Notes from a conference trip

6 04 2016

I returned from a conference in Portland, Oregon, yesterday. I took a few notes on various random things while I was away…

Internet speeds

Internet speeds in hotels are notoriously slow, even those that say they are ‘high-speed’. And often the more you pay for the hotel room, the worse they are — I think they want you to pay the exorbitant ‘per day’ internet rate. Of course, with Australia’s overall general internet slowness, I don’t expect a lot.

The free wifi at the Holiday Inn, Melbourne Airport was the worst. The website where you log in said that the speed was limited to 1 Mbps download (I get 10 to 15 Mbps at home, and that’s not particularly fast). The actual speed (measured on http://www.speedtest.net) was a miserable 0.49 Mbps. That was glacial, so I decided to log off and use my phone as a Wifi hotspot instead — Telstra gave me a blistering 48 Mbps!!!!! Holy Speed Demon, Batman! Pity I didn’t have any photos to upload!

I stayed at the Hilton Portland Downtown and Executive Tower. There was a bit of an issue getting my luggage through the doors at the hotel, but the guy who checked me in upgraded me to a bigger room AND their so-called hi-speed internet (free) as a result. It wasn’t high speed! On speedtest.net it was consistently about 2 Mbps upload. So I tethered my phone as a portable Wifi hotspot – that still wasn’t super fast, but it was around 10 Mbps. While that was much better, it wasn’t as good as I expected on a 4G phone in the middle of a city. During the conference, the free wifi for conference attendees was very patchy, and very slow at certain times such as the breaks when people were checking their devices for email, Facebook, Twitter updates, and in certain conference sessions when attendees were ‘live Tweeting’ the session highlights.

General etiquette

Public Service Announcement: If you are in a large group of people, or in a confined space, or BOTH (you know, like on an aircraft…), and you have a cold and feel a cough or sneeze coming on, then if you can’t reach a tissue in time, cough/sneeze into your sleeve (‘vampire sneeze’) or the neck of shirt or anywhere other than over your fellow passengers! The rest of the passengers will appreciate it, I promise.

Memo to self for future reference: Do not fly in the US on a Saturday of a holiday weekend unless you can tolerate large numbers of children of all ages from babies and toddlers, to tweens and teens. Just sayin’…

Town car service

For only the second time ever, I ordered a town car to pick me up from the Portland airport (PDX) and drop me back 6 days later. I’d had experience of a town car service last year when I was in Miami and my friend had ordered it for us, and in Pittsburgh where I’d ordered my own. And those experiences were good. I expected the same in Portland, but that wasn’t the case. Unfortunately, TripAdvisor.com doesn’t take reviews for such services, so I’ll write my review here. Note: I won’t name the company — if you’re going to Portland and need to know, contact me directly. Interestingly, this company’s Yelp and Google reviews (I don’t review on either) are greater than 4 stars. That’s not what I would have given them, especially for such an expensive service compared to a taxi or airport shuttle. My rating would have been 2 stars at best.

Here’s what happened for the pick up:

  • When I made the original booking, the website said the cost of PDX to downtown was ‘from $55 each way’; I was charged $132 (i.e. $66 each way) for the booking. There was no information about whether the difference was because of tax, or some other reason (e.g. pick up on a Saturday, and drop off on a Sunday, though it was during the day both times). There was no discount for a return journey.
  • I sent a text message to the cell number (NOT the office number) on their website when I got my US SIM and US phone number on arrival in Los Angeles that morning, as I had said I would in my communications with them. I didn’t get a reply, which I thought was a bit odd. It seems I should have sent the text message to the office number, which I assumed was a landline not a cell. There was no information on their website two weeks prior to the trip about sending to that number; however, in the interim they had revamped their website and the new website only has the office number (which is a cell phone) as their contact number. They had all my details (including email address) for this booking, so they could have let all their current reservations know of the website and phone number change.
  • In their confirmation email they said the car would be at Island 3 (and explained where that was) and would have my name in the window. My name was not in any window of any of the cars at Island 3.
  • Based on their website photos, I expected a black car – it was champagne colour with nothing on the side identifying it, so I didn’t recognise it as from the company and I was a little skeptical if it was the right company, until the driver said my name.
  • We took quite a while to find each other. The driver was waiting in his car at the designated spot (there were several cars waiting), but as he didn’t tell the person who was directing people to taxis etc. that he was there, and as he didn’t have my name in the window as promised, we didn’t meet up for about 15 mins. The only reason we found each other was that the taxi herder guy took pity on me and contacted his despatch and asked them to call the company and see where he was. The taxi herder guy wasn’t busy — there were plenty of taxis and very few people (maybe two parties he dealt while I was waiting on the cold metal bench at Island 3), so the driver should have got out of the car and talked to the taxi herder guy at any time. I was sitting on a bench directly in front of his car and in his full view! There were only about 5 cars at Island 3 at the time.
  • Once we found each other the driver didn’t introduce himself at any stage. That was odd too. And he didn’t wear a name badge.
  • The driver said that when he couldn’t find me (like he looked! I was sitting right in front of him!) he called my cell number in Australia but got no answer — he should have got my voicemail telling him I was out of the country, so I doubt he called. On my return I checked my voicemail for messages — there was nothing. He also told me he emailed me (when he was waiting for me to come out of the airport, yet I was sitting in front of him!), but I rarely check emails on my phone, and couldn’t while I was flying from Los Angeles. Besides, his email went into my Junk folder and so I wouldn’t have seen it on my phone had I checked my emails while waiting for him at PDX — I found it the next day!
  • What’s with drivers texting and looking at their phone while driving??? I’ve seen this elsewhere in the US too (Miami and Pittsburgh, most recently) and it’s scary! There’s plenty of evidence that the inattention that arises from texting or looking at a screen on your phone can cause serious accidents. I’d rather not be in a car with a driver who is that irresponsible for himself and his passengers.
  • There was no bottle of water for the passenger — I’ve come to expect this in other town cars I’ve used in other cities.

And here’s what happened for the return journey:

  • Same driver, and he was early to the hotel (about 15 minutes before the pick up time). I was early too, so that worked out well for us both.
  • This time I was in a brand new (black) car.
  • However, the car had obviously had passengers partying in the back seat the night before because bits of costume and food (green cotton candy!) were on the back seat, with a globule of green cotton candy in the seam of the seat where I was to sit in my white pants! I had to point out to him that this stuff was there and he apologised and shifted it all to the front seat, where there was a cowboy hat! How could he not check the cleanliness of the car before picking up the next passenger????
  • The driver’s black trousers had some light-coloured marks on the lower leg (dirt? stain? dust?) — not a very professional look. They just looked grubby.
  • No bottle of water this trip either.

After this experience, I’d be hesitant to pay the extra for another town car service — ever!


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