Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dumpy hotels

Lodging. I’m somewhat picky when it comes to hotels. Can you believe it? And if I'm displeased by a lodging establishment, as you read when I stayed at the Squire Tarbox and the Western Inn Express, I make sure I share my disappointment. I want to protect others from staying in disagreeable surroundings. Let’s say it’s my mission.

So I just thought I’d share some of my latest best picks and worst picks. You can read the reviews of many of them on Trip Advisor, a swell site packed with reviews of accommodations by particular people, like me, and people who are willing to sleep in just about anything.

One of the things I’ve been trying to figure out on the Trip Advisor web site is how many fake reviews exist. I think there are gazillions of them. For example, when I stayed in the Robin Hood Resort in Big Bear Lake, Calif., I made my decision to stay there based on the high rating of the place. But after I stayed there and realized it didn’t pass muster, I went back over the Trip Advisor reviews and determined the bulk of them were fakes. They all rave about the place and recommend that visitors eat at the sorry little restaurant downstairs called Nottingham’s. If you look at the Shoreline Inn at Terrace Point, in Muskegon, Mich., you’ll find the same thing. You can tell the owners have been desperate to turn around the poor reputations that are being advanced by people like me just trying to tell the truth. Same with the Priory in Pittsburgh, where I stayed the last few days, only to find a quaint bed and breakfast (I hate bed and breakfasts!) with tacky fixtures and shabby interiors.

Sure. If I owned a hotel, I would probably tell my friends to come and stay at my inn and write a rave review on Trip Advisor. “Be sure to mention that the host is wonderfully charming.” “Tell them the beds are ultra-plush: the most comfortable you’ve ever slept in.” “Tell them that the restaurant on the ground floor, Joey Goldman’s Delicatessen is far better than Zingerman’s or Katzinger’s.” And so the Trip Advisor review would sound like all of the fakes (minor grammatical gaffes intended):

    Joey Goldman’s Hotel is the very nicest in all of San Francisco. You’ve got to stay hear! Its conveniently located in the safest and most exciting neighborhood in Frisco. Stay nowhere else! The host, Joey Goldman, is the nicest person Ive ever met and he made us feel oh so welcome. He was always so genuine and upbeat. He wouldn’t hurt a fly! Their was even a complimentary box of wine when we arrived.

    The beds were like sleeping on spun honey, with 1000-thread sheets, nicer but remarkably similar in color to the ones they sell at TJ Maxx. The bathroom amenities were superb, all with a patchouli-catnip fragrance – very classy if you ask me.

    Be sure to eat at Joey Goldman’s Delicatessen. Their borscht soup is the bestest I’ve ever tasted.

    I know next time I’m in San Francisco, I will definitely stay at Joey Goldman’s Hotel.

I’ve gotten better at combing through all of the fakes and realizing which are genuine. The fakes will never mention lousy internet service, the sound of belching from the room next door, surly staff, moldy tiles. They will never tout the joys of eating stale Fruit Hoops (yes, the generic variety of the cereal) at the complimentary breakfast bar.

It’s not much fun to review decent hotels. I mean, it’s cool to give four stars to a nice place, but three-star hotels are kind of dull. I realized, with some input from Brad, that I tended more toward reviewing the hotels that suck like Splenda. But I’m not too negative. A lodging establishment would have to be unspeakably bad for me to assign it a lonely single star. It would have to be an out-of-this world experience to get the official Joey five-star rating.

Let me know if you need your hotel reviewed. For a price, I might be willing to go to five stars (just kidding, Trip Advisor). For now, I sincerely recommend you do not stay at the places where I wouldn’t stay. I know what you like and what you don’t like. Believe me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pittsburgh: many returns

It’s a very pretty city. The quintessential American city. As you exit the tunnel, the Monongahela River appears before you, you are ringed by lush hills and the angled skyline glistens in front of you. Downtown Pittsburgh is alive, the streets filled with buses and people jay-walking. CVS and Rite Aid stores coexist at every other corner, alongside bulletins promoting upcoming performances by Kenny G.

I was quite excited to begin a new project in Pittsburgh. It would be a good excuse to see my relatives in suburban Murrysville and give my skin a bit of wintertime exposure that I miss in San Francisco.

Exploring. My colleagues and I had good meetings with transit staff and hit the road to explore our new project area. We toured the city’s incredible busways and whisper-quiet light rail lines. Our guides took us to the tops of hills and the bottoms of valleys all on the buses of the Port Authority. We saw streetcar neighborhoods with an exciting blend of cafes and gift shops. And cupcake spots.

Next time I'm in Pittsburgh, I want to go back here, in Squirrel Hill.

We spent a few days seeing what Allegheny County offers. But each day I saw communities that were less and less impressive: crumbling mill towns with boarded up shops, decaying homes, empty lots and dreary shopping centers puffing their last breaths. I suppose I shouldn’t say they weren’t impressive, because they were impressive in the sense that they were depressive. I saw beautiful row houses that would be valued at three-quarters of a million dollars in even the lowliest of San Francisco neighborhoods, selling for $5,000 each. And because nobody will buy them, they languish until the owners eventually give up, pick up some plywood scrap from the nearby lots to hammer to the window frames and door frames, officially relinquishing them to the welcoming arms of decay.

My impressions of Pittsburgh dulled as I saw more and more of the landscape. From the mill towns along the river to the down-and-out Hill District, attractive neighborhoods abut horrible neighborhoods that are being bulldozed by the day. Some of Pittsburgh looks just as bad as New Orleans, if not worse. And it’s sad because it has so much potential to be so nice. We got off one bus that simply loops around a hilltop neighborhood of housing projects and I heard a young woman say to her companion, “What are those white people doing getting off that bus. I ain’t never seen no white people on that bus.”

Pittsburgh could use more people. And more money. So here’s my offer. Can I get 20 of my closest friends to buy a $5,000 vacation home in Pittsburgh? How ‘bout a nice little row house in McKeesport? For the price of a house in San Francisco I could easily buy 150 of them. But I wouldn’t want to live there alone. Anyone want to join me?

I like Pittsburgh. And I’ll take any suggestions on what I can do to improve it.

I’ll be back often over the coming months. Maybe I’ll even go back this month. Perhaps even next week. Why not?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Now I’m old. I’ve had a few weeks to savor old age and it feels just about the same as it felt when I was almost old.

First, let me show you how old I’ve become!

I love this dress because it goes with just about everything!

Amazing, huh? It happens so quickly. One day I was a spry 39-year old guy. Suddenly, I’d become an old woman from Iowa on a tour in San Francisco. Not that there’s anything wrong with being from Iowa, touring San Francisco, or being old.

I’m trying to figure out strategies to combat oldness. I think I’ve done several anti-old things in the past few weeks:

  • Being creepy. I went out on Halloween, swinging by a couple of parties, even if I was in an old crow’s getup. I couldn’t manage to get out of character and I think people started to believe I was actually their grandmother spying on them in their whorish costumes. (Oops, that sounded old)

  • Getting on line. Some friends recently sucked me into joining Facebook. After getting pounced on by four people and having a crazy group identified with my name, but without me there, they managed to ‘guilt’ me into signing up. That seems like an anti-old thing to do.

  • Eating lots of sugar. I’ve been totally addicted lately. Old people with dementia only eat sugary things, but again that’s really old people… with dementia. Young people eat sugary things, but they also eat Chinese food and burritos. That's how I eat.

  • Going to Dollar Tree. San Francisco got its first nearby suburban Dollar Tree: that dumpy store full of crap from China that takes a buck for every purchase. Young people don’t have the money to buy their party plates at Neiman Marcus, so they go to Dollar Tree. I was probably the oldest person there.

  • Seeing The Rainmaker. I went and saw a play on a Saturday night. Okay, so that’s totally “old people.” But, I waited in line to get free tickets and sat in the very front row. That’s how non-old people see their plays.

  • Having a baby shower. Old people don’t have baby showers, unless they’re having them for their daughters and sons. We had a baby shower. That’s very thirty-something.

  • Listening to my iPod Touch and emailing people from the bus. I’m so totally hip with my portable music and total connectivity. Old people are not. I’m even choosing ringtones with my ringtone maker. Whoa-oh.

  • Having a messy house. The house has been a total wreck lately. Old people do not have messy houses. They have vases on nicely dusted doilies.

I’m sure I’ll slip up at some point and start actually behaving like an old person. That will be embarrassing and regretful, and I’m sure someone young, like my friend Jesse, will be the one to point out my oldness.

For now, I’m keeping good company.

My delightful lady friend Caroline joined me out on the town for Halloween. Her poor daughter died of feline leukemia last year.

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