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Love/Hate Relationship With ‘Hertz Know-It-All’; Road To Finish Line

September 20th, 2008 · Tags:Coffee Shops · Uncategorized

The road between Jacksonville and Orlando was quite a drive. For the first 45 minutes, I took the A1 highway with the Atlantic Ocean on the left, until I hit St. Augustine and then veered off to the right, and hopped on I-95 headed for Orlando. It was pretty tempting to pull over and get another drink from the Fountain of Youth with Ponce and the boys in St. Augie, but I needed to get back to Orlando.

But, before I left the driveway at Sawgrass in my new rental ride, I fired up the Magellan GPS unit, featuring Hertz NeverLost technology. NeverLost! Well now. I had to wonder if GPS would take the fun out of the drive – after all I had been lost at one time or another in 43 cities on my last road trip. Ha, you never know what you’ll find. But this day, I had a flight to catch in a few hours, so GPS also meant Get me to the Plane, Stupid. See the smart technology at: www.hertz.com … Not to mention gas is now an issue as PingWi-Fi inches forward without a sponsor :) (Note to self: tag this “shameless self-promotion” …)

Ok … lets try out this verbal, co-pilot GPS – the Hertz NeverLost. First of all, I have a request. I would like for the female voice to break into the music, via the stereo speakers, when “she” has something important to say. I mean … it is not like I drive with the music merely on stun. It is always cranked to full frontal assault. But, I guess relationships are built on compromise. I turned down the music so “Ms. BackFire” could make herself known.

Oh … she was not happy. “Turn left,” she instructed. But, she didn’t see the sign that said, “DeLand Historical District five miles ahead. “Turn left,” she pleaded. But, alas, I am a sucker for history and exited to the right. (My findings follow this below.) “Please make a legal U-Turn, when it is safe,” she nitpicked. I told her she had been hanging out with the legal team too much, and that she should just say what she means.

“Excuse me darling, let’s stop and get donuts.”

Dunkin Donuts, no Wi-Fi, no score. “Why did we have to stop?”

Stubbornly, I proceeded to DeLand, Fla., against her advice. I bypassed Daytona Beach, and had to wonder if the Daytona Internet Café is still offering Wi-Fi there on the main drag. It was a cool place. Anyone know?

On the road into DeLand, I saw a sign for a salon – “Beauty Mark.” Isn’t beauty mark just a mole with a good PR guy? I digress …

On the main road in DeLand, I pulled up to Boston Gourmet Coffee House. It was a full house inside, but I still got a parking spot in the front door. I didn’t hear any positive remark about that bit of driving prowess from the queen of GPS. She was still all pouty.

Boston Gourmet was oh so quaint, with lots of locals having late breakfast or early lunch. There were three other laptops out, so I knew I was among friends. I popped out the Hewlett-Packard and got on line quickly. Ha … I ordered a black coffee and the banana bread, cream cheese muffin recommended by the young waitress. Hmmm … about half way through the muffin, I realized, “This was not banana.” It was carrot. I called the waitress over and told here the recipe for banana bread was interesting. I would have never thought to put carrots in banana muffins. Then I told her, unfortunately, I have a severe allergy to carrots. “Are my eyes rolling back in my head?” Ha … I have no allergies. She was about to call 911.

The Wi-Fi at Boston Gourmet also was a nice surprise – 6 Pings.

What’s this? Just behind BG was a little mini-mall with yet another coffee shop. Cool logo! It was called Coffee 101. I decide to go on in for “some learnin.” But, there was more than I bargained for. Hmmm … no way to comfortably tell the story, so I will just blurt it out. I whipped out the Apple myPhone to check for a Wi-Fi signal. To my surprise, a new mother in the corner had also just “whipped it out” for family feeding time — of all things, amidst discussion of the difference between atheism and agnosticism. Heady stuff, but the visuals! While I was seeing a good strong signal on the handheld, she and her infant were doing their own little download. Embarrassed, I fled.

Coffee 101 was a little less cozy than the previous coffee shop – although some folks were a little “too comfortable” in my opinion – but the wireless was readily accessible – 3 pings.

By the way, at this stage in my journey it seems important to mention that my HP laptop is holding its own. It is a couple of years old and although it is too shiny — not unlike my Mom’s makeup compact – it is performing like a trooper. Also, my “pre-G” iPhone has served me well. At the iTunes store, I just downloaded Sophia Teutschler’s application – “Where To?” which helps me find points of interest along the way. Quick note for the roadwarrior … I have learned the hard way that it is a good idea to turn off the Wi-Fi function on the iPHone, when not in use, to preserve precious battery life on the road.

Oh my goodness … I forgot about the quite-vocal Ms. GPS in the car. I should have cracked a window. :) (Notice I DID NOT say Ms. GP(m)S, although I was tempted.) She barked instructions for me to get back to the I-4, and off we went. (I-4 — that is the interstate, not a handheld device nor a reggae group.) After DeLand, I did what I was told and the H2 (Hertz Honda) glided along toward Orange City. (My kind of town, matches my logo …) There was another good view of water, as I neared Lake Monroe.

At this point, I started to play nice, because I really needed the wise counsel of the lady behind the curtain … the GPS. And I did exactly what I was told. Somehow, her audible instructions seemed much more pleasant as she guided me toward Orlando and the airport … probably because my watch said time was of the essence. No time for fussin and fightin …

Soon we had another communications breakdown, but I am a big enough man to admit it was my fault. When I first set the destination in the NeverLost GPS system, I entered Orlando, but didn’t know the address for the airport. So I selected … hmmm … Airport Blvd., I think it was. It seemed way logical at the time. (Frankly, I think Magellan could improve the input device … but oh well …)

Well, about 10 miles northeast of Orlando, my travel companion advised me to exit the freeway. “Are you crazy?” I fired back to the synthesized voice. The Orlando International Airport was on the other end of town. Well … she was correct — sort of. There was an airport north of Orlando, and apparently it also came with an Airport Blvd. So there is a lesson in all of this. With a GPS partner – or anyone – be specific and communicate. I played my hunch and drove on. She didn’t like that, as you can imagine.

“Oh, I better pull over.” … Hertz and I had agreed that I would return their rental with a full tank. So I exited when I saw one of the dozens of RaceTrac gas stations. The price of petrol wasn’t too obscene, and I filled her up.

You know where this is going, don’t you? Yes, I paid at the pump and went in to inquire about Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi at a gas station? Hey, it could happen. I recently saw an article in Forbes that mentioned Wi-Fi at a gas station chain — Speedway (primarily in the Ohio Valley and throughout the Northeast, I think. They haven’t returned my calls ????? ) Anyway, Speedway has Wi-Fi at some locations. (Ha … “Wi-Fi at” looks like Fiat …) How about RaceTrac? Not this day Speedracer … back in car! Pitstop, but no pings.

Soon after, my all-knowing GPS started giving me directions to the next airport – my desired destination. (The airport is only 9 miles from downtown Orlando, but I just didn’t have time to stop.) So, even after the harsh words, we were now back on the same page. I listened to her and did what she told me. And together, in harmony, we navigated to Orlando International Airport. (I am sure there is a perfectly good reason for the airport’s abbreviation, MCO.) I should have asked my wordy navigator, before I hit the Hertz drop off point. We parted ways. Thanks to Hertz for introducing us.

Driving with a clue and a “good conversationalist,” — Magellan, Hertz and NeverLost get 6, but only 6 pings – because I wear the pants in this relationship.

At MCO, how’s the Wi-Fi? Well, it was free and my iPhone picked it up throughout the part of the airport I saw – out where the U.S. Airways jets hang. But frankly, by this point, I was more interested in the an electrical outlet. My gaggle of gadgets were powerless, and it was almost time to board.

In the air …

It was the next-to-last stage of my journey – a flight connecting in Charlotte, N.C., and then back to Dallas/Fort Worth. Despite the hurricanes all over the southeast, my entire trip was unaffected. The U.S. Airways jet was filled with peeps. Once again I had chosen the back of the plane to get an aisle seat. The first stage of the flight to Charlotte was uneventful, except for yet another wild kid. Not a big deal – I once cried, kicked and screamed at the drop of a hat too. Seriously, I am okay with that. (No surprise that a flight coming out of Orlando was filled with families and Mickey Mouse souvenirs.) We landed in Charlotte, and I checked e-mail at that hub. All good. I slammed down some chicken fingers. Back on plane. For the final two hours of the journey, once again I was in the back of the plane, wishing I could power up my laptop – waiting to take off — when two guys grabbed the seats beside me. They were fairly polite, but honestly, pretty noisy. I can deal with that. Then they broke out the muchies – a couple of takeout orders of what must have been fried onion casseroles. Oh my gosh … I so hoped they brought a breath mint through the security checkpoint with them.

Onions, like snakes, have no place on a plane. And there was no Wi-Fi to take my mind off this truism – 1 ping assigned to the seats in the rear of the U.S. Airways flight.

That’s when it hit me! Since deciding to launch PingWi-Fi, I had my first serious doubt . There on the runway for the flight home, I was thinking “Can I do this?”. I have crossed the country before in an auto, by myself. But can I really do it by plane? In all seriousness, that means hours and hours of waiting, packed flights, body scans, tiny shampoos, security checks, short tempers, long lines, onion casseroles, screaming kids … and a seat that was designed for someone who is only 80 percent of my girth and altitude. I was tired. I was dejected, neglected, rejected, inspected and feeling infected … my elbows and knees were crammed into my ribs … and I was high on the fumes of unknown herbs and spices.

I just didn’t know if it was worth it …

“Excuse me sir.” The attendant forced me back into the real world, and told me that a lady in the emergency aisle seating didn’t want to be the one responsible for removing the safety door in the event of a cushion-hugging, emergency water landing … or whatever.

“It’s not an aisle seat, but the trade off is that you would have more leg room.”

I asked her to repeat that … “No the last part — about more room.”

I jumped up, forgot the soft drink I so carefully purchased back on the ground and skipped up the aisle to get away from the fajita cloud … or whatever it was.

Well … was the joke on me? The new seat was squeezed in between two men. They didn’t look happy, or sociable. Let’s be honest … I am a big ol’ boy, and the guy to my left, closest the emergency hatch looked like he could use me to punch the door open – emergency or not. He wasn’t mean looking, but he was bigger than me and of course, was also squeezed into a munchkin chair.

“Oh this is going to be fun,” I thought. “Get ready to play ‘my half of the armrest is all of the armrest’ for two hours.”

What had I gotten myself into? Was PingWi-Fi going to be months and months of slow agony.

We attained the required 40,000-feet altitude or whatever and the captain did his thing with the lights – signaling time for the laptops and iPods to “light up.” I was first. (Can’t someone else operate that light and let the captain concentrate on “the road?”)

No sooner had I cranked up the Hewlett-Packard, when the big guy beside me stirred. I thought he was going to deliver an elbow to my ribs. Instead – “Nice laptop.” He told me he works in government sales for HP. Based in D.C., he was on his way to Dallas.

Despite being another big ol’ boy, he was a a gentleman and a scholar. Was he there for a reason? I don’t know, but it was one of the more enjoyable visits I have had on a plane in some time. We talked computers, GPS .. about our kids … college football and the like. (I didn’t know HP makes GPS units for the car.)

Dude – you were there just when I needed you. It was very encouraging. And I hear your Terp football team is doing well. The guy from HP, single-handedly scores 7 Pings for just being a good human in the right place at the right time.

I can do this!

And that is the end of the testflight of PingWi-Fi. There will be an official launch in the near future. Thanks for traveling along. And a special thanks to Courtney, David, Grayson, Bentley, Scott, Todd and Emily in Texas, and Leann in Jersey.

Well, the trip wasn’t perfect. Some of the equipment is old, gasoline is now a precious mineral, and I might have a bit of work to get back into top blogging form. But, room for improvement is a good thing – as The Flaming Lips recording says, “The test is over” – 6 pings.