October 2007

Jennifer Johnson

magazine whore


I am normally the world’s most prepared traveler. I usually walk onto a plane with no less than two books, multiple magazines, iPod, blanket, you name it. But, a late start combined with an unexpected detour through Compton, CA left me high and dry for my most recent flight home from visiting my parents in LA. As a result, I was forced to entertain myself for five hours solely with the offerings in the seat pocket in front of me. On United, this consisted of a Sky Mall catalogue, a copy of Hemispheres (United’s in-flight magazine), a pamphlet outlining the safety features of the Boeing 737 I was traveling on and a vomit bag. After minimal consideration, Hemispheres won.

What did United think would entertain the weary traveler? Travel writing mostly, with a hodgepodge of puzzles and short articles on a completely random assortment of topics thrown in for fun. Let’s just say I’m glad this wasn’t a transatlantic flight.

The first offering was an essay by William Shatner, which, I’ll admit, got me thinking that maybe Hemispheres would surprise me with something interesting. Then I read the article. I don’t know what I expected, but an essay on Shatner’s love of the craft of acting isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds. And it doesn’t really sound that interesting to begin with -- unless you’re trapped on a plane with nothing to read. Ah, I think I’ve figured out Hemispheres’ game plan here.

Back to the Shatner essay (which sadly isn’t called “Beam Me Up, United” or anything like that). It’s hard not to mock a man who has completely become a caricature of himself and it’s even harder when you read statements like this: “I’m having the best time as the Priceline Negotiator, another instance in which a unique character aspect of mine was caught and evolved into a complete role.” I hadn’t noticed the depth that Shatner brings to the Priceline ad campaign. But, whatever, this is just Shatner being Shatner. He has a huge fan base, so you can’t necessarily blame United for thinking he’d be a good candidate for an essay in this magazine (besides, you have to toe the line between who’ll give you good copy and who you can actually get to write for you). Of course, my real problem with this article lies in the last line: “All of this is why I’m continually looking to the future, and to United to get me there.” Seriously, I’m on the plane already. You don’t need to plug the airline. You’ve already sold me -- that’s how I got this damn magazine in the first place.

Next is the Updates section, led by a Traveler’s Calendar. It’s your standard listing of events happening around the world over the next few months, ranging from the more standard (the Toronto Film Festival) to the more obscure (the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Brighton, England -- yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like). The thoroughness of the calendar actually makes it a decent read, even if you aren’t really planning another trip anytime soon.

Other than the Traveler’s Calendar, the Updates section contains about 15 very short articles on topics ranging from how to use a health savings account (put money in it and, voila, you save on taxes) to coverage of the new trend in pharmacy themed bars (bars that look like pharmacies, although they allegedly don’t sell drugs). I suppose there ’s something for everyone.

One of the recurring features of this magazine is called “Three Perfect Days.” It’s what it sounds like, a guide to three perfect days in a given city. September’s featured locale was Amsterdam (a place I’d always wanted to visit anyway). Travel writing is Hemisphere’s saving grace. “Three Perfect Days: Amsterdam” combined beautiful photography with a compelling narrative that truly made me feel like I was walking around Amsterdam. Amsterdam is more than just a United hub, it’s a destination!

The next travel feature, “Protected by the Past,” is a tour of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Not your typical tourist destination to be sure. The story is again a well-written journey through a city emerging from past conflict and rebuilding itself. It doesn’t convince me to visit, but it certainly got me thinking about Croatia and its history. It was a stimulating read.

Another travel story is less compelling. “Ticket to Ride” tries to convince readers that you can get around LA using only public transportation. While technically true, take the advice of someone who lived there for eighteen years: Rent a car. It’s worth it.

Next is a series of advertising sections. You’ve got a sixteen page real estate spread featuring properties available for a minimum investment of at least a million dollars (including an opportunity to live in Trump International Tower in Chicago -- I’ll pass, thanks) for those of you in first class with a little extra cash to blow. Another ad section tries to get readers to go back to school for their MBA from a “top school.” There’s also a section on traveling to Boise that’s so long (and so full of advertisements for Idaho potatoes) that it must be brought to us by the Idaho Tourism Board, or something.

All in all, Hemispheres is passable. The travel writing is decent, but, when it comes down to it, Hemispheres doesn’t really have much else to offer. Pick it up if you’re looking to do a crossword or some Sudoku. Otherwise, bring a book next time.