SIGGRAPH 2012 – Los Angeles: …and so it begins.

I can’t plan for stories as interesting as last year’s SIGGRAPH, but it’s certainly off to a good start this year.

I’m dropped off at the airport with masses of time before departure. No worries. I’m casually dressed for the 80 degree Seattle weather in jeans, worn, leather Aldo sneakers, and a Superman T-Shirt. Go up to the Virgin America self-check and start processing the ticket.

Swipe Card (it will only use it to get my name).

Todd Perry. Yes.

Main Cabin Select. Yes.

Would I like to upgrade to first class for an additional $39? Hmmm, you mean rather than pay the $200 more when I was first purchasing the ticket? Why, yes, I will take one of those, please. And look… it’s the last seat available. And the angels wept, as I pressed “Accept”, and my First Class ticket was printed.

And with no bags to be checked, and no people at the counter to talk to who would slow my progress, I make my way to the security line.
A very long line indeed. Could be a 30-45 minute wait by initial estimations. But hold on. What do I have here in my hand? Oh nothing. Just a First Class ticket. And like Charlie Bucket, I get to be one of few to see inside Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. That $39 just paid for itself in my time and frustration.

I walk right up to the TSA guy with his plastic gloves and portable glow light and pass him Driver’s License and Ticket. He looks at me, my shirt, and my license and very seriously says “This doesn’t say Kal-El…” I smiled and replied, “Todd is my traveling name, and my publicist said to lose the glasses and get contacts. Makes me look old, she says.” He hands back the paperwork without cracking a smile. I guess the TSAs are the only ones who can joke. Whatever, Reginald.

I get through security within a few minutes despite having to disperse my laptops, shoes, belt, and toiletries across three trays. But I’m a professional and all goes without incident. I didn’t even have to go through the big X-Ray Sterility Machine. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. X-Rays don’t penetrated Kryptonian skin.

Take a quick turn in the Starbuck’s. In fact, I didn’t even turn. I walked straight from the security line into Starbuck’s. And I don’t want to hear the Starbuck-haters with their “Ugh.. they aren’t even trained baristas. Ugh.. their coffee’s horrible. Ugh… they’re just..UGH!” You know what people? Some or all of that may be true. But they have two things over Whatever-Yadda-Yadda-Better-Coffee-Shop has… #1) It is RIGHT in front of me. And #2) I have a birthday postcard that says I can get WHATEVER drink I want. FOR FREE! If I want a Venti Espresso. Not even a latte. A Venti Espresso, with 20 shots of espresso in it. They need to give it to me. With the only caveat being (and its listed in the fine print) that I have to cheerfully hand over of the postcard. Which I did. Now, I didn’t order a Venti Espresso. I went with my conservative and Metrosexual order of an Iced Triple Grande Vanilla Soy Latte. The “barista” presses a button, coffee sludge comes out, she squirts some vanilla in, pours soy milk, throws in some ice, and it’s done. 2 minutes tops. And there was a line. And it did its job. And it didn’t need a design of a heart in the foam. The McDonald’s of Coffee. God Bless America – and Seattle.

An uneventful two hours of waiting. The flight is late, which rarely ever happens to Virgin – which could easily be turned into a joke. Or a tag line! “You never worry with Virgin. It’s never late.” :::rimshot::::
An announcement is made that the flight is slightly delayed and that it should be arriving about 5:38…. About… 5:38. I don’t know what their plus and minus is, but it seems pretty small. Measured in grains of sand perhaps.
I take the delay to wander around the bookstore around the corner to look at books that I might want to not buy, and maybe load onto my Kindle instead. ESPN Magazine – the Body Issue, distracts me. Has anyone seen this? I’m not a big sporty guy, so who know, maybe its been around for decades. It’s amazing, tasteful nude photography of the Olympic and professional athletes of the year. And it’s stunning. I think it should replace the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in popularity because there is something for the guys AND girls, and it actually shows healthy people without clothes. Rather than models who probably can’t throw a Frisbee to save their lives wearing swimsuits. It’s like an exquisite representation of how the Greek’s viewed the perfect form. Michelangelo would have been astonished. And he could have probably used the women as a guide for how real breasts fit on a woman’s body. He certainly didn’t know how those appendages worked.

Note to self: Pick this up on the way out of Sea-Tac.

Flight arrives… at 5:38.

After a 20-minute turn around, we board. One of the first ones on board. First Class, suckas!

A thin female LosAngelian sits across the aisle to my left who’s had enough work done that she looks like a closer descendant to Lucy than the rest of us. To my right is a nice enough guy who starts off a conversation with me, asking if I’m leaving or returning. Which, honestly I had to think about for a moment. Then he goes into how he’s up in Seattle because his dad just died – well, he was up before and his dad was sick, so they said their goodbyes because there was nothing left to do for him, so he went back to LA, then his dad actually died, and he has to come back up.

Anyway, I try to slowly and delicately taper off the conversation before I started getting depressed. Kinda, focusing my attention more and more on my phone before the cabin doors shut.

In flight OnDemand movie to choose ends up being “Wanderlust”, an occasionally funny but ultimately formulaic Judd Aptow movie starring Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston. The jokes are Aptow-ish, and he should probably learn that having a penis in frame does not automatically make it “edgy”. However, given the choice, I will always choose an Aptow film over a Sandler film. BTW – complimentary movie = added value for First Class.

Our flight attendant gives us our dinner options, which are a Portobello mushroom over risotto or a chicken breast over quinoa. First Class value added again. The food was adequate, and the chicken (my choice) would have been better and healthier had it not been breaded. But it’s certainly better than a dry turkey sandwich wrapped in Cellophane with some peanuts on the side.

I’m one of the first to get off the plane (FC value). So to tally up the benefits of my $39 investment:
Front of the line through security. First on board. OnDemand movie. Dinner that is not shrink wrapped. A reclining chair. Plenty of arm space. Plenty of leg room – I can lay back nearly supine and my 6’ frame can’t even touch the seat in front of me. Given that each of those are of equal value (they aren’t), we are looking at approximately $7 per amenity. Not a bad investment.

Now, the company I work for has arranged for the accommodations for the trip. Due to miscommunications, none of these accommodations have been set until a couple of days ago. I’m sure this topic will be raised over and over during the week. But lets start with the rental car. The car has been booked not at some recognizable company like Hertz or Budget or Alamo.

SIDENOTE: Alamo is my rental place of choice. I come out to the curb. The blue and green Alamo/National bus is there, or if it’s not there, it will be there in a matter of minutes. Its brings you to the offsite rental center (all car rental center at LAX are offsite by at least a mile). You slide a credit card through the kiosk, maybe your driver’s license, and they say, “Thank you Mr Perry, your car is out in the lot. Pick whichever you fancy. The keys are in it.” Simple. Quick. Satisfying. Same with checkout. Drive the car in. The attendant has a handscanner. ZIIIPSCAN… “Thank you Mr. Perry, you are all checked out. Your shuttle is waiting for you”

OK, so. I am instead booked at “E-Z” Car Rental. Just the name sounds like it was ordered from a TV ad at three in the morning and the deal came with a set of kitchen knives. I am going into this with little faith.

I step across the traffic to the island where the shuttles pick you up. I see everyone passing by: Budget, National/Alamo, Enterprise, Hertz — no E-Z. I wait for three or four more cycles of other rental car shuttles passing and decide to call E-Z and find out what’s what. Do I need to let them know? Am I in the wrong place?
Voice message: Describing the shuttle and what to look for. A red and white shuttle with E-Z Park on the side and a Sheraton logo. But tell the driver you are going to E-Z Car Rental.

I wait a few cycles again. No red and white shuttle.

Finally I say, “Screw This, I’m just going to take a cab”.
I head over to the cab line and hop into a waiting cab and say “This is going to be a short trip, I just need a ride to E-Z Car Rental.”
“It’s going to be $20”, the cabbie replies.
“Excuse me?”
“Minimum to leave the airport is $20”
“Alrighty,” I say, “That’s silly. I don’t see this as happening. But thank you”
Frustrated, I pull my bags out of the trunk, and again walk across traffic to the shuttle island. I’m in the middle of calling E-Z back to see if I can get someone one the line, when I look up and the shuttle is right in front of me. I wave it down as it…pulls away and drives off into LAX traffic, leaving me to stand at the empty curb.
Evidently, I should have not been waiting at the “Car Rental Shuttle” curb. But rather, the “Hotel Shuttle” Curb. I sigh in frustration and wait for the next Red and White shuttle – which appears to have been repainted with new colors since the phone message was recorded – with the E-Z Park and Sheraton logo on the side.
Finally, it shows up, and I board. Nobody is on board. Nobody is onboard because NOBODY RENTS FROM E-Z CAR RENTAL!!! I let the driver know I’m going to the rental place, and not the parking lot. And we make our way around the half circle that is LAX, slowing down at each terminal in the failed hope that there might be someone who would like to go to E-Z Car Rental. A few stops down, to my surprise, a worn-out Mid-westerny lady gets on board dressing in jeans and a worn-out, nondescript sweatshirt. But she is not even going to E-Z Car Rental. She is going to E-Z Car Park. A similarly named, but for some reason, completely different business. Like they hoped to piggy bank on one other’s successes with the “E-Z” brand.
The woman passenger has this very conversation with the driver.
“Is the shuttle the Sherton’s shuttle? And E-Z has made a deal with Sheraton.”
The driver silently nods.
“Is E-Z Car Rental and E-Z Car Park the same company?”
“No ma’am”
“Well, how does that work?”
I interject, “E-Z Car Rental rents out the cars in E-Z Car Park”
She laughs heartily. Even the driver laughs.
“Haha!”, the woman guffaws, “That’s brilliant! Because the car park knows exactly when you’re coming back. They can just rent the cars for that period. You should be an entrepreneur!”
“I’m an idea guy,” I smile.
And on that note, I’m dropped off at E-Z Car Rental, and as I step up the ragged wooden steps and into the converted double-wide trailer that is the office of E-Z Car Rental Office, I hear the shrill tones of an angry New York woman screaming, “This is fucking unbelievable! I booked this car weeks ago, and nowhere did it have these restrictions!”
This does not bode well.
Myself and two other customers have to deal with the awkward, tenable violence in the air, as the sales person tries to calmly inform the angry customer that all the information is there on the website.
I finally get to the counter where my customer support guy rolls his eyes – which I don’t return. I try not to overtly condone belittling customers who are obviously very distressed and now stuck without a car in a city that is not their own. But I do try to maintain an affable air despite the tension.
He sets me up with a black Ford Focus without incident. I’m in the system. And there are no issues. He brings the car around and asks me to check out the exterior to make sure there is no damage before I take it out. I find a couple of door dings on the fender. I mark it down and bring in the sheet with my notes.
“Looks like a found a couple little pings”, I inform them.
“Uh-oh, what did you do?”, the sales guy quips.
“I keyed it. That’s OK, right?”
Fortunately, both guys laugh – an obvious relief for them given the previous customer.
As I climb down the rickety steps to my car for the next six days, I can’t avoid hearing the angry ex-client trying to call a cab. My sales guy comes out and offer to arrange a cab for her and asks where she is going. “Yeah, that’s the least you can do, “ she scolds. “I’m going to Laurel Canyon”
“Oh shit” I think, “that’s gonna be expensive” And for three seconds, I consider giving her a ride to try to make her day better. But a half hour trapped in a car with this woman is not something that I wished to deal with. So I left her to deal with her East Coast anger and I went on my merry way, and into Venice to stay with my buddy Duane and his family until the convention starts on Monday.

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