30 September 2010

Happy 25th Birthday to my 1985 Jetta!

I’m not a car guy.  Lots of people, especially men, are enamored of cars and other vehicles.  Not me.  (But if you know someone who wants to give me a pristine 1960 Ford Thunderbird I might be interested.)

Normally personal stuff like this is not the subject of my blog, but to paraphrase Leslie Gore, “It’s my blog, and I’ll write what I want to, write I want to, write what I want to / You’d write, too, if it happened to you”.

My car turns 25 today, 30 September 2010. 

Yes, readers, that means I bought it as a brand-new car on 30 September 1985.  A 1985 Volkswagen Jetta GL with a 5-speed manual transmission, purchased at Pete Lovely Volkswagen in Tacoma, Wash.

I was 29.  Now I’m 54.  If I’d had a child born that same year, he or she would be out of college and earning money to send me on a trip to Europe.

But since it’s a German car (made in Wolfsburg) and I’m of German descent, I guess you can say I get my trip to Europe each time I drive it.

In its youth (and in my early 30s) the Jetta transported me around Seattle where I lived from 1985 to early 1990.  Those were fun years.  Then the Jetta and I moved south because I got a great job in San Francisco.

For me it was back to California, but for the Jetta it was its first time in the Golden State.

Because I always intended to move back to the Pacific Northwest, the Jetta retained Washington license plate LWD 821 until 1994, and I retained my voter’s registration in Washington.

But as part of the the Republican tantrum of that era, Michael Huffington threatened to unseat Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate.  I could not in good conscience continue to vote in Washington and be at all responsible for Dianne's losing reelection, so I re-registered my car and myself as Californians.

The Jetta and I have been Californians ever since.  (And Dianne Feinstein has remained U.S. Senator from California.  Coincidence?  Not likely.)

But the car does not have the original California plate it got in '94.

Here's why.

The Jetta’s closest call with the scrapyard took place in October ’04.  I was heading back from running the Bizz Johnson Half Marathon in Susanville, when 12 miles west on Fredonyer Pass, a deer came from out of nowhere and collided with the front of my car.

The deer was killed, and the Jetta was nearly a goner.  Its front end was demolished, and we were towed back to Chico.  (Thank you, AAA Plus!)

The Jetta sat in a wrecking yard over on Park Avenue while I dickered with the insurance company and pondered the Jetta’s fate.

Needless to say, as a then 19-year old car that suffered major damage, it was totaled.  I received less than $1000 from insurance.  I researched buying a new car, buying a used one, and getting the Jetta repaired but since I’m writing this post it’s obvious which path I chose.  It cost me about $1500 over what the insurance company kicked in to restore the Jetta.

A local Chico body shop did an excellent job of bringing the car back to life, both cosmetically and internally.  (The radiator and other stuff in the engine’s front were destroyed in the accident.)

But remarkably the most visible sign of the car’s near-death experience was the fact that it had to get a new license plate.

The California motor vehicle code requires that cars which are totaled and then repaired, must get a new title and registration designating the vehicle as “Salvaged” so a future owner knows the vehicle’s history.  That's reasonable, but really, must it be called "Salvaged"?  How about "Redeemed" or "Enlivened" or "Made Frisky Again"?

Salvaged.  How insulting.

But in spite of the "Salvaged" moniker, I'm glad I had the car restored after the Fredonyer Pass calamity.

Some folks – and you know who you are – counseled putting the Jetta out to pasture.  But I didn’t feel like spending the money then for a new car, and the pickings for what I was prepared to spend for a used car were slim.

Not to mention the fact I have never tired of my car’s design, the engine has held up remarkably well over the years, and it gets mileage (37 mpg) that few cars now do.  And who knows what witchcraft those Germans used to mix the paint, but other than where the body work was done in ’04, the car sports the original, unoxidized paint as when I bought it in ’85.

And at 299,741 miles, it has the original clutch.

Yes, you read that right.  I have never had any work done on the clutch.

I do treat the Jetta with kid gloves, and I don’t put a lot of miles on it.  But it does get over to Fort Bragg, the Bay Area, and Reno at least once a year, not to mention all around Chico and vicinity.

When will the Jetta travel its last miles.  I can’t say.  But it’s been a great car that has managed the acceleration from 29 to 54 in my life with more ease and style than I have.  Thanks, old friend.

The Jetta and I would like to thank the following for their years of service keeping us both on the road:

- Fritz & Peter's German Car Repair (Oakland)
- In Staller's Garage (Chico)

And for the post-Fredonyer Pass total rehabilitation:

- Rozmartin Autobody & Paint (Chico)


Months after I wrote this post I was looking for other photos from my years in Seattle and I ran across one of me and my car.  When I wrote the post I looked and looked, but was never able to locate any.  I'm pretty sure this was taken early in 1989 after a heavy snowfall.  I'm proudly showing off the chains I attached to my car.  Just think, the Jetta was only a little over 3 years old here, and I was only 33.  A bit of Washington plate LWD 821 is visible.

27 September 2010

Airlines - Southwest Airlines to buy AirTran

This is a big deal in the airline industry.

A Really, Really Big Deal.

Southwest Airlines has announced that it is going to buy fellow low-cost carrier AirTran.

This is not a "merger of equals" or anything like that.  This is one very big fish acquiring a pretty good-size fish.  The merger process itself, and the much larger Southwest that results, will be far more interesting than the United-Continental merger.  Southwest is clearly in the driver's seat: the airline name and culture will remain Southwest, and yes, bags will continue to fly free!

Southwest will obtain a much larger presence in the Northeast through AirTrans slots in airports like LaGuardia (New York) and Reagan National (Washington, DC), not to mention a major presence in a huge market where it currently has no presence whatsoever: Atlanta.  (Atlanta is AirTran's single busiest airport, although the airline's administrative headquarters is in Orlando.)

Southwest likes to operate an all 737 fleet but they will get both 717s and 737s as part of the deal.  (Southwest has said it intends to continue operating the 717s.)

AirTran's presence on the Pacific coast is negligible, with flights serving San Diego, Los Angeles (LAX), Las Vegas, and Seattle.  Depending on the city, the service from these points is to Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Baltimore.

What I find especially interesting is that AirTran does operate some international service (Cancun, Nassau, Montego Bay, Punta Cana, and Aruba) as well as service to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  On its own, Southwest has never operated internationally (or anywhere outside of the 48 contiguous states) although it has been making noises about the possibility lately, and is supposed to begin a code-share with Volaris (a Mexican low-cost carrier) in the future.

Care to know more?

- See Southwest's new website specifically devoted to the acquisition
- factsheet with facts, figures, and fancy about each carrier and the new Southwest that will emerge

For airline junkies this is a pure thrill.  Congratulations to both carriers to pulling this one off without the rumor mill getting word out prematurely.

24 September 2010

Airlines - Fun with 3-letter airport codes

I've bored friends over the years with airline trivia especially those gosh darn airport codes. Some of the codes have for all intents and purposes, become words themselves, such as LAX. In essence the code itself has supplanted use of the airport's name. (How often does someone say that he wants to fly to Los Angeles International?)

Codes for other large cities are usually well known, at least by people who live in the area or fly to the city frequently, yet are not really used as words. Few people, including those in the travel industry, would say that they wanted to fly to P-D-X (Portland, Ore.) or to P-W-M (Portland, Me.).

FAT - read the article to find out what that is

Some codes are logically derived from the name of the city (SEA for Seattle) or the airport (LGA for LaGuardia in New York City) but others seem bizarre, usually because they are derived from the airfield which was named after a now obscure aviator or other personage (GEG for Spokane's Geiger Field; BDL for Hartford's Bradley Field).

For your airport code pleasure here's an article written by Rick Seaney, who is the founder of the FareCompare website. Entitled "The Wacky Logic Behind Airport Codes", it's a fun piece that draws back the veil on some of the reasons behind the 3-letter "names" of airports.

I used to think I was pretty good at the 3-letter code game but I sure wouldn't want to match wits with Rick Seaney.

21 September 2010

Running - Whiskeytown Relays 2010

The 35th annual Whiskeytown Relays put on by the SWEAT Running Club of Redding came off flawlessly this past Sunday, 19 September.  Race director Tori Parks has been conducting the race for years and knows the event like the back of her hand.

In contrast with previous years when many Chico teams competed, only three teams bearing a Chico hometown were listed in the 2010 results.  The lack of Chico teams did not impact the turnout, since a record 120 teams were registered.

My team, Team IPA, competed in the men, 200-239 division (meaning the combined ages of the four runners totaled between 200-239).  Our finish time for the 19.9 up-down-up-down miles of the course was 2:40:23, with an average pace-per-mile of 8:04.  There was just one other team in the men, 200-239 division, and they barely aced us with a time of 2:37:36.

For comparison, the winning men's team (young men) completed the course in 1:58:39 (pace 5:58) and winning women's team in 2:23:48 (pace 7:14).

In contrast to all of the previous years that I've run the relay, the weather was cloudy and cool. I ran the last leg, and it gently drizzled the entire way. It was not the least bit unpleasant, and in fact it was useful, because the dampening prevented the mostly trail surface of the fourth leg from being dusty. In past years it was clear and cold at the start, but quite warm by late morning.

Next years Whiskeytown Relays takes place on Sunday, 18 September 2011.

TEAM IPA: Greg Fischer, Dave Burkland, Keith Slaughter, John Maretti

07 September 2010

Hotels - Marriott gets more Cosmopolitan

Back in February of this year, I wrote a post about large hotel chains emulating some of the smaller independent hotel groups such as Kimpton and Joie de Vivre, as well some of the other big chains with edgier brands (like Starwood's W Hotels).

Marriott has two significant initiatives underway, one of which is the Autograph Collection. (The other is the Edition brand.)  The Autograph Collection is a select group of existing independent hotels, that do not need to conform to the usual Marriott brand standards for service and appearance, but rather remain their high-end and distinctive selves without the Marriott name . The advantage for Marriott is that it can now offer a growing array of non-cookie cutter hotels, and tie its vast Marriott Rewards loyalty program members ever more tightly to its bosom.

For the independent hotels that join the Autograph Collection, they get the big advantage of having Marriott’s distribution system and loyalty program on its side. Guests like being able to accrue points in the Marriott program even while staying in an independent hotel, and enjoy redeeming points at an independent property in an attractive location.

Since my business is all about booking hotels for business travelers, I see first-hand how loyalty programs really do drive where travelers stay – both business and pleasure.

Marriott recently announced a new member of the Autograph Collection: the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

Two things are striking about this choice.

One, is that the hotel has not even opened yet; the opening is slated for 15 December 2010. Marriott is making a bet on a property that doesn't yet have any kind of reputation for service.  (Will they have a role in the training of the staff, perhaps?)

Two, is that it is a hotel casino.  A really, really big casino.

Marriott’s other properties in Las Vegas do not have casinos. Their Marriott and Renaissance brands – the only full-service hotels among them – are located close to the convention center and Strip but are not on the Strip and simply are not the places you go if you want the Vegas experience.

The Cosmopolitan on the other hand has a great location in between the huge new CityCenter development (blogged about in May) and Bellagio. It is a huge, multi-tower colossus, that unusually (for this era) puts the 100,000 square foot casino at sidewalk level like older properties in both Las Vegas and Reno.

The Autograph Collection isn't intended to be solely smallish boutique-type properties and I know for sure you couldn't call a 3000 room hotel a boutique property! It certainly will be the first of its kind for Marriott in Las Vegas.

And a coup, I think, because none of the other major hotel chains has a hotel casino hotel on the Strip. Hilton has the huge Las Vegas Hilton but it’s by the convention center. Otherwise most of the big Strip hotel casinos are part of either the gaming-oriented Harrah’s and MGM Resorts chains. Technically, it won’t have the Marriott name on it but the Cosmopolitan will be closely linked via the Marriott Rewards program.

It's an interesting step for Marriott and a good move for the Cosmopolitan, whose road to opening has been anything but a smooth one.

Finally, a one sentence additional Autograph Collection note. Starting September 2010, an iconic New York hotel, whose doors have been open for a long time (1902) will be part of the Autograph Collection: the Algonquin.