Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

29 January 2012

Embarrassing Travel Moment of the Month

Back in October 2010, we introduced a feature we called Embarrassing Travel Moment of the Month. While we intended to post a story every month, we have obviously failed. Miserably. Sorry. So you’ll have to settle for the occasional embarrassing travel moment of the month. You can read these short posts in between working at the mill and planning your escape, which we’re sure will lead to your own embarrassing travel moments. —MB & JS
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For some unknown reason—wait, we know the reason: language—this story, like our previous Embarrassing Travel Moment, occurred in Europe. In Germany, to be precise, where they speak a dialect of English that can sometimes be difficult to understand. Actually, we thought we had a perfunctory grasp of the German language. We could speak well enough to point to something we wanted.

One day, we decided to hitchhike the Autobahn from Munich to Hamburg. It seemed like a good idea at the time, since we were used to hitchhiking throughout Europe and Hamburg was a destination we had never before attempted.

So we packed light (a backpack) and set out. When you hitchhike the Autobahn, you can’t just pick a nice spot on the side of the road. No, you have to hitchhike either from entrance ramps or from Tankstellen or gas stations, which are like rest stops right off the highway.

We made decent time in the morning (thanks to an uncharacteristically early start), but the further north we got, the colder it got. Of course, it was November, but had been pleasant in Munich and we were optimists. (Perhaps you have your own word for it.) In any case, by early afternoon, the weather was downright frigid.

We were stuck in a gas station/rest area. Sure, we could have sought shelter in the restaurant, but we wouldn’t have made much progress that way, so we decided to stick it out and rely on the kindness of strangers.

Now, we have two strategies when hitchhiking. One is to always have some form of luggage, whether it’s a suitcase or a backpack. We like drivers to know we’re not homeless. We have stuff. Our other strategy is to always carry cardboard and a marker to create a simple sign with our destination on it. We like drivers to know we’re actually trying to get somewhere.

On occasion, however, when we’re stuck or trying to be entertaining (at least for own amusement), we write other things on the cardboard. For example, once while hitchhiking in the States, we wrote: “A long way from home.” We’re not sure it worked, but we flashed that sign from coast to coast.

In our current predicament, freezing our gonads off in a foreign land, we once again decided to get creative. So we whipped out a spare piece of cardboard and wrote, in large block letters: “Ich bin kalt,” which translates word-for-word as “I am cold,” which we wrote only because we didn't know the German words for “I am frickin freezing my gonads off.”

We held up that sign, along with the one that said “Hamburg” for another hour. (OK, maybe it wasn’t that long, but even ten minutes in that cold seemed like a lifetime.) At last, a car stopped for us, a car full of giggling German 20-somethings. “Ausländer?” they asked. “Foreigners?”

“Americaner.”

After we piled into the car, they gave us a language lesson. As we discovered, if you want to say you’re cold in German, you say, “Mir ist kalt,” which translates to “To me, it is cold.” So what did “Ich bin kalt” mean? What had we written and advertised to every passing car?

It means: “I am frigid,” you know, in the sexual sense. We really had frozen our gonads off.

21 January 2012

Surrendering to Flight

We know we haven’t written much lately, but in our defense, we haven’t traveled much lately either. We broke our fast recently, and so now we return to form. We hope you enjoy this modern fable. It is, of course, absolutely true. —MB & JS
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We can remember back when it was fun to fly. Right after we were pushed out of the nest, we traveled light and traveled often. Flying was relatively inexpensive then, the airlines were actually concerned with passenger comfort, and the airports ... well, airports have always been conveyor belts of boredom. Being in an airport is worse than being trapped in a shopping mall. Of a foreign country. With no money. All you want to do is wake up from the nightmare.

Which reminds us: using a public toilet is just one more thing Republicans have ruined for the rest of us. Airport restrooms used to be safe havens, where you could go whenever you really needed to. Now, you have to watch where you put our feet, where others put their feet, and be on guard to protect your privacy in that most private of all places. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, you need to get out more.

Back to flying: We once took a flight from Boston to Atlantic City in a propeller-driven hatchback. That death trap had single seats on either side of a narrow aisle. The pilot sat behind a drawn curtain. Probably with the stewardess in his lap. During the entire flight, liquid of some sort poured a tiny stream down the middle of the aisle, back toward ... where? The lavatory?

We arrived intact, however, and we thought: If we can survive that flight, we can survive anything.

So we were somewhat surprised, during our recent experience, how difficult flying had become, how difficult airlines and airports had made it. The first shock to the system (or at least the pocketbook) was the extra $25 fee, per bag, each way, just for having them place a piece of luggage on the plane for you. As if that were a luxury. What happened to courtesy? What happened to decency? What happened to advance notice?

OK, maybe we missed it in the page of fine print we skipped when purchasing the ticket online. But having to pay to travel with bags? It’s an unfair tax on golfers and hockey players. In fact, it’s unfair to anyone going away for more than an overnight trip. We considered making a scene—we had time before our flight left—but maturity got the upper hand, and we grudgingly paid up.

Next came the never-ending wait to get through the security checkpoint. Like most people, we tried to keep our sense of humor, but when you can't say "lip balm" without being suspected of harboring an explosive device, conversation tends to evaporate after several minutes.

Finally, we reached the part of the show that features some nudity: the self-strip search. Backpack, shoes, hat, belt, jacket, keys, watch, change, jewelry, eyeglasses, prosthetic ... all of it went into the bins. We almost slipped off our jeans because, you know, they have those rivets and we didn’t want to set off any alarms.

Then came a brand new challenge. It stopped us in our tracks. A monstrous device awaited us. It was a cross between a science fiction de-materializer and a WWII-era X-ray machine. It seems the Transportation Security Administration had found a new way to humiliate passengers: the full body scanner.

To travel by air, you must give up.

In order to continue our trip, we had to submit to The Machine. We were being asked to surrender ... to give up any shred of integrity and self-respect that we had somehow managed to hang on to through the long years of rejection letters. The two of us, ardent and formerly fearless companions on countless journeys, looked at each other, mouths dropped open in wonder. Except for that time an airline had refused to honor our valid tickets, stranding us in Brussels Airport for three days, this was the most outrageous thing we had ever encountered.

So of course, we just watched what everyone else did and copied their actions. Stepped forward. Raised our arms to surrender. Hoped they didn’t ask for a cavity search. Prayed they didn’t, actually.

No wonder we hadn’t flown in years; who would want to?

The rest of the trip was just as unpleasant. Moving sidewalks took us where we needed, not wanted, to go. Airport food still smelled slightly ... moldy. Reading was difficult without earplugs and blinders. Let’s face it: people who travel, especially now when they have to carry all their luggage, are endlessly entertaining. Once we stepped through The Machine, purged of all pride and decency, we found perverse pleasure in watching our fellow man (and woman) struggle for dignity. We’re not saying it was right, only what we had left.

Lessons Learned: Our actual flight seemed to take less time than the parade through security. We passed on the opportunity to purchase premium American beer for equally premium prices. We didn’t need alcohol since the flight itself really didn’t scare us that much, regardless of the pilot’s attempt to hit every damn air pocket.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 2
Communication Breakdown: 1
Customer Dis-service: 4
Discomfort Level: 3
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 5
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 3
Fun Fraction: 2/5
Vibe-Rating: 1

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Charlotte Douglas International Airport (departures)
Native Population: 1,500 flights a day
Normal Attractions: This airport generally offers cheaper flights than the Asheville airport, although it’s a two-hour drive away. It’s why we were there.
Final Point of Interest: We flew to New Hampshire, whose motto is: “Live free or die,” which leads us to believe that there are no prisons in the state ... because how could there be?

05 July 2011

A Quick Reminder

We know it’s been a long time since our last post. Life sometimes gets in the way of art . . . or literary offal, as the case may be for blog posts. We wanted to remind all our faithful readers, however, that the back list of stories is worth exploring. Try typing a place into our Search function and see what comes up. Explore the sidebar items. This site (as always, gloriously advertisement-free) is full of surprise and disappointment, just like our travels. If you find something that strikes you personally, leave a comment. We promise not to abuse you unless you really deserve it. Thank you for your visit and we promise to return with more tales from the other side of happiness. [Jason: What does that mean? Mark: I don’t know; it just sounds funny.] —MB & JS

03 April 2011

Travel Philosophy of the Month

We very rarely steal others’ work. Oh, we occasionally use someone else’s quote, especially when it seems apt, but since there’s plenty of bad experiences to go around, we’ve never felt the need to use previously published material. Until now. The following excerpt comes from the highly recommended book titled Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe by Andrew Boyd, published by W.W.Norton (ISBN 0-393-32281-5) and selling for a reasonable $11.95 in the U.S. Buy your own copy today. —MB & JS
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One Step from Oblivion

“Things are entirely what they appear to be and behind them . . . there is nothing.” —Jean-Paul Sartre

Commercial air travel is a regular part of our lives, yet many of us still feel an eerie disquiet when we fly. You browse the in-flight magazine while a 37,000-foot chasm of emptiness lurks just beneath your shoes. You snack on little pretzels while a few inches away, life-sucking minus 60-degree airstreams whip by. The flight attendants point out exits that go nowhere.

In the air, as on the ground, behind every this or that lies all or nothing. This nothingness is papered over with illusion, habit, and little rituals, until something slices through the wrapper—until that moment when you hear the pilot’s strained voice and feel your gut muscles clench. Will you grow huge enough to contain the hugeness of the moment? Or will you break apart in freakish panic?

In flight, as in life, you live one step from oblivion. You stand on nothing but your will. Your only security is to embrace insecurity. So the next time you fly, step on board as though entering a sacred battlefield, place your tray table in its uprights and locked position, and stare straight past the pretzels and the chitchat into the jaws of the absolute.

Mantra of the day: “The airline that doesn't kill me makes me stronger.”

Jason & I will be back soon with more of our own insights and experiences. Until then, think of us and enjoy your next flight.

02 March 2011

Postcards from the Car

Back in November, we undertook a cross-country drive. The deal was to deliver a car for a friend who was moving from Asheville, NC, to Los Angeles, CA. We planned it as a 3-day trip, but persuaded our friend to let us leave early so we could spend time with some of our other western friends. We could have easily made the trip in three days, given three 12-hour, 750-mile days.

Our friend, whose car it was, remarked that she couldn’t make the trip herself, but her car would surely remember it. At that moment, we got the idea to keep a record of the trip, with photos of the car, to send to the car’s owner later. In other words, postcards from the car. —MB & JS
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We started early on Day 1. We hit the road at 6:00 am, when most people are still dreaming of coffee and donuts. We had only the vaguest idea where we might be at the end of the first day; we really just wanted to make good time while we were still relatively fresh. Unfortunately, even the best laid nefarious plans go wrong. Later in the day, we discovered the camera battery had mysteriously died, so we weren’t able to record the trip through the length of Tennessee. We weren’t able to take photos of the late-fall foliage as we passed out of the mountains into the rolling hills and nondescript terrain that makes up most of Tennessee. Well, no one’s loss but our own.

We survived Tennessee and most of Arkansas. The only thing that stopped us was our promise to ourselves to really see the country, working camera or no. We stopped for the night in a place called Clarksville, which is about an hour from the Oklahoma border. It was a place where a greasy spoon is considered a “restaurant.” We “ate” an unfortunate meal at a place called the South Park Cafe. It set a bad precedent for most of the trip.

After a restless night, our photo essay begins on Day 2 with a recharged battery, for the camera at least. What follows are the actual photos and “commentary” that composes the Postcards from the Car series. Enjoy.



Day 2: Here are the first two “Postcards from the Car.” These two photos are from our first stop. No, we didn’t do any gambling, except with the gas we bought and the restroom we used. Both seemed like dicey bets, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. We didn’t buy any kitsch from the “travel plaza” because we just wanted to get the hell out of there. Your car was the only foreign job, and unemployed drifters were giving us the Evil Eye.


The car writes from Oklahoma: “Where the hell am I? There's nothing around for miles! Maybe we took a wrong turn at Mexico City. Why is the landscape in Spanish?” Stupid car. It‘s a good thing we’re driving. But where the hell are we?


We’re still in the middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma. If you look really hard at the horizon, you can see the highway . . . in Missouri. The countryside is pretty in its own way (pretty bleak, that is), and we’re glad we filled the tank when we had a chance. Talk to you again soon. Hopefully.


Well, we’re still in Oklahoma. It’s just like Tennessee, but wider and emptier. As you can see, we’re far from civilization. Now, wherever you are, look out your window. You probably see people and buildings and cars and such. Wanna trade places? There’s nothing here, just one long ribbon of asphalt, interrupted by the occasional fast food bathroom (which is how we think of those places, since they don’t actually serve food). We’ll write again soon. If we can find a mailbox.


Believe it or not, that cross in the background is said to be the largest in the country. Maybe you can’t tell from this distance. We couldn’t. But then, this was Texas, and as you probably know, they always think they have the biggest of everything. Pshaw, we say. Texans. We think they’re just compensating.


The end of Day 2. We found the oldest, continually operated, family-run hotel on old Route 66. It’s in Moriarty, NM, which used to be called Buford. While Moriarty sounds better to us, it didn’t make the town any more attractive. It’s a one-strip, three-restaurant town somewhere far from anything, the kind of place we might have liked more if we liked to go bowling. This night, we had the first cold glass of beer on the trip. A local brew. Not to bad, either. Too bad we can’t say the same about the food options. It’s becoming a trend. Anyway, at this point, we’re about 60 miles east of Albuquerque, so we’re making good time.



Day 3: Where are we now? Oklahoma? Texas? New Mexico? We think it’s New Mexico, based on the dramatic landscape in the background. Where the Texas landscape is caused by the force of erosion (sort of like the Texas culture), New Mexico’s landscape seems carved out sandstone. We could drive all day in this beautiful state, if Mark didn’t have to pee so often. And guess what? That was the reason for this piss, er, pit stop. Seriously, if Mark could learn to pee into a bottle, we’d make better time.


We made to Arizona! You can tell because even the grass has disappeared. All that’s left is dirt, dust, and the occasional cactus. Still, it has its own kind of beauty. We think it’s called “stark” or “barren.” Well, at least they speak English here. Most of the time. Que pasa?



This was the only real detour we made. True, we once went in a fruitless search for the Museum of Route 66, but that doesn’t count because we never found it. This, however, this was a worthwhile stop. In the first photo, you see the car in the bottom right corner in the parking lot. The visitor’s center is visible in the second photo. Can you guess where we are? No? We’ll tell you later.


Here‘s another photo from the wilderness. You can safely assume we’re in the middle of f@(%ing nowhere. It’s far enough from water to qualify as a moonscape. Just take a look at this photo. There’s nothing for miles. If it weren’t for the full tank of gas, we’d be SOL. Go on, take a guess where we are; the answer will come next.


Recognize it? No? Well, the detour we made into the heart of the desert was to see the meteor crater. Not a meteor crater, the meteor crater: the most well-preserved crater on the planet. And guess what? It’s privately owned. Who knew? That means they can charge whatever they want to for admission. Only a dumb-ass tourist would pay that much to see a hole in the ground. Count us in.


Mark joked that he created the crater with one well-aimed fart, but the history books paint a different story. We arrived in time to catch the guided 1-hour, 1-mile hike along the rim -- perfect for anyone squeezed into a car for three days. The hike and tour lived up to all of our low expectations.

At the end of the hike, we jumped right back into the car and hit the highway at full speed. The crater site, in case you want to know, is just east of Flagstaff, and it’s at Flagstaff where the highway to Phoenix (route 17) veers off of I-40. If we had stayed on I-40, we would have been in LA by the end of the day (speaking of detours).

We can tell you there are no photos of Phoenix. We took some, but they turned out all dull gray and dusty brown. Where will the next photo be from? You’ll just have to wait.



We bet you never thought your car would go to the world-famous San Diego Zoo without you, but that’s what happened. Yup.

Well, almost. We tried to get the car in, but they said we had to walk in -- no wheels allowed. We tried to point out the strollers going right through the gates, but they’d have none of it. So we were rebuffed at the door. We had hoped to get a photo of the car in the lion cage or swimming with the tortoises, but you’ll have to settle for these photos at the entrance. We‘re almost in L.A., but not quite yet.


Once we got into California, everything seemed to be about breasts. We saw them everywhere, displayed like trophies. San Diego had lots of them, some barely contained, aching to break free. But that’s another story. Here’s a picture of the worst example: the San Onofre nuclear reactor sitting between the highway and the ocean. Tell us that doesn't sound like a bad idea. See you next time.



In our last stop before reaching LA, we found the lovely harbor of Dana Point, just down Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach. Yes, Virginia, there is a reason to go to California. This paradise is actually more beautiful than the photos can capture. We wish we had more time to spend there—sightseeing, picnicking, and picking up women. As it was, we had to head up I-5 to LAX and our rendezvous.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this photo essay/travelogue. Look for more insights from this trip in future posts. We went so you don’t have to. That's the spirit of Don’t Even Go There. See you next time!
           —MB & JS