Thursday, November 27, 2014

Roadboy's 2014 Awards

A Year in Review

Travel can help solve the world's problems. Those who explore our world develop insight and respect for other cultures.

For those that do travel the process can be a challenge. And, frequently those that profit the most from our travel (government and the travel industry) deserve special recognition for exceptional and creative efforts to make travel harder and more expensive than it needs to be.

Herewith, I offer Roadway's travel awards for 2014.

1. The Worlds "Silliest New Travel Law"
Venice relies entirely on tourism for its economic survival, yet in 2014 Venice enacted a new law prohibiting "noisy" wheeled suitcases. The law allows "inflatable" wheels on luggage (a product that does not exist).

2. The "Up, Up and Away" Award
2014's plunging aviation fuel prices should have delivered some bargain airfares, right? No way, fares went up steeply in 2014. The fare hikes prove there is no link between airfares and operating costs. Fares are based on competition. Now that airline merger mania is nearly complete, airlines seem to be trying to perfect a S&M passenger experience. They are looking for ways to make coach seats even smaller. Legroom will soon cost even more. Want to print boarding passes at the airport, check bags or get a seat assignment? Open your wallet.

3. The "Welcome to The Garden State" Award
There were 3 tragic ebola deaths in the US in 2014. Conversely, zillions of Americans die each year from smoking and obesity related health issues. Our politicians, however, joined the "fair and balanced" Fox network nitwits in a full ebola aneurism. They described plane loads of ebola laden passengers arriving from Africa to infect us. Of course, once they realized there aren't any direct flights between the US and the ebola stricken countries they opted to simply asking arriving passengers if they've visited Africa anytime recently. Yet, in New Jersey anyone answering yes wins Governor Christie's full rendition and lock down treatment.

4. The "Bye Bye Same Day Cancellation" Award
Hotels pulled record profits in 2014, yet the hospitality industry (an oxymoron!), responded by quietly adding new fees and eliminating same day cancellations. So, when making reservations, read that tiny print. It will likely inform you that the era of "cancel by 6 PM date of arrival" is over

5. The "Disappearing Final Hotel Bill"Award
Hotels rarely slip final bills under the door preferring to e-mail them instead. Roadboy however, still asks to see the bill. It makes it easier to remove any "resort fees" I wasn't notified of (along with any $6 bottles of Fiji I didn't actually drink). In fact, in 2014 hotels imposed all sorts of new nuisance fees and / or penalties. Now at check-in I ask for disclosure of any penalties or fees (things like new "early departure" penalties) they might inflict. For instance say you get your work done a day early and want to leave, in many hotels you'll have to pay for the room you vacate (even if they re-rent it!)

6. The "Max Bialystock Award" 
This is my award for selling something you don't actually have (which we'd normally call fraud, right?) Well airlines do it everyday. According to "Fast Company" 26 million travelers in the US and EU in 2013 were denied boarding due to overbooking. Bumped passengers are typically offered airline vouchers. Airlines love those vouchers because only 15% of them ever get redeemed. Southwest is the worst offender, followed by United, Delta (Skywest), Expressjet and US Airways (and its buddies American, Mesa and American Eagle).

If you are "bumped" due to overbooking for more than an hour you have defined rights and may not want to accept a voucher the airline initially offers.  In fact, when you accept a voucher you waive your rights to full compensation. Here is what you are entitled to:

A delay less than an hour entitles you zip.
A delay of 1-4 hours entitles you to 200% of the one-way value of your ticket (capped at $650).
A delay 4+ hours entitles you to 400% of the one-way value of your ticket (capped at $1,300).

Only when passengers demand full compensation will airlines curb overbooking.

7. The "Out of My Way" Award
The Airline industry is probably the only one where staff demands priority over their best customers. I always find it ironic when flight crews walk past me at security, hold my bags into the X-ray scanner in order to cut in line. Some used to say "excuse me", now they just throw everyone stink eye whilst they jamb 3 bags and a schooner of fluids through the scanner.

8. The "Chertoff Legacy" Award
In 2014 the last of those $250,000 Rapiscan x-ray scanners disappeared. They were championed by then Homeland security czar Michael Chertoff. Then once most US airports had them Chertoff "resigned" his position to form the Chertoff Consulting Group. The Rapiscan's units never met specs for privacy and were soon removed, yet taxpayer's never got a refund.

Elsewhere in the world Rapiscan units were prohibited since "they had never been subjected to testing on humans". That is not actually correct. Here, in the US, they got a full test.....on you and me.

By the way, Rapiscan immediately became one of The Chertoff Group's biggest clients.

Remember just say "Opt Out"!

9. The "Websters Vs. T-Mobile" Award
This year T-Mobile advertised a new plan featuring "Unlimited" International Talk, Data and Roam". I wet myself. Roadboy's idea of "Unlimited" is: "my I-Phone works wherever I travel for a week or a month".

But when I asked "what if I stay 6 months in London?" the definition from T-Mobile of "unlimited" went all grey. So, I went online, called customer service and visited a store, still no answer. I then said "let me speak to your Supervisor". That is when I found out that T-Mobile defines "Unlimited" as two weeks or less outside of your "Home" network each year.

10. The "Welcome to the UK" Award
Ms. M spent nearly 6 months this year in the UK. We began the visit in Dublin where our Irish Customs officer emphatically advised: "BE SURE TO CHECK IN WITH BRITISH IMMIGRATION WHEN YOU GET TO LONDON!"'

So at Heathrow we walked all over the special arrivals hall devoted just to planes landing from Ireland (hmmm, go figure) looking for British Customs / Immigrations. We finally gave up and exited through those big frosty glass doors that lead you into the main terminal. In the terminal we consulted every map and directory we could find and asked three different OLP's (Official Looking People) where we'd find the Customs offices.

None could direct us to the British Customs Office at Heathrow. Why so stealthy? Of course since Britain never knew Ms. M arrived there was no issue with her departure. 

So there you go 2014 was a banner year!

Roadboy can hardly wait to start traveling in 2015!

Roadboy's Travels © 2014 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Blatant Art Theft! 

Roadway wishes everyone a wonderful holiday. Travel safely, eat well, drink well and be surrounded by those you love!

* I stole this artwork directly from my daughter's web blog (which I encourage you to visit!) Just click here: Iniquitous Fish!

Roadway's Travels © 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanksgiving in Phoenix 2014

Home Sweet Home

Frequently my holiday posts describe a visit to some other warm or scenic destination. This year, however, we are opting to enjoy our holiday in our home here in the Valley of the Sun!

So here is a holiday blog for those lucky enough to be visiting Phoenix over Thanksgiving 2014!


November is arguably the loveliest month of the year to visit Phoenix. Believe it or not, there are leaves falling (from all the big deciduous trees that fill North Central Phoenix.) And our nights are getting cold"isn" (this year the evening low for Thanksgiving will likely plunge to a bone chilling 55° F.) And, it gets dark early now, car headlights start popping on around 5:30 pm.

So what is there to do?

Well here are just a few ideas from Roadboy. My focus is Phoenix. I'm not into the snooty Scottsdale scene. Roadboy prefers "real".

1. A Visit to the Desert Botanical Garden (or as we call it the DBG)
This is the perfect time of the year to visit the garden. Click here to visit the DBG website. 


The Desert Botanical Garden

The garden's holiday festival, Los Noches de las Luminarias begins Nov 28. It typically sells out, so go online to reserve tickets well in advance for that.  

2. The MIM!
Arizona's Musical Instrument Museum is a treasure. This is a high-tech and very wonderful  addition to Arizona's cultural scene. The MIM displays musical instruments from around the world and with your GPS headset you hear most instruments being played as you walk near them! The MIM recently opened its Beyond the Beat: Drums of the World.  Click here to visit the MIM's website.

3. EAT!
A proliferation of spectacular new restaurants have joined my list of tried and true favorites. For scenery (and old Arizona charm) the best spot hands down is a lunch or romantic sunset dinner on the patio at Lon's at the Hermosa Inn. Will you be staying downtown? The wonderful District American Kitchen and Wine Bar at the Sheraton is offering a special Thanksgiving dinner. Adventurous? For amazing Mexican it is the Barrio Cafe or the new upstart Cafe Otro. For down home Mexican I love El Bravo in Sunnyslope. For meet market Postino's wine bar on Central or Hanny's downtown should work. For wood fired yumminess it's Timo's in Sunnyslope. For neighborliness try Windsor. Want Chicken and waffles, its Lolo's. For N'awlin's it is Little Cleo's. How about a chicken fried turkey dinner? TexAz has got you covered. Or there's Maizies or Federal Pizza or brunch at the Lux Coffeehouse. How about some wonderful southern cooking? Then head to the Southern Rail at The Newton. And there is always a sandwich with house made mozzarella at Chris Bianco's Pane Bianco.

4. Culture!
The Phoenix Art Museum is a true gem. After two major expansions by the husband and wife team of Tod Williams / Billie Tsien it has wonderful space to display an extensive permanent collection as well as mount special expositions.

The Entry Courtyard of the Phoenix Art Museum

Click here to visit the Phoenix Art Museum website.

5. Get Smart!
Antoine Predock's stark concrete Arizona Science Center is a perfect place to go with kids (of all ages). It has great interactive displays and a cool planetarium. Alas it will be closed on Thanksgiving.
Click here to visit the Arizona Science Center website.

6. For the Jocks
For the "get out and do it' set November is the perfect time to go mountain or road biking in Phoenix. Sip a Latte while getting fitted for a excellent rental bike at the Trailhead Cafe / Bike Shop at 16th Street and Glendale. From there you can pedal away on the nearby AZ canal or go single track at the North Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Visit the Trailhead's website here. For the "sit and watch" set the Suns play Denver and Orlando at the US Airways Center however the Cardinals will not play a home game (Kansas City) at Peter Eisenman's University of Phoenix Stadium until December 7th.

7. Shop!
All the museums above have great gift shops. But there are also great little boutiques like Frances near Camelback and Central. Another block west on Camelback is the new Newton with its Changing Hands bookstore and the new restaurant by Becketts Table (Southern Rail). For Black Friday there is The Biltmore Fashion Park - a perfectly sized outdoor mall featuring one-of-a-kind shops at its UNION "alternative" mall. It also features great restaurants plus an Apple Store, Saks, and a cute little 1960's vintage Macy's thrown in for good measure. On friday nights there are free movies on the lawn! All of the parking facing Camelback is strictly valet. The free parking is located in the big garage behind the mall. Visit the Biltmore Fashion Park website here.

8. Ogle!
Walk the Grounds of the Arizona Biltmore Resort. The only Frank Lloyd Wright inspired hotel left standing in the world. Since it opened every sitting president has checked in at the Biltmore. Marilyn Monroe opined that The Biltmore's Catalina Pool was her favorite......

9. The Heard
In the tradition of saving the best for last, I recommend the Heard Museum. In my opinion the Heard ties with the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum (near Tucson) as my favorite museums in Arizona. The Heard is the premier showcase of Native American art and culture. It has grown from "a little museum in a little western town" to what it is today - peerless. For Thanksgiving the Heard presents its special holiday ornament marketplace November Nov 28-30.

10. Glendale Glitters
OK it isn't in Phoenix, but this will be the 20th year for the wonderful Glendale Glitters light show, so I'm gonna pimp it. It celebrate its "Spectacular" weekend November Nov 28-30.

Come for Thanksgiving. Enjoy our weather, our culture and everything Arizona does well!

Roadboy's Travel © 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Walk in Saint Louis

OK I Was Wrong.....

Over the years I have visited Saint Louis two or three times. One of those trips I was probably about 8 years old, so maybe that trip doesn't count. 

On subsequent visits I "had" to be there for a conference or client meeting. Those visits were planned by others and when we took time to go "see the city" we'd always wind up at the Gateway Arch, take a quick "car windows" tour of downtown and (sooner or later) land at a riverboat casino or some loud brewpub.

Between my previous trips and recent headlines concerning racial issues I have had the general impression that there really weren't many reasons to visit Saint Louis.

In fact for many years I have kind of gone out of my way to avoid trips to Saint Louis.

But every time I have badmouthed the city someone more familiar with it seems to tell me I've got it all wrong.

Well recently I returned to Saint Louis for another conference. But, this time I set aside a few hours to burn some shoe leather and see what it was that I had been missing.

And, OK I admit it, Roadboy had missed a lot.

In fact 3+ hours of walking on a sunny Friday barely scratched the surface.

OK....Here goes. I was wrong, Saint Louis is a truly marvelous city. 

Actually, my first impressions started to change as soon as I landed at Lambert Field and realized that TWA's former home airport was sure looking spiffy with its beautiful new copper roof and light filled ticket halls.

After collecting my bag I went to catch the light rail to my downtown hotel. Right there at the ticket machine a light rail rep was there to answer questions, offer me a city map and run through a first timers guide to buying my fare. I found Saint Louis' light rail to be clean and efficient. It connects both terminals to downtown for only $4 (the return fare is only $2.50)!

Once downtown another rep saw my confused look and offered walking instructions to my hotel.

Saint Louis soon became a customer service revelation.

At my hotel (the Hilton at the Ballpark) I met some of the friendliest and most professional staff anywhere. They introduced themselves and appeared whenever I needed them.

I began my walking tour at the hotel with its postcard view of the old courts building in front of Eero Saarinen's iconic arch (celebrating Saint Louis' role as the gateway to America's Western Expansion). Useful Note: Do you suffer from claustrophobia? Then stay the heck away from the arch tour. 

The old courthouse is now part of the Jefferson Expansion National Park. The original western court building was the site of the infamous Dred Scott citizenship case. Later the building was expanded to include an eastern wing and a dome.

The Old Courthouse and The Arch

The next landmark was the spectacular new CityGarden Sculpture Park. Here you will find 24 wonderful world class sculptures that invite you to touch and engage them.

Eros Bedato (Eros Bound)
Igor Mitoraj 1999 

The Garden Looking West

Two of my favorites sculptures were Big Hands by Jim Dine and Kindly Gepetto by Tom Otterness. There is a Cafe entitled Death in the Afternoon, a Spray Plaza to delight kids during Saint Louis' hot summers and a video wall (that was playing old Looney Tunes cartoons when I strolled through the evening before). 

Outside the garden to the west one encounters the massive Richard Serra Sculpture "Twain". As amazing and complete as the City Garden is, the Twain site is a perfect mess. Serra's concept for lighting, benches, and shade trees was never implemented and Twain's rusting core-ten panels now provide concealment for transients and are a magnet for graffiti and urine. This was the saddest place I found in an otherwise immaculate downtown.

The next building I came to was the deco infused and pyramid topped 1930 Civil Courts Building. This one is a masterpiece.

The 3 Story Guardians at the Civil Courts
Across the street is the massive Federal Courts building circa 1933. This WPA era buildingis a solid  block of monumental Federal architecture.

Moving west across Tucker Avenue is the French Chateau City Hall. This was the winning entry in a 1898 design competition. The building was supposed to be built in 2 years, but the City never authorized bonds and just kept dribbling out money piecemeal extending the construction to something like 14 years. 

Saint Louis City Hall

From here I walked past the ScottTrade Arena to Saint Louis' Union Station. This is not just any train station. Opened in 1894 and, at its zenith, was the world's largest and busiest train station serving 22 different train lines. It was expanded in 1904 to serve the Saint Louis Worlds Fair. and closed to rail traffic in 1978. It was rebuilt into a festival market / mall and hotel in 1985. The mall is now pretty dated with most of its shops sitting vacant.

But the spectacular Terminal Hall still delivers a sense of awe to any visitor in possession of a heartbeat.

Union Station's Main Terminal Hall

Stained Glass Over the "Whispering Arch"

Clocks and Lantern Bearers

The terminal hall hosts an amazing evening light show that should not to be missed. See a preview  video of it here: Technomedia Union Station Projection (be sure to turn the volume up and go full screen)! Then, of course, click your return button to come back to Roadboy!

From here I walked to the amazing City Museum. I'm convinced there no place like it anywhere else in North America. City Museum is equal parts outsider art and fantasy. It is part repository for architectural fragments and part fun house. In front is a big old airplane and ball park for kids to play on. On the roof is a Ferris wheel and a precariously perched school bus. Inside there are indoor skate(less) parks, slides (one 4 story and another 10 story), an aquarium, and a circus zone (where aerial skills are honed). All built (and constantly expanded) in an old shoe factory.

Please, do not miss City Museum.

Airplanes, A Rooftop School Bus and Ferris Wheel

Terra Cotta Relics


And More Architectural Fragments

From here I realized my stroll time needed to come to an end and I quickly made my way past (sadly no time to enter) the Main Library and The War Memorial.

I loved the Turtles Supporting the Library Light Standards

The War Memorial

I passed beautiful churches, deco skyscrapers, and Adler and Sullivan's 1894 Wainwright Building. 

My take away?

I was wrong about Saint Louis and I will plan a return trip.

Next time I'll explore its neighborhoods, Forest Park (home to Saint Louis' History and Art Museums) and its Fox Theater.

In the meantime I sure hope Saint Louis is able to take some positive steps to repair its racial problems. A house divided cannot stand.

PS: If you get a chance go eat Peruvian at Mango at 11th street and Lucas. Yum!

Roadboys Travels © 2014