I Love Kayak

Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and your ilk: I'm through with you.

Sidestep and Mobissimo: I still like you, but maybe we should take a break for a while.

The travel search site that's the new apple of my eye is Kayak, which kicks everyone else's ass. It's more flexible than Sidestep, returns more relevant results than Mobissimo, and doesn't levy any crappy fees like the mega-mall sites. It lets you search a whole mess of airlines (or hotels, or cars, or packages), then gently scoots you directly to the site of the provider you choose--with the flight or hotel you selected ready and waiting for you to buy.

And though, like all new and different and scruffy and irreverent stuff on the web, it's surely bound to be snatched up by some goliath as soon as it gets popular enough, for the time being it remains new and different and scruffy and irreverent. (Witness the Labs page, described thus: "This is where we release experimental stuff. Try it out and let us know which tools are useful and which ones are stupid." What's not to love?)

I'm sure there's all sorts of technically brilliant stuff happening on this site--compendia of results from other sites, crazy RSS feeds of several stripes, some sort of IM interface something or other--that those more electronically inclined than I will appreciate. All I know is that when all other sites failed, Kayak found me a cheap flight to New York that didn't involve leaving from San Jose and/or flying overnight. For that, and for its general kick-ass-ness, I am smitten.



Having sworn that my two-week European jaunt this September would pre-empt much of my other travel for the year, I now find myself to be something of a liar.

DC in May is still up in the air--maybe, maybe not, depending on the vagaries of my sort-of employer and the cost of plane tickets--but there will definitely be a New York excursion for about a week in early June, followed by a foreshortened Fam summer binge in July, followed perhaps by something Vancouver-ward if my bank account can bear it. So I've been spending inordinate amounts of time ping ponging back and forth between airline sites, trying to be wise in my ticket purchasing and ruing the fact that my $250 Boston ticket last month is a deal unlikely to be repeated for the remainder of the year.

Transportation logistics aside, I've also managed to lose myself for hours in researching hotels in Italy, which has made me realize that the (relative) grandeur of our 2002 accommodations is much less feasible in this post-corporate world I currently inhabit. But I'm looking, and making vague promises to myself about cutting back on other expenses (such as, um, well, something) to be able to fund another grand tour, and recalling fondly all of the amazing places J and I stayed last time around.

(For some reason, one of the memories that bubbles closest to the surface is our night in Nice, after a less-than-ceremonious arrival that included witnessing an attempted carjacking of the vehicle in front of us on our way into the city. But with wine and dinner and a stroll through the city, we got beyond that, and at the end of it all fell asleep in our stunningly nice room in a hotel whose name, if I'm not mistaken, included "Palace."

Still jetlagged, though--this was my third night abroad--I woke up early, spurred awake, no doubt, by the clamor coming from down the street, which filtered up into the room through the French doors that we'd left open for air. After tossing and turning for a few minutes, I got up to see where the noise was coming from, and determined that there were a clatch of workmen doing something or other involving jackhammers on the road below. I watched blearily for a while, then fell back into bed, and possibly back into some sort of sleep.

J woke to the same noise shortly thereafter, and, seeing my eyes flutter, asked, "What is that?" "They're doing some jackhammering down the street," I replied, to which he said, "How do you know?" "I got up and looked," I said. He then fixed me with something between disbelief and amusement. "I love that you got up to confirm the source of the jackhammering, and yet left the windows wide open.")

So I really should be writing the articles that have been tugging at my sleeve for the past few weeks, or tending to some vague stab at spring cleaning, or doing any of the dozens of other things that are relevant and pressing now. But it's all I can do not to lose myself entirely down the rabbit hole of travel to come.


Ludacris Made Me Cry

Last night I shuffled over to Into Video and returned with Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 2, Disc 1, and Crash (the 2005 version, not the crazy Cronenberg-Spader-sex-with-corpses version). I watched Curb first, figuring I'd coat my stomach with some delightful ridiculousness before the depressing punch of Crash. A wise move, as it turned out.

Crash was brilliant, and if there's ever been a more roundly damning portrait of race in America, I can't imagine what it might be. One of the extremely impressive things about the movie is that almost no one--with the possible exception of the locksmith and Sandra Bullock's Latina housekeeper--gets away without doing or saying at least something prejudiced, bigoted, or otherwise assholic. Almost all of the characters show an ugly side at some point.

Much of Crash is relentlessly depressing, but it's pulled back from the brink of being as much of a downer as, say, Amores Perros by a few moments of levity and by a small handful of vaguely heartening scenes. Time and again, things just don't turn out as you think they will, for better or (often) worse, and each of the characters confounds expectations by becoming either more human or less over the course of the film.

It's not giving too much away to say that Anthony, the character played by Ludacris, takes an unexpected turn from the moment we're introduced to him to the moment we see him riding on a bus toward the end of the film. Oddly, for all of the painfully sad or brutal or bleak events throughout the story, the only time I cried was when Anthony pulled his van--stolen under complex and fairly nasty conditions--to a corner in LA's Chinatown and opened the back door. I won't give away what happens or why it induced tears, both because doing so would spoil some of the richness of the intertwining story lines and because describing the moment in words doesn't do it justice.

Suffice it to say that the filmmakers don't let Anthony escape as a fully changed character--he's still a confused, hypocritical, messed-up kid--but they do let him feel a pinprick of something like mercy. It's a stunning, heartwrenching, almost hopeful moment.