Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Love A Parade!

A Slice of American Pie

OK lets start with a rhetorical question? What could possibly be more American than a parade?

We love parades. Whether large, medium, or small parades occupy a special place in the American psyche. I sort of think our reverence for parades is a souvenir of a time when conquering heroes, returning GI's, and astronauts, would be celebrated in parades with streams of ticker tape. Parades were our way of saying "WOW!!!!" 

Of course when we think "parade" we normally think of the two mega-parades: the splendid Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena and Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Nobody matches those two.

The Tournament of Roses Parade has been an American institution since 1890 and is clearly Southern California's way of razzing the wintry denizens of all cold places. The annual trip down Colorado Boulevard now averages over 1,000,000 spectators a year.

The Rose Parade always has always been special for me because my mom loved it so much. Also because a friend's family raised many of the begonia blossoms used in its floats each year. Sadly, this year their farms near Santa Cruz closed permanently due to a fire after more than 80 years in business.

A relative newcomer, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is just 84 years old. In 1927 it became famous for including giant helium filled balloons which where released in a grand finale. As they drifted off they would burst falling all over Manhattan and creating a bit of a PR mess for parade organizers. So in 1928 the balloons were improved, designed for reuse, yet equipped with return labels (informing the finder of a reward for their return.)

Today Macy's floats are built by Manfred Bass in an old Tootsie Roll factory in Hoboken where each float is designed so that it can collapse to pass through the Holland Tunnel for parade day.

Before I pass from this realm I intend to go see each of those parades in person!

On a more local level there are literally hundreds of parades that are more intimate. Veterans Day, Columbus Day, St. Patrick's day, and the Fourth of July just would not be complete without a parade! These are the parades most of us enjoy and maybe even participate in year after year.

"My Parade" is the annual Fiesta Bowl Parade in central Phoenix. Since moving to Phoenix 16 years ago I have enjoyed this parade almost every year. Of course I'm spoiled since I live close by and can walk to it. 

Now almost 40 years old, it is Arizona's largest single-day event attracting nearly 200,000 spectators. Rated as one of America's top 6 parades by USA Today, it is now presented by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. 

A neighborhood tradition for residents of North Central is to put the kids in PJ's, hoist them to your shoulder and walk to Central and Bethany Home Road around 10 PM the night before the parade. There you can watch the staging of the floats and see them adding all the finishing touches. 

The parade route has had to change to accommodate our marvelous new light rail. So it now starts on Central then makes a jog over to 7th Street.

The reason I like this parade so much is because it features so many great high school bands. You can just see how delighted the kids are to get a chance to travel to Arizona in January. It also has a sense of humor. 


Lots of Floats


The Geeks


The Balloons 
(Being Spinned)


The Clydesdales

Expect more than the magnificent Clydesdales. There will likely be the last remaining WWII Navajo Code Talkers, some geeks in Star Wars and Ghostbuster's outfits, Shriners in little cars, even some stilt walkers. Silly string is used in profusion. And, of course, there will be the Sun City Poms (use your imagination...) and the Wild Women of the West on horseback!

Each year we also get to see what new item of military hardware Sheriff Joe will sit on as he gets both cheered and jeered along the parade route.

So Dec. 31 at 11 AM you know where Roadboy will be. I'll be at Montebello and Central watching the parade with a whole bunch of my fellow Phoenicians and their seasonal guests!

Come see it! Oh, and don't forget a good hat and some sunscreen - cause New Year's Day in Arizona is almost always perfect!

Post Parade Update:
This years parade was better than ever. It was unseasonably cold though. Sheriff Joe rode atop his tank. Oklahoma University sent their splendid marching band. First time I can remember no Bud Clydesdale's! 

Here's a couple of shots from 2010.


Mariachi's and Colorful Ballet Folklorico


Typical Float



Roadboy's Travels © 2010


Thursday, December 16, 2010

A New Year Shapes up for Roadboy

The 38th Festival International de la Bande Dessinee!
(With Mid-winter visits to Paris, Amsterdam, and Brugge Thrown in For Good Measure!)


So what sort of fool goes to Paris in January? 

Good old Roadboy thats who.

Yes, in the true spirit of contrarian travel, Miss M and I are breaking out the cold weather clothes (which is painful for Phoenicians) and heading to Europe.

So what is in store for us? 

Well in January:
1. It is real cold in Paris, Amsterdam and Brugge.
2. But, lines are short in Paris and Amsterdam's world class museums. Heck, we might even be able to stand directly in front of the Mona Lisa without being shoved.
3. It is annual sale time at Paris' famous department stores (sales in France happen only twice a year and are government controlled.) Scarves anyone?
4. You can enjoy hot chocolate in the country made famous by chocolate - Belgium!
5. When the canals freeze in Amsterdam, people ice skate on them!
6. You don't have to worry about broken AC units in your hotel room.
7. Street cafes put out heaters!
8. It is time for the annual International Comics Festival in Angouleme.

OK, so you may be asking "what the heck is the Festival de la Bande Dessinee?" I asked that question when Miss M said she would like to attend it.

I now know that it is the oldest and largest festival of comic book art in Europe. It is to Europe what San Diego's ComicCon is to the US.

The difference? 

Well comic book art is considered serious art in France and the Festival is a very serious event. 

In San Diego people (usually seriously fat) dress up like characters out of star wars. Usually exposing too much skin in all the wrong places.

In France, they don't.

I'm good with that.

So, I believe the proper question to ask should be: "What sort of fool goes to Paris in hot and crowded August?" 


Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Time for Miracles

Chilly Nights, Bright Lights and Timeless Expressions of Love

Roadboy is about two thirds the way through an extended trip. The first part of my journey was Chicagoland. Brrrrrrr! 

Now I find myself in lovely Richmond Virginia. Yes, I've gotten to explore some new restaurants - more about that later.

Next week I finish up in Northern VA.

Traveling this time of year is both a burden and a joy. Yes, it gets crowded. Yes, we have to de-ice planes. Yes, we all have to wear a ton of clothes. But, in my heart of hearts, I know it is all worth it. 

You see, I happen to love Christmas. 


Oh, The lights!

I love the lights. I love the music (although I could live without ever hearing that barking dogs thing again.) I love the smells (especially the bubbling of Miss M's holiday caramels!) I love the dazzling profusion of reds and greens. 

But, most of all, I cherish how this season brings families (no matter how you define that word) together.

The hotels I have visited this trip have all been full of multi-generational guests, not just the usual road warriors.  This morning as I emerged from my room a lovely "grandma talks with her 2-year old grandaughter" moment was happening in the hallway. It was a scene of tenderness traveling in two directions. It brought it all home.

You see Christmas is not about gifts (really, I'm fine with another pig, duck, or musk ox in my name from Heifer International). It is the celebration of the miracle of God's amazing gift to humanity.

I can live with that. 

Slow down, remember to tell those around you that you love them, and enjoy the season of Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Roadboy!

Roadboy's Travel's © 2010


Saturday, December 4, 2010

What I've Been Up To

 Great Clients = Great Buildings!

As many of you know Roadboy's architectural practice is limited to very specialized projects; specifically architecture for public safety, labs, bio-labs, and architecture for the forensic sciences. This allows us to meet some very amazing, dedicated, wonderful and special people. 

And allows me to Travel!

This week we dedicated another new police facility for the Town of Parker Colorado. The project has been a long time in the works. My tenure with it has spanned three Town Administrators and two Chief's of police. Yet, everyone I've come in contact with has had a passion to build a fine and practical building the Town could be proud of.

I think they did it!

Some photos of the new facility.


Main Entry


Staff Main Street


911 Console


Forensic Examination Garage


Staff Photos

Thanks Parker! Enjoy your wonderful new police station!

All the best from Roadboy!


Roadboy's Travels © 2010


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Away We Go!

Scanners, Crowds, and Bedbugs - Oh My!

Is it just me, or is the traveling public on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown?

When I talk to friends about travel, many openly tell me "it just isn't worth it anymore".

When I press them, they recite the usual stuff: TSA screeners are rude, planes are even more uncomfortable, hidden costs abound, hotel bedbugs are ready for a meal, and terrorists lurk behind every corner.

Sadly, that may all be true.

And as I sit here in the Salt Lake City airport on one of the busiest travel days of the year, I sort of find myself questioning my travel addiction.

Then boom! My e-mail pings with my weekly edition of the Travelzoo Top 20. In there I find a 12 day Mediterranean Cruise on Celebrity at about $62 a day, round trips to Ireland at less than $400 RT, and cirque shows in Vegas at $47. 

I start immediately thinking, hmmm.........Mediterranean cruise eh?

Then I look around the airport waiting area and see a tired college kid in a knit cap obviously going home for Mom's Turkey Dinner, service people going somewhere (my prayers go with them), high schoolers playing grab ass, little kids with light up sneakers, and someone's grandparents looking strangely excited - yet perplexed.

And it all comes home why I travel.

I love being out of my comfort zone. If I get stuck in a record storm, well it will be another page for the scrap book. 

I love people watching. I know that for every rude person I meet, I will meet two wonderful people. I love the chance to strike up conversations with people I otherwise never would have met.

So, while there may be an increasing number of really good reasons for rational people to stay home, none can outweigh my wanderlust.

Just beyond that hill, just over that mountain, and just one street over is something I've never seen and people I've never met.

Pardon me while I go off and plan my next trip.

Happy Thanksgiving from Roadboy!

Roadboy's Travels © 2010


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Just When I Thought I Was Getting Old

The Magic of Disneyland


When I was a kid, nothing in this world topped a trip to Disneyland. It was simply the end all, be all. We waited impatiently each year when Disney's Sunday night television show would take an entire episode to describe all the new attractions that were under development and would soon be open. 

Direct from the New York World's fair we got a moving and speaking President Lincoln, dinosaurs and It's a Small World. Later we got the amazing Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. The place just outdid itself and raised the bar higher and higher. There were just never enough "E" tickets in my ticket book. Funny how everyone of a certain age nods in complete understanding when you say something is an "E" ticket. We know that it has to be awesome. 

Disneyland was always expensive and it was picky. If your hair was long, you didn't get in. If you were Kruschev, you didn't get in. If you took off your shoes or shirt, you were quickly hustled out. 

I only got to go there twice from the time I was little till I reached high school. Then in high school I got to go with the youth group from church and again for Disney's Grad Night.

Since then I've delighted in taking friends, loved ones, and finally my own kids to Disneyland over and over.

Perhaps I over did it. A few years ago I realized I was totally burned out on the place. It seemed like nothing much was changing, yet Eisner kept the prices climbing. 

And a little piece of me died.

This week I went back to Knotts Berry Farm, Disneyland, and California Adventure and something wonderful happened. I'm not sure how to put my finger on it, but the magic was back.

First off Knotts still has the most amazing breakfast and chicken dinner in So Cal. All served by spunky 60+ year old waitresses that probably knew the Knotts personally. If you say "may I have this or that?", they are likely to put a hand on their hip and ask rhetorically "I don't know can you?"

I love that. 

And the hot biscuits. Well I just have to stop there or I'll cry.

Then we went to California Adventure and there was real palpable change in the air. Most of the good stuff like Soarin over California was spiffy as ever, but at night the Hollywood District was transformed into a dazzling and laser pulsing land called ElecTRONica (to tie into the upcoming update of the Tron movie.) Kids were tossing glow in the dark frisbees and adults were walking around sipping drinks with glowing ice cubes.


ElecTRONica! 

The new "Cars" area is well underway and the Tower of Terror has been reworked with more ups (and downs) than ever.

But the over-the-top best thing was the "World of Color" water show. Damn! It was amazing. It was the Bellagio fountain on steroids with a little added fire, and color, and high def music thrown in. Don't miss it.

World of Color


The Fountain In Action

In Disneyland itself things were all gussied up for Halloween. Just amazing. 

I'm convinced the food has really improved. Even the shops had better products in them. Clearly, the recession has made the Disney folks go back and recommit themselves to delivering quality again.

Even the little stuff was fun. Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln is thankfully out of mothballs (we need his wisdom more than ever). And as a tribute to Michael Jackson, now 25 years later, Captain EO is back shaking the theater that was built for it.

The Phantasm Show was great, but the fireworks show is now simply one of the best in the world. Computer driven pyrotechnics sequenced perfectly with music and good old Tinkerbell flying as she's never flown before.

If you have avoided Disneyland for awhile. Go again. Plan at least two days (never in summer!!!) and make sure you can see the World of Color one night and the fireworks and Phantasm the other.

The kid in me came back a little. 

Felt good.

Roadboys Travel's © 2010


Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Praise of Little Mid-Century Ranch Houses

The Joys of Remodeling....

While most of my business week involves travel, I love to return home for the weekend. It is my time to recuperate and recharge.

My zen is skimming leaves from the pool in long swirling motions and washing my cars. I love driving clean, properly operating, old cars.

The home I recharge in, is one of those ubiquitous ranchers from the 1950's located in Phoenix's "North Central" neighborhood.

North Central was part of Phoenix' 1940-1960's wave of urban expansion. My neighborhood was built in a former citrus orchard. To this day many orange, tangerine and grapefruit trees remain. So our lots are flood irrigated. Yep, many of us still annually grow too many oranges and grapefruits to count on trees that are 100 years old. Every spring the air is filled with jasmine scented citrus blossoms. Flood irrigation for the uninitiated means my house is slightly raised and a little earth berm surrounds the property. When the water comes (usually in the middle of the night) our house becomes an island in its own little lake. We wake up to ducks swimming on the front lawn. 

There are no sidewalks in our neighborhood and many of us diehards have our original carports instead of garages. There is an alley behind my house where our dumpsters reside, where burglars prowl, and where our power lines run.

The House
(Piestawa Peak in the Background)

My house is about 1,800 square feet. Seems tiny and quaint in an era when new subdivisions all seem to feature houses twice that size.

The houses were all built with simple floor plans and are single story. I love them.  After living in a variety of multi-story houses on tiny sites, I will always defer to a single story home on a decent sized lot. I wonder how many people in Boston die each week taking laundry down a steep set of stairs to a washer in an ancient basement?

Our house has a big porch both front and back. And while a few two-story infill houses have popped up here and there, we welcome them as we would a turd in the pool.

When we relocated to Phoenix 16 years ago, many of the owners on my street were original. Today, after those owners pass to the next world, a big dumpster shows up. The houses are gutted and modernized to standards prescribed by IKEA and then a family moves in with two smallish kids, a dog, and one Infiniti and a Tahoe, Yukon or Armada (love that name!)

The lovely old carports are then morphed into garages to protect their precious urban assault vehicles and somewhere in Saudi Arabia a heart goes pitty pat.

Most newcomers leave the character of the houses intact. Some try to make them into bizarre metal trimmed fantasies. They always look stupid.

The families are frequently people who grew up in the area and want to raise their own kids in the same neighborhood.

Works for me.

Well anyway I decided to start remodeling my own little abode. Not adding any rooms, just changing out windows and doors to be more energy efficient and making what is there more open and functional. Moved the front door. It was a hoot to watch the dogs run and stare at the wall where the front door used to be when the doorbell rang. 

In the meantime we live in a minefield of temporary stuff, sheetrock dust, and delicate power.

When it is done it will still be a modest mid-century rancher.

It will still have a simple plan.

It will still all be on a single floor.

It will still have porches.

It will still be the home I look forward to returning to every weekend.



Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Upside Down Fall

Adoring the Fall - The Start of Arizona Time!

I took a quick trip to Denver last Friday. It was a lovely day. Temps in the high seventies and blue skies. But as I met with a client the reality of fall was registering in the trees. They never lie.

In Colorado The Aspen's Have Started to Glow

It made me think about how reversed everything is for us in Arizona.

People in Arizona take pride in being contrary. And I'm not even talking about our goofy politics.....

The rest of the nation changes their clocks twice a year for daylight savings time, not us here in AZ. Here we say "the heck with that! Why would we want to stay up an extra hour to experience searing heat?" 

For us it is just better to crank up the old AC and call it a day. 

When fall comes you (the rest of America) eagerly anticipate the "foliage". You know that you'll be raking soon. And right on the tail end of the falling leaves comes the snow.  You feel a little extra bite in the air each evening, AZ gets temperatures that are finally coming down to reality.

Here with perfect days come perfect nights complete with the fragrance of piƱon burning in fireplaces.

You put the bicycles away, we pull 'em out and oil up the chains.

Your dogs have been running around with you all summer and are fit as a fiddle, ours have gotten fat as they have been hiding out with the rest of us indoors (believe it or not we have to be careful when we walk dogs here as the asphalt gets so hot it actually burns their feet - PetSmart sells walking booties!).  So when fall arrives we all pile in the van to take the dogs to Dreamy Draw and they can start to lose summer blubber.

As the rest of North America starts to look for covers to their lawn furniture, Phoenicians venture out to the back porch to clean off the furniture.

I always find it funny to see Target clearing out the outdoor stuff right when we need it. They have to make room for halloween stuff. Target's garden center starts folding up right when we start thinking about planting bulbs.

Everyone loves the fall - but I think we have plenty of justification to love it more. So for the rest of you folks - enjoy your next few months of "indoor time". As for us in AZ, well we are gonna be a bit hard to find for a few months. It is our time again. Time to ride bikes, hike, and just get the heck out of the house!

Roadboys Travel's © 2010 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Losing The Vision One Day At A TIme

Southwest Gobbles Up AirTran


I am one of this nations legion of road warriors. I travel every week. I fly commercially almost every week. I spend most nights of the year sleeping in a hotel bed.

So this weeks announcement of the "merger" of Southwest and AirTran was a bit of a shock. 

I fully comprehend mergers between legacy carriers. The United / Continental merger doesn't seem odd. Delta absorbing Northwest - probably makes sense. 

But somehow the Southwest and AirTran merger, well it just doesn't seem to  add up.

Southwest has always concentrated on a mostly point-to-point travel model. Nearly every flight on AirTran goes through Atlanta or Orlando.

Southwest ONLY flies 737's. AirTran's fleet is filled with MD85's (now called Boeing 717).

Southwest has a sterling safety record. AirTran was born by changing its name from ValuJet to avoid the bad press associated from a horrible crash in Florida.

Southwest has amazing Customer Service. AirTran, well lets just say it falls short of Southwest.

Southwest flies 100% domestic routes. AirTran flies various international routes.

While I hope the merger goes well for both parties, as an outsider looking in I have to say it seems like this is the event we will all point to someday and say "that is where Southwest lost its vision".

Herb, where are you?


Roadboy's Travels © 2010

A Walk at Mill's

One of Oakland's Many Treasures

I grew up in probably the most misunderstood city in California - Oakland.

And while no less than Gertrude Stein and The Simpson's have delighted in making it the butt of their jokes,  I will always love Oakland and the entire East Bay.

Last week I went back and took a quiet walk with Miss "M" among the lush 135 acre campus of Mill's College in Oakland. Mill's is a women's college founded in 1852. And according to the 2011 US News Best Colleges it ranks number 4 among Tier 1 regional universities in the West. Pretty heady for a private college with less than a thousand undergraduates.

As a child a friend's father was a professor at Mill's - so we'd visit his lab and explore the campus. I loved its groves of fragrant eucalyptus trees and beautiful assemblage of architecture by Julia Morgan. There is no question the latter helped confirm me in my desire to become an architect.

When a friend graduated from Mill's years later I witnessed the bestowing of an honorary degree on the pioneering photographer Imogen Cunnigham and listened to a commencement speech delivered by Maya Angelou. There are few times in my life when, in the space of a single day, I have been in the presence of two of America's living treasures.

Now almost 40 years later, I wanted to see how Mill's looked.

Well, it has lost a lot of its eucalyptus trees*, but it has never looked better.


Julia Morgan's Masterpiece - The 1904 El Campenil 
(The First Reinforced Concrete Structure West of the Mississippi
Still Chimes Faithfully)

It still echoes with the bells from El Campenil. Its main entry Richards Road is still tree lined. Mill's Hall, its magnificent Victorian, has been carefully seismically stabilized, and it offers some wonderful new buildings like the Lokey Graduate School of Business.


Richards Road



Mill's Hall From the Oval

Our walk included a stop at the bright little Tea Room for some wonderful coffee and a great turkey and ricotta sandwich. We also ventured back to the Aron Arts Center. This was the area that borders the MacArthur Freeway which was just being built when I was a kid. Back then they weren't sure how the freeway would impact the campus and this area was in disrepair. Today it is lovely.


The Aron Arts Center


The Art Museum


Building Detail


Lobby of Littlefield Hall


The New Uber Green Lokey Building

Mill's is still a special place for a very lucky few.

It is an Oakland treasure. 

It is a California treasure. 


Roadboy's Travels © 2010


*I know they burn like SOB's, are dirty, are not native, and have shallow roots - but I still miss these big old Australian transplants. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What We've Been Doing

A Peek Into the New Maryland Medical Examiner's Facility


Fair warning - if you are squeamish about subjects related to death and dying, then this post may not be the best one for you to read.

As many of you know this blog highlights my ongoing travels. Much of this travel is the direct result of being a founder of the architectural firm that plans most of the worlds most sophisticated buildings for law enforcement and the forensic sciences.

Occasionally I prepare a post that showcases one of our recent buildings. These one-of-a-kind buildings are usually built with tax dollars. Yet because of the sensitive work they do, and the routine handling of evidence within, once in operation, they are frequently restricted in their availability for tours. Despite that, please believe me, you can be very proud of the work performed in them. They are a tool in the search for truth, and routinely they protect life while preventing further criminal activity by some of societies worst predators.

In the past two weeks we have dedicated two new buildings; police facility (in suburban Chicago) and Maryland's new Forensic Medical Center in Baltimore. 

Here is a mini tour of the Medical Examiner Facility. Or what many of you would simply call "the morgue".

The new $54,000,000 Medical Examiner Facility was built as part of the University of Maryland's BioPark. It will serve as the new home for the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland (the nations oldest statewide Medical Examiner system). The new facility with its two main autopsy suites, spaces for special autopsy (w/special BSL3 bio-safety precautions), will serve not only Maryland's needs, but will undoubtedly be in demand throughout the east (since it houses specialized spaces and equipment found almost nowhere else in North America). 

Designed specifically as a research and teaching facility it will also offer unique training opportunities for forensic pathologists throughout the world.


A Compact Site Resulted in a Space Efficient Vertical Design

 

Dr. David Fowler Conducts a Tour For Congressman Elijah Cummings

The unique features of the facility include two 3-story autopsy suites flooded with natural light and outfitted with the latest digital camera systems. Each is fitted with full observation decks for the use by students and field investigators. 




The View From the Observation Area



A Full Body CAT Scanner is Located Between Autopsy Suites


The neuro-pathology training lab is positioned to allow for wonderful views of surrounding Baltimore as well as overhead views into each of the two main autopsy suites.


The Neuro-Pathology Lab

If a case arrives that is suspected to pose bioloigcal risk, special facilities are available. The case will be transported in a specially isolated elevator, stored in an isolated cooler, and autopsied in suites designed to meet stringent bio-safety level 3 standards.

 

Biosafety Level 3 Protection

There are labs for Histology, Toxicology, and Odentology. Each of these labs are surrounded by "clean" office areas for staff to return calls and prepare for court.


Overhead "Snorkels" Will Draw off Heat and Odors From
Scientific Instrumentation in the New Toxicology Lab

Another feature of the facility is its viewing room for the meticulously crafted death scene miniatures referred to as the "Nutshells". The Nutshells were created in the 1940's by Frances Glessner Lee for Harvard's Forensic Pathology program. Everything needed to solve the crime is in each "nutshell" (i..e. "thats it in a nutshell"). According to Bruce Goldfarb (see: http://brucegoldfarb.com/the-nutshell-studies-of-unexplained-death) Ms. Lee may have been the inspiration for the character Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. 

After Lee's death in 1962, Maryland's chief medical examiner Dr. Russell Fisher, a former instructor at Harvard, secured a permanent loan of the Nutshells from the Lee family. The Nutshells are still used in homicide investigation seminars, and after a complete restoration last year, now have a wonderful new home.

                                                                                                                         
One of The "Nutshells" Death Scene Miniatures

One feature you won't see is the carefully planned and somewhat incredible mechanical plant that is needed to scrub water and air for the facility which is located in a rooftop penthouses above the facility.


Upblast Exhauster's That "Blast" Air From the Facility

I am so proud of our Virginia staff. They outdid themselves planning this amazing facility!

So next time you curl up with a "Kay Scarpetta" murder mystery or watch CSI, NCIS, or an episode of "Bones", remember Team Roadboy is working hard for you!

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The "Best Rate Guarantee" Sham

It Is A Hoax

Rant Warning!

A few weeks back I was surfing for a good room rate for a business meeting in Los Angeles. I came across an amazing rate at the downtown Sheraton hotel using Kayak. The rate was much better than the rate Starwood was quoting on their website, so I clicked the best rate guarantee and made a claim.

All the major hotel chains say that they protect anyone booking on their websites from missing out on a better rate somewhere else. They all say if you book on their websites and then within so many hours find a better rate, they will will verify the rate and honor the lower rate plus give you something in the way of a gift certificate or something to reward you for your loyalty. To have a valid claim the rate you find must be transparent (i.e. it cannot be a through Hotwire or Priceline - where the name of the hotel is disclosed only after your purchase is made), and it must be available to anyone (i.e. it can't require a special membership at AAA or Costco for example).

The guarantee sounds good.

It isn't.

The catch is two-fold, first you must book your room at the chains site (at the higher rate). This allows you to initiate your claim. Second, the chain must verify that they can "match" the rate when they (finally) get around to checking. Of course if the lower rate has evaporated - you are stuck with the higher room rate.

So even though I copied proof of the lower rate as a pdf and forwarded it with my claim, 48 hours later when Starwood "verified" the rate, it was (of course) gone.

Claim Denied! I'm stuck with the higher rate.

So I cancelled my Starwood reservation and booked a new reservation using Hotwire. Actually, Hotwire came through again netting me an even better rate at a better hotel (the Westin.)

Today it happened again, but this time it was with Hilton. The Anaheim Hilton advertised its lowest pre-paid rate at $89 per nght (which is in itself a good rate), but the same room was $73.84 using easyclicktravel.com.

Hilton requires that a claim be filed either on-line or by phone with a representative. I thought well since last time I did it online and got burned, this time I'd try a real live human being. 

I then spent 25 minutes on the phone with a very nice reservationist at Hilton's call center in Dallas. He was baffled how to process the claim, but with the help of his supervisor we muddled through.

Again I had to make a reservation with Hilton (which I did - at a higher refundable rate), then the call taker verified the lower rate on-line and commented "Wow! That is good rate!". I figured since the Hilton staffer saw the proof, it would be readily verified. 

No so!

I was organizing the trip for a large group, so in the meantime I notified the other travelers to book rooms at easyclick while I waited for Hilton to verify my claim. Luckily they all went ahead and booked at the bargain rate.

About midnight I got an e-mail from one LaTeasa Brumfeld telling me that (despite me having someone at Hilton verify my "great rate"), now 10 hours later, since she could not match the rate with easyclicktravel.com, my claim was being rejected. So once again my efforts were rewarded with the chain offering me nothing but the higher room rate.

Of course when I went back, the rate at easyclicktravel.com had indeed jumped to the $89.

So I am two for two. And what exactly has Roadboy learned?

When you see a good rate, pounce! Don't bother telling the hotel chains anything! The "Best Rate Guarantee" is merely the sham (tool) the hotel chains use to have us road warrier's rat out deep discounters and police the net for them.


Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Life That Matters

Don't Ignore Quiet Despair

This post will be short, it has nothing to do with travel, yet I want to scream it.....

This weekend I learned of another young life cut short by suicide. While I didn't personally know this young woman, she was well known by the kids in our church's youth group. When her death was discussed a terrible sadness came up from somewhere deep inside me. 

Suddenly I was 12 years old again; sitting at lunch with my friend John Bowler at one of those big cafetorium tables that folded out of the wall.

That is the day John cajoled his teacher if "he were to commit suicide, how would he do it?"

The teacher said, "why even consider something like that?" But John pestered him all day long and finally in frustration the teacher snapped "well I guess I'd climb in a barrel and go over Niagara Falls!"

When we arrived to school the next day we learned John had loaded his dad's gun that night and killed himself.

Please, if you know a teen, young adult (or anyone) who is sending out warning signs (aloof, cutting themselves, whatever), tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them you are there for them. Be direct about intervention. Be a friend.

42 years later, I still believe the world would be a better place if John had joined us on the journey.


Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

College Calls

All Those Backpacks!

I must admit I love to travel in late summer. This is the time of year when airports are filled with young adults heading off to college. I sneak peeks at them. Most have a look of equal parts; fear and excitement.

For most parents it is both a happy and melancholy time. You want your son or daughter to have a soft landing as they fall from the nest, but you know you will desperately miss the child that is departing your home forever.

There are those awful moments when you walk past that quiet and empty bedroom. No more riffs of Guitar Hero. And when you look in there, you see the trophy's, posters, and the spot where all those Lego masterpieces and action figures used to reside. 

Despite knowing they will come back for the summer, you know they will never return as the children that left.


Mr. "B" and Sis Before Returning to ASU

Roadboy sends love to all you students (especially my own!)


Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Why I Hate ATL

AirTran's Fantasy Hub!

Then the preacher said "Son, even if you're destined for heaven, you'll still connect through Atlanta!"

Over the past 24 hours I have had to bail out a staff member who was booked to travel from Reagan Airport (DCA) back to Phoenix (PHX). He had his ticket on AirTran's flight connecting through Atlanta (ATL).

The whole thing would have been chalked up to traveling on Friday the 13th, except the same thing happened to me on AirTran last month from Washington Dulles (IAD) to PHX through ATL. 

My flight was weather delayed in Dulles for 25 minutes, so my connection in ATL to PHX was lost. 

Once in ATL AirTran told me their am flight is oversold, and they would fly me home at the end of next day.

I checked into my hotel. 

Adding up the extra's I ultimately paid to get a cheap fare on AirTran: A day lost at work, a night at the Westin, an extra breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I returned on the same flight I would have been on the night before.

Once on board the plane to PHX, the flight attendants told us all to scrunch up cause "every seat was sold". Yet, when we took off (on time) the plane was at least 20% empty. For those keeping track that spells 20% of the passengers misconnected. In other words, we had a repeat performance of what happened the night before. The staff confided in me that for much of the year it happens every night.

Fast forward to yesterday. 

My staffer calls me "AirTran is gonna be 3 hours late taking off from DCA due to bad weather in ATL. They tell me I will surely miss my flight from ATL to PHX. They will not re-book me on anyone else" (despite the dozens of PHX flights available on various carriers.....). 

He was then told (with a straight face) that the earliest flight they would assure him a seat from ATL to PHX would be three days (I am not making this up!) later. So he'd have to bear the cost for three days of hotel and food in ATL. So much for the cheap airfare!

I told him to call their bluff and demand a refund on his non-refundable fare.  

He did.

We then booked him a four star room in DC on Hotwire for $99 (he said he "felt like a rockstar") and flew him home on Frontier the next day for about $80 more. Yeah, he lost a day thanks to AirTran's Fantasy Hub in Atlanta, but got a free day to tour the Smithsonian.

What have we learned?

AirTran may be fine for cheap North / South Atlantic service. But, no matter how cheap it seems, DO NOT fly AirTran East / West if your plane connects in ATL (which it will.)

Telling a passenger that they fully intend to strand you at your own cost in ATL for three days, is the equivalent of sitting for hours on the tarmac, except you have no recourse.

I fly almost every week. I fly through some of the busiest and most weather impacted airports in America. But without fail the worst problems I encounter usually have ATL somewhere in the itinerary. 

And that is why I hate ATL.


Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Park City Waldorf Astoria

The Sweet Life in Park City


To me the concept of branding the name "Waldorf Astoria" just seems odd. Here in Arizona The Arizona Biltmore will always be The Arizona Biltmore and in Rome The Cavalieri will always be The Cavalieri.

I do not understand the desire / need to try to add more cachet to these luxe properties via branding them as "Waldorf Astoria this" or "Waldorf Astoria that". I sort of find it hard (and pretentious) to say the "Waldorf Astoria Arizona Biltmore".

But, despite what I might think, branding is now a fact of life. And the gaggle of private equity geeks running around these days buying everything in sight know it is costly and time consuming to create prestige brand names like "Ritz Carlton", "Four Seasons" or "Conrad" from scratch. Conversely, it is cheap to simply buy provenance.

In order to jump start the new Waldorf Astoria (WA) line of hotels, Hilton began by acquiring and re-branding a carefully assembled selection of ultra-prestige and much loved properties.

The process has been successful and Hilton now has a critical mass of celebrated properties carrying the "Waldorf Astoria" name. Now, instead of merely buying and/or re-branding existing properties, Hilton has begun developing new properties in high-end destinations (where suitable prestige properties are not available to buy and re-brand).

One of the first of the "from scratch" WA properties is the new Waldorf Astoria Park City.

I got to enjoy a stay there last week.

Although all of logo's and paperwork at the hotel lists its official title as The Dakota, once you are away from the property itself, you will only see it referenced to as Waldorf Astoria Park City.

At first I was a bit surprised that the hotel was not located in posh Deer Valley and was instead sited in The Canyons resort. In retrospect I think this was a very good choice. The WA is next to the ritzy Miner's Club and a new tram. So, although it lacks the ski-in / ski-out feature of Deer Valley's new St. Regis, this location allows you to simply walk across the street and be whisked to mid-mountain.

The Canyon's location is easy for guests to find. It is a far more family friendly hill since kids can snowboard here, but not at stodgy old Deer Valley. Finally, this location will soon feature direct access to a brand new golf course.


Across the Street - A New Tramway That Whisks Skiers Direct to Mid-Mountain

It offers a Golden Door spa, great pool area, a beautiful restaurant, and a great fitness area.


 Standard Cliche "Mountain Chic" Architecture 

The uber-cliched "Mountain Lodge" architecture of the hotel is so overdone everywhere in Park City it now provokes a gag reflex in me and the furniture choices in the hotel can only be described as gold dust epoch meets kitsch.


Note to WA, try to restrain your electrical engineer. Every room (including each bathroom) had no fewer than five light switches! In an era of sustainability do we really need such excess?


That said, the rooms are amazing. Many offer the equivalent features of a full condo. My room for example had two full bathrooms, two fireplaces, a full size washer dryer, and a spacious kitchen outfitted with full-sized Viking appliances.

I was ready to move in!


The Living Area


The Kitchen


The Bedroom


The Ultimate Family Luxury 
A Full Sized in-Room Washer Dryer!

Roadboy wishes he could have spent about three days here (with his mountain bike, a good pair of walking shoes, a couple of books, and a swim suit!)

They still have to get some bugs out (service in The Spruce restaurant was slow, the coffee cold, and the prices high). But those are just birthing pains.

The rates in the summer were wonderfully low. Even with the silly "Resort" fee tacked on, my daily rate was only about $175/nt. However, when the snow flies, prepare to listen to your wallet scream. The posted rates for this very same room in January start at an almost completely unbelievable $825/nt!

Between the new St. Regis and the New Waldorf Astoria, my beloved Stein Erickson Lodge has taken a quick one-two punch. 


Roadboy's Travels © 2010   

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Beautiful Ant Hill

The Most Visited Place in Washington DC

What is the most visited site in Washington DC? The White House? Washington Monument? The Smithsonian Museums? The Capital mall?

Nope. 34,000,000 visitors a year pass through Washington's venerable Beaux-Arts Union Station.  

Designed by Chicago Architect Daniel Burnham and completed just 4 years before his death, this building still draws gasps of admiration from anyone seeing it for the first time. 

Burnham is the architect who designed many of America's first skyscraper's and led the design team for the most influential World's Fair in history; the neoclassical 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He designed New York's iconic Flatiron building and created the famous Chicago Plan to guide rebuilding the city after the great fire. He also created the master plans for Manilla and San Francisco. 

Thanks to rejections from both Harvard and Yale, he learned architecture the old fashioned way, by apprenticeship. He then went on to become one of the most influential architects America has ever produced.

Union Station was completed at a cost of $125,000,000 (which would convert to about $3 billion dollars today). Its site originally covered 200 acres of former swamp land. 

When completed the white marble edifice initiated the style that would soon be emulated in the Supreme Courts building and the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.  


70 Pounds of Gold Leaf Adorn the Dome 

The reason it works so well today is because it is still doing what it was intended to do. Serve as a train station. It allows for the smooth transfer from DC's Metro subway system to either AMTRAK or MARC trains. From here passengers can efficiently travel downtown to downtown on an ACELA high speed train from DC to New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. I particularly like the service to the Baltimore BWI airport.  


Designed in An Era When Architects 
Still Integrating Art in Architecture

Another key to the success of Union Station is its integration of superb shops and creative restaurants. This is the ultimate place to people watch and eat well.


The Lower Level Food Court

Always busy, Union Station is a superb gateway to the America's national treasure; Washington DC. This is not a place to "visit". It is a place to "use".


Roadboy's Travels © 2010




Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Dream Come True?

The New 787

I noticed a little piece on Yahoo today that made my head start spinning. The new Boeing Dreamliner has made its maiden flight outside the United States landing in Farnborough England for the Farnborough Airshow.

I hope I am not just succumbing to hype. And I do not mean to minimize the achievements that Boeing and Airbus engineers have made on their respective new aircraft in the past two decades. But after seeing some renderings of the cabin and carefully examining some of the scale models of this plane, the 787 appears to be a true departure from the last generation of commercial aircraft, and this road warrior welcomes it.




Carbon Composites Allow For A Highly Sculpted Silhouette

It is not as big as the new Airbus A380, so it won't take so long to load and unload. Nor does it require most major airports to extend their runways. It has a smooth sculpted swept back almost dolphin-like look to its fuselage and wings.

It is just freakin beautiful.

To see why I'm excited check out:
http://www.newairplane.com/787/virtualTour/ 

Big dimmable windows, huge bins, extraordinary fuel efficiency, new levels of quiet.

In a world filled with bad news, it is sure nice to visualize what the collective talents of Boeing's  engineers, designers, and craftspeople have achieved.

As far as the various delivery delays go, I say, so what! The real question is "will it be worth the wait?". 

By all measures I'd say "Absolutely!"

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010

JFK's Assassination and The Power of A Word

A Walk on a Hot Summer Evening in Dallas

At one time the words "Pearl Harbor" simply defined a place. The same could be said for other places such as Waterloo, Omaha Beach, and Columbine. These "place" words (just like "Pearl Harbor") have morphed from defining a "place" to an "event".

Last night as I walked in downtown Dallas. I realized that, despite a new light rail, elegant lofts, and lovely new parks, Dallas shares a similar fate. It cannot shake the stigma of being the "place" where a terrible thing happened. And, the inability to heal is characterized by a single word.

Time to digress.

Most of my generation remembers where we were when we heard that President Kennedy had been shot. I was 7 years old and was at recess playing four square. The news stopped our game. When we got home, Walter Cronkite tearfully informed America that JFK had been pronounced dead.

To my generation President Kennedy was special. He embodied how we felt about America. He was smart, brash, and rich. He was young, athletic, cocky and very handsome. He was a war hero. He could disarm the most jaded reporter with humor. His beautiful wife defined style around the world. They made us all feel "cool".

His death quickly brought us down to earth. We suddenly felt vulnerable. We wanted answers. We needed answers.

Who did it? Why? Was it the Russians? The Cuban's? The Mafia? Was this the first step in some kind of attack?

Or, could a scrawny little loser like Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone really defeat our elite secret service and pull off this nightmare?

Remember, we were TV's first generation. We had complete confidence that at the end of every show Perry Mason would neatly wrap up every case.

No neat tidy answers in Dallas.

Then before we could get answers from Oswald, in a blaze of flashbulbs, Jack Ruby, emerged from nowhere and shot Oswald right before our eyes on national television.



The Dallas JFK Memorial

In my Dallas walk the first thing I came upon was the inexplicably, clunky, Phillip Johnson designed JFK memorial. Like much of Johnson's design legacy, as it ages it feels trite, vacuous and cheap. It doesn't measure up to the man. A faded and bent interpretive plaque in front of it tells us that it was  "refurbished". Yet, in such a shimmering city, this monument conveys pure neglect. It leaves the wound open. It should be replaced.

And here is where I first confront the one word that prevents healing.


"Alleged"

As I read the plaque I was left with the sentiment "how could they be so careless?"

The biggest investigation in modern history told us, that despite our desire to believe in conspiracies, it was indeed a lone shooter named Oswald who killed our president and derailed history.


The Last View President Kennedy Saw

As I walked past Dealey Plaza I looked up to see what the president last saw. My mind replays the whole scene frame-by-frame from Abe Zapruder's 8M movie. Further ahead is the Texas School Book Depository. To the left is the grassy knoll. Obviously, traffic flow is now reversed from what is was on the day of the motorcade.

I walk up to the book depository where Oswald took his shot from the still ajar sixth floor window.


Oswald's Sixth Floor Perch   

When I get to the Depository building (where the "Sixth Floor" museum has been created), I read its plaque and am confronted by that word again.


Allegedly

To me, these words are offensive. Here's why.

On a previous visit to Dallas I had the honor of listening to retired Dallas Police detective Jim Leavelle. He is one of the only people who had a chance to talk to Oswald before Oswald fell to another assassins bullet.

It was Leavelle who was cuffed to Oswald when Jack Ruby shot him. He was the detective in the tan "ice cream" suit and Stetson hat pulling up wildly on Oswald's cuffs to turn him sideways to minimize Ruby's ability to get a good shot. His image is burned in America's psyche. He is handcuffed to more than Oswald. It is frequently said that Jim is handcuffed to history.

Jim has mentally replayed this thing over and over for almost 50 of his 90 years on this planet.

If Jim is convinced Oswald was the lone shooter (and he is), then I'm good with that.


Detective Leavelle

Why is it that a nation can accept the fact that a trashboy tweaker like Tim McVeigh could blow up a federal building, but we demand a more complex answer to the killing of JFK?

With so many pressing needs confronting the nation, it is time to try to further heal this wound. Simple ways to help do that might be to build a fitting memorial and to remove the words "alleged" and "allegedly" from all text associated with the assassination.

It is time to admit that America's hopes and dreams were dashed by a single creep named Oswald.

Roadboy's Travel © 2010