September 4, 2011

Cobb on the Trail-er: Hauling butt and taking names

Here's one name to start with, an eating place by called O'Charley's, specifically, the one just off Interstate 40 at 110 Coley Davis Court in Nashville. A great place to stop for a real meal and friendly service should you be passing through the Nashville area. I met up with friends there and had a very relaxing and enjoyable lunch. I was surprised to learn later that O'Charley's is chain, with locations in the Eastern half of the U.S. I would definitely look for one if I was driving in that region again.

Speaking of chains, I was very pleasantly surprised by U-Haul, from whom I rented the trailer for this trip (as trailer towing road warriors know, chains are used as a backup to the trailer hitch). So here's my review of U-Haul customer service.

At first I was not happy with the trailer. There seemed to be some shimmying when I picked it up, but I put that down to lack of LOAD weight. There was also a lack of any obvious way to lock the trailer to the hitch on my Jeep, so I used a pair of padlocks on the safety chains.

Unfortunately, the more miles I drove with the trailer fully loaded, the worse the shimmying became. How bad was it? People were flagging me down, honking horns, following me into rest areas. Apparently it looked a lot worse when you were following me than it did when I was looking in my sideview mirror. So, to all of those Knights of the Road who expressed concern, I say: Thank You!

While such concern from my fellow man was quite uplifting, a major breakdown seemed more and more like a major possibility, which would put a major crimp in my timed-to-the-hour travel plans. So I pushed on but cut my speed, taking heart in the diagnostic opinion of a farmer who checked out the trailer after following me into a rest area. He thought it was the rim and not the axle, because the hub was not hot. By the end of that day I was in Forrest City, Arkansas, staying at a surprisingly comfortable Hampton Inn just a block from a delightful Mexican restaurant.   

After a robust repast of Chile Rellenos at Done Jose, I began to consider my trailer options. My biggest concern should have been breaking down but it was the thought of unpacking and repacking that really bothered me, should the trailer need to be replaced. That and the time involved, which involved, in my mind, a ton of paperwork and sitting around, even if I did manage to find a U-Haul dealer. In the morning caution won out and, bracing for the inevitable hassles, I called the 800 number on my U-Haul contract from the hotel parking lot.

And wow! U-Haul was great! I felt the agent really understood what I was going through. Not only that, they had an authorized garage right there in town, White Motor Company, just a few blocks away. I hauled the trailer over to White Motor and some very cheerful chaps changed out the wheel in a matter of minutes.

I was on my way with no more than 30 minutes of time lost and zero cost or hassle. Shortly after I hit the Interstate the U-Haul agent called to confirm that everything was okay. I am definitely getting a U-Haul next time I need to shift stuff across the country!

Update: The fix worked fine. Made the 3,000 mile trip right on schedule, pulling into San Diego on August 31, with time to unload the trailer and return before heading to the DoubleTree for the night. 

August 22, 2011

Staying in Downtown San Diego? The Bristol Hotel could be your best bet

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to San Diego for meetings at a downtown office. My host for this trip booked me into The Bristol Hotel.

Being unfamiliar with this particular establishment, and a trifle miffed that I would not be earning points with one of the 2 hotel brands I normally choose (Hyatt and Marriott), I decided to check out the hotel online.

Nice website, nice pictures, and this view from Google Street View was reassuring (it's so cool that one can now wander the neighborhood around a destination using Street View). The locale was within a couple of blocks of the shops and movie theaters at Horton Plaza. In the other direction is Little Italy and the office I was visiting. All very promising, but the room rates at the Bristol seemed a tad low for an upmarket downtown hotel, so I was still a little wary.

Well, shame on me for doubting my host's taste, The Bristol is an excellent hotel, starting with the friendly staff in the very relaxing lobby. This is equipped with a basic PC workstation and a laser printer, handy for printing out things like boarding passes and last minute reading materials for meetings. BTW, I am not a fan of vast stretches of showy marble and huge shiny chandeliers in hotel lobbies. So when I say relaxing I mean things like comfy seating. Give me the soft and casual touch so I can feel at home.

On the way to my room I started to get a very good feeling--the corridor was wonderfully wide. This boosted my hopes that the room itself would offer what I call "business hotel gold." I'm talking, in hushed tones, about silence, which most frequent business travelers consider truly golden. The main thing I need from a hotel when I'm traveling on business, the thing that beats all manner of other amenities, is a good night's sleep.

Entering the room itself was a revelation: There was a lot of room! A lot more than in a typical cookie-cutter business hotel. This was tastefully decorated space and plenty of it. All behind a solid, sound-deadening door, with a number of nice touches: robes, slippers, lighted magnifying mirror in the well-appointed bathroom, flat-screen TV, big bay windows, and a desk with a proper writing chair (i.e. one that adjusted high enough for me to type in without hunching over).

A great night's sleep was followed by a fine breakfast (one of the best breakfast burritos ever--I confess I could only eat half of it and the staff happily packed the other half to go, which made for an inexpensive supper that evening).

So, I can definitely recommend the Bristol Hotel. Only later did I realize that the Bristol is part of a group of independent hotels, the Greystone Hotels. They have properties in San Diego, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, and Bend, Oregon. I look forward to staying at the Bristol again, and trying some of the other Greystone Hotels.

August 20, 2011

Road Trip Tip Number 17: "Holding Onto the Night"

Tired of the morning sun waking you up too early when you're staying in a hotel? Annoyed that you went to the trouble, before retiring for the night, of pulling the thick curtains together so that you wouldn't be woken up by the sun, only to find that the drapes didn't overlap enough to block that tall strip of morning glory now slanting across your face?

Welcome to my world, at least until I started making a habit of carrying a few binder clips in my travel bag. They work great for holding the drapes in a fully-overlapped, light-blocking configuration.

But recently I switched to an even simpler solution. Finding myself on the road without my trusty binder clips, I rotated one of the hotel's trouser/pant coat-hangers by ninety degrees: Problem solved. The clips on these hangers are usually padded in some way so that they don't damage your clothes, or the drapes. And I always make sure I take the hanger off the drapes and return it to the closet when I get up, that is: when I am ready to get up.

WARNING: This is a safe "use" of a hotel coat hanger. Do NOT hang any kind of anything from a hotel room sprinkler head. The consequences can be VERY costly. I saw this first hand recently when checking into one of the hotels I had been using for my visits to the new Monetate offices in Conshohocken, just north of Philadelphia, the Spring Hill Suites in Plymouth Meeting. This is a dependable hotel for the business traveler but sadly it is sometimes frequented by young--and occasionally foolish--persons; like the kids who hung up their swimming trunks to dry on a sprinkler head in a third floor room above the lobby, causing it to discharge a bunch of water that pretty much ruined the lobby. I arrived late on a Sunday evening to see carpets and wall coverings and ceilings, torn up, peeled back and generally in a mess.

In other travel news: At the end of August I'm embarking on a major road trip: 2,900 miles across our great land, from top right to lower left, towing a small U-Haul trailer. The Jeep is being prepped and I am packing in my spare time. I hope to share some more tips from the road.

My destination is San Diego, to take up a new position: Security Evangelist for ESET, the anti-virus, anti-cybercrime company.

One of the many things that appealed to me about this opportunity was the fact that ESET is truly a global company. Not only are ESET's information security products sold in more than 180 countries, the company itself is based in Bratislava, Slovakia, with offices in Buenos Aires, Prague, Krakow and Singapore, as well as the distribution center for the Americas in San Diego. Call me a traveling fool but I'm hoping to visit them all. Until then, this old trainspotter will always have the San Diego trolley to ride.

August 6, 2011

My 2001 Jeep Turns 111111

Just a quick post to pay my respects to the vehicle that has faithfully carried me down the road for the past 5 years, the 6 cylinder 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4x4 that I bought at CarMax. I missed the odometer turn over 100K, but somehow 111,111 miles looks even cooler.





June 12, 2011

The Diesel Factor: Europeans are mad or Yanks are wimps

At the conclusion of this weekend's awesome running of 24 Hours at Le Mans, one conclusion was inescapable: Diesel engines rock! As Audi and Peugot battled for leadership in the P1 class during 24 hours of racing--lapping the curvaceous 8.5 mile racetrack at speeds averaging around 145 mph--it was clear that diesel engines are superior to their gasoline counterparts in many ways.

(P1 is open to gas or diesel power, so the fact that diesel-powered cars took the top 5 spots in this classic endurance race is pretty conclusive--although Toyota deserves an honorary mention for powering the Rebellion Racing Lola, the highest finishing petrol-powered P1.)

Mechanically-speaking, victory for the Audi R18 was particularly sweet in this, one of the closest finishes in the history of a race that was first run in 1923. For this was the first Le Mans endurance outing for this Audi engine, a 3.7 litre V6 turbodiesel that produces a whopping 540 bhp and features several design innovations, like a single turbocharger, sitting between the cylinder banks (versus a more traditional twin turbo setup, with one turbocharger per bank of cyclinders).

So diesels rock, and in Europe you can buy just about every model of road car, including Jaguars, Mercs, BMWs, Jeeps and Cadillacs, with a diesel powerplant. But not in America. Why? Because some states, like New York and California, think diesel cars are bad for you.Which leads us back to the headline: Europeans are mad or Yanks are wimps.

In other words, the people who govern New York must believe the Europeans are killing themselves by allowing diesel engines in cars. Californians must regard the steady rise of diesel engines to dominate the family car market in countries like Germany, France and the UK, as sheer madness, a total failure of public health and safety. There is no other way to explain the banning of something that is booming elsewhere in the world.

Maybe California should sue the U.K government for endangering the lives of tourists from California who visit London and other cities that are infested with diesels. Why pick on London? Well now that London uses traffic metering the city center is full of diesel buses and diesel taxicabs (yes, all London cabs are diesel and have been for ages). Or perhaps New Yorkers who attended the last royal wedding can start a class action suit and against the City of London.

Alternatively, the diesel-hating states of America could admit that a ban on diesels is totally absurd and reverse course, thereby ushering in a new era of reduced dependency on foreign oil. Yep, like that is ever going to happen.