Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Are You Ready for Some... Chicken?

Well it's finally here, the most hyped day of the year (in America, anyway). It's Superbowl Sunday, and that can only mean one thing: chicken wings. That's right, the part of the bird most Americans normally don't eat at all will become the focus of a gorge-fest to the tune of 1.25 billion pieces, or 100 million pounds of chicken wings. Think about that for a moment, and really try to get your head around it. There of about 350 million people in this country, give or take. If my math is correct (it's probably not), that's 3.57 chicken wings for every man, woman, and child in this country. All on the same day. Are you kidding me?! If our civilization should happen to cease right at halftime, future archaeologists are going to have a bugger of a time explaining all those chicken wing bones lying around.

And if you think I'm making this up, I'm not. These stats all come from the Chicken Council's 2012 Wing Report. And I'm not making that up either. There's really an official report on this stuff. According to it, the aforementioned chicken wings laid end-to-end would circle the circumference of the Earth more than twice. And if you consider the fact that about 111 million people in the U.S. will actually watch the game, and therefore be eating said wings, it comes in at more like 11.25 wings each. Why not just make it a clean dozen, and call it dinner? But that's the thing. Apparently wings are not even at the top of the list of items that will be chowed down upon. No that title belongs to chips and dips. Potato chips alone will weigh in at approximately 28-30 million pounds, which if you've held a bag of potato chips, is just unbelievable. And according to the California Avocado Commission, Sunday will see enough guacamole consumed to cover the floor of the stadium from end-to-end to a depth of about 40 inches. Heck, they should skip the game entirely and just do that. I'd totally tune in to see that much guacamole in one place.

Of course the game itself took a backseat to the commercials, half-time show, and other meaningless hoopla a long time ago. So I guess one cannot be blamed for cutting loose, even if you don't really follow football. But maybe they should move it to Saturday or something like that. Consuming that much food - and the 50 million cases of beer that will be sold this weekend - has got to be hurting U.S. productivity come Monday morning, I would think. I am sure the Department of Labor has some special report on that as well, but I am afraid to look it up.

If you didn't manage to score tickets to the big game in Indianapolis (I didn't), you could do the next best thing: watch the game from a timeshare rental in the home city of one of the two teams. This year's game features a classic Northeast rivalry, with the New York Giants squaring off against the New England Patriots. Now these two teams don't often play one another, being in different leagues and all, but the baseball rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox has fueled enough hatred to last a lifetime (and then some). They can't even agree on the clam chowder (chowdah for my Beantown friends), with Manhattan going with a tomato base and New England going with cream. Mixing the two is a bipartite - and delicious - solution to that problem, by the way.

Boston of course is home to Paul Revere's Ride, the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Boston Tea Party, Bird vs. Magic, and so much more. You can rent a timeshare at Marriott's Custom House, located on Boston Harbor and within walking/metro distance to everything. You can watch the game from Ye Olde Union Oyster House, the oldest continually operating restaurant in America. They say that Daniel Webster, an Oyster House regular, frequently consumed six brandies and 36 oysters in a single sitting. Are you kidding me?! Talk about a power lunch.

New York City, of course, is the city that never shuts up (I stole that line from Ani DiFranco). I'm just kidding of course. I love the Big Apple, and a timeshare rental at the West 57th Street by Hilton Club will put you in the thick of it all. Tonic Bar in Times Square claims to be the largest sports bar in all of Gotham, with 25 super-sized plasma TVs. If you go, be sure to check out the Naked Cowboy on your way down there. You know about this guy? Yeah, he stands in Times Square playing a guitar wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and his tighty whities. Man he must get cold come winter time. Hope he doesn't break a g-string, if you know what I mean.

Well, I have to go pick my winner in the big office pool. Marbles looks very strong to me, but Penelope could be tough to beat. You are planning to watch Puppy Bowl VIII on Sunday, aren't you? Since 2003, Animal Planet has been airing a mock superbowl featuring puppies "playing football" in a miniature stadium, and it is the cutest darn thing you've ever seen in your life. Plus, all of the puppies are available for adoption. And unlike adopting an NFL player, they won't expect you to lavish them with expensive gifts and wild parties, or ransack your house in a steroid-induced rage. They might chew up your shoes and pee on your carpet of course, but who's to say a linebacker wouldn't do that as well?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Enter the Dragon

This week marked the beginning of the new year in the traditional Chinese calendar. So if you've already blown all of your other new year's resolutions, here's a second chance. Have you ever eaten at a Chinese restaurant and seen the various animals that represent each of the years ringing the outside of your placemat? Well if you were to look up the year 2012, you'd see that this is the year of the dragon: the most lucky of all of the animals in the Chinese zodiac. And can you guess whose birth year was also a year of the dragon? That's right, yours truly. Now we all know I am the luckiest son-of-a-gun to come down the pike. I mean, I get to travel to great timeshare destination and then blog about them for a living. But I don't know how much of that I would read into the dragon symbol. I do share this distinction with the likes of John Lennon, Che Guevara, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a few. But each of them were shot to death, which is not lucky at all. Besides, I see myself cashing out slumped over a plate of chocolate-covered potato chip cupcakes. But I guess time will tell.

Anywho, I thought it might be nice to rent a timeshare in China and file my new year's dispatch from there. But it turns out that I am a persona non grata in China, or what is known as a "cyber-dissident". My attorney assures me that it's all a misunderstanding, having something to do with a blog posting I wrote about the two giant pandas at the National Zoo in D.C. They are on loan from China, as you may know, and I simply said that "technically speaking, they are bears and not pandas," and that "pandas are a separate genus of animal with one living species: the Red Panda." All of which is quite true. But the "Red Panda" bit was somehow mistranslated to being a slight on the communist party, with the bears as Manchurian candidates sent to D.C. to disrupt U.S. foreign policy, or something crazy like that. Apparently it was in all of the papers over there, and our ambassador had to smooth things over. Who knew? Anyway, I've been advised to stay away until this blows over and not talk about pandas anymore. Boy, I hope I didn't just screw that part up by telling you all of this.

Anyway, we are fortunate enough here in North America to have what are known as Chinatowns in many major cities: New York, San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago, Seattle, Montreal, Vancouver, and many, many more. All of these various Chinatowns started in places where the immigration of Chinese labor was heavy, and concentrated.

In the case of San Francisco, the oldest and longest running Chinatown in the West, the gold rush and construction of the transcontinental railroad brought thousands and thousands of Chinese laborers to the western shores of the U.S. Now some Chinatowns are almost purely tourism-based, while others are functioning centers of Chinese-American culture. San Francisco's enjoys the benefits of both. It was purely an ethnic enclave at the turn of the 20th century. But it was nearly obliterated by the 1906 earthquake and fire. When it was rebuilt it was reimagined as a tourist center, and many of the buildings that have come to represent Chinatown were constructed during this period. It has been described as a "city within a city" and is the most densely populated neighborhood of the City by the Bay. It has its own government, post office, hospitals, parks, and all of the amenities you would associate with a "stand alone" city. And then there's the food. Oh my. They say that if you ate in a different restaurant every night of the week, it would take almost a year to try them all. I might just have to look into that. You know, for research purposes. There are numerous San Francisco timeshares to choose from on RedWeek.com.

New York's Chinatown, on the other hand, is first and foremost a residential enclave. And when I say New York's Chinatown, I mean Manhattan. New York City, as a whole, boasts as many as five distinct Chinatowns. But the famous one in lower Manhattan is home to the largest Chinese population in the West. It was formed when the work out in California dried up, and for many decades was one of the worst and most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. But changes in immigration laws and a national mood shift towards Asian immigration resulted in a thriving community of manufacturing, groceries, jewelry merchants, banking, and food vendors. Now most, but not all, of the garment manufacturing has left the city and returned to China. But just about everything else remains. You really need to visit the area of grocers and fishmongers around Canal Street. I highly suggest haggling with them over their prices and the freshness of their products, so long as you are up for the lively response this will illicit. Maybe pack a hockey mask, just in case. And if you cannot afford to pick up a diamond ring at one of the many jewelry shops, all manner of bogus Rolex and Cartier watches are readily available on the street. Rent a New York City timeshare and take the 6 train directly to Chinatown.

Victoria, British Columbia's Chinatown survives almost purely as a tourist attraction. The oldest in Canada, and second in age only to San Francisco, it too started as a result of a gold rush. And like San Francisco's, it expanded as the Canadian rail system spread. But over the years, its size and Chinese makeup shrunk. Now don't get me wrong, it is still home to many, many Chinese-Canadians. But rather than be a stand-alone, city-within-a-city, it is more of an ethnic neighborhood, and it is a lovely one at that. Think Little Italy with soy sauce instead of marinara. Be sure to hit the area around Fan Tan Alley and check out the shops, restaurants, and public art on display in this area. Fan Tan Alley itself enjoys the distinction of being the narrowest official street in all of Canada, at just 0.9 meters wide. Folks, that's just under three feet across, so you will be walking and not driving. And if you happen to be more than three feet wide yourself, well, you can stand at one end and look down, and think about laying off the Peking duck. Rent a timeshare at WorldMark Victoria Resort, and take in all that this beautiful city has to offer.

Well, I am off to WildPlay West Shore Victoria to swing from the trees like a monkey. Seriously, it's an outdoor "adventure zone" just outside of downtown Victoria, where old and young alike can test their courage on the Monkido (as in monkey see, monkey do) "aerial obstacle course". It's a series of zip lines, tightropes, rope bridges with missing planks, and at least a dozen other ways to totally kill yourself. But I figure this is my lucky year, being a dragon and all, and what's the worst that can happen?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crime Doesn't Pay

Well, most of the time anyway. White collar crime enjoys a historically high rate of return, with little in the way of a downside. But in terms of traditional robbery, thieves always slip up eventually and get caught. They're thieves after all, and even if they manage to stay clean after a heist, all of their associates are criminals, and somebody ends up talking. But on this day in 1950, 11 men from Boston tried to pull off - and get away with - the perfect crime. They stole $2.7 million dollars - the largest heist in U.S. history at the time - injuring no one, and leaving almost no clues as to their identity. Their target was the Brinks Armored Car depot, and their heist will forever be known as The Great Brinks Robbery.

Now these fellows did not just decide on a whim to rob an armored car facility. No, this was a carefully planned operation, involving 18 months of preparation. Its mastermind, Anthony "Fats" Pino, devised the plan almost two years before the actual date was set. Now I know that "mastermind" and a nickname of "Fats" seem contradictory, but this guy really thought this thing through. He and his crew of ten other career criminals set out to case the Brinks operation. They determined at what point in the month it had the most cash on hand; removed lock cylinders from doors to have duplicate keys made (returning them without being detected); stole the plans to the security system (ditto); and even had replica Brinks uniforms and caps made to enable them to come and go as Brinks employees. Had they put this type of effort and planning into establishing a legitimate business of some sort, they'd all have become millionaires anyway. But what fun is there in that?

On the evening of January 17th, the men entered the depot with their copied keys, wearing their phony uniforms and Halloween masks to conceal their faces. They went immediately to the counting room and tied up the employees working within. They stuffed a dozen or so canvas bags with all manner of cash, coins, money orders, etc., and were back outside in their getaway vehicles in under 30 minutes. The loot weighed over a half a ton, and the only evidence they left behind was the rope used to tie up the employees, and a cap that must have fallen off of the head of one of the robbers. Not a scratch on anyone nor a fingerprint anywhere. Can you say CSI Bahston?

Seriously, state and local police, as well as the FBI, descended on the place, and could find nothing. They likewise rounded up all of the usual suspects and no one was talking. It would seem that the only people who knew anything about the heist were the criminals themselves. And "Fats" had a plan that would keep them all quiet, or so he thought. The statute of limitations on such a crime in 1950 was six years. Fats made a promise that not one cent of the money would be spent before the six years were up, and only then would the loot be divided. This was a tremendous incentive for the gang members to stay clean, and if they couldn't do that, to at least stay quiet. It was deviously simple, and it almost worked.

The problem came in the form of one Joseph "Specs" O'Keefe. I love these nicknames, I wish I had one. Anyway, he was picked up for an earlier robbery and found guilty in 1955. But as he went off to jail, he knew his share of the $2.7 million would be waiting for him when he got out. But I guess prison is not all that it is cracked up to be, and he wanted out. In letters to his crew, he demanded some of his share be release so he could hire an attorney to get his sentence reduced. When that did not happen, he implied that he might start talking.

Now this where a non-criminal mind would come up with a pragmatic solution that appeases O'Keefe's desire to get his sentence reduced, without putting the kibosh on the entire operation. It is at this critical point when these things always pivot in the wrong direction, and we learn why crime doesn't pay. Fats and the other members agreed that hiring a hit man to eliminate O'Keefe (in prison) was the way to go. I would have loved to have been at that meeting. Anyway, the hit man was of course discovered before he could complete the task, managing to only wound "Specs" and seriously tick him off. And with only 11 days before the six years were up - 11 days! - O'Keefe started singing. The rest, as they say, is history. Although most of the money was never found, eight of the gang members were convicted to life sentences, two died before going to trial, and O'Keefe cut a deal. The heist and subsequent investigation inspired the 1978 film The Brinks Job with Peter Falk, which I highly recommend.

Now if you want to visit the site of the most famous heist in U.S. history, you can't. The Brinks building, located on the corners of Commercial and Prince Streets in Boston, was torn down and replaced with a parking garage. Why are these things always turned into parking garages? Anyway, it is on the Freedom Trail, Boston's famous walking tour of the city's (and the country's) rich history, so why not have a look? You can get a timeshare rental at Marriott's Custom House and take in the entire city on foot.

Well, I am off to the Warren Anatomical Museum on the grounds of Harvard University to see the skull of one Phineas Gage. I know that sounds macabre, but it gets worse. This was the fellow who had a metal rod blown clean through his head back 1848 while working on a Vermont railroad. And lived! Yeah, he was unwisely tamping a stick of TNT down into a hole with a 12 lb. metal rod, when the TNT blew up and sent the rod straight through his coconut, passing out the top of it. Not only did he live, he never lost consciousness. He went on to be a bit of a celebrity/freak, dying in San Francisco in 1860. People who knew him before said that he was more or less the same after, except that he was a bit irritable and erratic, and became prone to cursing a lot. Are you kidding me?! Ask anyone who has known me for a while and I am quite certain that's what they say about me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Scandalously Sweet

I love a good scandal as much as the next guy: Watergate, Nannygate, Travelgate, and even Weinergate was good for a few yucks last year. But Cupcakegate? Have you heard about this one? Yeah, it seems that a woman named Rebecca Hains ran afoul of the Transportation Security Administration's 3-1-1 carry-on rule with a cupcake on a flight from Las Vegas last month. Now before you jump to any conclusions about TSA overreach, it should be pointed out that the cupcake in question was jammed inside a glass mason jar. And while that still may not be sufficient to arouse safety concerns for carry-on items, it's weird, right? I mean, who puts a cupcake in a jar?

Apparently Wicked Good Cupcakes in Cohasset, MA, does. They mail-order cupcakes all over the country, and the mason jar is their gimmick, and delivery container. Being a bit of a cupcake purist - call me a snob if you will - I am not sure this really counts as a cupcake. In my book, a cupcake has a wrapper on it, and you eat it with your hands. I mean, aren't these the defining characteristics of a cupcake? Don't get me wrong, I'd totally eat one out of a jar, but is it really a cupcake anymore? What if you jam a taco into a coffee mug: is it still a taco, or just a mess?

Anyway, everyone seems to love cupcakes, and maybe that is why you have noticed cupcake shops popping up all around the country, especially in metro areas. Now this is not a new phenomenon. The "cupcake craze" seems to have started with an episode of Sex and the City that featured New York's Magnolia Bakery over a decade ago. Lots of places were selling cupcakes prior to that, of course. But shops that sell only cupcakes seem to have exploded ever since. I've seen them in New York, Seattle, D.C., Vegas, San Francisco, Orlando, and a ton of other places that I have rented timeshares. But surely these can't last (cupcake shops, not timeshares), can they? I mean they're cupcakes. Sure everyone loves them, and they have a wonderful nostalgic quality about them. But so do hot dogs and transistor radios. Are soda fountains and barbershops next? I hope so, but I am not holding my breathe.

But so long as the tide is still rising, you will always get folks pushing the limits. Example? How about a BLT cupcake from More Cupcakes in Chicago? Maybe beer is more your thing? Then you're gonna want to try the Guinness cupcake from The Atlanta Cupcake Factory in Georgia. But the one that really called out to me was the chocolate-covered potato chip cupcake from Over the Rainbow Cupcakes in Palm Springs, CA. I mean wow, talk about decadent. What could improve a cupcake more than chocolate and potato chips? Well bacon I suppose, but really, this thing is amazing. Now I know what you're thinking: did he really travel all the way to Palm Springs for a cupcake? The answer to that question would be yes. And no.

Palm Springs (the place with all of those wind turbines) is a fantastic travel destinations, and if you have a kajillion dollars, I imagine a wonderful place to live. Despite the tropical sounding name, Palm Springs is actually a desert city. It enjoys over 350 days of sunshine a year, and less than 4 inches of rain annually. Sort of like the Anti-Seattle. In the 1920s, the recently minted Hollywood movie stars found a retreat from the fans and media in the hot, dry climate of the village of Palm Springs. These days it is home to over 40,000 people, and growing. It is also famous for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world (don't miss this); the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens: the only U.S. zoo and botanic garden dedicated to the deserts of the world; the beautiful San Jacinto Mountains: home to the Pacific Crest Trail; and of course timeshare resorts. I chose a rental at Palm Canyon Resort and Spa, which features 240 villas, all with kitchens, decks, spa tubs, designer furniture, and more. Out by the pool area there's a 20-foot-high rockscape complete with palm trees, waterslides, waterfalls, underground walkways, and a spa. No wonder it get 4 stars from RedWeek members.
Well, I am off to the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies. It's a dance and musical review show that plays at the historic Plaza Theatre in downtown, featuring performers ranging in age from 56 to 86. Think A Chorus Line meets Golden Girls. They pack the house for ten shows a week and are redefining the relationship between old age and the performing arts. I just hope they don't have any TSA-style ushers, because I've got like $40 worth of chocolate-covered potato chip cupcakes stuffed in my pants.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


So did you make any resolutions for 2012? Before you answer that, how did the ones you made for 2011 work out? That's what I figured. That's why I never make New Year's resolutions: they're just too hard to keep. Consider the Top 5 most popular resolutions as reported by regular American's to the U.S. government web portal USA.gov:
  1. Drink Less Alcohol
  2. Eat Healthier Food
  3. Get a Better Education
  4. Get a Better Job
  5. Get Fit
So #4 is not even possible. I mean, I travel for a living and then blog about it. How sweet is that? I guess the guys who shoot the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition could claim to have a better gig than I do, but I bet some of those models are not as sweet to work with as they appear to be in print. Can you say Diva? And the ship has pretty much sailed on #3. The other three, obviously, are non-starters. Like I said, I travel for a living. Eating, drinking, and not getting enough exercise are pretty much part of the job description.

But the other thing about resolutions, which I have always secretly suspected, is that they may even be bad for you in all of the ways you want to them to be good for you. For example, setting a goal to lose 25 lbs. is not only monumentally hard, it creates a situation where a failure will likely lead to more weight gain. Sound familiar? Well there appears to be some science behind it, as discussed in this recent WebMD article. By the way, I've stopped going to the doctor entirely since discovering WebMD about a year ago. Yeah, I totally self-diagnose everything now, and then jump on Internet discussion boards for treatment ideas. And while crowd-sourcing my healthcare to a bunch of strangers on the web sounds like a recipe for disaster, it's worked so far, and I am saving a ton of money. Your results may vary, and side effects may include extreme agony, followed by a long, slow death.

So what are we supposed to do about these things we wish to change about ourselves? Just give up and accept them? I don't think so. I think what the good doctor who wrote that article is saying, is that we need to set our goals more realistically, based upon things we know we can accomplish. He gives the example of marathon runners. The only reason they run marathons is for the feeling they get when they finish. The other 2-4 hours are absolute misery that only a masochist could enjoy. But they didn't start by running 26.2 miles, any more than you would teach your child to read by tossing "War and Peace" into the crib with her at night. I met a fellow who is in his seventies who runs marathons, and he started by running the distance between two telephone poles. That's only 50 feet in most neighborhoods. But that is as far as he could run, and did not want fail (and thus give up). And while it took him several years to get to the point of running his first marathon, he never stopped making progress along the way. In other words, small, attainable, incremental goals.

Now I am not qualified to tell you how to cut down on your drinking or eating. But there is an area I do know a thing or two about that you may consider if you are still in the market for a resolution: take more vacation! That's right, you need more time off. Americans work more hours than people in just about every other industrialized nation, and take less time off. In fact, many people actually lose their vacation days because they expire before they ever use them. This, in my opinion, should be one of the seven deadly sins. It can take the place of acedia, since nobody knows what that means anyway. And maybe, just maybe, you could nibble away at that "getting fit" resolution while you are at it.

A timeshare rental in a walkable city like New York, San Diego, or San Francisco will incorporate lots of exercise, but in the pursuit of great sight-seeing, shopping, or other tourist attractions. When you return,you might find that throwing some walking into other things you enjoy isn't so terribly difficult (like parking your car really far from the entrance to the mall). Or maybe you could try golf, tennis, yoga, dancing, or swimming at a timeshare resort that offers these amenities on-site. Many have beginner classes with qualified instructors. It's not like joining a gym, and trying to get in shape all at once. Rather, it is introducing yourself to something new, in an enjoyable, low-pressure setting. If you discover you really enjoy one of these activities, it is much more likely that you will want to explore it some more when you get home. What you don't want to do, and I speak from experience here, is go on one of these mancations. Do you know about these things? It's a new phenomenon involving men traveling together, encouraging one another to try extreme sports, physical challenges, and anything involving firearms. Trust me, stick with the yoga and square dancing. You'll thank me later.

Alright, I am off to scope out some timeshare adventures for 2012. I am thinking Merry Old England for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee for sure. And if the food is as awful in London as everyone says it is, who knows, I may just lose a few pounds after all. The drinking, probably not so much.