RELATED: Riding the Rails: Taking the Amtrak from West Palm to New York
When we need to get to New York, and it's not a rush, our first choice is Amtrak. Which surprises most people, and even shocks a few.
"You can do that?" they ask. "I had no idea. But why would you want to?"
Why indeed. It's definitely slower -- around 25 hours from the West Palm Beach station, if all goes smooth (and it usually doesn't). It's more expensive. Get a sleeper and you could pay as much as two or three times what a flight would cost.
For us, there are several reasons:
Many years ago, we had our first big train adventure. Amtrak was running a special promotion -- unlimited travel between three designated zones across the country. We thought, why not? So we booked travel that took us from Fort Worth, Texas to Chicago; Chicago to Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief; Los Angeles to Seattle on the Coast Starlight; Seattle to Chicago on the Empire Builder, then back to Fort Worth. We covered some 8,500 miles in two weeks. We were hooked.
Later this year, we are scheduled for another "big train adventure." Stay tuned for that one.
We are the first to admit train travel isn't for everyone. You have to have a lot of patience, and time. The sleepers are adequate, but don't expect a hotel room. The close quarters could trigger a little claustrophobia, but nothing like being squeezed onto a jet. And for the "slow" factor -- couldn't you say the same thing about driving a car cross country?
Let's face it: If you travel , there are going to be glitches, whether by car, bus, train or plane. Try to relax and as our boy Steve Winwood says, "roll with it, baby."
Tuesday is bargain movie day ($5 at Cobb Theaters, which admittedly is more than most new releases are actually worth), so I suggested to Pam we take a break from streaming and find something to see on the big screen.
How about John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum?
Always a good sport, and with a decided lack of interesting "chick flicks" to choose from, she agreed.
On the way, I filled her in on Chapters 1 and 2, and said to expect more than the normal degree of violence that comes with these action movies. I can remember when critics were appalled by the graphic violence in the "The Wild Bunch" -- a Western from 1969. Films that followed raised the violence ante, like "Clockwork Orange," "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill," almost to the point that it's hard to shock audiences anymore.
Yes, the body counts in these Wick movies greatly exceed their running times. But instead of shocking, the viewer feels more like a player in a video game, shooting and slicing and committing all sorts of mayhem on an endless horde of combatants.
Full disclosure, I enjoyed the previous Wick films. Keanu Reeves is masterful as the anti-hero who just wants to be left alone with his dog, a luxury apparently denied former assassins who find retirement doesn't go with the territory.
But the real star is the insane fight scene choreography. It's like watching Gene Kelly with guns and knives.
And a special shoutout to Halle Berry's attack dogs. They deserve an animal Oscar for their performance. It's been reported the actress spent a lot of time training and bonding with the Belgian Malinois used in the movie. It shows.
"Wick 3" has an almost a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the Internet movie yardstick for deciding if a movie or show is worth your time. Not sure I would go that high. And pretty sure neither would Pam (listen to her podcast about it). It certainly over delivers on the action front, but the story is showing signs of tiredness (not that most Wick lovers go for the story). And while we know Wick himself is virtually indestructible, there are some definite "ah, come on now" moments in this latest chapter.
Even so, "Wick 4" is already planned for release in 2021. Maybe the writers will see fit to give him that little cottage by the sea where he and his dog can finally find some peace and quiet. I wouldn't count on it.
Business spend millions of dollars every year trying to coin the perfect slogan or memorable ad line, mostly in endless marketing meetings and focus groups.
But sometimes, despite all the money spent and brainpower expended, they just get it wrong.
Case in point: Today's story about AirAsia's new ad campaign in Australia promoting their new direct flights to Thailand. It touted, "Get Off in Thailand."
Of course, the social media backlash was swift, claiming the company was referencing sex tourism. Oops.
It reminds of a similar episode many years ago, when I worked at The Dallas Morning News. Supposedly, a Houston newspaper came up with a catchy new ad slogan: "If It Happens in Houston, It's News to Us."
We heard heads rolled.
Happy Birthday, Brightline!
Hard to believe the nation's only private, intercity passenger railroad will reach its first year in operation on Jan. 13. What an amazing first year it's been -- 600,000 passengers, 8,000 trips between West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.
For Pam and I, it's been a game-changer.
Prior to Brightline, we approached every trip heading south on Die-95 with fear and loathing. Frantic, lane-changing drivers, the inevitable accidents, backups that can stretch for miles, not to mention encountering rain or storms on almost every trip.
Brightline changed all that, bigtime. Now we park in the adjacent garage at Brightline's West Palm station, check in and relax at the Select lounge before boarding a state-of-the-art coach, where we sip Prosecco, listen to music on our ear buds and watch the scenery go by. It's heaven.
Once in Miami, or Ft. Lauderdale, we summon a ride on Lyft -- Brightline's partner -- via the Lyft app and off we go to our final destination. Then it's back to Brightline's Miami Central for the trip back home. With the new, expanded train hours, there are lots of evening and late-night options.
Besides the convenience, we give major kudos to Brightline's personnel. From the security check-ins, to the lounge workers, to the attendants in the coach cars, we have found the Brightline people uniformly friendly and welcoming. They even gather by the tracks and wave you good-bye!
Hands down, Brightline is the best thing to happen to South Florida since those coconuts washed ashore on Palm Beach.
The best part? It's only going to get better in 2019.
Late last year, it was announced that Richard Branson's Virgin Group made a minority investment in Brightline, which would be rebranded as Virgin Trains. Virgin's trademark red and new signage will soon be making an appearance on trains and in stations. With the launch of Branson's new cruise line, Virgin Voyages, and a new terminal under construction at the Port of Miami, it makes perfect sense.
Also, Brightline's expansion to Orlando is well under way, and will begin operations later this year or in 2020. That's huge. But that's not all: Brightline also announced a new route from Southern California to Las Vegas is in the works. What a year it's been!
We've heard talk of possible future destinations that include Tampa, Jacksonville and maybe even the Florida Keys. Henry Flagler would be proud.
So, thank you Brightline, for making going to Miami fun again. Happy Birthday, and here's to many more!
I'm going to have to fall on my sword (and hopefully miss), but has it really been since last August that I posted anything here? More than anyone, I know the cardinal rule for blogs is "update, update, update," or readers wander off to greener cyberspaces. Mea culpa!
Well, it's a new year and I need to resolve to update this space more often. So here's a start.
OK guys -- I'm talking to you men out there -- when you think about things to do, does Afternoon High Tea make the list? I thought not. You just don't find many sports bars serving tea and scones while football players crash into each other on multiple TV screens.
No, if High Tea is your thing, you'll have to go somewhere else ... like the Biltmore Hotel, for example.
Pam -- my partner in adventure -- loves her some Afternoon Tea. So being the romantic and considerate husband I am (no applause, please), I recently took her to Afternoon Tea at the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Maybe this is a good place to hit "pause" and delve into the history behind the afternoon tea thing. I want to know whose idea it was to dress up and sip tea just when my sports shows are coming on? Turns out it was someone named Anna. This from the website, Historic UK:
"Afternoon tea, that most quintessential of English customs is, perhaps surprisingly, a relatively new tradition. Whilst the custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China and was popularised in England during the 1660s by King Charles II and his wife the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza, it was not until the mid 19th century that the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ first appeared.
"Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.
"This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock."
So there you have it.
I have to admit tea at the Biltmore is quite a production. Located in the spacious and elegant lobby, the tables are covered in white linen and the servers wear white gloves. A harpist provides the lilting tones of music to drink tea by (although I was taken aback when she played the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" at one point. Who knew that could sound so right for tea sipping?).
Our server was Nestor, who took care of our every need, including explaining what was on the three-tier tray of food that we got with our tea. Now normally I like my tea with lots of ice, sweet and a slice of lemon. But I wanted to be one of the fellows, so I chose a hot green tea while Pam went with traditional Earl Grey.
Full disclosure: We have had Afternoon Tea several times on various cruise ships, most notably on Cunard's Queen Mary II and Queen Victoria. Now that's the height of high tea, with a string quartet and scones to die for.
Scones, by the way, are these marvelous biscuit-like concoctions you usually eat with jam and clotted cream. And according to our friends in Bath, England -- Mo and Brian -- there is considerable debate about how you pronounce the word "scone." To wit:
Personally, no matter how you say it, they are the best part of afternoon tea in my book.
One other observation about the Biltmore Tea: I was the only male in a room full of women, several of whom were celebrating birthdays. Yes guys -- I took one for the team.
One of the best perks of living in North Palm Beach is the library. Director Zak Sherman and his staff, along with the Friends of the Library, have done a great job of innovating new programs and offering a wide range of activities for every age group.
Recently I discovered another benefit they provide: OverDrive.
OverDrive is an app that lets you borrow digital and audio books that you can read on your Kindle, iPad smartphone or other devices that support it. You simply register using your NPB library card, then connect through the Southeast Florida Library Association.
Browse by genre, including new additions. If a book is available, it will display "Borrow." Once you borrow it, you have 14 days to read or listen to it. Don't worry about late fees. You'll get a reminder the end date is coming up, and after 14 days, it's gone from your reading list. Nothing to "turn in." (But I do feel guilty if I finish a book in seven days -- I need to find out if it can be "returned" early so someone else can check it out.)
Of course, it may not have as many titles as you'll find at the library, but there is a lot to choose from. And it's great to have them at your fingertips everywhere you go (you can check out several titles at one time.)
So if you haven't tried OverDrive, I can highly recommend it. I just finished "Homo Deus -- A Brief History of Tomorrow," by the brilliant Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harari (highly recommended, by the way). Thank you, North Palm Beach Library!
No matter what business you're in, the one true constant has always been:
"The Customer is King."
All the marketing, analysis and research in the world goes for naught if your customer service is lousy. Businesses that want to stay in business understand that. Smart employes who want to keep earning paychecks understand that. And in this age of "Yelp" and "Trip Advisor" and Amazon reviews, customers understand the power they wield all too well.
One result of this dynamic is my email box is flooded with followup surveys from almost every business and restaurant we do business with. "How Did We Do?' "Take Five Minutes and Rate Us." "Win $300! Take This Survey!"
Oh yes -- there are also lots of incentives to give feedback. They range from a $25 gift card from Five Guys to a $5,000 gift card from Home Depot. I've never actually won anything yet, but you have to figure the odds are better than the Florida Lottery.
There are other perks as well. Fill out a survey from McDonalds and you automatically get a free breakfast sandwich or hamburger with the purchase of one. But pay attention to the details -- you usually only have a limited time to complete the survey.
Beyond the chance to win somethng, the main reason to do a survey is provide honest feedback. Be honest and candid. Praise what they did right, point out what they could do better. And if you encountered someone who went the extra mile, give them a shoutout.
As a customer, you have more power than ever. Use it wisely
Amid all the hoopla about the HBO series, "Westworld" -- now into its second season -- we shouldn't forget it had its roots in the 1973 sc-fi movie classic of the same name. Written and directed by the brilliant Michael Crichton ("Jurassic Park," "Andromeda Strain," "Disclosure," "Congo") it featured an unforgettable performance by Yul Brynner as a robot gunslinger gone rogue.
The premise of both versions is an "anything goes" amusement park where, for those rich enough to afford it, they can live out their every fantasy with no strings attached. Of course, in both cases the androids created to serve those fantasies decided to strike back with some fantasies of their own.
Crichton's message was beware of letting greedy corporations play God. The creators of the HBO series have done a masterful job of building on that theme and weaving a complex story that careens the viewer back and forth in time with a dizzying array of plots and subplots that keep you guessing.
In fact, much like the followers of the ABC series, "Lost," a legion of devoted "Westworld" fans speculate endlessly on the Internet about every nuance of every episode, speculating on where it's going and what will be revealed. Some do a frame-by-frame analysis, looking for "Easter eggs" and subtle clues that might point to ultimate answers about what it all means.
Like the "Man in Black" looking for the Maze, we follow along, trying to track the bread crumbs the writers dispense.
While the subject matter wades into deep waters (like the consciousness conundrum), it still manages to be entertaining, as well as on one level, troubling. The technological advances that have taken place since Crichton's original in 1973 have only accelerated the possibility of a real-life Westword built on AI (artificial intelligence).
Regardless, I enjoy the show. For my money, instead of dissecting every scene for hidden meanings, I'm okay with snapping my seat belt every week and just enjoying the ride.
Did you see the story about ketchup by the slice? An outfit called Bo's Fine Foods over on Kickstarter unveiled their "condiment by the slice" product, starting with ketchup.
Why would you want to have ketchup by the slice? Presumably it's less messy and more convenient if you're eating on the go. Frankly, I find the messiness is one of its charms. You expect ketchup to be a little messy. Plus, not sure how I feel about ketchup as a solid vs. the standard liquid red variety.
In all fairness, it could address one of the issues we'll all had at one time or another: Getting newly-opened ketchup out of the bottle. You can bruise your hand trying to jump start the flow.
I have always loved me some ketchup, and am in that group who thinks ketchup improves almost anything. As for using it by the slice, like cheese, I'll have to defer judgment until I try it.
If it goes over, we can probably expect next up will be mustard, mayo, BBQ-flavor .... maybe even slices of relish and onions. Bye-bye, trips to the produce stand.
Two items for your consideration ...
1. In case you were wondering, it appears flamingos really are native to Florida. Was there any doubt? Apparently. Now an article from National Geographic concludes:
"A new study sheds new light on a long-standing controversy by suggesting flamingos are indeed true residents of the Sunshine State."
While I would vote for the flamingo as our official state bird, that honor goes to the mockingbird. Maybe it's time for a recount!
2. Switching gears from the far South to the far North, here's a video from Mental Floss that talks about "Things You Didn't Know Came from Minnesota." At the top of the list is water skiing. What??? Isn't Florida world famous for its water shows? I would have bombed on that question if we were playing trivia.
Something else Minnesota gets credit for ... Spam. Nothing Florida about that one!
Yes, I know it's spelled like "Jerry." No, I don't know why it's pronounced "Gary."