Wednesday, January 4, 2012

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

Originally posted 17 December 2001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted 12/11/01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Traveler’s Travels 17 (From the Archives)

Originally posted 12Mar01

After a few changes I am on my way to Arkansas again, the hospital is to open today.  I am on TWA again enjoying the pleasures of some of the best first class service in the industry.  I chose the 6:10 am flight because it is a Boeing 757 it means I will have about a 1.5-hour layover in St. Louis, but I still have my complimentary 6-month membership to the Ambassador’s Club.  The breakfast this morning is a choice of Cinnamon Apple pancakes or cereal and fruit, as I am in a diet competition with my wife I chose the cereal and fruit.  The unnamed bran cereal was nice and crunchy; the fresh fruit was a slice of cantaloupe, two slices of tasty pineapple, a sectioned Kiwi, and half of a large sweet strawberry.  The breakfast was completed with a cup of peach yogurt and a banana nut muffin.  I did not watch the movie, as it was a period piece about basketball in rural America during the First World War; titled “The Basket.”  The Flight landed on time in St. Louis and I went to the Ambassadors club to work till my connecting flight.  I checked in at the flight counter so they would notify me when my flight was ready to leave.  I plugged in my laptop and got a cup of hot tea.  Well after checking and responding to many emails I looked at my watch and it was time for my flight to leave.  By the time I got to the gate I had missed my flight the gate agent was most accommodating and quickly booked me on the next flight.   This time Hertz again did not have my Gold reservation ready even though I had called from St. Louis to tell them of my flight changes.  I guess this calls for a letter to Hertz Corporate office. 

I arrived at the hospital about 5:30 pm and stayed working with Lee Long and Bob Gifford till almost midnight.  There was a problem with one of our networks and we could not locate it.  Since I had not had dinner and Lee was staying over he road back to the hotel with me, we got him a room then found a Subway store that was still open.  I had one of the 6gms of fat or less subs and a coke.  I know it’s about like having a donut and a diet coke, but nutrisweet gives me a headache. 

Tuesday morning I arrived at the hospital in the morning and by noon Lee had found the short in the network and repaired it.  The nurses were doing great with the software it was all the other aspects of opening a new hospital that had them overwhelmed.  They had opened for business at 8 pm last Friday and had 10 births by Tuesday morning.  For lunch Lee, Bob and Vicki (the nurse who teaches the staff about our monitoring equipment) and I went to lunch at a nearby restaurant called James at the Mill.  This is attached to a Bed and Breakfast that is a converted Grist Mill.  It is one of those upscale places that have cloth napkins in the restroom.  This was definitely not going to fit into my diet plans.  I had the special which was a large open flame grilled Burger on a homemade Kaiser roll with pepper jack cheese and served with thinner than shoe string fries.  It was very tasty and well presented.  We returned to work at the hospital and I worked with the nurses. Vicki and I made friends with another nurse who was there training software used in another part of the hospital the three of us went back to the Thai restaurant I visited on my last trip.  I was still full from dinner so I just had a bowl of soup called Tom Kah it was a coconut soup with shrimp, mushrooms, and lemon grass.  It was such a large bowl I had them bring me two more cups so I could share it with Vicki and Nancy.  They each had a noodle dish that looked scrumptious. Then we all had a cup of the homemade coconut ice cream I had been craving since my last visit.  Vicki and Nancy both said it was the best part of the meal. 

Wednesday was a much smoother day for the nurses as they were starting to develop some familiar routines.  I was able to point out a few areas they needed to pay closer attention to in regards to charting with our software.  Bill Greene the sales rep arrived today about 1 PM and since I had not stopped for Lunch he and I went for a cup of coffee at the Coffee Shop/Deli/restaurant that caters the patient food for this upscale hospital.  While there Bill ordered a half sheet cake for the hospital staff congratulating them on the “birth” of their new hospital.  I returned to the hospital and worked more with the staff.  That night for dinner Bill and I went to Mary Miestri’s the Italian restaurant that he introduced me to on my first visit here. After the salad with the house dressing I had the Trio special it had crab, scallops and shrimp with homemade angel hair pasta, fresh tomatoes and mushrooms with a very light white wine sauce, and we shared a bottle of Chianti.  Neither of us could finish our generous portions. 

Thursday was another busy day for the staff as they were having babies right and left.  The cake arrived and it was really something to behold it was one of those soaked cakes though it did not seem to be soaked with a strong alcohol with a very light icing and a raspberry jam filling. The staff was elated and really seemed to enjoy it.  A floral arrangement accompanied it and was placed at the front desk of L&D after the cake was served.  Bill and I went to James at the Mill for Lunch since it was just down the street this time I had the Andoulli Corndog this was a sumptuous sausage on a stick with a coating of cornbread stuck in a serving of roasted mashed potatoes garnished with a unique sauce and a corn relish.  The sauce was like a steak sauce mixed with hot Chinese mustard.  The waitress tempted Bill and I with desert; we had the chocolate pyramid; this was a three-inch pyramid of dark chocolate filled with a hazelnut mouse and there was this swirly thing made of caramelized sugar that decorated the plate.  It was almost too pretty to eat, almost!  The hospital management requested that I come in and work with the night shift, so I left a little early to go back to the hotel and take a nap.  Skipping dinner, I came back in a little before Midnight and stayed till almost two, the staff really impressed me with their understanding of the software.  Bill was supposed to have brought in some cookies for the nightshift when they asked about their cake like dayshift had I told them that they were supposed to get cookies but we couldn’t find any. 

Friday I came in around eleven as I had spent some time checking email and phone mail before checking out of the hotel.  I finalized the validation of the system with the network administrator and then went to lunch with Bill; he took me to a restaurant that from the outside didn’t look like they were in business.  The paint had almost completely peeled off the boards on the outside and there was no sign to tell you it was a business.  The inside though was very rustic varnished wood.  We had the barbecued ribs, which came with a homemade coleslaw and Texas toast.  I’m always up for good barbecue and this was good.  The name of this place is Herman’s and Herman still owns the land and the building but has sold the business as we learned from the waitress.  Bill used to live in this area and this was one of the local favorites.  Bill now lives in Little Rock, AR.  I returned to the Hospital and finished up my duties then said good-bye to all my new friends.  As I was driving to the airport I realized I did not call TWA to get my upgrade, the agent at the counter informed me that there were no first class seats available.  I called to get on the waiting list, this was futile as there had been some delays earlier and this flight was now overbooked.  My only consolation is that it is a 757.  My flights were all on time and I am going to miss the excellent service of TWA.  I can only hope that the merger will enhance American Airlines.