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    National Traffic and Road Closure Information

    Are you sick and tired of driving the in traffic? Of course; everyone is. Thanks to this handy website/portal brought to you by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, you can find trouble spots before you leave your home or office.

    There are all kinds of helpful information. All 50 states provide data from the FHWA, including up-to-the-minute traffic and road closure news, and links to outside popular local ground transportation websites. Most states even provide live traffic cameras. This info can help you plan your schedule, or find an alternate route to make you a happier traveler. Before getting in my car, I frequently check current traffic conditions. Sometimes I even check out random states just to see the weather.

    No matter if you drive yourself, car pool or take public transportation, fhwa.dot.gov/trafficinfo will be your new co-pilot.
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Surprise! I’m sending this newsletter early, because Amber Airplane and I are about to hop on a long international flight. We’ll be away for 11 days, so you probably won’t get another newsletter from me until the 20th. Don’t worry; we’ll still be on schedule. And don’t bother robbing us. Our psychotic house sitter has two not-so-friendly pit bulls. I’m told they’re both very, very hungry.

Here’s a little hint where we’re going: It’s the perfect Valentine’s destination, and it’s a 10-hour flight from L.A.. If you guessed Paris, you are .… WRONG! I’ll give you another hint: It’s hot and sunny. Find out in the next newsletter where we are.

When we got back to L.A. from Chicago, a bunch of crazy things started to happen. One morning I was cooking something in the microwave. I don’t remember what it was, and I’ll never find out because there is no trace of it. Our microwave had been on the blink for a few months, and I couldn’t read the timer. I assumed I’d punched in one too many digits, put too much time on and it cooked too long. The problem was I went back to my computer and forgot all about it (I was enthralled in an email). Obviously, I wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings but I kept thinking in the back of my mind that the noise from the microwave sounded weird. I just figured it was on its last lap. When the timer finally went off, I jumped up and smelled plastic burning. I tried to open the microwave, but it was too hot -- and the door was melted shut. Finally it cooled, and I was able to pry the door open with a knife. That’s when I noticed whatever was in there had mysteriously disappeared. All that’s left are red stains and a huge burn mark.

At the same time, Amber Airplane was making fruit smoothies. As I was cleaning the inside of the microwave I heard a gargling noise, and she screamed “Help!” I looked up to see strawberry smoothies everywhere -- and I mean EVERYWHERE (floor, ceiling, face, clothes, even in the toaster). Amber Airplane said, “I was trying to break up the oversized frozen strawberry with this spatula [now mangled], but the blender sucked it in and then everything came out.” If you always wondered what it looks like when you blend with the top off (I know I always did), well, here it is….

It didn’t stop there. Later that day we are off to the airport -- again. This time we were just heading for a night in San Francisco. As usual, we were running late. The good news is, we both packed really light. The bad news -- well, we drove to the airport and decided to park at the brand new Parking Spot garage on Sepulveda. We see it every time we go to In-N-Out burger, because they share the same exit. Everything went as planned, until we pulled into the Parking Spot garage. I grabbed my automated ticket from the machine, and noticed we could save $4 a day (and get the $9.95 daily rate) by parking on the roof. The catch was, there is no elevator there; you have to walk one level down to get it. No problem for us, though; we packed light.

The Parking Spot knows you park on the uncovered roof, because there is another automated ticket machine at the roof entrance. I pressed the button to roll down my window -- and my problems began. All of a sudden I heard a clunk, and my window fell halfway down the door. The window came off its track! I’d never seen this happen, but it was happening to me -- and at such a bad time (of course). First of all, we were running late; second, we were on the roof, so if it rained my car would be ruined (luckily, we live in Southern California). Third, all my sports equipment was in the back seat (golf clubs, tennis racquets, softball bats…). There was no to time to go home, so I pulled the window up as far as I could (which still left seven inches open), and drove to the corner of the lot. I parked near a wall so no one would notice the open window, and put everything from the back seat and glove box into the trunk.

Then I said a Hail Mary as we ran for the shuttle.

The flight to San Francisco takes less than hour. When we landed we walked straight to the Air Train at the International Terminal, where we hopped on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). It was much easier this time (compared to our last trip) using BART’s automated machines. However, those machines don’t give a lot of change back, so read the instructions carefully before you pay more than you intend. However, I did find a bill changer, so I put in a 20 and got four 5s in return. It costs $4.95 to travel one way from the airport to the city (and vice versa). A taxi is at least $40, so savings are substantial. We got off 30 minutes later at Powell Street, and walked one block to our hotel.

We stayed at Hotel Palomar (Fourth and Market). You can’t miss it, because it sits above the gigantic Old Navy store. When Amber Airplane saw that she said, “I was just telling you yesterday I needed to go to Old Navy.” I whispered a sarcastic “how convenient” to myself (I thought), but she said, “I heard that.”

Hotel Palomar is awesome. It was built in 1908, and has been renovated into a sophisticated, urban sanctuary in downtown San Francisco. This boutique-style hotel is within footsteps of Union Square, Moscone Convention Center and the Financial District. It’s a four-star, four- diamond luxury hotel secluded five floors above Market Street. The entrance on 4th Street is quite small, but there is a relaxing lobby (lounge) on the fifth floor, where they also have their award-winning restaurant called (what else) Fifth Floor.

The rooms are very stylish, comfortable, and come with free high-speed access (wireless or cable). Best of all, the hotel is reasonable. I found a rate for $165 on Quikbook.com. It turned out that a front-office employee reads Johnny Jet’s Travel Newsletter, and upgraded us to a suite. Gotta love that! We were on the 8th floor, in rooms 811 and 812. Gotta love the two entrances, too. This room usually goes for almost $600 a night. And it is so worth it. Especially if your other half is mad at you, this room will take all the ill feelings away.

I could’ve spent an entire week in our room. We had a dining room , living room with an incredible view, two full bathrooms, a desk, a comfortable Desk chair, and get this: a deep Jacuzzi built for two. To top it off, the bed ranks among the top five most comfortable I have ever slept in. I’m sure Amber Airplane will tell you in one of her upcoming Newsletters (yeah -- she finished her first one, and did a great job, I might add) how much she loved the bathroom products. A hotel employee told us a bunch of celebrities stay there, because it’s low-key and cozy. In fact Britney and that dirty dog Justin Timberlake stayed in our very same room. Hotel Palomar, 12 Fourth St., San Francisco, CA; tel.: (866) 373-4941 (direct dial: (415) 348-1111).

That night our good friend Rick picked us up and took us to dinner. We had planned to go to our favorite sushi place, Ace Wasabi’s in the Marina, but it was late and we were all tired. Instead Rick took us to Julie’s Supper Club, only a mile down the road. This place is pretty trippy. It has an old-school ambience, with an eclectic crowd and menu. I had the chicken and spinach ravioli, Amber Airplane had a cheeseburger, and Rick had the salmon. For an appetizer we had fried mini-quesadillas. Our buddy Rick is a character, with an incredible passion for life. Check out his new company called LifeStyled.com. It’s time shares for the wealthy Julie's Supper Club, 1123 Folsom St. at 7th, San Francisco, CA 94103; tel.: (415) 861-070.

The next morning Amber Airplane and I had breakfast at the hotel with one of its directors. I had the sourdough waffle. I’m not a big sourdough fan (I didn’t read the menu closely enough -- I just saw “waffle” and asked for one). But I’m sure sourdough lovers will find it amazing. Amber Airplane had bacon and eggs, while Jami, the director ordered fruit salad. It was all good and relaxing. Fifth Floor, 12 4th St., San Francisco; tel: (415) 348-1555.

It was one of those cool, drizzly San Francisco days. All I wanted to do was hang out in our cool room and lie in bed. But NOPE! I had to get motivated, because there was a big TV interview ahead. We took an expensive taxi to the TechTV studio, where we met one of our tech guys (the company he works for hosts my server) from Chicago. Like most techies, Angel is a huge fan of TechTV, and he flew out just to see the set and meet the crew. Everyone was really nice (as usual), especially to Angel. My segment on winter travel deals went well. They talked Amber Airplane into doing a bumper shot (preview) with me. She said, “No, no, I can’t! I don’t have any makeup on!” I said, “That’s okay -- I have enough for both of us.”

After the show we walked one block to the Slow Club for lunch. I should’ve known that a place with that name would be SLOW. Holy cow! We waited 25 minutes for a table, then at least a half hour more for our food. However, if you’re not in a hurry this place is great (and reasonable). I had the hot beef sandwich with melted Swiss cheese and caramelized onions. It came with a salad, and cost just $7.50. Amber Airplane and Angel both had the same sandwich, but with turkey. Slow Club, 2501 Mariposa St. (at Hampshire), San Francisco; tel.: (415) 241-9390.

After lunch, Angel went back to the TechTV studio for a private tour with Leo (the host), and to see the live show Screen Savers. Amber Airplane and I took a taxi to the BART station on Market Street, but instead of going downstairs and heading to the airport, I suggested taking a walk to visit our favorite cookie shop in Union Square first. Unfortunately, we had to walk blocks through what must be San Francisco’s red light district. The place was dirty, there were tons of peep shows, and plenty of drug addicts and homeless people walking around. Amber Airplane jokingly asked, “You think we look like tourists?” I’m not sure what gave it away, our facial expressions or our roller bag.

The only thing we hate about S.F. (besides the weather) is the homeless population. It’s so sad but they’re everywhere, and many are just kids. After saying that, I feel bad talking about going to Tom’s Cookies in the basement of Macy’s, and buying a dozen cookies for $9. We only planned to get two each, but the huge “Buy 6, get 6 free” was too tempting. I get so excited about their cookies that I lose my mind. I didn’t even bother asking how much they were. Amber Airplane and I were like little kids. I ordered my six first: one sun-dried blueberry white chocolate, one malted milk, one oatmeal chocolate chip, two butterscotch oatmeal, and a chocolate chocolate coconut. BTW: Macy’s basement is a good place to grab a quick lunch. They have Jamba Juice, Boudin’s (famous for its sourdough soups), Wolfgang Puck, and a sushi place. For dessert there’s not only Tom’s Cookies, but plenty of chocolatiers, and Ben and Jerry’s. This basement is dangerous for quickly accruing calories. Tom’s Cookies, Macy's Union Square, 170 O'Farrell St., San Francisco; 415-989-8667.

We ran to a closer BART station and rode 30 minutes to SFO. On the plane we crashed (from our sugar high, that is), and slept throughout the 50-minute flight. When we arrived at the Parking Spot, guess what? My car was still there, and nothing had been touched. Phew!

Amber Airplane and I were really impressed with the Parking Spot. They run plenty of shuttles, so you don’t stand around waiting. They also provide complimentary newspapers and bottles of water, and offer all kinds of services for your car (from a simple wash to detailing). The only thing I didn’t like about Parking Spot -- and this goes for almost every other parking lot -- is that we got charged two full days, even though we were there for only 26 hours. However, all the employees are really nice, and they give everyone little presents as they exit. We got two Armor All wipes. The Parking Spot, 9101 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles; tel.: (866) 826-2509.

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

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It was great to meet you at the LA Times Travel Show today. Thanks for signing our new book for us. As Hilary and I mentioned, we love to listen to all of the action while we watch planes takeoff and land at LAX (or any airport for that matter). Here's how you can do it: First, get yourself a scanner. Radio Shack sells the Radio Shack Pro-82 Scanner for $99.99 online or in-store. Next, go to www.airnav.com, type in any airport and you can see a list of various airport communications frequencies - such as control tower, departure control, approach control, etc. Finally, go to the airport and tune in!

We can help get you started with LAX:
-133.9 is the frequency for the NORTH COMPLEX control tower - this controller clears all landings and takeoffs for the two northern runways - 24L and 24R. When we're watching planes from our In-N-Out Burger viewing area, we stay tuned to 133.9
-120.95 is for the two runways on the south complex - 25L and 25R
-124.3 is the freq for all south/eastbound aircraft as they depart (e.g. you can hear the large European-bound aircraft being vectored out of SoCal). 134.35 is usually the next freq in the departure sequence. You sometimes hear Jet Blue on this freq as they cross northbound from Long Beach.
- 125.2 is the freq for all north/westbound aircraft after they depart (e.g you can hear the large Asian-bound aircraft)
-128.5 is the freq to hear all of the arrivals from the north and west (e.g. you hear large asian carriers arriving) - if you face down the runway, looking west from our viewing area, look up to the right... these planes are coming in on 128.5 and it's fun to see them make their turns downtown. Hope this is useful to you, Johnny! Best, Erik & Hilary R. - Los Angeles

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Cheaper by the dozen: A 12-step program for saving on airfare
There were around 100 passengers flying home with me from Chicago the other day. But except for anyone who was traveling for free, I'm certain that I paid the least for my ticket. No, I'm not using a secret site that has lower fares than anywhere else. And I didn't get any special favors from the airline. But with a simple 12-step program, I'm always able to find the best deals. Follow the Deal Hound's lead and sniff out the cheapest fares for yourself. Click Here To Read Article

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