Finishing up the year in front of a warm fire in the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago after a couple of warm-up trips to Phoenix. I carved myself out an mini-vacation during one of the trips and worked at the summit of Squaw Peak for part of an afternoon. My MacBook Air — my perfect travel PC — turned itself into a good-looking brushed metal brick on my last day in Phoenix, forcing an unplanned stop at the Scottsdale Apple Store before my flight home. Trying to get some work done while I waited reminded me of the difficulty of finding a quiet spot for a phone call while living on the road. Missed connections caused by recent snow storms reminded me of ways you can have a little fun when stranded — if you embrace the adventure of it. Responding to a couple of listener questions on the closing song (Pictures of You by Evangeline), I replay the song’s back story as related by the band’s manager. Here’s a direct link to the podcast file or you can listen to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
Here are the transcript from TravelCommons podcast #86:
- Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
- Coming to you once again from the TravelCommons studios, wrapping up the year in the white icebox that is Chicago this winter. And it’s a cold one. Not as bad as what they’re getting in Minneapolis-St Paul – watching the video of the Metrodome’s ceiling collapse was pretty amazing – nor what New York is getting tonight, but I think I read that this has been something like the 7th coldest December on record. So I can tell you that I wasn’t too upset when my travel plans had me in Phoenix two out of the last three weeks.
- Packing for my last trip, I promised myself that, somewhere in the 4 days that I was in Phoenix, I’d find a couple of hours to get out of the office and go hike up Camelback Mountain. It was 12 degrees in Chicago when I was packing and the forecast for Phoenix was 70’s and 80’s all week. I’ve always said that if you don’t take at least a little something for yourself from even business travel, you’ll hate your life.
- So I start looking for my opening. Monday, nope – inbound travel days are usually jam packed and American Airlines just added to it – making it like an overstuffed carryon – with a 2-hr maintenance delay, complete with swapping out planes. Makes me misty for the days when preventative maintenance meant more than…
- Tuesday goes by, Wednesday morning I think – ah, I’ll do it on Thursday before I fly home – but I stop myself. My Weds afternoon isn’t that full. I push some stuff around and, presto, there’s my couple of hours. I race back to the hotel, change, look at the map – hmmm, Camelback might be a bit too far of a drive, especially if I hit traffic. But Squaw Peak looks doable. And so off I raced. After 1.2 miles, 1,200 vertical feet, and 19 ounces of Propel sports drink, I was at the top. It’s a pretty view – with the hills to the north and the city to the south. I sat for a bit, caught my breath, and then looked at my iPhone. Hmm, full bars. Started running e-mail and turned the summit into my office for the next 30 minutes – reading a couple of documents, cranking out some quick notes while watching the planes and birds fly by. I took a photo at the summit, which I later posted to the TravelCommons Facebook page and Twitter feed if you’d like to take a look at my new office.
- Bridge Music — Arlos Auto Parts and Salvation by Swivel Neck Jones
- In the last episode and in a prior TravelCommons post I sang the praises of my 11-inch MacBook Air as the perfect travel PC. Which, of course, meant I had tempted the technology gods who, in response last week, reached out from their Valhalla data center and smote the little unibody of brushed metal – bricking it on my last day in Scottsdale. I opened the lid – no instant on. I pressed the power button, no instant on. I held the power button for 5 seconds, 15 seconds, 5 minutes, nothing but a dead screen.
- If this happened on any other laptop, my first course of action would’ve been to drop the battery to try and reset the power management. But, that ain’t happening with a MacBook Air, so after stabbing the Power button another half-dozen times, I gave up and headed over to the Genius Bar at the Scottsdale Apple Store.
- Since our company allows Macs but doesn’t provide help desk support – the Development teams use Macs and stooping to call a Help Desk would be the furthest thing from their minds – the Genius Bar is the defacto help desk. Since it was near lunch time, I stopped off at Smashburger. A TravelCommons listener – I forget who – had replied to one of my In-N-Out Burger tweets, asking if I’d tried Smashburger. It was a god burger – not quite the mystique or ambiance of In-N-Out – but a good burger.
- One thing that I should’ve done while waiting for my Smashburger was book a time at the Genius Bar. Walking into the Apple Store, the hipster with an iPhone told me it’d be a 30-minute wait. I checked my watch – I had enough time before my flight back home. Right at the 30-minute mark, a guy walked over to me, opened my Mac, punched the power button a couple of times to no avail and said “Wow” and took it into the back room. OK, it’s a bit better than having some guy in India tell me to restart my PC a half-dozen times, but still… I look at my watch again. How long before I have to fetch this guy and dash to the airport?
- Not long as it turns out. 5 minutes later, the guy comes back with my now-working Mac. My initial diagnosis was right – it was the battery, or the PMU – power management unit? Since you can’t drop the battery, there’s a multi-finger key sequence – hold down the shift, control, option, and command keys with your left hand and then hit the power key with your right. I wrote it down so I could “self-serve” next time. Not sure if the whole experience was any better than hanging on hold for a help desk. I am paying more attention, though, to the location of Apple stores.
- Now, the 30-minute wait wasn’t a complete loss. Though my Mac was dead, my iPad and iPhone were fine. So while I was waiting for my Genius to arrive, I was running e-mail and reading documents on my iPad. Not a complete loss, but it wouldn’t have worked if I had needed to talk to someone, if I’ve had a conference call.
- And that is a big problem with the “digital nomad” work style – no office, working out of Starbucks and airport clubs and the like – there’s no good place to take a conference call. You can IM, e-mail, and text all you want, but once you need to open that voice channel, it’s a very different story. Nobody wants to be the guy flooding the conference bridge with overhead Muzak or the signature sound of a barista steaming a pitcher of milk. Airports are no better. If they don’t have an Admirals or Red Carpet Club – or if I’m flying Southwest – then the hunt is on for a spot not under a PA speaker and away from the aisles with the beeping carts. And you think the hunt for a working electrical outlet is tough. I’m forever trolling through the new issues of Skymall magazine looking for a real-life “cone of silence” like they had in Get Smart. I wonder if the Brookstone in ORD T3 has one?
- In the last episode, we talked about the bathroom being one of the most important rooms in a hotel. For me, the workout room is another important place. I stayed in the Ashton Hotel in downtown Fort Worth earlier this month. Nice place – a boutique hotel in a historical building right near Sundance Square and a great beer bar – the Flying Saucer. But would I recommend it to friends? Hmmm… I don’t think so, because the workout room is so limited? Or lame. A small room in the basement with a couple of treadmills and an elliptical – with a stand up fan pointed at them.
- That might be good for a 1-night stay, but I was there for 3. I, like many frequent travelers, depend upon hotel fitness rooms to stay in some semblance of shape. A couple of treadmills stuffed in a closet just doesn’t cut it anymore.
- And finally, I just want to remind everyone that Google’s Christmas present of free Gogo in-flight WiFi on Delta, AirTran, and Virgin America airlines is still on. It runs through Jan 2. Perfect way to post your family Christmas pics on the flight how.
- If you have a question, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is email@example.com, you can send me a Twitter message at mpeacock, or you can post them on the Facebook page or the web site at travelcommons.com.
- Bridge Music — Smiling Perspective by General Fuzz
Fun With Layovers
- One of the most sacred frequent traveler rules is Fly Direct. Be it winter with snow or summer with thunderstorms, adding that intermediate stop adds one more point of failure, one more opportunity for the airlines to screw up.
- And while many connecting flights are cheaper than direct ones, for a true comparison, you have to factor in the potential costs of a delay – hotel room (because the airlines won’t pay for weather delays), meals, replacement clothes and toiletries for misrouted luggage… In an episode last year, I calculated the cost – the breakeven premium between a direct and connecting flight — to be $100-150.
- But, with the right frame of mind – an “adventuring” frame of mind as one person put it – you can actually manufacture something good out of a connection.
- The first requirement is to step away from the 1-hour connection. Yes, we usually want to get to our destination in the shortest possible time, but accepting a connection of 1 hour or less…. Think about it – a 15-minute delay on your inbound flight – which is as good as on-time for most airlines – and you’re sprinting through the terminal (remember when we used to call it “OJ-ing” it – that was a long time ago) and probably having to check your carry-one. A 1-hr connection is just asking for a stress attack and/or an overnight stay at the airport branch of the Bates Motel.
- The second requirement is to connect through some place you might want to visit. On those rare occasions where I’m forced to take a connection, I look at the flight choices and think – where would I not mind being stuck?
- OK, sounds a bit odd, but think about it. I’m flying from Phoenix to Ft Myers, FL – zero direct flight – no surprise there. So where do I want to connect through – Miami, Dallas, Houston, O’Hare, Atlanta? The total flight duration for any of these connections is within 90 minutes of each other. For me, it’s an easy choice – I go through Chicago. If I get stranded, I sleep in my own bed. If I get delayed, I call up my wife and we grab dinner.
- Traveling with my family to Cape Town, South Africa, I chose the connection through Frankfurt because I knew the airport wasn’t too far out of town. We landed after the overnight flight from Chicago, passed through Customs and headed straight for a cab that took us to downtown to Romer Square. We had lunch, I had a beer, and then we walked around downtown for 4 hours – a quick sightseeing excursion between our overnight flights.
- Some years back, my parents flew from Denver to Paducah, KY to visit my aunt and grandmother. Again, no direct flights so they connected through ORD. And, as you can guess, on the way home, their commuter flight was late out of Paducah and they missed a tight connection. My dad called me from the airport. It was New Year’s Eve night and we were having 3 or 4 couples over. “Get your luggage and book the flight out tomorrow,” I told him, “you can help me cook dinner.” Completely unplanned. I picked them up, brought them home, threw an apron at my dad, and we had a great time.
- Planning ahead for these possibilities is key, though. Last week, friends and longtime TravelCommons listeners Allan Marko and Chris Chufo got caught at ORD when a snow storm caused the crew for their flight to JAX to time out. That was a bad night – some 1,500 flights were cancelled between ORD and MDW. The United customer service line stretched all the way down Concourse C. A frequent traveler, Allan immediately rang United’s Premiere Exec line and got seats on the next day’s flight to JAX, then found a room at a nearby Hilton Garden Inn and stepped out of line to go to bed.
- But without luggage. United didn’t even try to give it back. And because they had to check one bag anyhow with presents, they decided not to carry on – avoid the battle for carry-on space on full planes because they had time – no need to power directly from the flight to a meeting. But now, though they had a hotel room, they had no change of clothes and just the toiletries they could scrounge from the Hilton.
- A small inconvenience, though. Since their flight didn’t leave ‘til 7:30 the next night, I shuffled my calendar around, picked them at the Hilton and took them into Chicago for lunch. We ate at Longman & Eagle, a Logan Square gastro-pub that picked up a Michelin star last month – Chris and I had wild boar sloppy joes while Allan had the pork belly BLT, and then ran down a couple of blocks to a brew pub, Revolution Brewery, where they picked up some fresh t-shirts and I refilled a growler with a double India Pale Ale – though we thought hard about it, we just couldn’t figure out a way they could get a 64 oz jug of beer through security. By 5, they were back at ORD, fed, beered up, and ready to try again.
- It’s all about attitude. Do you lean into it – figure out how to get everything you can out of it – or do you back away? On her extended journey to JAX, Chris Chufo kept chanting a mantra — “It’s an adventure” – and came out smiling at the end
- Bridge Music — Goa Life by Ambient Teknology
From the Archives – Story Behind The Closing Song
- I’ve received a couple of requests over the past months for information on the closing song – the tune that wraps each episode of TravelCommons.
- Earlier this month, Becky Boyd wrote – “I can’t find the name of the song you use at the end of the show by lyrics. It is so appropriate to me and my husband. We relocated from California to South Carolina, then purchased a vacation home back in California. We often find ourselves on different coasts from each other.”
- The song is Pictures of You, done by a now-defunct country band from Glasgow, Scotland called Evangeline – which is now confused on the Internet with a defunct country band from New Orleans called Evangeline. Probably explains why Becky couldn’t find the song through its lyrics.
- Back in 2005, though, the Scottish Evangeline was playing festivals in the UK. I found them through the Tartan Podcast which, as the name kinda hints at, covered the Scottish music scene. It too is defunct. This story is starting to get a bit lonely.
- Anyhow, after hearing the song, I sent a note to the band’s manager Willie Evans asking for a couple of words – a bit of back story on the song. Here’s his response.
- Five years on, I still think it’s a great song about life on the road. If you like it, iTunes or Amazon are probably the best places to pick to it up. Given the on-line confusion between the bands, I’ll post links in the show notes at travelcommons.com and on the TravelCommons Facebook page.
- Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
- OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #86
- I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
- Bridge music from Magnatune
- If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or MP3 file, to firstname.lastname@example.org or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
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