Jacksonville, Fla. There’s a beach there? Really?

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. Too long.

But then again, I don’t travel as much any more and the places I’ve been recently are repeats. So there’s been little to blog about. So I have a new one this month, to a new place in a state I haven’t been in a while – Jacksonville Florida.

This was an exceptionally messed up, funny week for a number of reasons. Mostly, though, it was that I’ve been way off my game. To start with, I had a really awful cold. This is ironic, since I’ve spent most of the last eight years or so traveling about, eating God knows what, drinking way too much. I’ve been in airplanes, hotels, rental cars, all over without so much as a sniffle in all that time. Three months of working at home, and I’m a mess.

To start off with, Jacksonville is one of those lesser cities that’s kind of hard to get to conveniently. It’s right up there with Cleveland and Hartford. I had only a small task to accomplish for Monday, and for the life of me couldn’t find a direct flight, or really any flight that didn’t have me spending a day traveling over hell’s half acre. That being the case, I found a direct flight on Superbowl Sunday. The airport was blissfully quiet.

I felt the first small disturbance in the force just as I hit the highway on the way to DFW. It didn’t manifest itself into disaster until I hit the airport. I had left the cell phone at home. The cell phone has my password app. So this is a crisis. I ended up having my son fed-ex it to me at the hotel and used google pretty much. With no passwords, no apps can be installed on my iPod. Luckily, I could download SplashID desktop for free, and I had the forethought to copy a password backup to Dropbox. Let me tell you, the cloud is a happening place.

I flew out on American. What else. I’m so used to their buffoonery, I’m immune now.

When I checked in, they offered 1st class upgrades – for a modest fee. Can’t do it. I love the a-la-carte, market based thing as much as anyone. But here’s the deal, I can’t expense that upgrade. Nor can I expense the upgrade to priority, or the seat change – Things that were free before I blew a gasket and started flying other airlines. About the only thing I can expense in this manner is bag check. Even so, I sprung for priority. If you aren’t one of the first thirty or so on a crowded plane, you can kiss overhead storage goodbye, So nine bucks is a bargain.

It was when I went to check my bag that the theme for this trip became apparent – zero customer service. I sprung for upgrades. I sprung for baggage. The machine printed a bag tag that I had to put on myself. At the counter, there’s one girl making a career out of checking a bag, and three placid dignitaries standing around chewing the fat – so to speak. One went over to a computer and I figured I may get lucky. No such luck, she appeared to be checking the screensaver. Satisfied the computer would come back, she rejoined the hen party.

This kind of silliness went on all week. When I landed, I went to the Avis preferred counter and stood waiting for the idle clerk at the regular counter to spare the time and toss me some keys. Turns out, there was another person with my same last name – apparently we can’t read a license and dole out the right car key. A key that’s been processed already and is hanging on the board. All she had to do was check my ID and hand me the correct key. I wonder what the other person got? I got a Chevy Cruz, Government Motors flagship sedan.

What a miserable car. They really should have been allowed to go bankrupt. Whiny motor, transmission constantly changing gears. The remote inert unless you are standing next to the car. This became a huge deal, since in my cold-medicine haze, I lost my car in the parking lot of the customer’s huge campus. I walked around, hate welling in my heart as I’m stabbing at the useless remote hoping to locate my crappy silver shit-box car. By the way, I did the same thing when I returned, and when I pressed MY remote at the airport, MY 4Runner when Chirp Chirp and flashed it’s lights, 100 yards away it seemed.

The view from my “Suite” at the Springhill Marriott.

Everywhere I went, it seemed nothing went as it should. Even my beloved Marriott let me down. Springhill suites was an unfathomable dump for a Marriott property. First off, as a gold elite member, I can designate my preference for rooms and I can tell you, my preference isn’t anywhere near the elevator on a low floor.

Worse yet were the housekeeping staff. OK, I came late day one for breakfast – 08:30. There was little to eat other than some eggs that appeared to be a bit long in the tooth, and corned beef hash with the color and consistency of dried vomit. I had time to kill, so I decided to hang out, caffeine up, and read. Breakfast ends at 09:30, and soon I found myself in the company of what appeared to be the entire housekeeping staff socializing and polishing off what little food was left out for Breakfast.

This is a no-no in the hospitality business. If I recall the conversations I’ve had with hotel managers, this is a no-no for Marriott. There were still guests other than me there. It’s  really bad form to have almost nothing during peak meal hours, but then appear to have plenty for the staff. This is one of the very reasons I no longer stay at Hampton Inn. After a while they decided to get busy and start cleaning up – overacting while doing so. I hope they were mentally handicapped, because it was disturbing to witness. Disgusted by this I headed back to my room. As I waited for the elevator, I glanced to the left and noticed one of the staff making a career out of wiping down the ice machine, and glaring at me like a prison convict. I suppressed my instinct to holler at him to cut it out, and his life is not my fault.

All things considered, I probably could overlook the silliness if my room were clean. They made the bed, the rest – they left. Dirty glasses, trash un-emptied. The glasses are especially disconcerting, since I would have expected a new, sealed glass. Day two, it was dirty. Day three, it was suspiciously cleaner. I had visions of that viral video where the maid spritzes cleaner in the glass and wipes it out with the same rag she that she used on the toilet. I thought that only happened at Sheratons.

There isn’t much to say about Jacksonville. I saw more than I wanted to, for sure. Missing my cell phone, I didn’t have the chance to size up how to get to where I needed to be, and wound up going halfway around their beltway before stopping and consulting a map. I didn’t hit the beaches. It’s winter, and my schedule really didn’t allow for much sightseeing. However, what I did see was like every overbuilt modern suburb – over designed entrances and exits to chain stores and restaurants. No u-turn appears to be the most popular sign. People driving slow, like they’re on Quaaludes. More than a few seem unable to drive at night without the high-beams. Reminded me of Northern Virginia. I think I spent every minute in the car screaming – WHATTHEF-CKAREYOUDOINGYOUIMBECILE! JEEZISPEOPLELIKEYOUNEEDTOTAKETHEBUS!

So needless to say, by the end of the week I was keen to flee. Other than a bit of confusion with Avis (I had the wrong car all week), it was a textbook flight up until we landed at DFW. Mayhem really doesn’t do it justice. It was cold and snowy. There were cancellations, gate changes, no gates. We sat on the back 40 for an hour and a half waiting for a gate. It was beyond old by the time we got off the plane. And when we did so, the stewardess did that really stupid “We have people that are making connections, so if you aren’t connected could you please stay in your seats and let these people off”.

As if.

It was one of the worst scrums to get off the plane I’ve ever seen. Outside was no better. Crowds of people were teeming – refugee style – all over the airport. I’ve never seen such a mess. But I was beyond it. I strolled to the head, left there for Macs which was nearly empty. Grabbed a bite as I walked to the baggage claim, picked up my waiting bag, and headed out to the tundra.

Home Sweet Home. What’s that white crap? Chirp Chirp, there’s my truck.