Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Baltimore Ravin': I spent the last four days in the DC/Baltimore area as I do from time to time. Usually, there is a work reason for these trips and I am fortunate enough that my company allows me to fiddle with the scheduling for flights and hotels so long as it doesn't cost them any extra. The net result is that I got to hang with Miss Kate and HRH Miss Anna Banana (I am not a fruit!) and the rest of the Reston, VA crew. I also got to see the new Anna Banana World Headquarters which features and enormous back yard, a pool, a gas grill, two dogs, a big screen HDTV (coming soon), and all the other plunderage of upper middle class suburbia.

Here's something I didn't expect. I asked Miss Anna what her favorite bands were, expecting to here about Outkast or Beyonce or whoever is getting airplay these days. The response: Pink Floyd, Metallica, The Doors -- Led Zepplin is awesome; basically, Classic Rock. Miss Anna is 12 (going on 23). She gets major points from me for having a mind open enough to not like what everyone else thinks is cool just for the sake of fitting in. She just likes what she likes. Better than I would have done at her age.

As for me, I actually ate steak for the first time in months, if not years, courtesy of Miss Kate. No, I do not count the steak in the Bistro Steak Salad at Panera Bread. I'm talking real steak -- 20 ounces of medium rare prime rib on the bone. Said 20 ounces immediately found a comfortable resting place around my midsection, but not without sending raiding parties out to coagulate in my arteries. Currently, I'm lulling it into a false sense of security while I muster my forces for a full-on diet and exercise assault.

Baltimore remains a fun town, at least down around the Inner Harbor. It was wicked hot (upper 80s) and I was able to sit outside at the Hard Rock and have lunch overlooking the Baltimore harbor. Weird thing about Baltimore: Once I get downtown I can make my way around fine, but despite having tread the path from the airport to the city several times, I can never do it without making at least one wrong turn. My ego is such that I blame the poor signage in and around the airport.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of good travel experiences. First, Avis car rental. They offered me a choice of available cars; asked me only once, and very politely, if I wanted to pay for gas up front or buy extra insurance. There was no attempt to get me to upgrade to a more expensive model. Basically, they didn't try to squeeze any extra dollars from me. So thank you, Avis, for treating me like an adult.

Second, Sheraton Hotels and specifically the Reston Sheraton. Sheraton is a midline hotel chain in the Hilton/Marriot class of luxury, but they have taken the lead from lower-end places like Courtyard Marriots and Hilton Garden Inns by providing lots of conveniences at no extra cost -- things that, for unfathomable reasons, luxury hotels don't provide or make inconvenient, or charge ridiculous prices for. Specifically, things like having snacks and sundries available for purchase 24/7 instead of a gift shop that's only open from 9 to 5, or worse, having to call room service; free in-room high-speed connections; free and convenient self-parking; and a complimentary bottle of water instead of hoping I would be thirsty enough to open one and take a four dollar charge.

I'll stop before this turns into a major rant. I promise to write extensively about this later, but I cannot describe how refreshing it was not to be nickel-and-dimed by a nice hotel. It's a good strategy. I am now predisposed to stay at Sheratons when traveling for business.

Now it's back to my irregularly scheduled life.