Felony Franks and other restaurants help ex-cons help you

If nobody hires ex-cons, then we shouldn’t be shocked when they return to lives of crime. So, for the good of Chicago, go pick up a couple of hotdogs at Felony Franks. James Andrews, who owns the West Side dog joint, makes it a point to hire people who have done time, seeing it as a service to a community that’s been struggling with crime for quite a while. There has been some pushback from the community, but Andrews stands by his mission.

The menu is pretty straightforward: hotdogs, sausages, steak sandwiches and French fries – the real deal, from raw potatoes. Orders are take from behind bulletproof glass (common in the neighborhood, unfortunately), but in the spirit of fun, customers are asked, “Are you ready to plead your case?” Also, an adaptation f the Miranda warning hangs on the wall, proclaiming your “right to remain hungry” – as if you’d want to!

If you’re jonesing for a “Misdemeanor Wiener” but don’t live in Chicago, there are restaurants around the country that help the recently released start fresh.

West Coast
Delancey Street: this San Francisco eatery is run by a foundation that helps ex-cons, drug addicts and the homeless get back on their feet.

East Coast
Mates Inn: the Trenton, New Jersey joint is on the state corrections department’s campus.

Andrews must be doing something right. Since opening, sales have reached $30,000 a month, and more than a thousand former inmates have applied for jobs.


Top U.S. ports of entry

Eighty-six percent of international arrivals to the United States come through only 15 ports of entry, according to data from the Department of Transportation. This represents an increase of one percentage point over last year (measuring the first five months of 2008 to the first five months of 2009.

The top three ports of entry are hardly surprising: New York (specifically JFK), Miami and Los Angeles. How insane is it that the leading first impression of our country is in Queens?! These three spots were responsible for 40 percent of all arrivals so far this year. Their share of all international arrivals – trending with the top 15 – increased by roughly one percentage point year-over-year. Miami, Orlando and Philadelphia were the only members of this group to post increases.

Six of the top 15 ports of entry into the United States sustained double-digit decreases in arrivals. The stream through San Francisco is off 18 percent, moving it into the #6 position on the list (behind Honolulu). Detroit dropped 32 percent, pushing it to fifteenth, behind Boston and Philadelphia, and Agana, Guam fell 9 percent, putting it behind Chicago on the list.

Giving up your seat for a voucher? Only on one condition!

It’s always pretty tempting. You’re sitting in the gate area and hear the voice on the loudspeaker, offering travel vouchers and other perks if you’ll give up your seat because your flight is oversold. You know the drill … “if your travel plans are flexible.” Well, while en route to the Gadling meet-up in Chicago, I got this opportunity and decided to roll the dice. Along the way, I learned a bit that you may find useful when the gate agent is trying to seduce you into seat sacrifice.

Don’t give up your seat on one airline to accept a seat on another.

Right away, I felt uncomfortable. It’s natural to hesitate when you’re giving up a sure thing. Next, the gate agents were hunting for flights … never a good sign. I was on Delta, and the next Delta flight was fully booked … even though the original announcement promised volunteers a flight on the next Delta flight. The whole arrangement left me doubtful, but the thought of $800 worth of free travel (I was with my wife) pushed me forward. Gadling top dog Grant Martin was egging me on via e-mail, along with several other members of the team.

So, I pulled the trigger.

The Delta gate agent was able to get us booked on an American Airlines flight to Chicago leaving two hours later. So, we picked up our carry-ons and trudged across the Cincinnati airport to Terminal 2, where we’d check in and catch our new flight.

A shock awaited us at the American Airlines counter: our flight had been canceled. Fortunately, the airline was able to get us on a flight that was leaving earlier … though it had been delayed five hours (i.e., it was supposed to leave at 1 PM but was pushed to 6 PM, while our canceled flight was supposed to push back at 8 PM). Unlike everyone else on that flight, we got lucky. But, I wondered, what if we hadn’t been put on the earlier American flight? How screwed would we have been?

I called Delta’s media relations department while waiting for my flight on American and heard back rather quickly. The rep wasn’t able to point to a specific policy and rushed through an explanation that wasn’t terribly encouraging. The moral of the story seemed to be that Delta would welcome you back … because that’s the airline with which you started.

A media relations rep without some form of corporate-speak to quote chapter and verse is unnerving. These are the people responsible for making the airline look good less bad. If PR can’t give you a straight (if biased) answer, what are the chances of that gate agent being able to deliver?

“It’s easier when it’s a Delta-to-Delta” change, the rep explained. So, that tipped me off. If you can’t get a flight on the same airline, don’t chance it. I was told that there is more the airline can do for you if you’re on one of its flights. That’s true. They can bargain with first class upgrades, exit row seats and other perks. But, if they send you to another airline, you lose all that leverage.

Now, if you are moved to another airline and they cancel on you, you can always go back to the one with which you started, but keep in mind that the options available to them are more limited. If they’ve spent the day accommodating bumped passengers from oversold flights, there may not be as many slots available. You’ve lost time, which means you’ve lost flights.

And, since you’ve already given up your flight, there’s little you can do. You’re at the airline‘s mercy.

With my episode last Friday, I’m still a bit confused about the gate agent’s choice of flights. To have a plane canceled in the 15 minutes it took to walk from one terminal to another felt a bit fishy. I have no evidence of a decision from convenience, but I am certainly suspicious.

Of course, I did learn something, albeit the hard way: do not give up your seat if you can’t be booked on the same airline. You’re guaranteeing a world of headache.

Thanksgiving parades: more than just Macy’s

Looking for a good old-fashioned Thanksgiving parade, but aren’t up for Macy’s? Or perhaps you’re looking for the excitement and crowds of the Macy’s parade, but live on the wrong coast? Well, we’ve done some research here at Gadling and come up with 5 lesser-known parades worth checking out.

1.) America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration — Plymouth, Massachusetts

What better place to celebrate Thanksgiving than its birthplace? In their twelfth year, the festivities at Plymouth include music, historical reenactments, vintage American cars and hand-made floats. There’s also a food festival, where you can sample a variety of New England’s “culinary delights.” The events are sponsored by the Plymouth Rock Foundation, a non-profit organization that “strives to keep the traditions and values of early Americans from being forgotten.” I wonder if the historical reenactments will include stoning or the wearing of a scarlet letter?

The parade actually takes place on Saturday, November 17, which is the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Read all about it here.

%Gallery-9415%2.) America’s Thanksgiving Parade — Detroit, Michigan

The website for Detroit’s Turkey Day parade absolutely gushes with enthusiasm and pride. Apparently, this parade has “captured the imaginations of millions of children and their families for generations.” Whoa. If any of you have seen Waiting for Guffman, (incidentally my favorite movie) you might understand the eagerness of this website. But I digress. Here’s what the organizers have to say about their upcoming parade:

On November 22, 2007 we will celebrate the success of the great city of Detroit. Over the past decade, Detroit has seen some major transformations; new businesses, entertainment, restaurants, sporting and cultural events, festivals and of course PARADES!! With the exciting rebirth of the downtown area…the 2007 Parade celebrates “Hats off Detroit!”

If you’re at the parade, you can take part in a 10k “Turkey Trot,” 5k “Stuffing Strut,” or the “Mashed Potato Mile.” But maybe hold off on dinner until after you’ve run the race.

3.) McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade — Chicago, Illinois

This parade boasts “giant helium balloons, fabulous floats, award-winning marching bands, talented equestrian units, unique performance groups, and local and national celebrities.” What more could you ask for? The procession travels north on State Street from Congress to Randolph. Organizers expect 400,000 spectators and 1.5 million viewers. If you’re in the area but don’t feel like leaving your couch, catch the live broadcast on WGN-TV and WGN-DT 9.1 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. You’ll find more information here.

4.) Mother Goose Parade — El Caljon, California

Entering its 61st year, the Mother Goose Parade sets itself apart by offering what many other Thanksgiving festivals cannot — sunshine. If the threat of a Nor’Easter is keeping your buttocks firmly attached to your couch during all the Thanksgiving fun, it might be time to consider a little light therapy. Held on November 18th, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, this procession doesn’t start until the afternoon, which allows you ample time to lounge around poolside beforehand. But be warned: spectators begin lining up at 8:00 a.m.

5.) 6ABC/Boscov’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Although the Macy’s parade tends to steal the limelight as the nation’s biggest, Philly’s parade was actually our nation’s first — it began in 1920. Not that the anyone’s bitter or anything. The march lasts more than three hours and features 13 marching bands, floats, balloons, a 1,000-member youth choir, a tap dance troupe, and all the Disney characters. Santa takes up the rear, so you might want to have your Christmas list ready.

This one takes place on November 22, starts at 8:00 a.m., and is free. More info here.

Finally, for those traditionalists out there, be sure to check out our gallery of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day floats. Little on this planet can compare with the eye-popping wonder of these mega-balloons!