Category Archives: Travel

Travel hack: Never lose another work transponder!

My fellow road warriors can relate: They rent a car while on a project and don’t want their client to have to pay the insanely high costs of toll surcharges that the rental services charge. They know it well. But if you’re not a frequent traveler, I’ll explain.

Car rental services are similar to hotels. They’re faced with stiff price competition, but still need to meet profitability expectations. The solution for hotels is to mark up the price of all of the extras. Most recently, that means raising their fees for in-room movies. (A $20 price tag for a first-run movie? Wowza!) For the car rental business, their latest go-to is crazy high markups for the road tolls that their in-car transponders transact.

When I first experienced this, my solution was getting a dedicated work transponder, associated with my work credit card. Problem solved!

But when dropping off my car, I have more than once left behind my transponder. What’s more, it’s difficult to get the thing to stay in place at the far end of the dashboard, wedged under the windshield glass. It invariably slides away, or completely onto the floor.

Putting A Free Selfie Stick To Work

Then I came upon this nutty but effective solution:

I took a selfie stick, which I’d gotten for free at a conference and never used, and with a stout rubber band, I affixed my transponder. Now I had a retractable wand that is small enough to fit in a pocket of my suitcase, and can be easily extended and jammed snugly into the crook of my windshield.

The bonus is it’s way too big to leave behind, even when I’m returning my rental car in a hurry.

What travel hacks have you come up with?



The Violet Crown and Craft Pride in Austin Texas

My on-foot exploration of Austin, the weekend of July 4, was extensive and fascinating. We covered much of streets that friends had told us about, including 2nd Street District and a walk down Austin’s historic 6th Street, a key locale for South by Southwest (SXSW), and of course the South Congress Avenue area. The map below, generated by Google Location History, shows the places visited, including a timeline:


The large gap in the timeline (above) between 10:30 and 1:15 was one of the highlights of our day. We went to a small, upscale independent movie theater called The Violet Crown. The entire experience was designed with me and other cinephiles in mind. There is a small restaurant and well-stocked bar, a lot of space to sit and converse before the film starts, and a film watching experience that includes deep, comfortable chairs and excellent sightlines. The film we saw that morning was one I had wanted to see since I’d heard about it. Here’s the trailer:

The film was perfect for a weekend exploring the indy side of Austin. An up-and-coming director (Gillian Robespierre), an even more promising star (Jenny Slate), and a plot that is definitely not your typical romantic comedy.

What followed was a walk over to The Continental Club, to hear guitar great Redd Volkaert perform roots country, with infectious titles like “From Now On All My Friends Will Be Strangers.” The front third of this small club were all on their feet, dancing and swinging to Volkaert’s masterful two step rhythms. I still can’t believe there was no cover! We saw an amazing show for the cost of three bottles of beer.

Speaking of beer, we had to return to Craft Pride, a hole-in-the-wall pub at the end of a row of rib joints, bars and nightclubs. This place touts 54 different taps from some of the best microbreweries in Texas and neighboring states. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly, although the four men who we saw working there seemed to be, if not brothers, four of the same Central Casting “types.” The all were in their 20s, all four had jet black hair, and, as clearly not getting the memo that beards are becoming passe, they all wore full beards.

While we sipped a Belgian style trippel and a delicious, hoppy IPA, we watched, for the second time in two days, the band Horse Opera perform. They were once again awesome (we had seen them the night before at Javelina, which is right next door to Craft Pride).

Great film, great music and wonderful beer … but as for the food? One of the bartenders at Craft Pride had suggested we check out Hopdoddy’s, but what he said were the best burgers in town. We never got there, but you can read about the lines we encountered, and the phenomenon of gourmet versions of simple foods, in this first post about my Austin adventure.

Gourmet approaches to simple foods

This blog post, after many months of silence, was inspired by a podcast. Those who know me well shouldn’t be surprised. I spend many hours a week with earbuds in, listening to any of a dozen shows … from WTF with Marc Maron to Freakonomics to … well, The Sporkful.

The latest episode of The Sporkful was about Hot Doug’s, a Chicago institution that is closing in the Fall. Sporkful host Dan Pashman has a geeky, playful approach to food and eating. He’s no food snob. He also has an infectious laugh (you can hear it in the brief audio snippet at the end of this post).

I learned on this episode that there is such a thing as a Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel hot dog. Well there is. This is what it looks like:


Austin's Craft PrideWhat inspired me to post about The Sporkful, and this episode specifically, is it reminded me of my recent weekend in Austin, Texas. I’ll be telling you more about this visit, but what you need to know is my trip included a delightful visit to Austin’s Craft Pride.

While my wife and I were enjoying a couple of their microbrew beers, she asked our bartender what one dining experience we shouldn’t miss. He recommended Hopdoddy Burger Bar. We obediently went there the next day for lunch, only to find the line into the place stretching a full block. We turned around.

In his latest podcast Dan Pashman recounts a similar experience with Chicago’s Hot Doug’s. He found 117 people standing in line on the day he visited. Hot dog decadence ensues.

The faux seriousness Pashman gives his podcast is somehow fitting for the gourmet treatment of dogs and burgers (in another Sporkful episode he interviews the founder of the Smashburger).

Here’s a brief audio excerpt of his experience coming out of Hot Doug’s. He is so stuffed from his Foie Gras hot dog that he left with a to-go bag full of the other dogs he ordered. Greeting the line outside, he can’t resist sharing his bounty with the waiting crowd:

I’ll be blogging more about my Austin adventure, and for those reading out of order, the space below will include direct links to those other posts. Bon appetit.

Here is my second and last post on our Austin adventure.