Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On Travel and Truth Telling

Soon (PLEASE, God!), I'll be heading to my writing hideaway in Minnesota. Rewrites for Stray Affections (coming in September), the first novel in my Snowglobe Connections series, are calling--and due in January. As a professional writer (stand back: professional words at work!), I've learned that deadlines equal incentive, as in no deadline, no incentive, no writing, no get paid.

I'll be driving to Minnesota, and that's just the way I like it. My estimated departure? When I get my work-load under control (HA!), Christmas packages and cards sent, the car packed, Kornflake (my big red dog) in the back seat, all my files and resources loaded (plus all my electronic gadgets), and the weather looks road worthy. However, considering that I thought I'd already be in MN a week and a half ago, thus the topic of today's message: the airlines.

Well, sort of, but not really. Ultimately, you will be the judge of that. It's just that the airline industry is often such an easy, ripe and deserving target on which to blame things, rather than taking the blame ourselves--even when they have nothing to do with our failures. But since I'm trying to hold myself accountable here (perhaps even ring your blame-game bells), let's have at it.

Air travel is a strange beast, but then, so am I. If I were forced to post a personal schedule in a terminal on a display board, I can only imagine how much fun the travelers, the travel industry, the press, and bloggers such as myself, would have slamming my "delayed," "canceled" and "just plain dumb" notices.

Seriously, I just creeped myself out considering how embarrassing it would be to get busted--in public--for my own scheduling and business screw-ups. (How can we not think about this, here in Illinois, the day after our governor creates such humiliating national headlines? Then again, innocent until PROVEN guilty, right? Then again, it is Illinois, so ….) I couldn't live long enough to list the number of times I've said, "I'll be on the road by 7:30 a.m.," only to finally back out of the driveway at 2 p.m.. Sometimes I'm backing out again at 2:15 because a short way down the road, I realize I've forgotten something critical to my trip.

I've been on airplanes that pushed away, then, for one reason or another, returned to the gate. Once, in an unhappy and monotone voice, the captain informed us that a crew member –and he named her!--had forgotten her suitcase which contained security tags she’d need for her next trip. When she came schlepping back onto the plane, bag in tow, her poor face was so red. I wanted to unbelt myself and hug her, then thank her for making me feel so human. I also wanted to smack the snot out of the mean pilot, but alas, that type of behavior doesn't go over well these days. I value my breath.

[NOSTALIC INTERRUPTION: Remember the good old days when they'd occasionally return to the gate for a passenger? I get all mushy just thinking about it.]

But since I'm holding myself accountable, when it comes to mess-ups, delays, and doofus behaviors, I'm guessing my over-all track record just about matches the abysmal stats for the airlines, and maybe even tops it. It's terrorizing to imagine how few people would read what I have to say if they knew the sum total of my foibles.

Then again, that's why I call myself a humorist, because every dumb thing I do is fodder for the stage or page. Sometimes people ask me where I come up with such hysterical stories. "I just wake up and follow me around," I say. And it's the truth. I have a nonfiction book releasing in June that will likely cause you to laugh until you cry: Don't Miss Your Life!: An Uncommon Guide to Living With Freedom, Laughter and Grace. (Go here to sign up for release particulars.) When we suffer from a dumbness crisis, what's our choice, other than to ground ourselves indefinitely, and live tortured, guilty lives? NO WAY!

For instance, just last week, I fell out of a car. Seriously. And now I’m going to WRITE ABOUT IT! Thank goodness the car wasn't moving. But the dumbest part? It's the third time it's happened to me this year. Here's how it goes:

I'm in the passenger seat. George pulls up to drop me off (like the airlines, I'm often running late--too late to be "on time" if I have to find a parking space), I go to hop out of the car, and instead, I crash land on the cement because my foot is tangled in one of the long straps on my handbag. THREE TIMES AND THE EXACT SAME SCENARIO! This last time, I hobbled for days. The skin was scrapped off both my knees (through my jeans!), and my right knee, which took the bulk of the impact, is still three shades of green.

Seriously, folks, I would NOT want to see my personal snafus posted on a flight board as "Delayed again due to ongoing stupidity." Although to be honest, somehow seeing the AIRLINES post that type of missive on a flight board would arrive as a welcome relief. They seem to often make reasons up as to why they're in trouble, which gets us (at least me) twice as mad. At least I tell the truth, no matter how sorry or doofus-laden it is.

All this to say, I'm driving to Minnesota as soon as I get my business ducks and Christmas stuff in a row. My original departure time was more than a week ago. I'm still not caught up. I'll try not to fall down. I hope the weather doesn't interfere. I'll talk to you from Minnesota next week. Hopefully.

As for the airlines? They’re on their own to keep us informed.

But How would you feel if you saw “Delayed again due to ongoing bad management” posted on a flight board. Seriously? How would you feel? Comment below.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Get Your Funky Sleep On!

Sometimes, just reading itinerary details for an upcoming trip makes a traveler weary. Look at all those flights and meetings. Imagine how many drop-kicks, punts, Hail-Marys, taxi blitzes, play-book plans, or long runs I'll need to undertake in order to procure ground transportation between all those meetings. (Hey, it's football season.) So many keys and room numbers, business receipts for meals and bottled water (where should I keep them this time so that I don't lose money on my expense account?), laundry issues, stomach upset, time changes. I sure hope I can sleep. I packed my own alarm clock, right? I have my passport, right? I double-checked to make sure my flights are still flying, right?


But sometimes, that jam-packed itinerary contains one gem of an item or activity that looks to be so enticing that you can hardly wait to get to it. Such was the case for my recent Amsterdam trip. The gem: the citizenM. (Poet and know it.)

When the citizenM Amsterdam originally appeared on my itinerary (which I did not arrange), my first thought was, Hm. What's this? So I checked out the website. Then I checked it out about ten more times. Next, I forwarded the link to my family and friends, explaining how I couldn't wait to see this funky citizenM in person. Then I started bugging said family and friends, asking them if they'd looked at the site yet.

"Did your run your mouse over 'the room' set-up?" (THEY JUMP ON THE BED!)
"Did you watch the movie?"
"Isn't that FUN?"
"Mood lights!"

Collective pre-trip speculations, not all with which I agreed:

Teensy tiny rooms (could be bad)
Strange (maybe too strange)
Cutting edge
"Saw this concept on a documentary."
Loud (maybe)
Lacking (possible)
Not for old people (which I am)
Maybe not conducive for business (we'll see)
Not handy to downtown Amsterdam

Whatever. I'm still excited.

After arriving at Schiphol, a worthy stop of it's own (read about my Security Blues), the citizenM, ("citizen mobile") was the first stop on the itinerary, and it couldn't have been closer or more convenient. We walked out the airport door, strolled for a couple mostly-canopied minutes, and there we were. Yes, the citizenM is located right on the airport grounds.

When our band of merry fellow travelers arrived for our check-in, we were greeted by Michael Levie, CEO of citizenM hotels. Although he had a previous commitment scheduled, he'd gone out of his way to stay long enough to extend us a handshake and warm welcome. We were then turned over to the young and perky desk folks. I snagged a moment to look around: Nice! Unusual. Interesting. Kitschy. Fun! Even the furniture was unusual --and Oh, that's what they mean by canteenM! After all, it says on their website that the "citizenM is named after a new type of traveller; the mobile 'citizen' of this world. Mobile citizens are frequent – but wise – travellers, globally aware, value conscious, not afraid of technology, contemporary, informed and have a social, free spirited personality."

THAT IS SO ME! I thought as I fluttered with delight at my first impressions.

(Before I get into more details, let me make it clear that this was not a comped stay. We each paid for our own room: 69 Euros, which is a price available to anyone, dependent upon their fill rate. So, since I paid, I have no "extra incentive" to herewith pad my opinions toward the positive, and yet, mostly positive they shall be. I LOVED the place!)

By the time we were done receiving live-person help to walk us through the computer check-in process (simple, really, but after you've been flying all night, even brushing your teeth--all your teeth--can sometimes feel challenging), we had a key in our hands that doubled as a reusable bag tag, which I immediately attached to my purse strap so as not to lose it. (I'm famous for losing my room keys, and just about any and everything else.) What I was also thinking was, "How clever they are at PR: a room key that doubles as a walking advertisement."

We only had a few moments to get to our rooms and freshen up before our official tour, hosted by Robin Chadra, CMO. So off to our rooms we ventured, oogling all the way (well, me anyway). I have to say that I was actually excited to see what I'd obsessed about on their website. So, with "reality check" in the back of my brain, and yet a certain buzzed expectancy, (been there?) I opened the door and ... NICE! Exactly how it looked on the web! (A miracle, if you know what I mean.) Small, but efficient. Bright. Kitschy. Fun. Oh, that's how the shower works! Then I kicked off my shoes and hurled myself onto the giant bed, which lent no hint as to top or bottom. The many glorious pillows and wonderfully fluffy and cuddly covers were arranged in the middle of the bed, waiting for Goldilocks to arrange and rearranging them until they were just right. And so this salt-and-pepper haired "Goldi" did.

The bed was surrounded on 3 sides by walls and/or a giant window. One of the walls held the large flat-screen TV (Philips is a special partner), which could be viewed from of course the bed, the shower, the teensy table and chair (more later) .... I found the much touted moodpad I'd read about (scroll down on this page) and played with it until it was time for our hotel tour. (I just want to read the faqs, Charlene.) I couldn't wait to get back to the room; after all, I hadn't yet tried all the moods.

Chadra was lavish with his time and answered all questions/critiques with style, grace and honesty. Joe Brancatelli, my travel guru--and eons above and beyond a well-seasoned traveler--zeroed right in on the inefficient size of the table/desk in the rooms. Like I said, it was round and small (you can see it in my first picture), therefore it didn't allow sufficient room for him to efficiently set up his laptop and papers. Since the entire hotel offers FREE WI-FI, he could have crawled up in the bed to work, but not everyone likes to do so, including me. My little Sony is so tiny that the allotted space was fine for me, but I understood his complaint. His (or anyone's) alternative: use one of the giant-screened complimentary computers in the computer area of the lobby. Of course if one likes to work in one's underwear .... In response to Joe's "desk" critique, which spoke for most serious business travelers (or travellers, as they say over there), Chadra assured Brancatelli that they were already working on a few things, and that was one of them.

While they hashed through citizenM's vision for the future, I kept thinking, I can't wait to get back to my room and that Control Central thingie. Honestly, it does everything from change the mood (lighting colors) to changing the channels, to setting the alarm (built into the TV), to raising and lowering the light block-out shade and sheers, to controlling the temperature and .... FUN! FUN! FUN! (Call me easily entertained. It's true.)

The citizenM in Amsterdam occupies a small footprint for such a large amount of rooms, as will the rest of their builds. Part of the reason is that there is no laundry service on site, no kitchen, or other typical "service" space-needy stuff. (Food service and laundry are done off site and delivered.) Their constructions details are very interesting. And yet, you still get everything you need. Surprisingly, the food in the canteenM was actually terrific. Want a cold sandwich? Get it out of the canteenM area, charge it to your room, take it there or belly up to one of their tables or bar areas to eat it. Want a hot dish? Do the same, but use the microwave first. There is only ONE BUTTON to push; they've figured everything out. They also serve beverages, make special coffees, and do it all with a youthful energy and friendliness I found inspiring and refreshing.


Was it a place just for young people? Absolutely not! Throughout their bright rooms, the canteenM, computer area and living rooms, there was a chair to suit every back, and a place to appease every traveler's mood and need, whether it be business or socializing. If you're traveling alone, this is a place you don't feel out of place. Everyone in my travel-savvy group agreed that the bed was wonderful.

Would you want to stay there a week or longer? Hm. Not sure. If you're sightseeing in Amsterdam, you'd have a substantial public transportation trip to deal with every day--although it's readily available right there at the airport.

Is there plenty of room in your room? Depends. They've designed great use of a small space for the necessities. For instance, the full-length mirror is on a swivel, and the back side of that swivel mirror (notice in my first picture, to the left of the sink) reveals plenty of shelves for your toiletries, their hair dryer etc.. It's close enough to the sink to be truly useful. (This lack of shelf space in most B&Bs makes me nuts.) However, if you need to hang up a bunch of clothes, there is no closet, just a short rod right inside the door with a couple/few hangers--clothes facing forward. If you like to sit in a lounge chair in your room, too bad. But, you can prop up those cushy pillows and stretch out, and you can stuff extra clothes in the ample drawer under the bed, if that works for you.

Remember, citizenM stands for "citizen mobile," and their assumption is that you're not staying there so you can hang around in your room all day.

WARNING: If you shower (make that after you shower, okay?), either close the shower doors and use the smaller walk-way created by doing so, or dry the shower floor. If you leave the doors open and the shower floor damp, your "inclination" will be to use that shower floor space as part of your walk-way. Don't. You can easily go a-skidding in your shoes. Guess how I learned? (An "aside" mixed-message warning: the shower is utterly glorious, but note that once you lather up your face, there is no place to PUT your face that is out of the shower spray, say in case you want to find the shampoo again. In other words, the shower spray comes from the top of the shower, and is exactly that big, which makes it both wonderful and inescapable.) However, their citizenM Soap smells so good that you will not mind the extra work. It comes in it's own plastic travel case. (Of course you take this with!) On the top of the case it says, "Designed to turn even the longest-haul traveller into a sparklingly clean and nice-smelling human being again." This kind of fun and light-handed--yet utterly serviceable--touch runs throughout.

EXTRA WARNING: Use the privacy door when you sit on the toilet. If anyone opens your door, HELLO PEOPLE IN THE HALLWAY!

Now it's your turn. Spend some time on their website. I think you'll enjoy the cleverness. I promise I won't treat you like my friends and family, bugging you with questions like, Did you move your mouse over the room set-up, or watch the video yet. Just DO IT! Okay?

Although I love the Hampton Inns here in the United States (although I've noticed they're getting more spendy than some Hiltons, have you?), if they start building citizenMs anywhere near my destinations (although that looks to be a while), for me, it will be a no-brainer. Just color me a certified citizenM groupie, for alas, I SO AM!