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Archive for April, 2009

Photo by Jenna Schnuer

Photo by Jenna Schnuer

Try as I might, I’ve been having trouble pushing off the gray cast that seems to have settled over my brain. Damned economy. But, over the last few days, thanks to trips of days past, there’s been some relief. I’ve been clicking through my mental View-Master (and my photos) to temporarily step back into some truly happy moments.

I’m convinced that if I keep building the stack, it’ll topple the gray. One surprise stop on my magical mood-bender tour came in Hiltons, Virginia, at the Carter Family Fold. Part of the Carter Family Memorial Music Center—owned by the first family of country music—the Fold hosts a weekly old time and bluegrass music show.

On the Saturday night I spent there, the dance floor was swirling with seniors who had this dancing thing down, farmers dressed in crisp ironed Carhartt overalls, teens who didn’t appear the least bit sullen and toddlers riding high on their parents’ shoulders. The Fold is a place for the faithful—in this case, those faithful to old-time, bluegrass and gospel music.

The flatfooters take to the dance floor as soon as the night’s featured performers start up. Most wearing shoes with taps, some with little lights tied to their laces to highlight their footwork, they step and clatter across the floor. Their taps are usually the main percussion instruments in the room. For $5 per person—and just $1 for kids 6 to 11—locals from around Clinch Mountain take a break from their daily must-dos and hightail it to the Fold.

Even visitors usually too shy to try a new dance in public (OK, me) got swept up. Nobody—aside from the really good dancers (and they’re too busy concentrating on their own footwork)—cares how you look out there. And the pulled pork sandwich from the concessions stand? Tasty stuff, that.

P.S. Got the budget-crunch blues? Virginia’s giving away 40 trips to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Virginia is for Lovers slogan. Get in on it.

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Photo by Rick McCharles via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo by Rick McCharles via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Fifteen years ago, when nobody else was really servicing the community, writer Candy Harrington ditched traditional travel writing and launched Emerging Horizons, a travel magazine for people with disabilities. “Back then most of my friends and colleagues thought I was a few fries short of a happy meal for making such a drastic change,” says Harrington. Silly colleagues. Other travel magazines come and go but Emerging Horizons is still running strong, and Harrington also writes books, articles for magazines and websites, and a blog on the subject. We checked in with her to find out about the state of accessible travel in America–and some of her favorite accessible travel adventures around the 50.

OK, stupid question but how do you define accessible travel?

Not stupid at all, as there are many definitions. Accessible travel is the short “catch all” phrase for what I cover. More succinctly, I cover travel for people with mobility disabilities–from slow walkers to wheelchair-users.

What’s the current state of accessible travel in the United States? Does the American tourism industry do enough? What can they improve on?

Well if you look at things over the long term, I think access in general has greatly improved over the past 20 years. I remember talking to a friend who uses a power wheelchair and back then the only way he could get to the airport was in an ambulance. Great way to start a vacation, eh?

Well things have changed today. Our population is aging and more and more people want to travel. So although our access laws have mandated access, I think the market has also encouraged voluntary changes from tourism providers. Bottom line is, they want as much business as they can get and if making a few simple adaptations will get it, then they are happy to do it. I’m seeing improved accessibility more as a marketing edge rather than a mandate today.

Could we use improvement? Sure. I believe the weak point is the availability of affordable and accessible public transportation. For example if you want to rent a standard car at your destination you can do that for say $35 per day if you shop around. If you need an accessible van, the going rate is $100 per day. It’s hard to fault the providers for the high cost, because the insurance and equipment is very expensive. Still, folks need an affordable way to get around at their destination. So more accessible taxis would be great. And more accessible airport transportation. Although the latter is improving more than the former.

What are some of the most accessible-travel friendly towns or cities in the United States?

I’m going to have to put Las Vegas at the top of the list, because most of the tourism providers there have gone above and beyond the minimum access requirements. They want to make sure that everyone can come, enjoy their casinos and spend their money. For example, most of the hotels on the strip have more than the minimum number of accessible rooms; and a few hotels
(Treasure Island, The Mirage) have even installed ceiling track lifts in their “high needs accessible rooms”. And you can easily get an accessible taxi at the airport, which is great. They’ve done an excellent job.

Chicago also gets high marks from me, not only because of their physical access but because of the great access guide that they’ve put out. It’s available online and it includes access details of hotels, attractions and public transportation in Chicago. It’s a great resource.

Are there are any types of travel in the U.S. that have surprised you with how accessible they are?

At this point, I have to say that you can make just about anything accessible; although some adaptations take a little more time, effort and money than others. For example, I’ve seen accessible bungee jumping up in Whistler, which took very little adaptation, but a whole lot of guts.

Another thing that really made me go “wow” are the accessible houseboats that Forever Resorts manufacturers. Not only do they have an accessible bathroom with a roll-in shower, but they also have an elevator to the top deck. We just tried one out on Lake Mead and we’re set to test drive another one on Lake Powell in a few days.

I’ve also been wowed by the accessible tidepools at Yaquina Head up in Oregon. You can just roll right down to the tidepools at low tide. It’s so cool. And if you want to stay overnight, there are accessible yurts located nearby, just south of Waldport at Beachside State Park.

And the accessible treehouse at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia is awesome. It’s huge, and again, you can just roll your wheelchair right up into it.

And just last week, I stumbled across a rafting outfitter that is able to accommodate wheelchairs on their Colorado River day trips. Black Canyon Adventures is based outside of Las Vegas, and they have four-hour trips starting just below the Hoover Dam. It’s a nice easy float and because of the design of the raft, you can just roll a wheelchair right down the center aisle. And they’ve also installed a great ramp an their put-in/take-out spot. It’s a fun trip and seeing the Hoover Dam from below is awesome.

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Photo by biskuit via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo by biskuit via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The experiment: ignore various, er, discussions over whether Twitter is good, distracting, or evil and find other ways to use it to enhance future travel experiences and planning. Since I tend to like museums big, small, and flat-out odd, I figured I would see what some U.S. museums are doing with it. I’ll admit, I didn’t use the most scientific of methods. I searched Twitter for the term “museum” and, click by click by click, signed up for the first couple of dozen on the list.

The information started to drip, drab, and, in some cases, flow in. Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, famous for its jars of medical oddities, was (and I love this!) offering free health screenings (@MutterMuseum); Northport, Alabama’s Kentuck Museum (@KentuckMuseum) wanted you to put its April 24 poetry festival on your calendar; and Baltimore’s Walters Museum (@walters_museum) offered up a behind-the-scenes photo of an intern working on a Roman sarcophagus and an invitation to its college night with “mash-up DJ artists, tours, & more!”

Of course, just like many new users on Twitter, some museums haven’t quite found their voice yet. They’re not at the useful stage. (Seriously, anybody out there who acts as an official poster∗ for a museum, please please please remember to post about events before they happen, don’t just tease us with post-event “wow! great event!” posts about things we can no longer event. And please don’t post as though you’re the actual physical building typing. It’s overly precious. Besides, buildings can’t type. Oh and…it would be great if, in the bio section, you could tell us who you are–curator? marketing intern? security guard?)

That said, the museums on Twitter experience is, so far, more good than bad. There’s a good chance I’ll plan some future trips based on the things I’ve learned. I mean, I already knew I loved Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Hunter Museum of American Art (@HunterMuseum) but now I also want to go see the raccoon that lives “on the small ledge below the museum and 80 ft above the water.” I wonder what they’ll end up naming him.

So, follow any museums on Twitter? If so, which ones and why? (Museums checking in–feel free to leave your Twitter name in the comments section so we can all find out what your curators have in store for us.)

∗Please note the lack of “words” like twitterer, tweet, and, (shudder) tweeple in this piece. While I refuse to judge the overall Twitter on travel experience, I beg of all of you: stop using these words. They’re horrible. People is a perfectly good word. Tweeple is not.

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We know that loads of you take notice of regional speak as you do your state-to-state wandering. So you’ll definitely want to know about this. But even if you don’t normally listen up for regionalisms and English is your first language, you’re still not off the hook when it comes to Frank Bures’ recommendation that travelers tote along a dictionary on trips.

No, thanks to several decades of work by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there’s a nearly-complete multivolume dictionary that will help you understand what’s going on when you get invited to a “pitch-in” in Indiana or which “scrimptions” you should save down South.

The first volume (A-C) of the Dictionary of American Regional English was released in 1985 and Volume V (Sl-Z) will make its way into the world later this year. A volume of maps and other end matter will follow later.

Beware, you best have room on your credit card and a strong back (or a huge extra wheelie suitcase or giant car trunk) if you’re going to take this dictionary on—it’s as far from pocket-sized as a dictionary can be. (Oh, so it doesn’t bug you: a pitch-in is a potluck dinner and scrimptions are scraps.)

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Photo by tacvbo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo by tacvbo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

While diners, taquerias, clam shacks, bbq shacks and waffle houses are the unofficial official dining establishments of Flyover America, IHOP deserves an honorable mention. There’s something to be said for the easy comfort of knowing exactly what you’re going to get and, Starbucks aside, no chain does it better than IHOP. It’s a nice thing when you’re on the road for a while (or, let’s be honest, slightly tanked after a night out).

As of the April 7 opening of its South Burlington, Vermont pancakery (our word, not theirs), IHOP is now open in each and every one of the 50 states. We raise our forks—loaded with a heaping helping of Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity—in salute.

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Photo by Sophia Dembling

Photo by Sophia Dembling

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It’s the only town in the world named for a TV show. In 1950, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show (which started on radio), the producers challenged a town to change its name to Truth or Consequences and the anniversary show would be taped there.

This southern New Mexico town, then called Hot Springs, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the change and from then on, its patron saint celebrity was host Ralph Edwards, who returned to the town many times until his death in 2005.

T or C has voted a couple of times since on whether it should return to its old name, but the TV name has stuck. After all, towns called Hot Springs are a dime a dozen.

I’ll refrain from using the word “quirky,” which Gina Kelley, director of tourism for Sierra County, says is the travel writers’ go-to word for the town. But T or C is a little bit arty, a little bit ranchy, a little bit New Age. “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a massage therapist,” says Kelley—although you could swing a whole bunch of cats and not hit much of anyone on a Tuesday in downtown T or C, when the whole place shuts down.

Still, T or C feels like a town on the cusp of something, if it can only figure out what.

Rob Wheeler, who owns (with Ralph Stuart) downtown’s Blackstone Hotsprings, a pretty little boutique hotel with private hot springs tubs, thinks naming the inn’s rooms for TV shows is the best decision they made—his guests love it. (I’m writing this from the Jetsons Room. The As The World Turns Room is next door, the Golden Girls Room is a few doors down. Should I confess that “The Golden Girls has become a late-night guilty pleasure of mine? No, probably not…)

Wheeler thinks the whole town should embrace its pop culture connection.

“We should have a men’s clothing store called Father Knows Best. A women’s clothing store called That Girl. A downtown convenience store that looks like an old Woolworth’s and that sells souvenirs, logo materials and has a malt shop, and call it Leave It To Beaver.”

Hm … TV town. It’s a bold plan. And if it meant I could finally find the “That Girl” logo t-shirt I’ve been craving, I’d support it.

What do you think? Would it work?

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Ah, early spring. Flowers have started to poke their heads out of the ground. Birds seem that much cheerier and chirpier. And, of course, dreamers across America are plotting the perfect road trip in their minds and Moleskine notebooks. (Come on, admit it—we’re all Moleskine cliches.)

A few interesting road trips of note: Tom Brokaw is set to hit the road soon to explore this whole economy thing. Phil Keoghan is already out there. And this guy plans to inline skate his way across the U.S. in four weeks or less! (On a side note, who knew there was a social networking site just for inline skaters?)

That’s enough about them. You hitting the road soon?

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