SFO: A trip to Tracy, CA

The trip from east coast to west coast is almost always exhausting and vice versa. Heading to the West Coast doesn’t seem troublesome at first because you can leave at 10am and arrive at 1pm… EST and PST respectfully. I enjoy this because it gives me time to do the work thing of checking out the site and meeting with the team before we actually hit the grind. But also, because I also get time to sort of explore a few of the local happenings and possibly even catch a unique experience on day one. However, the downside… this traveler is exhausted and when it is 6pm PST, I am sort of still on EST. So you would think this means I sleep well… haha… nope… I usually have to have some chamomile tea to relax while listening to meditation jams.

SFO is was a cool airport. Once the plane landed and I hit the ground walking, the signage to get to baggage claim (and beyond) were abundant. You walk just like any other airport to the center area and down stairs and are directed by your app, large television screens, or PA systems which baggage claim has your luggage. Off to the car rental facility!

At SFO, I ended up going up an escalator and then an elevator to make it to an Air Train. We have these at ATL, but I am not sure we have multiple lines. At SFO, you have a blue-line and a red-line. The red-line is almost rectangular, and wraps around the the terminals and hotels, while the blue-line is L-shaped in the sense that it has two rectangular shapes placed together in a track that portrays the “L” shape. The vertical portion of the “L” shape is much wider than the horizontal portion.

So once I boarded from the air train platform onto a train “car”, I immediately noticed all the informational signs with maps of the track for each train on both sides above the doors along the length of the car! I was extremely impressed by this because you don’t have to strain yourself from either end of the train car to see the maps! Another cool tidbit is that the windows and seats were averagely cleaned, but the track promoted gorgeous views of the distant mountains and rolling clouds! So the air train was a great experience, I was able to review and decipher the map quickly to count how many stops before I needed to exit. Not to mention, the PA system spoke clearly before each stop…amazing!

So a pleasant plane ride (with a couple hours asleep and a couple hours work) to a cool air train ride to the car rental facility. Like many airports, the facility is a large parking garage with well equipped signage notifying travelers of which floor the rental car counters were on and where you could pickup your rental car. The place I was renting from this time was Budget. It seemed there were a lot of people also renting from budget.

The Man and His Luggage

While I waited in line an older gentleman had one of those luggage carts filled with luggage for he and his wife. It was a cute encounter because they were engaging in a conversation in their own language of Spanish influence. The wife was encouraging the husband to leave the luggage with her while he stood in line, but he didn’t want to burden his wife, so he took it with him. The line included one 180° turn to control the space taken up by customers. It was around that turn where the luggage took a fall… all over the floor. The gentleman was directly in front of me and some of his bags fell to my feet and the woman’s behind me. Without pause, we both assisted in recovering his luggage. He thanked us but you could see slight embarrassment in his pigments on his cheeks. Hooray for humanity! Humans helping humans… it is refreshing!

I finally got to the counter, and this lovely agent was helping me. Now, I use my company’s tools that use our company’s travel agent that essential books our flights, reserves car rentals, and reserves our hotels. It seems roundabout, but the system is somewhat user friendly, but sometimes details of the experience do get left off… like our company’s code that includes details on the rental contract. sigh… thankfully, the customer service rep at the counter notified me and started telling me I needed to know the code to apply the contract and essentially I needed to cancel the booking and restart it again.

After some exchange back and forth: both of us trying to resolve the issue without having me cancel the reservation and start over and wait in line, she was able to locate my company code, but wasn’t sure she could simply add it to the reservation. She asked me to wait for a moment, went behind this somewhat hidden door behind her that was flush with the wall. After a few minutes, she came back and with a relieved smile told me she could just add it to the reservation. She even set me up with the frequent traveler program for Budget so in the future I could just bypass the counter altogether!

The way we found out I didn’t have the company code in my reservation was that there was a section on the program she was using to process my rental that only shows if there is no prearranged contract with a company. You know, the one about all the insurances and coverages? Yes that one… My company has its own policy that extends beyond all the coverages, and we are told to simply decline any coverage due to their own policies. That can be scary to new work-related travelers. Imagine the rental car agent saying “…and if you don’t have this coverage you are responsible for total damages and any litigation…” I even get anxious hearing that knowing I am covered and I’ve been traveling for work for several years!

After she gave me my paperwork and released me to the garage I felt a bit peckish and decided to grab a quick snack at this tiny shop called Maria’s that was opposite the Budget counter. It was a quick and simple and allowed me to process the experience.

Route to Tracy, CA

So now I am in the rental car and have the hotel address in my GPS. What is the ETA to the hotel…one hour forty-seven minutes…written in all RED! I’d like to say there were 8 lanes of traffic the entire drive! Seventy-six miles separated the airport to the hotel, while twelve miles separated my hotel from the job site. This isn’t uncommon for the type of facilities I work in.

The trip was an experience to say the least. It starts off with the road windings from the airport to the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. The signage on the roads seemed readable and easy to navigate, at least I didn’t have any complaints I can remember! The bridge was cool, it spanned several miles and split the southern part of the San Francisco Bay. Once you leave the bridge and get on 580, time and traffic seem to stop! For miles through Castro Valley, Livermore, and to where you hop off 580 to 205 are gorgeous hills. The hills are not necessarily lush green due to the season, but the light browns and mix of faded green along with a gorgeous cloudy day make for a sweet drive.

Once you get on 205, the surroundings are more or less flat. The background to the daily commute is nice because you see the mountains and rolling clouds so well, but otherwise… flat.

I hadn’t been to Tracy, CA since the beginning of my career. It was really nice to see how that area has flourished so quickly. My overall travel experience was above satisfactory. I will be returning to CA in the coming weeks, but different airports and different car rental agencies!

Philadelphia, PA International Airport Experience

Like other airports, you have to grab a shuttle to the car rental location. However, this airport has individual shuttles to the specific car rental facility you reserved a vehicle for. Did I mention you have to flag the shuttle down for them to stop? It took me one shuttle with “Sixt” passing me and the crowd of travelers to realize this tidbit. Perhaps that was a part of the confirmation or something from the website of Sixt?

The shuttle I flagged stopped in the center lane for me and several other travelers to hitch a ride. The shuttle was mostly full, but a few seats remained. I was able to grab a seat while three others ended up standing. The trip to the car rental was an average trip. And now we get to wait in line! Now this facility is setup fairly nice with an interesting choice of orange and black. Soft but present music bouncing in the background. Sales clerks laughing and smiling while helping the customers. Looks like they have a diamond lounge for travelers who use this company often. There is a bar area that probably supplied snacks and coffee pre COVID-19. One security guard bustles in the corner or the lobby probably bored from all the excitement. The lot outside seems organized with orange signs with bold black letters distinguishing numbered parking spaces. Behind one of the counters there is an eye shaped television displaying car ads for this seasons hottest luxury cars.

I didn’t enjoy the persistent questioning regarding my reason for travel, but I respect the sales-directed questions. The worst I am taking from this experience is that a picture had to be taken of you before you could rent a car. I wasn’t expecting that especially since my previous experiences with car rentals never asked for a fresh mugshot outside of my driver’s license. Not many travelers have their “picture face” on right? Luckily, this travel was for work and I had a modicum of respectable presentation as one expects when traveling for work. Had it been on a vacation… shorts, t-shirt, and a ball cap… relaxing and comfortable.

The best experience was the lady who assisted me. She was very knowledgeable about the area, was proactively asking questions about my travel plans, and was well tempered given the climate of the location. I would be at wits end having that many people waiting to rent cars. While it is not my preferred, nor my second, Sixt still provided me with above average customer service and the vehicle is pretty nice too! Now the drive from the airport to the site I am working for the next few days… that is another story!

ATL – Airport Experience – Prime Day 1: June 21, 2021

TSA precheck lines are seven rows deep, it seems travel is back in full swing.

Of course in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport the idea of the six feet between you and others has also disappeared. Now the stigma has been reversed.

Instead of being side-eyed for not putting space between you and other passengers, you are being stared at with disdain for keeping the six foot bubble. It’s easy enough to control the distance between yourself and the group in front of you but there is no control over the person or group “six feet” behind you.

I am thankful that masks are still being worn, but still hesitant to assume society has been fully vaccinated to a point of low transmission. I can’t exactly stop traveling given my profession, but I still try to maintain safety protocols. It’s only June 2021, a year and a half after the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, so forgive my delayed response to the going-back-to-normal situation. Honestly, my day to day outside of work has returned to mostly normalcy: lunches/dinners with friends and family, singing lessons, trumpet practice, and tennis. All activities with mild to minimal precautions related to the virus. How ling will it take for society to return to normal? What will the new normal look like? I suppose society shifts back and forth on many things: forgotten and remembered, so j suppose all is well with the world, at least my world for now.

The TSA agents are not without their own concerns. Just as I was approaching the entrance to the pre-check lines I overheard a small confrontation. It was in regards to manning/overseeing lanes. There is a workstation or two for each [enter name of machines that check bags]. TSA checks boarding passes and IDs. Now this pass through security I had to scan my boarding pass along with presenting my photo ID; however, they have new devices called [enter name of ID scanning device], that are used to identify passengers and/or pre-check status [look into what these machines do].

Back to the agents: the grievance of agent one regarded the fact of staffing being short handed and this individual had to monitor two different lanes: one for pre-check and the other I believe for CLEAR passengers. The check seemed harmless enough for the CLEAR passengers because the instance I witnessed was a simple “show me your boarding pass” and it was just a show of the pass, electronic or paper copy.

Is TSA experiencing a shortage of employees like so many industries during this time of “rebuilding” our society is doing on the backend of the COVID-10 pandemic? Was this simply a case of overwhelming amounts of travelers at an unusual time? Personally i believe it is the former. Given the amount of data available regarding flight times, terminals, and passengers, I imagine staff planning, or scheduling, wouldn’t be an issue…if you have staff. Of course, it could just be an instance of employees missing their shifts for one reason or another.

I have been considered an essential employee/worker since the onset of COVID-19, so i wasn’t grounded long. I find it interesting that traveling during the pandemic, while inconvenient with masks and six-foot space between humans, was easy and comfortable. Now that we are starting to close the US’s chapter in the pandemic, traveling is becoming cumbersome to say the least with shoulder-to-shoulder lines, dissatisfied employees and travelers, and middle seat upgrades (I’m thankful for the upgrade, but when you are typing your blog while the person next to you is working seems to be a bit snug to say the least!)

Memorial Day Weekend: 2021

Day 1: Arrival

First stop, Cloudland Canyon State Park Visitor Center. We checked out the visitor center and obtained information and maps for the park. It was cool to see how many camp sites were around the area for future endeavors. After scoping out the visitor information and reading plenty of warnings, and skimming the huge list of rules smooshed together with tiny writing, we drove to a central location and followed some easy paths and took pictures of the canyon.

Day 2: Hike

Today was the day we decided to take the journey around some trails! We started our day in the vacation rental, followed by an interesting event during lunch, and finally back to Cloudland Canyon State Park. We chose the red trail to start because the Park Ranger was directing traffic to an overflow area due to parking in the area we had visited yesterday being full. One of the cool things about being re-directed, is that you can have new adventures and meet new people! What do you know? We ran into some experienced hikers: with the boots, backpacks, and gear; that happened to be from the Atlanta area. The three of us asked for guidance to get to the waterfalls trail and thought we were ready to go. However, we didn’t make the turn and went around in a circle! Just like us… throwing things in circles…
After returning to the start and laughing about our experience, we decided to drive to the area where the waterfall trails were more accessible. We started at the top and found some scary sidebars with cliffs without railing to explore. Once we took a few mandatory selfies, we walked back up and headed on our journey to middle Earth where the waterfall misted in wait. On the route down, all the people were smiling and laughing, signs of a leisurely stroll really. But something was noticeably different on the people climbing back up on the stairs. We ignored this for now and continued our smiling journey. There was plenty of rock formations, greenery, bugs, dogs, and families all around… corona who?…
Now that we finally made our way to the bottom, we had to rest because our legs and thighs were shaking from the trek down. So we sat together before going off-trail to get closer to the waterfall. What a treat, there were people who had hiked a different path at the top of the waterfall so they had an amazing view of the scene, but we got all the cool mist coasting off the waterfall to cool us down. Of course at this point, my lower back injury was inflamed and screaming at me for overworking myself too soon during the recovery process. At this point, we all just sort of wandered and climbed around the rocks and balanced on the fallen trees and enjoyed watching little ones do the same. It is a fantastic feeling…playing…
Of course, before the looming return hike to the top, we run into our acquaintances from home. It was a nice discussion before the impending struggle to return from the divine oasis. Now, fortunately the creators of the trails and stairs built seating along the way, so every 20 or so steps there was a small resting area. We realized now that the reason for the strained expressions on the climb back up wasn’t from a bad experience, but rather from the difficult climb to civilization. It must have taken twice the time to climb up as it did down, and we all sort of stopped and started at our own pace. Eventually, we met at the top and returned to the vacation rental.
Now, I wish I could tell you we had an exciting day afterward, but the pain relievers and naps told us otherwise! Still, what a great day enjoyed with close friends!

Day 3: Recovery

A recovery day… yes we definitely needed that! However, one of my friends is an entrepreneur and starting a business, so they were up at 05:00 working… kudos for their diligence!
I woke up around 07:30/08:00 per my usual morning ritual of starting coffee and enjoying the sun gleaming through the windows or on the deck. Our other friend, decided to really sleep in, but to their defense, they are a night owl and used to being awake late and up late.
We hadn’t really planned much for today because we had the feeling we wouldn’t have the energy for another big adventure. So we took a drive to Chattanooga! We went to the river area near the aquariums and strolled around taking pictures and feeling the heat and humidity off the riverbank. Today was indeed Memorial Day, and as such plenty of people were visiting the memorials along the pier and around the city. After strolling around a bit and having the Sun sap more energy out of us than we had to give, we decided to visit our friend’s home in Chickamauga. On the way of course, we went through the battlefield area and detoured to see several of the hundreds of monuments. We even got to see a deer taking a stroll in the woods. What a solemn feeling passing through the monument area, with monuments dedicated to different states, people, and battles. After paying respects, I needed a recharge, and we needed a sweet treat so off to grab coffee and ice cream!
From there is was a half hour drive to our friend’s house. Such a beautiful drive in the country too! Even lost signal several times! The charming home was guarded by a vicious dog that seemingly became tamed once the owner introduced us. We had lovely conversations, learning about our friend’s childhood and family, and then off to the vacation rental for our final night of leisure.
We got back and all agreed it was time to relax with an adult beverage of our choosing, along with tidying up things for an easy departure in the morning. One of our friends decided to head out that evening. After a good night’s rest, and a few cups of coffee, we departed back to our homes and everyday life.
What a privilege to spend time with trumpeting friends without playing trumpet!