Sandy is not so dandy for exercise

Sandy is forcing many to work from home today — if at all, depending on the power situation in your neighborhood.

I was asked earlier today by a distant colleague how things were going on Cape Cod. I replied that I would certainly not be riding my bike today. Mullet Marathon New England confirms that assessment:

Guess today will be an indoor training day. Thanks, Bobby, for the official word.

(The dog that chases Bobby near the end looks like one that lives right up the street from Commuterdaddy Central. Bad dog! It’s not very neighborly to attack a local reporter providing a public service.)

Commuter Daddy Face Off: Austin vs. Middletown, NY

Monday morning commute
on the first full day
of Spring, 2011.

Looks like I got out of Dodge (a.k.a. Middletown, NY) just in time last night. More than half of a foot of snow is falling there today, on the heels of a couple of inches that accumulated (and swiftly melted) there, in the Poconos and beyond on Monday.

I’d like to blame the Supermoon. The full moon was so close to Earth over the weekend, its effects are lasting well into this week. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. It makes me feel better to chalk up our extended winter weather to episodic astrological events, rather than admit this is a normal spring in the Northeast.

The weather and other circumstances this week are a far cry from my road trip a week prior, when I was galavanting about Austin for SXSW Interactive. So in the spirit of Nick Bakay‘s “Tale of the Tape“, let’s pit March road trips to Austin versus those to the Hudson Valley. I think you can safely predict Austin will win, but let’s give it a go, shall we?

1. Gas prices:

  • This week I paid $63.62 to fill up the Commuterdaddymobile. I don’t recall ever spending that much on a tank of gas for my VW Passat. Heck, the pizza delivery for the family dinner the night before as about $10 cheaper.
  • Last week I rented a sweet Specialized Roubaix road bike instead of a car. Cycled to and from the Austin Convention Center from my Hampton Inn, just shy of five miles each way. In between sessions, I rode to a variety of eateries such as Juan Pelota Café at Mellow Johnny’s, or to far-flung panels at the Sheraton and University of Texas. There was one afternoon I had to race the sunset back to the hotel, but Daylight Savings Time saved me, extending the potential evening cycling time by an hour on Sunday. In the evenings, I was either hanging out with friends, or was hopping the SXSW hotel shuttles. The shuttle drivers were among the most interesting people I met at the conference. One was in the middle of securing investors for a neat sounding music app for mobile devices (there was an implied NDA in our conversation, so I will say no more than that). Another was putting her boys through college, and was moonlighting from her law enforcement day job by ferrying us SXSW revelers around town. We were in good hands.
  • Advantage: Austin.
2. Weather:
Enjoying the early spring scenery
in Austin prior to a  SXSW Interactive
session at the Hyatt.
  • Last week, I was wearing shorts daily. I managed to find some pairs of mountain bike shorts at REI that worked both for my bike commute and were sufficiently tasteful attire for the SXSW sessions. I did have to don rain pants and a light jack briefly one morning, but as soon as I started riding away from the hotel, the rain had stopped and the extra layer was no longer necessary.
  • This week the winter coat is still in heavy rotation. This morning, I was still wearing a hat to cover my ears for the early-morning dog walk. The 30- and 40-degree temperatures the last few weeks are not preventing me from riding my bike, but the snow predicted for Cape Cod tonight certainly mean there is a good chance I will not be riding tomorrow — at least not in the morning.
  • Advantage: Austin
3. Food:
Exerted will power
not to eat dessert
before the main course
at Annies Café & Bar
4. Hours:
  • Middletown: On the Monday mornings of my treks to Middletown, the alarm is typically set for 4:30 a.m. I hit the road by 5, and ideally arrive at the office around 10 a.m. The snow this past Monday made the arrival a little later, but otherwise everything was according to pattern. Tuesdays of my Middletown trips translate to sleeping in a bit. The alarm was set for 7:30 yesterday morning.
  • Austin: I stayed at the Doubletree Club in Boston the night before departing for Austin, in part to avoid getting up so early to make the drive from Cape Cod to Boston in time for my 6 a.m. flight. The other motivation is the parking included in the room rate, making it cheaper than parking for several days at the airport. Usually I stay either at the Embassy Suites or the Hilton at the airport, but this time I elected to stay off the airport property to get a bit of a break on the rate. One problem: The shuttles from the Doubletree depart at the top of the hour. To allow myself enough time to check my bag, waiting until 5 a.m. would have been cutting it close. So I chose the 4 a.m. shuttle. Alarm time? 3:45 a.m., which was roughly the same time I would have had to get up if I had stayed home.
  • Advantage: Middletown
5. Technology
  • For the Austin trip, I ditched the laptop. SXSW advice I read (or watched) prior to the trip advocated traveling as light as possible. So I decided this was an opportune time to travel with only my iPad and iPhone — especially given that I was carrying my bike helmet and shoes onto the plane. There was only once that I missed the laptop as I tried to do work in between or during conference sessions, and even then I was able to work around not having the laptop.
  • As soon as I arrived at the office in Middletown on Monday, I picked up the phone to call home to let the family know I had made it to my destination safely. I was immediately prompted for my long distance code. I rarely use my office phone for anything other than conference calls to a toll-free number, so I have not yet memorized my long distance code. I needed to look it up on my laptop. But when I awoke my laptop from sleep mode, it still thought it was conenected to the monitor at home, and therefore the start menu from which I usually fire up my password program was not visible. I had to reboot. While I did so, I tried using my mobile phone. How is it that the only time Verizon’s signal is not strong enough for my phone is when I am at either my home office or the Middletown office? All other places, I rarely experience dropped calls. In the two places I frequent the most? Dropped calls. Sure enough, as soon as my wife picked up the phone, the line went dead, causing her to worry slightly. She called me back, and the network again dropped the call. Sigh. Finally, laptop restarted and password program accessed, I could successfully dial out from my desk phone. All worry finally subsided.
  • Advantage: Austin, though it is not really Middletown’s fault that I haven’t yet put a password app on my phone. I have since memorized my long distance code too.
So there you have it. Austin wins 4-1. Sorry, Middletown. Better luck in August and September, when you’ll at least have a weather advantage.

Warning: Travel-induced tantrums may ensue

It’s truly been a cursed few travel days for the Commuter Daddy.

On Thursday the road home was comprised of 400 miles through six states, which wouldn’t have been so out-of-the-ordinary except for the persistent monsoon, rush-hour traffic coming out of New York City, a screaming-toddler serenade at dinner, and construction traffic as I made the turn for the home stretch via Rhode Island. At the end of it all, I had spent 13 hours in the car. I needed a tire iron to pry myself from the driver’s seat.

Suffice it to say I did very little driving on Friday or Saturday. In fact, I would have been wise just to walk the whole weekend. A bike ride with Benjamin at the Cape Cod Canal on Saturday did not involve a whole lot of actual riding. I kid you not: We stopped every 25 yards. He was either admiring the passing boats — and crossing them out in midair, as if he was playing some sort of boat bingo game — or checking out the cyclists and fishermen across the canal.

We paused so often that I stopped counting and just started doing long division in my head to estimate how many times we were going to stop. If you’re keeping score at home, the estimate was 140 stops on our 2-mile round trip, and I think the actuals finished pretty close to the forecast. That is not hyperbole, though it may have been an allegory — or perhaps an omen — for what lay ahead.

Fast forward to Sunday, when the travel carousel resumed. I had planned to take the bus to Logan Airport, as has become my custom for West Coast swings. But it being Sunday on Cape Cod, we could barely get out of our driveway, much less over the canal in time to catch the bus. As we crested the Sagamore Bridge, we saw two Plymouth & Brockton buses already in the commuter lot.

“Let’s go to Exit 5,” I suggested to Brandy. “We’ll get there ahead of them.” Did we ever, arriving in Plymouth at 3:20, the same time that the bus was due. A half hour later, when there was still no bus, I called the dispatcher.

“Yeah, we’ve got two buses doing that run,” he said. “They just left Sagamore. They should be there any minute.”

Guess we need not have driven to Plymouth!

The good news was I had padded the schedule enough so that I could absorb such a delay. Not so for a fellow traveler, who had marched off in a huff just ahead of that news. His friend, who originally had just been dropping off the traveler at the bus stop, also mumbled something about now having to drive all the way to Boston so the traveler could make his plane. They’d not anticipated that buses originating from Cape Cod on a summer Sunday have to fight the same traffic as the tourists. Note to self: Do not book any summer Sunday departures… certainly never on a Sunday afternoon.

Fast forward to sitting on the plane at the gate in Boston: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking,” said the tired voice on the loudspeaker. “We were just about to pull away from the gate, but air traffic control has declared a ground stop (in Philadelphia) because of weather to the west…. We’ll have an update for you in an hour.”

That hour came and went. As did another. Then a third. After a couple of calls to the corporate travel agency, it became clear to me that I was going to be competing with lots of other stranded fliers for hotel rooms at and around the Philadelphia International Airport, if we made it there at all.

So Travel Agent Arun got busy. He rebooked my flight for the next morning, secured a hotel room at Embassy Suites at Logan Airport, canceled my hotel room at the Hampton Inn in Burlingame, and delayed my rental car pickup. While I was standing in line to ask where to seek my bag, the gate agent announced that the Philadelphia-bound flight I had just abandoned was canceled. I gained a whole new appreciation for travel agencies right then and there. Arun had accomplished all of that juggling in about 10 minutes, sparing me not only from at least an hour doing it all myself, but also from jockeying against the onslaught of other passengers who were about to attempt the same schedule gymnastics.

What Arun could not have anticipated was that on the flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco the next morning, there was a very cranky infant in the row immediately in front of me, and an even crankier toddler two rows behind me. The silver lining in that scenario is they somehow managed not to be crying at the same time throughout the 5 1/2-hour flight. If they had, it’s quite possible I and my fellow passengers would have imploded thanks to those two children depressurizing the cabin by sucking out all of the oxygen simultaneously.

The children also drowned out the snoring of the napper next to me, so I also had that going for me.

Fast forward to Caffino, a Fotomat-like coffee stand just off I-580 in Pleasanton, CA.

(Readers under 35 just collectively asked, “Fotomat?” I just sprouted more gray hairs. It was fast food for photography. You’d drive through at a booth in the middle of a shopping plaza parking lot, and drop off your film, which got sent to a lab, developed, and sent back to the Fotomat franchise a few days later. They then called you to let you know the photos were ready, and you’d drive through and pick them up. Readers under 25 just collectively asked, “Film?”)

As I pulled into Caffino’s drive-through lane, please remember I had been awake since 2 a.m. PT. I’d been traveling 19 1/2 hours, not including 6 hours of sleep at the Boston hotel. My ears still hadn’t completely popped, and were still echoing with the sounds of screaming children. So I may have heard the barista wrong. But near as I could tell, the conversation went something like this:

“Large black coffee, please.”

“24-ounce coffee?”

“Huh? Yeah, if that’s the large. Black, please. Hot coffee.”

“So how are you today? Heading to work?”

“Huh? Oh, well, sort of. I just flew in from the East Coast. Hence, the need for coffee.”

“Ah. Well, here you go. Do you need a straw?”

I must have given him a very strange look, because he asked again, only causing me to give him a double dose of the strange look. A straw for hot coffee? It did not compute. Did I look so road weary that I looked like I needed a straw? My brain waves flatlined right then and there.

“Um, no. Thanks. No straw.”

“OK, well, come again.”

It’s a good thing there’s a vacation on the other side of this trip. Baristas and babies everywhere can still have hope that I won’t blow a gasket in their midst.

Working from Logan International Airport

Let’s play a little “Good News, Bad News.” Or maybe it would better to call this “Bad News, Good News.”

BAD NEWS: When the phone rang somewhere around 2:40 this morning, momentary panic set in. Phone calls at that hour are never a good thing. In fact, I think the last time we were phoned at that hour was five years ago when one of my production coordinators at rousted me into action to ramp up our coverage of The Station nightclub fire. The circumstances were considerably less dire this morning. Hello, automated attendant. My 11:45 a.m. JetBlue flight to Orlando was canceled.

GOOD NEWS: The recording provided me with an option to speak to a live operator to reschedule, and I was just conscious enough to ask for an earlier flight, knowing the forecast for today would leave me with few options in the afternoon.

BAD NEWS: I chose a 9:45 a.m. flight that had me connecting through JFK in New York. As soon as I hung up the phone, I realized that was probably not going to work because the storm was hitting New York first. I also realized that getting to Boston well enough in advance of departure would put me right in the teeth of morning rush hour traffic. Mild panic set in, and I could not get back to sleep for another hour.

GOOD NEWS: I got up at 5:30 a.m., and was out the door at 6:30, despite needing to pack a few remaining items, and the computer and printer deciding to take their time with my new boarding pass. Better news: Traffic was as light as a weekend morning. With Massachusetts public school kids and many parents on vacation, plus seemingly many opting to stay home with the storm rolling in, I strolled into the airport at 7:45.

BAD NEWS: While I was standing in JetBlue’s bag-drop line, I got an e-mail on my Blackberry. My flight from JFK to Orlando was canceled.

GOOD NEWS: Apparently the folks in line in front of me got the same message on their PDAs, because I overheard them asking a JetBlue manager what they should do. “Follow me,” she said, “and I’ll have you go direct.” Sure enough, she booked me on a direct flight leaving at 6:45 p.m. “What are the chances of that flight actually leaving?” I asked. “Pretty good,” she said. “The problem is right now. Later should be fine.”

BAD NEWS: After talking to a colleague who had already made it to Florida, he suggested I look around for a business center or frequent flier club to park for the day. Loved that idea! So I went to the Massport information booth to learn my options. “No, we don’t have anything like that here (outside of security),” she said. “But you could try the Kidport upstairs, near the food court. There’s rocking chairs there.” I asked if it was quiet. “It is the KIDport,” she reminded me.

GOOD NEWS: My house is a Kidport too. So at least the environs were no worse for concentration than what I ordinarily experience. So while there were a number of kids climbing in the airplaine replica and sliding down the mock luggage carousel, it felt like home. I grabbed some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, logged onto the airport wifi, and settled in near an electric outlet, which of course was a premium spot on a day like today.

BAD NEWS: My Blackberry buzzed at 11:24 a.m. My new flight was canceled. My butt was also sore from the rocking chair. The idea was better than the actual comfort.

GOOD NEWS: I logged onto JetBlue’s site, and was able to get myself switched to the last flight out at 8:30 p.m. — still direct, and still to Orlando.

BAD NEWS: It’s 3:47 p.m. The snow is coming down much faster now than it has all day. The plows look as if they’re having a hard time keeping up. The visibility is so poor, I can barely see the taxiway signs, much less the actual runway.

GOOD NEWS: The JetBlue flight status page shows my flight as still being on time. Better news: There’s a Samuel Adams Boston Brewhouse very near where I am sitting. A premium seat near an outlet is a small sacrifice to make for beer. Bonus: The visibility seems to have improved slightly, and planes are still heading out to the runway after their de-icings.

More to come….