elevation, one drink can have the effect of two or three drinks at sea level. Second, The Ridge at Lake Tahoe in Nevada (the scene of the crime) sits at 7,500 above sea level. You do the math.

I must also admit that I was completely unaware of any timeshare resorts offering wedding services. So when my niece asked me about the nuptial packages offered at The Ridge, I took it as part of my ambassadorial duties to look into it for her. Not only is the Ridge one of the few timeshare resorts in the country offering complete wedding packages, but their Grand View Gardens offers the ceremony, reception and catering for up to 175 people, and of course lodging - all with spectacular views of the Lake Tahoe Mountains and Carson Valley. She went with a lakeside ceremony with her family pastor presiding, flowers for bride and groom, one-hour photography session, wedding cake, indoor reception for 40, and (ugh) an open bar.

The food was delicious. She went with buffet entrees of wild mushroom ravioli, cider glazed pork (with carving station), and filet tips of beef. The sides were twice baked potato (they had me at once baked) and roasted asparagus with garlic, plus tapas, salad bar, bread, and a pasta course. If meat and potatoes is not your cup of tea, they have dinner choices ranging from Southwest barbeque to Carribean. And don't get me started on the desserts. In addition to the cake, they had creme brulee, bananas foster, and something called a chocolate fountain. Do you know about these things? It looks like a three-layer cake with molten Belgian chocolate cascading down in a continuous flow. Guests dip skewers of fruit, lady fingers, and just about anything else you can think to put chocolate on. And if you've lost all your inhibitions, apparently you can just lay under it with your mouth open and let it pour right in.

If you cannot get yourself invited to a wedding at The Ridge, a timeshare rental is an ideal way to enjoy this fantastic resort. Its 11 acres boasts one- and two-bedroom units with fully equipped kitchens, dining areas, gas fireplaces, indoor/outdoor pools, onsite spa, racquetball, tennis and more. Oh, and it has a private eight-person gondola to Heavenly Ski Resort. RedWeek members give this resort 4.5 stars, and I can see why. Looks like you can get a 2-bedroom/2-bathroom unit with a mountain view for about $140/night.

I'll leave you with another little factoid I picked up this weekend. Lake Tahoe's water is 99.9% pure, and so clear that a 10" white dinner plate would be plainly visible at 78 feet below the surface. I am hoping the same holds true for my cummerbund, or I am going to be eating my tuxedo rental deposit, along with a goodly amount of humble pie.