The CEDIA Experience: Part 1 - Getting There
A Wing and a Prayer - Clint DeBoer's Travel Tales
It's always a mixed feeling when getting ready for one of our Expo trips. On the one hand you're excited about seeing and experiencing (to some degree anyway) the newest products and technologies. The down side is having to leave your family for a few days (I wonder how CEDIA would feel about me dragging my wife and 2 ½ year-old around the show floor!) while you disappear into the world of hotel beds, rental cars and a steady diet of bottled water and snack food.
The first flight went without a hitch - well, that statement is relative after all… It's almost as if the airlines these days measure their success in terms of how much they can get you to endure and not swear off their airlines forever. For some reason the plane had a mild residual smell that made me think a previous passenger on the plane had had an accident (think of a 1 year old that drank too much water). Throughout the initial taxi and subsequent landing (it happened to be US Airways - but I'd wager they aren't any worse than the rest of the big airlines) there was a sound that closely resembled a mechanical dog trapped in the cargo hold. Not surprisingly there was an "unexpected plane change" for those passengers who were supposed to remain on board when we reached Charlotte, NC.
Once in Charlotte I had about an hour and a half to kill. A good half hour of that was spent getting from where I was to the destination gate. Now, there was a wireless connection (two, actually) in my hometown's po-dunk airport. However in Charlotte's "Terminal Q" there seemed to be no such convenience (for shame!) I decided to waste some time eating at the Fox Sports Bar, which has nifty entrees named after the hosts of the famous TV sports show. I had the "Howie Hot Wings" which were indeed hot and tasty. They would have been much better if the gentleman seated 6" away from me wasn't smoking a cigar, but you can't always pick your neighbors and there were no other tables available to move to. Sometimes I think those ionic breeze machines modeled my physiology in an attempt to find the best way to attract smoke. At the conclusion of my meal a lady commented on my luggage, a laptop roller bag that sported a TravelTow handle in addition to a rather large Toshiba logo. After explaining that Toshiba hadn't recently come out with a new line of luggage (but they do enjoy sponsoring bags) I proceeded to answer some questions about plasmas and LCD TVs. It always amazes me the amount of confusion consumers have to deal with in regards to HDTV. The more I talk to people, the more I realize that they are not to blame - the market is entirely too confusing, though that doesn't make it bad. I gave her my card and told her about our helpful Display Technologies Guide which attempts to clear up at least some of the confusion.
As I sit writing this article I am aware that the poor passengers to my right have been hustled around the airport for a plane change. They have been delayed for two hours. Apparently their plane was commandeered to replace one that had a dog trapped in the cargo bay…
As I climbed into the tin can with wings that would be my connecting flight to Indianapolis, I wondered if we might want to toss out some of the luggage to make more room for gas. If you've never been on an Embraer 140, it's a treat. Take your standard 737, cut it in half both ways and redistribute the seating such that there are two seats on one side of the aisle and just one seat on the other. Add in half-volume storage on just one side of the aircraft and about twice the noise and you'll have a pretty good idea of the experience. Once aboard we proceeded to get into a "taxi queue" of about 20 airplanes, according to the captain. Now, I'm not a pilot, and certainly not FAA-certified, but this is the South. Wouldn't these Nascar-crazed people have come up with the concept of a two-lane runway by now? Better yet, how about some good old fashioned drafting or 'First one there gets to take off'. Competition is good for the spirit - and rubbin's racing, as they say.
Our stewardess/flight attendant/professional flight coordinator was pleasant and had fun mouthing the words so that the pre-recorded safety message appeared to be magically transported from her lips to the speakers of the plane. At one point in the spiel it mentions that "should oxygen be needed, masks will drop from the ceiling which you should put over your face…" to which I replied "Maam, isn't oxygen ALWAYS needed?" Some airlines simply have no sense of humor…
Budget Rental Car Experience
You've got to get around town somehow and we chose Budget Rental Car Center to take care of our local travel needs. Checking in at the counter, we were assigned what they referred to as a full sized car. I suppose a Suzuki SUV is considered full size by their standards… at least the four of us could manage to use it as a shuttle between our hotel and the convention. Before picking up the car, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the local TGIF. As we first went to, and then waited at, the shuttle area to get transported to our car we watched Hertz limos transport their customers to their cars non-stop. About 20 minutes and 6 Hertz shuttles later, a Budget limo pranced along to pick up a now substantially-sized crowd. Seconds after the shuttle doors opened, the driver gleefully announced that all of the Budget cars had been given out for the night. She furthered that it would be unlikely anyone would get a car until the following morning.
"Excuse me", I said, "We have a reservation." Suddenly I was having flashbacks of a very familiar Seinfeld episode that closely mimicked my experience. Suffice it to say it didn't work out too well for him so I wasn't too optimistic about the outcome. We quickly went back to the Budget info booth before the large crowd turned medieval on the limo driver. What we found was a vacant booth and a "Come Back Tomorrow" sign. Fortunately there was a phone to contact customer service. When I got through to their service department, I explained the situation only to find the receptionist was under the impression I had already checked the car out. I asked her how that was possible if I was on the phone voicing my frustration about Budget NOT honoring our reservation agreement. She then put me on hold, seemingly to consult her magic 8-ball of excuses and came back a few minutes later with "Sorry sir, your car had operational problems so they took it to get serviced and then gave it to someone else." That's it? No "Can I get you another car right away, sir?" I was at least hoping for a better excuse like "We're sorry, sir, it was hijacked by terrorists" or "Sorry, sir, it got flattened by a steam roller." In any event that's the first and last time we will be using Budget's Car Rental services. I guess in this case, you really get what you don't pay for!
Fortunately we found a taxi in record time to take us to our hotel. We had a nice Nigerian host that must have been new to taxing the Indy area since we had to give him directions to our hotel at least 5 times before he thought he understood. As we went down the street, I couldn't help but notice his gas gauge was pegged below E. I wondered how the gas mileage was in his car and actually attempted to calculate how many more miles we could go before the engine cut out. As you could imagine, we were most eager to have him find our hotel, so we broke out the map and phone and called Hampton Inn. Aside from a few detours, and the less than pleasant scenic shots of life near the airport, we arrived with gas to spare.
And now we're off to bed to get 5 hours of sleep for our first full day of coverage tomorrow.
Next Time Maybe I'll Walk
Getting to the airport is always an exercise in aggravation. I get it from my father. He's generally an even keel sort, but traveling brings out the worst in him. I'm an order of magnitude worse. If you add up all the fights my wife and I have ever had that weren't travel related, it wouldn't equal half of what we went through today. First, I run home from work and rush to get the software for my camera installed on my laptop while packing the last of my stuff. My wife is running late (of course) and my son refuses to use the bathroom so I'm pulling my hair out thinking of the oodles of security I'm going to be subjected to at the airport. Finally, we are in the car and my wife is driving so I'm noticing my right foot pushing on the floorboards in a vain attempt to get her to drive faster. Not that if I was driving it would help. Traffic is a mess.
So, I get to the airport and the security guy takes one look at me and asks his coworker for an orange ticket which he promptly hands to me and waves me on to the security checkpoint. I'm thinking that the security guy noticed the worry and exasperation on my face and gave me some sort of "Get Through Security Quick" card. Oh no, not so. It is an "Everything But a Strip Search" card. They unpack everything, wipe it down with bomb detection handiwipes, send it through the computer, make me power everything up, then have me walk through some sort of machine which, I was informed, blew a bunch of air at you then sucked it back up and analyzed it. Full on Logan's Run. I was waiting for the alarms to go off and a mechanical voice to ring out, "Danger Will Robinson! Danger!" followed by a red laser reducing me to ash.
So I'm on the plane and I'm one of the few that has a free seat between me (at the window, which is completely obscured by the engine) and the passenger on the aisle. I couldn't for certain even tell you their gender though I'm pretty sure they were carrying a purse - which, after living in San Francisco and West Hollywood, I know isn't always the most convincing evidence one way or the other. I'm awoken for my "gourmet" pretzels which were only gourmet if you consider the incredibly small size to be indicative of haute cuisine. I would rather have slept.
The next flight reminded me why I don't talk to people on a plane. I'm in the tail end of the plane (again) which means I'm one of the first to board. Now, as mentioned previously, I'm married (happily). With child (mostly happily). But that doesn't mean I'm dead. If given the choice of sitting next to a pretty, flowery smelling woman or an old spice lathered man…well, is it really a choice? Wave after wave (it seemed) of hot girls came on board all heading my way. First, hippy guitar chick with the hip huggers and the vintage t-shirt…walked right past me and sat in the only row farther back than mine. Next, the young southern bell with the flowing skirt and the short jacket, sat right in front of me. Next, the older southern bell, more mature, tighter business outfit but still has the charm that seems to be transferred from the crystal clear water of the Mississippi. She sat down next to the dork that walked so slow (because he was on his cell) that the stewardess made three general announcements reminding everyone (this means you, sir) to sit down and let others through. Then there was the other hippy (old school dirty type) with ample muffin tops sticking out of her low-rise pants and her mohawked friend. OK, so they weren't all hot.
But me - I get stuck next to the Crestron remote programmer in the parka. "A parka in the summer," you inquire? Well you need one when you plan on turning the little AC nossel on artic blast for the whole fight. Luckily, after about an hour, the plane ran out of cold air and I could stop knocking the icicles off my arm every few minutes. So, Mr. Parka starts talking to the guy on the other side of him about his fascinating job as a remote control programmer. This other guy doesn't own a TV so they have LOADS to talk about. I ask if he is going to CEDIA, to which he responds, "yes," then spends the rest of the trip ignoring me while trying in vain to find something in common with the non-TV owning, RV delivering, boondocks living, unibomber in training.
Of course, this second plane sounded like they had to pull a rip cord to start the engine. It sounded exactly like a go-cart. Which is to say, loud. Very loud. Though, I should say, not loud enough to drown out the incessant verbal vomit spewing from the mouth of the older southern belle, who hadn't stopped talking from the moment she sat down. She did eventually stop, the moment the plane landed and she acted like the weenie sitting next to her did not exist. Where's the love?
Oh, but where is the silver lining you say… Well, for the first time in a very, very long time, my luggage came out in the first five minutes.