Unemployed Pirate

I have decided that I am an unemployed pirate. It is an interesting job. Well, it’s not really a job, if I’m unemployed. I suppose I’m an unemployed chef, as well, because I made fish sticks for lunch.

Unemployed Pirate
Ye Host, The Unemployed Pirate

Jimmy Buffet said, “Yes, I am a pirate … 200 years too late”, and I know the feeling. I want to be a pirate. However, the hours aren’t that good, there’s apparently lots of work, and you might get killed or imprisoned.

It seems much simpler (and safer) to just take a cruise, demand drinks and food from the cheerful staff, and say, “Thank ye, matey!” when your order is delivered. I’m pretty sure most pirate ships didn’t have room service.

Still, it seems like putting “Pirate” on a resume (or a business card) would stand out as a desired position, and then you would also have the advantage of writing off all your vacation cruises as job training. Tax piracy is still piracy, right?

So, take a GPS on your next cruise. There’s probably one built into your phone. Track your coordinates as you travel from port to port. Now, you’re a navigator. Sure, you probably need to know how to read paper charts and use a sextant, but that’s just if you forget to charge your phone.

Tell your mate to go get you a drink. If you get a drink, you’re the Captain. If you’re told to get your own damn drink, you’re probably just the First Mate. Just don’t ever both wear T-shirts with your “ranks.” It’s very non-pirate.

Yes, I am a pirate. I’m simply unemployed, and I would like a pirate job with decent hours, a medical plan more extensive than just an eye patch and a hook, room and board, and a good chance of advancement. I’d also like a retirement plan a bit more extravagant than a stud earring. Oh, and little chance for arrest.

How much is it worth?

Everyone has food memories from their childhood. Some even have happy food memories.
If you’re like me, and you’re living in the city where you grew up, you may still be able to relive your childhood memories. The only time you can’t is when the place closes. (I really miss Kip’s Big Boy, but I have Frisch’s Big Boy when I visit my grandkids in Ohio.)
I think food memories are hardest on people exiled from their childhood homes (sometimes by choice) where the food is still available, you just can’t get there from here. This is especially true if you are from a cultural background that reveres food.
The Spousal Unit is from Brooklyn and she is Brooklyn Italian. She is … opinionated about food. If you want to get her going, just call “pasta” “noodles” or tell her if she needs pizza, Dominos can be here in a half-hour, and if she really needs an Italian food fix, there’s always the Olive Garden.
Never mention Olive Garden – except to her sisters, who inexplicably like it.
This week, in earth-shaking news, DaVinci Pizzeria, the Spousal Unit’s favorite pizzeria in Brooklyn (and therefore in the world) started shipping their pizza. Shipping, as in having FedEx deliver pizza to anywhere they can reach in two days that is willing to pay the rather pricey shipping charges. (Frozen food requires two-day shipping, which is not cheap.) You can order online, which takes some of the fun out of calling for pizza, but it works. 
DaVinci has Sicilian pizza, which is not pizza. It’s a very thick crust, and you don’t get slices, you get squares. It reminds me of Chicago deep-dish pizza, but I don’t say that out loud, because I want to live.
So, while my wife was reveling in the pizza of her childhood arriving on her doorstep, a lot of other people are complaining directly to the pizzeria on their Facebook page about how much it costs.
These were my (slightly-edited) thoughts which I posted, but their page is wisely moderated, so we’ll see if they think it’s worth posting – it’s a defense of small business and a plea to just mind your own beeswax if you think someone has their priorities out of whack:
To everyone complaining about shipping costs, I feel your pain. As the husband of a Brooklyn expatriate, I have had 19+ years of “You don’t understand! You can’t get that here! I NEED IT.”
 
I’ve only been to DaVinci Pizza once – we were visiting my wife’s family and friends in the area, so we went for lunch. My wife was taking photos of all the food with her cell phone. One of the staff asked if she wanted a picture of the two of us. She said, “Why would I want that? I just need photos of the food.”
 
Any food shipped to Texas from New York is insanely expensive – but it’s mostly the shipping costs, with the possible exception of Junior’s Cheesecake – and they’re relatively famous, so they have volume in their favor. Pastosa Ravioli will ship, but the shipping costs more than the pasta. We tried to order cookies for my wife’s Aunt in Florida once, and decided we just didn’t love her that much. 
 
My only salvation is Jimmy’s Food Store  in East Dallas who has owners that import some critical Italian necessities (as in the aforementioned Pastosa Ravioli.) So, if you’re in Dallas, go to Jimmy’s. Tell them Kevin sent you. 
 
Here’s the issue that Mom and Pop businesses run into – the stores don’t set the shipping rates. They either absorb them which kills their profit or pass them on which annoys their potential customers. Sure, you can ship more slowly, but the food won’t arrive edible. I did think $80+ shipping to get $100 of pizza to Dallas was a bit insane, but it’s cheaper than us flying to Brooklyn and having my wife discover all the other stuff she needs to take home. (It’s also cheaper than a two-day UberEats delivery with the pie in the back of a random driver’s car.) 
 
So, I had really, really good Sicilian pizza last night and a calzone for lunch today, and my wife is happy (Happy wife, well, happy wife.) However, I know my late mom-in-law will put in a good word for me on Judgement Day because I got her favorite child (well, except for her Shih-Tzu) a real Brooklyn Sicilian pizza and I ate a proper calzone.
I didn’t really have much of a choice – I saw the announcement that they were shipping, and I told my wife, so it’s my fault, anyway. My only fear was adding up the costs, and wondering what would happen if it arrived and it sucked.
It didn’t suck.
It may be too expensive for some. However, if it brings someone’s childhood back, even for a moment, that’s worth it.

History of a (Lost) Flight

It takes two days to drive from Cedarville to Dallas (with an overnight stop), so this was still faster, but it’s interesting how long it took American to just say, “We’re not flying this plane back to Dallas.”

We were on American flight 1492 from Columbus (ha!) to Dallas, and the plane was in a bit late, but everything looked good.

Then, the new crew did a walk-around, and the Captain called Maintenance. Run-Roh. That’s never good.

The gate agent assured us it wasn’t a big deal, everything was fine, but the Captain didn’t want to board us while they were doing paperwork. So, just relax, everything’s going to work out.

A bit later, she said, it wasn’t a big problem but they weren’t sure if everyone or only some or nobody was flying to Dallas. Hmm. The non-problem seems to have worsened. What would cause a plane to hold less people?

I found all the texts I got while we were at the gate, attached below. Basically, every fifteen minutes, you got a text moving the flight out fifteen minutes. This is silly, especially if the flight has not arrived yet. If a flight arrives late, it will depart about forty-five minutes after it finishes unloading, unless they can’t get a slot to take off. Minimum.

Here’s the annoying part – all the systems (gate agent, app, text messages) are slightly out of sync. You can’t really depart at 3:15pm if it’s 3:17pm and the plane hasn’t arrived yet. I’m pretty sure the gate agent knew the flight was canceled before she finally announced it wasn’t officially canceled yet, but it wasn’t going to depart.

So, after looking at the plane just sitting at the gate for a couple of hours, and listening to ever more disturbing and cryptic announcements, I called the AAdvantage Gold Desk (one time being lifetime Gold helps) and asked for alternatives. I said I thought the flight I was on was about to be canceled. The only other American flight was sold out. The agent offered to just move us to Delta, but that meant a connection in Atlanta, which adds hours of travel. Still, it seemed better than a hotel at the airport and flying out the next day, so I took it.

It occurred to me later that either she moved us to another airline out of the goodness of her heart or she already knew the flight had been canceled. As far as the rest of the people at the gate knew, we were still leaving – or some of us were. We were safe, to a certain extent.

We got to see a small part of Hartsfield International Airport and discovered the seats are better on Delta. (We also got delayed out of Columbus after there was a ground stop in Atlanta, which cut into our connection time.)

We saw a few people from the gate on the Delta flight with us, so we weren’t alone. We were just first, and I didn’t have to stand in line at the gate to negotiate a switch.

I would love to know what was wrong with the plane, especially as it had just flown up from DFW.

Text updates are generally helpful because they will tell you your gate changed before the gate agent announced it, or before you look around and notice you’re alone. However, the sequence of texts for a cancellation is just sad.

Getting Ready to Go

Reminder: Flight AA1492 CMH-DFW on Jun22, 2:45 PM out of Gate B19. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 ON TIME
Arrives DFW 4:20P Gate A10 Bag A15
Departs 2:45P
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

At the Airport, at the gate, no plane.
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 3:10 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:10P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 4:47P Gate A10 Bag Claim A15
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

The Plane has just arrived, so we’re boarding 100+ people in ten minutes?
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 3:25 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:25P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:02P Gate A10 Bag Claim A15
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

If we start boarding ten minutes ago, we might make this.
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 3:45 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:45P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:22P Gate A10 Bag Claim A15
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

Thinking this is a doomed flight.
FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:55P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:32P Gate A36 Bag Claim A29
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

I called the Gold Desk.
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 4:20 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 4:20P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:57P Gate A36 Bag Claim A29
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

On Hold with the Gold Desk
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 4:35 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 4:35P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 6:12P Gate A36 Bag Claim A29
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 4:35P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 6:12P Gate C4 Bag Claim C4
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

At this point, we were rebooked.
FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 6:00P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 7:37P Gate C4 Bag Claim C4
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

Good thing we took the Delta flights. Look at that line forming.
FLYAA Info
AA1492 22Jun 6:00P CMH to DFW is
CANCELED.
Please call 800-433-7300 for assistance.
Local rates apply outside U.S.
http://www.aa.com/PHONE for help

The Man Trying to Kill You May Not Be

So, it’s O’Dark-Thirty, and I’m trying to find the rental car return in Peoria International Airport.

I’m poking along, trying not to miss the Avis sign, when a Parking Shuttle bus comes roaring up behind me. Good Lord, man, can’t you see I’m lost?

I realize I’m in the Hertz return area, and it looks like real parking after that, so it’s time to turn around. This is why I leave early for the airport.

I’m slowly making my way down the lot when the insane shuttle bus comes roaring up behind me, again. WTF? I’m lost. Go pick up someone who knows where they are.

One more U-Turn, and the shuttle is behind me again. Seriously?

Now, he’s honking his horn.

That’s it. I’m going to die.

So, I pull over and roll down the window.

He says, “Need help?”

Wait. What? He’s not a murderer?

“I’m trying to find Avis.”

“Follow me.”

The van roars off at quite an inappropriate speed for a parking lot, but it’s not like anybody else is here.

He leads me to Avis (in my defense, it was out of the way.)

I parked and he said, “Want a ride over?”

Now, I can see the terminal, and my FitBit thinks I need the steps, but I’ve got two computers and two suitcases, and he seems friendly, for a murderer.

“Sure.”

“I’ll take you to drop your bags first, because the rental counters aren’t open yet. It’s easier to drop the bags, then drop the keys.

I was trying to get you to stop, because you looked lost, and you kept going. I was just following you, because I figured you needed help.”

So, trying to get me to stop so you can render aid just looks like stalking. Good to know.

So, a quick ride to the terminal, quick instructions on where everything is, and I’m good to go.

I’m back to being early, which is much better than being lost.

So, thank you, early morning shuttle driver, for taking pity on me, driving me around, and explaining the lay of the land.

Oh, and for not murdering me.

Lowered Expectations

I’m in Peoria, Illinois on business for three weeks, and two-thirds of the trip is now behind me. So, I will update this as required for the last week. I had quite a head of steam up the first week, writing everything down, but after that, I either got complacent or I managed to lower my expectations to where they were being met.

Somewhere along the line, it became too long and bitchy for a Yelp review, so it was graduated to a blog post.

I had some trepidation about staying at a Quality Inn, but this is my first contracting assignment with this company and nobody told me the hotel limits, and I was originally told the travel desk didn’t do hotels. (Had I been more in practice, I would have stayed at a really expensive place and said, “Nobody said there were limits”, but I really need to be reimbursed, and I’d like to keep the job, if nothing else for my resume.) If you put “quality” in the name, you’re probably concerned about being considered low quality. I can never remember where on the food chain Quality is, I think it’s actually below Comfort. However, I think it’s above Sleep.

I checked in on Sunday, May 20th, after my flight to Peoria got canceled and I got rerouted to Bloomington, instead. So, that was an extra hour’s drive. At that point, any room would be good. I hoped.

The room is not bad. It’s not a suite, but it’s designed for long-term stays (I think.) There’s a dishwasher, a refrigerator and a microwave. There are (some) plates and glasses. Well, one less, because I dropped one. There are pots and pans – but nowhere to use them. There is a minimal amount of silverware.

All I really needed was a fridge, a decent-sized glass and an ice bucket. I drink soda in the room. I don’t cook.

I filled my ice bucket Sunday night. By Monday morning, I had a bag of water. I went to Walmart that evening to get some other stuff, and got myself a big-ass glass. So, I didn’t really use the ice bucket after that, which was good, since when I got back to the room, I still had a bag of water. On Saturday, I still had a bag of water. I began wondering how long this would go on. I will be impressed if it is still there after three weeks. (The bag was replaced either Monday or Tuesday of my second week. By that time, I had stopped looking – but I caught it in the corner of my eye as I was making coffee Wednesday morning.)

When I got back from work on Monday, I had a hand-written note from the maid on the bed. She hadn’t made the bed because I had left my gym shorts and t-shirt on it, and she can’t touch my stuff. Ma’am, if you’ve cleaned any lonely businessmen’s towels and sheets, you should not be afraid of shorts and a t-shirt.

My wife hates that I leave my t-shirt and shorts on the bed, but it’s an interesting test for me. I’ve had some maids fold them, some drape them on a chair, some toss them on a chair, and one folded them and put them on the pillow. One folded them and put them under the pillow. And then, one wrote me a note.

Tuesday evening, I realized I had a laundry order form but no laundry bag. I needed to send some shirts out since I refuse to iron, and I’m allergic to doing laundry. So, I went down to the front desk and got a laundry bag. It tore when I filled it, but I can’t pack like my wife.

Wednesday morning, I staggered down to the front desk first thing, before I forgot about it, since it was in by 9, back by 6. So, I arrive in shorts and a t-shirt, with a laundry bag in hand. The clerk said, “Checking Out?” Quite the leap. I guess hobos stay here. 

After he took the laundry, I decided to grab some breakfast. The woman restocking the spread said I couldn’t be in there because I didn’t have shoes on. So, hobos can sleep here, they just can’t eat.

That night when I got back from work, no laundry. This did not really surprise me. At a hotel, it would surprise me. Here, not so much.

Thursday night, when there was no laundry and also no emergency medical shipment from my doctor, I went to the front desk. Since my room is at the very end of the hallway, this is an excellent way for me to get my steps in. 

Now, I admit, I am having a senior moment on my room number – I’m off by 2 constantly. I didn’t know that was the issue, but I considered it. 

The front desk guy recognized me – in fact, when I got two sodas from the little shop and told him the wrong number, I went back to correct it, and he already had.

“Did I get a package? And, have you seen my laundry?”

His manager asked my name. “Oh, I saw that. Just a minute.”

My friend said, “It had the wrong room, but we fixed it.” – uh, if you fixed it, why am I at the front desk asking for my stuff? The manager came back with a package and laundry. She then showed my friend how to charge the laundry to my room. I hope I am not the first customer to send out laundry. Given some of the outfits I’ve seen walking in the hall, I might be. 

Saturday – a day to laze around a bit, after five days of being in the office by 8:30am or earlier. I went and got some breakfast (with my flip-flops on), went back, put up the Do Not Disturb sign, read all my email and took a shower.

I got out of the shower, and there was a letter under the door. “We respected your Do Not Disturb and won’t do your room.” The note was dated 10am. I found it at 9:45am. The letter said to contact the front desk for anything I needed. Uh, I need my room cleaned. Back to the front desk. There was an employee standing there, talking to the clerk, so I figured fast service, because guests outrank employees, right? So, after I heard the front desk clerk discussing the employee’s lack of a paycheck with her (well, maybe that’s why they take off early), I asked to have my room done. No problem. Just go find one of the maids and ask her. Hmm. The note said “front desk”, not “self-service”. So, I wandered the hall, found a cart, looked for an open door, and asked a maid. She looked down my end of the hall, saw no cart, got a pained look, and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll have it done.” Amazingly, when I got home later that day, the room was done. I guess they’re expecting everyone to go to early Mass tomorrow. I’d better be out of the room early.

Saturday afternoon, there was some loud noise outside my window, and I’m by a parking lot (a lovely view, by the way.) I thought I had caught an illicit pool party – pool parties are verboten (in writing.) No, it was a tailgate party – with multiple tents and people in those fold-up chairs and everything. Well, at least it wasn’t a pool party.

The pool party (it’s not a pool party!) went on until just after 11:30pm when I heard a baby start crying. I guess if I would have smacked the kid sooner, it would have quieted down.

Second Week.

Monday was Memorial Day, so I was actually off work. I still got up early, so I wouldn’t block the maids’ progress. I had breakfast and went back to the room. No maid. I went out to Walmart for sodas, stopped for lunch and went back to the room. No maid. I went to Best Buy, bought an Amazon Fire stick, came back to the room about 12:30pm and was in the middle of installing and configuring it on their TV, when … a knock at the door. “Would you like your room cleaned?” Sure. Ten minutes in the lobby, clean room. Five minutes later, I don’t have to watch cable any more.

I finally decided to do my laundry, even though I’m allergic since there was a bunch of stuff I hadn’t sent out. Everyplace fun I would have gone to visit was closed for Memorial Day and the minor league team is on the road on the weekends the entire time I’m here, so I might as well do chores. The machines in the hotel are $1.75 each which seemed reasonable, so I went to the front desk for some change, since I didn’t see a change machine. One of my well-known clerks was there, so this should be easy – “Hi! How can I help you?” “Hi. I need some quarters for laundry.” Some rummaging around and, “We don’t have any quarters.” How is this possible?

So, off to find a laundromat, since I didn’t see the point of going out and getting change and coming back. Of course, it was almost 4pm, so everyone was closed or closing. All except one laundry about four miles away. I didn’t have the heart to ask the front desk for a laundry bag, so I just put everything in my small suitcase. The machines were more expensive, but they had quarters and a change machine.

Tuesday or Wednesday, one of the maids actually replaced my ice bucket. I didn’t notice which day, since I just load the ice directly into my big-ass cup. I was making coffee on Thursday morning, and I noticed a nicely folded, dry bag hanging out of the ice bucket.

Thursday evening, I realized that I had to send some shirts out again to get me through until I go home. So, I asked at the front desk for a laundry bag, since there was none in the room. (Dear hotel people, if you have a guest dumb enough to pay your laundry prices once, he will do it again. Give him another bag!) The woman at the front desk happily gave me a laundry bag, and as I walked off, I noticed there was no order form in the bag. So, I asked for an order form. (How can you use one without the other?) She was on the phone, and said, “Just a second, I have to print one out.” WTF? Don’t you have forms with the bags? The forms don’t come from the laundry? Apparently not. So, she printed me a form while she dealt with the call, and now she has an extra form, since the template they use prints two on a page and she had to cut them in half. I packed up my shirts, filled in the form, and double-checked I got the room number right.

Friday morning, I dropped them off at the front desk on my way to the office. I had to wait for the clerk to finish some very important task before I could drop them off, so I waited. Most places, I would just put the bag on the counter and wave on my way out the door. A lot of places, I would have just left the damn shirts on my bed, but here I probably would have had dirty shirts and another note on an unmade bed when I got home. So, I waited. He finally said, ‘Dropping off laundry?” No, I’m a hobo, and I’m checking out. I got home from work, and no laundry. This did not surprise me. I went out to dinner, and on the way past the desk coming back, asked if my shirts were back. “Oh, yes.” Shirts handed over. I guess nobody at the desk has a key to my room.

Saturday morning, I got up late (for me) but early enough to be out of the room before the maids rejected me again. I went to the buffet for breakfast, and decided to have a waffle. They have one of those cool “fill, flip” waffle makers. So, I get the cup of batter, open the machine, pour in the batter, close it and give it a spin. That’s when the hostess (an older maid promoted to buffet duty) informed me that the machine was being used. Excuse me? She said a young girl was using it. Hmm. Then, why was it empty? “I’m so sorry. It’s just the machine was empty.” “Well, she was using it. She only wanted 3/4 of a waffle, so she only filled three corners.” How was she using it? Telepathically? 3/4 of a waffle still requires batter and there was no batter. I apologized another three or four times, because it takes two minutes to make a waffle.

I got my (now tainted) waffle out of the formerly empty (yes, I’m bitter about this) machine and put it on a table, so I could go get some coffee. I came back, and some guy was putting his stuff on my table. Our eyes met, and we both looked confused. He finally said, “Is this your table?” I said yes, and he apologized profusely. He thought my waffle was his daughter’s waffle. Uh, Sparky, your daughter only eats 3/4 waffles. This is a full one. Get with the program.

I feel bad for stealing the waffle iron. The empty waffle iron. He feels bad for stealing my table. The table with food on it. Eventually, I said we should all just go back to our beds and start over. His daughter, the one with no damn batter in the damn machine, is still pouting.

I got back to my room. No maid. There is some altercation outside my window, though. Lots of loud voices, and what sounded like arguing. I looked through the curtains, and there were all the maids. It must be break time.

I decided to take a drive down the World’s Most Beautiful Drive, which is about ten minutes from the hotel. It is very nice, and the river views are impressive. On the way back, I stopped at Hardee’s for a snack (really, for the bathroom, but I’m polite enough to buy something.) I managed to get to Hardee’s just as they were changing from breakfast to lunch, so five chicken strips took almost fifteen minutes to make. I should have had biscuits. Got back to the hotel. No maid.

Started writing a note to answer one last question from work, since my boss will be out next week. 12:45pm, bright and early, a knock at the door. “Would you like your room cleaned?” I managed to not say, “No, ma’am, I prefer filth.” So, I went out to the lobby, and ten minutes later, I had a clean room. There was even blue water in the toilet, but I think she just did that out of spite.

Why did I get up early? Oh, yes, so I would be out of the maid’s way.

Maybe my expectations are too great. Maybe I’m just out of practice on business travel. This place actually has some good Yelp reviews. I now assume those writers are comparing it to boondocking  or boot camp.

Week three begins.

Sunday, I got up early. I didn’t mean to do so, I just woke up at 7:30am and couldn’t go back to sleep. So, then was the question – throw a t-shirt and shorts (and flip-flops! don’t forget the flip-flops!) on, and grab something from the free buffet, or shower, dress, and go out.

I’m not saying I’m tired of the gravy from a huge can or still traumatized by Le Incident De Waffle, but I decided to go out. I had laundry to do, so instead of discovering the front desk was still out of quarters, I figured I would get breakfast and hit the laundromat.

So, I went out, had breakfast, went down the street, did the load of laundry, came back, spent an hour and a half on the phone with my wife, booked a cruise for this evening, checked my work email, looked at the time, and it was ten to two. You know who hasn’t come into my life today? The maid. I just checked and she’s six doors down the hall, at least.

This means the first week was an anomaly – or all the maids that liked to work early didn’t get paid and quit.

So, when I was leaving for dinner and had heard most of the maids leaving (and having another loud discussion in the hallway), I saw what looked like a supervisor, and mentioned my room had not been done. She asked one of the other staff who had my hallway, and I just wandered off, as I had a cruise to catch.

I spent the evening on the Spirit of Peoria, with a buffet dinner and the music of Kenny Rogers. It was great fun.

When I got back, lo and behold, my room had been cleaned. My assumption is twofold, one, that a supervisor did it and two, there will be hell to pay tomorrow.

Travel Bag

My travel bag used to be pretty simple. Laptop, charger. Done. If I was going overseas, I needed a wall adapter. Lately, the list has started growing. What’s interesting is how much of the technology is duplicated – laptops and phones have cameras and GPS units, for example. This current trip has added a number of things out of boredom, but if you’re going to travel on business, boredom is a good possibility.

Now, we have:

Technology

  • iPhone
    • Wall adapter and USB cable
  • iPad
    • Wall adapter and USB cable
  • Macbook Air
    • Power cord
  • Work Dell laptop (actually, in its own bag)
    • Power cord

Photography (mainly because my backpack is also my camera bag)

  • Nikon D5300 camera
    • Fisheye lens
    • 50mm fixed lens (added this trip)
    • 18-140mm zoom lens
    • 55-300mm zoom lens

Medical Equipment

  • USB charger for Garmin vivosmart3 (“Fitbit”)
  • CPAP (actually in suitcase)
  • Glucose Meter
    • Lancets
    • Blood Testing Strips
    • Alcohol wipes

Navigation

  • Garmin Etrex 10 GPS
  • Bushnell Backtrack GPS
  • Bad Elf GPS adapter for iPad

Miscellaneous

  • Power strip (for CPAP or other needs)
  • Amazon Fire Stick (added this trip)
    • USB cord and wall adapter
  • Bracketron Window Mount (for iPhone camera & GPS use) (added this trip)

I really need an additional USB cable to leave in the car. Next trip.

What have I learned from this?

  • My back hurts. I may know why.
  • Don’t get a GPS from the car rental company when you can use a Bracketron and your own phone, especially if you have a long USB cable for charging. Plus, when you buy the mount, you get the opportunity to sign up as a Uber driver!
  • You can never have too many GPS units.
  • You can never have too many lenses.
  • You can never have too many USB cables.
  • A Fire Stick, Chromecast or Roku is pretty useful now because almost all hotel TVs have HDMI adapters, even the hotels (<cough>Quality Inn<cough>) with crappy cable packages.
  • Best Buy is a bad place to be when you’re bored.

You Can’t Go Home Again

So, I’m in Peoria, Illinois for three weeks on a work project and I’ve been up here before, so rather than travel back and forth on the weekends, I decided to just stay up here the whole time.

Flights to Peoria from DFW can be painful – you can connect through O’Hare (no, thank you!) or to fly back and forth non-stop on a commuter plane, you would lose half of Friday, which as a contractor is a very bad idea ($$$) and you would have to lose half of Sunday coming back. So, what’s the point?

(My flight up here was canceled, so I had to fly to Bloomington-Normal instead, change my rental car, and drive an extra hour to get to the hotel. I was not the only one on the plane who had done so. This may have been a warning.)

Besides, I was up here 20+ years ago on another project and had a good time with happy memories, so what’s not to like in Peoria?

As I sit in my hotel room, waiting for the maids to arrive, so I can vacate and then come back to binge-watch Netflix, I realize how much has changed in the 20+ years.

  • I was single back then, so it really didn’t matter where I was at any given time. I had visitation with my son on first, third and fifth weekends, but that was easy to arrange. I’m married now, so now I actually have a reason to be in Dallas – my dogs and my perpetually injured wife (just kidding, my love!)
  • I was home on the weekends back then. I really never stayed in Peoria over the weekend, so I didn’t have to find something to do. I did go on a river cruise yesterday, which was fabulous, and I might go again today, because everything else is closed.
  • I had someone from Caterpillar to hang out with last time. Mike was always happy to hang in the evenings and there may have been drinking involved. (The drinking may be why I am still blanking on his last name.) I’ve had two drinks this week, and one of them was on the airplane up here.
  • I was staying in a really nice hotel in the middle of downtown that was walking distance from my office. Now, I’m working at a plant so far out of town it doesn’t have an address, just an intersection. I’m in a Quality Inn & Suites (more later) on the outskirts of town which let’s just say is not the level of service to which I have become accustomed on business trips.
  • I was working for a really small company that tended to turn a blind eye to “interesting” expenses (until someone rented a U-Haul to help his girlfriend move.) Now, I’m really concerned about reimbursement and toeing the line (which in many cases has not been defined), which tends to put a damper on fun.
  • I’m older. Let’s just say I’m not as adventurous as I used to be. Back then, I had any number of co-workers to call to help me get out of jail. Now, I would have to call my wife, and she would probably just hang up on me, so she could call her sisters.
  • I picked a very bad weekend to start trying to hang out in Peoria – it’s Memorial Day. You would think that would mean more things to do, but the Peoria Chiefs minor league baseball team is out of town until Tuesday (and out of town next weekend!) and the Caterpillar Museum is closed on Sundays and holidays. There is nothing scheduled at the Civic Center – and that’s 3/4ths of the TripAdvisor top four things to do. The other is a scenic drive, part of which I saw from the boat yesterday.
  • The one great memory I had of Peoria was surviving the Flood of ’93 and flying in from Dallas on a Super-80 that had about eight other people on it. I realized this week that during the Flood of ’93, I was actually in Des Moines.

Uh, I haven’t driven it much

So, this is probably a contender for the ultimate White People Problem, but my car wouldn’t start, so I had to call for help. I am the first to admit I’m not mechanically-minded, so in times of crises, like warning lights turning on or off on the dash, or cars not starting, I find a professional.

My car is a 2017 Ford Fusion that we got specifically so I would have something to drive to the office, and then (as you may recall) my office got eliminated. So, it hasn’t gotten nearly the usage we expected. In fact, the insurance company kept calling me to tell me their tracking device (that gave me a policy discount) obviously needed replacement because it wasn’t sending any data.

So, the Fusion has been resting quietly in the driveway. For some time.

It rested so long, that when I finally needed it, I couldn’t get into the car.

What I mean is that the automated key clicker-thingie wouldn’t open the door, so I couldn’t get into it the easy way, and at that point, I didn’t know that there’s a secret old-school key hidden in the automated key clicker-thingie, so I was stuck.

Eventually, I found the secret manual key documented on YouTube, but I was afraid I was pushing too hard on the secret manual key (to pry off the secret manual cover), so I gave up.

That was a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been to Ohio and back. Actually, we’ve been a lot of places, but since Virginia is usually with me, we just take her car (which used to be my car.)

So, I’m not really sure when I drove it last, but it’s been a while. I could estimate it, but my attorney has advised against it.

Hey, I lost my job, I’ve been looking for a new one, I was accepted as a SCORE volunteer mentor, we’ve been on a couple of trips, the Spousal Unit had surgery. I’ve been busy.

Let’s just say it’s been a while.

So, I assumed the battery was dead. When the automated key clicker-thingie didn’t work, that confirmed my assumption to me. That is the extent of my automotive debugging skills. It was time to consult a professional.

It occurs to me that if we had driven it to Ohio, my son (who is not a mechanic, but is amazing with tools) probably could have fixed it, but if we could have driven it to Ohio, there wouldn’t have been anything to fix.

So, I called AAA. Well, I filled in the online form. Then, I remembered the last time I had a dead battery, the mechanic sold me a new one, so I canceled the call. Then, I called Ford Roadside Assistance, since their new battery would be under my warranty. I hoped.

I’m not really sure why I have AAA when Roadside Assistance comes with our cars, but so it goes. Call both, have them race to the house. I’m pretty sure some mechanics work for both, anyway.

Ford Roadside Assistance is great. The 800-number texts you for the address, so you don’t have to read the address to a voice-recognition system. The operator can figure out much of your life from the last eight digits of the VIN. They text you a URL where you can track the tow truck from when it is dispatched until your injured car arrives at the dealer.

They dispatched someone to tow my car in, which seemed like overkill, but having just been to the ER and then admitted overnight for a vertigo attack, I’m used to overkill.

When the mechanic called to verify the address, he said he’d just jump it first, since it sounded like a dead battery. (Dead battery, you say? Maybe I should be a mechanic!)

So, this should be simple.

However, it’s my life. Simple, it is not.

The mechanic was a lovely gentleman who managed to get the secret key to remove the secret cover, and got the driver’s door open. When I told him I was afraid it would break, he laughed in that not-at-all-condescending mechanic laugh, and told me I couldn’t break it.

Sir, may I remind you that you are standing in front of a broken car to which I have done nothing?

(I didn’t say that, because I still needed him on my side.)

With the door open at last, we could try to start the car, which didn’t work, as expected. I was afraid he was going to show me a secret way to use the secret key when the push button didn’t work, but either there isn’t one, or he spared me.

So, once in the car, we popped the hood.

Hmm.

He said, “This car has not run in a long time.”

So, I admitted it may have been a short while since last usage.

He said, “You know how I can tell? Look at those nuts in here.”

It really helps if you’re familiar with the Southern/Texan African-American accent, because the soft lilt of horror is what makes this conversation the fun ordeal it was.

I looked where he was pointing. These were not “nuts and bolts” nuts. These were pecans.

“They’ve been chewing on some of these wires. Something was livin‘ in here.”

Pause.

“I don’t know if this will jump. I can’t tell if any of these wires have been chewed through.”

Pause.

“See where these are chewed?”

Pause.

“If this jumps at all, you’re very lucky.”

Pause.

“This is a new car.”

So, now I’m ashamed, and I started quietly removing the half-chewed pecans and empty shells from the platform in front of the battery. I’m beginning to understand why there didn’t seem to be as many squirrels in the yard this winter.

He attached the jumper cables, and the car started right up.

“You got very lucky.”

I nodded.

Very lucky.”

Pause.

“This is a new car.”

More shame duly noted.

So, he ran it until there was enough of a charge for the “Check Engine” light to come on, and then he decided towing it would be the best course of action.

I think he really just wanted to give the car some quality time away from me.

It’s at the dealer now. If he’s a character witness, I may never see the Fusion again.

On the other hand, I drove it from the driveway to the front of the house, so he could drive it onto the flatbed. (In his not-at-all-condescending voice, he said, “I’ll take it from here” as I pulled up next to the flatbed.) So, when the dealer asks the last time I drove it, I can just say, “Today.”

On the Walk of Shame back from the car, my flip-flop strap broke. Yes, I blew out my flip-flop, without even stepping on a pop-top. Broken Flip-Flop

So, now I can’t walk or drive.

At least, there’s Uber.

*** Update ***

The “rodent” chewed through the windshield washer fluid reservoir. It is called a “reservoir” because you can’t, in good faith, charge $337 for a plastic jug. Rodent damage is not covered by the warranty.

Worse news? Apparently, the squirrel in question needs braces.

The investigation continues. For $74. So, if they’re charging, you know they’ll be finding. More updates as available.

*** Update #2 ***

He chewed through the coolant reservoir, as well. So, we’re past $700 now, but at least if I see a stoned squirrel, I will have the suspect.

A Tale of Two Cities

I’ve been in Dallas most of my life, and as much of my travel has been for business, I usually visit cities that are relatively easy connections. However, visiting the relatives can be a different story. I speak of two of my favorite “cities”, Cedarville, Ohio, and D’Hanis, Texas.

Editor’s Note: This is a filtered brain dump of a bunch of research I did in the middle of the night. So, whether or not it’s coherent is probably in the eye of the beholder. (As always, if you read something I wrote and think, “That is profound!”, please call my wife and ask for her neurologist’s name. She has a lot of specialists.) 

Here’s the ways I usually travel:

  • Ship. Fun. Relaxing. Requires deep water. (So much for Dallas.)
  • Plane. Pain. More Pain. Expensive Pain. Pretty fast, though.
  • Train. Faster than my wife’s driving. Might not be as fast as mine. 24×7 travel. Limited stops. Usually visit Chicago.
  • Bus. 24×7 travel. Small towns. Get to see a mob of people descend on a McDonalds every few hours (“Buses Welcome!”) Spousal Unit refuses to ever ride one again (something about riff-raff touching her.)
  • Car. Back-seat drivers (often in the front seat.) Stress. Highways. Rest Stops. Overnight Stops. Souvenir Stops. Still more fun than the bus.

And now, our two citites.

Cedarville

We’re thinking of visiting the grandkids later this year, and we’re thinking “roadtrip.” I believe they used to drive straight through (ah, youth!), but we’ll stop somewhere for a night along the way. (Memphis is about half-way.)  Two nights in a hotel are cheaper than flights, we don’t have to rent a car, and it’s not like I can’t afford the time right now.

There are two airports within an hour or so of the kids’ place, even though Cedarville is not a large town. (There are a number of universities in the area, so there are students to consider.)

Train service is really bad in Ohio. Cedarville is close to Dayton (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) and Columbus (Ohio State and it’s the freakin’ capital) but neither is on the Amtrak network. (Amtrak was my cruise before I found ships.)

The closest bus service is Springfield and we’ve stayed in Springfield before, so it’s not really that far. (Still, there’s a university in Cedarville. Today’s kids don’t ride the bus? The bus has WiFi onboard, so you could live blog it.)

So, you fly to Dayton, take the train to Cincinnati, take the bus to Springfield, or just drive.

This time we’ll drive.

D’Hanis

My first thought when presented with the transportation options to Cedarville was, “Geez, even D’Hanis has bus service.” Now, D’Hanis is small. It’s unincorporated. It’s in the middle of nowhere. Wikipedia lists it as a “human settlement.” It’s my spiritual home (well, one of them.) It’s also my Mom’s hometown.

The closest airport is Hondo (one town to the east), which is a regional airport (and former Army Air Force training base) so there’s no commercial traffic. My Dad flew in there once in a private plane, and had to wait two days for the weather to clear before he could leave again (instrument ratings are good to have.) The closest “real” airport is San Antonio. Let’s just say people go to the Hondo airport more for the restaurant than the flights.

D’Hanis had train service when my Mom was growing up – in fact, when the first train line was built in Medina County (in 1881) and bypassed the town, they just moved the town closer to the tracks. (This is why there is technically an Old D’Hanis and a New D’Hanis.) By the time I was riding Amtrak for fun, the Sunset Limited passed through town, but the closest stop was San Antonio. I had to stay up late to see D’Hanis from the train, since we passed through before the crack of dawn, but I did manage to see the town – just for a second. Again, it’s a small town. I also found D’Hanis in the 1954 Southern Pacific timetables, so the Sunset Limited stopped there at one point, on the eastboound and westbound runs.

D’Hanis had Greyhound service and the Kerrville Bus Line which was a Continental Trailways affiliate. I actually rode the Kerrville Bus to HemisFair ’68 with my Mom and little brother, who got car-sick. (Bus-sick?) Greyhound absorbed Continental Trailways years ago, and the Kerrville Bus just goes to college towns and casinos now (an interesting market plan.) However, Greyhound seems to be routing on I-10 instead of US 90, so they don’t stop in D’Hanis any longer. So, no more bus service. Ouch.

So, now you have to go to San Antonio to get anywhere. That hasn’t changed much, it’s just now you can’t get to San Antonio.

So, D’Hanis is off the grid. Unless you have a truck. (Pretty much everyone has a truck, but still.)

This really distressed me. It took a while to figure out why, but then I realized that D’Hanis was the place I always knew I could go when I was down to my last $200 (bus fares kept going up!) I would get off the bus, and go mooch off call on my relatives. By the time they realized it was more than a visit, I would be moved in. D’Hanis was the place my late grandmother once said I could be buried if I “died alone” because there were extra slots next to her and my Granddad. (I think she was comforting me after my divorce, since that was the last time I was alone.) Sweet and morbid at the same time. (That’s pretty much the definition of my family.)

Cedarville was the place I knew I could go when I was down to my last $200 and the kids would give me a cup of coffee and point me to D’Hanis. So it goes.

This also means neither town will ever be in a country song. If you can’t get out of town, you can’t be in the song. It’s in the rules.