What a trip!
It was wonderful, and horrible (as most trips end up being). There were plenty of unexpected twists and turns, and expected and unexpected pleasures.
The morning I was leaving, I got up as planned, and within ten minutes of waking, I got a phone call from an 800 number that told me my flight was cancelled and I'd been rescheduled on another flight.
Now, this was true, but apparently, United updates their voice-mail well before their website, so it was terribly confusing, as for well over an hour their website still showed seats available for the 'cancelled' flight (on another tab, the 'flight status' tab, it did, in fact, show to be cancelled, but it took well over an hour on the phone to be informed properly of this.
If United simply were to mark the flight as non-sellable when it gets cancelled it would have precluded a great deal of confusion on both my and the Travelocity agent's part. I didn't even know for forty five minutes that it was United, not Travelocity, who called.
The long and short of it was that my original arrival time in Big D of 4:20 pm was pushed back till midnight. Actually, we got in at 11:45, but I guess folks went home, or to sleep, or something, because all the gates had planes in them, and we had to wait for someone to come and move one away from a gate in order to park to disembark. I got off the plane at 12:30 am.
Now, Dallas doesn't have very decent mass transportation, and though I was planning on the big adventure on the DART train, I didn't want to be that adventurous that late (downtown Dallas after midnight isn't exactly the place to hang out with bags of goodies). I took a cab to the hotel.
The hotel was a perfect microcosm of one of the reasons I left Dallas. It was the triumph of form over function. It was a Marriott hotel (the Renaissance Hotel in Richardson--four stars), and I'm not quite sure whether this critique applies to the whole chain, or just the one I went to. I suspect that parts of the critique apply to the entire chain, since that's what the staff said.
It was starkly beautiful. It had a twelve story atrium design, and the entire hotel was full of magnificent works of art and beautiful furniture. That, however, was where the idea of 'luxury' ended.
The first clue I had that perhaps the idea of 'hospitality' wasn't on their plate was when I noticed the smoking lounge was outside in an area which was assured full sunlight exposure most of the day. This was, of course, Texas, and even though it was only June, just going out to smoke guaranteed breaking a sweat, even at nine in the morning. The ashtray was actually a 'smoking pole', and it was over full by quite some bit. I brought this to the attention of the doormen on the way back in.
The second clue was when I stopped by the front desk to request a different style of 'one cup' coffee in my room. I had both caffeinated and non varieties of a very dark roast (nearly expresso), and, of course, plenty of the requisite creamers, flavors and sweeteners that one needs to offset the burnt taste.
I'm an American. While I can appreciate the foreign flavors that have graced our shores, I want to drink my coffee black, and I don't want it burnt. I want what is called here a 'cinnamon' roast, otherwise known as an 'American roast'. In a similar way, I appreciate and prefer in some cases American style cheese (not processed, just American--it melts).
Incidentally, all one has to do to change American roast coffee to a more European style is to leave it on the burner for a few hours.
The four star luxury hotel concierge told me that both the restaurant and snack bar had multiple types of coffee, but that for the rooms, there was only one style available. He also told me in response to a query that there was a small store that sold cigarettes.
The hotel was home to the wedding party, and the majority of the wedding party's geezer friends such as myself (who wants to drive when you can just pay to sleep it off?). In addition to the wedding party, the hotel was host to the Dallas Area Pontiac Association's "Pontiac Southern Nationals 2011", and Discovery Dallas' training sessions. The former looked like a section of my high-school parking lot, and the latter were simply the most positive and cheerful group of folks I've run across in years.
The second time I went out to smoke, I noticed that the Pontiac folks had thoughtfully moved the hotel's smoking area into the shade of some nearby trees (a practice which I continued, as I didn't see the hotel staff attempting to stop this behavior), and I noted that the smoking pole still hadn't been emptied, so I mentioned this to the front desk on returning inside, along with pointing out that Texas sunshine is rather severe and that there was a shade issue with the smoking area which they needed to address on a more permanent basis if they wanted to really be considered a 'luxury' hotel.
The third time I went out to smoke, I noted that the smoking pole had still not been emptied, and then, I was shown why. There was a janitor coming by emptying trash cans, and I pointed to the pole and asked her to empty it. She wasn't able to get it opened, and so she asked for help. One of the doormen came over with her, and he picked up the pole and tried to dump it into a clear trash bag she was holding. The liquid that came out along with a few cigarette butts was rather foul smelling, as if something were rotting. I suspect the origin of the added liquid was someone's drink that was poured in in order to put out the smoldering pole. Those devices tend to smolder if they get overfilled. The design wouldn't easily permit rain to have gotten in. Eventually, they determined that there was a little silver button on the bottom that allowed easy emptying of the device and cleaned it effectively before the wedding.
I have been reading about women's psychology of attraction lately, and I had decided that I was going to test a theory. The last time I really 'did Dallas' was when I rented a convertible Corvette. That was a 'chick magnet' per a number of the women at that party, but it didn't actually translate into any real attention unless I was standing next to it.
I'd been playing with dry-cleaned clothes here at home (which works surprisingly well), and I figured I'd try a full-frontal assault for the party. I rented a tux. I wasn't sure what I might be mingling with for the wedding party, so I picked a lavender tie and cummerbund, on the theory that it was too outlandish for most men to go along with, and that I wouldn't likely clash with the wedding party. That was a correct assumption. I wasn't, however, prepared for the results of the experiment.
I expected to be complimented by my female friends, but I didn't expect to have so many women initiating conversations with me. It's normal for me to be the initiator (and pretty normal to be panned by strangers). It's not normal to be approached. By the end of the evening, I was full of the power of Tux. When the half-dozen college girls came up and started fawning over me ("We just wanted to let you know how much we liked your Tux"), I thought I'd test the limits. I said, "Then, can I have you?" When the initiator said, "Who?", I replied "All of you, of course."
Now, my friends Marqueaux and Tore were of the mindset that these girls were not college girls, but in fact, high school (or younger even). They each grabbed one of my shoulders and whisked me off to the smoking lounge. Marqueaux said that one of them made a face as they did this, which he interprets as disgust with what I said, and I interpret as disgust with my friends' actions towards me. In any case, I wouldn't seriously go to bed with a stranger (or six). I just wanted to know the limits. I suppose I'll just have to try it again sometime. I'm pretty sure that if I'd just picked one of them, the answer would have been affirmative. I'm sure that I'd not have gone any further than the answer, in any case.
The wedding itself was beautiful, of course. The bride's dress was sized to the venue (nobody had to carry her train). The bridesmaids were a perfect compliment, as were the groomsmen to the groom. The priest was simply the most enthusiastic officiator of a wedding I've ever witnessed. I was very impressed. I was able to put the whole thing down on hi-def video, as I had my iPhone. Though it looked like a Catholic church in most respects, the songbook was different, and between presbyopia and trying to keep the video pointed at the couple, I wasn't able to work with even the one song I recognized the tune to.
The best part of videoing was capturing the bride cracking up during the ceremony in exactly the same place as her mother did two decades back. It's a pity it was shot from the bride's side, but having her husband's expression was worth losing hers.
It was a swift ceremony (not a full Mass). Me and Mrs. Glock went back to the reception hall, which was conveniently located right next to the hotel, as Stefan had duties to attend to on his own.
I'd misidentified a conversation between Stefan Glock and the bride prior to the ceremony as relating to the processional music, and thought he was pulling my leg (who goes down the aisle to Metallica???). That misunderstanding made for a larger, somewhat funnier misunderstanding later (Stefan got to put on his 'fierce face', which is always entertaining and always makes it's point). Apparently, I wasn't the first person to have altered what must have been originally a well-planned playlist which he was entrusted with. I thought "Origin of Love" would be a good slow-dance, but it didn't really work into the mix.
The food was varied and superb, and the liquor was myriad and readily available. The dance music was well chosen. I danced with one of my old girlfriends. She has a lovely daughter, who is in many ways the spitting image of her mom, and in others, curiously different. I wondered aloud how different she might have been had she been hers and mine instead of hers and her husband's in her presence. I didn't know that her daughter didn't know how I knew her mother until just after that statement. The daughter and I share an aversion to raw tomatoes, though in her, it's antipathy, while in me, it's mostly boredom. I like my tomato flavor a lot more concentrated than in the raw. The fruits themselves all taste 'watery' to me.
As the hotel was right across the street, all of the smokers (most of whom were also guests) went over to the hotel smoking area over the course of the evening. Apparently, there was some kind of rule about not being able to take liquor out of the reception hall, which was pointed out repeatedly to me, but no official ever mentioned it (just other people who'd been stopped by an official). I guess I was just blessed, though I lost the majority of three glasses of wine to the somewhat shaky chairs in the smoking area (I'd shift and the glass would tip).
The decorations for the reception included some lovely arrangements of cut lemons in glass vases on glass plates filled with ripe blueberries. I ate as many as I could before the cleanup was over.
I tried to keep it to red wine for the majority of the evening, as I'd noticed that the hangover potential is far lower for that, but at the end of the evening, as we went back to the hotel to "drink the decorations" I was proffered many glasses of various brown fluids, and noted the confirmation of that theory the next morning. I'm sure there was some scotch, I think one of the drinks was made of grapes (port? brandy?), but really, the use of these items dims the memory of the use of the items.
Somewhere near the third brown fluid, we were convinced by Tore to do an homage to Busby Berkeley. I came back downstairs with the video, which I handed to Tore, which he commenced to show to the others, as Marqueaux and myself went out to the smoking area, later to be joined by Tore and his wife, M&M.
Unbeknownst to us, Flipper had gone upstairs to retrieve a magnum of champagne for SuzieK, as we'd closed down the hotel bar and she was still too sober. They'd uncorked the bottle and were pouring it when they were informed by the luxury hotel officials that they were not allowed to drink liquor they hadn't purchased from the hotel in the hotel lobby, so they would have to drink it in their room. So the folks all went off to Flipper's room to get sotted (apparently some were still going strong well into the next morning, though champagne and brown fluids claimed Flipper shortly afterwards, as I'm told).
We came back in from smoking to find a completely emptied (and rearranged, and cleaned) hotel bar. While this was somewhat mystifying, I planned to call Flipper to see what was up. That's when I realized I'd lost my phone.
Losing one's phone is a terribly unsettling experience when traveling. What is worse is that though the majority of the guests were lined up right in a row (I was four floors above them), Flipper wasn't in that row, and none of us knew his room number proper. The hotel wouldn't tell us what room he was in (though now I realize we could have used the house phone to call the front desk and have them patch us through). Given that none of the others realized this either, we all went off to our respective rooms, thinking that everyone had gone to sleep w/o telling us.
When I woke up in the morning, I was parched, and nearly out of cigarettes, as I'd been handing them out to people at the party the night before as well as smoking too much myself. I decided I'd go downstairs and deal with the coffee and cig question asap, since I suspected that none of my friends were up at nine am. I drank some water from the tap, but since it was standard North Texas tap water, with flavorings of chlorine and clay (thankfully, not the season for dead fish flavors), I didn't really want to continue drinking it. I headed to tastier liquids.
Downstairs I found that while the concierge had thought the coffee shop and restaurant served 'multiple types' of coffee, what they served was 'multiple mixtures' of burnt coffee and various sweetening schemes to offset the burnt taste. I decided that the answer was to go to the hotel store and get a Coke with the cigs.
Now, I'm pretty familiar with luxury offerings. I was prepared to face down a choice between Dunhills, Shermans, and American Spirit, perhaps even some Galois or Seven stars (though I knew who'd win the match). I'd just seen such a lineup at the airport (with some unnameable Chinese brands) in San Francisco as I was waiting for the outbound flight.
I wasn't prepared for there not being a choice. They had any brand I wanted, as long as it was Marlboro Lights regulars. They also had any flavor of Coke I wanted, so long as it was Pepsi. I brought the massive disconnect between the concept and delivery of 'luxury' to the front desk immediately (many people commented on SNL's 'Olympia Cafe' skit when this was mentioned later). I was told that the parent corporation was a 'Pepsi' corporation, and that the order had come down from corporate HQ that no Coke was to be sold there.
I might add here that I spent many nights at the Holiday Inn Express just south of SFO before I managed to move to the Bay. They (and every other hotel I've been in near SFO, all of which have been chosen not for their luxury, but for their 'park and fly' deals) have free wireless, which hooked up immediately w/o any problems after I put in the password provided by the front desk.
The luxury hotel by Marriott, on the other hand, offered wireless for only $16 the first night, and $14.80 the second (when I needed to use it to try to use the 'Find my iPhone' feature of my Mobile Me subscription). I entered my room number, and my last name, and agreed to the charge, and was issued the proper networking credentials, yet was still being denied access. I went down to the front desk and made them remove the billing item after showing them the useless 'can not connect' messages I was getting, as I didn't really want to do any IT work on my vacation.
Having given up on trying to find my phone w/o waking anyone, I then tried the next best approach, waking someone up (which I didn't want to do, but which I couldn't find a way around). I knew where the block of rooms was on the fifth floor, but couldn't recall which room was who's room. I lucked out and on the first call got hold of Glock, who had my phone. I went down to retrieve it and talked about going off to get some breakfast with them before going back up to put my phone up to charge and attending to the coffee and cigarette question.
I used the phone for a moment as soon as it woke up to find where the nearest convenience store was, and it was only at the next intersection south, and across the highway. It would be an easy walk, and I presumed that Stefan and Mrs. Glock would be fairly slow in moving as they'd been up later than myself. I decided to walk down there while the phone was charging and they were dressing.
Now, I should mention here that I stopped to ask the doormen where a convenience store was, just so I wasn't walking a mile when there might be one on the other side of the reception center. I was told, "There's no stores within walking distance" just exactly that 'matter-of-fact'. But then, I was in Texas. People don't walk here. They would drive to their mailboxes if they could. Nothing more clearly said this than the fact that the bridge across the highway (next to the DART station) had no sidewalks (later I was told that you get a ticket for jaywalking if you even try). Luckily, Google was quite wrong about the location of the 7-Eleven (it was on the same side of the highway, which I found when I arrived at Campbell road).
Now, though I'd left for the store with the intention of buying a cup-o-joe, and even though it was only ten in the morning, June in Texas convinced me that what I really wanted was two quarts of water and one of Gatorade.
I got back twenty minutes later to find that the Glocks had called my room about going to breakfast, but when I called them back, the hotel phone system said I'd called an empty room. I also had a call from Steever, but the cell was still pretty discharged, so I decided to call him back after finding some food.
I ended up eating twice at the Mexican place across the street from the hotel. I've not found any decent Tex-Mex in the Bay yet, and I got a lunch that brought tears to my eyes, with an equally pleasant dinner. The margaritas were very tasty, too. I probably shouldn't have done that for lunch, but I did.
After lunch, since it was pretty clear that the rest of the folks were not quite awake yet, I took a nap myself, and went downstairs to the swimming pool, 'bubble bath' (warm tub?) and cedar room (would have been a sauna if the electricity were on, I suppose). The latter was distressing, as I'd turned it on before getting in the pool, and had intended to dry off in the sauna, which necessitated a jog through the climate-controlled (ice cold) innards of the hotel, and then a faster retreat after I found that the sauna wasn't on.
Luckily, Texas, for the most part of the summer, is the world's largest open-air sauna. A few minutes outside, and my suit was nearly dry (though I was soaked with sweat). Someone said the temperature was 103° but I can't verify that.
By that time, the phone was re-charged, and folks were ambling about, so I took a shower and put on fresh clothes to take up phase two of the party, which ended up being the Mavericks game celebration after starting with food (dinner for me, breakfast for some) at the Mexican place. Geez, I love margaritas, but I should really try to stick to just them if I'm going to drink them.
I went back and forth between chardonnay and champagne watching the game for a long time until Flipper broke out the Aberlour scotch (my absolute favorite scotch). I'm sure I drank way too much of that as the next day I could still smell the peat in my sinuses. Steever might also have had too much, though that comment never passed his lips (pretty much nothing passed his lips either way after he sunk into the chair).
When I awoke the next morning, I realized that this was also NOT the day to have an adventure on DART. I wasn't concerned with Dallas crime in the daytime, but was simply too hung over to want to play. I took a taxi to the airport.
When I got to the airport, my flight was delayed, so I had plenty of time to hang out and notice things like somebody having painted the intentionally rusting ironwork at DFW airport (wonder how the architect feels about that? or what he thinks of his plan to line up all the lights so that they were all the same height, now that the earth has shifted and misaligned them?).
Whereas SFO has an exterior and interior food court, DFW has only one inside, and their security setup pretty much precludes going in and out, so I hung out outside till just before the flight so that I could smoke w/o having to go through security. Having an iPad tethered to an iPhone is a pretty useful thing to have in an airport. I watched the Bay news, but I didn't catch the story about Caltrain having troubles.
On the other hand, the bluetooth headphones weren't quite up to the task of overpowering the noise of the jet engine, so instead of watching "The King's Speech" as I'd planned, I decided to go with one that I owned rather than rented and one with closed-captions, since I lost about thirty percent of the audio. On the way out, I'd tried "2001: A Space Odyssey" and found that it had no captioning. Still, there's not a whole lot of dialog in that, and I knew it already.
When I got back, I took the AirTrain to BART, and then took the yellow line to San Bruno, and the red to Millbrae. That's when I saw that Caltrain was running 10-40 minutes behind schedule (which made it a crap shoot as to which 'train' I was getting on). I got on one that ended up being an express past my planned stop in Palo Alto, and I misinterpreted the conductor's statement that we were going to Mountain View as the stop near my apartment, rather than the one on the other side of town. I took a taxi home instead of trying to figure out the bus situation, as I was cold and tired (still dressed for Dallas weather for the most part, though I'd layered--I expected 75° as predicted, not 61° with a stiff breeze).
I woke up still hung over this morning. My boss said I could take another day to recover. He's a great boss.
All in all, it was just a wonderful trip. I may dislike going to Texas for the most part, but my friends there make up for all the heat and bullshit. They had a wonderful party, and I don't think it could have been much better as a trip. It's too bad that travel delays precluded my initial plan to see my family the first night. It's too bad that Texans for the most part are a bunch of ignorant savages with delusions of adequacy (like when they thought they'd finally 'arrived' as an art mecca when they bought the most expensive painting in the world).
Luckily, my friends tend to have the same view of Texans as I do. They just have a lot more tolerance for them. It's like this tiny blue bubble in a sea of red(necks). I think Jim Hightower has the best one-liner for the situation ("Lipstick on a pig"). At least nobody from any of the other groups at the hotel went off onto something like 'birther' stuff. Maybe someday enough of them will actually have experienced culture enough (in other places, of course) so that the recognize the shortcomings of their own 'heights' (it's easy to think something's big if there's nothing bigger around--like that 12 story hotel looked down on all the water towers, while here, a building that size looks like a tiny box compared to the hills).
On some future post I will, of course, reverse the rant and be a Texan in California. It's not like these folks are any more tolerable, but the topics are different (and perhaps as funny or funnier). It was Texas where I met a man who told me he knew a hundred different ways to kill a man, but it wasn't till I got to Cali that I met folks who knew hundreds of ways to die, and were scared to death of all of them. I've met dumber Californians than the Texans who think Obama's a Muslim, and more varieties of stupid, too. CA is very diverse when it comes to rambling idiots. The label "Land of Fruits, Nuts, and Flakes" is accurate.
One final set of notes on the 'luxury' hotel by Marriott:
The toilet would occasionally not flush. It would empty into the bowl, but for some reason, this wasn't always enough water to overcome the p-trap, and it would just sit there. Even if you waited for the tank to fill and re-flushed it, the result was the same (I'm guessing it had to do with air pressure in the pipes).
The Hi-Def TV in the room was set to show all the Hi-Def broadcast signals at 16x9, but all the analog signals it was getting from the cable system were set to 'zoom' mode so that the 4x3 signal was stretched out to 16x9 (giving folks that 'Jabba the Hut' look). There was no way to undo this choice as far as I could tell.
There are approximately thirty rooms with balconies facing the area I'm told is where the Wildflower Festival is held. These balconies, as per the hotel concierge, are not available to anyone, and are sealed up so that patrons can't accidentally use them. So those ideas of renting one to get a better view of the festival (or renting one so that one has one's own private outdoor smoking area) is a moot thought.
Luxury is delivery, choice, and service. Luxurious surroundings don't make up for the lack of actual luxury. In spite of their massive artworks, and the options for truly opulent (decadent) service, the lack of choice in many cases made them look less than luxurious (and in some cases, downright fascist). The lack of delivery and attention to detail such as emptying the smoker's pole and checking their circuits, chlorine levels, and water temperatures made it apparent that they just aren't up to the task that their building would imply they were attempting.
On the other hand, there were free apples in a bowl on the front desk.
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