Out With A Whimper: Back to NYC

ERJ 170 regisration N863RW, CMH-EWR

ERJ 170 regisration N863RW, CMH-EWR

There was nothing left to do but go home. I spent the day after the election catching up on sleep and lying around the hotel.

On the 8th I would finally be going back to NY. What was supposed to have been a long weekend with some buddies in Cartagena had turned into more than two weeks spread over five cities and a lot of great memories.

Slightly off topic, but if you’re ever on the fence about whether or not to go on a trip, just do it. I don’t think I’ve ever said “man, I wish I hadn’t gone on that trip, that was lousy.” Even the ones that turn out less than perfect are great. Even the places that you hate teach you something. Plus…you meet interesting characters on the road.

Football season gf drove me out to CMH. I would be seeing her again in a few weeks when I returned for our yearly stomping of the state up north.

There’s no airline lounge at CMH, so I was stuck sitting at the gate, looking over the gray and depressing field as the sun slowly set.

Many moons ago, Continental used to actually fly a mainline 737 from EWR to CMH a few times a day. Mainline UA aircraft don’t come to CMH anymore, and for most of my trips out there I am crammed into a pre-merger Continental ERJ145 in a monoclass configuration.

I saw that UA 3557 was operated by a pre-merger United ERJ-170, registration N863RW. The pre-merger UA 170’s have first class. While there were no cheap first class fares, I was able to “B-up” to first at time of purchase.

If you are an elite with United, when you purchase a Y or B bucket (both are coach class fares), you have the ability to automatically upgrade from coach to first at the time of purchase. This complimentary upgrade is also available for higher level elites who purchase M buckets.

There was a reasonable B fare, so I B-upped at time of purchase, and assigned myself seat 2A.

The election hadn’t gone our way, but it was still a great experience. Colombia had been a blast, the Buckeyes were still undefeated and I was no longer freezing to death. Things could have been worse.

As I boarded the last plane home, as usual, I felt trepidation about coming back in off the road. I know that some people don’t like to travel, or can only countenance it in brief spurts, but I feel most comfortable on the road, and I’d stay out in perpetuity if it was feasible. It was November by this point, I had some weekend trips scattered over the time between the 8th and Christmas. I hoped these would be sufficient to stave off airport withdrawal until December 26th when I would be headed skyward again for a few weeks. That would be an excellent fix.

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O-H..Oh No. How To Lose A Presidential Election

Artwork on the ceiling of my room at the Hilton

Artwork on the ceiling of my room at the Hilton

In a previous life, I had been a lawyer. After seeing Romney wipe the floor with Obama in the first presidential debate, I started to think he might actually have a chance, and that even the non-stop media propaganda campaign in favor of their messiah wouldn’t be able to sway the American people. After all, they had seen Romney demolish Obama on national television. That had to count for something. I knew it was still a longshot, but I wanted to try to and help in any way I could, so I contacted the campaign.

After a few e-mails back and forth, they told me that I would be of most use to them working in the war room in Columbus, fielding calls in the run up to election day, and on election day that dealt with legal issues.

I wasn’t sure how effective I’d be, but like I said, I wanted to help, so I signed on.

The morning after my arrival, football season gf dropped me off at the brand new Hilton in Columbus, on her way to work.

Outside of the Blackwell, which is on campus, staffed by students and run by the hotel school, there is nothing approximating a good hotel in Columbus.

The new Hilton is fantastic. It’s in a great location on High Street making it a reasonable walk to downtown and the Short North (and even campus), there’s a nice bar, the rooms are modern and comfortable and the onsite restaurants have great food.

Back on topic though. My room wasn’t ready, so I left my bags in the lobby, went for a brief walk, then came back to the hotel around 11am.

My room was now ready, so I changed into some business casual attire and caught a cab out to campaign HQ.

I met with the guy who was overseeing the legal group, and was introduced to some of the people I would be working with. Once the group was assembled, we all adjourned to an orientation. The rest of the day and the next day were spent in the office.

Saturday was my allocated day off, which turned out to be fantastic for me, as the Buckeyes had a home game against Illinois. Even better, one of my good friends living in Chicago had season tickets, but was unable to attend, so he gave me his two tickets in A-deck for free. Hell of a nice guy.

Since football season girlfriend had been so super to me, I brought her to the game. We started the day at our favorite college bar, watched the mighty Bucks eviscerate a particularly hapless Illini squad, then made our rounds of the post-game bars to see friends and celebrate.

Sunday, it was back to work. At one point when another lawyer and I were tasked with going out to a suburban development to go door to door (only to voters who identified as Republican of neutral) to ask question, I realized the campaign was doomed.

Look at that lettuce, bro has some great hair at least.

Look at that lettuce, bro has some great hair at least.

If the Republican party thought the best use of their resources in 2012, in a campaign they were trailing was to send lawyers out on foot to go door to door and bother people by asking them if they were planning to vote, and if so morning, afternoon or evening, then I just don’t know what to tell you.

For the most part, we were only contacting people who were already planning on voting for our guy and more than a few of them said they were sick of being hounded and wouldn’t answer any questions. Awesome strategy, harass and alienate your likely voters, surefire way to win the election.

This experience really drove home just how wide the enthusiasm gap was. The Dems were able to mobilize infinitely more volunteers and since their base was much younger, they understood how to use technology, use the media and influence and win modern elections.

I still believe that Romney was and is a better man and would have been a better president, but the Republicans were hopelessly outclassed regarding the tools and tactics that are needed to run modern campaigns.

Still, I soldiered on. Football season gf had moved from her house into the hotel with me when I checked in, so we both got dressed in our finery and went to the election night party. At that point I was certain we’d lose, so the evening didn’t have a very festive atmosphere.

Not so much

Not so much

As the results started to break for Obama, the night began to peter out. No one felt much like celebrating.

We went back to the Hilton, walked through the throngs of drunk Obama supporters celebrating in the lobby (the Dem party had been there) and up to bed. I had the next day off to rest before flying back to NYC.

Oh well…at least the Buckeyes won and the hotel was nice.

Hilton Columbus Report Card

 Pros: Fantastic location, nice lobby bar, great restaurant and room service, modern décor.

Cons: It’s new and they are still ironing some kinks out, the gym is light on equipment and weights

Verdict: I wouldn’t stay anywhere else in Columbus. When I went back later in November for the Ohio State v. Michigan game (we won…again), I stayed here again.

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Into The Fight: AA to Ohio

It doesn’t get much more boring than a short hop on a regional jet, so I’ll this short. I was again flying first on AA by virtue of very cheap fares found on the internet (Kayak in this case), so, after checking in, I popped into the tiny Admiral’s Club near my gate.

I hate cheating on UA almost as much as I hate giving AA credit for anything, but I have to say, as far as regional jets go, they have UA beat.

Our equipment was a CRJ-700, tail number N504AE. I was in seat 1D. The seats were comfortable, and even though this was only a 295 mile flight, AA attempted to serve something approximating a meal. This was surprising to me given UA’s move to “snackboxes” on mainline flights. You usually get nothing on RJ’s.

As you can imagine, I was pretty tired from basically not sleeping at all the night before, and running around Chicago all day looking for warm clothes. On the plus side, I was now warm. I had a new winter coat, scarf, sweater and other things you need to survive winter in the Midwest.

I go to Columbus fairly frequently for football games, so I had a “football season girlfriend.” This was a term she was aware of and embraced in good humor, so I don’t want any guff about being a jerk.  Basically, the deal was, when I came to Columbus, I would stay with her, and while I was in town, we were dating. When I was in parts unknown, no attachment. Can’t beat free lodging.

I had arranged for football season gf to pick me up at CMH, and I would stay with her for the first night before moving into a hotel for the rest of the week. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at campaign HQ, since this was my first campaign.

I wanted to help in some way, because 1. I thought four more years of Obama would be a horrible, horrible tragedy for America, 2. I believed, and throughout the course of the campaign came to believe more and more that Romney would actually be an excellent President, not just a “lesser of two evils,” 3. I wanted to be involved instead of just idly bitching from the sidelines, then not voting like most of the people I know.

We touched down, my ride met me out front and I was on my way to the battle in Ohio.

 

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Martin Solveig Superfans

It was very late by the time I got to Chicago. I had made tentative dinner plans with some local friends, but when the wheels hit the tarmac at O’Hare, it was clear that dinner was not going to be an option.

My buddy B, who I had been staying with in LA the month before was out in the Midwest. He was a 4-hour drive away from Chicago, but it was Halloween, and I managed to convince him that he would have more fun spending it in Chicago with me than stuck out in the fringes of flyover.

I had previously stayed at the James during a friend’s disastrously long bachelor party weekend, and the rates were shockingly low, so I booked a room with two beds.

When I got to the room, B was already working on a bottle of tequila. He poured us both large glasses, and I started catching up while showering and getting ready. Once we were all put together, we grabbed some road sodas and snagged a cab.

I still had nothing but my Colombia clothes, so I was wearing jeans, driving shoes a dress shirt and a sport coat. It was probably 20 degrees in Chicago.

One of B’s friends was at a private party Paul Oakenfeld was spinning at, so we swung by there first.

Like I said, it was Halloween. I didn’t even have clothes that would keep me from freezing to death, so it goes without saying that I didn’t have a costume. When people asked what my costume was, I told them I was dressed as a guy who got stranded by Hurricane Sandy. It was the truth.

Before I landed, B had been pushing the Martin Solveig show at Paris Club. We have accidentally become sort of Martin Solveig groupies. We saw him at a party in St. Tropez over the summer, then when I was out in L.A. one night, we went to a club and he happened to be playing a show there. Now we were in Chicago and he was playing again, so it seemed like the thing to do.

The problem is, I hate being tied to specific plans during the evening, and shelling out $80 to see a dude spin seemed a little bit ridiculous. As the first party started to thin out, B talked me into going to Paris Club and seeing if they’d cut us a deal.

We did them one better. When we got to the door, I walked past all the security/bouncers without looking at them, trying to give the impression I’d already been in. It worked, I went through the door, upstairs and into the bar without anyone questioning me. No tickets needed.

B was not so lucky. He got snagged by a dude wanting to see his ticket. He tossed him a little baksheesh and all was well.

I met B at the main bar, and we found his friend R. B had met R at E’s Hamptons house during the summer. She was a very nice girl and went with the flow despite not knowing me at all, and us being more than a little inebriated.

We stayed at Paris until Solveig finished and the place shut down, then R suggested we go to Prive. Things got even hazier there, and B got separated from us.

I woke up at R’s place really early in the morning, found a cab, and got back to The James, where I found B still awake, looking worse for the wear from the evening.

We laughed about our newfound groupie status, then I drew up a quick list and went over to Saks to buy a new winter wardrobe both because it was freezing, and because flip flops and polo shirts wouldn’t be very office appropriate while working on the campaign.

With my new gear purchased and jammed into a newly acquired suitcase, I left everything in the room and went to grab lunch with B.

He had the rental car he had driven to Chicago, so when it was time to go, he dropped me at ORD and I told him we’d catch up back in NYC. It was like déjà vu to a few weeks before when he’d dropped me at LAX.

It was time to get even more Midwest and to do grown up work. On to Ohio.

The James Report Card

Pros: Great rooms, awesome location, nice on-site bar, reasonable prices.

Cons: I really can’t think of any.

Verdict: Whenever the price is right, The James will be my pick. I have enjoyed every stay I have had there.

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It’s Hard To Find A Winter Coat or An English Speaker in Miami

Since I was stranded in Florida, I never did get a chance to go home and pack clothing appropriate to the sub-freezing temperatures in the Midwest. Linen shirts and swim trunks were not going to cut it.

I spent most of my last day in Miami running around trying to find warm clothes. As you can imagine, Miami is not exactly flush with stores stocking warm winter coats. I failed.

Given the ferocity with which the Hillbilly and I had attacked the previous evening, I was due for a night off.

I watched TV in the room and went to sleep very early. The next day it was time to escape Miami. It had been a fun trip, but I am going to have to remain of the opinion that in general, I hate Miami.

MIA was as usual a total disaster. It’s one thing if my delivery guy doesn’t speak English, but the vast majority of all employees at MIA, including the TSA government employees cannot speak English in an intelligible fashion. This is very, very frustrating. We might be close to Latin America, but the stars & stripes are still hanging outside. I’m not trying to be abrasive, well perhaps I am, as it’s my nature, but is it too much to ask that government employees in the United States be able to converse with travelers in the de facto language of our homeland?

First class fares from MIA to ORD had been very cheap, so I had access to the Admiral’s Club.

I think this was the same club I was marooned in when I was trying to get from MIA to Rio in December of 2010. While the facilities of the club are mediocre at best, and I find AA to be a second rate legacy carrier, both of my interactions with the staff at the Admiral’s Club in Miami have been exemplary.

In 2010 on that previous occasion, my flight from MIA to Sao Paulo had been cancelled perhaps one hour before boarding. The lounge staff managed to rebook me on a flight from MIA to Buenos Aires leaving 45 minutes after my original flight, and then got me on a BA connection from EZE to GRU. I had been traveling on an award ticket with BA miles, but as an added bonus, when they rebooked me EZE-GRU on BA, they put me into an F bucket, which is a revenue bucket, so I earned miles for my free flight…helped me re-qualify elite with BA that year…thanks.

This time, I was in the lounge early, and wanted to try and get on the earlier flight to Chicago, so that I’d have more time for the evening.

The helpful guy in the lounge was able to arrange a standby ticket for me on the early flight. First class was sold out, so I’d have to fly economy, but it’s not that far to Chicago, and I really wanted to get moving.

With my new boarding pass in hand, I went down to the gate, only to find the flight delayed. I talked with the gate agent about the possibility of getting upgraded to first, since I was traveling on a paid first class ticket on my original flight. He told me he would see what he could do.

In the end, it didn’t matter. There was a medical emergency with the flight crew. I think someone said that the co-pilot had a heart attack, I never got the full story. The gate agent pulled me aside and told me that due to the unspecified flight crew emergency, the flight was going to be delayed indefinitely pending the arrival of a new crew, and that I would be better off switching back to my originally booked flight.

I thanked the agent, went back to the lounge and swapped back to my original flight and in fact into the original seat I had booked. Much ado about nothing.

In this age of regional jets flying on virtually every short hop and 737’s being pressed into service for transcons, it was a welcome change to get to the gate and see another widebody AA 767-300 waiting for me.

Like the aircraft that took me from Bogota to Miami, this 763 had the international business class product (marketed as “First” here since it was a domestic route).

I fell asleep almost as soon as I got into my seat and woke up on final approach into O’Hare. I only had one night in Chicago, I was going to make the most of it.

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Coked Up Haitians, Drunk Cab Drivers & E.Euro Models…Miami

Sunset over the bay

Sunset over the bay

I was never supposed to end up in Miami. My original plan was to fly from Bogota to NYC, change out my linens and tropical gear for clothing more suited to winter in the Midwest, then fly to Columbus and join the Romney campaign for the final push in Ohio.

Then Hurricane Sandy happened. The superstorm happened to hit the northeast the day I was due to fly back from Bogota. Of course, my flight was scrubbed due to weather.

I cancelled my reservation with United for free thanks to the weather related travel waiver, and figured Miami (ironically enough) would be the best place to fly into during a hurricane .

A friend of mine was staying at the Mondrian South Beach, and she encouraged me to join her there. They had some sort of absurd sale going on and rooms were incredibly cheap, so I decided to treat myself, and booked a suite before getting on the flight back to America.

Once I got through the crying baby filled immigration queue, I hopped a cab and took off for the hotel.

The Mondrian is on the bay side of South Beach, so you’re looking at water, but it’s not the ocean. The nearby streets were flooded, which was probably due to a water main that burst or something, but my driver insisted it was storm surge from Sandy. I suppose it was possible.

Knowing that Miami is a fake and incredibly tacky town, I presented the desk girl with my most pretentious credit card at check-in (JP Morgan Palladium Card), and falsely assuming I must therefore be important, she upgraded me on the spot to the next room class.

It’s good to know when you’re dealing with awful people so that you can act accordingly and take advantage of their contemptible personalities. Thanks for the upgrade Mondrian!

The room was great.; large living room with a couch and TV, a dining table in the kitchen, separate bedroom and a balcony overlooking the bay. My only complaint is that the bathrooms were tiny, poorly laid out (style over functionality…vintage Miami) and there was no bathtub…I like bathtubs.

The Room

The Room

I went down to the gym, which is on the same floor as a modeling agency (I think the same one that used to be located in the old Gansevoort) to get in a quick run. My friend texted me while I was there, and it turned out her room was only a few doors down, so she popped in to say hello.

Sadly, she was being boring and not venturing out that evening. I had been pushed to the breaking point in Cartagena, but that was two days ago. I despise Miami and most of the state of Florida in general, but if I am only going to be in a place for two days, I’m absolutely going to go out.

I called my buddy who goes by the DJ name of the Haitian Hillbilly, since he is a white Haitian who looks and dresses like a hillbilly, with the impressive facial hair to back it up.

He told me he would swing by around 11:30pm, after his dinner and pick me up.

I went down to the Mondrian’s lobby bar, which was 100% deserted and started slamming jack & cokes.

As you can imagine, Haitian DJ’s who are also drug aficionados are not the most punctual of people.

A few rounds in, the bartender told me he was closing up shop.  I grabbed a whisky for the road and went up to my room to have it out with the minibar.

Somewhere around midnight, the hillbilly pulled up in his beat to shit vintage pickup truck. I brought him down a beer, and we both drank Heinekens as we made for the beach.

His agent or manager or something like that had a table at FDR, so this was our first stop. FDR is at the Delano, and it’s in the space that used to be Florida Room. The party was actually pretty fun, and this is something I don’t normally say, as I really, really don’t like Miami. I met some lovely young ladies at the table who I still talk to sometimes.

When FDR stated to die down we went to another club the name of which I can’t remember. We did a few quick circuits, but it was lame. Then we moved to (I think) Mokkai to meet the people we had been with at FDR earlier. When they closed around 5am, the hillbilly and I piled back into his pickup truck and went across the bridge to downtown Miami.

There’s a bar there that serves 24/7. I was shocked that there was an all night bar in Miami that I didn’t know about and I was a bit upset that none of my friends had brought me here before.

Of course, even walking in at 5:30am, there seemed to be a set of regulars who are always there at the change over from late night to early morning. They all knew the hillbilly, I guess he’s also a regular.

Around 6:30am, I couldn’t hack it any more. The hillbilly turned to a guy a few stools over from us (another regular) and told him to drive me home. Apparently the guy is also a cab driver and just drinks in between fares. You meet interesting characters when you stay out until all hours.

We talked politics on the ride back to the Mondrian. The driver was playing for the wrong team, so I tread lightly.

Coming home in sunlight, wearing your clothes from the night before is always an amusing experience. I was awake, but there was no need or desire for breakfast, so I went upstairs, drew the blinds and finally got some rest.

The Mondrian Report Card

Pros: Big rooms, nice pool area, hot girls in the gym by virtue of proximity to modeling agency, great prices during sales.

Cons: Faces the bay, not the ocean, can’t walk to most of the bars on SoBe, at times feels more like serviced apartments than a proper hotel.

Verdict: Meh. I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay here again. If it was substantially cheaper than anything in a good location, I’d be ok with it. My stay was perfectly pleasant, but nothing about the hotel made me think “man, I want to come back here.”

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From One Spanish Speaking City To Another. Bogota to Miami.

AA Boeing 767-300.

AA Boeing 767-300.

The international terminal at BOG is brand new, and it’s a pretty great facility. One of the downsides to having such a new physical plant, is that not everything is open and in working order yet.

I was flying American Airlines business class from Bogota to Miami. As such, I just assumed that there would be a lounge. It’s under three hours from BOG to MIA, but it’s still an international (intercontinental even) flight in a premium cabin.

My assumptions proved to be presumptuous. There is A lounge at BOG, just not one that grants AA pax entry.

The Avianca lounge is the only one that was open at BOG as of my travel (October 29th 2012 was my flight). I thought surely AA would have set up some sort of contract with the only working lounge to allow their premium passengers to access it…nope. Likewise, my Priority Pass did nothing, and even though I have a United Club membership and Avianca is a Star Alliance partner, this did not grant me access since I was traveling on AA and not part of a Star Alliance itinerary.

I ended up sitting by the gate for a long time. At least there’s free, relatively quick wifi.

Looking out from the gate

Looking out from the gate

Our Boeing 767-300 which I mistakenly thought was registration N35DAN (no aircraft with that registration exists, so I must have botched one of the letters), was laid out in a two-class configuration with AA’s international angled lie flat business product.

I am no great fan of the angled lie flat, but every time I have been in an AA J seat, I’ve been exhausted and had no issues getting the rest I needed. The seats are 2-2-2 on the 767.

 

 

We were quickly up in the air, and on our way to America. The meal service began shortly after we reached our cruising altitude and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The steak wasn’t overcooked and was pretty great.

I think you know what these are

I think you know what these are

 

 

 

 

Did you guess right? yes...it's salad.

Did you guess right? yes…it’s salad.

 

 

 

 

Main course

Main course

 

 

 

 

After the meal, I reclined my seat and got in a brief nap before landing at MIA, which is basically still part of South America, and one of my least favorite airports in the world.

The immigration queues were long, there were many screaming babies and I was not a happy camper, but I was back in the U.S.

AA 767 J Cabin

AA 767 J Cabin

 

 

 

 

AA Int'l J Seat

AA Int’l J Seat

 

 

 

 

AA 767 J Cabin

AA 767 J Cabin

 

 

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