Party at Coto de caza

On my way to a 30 year high school reunion - Not mine, my brothers. Reunion dinner is being held at a place called Gentile's in a town (Coto de Caza) that did not exist when I was growing up in the area. Hard by Irvine (which didn't really exist when I was growing up either - it was still a ranch in those days). It will be fun to see if all the new houses are an improvement on the orange groves they replaced. Certainly more pretentious - why such a Mediteranean Riviera name for a town in the foothills of Orange County is beyond me.

Should also be fun to catch up. I was only two grades behind my brother, so a lot of his classmates also had siblings in my grade.

We will be staying at the Knott's Berry Farm Hotel in Buena Park, a first for me, since I don't normally stay in hotels so close to home. It looks nice on the website, and I got a great rate. I will let you know Sunday if it is all that, or not. Sunday is a picnic in my hometown, Santa Fe Springs, CA. Nice little town, these days surrounded by not-so-nice little towns.

That's all for now


The TOP 10 cont. Greenville, NC - The Spirit of the East, or Sportstown USA

Catchy, those mottos. But, seriously folks, Greenville, North Carolina (not to be confused with Greenville, Ohio, Texas, Missouri, Mississipi, Maine, Michigan or SOUTH Carolina), while a relatively small town of 75,000 is home to a University, a regional hospital, etc, and as such has more restaurants, hotels, stores, theatres, amusement venues, etc than most cities it's size. Not to mention some really great sports bars. It is the major commercial center of the region, and also one of the fastest growing areas in the South. That growth, and a nationally recognized Chamber of Commerce, have spurred commercial development of all types in and around the city. It is also blessed with mild weather - mid-80's in summer, with less humidity than the coast, and mid 40's in the winter with moderate rainfall.

As a vacation spot it boasts lot's of amenities, and also a great central location for exploring the region. Two hours south of Virginia Beach, Va, and two hours north of Myrtle Beach, SC, with the whole outer banks in between. Using Greenville as a base you can take in the attractions in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, drive the outer banks to Cape Hatteras, and do a day trip to Myrtle Beach. Greenville is also home to some historic sites, like really old churches and stuff, and around the University there are always cultural events, concerts, shows and the like to fill out your week. There are restaurants of all types, but you have to try the Carolina BBQ. A totally different thing than Memphis or St. Louis or Texas styles. Carolina BBQ features "pulled" meats - roasted and shredded, piled on a plate with moderately hot and vinegary sauce on the side. True Carolina style (an awesome treat that everyone should try before they die) is to pile the meat on a warm bun, splash on some sauce and top it off with cole slaw. MMMMMMM. I am literally watering at the mouth as I type this. Most of the BBQ joints are of the "x Meats, x Sides" variety - you walk up and order, say, 2 meats and 3 sides, maybe pulled pork and sausage with greens, beans, and cole slaw.

Most importantly, like most of the South, the people are great. Friendly, talkative, very welcoming to tourists, and proud of their city. Everyone says "hi" as they pass on the street, the second time in a restaurant or bar, they greet you by name.

And there is just a hard to describe "energy" about this town, the result of friendly people in the midst of an economic boom, that makes if a very attractive place to hang out. If I wasn't such a dyed in the wool Californian, I might relocate. In my 4 plus years of traveling, in 47 states and at least 150 different cities, there were 2 I thought might be okay to live in forever. Nashville was one, and Greenville, NC was the other.


Wheelchairs and Airplanes

I have written about me and my brothers first experience on a cruise ship with a wheelchair, and how vastly better cruise ships are today, in terms of wheelchair accessibility. The same is true of hotels. In our early wheelchair traveling days, hotels were generally a major hassle, with narrow doors, totally inaccessible bathrooms, etc. In the last few years, however, nearly every hotel we have stayed in has been relatively accomodating, with many barrier-free showers, larger rooms (or rooms with less furniture) to make in-room navigation easier, public areas all ramped, etc.

The only part of the travel industry that steadfastly refuses to change is the airlines. And, honestly, I think they have gotten worse rather than better. In my opinion, the airlines are a perfect example of why laws and regulations are sometimes counterproductive. It is fascinating that cruise lines, under no legal obligation to do so, have so vastly improved their product, simply becaused it drives business their way, while the airlines insist on doing exactly what the law requires, and not one inch more.

Any of you who have flown with a wheelchair know what I mean - first off, just getting a rez agent to commit to a bulkhead seat is almost impossible, requiring referral to a special department. Of course, having that special department probably costs more than taking a few seats out of the plane, so people in wheelchairs could get in the plane. But airlines don't think that way. Squeezing in more seats, even though an 80% occupancy rate is considered extremely high, is the name of the game. Of course, no matter how many times you talk to a rez agent, and email the special department, when you get to the airport, the gate agent (more on gate agents, later) has no idea you are expected. Apparently the special department exists only to take calls from rez agents, and has no outgoing phone lines to the rest of the company.

And then we come toTHE TRANSFER CHAIR, originally designed by Torquemada during the Inquisition, and since modified by a committee that has had a disabled person described to them, but has never actually seen one. Now, my brother, like many wheelchair bound people, has multiple wheelchairs, including one that will easily fit down an airplane aisle, which still has a high back, movable arms and swing out leg rests. It would be a simple matter to wheel him on to the plane and do a standing transfer to the assigned seat. But NO, we are forced "by regulation", to transfer to THE CHAIR, which has no armrest, and a back that hits him right where he suffered a compression fracture of the spine a while back. He is then (apparently in the name of respecting the dignity of disabled people) strapped about the legs, chest and abdomen, (rather like a violent mental patient or someone awaiting lethal injection), and wheeled into the plane by an airport employee specially hired for his strong back and weak mind. Because, God forbid we trust the guy who just pushed him 4 miles thru the parking lot, past Security and all the way to gate 4,682B to get him that last 35 feet safely. Then we have to do a standing transfer with a chair that generally WON'T go at an angle to the seat, and whose legrests are fixed, requiring lifting his inboard leg over the legrest, and transferring at a hugely awkward and unbalanced angle. Of course, on arrival the whole tawdry affair is repeated, in reverse.

Generally, on the flight itself, the Flight Attendants are helpful and friendly, and if you scmooze them a little while you are doing the transfer, they will pay attention to you during the flight.

Now, back to the Gate Agent - because this is the key to wheelchair travel on airplanes. The first few times I flew with my brother, I got angry that the Gate Agent never seemed to know what was going on. Then I realized the anger is counter-productive. You see, in the airline world, the Gate Agent is nearly God-like in his/her powers. This one person has more ability to make your flight great or awful than all the pilots, executives, rez agents, and the special department put together. And they are so used to dealing with upset, angry or arrogant customers, you can't rattle them. But here it is folks - THE SECRET to (relatively) successful air travel with a wheelchair - KISS THEIR BUTTS. It is that easy.

These days I try to get to the airport early enough to be at the Gate when the Gate Agent shows up. I then put on my best humble, hangdog look, wheel my brother up with me and say something like "I don't mean to bother you, I know you are busy, but did THEY tell you to expect a wheelchair? I know those HQ dummies don't care about making your job easier, but we do. Could you please check and make sure we have a bulkhead seat?" Since adopting this approach, I have had Gate Agents clear seats near the gate for us, or come to where we were sitting in the terminal to give us a "two-minute warning" so we could get up to the gate before boarding, I have even been upgraded to Business Class. We always get a good seat, there is always an attendant with THE CHAIR waiting for us, etc.

So, while it is still nothing to look forward to, air travel with a wheelchair can be made tolerable.

But I really wish someone would ask me, I could think of a few things that could take it from tolerable to enjoyable.


I am going to take a break from the TOP 10. Getting bored. Probably need to take a cruise.
Tomorrows post will be awesome, I am sure.


Panama City Beach - The Redneck Riviera

You have to love a town that embraces the title "Redneck Riviera". Unlike the hip, slick and cool beach towns of south Florida, PC beach is a laid back kind of place. A little threadbare maybe, a little past it's "sell by" date, but, hey so am I.
On the other hand, beach front rooms are cheap. And when I say beach front, I mean open the slider and you are in the sand. The beaches along this area are fabulous, the hotels are pet friendly, and the water is warm and calm. I spent many mornings, just soaking up the sun, and playing fetch with Harley.

A little to the south is an actual surfing beach - not much wave action for a California boy like me, but by Gulf of Mexico standards it is pretty good. There are several surf shops where you can rent a surfboard, or a boogieboard and get a little waye action.

There are several restaurant/bars along Front Beach and Thomas Streets, all of them, like the rest of the town, just on the edge of seedy looking. But they all seem to have good fresh seafood, the local oysters are great, and you will see things like frog legs, alligator and fried crawfish on the menu.

Also, the deep sea fishing is good to excellent along here, with several charters and party boats operating in the area.

So, for a laid back beach vacation, or maybe a few days' side trip to recover from Orlando, Panama City Beach is a great choice. For more information about this, or any of the TOP 10, check out www.daveholmantravel.com or email me at daveholman@verizon.net


Sandusky, Ohio - The Town with no Motto

"Sluggish and uninteresting enough,... something like the back of an English watering-place, out of the season." Thus spake Charles Dickens, on passing through Sandusky in 1842. Obviously, before Cedar Point was built.
Seriously, Cedar Point is the amusement park to end all amusement parks. Eight years running, Amusement Today has named it the "world's best", and with good reason. Not just one wooden coaster, like most amusement parks, but a whole section of them. And the tallest, and the fastest and the most "G's", and all the measures of a great thrill ride. Cedar Point has most of the records.
If you are a serious roller-coaster fiend, you have to go.
But there are more reasons to go to this little Midwest town of 30,000. It is located on the banks of Lake Erie, with watersports aplenty, and some of the best freshwater fishing in the country. Personally, I would recommend camping at any of the waterfront campgrounds in the area, but if you don't want to rough it, most of them also have cottages available, cheap.
It is also located just an hour or so drive from Cleveland to the East, and Canton to the south.
Among the themes I pursued during my traveling days was visiting as many "Hall of Fames" as I could find. Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is a perfect day trip from a base in Sandusky, and an awesome experience for anyone in the Rock 'n Roll Generation.
Take the next day to drive south to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, also an experience I think everyone should have. I was lucky enough to see Joe Montana get inducted, and to watch the Hall of Fame Game in 2000.
So, that's it. Couple days at Cedar Point, a day at one of the other amusement parks in the area, 2 days on the water, skiing and fishing, a day for Rock 'n Roll, and a day for Football.
Pretty much your All-American vacation right there.