Explore California, the West and beyond with the weekly Escapes newsletter from travel editor Catharine Hamm.
Sparrow a few minutes, and we’ll introduce you to a whole new world of birds. You’ll never egret it.
Call it pandemania. My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. More alarming, I’m laughing at my own jokes, which are usually about second-grade level, but if we don’t amuse ourselves, we can’t amuse others, right? (Don’t answer.)
We’re all hearing birdsong these days, maybe because it’s quieter, maybe because the birds are happier because we’re leaving them largely undisturbed.
Veteran birder Mary Forgione and newbie Rene Lynch give you the keys to identifying our feathered friends, starting first in your backyard but perhaps extending, as reopening allows, to the greater outdoors.
Take a listen and a look, then discover what else is open to you in Southern California and beyond. And in the End paper, which lives up to its name and is amazingly at the end, discover the games some travel providers are providing without the fun. Ready, set, read!
Whitewater rafting may have one of its bigger seasons, even though we didn’t have an abundance of rainfall. That’s because it’s a good family activity, and Western rafters have a good variety of rivers to try, many of them ideal for kids. Read Brian E. Clark’s recommendations on this all-American vacay.
It takes a village to keep our open and closed list up to date, and in this case, our village of two is doing a great job. Thanks to Christopher Reynolds and Mary Forgione for keeping on top of this.
Forgione also writes about the reopening Saturday of Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge.
Also opening on Saturday, Forgione writes: popular Angeles National Forest trails and campgrounds.
Also open: L.A. County beaches. But don’t even think about lolling on the sand. They are for recreation — walking, running, swimming and surfing, not sunbathing, Reynolds writes.
Speaking of open and closed
Some Department of Motor Vehicles field offices reopened last week. That’s good news for people who have business that requires in-person visits. But for one California woman who lost both her Real ID and her passport, the hurdles to getting her identification back are significant, especially because she also broke her arm. Read about some of her options and how one navigates an ID disaster.
What we’re reading
What better time to read about the bubonic plague than in this era of coronavirus? And yet … Discover offers an interesting piece by Sara Toth Stub on how Venice coped with the black plague of the 14th and 15th centuries. In fact, Toth Stub noted, we owe the word “quarantine” to Italian: quaranta giorni, or 40 days.
After reading pieces on birding by The Times’ Forgione and Lynch, I think Estonia has hit on a way to amplify the beautiful birdsong that seems increasingly present. It has positioned three giant wood megaphones that amplify forest sounds, according to Atlas Obscura. There’s also a cool video that provides more info and context.
Smithsonian magazine isn’t a travel mag per se, but reading it reminds me what I love about travel: I always learn something new. The May issue is a particular gem: I learned about Emmett Ashford, the first black umpire in baseball; a farm for retired racehorses in Kentucky; and wine grown in the desert areas of Israel. But, being a Boomer, I was most intrigued by the story of Beatle George Harrison’s 1963 visit to Benton, Ill., where his sister lived, about 100 miles southeast of St. Louis. The Beatles were already a sensation in the U.K. but they weren’t quite what they were to become in the U.S. Thanks to Alan Pell Crawford for the tale of a quiet fellow who seemed slightly out of place in the Heartland.
Other reading material for you
We’d like you to subscribe to the L.A. Times for our sake and for yours. By supporting us, you also support your need for news and knowledge.
Cooking. Climate change. Entertainment. Headlines. In a world that feels out of control, our newsletters offer what you want and need to know, indexed and delivered to your inbox. They’re yours for the asking; does it get any better than free?
Your letters. This week, the letter from travel agent Sonia Robledo makes a case, below, for using travel agents. Tell us what’s on your mind by writing to email@example.com.
Readers are reaching out regularly to share the problems inflicted upon them by the coronavirus and certain travel providers. (You can share too by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t get to all of your emails but we may be able to direct you — and we’ll definitely sympathize.)
Being a consumer writer, which is another part of my job, is frustrating, infuriating and also occasionally gratifying — but mostly the first two.
Consider Michele Breslauer, who recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation because the carrier she was booked on (Air Canada) and the online travel agency she booked with (Expedia) wouldn’t refund her money for a canceled flight. I wrote about this exercise in finger-pointing last week.
Breslauer’s problem also rose to heights of absurdity. The DOT says airlines must refund if they cancel and can’t reasonably re-accommodate. And if you’re flying in the U.S., carriers, no matter nationality, must stick with the rules.
Breslauer has now filed a complaint with the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund, which is designed to help Californians get their due if the seller is a registered California seller of travel. Expedia is registered as such.
I don’t know how that is going to play out, but I received another email about Air Canada after Breslauer’s story ran in print on May 9.
In it, Kathy Schwartz said she had read about Breslauer’s dilemma with particular interest because she and her husband had tickets on Air Canada and their schedule had been changed.
My heart sank.
“Last night, we received the third schedule change due to ‘Government travel advisory,’” Schwartz wrote. “No clue what that meant, but we were astonished to see that our once nonstop had now been changed to a one-stop in Vancouver, going to/from Calgary, arriving close to midnight and making the trip twice as long.”
That was unacceptable, so she called Air Canada to ask for a refund.
“I had your article from the newspaper on the desk, ready to read off the U.S. Department of Transportation requirement that we be provided with a refund.
“After waiting on hold for 80 minutes, I was helped by a very nice woman named Rosarie. After explaining what happened, she looked at our reservation history and was able to process our refunds. We received two confirmation emails:
“‘REFUND RECEIPT / REÇU DE REMBOURSEMENT’
“‘Your refund is confirmed!’”
Schwartz deserves credit for persevering and grounding herself in the law. Air Canada deserves credit for doing the right thing, although the credit is more like a participation trophy. And G.K. Chesterton deserves credit for saying, “The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.”
We don’t always or even often get happily-ever-afters in the world of travel misadventure, and this spring and summer, we’re bound to be entangled in some issues and misunderstandings. My advice: Take good notes, keep your documentation together, read the company’s terms and conditions (airlines call them contracts or conditions of carriage) and know what you are and are not entitled to.
Working with a travel advisor (we used to call them agents) has lots of advantages, including the fact that you have an advocate, Sonia Robledo, a travel advisor who always gives me food for thought, said in an email.
What you’re also getting is experience, according to Robledo. “I also know who is being responsible about refunds [and] rebookings during this terrible time of COVID-19,” she said.
“Book directly with any airline and, if there is a major schedule change, pulled flight, any other thing you can’t figure out how to fix online, you must deal directly with the airline and be prepared to wait on hold for hours, leave a number and they will call you back? Sometimes that doesn’t happen.
“Deal with me and most responsible agents and we will answer the phone promptly. ... I will deal with it. Maybe it’s too complicated for me and I have to call, but then I am the one waiting on hold for hours ... not you. For $25 per domestic ticket and $40 per international, I sound like a pretty good deal.”
It’s always good to have someone in your corner.
And we are. Our hope is that travel will once again become just annoying rather than infuriating.
Until then, wherever you are, think about where you’d like to be when we can again travel safely and well, and know that we will always be here to welcome you home.