The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

They couldn't put us up at Motel 6?

I've had only one difficulty with the Duke CCMBA (aside from the material—talk to me Sunday night after I hand in my accounting final, for example): travel optimization. Our next residency starts October 30th in Dubai. Getting from Chicago to Dubai has inherent difficulties, particular with the (self-imposed) constraint of flying only oneworld carriers.

I initially tried to go through Amman, and take a couple of days after the residency to visit Jordan and Israel. That fell through when Royal Jordanian dropped the only flight from Chicago that made the trip work, forcing me either to connect through Detroit or New York either two or three days early.

Plan B. British Airways has the largest network after my home carrier, American, so the logical routing takes me through London. And to avoid 16 hours in coach, I decided to stay overnight there on my way back.

Only, it turns out I made a slight error in planning the return. As the CCMBA program office mentioned to me when I posted my travel arrangements, my flight plans have me leaving Dubai the day after the residency ends. But this shouldn't be a big deal. I'll just stay in Dubai one extra night, right?

Well, that would mean one extra night at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, not Motel 6. Imagine the shock and horror when I called them and discovered that would cost AED 1,740 (US$474).

Result? After paying a £100 ($144) change fee to the airline, and booking an additional £96 ($138) night at the little hotel in Kensington where I'll be staying, I'm going to have my extra post-residency night in London instead of Dubai, and save $200.

All of this is completely boring, of course, and doesn't really add anything to modern American literature or journalism. But it is my last gasp of work avoidance before diving into 8 hours of financial accounting and 2 hours of management essentials today.

Discovered on cell phone

I finally got around to looking in my cell phone's photos folder and discovered St. Paul's Cathedral:

There were also a couple shots of me that a friend took. We'll skip those for now.

Strange maps, including good beer

Via Tom Hollander comes Strange Maps, a blog I will have to read through when I get a free moment next year. The blog supports Frank Jacobs' forthcoming book, Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities. The blog starts with "Lunatic Asylum Districts in Pennsylvania," moving through "The Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World" and "Heineken's 'Eurotopia'" on its random walk through maps. Very cool blog.

Example: a map showing the best beer in America, based on the number of medals won, with a handy refiguring of the results by population:

The top 10, reshuffled to reflect the number of medals per million of inhabitants, looks quite different, reflecting a dominance by states with a strong micro-brewing tradition:

  1. Colorado – 64.4
  2. Oregon – 42.5
  3. Wisconsin – 38.6
  4. Washington – 16.2
  5. Missouri – 15
  6. Pennsylvania – 13.5
  7. Massachusetts – 12.6
  8. California – 12.8
  9. Texas – 5.6
  10. New York – 5.1

Also from Hollander, a report that Samoa changed sides:

As sirens and church bells wailed across Samoa just before 6am on Monday, drivers obediently stopped their cars. Then, after instructions issued over the radio by the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, they shifted to the other side of the road and ushered in history.

"After this announcement you will all be permitted to move to the other side of the road, to begin this new era in our history," Mr Tuilaepa told his people, warning: "Don't drive if you are sleepy, drunk or just had a fight with your wife."

Good advice, that.

I really wanted to give them my money, too

My plan seemed so simple: Book my flights from Chicago to Dubai and, on the way back, spend a couple of days in Jordan and Israel, two countries I'm not likely to see for a long time. Royal Jordanian airlines, however, made this sufficiently difficult to encourage me to look elsewhere.

The parameters were simple:

  • Fly only Oneworld carriers, because this trip bumps me to the next elite level.
  • Arrive in Dubai in time for the October 31st start of classes having had enough rest to make it through the day without passing out.
  • Take a side-trip after the residency ends on November 8th.
  • Get home by November 11th, because I need to actually earn a living and pat my dog.

Last week, I called the Royal Jordanian reservation line, a New York phone number, with the simple request to book flights from Chicago to Dubai through Amman. The reservation agent—who happened to be in Amman—dutifully took my information, quoted the fare, and told me no problem, I'm leaving Chicago on October 28th, leaving Dubai on November 8th, and leaving Amman on November 11th. Perfect. And, because it's a 12-hour overnight trans-Atlantic flight, I booked that segment in discounted business class. He ended by telling me to expect an email with an attached form that I needed to fax to the local ticket office with my credit card information.

So far, so good. Except...why do I need to fax my credit card again?

OK, forget faxing, I had to go out to O'Hare anyway, so I stopped by the ticket office in person. This was just about 4pm on Friday. They were closed, with no hours or phone number posted anywhere. Back home, digging through the Royal Jordanian website also failed to produce their phone number or hours. Curious.

Flash forward to today. I still hadn't received a confirmation email from them (despite calling their reservations line again), nor did I have a phone number for the Chicago office, so I went out there. No traffic, got there in 20 minutes. Great. Talked to an actual person, in person. Great.

We discovered, in short order, a number of problems. First, there are no flights from the U.S. to Jordan on October 28th this year. My reservation had magically shifted forward to October 30th, arriving at 1am on November 1st. The previous flight from Chicago to Amman would leave on October 26th, giving me three extra days in either Amman or Dubai, right in the middle of the pre-reading period that is absolutely critical for the residency. Not to mention, if I want to take a day trip from Amman to, say, its neighbor to the west, I probably need to do that after visiting the United Arab Emirates.

Other options: Fly from Detroit or New York on the 29th, arriving in Dubai at 1:00am on the 31st. Or American to London, thence Amman and Dubai.

Then we got into some discussion about fares. If I'm showing up just a few hours before classes start, I'm flying business class, at least for the trans-Atlantic eastbound segment. The fares she found made me and the baby Jeebus both cry.

I went home to think about it. This thought process involved: an hour comparing fares on aa.com, British Airways, and (why not?) Emirates, which isn't a Oneworld carrier but does fly to Dubai, since they're based there.

I did consider going on Royal Jordanian through JFK, but then I thought about having to find a fax machine, send a copy of the credit card and my drivers license along with it, and then have to call my credit card company anyway because they always get twitchy when anything looks out-of-pattern. Bother.

After that exercise, it came down to: (a) booking a British Airways round-trip through aa.com; (b) realizing to my horror that the discount fare on the connection from Chicago had vanished while I was doing that; and finally (c) giving up and calling American directly.

In fifteen minutes, the American Airlines ticket agent had booked me through Boston to London on a deeply-discounted business fare, with a return non-stop from London back to Chicago, for about $2,000 less than the website suggested and $500 less than Royal Jordanian, all told.

So, I'll get to Dubai in reasonable shape before midnight on the 30th, and I'll get a night on the way back in the land of some of my ancestors. (This time I picked a hotel near the Earl's Court tube stop, because that one has elevators.)

Living in London guide

From the Economist:

The Economist's new audio guide, which you can hear on our website, takes travellers through the pitfalls of London life by explaining the right etiquette both for meetings and for pubs, and showing how to earn the approval of British counterparts. Hold off on the wine at lunch, shop for souvenirs at Fortnum & Mason, and if you do have to use Heathrow airport, consider taking the Underground. If you're delayed, you'll be able to curse the transport like any good Londoner.

Of course, I would like to have seen this before returning from London...

The Triumph of Rational Thought

I got so caught up in Parker Day yesterday I forgot to mention this bit of history:

[A] century ago Tuesday, on Sept. 1, 1909, State and Madison Streets became the base line of a new citywide grid system that changed virtually all addresses and also formed the basis for the street systems of many suburbs.

[Before then, t]he winding, bending Chicago River was the original start of the grid, but that meant addresses weren't consistent because they weren't based on a straight line, said Tim Samuelson, the city's cultural historian. When buildings were added, the city sometimes gave them numbers out of order. Street names were duplicated throughout the city, such as Lincoln Avenue and Lincoln Place.

The grid system means getting lost in Chicago takes a great deal of effort.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago has more:

The renumbering of Chicago's streets in 1909 and 1911 obviously required a great deal of preparation. Residents needing to notify correspondents of a new house number could find a variety of preprinted postcards in styles ranging from humorous to decorative to matter-of-fact. The August 21, 1909, Record-Herald headlined an article, "Postcard makers Reap Harvest on Change in City's House System."

Besides postcard makers, mapmakers also saw a dramatic rise in business as a result of the new system. This 1910 Rand McNally map shows that every eight blocks on the grid (starting from State Street and moving west) marks a major thoroughfare.

Getting someone's address in Chicago, therefore, becomes just a question of cross-streets. "I'm at 1060 W. Addison," someone says, and all you need to know to get there is, "What hundred north?" (3600, for those unfamiliar with the location.)

In fairness to cities where, for example, West Fourth and West Tenth intersect, Chicago got to start its street system from scratch—twice. Still, it does make living here seem that much more rational.

We're number 1?

Via Gulliver, a new study of taxes levied on visitors to U.S. cities finds Chicago in the lead:

The study provides several different views of travel taxes to help readers make informed choices. The top 50 markets are ranked by overall travel tax burden, including general sales tax and discriminatory travel taxes, and by discriminatory travel tax burden, excluding general sales taxes to count only taxes that target car rentals, hotel stays and meals. Separate data are offered for central city and airport locations, as the tax regimes are often distinct.

No word on cities overseas, though the story does mention that some cities tax visitors indirectly at much higher rates.

Cambridge

It's amazing what you can do for £20. You can ride a train that goes 200 km/h non-stop from London's King's Cross to Cambridge in 45 minutes, non-stop. Think: Chicago to Milwaukee in 45 minutes. Vroom.

Cambridge was certainly worth the trip. I didn't do the main touristy thing (punting down the Cam) but I did watch others do it:

Of course there's King's College, founded 50 years before Columbus reached America and 490 years before my alma mater:

Speaking of really impressively old, the place where I had lunch opened in 1525, and among other patrons counted Drs. Watson and Crick while they were, you know, discovering DNA and all:

Lunch? Bangers and mash with a pint of Old Speckled Hen real ale:

Side trips (Post-residency London)

I did three touristy things today: first, a stop at Westminster Palace for the official tour, during which I got to stand right in the Government benches in the House of Commons, less than a meter from where the P.M. sits when they're in session. No photographs allowed, I'm afraid; but now the whole setup makes a lot more sense to me. I'm all set for the resumption of Question Time, the comedy half-hour broadcast every Wednesday from the chamber.

Second, a direct boat trip down the Thames to Greenwich, with some wanderings through the Royal Observatory:

Finally, a trip out to Southend-on-Sea to see the sea. And, apparently, to get rained on; here's the storm blowing in:

In all, a very fun day with lots of walking. (I'll eventually put my Google Earth tracks up.)

Tomorrow: Cambridge.