11.11.2014

The Multi Modal Adventure Winds Down 11/11/2014

Chicago. Not as cold as I feared it would be. And we got in pretty much on time. Like, the 1st time that's happened in several months. There have been chronic and severe delays on this line and one other, mostly due to freight train congestion between Toledo and Chicago. ,

For those of you who don't follow this sort of thing, back in the early 70's when there was discussion of creating Amtrak, the deal went sort of like this: Railroads were required to provide passenger service, but were steadily losing ridership and revenue to the airlines. Congress came along and said, "Hey, we'll create a national passenger rail service, so you freight carriers can be relieved of the obligation to lose money on passenger service, and concentrate on your profitable freight hauling business. All we ask is that you give that new company priority access to your rail lines, so they can maintain their schedule integrity". The rail companies, eager to bail out of the passenger service mandate, agreed. And have been fighting against complying ever since. This particular current issue in the midwest is being driven by the need to haul all that shale oil from the Dakotas across to Pennsylvania. Freight lines are at capacity, and the lines are leaving fully loaded freight trains sitting on the track for lack of crews to operate them. They need to train crews, or build sidings, or both. But in the meantime it's pretty chaotic for the Capitol Limited and the Lake Shore Limited out of New York, with 4 hour delays being average, and 8-10 hours not uncommon.

BUT - That lack of a lounge car I was bemoaning earlier? Somehow that figures in to the solution, for Amtrak, anyway. They've created a spare "consist" (train speak for the types/numbers of cars linked together on a route), so that when an arriving train is late, it can go in to service and the departure will be on time. Obviously, if you have a 6 hour turnaround, and your 8 hours late getting started, etc, it snowballs. This avoids that, and apparently it's working, as delays in the last couple weeks have gotten better. Sadly, there just isn't enough rolling stock in good repair to make the new consist the same as the old, so we're stuck with that stupid lounge/diner combo thing. But, like I said - it got us to Chicago on time, so I guess it's a solution.

At Union Station in Chicago, I checked my bags, headed out in to a brisk and breezy morning, called Uber and headed over to the Omni Hotel, which I thought was the site of a travel trade show, where I was planning to just hang out for a bit and say hi to some people. When I got there, no show! So I took the time to go online and see that is was clearly at the Chicago Hilton. No idea why I thought otherwise. So, I stepped outside to call another Uber, started talking to the doorman, and the Omni's driver overheard, asked me if I wanted a ride to the Hilton, because she was headed that way to make a pickup, and off we went in the limo. Nice. Sadly, no one out front at the Hilton to appreciate my grand entrance.

But I did go in, say hi to a few people, have a little coffee in the lobby, etc. Hung out there til 11:30 or so, when I decided to Uber back to Union Station. Stopped in Arturo's right across the street for a great little sub sandwhich, chips and a drink for $7 deal. The sandwich was excellent. Then over to the train station, where I checked the mobil app and see they have finally dropped the price on accomodations (about 2 hours before departure), so I quick ran to the ticket counter to get myself a roomette. Two nights sitting up in Coach class is enough. Spent the rest of the 2 hours pre-train in the Metropolitan Lounge (another nice perk of having a room, if you're Amtraking it thru NY, DC, LA or Chicago). Nice comfy seats, electric outlets everywhere, free wifi, a couple of computer stations, a place to store your bags, and some chips and fruit along with a soda fountain, put it miles ahead of the regular boarding areas. And you get to slip out the back door to board your train, before the coach passengers get on.

So, I got onboard the Southwest Chief, found my room, and got all nested in. Tight quarters, but more than adequate for a solo traveler. It just takes a while to get everything in it's proper place. Everything being a laptop on the folding table, the tablet/hotspot in the window tray, and the phone on the opposite seat so everything can be plugged in and charging from a single outlet. My neighbor across the hall, Dave, and I chatted a bit. But mostly I've been just chilling in here, getting some writing done, etc. I did venture out for dinner which was another steak, nicely prepared, and some cheesecake for dessert.


Yeah, it's boring. But on purpose. In fact, I think I'll close this blog series out now. It's almost 8am, I am in La Junta Colorado, and I can already tell you how it ends. I am going to sit here most of the day, with a couple of runs for coffee or whatnot, and type type type as Colorado gives way to New Mexico, with the Raton Pass being the only visually interesting section. I'll probably video that. Then Albuquerque, I'll get off and stretch my legs, as we have a half hour there. Back on board, and it will be dark before we get to Arizona, and I'll be home at 4 or 5 Wednesday morning in Victoreville. And it will all be boring. On purpose. Because every once in a while some of us just need to really get away, and be alone with ourselves.

However, those times make sucky material for a blog. So, adieu til next time - probably end of this month when I am cruising on the Norwegian Getaway!

11.10.2014

Amtrak Adventure, 11/9/2014 - DAY TWO

When last I posted it was 6am and we were sitting in Richmond, VA waiting for fuel. That took a bit longer than expected, and we ended up arriving about 2 hours late to Washington Union Station. Which was okay with me, since there's not a lot to do at 7:30 am on a Sunday, even in our nations capitol. When we did arrive, I quickly found Bike and Roll and rented a bicycle and headed out to explore. One of the things I discovered as I was planning this trip is that Bike and Roll will store your bags if you rent a bike from them. Bag storage at Union Station would have cost about $36, and a day long bike rental is only $40, so...

It's been 10 years since I visited D.C., so the World War II Memorial is new to me. I headed there first. Of course I passed the Washington Monument on the way, which I circled, taking pictures, making sure I got the good side. Oh, and all those Smithsonian venues lining both sides of the Mall. Took a few pics of some of them, but didn't go inside any, as I was attempting to cover some ground.

I was impressed with the memorial, but struck by the contrasts between this one and the Vietnam Wall. While the Wall is bleak and heart-wrenching, and the people around it subdued, almost prayerful. The World War II Memorial on the other hand is grand and boisterous and the mood much more celebratory. As though people instinctively realize this war was fought by big people, over big ideas, and was won in a big way. In contrast to Vietnam which was an exercise in stupidity by small men for no reason and with no real conclusion.

And you'll all have to forgive me, if you came today for the humour. Somehow this town and these monuments and memorials bring out my serious side, always. For the most part they are reminders of how much we have lost and how far we've backslid as a people. And the World War II Memorial is a pretty nice reminder that every American military action since then has been, essentially, pointless and petty in comparison. Ditto the monuments to men like Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson which are a pretty good reminder of just how small our leaders have been for the last couple generations.

But I digress. After the WWII Memorial I pedaled on down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, snapped a few pics. Then over to Rock Creek Park Trail to the Jefferson Memorial. Things were getting crowded by now, and the pedestrian/bicycle/seqway conflicts were intensifying. The Jefferson Memorial is one of my favorite. I love the waterfront location on the Tidal Basin. Got myself a few Selfies With Tom, then over to the nearest refreshment stand for a hydration stop. Next stop was Arlington National Cemetery, by way of the 14th St Bridge and the Mt Vernon trail. This part of the ride was a lot hillier than the other side of the river, and by the time I got to Arlington I needed the break. The last leg of the ride was back over the river and over to Pennsylvania Ave and the White House.

But a funny thing happened...just as I was feeling a little hungry (it was 1pm by this time), I saw a Sabrett hot dog stand and stopped to grab a Polish dog. As I was munching contentedly on that, I looked over and saw the Albert Einstein Memorial. Now, I don't know exactly how many times I have walked in and around Washington D.C., looking at all the sights, but its at least a dozen. And I have never, ever seen this statue until yesterday. And I love Einstein. And I love this statue which really captures his essence in a humorous way (It's basically a large bronze of Albert, all sprawled out and slouchy on the steps, reading a paper). I just had to get a Selfie With Albert to go with my Selfie With Tom. That right there made the day worthwhile.

Anyway, back on the bike and over to the White House for a couple more pictures. And now the uphill is really starting to get to me. Adding it up, it was about 11 miles of bike riding over a 3. 5 hour period, so, not exactly a race. But add all the hop on/hop off and walking at the various stops, and I'm calling it a workout.

I took the bike back to the rental kiosk, where I ended a perfect little day tour by unsnapping the bungee cord holding my backpack and having it embed itself about 3/8 of an inch into my palm. Because arterial bleeding is always a good way to end a tour. And I hadn't broken a laptop or anything stupid in well over a day, so I was overdue. I proceeded to check my bag thru to Chicago and find some grub before boarding. Randomly chose a Roti Chicken place, mostly because it was uncrowded (unlike Chipotle, which had a line out the building, something I only ever see in places outside the Southwest, where we know those things they serve bear only the faintest resemblance to a burrito). Good Call! RECOMMEND! I ordered something called the Sultan Sandwich - a laffa wrap (also available on pita bread), stuffed with curried chicken, vegetables, spices, a dill/yogurt/cucumber dressing. Just fabulous. And pretty huge. I barely finished it. All for only $7 (train station prices, even).

And now it was time to get on the train for Chicago. Which I did. Uneventfully until I went to the lounge and ran in to a drunken immigrant ISIS recruiter. I'm not sure I am even up to telling the whole story this early. Suffice it to say, they haven't put him off the train yet, but he is being watched.

And besides that, it was a fairly restrained evening in the lounge.

Now it's almost 8am, we are still on schedule to get to Chicago on time (fingers crossed), and I am signing off til later.

ciao

oh, and btw - if you are ready to book your Amtrak Adventure, Fort Lauderdale Holiday, or any other travel needs, CALL ME, Dave Holman at Holman Travel. 760.265.3687. or if you're shy, email me at daveholman@verizon.net

11.09.2014

Amtrak Adventure, DAY ONE, November 8, 2014

6am. Richmond, Va. About an hour and a half from my stepping off point in D.C. Just time to try and remember yesterday.

So, after all the good times at CruiseWorld, etc, I managed a couple hours sleep, and popped out of bed again at the crack of dawn to get ready for Amtrak. Put Gretchen in one Uber and I took another to the Amtrak station in Fort Lauderdale. The train showed up promptly and we were off.

Spent most of the morning organizing my nest. I had two seats, so there was plenty of room for my electronics, and the electrical plugs are right where they should be, so I can run and charge the phone, the tablet (which is my hotspot) and the laptop, and still slip in and out of my seat with ease. For those of you who haven't ridden long distance Amtrak trains, the seats are quite comfortable, with fifty something inch pitch (about what a 1st class airline seat has), and they sort people into cars by how far they are traveling, so the farther you are going the better chance they won't sit someone next to you.

After getting organized and grabbing some coffee, I spent the next couple hours working on the Great American Novel, with breaks to update this here blog, since I was 3 days behind. Managed to get caught up AND turn out 2 chapters of the book.

Headed to the Dining Car at noon and grabbed a hamburger for lunch. Food is still good, and mostly prepared right on the train, as opposed to being brought on frozen and microwaved. The onboard staff have all been excellent, quick to answer questions and just make small talk. After lunch it was back to my seat to pound the keyboard a little more.

I have to say I prefer the bi-level Superliners to these single level Viewliners they use here in the East. For one thing, the Lounge car is just a bunch of restaurant style booths, unlike the Observation cars, which have swivel chairs and couches. Those are much more conducive to hanging out and striking up a conversation with random strangers. So I spent most of the afternoon at my seat.

Dinner time came along, and I had myself a nice roasted half chicken with some rice and veggies. All tasty.

After dinner I decided to move myself down to the lounge car. Set myself up and started writing a little more, made some small talk with a few people, then noticed Ashleigh staring at me and whispering to her friend. As I suspected, it was another Jack Nicholson moment. She finally said something, and we started talking, and then she had to get some pictures with me, etc. So, she moved over to my table and talked for a while, so I could get her back story. She's a dancer in Orlando, heading to South Carolina to visit/help a friend who is recovering from breast cancer and a double mastectomy. Apparently Ashleigh's possession of a couple of store bought Double D's makes her an expert advisor on the reconstructive surgery her friend is undergoing soon. I don't know.

But after that we were joined by a stock analyst on his way to New York. We had been seated together over dinner, and talked a little business. Being based in Miami, he has some insight in to the cruise industry from a finance perspective. So now he decided to regale me and Ashleigh with pithy and insightful (and I suppose he thought interesting) tales of the companies he tracks. And I'm just like...dude, seriously? She's a dancer. From Florida. With augmented body parts she's not at all shy about sharing. At the moment I'd much rather hear about how they do augmentations, complete with live demonstrations, than anything a financial analyst has to say. Call me crazy, but I think I can read about all that in the WSJ any day of the week.   But a fun, slightly intoxicated strippers with daddy issues hitting on you because you look like Jack Nicholson? That doesn't happen anywhere near often enough. Sadly, the lovely Miss Ashleigh had to leave me in South Carolina around 10:30.

  I could see no reason to be awake without her, so I headed back to my nest to read and get some sleep. Took me a while to get comfy, but around 1 or so I think I finally found the sweet spot, and it was lights out til the train stopped in Richmond, VA around 6am to refuel. Which is where I am now, just a little short of D.C. and ready to continue the adventure.

Which I am sure I will share with all of you tomorrow.

Y'all have a GREAT DAY! I am going to.

11.08.2014

CruiseWorld 2014, November 8, 2014 - DAY THREE

And now, it's Friday...the moment I've all been waiting for. Up and running again at the crack of dawn, running over to the Convention Center to test my equipment, make sure I had all the right plugs and adapters. Everything looked good, so I headed to another breakfast, this time sponsored by Mexico Tourism, who hooked everyone up with a nice juice pack to charge devices. And then the General Session with my personal favorite CEO, Kevin Sheehan. He is such a regular and sincere guy, with a sense of humour, it's hard to believe he was an Economics professor.

After breakfast I did a panel with 4 colleagues on Social Media Success Stories. I don't know how I did, but I was impressed with the others. In particular, Jennifer Doncsecz (sp) impressed me, and I was disappointed to find out she was doing a break out session at the same time as mine. I wanted to hear more of what she had to say about Pinterest.

Then, off to lunch where I was invited to sit at Andy Stuart's table, and had a fun conversation with Hall of Fame travel agent, Joanie Ogg, while poor Andy had to go up on stage and repeat everything Kevin Sheehan had just said over breakfast.

Then it was time for my big breakout session on Facebook Groups. Sadly, the folks who had threatened to show up en masse and heckle wussed out (as keyboard cowboy-type bullies usually do). So, without that distraction, I was forced to actually do my presentation, complete with powerpoints I slaved over for 3 months, etc. I choose to accept the positive feedback I got as sincere. But I wasn't impressed. ;-) I missed a few points, and I always have a tendency to talk too fast, so I finished earlier than intended. However, the audience was AWESOME. And since we had plenty of time after, I got some great questions, and an opportunity to answer them fully. Which, frankly, is okay with me. I think I am better at extemporaneous Q & A than I am at preparing. And I think that ability is a better sign someone has truly mastered a subject, than the ability to read a speech. Like I said, I got a good bit of positive feedback, so I am thinking I did okay. I did receive some negative comments about some of the others, and I think all I can say to that is...if you ain't willing to get up there and put it on the line, be a little charitable to those who are. Taking potshots is easy. Standing up and making yourself a target requires a tad more.

Personally, I think the concept Mary Pat Sullivan came up with, of having Friday's panels and breakouts done mostly by "amateurs", people who are experienced experts in various areas of travel, but not as public speakers is brilliant. It does make for a less consistent product than a line up of people whose primary job is public speaking. On the flip side, actual front line agents, speaking from real world experience sometimes have more valuable information than people who are good at speaking, but may not have worked in the field for years, if ever. Just My Humble Opinion.

So, all in all, I am happy with how it all turned out. I can't tell you what a relief it was to be done, though, and I do want to thank those who told me afterwards they enjoyed it, and/or learned something. It's always gratifying to know you reached someone.

And that, for me, was basically the end of CruiseWorld. I hung around for a while as my friend Craig was using my laptop for his presentation, then collected up my goodies and went home.

That's when Friday really started. Gretchen and my agent Dillon had already managed to reach the bar and pickup a lovely lady from my neck of the woods, who had just flown in to catch a -dam ship Saturday for a Master Chef cruise. I got there, said hi to everyone, went to the room to take off those hateful shoes and clothes I was forced to wear all day, ran back down and joined in the fun. We all decided since the previous nights dinner was moved from tacky tourist side of A1A to the somewhat respectable Shula's, we needed a do-over. So with our new friend in tow, we promptly jumped on the wrong water taxi and a 10 minute ride became a 1 hour round trip. Listening to the slightly resentful pilot recite the owners name, net worth and property value of every water front home in Fort Lauderdale has a certain charm. For the first 15 minutes. Sadly, there are more than an hours worth of billionaires with homes there...

Anyway, we finally got on the right boat, going in the right direction, and got ourselves down to A1A, and the Casa Del Mar, a nice Mediterranean restaurant between the Rock Bar and the Funky Taco. There was an awesome guitar player/dancer combo that ran the gamut from Flamenco and Middle Eastern to Stairway To Heaven. And a giant slab of a ribeye steak that was every bit as good as Shula's. And Trish, our new best friend had to share her life story, and endure ours until the wee hours when her friends flight finally landed, so we all Uber'd back to the hotel together, which ended with a group selfie in the driveway as Gretchen, Trish and Dillon had all developed a crush on him during our 8 minute ride. I think alcohol may have had something to do with that, seeing as how I was the only one sober, and the only one that didn't fall in love with the driver.

And then we all got to meet Trish's friend Debz. And go home and pack for the beginning of my Amtrak Adventure from Fort Lauderdale to Victorville, Ca, with stops in D.C. and Chicago. I'll get to that in the morning . Promise!