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Travel Dining

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There's nothing like the range of "dining" experienced during travel. I recently experienced both ends of the spectrum.

When trying to gather people together from all over country, where would you go? What if it were heavy into the dog days of summer? Miami, of course! Sometimes the easiest place for everyone to get to isn't anywhere in the middle. Naturally, when conducting all-day business meetings, it's important to keep everyone comfortable, which was certainly achieved in no small part thanks to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami.

On the morning after our last meeting wrapped up, I spent some time talking with a colleague from my firm who joined me on the trip. Our discussion was in as pleasant a scene as could be imagined, sitting al fresco next to the water, the temperature maintained nicely thanks to a constant and cool breeze. I had eggs benedict and a fruit drink of strawberry, banana, and orange, followed by black coffee. We discussed the project at hand, strategies for solving the technical problems we had been brought aboard to address. After the leisurely mid-morning breakfast meeting concluded, we headed up to our respective rooms to pack up, check out, and head to the airport.

Thus ended the joy of the trip—far ahead of the trip's conclusion.

A quick flight got us to Miami from Orlando. The only hiccup there cropped up at the end of the cab ride from the hotel to the Miami airport. Having specifically requested a cab that can take an AmEx card, I handed the driver a card when we got to the airport. We then learned that he had no such capability and that cash would be required. Fortunately, my colleague happened to have $30, which was enough to cover fare and a reasonable tip for the driver (who, it must be said, was not at fault for the mix-up), but it did wipe him out, bringing the total amount of cash that the two of us had to about $1.73.

Once on the ground in Orlando, my sputnik and I wandered around a few gates to find something to eat. Not feeling much like a $9 hot dog, we passed Nathan's “Infamous” and found some other snack stand by one of the gates numbered somewhere the mid-60s. The keeper of the place finished conducting some business with a vendor delivering something or other and then went about his business, loading bottled drinks into a cooler.

Perhaps two minutes or so later, he acknowledged our existence. Seeing neither a sign of credit cards being welcome nor a machine to read the card, I asked if he had the ability to take a credit card. The clerk assured me that he is, in fact, fully capable, and we placed our orders: I for pizza and a strawberry smoothie—unsure whether so apparently enamored of the fruit drinks due to weather or cultural influence in the area—and my colleague for a pizza and bottled water. After fetching the pizza and my drink—slowly, oh-so-slowly—he began to type on the electronic keypad of the cash register with speed that Lee thought more consistent with that dictated by the complexity of (and care needed for) sendmail configuration. Having apparently finished entering and testing several rewrite rulesets, our total was announced, $427.13. I handed over my corporate AmeEx card and we watched for the machine to come alive so that we could finish our transaction and be on our way. And we waited while our flight began to board.

The clerk finally announced that “the machine didn't work.” I suggested that he could try it again if the system failed to make the necessary connection for approval of the transaction. “It won't work; it's broken,” he assured me. I asked what he suggested that we do. “You can pay with cash,” he observed helpfully, which prompted me to remind him that I asked him about the capability for electronic payment before we ordered, further revealing that my motive was not to prevent him from feeling the stiff, textured paper of printed currency but because we simply had no cash to give him. “We'll go elsewhere!” offered my ever-astute traveling companion and that's just what we did, leaving the clerk who could not be convinced to make another attempt at electronic payment with four slices of pizza and a strawberry smoothie that he could not sell and an unopened bottle of water that he could.

As neither time nor airplane seemed likely to wait for us, we opted to return from whence we came. Nathan's Infamous being our remaining option, we went there. I ordered a “hotdog meal” (lacking a better alternative). My companion said “make that two,” which led not to the placement of another order for a hot dog meal but a replacement of my order with one for a “two hot dog meal.” The clerk expressed dissatisfaction with me for saying not what I mean. Quite some time later (apparently all cash registers in Orlando are operated by way of sendmail), the correct order was placed.

Lacking the time to sit and eat, we proceeded directly to our gate, carrying a bag full of two hot dog meals. Being rather hot and an inconvenient addition to our carry-on baggage, my colleague and I passed the bag back and forth several times before we found our seats in the airplane and proceeded to get settled. Only then did I realize that back at Nathan's, another option was before me, one that I dismissed as inviable just before placing my order: not to order at all, but to make my flight while fasting. We certainly sampled both ends of the spectrum of dining experiences that day! The fries were pronounced “nasty” and my hot dog was very far removed from being the best, despite their attempts to convince me otherwise with clever packaging labeled by the company's marketing gurus. “More than just a hot dog,” quoth the bag. Indeed, if the best is number one, I'd have to say that mine was, brand promises aside, much more indeed, closer to the other end of the range of possible experiences.

I should have just packed an apple.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2006-08-16 02:51 PM

dining wth difficulty

Posted by smilesforeveryone at 2006-08-20 08:25 AM
yeah, travel dining can get sticky. that sounds not unlike the experience i just had in Vienna, Austria. seems everyone claims to take visa and yet several times i had to either part with every last Euro on my person or bum cash from a willing friend. (what Postal system doesn't take Visa?!? austria. now you know.) the experience really didn't begin at the restaurant- actually at the hotel. our first night we arrived quite late and were obliged to eat at the hotel bar area. we all got pizza. some were able to use visa or rather, were told they could and he ended up charging the rooms instead. by the time he remembered that we hadn't paid yet (when we reminded him) he'd closed everything up, so he not only couldn't take visa, he couldn't even charge our rooms. he got my cash, i was the only one with euros already. then, the next day it started all over again.
the only decent recommendation for food within walking distance from our hotel in the second district was an italian pizzeria. the food was very good and did a good imitation of Italian food. our helpful staff was not italian by any means. our "waiter" was bavarian, in fact. the first time we dined there he informed us, as he took our order, that he was not the waiter. he nevertheless waited on us, cooked our food and brought it out, etc. funny side story- jessica ordered "shells with sauce" and from the description it sounded quite tasty. they brought out shrimp cocktail. oops! she sent it back and next came the dish she'd ordered- oysters on the half shell. she'd never eaten them and was sure she'd gag if she did. i helped her out with one and she had two, the other 3 unfortunately went to waste. the sauce was good. ok- so back to the story- it's time to pay after our lunch. he brings the bill and we remind him we wanted it separate- but he's "not the waiter" and doesn't know HOW to separate it. ok. so, can you still use Visa? um, no, don't know how to run the machine. the waiter's gone and should have been back but i don't know where he is. ok. so two of the girls went accross to the bank to change money. we hadn't been in town long enough for that transaction to have taken place. if i had gone to do so, the fee would have taken much of the money i had to pay for lunch. i ended up giving american cash to jennifer and she used euros for me. poor guy still got a tip, though he tried not to take it. same night, same place for drinks and late snacks. this time a kid is helping out bringing food, if i recall. there were other workers, too, who knew how to separate a check and take visa. i had a great beer that night. and the next day for an early supper i walked over with tonya and rachel and guess who is "NOT" our waiter again? this time i insisted he take the visa and he tried. came back saying, 'you aren't going to believe this- the machine is not working. there's no power!" so i showed him where to plug in the power cord and asked him to try again. bingo. i wrote in the tip- this confused him as he'd already sent the total. i assured him it's ok, that girl would help him when she came back. and we left. i sure hope i don't get a crazy charge on my statement and that he really does get a tip. he's a sweet guy for a non-waiter. lesson to be learned from all this- have cash for food.
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