This summer is flying by. I’ve never been so busy without actually making any (significant) money in my entire life. I’ve got some exciting projects in the works, but about half of them are my projects — ie no paying client — which makes life, and the mortgage, a bit challenging. More when things progress to a public stage.
I promised to tell you all about our trip out to BlogHer in San Francisco, but it now seems so long ago. Instead, you’re going to get the condensed high, and low, lights version. First, before I forget: if you are a woman blogger, you need to attend BlogHer at least once in your life. A large part of the credit goes to the BlogHer team for creating a top-notch conference, but an equally large part of the experience, and the conference’s success, is the community of bloggers you will find there. I’ve been to a lot of conferences, for both personal and professional reasons, and this is the only one I don’t want to miss.
San Francisco. Bloody cold in July. Bring your woolies. Seriously, fall clothes are not amiss in the city, but dress in layers, and be prepared to shed one or two if you venture out of San Francisco proper. Highlights: visiting Alcatraz and the Coit Tower with my mom and son, lunch at Houston’s on the Embarcadero, dinner at the Daily Grill in Union Square.
Lowlights: my son forgetting his backpack at a muni stop after said Houston’s lunch and no one realizing it until we got off the train 20 minutes later. A cab ride back to the scene of the crime, and of course no backpack. Bye bye to his cell phone, my binoculars, his camera, wallet with $40.00, raincoat, sunglasses and Celtics ball cap. Nothing recovered to date, nothing expected. We’ve since replaced pretty much everything. More on the saga of the cell phone later.
Petaluma and Sonoma County. Monday morning we departed San Francisco for points north. Instead of the soul-numbing 101 through Novato and San Rafael, I took Route 1 through the Marin Headlands all the way to Point Reyes, and then cut over to Petaluma on the back roads. Tuesday we visited the town of Sonoma, including the Mission and the Vallejo home, and the Buena Vista and Benziger wineries.
If you can only do one winery tour, I highly recommend Benziger. It is a great tour, and the wines are some of the best. Even if Douglas didn’t have quite that reaction:
Wednesday (the day we were supposed to fly home) we visited the town of Healdsburg and then drove toward the coast, basically following the Russian River. Then we drove down the Sonoma Coast to the Point Reyes Visitor Center.
The drive to the Point Reyes Lighthouse from there is 45 minutes each way, but well worth it if the day is clear. I wouldn’t bother if it isn’t. Other recommendations: the Metro Hotel in Petaluma. Very French, very bed & breakfast, and a very good value. The Central Market restaurant in Petaluma is also well worth the stop.
And now a few words about some companies. First, if you plan to rent a car in San Francisco, say Union Square, but need to return it in Oakland, don’t rent from Hertz. Avis, despite the LONG line at the Union Square location, is a better bet. Hertz considers downtown San Francisco and SFO to be one rate, within the same city, but Oakland, which is just as far from Union Square as SFO, is a different city. Thereby incurring Hertz’s weighty one-way rental upcharges. Thank goodness I learned this before we rented the car; it was a $200 increase with Hertz for the same rental period to pickup in Union Square and return in Oakland versus our original plan to return to SFO. Avis didn’t have the same geographical limitations. I guess they do try harder. They’ll certainly get more consideration from me in the future, even though I am Hertz Gold.
Speaking of Oakland… We intended to fly out of Oakland on a JetBlue red-eye on Wednesday 23rd. But we didn’t. When we went to check-in, the flight was listed as departing at 3am, and all the clerks said it was likely to be canceled altogether. Worse, it didn’t look like there was any availability on any direct flights out of Oakland the next day. I was *not* moving us to a flight that connected in NY or Newark since I know problems in metro NY airspace are the root cause of most of JetBlue’s problems. Bad enough to be affected, but heaven forbid, don’t STOP there. We needed a flight, a hotel for the night and a way to get to the hotel. But of course, the car had been returned. It was well past 7pm and we hadn’t had any dinner.
To the rescue: JetBlue Oakland employee Joy Dekay, who suggested we fly out of San Jose on the red-eye the following night, managed to confirm us on the flight, in the bulkhead seats, got us a refund for the extra-legroom seats that we had paid for but weren’t available, and even helped me find a hotel room for the night. She was a shining star among the JetBlue crew behind the corner; the rest of them seemed totally incapacitated by the problems.
Also to the rescue: San Francisco limo service Merit Limousine which had picked us up on the inbound leg at SFO to the Westin for BlogHer. Merit had been recommended by the limo service I use at home, and for good reason. Should your travel plans take you to the Bay Area, I highly recommend this firm, whose owner takes a hands-on approach to customer service. We called him that night and within 45 minutes he was at the JetBlue terminal to whisk us away to San Jose. It was like seeing a long-lost friend.
And the desk clerk at the Radisson at San Jose Airport whose name I did not get. I called to find out how late room service was open. Unfortunately, it would be closed by the time we got there. Normally there wouldn’t have been anything she could do since we didn’t have a room number yet. But, she figured out a way so we were able to place an order for a couple sandwiches and some chicken fingers for Douglas.
It was a hellish night, but these three people made a real difference in our experience, which I will never forget. JetBlue, Merit Limousine, Radisson. I’ll keep you in mind, every time.
And now to the saga of Doug’s cellphone. He doesn’t really use it much. In fact it is off most of the time; he just turns it on when he needs to make a call. I also like him to have it on when we are in busy places. If I lose sight of him, I can at least call it and follow the sound of the ringing. Which is why he had it in San Francisco.
Last week, we finally got around to looking into what we needed to do to replace it. The sales rep at the Verizon store at the Solomon Pond Mall was useless. We weren’t eligible for an upgrade yet, so our alternatives were replace at full cost, approximately $150 for the cheapest phone they have, cancel his line for $125, or program his number to another Verizon phone. Had to be Verizon because they use a different method to provision the phones than ALL THE OTHER CARRIERS. We didn’t have an old Verizon phone.
Or pay the cancellation and move him to David’s AT&T plan. So we looked into that. Seemed like a good deal, until we realized that David would have to have a much bigger phone plan in order to have Doug on it. WIth my account at Verizon, it doesn’t matter because I have a Blackberry account, which already has enough phone minutes.
Moving on, we decided to try Verizon telephone customer service. I generally have pretty good experiences with them, and we figured they could at least see how much money we spend with Verizon every month and would be willing to do what they could to protect it. First rep transfers us to the insurance to file a claim for a replacement phone. I provide all the information, and then at the end, the insurance agent goes to confirm everything only to find out that the phone wasn’t insured. Shouldn’t the first rep have been able to see that in the record?
Of course, the insurance agent can’t transfer me back, so I have to call again and spend a few more minutes in voice mail jail. Second rep listens carefully to the problem and says that my best alternative would be to extend Doug’s line for one year. That way I could get the one-year price on a phone. That sounds good, says I. Can I do it online? Absolutely says the rep. So off I go. Except you can’t do it online.
By this time, I’ve decided I’ve wasted enough time on the phone saga for one day. So, I bitch about it a bit on Twitter and move on to get some real work done.
Then Friday night we were talking about the saga with some friends, and one said she had an old Verizon phone we could have if it would help. I’d just need to pick up a charger because she had no idea where that was. Sounded like a plan, so I took the phone and Monday, Doug and I went to the Best Buy in West Lebanon New Hampshire to sort it all out. The clerk at Best Buy Mobile, Amanda Chase, was by far the most helpful person in this whole ordeal. She found the charger we needed and even offered to program the phone with Verizon.
Something I’m sure she regretted because it just wouldn’t work. She tried again and again, and it kept failing. But she never lost her cool or acted impatient, and when I offered, more than once, to forget about it for the day, she “just wanted to try one more thing.” During all her conversations with Verizon, she asked them if perhaps they could push through an early upgrade for us so we could just get a new phone and be on our way. God bless her. In the end, they couldn’t do that, because our actual eligibility date is too far out, but Verizon did approve selling us a new phone at the one-year contract price without the contract extension. So Doug got a new Samsung phone with camera. Thanks to Amanda and a smart rep at Verizon, whose name I did not get, both of whom seemed to realize the lifetime value of a customer. What an ordeal. But a happy ending. If you are in the Upper Valley-Lebanon, NH area and need a new cell phone, go see Amanda at Best Buy Mobile. Tell her I sent you.
We’re in Vermont for the month of August. When it finally stops raining, I’ll take some pictures. In the meantime, please enjoy the pictures from the California trip.