Galley Gossip: Taking Care Of Other People’s Kids In Flight

Long ago I was on a flight from Chicago to Boston via New York when a weary woman with an active baby sat next to me. Having much experience babysitting, I was used to babies and thought I might be called upon to smile, wave and cheer up a crying baby, but never did I think that the mother would abdicate her responsibilities to me, a complete stranger.

The mom began to feel airsick (or so she said) and told me she was unable to change her baby’s diaper because she was about to throw up and asked me to do it for her. Guess what? I did it. I just felt so badly for the woman and the baby having to sit in the mess and yes, especially for myself because I could not stand the fumes either.

After the dirty job was done, she thanked me profusely and then said she was exhausted and asked me to hold her baby while she grabbed a few winks. She woke up when the wheels touched the ground to find her baby finally fast asleep on my shoulder. I prayed that they were not on my connecting flight. Am I crazy or just a Good Samaritan? Cheers, Priscilla

I’m going with Good Samaritan. I’m also going to say Thank God for passengers like you. While I can’t say that sort of thing happens often, it does happen, and not everyone is as nice about it as you were. Your act of kindness proves you’re a compassionate human being.

That said I came a cross a child acting out in a seat while we were doing the beverage service not too long ago. I couldn’t help but wonder why the mother wasn’t doing anything to keep her child entertained during the flight. Instead the mother had her eyes closed and ignored the child. Later on in flight the little girl came to the back of the airplane and asked for a soda. I went over to the mother to make sure that was okay. The woman shrugged. Not the response I expected. That’s when I asked a strange question: ​”It this your child?” The woman sighed and said no.Turns out the mother of this hyper six year-old had booked a seat in first class, leaving a complete stranger to sit beside her child in coach. I felt badly for the woman and offered her an adult beverage on the house.

Years ago on a different flight, I felt something between my feet. On this particular day I was commuting, not working, just a regular passenger wearing jeans in coach. So I didn’t necessarily look like someone you could trust. When I glanced down at the floor I found an infant staring back at me. I picked up the baby and looked around the coach cabin for someone who might be missing a child. No one fit the bill. But behind me a woman slept with her head against the window.

I tapped her on the shoulder. “Is this yours?”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” she said. She thanked me and went back to sleep.

“There’s nothing like being a new ‘uncle’ on a plane to a kid you’ll never see again,” wrote Mitch Lacey after I posted a tweet asking if anyone had ever gotten stuck taking care of somebody else’s child on an airplane.

Sonya Hamasaki had a little fun when she found herself seated next to a nine year-old. “He read me dirty jokes from his iPod. I taught him to play Candy Crush saga.”

Hopefully this won’t be a problem for long with airlines like Scoot creating child-free zones and Etihad Airways offering in-flight nannies. Not that this is an excuse to shirk responsibilities as a parent. Still you might consider packing a pair of noise canceling headsets and a nose clip next time you fly in case this should happen again.

Mammoth Mountain Summer Camp Will Make You Wish You Were A Kid Again

Mammoth Mountain Summer Camp
Mammoth Mountain

Remember when we were kids and summer camp meant hiking in Yosemite, whitewater rafting and camping under the stars? Yeah, me neither! My summer camp wasn’t nearly half as cool as that! Those are exactly the kinds of activities that Mammoth Mountain will offer kids this summer at their annual Mammoth Kids Summer Camp, however, providing six days filled with fun and adventure that will make them the envy of all their friends.

Mammoth will offer two sessions of their summer camp this year, the first running July 7-12 and the other running July 28 – August 2. Participants are broken down into two age groups, 8-12 and 13-16 allowing all campers to interact with kids their own age and form lasting friendships. Over the course of the six days, they’ll go hiking and rafting in nearby Yosemite National Park, learn how to fly-fish and take an excursion into the mountains on horseback that includes overnight camping. Other activities include mountain biking on Mammoth’s beginner trails, rock climbing on the climbing wall and stand-up paddleboarding on June Lake. What more could a budding adventurer ask for?

For more details on this great kid-centric opportunity click here.

And while parents aren’t allowed at summer camp, that doesn’t mean Mammoth doesn’t have plenty to offer them as well. Many of the same activities are available for those who stay at the lodge, including full access to the mountain bike trails, fly-fishing spots, golf course and hiking paths. So while your little one is off on his or her own adventure, you can mix in a little of your own. Parents staying at Mammoth while their kids are in summer camp can receive up to a 20 percent discount on lodging, as well as some great deals on other activities as well.

Who says summer camp is just for the kids?

A Kid Friendly Midwest Getaway: See The Freaks At Circus World In Baraboo

circus worldFive years ago, when my wife and I had our first child, our lives as travelers changed. We still hit the road just as often as before, but now we find ourselves seeking out zoos and playgrounds and children’s museums and a host of other kid friendly attractions that we never would have visited during our childless years. Most of the time, I acquiesce to the child-centric activities more or less kicking and screaming, and although I enjoy watching my kids have fun, 3- and 5-year-old boys aren’t exactly well known for showing gratitude and appreciation, so I sometimes wonder if the kid stuff is worth it.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, we treated our boys to the one kid-focused activity we’ve never tried before: a circus. These days, many of the larger traveling circuses perform in large arenas, which hold little appeal for me. I wanted to bring my kids to an old-school circus performed under a big top, and I found what I was looking for at Circus World, in Baraboo, Wisconsin, about three hours northwest of Chicago, and just 10 minutes from the tourist trap insanity of the Wisconsin Dells.

Baraboo is ground zero for circus enthusiasts. It was here on May 19, 1884, that the five Ringling Brothers – Al, Otto, Alfred, Charles and John – staged their first circus act. There were 21 performers, a small tent, a hyena and three horses in the act. Tickets cost 15 to 35 cents and they soon took their act on the road, pulling into small towns all across the country with their hand-carved circus wagons, advertising strong men, bearded women, ferocious animals and the like.

Circus World is both museum and circus, and before the circus started, we took some time to check out the museum, which tells the story of how the Ringlings turned their little circus into a global juggernaut. The Ringlings were the offspring of August Rungeling, who emigrated from Germany to Milwaukee in 1848. He changed his name to Ringling, married and had 11 children, three of whom died in infancy. The five brothers got into the circus act, with Al, the oldest, serving as the ringleader. He married a snake handler from Iowa and could balance a huge plow on his chin unsupported.

In 1918, the brothers bought out Barnum & Bailey, their chief rival, and the business evolved into a national railway show. They got rich and used some of their money to build lavish homes and other buildings, including the gorgeous Al Ringling Cinema, which still stands today in downtown Baraboo. (The museum doesn’t mention the fact that just one Ringling heir still lives in the Baraboo area today, and he’s in prison for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy.)

A stroll through the museum’s collection of old circus posters and the even more interesting hall of circus wagons gives one an idea of how un-politically correct circuses were back in the day. Any sort of deformity could be turned into an attraction – a short-armed man was called “Seal Boy,” and various posters advertised bearded ladies, East Indian dwarves, “Giraffe-necked” women from Burma, sword swallowers, an Egyptian Giant and a “Man Without a Stomach,” among many others.

In the pre-television era, going to a circus was a common form of entertainment, especially for people who lived in smaller towns. Popular circus acts became household names across the nation. For example, some 40 million Americans saw a gorilla from the Belgian Congo named Gargantua the Great.

After watching a magic show, we scored front row seats under the big top, and settled in to watch the show. The first act was a woman in her 50s or 60s who was dressed up like a pop star in oversized white sunglasses, a gray wig and a revealing, open-backed shimmery, sequined costume. She brought out “the world’s only performing Persian cat” and a slew of “Afghan dogs” that performed a variety of jumps, tricks and dances. It all seemed preposterous to me, but my sons, who were devouring an industrial size portion of cotton candy, were transfixed.

The dogs were eventually replaced by a comically effeminate Columbia contortionist wearing eye makeup and a three-sizes-too-tight gymnast costume. I had to avert my eyes as he contorted his body one way and other, looking as though he was about to break a limb at any moment and resisted the urge to leave altogether when he actually fit his entire body inside a small, clear box.

The next performer was a comically buffoonish character who did a slapstick routine revolving around his supposed inability to jump on a trampoline. I thought it was ridiculous, but when I looked over at my sons, they were roaring and squealing in delight. I don’t think I have ever seen them so happy.

Next, we were introduced to Spirit, the “world’s smallest performing show pony,” as the PA system blasted the ludicrous “My Little Pony” theme song and an older woman in a garish Hungarian folk costume led Spirit around in circles.

The final act of the afternoon was easily the most preposterous. A woman wearing a feathered Indian headdress and a far-too revealing sequined costume brought out a host of little monkeys on leashes and proceeded to coax them into jumping from platform to platform, 20 feet up in the air. Her male counterpart was a Greek looking man with a unibrow who looked like Pete Sampras might if he lives to be 110. When the monkeys dawdled, he whacked them on the asses to get them to jump, and after they’d done their standard jump a few times he said, “Now we’re going to see if they can jump 12 feet. We hope they can make it!” I was rooting for the monkeys to go on strike, but it didn’t happen.

The monkeys made it and while the whole farce seemed exploitative and just plain dumb to me, I couldn’t deny how much my sons had enjoyed the spectacle. On the way out, we filed past a guy holding a huge snake, asking $10 for a photo, and my 5-year-old son, Leo, was uncharacteristically grateful.

“Dad,” he said. “Thank you so much for taking me to the circus!”

Kids Ski Free At Big Bear For Spring Break

Big Bear lets kids ski for free during spring breakIf you’re planning a spring break getaway with the entire family, and intend to do a little skiing during that time, then Big Bear has just the deal for you. The resort, located just 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, is offering free weekday lift tickets for kids 12 and under starting now and running through April 14 or until the end of the season.

The Kids Ski/Ride free package requires at least one night stay at one of the Big Bear lodges. This special offer provides one child lift ticket for each paying adult with those passes valid for skiing at both Snow Summit and Bear Mountain resorts. Together those locations offer 436 skiable acres with 26 lifts, four high-speed chairs and 1800 vertical feet. Nearby terrain parks also offer more than 200 features as well and a free shuttle gives visitors quick access to either of the two resorts.

Snow conditions at Big Bear are good with a current base of between 28-48 inches on the ground. The past few days have seen steady snowfall bringing an additional 8-10 inches of fresh powder to the slopes. That bodes well for spring break skiers and snowboarders looking for some quality time on the hill. The winter conditions have made the drive into Big Bear a bit of a challenge, however, so if you’re planning on going, be sure to check the current road report before setting out.

If you’re still firming up your spring break ski plans and you’re looking for an affordable way to hit the slopes, Big Bear’s kids package is tough to beat. Find out all of the details by clicking here.

[Photo Credit: Big Bear]

Intense National Geographic Series, ‘Locked Up Abroad,’ Documents Inept Travelers

muleLast week’s arrest of diaper-wearing cocaine smugglers at JFK proved more laughable than horrifying to those not directly involved. Drug busts are in the media so often, we rarely pay attention to them. They’re certainly not something I care about.

Yet, I’ve recently become obsessed with a National Geographic show called “Locked Up Abroad.” I don’t recall hearing about this harrowing documentary series when it first aired in 2007, but it caught my eye about a month ago, during a late-night Netflix bender. It’s now in its sixth season on the National Geographic Channel.

Each episode profiles one or two subjects, most of whom have been imprisoned in developing nations. While a few episodes detail hostage and other kidnapping situations (Warning: if you’re at all easily disturbed, please don’t watch … nightmares are almost guaranteed), most involve drug smuggling gone awry.

As a die-hard adventure traveler, I find “Locked Up Abroad” absorbing (that’s not an intentional diaper pun) because it’s a real-life dramatization of my worst fears. As a solo female wanderer, I can’t help but worry sometimes about kidnapping or becoming an inadvertent drug mule, no matter how self-aware I try to be. Many of the episodes on “Locked Up Abroad,” however, involve people with the intellect of dead hamsters, and it’s hard to feel much in the way of empathy, given their greed and gullibility.Still, it’s hard to resist a good prison story, especially when it involves South America or Bangladesh, and pasty, bespectacled English blokes or naive teenage girls from small-town Texas. The psychology behind why these people take such enormous risks, and how they manage to survive in inhospitable and downright inhumane conditions is fascinating.

Perhaps I’ve just watched “Midnight Express,” “Brokedown Palace,” and “Return to Paradise” one too many times, but I’ve often wondered how I’d fare in such a situation, and I hope I never have to find out. But documentaries like “Locked Up Abroad” are more than just sensationalism. They’re a window into our desperate, greedy, grubby little souls, as well as testimony to the will to survive.

For some reason, YouTube and National Geographic Channel video links are disabled or broken, so if you want to check out some footage, click here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Svadilfari]