Just a little snug for the next 14 hours...

It’ll be a bit snug for the next 14 hours…

I tried to hold back, but I just couldn’t. I have to finally weigh in on the seatback recline wars. I’m stunned at the number of people who convert a couple of inches of seat movement into some sort of Manichean morality play. From that you can probably guess where I come out on this. On a much lighter side, I talk about finally taking Atlanta’s MARTA subway from the airport and tagging on some beer hunting to some Midwest business travel. All this and more  at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here are the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #111:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL having, through nothing other than sheer blind luck, dodged the cancellations caused by fire and attempted suicide at the Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, IL. Wasn’t that a heck of a story. A guy living outside Chicago tips over the edge after being told he’s getting transferred to Hawaii. It usually happens the other way around, especially after last winter.
  • And it’s still a mess. Kinda helped me with my decision to drive to Indianapolis last Friday. Indy is right on the cusp of the fly-vs-drive break point — about 180 miles from Chicago but it’s straight, flat, and most of it has a 70 mph speed limit. Also pushed me to take a break from ORD this week. Aurora’s supposed to be back online Oct 13 which is the next airline ticket I have, so I hope someone is cracking the whip over there.
  • This episode should sound better than the last one. I did some eBay shopping and significantly upgraded my recording rig. I’d been recording with an iRiver MP3 recorder/player and little condenser mic since the beginning of this podcast. Unfortunately, iRiver didn’t feel like upgrading the drivers from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8, and when my last XP machine was converted to a VMWare image, it just got to be a hassle pulling the audio off of it. So I applied a firmware upgrade that was supposed to make it look like a regular jump drive, which it did, but it also reduced the gain, the volume on my mic to almost nothing. After struggling with it for a bit, I finally gave up. The last episode was recorded on my HTC One with a significant amount of massaging in Adobe Audition. But now, I think I’ve got something that’ll work. We’ll see how this goes.
  • Bridge Music — Miss America by Beyond 7

Following Up

  • Regular listeners know that I always like to check out rapid transit to and from airports. On a trip to Atlanta last month, I finally decided to buck up and try MARTA. I’ve flown into Atlanta for years, but always rented a car because I never did work in Atlanta, always some place between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the I-285 beltway. Which is always lovely because the airport sits at 6 o’clock — directly opposite of where I normally need to be. So my usual MO is to rent a car and grind it out through the traffic — either straight up the city or around the beltway — which is why I try very hard to avoid meetings in Atlanta. So anyway, on this particular Thursday, I caught the 6am flight from ORD, hitting Atlanta right at the tail end of the morning rush. I guess I was being a bit passive aggressive on this trip, but I didn’t book a rental car. I just didn’t want to deal with the traffic. I had planned on taking a cab, but walking past the MARTA station in the airport, I plugged the office address into Google Maps and hit the Transit button, and found it was a straight shot up the Red Line and then a 5 minute walk from the station. For a $2.50 fare, it seemed worth a shot. And it was. The toughest part was trying to figure out which station exit to use so that I got on the correct side of the six-lane divided street I needed to walk along. I got it wrong the first time. I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find sidewalks — not a common amenity in office park land. The lone pedestrian sprinting across a couple of intersections to avoid turning cars, I got to my destination without fighting traffic and more than an order of magnitude cheaper than cab fare.
  • I got an interesting reaction from people when I told them about my morning’s MARTA journey. “Well that’s adventuresome” and “What time were you on? Rush hour? That’s OK. I wouldn’t try that after dark though” I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable during my ride. But then again, I never felt unsafe on train rides in Brussels — until my backpack was stolen. I never felt unsafe on DC’s Metro system — until the day a woman reached across the aisle, tapped my arm and strongly suggested that I put my iPad away. But I dunno, MARTA seemed as safe as the Metro system or the L in Chicago. And it was a damn sight cleaner than BART in San Francisco. I’ll take it again when I have to go back down to Atlanta in two weeks.
  • Especially after I sprung the dollar for the Breeze card, which is the contactless/touch card that MARTA now requires you to buy instead of issuing the little paper cards like New York or DC. The fare machine concierge assured me “It’s good for 10 years!” Yes, provided I remember to bring it with me next time. These things are starting to stack up. I have a London Oyster card in some desk drawer; I forgot how much that card cost me. Chicago’s Ventra card cost $5(!) which they say will be put back on the card if I register it — which I did but didn’t see any $5 credit. Maybe all these new cards are great for regular riders, but for the minority like me — the occasional rider — it’s a bit of a pain; more cost, more confusion, and a growing stack of plastic in my desk drawer. The Chicago system theoretically lets you use the NFC capabilities of newer Android phones like my HTC One to tap and pay with Google Wallet. I’m planning to check that out the next time I take the L. Would’ve been nice to know before I sprung the $5, but I’ll look harder for that when I’m in a new city. Of course, we could always go back to the cash box, like they still have on the New Orleans streetcars. But there I’m find myself fishing around for a quarter to drop the exact change into the cash box. For all the whining, it’s still better than renting a car.
  • In episode #107 earlier this year, I talked about the checklist I run through when I decide to review a hotel on TripAdvisor — the bathroom, room size, workout room, location, service quality. And it’s that last one — service quality — that I really see the difference. It’s not at the front desk. Hotels have their training and employee selection programs nailed. It’s been a long time since I’ve been treated with anything less than enthusiastic hospitality. No, where it falls down is the back of the house. The latest example was a couple of weeks ago. I check in around 5:30. Walking up to my room, I see dirty room service dishes — the little ketchup and mustard bottles suggest it was the remnants of a burger. I get ready to turn around — I bet they gave me an occupied room by mistake. But nope, my key worked and the room was clean and empty. Hmmm… I call down to the front desk to tell them about the dishes. The very nice woman who just checked me in greeted me by name and apologize profusely, saying she’d send someone up right away. I walk out for dinner. I come back a couple hours later — dishes are still there. I go out a bit later to grab a beer — dishes are still there. I come back — yup, the burger carcass is still there. Now I’m thinking, what else is lying around. I call back down to the nice woman. I’ll be checking out tomorrow morning.
  • And if you have any travel experiences — thoughts, questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — you can use your smartphone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to @mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — On Condition of Anonymity by the West Exit

Last Word (Hopefully) On Seatback Recline Wars

  • I’ve resisted doing this topic, but how can I claim to be doing a podcast that gives the “voice of the traveler” and is “more about the journey than the destination” and not take some cut at whole seatback recline option explosion? Because it seems like no one else — hard core traveler or rank amateur — has kept their thoughts to themselves. The sheer amount of time and words — physical or cyber — devoted to this topic has been amazing.
  • Let’s separate the specific from the general. First, let’s recap the incident that lit the fuse. A guy on his last leg home from Moscow, sitting in United’s Economy Plus, uses a Knee Defender to keep the woman in front of him from reclining her seat so he can get some work done on his laptop. She flags down the flight attendant about her seemingly malfunctioning seat, the flight attendant notices the Knee Defender and tells the guy to take it off. He does, and the woman slams her seat back to full recline. When she goes to the rest room, he pushes her seat back up and puts his Knee Defender back in. She comes back, pissed that she can’t recline her seat, tosses her glass of Sprite at him. The pilot makes an unscheduled landing to them both off the plane where, surprisingly, neither of them are rung up on charges.
  • So the first thing to say is — yes, these are two grown adults — which is head-shakingly amazing. This would be out-of-bounds behavior at a ball park or a rock concert, let alone in a packed metal tube hurtling along at 600 mph at 36,000 feet. Now, that being said and in no way forgiving the woman, the guy was definitely the bigger pinhead in this escapade.
  • The guy is 6’-1” — about my size so I’ve got a pretty good frame of reference. Sitting in United’s Economy Plus, he had a extra 3-4 inches over the folks in the back of the plane. It’s roomy as coach seats go. When I’m flying United, I’ll regularly choose an E+ middle seat over a regular E aisle seat. From first hand experience, I call bull on his premise that he needed to use the Knee Defender to work on his laptop — unless he has an undisclosed medical condition requiring him to type with completely extended arms, or his arms are long enough so he can tie his shoes without bending over.
  • And moving from the specific case to the general discussion (argument?) about the morality of seat reclines, why does this guy (or anybody) think their right to work on a flight trumps another passenger’s right to comfort? I got it — lots of people need those 2, 3, 4 hours to crank out stuff. But likewise, when I’m catching a 6:30am flight out Monday morning, I need to an hour or two of sleep to make it through the end of the day. And I don’t know of anyone who can sleep without reclining their seat. Which again get me to the question — what’s with people casting this as some sort of Manichean morality play — sitting straight up — Good (morally upright?); space-hogging slouching recliners — pure Evil.
  • Of course, there are ways around this — they just cost money. If you need the extra space to work — or sleep — then pay the extra money for a seat in something like United’s Economy Plus or American’s Main Cabin Extra — or flight them enough to earn status and you get it for free. As I said earlier, I regularly give up shoulder space for leg room. Unfortunately, it’s a choice I have to make more often than I like, booking flights at the last minute in this age of high plane utilization. Need more space, get more status or buy a more expensive ticket that will get you to the top of the queue for an upgrade. Or just buy the 1st class ticket you need the space.
  • But that’s not the story we want to hear — we want more space than we’re willing to pay for. Airlines are pushing seats closer together because travelers shop purely on price — a seat is a commodity. Years ago, American Airlines tried to differentiate themselves on legroom, pulling out rows of seats to increase pitch. I would fly those planes whenever I could. Unfortunately for American, I was in the small minority. They got their clocks cleaned and eventually had to put those rows back in. Most travelers don’t pay attention to seat pitch. They just click on the cheapest fare and then bitch about the lack of space.
  • Don’t want to pay for the extra space, then do what our guy did when he had to get home after his unscheduled connection in Chicago. He flew Spirit. Their seats don’t recline.
  • Bridge Music — Subtle Vice by Solace

Sneaking In Some Craft Beer Tourism

  • As regular podcast listeners know, I’m pretty much all-in with the US craft brew explosion. I was drinking Sierra Nevada in the ‘80’s while
    Patron Saint of Craft Brewers

    Patron Saint of Craft Brewers

    skiing at Lake Tahoe, got deep into Belgian beers in the early ‘90’s when I would travel to Brussels a half-dozen times a year while selling to the pharmaceutical industry, started homebrewing in the mid ‘90’s, and have just continued onward.

  • The listeners who I’m friends with on Untappd can see that I’ve checked in over 2,200 unique beers. It’s a passion that one could arguably say has tipped over a bit to obsession. So when I had a couple of Midwest trips recently — I mentioned the Indy run, but also had a couple days in St Louis in September — rather than bolting out of town immediately after my meetings, I did a bit of craft beer tourism, hitting some of the local microbreweries. In St Louis, where I had a bit more time, I hit Urban Chestnut for a dunkelweiss and a board full of knockwurst, stewed apples, cabbage, and pumpernickel bread — which I managed to consume during a conference call with the judicious use of the mute button. I had some great sour beers at Perennial Ales, and then at Civil Life Brewing, a very English pub-like place (not in the ersatz way of Union Jacks and Tube signs hanging around, but in the true sense of a pub — a cozy local place) I had yet more encased meat — a Hungarian bratwurst this time. Which was very pleasant change considering everything I’d eaten over the prior 48 hours had been from the Airport Marriott.
  • In Indianapolis, I only had time for one stop and as it turned out, my meeting was 8 minutes away from Sun King Brewing. I followed the line of growler-toting folks into the brewery. No taproom, but they gave me tickets and bottle caps good for 6 small samples. They had a Friday sale on growlers, but I’m already long in glassware, and when’s the next time I’m gonna be in Indy? Instead, I bought a couple of 4-packs of the beers I liked best. Since I drove, I didn’t have to make that decision — is the beer good enough to justify checking luggage?
  • Nowadays most hotel bars will have at least one decent craft beer on tap or available in bottles. The St Louis Airport Marriott had a nice selection with about 4 local draft handles including a Schlafly pumpkin beer — not my favorite style, but you gotta give them props for giving it a tap. The Sheraton on Canal St in New Orleans has stepped up its game — adding 1-2 more local taps in addition to the ubiquitous Abita tap. But on that 4th or 5th week in the same hotel — or more; I just made Starwood Platinum at the Canal St Sheraton — even those additional taps start to get boring. Luckily, some of the upscale grocery stores like Whole Foods are also tapped into the craft beer trend and sell single beers. On my first day in New Orleans, I tend to swing by Rouse’s, kind of a local version of Whole Foods, grab a couple of good beers and take them back to the Sheraton. The first time I did this, though, I had a problem — there wasn’t a bottle opener in the room; these craft beers don’t typically come in twist-offs. I’m rummaging around, but nothing. It kinda pulled me up short — when did hotels stop stocking their rooms with bottle openers? I go down to the front desk. They’re pretty puzzled too — they start rummaging around their drawers. “Maybe you can borrow one from the bar?” Ever since, I always pack a bottle opener in my backpack. Just another thing to keep in the travel kit.
  • Some airports are serving up great beer. I found two microbrewery joints at BWI, and I always try to swing by the Great Lakes Brewery spot in CLE. But in my last trip through ATL, a bartender saw me struggling with her Bud/Coors/Sam Adams draft selection. “Go down to the end of the terminal,” she said, “there’s a new craft beer bar just opened up” Great! I wheel my bag down the terminal but pull up short of the bar. This new beer bar is a smoking bar! That’s right — I’m in the South. I watch the cigarette smoke billow out under the door. I turn around a walk away. Even an obsession has its limits.


  • Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #111
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • The bridge music is from Magnatune, the we are not evil label. Miss America by Beyond 7, On Condition of Anonymity by the West End, and Subtle Vice by Solace. You can find these and more at magnatunes.com.
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or audio file, to comments@travelcommons.com 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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