Peter Greenberg on “Destination Everywhere”
Tune in for my guest appearance on the “Destination Everywhere” Podcast this week, with hosts Todd Bludworth and Andy McNeil. I’ll share a few stories behind the stories of my travels around the world, with a few surprises… Press play for our full conversation.
I’m excited to speak with our next guest. He is a multiple Emmy-winning investigative reporter and producer. He is probably one of the most recognized faces and voices when it comes to travel. He has several projects. He’s got The Travel Detective, Eye on Travel radio show on CBS. He’s been on every network, PBS, NBC, ABC, CBS Radio. Welcome, Peter Greenberg. How are you?
I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to be anywhere.
I could have gone on for pages introducing you with your bio. It’s impressive. I’d like to start off with a little bit about your background pre-travel and how you got into this. Before I say anything, first of all, investigative reporting is the savior of the world, and thank you for what you do. It’s amazing what you guys do. I love hearing and watching it.
I’m still an investigative reporter. People always make the mistake of saying, “How did you make the transition from journalism to travel?” I go, “Stop right there. There is no transition. I’m an investigative reporter who has applied my techniques to the largest service industry in the world, travel and tourism.” It goes back to my days as a correspondent for Newsweek. I did a lot of investigative reporting there but not necessarily in travel. However, I was doing a lot of traveling. I was with the guy with a suitcase in the trunk of my car. I was the first at the scene of something. It dawned on me early on in my career that nobody was covering travel or transportation as news, they were doing breasted large women at the beach with a wineglass and thinking that was helping somebody and no.
What I did using my access as a journalist, and this is back on the West Coast in Los Angeles, I inserted myself in the process of travel. I trained as a pilot, as a flight attendant, loading baggage on a ship and in every aspect of the ship. The only I haven’t done is a train conductor. When I did that I realized, “How could I ever explain the product if I don’t understand the process?” That’s allowing me then to work with the guys at the NTSB on airplane safety, with the FAA, with all the mechanics and every single aspect of the process of travel from airplanes to ships, rental cars, you name it. That’s what I did and nobody was doing that then.
I started a column in the Chicago Tribune many years ago when nobody cared, but there was a travel editor there who took a chance on me. We put it on the second page of the travel section every Sunday. It was called The Savvy Traveler and we name names, good, bad and ugly. It started shaking things up because people were getting the information they could use as opposed to the breasted large women on the beach. We started from there, it went from 1 to 60 newspapers. I ended up then on ABC for seven years on Good Morning America, then fourteen years on the Today Show and for the last many years on CBS. It’s clear, I cannot hold a job.
Peter, we’re here to talk to you about a project that you have called Hidden Gems, which is right up our alley because we take our clients all over the world. We are always looking for special and unique things to do them for wherever we go. You’ve got an entire series about it. Tell us a little bit about hidden gems, where the idea came from, how it blossomed into what you’re working on now. We’d love to dive in and talk about some of these destinations or special things that you’ve found.
Hidden Gems evolved from another series that I’ve done for the last many years called The Royal Tour. It’s going to sound crazy but I’ve been doing this for many years. I go to individual sitting heads of state, kings, presidents, prime ministers and I get them to give me the impossible, seven days of their schedule devoted to me. They have no right of review, no editorial control. We take their people out of it. For the next seven days, it’s two guys on a road trip going entirely all the way through their country and it happens to be that one of them runs the country.
We’ve done it with everybody from the King of Jordan to the President of Rwanda to the President of Mexico, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. We’ve done many of them over the last many years. Inevitably what happened, we finished the show, we’d love it and they’d love it. The first time they would see it was when we premiered it. Nobody was allowed to see it because we were not going to get second guessed. We weren’t doing a postcard for the tourist board. We were doing two guys on the road and whatever happened happened. At the end of that, an interesting thing happened.
Many people within those countries would come to me and say, “You didn’t come here. You didn’t shoot over here.” We did Mexico. There are 32 states in Mexico and we shot six of them. I pissed off 26 governors who are saying, “You need to come back.” I figured, “Let’s do that. Let’s come back but we’re going to do it under my terms.” That’s how Hidden Gems started. We have a rule. If it’s in the guide book of the brochure, we’re not going. Number two, if there’s a gift shop, we’re not going. In fact, our second mantra is, “No gift shop.” If there’s a TripAdvisor logo on the window, we’re not going.
It’s unique stuff.
Not necessarily unique but authentic and genuine. The only time we’ll make an exception, I’ll give you an example, is if I was doing the Hidden Gems of Paris, the last thing you’d ever expect me to tell you is about the Eiffel Tower, unless I know the guy who goes in there every 8:00 at night and lights it up and I get to go with him, that’s a Hidden Gem. We can do that every once in a while if it makes sense, and also if it’s accessible to our audience. If it’s not accessible to our audience then I’m doing a bad version of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and I should go home.
I love that you mentioned, “Accessible to the audience.” That’s critical. You don’t want to hang a carrot in front of somebody and then take it away.
That worked back in 1978 when Robin Leach was doing that show but he was traveling. Not to mention the pandemic but everybody is traveling and we know better now.
While you were doing those Hidden Gems, did you ever find yourself in dangerous or compromising situations?
I’ve been deported.
Which country deported you?
That was Guatemala. I’ve been thrown out of Guadalajara but that was many years ago. In fact, I’m going back to Guadalajara, I guess I’m okay now. I’ve covered a number of wars, whether it was the Gulf War or the revolution in the Philippines or stuff in Afghanistan. You name it, I’ve been there because I was doing all my hard stuff all along and that’s never stopped. You find yourself in dangerous situations but what you learn, if you’re lucky, it’s not where to go but we’re not to go. That applies to Cleveland, as well as to China.
You’ve covered wars. You’ve been doing this for many years. Have you been surprised at a place that was at one point inaccessible, war-torn, besieged that is now a tourist destination that you would take a vacation and go visit?
The first one that comes to mind is Rwanda. We all remember the genocide and how terrible that was. In one 30-day period, 1.1 million people were slaughtered. How did that turn around? How did that country survive let alone succeed? It’s an amazing story. We told that story when we did The Royal Tour of Rwanda with President Kagame. What an amazing story and what an amazing turnaround to this day is Rwanda. It’s a template for other countries to follow.
Tell us a little bit about some hidden gems in Rwanda, things that you’ve done or you would recommend for our readers to do if they ever get the opportunity to go.
This is not a hidden gem. You’ve got to go see the mountain gorillas. That’s one of the reasons why many people go there but here’s the hidden gem. You go to the local markets and you get on the back of a motorcycle and you hold on tight because that’s the guy who’s driving you, and he is fearless. When you go into the market, if you know where to look, there are the women there who are tailors and you pick whatever fabric you want and an hour later, you’ve got a shirt. It’s cool stuff like that. There’s a flourishing arts community there, cutting-edge artists.
If you go to the workshops, not the museums, you get to paint with them. How cool is that? I failed art in high school, so this is big for me. I’ll tell you the real hidden gem and this might come as a surprise to you. This applies not just to Rwanda but it could be Raleigh, Durham. I’m going to ask you the question and you’re not going to get the answer I guarantee you. Whenever I go anywhere you name the destination, the Dominican Republic or Denver. What’s the first place I stop where I know I’m going to get all the information I need about that destination from credible sources?
I would say a hotel concierge but I know that’s not the answer.
You are not going to go to the showcase showdown. Anybody else wants to guess?
How about a taxi cab stand?
You would say maybe an embassy but I know that’s not going to be too simple.
The last place I would ever go to is the US embassy. The first place I go to is the fire department. I’ll tell you why. They’ve been in everybody’s house, in everybody’s hotel, in everybody’s restaurant. They’ve been everywhere. They know where to go. They know where not to go. They also know where to eat. Those are the men and women who are your most credible sources and nobody figured that out yet. I figured it out because I’m also a fireman here in New York.
When we heard about it, you’re a volunteer firefighter in New York City.
I’ve done it since I’m eighteen and I’m on duty 3 days a week, 7 months a year but if you’re looking for great and nonpartisan sources of information, stop at the firehouse. It’s unbelievable.
How do they greet you usually?
First of all, they don’t necessarily know I’m a fireman. I’m stopping by to say, “Tell me this and that.” When they find out I’m a fireman then I’m on the truck and we’re having fun. The point is that’s not why I’m there. I’m not there to play with the toys. I’m there to learn. Unless there’s an alarm and they’re on a call, they can’t help but be nice to you and tell you stuff.
It’s a welcoming community. My brother was a fireman and they’re always open and they make you feel at home when you go into their stations.
If you’re looking for hidden gems, they know those too. The whole idea is I disobey all signage. That’s number one. If it says turn left, I go right because that’s where I’m going to find what I want to find. I do that at the airport too. I never leave from the departure level. I never arrive at the arrival level. Why would I do that?
In the US proper, what is the hidden gem that surprises you to this day?
It’s not one, there are many. One that I have a great fondness for and go back there every time I can is Madison, Wisconsin. First of all, nobody understands how great that state is. Second of all, here’s a city that’s not only the heartbeat of the university but it’s the capital of the state. It’s surrounded by four lakes. If you look at the map, it’s a beautiful natural hub to explore the entire state in one-day trips and you see everything. What you see which in the days I was acquiring stuff, now I’m trying to give it away. Within the days that I was acquiring stuff on a Saturday or Sunday, you go out there for the farm auctions. You see one owner of Ford Falcon from 1970 with 30,000 miles on them, buy that car. The reason why I love that show, American Pickers, is because that’s what I was doing. That’s the farm auction but it’s an amazing state and highly underrated.
If you could get on a plane tomorrow and pick a place in Europe, where would you buy that ticket for?
I would buy that ticket for Portugal. The reason is Portugal is the kingdom of a dead empire. If you ask the Portuguese, “What’s happening?” They want to talk about Vasco da Gama. You’re going to be okay. Their currency is devalued against the dollar. It’s a bargain. They’re incredibly honest and hospitable. The food is world-class. The fishing is world-class and if you want to have fun, go to the Azores, that’s where you want to go. It’s a time warp. It’s the best.
Are you staying in a hotel when you travel or do you get an Airbnb? What are your accommodations like?
I normally don’t do the Airbnbs because I need the infrastructure built-in because I’m working. I’m not on vacation. I need a good telecommunication system. I need good internet and good access to transportation. Normally I will stay at a hotel. Have I been in yurts and tents? You bet. Have I been in crazy igloos? Absolutely. In those days, they didn’t have any Wi-Fi. Now, they do. Normally, I’ll stay at hotels. Not only that, I want to go see if the hotel works. As a fireman, that’s the first thing I look for. What’s their fire safety system like? I then go through all the other parameters that you need to know about that most people don’t ask.
What about Asia?
That’s a no-brainer for me. That’s Thailand. I built and own a house there for many years in Bangkok, right on the river. You can’t beat that. There’s an old Groucho Marx saying, “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.” When I first landed in Thailand back in 1978 and I got off the plane, everybody was nice to me. I went, “They must be waiting for another guy named Greenberg to camp.” What you realize is it has nothing to do with you. It’s who they are. You get spoiled that you’re never happy anywhere else than you are in Thailand on every level. It’s the style, soul, grace of the people, food, architecture, history, antiques, rivers. I can’t get enough of it.
You’ve been there dozens of times. What are some of your hidden gems in Thailand?
My hidden gem in Thailand is that in 1994 when my house in Los Angeles was destroyed in the Northridge earthquake, it was leveled. It had to be bulldozed. I was given the opportunity, certainly not intended, to rebuild from scratch from the ground up. I figured, “I have an idea.” I took my architect and my contractor and I flew them to Bangkok. I had my house built in Thailand.
A reproduction of your house in LA?
No. It’s a brand new or a completely new design. It was all done there and then shipped to Los Angeles and rebuilt there. You can’t beat the workmanship. You can’t beat the actual materials and the style. What I did, here’s another hidden gem, I used the two years it took the build the house to go around the world when I was doing all my other stories. I built the interior of the house out of 47 hotels. Every signature item at a hotel that I saw, we’re not talking about the ashtrays, I’m talking about the pool, front door, even the doorbell, garage door, doorknobs, bathtubs, showers, faucets, each one of those came from one of the great hotels in the world that I love and said, “I have to have this.” I did, I brought it back.
I want to jump back before we leave because you talked about the Azores and I’ve always wanted to go and I’ve never been. I watched your piece on it and I’d love to know what your experience was there. You’ve probably been several times. I’ve heard special things about it because it is separated from the coast. Tell us about your experience there and what people could expect?
First of all, you’re right. It is separated. It’s another world. Turn the clock back about 80 years and you’re in good shape. You have 2020 technology but a 1960 lifestyle. To me, that’s the best combination. People are not in a rush. They’re members of every village. The food is incredible. What I loved about it and if you saw the piece, you saw it, I love their bullfights. They don’t kill the bull. It’s not really a bullfight. There’s no matador. It’s crazy. If you take a look at why those bullfights started that way, it was for the men to impress the ladies. That’s how they courted the ladies. Go back and take a look at some of the videos either that we shot or that were shot in some other bullfights, it gets wild but the nice thing is they don’t kill the bull.
With the hidden gems that you point out in some of your series, I highly recommend our readers to go and find Peter on YouTube. He’s Peter Greenberg. One of the things in your Egypt piece, you talked about the best time to go to the pyramids. Tell us a little bit about some secrets around that because it’s a madhouse for obvious reasons, but you had a great tip for people.
I disobey all the signage. I apply that to the pyramids, to the Taj Mahal, to the Great Wall of China. I can go on and on. Everybody says, “You can’t do that.” Yes, you can. I tell my guys at the hotel I want to hire a car and a driver at 3:30 in the morning and they go, “Why?” I said, “I want to go out to Giza.” “There’s nobody there.” I then call ahead and there were stables out there that had beautiful Arabian horses. You have to make sure that they had the horse ready for me at 4:15, I would get on the horse. Whoever was going with me got on the horse and we’d ride out into the desert. There we were at the pyramids. The 2 or 3 of us on the horse, watching the sun come over the pyramids, that’s the experience you want to have getting up early in Agra for the Taj Mahal or in Beijing near the Great Wall, because when you’re finished with that experience and you ride back into the stables, then you see the parade of tour buses with people screaming and yelling and you know you’ve made the right decision.
You talked about St. Catherine’s Monastery as well.
This goes back a long time. Someone said to me one day, “Why do you go and see St. Catherine’s Monastery?” This was many years ago. I said, “Sure.” He said, “Do you want to climb out?” I said, “Yeah, sure.” They neglected to tell me the monk who built it was doing penance for God knows what but it must’ve been bad because he made the steps 3.5 feet apart going up. Try climbing 3.5 feet steps. You do it at night when it’s cooler and I did it. I thought I was going to die but I got up there. It was an amazing moment to be up sitting there at about 4:35 in the morning as the moon was going down and the sun was coming up and there it was. There’s a monastery up there and it was amazing. I’m sure you saw it. We went back again in 2019 and shot it again.
That’s on top of Mount Sinai. Let’s go to the Dominican Republic. You’ve had some adventures in the Dominican. Tell us about it.
Did you notice that I was hanging out with the fire department? We went all over the place. I went to their favorite restaurant with them and in the truck, lights and sirens. It’s the only way to do it.
You got a free ride. You’ve done surfing there, ATV at Bavaro Adventure Park, the cigar factory. I saw a picture of you puffing on a cigar.
I was making my own cigar. This wasn’t the big cigar makers. It was a small family-owned place where you had the access to go in there with the guys who were doing it and learn how they do it, not because they demonstrated to tour buses. You asked, “Can I do it?” “Yeah, you can.”
Do you go to the destination and let it happen organically? Is all of this pre-planned for you? How do you travel?
The only thing that’s pre-planned is I have to know from a production perspective where we’re going to be, how long we’re going to be there and what we think we’re going to do. After that, we take a shot. We’ve done our research, we know the history, we know who the characters might be. We know the stories that we might hear but there’s no guarantee of that. We always get surprised and usually in a pleasant way.
How many times have you gotten the hand saying, “No, you can’t come in here and do this?” You get more honey, what’s the saying?
Here’s the thing, you never ask permission, you beg forgiveness. Number two, my all-time big mantra is, “You never take a no from somebody who’s not empowered to give you a yes in the first place.” That applies to getting a telephone installed or getting the cable guy in or it applies to a quarter guard in Tibet. There’s always a way to do it. The way to do it, which I wish more people would do although they’re usually too afraid to do it is the big C-word. You need to have a conversation. Too many people go, “Can I go there?” The answer is no. First, you have to establish common ground, find out what they had for breakfast. What’s interesting to them? Learn from them and then all of a sudden they’ll go, “You want to come in? You’re in.”
I was going to talk to you about Oahu. Todd and I were in Oahu in Hawaii a couple of years ago, and that exact same thing happened. We ended up talking to a local who we were asking something and he told us about a great local donut shop that was known all over Oahu for. We never would have found that if we hadn’t stopped, taken time, invested in him and then he gave us that great gem and it was fantastic.
I have an admission. I have a little bit of an in in Hawaii because all my relatives are Hawaiian. When I go, I’ve been taking the back roads from day one off the grid and do know that donut shop.
I’m sure you do. It turns out it wasn’t a big secret. It was new to us and it was a nice find for us. You feel like it was a small victory of something that was a neat spot. Next time we go, I grew up at Hickman Schofield and I’m a brat. We went back and I wanted to take my kids to our houses. Sadly, I took no because I’m a civilian now that we couldn’t get on base. I should have taken your advice and found a way to get on that base with both of them.
Speaking of the conversation and speaking of Hawaii, I will tell you a story about how things work. I did a movie many years ago based on a story I did for Newsweek called Red Flag about an Air Force war game that’s realistic that people were getting killed. They’re still doing the games now at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. That was a two-hour movie we did for CBS. When that movie aired, I got a call from the US Navy saying, “We’d love to do a movie with you. What do you want to do?” I said, “I want to do X.” They laughed at me and they said, “It’s never been allowed. It’s never going to be happening. You can’t do it.” I said, “If I could do it, who would be the person to give me permission?” They said, “CINCPAC, Commander-in-Chief in the Pacific in Pearl.” I said, “Can you get me an appointment to go see the admiral?” They go, “Why? Are you going to fly all the way to Hawaii so he can say no?” I said, “Yeah.”
They gave me a ten-minute appointment at 9:00 in the morning on a Monday. I flew up on a Saturday. I walked in to see him. He could care less about me. I was told to have a meeting. He didn’t want to be there. It was an office the size of Grand Central Station. Everybody was in their dress whites. They didn’t want me to be there. It was like a courtesy call, give him a commemorative coin and get him out. This is the difference. You seek out common ground and I knew that I had maybe fifteen seconds to figure out what the common ground was. I got lucky because behind his desk was a photograph of a boat and it turned out I knew the boat well. I said to him, “Is that a Bertram 31?” He said, “Damn straight.” I said, “That’s the best boat they ever built.” He said, “You’re not kidding?” I said, “Let me guess. When you make a hard right turn, the engine cavitates and the water pump overflows?” He goes, “Yeah.” I said, “Here’s how you fix it. You’re going to do a bypass on the impeller.” We start talking like that and ten minutes later, the officer is going to say, “Admiral, your time is up.” He looked at me and said, “Do you got lunch plans?” I said, “I’m all yours.”
We go to the officer’s club. When that lunch was over, all hell broke loose in Pearl Harbor. All hell broke loose in the Pentagon because I was given the first top security clearance to go on a class about admission on an attack nuclear sub. When the Pentagon found out about it, they made the admiral go with me. It turned out to be fabulous because what was I doing at the time in addition to being a journalist? I was the head of television at Paramount. Now, go do your homework and find out what came after that.
The Hunt for Red October I’m guessing.
You got it. I had nothing to do with the movie. I allowed it to be made because they felt comfortable because they’d worked with me. I had nothing to do with the movie, except all the stuff you saw in that movie happened to us on that mission other than Sean Connery defecting.
That’s called chutzpah and luck.
If I’d walked into his office for that ten-minute meeting, he’s like, “Can I go on a sub?” “Get the hell out of here.”
I wanted to make sure that we hit as many different parts of the world as possible with your hidden gems. I think we’ve hit probably 7 or 8 locations. One area we haven’t covered yet is South America. Do you have any area of South America that stands out that you’ve been to? Could you give some great tips to our readers?
There are many but the one country that has it all is Chile. You take this little string bean of a country that comes down the left-hand side and they have the driest desert in the world, the Atacama. They’ve got the Andes, they got the Lake District out of Santiago and then you go down south and it’s Patagonia time, all the way down to the Antarctic. It’s amazing, I can’t get enough of that. There’s this little fishing village called Las Arenas, which goes down back to the early 19th century. If I could figure out a way to live there, I would. It’s great. Are there great places in Argentina? You bet. Are there great places in Brazil if they could ever get their act together? You bet. There are even great places in Paraguay but they never have gotten their act together, which is too bad. The real sleeper is Uruguay. That is a home run.
What’s funny is we took a Buquebus, a random trip from Argentina to Montevideo and ended up sitting next to a guy on that bus, a local. When we got off, he was our tour guide in Montevideo for the rest of the day. He was friendly and nice. You feel like, “Am I getting scammed?” They were generally that nice. They were proud of where they’re from and they wanted us to see it.
How did that start? With the conversation.
We have some rapid-fire questions but before we get to that, I have a question about you as an investigative journalist, which I find completely interesting. You guys do correct a lot of injustice in the world, and the things that you uncover are groundbreaking. It’s a two-part question. One, what’s the story that you’re most proud of as an investigative journalist? The second one is regarding the travel industry. What have you uncovered about the travel industry that might help our guests maneuver the system a little easier? What should they be aware of that might be getting swept under the rugs when they start to travel?
It’s ranging from an investigative piece that I did on the death of Freddie Prinze, for those people who remember the story in the late ‘70s to investigating airline crashes on the worst aviation disaster in American history, American Flight 191 on May 25th, 1979 in Chicago. I was the correspondent, I did my fair share. I did all the Patty Hearst covers. I did almost all the Watergate covers and let’s not forget OJ. There is all stuff there that ranges from political to crime to crazy.
Do you get a tip from somebody? Is there already a story and you’re going deeper into it? How does it evolve?
It starts with relationships. I like to think of myself as a walking Rolodex. I can make the calls that will be taken usually not because of my sparkling personality, but because of the chair in which I sit. People don’t get this. It’s like me walking into the admiral’s office asking like, “Go on the sub.” That’s not how it gets done. You spend a lot of time not asking for it. The analogy would be how do you get an upgrade on a plane? You get to the airport, you see all these people standing around the counter like the scene from Midnight Express. They’re walking in circles and they’ve all asked the same question, “Can I have an upgrade?” The answer is, “No, get out of here.”
That’s not how I do it. What I do in normal times either in LAX or JFK, I will go out to the airport on a day I have no plans to go anywhere, zero. I will pick a terminal and I’ll walk the counters at a time they’re not busy like 11:00 in the morning and I get to know everybody. I talk to them about things that are interesting to them. Things I can learn from, establish common ground so that when something goes on, they call me. It’s not me showing up like I parachuted in and they don’t know me from a hologram. They do know me. That means every day, I wake up with a call list of 120 people and all those people, I can promise you 90 of them I have no agenda. I’m calling to say hi and check-in. I’m not asking for anything nor would I.
At the end of the day, what happens to those people when they’re doing their own psychological post-mortem of how their day was? They liked me better because I was the only person not asking for anything at all. People forget it. You’ve got to plant the seeds. You’ve got to establish your relationships. You’ve got to nurture them. You’ve got to establish trust. Out of that trust then they’ll feel comfortable if not telling you the whole story at least pointing you in the right direction.
That’s great information whether you’re an investigative reporter or traveling the world. Being able to establish those relationships.
It’s the exact same behavior you apply to go to the grocery store. If I went into the grocery store and there’s the guy standing behind the fruit section, I go, “Can I buy oranges?” He goes, “Yeah, go ahead buy oranges.” If I talked to him, fifteen seconds later he says, “Pick that one.” That’s the one I’m going to pick.
I think we’re going to have to have a Peter Greenberg part two because there’s no way we’re going to get through everything. We do have our rapid-fire questions which we’d like to ask all of our world-traveling guests so our readers can get tips and tricks. Some of these are going to be hard for me because you’ve done so much, but let’s take a shot of it and then we’ll go. The first one is have you ever completed anything on your bucket list? I know the answer is yes. If so, what was it? What is the one that most stands out?
The one that stood out was when I was doing Red Flag, I got a chance to fly either right seat or backseat on about every plane in the Air Force inventory.
Have you passed out on one?
They try to do it. In order for me to get certified to do it, I had to go to Kelly Air Force Base in Texas and get centrifuge training. You had to show that you can take at least 8 Gs. I took 9.5 G. I pulled 10.2 G in the plane. That was no fun. They had a bet on the ground as to what point I would throw up and I didn’t. The two-star general who was flying me let me take the controls and he threw up. I won the bet.
There’s an air show going in Fort Lauderdale. They always take a local celebrity up who ends up rolling their eyes behind their head and passing out. Hats off to you for succeeding.
I got a chance to fly the F4 to 5 to 15 to 16, 810, C-130. The one thing I’ve not done, you asked about a bucket list and this is the all-time greatest thrill ride ever and I’ve never taken it, I don’t think I’ll ever get a chance to do it. I’m going to give you three words and you know what I’m talking about, night carrier landing. That’s all I want to do. You couldn’t pay me to go on a rollercoaster. It’s not going to happen.
If you could live anywhere in the world for an entire year, where would it be?
It’s going to surprise you because I’m a New Yorker. I would probably pick Fire Island because that’s where I’m a fireman. That’s where I spent all my years since I’m six months old. That’s my beauty right there.
If you could travel with someone infamous or famous that’s alive, who would it be?
It would have to be Leonardo da Vinci, only because people don’t realize who this guy was. I have a rule when I go to museums. If I’m in a city, I’ll go to only one museum because I want to spend the proper amount of time. I’m not going to hit the ground running and your eyes were over. I went to a museum in Montreal many years ago and they had done the most remarkable thing. They got Da Vinci’s notebooks and all his sketches and designs. They built what he drew. We discovered, “This guy invented the helicopter.” He just didn’t paint the Mona Lisa, “Give me a break.” I can’t get enough of this guy.
You’re the first that has said that. What a unique and awesome one because he was one of the most incredible savants at that time. Next question, when you are packing for a trip, what is something that you pack that might surprise our readers?
Gorilla tape. It fixes everything.
The next one, what is your most memorable experience filming The Travel Detective?
I’ve made many friends that exist to this day. When I was a kid, and I’m sure you had the same experience with your parents, if somebody did something nice to you, the first thing my mother would say is, “Did you write your Thank You letter?” I didn’t pay any attention. I pay attention now. I write my Thank You letters and I keep in touch. When you keep in touch, the best memories that you have are rekindled every time you return because you’ve lost nothing in the process. You pick up right where you left off and you continue this conversation.
I love the Thank You letters. It was our twins’ birthday and they’re already getting their Thank You letters lined up to thank their guests. That’s a great tip for everybody to remember. Peter, do you get jaded by travel? You’ve done it so much or do you still get surprised and amazed when you get off that airplane?
I get surprised every time. The word surprise has extra meaning because if you think about all of your travel experiences, nothing ever goes according to plan. The plan is the worst thing you could ever do. It’s the worst four-letter word other than other things. I remember I was on a flight going from New York to LA. It’s a 1:00 flight on Delta. I was sitting up in first class and I see all these maintenance guys come on the plane. I go, “What’s going on?” They said, “The front lavatory is overflowing. It’s not a good sign.” It was a 757. Speaking of duct tape, these guys go up and start duct-taping the floor around the toilet and duct-taping this. They said, “We’re all fixed.”
I happen to know that the plumbing on 757 is in line, which means that the front one is going to go, the back one is going to go. Sure enough, we pushed back from the gate. We get about 80 feet back. Someone else wanted our gate and they all start overflowing. At this point, they flew us to a Marshfield somewhere in Queens. We’re not going anywhere. I know this plane is done for the day and suddenly they’re going to send out buses. I know the guys at the counter, so I called them. I said, “Let me tell you where I am.” He said, “Your flight is departed.” I said, “I’m looking at weeds here in Queens. Can you get me on another flight?” They said, “We got one at 2:30 but you’ve got to get over to gate 59. We have a ticket for you.” I said, “Okay.”
All these guys with yellow vests were on the plane. I see one guy with an orange vest and they put up some portable stairs for the maintenance guys. I go outside of that, wave down. He came up and I said, “Can I ask you a question? They got me on another flight. They’re holding it for me at gate 59. Can you get me over there?” He was the guy who ran the ramp at Kennedy named Rocky. He said, “Hop in my truck.” I hop in his truck. He introduces himself, we’re driving 3 miles to get over to this gate. I’m on the cell phone letting them know I’m on the way. We have a great conversation because this guy’s got the most interesting job at Kennedy.
He runs the ramp, he sees everything. I said, “Rocky, your first name sounds like a barfight written all over it.” He said, “Tell me about it.” We start talking and I get to the gate. I give him my card. I said, “Thank you. You saved me.” They had my ticket there. This time, it was not a first-class ticket. It was coach. This was the only seat they had. No problem. I got to get on the plane. Before I get on the plane, Rocky said, “Did you have any bags on the flight?” I said, “I had two,” because it was a Sunday. Normally, I FedEx my bags but Sunday you can’t. He said, “You have two bags on the plane?” I said, “Yes.” Now I go back to my seat, $35,000 on the last seat and coach with a window. I’m sitting there and now it’s time for the 2:30 flight to push back. We pushed back from the gate. We get about 80 feet from the gate and we stop again. All of a sudden, there’s tapping on my window from the outside. I look and it’s Rocky and a cherry picker going, “Got the bags.” We’re lifelong friends now, we’re Facebook buddies, we WhatsApp. By the way, he’s one of my best sources because he knows, he sees everything.
Kindness goes a long way. Thank you for sharing that, that’s wonderful. Peter, where can people find you? You’ve got several projects. Where can our readers go to see, listen to you, your different shows and projects that you have?
Our website has the most imaginative name, PeterGreenberg.com. If you go on that website, you’ll be able to listen to Eye On Travel with CBS Radio Show. If you can’t find a station in your market, we stream it live every Saturday from 10:05 AM to 1:00 PM Eastern time. You’ll also find out what we’re doing, all of our projects on PBS, The Royal Tour or The Travel Detective or Hidden and CBS Morning or the CBS Evening News and on CBS Sunday Morning.
We will be watching. You’re an absolute joy. Thank you for sharing all these great gems and hidden secrets with our guests. We look forward to seeing you on the road sometime soon.
Hopefully, as we turn the corner, we will all be back on the road. As long as we behave responsibly, we will be.
We want to take you out to lunch or dinner when we make it up to New York. We wish you the best of luck and continued conversation. You’re fantastic. We enjoyed every minute of it.
Thanks. I enjoyed it too.