Tag Archives: Travel

End of the Year Notes on the Road

New Orleans      Since 1975, I’ve been on the road, one way or another, pedal to the metal or wheels up, anywhere between one-third and more than a half of the year.  I always make a mental note of the final trips as hallmarks of making it through another year, safe and somewhat sound.  It’s a small personal tradition, meaning little to anyone but me.

My last flight was from a cold and snowy Quebec City to Newark to New Orleans and its brand-new airport.  The crews were plowing and salting the light snow on the Quebec runways for hours, but initially we were greeted with an air traffic delay that made catching the last flight from Newark to New Orleans a dicey proposition.  Eventually, the delay was reduced by a half-hour.  In the small plane, more than thirty of us were told by United Express to gate-check our bags to pick up on the runway when we hit New Jersey, so we didn’t have to wait in baggage delaying our run through Customs.  Landing with our eyes on the clock, we crowded around until a big baggage handler came up the stairway and announced that on an international flight they could off load on the ramp, everything had to go to baggage claim.  They piddled around calling to confirm.  The pilot and the crew came on the runway, and he lamely offered that he had only flown from Canada to Newark twice before, so wasn’t sure how it worked.  It wall worked out, but it was bad travel karma for a last flight.

Running the roads on my regular route from New Orleans and back with stops in Arkansas and towns in the Mississippi Delta like Greenville and Drew was smoother, and my mental notes were different.

  • Why are there literally hundreds of railroad tank cars parked along the tracks for miles in north Louisiana between Tallulah and Lake Providence? They’ve been there a couple of years.  Oil glut?  What’s up?
  • Did the chain of Fred’s Pharmacy just close its big store in Dumas, Arkansas, and will that hurt the Donut Palace next door, where they make the best apple fritters in the country? And, why are all of the donut shops in southern Arkansas closed for two weeks at the end of the year?  Just asking for a friend.
  • Does anyone else think that the long rows of pink and yellow wrapped cotton bales bordering the plowed dirt fields between Dumas and McGehee, Arkansas are one of the more beautiful winter sites anywhere?
  • Is there any progress reported by the EPA on the demands painted solidly on farm fences and town walls between Vicksburg, Mississippi and Greenville demanding that they finish installing pumps against the flooding?

I could go on and on, but making this trip year in and year out for years, some commonplace things become landmarks, traditions, old friends, and constant curiosities.  Another year on the road passes, but from my window in my gray, Colorado pickup, I mark the calendar for another year of travel, still fascinated by the lives I see passing by me and wondering about the mysteries and magic they might tell, and imagining that someday, maybe next year, I’ll stop for awhile and find out the answers to these puzzles and hear their stories.


Random Travel Tips – Part #10:  Tipping

New Orleans      Over the last eight years with Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, we’ve learned more about tipping than we ever really wanted to know.  The bottom line is usually, locals and regulars, yes, tourists and one-timers, way less so.  I read a recent article in the New York Times on tipping with interest.

They reported on counter-service tipping, which is what coffeehouses offer.  On point-of-sale systems they claim the nudge suggestions are converting into rates of almost 50% tipping in the United States and in some cases averaging 17%.

More interesting is the problem of tipping while traveling.  The article tried to claim this was increasing where they had Square-type systems, but my own experience is that such systems are still rare in EU countries including Great Britain, so I’m skeptical.  At bars in the UK, tipping seems common, especially where regulars know the servers and bartenders.  The article claimed that tipping was becoming more common in South Africa.  Perhaps that’s true since South Africa has traditionally had the strongest economy on the continent, but having just been to Tunisia, it was clear that tips were not expected although appreciated when we rounded up the bill.  I wasn’t sure whether workers actually received the tips on a bill as opposed to when the money might have been left on the table.  Generally, tipping seems nonexistent in other African countries where I have traveled and largely unexpected.  This may be especially true in Francophone countries since tipping still seems rare in France, and less an income substitute.

In Europe, it is not uncommon for servers to actually return or refuse to accept tips, especially in my experience in Germany and France.  In Italy, at espresso bars, exact change is given back by the cashier and a receipt is presented to the barista for service, so there is no exchange of money at the counter at all.  Latin America is also not a big tipping region.

The Times reported that tipping on Uber in the forty=eight countries where they operate is now on offer.  Uber, as always, was unwilling to provide exact data, but claims that “the United States and Germany have higher rates of tipping, whereas countries where tipping is not standard, like Brazil, have lower numbers.”  Lyft admitted that tipping was very low, certainly less than 10%, and often not yet standard practice, so not a large contributor to driver income.  None of that is surprising, since use of the service requires pre-payment on a previously provided credit card.

Lonely Planet and other guidebooks often offer information on local practice, but most of it is speculative.

The best tip is that when you are traveling you should do what feels right to you without embarrassment.  If you tip, high or low, it does make sense to make sure it goes directly to the worker, rather than the establishment.  There’s nothing good as an economic or moral principle about tipping, so you must navigate precious little local information with spur of the moment impulse and hope for the best.