A Summer Winter in Ohio

Ohio was good to us. The snow that we had was mild and manageable. We spent one magical weekend in Cleveland to see the Rock and Roll hall of fame and have dinner at Chef Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro. We had Skyline Chili. I took a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo. I went to a fancy movie theater to see The Artist. Good times were had. Below are some videos we produced for the NTC website featuring some of our adventures. You can see more videos at myenergykit.org.

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But through it all, I continued to be homesick. Please don’t get me wrong. I love the work I’m doing and the travels I’m having. But I miss all the people in my life. I can’t wait until I get to see you again.

In case you haven’t caught it yet (and shame on you if you haven’t) every blog I post has a title that is a show tune that I feel is relevant to the day’s post. I’ll just leave you with the lyrics from today’s song from Jason Robert Brown’s Last Five Years:

I could have a satchel full of dollar bills
Cures for all the nations ills
Pills to make a lion purr
I could be in line to be the British queen
Look like I was seventeen
Still I’m certain I’d prefer to be going slowly batty
Forty miles east of Cincinnati

I could shove an ice pick in my eye
I could eat some fish from last July
But it wouldn’t be as awful as a summer in Ohio
Without cable, hot water, Vietnamese food, or you.

We’re in the Money!

Today I would like to talk about how to get the best hotel deal for a budget-traveller. Stay with me, folks – you’ll be glad you did.

I mean how many hotels do you think Shatner actually has to negotiate with...? I'm just sayin'

Resources like Priceline, Expedia, and yes, even Kayak are great for a starting point. But what I’ve found through months of tour is that these sites are just resources – do not book your hotel from them. Pete and repeat – Do not book your hotel rooms from Priceline/Expedia/Kayak.

Don’t get me wrong. I use them myself – but only to search for the amenities and price range I desire. When I decide which hotel works best for me, I contact the hotel directly. Here’s why:

First of all, I’m a member of AAA. AAA membership has many benefits and one of the best is discounted hotel rates. Every hotel that I have stayed at during the tour has been at least ten dollars cheaper than the priceline/expedia/kayak advertised rates.

Not a AAA member?* There is still hope.

I tour during the school year (shocking, I know) – and much of my time on the road is during the off-season for tourists. Many of these hotels we are staying at are never at capacity. The parking lot is empty, save for the few semis and the employee’s car and even several hotels have had us as the only guests. Maybe it’s the towns we’re in (rural communities for the most part, speckled with the occasional Cincinnati or Knoxville) or maybe it’s the recession. Still, with empty rooms – hotels are desperate to have you. Like Fräulein Schneider sings in Cabaret:

As long as the room gets let, the fifty that I will get
is fifty more that I had yesterday.

This guy knows what's up

Another thing to remember: the taxes on hotel rooms are too damn high. I've found it to be almost 15% in some states.

Even without AAA, hotels were willing to negotiate with us. “Gee, Comfort Inn, we really like your hotel here – we would like to stay all week since we’re in the area until next Tuesday – but unfortunately our budget is only X. I know it’s a long shot, but is there anyway we can work together to make something work?” and “Thank you so much for working with us. We’ll be sure to send a great review on the comment card.” Those phrases are our best friends. They allow us to stay at places that would be outside of our budget. Even if it’s only ten dollars, that can make a world of difference.

For frequent travelers, like myself, start earning rewards points by signing up for brand loyalty rewards. My personal two favorites are the Choice Hotels and Best Western programs, but find something that works for you. Choice Hotels have lost of options for varying budgets, and they have been helpful and kind in all of our stays. Best Western has been great to work with, so we also use them. Andy and I also tend to stay at Super 8s here and there, when necessity calls. We’ve had some sketchy ones though (including one last night that had a water heater problem), so do your research. If they aren’t up to standard, don’t be afraid to say so as soon as you see the room. If nothing else, they usually will refund your money and you can find something more suitable. Red Roof has a rewards program too (though they are typically out of our price range).

But the best advice? Don’t be a jerk. I know the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but these people have lives and are working long hours to make ends meet. Befriend the front desk. Be polite to housekeeping. Let them know how much you appreciate them. They’ll appreciate your business too.

I’m reminded of the staff at Red Roof Inn at Knoxville-Papermill Rd. The front desk clerk, Jeff, was fantastic. We would walk in the door and he would welcome us back home. It didn’t take him long to learn our names. Soon he was hooking us up with rooms near the workout center and coupons for things to do in Knoxville. On our last week in Knoxville, he gave us a generously discounted rate. I tweeted Red Roof corporate to tell them how much I enjoyed our stay there and how the staff really took care of us. I hope Jeff got at least a certificate out of it – he was freaking awesome. Jeff – this one’s for you.

So to review, here’s the plan:

  1. Use Kayak to find the perfect hotel room.
  2. Go to the hotel’s website and see what the listed rates (including discounts like AAA) are there.
  3. If that meets your budget, awesome – if not, call or visit the hotel directly and see if they can work with your budget.
  4. Check in like rock stars.
We’re currently staying in a Choice Hotel in Cincinnati. Amenities that we prefer are mini-fridge/microwaves, fitness centers, and continental breakfasts – so we put our wish list on Kayak, let them know that our budget is 70, and then look at the maps. We found this place which advertised all of our needs, plus a business center. Kayak’s rate was listed as $65/night (this rate does not include taxes). When we went to the website, I saw that the AAA discount put us at $58 and some change (again, without taxes) so we’re still over budget. So I called reservations. I told my friendly call-center employee we had AAA and before I even tried to negotiate the clerk quoted me an even lower discounted rate of $42. Now I’m under budget and they have our business, everybody wins.

* Footnote: AAA is widely pronounced as “Triple A” – hence the article use of ‘a AAA member’ instead of ‘an AAA member’ – Andy says if you have a problem with it to take it up with him. Take a helmet: He’s a master of English and will kick your butt.

Dear Old Shiz

Dear Old Shiz

Today I took some time to visit the Cincinnati Christian University.

I can't tell you how proud this makes me.

In the 40’s, both my grandparents attended what was then called the Cincinnati Seminary. Later, in 1977, my uncle Mark graduated from the same Seminary. I have heard countless stories from the whole family about the seminary and their days there. Grandma Martha would tell me about her work in the music hall, which was having auditions while I was visiting. Grandpa Roy also had several stories about the Seminary on the hill. My own dad attended in ’67, but transferred to OU shortly after. My favorite class from his time here was a 3 credit hour class called “Christian Manhood.”

Armed with all of this knowledge, I visited the seminary to see what there was to see. I was awarded with the following sights:

I sent the pictures to my Dad who was with Grandpa Roy. I hope they gave him a smile – as I know that my Grandmother has been admitted to the hospital today. I asked Rachel, the kind administrative assistant who helped me find everything, to pray for them. Walking the grounds was like walking in their footsteps. Like Grandma said when I last saw her, it was like looking in a mirror of another time.

90 years young, Grandpa and grandpa on a recent visit

The Movin’ Uptown Blues

The Movin’ Uptown Blues

My love for the Twin Cities grows each time I visit.

This past week, I was introduced to a couple of new live-music venues in town. The first of these was Nye’s, a piano bar on Hennepin that was hailed by Esquire Magazine as the best bar in America. The first sights and sounds of the bar are overwhelming. A talented pianist to our left played “Roll out the barrel” as patrons raised glasses and joined in song. Later in the evening Michael and I requested to sing “Happy Together” in honor of our grand reunion in the cities, and the pianist thankfully helped us along. A broad with a voice to die for sang “Stormy Weather.” In another room, aptly named the polka-room, a polka band played all sorts of requests while we danced enthusiastically. It was a busy place though, so be prepared to wait a bit for a drink if you’re thirsty.

On Wednesday night Phil and I ventured to 400 Bar. This dive bar made the list due to it’s headliner for the evening, Koerner and Glover. I am thankful to Phil for introducing me to them – I admit I was in the dark before seeing them in person. If you are in Minneapolis in the next two months you MUST go show them some love, you really won’t regret it. And with Gin/Tonics at $4 a drink, how could you go wrong?

But the best part of Minneapolis is the people, specifically the people down at the National Theatre for Children. This tour brings new people into my life (Phil, Megan, Erin, Dave, and Danielle) plus all of my old favorites (you all know who you are!). One thing is for certain, Minneapolis is always a good time. I look forward to seeing some more of it in March. Until then, Cincinnati, OH is offering me a slightly warmer climate and I can’t pass that up.

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can

Well hello again, Minneapolis! It’s nice to see you again. Is that a new bed skirt?

I can’t believe I made it through two layovers and three flights without having to talk to a soul. It’s for the best. I wasn’t feeling too well.

I get nervous, and then when I start to think about being nervous – I get sick. It happens more than it probably should. The only way to fix it is to calm down, which is surprisingly difficult to do when it’s what you need to do. I’ve been like this all week, more so than usual. My parents took Max and I out to dinner the other night, and halfway through my chicken burger, I lost my appetite and then I started to worry about the inevitable loss of my dinner. In my childhood I would fast on show-days because of this phenomenon.

Cool story, right bro?

From the window of the plane I could see my bag.

Can’t get butterflies without the butter…? Sounds like that could be a good idiom for it. It’s not that I’m going to choke under the pressure, obviously. Simply choosing not to eat is not healthy and nigh-on impossible for the 10 weeks I’m on tour and single week leading up to it. Besides, I love food. It’s delicious. Om nom nom. I choose instead to eat light fare and take some tums. It works, but is it a permanent solution? I’m still nervous. A fair amount of stage-fright is good for the soul, but this feels different and it’s steadily becoming more overwhelming. Maybe it was just the flight, because I do feel better now. Truth be told, it’s not just touring that gets me in my head like this. I’m almost positive I’m doing damage to my stomach lining. Isn’t this how ulcers are born? Is that a myth? Am I over-reacting and causing more anxiety? How do people deal with anxiety? What are the alternatives? Anxiety medications? Counting to ten? Bulk-orders of tums?

In other news, I probably love Max more than I should – and I miss him. I miss you too, Tulsa. I miss your sunny, 70-degree January days. Try to fix up that construction on I-44 before March. To all of those I’ve left behind, know that I love and miss you too. But it’s almost crippling how much I miss Max when we’re apart.

As for you, Minneapolis, I have a man in a cosby sweater to meet at Liquor Lyle’s. It’s the 3-for-1s, they get me everytime. I ought to put on a sweater myself – Tulsa’s 70 degrees spoiled me and I wasn’t halfway prepared for the 20s that Minneapolis has to offer. Can’t get too crazy tonight though, rehearsal starts tomorrow! I’ll be damned if I spend the night in a bath tub again, amiright Michael and John?

Let the Winter 2012 Tour commence!