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|WHERE'S JOHNNY JET? NASCAR|
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Greetings! Last week we left off in Southern California. This week we take to the skies, visit Western Pennsylvania to spend some time with the family, then hop back to California for NASCAR! That’s right -- get your engines revved, because we’re in for a behind-the-scenes treat of the country’s second-most watched sporting event. Even if you are not a NASCAR fan, you don’t want to miss it. It’s really interesting, and getting there is half the fun (can you say "via helicopter"?!). Yeah baby!
PARKING AT LAX
It’s always difficult for me to leave Southern California -- especially this time of year. I love it. The weather is almost always ideal: a perfect 74 degrees during the day, 62 at night, with the water temp a refreshing 70. Most of the tourists go home, and I rarely use the freeways because I have everything I need in my little beach town. LAX is close by, and getting to the terminal takes no time at all because I park at Park One. It’s the closest private parking lot to LAX, so customers can either walk to the airport (especially terminal 1) or take one of the shuttles that depart every five minutes. If you really want to do it right, use their valet service which eliminates frantically searching for a spot (everyone’s always running late) or remembering where you parked when you return. Valet is $21.95 a day, while self-park is $16.45 (taxes are included). If you’re a member of Southwest Rapid Rewards or AAA, mention it when checking out (for a 15% discount). Park One, 6351 W. Century Blvd, Los Angeles; tel.: 310-417-3566. If you prefer other LAX parking garages, or live in other cities, states or even countries, you can reserve a parking spot in advance by clicking on AirportParkingReservations.com. You’ll guarantee yourself a parking space – and avoid worrying that the garage may be full.
WHY WESTERN, PA
We grew up in Connecticut, but my sister Carol moved to Erie, PA 10 years ago for her husband Tom’s job. When his work ended, they decided to move to South Florida (they couldn’t take any more harsh winters). Fortunately they didn’t give up their Erie house, because Florida is hot and sticky in the summer, while Erie is so nice. That means I get the best of both worlds. I love spending time with their kids and my other siblings, cousins, and of course my dad. Much of my travel is to see them. After my amazing mom passed away in October of 2000 (I can’t believe it’s been five years already), my dad spends a lot of time with his grandkids (my niece and nephew).
FLYING TO ERIE
To get a ticket see my Dad and sister’s family, I did what I usually do: I scoured JohnnyJet.com’s resources for the cheapest deal. Flying into Erie is usually more expensive than the alternate airports: Buffalo (105 miles away), Cleveland (112 miles) and Pittsburgh (134 miles). Cleveland used to be the best option, because a ridiculously cheap shuttle operated between the airport and downtown Erie. It took two hours, and cost only $19. I guess it was too cheap, because they’re now out of business. These days, the only way it pays off for me to fly into an alternate airport is if someone picks me up. One-way rental cars are expensive!
This time Cleveland was a lot cheaper, and my dad and sister both offered to pick me up. The 3-hour, 40- minute nonstop flight from LAX on Continental was really easy. The 7:15 a.m. flight included free breakfast (Rice Krispies, a muffin and banana). On this route Continental flies 737-700’s. According to Seat Guru.com the best coach seat on this type of aircraft is 14D. The best way to secure that seat other than reserving it when you initially book is to wait until you can check in online from home (usually 24 hours before the flight). Checking in from home is easy; all you need is a printer. Don’t worry about checking bags; most airlines let you bypass the normal line, and use a dedicated one for passengers already checked in. Continental passengers use an easy automated machine. Just tap the upper right hand button, put in your confirmation number and select the number of bags you’re checking. An agent then comes by, affixes the bag tags, and you’re good to go. It’s that simple. (REMEMBER: For the cheapest prices use our JohnnyJet.com flight search engines to compare agencies. It’s easy: Just click here for FLIGHTS, HOTEL, or RENTAL CARS).
My dad and Nancy were kind enough to pick me up. Instead of driving right back to Erie we went to the west side of Cleveland for a late lunch/early dinner in Crocker Park. This is a new 75-acre park with 12 city blocks of internationally known retail stores, great restaurants, luxury apartments and homes. I was surprised how nice it was (I later read they spent $480 million on it). It was so nice that I felt like I was in California. There are all kinds of restaurants -- even a Cheese Cake Factory -- but we went to Hoggy’s--a place that’s not everywhere. Hoggy’s serves tasty BBQ at moderately prices. Hoggy’s, 24 Main St., Westlake, OH; tel.: 440-892-4647.
For dessert, instead of eating in Crocker Park we went a mile down the road to Mitchell Brothers Ice Cream. They make my favorite peanut butter and chocolate -- umm umm! It’s sooo good! Afterwards we were going to go to the Indians game -- because they were playing my favorite team the Yankees -- but I wasn’t feeling too well. So we drove the hour and 45 minutes to Erie. It’s a good thing we didn’t go to the game, because the next day I went to a Priority Care (814-833-2385) medical center where I was diagnosed with strep throat. I was out of commission for a couple days. The good news is the emergency clinic was really quick (I waited only 10 minutes), and a lot cheaper than any similar place in California Emergency (the Erie one charged me only $60). Mitchell Brothers Ice Cream, 19700 Detroit Rd, Cleveland; tel.: 440-333-4563.
Because I have written about Erie so many times, I won’t spend a lot of time here describing it. This was actually the first time I took hardly any pictures on a trip (I usually take between 100 and 500 a day when I travel). I was on vacation, and all I did was play with my niece and nephew. I relaxed in the hammock, ate delicious homemade dinners outside, watched Lake Erie’s incredible sunsets (they have some of the best in the world), played Scrabble with my dad, and helped my sister feed her horses. The one time I went out to eat was with my dad and Nancy to Greg’s Place, at the Erie Airport. You wouldn’t think of going to the airport for dinner, but Greg’s is known as one of the best places in town for steaks and chicken Parmigiana. Greg's Place at the Erie International Airport, 4411 W. 12th St., Erie, PA; tel.: 814-838-8715. For more info on Erie, check our Archives.
A week later my dad and sister dropped me back off at the Cleveland airport. There I grabbed a slice of Sbarro pizza, which was definitely the worst Sbarro pizza ever. It was like a piece of cardboard thrown in the oven with some sauce and cheese. Four hours later I was back home in sunny Southern California. The highlight of the week was going to my first NASCAR race. I am the first to admit I could never understand why this is the second most watched sport on TV in the United States (behind professional football). Watching cars drive around in a circle at 500 miles an hour does nothing for me. But my cousin AJ, who has been to every type of sporting event, and whose tastes are similar to mine, swears it’s the best sporting event to watch live.
AJ invited me to go to a race outside of Los Angeles. Because I am an open-minded person, I took him up on his invite. I also liked the fact that we were taking two helicopters to get there. We took off from the Santa Monica airport (it’s for private aircraft), on a 120-mph copter to Fontana, CA 65 miles away. That’s not particularly far, but the last two miles is bumper-to-bumper traffic because of the 200,000-plus people who attend this popular event. The chopper took only 35 minutes, and we had incredible views of the city. This was my first time in a helicopter over L.A. (the last time I was in one was a Huey with open doors, which really freaked me out). I was relieved when we took off this time. It wasn’t scary -- even for a man like me who is afraid of heights.
VIP TREATMENT & KOI
Hanging with my cousin AJ is a treat. Not only is he hilarious, but the guy knows everyone -- including one of the top Nascar drivers. In fact, the night before the race AJ invited me to go out with a few of his friends to one of L.A.’s hippest restaurants, Koi. Koi is a huge scene. To get in you must have reservations and plenty of cash -- the place ain’t cheap. There are sure to be plenty of celebs and paparazzi hanging out. Every time I have been there that’s been the case. Guess who was sitting at the table next to us thisi time? My girl Paris. We were facing each other, but she didn’t say hi. All she did was wave her 17-carat diamond ring around (so I would see), while keeping her other hand around her fiance. That biatch! (Just kidding.) Koi Restaurant, 730 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles; tel.: 310-659-9449.
Back to Fontana and the California Speedway. When we got off the helicopter we were picked up in golf carts, and driven to the registration area to get our tickets. The tickets were so good, they allowed us into the pit. Too cool! Our first stop was to Jimmie Johnson’s trailer (one of the best NASCAR drivers, and AJ’s friend). After Jimmie did an interview on NBC we walked with him to his car, while girls were seriously throwing themselves at him. I kept thinking some security guard was going to throw my butt out, because we were walking on the race track! This was my first time meeting Jimmie. He really is one of the coolest guys, and his wife Chandra is awesome too.
After the race started we hung out in the pit. It was so loud, and I didn’t have ear plugs. So I created homemade ones, with a napkin. It’s unreal to see these guys go 180 mph. They tailgate like it’s fun. To see this up close, and watch from 10 feet away as they change tires and refuel -- in 9 seconds (check out the video below) -- is mind-boggling. The race was too long though, almost four hours. It was Africa hot out there. To cool off, get a different vantage point and snag some free food we went across the track to the grandstands, where the suites were located. It took a while to get to the other side, and we were so hungry we couldn’t wait. So we topped at a concession stand and bought a snack. A double cheeseburger cost $6.50, and a bottled soda was $4.
After the race we went to Jimmie’s sweet motor home (which is nicer than my house). All the drivers have them. Jeff Gordon’s was parked next to Jimmie’s, so we sat outside and watched both their TVs and listened to music on their outdoor entertainment systems. To give you an idea how cool Jimmie and the other drivers (Brian Vickers and Casey Mears) we hung out with were, after Jimmie drove 500 miles in 100+ degree weather, in a leather jump suit with no air conditioning, he made us dinner (the boy can cook)! After we finished around 1 a.m., we took golf carts, bikes and mopeds, and cruised into the infield where the real party was going on. There had to be 1,000 RVs, with thousands of fans all up partying. They make a whole weekend out of the races. You should’ve seen the fans’ faces when they recognized who they were dancing with.
What an experience! Thanks to AJ and these guys, I’m now a NASCAR fan.
Here’s a 1-minute video I made of our trip to NASCAR. With high-speed the video takes about 2 minutes to load; with dial-up, about three weeks.
Next week we take a tour of the most famous and popular brewery in the world.
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Sorting out the airline mess: Predictions to help you decide how best to book travel into early 2006
What with the latest reorganization filings by Delta and Northwest, lots of you are facing some real uncertainties about future travel. One reader recently asked whether she should risk booking several months in advance on Northwest; another wondered if Delta's announced cutbacks at Cincinnati would prevent him from flying from Cincinnati to Europe next spring. Click Here To Read Article
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