Friday, August 26, 2011

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. 

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