The observations and opinions of a person who has no discernible insights or ideas.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"I could never sleep my way to the top" 

I stay in quite a few hotels as I travel for business. I've stayed in a few more with personal travels. Most of the time, I stay in hotels that cater to business travelers. They tend to be nice. They're better than motels, but not as nice as 4 or 5 star hotels. Inspired by my friend Jake's recent post about his stay at a 4 star hotel, I've noted some of the differences. Bear in mind that there is a significant range of variation among business hotels, although they do tend to cluster around a certain level of services.

For me, rates are the same at any hotel I stay at. The rates are set by the GSA. I sometimes get a glimpse of the standard rates for these places, but I don't know how many people pay them. I've stayed in rooms that go for 3 times what I paid for them, but I think that 1.5 to 2 times is a more common ratio. The four star hotel I stayed at was a $300+ a night place, and I paid $109 a night.

Bedding used to be worse at the business places, but they've been getting better. I used to get four pillows to a room (two per bed in two bed rooms or three on a king bed with another in the closet), but lately I've been getting 4-8 per bed, and softer ones at that. The four star hotel's bed was softer than most beds I've slept on. Usually the biggest issue with me is the size of the bed. I don't fit on a double bed, so if I get a room with one or two double beds, I'll be fitting awkwardly across the diagonal of the bed. My four star hotel room had a king bed, which I can often get in business hotels.

Since HD TVs have become widely available in the last few years, I've had them in every four star hotel I've stayed at. By contrast, only one business class hotel has had one. Curiously, it was the only place that had HD channels available. The TV at the last four star hotel kept skipping channels. I've been in one hotel that had a VCR and DVD player in the room. Most hotels have the wiring for the TVs worked in such a way that you can't possibly plug in your own input source.

The four star hotel did have extra services such as a full service restaurant, room service, concierge, bell hops, and valet parking. It charged for parking, internet, and using its business center (at about $1/minute!). Business hotels almost all offer free internet and fitness centers. Most have free breakfasts, although most of those aren't very good.

When staying at different hotels, your mileage will vary. I've found that only a few things really matter to me, although that changes over time. I want a king-sized bed and high speed internet access (with public computers to use, since I don't have a laptop right now). I prefer higher shower heads, bowed curtain rods (they're great!), and longer bathroom countertops. I like having a full or partial kitchen, like can be found at Residence Inns, but I am content most of the time with an in-room fridge and/or microwave, which I almost never have.

And I would always rather be home instead.

"He said the net reward would justify the colossal mess they made of their lives." 

I've finished my fourth week of travel out of the last 6. Only one more week before the start of my Travel Moratorium!

This trip started out with me and three coworkers chatting in the gate area waiting for our flight. We were having such a good time that we didn't notice that the plane should have taken off half an hour earlier. Apparently something was wrong with the plane. We heard boarding calls for many other flights (mostly to Denver, it turned out), and occasional announcements stating that they had no idea what was going on with our plane. Eventually, they told the international travelers to get in line to change their tickets (by this time, most of them had probably already missed their once-daily overseas connections). Three hours after we were supposed to start boarding, I got a call from home. Apparently, the airline had canceled the flight and changed my reservation for me and called me at home to tell me. This was thoughtful of them, although it would have been more thoughtful had they told us at the gate area that our flight had been canceled. They eventually did tell us, but by that time, we were on the phone with the travel agency. After several calls and repeated attempts to have airline employees talk to the baggage handler (who's walkie talkie wasn't working well), we got our bags and checked in with another airline.

The second airline bragged that their flight was on time. That's nice (and to their credit, the flight did arrive at the destination at its scheduled time), but five hours earlier, our original flight had been on time too.

This trip marked my second in two weeks where one of my coworkers made hotel reservations for everyone and then they fell through. I had made my own reservation and it was still good, but since they had caught the problem before we left, he had booked a block of rooms at another hotel. Again, I booked my own room and I think I had a better experience for it. It's hard to fault the guy for trying, but I'm determined to not ever use one of his reservations again. Let's see how long this lasts.

With all this excitement, this trip doesn't even get close to my worst trip in the last year. That would be my first trip to this place last May when we got robbed on the first day and beat up on the other days. This time, everything after we arrived went swimmingly.

At least until we checked into the airport and our flight was already delayed, two hours before it was supposed to start boarding. My coworkers wanted to bail on it right then, but we checked in anyway and the flight got moved up (and to another gate). Then they all sat on a bench a little ways away from the gate area and nearly missed it anyway. Fortunately, the flight was delayed again. Circle of life.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Let's face the facts about me and you" 

Last week, I went back to Pennsylvania for some meetings. It was my first visit to the Keystone State in many months, and it was probably my most exciting visit.

My adventures started later than usual due to airlines cutting back on available flights. To my surprise, I was the only member of our group that took my flights, and by the time I arrived at the hotel, they had given up on me showing up at all. Apparently, so had the hotel. They didn't have a room for me. They were nice enough to find one for me at a nearby hotel (right next to the airport, which is kind of ironic), but one of my coworkers apparently didn't hear and insisted that we double up so that I could stay there. Since I snore, he stayed in another guy's room and let me have his room. It was a little bit weird, but as long as I don't have a roommate, I don't really care.

I typically sit through the meetings that I travel for by entertaining myself with puzzles, math problems, or other similarly enjoyable diversions. This time, I entertained myself by skipping out on the meetings and doing some circuit analysis in the electronics shops. Yeah, it was much, much better than not listening to people try to blame each other for their problems.

Most of my coworkers went to baseball games at the diamond right next to our hotel during the evenings, but I didn't. As a result, I apparently missed the most entertaining parts of the trip. Instead, I came down with a cold. As a result, when I went with some of the guys to a nearby restaurant (pub and grill) during happy hour, I bailed after only one hour and 4 root beers, leaving all of the other drinkers there with the second car and no designated drivers. I didn't have any beers at the bar, but later that night, I did a shot of Nyquil, which I think they would appreciate.

By the way, flying while sick is an unpleasant experience. At least I was too messed up to dose the cold medicine correctly because 2 tablespoons of the stuff would have probably made me miss my connection (if they could get me off the plane from Scranton), but 2 teaspoons just helped me have plentiful (rather than copious) nasal congestion. Good times.

Next week: The City of Brotherly Love

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"Every thang's going to be all white'' 

I've encountered a problem at a few of the hotels I've stayed at. Sometimes, the lobby computers have filters on them that apparently use keyword filtering, and they sometimes block this site. Recently, I've been getting messages stating why I'm blocked. Apparently, I match some keywords for "white supremacy." A little more work turns up the message for the archives in May of last year.

Can anybody figure out why I'm a racist?

"I'm gonna hock every buck in the bank and vacate this skinny town like a Finney Brown" 

Okay, we're about three weeks overdue (so far overdue that I'm already on my next trip) but I owe my readers a report on my trip to Hooserdom.

My trip started on a quiet St. Patrick's Day (drinking and gay pride parades should never interfere with Holy Week). We celebrated by eating at a place called "O'Charley's". One of my coworkers had a large green beer. It was vaguely unappetizing to look at, but otherwise kinda cool.

On the first morning there, I slept in and so I grabbed what I could of the breakfast in the hotel and jumped in the car. We hadn't gone 5 miles before I spilled a nearly full cup of orange juice in my lap. Did you know that bucket seats can form a good dam for fluids? Did you also know that being citrussy fresh all day isn't as good as it sounds?

One of my accomplishments on this trip was discovering why Yuengling isn't available outside of a small area (that includes the place I'm visiting this week!). Apparently they don't like to ship it outside of the local area, and they might be trying to avoid growing too big to make really good beer. Go figure.

I also went to the movies for the first time in the course of all my business travels. There was a theater down the street from where we were, and so I went to see Vantage Point. It was great at times, boring at other times, and repetitive a lot of the time.

It was nice getting back home, even though it took me several days to recover from the jet lag due to a 3:30 wake-up time two hours ahead of my home time zone. Note to self: check flight information before you let your coworkers talk you into waking up obscenely early.

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