Friday, February 27, 2015

Two Years Later... Flying is Still a Little Different

Flight #1 (JFK to JNB - South African Airways - A340-600)

 365 days ago, I started a once-in-a-lifetime journey. I took a flight, the longest flight of my life. It was a 15.5 hour journey aboard South African Airways, from New York JFK to Johannesburg OR Tambo. It was aboard South African Airways beautiful A340-600, the worlds' longest plane.

365 days later, I started a weekly journey. I took a flight, one of the shortest flights of my life. It was a 1.73 hour journey aboard United Airlines, from Newark to Gerald R. Ford Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was aboard a United Airlines Embraer-145, one of the smallest standard commercial aircraft in the world.

365 days ago, I started a journey that I will never repeat. Visiting nine different countries (South Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Singapore, Australia, Japan) over 105 days. 365 days later, I'm doing the last weekly trip that I've had to repeat a lot, vising three different states (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan).

365 days ago I started a trip that was a gift from my a Great Dad. This isn't about that trip. I've written thousands upon thousands of words on that trip. No, this is about what I had to do 30 times on that trip, and had to about 25 times in the last three months: take off and land on an airplane. 30 trips in 105 days made me love air travel even more. 24 trips in 90 days made me hate it more than I ever though imaginable. This is a story about how long haul flights make you love this incredible creation that is the airplane, while short haul makes you wish the Wright Brothers never were born.

Ever since I was a kid I loved flying in an airplane. Not flying planes myself, but being a passenger, being in this giant bus thousands of feet above the ground. I loved the little food, the free drinks, the movies (although when I was a kid it was one movie, that started at the same time for everyone). I loved flying, visiting new airports, taking new airlines. I was someone born to do the job I currently have, which is fly each week.

One of the things that I was most excited about for my Round the World Trip was the chance to take 30  flights, take many new airlines (South African, Thai, AirAsia, Singapore, Jetstar, All Nippon). One of my favorite parts was choosing my different mileage segments, getting the flights I wanted, getting three trips on the A380. The best example was when I chose to take the Mumbai => Singapore => Frankfurt => New York way home on Singapore Airlines instead of Mumbai => Newark direct flight.

I'm rethinking all of that now. I've taken 24 flights over the past 90 days. I can count the amount that have taken off on time on one hand. Sure, it was one of the worst winters in memory everywhere in the US outside of California, but it was the worst airline I was flying anywhere in the world outside of American Airlines.

Let's just recap my incredible journey of flying on United these past few months:


  • I was diverted mid-flight to Milwaukee because of some mechanical issue (this was on my first flight out to Michigan), making me drive 4.5 hours from Milwaukee to Michigan.
  • I had a flight cancelled because the previous flight had to divert to Chicago and by the time they got to Grand Rapids they had clocked out and couldn't fly the next flight.
  • I was delayed three hours in Grand Rapids for fuck knows what reason
  • I was delayed in Chicago in the plane 1.5 hours because they couldn't get the fuel valve opened
  • I was delayed five hours in Detroit after we all boarded the plane because one of the engines didn't fire. We had the deplane and wait in Detroit five hours for them to send a new plane
  • I had a flight cancelled after we boarded the plane and pushed back from the gate because the plane couldn't get de-iced in time (this was in the blizzard on the Day after the Super Bowl).
  • I had a flight cancelled because Newark decided to cancel it for some reason, and then had my rescheduled flight cancelled after I woke up at 4:45, and then had to sit an hour at 5AM going between United and Delta to get rescheduled.
  • And, oh yeah, I had a flight delayed two hours because THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT OVER-FUCKING-SLEPT

All of these things happened. This also doesn't include about 10 different times my flight was delayed less than two hours but still created an annoyance. I had to endure all of these scenarios. At first, I thought it was because I was flying out of Grand Rapids, a small airport with no departing flight after 7 PM leaving me little alternative options. Alas, I had delays flying out of Detroit and Chicago. I couldn't escape the wrath of United Airlines. I couldn't escape the wrath of the modern American Aviation industry.

On the 30 flights during my Round the World trip, only one was delayed by more than an hour, a flight in India, the one country who's aviation system is almost as bad as America's. 30 flights and none had strange delays. I can use this as evidence of how bad United is, but really it just shows one of the biggest truths of aviation: long-haul is the way to go.

Long Haul flights are the last remaining segment of the aviation world that harks back to the Golden Age of flying. That was the era when flying was, admittedly, for the Super Rich, but was lavish, luxurious. You had beautiful, young stewardesses pampering you with food and drink. You had airlines that valued fanciness over financial gain. It was a different time, but that world is still somewhat evident in long haul flying.

Long Haul flights on International Airlines are still amazing. I love the real Long-Haul ones, the ones over 12 hours, where you can get a decent sleep and still bang out two or three movies, where you can do everything you should be able to do on a flight. Nowadays, all the major airlines across the world have on-demand video on long-haul flights. Have good meals with two or three options. Serve decent alcohol. Do everything you want from a flight. Those are the only flights still worth taking.

I realized this when I took what was pretty much the only flight on United that I enjoyed, the four hour flight from Chicago to San Francisco. For some unknown reason, United chooses to run a B777-200 on this flight, a plane so big it is never used on domestic travel in the US. This plane is mostly used on long-haul international flights. I was lucky enough to get it on a domestic one, and they had Movies On Demand. They had big aisles and nice seats. Of course, we didn't get free food, but it was still pretty good. It was something close to the Thai Airlines flights I took last year (the worst of the four major International Airlines I took). It was the best United to had to offer.

And it all made me feel worse of taking that same old Embraer-145 each Monday. I love flying. I still do. I just booked a mileage trip to Berlin in four weeks and can't wait to experience an actual flight again. Nothing would amke me happier than getting the opportunity to go on a 15.5 hour flight again. Hopefully I will someday. But now I've figured out to do so I need to sit through my fair share of mechaanical failures, weather delays, crews that clock out and oversleep, and random cancellations. A year teaches you a lot, but it really teaches you to enjoy the better versions of things, because the bad versions are unhumanly bad.

I still love flying. No amount of United-caused delays will change that. I'm still astounded at this technology. Last week, I went from sitting in an airport in Grand Rapids to chilling with my friends in Princeton in 200 minutes. That same jouney would have taken two weeks two hundered years ago. It would have taken two days a hundred years ago. Flight is, after the internet, the biggest reason the world is so flat today. Globalization doesn't happen if you can't get from one place in the world to literally anywhere else in less than 24 hours. Being able to fly from one place to another is one of the great Technological advances ever.. I have to tell myself that to sit through the delays. I have to tell myself that to make it past the infuriating parts of flying in the modern era, because I know I can really experience all the technology has to offer when I get the chance I did 365 days ago.


Flights #2 through #29

 (JNB-CPT / CPT-JNB / JNB-BKK / BKK-SGN / SGN-DLT / DLT-SGN / PNH - DMK / DMK - PKT / PKT-KUL / KUL-PEN / PEN-KUL / KUL-BLR / BLR-JAI / UDI-BOM / BOM-GOA / GOA-BOM / BOM-SIN / SIN-MEL / MEL-CNS / CNS-SYD / SYD-MEL / MEL-BKK / BKK-NRT / NRT-BKK / BKK-BLR / BLR-BOM / BOM-SIN / SIN-FRA / FRA-JFK)

All Photos credited to the amazing Photographers at Airliners.net




























Monday, February 23, 2015

My 5 Most Regrettable Musician Deaths



5.) Hillel Slovak


I’m not a huge RHCP fan, but if I will listen to them, I much prefer their earlier period, their time in the mid-80’s, when they infused funk with rap, with a fast-paced style that was truly unique in the music scene. Since Slovak’s death, but not necessarily because of it, they veered away from that into a band that hasn’t been able to truly blend styles but separates them. Both Anthony Keidis and Flea have mentioned on numerous occasions that Slovak was the guy that really drove the early days of the band, the guy that gave them their sound, their identity. His loss was felt on the band, and what they would become from a musical standpoint. The reason this isn’t higher is that he was a major heroin addict (if not as much of an addict as Keidis), and probably a ticking time-bomb. As Keidis and Flea have also both said, someone was going to die – they just didn’t expect it to be Hillel. Slovak’s legacy is still being felt (the man who replaced him, John Frusciante, has repeatedly said he’s basically stole his whole playing style from Slovak), but his style, his charisma, and his integral part of the early, and in my opinion better, era of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s legacy will never be forgotten.


4.) John Bonham


I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of Led Zeppelin. I do admire their musicality, their amazing complexity and talent at playing their respective roles. Led Zeppelin, musically, was pretty damn perfect. John Bonham was arguably the best part of Led Zeppelin (or maybe he wasn’t – that’s how good they were) but his loss did more than make the world lose a brilliant drummer, it made the world lose a band. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page basically called it quits right after Bonham’s death (I don’t think John Paul Jones had much of a say in the matter). They’ve never really gotten back together. Bonham was integral to the Page/Plant relationship, not as a mediator, but as the 3rd piece to a triangular puzzle. Bonham connected that band more than anyone realized. I don’t know how much longer Led Zeppelin would have stayed together had Bonham not died, but had he stayed alive, I am sure they would have had more shows together than Page and Plant have had without him. I’m sure I would have had a chance to watch them play.


3.) Cliff Burton


Metallica is still going on, with the other three original (discounting Dave Mustaine) members still in the band, but they’re not the same band they were with Burton in it. It is easy to say Metallica would have made that transition anyway, but I think losing Burton was more than just expediting the move towards shorter songs. Take the album right after Burton’s death - …And Justice For All – which kept a lot of the earlier Metallica ethos alive, with long intros, complex framing, and a surfeit of length. That album had some of the longest songs Metallica ever produced, but they were not the same. Gone was the rhythmic influence that Burton, a music student, provided, replaced with an almost workman-like creation. The songs on ‘And Justice’ somewhat plodded, and felt too structured. The songs on the earlier album were close to perfect. Burton’s incredible bass anchored some truly great music. Losing Burton definitely changed Metallica musically, just not in the way most people think.


2.) John Lennon


I have serious doubts that had John Lennon not been killed the Beatles would have gotten back together in any way apart from a music special every 10 years or so, or maybe one gigantic comeback tour. Still, losing Lennon that soon was losing the most important single musician in any band of the 20th Century. John Lennon was the Beatles, something easy to forget all these years later when Paul McCartney has become the lasting face of the band. John Lennon was a talent like no other, with a musical mind like no other. We may have lost some truly great music he produced, but we also missed a guy who could tour and play Lennon Beatles songs the way they’re supposed to be played. Having Lennon alive would probably have the least impact on the actual music produced since his death of anyone on this list, but losing him may have hurt the most. Of course, his loss is increased by the way it ended, the stupid, heinous crime that ended his life. John Lennon was about peace, was about acceptance. The fact that his lasting song outside of the Beatles was ‘Imagine’ was so perfect. That was John Lennon in one word, a truly great imagination and mind.


1.) Freddie Mercury


Why is Freddie Mercury the biggest loss? Well, he’s arguably the most talented on this list, though if you count song-writing, Lennon is definitely at the worst Mercury’s equal. More than that, Mercury headed the one band who I think would absolutely still be together touring had he not died. There’s a reason I didn’t put Jim Morrison on this list, the Doors were basically done at the time of his death. That is not true of Queen, a band that spanned 20 years with Mercury in it, but still going strong. I have no doubt the concert I saw this summer with Adam Lambert heading Brian May and Roger Taylor, would have been Freddie Mercury singing had he not contracted HIV and passed away. Freddie Mercury was one of the singular rock talents ever. He combined both an incredible feel and ability for showmanship with a legendary, operatic voice. He was basically Mick Jagger, with the voice to boot. Freddie Mercury went way too soon and the world was stripped of enjoying his talents for 25 (and counting) years.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Breweries of Bangalore



Breweries in Bangalore go together like Heat and Bangalore, or Smog and Bangalore, but unlike those other things, the increased presence is far more positive. Last time I came to Bangalore, two years ago during my around-the-world trip, I visited three of the earlier, more notable micro-breweries. First was The Beir Club. I actually went there first in my 2011 visit. It was the first true micro-brewery in Bangalore. It was conveniently located (for me) down the street from my Aunt’s house at the corner of Lavelle (for some reason, pronounced La-vel-lee) and Vittal Mallya Road, in the shadows of UB City. The next two were a little further away, but a great site for sore eyes nonetheless. First was a brewery that envelops itself inside of the medum-to-up-scale restaurant Punjabi by Nature. Third was Toit, a large, two-level, house that housed four brews and good Western food.

I repeated some of those visits this time (I frequented Beir Club more than once, given its location and it being a nice stop-in right after visiting my Aunt), but I really wanted to try some of the newer breweries, or at least the ones I hadn’t been to earlier. In the end, I visited four more (Prost, Arbor, Brewsky and Barleyz). There are still ~10 I have not yet been to, and even more will likely be open the next time I come. The simple amount of breweries located in a place where most things close at 10:30 on weekdays is quite staggering. It really speaks well to a very different night-life culture in Bangalore, and more than that, a Beer culture – something I can get behind.

I’ll start by putting it simply: almost all of the in-house beers in these Bangalore breweries wouldn’t cut it in the craft culture in the US. The beers at my local micro-brewery, Triumph, in Princeton are, with few exceptions, better. That said, we are really early in the adoption of this practice in Bangalore. I have no doubt they’ll be refined, enhanced, and expanded to something close to resembling the quality and variety we can get in the US. This isn’t to sound nationalistic. The beer made for general consumption, Kingfisher, far outpaces its counterparts in the US (Budweiser, Miler, Coors). But the US took to battling this mainstream challenge earlier and with, so far, more success. Bangalore beers have a long way to go, but there are some real treats to be had.

I’ll get into the specifics of each place momentarily, but there are three beers I really want to credit up-front. First was the Wheat Beer at The Beir Club. Most of the breweries in Bangalore keep it basic. They have a stout option (almost never a Porter), a Lager/Ale option, a Wheat option, and then something else that varies. Most have just 4-6 beers in-house at any time. The best Wheat Beer I had was at The Beir Club. Most places suffer from a common problem, that the beers taste a little watery. They claim a normal range of ABV%, so I have to imagine it is just something to do with the Indian brewing process. The Wheat beer at The Beir Club escapes this problem mostly.

The second and third cover the other types of beers. The Stout at Barleyz was probably the best Stout I had, not watery at all and with a true hint of chocolate. The final beer was probably the best I had at any place, being the IPA at Brewsky. Only one other place had an IPA at all, but it wasn’t close to the true bitterness of what it should be. Brewsky’s was. It was the only place I actually double-ordered the same beer, as it was easily their best offering, and almost as easily the best beer I had.

The actual places all have their own charm outside of the beer. They all serve food to some degree. Some are likely better for their food than beer (Toit – which I did not visit in this trip), while some are the opposite, placing little effort in the food (Arbor). They almost all had large spaces, often 2-3 floors with some form of outdoor seating. They are breweries in name, but they all have large seating areas, outdoor space, and serve a variety of other alcohols; operating at a high enough level to offer more than just their brewed fare. All six that I’ve visited were varying degrees of successful, allowing me to give a nice overview of them all:

Toit

Beer: I’ll admit I don’t remember their beers all that well, but I do remember not particularly liking them. None stand out as truly bad or truly good. I do remember they offered, at the time, an Irish Red. I’m not a fan of Irish Red’s anyway, but it wasn’t very good. Their beer, unless they’ve made marked improvements, is nothing to really write home about. Rank: 6th

Food/Ambience: This is where Toit scores major points. It’s a really nice setup. They’ve essentially built the place into a two-story house, with ample seating space, open areas, and multiple bars where you can order from. We went on a weekend night, so it was very crowded, but not overly so. The food was good but almost entirely Western. Most of the places serve Western food, but supplement it with ample Indian options. Toit did not, but the food ordered was good. Rank: 2nd

Overall: To me, as someone who places more emphasis on the Beers than the Food, Toit was my least favorite. If you are going for just a night out, it may be one of the best places to go, as it really did offer it all from that perspective. As a self-proclaimed, semi-beer-junkie, it was merely an OK place. Rank: 6th


The Beir Club

Beer: The Beir Club came first, and has one really good offering (their Wheat Beer), and some other decent ones. This time I tried their stout, which was definitely a little too watery, and their ‘Seasonal’ which was a Double-IPA, which was not nearly as bitter as it should be, but not terrible. In previous times, I’ve left satisfied with their beer, though I don’t remember what I’ve had. Rank: 4th

Food/Ambience: I’ve only ordered food once, and it was likely in my trip in 2011. They do have a nice menu; not too many items, but they’re play-fully named and likely cooked reasonably well. The set-up is definitely the most intimate, and pub-like. That probably only concerns their ground floor, which is small, but not in the sense that it would seem too crowded. There is a nice mural on the back-wall, a long bar in front of copper vats, and a nice d├ęcor. As a bar, it is really nice. As a night-spot, it probably is a little too simplistic. Rank: 4th

Overall: The Beir Club is a good measuring stick for breweries in Bangalore. It has been successful enough to keep a foot-hold in an extremely premium location (right next to UB City), and it remains likely the best place to just drop-in, but in the end it is merely an average place on this list. That’s not bad, but there are places I would recommend above it; though a trip to Beir Club will be a walk back to the early days of the Micro-brewery movement in Bangalore. Rank: 4th


Prost

Beer: Other than Toit, which from memory is an easy last place, most of the beers don’t really differentiate from each other. The Beir Club, Prost, and Barleyz to come, area all about the same in terms of beer. I’m ranking Prost 3rd out of the three merely because they didn’t have any standout brew. Prost did offer a set of 6 beers on tap, which is higher than the normal 4, but none really stood out, for good or bad. Rank: 5th

Food/Ambience: Post and Toit have a lot of similarities. That makes sense as they were two of the first breweries to open in Bangalore, and they’re set up similarly. Both are multi-level establishments with tons of open space. Prost has a terrace, which Toit didn’t, but also doesn’t have the homely feel that works so well at Toit. Prost’s food was quite good as well, with varied menu serving both Continental and Indian options. Rank: 3rd

Overall: I’ve compared Prost to Toit a lot, mainly because they are really similar. Prost has better beer, but that’s really not saying much. Prost also has a really nice set-up, if slightly worse than Toit. Overall, I think while they are neck and neck, Prost is better because it’s beers are just better. I think my #5-3 breweries are really tightly packed, and for some reason I’m ranking Prost the highest. Rank:3rd


Arbor

Beer: Arbor was started by a man who lived for a while in Ann Arbor. As someone who spent quite a bit of long nights in the cold desert that was Michigan, I’ve come to known personally their exhaustive Craft Beer scene I can say one thing, no place has tried to emulate a US micro-brewery more. I don’t think they offered a stand-out option, but none of the 6-beers I had in their sampler were bad. They were definitely, on the whole, the least watery and the most impressive in their scope. They offered a style of everything you would expect from an in-housed micro-brewery. They did not have any of my three stand-out beers, but I doubt if I had to rank them all, that any would fall in my bottom-third. The one exception may be their attempt at a fruit-flavored beer, but I can’t fault them too much for that. Rank: 1st

Food/Ambience: Here’s where Arbor loses some points. I only got one appetizer, Chilly Beef Fry, which was reasonably good, though that is the type of thing that is quite hard to ruin. I’ve been told by multiple people that their food is suspect, and this is backed up overall by the reviews of the place. The ambience isn’t the best either. It has a bit of a Beer-Hall feel on one side with parallel long wooden tables flanked by benches, and a small outdoor area. It is, I believe, the only one of the six to have just one floor. They really try to sell the Beer Hall vibe, but this is not Germany. Compared to the others that really have nice atmospheres and ample space, this isn’t the best. Rank: 6th

Overall: I definitely care more about the places ability to produce beer, but it is a tough decision to equate an overall solid beer offering, and a 6th out of 6 finish in offering food and ambience. Overall, since I care more about the beer, I’ll round up from the average. Arbor definitely has the most potential as purely a micro-brewery. They have a total of 15 beers they rotate, though only 6 at a time. Hopefully that ratio improves because the potential is there. Rank: 2nd


Barleyz

Beer: As mentioned, the Stout at Barleyz was a real standout, the fullest stout I had in terms of both consistency and flavor. I like Stouts, and there are a whole lot of bad ones out there, including some really average ones in the Bangalore brewery scene; the Stout at Barleyz is most certainly not one of them. The other beers range from nice (their ‘special’, a nice summer ale) to not really good (lager, wheat), but the strength of their top 2, including their stout being the best one I had, allows me to feel greatly for what Barleyz offered. Rank: 3rd

Food/Ambience: I can’t judge the food as I didn’t order any. The menu looked fine, and reviews show it as decent, but I have to put them lower for having a limited menu, one that wasn’t as nicely crafted as that of The Beir Club (the only other one where I didn’t eat this time around). The ambience was interesting though. The have one floor which is long with nicel spaced tables that has the ability to convert to a lot of open space for late-nights. They were actually preparing to host a DJ the night of when I went. Upstairs is a nice roof-top. The view from here isn’t the best, but it is nicely decorated. It isn’t as large and could probably become really overcrowded in their indoor floor. Rank: 5th

Overall: I went to Barleyz hurriedly after a late lunch, so I didn’t really have enough time to properly judge it. What I’ll say about Barleyz is that they seemed really like an ordinary bar/lounge. It was, aside from Arbor, the smallest space of the 6. Unlike Arbor, which tried to emulate a Germany Beer Hall giving some character to its limited space, Barleyz was a little generic, hurting it in my overall rankings. Rank: 5th


Brewsky

Beer: Brewsky had the single best beer I had at any location, their excellent IPA. It is of some coincidence that the best beer I had was one that had ‘India’ in the name. What stops them from ranking 1st for me was they only had 4 on top, and while none was bad, nothing came close to their IPA offering. This place apparently just recently got their brewing license, and in talks with the owner, there are plans to offer a larger variety. Until then, it really doesn’t match up to Arbor.. Rank: 2nd

Food/Ambience: Brewsky was pretty much perfect in this area. They have three levels, an inside level that was decorated eclectically but was pretty much forgettable. Then a terrace that had a round bar, a stage for live music, and a lot of seating, than a 2nd floor of the terrace that borders the building, letting the people on the top floor see what’s going on below them. The 2nd time I went there, they had a live band playing. The music there is almost exclusively 70-80’s music of all forms, which is right up my alley. It was basically a perfect location in Bangalore. Rank: 1st

Overall: I really can’t think of a place in Bangalore that is more perfect for me. It has good beer, including the best beer I had in Bangalore. It was open-air, high enough to get a great breeze in a Bangalore night. The atmosphere is something I want from any establishment, music that I love, a crowd that is engaging and present, but not overly so creating a maddening maw of humanity (something easy to have in India). Brewsky was pretty close to perfect, ven after going back a 2nd time.  Rank:1st
 


About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.