Trip report

Whenever I travel for work, I’m expected to write a trip report. I also like to blog about my trips, so I’m going to be efficient and write my trip report here on my blog.

Last week, I went on a trip for work which included visiting the Google offices in Ann Arbor and Cambridge, teaching fellow Googlers about search, with a focus on SEO. I know that may sound a little silly, but while many people at Google work on web search, not everyone does. The basis for the training is our SEO Starter Guide, which we distribute internally and also share with any webmaster who cares to read it. Our actual presentation was pretty close to this. Traveling and speaking was both exhausting and energizing at the same time. Fortunately, I think our presentations were well-received since the audiences were quite engaged despite the fact that the sessions were longer than most meetings at Google.

Visiting other Google offices (which I had never done before) was pretty cool. In many ways, once you’re inside it’s just like being in Mountain View, which is a good thing. The technical equipment is standard across all offices, and Googlers are Googlers. The only major difference within the walls of Googles offices is that the conference room names have a local flair. As the other offices are smaller, there is less of a variety at lunch time (one café to choose from instead of… well, I’ve lost count in Mountain View), but the food is still good and free. In Boston, they had made-to-order pasta dishes (you choose the ingredients), and the chef recognized us as visitors and checked in with us to make sure we were happy.

Ann Arbor

It was fun to be in a real college town. It looks like the residents have plenty of dining options, and the neighborhoods, while containing the quality of housing typically rented by students, were still nice to walk around. But seriously, Ann Arbor, get some sensors and pedestrian buttons for your traffic lights.

We didn’t have a lot of downtime, but after our first day in the office, we stopped by Zingerman’s Deli. I had Frank & Kathy’s Half-Italian Sub, and Evan had Lisa C.’s Boisterous Brisket, which is Oprah’s favorite.

Because it was move-in week at the University of Michigan, we were unable to reserve hotel rooms for our stay. Instead, we stayed at a bed and breakfast called the Burnt Toast Inn, which was within walking distance of the office.

I had never stayed at a B&B before, and, being someone who sleeps through breakfast to avoid it, was a bit nervous about staying at a type of place which has that meal as 50% of its identity. It turns out that a bed and breakfast is actually pretty nice, and at least in this case, was incredibly affordable. One nice feature of this particular house was that two large dogs (one was a St. Bernard) are permanent residents. I had never seen a St. Bernard in person, and he was pretty fun. He was a “puppy” at just about a year old, and acted like it, gently chewing on the closest hand. The dogs had a comically large water bowl that was even larger than what you’d use for serving a salad family style.

As for breakfast, I tried to set expectations upon arrival that I would likely not be participating, so that way nobody was confused or offended.

I can certainly see why many people would prefer it over a hotel (especially someone looking for a relaxing getaway), but I’m pretty self conscious about disturbing people, so creaky floors and even letting people know in advance whether and when I’ll be eating breakfast isn’t really something I like to deal with. I enjoyed my stay, but it was also a relief to get to the hotel in Boston, which turned out to be “one of Boston’s most stylish nightlife venues,” according to Jessica Gioglio of the Examiner.*

Boston

Even the cabs ride in Boston were done right. To pay, just swipe your credit card and select the tip amount manually or based on percentage. I’m constantly amazed at how hit-or-miss basic features like GPS, credit card processing, and a driver who doesn’t hate you are in the Bay Area.

We stayed at The Liberty Hotel, which used to be the Charles Street Jail.

building

Here’s a shot of the exterior.

lobby

The lobby.

bed and brick wall

There’s still original brick from the jail on some walls.

desk

Nice desk.

window

View of Boston/Cambridge

View from the window of Room 427

Solitary

Their version of a “do not disturb” sign.

The office, located in Cambridge, was a walkable distance from the hotel, so the workday started with a pleasant walk across the Longfellow Bridge with a great view of the Charles River.

The Liberty Hotel turned out to be quite the spot. When I asked my cousin for a dinner recommendation, she suggested Scampo, which has the rare combination of being a nice place and serving food that I like. I had a Caesar salad and spaghetti bolognese. It was a bit pricey (expected at a hotel venue, but it was good.

As we left the restaurant, I could hear that there was still a good amount of activity outside of the restaurant (which on its own was lively), but I assumed that it was just the hotel bar that would soon quiet down. I didn’t walk through the lobby, and headed straight to the elevator.

When I got to my room, I had a voicemail on the fancy touchscreen phone informing me (well, actually Evan, who made the reservations) of the fashion show that would be happening in the lobby that night and offering a different room if I didn’t want to be bothered by the noise. I had heard that there was going to be a fashion show before, and while the personal voicemail seemed a bit odd, I saw no need to move for a quick fashion show in a hotel lobby.

At about 10:00, when I was winding down checking my email and getting ready for bed, I heard, very clearly inside my room, some bumpin’ music. I opened up my door, and the first thing I saw as I headed down the hall towards the balcony was a spotlight operator, shining a light down to the lower level. I looked into the lobby, and saw this:

It’s pretty dark, but I think you can at least get the idea that that lobby was packed, complete with extra bars and a DJ.

There were models walking along the balcony, which brought me into an interesting position, because besides the models, the only people who had access to the upper floors were hotel guests and crew members. After standing at the balcony for about a minute, casually observing the scene while wearing my Façonnable shirt, Gap 1969 jeans, and Nike sneakers with Adidas socks, I noticed that two girls were looking up at me. When our eyes met, they waved. If I were in a sitcom, this would inevitably lead to a hilarious scenario where I pretend to be a model and use the misunderstanding to impress the girls. In reality, I just played it cool and strolled back to my room. I eventually fell asleep around 2 AM, when the music was still playing. I was happy to be on the East Coast and didn’t need to get up early the next morning, so I actually didn’t find this event to be annoying.

New Hampshire

Empty dock with sailboat attached and lake in background

Seven weeks ago, we had a new member join our family. Since my family in New Hampshire is only a couple of hours away from Boston, and I had not yet met Marek, I moved my return flight to Sunday and drove up to New Hampshire on Friday.

Marek seems pretty cool, so it will be fun getting to know him. Being raised by a doctor and a teacher, I think he’ll turn out just fine. He’s already pretty good with computers, as he introduced himself to my grandparents (his great-grandparents) in Pennsylvania via video chat with iChat. That was a really cool moment.

I didn’t just catch up with humans in the family. I got to hang out with Xander and Willow.

Xander is super-playful and an expert stretcher.

Willow is more of the “Hey, is it cool if we just hang out on the couch while you pet me?” type.

New Hampshire has always been one of my favorite places to visit, and we had great weather for the entire weekend. I hadn’t been there since just a few weeks before I joined Google, so it felt great to be back. I was relieved to learn that even though I hadn’t waterskied for over three years, I was able to get up after only one false start and have a nice run. To avoid freaking out any of my friends who probably think that I’m incapable of participating in anything resembling an athletic activity, I’ll skip the pictures and video of me, and instead show a snapshot of my uncle’s graceful “dismount,” which was inspired by my aunt and cousin’s technique:

Southwest

It used to be cute whenever Southwest did something different like have casually friendly flight attendants or an open seating policy. But recently, even traveling without my family, the whole open seating thing is just annoying.

Virgin America

Man, I love this airline. I was so comfortable that I didn’t even use the service-wide Wi-Fi, which would be a welcome distraction on any other airline. Virgin, please add Philly service.

* They’re totally not getting a link from me. I was about to reference the particular article when I got a pop-up ad on their site. In 2009. Seriously.

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