Monday, September 7, 2009

VALLEY OF THE SUN GREAT, GETTING THERE, NOT SO GREAT

SCOTTSDALE-AZ  A few days of rest and relaxation never hurt anyone, so when my wife and I were invited to visit with her family here in Scottsdale, AZ. we quickly jumped on the first available plane. I've been to this area a few times in the past and I've always loved every minute of it.

The first thing that you notice about the homes built in the desert is the unique way that they are landscaped. Rather than attempting to grow grass in the arid, warm environment, instead the homes are decorated with various cactus, shrubs and desert-style bushes. These all require little or no maintenance, which leads to the following question: What in God's name am I doing still maintaining a yard in Pennsylvania?

I've been having some fun at my wife's expense while here,  due to her inexperience with the local critters and her innate fear of the unknown. Upon arriving, we were cautioned about "Havalinas (Razorback pigs), Bobcats and Scorpions," sort of like the local, "Lions, Tigers and Bears". A couple times I've pointed to a shaking bush or shaded area of the yard and (grabbing her arm for effect) hissed "HAVALINA!!!"
ABOVE: Here's a picture of a ticked-off Havalina. These things are not to be "effed with" if you know what I mean.

While it may be good for a laugh at that moment, for those of you who are men reading this, you know that it's not something that's going to be beneficial to having either an overall good day, or a continuing long-term relationship (if you know what I mean).
While walking through historic "Old Scottsdale" today, we visited a number of souvenir shops. My brother-in-law, celebrating his 66th birthday, wanted to buy me a shirt that featured a Havalina and a Saguaro Cactus swearing at each other. The Havolina is calling the cactus a "Prick", while the cactus is calling the Havolina a "Pig". Since Havalinas by this point have become a sore spot, I chose discretion as being the better part of valor and passed on the shirt.

ABOVE: Roger Penske has way more money than he really needs. Proof of that is recent word that now he's going to buy the Saturn Company from G.M.

Yesterday, we had a chance to visit the Roger Penske Racing Museum in Scottsdale. This amazing building houses a total of 21 cars with 14 champion Indy Cars plus pace cars and more trophies than you can shake a stick at. I was casually taking some pictures of the cars when a female museum employee, having a near coronary, came up to me and said, "Sir, are you taking pictures of these cars?" Since I had a camera in my hand I could hardly deny it. She went on to tell me that the Marlboro cars could not be photographed. I asked why and she said that, "It was due to ongoing litigation with the tobacco industry." I still didn't get how that had anything to do with me, but I did stop shooting.

Next to the museum, Penske, a man with more money than he knows what to do with it, has a cluster of luxury car dealerships that are enough to literally blow your mind. Everything from Lamborghini, Bugatti, Range Rover, Mercedes, the list was nearly endless. My sister-in-law, herself a Kellogg School of Business Masters graduate, estimated that the dealer floor plan was easily $250 million!

You really tended to lose yourself in the excitement of the vehicles that were in front of you. For example on my right was a $404,000 red Lamborghini, but the white one on my left was only $225,000. The smart shopper would obviously save the $179,000 and take the white one. I would venture to say that the white one would attract nearly as many chicks as the red one. The $179,000 savings could be more wisely-used to "wine and dine" them.

The Bugatti's, on the other hand, struck me as a muscled up, older rich guy's sedan. I could picture John Travolta driving this car around Miami as the drug lord Howard Sing in "The Punisher". They were convertibles and ran around
$365,000.

To me, the two seater white Lambo was still the buy of the day. The only drawback though was that there was no trunk room to throw your groceries in the back.

I stood in the middle of the showroom holding a mock debate with my disinterested wife (she of the Havalina dislike) discussing the relative merits of one car over the other. "I don't see how we could go wrong with the white Lamborghini honey," I tried to reason with her. "It gets nine miles in the city and fifteen highway. Do you think we could squeeze it in under the "Cash for Clunkers" program?"

"At nine miles per gallon, I don't think that President Obama had this car in mind," she retorted. "Besides, anyone who needs a rebate isn't going to be buying it"

"So then we can get it even without the rebate," I asked?

There was that "Havalina look" again.

I have a couple more days left before coming back to the Burgh. It's 99 degrees here today, but it's a "dry heat" as they like to say. One thing I won't be looking forward to is getting on an airplane to go home. Not so much because I'll hate to leave Scottsdale (which I will) but because I absolutely despise today's airplanes.

I swear, if the airlines could get away with sticking you in a can and stacking you to the ceiling, they would because there's so much wasted airspace in the area above your head. I despise airplane designers. They could care less about your comfort. Their goal is to shoehorn as many people into as small of a space as possible. I understand that the bigger the plane, the more fuel they require, but they've gotten to the point where your comfort has now been completely compromised.

To give an example of this, on the flight out of Pittsburgh on American, if I put down my tray table it came down into the middle of my stomach! Now I'm not the thinnest guy, but I'm a looong ways from being the heaviest. I really don't know how a lot of people can even think about flying on a plane the way they're being designed today!
ABOVE: This is the perfect airplane seating plan if the airlines could have their way. The only reason they haven't already done it is because they can't get the cost of the canning lowered enough. These people have no scruples though, they'll find a way someday!

Not only was the flight completely uncomfortable, they didn't even serve snacks anymore, nothing, nada! No pretzels, no nuts, no nothing. All that they had were soft drinks or a beer or wine for $6.  I really feel sorry for people who have to do a lot of traveling for their business. The discomfort that the airlines are foisting on the traveling public makes that industry easily the most customer-unfriendly, hands down. It's a shame that traveling by plane has eroded into such a brutal experience, I used to actually enjoy it. 

All the airlines have gone backwards, way backwards, over the last ten years. They're now even charging $20 per suitcase each way! I love the Valley of the Sun, but I didn't love getting here and I'm sure I won't be thrilled trekking back to Pittsburgh either. Someday some airline will realize how much discomfort they've been causing their customers and they'll take things in the other direction, taking out seats and giving more leg room. Until that day ever comes, be prepared to be uncomfortable or be ready to pay for a first class upgrade
.
I'll try not to think about it during my last couple days here. Maybe I'll buy that white Lambo and drive it home....
ABOVE:  Buy the white Lambo and pocket the $179,000 savings over the red one. Think of how many dates you can have for that kind of cash!!!