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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Road Lessons Day 3: Charlotte to Jacksonville

The drive from Pittsburgh to Charlotte was a bit tiring. As I mentioned, the trip went deep through the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia.  The sun was also directly into our eyes. By the time we got settled in the hotel in Charlotte, at around 3:30pm,  we needed a rest. Me more than my wife. I did most of the driving, as mentioned,  and my wife sleeps like a log when I am driving in the car. If the car was our bed at home,  she probably would sleep much better on the whole.
 While I crashed for a bit, she played on her laptop and found a few things for us to do.
We settled on going downtown to eat dinner and seeing a hot local band called Early Ray.
Early Ray is a pretty straightforward band. Or so it seems. At first glance, on the computer, they appear to be your garden variety new country band.  But when you see them perform, you learn otherwise. Again, more about that later.
The trip was now in full swing. Day 1 was just a short trip and Day 2 was a travel day.  At the end of day 2, in Charlotte, we headed to town to take in the sights, see a show and have some dinner.
Charlotte is a nice old town,  but has been 
modernized in such a way to be user friendly while retaining its old town feel. That is a tough chore but they have done it. At the end of the trip,  I can say that Charlotte was one of the nicer towns we visited. The class of people was quite a bit higher there. Mostly. But I will get to that later.
As always, I looked carefully at the map to make sure our short trip from the hotel to the restaurant would go smoothly. As always, it didn't.
GPS (or Tom-Tom in our case) is a great tool.  It gets you out of lots of tight spots. I would never deny that.  But it isn't the be all and end all. Things can go wrong, and they often do. They did this time.
As we got very close to our destination everything seemed fine. That was until we were guided onto a road that was under construction and closed. Tom-Tom doesn't know or recognize that part of the equation.
Now what?
I thought that I would just go back to the main road, go up a few streets, and cut back to the road we wanted. GPS will just recalculate if you do that. That didn't work either. The whole area was under construction and there were train tracks blocking the way to the other side we needed to get to.
This went on for about 10 minutes until we pulled over. Luckily I am good with a map and finding my way. I pointed out that I was a very good courier in the Day 2 blog,  and part of that skill is finding your way and going around obstacles and dead ends. That has served me well many times.
After a while we were back on track and in the area where all the night life was happening in Downtown Charlotte. 

Table in The Saloon. Note the tv at the table. Every table had one.

Early Ray was to play in a bar called The Saloon. Sounds like it might be an old style dump, but it was not. It was definitely a high end,  upscale bar/restaurant/sports bar. At our table there was a mini tv, as there was at every table.

The Saloon in Charlotte.

We were very early, so we ate dinner and waited for the band to play. The stage was huge and the sound was far better than any bar you would normally go to. It was a Thursday night, but you could tell that on a Friday or Saturday the place would be packed and they could easily handle 500 people. It was nice to be there on a night when it wasn't so crowded.
When you go to a bar in a town you don't know,  anything can happen.  That was not going to happen in this bar.  They had bouncers. Lots of them. They were also the type you would not want to mess with. It felt safe to be in this bar and the night was loads of fun.

Early Ray,  a 3 piece New Country Band

As Early Ray started to play it was clear what was different about them, from a bar band perspective. They had no drummer. They were a 3 piece outfit.  The lead singer, possibly named Ray (but I am not sure about that) played guitar and sang the songs. He was good, but not spectacular. They had a bass player, but he played the standing bass, like a cello. Made for an interesting sound. But the most interesting part of the band was the third member. A woman named Joanna Perry, who played a violin/fiddle (she had both) and did almost all the solos, in every song. She was as good as anyone you could find anywhere. Her violin also was shaped like a funky electric guitar.
They played one very long set (about an hour and twenty minutes) and we decided to leave. It had already been a very long day. We went back to the hotel and then I watched some tv as my wife drifted off to sleep. I watched Letterman, which I never do anymore, and Tom Hanks was the guest. He was very funny. Now I remember why Letterman is Letterman and Tom Hanks is such a big star. They are both very legit entertainers.
The plan  for Day 3 was to leave early that next morning and get to Jacksonville by mid afternoon so we could rest and then do some shopping..then take  in the nightlife in downtown Jacksonville. That was the plan. Plans don't always work.
I needed gas as we packed up and checked out of the hotel in Charlotte. I pulled into a Shell that was just down the street. I don't like to go to the non brand name gas stations as I am leery as to the quality of their gas. Whether that is realistic or well founded or not, I have always been that way.  I feel safer getting gas with the names.
I pulled up to the pump and put my card in the machine. It asked me for a zip code. Of course,  living in Canada,  we don't have zip codes, we have postal codes. So my card didn't work. I didn't want to use our cash to buy gas on the trip, so I went inside to the attendant and wanted to pay for the gas first. He told me just to leave my card and pump it, then come back in.  So, I went out and did that.
I came back in, he ran my card into the machine and then I signed for the gas and he gave me back my card. We were on our way to Jacksonville.
The drive from Charlotte to Jacksonville was uneventful. We made very good time and were there about an hour faster than I expected. While the hotel in Charlotte was very nice,  the one in Jacksonville was ok, but kind of a dump. As we parked I noticed the car next to me had a completely flat tire. As we went in I told the hotel clerk about that and he said it was one of his employees and not to worry about it. Whatever! What am I going to say to that anyway?
As he began to check us in, there was a problem. It seems my wife's card would not go through. For whatever reason this made me search my wallet for my card. It seemed to me that this hotel clerk was not very competent and I was getting very impatient. We had a reservation that was confirmed weeks ago and it should have gone smoothly. We had already dealt with that a bit in Charlotte and my good nature was starting to become tested on the trip. I was going to give him my card to see if we could speed things up. I realized at that point that I didn't have it as I had put it on the side of the seat when I finished pumping the gas. It was just laying out in the car and this was not the nicest neighborhood. As my wife began to sort out the issue, I went back out to the car to get my card.
As I got there, I retrieved the card. was not my card. My card is a Visa..and the card I found was an American Express Card. Not my card. I still,  at this point, had not put two and two together. I went back inside and my wife was now on the phone with the Visa people trying to sort out whatever the issue was with our reservation going through at this hotel. As she did that, I pulled out my receipt for the gas. I had signed for the right amount of gas, but the receipt was not for my card. It was for the card I now had. I realized at that point that my card was still at the gas station in Charlotte.
After my wife sorted out the issue with her card and our reservation was secure, I took  the phone and started to report what I now thought I knew.
It didn't take long to realize that the attendant at the gas station in Charlotte was a crook. He had swapped cards on me while I pumped the gas.  He also put an extra 57 dollar charge on my Visa card in addition to keeping my card. I reported everything I knew and then we made our way to the hotel room.
So much for getting a head start on the day.  I now had to call American Express and report this other persons card stolen, and then call Shell and try to get them to investigate the crook that was running their store in Charlotte.
So,  what did I learn on this leg of the trip?
First,  there are good people and bad people in every town. The hotel clerks in Charlotte and Jacksonville might have been incompetent, but they were good people. The attendant at the gas station in Charlotte was clearly not a good person. If you let your guard down, at any point,  in any city that you go to,  you are easy prey to these types. But you are on vacation. You are going to let your guard down. That is just how it is.
Second, it pays to be patient. Not everyone can be at your level of competence, but they still aim to help you and do the best they can.
I would rather have a less competent but honest person in my life than a smart dishonest person. I learned that on this day. Honesty is always the most important factor in dealing with people.

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