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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

TRANSIT REPORT - NEW YORK CITY



UPDATE: For service status following Hurricane Sandy, check this page: MTA Service Advisory

New York is a dizzying, confusing place but, if you do your homework, you can navigate your way through the city in a wheelchair.  Here are your major options.



AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION - The two major New York airports are Kennedy and La Guardia.  Amazingly in this city of subways, neither is connected to that system.  Your best bet is to either request an accessible taxi at the taxi stand, or to book an accessible shuttle from a company such as Supershuttle.  If you're more adventurous, and don't have a lot of luggage, you can catch an MTA bus.  At La Guardia, it's not too far to take the 48 bus to Queen's and catch the 7 subway there into the city at the accessible Flushing-Main St. station.  At Kennedy, you can take the AirTrain to the accessible Sutphin subway station (E line) or to the accessible Howard Beach subway station (A line).  We did try the bus option from La Guardia.   It's doable, but coming back it's very confusing finding the right bus stop when you get off of the subway.  We haven't tried the Kennedy option yet.  There is also train service from Newark airport and nearby the Islip airport, which you'd either have to taxi or bus to...it would be about a mile walk from the airport to the train station.  We did this via a taxi one time...if possible, I'd rather fly into one of the other three airports.



SUBWAY - Let's face it, it's just not New York without the subway.  When possible, it's also the fastest way to get around.  There are currently 33 accessible subway stations in Manhattan listed on the MTA's website.  Some popular locations with accessible stations are Times Square, Herald Square, Penn Station, Grand Central Station, Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, Roosevelt Island, and the World Trade Center station.  Outside of Manhattan you have Yankee Stadium, Coney Island, and Flushing Meadows Park.  There are several more non-accessible stations where you can transfer between lines in a wheelchair.  It is very important to study the map and information provided by the MTA's website for particular access information, for example some lines may be accessible in a station while others in the same station are not such as Times Square, where the shuttle (S) is not accessible.

The basic fare for buses or subways is $2.50. A 7-Day pass is $29. (2012)



BUS - All buses in New York are accessible.  We had no problems on any bus or with any drivers while we were there.  The only problem is that they must also sit in traffic, although they have dedicated lanes on the busiest streets.



STATEN ISLAND FERRY - is accessible and a great way to get good views of the city and the Statue of Liberty. The Staten Island Ferry is free.

STATUE OF LIBERTY/ELLIS ISLAND FERRY - is accessible.



ROOSEVELT ISLAND TRAMWAY - is accessible.



TAXIS - Most are not accessible.  You'll usually need to call a dispatcher to have one sent, it is very hard to hail an accessible cab on the street.



LONG ISLAND RAILROAD - In Manhattan, the LIRR uses the accessible Penn Station, underneath Madison Square Garden.  Click the link for a map of accessible stations.



METRO NORTH RAILROAD - For points upstate and Connecticut, the Metro North uses Grand Central Station, which is accessible.  For points across the Hudson, Metro North uses Penn Station, which is also accessible.  Click the link for a map of accessible stations.

-Darryl
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Diliff and Janke under CC-BY license
Daniel Schwen under CC-BY-SA license
Kris Arnold under CC-BY-SA license

Friday, October 26, 2012

CLASSIC TRIP - Chicago, Illinois - Part 2

The Loop as seen from the El


Previously, the hotel didn't want to honor our breakfast deal, it snowed during Spring Break, and Frank Lloyd Wright designed some amazing buildings...

Tuesday morning: ah, the luxury of a big, freshly cooked breakfast in the lobby of our own hotel. Delicious! No, really, it was...



Outside, it’s sunny but bitterly cold and windy. After lounging around a bit in the morning, we take the red line subway to Wrigley Field which has an accessible station nearby. Maybe 3,000 people are at the afternoon game today. We find our accessible seats which is just where a couple of seats have been ripped out of the top row to accommodate a wheelchair.




Since the game is so sparsely attended, we kinda feel like we’re in Siberia by ourselves up at the top. The windy cold makes it physically feel like Siberia. Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s the hard facts: ambient temperature is 26 degrees. Wind chill factor is 16 degrees.

After making several trips to the snack bar for coffee (forget the beer today!) and buying expensive souvenir blankets at the gift shop, we soldier on for four innings before Tim finally admits it’s just too darn cold and we retire back to the hotel for some much needed warmth.

That evening, we take our dinner at the Frontera Grill, a trendy little Mexican restaurant run by Rick Bayless who has a cooking show on PBS. It is very good but be prepared to wait. There are no reservations and the line was 2 hours long when we left.

We spent the rest of the evening in the hotel just sitting in our warm rooms watching tv. The next morning, it’s off to our lakefront day.

We can see the Field Museum from our window so we decide to walk. It’s a lot farther than it looks. Here, we come to see Sue the T-Rex. Sue is the largest and most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found.




The front of the museum is not accessible. The signs point to a side entrance next to the loading dock. Inside, we find that the basic admission, usually $8, is free this week....I’m imagining because it’s spring break and all the kids need somewhere to go.

That sounds good in theory, but in practice it makes for an extremely crowded museum.

After waiting in line for about an hour we get to see some mummies. Tim has the worst of it because no one sees him in the chair and he literally has to fight his way in for a view. After that, we wait while three loads of able-bodied adults decide that the adjacent escalator is too much work, clog up the entrance to the elevators. Upstairs, we see Sue, take some pictures, and head back to the exit.

I guess it’s the nature of this type of museum, but there was a strong smell of formaldehyde here. Add to that the over-powering aroma of the on site McDonald’s and you’ll know why I had to get out of there before I hurled!

A quick stop to Soldier Field (Tim has a goal to see every professional sports stadium in the country) for photos and it’s off to the Navy Pier.

No train comes close to the Navy Pier so we take a bus that deposits us a few blocks away and walk the remaining distance.

Navy Pier is one of those tourist meccas with lots of shops and a few attractions. To me, it seemed like Chicago’s version of Universal Studio’s Citywalk or Downtown Disney. It was fun but not exceedingly so.


The Interior of Gino's East


Next, it was off for some Chicago pizza. We head over to the River North area and dine at Gino’s East, a graffiti-leaden pizza joint that’s a Chicago landmark. It did look very touristy and was in a neighborhood littered with the likes of Hard Rock Café, Rainforest Café, and Michael Jordan’s. Even so, I was very impressed with this place. The pizza was just superb. Very cheesy, covered with tomato sauce and surrounded with a thick rim of a crust. Among the very best that we’ve had.

Thursday is spent back in Oak Park browsing through the shops there and then one more stop at Fast Track for some more of their delicious dogs. It’s sunny today and in the 50's so we eat outside on the patio.


Tim Enjoys the view at Comiskey U.S. Cellular Park. Directly
behind him at the rail is the wheelchair seating area.


After lunch, we take the red line again, only south this time to Comiskey U.S. Cellular Park (another name change - Ed) where we are allowed to go in and take a few pictures and visit the gift shop (the White Sox were out of town this week). As you can see in the picture, the wheelchair accessible seats here are superb. Tim now has all the Chicago stadia in his collection.

On the way back, I see a stunning view out the front of the El train of the Loop and snap a picture. Then I was informed that this is illegal. What the...? Are there state secrets here? Anyway, like I said I snapped the picture first, so enjoy the forbidden fruits at the top of this report.

The next morning, at checkout, I am told their will be no consideration for our two missed breakfasts. How did I know this would happen? The manager who told me is nowhere to be found, in fact, they even charged me five dollars for the 800 number call to my travel agent to straighten it out. Nice to leave Chicago with the steam coming out of your ears.

We go to Midway Airport to catch our flight. Being that we have two hours till flight time, we explore a little bit and find out just how miserable this airport is. We tell the gate agents we’re there so they can have plenty of time to arrange for someone to take Tim on board the plane and to stow his chair. Of course, you know where this is going...

Boarding time comes and no one is to be found to help. We end up waiting until AFTER everyone else is on board before someone finally shows up. Much finger pointing ensues between the airline people and the airport people. Finally, someone takes Tim on board but I am still stuck outside waiting for someone to gate check his chair. I inform them that I will not board the plane until I physically see someone put a tag on his chair and put it on the plane.

About 10 minutes later, I’m on board but we wait another hour because the caterers did not bring enough soda for the plane (ATA does not serve meals so I don’t know why this was such a big deal). Finally, we take off and head for home. 

NOTES:


What did we like about Chicago?  Great shopping...I mean great. Fantastic sports town with outstanding food. Historic and original architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright.. Good transportation.


What didn't we like? Can get very, very cold. A lot of rules that sometimes don't make sense. The hotel management doesn't win any awards with me but next time, it'll be somewhere else.


Although not noted on any CTA maps (at the time, maybe they are now - Ed), the Red Line stop adjacent to Comiskey Park is accessible.

Each CTA station has a chalkboard next to the attendant booth listing all station elevators on the system that are not working, check it before being surprised at your destination.
As alluded to in the report, only about half of Chicago’s bus lines are accessible. Even if a bus with a working lift is operating on a non-accessible route, it will not pick up a wheelchair rider. (UPDATE:  all buses and lines are now accessible - Ed)

Distances within the loop are generally pretty short. Don’t worry if where you want to go is 3 stops away from an accessible El station. It’s a pretty short walk.

-Darryl
Copyright 2001/2010 Darryl Musick

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

TRANSIT REPORT - CHICAGO 2010

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Rob Pongsajapan under CC-BY license

The main transit agency in Chicago is the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). They run a system of buses and subway trains. Most of the trains run above ground, much of that on elevated tracks so the system is known locally as the "L" (for elevated).
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Kelly Martin under CC-BY-SA license
BUSES

Chicago was a bit late to the accessible bus party, but now 100% of their fleets and routes are wheelchair accessible. I remember when we were there in 2001, we were at a bus stop and a bus with a wheelchair lift stopped but because it was not designated as a wheelchair accessible route, the driver would not pick us up.  The new policy opens up vast swaths of the city that were not available to wheelers before.

Buses go just about everywhere here and come by often. You’re never more than a couple of blocks away from a bus line. Normal fare is $2.25 (2012) and a day pass can be had for $5.75. Disabled riders can board for a dollar. An RTA reduced fare is technically required, but in our experience, if you’re obviously disabled, you can ride for this fare.

Illinois residents with disabilities can apply to the RTA for a free ride card.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
JeremyA under CC-BY-SA license

THE L


The L serves much of the main corridors of the city. We found we could get to about 90% of the places we wanted to go via accessible L service. First, both airports…O’Hare and Midway…have accessible L stations. The Blue Line serves O’Hare and the Orange Line serves Midway.

Both ballparks are served by the Red Line with Wrigley Field next to the Addison station north of downtown (north side) and US Cellular Field (Comiskey Park) served by the 35th Street station. Each station is less than a block from their respective stadiums.

Soldier Field is served by the accessible Roosevelt Station on the Orange, Green and Red Lines.

The Loop is the downtown area where several L lines go in a circle around the area on elevated tracks…the Blue and Red line go through this area underground. The Pink and Orange lines go in a clockwise direction while the Brown line goes in a counter-clockwise direction. 7 of the 14 Loop stations are accessible.

Chicago can get extremely cold. Each L station has an area where you can press a button and a space heater will run for 15 minutes to keep you warm while you wait for the train.

Fares are the same as for the buses (above).

Click on the link for a route map for the CTA. Wheelchair accessible L stations have the wheelchair symbol next to them.

METRA


METRA is a commuter rail service providing service between Chicago and the suburbs to the North, West, and South. All downtown METRA stations are accessible. You can view a map and get a list of their accessible stations at their website, http://www.metrarail.com/ . It keeps crashing my browser but maybe you’ll have better luck.

One way, full fare tickets run from $2.75 to $9.25 (2012). People with disabilities pay a little less than half price. On weekends, up to 3 children…age 11 and under…can ride free with each paying adult. Adults can get a weekend pass for $7 good for both Saturday and Sunday.

PACE

PACE is a regional bus service that serves Cook, Lake, Will, Kane, McHenry, and DuPage counties. It also serves nearby cities in Indiana. All PACE buses are accessible but their website is in dire need of a makeover. Fares runs from $1.75 to $4.00 (2010) with disabled fares running from 85 cents to $2.00.

-Darryl

Monday, October 22, 2012

CLASSIC TRIP - Chicago, Illinois - Part 1

This report that I did a decade ago generated some critical e-mail.  What can I do?  I just tell it like I see it...at least you know I'm not just a cheerleader for the destinations we visit.  When I have been able to get updated information, that has been noted in the text...

Buckingham Fountain
What can I say about the Second City? There were a few things I liked, some things I didn’t, and a lot of things that didn’t sway me one way or another.

In general, wheelchair access is fairly good on the El’s (the subway/elevated trains) and not nearly so good on the buses (the CTA's web site says that the bus situation has since been improved - Ed). The food here can be excellent at times. So come on along and see how the trip went.

Our flight out from LAX was on time and non-stop. We arrived at Midway airport around 6pm local time. Midway is under major construction and as a consequence, the walk out to the baggage claim was very long. Construction should be finished later this year with close-in gates.

ATA airlines did a good job with our electric wheelchair and with assistance in getting on and off the plane. We were worried because this is our first major trip by air with the power chair (we did one weekend in San Francisco a few years ago). (UPDATE: ATA went bankrupt and is now owned by Southwest.)

After claiming our luggage, we head out to the Midway El station. The Orange Line comes right into the airport here. The Blue Line connects the city with O’Hare airport. Both airport El stations have elevators and are accessible..

The lady at the station couldn’t be more helpful. She assisted us with purchasing our 5 day CTA passes and asked if we needed a gap filler (a ramp) for the train. I asked her if the elevator at our destination station was working and she assured me it was.

We loaded onto the train with our luggage and headed into town. We exited the train at the Library station on the south side of the Loop. After the train pulls out, we notice the elevator is out of order.  To be sure, this is partly my fault because I should have looked at the board for stations with broken elevators before we boarded the train. 

To get around this we must wait for another train and take it three stops up the line where we can cross over and catch another train back to the Library station and use the working elevator on the opposite platform.

The Congress Hotel on Grant Park

After we finally get on the ground, it’s a short 3-block walk to our hotel, the Congress on Grant Park. We had booked a package with the AAA that included breakfast. The hotel didn’t want to feed us. Even after showing them a printout with the rate package that included breakfast, they wouldn’t budge. AAA was closed on Saturday, so I would have to call on Monday.

So far, I wasn’t feeling very good on this trip.

Sunday was a bright sunny day, if a bit on the cool side at 45 degrees. Since the hotel won’t feed us, we head out around the corner to Ronny’s Steak House. There is a very generous breakfast for $3.99 that included 2 pork chops, eggs, toast, hash browns, and coffee.

The Green Line El takes us out to Oak Park where we visit the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio. Oak Park is a tidy and pretty suburb where Wright lived at the turn of the 20th century for a decade at the beginning of his storied career. It’s a pleasant 4 or 5 block walk from the Harlem/Lake El station to the Wright house.

One of the Wright designed homes in Oak Park

The studio is accessible but the house isn’t. Wheelchair users are shown a video of the rest of the house while the tour leaves them behind in the studio. There is also a walking tour showcasing about a dozen Wright designed or rehabbed houses in the neighborhood that is completely accessible. We opt for the walking tour.


The houses are amazing starting with the first house he designed, “under the table”, while working with the firm of Adler and Sullivan who didn’t allow their staff architects to take on outside projects. The tour also includes some magnificent examples of Wright’s prairie style architecture that would more define his style later.

Back in the Loop, we have dinner at Ada’s deli on Wabash that consisted of some delicious sandwiches and bagels delivered by great servers. We grab some desert on the way out, but sadly the sweets didn’t live up to the tasty food.

Monday is another sunny day but storm clouds are on the horizon. It’s a ten block walk from our hotel to the Sear’s Willis Tower. (The name was changed but it will always be the Sear's Tower to me - Ed)  Along the way, we have a completely forgettable breakfast complements of the surly staff at Wall Street Deli. Funny, here in LA, Wall Street Deli is one of my favorite lunch stops at work.

The view from the Sear's Willis Tower
The view from America’s tallest office building is suitably spectacular. We enjoy the open air deck of the Empire State Building more, but this trip to the top is also quite nice. Except you’re not at the top. The observation deck takes up the 103rd floor while there are seven more floors of offices above you.

Today’s lunch is at Fast Track Hot Dogs, a block away from the accessible Clinton stop on the Green Line El. It’s delicious with everybody going back to the counter for another dog.

We continue on the Green Line to Kedzie to see the Garfield Park Conservatory. This is supposed to be one of the largest gardens under glass in the world. It is indeed spectacular but we had to walk about a half-mile from the station through a very rough and dangerous looking neighborhood to get there (an accessible station is now open right next to the conservatory). About 3:00pm, it starts snowing...heavily...and doesn’t let up until sometime between bedtime and waking up. (This is April 16th, folks)

After lunch and back at the hotel, I call my travel agent to complain about the breakfast situation. After being on hold for 45 minutes and being told that, essentially, it’s not their problem, someone finally looks up the record and says, yeah, you are supposed to get breakfast. The travel agent calls the hotel manager who sheepishly forks over food coupons for the rest of the week and promises a “consideration” on our final bill for the two breakfasts we’ve missed.

Will we get that consideration on our bill?  Will it warm up?  What else will happen to us will we see in Chicago?  Stay tuned for the conclusion in Part 2 of this report.

-Darryl
Copyright 2001/2010 Darryl Musick

Monday, October 15, 2012

Southern California's Top Three Burgers


Not too long ago we released our first e-book, Golden State Eating. The first chapter is about the top three margaritas in Southern California. Well, to go along with that idea, we're going to tell you about our top three burgers to kick off a week dedicated to our home of Los Angeles and the surrounding area.

 


We've lived here all our lives and have had burgers from the borderlands of Imperial Beach all the way up to the shadows of Mt. Lassen.  Probably spent a good chunk of our meager fortune eating them, too.

At the top of the list is the best burger, bar none...price be damned...in the area.



Perched atop a dramatic cliff, overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean is Nelson's. Nelson's is named after Lloyd Bridges' character in the old Sea Hunt tv series, which was filmed on this very spot back when it was Marineland of the Pacific, a sea-life park like Sea World.

Now, this 300 acre plot of land is the spectacular resort called Terranea in Rancho Palos Verdes.

The Nelson's burger (pictured at the top of this post), weighing in at a base price of $16, is no lightweight on the wallet.  1/3 pound of premium ground beef, cooked to your specific order, topped with arugula, tomatoes, red onions, sweet pickles, and a cup of black bean mayo on the side. We get ours with the addition of bleu cheese crumbles and applewood smoked bacon for the most savory, juicy, and satisfying bite of beef and bun you're likely to have. 

The cheese and bacon bump up the price to $18 and it is worth every penny and more. It also includes an order of very good fries and million dollar views of the ocean next to cozy firepits.



Our second favorite burger is a little more than half the price of the Nelson's burger. Eureka! is a new, growing chain in California with 7 locations spread out from Fresno to San Diego. Our local location is in the college town of Claremont, on the Los Angeles/San Bernardino county line.

While there are a number of great ways to have your burger here, our favorite is the Cowboy burger with a 1/2 pound patty, topped with two nice slabs of bacon, shoestring onion straws, and a house beer barbecue sauce. Also served with fries, you can upgrade to sweet potato fries, onion rings, cole slaw, or a side salad for $1.25 extra over the $10.95 price.

It's juicy, a bit messy, and very tasty. Especially, when washed down with one of the excellent craft beers on tap.



Our last burger is legend. It's an absolute bargain, too, at less than $3...the best fast food burger is the well known Double-Double at In 'n Out. With locations across California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Texas, the privately held company was founded here in Baldwin Park and has never looked back

You can get it any way you like but the basic burger comes with two beef patties, two slices of American cheese, sliced onions, pickles, tomato, lettuce, and secret sauce.  Many, many variations are available beyond that...diced onions, grilled onions, patties cooked in mustard, extra patties, no buns...the only limit are the ingredients available and your imagination.

Every food item at In 'n Out is cooked fresh when you order and the company is famous for not having any freezers on the premises...everything is fresh and very delicious.

Alright, there you go, our best burgers.  Now go out there and enjoy one tonight.

Darryl
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

TRANSIT REPORT - Seattle


Transit in Seattle got a huge boost when the Link light rail opened up to the SEA-TAC airport. No longer are wheelchairs at the mercy of taxi companies or have to find an accessible bus, this is a huge leap forward for visitors to the Emerald City.

The Link runs from Tukwila…just a bit north of the airport…to Westlake. That’s the downtown mall where the monorail runs from the Seattle Center (Space Needle).


When we went to Seattle in 2009, one of the things we noticed is that the transportation from the airport was OK, but could be a lot better…we saw the Link under construction and thought of how convenient that would be. Going back to the airport, this will be a godsend. I remember being left high and dry when the taxi I reserved to go back never showed up…I’ll be glad never to have to use them again.

We also went to a Mariners game and noticed the atrocious lack of public transportation from the stadium (there was limited train service during weekend games but none during the week). After the game, thousands of fans would be elbowing for a spot on the one bus that came by every 20 minutes or so to go back downtown (a transfer was also required). The Link service would be much nicer.



The Link joins the Sounder Commuter Rail service, which really only helps the rush-hour 
passengers, and the mostly excellent King Country Metro Transit bus service.


One thing we really liked about Seattle is that the Metro bus service went nearly everywhere, with multiple lines, frequent accessible service during the day, and some of the friendliest transit workers we’ve ever encountered. We took the power chair to Seattle and had virtually no problems getting around.

Another great feature of the Metro service is that trips beginning and ending in the downtown zone are free during the day.



Another unique transit option here are the Washington State Ferries that shuttle commuters along the Puget Sound to destinations like Bainbridge Island and even Victoria in British Columbia.



Seattle is famous for its monorail service, built in 1962 for the World’s Fair. It is still in service and is accessible but seems unreliable. After about 3 tries, we finally got to ride it but most of the time we were there it was broke down. One time, we saw the fire department evacuating the trains with ladder trucks due to another breakdown. I don’t recommend it at this time.

All services listed above are wheelchair accessible.

-Darryl
Pictures courtesy of Wikimedia
Atomic Taco under CC-SA license
Joe Mabel under CC-SA license
Klaus with K under CC-SA license