Out and About

On business trips, I have often complained that all I see of the towns I travel to are (a) the airport, (b) the jobsite, and (c) the hotel. On this recent trip, we stayed at the hotel that is attached to the airport… because the job was located there. Wow… so in this case, I would see... um... the airport!

The Hotel

As one consolation, we were set up at a quite luxurious hotel… much nicer than the Red Roof Inns, Holiday Inn Express, and (ooh, fancy) Hampton Inns that I am accustomed to. Honestly, I really don’t need much… a flat place to lie down, power plugs, a bathroom, and a WiFi connection.

Speaking of which—I suffered from the perennial complaint—normal hotels have free WiFi, but the high-end ones charge for it. This was discussed in a Washington Post article (“WiFi Should Be a Right, Not a Luxury”):

This is clearly not a cost issue when economy hotels like Holiday Inn and Days Inn have no problem offering free wireless access from the middle of nowhere in the South. (Not to mention Krystal.) This is an issue of greed or tech ignorance on the part of luxury hotels and consumers and business travelers need to start showing some outrage.

On the greed point, Paul Carr—whose parents are hoteliers and lives in hotels now—says the sky-high prices are largely the result of hotels losing fees from business travelers making phone calls, now that we all have mobile phones. The only way to make up the cost was to start charging for Internet access. I wouldn’t have a huge problem with that if the access was good. But I get angry when you charge me $20 a day for a connection that barely works when I can get a better connection at a coffee shop next door for free.

Usually, I try to get by with using my BlackBerry as a tethered modem—as I do when I am sitting around an airport for multiple hours:

But overall, I don’t blame fancy hotels for gouging people on expense accounts… but in general, I vote with my feet/dollars whenever I can, and stay at my favorite downscale places. (I assume everyone has heard that classic one liner: La Quinta—that’s Spanish for “near the Denny’s.” Heh.)

The aesthetics of the place were definitely fancy—a huge soaring indoor atrium, with a reflecting pool, subdued lighting, glass-walled elevators, 30-foot tall bamboo, and a classy restaurant.

But after breakfast there--$15 for a bowl of oatmeal and coffee? Oy. Free cheese-and-egg puck plus biscuit-and-gravy at the Holiday Inn Express, here I come.

One “I’m-not-in-a-normal-hotel” moment when I opened the shower curtain and saw:

The wall placard had the perversely convoluted logic of feeling ecologically virtuous by using, say, a normal amount of shower water, instead of double:

Refresh yourself / restore our world

One of your Heavenly® Shower heads has been turned off in an effort to minimize water usage and protect one of our most precious natural resources.

To experience the most out of your Heavenly Shower, you can turn the second shower head on by pushing the small button behind the lower head.

Yeah, that’s pretty analogous to: "All right!! A D-minus, and not an F! Good job guys, good job--great hustle!"

The Rest of the Trip

As for the rest of the trip—I was worried that I would end up spending the entire 2.5-day trip without stepping foot outside of the airport. However, fortunately, we made it out for one work dinner at a Mongolian barbecue place.

The trip out was on a DC-9… what, they haven’t retired these things by now? Sat near the back of the plane, right near the fuselage-mounted engine. Wonderful. Go noise-cancelling headphones!

Also, I decided to go all carry-on for this trip—a huge stretch for me…. going 48+ hours without a Leatherman tool on my hip makes me nervous. I take for granted the ability to say, “Man… that window air conditioner unit in my hotel room is really noisy. [Unscrew] [Bend] [Shim] [Rescrew] Ah… better.”

Not having tools almost bit me in the butt, because I was prepared for two days of meetings… but found out late on Day 1 that I would be crawling around the guts of a building. Fortunately, I had packed a pair of jeans, and still had my flashlight on me.

Sadly, I realize now that I missed a nice bit of creative monkeywrenching without my tools—I could have unscrewed that second shower head, sealed the aerator with a piece of Styrofoam cup, and put it back in place.


I'm A Dinosaur!

Thanks--I think--to Rawhide for pointing this one out

Apparently, I'm not just a dinosaur (i.e., not the King Crimson song), but I am a 2.5-foot-tall, Hasbro animatronic triceratops ("Playskool Kota My Triceratops Dinosaur").

Wuhh. And [shudder]. I have to admit that having a commercial jingle about oneself is rather disturbing:

Actually, the most disturbing thing was the commercial for it... the thing also chews food and belches. Hey... waitasec... I can do that too!

I consider this yet another reason that I really not too interested in having kids--"The media mass mind is telling me that I need to buy my kid an animatronic what?"

Also, in case it's not obvious, please don't buy this for me as a gag gift or anything. First of all, it's $300. Also, I'm probably too big to ride on it... and that would pretty much ruin the fun for me... [sniff]

Anyway, while we're on the topic--there's a animated bear with (almost) my name. Oh, and lastly, BirdJen pointed this one out years ago... apparently, I have the same name of a well-loved soccer player. Oy.


Happy New Year!

Hope that everyone had a wonderful and festive New Year! Just a quick update of how my celebrations went. For the beginning of the week, I was back at the office trying to catch up before the post-holiday deluge begins. But on Wednesday evening, I hopped a Concord Coach up to Bangor, Maine, to celebrate with Sarah's family. Her parents are from upstate New York, but she has roots (grandparents, uncle/aunt) in Maine.

The ride wasn't bad--first of all, they had WiFi on the bus with a moderately fast connection--and I could actually connect to it, unlike BoltBus. It was an express bus from South Station to Bangor (one stop, in Portland, ME)--about 4-5 hours on a bus, but not too bad. Traffic was annoying getting out of town, but it quickly cleared up.

My netbook battery held its own quite well, maybe getting to ~60% charge.

Had a fun day touring around Bangor, thanks to Sarah's parents. The city is filled with many wonderful old buildings, including this Ralph Adams Cram church (All Souls Congregational Church; Sarah's family are long time parishoners):

The river that passes right through the middle of town freezes over, with a neat pattern of buckled ice at the edges. Also, the tide swelled the rivers up to impressive levels (~2' below the bridges) the next day.

At a Chinese buffet dinner with the extended family, I was vastly amused by the soft serve ice cream machine--it has a selectable multi-flavor syrup co-extrusion machine, which flavors the vanilla ice cream!

I believe options included butter pecan, strawberry, blueberry, and bubble gum flavors. Food technology can be scary sometimes. Also, there was, um, strawberry residue at the bottom of my bowl, under the butter pecan... cross contamination issues.

Then that evening, we did the city's First Night celebration--Downtown Bangor's Downtown Countdown. It was fun--caught a bluegrass band, and then a fusion jazz band, playing in the most incongruous setting I could think of--the City Hall Council Chambers: a space that was fluorescent lit, with low-pile carpet, and the council benches behind them.

I had a mental image of, "Meanwhile, at the downtown jazz club...," with the city council members crowded around a table in a darkened club, trying to have a meeting over the din.

Bangor's New Year's event is wonderfully unpretentious and downscale--they have a beach ball with Christmas lights taped to it...

And come midnight, they throw it off the roof of the building:

Happy New Year! [bounce]

Anyway, we drove back on Friday (New Year's Day), after a wonderful lunch with S.'s family--our original plan was Saturday, but there was a winter storm watch for the weekend, so we decided to get out of there early. A very nice trip, and many thanks to the extended family for their hospitality!