Payless? Yeah right.

Most of the time I use this platform to recommend things, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t also use it to warn folks of things that I’ve learned so no one has to fall into the same trap.  Here’s one of them.

I recently called AMEX to book a rental car.  Since I’m down in Orlando so frequently, I typically just ask them to find me the cheapest car they can find (I could care less about style points…just need to get from point A to point B).  They suggested Payless Car Rental.

I didn’t realize until I landed at MCO (Orlando International Airport) and was looking for the car rental reservation desk, that this particular company was located OFF-SITE…10 minutes away from the terminal.  That was an immediate turn off.   If that was the one problem I encountered, it’d be all good.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Once I got in front of the reservation agent, she asked for PROOF OF INSURANCE (as if I always carry that around).  They literally were not going to rent me the car without it.  Luckily, my insurance company is available 24 hours a day and I was able to get a copy faxed in.

For $9 a day, I  still wasn’t going to complain too much.  That was, until I brought back the car and saw my bill.  It was TRIPLE the amount of what was quoted.  Upon closer inspection, they charged me MILEAGE.  Anything over 20 miles, they charge PER mile.

Then, I had to wait for the shuttle to return me to the terminal.  They only had 2 shuttle buses running.  I literally waited 20 MINUTES for the shuttle to arrive which caused me to miss my flight.

Honestly, I was a little peeved at AMEX for not filling me in on all this ahead of getting there.  They had done so well prior to this experience.  Needless to say, I will NEVER rent from Payless again.  If you’re looking to drive minimally, maybe they’ll work for you.  But if you’re going anywhere outside of the immediate area or plan on driving a lot, I would go with someone else.  The savings ends up not being there.

Want to know one of my favorites?  Alamo.  They have kiosks to save you time from standing in line waiting for an agent.  Also, you get to pick ANY car on the lot within the car class you book…its first come, first serve.    Hope this is helpful.

Baby on the way! Don’t worry, it’s not mine and Brian’s

Last week I got a package in the mail from my sister.  I wasn’t allowed to open it until we were able to FaceTime.  For reference, Megan is always sending me little cards and stationery with my name on it, which I love.  Some of you might not know my love affair with paper products, but I love all things stationery.  So my sister sending me a random package and asking me to FaceTime wasn’t that out of the ordinary.  I honestly thought nothing of it.

Until I saw what was inside

Now, a little backstory.  It’s no surprise that I am not a fan of children.  It’s not so much that I don’t like them, it’s that I don’t know what to do with them.  My sister is only 2 years younger than me, so I never babysat my sister.  Growing up, we lived on Highway 98, so I was never the neighborhood babysitter either.  I literally have no idea what to do with babies.  And then there’s the crying.  The hissyfits.  The toddler kicking my seat in the airplane.  Maybe it’s not the kids I don’t like, it’s the parents… I’ll have to work through that issue later.  However, something about my little sister having her own baby… words cannot explain the complete and extraordinary JOY I have.  I am so excited about having a little one in the family!  I love talking to Megan and hearing all about how she’s feeling, what’s going on with her belly, how her doctor’s appointments go.  I am all of a sudden, all things baby.

She is right at 15 weeks and looks amazing!  Here is a shot of her and my Dad right after my parents heard the big news.

Look at that little peanut belly!

The proud parents-to-be will be finding out the sex soon and I can’t wait to hear whether I will have a little niece or nephew!

Congratulations, Megan and Chad!

Restaurant Review: Doria’s Haus Of Pizza; Costa Mesa, CA

OK, so once again, this is NOT a NYC restaurant but this post does have a slight NYC bent.  You see, a few weeks ago the wife and I were headed to California for a little pre-Valentine’s Day weekend getaway.  We left out of NY and took a 5 hour non-stop flight to LAX.  If you calculate from the time we left our apartment at 9AM EST and then got to the OC (an hour drive south of LAX) at 6PM PST (which is really 9PM EST), we had gone about 12 hours with just some breakfast and a little airplane snack for nourishment and that was it.

Not only we were headed to the OC to stay with friends, but I had a band rehearsal there that evening at 7PM PST which would last till about 10PM PST, so if we were going to eat dinner, we had to do it right then and make it quick.  One thing I’ve learned about NY so far is that EVERYTHING is expensive.  Affordable?  Take it out of your vocabulary because you will never use that word as long as you live here.  Where you really seem to notice this is in the food realm.  Unless you’re eating fast food, off a food cart or at a cheap hole in the wall diner (which we’ve only managed to find one), plan on dropping at least $30 for breakfast or lunch and around $70 on dinner for a table of 2.

When we got to the OC, we wanted some good Cali cooking and I was looking forward to an affordable meal.  I remembered an old spot that I hadn’t been to since High School (more on that in a minute).  It’s called Haus Of Pizza.  I remembered their generous portions but forgot just how affordable they were.  Come to find out, they have a different daily special which includes the entrée, salad and garlic bread for no more than 7 bucks.

Tara was a bit skeptical of how much food they’d give us for the price.  Her tune changed as soon as the meal was brought out.  The salad was fresh and loaded with dressing (a personal pet peeve of mine is when they  skimp on the dressing).  The garlic bread was soft and tasted like it came right out of the oven.  We went with the manicotti and OMG!  Sooo good!  On any other evening, we would’ve definitely had leftovers.  Not this night.  We licked the plates clean and the bill was under $20!  I was in heaven.

Now there is a back story to this place.  My high school is about 2-3 miles from this restaurant.  When I attended, they sponsored our varsity sports teams by providing the “pre-game meal” for every home game.  I used to love game days because I knew we were going to eat well.  We’d eat a meal like this at around 3 o’clock (once school got out), let is settle for the next couple hours and be good to go when game time rolled around about 7:30PM.  I tested my middle brother Mark on a text message to see if he knew where I was eating based on the photos.  It took 2 hints but he finally remembered.

If you are ever in Costa Mesa, CA looking for a good meal at a great price with quick service – check this place out.  It’s awesome.

Brian Approved: ESPN Streak For The Cash

I’ve never been much of a gambler…I’m way too cheap for that.  So when my friend Erik asked if I wanted to play this game, I was a little skeptical.  I’m pleased to report that there is ZERO risk involved and a ton to gain.  If you’re a sports enthusiast, this is definitely worth checking out.  Here’s how it works:

You must sign up for an FREE account here.  If you have a smart phone, download the app (again free).  Then daily, ESPN generates a bunch of games and in some cases individual matchups where you pick the winner.  You can pick as many of the matchups as you want to participate in.  The basic idea is to get the longest winning streak.  Now for the best part…the prizes.  They pay out CASH to the winner(s).  How much?  Here’s how the prize money is distributed.

*Monthly Streak Prize:$50,000 – This goes to the person who accumulates the longest winning streak during any one month – it starts over each month.  They are a few tiebreakers in the event that there is a tie.  If your streak is broken anytime in the month, you can immediately start over.

*Monthly Bonus Prize:$50,000 – ESPN sets a monthly streak “threshold” minimum of either 25, 27, or 30.  If the monthy streak winner hits the threshold minimum, they’ll also gain the bonus prize.  If the monthly streak winner doesn’t hit the threshold, that bonus money rolls over to the NEXT month and so on, increasing the bonus pot until somebody hits it.

*Monthly Win Prize:$2,500 – This goes to the person who accumulates the most WINS (regardless of streak) during any one month – it starts over each month.  They are a few tiebreakers in the event that there is a tie.

Think it’s too good to be true?  So did I, but this is really legit.  If you’re playing it, please let me know so we can add each other as “friends”.  Good luck everybody!

Random Photos – Week of 01/25/12

Been meaning to post these for a while.  They’re not blogworthy on their own, but as a collection, they’ll do.

FaceTime has been a tool for communication for the wife and I the last few weeks I’ve been on the road.  I’m thankful for the technology and glad I get to see her (at least virtually) when I’m waking up and going to bed.  She makes me so happy!

While shopping in Trader Joe’s, this made me laugh.  I don’t know why…it just did.
Nice marketing with the food truck…way to play off 50 cent’s tune.

These kind’ve places are all over NY.  No signage, just an open door.  We saw people going in and out so we thought we’d check it out.  Turns out it was a store that sold discounted stuff and vintage things (see next pic below).

Some eclectic lamps sold at store mentioned above.

Amorino is a desert place.  We wanted to check out their hot chocolate since that’s what they seemed to be known for.  Since they had so many different flavors, we decided to give it a try.

I tried the Caramel and Tara tried the Orange and Cinnamon.   Although they looked good, both were just OK.  You win some and you lose some here in the City.  Cross this one off the list.

That Sunday, we went and checked out this church.  They meet in a college.  The speaker was really good.

This little guy was just chillin’.  Wish I had his life at times.

Looking for an awesome airline?

If you’ve followed me for any bit of time on Twitter or Facebook, you know I fly…and I mean fly a LOT (usually once a week).  Rule #1 in flying is to use 1 or 2 airlines regularly so you can keep getting miles and build up for free flights.  Even though I try to stick to that, I also own a small business…which means I’m usually on the hunt for deals on flights so my expenses stay low.

Although I’m still living part-time in Destin, FL (with limited airline options), my other residences in New York and Orlando give me an ample supply of airlines from which to pick.  With another division of our company in California, I also go to the west coast a lot.  Two weeks ago, my wife and I took a little weekend mini-vacation to SoCal (no business on this trip).

I started looking at airlines for the trip and one airline I’d heard a little about was Virigin Airlines.  I hadn’t flown them yet and I was actually under the impression that they only flew to Europe and Australia.  Low and behold, they have a domestic wing of their company that handles US flights.   Although I didn’t have a frequent flyer account with them, I thought I’d give them a shot.   As I searched NY to LA flights on their site, they had a non-stop that was at a reasonable rate.

Here’s another admission…I hate connection flights!  Too many problems can arise…weather in the connection city, flight delays, plane mechanical issues, etc.  So whenever I can, I try to take direct flights. My wife, on the other hand, prefers connection flights so it breaks up the flying time a bit.  Somehow, I convinced bribed her to try this non-stop flight to Los Angeles (see Sushi Sho on previous blog post).

Upon arriving at the tickeing counter, it’s as if you’re in a different VIP wing of the airport. The flat screens showing flight updates and the low purple and neon pink lighting (a theme of the airline as you will see) gives the airline an immediate impact starting at at the ticket counter.  No ticket kiosks here.  All wireless computers.  They have plenty of agents as well so you’re not waiting a long time for someone to help you (if it’s needed).

Ticketing Counter at JFK Airport

Even printing the tickets make you look like you’re rollin’ “baller” status.  It’s a lot smaller than the typical ticket size (looking more like a like concert backstage pass) and it’s printed on a heavier card stock type paper.

Once you start to board the plane, again they keep the theme with the low purple and neon pink color lighting.

I didn’t get a picture of the flight attendants but it’s as if they recruit them from Abercrombrie.  Not one bad looking person worked on either flight I took.  They all seem to love their job as well – no bad attitudes that I could see.

The seats are leather, plush, and have a head rest.  They sell more upgradable seats (with supposedly more legroom and such) but the coach seats are so good, there’s no need to spend more money.  Additionally, each seat has its own individual TV and removable remote control.

The inflight entertainment interface is really easy and there are a ton of options: Movies, Direct TV, XM Radio, Audio Books, Games, chatting with different seats (which Tara and my conversation didn’t last long) and wifi on every plane.

Tara and I's short-lived chat session. Quality conversation going on here 😉

Check out the demo of the inflight entertainment interface:

Before the flight starts, the FAA requires the airlines to give a standard safety spiel.  Most of the bigger airlines are moving away from the LIVE announcements and displaying it on the monitors with pre-recorded videos.  These are usually boring.  I either tune it out or am sending out last minute text messages before I lose signal.  Virgin Airline’s video, however, is HILARIOUS.  It’s as if they hired a sitcom writer and director to put this thing in every day speech and disney cartoonist to create the accompanying images on the screen.  It’s like a more sophisticated Southwest Airlines script.

Here’s what the safety video looks like:

Once the flight starts, they only offer soft drinks complimentary (no snacks).  But ordering food is simple.  You do it all from your TV and pay from there as well.  How about the food options and quality?  Way better than the typical airline.  If I have to pay for food, at least there is value here – healthy and tasty food from which to pick.  After you’ve ordered, they deliver it to you like a server at a restaurant.

The only negative I see with this airline?  They don’t service enough destinations.  On the way there, we flew from JFK to LAX.  On the way back, Tara went back to JFK and I flew this airline to Orlando direct.  Unfortunately, there is no NYC to Orlando or vice versa so I was stuck flying another airline (eventually) home.  I guess they really like to service coast to coast and not too many on the same coasts.

I think my friend Beth said it best: “When you fly Virgin Airlines, you just feel cooler.”  I think  that sums it up perfectly.  I highly recommend this airline to anyone (and no they didn’t pay me for this review).  Tara has actually been converted to a “direct flight” traveler (on this airline only 😉 ).  In doing some research on this airline on YouTube, I ran across 2 videos worth sharing.

Love this commercial:

The airline media event announcing their Palm Springs route.  They throw parties as well as they run their airline.  High class.  Wish I was DJ’ing this party (hopefully soon).

Restaurant Review: Sushi Sho; Costa Mesa, CA

Alright, alright, I know.  What kind of blog is this?  A NYC blog that reviews SoCal restaurants?  But just go with it.  What I’m about to give you is a gift and it is life changing.  A bold statement, I realize, but I stand behind it 100%.  And let it be a warning to the so-called sushi places I’ve tried in NYC – step yo’ game up.

Brian took me to Sushi Sho the first time I came to California and I have insisted that we come every single time we have visited since that first introduction.  It is hands-down, the best sushi, EVER!  If you read our 2011 year-end review, you know that I mentioned Sushimoto in Destin, FL and that place is phenomenal; however, Sushi Sho puts it underwater.  It is in the corner of a tiny, hole-in-the-wall shopping center, but don’t let that fool you.  This place is always packed and the quality is always top-notch!  Everything is so fresh!  The flavor combinations are delicious!  I could go on and on, but I know you’re here for the pictures, so here we go!

Here’s what our order usually consists of:

Seaweed Salad.  Pretty hard to screw this one up, but trust me, it’s been done.  I’m looking at YOU, New York.

Double Tuna Roll – I love everything tuna, so if it’s double, I love it double!  It’s some kind of tuna mixture and avocado, with cilantro, green onions and cayenne pepper to give it a little kick on top.  Then they drizzle some kind of vinaigrette over it.  This is Brian’s favorite (besides the Sexy Mango).  It’s probably second place for me, but it is very tasty!

Next, is the Red Dragon Roll.  This one is a crab mixture in the middle with tuna on top and then drizzled with a sweet soy sauce glaze.  Unbelievably good!

Next is my #1 favorite!  The Refreshing Roll.  Salmon, Tuna, Yellowtail and Avocado in the middle topped with a thinly sliced lemon and jalapeno, and again, some kind of vinegar topping.  Amazing.  Don’t be afraid of the spice, it’s really not potent at all.  The jalapeno just gives a little flavor.

They didn’t have any more mango for our traditional Sexy Mango roll – Brian was bummed.  So we got the Yummy Roll.  It was good, but when you have your heart set on a Sexy Mango, it’s kind of a let down to get anything else.  Here’s a picture of it anyway.

We also had some edamame and a few Sapporos – both were delicious!

I hate that it is on the opposite side of the country, otherwise I would insist that everyone go there immediately!  Which actually, leads to a really good idea: What if for my 30th we fly into SoCal, eat sushi for dinner and then drive up the coast to Napa for some wine-tasting… Just a thought.  Who’s with me?!

If anyone is in The OC, here’s the 411:

Sushi Sho – 2263 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Brian Approved: Hipstamatic

A friend recommended this app to me and I love it!  The app allows you to take old school photos with a film camera feel.  In the app, the viewfinder pops up like a camera straight from the 70s/80s.  You can post straight from the app to Facebook.  The only negative is it makes you post the “camera info” (flash, film, etc.) – I wish that was optional.  The way around that is to grab the photos from your regular photo app and post from there.  This app works for all smart phone platforms.  For iPhone users, download here.  You’re welcome.  By the way, this woman/model is the most beautiful person on the face of the planet!