Fun…

…is being in Michigan in the midst of tornado warnings. They just moved everyone here down to the ballroom of the Marriott (which is, oddly, on the second floor—a strange place to take shelter). Still waiting for the all-clear. One of my coworkers couldn’t take a flight out tonight because of the weather—all planes were grounded.

So I’m sitting in the hotel bar, working, and waiting for the all-clear. What a weird night.

Update, 10:33 PM: Well, it looks like we’ll be down here for a while. They cut into the Red Sox game on the TV a few minutes ago and are now only showing weather maps, with a big red spot right over the town where we are. Still no signs of any trouble from inside the hotel.

Update, 11:28 PM: The game came back to the TV half an hour ago. There will be more storms moving through overnight, but if someone tries to roust me from my hotel bed again they’ll be sorely disappointed. I won’t be moving for anyone.

Rainy in Michigan

I’m on the road this week, accounting for the slow posting. It’s been an interesting few days, learning how a prospect does business and getting deep into their data. I’m also feeling the pain of being a Red Sox fan on the road when we’re two down in the championship series; I had a hard time sitting in the same room with some Cleveland fans on Tuesday night. Here’s hoping we turn it around tonight.

Photo catch-up

Rainier

I’ve been heads down at work for a bit, so posting has been slow. However, I did manage to get some photos uploaded to Flickr in the last day or so, including a few summer studies at Crane Beach and the photo to the right.

A word of explanation, perhaps, is in order. The flight from Boston to Seattle (which I took back in August) is long, almost six hours. Perhaps to make up for this, some daytime flights manage to arrange their flight paths so that they come near some of the spectacular Northwest mountains, such as Mt. Rainier. The picture to the right was taken out the left window of an airplane just as some high-altitude cloud cover broke. The photo was not zoomed and was taken with my ordinary Canon PowerShot. The view from the plane window really was that spectacular. The accompanying photoset features some other images, many of which have been tweaked a bit to remove the general blue wash that the photo took on. (I will have to figure out how to get the exposure set correctly in the first place next time.)

Other favorites in the batch of uploads: the Harvard Lampoon building looking particularly Hogwartsesque, taken on the night that Harry Potter 7 was released; a nifty little flag shot and sand texture on Crane Beach; and a mountain sunrise from my folks’ place near Asheville. (There are also some special treats waiting for friends and family; make sure you sign into Flickr to see everything.)

Eating in Charlotte: a non-representative sample

I had the opportunity to try exactly one non-convention-center meal while I was in Charlotte this week. A few of us went to Ratcliffe on the Green, which is a very cool restaurant in a former Beaux Arts florist building (the Ratcliffe Florist neon sign is still out front).

The wine list was OK—I’ve been trained to look for certain Italian wines and am always a little miffed when Tuscany is the only part of the boot that makes an appearance—but the food was great. There were raves about the duck, the filet, and the rabbit (I had the latter and it had quite a lot to recommend it).

But for my money the best and most imaginative options were the starters. Foie gras brulée? Fabulous. The spare ribs were tasty too. But the absolute treat was the Eight-Piece Quail Bucket, which took the classic southern fried chicken and biscuits trope and miniaturized it. Little tiny pieces of quail piping hot and breaded with a crackling spicy not too greasy coating, with two biscuits the size of a silver dollar alongside. Um, fabulous. What a fun little restaurant; if more of Charlotte is like that, I’ll have to check it out again.

Travel daze

I jolted out of bed at 4:20 am today, not because of something I heard but because of something I realized I hadn’t: my alarm. I had a 6 am flight to get to. So I quietly stumbled downstairs, shaved and showered about as sloppily as I know how, stepped into my suit, and hightailed it to Logan. Thank goodness for the empty roads at 4:45 am. I had enough time to purchase and eat a bagel sandwich at the airport before my seating group was called.

On to Pittsburgh, for a two hour meeting with a customer followed by lunch. I was booked on a connecting flight to Charlotte at 8 pm tonight, but after lunch I called our travel agent to see if I could do something sooner. She said, “Well, there’s a flight that leaves at 3:35. Can you make that?”

I looked at the time on my phone. It was 2:05 pm and we were 40 minutes from the airport. “Sure,” I said.

Fifty minutes later, I was standing in line behind two young women who were pulling flat-panel LCD screens out of their laptop bags to run them through security. I inquired, and found out they were auditors, taking their office with them. I could tell they didn’t travel much: one of them left her boarding pass in her briefcase, then after it was fetched back for her grabbed the wrong boarding pass and we had to wait for it to go through the belt again.

After all that, I got to the gate just as my section was finishing its boarding. I squeezed into my middle seat and collapsed for a bit…

Until I got to Charlotte, where I rented a car and drove through heavy hurricane-remnant rain up to Asheville. Now I’m here, spending a day and two nights with my family before going back to Charlotte Sunday morning for the itSMF conference. But at least I don’t have to go anywhere tomorrow. Maybe I’ll nap.

Briefs

I managed to make it through a family reunion this weekend. The family part was fine; the traffic and weather almost did us in. It managed to pour the whole day of the August Brackbill picnic for the first time in a number of years, stranding us on the porch of the house. This after Lisa and I drove almost three hours from her parents’ (where we left the dogs for the day), then drove back through the same muck and mess. At least it was good to catch up with some family, particularly my grandfather.

Today was another day back at the office. I think things will start to get a little more interesting in September and October, when I will do a user conference, a product launch, a trade show, a partner conference, and at least one trip to Europe in about a five week period. Oh—plus, if I can make the travel work out, I will be making my Carnegie Hall debut with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. More to come…

Further proof that no training in life goes wasted

For this weekend’s Tanglewood residency, I am staying at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. It’s a ramshackle monster of a place, in continuous operation since the late 18th century (with sloping floors et al to prove it); has a prominent place in an iconic Norman Rockwell painting (“Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas”); and bills itself as a luxury destination. Which is why I always wondered how the BSO and the TFC could afford to billet volunteer singers there, as they do for nearly every residency.

The answer, it seems, is simple. There is this class of room at the Red Lion called B&B rooms. Neither of the Bs stands for en suite bathroom.

So—just like on the Lawn—I am throwing on a robe in the morning to go get a shower, etc. Unlike on the lawn, there is only a single shared shower and toilet per floor, for about 12 B&B rooms per floor.

I shouldn’t really gripe. The other amenities are nice; the service is great; the live jazz quartet I heard in the Lion’s Den on Thursday and Friday nights was exceptional. But I thought I left wearing a bathrobe in public behind me 13 years ago. Ah well. Apparently, plus ça change…

Wet

The only thing worse than having to work through a day off, is doing it on a rainy day.

Of course, there are those who will tell you that this is the best way to work on your day off, since you wouldn’t be having any fun anyway. To those misguided souls, I say: nah. The rain adds insult to injury. You get wet walking from place to place and you know that at the end of your journey you still have to pull out the laptop.

Context: I’m in Tanglewood this weekend. I had rehearsals yesterday and it was gorgeous, but I was also a little under the weather and couldn’t appreciate the great outdoors. Today I’m better but stuck working.

At least there won’t be a problem getting into the shed for tonight’s concert—if Ives and Carter haven’t already scared away all the attendees, the rain will do the rest.

Alive, still

All indications to the contrary, I’m still alive. It has been a lovely, if thundery, few days here in the mountains to the north and west of Asheville. Food has been commensurate with past experiences—steak at my uncle’s on Tuesday night, big southern breakfast Wednesday (eggs, sausage, sawmill gravy, biscuits, grits, tomatoes, cantaloupe, fig preserves, and black black coffee), a repeat of the fish tacos experiment last night. Tonight we’re going to make our way to the Jarrett House—if there is a connection to our family other than the name, it’s a distant one—for some fried chicken and trout.

Then, if we survive the meals, we’ll go to a rare movie on Friday, then get back on the road Saturday to go back to New Jersey, where we can collect the dogs and head for home.

Vacation

Anyone wondering where I am is forewarned: it’s going to be a nice quiet vacation for me for about a week. Leaving out the car trips, which render it a nice, nerve-wracking headache of a vacation.

Today, for instance, we’re at Lisa’s parents in coastal New Jersey, after a six hour trip holding Joy (our Bichon dog who hates to travel, even when tranquilized). Our reward for the trip: a beach excursion cut short by 54° water. (It was 70° F three days ago before the storm.)

That’s OK. I made some killer fish tacos (fried tilapia and sour cream/lime/chipotle sauce) that more than made up for it, as far as I’m concerned.

Black Friday?

Remind me never to fly again out of Logan on the Friday after school lets out.

I was at Logan at 5:15 this morning. The garage was open and uncrowded and I expected a sail through security. I practically walked into a wall of people, though, when I got into the terminal—security lines snaking through the ticket area; ticket lines snarled. And (my heart sank) not a business suit in sight.

No, I was trapped with a bunch of Leisure Travelers. People who decided that getting to the airport three hours early for their flight was too late—and they were right, because they and their fellow Leisure Travelers had no idea how to negotiate security quickly, no idea how to check in the night before at home, no idea how to use the check-in kiosks. No idea that the security line was actually two lines. No idea that knives are not allowable carry-on baggage. No idea that we have been fighting a War On Moisture&tm; for almost a year now.

Not that anyone was making it easier for them. Ahead of me in line, I watched as every passenger on a 22-person flight was selected for “special screening.”

I think this is the ugly secret of business travelers: we hate leisure travelers passionately. Oh, we are tolerant and indulgent—until you slow up the line, bring a bottle of water in your bag, set off the metal detector with your pocket-knife, cause my business flight to get overbooked.

But the worst, the very worst thing about this morning: they have moved the Starbucks out of the United side of Terminal C. And put a Dunkin Donuts in its place. Now, I’m as Bostonian as the next transplant from Virginia, but if I wanted to drink dishwater flavored with corn syrup and soy powder, I’d order that. Instead, when I order coffee, I want it black and strong. I guess I’ll have to wait until I land in Chicago.

College town

It’s strange being in someone else’s college town. You get all the facets of college life—cheap, unhealthy food; cheaper beer; the unhurried pace of college life. We checked into our hotel in a local college town today and asked about food. The clerk behind the desk said, “If you just want a quick bite, the place across the street has a gyro special today—gyro, fries, and large drink for $3.99.”

As my colleague said later, “He was definitely a college student. Now that I’m out of college—I’m on an expense account—I don’t care so much about cheap any more. I’m more interested in good.”

Touché. Still, there’s something to be said for the bargain, the “cheap and good” option. That’s where I always felt college students were really good at establishing a market.

Unfortunately, in places like Charlottesville, the positive effects of the students are counterbalanced by parents and alums, who inexplicably kept places like The Virginian alive long past its freshness date. I should note I haven’t eaten there since 1995 or so, but then it felt like it should not have existed because no students were ever there and the food wasn’t really good enough to draw the townie crowd.

The quietest flying day of the year?

It is Friday evening on Memorial Day Weekend. I have the honor of flying to Richmond tonight so that I can attend my sister’s graduation tomorrow as ambassador from the Boston Jarretts. I am excited and happy for her, but at the same time I’m puzzled. Why? Because I’m sitting in an empty airport, that’s why.

The road was virtually empty as Lisa drove me into Logan tonight; the airport is almost empty. Granted, I have a flight that leaves at 8:45 PM on Friday night, which might as well be midnight by airline standards, but still. Might the best time to travel on Memorial Day weekend be … Friday night?

Southwest: institutionalizing apologies

Interesting article in the New York Times today about how airlines handle communications with customers when something goes wrong. Perhaps because JetBlue is too busy figuring out what the hell happened over the last six weeks to talk to the press, the paper talks to the “chief apology officer” of Southwest Airlines. And the article shows why Southwest, which has been the low-cost airline of choice for over 35 years, is still a customer favorite.

If, as Doc Searls writes, companies have souls, then Southwest’s soul is funny, irreverent, but deeply concerned that you get there on time and enjoy yourself while doing so—in other words, the perfect cruise director. And really, that’s not such a bad way to think about the job of the overworked, underpaid flight attendants and gate staff who have to deal with arrogant type A business travelers like myself and clueless vacation travelers like the folks who are generally in the security line before me. The surprise is not that Southwest is so good at what it does, it’s that the other airlines haven’t figured out how important it is.

That’s why a nightmare like Southwest’s experience in Las Vegas last month (while I was there, the rumors were coming back to the Venetian about two hour waits to get into the terminal and eight hour waits at the ticket counters) is only a blip for the airline, while the completely understandable weather delays that hit JetBlue have totally paralyzed it. JetBlue doesn’t have a soul yet. Its early spirit—a smart, modern, can-do pioneer—lasted only as long as its long-term future strategy on jet fuel prices did. I still remember having conversations with a quiet, rueful attendant the week that they took their first bad quarter. They haven’t regained that spirit yet. Perhaps by taking a lesson from Southwest, they might start to regain some of that spirit.

Chicago, Chicago: that stop on the way home

I awake in the Windy City this morning, having arrived here late last night and checked into the Palmer House Hilton. It’s funny how a place like Vegas changes your perspective. Normally, I like the historical flavor of a place like the Palmer House, which is 135 years old and heavy on the scenery, particularly in the lobby. But after a few days at the Venetian, all I could think of when I stepped into my room was, This is tiny. In my defense, I think I was influenced primarily by my long ride in the middle seat and secondarily by the extensive plywood hiding the restoration work in the aforementioned lobby, which kind of cooled the impact.

So: down to breakfast, and then home. And then tomorrow: jury duty. Yay.