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March 15, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    L.A. to L.A. (Via CVG, Erie, and Toronto)

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We left off last week from L.A. (if you missed it, here’s the link to the newsletter archive). My dad and his wife Nancy were visiting me for a couple of weeks. I followed them to Erie, Pennsylvania, then I went back up to Toronto to take care of some business. Unfortunately there is no quick, inexpensive way to get to Erie, or to Toronto from there. Sometimes lovely Greyhound is the best option.

Before my dad and Nancy returned to cold weather we went to Santa Anita Park to watch the ponies run. My dad loves horse racing --that’s why going to the Kentucky Derby is such a big deal for us (here’s a link to that story). This was my first time to Santa Anita, because it always seemed too far. But that was just a silly excuse. It’s only 40 miles from where I live (near LAX). The drive wasn’t bad at all – there was no traffic. Luck was on our side. Not only did my dad keep picking winners; we also picked a perfect day to go. My house by the beach was cold and foggy, while Santa Anita (inland) was warm and sunny. Temps hovered in the low 80’s. Pulling up to valet parking ($10 -- general was $4), I was shocked at how nice and huge (320 acres) Santa Anita is. No wonder the park has been featured in so many movies. The most popular was "Seabiscuit." Fans of that film should take the free tram tour (available weekends only) to the places used in the movie, as well as the famous horse’s original stall. The park opens each year on December 26, for 86 racing days. This year’s final day is April 23. Racing takes place Wednesdays through Sundays, and holiday Mondays. General admission: $5. Santa Anita Park, 285 W. Huntington Dr., Arcadia CA; tel.: 626-574-7223.

My sister Carol and her family were heading up to Erie from Florida to spend a long weekend with my dad, who moved to Erie a couple of years ago. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to visit too, because I hadn’t seen my niece and nephew in a month. It’s always fun to get a family together. The only problem was that plane tickets to Erie cost over $450 (ouch!). Of course, I used the search engines on and found alternate airports like Cleveland (112 miles away) for $262, or Buffalo (105 miles away) or Pittsburgh (134 miles) for nearly the same low price. But who wants to drive –- especially in the snow. And after renting a car, the money saved will be negligible.

I decided my best option was to cash in some Delta SkyMiles. Their website was easy to use, and the dates for award travel were available. I even found out that for the same amount of miles (25,000) I could fly into Erie and out of Toronto. That’s where I tape travel segments on Tech TV (links to my recent segments can be found under "web resources"). Because I would be so close (200 miles), I should take care of some business too, eh? For my LAX-ERI and YYZ-LAX flights Delta charged me – in addition to the 25,000 miles -- $64! I was expecting to pay around $10 for taxes and fees, not a $50 Award Ticket Redemption Fee. The booking fee is a total rip, penalizing passengers who book 14 days in advance or less. The airlines should be happy that passengers are booking award tickets not far ahead – it gives them more time to sell the seat. The fee is just another money maker for the airlines, because it certainly doesn’t cost them any more money to put an electronic ticket together.

Both flights were through Delta’s Cincinnati hub (Airport code: CVG). On the flight there I ran into my friend Ron. We had dinner together at Max and Erma’s, a chain restaurant featuring good ol’ American food like hamburgers. It’s located near Gate 9 in Concourse B. On the way back through CVG I ran into another friend -- what are the chances of that?! This time it was Kevin Wilkerson, the founder of I didn’t eat with Kevin because I bumped into him as I was leaving the food court where I tried for the very first time a Cincinnati favorite: a 3-way. (No, it’s NOT what you think!) A 3-way includes chili, cheese and spaghetti. That’s right, chili over spaghetti! It sounds nasty, but I figured when in Rome… To top it off (pun intended) I even had the “Firehouse 3-way.” For only 20 cents more it adds a little kick (hot sauce). I asked if it came with a free bottle of Tums. The waitress laughed and said, "Don’t worry, you’ll love it!" I said, "Yeah, will my belly love it when I’m 35,000 feet up in the air?" She shrugged like, How do I know? My belly did just fine. Now I can’t wait to pass through CVG to have some more 3-ways. BTW: Did you know the Cincinnati airport isn’t really in Ohio? It’s in northern Kentucky!

Erie was not only freezing cold (-1 F); with no snow on the ground, it was also dreary. I thought there was always snow in Erie in middle of winter. Fortunately, it snowed a little the following day, but not enough to take the kids sleigh riding. At least it made the scenery pretty, and added ambiance to the long, relaxing weekend. All we did was hang out by the fire with family and friends, and play games. We went out to dinner only once, to try out the new "Japanese Steak House." The food was good, reasonable (chicken and steak hibachi: $18), but there was something wrong with the heat. It was so cold that customers who were not sitting near the hibachi grill had to keep their jackets and hats on. But the kids’ reaction to the entertaining hibachi chef was worth it. Japanese Steak House & Lounge, 970 Millcreek Mall, Erie, PA; tel.: 814-868-7999.

Although Toronto is only 200 miles from Erie there is no easy, inexpensive way to get there. If you fly you have to connect through one of the airlines’ hub cities (unless of course you’ve got a private jet). But my name is Johnny Jet, not Johnny Rockefeller, so I looked for the quickest, most economical way. There is no train, and renting a car one way is not cheap. A bus was the cheapest alternative ($32), but with a lengthy layover and change in Buffalo would add 1 to 3 hours to the trip. Fortunately, a friend in Toronto was willing to pick me up halfway, so I took the Greyhound to Buffalo ($13). The quick 2-hour trip included a stop in Fredonia, NY to pick up some passengers. (A nonstop bus is also available at an earlier time; it saves another 15 minutes.) I would not recommend the bus to everyone, because every time I go Greyhound there’s at least one sketchy person on board. TIP: The best and safest place to sit to avoid "crazies" is up front, near the driver. Of course, when I boarded the bus the only open seat was way in the back -- the second to last row. Everyone back there was twice my size, and they were talking about how they had just gotten out of jail. No lie! To avoid making any unintentionally provoking facial expressions I quickly donned earphones, sunglasses and a baseball cap (it makes me look tougher), and kept to myself. But the ex-cons turned out to be cool – and they were Yankee fans! Link to Greyhound website; 800-231-2222.

The drive from Buffalo to Toronto was easy. I’m glad I did it, because I learned so much. For example, the bus station is only 5 minutes from the border. Crossing the border requires everyone to show a valid ID (passports are not necessary until December 31, 2007). After the Canadian agent approves (he asks some personal questions like when and where you were born, where you’re going and what you’ll do), the next hurdle looms 100 yard away. But it’s only a toll booth at the Peace Bridge. The charge is $2.50 per car. There was no traffic the day I went, and the entire process took less than 3 minutes. The 95-mile drive to Toronto took an hour and a half, and took us by cool vineyards and near Niagara Falls (here’s a link to my Niagara Falls Trip). Both would make good stopovers for lunch.

My first stop in downtown Toronto was the distillery district. Founded in 1832, the 13-acre site with over 40 buildings includes the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian industrial architecture in North America. The area has been renovated into a pedestrian-only village dedicated to the arts, culture and entertainment. There are internationally acclaimed galleries, great restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. One of the most popular attractions is Lileo. This not-inexpensive store is a cross between Fred Segal of Los Angeles and Barney’s New York, though much smaller than either. Customers can shop for the hottest items in the fashion industry. Interestingly, every tag has its very own description of the company. There are also some incredible art pieces in the store. The owners are health nuts, so they opened a little café in the corner. Livia Juice Bar and Eatery serves delicious smoothies, and healthy organic snacks and meals. Another bonus: The store (though not the café) is dog-friendly. Lileo, 55 Mill Street, Distillery District, Toronto; tel.: 416-413-1410.

I tried a couple of new (for me) restaurants. The first -- The Rushton -- is located on St. Clair West, in the Little Italy district. This cozy, dark, reasonably priced restaurant is more like a French bistro that serves large portions. I had a half order of the warm potato and spinach salad ($8 CAD), a burger ($15) with caramelized shallots and Roquefort cheese ($3 extra), and a side of mac ‘n’ cheese ($4).. It was all good, but left no room for dessert. The Rushton, 740 St Clair Ave. W., Toronto; tel.: 416-658-7874.

The following night I got my Italian fill. My friend Danielle Iversen (the best PR agent in Toronto), her friend David Blackstone and I went to a modern Italian restaurant called Autogrill. It’s been around for 10 years – though not in Little Italy -- and my friends said the food has always been consistent and reasonably priced. We started by sharing a 10" thin "Calabrese" whole wheat pizza ($14.45 CAD) and a tomato and bocconcini salad ($7.25). For my main course I chose the Autogrill Spinello stone oven-baked gourmet pizza wrap. I asked them if they could customize one with the ingredients I liked. They kindly obliged, and it was tasty! No wonder this was voted the best sandwich by Canada’s The Globe & Mail. For dessert I couldn’t pass up the home-made tiramisu ($6.25). I don’t really like tiramisu, but after hearing how good it was, I had to find out for myself. It was outrageous! Autogrill, 345 Adelaide Street W., Toronto; tel.: 416-599-0961.

I flew back to L.A. on Delta. On Delta, I’ve recently noticed that the volume on all the armrests is cranked up. So even if you’re not watching the in-flight movie you feel like you are, because you can’t help hearing the sound. Unfortunately it’s not loud enough to make out every word, but it’s really annoying-- especially if you’re trying to work or sleep. My advice is to bring noise-canceling headphones or ear plugs. Or take the other route: Instead of fighting it, plug in your headset and listen.

Next week get ready for some real fun, as we hop the pond to crack the code. I wonder where that could be?

Happy Travels,
Johnny Jet

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Pictures From

The Trip


Santa Anita Park


My Dad and Nancy


My Dad Winning!


My Sister Carol




Landing In CVG




Max and Erma’s






Japanese Steak House


Fredonia, NY


Buffalo Bus Station


Crossing The Border




Distillery District




The Rushton





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