Traveling for Dummies: Anxious, Insane Dummies.

Anne and I are going on vacation next week. So I thought today would be a great opportunity to share everything I’ve learned about travel. (Alternate title: Why Anne hates traveling with me.)

Getting to the Airport:

Leave for the airport 7-12 hours before take off. My parents trained me this way so that if you’re involved in a horrific accident along the way, you have time for minor surgery AND can still arrive at the terminal with enough time to navigate a security line slightly longer than those from September 12, 2001.

Cartoon by Rob Pollak get to the airport early

Security:

Once you arrive at the airport, stress levels increase. Particularly with the security line. Stare at the other lines to make sure that your line does not result in a security experience thirty seconds longer than someone who checked in after you. As you do that, you should have a running monologue in your head like the one I have:

Did I bring the tickets? Of course, idiot, they just checked them. What if my passport doesn’t get scanned? Will they think I’m a terrorist? What if they put me through that special x-ray machine that broadcasts my penis to the entire airport? Did I remember to put my toothpaste in a clear plastic bag? Shoot, is it 3 oz or 4 oz that’s allowed?

Did I accidentally pack fireworks? Do I still have the tickets in my pocket? I better check again. Maybe I should hold Anne’s ticket too. What if she drops hers? Did my flight board yet? It’s supposed to leave in 5 hours. What if it left by accident? Then what happens?

Am I wearing any metal? Anne, do you have the tickets? Are there going to be enough bins left when I get to the machine? It looks like they’re running a little low. Ugh, the other line is totally faster.

Is that dickwad cutting me? Oh, like just because you have a pilot’s uniform means that you can go in any line you want? Asshole. Where’d the tickets go? Oh, they’re in my hand. Thank god.

Can I bring this coffee with me? Will there be any food on the other side? I can’t see over there. What if there’s not? Will they have the new Golf Digest or the one I already have? Do I need to take my laptop out of its case? I forget. Why is everyone staring at me? Am I sweating? Do I have my wallet? I better pat my pocket to check. The tickets?! Dammit, Anne. What’d you do with the tickets?

Boarding:

Approximately thirty minutes prior to boarding, an airline representative announces that boarding will begin. At most airports, this announcement will be both inaudible and incomprehensible. You will, however, clearly hear the announcements for other flights boarding in nearby airports.

Although boarding proceeds in the same manner for every flight, you should hover right next to the boarding area for the entire boarding period. This allows you to be first through the gate once your designated section boards. Not only will you be closer to the gate, but the people who are actually permitted to board might think that you’re in line and stand behind you. Success! Now you can get through the ticket taker before them and stand in the same exact line on the other side of the gate.

A cartoon by Rob Pollak - Travel guide where to stand when boarding a plane

Overhead Bins:

Once aboard the plane, commandeer an overhead bin wherever you want. It doesn’t matter if it’s close to your seat. Airplanes only have enough overhead bin space for 1/17th of all passengers.

Once you’ve taken up as much bin space as possible, ignore all requests to keep smaller items like backpacks and jackets out of the overhead bin.

Peeing:

As if peeing in a coffin-sized bathroom isn’t bad enough, you have the added stress of navigating the beverage service and other passengers when timing your pee. Once beverage service begins, all bets are off. The flight attendants hog the aisle and never ever leave. So if you kind of have to go, then you should try to go before the drinks come out. The flight attendant may yell at you because you’re never allowed to be when you have to go, as noted by the “fasten your seatbelt” sign. This is just a recommendation – as if seatbelts on flights do anything.

Pay particular attention to the little light that lets you know when the bathroom is empty. Continue to stare at the light until it changes from red to green. In the meantime, identify anyone else playing the same game. You can spot them because they are staring at you while preparing to murder you if you try to get up first. Ignore their threats and hope that there’s an air marshal on board.

Takeoff:

Just before take off, the flight attendant will remind you to turn off your cell phone and place your seat in the upright and locked position. You only have to follow this rule if you’re not currently using your cell phone. If you are using your device, it’s just a recommendation.

If your device is off, then you can glare at and judge the E one asshole sitting on the other side of your aisle. You know, the oblivious guy making a tweet before take off. It probably says, “Ugh. STILL on the runway. Jetblue is the WORST” or “JFK —-> LAX.” If you’re not familiar the airport code to airport code update translates roughly to “I’m a douche.”

The garbage collection:

If you’re not 100% focused on the flight attendant, be prepared to sit with your garbage for the rest of the flight. I obtained a copy of the Flight Attendant Training Manual, which reads as follows:

How to PIck Up Garbage from Passengers in Business Class:
Step 1: Remove one garbage bag from the flight attendant staging area.
Step 2: Cover hands with blue latex gloves.
Step 3: Address each passenger by name, make eye contact, and ask if he or she has any trash. Example: Mr. Jones, do you have any trash that I can take for you?
Step 3a: If the passenger hands you garbage, place it into the trash bag and proceed to Step 3c.
Step 3b: If the passenger does not hand you garbage, proceed to step 3C.
Step 3c: Thank passenger by name. For example, say, “Thank you, Mr. Jones.”

How to PIck Up Garbage from Passengers in Coach Class:
Step 1: Run down the Coach aisle as fast as possible.
Step 2: Avoid eye contact.
Step 3: Hold the bag open just enough for one crumpled napkin.
Step 4: Do not touch any garbage so each passenger in the aisle has to hand it to some stranger sitting next to him.
Step 5: Proceed to the intercom system and announce, “We will now begin trash collection for this flight.”

Rob Pollak: American Hero

Although I’m not usually one to draw attention to my own accomplishments, last night I had a moment so life-defining and heroic, that I had no choice.  I had to tell you about how I single-handedly saved New York with the help of three others.

It was 9:00 pm and almost a foot of snow had piled up on the roads.  For many people, the conditions were treacherous, but I learned how to drive a storm when I lived in the tundra of Central New York.  In Central, NY, it’s not appropriate to even wipe the snow off the front windshield until it has piled up to at least 14 inches.

But in New York City, which Central New Yorkers refer to as “the South,” things are different.  The mayor holds a full press conference at the sight of a little kid with a sno cone.  And if we get three inches (god forbid), schools shut down for a week and Whole Foods sells out of bread and water.  But not English muffins or fizzy water.  Who can afford such lavishness in the face of our own demise?

Last night the roads were bad.  Not “we need to plow” bad, but bad enough that a number of inexperienced snow drivers spun out like crazy and freaked out when they had to go up a hill.  I had a good laugh at these people.

By Rob Pollak By Rob Pollak

At least until I hit the spot where the Bronx River Parkway merges onto the Cross County Parkway.  Things had been moving steadily at 15 miles below the posted speed limit up to that point.  But as I approached the merge, traffic halted.  A slight incline in the road caused a few drivers to freak the fuck out, stop, and then rev their tires as fast as they could while not moving.  This created a doubly bad result:  They didn’t move and they turned the drivable snow into a slush-ice combination.

At first, cars sputtered and then figured it out.  But one dickwad in a van started spinning like crazy.  And then he spun some more and some more until he was basically stopped.

All the while, I was sitting in my toasty car listening to a book on tape. My current selection is Willful Blindness:  Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, a book about, well, exactly what the title says it’s about.  Anyway, right before the insane snow drive, I listened to a chapter discussing the ways people conform to expectations when in a group setting and don’t help others out if a lot of people are around.

With that in mind, I’m sitting there watching these cars literally spinning their wheels (I bet that’s where the term comes from!!), and everyone else is sitting in the car thinking “man, I hope a plow comes.”  But, I was not going to sit around and be willfully blind to accepting that my night was ruined.  I flung open the door and started sprinting past all the cars in front of me.  Five cars to be exact.

Note – it’s hard to sprint in a foot of snow while wearing sneakers.  I almost fell and busted my face/ass.  That’s probably why most people sit in the car.

Anyway, I finally get to the van and start pushing.  Less than a minute later, three other good citizens were by my side pushing the car with me.  If I hadn’t run out there and started pushing, science says that no one would have.  Because we conform to the pressures of society that say it’s embarrassing to get out of the car and go out in the snow.  We may even make the problem worse.  Then everyone will be mad at us.

By rob pollak

Then we pushed three or four more cars up the hill.  Per usual, I was very sweaty.  But I got back in my car and climbed up that hill with no problems of my own.  Thank you Hamilton College for actually teaching me one thing:  how to drive in the snow.

And that’s how I saved America.

Epilogue:  Three of the four cars that I pushed up the hill were in accidents or stuck again on the other side of the hill.  But at that point, I was moving.  So fuck ’em.

 

How to be cool

How to be cool (Reposted from Elephant Journal)

I just want to be cool.

That emotional craving guided my life for many years. Only recently did I learn the truth. For all those years, I was doing it wrong. The desire to be cool was actually the thing making me uncool.

Yoga changed that. Through the practice of yoga, I learned that most people—including this guy—do the opposite of what we really want to do. Okay, you caught me. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to yoga. I first learned it from an episode of Seinfeld (My name is George, I’m unemployed, and I live with my parents), but it sunk in when I started to practice yoga.

Let me break it down with an example.

While on this quest for coolness, I imagined what a cool person would do if confronted with my specific situation. Like if I was at a wedding and the photographer said, “do something crazy!” I’d think really hard about how to look cool while “going crazy,” hemming and hawing between options: Should I give the West Coast Rap Sign or the Backwards Peace Sign? Do those U.S. Weekly people really say “prune” right before a picture? Is my left or right side the less pudgy one? If I jump in the air, will everyone jump higher than I do? Won’t that look lame?

It’s impossible to look cool after that much thought. The end result was photos like this:


A cartoon by Rob Pollak for Elephant Journal

 

A cartoon by Rob Pollak for Elephant Journal

Who looks like the asshole in the second picture? The people jumping up and down, making stupid faces? Or the one schmuck with his shoulders scrunched up to his ears and his hands in his pockets?

In other words, I tried to look cool by not looking uncool, a strategy which actually made me look the least cool of all.  Those who did whatever they wanted looked the best. But why? Rumi said it best:

“When you do things from your soul, other people totally dig that shit.”

When we do things to protect ourselves, we wind up with the exact consequences we tried to avoid in the first place.

Don’t believe me?

Did you ever procrastinate because you didn’t want to screw a project up? Then at the last minute, you were forced to half-ass it just to get it done on time? And the work wasn’t your best? So something got screwed up? And you were all, “Whatever dude, I didn’t put in a full effort anyway.” That’s what I’m talking about.

What is it about yoga that made me realize I was doing it wrong? For one thing, when I first tried yoga, I immediately felt like an outlier. And not in the Malcolm Gladwell, you’re going to do 10,000 hours of hard work and end up as the best yogi of all time, outlier kind of way. More in the Ugly Duckling way. I was the sweatiest, chubbiest, manliest, hairiest, stiffest, anxious-est person in the room, and I was convinced that everyone was looking at me and judging me.

That self-image was a lot of baggage to take into the yoga room, and I struggled to feel comfortable in my skin—my sweaty pale skin. But after awhile, I just stopped caring. I can’t pinpoint exactly when or how it happened, but it absolutely happened.

One day, I no longer cared that a small puddle of sweat would start to accumulate in front of my mat and forge a stream towards my neighbors mat. Instead, I started to see that disgusting sweat river as a sign of triumph, and root for it to infiltrate her $110 Lululemon pants. Actually, that’s a terrible example. Sweat rivers are disgusting.

Regardless, yoga taught me how to be aware of my emotions, creating a mindset that carried off the yoga mat and bled into the rest of my life. I started to care less about what you assholes think of me. And once I stopped caring what other people think, I became the coolest guy in the whole world, unafraid to take pictures like this:

Rob and Anne Pollak

A Friendly Guide to the NYC Half Marathon

Even though I won’t be running the NYC Half Marathon this year, I’m a three-time finisher, so It’s my obligation to share my race secrets with the special few that NYRR has allowed into this year’s race.  They include a) A collection of the worlds best professional runners, b) Thousands of international runners, and c) Ten New Yorkers who were selected through a Hunger Games style lottery.

Good luck to you.  Here are some last minute pointers:

Carb loading rules.

Sure, trained professionals like my run coach friends, Meghan and Jessica at Hot Bird Running, may scold you when you eat 20,000 calories of spaghetti and meatballs mere hours before a race.  But who are you going to listen to?  A couple of certified run coaches who dedicated their lives to making you healthier and happier or the guy who draws funny stick figure pictures?

Exactly.  Go nuts, kids!

A stick figure eating spaghetti to carbo load for a half marathon cartoon by rob pollakThe Starting Line.

It’s chaos.  Seriously.  If you are planning to meet people at your starting corral, you may want to rethink that plan.  Every year, the set up has been different.  With last year being the worst because each stable area had its own set of bathrooms.  In theory this sounds amazing, but in practice, it meant that people waited in line for an hour while people already in the corral could cut the line.

This is also where I do my pre-race nerve-vomiting.

Cartoon by Rob Pollak about the bathroom line at the NYC half marathon

The course.  If you run Central Park often, you know what you’re in for.  If you’re an out of towner running the race for the first time, here’s a quick breakdown of the course.

Course Map:

A course map cartoon for the NYC Half Marathon - Cartoon by Rob Pollak

Miles 1-6 are in Central Park.  They changed the course slightly from when I ran it.  From the looks of the new map, the start will be slightly down hill until about the Mile 1 marker.  Then you will embark on “cat hill,” the first of many grueling tortures you will endure.  This hill is particularly awful because it’s a huge hill, then you get to the top, the road briefly flattens and then starts climbing again.  You will vomit.  It’s also about where your nipples will start to bleed.  Welcome to NYC!

Mile 2 will be awesome.  Look to your left for a sort of view of the Central Park reservoir.  If you ever get the chance to run around the reservoir, take it.  It’s a fantastic opportunity to berate parents pushing strollers and people on bikes, neither of which are allowed on the path.  Actually, I’m not sure if strollers are allowed or not.  If they are, apologies to that nice family that I called the C word for pushing a double wide stroller when I was sweating past them.  Yeah, that’s right.  I called them communists.

Mile 3 will be the worst part of the race, at least since Mile 2 and until you get to mile 4-13.  Mile 3 will be a combination of a big sweeping downhill around the northeast corner of the park.  That will flatten out and you will climb straight up a mountain in the back northwest corner.  You may notice that many people start to walk at this point.  Don’t be one of those people.  Listen to the volunteer standing there telling you to “stay inside the cones” and encouraging you that you’re almost to the top of the hill.

Pro Tip:  All of the lampposts in the park are labeled with the street number.  If you look at the bottom of the post, there will be a number that starts with two digits, like 90-01.  That means you’re at 90th street.  I have no idea what the 01 means.  Let’s just agree it means you’re number 1 to me.  Every twenty blocks is approximately 1 mile.  If you really start to struggle, count left foot strikes between posts.  Usually there are 10-20 strikes between posts.  I struggle a lot.

The light posts have information about streets on them in central park running cartoon by rob pollak

Mile 4 is the rolling hills of the west side of the park.  It’s terrible.  Every time you get a little break with a down hill, you head right back up a little uphill.  Look for my sister around mile 4.  She is nice.

During mile 5 and 6, you’ll be thinking, “get me the hell out of the park.”  Try not to start running faster.  You may get out of the park faster, but then you’re going to hate yourself by mile 9.

Mile 6-7:  The best part of the race!  You finally will hit the mean streets of Manhattan.  The road opens up and you can spread out and get away from that sweaty beast (me) who has been breathing down your neck for the last hour.  Lots of people will line the streets.  You’ll see huge buildings.  Your GPS watch will freak out and lose its signal and suddenly you’ll think that you’re running a 4:11 pace.  Enjoy the ride here because things are about to get pretty bad.

Mile 7-9.  At mile 7, you’ll turn right onto 42nd street.  The Big Apple, baby!  Riding high from seventh avenue, you are literally on top of the world at this moment.  You may think to yourself, “I can do anything!  This is so easy!  I’m a machine.”  Enjoy that feeling because as you turn right onto 42nd, you’re about to get blasted with a gale force wind coming off the Hudson River.

And as you amble over towards the West Side Highway, notice that they haven’t cut off traffic coming in the opposite direction.  So you’ll be inches away from angry New Yorkers smogging their cars in your face.  They will stare at you and berate you for making their drive take twice as long.  I know because before I ever ran the race, I once missed a tee time in NJ because I got redirected by those stupid runners.

Once you’re all the way west, they make you head back uptown for one block, which feels like you have to backtrack.  Also, the people disappear for this stretch of the race and it starts to become hard.  The Highway is exactly as it sounds:  Flat, boring, and trafficy.  Prepare for long stretches that are exactly the same.  Bring your ipod so you can suffer through this stretch with the musical stylings of Justin Bieber.  That’s how I managed.

Literally nothing changes for miles 8-12.  Except if I wake up in time, I’ll be on Murray street around Mile 11.5/12.  That’s where I live.  If you see me, say hi.

After Mile 12, the race goes underground into the Battery Park Underpass.  It’s dark and it echoes.  Someone will yell something stupid when you’re under there.  Don’t be that guy.

When you come out of the tunnel, you’re basically done.  Except you’re at the furthest point from everything else in New York.  So figure out a way to get home.  Last year, I ended up having to walk about 2.5 miles back to my apartment because I was a bad planner.  Don’t be a bad planner.

I guess, congratulations.  You’re a half marathoner.

Celebrate by eating enough calories of ice cream and bagels to negate any positive benefits of months of training.