Category Archives: Travel

Travel gives the writer the opportunity to write about himself in different surroundings.

Proposals for Drake Take Flight

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 2 February 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

Love. Midway. Drake. What do these airports have in common? These fields were relegated to secondary status by progress, that is, bigger and newer nearby airports.

Dallas and Chicago, homes of the first two terminals, respectively, are larger than Fayetteville and have been able to support multiple sets of runways for decades. Major airlines have been using both their urban and suburban airports to profitable success.

Fayetteville, although its heart is as big as Big D and Chi-Town’s, might have to face the jet stream as Drake’s remaining airlines heed the lure of big, new, nearby Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (3XNA2 in Phonetic Pig Latin). Yet Drake’s gates’ losing flights need not be the end of the facility.

As recently closed military bases throughout the country have been modified or out-and-out changed to the eventual benefit of their communities, so Drake Field may have a fresh life and provide benefits for the greater Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers area into the next millennium.

The first proposal should be the most obvious. Make Drake Field an international airport. It may be smaller than the typical U.S. international airport. It may not accept flights of the supersonic Concorde. Still, the business benefits would be tremendous.

Just having private and charter flights come in from around the world would create a host of related businesses and new jobs. There would be a need for warehouses and duty-free shopping malls, as well as the building of homes for U.S. Customs agents and kennels for their contraband-sniffing dogs.

Or Drake Field could be named a national park. If a row of closed bathhouses along a busy, divided street and across from a row of souvenir shops can make up a national park, as in Hot Springs, why not here in Fayetteville?

If not a national park, let’s flood it and create a sanctioned wildlife-wetland area for rare plants and animals. We must act now, while Arkansas has clout in Washington. That is clout we have there, isn’t it?

Drake Field could be privatized. Now that Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market concept of a sub-supermarket is up and running, the Bentonville giant ought to spin off another combination of one of its departments and the downtown of yore. The prototype could be set up in the old Drake terminal building for customer testing.

Let’s put the even money on a “Wal-Mart Square Hardware”: where a fellow could buy one carriage bolt or 12 dozen. There the greeter would welcome you from a rusty stool at a counter marked with cigarette-burn marks and coffee rings. With Wal-Mart’s celebrated vendor contracts, a penny nail still would cost you and me just one cent.

A step between the airport commission and a business is a not-for-profit facility. Let all the area icons of capitalism join forces and foundations. Imagine the crowd at the ribbon-cutting for the (Your Name First If You’ve More Than)-Walton-Hunt-Jones-Reynolds Center for Applied Sciences, Industrial Arts and Cultural Diversity.

Such a charity would keep people flocking to this part of Fayetteville for drafting classes, typewriter repair, long arithmetic, charcoal grilling, home economics and six-pack-net quilting. If these fields were viable, they wouldn’t need non-profit status, and the corporations, not their foundations, would take good care of them. If some of the fields take off, then, as businesses, they still could be run from the terminal, tower, hangars and sheds.

You may think I’m a dreamer for believing Drake Field has a future. Yet just in recent weeks an aviation school has announced it would move to Drake.

So maybe you should hear this idea: a satellite campus of the University of Arkansas for satellite technology. Yes, the Arkansas Space Administration (ASA for short) would give students hands-on experience with all facets of unmanned telecommunication orbiters, from assembling and lift-off to mistakenly crashing into Beaver Lake.

The rocket launches should not be any noisier than the daily plane count at Drake in 1997, if you average out the decibels over a year.


Some Mondays Made for ‘DPs’ Who Can Take Them

Loose Leaves, 1st published Sunday 3 December 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Some Mondays need more than 24 hours.

My wife is doing some work for a project in London. We decided I would join her there for Thanksgiving week.

TW Express 7608 was to leave Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at 4:18 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20, arriving 5:35 at St. Louis. TWA’s flight 720 was to leave at 7:30 p.m., arriving 9:50 a.m. Tuesday at London’s Gatwick airport.

I am told to be at the airport by 3.

Around 9 p.m. Sunday I phone a good-bye to my mom in Fort Smith. Two hours later I write my wife an e-mail of last-minute thoughts about our romantic getaway, but the computer tells me the phone is dead.

Maybe No. 1: Maybe I should have gone to a pay phone and punched the phone company’s repair number Sunday night.

I wash a load of laundry while packing, writing and phoning. There is a gurgling in the walls. Two weeks earlier the bathroom flooded, but everything has been OK since.

Maybe No. 2: Maybe I should call a plumber every time there’s an overflow or a leaky tap.

By 2 a.m. Monday I am packed. Bet I can ignore the noise and the dinky seats and snooze for most of the long flight.

I am up at 7. Oh no, the bathroom floor’s a soggy wreck. I try to call the plumber but — the phone is dead, still.

I borrow a neighbor’s phone. The mechanized phone-company voice tells me that the problem is within the house. I am to unplug every phone line, wait five minutes then replug one to see if the dial tone has reset.

It does.

The plumbing dispatcher listens to my story and says the sewer is backed up and recommends a couple of “roto” services.

The one I call tells me someone will be at the house about noon, calling me at work so I can meet them.

The roto people do not phone, and I leave my half-day of work. I call and learn a man will be at the house by 2. At 2:02 I phone and learn the man will be there any minute. I load the car.

He arrives at 2:45. I phone the neighbor, and she comes over with a book to read. I give her my house key and a blank check for the expert.

(Her reward is anonymity — and, later, a tin of English chocolate.)

I hit the airline counter at 3:25. The ticket agent tells me to relax, that my flight to St. Louis is a little late.

What about the flight from there to London? She tells me TWA 720 itself is at least 35 minutes late, which leaves me just enough time.

At the gate, TW Express announces its plane has a maintenance delay and that its passengers will leave about 5:30. What about the TWA to London? It is at least 35 minutes late, I am told by another agent, and that with hustle I can make it.

Maybe No. 3: Maybe I should not believe two airline officials with the same information.

We leave Arkansas about 6 p.m. It arrives at the B-concourse gate about 7:20.

The departures screen says the 7:30 flight is — on time.

I make the C-concourse gate at 7:29. Really.

But the door to the jetbridge is locked.

The agent there tells me two things. Boarding for any international flight ends 30 minutes before departure. Second, my 7:30 flight left — four minutes early.

Please, someone laugh.

For most of the rest of Monday I hang out at two TWA service counters and the TW Express service counter.

The next flight to London leaves at 7:30 Tuesday night, the same No. 720. Going to Cincinnati or New York or Dallas or Atlanta for another airline will get me to Europe at best at 8 a.m. Wednesday instead of 10 a.m., at a cost of sleeping in a chair at one of those airports.

TWA offers me a night at a St. Louis Holiday Inn and $15 for its restaurant. For 24 hours of meals? That gets me a $10 voucher for airport food. TW Express gives me a $9 voucher for more airport food.

Eventually I get five or six coupons for 1,000 frequent-flier miles each and a whole $50 off my next TWA ticket.

Also, TWA gives me a plastic pouch with razor, folding hairbrush, toothbrush, mini-toothpaste and a packet of Woolite for my underwear.

The Holiday Inn extends the noon check-out to 2 p.m. I use the time calling my travel agent, the big airline and its regional partner.

Finally, TWA gives me a ticket exchange, allowing me to return home a day later, thus returning my full week’s vacation. Ordinarily, changing an advance ticket costs $75 plus the difference between discount and full fare.

The inn’s waiter at breakfast Tuesday asked me if I was another “DP.” That’s short for “Distressed Passenger.”

This DP gives him $3 cash after learning TWA’s voucher may not be used for tips.

At this point Monday was over just about everywhere, and I got to London at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday — give or take.


London Calling: Keep Left Against the Rail to the Way-Out

Loose Leaves column, 1st published Sunday 17 December 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

LONDON — If it’s true you can’t really know a city in just a week’s visit, then you probably cannot fully describe it in 1,500 words. Here goes.

Wednesday, Nov. 22

My wife has been here since Nov. 5, as a computer analyst for a multinational corporation.

I get to her hotel about noon. After a lunch, we shop on nearby Finchley Road. I would buy tea for home at the modern Waitrose supermarket there but all is sold in the States: Twinings, reliable; PG Tips, bitter; Jackson’s, boring; and Tetley drawstring, hearty, at Wal-Mart.

With her coaching, I succeed in beating jet lag by staying awake until after dinner.

During the afternoon — evening might as well begin at 4 because that’s when it gets dark — I had to remind myself not to walk into cars, which here barrel down at you on the left.

It’s better, however, to look both ways at any crosswalk in case it is for a one-way street. You must really twist around, 210 degrees or so. Though the city is flat, the streets are rarely straight.

Most cars, as well as trucks and vans, are tiny, in models never seen in the States. Gasoline is about four times as expensive.

Thursday, Nov. 23

Thanksgiving is not celebrated here; it’s a regular work day. Some folks here, though, tell us they are thankful — that the U.S. no longer is a colony.

We are to take the subway almost everywhere. The London Underground is as clean as a long-established transit system can be. Also, it feels safe. But where’s the trash can for my gum wrapper?

There are almost no trash cans on the street or in the Tube. Finally, a sign says they were removed years ago because of package bombs. Oh.

From the Tube stop we walk to Westminster Abbey, passing Big Ben, which is on one corner of Parliament, itself a grand, huge structure. That old clock tower in pictures seems dismal brown. In person, it is a brighter yellow-brown with gold leaf at the top. Because so few skyscrapers sit in the area, Big Ben remains a stumpy but inspiring landmark, day and night.

We plan to only spend an hour at the ancient Abbey, because we just want to see its Poets Corner. We end up walking reverently through all of the little rooms. Slowly considering the crypts and memorials to Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and other monarchs, prime ministers, military leaders and explorers thrilled the schoolboy in me.

The Corner turns out to be a large room or wing that memorializes not only writers but architects, actors and composer George Frederic Handel. Some are buried under engraved squares of the floor. Others are just memorialized with floor squares, busts or stained glass.

It may sound hopelessly Pop Boy but seeing the recent movies “Elizabeth” and “Mrs. Brown” (about Victoria) made the Abbey worth devoting hours to.

We then walk to the pedestrian part of the Embankment railroad bridge. We crossed the Thames to see the Poetry Library.

This public lending library, on the fifth floor of the new Royal Festival Hall, claims to have two copies of all 20th century poetry books published in the U.K. and many other books in English.

In the open shelves I found three books by University of Arkansas Professor Miller Williams. “Adjusting to the Light” and “Distractions” each had been checked out three times, and “Living on the Surface,” had 10 date stamps.

Afterward we attend a Thanksgiving dinner at a hotel at the Tower Bridge, across from the Tower of London. Christy’s boss hosts the feast for his crew and their bemused British clients. His wife gave the chef her North Carolina family Thanksgiving recipes. The food, view and irony were great.

Friday, Nov. 24

We end up spending the afternoon at the exhibit, “Painting the Century: 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900-2000” at the National Portrait Gallery.

The museum is just off Trafalgar Square. That overlaps with the Piccadilly Circus neighborhood, which might as well be Covent Garden. Soho is near here, too. Bloomsbury is next door, somehow. It’s all West End.

Whatever you call it, this area is where it’s been at for decades and is it ever groovy, baby.

We shared a pot of tea and milk in the Portrait Gallery’s top-floor cafe. As we left, we heard music. Looking down the three-story atrium, we discovered a recital of a women’s vocal sextet, Aurora Nova. We took the back stairs down to the folding-chair audience.

The women were singing Benjamin Britten’s 1943 “A Ceremony of Carols.” Toward the end of “Recession,” the six unmiked singers walked to that escalator and got on just as they began repeating “hallelujah,” leaving behind their director Patrick Craig, on harp. At the top, still singing, they disappeared, the sound fading.

The six singers soon reappear, to our hearty applause. Craig explains when he saw that escalator creating a literal recessional was “irresistible.”

After intermission, Aurora Nova sings 1940s swing classics, with Craig on piano, ending with songs that mean so much to wartime Londoners, “White Cliffs of Dover” and “We’ll Meet Again.” The older folks there have tears in their eyes, and so do we.

Any event we attend that night would fog the gallery’s images and the Christmas recital’s glorious chords so we stroll past the neon lights of the West End. We begin a nightly habit of returning to the hotel on the top of a red doubledecker bus to see the city at night, especially holiday lights.

Saturday, Nov. 25

We devote today to the flagship Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. That is in the West End, too. Harrods is old and elegant, on the order of the main locations of Neiman Marcus in Dallas and Marshall Field in Chicago.

We went into Soho, just for pizza. After a long week, this was to be an early, restorative night.

Sunday, Nov. 26

We return to the Embankment Pier to take a narrated cruise down the Thames to Greenwich and the Royal Observatory. That is where the Prime Meridian, separating the Eastern and Western hemispheres, was set.

Also here is the ultimate newspaper promotion. On the pavement outside, along the first few yards of zero degrees longitude, is a scrolling red-on-black digital readout of the day’s headlines of The Times, exhibit sponsor.

A green laser beam shoots out a hole in the main observatory’s 0-longitude gable. We stay past dusk and see this invisible line made visible shooting across the Thames toward London.

Our having seen “Longitude” months ago helped persuade us to see the observatory. This TV movie told how 18th-century clockmaker John Harrison fought bureaucracy and petty politics for decades to invent a succession of spring-loaded clocks to calculate geographic position on boats, which saved countless lives. Here, we see Harrison’s inventions.

We return via Docklands Light Rail to take in West End theater. We wanted British actors, not some Broadway show. That’s what New York is for.

We choose a 90-minute reading of new and classic poetry benefiting the Arvon Foundation, which subsidizes writing classes and retreats.

The host was British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. His voice was nearly as sonorous as the main reader, actor Ralph Fiennes (“The English Patient,” “The End of the Affair”).

Motion reading his own “Serenade,” about a favorite horse accidentally killing its rider, the narrator’s mother, was my favorite. He stumbled once, obviously revising a line on the fly, which was reassuring to this writer. Second favorite was everything Fiennes uttered.

On this day we traveled by foot, boat, taxi, train, subway and bus.

Monday, Nov. 27

We decide skipping the British Museum would be an oversight. Besides, several friends warned us not to miss its Elgin Marbles, reliefs and statues from the Parthenon temple in Greece.

We also examine the Rosetta Stone that translated several ancient languages.

The museum echoed deafeningly from teachers calling to chattering schoolchildren and from translators shouting several languages, not to mention the hammers and drills of the restoration of the famed Reading Room, unfortunately closed a few more days.

We failed to see the entire museum. Deliberately.

The second stop following a promised 10-minute walk that really took 45, was the British Transport Museum. The Underground and buses fascinated us enough to schedule that.

The Transport Museum turned out to be in Covent Garden, next to its famed open market. It was so late we went straight to the Transport’s gift shop.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the city hired Deco and Nouveau artists to illustrate everyday signs (Keep right, Visit Kew Gardens). This being commercial art meant that the gift shop’s reproductions might as well have been original.

Tuesday, Nov. 28

The trip home to Arkansas was blissfully uneventful.


No restaurant ever rushed us out after a meal. Only one offered free coffee or tea refills. Restaurants did not always have restrooms.

One pound equals $1.50, give or take a few pennies.

Mouse pads are called mouse mats.

Going online as a visitor gets expensive. Use of the many Internet cafes or public library branches that contract with them, however, makes it affordable, about $4 an hour, on their computers.

An exit is labeled as “Way Out.”


Jet Lag Strikes the Occidental Tourist

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 15 October 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

Having experienced jet lag, a condition some hard-hearts believe to be psychosomatic, I now can verify that it causes misery, having made my first overseas trip. And to think I was once was a skeptic.

The malady arises from your body traveling at a faster speed than it’s accustomed to and your circadian rhythms lagging behind in arriving at wherever all of you are going.

Jet lag affects both arrival and departure and said to be is much worse on one end than the other. Which one seems to depend on whether the direction is west or east, or maybe clockwise or its reverse, from a solar point of view.

Advice on how to quickly counter the affliction regrettably is inconsistent.

Some suggestions are impractical in their delivery. For example, you can study the scientific approach in a full-scale book. But, as for other ailments, time-saving personal advice abounds.

Despite the drawback of quite possibly being wrong, companions’ tips seem tempting while you’re simultaneously revising your flight schedule (for the umpteenth time), packing six sets of clothes in a two-suiter grip, reading two “concise” 600-page travel guides, and trying to remember what safe place in your flat you had chosen to hide your passport.

Friendly Tip A: Schedule nothing for two days after you land, and rest.

Friendly Tip B: While high over the ocean, down a tranquilizer with some wine.

Both hints must be discounted. Vacations are short enough as it is without laying about the room, either by choice or by hangover.

Thus the first sound suggestion is to avoid any sedatives before or during the flight. Alcohol ultimately is a sedative. Reduce stimulants — yes, caffeine — beginning a couple of days before your trip.

The idea is to reset the body clock as efficiently and naturally as possible.

On arrival, set your travel alarm and take a little nap. Then take some air. Walking outside tells your internal clock in the most primeval way what time it really is and to snap out of that tempting lethargy.

The above paragraphs enabled this tourist to gawk, snap photos and beg passers-by for direction back to the hotel within hours of clearing Customs.

On your return to the States, you will find that your friends had wonderful senses of humor and kept one jolly fact to themselves, perhaps due to revenge from envy: Jet lag awaits at home, too.

Now, a quick nap is insufficient and perhaps impossible. You couldn’t have avoided the coffee and beer while on vacation because that is how you avoided the drinking the plain water. You didn’t get sick, did you? That’s another column. You remind the office about their Tip A and ask for another half-week off. Your colleagues instead propose a little Tip B with them after work — today.

So during the next fortnight, you sluggishly return to the routine.

Having been hit with jet lag a first time, I now realize it is like an allergy. It takes less each successive time to set off the symptoms.

Even my morning exercise — to get reacquainted with the American sun — almost forced me back to bed immediately afterward.

I instinctively have strolled around the neighborhood clockwise, having had that direction forced into me when skating in a rink during childhood. Going the other way had been disastrous on those young limbs.

Since my internal clock was trying to re-reset itself, I then realized counterclockwise would be the best route from now on.

The twist worked, but my next trip will have to be south of the Equator.


Travel Writers Ought to Take a Walk Like Real People

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 10 December 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

LONDON — Travel articles often are so glib: Here’s what you do, you can’t miss this, tell your travel agent to get you that.

Sometimes it seems the trip journalists don’t spend their own money.

They tell you how to plan five adventures a day. Then every night, you can take in a show followed by a fashionably late dinner. You return to your hotel at 2 a.m. for 10 hours of sound sleep that end at 7 a.m. You hail a cab within an hour, clean, alert and breakfasted.

Where do travel writers get their imaginations?

We considered our London vacation a success though we averaged just a primary and a secondary adventure each day.

My wife was there on business. I joined her for Thanksgiving week.

We always scheduled the best attraction first. If it was any good — for our taste — it would last virtually until dinner. A nice meal comprised the second adventure a couple of times.

The memory of a whole afternoon in Westminster Abbey (we intended to stay an hour) would have curdled if we had been bombarded with the noise and flashes of some West End musical like “Cats.”

Sometimes sightseeing finished the day. Wandering through Piccadilly at night with its Broadway-like lights, stopping for cocoa, was plain fun. Walking to and then through Trafalgar Square with fountain and statues spot-lit another evening was moving.

Our families think my wife and I are finicky. They would be surprised that for most of our six mornings we got by on a yogurt or a scone until mid-afternoon. It was the only way to ensure even one full adventure.

The latest jet-lag cure — staying awake that first day until after dinner — worked. Yet every morning on waking I felt like the mattress was lying on me, with a pack of wiggling dogs sitting on it.

Even though the subway trains often left every five minutes, transportation ate time. We learned to consider if an hour or two at such-and-such was worth a half-hour Tube-and-walk each way. The November sun set about 4, after all.

Exhausted, we returned to the States, still in love. But we weren’t always nice to each other. Most of the meals were terrific. But several restaurants did not have restrooms. Most of the sights were worthy. But how did Museum X get rated a must-see?

Then we remember: We’re strolling to the Embankment to catch a boat ride on the Thames to Greenwich. Stately sycamores border the street. Their yellow leaves cover the ground. You look back to see brown Parliament with golden Big Ben. It’s raining — this is London — but you smell the fallen leaves and the surprising freshness of the water. All sorts of people for centuries have taken this path. …

* * *

When my wife and I were managing a bed-and-breakfast outside Eureka Springs in 1998, we saw Ned Shank and his wife, Crescent Dragonwagon, once in a while.

The couple in the early 1980s founded Dairy Hollow House, the first viable B&B in the Ozark resort town. In the last couple of years they converted the Spring Street site into the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow, a boon for Northwest Arkansas.

As a budding — and now former — innkeeper, the couple would have intimidated me but for their friendliness. They showed none of the competitiveness of others in the tourism industry.

I ran into Ned, by training a historic preservationist and by nature a writer, at a Eureka business one afternoon, and he approached me for a how’s-it-going chat. He remembered me from a small B&B conference. He was big and pale, and with kind eyes.

At a fund-raising concert for the writers’ retreat, my inn’s minivan got stuck in mud at Dairy Hollow. After trying again to drive it out at intermission, I started to phone AAA for a tow, but Ned stopped me. He said he had a four-wheel-drive and a rope, adding neither he nor the vehicle had done this before: Wasn’t this a good time to see if it was up to it?

Ned left the performance — which he was emceeing — and between the two of us, wearing nice clothes, in the dark of a rainy night, pulled the minivan onto gravel. We returned to the dining room in time for the show’s finale.

I still was embarrassed about it the last time we saw the couple, giving a presentation last spring at the Fayetteville Public Library. He remembered the tow and again laughed it off. My Iowa-born wife bought his children’s book, “The Sanyasin’s First Day,” and he signed it while chatting about his Iowa upbringing.

Ned Shank, just in his mid-40s, died Nov. 30 after a bicycle accident.

May his memory be for a blessing.