Hotel Keen – Palo Alto, CA TP

Hotel Keen is my kind of hotel. Here’s why:

First, it’s a block off University Ave in Palo Alto near the train station, so I can get there conveniently and cost effectively from SFO. I can also walk to University Cafe, which is a great spot for breakfast or lunch.

Now, to the hotel itself:

Hotel Keen, Palo Alto, CA

Hey, is that the WiFi password written on my room key? I didn’t have to ask for it? Sweet! And, the Internet was good.

Hotel Keen, Palo Alto, CA

The rooms aren’t huge, but they’re cool. And, check out the wall the TV is hanging on. Here’s what’s sitting next to the TV:

Hotel Keen, Palo Alto, CA

Dry erase markers? Yes! The wall has some sort of whiteboard paint.

Hotel Keen, Palo Alto, CA TP

They also did a fine job with the TP folding.

And had plenty of easily accessible outlets:

Hotel Keen, Palo Alto, CA Hotel Keen, Palo Alto, CA Hotel Keen, Palo Alto, CA Hotel Keen, Palo Alto, CA

That’s what I look for in a room.

Sun Country’s In-Flight Pizza

Would you pay $6 for this:

Sun Country Pizza

I did. It’s not particularly good. That being said, I have ordered it more than once. I think it’s the finest thing on Sun Country’s in-flight menu, although I’ve heard some high praise for their cheeseburgers.

If you pick up a $6 beer to go with it (you’ll need something to wash it down) they’ll give you $2 off for an even $10.

Passed Through Baltimore for a Quick The Wire Tour

Baltimore Row Houses near Bond St

I was driving from Washington, DC to NYC yesterday, which brought me through Baltimore; a town I know mostly as the city where awesome show The Wire was based. A little Googling revealed quite a few sites around town worth checking out. I snapped the above photo along Bond Street:

6. Drug Corners And Bulletproof Bars
(Bond Street between Biddle and Federal streets)
This tour itinerary doesn’t include stops at any particular drug-corner locations, though they are central to The Wire’s plots. That’s because they’re everywhere. “Drug corners are so easy for me to find,” Peranio says while driving back north on Bond Street. “Almost any corner in this neighborhood could be one. Every time we get a script, there’s a list of 35 places to find in five days. If it’s an alley, a bar, or a drug corner, we just say [to the crew] set up where you want, because I’ll walk up the street and find a good drug corner.” Several of the corners on this stretch of Bond were used as drug corners in the third and fourth seasons.

The area along Bond Street, such as the shot above, shows that things really are what the show made them out to be in that part of town. Frankly, it’s worse in person than in the show. The show focused primarily on the drug dealers in that area, but driving around, the addicts are even more prominent than the dealers, which makes sense since one dealer can handle the needs of many addicts.

No neighborhood of Minneapolis is as run down as this part of Baltimore. Cleveland? Perhaps. Gary, IN? No. There aren’t enough people left.

That said, the city has many very nice areas as well. I ate at an empenada restaurant in Little Italy, which is a neighborhood of well maintained row houses a bit closer to downtown. That neighborhood seems very healthy, isn’t boarded up, and doesn’t have drug corners.

Row houses, at their best, look awesome, but at their worst, look pretty darn scary to me.

Hampton Inn, Champaign, IL TP

Hampton Inn, Champaign, IL TP>

I checked in to the Hampton Inn in Champaign, IL just before midnight, so this may have been the room they were dreading renting for the night. But, rather than turning on their a No Vacancy sign, they rented me this monstrosity.

A sign at the front desk boasted that they will give you a full refund if you’re not fully satisfied with your stay. Perhaps they should clean up their TP act before posting signs like that?

Sun Country Charging for Pre-Assigning Seats

Sun Country Charging for Pre-Assigning Seats

I noticed today that every seat on my Sun Country flight is a “premium” seat worthy of an $8 charge if I check-in online and pick a seat at that time. (Yes, even middle seats where the seats on both sites are occupied.) However, if I go to the airport and check-in in person, there is no charge.

Paying $8 to assure that I’ll have my favorite seat on the plane doesn’t seem too painful, but I’m trying to understand how this benefits Sun Country. If I go to the airport, I’ll likely end up interacting with Sun Country staff rather than serving myself online. Surely, that costs Sun Country money, so what’s less convenient for me is also more costly for them.

It doesn’t seem like our interests are aligned here. Wouldn’t it benefit Sun Country to steer people toward being as self-serve as possible rather than creating incentives to consume front-line staff time assigning a seat to me?

For example, I have received bonus miles from other airlines for checking in online, from kiosks, or using QR code boarding passes. It’s an effective way to get people to try new, more efficient, check-in systems.

Perhaps Sun Country has determined that enough people are willing to cough up $8 to guarantee the seat of their choice? Are they ahead of the curve here? I hope not.

Super 8 Kenosha Pleasant Prairie TP

IMG_0205

Admittedly, my expectations were not high when I pulled into the Super 8 just south of Kenosha, WI within earshot of the interstate, but I figured they at least knew how to prepare a room. Wrong. On top of that, they had the worst continental breakfast coffee I think I’ve ever had.

But all was not lost. Check out what I found on the wall next to the bed:

IMG_0204

Yes, that’s correct. This hotel actually has outlets placed in an accessible location.

And reliable WiFi.

For $68!

Quite a deal. That being said, given a choice, I’d be willing to pay $69 for folded TP.

Scranton, PA Radisson vs Scranton, PA Hilton

Radisson Scranton, PA TP
Radisson Scranton TP

I’m in Scranton, PA tonight. No signs of Dwight or Michael yet, but I did see a Dunder Mifflin venue on Foursquare.

The TP shot above is from the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel Scranton. They converted an old train station into a hotel. It’s an awesome building and worth checking out if you find yourself in Scranton.

Unfortunately, the front-desk help was a bit off their game tonight. When I walked in to check in, I mentioned that I was a member of their rewards program. I may have pissed them off by accidentally calling it the Starwood program, but she knew what I meant. She made a minimal attempt to look up my points number, didn’t immediately see it, then issued me a new number and told me that I could merge the two accounts if I went online and found that I already had a previous account.

So, I went to my room and found what she couldn’t find in around 60 seconds. Yes, I was indeed already a Radisson GoldPointsPlus member. Now I had two numbers due to the incompetence or laziness of the front-desk staff. To me, this looks like a case of the front-desk staff offloading their customer service work onto the customer. That may be acceptable in many circumstances, but seems pretty lame at a Radisson Hotel. The person offering poor customer service has the initials AD and the title of “Front Office Supervisor”.

Hilton Scranton, PA TP
Hilton Scranton TP

I went back downstairs, checked out, and went across the street to the Scranton Hilton. While checking back out, AD asked me if there was anything she could do to make it up to me. No. I just wanted a clean break.

The first question the woman at the front desk asked me was, “Are you a Hilton HHonors member?” Why yes, I am. She immediately found me. She then said that she always asks this first because it makes things so much easier at check-in because they can pull up my room preferences and other fun stuff. She also confirmed with me that my Delta SkyMiles number affiliated with my HHonors account was accurate. It was truly a night and day difference from the level of service I received across the street, with one exception. The woman checking me in was phenomenal at her job, but she was continually interrupted by a guy that I believe was her supervisor while she was attempting to do her job. That guy should not be in a position where he’d dealing directly with customers.

In the end, the earth keeps spinning whether or not I get my loyalty points. To me, this is just a fun example of a brand failing to live up the the expectations they profess. For example Motel 6 clerk could blow smoke in my face while checking me in and I wouldn’t mind, because it would be fairly consistent with what I’d expect from their brand. Radisson Hotels claim to be playing at a much higher level.

A flight crew arrived while I was checking in, so I didn’t hold things up to explain to the Hilton front desk worker how much better she is at her job than the person doing the same job across the street, but I’ll send her this so she knows that her work is appreciated.

In the Market for a New Murse

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Above is my current murse. It’s totally awesome for travel, because I can carry a camera, passport, iPod, book, IMAX Power, gum, my space pen, extra camera batteries, an extra SD card, and a granola bar with room to spare, plus comfort and easy accessibility. That’s pretty much everything I need to make it through the day. Heck, it even holds the blue USA customs forms that don’t fit anywhere else (too wide for pockets but not a full sheet of paper). It’s called the ROOTS Essentials Small Travel Bag. I’ve taken it to at 10 countries with no signs of wear. It’s a true road warrior. Dimension-wise, it around 8.5″ tall but 6″ wide.

ROOTS Essentials Small Travel Bag

However, I think one thing could be improved: I may be wrong about this, but I think it would be even better if it had the same dimensions but was rotated 90 degrees. This would allow for easier access to the bag’s contents, and could make the bag more useful for storing things such as 1/2 folded 8.5×11″ papers, such as reservation confirmations, in a more scannable manner.

So, does anyone know if such a bag exists? If so, link me up, yo. I can’t find one from ROOTS, but would go with any brand that can meet the specs I’m looking for. Any ideas?

Shopping for a murse is harder than I expected.

Pet Peeve: Crowding the Baggage Claim

Between volcanic interruptions, baggage fee increases, and booking fees beginning to resemble TicketMaster, it’s not like we don’t have a shortage of travel related topics to gripe about these days. However, I’m not going to let that stop me from throwing my own pet peeve onto the heap: Crowding the Baggage Claim:

Crowding the Baggage Claim

Why do so many travelers like to stand against the baggage claim? Based on my anecdotal research, this does not seem to make one’s bag pop out of the bowels of the airport any faster.

It doesn’t appear, for the most part, to be a case of paranoia where people think others will snap their bag from the claim area and make for the door. There is no 5 second rule on claiming your bag at the baggage claim.

Generally, what ends up happening is this:

Only a handful of people can get first-row baggage claim crowding positions, so everyone else had to peak around them for their bags. When the back rows see their bags, they then have to squeeze their way through the first-row crowd. People are generally unskilled at picking their bags off a moving surface, so they get dragged along a bit, pushing the first row crowders along with them. The first row crowders then become frustrated with the people who are doing a poor job removing their bags, rather than realizing that they wouldn’t have been bumped in the first place had they just given others some space.

A solution?

I’m not positive that this would help, but it might. Airports could put a line on the ground a few feet back from the carousels that says “wait here”. Ideally it would be close enough that people could hop over the line to check the tags on bags that look like their own, but far enough away that people grabbing bags off the carousel would no longer have to fight the crowd while wrestling their bags from the carousel.

Where do I fall into the crowding scene? I’m the guy tethered to an outlet in the claim area trying to put some life back into my cell phone.