Travel Notes

As someone who travels extensively for work, I have a few habits that are “odd”.

  1. I never watch TV in my hotel. I can’t remember the last time I turned on a TV in the hotel room. Probably early 2002 or so. I don’t watch much live TV at home, so it is pretty easy to just leave the telly off. Additionally, since I am not a huge sports fan (except for MotoGP and WSBK), I don’t find that I miss it.
  2. I don’t watch movies in airplanes. Even with the advent of personal video/entertainment systems, I just read or sleep. Old habits are hard to kick, and I got out of the habit of watching the in-flight entertainment a long time ago.
  3. I try to not rent cars. Unless I need to go significant distance in a location, even in the US, I usually just cab it. Internationally? No brainer. Cab, train, subway is the way to go.
  4. I never read the newspapers that they hang on the door. I swear that USA Today pretty much exists to be tossed at hotel room doors. But even overseas I just leave the paper on the ground. What I want to read, I get from the web (I subscribe to The Economist and the NY Times, so I am not starved for content).
  5. If breakfast costs money in the hotel, I will go out. I find it astounding how much hotels charge for breakfast. $25 – $30 is not uncommon. Unless they are serving shaved truffles, and beluga caviar omelettes, there is no way I can eat that much worth of food. Just about anywhere in the world I have stayed will have a small coffee shop/bakery within walking distance. They get my custom. Of course, in the US at least, most business hotels include a small breakfast service. That is still catching on worldwide.
  6. Kitsh and gifts – long ago I stopped buying stuff on the road. I know my wife likes the trinkets, but really, how many “Hello Kitty” keychains does one need? I do still buy chocolate to bring back though. Yummy
  7. I rarely try to upgrade to business or first class. I just don’t care that much about the uplift. I have many peers who get visibly agitated when they can’t get an upgrade. I would rather keep the miles and use it to take the wife on a real vacation (and then I prefer to use the miles to upgrade to business class). Of course, upgrades are rarer than ever with airlines doing their best to overbook their seats.
  8. I hate airlines. All airlines. Yes, some are better than others (Singapore or Thai), but all of them are working towards treating their patrons as steerage. For small vacations, I far prefer to drive than to book rewards tickets. Besides the hassle of trying to get a seat with your rewards (and since all airlines are running near capacity, that becomes ever more difficult), I find that I just prefer driving.

A lot of people hear that I travel a lot for work and instantly assume that it is all glamorous. It isn’t. Hotels aren’t ever as comfortable as your own bed. You can eat some great food, but equally often you are grabbing packaged sandwiches at gas stations. High cuisine indeed.

I do drink too much on the road though. Spending long hours in hotel bars, or local watering holes that I have found over the years can erase some of the pain of traveling.

The search for good Mexican food

When we moved from Tucson to Chandler last year, the last thing I thought I would have trouble with would be finding a decent, authentic Mexican restaurant. I mean, it wasn’t like we were moving to Seattle, we were still in the southwest, and there are plenty of authentic people of Mexican heritage here. But it has been trouble.

Some background. Our first night in Tucson in 2003, we walked from the hotel about a block and into Casa Molina. It was Sonoran style Mexican food, and we loved it (they also made kick-ass house margaritas). We dined there all the time, and greatly enjoyed the cuisine. Not quite a hole in the wall, it was a family owned establishment, and had been a fixture on the east side of Tucson since 1947.

When we moved to Chandler, we started looking for our new Mexican restaurant. I tried Diegos (when I was commuting) in Mesa, and wasn’t impressed.  There was a little place not far from our house called Cafe Posada, that was passable (but not great. Anyone who puts carrots and peas in their spanish rice is meh). But they went belly up, and we had do hunt.

There are some great places that sell “street taco” style food.  Order and wait for it to come up, but that never really scratched the itch.

The problem isn’t that there aren’t Mexican restaurants, it is just that most of them are chains, and are too slick, too polished, and have so so food.

Last night, for our anniversary, we tried another place. Yelp! had it rated good (3.5 stars) and the reviews were good.  It is a local franchise, called Nando’s. The food was good, tasty, well cooked, and almost authentic. They have great margaritas, and we really enjoyed the decor.

We will certainly go back, often. But I am still looking for my “hole in the wall” Mexican restaurant. My latest theory is that the part of the valley that we live in 20 years ago was pretty much all farmland. There aren’t many places that have been here 20+ years, to acquire that homey feel.

I am not giving up though.