Montreal Canada, Sector 21 Building 2071 Room 1401

Every so often I get to travel internationally, in this case to Canada. I enjoy Canada. Every-time I’ve been there I liken it to the movie “Demolition Man”. Clean scrubbed, well dressed people walking around greeting each other ‘good morning citizen’.

So this week finds me in Montreal Canada. My previous trips have been to the British rather than French side. Montreal is completely different than my travels to the Brit side. Regardless, this time of year presents a challenge to traveling to the great white north. It’s 85 degrees where I live. It’s 30s up there. Carrying a coat with your bags in the Texas heat at DFW sucks. I picked my motorcycle jacket. It’s the least bulky jacket I own.

Let’s start with the flights. Most left way, way too early for me. The others arrived way, way too late.
So I flew out on Air Canada, on a rather cozy Embraer 175. Bad thing about Air Canada is it leaves out of terminal E at DFW – The Chump Terminal. It’s also the only one I’ve seen here that is bifurcated. I found that out when the parking dude dumped me off a mile from check-in. When I got my boarding all sorted I headed to security, and showed them my passport and boarding pass. The genius asked if I were Canadian. Without missing a beat, I asked “If I was can I go in that line? (pointing at the priority line). He let me go. A nice touch that got me more time at the bar, sitting next to some marketing chick with a horrible, annoying vocal fry.

This flight had the most civilized boarding ever. I’m used to fighting a scrum of group fives and sixes to board. It helped that the plane was only half full, another thing I haven’t seen in years.

Customs was reasonably efficient. Scan the passport, the machine prints a declaration. The agent gives it a cursory “meh” and sends me on my way.

No car this time, since we were booked near the office. So first thing I realized was that my mobile was now roaming. Bob and Jerry’s wireless offered me a data plan. Luckily, Montreal airport has free wireless, so I hit that to sort things out. Second thing I figured was that my cards had expired in my apps. So Ubering to the Hotel was going to be an issue. I plopped in my digits, and soon enough an Uber driver whisked me away to the hotel. Note to self, check that stuff before you get on the plane.

Another thing to do is tell your credit cards that you are going out of the country. The only one I don’t have to do that with is Amex. Needless to say, I forgot to do that and had to do it later.

First surprise was, this is a fairly ugly downtown area. Sort of like Pittsburgh, if it were built by the soviets. Lots of raw concrete buildings, including my Marriott. I wasn’t sure if it was retro seventies, or they simply hadn’t updated it since. My kitchen area looked like one of the shitty condos my daughter was looking at in urban Dallas. It sported a scary balcony overlooking the street. No way that exists in the US. I went out to size it up and scared myself. I’m not squeamish of heights. But I was on that. Something didn’t seem right. My coworker told me later his wasn’t level, it pointed down. I figured it had to have been an apartment building they converted. One of the desk agents told us it was, in fact, an apartment building before becoming a hotel. Still, it’s a Marriott, and has nothing if not consistent good service. Cool view too. This trip was the first time I’ve bothered with the Marriott App. I must say, it was cool checking in on the way there, and having things in order when I arrived.

Montreal is of course in French Canada, and while somewhat bilingual, they start of every interaction in French, assuming you speak the language. I don’t.

So there’s this funny thing where they babble in French. You gurn at them and say something in English, and they start talking in English.

This happened the second I hit the streets looking for grub. I really got myself in a bind, not having told my MasterCard I was out and about in Canada, and when I did, there was a time period before the notification hit. This left me with Amex. Unfortunately, many many places outside the US shun Amex. So I had to pick a place that looked big enough to maybe accommodate it.

So I picked a sports bar. I waddle in, tell the hostess, “One. It’ll just be me”, whereupon she commenced talking to me in rapid-fire French. I smiled, so she went on and on. Finally, I laughed and said I didn’t speak French. “Oh! Ha ha! I’m sorry! Well, you can sit anywhere, follow me!” So I sat and she handed me a menu and took off. The menu was in French.  I know enough Spanish that I can sort out the root of Latin based languages, enough to ID the meat type and whatnot. We had this issue nearly everywhere we went.

And we went to some really stupid places. The worst had to be what I would call a “utility” sushi restaurant. To be honest, it was gross and we should have known better. Our plate showed up, all stuck together. I could barely identify what we ordered. The spider roll was most assuredly wrong. At that point I looked around and noticed too many pale faced hipsters and zero Asians. That was a clue we somehow missed. You’d think three hardcore travelers would have noticed that walking in the door.

Couple funny things I picked up on:

  • Most of the cars I saw were missing hubcaps. I asked the clerk at the hotel why this was, and she gave me a long winded explanation along the lines of they don’t like them. I figured it was that they would be destroyed by the snow.
  • People are very orderly here. It’s funny to see a line queued up for the elevators. Everyone seems to stand in their place and take their turn. Never see that in the US.
  • Speaking of standing, the random people I ran into would stand in front of any kind of counter, oblivious that you were waiting. Like at the coffee bar in the hotel. There they’d stand, right in the middle, pour coffee, pick up condiments, casually fixing their drink. Everywhere else, one pours coffee, and moves out of the way for the next guy while applying fixings. I can’t tell how many times “For chrisstsakes, get the fuck out of the way” had to be choked off in my throat.
  • The three of us seemed to tower above the general population and are used to being assertive while travelling. Walking head up, scanning for a bar, looking people in the eye seemed to make the male population (at least where we were), quail around us. Sort of like we were Huns. I’m 6′. My buddies are 6’4, 6’5 and look like trouble. It was odd to be in a large city and not run into one dude that you’d just as soon avoid. I didn’t see one male that intimidated me in any way. Apparently, thug life is not a thing there.

At the end of our week we hit an Uber to the airport and mostly went our separate ways. I was flying back on American, and unlike with the trip out, the trip back was a scrum. I knew it was coming when I saw the obligatory dozen or so first classers hovering a half hour before boarding. I’m flummoxed why they do this. I myself sit until the group before mine is called, then move into a strategic spot for when my group is called. It’s typically group 5, roughly translated as “priority access”. Normally, I’ll find a path to get where I need without cheezing someone off.

The first leg was a typical American flight, blissfully free of drama. I connected through Pittsburgh. This was when I knew I was back. The crowd hovering at the gate was nothing short of astonishing. I picked a strategic spot in a front chair, facing the gate. For a plane that seats something like 220, I counted maybe 40-50 keysters in seats. The rest were all standing in a crowd at the gate, blocking the hallway. It’s sad that in older airports like these, they have those seats in rows. Everyone sits in every other chair. This time, I had zero compunction about plopping down in-between people. In this case, between a business traveler of some type, and an old Chinese woman, who appeared to be group 9. (I look at boarding passes, often wondering why they are hovering with that high a number.)

Sure enough, when group one started boarding, the old woman gathered up her stuff and elbowed her way into line, only to be rebuffed and turned back. It honestly warmed my heart that in the this scrum, they were enforcing the rules. When they called the group before mine, I had a clear shot and made it on the plane with ease.

Luckily, another uneventful flight. Until the end, of course. Turns out we either left late, or had to wait to take off. Whichever, there were a number of the wretched that may miss connections. The stewardess attempted to address this by helpfully announcing that there were wretched aboard, and could we all wait to exit so they could make their connections? What happened next wasn’t a scrum. It was a pig-pile. Only a lucky few that had their shit and were ready to git got anywhere near the exit before the works were absolutely gummed up with douchebags that sought to gain advantage. How do I know? I saw them after I deplaned, taking their time in the restrooms, standing in line at food stands.

There is no queuing with the commoners in the US, only the pig-pile or scrum. This woman should have known this, and known DFW. If you think you probably will miss your connection, you will. Most assuredly. It’s a huge airport, each terminal is something on the order of 35 gates, nearly 1/2 mile long. And unless you are fit, and you connection is in the same terminal, you are doomed. There’s no doing a “Go OJ, Go!” between terminals at DFW. See the gate agent, make arrangements.

Having carried on, I sauntered out of the plane, hit the head, and walked out into the Texas heat.

Oberlin Revisited.

I’ve told my kids on many occasions, in any situation – Even a job interview or car purchase, sometimes all there is left is entertainment value. So you may as well have fun with the situation.

It’s an attitude like that – My attitude, that gets me into trouble in places with funny people to watch such as found in Oberlin. We went up there to see a recital and collect the kid for spring break. And my constant ear-to-ear grin when I walked around, and my play-by-play commentary, almost got me into trouble. Not that I’d care.

If you want to read the first trip, it’s here.  I won’t cover much of that. Maybe only what’s changed.

First – the flight. American, as usual. And, in a complete bizarro world surprise, the flights to and from left more or less on time, and arrived early. Almost unheard of for me and Cleveland flights. And in a super display of logic, reason, and customer service, American ditched the rainbow colors of caste and privilege on boarding and replaced it with a simple group system. I found this out when I checked in and was assigned group 5. An insult, and in violation of my AA card, and AAdvantage status. When I asked, They explained the system. This was actually priority. They simply took the all the other levels and assigned them 1-4. It seemed to work, as there was a lesser amount of hovering pre-flight.

The rental car was nothing to crow about. A Malibu. A disappointment in that it broke the spell of cool cars I was getting this year so far.

The fun part about this story is the Hotel. The old Oberlin Inn was a 5 star dump. After my last trip, I’d have preferred a Motel 6 in a neighboring town. But gone is the Oberlin Inn, and in it’s place a new shiny “Inn at Oberlin”. Actually owned by the college.

Oberlin Inn is a paragon of lefty environmental thinking, and weirdness. First off – Nice place. Cool bar. Nice rooms. Very European. My son had checked in ahead and found (while having a sense of urgency) that the toilet lights didn’t work. Turns out, you need to insert your card for power. But from what I could tell, it was only to the bathroom. I get it. It’s to save electricity. Most hotels would have installed a (probably cheaper) motion sensor switch. I’m sure there’s a reason.

The new Inn at Oberlin. Very nice.

Another thing I got a huge kick out of is the light – and I think it’s a light, not an LED, telling you when it’s OK to open a window. So, some background – the hotel appears to have a geothermal climate system. Seemed to work OK, but then again it was winter. Near as I can figure, it’s in the ceiling, since the carpeted floors didn’t feel warm, and there was no radiator I could see.

HEY! SHUT THE DAMN WINDOW!
I think panel is the heat. All the fans were in weird spots.

What tickled my funny bone was – When was the last time you opened a window in a Hotel? Far as I can remember, I never have. So I had to try it out. The only window that opened was a maybe 18″ window deep behind the curtains. Curtains, which I found, don’t roll back all the way to the window. And, it was like 25 degrees out. Do you really need an idiot light to tell you to keep the window shut?

Another environmentally wonderful feature was the sink and shower. Very stylish.

My faucet – at full blast. Both rooms did this.

However,  the sink had the water pressure of a drip coffee maker. You know, it takes a certain amount of water to clean shaving cream from your face. So, I’m not sure how much water was saved there.

And showers are one of the things that are great about the Marriotts I usually stay – Unlimited hot water, under pressure. The steam wakes you up. Not so here. No matter how I tried to adjust the shower, it felt like I was getting piddled on.

I wasn’t aware Ohio had water issues.

But just like last time, the most fun part of the trip has to be people watching, which took very little effort. This started day one when we went to get some breakfast.

Seated next to us was a gaggle of 50-60 something professors (I’m guessing). The one woman in the group – a very earnest hippy type was by far the loudest and most intense. And her lamentations ranged all over the planet, but mostly within the confines of politics and the academic world. Her whole demeanor was like a female Winston Smith organizing resistance against big brother.

She had a term she used for herself, which I can’t quite remember. Something like an “academic without assignment”. I remember thinking that we used to call these types visiting professors. I gathered she taught two classes a week.

Listening to the conversation (they were literally at arms length), I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear, and muttering commentary to my son. If it were any other town, I’d have probably joined into the conversation. So, in the absence of doing my knuckles on the table response to such a conversation, I’ll cover her issues here, in no particular order:

  1. Students should be able to see the professors for classes they want. I’m with you here. That’s called truth in advertising. You may not like it, but I think the site rating them is useful too.
  2. Your life as a nomad academic is miserable because the academic world is one of the last remaining medieval guilds. Good professors are hard to cultivate, old professors are ensconced. ’tis a racket. Few organizations work that way, and it’s part of the reason my kid’s tuition is an eye-popping number. But in the immortal words of Hyman Roth – “This is the business we’ve chosen”. Suck it up. It’ll collapse long before it’s reformed.
  3. Stop looking for liberal democrat heroes. The ones you like, and mentioned ad nausem,  are all old and your bench is real narrow. You are going to have to cultivate younger, better ones. And to the extent you don’t like what the local and state guys are saying, remember two things: One – who was elected president, who voted for him and why. And Two – a politician’s top priorities are getting elected and re-elected. Whatever is third is far behind. (h/t Thomas Sowell). You’re pretty doomed for now.
  4. The venom you use to denounce some other professor is really off-putting. When you call him “a probable Trump voter” as an epithet, remember – an epithet is an epithet and is demeaning. To my middle of the road ears, it sounds equivalent to “jew” or “fag”. It’s your intent that makes it insulting.
  5. It’s a big, big country, with many types of people. Your problem wasn’t “messaging to a target audience”. Your “target audience” understands all too well what you are about. It’s why you lost.
What was funny is that hours later when we went to lunch at a different place – there they were – the breakfast club. I grinned ear-to-ear at the woman who had a look like I just stepped on her dog. I was dying to holler out “Jesus! do you all do anything like work around here?”
That kind of weird intensity was all around. I was walking out of a building as three students were walking in. I don’t guess they didn’t like my look. One put on a sneer, the other two looked down. You know, in every area I visit, (And actually had happen in Cleveland this trip), you meet eyes in a doorway like that, say “Hi” and smile the other person does it back. My advice here is, if you shave parts of your head, have the rest of your hair look like it was cut with pinking shears, and dye it weird, people are going to look. Some of them will grin. It’s why you did it, right?
Listen, I get it. I’m a Gen-X person. That look isn’t new. But it was generally worn on:
  1. People who made it look good, and didn’t care what anyone, least of all a 50 something dude thought about them.
  2. Mostly rock stars and musicians that were crazy talented (boy george, an exception)
  3. And thus, they held their heads high and proud when meeting people. At least the ones I knew.
The last night we were there, we were at the hotel bar and a couple next to us were having a serious, intense, meaningful conversation about whether or not to try the roasted garlic that came with their appetizer. I nearly leaned over and said “TRYTHEFUCKINGGARLICFORCHRISSAKES! Someone went to the trouble of making it. It’s mild. You’ll like it!”
My wife sized up these two and said “Can we move to a seat? I can’t take this anymore.” My son had his fill the day before. His mood becoming sullen and dark, he lammed out to the airport a day earlier than us. Don’t blame him. Unlike most campuses in the US, this is no place for a single, fit, monied dude.
We had a day to kill (to lower the flight cost), and having enough of pompus weirdness and intensity, we hit what is termed “the arts district” in Cleveland. Seemed like any other city in the midwest. Dropped a few sheckles to look at a car museum.

 

A ferrari california in the museum.

 

A pair of stainless steel Fords. Very cool.

Back when I was a consultant, I flew to Dallas quite a bit and made some good friends. One of them, A VP at our customer was in the HQ office one day. Seeing him I went over to say hello.

He looks around, like a bookie on the street looking for cops, and says “I hate this place. I don’t feel right until the wheels touch down at DFW”

Once on the plane, as it was taxiing for takeoff I told my wife that story, and said I’ve come to understand it entirely, especially after visiting Oberlin.

New York, NY. If you can make it there…ahh…screw it.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve been to the big apple.

Most of my travel keeps me clear of the northeast corridor, thank God. There’s not much I like about that region. So I wasn’t thrilled when the word came down NYC may be in my plans.

In the past, I’d take the shuttle from DC. This used to be easy as hell – show up, pop the card, get on the plane, and there were shuttles on the half hour so it was a commute, more or less. Leave the house normal time, get in NYC 9-ish, work all day, come home. Easy.

Last time, I had to drive. We had gear to collect. Still, not that bad although parking was atrocious. My recollection was it’s expensive, Cabs suck, and hotels were stupid expensive for the size. I had a room at a flagship Marriott in Manhattan once for $350/night that was, no lie, about the size of my walk-in closet in Texas. And, I generally don’t carry much cash, so cabs are anathema to me.

So let’s go into the particulars. I flew American. Why not? It’s a money-flight to LaGuardia. Leaves on time, lands on time. Funny thing here is when I booked the flight using the travel agency they heard “Newark, LaGuardia” instead of “New York, LaGuardia”, and booked me into Newark. This created a ruckus. The project manager for this gig lives in NY and assumed I wanted Newark, since this is an accepted way to hit NYC. I didn’t notice, since I’m a man, and I assumed they heard what I said and was only paying cursory attention as they babbled about flight times. And I generally don’t study the itinerary until the week or so before. So when I found out about the screw-up, I wanted none of it. I hate Newark airport with a flaming hot passion, and probably hate an hour on public transit (what it would take to get to Manhattan from there) even more. So I switched it. Money-Flight or not – I still had crap for legroom. AA is nothing if not consistent.

Luxurious Accommodations on American

I had few hotel choices. All the hotels fell into two categories – pay out the ass, but be a short walk to the office where I had to be, or pay a cheaper fee, then commute. All things being equal, it made sense to pay up, and have a short walk. Unlike in the past, my room at a Courtyard – not the most expensive by any means was an eye-popping $540 a night. It probably didn’t help to be in downtown Manhattan near Christmas. Still, that’s a chunk of dough.

Panoramic view from my luxury digs. Romantic.

The big thing  for me was Uber. My son is in IT, has to travel sometimes, but isn’t old enough to rent a car yet, so he Ubers. That’s how we hit the airport in DC, and how I got to and from here. OK, this is a disruptive technology. It’s stupid convenient. It’s cheap. It’s pleasant. Rides to and from LaGuardia from Manhattan cost me like $25. I got from the city to the airport in like 20 minutes, in a clean car, driven by a pleasant former school teacher driver. I’m a YUUGE! fan now, using it even for bar hopping at home.

What can I say about New York from the perspective of a person that would just as soon not  be there? Two words – “Stupid Expensive”. Maybe “Bad Value”. If the hotels were ridiculous, the restaurants were worse. I didn’t eat extravagantly, but I still clocked in 50-60 bucks a meal. And these meals were painfully pedestrian. I spent 25-30 bucks on entrees that would be in the $15 region anywhere else in the US. The money spent here would in most cities have you in a Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s, or some foodie place.

I hit McDonald’s because a $20 hotel breakfast, which is like $12 elsewhere, chaffed. The best meal? An Afghan street vendor – Kabobs, rice, veggies, and flatbread for $6.

I generally don’t hit touristy stuff when I travel for work. My wife told me it was insane not to size up Rockefeller plaza while I was there during Christmas. So I waddled down there. It was interesting enough but left me wondering why someone would travel across the country to see this stuff and spend that kind of dough?

Rockefeller Plaza

I’m writing this many months after my visit – long past expense report time. And as I reflect, this trip is up there with my most expensive. For instance, for what my company paid, I spent ten days in London – at a worse exchange rate than today. I went to the virgin islands – with dive trips. It was over double any of my trips to Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Denver, any other cool city. For what? Look at lights. If I were in DC, sure. It’s a day trip even still. Anywhere else? Why?

The upside of the story is, my expensive hotel stay earned me a craplot of points and I became an Uber fan.

Radio City. Wow. Looks like it does on TV.

 

Washington DC

One of the funny things about DC is that I grew up here, But then I moved. So I look at it differently now, like a foreigner .
Fall and Spring are the best times to hit this city. In the spring you have the cherry blossoms, as well as crab apple, apple, pear, and dogwood trees, which are all stunning. And Fall, the colors are jaw dropping. I, sadly, have no choice. I go in the summer when it’s stifling.
This time I’m in crystal city, which is in VA. Picture a diamond inside a circle. The circle in DC would be the beltway. Used to be 495, now it’s a combination of 95/495, depending how you go. Reason being, that they stubbed out 95 at New York avenue, and called it 395, or Shirley highway. It’s the only city where I’ve been that does not have a highway through it. I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for this, but the most plausible is squabbling. Same reason Redskin stadium is in MD, and not Potomac Yards. Or where the Potomac Yards used to be. It’s ugly strip malls now.
Now, cut a diagonal slice, west to southeast along the Potomac. South is VA, Arlington specifically. And that’s where I was. Crystal City is all along VA Route 1, across the tracks from Reagan National airport, and sports an underground mall, like Houston. Dallas has one as well. Lots of condos, restaurants and shops. The very picture of yuppie heaven.
So, no point renting a car. The hotel shuttle picked me up. I could walk anywhere I needed to be, and the office was a block from the subway, which was one stop away form the airport.
Let’s dwell on DCA, or Reagan national. National to the locals. Used to love it. Flying out, you elbow through security like anywhere, go to the gate. If you are leaving, going home, and stuck, it blows.
The new terminal building has a massive atrium, with stores, shops, and restaurants. Sadly, terminals B and C stub off of it. So it’s before security. Each terminal has a number of food stands, and one sit-down bar. One.
There are two concepts for airports – baggage, ticketing, and security up front, everything else behind security. Or everything before, like a shopping mall, and the terminals are where you go to fly out. Here’s the deal, that model is only good for pickup, drop off. Land, traverse security, sit in bar, wait for ride, wait for group. The problem here is that each terminal, with it’s security, stubs off a shopping mall. You can’t really go from one terminal to the other without re-entering through security – a fatal flaw.
With all the airline mergers, you now have to get from terminal B  (the old airline) to C (the new one) and guess what? In typical DC fashion, no one thought of that. And this upgrade was done long after security was a thing. So now, like Dulles (Aka the 7th circle of hell), you take a bus across the tarmac to the other side. Dimwitted as hell. I watched the wretched make this trip a dozen times while waiting for my plane.
I forgot how cool crystal city was. On the shuttle to the Hotel, I spied a Legal Seafood. I hit that place hard as soon as I dropped my bags. They sport a McCormick & Schmicks as well. Lots of places to hang and eat.  It hit my simplicity gene – one that has been manifesting itself for some time now. How cool would it be to live in a condo – no lawn, no busted up house – and waddle to restaurants and bars when the mood hits? Plano, where I live, is growing such an ecosystem. And I’m drawn to it. What’s stopping me is the tools, woodworking hobby, car hobby, and soon to be a 75lb shepherd/lab mix mutt.
BTW, if you aren’t working, and are a tourist, there are some “Must hits” in DC – Smithsonian (which you can spend a month eyeballing for free) , the mall in the spring for cherry blossoms, the monuments. Incidentally, if you go you’ll notice they aren’t staffed. So next time there’s a shutdown, and you see NPS staff blocking access, realize the only reason they are there is to block access. Normally, memorials are wide open, like a rock formation.
When it was time to flee, I hit the metro. It seemed to be the thing to do since I was a block away and it used to be something to brag about. My train was filthy, threadbare, and stunk. Wow. It went from the nicest to the shittiest I’ve been in 10 years. And it was like $4 for one stop, and I had to buy a fare-card – so $7 to go one stop.  Don’t know where the money is going there. But it ain’t to upkeep, for sure.

When I got to the airport it was a total fuck all in the terminal. Only place to grab a meal were stands. The only “Sit down” place was a kiosk type bar, very much like Newark, and it was standing room only, $16 for a salad with a handful of dry-ass shrimp, 8 bucks for a crappy can of beer, 11 for a draft. I’ve seen restaurant rescue, so I get the small menu concept. But two two lousy sliders, no soup, not much else. National Airport was my favorite when I lived here. Now, I look at it like the American terminal – i.e. the chump terminal – at LAX.

So what have we learned? Not much. Let me sum it up as a former denizen of DC.

If you are going to go, go in the spring or fall when the weather and flora and fauna are worth it. You’ll fly in and out of a crappy airport. Not one of them is a good choice. Maybe BWI, since it’s marginally cheaper to fly there. You’ll pay confiscatory New York City rates for a hotel room similar to a $80 room anywhere else in the country. Traffic, which I haven’t mentioned because it didn’t apply this trip, sucks worse than anything you’ve probably ever seen. Public transport blows – it’s worn out. You’ll be lucky to survive. I may have mentioned it earlier, but the affordable hotels in DC proper are probably surrounded by hookers. I used to drive by them every day on the way to/from work.

It’s worth seeing I suppose. The memorials and Smithsonian are cool. At one point, my boss was making noise as if someone would have to hit Point Barrow Alaska. Or a town more remote. No Hotel, no restaurants. Given the choice, I’d go there first.

San Antonio. What the hell happened here?

“How was your flight?”

“Great. Just Great. Two hours next to the motors in a clapped out DC-9 thanks to Mr. Smoking-Section here”

That was a conversation that I had with one of my oldest friends when he arrived from the airport for my wedding 27 years ago, Which went through my head has I took my seat next to the motors in the back of an American Airlines vintage MD-80 on my flight to San Antonio.

View from the coveted back of the bus on an MD-80

Honestly, if you can’t score first class, or get an exit aisle seat, I find the back of the MD-80 a coveted spot.

You see, on an MD-80, the galley is on the right hand side of the aisle, forward of the toilets. So two things happen – Unfettered access to the head (if you need it) and you generally get drink service first, as the stewardesses take care of the seats behind the galley before moving forward. Just make sure your aren’t the last seats on the right before the galley, or the last row on the left side. Those are butted up against a bulkhead. So there’s no reclining. Otherwise, It’s a great spot. Unless, of course, you can’t handle the risk of being riddled with titanium fan blades if the motor gives out. That hardly ever happens though.

A lot of “Done me wrong” happening on this trip. Let’s start with the car. Avis, for some reason, gave me exactly what I rented. A Ford Focus, just like in Seattle. Unlike on that trip, this one started out not so bad. Seemed like an OK car. At least up until I had to turn a fast u-turn and merge into traffic. As I mashed on the pedal, the motor started backfiring every cylinder. It sounded like someone playing drums on the floor with sledgehammers. Or a machine-gun. After that, every time I hit above 60 it started up again. The speed limit on the highways here is 65, by the way. The car has 63 miles on it, and it’s falling to pieces. So I called in to complain.

My craptastic Ford Focus rental.

“Do you think it’s safe to drive to one of our facilities?” Says the agent. I don’t think so. “Well, I can offer you a ride with the tow truck to pick up a replacement”

Seriously? I had a flat back in 1997, they sent a rollback with a new car. Now, a ride on a tow truck is all I get. Screw it. I had to pick up a colleague at the airport, so I flogged it, mercilessly, back to the airport. As it stunk up the preferred booth, the helpful lady replaced it with a Camry which, while it had a few miles on it, ran flawlessly. I’m thinking they got water in the fuel. Who knows with Ford. I want to like them, but the last few I’ve gotten were miserable. Next time, I’m starting higher on the food chain, car-wise.

The replacement Avis used to redeem themselves.

I won’t go into much San Antonio stuff. I’ve done that before. That said, the traffic here has become jaw dropping. Sure, where I live has traffic. Some of it horrific. But you can usually hit secondary roads and do OK. Each trip in the evening was gooched. No alternative but sit it out and suffer. So beware. It’s also been mild and rainy in Texas lately. At least at home in Dallas, and here in San Antonio. Lot of greenery that is normally brown and dried by this time of the summer. San Antonio is more hilly and not quite as arid as Dallas, but not as awful humid as Houston. So, not bad weather to sit and suffer in traffic.

There was confusion about which office we’d have to inhabit this week, so we split the difference and got rooms at a Springhill Marriott at Medical center. I’m hard pressed to find the difference between this brand and Fairview. Other than green hideous carpet with lines, compared to blue with red circles, and the jimmy proof doors. Do they know something? Otherwise, Similar to fairview, same breakfast. Still a good deal.

Some ugly carpet. What were they thinking?

 

Why does the door need a jimmy barrier? Should I be worried?

However, the counter lady done us wrong. My co-worker asked where’s a good place for dinner. She sent us to a Mexican place in kind of a crappy strip mall. I’m OK with dives, but I was in the wrong lane in traffic and it wasn’t worth the effort to double back. I’m guessing twenty-somethings don’t understand the tastes of two pampered field engineers on an expense account. We opted for Pappadeaux, a “Known-Known”.

With the way traffic has been, plan your trips. I usually print a few google maps, ever since my total smartphone roaming failure in Victoria BC. This time, however, I didn’t bother. I trusted Apple maps, at least up until it done me wrong, screwing me on turnarounds. You see in Texas, highways exit to frontage roads, which have turnarounds when you hit the street the exit is there for. Turnarounds allow you to hit the frontage road, and feeder roads on the other side of the highway. It’s a u-turn by design for an 8 lane highway. To take it, you say “take the next turnaround, and prepare to turn right.

Not “Stay Right. Then “Slight Left”. A turnaround is a BIG LEFT. Not a “slight left”. Got me twice before I wised up. Got my colleague twice when he was navigating. I think I need to size up an actual google map, or print one again.

All this navigation silliness was astounding, considering that we were operating in probably a ten mile radius or so – Airport included. Last time I was here, I didn’t have that much trouble getting from point A to point B. Where I was, kind of northwest of the city, around I-10 and 410, I couldn’t keep my bearings. We had an 8am meeting one day, and took off in plenty of time. A while after heading out, I start noticing signs for I-35, and seeing the downtown skyline. I think I remarked, “Hey, I don’t remember seeing that all week”. Went the wrong way on I-10. We had to haul ass to make it even close.

Worse yet, when traffic was gooched, it was GOOCHED all over. There didn’t seem to be any relief from hitting side streets, no matter how hard we tried. I don’t remember this city being so crowded. I think a big chunk of Austin weirdness has oozed south. So screwups like that were tough to recover from.

In the first time for me in nearly a decade, our customer bailed on us for Friday. As we ate dinner we planned an early flee time. I scored an 830 flight home, rather than the 5pm one I had. So I got up early, sized up my position, and hit the road figuring I had this down now, and Apple would screw me up. Hell, I’m only 15 minutes from the airport.

After 15 minutes of travel, I was thinking “Hey, I don’t remember seeing that all week”.

DOH!

P.S. The problem was twofold. First, I-10 hooks north/south at the 410 interchange. Yet, the signage says East/West. It didn’t reconcile with the map picture I had in my head. My head was also wrong. all week I thought the Hotel was north of i-410. It wasn’t. It was south. The reason for this is Apple doesn’t display, or didn’t display, the map from a “true-North” perspective. Imma print maps next time.

Broken Bow OK, The end of the trail of tears.

I don’t normally write about vacation trips. More often than not, we’re traveling to meet friends or family and it’s gauche to kvetch on a blog when you’ve had a great week, other than the abject misery it took to get there and back. I had a brush with that awhile ago, involving the clash of the first world expectations and a third world delivery system.

I titled this “the end of the trail of tears” because Broken Bow, or Hochatown which is a little north, was at the end of the “trail of tears and death” for the Choctaw who were moved from their lands in Mississippi and Alabama to their reservation in fifty-miles-from-nowhere Oklahoma where they have a casino.

Let me say something up front – I do nearly zero research when I write these things. I approach this blog from the perspective of a dude that is a reluctant traveler at times, doesn’t much care about what’s there, and prefers to stumble into things. If I’m going to go, I prefer a crappy section of town in Wichita to the sanitized resort in Florida.

In this case, I loaded up on free material at the ranger station at the park. So it came easy this time. Not that I can be bothered to summarize it for you.

Broken Bow was a surprise. In a past life I had to do a few trial network deployments in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. They seemed flat, boring. And the drive took you though some of the flattest, most miserable looking country there is.

Not so here.

First off, You will be driving. There are no airports to speak of close by. In my case, I wound my way up 121, though Paris, Texas across the Red River, and into town. A short, reasonably easy, interesting drive if you happen to live in North Dallas.

The area around Broken Bow lake, and Hochatown sports a number of types of cabin rentals. From the basic park service cabin to a privately owned chalet, you can find something. We stayed at a well appointed “cabin”, more of a chalet, nested in a field of awesome pine trees. Turned out, there’s a some cool restaurants in Hochatown, and even a few wineries (which caught me off guard). I didn’t think that grapes grew in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. Turns out, they don’t. The wineries import the grape juice from actual vineyards, then go to the business of making wine. Some of it drinkable. Not the $25/bottle I paid, but still OK.

Broken Bow lake has a number of sports activities. A number of canoe and Kayak rentals as well as a pretty decent zipline setup. We kayaked down rivers right out of the movie “Deliverance”. I couldn’t help looking up and hoping there weren’t hayseeds readying an attack. Then again, unlike in the movie, I didn’t antagonize the locals on the way to the lake. They seemed friendly and helpful, So I was on my best as can be expected behavior.

The water in the lake is clear and surprisingly cold for August in this region. Figuring I’d get used to it, I dove right in. For some reason, it didn’t work. I actually got colder, and stayed cold. Brisk or Bracing comes to mind.

So there’s woodsy touristy camping stuff to do. I don’t do tenting any more, but they had some fairly rustic sites, if you’re into that kind of thing. I spied a few RV hookups. So there’s that.

Enough of the chirpy touristy stuff. Here’s what to watch out for:

First, there are supermarkets in Broken Bow. Hit them before getting to Hochatown. There’s only some mom and pop stuff there with expensive durable foodstuffs and meager beer selection. Which brings me to the second point – if you are there on a Sunday, beer may be the only thing you’ll get. For reasons I can’t explain, food stores we went into had no beer. And wine and spirits are in either the wineries, or  a liquor store, both of which were closed on Sunday. Either that or a few beers and we figured the hell with it.

If you are coming from North Texas on a Sunday, better stock up.

Lastly, if you have a truck, drive it. If you bring something more sporty, like my wife’s mighty Nissan Maxima, you may have to tread lightly getting to your digs. We bottomed out bad nearly every time leaving the street our place was on.

Other than that, not much to complain about. Cool place. Who knew it existed?

I’ll be back. For sure.

Zipline 
One place for cabins