Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Unsolicited hotel reviews

Home sweet home – the past year that moniker has been applied to countless hotels that just feel good after a long day at work. Each location I’ve traveled to this year has been an experience and adventure. Sometimes, the hotels themselves are adventures – some good, some bad.

I can’t even count the number of hotels I’ve stayed in throughout my life, but some clearly stand out. I was thinking about that today after I checked out of the Marriott in downtown Orlando and headed home to St. Petersburg.

Some of my favorite places to lodge have been military-run hotels or resorts such as the Hale Koa or Bellows Air Force Station in Hawaii. Hard to beat a lux hotel on Waikiki Beach or a private cabin right on the beach on the windward side of the island. That these are military facilities has helped us afford to stay at places where we might not normally have been able to visit. From temporary lodging facilities to trailers (aka cabins) at the Lake of the Ozarks, military-run hotels have one thing in common – they are clean and efficiently run. No bad experiences – well, except the time at Reese Air Force Base when we stayed in TLF before we left for Japan. The staff had placed hot pink mice poison that looked a whole lot like candy under an end table in the living room area. That proved too tempting for our then two-year-old who ended up having to have her stomach pumped. Thank goodness she liked to share, which alerted her older brother and sister to the fact that little sis was eating something she found under the table. Whew.

This year, we’ve stayed at too many hotels to count. The worst were hands-down in other parts of the country from the flea-infested room at a very nice Holiday Inn in South Carolina to a bed-bug hotel in Illinois.

Hampton Inns while clean etc. have the hardest beds ever. I won’t stay there unless it’s a last resort or the whole crew is staying there.

The Holiday Inn in SC not withstanding, we usually stay at HI because for the most part they are clean, have comfortable beds and you can’t beat the pillow menu. The point rewards are great too. Marriott Hotels also top the list of great places to stay. But by far, our favorite chain hotel is the Embassy Suites. The 10 days we stayed in Boca Raton earlier this year were made bearable by the great hotel and staff. We were running around from event to event, and it was always great to come back to a great space with a small living area so you didn’t feel like you were at a hotel. The breakfast buffet and “manager’s reception” are super. We stayed at the Embassy in DC too and it was equally as great.

By far our favorite hotel – not for the amenities – but for the history and surroundings was the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC. If you are a presidential history buff, stay there.

The Hotel Cass (Holiday Inn Express) in Chicago was also another historic hotel. Free breakfast and you can’t beat the location from great shopping and restaurants and night life. It’s about three blocks to the House of Blues, practically next door to the famous Pizzeria Due (Unos Chicago Pizza), and Starbucks is right across the street. If you don’t mind walking about four blocks, you are right in the middle of the city’s downtown shopping mecca and only about 10 blocks to the beach. Great hotel – the view stinks and the rooms are small, but the boutique hotel is nicely decorated and you won’t be spending a lot of time in the hotel anyway. Beds are great.

So there you have it, my unsolicited hotel reviews. Next time, we’ll talk Priceline…

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"South" of the Red River

Native Floridians are a rare breed in Florida. It seems everyone hails from Jersey, New York, Ohio and somewhere else “up north.”

Occasionally I run into another displaced Texan and we commiserate on all the Texas things we miss. Then we acquiesce: We’re glad we live in Florida.

The truth is I have a habit of falling in love with where I live. When I lived in Missouri, I embraced the history of the state. Working at the state Capitol and covering historic elections, the death of Gov. Mel Carnahan and being one of only a handful of people in the Governor’s office when Roger Wilson was sworn in tied me indelibly to the state. I loved its hills and rivers and spirit.

Then I moved to Oklahoma. Now embracing Oklahoma was a stretch for a die-hard Texan; but I did embrace it. Mostly, I fell in love with the people of Oklahoma. Tough. Pioneers. Survivors. I still extol the virtues of Oklahoma City whenever anyone dares to dis the state. I left with a heavy heart and even cried when I heard the song Jimmy Webb and Vince Gill wrote for the centennial. Happy Birthday again Oklahoma! (Nov. 16)

Now, I’m in Florida. I have traveled to every nook and cranny from the Florida Keys to Pensacola, from Brooksville to Miami and every town in between. There’s something inherently fun about driving across “Alligator Alley” and catching a glimpse of a gator.

There’s something indescribably wonderful about living where people go on vacation. Sure, we gripe about the tourists, but there’s a pride in knowing that people want to come vacation at your home. I even feel bad if it’s raining when I see families coming out of the hotel. I almost as if we must apologize for the less than perfect weather.

I’m still discovering this great place. I love it for all its quirkiness. I love it for all the independent and “one of a kind” folks who live here.

I’ve become a huge fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay Rays. We root for the Florida teams (unless they are playing the Big XII teams, of course).

I’ll always be a Texan. I’ll always love going down to Marfa and watching mysterious ghost lights bounce of the Davis Mountains. I’ll love the sounds and the crowds at a Friday night high school football game in any small town; the flat landscape of the South Plains that lets you believe that on a clear day you can see forever; and I’ll always love the excitement of attending the Sand Hills Rodeo in Odessa, Texas and knowing it’s the first rodeo of the season.

But for now, I’m comfortable being a “Floridian.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jingle bells in my head

On the way to school this morning, my granddaughters and I sang Christmas carols. Yes. It's way too early and every year the "Christmas season" gets longer and longer -- almost like the presidential campaigns we just survived.

Nonetheless it was fun, but then we switched to Bob Marley songs and that was way more relaxing. Christmas carols at this point remind me that it's almost the end of the year, that I haven't accomplished everything on my "to do" list -- write a novel, lose weight etc. -- and that I've not even started shopping yet!

I think I'll take it one step at a time. I'm going grocery shopping today -- well, maybe tomorrow.

Happy holiday season ya'll! Have you bought your Christmas cards yet?

Monday, November 03, 2008

The politics of hate

Good morning, it's Monday before the election. You take your cup of coffee, grab the paper, turn on the morning television news shows or the radio and it begins. Ugly, hateful television ads bashing a candidate's integrity and life. It's enough to make me want to vomit.

The opposing candidate's cheerful voice says, "I'm so and so and I approve this message."

The anger in the ad takes my breath away so early in the morning. Did you really? Did you really listen to this ad and then approve it?

Then, you sir, have lost my respect.

At one time before the current debacle we call the President, I might have voted for you. I admired your courage, your tenacity in being able to survive so long in enemy hands and stand up for what you believed was right.

But in the past eight years, no truly, in the past year, I've seen you melt like putty in the hands of an unscupulous campaign machine that will do and say anything to win.

I see you blink at the camera. You seem confused, lost. And, I realize that you have lost control.

If you win tomorrow, I hope you find the courage that you had so many years ago to take back your integrity.

If you lose, I hope that you are able still to find the courage to continue on the right path. I hope you have not completely sold your soul.

If you cannot do this, this country will be the worst for it. So my prayers are with you because at one time, you were an honorable person. I'm not sure who you are right now.