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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Every January, my department kicks off the year with the infamous “Annual Marketing Meeting,” commonly referred to as “Annual.”  We celebrate our accomplishments from the previous year and hear from our leaders (including our CEO) on what they expect from the new year regarding goals and strategies.  This year’s destination was St. Louis, Missouri.  In January.  In the snow.  To say the least, it was cold.

St. Louis, aka “The Gateway to the West”, is rich in aviation history.  Charles Lindbergh and The Spirit of St. Louis, TWA, McDonnell Douglas, etc, put this industrial city on the map as an aviation maverick.  (My airline-geek friends could expound on this better than me!)   My employer has had a strong presence in the area since 1985 and St. Louis continues to move its way up the charts as one of our focus markets.

We stayed downtown at the Hyatt Regency Riverfront.  I could see one side of the famous arch outside planted outside my window.  Rooms were clean and spacious and the staff was very accommodating.  (The concierge even arranged for a cab to take my roommate and I to White Castle for a late-late-night snack our last evening there.)  I’m not a fan of big box hotels in general, but I enjoy Hyatt’s consistent product (although it’s second to Westin in my book).

My roommate Amanda is super excited about Annual!

Annual’s reputation precedes itself around my company, but it’s more than just cocktail parties and late-night karaoke.  When we visit a city for Annual, we get involved with the community, whether it’s a grassroots marketing campaign, media announcement, or community service project.  This year we volunteered at St. Cecelia’s Parish and School to help them clean the church and school gym, which doubled as their cafeteria.  Visiting St. C’s tugged at my heart strings, as I was raised in a Catholic parish that’s gone through similar changes.  St. C’s is an old parish (nearly a century) and have seen a huge demographic shift in the neighborhood.  It’s mainly Hispanic immigrants (respectively), and unfortunately the quality of the neighborhood has deteriorated due to suburban sprawl and the neglected, dilapidated buildings in the surrounding area.

In 2004, a company called NativityMiguel got involved with St. C’s academy.  Their mission is to provide high quality education to families in impoverished areas.  NativityMiguel implemented an intense nearly year-round curriculum, with school days lasting about nine hours.  The program has been a success and most students feed into prestigious charter high schools upon graduation.  Nearly all of St. C’s alums attend college, which is a very high rate for the demographic.  As we passed by classrooms in the school, it was touching to see the kids so engaged in their classes.  I’m very impressed with the impact NativityMiguel has made on this urban community and hope to see them expand their network into more inner-city areas throughout the country.

After a long afternoon of manual labor, we got to have some fun.  Most of our events at Annual take place in our hotel, but on our second night we loaded up in buses for a brewery tour and dinner at the Anheuser Busch facility.  Before dinner, we had a tour of the grounds and learned about the history of the company, which is a St. Louis anchor.  It was interesting to learn that the company was started by two German immigrant families in the 1850s (the Anheusers and the Buschs), who became related through marriage (Adolphus Busch married Eberhard Anheuser’s daughter).  We started the tour in the stable (my favorite part) where the gigantic Clydesdale horses live, as well as the famous Dalmatians.  Our next stop was the brew house.  We had a mini “class” on the brewing process and quality control, and then we got to see where the magic happens.  Walking in, the room smelled like a frat house the morning after a wild party.  Strangely, found myself craving a cold beer.

I call the one on the left “Spot”. The one on the right is “Spottier”.

Luckily, the end of the tour brought us back to the dining area, which was fully stocked with an array of Anheuser Busch products.  I enjoyed a glass of Stella with dinner- pasta boiled in beer.  It tasted… hoppy?  It’s probably the closest I’ll get to actually “eating” beer (not counting the fried beer at the Texas state fair as I don’t classify those mysterious blobs as food).  I won’t hold it against AB, as they are experts at their craft which is beer, not Italian cuisine.  After few more rounds we were back at the hotel having a dance party in the adjacent bar.  The night ended with the regretted trip to White Castle.  The following day I was ready to get back home and begin resting ( detoxing), which took the better part of last weekend.

As much as I love it, I’m glad Annual only happens once a year.  In eleven months, I’ll be ready to do it again, and hopefully in a warmer locale!  Last, I have to give kudos to the meeting’s planning committee- getting people excited to go to St. Louis in the middle of winter is no small feat!  I’d love to visit the city again in about…  seven months.

Maybe it’s the chilly weather and lack of sunlight bringing on my annual winter blues, but going into my third month as a nomad, it’s beginning to wear me down.  The novelty and some of the excitement are gone.  The cold makes accessing the items in my car annoying.  I’m tired of thinking about what I’m going to wear days in advance.  (My previously chic nomad look has become repetitious as I’m getting lazy about digging through my rolling rack of clothes, still in my boyfriend’s garage.)

There are a lot of things I really miss about having my own place, like recording trashy reality TV shows and watching them with my old roommate on lazy Saturday mornings.  I miss leaving messy art projects on my dining room table.  I miss hosting house parties.  I miss my old house!  I miss my old routines!  (Gasp!)

Of course I’ve contemplated returning to my former, more conventional lifestyle, but I have too many solid reasons to keep on truckin, such as:

  1. I haven’t saved as much money as I should have.  (Oops!)  I’ve managed to stay out of credit card debt; does that count for anything?
  2. Life in general feels “temporary” right now for several reasons, so my gut tells me not to settle down in one spot for the time being.
  3. I have a unique opportunity to continue, and it could possibly be the only time in my life when I can, so I should suck it up and do it while the tools are at my fingertips.

Perusing through past posts makes me wonder if this blog portrays my life as more glamorous than it actually is.  It’s fun to share hotel reviews, restaurant recos, and pretty pictures.  I seldom make note of delayed flights, crowded airports, and long work days because I don’t want to belabor you with boring details!  However, it’s important that this chronicle is an honest rendering of my life as a nomad so I intend share the obstacles of my journey as they come.

I have been incredibly fortunate that my current “problem” is my own irritation!  My friends, boyfriend, and family have been supportive of this whacky idea the whole way through, so my plan is to hold out until the universe works its magic and I find out what/where I’m supposed to be.  The most exciting part is not knowing what the future will hold.  I have a feeling 2011 is going to be an interesting year!

I had another work trip this week, taking me back to the West Coast.  On Tuesday I flew to Los Angeles.  Every time I fly into LAX, I forget how massive it is!  When I landed, I walked outside of baggage claim to the hotel shuttle pick-up line to catch a ride to the Four Points Sheraton.  45 minutes later, I was checking in at the hotel and yes, it is adjacent to the airport!

The hotel was mediocre.  Location and price were the sellers for me, as I had to be at the airport the following morning for a meeting and need to respect our company’s travel budget.  The Wi-Fi connection was weak at best, the TV remote was missing, and one of the coverlets in my room was stained… ugh!  The room was quiet and relatively spacious, so it wasn’t all bad.

Wednesday morning before my meeting I took a jaunt to Manhattan Beach for breakfast at The Kettle, a self-proclaimed “locally world famous” beachy diner.  The décor had a French flair to it- mustard yellow walls, vintage French posters blown up and framed, and a sign that declared “Wine is food.”  Interestingly, there was a French bistro next door, so maybe there is a considerable French population in the area?

It wasn’t crowded but the service was slow!  I ordered the California eggs Benedict, a veggie version of the classic with sliced tomatoes and avocados and caramelized onions.  It was well worth the wait!  After breckie, I wandered around the darling beach town, and envied those who get to surf instead of work on a Wednesday morning.  The neighborhood has some impressive residences and cute shops to boot.  I could have spent my whole day there!  But, in seemingly no time, I was in a cab heading to LAX.

After my meeting, my next stop was Phoenix to host some of our corporate customers in a suite at the Suns game.  (Hospitality suites are a really nice perk that goes along with my job, and I do not take this for granted!)  They played the Lakers who kept a pretty strong lead until the end.  It was a late game and I was afraid we’d be stuck in overtime, but the Lakers pulled through with some strong three-pointers.  We had some customers from LA in the suite as well as Phoenix residents, so it was an interesting mix!  It was a professional setting, so heckling was kept to a minimum.  🙂

The Sheraton in Phoenix was a considerable upgrade from the one I stayed at in LA.  It was newly built and has earned AAA’s Four Diamond rating.  The lobby’s high ceilings give it an airy feel.  Modern furniture and art of various mediums are tastefully placed throughout.  Potted purple orchids on the tables in the lounge areas bring a pop of color to otherwise neutral surroundings.  My room was pristine.  Clean white linens, a flat screen TV, and a scenic view of downtown Phoenix made me perfectly comfortable.  They were a little stingy with internet access at $13 a day, and it was a plug-in connection rather than wireless (minor detail).  The service was impeccable and the staff was committed to making us feel at home.  I would definitely stay here again!

On Thursday morning we met at 7am for a breakfast meeting.  I’ve never been mistaken for a morning person, and getting up that day was unusually difficult since Arizona always operates on Daylight Savings time, which is favorable at night but not in the morning.  The sun didn’t rise until we were halfway through our meal!  We ate breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, The District.  Again, service was consistent with that in the rest of the hotel.  Décor was modern and chic, and the breakfast options on the menu were all enticing.  I resisted ordering the crab eggs Benedict (I shouldn’t have the same buttery sauce two days in a row, right?) and opted for the chorizo and egg breakfast burrito.  It was no comparison to an Austin breakfast taco, but it did its job.

After breakfast we took the hotel’s shuttle to the airport and headed home.  Holiday travel and back-to-back work trips have worn me out.  I’m ready for a break!  I have a few days off until work takes me to St. Louis next week.  I plan to enjoy my Texas weather before I have to freeze!

Last week my friend visited me from London.  She’s been living there for about three years now, and I’ve taken advantage of her ex-pat local a couple of times, but this was the first time she’s visited me in Texas since she moved across the pond!  I wanted to show her a good time, and she wanted to eat as much Mexican food as possible, so the day after she arrived in Dallas we caught a flight to Austin!  My brother and his friend were there house-sitting for my cousin and her husband, so luckily they were nice enough to let us crash at their lovely home.  (Thanks April and Ben!)

The warm weather (75 and sunny) was enough to excite us upon arrival.  The vibe of Austin is friendly, homey, and creative.  Hippies, hipsters, vegans, cowboys, stoners, musicians, students, vagabonds, and yuppies have congregated in this city to enjoy the live music, parks, art, and food!

Later that evening we made the trek about thirty minutes outside of the city to a town called Driftwood for some real Texas bar-b-que at the infamous Salt Lick.  We started out after dark, so we weren’t able to fully appreciate the scenery.  Driving down the two-lane highway we passed ranches and cruised through rolling hills.  The restaurant was impossible to miss, as it’s lit up with twinkling white lights.  The facility is huge and was crowded when we turned in (there was a man in a cowboy hat directing traffic).  As soon as we parked on the gravel lot and opened the car doors, we were greeted by the smell of smokey meat!  Our mouths began to water immediately.

We had to endure a 45 minute wait, but it wasn’t all bad.  The Salt Lick allows you to bring your own booze, and we had a twelve-pack of Tecate to keep us entertained.  It was a perfect night- the air was still, the smell of smoked meat surrounded us, and we enjoyed some great people watching.  When our table was ready, we were seated in a huge glassed-in patio area with rows of picnic tables.  We ordered an array of meat (ribs, brisket, sausage, turkey), sides (crunchy coleslaw and the Salt Lick’s special potato salad, made sans mayo), and fixins (pickles, jalapenos, onions, and The Salt Lick’s amazing sauce).  After our Texan feast we managed to put away a blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.  Heaven!  If you are in or near Austin, The Salt Lick is worth the drive!

The next morning we got up early to work off some cals from din with a hike.  Of course, we needed to fuel up on breakfast tacos so our first stop was Juanita’s.  The tiny restaurant is housed in a converted caboose.  We got a bag full of breakfast tacos to go and made the short scenic drive to Mount Bonnell, the highest point within Austin city limits.  The morning air was still foggy, but we had a beautiful view of the lake and the gorgeous houses that lined the water’s edge.  It was the perfect spot to enjoy our tacos!

Craving more physical activity (I blame the tacos), we drove to Town Lake Park, just south of downtown.  For twenty dollars, we rented two two-person canoes for an hour and went paddling on Lady Bird Lake.  (Kayaks are available as well, but if you rent one be prepared to get wet!)  It was the perfect amount of time to enjoy the water and the view of the skyline in the distance.  The water was so clear you can see fish swimming and the algae-covered rocks on the river bed bottom.

For lunch, we hit up SoCo, the hip, action-packed shopping/eating/hang-out area on Southern Congress Avenue.  The streets were crowded with people enjoying the weather, musicians, and food!  Our first stop was the SoCo Trailer Park, appropriately named for the food “trailers” that line the gravel lot.  We sampled fried pickles and “cones” (tortillas wrapped around fried chicken, coleslaw and avocado conveniently shaped to fit into a paper cone) from a trailer called “The Mighty Cone”.   I couldn’t resist a  gourmet veggie dog with all the fixins from “Wurst Tex.”  I recommend the Veggiano made with eggplant, red peppers, fennel, and garlic.  Delicious and filling!  For dessert, we were drawn to the shiny, silver airstream trailer with a rotating cupcake on the roof.  “Hey, Cupcake” has delicious sweets- cupcakes of course.  We indulged in the Snowcap and Red Velvet varieties.  Yum!

After lunch my friend and I went across the street and shopped around the fabulous vintage stores while my brother and his friend wandered around photographing street art.  One of my brother’s favorite artists is Shepard Fairey and he was excited to see his works in person.

When our stomachs were full and wallets less than full, my friend and I headed to the airport.  We felt great from the amazing food and spending time outside without freezing!  Our flight was delayed nearly half an hour, but it gave us a chance to enjoy a live blues band in the airport!  Austin is an amazing little piece of bohemia in the middle of Texas.  My ex-pat friend had such a great time; I will keep this short, easy trip in mind for future out-of-state (or out-of-country) guests!

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s Eve.  My immediate reaction is, Oh, NYE, you mean “Amateur Night”? It’s the most over-hyped holiday; an excuse for people who spend 364 nights out of the year behaving to go buck wild.  The past few years, I’ve kept things low-key to avoid the lines and cover charges at bars and drunk drivers on the road.

This year my boyfriend’s friends had a plan to go all out- get hotel rooms at the Gaylord Texan and see a local 80s cover band, The Spazmatics, play at the Glass Cactus, a nightclub adjacent to the hotel.  When I first heard the idea, I was immediately turned off.  This would be an extreme version of amateur night I thought, based on the band and the location of the club (Grapevine, Texas- if you’re not familiar with the area, it is quintessential suburbia).  After some debate, I decided to roll with it.  The group of friends going guaranteed a good time, and 80s attire became de rigueur.  Plus, staying at a hotel would keep us off the treacherous highways.

When we arrived at the Gaylord Texan early Friday evening it was packed.  The check-in line was long, but moved quickly.  The compound is huge, reminiscent of a Vegas hotel, with several wings connected by a climate-controlled atrium, and plenty of restaurants and shops.  On the way to our room, we walked through the atrium to check out the holiday decorations.  Rotating Christmas trees, lit-up icicles, and reindeer topiary tried to convey holiday cheer.  The decorations, like the rest of the hotel’s décor, were so contrived they were practically camp.  Antler chandeliers, giant paintings of cowboys in action, and tin stars abound at the Gaylord, perpetuating the stereotypes of the Lone Star State.

Our room was clean, comfortable, and spacious.  We stocked up on pre-party libations and kept them cool in the mini-fridge.  There was enough space for friends to come in and out as we made plans for the night and perfected our 80s looks.  When it was time to head to the Glass Cactus, we squeezed into a shuttle and were driven a few blocks away to the club, which was very much appreciated by myself and the other ladies in our group wearing stilettos.

The Spazmatics are a totally awesome band to see.  They dress up like “nerds”, play all 80s cover songs, and are very talented at engaging the crowd.  Speaking of, as expected, the median age of the patrons was a little older than our usual haunts, but for the first time I appreciated the amateurs- it made for great people watching and everyone (that I saw) was genuinely having a good time!  We had a complimentary champagne toast at midnight and danced the night away!

If I could tell the management team of the Glass Cactus anything about the night, I’d have one suggestion: switch to plastic cups instead of real glasses!  The dance floor became a sea of shards of glass by the middle of the night.  I’m responsible for breaking two!  Oops!  With all the party-goers working their best 80s moves, glasses were flying.  Luckily none of us slipped and fell!  It can happen in pointy stilettos…

We brought our party back to a friend’s suite at the hotel once the Spazes were done.  The place was still buzzing with action.  It was an interesting mix of families with young kids, awkward pre-teens wondering around, and glammed-up couples of all ages.  I didn’t last long after the concert, and fell asleep in my 80s gear on top of my covers.  The next day everyone was slow to get up and about.  Our hotel room was littered with snacks, cups, and random costume pieces.  It was a treat not to worry about cleaning up a friend’s place after a party- the beauty of maid service!

Overall, the night provided a fun, safe environment.  It was nice and relaxing to stay close to home, and not having a mess to clean was definitely worth the money spent on the hotel.  Hanging out with such a fab group of peeps was the best way to ring in the new year!  2011, here we come!