You can't fly direct to San Antonio from the UK so I took a flight down to Houston, which took nine hours, and then after an hour or so at the airport, transferred to a short flight to San Antonio – all with United and pretty good all round. The London-Houston flight was good – daylight all the way, which I like – and because there's not much else to do when you're on a long haul flight, I read the newspaper.
In fact, for the first time ever, I had time to actually read my Guardian. Normally I read Tim Dowling, the Q&A, possibly the Experience and the property pages and the rest remains unread due to other commitments. But when you're at 35,000 feet, strapped to chair with little else to occupy your mind, the newspaper is a good idea. I'm so glad I queued at Terminal Four's WH Smith to buy it.
We'll come back to queuing later on as I'm a little fed up with the way businesses inconvenience their so-called customers just so they can save money. Saving money is the key phrase here, but it translates very easily into greed. There were a few examples, the first being United's auto-check-in at Heathrow. Oh for human beings! It's like in the supermarkets when they beckon you over to the auto check-outs. I never go and I can never understand the gullibility of those who promote the technology that will basically put them out of work.
United has auto-check-ins at Terminal Four and I very quickly lost my patience (I'm amazed at how quick-tempered I get in frustrating situations when I know that the frustration is being caused by somebody else – in this case United Airlines – trying to save a quick buck. I much prefer human contact, but no, I had to type in all these details that required me to unpack my suitcase. Very irritating.
While the United flight UA5 to Houston was fine overall, something else that bugged me was that I had to pay for stuff. Normally, say with BA or others (but not budget carriers) you order a small bottle of wine (187ml) and it's free, but not with United. It cost $7 a time and I could only use my credit card. Okay, the rest of the flight was good and the service was fine, so I'll let them off, but I hate that grasping nature of the business world, especially in these lean economic times. It's almost as if they're cutting off their noses to spite their faces – in my opinion, the main reason behind the continuation of the global recession.
What makes me laugh is their inability to grasp the situation. Nobody's got any money, but that doesn't stop, for example, Marina O'Loughlin in the Guardian's Weekend magazine reviewing the Quality Chop House on the Farringdon Rd in London and adding the sentence, "About £50 a head with drinks and service." Now, I know what you're thinking: "she's only telling you how much the place costs" – but that's not it. It's that silent assumption that those reading her review will think, "Oh! £50 a head, that's reasonable!" No, it's NOT reasonable. With two people thats £100!!!!! Add a couple of kids and you're be nearer to £200! And for what? A plate of Basque charcuterie. Lardo strips? Blackface Haggis Scotch eggs? So what? It's still a few quid short of £200 and who the hell can afford to waste that amount of money on dinner out? I'd rather spend it on two week's worth of shopping.
I wonder if you'd tip the restaurant at that sort of price? I wouldn't. My view on tipping is this: I never tip, unless I'm abroad in, say the US, where tips, I think, are more a part of the culture than in the UK. By that I mean that people have said to me you must tip because they get a bit irate if you don't and, to be honest, I don't want to upset anybody when I'm in a foreign country where anybody can roam around at will shooting people with semi-automatic weapons.
Another reason I don't tip? The experience is NEVER up to scratch, the service is NEVER that good, the food always leaves me with the feeling of 'hmmm...it wasn't that brilliant' and I also find myself thinking: why can't the restaurant pay their staff better so that I'm not expected to give them their bonus? Bastards.
No, the idiotic nature of 'business' is everywhere. They just don't get it. How about the Birmingham Royal Ballet performing Aladdin at the London Coliseum? A nice night out, a treat for the children, perhaps? Well, let's see now, stalls at £65 per head and if a family of four take up the offer, they can enjoy the show from as little as £20 for up to two under-16s and here's the crunch, "for every two FULL-PRICE adult tickets. That's £130 to start with. Throw in dinner at the Quality Chop House and you're night out is creeping up to £500. Well, what's £500? Nothing! We spend that on a night out every weekend!
And that's what I mean. In the business world where, incidentally, wages are declining, business, generally, acts as if a recession isn't – or hasn't – happened, when quite clearly it has; and then you read on the news about how shops are being boarded up, companies are going into administration and there's an kind of expectation that we should all be really concerned about the poor businessmen who are losing money and having to shut up shop because we, the horrible, inconsiderate consumers, are not shelling out £50 a head to the nice little proprietor of the Quality Chop House so he can keep his head above water. We don't count, oh no, we can get in debt as long as the Quality fucking Chop House remains in business and the seats at the Coliseum are all taken. And if they're not and the Coliseum has to close its doors 'for the last time' then we're all expected to dip our heads in mourning.
It's so simple to understand: salaries are declining, prices on the other hand are going up. This means that people can't afford to do things like they used to UNLESS the prices come down. But they're not, so the businesses go out of business and then we all sit in front of our televisions wondering what the world is coming to – or rather the media wonders what the world is coming to and the businessmen wonder too, but the sorry truth of the matter is this: they KNOW! They KNOW! But they're so thick with greed they keep trying to tempt us with £50 per head meals and then wonder why they're restaurant is empty. O'Loughlin, incidentally, gives the Quality Chop House 8/10 for value for money! Wow! She must be SO wealthy! Oh, hold on, she can claim it on expenses.
So, I arrived in San Antonio where, incidentally, there are blue skies and no cloud and outdoor swimming pools. Right now, as I look out of my hotel window, there is a bright sun and it's only 0741hrs. I'll have photos just as soon as I fire up the camera.
There's not that much to report on at the moment. I had a terrible night's sleep, which I put down to jet lag and I've discovered that the hotel I'm staying in – the El Tropicano – does not permit international calls. I was getting in a quiet rage about this in the middle of the night, but when I awoke in the morning and found that they do have WiFi, I decided to let them off.
I won't let O2 off, though. There's another example of a crappy business. Remember not too long ago when the O2 network just went off for millions of subscribers, me included? Well, that's one example and then this morning I discovered that my phone has no signal. How pathetic is that? Mind you, it means that I won't be using it, which in turn means that O2 will lose out. Once again, a prime example of the short-sightedness of British business who fail to believe that old adage, 'the customer is king'.
More to follow, ie photos and I'll see if I can find some push bikes to ride around town.