imageAt last!  There are some benefits to getting old.

Not that 66.8 is old…but it’s not in the ‘spring chicken range’ either.

Still, when it comes to travel, a lifetime of mistakes and paying full-price for travel eventually pays off.  You get old, you get discounts.  Having made every travel mistake in the book, getting things right eventually becomes automatic.

This morning, I thought we could run  through some of the “head work” that goes into a decent cross-country trip.

Planning for the trip usually begins a month ahead of time – as soon as the date of the trip becomes firm and (to put it in military terms) the “mission becomes clear.”

In this case, the “mission” is my youngest daughter’s wedding in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand a week from yesterday.

This is really the only “fixed point” in the trip.  Everything else is gravy.  Which means we can then “run numbers” to see if we a) fly commercial, b) fly our own plane, or c) drive it in the old Lexumobile.

This is where we “Blue Sky” the trip. It’s when we wonder “Since we will be in Las Vegas, what ELSE might we knock off on this trip?”

There are lots of options:  I’d like to pick up a Teppan-style Benihana-like meal in Amarillo, so that goes on the list.

There are a couple of casinos I would like to do a little gambling at.  One is Twin Arrows up east of Flagstaff, AZ and on the return trip, there is one south of Albuquerque, NM where we haven’t stayed, either.

As you may know from past columns, we both like casinos when traveling.  The reason?  Well, not to offend Hilton, or any of the other Big Chains, they just don’t hold a visual candle to the activity in a moderately-sized casino/hotel.  For one, there’s a choice of food. A good quiet upscale place, a buffet joint, and a burger bar…so a wide range of choices there.  Plus usually a good watering hole can be found.  Probably because it helps people forget the laws of statistics which argue there shouldn’t even BE such places as Casinos.  Then let’s not forget that people talk to other people in casinos – around the bars, around the machines, at the blackjack table, and so on.

Remember, I probably  “get off the ranch” fewer than a two dozen times a year. Amazon.UPS and Skype bring the world to me.  So seeing and interacting with “real life people” is fun.  Since our ranch in the woods is one of the most sane places in the world, going on a trip is like an extended trip to the zoo.

That’s the why of casinos. Grown-up zoos.   Oh, and usually a very good price/value.  I don’t see much point to  staying in a place with a view once it gets dark.  On the other hand, if you stay in a casino, there is always something visually interesting going on, even if it’s people-watching.

We have friends and family who we plan to inflict visits on this trip, too.  One couple we know just had a new home built in Arizona – so we plan to drop by there on this trip.

And, it’s no secret Elaine and I have thought about moving into a Big City.  Not that we are really keen on it, but looking ahead another 10-25 years (when Ures truly will be 85-90’ish) there are just some things about in-city living that are a plus.  Things like emergency medical facilities, police departments, and – this may come as a shocker – I may not always be able to saddle up a tractor and go do battle with the brush.  At least, not safely.

Giving up food independence, incredible privacy, huge ham radio antennas, the built-in solar power system, back-up water supply…all that is not something you willingly walk away from.  UNTIL, it gets to the point where health or personal energy levels sag and the risk-reward falls off.  When that happens, then yeah, maybe it is time to think about in-city living.  With garden, a smaller ham antenna lash-up, sure.  And yes, we will be urban prepped, but how far can that go when you’re 85?  I mean prepping at that age is going to be vastly easier, since a lifetime supply of anything could amount to a week’s worth.

Wandering back to point:  Some good chow, a few slot machines and hand or two of blackjack, visiting friends…and what about the kids up in Payson, AZ?  Yep. Plug in three days on the way through there on the return.  Haven’t heard from the other son down in the valley (Phoenix) for a while…so wondering what he’s been up to….

Then there is real estate shopping…This will be a “scan” from Sedona, down to Prescott, and in the valley proper from Surprise over to Scottsdale.  And we have to stop in Black Canyon City and the Rock Springs Cafe up there since –because  as mentioned – there’s that dream and pie connection.

Last, but not least, there’s a possible consulting project up east of Ruidoso, NM (don’t ask) – another detail to be ironed out in the next few days.

There!  Those are the basic trip parameters.  What kind of transport fits this mission profile?  Well, it’s not airplane; either ours or commercial.  There are too many stops and honestly, there are not enough general aviation stops for us in key places.  But the plane is an option.  But with the plane in this case, there would be tie-down fees plus rental cars.  Not that it doesn’t work, but I want some personal down time, as well.

Weather outlooks in the next 24-hours will decide that, ultimately.  But right now, the trip is 85% likely to be via car.  Besides, the National Business Aircraft Association convention is in Las Vegas next week, and airport ramp space (it’s where we park) will be at a premium.  We have a spot being held at North Las Vegas, but we could let that go.  Flying into the mountains around Payson looks “iffy” on the 20th.

The way we plan weather?  This is useful:  I start with the one-month views on www.accurather.com.  This seems to be the best long view of things.  Once inside the one-week period, though, seems like www.wunderground.com is better.

Until, that is, once you’re inside the 24-36-hour window, in which case the Accuweather winds seem better, but they deemphasize barometric pressure and dew point which has everything to do with density altitude calculations, and from that, how much luggage Elaine can bring for a given high-altitude airport.  Which Payson is at 5,200-feet.

A few minutes here, and there, over the past week has let us hone our hotel prices and find the best AARP/Senior rates.  Even though AARP membership is up to $43 a year, we still make many, many times that back on “senior discounts.”  We need the cards because when most people look at us, they get they “You’re old enough to get Social Security?” look.  Yeah – we is.

www.traveladvisor.com is a good way to check hotel quality.  If you stay in the 10-20% of hotels, things generally work out fine…if not grand.

That leaves only the “getting there.”

For a lot of our travels, we have found truck stops to be really useful places.  The two biggies up on Interstate 40 west of Amarillo are Loves and Pilot.  Both are good, and in addition to bathrooms, they have pretty good food choices.  At the ones in the Albuquerque area, the fried chicken is good.  Over east of Gallup, there’s very good pizza-by-the-slice.  We try to stop every couple of hours.  No point in being miserable, while driving.

Tomorrow, right after Peoplenomics is posted, it is “car prepping” time.  I’ll go into two, lay a fresh oil change and fluid check on the car.  After which, it’s off to the car wash where I will have the kids do a basic detailing.

The REAL detailing is when I get home.  A fresh polish of the windshield and a couple of coats (maybe three) of Rain-X, final interior detailing, and then removing everything nonessential from the trunk.

My Sunday recreational time (a kind of self-imposed work/release program) I set up our ham radios so in addition to cell phone connectivity, we will have a couple of 2-meter ham radios for when Elaine (invariably) wanders off into a Gucci shop, or wherever.  I just stick an ear-bud in and wait for her to call. Eventually, she’s tire of shopping…but it’s important therapy for her.

Being prepperly-types, there will be a case of bottled water, a couple of MRE’s each in the trunk of the car; two rolls of toilet paper, first aid kit check,. and a roll of paper towels and a garbage bag for the front of the car. 

Departure morning (Thursday) a last weather check and we’ll cancel our back-up airplane parking reservations in Las Vegas.  Or, if a wild hair bites, we might have a major last-minute change of plans.  You never know on these things.  Remember, the whole idea is to have fun…and if the winds were just right…

Thursday is packing day. One of the items to check for in your hotel planning is whether a place has a guest laundry room.  On a trip like this one, you can travel two days in the same clothes.  As Elaine figures it “We’re not in a fashion show…”  So the first night out, a single bag with a change of underwear and a a toothbrush works.  Less schlepping.

It may sound like we over-plan our trips.  It’s not “we” – it’s me.  Guilty as charged.  I am a weather planning fanatic.  Comes from the airplane.  Plus, trip planning is really an art.  I found a place in Wichita Falls, Texas, for example, a quarter-mile off the freeway, reputed to have one of the best hamburgers in the city.  Gene’s Tasty Burger.

While my “travel thing” runs toward Japanese-style Teppan cooking and casinos, a buddy of my by the name of Brock, back in the day, would plan his trips around the perfect hamburger.  In his business life, Brock became a hamburger connoisseur.  Everywhere he went, he would find the PERFECT hamburger.  All 50-states and a dozen foreign countries.  Kept notes on it, too.  I don’t know as he ever wrote a book about it, but he should have.

One other eating and traveling note (getting to the whole point of this discourse):  A consultant I knew, and this goes back 30-years, was a fellow named Phil.  Interesting character.  Brilliant in his field and when he wasn’t working, he excuse himself to retire to his hotel room where he spend whatever time was available sipping high-end brandy and smoking a joint…He would soak for hours and read!  (Takes all kinds, right?)

Phil’s main contribution to honing the art of travel was this:  He would go into a restaurant and  make the staff order for him.  His spiel would go something like this:

“Hi.  I don’t like to make decisions from a menu, so here’s what I’d like you to do for me:  Make me the best thing you make here and bring me THAT. If you aren’t sure, ask the chef to make me his best dish.”

This, of course shocked people no-end.  “But sir, you have to pick something… “

“No I don’t– you pick it for me.  I make decisions for a living all day long.  I’m delegating this one to you…   You already know what the best meal  is here…based on what people tell you, right?  There has to be some dish that is really extra-special or extra-good.  Bring me THAT.

Often as not, the chef would come out – since I don’t exactly eat as greasy spoon joints.  “You want what sir?”

“Ah, excellent.  You’re the chef, right?  Well, I’m sure there is some dish you make that is exceptionally good.  Something you are really proud of – your signature dish, right?  Well bring me THAT.

Needless to say, I never had a bad meal when I was with Phil.  But the fellow had a very interesting approach to life.  I remember he told me one time:

“George people spend too damn much time in their lives making decisions about things that really don’t matter.  It’s meaningless shit and clouds a person’s thinking.   I to save my brain power for the big stuff – the stuff that matters.  By empowering people to bring me their absolute BEST meal, which I always get by the way, it empowers them and gives then a purpose other than wandering around like robots.  I asked once and this one waitress who had been serving for 10-years – in all that time had NEVER had someone come in and empower HER to bring out the best meal in the house.

You ever wonder why not?”

It was a fine point – one I have never forgotten. 

Sometimes, there is a dish – or style – that you really want.  But a lot of the time, you can be very pleasantly surprised by empowering people to do what they can do well, given the opportunity to do so.

Phil did this everywhere he went…breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I have tried it and it works like a charm.  And he’s right:  People do fill their heads up with tons of useless information.

How well, I know.  I can already tell you everything on the online menus of each and  every hotel we will visit this trip.  Phil’s counsel would be “You’re wasting your time!”  And you know what?

He’d be right.

Write when you break-even,

George   george@ure.net