Destination: United States

Taco Bell’s Big Alaskan Airlift

Last month, when I heard that residents of Bethel, Alaska, had been tricked—by a still-anonymous hoax-ster—into believing a Taco Bell franchise was coming to town, I felt a serious twinge of sympathy for my fellow Northerners. Sure, sites like Gawker had a field day with the story (“Parents looked in from bedroom doorways on their sleeping children and smiled,” they wrote at the time. “A silent prayer of thanks that sons and daughters would never know a life devoid of local fast food offerings.”) but it’s easy to snark when you’re sitting in an office in lower Manhattan, with your every heart’s desire just the swish of an iPhone away.

Geographical isolation produces strange cravings, and things that seem pedestrian, elsewhere, take on a bizarre importance. Here in Whitehorse, Canada, we’re counting down to the return of our KFC and Dairy Queen franchises—both closed several years ago—and even the healthiest of health nuts can’t wait for the grand re-openings. It’s about the injection of something new, something—anything—different into a well-worn routine. In that way, I suppose you can compare the arrival of a fast food franchise in a remote small town to the act of travel itself: Good or bad, it always shakes things up.

Anyway, Bethel’s story ends happily. Taco Bell airlifted 10,000 Doritos Locos Tacos into town to soothe the sting of the hoax, and the end result of the whole saga is this promo spot:

Still Listening

Still Listening Photo: anoldent via Flickr (CC)

On New Hampshire's Androscoggin River, Catherine Buni tried to draw her paddling partners into conversation. But her questions only got her so far.

Read More »

‘Get Out of the Damn Car’: An Illustrated Death Valley Road Trip

Over at Afar, illustrator Wendy MacNaughton has recreated a brief road trip from San Francisco to Death Valley and back. The drawings include fun headings like “Public Bathroom Ratings” and “Things That Can Be Seen From a Car Window.” I dug it. (Via @The_Rumpus)

Moby on Los Angeles Architecture

People who’ve spent much time in Los Angeles know the city is home to some amazing architecture—classic mid-century designs, rustic Craftsman homes, bizarro medieval castles—and that these places are often tucked away in canyons, or behind tall fences, or in nondescript suburbs.

The musician Moby is now living in L.A., and he was so impressed by this that four months ago he launched a blog about it featuring his photographs and observations. It’s a good read. This short video offers an intro to L.A. architecture and his perspective on it:

26 ‘Chinatown Bus’ Operators Shut Down

A few years back, we posted news that the cheap and occasionally safety-challenged Chinatown buses—cult favorites among budget travelers in the Northeastern U.S.—were reportedly cleaning up their act. Turns out the effort fell short. After a year-long investigation, federal safety officials have closed down 26 carriers operating in the busy Northeast corridor—16 based in New York, and 10 in Philadelphia.

So R.I.P. Chinatown buses. But never fear, budget travelers—BoltBus is still kicking.

Not Your Usual Spring-Break-in-Florida Story

This essay from the NYT, about Alessandra Stanley’s mother-daughter vacation, is causing a stir—no huge surprise, I suppose, when it starts with a line like this: “One of the good things about divorce is that you get to see less of your children.” Stanley and her daughter spent a less-than-idyllic spring break at a super-luxury resort on a private island near South Beach. Here’s a taste:

I imagined sunrise walks on the beach, giggly mother-daughter spa treatments and intimate candlelit meals during which Emma would lean in and at long last tell me what college was like besides “fine.”

I failed to anticipate that exam-rattled 18-year-olds sleep long past noon and then stay up all night (I get up around 6 and am asleep easily before 10). Nor had I known that embedded in the ethos of this particular private island is a class system that places short-term guests below the salt.

Refreshingly honest? Privileged and self-indulgent? The Times commenters are weighing in bare-knuckled. (Via Ta-Nehisi Coates)

Paul Theroux on ‘Multilayered and Maddening’ Hawaii

Paul Theroux lives in Hawaii but finds aspects of the archipelago’s culture to be mysterious and nearly impenetrable. When he set out to talk with natives about local traditions, he was met with silence and monosyllabic replies, even when he turned up with gifts of honey from his own bees.

I had never in my traveling or writing life come across people so unwilling to share their experiences. Here I was living in a place most people thought of as Happyland, when in fact it was an archipelago with a social structure that was more complex than any I had ever encountered—beyond Asiatic. One conclusion I reached was that in Hawaii, unlike any other place I had written about, people believed that their personal stories were their own, not to be shared, certainly not to be retold by someone else. Virtually everywhere else people were eager to share their stories, and their candor and hospitality had made it possible for me to live my life as a travel writer.

(Via @nerdseyeview)


River a Mile Deep: Three Videos

Videos from Michael Shapiro's 24-day rafting trip down the Colorado River

Watch the Video »

River a Mile Deep: Five Great Photos

Images from Michael Shapiro's 24-day rafting trip down the Colorado River

See the full photo »

Chicago Tourism Song Declared a Catastrophe

Or something close to that. The promotional song, recently released by the city’s tourism organization, is getting slammed, especially in comments on the song’s YouTube page. One example: “It’s like the theme song from an ‘80s sitcom, probably starring Tony Danza, only it’s the muzak version of that song. A milestone in war crime level banality.”

You almost have to wonder if the whole thing is a put-on, made intentionally bad to draw more attention to the city. I mean, it is getting Chicago a lot of press. You be the judge:


Mapped: America’s Unofficial State Borders

Pop vs. soda vs. Coke. Yankees fans vs. Red Sox fans. Over at The Atlantic Cities, Samuel Arbesman and a team of colleagues have used data from cell phone records, sports broadcast blackout zones and more to track some of the country’s informal, internal boundaries. The result is a fascinating selection of maps.

The Ferries and the Last Frontier

Alaska ferry Photo: Eva Holland

In a four-part series, Eva Holland explores Southeast Alaska by state ferry

Read More »

The Halibut Taco is Alaska’s Unofficial State Dish. Discuss.

Photo by supafly via Flickr, (Creative Commons)

I spent nine days traveling in Southeast Alaska last month, and as I went from one panhandle port to the next, and from bar to pub to restaurant, I noticed something: the halibut taco is everywhere. It’s even outstripping such traditional Alaskan standbys as king crab legs, beer-battered halibut fish ‘n’ chips, and seafood chowder. It’s the new normal.

I’m not World Hum’s designated taco expert, by any means—Jim’s the Mexican food addict around here—but I’ve been intrigued by unexpected Mexican-in-the-sub-Arctic offerings before. And I’m no less intrigued by the halibut taco seemingly conquering the last frontier.

Alaska isn’t a state that most people associate with cutting-edge cultural fusion (though if you spend much time there, you’ll see there’s more to the place than the Discovery Channel lets on), and it seems to me that the taco’s dominance there is just one more sign of our ever-shrinking planet. I say, bring on the tasty and fascinating cultural variations.

Dispatch from the Yukon Quest Trail

I’m on the road this week, doing some writing and social media work for the Yukon Quest.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Quest is a 1,000-mile sled dog race that runs from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon (my hometown). I’m following along, and on the trail with me is a traveling crowd of volunteers, veterinarians, race officials, “handlers” (assistants to the mushers), and friends and family. We drive from checkpoint to checkpoint, meeting up with the dog teams whenever they intersect with the sparse road system. I’m writing this from Central Corner, an outpost on the Steese Highway just south of the one-time Gold Rush town of Circle City.

Never seen a long-distance dog sled race? Here’s a video that gives you a real sense of the scene at the start line back in Fairbanks:

Read More »

Gawker Goes on a Vegas Press Trip

And lays the snark on thick in a dispatch, Among the Junketeers. Here’s a taste:

Though the Hilton was not objectively dirty, it was permeated by a certain sort of gloom that is the result of mixing dim lighting and snack bar food and huge television screens and losing betting slips together in close proximity and marinating for 20 years or so. “I think I’m a smart sports bettor, but I always lose,” said the TSN reporter to Kornegay at one point, obviating the need for a longer discussion here of how sports books in Las Vegas make their money.

Off to lunch at The Barrymore, a newly renovated spot with stylish wallpaper and mirrored walls and a ceiling made entirely of movie reels. On the way over we drove by Occupy Las Vegas, a grim collection of tents huddled on a cracked asphalt lot, like an obstinate little Hooverville. We did not stop. The manager at The Barrymore, shirt opened to the third button, came over to greet us. We had an entire room to ourselves. They filled the table with calamari and thinly sliced pork and every other appetizer on the menu, something which would be repeated in nearly every restaurant where we ate. The journalists had a bunch of cocktails, something which would also be repeated in nearly every restaurant. I neither drink nor eat meat, so I sat there eating my French onion soup and drinking coffee like a human sign reading “PARTY POOPER.” This would also be repeated in nearly every restaurant. The French onion soup was very good.

The press trip issue has been chewed over plenty (see: this, this, or, say, this), but I enjoyed this first-person, on-the-ground addition to the genre.

(Via @mikebarish)