Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My 2013 Hammacher Schlemmer Christmas Wish-List

Just in time for your shopping convenience (and to ensure that my gifts arrive on time for Christmas), I hereby provide my annual Hammacher Schlemmer wish-list.

#10 The One-Year Smartphone Battery Backup for $49.95

#9  The Call Me Gloves for $79.95

#8  The Inductive iPad Charging System for $349.95

#7  Pen-Sized Scanner  for $124.95

#6  The Best Digital Coin Sorter for $189.95

#5  The Hand Crank Emergency Cell Phone Charger for $59.95

#4  The Productivity-Boosting Nap Pod for $16,000

#3 (tie)  The Hot Tub Boat for $42,000 and The Pedal Pub for $40,000 (can they combine these two?

#2  The Barbecue Dining Boat for $50,000

and my #1 item for this year's list:
The Flying Hovercraft for only $190,000

Thanks to my wife's shoe-shopping, FedEx and UPS have us on their regular delivery routes and probably will give a generous delivery discount.

Monday, November 18, 2013

License Plates: Out With The Old! In With The New!

The State of Texas hath determined and decreed that license plates shall be replaced every seven years. So, today was a sad day for me as I had to replace the original license plates I got with my F150 in Deceember 2006.  The new plates have seven-digit letter/number possibilities while the old plates had only six-digit combinations.

The new plates are pretty boring, just black and white, but at least there is a lone star, an outline of the Great State of Texas, and the motto "The Lone Star State." Still, kinda boring imho.

The old plates had a few colors, a picture of the space shuttle, seven stars commemorating the seven Challenger astronauts, a crescent moon, a Texas flag in the shape of Texas, a cowboy on horseback, some yucca plants, and a couple of oil derricks.

In my opinion, I think my old plates would have lasted a few more years, but what do I know.

If you're from a SOTT (state other than Texas), what are the rules where you live? Do you have pretty license plates?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My Astrodome Solution

I have fond memories from my childhood (I think I was seven years old when the Dome was opened for business) when we all piled into our car and drove to the brand-new Houston Astrodome, the Eighth Wonder of the World,  from Brookshire for a tour. The tour was amazing, the Dome amenities were state-of-the-art, and I was overwhelmed that people could build such a fantastic building.  I returned many times for baseball games, football games (including a Texas Aggie game that started late one Saturday night and didn't end until the wee hours of Sunday morning), rodeos, and concerts.

Fast forward to today.

Harris County voters (of which I am not one) have sealed the fate of the Astrodome. My suggestion is late, but I'll give it a chance anyway.

Strip away the sides, fill in the field to ground level, but leave the support columns and the entire roof.  When complete, sell "Shadow of the Dome" premium parking. This would preserve the iconic dome while giving the city of Houston what is wants and desperately needs: more places to park!

I guess it's too late for me to weigh in on the preservation of AstroWorld . . . . .

Monday, November 4, 2013

What LAX Lacks: My Terminal 1 Departure Story

My wife flew to LA via LAX on October 27th to attend a conference. I flew out on Thursday so we could have a long weekend get-away in Laguna Beach at Casa Laguna Inn and Spa. I flew into LAX Terminal 1 on Southwest Airlines on Halloween. Since I decided not to check any luggage, I quickly and easily made my way to my wife who was waiting for me with a rental car. My impression of LAX at this point was, "Wow, what is it about this airport that people complain about?"

Fortunately, I didn't fly in on Friday when some lunatic decided to take a rifle to LAX and start shooting TSA employees.

After dropping the rental car off on Sunday, my wife and I rode the shuttle to Terminal 1. There was an obvious increased police presence at the main road entrance to the airport.

We each did have luggage to check for the return flight to Houston, so we entered Terminal 1 where we came face-to-face with a huge mass of humanity. We finally found what we were pretty sure was the line to get to the check-in agents. To their credit, a Southwest Airlines employee did walk by telling us to go to a different line since we already had boarding passes. When we got to the new line to enter check-in, we had to convince a different employee that someone told us to move to this line.  Fortunately, this employee allowed us to pass. The line for baggage check-in was not too long, perhaps a 10-minute wait.

When we got our luggage tags, instead of the agent taking our bags, we were instructed to carry our bags back out of the check-in area and deliver them to the TSA Baggage X-Ray Screening area. When we got to this area, there were no TSA employees to tell anyone what to do, so we just slid our luggage under a velvet rope and hoped that we would one day be reunited with our bags, clothing, and personal hygiene products.

So far, not too bad. Next stop, security screening.

We were instructed to go back outside the terminal building and join a very long line of people waiting on the sidewalk to re-enter the terminal for security check-in. This line moved fairly quickly, adding about 10 more minutes to our experience.

Once we re-entered the terminal, we went through one of those rat-mazes of velvet ropes just to get to the stairs.  Small groups were being allowed to walk up the stairs toward what we assumed to be the security screening area.

Once it was our turn to ascend the stairs, we encountered a second set of velvet rope rat-mazes.  However, we were instructed to climb a different set of stairs to go to a different security screening area. At the top of these stairs, we then walked down a long corridor until we reached a small room with four chutes. At last, we see two TSA agents actually doing security screening!

After passing the ID and boarding pass check, we entered an area with the metal detectors and whole-body scanners. As luck would have it, these TSA agents were in good spirits and we passed back into the area from which we had detoured earlier at the top of the stairs.

This whole process, from being dropped off by the car rental shuttle to actually entering the departure area of the terminal, took almost one hour. We (wisely) had decided to arrive at the airport three hours before our flight. So far, we were in good shape. We relaxed with an adult beverage and watched part of the Dallas Cowboys vs Minnesota Vikings game.

About an hour before our departure time, we picked up some deli sandwiches and made our way to the gate area. This was a sight to behold. There were so many people in this small terminal area you could barely walk through.  We found our departure gate at last, and began our wait for departure.

A different departing flight was scheduled for our gate at 1:40 pm.  Our departure time from the same gate was 2:00 pm.  It was going to be interesting to see how this was going to work.  At the same time, at a gate entrance about 10 feet away from our gate entrance, another flight was boarding. People were packed into every space available so that arriving passengers had to push their way through.  At last, these flights boarded and left, and our plane, which was waiting on the tarmac all this time, pulled up to the gate.

Our boarding process was surprisingly quick and efficient. By now, the terminal area had quite a bit fewer people in it.  We left only about 20 minutes behind schedule. Amazing!

We arrived at Houston Hobby about 20 minutes behind schedule.  

The final insult:  It took our luggage almost an hour to appear so we could go home.

It's good to be home!