Tag Archives: travel

Hotel Alarm Clocks

On the checklist hotel housekeeping uses when servicing a room, one thing seems lacking. It is a small thing, something that would take almost no time (a second or two at the most). But in my experience, it is almost never done:

Check the alarm clock, and if it is on, turn it off.

Usually, I am awake before the alarm goes off, but when we are traveling as a family, Kelly and I are up before the kids to get things ready before the kids wake up. Inevitably, the alarm will go off and wake up the kids while we are getting things ready.

One might argue: if it is so easy to do, why not check it yourself? When traveling alone, I almost always do this. When traveling with the family, we are usually at the end of an 7 or 8 hour drive, during which there is the usual sibling bickering, to say nothing of frayed nerves from traffic, and long hours on the road. Checking the room alarm is the last thing on my mind.

So if there is anyone out there in the hospitality business, a humble suggestion from a fairly frequent traveler: Add checking the room alarm clock to your housekeeping checklist. I think you’ll find that many, many weary travelers will appreciate it.

Our Modern World

I sometimes wonder what the founding mothers and fathers of our country might think of our modern world. It seems that some (Franklin and Jefferson) would revel in it. Others might be skeptical. Consider that a flight from Philadelphia to Boston takes only 90 minutes, a journey that took John Adams the better part of two weeks. Of course, after factoring in the time it takes to find the best fare online, the commute to the airport and the fight for a half-decent parting space, the crowded shuttle ride from the parking lot to the terminal, the lines at the security checkpoint, the delays in boarding because the aisles are blocked by passengers fighting for overhead space, the wait at baggage claim in Boston because you lost the fight, the airline lost your luggage, the Uber to the hotel through the nightmare that is Boston traffic, it probably seems like two weeks. Maybe the founders wouldn’t be that impressed after all.

There are other modern conveniences that I think the founders would appreciate, chief among them, the modern word processor, or for that matter, typewriter. The founders were particularly prolific. John Quincy Adams, for instance, wrote more than 14,000 pages in his diary alone. Fourteen thousand pages. I am drafting this essay longhand, and here toward to the bottom of page one, my hand already feels cramped and ready to give up the ghost. Certainly, a word processor would have been a boon to our prolific forefathers and mothers. If I think about it, I have probably banged out 14,000 pages worth of email messages. On the other hand, 13,000 pages of those messages were probably completely unnecessary, fluff and filling enabled by the technology that kept my hands from getting cramped and tired. So perhaps the founders were better off with pen and ink after all. It forced a concision in thought and expression that can’t readily be equalled by our lazier modern methods.

So cross of travel and computer technology. Modern medicine–that would be the key to impressing our founders. Something as simple as aspirin for a headache, or penicillin for an infection would be seen by those who regularly gathered in places like Philadelphia as a great invention. After all, these are people who had to flee the city in the summers when Yellow Fever reared its head. There was no other way to treat it, no vaccine to prevent it. The city shut down, and those who could afford to do so, fled to the countryside.

That said, I think that if the founders had a look at our modern medicine, they’d sneer and roll their collected (and uncorrected) eyes. “You are no better of than we,” they would say, the scorn dripping from their words. “You mock us for fleeing from Yellow Fever. But we’ve read your recent newspapers, and we’ve watched your so-called news programs. With this latest virus running amuck in your modern world, the best advice your medical science can offer is to wash your hands and avoid touching your face. How’s fleeing the town during an outbreak any worse than this advice? You really haven’t come as far as you think you have.”

Modern world! Phooey!

The Long Road Home

View from our hotel room on the last full day of our vacation.

We departed our resort at Walt Disney World yesterday morning at 8:15 am and arrived home just before 11 pm, 860 miles of driving. We have driven too and from Florida more than a dozen times, but this is the first time we attempted to drive all the way home in a single day.

The first time we drove to Florida, in 2012, we made the trip over 3 days, spending nights in places like Florence, South Carolina, and Kingland, Georgia. We’d do the same on the reverse run, stopping in places like Savannah and Charleston. After several years of these trips, we slimmed them down to just one night on the road, stopping at a roughly midway point in South Carolina. We’ve done that for years, and indeed, that is what we did driving down in December.

But we visited Walt Disney World at the end of our trip this time, instead of the beginning. We are normally in southern Florida, and being three hours closer to home made it tricky to decide where to stop for the night. I suggested we try to make the run all the way through. So we left Orlando at 8:15 am, drove through some rush hour traffic on I-4, and then onto I-95 where we encountered no traffic for the entire drive.

It wasn’t that hard. It might seem like a small thing, but I am always impressed by the good state of the roads, the quality of the rest stops, and the friendliness of the people at gas stations and restaurants along the way. We stopped in Walterboro, South Carolina for a late lunch, but other than a couple of pit stops, I drove and drove and drove.

I finished 3 audiobooks on the drive: I was almost finished with Ted Chaing’s Exhilation before the drive, and finished it while we were still in Florida. Next, I turned to Chuck Palahniuk’s new book, Consider This: Moments in My Life After Which Everything Was Different. Having finished that, I was still craving more on the writing life, so I re-read John McPhee’s Draft No. 4. That audiobook came to an end as we pulled into our driveway, right around 10:50 pm.

Listening to the audiobooks made the time fly by. So did the lull of the road. I remember when we stopped for lunch, around 2 pm, thinking that it didn’t seem like we’d been driving for nearly 6 hours already.

860 miles is the most I have driven in a single day. I think the runner up is in the 500 mile range. It made sense to do this, coming home, because it gives us the entire weekend to get the house back in order, do laundry (we were gone for 21 days) and settle back into our routines before we are back to work and school on Monday. I’m not sure I’d do this driving down to Florida.

The photo is a view from our hotel room on the last full day at Walt Disney World. We stayed in two different resorts this time, but I’ll have more to say about that in a future post.

After being gone for 3 weeks, it feels good to be home. It does not feel like we just left on the trip, or that the trip flew by. 21 days is a long time by any measure. It’s nice to be back in my office surrounded by my books. It’s nice to have 2 days to settle back in before work starts again.


Clouds above Los Angeles

There is almost no experience I dread more these days than flying from one city to another. It isn’t out of a fear of flying. It is out of a deep sadness for the loss of what used to be a fun and exciting way to travel. Air travel has found its lowest common denominator and from what I can tell, no one is happy.

I had an unusually busy travel year. I made six work-related trips by plane, five of which took me from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles. Air travel, these days, is all about attempting to minimize stress and anxieties. How hard will it be to find a parking place? How busy will the airport be? How much time do I need to leave to get into the airport proper? If you think that last is a silly question, talk to people traveling out of LAX, where the line of cars trying to get into the airport resembles the lines of cars on the 405 freeway at rush hour. How long will the lines be at security? Should I cough up the money to check my bags or roll the dice and hope that there will still be overhead space left in the plane by the time I board?

As far as I can tell, the airlines are doing nothing to improve their service or reputations. I can recall a time when even coach seats were relatively comfortable and spacious. I remember traveling on a DC-10 in the late 1980s when there was a lounge up front. Passengers looked as if they were setting about on some great adventure, bright teeth gleaming within smiles wherever you looked. People talked with their seat-mates about where they were going and what they were doing.

The airlines have changed all of this. I rarely see passengers talking with one another. Instead, they isolate themselves within the cocoons of their noise-cancelling headsets. No one ever bothers to look out the windows any more. Indeed, on most of the flights I was on this year, most of the window shades were shut, and the cabin was dim and gloomy, like a medieval prison.

Baggage limits and the cost to check bags breeds a poisonous competition, where passengers angle for the the earliest possible boarding on a plane in order to get prime overhead space. I’ve seen arguments break out over the inability of a passenger to fit their bags into the overhead.

You pay for every extra. And those with more means than others can buy advantages others can’t afford. You can pay to check your bags and avoid the stress of fighting for overhead space. You can pay for more leg room at your seat. You can pay for Internet access to distract you while you fly. You can pay for food and drink if you are hungry. You can even pay to move through the faster “premium” security lines. All this seems to do is annoy those who can’t afford to pay for these additions. It doesn’t seem to make those who do pay any happier, probably because they’ve already handed over a pretty penny for their ticket.

I’ve taken advantages of all of these amenities. As a frequent flier, I’ve upgrade my flights to first class, and I have access to the airline lounge. No one I see when I head to the airport looks happy, no one I see on the plane looks happy. No one in the airline lounge looks happy. Like me, they all look resigned to their fate. They are all anxious to get where they are going. It is all about the destination. We want to forget the journey.

The best parts of flying these days are those rare times when I have a window seat (I prefer an aisle seat ) and can spend time with my window shade up, observing the country as it passes below. This lasts until the flight attendant taps me on the shoulder and asks if I wouldn’t mind lowering my shade so that the glare won’t disturb the screens of the other passengers. I took the photograph above early in one flight. Those clouds cover the Los Angeles basin, not long after takeoff early in the morning.

The airlines have made flying extremely safe, which is a good thing for which they deserve some credit. They have also turned around their businesses from bankruptcy, or the brink thereof. They have achieved this rather remarkable turnaround by removing all of the glamour and pleasure from the experience.

I miss the way air travel used to be. I can’t stand the way it is today, and for many years now, I only travel by air for work. When we take our vacations, they have been exclusively road-trips, often taking us more than 2,000 miles roundtrip. We drive up to Maine in the summers. We drive down to Florida in the winters. Traveling by car has improved at least as much as traveling by plane has declined. We don’t have to worry about luggage. We have plenty of room in the minivan. We don’t have to pass through airport security or deal with long lines. We have comfortable seats, and these days the car practically drives itself. We can come and go as we please. We see the country up close. If there’s something interesting that catches our eye, we can stop.

It takes more time to travel by car than by plane, but it is immeasurably more pleasant, and less stressful. Sure, at times we hit traffic, but we can usually time our travel to avoid it. And besides, these days, the navigation software in the car knows about traffic and can re-route us around the bad stuff.

Driving also saves us a ton of money. It could cost anywhere between $1,000 – $2,000 to fly five of us from Washington, D.C. to Florida. Driving costs us about $500 in gas and hotels (we usually make one overnight stop each way), and meals. That’s anywhere from 50-75% less than what it costs to fly. But the costs of savings in terms of stress, anxiety, long lines, and canceled flights can’t be measured.

Some thoughts on air travel

I’m back home after a thankfully short trip to L.A. During the course of which, I made a few general observations on air travel which I thought I would share with you now:

  • I still think LAX is one of the worst airports I’ve ever been too. My experience was not particularly good or bad this time around, but every time I enter the airport, I get the deepest desire to leave it rapidly. I hate sitting around there. I hate trying to get into the airport and I hate trying to get out.
  • I’ve ridden the new underground trams at Dulles a few times now and they are quite convenient, but there is just one thing I don’t get: why do they take you way out into the middle of nowhere, so that you have to walk back half a mile to the terminal once you get off the tram? Perhaps it was by design but it seems more like they mis-measured the distance from the main terminal out to the C gates.
  • This merger between United and Continental is a nuisance. Not only do I have to listen to the safety video each time I get on the plane, but I have to also listen to the C.E.O. of United prattle on about how the two airlines have merged to form the best airline in the world. I don’t know about best; biggest, certainly.
  • All of the little fees that the airlines charge now border on comical. It’s just beyond words.
  • I’ve said this before but each time I fly across the country, it seems longer.

I sure hope that commercial space travel is better–kind of like commercial air travel at the dawn of its time, with lounges on board the space craft, with handsome hosts and pretty hostesses greeting you. And with a one-price-fits-all mentality.

In Santa Monica next week

Once a year, in my day job, my team gathers in our Santa Monica, CA office for an annual planning retreat. I look forward to it with mixed emotions. One the one hand, I get to see people I don’t normally see (I’m the only one on my team who works in our Arlington, VA office); and not just coworkers, but old friends and family, too. There are lots of social events and it can be a great deal of fun. On the other hand, I leave Kelly and the Z-man behind for 4 days, and that is always tough.

This year, I head Santa Monica on Monday and return home on Friday, with our planning retreat taking up most of Tuesday and Wednesday. Blogging will continue as normal, as will my Vacation in the Golden Age. And while I’m out there on the West Coast, I’ll submit my second Wayward Time Traveler column. I may even squeeze in some fiction writing.

Thanks to the Internet, I’ve made quite a few writer-friends online that I’ve never met in person. If any of you folks are in or near the Santa Monica area next week, let me know and maybe we can meet up in person.

Up to New Jersey

Around 7 pm, we headed over to Sarah’s.  Originally, we were expecting 5 of us plus Oliver, the dog, to be going up to New Jersey, but Michael’s girlfriend was sick and didn’t end up coming.  So as soon as we got to Sarah’s, we piled into her car and got on the road.

It was a quite drive up.  No traffic and smooth sailing all the way.  We arrived at Sarah’s parent’s house around 11:30 pm.  Both Kelly and I are pretty tired so we’re heading off to bed.  We’ve got a lot planned for tomorrow.

Originally published at From the Desk of Jamie Todd Rubin. You can comment here or there.

Protected: It’s official–I’m off to L.A. in March!

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Valentine’s day in Albany

I gave Kelly her Valentine’s gift yesterday, since we had a busy day today, and she gave me not one but two cards this morning, which made me realize that I hadn’t gotten her any cards.  Nevertheless, we had a very nice Valentine’s day–our first as a married couple.  I was up at 6 AM to feed the cats, came back upstairs and told Kelly that I was probably just going to get up, since I was already awake.  I then promptly fell back asleep for another hour or so, which she found very amusing.

We flew out of Reagan/National and once again, it’s great living so close to that airport.  The flight to Albany was less than 1/4 full.  In fact, there were 19 people on a plane that holds 80.  It was quite possibly the emptiest flight I’ve ever been on.  We left the gate 10 minutes early and arrived in Albany nearly half an hour early.  strausmouse  was there to meet us, and we piled into his car and headed to a nearby mall where we met rmstraus  and their little dude for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory.  Then it was back to their house to hang out, and where lots of talk about babies took place.

Eric made an excellent dinner that consisted of pasta with sweet potatoes, to say nothing of a side salad with some homemade dressing.  And there was some pumpkin ale to go along with it.  Yum!  For dessert, there were chocolate-filled strawberries and ice cream.  We ate dessert while playing a few games of Apples to Apples.  Ryane won the first game and Eric somehow managed to win the second game.  It’s hilarious to watch those two play any game together.  Around 10 PM, Kelly and I called it a night.

And he walked on down the hall

Another long workday.  My hours are going to increase for a while until we get over the hump, which will hopefully be sometime in mid-March.  In the meantime, I expect longer days.  More than likely I’ll start getting up earlier, working from home until Kelly is up and ready to go and then head into the office.  I’ll do my best to keep the evenings clear, but we’ll see how things go. 

I ate lunch today, but didn’t take a lunch break.

Finally got around to moving an automatic payment from an old account to a new one.  That took way longer than it should have.  Paid the auto insurance bill.  I’m annoyed as all heck that in Virginia you can’t pay the entire year in advance (I was able to do that in Maryland).  Apparently, in Virginia, the policies are written to be six months.  I just hate having to remember to pay these bills.  I went to set up automatic payments for it, but they automatic payments are deducted monthly and charge a $5 service fee.  You can’t do automatic payments if you pay the whole thing up front.

Avalon finally got the new website up so that I can once again pay the rent automatically.  Recall from a while back that I had this all nice and working, and then Avalon decided to cancel it all so that they could revamp their website.  After a few months, they got the new website up and announced it today.  Thrilled, I went to it and couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to set up the payments.  Long story short:  the site only works with Internet Explorer; no Safari, no Firefox.  Fortunately, I figured this out by logging into the site on a whim using Internet Explorer on my work laptop.  The message that indicates this is not displayed when you log in using another browser, only using Internet Explorer.  I was able to set up my recurring payments, but I’ve got to say that this has been a customer service disaster from end to end.

I also paid the water and cable bills today, now the only two remaining bills that have no eBill mechanism and no way to do automatic payments.  (Not entirely true.  Cable does, but it involves calling customer service, and I’m through with that for a while.  It’s easier to pay the bill via BillPay.)

We booked our travel to warm and sunny Albany, New York.  Yes, there’s no place like Albany on Valentines Day, and that’s where we’ll be, visiting strausmouse  and rmstraus  in the dead of winter.  The original plan was to drive but I’m in no mood to spend 14 hours of my weekend in a car.  So we bit the bullet and bought fairly reasonable plane tickets.  Nonstop from Reagan-National.  Total travel time should be under 2 hours and that includes going to the airport.

Kelly’s belly seemed to have a growth spurt over the last few days.  She is looking increasingly pregnant.  We have a doctor appointment tomorrow morning.

I’m going to try and squeeze in a little pleasure reading before heading off to bed.  I’ve got the fireplace going, now all I need is a glass of chocolate milk.

Catching up, part 2

I went upstairs to read at 7 PM last night and couldn’t get through a page before falling asleep.  I woke up at 6 AM and Kelly and I decided to stay in bed (and keep warm) until 7:30.  So I basically slept for 12 hours last night.  Then it was off to a busy day in the office.

The days are flying by and blurring into one another.  I only got to the gym one day this week.  On the other hand, I did a good deal of writing and I’m happy about that.  I’ve been trying to catch up on NEW SCIENTIST.  I was two issues behind, and now I’m only one issue behind.  But that’s taken time away from The Best of the Best.  I hope to make better progress on that  front.

Kelly’s belly is getting bigger.  People other than me can tell she’s pregnant.  She’s generally been feeling much better than she was feeling in the first trimester.

The garage door didn’t work again this morning. This marks the fourth time I’ve had problems with it, always on cold days, and I ripped the maintenance manager a new one, I’m afraid.  I asked the to replace the garage door opener, seeing as how I appear to be the only one having the problem.  I played the "pregnant wife" card and made it clear that I didn’t want Kelly to have to manually open and close the garage door.  The damn thing is just defective.  They "fixed" the problem today by adjusting the tension, but even after that, I went to the office and made sure that I wanted it replaced.  It involves paperwork and going through the management company, but I’m not backing off this one

Re-upped my SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN subscription through 2012.  Received three of The Year’s Best Science Fiction in the mail yesterday.  I’m slowly going to work my way backwards through the series.  And today also marked two straight weeks of packing my lunch for work.

It was extremely cold here today.  Below 0 at times.  Right now, the temperature is 7 and 0 with the wind chill.  At least the heat in the house is working.

We head to New York tomorrow to visit he11o_sunshine  and stubiebrother  and Sadie.  Yup, we’re flying US Airways to LaGuardia and back.  A couple of people have pointed this out to me so I’m just confirming it.  We are looking forward to seeing Jen and Jason and meeting our niece for the first time.

Inauguration is Tuesday and I haven’t described what it’s like in the D.C. area with respect to that, but it will have to wait for another post because I’m getting ready to go to bed.  Suffice it to say, it will be interesting here over the next four or five days.

Just finished watching the season premier of Battlestar Galactica and I thought it was good.  Looking forward to the remaining nine.  (And when there are only five episodes left, I can already predict the tag lines:  "Don’t miss the ‘final five’".

And I’ve got a small headache.


Slept in late again today–got up close to 9 AM, but we were up pretty late last night with AJ and Denisse.  I made us scrambled eggs for breakfast and we sat around watching Sunday Morning.  I was interested in looking for a messenger bag to replace my backpack and so we took advantage of the cold, but calm weather to walk to the Pentagon City mall (it’s about 2 miles from the house).  We ran through several stores before I finally found a decent messenger bag at Macy’s:  a Fossil bag that was marked 50% of (vickyandnorm  would be proud).  We then took the leisurely walk home.

I called strausmouse  back and we finalized some travel plans.  We are flying up to NYC Inauguration weekend to visit with he11o_sunshine , stubiebrother  and Sadie.  We managed to get great fares out of Reagan, which is five minutes from our house.  We’re going to be gone for all of 36 hours, but it will be nice to see them.  Then, we are planning to go up to visit strausmouse  and rmstraus  in Albany on Presidents Day weekend in February.  We’re looking forward to both trips, both for the enjoyment of seeing friends and family, as well as the last whiff of what can be called a social life before the baby is born.

Kelly and I had a very pleasant mid-afternoon nap.  We both dozed in the family room and it was very peaceful and quiet.  I was reluctant to come out of it.  Eventually, though, we had things to do.  We took down the Christmas tree today, and packed away all of the trimmings.  I then vacuumed up all of the needles from the tree, which meant vacuuming a lot of stairs (taking the tree out of the house caused it to shed what seemed to be half it’s supply of needles).  I did manage to get a lot of reading done, however.  In the early evening, we did some grocery shopping.