Old School

Getting back home from dinner had two options: public transportation or Lyft. Given that there were three of us (myself and my parents), I opted for Lyft. It would be faster and only 10$ more than all three of us taking multiple transfers between different transportation systems.

Plus, it turned out the recent heat wave (100°F plus mugginess) caused some power outages. Not sure the public transportation systems (electric based) would even be running.

So our driver was Azeem, who had been in the area for a few years and came from Afghanistan. He chuckled at my father’s request for turning up the AC; it had already been on, but he wanted it full blast. He politely turned it up.

He was neither the chattiest nor the quietest of Lyft drivers I have encountered over the last few months (I have been using Lyft more because of the buses I must catch to go part of my journey home do not run on a more frequent basis. If I miss it, I will have to wait a full half hour or 45 minutes for the next.) Even so, he was friendly, and I made sure to mark that in giving feedback. I also always write comments; tonight it was my gratefulness for his air conditioned car for a 30 minute ride.

As we made it to our destination, Azeem parked to let us out. My mother and I exited, but my father remained in the car: “Wait!” he says, “Did you tip him?”  He pulled out his wallet and is going through his bills.

“Dad, that’s in the app.”

“Wait, he needs a tip.”

“You tip in the app.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll get the tip.” 

To the Lyft driver, I say, “Sorry, he’s old school. He thinks you are a cab.”

He just smiles, amused, and then grateful when my father hands him a twenty dollar bill before exiting his car.

I tipped him in the app anyway.

Elevate Summit at Saguaro: A Trip to Palm Springs

My team and I were given the opportunity to attend Elevate Summit in Palm Springs over the weekend. Although I grew up in Southern California, I have not been back in 6 years. I also have never flown in to Palm Springs airport. It is small but surreal: open canopies, lawn chairs, grass and palm trees alongside shops and restaurants. There are even umbrellas you can borrow once you pass security to get to your gate. It felt like a Hollywood set. I kept expecting to see a movie camera peeking out somewhere. A truly bizarre experience.

We arrived late Thursday evening, the last flight to arrive at the airport really, and landed around 11pm. There was a man effectively directing and coordinating taxis for everyone. It was warm. I don’t miss the desert heat and hot air.

We stayed at the Saguaro hotel, a hotel that manages to look appealing in website photos, and under certain diminished capacities such as it is late at night and you are too tired to care. The place is a maze. The room numbers do not seem to make sense. In the morning, I realized the weird slanted windows give it a Fred Flintstone vibe along with the bright colors.

We had four rooms total. One colleague had a room that reeked of cigarettes despite being non-smoking. Two rooms had their own bluetooth speaker while the other two didn’t. The room I shared with a colleague had a weird odor that others said was the smell of cocaine (I wouldn’t have recognized that smell). A co-worker started sniffing the walls and said we should flip the mattresses because it smelled like the room was somebody’s stash house.

The inner courtyard is also a maze of construction, metal decorative mesh wall-barriers (as shown in the right of the photo), a large pool, two hot tubs, and flowers where dozens of hummingbirds zoom by your head and do battle. You will feel like Pocahontas about to sing “Colors of the Wind” if you stand close to the flowers in the morning.

It became even more fun when, in the morning, I asked the front desk where Elevate Summit was being held. The guy instructed me to board a shuttle outside. We texted the rest of our group that information and boarded. We were driven to the Palm Springs Convention Center where a science teacher’s convention was going on and the shuttle nearly left me there in error.

When we got back to Saguaro, we realized the front desk failed to mention that Elevate Summit was upstairs and did not require a shuttle ride. I guess the guy just assumed I liked like a science teacher. Is that a compliment…?

Tex-Mex: it’s weird.

Despite my interesting and exciting series of events at Uncle Julio’s, the food, however, was the low point of the experience. In my confusion and panic at what I had just gotten myself into with the free drink I’d been offered, I really just ordered the first thing that came to mind–same with the drink.

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My free margarita, courtesy of the ladies

So I ordered the Carnitas Azteca plate. It came with beans, rice, tortillas, and a side dish of cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. The bartender had also brought me chips and salsa (I miss those SoCal restaurants that do that! Never see it in the Bay Area.)

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Swingin’ down at Uncle Julio’s

I couldn’t even think about drinking tap water in the hotel after that incident. I immediately headed out, wandering down 6th street but finding most places still crowded with drunk college kids. It wasn’t as bad as Friday night, but still crowded enough that I felt little desire to take the plunge and enter any of the open bars and restaurants.

By then it was close to 9 o’clock. The day had rained off and on; it was still muggy, and every now and then it began to drizzle. I wandered down to other areas closer to where Atlassian had been, figuring it was best to get away from 6th St if I wanted to get away from the college kids.

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The wet streets while wandering

I kept walking, finding myself facing two options: a steakhouse or a place called Uncle Julio’s. Considering I earlier had Texas BBQ for lunch, it seemed that I had to give a Tex-Mex restaurant a shot.

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Hotel Hell continued: Downtown Austin Courtyard Marriott

I returned to the hotel, planning to recharge my phone, shower, and head back out. The conference had provided dinner (pizza) at happy hour, but I hadn’t touched it. The lunch had been Texas BBQ, and I wasn’t hungry when the pizza had been served.

I felt largely thirsty and was surprised my used glass had been left out and not taken away by the maid. But whatever, conservation, right? I also notice one of the info cards I had flipped over, revealing a previous guest’s scribblings, had also not been replaced with a new one. Again, maybe there’s some effort towards conservation out here; I doubted that were true but let it slide.

I go to the ice bucket and realize it hadn’t been emptied. The California drought on my mind, I figure what the hell and decide to drink it anyway.

I pour some into my glass and chug. I pour another glass and then freeze before drinking. It’s that sick “I want to puke” type of freeze in horror, where you wish life had a pause, rewind, and reset button.

There is hair. In the water. Short hair. The type you’d expect to see in the sink after a man shaves.

I slowly pull the lid of the ice bucket and peer inside. I see a few hairs in the water and see more underneath the plastic bag.

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I am pretty sure one of the amenities listed at this hotel was NOT "Water enhanced by men's shavings"

As my phone continued to recharge, I spent the next 15 minutes furiously scribbling on the comment card about my stay remaining calm, collected, and polite. Deep down, my thoughts continuously repeated the following:

200$ a night for this dump?! FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU.

Intermission: As they say…

Jumped on the scale this morning. Numbers weren’t pretty.

As they say, everything is bigger in Texas. My fat ass certainly got bigger while there.

And now that I am back to San Francisco, I can return to my kale, quinoa, and chia seed routine we’re all so well known for.

(I can be a bit cheeky sometimes, I know.)

Tacos, Voodoo, & Drunks-Oh my!

My elevator ride down is yet again slowed by another drunk kid who thinks pressing all the buttons is funny. The group is wholly obnoxious and loud as one would expect. The only surprise was spotting the one sober individual in the group; he gave me a sad sheepish face and whispers, “I’m sorry.”

I wanted to check out the sportsbar first as I was worried I wouldn’t find much open this late (11:45pm). Instead the employees have closed up shop early. So much for the information from the receptionist who checked me in. Out it is!

I end up following the group of drunks from the elevator and see the street we’re on runs into 6th street. Barricades are up ahead to keep it pedestrian traffic only. The revelry at 6th St reminds me of Mardi Gras. It’s unfathomable to me that this could be the norm. I feel as if I am about to witness a live production of COPS or Campus PD.

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Checking in to Austin

SuperShuttle was slow, making me regret not just finally downloading Lyft and calling a ride. I spoke with a woman from Lansing, MI who was in town for a conference. It wasn’t the same as mine; it was a medical something or other. For a while it was just her and I in the van, and then finally our driver returned with two more passengers.

As we left the airport and neared downtown, where all four of us were staying, I began to wonder what kind of a ride I was in for. Though it was dark and late (close to 11pm at that point), downtown had this frenetic vibe that I was not used to nor expecting.

Sure, I had spent some time in the Castro, visiting bars and clubs with friends during my college days, and I had been to a few college parties–but this? This took it to a Bacchanalian level. Combined with the humidity, it felt feverish.

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Things that go bump in the night

As I prepared to board my first ever Virgin America flight, the familiarity continued to elude me. The strangeness continued to grow at an alarming rate as some cancerous tumor. The boarding process itself made me scratch my head.

In my previous flights, mostly all Southwest, there were numbers and groups A, B, and C. There was order. Virgin Airlines, however, was a hot mess, like what you’d expect to find leftover on some mirrors and cushions in a sex club.

There was exclusive boarding, then gold member boarding, then silver member boarding, then small children and old people boarding, then Virgin America credit card boarding, then priority boarding, and then lettered groups such as a and b. I was in group b despite checking in 22 hours before my flight, so what additional groups followed mine I do not know. I imagine there were additional boarding groups that followed, such as “people who shit where they eat” and “people who need to get their shit together and not check in last minute”.

Even the plane felt weird: an Airbus over Boeing. A long walkway of pink and purple neon lights illuminated the darkness. The chairs were black leather. There was a sleekness, fashionable sense to it–did I just stumble into a gay bar in the Castro?

It was completely unlike the budget airlines I’d flown that felt like ugly shit (Southwest always had that pukey brown color scheme going on) thrown together and superglued. Every chair had a video touchscreen, and every seat had its own remote/game controller. You could order a meal without speaking to a flight attendant.

The educational safety video was a song and dance routine with children rapping. I couldn’t tell if I was more horrified or saddened. Even the information brochure was an attempt to be hip and cool and included comic-like cursing. What the $@%*!

The flight itself was normal, a bump here and there. I had a window seat and stared out over the landscape. The beaches of San Francisco had never looked so beautiful as they did when our flight sailed above them. It was a perfectly sunny day, and the sapphire and emerald waves crashed along the coast, the white foamy crests scattered like threads of lace.

Over Arizona, besides the long reddish patterns of mountains and flat desert plains, I saw housing developments that left a strangely beautiful pattern from the sky with how park space had been designed between sections–one nearly looked like a fleur de lis, and the others had some equally unusual patterns. They were not the hodge-podge cookie cutter rows of of house after house, or an appearance of a splatter of houses on the landscape. The development seemed well thought out.

Eventually the sun, long descended behind us, left a chilly darkness on the other side of the glass. Somewhere over New Mexico, the street lamps looked like blazing fires. The orange lights seemed larger than usual and flickered in the darkness. My eyes felt tired despite the terrible cup of coffee I had been served on the flight.

I wrote most of the way on the plane, a three hour flight to Austin. When I arrived, it was dark, humid, and birds oddly were singing at 10:30pm at the airport drop-off/pick-up area. It was very strange. I felt as if I had landed on a different planet.