I have been on an airplane for four of the last five weeks. Phoenix, Las Vegas, New York City and now I am on my way back to Las Vegas as I write this. It got me to thinking about the differences between air travel today and yesterday. My first experience in an airplane was in 1964. My dad took me from Chicago to Indianapolis to see the time trials for the Indy 500. I remember what a special experience flying on an airplane was for me as it was for most other kids and many adults. I recollect it being a much more formal experience. Men would wear sport coats, ties, top hats and their best shoes and women wore dresses and fancy jewelry. The flight attendants were beautiful, overly attractive actually, which was a good thing, young, vibrant and yes women (there was no such thing as a male flight attendant back then). They were required to smile at all times, wear high heels with nylons and keep fit. Amazing isn’t it. Your family and friends were allowed not only come to your departure gate but could board the airplane with you and check out your seat. Once on the plane, there was plenty of room to stretch your legs and pull down your tray……and yes in coach. No one brought luggage on board and the concept of charging $25 to check a bag would have been considered insanity. Food was always served and it was always free. Money, I should say cash, was accepted for drinks if you had to pay for them which wasn’t too often. The flight attendants and airline employees genuinely thanked you for flying on their airline.
Let’s compare flying today...
Things are different even before we get into the airport. You are not allowed to even stop your car for more than a minute much less leave your car and go into the terminal unless you want a $150 parking ticket and suffer the consequences of being towed which will cost you at least another $125 to get your vehicle out of hock. At my airport in Chicago, O’Hare, the tow truck drivers probably have your car on the way to the tow yard in less than one minute. There often are long lines and you have to pass through this detection machine that was previously used only in prisons. In order to get to the gate you have to disrobe and ask for permission to enter. There are people that seem like prison guards to assist or should I say detain you if you look nefarious. Thirsty? Sorry! Dump your bottle of water or soft drink. Just bought some new perfume or expensive designer shampoo... sorry this has to go also. The good news is that you can buy new ones on the other side of this checkpoint that almost makes you feel like a criminal. Once you get on the airplane the flight attendants are old, fat, sometimes male, and often very unfriendly. Want to stretch out? - “forget about it”. Want to put your seat back? - “forget about it” unless you want a dirty look from the people around you. Each seat has 17” of space which in today’s world with all of the overweight Americans can be really troublesome. So I ask myself and you, why do we all put up with all of this _ _ _ _?
We haven’t caught Bin Laden but boy has 9/11 changed every one of our lives and on a daily basis too! If you stop to consider the alternatives, there has to be a better way. As an American and living in a democracy, we have always been taught that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Our founding fathers wrote “Everyone is created equal”. Did they contemplate flying airplanes into skyscrapers? Of course not, but the reality is that so many of us are inconvenienced daily because of the actions of a few. Is this fair? I ask again, can’t we come up with a better system?
My solution for airline travel is that everyone isn’t created equal. Let’s discriminate. I always tell my 9 year old daughter that the sooner she learns that life is not always fair, the better off she will be. In today’s high tech world there should be a way to register and prequalify most people automatically. Give people the option of going through this process, even if it is extensive and expensive. The FBI, CIA and Homeland security certainly have a profile of those that may cause harm to the rest of us. If you don’t fit this profile then we should be allowed to prequalify ourselves and stop all of the bull_ _ _ _. Think about all the hours of wasted time, the unproductive steps we have to go through in order to fly. We have become tainted and accept this as normal and accept the inconveniences that have become common place. I for one am tired of all this. Are you?
I flew to New York City this week to put on two wine tastings and seminars. I have to say that growing up in the Chicago area and spending most of my adult life there, has given me a biased opinion of where someone is supposed to live. I love the Midwest and love the Chicago area. I am a fan of the change in seasons and although I am not too keen on winter, I have been fortunate enough to travel once or twice each year during the January through March time frame. I find that this helps to break up the windy, snowy winter we often experience in Chicago. I can’t help but reminisce about the good old days before I had paternal duties and the winter excursions I used to go on. The Coue de Gras had to be in 1995 when I traveled to South Africa for two weeks. Our South African host, an gracious man named Brian Smit and his employer, The Stellenbosch Farms Winery, rolled out the red carpet. From beautiful dinners and exceptional wines to a stimulating ride in a South African Air Force helicopter with side doors open over the wine country and Cape Bay, to bungee jumping from 500 feet over a dry river bed and of course I can’t forget the three days we spent as a guest of the “Animals in the Wild” on a photo safari in the Krueger National Park. Most of you would say what a great trip but believe it or not, I then traveled to Australia for 10 days and another week in New Zealand. As a single man, Melbourne was full of eye candy. A 5 ft 8 inch blond woman has always had the ability to catch my eye and I have to say that had my head had the ability to turn 360 degrees, I probably would have screwed my body right into the ground with all of the exceptional beauty I was witnessing. The wines of Adelaide, Clare Valley and Barossa tend to be my favorites. Auckland and the South Island of New Zealand were what I enjoyed the most. Anyway, I literally flew around the world over a thirty day period. The good old days!
Getting back to my experience in New York this week... I guess it doesn’t surprise me anymore about the strong opinion, some might call arrogance, that New Yorkers have about their part of the world. It always seems crazy there; the traffic, the fast pace, the expense, and this city that was built hundreds of years ago attempting to accommodate all of our 2010 amenities. That being said, I love to visit New York but could never see myself living there. The arts, restaurants and sports are amazing. Central Park is unmatched anywhere in the world.
On Tuesday night I put on a tasting for the Business International Association, New York chapter. I met all sorts of interesting people, from a Zimbabwean physician to a college graduate from New Orleans to a Middle Eastern businessman. I guess you could say it was a good representation of the melting pot that resides in New York. I enjoyed the crowd and we all had the love for wine in common so the night was a success. Wednesday night was the Goizueta Business School from Emory University in Atlanta, the New York Chapter. Wall Street, business owners and financiers where well represented in this crowd, both men and women, young and middle aged. I am never surprised by how business graduates and especially those with a grad school degree thrive in the any social event atmosphere and how good they all are at networking. They also have the ability to enjoy and consume wine! Another successful event.
We did taste some phenomenal wines, Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot 2005, Atlas Peak Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Goldeneye Pinot Noir, and Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot. It never ceases to amaze me how wine can bring such a diverse crowd together and stimulate great conversation and social acumen.
I am going to Las Vegas this weekend to celebrate my Father’s 80th birthday. When I was thirty, eighty seemed so old. Now as I am in the fat part of middle age (figuratively and literally), eighty doesn’t seem nearly as old as it once did. We are having his celebratory dinner at a restaurant called “Prime”, which is located in the Bellagio Hotel. I called the hotel this week and finally was able to track down John Burke, the Sommelier at Prime. I wanted to bring a special bottle from my cellar to have at dinner, which in my mind would add to the festivity. I was informed that their policy only allowed a customer to bring in two bottles and the bottles could not be on their wine list. I thought no problem; I have been putting away wine in my cellar for the better part of three decades and should be able to find something special that wasn’t represented.
I asked John the Sommelier to email the wine list so that I could look it over. I was like a kid in a candy store. The list was massive, over 1000 selections…….and the prices!!! The list had 99 wines priced over $1000 per bottle, 14 wines priced over $5,000 per bottle, 10 wines priced over $10,000 per bottle and yes, 6 wines priced at over $20,000 per bottle. I tried to put this in perspective. We will have a party of 14 for my Dad’s birthday bash. We will need about 3+ glasses of wine per person, the equivalent of eight to ten bottles for our dinner. If we choose to splurge and spend $1000 per bottle, each glass would cost $200. At $5,000 per bottle we are talking about $1,000 per glass. The $25,000 bottle on the list would set me back $5,000 per glass. If we mix and match, we are still looking at a bar tab of over $60,000. I think you can buy a real nice car, one of those imported autos’ that do everything but give you a massage and well you know what else I am thinking. Or could this be a down payment on a house. For many the answer would be yes. Oh yes, I forget to mention about my Dad’s desire to have a nice glass of cognac with dessert. I always thought that Remy Martin Louis XIII was the apex. At $195 per glass you would think so. Not in Las Vegas at the Bellagio. Hardy Perfection at $675 and Hennessy Timeless at $875 per glass are the clear winners for the most extravagant.
Well now that I am done playing mental masturbation with myself and because I am splitting the dinner tab with my two tight fisted brothers, I did find some reasonable wines at between $75 and $150 per bottle. Still excessive for most but it is my Dad’s 80th. I went down to my wine cellar last night and picked a double magnum of Paul Hobbs Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 to take to Vegas. Hopefully we can have this with dinner too! I got to thinking, if I was only a high roller, my mental masturbation could be a reality on the Bellagio’s dime. Maybe in another life! I am looking forward to the celebration.
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