November 30, 2010

Road Trip Philosophy – Weighing in on the TSA Debate

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Ben Franklin

The new TSA regulations on pat downs and advanced imaging in airports has many people upset. And I understand why. Although I prefer to drive whenever possible (obviously because this is a road trip blog), I am often forced to fly when time constraints prevent me from taking the time to drive long distances. So I am naturally concerned about these new regulations.

In my opinion, the TSA has gone too far. With the old pat down procedures, agents ran the back of their hands along the passenger’s body. I didn’t enjoy the pat down, but I understood it. I have issues with personal space. I don’t like being touched by strangers. Heck, I don’t even like sitting too close to people I don’t know on a plane or subway car. So while the old pat down procedures made me uncomfortable, I was willing to go through it because I knew it was as minimally invasive as possible and served an important purpose.

But the new pat down procedures take it too far. Now TSA agents rub and grope passengers with open palms. Already there have been complaints of people with medical ailments being humiliated in front of other passengers in the name of security. A bladder cancer survivor who wears a bag that collects his urine said a TSA punctured the bag during an aggressive pat down and left him covered in his own urine. A breast cancer survivor was forced to show her prosthetic breast during a pat down, after the agent had grabbed it with her hand.

This isn’t protecting anyone. The TSA says the pat downs are for security from terrorism. But then why is the TSA terrorizing us? Why is it humiliating passengers, violating them physically and psychologically? I believe I have the right to physically safety when traveling – whether it is from a terrorist or a TSA agent. I don’t believe I should have to give up my right to safety from one to be protected from the other.

The alternative to the pat down is to go through a full body scanner, but that isn’t much better. Rather than being groped, poked and prodded, you walk through what is basically a large X-ray machine and allow the TSA agents to view your naked body. That is something I am just not okay with. Call me a prude, but I don’t like flashing my genitals to strangers. What’s worse is that the TSA or other federal agencies might be saving these images. That means the government could have nude pictures of me and my private parts on file. The very thought of that makes me nauseous.

Honestly, the new pat down procedures and the full body scanners make me afraid to fly. I am more afraid of being violated by TSA regulations that will expose me and violate me than of any other security threat.

But I’m not sure what I can do about it. Sometimes, I need to fly because driving isn’t possible. I can only hope that enough complaints will force the TSA to reevaluate how it violates passengers.


November 25, 2010

The Phoggy Dog - Lawrence, KS

Before I moved to Kansas, I wasn’t much of a college basketball fan. As a kid, I went with my parents to the University of Tulsa games and loved them. But in high school and college, I was never really cared for sports. But then I moved to Lawrence, Kansas where I drank the crimson and blue koolaid. And every week I go to the Phoggy Dog in Lawrence, Kansas to keep drinking it.

In Lawrence, Kansas, there is nothing more important than the University of Kansas men’s college basketball team. And I mean nothing. You could insult a man’s mother, his country, and his god and he will shake your hand. But if you insult the Jayhawks, get ready for a brawl.

I don’t know when I became one of the rapid fans who yells at television screen, wears her favorite player’s jersey (Aldrich #45 from last season) and walks down the street chanting, “Rock Chalk Jayhawk!” I swear I used to be a sensible person. I used to scoff at those who camped out for tickets or participated in the silly rivalries. Now, I keep the game schedule in my day planner and sneer at anyone wearing a University of Missouri sweatshirt.

The Phoggy Dog (pronounced “Foggy” Dog) has thirteen televisions, including a ten-foot HD television and 10 HD plasma televisions. Whether you’re sitting at the bar or with a group of friends at a table, you are guaranteed to have a great view no matter where you are. There are also great drinks for a group of friends looking for a party. Whether its pitchers of beer or the “fishbowl,” the bar is set to get as many basketball fans as drunk as possible while they watch the Jayhawks trounce their opponents up and down the court. (I have no idea what is in the “fishbowl,” just that it is a fishbowl full of a very alcoholic cocktail).

Personally, I enjoy a beer or two while I watch my beloved Jayhawks and also enjoy the Phoggy Dog’s burger. It’s a 1/3 pound of Angus beef topped with cheese, tomato, lettuce, and pickles. It’s good as far as bar food goes, not great. The menu is all your staple American bar food – chicken wings, onion rings, chicken strips, French fries – none of it particularly mind-blowing, but definitely satisfying while watching the game.

The best part of the Phoggy Dog is the staff and patrons. Everyone who works there are Jayhawk fans. If you want to discuss players and strategy before tip-off, grab a bar stool and chat with any of the bartenders. If want someone to cheer or chant with you, turn to whoever is sitting next to you.

If you are passing through Kansas during basketball season and can’t get tickets to a game, go down to the Phoggy Dog and get a taste of what it means to be a Jayhawk fan. I guarantee it will be an experience you will remember, whether you’re actually a college basketball fan or not.

Total Trip Time: 5 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 1 mile
Soundtrack: Rock Chalk Jayhawk!


November 23, 2010

Allen Fieldhouse (The Phog) – Lawrence, KS

Few things in Kansas are as important as basketball. After all, Lawrence is the birthplace of college basketball. In 1989, Dr. James Naismith came to the University of Kansas, just six years after writing the official rules for the sport of basketball, and began the University of Kansas men’s basketball team. (Fun Fact: Naismith is the only KU basketball coach to have a losing record, 55-60).

One of the students he coached was Forrest “Phog” Allen. Allen would go on to become a basketball legend; he was called the Father of Basketball Coaching. He would go on to coach the KU team for 39 years and lead the team to two Helms National Championships (two seasons in a row) and an NCAA Championship. He also coached the US basketball team in the 1952 Summer Olympics, helping the US bring home the gold.

The Allen Fieldhouse is named for the illustrious couch and a banner hanging in the rafters of the Fieldhouse reads: "Pay heed all who enter, beware of the Phog." Of course, KU honors Dr. Naismith as well. The actual playing court is named the James Naismith Court. Since the opening of Allen Fieldhouse in 1955, the Jayhawks have a home record of 651-106, that means they have won 86% of their home games in the Allen Fieldhouse!

Allen Fieldhouse is known for its dominating team and also for its noise! This year, ESPN The Magazine named Allen Fieldhouse the loudest college basketball arena in the country. And they are not kidding around. If you’ve ever been to a KU basketball game at the Allen Fieldhouse, you know that the KU students don’t mess around. They cheer, they jeer, they scream, they throw confetti – it is an experience that will leave your throat raw and your ears ringing. There is nowhere else in the country you can experience true basketball fervor like you can at the Allen Fieldhouse.

The Allen Fieldhouse also has some rich traditions. Before the start of every game, it is tradition to sing the University of Kansas alma mater "Crimson and the Blue" and then the Rock Chalk Chant. (“Rock Chalk Jayhawk! KU!”) During the song, students wrap their arms around their neighbors and sway. It is really a moment of community when the college students come together to support their teams.

But the traditions don’t stop with a few songs and chants. While the opposing team is being introduced, the members of the student section take out a copy of the student paper, The University Daily Kansan, and wave the paper in front of their faces, pretending to be reading it instead of paying attention to the other team (they also have a tendency to shake the pages, drowning out the names of the other players with the sounds of russeling paper). After the opponents are introduced, a short film is shown about the history and the accomplishments of Kansas basketball. If that doesn’t make you proud to be a Kansan, then you really don’t have a heart. Then as the Jayhawks are introduced, the students rip up their newspapers and throw the confetti pieces of paper in the air. But they still hold on to a bit of the confetti, they throw the rest when KU scores their first basket.

If you are passing through Kansas, you have to stop at the Allen Fieldhouse. It’s simply the one thing you have to do. And if you are lucky enough to score tickets to a home basketball game, remember: "Pay heed all who enter, beware of the Phog."

Total Trip Time: 10 minutes
Total Travel Distance: 2.5 miles
Soundtrack: "Crimson and the Blue"


November 18, 2010

Grand Opening of Vagabond Vestments!

Instead of a regular post today, I'm going to make a couple major announcements.

First, some amazing news! Apparently there are more of you reading this blog than I thought. The Yellow Brick Road Trip was ranked #16 on the 50 Best North American Travel Blogs! I am genuinely surprised and genuinely honored to be on the list, because there are some great blogs on there. So thank you to everyone who has been reading and I encourage you to check out the list for some other travel blogs.

My second major announcement is that I am opening Vagabond Vestments, a store for the Yellow Brick Road Trip where I will be selling handmade items to help fund my travels. I started knitting years ago, just for something to keep my hands busy while I was watching television. But eventually, my family and friends got tired of receiving knitted presents for every possible occasion. So I decided to sell my items here and use the money to continue my travels for The Yellow Brick Road Trip. Right now, I'm selling just knitted items but I enjoy other crafts - for example, I'm currently learning to cut glass - so you may see some other types of items available here soon!

Thank you to everyone who has been reading! Check out Vagabond Vestments and come back on Tuesday when I will have a post about the Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas (the home of the KU college basketball team).


November 16, 2010

The Beast (The Largest Haunted House in the US) - Kansas City, MO

It's been years since I've been to a haunted house, but this Halloween my friend John and I decided to go to The Beast in Kansas City, the largest haunted house in the United States. That's right, the largest haunted house in the United States! And at five stories tall, that's not a surprising title. It is an elaborate maze through various scenes from the haunted Bayou, to the haunted English castle, to the serial killer's torture chamber - you wind through the dark and the fog until you have absolutely no idea where you are and how you got there. Then, you exit through a four story slide! (Which is why I don't recommend wearing a dress like I did - you will end up with your skirt over your head at the bottom.)

It wasn't too hard to find the haunted house or parking (if you don't mind paying for parking). We decided to drive there but there are regular pickups throughout town for those who don't want to drive downtown. We bought our tickets in advance, which I recommend doing. The line to buy tickets and get in was insanely long but the ticket line wasn't too bad. You can pay extra for a line jumper ticket, but I didn't really see the point in it. Unless you get there really late on a busy night, it's not really necessary.

I absolutely loved The Beast! The dark maze is disorienting in the best possible way. Some rooms are identically decorated so you have no idea if you've been there before - whether you are going up or down or in circles. It really creates a suspended sense of reality. The main scares are the surprises - sudden bursts of air, things popping out of walls or dropping from the ceiling, and of course the costumed employees suddenly appearing out of nowhere. There are plenty of high tech elements - a ghost king dancing, animatronic skeletons that leap out of coffins. I learned my friend John screams like a little girl and clings to me when an animatronic demon drops from the ceiling amid strobe lights and recorded shrieks. (Although I screamed like a little girl, too, so who am I to judge?)

The only downside to this amazing haunted house were the other patrons. The maze had very tiny hallways and there were way too many people inside. At several points it was like being cattle trapped in a chute to the slaughter, we were pressed against each other without hope of moving and at several points I had difficulty breathing in the cramped space. Overall, most customers dealt with this well by making jokes (mostly about being cattle), but a few people decided to blame everyone around them for the inconvenience. One man turned to me and got angry that I was somehow interfering with his group of friends. John and I were both a little shocked that he would be nasty and rude to a complete stranger, but I suppose some people are just unpleasant (Like me, because I hope he tore his pants on the way down the slide).

And, of course, there were the unsupervised children. I don't know what parents think it is a good idea to send eight and nine year olds into a dark haunted house at 10 o'clock at night without a parent but apparently there are many of them. The children enjoyed taunting people working in the haunted house and even trying to grab some of the props. I had an overwhelming urge on several occasions to turn into my mother and lecture them about respect for others. But instead, I suppressed my annoyance and focused on enjoying myself. I particularly enjoyed seeing a man in a serial killer costume chase one of the annoying little brats with a metal bar.

If you are looking for a road trip destination with a good scare, I really recommend making the trip to Kansas City for The Beast. Think about it - a good scare, a four-story slide, and you get to say you have visited the largest haunted house in the United States. You can't lose!

Total Trip Time: 3 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 40 miles
Soundtrack: "The Warrior Code" Dropkick Murphys


November 11, 2010

Road Trip Memories - Why I Used to Be Scared of Haunted Houses

It's been a long time since I have been to a haunted house, so I was thrilled when my friend John agreed to go with me to The Beast and the Edge of Hell in Kansas City on Halloween weekend. But to explain why this is such an awesome trip, I feel I should explain why I haven't been to a haunted house in years.

When I was about 13 or 14, I was supposed to go to a Halloween party at my friend Sarah's house where she told me we would be watching "Halloween." Not wanting to be the one girl who got scared, I decided to watch it the night before. Alone. At night. It was not the smartest idea. Needless to say, it scared the poo out of me and I didn't sleep or turn out the lights all night.

The next night, we went to Allen Ranch in Oklahoma for a haunted hay ride and haunted house before going back to my friend Sarah's house to watch scary movies. I was a little jumpy (okay, I was very jumpy) on the haunted hay ride but ended up having a great time! It was just the right combination of cheesy werewolves and creepy Jason Vorhees with fake chainsaws to make us jump out of our skins and laugh at the same time.

But then we got to the haunted house and things went terribly wrong. There were five of us and we were having a great time, screaming whenever someone leaped out at us and laughing at how easily we had been scared by a guy in a mask. Then we came to a hallway with, you guessed it, Mike Meyers standing in the middle. I was absolutely terrified. At first we thought he was a mannequin but then we saw him tighten his grip on the knife. It's hard to explain just how scared I was. For the last twenty-four hours I had been gripped by a young girl's fear of the masked killer in Halloween. Now he was standing in front of me and the only way out was to run past him. We counted to five and took off.

He chased us. That (insert litany of descriptive swear words here) jerk chased us.

I was officially losing my mind when not only did he chase us, he cornered my friend Jackie and I. Jackie pushed me in front of her and so there I was, screaming and crying, face to face with a masked slasher who seemed to come out of a movie just to torture me. As he stood over me, wielding a knife, I forgot I was in a haunted house. My brain switched into survivor mode and I went from thinking I was a scared little girl in a haunted house to genuinely believing I was a slasher movie heroine who wasn't going to be taken down that easily.

And so I kicked him in the groin. Hard.

I kicked that masked man as hard as I could and took off running (For a cartoon illustration of what this might have looked like, check out R.K. Milholland's Something Positive.) I took out a styrofoam wall and collapsed on the cold dirt as soon as I was outside in a shaking mess to tears and snot. It was a truly pathetic sight. The people who ran the haunted house called my mother to complain about me, when she pointed out that I was a young girl who just had been cornered in the dark by a man with a weapon. She said if they didn't want me to defend myself, then they shouldn't have let a masked man trap me. They thought about it and had to let me off with a warning.

Needless to say, it would be many years before I returned to a haunted house. But I'm happy to say, I went to the Kansas City haunted houses this year and loved them! So stay tuned because next week I'll tell you about my trip to The Beast in Kansas City, the largest haunted house in the United States!


November 9, 2010

Road Trip Philosophy - My Travel Bucket List

Travel Junkie Julia recently posted 10 Extreme Travel Adventures to Add to Your Bucket List. The exciting list included riding a bull, cage diving with great white sharks, and running a marathon on the Great Wall of China. My personal bucket list is significantly less dangerous, but I always appreciate some suggestions and thought this would be a great chance to share with you my top three travel destinations I will go to before I die:

1. The Sedlec Ossuary in Sedlec, Czech Republic

I have already bought my Czech Republic travel guides, complete with maps and hostel ratings. I've been planning this trip for a couple years and sincerely hope to go sometimes in the next few years.

The Sedlect Ossuary has an amazing history. The abbot of the monastery in Sedlec, was sent to the Holy Land in 1278. When he returned, he brought with him a small amount of earth he had removed from Golgotha and sprinkled it over the abbey cemetery. The word of this pious act soon spread and the cemetery in Sedlec became a desirable burial site throughout Central Europe. During the Black Death in the mid 14th century, and after the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century, many thousands of people were buried there and the cemetery had to be greatly enlarged.

Overwhelmed with bodies, a woodcarver in the 19th century was employed to put the bones in order. The result was incredible. He completely decorated the small chapel with the bones, including an enormous chandelier of bones hangs from the center of the nave with garlands of skulls draping the vaults. This macabre chapel is one place I have to see before I die

2. Safari and Tour of Tanzania, Africa

Specifically, I would like to go on a safari tour through Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Also, a stop on the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar for some relaxation in the beautiful sun. In addition to amazing safaris, beautiful beaches, and busy urban cities, Tanzania also offers Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa (though I doubt I am even remotely in good enough physical shape to even consider climbing it). Basically, I would like to spend a month living in Tanzania so I would have an opportunity to explore all of its amazing attributes.

Tanzania is believed to be one of the oldest known continuously inhabited areas on Earth. Fossil remains of humans and pre-human hominids have been found dating back over two million years. And while many countries in Africa have been torn apart by tribal wars and genocide, Tanzania has lived in relative peace. It is one of the most diverse places in Africa: there are over 120 ethnic groups and a multitude of religions being practiced, including Islam, Christianity, and indigenous religions. Though their primary industry is agriculture (fun fact: agriculture accounts for one-half of the country's gross national product), tourism is a growing industry. So I am certainly not alone in making Tanzania one of my top three places to visit before I die.

3. Mule Trip on the South Rim and Camping in the Grand Canyon, Arizona

Given my recent trip to Arizona, this is probably the most attainable destination (also the cheapest, based on the cost of international airfare.) The Grand Canyon is such an amazing place. It took nearly two billion years of geological events to create it and is without a doubt one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. It is also the site of some of the oldest North American archeological finds. The oldest human artifacts found in the Grand Canyon are nearly 12,000 years old and date to the Paleo-Indian period.

I want to take a mule trip down the south rim, but I would also like to camp at the bottom. I want to really experience the beauty and natural wonders of the Grand Canyon, but not be a destructive tourist. Many people don't know that the Grand Canyon is a delicate ecosystem, and one that eager tourists often abuse. For example, tourists sometimes throw coins into the canyon but then wildlife, such as the California Condor, eat them and choke to death. A depressing thought, I know, but I still think an important thing to remember. I want to go to the Grand Canyon to see the natural beauty, but hopefully leave no trace of my presence behind.


November 4, 2010

The Basket Dance Sculpture - Albuquerque, NM

While still stuck in the Albuquerque airport, I decided to walk outside for some fresh air and a cigarette. Sure, I would have to go through security again but I really needed to get away from the crowds of sweaty and irritated travelers (that and I really needed a cigarette). But while I was outside enjoying the fresh air (and my sweet, sweet nicotine), I saw a beautiful bronze sculpture called "The Basket Dance."

The sculpture was created by Glenna Goodacre, an artist most known for designing the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington D.C. and the Sacagawea dollar the US put into circulation in 2000. (Fun Fact: Goodacre's daughter was a Victoria Secret model and is the wife of Henry Connick, Jr.)

Though a native Texan, Goodacre has lived in New Mexico since 1983, so it seems fitting her artwork would have a prominent place at many people's first introduction to her adopted state. Though "The Basket Dance" is not her most famous work, it is certainly interesting and honors the Native American tradition so prominent in New Mexico. The Basket Dance is an annual Hopi tradition celebrating the end of harvest where anything extra was re-distributed to help everyone make it through the tough winters. It is a beautiful work of art and definitely a great introduction to New Mexico for those making their first visit. Or for me, trying to forget how long I've been stuck in an airport.


November 2, 2010

The 1914 Ingram/Foster Biplane - Albuquerque, NM

On my way home from Arizona, I got stuck in the Albuquerque, New Mexico airport for about three hours. But it turns out the Albuquerque airport isn't that bad a place to be stuck. There are tons of historical exhibits and artwork for the stranded traveler to enjoy, like the 1914 Ingram/Foster Biplane

(By the way, I asked security before I took this picture. I don't recommend taking unauthorized pictures in airports unless you want to get tackled by TSA).

According to the Albuquerque Museum: "While on a business trip to Dallas, Jay Ingram, a Ford dealer from Decatur, Texas, met Charles A. Foster, an exchibition flier. Foster's flying stories spaarked Ingram's imagination, and the two men struck a deal. Foster would come to Decatur, build aeroplanes, and together they would from the Pioneer Aeroplane Exhibition Company."

"In six months, Foster built a copy of a Curtiss pusher that was sturdy enough for limited aerobatics. The wheels, tires and many fittings were purchased from mail order aeroplane supply houses. The ribs, interplane struts and wing sections were custom-made from raw lumber. The wings were covered with cotton or linen fabric and painted with a varnish made from cellulose dissolved in ether. The eight-cylinder Roberts engine was rated at 100 horsepower."

I don't know enough about aviation or airplanes to be appropriately impressed. But I do know enough to think it was a very cool looking biplane and its was fascinating to learn a little bit about aviation history while waiting for my modern flying tin can to finally show up.