Friday, August 26, 2011

Wine Traveler’s Travel Vol. 6 (From the archives)

Wine Traveler’s Travel Vol. 6

            The weather is getting cooler as I head out early Monday morning for my next trip.  With my new bag packed I take the interstate to Sea-Tac airport.  I’m always amazed at the amount of traffic in the Seattle area; even at 4:30 in the morning the interstate is crowded.  Today’s flight is a welcome change as it is on TWA and First Class on a 757, I couldn’t be happier.  The lady that sat next to me was very social and we spoke quite a bit about our jobs and travel.  She shared with me, as I spoke of my disdain for the MD-80, that she too scheduled her flights to avoid them whenever possible.  She mentioned that she was not having the best of days; her suitcase zipper ripped on the way to the airport and when the porter was helping her by taping it together a lady behind her in line started complaining about holding up the line.  She said to the lady “I was just in this same line do I not deserve the service you hope to receive when it is your turn?” 
            This week I am returning to Wheeling, West Virginia to complete the training I started a while back, this week’s schedule is quite full and I’m not sure I will have a chance to visit my family.  So to those of you on my mailing list I apologize in advance but if I do get to visit, you will most likely read about it here.  Please feel free to forward these stories to anyone and if there are family members that would like to be added or removed from my mailing list please let me know. 
            Well I got off the plane in Pittsburgh and waited for my new bag to come it was about the fifth bag but the attached backpack was missing I waited till all the other bags were delivered and did not see my backpack piece.  I then went to the baggage counter and filled out the now familiar paperwork for a lost bag what will make this one difficult is that I did not separately tag the backpack since it was completely attached with a zipper.  Then I went to Hertz to get my car they did not have one ready, so they called for one and it was a white 626.  Now I avoid white cars because they always look like something a Grandfather would drive, but I remembered my 1982 626 and it was a sporty little two door car so I figured it would be OK.  Well up came this four-door 626 looking not at all sporty.  I went up to the counter and asked the lady if she had anything else, that it was just too Grandpa-ish.  She laughed and said sure and procured me a silver Chevy Monte Carlo, while this wasn’t very sporty looking it was better than the 626.  The ride was nice but my Chrysler Town and Country has a better turning radius. 
            I got into Wheeling at about 6:30 PM and checked into the same Hampton Inn as last time.  When I opened my bag to hang-up my clothes, I found the backpack inside my bag.  Relieved, I called the airline to apologize and stop them looking for my bag.  I went to check out the Restaurants near the Mall and chose one called Longhorn.  I ordered the Pork Chop dinner; this consisted of two thick, well-seasoned and juicy pork chops; seasoned fries; and brandied apples.  They also served a very good multi-grain bread with whipped butter.  Then back to the hotel to get some sleep for the next day at work.  Lunch on Tuesday was at the hospital lunchroom; it was a homemade Salisbury steak with mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, and macaroni and cheese, Vicki had the carved roast beef and mashed potatoes.  We worked till about 6:30 PM because the software was not performing as it should, class proceeded very slowly.  We tried to troubleshoot what was wrong but ended up getting Brent to come back on Wednesday.  Tuesday night Vicki and I went to the River City alehouse again, this time I had the barbecued pork wrap, Vicki had the grilled Chicken fajita wrap, we were given a choice of soup, fries or, salad.  We both chose the French Onion Soup and were well pleased with this traditionally prepared soup complete with bubbling cheese on top and served in a crock type bowl.  The wrap had shredded barbecue pork, coleslaw, and cheese wrapped in a pepper tortilla.  I have yet to eat anything at this alehouse that wasn’t well prepared.  I also had the Oatmeal Stout again that they brew in-house.  My brother would call it skank beer but I don’t like the pale tasteless commercial beers, for me the darker and heartier the better.
            Wednesday we worked with the nurses while Brent worked on the system to get it working right.  This site is working with a Beta version of our software and is very patient and understanding with the problems we were having.  Because the software misbehaving interrupted our training I offered to order out for Pizza; Dominoes did a good job as usual.  That night we ended up staying late again so we went to the alehouse again since it was close to the hospital.  This round I had the Grilled Portabello sandwich and French onion soup.  Vicki had a salad and onion soup. Brent had the Chicken wrap that I had on my last visit to Wheeling, again we were not disappointed.  By the way the sandwich soup and beer was under $10. 
Thursday, Brent only worked till noon then got called away to another site he will return here next week to reload all the software again.  This day for lunch the nurses suggested a diner nearby called Saseen’s.  I tried the hot sausage sandwich with “Teezers” and Vicki had the hot roast beef sandwich and mashed potatoes.  The sausage was patty style and very tasty the “Teezers” turned out to be like long tater tots with jalapeno cheddar cheese in the center.  Vicki’s sandwich was good but the potatoes were Instant.  Vicki left for home as she was only here to observe me training, I had to stay to complete some training on Friday.  My last night in Wheeling the nurses suggested I try the Wilson Lodge at Oglebay Park.  This was definitely high-class place; you know one with more silverware than you know what to do with.  I had a glass of house Chardonnay I was brought a basket with warm sourdough bread and butter.  The salad was wild greens with an obviously homemade Blue Cheese dressing.  My appetizer was a grilled portabello mushroom that had been marinated in balsamic vinegar; my entree was black pepper Fettuccini Alfredo.  All were prepared to perfection, the atmosphere was very elegant, the view was down a slope into a 400+ acre park which houses four golf courses, a zoo, and museum. 
Friday for lunch I accompanied two of the Information Services staff to a Lebanese bakery that they knew.  I had the broccoli cheese roll and French onion soup.  The soup was not as good as the one at the alehouse but was not bad either.  The bread used to make the roll was not like the Lebanese bread I am used to but was tasty; my real find here though, was some Zataar seasoning.  Zataar, also called Thyme seasoning, is used to make mannish which is pita bread with a light coating of olive oil then sprinkled with this Zataar and baked.  It is a favorite of ours, which we usually get shipped from Massachusetts.  Now we will be able to make it at home from store bought pita bread.  I didn’t get to finish early enough to visit any of my family this time so I waved from the air. 
I did find a real good deal on Beanie babies at the Pittsburgh airport they were $5.99 each or three for $14.99.  When the Beanie Baby craze started I thought I was safe having three boys, but Trevor was given one as a prize from a teacher and they found out it was a retired one and then they all had to have them.  So I try to watch for good deals on them.  I was relieved when they said they were stopping at the end of 1999, but then they started with the 2000 series.  Oh well they are relatively inexpensive and they could have worse hobbies.  They each have over 30 of these stuffed toys and display them proudly in their rooms.  I pick up the bears for Gail.
 I even have a few for myself; I have a Pink Flamingo in my cube at work. This started when I bought a picture of white herons at the Seattle Home Show my first few months in Seattle and hung it in my cube and a wax figure of flamingos from the zoo in Tampa to remind me of Florida.  Later I put up a set of prints of Pink Flamingos that just didn’t look as good in our house here as they did in Florida.  Then last year one of my coworkers bought me a set of plastic yard flamingos for my birthday as a gag, so I put them on top of the shelf in my cube so they could be seen from all over.  I told them that my wife wouldn’t let me put them anywhere at home.  So my cube has become the landmark people use to give directions on the first floor, such as “two cubes down from the flamingos.”  I also have some plants hanging from the ceiling, my beanie flamingo is on one of the hangers, and this does make me feel like I am back in Florida.  It’s especially cheerful in the winter when we go months without direct sunlight. 
The plans are that I will be in the office next week.  So I may skip a week in my stories unless something of interest happens.  It becomes a bit boring to hear about the hour and half commute to go twenty miles to work and back each day.

Wine Traveler’s Travels 5 (From the archives)

Sunday 23-Sep-2000

Well this was a very short weekend as I spent most of Saturday doing my laundry and everyone else’s too. Gail works extra shifts on the weekends so I do the housework, with some help from my boys.  The hardest part is getting them to hang up the clean clothes, so often I find folded clothes and clothes on hangers in their laundry baskets.  But they try real hard.  This week’s trip is out to Madison Wisconsin to one of our subsidiaries Burdick to take a weeklong class on their products and software.  I arrived at the airport in plenty of time with all the items I should have (Gail was home when I left so she runs me through a checklist).  This week it is on American Airlines and as I approach the gate at the time it was to start boarding I notice that it doesn’t look like they are ready.  Only a few minutes later though they start announcing the boarding process and this very unfriendly sounding lady announces that due to a short turnover there will not be the customary advanced boarding for frequent flyer’s (here goes another letter to American).  I should have known that it was a portent of things to come as I finally get my seat 10F, we sit, and we sit, and we sit.  Finally the pilot comes on the speaker saying that they found a dent the size of a dime on the outside of the aircraft and there is paper work that must be filled out.  Well after about 45 minutes he comes back on to say that the mechanics are arguing with the home office on how to repair the hole, yes the dent has now become a hole.  And that they are trying to measure how sharp the point is on the hole.  Well we end up getting delayed about 2 hours they announce that anyone with connecting flights will miss them and American will put us up in a hotel and get us to our destinations on the first flight in the AM. 
They refused to take anyone’s baggage off the plane so we couldn’t even try to get another airline to our destinations.  If you recall from my earlier travel that I have not been much impressed with the level of customer service on American well this isn’t helping much.  The Flight attendants were all in good moods despite the level of frustrations that could be felt among the passengers.  I tried using the airphone to cancel my hotel reservation but it would not work.  So off we went to Chicago, the meal was a very small portion of Chicken Strips (picture one regular chicken strip sliced into three pieces) two tablespoons of macaroni and Cheese and about ten pieces of green beans.  While they were well prepared and actually tasty, the portions would have had my youngest son begging for more.  The best part though was a cinnamon Oat bar from Love and Quiches deserts.  They also gave us a complimentary glass of wine.  They next round though they had no wine on the cart so it was just a small cup (4-oz) of club soda. 
The nightmare was only beginning, as we deplaned at Chicago it was obvious that we were late there was no one else in the terminal and only two agents to handle the arrangements for the whole plane full of passengers. The fellow ahead of me received his paper for the room at a Clarion Hotel he asked why aren’t we at the Hilton here on the airport property?  The response was “they don’t give us a discount.”  As I was given my paper for the room I asked about meal vouchers, “This is all they gave us” was the response I received.  I complained about the lack of food on the plane but it fell on deaf ears.  Then we were directed to the Baggage Claim area.  After waiting quite some time and the belt finished only about half of us had our luggage.  So off we went to another line.  It seems our luggage was taken to the area for our connecting flights, They seemed surprised that we would want our luggage.  One passenger had noticed his bag was in the American Eagle area and had asked the lady there for it she replied to him that “Can’t you see we are closed?”  Another lady from the American Airlines section, after hearing out plight, got our claim tickets and descriptions of all our bags and went in the back and brought out our bags. 
Then the long trek to the place where you get to catch the Hotel shuttles I’m talking a good half to three quarters of a mile through tunnels.  When I arrived there some of the passengers were trying to get the shuttle for another hotel to take them to the one we were to stay at.  It seems that when they called our hotel they were told there were no shuttles were available this time of the night it was 1 am now.  Just then another man came up and said that after explaining that there were quite a few of us they agreed to send a shuttle.  We got to the hotel to find they did not have the usual continental breakfast and that the shuttle would start running at 5 am to take us back to the airport.  So I got about two hours sleep before I had to get up and get dressed for the class I would now be late for. 
The flight was only 30 minutes airtime but took over an hour from gate to gate with no food or drinks served.  So now it has been since early last night since I have had anything to eat, good for the diet I guess.  I arrived at my destination ready to drop from lack of sleep, the rest of the group was well rested and we stayed working with the computers till 7pm that night.  The group members in this class were Tom Taylor who is one of the technical trainers from Redmond, Dave Crossly and Adrian who are CSR’s (customer service Reps) from the UK, and Erik Lam a CSR Manager from Hong Kong.  For lunch they brought in was great it was from a local sandwich shop made great subs.
Checking into the Hotel in Madison that night they removed the no show charges from the night before after I recounted my experience.  I went straight to bed without dinner.  The next morning this hotel, a Comfort Inn, had a great breakfast and I was much more attentive in class.  Lunch on Tuesday was Chinese take-out and left a lot to be desired. 
Madison is the state capitol for Wisconsin and has a beautiful domed capitol building at the center of town, and also boasts some wonderful Frank Lloyd Wright buildings namely the Manona Terrace, which is a civic center that is on the shore of Lake Manona.  It is also the home office for Oscar Mayer Corp.  The wiener mobile is seen quite regularly here. 
Tuesday night I found a wonderful Italian restaurant named Bellini’s it was inside what had once been a church with the cathedral ceilings and stained glass windows intact.  I had the Brochette as an appetizer and the special, which was a tomato-basil fettuccini with a clam and garlic cream sauce.  The food and the atmosphere were really satisfying. 
Wednesday, was another long day at class starting at 8 am and ending at 6 p.m.  We had been invited to the house of one of the staff from tech support, Melissa Owens.  Melissa used to work in the Redmond office but had relocated to Spacelabs/Burdick after becoming pregnant to move closer to her family.  She and her husband had just built a new house so four of us that were in the class came over for barbecued chicken and salad.  She had also made a wonderful apple salad that had whipped topping and caramel in it.  Chris, Melissa’s husband, used to work for Spacelabs Medical in technical training with Tom Taylor, but now does web designing for another company.  Chris had wired their house for the future he had cable in every room and at least two Ethernet outlets in each room.  Chris had also just built a table for their kitchen, which was quite unique, it was like an island work area with a breakfast bar attached to one side and wrapping around the far end.  The Bar section was built up about four inches above the work area. The top was laminated with a marble like Formica to complement the kitchen counters.  The food and the company were great. 
Thursday was another long day of class in which I learned much and found very enriching, we ordered from the sandwich shop again. 
This was our last night in town so the instructor took us all out to dinner at a Japanese Steak House I had Chicken and Shrimp.  This was one of those places where you are seated around a large grill and they prepare the food in front of you.   The Shrimp was prepared with Kogane sauce this is a combination of egg yolk, lemon juice and spices then it is place on top of the butterflied shrimp and covered on the grill till done.  It was really a taste sensation I want to experience again.  The Chicken was grilled with teriyaki sauce and the veggies were onion, Zucchini, and bean sprouts.  While preparing the veggies the chef took a thick slice of onion separating the rings and stacking them atop each other to make a cone. He then placed some form of alcohol inside and lit it moving this to a hot area of the grill it shot a flame way up and he announced “Japanese Volcano.”  After the flame went out it continued to spew steam and really was impressive.  Of course the usual fancy knife work and the juggling of the large salt and peppershakers were all part of the show.  It was a real dining experience.  
Our last day of class everyone was in overload but the presentations were so well done we continued to learn more.  I’m real excited about taking on these new products. 
The flight home was another adventure in American Airlines, we were first greeted with a slight delay but they would do their best to catch up the ten minutes it was behind. Well when the plane arrived they couldn’t get the Jetway to work so they brought up the portable stairs and announce that we would be boarding the plane from down stairs so we all went downstairs.  As we watched them off load the Regional Jet we were to fly back to Chicago we stood in disbelief as they moved the stairs away and attempted again to get the Jetway to connect.  They then announced that we would now be boarding upstairs so we all moved upstairs again.  As we watched out the window they continued to struggle with the Jetway, we were sure we would be told to go back downstairs again.  Then finally they started boarding from the Jetway.  As we were taxiing out to the runway we stopped and you could hear the engines slowdown…The Pilot announced ”I’m sorry there are problems at the Chicago Airport and we are to wait twenty minutes.”    We finally took off and had an uneventful short flight, as I got off the plane at G-19 (the very end of the G concourse) and was checking the monitors for gate information. I heard my name over the intercom stating that this was the final boarding call.  Off I ran two concourses over; they were actually holding the plane for me.  This is more like the customer service I would expect; I thanked the crew extensively and heard one of the flight attendants say to another “let the captain know, he is the one who was waiting for this passenger.”  I stuck my head in the cockpit and thanked him personally.  Well the short wait for me (only five minutes) was nothing compared to the wait in the taxi line as it seems that we were about fifteenth in line to take off.  It was another MD-80 and I won’t bore you with my dislike of this very inadequate plane.  The meal again was good but so small one of those $.79 frozen dinners would be a feast in comparison.  This time it was barbecued chicken, green beans, seasoned potatoes and a salad.  The highlight was the triple chocolate brownie for desert again made by love and quiches.  I noticed a web site on their package, which I will be checking out  Again they only gave the small cup of soda, not the whole can like TWA and Delta do.  But the fact that they waited till I could run from the end of one concourse over to the middle of another really goes a long way in making up for these other complaints.  I don’t want to sound unreasonable it’s just that when other airlines have had similar occurrences I have been given meal vouchers and phone cards to alleviate my inconvenience.  You get used to a certain level of customer service and expect it from others.   As we approached Seattle the Pilot announced that we were entering a holding pattern as the traffic at SeaTac was backed up.  As I am heading home this does not bother me, but I feel for those who have connections. 
I won’t make it in time to see Gail before she goes to work so I’ll have to wait till tomorrow.  I don’t know how she puts up with me when I’m home or when I’m away. 
I should have known better than to think this nightmare was over.  As I watched the bags move along the carousel I thought “ya know I bet my bag didn’t make the tight connection in Chicago” and sure enough it didn’t show up.  So I walked over to the baggage department for American Airlines and explained my predicament, they gave me a print out with all the pertinent information and the 1 800 number to call to check on my baggage.  I left with a sure feeling that my Bag would be on the next flight from Chicago and that I would get a call in the morning that my bag was to be delivered.   Well all day I stayed home (cleaning house and doing laundry, Oh yeah!) and the phone never rang.  The paper I was given said I would be called once every 24 hours with an update, so I waited.  Ten PM and no call, I called and spoke with a very nice young man who checked all my information and verified that my bag has not yet been found.  
On Sunday at 10 AM I called again with no luck so off I went to buy a new bag.  I found one at Target it is a rolling duffel with a small backpack on one end, which can be detached.  The best part was the price; it regularly sold for $29.00 but had a sale tag for $19.99.  When I got to the counter it scanned $9.94, finally something was going my way. 

Wine Traveler’s Travels part 4 (From the archives)

Tuesday 19-SEP-2000

This morning I am winging off to Oakdale, California, via San Jose on Alaska Airlines.  I specifically booked this flight due to the listed equipment was a Boeing 737-400.  I arrived in plenty of time with my wallet and new pager.  I parked my van at the MasterPark lot where you get to drop your vehicle at the door they cart your bags to the waiting bus then whisk you off to the entrance of the airport.  They know me so well here they will tell me how fresh the coffee is as soon as they see me.  Well the first change this morning was the gate, not much of a change, from D-1 to D-3.  They started boarding the plane after about 2 minutes they stopped and made an announcement that the type of plane had been changed and that the following people had to come to the desk for new seat assignments.  “Uh oh” I thought Here goes my luck and sure enough it was an MD-80 and all those people who were in the D seats now had seats in the rear of the plane.  The MD-80 is narrower and longer than the 737 instead of two sets of three seats in a row they have one set of three and one set of two and the rows are much closer together.  Using my laptop is next to impossible without getting cramps.  The one saving grace of this flight was that Alaska always serves Seattle’s Best Coffee, which is so much better than Starbucks.  We were also served our choice of a raspberry coffeecake or an orange and currant scone.  I chose the scone that was very flavorful but a little too moist to be called a scone. 

Despite the Travel Agent’s assurances that San Jose was closer to my destination than Sacramento which I requested (67 miles verses 77), the neverlost system in my Ford Taurus from Hertz told me it was 98 miles.  But the Drive was very interesting I passed through the hills where all the power-generating windmills are, it was such a site.  This is one of those trips I really wish I had a digital camera to capture the sites with.  I have thought of bringing my 35-mm camera but I have about 45 rolls of film at home that need to be developed, so that wouldn’t be worth the space it would take up.  I keep watching the prices are getting better and so is the quality.  Then I passed through the farming area of the Central Valley of California.  Almond and Pistachio orchards, vineyards and strawberry fields forever. 

Oakdale is a quaint little town that claims to be the Cowboy Capitol, it seems the national rodeo circuit starts out here, though I saw no cowboys, Central Florida had more cowboys than this.  I had to go straight to the hospital to start work I was there until about 6pm.  I had booked my lodging at the Best Western Rama Inn, a nice hotel I have stayed at before.  As I walked in the lady at the counter smiled.  I said, “I’m here for one of your fine rooms.”  She said she had just the room for me, it was to be a suite which she said because I was a business traveler I could have at the same rate as a regular room $59.  Well this room had a King size bed a desk and full closet and a Jacuzzi right in the room.  After the flight on the MD-80 and the two-hour drive then having to work I was ready for the tub.  I filled it up with real hot water and soaked for about 20 minutes with the jets on full.  Feeling much refreshed I looked out my window and noticed a new Mexican restaurant next door.  I walked over and was very pleased with the generous portions and great service.  I had the Chicken Mexicana, which was strips of chicken tenderloin with onions, green peppers, and Jalepenos.  Served with refried beans, rice and tortillas.  I left very full.  Back in my room I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed.  The next day was another full day at the hospital with return trips at 7:30 PM and 12:30 am to do some trouble shooting.  If it hadn’t been for the Pizza I bought for the staff at lunchtime I wouldn’t have eaten at all this day.  When I got back to the hotel at 9pm I was too tired to wait for the tub in my room to fill so I went to the indoor pool and hot tub there at the hotel and was pleasantly surprised to find it was hot.  It has been a common occurrence to find hotel hot tubs to be cooler than my pool was in Florida.  When I mention it to the staff they usually say that too many people complain that it is too hot when the set it at the mandatory 103-104 degrees that most Health Departments require for sanitary reasons.  This is also where it is most therapeutic.  The only disappointing thing about this stay was they charged me long distance for my local calls to my ISP, this will be credited after I showed the manager the phone book, which listed the exchange I called as a toll free local number.  This occurred when I checked out Thursday morning.  That day at the hospital with the help of Tech support we were able to get their system functioning better though it took all day.  I had to reschedule my flight for later that night.  Then we ran into a problem that required me to stay over another night.  The hotel I had just checked out of was now full so I had to drive about thirty minutes to the next town of Modesto.  The caveat here was there is a great restaurant here called St. Stan’s.  They have their own microbrewery and great food as well as live entertainment Weds-Sat.  I sat down and the barmaid came over promptly and asked what I would like to drink.  They had 9 of their own brews on tap.  I was undecided between the Amber and the Virgin Amber.  She explained that the Virgin Amber has less of the yeast filtered out so I tried that one it was very full bodied with good hops taste.  I ordered Wiener Schnitzel, you would think with a name like Schessler I would have had Wiener Schnitzel before, I had always assumed this was some sort of sausage.  Well this was some very lean pork finely breaded and sautéed in butter and lemon.  It was served with fries, which were lightly battered potato wedges, and a vegetable medley that had broccoli, carrots, beansprouts red peppers and snow peas.  The veggies are perfectly cooked, not too soft not too crisp.  I had a second beer while listening to the band which consisted of three guys two with guitars and one vocalist though all three sang. The Barmaid informed me that the band’s name was Chandler-Pratt.  Two of the guys are 16 and one is 22.  They did some classics from Jimmy Buffet to Leonard Skynard. 

The travel agent had gotten me a room at the Courtyard that was very nice but not as welcoming as the Best Western, not to mention the lack of the in room Jacuzzi.  The next day I ended up not finishing till after 4pm this just left me enough time to get back to San Jose.  Well it seems that due to construction it took over 45 minutes to get in the entrance of the airport and through the car rental return.  I missed my flight, fortunately they were able to get me on the next flight.  To my delight a 737 pulled up to the gate.  The flight home was uneventful though roomier than the fight down.  I got in about 11pm I had to stop by the office on the way home to drop off some papers and pick up some things for my next trip.  I left the office about 1AM.