Wednesday, December 20, 2017

No Holds Barred: Happy Days Are Here Again!

Flying in the lap of luxury.
by Blair Sabol

Believe it or not — happy days are here again — or so I have been told. 
The market has skyrocketed, Christmas shopping is topping out at $6.6 billion on Amazon’s Black Friday ($8.8 billion in China’s “Special Day” sale).  People now have hope to spend and consumer experts say “luxury is back big time ... so is “affordable luxury.”  (What is affordable luxury?  A rented car?  A rented handbag?)  The tax bill has passed, sending wealthy New Yorkers to Palm Beach for better housing.

Personally I like all the optimism.  I’m sick of looking at the dark side. Mike Flynn “flipping” (for what and who at this point) or another “perv-aggedon” victim (now people are doing their own “creep lists” of names as a social media party game).

I didn’t really believe in the return of “accelerated luxury” until I recently had to do a turn around Thanksgiving trip to NYC for an important family event, and was generously gifted a flight with Flexjet to get my 95-year-old mother and me to and from the Big Apple.
The Flexjet G5.
I have been fortunate in the past to have been a guest on a few NetJets flights.  Believe me, if you ever get the chance to fly private, take it.  The extreme conveniences of no security screening lines, tarmac drive-ons and getting to call your own time slot are worth it.  But the experience wasn’t always “luxurious.” 

I often found myself disappointed in the attitude of the crew, or the conditions of the plane.  I remember a pilot who was as disengaged and rude as a bus driver. I guess you get sick of chauffeuring high-flying corporate CEOs, entitled rap stars and indulged pet dogs.  In the end, I think certain commercial First Class cabins were actually better designed.  But who would look down their nose at a private jet?
Luxury interior of the G5.
Then I experienced my recent flight on a Flexjet G5.  We were upgraded due to a scheduling faux pas — apparently we got the company CEO’s own jet (maybe they say that to everyone).  But it was the lap of luxury in private flying.  The stewardess (now called “cabin servers”) was available for any request you might have — including how to operate the toilet (the controls were all expertly hidden behind mahogany and gold concealing doors).  Real leather upholstery, fully adjustable chairs (they can turn all the way around), a couch, fur throws, fur pillows, full snack bar and a serious bar (as well as a kitchen).  It also had a “pharmacy” in the bathroom with not just razors and mouthwash, but Vick’s Vaporub, Ace bandages, Motrin, Advil, luxury bars of soaps and wipes!
The fully stocked bar.
Flexjet's fully stocked bathroom.
Full pharmacy.
And spa products.
The plane was supposedly 20 years old, but the CEO Mike Silvestro is a pilot, and takes pride in keeping his plane pristine.

I hear owning a private jet (or a “share”) is the highest and certainly the most costly of addictions.  This is an addiction I could sink my teeth into.  After I buckled up in my Beyoncé beige leather seat with WORKING Wi-Fi and big screen TV (with full access DirecTV and movies), I started wondering how I could come up with a mere $49 million (plus crew and fuel) to buy one of these (my investment advisor just looked at me and said, "No.")
“Cabin Server” Bojana “attending."
Personally I would rather own a jet than a house.  I could live “on and off” it and have instant destinations. Unlike a yacht (I get too sick on boats and feel trapped and lost at sea — never mind how long it takes to reach your destination), a plane has PURPOSE. No wonder Johnny Depp is broke but won’t give his jet up, and Kid Rock uses his for touring as well as a taxi for out of state dining!

But the greatest feature other than the big screen “flight data” with map graphics and flight info, were the famous huge oval windows.  I refused to read or watch anything on TV; I could only stare out this giant picture frame of clouds and distant mountain ranges for 4 ½ hours. The smooth as silk ride felt extraordinary at 45,000 feet doing 539 mph.
Hypnotic panoramic views out of the famous Gulfstream oval windows.
In-flight data (607 miles an hour).
Momentarily, I did think of all those recent “sex jet” stories of the likes of financier Jeffery Epstein (who has served time for soliciting underage girls) and supposedly Bill Clinton flying to “Lolita Island” in the Caribbean.  But his jet was bigger.  And wasn’t it rumored Summer Redstone tried to pick up stewardesses in his private jet and if they didn’t comply to his “personal needs” he would dump them at the next airport landing strip?  I guess “getting up” that high you feel you can do anything and get away with it in full privacy.  And privacy is THE ultimate feature in real luxury.
Guests on a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Flexjet has a fresher approach to private travel — apparently their goals are newer jets, better interiors, more accommodation, and “designated” crews.  The crew we had coming and going both flew with their specific aircraft full time, and neither the Captains nor the stewardesses were Ralph or Alice Cramden.  They were gracious and concerned and totally into high-end service.  They never disappeared into the cockpit with a do not disturb attitude.
The Flight Deck — view seen by few nowadays.
Apparently NetJets, which is the oldest company, has had its moment.  The more recent Wheels Up is the younger, funkier, and cheaper approach. Flexjet is giving them all a run for their money and is committed to quality in the skies.
Approaching Teterboro in our G5.
While I was in NYC for Thanksgiving Day, I did a quick and very disappointing tour of the store windows.  In my opinion, only Ralph Lauren really delivered — but he would since he owns the whole 72nd street intersection on Madison Avenue. Most of the stores were closed readying for Black Friday.  Only Apple had lines around the block on Black Friday.  In fact, the line at the Apple store almost outdid the crowd on the Macy’s parade route.

The other Holiday street feature were all the Amazon boxes piled high on the streets next to the garbage bags. What do tiny apartment house mailrooms do with all the pickups and deliveries this time of year?
The Winner — Christmas Windows — Ralph Lauren.
Ralph Lauren’s best window.
Uneventful Christmas windows.
The beginning of the lineup at the Upper East Side Apple store.
On Thanksgiving Day, when everyone was “clicking” and sale shopping for slash and burn offers — I did the opposite.  I too, got caught up in the shop till you drop rhythm, but I did over-the-price-tag shopping — I did mark up, not mark down. While other shoppers went low, I went high ...

I found my new favorite store on 78th St. and Madison Ave. Zitomer. A family owned landmark for over 60 years and considered an Upper East Side treasure.  I ended up visiting the store four times on Thanksgiving Day.  It was the only store open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. because it is a pharmacy.  It’s the kind of store that reflects the theory — the more time you spend shopping, the more you buy. 
Zitomer's directory.
I went in for eye drops and ended up spending over $350 on candles, Red Bull (for my friend), a bangle, a dog toy, and the biggest bottle of Excedrin I ever saw.  Now, mind you, on Amazon the 300 count pill bottle of Excedrin is $14.  In Zitomer, it was $24.  I didn’t care! Zitomer is a heavily stocked and high priced neighborhood cash cow.  It really does have it all.  There are three floors of children’s toys and clothes, women’s clothes and tchotchkes; the first floor is the pharmacy, every high-end cosmetic and a counter of Pavé jewelry and headbands.
Heading down the opening aisle at Zitomer.
Zitomer’s fully stocked over-the-counter.
High-end accessories.
Front aisle — jewelry department.
Large compacts.
Zitomer’s convenience foods.
Food to go.
It was the rush of one-stop-shopping on such a high no-discount level.  But truthfully, Zitomer has Barneys beat! And if today’s issue with brick and mortar stores is about having to give the public more convenience in “experience,” customer service and quality — Zitomer delivers.
Getting my pharmaceuticals from John the pharmacist, Zitomer veteran for 25 years.
Checking out handbags and ornaments.
All the Upper East Side ladies love, trust, and hang out at Zitomer.  It is a must-see shopping general store. Certainly an “Instagram” moment.  Many of my pals told me they had to stop their Zitomer in-store charge accounts as they spent too much on their meds and assorted other “supplies.”  Nothing like drugs and fashion under one roof.  The help are more than happy to guide you to your addiction of choice — even if you need a sugarfree Red Bull and a $250 gold baby bag.
This place is bigger than you expect.
Luggage and handbag department.
Cashmere department.
Luxury children's undergarments.
Baby bags.
Toy store and costumes.
That’s right, it was Turkey day, and no sales for me.  I was going for broke.  My excuse was, as they say in luxury, you buy once and you have it forever.  But will I be around forever with all my overpriced crap?  I say celebrate and don’t think about all the Holiday “ka-ching” — just sing “happy days are here again” and catch the fever.  You have a month before you have to look in horror at the bill.
TRULY ... a department store of your very own.