Category Archives: City Reviews

What Harlem taught me about diversity

This past spring break we put together a tour of two cities that ended up being what I call the “Freedom is not Free” vacation.  We started in DC, touring the monuments, government buildings and museums.  If you have not been to the Holocaust Museum, you must!!  Unbelievably humbling, sad, infuriating and empowering all in the same breath.  The room of shoes literally takes your breath away.

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In NYC, we had the unique opportunity to stay with a dear friend of ours in her brownstone in New York City, specifically, in Harlem.   Harlem is a vibrant part of the City with enough character to go around the whole island but we all know the reputation that precedes it; poverty, drugs, crime and racial inequality.  .  I took the picture below on the last morning of our stay in NYC.

NYC Window

Those buildings you see across the way?  Those are the projects, literally.  I was expecting it to be a culture clash for my kids and one that I worried they would be afraid of.  The fact that it wasn’t was beyond surprising.

It was rewarding.

We arrived in New York via train on Thursday evening.  Harlen was our conductor on the train and a New York native.  He had taken an interest in my boys and was determined to show them everything they could see from the train itself including Freedom Tower, the Empire State and of course, Lady Liberty herself.  As a Harlem native, Harlen set the bar of expectation high in my boys heads (imagine how rough that had to have been, being Harlen from Harlem.  And you thought YOU were teased for your name in grade school!!).  Once we pulled in to Penn Station we immediately pinged out for UBER.  The driver’s response to our destination was a hesitant “That’s interesting” and not nearly with the same enthusiasm as Harlen.

My boys really did not have any clue as to what to expect from Harlem.

My boys really did not have any clue as to what to expect, no real preconceived notions of what ‘Harlem’ was supposed to be about.  On the drive from Penn Station to North Harlem, we passed the USS Intrepid, saw the multiple Trump buildings along Riverside Drive and passed right in front of the iconic Apollo Theatre.  We were in the heart of Harlem, A Train and all.

Our home back in Texas is on a very ethnically diverse street.  If you walk four houses in either direction of our quiet suburban home you can find families that originally called Columbia, Pakistan, Germany, Korea, Ecuador, Japan, Turkey and Chechnya their home.   However the diversity and more importantly, the community, my boys were able to witness in Harlem was something on a different level.  We were able to meet the home owner who with his partner hosts aid workers from around the globe in ‘The People’s Brownstone’.  We heard tales of Dotty, the Mayor of W 131st Street who is up in everyone’s business– my greatest regret of the trip was we were not able to make her acquaintance.  There were families, kids, mothers, neighbors and mailmen all in the neighborhood and yes, everyone was in everyone’s business.  It was neighborhood, a real neighborhood.

My favorite encounter was on our first full day in the city.  We left ‘The People’s Brownstone’ early in the morning and headed over to the subway.  We were no more than 10 steps away from the front door when 2 gentlemen and a woman from the neighborhood questioned where we came from.  Repeatedly.

Neighbor #1: “Did you just come from that door?”

Me: “Yep”

Neighbor #1: “The one with the plants on the stoop?”

Me: “Yep”

Neighbor #2: “That one right there with the red door?”

Me: “Yes, sir.”

Neighbor #3: “That’s where that One Lady lives!”

Neighbor #1: “Oh, OK then.”

We were in a neighborhood where the white family stuck out like a sore thumb but ‘That Lady’ was our friend and host and everyone in the neighborhood knew ‘That Lady’.  They knew that she was in the business of helping the most downtrodden across the globe.  They knew that she and the owners of the house hosted visitors of all nationalities, ethnicities and communities regularly.  You see, even though Harlem is incredibly ‘diverse’ it is also monochromatic for the most part.  We definitely stood out and neighbors were watching out for neighbors.  It was refreshingly awesome.

As someone who travels the country regularly, I have the benefit of literally seeing all types and sizes.  I see diversity if for no other reason than the number of time zones I touch in a week but too many of us do not.  We live with those ‘like us’.  We work with those ‘like us’.  We church with those’ like us’.  We need to take time to be with those who are not ‘like us’.   A special shout goes out to all those in Harlem who welcomed us with open arms so that my family and I could introduce ourselves the NYC and did not shun those not like them but reached out to meet and learn about those ‘not like them’.  I cannot wait to go back and visit again.

The power of the #hashtag

Over the past two weeks, I have had a couple of travel experiences that have been less than optimal to say the least.  It eventually happens to all of us.  A room isn’t ready, a flight is oversold, a car smells like smoke…you get the point.  The interesting part of these deficiencies is both of them involved my accommodations, both involved me posting on social media about the deficiencies and both were from service providers that I used to be employed by.  Most importantly, both resulted in great stories of how service providers are utilizing social media to ensure that they are providing superior service.

The first of the deficiencies occurred as my family and I were traveling for Spring Break back east.  I had found a great deal on a 2-bedroom suite with Oakwood, a company that provides Corporate Housing and is the absolute leader in the space.  Having spent 6 years with this group, I know the quality standards they have and the systems in place to ensure these standards are lived up to.  You can imagine my surprise when after checking in, I found a pretty major defect that was very evident (see below).

Oakwood Arlington

Now my son was too young to remember living in Oakwood Apartments but in fact he has lived in 4 different Oakwood buildings across 2 different states.

Howard Ruby

He was less than impressed with the portrait of Howard Ruby, one of the founders and owner of Oakwood Worldwide, on the wall of the lobby but I know that Howard is not willing to put his name on anything other than the best.  In this particular case, they had come up short.

The day after I posted on Facebook about my experience at Oakwood, the Community Manager was calling my cell phone and sending me emails in an attempt to rectify the situation.  My family and I headed out that morning to do some site seeing and by the time we returned that evening, we did not have a new cushion on the couch, WE HAD A NEW COUCH AND LOVE SEAT!!   They identified an issue, worked to rectify it and followed-up with me to ensure that I was satisfied.

Great customer service!!

Fast forward 2 weeks and I find myself in Atlanta, arriving at my hotel at a very late hour only to find that my room has been given to someone else and there are no longer any rooms available with Marriott.  Now this is the company that I went to work for after leaving Oakwood and I am an extremely loyal Marriott Rewards member.  I am also not afraid to post on social media in order to get a response.  The way these two organizations responded is telling of their social media savvy and customer service.

With Marriott I used a different medium, Twitter.  After getting bounced late at night, I sent the following tweet:

Marriott Tweet

Upon seeing the tweet, Marriott customer service representatives contacted me directly asking for details and explained to me that there is actually a policy in place with Marriott that if they ever have to walk an Elite Guest, they will not only pay for the room at an alternative brand but also cut the Elite Guest a check for their inconvenience.  The General Manager of the hotel is scheduled to reach out to me and I am sure that Marriott will be conscious of when/where I go next.

In both of these cases, these service providers were actively monitoring their on-line presence, discovered a deficiency and remedied the deficiency.  I never expect a provider to be perfect but I do expect them to remedy when a deficiency is brought to their attention.  This was executed flawlessly by both Oakwood and Marriott, thank you both.

There are also several lessons here for the savvy traveler:

Loyalty and relationships matter

If I had not been known by Oakwood or had been an Elite Member at Marriott, I am sure my experience would have been different. Organizations reward your loyalty so pick a brand/hotel/location that best fits your needs and make yourself known.

Reach out when there is a deficiency

I could have easily just lived with the tear (I actually had intended to – the facebook post was more for my former comrades in arms than to raise any type of stink). Top notch providers of any service want to provide superior service but no one is perfect.

Be nice

There is a time for a more direct approach but social media is almost never the medium for that (and way too many people use it for just that purpose).

Follow-up

In both of these cases I made sure to post on the same medium how wonderful the group was for rectifying the situation. If we all shared at least 3 compliments for every criticism the world would be a much better place.

Monitor your hash tags

If you are a business owner or a business influencer, I cannot stress enough that in today’s world, you have to monitor the hash tags relevant to your business. For decades business have been surveying guests to get a pulse on their performance, now people readily share with the world how you are doing.  Are you paying attention?

How about you?  What stories of phenomenal customer service do you have?

Looking forward to hearing them and we will see you on the road!!

Fitness and sightseeing – a perfect match

“Traveling to all those different cities must be so interesting!!  You get to see so much!!”

There it is.  The two sentence combination that immediately tells me that my conversation partner is what I like to call a ‘tourist’.  The kind of person who only travels for pleasure and has no idea what business travel is really like let alone real RoadWarrior stuff (oh, how I long for the bliss of those days).  For those of you who can call yourselves ‘tourists’, let me say that I envy you and let me also provide you with some insight as to what the typical business trip looks like.

Wake up early ->  Jump on a plane -> Get in cab to client offices -> Conduct meeting -> Uber to hotel -> Shuttle to the airport

In and Out….as quickly as possible.  That was my routine for a long time and to a great degree still is but that does not mean you can’t fit some of the life of the city in and keep fit.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to spend very short stints of time in some of my favorite sightseeing destinations.  Seattle, Chicago, New York and DC.  With the exception of Chicago, my trips to all 4 were less than 24 hours in total duration but I still managed to spend time experiencing the Manhattan Skyline, Soldier Field and the lake, the Seattle waterfront and Space Needle and the vast majority of the DC monuments (isn’t my workout selfie wonderful?).  I did it by incorporating my sightseeing expeditions with my fitness routine.

I know, not everyone loves running but most everyone can run or walk and if the line at the treadmill in these cities was any indication, a lot of RoadWarriors were spending significant time on those machines.

Take that run/walk outside and experience the city!!

With just a little bit of planning, or the right app, you can find a route that will put you on the right path to a workout and a great tour of the city.  I use www.mapmyrun.com to plan my routes.  In a matter of clicks I had routes to see the city and a guide to make sure that I was following the right path.

Soldier Field

4 miles in Chicago let me see the lake and Soldier Field.

Empire State

2 miles in New Jersey let me get an unbelievable view of the NYC skyline.

WWII monument

5 miles in DC gave me a route that hit all of the major memorials and the White House.

So get out of that dingy hotel gym (let’s face it, even the nicest of them are usually in the basement or some underutilized corner of the facility) and get outside.  Pick a monument, a theatre, a landmark and take your own workout selfie.  I promise you, you’ll be glad you did.

Make it Work!!

My ratio of pleasure vs. work travel is infinitesimally small but I was fortunate enough this past extended weekend to travel to LA & Santa Barbara with my wife Joy  On paper the trip was ideal, 4 days with just the two of us enjoying our native California sand and sun.  One day as a couple in Santa Monica and 3 up in Santa Barbara where we would reconnect with fellow UCSB Gaucho alumni and their families.  What could be wrong with that kind of trip?  Romance, friends, California sun, great food and my beloved Ocean, virtually nothing could derail this trip, unless of course the hotel we stayed at did not have a gym.

Which of course, it didn’t.

Now when I travel for business, I am faced with all kinds of options as to where I would like to stay.  The choice is mine and very often it comes down to ‘Who has the best gym?’.  But this time we were traveling with 5 other families, from all over the country with kids of all ages all getting together in the same spot.  My fitness needs took a back seat (and rightfully so) to the greater needs of the collective.  So as we found the one hotel in the Santa Barbara area that could house our motley crew, it was up to my wife and I to figure out a way to make fitness a priority.  We had a choice to make.

We could either let it slide for the weekend (I mean really, it is just a weekend) or we could make it work.  So make it work we did.

Santa Monica was easy, with a full gym a located less than a block from the beach and running paths, it was a no brainer.  Easy-peasy and I got to enjoy sights like the one below.

Santa Monica

Santa Barbara was a lot tougher but thank God I had Joy with me. 

You see she is a Beachbody Coach and in the middle of a PiYo challenge so I focused on her routine rather than mine.  She had her workouts downloaded already and even though we did not have a single weight, treadmill or elliptical at our disposal, we got 3 challenging workouts in over the 3 days in Santa Barbara.  Without a workout room, we even had to improvise on the location (it is amazing how much space your standard pool deck has when you move the chase lounges out of the way) where we could complete the PiYo workouts. To say we improvised is putting it mildly.   Joy even took video of our space for one of her accountability groups which can be seen below and as you can see, there was a great deal of improvisation going on with these workouts.

Now I am not going to lie, we got a lot of funny looks from the other guests who were passing us doing our PiYo on the pool deck.  Our preferred workout area was directly on the path for all hotel guests who were getting their breakfast from the free buffet.

And for every ‘You guys are so good’ comment I heard or crazy eye directed our way, I had to remind myself that;

a) Their opinion did not matter – living longer for my wife and kids does

b) It is my health and not theirs – I can only choose to affect my own health, they can only choose to affect their health

c) We do crazy stuff like this so that we can enjoy the good stuff later – Like Brophy Brothers which is one of our absolute favorite dining spots on the planet and the location of the picture below;

Brophy selfie

So don’t let opinion, resources or apathy get in the way of you achieving your fitness goals while on the road.  You can always do something.  Walk, run, do a body weight series or maybe even a PiYo workout.  Regardless of the circumstances, you can do something and you will feel worlds better for it when you are done.

Why RoadWarriorFit?

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Anyone who has spent any time on the road knows that it eats at you.  The jet-lag, the unfamiliar environment, the constant eating out as well as the evening night client events and/or work sessions to make sure the trip is productive all conspire to tear your spirit, fitness and health down.

Believe me, I know how you feel. Over the last 13 years, I have logged more than a million frequent flier miles, spent a full year in hotel rooms and rented countless rental cars.  To put it simply, I live on the road.   So much so that I have developed the filter of ‘how will this fit in my roll-aboard’ and apply it to every purchase.  I am the kind of person who has two of every toiletry item.  Why you ask?  Simple, it is way easier to have two of everything than to unpack and repack every week.

Yeah, George Clooney’s got nothing on me……OK, he might have a couple of things on me but whatever.

Back to why RoadWarriorFit.net?  The short answer is because I was not RoadWarrior fit for a long time.  For the first 6 years of my RoadWarrior journey, I did not give my fitness level a second thought.  Heck, I was coaching my sons’ baseball teams, played softball regularly and have even started to do Karate.  Out of shape guys don’t do that kind of stuff!  I am fitter than most (or so I thought)!!

Problem was I ate just about whatever I wanted…..and I really was not as active as the previous paragraph would lead you to believe (after all, how much effort is there really in telling a bunch of 8 year olds how to field a ground ball?).   Reality was I was in my early 30’s but living and eating like I was still in college.  Too bad no one told my metabolism that we weren’t still living the good ole days.

That’s when a few seemingly unrelated events got strung together that made me open my eyes and take a hard look at reality.  As my journey in martial arts progressed, I was fortunate to be exposed to some advanced level training.  I even got to spar on one of the other student’s black belt test.  I watched this 18 year old go through the paces and nearly collapse from exhaustion.  Here was this ‘kid’ who was in great shape who looked like he was going to throw up at any moment from the effort he was putting in.  I knew if I was going to attain the same rank, I could not do it in the shape I was in.

You see, I love to train but as my training time increased, so did the joint pain I would experience the next day.  My knees would just hurt.  It was on one of those pain filled ‘day after training’ that the second event happened. I was having an innocuous conversation with my boss about one of my expense reports.  I wanted to make sure he had seen a particular charge for something or other.  It was his commentary that particularly struck me:

“Andrew, how could I not see it?  Your expense reports are always the same.  $x for flight, $y for car rental and $22.44 for Papa’s Burgers for a cheeseburger and 2 beers.  Your expense reports are more predictable than the tides.”

There it was.  My bad habits (and they were bad) summed up in 4 sentences.  Not only did I eat poorly and then sit on my duff in a hotel room all night, I did so consistently.  So consistent that others were shocked when I did something different.   I was in my late 30’s, at least 30lbs overweight, was basically sedentary, knew I wasn’t in the shape I should be and was doing nothing about it.  It was time to do something about it.

Yes Andrew but why “RoadWarriorFit”!?!?  Get to the point!!

Dang you are push but alright then.  When I started my journey to fitness, I looked for all kinds of resources to help me achieve my goals while supporting a life lived on the road.  What I found was that it either did not exist or was really hard to find.

Sure, there was all of this great content out there but they never worked for me on the road.  I would find great workouts that I was excited to try, put together by top level trainers in top level gyms.  The challenge would be they were doing them in top level gyms, not the “workout room” I had access to (you know the one with the one working treadmill and broken stair climber).

There were great diet plans that promised to detox my fat and free radical laden system while encouraging weight loss and I am sure they work.  However, they always seemed to contain 12 special ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce let alone find in the grocery store.   And attempting to explain to a waiter how I wanted all of my food prepared to match said diet plan with any success?…..yeah, good luck with that!!

I knew I had to do it on my own and I did.  Don’t let me fool you, I do not have a body fat % in the single digits and you will never see me on the cover of Men’s Health Magazine (however if the editors ever catch wind of this blog, I am open to the idea).   I am a lot healthier though.  I lost the extra 30lbs, I now place a priority on my fitness and have found a routine that allows me to ensure that my travel enhances my fitness rather than impedes it.  The change in focus is one that probably saved my life, literally.  More on that in the next post, back to RoadWarriorFit.net.

So here is what I hope to provide through RoadWarriorFit.net:

  • A telling of my journey – hopefully you can avoid some of my pitfalls and build off of the successes.  And we can share a story or two.
  • Fitness Plans – I am not a certified trainer but I know a good work out when I run across it.  More importantly, I know what will and won’t work in the hotel gym.  We will be compiling workouts for all sorts of folks who have access to all sorts of resources (or lack thereof).
  • Diet – I love to cook.  I love to emulate dishes I see on the road in restaurants.  I also have developed a passion for finding healthy eats in the most unhealthy environments (like any airport in the State of Louisiana)
  • Useful Resources – I am not a certified trainer but I know how to surf the internet.  Keep checking back for links to new (or at least new to me) products and reviews.
  • Reviews – of cities, of hotels, of gyms, of whatever I encounter along the next steps of the RoadWarriorFit.net journey

If you have made it this far, you are obviously either a glutton for punishment or an insomniac but I thank you for sticking it out.  I hope that you will continue on the journey with me as we explore what it means to be RoadWarriorFit, regardless of whether that road leads to the other side of the country or just the other side of town.