Posts Tagged ‘ travel ’

Singles Discrimination

If you’re a long-time single like me, you know what I’m referring to because you’ve experienced it. If you’re not single, you’re probably guilty of doing it.

There’s the way single people are often excluded overtly as well as subtly in social situations… For example, my church offered a “Dinners for Eight” event, until someone pointed out that not all people come in pairs.

Singles get stiffed when making travel arrangements—everything is offered based on “double occupancy”. I’m penalized monetarily if I want to have the same experience on a cruise or tour as a twosome does, because I don’t happen to have anyone I want to share the experience with in close quarters.

Never mind that I don’t have anyone to share it with, why don’t you just rub it in? Or what if I like to travel alone? I still have to pay a “single supplement”.

What am I supplementing? I’m compensating them for the business income they are surely losing without another body on the same cruise/tour, in the same bedroom, and consuming the auxiliary amenities. By an odd twist, I recently got a better room rate at a hotel in Scotland by changing my seven-day stay to eight days. Even though I added a day, the overall charge went down, because to get the extra day, I had to switch from a room with two twin beds to one with only a double bed. Although I had originally booked the two-bed room in hopes that a friend could go with me, I’ll be more comfortable on my own in the double bed. And I save about $200, which I interpret to be the difference between washing only one set of sheets and towels instead of two.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a free-dinner sales pitch for estate planning. Here as well, they charge a single person the same as a couple for the identical package of estate documents and services, or rather a married couple gets a 50% discount. How is that OK? How does that make sense?

Are we all supposed to die in pairs, too?

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From the Top

(continued from 7/29, “Summit (Seven)”)

The regular program of The Summit 2011 of the Society for Technical Communication began on Sunday evening (May 15), with the usual introductory fanfare and a keynote address by Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media. The keynote speeches are always engrossing, because the Society usually taps talent from outside the realm of conventional technical communication. Although Mr. O’Reilly admitted to being a Society member in the past, he was nevertheless as quirky and entertaining as past keynote speakers, whose work-lives provide anecdotes and insights we would not have heard about otherwise.

The evening closed with a Welcome Reception, where we played the business card game, and I finally got some substantial sustenance! I had volunteered to staff the Consulting and Independent Contracting Special Interest Group (CIC SIG) table for part of the reception, but by this time in my long day (mind you, this is the eighth installment about a single day), the creature comforts were about all I could think of. After repeated trips around the buffet tables and conversely limited attempts to meet the people in my way, I set out for my comfy hotel room and its Jacuzzi tub.

But I just took a shower. It would have taken way too long to fill the Jacuzzi to the water level required to actually use it. A good night’s sleep was a higher priority.

The next morning, I breakfasted at the hotel’s complimentary buffet. It was quite adequate to get me going. The Summit sessions began at 8:30, so I had no time to linger before my morning stroll to the convention center.

Orange Trees on 13th St.But I ask you, Where else can you stride sidewalks lined with orange trees? For the first time, I noticed the round orange fruits hanging overhead. Actually, discarded orange peels on the sidewalk gave me the first clue. Now, that’s what I call fresh orange juice for breakfast!

At the convention center, I located my first session just in time to get a seat. Leah Guren’s session, “Cut the Fluff (A Diet for Text-bloated Docs)” quickly became standing room only. The hour-long session lived up to my expectations, and so I was off to a good start in the marathon that is The Summit. And you thought just getting there was an exercise!

My preplanned session agenda that day included two sessions before lunch, the Lone Writers’ SIG meeting, the CIC SIG meeting, two afternoon sessions, and the Society’s Annual Business Meeting, non-stop back to back. While not exactly lunch, the snacks I was able to snag at the two SIG meetings were adequate substitutes to get me by in that regard, and the price was right. So far, I’ve spent nothing additional for food.

The CIC SIG meeting included a raffle of quite a few prizes. But I think I won “the prize” when they drew my name for free registration at this year’s LavaCon conference in November. I haven’t been to LavaCon, which gets its name from the fact that it was originally held in Hawaii. I haven’t been to Hawaii either! But this year it’s in Austin, Texas, of all places.

Because I have family there, Austin is the last place on earth I’d want to attend a conference—not because of family, not exactly, but because I’ve been there. And been there and been there already! And I’m pretty sure there are no orange-bearing sidewalks in downtown Austin.

Well, what are you complaining about? It’s free registration! The fact that the conference locale is not a choice travel destination for me should be immaterial, right? Let’s just say that I’m expecting a fantastic conference experience otherwise.

The first full day at The Summit ended with another networking reception, this one designed to showcase the Society’s 22 Special Interest Groups. I had volunteered to repeat my table staffing duties, this time for two of the three SIGs I hold membership in. So, between this evening’s repeat of my repeated trips to the buffet tables, I hovered at one SIG table or the other, and also managed side trips to visit other SIG tables.

OK. Enough networking for one day! Sanctuary awaits in the Sterling Hotel Jacuzzi.

But again, it was too late. I wondered if I could have asked the hotel staff to fill the tub for me before I got back for the night? Too late to think of that, too.

Tuesday’s agenda was similar to Monday’s, except I had only the single, Technical Editing SIG lunch-/snack-time meeting and nothing after 5:00. Tuesday evening is traditionally reserved for the Honors Banquet, when all manner of individual achievements are recognized at the Society level. But even the honorees have to pay to attend this formal event. Thus far, I’ve had no incentive to attend…

But there are always other options for this evening. Back in April, the CIC SIG had requested RSVPs for dinner reservations at a nearby restaurant. Citing financial constraints, I had declined. But here at the conference, I connected with colleagues who offered for their employer to buy me dinner one evening, so I conveniently invited them to attend the CIC SIG dinner with me. That worked out well, didn’t it?

Wednesday. Today, the final day of the conference, is when I will finally present my topic at the Lone Writers’ progression, during the conference’s final session slot. This is the real culmination of The Summit for me. This is the reason I have come on this quest—to impart whatever wisdom I believe I possess about a tiny idea, which spawned a plausible discussion topic that I dare to toss out there to colleagues unknown.

To successfully impart that idea is all I ask of this mountain-top experience. To witness a spark of resonance in one or two participants would send me over the top! And make it all worth it.

In the two progression rounds I was able to complete, feedback from eye contact and body language indicated that I might just have attained my goal, before making an early exit to catch the airport shuttle. Whew! I made it through my first experience as a conference presenter.

But there was that one person. The one in the first round, who skewered me with her eyes the whole time, but otherwise remained silent. As of this writing, I’m still waiting for participant feedback from the session evaluations. I do hope that this unhappy person took the time to voice her discontent. Somehow though, I suspect it had nothing to do with me, my topic, or my presentation of it.

As far as I’m concerned, I reached The Summit—a personal and professional milestone—and I descended from the pinnacle, all the better for it. My only regret is that I didn’t manage to sink into the delicious depths of that double-wide Jacuzzi.

(But then, there’s the rest of the story…  The unexpected challenges I met on the down side of my Summit Sojourn were another adventure altogether…)

Summit (Seven)

(continued from 7/17, “Sacramento Summit”)

I had reached The Summit in Sacramento, but had no map, no address, and no phone number for my hotel. I had to laugh at myself for this gaping omission in my detailed plan. It wasn’t like the hotel was miles away. I could probably wander around awhile and find it eventually. But wandering with luggage in tow would not exactly be a relaxed, enjoyable stroll.

In the conference registration area was a table manned by the local STC chapter. Two Sacramento members sat ready to help hapless travelers like me with information about their city. Surely they would know right where I needed to go. Nope, they’d never heard of the Sterling Hotel!

The small map they had showed no indication of it either. But one of the members had an Internet-enabled phone. He found the Sterling’s address and was able to point me in the right direction. So I descended the Summit, escalator by escalator, to make my way back outside to J St.

That’s when I glimpsed a familiar face from my home chapter of STC, the Lone Star Community. Louellen Coker was headed for sightseeing at the Old Governor’s Mansion, in the same direction as my hotel. Like me, she had brought along her rather weighty camera. But I knew hers was state-of-the-art digital, because she’s known for her skill in manipulating digital photographs. I told her I’d catch up to her at the Mansion after I stowed my luggage at the Sterling.Sterling Hotel

And soon, there it was. The Sterling Hotel did not disappoint in its promise of 1890s charm. And the staff were welcoming even though I was too early for check-in. The receptionist was happy for me to leave my luggage with her until later when my room was ready. But by the time I rearranged items in my suitcase to trade my travel bag for the camera, she had decided to put me in another room that was ready. Even better!

My room was in a corner of the second floor. The Sterling seemed more like a really nice boarding house than a hotel. In fact, it had been built as the family home of “affluent, successful department store entrepreneurs.” I looked forward to it being a quiet place to sleep. Each room was different, but each room had a double-wide Jacuzzi tub, obviously part of the “21st century modern luxury” advertised as “intertwined” with the 19th century architectural charm. (http://www.sterlinghotelsacramento.com/)

The tub tempted me to test that promise right then. But the day is still young and other adventures await.

I soon reached the Old Governor’s Mansion where I caught another glimpse of Louellen already on a tour. I also greeted another Lone Star member as she came out the front door of the mansion. Strange that the last time I saw Kay Walker was at last year’s STC Summit in Dallas, though we both live in the Fort Worth area.

Governor's MansionI bought a ticket for the next tour and waited for it to begin, while the sky turned dark again with rain that threatened my ability to take good pictures inside with available light. The sun came and went during my tour, and after developing, most of my exposures provided something I could work with in Photoshop to get decent digital images of that fascinating historical space.

So by 3:30 or so, I had accomplished the single sightseeing component of my Summit sojourn. But I still had not had lunch. The opening session of the conference would be at 5:30 with a reception (food) afterward. I decided to just have coffee and biscotti at Starbuck’s on the way to my hotel. Actually, that was the only option I could find. It seems that Sacramento restaurants are not open on Sunday. Who knew?

I returned to the Sterling to get ready for the evening. The Summit was about to officially begin!

Sacramento Summit

(continued from 7/11, “Almost Reached the Summit”)

After arriving at my next departure gate, I looked for a spot to land where I could access an electrical outlet for my laptop. Time to make good on my intention to use this layover to work on my book and justify one reason for bringing the laptop. I hadn’t had occasion to travel—real air travel—with a laptop before. This was a big deal. I would disappoint myself if I didn’t succeed in joining the ranks of the jet (type)setters. (Forgive the writer humor.)

Strangely, near one of the doors that led outside was a railing with what looked like a shelf at just the right height to perch a laptop. And would you look at that?! There was also a built-in power strip with several outlets along the length of the rail. You’d think that some architect had actually designed this small area just for jet ’setters. The outlets even had power.

But I hadn’t pictured myself standing at a bar while I wrote. Though lacking barstools, this prime spot offered an adjacent row of airport seating, with one unoccupied chair close enough to the bar/shelf and an outlet, so I could plug in, sit down, and when needed, reach the mouse up on the shelf surface. I was surprised that there was no competition for this spot. It was pretty much perfect for my laptop’s first real trip, and I was glad it had come with me so that I, the experienced traveler, could show it around.

I wrote for about an hour. I don’t recall what I wrote about, or where I was in my saga of serial unemployment. I’m pretty sure I was stuck somewhere in 2008, as I have been for a while now. Maybe even the perfect airport writing spot is still not all that conducive to breakthroughs or brilliant insights.

But I did it. I lugged the laptop, I authored in the airport, I am a traveling typer. I shall ply my craft wherever it beckons me.

But The Summit itself now, finally beckoned. The boarding call for Sacramento ushered us outside to wait again in an out-building. From there, we were led group by group back outside to board the Embraer Jet. From my window seat as we took off from LAX, I realized that we were heading straight out to sea, over the Pacific Ocean. Um, I’m pretty sure Sacramento is the other way! Having been to LA only once back in the early ’80s, I didn’t recall that LAX was that close to the coast. But it was an unexpected and beautiful sight, and even more beautiful when we turned back inland to begin our northward route. Next stop: Sacramento Summit.

I made it! Eight and a half hours after I left home I was almost to my destination and it was way past my lunchtime. But first I had to find the shuttle for my prearranged ride to the Sacramento Convention Center. That’s when I spotted other Summit-goers who I recognized from previous conferences. In fact, there were a number of them and they were all ahead of me in the shuttle queue.

The outdoor shuttle stop welcomed me to a blustery day. This is sunny California? Along with others, I fidgeted while shuttle vans arrived, filled, and left without me. This was crazy. The stop was not far from an airport entrance, so I decided to get smart and wait inside where it was much warmer.

After my shuttle deposited me somewhere along J St. outside the block-long conference venue, I needed to find out where in this huge complex was conference registration. I wanted to get checked in for the conference before I went in search of my hotel.

It shouldn’t be that hard to find—registration, should it? I strode the sidewalk along the center’s exterior glass walls. All I could see inside was a long corridor that paralleled the sidewalk, and no indication of which door might reveal the way toward The Summit.

So I picked one and entered.

No choir of angels greeted me. No gatekeeper jumped from the shadows to usher me into the kingdom. So this was going to be one of those summit experiences that you attain on your own? Undaunted, I started toward the opposite end of the corridor, which soon expanded before me. And lo, there were signs! Signs that directed my gaze upward.

An escalator appeared that bid me ascend. And after I scaled that peak, yet another escalator beckoned me onward and upward! Surely the long-anticipated Summit in all its glory was within my grasp, as the Sacramento sun broke through the day’s clouds to confirm it.

Yea, I had indeed arrived.

And it just might be all downhill from here …

I claimed my conference materials after giving proof that I had already paid, by virtue of the name tag the Society Office had mailed to me… which the student volunteer “lost” as soon as I handed it to her. For St. Pete’s sake, I reach The Summit bearing witness that my name is written in the book, and you lose it?!

It had to be there, but not to worry. They were prepared to print me another name tag, which I promptly installed in the see-through pocket of my conference badge holder. I have endured hardship, but I have come to The Summit and I will not be denied!

Now, to find the charming lodgings I had been so clever to secure for my Summit Sojourn…

Seriously, just let me stow all this stuff and get on with sightseeing, and maybe even some kind of lunch! Flipping through my well-organized itinerary folder, I located—in its day-of-arrival, chronological place—the printout of my hotel confirmation. And for the first time, I noticed that the hotel’s address and phone number were cut off! I had not even a map of the area, the area I had studied so closely to discover the Sterling Hotel in the first place.

I had reached the Summit, but where do I go from here?

Almost Reached the Summit

(continued from 6/26, “Time to Commit”)

At 4:00 a.m. Sunday, May 15, I left home headed for off-airport parking. My final destination that day would be Sacramento, CA. I’d never been to Sacramento. I hoped that my early arrival in town would allow for at least one local sightseeing pleasure. Otherwise, I was going to regret the decision to pack, not only my laptop, but also my weighty old Minolta X-700 SLR in my carry-on suitcase.

When I arrived at the parking lot, there was a shuttle van about to leave for DFW. I asked for the driver to wait for me while I signed in. Good. That put me on my way to the airport right on time, according to my carefully planned schedule. I felt even better after we arrived at my departure terminal, after making stops at another terminal first.

Now it was time for the next dance—the Security Shuffle. You know how ballroom dancers wear a completely different costume for every performance? Going through airport security is almost like changing your clothes for the next dance, except that you hope you end up putting back on the same ones you took off, not someone else’s. And you hope that someone else is not looking to steal the show, the impostor who dances off in your costume.

The security dance also requires choreography to be sure every component of your presentation for x-ray scanning is in proper form, in the specified type of container or not. If you rehearsed the timing correctly, you can move through scanning of the human component to be reunited with your partner components right on cue. Then begins the part of the dance where you reassemble the remaining pieces of your dignity and walk away as if nothing happened.

OK. I and all of my component parts made it through security without incident. Now all I have to do is find my departure gate and wait for boarding. I’m in good shape. I can relax from now until we land in LAX—no more hurdles ’til then, except for hoisting the lens- and laptop-laden Travelpro® into and out of the overhead bin. But that’s what eyelashes are for.

The flight left and landed on time at 9:35 a.m. Dallas time, 7:35 in California. Now I had to make an American Eagle connection to Sacramento. When I first booked this trip, the LAX layover was reasonable, if not a little too tight for comfort. But a few days after booking it, AA changed my itinerary to a later connecting flight. I had more than three hours to hesitate at LAX, so close to my anticipated destination—Sacramento—but unable to reach The Summit just yet.

Ah, but this was one reason I decided to lug my laptop. After finding some breakfast, I would spend the time writing on my book and looking as important and interesting as all the other people typing away on their own novels I’m sure. In the main terminal, Burger King had a line waiting to get in line, but BK fit my budget. Starbuck’s next door was a tempting option (I did have a gift card), but I wanted some protein in my breakfast calories. This would be a long day.

Getting and eating breakfast trimmed my layover time a good bit. I wandered toward the American Eagle terminal, which was in a different wing. It looked like once I set off on that path, there would be no going back for food service. I purchased a large Diet Coke and headed toward the last leg of my journey toward The Summit.

(to be continued)

Time to Commit

(continued from 6/20, “Other Arrangements”)

As my final act of financial and mental commitment to attend the STC conference, I registered for The Summit 2011 on the April 15 absolute deadline. The credit card bill would be due before I even left home. It would hurt to take that money out of savings, but I’d already calculated and accepted the risk. That just left airport parking and transfers to research, book, and pay for. Those could wait until much closer to departure.

My other STC efforts in the month of April were devoted to leading a geographically dispersed team of two other judges—one in Houston, the other in Kansas, with me in the middle—to evaluate seven entries submitted to the 2010–11 STC International Tech Com Competition. If anyone thinks this is a minimal volunteer effort, they haven’t judged before—or they’re not doing it correctly. Evaluating seven entries of various types was easily a 40-hour work week, and my team members had jobs, too!

As the Lead Judge, I had the additional tasks of coordinating our efforts, mentoring the newer judges, hosting a consensus meeting online, and wrapping up all the paperwork for the team. It was good to “meet” some new colleagues and even better that we were all going to be at The Summit in May, where we could meet in person.

Oh, yeah, The Summit! Now, where was I?

The first week of May I started to make my arrangements for ground transportation. Only then did it register that the Lone Writer Progression—my session—had been scheduled for the last session of the entire conference, 11:30–12:30 on Wednesday, with a closing lunch to follow. My return flight was scheduled to depart at 2:25. I hated to miss the lunch (which was paid for!), but skipping it should leave adequate time for me to get to the regional airport.

When I tried to book the airport shuttle online, the latest pickup time it would allow me was 12:15 at the convention center. How could I possibly manage that? My session wouldn’t be over until 15 minutes past that time!

Is this how fate treats first-time presenters?

Or were the conference gods trying to tell me something more specific? Who did I think I was to pretend to be a “regular”, contributing member of the Society on a par with those who have paying jobs? Did my original doubts have much more basis than I understood when I first dared to forge a path toward The Summit?

When I booked my flights, I wasn’t thinking about a closing lunch or the timing of it. I certainly wasn’t thinking that our session would be in the last time slot. The only thing I was thinking was that there was a single direct flight back to DFW available for an AAdvantage award. And because I couldn’t get a direct flight to Sacramento (I would have a 3.5-hour layover in LAX), the direct, three-hour flight home sounded really nice.

But, I can’t turn back now. I have committed to reach The Summit already. I’ve committed money! And I’ve committed my word, which is even more valuable to me than my money. Therefore, I will do this. I will adjust to the unexpected bends that make the way toward The Summit more challenging and therefore more interesting, more worthy of attainment.

I checked into the possibility of changing my unchangeable return flight reservation. A later flight? A later day? Another night in the hotel? I checked into taking a taxi for a faster escape to the airport. Nothing provided a good, much less economically viable, solution.

One option remained. I contacted the session moderator, Ed, with a last-minute plea. Would it be possible for me to do only two rounds of my progression topic and run? Could I achieve the summit and make a hasty retreat all in the space of an hour? As a first-time presenter at The Summit, it was a disappointing circumstance. I really don’t like to operate this way …

(to be continued)

Other Arrangements

(continued from 6/12, “Proceed to the Proceedings”)

The Society had made arrangements with two hotels close to the Summit 2011 conference venue, Sacramento Convention Center. But the conference rate was still about $200/night, all things considered. I really couldn’t justify that kind of hotel bill, but what other choice was there? I checked with several people who I knew were going, to see if we could share a room. Nothing fell into place.

So I asked some other colleagues if they had found a cheaper hotel. It would have to be a location within walking distance of the convention center.

One replied, “I’m not staying at any of the conference hotels, because I can’t justify the expense as an independent contractor. I’m staying at one two miles away.” Two miles!? OK, now I’m ashamed that I even considered paying $200 a night. If she can’t justify it when self-employed but working, I surely can’t. My version of self-employment seems to be just another term for unemployment. I should at least look for something cheaper that’s hopefully closer than two pedestrian miles.

Google Maps are a wonderful thing. When I zoomed in close on the convention center, I spotted The Sterling Hotel about two blocks away. A click took me to their website, which featured pictures of a “place to experience Sacramento’s beauty and charm where 1890s architecture and 21st century modern luxury intertwine. With 16 uniquely styled rooms …” The Sterling offered a bed-and-breakfast arrangement, starting at $139/night. That right there would save me $40 a day before taxes.

When I checked availability for the conference dates, I found a room listed at a “weekend” rate of $117. Even better! I’m so glad I decided to look! The conference hotels didn’t include any kind of breakfast. With the evening receptions, lunchtime meeting snacks (hopefully?), and the hotel’s breakfast, I might be able to get by without spending anything on food. I figured if it wasn’t paid for, I didn’t need to eat it. And I seriously doubted that I would starve.

Before their booking system could challenge my definition of “weekend”, I booked three nights at the weekend rate. However they chose to classify Sunday through Tuesday was fine with me. Maybe in California the week-end is at the first of the next week?

I cancelled the first hotel reservation. Other conference attendees had found lodging that was cheaper still than the Sterling, but I was pleased at this find. It had to be better than a big hotel where you could hear people in the hall, down the hall, and next door. The Sterling also boasted a jacuzzi tub in every room. I was getting by with paying almost nothing for airfare and food. A little bit of luxury would be a welcome treat at the end of each tiring day. 

(to be continued)

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