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Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

Come Fly With Me (Or Not)

Filed under: Fun, Travel

Hi from Philly!

Well, after traveling to four shows in three countries already this year, I am thrilled to be home in PA for a few weeks. The great part of traveling, of course, is getting to spend time with friends, as I did this past weekend in Austin, TX. After the ASI Dallas Show, I went to hang out with my favorite industry family, the Lindermans — Michael, Jane and Matt. Austin, if you’ve never been, is a very eclectic, idiosyncratic blue reservoir of liberal cool in a big ‘ol red state. Its slogan, of all things, is “Keep Austin Weird” — which should tell you a lot about why I love it so much. Michael & Jane Linderman, who are not weird but definitely fun, took me to an awesome area of Austin called the Domain, where fantastic restaurants, fire pits and upscale shops like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. reside. There are condos above the stores and don’t think for a moment that if I lived in Austin, I wouldn’t buy one just so I could say I live at Tiffany’s.

Two of my first friends in the industry, Michael and Jane Linderman of Express Pens/Express Time Source, graciously showed me around their town of Austin, TX, last weekend and posed here on a butterfly at the Domain — a trendy section of town filled with swanky stores and restaurants.

The downsides of constant travel, of course, are the exhaustion, mishaps and annoyances, all of which my friend and colleague Joe Haley maintains happens to me in spades — he believes it’s karma kicking me around like a hacky sack. Joe avoids traveling with me because he’s afraid he’ll be splashed with my karmic runoff. Here then, in no particular order, are the 10 things that send me off the rails when traveling:

1. “Preferred status” as a frequent flier. Because I fly so much on USAir, I have Gold status which — ostensibly — should allow me to board planes early and have my luggage unloaded first off the plane. What does it really mean? That I will be allowed to board with 30 other people in Group One and that my luggage, adorned with the airline’s “Preferred” tag, will end up as geographically far as possible from the state where I just landed. Just this year, my bags have been to exotic places like St. Lucia, while I’ve been in Dallas. My luggage is enjoying a much more exciting life than I am at this point. So, I now plead with USAir — please do me the courtesy of ignoring me rather than preferring me … and get the bulls-eye off my luggage.

2. The luggage limit. United Airlines announced two weeks ago that they will start charging domestic passengers $25 to check in a second piece of luggage. The change takes effect with travel starting on May 5. (Customers who have “Premier” status or higher within United’s Mileage Plus program, or “Silver” status or higher within its Star Alliance program will still be able to check in a second bag for free. See point #1 for what a privilege THAT is…). Charging for a second piece of luggage… really? Soon, anything over the size of a sandwich baggie will incur a fee.

3. The airport vortex. I realize this is probably a phenomenon that only happens to me, but no matter which airport I’m in, the gate I’m departing from will be the most logistically distant from my starting point. I’ve actually contemplated faking a limp just so I could hitch a ride on one of those blinking, beeping carts.

4. The TSA conundrum. Listen, I’m all for security, but depending which airport I’m in, sometimes I have to remove my stilettos, sometimes not; sometimes my mascara gets flagged in my purse as a “liquid,” and sometimes my cigarette lighters get through unscathed. My favorite “WTF” moment? A supplier gave me a bottle of wine as a gift, along with a corkscrew/bottle-opener/foil-cutting knife, that I stuck in my carry-on bag and totally forgot about. That sailed through security with no problem… my Lancome lipstick, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky — apparently it looked sketchy and duplicitous.

5. The clueless contingency. If there are people who have never been on an airplane — or, apparently, read a paper or witnessed a news broadcast — to know that liquids over a certain size need to be in clear, plastic bags, that coats need to come off, that laptops need to be taken out of their cases and that boarding passes and IDs must be in one’s hand when going through security, they will be in front of me in line … but only when I am late for a flight.

6. The rote run-through. Lord only knows what a horrendous flight attendant I would be… even on my most patient, chipper days I prefer pets to most people. When I sit on a plane and watch people board, marveling at what passes for a “carry on” and listening to the inane questions asked of the attendants, I can only assume they’re frequent shoppers at CVS pharmacy and heavily medicated. That said, if I sit through the obligatory “what to do if the cabin pressure drops” speech one more time, I think my brain will collapse in on itself and disappear — like the house at the end of “Poltergeist.” Seriously, is there anyone over the age of two who doesn’t know how to fasten a seat-belt? Of course there is… and they’re always seated next to me. Which brings me to point number seven…

7. The nosy neighbors. I don’t know about you, but after a trade show, I don’t want to talk to anybody. Johnny Depp could slink into the seat next to me and I’d be nonplussed and distant. I just want to stare out the window, listen to my iPod and think about drinking Scotch whiskey all night long with Steely Dan. Now, one would think if the person sitting next to you is leaning against the window with her eyes shut and buds in her ears, that the neon “Do Not Disturb” sign is flashing. Apparently not. I consistently seem to be next to the person — and it’s usually a guy — who taps my arm, leg or other spongy body part (I kid you not!) and says, always with a smile, “So, what brought you to [pick a city]?” Sigh… You, pal. The chance of flying next to you making incessant small talk for four hours brought me to this city… Oy, says this shiksa.

8. The lounge lizards. On more than one flight, I’ve wanted to ask the person in front of me — who has leaned back so far in his seat that he’s practically laying in my lap — if he plans on walking me home and meeting my parents. If someone’s getting that close to me, I’d like dinner and a movie first.

9. Hell on Earth. I have been there, and it is called “Heathrow Airport.”

10. Hotels. Lest you think airlines and flying alone draw my ire, let me take a moment to give a nod to hotel rooms, most of which have lighting for cave-dwellers. How do I know this? Because on more than one occasion at a trade show I’ve done my best to spackle on my make-up under the glow of one dim bulb, only to emerge from my room thinking I look fabulous and have Ron Ball, ASI’s vice president of supplier sales and one of my favorite characters, tell me delicately (imagine his nasally, whiny voice here): “Honey… you look like a hooker from Bangkok.”

And yet, despite my ranting, I still do love to travel and will be embarking upon a new industry experience — a first for me (and Lord knows those are few and far between): At the suggestion of my pal Mark Bruk, vice president of CFS Promotions for Now!, I will be traveling along on an Advantages five-day Roadshow (like a mini-Stones tour without Keith and the party favors), blogging all the way. Mark swears to me that it’ll be a blast and that the stories and comedic value alone will be off the charts. So, from March 10-15, “Week Seven” of the show, I will be in the company of some awesome suppliers who’ll be exhibiting and the good people of Minneapolis, Des Moines, Omaha, Kansas City and St. Louis. If you’re in one of those cities, I can’t wait to meet you; if you already know me, you know the drill — bring some sedative-dipped blow darts in case I get awnry. ; )

More next week!

— Michele

PS: Please send me your travel tales — though few people (thank God) have as many misadventures as I do, I’d love to read your stories!


  1. Jane Linderman Says:

    Love it! Still laughing! I want to travel with you!

    Friday February 15, 2008
  2. yasmin Says:
    Saturday August 16, 2008

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