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Now back to South Dakota. What a trip! After a quick round of  golf, it was time for another tearful good bye with Amber Airplane's other grandparents. We’re going to have to visit more often, so we don't cry so much. As usual, we just made our flight (to Denver, from Rapid City). What's cool about the Rapid City airport is a webpage displayed on a monitor, showing radar with all the inbound and outbound flights in the area. This way you know if the agent is lying about being on-time or not – and they were! Can you believe that? The gate agents must not be aware of the monitor, because our flight showed “on time” on the board behind their desk, while the radar showed otherwise. I went up to the agent and asked how we could be leaving in 20 minutes if our plane was still 15 minutes from landing. She looked at me like, “How the heck did you know that?” Then she said, "Oh, I guess you’re right,” and put the "delayed" card on the wall. Why do they have to lie?  I have no problems about being late; just don't lie about it.

Our late flight was smooth, and as usual  picturesque. When we made it back to L.A. I was jonesing for some ethnic food. Don't get me wrong -- I love American food -- but this half-Italian, half-Danish boy needed some spice. It was 10 p.m. and I wasn't even that hungry, but I walked by myself to the local hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint and scarfed down a couple of tacos with a ton of hot sauce. Ummm-ummm!

As if that wasn't enough, the next day we were off again to a place that is also spice-impaired: Erie, PA. So I knew I had to get my fix in pronto! On the way to LAX we made a quick stop at a tasty Cuban restaurant for a last-ditch effort to wake up the palate. Versailles on Sepulveda is a straight shot from LAX, only four miles away. If you go for lunch, get a special from the chalk board. They are mighty good -- and cheap (only $4.99). My favorite is the chicken with yellow rice. Don't get me started on this dish – it’s fantastic, and the plantains they serve with it are to die for. The funny thing about Versailles is that although it's some of the best Cuban food I’ve ever had, not one person who works there is Cuban. Go figure! Versailles Restaurant, 1000 N. Sepulveda Blvd.,  Manhattan Beach, CA, tel.: (310) 937-6829.  
Back to Erie, right? Well, not quite. We missed our original flight to Cleveland (Erie is only 95 miles from there) via Chicago. So we decided to go through Dulles, near Washington D.C. Talk about a long day. Our flight to  IAD (airport code for Dulles) was late, so we missed our tight connection ... which was the last flight out of the night! Therefore, we spent the night in D.C. (actually, Virginia – that’s where the airport is). 

It was late and I didn't feel like logging on to my computer, so we went to one of those information counters with phones to local hotels and transportation. I hadn't done that in a reeeal long time – not since the boom of the internet. I must say I was pretty impressed. I (okay, it was Amber Airplane) found a hotel that wasn't sold out, and was reasonable as well. For $59 a night the Comfort Inn Dulles offered had a room, free transportation (good thing too, because it was five miles away) and free breakfast. It was so early for our shuttle back to IAD that this hungry little piglet didn't even bother with the free buffet, but Amber Airplane did. She was nice enough to bring me back a tasty chocolate chip muffin, and a really nasty hard bagel the TSA could have confiscated as a weapon. 

BTW:  We got the last room in the house. Of course, it was the worst room too. It was on the ground floor, and literally, physically, three steps from the lobby. But you know what? It was perfect: no long walks, and a comfortable bed. Besides, how lucky were we to be stuck together, in a decent place, under non-emergency circumstances?  Very lucky. It wasn't like we needed to be somewhere immediately. We were just going to my family’s first reunion. Comfort Inn Dulles International. Airport, 200 Elden St., Herndon, VA, tel: (703) 437-7555.      

Don't you love those people movers at Dulles?  Every time I get on one I feel like I’m in a bad futuristic film. But who cares? We made our flight to Cleveland. It was only an hour, and we arrived in  time to hop on the best transportation deal in the country: the Anderson Shuttle. Listen to this crazy deal. It may sound familiar, because I wrote about it in June when I was in Erie, but guess what? They extended their $9.95 deal indefinitely. (It was supposed to end July 31). When they finally raise the price, it will still be only $19.95. It runs Cleveland-Ashtabula (10-minute stop)-Erie (and return). The price is so low because it's a brand-new route for them. It's not only a great bargain, but the service and accommodations are outstanding too. They cater to the business travel market, but of course anyone can take it. Other incredible perks: free parking in Erie-- and kids ride free too, if accompanied by a paying adult. I don't think you’ll find a two- hour ride anywhere in the country for a better deal than this.  Anderson Shuttle tel.: (814) 456-0888. 

We got to Erie, and had an unbelievably good time. Having it there was controversial in our family, because we all grew up in Connecticut. No one spent anytime there (except my sister Carol, who moved there 10 years ago). Many relatives wanted to have the reunion in Vermont, where my aunt lives and we all visited frequently growing up. But I and a few others knew the only person who could pull off our first family reunion was Carol. There was no argument, because Carol throws the best parties and has the space to host everyone on-site.

Forty-two (42!) of my relatives showed up (20 more canceled at the last minute). The moment I stepped into my sister's house, the smell from the kitchen brought me back in time to my Grandma's and Mom's house, when we used to have big family dinners. That's because Carol and the other major party organizer, my cousin Catherine, kicked off the weekend by cooking a huge pot of meatballs and my grandma's gravy (sauce, to non-Italians).  

Since we arrived a tad bit early and were starving, my good ol' Dad jumped at the opportunity to take us to his favorite restaurant in Erie. We have heard about this place since he moved to Erie part-time. His gem is called Taki's. You don't know how many times I’ve heard him say, “You have to try Taki's’ cube steak sandwich, it's sooo gooood, and guess how much it costs?” I have to hand it to him: He was right. Taki's was good and sooo  inexpensive.  The cube steak sandwich and our grilled cheese with ham cost $2.05 each. We had three sandwiches apiece. Taki's Restaurant, 2933 W 12th St., Erie, PA, tel.:  (814) 833-1798.  
After touring the property with our official guide Willem (more on him later), I realized that  Tom, should win Brother-in-Law of the Year honors. There are many reasons, but here are the two most important: He agreed to host our crazy DiScala family, and then made an outstanding effort to accommodate everyone.    

As you probably guessed, the first night we had our traditional family dinner (pasta) under the  tent.  We didn't do anything special; we just caught up with one another.  It seems the only times we see each other these days are weddings or funerals -- and they go by so fast, you never get to spend quality time with each person. So this was a treat. We stayed up late, and the following morning after breakfast most of us played wiffle ball. That’s another tradition. Us grandkids played Wiffle Ball every Sunday at our grandparents’, so it was great fun to play again after a long layoff. BTW:  Did you know Wiffle Ball was invented in Connecticut?

If you were wondering where all the kids were in the picture of us, while we were playing ball they were off on a treasure hunt that Carol set up. My sister had the counselor from the Erie nature center take the younger ones on a nature  walk/treasure hunt. Later they played with all kinds of neat animals (ferrets, lizards, snakes ... I'm not sure what else, because I was too busy playing wiffle ball).   

The kids loved Erie.  When they weren't on a nature walk or playing with ferrets, they were getting their faces painted by the baby sitters, taking swings at the pinata, or jumping on the Dino  jump.  If that wasn't enough, the older kids even got to ride Tom's many motorized toys: a mini-motorcycle, mini-bike, 4-wheeler and mule.  As you can see, it's not an animal. This is where Willem comes in. I’m sure you all remember my little cousin from Chicago (he's been in many pictures). His father, Dennis, told him he was allowed to drive the mule only if he was giving a tour of the property to an adult.   So thanks to cousin Dennis I heard, "Hey, Johnny you want to go for a ride?" way too many times.  Do you realize how sick Willem was of hearing, "No Willem, but I bet Amber Airplane does!" Do you also realize how sick and tired Amber Airplane was of going for 20-minute mule rides?  She's a good sport, huh?

After wiffle ball most of us walked  down to the beach and took a dip in Lake Erie.  The lake is huge, and my cousins from California now realize I'm not crazy when I say it looks more like an ocean than a lake. However, those California cousins wouldn't jump in the water because they said it was a little murky for them. Pretty pathetic, huh? Or maybe they’re smart?  All I know is, my brother Frank showed them what lives in there.  

Then we all got cleaned up and had an unforgettable night. We started with hors d’oeuvres and a homemade trivia game Catherine invented. We each wrote down a little-known fact about ourselves, and everyone had to guess which person was connected to each fact.  The goal was to stump everyone. Mine was: "I broke my wrist when I was 14 by falling out of the big oak in Grandma's yard.” Others were really good, like: "When I first met my wife, she was my boss," and "I once played soccer with Bob Marley." As you can see, I learned a lot about my relatives.   After the game, and after another amazing Lake Erie  sunset (I told you last time they’re rated among the best in the world), we had a tasty BBQ.  After dinner the DJ got everyone in party mode, but things really got started when she handed the microphone to my cousin Nicky D, Frank and Dennis. (They thought they were Run-DMC). These guys were hilarious. They had everyone singing and dancing --including the cops, who came at midnight and told us to turn the music down. Well, maybe not the cops.
Sunday, the last day for most, came around way too quickly. We all had brunch together under the tent (the official meeting place), and Nicky D and I read notes we collected from everyone. We had asked everyone to write down what they learned this weekend, about either a certain individual or the family as a whole. It sounds corny, but hearing what other people had to say was actually pretty interesting and fun. 

I forgot to mention that my sister Carol is a great promoter too. It turned out she called every news station in Erie and told them about my book signing she had arranged for Sunday night in Erie. Before I knew what was happening, my cell was ringing off the hook with the producers saying, "We understand you have a book signing this weekend. We’d like to cover it. Can you come down to the station?” I said, “Of course, but how did you hear about it?” They said, “From your publicist.” I didn’t say anything, but meanwhile I was thinking: “I don't have a publicist!” To make a long story short, Carol and the news made me look like Stephen King was doing a book signing. I have never been on TV as much as the weekend in Erie. It was crazy! Every day I was either at a news station, or they came by the house.  I was on all the major stations.  

Speaking of TV: Be sure to tune in to Fox News Channel on Sept 1 at 4pm (EDT). I'm doing an interview with Neil Cavuto.

Back to the book signing. It went great, and the main reason was because all my family members who were still in town surprised Eric (the co-author) and me, and showed up at Barnes & Noble. How cool was it to have nearly my entire family there?  They bought every book that was left over. How lucky am I?

Afterwards we went out to dinner for some spice (yeah!) at one of the best chicken wing chains around: Quaker Steak & Lube.  They have fifteen different flavors of wings, and each one is rated according to its degree of spiciness. They use the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) test, which is the standard for measuring the power of capsicum. In 1912, pharmacologist Wilbur Scoville developed the test. I was told it determines the number of units of water to make a chile pepper lose its heat. I am not too sure about that, but I do know I can eat hot food. However, since I was forewarned about this place I played it safe. I had the Louisiana Lickers (Hot, Cajun, Garlic, BBQ mix), which were near the hottest and rated 2,500 SHU's. Now take a guess how hot the spiciest were? 150,000 SHU's – 50 times hotter! The "Atomic" wings are appropriately named, and they even come with a release form. Another cool thing about this place is that they have a license plate from every U.S. state on the wall. You could see more, but my wacky brother-in-law Cam jumped in front of my last picture. Quaker Steak & Lube, 2826 W 8th St. Erie, PA  Tel: (814) 836-9464.

Happy Travels!

Johnny Jet

  • *If you heard about us somewhere else or have the link to the story please email Johnny Jet media and let us know where!
  • Johnny, Have to say I think you have one of the quirkiest travel sites on the WWW.  But I love it because you seem to bring a home-spun quality to it, like you are one of the family and you are sharing your travels (many as they may be!) with the rest of us. Which leads me to your recent So Dak trip; in your Sturgis photos of Amber Airplane and her sister, Amber is wearing a Biker Babe T-shirt advertising a midnight cruise in the Windy City back in '90.  That happens to be where I reside and I work with a former president of the JerseyPine Cruisers who has organized that particular cruise for a number of years (their 25th tour is next year).  Where or where did Amber locate that shirt???  That must be a collector's item, especially one that old.  I told my friend about it and he was totally amazed (I printed out the photo for him). Anyway, I knew there was a connection somewhere out there, otherwise I wouldn't have spent so many hours reading your newsletter!  Keep up the good work and keep up the good plugs for The Chicago Tribune, my employer!  I also recently purchased your book and have already used it extensively.  Ciao and happy travels. -Dan K - Chicago
  • In the past your writing has moved me to many tears (the dedication to your Mom) and more recently to pee my pants from laughter! I would love to go off the conservative edge of travel reporting sometimes - as you can and do so well!  You got it kid!   Catch your zzz's on airplanes and keep on typing your tales...and taking the best pics!   All the best to you and Amber for another fun weekend!  Clara - Atlanta 
  • I just read the South Dakota episode - twice! Each time I found something interesting and amusing. You are a talented writer and I am amazed at the mixture of facts, interesting observations and humor that flows with such ease. Donald - Connecticut
  • Loved all the pictures and story about SD. Johnny.  Amber's family are goooood looking.  You two should make beautifulbabies together. But first the wedding.  I know, I know, But out. Just remember...........I'm too old for you to kick and besides I live too far away for any violence to reach me.  LOL My family and I have been to so many places in the US on our summer vacations with our trailer.  One of the places was Butt Montana where we spent a good number of hours having the car repaired coming out of the Yellowstone area.  It looked like most of the towns you showed in your pictures.  That was in the 1960's.  Wow!  we didn't have to pay a cent to see Mt. Rushmore.  Amazing the changes.   The US has so much to see.  Being a History teacher my husband was most interested in the history of here and abroad. Traveling with him was always fun.  Thanks for the memory.  Idaho
  • Your site is superb - I was trawling your links all night. A job very well done.  Matt W.  Russia 
  • Dear John; Congratulations on the Frommer piece. You are rolling. .. I spent a very pleasant afternoon in Cleveland with Nancy, her daughter Kirsten and Kirsten's one and a half year old daughter Kalee; Kirsten lives in Cleveland with her husband Mike and their child.  She gave Nancy and me a brief tour of the city. We saw some of downtown; little Italy and ate at La Dolce Vita an excellent Italian restaurant, and some of the Coventry shopping section and the Lakewood Cemetery where some very famous people are interred; our twentieth president James Garfield has a massive mausoleum which we at first thought was a church; John D. Rockefeller founder of Standard Oil and thousands of other people from all walks of life.  I also saw the new Cleveland Browns Stadium and it is also impressive. The next time you are in Cleveland make it a point to tour the city and you will be absolutely flabbergasted and have nothing but good things to say about it in the future. Love Dad 
  • I just completed a trip from SMF to Lihue, Kauai using Hawaiian airlines.  Hawaiian airlines, at least on this Airbus,  installed on almost every aisle seat on the floor a box that takes about 1/3 of the foot space normally available.  I was told it is an audio box.  With the loss of foot space the seat is now more uncomfortable for long flights and it is not possible to place some types of carry on bags in front of you.  Has Hawaiian airlines done this with their other long range planes?  How can we place certain carry on bags in front of us, as requested by the airline, when they have taken foot space away? The box has some sharp edges on one side and it may be possible to injure a foot.  It is unfair foot space treatment! Jim H - Sacramento, CA 
  • Been following your newsletter for almost a year now.  Andy the Hobo recommended you =)  And its been fun watching the growth of your website and newsletter.  I think you have done such an awesome job.  I've learned a lot, got some great tips,  and got all that great info in such a fun way.  Your newsletter is personable and funny and a joy to read.  Last newsletter comments from the readers made two suggestions I'd like to give my support for.  One, let Amber have a shopping section on there.  I think many of the readers would enjoy that.  I, like you, am not big on shopping but know many who are.  It could only be plus for your newsletter.  Second, yes, Henry really needs to tone it down.  I really liked the idea of having a question section for airline attendants, pilots, other travelers.  But never been thrilled with Henry nor have some of the other people I know who regularly read your newsletter.  If he's such a nice guy, maybe he needs to show that in his answers? Thanks again for the newsletters and keep up the great work! Y. Perez - Indiana  REPLY:  Check out this week's answer from Henry.  You can see he's a changed man.
  • I received your book and thank you. It will be put to good use. Meeting you made following your newsletter adventures much more fun.  I also wanted to say we recently had a grand time staying at the Grand Hotel in MacKinac Island -- what a romantic place with great accomodations, superb service, harp for tea and orchestra entertainment and dancing after dinner included, and a truly lovely setting. Well worth the cost of $444 for a night with 5 course dinner and gourmet breakfast for two, tips and all taxes included. They even upgraded our room at no extra cost to a gorgeous suite. Then we enjoyed staying at the Bayshore Resort in Traverse City. This week we head to the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables Florida to take our son to college at the University of Miami. Do you like to hear of good places to stay from your readers?   All the best, Colleen - Alaska
  • Johnny, you are too funny.  The lone gas pump is hilarious and the butter on the donut made me cry.  G-d we love you! P&L - California 
  • I really enjoy the regular updates about your adventures with Amber Airplane.  But after you wrote:   "Having dinner at Jakes, located upstairs at the Midnight Star casino. Jakes is owned by Kevin Costner ...."  I was wondering if there's any mention at the casino of the (I suspect) reason why Kevin Costner gave his restaurant the name "Jake's" and perhaps even why the whole casino is named the Midnight Star, (Does Costner own a piece of it?) or if it's kept quiet so we film buffs can catch the reference and feel like we're in on a private joke.  Rent the movie "Silverado".  (If you haven't seen it, do that just because it's a very good western.)  But, as you're watching, you'll notice that the name of the saloon is The Midnight Star and the name of Kevin Costner's character is Jake.  Gregg Wiggins.  REPLY: Gregg,  I didn't see the movie so I had no clue walking in what it was all about.  However, it's known that Kevin (and I think his brother) owns the casino and restaurant.  There are countless of movie pictures and memorabilia throughout the place.     
  • So sorry about your mom.  I read all the eulogies and I feel like I've known her.  p.s.  are you single?  I have two lovely daughters I'd love for you to know. Florence -

    *Please note that we reserve the right to post excerpts, perhaps edited, from your message on the Johnny Jet website and newsletter. We will not use your full name without your express permission. If you'd rather not have your message posted on the website or newsletter, just say so and it won't be.
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