Sunday, September 18, 2011

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. 

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