P.S. Atlanta…I’m Really Starting to Like You!

Any frequent traveler will tell you that loyalty programs have great benefits and reward handsomely those who stick with one particular brand through thick and thin. It’s not always because the hotel, airline or rental car company gives you the best service (although, the hope is to at least like them) or even have the best options, it’s an opportunity for both the company and the consumer to mutually benefit from a long term relationship which is rewarded through consistent use and free stuff. dems vs repubsI mean let’s be honest here, the travel based companies aren’t exactly mom-and-pop style operations. They’re more like trying to compare Applebee’s to TGI Friday’s. They’re the exact same thing just packaged differently and each serve unhealthy portions of absolute crap (I guess the same goes for U.S political parties!). Therefore, it’s best to pick which crap you’d rather shovel down and stick with it. At least with the airlines and hotels, you’ll eventually be granted better access or free flights/rooms instead of a constant need for Imodium.

My current brand loyalties are to Marriott, Avis and American Airlines. When I started flying, I was in and out of Philadelphia which consistently put me on U.S Airways. loyalty programsAfter they merged with American in 2015 my miles transferred over and I’ve been sticking it out ever since. The one problem with loyalty programs is of course the times when you have to go with another brand either out of convenience, price or just the general lack of options. This is the case when I fly to Atlanta because Delta has a lock on the area and the convenience of it over the other carriers far outweighs the perks associated with my home brand. I’ve never had an issue with Delta so losing one flight of miles is no big deal. Plus, it was a fairly new 737 with in-seat entertainment so kudos there.

Beyond the perks, loyalty programs feed on the psychological in-group/out-group dynamics that is prevalent in human behavior. Take a biteOnce you sign on to these programs, you’re not just choosing a brand for potential free rooms, flights or cars, you’re also joining a club of sorts that binds you with the others that have chosen those same companies. Even if we are treated poorly or have a bad experience, we are part of a club and will defend the decision to use their services again because of the fear of being abandoned into the abyss of lost travelers. I know, I’m getting a little deep here but for business travelers especially, this belonging can be a layer of comfort in an otherwise lonely experience. When I walk into a Marriott or step on an American flight, there is a little piece of me that feels at home…and that’s worth all the points in the world. (George gif your one of us you’ll take a bite)

On the flight down, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the poor bastard in front of me who was seated in a row of Outsider teens who had obviously never been on an airplane. Just the boarding process was input overload for these two as they picked, pushed and prodded at every little moveable (and removable) part of the seating area. I guess no one explained to them that the flight attendant call button was a neither a bell for their personal butler or (to their disappointment it seems) a self-destruct button. airsickGrandma must have given them a plate full of snicker doodles and a case of Red Bull pre-flight which would explain why they were so awake at 5:45am. To make things worse, the kid in the window seat bolted to the lavatory before we even hit 10,000 feet as we later learned he had severe motion sickness. During a 90-minute flight, this was repeated 3 times including us actually landing while he was still in the bathroom. I watched all this from the comfort of the aisle with an empty middle seat to my left. I guess I could’ve offered it up to help this situation…but come on…why would I do that!

Before this year, Atlanta was always just a pass through city and I never really had the chance to explore it much. I have to say, after just three visits I’m really starting to enjoy this place and can see why it has experienced a population explosion over the last few decades. Yes, I know, the traffic is a mess and the last time I was in town the interstate caught fire but that has not deterred the impressions that the rest of the city has made on me to date. Most of my time has been spent in Buckhead and Midtown but I’ve also been able to explore others areas like Decatur, Westside, the northern suburbs, Old Fourth Ward and finally downtown. Atlanta has a ton of stuff to offer for just about any area of personal interest and the amount of construction that can be seem throughout the skyline means that there is only more to come.

I think I should be given a medal on this trip because for the first time, I actually spent more time walking than driving.

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Buckhead Station

Any chance not to put a 4,000 pound, gas-powered bullet on the Georgia highways should be met with celebration. This was possible because of MARTA and another opportunity for me to nerd out on a train system. MARTA is a small but efficient system consisting of just four different train lines running either north/south or east/west. It does provide a line directly to the airport which I think is a plus that every major city should consider at some point (I’m looking at you Indianapolis…).

As much as I enjoy the experience of the cities, every now and then I need to cut loose, get some fresh air and stretch my legs by finding a hiking spot that is both challenging and convenient. SnapseedI had several hours to kill before my flight home so I spent them at appropriately named Sweetwater Creek State Park located about 20 miles outside of Atlanta. The 2,500-acre park is divided in two by…you guessed it…the Sweetwater Creek and his home to the New Manchester Mills Ruins site, an old civil war era cotton mill that was set on fire after being captured by the Union Army. The red trail which runs along the creek and by the Mill site was amazing, especially after reaching the 1-mile point where most of the families turned around and went back to the trailhead. SnapseedThe trail continued past the creek rapids and eventually turned westward into the woods. The white trail which traversed the western perimeter was actually a little disappointing since it mostly consisted of an old access road and didn’t exactly provide much challenge. I can’t be too disappointed because I got my steps in for the day, burned some time and reconnected with mother nature (whatever that means).

Back at the airport, everything was pretty routine. Unhealthy food, people talking way to loudly on their phones for 9pm and the anticipation of heading home once again. I’m not sure why the nice but slightly geriatric gate agent decided to provide more details into the boarding process than was actually necessary. She was like one of those White House tour guides: “we’re walking, we’re walking, now we’re stopping.” Late night flights on Friday’s aren’t exactly for the first time travelers but no one seemed to mind. sheldon brain betterUsing the power of airline apps I once again scored an empty row in a fairly full flight. It’s all about timing and a little bit of luck.

Thank you again Atlanta…we’ll be in touch!

-DPW

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Planes, Trains and Ride Sharing Apps: NYC Never Disappoints

After a couple of years and hundreds of rides, I finally decided to update my status in the 20th century and downloaded the Lyft app. I’m really not sure why this hasn’t happened yet, but for some reason I’ve had an artificial loyalty to Uber. Free marketDon’t get me wrong, I still like Uber and have enjoyed many great rides. But when a normally $17 ride to the airport pushes $40, it’s time to start thinking competition. Add in an extremely crowded parking shuttle to the mix and, BAM, I’m off to let free market capitalism work in my favor.

Being a frequent flier I often forget how new this experience is for many people. However, I never thought the day would come when I would actually see someone who didn’t understand that for a roller board suitcase to work properly, you must first have it facing wheels down. doing it wrongI watched a woman drag her upside down suitcase through the IND terminal seemingly without a clue that she was doing something wrong. On this particular morning, it was too early to stop and explain to her the friction reducing qualities of wheel technology so I just let her be and hope that her destination doesn’t include a carpeted concourse. I do owe her a bit of gratitude. If people didn’t continue to do stupid shit all the time in the airports, what would I have to write about and why would this site exist in the first place.

I had an uneventful flight with the exception of the party going on in my head for the empty row and the fact that I was heading to one of my favorite places on the planet: Good ole’ New York City! Ever since my first trip here when I was 16 years old, I’ve always had a love affair with New York. The noise, the people, random street fights (that I actually witnessed), people parking illegally to grab a slice of pizza and not even having the courtesy to move before chowing down…it’s a pleasure!

Maybe it’s because of my small town upbringing but the anonymity associated with NYC is one of my favorite characteristics of this city. I can only imagine this may be a factor on why so many famous people have come from here because it’s one place where you can be whatever you want and no one cares. self-consciousness_0Are you a singer? Then belt our your highest chords while walking down the sidewalk…no one cares. Are you an artist? Then set up shop on some street corner and give it a go…no one cares. Are you an entrepreneur, performer, social media sensation or just someone who wants to be left the hell alone? You guessed it…no one cares. This may sound illogical seeing that the common held belief is that we are supposed to be pushed in order to fulfill our dreams but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. I think the first step is to lose any self-consciousness towards whatever you are interested in and use that to your advantage. Always being worried about what other people are thinking is a debilitating disease when it comes to inspiration and I’ve never witnessed that in New York. Good work New Yorkers! Your blatant disregard for what others are doing is actually causing a great deal of positive momentum in the world. What a town!

Speaking of abilities, I saw the Broadway show Bandstand while I was in town. This show was choreographically different than any other show I’ve experienced but still amazing. The movement never stopped which was interesting given that the setting was based on the days immediately following WWII. SnapseedThe amount of talent displayed by Broadway actors goes beyond my imagination every time I’m in the audience. Singing, dancing, acting and even the playing of musical instruments were all on display throughout this show. I can’t imagine the amount of work it takes to make it to the level but my hats off to those who do it. Even if you never make it to NYC, I recommend for everyone to try and catch a Broadway show somewhere (even community theater). It’s a great experience and will change the way you look at what it means to be in show business.

If you’ve read my site before, you probably know that I completely nerd out when it comes to public transit. However, I do need to clarify…I like trains. I don’t care how many there are, you won’t catch me dead on bus. I took a Megabus once to Chicago and after a snowstorm, a bat-shit crazy driver and nonexistent Wi-Fi, I decided cut that out forever. subwayWhen I’m in NYC I take the trains everywhere. It’s not just the convenience I enjoy; I like everything. I especially enjoy the moments when you’re barreling down the track and the squeaks and squeals are noticeably in the background but all of a sudden, they stop, and the silence left behind makes me feel like but I we are floating above the track. I’ve noticed this on many different occasions and each time and brought forth a momentary sense of relaxation amongst the chaos of the city. It’s the little things that make travel interesting and keeps the wander lusters of the world coming back again and again.

The whole trip wasn’t exactly peaches and cream. I did make several mistakes which almost bit me in the ass. One, I relied on public transit which made me extremely late for a meeting (BTW…I’m never late). Yes, I know…I just had a literary orgasm over the subway system in the last paragraph but it still has its faults. Things happen which cause delays and I failed to plan accordingly. Luckily I wasn’t too late so it worked out in the end. funny-tourist31Another issue is I booked a hotel way to close to Times Square. On your first trip to NYC, go for it…Times Square all the way. On your 2nd and beyond, stay as far away as possible. Of course, I was being budget conscious so that was my reasoning for choosing this location but it does add an extra layer of annoyance having to wade through the tourist who are either looking up at the buildings or down at their phones while they walk. This immediately turns me into the loud sighing, fast walking, pushy asshole, but you have to do it or get caught up in the swarm. At least there are several subway stations nearby so escape is easy to achieve.

The rest of the trip included lunch at the Yale Club, people watching at Washington Square Park (who saw that coming!), a tour of the new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island and some time in Brooklyn. One thing I’ve come to realize is that I have not spent enough time in Brooklyn and will remedy that on future trips. It’s a quieter, more eclectic part of New York that still gives you a glimpse into why the city is still the cultural hub of the U.S. What a great place and I’m looking forward to visiting again.

LaGuardia didn’t disappoint. Here are some quotes from an actual conversation I overheard while waiting on my flight: “I like talking to you because you are talking coherently and I am talking coherently. weep for futureI’m usually drunk or you are asleep…or you are wasted and I’m am too. You would tell me if I’m drinking too much right?” These obvious overachievers also made reference to digital dope (which is apparently better than analog dope), the thought that going to a bar and sitting next to “some old guy” will eventually land one of them a high paying job, what actually makes up the definition of “hater” and an unusual amount of times saying the words Dim Sum. As entertaining as it was, I’m pretty sure I’m dumber now than I was before choosing my unfortunate place to sit.

The trip ended with my first, first class upgrade! How many thousands of miles and hundreds of flights did it take for this to finally happen but it did. It wasn’t random and upgradeI’m a true believer of creating your own luck so I basically approached the gate agents and asked. After telling them I was $200 away from Gold Status, and them learning I had never been upgraded, they took pity on me and gave me a seat. Dress nice and act naive; it hasn’t failed me yet! It was only an hour and forty-minute flight but I still enjoyed the free wine, having everyone file by me one-by-one and being one of those guys I wrote about a few month’s back (see First Classers). It closed this chapter on a very high note and makes me look forward to my next adventure. Onward and upward!

-DPW

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Travel Time: IND-MIA

One of the things I enjoy about travel is the chance to either confirm or expel rumors that circulate about a particular area. Rumors like everybody is rude in Paris. Well, as I wrote about earlier, that’s not really true but it is a matter of perspective. Or the one about how there are pubs on every corner in London. That one is definitely true and a treat for those of us who enjoy the taste of an afternoon ale (or three). AbandonedThis week I went down to the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area where the rumor is that during the months of July and August, everyone abandons the area leaving a trail or tourists and Cubans behind. That one, as I have now discovered…is absolutely true! However, it did cause me to miss a few clients, it also gave me the chance to explore, experience and, of course, people watch. And thank God the Cubans do stay behind…I could eat their food every day if it was an option.

Although most people head south during the summer for vacation, I went for business which once again confirmed my analysis of the Vacationers and their antics at the airport. 457821My first flight was pretty tame with the exception of me highly overestimating how early I needed to leave and the cohort of Haiti bound missionaries all wearing matching t-shirts and being way to excited at 6:45 in the morning. Not to get philosophical but I don’t fully understand what good is being done by sending a large group of Americans (or any westernized people) to a country with extremely limited resources for the sake of religious conversion. In 1942, Abraham Maslow introduced his still popular Theory of Human Motivation which introduced the “hierarchy of needs.” His theory suggested that in order to advance, humans must first satisfy basic fundamental concerns (food/shelter/safety, etc.) before being able to concentrate on higher states of psychological desires.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

With a place as impoverished as Haiti, I can’t imagine them being too worried about eternal damnation and more pissed off about the fact that a naïve band of Americans have come to their country, demanding air conditioning and three meals a day while also trying to preach to them on salvation and acceptance. Of course, I could be completely off since I did not engage any of this group during the flight. They could be going down to build a school or to help set up some needed piece of infrastructure but by observation alone, they didn’t exactly look handy. Oh well, I wish them the best and hope their vaccines were up to date.

I think it is time to have the talk about traffic. Everywhere I go I hear the same thing: Traffic here is terrible; be sure to leave early because of the traffic; this used to be an easy place to get around but not anymore because of traffic. Days of thunder 1After a while, you hear that word and start imagining scenes out of Days of Thunder where people are slamming each other up against the guard rails, illogically passing on the outside and where you didn’t get bumped, you got rubbed…”and rubbing son, is racing!” Yes, traffic is an issue all around but I’ve learned that in some areas there is meat behind these complaints. Atlanta…Yes, taking to the streets means your chances of survival pretty much hit zero after a few years. San Francisco…Yes, let’s put millions of people in an enclosed peninsula with limited public transportation options and see what happens. Charlotte…No, you’re just experiencing growing pains but before correcting any potential traffic problems, let’s first focus on who can piss where! Southeast Florida…well, that’s a whole different ball game.

When I was 15, the state of Illinois required me and every other teen to take drivers education before applying for your license. illinoisYeah, I’m shocked too that Illinois actually did something right; although, Chicago is still in the top ten places where you’ll probably die from a fiery car accident category every year. We learned the basics including driving on different road types, parallel parking, what to do in the event of an emergency and had to watch the video of some kid getting decapitated after failing to signal on a bright sunny day. I have to say that even though that class was a good chance to get some much needed sleep, I still apply the lessons I learned today and consider myself a decent driver. All this being said, I get the sense that Florida does not have the same regulations. Traffic volume may not be as bad as some of the places I listed above (although, Miami can give them a run), the sheer lack of basic driving rules is what makes this place a vehicular deathtrap in the making. Even with the thinned out population, Southeast Florida has a traffic problem that’s hard to even describe in words…but I’ll try anyway.

Here is a list of things drivers in this area CANNOT do:

  1. Merge both on and off a freeway: For some reason, the little man on your shoulder saying “Hey look, there is a car to your left, don’t turn” has vacated this area for quite some time. The best thing to do is just avoid being in the lanes adjacent to exits when possible and be prepared to use your horn (for effect only…it doesn’t do any good).
  2. Understand the maximum and minimum speed limits: The wealth in this area means a steady population of sport car driving enthusiasts’ eager to show off their horse power and will wiz by you at Mach 20 even on side streets. However, those going 30 mph on the interstate cause as much of a problem since they will do it even in the left most lanes where typically the fast traffic should have their right-of-way. This of course leads to an abundance of weaving by even the most conservative of drivers on the road.
  3. Use cruise control: When you find yourself on a fairly light area on 95 or the turnpike, frustration will still be present since nobody in the area uses the conveniently placed comfort of cruise control. This leads to more lane changing only see the person speed up when you try and pass and then slow down again once you decide to get back behind them. It can’t be some large conspiracy of “Everyone, let’s piss off the red-head in the economy rental” but a failure to use modern technology to their advantage.

There are plenty more of things I can go into but I feel I have sufficiently beat this horse to death. In conclusion, traffic sucks…it’s part of life…get over it.giant-traffic-jam

No trip to this area would be complete without taking in some seafood, hitting up a few tourist traps and, of course, visiting the ocean at least once. A client took me to dinner at an area staple, the 15th Street Fisheries in Fort Lauderdale located on…you guessed it…15th street! The view overlooked the famous Pier 66 and is a popular yacht parking spot for the rich and famous like Steven Spielberg and others whose names I now forget. irish sun bathingI spent one afternoon on the A1A trying my best to sneak into a resort pool (with no luck) and eating overpriced fish tacos while watching the street performers entertain unsuspecting families. As a pale-skinned, son of Ireland, the beach is not exactly a destination of choice especially when it’s 98 degrees out and you could fry an egg on the sand. Other than taking in the view from the few remaining shaded spots that were not occupied by sleeping homeless men, I took a few photos and got out of there before the monsoons started and then continued throughout the rest of my trip.

I must have been off of my game this trip because I broke several of my traveling rules. One, as I mentioned above, I timed my departing airport arrival way to early and need to re-evaluate my routine. I prefer being there about 30-45 minutes before boarding which is plenty of time out of IND. Second, I put too much faith in their being a gas station around the rental car drop off point. Unless absolutely certain, always research that beforehand so you’re not scrambling to find a place at the last minute or pay the $9 per gallon fee at the rental company. don't be that guyThird, if you have any type of status with an airline (including being a credit card holder), do not check-in until it’s absolutely necessary. I foolishly checked-in several hours before which caused an issue since my flight got delayed and by looking at the schedule, there was no possible way I would make my connection in Charlotte. Luckily the good folks at American Airlines rebooked me on a direct flight out of Miami (I was originally departing from Fort Lauderdale) but since I had already check-in, I had to stand in the ridiculously long customer service line at MIA. This wasn’t a major issue since I had plenty of time but…come on man…you’re better than this!

The flight back did include a screaming infant a row in front of me but I promised myself that I wouldn’t complain. As I covered in the Griswolds, there’s no reasoning with a baby who’s tired, probably hungry and who’s ears are popping for the first time in their life. These were enough reasons for me not to get upset. I just turned up the volume on my iPad and did my best to drown it out. I have to give props to the parents as their other kids (all under the age of 4) were well behaved which I’m sure was a relief to them as well as the other passengers. We landed without incident and went about our own business.

That’s all I got about my little trek to South Florida. Another day and another trip will come soon enough. Until we meet again…

-DPW

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