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Greetings, and good news! I escaped from my niece and nephew with only a few minor bruises (and plenty of nice memories). From Erie I took the best airport shuttle deal around, Anderson Link. They’ve raised their prices, but are still a bargain. The cost is $19.95 per person. Companions are $9.95, kids are free --and so is parking. You can’t beat that --especially for a 2-hour drive!

From Cleveland I flew 45 minutes to Chicago, where I was picked up by Amm’s Limo. It was rush hour, but with a driver who knew all the back roads I arrived at WTTW Channel 11 early. Amm’s Limo: 847-446-5148; outside of Chicago: 800-223-2667.

I was in Chicago for only a few hours, to do a travel segment on the local TV show “Chicago Tonight” with Bob Sirot. The segment was about summer travel deals and family getaways. It went well, and immediately after the live broadcast I boogied back to ORD to catch the last flight out to L.A.

Although the flight lasted only 3 hours and 50 minutes, it felt like eternity. It may have been my worst flight ever. It wasn’t because of bad turbulence, grumpy flight attendants, a nasty seatmate or anything like that. What happened was, as soon as we started taxiing down the runway I felt ill. I’m talking real ill. For much of the flight I had chills, mixed with short periods of hot flashes. Mostly I was freezing, and couldn’t get warm even with a pile of blankets.

When I started getting hot flashes I threw all the blankets off, quickly turned on the air vent, lifted my shirt over my belly (real pretty, huh?) and pressed my forehead against the window to suck the coolness from it.

I knew I was coming down with a bug (probably the one my sister’s kids had a week ago), and so did my seatmate. He must’ve wondered how he got stuck next to this turkey. But he acted real cool, and didn’t put his shirt over his mouth and nose until I jokingly told him I just got back from China. You should’ve seen the look of horror on his face. Okay, it was a bad joke, but I didn’t expect him to get up so fast that I almost couldn’t tell him I was kidding.

One of the worst places to be sick is on a plane. You feel so trapped, helpless and embarrassed. The last thing a sick person wants is to be is sick in front of scores of people. I couldn’t even get up to go to the bathroom for fear of throwing up. I couldn’t work on my computer, read magazines or fall asleep to pass the time. Just my luck: On the one flight I actually wanted or needed to watch the movie, they showed probably the worst movie ever (in my taste that is), “Mona Lisa Smiles.” Ugh. After 3 minutes I took the headphones off and stared out of the window, looking at the stars and a few city lights. Is “Mona Lisa Smiles” the longest movie ever, or was it just me? Every time I looked up, it was still on.

When we passed over Vegas I thought “Yes! Only 40 more minutes!”. Of course, when we finally landed it was at the furthest possible gate from the runway. However, I was just thankful to be on the ground.

Amber Airplane was away (lucky for her, unfortunate for me), so I stumbled into a taxi and made it home just after midnight. I jumped into bed, and stayed there for the next 4 days. This was my first fever in at least 5 years, and I realized what a wimp I really am. For 3 of the 4 days I had a low-grade fever (100.4), and I was ready to give up. My mom battled cancer for 3 years, and most of that time she had a higher fever because of the chemo. Even with her fever she still went on with everyday routines as if nothing was wrong. God bless her.

Finally I recovered. Once my friends were confident I didn’t have SARS they invited me out for some fun dinners. A highlight was celebrating my cousin Dennis and cousin-in-law Joey’s birthdays. We cousins (Dennis, Joey, Nicole, Arty, A.J., Jamie) and friends (Kevin and Leslie) went to Buca Di Peppo in Santa Monica, and sat in one of their two themed rooms. The Pope room holds 10 people comfortably at a round table. All the dishes are served family-style and are huge. You gotta love a place that has written on the menu: “Meatballs big as your head.” You also have to love a place with hilarious pictures on the walls. Interesting fact: They also have a table in the kitchen. We sat there a few weeks back. There are not too many restaurants that offer a table in their kitchen. If you sit there many times they will give you free samples. Buca Di Beppo: 1442 2nd St., Santa Monica; tel: (310) 587-2782.

A few nights later a bunch of us went to the Saddle Ranch restaurant on Sunset Blvd. I thought it would just be my cousins Dennis, A.J. and Jamie, and Jamie’s friend Sloan, but it turned out there were many more sitting at our table. One of the guys there was our old friend Bobby from Chicago. He had a bunch of friends with him. At the other end of the table was Lance Bass from the boy band N’Sync. He was with a few friends too.

You really feel like you’re in a Texas bar at the Saddle Ranch. They have a great design, excellent drinks and a rowdy mechanical bull (and okay food). The bull costs $4 to ride, along with a release that requires you to sign your life away. Don’t worry about killing yourself, though. The bull is operated by a guy from Iowa, who does a good job keeping the speed equal to your ability. I don’t know if I should give props to A.J., because even though he rode the bull the longest of everyone in the place, I think he slipped the dude a 20 spot. Tips: Use one of the cloth napkins to hold on to the saddle, and be sure not to crack your nose. Saddle Ranch Chop House: 8371 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; tel: (323) 822-3850.

After a couple of hours we all went back to Lance’s house. Going up his long driveway and seeing the house on the right I said, “Damn, this is a nice pad!” Everyone laughed and said, “That’s just the guest house.” At that point I knew I was in the wrong business. But I don’t know if I can change. I can’t sing, and I dance like the Tin Man without oil.

We went up to Lance’s “play room,” where he hooked up a big-screen TV with PlayStation 2. He asked who wanted to play a karaoke game. Everyone said yes except me. I was hoping it would be some kind of hand-eye coordination game, until I saw Lance put on a microphone headset.

I thought to myself, “You have to be kidding! I gotta get out of here before it’s too late.” But it already was. Before I could leave the room they already picked teams. I was stuck, because there were three teams of three. To make a long story short, we had to sing to the right chord or tone (or whatever the heck you call it) to score points. Somehow the computer can rate your abilities. It’s pretty impressive.

The songs were randomly picked, and the game rated us as we sang. The two best singers went first: Lance (sold tens of millions of records) and Jamie (a renowned Broadway vocalist). During their turn they both had little pop-ups that read “excellent,” “perfect,” “way to go.” They both scored 99%, breaking all kinds of records.
Then it was my turn. Again I tried to escape, but A.J. grabbed me and Dennis blocked the door.

Guess what song the computer picked for me? “Complicated,” by Avril Levign. Are you kidding me? First of all, I can’t sing; second, this was a girls song; third, I didn’t even know the words; and finally, I have to sing for my first time out loud after those two voices. I started sweating bullets, just like a few days before when was sick. I think I’ve blocked the rest of the scene out of my mind. All I remember is that the room got really quiet (everyone had been singing along with all the others), and after each verse the pop-ups read “poor,” “bad,” “get a life.” It was a nightmare. My first time singing karaoke -- and probably my last. Unless, of course, I find a way to sing by myself in a closet.

Next week I’m off on a plane again -- this time for a life-changing experience.

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

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  • Yo, JJ! Do tell us: What was the "good news" about Amanda's heart? All better? I pray so! RLF (Portland, Oregon) REPLY: THANKS FOR THE CONCERN, HER HEART HAS IMPROVED DRAMATICALLY
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  • Johnny~ Just a tip in regards to Jamba Juice….they are GREAT smoothies. I will mention that their new 1/3 fewer calories (less sugar = low carb) options, Enlightened Smoothies, are made with Splenda (sucralose), a new no calorie sweetener product. The reason I mention this is because one of the ‘side effects’ of Splenda is just as you experienced, tummy rumbles, gas, nausea, diarrhea, etc....so if this is what you had vs Jamba’s original product you may want to stick with the 100% sugar product in the future. ~Carolyn F. - San Jose, CA Enlightened smoothies. REPLY: THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT I HAD! THANK YOU FOR THE INFO!

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Hi Johnny,

I was looking to find out some information but then I saw your travel tips so I thought I could combine the two:

Even with flight socks for long haul flights, legs and ankles can be uncomfortable and tend to swell after the flight now instead of during! I always take a couple of aromatherapy oils with me when I travel for a variety of reasons.

Lavender – keep a small bottle of the concentrated oil for using neat on bites etc., - nearly all oils are antiseptic and some antibacterial. Then put about 20 drops oil in a small spray bottle and top up with water – spray your ankles (flight socks) with this before, during and after the flight and you are unlikely to have swollen ankles. Also the spray is nice to spritz on your face – more cooling than water and it is also good if you have a headache…..and……will its virtues never end? A spritz like this will freshen the air around you and also if it falls on your sleep pillow, it should help you get off to sleep and have better quality sleep.

Geranium is another favourite oil. Again, have a bottle of the pure oil, it can also (very carefully and only in the tiniest amount) be used neat if you have a bite or itch. Only do this in emergencies as aromatherapy oils should in general never be used neat, they are best in a drop of carrier oil, almond, sesame or something. I always have a bottle of almond oil with me too because then I can use the lavender and geranium together in the almond oil and I have a great body oil, skin soother etc. I like to combine geranium and lavender in a bottle with water and spritz it all over the pillows and bedding when I stay in hotels.

This does two things: it gives me that nice familiar smell that helps sleep, it is an antiseptic so I think it is a good precaution however clean the bedding.

I also take TeaTree oil with me – smells like yuk but amazingly antiseptic, antibacterial etc.

Christine H.-England

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Enjoy low prices in the Low Countries with an Amsterdam vacation
Spring in Amsterdam calls to mind boat rides through the city's canals, long walks through quaint streets, and of course, colorful beds of tulips. But you don't have to skimp on fabulous meals and museums to fit a quintessentially European vacation into your budget. Although my boyfriend and I headed to Amsterdam for New Year's during the low season, you can save on a journey in any season. Click Here To Read Article

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