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The Wary Traveler

On the Beat


Vaccination Vacations: You love to travel, right? Well, Peter Greenberg has written a whole book warning you where NOT to go. Don’t Go There (Macmillan, 2009) has chapter after chapter telling of rotten, dangerous, stinky cities, the world’s worst airports, and towns full of drunk drivers.

I just got back from Denver and learned that it’s the nation’s No. 1 “dangerously drunk” city. Luckily, all I did was drive out of the mountains to the airport, through the smog and diesel fumes. I missed the DUIs. Coloradans I met preferred Bud Light, which ought to tell you something, and also ought to make Greenberg’s book, as it is the most insipid beer on the planet.

On the Beat

(What’s that doing in he-man Marlboro Country?)

Greenberg is a famous travel writer, travel editor for NBC’s Today show. We met someplace, I forget where, but we both survived. Peter has found hotels that would revolt even Norman Bates. Dirtiest ones? Topping his list is the Miami International Airport Hotel. “I’d rather sleep in the terminal,” moans Peter. Las Vegas Hilton: Cleanliness there, he says, “is a gamble.”

Most polluted U.S. city: Good old L.A., as of 2008. (People actually live there.) In second place, my favorite city to pummel: Bakersfield. (People live there, too, but drive here for the beach.) Internationally, beware of exposing your lungs to the air of places like Cairo (I have, twice, but Egypt remains one of my favorite places to visit); Beijing; Calcutta (of course); and Make-Sick-O City, a town I’ve loved for decades but dare not visit now.

As for water quality, Kamilo Beach, on the Big Island, seems to be a catch-all for trash floated in by the trade winds. The only reason to go sun tanning or swimming at littered Kahuku Beach, Honolulu, “is to research how plastic affects our environment,” Peter says.

Then there’s Cancer Alley, the toxic 80-mile stretch of the Mississippi from Baton Rouge to New Orleans where giant corporations belch pollution and dump chemical waste. Cancer levels are suspiciously high. “The days of Huck Finn are no longer,” Peter says.

Then there are America’s suicide capitals, led by Montana, also known by its boosters as “the last best place.” Too many take that literally, it seems. (The depressed mood could be catching if you go, Peter warns.) Guns are practically religious items up there and not surprisingly, they’re the method of choice for ending it all. “Two-thirds of suicides in Montana are committed with guns, compared with one-half nationally.”

Nevada is a place where dreams of riches at the gaming tables too often lead to signing over your car title (there are shops eager to make it easy), or worse. The state of Lost Wages is second nationally in suicides. “Talk about cashing out,” Peter observes.

Getting there used to be half the fun. Peter fills eight pages with lists of airlines banned by the U.S. and other countries as too dangerous to fly on. Don’t even think of boarding a plane run by the country of Zimbabwe, for instance.

Peter also warns of “Dangerous Theme Parks,” “Worst Cruises: Ships of Fools,” “Disease Capitals,” “Water Pollution: Don’t Drink the Water, Really,” “Worst Hotels: Paging Norman Bates,” and much more.

None of this should stop you from traveling, of course. One destination on my list of places to go is Panama’s Darien, infested with poisonous snakes, gun-toting smugglers, narcotrafficantes, Colombian militiamen, and butterfly buffs waving nets in the jungle.

Love Fest: Now that the Santa Barbara Planning Commission has unanimously okayed a revised plan to rebuild El Encanto resort, one can expect to find work resuming up there any time now. In what one official called “a love fest,” commissioners last Thursday, September 10, voted 7-0 to approve a plan that satisfied neighbors’ previous objections. Among other changes aimed at sound reduction, valet parking on the northwest corner will be placed underground and a central power facility will be moved away from that corner.

Measure B or Not to B? Opponents of the November ballot measure aimed at reducing the downtown Santa Barbara height limit are putting up a fierce, convincing battle, but apparently not convincing enough to prevail, according to the word on State Street. The measure, which would reduce the height limit from 60 feet down to 40 in El Pueblo Viejo (and 45 feet elsewhere downtown) is rolling “on a railroad track” and will get 60 percent of the vote, one close observer predicted.

Mail It In: Let’s see if the all-mail balloting (except for a few walk-in polling places for traditionalists) leads to a higher turnout among those who actually realize that there’s an election going on. So far, the consensus seems to have progressive Councilmember Helene Schneider ahead in the mayoral race, with conservative Councilmember Dale Francisco giving voters a real choice. These council races are nonpartisan by state law, so I wish the political parties would keep their noses out. There was a reason why Californians long ago wanted to get rid of partisan fingers in the political pie.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns throughout the week and a print column on Thursdays.



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