Category: Travel

Old Town Scottsdale

Friday, February 23rd, 2007 | All Things, Arts, Eats, Travel

After another Thursday of working late into the night, it wasn’t worth attempting to catch a scant couple hours of sleep before my flight. The SuperShuttle arrived at my front door promptly at 5:25AM for the ride out to JFK through dark, quiet Manhattan streets. The city always looks so beautiful right before dawn.

Left to my own devices, I’d probably end up racing like a maniac through the airport terminals, barely squeezing past the closing plane doors, but SuperShuttle was having none of that. I requested the latest possible pick-up time allowed, and still  arrived on site well over two hours in advance; even after checking in and passing through security (adhering strictly to the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule), I had plenty of time to savor my Venti Decaf Soy Chai Latte  before boarding. (Did I really order that? Ugh. Damn you, Starbucks.)

The flight to Phoenix was delayed not once, but twice: first when the pilot was late getting to the airport — a passenger’s heart attack(!) on his prior flight forced an emergency landing in Los Angeles — and then when we had to sit on the tarmac while mechanics checked out the plane, following an aborted take-off attempt. Not the most confidence-inspiring begininning. Still, these delays were nothing approaching Jet-Blue proportions, and after over 24 hours of wakefulness, I was passed out in my seat anyway, mercifully missing most of the in-flight movie, Marie Antoinette.

On the approach to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport:

AZ View

At the Rental Car Center, I was delayed by another hour when my reserved car was not available for pick-up, in a scenario strongly reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode. (“See, you know how to take  the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold   the reservation… and that’s really the most important part of the reservation: the holding.”) To compensate for the snafu, the agency offered me a free upgrade to a fierce-faced steel blue Dodge Charger, which appeared to have been driven directly from assembly line to rental lot, dealer stickers and all. As I slid into the driver’s seat, the odometer registered just 1 mile.

Oh, how I miss driving. Friday rush hour traffic, not so much.

Poor SC had been waiting for me at the resort most of the afternoon, so by the time I arrived, we were eager to make use of what remained of the day. After consulting briefly with the concierge, we were advised that after 6PM, our choices were pretty limited outside the local mall.

We decided to take our chances in Old Town Scottsdale instead. The concierge was not exaggerating: despite the temperate early evening climate, the public art-lined streets were eerily devoid of pedestrians, and as SC and I wandered among the few shops open “late” that night, the town’s near-empty shuttle bus inched past us several times, slowing to offer us rides along the six block stretch of galleries. Being New Yorkers, we declined.

Old Town Scottsdale

Scottsdale Gallery Walk

Scottsdale Gallery Walk

Back at home, it’s not unusual to stroll into a restaurant for dinner at 9 or 10PM, but we suspected that such nocturnal grazing might not fly here in Scottsdale. Some of the local hotspots seemed to be already hitting their peak… at 7PM! On a Friday night! (I had the exact opposite experience in Buenos Aires where the restaurants don’t start filling until at least 10PM.) Taking a tip from Rachael Ray, we decided to “ask a local” for a dinner recommendation. The sweet, but arithmetically-impaired cashier at one of the art district shops swore by her favorite special occasion restaurant, Sixth Avenue Bistrot. SC’s and my finding time in our schedules for this abbreviated getaway was deemed special enough, so off we went.

Tucked along a curvy, quiet street off the main thoroughfare, we entered the dimly lit restaurant to find just a few of the other candle-lit tables occupied. Hmm. Most of our fellow diners appeared to be devoted regulars, though — generally a good sign. We should not have doubted our local expert: as she promised, the service was attentive and charming, and we thoroughly enjoyed our classic dishes of bœuf bourguignon  and coq au vin. To Chef François, I say: Bravo!  To SC, I say: Merci beaucoup!

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Off the grid

Friday, February 23rd, 2007 | All Things, Travel

‘Til Tuesday. Have a good weekend!

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On the boardwalk

Sunday, January 14th, 2007 | All Things, Family, Travel

An unseasonably warm Sunday in Atlantic City, on the longest boardwalk in the world:

Steel Pier

Steel Pier

Atlantic City Stand

Atlantic City Stand

Boardwalk Seagulls

Atlantic City Boardwalk

Fralingers

Atlantic City Boardwalk

From New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Greyhound offers Lucky Streak service to various Atlantic City casinos with fare reimbursement incentives. The refund amounts differ by casino (AC Hilton, Bally’s, Caesars, Resorts, Sands, Showboat, Taj Mahal, Tropicana, Trump Plaza or Trump Marina), and by the time and day of the trip. In NYC, riders pay the full price of the roundtrip ticket (about $30) and receive a casino coupon for some portion of the Greyhound bus fare. Upon arrival, casino representatives distribute coupons for gaming credits (or cash exchange).

Gambling has a long history in China, with some evidence suggesting that wagering on games of chance originated there over 3,000 years ago. Today, social gambling in the form of mahjong playing is common in China and among Chinese overseas. Government-approved lottery games are available to 95% of China’s cities and counties.

Gambling addiction is widely recognized as a major problem in the Chinese and Chinese-American communities. Statistics are difficult to come by, but by some estimates, 2 to 6 percent of the mainstream population are problem gamblers; among Chinese, where gambling is often an accepted practice at home and at social events (even among the young), the numbers are considerably higher. For an immigrant community, gambling offers a form of cross-cultural entertainment with no language barrier.

Many casinos recognize the Chinese love of gambling and market aggressively to that sector. Chinese-language newspapers offer their Asian patrons even better deals than the ones available through Greyhound. Several Atlantic City casinos work with Chinese bus companies to charge their patrons a discounted price for the roundtrip fare, and offer more significant rider reimbursements in chips, meal discounts, or in our case: cold, hard cash. The roundtrip bus fare from Chinatown was $15; upon disembarking at the Showboat Casino at boardwalk’s end, we each were handed envelopes with $25 in cash. So yes, even after discounting the mandatory tips to the bus driver, we still made money on the trip.

That is, before factoring in our buffet lunch at the Taj Majal‘s “Sultan’s Feast.” Ah well. When in Agra…

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