Monday, May 14, 2007

Lessons learned from the vacation-from-h-e-double-hockey-sticks

Here are some lessons learned (or confirmed) by our recent trip:

- Don't carry every bit of plastic you have (already did this one- I'd recently "weeded" my wallet down to three credit cards from seven).

- Keep the set of unique cards between you and your spouse's wallets greater than zero (already had this one, it saved our bacon).

- Carry one or two cards on you, and keep one in your bag back at the hotel.

- Keep more cash on you (and back in your bag) than you normally do (this one also saved our bacon).

- Keep a photocopy of some kind of ID in your bag back at the hotel (I always have a couple photocopies of my passport stashed in various places when traveling internationally, but wasn't doing it domestic).

- Confirm last 4 digits of a credit card you're canceling with the operator before it gets canceled.

- Figure out the travel logistics of your trip ahead of time, and check into mass transit options for airport->hotel travel. In this case, there was a reasonable MetroRail ride from LAX to Anaheim that would've saved us some trouble and expense with returning our rental car.

- Don't rely on cabs unless you know how expensive they are in the city you're visiting.

- Don't rely on a hotel shuttle unless you can verify its schedule and frequency ahead of time.

- Even though it says to (why?), don't carry your long-term parking ticket with you.

The vacation-from-h-e-double-hockey-sticks (conclusion)

Continuing yesterday's post...

So we're kinda stuck, no ID for me, no working credit cards, but we have enough cash to enjoy Friday at Disneyland. We had purchased one-day park hopper passes online. I would've just bought main park passes, but they don't sell those online, and we didn't want to stand in line for tickets. Plus, there were a few things I wouldn't mind seeing at California Adventure... Fine, an extra $40 for two tickets. We figured we'd save a few bucks on parking by taking our hotel's free shuttle. On the shuttle ride, I got ahold of a real First Tech agent, who got us all fixed up (reactivated the dead card and informed me that all their debit cards have different numbers, even on the same account, thus Jenny's still works- woohoo!) Get off the hotel shuttle, and ah crap, we forgot the printed passes back in the room. We didn't realize it 'til the bus had left, not to return for 3 hours. Crap. Disney has a sophisticated online system with a unique ID on the pass (that's live-linked at the gate to prevent multiple usages)- guest services should be able to look us up and reprint one, right? Wrong. "Sorry sir, that's your ticket- we have no way to replace them". That's exceedingly lame, considering the mechanics of such a system would easily allow for that (and that it's probably a daily occurrence). OK, so a quick 10-mile, $60 roundtrip cab-ride later, we have our tickets.

No major mishaps at Disneyland- good times.

Remember how we'd save $15 on parking by taking the hotel shuttle? Yeah... The night clerk told me our return shuttle left Disney at 5:30- but apparently it was really 5:20. We showed up at the stop at 5:24, and the shuttle was gone- next one came at 9:20. We were all basically limping, so we took a cab back- another $25. That $15 we saved on parking sure was swell!

Saturday was relatively uneventful- we took MetroRail from Norwalk into Hollywood (a long ride with two train switches) and poked around- visited the Hollywood Museum and checked out a bunch of the other downtown Hollywood tourist haunts. The museum came highly recommended by Fodor's, but it seemed a little tired to me. There was a decent mix of old and new movie memorabilia (lots of costumes and props from various movies), but maybe I'm just not enough into old movies to really dig it. Another moment of panic at the front door when the little old lady working the admissions booth said our newly-reactivated credit card had come back as cancelled, but after watching her futz with the card reader and tell our friends the same thing about their card, I'm pretty sure she managed to hose it up somehow. Confirmed later when we bought dinner with that card. Whew. I was also sad that another museum listed in Fodor's we tried to see was gone- it was more of a "hands-on" museum that covered a lot of filmmaking equipment and techniques (lighting, foley, sound, etc).

Getting reservations in northern Orange County on Saturday night was tricky- after a number of tries we landed at J.T. Schmid's in Anaheim- looked close on the map, but was 12 miles from the hotel. Seared ahi appetizer was awesome, dinner was meh, dessert was great...

Took the car back to LAX, went through the inspection, all's well. As the guy was signing the paper, I made an offhand comment about the bondo and crappy repaint job, and he decides to fill out a damage report on it. Oy- shoulda kept my mouth shut! Luckily, it was already in the car's history report when he looked it up, but I'm half-expecting them to come back and try to bill me for it or something...

Got on the plane back to PDX, went out to the car, d'oh! Don't have the long term parking ticket- it was in my wallet! When we left, I was going to leave it in the car, but my wife pointed out that it says "Take this ticket with you". I couldn't figure out why, but I just did it... Stupid! Leave it in the car next time. I was figuring they'd bill us some exorbitant minimum amount, but they only billed us for four days. Apparently they either inventory the lot every day or they OCR the license plates off a security cam at the entrance- somehow they looked up our license number by the day we got in and just billed us full price for four days. Not bad...

Needless to say, I was quite happy to get home. It wasn't exactly a relaxing vacation, but we did have some good times with our friends, and I got my rollercoaster fix in for awhile.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The vacation from h-e-double-hockey-sticks (day 1 and 2)

OK, so it wasn't QUITE that bad. We actually had a lot of fun on our recent LA vacation. Visited with friends, rode lots of throwup rides at Magic Mountain and Disneyland, and bummed around LA a bit. Perhaps a better description would be "The vacation where lots of crap went wrong and we wasted a lot of money on dumb stuff..."

It all started with the United web check-in. I went to print boarding passes the night before- mine was fine, but my wife's said "See a United Ticket Agent" where the "Check in" button should be. So, I called United customer service and got Patel in India... He couldn't help us, and doesn't know what the problem is, we have to see a United ticket agent at the airport. Flash forward to 5am at PDX- where we're praying the "self check in" will work. Nope. Anyone who's flown United knows what their morning check-in lines look like (why is that?). We never check bags just to avoid it, but we stood in line for a good 45 minutes. The ticket agent checked us in with no problems, but still no explanation as to what happened. Grr.

Next, the rental car. I'm a die-hard Enterprise customer- they've taken fantastic care of me for the last 12 years. Alas, LAX Enterprise was booked solid. No problem- I'd made a reservation at an off-airport Enterprise that was about 2 miles from the airport. Quick 'n cheap cab ride, right? Wrong. That's a $25 cab ride in LA- a $17.50 minimum applies to all fares from LAX, plus a $2.50 LAX surcharge on top, plus tip (no sense in stiffing the cabbie- just makes them mean). Yow. Oh well- off-airport car rental was half the price of the airport price anyway, and we'd only planned to rent for one day to drive to Magic Mountain and back. Oh, except the off-airport rental place is only open 9-6, which totally screwed up the next day's plans. They're also not open Sundays, so we couldn't return it the morning we came back. Oy. So we just extended the reservation through the weekend and set up an LAX dropoff (additional $40 fee). So that's $10 a day hotel parking and $35 a day rental for the car to just sit in the lot.

I upgraded to a V6 Nissan Altima- I wanted a bit more merging power for psycho LA freeway driving than the little Kia they were offering. Later, I realized the one we got had been in a wreck and repaired very poorly- the whole left side was bondo (more on that later). The OEM tires had also been replaced (likely after the wreck) with really bad Contintental tires- it peeled out with the slightest throttle input.

To Magic Mountain. Ahh, Magic Mountain- the best birthday present west of the Mississippi for a rollercoaster fanatic... We hit it on a Thursday morning, so the lines were pretty short. My wife was nervous- she's not a big fan of heights but bravely promised she'd ride with me. Long story short, I ruined my riding partner by taking her on the freakiest ride first (The "X", starting off with a 215-foot facing-the-ground drop at ~80mph). She was none too thrilled. So I was riding the rest of the day alone- much less fun.

After lunch, I rode Tatsu. It rocked. Then, while loading up on DejaVu, I noticed my left pocket was unzipped (shorts with zipper pockets are a must for roller-coastering- if you remember to keep the pockets zipped). Momentary panic, furious pocket-patting, followed by the realization that my wallet was gone. Tatsu has you riding horizontally in a flying motion, unenclosed. It also flips you around a lot- very fun, but also great at sending projectiles hurtling from your pockets at high speed. I'm surprised all I lost was my wallet- I had my phone, cash clip and iPod in the same pocket. Rode it again, trying to look straight down and see my wallet, but Tatsu covers 1/3 of the park, weaves between other rides and over a number of grassy areas and walkways. Oh yeah, and half the time you're being twisted around the track, making it tough to look down. Filled out the lost article paperwork at guest services (behind 5 other people who lost stuff on the same ride- they say it's 10x worse for losses than the next closest) and continued with the day, a little less exuberant at the prospect of replacing my wallet's contents. Waited around for the end-of-day "trackwalk" where employees look for lost stuff, but they didn't find it. Oh yeah, did I mention all this happened on my birthday?

Later that evening, I started calling the credit card companies to shut off the cards, just in case they happened to be in someone's possession. The set of unique cards between my wife's wallet and my own was one- her First Tech VISA that she had when we got married (which I later got a copy of, but still under her account). So we figured we'd just cancel all the others and use that one... I called the First Tech lost card line (a service bureau after hours- all they can do is cancel cards). I gave them my name and address. Tappity tap tap... "I see a debit card and a VISA- you lost them both?"


Tappity tap...

"OK sir, I've canceled your VISA ending in 1234".

1234? "Wait, no, that's the one card that we didn't lose- that shouldn't be under my name"

"Sorry sir, once the card's been canceled, I can't reactivate it"


Now we have no working credit cards- luckily we had cash or we would've been scamming our friends all weekend. Still don't know what we're going to do about the hotel bill and car rental- we don't have THAT much cash. I also realize that I'll need an ID to get on the plane Sunday morning...

Will the Knott's Berry Farm hotel goons break the Davis family's legs when they can't pay the bill? Will Matt get on the plane? Will they make it home? Stay tuned for the next exciting installment.