Wheels up at 0005.
Old fashioneds = 2
10pm on a Friday night and we are finally sat at the bar in the Delta SkyClub about to enjoy what my friend has called the “shittiest old fashioned in the Bay Area.”. Whilst I wait for my drink to turn up I recount the hopeless TSAPre experience I just encountered carried out by the contracted goons for hire: CAS.
I should have seen the signs, there was no line at regular security and the total lack of line meant I didn’t even bother using my Clear membership to elbow myself to the front of the line. The Pre line was ten deep and at the head of it was a discombobulated older gentleman who kept ambling back and forth through the metal detector seemingly unaware of the process he was expected to follow. As I went through the metal detector my confused traveler friend leaned into the unit and the National Guard was scrambled to remove him before I tumbled through again. At this time about a hundred people had successfully passed through the regular line but I was being ordered through the nudoscope thanks to some random selection by the obviously aggrieved metal detector.
One pat down later and now the drinks are here I’m pleased to say the title was not deserved and the old fashioneds are quite delicious.
Old fashioneds : 1
As driving is not on the evening agenda my traveling companion and I enjoyed an old fashioned each before getting a ride to the airport.
At this point I feel I should mention that I am still jet lagged from a week of three hours sleep a night and I’m about to embark on a great circle route of 5500 miles on a domestic airline. I’m doing this to earn miles on another programme, all part of an affliction colloquially known as “travel hacking”.
20 hours, 5500 miles to go. Four flights, four timezones.
Gin consumed : 0
Miles covered : 0
Frustration with Delta.com’s website : many
The trip has started off with fun and games. We tried to check in this morning and received a cryptic “There’s something wrong, please don’t ask us why.” message received from both the website and the mobile app.
The booking is ticketed and we have all our advanced passenger information in that so this can only mean one thing. The TSA does not like mileage runners. I can see why a 20 hour flight to nowhere in particular might seem like a security risk but in this case we’re only burning dead dinosaurs to secure our places in the high society echelon known as top tier status whores.
Our mileage run is simply by some standard, complicated by others. We expect to net approximately 14000 miles each. We also get 12 more tier points but we don’t really care for those as we already ended up with more of those that we need.
This blog gets resurrected from time to time but we’ve fallen into a fallow period. There have been many road trips during this period but I’ve been engrossed in the driving elements rather than the blogging aspect of the trip.
That changes today for my good friend Dave and I are embarking upon the great mattress and mileage run of 2015. As the year draws to a close some of the shiny talismen of frequent guest programme’s threaten to self destruct and leave a far less shiny pile of waste in their way.
I am two stays short of Platinum goodness, and one year closer to my lifetime status (assuming Marriott doesn’t fuck things up next year with their acquisition of my beloved Starwood. In addition to this I thought I’d be short of a few tier points this year to requal for Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold. I am not actually in this position thanks to a number of unplanned trips back to the UK but the flight is booked, it would seem churlish not to expand my carbon footprint even further.
In the next 24 hours we will be in Minneapolis, Dallas and Detroit. Our entire run is being done in paid F on Delta and will earn us about 20k miles and 12 tier points. Cost per tier point is $36, we’ve had it cheaper doing hops down to SAN via LAX but this trip will also net us around 20k miles when all the bonuses are taken into account.
We intend to do this in the least sober way possible which is why we’re calling this our big adventurous tier point run crawl. In the next 36 hours we are going to find out just exactly how much gin you can consume and not be denied boarding.
We covered a massive 1100 miles yesterday taking just over 16 hours in total including detours, fuel and food stops to get from Houston to Tucson. Thanks to the kindness of the night receptionist at the Sheraton we were upgraded to the Aspen Suite and provided club access, something that is usually denied to us lowly Lifetime Gold members of Starwood Preferred Guest (although this trip is helping the quest for Platinum in 2014). I wouldn’t say we are well rested but the beauty of having two drivers and a comfy back seat is that you can take a nap without it impeding progress.
Dave takes the wheel for the remainder of tank number 5, as predicted the presence of a thimble sized fuel tank and a dirty great big blown V8 has added more fuel stops than we’d like. Our route today takes us from the 10 to the 5 but we are contemplating extending the journey by an hour or two to take 101 back to the Bay Area. I don’t think either of us could take the monotony of I-5 after yesterday and at least 101 brings you the odd curve and some nice coastline driving. The speed limits on I-10 through AZ and NM have been raised to 75 since I last took this trip which really helped and the V1 has been phenomenal at alerting us to the presence of the local constabulary which is affording us a decent cruising speed especially during the daytime hours.
Did I mention that this car is an amazing mile eater? It seems that no matter what speed we select, if we refrain from full throttle applications (tough in this car), we do a consistent 21mpg which is only a few shy of what my BMW can manage with a much smaller engine.
Repeat after me, I must not play fuel light bingo in areas with no cell phone coverage and 80 degree heat outside. I wish I could say this is the first time a good friendship was challenged as we covered West Texas. 51 miles away from gas in the direction of travel with an indicated range of 36 miles, my companion and eventual owner of this car was understandably perturbed. We turned back and with minimum admonishment we refueled and got milkshakes from Sonic and are now back on our original route, hopefully in the correct direction.
Earlier, we stopped in Lockhart at Smitty’s Barbecue for an incredible lunch. This is the most authentic barbecue joint I have ever clapped eyes on. Massive pits with open wood fires smoking everything from brisket to hot links and every part of the pig you can think of. Served on paper with white bread, crackers, we gorged ourselves on smoky, fatty, crispy, chewy, moist meat products until our livers groaned whilst feeding the inevitable onset of gout at a later age. Well worth the trip, some of the best cue i’ve had.
Problem is these two detours have put us seriously behind schedule and as of 9pm CST we still have some 545 miles to cover to reach our originally planned destination. The upside is that this is what this car was made for, mile eating even if she is a bit of a dipsomaniac, but with one fundamental flaw. The fuel tank is tiny, barely 16.5 gallons and combine that with a 20mpg thirst we’re faced with more fuel stops than first thought, all screwing with the timetable.
I took the wheel after lunch and have spent enough freeway miles with this monster to realize this is one very well engineered car. It is cosseting yet sharp as a tack when it comes to the curves, with a very well sorted traction control system making you feel like a much better driver than you probably are.
I’ve always maintained that cars have a natural cruising speed which is where for any given open stretch of road, the car will find itself at if you let it. For example, the Mk2 Ford Mondeo 1.8LX that I often got years ago as service loaners would amble their way upto 110mph and stay there if you let your mind wander for a moment. This car has that and I found it very easily when a rented Chrysler 200 wanted to act as front marker for a spirited run at near Mondeo speeds and since then my trip was spent with the cruise control engaged to avoid accidental excursions north of a ton. This car never seems to run out of power reserves. Intoxicating.
The question now is do we power through, stock up on red bull and sugar and make it to Arizona as planned or do we fall short and stay in El Paso? There is at least one more fuel stop tonight and we’ll get to where we do but right now chewing through rural Texas bathed in pale blue ambient LED lighting and with a lightly refrigerated bottom is not a bad place to be.
Dave is at the wheel for the first stint and I’m riding shotgun. First impressions of this car are good, very good. This is not your grandfather’s Jaguar, the XF was in my opinion the first in their recent renaissance and it is a very modern and well appointed luxury car. It has that impervious feel as it charges down the road, this is not a car that wafts, it is a car that owns the road with confidence and authority.
As the passenger I’m in charge of blogging, in car entertainment and general shenanigans. The car is fitted with the optional Bowers & Wilkins stereo. Most car companies now have a premium sound option, often emblazoned with some familiar name such as Bose, Infinity, Harmon Kardon etc. The difference here is that this system isn’t just carrying the B&W badge, it was engineered by them and you can tell. I’m trying to do it justice by not playing 128k bitrate streaming nonsense and my 320k rips of The Preset’s excellent album Pacifica are doing the best they can, we have CDs but they are in the boot.
There is a lot of what is known as ‘surprise and delight’ in the XF. The interior is simple, not fussy and very easy to operate. The air vents and transmission selector are a little theatrical with various swivelling and rising motions letting you know that you aren’t driving a Ford Focus. The seats are comfortable with soft buttery leather that is showing few signs of wear from the previous owner and the ventilated option is doing a fantastic job of keeping my butt cooled, they heat up as well but as it is in the low 70s outside it is all about the cooling.
So far there’s only one annoyance but truth be told, it is a pretty significant one. You cannot enter a navigation destination whilst in motion and yes, before you all start screaming road safety, I’d like to be able to operate it as the passenger especially as we have discovered a tasty BBQ joint that we wish to make our first food & fuel stop. Grrrr.
Another day, another road trip. This one is possibly the biggest challenge I’ve set myself yet. I am currently in the passenger seat of my housemate’s new car and we are in Houston, TX and have to be back in San Francisco by Sunday night.
With two drivers, 470hp and a Valentine One it certainly isn’t an impossible task but it will mean some serious wheeltime over the next two days. 1908 miles left to go and it is 11.44am CST. By my calculations we need to spend approximately 12 hours a day driving and allowing ~2 hours for fuel and food stops each day our goal is to reach Phoenix, AZ tonight and then complete the final 900 or so miles on Sunday.
That might sound like cruel and unusual punishment for some but let’s take into account for a moment the weapon of choice here. Our chariot for the mammoth trip is a lightly used, 2010 Jaguar XF Supercharged. We have a whopping 470hp from a state of the art 5.0 V8. Like most ex-pat Brits, he is making good use of the fact that petrol costs around 1/3rd of what it is in the UK and that makes running a car like this feasible, if still a little expensive.
We are adopting the same rhythm that accompanied my first rapid trip cross country, combining fuel and food stops where possible and driver changes at the same time. With an estimated 375 miles on a full tank and a cruising MPG in the low twenties we should be able to do it in three shifts.
How successful we will be, only time will tell. Will we be able to make this trip without inviting the unwanted attention of various state police forces?
I alluded to this in a previous post but truth be told I had to calm down about the situation before I could blog about it. First let me say that I do love this country, it has been my new home since 2005 and whilst I live in the bubble known as San Francisco I hadn’t experienced anything massively negative in my eight years here. That was until this trip. In the 4700 miles covered so far everyone I’ve encountered has been friendly, charming and the further south I reach the level of hospitality I’ve received has been nothing short of exemplary.
I had pulled off the highway in a rural part of Alabama to get fuel for the car. I was happy to see my favourite gasoline brand reappear on the landscape and pulled into a Chevron station and treated Otto with a full tank of 93, he only usually gets to drink 91 in California. Once I fuelled up the car I went into the store to get a fresh bag of ice to top off the cooler and noticed a State Trooper pull in and park up behind the car. The Office got out of the car walked up to mine and started peering into the windows. Having completed my sale I left the gas station and walked back to my car. The cop asked me if it was mine, to which I replied it was and he made a comment about me being a long way from home.
Further exchanges between us started to get my hackles up, he was asking me odd questions and making statements like “This is a family car but I only see you here and this dog, something isn’t right” and how I “didn’t match the car”. I had all the documentation for the car with me and offered to show these to the Officer but then he changed his tack and asked me where I was from and to hand over my drivers licence. I was labouring under the apprehension that there has to be probable cause to do this and his line of questioning had already got me wary so I asked him what basis he had for asking me these questions, the car was mine and I could prove it. The car was stationery when he pulled in, I had not been speeding nor was I drunk or even remotely in contravention with the Alabama Vehicle Code. He uttered something along the lines of “You aren’t from around here are you, show me your passport or alien registration card.”. A chill came over me as I immediately recalled the news items on NPR that accompanied the new Alabama “Show me your papers law”. I had meant to pack my green card but it seems it was one of the things I overlooked, searching frantically through my wallet it was clear I didn’t have it.
The cop was getting increasingly agitated and I increasingly nervous. I remember hearing stories of executives from local foreign car manufacturing plants being pulled over and detained. I had visions of me being cuffed and thrown in the back of the cruiser until I could prove my provenance. Fortunately for me I have an excellent memory for numbers and can remember my A# number by heart. I offered this as well as showing the officer a *copy* of my green card from the PDF scan that I knew I had nestling in my Skydrive. I provided the number but the officer did not want me pulling out my phone nor get in my car to get my Surface. He told me to get into the back of the car, thankfully uncuffed and he called it in. Twenty tense minutes passed while my credentials were checked and when he was able to confirm that I was indeed a lawful permanent resident I was allowed on my way with a stark warning that “the next cop may not be as reasonable as me and you could end up spending the night in jail”. I couldn’t wait to get out of the state that had so far been so welcoming but I did not want to risk being pulled over again and religiously kept to the speed limit.
I felt terrible, I could not believe that the country I had come to call my own would allow such a law to be passed. Once I arrived at my New Orleans hotel I called up my legal assistance line to see what the legal basis was. The helpline put me in touch with a local law firm that had knowledge of this law, they were pretty confident that I would not hear back from them and if I did get something else from the state police that they would help me fight it in court. I’m not sure if I would want to come all this way to defend this but I may well do in absentia.
A similar law exists in Arizona and I’m seriously considering modifying my route to avoid this especially considering they have immigration checkpoints on I-10 which is my current planned route up through to Tucson. I have since printed out a copy of my ARC from Skydrive and am carrying it with me. I understand that there is mounting opposition to this law even from within the state and a number of police forces have refused to enforce it. I only hope that common sense will prevail and these frankly fascist measures will become a thing of the past. I’m not saying I’m moving to Canada but I’d seriously rethink coming back to somewhere that subjects people that are here legally to what in my view amounts to persecution.
The irony to this whole situation is that I am now eligible to become a US Citizen because I have had my green card for over 5 years. This event given me the impetus to get my N400 in process so I can stick two fingers up to the oppressive jackbooted morons that enforce the indefensible.
May this also be a cautionary tale.