Friday, July 31, 2009

Bozo's in Space

True Stories From 33,000 Feet

Last night I flew from Charlotte to Phoenix on Flight 311. It was a full flight. It was a little late. No big.

When the flight attendant made his PA apologizing for the late departure, some guy in row 4 announces loudly that "he won't be flying this crappy airline again". OK fine.

Later, when the pilot came on for his PA, the guys bellows some more.

When one of the incredibly busy flight attendants serves him, he is rewarded by being called a "cocktail waitress".

When we land during the welcome PA, the Prince of Row 4 reminds everyone again very loudly of his displeasure. I left thinking I was free of the guy.

When I get to the baggage claim he is already there smoking a cigarette in a crowd of passengers. Everyone is giving him hate rays.

He is oblivious, after all, the world is his stage. He regales his co-worker (poor fellow) how he "told off that big (ethnic slur)" steward. He swishes his hips to add emphasis, suggesting that the attendant was effeminate.

My stomach churned. I gave him my best patented stink eye.

He is clearly inebriated. My mom, rest her soul, would have referred to him as "a real piece of work".

His wife is there to pick him up and is looking sheepish, clearly embarassed. She should be.

She should leave him.

If you go to the dictionary, go to "J", and look up the word "Jerk", there is a picture of him. He isn't cute. He is a bigmouthed, selfish, spoiled buffoon.

So I offer this to the hardworking flight crews out there (especially the crew of Flight 311 last night). On behalf of the remaining 149 passengers, whom you so graciously served, thank you!

Roadboy's Travel's © 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A New Vibe in Hotels

Aloft: "W"'s Baby Hotel

From the time you arrive at a new Aloft Hotel, you will know it is something a little bit different. Not so different to be jarring, but different nonetheless. I recently stayed in a new aloft in Franklin Tennessee. It was fun to experience the newest roll-out from Starwood Hotels (intended to capitalize on the success of its trendy "W" chain).

In effect aloft is what would happen if there was a love child born between a Hampton Inn or Courtyard and a "W" hotel.

When you arrive at an Aloft Hotel you can check in at the "Aloha Desk" instead of a "Registration Desk". Or you can avoid the desk entirely and opt to check in at a kiosk that processes your credit card and issues you a key.

Instead of calming music in the lobby, you will likely hear a pulsing techno beat.

Instead of potted palms and hardwood floors, there will be sealed concrete floors and a pool table.

Great swimming area, nice fitness area, full bar, and nice breakfast concept area. You can get lattes and breakfast sandwiches for a small price. Much better than the "free breakfast" drek one might be offered at a Hampton Inn.

The elevator floor had squishy tiles that change color when you step on them. The elevator cab walls were left unfinished and covered permanently with industrial elevator "mover" pads.

When I got to my floor the lights in the hall were covered in a rainbow print fabric stretched over a metal framework.

Upon entering the room it becomes clear that it is different than what many of us road warriors normally come to expect.

There is a small sink area with a pretty countertop vessel sink. There is an a room divider unit with cubby holes for the coffee maker, a small safe, magazine rack (with good magazines!), and a perfectly worthless closet (that is covered by a curtain?!).

The Room Divider

The Worthless "Closet"

The Sink Area
A Heavy Mirrored Sliding Door
Divides the Sink Area
From the Toilet/Shower Area

The sink area is nice (although I hate the easily waterspotted slick surfaces since everything looks dirty after the first use). The shower is wonderful. A complete home run. It has dispensers with wonderful Bliss Bath products (bliss soap and facial cleanser is located at the sink).

Big Shower With A Big Showerhead
The Only Freestanding Hotel Shower I've Used That Didn't Leak!

No Heavenly Bed Here
The Platform Bed is the Focus of the Room.

The compartments on the side of the bed unit hold a tiny ironing board and iron. The obscure glass panel to the right of the bed lets natural light into the shower

The rooms are smaller than market and really feature two key elements: the bed and the big TV. The focus of the room is clearly not for business travellers.

Since it is a platform bed it has no box springs. While pretty it is nowhere near as comfy as the terrific new beds rolled out in mid-priced Marriott and Hilton properties. There is a small place to put stuff on each side of the bed, with no drawers (no place for the Gideon Bible?) In fact there are no drawers anywhere in the room. So if you like to actually unpack your suitcase for a longer stay you can forget it.

I loved the simple to operate and easily read clock!

Very Practical Clock - Loved It!

There is a long upholstered bench under the TV. While cool looking, it is of little use for seating.

There was only one little (IKEA Quality) desk chair in my room.

In a room that is otherwise so tight, there is a whole bunch of unused room to the far side of the bed (which, if I was ruling the world, would have a nice cushy chair and ottoman).

A Puny Built-in Desk
(With the Multi-Media Connector Box)

The second focus of the room is the 42" flat panel TV that you can connect to your laptop using the box on the desk.

The HD Flat Panel TV

The room has a few techno saavy features specifically a connector box that allows you to stream videos, play games, or view DVDs direct from your laptop.

The wireless internet was the usual crappy hotel "free wireless" that drifts in and out. As I've said before, if a hotel can't provide good free "highspeed" internet, I'd prefer an option where I can buy it.

I'm also surprised that a hip concept hotel like this still doesn't get it environmentally. When I leave the room I want a single kill switch that cuts off all lights and puts the AC unit into economizer mode. Nothing fancy, just similar to what you find in every modern hotel room almost EVERYWHERE else in the world.

The Pros:
Cheap and cheerful version of the (overpriced) "W" hotels. Great shower and HD TV.

The Cons:
Small room, marginal bed, needs better chairs, should have room power kill switch, downright silly closet.

I am glad to see Aloft coming to the market. I'd certainly put it on my list of "fun places to stay".

The design features in Aloft are moving the bar (maybe not raising it), but certainly moving it.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Tuna Boat

My Bird Approaches 50

When I first saw it I knew it was something special. It was low to the ground. It was uber curvy. It was the color of desert sand. I had to look to find the door handles (they were sculpted right into the door). It was just plain bodacious.

To this 16 year old boy, in an era of boxy 70's era mustangs, it was love at first sight.

The Thunderbird was already 11 years old but had a little over 34,000 miles on it. It was in darned good shape except for missing a back seat. The little old lady that owned it told me she raised show dogs and had the back seat removed (and filled with plywood to better accommodate cages for transporting her show dogs). I had visions of the back seat resting in perfect shape covered up in her garage. Nope, she had thrown it out.

My 1961 Thunderbird
(Cars from the Era of Sputnik)

When I asked about the missing jack she wistfully said "Oh, I have triple AAA, I don't need a jack!"

There's some logic in there somewhere.

When I asked where I might find a back seat she rolled her eyes to let me know I was really starting to annoy her. She just took a deep breath and said "these are sports cars, they get wrecked every day, go to a junk yard!"

It needed tires. I knew full well that powered by Ford's 390 V8 with a 4 barrel carb it would pass anything on the road except a gas station. But, back then gas was 34¢ a gallon with a free box of dishwasher detergent and a complimentary car wash.

I took it.

Ahhhh! Fins and Chrome

First stop was a junk yard and I'll be damned if the first T-Bird I came to had a back seat in the right color and the jack. It was joss.

The Famous Back Seat

While most of my travels today are by plane, in those days Roadboy's ticket to freedom was this very t-bird. I drove it to high school every day. I drove it to Lake Tahoe about once a month. I drove it camping in the Redwoods. I drove it to Death Valley.

This is the car that moved me to Coeur d'Alene and then saw me through all of my college years. In fact it was at college in Moscow Idaho where my friend Darryl christened it the "Tuna Boat".

I spent the stupidest night of my life in it, driving drunk. That was the same night I rolled it right over a couple of those fold-up signs with flashers. Never saw em. But I dragged them for blocks and only decided something was wrong when my car sounded like a North Idaho logging truck. Yep those signs had ripped off both mufflers.

We made quite an impression rolling into Country Kitchen that morning.

I was lucky. No one got hurt and the noise my car now made affirmed one of the most important lessons of my life. Never mix alcohol with driving. Period.

The Very First Swing-A-Way Steering Wheel

When I graduated it drove me to Seattle (right through Royal City where the eruption of Mount Saint Helens delayed us for three days - there is still that grey ash under every panel).

The Invisible Door Handles

But when I moved to Alaska the Thunderbird went off to live with mom and dad. Dad took good care of the Tuna Boat for me. After my five years in Alaska the t-bird was waiting for me and my new family in Seattle.

Amazingly, after a few minor fixes it drove like a champ all the way back to California. Over the next decade I finally had to have it painted and drove it only once in awhile.

We then decided to move to Arizona. The t-bird carried me, my 4 year old son, and our huge golden retriever Charlie. My son sat in the passenger seat with Charlie carefully straddling the space between our seats looking out the big windshield and panting the whole way. Charlie was a big gentle soul with an epic case of doggie halitosis.

In Arizona the car had a proverbial melt down one day and we parked it for about three years. Then I met Jim Dottling and took the car to his Thunderbird Connection. He ran (and his son now runs) sort of a spa for old t-birds and falcons. In his care my t-bird was brought back to life. Over the years he replaced the transmission, all the rubber parts, added AC, new upholstery and dash.

In many ways it looks better now than it did when I was in high school. The engine has never needed to be rebuilt and (at the present rate of usage) probably never will.

Except for one night when I played jackass, it has safely carried my loved ones, friends, and canine buddies for 37 of its 48 years.

Now as it nears the 50 year mark, when I drive it I get honks, smiles, and a whole bunch of thumbs up. Mostly from old guys driving beaters.

My son ducks down and tries to hide.

Best $700 I ever spent.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Life is Uncertain, Eat Desert First"

Our Fall and Winter Travel Schedule is Shaping Up!

When Mary and I lived in Seattle some years ago, there was a bakery in Lower Queen Anne with the motto: "life is uncertain, eat desert first!"

Since we are given only so much time on this planet, I'd say that advice was first rate. My advice is never pass up an opportunity to eat with friends, walk the pups, and travel!

Over the past few days I've been busy cashing in lots of frequent flier miles to arrange a slew of travel for next few months. Stops include Denver, Seattle, Nashville, Richmond VA, and, of course, Chicago, and Los Angeles. We hope to be eating our thanksgiving dinner in San Francisco and have tickets for a mid-winter trip to Spain.

If all goes well we will spend a wee bit of spring in Ireland!

Shameless plug - My daughter's blog has been really amazing lately, check it out. click the link for Iniquitous Fish!

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

What I've Been Up To

Aurora Police Headquarters
(Updated May 2011)

I was born and raised in Oakland California.

Yep. Thats right, I'm 100% East Bay Grease.

Now coming from Oakland we were always reminded that we lived in a city that had far more than its share of problems. There was poverty, racial strife, and serious drug abuse. Oakland even landed as the butt of one of Homer's jokes on the Simpson's. Oakland always lived in the shadow of our spectacular neighbor - San Francisco.

Yet I knew a different Oakland. I knew a city with a lake in the middle of downtown. A city with architecture by Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan. A city with terrific sports teams and superb restaurants in Jack London's favorite waterfront haunt. I loved the eucalyptus scented hills, and its much, much, much, better weather than our famous neighbor across the bay. I had amazing neighbors in a diverse neighborhood. I grew up knowing that everybody counts and everybody brings something to the table.

Growing up in Oakland formed me. It made me always pull for the underdog.

For the past few years one my biggest design commissions has been a new police headquarters / courts building for the second largest city in Illinois. Aurora. Aurora lives in the shadow of Chicago. It also has its share of problems. But it is measurably overcoming them one by one. It is the fictitious home of Wayne and Garth of "Wayne's World".

That said, the Aurora I have come to know is filled with George Grant Elmslie's architectural treasures. Its heart is its spectacular riverside setting. Its neighborhoods are lined with real family homes with wide porches on tree lined streets.

Aurora expects a dollar fifteen of value for every dollar it spends. It has brought out the best in me and everyone that has touched this project.

Aurora asked for a building to showcase local products and the very best features of sustainable (Green) design. They wanted the new building to achieve the US Green Building's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold standard. Most cities settle for certified or maybe silver.

Aurora asked for a building that would respect its history.

Now, the Police Headquarters is completed and Aurora's citizens and police are coming to realize they now possess a police headquarters and courts facility that truly has no peer in Illinois.

Aurora's New Police Headquarters Lobby
(Click to Enlarge)

Aurora's New Police Headquarters At Night

Aurora's New Police Headquarters
(Click to Enlarge)

The Three Story Officer's Commons
(Click to Enlarge)

As for me, after almost five years of trips every two weeks to Illinois to work on this and other challenging new projects along the Fox, I can truly say, I've grown to love this place and it's hard working and talented residents.

Thanks Aurora! You are indeed second to none.

Since the new building opened it has garnered a stream of awards.
1. Top Honors (Build to Suit) Chicago Food Bank Design / Building Awards
2. APWA Top Honors Innovations in Civil engineering
3. Official Commissioning Confirms LEED Gold Status 

The building has been featured in numerous publications and May 16-19, 2011 has been selected to host the International Association of Chief's of Police Planning Design & Construction of Police Facilities Class.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Case For a Great American Burger

James Beard Was Right

I once read that when asked about the state of American cooking James Beard bemoaned the loss of the great American hamburger.

I know hamburgers have a special place in the American psyche because nearly everyone you meet can tell a story or two about a great hamburger they ate somewhere. Whether it was in their old home town or on a business trip. It might be a "cozy" burger in Salina or a "white spot" in Anchorage. One of my last chats with my dad before he passed away had him glowing about a hamburger stand in Long Beach he went to back in the 1940's.

Beard pointed out that most of us now eat mass produced conveyor belt or microwave burgers that trade speed for quality.

This July 4th we were invited to a friends home and enjoyed a salmon burger. But I'll wager many of our friends had garden burgers or buffalo burgers, or even good old fashion beef burgers. Burgers on the fourth are one of the things that makes us uniquely American.

Here is the classic beef hamburger I make.

The patty has to be formed by human hands. When I cook beef I start with well marbled beef. This is not the time to use ground meat that says anything like "ultra lean". When I cook beef, it must actually sizzle.

For my burger the bar-b-que is the perfect burger grilling device.

I put a little seasoning in the meat before I cook it. I like Schilling's steak seasoning myself. Although some say salt in the meat dries out a burger I disagree. My burgers are never dry. I sometimes add a few minced dried onions or a little dry onion soup mix into the patty as well. I know some folks who swear that adding a little A-1 or worcestershire sauce to the meat before cooking also enhances the flavor. Others put a small pat of butter in the middle of the meat before cooking to keep the patty moist. I do put a few drops of bar-b-que sauce on my burgers - but I do it just before I take them off the grill.

Now assemble terrific things to go with your burger. I always start by grilling some Walla Walla, Maui, Vidalia, or Mayan sweet onions. Grilled mushrooms are great too.

Use only ice cold crispy iceberg lettuce. Put it in a bowl at the table to add just before eating. Never put it on the burger to wilt. Do not use any lettuce that sounds french, is soft, or comes in a bag. Save that for a salad you serve to someone else.

Rounding out the burger you can add sliced jalapenos, dill pickles, dill or sweet relish, tomato's, you name it. Add stuff to your heart's content.

Don't forget to caramelize the bun on the grill or in a skillet to seal it's surface and to keep it from getting soggy.

Here's another critical tip. If you have any bottles of Miracle Whip anywhere in your frig or pantry, gather them up and throw them in the trash. That crap, along with Velveeta, has no place on an American plate. Real burgers should get real mayonnaise, and/or a little mustard, and/or some ketchup. thats it.

Avoid anything that looks or tastes like 1000 island dressing. We aren't into "secret sauce" here.

If you want a cheese burger, use real cheese (your choice). Always use cheese that you actually have to cut. Never use the pre-sliced stuff. Put the cheese on the burger just before you take it off the grille so that it melts without burning.

Eat your burgers hot. Never stack patties in a pile waiting for a bun.

OK. Thats my burger. Regrettably the founding father's never got to taste one. Sucks for them.

Happy Independence Day!

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stepping on Stones

Megan and Peter's Wedding

Last weekend Mary and I were honored to be invited to the weddings of my cousin's eldest daughter in Raleigh NC. Yes, I said "weddings" plural.

The first wedding was a simple, yet lovely, Christian service in a small, beautiful, and very historic downtown chapel. A lone guitarist strummed and the theme was bees. Very cool!

The Beehive Wedding Cake

Wedding number two was a dazzling Hindu service carried out in Sanskrit.

Since many of the attendees were unfamiliar with an eastern wedding, a narrator described the ceremony. Some of the steps included the parents of the bride and groom each asking the other to respect the union and the sharing of milk and honey. Through a veil the bride and groom's wrists were tied together with a silk thread to symbolize the union.

The bride and groom start the ceremony facing each other. At one point the bride stands on a stone to symbolize the pain and need for balance that may come with the union. The bride and groom finish sitting together facing the same direction. A flame is lit to symbolize the union and the bride and groom take their first married steps around it.

It was fascinating to participate in two very different and lovely ceremonies.

The reception parties were a joy too!

In very personal ways our world gets smaller every day.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009