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October 2008

On the Road Again

Notes from Another Product Manager's Road Trip

OK, so the first thing you need to know about me is that I'm cheap.  Not like in everything I do.  It's just that, among the traits I inherited from my parents, one of them was not wanting to pay for certain things--taxi's in this case. (Parking is another.)  What this means is that you don't want to let me make the airport transfer arrangements if we're traveling together.

This is my third trip to Toronto for SOMA Networks, and I'm still exploring hotel options that balance a minimum level of comfort (I'm not going back to the hotel where I suffered flea bites), proximity to our offices, and cost (here's where the CFO appreciates my parsimoniousness).

So I've chosen to stay at the Comfort Suites about 10 blocks from our office.  I'm on the Airport Express bus (remember how I feel about taxis) and I've figured out the stop that will take me within a few blocks of my hotel.  I'm on Google maps (thank you, iPhone) memorizing (since I'm too, um, parsimonious to turn on data roaming and so can only use Google maps while taking advantage of the bus's free Wi-Fi connection) how many blocks and which direction to go, so I don't get turned around as has happened once or twice before.  It's raining off and on, so I don't want to wander aimlessly about (pronounced like "boot" if you're getting into the story).

Everything is going fine, except for one thing.  Dundas Street is not marked, at least not where I'm walking.  Maybe it's like Boston, where I was told that you're supposed to know where you're going, so they only mark the cross-streets.  Who knows.  At any rate, I proceed to walk two blocks up, expecting to find Dundas.  What I find out later (much later) is that I was actually starting from Dundas.  So I walk two more blocks.  And two more. And two more. And two more.  I'm pretty sure that, even if the map was only showing me major streets, I would have crossed Dundas by now.  So I'm thinking about the 8+ block walk back to where I started, so I can try this again.  Note that at no point do I ask for directions; mainly, I don't want to hear the answer.

And it's raining.  Hard.

Miraculously, I head to an ATM (I forgot that I gave Brian my last $20), get some cash, and wave down a taxi.  I give him the address (or something close) and soon enough I'm pushing past the beggars and into the hotel lobby.  Of course, it's now 11 PM and the hotel restaurant has closed for the evening.

Side note.  You can assess the quality of your hotel's surroundings by counting the number of vacant or boarded-up businesses on the way to the hotel.  Also how pawn shops.  And whether the spare-change requesters make regular rounds in front of the hotel.

At least there were no fleas.

And not to leave you with the impression that it was all bad, I found a great restaurant ("resto" seems to be the hip abbreviation), Adega.  It's a Portugese restaurant with wonderful wine, very salty olives, and great dishes.

Which leads me to another topic...

How To Spot a Good Restaurant

When I was traveling with my sister and some of our offspring on a cross-country trip (for me and mine, stopping at New Orleans) we made a pact with the mostly-teen passengers--no junk food.  No McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc.  Any place we stopped had to be of the non-chain variety.

Pretty quickly, the task of finding restaurants fell to me.  We found a great place in Pecos, Texas (which has a reputation much bigger than the town) where the owner and cooks all laughed at my attempt to eat the spicy Mexican food.  We had what Sean still considers to be the best tamale ever at a place in Albuquerque that was located at the back of a souvenir shop (I had my doubts about that one).  OK, there was the place outside of Baton Rouge where seemingly everything was deep-fried.  But all in all we ate at some amazing places.  And with no Internet or Lonely Planet guides to help us.

Some tips on how I did it:

  • Look for locals in the restaurant.  Lots of people know this one.  It's especially true in San Francisco's Chinatown.
  • Skip the chains.  It doesn't take long to figure out that Waffle House is going to be a lot like Denny's.
  • Stay away from the high-rent districts.  Not entirely (as I'll explain), but just remember that if the restaurants are paying a lot for rent, they're going to have to charge a lot.
  • The less neon the better.  Neon is the visual equivalent of the barkers in the French Quarter or North Beach trying to get you into the peep shows.  And as with those shows, once you're in you're likely to be disappointed.
  • Look for a side street.  I found the restaurant Adega by walking up Yonge Street, past the Eaton Centre (think Toronto's version of Picadilly Circus) and lookiing down side streets.  Eventually I cam to Elm Street and found Adega, along with a number of other places.  If you're on the main street, all the neon and glitter will get people into the restaurant; the food doesn't have to speak for itself.  On the side streets, you only go there if you're lost or if you're looking for good food.
  • And don't ignore the ethnicity of the neighborhood.  If there are lots of Middle Easterner's, you're going to find some great falafel places.  One of the best gyros I've ever had was purchased from a hole-in-the-wall place near Athens, for a Euro.

That should be enough to get your started.  And once you've gone to the trouble of finding a promising place, follow through and try something that's a signature dish.  Don't wimp out and stick with your starched-tablecloth version of a cheeseburger.  I had the octopus carpaccio at Adega and it was fantastic--thin slices of (cooked) octopus, with a great olive oil and pepper sauce.

Bon Appetit!

Flying the Way It Used to Be

On this trip I decided to go to Ottawa to visit our office there.  My boss had given me a tip that I could take a regional airline that flew out of Toronto City Centre airport, which is located on an island right offshore from downtown (it has a great view of the CN Tower and Skydome er, Rogers Centre).  I took a taxi (ahem, see above regarding our narrator's character development) to the ferry that takes you out to the island.  The ferry ride took all of about 20 seconds, as the island is about 100 yards (excuse me, meters) across the water; the ferry just chugs straight across and straight back; makes me wonder if the driver ever gets crazy and takes everyone out onto Lake Ontario for an impromptu cruise.

Anyway, the nice thing about the flight, besides the fact that you don't have to burn a couple of hours getting out to Toronto's main airport and going through all the security, is that you get all the SWAG that the carriers now charge for.  The airline, Porter Air, has its own terminal in Toronto so you feel like you're in one of those airline frequent flyer clubs, with the free stuff and comfy chairs.

And once you take off, you get coffee in a real coffee cup, as well as drinks and snacks.  All very nice.

Just Wondering

Some random musings, probably about stuff that bugs me.

  • When did we start calling it "The Tomb of the Unknown"? What was wrong with the added "Soldier"?  Now when I hear it I wonder, "Unknown What?"
  • Why do they still call themselves "The New York Football Giants"?  Does anyone still confuse them with the baseball Giants? You know, the ones that moved to San Francisco 50 years ago?
  • And what about the Tampa Bay Rays? What was wrong with Devil Rays? were all the fundamentalist Christians staying away from baseball games?
  • When the NFL holds its  "throwback uniform" games, what do the Baltimore Ravens wear? Cleveland Browns jerseys? Baltimore Colts uniforms?
  • Is the era of bottled water over?  They're drinking from Brita bottles on The Biggest Loser so does this signal the end?
  • Does it seem like cars with "Baby on Board" stickers are inevitably the most dangerous ones on the road?