Fly Favorites: July 2012

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Get Global Entry—I Did and It Works!

You get off a 10-hour red-eye from Rio, tired and cranky and just ready to get home, and upon arrival into JFK, you realize you’re stuck in the Immigration line behind passengers coming in from Dubai, Buenos Aires, and Tokyo all at the same time. You’ve got two options: 1) Wait an hour in line with the other poor souls while the immigration officer triple-checks and fingerprints a permanent resident with shaky English and three rambunctious children, or 2) Breeze right past the whole lot of ‘em after a quickie automated entry procedure. Give me option #2!

That quickie automated entry procedure is called Global Entry, an expedited immigration program for US citizens who travel frequently and have gotten tired of long lines at Immigration when returning home. I travel a lot, and I’d seen the kiosks, but I remained skeptical. The application fee is $100, which you don’t get back if you’re not approved, and the whole keeping my prints on file and other Big Brother-type governmental intrusion into my life—fuggedaboutit. Besides, I’ve been living abroad for the last seven years, my passport had been stolen once before, and the replacement misspelled my name, so I figured my chances of being approved were slim-to-none. Y’all ain’t keeping my $100.

Hmmm, I don’t know.

Well, my hunch is that someone must have started trying to use the stolen passport, because the immigration officers’ questions started getting funnier and funnier each time I came into the States, and I ain’t talking ha-ha funny either. Eventually, two immigration officers in a row told me, forcefully, “you need to get Global Entry.” So I scraped up my pennies and applied online. The application didn’t ask for any more information than would a potential employer with even the remotest security requirements (like an airline or bank), and the only hassle for me was trying to remember previous overseas addresses.

After a few days, my application was pre-approved and I was asked to schedule an interview within the next 30 days at one of at least 20 different airport locations. It was even easy to reschedule the interview when my travel plans changed, so the convenience factor is a plus. Once back in the States (the immigration officer looked at my record on screen and stamped me in, no questions asked—no “Welcome Home” either, but I rarely ever get that from our taxpayer-funded national gatekeepers), the interview lasted about ten minutes and consisted mostly of me verifying my whereabouts for the last five years (no use trying to be evasive—they already know where you’ve been, and how much private information have you already given up to Facebook, anyway?). The fingerprint scan and brief kiosk tutorial followed, and I was on my way.

No, that’s not me.

The only thing I can say about Global Entry since using it is that I can feel people staring laser beams into the back of my head when they see me at the kiosk one minute, then walking towards Customs the next. As I usually don’t check bags, I’m already headed towards my connecting flight or into town while the first set of folks is still being asked about how much crap they brought back from Germany. Skipping the Immigration line (and the often surly immigration officers) is well worth the $100—and I’m cheap!

I’m Fly Brother, and I recommend Global Entry*.

*No, they didn’t pay me to say this, but they should!

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From the AV Room: Samparkour

Shot in and around the vast, gritty warrens of downtown São Paulo—also known as Sampa—the short but thrilling Samparkour takes viewers through the heart of one of the world’s largest cities by way of parkour, an extreme sport that is at turns skillful acrobatics and dumb luck. Much of the action takes place in my old neck of the woods, reminding me of how much I actually love this grimy, exhilarating concrete jungle. Make sure your shoes are laced up tight before trying this at home:

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When in Berlin: Hüttenpalast hotel

Berlin is known for being a hotbed of experimentation‬—in art, in music, even in hotel accommodations. In the edgy Neukölln district, intrepid travelers can capture the spirit of the open road at Hüttenpalast. Literally “hut palace,” this innovative little inn is housed inside an old vacuum cleaner factory, with throwback trailers (called caravans) and customized bungalows (called huts) arranged in a large, glass-enclosed “campground.” The small, but aerodynamic trailers harken back to family road trips in postwar Germany, while the bungalows—one shaped like a church altar, another like a house made of wooden blocks—evoke children’s toys. The vast common area features a library of hip coffee table books and art magazines, as well as the shared bathroom facilities (very common in European budget hotels). Traditional hotel rooms are also on offer for those wanting a more conventional experience or a little more wiggle room, but it’s sleeping in a retro-futuristic aluminum trailer that’s half the fun. After all, no one ever says “If the hotel room’s rockin’, don’t come knockin’.”

Inside the larger confines of the factory is a much-lauded garden, a summertime respite of flowers and trees where guests can eat, drink, and make merry. In colder seasons, the action moves inside, but the atmosphere is all about fostering social interaction among visiting guests and the surrounding neighborhood, which is why the hotel facilitates activities and requires Friday night guests to book Saturday night as well and make a weekend out of it. Breakfast is not included in the nightly rate for the hotel rooms, but the café serves up tasty, inexpensive fare. Also, like many places in Berlin, credit cards are not accepted, so be prepared to pay cash for all services.

For a uniquely Berlinesque hotel experience at a reasonable price, check in to the Hüttenpalast, and don’t forget to hang that “…don’t come ‘knockin’” sign up on the trailer door.

Hüttenpalast
Hobrechtstraße 66
12047 Berlin
tel. +49 (0)30-37 30 58 06
www.huettenpalast.de

Rates (July 2012):
caravans/huts – 45€ single/65€ double – croissant + coffee included
hotel rooms – from 65€ single/85€ double

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What Visa Waivers for Brazilians Would Mean for Americans

Last week, representatives of the US and Brazilian governments agreed to research the feasibility of visa waivers for Brazilian citizens. The US Visa Waiver Program currently allows citizens of 36 different countries—mostly in Europe, Asia, and Oceania—to visit the States for up to 90 days for business or pleasure without obtaining a pre-arranged visa. Brazil could soon be added to the list, which could mean a mix of positive and negative changes for American travelers:

1. Sustained Boon to the US Economy
In 2010, Brazilians spent $5.9 billion, around $5,000 per person, while visiting the United States. This kind of spending—mainly on luxury goods, upscale condos in New York and Miami, and electronics and household staples that cost three times as much back in Brazil—creates jobs and makes up for the fact that many, many Americans are broke as hell and aren’t really spending the little money they do have on these items. And while the vast majority of Brazilians who apply for visas to the US get approved, eliminating the hassle of scheduling an appointment and trekking to one of only four consulates to be asked annoying, invasive personal questions will surely attract even more upper-class (not middle…upper-class and super-rich) Brazilians to come and spend their money in the States.

2. Visa-Free Travel to Brazil
Brazil’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program would not only mean that Brazilian citizens could merely buy a plane ticket at the last minute and jet off to the States for a wee bit of shopping, but US citizens would regain visa-free entry to Brazil as well (we used to have it a few years ago).

3. Higher, then Lower Airfares
Brazil’s biggest international gateways—São Paulo’s Guarulhos and Rio’s Galeão airports—are overtaxed and inefficient, and both are subject to regulations that limit the number of routes and flight frequencies airlines can fly to and from the US. This will change as the “Open Skies” bilateral treaty comes completely online in 2015, allowing airlines to plan routes and schedules according to market forces. If Brazil is accepted into the Visa Waiver Program before 2015, increased demand for a limited number of airplane seats will cause already high fares to skyrocket before increased competition and decreased regulation theoretically bring down prices. Of course, Olympic fever and rickety infrastructure incapable of handling more traffic could prove me wrong.

4. Increased Number of Douchebags on Ipanema
With less hoops to jump through, every Tom, Dick, and Harry who fancies himself Snoop Dogg will be saving up a couple paychecks to go whoremongering on the beaches in Rio and Salvador. True, this happens the world over, but the unfettered increase in the amount of losers heading down to Brazil who’d rather pay for poon than use their natural wit and charm to attract women just makes for an unattractive atmosphere, in my opinion.

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Global Juke Joint: Nineties Bossanese

Some of you might know Japanese supastar DJ Towa Tei from his days as part of electro-disco group Deee-Lite, but after the foursome broke up in the mid-90s, TT set off on his own with a couple of sumptuous lounge-soul-house discs (see Last Century Modern) featuring collabs with underground rapper extraordinaire Bahamadia and Afro-Euro chanteuses Les Nubians. A few of my favorite songs by Towa Tei include his bossa nova-infused lounge tracks that keep the juices flowing regardless of whether I’m working or relaxing. Taking it back to the 90s, bossanese-style!

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5 Target Destinations for the Next 6 Months

Between July and December 2012, I’ve got five specific destinations on my to-do list. Being on the list doesn’t mean that I’ll actually make it there by the end of the year, but I’m going to try my darnedest. All of these destinations are new for me and I’m definitely hyped about discovering each one for myself!

Bangkok, Thailand
The Bangkok ticket is already purchased and part of my upcoming Whirlwind Southeast Asia Grand Tour 2012. Though I’ve been to the region before, I’ve never been to Thailand and I’m looking forward to dipping my toes into the exhilarating chaos that is Bangkok. I love Thai food, so there’s a start right there!

Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danish capital has been calling me for a while, and since one of my very good friends from Brasília will be moving there for graduate school, I’ve got no reason to postpone a trip any longer. I have indeed spent a couple of hours changing planes at the cozy-yet-bustling airport and I’m eager to see how the city measures up to my favorite Scandinavian capital, Stockholm.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
I have only heard amazing things about Addis from my friends that have been there, and I’m definitely looking forward to snagging one of the under-500 euro airfares to Ethiopia during the second half of the year. As my Ghana trip recently fell through, this would then be my first sub-Saharan African destination. I’m stoked just thinking about the ridiculous music scene there.

Toronto, Canada
Oh, Canada. Despite knowing mad-cool peeps who hail from within your borders, I’ve never visited you. It is time. I’ll be swinging through “Tron-O” in a few weeks to meet up with a good buddy of mine from my Colombia days who’s since gone corporate and has a couple of rugrats. My girl Oneika the Traveller says the T is off the heezy…only time will tell.

Esmeraldas, Ecuador
As part of a lengthy writing excursion to Ecuador, I’ll be popping over to the Pacific Coast and the verdant region of Esmeraldas (literally, Emeralds). Not only does the place lay claim to black sand beaches and a breathtaking coastline, but Esmeraldas is also the center of the country’s Afro-Ecuadorian community. Yes, it’s where most of the brothers on the Ecuadorian soccer team come from.

Make sure you stay tuned to Fly-Brother.com and get lifted with me.

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Images by: mr. Wood, hoangnt, Irene2005, Hanover Phist, and crocodile gena.

Good Food in NYC for $10 or Less, Vol. 1

In an effort to see as many friends in New York as possible during Fly Brother Week, while simultaneously attempting to keep expenditures down to a bare minimum, I challenged some of my local peeps to take me to their favorite place for food and drink costing $10 or less. Several of my friends met the challenge handily, unveiling their neighborhood faves, serving up engaging convo, and helping me fill my belly at the same time. Here’s some of the highlights.


* Salacious Southern gul Uche of Hip Hop is for Lovers invited me to The Meatball Shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I had the succulent, spicy pork balls with creamy Parmesan sauce over pickled veggie salad for $9. Then I cheated and ordered a $2 cream soda, which tipped the scale over the price ceiling, especially with tax and tip. Stick with the free tap water if you want to stay on budget.


* Budding film producer and college classmate CJ of The Dream Factory Productions lured me over to the far end of Restaurant Row, near Times Square at 46th and 9th, with the promise of cheap and tasty Thai at Yum Yum Bangkok. Lunch portions of salad and beef Panang, with a Thai iced tea, clocked in at under $8 including tax.


* Another college bud and fellow Floridian, Amery (who doesn’t blog), took me to Café Au Bon Goût (276 5th Ave) near his job in Koreatown. Among the ample salad and hot food bars stocked full of tummy-filling goodness, I had a half rotisserie chicken, heapin’ helpins of veggies and sweet potatoes, and a canned soda for $6.35. That’s good eatin’.


* Art enthusiast and uptown girl Jenna of hrlm guide (and other endeavors) quickly whisked me up to Harlem on the A Train, where after bandying several options about, we settled on Doug E.’s (yes, as in Fresh, located at 2245 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.) for chicken wings and fries, pretty much the only thing on the menu not over $10. I did indeed lick my fingers.

* Connecticut Yankee and former rowing coach (in fact, my former rowing coach), Adam of 3 Chords & the Truth enticed me with a thick, juicy, succulent, meaty, off-the-hook burger and sweet potato fries at Black Shack Burger in Murray Hill. There’s no picture of the food because, well, I forgot my camera, so you also get an old photo of me and Coach.


* Journalist and fly sister Stacy had me braving the student throngs of the East Village to dine at Mud, where I had a tasty half-an-egg-salad sandwich and salad. Needless to say, I was hungry shortly thereafter, but the intellectual sustenance I acquired during my conversation with Stacy tided me over until I was able to grab a slice uptown. ;-)


* But the coup de grace of the whole shebang came from Bronx-native Brian (you rock, son!) of No Debt World Travel. This fool took me to Prosperity Dumpling in Chinatown, where I had ten scrumdiddlyumptious—and filling—lightly fried pork dumplings for TOO DOLLAZ! An older Chinese lady apparently affiliated with the joint insisted that I return the next day for more, especially since they’d been given an A rating by the city health department. Don’t worry, ma’am; I’ll be back soon. Shouts to Cat for gracing us with her effusive presence.

Stay tuned for Good Food in NYC for $10 or Less, Vol. 2, which will be posted in a few weeks, immediately following my next sojourn to Gotham.

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