Wednesday, March 20, 2013

WineTraveler’s Travels 8 March 2013

Well it has been quite some time since I have traveled, and this time it is on my favorite airline, Alaska. I am flying from Seattle to San Francisco to attend a cardiology conference. After going into work and having a very successful meeting to kick off a software upgrade project I was able to take the light rail and  arrive at the airport early get on a standby for an earlier flight. I got an aisle seat just behind first class, boy do I miss having Gold status, but it feels great to be flying again. The flight left on time and the crew was amazing. I am a bit disappointed that you now have to pay for all baggage and food. Being Lent and Friday I opted for the $7 fruit and cheese platter that was actually quite nice but should have been closer to $3 or $4 and a glass of Waterbrook red blend wine from Walla Walla, Washington, not a spectacular blend but not bad either. The flight was quick and smooth.
 My ride on the BART train was quick and just a short walk to the City Center Inn and Suites, this aging property was recently a Knights Inn. My pillows did not have pillow cases and the toilet seat was not cleaned so I called to have housekeeping service my room, they quickly attended to it with apologies.  Otherwise it was quite quaint and comfortable. The rest of the week showed the expected attention to detail and was very pleasant.

The first night in town the front desk clerk recommended a place within walking distance called Rocco’s this was an Italian diner in the best sense of the term. I sat at a bar that faced the kitchen and watched the staff expertly serve a bustling crowd.  I started with a glass of house Chianti that was delicious and was quickly served warm bread with olive oil that had garlic and fresh rosemary in it. For dinner I tried one of the night’s specials a pan seared calamari steak, this perfectly cooked generous piece of succulent squid was ever so lightly breaded, maybe just floured, then sautéed in butter. The side dishes were gnocchi in red sauce and spiced corn.  No room for desert. I later found out Rocco’s had been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” I highly recommend this place.
The second night I was tempted to go back to Rocco’s but wanted to expand my experience so I tried a Brazilian influenced place nearby called Bossa Nova This was another South of Market Street (SOMA) gem; the seating was tight and reservations are recommended but I was lucky and got a seat at the communal table. Glancing at the menu I noticed the Lamb skewers were only $12.95 so I figured I would need more food and ordered sides of Black Beans with Pork Belly and Yucca cakes at $5.95 each, and one of the Mojitos they are famous for. The Mojito was awesome and the food was spectacular. The Lamb was a meal in itself served with coconut rice and the sides are obviously meant to be shared. We need a place like this in Seattle.

The third night was an event sponsored by one of the vendors at the conference I was attending, and was held at the Buca di Beppo near the conference center. This national chain is known for its family style Italian meals and kitschy décor. We were served buffet style and had options of bruschetta, meatballs, fried calamari, chicken skewers, and stuffed mushrooms, with an open bar. I sampled all but the chicken skewers, the calamari was tender with a crispy and spicy crust, the meatballs were meaty and tasty, but the mushrooms were just divine stuffed with cheese and prosciutto. The house Chianti pared very well with this combination and for desert they served chocolate covered cannoli which I had an after dinner drink of Amaretto and Kahlua over ice with a splash of cream.

As My last night in San Francisco’s SOMA district found me a bit disappointed as I wanted to try the famed Radius restaurant which has the distinction of sourcing its fare from within a certain radius of the city, but alas being Monday, like most good restaurants, it was closed. So I resigned to just walking till I found something and I passed an open door in which I saw wine being served so I turned around and walked into a wine bar called Terroir. Thinking I might sample a local wine and get directions to someplace to eat, turns out all the wines I tasted here are from France and the knowledge of the staff was amazing and not at all pretentious as I had been led to believe California could be. Not being very skilled at French wines I chose one that I somewhat recognized a Cotes du Rhone that was just superb and a true delight to drink. The first Sommelier/bartender was very French and I had a bit of a challenge understanding his accent but he was patient with this tourist. Then there was a change in staff and Chris came on I ended up spending the rest of the evening here talking with Chris, a budding winemaker, and ordering from the bar’s favorite Chinese delivery Mission Chinese which just like Terroir has locations in SF and NY. The menu has a very interesting way of describing the spiciness of their food a sketch of butt cheeks with flames which I was informed are called flaming ass holes. Dishes are either one flaming ass hole or two; I ordered the Tea-smoked Eel (no flames) and the Kung Pao Pastrami (two flames) then continued sampling wines. Before long my food arrived and wow what a pleasant surprise. My favorite wine of the night was a natural unsulfured French wine named Lindigène that had a distinct roasted pistachio taste. I also had a great Merlot predominant wine called Mangus. This was by far the best evening in San Francisco.

As with all good things this trip had to come to an end and the next morning I packed up and walked a few blocks to the BART station and boarded the train to the airport. My flight was 45 minutes delayed but other than that uneventful. Alaska lived up to its bags in 20 minutes promise which was surprising as I recall it often taking an hour to get bags in the past. The Conference was great and I was able to network with many colleagues to get a perspective on other IT systems used. Although the evening adventures truly make me miss my old traveling job. I will return to my current job rejuvenated and invigorated, ready to help move them forward with new technology.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Wine Traveler's Travels (From the Archives) 2002

Wine Traveler’s Travels

12 March 2002           

I have been grounded for the last two weeks due to my surgery, all went well and the biopsy of the polyp was negative.  I can now breath through both sides of my nose all the time, it was well worth the discomfort the first week.  Today I am off to St. Petersburg, Florida to finish up some training at Bayfront Medical Center.  Dad is going into the hospital today for the localized radiation therapy, so he will not be joining me on this trip.  I was running a little behind this morning but would have been fine except my travel agent never booked my flight; she had reserved it and sent me an itinerary but never booked the tickets.  So by the time I got the after hours (5:20 AM) agent on the phone and re-ticketed it was too late to make my flight, so I had to go on a later one.  This week’s bagged breakfast was a mini bagel and cream cheese, a bowl of crispix cereal with a four-ounce carton of 2% milk and a pack of raisins.  I’m going to look at switching to Northwest airlines after my membership at the Admiral’s Club expires; as they still serve hot meals, have fewer MD 80’s, and a more liberal upgrade policy. 

Well after I got to Dallas I found that the next flight was delayed.  Then when we finally got on board we had to wait while they checked out some kind of seal on one of the wings.  We finally started to back away from the gate and then we went right back to the gate and the pilot announce that one of the engines was not idling correctly and we may have to get another plane, which is just what happened.  Now instead of arriving in Tampa at 5 PM, I wouldn’t be getting there till after 8PM.  While in Dallas I spoke with one of the perinatal sales specialist who would be visiting this same hospital while I was there.  She was concerned about the Hotel the travel agent had booked us at; it was only $68.00 in March in Florida???  As she was to get there before me I told her if it looked bad to find us someplace else.  Well it was in the less desirable part of town, and had outside entrances, which really makes the female employees, I’ve worked with, nervous.  Julia had tried to find us something else through our travel agent but the rates closer to the Hospital were about $200/night, so she arranged for us to have rooms next to each other facing the Pool so it was inside the courtyard and not facing the parking lot.  The rooms and the hotel itself were very nice and clean the surrounding neighborhood though was not. 

That first night I just grabbed a fish sandwich at a local drive through, as I had not been fed since that morning.  The next morning as I drove us into the hospital we both remarked that it would be a great day to call in well, the sun was shining and it was about 75 degrees.  Work went well, when we got back to the hotel I realized I had not packed my bathing suit, so I stayed in my room and worked on Email while Julia sat by the pool reading.  Later we went to the St. Petersburg Pier, there I went shopping for a bathing suit but did not find one.  I did find a flamingo coffee cup and a small flamingo figurine to add to my collection.  My cube at work is becoming a Flamingo menagerie.  We ate dinner at the Columbia restaurant on the fourth floor of the pier, this pier is renown for its design it is an inverted pyramid.  The Columbia restaurant is one of six that started in Ybor City, the historic area of Tampa that is the home of the Cuban community and former Cigar manufacturers.  I had the La Completa Cubana, which is a combination of Roast pork, roast beef, and a beef filled pastry called an empanada.  Rice, beans, fried plantains, and steamed yucca were the accompaniments.  Julia had the Roast Pork dinner, which came with the same accompaniments.  The Pork we both agreed was a bit bland, the roast beef on the other hand was awesome.  I had hoped to save some room for flan, which is Cuban style custard, but was much too full to eat another bite.

Julia Left the next day to visit yet another hospital so I settled for fast food again and watched the ABC special about Rosie and her kids.  It made me want to go home and hug my kids, and consider looking into becoming a foster parent.  I think she definitely had a good point in the fact that straight or gay there are people who should and shouldn’t be parents.  And that the ability to adopt should be based on their ability to offer a loving, caring and safe environment, not their choice of a partner.  While I always thought Rosie was an interesting person I now have a new respect for her.  I hope my kids had a chance to watch this special so they could see how lucky they are to have two parents who love them so much.

I finished up early on Friday and checked to see if there was an earlier flight, I had put in for an upgrade for this return flight, but I would lose the first class from St. Pete to St. Louis.  I took the earlier flight so I could get home in time to see Gail and the kids before bedtime.  From St. Louis to Seattle I was in the front of the bus, the meal was a salmon salad, a small piece of grilled salmon atop fresh garden greens with a Caesar dressing, a roll and potato salad on the side.  The Salmon while small, half the size of the one I had when TWA was running this route, was very tasty.  I got home and enjoyed seeing my boys.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Busy April

Well April has been an eventful month; I completed my Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at Holy Cross Catholic Church. This culminated at the Easter vigil with my Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion. Part of my journey was to become even more familiar with the Catholic Church and tracing its roots back to the disciple Peter. So this brings me to a new tag line for the church “Catholic, the original Christian Church.” I find the question “are you Catholic or Christian?” very confusing, Catholic is Christian. Especially since most protestant churches are using an abridged version of the Bible to base their faith on. I don’t pretend to know or understand the entire bible, but choosing to take books out because they don’t agree with your doctrine doesn’t seem right. Granted the Catholic Church is full of Human errors also, but that is the basis of our faith that Jesus was born, crucified, died, and resurrected for the forgiveness of our sins.  Jesus taught tolerance and forgiveness, which many people claiming to be Christians seem to have forgotten. We started out as a single Church and in the end will return to a single Church; this is not to say any one church has the one and true way since we are all human and sinners. The one thing I know for sure is there is much more the bible can teach me and my journey is just beginning.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Everett Station celebrates its first ten years.

As the Everett Station is celebrating its first ten years I felt compelled to write the following letter to the building manager and Sound transit regarding some observations that a concerned passenger has made.

As the Everett Station celebrates its first ten years it is becoming increasingly evident that looks was and still is more important than practicality to the designers of this very essential transportation hub. It appears very little thought was given to making it convenient for passengers to be just dropped off for busses or commuter trains, only the Amtrak area has a substandard drop off area. I say substandard as there is no way to return to the same entry point for the person dropping off the passenger to continue on their route as would be seen at most air terminals. Parking is another poorly designed item and at best seems an afterthought. The South most parking lot has the best parking spaces reserved for BNSF employees, something that any business who values its customers would not do. The ticket machines for the sounder are so inconveniently placed that now a homemade sign, reminiscent of elementary education posters for kindergartners, has been devised to direct people to it. Then there is the placement of the ORCA card readers mostly north of the Sounder train where the least number of people would be walking from and no card readers south of the train where the majority of parking exists. Any commuter who uses the south or east parking area must walk past the south end of the train to the first ORCA card reader. Anyone coming from the west parking area must look behind the pillars supporting the ineffective decorative roof structure that graces the platform. The designer of this structure should have to spend some time on a typical rainy day trying to stay dry while waiting for the Sounder train. The fact that it does not even extend anywhere near the train is another matter that defies logic or explanation as to the intended purpose of this structure other than possibly an art installation intended to give an impressionist representation of shelter. I am a huge believer in public transportation and expect it to be a major part of any solution to the current and future energy crisis, but convenience will be the best way to hasten its adoption.
I congratulate the City of Everett for taking such a bold step in planning for the future and for making it prior to the current economic crisis that will make public transportation even more attractive. It is just that mere looks should not be the primary driving force in the design for the future. More attention to making it convenient to the passengers will encourage more ridership, and at the same time improve efficiency as the usage increases. The easiest and quickest return on investment move that could be made is to move one or two of the ORCA card readers that are currently located north of the Sounder train to the south end and to place a ticket machine back at the wheelchair ramp where one originally was. Future plans should include a replacement of the overhead roof structure on the sounder platform that extends closer to the train and does not have large gaps between sections that provide no shelter from the elements.

Thank you for listening,

Monday, February 27, 2012

A short break between classes

Well classes are going well, I hope you haven't been too bored with the reposts from my archives while I have been concentrating on school. My second accounting class was a bit better than the first one, I was able to squeak by with an -A which is much better than the +C I received for the first accounting class, the best thing I learned from both of these classes is that accounting is not a career choice I would ever make. My next class is Business Research, this should be much more my style of class.

I am also looking into changing schools, while I really like the education I am receiving at the University of Phoenix, I am finding the tuition to be a bit out of my budget, my federal loan does not cover it all. The Western Governor's University is offering an online program for about a third the price.

I have been working weekends at the Kestrel Vintners tasting room in Woodinville and refer to this as my therapy job, we recently had a Groupon that was extremely successful. It did keep us a bit busier than our location could handle but overall brought in many people who did not know there were wineries on the north end of Woodinville.

WineTraveler’s Travels Vol. 22 (From the archives)

21 January 2002

Another short weekend and I’m back in the air, this time to Winter Haven, Florida.  Dad was to start his therapy this week and I had extended my time here a day so I could drive down to visit them on Friday.  His therapy was postponed a week and he plans to drive up and stay with me as he has in the past.  While I look forward to our time together I am concerned about the delay in his treatment, every hour can make a difference.  I asked Betty if he would be ok to drive and she said yes, so if it’s OK with her, I guess it’s OK.  My 6:10 AM flight is on an MD-80 it is one of the newer ones but still very cramped.  While American has spaced the seats out to give you more legroom, the seats sit lower due to the smaller diameter of the aircraft; this results in my knees hurting from the improper angle they must endure, I’m sure Gail would love it as her legs are a bit shorter.  Breakfast is another one of the bagged snacks with a pineapple/orange muffin and applesauce.  I guess it beats pretzels.  I wish I could sleep on planes since there is no entertainment on these miserable machines, so I continue to write my journal logs.  My connecting flight in St. Louis was upon a 757, they even gave us headsets and let us watch some canned CBS TV shows.  This is more like it.  The trip was just over an hour and very comfortable.  I landed in Tampa and preceded to baggage claim, my bag was the second one off; maybe I should buy a lottery ticket, as it seems to be my lucky day.  I went to the Hertz counter and was informed that they had a Grand Marquis waiting for me, I put on my sad puppy eyes and asked if they had anything sporty, she looked and came up with a Mustang, still the only thing Ford makes that I enjoy driving.  As she was preparing my paperwork she said, “It’s yellow, I hope you don’t mind.”  I responded with “That is my favorite color!”  I got more complements on this car, from total strangers. 

I was booked at the Hampton Inn that I stayed at on my last visit, the only problem was that they had an event on Tuesday night and the travel agent was unable to book a nonsmoking room so I had one room for Monday night then a smoking room for Tuesday then a third room for the rest of the week.  The man at the desk recognized me and asked if my father would be joining me again, I said yes and he found me one nonsmoking room for the entire week on the third floor where you get better reception for your cell phone.  This Inn has complimentary high-speed Internet access, as well as the customary complimentary continental breakfast.  I noticed on my way in that the Citrus Festival was going on almost next door to the hotel.  A good friend of mine used to have food booths at the festival, I wondered if he still did.  The next day while working with the nurses I read in the local paper that if you are wearing a t-shirt with a flag on it admission would be free Tuesday night to the festival.  Dad was scheduled to drive up this after noon and I got off work a bit early.  I started hitting some of the stores around the hospital for T-shirts for Dad and me.  Having no luck I called his cell phone around 2 PM when he said he would be getting on the road only to find he was almost here.  We met up at the Inn and then went out and found two nice patriotic shirts for $5.00 each.  Regular admission was $6.00 so we saved a buck and got shirts to boot.  We walked around the festival and I mentioned to Dad that I had a friend here but I couldn’t recall which stands he owned, or if he even still owned them.  Dad talked me into stopping at the front office and asking (almost like stopping for directions, Gail will appreciate how much I didn’t want to do this).  They knew exactly who I was asking about and informed us he had two stands here and directed us to them.  At the Strawberry shortcake stand I asked if Greg was around and she called him on the phone.  Greg came right over and chatted with Dad and I for a bit, as we discussed that I would be in town all week Dad suggested that Greg might be able to get me in to the festival the rest of the week.  Greg dropped off three passes for me the next day.  Dad and I continued to walk around the festival till we came to a tent that had a Dolly Parton impersonator (a female one) who really did sound quite good.  I got nabbed by one of the barkers and was throwing darts to get a stuffed toy for Gail by the time I had one of medium size he had me up to $24.00 for a $10.00 toy.  I gave up on the really big one.  When I mentioned it to Greg he wanted to know where since this was against the rules, something about doubling.  I didn’t want to cause any trouble and knew Gail was worth it anyway.  Dad and I debated about eating “Fair food” or stopping at the Outback, which was on our way back to the Inn.  We opted for the Outback, and had soup and appetizers.  We both agreed on French Onion Soup, it is very well done here with a thick broth and lots of caramelized onions, topped with toast and mozzarella cheese.  Dad ordered the Tasmanian Chicken while I had Coconut Shrimp.  Dad’s chicken was strips of white breast meat breaded, fried and coated in a spicy sauce, served with celery sticks and Blue Cheese dressing.  My Jumbo Shrimp was coated with a beer batter then rolled in coconut and fried, served with a marmalade sauce.  We also shared a loaf of warm dark bread with whipped butter.  Dad had water while I opted for an Outback Rita.  It was an excellent ending to a wonderful evening. 

Wednesday morning I got up early and went to work, Dad had a 10 AM Tee time in Bartow, and planned to head home after that.  That evening I went to the Festival again and watched a horse show with the royal lippizans, an alligator show and some folk singers.  Greg gave me a strawberry shortcake from his stand then introduced me to a new culinary item I had not seen before from one of the other stands at the festival; they take a candy bar and put it on a stick then freeze it, dip it in funnel cake batter and fry it.  It makes a very interesting delight but one that is extremely filling.  Greg’s partner Bobby works with the Citrus Commission and invited me to the Industry dinner on Thursday. 

Thursday after work, I worked online from my hotel room till it was time to go to dinner, then I walked over to the fair grounds, the dinner opened with fresh oysters on the half shell, and steamed shrimp.  I had three plates of oysters and four of the shrimp.  There was an open bar and I met up with Greg after the appetizers, he introduced me to a couple Tom and Melanie, Tom is a Polk County Sheriff and Melanie is a police office with Lakeland PD.  As we were chatting someone in the group noticed they were about to start bringing out the food so our group kind of moved to where the line would begin, there were hundreds of people here some were well established families in the citrus industry, such as the Ben Hill Griffins, the Adams, and the Harrisons.  Other people had some connection to the Citrus industry.  Dinner consisted of corn on the cob dipped in butter, grilled Italian sausage slices, baked potato wedges with cheese, grilled chicken and steak slices.  In lieu of flatware we were given toothpicks to eat with.  Everything was prepared well and the toothpicks made clean up a snap.  I had no room for desert.  I picked up some T-shirts for the boys from Greg’s display in the Orange Dome, from his soon to be launched web store watch for it on a web browser near you.  These shirts are scented with a citrus scent and have a reproduction of an orange crate label. 

Friday I finished shortly after Noon and headed towards Naples to visit with Dad and Betty.  I would have thought I was back in Seattle with the traffic but it seems there were lots of accidents today one small one just south of Tampa that held us up a while then about two exits from where I was to get off to visit Dad, the traffic just stopped.  I later found out that this was a back up from Alligator alley where a 28-car pileup had occurred this morning due to heavy fog and the interstate had been closed for about 13 hours.  I made it just in time for dinner.  We went to a place just off Immokalee Road called Hickeys.  Aunt Jean and her Gentleman Caller, Cy, accompanied us there and Steve joined us at the restaurant.   Deanne had been sick with an intestinal bug and was unable to attend.  We started with either soup or salad, Betty and jean had the minestrone soup while I had the Irish Potato soup, for entrées Betty had the Sirloin Steak Salad, a generous salad with more steak on top than most steak meals.  Dad had the Fish and Chips, thick filets of grouper battered and fried with French Fries.  Aunt Jean had Bangers and mashed potatoes, Cy, Steve and I each had Prime Rib, Cy had the queen size, Steve and I had the king size, but mine was about a full third larger than Steve’s.  I told him that was because I was better looking; he replied it was because I had less hair.  Dinner was great and we all had fun catching up on who’s doing what.  After Dinner we went to the parking lot to watch Steve feed the scraps to JJ, his dog that was sitting in his car, while we ate.  Then Cy treated us all to ice cream at P.J. Skinny’s, a store exclaiming that all the ice cream was hand made on the premises.  Steve even shared his ice cream with JJ.  Lots of people stopped to see JJ eating ice cream. 

Saturday morning Betty made waffles with blueberries to put on top.  Then we went looking for a slipcover for an old couch they wanted to use for their Super Bowl party.  We found one at Linens and Things, and then took me to see the new Expo by Home Depot store.  This is a Home Depot for the rich and famous, they had tubs carved out of stone with matching sinks and such.  I want to come back when I have more time to browse.  On the way back to their house we stopped by a fresh vegetable market, I picked out some great looking tomatoes and bell peppers (yellow, red, purple, and orange) and some Oranges to take home with me.  Dad gave me a trunk that they had gotten from Betty’s Mom and no longer had a place for it, as I now had much more than I could fit in my bag this worked real well.  We packed the tomatoes individually in bubble wrap and then stuffed crumpled newspaper around them to protect them in transit.  If nothing else I’ll have some great salsa with the peppers tomatoes and oranges.  It was tough but I had to say good-bye, but not until Betty made Dad and me a sandwich and packed me some cookies for my flight.  I drove up to Tampa without any delays, checked my bags at the curb as the trunk would have been a little hard to handle.  I like this, as I was able to go directly to my gate without standing in line again.  The security check was smooth and quick and I had time to plug in my laptop and cell phone to charge them.  My flight from Tampa to St. Louis was nice aboard a 757 and uneventful.  The trip from St. Louis to Seattle was also uneventful and the boys were waiting up for me when I got home.

WineTraveler’s Travels Vol. 21 (From The Archives)

Origianlly posted 14 January 2002

Well the New Year is off to a running start, with my dance card filled for the next two months, Gail is already after me to find a new job where I won’t have to travel.  I cannot see myself in a job where I go to the same place everyday again.  That would be boring beyond tears.  With all the added hassles of travel I still prefer it to the monotony of doing the same thing everyday.  This crisp January morning I am winging off to Knoxville, Tennessee.  One of the hospitals we have our software at is expanding it to one of their sister hospitals.  I am flying American but on the old TWA route so I know the service will be attentive and friendly.  I must stop by the office on my way to the airport so that I cab file my online expense report.  Last year Spacelabs decided to change to an online expense report, which for someone in the company is supposed to speed things up.  It now takes close to an hour to do a report if you have a high-speed connection such as the one at the office; if you are using a dial-up connection it is much longer.  I used to have to fill out a form on my laptop that took 20 minutes tops.  The real drawback is that you must be connected to the Internet to do anything with the report.  The old one I could do on the plane or anywhere without being connected.  While most of us are salary, they do not readily see the impact this has on productivity.  Well as it is I am running a little behind getting to the airport but the advantage of all my miles on TWA is that I am platinum level and get to check in via the first class line.  The security line is rather sparse for a Monday morning, so I make it through with about thirty minutes to spare before boarding should start.  I stopped in the Admirals club for a latte and a newspaper.  Boarding was very quick as my platinum level allows me to board right after first class.  This plane is only about half full and is an MD-80.  The meal was another one of those bag meals, a two-ounce cup of apple sauce, a very moist orange and pineapple muffin and a four ounce carton of orange juice.  This time I let the meal sit a while so the muffin could warm up as the last one was near frozen and this one felt quite cool also.  The leg from Seattle to St. Louis was uneventful and quite nice considering the aircraft but I had my earphones on and listened to music that I have on my laptop.  They have expanded the leg room in all of the American planes now and it is very noticeable.  My connecting flight is on a regional jet through the American Eagle connection.  While being much less roomy the service was good, we were served beverages and pretzels on this just shy of an hour flight.  Arriving in Knoxville I was amazed that the airport was so nice given that all the planes I saw there were of the regional jet type.  The central area had a mall atmosphere like most major airports.  My rental this week was a Mitsubishi Montero, a rather nice SUV that handles like a much smaller vehicle, and had a great Infinity sound system, just like my Chrysler.  The directions I received at the Hertz counter got me to the Hampton Inn and my room was nice; two double beds but only one phone line.  Just across the street was a Sonic Drive-in so I went there for dinner, as I really love their Limeade.  The next morning after the complimentary continental breakfast, I drove to the Main hospital to check out the system, things were all in order there; then I went to the smaller hospital were I would be training this week about thirty miles north east of Knoxville.  The staff was very friendly, and learned very quickly.  The clinical leader of this hospital used to work at the main hospital and as I had trained them about two years ago we made plans to go to dinner with the clinical leader of that hospital to discuss how things would interact.  Tuesday I went to dinner at El Chico, which had a very tasty combination dinner with a chicken enchilada, a beef burrito and a beef taco with rice and beans on the side all for $5.99.  Wednesday night I had Sonics again Thursday night was the night we made plans to eat out.  So I met Terry and Michelle at the Copper Cellar.  What a treat this place was.  Very tastefully decorated with a central bar separating the smoking and nonsmoking areas.  Our service was topnotch and the food was without fault.  I started with crab bisque that was so superb I almost cancelled the rest of my dinner in lieu of more bisque. Michelle had the pasta fagiole, and Terry had the crab bisque.   This was served with a basket of fresh baked bread and garlic herb butter.  I was in heaven. Then came the broiled Halibut served on a bed of braised spinach with a very light sun dried tomato, basil, and garlic sauce.  Grilled vegetables accompanied this delight; a nice melody of zucchini and yellow squash.  My side vegetable was spinach soufflé.  I complemented this with an excellent glass of Pinot Grigio.  Michelle had a sirloin steak that was smothered in onions and served with green beans in a lemon butter sauce.  Terry had Prime Rib with the spinach soufflé.  None of us had room for dessert.  I did not really get to examine the city this trip as I was doing day and evening classes and working around some last minute changes to their system they were making which often interrupted my classes.

It’s Friday and I’m on my way home via American (the TWA route) my flight from Knoxville to St. Louis is again on a regional jet, the service was good; I had an hour to kill at St. Louis so I visited the lounge and had a cup of coffee.  I was a little concerned when I noted that my seat on the St. Louis to Seattle flight was in row 13, we boarded and had to wait for the de-icer truck as it had started to snow.  After quite a delay the truck finally showed up then during the de-icing we felt the plane shake, a little later the pilot came on the PA system to tell us the truck had hit the plane and we would not be going anywhere in this plane.  After more delay we were able to get off the plane then directed to another gate where we waited for a plane to arrive and then get cleaned, boarded and de-iced again, we finally left just before midnight St. Louis time (we were scheduled to leave at 8:30).  Well they gave us a free drink of our choice for the delay.  And all the pretzels we wanted.  I was fortunate enough to be seated with a flight attendant who was on a personal trip so I shared with her some of my letters and pictures I have on my laptop it was a very enjoyable trip.  She shared with me some of the issues that they have been having with the change from TWA to American.  But like most of the former TWA staff she is determined not to let them change her customer service attitude. 

Wine Traveler’s Travels vol. 20 (from the archives)

Originally published 07 January 2002

Well it was a holiday to remember, the boys all got new bicycles for Christmas and I got the Kitchenaid mixer I had been dropping hints about since Gail and I were dating.  I got Gail the Swiss Army watch she had been asking for and a pair of hooped earrings with diamonds, so we all made out very well.  Thanks to the great sales to boost the economy it was one of the least expensive Christmases in a long time.  Well just before New Years my father called to inform me that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer.  One of the really scary parts of this was that on our last meeting in Winter Haven, we had been comparing notes on our treatment for sinus troubles which was causing both of us to have chronic coughs.  It seems he had been on many different medications, over the past year, that would help for a bit then his cough would return, it wasn’t until he was unable to move his tongue in one direction that they took a more serious look.  He will start Chemo and Radiation therapy in the near future and has a very positive outlook on his prospects.  I haven’t told my boys yet, but I have made plans to go to Florida during spring break in April with the family to visit.

Now I would like to share with you a good word about American Airlines, I was looking online to use my airline points to make this trip, and I could not find any flights that had seats on the dates I needed so I was looking into purchasing them and still had trouble finding 5 seats.  I called the Aadvantage reservation desk and explained my situation and she booked us through to Fort Meyers, I was a few miles short of all five tickets but knew I’d have it soon, she reserved the fifth ticket and told me as soon as I had the miles it would be booked, she even went so far as to put us into the same row on all legs of our flights.  This is what I call service.   This will also prompt a letter to Mr. Carty, as it would not be ethical or effective if I only wrote him to complain.  I have spoken to my father almost daily since receiving the news and he is being a real trooper, worrying about me spending too much on the frequent calls, but my cell phone plan covers it. 

This trip was planned at the last minute on Friday the 4th so it was a full fare ticket outbound from Seattle, which awarded me an automatic upgrade to first class because of the agreement the travel agency has.  This was a pleasant surprise.  Today I am headed to New Orleans but because someone else was originally scheduled to go I will not be able to book my usual guest house room and will be staying at a Holiday Inn Express.  The rate is $74.00 per night.  This trip is to help with an upgrade of the software for Pendleton Hospital in East New Orleans. 

Leaving Seattle the first class didn’t seem to benefit from the new “more room” enhancements they made in coach, in fact because of the greater pitch of the seats it seems more crowded here than in coach, but then everything seems crowded on these dreaded MD-80s.  There should be a law against using them for flights over two hours; no onboard entertainment, no room, and that incessant wind noise that is inherent to the narrow bodied aircraft like the MD-80 and the Boeing 717.  The choice of breakfast was total cereal and a fruit plate or French toast.  The French toast was the wrong choice, it was that tasteless frozen stuff that had been left in the convection oven too long and was dried out.  The small plate of fresh fruit that came with it had a few slices of Kiwi, Strawberry, Orange and Grapefruit, it all tasted like the Grapefruit. But the staff was pleasant and attentive. The flight from Dallas to New Orleans was another story all together, after boarding first, we in first class sat there and listened to the flight attendants talk about one of their mothers who had had her eyebrows tattooed, and about some of the “stupid” things they’ve heard passengers say.  All the while we were wondering where our customary preflight beverage was.  There was no food on this flight, even in first class, and you had to ask for everything, I’ve had better service in coach. 

I finally made it to New Orleans and had brought a bag of Seattle Mountain coffee from Costco, we find it better than Starbucks or Seattle’s Best and they roast it right there in the store, for my friends at the guest house.  I stopped by and surprised them with it; we made plans to get together later that week for dinner. 

Tuesday morning I went into the hospital and worked with Tom Taylor to upgrade the system we finished around 5 pm.  I then went to the French Quarter to find another great meal.  I went to a place called the Alpine and the meal started with fresh French bread and butter then a nice fresh greens salad, then a cup of Gumbo that the server handed me the hot sauce saying three drops makes it good, five perfects it; I did a healthy five and it was awesome.  My entrée was a shrimp and crawfish fettuccini.  There is never room for desert in this town.

Wednesday Tom and I finished early, went to the French Market, and ate at the Voo Carre Café.  I had a Shrimp Po Boy, and Tom had the “Taste of New Orleans”, which was a bowl of gumbo, one of red beans and rice and one of shrimp Creole, there was also a live jazz band.  Then we walked around the market and bought some pralines, for the folks at home, from a candy shop there that has the best tasting pralines anywhere.  This is the same candy shop I went to when Betty met me here last summer.  Then we returned to the hospital to check on the software and how the nurses were doing with it.  That night I went to dinner another of my favorite places called the Gumbo Shop.  I had a smoked duck and oyster Gumbo that was out of this world.  I really enjoyed walking through the Quarter at night and watching all the tourists making fools of their selves, there was some large convention in town and the bead stores were doing a brisk business.  I walked along Bourbon St. and stopped in to listen to some of the live bands, everything from Jazz to Blues, to Rock and Roll.  I must say that New Orleans is by far my favorite city to visit. 

Thursday night I met up with my friends from the guesthouse and we went to Jack Dempsey’s, you may recall this is the place where they have the awesome seafood platter for two.  The three of us shared this with an extra order of the side dishes; no one wanted to miss the baked macaroni and cheese.  The macaroni is actually like ziti noodles and I’d swear they use cream cheese along with cheddar.  It also came with a bowl of gumbo and a salad.  The platter had heaping helpings of fried shrimp, red fish, catfish, oysters, stuffed crabs, and crawfish pies (kind of like a fried ravioli).  And as always there was plenty left over.  The dinner for two is $21.95 and it was only a little more for the extra sides to make it for three the actual platter was the same.  I think I could feed my whole family from this dinner for two. 

Alas it is Friday and I must go home, I wish I could find a job that would relocate us here.  But I know Gail would not like the summers as it is very similar to Florida and she hated the heat there.  But like Florida visiting there is probably much better than actually living there.  Well the flight home is in coach and it also is on an MD-80.  I am even more convinced now that there is more room in coach on other planes than in first class on these atrocious planes.  The flight from New Orleans to Dallas had no food, since it was the same plane I would take to Seattle I did not get off, the meal from Dallas to Seattle was one of those bag lunches (hey guys it’s dinner time) it was a turkey and cheese sandwich on a whole grain miniature hoagie roll, which I am sure tasted much better last week when it was fresh, the only reason I knew it was turkey was because the label on the outside said so, it was such a small amount of turkey all I could taste was the dry bread.  There was an 8 oz. Bottle of water, a small bag of lays potato chips and a pack of Oreos with two cookies.  Looking at Mr. Carty in the in-flight magazine it is easy to understand why he would think this is adequate, he could be the anorexia nervosa poster child.  He makes Ally McBeal look like Mama Cass. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wine Traveler’s Travels Vol. 19 (From the archives)

Originally posted 17 December 2001

            This weekend was much too short, Tyler’s birthday party was held at the Claim Jumper Restaurant.  Right after I got there I received a page that turned out to be a fax machine.  Anyway the meal was great and they even brought Tyler a piece of cake with a candle in it at no charge.  We are still waiting for the Bird to come from the breeder, The only other store we found with a Cockatiel wants $50.00 more for them, so we are waiting.  When we were on our way home Tyler was getting a little depressed he didn’t have his bird and he also hadn’t gotten the Harry Potter cake he wanted.  Well Gail and I looked at each other knowing that was soon to change because we had already picked up a cake at Albertson’s which was decorated with Harry Potter and was a marble cake just like he wanted.  We sent him to get something from his room while I searched for the birthday candles I knew I had.  It took some searching but I finally rounded up 12 candles from about four different styles of birthday candles.  We then called him into the dinning room you should have seen him light up.  About this time I realized I had left my pager and cell phone on the table at the restaurant, I called and they had it but were closing in the next few minutes and the place was in Redmond over 30 minutes away.  They told me someone would be there at 6 AM; my flight was at 6:20.  So I went there at 6 AM and got a later flight by luck.

            This week’s flight is on United, and my destination is St. Petersburg, FL.  I spoke with Dad and found that Sister Gregory will be in Florida this week and we will try to get together.  I was able to get booked on the 11:15 flight through Denver; security at this time of day was much better than I am used to.  But once I got to the gate area the monitor indicated that my flight was going to be 40 minutes late and that I might miss my connecting flight.  So I went standby on the oversold flight at 9:15.  I was able to get a good seat on this flight and am now sitting in the Denver airport waiting for my connecting flight.

            The next leg of my journey was aboard an airbus 320.  This was about the size of a 757 but the seats were so jammed in that my knees touched the seat in front of me.  As I have seen on most other flights there was not an empty seat anywhere.  I really think the airlines used the 9-11 incident as an excuse to lessen the number of flights so more of them would be full, without the excuse of 9-11 the flying community would have balked at the inconvenience.  If there are fewer people flying these days I think it is more likely because there aren’t any seats for them.  We were served a snack box with a small sandwich a bag of chips with about 5 or 6 chips in it and a small cookie.  I liked the idea of having a snack box as opposed to the bag you get on American because it gave you something more convenient to eat from.  I got to my hotel at about 9:30 pm and as I drove up to the entrance of the St. Pete Hilton the valet met me took my keys and arranged for the bellhop to take my bags, this was not at all what I am used to.  The room was very nice with a nice king size bed and solid wood furniture.  There was bottled water next to the ice bucket and the usual coffee maker with a rather good tasting coffee called City Blend.  The rate was only $85, which I have paid at places that didn’t come close to the service I received here.  This is the way Tyler thinks all my hotel stays are, he is always telling me that I shouldn’t hassle them about cleaning up the house, that I am just used to all the service at the hotels I stay in. 

Tuesday morning I got up early and went to the hospital to get their system ready for the upcoming upgrade.  Dennis showed up a little later and we were able to get the upgrade finished by 5 pm.  I spoke with my manager on how well the upgrade was going and he said “Great, because I need you to go to Carson City, NV tomorrow night.  I called my Dad to let him know we would not be able to meet on Thursday as we had planned.  Dennis and I went looking for someplace to eat dinner and found a place called Fred Flemmings Famous Bar-B-Que.  We both had hankering for ribs, well we were in luck; as we were trying to decide from the menu the waitress informed us that tonight’s special was and all you can eat ribs and catfish, we both said that’s what we want before she could finish. The ribs were meaty, tender, and just the right amount of smoked goodness, the catfish was lightly battered and seasoned to perfection, and served hot and succulent with a tartar sauce.  The side dishes were fries and coleslaw that tasted like something my maternal grandmother made.  This is a place that I highly recommend to anyone visiting the Tampa/St. Pete area.  We realized during our meal that we didn’t even let her tell us how much this fine meal cost.  We were shocked to see the bill was only $8.99.  We put away a lot of ribs and catfish. 

Things went very well at the hospital and I finished early.  My first arrangements for my change to go to Reno were for an America West 8:30 pm flight that would get me into Reno at 1 AM.  None of the car rentals would be open so I would have had to stay at a hotel close by and get a car in the morning.  As it turned out I was able to get done by Noon on Wednesday so I got an earlier flight on American.  As much as I have complained about the regular American attendants and their attitudes; the ones on my Tampa to Dallas flight were exceptional.  They had great attitudes and were very attentive.  Maybe things are looking up for American.  After a short wait at DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth) airport I was on my way to Reno for another three-hour flight with no food, and the usual stoic American attitudes.  I arrived in Reno and the rental car here was a Toyota Camry, nice drive for a foreign car.  I checked into the Best Western Pinon Plaza Resort where I usually stay when in Carson City.  It was after the regular restaurants had closed so I went to the Margarita Saloon in the resort and ordered from their late night menu.  I had Chicken quesedias, which really hit the spot since I had not eaten since much earlier in the day.  The upgrade, Thursday morning, went very well here also and I was asked to come in on night shift to visit with the night nurses.  I went back to the hotel and slept till about 8 then went to the restaurant and had their Thursday night special, a 1 lb Rib eye steak with baked potato and salad/soup bar.  This steak was wonderfully prepared and the salad bar had a nice selection, the soup was a baked potato soup.  All this was nicely priced at $7.99. 

Friday after checking the software and working with the nurses I went back to Reno to catch my flight home I stopped at the Costco to gas up and pick up one of their $1.50 hot dog and soda specials.  Then it was off to the airport and home on Alaska airlines, as usual I was randomly chosen to be frisked and have my bags manually searched.  It seems every time I fly Alaska I get “randomly” chosen.  The advantage this time though, was that I knew from check in that I had been chosen so I was able to get frisked first and get on the plane right after first class.  The short two hour flight was a bit bumpy but otherwise uneventful.  Always glad to be home, and this time it would be for two weeks as the company closes for the holidays and we there is a planned meeting the first week of the year so I won’t be traveling till the 7th of January. 

Wine Traveler’s Travels Vol. 18 (From the Archives)

Originally posted 12/11/01

It has been a while since I have had the time to write about my travels, I apologize to those who have missed them and to those who wish I had not started again.  I had a bout with the flu last week after returning from a trip late Wednesday night.  I woke at 4 am with the runs; by 6:30 that morning I had the chills to go with the frequent trips to the pot.  My temp was up to 102.5 so I called in to work, Gail and the boys went off to work and school, leaving me home alone with a pitcher of water and a bowl if things should start moving in the other direction.  I was aching all over and by 11 am was afraid to close my eyes incase it would be the last time.  I called Gail at work and had her come home to help get me dressed and to the doctor.  After fluids and lots of Aspirin my temp was still 102.5 when we got to the walk-in clinic.  I was seen rather quickly and given the usual directions lots of fluids and rest.  Well I did recover by Monday morning, and went into work only to get sent out on Tuesday on this trip.

After booking the trip I called the Aviators (TWA’s frequent flyer program) number to see about getting my usual upgrade to first class.  It seems that Mr. Carty (President of American Airlines) has chosen to give us all a Christmas present and diverted my call to the American Airlines program where I was asked if I had any stickers for an upgrade.  My response was, “what kind of stickers do you want?”  It seems that they do not treat their frequent flyers with the same respect and dignity that TWA did.  It was explained that for every 10,000 qualifying miles I fly, I would receive four complimentary stickers.  Each sticker can be used to upgrade 500 miles of my trip, and if my flight is 501 miles it will take two stickers.  And even though I had over 70,000 miles in my account I had no stickers yet.  He told me I could purchase stickers and I responded, “No thanks this is far to complicated and not worth the trouble.”  I guess I’ll have to shop around for a new airline to frequent. 

Tuesday morning I got up at 2 AM so I could get to the airport by 4 AM for my 6 AM flight.  I’ve been flying since the September 11th event and since just before Thanksgiving the lines at SeaTac have been atrocious.  I forgot that I usually fly on Mondays like every other business traveler and that this being Tuesday there might not be such a line, well there wasn’t.  I was through all the high security and even a random search and got to my gate before 4:30 AM.  The Admirals Club didn’t open till 5 AM and even then, because the Latte machine is behind the bar, which obviously wouldn’t be open this early, I couldn’t get a Latte.  It’s obvious that Mr. Carty still hasn’t learned anything yet about customer service from the good people of TWA.  I also noticed that none of the TWA staff was present anymore.  I had heard that they were not given any credit for their years of service, so people who had given a lifetime of service to their job now had to start over as a new employee, I find this not only unethical but also inhumane and goes a long way to explain the arrogant and condescending attitude that American employees exhibited even before this merger.  There should be a law to protect employees in mergers from such abuses.  I think this calls for a letter to my congressperson and representatives, I won’t bother any republicans since they only support things that effect the immediate bottom line and not the long-term health or reputation of a company.  But here I go getting on my soapbox again; I can just see my dad shaking his head, wondering where he went wrong. 

Back to the trip, the boarding process went well American now boards in groups, which I am sure is based on seat assignment and frequent flyer status but sure reminds me of Southwest airlines the only difference it seems now between AA and Southwest is assigned seats.  The breakfast “meal” in coach was a cold (we’re talking near frozen) banana muffin, half the size of a standard muffin, a four-ounce cup of applesauce and a four-ounce carton of orange juice, which wasn’t as cold as the muffin.  There was a half of a napkin and a plastic spoon in the bag that the “meal” was served in.  The dilemma, do I use the half napkin to eat on or to place in my lap?  I chose to place the napkin in my lap and use the bag to eat on. The movie was “The Grinch.” now that I’m riding in the back of the bus it would cost me $5.00 to access the entertainment system.  I just can’t bring myself to spend that on a movie that I can rent for $3.00 and not have to watch a cut up version of it.  When this was TWA the movies were unreleased, which made them a bit more worth it.  The one redeeming factor of this flight was that it was on a 757, the flight itself was very comfortable and while I did not recognize any of the flight crew I was sure most of them must have been former TWA employees because they were smiling and courteous something that is rare in a long term American employee, there was one with the perma-frown that made me wonder if she was Dallas based.  This is the first leg of my trip to Indiana; I will be visiting a hospital in Franklin, which is not far from Indianapolis where my brother Jody and his family live.  I hope to get time to visit as I really miss having them out in Washington.  

After a brief stop in the Ambassador’s, now switching over to Admiral’s, club I returned to the same gate I got off at and the same plane just a different seat.  I did notice that they had changed all the signage at St. Louis International Airport to American and the airport looks really drab because everything is silver and gray now.  The old TWA red and gold signage was much more appealing.  They have also started scraping the paint off the planes so they too are very unappealing to look at.  The flight to Indianapolis was uneventful and a short 36 minutes.  We were served beverages and pretzels; I asked for club soda with lime and got lemon, not at all the same thing.  My guess is this is another one of Mr. Carty’s, money saving at the expense of good customer service items.

Upon landing I called Misti and made arrangements to meet for dinner.  I drove down to Franklin and checked into the hotel, they did not have a non smoking room at the regular rate, the only nonsmoking room was a suite with an in room Jacuzzi, they gave me a special rate of $85 for my inconvenience so I took it.  The room was great I had a king size bed in the bedroom then the living area had two areas one with the Jacuzzi and a fridge, microwave, coffee maker and sink.  The other area had a couch, TV and Desk.  Then I drove about 40 minutes north to Misti’s house for homemade spaghetti.  I really enjoyed seeing the kids Jessica is turning into a little lady and Jacob has really grown.  The twins were just as cute as buttons and so smart.  I left as Misti was putting them to bed, hoping to meet up again later in the week.  As it was our schedules did not coincide, I stayed busy with work and she had other commitments. 

My return through Indianapolis was quick and the security was so much more efficient than at Seattle.  The flight I was on would stop at St. Louis then continue on to Seattle so I didn’t have to get off.  Both legs were completely full, so those reports about people not flying are all hype by the airlines trying to sell tickets or something.  I spoke with some of the flight attendants about the merger and it seems that even though they were originally promised they would get to keep their seniority; Mr. Carty is trying to use recent events to take advantage of them.  I will be writing to my congressperson to see what can be done as I work for a company that is ripe for takeover or merger and I would not want to lose the seniority I have earned so far. 

Speaking of my company, I just received an email that the president of our company has announced his retirement.  There has been much discussion over the last year that this would be a positive move for our company as he has been cited as stifling the creativity and productivity of the employees.  I have yet to check our stock price but I would guess it would have risen on this announcement.  We recently sold our corporate buildings and property to Microsoft who surrounds our property, realizing a considerable profit; with this and the increase in sales we’ve been having this should be a good year.  

Christmas is coming fast and last weekend Gail and I went shopping and found three new bicycles for the boys, the sales were great on some really awesome bikes.  And we got new helmets to go with them.  Tyler’s birthday was this week and I called him on Thursday to wish him a happy Birthday but we had already arranged to celebrate it on Sunday.  We are waiting for a cockatiel to arrive that we are getting him, he has wanted a bird for quite some time and has even gone so far as to read books and search the internet for information about them and got a great looking cage, he only lacks the bird.  Tommy turned 16 on Thanksgiving and we celebrated his birthday on Sunday also so he did not have to share the limelight with the holiday.  He got a neat PDA (like a palm pilot), and phone cards for his cell phone that he got last Christmas, it’s one of those pre-paid ones that way he is responsible for the bill, the first time he did so well the card expired before he had used all the minutes (it’s the AT&T free to go plan).  Trevor has gotten a weekend job at a friend of mine where he cleans out stalls and does yard work; so far he has saved over $300.  He wants to buy an XBOX, the new game machine from Microsoft. 

Gail has started an online college course to get her Master’s degree in Nursing.  She has a Master’s in Healthcare Administration, but this other degree will let her go into teaching if she wishes.  She got interested in it when her company started a tuition reimbursement program, which would have paid for part of the tuition.  While signing up for the course she filled out paper work for financial aid and she got a grant that should cover all of the tuition plus some for a new computer.  She has had to learn more about the computer and hates it when Tyler can show her what to do.  But she is losing her fear of them.  You can email her at she would love to get something beside Spam.