Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wine Traveler’s Travels Vol. 16 (From the archives)

26 Feb 01

Well it’s back to Arkansas for the go live at the new hospital that was delayed a week because they couldn’t pave their parking lot.  I’m Traveling on Monday and will go in Tuesday to check out the system before they open on Wednesday.  I’m Flying TWA and enjoying probably one of my last rides in the front of a 757.  Unless of course American Airlines honors the TWA way of doing things.  The breakfast this morning is a vegetable quiche with Canadian bacon and fresh fruit.  The movie is “Pay It Forward” if you only rent one video this year this should be it.  I recommend this movie to everyone especially teenagers.  This movie takes the Golden Rule and multiplies it exponentially.  Staring Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey and the kid from sixth sense; Kevin Spacey is a 7th grade social studies teacher and Helen is a single mother that works two jobs in Las Vegas to support her and her 7th grade son.  One of the extra credit assignments in the 7th grade social studies class is to come up with a project that will change the world.  The goal is not to come up with an actual world changing idea but to get the kids to think about it.  I didn’t see much about this movie when it was in the theaters.  I expect to see about this one, though, in the next Oscars. 

My connecting flight from St. Louis was on a regional jet it was a quick 45-minute flight.  Hertz did not have my reservation ready and had no Mustangs left so I was given a Mitsubishi Galant.  It was nice and drove very well. 

I arrived in Fayetteville about 4:00 PM my room at the Holiday Inn Express was a two-room suite with two King size beds a microwave and refrigerator all this for the Hospital contracted rate of $47.  The clerk at the hotel recommended a Thai restaurant in downtown Fayetteville, called a Taste of Thai.  I had Pa Nang Curried Chicken and Thai Iced Tea.  Thai Iced tea is tea with sweetened condensed milk.  The Curry was very spicy just like I love it.  I was stuffed then the owner stopped by my table and asked if I wanted any desert.  I replied I had no room left.  He said, “not even for home made coconut ice cream?”  Well that did it, it was the best thing I ever tasted it was not very sweet, and tasted of fresh coconut and cream. 

The next morning I arrived at the hospital and started checking out the system about 11 am they informed me that the hospital was not going to open this week because the State and rescheduled their inspection.  Well I continued working with the service rep to get the system in top shape then rescheduled my flight to leave the next day.  That night the sales Rep and my self went to a brewery restaurant in downtown and they had the street blocked off for Fat Tuesday what a crowd of college kids trying to experience Mardi Gras away from the original.  I had the pecan encrusted pork tenderloin with steamed vegetables and baked potato.  The veggies were a bit over done but the pork was delicious.  After a great dinner we walked around and did not see anyone earning beads the way they do in New Orleans, or Nawlins as the locals call it. 

Wednesday Morning I had a 7 am flight back home.  The flight from Fayetteville to St. Louis was on an ATR 72, a large prop plane.  This one was quite old but the flight was just over an hour and uneventful till I was deplaning.  It seems the stairs, which are built into the door, got iced up and the grip tape was all worn off.  So I slide on my bottom down the stairs.  My right ankle hurt a little but after walking around it was ok.  I reported it as instructed so that someone will replace the grip tape on the stairs.  The connection I made was on a 757 in the front again.  The lunch was a choice of a chicken croissant sandwich or a shrimp salad; I chose the salad.  The shrimp tasted fresh and the roll was warm, the desert was a passion fruit sorbet, a very satisfying lunch.  The crew was in great spirits as they just had a welcoming party from American Airlines.  I asked them if they had to take classes on not smiling.  I explained that the AA attendants always seem to have an attitude.  They were surprised and told me that the flight attendants at AA make much more than they do at TWA and they couldn’t imagine why they would have an attitude.  They were very pleased that AA was rescuing the airline, and very positive about the change.  I just hope the people stay as pleasant as they are now.    

Wine traveler’s Travels Vol. 15 (From the archives)


            The mist, that is called rain in these parts, is falling just enough to make the roads shiny, the temperature at five AM is 36f according to the onboard computer in my Chrysler Town and Country.  One of the coldest mornings we’ve had in a while.  The Highway already has heavy traffic and a few areas of stop and go between home and the airport.  This is why I prefer the earlier flights to avoid the traffic; today’s flight is seven twenty. 
            I make in plenty of time for my flight on Alaska Airlines today, the one hour and twenty minute flight, on a Boeing 737-700, offers beverages only.  At least it will be Seattle’s Best coffee.  I am a bit disappointed that the coffee has been made very weak tastes like hot water; this is probably in response to the non-Seattleites who don’t drink their coffee strong. 
            Hertz pleasantly surprised me with a Mustang convertible.  But of course it is just my luck it is still cold.
            Today’s destination is Carson City, NV, Ill be landing in Reno then driving a short distance to Carson City.  This is a Hospital I visited just before Christmas and stayed in a Best Western hotel, which I have booked again, it has a casino, a bowling alley and two restaurants.  My last visit I brought home $200 more than I arrived with.  The last time here the rate was $50 this time it is $45 for a very nice room.  This visit is to support the Go-live with our software so I won’t be holding regular classes but making nice with the nurses and answering their questions as they use the software in the real world and not just practicing. 
            Carson City is nestled in a valley with majestic views of mountains all around, not as tall as the mountains surrounding Seattle, but the snow on them makes them look so inviting.  There is evidence of the past, an old building here and there.  Mixed in with new modern buildings.  Reading the literature in my hotel room I learn that the city is named after the Carson River, which was named after the noted “old west” guide Kit Carson.
            I check into the hotel at 10 AM and I am given a nice room with two queen size beds.  I check my phone mail and email then head to the restaurant for lunch.  Today’s special is roast leg of lamb.  It was very tasty and served with mashed potatoes and steamed veggies, this price is $5.95.  Then I head off to the hospital to makes sure everything is set up for tomorrow’s go-live.  The nurses were happy to see me and anxiously excited about the go-live.  I leave about 6 PM and head back to the hotel, and dinner in the Margarita Saloon.  They offer 40 different flavors of margaritas and serve food from the restaurant.  The margaritas are $3.50 for a 16-ounce drink, and if you are dropping quarters into the slot machines built into the counter top they are free.  My favorite flavor so far is the Horni Rita; this one is made with Hornitos Tequila.  The special tonight is Tequila Lime Chicken, this is a grilled chicken breast with Tequila and lime sauce served with rice and steamed veggies.  The chicken was a bit over cooked and tough but otherwise tasty.  I lost about $7 in the machines, which equaled the two margaritas I had so, no real loss. 
            Go-Live day went very well, I brought in a couple of dozen of donuts, which made me quite popular.  For lunch I went back to the hotel and had the bratwurst and sauerkraut special, which came with some of the best German potato salad I’ve ever had.  Then returned to work with the nurses some more.  I stayed over a couple of hours for the night shift; they work twelve-hour shifts here.  This evening I got to the margarita saloon too late for dinner so I just ordered nachos which for $3.95 would have fed four people.  I lost another $7 in the machines; I lasted a little longer though.  There was a musician in the lounge that played some awesome music with quite a range of styles, from rock to soft jazz to reggae.  I don’t have to be back to the hospital till noon the next day, as I will stay till midnight for the night shift. 
             I got up around 9 AM and worked on some paper work and such then went to lunch at the restaurant, today’s special was chicken and dumplings; big chunks of tender white meat with sweet onion and carrots in a rich sauce with two large dumplings on the side, served with green beans.  I went to work with a full belly.  The drive from the hotel to the hospital is only about a mile and a half but the view of the mountains behind the hospital is spectacular.  We had a little snow this week but it didn’t stay on the ground.  I called home this afternoon and the boys were outside having a snowball fight, the first snowfall of the season. 

Wine Traveler’s Travels Vol. 14 (From the Archives #13 missing)


            This fine Monday morning I am headed to a city I have been to a few times before, Modesto, California.  There are two hospitals in this area that have our software and I am making a courtesy visit to both of them.  My only choice of airlines is United, the first leg is on a 737 and since this is actually Shuttle by United, we board in “zones” The 737 is roomier than an MD-80 and they have an entertainment system, audio only, which makes this hour and forty five minute flight zip right by.  We are offered the usual complementary soft drinks and juices, and breakfast on this 7 AM flight is a tiny shortbread cookie. 
I connect in San Francisco to United Express, which only flies turboprops into Modesto.  They used to have an earlier connecting flight but that has now been discontinued and I have a two-hour layover.  I checked out the snack bars in the San Francisco airport and decided I wasn’t hungry enough to pay $3 for a bagel.  I once tried the closest city that flies jets and it was about three hours away.  While the only beverage choice is bottled water, the snacks on this short flight are much better than the big jet; they offer a choice of nuts, snack bars, cookies and pretzels.  After only twenty minutes in the air we arrived at Modesto.
Hertz surprised me with a Sebring Convertible; the surprising part was that because this is a non-billable trip I had to book an economy car.  I guess the new Five Star gold card I got last week from Hertz really does get me automatic upgrades.  Unfortunately it is January and I tried putting the top down and running the heat but that just didn’t feel right.  It was still a joy to drive.  I’m staying at the Holiday Inn again, which has a wonderful restaurant that offers 50% off to hotel guests. 
I checked in just past noon and changed clothes before going up to the hospital.  After a few hours there I head back to the hotel.  I ordered the Rosemary Chicken, this was half a roasted chicken superbly seasoned with rosemary and cooked to a tenderness just this side of heaven, I even ate the dark meat.  It was served with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables.  The vegetables were these little yellow squashes sautéed with little baby carrots that still had a bit of the stem on the top and strips of red pepper, obviously cooked to order as they still had a light crunch.  The posted price for this meal, which included bread and soup or salad, was $17; I was charged $8.50.  Modesto is the home of Ernest and Julio Gallo wineries and the Diamond Walnut Company.   
Tuesday morning I stopped by the restaurant to pick up my complementary breakfast of coffee and a huge muffin, banana nut.  While working with the nurses who were stressing over the new system I decided to buy them Pizza for lunch.  They recommended a local place called Mountain Mikes.  I ordered six pizzas; two combinations, two pepperoni, a cheese, and a vegetarian.  The Combination had more toppings than I have seen ever on a pizza.  And the Vegetarian looked like it had a whole chef salad on it; large slices of tomato, artichoke hearts and other veggies.  The Nurse manager asked that I visit the night shift so I went back to the hotel and slept for a couple of hours, skipping supper since I had the pizza for lunch, then returned to the night shift, for these nurses I brought some microwave popcorn and Sam’s Choice cookies from Wal-mart.  I really love the quality of Sam’s choice products, their chocolate chip cookies have more chips than any other cookie I know and they really taste like chocolate. 
Wednesday morning I grabbed another muffin and coffee to go and headed in to the hospital.  The nurses here are just wonderful and much more comfortable with the software after I helped them with a few shortcuts, and re-enforced the training I had given previously.  This evening I ate at the hotel again trying their Cajun Barbee, this was a skewer of Cajun spiced shrimp and vegetables with a side of rice and fresh vegetables.  The fresh vegetables this time were those little squashes again with fresh spinach and onion lightly sautéed.  These little squashes are about the size of a large grape and the shape reminds me of the stones in Wilma Flintstone’s necklace.  I chose the Cream of Broccoli soup to go with this meal. I ordered desert Tiramisu and coffee.  Again I was not disappointed my cost for this meal was $ 12.50
Thursday I had to visit the other hospital, which is in the town of Oakdale, California.  This quiet little town claims to be the cowboy capital of the world they have a cowboy museum as well as a Hershey Chocolate factory.  I did not have time to visit them on this visit but have in previous visits.  The drive to this little town takes you through grape vineyards and almond orchards.  I have yet to see a cowboy or any cows here, but they do have a yearly Rodeo that I have seen advertised.  I returned to Modesto later that night and ate at the Holiday Inn again; this time I tried their Kansas City Strip Steak.  This was a generous cut of perfectly prepared beef.  Cooked rare by the true definition, well grilled on the outside and tender red on the inside.  I have had Filet Mignon that was not as tender as this steak; it came with a baked potato and fresh veggies, those little squashes again with grilled onions and yellow pepper slices.  I finally had to ask about these squashes they are called Russet.  I will have to look for these they taste like yellow summer squash, only bite size.  This meal listed for $21; hotel guest price $10.50.  I skipped lunch each day to make sure I had room for these meals.  This Holiday Inn also sports a large indoor pool, hot tub, sauna, and weight room.  All for a great price of $80/night. 
My trip home Thursday morning was a reverse of the trip here first the little prop plane with the great snack choices then the big plane with a tiny bag of pretzels for lunch.  United Airlines has left me less than impressed but the service was great and while I appreciate the complimentary audio entertainment they do not provide clean headphones to listen to it with I would think this would be some sort of health violation.  I’m sure those foam earpieces would be a great transmission vector for lice and other infectious diseases, maybe it’s just the nurse in me. 

Wine Traveler’s Travels Vol. 12 (From the Archives)


            It’s foggy this early Monday morning as I drive to Sea-Tac Airport.  I’m dreading this flight as it is on American Airlines and I already know it’s one of those dreaded MD-80’s.  But American could get me to my destination an hour earlier than TWA.  It was hard giving up that first class upgrade that I knew I would get on TWA, but it was imperative I get there as soon as possible.  It’s fairly slow at the MasterPark lot this morning as it is Dr. Martin Luther King Day.  The check-in is quick as there are no lines today.  I am pleased that upon boarding the plane there is a notice that this is one of the new re-designed planes with additional space.  For once there is truth in advertising, my knees no longer touch the seat in front of me.  The flight attendant at the door looks less than welcoming; it must be the fact that they are soon to go on strike.  Maybe their constant bad moods are due to the way American Airlines treats them.  I can tell you though, that as I chat with other frequent flyers I am not the only one to notice their bad attitudes.  Breakfast in coach is very meager, one small piece of French toast cut in half, two small slices of not yet ripe melon, and a half size portion of yogurt.  Tyler, my finicky 11 y/o, would still be hungry. 
It pains me to know that American Airlines has announced its plans to purchase TWA, that leaves Delta as one of the few airlines that still offers good service.  I just hope that the flight attendants of TWA teach the AA people a thing or two about cheerful service, and that AA doesn’t reduce the size of first-class in the planes it is obtaining. 
Today’s flight is to a women’s hospital in Johnson, AR that is being built primarily to service the corporate headquarters of WalMart, Tyson Chicken and associated Vendors.  This will be a very different experience for me as the hospital isn’t open yet.
I arrived at Dallas Fort Worth airport on time, though quite stiff from the ride on the MD 80, even with the expanded room the wind noise is still there and the lack of any entertainment on a four-hour flight, I feel exhausted.  I wouldn’t think it would be too hard to install a sound system in these planes if they are going to use them for flights over two hours.  That might drown out the wind noise.  My connection is on American Eagle and I get to take a very slow shuttle bus to the new mid-field terminal, which is beautiful. And it is very nice to be able to enter the commuter plane from a Jetway.  As I approach the gate there is a notice that the flight has been delayed 20 minutes.  After a while the gate attendant announces that the Pilot is running late and will be arriving on another flight at 12:15 (the original schedule was for a 12:00 departure).  Now it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that even if the pilot arrives at 12:15 we aren’t going to be taking off at 12:20.  About 12:10 she changes the departure time to 12:25, then to 12:30.  About 12:25 the Pilot shows up smiling, he turns to the waiting area and announces that scheduling knew 5 hours ago that he would be delayed.  It seems to me that other arrangements should have been made.  So much for getting to North West Arkansas Regional Airport on time, next time I will take TWA if American hasn’t already taken them over.  
The lady at the Hertz counter informs me that I have a Grand Prix today.  I inquire, “don’t you have anything sportier than that?” 
She says, “I can put you in something bigger.” 
I reply “that’s OK.”  As I keep thinking about how out dated the design of the Grand Prix is I try again “Don’t you have anything else in a two door?”
“Well I do have a Mustang or a Cougar, but they are smaller cars.”
I’m thinking “DUH! They are both sportier and not much smaller.”  Then I realize they can’t get past the two-door part and totally miss the sporty part.  I quickly reply, “Yes the Mustang would be great” and thank her profusely.  Off I drive in my dark blue mustang, as I approach the Hospital I pass a sign that says “Welcome to Fayetteville the First Home of Bill and Hillary Clinton.” I wish I could stop and take a picture of that for my Dad.  Well I found the hospital and the parking lot is still just a field of mud, it seems that they have had a bad ice storm and are just now thawing out.  They can’t pave it till it dries and the temperature stays above 40 F. 
I spend the rest of the afternoon working with the three installers setting up my training area for the week.  We all left to check in at the hotel, a Holiday Inn Express that the hospital has an agreement with for a $47 rate.  Needless to say I was a bit leery about what this would be like.  The clerk at the desk was extremely nice, they had pizza in the lobby for the guests, and we each had a slice. The room was the largest room I have ever seen at an Express, two King size beds and a kitchenette with microwave and fridge.
We went out for dinner to a nice restaurant called The Powerhouse.  That’s just what it was, an old powerhouse that had been renovated.  The food was great I had blackened salmon and shrimp ettouffe.  The salmon was tender and not at all fishy.  The shrimp ettouffe was a bit mild but very fresh tasting.  One of the installers had ordered fried shrimp on his combination plate and he received boiled.  The server told him he would be out with the fried shrimp and that he could keep the boiled, he chose to share them with the rest of us.  They were extra jumbo and the best tasting shrimp outside of Florida. 
The next morning the hotel had these humongous pastries, obviously freshly made, on their breakfast bar, as well as an assortment of different cereals and fruits.   I held two four-hour classes and finished up about 6:30 PM.  The installers all left so I dined alone I was in the mood for barbeque and I had seen one near the place we ate the night before.  So off I went to Penguin Ed’s; you sit in these rustic wooden booths and order on the phone that each booth has.  I asked the fellow about the ribs and he of course said they had the best ribs in town.  Well if he was lying then I’ve got to find those other ribs because except for the ones that I remember from Andy’s Pit Barbeque in Naples as a child I have never had ribs as good as these, they were tender at the bone and chewy at the tips with an option of sauce; hot, mild, or half and half.  I tried the half and half but switched to the hot.  The potato salad was home made but would have been better if they had used mayonnaise instead of salad dressing (Miracle whip).  The Ice Tea was fresh, and I had no room for desert. 
Wednesday morning was another two four-hour classes and then I returned back to the hotel and watched TV, till I fell asleep.  Thursday the Sales Rep came into town and took the head nurse and me out to dinner at an Italian restaurant in a nearby town called Tontitown.  Tontitown is a small town known for it’s Italian community and grape vineyards.  The Restaurant was called Mary Miestros and I ordered seafood pasta that had crab, shrimp and scallops over home made angel hair pasta.  I thought I was full till the waitress came back and started telling us about the homemade deserts.  I was cool till she hit the homemade Coconut Cream Pie; let me tell you it was outstanding.  This trip definitely hasn’t been good for my waistline. 
Now it’s Friday and training has gone well it’s so different to come in and teach a group of nurses a new charting system when they don’t have an old one.  These nurses came from different local hospitals so they had differing backgrounds and experiences most had used some sort of computerized charting before but all like the way our system worked.  They were all very positive about the changes they were going through, so often I have to deal with nurses who don’t want to change. 
I was able to finish up early today so I went to the airport to stand by for an earlier flight.  I was able to get on the 3:00 flight from Fayetteville and then connect at Dallas but in Dallas it was a center seat on an MD 80 that hadn’t been modified.  It was a packed flight but I would now be getting into Seattle at 8 pm instead of 1 am.  The lady in front of me at the service desk had twin infants and asked the service agent when would they start pre-boarding?  The agent replied, “We don’t pre-board any more.”   This flight was also delayed about 20 minutes, as they too had to wait for a cockpit crew from another flight.  Do you see the pattern here?  Had this been TWA there would have been a free drink (read alcohol).  I think I am going to have to start writing my congressmen and senators about that Passengers Bill of Rights that they had once looked at.  The flight attendants did seem to be in good spirits for a change.  The meal they served though was less than filling, the choice was Beef Burgundy or Pasta with Marinara sauce, since I knew the pasta would be a let down after the great homemade pasta I had this week I chose the beef.  I bet it wasn’t more than an ounce or ounce and a half of very salty tasting beef, kind of like a beef version of a turkey roll.  The two carrot slices and five green beans were good and so were the six little cubes of potato.  The quarter cup of salad was fresh and the roll was very good though also small.  The best part of the meal though was the cookie bar made by Love and quiches.  I saved it for the coffee I had after dinner.  I was sitting next to a fellow who had to be at least 6’ 3” and he could not sit with his knees straight out.  If I haven’t said it enough I hate MD 80’s.  I guess as long as no one complains they will keep sticking it to us.  So I will probably send excerpts of this letter to Mr. Carty, the President of American Airlines, and maybe this time I will get a response.  I have sent excerpts of my previous letters and he did not respond.  So I am trying to get the word out to as many people as I can, that American Airlines does not care about its customers.  I have not found anyone who will defend this airline, not even its employees. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wine Traveler’s Travels Vol 11 (From the archives #10 is missing)


Well this is the trip I have anticipated for a long time.  I have always wanted to visit New Orleans, this week I’m off to Tulane University Hospital. Thanks to a friend of mine in Tech Support who was there recently I have booked a room at a guesthouse in the heart of the French Quarter.  I was able to upgrade my airline seat to first class on Delta.  The flight was very pleasant as it was a Boeing 757; the breakfast was scrambled eggs with cheese and Canadian bacon in an English muffin.  I know what you must be thinking; “Can you say Egg McMuffin?” But it was much better than that, and came with home fries and a bowl of fresh fruit.  My connecting flight was in Dallas a very short wait and I was back in the front of another 757, this time we were served a nice salad with grilled chicken.  I landed in New Orleans and the Hertz Car was some four-door model that I quickly got changed to a Mustang, Emerald Green this time.  The Hertz computer gave me directions based on the address of the Guesthouse I was to stay at.  The name of this very charming establishment is Orleans Cottages; the directions got me right to the door.  I fell in love with the neighborhood right away.   Lots of old renovated homes with cast iron balconies and very clean streets.  I later found out they wash the streets weekly and garbage pick up is daily.  I was within walking distance of Bourbon Street. The guesthouse has three levels of accommodations I was in one of the midsize ones.  Each was nicely decorated with a different theme. My room had a very comfortable bed with an Iron headboard a sitting room with a TV and a day bed a bathroom with a shower and a kitchenette with a mini-refrigerator, a microwave, and a coffee maker.  If you ever have the pleasure of visiting the New Orleans area I recommend you stay here, the Number is (504) 522-2561.  The first night there, David Deitrich, one of the owners of the guesthouse invited me over for cocktails and showed me the wrought iron furniture he makes.  He also made some great recommendations for places to visit and eat.  I then walked down to check out the pubs, what an experience.
            Tuesday morning, after coffee, I went to the hospital just down the street and had a very enjoyable day working with some exceptionally nice nurses.  That evening when I returned to my cottage I was chatting with the owners, David and his partner Dan, about where to eat and they invited me to join them at an Italian restaurant called Venezio’s.  I had a dish called Eggplant Vatican.  It was a shelled out piece of Eggplant with a seafood mixture including crawfish, scallops, and shrimp served with a side of fettuccine.  And we had a bottle of a very fine wine I don’t recall the name of but thoroughly enjoyed.
            Wednesday was another great day at work with another fine evening.  This evening I was in the mood for seafood and David suggested a place called Jack Dempsy’s.  He offered to drive since I had been admiring his PT Cruiser, what a cool car. I’m trying to talk Gail into trading in her Volvo for one the payments would be lower and the gas mileage is better.  Jack Dempsey’s is one of those restaurants that the locals like to keep quiet about.  The food was awesome and the price was great. We shared the seafood platter for two.  The platter had fried fish (both catfish and whitefish), oysters, shrimp, stuffed crabs, and crawfish pies.  And that came after the bowl (not cup) of Gumbo and a side of the best macaroni and cheese I have ever had.  There was so much food left over that David took it back and shared it with Dan the next day and there was still enough left for me to have lunch when I finished work on Thursday, all this for $21. 

Thursday I was able to finish early and visit the French Market where I found some great feather Mardi Gras masks at an unbelievable 2/$5, so I got one for Gail and each of the boys, along with some beads.  This was such an enjoyable trip I want to go again real soon.  When I boarded the shuttle bus from the car rental to the terminal the Driver asked me if I enjoyed my stay in her city.  I responded “yes but I would be as big as this bus if I stayed much longer.”  She asked me where I had eaten and when I mentioned Jack Dempsey’s she said “I had the best date in my life at that restaurant, I didn’t much care for the guy but it was the best seafood ever.”  My flight home was un eventful but enjoyable as it was First Class on TWA so who could complain, for some reason though I slept on this trip home I usually don’t sleep on planes.

Wine Traveler’s Travels 9 (From the archives #8 was lost)


I’m off to Albert Lea, Minnesota this week, a small friendly town I have visited before.  I will be flying into Minneapolis and even though this is a major hub for Northwest Airlines (an airline I will avoid at all cost) I had the travel agent check TWA and it was much cheaper.  NW would have been nonstop but on TWA I could get first class and save money for the customer.  So I’m off at 6:10 AM again and on a 757 so you know I am happy.  The breakfast was a wonderful mushroom omelet with home fries, while I’m not fond of their coffee (I’ve been spoiled by the wonderful coffees available in Seattle) I really enjoyed the meal.  My favorite coffee is Seattle’s Best; my second favorite is Tully’s.   I find Starbucks to be too bitter and acidic, the others I have mentioned are smoother while still being rich and full bodied.  Alaska Airlines serves Seattle’s Best.  I caught my connection, which was one of Boeing’s new 717’s.  To my disappointment this is just a renamed DC9, like a small version of the dreaded MD-80; the same cramped seating and awful wind noise once it reaches cruising speed.  I did get to Minneapolis on time and Hertz had a Monte Carlo waiting for me with a remote, rarely do they give you the remote.  I asked for an ice scraper and they told me that there was no snow predicted this week.  I explained that I had been to Albert Lea before and was sure I would use it.  My last trip to Albert Lea (Jan 1999) I had to drive past 12-foot snowdrifts so I wanted to be prepared. By the time I got to Albert Lea the snow was falling but was not sticking.  On the way there all I could think about was the Café in the mall there that had one of the best steaks I had ever eaten.  My hotel, a Holiday Inn Express, was just off the interstate and just a block from the Mall where Café Don’l was located.  After checking in I went to the Mall for dinner, I ordered the “Millionaire’s Steak.”  This is an 8-ounce cut of Sirloin with a spicy sauce and crumbled Blue Cheese on top.  I know what you may be thinking Sirloin is not exactly the best cut of beef, but the sauce and the cheese just make this the best tasting steak ever.  The meal started with a salad and a homemade Blue cheese dressing and home baked herb bread.  The herb bread was rosemary spiced whole wheat bread, served with real butter.  The steak came with a baked potato.  This wonderful meal was on special tonight for the whopping price of $9.99.  I had a glass of Black Opal Merlot from Australia, which was also on special for $2.99/glass.  The restaurant was well decorated and the service was excellent.  The only fault I found was the paper placemat and napkin.  But then cloth napkins and such would have made the price twice what it was. 
            Tuesday morning I got up and had ice on the windows of the car, so I used my ice scrapper the first day.  Work was enjoyable, as the staff is very nice and friendly.  Tuesday Night I returned to Café Don’L, This time I thought I would try the Italian style steak, which was described as an 8-ounce cut of sirloin with mushrooms and topping buttered pasta.  I chose the soup this time that was the best part of this meal, cream of chicken with wild rice.  The Steak, while well prepared it lacked the spice of the “Millionaire’s Steak” I think a bit of garlic would have really made this steak great.  The price of this meal was a whopping $8.99.  Well worth it and again the service was top notch.  The Snow was falling pretty heavy tonight but melting as soon as it touched ground.
            Wednesday morning, the car did not start and I had to get a jump.  The nurses were very understanding when I showed up late.  That night I returned to Café Don’L for another “Millionaire’s Steak” this one was even better than Monday’s.  The soup today was called Hillbilly Stew, a ground sirloin based vegetable soup, I went with the salad.  I would really like to know the secret to this sauce. 
            Thursday morning the car was covered in snow and I got out there half an hour earlier than before incase the car wouldn’t start, of course it started fine today.  I took the remote off the key ring and locked the car while it was running to melt the snow and went back inside for the continental breakfast offered at the Holiday Inn.  Work again was enjoyable, it snowed off and on all day and I left at 3:15 pm to get back to Minneapolis, some 80+ miles away to catch my 6 PM flight.  I made it plenty of time; the flight from Minneapolis to St. Louis was on an MD-80 in coach, torture of all tortures, fortunately only an hour and a half.  Then it was first class in a 757 to Seattle.  The snack was a half sandwich, smoked turkey on toasted whole wheat with tomato and cucumber, a German potato salad and Pepperidge Farms cookies.  The chardonnay on this flight was a Riverfort de France, a very mild yet fragrant white wine.  The service was, as always, top notch.

Break from School work

It has been fun posting these old stories of my pre- 9/11 travels, when airlines actually delivered service and cared what the customer's thought. Looking back it is sad that the consolidation of Airlines has lead to the total lack of customer service we experience today. There were reasons they made anti-Trust laws to prevent just such a degradation of service due to lack of competition. It is also interesting that the highlight of most of my airflight was the meal which is a rare perk even in first class anymore.  I hope you are enjoying these blasts from the past as much as I am.

School is going great, the University of Phoenix is an awesome online experience but it does keep me busy. I am on my third class now and have a 4.0 GPA, I hope I can keep it up. It is interesting being in school with people younger than my children and reading their posts and lack of experience. But it is also good to note that I always find something new to learn from them.

Wine Traveler’s Travels Vol. 7 (From the Archives)

Sunday, October 22, 2000

            After two weeks in the office I was ready for a trip, when they told me I had to travel on Sunday I was no longer so excited.  One good thing that occurred during these last two weeks was my luggage showed up.  It seems it was delivered to the office shortly after my trip.  It was being held in security and no one bothered to tell me it was here.  American Airlines still thinks it’s lost.  The tag on it infers that United Airlines carried it from Chicago and delivered it to the address on my tag.  In my letter to the CEO of American Airlines I informed him that it had been found and that if I were a less than honest person I could have filed a claim and collected on the lost bag.  I also sent him excerpts from my stories outlining the current level of customer service at AA. 
            Well back to today’s trip, I am on TWA, on my way to Camden, NJ.  I fly into Philadelphia via St. Louis.  There was a direct flight on US airways but it would have been $500 more and coach.  Of course I am in First class again, though it is a MD-80.  This flight left at 12:05 PM.  It just wasn’t worth it on a Sunday to get up early enough for the 757 flight.  The service was wonderful, as always; lunch was a nice ham and Swiss cheese sandwich in a hard roll, Bowtie pasta salad and a dark chocolate covered scoop of Ice Cream.  The ham was generous and lean, real sliced ham not the boiled pressed type you might expect.  I had Vodka and Cranberry with a twist of lime instead of my usual Bailey’s and Kahlua.  We passed a few areas of bumpy air but over all, the trip from Seattle to St. Louis was uneventful despite the obnoxious noise you always get in an MD-80.
            The trip from St. Louis to Philly was also on an MD-80.  The dinner consisted of a grilled chicken breast filet on a bed of rigatoni pasta with vegetables, a warm roll, a salad of wild greens and tomatoes with some small pea sized things that tasted like olives, and a very scrumptious slice of cheese cake with caramel topping.   
            Hertz surprised me with a Lincoln Town Car; I did not send this one back for my usual two door sports.  The Directions though were a nightmare there had apparently been some construction since they were last updated because they got me terribly lost just getting out of the airport. Finally I found my way back to the highway I needed. Then near the end of my route they listed some street names, which were actually all local names for the same Highway, which of course none of the signs indicated.  So I spent an hour in a very scary part of New Jersey, afraid to stop for directions till I finally found the Hotel.  Now it’s after Midnight local time and I go to check in at the Hilton.  The only room available, even though I have a reservation is what they call a Parlor Room.  This Is like a meeting room that has a huge dinning room table (probably seats 14 people) and a sofa bed, no coffee maker or dresser.  They promise a better room tomorrow if this is not satisfactory
            This trip is to support a brand new product from Spacelabs Medical, called the “Ultraview Clinical Messenger.”  It is basically a paging system that notifies a caregiver when a monitor has alarmed and sends the patient’s name, room number, classification of the alarm as well as a 12-second cardiac reading for the patient in question.  Giving the caregiver approximately 6 seconds before and 6 seconds after the start of the event.  This is a supplemental system to their central monitoring stations.  It allows the caregiver to evaluate the condition of one patient while caring for another.  I spent this last week learning the system and how to support the caregivers that are using it.  It will be a nice change from the Labor and delivery product I have been doing.
The next morning I get up and arrive at the hospital at 8AM local time (5AM to my body) and about 10AM I am told that I will be doing the Night Shift.  The first thought to go through my head is “Why didn’t they tell me this before I got here?”  Later I’m thinking why did I have to leave on Sunday?  So at noon they let me go back to my hotel room to get a nap before starting my 12-hour night shift.  The desk clerk is very accommodating in finding me a room with a real bed, and putting me down for first cleaning the next morning so I can get to sleep early.  I woke up at 4PM and thought “Maybe I’ll just go down to the pool and sit in the hot tub.”  Well they only have an outdoor pool that closed on Labor day and no hot tub or sauna, just a small room with a couple of exercise machines.  And to think they think $99/night is a cheap rate, the usual rate is $149. 
So after a 12-hour night shift I return to my room and wait for the housekeeper who is supposed to be here right after 8AM.  She finally shows up about 8:30, works quickly then off to bed for me.  Then it is up at 5:30PM and dressed and showered for my next 12-hour shift. 
The next morning after a call to the desk the housekeeper finally shows up at 8:45.  Then I sleep from 9:30AM to 5:30PM. 
Thursday morning I wait till 9AM and finally call down and tell them I can wait no longer I call the desk and tell them to have my room cleaned after 6PM when I leave for work. 
Friday morning I ask for a late checkout as I may get to go home today, and I get to my room only to find it has not been serviced.  I call down and complain, as I am on the phone the housekeeper knocks on the door; when she sees I am still here, she leaves.  I head down the hall after her and ask her to clean my room.  She says they were supposed to do it last night and I am scheduled to check out today.  I explain that it did not get done and I need clean towels and such for when I wake up at 1pm for a late check out.  She did clean the room and restock the Coffee, which is what I needed most.  I ate at the Hospital each night and won’t scare you with the details.
I wrote a long letter to the management regarding the lack of service and amenities at this hotel. 
I called my travel agent and got an earlier flight but I lost my first class seating, I called the Aviators desk and requested an upgrade, which she told me, was not a problem.  When I got to the Philadelphia airport I was informed that she had gotten me first class seats all right but they were on November 27th instead of October 27th.  The flight was full and I would be on standby.  I got on the plane in coach, well as my luck goes we pulled out from the gate and then didn’t go anywhere.  It seems one of the engines wouldn’t start on this MD-80.  So we pulled back up to the gate while they replaced the starter on the engine they let us off the plane and I tried to rent a movie for the flight.  There is a service that will rent a portable DVD player and a movie for $10 if you are traveling between Seattle and certain other cities, Philadelphia happens to be one of them.  Well I must have my planets in the wrong house this month as I approach the booth she is closing it up because she has to leave to get more batteries.  Before she returns they call for us to board.  So it’s another trip on an MD-80 with no movie.  Things did get better the cabin crew were a couple of gals that put on such a comedy act they had us all laughing.  And they passed out free booze because of the delay.  No food on this 2 hour flight, but the flight attendants made the time fly by.  When I got to St. Louis I was pleased to find that I was in time for my connection and had a first class seat on a 757.  Now this is the way to fly the movie is Shanghai Noon.  This was a very needed comic relief to this week.  I highly recommend this as a rental.  The meal was a choice of Chicken and Penne pasta or Taco Salad.  I chose the Taco Salad; it was a nice portion of romaine lettuce, sliced fajita style beef, guacamole, sour cream, salsa and beans, with a bag of Doritos to crush over the top.  And the desert was a dark chocolate covered scoop of chocolate ice cream.  I arrived home on time and highly recommend TWA to anyone.