The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Planes and trains in the Northeast

The Economist's Gulliver blog looks at JetBlue's new landing slots and concludes it may not work for them long-term:

JETBLUE, the low-cost American carrier, won an auction last week for the right to operate eight additional round-trips from both Washington's Ronald Reagan airport (DCA) and New York's LaGuardia airport (LGA), essentially doubling its presence at both sites.

JetBlue bid $72m for the slots, over $26m more than its rival Southwest. The deal is widely seen as part of JetBlue's recent effort to gain more of a following among business travellers, especially because Reagan and LaGuardia are so close to their respective downtowns.

But in the longer term, the real question for Reagan and LaGuardia is whether Amtrak will ever operate true high-speed rail service between New York and Washington. The existing Acela Express service between the two cities takes under three hours, and is relatively competitive in terms of speed and price with flying—especially when taxis to and from LaGuardia are taken into account. Penn Station, where the Acela stops in New York, is in the heart of midtown Manhattan; Washington's Union Station is just steps from the US Capitol. It's hard to imagine flying could remain competitive if Amtrak were to cut travel time between New York and Washington to under two hours.

My recent experience in Japan suggests that two hours between Washington and New York is not only feasible, but wouldn't even require Shinkansen-level high-speed rail. Washington Union Station to New York Penn Station is 360 km, which, including stops, requires trains to go 200 km/h—coincidentally, the speed that the Acela actually achieves through parts of New Jersey. In other words, two hours New York to Washington only requires better track maintenance.


Tokyo has maps in all the metro and train stations showing where you are and where everything else is. However, throughout the city I found exactly one map where north was on top. Otherwise, they were all oriented in different directions. Here are two maps near Ueno-Koen within sight of each other that illustrate the problem. Exhibit A, with north towards the bottom left:

Exhibit B, with north in exactly the opposite direction:

Exhibit C, near my hotel, shows two maps next to each other with completely different orientations:

Why does this matter? Because whenever I looked at a map in Tokyo, I always had to spend several seconds figuring out what it represented. And it wasn't as if the orientations followed any pattern, for example showing what happens if you turn right or left from your current position, as the photo directly above shows.

I have no idea what, if any, principles are at work here. It's almost as if every map's orientation is completely left up to occident.

With friends like these

Republican party big-wigs want Romney to win the nomination, for the simple reason that he's the only one with a chance of winning next November:

"Bigfoot dressed as a circus clown would have a better chance of beating President Obama than Newt Gingrich...." quipped a Republican.

"Newt can't take the scrutiny," agreed a Democrat, "and he has the personality of an angry badger."

Only 340 days remain until President Obama's re-election.

Comments broken; bug logged

Just now, going into hour 32 of the (technically) longest day of my life, I noticed that the blog's comment view feature isn't working. This is Case #2869 in FogBugz, and will be fixed as soon as possible.

Not tonight, though. Just like Saturday, my goal is only to make it to 9pm. If I can do that, I will defeat jet lag in one stroke. I must not fail. Sleep deprivation leads to pointless blog entries, and we can't have that, can we?

Some thoughts about really long flights

I recognize it may signal mild mental illness, but I don't mind 12-hour flights. I built up to this, of course, starting with 4-hour flights from Chicago to L.A. when I was a kid and growing into almost daily flights during a particularly annoying part of my career as a consultant. These days, Chicago to London (7 hours) isn't too long for a weekend; and Chicago to Tokyo (12 hours) only requires dumping a few frequent-flyer miles to ensure that I do the overnight flight in a premium class.

That helps, of course. Twelve hours in first or business is a lot more tolerable than 12 hours in coach. Ultimately, though, I'm engaged in an activity that was totally inaccessible to all of my ancestors, even my parents: cheap, convenient air travel to almost anywhere on the planet in less than a day.

"But wait," you cry, "they had airplanes 30 years ago." Yes, but before the Boeing 777 and Airbus 330/340, all three of which entered service only in the mid-1990s, fuel costs made cheap tickets to Europe or Asia impossible. When I first went to Europe in 1992, the ticket cost in nominal terms about what it would cost today: $600 or $700 for the round trip. Only, in 1992, $700 went almost 50% farther in real terms.

Also in the last 25 years or so, visa regimes have relaxed throughout the world. For all that politicians worldwide complain about illegal immigration, in reality citizens of the U.S. can visit almost anyplace in the world without a pre-arranged visa. As recently as 1985, most Western European countries required Americans to get visas from their consulates before visiting; now, Americans can get a stamp at entry in 173 countries, which includes all of the OECD, all of the Americas (except Brazil and Venezuela), all of Europe (except Russia and Belarus), and all of Oceania.

None of that, of course, makes the actual flight more fun. For that, I have:

  • A Kindle, with two novels I've yet to read;
  • An iPod, with the last 10 episodes of This American Life; and
  • A laptop, with three projects I can work on, two of them billable.

Still, thirty years ago, the idea of spending a week in Japan, posting photos of the trip in near-real-time, and keeping in touch with people by text and phone for pennies—all of this would have seemed like science fiction.

Welcome to the 2010s and cheap travel. I wish more people would take advantage of it. I'll have more thoughts on that point when I land.

Mission: Sushi, accomplished

My last meal in Tokyo came off a conveyor belt:

For ¥600 I got this: a salmon roll, a pair of shrimp nigiri, and a pair of grilled salmon nigiri. And it was yum.

If you're ever southwest of the Shinjuku train station, look for this place:

And in a little over an hour, the long voyage home begins...