Getting Around

Life in the Desert: The Troubling Need for Cars

We’ve read lately that Americans are driving less than ever. Apparently, this cannot be explained simply by economics, but still: driving is expensive! AAA exhaustively details the costs of driving in this pdf. TL;DR: when you take into account gas, maintenance, financing, insurance, and registration, even a small sedan driven 20,000 miles a year (it gets cheaper the more you drive) costs $0.398/mile to operate. Does that seem maybe like not so much? Consider this: my old commute from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to midtown Manhattan would have cost $6.76 (plus unimaginable aggravation, plus parking).


Riding in Car Services With Boys

Yesterday morning my family and I found ourselves 40 minutes deep into Brooklyn — Midwood, people! — for an appointment with an audiologist. I blame our socialist healthcare, which ironically doesn’t even go into effect until August 1st, but I didn’t know this when we got our referral. So there we were on the corner of Ocean Parkway and Avenue P, sitting in the back of a car service because we made some very impractical promise to ourselves not to take the baby on the subway until he got his two-month vaccinations.

The doctor’s office we were aiming for turned out to actually be not where we were dropped off, but a roughly 20-minute walk away (thanks, Google Maps!). Luckily we had the baby in a carseat with no stroller or carrier, and it was approximately 90 degrees. A recipe for relationship success right there. About to find out if your child is hearing impaired? Definitely recommend getting no sleep the night before then go for a 20-minute walk in the sun carrying a baby in a carseat. Then, once you get there, realize you forgot to memorize your baby’s social security number and are therefore a terrible parent. Despite this, find out your child’s insurance kicks in August 1st so you will be paying out-of-pocket to find out two weeks too soon that your kid’s hearing is perfectly fine.

Thankfully it was only (only?) $75 and we put it on our (shared!) debit card.

Anyway at the end of our first of two car trips, we unbuckled and I said the magic words:

“So how much do we owe you?”


Would You Pay $375 for A Night at the Museum? ANY Museum?

Having refused to subject myself to Ben Stiller’s particularly noxious brand of simian energy, I know very little about Night at the Museum or its sequels. [Sidebar: actors we'd pay money to never see again in movies. Go!] From the trailers and the reviews though, heck even from the poster, I’ve gotten a pretty decent idea: it’s like Toy Story, only instead of toys coming to life, it’s dinosaurs, right? Less charm, more rampaging?

Ever since the movie drew more children’s attention to the American Museum of Natural History, the AMNH has been hosting family sleepovers; and now, for the first time, the museum is hosting one for adults. For $375 per person ($325 if you’re a member), you can get a once-in-a-lifetime taste of Nerd Nirvana.

  • The overnight adventure will begin with a champagne reception and music (courtesy of the 12th Night Jazz trio) in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall.
  • A three-course dinner will be served.
  • Explorers can roam through the nearly empty halls of the Museum (including the spiders). There will also be a flashlight tour.
  • Participants will be invited to attend a special presentation in The Power of Poison exhibition with Curator Mark Siddall.
  • There will be a midnight viewing of the Dark Universe Space Show, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
  • Participants will also be invited to “enjoy wild creatures up close during a live animal demonstration in the Kaufmann Theater”!
  • You will sleep in your sleeping bag… under the big blue (clean) whale! When you wake up there will be a breakfast snack.

I’m all for this, but personally, for $375, I’d like a bed. At least a cot, or an air mattress that slowly deflates over the course of the night. Flashlight tours are always tops, though. Like flashlight tours of old cemeteries? Worth every penny. Speaking of pennies, though, what is a “breakfast snack”? Is it more or less than an Egg McMuffin?

Do you think camping out near the Planetarium stars is worth $375? Or would you pay that amount cheerfully for a different institutional location: the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Confederate Museum?


How to Repair a Car That Isn’t Yours

Fast forward ten years and I’m stuck in Woodstock, New York, with a baby in my lap and something called a “Hooter Hider” hanging around my neck. It’s 90 degrees out. I’m texting my friend furiously but she isn’t answering. We have borrowed her car for the weekend, or actually we told her we would ‘babysit’ her car for the week, which is a thing you have to do in the city: babysit cars. That is, agree to move friends’ cars around to different sides of the street on cleaning days so they don’t get tickets.


The Average Affair Will Cost You $2600 Apparently?

According to a press release sent to Mike by a concerned tipster and loyal reader — haha, JK, by Edith — “The Average Affair Begins 2 Years into Marriage, Lasts Six Months and Costs Over $2,600.” Are you ready for this?

In addition to potentially costing a person their happy home and marriage, a leading coupon brand has revealed that the average affair costs the cheating party over $2,600, including dollars spent on expensive dinners, hotel check and gifts while sneaking around behind their spouse’s back. The survey, conducted by, was part of the company’s wider research into the leisure spending of American citizens, after an increase in searches for dating discounts. 2,645 US citizens took part in the study, all of whom were aged 25 and over and had been married to their current partner for a minimum of 5 years.

Aged 25+, married 5+ years … holy god, they’re talking about me! So what do I have to look forward to?

The following list reveals the average spend per item per month:

Hotel Bills – $123 Dinner & Drink Tabs – $162 Gifts – $54 Date activities e.g. cinema tickets – $69 Other – $36

This equates to average expenditure of $444 per month. Considering the average affair lasts for six months, the total cost of an illicit extramarital relationship was revealed to be $2,664. The adulterous respondents were then asked: “Did/Does your spouse ever question your finances or notice any unexplained expenditure, in relation to your affair?” to which only a third (32%) said that ‘yes’, their partner had noticed their extramarital financial commitments.


Riding the Chinatown Bus, and Considering Its True Cost

My first job out of undergrad was doing radio and producing work for a newswire in Washington D.C., while one of my college roommates lived in New York’s Lower East Side and was cast in off-off-Broadway shows. Neither of us were making very much money, but we were four hours away from each other and would visit using the cheapest mode of transportation we could find: the Chinatown bus.

These buses had various names: The Fung Wah Bus, Megabus, Boltbus, Washington Deluxe, and so on. Back then, for $30, you could go to from D.C. to New York and back again.

You could also get stranded on the side of the road, or deal with a number of other nightmares—these buses got into accidents all the time.

Nico Lang discusses some of the horror stories and common complaints at the Daily Dot:


The Things You Own, Own You: Fitbit Edition

David Sedaris has apparently tired of writing comedy and switched to horror. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, he chronicles his adventures with a Fitbit, a device one wears on one’s wrist to track one’s steps and also, in a larger, metaphysical sense, one’s “health.” We pay for accessories to make our lives more enjoyable, or, failing that, at least to make them longer. We do not expect our gadgets to go all HAL 9000 on us. Unfortunately, in Sedaris’s case, that is what happened:

During the first few weeks that I had it, I’d return to my hotel at the end of the day, and when I discovered that I’d taken a total of, say, twelve thousand steps, I’d go out for another three thousand.

“But why?” Hugh asked when I told him about it. “Why isn’t twelve thousand enough?”

“Because,” I told him, “my Fitbit thinks I can do better.” … At the end of my first sixty-thousand-step day, I staggered home with my flashlight knowing that I’d advance to sixty-five thousand, and that there will be no end to it until my feet snap off at the ankles. Then it’ll just be my jagged bones stabbing into the soft ground.

I not only understand but identify with this: I too have the kind of obsessive personality that would make a Fitbit ($99.95) not a helpful toy but a cruel taskmaster. If you’re into cruel taskmasters though there are plenty of other options. Wirecutter recommends the Vivofit ($130). I recommend walking as much as possible and saving both your money and your sanity but YMMV. Literally.



When Life Sends You To Grenada, Make Grenadine!

A traveler who wanted to go to Granada, Spain, ended up in Grenada, the Caribbean island. He was not pleased.

After two years without a holiday and a lifetime of longing to see the architectural treasures of Granada, Edward Gamson felt he could at last relax as he sat back on a British Airways flight en route to the capital of Moorish Spain. It was only when the American dentist and his partner glanced at the electronic map on the in-flight entertainment system and noticed their plane was heading due west out of London that they became concerned something was not right. …

The mix-up initially resulted in apologies from BA staff on board the flight, and a promise that the couple would be put on the plane’s return trip to Gatwick en route to Granada. Instead, they were subjected to a further three-day ordeal which resulted in them never reaching Spain, and a refusal by BA to reimburse their £2,650 first-class tickets, and which is now the subject of a damages claim before the US courts. Mr Gamson told The Independent on Sunday: “I have a lifelong interest in Islamic art. I’m also of Spanish Jewish heritage so it was something I had always wanted to do to visit Granada and the Alhambra. I made it absolutely clear to the booking agent I wanted to go to Granada in Spain. Why on earth would I want to go to Grenada in the Caribbean if I was flying back to America from Lisbon?”

I feel you, British Airways. You just can’t please some people. Here you give them an exciting surprise, complete with beaches and sunsets and perfect weather, and they complain that they’re not touring ruins. They even refer to a spontaneous Caribbean vacation “a three-day ordeal.”

Things to do if you accidentally find yourself on some warm, heavenly shore: 1) Drink something fun. 2) Go swimming. 3) Thank your lucky stars you’re not in Jersey.


Hitchhiking: A Terrible Idea That Saves You Money

As perhaps you’ve heard, three boys, including an American citizen, were kidnapped this week while hitchhiking in Israel. Hitchhiking used to be a national pastime, a cheap and easy way to get from Point Aleph to Point Bet; though we knew the dangers, even my friends and I did it on occasion, with no ill effects. (I lived there in 2000, before the Second Intifada and the wall and everything, basically the last good time.) Now it’s mostly settlers and very religious people who are tremping (hitchhiking), not just because it’s convenient, but to make a point:

With a vast manhunt under way since early Friday as police and the army search for the three teenage boys abducted late Thursday night, the subject of hitchhiking is on everyone’s minds. The three boys were tremping home from their schools in the West Bank, as is customary. It’s a cheaper, and often more convenient way of getting around than the less frequent public buses. … 

S., the high school student, lives in Jerusalem, but attends an all-boys school in Kiryat Arba, a settlement next to Hebron. His parents would prefer that he only take the bus, and have even offered to pay for a private cab, but that’s not an option, he said, even though his parents can afford it. “It’s just not normal to take a cab, no one does that,” he said. “If you’re right-wing or an extremist, you take a trempTremping is the norm.” He said he knows how to identify a safe driver, or fellow hitchhiker. They look like him, he said, pointing to his jeans, polo-shirt and kippah. “If I see someone with a kippah, wearing a tee-shirt with a school emblem and with a backpack, I feel like I know him,” said S.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of trusting someone because they look or act like you. (See: Frozen. “We finish each other’s –” “Sandwiches!” “That’s what I was going to say!”) Especially when there’s an economic incentive. (See: Madoff, Bernie.) And of course everyone thinks their own judgment is solid; we’d have a hard time functioning if we questioned every first impression and gut instinct. How do you thread that needle? How do you decide who to trust with your money or your safety? Do you have any good hitchhiking stories, or is it something you’d never do, never never never, no matter how cash-poor you got?


The Cost of Things: Trying to Fly With a Gun in Your Carry-On

How many times do we have to tell you? When you fly, leave your brass knuckles, credit card knives, inert grenades, batons, and Tasers at home. Please do not attempt to take guns on the plane. Especially not loaded guns, and especially not guns with rounds chambered.

What’s a credit card knife, you say?

More and more credit card knives being discovered at airport checkpoints. A credit card knife fits in a wallet just as a credit card would, hence the name. They’re slightly thicker than a credit card and one unfolds into a knife, while other types have a blade that pulls out. It’s the type of item that when tucked away in a wallet is out of site and out of mind, so many travelers simply forget they have it. Today’s tip is a reminder to put these types of items in your checked baggage or simply leave them at home. It’s always a good idea to double check your bags and other belongings for prohibited items prior to traveling.

The TSA keeps a blog where it lists weekly tallies of the weaponry and contraband confiscated at airports across the country. Just this month, Americans set a new record, so lets give ourselves a hand!

Record Number of Firearms Discovered in One Day - On June 4, 18 firearms were discovered around the country in carry-on bags. That broke the previous record of 13 set in 2013.

Trying to smuggle weaponry onboard — or just forgetting you have your Derringer on you – can cost you as much as $7,500 and get you arrested. Just, you know, a heads up.

Image of actual guns confiscated by TSA, via the TSA blog


Yes Your Commute Is Probably Ruining Your Life

Reuters has published a very mean article about commuting and how it wastes all our money and make us miserable and sick. Normally I work from home or from my neighborhood but today I just got back from shuffling myself all over town to go a million doctor’s appointments and I feel like my soul has been drained out of my body (could be unrelated, though).


On Hold Forever

I am on hold. Are you on hold? The hold music, it plays and it plays. I am on hold because somehow — how?? — I bought two sets of plane tickets. According to one itinerary, the fella, baby, and I leave tonight and return Monday, and according to the other we leave tomorrow morning and return Tuesday. (Where are we going? Rebecca’s wedding, of course!)

There is an old Yiddish expression: “You can’t dance in two weddings with one ass.” The JetBlue equivalent is: “You can’t sit in two airplane seats with one butt.” And so I wait to see if JetBlue can help me somehow. The funny thing is, I thought we were leaving tomorrow morning, and the fella thought we were leaving tonight. Turns out we were both right. Ha ha ha! Kill me. I hate making mistakes, especially money-related ones. I would really love for there to be someone else whose fault it is. Maybe the baby snuck out of her crib at night and thought it would be a hilarious joke on her parents to buy TWO SETS OF PLANE TICKETS for the same trip. But no, an accidentally redundant Internet purchase is not like a fart: you can’t blame it on the baby. Luckily:

  1. Neither itinerary was super expensive;
  2. JetBlue is my favorite airline, so surely they’ll help me, right? I mean, free snacks, free drinks, free bag check, free cable …  You don’t get much better than that these days. I LOVE YOU PLEASE HELP ME PLEASE;
  3. Nothing will be worse than the time we had to throw away all our stuff in the Vilnius, Lithuania Airport.