Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Remote help at the airport: Rocky to the rescue



Parking at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is always bewildering; especially these days, given the traffic rerouting due to parking ram construction.

Even more, in my case, when it's 11 at night and you can't remember precisely where that vehicle could be.

On July 14, I drove up from Charleston to catch a flight to Chicago. Time was tight and I wasn't too happy to find Remote Lot 1 and Remote Lot 2 -- where I usually park -- both filled to closing. I followed the signs to Remote Lot 4 where spots were plentiful that afternoon.

With nothing in my car but an overnight bag and gum wrappers, I couldn't write down where in the lot I parked. A shuttle bus pulled up in a jiff; I knew I could make the flight. All I had to remember, I told myself, was this: "Remote Lot 4, first parking stop/shelter in; on the right."

Flying back from O'Hare Wednesday, on a flight whose delays added up to an 11 p.m. arrival, I boarded the shuttle back to Remote  4 and got out.

And for the life of me, I could not find my car. A dark brown car in a darkened parking lot.

I walked from row to row in the darkness, pushing the lock-unlock button on my keys, hoping to see my headlights flash. No luck. I also periodically hit the car's "panic button" -- but there was not a horn honk to be heard.

The shuttle driver eventually came around with another round of drop-offs.

"You lose your car?" he asked out the window. "Let me call for some help."

That's when I finally noticed the sign on the bus shelter saying to call 704-359-4038 if you can't find your vehicle.

"Wait here," he said. "Someone will be out soon."

Sure enough, five minutes later Rodolfo Aguirre -- "Rocky" -- turned up in a white airport pickup truck with flashing strobe lights. (That's Rocky's photo at the top of this personal horror story.)

"Hop in," he said. "We'll find it."

I gave him all the information I remembered and we drove up and down every row of cars near where the shuttle left me off. I kept pressing the buttons on my key. No luck. No car.

Then I remembered I had parked on a gravel surface. There was no gravel near the first-in bus shelter tonight.

We realized we were looking in the wrong place: When parking I had came in through a  different lot gate than the shuttle had entered just now.

Rocky drove to the opposite corner of Remote 4. In a few seconds we spotted my key-activated blinking headlights. (The panic button would not kick in, for some reason.)

I thanked Rocky for his help, got in my car  and left the airport.

I later called Charlotte-Douglas and learned there are approximately 20 "lost car" situations in their lots and ramps each day, and that the number rises to 35 or 40 when there's inclement weather.

All you have to do is call 704-359-4038 on your cell phone for their Ask to Locate Service.

It's available for all lots and decks, day and night. On average, there are four white pickup trucks out there to help you at any time.

They gave me some additional tips. If you don't have a pen handy to write down your aisle or signpost/shelter designation:

* Remember: From which direction did you enter the lot/ramp and pull your parking ticket?
* Got a cell phone? Take a  picture when you park of where you parked .

* Take note of the cars parked around you. There's a strong chance some will still be there when you return; use those cars as benchmarks.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's rock, not Revolution, July 12 at South Carolina's Historic Camden

Historic Camden ‑- Isn't that the Revolutionary War site in South Carolina where they have re-enactment events?

Usually, yes. This Saturday... not exactly.

July 12 is the 19th annual Music Snorgasbord Under the Carolina Moon , a music festival in a historic setting that features 10 bands and solo acts  from the Midlands region.

And musically, it is an inviting smorgasbord. And you can forget about fife-and-drum re-enactors.

Here's the  lineup: Blue Phoenix (5 p.m.; blues with folk flavor), Brik Cash and Friends (5:25 p.m. original pop rock), Frederick Ingram (5:50 p.m.; alternative folk/rock), East of West (6:25 p.m.; original country rock), The Society Jazz Band (6:55 p.m.; Dixieland), Fair Jam (7:30 p.m.;  rock with shades of bluegrass), Jim Hayes (8 p.m.; classic/contemporary rock ), The Bunch Quitters (8:35 p.m.; original folk, bluegrass and Western cowboy) and Jacob Johnson Group (9:40 p.m.; neo-acoustic folk/funk).

This year's finale, starting at 10:45 p.m., will feature a blend of talent from Blue Phoenix, Fair Jam, Jim Hayes and others. Dubbed the 19th Nervous Breakdown, they will celebrate the acoustic side of the Rolling Stones.

An odd choice? Not really:  Keep in mind that it was Brits who put Camden on the Revolutionary War map.


Gates open at 4:30 p.m.;  the live music is 5 to 11 p.m. There's free parking is located in the big field next to Historic Camden’s main entrance, at 222 Broad St., Camden


Kids, coolers, blankets and lawn chairs are welcome (no pets, glass bottles or tents).

 Admission: $20;, $18 seniors and military; $4 for  ages 6-12; 5 and younger, free. and free under six.

Tasty fare will be provided by Old South Restaurant, Mae Frances, Pizza Hut and Palmetto Coffee & Tea Room. 

 

Details: 803-432-9841; www.historic-camden.net

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Are you a dedicated follower of fashionable travel?




The most fashionable cities in the world? Sorry, you/we don't live there, according to a survey condicted by VeryFirstToCom. on behalf of A2B, a manufacturer of electric bikes. But Australia's biggest city, Sydney (shown above in an MCT photo by Tom Uhlenbrock), did.

Here are the results, according to the press release:

1. Paris
Hotel: Four Seasons George V. Restaurants: Le Meurice Alain Ducasse and Taillevent. Nightlife: Hotel Costes, Silencio. Shopping: Rue St Honoré. Culture: Le Marais.

2. New York
Hotel: Loews Regency. Restaurants: Le Bernardin and Per Se. Nightlife: VIP Room. Shopping: Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Soho. Culture: Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

3. Milan, Italy
Hotel: Hotel Armani. Restaurant: Dolce & Gabbana Gold. Nightlife: Cavalli Club. Shopping: Quadrilatero d’Oro ("golden quadrilateral").

4.  London
Hotel: Rosewood. Restaurant: Le Gavroche. Nightife: Connaught Bar. Culture: The Tate, Southbank.

5. Barcelona, Spain
Hotel: W. Restaurant: ABaC. Nightlife: Eclipse Bar (W) and Boujis. Culture: Picasso Museum. Shopping: Passeig De Gracià.

6. Rome
Hotel: JK Place. Restaurants: Aroma and Metamorfosi. Nightlife: Bar della Pace, La Cabala.

7. Tokyo
Hotel: Peninsula. Restaurants: Joel Robuchon and Narisawa. Nightlife: New York Bar (Park Hyatt) and Velours. Culture: Ueno Koen, Mori Arts Center.

8. Los Angeles
Hotel: Bel-Air Restaurants: Mr. Chow, Chateau Marmont and Providence. Nightlife: Couture, Teddy’s Skybar. Shopping: Rodeo Drive, West Hollywood.

9. Amsterdam
Hotel: Dylan. Restaurants: Bord'eau and Vinkeles. Nightlife: Freddy's, Supper Club Bungalow 8 and A Bar (Intercontinental).

10. Istanbul
Hotel: Shangri-La, Bosphorus. Restaurants: Zuma and Cipriani. Nightlife: GQ Bar and 360 Bar.

11. Berlin
Hotel: Hotel De Rome. Restaurants: Tim Raue and Les Solistes. Nightlife: The Liberate, Paris Bar and Lang Bar.

12. Sydney
 Hotel: QT. Restaurants Marque and Tetsuyas. Nightlife: Blu Bar. Shop
ping: Surrey Hills & Darlinghurst.

All press release are sent by a firm, organization or cause wanting something. A2B is offering monthlong  package trips to all these, electric bikes included, for $134,000 per person, through the British travel company Colletts Travel (www.collettscollection.com).


Nobody ever said fashion was cheap.

In our area, A2B electric bikes are sold by Charlotte Energy Solutions, whose website  (www.charlotteenergysolutions.com), prices A2B's Ultra Motor model at $2,699.


You could just buy one and take a tour of exotic Stallings.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New option for a dog-gone vacation



If you and your pooch have lived in your present home for a while, you've undoubtedly met pet-owning neighbors while out for a walk.

And sooner or later, this topic always comes up: What do you do with him/her when you go on vacation?

Sometimes you can work out a dog-tending arrangement: Watch mine until next Wednesday and I'll repay the favor.

If nothing else, you could ask for a recommendation for a close-by sitter or kennel they trust.

But even in the best possible situations, dog owners get angst-y about leaving their pets with someone else.

Enter a new website called  DogVacay.

Go to their site -- http://dogvacay.com -- and type in your city if it doesn't pop up automatically.  Add your start and stop dates and see the list of available sitters.

A map lets you scroll around to those who live closer to you (if that's a concern).

Slide bars on the  search page let you select your price range (starting at  $35 per day in our area).

Check-off boxes help refine your search:

* Host's home -- or yours?

* Host home without pets -- or with pets?

* Apartment or house?

* Small, medium or large outdoor area?

There's also a "special skills" option if you have a special-needs dog:

* Certified for pet CPR or first-aid.

* Can administer oral medication?

* Can administer injected medication?

There are roughly 70 sitters ("hosts") available now in the Charlotte area; DogVacay has more than 10,000 nationwide, in roughly 2,500 cities.

Pet-owner reviews of their DogVacay experiences can be posted at each sitter's information page.

Aspiring hosts go through a vetting process with DogVacay, which says successful applicants must be passionate about dogs. There are interviews. References are required. A spokesperson for California-based DogVacay said only 15 percent of host applicants are approved.


DogVacay includes dog insurance; there's also a 24-hour customer service number either you or the sitter can call.

DogVacay takes 15 percent of  the sitting fee.



You make reservations through the DogvVcay site, which also has "Propose a meet-and-greet" and "Ask host a question" options if you want to go the extra step to make sure you've found the sitter you want.



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

This could be the most consumer-friendly travel book around

BOOK REVIEW

“How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle)” by Christopher Elliott ($19.95; National Geographic. Kindle edition: $9.19)


Christopher Elliott states up front that he is not the world’s smartest traveler. But between his Travel Troubleshooter consumer-advice column -- you can find it at www.charlotteobserver.com/travel --  and his consumer work for National Geographic Traveler, he has certainly earned the right to wear a steel-lined baseball hat. His incoming e-mails are all from travelers who’ve had bad experiences away from home.

His Travel Troubleshooter column does more than help folks get their deposits back or reservations straightened out: It tells readers how to avoid these problems... and what to do if they’ve already come to pass.

That’s also a big plus for this 288-page guide.

Elliott (shown above) writes about finding reliable travel advice and weighing what you find on the Internet; how to book your trip and handle the all-important paperwork; buying travel insurance and luggage; navigating loyalty programs and TSA policies; what to look for – and avoid – in rental cars, properties and more.


The tips pop out because the topics are well-arranged and items are broken into one-tip-at-a-time chunks. There are “Problem Solved” breakouts that take you through specific case horror stories; additional “Not Smart” boxes point up specific red flags. The last six pages give toll-free numbers and websites where – if all else fails – you can start getting action when your trip goes awry.

Sunday -- May 25 -- you can read an in-depth interview with Elliott in the Travel pages of The Charlotte Observer. The interview will also be appearing online at www.charlotteobserver.com/travel.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Holiday flight deals? Think ahead. Waaaay ahead

If you're thinking about great deals for a holiday flight somewhere, do your shopping next week.

Not for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend at the end of May -- but for a Fourth of July trip.

That's according to Hipmunk -- www.hipmonk.com -- a flight/hotel discounter. Its "2014 Summer Travel Survey" forecasts that travel for Independence Day will be heating up quickly, and that historical data indicates the best time to book such a trip is the week of May 26-June 1.

On average, the report says, those last year who booked the week of Memorial Day spent $417 in airfare... but those who booked three weeks later spent -- on average -- 31 percent more: $547.

With consumer money tight and airlines keeping a close watch on profits by upping their "load factor" -- filling as many seats as possible, even if it means reducing the number of flights --  there's little surprise that the search for holiday discounts is a hot topic.

Alison DaRosa, a veteran travel writer based in San Diego, wrote an article in early May for the online edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune  about timing your airline buys.

Drawing on a report released this spring by another discounter -- CheapAir.com -- she notes that "most flights open up for sale about 330 days in advance" and that "ticket prices for those individual trips will change an average of 92 times before takeoff."

You can find the CheapAir report at http://bit.ly/MAT3D.

The best time to buy?

"The simple answer," CheapAir reports, "is that in 2013 the best time to buy a domestic airline ticket was 54 days in advance, or 7 1/2 weeks on average."

It also states, "The worst time to book your trip was the last minute. No big shocker there. The day before was the single worst day, two days before was the second worst, etc. etc. all the way up to 13 days in advance."

Also bad? Booking too far in advance.

And the timetable for anything involving holidays seems to defy logic.

DaRosa's article notes that CheapAir found the best day to book domestic tickets for both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year will be ... June 4.


June 4, by the way is celebrated as  Independence Day in the Pacific island nation of Tonga.

If you were planning on attending those festivities, I really can't tell you if there would've been a "best day" to book that flight. For a trip that expensive, there might not be one.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A toast to May 3 in Mount Airy



How's this for a a spring road trip? Just add warm temperatures and a sunny sky and you're ready to relax. ...

May 3 -- a Saturday -- the Budbreak Wine Festival will be staged on Main Street in downtown Mount Airy. It's an easy reach: 90 minutes straight up I-77 from Charlotte.

Awaiting you are 17 area wineries: Childress Vineyards, Duplin Winery, Fiddlers Vineyard, Ginger Creek Vineyards, Herrara Vineyards, Lake James Cellars, Morgan Ridge Vineyard  & Brewing Co., Native Vines, Old North State, Olde Mill, Round Peak, Slightly Askew, Southern Charm, Stony Knoll, Surry Cellars, Thistle Meadow and Waldensian Heritage Vineyards.

New this year -- this will be the fifth annual Budbreak -- is a beer garden with ales from four N.C. craft brewers, including Mount Airy's Skull Camp Brewing.

Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tickets for the event are $15/advance; $20 at the gate. (You can also get $5 tickets that don't include tastings.)

Live music? You can listen to the Mediocre Bad Guys, followed by Eric and the Chill Tones.

Here's the thing: The Mediocre Bad Guys band features famed rock 'n' roll sax player Bobby Keys,  who started out long ago as a Texas teen playing with Buddy Holly and went on to be a sideman with the Rolling Stones.

That's him doing the wailing sax solo on "Brown Sugar."

Keys' tenure with the Stones included cuts on  "Let It Bleed," "Sticky Fingers," Exile on Main St., "Goats Head Soup," "Emotional Rescue," Stripped" and "Shine a Light."

You've probably him play live on various artists' live albums, notably Joe Cocker's famous  "Mad Dogs & Englishmen"

May 3, you can hear him live. Outdoors. As you kick back with a glass of wine or beer. Not far from home.

Maybe we can fix the weather forecast with Mount Airy native Eric Chilton.


He will be playing there that day with the Chill Tones. Chilton is also the  weatherman for  WFMY-TV in Greensboro.

Tickets/details: www.budbreakfestival.com.