Car Rental vs Going Mental

An unclean machine is a money machine.I needed to get to IAH airport for a 2 week business trip. The business part meant I could expense it, within reason and the best option (which I too often forget about) was the 1 way rental with AVIS. It ended up at $42 with no surcharges.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but renting cars from their franchised office (instead of a airport rental or implant) is a hit of miss affair with respect to their service. One thing I have noticed, at least with AVIS franchises, is the specific warning that that they will charge you for additional cleaning if you return it back dirty – Just look at this one attached that I got the other day.

I remember similar warning from a franchise in San Antonio but their pet peeve above standard no smoking , was actually a peeve about pets – dog hair. I don’t recall this from airport rentals other than the standard warning about no smoking in the car.

But look at this notice where it included sand. Last year when the Imperial Family visited North Carolina, we returned the car rental with quite a bit of sand in it but no comment from the car rental company. Wow- This opens up how much is normal ‘dirtyness‘ is allowed here?

The Odors and Cigarette, I get. You smoke, the car will stink and it is common policy to surcharge even in hotels. So it is then with Pet hair which if all over, is going to be all over so will require additional cleaning especially if the vacuum will not pick it up. The same with spills which may have stained. ..but sand or Grass – Surely vacuuming should sucking this up anyhow? At what point do they detect a grain of sand versus having to professionally detail a car is not clear here when that $250 amount is invoked.

 


 

Long to rain over us

My great escape from Houston floodsI’m SO tired of the storms and floods we are are getting around the Houston area and so it was with pleasure, that I snagged a short notice business trip to Munich starting tomorrow.

Ah, Europe in the summertime. I can picture myself sitting in a beer garden with Hendl, a Maß of Helles while watching the sun go down around 9 pm.

It was with dismay that I look at the weather forecast and see the weather is as bad in Europe as it is in Texas.

They also have their floods where 5 died in Bavaria recently. Paris is also flooded which just adds to the misery of having to face all the strikes.

My second week I plan to go to UK where the weather there is being reported as being colder than christmas day.

Oh Bugger it. Perhaps I’ll be substituting that helles for glühwein.

Flybe to the moon

FlyBe airlines : No buttock shots.

Dahlings, I have another tale of someone getting kicked off a flight.

What was it for this time Cleo? It was for taking a picture.  and what’s wrong with that? He took it of a flight attendant. I still don’t get it.  Why was he kicked off for taking a picture of a flight attendant?

It was because he took a picture of her backside with his mobile phone. ..while she was doing the pre-flight safety announcement ! After being asked to remove the pictures, he said he couldn’t so security was called in and off he went.

This all happened on a Flybe flight from Dublin to Cardiff.  From the Irish Independent

“Just before take-off, while staff were going through the safety demonstration, a worker claimed that a man was taking pictures of her. “The individual was asked to remove the pictures.

“He initially refused to, but then said that he wasn’t able to, which is hard to believe. Security staff were then called,” a source said. Airport police were alerted by the crew and the man was taken off the flight, after it had taxied back to the terminal.

A spokesperson for Flybe said: “The matter is now in the hands of the police..

Oh saucy !

Ciao for now,
Cleo.

France industrial unrest: Henri the Strike Engine

If you can, avoid France. In addition to oil refiners which has led to gasoline shortages, the rail workers have now gone on strike nine days before the Euro soccer tournament starts. Air Traffic controllers are also threatening and so are Air France pilots.

According to SNCF, the state rail company about 60% of high-speed trains and between a third and a half of other services are expected to run. High-speed services to the UK and Germany (Eurostar and Alleo) are said to be normal. Only one third of SVI services to Italy and 40% of Ellipsos services to Spain will run,

So what is the strike over? From the BBC news.

French labour reform bill – main points

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours.

  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay.

  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, which is strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn.

  • Employers to get more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated.

Incredible.

Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na, missed it !

Bats on Congress Bridge in Austin

On our Saturday evening in Austin, our party decided to go to see the Bats at Congress bridge. Since I knew something about Austin I was the one in charge of arranging it. I said let’s leave between 5:30 in order to have dinner just before hand. Since some of us wanted to have a nap, we compromised at 6.

So by the time we get going it was more like 6:20 and after seeing some I35 traffic, I began to wonder to myself if my recommendation of going to Chuy’s was a wise choice. We get there at about 6:45 and find a parking spot but there was a 15 minute wait.

After about 20 minutes and just as I was following up with the front desk, our table became available. The ordering and then bringing the food took some time and after it all, the food alas was pretty mediocre. My enchilada sauce we caked hard from over warming and Patricious did not like his crispy tacos at all.  On the plus side the waiting staff was very attentive and the food in a tourist area is cheap but I was left wondering if I should have gone to my second choice of ‘Shady Grove’ instead which has an outdoor patio and hybrid Americano/TexMex food. I thought Chuy’s would be more the more memorable for everyone but it wasn’t. Nothing special, move along.

As we walk to the van, it is now it is after 8:00 and kids are asking me about the bats and saying we have plenty of time since they only come out at night. I correct them and say they come out at twighlight so we need to get a move on.

We drive and park in a pub near the Congress bridge. I point out the No Parking signs other that patrons and the door staff at the pub watching us getting excited. We convince the driver that getting the car towed may not be a good idea after all. (I bet the door staff get a commission if they call in a tow away). So we all get in the car and park in a multistory at Riverside/1st instead which turned out to be free but a big walk.

It is 8:40 by the time we get to Congress bridge we see a big crowd on the East side of the bridge but many are leaving. At the point where the land ends and lake begins, some kind souls allow our kids to come to the front where they can see some bats leaving but only if someone in the boat trips below shines a red light upwards.

What we wanted to see was the black dots of 100.000’s of bats disappearing into the night to hunt for insects  – see the picture. What we saw instead was the crowds of people looking for bats but there was nothing to see but blackness..

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Crowds below Congress bridge in Austin looking for the bats : Copyright Roads-2-roam

Ah  travel and the disappointment of reality!

Tales of the Brazos Riverbank

For Memorial Weekend, Patricious and I joined some family friends for a weekend in Austin. The trip up on US Route 290 from Houston revealed many flooded side roads and fields. Just past Hempstead near the Brazos, there was a minor hold up near the river where local police were directing farmers across freeway to round up some livestock. It  not often that you see a cop holding up his hand to halt traffic on a 70 mph highway road to allow someone on horseback to cross.

After spending Sunday in San Marcos, we took the cross country route thought Bastrop which eventually brought us back to I10 at Columbus. The I10 traffic was moving so I was feeling very pleased with my decision to leave on Sunday to avoid the Memorial day traffic snarl on I10.  From experience, it is a terrible route to travel on holiday times, as it is only a 2 way freeway that cannot any handle the volume of traffic.

water gawking on I10

The queue on I10 to gawk at the Brazos Flood

Then we hit traffic stop just before Sealy. As we are now stationary, I look on Google maps and see stationary traffic all the way to the Brazos river. There was no indication of a wreck on the map and having seeing the degree of flooding further up North, and having just passed the flooded Colorado at Columbus about 20 minutes before (normally it is a passive river around there), I guessed it is related to the Brazos flooding.

Forty five minutes and 15 miles later, I confirmed that was the case but it was nevertheless stunning to see the degree of flooding at the Brazos having passed that same spot many times over the years. For those who know it, it extended past the DPS commercial vehicle enforcement station.

As we sped up, we notice some locals driving up the service road even though it was closed. While they may have made it out of this stretch, further up it was deeper.

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A Texas hellraser driving where Angels fear to tread – A local driving through the Brazos river flood water below I10: Copyright Roads-2-Roam

 

French Unions are on strike again. Travelers impacted again.Weak French Government fiddles while France burns..

French unions

Roads-2-Roam has warned many times about the potential for strikes impacting you when traveling through or over France so it should be no surprise to hear that French workers are again on strike.

This time it is the refiner unions who have caused petroleum shortages at stations throughout France. Air traffic controllers have have also joined in so much of the budget airlines are affected.  The cause for this are changes to the strict employment laws of France and the hardcorde CGT union are pushing back against this.

All this comes at a time when France are about to host the Euro 2016 football tournament.

Sheesh. What a messed up country.

I was planning on going to Normandy this summer but will look at somewhere else.

CGT and French Government : Feed them to the lions

Washing and rinsing at Camp Clinton

American Camping Accociation : Enriching politicians through charities

American Camping Association : Enriching political friends through speech donations

We at Roam love camping, so was surprised to see American Camping Association (ACA) on the list of organizations that paid  to hear speeches from Hilary Clinton. In fact, theirs was the last one before she declared as a Presidential candidate.

Now curious,  I decided to take a deeper look into the ACA. From their website:

“The mission of the American Camp Association is enriching the lives of children, youth and adults through the camp experience”

Sounds great like a great mission doesn’t it. So why does ACA,  a  not for profit organization, spend 1/10th of it’s budget on a speech by a previous Secretary of a State ? Their annual report calls it out but isn’t much help – see excerpt.

2015 report from ACA calling out HRC's talk. Apparently Camp is very powerful.

The Washington Post back in 2015 wrote about the ACA event.  It mentioned some attendees questioning it’s value for money:

Still, with Clinton’s candidacy on the horizon, the price of Clinton’s speech caused chatter in the halls. Several counselors wondered if their group had paid Clinton’s usual fee of $200,000 or more, which would represent about 10 percent of the group’s annual budget.

Clinton, 67, has been giving regular paid speeches ever since she finished her tenure as secretary of state in 2013. In recent weeks, she has given speeches at the headquarters of eBay in San Jose, Calif., at an Emily’s List gala and at a conference for women working in Silicon Valley.

Nick Merrill, a Clinton adviser, declined to discuss compensation for Thursday’s speech. Jess Michaels, a spokesperson for the American Camp Association, referred questions to Clinton’s speaking agency, which did not respond to inquiries.

One interesting point about this is the Q&A from ‘camp owner and director Jay Jacobs’ from the report. Well it turns out Jay Jacobs is Democratic chairman of Nassau County, New York. He is also a member of the Democratic National Committee. At last but not least, he has involvement  with the Clinton Foundation. So being close to Mrs Clinton, ACA obviously got a reduction in HRC’s usual speaking fees. Far from it : They ACA paid $260,000.

This stinks.

So are there any other reason ACA may depart from their usual keynote speakers of child development or camp issues? The left leaning Daily Kos suggests it may have been to influence the State Department J-1 visa. The J-1 is an exchange visa where ACA uses this to staff their summer camps where in 2011, they had 25,000 Student Work Travel (SWJs). While promising a chance to visit America, the Students work the camps and get pocket money in return.

The SWT program grew dramatically – from 20,000 participants in the early 1990s to a peak of 153,000 workers in 2008. It is currently capped at 109,000 workers after public outrage over widespread abuses of working conditions, accommodation, compensation and a non-existent cultural component.

Participants pay significant fees to the sponsoring agencies ($1100 to $2000) in the hope they will experience America and make some money while they are here. In reality, the experience is often far removed from the exciting marketing materials on sponsor web sites. Sixty to eighty-hour weeks of making beds, flipping burgers, working the night shift and sleeping four, six or eight to a room in poor accommodations for minimum wage are all too common.

Employers in such resort towns as Ocean City, Maryland, employ thousands of these SWT workers for a variety of reasons divorced from any notion of cultural exchange. For starters, they save 8 per cent over the cost of employing domestic workers because they don’t have to contribute to Social Security, Medicare or Federal Unemployment Insurance.

The Camp Counselor program which the ACA fully embraces, offers similar advantages to employers. State Department rule changes in 2012 sought to draw a clearer distinction between counselors and SWT staff roles but tremendous ambiguity and virtually non-existent enforcement remain.

Those sponsoring agencies that do present an accurate picture of the job explain that counselors work 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week during a nine-week camp placement. Sponsoring agencies describe compensation as a stipend and an ACA 2013 FAQ as “pocket money”. Even using the high end of the stipend range ($1800), you get abysmal compensation: $1800 for nine 72-hour weeks, works out to $2.77 an hour.

Now we see it.

And to think ACA want donatations to sponsor children. Well ACA, take a hike if this is how you spend your money. You don’t deserve your 503 status. As as for HRC and her speeches as a front for donations – fighting for us indeed..this better represents you.

The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees..

The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees..

Our verdict: Feed the ACA and HRC to the lions.

LaJoy to the World: Meet the new boss – same as the old boss?

Parashoot-flames

The TSA re-organization and former Head of Security, Kelly Hoggan’s new assignment

There’ll be 1000 screen agents standing around.
1000 screen agents, standing around
and if one screen agent should accidentally fall be pushed.
there’ll be 999 screen agents, standing around.

And so it is then that we bid farewell to head of security for TSA, Kelly Hoggan who has been removed from his position after the fiasco in excessive pre-security lines. He has been replaced by Darby LaJoye, who is currently deputy assistant administrator. LaJoye was previously federal security director of and LAX and JFK.

LAX and JFK – that sounds really impressive doesn’t it? Except for some small details. In a poll by ‘Travel and Leisure‘, LAX was voted #2 worst airport (ranked 21st for check-in and security process) and JFK was slightly better in #4 worst airport (“Ease of getting a taxi may be the best thing to be said about JFK. You will wait—and wait—in check-in and security lines..”).

Egypt Air MS804 and the tourism crash

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Back in the days when ISIS was cool

We’ve been following the terrible news of flight MS804 from Paris to Cairo that went into the sea with 66 lives lost. Our thoughts go out to the families.

The obvious thought is that it is terrorist related.

It appears there was a fire in the toilets and area underneath the cockpit based on telemetry transmissions. Some news sources are also saying that the pilot spoke to Egyptian air traffic control after the said fire happened.

The Greek Government is saying that the plane turned 90 degrees then spun around 360 degrees. Today, the Egyptian Government is counter claiming that the pilot talking to traffic control and the spin didn’t happen.

Some off the wall tabloid stories are even saying UFO’s were sighted an hour before the crash.

It is likely that we will not get the real story soon especially will take some time to retrieve the black box and there are politics involved in controlling the story.

Nevertheless, what we do know is that this is another catastrophe for the Egyptian tourist industry especially at the Sharm-El-Sheikh resorts where rooms at Radisson Blu Resort are going for less than 20 UK pounds per night. The area already impacted the Russian aircraft bombing and then cutting off of flights from UK.

We guess this is what the fundamentalists want – They need to destroy  the village to save the village – and our thoughts go out to all those in Middle East whose livelihoods depended on tourism.  In Cairo, the tourism had already been hit after the Coup D’Etat against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, we don’t see this sorry story ending anytime soon. Either in the Middle Eastern tourism industry or in the terrorist attempts by ISIS or their affiliates.