Newsletter: Escapes: In Chicago, singing the blues is a good thing, and hearing them is even better

From 1957 to 1967, a two-story building at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago was home to Chess Reco
From 1957 to 1967, a two-story building at 2120 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago was home to Chess Records, where many classic blues, rock and soul songs were recorded. It’s now home to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation. and tours are offered.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles)

The approach of Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, can mean only two things:

First, it’s going to stay hot. On average, Los Angeles is just a degree cooler in September — 83 — than in August, according to

Second, the deadline for our annual “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” photo issue is drawing nigh. Photos must have been taken between Memorial Day and Labor Day of this year; the deadline for submitting them is 11:59 p.m. Sept. 5. You can find the rules for submission here.

You get double bragging rights if your photo is selected, first for the awesome place you visited and again for having your photo selected from hundreds for inclusion. And more good news: This is the last time I’ll nag you about this because by the next newsletter, the deadline will have passed, and travel and photo editors will begin the hard work of selecting the best of the best.


My name is Catharine Hamm, and when I’m not haranguing you about sharing your photos, I’m travel editor for the Los Angeles Times.

We have some counterpoints this week to the hot weather: cool jazz in Chicago, as part of our ongoing Sites and Sounds series; a way to keep your blood from boiling when your credit cards don’t work abroad or you miss your flight because you couldn’t hear the announcement; and a chance to catch a breeze in San Pedro on a Weekend Escape. All of this plus our weekly calendar (in case you haven’t settled on plans), the best ways to make packing and other travel-related chores a breeze and the latest on travel to Cuba.

We may be drawing the curtain on summer, but travel knows no season, because it’s always summer somewhere. Have a blast during the three-day weekend and get those photos to us (and yes, I just broke my own promise).

— Catharine Hamm


Still electric, but is the thrill gone?

The blues are singing the blues in Chicago, L.A. Times reporter Christopher Reynolds found when he went to the Windy City in search of Chicago-style electric blues. That’s the sound that was born when musicians moved north from the Mississippi Delta, and for years, electric blues was the thing. Rap seems to have stolen that genre’s thunder, but you can still find great live blues. Reynolds tells you where, how and, especially, why.

Kingston Mines is a blues club on Chicago’s Halsted Street in Lincoln Park. Guitarist-vocalist Giles
Kingston Mines is a blues club on Chicago's Halsted Street in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Take credit

When the U.S. moved to the chip-and-signature credit card, there was some concern about whether our cards would work abroad, especially in places where the sale is at an unstaffed kiosk. (Think train tickets or gas station.) Those persnickety point-of-sale devices overseas often require a chip and PIN card, the norm in other countries, so would the U.S. version work? No prob, U.S. card companies said. As one Times Travel section reader found, yes prob. My On the Spot column tells you how to avoid this vexing credit card conundrum.

Are you carrying a card that will work? What if you can't know until you go?
(Tavis Wright / Zuma Press / TNS)

Celebrating San Pedro

L.A. Fleet week begins Friday, and that means live entertainment, flyovers and festivities. But there’s more to San Pedro than this event. Writer Rosemary McClure spent a weekend in this seaside Los Angeles area community, which reminds her of San Francisco but without the steep prices. History and not high prices? What’s not to love?

Aboard the battleship USS Iowa, visitors enjoy a view of the ship's iconic 16-inch guns and surrounding San Pedro.
(Jim Edwards)

Now hear this

Have you ever spent time in an airport and thought, “What in the ho hum are they saying on the public address system?” It could be that the PA is lousy or it could be that you suffer hearing loss and don’t know it. In either case, you’ll benefit from improvements in communications systems (including visual paging), but you’ll also need to be proactive to ensure your needs are addressed, Yomi Wrong writes in “All Systems Go,” the travel column that addresses and suggests ways to overcome obstacles to travel.

A visual paging screen at the San Fransisco International Airport’s Terminal 2. Credit: SFO Paging,
A visual paging screen at the San Fransisco International Airport's Terminal 2.
(San Francisco International Airport)

Has Cuba lost its luster?

Travel to the island nation is down, thanks to a confluence of factors (hurricane, mysterious sonic attacks, confusing changes in rules governing travel), although an abundance of cruise ships continues to dock in the island nation after a 40-year absence. Christopher Reynolds tells you what you need to know to plan a successful—and legal—trip there.

A man pedals his bicycle taxi, decorated with Cuban and U.S. flags, as he transports a woman holding a sleeping girl, near the Capitolio in Havana.
(Ramon Espinosa / Associated Press)

A change of clothes and methods

Maybe your travel clothes are looking a little shabby. Or maybe you don’t know the best time to fly. Or perhaps you need to find an inexpensive hotel at the last minute or an unusual campground for your RV. You’ve come to the right place. Writer Mary Forgione offers ideas in Travel’s Tipsheet on how to become even more prepared when you hit the road.

PlanIt Trek, whose website launches Sept. 3, offers travelers pre-selected wardrobes that arrive in packing folders ready for the suitcase.
(PlanIt Trek)

You otter have some fun

Or your kids should. Our weekly calendar has some cool-and-close-to-home ideas for those who are sticking around for the break, including a chance for your young ones to be an animal trainer for a day. (Can I pass for a kid? I want to do this!)

Teens can feed sea otters like this one and also learn about caring for seals and sea lions in the Aquarium of the Pacific's Job Shadow Class on Sept. 1 in Long Beach.
(Robin Riggs)

Readers recommend

What has delighted you in your travels? Perhaps it’s a restaurant, a museum or a particularly knowledgeable guide. That’s the kind of insider information that inspires confidence and leads to great experiences. Please share with us (and we, in turn, will share with newsletter readers) by sending an email to with the words “Readers Recommend” in the subject line.

What we’re reading

Alex Pulaski, a contributor to the L.A. Times Travel pages, writes about the grape harvest in Oregon, and here’s what he learned: As a grape stomper, he’s a good journalist. “Our neophyte grape-stomping team’s results proved to be predictably poor, but that fleeting sense of creation lodged its seed in my memory,” he writes in a Washington Post article.


Sorry, guys, but this one isn’t for you. The Week magazine directed me to Catherine Nixey’s piece in the Financial Times “SuperShe Island: The Holiday Where Men Are Banned.” Eight guests, all women, share four cabins for a week on this Finnish island. It’s not easy to land a spot, the article says: About 8,000 people applied for 100 or so places. The idea is “to create somewhere for women to relax, recalibrate and bond.” It comes at a cost: about $4,678 for the week.

Jeff Greenwald, whose work also has appeared in L.A. Times Travel, has a poignant story in Westways magazine about a return trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, and his quest to see whether the connections he forged there were still as electric and alive in his acquaintances’ minds as they were in his.

Santo Domingo de Guzman church in Oaxaca, which is known for its textiles.
(Gary Karolli)

The end paper

Send us your complaints, compliments, favorite travel stories of the week and a list of places you’ve been to which you’d like to return. Oh, and your summer photos (see above). You can email us at

As you get ready for the three-day weekend, please know this: AllState insurance released a survey showing the best drivers in the country. Want to be safe on your road trip? Go to Brownsville, Texas. If, however, you know no fear, Baltimore is your town. It ranked No. 200 — last — in the safest driver derby. (L.A. was not much better at 194 and must have rubbed off in a big way — or the other way around — on Glendale, which was at 196.) But no matter where you go, please drive defensively. Until next week, travel smartly and safely. We’ll be here to welcome you home.

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