Wichita, Kansas

Our pro services group decided to spare one of our coastal guys a day of misery, and asked me to go to Kansas instead.

This is the first time I’ve been tasked with a job in the central/mountain region. The very area they were happy to have me fill in from time to time.

Wichita is a nothing flight from DFW. It’s a little over an hour. That’s the good part. The bad part is that if you fly American (which I distinctly heard the travel service say “We have an American flight…”) you’ll fly on American Eagle. American Eagle is American Air’s short, rural flight service. The “Puddle jumpers” as my dad used to call them.

They aren’t really puddle jumpers these days. They are usually an Embraer or CRJ regional jet. And, they aren’t really American. They are American Eagle hosted by Uncle Billy’s crop dusting and airline service. Let’s say, they outsource. Some are better than others, and my fights to and from were different companies.The return “airline” seemed better than the trip to. I forget who it was going but coming back was Mesa airlines.

I don’t know if the gate people were American’s, but their rank indifference to the size of the line to check in (or even simply hand off bags) on the return flight led me to believe these were AA lifers. The only dude that appeared to be working simply walked away to check on something else, leaving 50 or so to check in, and two of us that had checked in on the Kiosk and wanted to drop off bags, staring at an empty counter.

Checking your bags is kind of mandatory on a regional jet. There’s enough overhead bin space for a laptop case, maybe a backpack, maybe a soft case like a midsize duffel. That roll-around your carrying? Forget it. Unless it’s tiny, and packed light it’s going to be gate-checked. Sometimes, this is no big deal. In a small airport, you walk down the steps to the tarmac, pick up your bag, and waddle to the terminal. More likely, you’ll wait in a huge line on the jetway. This happened both ways on this trip. After landing at DFW there must have been 25-30 of the wretched lined up to get their gate-checked bags. Both ways, my checked bag showed up in reasonable time. By that I mean, a short wait after hitting the head, picking up a cold drink, and wandering out to baggage claim.

So the flights were decent. Avis hooked me up with a Nissan Sentra that was reasonably well appointed. Nice car, actually. And in Eisenhower airport, although you have to pick up the keys from a human at the counter, the cars are a short walk to the parking garage. They are very nice and understanding there. Especially when you forget that the fob for the keyless ignition is still in your pocket. Something I realized while going through security. Wonder how long the car ran when I walked away from it?

I stayed at a Fairview Marriott. Old habits die hard. It’s reasonable, clean, and has free breakfast of sorts, if there’s any left. By the time I got to it my second day there, there was a few crumbs of scrambled eggs, and a few lonely, soggy strips of bacon in a puddle of grease. They have other stuff. Stuff I don’t care for, so I went for Plan B – McDonald’s.

I like McD’s. The food is consistent. The breakfast, not bad. And it’s cheap, if not free. More often than not, I plug in my Amex and it lets me pay with points. This frees up resources for dinner or beer. A McD’s is also a microcosm of the neighborhood. In this case, I appeared to pick a location with a ton of homeless, and trailer-dwelling types. Many had bikes. My customer said he didn’t know why they all appeared to have bikes, but agreed it was unusual.

Wichita reminded me a lot of Midland Texas, only without the traffic. Old buildings, cool to look at. And zero – no – Starbucks. I was told maybe out by the highway (like in Midland). Could be the utter lack of foot traffic I noticed on the streets. Maybe it’s a local thing. They had a few coffee shops around but they weren’t all that great if you’re a tea drinker like me. “Are you kidding? my only choices are Chai with milk and earl gray? eesh!”

Two big things struck me on this trip.

The first is that IT can be an interesting field if you travel. You may wind up at cool offices (like I have the last 6 trips or so). Or, you could wind up in a dingy, windowless room in an old building that is located in kind of a crappy part of town. If there is such a thing in Wichita. Once or twice in my career my offices have been in such places. Makes for a long week.

The second was that you can’t always trust Google maps.Google is a tremendous tool for finding your way around. That said, I’m certain that they give preferences to this or that restaurant, probably on a pay to play thing. it was amazing to see the restaurants it didn’t show when I got to the old town section. And those that did, I’m certain some of them weren’t where the maps said they should be.

What’s even funnier, as I said earlier, there isn’t much foot traffic anywhere near wherever I found myself. There was almost no car traffic to speak of, even in the more “crowded” old town section. I was sipping a beer, waiting for my dinner to show up and noticed red traffic status on the streets I’d just traveled. Really? it was still there when I left so I had to check this out.

There was nothing. Some cars like my hometown on a Sunday morning. There were a few of the bums on bikes, and the odd hipster walking about. Speaking of which, for the amount of cool restaurants I found, that were 2/3 to 1/2 the price of a major metro, there was a surprisingly small hipster infestation there.

So, in this case, Google done me wrong again. These days I find myself leaning more towards Yelp to find vittles when I’m traveling.

Come time to flee, there was about the easiest trip to the airport ever. Took no time, car return was effortless (more so on my part, since I didn’t even hand them the key). The only blemish was trying to check a bag onto the Bobs Airline express.

An hour or two later, I’m back at DFW, celebrating the end of a successful, easy trip.

Seattle, How did I miss that?

I’ve been to Seattle a bunch in the last decade and I’ve never written about it.

What the hell?

Guess it slipped my mind. So I’ll wrap up all of them in one post, like magic.

First off, this is a must hit city. One that I enjoy on business trips, and more often than not, turn those trips into mini vacations. Lot of cool stuff to do there. Lot of weirdness to laugh at.

Let’s start off with the flights.

My home airport is DFW, a huge hub. Most of the airlines, save Southwest, use a hub-and-spoke system. If you are in a hub, life is good. If a spoke, you’re sort of doomed. Spokes tend to have crap schedules, crap planes, and airlines will cancel flights at the drop of a hat if they aren’t full enough.
If you are in a spoke, or traveling to spoke from a spoke you’ll suffer.

An example. Flying from the DFW chump terminal – United, Spirit, Delta, etc. You’ll have no choice but to connect for the most part. Now, Southwest you may have a connection, but it’s usually on the way and you may or may not have to get off the plane. Delta, United, USAir (before merger) et al will route you through some weird city – Atlanta, St Louis, Pittsburgh, guaranteeing you a soul sucking day of travel.

Seattle is what I call a money flight. Like DC, Chicago, and others, you can tell a money flight on American Air by who boards and when they board. You see, American fosters a caste system that makes the entire country of India pale by comparison. By the time you get to group one boarding, you’ve watched 4-5 groups of the entitled board.

I call the group three plus “The wretched ones”

On a Seattle flight from DFW, half the plane is boarded before groups are called. They are so up front that they’ll say straight up that if you are one of the wretched, there’s no prayer of carry one space so you may as well gate check.

From what I’ve seen, money flights never, ever are late, delayed , canceled. There are many each day to and from. Good times.

SeaTac is a pretty decent airport. Lots of good restaurants, one of which was featured on an Anthony Bourdain show. Layovers, I think. Lately, they moved the rental cars from the convenient on premise lots to practically another city. Not as bad as some, but still an irritation.

I always rent from Avis there. I’ve always rented something like a Ford Focus, and almost always get a cool upgrade. I’ve gotten minivans – no big upgrade for me, but also usually slick ones like Mitsubishi Eclipse convertibles. Last fall, I rented a ford, got a VW beetle. It was way cool. Last trip, however, I rented a Focus. And you know what I got? A Focus. What the hell!

I don’t know why those Top Gear guys chirp about the Ford Focus. Seattle and it’s surrounding burbs are hilly. And the Focus I got had slightly more power than a lawn tractor. It seemed to sigh and give up on hills.

For touristy stuff, you can’t beat the Pike Street Market. And this is a foodie town, you can hit any number of awesome restaurants, usually within a few miles of there you are. I’d been coming here for years and never realized there were wineries. Some quite good, and with entertaining tours.

For me, people watching is a sport. And for that sport, there’s no better place than Seattle. It was the epicenter of the grunge movement, and I’m pretty sure it was patient zero in today’s hipster epidemic.

Like any large metro area, you’ll see people all colors, shapes, and sizes. Maybe a little more so. The ones that crack me up the most, though, are the younger, white crowd. Nearly every twenties white guy there is wandering around like the spent the night camping. Wrinkled REI style clothing, half a beard, backpack. The women look similar, or sometimes retro-hippie.

I was working in an office up there one day and a guy walked in, dressed in long baggie shorts, hoodie, full beard. Like a bigfoot in gangstawear. His reaction to me was hilarious. You see, I dress well, usually in business casual – an oxford shirt (sometimes logo-wear), sharp black or khaki dress pants, and cowboy boots. Our eyes met, and the look I got was, “I don’t know who that is, but he looks important. I better amble on”.

No clue who he was or what his role was. Could have been an executive there, for all I know.

So for a host of reasons, Seattle is a must hit place.

Parsippany, NJ. Why, oh Lord, why me?

Sure I’ll help, I say. What could go wrong?

Our guys are busy, and they need a hand. And who better to relieve them of the misery of traveling from either coast to the middle of the country than me, who lives in striking distance of most of middle America.

So where do they send me first? New Jersey. That’s where.

Specifically Parsippany. I’ve been there before, decades ago, for a class. There’s not much to see. Most of those townships in Jersey don’t have a lot going on. Matter of fact, in that trip long ago one of my classmates and I desperately searched for something other than a bar or pizza place for dinner. We found a Red Lobster a few towns over and . There’s a few reasons that trip is still in my memory banks:

  1. I nearly wrecked my brand new company van on a turn right to turn left exit, not realizing that’s what I had to do to get were I needed to go.
  2. As we were sitting at the bar, waiting for a table, the bartender plopped a bag of “Neutral Base Slush Mix” on the counter in preparation for feeding the daiquiri machine.
I’ll never forget the look on the face of the guy next to me as his eyes went from his daiquiri drink to the Neutral Base Slush Mix bag and back. I’ll also never forget telling my dinner companion that sitting at the bar waiting for a seat was a bad sign. He said something like “This is a good place, huh?” after sizing up the crowd. I said, no, It wasn’t. and the fact it’s standing room only on a Wednesday night tells me there’s nowhere else around that’s any good. He was Canadian and thus didn’t know any better.
But I digress. Back to the trip. Nothing special about the hotel. Fairview Marriott was cheap, nice, and close to where I needed to be. Avis hooked me up with a Kia of which I forget the name. It was Camry size. Decent car.
But the flight sucked. It was United, one of the airlines I fly only if there is zero alternative. And since the travel agency found this flight at half the cost I had to take it. And it sucked. Did I say that? I don’t think I can say that enough. It left late. It was overbooked some 13 seats. There was a long line of the wretched trying to get aboard.
It’s nearly impossible to navigate around these New Jersey townships. The roads are way smaller than they should be, poorly marked, and poorly connected. The traffic in the morning was astonishing, most of it coming from a choke point. Midway to my destination, it went to a single lane either way. One school bus was all it took to wreck my commute. Seriously, I was maybe three miles from my site, and it was a good twenty minutes to a half hour to get there.
I got lost every day coming back. I couldn’t understand why Google would route me on the highway. Why couldn’t I go back the way I came? The answer? you can’t get there from here, that’s why. Going southbound is different than north. The road splits, and your choice is the highway, or a different road altogether. And the larger roads have that weird turn right, loop to the light to cross way of turning left. Except when you least suspect it, then for some reason there’s a left lane (And you are in the right hand one, expecting the loop drill.
I didn’t find one place to eat that I didn’t think there was, or should have been, a Kitchen Nightmare episode about. And what’s up with the beer? You have to go to a liquor store, of which there was one in a five mile radius. I drove by it three times, such an out of the way hole in the wall it was.
End of the week, I was in flee mode, big time. So I booked back to Newark airport, elbowed my way to the ticket counter, and wouldn’t you know, I was screwed by United again. Flight canceled, I tucked into the scrum at security. Newark airport is up there with Heathrow, competing for the seventh circle of hell. It was ass-and-elbows crowded. Utter pandemonium getting through security. Once in, I wandered the airport looking for a place to hang for what would be a five hour wait. In my terminal, the restaurants were replaced by a trendy looking bar in the middle of the concourse. It made navigating the place tough, as crowded as it was. But there was but one shop in town, that one.
Luckily, the flight where I was placed on left on time. More or less.
And next to me, in the window seat? A princess. I’ve never seen such a thing in all my years of air travel.
She wanted a drink before they got around to serving. Then when they did –
Oh, can I have a ginger ale. And some water. Then proceeded to complain to me that the stewardess had and attitude towards her. Really? Did she not get you everything you asked? Wow.
First off, this isn’t the golden days of aviation. You don’t even get so much as a bag of peanuts without popping a card. Second, The stewardesses aren’t paid to take your crap. Now, I can get pretty snarky when I’m dealt bad service. But I rarely, if ever, bother the stewardesses, no matter how atrocious they are. I figure it’s part of the package and battling them is a losing effort. I’ve since learned what the younger ones (like that one was) makes for a living. It isn’t even enough to call it peanuts. The old ones, full of guile as they can be, are well paid from years in the union. The new ones get diddly squat.
So I have a heart these days for stewardesses. It’s not their circus.
And United is a circus I’ll avoid at all costs.

Oberlin Ohio, Company Town

Yet another blog starts with – “It’s been awhile…”

But there’s a good reason for that. Shortly after my last post, I found I had cancer and my attention was diverted, so to speak. You can read about it here.

So this last weekend found me in Oberlin Ohio, collecting my daughter from college, storing all her stuff, and heading back. Through a misunderstanding of schedules, I arrived Friday, and wasn’t leaving until Monday evening on a different flight than my kid. Reason being, I didn’t want to cough up the extra dough – roughly $200 – for the earlier flight. So I had lots of idle time on my hand to scope the town out and observe the locals in their native habitat.

Oberlin is a funny place. The conservatory that my daughter attends is world renown, apparently. The attached liberal arts college is known as the most politically correct, nutty, left wing campus in the nation. One of the best lines I heard this year was Oberlin was “Where logic and reason go to die”. I’d probably coin it as a Portland or Seattle without the character. I settled on “Company Town” because without the college and conservatory, the town would barely exist.

Let’s start with the flight. Meh..it was American Air. No big deal other than the 1983 vintage aircraft that reminded me of a 1967 Bel Air with missing hub caps. By the way, Cleveland and Hartford are probably the two cities that I dread flying into the most. Not many direct flights, and more often than not expensive. I landed early and scored a slate grey Altima S from Avis and headed for the town. I’ve had quite a few Altimas as rentals, this one was the nicest. Not as eyeball flattening fast as most, but had a more growly, fun sounding engine.

I had my iPhone navigating the short trip to the town from Cleveland. As I entered town, my phone chirped “You have arrived at your destination”. I have? To the left were storefronts, to the right a major construction site. Turns out, the Oberlin Inn is behind the construction. The company (the college) bought the Inn and is rebuilding it. Good thing too. It’s a dump.

It’s real old. And I think the only updates in the last decade were smallish flatscreen TVs and WiFi. And even then, they didn’t update any of the info cards in the rooms. Mine said to check with the front desk for access. So I did, and was told you didn’t have to do that any more. The beds were stiff, the bathroom old and grubby. And it had no exhaust fan – a super bad thing (Not just for the foggy mirrors..ahem…ahem). It’s also expensive. At around $180 a weekend night, it’s a good three times more expensive than any motel in neighboring towns. Closest are motel 6 and Red Roof. Both of which are probably nicer, in my experience. But, it’s the only game in town.

The motel has two restaurants. One of which appears to be the typical hotel full service affair. It was also mostly empty – and  for good reasons. First is there are a handful of decent, cheaper, hipster-foodie places a block away. And on Sunday, there was a fish funk coming from the brunch buffet. Kippers? Who knows. Seemed to be a lot of oldsters and families in there. Mostly though, it stayed empty.
The other was a dive bar. This one appeared to be a hangout for the locals. Definitely an older, rougher, more wizened crowd than found anywhere in town. I can’t really drink any longer, and the place smelled of stale beer. I wanted nothing to do with it.

The first night, there was heavy partying going on. I thought it was from the Bar, but as I sized up the area the next day, it was probably people hanging out in the patio area under the rooms. This went on until 2AM at least. I’ve stayed in dump hotels all over, and heard gun-play and baseball bats on cars. But that’s nowhere near as annoying compared to loud drunken idiots. It’s astonishing the staff didn’t quiet them down. Unless it was the staff, a distinct possibility.

I ran into a woman at the elevator the next day. Typical Oberlin-Mom type. They for the most part fell into two categories – short hair, earnest eastern-liberal type, or old hippy. This one was older hippy with long hair and sporting an Oberlin T-Shirt. I asked whether the commotion kept her up all night like me. She said she figured since exams were over that day it was just students blowing off steam. Sure.

That sound was the sound of drunken barflies, who probably left the dive bar when it closed and sat at the adjacent picnic area to continue drinking. You get voices like that after years of smoking and drinking. Not by having debates in your women’s studies class. I left her at the lobby and headed out to explore.

The town itself is basically a “T”. A few blocks of total Midwest country town. There’s even a Ben Franklin 5-10. When was the last time you’ve seen one of those? It has a handful of foodie quality restaurants that aren’t bad, all things considered. What’s funny is the college kids looming around.

I’ve been to more than a few college campuses. I have kids in college. Our product is big in higher ed. So I can say with some authority that this is the funniest campus ever. My first impression was – “Where the hell is my money going?”. I was told that they are updating everything. OK. Just now?

I don’t think I was there three hours, and looking out from my table into the street, lesbionics was happening. Not that I mind. I’m a guy after all. And I’ve been all over the country, and even in the weirdest places I’ve been, I’ve never seen as muck kookiness in two blocks.

The next day I went to the hippy style coffee shop to score some tea, since there wasn’t a Starbucks within miles. I thought for some reason that I might be able to diddle on my iPad in the shop. Not. It was crowded with the self righteous thinking big thoughts and discussing big things. Whatever. After what seemed a long time, I got to wondering – “Where the fuck is my tea”. So I flagged the counter girl. “Hey, Any idea where my tea might be?” It was “Seeping” in a craft whateverthehellyoucallit pot. You know, it’s 2015. Even Starbucks uses tea bags. They work the same way, doncha know.

Failing to find a seat in the shop, I found a seat on the street to sip my tea and observe the locals.
They fell into two camps, more or less. First was the Conservatory students. They were by and large, normal. That’s what made them stand out. The second were the normal liberal arts crowd. The females for the most part were donned in baggy earth tones, had hair that looked like it was cut with pinking shears. No makeup, frump look. I once saw a show where a Saudi woman explained her hijab as covering all the parts a male would be interested in, thus making them concentrate on her as a person. This is how I came to coin the Oberlin college female attired in this way as “American Burka”. Hate to tell them, but american guys will find something…Almost anything to like on nearly any female. So if that look is a strategy, It’s not working. To wit, some of them had boyfriends in tow. Usually short, but otherwise nebish looking types, walking like rainman, only while staring at their feet the whole time. Also known as muggerbait. I almost felt sorry for them. Guys I know with frumpy wives like that had the frumpiness and sourpuss demeanor happen after a decade of marriage or so. They didn’t start off that way.

Another funny thing was that I was waddling about in my new shiny John Deere hat. That gained me looks like I was some sort of deviant caveman by the Oberlinian crowd. I thought I was imagining things, but when I went out without the hat, the looks stopped.

My first morning there, I was looking for some place to eat breakfast, free of hipsters. I found a McDonald’s just outside of town. What was funny was that in typical hipster doofus style, people had yelp reviews on it. They yelped about a McDonald’s. I had to see it.

What I found was a typical, rural McDonald’s. Staff of mostly white hayseeds, a little slow but OK. And a gaggle of old timers holding court, drinking coffee. Not unlike McD’s anywhere in the country.

Surrounding the town is basically bucolic corn fields straight out of “Harvest Home”. Flat out, middle america. What’s funny is I saw the locals pass through town, no doubt on the way to WalMart or McD’s. None stopped in town while I was there.

Oberlin’s a bubble, surrounded by middle America. I’m sure I could gin up an argument about the evil’s of Walmart with a person in town, that happily shops there since the store in town charges double, and is cash only.

San Antonio, Texas. Worth seeing, but not worth going to see.

I’ve been to San Antonio a few times this year, so far. Once for business, once for the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) convention. Not that I’m a music educator. I happen to have a kid that is an all state musician. While Austin may be where we keep our hippies and musicians, San Antonio is where we keep the fun touristy stuff such as the Alamo and the Riverwalk.

My company is funny when it comes to deciding who to send where. For most of the US, if a guy lives in the same state as a customer, it makes sense to send him there. This is why when things happen in Texas, my name winds up coming out of the hat. But Texas is a big state.

Matter of fact, it’s huge.

So I had a gig in San Antonio, which appeared to be an easy task. Bad thing is on the best days, or at least on paper, it’s a five hour drive – about the point of pain where you decide to drive as opposed to flying. I sized up the situation, and since I’d be within a stones throw of the airport perhaps flying was the way to go. What’s funny is I needed a car anyway. Even though my Hotel would be nearly within sight of my customer, as with many cities in Texas, you simply can’t get there from here by walking.

I took Southwest Airlines, which is turning out to be one of my favorites these days. And if you are bouncing between Texas cities, it’s simply the way to go. It really wasn’t a fun or even interesting trip. Sometimes, you go to work in a kind of industrial area, go back to the hotel, eat at a chain restaurants because you’re too tired and lazy to try anywhere else. I wasn’t even drinking. So no relief was to  be had.

About the only funny thing that happened is I got “mini-vanned” by Avis.

Every so often they do this to me, announcing the outrage with an “Enjoy your upgrade!” leaflet on the dash.

Usually, I walk a few miles to the car before discovering that they did that to me. Here, it happened at the premium counter. My car wasn’t ready. So I walked up, gave them my license, and he handed me the keys to a Dodge Mini-Van.

“A Mini-Van? You’re shitting me, right? I rented a Focus.”

“All I got, take it or leave it” was his reply. At least he was professional, and didn’t put “F-U” in front of that. Not feeling like a battle, I sucked it up and drove off with a long face. Wasn’t worth leaning on the counter and repeating their motto as a command – “You need to try harder.” I think I need to start renting from Hertz this year. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten anything but a gubmint motors (GM or Dodge) car from Avis. They really are miserable things to drive and this one was no exception. Why can’t they build a car that can stay in a gear?

Enough griping. The second trip was for the music convention. This time we drove the mighty Lexus. A kind of wacky ride in stop and go traffic, but very nice on the highway. Or at least it was until Austin. My mind was elsewhere, so I missed the bypass. Then, it took entirely too long to register that I was headed for disaster, as in my foggy state I stared at the stupid traffic marquee not grasping what it was saying. What it said was I was in  for it. So instead of five hours, it was more like six or seven as the GPS lead us astray into jams at every turn.
We finally arrived that the Riverwalk Fairview – The cheapest place I could find that I would tolerate within walking distance to the Henry Gonzales convention center where the festivities were.

The river walk is basically a system of canals, drainage ditches actually, that run through the downtown area. The River Walk actually has a cool story behind it. There was a devastating flood in 1921, so they decided to re-engineer the drainage system. Instead of the “coolies” or drainage ditches you see in many southern cities, here they made it a canal of sorts and festooned the thing with hotels and restaurants.

On a nice day, as we had that weekend, it’s pleasant to stroll along the water. They have goofy flatbottom boats that you can ride back and forth. You may even be able to get lunch. For dinner? not so much. It’s crowded as hell on weekend nights. The week we were there wasn’t especially special. Just a Friday and Saturday night. Putting it bluntly, you’ll wait for hours for a seat, in order to eat overpriced, mediocre fare.

I was definitely off my wits. My head told me to hit one of the flagship hotels, maybe the Marriott, to eat dinner. Normally this isn’t the thing to do. I had already been scalped pretty hard for two glasses of wine at the Hyatt Bar waiting for the kid to free up. We had a miserable walk all over, winding up at a crappy mall Chilis. And still waited an hour or so.

So plan carefully. As tough as it may be to endure that, it’s nothing a reservation wouldn’t have fixed. Ruth’s Chris is basically at the convention center. Definitely find a place that takes reservations.

The only thing I found interesting on the way to the river was the oldest Synagogue in the area. Cool old building. Turns out now it’s a dance club.

Cool old Synagogue, now a dance club.

The other big thing in San Antonio is, of course, the Alamo. This is where Davey Crocket and Jim Bowie and their group met a sticky end at the hands of General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s troops. It’s a cool chunk of Texas history. Neat to see if you’re there anyhow.

Which is sort of the tag line for San Antonio – Worth seeing. Not worth going to see.

Victoria B.C., Seattle without the Hipsters

Has it been that long?

I’ve really slacked off in the last year. I completely missed this trip, figuring out that I overlooked it when dumping pictures off my cell phone. I probably had it in my head that I went to Seattle and who cares about that? I go there all the time.

In any event, I had cool trip up to Victoria, British Columbia. I was meeting a coworker up there to visit one of our offices. So unlike most of my trips where I have to actually do work, and am usually under the watchful eye of a customer, here all who had to put up with me were other employees. Chances are they’d be more forgiving.

The logistics of getting up there started out all screwed up. Unlike a normal trip, where I fly into the airport and rent a car, here I’d be spending part of the week in Victoria, the other part in Seattle and the flights to and from Victoria from Seattle were way too expensive, as was a three hop trip. Besides the goal here was to meet up in Seattle, and head to Victoria as a pair. I made a call to another guy in our department, who gave me the lowdown – take the ferry, it drops you off a block away from where you need to be. Stay at the Marriott down the block. I like it. Works for me.

Except, coordinating where and when to meet wasn’t progressing well. And is actually a dilemma. If we meet at the ferry, I need to stay downtown. If we’re driving in, I need to be near the office. We were ahving a hard time, for a number of reasons, settling on a plan. However, it all sorted out when chatting about my plans with my boss he was incredulous that I’d take the ferry. “What are you doing taking the vomit comet?  Last time I took that I got [seasick as hell]. Take the seaplane.”

Seaplane? Hello.

Turns out, it’s fairly easy. For a third of a flight to the airport in Victoria, the seaplane takes off from Seattle and lands at the harbor, a block or two from where I needed to be. The only issue was a 25 lb baggage limit. No Sweat. So I flew up Sunday on Alaska Air and stayed at a crappy Hotel near the airport. Why? Because the crappy ones are closest and I didn’t want to take a cab. I literally could walk to where I needed to be in the morning.

In the morning I waddled down to the seaplane counter at SEA-TAC. They sized up the passport, weighed the bag, and we whisked off to the terminal downtown.

Turns out the 25 lbs is a hard limit, as one of the other passengers came to find out. Your options are to store the extra crap you brought at the terminal in a bin, or pay a dollar a pound. Just an observation, one that I’ll no doubt get flack over, but people in general and women in particular pack way more than they need. This woman had nearly 50 lbs of extra stuff.

It was a beautiful, sunny day as we walked out and climbed aboard a blue Dehavilland super otter. I’m a huge aircraft fan, and this put me in heaven. The pilot fired up and we puttered out into the sound. When it came time to take off, it blasted like a speedboat and leapt into the air for a picture perfect takeoff.  He buzzed the space needle, and off we went.

Fly one of these babies if you can

 

Buzzing the Space Needle

Landing was just as cool. We splashed down, puttered to the terminal. After a cursory check at Customs, I hit the streets.

And subsequently discovered a huge problem.

I didn’t print a google map. I’d stopped doing that awhile back, since the phone has a maps app. I figured I’d simply fire up the smartphone and see where to go.
When I did I got a “Do you want to connect to Bob’s cell service” or something similar. The fees looked stiff, so I turned roaming off the phone and puzzled what to do next. Wander aimlessly? Ask someone, like a mook tourist?

I ended up doing something more old school. Picked up the courtesy phone and called the guys we were meeting.

After a short walk I settled into the office and chit chatted for some three hours as my friend that took the ferry caught up. Apparently, it was choppy, so they took “the island route”, meaning the long way around. Glad I flew.

I only rubbed it in a little. I also was told that turning off roaming was a super wise move, since the last person that didn’t racked up $1500 of charges in a few days. Keep that in mind. AT&T is ubiquitous in the US. In other countries, not so much. Same with Verizon, I’m sure.

Victoria is fantastic. It’s clean, pretty, has cool restaurants. Even the exchange rate wasn’t all that bad. One of the things I liked the best was that if you were ordering a burger, you could order it made out of lamb, which was delicious. It’s literally like Seattle or Portland, only not as scrungy around the edges and with no irritating hipsters and yuppies. And this with a university near by. If they were there, they were deep in the shadows because none crossed my path.

When I travel for business, a flagship hotel is usually verboten. However, it isn’t when there’s little other choice. So I checked into the Marriott, hit the elevator and was whisked up to the concierge, elite level, far away from the tourists. The concierge level  sports a lounge that has free breakfast, and a rather nice one at that. And, a spread for happy hour.

And….and an Honor bar. With top shelf booze.

Sunset, over the harbor, from the concierge lounge

I can’t recall leaving the bar to go out to eat any night, although I may have once. I had to. Didn’t we meet up the last night for dinner? Did I mention they had an honor bar?

Looking back, I think I spent each night admiring the view, enjoying the free grub, all while pickling my liver.I spent a lot of time reading the Canadian paper, sipping 12 year old scotch, and marveling at the writing – even the op eds – that was factual, well thought out, and crafted in excellent english. It was a treat to read a paper devoid of the hysterical bs, lazy reporting, and the downright talking point stenography in most of the American press. I once counted the phrase “..according to those familiar with the situation” in some iteration or another five times on the front page of the Wall Street Journal once. Just who are “Those familiar”? Your idiot friend at the bar?

I hated to leave so soon.

When it came time to go back, I strolled to the harbor and checked in. On the dock, the lady pilot sized up the list and passengers and read off names. One of them mine.

Turns out, the fatties need to sit towards the front. Hah! Jokes on the others! – the back moves more than under the wings. Making the fatty seat quite coveted. On both trips, the people that sat in the tail of the plane got queasy. So there’s a tip. Enjoy your fattiness, it may get you a plum seat sometimes.

Back in the US, I had to navigate customs before hitting Avis and heading to the office. Good lord, are all the customs guys mutants? Why is it I can enter nearly any country with a minimum of fuss, but when I return home I get either Joe Friday or Barney Fife asking me stupid questions?

The rest of the trip wasn’t noteworthy. I love the Seattle area. I got a crappy Dodge 200 to drive about. That most certainly is a car you drive with a long face, if I may borrow a line from Jeremy Clarkson.

On the way home, it was clear and sunny. Not American Air, not a bad flight to end a great week.

Mt St Helen’s on the way home

 

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.