Tag Archives: South Florida

Three Trips to Florida in Three Weeks, the debrief

I love Florida!

I love Miami Beach… specifically South Beach or SoBe for short. I like to go every opportunity I get. Last year I got incredibly lucky with some cheap $35 each way flights to Miami International with American Airlines… this year JetBlue had a similar promo flying to Fort Lauderdale in the neighboring Broward County for $39 bux so I jumped on that offer. I booked one two day round trip, followed by another a week later… and then realized that if I book one more flight on JetBlue I’d qualify for the 5,000 point bonus which they award for any 3 round trip flights booked with the airline in the calendar year (I already had 1 JetBlue flight under my belt flying to Oakland, California for the Miatas at Laguna Seca a month earlier).

The Daytona Beach road trip I wrote about a little earlier and the fiasco I got to experience with Hertz and their Black and White VW Beetle’s I was blessed with. It wasn’t a perfect trip because of a few glitches along the way, the most disappointing of them all turned out to be the weather. The seas were especially rough a week or so after Hurricane Matthew blasted through the area.

Miami Beach wasn’t that much better. The first trip was a dud… seas were super rough even when the weather was nice and sunny. I didn’t get a chance to do what I specifically came there to do: swim! Luckily second and final week in SoBe was almost perfect and I swam, and I swam, and I swam.

But there’s only so much swimming one could do in a day so I totally worked the schedule around to optimize my foodie tour opportunities and I didn’t waste any time to enjoy some of the finest cuisine US has to offer… specifically very authentic Latin cuisine from the huge Cuban community in Miami and Little Havana around Calle Ocho. Below are some pix from those visits… and recommendations along with captions:

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I used a different NYC area airport for each one of my trips. Daytona Beach flight arrived at JFK in Jamaica, Queens. The first Ft. Lauderdale flight used LaGuardia in Queens and the final Ft. Laud/Hollywood International flight used Newark Liberty in NJ. Both LaGuardia and Newark departures saw a real traffic jam of flights on departure, we were something like 10th in line to use the runway, so each flight departed about an hour late. Both of the return flights experienced close to an hour delay because of ground holds in Newark. The LaGuardia flight was especially interesting because shortly after leaving South Florida and while I was watching CNN on the JetBlue IFE system, the vice-presidential candidate’s Boeing 737 crashed at LaGuardia… the airport we were flying to. Luckily the only issue was that the plane overshot the runway, so the airport re-opened and we arrived there eventually. For a moment though it was looking pretty hairy… I was wondering where they were going to re-route us to. Upon landing it took the pilot a few attempts to negotiate the landing. I haven’t done an aborted landing before this flight yet.

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Upon arrival in SoBe the red flags were out. And much like in auto racing, red flag means no racing… or in my case no swimming! Boo…

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So on the first trip the alternative was a foodie tour of Calle Ocho in Little Havana… a short bus ride across Miami.

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The cocks are obviously very uniquely cuban “thing” and are running around on the streets pretty freely.

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Sopas at Rey de las Fritas are outstanding!

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And so are the little Cuban Hamburgers with the little fritas sprinkled in… a pretty unique taste and very filling.

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No trip to Calle Ocho could be complete without some Guarapo… or freshly squeezed sugar cane drink. I ordered a whole bucket which was a bit pricey at $7 bucks… but oh so delicious!

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A short drive down 8th Avenue is Brickell Mazda… I got off the bus to check out their ND Miata’s on the lot. While Miami looks amazing in post cards and on TV in shows like CSI Miami, the reality of it is it’s hard to maintain the exotic image, especially with a dark colored car. The mix of dust and recent rain drops made this car look a little neglected…

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Back to the beach…

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and it was still red flagged… so I continued with the foodie tour!

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One of my favorite dishes in South Florida is ceviche… and I got a real nice octopus version on Washington Ave between 2nd and 3rd. It’s a take-out only place next door to a hostel, very tasty!

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Next time give them a try… look up My Ceviche, Miami Beach

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Though I tried to organize a little mini meet with the local Miata community absolutely nothing materialized, which was disappointing especially since this little “Mazdaspeed” gem was parked outside my hostel both weeks I was there.

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So instead I went car spotting along the streets of Miami Beach, and the local PD always had something interesting parked outside their HQ… like this pink CVPI cruiser

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Or this one the next week… Police Car or Taxi?

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Lots of interesting cars driving by also… plenty of Maseratis, Aston Martins, Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls Royces… the Bugatti was probably one of the few I got to see out in the wild though:

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Funny enough, plenty of exotics are available for rent, even as short as 1 hour period… saw a few beat up Ferraris, Lambos and Rolls’s:

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I went in asking if they had any Mazda Miata’s available, and the answer was NOPE!

So a Mazda Miata is a more rare car in Miami than most exotics!

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For some reason they really love Trump in Florida. kind of surprising!

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For another surprising reason I really drink a lot of Cuban coffee whenever I’m in South Florida… I don’t know what it is, I never drink coffee at home… but whenever I’m in Miami, cafe con leche is a must!

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One of my favorite places to get cafe con leche in Miami Beach is Playa Cafe on Washington Ave between 16th and Espanola Way. The other is Las Olas Cafe on Euclid and 6th Street.

Playa I visited especially frequently, trying many things on their menu:

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Most had some kind of combination of rice and beans as well as beef, pork and chicken. You really can’t go wrong, whether rice or yuca, it’s all finger licking good!

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But after a few days of Cuban I was ready for a change and sampled a few other places… like this Vietnamese on Washington called either Miss Saigon or What the Pho… depending what sign you read. The Pho was outstanding and so were the summer rolls wrapped in a thin condom-like rice pancake and lubricated by peanut sauce… Yum!

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Super delicious!

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More Trumpism!

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A french sandwich place behind a Walgreens on 14th Street was an amazing find. I had a “frenchie” sandwich with french salami and brie and all the fixings and it was a really excellent value. All the green stuff was super fresh, though the baugette was not. I should have come there earlier in the day rather than evening so it was my own fault. I would highly recommend this joint!

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One place that did disappoint me was South Beach Sushi on Washington and 17th. It was basically supermarket sushi quality even when the price was below typical SoBe prices. I was not a fan.

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The night I went for sushi it almost didn’t happen as I got caught out in a bit of a tropical rain storm… I wish I would have missed it!

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But like most rains in South Florida it went as quickly as it came after dumping a whole lot of water on unsuspecting tourists (like me). I waited it out over a coffee at a Mediterranean joint, on second thought I should have ordered a shawarma instead of going for sushi. There’s always next time!

Planning 3 Major Trips Simultaneously: Motorsport Events in Texas, Florida & California

With the excitement from the trip to the South Pacific barely starting to wear out I’m keeping the momentum going by planning 3 massive domestic trips to marshal around the country.

What’s on the agenda?

Pirelli World Challenge season opener at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas immediately followed by a trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida for a few events. I plan to drive down to Florida in my MX-5 the day after I fly home from Texas. The trip will put at least 3,000 miles on the car while volunteering my first St. Pete Grand Prix tagged along to another exciting Sebring 12 hour enduro with the IMSA WeatherTech United SportsCar Series Championship race. After a few weeks of recovery I’ll depart on a trip to California for another IndyCar Grand Prix on the streets of Long Beach.

I could hardly contain my excitement about these trips, and am currently wrecking my brains trying to organize all the travel arrangements. In a way, the flights are the easiest part of the equation. The costs to marshal are tremendous especially when the volunteers compete for the same accommodation that drivers and fans use during a race weekend. I’ve found this to be especially true in the case of St. Pete where even the cheapest hell-hole hotels are pushing $100/night. But it’s a challenge I’m happy to accept, I find the planning part almost as exciting as being trackside for the event.

PWC at COTA

For the Pirelli World Challenge season opener at the Circuit of the Americas I’ve frankensteined a trip together using a $36 AA flight from LGA to DFW and then $2.50 bus from Dallas to Austin with Megabus. On the way home it’ll be another $2.50 Megabus ride back to Dallas to connect to a $49 UA flight back to LaGuardia via Houston: DFW-IAH-LGA. I’m looking forward to my buddy Joaquin helping me out in Austin again with his monster Chevy dually.

St. Pete GP & Sebring 12h

The IndyCar season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida will be a two day drive in the MX-5 from New Jersey. I will probably break up the trip into a 12 hour and an 8 hour drive with a rest stop overnight in Columbia, SC. I am a little concerned about parking for the MX-5 while in Florida especially if I do stay at a cheapo motel, which tend to be in bad parts of town and therefore prone to crime. But fingers are crossed everything works out. I plan to camp at Sebring, as much as I dislike the idea of camping you can’t beat the price. Although my camping gear, sleeping bag, pillows, etc. will completely pack the poor little convertible.

Long Beach GP

For this trip I frankensteined a few flights to bring the price down. Because it’s a busy Motorsport weekend in the LA area the flights are priced higher than normal. My goal was to book something for under $200 round trip and I just managed to do it by booking a number of separate reservations with United. The one way NY-LA was about $150 but I cut that cost in half by booking NY-Chicago and Chicago-LA separately… $35 for LGA-ORD and $35 ORD-LAX with favorable departure times and plenty of room between the two separate bookings in case there is major travel disruption on the day of travel. The flights back home were the pricey ones and in fact I paid almost double of the cost to get there. I chose to fly out on the Monday after the race, and the cheapest option was a $132 flight from Burbank to Newark via San Francisco: BUR-SFO-EWR. I think I am pretty happy with these bookings considering the alternative was at least $75 to $100 more, or I would have had to rely on wasting an award which I would rather save up on a flight to Europe.

In the next few days I’ll continue researching accommodation for these three trips and trying to decide whether to stick to public transport in California or rent a cheapo car to get around.

I’m excited!

PS. I am especially looking forward to the lengthy trip in the Miata, after a beautiful Road Trip in New Zealand I want to appreciate driving my own car as much as the owners I met love driving theirs.

Where Have All the Miami Miatas Gone?

I’m in a question asking mood, and the biggest question after another amazing trip to South Florida is where have all the Miami Miata’s gone?

It’s puzzling!

I always thought the MX-5 Miata was made for Florida. With it’s perfect weather year round and great roads with plenty of top-down cruising opportunities, Miata would be king. But it isn’t.

The majority of the rental cars I saw on the road were either Ford Mustang or Chevy Camaro on the affordable front, and Ferrari 458 or Lamborghini Huracan on the exotic front. The rest were SUV’s and Minivans with seemingly no MX-5’s offered whatsoever.

Why is that?

When I was searching for a Miata of my own to buy, I actually won a bid on eBay for a 2008 True Red Miata with a black rag top, miles pushing 100k and a hidden gem on the vehicle history report – no I’m not talking about the “fleet use” notice, but three “moderate” accidents that the car apparently had in it’s life as a rental car. So historically the Miatas were used as rental cars in South Florida as late as 2008 apparently, what happened since?

I would imagine having a tiny trunk makes the Miata the least practical rental car in the industry. Many of the Mustangs and Camaros I saw, rented by young couples or young group of friends, had luggage stored in the back seat, not to mention whatever was hidden in the sizable trunks. But the Miata doesn’t have much storage room besides a small carry-on trunk, which wouldn’t really work for an airport rental. Of course Ferrari and Lamborghini have small fronks too, but they are not exactly the type of car to be rented at the airport, and instead sit idly outside the Ritz Carlton’s and the like to be rented by the hour for a joy ride along Ocean Drive. I’d imagine that would be a perfect rental opportunity for the Miata too.

Sadly the only Miata I saw was on my bus ride back to Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport along the A1A, parked (ironically) outside a hair salon. It was an early NC model in White with a beige top, and the sun had not been kind to it’s headlights because they were completely fogged over. Boo!

I can’t wait to take my Miata down to South Florida and enjoy some fun in the sun driving! I think it’s a perfect vehicle to go to the beach.

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Quick Getaway to SoBe, Miami Beach, Florida

Just a day after I returned from Austin, Texas I was back on the way to the airport to fly to my favorite American destination: South Florida. I love Miami, I love Miami Beach, I love South Beach there’s no question I find this place to be the best place in the US! And the best part is, it was so cheap to go there for a completely relaxing getaway.

A few weeks ago a facebook group I follow called “The Flight Deal” shared an incredible offer of $80 round trip flights between New York and Miami. I jumped on that offer! Normally any flight between NYC – MIA for under or around $100 is a great deal. But this $80 hurricane season special was probably one of the lowest fares I’ve paid on this route in a long time. So I booked two trips.

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This particular trip came incredibly useful because it was right after the Lone Star Le Mans and after working 16 to 17 hour days on my feet, it was incredibly exhausting. So the mission for my trip to SoBe was to completely relax! And relax I did. I flew out on an 8am flight from LaGuardia getting me to South Florida just before noon. A quick ride on the #150 Airport Flyer got me to Miami Beach right in time for lunch. It was too early to check into my $20 hostel, so I decided to stuff my face with some delicious Cuban food. So I got off at the Lincoln Road stop and walked towards a great restaurant I last visited in February when we were in Miami Beach with my sister and her family on our way back from Saint Lucia. Turns out that restaurant had closed since our visit, so I searched for an alternative and the place I found was even better!

So first order of business was food!

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I had a very filling fillet of fish with some rice, beans, fried plantains and very delicious cafe con leche. I would come back to the same restaurant for lunch the next day and sample their delicious breaded steak with yellow rice, beans and another serving of delicious cuban coffee.

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For dinner I sought recommendations from a facebook friend who suggested I must visit another Cuban cafe about 10 blocks away from La Playa called Las Olas… and that place didn’t disappoint at all. I had a cubano sandwich just before heading back to the airport for my flight home:

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Never seen a cubano sliced that way, and individually wrapped but it was amazingly good, and again with a nice cup of cafe con leche.

The other specialty of Las Olas was a big cup of the sugar cane juice which was incredibly tasty! I love Guarapo!

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But besides eating I also got an opportunity to enjoy the beach. I’ve been to the Jersey Shore a bunch of times this year with the baby nephew but frankly the water in Northern Atlantic is too cold for me even in the heat of the summer. In South Florida walking into the ocean at noon time, the water felt warmer then the air tems outside, it was amazing! I went swimming for at at least an hour which was exhausting and incredibly relaxing at the same time!

I would say shame it was only a two day short trip, but honestly it is exactly what I needed at this time. And the two days went quickly enough so I wasn’t bored at any moment. It was just right!

I can’t wait to go back in October after Petit Le Mans!

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I <3 Miami!

Oh yeah, almost forgot… I considered using this opportunity to visit Speed Source in Coral Springs, just a short drive from Miami Airport… maybe there was a job I could apply for. But in the grand scheme of things it never materialized. Would be nice to work for a team that races the same Copper Red Mazda’s as my MX-5 😉

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Foodie Tour of California

The crazy day trip to San Francisco turned out to be a great success and a much needed distraction in my life right now.

Was it worth the cheap price and all the effort? Absolutely! Let me tell you how it all went, and why I’d highly recommend doing something like this every once in a while in anyone’s own busy lives.

I could not sleep at all the night before the early morning flight. But thankfully the flight was long enough (6 hours) that I managed to take a bunch of naps in the process. The weather in San Francisco was perfect. Sunny, warm and much better than the freezing cold in the Northeast. I met up with a fellow CouchSurfer visiting from Japan, and we embarked on a foodie experience of the city. The first day though we kind of failed at public transport waiting ridiculously long for an F-car along Market Street to take us to Fisherman’s Wharf so we resorted to walking. And the one trip up hill on the way back towards Chinatown kicked my ass. Later we discovered it was possible to walk around the hill by following the main street diagonally away from the Pier 39 area, but the workout was great even though it was tiring. Especially since the views from the steep steps leading uphill were stunning and we saw a beautiful hummingbird along the way, pretty close.

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I did get to do In-n-Out burger animal style with a chocolate/strawberry shake at the Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco
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Duck tongues and fish hot pot at Hong Kong Hot Pot, Chinatown San Francisco
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apparently that’s how you say “ROSS” in Mandarin… I found a shorter nickname while I lived in Singapore: Da Xiong Mao 😉
and that’s how you say “Laguna” in Japanese… apparently the last character out of the four is a Chinese character used in Japanese language to describe a “town” … it was nice to have a Japanese companion explaining these things
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delicious tacos in the Mission section of San Francisco, a place full of awesome Mexican joints
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the obligatory visit to Ghirardelli’s especially in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day… turns out in Japan girls give guys gifts, not the other way around

The next morning we decided to take full advantage of the $17 day pass for the Cable Cars, by far my favorite activity in SF. To our surprise though Obama was in town so they were only running the  until 2pm which made us hustle a little. In reality though the California Street Cable Car stopped running closer to 11am, and the Hyde Street line stopped running even sooner because the cable went down. So instead we used other public transport to first visit the Cable Car museum, Chinatown, then head over to Ghirrardeli’s, then to Japantown and finally to Mission for some amazing Mexican food. While in Chinatown we tried my favorite Hong Kong Hot Pot, then bubble tea and I also took advantage of the opportunity to buy my nephew a cool traditional Chinese costume just in time for Chinese New Year. For the price I paid it was well worth it, cheaper than a onesie or a t-shirt I’ve bought in other parts of this country (Savannah for example). After Mission and a little walk around there that found us at a farmer’s market with a live performance by a young musician that sounded really good, we headed back to Ghirrardeli’s via the Hyde Street Cable Car that was surprisingly running, for some hot chocolate. Then back to Fisherman’s Wharf for delicious crabmeat and at that point I started worrying about making my flight. So another F-car ride down the Embarcadero we headed back towards the BART system.

The flight back to the East Coast was also uneventful. Sleeping was easier on the red-eye but instead of heading home to NYC I actually went via Fort Lauderdale. Though that visit was far less exciting than California even though I genuinely like South Florida much more. Ft. Lauderdale in the morning was freezing cold. I took public transport to Las Olas Blvd for some breakfast, but few places were open. The Floridian which seemed to be buzzing didn’t really have good customer service, or at least I could not find a table near an outlet to charge my phone and the staff was a bit rude about helping me with my request, so I walked out. A few blocks later I found an awesome cafeteria that made an exception to the rule (while serving breakfast) and made me a Cubano sandwich to go. Another short bus back to the airport and a quick trip through security saw me eating my sandwich at the gate just before take off.

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an authentic Cubano sandwich in South Florida… a must!
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wasn’t too excited to be back in snow covered New York City, but the amazing classic cars left buried in snow and ice was a random and a welcome sight to see

Back in New York I once again hopped on the Subway to Long Island City to pick up my Jeep at the transmission shop. They called to tell me it was ready while in San Francisco and in typical New York style tried to explain it was going to cost more because of a bunch of parts they had to replace. $1650 bux lighter on the pocket I decided to hit Chinatown in New York as it was close to 5pm rush hour and I figured I’d be sitting in traffic heading back to New Jersey anyway. Before going to Pell Street to my favorite soup dumpling place I made a quick visit to a canolli shop on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, another one of my favorites. And at that moment I realized that I take NYC for granted living in NJ. The only time I get to visit is when I fly to places like San Francisco on a day trip. So my Chinese New Year resolution is to visit NYC more often! Waiting out traffic in the city didn’t really work, I was still stuck for over an hour trying to get to the tunnel, changed my mind and went for the bridge, and was stuck in gridlock again. When I got home I discovered my credit card was being used at a bunch of locations in Houston while I was in SF. So my journey ended by me cancelling my credit card. It’s amazing to see how nonchalant the credit card companies are towards fraud in this day and age, I should be considered lucky I guess, as my charges at Popeyes and Wendy’s in downtown Houston were minimal compared to what they could have been.

Anyway, the trip was great! As I said before, a much needed distraction to the problems of everyday life. Cold winter weather, hospital visits, broken cars, and other everyday bullshit. I wish I could travel more in the future… it’s one of my favorite hobbies.

Day trip to San Francisco & quick layover in Fort Lauderdale on the way back to NYC

There’s not much to be excited about these days. While 2011 in Singapore was the best time of my life, 2015 is shaping to be the most depressing, for sure. At home, my dad has lost half his weight since last year and doctors say he doesn’t have much longer to live. Ukraine – my homeland is under vicious attack from Russia. My Jeep finally broke down and an expensive repair is in progress to fix the blown transmission, and to top it all off my marshal license is in question because of ridiculous complaints. So how can one cope with the feeling of the world caving in?

Fly… away!

Flying is by far one of my favorite hobbies. Since I started flying frequently in 2006 I’ve logged over half a million miles and 50+ days up in the air, flying around the globe several times (three times in 2013 alone with trips to the Australian, Singapore and Korean Grand Prix). That was cool as hell and I really miss flying more often.

So when an opportunity popped up to fly to one of 32 different destination JetBlue flies for just $32 dollars each way, I jumped on it. And while a trip to Barbados, Turks and Caicos or the Cayman Islands would have been incredible for that kind of price. The dates of travel fell on the same week that I was already travelling to beautiful Saint Lucia. And after discovering how expensive that place was for even the most budget conscious traveler, I’m glad I booked an “In-n-Out” run to San Francisco instead.

Why “In-n-Out” run? Because initially it was supposed to be just that. I was to fly in later in the afternoon, grab a delicious burger and fries animal style and a shake, turn around and fly back home. But with the winter weather hitting the Northeast hard, I was forced to reschedule. The new flights gave me an extra day to spend exploring the Bay area, and the return flight from California introduced a new dimension: grabbing brunch in South Florida with a four to five hour layover in Fort Lauderdale (one of my favorite places on earth!)

Anyway, all this is pending my actually waking up in the morning for the very early flight, while using the NY/NJ public transport system.

Will this trip make any of my troubles go away? Probably not. But it will be an excellent distraction. I’m most looking forward to the experience of flying itself. But equally as important will be having a delicious and authentic Mexican meal in Cali, followed by a visit to In-n-Out. A little bit of sightseeing. A few more authentic Bay area meals like the sourdough chowder on Fisherman’s Wharf, and a great Cuban dish in downtown Fort Lauderdale or Hollywood Florida, depending on how much time I actually have there.

Can’t wait!

in-n-out

PS. the last two times I volunteered at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca I flew JetBlue with their amazing $120 round trip offer from Boston to San Franscisco. I didn’t think that deal could be beat, until now of course. It always pays to shop around for flight deals, and with crazy travel offers like this popping up, remember to book first and think about it later. Whatever you do, don’t miss out!