October 14, 2010
What Is It About Las Vegas That Keeps Us.........
Every time I come to Las Vegas, it seems as if I need to allow a transition time, you know, to mentally go from earth, rock, water and soil living to glitter, lights, martinis, and girls with bunny outfits.
I always have this sad melancholy feeling when I walk through a casino, particularly late at night and for some god awful reason, despite the way it makes me feel, I do it each and every time, as if its tradition...usually when I first arrive or on my last night.
I do this to observe and I tend to go deeper each time I do it. Since I'm not a gambler, the only thing of interest to me is people watching as I make my way through the maze of red, orange and mustard carpets and hallways that all look the same.
Vegas is typically known for its excellent service, so much so that you sometimes feel as if shop owners, restaurant managers and casino owners practice smiling and reciting phrases that please and woo people into their parlor on an hourly basis....in front of a mirror of course.
People go out of their way to help you, regardless of what their job is. On more than one occasion, the carpet cleaner asked me if I was lost and needed help.
And lost I always was and always am, on every single trip......all the casinos look the same, smell the same, feel the same - even the restaurants become one big blur.
Wasn't that Noodle cafe the same one I ate in last time yet, hmmm, I didn't make it to the Luxor last time. What about the sushi bar? (the other one had the neon blaring lights from the baseball game too, didn't it?)
Side note in case you love sushi - it's incredibly expensive here, so leave it for the coast, either coast, unless you're on an expense account or don't mind forking over triple what you're accustomed to paying.
Oysters were $3.50 a pop at one mid-range seafood restaurant. Honestly, where on the planet are oysters $3.50 a pop except for maybe Tokyo?
It's my first time staying at the Luxor Hotel, a hotel I rarely think of booking since its so much further from the strip and frankly, every time I have thought of its Egyptian exterior, I've said to myself, really, Egypt?
Yet, I really loved Egypt when I went what now feels like a million moons ago, so why not? And btw, it's less crowded and less noisy than other properties, not to mention the fact that it is connected to Mandalay Bay, which has its own charm, a theatre, tons of restaurants and hosts various events, including this year's BlogWorldExpo.
And, I learned for the first time that the Excalibur, the Luxor and the Mandalay Bay all have the same owner.....Imagine this guy's books at the end of the year?
Armed with fun passes, a card that gets me VIP status so I can go to the front of lines, a freebie ticket for a vocalist in a nightclub that starts daily at 10:30 pm and a book with the latest entertainment, I walked from one end to the other, never quite sure when one hotel ended and the next one began.
With the wrong discount card for the wrong restaurant buffet in the wrong hotel, I was a third the way through my meal before I realized...........the manager was so nice about my having the 'wrong coupon,' that I felt as if I should show up at the wrong place often. After all, maybe I was some high spending poker player so who was he to take the chance at being rude? Although, frankly I look like a regular gambler about as much as I do a 10 year old Chinese drummer.
I decided to meander into shops, not because there was anything I wanted or needed to buy but because I was curious whether any of these shops vying for consumer attention (almost desperately so), would be interested in giving products away to 20 high powered bloggers and tweeters. Why not ask? They didn't seem to 'get the value' of this despite the fact that the shops were empty, the shop managers lonely and their prices more often than not, through the top.
Great pair of brown boots I thought. $880, she tells me. What about the cute little baby blue cotton top? $425. More people watching? I think not. At this juncture, I was only here for a day and already people's clothes and smiles were blurring into the slot machine lights as if they were one.
It's not as if I'm new to Vegas either. Given how many times I've been here, you would think I'd have routine down, a system in place and tons of friends living in the burbs who want to come out and play off the strip at conference time.
Unlike CES and the fact that I made it here after the Digital Dealer rush and before the BlogWorldExpo one, there was no one in front of me in the taxi line, probably the first time I've ever experienced a smooth sail from the Vegas airport.
My experience -- each and every time -- is anywhere from an hour to a three hour taxi wait, even if you scare the living daylights out of people by shouting "Anyone going to the MGM? Anyone going to the Luxor? And.....want to share a ride?" I always do this and I always get frightening or blank stares (one of the two), as if I had blue hair, was carrying a gun and wearing black leather studs.
So, I wait like cattle with the rest of them because someone is too freaked out to say, hell yeah, who else in this insanely long line is going to the Luxor? 4 people in this cab, 3 over here. What's wrong with a little more efficiency I'm thinking, so the cabbie can drop us off and then fly back and pick up another 3 or 4.
Back to the lonely people part. When you spent a couple of hours in a taxi line, you have a lot of time to people watch, more time than when you meander through a casino late at night. The faces. The eyes. The stand. The stares.
Why are they all here I always want to know? Do they want to know why the hell I'm here? I'm not wearing a conference badge -- yet; I'm not smoking a cigarette and I'm not on my phone.
Okay, sometimes I'm on my phone and sadly in an addictive kind of way that gamers know all too well, I checked into the McCarren International Airport, waiting waiting waiting for Foursquare to do its thing. Blackberry crash. Reboot phone. Hell, it's not as if I don't have time on my hands. Check in. C'mon Foursquare, stop crashing will you?
Then in my addictive digital silence, I look up again briefly to people watch again. After being reminded how frustrated I am about the inefficiency of airport cab lines, I look back down to 'the device' and tweet how ridiculous the system is and that the damn taxi line still doesn't seem to be moving. AHHHH, but not this time. For the first time, I sailed through and $24 later, I was at my hotel.
Because of the Blackberry, the zoning out, the people watching, the occasional note taking, could someone in the taxi line or the buffet line or the casino tell why I was here in this crazy, lonely, wild, always lit place where people come to forget about life for awhile? Could they tell I was forced here because of some industry show that guilts marketing people into 'showing up?'
Or, was I like them? Dragged to Vegas for some business meeting, a customer convention, a wild girls weekend, a gambler's revenge, a week of non-stop drinking, eating and shows with dancing girls and retired old singers who can't make it anywhere else?
Am I making a judgment? Perhaps, who knows....what I do know is that the place "feels lonely" whenever I come here despite the lights, the smiles, the parties and the entertainment that suggest otherwise.
And, the people who sit all night in front of those slot machines putting in dollar after dollar, look lonely too. There they sit, hoping that one slot machine will bring them 'more,' more of something to fill the void in their non-Vegas lives, the lives they wish were another reality. That's the thing though isn't it?Coming to Las Vegas allows you to live in another reality, not a permanent one, but one you can create to feel better and fill some kind of void, even if its just for a little while.
October 10, 2010
Life Balance: Do Entrepreneurs Care? Not EnoughBelow, Espanola Island in Ecuador's Galapagos last month. Sigh. Blow Hole wild. The air calm. Wildlife spectacular. Common carpetweed everywhere in spectacular colors.
Am heading to Las Vegas this week and thinking about the nature and beauty of this place and thinking and knowing that this is what makes life rich, heading to Vegas despite it's 'fun' factor just seems so wrong!! Why don't we have any (or more in some cases) industry events in places like Montana, Colorado, Washington, Maine, Oregon, North Carolina? Just curious. Really...I'm just curious. Why does business continue to put balance in the background?
Below, not that incredible carpetweed I was talking about (coming in abundance a book soon, but texture-rich lava cactus on Bartolome Island.
October 07, 2010
@AdventureGirl: Passion Key For Your Business & BrandListen to Linda Sherman talk to Stefanie Michels (@adventuregirl), who focuses on how important your passion is and living your passion to a sustainable brand and to living an authentic life. The below interview is taken outside the Music Box along Hollywood Boulevard at the 140 Conference this past week.
September 09, 2010
La Basilica: Gargoyles of Paris, Eat Your Heart OutI've explored so many churches in my life that I tend to skip over the majority these days unless there's something uniquely special about it. From turn of the century to turn of the last two centuries, I've meandered through churches in nearly every country in Europe, North America, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and Australia. Little did I know what Quito Ecuador had to offer.
In Ecuador's second largest town that dates from pre-Hispanic times, there are over 40 churches and chapels, 16 convents and monasteries with their respective cloisters, 17 plazas, 12 chapter rooms and refectories, 12 museums and countless courtyards. A more extensive blog post captures some of the visuals in the old town, including La Ronda, a narrow lane lined with picture-book 17th century buildings, with placards along the walls describing some of the street's history and the artists, writers and political figures who once lived there.
La Basilica is a must visit; its tower visit is a mere $2. Be prepared to climb very high, but it's well worth the experience. Gothic and overbearing in a glorious sort of way, it was built in 1926. Not the gargoyles of Paris, but as magnificent of a view and the architecture is incredible -- every step of the way.
Instead of gargoyles, turtles and iguanas protrude from the church's side. The highlight is the climb itself, straight up to the clock tower as well as the stunning views of Quito below. It requires crossing a rickety wooden plank inside the main roof and climbing steep stairs and ladders to the top.....all this after climbing a spiral staircase and three more sets of ladders. Loved every minute of it - below I capture the views and the experience of the climb itself in three separate short videos.
August 23, 2010
Cell Phones Are Alive and Well in Ecuador
Cell phone culture is alive and well in Ecuador. Whether you are walking through a traditional market in a small village or a town like Cuenca in the center of the country where expats and retirees are buying up property (population 50,000), there's a cell phone in hand.
It's not uncommon for older women (mid-forties to early fifties since they tend to marry early here) in traditional costumes to be carrying their grandchildren on their backs and be talking on a cell phone in the middle of a market or on the back of a pick-up truck.
July 27, 2010
Lovin’ Cars in DetroitLast week, I went on one of the fastest trips to anywhere “new” quite possibly in the last ten years. Quick trips are something I typically avoid; I try to stay several days after my business purpose for being there – to meet up with friends, scour the destination, shoot (my Canon is never very far away) and sample restaurants, cafes, bars and venues.
There are some places on this globe you really have no reason to go unless something about that destination that the whole world knows about, draws you there. Memphis for Elvis, Pisa for its leaning tower, Stonehenge for “stones,” Orlando for Disney….you get the idea. So, if you ever find yourself on a plane to Detroit, just because I’d be surprised, although I’m sure people have done it.
People typically head there – at least on business - because they are involved in some way, shape or form to the car industry or might want to partner with a player in the car industry. In fact, I ran into a former client I had not seen in awhile and of course they too were heading to Ford for a meeting the next day.
Because of the fact that I’m blogging more ‘lifestyle’ these days, in Detroit, I found myself on a plane to Detroit and then a shuttle to Dearborn Michigan for a dog-and-pony with Ford with over 75 other journalists and bloggers brought in from around the world. (Reason: advance look at the 2011 Ford Explorer - my coverage of the news here).
One of the things I immediately noticed was the ‘air’ – a quick reminder that we were closer to East Coast summer climate. For example, I saw a lightening bug, a wonderful reminder of my childhood in upstate New York where we’d run around and capture them for late night viewing in glass jars set next to our beds.
Because the trip was so short, I didn’t have time to explore Detroit or Dearborn, but the Dearborn Inn is worth noting because it ‘wears’ the auto industry on its sleeve, with photos of automobiles on the room walls, the hallway walls and in the pub, which is decked out with a burgundy pool table, plenty of TV screens blaring with sports, antique wooden tables and comfortable chairs covered with decorative paisley Victorian-style material.
After an outside buffet dinner which included burgers, salads, salmon, and chicken, several of us headed to the pub. Others headed to their rooms to work or call their families -- I quickly learned that more traditional automotive reporters spend a lot of time on the road traveling to car shows and various manufacturers who do dog-and-pony shows like the one Ford set up for us this week.
Many were not returning home but to LA for another gig. I learned about a recent shindig in Montreal, another in the Bay Area, the list goes on. Most of the reporters knew each other from the repetitive trips to all the usual suspects which they have done again and again for years. One guy from Texas and another from Oklahoma spotted me and said “you’re new. We don’t know you.” It wasn’t done in that secluded “you’re not one of us kinda way; it was done in an endearing “wanting to know what you’re about and are interested in” kind of way.
A lot of these guys are more interested in the nuts and bolts, the factual details, the stats of new car features, whether it be about fuel economy, technology, safety or things that make the car better. Others were really into the engine – and I mean, really into the engine. Everyone from car radio and TV talk shows and the Detroit Free Press to Kelley Blue Book and L’Automobile out of Canada were there.
Some lifestyle folks were there and a few bloggers, although adding bloggers and social media types is relatively new for them, largely due to the impressive efforts of Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, who I’ve met over the years at events like BlogWorldExpo and SXSW. He’s prolific and everywhere, eager to explore, engage and listen.
What was most intriguing was how regimented it was – not specifically the way Ford does things, since most corporate giants run press events in a fairly structured way, but how regimented the process was for the ‘industry.’ It’s an industry these guys take seriously and after all, why not? Cars are one of the most expensive purchases we tend to make after a home. People are so interested in cars that some traditional press despite circulation declines, still have a significant amount of space set aside for auto coverage. Tim Spell from the Houston Chronicle writes for a daily column dedicated only to cars and trucks.
The second thing I noticed was how passionate everyone was about cars. It’s a lifestyle for those who live and breathe automobiles. I grew up in a family who tinkered with cars when you could still tinker with them. My grandfather had several cars hanging around at any given time and my male cousins and uncles had the same. Ford was a favorite in the 1950s and 1960s when ‘buying American’ and supporting an American car manufacturer wasn’t just trendy, it was the “right thing” to do.
I’ve had my fair share of cars over the years and they’ve ranged from Chevys (my first two), a Fort Escort, a Fiat Uno, Toyotas and then Hondas. I stayed away from BMWs and Saabs for the most part because I didn’t want to have to rely on a man to tinker with a mess (at the time when you could still tinker).
I just wanted the damn thing to run for as long as it could without a lot of maintenance. I voted less with my pocket and more for what was going to give me the best endurance and reliability. A close second was design, color and inside functionality. For my grandmother, oddly enough, it was both speed and safety. She had a ‘lead’ foot, so that is likely why safety was her close second.
I ran into Bob Tasca Jr. from the infamous Tasca Ford, a name you’ve probably heard of if you’ve spent any time on the East Coast. He’s based in Rhode Island and his father, who passed away in January at 83, is known as a Ford racing legend. He spent more than two hours trying to convince me to give up my Honda and buy a Ford and seemed committed to getting me into a Ford Mustang convertible before the year was up.
Not only is he passionate about Ford, but he feels pretty strongly about buying a vehicle that supports the “motherland.” As for Ford being the most reliable car on the market, he’s convinced that they are ahead of other players and lived and breathed this conviction in a way that was addictive. I did a video interview with Bob which you can tune into here.
Also milling about the pub were others in town who were not part of our tribe, but who also lived and breathed cars. Ford dealers in from Texas, Colorado and other parts of the country were talking shop over beers and martinis. The pub albeit a traditional and cosy pub that reminded me more of British pubs than American ones in many ways, had a surprisingly diverse wine selection and they also served monster sized shrimp cocktails with spicy rangy sauce and thousand island dressing.
Flights to and fro were packed and the air was hot and muggy and had that mid-summer thickness about it, something many people flea from, but I love. I wouldn’t be surprised if I return to Detroit for more ‘car talk’ at some juncture for once the car bug hits you in some way, I have a feeling it either sticks around for awhile or returns at another juncture in your life.
July 24, 2010
The Travel Blogger Show
The Travel Blogger Show is coming up on September 12-14, 2010 in Orlando, Florida.
They'll cover everything from the basics, as well as approaches bloggers take and don't take. For example, some travel bloggers depend on publicists for access to travel information and experiences to write about, and value their news tips. Other bloggers dismiss publicists and marketers as time-wasting spammers.
Also on the agenda are the do's and don'ts, how to keep the content fresh if you're only covering one subject.
July 18, 2010
Travel Like a Human: Hotels Be GoneThe New York Times has an interesting piece about traveling the 'human way' - in other words, find houses, apartments and various other dwelling variations rather than stay in a hotel.
I learn about a short-term rental service called AirBnB.com, their tagline btw is: travel like a human. Called the "Ebay for space" by Time Magazine, Airbnb is an online marketplace allowing anyone from private residents to commercial properties to rent out their extra space. The reputation-based site allows for user reviews, verification, and secure online transactions. Listings include vacation rentals, private rooms, entire apartments, bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels, castles, treehouses, and many other traditional and non-traditional accommodations.
I have to admit, a treehouse definitely sounds more compelling than a cold, lifeless motel room providing there's mosquito nets if in more tropical areas. Then again, I doubt I'd get wifi in a treehouse or a hot shower with great water pressure, but you most certainly would have ambience and surrounded by nature on all sounds.
You can find a studio apartment for as low as 65 Euros a night in Paris only ten minutes away from the Louvre. Other sites such as iStopOver.com and Crashpadder.com offer similar offerings. In other words, travel like a human and get the comforts of home for much less than you'd pay for a hotel.
Couchsurfing has become more popular in recent years, which is essentially a service in which members offer a spare couch — or bed, or floor space — to fellow Couchsurfers, at no charge. When I was at SXSW last year in Austin, I ran into several people who were couchsurfing there (smart given how ridiculously high the hotels were that week). The same applied to people I talked to at CES last year in Las Vegas. Apparently it is growing so fast that the phenomena has two million people in 238 countries as members. that's because travel is broken and service at hotels is often an afterthought.
Like airlines, hotels are going after every nickel. There are so many extra charges, it's hard to keep track: the often ridiculous amount for daily wifi access (more than half the time it isn't even reliable), overpriced canned soda, $30 room service bills for a very basic breakfast, luggage storage, bellmen tips, 5 different kinds of taxes - the list goes on. They even charge you to RECEIVE a fax. Soon, like restaurants have started doing, we'll be paying for employee's medical insurance as well, as if that should be the 'guests' responsibility. Restaurants are getting away with it, so I wouldn't be surprised if hotels adopted a similar obnoxious policy. Bottom line, travelers will get fed up and go where service works - other consumers with rooms to rent, many of whom have felt similar travel pains.
Social networking at its best, these services tap into the power of other 'trusted sources' and reviews from their community. Other sites will emerge to make it even more targeted based on similar interests and tastes.
Photo Credit: Ed Alcock
July 15, 2010
Airlines & Airports Need to GET Technology FasterThe New York Times has a piece on technology and social networking for travelers - how airlines, airports and travelers are using social networking as a way to what, make traveling easier? Perhaps a little less painful if you can connect with a like-minded person when you're stuck at the Detroit or Delhi airport for hours.
Yet, the article references a survey of 84 of the world’s largest airports done by the Airports Council International earlier this year, which found that 96% offered Wi-Fi connections, and 73% had connections throughout their terminals. The survey reports that 45% offer the service free; the rest charge an average of about $8 an hour. Hmmm, so if I'm stuck for 6 hours because of a technical difficulty, I have to pay $50 to stay connected and get my work done, more than I pay for a month's service at home.
The piece talks about increasing availability of Wi-Fi at airports yet I still struggle to find 'reliable' connections even in places that tout they have it and then, they overcharge. Thanks to Verizon Wireless (AT&T obviously has also in the states but only half as reliable in my experience), I don't have to be hostage to airports' expensive connectivity plans that are often sketchy anyway. And while we're at it, what about the lack of power outlets? On every trip, I am on my hands and knees looking for the only one or two power outlets in the waiting area and 9 times out of 10, someone is charging their iPhone on it.
So I learn that "more than 10 airlines in North America, including American, Delta and Southwest, are wiring their planes for Internet access, and major foreign airlines like Lufthansa are introducing new technology that will let customers connect on transoceanic flights. And, as many as 1,200 commercial airliners in the United States will have Wi-Fi capability by the end of the year, according to Chris Babb, senior product manager of in-flight entertainment for Delta Air Lines."
Apparently Lufthansa has consulted with members of the FlyerTalk service to potentially develop an iPhone app so people can tap into the power social networking from anywhere. (a Blackberry version coming later). How it would work? A built-in GPS allows users to find fellow fliers who might be nearby. It also has a taxi-sharing feature that travelers can activate upon landing. I LOVE THIS ONE BTW and this is so logical and overdue I can't believe no one has launched something like this earlier.
It's great that the travel industry is starting to embrace technology, but frankly, they need to embrace it faster AND make it less painful to use - more power outlets, free wifi in airports and hotels, and easy-to-find and use mobile devices where you can connect locally at your new destination without the need to go through weeks of advance research to figure out the best mobile option for your four day stay. It needs to be easier and it needs to be cheaper so that not only the business traveler who can expense his $100 for the day wifi charge can benefit.
Mobile warriors have to stay connected in order to be productive on the road otherwise, staying home and doing a Skype call or virtual conference may prove to be a more productive and less stressful alternative.
July 02, 2010
A Chat with Virgin America's CEO David Cush
Fortune's Adam Lashinksy interviews Virgin America CEO David Cush, who discusses the innovative tools the carrier uses to expand its routes and please its customers.
Below, Virgin America vs. big U.S. carriers. In a second interview with David Cush, he says that in going up against U.S. airlines, they are competing on price, flights and routes. They're not yet making money yet, but he says they hope to make a profit this year. The initial plan called for profitability in year three and it looks like they're on target.