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A word of advice to anyone traveling to the US from abroad.

Don’t make Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, your point of entry. Because I found out last week that it offers one of the worst airport experiences I’ve ever had, worse than some third-world countries I’ve been to.

My flight gets in last Saturday from Switzerland, and I have two hours to spare before having to catch a flight to Seattle. All I have to do is clear passport control, collect my suitcases, go through customers (where I have nothing to declare) and then hand them to the baggage handlers so they can be transferred to my domestic flight. Simple. And should be fairly quick because they separate travelers who are connecting to other flights from those who are staying in DC, obviously because they understand the time issues that may be involved.

But not so much.

Getting through passport control was easy. And then began the nightmare. Waiting for more than a half hour for bags to come on the carousel…along with about a thousand other people. The room was too small, not allowing people the ability to move. And then, once the bags came, there were just two people in the customs line collecting forms and questioning people. It took well over an hour to move at a snail’s pace to get through the line…at which point there was still another line to get the bags to the handlers. Needless t say, I missed my connection, a did almost everyone else in line.

Now, I was lucky. The wonderful folks at United got me on a later flight connecting through Chicago, and the only problem was that my bags didn’t catch up with me for more than 24 hours. I just felt bad for the people coming into the US who didn’t speak English, and who didn’t have options like the Red Carpet Club to make their lives easier.

Still, the only time I got irritated was when I was standing on line and using my cell phone to try to identify options once I knew there was no way I’d be catching the Seattle flight. Some bozo in a uniform came over to me and told me to put my cell phone away or he’d confiscate it…since speaking on a cell phone in customs is some sort of violation of the law.

Our tax dollars at work.

By the way, contrast this experience to what happened to me when I went to Europe. I flew into Frankfurt, where I had to change planes to get to Geneva. I went through passport control easily, and then went searching for the place where I’d pick up my bags and go through customs. I couldn’t find it, so I went to the Lufthansa transfer desk and asked.

The German guy behind the counter responded, “This is Germany. You paid for your ticket, so we’ll do all the work.”

Yikes. Nothing like German efficiency.

The best thing I brought with me on my trip, by the way, was my new 80-gig iPod that allowed me to download and watch television programs that I was missing while on the road, as well listen to the thousands of songs I have stored on my computer.

What an ingenious, functional and utterly beautiful little piece of equipment.

Maybe it’s because of all the traveling, but two of my current favorite songs on the iPod are “San Francisco Bay Blues,” by Eric Clapton and “LA Freeway” by Jerry Jeff Walker.

And, I’ve been watching episodes of the new TV series, “Nine,” about the after-effects of a hostage crisis on nine people who suffered through it. Really well acted, and with a premise that keeps you guessing.

Read a great book on the road: “Echo Park,” the newest Harry Bosch mystery by Michael Connelly. Once again, Connelly has delivered a fascinating, Raymond Chandler-like look into the wounded soul of Harry Bosch, a Los Angeles detective, furthering a portrait that began many books ago. With each book, the portrait offers new features and additional context for old features. Great stuff.

I also watched a terrific documentary: “When We Were Kings,” about Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire back in 1974. Not only is it a great snapshot of a very specific time, but it offers yet further evidence of Muhammad Ali’s importance not just as a sports figure, but as a cultural icon who transcended race while confronting its complicated politics all at the same time.

It hasn’t been a big hit by any means, but if it is playing near you, go see “The Illusionist,” an interesting little puzzle box of a movie starring Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti. It has suspense, romance, terrific performances and a script that will keep you guessing until the very end. I liked it a lot.

I normally don’t like commercials, but I’ve seen several lately that actually made me laugh out loud.

There is the new series of Apple commercials, with the two guys saying “I’m a Mac,” and “I’m a PC.” Just a scream.

And, there is a hugely funny Direct TV commercial running now with William Shatner revisiting his “Star Trek” character of James T. Kirk. Outstanding.

And while it is not particularly funny, I really like the new Crate & Barrel commercial that speaks volumes about the kind of cooking and eating at home that more grocers ought to be talking about…and does so with huge style.

When in San Francisco, a new must-have is the spaghetti carbonara at the newly named Zoetrope Café on Columbus Avenue. Topped off with a glass of 2003 Director’s Reserve Pinot Noir, it was perfect against the chill of a foggy evening in San Francisco.

Though I don’t get why they’ve renamed what used to be called the Niebaum-Coppola café, which certainly had greater name recognition.

And I don’t understand why they took the chilaquiles off the menu.

But this is just the kind of stuff that I have to put up with,

Tough life, eh?

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


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