A potential storm is brewing off the coast of Africa. It has been a quiet hurricane season, thus far. But this is usually the time when things pick up a bit. Usually, I am not interested in storms coming close. But honestly, we need one desperately. There is a severe drought in the country. And, there are some worrying wildfires in the mountains because of the dry conditions. A nice storm with not too much wind would solve those problems. We'll know in a couple of days.
The summer doldrums are here. And I have been here, there, and everywhere. If you are in NYC on Sunday, Ernest Montgomery, is having a book-signing for his new masterpiece, Dominicanos by Ernest Montgomery.
Great spread in today's Hoy newspaper. All about Dominicanos by Ernest Montgomery. It is selling very well. Have you gotten your copy? I can get it signed with a personal message for you! A big shoutout to the writer, C. Reyes (such a sweet guy)!!!
rSomeone sent me this post from Facebook. It is from a Dominican immigrant talking about her experience living in the U.S.A., as opposed to the D.R. And of course, you can only imagine the negative "go back to your country" comments. She was just giving her opinion. What got me thinking about this, is that I know many good people here who would gladly trade places with her.
It seems I'm late to this news. But I was passing by the Hard Rock Cafe the other day, and noticed it looked different. Then I read the notices on the door. It has closed and is moving (or has moved) to the Blue Mall. I think this is another nail in the coffin to the colonial zone.
The Evangelicals are protesting in front of congress today. Too much gayness for their nerves. Specifically, they don't think gay pride celebrations should be allowed. And don't get them started on the U.S. Ambassador.
I was passing the Ocean Breeze Hotel, and saw that it was freshly painted. And they were installing lights outside the building. Upon further digging, I found out that the old owners sold the place. And the new owners are now fixing up all the rooms. Will find out more information, but can't find any website information online. I spoke with someone who told me the prices are $35/$40 - $55 per night. I will stop by and see what more I can find out. There are two other hotels that are open and opening. The J.W. Marriott & the Embassy Suites by Hilton Santo Domingo.
Last week, the finals of the Mr. Dominican Republic Pageant was held. Below is the representative from San Cristobal. He should have been the winner, in my opinion. Click here to see more photos from the competition.
A popular service here called Gustazo (sort of like the Dominican version of Groupon) sends around an email everyday with different specials on restaurants, hotels, perfumes, spas, among many other sales. This one sent today is for Mamajuana's Cafe in the colonial zone. Lunch or dinner for two for RD$995 pesos (including taxes!). That's a great bargain.
Karen Smith of Milford was on vacation with her family in the Dominican Republic.
On their way home April 12, she printed out her first-class boarding pass and had it scanned by both security and US Airways agents at the Punta Cana boarding gate.
Then something went wrong. She was pulled out of the line just as she and her family were about to get on the plane. They took her boarding pass. They said they needed to give her a “flight coupon” back at the counter. They made her stand at the counter so long that the flight took off with her husband and three children aboard and all their luggage. She had no possessions except her purse. They did not rebook her on another airline and said they had nothing available on US Airways except a flight that would get her home in two days. The counter closed. As night fell, they left her in the lobby. She had to go on her own to a hotel, then pay nearly $1,400 the next day to get home on Delta Air Lines.
At no time was she held by security, immigration or customs. She was not on a no-fly list. Her passport was never taken. She was not unruly. And “her” seat on the plane was left empty.
What in the world could have happened?
Something that supposedly in this day and age absolutely cannot.
Her US Airways return ticket was evaporated by Delta, but the error was invisible to the US Airways reservations systems.
If it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone.
Zombie airline ticket
For weeks afterward, Smith contacted US Airways customer service trying to get answers and get her money back for costs and trauma, even filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. I talked to US Airways on her behalf three times. After several rounds of disbelief, denials, delays and internal investigations, the story became clear. Sort of.
It turns out that Smith had booked the family’s $10,000 trip on Expedia, with the family flying on Delta to Punta Cana and flying US Airways back to Detroit. No problem with that.
However, the day the family left Detroit, Delta had to make an adjustment to Smith’s ticket at the gate, but — and this is the part that is not supposed to be possible — somehowvoided out the entire e-ticket including the US Airways return portion — even though the change did not show up in the US Airways reservations system and the passenger had no way of knowing about the problem.
Thus, upon her return from Punta Cana, Smith was able to print out her US Airways first class boarding pass, get it scanned, and nearly board the plane when US Airways agents, noticing for the first time the lack of a valid underlying ticket, pulled her from the line.
Then they left an American citizen standing all alone in the closing terminal, her family flown away, her cell phone dying and no way to get home.
Prying a refund
There are some lessons from this story. Always carry your e-ticket number (printed on your reservation). If your ticket involves multiple airlines, be wary of any changes made to it by the first carrier. Get travel insurance, which can reimburse you for your costs. And if you are an American citizen in an emergency in a foreign country, contact the U.S. Embassy’s citizen services division, which was established to help. This, Smith did not do.
But she did nothing wrong. Neither did Expedia. There is nothing unusual about booking a ticket that includes legs on two different airlines.
US Airways has acknowledged poor customer service by their Punta Cana agents, but it has denied causing the canceled ticket and thus says it owes her nothing, a US Airways spokesman told me.
Delta, after a query from the U.S. Department of Transportation, on May 16 finally refunded the $1,385.30 Smith had to pay for a new airline ticket home. Russell Cason, Delta’s manager of corporate communications, tells me Delta also will pay her $160 hotel cost.
“As soon as we were made aware of the problem, we researched the situation, issued her an apology and fully refunded her return ticket,” he said. “We are working with Ms. Smith to process a refund for her additional hotel costs in Punta Cana.”
Nobody has given Smith anything for scaring the heck out of her and her family, and abandoning her in a foreign country.
I have never heard of an intra-airline error like this happening in the computer age. Neither, obviously, had the airlines. Neither had the government. Hopefully, it will never happen again. But it could.
“It was a miserable experience for our family,” Smith says, “and I think Delta and US Airways got off easy.”
I wrote several weeks ago about this new mosquito-borne illness that was just making its way into the Caribbean. Well, now it is an epidemic. I know several people here who have come down with this illness and it is not a joke. The Center for Disease Control has more information about it by clicking here. And it is headed to the U.S.
State health officials across the USA report a surge of suspected cases of a painful mosquito-borne illness that can leave those infected with severe joint pain that can make walking or even shaking hands unbearable.
All but one American suspected of contracting the disease known as chikungunya had recently traveled to the Caribbean. The first case of the disease being transmitted on U.S. soil was confirmed in Puerto Rico late last month.
Infectious disease experts say conditions are ripe for the illness to explode in a large swath of the USA where two mosquito species known to spread the disease are in abundance.
"It's not a matter of if but when," said James Crowe, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
The disease was discovered in Africa more than 60 years ago and was detected in the Caribbean late last year. About 135,000 people have been suspected or confirmed infected in the Western Hemisphere — mostly in the Caribbean — since last year, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
The symptoms of chikungunya — which is derived from the Kimakonde language and roughly translates as "to become contorted" — include fever, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. The disease shares some clinical symptoms with dengue and is often misdiagnosed in areas where dengue is common.
The disease, which has no known cure, is less lethal than mosquito-borne illness West Nile virus. The joint pain can be excruciating, and debilitating symptoms usually last days and sometimes weeks.
In recent weeks, state health officials have reported that American travelers to the Caribbean from Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia have been stricken with symptoms consistent with chikungunya. Wednesday, officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands reported a locally transmitted case of the disease.
"Thankfully, deaths from the disease are rare, but the pain can be severe and debilitating," said Joseph Acierno, chief medical officer at Nebraska's Department of Health and Human Services, which this week confirmed the first case of a Nebraskan contracting the disease.
The infected woman had traveled to Haiti, where she may have contracted it.
The warm and wet summer season on its way in the continental USA provides optimal conditions for the disease to spread through the country. Mosquitoes transmit the disease by biting an infected traveler, then biting another person. The disease cannot be spread person-to-person.
Two species of mosquitoes, aedes albopictus and aedes aegypti, carry the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the albopictus, commonly known as the Asian tiger mosquito, is "more likely to play a larger role in transmission in the United States due to its wide distribution."
That species can be found from Florida to the mid-Atlantic region and in large swaths of the Midwest. The aegypti, also known as the yellow fever mosquito, is mostly found in the Southeast.
CDC studies showed an average of 28 people per year tested positive for chikungunya in the USA from 2006-2013. All were travelers visiting or returning to the USA from affected areas.
In 2014, the number of suspected infected people has exceeded the U.S. yearly average. Florida and Tennessee have counted a total of 37 suspected cases in recent weeks.
Of the 14 suspected cases involving Tennesseans, 13 had returned from mission trips from Haiti, said Abelardo Moncayo of the Tennessee Department of Health.
Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs at the National Pest Management Association, said federal and state health officials began anticipating that the disease could become an issue in the USA when the first cases were identified in the Caribbean late last year.
She said there is concern among health officials that chikungunya could be spread farther globally as tens of thousands of soccer fans and athletes visit Brazil for the World Cup. One of the species of mosquitoes is common there.
Americans should watch for symptoms to help prevent the disease from spreading, she said.
"It's critical that people who are traveling to some of these countries where it is endemic are extra cautious and sensitive if they return home and are not well," Henriksen said. "They should immediately consult with a medical professional."
The United States Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Wally Brewster, just released a video talking about gay pride month. And it is generating a lot of controversy. It seems many people don't have a problem with him being gay. They just don't want him to talk about it, or want to see his husband. Change is difficult.
Last night, was the annual Mr. Universe Model pageant. My favorite, Mr. Universe Model Panama (below), didn't make the top 10. So, I'm over it. If you want to see the photos from last night's show, click here .
This is the day when I ask myself why? Why did I agree to do this? Why did I think this time would be easier? And why do people tell you what they want to hear, then take your money and not produce results? Why say that bar stools and chairs can be delivered on Thursday, when it actually won't be available for another two weeks? After you've had the money for two weeks. I could go on and on, and on. But no, it will be fine.
This is what the bar looks like as of 4:12 pm today. But come hell or high-water, we will be open tomorrow after 7 pm. And thanks to Manuel, owner of NYC BAR, who stopped by with words of encouragement. But more importantly, some contacts where I can get some furniture!
Flyer: Mario Sessions The new bar will be called 452. Nothing special. It is the address of the bar. There won't be any signs on the outside. You just know it's there. We will be opening on Friday, May 23, 2013 (we will also open on Saturday night). The bar will open from 7 PM - 2 AM. In the beginning, we will only be open on Friday & Saturday, unless something special is planned. If business warrants, we will open on other nights.
I want you to know what we are trying to do. For those that remember, we're looking for a place that was like the old Sports Bar (Shoutout to David Lee!) and the old Bar Phoenix (shoutout to Lawrence Goldsby!). They were nothing fancy (and our bar won't be fancy either!), but neighborhood watering holes that looked out for their clientele. What they lacked in decor, they more than made up for with the good times I shared there.
Running a business that caters to gay tourists takes a certain discipline. Many visitors that come are here looking for a good time. I get it. The problem is that most businesses that don't charge a cover find that many people come in and soak-up air conditioning, but don't purchase anything. Not even water. To that end, we will be charging a cover of RD$200 pesos ($4.65). You will get a drink with that. I would love to keep it on the honor system and assume that if you are coming to a bar, you intend to purchase a drink. And I would love to NOT charge a cover. But it is not possible. Not from a business standpoint. We can't afford to subsidize vacations. For the bar to be successful, it has to make money. Period.
Everyone is welcome. As long as they act properly (and pay the cover charge!). We want to be good neighbors and don't want anyone congregating out front. It is VERY difficult to rent a space to open a bar. No one wants that type of business anymore. It took some convincing to get this spot, so I want to show them that we are going to be respectful of the people that live on the block. And for those concerned, there won't be loud music. I'm sure that my music choices will not please everyone, but you can be assured you will be able to conduct a conversation.
This Friday is just a 'preview.' When we are where we want to be there will be a pool table, small restaurant, stipper pole, wifi and other goodies. In the meantime, when you are Santo Domingo, stop by and give us a try. And if you're here this Friday and Saturday, come and see our strippers and some of the hot men we have invited.
Got a chance to get a peek at the new luxury hotel that has opened in the colonial zone. The renovation was exquisitely done. The place is beautiful. For more information, go to their website: http://www.billinihotel.com/default-en.html
Former New Yorker (Harlem!) living in Santo Domingo since January 2004. The person I was when I arrived is a totally different person today. I still love living in the D.R. Even with all its obvious contradictions. This blog is where I write about things I find interesting with the gay community, news, gossip, culture, and of course, men. Strictly from my point-of-view.