Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

The new Toronto streetcars have been running on Spadina for more than a week now, and I confess to going out the first day and taking a ride just to try them out. A lot of other people were doing the same; I ran into a friend on the car and we rode together up to Spadina Station, where she departed to head home, and I stayed on to ride back down to my point of origin.

2014-08-31 18.05.56One thing that’s different is how you pay for your ride: you can board at any door of the streetcar and you don’t interact with the driver, so you need to show proof of payment (POP) if requested by an inspector. To get your POP, you can pay using the machines on the platforms or on the streetcars directly. Here’s how it works:

  • If you have cash (coins only, exact change required) or a token, use the machine to print a POP receipt by entering the cash/token and hitting the Print button.
  • If you have a student or senior ticket, validate it in the small machine on the left of the machine, and that validated ticket becomes your POP.
  • If you have a Metropass or a transfer from another line (subway, bus or streetcar), nothing for you to do: just get on the car and ride. Your Metropass or transfer is your POP.

This should speed up boarding considerably, since you can board at any of the four doors, and pay on the streetcar if you don’t have time before you board. The low floors make it easy to board – a nice change from the big step up on the old cars – and a ramp can be deployed at the second door using a pushbutton from the inside or outside.

They are still running old streetcars on the Spadina line as well as the two new ones (thanks to the Bombardier strike that stopped production after two of the new cars), and the old streetcars now also require POP onboard even though you board at the front: the driver will hand you a paper transfer even if you think you don’t need one. I’m not sure if they are actually going to use POP inspectors on the old cars; this would be good, since it would mean a switch to boarding at all doors even on the old cars.

All this will change in a few months when Presto is rolled out for payment; it wasn’t ready in time for the August 31 new streetcars, and apparently these machines are a temporary stopgap.

A point of new streetcar etiquette: if you’re on a streetcar and see someone get on and not purchase a fare onboard, don’t openly accuse them of being a fare cheat, since they may have purchased the fare on the platform before the car arrived, or have a transfer or Metropass. I had to wave my Metropass to appease some random passenger last week when he accused me of that, although maybe it was me calling him a dickhead that shut him up.

Worst Air Canada check in service ever, flying from Miami to Toronto last week. My first choice is to check in on my phone and get an electronic boarding pass, but Air Canada doesn’t do that for cross-border flights to the US (although it works fine for flights to, for example, the UK). My second choice is to go online and print my boarding pass, but the hotel didn’t have easy facilities for that. My third choice is to use an automated check in kiosk at the airport to print my boarding pass, but there weren’t any in Miami for Air Canada. My fourth and dead last choice is to check in with an Air Canada agent, even though I have gold status and can go through the fast line – it just takes longer. When you have the most inefficient check in agents in the world such as Air Canada has in Miami, it take even longer.

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The two pictures above were taken at the Air Canada check in counter at Miami on November 9th at 11:42am (my flight left after 2pm so there was no danger of missing my flight). At that time, I have been waiting in line for at least 10 minutes, and had about another 10 to go. Note that there are 12 (!!) agents behind the counter: 4 at the left (one is almost hidden behind the waiting passenger), 2 just to the right of that (at the right of the leftmost picture), 4 just to the right of that, then 2 at the far right. These 12 agents were serving 3 customers in this set of photos, and taking an incredibly long time to do so. The leftmost counter, which would normally serve gold passengers, had 4 people working on one family’s check in for the entire time that I was there. The next counter, which would normally also take gold passengers, waved me off several times with a “we’re not ready yet”. The next two lines, ostensibly for non-gold passengers, would normally wave over gold passengers if they were waiting in line; they served 2 or 3 non-gold passengers but mostly put their heads together over their computers and provided no indication that they were serving customers. One person who walked over was checked in by one of the counters, another was waved off.

I really have no idea what all of these people were doing for the 20 minutes that I waited before being served. Some of them were tapping away at their computers. Others were chatting amongst themselves. None of them were providing anything approximating good customer service.

To the Air Canada check in staff who complain about cutbacks: this is why I want you to be replaced by a kiosk.

My car2go VIP weekendWhen the car2go car-sharing service appeared in Toronto, I signed up immediately. I’m already a Zipcar member, and will continue with my Zipcar membership (for now) since it’s useful for larger vehicles, but I really like the idea of a car that I can pick up in one location, drop in another, and just pay by the minute without having to predetermine the length of time that I am going to have the car. Where Zipcar is a better replacement for a regular rental car (I almost never use Budget or Avis any more), car2go replaces taxi and transit rides in a zone from Eglinton to the lake, and the South Kingsway/Jane to Victoria Park. You can take the cars outside the home area, but you can’t leave them there; within the zone, you can end your reservation and leave the car at any Green P (City of Toronto) parking lot plus a few of the Target Park lots. It costs $0.35/minute to drive, which sounds like a lot except when you consider that it’s cheaper than a taxi, and it maxes out at $12.99/hour and $65.99/day which makes it competitive with Zipcar’s weekend prices.

car2go is owned and run by Daimler, who make Smart cars, and their fleet comprises identical 2-seater Smart cars with a built-in onboard system for interacting with the car2go system as well as providing GPS capabilities. The GPS shows all of the valid parking locations, too, so when you get close to your destination you can see exactly where you can park and end your reservation. They’re also fun to drive, especially if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool standard transmission driver and tip it over to the semi-automatic mode where you can shift gears yourself (no clutch required). As a bit of a technology geek, I like how they can update the interface in the cars remotely: for example, they recently started prompting for your PIN when you got back in the car after a stopover, instead of just at the beginning of the rental, as an extra security feature. That means that they’re either pushing software updates out to each car, or the cars are constantly online and the onboard displays are purely presentation layer. I suspect it’s a bit of both, although would love to find out more about the technology that (ahem) drives a car2go.

I signed up using the promo code TDOT, which waives the $35 signup fee (valid until September 2nd); with no annual fee, there is no reason not to sign up if you currently use taxis, transit or even rental cars in the central Toronto area. If you are signing up and want to give me a bit of credit for referring, just append my name to the promo code on the form (i.e., use the promo code “TDOT sandy kemsley”) and I’ll get 15 minutes of driving credit. Thanks!

After a few weeks of driving around in car2go, tweeting about it, and getting my friends to sign up, I was invited to a VIP event last week. As part of that, I was given a block of three consecutive days of unlimited use of a car2go, which I took this past Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Since I wasn’t on the clock, I probably used it more than I would have under normal circumstances, but definitely went to some places where I would go again. Here’s the journal of my three days as a car2go VIP.

Saturday morning

My car2go VIP weekendMy car2go VIP weekendI’ve wanted to go to Wychwood Barns for the farmers market on Saturday mornings, but could never bother to TTC it up to Christie and St. Clair. In fact, it’s fitting that I would go there as my first car2go VIP drive since it was Suzanne Long, a big supporter of Wychwood, who turned me on to car2go in the first place and encouraged me to go there.  I picked up my car in a lot a block from home, put my grocery buggy into the bag of the surprisingly large space behind the seats, and headed off. Getting close to where I thought it was, I saw several Green P lots appear on the GPS screen, guiding me in to a free parking spot. If I had been on a usual car2go by-the-minute trip, I could have ended my rental in any of those lots, although I would have risked having someone else grab the car before I got back to it. When I did park, I found another car2go and an AutoShare car there, so obviously others had the same idea about the Saturday market. I selected “Make a stopover” on the screen to indicate that I was keeping the car for now, took the keys with me, and headed to the market.

Great market! I made a number of purchases, from organic meat to fresh vegetables to some awesome chanterelle mushrooms. A lot of vendors there, and definitely worth the trip.

My car2go VIP weekend  My car2go VIP weekend

I dropped the car back at the same lot where I picked it up, and ended the rental.

Saturday afternoon

In the afternoon, I enticed my other half into the car2go with the offer of a trip to Home Depot, plus a side trip to PetSmart for the “best” cat litter. We picked up a different car2go from the same lot (it’s a very popular car2go parking spot) and zipped off to Laird and Eglinton. At 6’2” and quite leggy, he found the passenger seat very roomy: there was at least a handsbreadth of space between his head and the roof, and with the seat all the way back, his knees had plenty of space.  He declared it “cool”, both the rental process and the cars, and is now a car2go member too.

 

My car2go VIP weekend My car2go VIP weekend My car2go VIP weekend

Plenty of room in the back for bags of cat litter, cat toys and a few electrical supplies. I pulled up in front of our condo to drop him off with the load, then I took the car back to the lot and ended the rental.

Sunday

My car2go VIP weekendMy car2go VIP weekendI figured that Sunday was a good day for an excursion, and we packed a beach bag in the back of our new car2go and headed for Bluffer’s Park in Scarborough. Out of downtown on the Gardiner and Lakeshore, I cruised out Kingston Road with very little traffic to compete.

I have only been to Bluffer’s Park once or twice (we west-enders tend to stay went of the DVP, if not west of Yonge), it’s a beautiful park and beach to wander around. The weather was hot and sunny, and although we didn’t end up swimming, we did have a great walk around a few of the park areas. The bluffs are quite dramatic looking, and there is an interesting set of settling ponds for the storm runoff, with some informational signs to let you know what’s happening there. Good spot for bird-watching as well as people-watching.

We had lunch at the Dogfish Pub at marina right on the water: food is okay, and the view is spectacularly peaceful. There was a lovely breeze off the lake, and we sat for quite a while enjoying watching the boats and the birds.

Our Smart car handled the steep grade down and back from the park with ease, and was great on the city streets. We had it up to speed on the Gardiner Expressway: it’s quiet and stable at highway speeds, as I had discovered a few weeks ago when I took one on a trip to Brampton.

Since we were coming in from a different direction and the traffic was heavy on Spadina, I decided to drop the car and end the rental at a different lot from where we picked it up, one that didn’t require crossing over Spadina. Although it is a small surface lot, there was another car2go already there, and the next day I noticed that the cars had moved around so they are obviously getting a lot of use.

My car2go VIP weekend My car2go VIP weekend My car2go VIP weekend

Monday

My car2go VIP weekendI wasn’t expecting to use the car on my third free day because it was a bit rainy and I didn’t have any particular use for it that day, but made a last-minute decision to head to T&T Supermarket, which I rarely visit because it really requires a car: both for the distance and for the amount of interesting things that I tend to buy. I picked up Pat Anderson on my way since she lives near there, is car-less, and works from home so has a pretty flexible schedule (like me). Since I was heading east, I picked up a car on a lot across Spadina between rain showers.

Pat also declared it “cool” – she liked the design elements of the car, as well as the compact size for zipping around the city. T&T was fairly empty on a rainy Monday during the day, so we wandered the aisles, checking out the fish balls, the borscht in Chinese packaging and the huge variety of Asian foods that they carry. There was plenty of room in the back of the car for my wheeled cart and four bags of groceries. In fact, probably the only regular shopping trip that this wouldn’t work for would be a Costco run where I tend to get carried away and come home with 100-roll packages of toilet paper and the like, although maybe it would be a good lesson in restraint for me to go there in a Smart car!

My car2go VIP weekend My car2go VIP weekend My car2go VIP weekend

I dropped the car at a different lot than where I picked it up, since it was more convenient to get to and closer to home. Again, I appreciated the flexibility to do that.

Summing it up

I used the cars a lot during the three days because I had unlimited use, but it’s helped to refine my actual use cases for them:

  • Taxi replacement for one-way trips. I used car2go to drive to a client meeting near Yonge and Bloor a few weeks back: I ended up just doing it one-way since I was in a hurry, and took transit home. It was about half the cost of what a taxi would have been, although to be fair, I did have to walk a few minutes at either end of the journey. My other half, who works at Yonge & Eglinton (which is at the edge of the car2go home area) occasionally needs to go to work before the subway opens, so he’ll probably use it then instead of a much more expensive taxi.
  • Trips where I’m not sure of the duration. A big down side of Zipcar (and AutoShare) is that you have to pre-specify how long you will have the car. If you’re over, you are penalized, since someone else may be waiting for that specific car at that spot. If you’re under, you still pay for the entire time. If I’m not sure of how long I’ll be, then car2go makes more sense and can end up being less expensive than Zipcar since I pay only for the time I use.
  • Weekend running around, since the day rate is the same (or cheaper) than Zipcar’s and I get free parking at any Green P lot in the home area.

In addition to the website for locating cars, there are a few iPhone apps for finding cars and parking spots. Unfortunately, the car2go app is not very good, but since they’ve opened their data/API, there are a few 3rd party apps that work fine. My current fave is car2go App Lite (free) from rrooaarr interactive solutions, which shows both cars and parking lots. I find that it has a bit of trouble when you have multiple cars close to you, sometimes it only identifies the closest one, but that’s usually not an issue.

One things that’s missing, which Zipcar (and I assume some of the others) have: a damage waiver to reduce my liability in the event of damage to the car. At Zipcar, I can pay $75 for a year or some smaller amount for an individual rental to reduce my deductible to $0; that would be nice for peace of mind if I end up using car2go a lot.

As I mentioned previously, the $35 signup fee is waived until September 2nd, so sign up before then with the promo code TDOT. Use “TDOT sandy kemsley” as the promo code to get the deal and give me 15 minutes of free driving!

The real reason that I travel so much, as I confessed to my dinner companions last night, is to be able to eat my way around the world. They contributed to my journey by taking me to Room 39 in Kansas City, where there is a focus on seasonal, local food and a great wine list.

Room 39’s frequently-changing menu has a nice twist: it starts with a “featured farmer” – currently Green Dirt Farm of Weston, Missouri – including a loving description of the farmers, the farm and how Room 39 uses what the farm produces. This is followed by a list of the 10 other farms that are featured on today’s menu, before any description of the food begins: a great commitment to putting the local producers first, literally.

Devilled quail eggs - probably the cutest amuse bouche everThe chef started us with an amuse-bouche of devilled quail eggs, which has to be one the cutest things I have ever eaten, although I was struck by the idea of how fiddly it must have been to prepare them. Each was topped with a tiny sprig of dill that enhanced the devilled egg flavour without overpowering it.

Having spent sufficient time in French restaurants, I’m accustomed to seeing a cheese course at the end of the meal (either before dessert or instead of it), but here in the Midwest, dairy farms are a way of life and cheese comes first. I can live with that, especially when we start with a sample of each of the four cheeses that they have on the menu: a Montasio cow’s milk cheese from Friuli, Italy; a Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog goat cheese from Humboldt County, California; and two delightful sheep cheeses from Green Dirt Farm, the Dirt Lover and the Bossa. I fully intended to snap a photo of the cheese plate, beautifully adorned with clover flowers and honey, but we fell on it like starved animals, and I didn’t think of it until only a few scraps were left. It was awesome, with the Green Dirt cheeses very reminiscent of those that I have tasted from Fifth Town.

We all decided on the four course tasting menu, which allows you to select one each of a soup or salad, an appetizer or pasta, an entrée, and a dessert; these are smaller portions than when ordered separately, but gave a great opportunity to try out more of what the chefs had to offer. Also, at $39, a steal. They provided wine pairings with each course, some different for each of us even when we ordered the same dish, all nicely paired. I have to confess that I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the wines since the food was so great, but I have tried to reconstruct what I was served based on their by-the-glass menu.

Local spicy greens with prosciutto, strawberries, shaved grana padano, almonds & balsamic vinaigretteFirst up (for me) were local spicy greens with prosciutto, strawberries, shaved grana padano, almonds & balsamic vinaigrette. The greens were very spicy, with a bit of bitter thrown in, making a nice contrast with the sweetness of the cheese and fruit. One of the greens was raspy in texture, possibly a mustard leaf of some type, which had a bit of a weird mouth-feel. This was served with a lovely chilled rosé, but I couldn’t find one on their wine list so I have no idea what it was.

Mussels steamed in white wine with sopressata, lemon, shallots and grilled ciabattaFor the appetizer course, I had mussels steamed in white wine with sopressata, lemon and shallots, served with grilled ciabatta. The mussels were plump and tasty, and the broth wonderful: I absorbed as much as I could with the ciabatta, and wished that I had had a spoon since it was much too early in the dinner to be drinking directly from the bowl. The sopressata could have stood to be diced a bit finer; I found the chunks too big to match the dish, somehow, although the flavour was well-suited. This was well-paired with a white Côtes du Rhône (I always think of Côtes du Rhône as red, so this was new to me), presumably the 2010 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc that is on the wine list.

Berkshire pork chop with Rancho Gordo good mother stallard beans, pancetta, roasted tomato,   preserved lemon, sautéed local greens & hazelnut romescoThe main course was a huge decision for me: after pondering the crispy veal sweetbreads, I settled on the grilled Berkshire pork chop with Rancho Gordo good mother stallard beans, pancetta, roasted tomato,  preserved lemon, sautéed local greens and hazelnut romesco. The pork was perfectly pink, although a bit fatty as tends to occur with the heritage breeds, with the wonderful taste that I have come to associate with Berkshire pork. After cheese, salad and mussels, I was happy to see that the entrée course was, as promised, a smaller version of a main. The sides were really good, especially the beans, and the roasted tomato puree on the plate was a good contrast to the sweetness of the pork. This was accompanied by the 2009 Ridge “Three Valley” Zinfandel, which struck me as an odd pairing for pork, but went really nicely with the Berkshire and its assertively-flavoured sides.

Green Dirt cheese panna cotta, black pepper tuilleI haven’t been eating a lot of desserts lately and have lost some of my taste for sweets, making the savory cheese panna cotta (from Green Dirt sheep cheese, of course) with a black pepper tuille a good choice. However, I found the panna cotta a bit too firm and cold; both the texture and flavour would have been greatly improved from sitting at room temperature for a bit longer before serving, although since dessert orders were not taken until after the entrées were finished, that was scarcely possible. The black pepper tuille was delightful, and a nice contrast to the creamy, almost cheesecake taste of the panna cotta. I had a glass of ruby port with this, although I don’t think that it was the 2003 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Ruby Port that was on the menu due to some discussion about various things being out of stock; also served a bit too chilled.

Except for a few minor points, this was an outstanding meal, served in a lovely older building in Kansas City’s funky and historic 39th Street district. I really liked the focus on the local ingredients, especially at this time of year when nearly everything can be local if chefs make an effort. In addition to the amazing deal on the tasting menu, wines by the bottle (plus the tasting menu pairings) are half-price on Mondays. Expecting to eat nothing but barbecue while in Kansas City this week, Room 39 was a delightful surprise.

My message to Porter today sums it up:

Your site has sent me 85 flight reminder messages so far about my flight tomorrow, starting at 7am today and continuing approximately one every 2-3 minutes. Please fix this.

There are a few other problems with your site:

  • Online checkin required two attempts, with no apparent cause for the failure.
  • I was unable to book my last two flights online in spite of repeated attempts in two different browsers. Eventually, I gave up and called an agent but this is not my preference.
  • This comment form that I’m filling out right now doesn’t prefill with my contact information in spite of the fact that I’m logged in. Also, on Chrome, it only allows 3 characters in the comment field (when I tweeted about this, several friends replied that "wtf" fits in that space).

As a long-time software engineer and heavy user of many consumer websites, I have to say that I’m sorely disappointed in the quality of your site — you need to hire a serious QA person to test this stuff out before you start inflicting it on the rest of us. As much as I love flying Porter, the online experience is enough to put me off. It might not drive me back to Air Canada (yet), but it certainly is not making me happy.

I tweeted to them about the problems, but I don’t think that they have anyone monitoring their tweets or comment emails on weekends, and I don’t expect to get an answer back for a few days. Even then, it is unlikely to be satisfactory, based on my last exchange with them about their website, which went most along the lines of them telling me that I was obviously doing something wrong. In the meantime, I’ve set up an email filter that removes the messages from Porter as they arrive.

I fly Porter on the routes that it covers because it’s a great in-person experience:

  • They almost always have a 20% off promotion available, which undercuts Air Canada fares.
  • The airport is 2km from my home, which means that I can actually walk there, or take a $8 cab ride instead of the $55 required to get to Pearson airport.
  • I get to take the shortest ferry ride in the world to get there, which earned me the “I’m on a boat” FourSquare badge.
  • I am only required to be at the airport 45 minutes before my flight.
  • The lounge, available to all passengers, has free coffee, tea, soft drinks, cookies and wifi, as well as comfy chairs.
  • I love the smaller propeller planes since it actually feels like flying.
  • They fly to Midway rather than O’Hare.
  • The flights that I’ve taken so far have a good on-time record.
  • If I’m at the airport early enough to catch the previous flight, they’ll change it for free if there’s room on the flight rather than trying to shake me down for extra cash (are you listening, Air Canada?).

The only downside is that they don’t have US customs and immigration pre-clearance in Toronto, meaning that I end up in the international arrivals area at the destination airport where there is rarely a NEXUS kiosk and often a lineup. Not a problem for early morning arrivals, but from late morning on, I’ve sometimes ended up stuck in a crowd of arriving European travelers.

The good news: the flight reminders seem to be holding at 85 for now.

This morning after I left the house, I checked the real-time streetcar tracking to see when the next car was coming by the end of my street, looked over a presentation that I’m working on, checked which subway car to board so that I would exit near the escalator at my destination, read a chapter of a book, checked in at my hairdresser’s, then told you all about it.

Thanks for this mobile productivity goes to the following iPhone apps: NextBus (actually a mobile site, not an app), DropBox, TTC Exit Guide, Kindle, FourSquare and WordPress.

Some of this might seem trivial, but these things enhance my life and make me more productive. Knowing when the next streetcar will really arrive tells me whether I need to take a taxi to avoid being late. Accessing active project documents allows me to some work done even thought I’m in the middle of a haircut. Knowing which subway car to board can save me battling through crowds on the platform, only to end up at the wrong exit. Even reading a book is business in this case: ironically, it’s “Empowered”, all about allowing people to use their own tools and methods for getting things done better.

In case you were wondering, the ringer is off: I take calls and read email on my schedule, not just because my device tell me to. Use your mobile device to work the way that you want to, not to turn you into a phone and email slave.

Lufthansa First. Very civilized. on TwitpicSometimes, you just have to treat yourself, especially at the end of an extravagant birthday week. I traveled a lot last year, and racked up a lot of Aeroplan points. When it came time to make a trip to Germany for a conference this month, I decided to burn up some of those points and book a first class ticket. Air Canada does business class to Frankfurt, which is nice: they have the business class “pods” in the Boeing 777. I was too late to get a business class flight on the long weekend, so decided to book Lufthansa first class to Dusseldorf instead. Air Canada only has two classes of service, but Lufthansa has three: coach, business and first. I have to say, Lufthansa First is really wonderful.

Lars was pretty much my own personal flight attendant: there were only 4 of us in first class, and he had part-time help from the purser and another flight attendant, so I didn’t want for anything. He was so adorable, I wanted to tuck him into my bag and take him with me. As I got on the plane, he was there to greet me by name, put my bag overhead, give me pyjamas, slippers and a ladies toiletries bag, and bring me a drink and a dish of macadamia nuts. He served me Piper-Heidsieck champagne, talked me into having the caviar as an appetizer as he walked me through my dinner order, and when I accused him of being a bad influence by offering me dessert, he said “I am here to seduce you” (I’m quite sure that the literal German translation of that is less innuendo-laden than the English).

Lufthansa First - caviarAlthough the food was obviously prepared ahead of time, it was expertly plated and quite good: as good as many restaurants that I’ve been to. An amuse bouche of a seared scallop with mango salsa and a dollop of avocado; then the caviar accompanied by finely chopped egg, chopped onion, sour cream and toast. Technically the caviar was one of the appetizers, but I had also ordered the roast guinea fowl, which was a few slices of quite moist (cold) meat on a bed of thinly sliced beets with hazelnuts scattered around. The main was salmon steamed with ginger, a bit overcooked but to be expected for food that was prepared at least an hour before, with quite good rice and bok choy. And of course, Lars remembered to bring my fish knife. I washed that down with a glass of a German white burgundy, then had a taste of a muscat dessert wine with a slice of Cambazola and a few grapes.

I never sleep well on planes, and this was no exception. Although the seat lies completely flat, it’s a bit hard and lumpy – I think the lumbar support sticks up in the wrong place if you sleep on your side. However, dozing for a couple of hours does take the edge off an overnight flight, and the afternoon departure from Toronto meant that it was only midnight in my brain when we arrived in Dusseldorf at 6am. I’m completely looking forward to the return flight, which will be in daylight so that I can enjoy the excellent service even more.

If money were no object, I’d travel like this all the time. Instead, I do it every 10 years or so, on points – I think that the last time I did a long haul first class flight was going to Australia in 2001, also on points. That makes it an especially nice treat when it does happen, but does make it hard to go back to cattle class the rest of the time.

First class on the ICE train from Dusseldorf to Ulm, on the other hand, was a big disappointment: probably the most uncomfortable premium class seats ever, very shallow, lacking about 3-4 inches of support under my legs. No power at the seats (although with the magnificent HP Mini, I didn’t need it for the 3-1/2 hour trip) and no wifi. The tray table didn’t reach far enough out to put the computer on and type for anyone with arms less than three feet long, which meant having the netbook on my lap. To be fair, it was on time, fast and efficient; but I’m not going to miss the train ride if I end up driving back up to Dusseldorf.

I received an email this morning from a US company offering courses. Since I’m based in Toronto, they targeted me with the “courses in Canada” mailing, with one minor problem: the only course listed is in Edmonton. Edmonton is 1685 miles from Toronto, as the crow flies (further, if that crow wants to stay in Canadian airspace), which is further from me than Albuquerque, or anywhere east of that in the US. A direct flight takes 4 hours and 10 minutes to get to Edmonton, but only 3:31 to reach Denver, where they’re also offering a course.

Since I travel a lot on business, it’s not unusual for me to end up eating alone in a restaurant. I usually pick a higher-end place with an interesting menu and wine list, order good food, drink expensive wine, read a book or browse the web on a mobile device, and tip well when I pay the bill. However, I’m a strong believer in tipping for service, and I likely help to propagate the folklore of the low-tipping lone diner when I’m not treated well.

Recently I was in Boston, and had an extraordinary example of how not to treat a woman (or man) dining alone. I had a night free — or rather, opted not to attend the conference dinner event — and walked down to the Legal Test Kitchen, which is part of the Legal Seafoods chain. The menu on their website looked good, and their site said that they had wifi, which was doubly good for playing around on my iPod Touch.

It was a Tuesday night, so they were a bit busy but not overly so, and there was a free table immediately available. So far so good, until I had to wait 15 minutes for the waiter to take my drink order. I ordered a glass of one of the most expensive wines on their list (still reasonably priced), and asked the waiter about the wifi since I couldn’t find an open node. He didn’t know, but promised to find out. A long wait for my glass of wine, then I ordered the most expensive dish on the menu, a lobster Pad Thai, in part on the recommendation of the waiter who claimed that it was his “favorite dish”. No wifi information was forthcoming, and when a different waiter dropped off my food, I didn’t even get a chance to order a refill for my now-empty glass. The Pad Thai was okay, not great, and I really missed that second glass of wine. My original waiter came back when I had finished and asked if I wanted another glass of wine (um, a bit late for that, buddy), then asked if I still wanted that wifi information (ditto).

All in all, I felt ignored, and am unlikely to go there again. This may be an issue of a single diner, since the larger tables around me seemed to be getting fairly good service, although not from the same waiter — mine seemed to just disappear off the face of the earth for a long period of time, that being the time when I wanted another drink and the wifi information. I probably should have complained, or flagged down enough other passing waitstaff that one of them would have reminded mine that he had a customer here, but was feeling too lazy and non-confrontational to make a scene.

I tipped a standard 15%, feeling that I should have reduced it due to the bad service, but the bill amount was small enough that the difference may not have been noticed anyway. I was left with the feeling that I’d really like to get a message out to waiters everywhere: consider that we’re not leaving a crappy tip because we’re cheap, we’re leaving a crappy tip for crappy service.

Free 15-minutes of wifi at Toronto airport

It’s not the nirvana of free airport wifi, but better than nothing: 15 minutes of free wifi via Boingo in the Toronto airport, which is enough time to sync your email in a pinch.