I mentioned yesterday that I was busy planning and booking flights, hotels, and car rentals for my fall travel schedule. It always varies year to year, but this year I will be gone most of the end of September and all of October for multiple multi-city trips. I typically fly a lot of places, but this year, since we are expanding and going to more cities, I was looking at ways to make things a little more economical. Thus, I will be going on quite the adventure. It turns out that the one hour flight from Chicago to Traverse City was going to cost over $300 alone, and the flight from Traverse City to Cleveland was going to go back through Chicago anyway. Since I have the time to make the 734 mile drive, I’ll first set out for Traverse City, work there, then drive to to Cleveland, work there, and then fly home. I better get a good car from Enterprise in Chicago, because it’s going to get some use!
I am pretty excited about this drive. When I first started traveling for work, I rarely was able to fly anywhere except El Paso. I’ve made the five hour drive to South Texas more times than I can count, and I’ve previously written about my meandering drive up to Amarillo. While I love flying too, there’s something about setting out on the open road and being able to stop and see anything you want along the way. We once did an overnight drive to Tampa, Florida and decided to stop off in Biloxi to play video poker at 3 a.m. just because we could. We only regretted it later because, as it turns out, Florida is big! It took seemingly forever to get around the bend and headed south toward Tampa. At that point, with intermittent sleep and three hours to go, a plane ticket sure seemed like the smarter choice.
I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories to share with you about my many mishaps this fall, but for now I’m looking forward to October, cooler weather, and all the sights along the way.
For the past couple of years I have been able to make an annual trip to St. Louis for work. My cousins live there, and growing up we would make multiple road trips per year to visit. I found out today that I won’t be able to go this year due to scheduling issues, so I’m hoping that next year it will work out again. I’ve been booking a lot of trips today, but wish one of those flights brought me back to this view.
When I started traveling for work with my first job out of college, I was always sent to the places no one else wanted to go. Of course, I did not have a problem with that; I was happy to be going anywhere at all. However, this means I’ve been to some interesting small towns across the state of Texas. One trip took me through East Texas in November, and the drive actually made me feel like I was in a northern state. I enjoyed the winding two-lane roads and some fall colors all the way up to Tyler, where my flip phone unceremoniously died. After scrambling to find an AT&T store, I purchased my very first iPhone and made my way up to Sulphur Springs. I arrived after dark, worked my event, and as a Hilton brand loyalist, I continued north to the closest one I could find: the Hampton Inn in Paris, Texas.
Since I reached the hotel so late and had a new phone to learn how to use, I didn’t explore any of the area that evening. However, I had researched ahead of time and discovered that as would be expected, an Eiffel Tower replica existed in the city. But this was not just your average replica. No, it was fashioned as an oil derrick, complete with a Texas touch.
I’ve since read that Paris, Texas was in a competition with Paris, Tennessee to have the tallest Eiffel Tower replica in their respective cities. Thus, the red cowboy hat was added to make it taller than the one in Tennessee. Both were eventually dwarfed by the replica on the Las Vegas Strip, which happens to be half the size of the original Eiffel Tower.
I was only able to spend one night in Paris before moving on to my next spot, so I set my alarm early in order to have time to see this replica in all its glory. For those of you with iPhones, please know that I set my morning alarm on my phone for the first time with the “alarm” tone, and I about fell out of my bed when it first went off. My half asleep brain thought it was the fire alarm. It did its job; I was wide awake after that.
When I checked out of the Hampton, I decided to take a little piece of Paris home with me. They sold bobble versions of their Eiffel Tower, and the bobbling red cowboy hat road shotgun with me for the rest of my trip. The best part is that now I can tell people that my work has sent me to Paris. I’ll let them assume which one.
With all the stories I’ve had so far about wine, I’m sure you think that must be all I ever drink! Do not be fooled; apart from at least 50 ounces of water per day, I also like a good beer. I am not a typical Budweiser drinker (though I have been to their factory in St. Louis and it is impeccably maintained with those fancy Inbev dollars), but I love a good craft beer. Texas has become one of the fastest growing craft beer states, and it’s always fun to go visit local places to try out new brews.
The same goes while traveling. We always try to visit a local place or two so we can try beer we can’t get at home. We’ve been to a lot of different breweries on our trips: Cayman Island Brewing, Cigar City Brewing, and Skagway Brewing Company, to name a few. I may even have brought Cigar City’s Jai Alai home in my checked luggage multiple times from areas where it is distributed, but luckily the TSA only looked in my bag and didn’t pop one open. Each brewery has their own system of beer flights, and typically we will each get a flight and decide from there which beer deserves to be enjoyed in a full pint.
While we did have our fair share of wine in the Napa and Sonoma area, we went to visit Bear Republic Brewing in Healdsburg, and had plans to go to Lagunitas. However, the man pouring our samples at the Seghesio Vineyard recommended we stop by Russian River Brewing Company on our way back to the hotel. Since they do not distribute to Texas, we decided to give it a try, and when we both said that we wanted a flight, we found out that it was actually a twenty-one sample flight including every beer they brew. Of course, we had to get one, and of course we definitely shared it.
I really enjoyed most of their beers, and we ended up choosing our favorites for an obligatory pint after we had finished the flight We also thought a good layer of cheesy pizza bites would be a good purchase too. I don’t typically like sour beer, but their Consecration, which was aged in Cabernet barrels, was excellent, so maybe someday we will luck out and they will distribute here. And I’m pretty sure other breweries need to catch on to this flight system; not only does it look impressive, you get a little bit of everything. What’s not to love?
Until recently, I never had the opportunity to visit Northern Michigan. My travel there is typically scheduled for early October, which means I get to experience the fall foliage and cool weather. Of all the things I miss from growing up in Chicago, having an actual fall season is probably at the top of the list. My first trip to Traverse City came after the second time I had the pleasure of sprinting through O’Hare airport, so luckily I had a window seat to see all the hues of the trees while I calmed and cooled down on the way into Cherry Republic Airport.
What I did not realize was that by flying into Cherry Republic Airport, I was entering the self-proclaimed “Cherry Capitol of the World” (as one could assume from the name of the airport). Host of the National Cherry Festival every year since 1925, festival participants even hold a Guinness world record for baking the largest cherry pie. I discovered this after I had wandered downtown and into the Cherry Republic store. They make everything cherry imaginable: cherry sours, chocolate covered cherries, cherry sausage, cherry salsa, and cherry wine. Everything was available to sample in-store, so you can imagine the place was pretty crowded.
Most everything was a little too sweet for me, the wine included, but the Cherries on Fire salsa was fantastic. I love really hot sauces and salsas, so when the sample set my mouth on fire, I decided to purchase one and pack it in my checked bag, just in case TSA would consider it a liquid (you never know). I had a 6 a.m. flight out of Traverse City via O’Hare to Atlanta (I have such good luck going to Atlanta), so you can imagine how empty an airport with five gates would be at 5:00 a.m.
This time though, the trip was going great! There was no frantic sprint through O’Hare, and when I arrived in Atlanta at the same DoubleTree that was being renovated the year before, the upgrades had been completed. However, I kept thinking I smelled Bar-B-Q from the time I had gotten into my rental car all the way to north Atlanta. When I popped my trunk and the smell got stronger, I had a sinking feeling that I knew the source.
It’s not that I begrudge the TSA for looking through my checked bag after spotting a cylindric blob on the x-ray machine. But at 5:15 a.m., in Cherry Republic airport, why, after seeing a sealed jar of salsa with a tamper resistant lid that is obviously from the Cherry Republic store on Front Street, would you ALSO decide that you need to open said jar of salsa. On top of that, could you at least ensure you put the lid back on correctly? I had packed it securely in a tight spot, so I knew the lid had not been jostled open. I only hope the TSA agent sampled it and got a rude awaking that early in the morning, because that salsa is hot.
Thankfully, the butcher paper I wrapped the jar in was thick, otherwise it would have gotten all over everything in my suitcase. And really, who needs to pack perfume when you can marinate everything you brought in the aroma of salsa? I’m positive I smelled like a walking Bar-B-Q joint for the the remainder of my trip.
I ended up tossing my opened jar of salsa because lets be honest, some TSA agent stuck their grubby fingers in there looking for contraband between the hot peppers. I was incredibly disappointed until I realized that Cherry Republic sets up a booth at the Nutcracker Market each year. If you saw me there, I was the one who tried to precariously carry five jars to the counter for purchase, dropped one on the floor, and spilled it everywhere. I guess the TSA and I are even.
For those of you unfamiliar with Texas, you may have heard that everything is bigger here. That includes our gas stations. Behold!
These billboards pop up every few miles when you’re driving on any major highway in Texas, up to 200 miles away from the Buc-ee’s location at which you will have to stop, because they have impeccably clean restrooms and creative advertising.
In addition to clean restrooms and gas (those two go together, no?), you can really find everything you never knew you needed in a Buc-ee’s. Beef jerky, brisket, sandwiches, fudge, beaver nuggets (similar to a seemingly endless bag of larger corn pops), and an eclectic array of home products. At the Buc-ee’s in Wharton, Texas, I found a beautiful framed piece of burlap embossed with flowers and a watering can. It was hanging above the toilet, and could have been mine for $10.95. I only regret not purchasing it because when people asked where I found it, I could have seen the look on their faces when I told them it was a gas station bathroom.
I went with the most reasonable thing I could find in this pile of beavers: the key chain.
California wine country can be an overwhelming experience for a novice. Between the growing regions, varietals, and the sheer number of wineries, there are thousands of options for a person who just wants to drink some wine. When we decided to honeymoon in Napa and San Francisco, we were still new to wine appreciation. Rather than take our chances on our own, we ended up booking two Platypus Wine Tours and had a great experience in both Napa and Sonoma. For our return trip years later, we decided to go the “choose your own adventure” route, and picked a few wineries to return to and new ones whose wine we had discovered since. Since we weren’t with a tour group, we had the freedom to call an audible and visit unplanned locations that we spotted driving by. And that’s how we ended up at Sebastiani.
Sebastiani Cabernet used to be our go-to ‘expensive’ ($12) bottle of wine. Three jobs ago, I had to spend two and a half weeks in South Texas for work. One of those weekends, Mike flew down to visit and after a fantastic dinner at House Wine and Bistro (one of my favorite places to eat when I needed a break from eating fabulous Mexican food at every meal), we decided we needed to continue drinking wine and stopped by the local grocery store to pick up a couple bottles. That’s when we noticed that our dusty bottle of Cabernet was actually a 2007. We were new to wine, but knew enough to know that 2007 was an excellent year for California wines, and there were none left on the shelves at home. Naturally, we bought the five they had, but without a plan on how we were getting them home. We solved part of the problem by drinking one bottle immediately, but Mike couldn’t take them on the plane back with him without proper packaging. Thus, they had to stay with me for the rest of my trip so I could drive them back. This normally would not be a problem, except I was changing hotels twice, and heat spoils wine. Specifically, South Texas heat in September.
I did what I had to do: those four bottles of wine went everywhere I did. They were pretty easy to hide in all my materials, except for the last place where I stopped, a small Catholic high school. When Brother Herrick asked me why I was bringing so many materials in for so few students, I explained the perilous situation my 2007 Cabernet was in by leaving it in the car. He approved.
After hauling that wine across South Texas, when we drove past Sebastiani I knew we had to stop for a tasting. The winery is gorgeous, and we were visiting midweek, so the crowds were non-existent. I jokingly recounted the story above to the lady who was pouring our wine, and before I realized she was gone, she reappeared with another bottle of wine. While it wasn’t a 2007, she opened up a 2005 for us to try that had aged perfectly and was as good if not better. It was a reasonable price, so it was a easy decision to purchase one and have it be one of twelve wines we brought home. And unlike the trip to South Texas, we had the proper shipping container to get our wines home as a (free) checked bag (thanks, Southwest)! Because I would definitely cry over spoiled wine.
Only recently has my business travel been almost exclusively via airplane. I still have a few local trips for which I will rent a car and hit the road, but nothing like before when the inverse was true. I once drove all the way from Houston to Amarillo (at some point can we please discuss The Big Texan?) stopping in Wichita Falls and Lubbock along the way. Thankfully, for the return trip I was able to catch a plane from one of of the airports’ seven gates, rather than make the 600 mile trek by car.
I’ve never had a problem with flying, but there was a slight learning curve when I begin to book multi-city flights, skipping across the country like a rock on a pond. Eventually, the rock sinks. Some issues are avoidable, like when you book a connecting flight, make sure you allow enough layover time. I’d rather relax in the airport for an hour than sprint off the plane and bowl people over with my carry on as I run in blind panic.
Some issues are unavoidable, like when your plane has a mechanical delay. It always makes me nervous to fly the day of a work event for this very reason, because too long of a delay could cause me to miss the entire reason for my trip in the first place. I first experienced this particular situation flying from St. Louis to Atlanta via Chicago O’Hare. I booked a 6 a.m. flight out of St. Louis in order to have plenty of time to make my connection to Atlanta, get to my hotel with a couple hours to spare, and make my event at 6 p.m. Sounds good, right?
Except, early flights mean that I barely sleep because I don’t want to oversleep. Funny how that works! I had prepared myself by having an energy drink ready for when I woke up, but I wasn’t not prepared at all for the rest of my day. After maybe three hours of sleep, arriving at the airport and lining up to board, we changed gates twice and left over an hour late. While it is a short flight from St. Louis to Chicago, when I refreshed my United app and asked the flight attendant if I could make it from C11 to F8 in time for my connection, her face said it all.
She told me that I could take the shuttle from C15 to Concourse E and re-book to the next flight. The next flight that put me in Atlanta during rush hour. Meaning I would be extremely late and/or miss my event.
When I exited the plane I made a choice that I was going to make this flight come hell or high water. With my computer bag bouncing on my shoulder and my carry-on trying to keep up, I proceeded to complete the most incredibly awkward walk/run that anyone has ever seen, gracefully tripping on my own shoes twice.
This was my first time in O’Hare since I lived in Chicago, so the nostalgia and the panic combined to fuel my adrenaline. When I ran up to my gate 13 minutes later, the gate attendant, with a look of shock, asked me how I made it so quickly. Between deep breaths, all I could say was, “I hurried.”
When I walked on the plane, every seat except mine was filled. I had the privilege of the airplane walk of shame, when you’re sweating and everyone stares at you while assuming you were just late to the airport to make the flight. What makes this boarding even worse was the business traveler next to me who watched as I attempted to throw my laptop bag under my window seat only for it to catch on the arm rest repeatedly. At this point, it wasn’t even 10 a.m.
I was exhausted, had somehow made it to Atlanta on time, and couldn’t wait to get to my hotel in the galleria area to take a quick nap prior to my evening event. After setting a thirty minute alarm, I laid down to a chorus of jackhammers that were being used to destroy renovate the floor above me. After not having a nap, I discovered a baseball-sized bruise on the back of my leg from my laptop case slamming into it during my own personal Chicago O’Hare marathon.
Two weeks later, I had to make the same sprint, this time from C11 to E6. I shaved two minutes off my time, and left the laptop at work.