Nickels and Dimes

A couple of years ago, Southwest Airlines introduced a commercial that made fun of those little fees the other airlines had begun charging their passengers. I always thought it was a funny and I'm sure did a great job for Southwest. I thought of this commercial again today upon hearing the news that both JetBlue and USAirways will begin charging their passengers $7 to use a pillow and blanket on a flight.

The continuing nickle and diming of airline passengers continues as the airlines continue looking for ways to bolster their revenue. Hard to see an end in sight...shame that all these fees continue to build up. The large majority of these fees seem targeted at the everyday traveler...not the business traveler - making air travel more and more difficult.


Virginia Wine Tasting

Virginia Wine Country - Trip ReportJuly 31, 2008
Picked up my car at DCA and made it down to the Horton Vineyard around noon. This place was recommended as a starting point by wine afficiando Gary Vaynerchuk. He circled this vineyard as exhibiting the most promise of any in the state of Virginia and with its proximity to Keswick & Barboursville it would be easy to see all three.The first thing that jumped out to me when I got into their tasting room was the 40+ wines they offered. I’ve been wine tasting all around the world and had never encountered a place (outside of a wine expo) with this many choices. Jumped right in with a couple of their white wines and enjoyed their estate Viognier the most. Horton was the first Virginia vineyard to plant Viognier grapes and after a couple years of struggling with it, it’s finally starting to take on some of the classic characteristics that are now being seen from Paso and the Rhone Valley. Amongst their reds, the Horton Norton was the most interesting to me. The Norton grape is native to Virginia, and a varietal I’d never heard of before. VERY dark, with flashes of inkiness – this was a seriously heavy wine! I learned that the Norton Vineyard sells a TON of fruit/desert wine – both of which are not too interesting to me…so I stayed away from them. Overall, I liked Norton and after having some awful Viognier’s from Virginia over the past 2-3 months, was pleasantly surprised at their effort.
We drove 1 mile down the street to Barboursville Vineyard. Adjacent to a nice restaurant, this tasting cost $4/person (but we got to keep our snazzy tasting glasses). We were offered 16 wines, and I really enjoyed their Riesling and Cab (both were, 89+ points in my book0. I was very happy however, with the overall selection of wines being offered at Barboursville. They produced un-oaked Chardonnay which I really enjoyed and a Cab Franc Reserve that was drinking very well. Their signature wine, Octogon ( a proprietary blend driven by Merlot, with elements of Reserve Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot) was tasting quite young, but is showing nice structure on the backend. We were told this would drink best after 2012. Overall, a more solid selection of wine than Horton…very enjoyable.
Last was Keswick. I’d never heard of this place before, but before heading back to DCA I searched wineries on our Neverlost console and it popped up just down the road. This boutique vineyard was set off the road on a gorgeous estate. Cost was $8 for a tasting that included their reserve wines. This vineyard was a bit disappointing as only two of their wines I found to be enjoyable. First was their reserve Viognier and next was their reserve Merlot. Both were just fantastic, and were tasting very well at this time. I ended up buying a bottle of the Viognier reserve to bring home…so I will try it again tonight.
I got a sense from speaking with a couple of winemakers that the Central region of Virginia is about to come into its own. For so long they were forcing grapes that just weren’t suitable for their environment. It sounded like over the past 3-5 years the winemakers have begun to discover the wines that will really do well and are running with those. I think we’re just a couple years away from Parker or Wine Spectator giving some big scores to one or two Virginia wines. The price is still an issue, but we were able to find a fair amount of decent wine under the $17-$20 price range which was good.
It was a great day of tasting for the two of us. My girlfriend had never been tasting before, so this was a fun learning experience for her. The drive back to DCA was miserably, and after we got home the only thing we were complaining about was the amount of time we needed to spend in the car getting down there.


We're Back

After many months of not tending this blog, I've carved time out of my daily grind to begin writing again. This space will become a place for me to talk about things that are happening in my day-to-day - hopefully, some of which, will be of interest to you.


The Countdown of the Best Philadelphia Sports Athletes (of my lifetime)

Another list - this time devoted to Philadelphia sports. The list below serves as my rundown of the greatest Philadelphia pro athletes I've seen in my 27 years.

10. Wes Hopkins/Andre Waters - these guys are the reason that I love the Eagles like I do. Never afraid of contact or confrontation, they were the most intimidating safeties of their era (imho) and again, in my opinon, easily trumped the all-pro combo of Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis on the early 2000s.

9. Jameer Nelson - such an incredible talent at St. Joeseph's University. I'm not a huge SJU fan, but much found myself pulling for them because of the leadership and play that Nelson exhibited during their incredible run in 2003-2004.

8. Eric Lindros - overhyped? overpaid? loved getting concussions? perhaps. but what i do know about #88 was that during his Hart Trophy Award year, I'd never seen anyone play hockey like he did. My mother (a rabid Flyers fan) remarked one time, that if he'd been on the '87 Finals team, they would have beaten the Oilers (that had Gretzky, Messier & Kuri at the time). Lindros did something to the NHL that's still felt today - an electric player, with "off the charts skills" that is also incredibly physical....that was new to the NHL at the time...you have to remember that.

7. Jimmy Rollins - my favorite baseball player of all-time. he's got the talent and guts to be a MVP threat for the next 5 years. Amazing glove, speed, power, and leadership - there was no one happier than me when it was announced that he had won the MVP...totally deserved it.

6. Mark Macon - back in 1988 I didn't root for a particular college basketball team. i remember watching march madness for the first time with my dad that year, and with Temple University dominating with Macon - I naturally fell in love with the team. To this day, I am a HUGE Temple fan, and Macon is the cause of that. Back to Mark - he was ABSURD that year. Since I was only 7 at the time, I've looked back (thanks YouTube) at his highlights, and it's only reinforced my feelings surrounding him. For me, he's the greatest college player I've seen in the Philadelphia area during my life (both Jameer Nelson and Lionel Simmons are close behind).

5. Reggie White - most consider him the best DL of all time. he played his best years in Philadelphia....does anyone out there remember the 1989 team? just thinking about the starting lineup on defense makes me laugh! Reggie was the leader of that team (perhaps the greatest defensive team in the history of football), and on most occasions, disrupted the quarterback/running back on every down.

4. Allen Iverson - the most controversial member of the list, but certainly will go down as one of the best. in terms of pure scorers, AI is hard to top in the NBA. A friend of mine from Massachusetts said to me one time, "do you realize how lucky you are to have Iverson on your team? Every night he's bound to score at least 30 points, most of which are acrobatic shots. Fans of other teams dream about watching a player like that." Well put. He never got us a championship, but when he stepped over Tyron Lue, I was sold!

3. Julius Erving - Julius.....The Doctor.....EEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRVVVVVVVVING. Probably the 2nd best SF in NBA history (behind Larry Bird). He retired in April of 1986, so my experience with him was limited. I attended his last game at the Spectrum and saw all of the other NBA players saying things about him. The one that stood out to me was a young Michael Jordan saying, "people compare me to Dr. J, and......and, that's the biggest compliment I've ever been paid." (you can look that quote up too).

2. Michael Jack Schmidt - the greatest third basemen of all time played before me when i was under 13 years old. the perfect time for it all to sink in. when i went to Phillies games, i usually saw them lose, but at the same time i saw MJS hit deep home runs & throw across the diamond with the ease of a royal assassin.

1. Brian Dawkins - I don't even feel like writing anything in his defense here. If you don't get why he's my #1 then you'll never get it. Leadership, intimidation, & "physicality". He'll be my favorite Eagle the rest of my life.


Car Review

Since beginning my heavy business travel in November, I’ve rented countless cars – all being from Hertz. On a typical week, I will rent three different cars (I’ve rented so often that I’m in the Hertz President’s Circle of customers) – almost like a continuous test drive, except my car doubles as my office and I have no intention of ever buying it. I wanted to put together a review of my favorites as well as the ones I didn’t enjoy.

2007 Chevy Impala LS – This is the car I get the most often. Hertz classifies it as an “intermediate” car, and I’m almost always happy with them. I’ve gotten so comfortable with these cars that I can behave like I would in a car I own; can program the radio without looking, can adjust the temperature easily, know how to pop the hood or trunk when necessary. The engine has always done the trick for me, it’s got enough power to respond when necessary, so no complaints there. Overall, I’m always happy to find the Impala in my spot – it gets a score of 89 points.

2008 Chevy Impala SS – This is the big brother of the LS, a much bigger, meaner, version. I loved driving it. I’ve only had it once, in Tennessee, and luckily, put about 350 miles on it over two days. It’s engine is strong, with over 300 horsepower – and it’s really fun to put it to the test. There was an on ramp just outside of Knoxville…I was going 30 mph or so, and decided to floor it. The horses kicked in, and the power actually made the tires spin (something that the LS can only really do when you’re at a stop). The interior is much like the LS except there are some nice “SS” logos throughout and the one I drove had leather seats which is always a good thing. The SS gets a score of 95 points.

2006 Mazda 3 – I hate getting this car. There’s nothing really BAD about it, but its engine feels weak and when I need to pass a car, it struggles to respond. The interior is supposed to be sporty, but I hate the red illuminated dashboard…I find it hard to see the speed, rev’s, etc. at night. If there was a way for me to never get this car I’d make sure that would happen. It gets a score of 71 points.

2006 Mazda 6 – Better than the Mazda 3, but still not like my Impala LS. Certainly larger, with a more robust engine, but I am just not a fan of the dashboard…until that changes, my irrational hatred of the Mazda cars will continue. Scores a 78.

2008 Volvo S80 – The car I rented had 13 miles on it; so I was most likely the first renter. Renting these cars on paper is such a great idea, but when you only have them for a day or so, you really don’t have enough time to actually figure out how to use some of its more complicated features…satellite radio, navigation system, etc. I shouldn’t complain though, this was an exciting car to drive. Very well appointed interior with an almost white leather throughout…very 1982. Stereo system was great too, as I drove around Philadelphia and Northern Jersey in it, I was able to pick up all my old radio stations in crisp HD radio…so that was cool. Scores a 93.

2008 Audi Q7 – When the attendant at the LAX Hertz asked if I wanted the new Audi SUV crossover, it didn’t take me long to answer, “yes”. The first thing that stands out about this car is the massive moon roof. Maybe it’s not even considered a moon roof…just the roof, but it’s all glass and driving on the PCH with the glass roof retracted and the windows down is something everyone should try. Engine is quite strong and the stereo system is obnoxiously robust. Scored a 96.

2007 Ford Windstar – I was in Ft. Smith, AR and I got a minivan. It wasn’t very fun to drive, the interior was nice enough, and luckily I only had it for roughly 18 hours. I did take a nice picture of it too, it’s what you see above. Scored a 79 pointer in my book

2007 Nissan Altima GLE – The attendant in Reno told me this car was “supercharged”, and while I knew she had no idea what she was talking about, I’ve always loved driving Nissan’s so I looked forward to getting it. This car had a pretty sweet interior, with a push-button ignition which I always find peculiar. The stereo was legit on this car too, and on my drive from Reno up to Lake Tahoe I played the music nice and loud. This is certainly a fun car to drive, and out of all the cars I’ve rented is probably the most realistic purchase option for me in the near future. Scored a 90 for me.

2008 Ford Freestyle - Not only was this the first time I’d driven the Freestyle, but it was the first time I’d ever heard of it. I was actually impressed. The interior was laid out very well, and everything was easy to use while driving. The satellite radio wasn’t working in the car, so that wasn’t good, but overall, a fun, sleek car by Ford that probably won’t catch on in the US car market. I give it 89 points.

2008 Ford Taurus – Wow. I hadn’t been in a Taurus for a number of years. A friend of mine had owned one in college that remember quite well, and it’s incredible to see where these cars have come. Now, this is no 1995 Ford Taurus SHO (my all-time favorite pure American sports car…BJ, I bet you’re laughing right now), but this wasn’t the same car I remembered from college. I cannot remember which model I was in, but I was impressed by the engine. The interior worked for me, and I thought the new body design was fresh too. Scored a 87 with me.

2008 Pontiac Grand Am – Along with the Chevy Impala LS, I enjoy when I get these cars. They kinda remind me of my father’s Chrysler Concorde from back in college – a pretty inconspicuous car that has a sneaky fast engine. I rented one of these the other day in Oakland, and when I wasn’t stuck in traffic enjoyed how it drives, really like the power of it, and the handling is probably only topped by the S80 and SS. This is certainly not a classic sports car like the Ford Taurus SHO, but they’re fun, and that’s good. It gets a score of 90 points.

2007 Chevy Malibu – I’m not going to write a lot about this car. It’s a classic example of how boring American cars can be these days. Typical interior, typical engine, typical handling….all I wanted to do was equip some nitrous tanks, put on some super-soft racing tires, lower the suspension to only a couple inches off the ground, throw a supercharger uner the hood (probably lifting the HP to 250 or 275), and put a massive fin on the back (to increase downforce so I can corner more effectively). Then we would have had a fun car. Oh well. The one I drove scored a 81.

So here’s the ranking of the cars I’ve driven.

Audi Q7 - 96
Chevy Impala SS – 95
Volvo S80 – 93
Nissan Altima – 90
Pontiac Grand Am – 90
Chevy Impala – 89
Ford Freestyle - 89
Ford Taurus – 87
Chevy Malibu – 81
Ford Windstar – 79
Mazda 6 – 78
Mazda 3 – 71

Some cars on my wishlist to drive include:
Audi A6
Hummer H2
Ford Shelby Mustang
Audi A4 Cabriolet
Chevy Corvette (there are rumors that Hertz will be acquiring some of the new Chevy Corvette Z06)


My L.A. Story

I haven’t been to too many places in LA yet, but I think the scariest part of town is the Hertz rental car lot at LAX. If you’ve been there, you’ll probably know what I mean. If not, here are the quick details. Most planes that land at LAX fly in from the East – directly over the Hertz lot. Usually the planes are only a couple hundred feet in the air at this point, and depending on what time of day you’re there you can have A LOT of larger, wide-bodied planes right overhead.

The sound of these planes is excruciating! Not to mention the exhaust that’s deposited directly onto you from above – but this isn’t a gently sprinkling of exhaust, nope. The wind that hits you, by my estimation, is usually approaching 50-70 mph, nearly hurricane force. So after a long flight to LAX, you get hit by these jet blasts as you struggle to find you car. Always a nice way to begin your trip!


Ultra Conservative Christian Radio

I think Ultra-Conservative Christian radio is the most entertaining type of media these days. I am neither Conservative nor Christian – so some might find this fact surprising. It’s become my #1 habit when driving around the country. - there’s always a station that’s within range whether I’m in Mobile, AL or San Francisco, CA. What really excites me is listening to people that are so elitist and single-minded that they don’t even realize how absurd they’re being.

I was listening to a broadcast today as I drove from Pleasanton, CA to the Oakland International Airport and it was probably the best Conservative Christrian station I’d heard yet. A woman was on the line that had written a book about Paganism in public schools. She talked for about 90 straight minutes about how public schools are leading children down a primrose path to hedonism, irresponsible sexual promiscuity, paganism (was she serious?), and ungodliness. It was a call-in show, and I was SO close to giving her a ring to just chat…like we at a slumber party. She also claimed that the number of “witches” (yes, she used that word) has increased considerably over the past decade – I think I was laughing out loud at this point.

I always find people like this fascinating. Their arrogance is the first trait that I always notice. They’re always 100% convinced that they are absolutely right and EVERYONE that doesn’t agree with them is absolutely wrong. It must be so boring to be that closed-minded! I mean, I’m a Philadelphia Eagles fan, and everyone that doesn’t like them is evil to me….oh wait….shit.

I may joke about these shows/people, but in all honesty, they fascinate me more than most people do. Since I disagree so strongly with just about everything they say, it’s almost like I’m a scientist examining a new species of centipede that was discovered in the Amazon…it’s such a peculiar type of ethos, that I just have to stop and stare…er, listen.


Plus or Minus

Things I Like:

California – Yeah, it’s crowded, expensive and wrought with natural disasters. But having spent the last couple weeks there I’ve become a fan. It’s without question, the most dynamic state in the country, with culture, unique food, exciting cities, and incredible scenery for days.

Having an Assistant – Having a “right-hand-man” is a great asset. Able to react to situations when I am on a plane or unable to be reached, it’s the ultimate piece-of-mind. I recommend everyone getting one.

Tuna – I am happy that all of this “tuna is bad for you because it has mercury in it” news has come out. Hopefully, it makes prices drop so that I can eat more. What’s the problem with mercury again?

First Class Seats – It’s just annoying sitting in the back of the plane. Why should I wait to board or deplane when I travel? All that is to me is a hassle. Plus, what’s the deal with paying for food in coach? I’m not really interested in doing that either.

Things I Don’t Like:

People who think Annie Hall is a romantic comedy: I heard someone say that on tv last week and I wasn’t happy. Annie Hall happens to be one of the most serious, important movies of the 20th century – calling it a romantic comedy makes me think of a two-bit movie that was shot on a $10 million dollar budget.

Airplanes that break: I’ve been sitting in the Oakland airport for 5 hours now because a plane wasn’t working properly. No reason for me to explain why this doesn’t excite me.

Brake Lights – People are so scared of brake lights…as soon as they see one ahead of them (on a car) they go bezerk and slam on their brakes…causing traffic. Ease off the gas, and if necessary use your brakes….what’s so hard to understand here?

People who stand on the left side of a moving walkway or escalator: Just recently I was in the Memphis International Airport and this couple was standing on the left side of the moving walkway…directly on the “walk on this side” sign that was painted on the walkway. Perhaps they were blind, didn’t understand English or cannot read.

People who are walking briskly in an airport terminal then decide to stop immediately to “look around”: I encounter this type of person FAR too often. It got so bad in O’Hare that I decided I’d ram into the next person that did it. When it happened, it was so funny – they guy was perplexed why I ran into him and I looked at him and asked, “why did you suddenly stop walking in the middle of the busiest walkway in the 2nd busiest airport in the country?” I didn’t stick around to hear his response, but I hope that it was his last time doing that (true story).


Trick-or-Treating For Adults

The title of this entry is a quote from my friend Dave. This was how he described wine tasting in California. We'll start there.

This was my first time out in California since the late 1980s. Much has changed out there since then; the tech industry exploded, the 49ers franchise has collapsed, and the wine industry has taken off. I was most concerned with the changes in the wine industry.

After a couple days of bouncing around the city, my friend Dave, his roommate Jeremy and I headed north to Napa. The drive was totally easy, not what I was expecting from both a traffic prospective and a geography prospective. I had visions of the road from SF to Napa being dominated by small inns, massive grape fields, rolling hills, and singing birds. Nope. A lot of it was marsh lands - something I hadn't known even existed in California before I saw it up close. We of course made our way to the inns, and grape fields, but the journey up was just different.

We began trick-or-treating on the early side - 11am - at Cakebread Family Vineyards. This is one of those wines that started as a big cult wine and has exploded across the country. Bottles now are between $100 - $200 at restaurants. The three of us had a private tasting in a very fun private wine room. Enjoyed some good stuff - picked up a bottle and headed further north.

This process continued for the next 5 hours.

We made friends along the way too. Namely a 55-year old tipsy woman from San Diego. Here's the story. Dave, Jeremy and I stopped at the Silverado Brewing Company for lunch and the opportunity to catch some of the Pats v. Chargers game. It was packed, and we were forced to sit outside (by ourselves) and watch through a glass door. Next thing we knew, this woman from San Diego came out and took it upon herself to find us a place to sit. First, she got us two seats at the bar, then came back over to us and said she'd saved a table for us right in front of the big screen. The three of us were in awe of her dedication. Perhaps earlier in her life she had been a hostess at a restaurant - that was the only explanation we could think of.

Overall, the trip to the Bay Area was fantastic. The weather was great, the food was incredible, and the wine was top-rate. The one disappointing part of the trip was that there wasn't an earthquake. I had been hoping for at least a small one - what's cooler than saying that you've been through a San Francisco earthquake? Not too much.

I'm out in Tuscon, AZ now and will be updating this space more frequently.



For Christmas, I received a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones. I had been looking forward to getting a pair of these for years now - and now that I use them all the time, my life is a lot quieter.

For those that haven't had the opportunity to use these yet, let me assure you that they work. I put them on as soon as I step onto an airplane, and I suddenly feel like I'm in an orb of quiet - my own secret garden. It's incredible. I've enjoyed using them so much, that I walk to the Metro with them on, ride the bus with them on, ride the Metro with them on...and sit at my desk in the office with them on (usually without music playing).

It got me thinking.

I remember when I was using my first iPod, with my neat little in-ear earphones that made all the noise of the New York City streets fade away. No longer would people ask me for money on the street as they'd notice my white earbuds, people wouldn't ask me for directions either - I became very insulated. Now, as I walk around in even more quiet around Washington, DC - I feel like the city has disappeared around me.

By their nature, cities are noisy places - honking horns, screaming people, public transportation, and the unmistakable drone of air conditioners in the summer. As more and more people put on headphones, more and more people are redefining the city experience...in a way. As much as I've enjoyed wandering around Philadelphia, Washington & New York listening to Robert Plant and or/ Mick Jagger sing to me - what have I missed? People asking for help? Sirens? Someone sneaking up on me? Laughter?

It's time for me to take off my headphones and pay more attention.