Escapes: You bought that? What were you thinking?

A statuette of a beast being butchered on a striped orange blanket in India. The buyer of this remembrance from India still doesn't understand its meaning.
(Jeff Wade)

Phyllis Stoller, president of the Women’s Travel Group, said in a recent email, “Walk around your house, locate objects you bought on your travels. Now pull back the mist of time and recall the fun, scenery, seller, even the whole day and reexperience the purchase.”

That’s what Christopher Reynolds had in mind when he came up with the idea of asking you to send photos of your favorite souvenirs. And you did.

Welcome to the newsletter edition of “Shopping: The Souvenirs I’ll Never Forget and Couldn’t If I Wanted to.”

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. This week we stroll a bit down memory lane, we celebrate and, in the end paper, we question our sanity. Again.


Let’s get started with all the ways we can amuse ourselves until that golden moment arrives when we kiss the house goodbye and strike out for a change of scenery.

What’s keeping us from going stir-crazy?

Celebrating National Park Week. Most parks are still closed, although Mary Forgione notes a couple that will let you in (but won’t let you park) and suggests several you can visit virtually.

Making Zoom amusing. The stress of Zoom meetings — the password demands, the people talking over each other, the imperative to stay seated lest you betray your pajama pants — is epic. But Brian Park offers us two ideas on Zoom backgrounds: One involves Times staff photos of some of the wonderful places in the West (Mark Boster’s Merced River is especially trippy), the other places that are familiar but out of reach (Dodger Stadium, for example).

Dreaming of a work-at-home break. Some luxury hotels let you rent a room for a workday just to give you something else to look at besides the cobwebs in your corners, Mary Forgione writes.

Understanding why some cruise ships were safer than others. This Associated Press story relates the tale of the Costa Deliziosa, which had no coronavirus cases. Why? Could be the response of the crew, could be luck.

Appreciating what’s open and what’s closed. Christopher Reynolds and Mary Forgione keep abreast of where you can go (some places in Ventura County) and update for the week and weekend. Their current missive includes the postponement of trout season and the reopening of some golf courses in Orange and Riverside counties.


The opening of trout season in Alpine, Inyo and Mono counties has been delayed this year.
(Darrell Kunitomi / Los Angeles Times)

What we’re reading

Is American Airlines going to be nicer to us? For Skift, Brian Sumers details how American has become more focused on doing what’s right for the customer. Unlike some airlines, American has now said it will refund monies spent, but it also gives a sweetener if customers choose a voucher, giving them 120% of what they paid. The question that’s posed: Will customers remember when it’s time to book again?

Years ago, I returned to Kansas City, hopping from the Missouri side to the Kansas side in a quest for the best barbecue in the metro area. The resulting story provoked lots of comments (and readers). So it was with mouthwatering anticipation that I read of Jones Bar-B-Q, 6706 Kaw Drive in Kansas City, Kan., which has developed a barbecue vending machine. The restaurant is open for lunch (or a late barbecue breakfast), so if you arrive after work, at least you stand a fighting chance of getting some ’cue. Isn’t technology wonderful? Thanks to Jonathan Bender for the article on Atlas Obscura.

What’s on your list of places you want to go when we can travel again? Travel + Leisure editors let themselves dream a bit in this compendium of travel desires. They include some of Southern Californians’ favorite places and others that we might only fantasize about.

 The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, one of Travel + Leisure's picks for post-pandemic travel.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Speaking of reading

You could be reading the L.A. Times. (If you already are, thank you.) We do what we do for you because we believe in our neighborhoods, our communities, our cities. It’s not always easy to feel like a part of something in this giant area, but we think you’ll get a better sense of the place we call home by joining our family of readers. To subscribe, check out the options.

We also have a family of newsletters. (Can you tell I’m missing my family?) They cover a variety of topics and are written by the best in the business. (And welcome back, Julia Wick.) Peruse this veritable buffet, all delivered free to your inbox. A bargain at twice the price.

Let’s also talk about writing. The messages you send to us matter. You have been writing to us about trips that have gone bad (we’re trying to help) and how your life has been upended. But we also get email from people who want to be the ballast in this vessel that seems out of control at times. Let us know how you’re doing, what helps you keep both oars in the water and what you see on the shores ahead. I’m also apparently missing the water, but I don’t want to miss out on your thoughts — so send them to

End paper

In the spirit of shopping mistakes, I share this tale with you because you are ... kindred spirits.

In the olden days — that being just after the turn of this century — I often took antiquing trips, often with my friend Jan, a certified antiques appraiser. One year we decided to try what was then called the 400-mile garage sale (now called the 127 Yard Sale, and now 690 miles long). We flew into the Cincinnati airport (which is across the river in Kentucky), rented an SUV and prepared for the start of the next day’s adventure.

Our travels took us through Kentucky and into Tennessee, but at first we found standard garage-sale items, many of them substandard at that, including lots of ice cube trays, aluminum and plastic, and old FTD vases. The farther we drove, the better the wares, including one little roadside antiques fair where I found a red Bakelite spice rack that still serves in my kitchen.

In Tennessee, we pulled into one place without much thought; Jan went one way, and I went another. As I strolled, I noticed in one corner of the grounds an enormous amount of camouflage clothing for sale under canopies from which Confederate flags flew. Sweat started trickling down my back, not unusual in August in the South, but the trickle fairly soon became a flash flood.

And then I saw them. Steer horns. Mounted. Ready for hanging. I asked the guy manning the booth where they came from, thinking Tennessee wasn’t really cattle country. “Texas,” he said. “We go down there and get ’em and then I purty ’em up,” by which I think he meant polishing and wrapping the middle with a piece of black leather.

This voice that sounded vaguely like mine asked how much. “Well,” he said, “usually $30 but you can have them for $20.” Sold.

I don’t know whether I thought they’d be a weapon or whether I was having a fear reaction, but as I walked back to the SUV, there was Jan. Our mouths dropped at the same time. She was holding a pair of camouflage shorts and I had … horns.

“What,” she said, scorn dripping from every letter, “are those?” I hissed, “Well, at least I didn’t buy survivalist clothing. Get in the car, and let’s get out of here.”

The end of the road was Gadsden, Ala., a two-hour drive to Atlanta, from which we were flying home. We were treating ourselves to a night in the Ritz-Carlton (but because it was August, it wasn’t that big a splurge). When we pulled in to check in, the bellman asked, “Do the horns go up to the room?” I nodded.

We spent the morning before our flight finding a pack-and-ship place, which charged me $90 to box them up so I could check them as baggage.

My on-the-road motto has always been this: You regret only the things you don’t buy. That’s correct 99 times out of 100. This might have been the one.

Except now as I see them on my shelf in my home office, a room decorated with a vintage camera, my dad’s United 100,000-mile-club plaque from 1960 and a mantel clock from Northern Ireland, I think how those horns seem to fit in. Because what is travel if not a collection of wonderful, goofy, ridiculous memories waiting to pop for those days when the pandemic’s walls seem a little too close?

One day, we’ll be back out on the road, and there will be a car made from a can of French insecticide or a pair of horns, and you’ll be handing over some cash in preparation for a day just like these shutdown days.

When that time comes, remember to travel safely and well, and know that we will always be here to welcome you home, horns and all.

The horns of my dilemma.
(Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)