Other hotel pet peeves

June 5, 2017

A couple of years ago, I wrote about some annoyances I encountered while staying at hotels.  Last night, at a fairly upscale hotel associated with a casino in the northeast, I encountered a few more.

When I entered the room, the bed had been turned down, chocolates had been placed on it, and the radio had been turned on.  I turned off the radio, and didn’t notice that the alarm had been left on by the previous guest.  My blissful sleep was rudely interrupted by the alarm at 6:00 a.m., long before my intended hour of waking.  I don’t think it’s incumbent upon the hotel guest to figure out whether the alarm clock in a hotel room (of which there are infinite confusing varieties) has been armed; that should be an item on the housekeeping check list, especially when a housekeeper is tasked with turning on the same radio as part of the hotel’s turn down service.

Were it not for the rude awakening I experienced, I would not be writing this.  But as long as I’m ranting, this hotel had a loose faucet in the bathroom sink that no housekeeper could have missed while cleaning the room.  The room, recently (and apparently expensively) renovated, also had a paucity of soft surfaces, such as drapes and rugs.  While I was on the phone, I sounded like I was in an echo chamber, and noises from the hallway and other rooms were quite audible.  The heavy doors also clanged loudly when closed by guests.

I do not envy the jobs of hotel housekeepers, whom I’ve heard work to a very tight schedule and sometimes encounter the messes left very inconsiderate guests that make their jobs more difficult and increase the pressures on them.  However, I think they are the crucial eyes and ears that must be trained to look for certain things, and correct or report them, before the room is released to a guest. Management, please take note.


Traffic management

January 21, 2017

The delays occasioned by traffic jams, red lights and other things that slow our automotive travel are a major source of frustration to most of us.  As individuals, we can mitigate this frustration by choosing our home and work locations, and the times at which we work.  We may be able to telecommute, walk or bike, or take public transit (which has its own frustrations).  But in today’s automobile-dominated society, most of us have to use the private automobile for most of our travel, much of which must be done on a rigid schedule.

We deal with this frustration with fancy sound systems, luxury seating and blue tooth connections that allow us to use some of our automotive downtime productively.  However, those measures do not address the tremendous waste of oil-based fuel and its concomitant pollution. Government, on behalf of us all, can do more to manage traffic and its related delays, but in our geographic area it has largely failed to act.

While I was driving down Washington Avenue in Albany recently, hitting red light after red light, my frustration triggered some early memories — from the 1960s — of driving up and down avenues in Manhattan with my father, watching each light turn green as we approached it.  My dad explained to me that the lights were timed so that you would rarely have to stop, if you maintained a steady speed at or around the limit.  I am aware of nowhere in our area that employs this proven (and by now, probably more affordable), technology.

Another local failure, on the part of the Thruway Authority, is its lagging behind the Mass Pike in eliminating toll plazas at exits and entries to its highways, with all tolls being tallied by gantries over the road that read E-Z Pass transponders without the need for cars to slow down (a few such gantries do exist on the Thruway, most notably near the Harriman exit, but they have not replaced the toll plazas at the entries and exits).  Although the demolition of the toll plazas and barriers on the Mass Pike is not complete, travel time savings already have been noted.

While we now do have electronic signs on many of our primary roads advising of travel time to various points, these signs do not offer alternatives when delays are indicated, and in most cases no alternatives exist.  While information may reduce frustration during times of congestion, expenditures aimed at reducing congestion would be a better use of taxpayer funds.

Money spent on reducing traffic congestion, as well as on things like bike paths and libraries, benefits everyone by making the area a more attractive one in which to live.  Unfortunately, in New York, “everyone” is not a special interest, which may be why government under-spends in many of these areas.


Once every 30 years is enough

September 2, 2016

I recently met some friends for a long weekend in Chicago.  One of them, a big sports fan, suggested we attend a game at Wrigley Field.  I thought it might be interesting, knowing that Wrigley is an older park with, presumably, lots of history.

The last time I attended a major league ball game was in the 1980s, when I lived in New York City, and I recall paying less than $5.00 for general admission to both Yankee and Shea stadiums.  Though I’m not a big sports fan, my occasional visits to these venues were relaxing and enjoyable.

I know prices have gone up in the last 30 years, but the inflation attending sporting events appears to rival that attending college tuition.  A reserved seat near the third base foul pole cost $75.00, and afforded only a distant view of the diamond.  Three hot dogs and three bottles of water set me back $37.00.

Worse than the prices was the experience.  We were seated below a speaker that blared “music” every time there was a lull in the action (which was about 80% of the time) at ear-splitting volume.  After hearing “Who Let the Dogs Out” a dozen or so times, I agree with those who, in a poll, rated it one of the top 20 annoying songs, according to Wikipedia.  Blaring a snippet of “What’s Up Chris” every time Kris Bryant came to bat might have been clever once, but I tired of it the fourth or fifth time.  There was a little bit of the traditional organ music, but not nearly enough.  The new electronic scoreboards were more geared to displaying commercials than useful information (thankfully, the original scoreboard remained and was my primary source of information).  There was really nothing  (except for some statues of players outside) that I could see that called attention to any of the history or traditions of the stadium.  Even the ivy wall had been defaced by panels placed in it for the sole purpose, apparently, of displaying commercial messages.

Though we were unable to stay until the end of the game because of the need to catch early flights the next day, the part of the game we saw was pretty good, and we learned later that it went 13 innings, past midnight, and that the Cubs won by one run.

The urban location of Wrigley field presented an opportunity for owners of nearby properties.  Many of the houses and other buildings that afforded a view of the field had been outfitted with elaborate bleachers and other amenities.  Next time, I may try one of those. Or, if I want the best views, the ability to tune out the noise and the ability to use the copious down time productively, I’ll watch on television.

The rest of the trip offered many enjoyable things.  An architecture tour by boat on the Chicago River was interesting and fun.  The Art Institute is one of the world’s leading museums.  Less famous were the Driehaus Museum, a restored Golden Age mansion (be sure to check out the exterior of the Richardson-inspired mansion housing Mr. Driehaus’s business diagonally across the street) and the nearby Bloomingdale’s Home store, which us to house a Shrine Circus and has restrooms that have been nationally recognized as among the best.  The Cloud Gate (known to locals as “The Bean”) and the rest of Millenium Park are worth a visit.  Though I’d been to Chicago before, there’s still a lot I haven’t seen.

Chicago earns praise from me by offering a single seat ride on its transit system from each of its commercial airports to its downtown.  The transit system, which we also took to and from the ball game, was clean, efficient, not too crowded, and easy to use.

 

 


Here we go again . . .

July 8, 2016

This recent Times Union story shows the persistence of unrealistic, grandiose thinking in relation to our local Amtrak station. The proposal to study spending $20 – $30 million, and who knows how much time, building an aerial tramway to transport a few hundred people a day across the Hudson, in all likelihood at significant public expense, is another example of the thinking that got us the present bloated, cavernous station that leaks money and water, and whose large outdoor clocks never tell the same time. Here’s something to try first, if there’s really a need for an alternative to the existing taxicab service most railroad passengers use (there is):

Realign the two bus routes that serve the station so they both stop at the same place on East St. for trips in each direction. Coordinate bus schedules with train schedules. Have a covered walkway from the station exit to the bus stop. Sell one way or round trip bus passes at the railroad ticket windows or at nearby kiosks. Have “Amtrak connect” schedules printed up that show when busses leave the station for popular downtown destinations and when they return, with a large map on the back showing the locations of bus stops and downtown landmarks.

If the above does not work, thousands, not tens of millions, will have been wasted. Then you can say “I told you so,” and try the gondola.


Dealing with vehicular terrorists

June 1, 2016

Has this happened to you?  You’re driving along an expressway at or slightly above the speed limit and, without warning, a car passes you and cuts in front of you, missing you by inches, and continues on at a speed so excessive you feel you are standing still, and it repeats the process each time it approaches another vehicle.  I have to believe that  drivers of these vehicles cause far more than their fair share of accidents, some being immediately due to the terror they strike in other motorists, who may react erratically, and others because they misjudge and hit other vehicles and fail to negotiate turns and other hazards more often than most drivers.

In Ontario recently, on the Queen Elizabeth Way, a major highway, I noticed large billboards advising that drivers exceeding the speed limit by 50% would be subject to a CAD 10,000 fine (about $7,700 US) and immediate license suspension and vehicle impoundment.

Whether such a policy here would withstand a due process challenge is not entirely clear.  The fine, presumably imposed by a judge after a trial, could be challenged as excessive, but evidence of the disproportionate danger speeding at that level produces would probably justify it.  The immediate license suspension and vehicle impoundment gives a single officer a lot of discretion.  However, if a radar speed measurement is required, and immediate judicial review provided, that might be enough, given the great danger to which the penalty is directed and the high excessive speed required, for which it is hard to imagine any motorist having a valid excuse.  New York courts have upheld a “prompt suspension” law for those charged with DWI, but it is not as prompt as the Canadian measure, calling for a judge to first sustain the validity of an accusatory instrument.  Whether the courts here would approve a measure as strict as Ontario’s is not clear, but it may be worthwhile to find out.

 


Albany bike path update

May 1, 2016

Yesterday, I rode on the Albany County bike path from its beginning on South Pearl St., and I was pleased to find that its western end had been extended from central Delmar (behind the Stewart’s on Delaware Ave.) to New Scotland Avenue in Slingerlands, almost doubling its length.  On a beautiful Saturday, a lot of people were using the trail for walking and riding.  This type of project always gets a lot of use, and it makes surrounding properties, residential and commercial, more valuable.  It’s a low-cost, high-yield investment for government, that pays off in better health for citizens enjoying expanded recreational opportunities, as well as financially.  I hope the rest of the path opens  while the weather is still good, and I hope local governments throughout the region decide to make similar investments.


Little signs – buyer beware

April 24, 2016

An old saying advises “what the big print gives, the small print takes away.”  And it seems to me that the smaller the print, the more that is taken away.  A recent trip to a Las Vegas Strip casino revealed, on every blackjack table on the main floor that I saw, a very small sign that advised “Blackjack pays 6 to 5.” Anyone familiar with the game knows that a blackjack should pay three to two, and that the difference is not insignificant, costing the typical player (in addition to the much smaller expected loss already built into the better game) three dollars a blackjack on a $10 bet, or some $12 to $20 per hour, depending on the speed of play.

The worst small print is that which directly contradicts the large print, such as coupons from retailers that offer __% off everything in the store in large print, but in small print contain a long list of excluded items, usually including the one you want to buy.  Retail clerks seem immune to my argument that when two statements directly contradict each other, the one in more conspicuous type should be honored. I’ve never tried my luck in court with that argument.

Recently, I booked a rental car on the Southwest Airlines web site.  In addition to the usual fictitious rate for the rental, there was an estimated total cost, which included taxes and fees, and was, as is typical in the industry, more than 50% higher than the quoted rate.  When I got to the rental office, I was presented with a multi-page agreement, printed in microscopic type, which somewhat prominently quoted the base rate that had appeared on the Southwest site.  However, as I carefully examined that document (which I suspect most people, fresh off a tiring flight and eager to reach their ultimate destination, don’t), I found the total cost, displayed much less conspicuously.  It was about $100 more than the estimate that had appeared on the Southwest site.  When I pointed this out to the agent, he backed down pretty quickly, but I imagine that his company (and perhaps others) get away with this trick (unless it was an honest mistake, which I doubt) more often than not.

As I have so often pointed out in this blog, buyer beware.  Conservatives who decry big government ignore that fact that many, if not most, government regulations in the consumer protection area are the result of abuses of trust by companies selling goods and services.  If the plutocrats who run those companies were a little more forthcoming, there would be less need for the big government they decry.  Consumers also, unfortunately, deserve part of the blame, both for being unwary, which arguably they should not have to be, but also for being fixated on an often fictitious “price,” to which fees often are added, the fees being nothing more than an additional charge for the item to which the price is attached.  I have been advised that consumers, given a choice between an item forthrightly priced at a given amount, will prefer buying the same item for a lesser quoted price, even when added fees bring the price up to the same amount.