Amazon Fire TV Stick

Todd in Alien Mask

Todd in Alien Mask

I got a bunch of nice gifts for Christmas 2014, including some strange surprises like a rubber green alien mask. But I want to talk about one gift that is so much cooler than expected. It’s the Amazon Fire TV Stick. I read about it a month or two ago, and thought it would be a fun little toy to have and not too expensive. But Beth thought it was a frivolous purchase we didn’t really need, so I just put it on my Amazon wishlist and didn’t order one for myself. Fortunately, my parents gave me one as a gift.

Beth was right in that it’s something of a frivolous purchase. It doesn’t do anything that I don’t already have a way of doing. The main thing I wanted was just a way to easily stream movies from Amazon Prime Instant Video (a service where you can watch some movies or TV shows for “free” if you have Amazon’s “Prime” shipping service) or Netflix. I was able to watch Netflix movies from our TiVo HD, but if I wanted to watch stuff from Amazon I had to plug my laptop into our TV, change the settings around, and play the video on my laptop. It was possible, but it made watching any TV show or movie into a 10 minute affair just to set things up, and another 10 minutes to take it all back down later. For a 50 minute TV show, that’s a pain.

Anyhow, the Fire TV Stick arrived earlier this week and I spent some time after work setting it up on Monday night. It does way more than I originally realized, and brings a bunch of entertainment and news into our living room that we didn’t have. The Stick is just a tiny gizmo that plugs into a power supply and into the HDMI input on the TV. It’s very similar to a thing called Google Chromecast that came out a year or so ago. But Amazon’s seems to do more. Here are all the things I’ve set it up to do:

  • Watch Amazon Prime TV and movies – This is free if you have Amazon Prime
  • Listen to all the music I ever bought from Amazon, through the TV
  • Listen to Amazon’s free music collection, sort of like Spotify – Also free if you have Amazon Prime
  • Watch any streamed movie or TV show from Netflix streaming – a Netflix subscription costs money of course
  • Watch any YouTube video, especially my video playlists of travel oriented videos
  • Listen to my favorite local radio stations – These are streamed online and played on the TV using a Fire “app” called tunein. I had no idea I could get radio on this thing, including KUVO (Denver’s jazz station, which normally has a weak signal), Radio 1190 (the CU college station that I can’t even pick up in Denver), KGNU, NPR, CPR, and NOAA weather radio.
  • Listen to streamed music from the Spotify service – I have Spotify premium already, which is required to make this work.
  • Listen to police and fire scanner radios – Here’s another thing I had no idea was possible. I occasionally listen to the police scanner during regional emergencies like when we had tornado warnings in our neighborhood last summer.
  • Watch videos from PBS’ free online video archive – This includes things like Ken Burns series, etc.

I’ve seen a few other things that this thing will do that I haven’t tried yet:

  • Stream music from my huge iTunes library on my laptop’s external hard drive
  • Play games, both free and not
  • View my library of photos, either from my Mac or by uploading them (for free) into Amazon’s cloud

I’m tempted to just ditch the old TiVo HD, but there are still a few things I use it for that aren’t replaced by the Amazon Fire TV Stick.

  • Record and time shift Broncos games. I don’t see any way to play live TV on this, much less record it so I can skip through commercials.
  • Record other over-the-air TV programs, like “Nova”, travel shows, “Soul Train”, “Land of the Lost”, and “The Joy of Painting”. If there was just a service that would take over-the-air TV broadcasts and stream them online — the same way that’s done with FM and AM radio and police scanners — that would be ideal. But the one company that tried this got taken to court and lost, and later filed Chapter 11.

So for the time being, I’m using the Stick as a replacement for a laptop for watching movies and as a replacement for a radio. It’s so much more convenient than how I was doing things. But I’m not ready to get rid of the TiVo and over-the-air antenna yet.

Posted in Consumer Experiences, Film, Music | 1 Comment

Thanksgiving 2014 Menu

For Thanksgiving this year, Beth and I are volunteering at the Turkey Trot, which is a big race in Washington Park (Denver) to raise money for the Mile High United Way. I volunteered two or three times about 10 or 15 years ago, but not recently. After that, we’re gonna make a semi-traditional Thanksgiving dinner at home. And then possibly go see a movie.

For a moment I thought of doing the 100 Mile Thanksgiving Challenge again. I did that years ago and won a prize for my menu. All the ingredients were grown or raised within 100 miles of home, except for some things like salt. But it’s tough to round up all the ingredients to pull that off. So here’s what I have planned this year:

  • roast turkey: I ordered a small non-GMO free-range turkey from Mary’s, and plan to roast it in a pretty traditional manner. Not smoked, not brined.
  • wild rice and sausage stuffing: Beth loves her mother’s stuffing recipe, but it’s not really compatible with how we’re trying to eat these days. So I chose this recipe, which is lower carb and has more interesting ingredients: wild rice, sausage, and fennel stuffing
  • cranberry sauce: Beth wants to look at Whole Foods and see if they have anything made fresh and local. I’m guessing they won’t, so we’ll probably just get this from a can.
  • green salad: This is pretty standard fare, and I don’t have plans to do anything unusual or special here. I’ve really grown fond of Annie’s Goddess Dressing lately.
  • maybe gravy: Beth really likes gravy, and even though we’re not having mashed potatoes she may make some to put on the turkey.
  • chocolate mousse: We’ll buy this or something similar from a local bakery. I’m just not into making desserts.

What we’re not having: mashed potatoes, bread, bread-based stuffing, pumpkin pie, the American green bean casserole thing

Posted in Food | 2 Comments

marijuana candy scare 2014

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, I’m sure you know that starting in January 2014, the state of Colorado has allowed licensed dispensaries to legally sell marijuana (aka cannabis) and related products, including “edibles”. Edibles are usually candy or cookies (but sometimes things like butter, pretzels, etc.) that are infused or coated with hash oil. You could buy this stuff before 2014 if you had a special medical marijuana card, issued by the state. But starting this year, anyone over 21 can buy it.

According to some, this has caused a noticeable rise in the availability of cannabis products to children. Around the start of October 2014, one big concern expressed by the police, local media, and some parents was that people would be give out these medicinal candies to trick-or-treaters, and that children would each them by accident, not realizing what they were. And the kids would go crazy, commit violence to themselves or others, or end up in the hospital.

Here is a 9 News report about this.

And here is a video the Denver Police made to inform parents about this threat:

While many parents were concerned about widespread nefarious dosing, many others had a response like mine:

Why would any stoner give a child a $5.00 medicated piece of unwrapped candy instead of a $0.02 non-medicated candy? Do cannabis edible users have too much money and they want to waste a bunch of it giving kids their medicine? All the cannabis users I know and have known in the past wouldn’t do such a thing. And if you’re a sociopath who wanted to harm kids, why not poison the candy with rat poison or something that would really cause long term harm (at much lower cost), rather than just make a kid high for a few hours?

Regardless, Halloween came and went. The morning after, I searched the news for widespread — or even spotty — reports of cannabis candy getting into the hands of children. Who knows, maybe it would be a big deal that would trigger a backlash against THC edibles in the shape of candy.

Here are the news reports I found so far:

Halloween Pot-Candy Scare Baseless So Far (CBS Denver, October 31)
“My honest opinion is that’s an overblown fear that was created by the police,” said CB Scientific CEO Bill Short.”

No Halloween pot poisonings in Denver, hospital says (USA Today, November 1)
“Before Halloween, the marijuana industry scoffed at parents’ fears and said the vast majority of users are responsible adults who would never actually do something so stupid as to confuse the two or deliberately hand out expensive pot candy. Afterward, they mourned the deaths of multiple trick-or-treaters killed by vehicles on Friday night.”

Deadly Halloween Across the Nation (New York Times, November 2)
“Halloween took a deadly turn for trick-or-treaters, paradegoers and party guests across the country, on a holiday that federal safety regulators say is one of the deadliest on America’s roadways.”

I thought I was finally on to something big when I found this news article, with the titillating headline Prince George’s Police Seize Halloween Candy Laced With Marijuana (CBS Baltimore, October 31). But then once I read the article I see it’s just bad journalism. The candy wasn’t Halloween candy. It was just regular properly-labeled marijuana edibles (illegal in Maryland) that the local cops found and seized.

“Officers don’t have any indication that the pot candy was destined for trick-or-treaters.”

Officials say no problems with Halloween pot candy (Denver Post / Associated Press, November 3)
“Denver Police and the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center on Monday reported no cases of people slipping marijuana to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters.”

You’re more likely to catch Ebola than to receive marijuana-laced Halloween candy (Washington Post, November 3)
“Despite literally hundreds of wide-eyed press accounts last week of the ‘danger’ of marijuana-infused Halloween candy, we are three days into November without a single instance of Halloween-related pot poisoning coming to light. None. Zero. Zilch.” 

Final update:

It’s now November 16, 2014. I’ve been checking back with the news services from time to time since Halloween. This story totally dropped off the face of the media radar the day after Halloween. I can’t find any follow-up articles. There apparently were never any reports nationwide (much less in Colorado, where I live) of kids getting marijuana candy for Halloween by accident or due to malicious stoners. The police haven’t reported anything, the local schools haven’t reported anything, and the hospitals haven’t reported anything.

I’m not going to bother checking back, because I’m pretty sure that every kid has eaten all their Halloween candy by now. So if there was going to be an issue, we would’ve heard of it by now. I know nobody pays attention to this sort of thing — how often the policy and media get it totally wrong — but wouldn’t it be nice if there was some sort of publicly transparent tally? Imagine a Wikipedia or that listed all the time the police or media scared us about something that turned out to be nothing.

Now I’m off to protect myself against the real threat, which is massive Ebola outbreak at the shopping mall. Oh, wait, the 15 minutes of unfounded fear for that one has already died out, too…

Posted in Consumer Experiences, Politics | Leave a comment

script to make a pile of Zeros – pile-o-zeros.bash

I’m delving into a role playing game called Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game (DCC RPG) by Goodman Games. It’s got a unique character creation philosophy. Instead of spending a bunch of time crafting your perfect 1st level character, you create a pile of throwaway 0-level characters, sometimes called “Zeros”. Then, to kick off a campaign, you put these piles of Zeros through an introductory adventure called a “funnel”. The ones that live become 1st level characters you can become more attached to. Mortality is high in DCC, especially for Zeros. That’s why you make a lot of them. Often, a player will go through his first 3 or 4 Zeros in the first session, and the judge (what DCC calls a DM) can give him or her more. It’s sorta like Paranoid, in a way. High fun, high death rates. TPKs are not uncommon.

Well, the fine people at Purple Sorcerer wrote a web app that generates Zeros, four at a time. Then you can print out this page of four Zeros, cut them up, and then enter the funnel. Well, I’m prepping to run a funnel adventure at a local game shop, and so I’m going to need a lot of Zeros, like 50 to 70 of them. But I didn’t want to hassle with generating them on the Purple Sorcerer website one page at a time. So I wrote this little script.

It’s a bash script, and it only runs on a relatively recent Mac that’s on the internet. But it works for me, and so I’m putting here in case it works for you. If you run it without any command line arguments it’ll generate 20 pages of characters. That’s 80 Zeros total. Or you can specify a different number of pages as a command line option.

If you don’t know anything about using or running bash scripts on your Mac, here’s a quickstart:

1) Copy the text of the script below

# This bash script will generate and download a bunch of DCC RPG 0-level character
# sheets, and then concatenate them into a single big PDF. It only works on a Mac.
# This only works on MacOS. Actually it only works on versions 10.4 or greater, but
# I'm going to assume that anyone with OS X is using a recent enough version.
# Written by Todd Bradley (
# Thanks to Purple Sorcerer for the awesome character generator app
if [ "`uname`" != "Darwin" ]
	echo "This only runs on Mac OS X. Sorry."

# If the user doesn't specify the number of pages, generate 20 of them.

case "$1" in
		echo "Usage: $0 [N] where N is the number of pages of characters you want."

echo "Now generating ${pages} pages of characters, 4 to a page."

for i in `seq 1 ${pages}`;
	curl -# -o sheet.${i}.pdf ""

"/System/Library/Automator/Combine PDF Pages.action/Contents/Resources/" -o dcc-zeros.pdf sheet.*.pdf

rm sheet.*.pdf
echo "Your ${pages} pages of character sheets are now in the file dcc-zeros.pdf"
open dcc-zeros.pdf

2) Open Terminal

3) Type the following at the Terminal prompt

cd ~
cat > pile-o-zeros.bash

4) Now paste in the text you copied, and hit Ctrl+D

5) You should have the command prompt back, so type: chmod +x pile-o-zeros.bash

6) Now you can run it, with a command like this:



./pile-o-zeros.bash 4

It’ll build the number of pages of Zeros that you specify, concatenate them into one big PDF, and open that in Preview.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Todd’s World of Coffee

We’ve now been living in Capitol Hill in Denver for three months. One of the things I realized when we moved here is that there are a lot of coffee shops within easy walking distance. With the help of Yelp, I made a list of all seven that are within a half mile, which I posted here.

That’s when I gave myself a little challenge – to visit each and every one of these. I guess I chose 0.5 miles as the cutoff because that’s what I think of as “an easy walk” – anything farther and it would feel more like a walk for a walk’s sake, instead of just “I’ll bop down to the corner and get a cappuccino.”

But a new place cropped up since I started my list, and that’s when I decided I better update this. And in the process, I organized it all a bit better and expanded it significantly.

Coffee Shops Within 1/2 Mile

  1. Pablo’s Coffee 0.1 mi – This is the easiest one to get to, by far. It’s a nice place with really good cappuccino and no WiFi. Nice staff, roast their own beans. My Yelp review.
  2. Buzz Cafe 0.4 mi – I just went here for the first time last week on a weekday morning. Their homemade breakfast sandwich is the best around – the tastiest coffee shop breakfast in the area. The cappuccino was good, but not outstanding. My Yelp review.
  3. Drip Denver 0.4 mi – This is my favorite of all the ones on this list. The service is great, the people really know their coffee, and they have a wide selection. The interior is also very comfortable, and they have good WiFi. They get their beans from Pablo’s and Kaladi Brothers. My Yelp review.
  4. Dazbog Coffee 0.5 mi – This is convenient for me when I’m driving to Broomfield in the morning. But the service is spotty. Sometimes they forget to make things I order. And I haven’t had any coffee drink that’s really impressed me. I rank this like Starbucks, but slightly more local.
  5. Roostercat Coffee House 0.5 mi – Nice small place downstairs on Lincoln between 10th and 11th. They use Coda coffee. Not very crowded or noisy, at least on a weekday morning. They make unusual waffle sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. But I’ve gotten turned off by my last two visits and stopped going. One time there were coffee grounds in my cappuccino. How does that even happen?

Starbucks Within 1/2 Mile

Yeah, I’m giving these a separate category. Four Starbucks within 0.5 miles of me? Talk about overkill. The bold ones are the ones I’ve personally visited, for what little that’s worth.

  1. Starbucks Coffee 0.2 mi – 300 E 6th Ave – This is the Starbucks on 6th near Moe’s Bagels. I don’t have much to say about Starbucks. When I went to this one, the service was good.
  2. Starbucks Coffee 0.3 mi – 575 Lincoln Street – This one is between Lincoln and Broadway on the south side of Speer, by Bombay Bowl. I went there once when we lived in Baker.
  3. Starbucks Coffee 0.4 mi – 560 Corona St – This is the one inside Safeway at 6th and Corona. Oh boy, supermarket Starbucks.
  4. Starbucks Coffee 0.4 mi – 931 Corona St – This is the Starbucks inside the King Soopers that people often call “Queen Soopers”. It’s a typical supermarket Starbucks.

Other Coffee-serving Businesses Within 1/2 Mile

Again, bold means “been there, done that”.

  1. Dunkin Donuts 0.5 mi – 366 N Broadway – I went there but didn’t get coffee. For some reason, people rave about the quality of the coffee at Dunkin.
  2. DJ’s 9th Avenue Cafe 0.4 mi – 865 Lincoln St – This is a great place for both breakfast and lunch. They have good service and good food, which they make with as many local ingredients as possible. I’ve never seen it very crowded, so I wonder how they can stay in business given the size of the place.
  3. City Bakery Cafe 0.3 mi – 726 Lincoln St – Pretty new. Mainly baked good, but they also have drip coffee and espresso drinks, as well a breakfast sandwiches.
  4. Racine’s Restaurant 0.2 mi – 650 Sherman St – We’ve been there a couple times. One time was for supper and it was great. One time was for breakfast and it was mediocre. The coffee was Starbucks brand. Enough said.
  5. Moe’s Broadway Bagel 0.2 mi – 550 Grant St – I love Moe’s “everything” bagel with cream cheese, and often get one to go with an iced coffee, which Moe’s makes pretty well.
  6. Martine’s Muffins 0.3 mi – 726 Lincoln St – Frankly, I’m not sure how Martine is going to stay in business now that City Bakery Cafe has opened up, not just nearby but in the same building! I just went there once for a breakfast burrito, and didn’t try her coffee. The burrito was just so-so.
  7. Einstein Bros. Bagels 0.4 mi – 1025 E 9th Ave – Why bother? There’s Moe’s nearby.
  8. Tony’s Market 0.5 mi – 950 Broadway – I’ve been to Tony’s for food, but never to get coffee. They do have a lot of interesting high end foodstuffs, at high end prices.
  9. Lé Bakery Sensual 0.2 mi – 300 E 6th Ave – They have coffee, but that’s not what they’re famous for. What they’re famous for is cupcakes shapes like penises. I bought a cake there once, but never the coffee.

So there’s my list. 18 places to get coffee within 1/2 mile. Got anything to add? Leave a comment.

Posted in Consumer Experiences, Food | Leave a comment

have you heard the phrase “the body is open”?

I thought this phrase was a common idiom, but judging from the Google results, now I’m not so sure. I had a boss years ago who taught it to me. The phrase comes from surgery, as I heard the story. If you’re a surgeon and you’ve already gone to the trouble of sedating a patient, sterilizing the room, and cutting open the patient’s body to repair one thing, if you see another thing that needs fixing right next to it, you might as well fix the second thing, too. Otherwise, you’ll have to sew the body back up and let the patient recover from this surgery, only to come back and do another surgery to fix the second problem in the future.

This idiom applies really well to software maintenance, in my experience. Suppose you’ve done the work to analyze and understand a piece of existing source code well enough that you can find and fix a bug that’s been reported. If you see there’s a related bug in the same section of code, it’s cheaper to just go ahead and fix it while “the body is open”.

Have you ever heard this idiom before? Does it apply to your field of work?

Posted in Drivel | Leave a comment

back in the hood

Beth and I moved from south Boulder to central Denver about a month ago, but I think it didn’t fully sink in until just today how wonderful it is being in a real neighborhood of a real city. I’d seen some small signs over the past month, like the fact that I calculated there are seven coffee shops within a half mile. And, of course, the fact that it takes 30 minutes to drive to an actual suburb. And the fact we can easily walk to the Fillmore Auditorium, the state capitol, Voodoo Doughnut, Cherry Creek, the Denver Art Museum, and four different supermarkets.

Today's WalkBut today’s experience was special in how mundanely urban it was. I needed to go to King Soopers pharmacy to pick up a prescription refill, but Beth took the car today. So I set out on foot, Audiobook in my earpods. I wanted some lunch, so I decided to stop in at a pho restaurant that I hadn’t visited before. After lunch I walked up to the pharmacy and got my prescription. But then I realized I was next door to one of the coffee shops on my checklist, so I stopped in for espresso and a scone. Refortified against the spring snowstorm, I set out for home.

But then I passed by a little neighborhood Ace Hardware I didn’t even know existed. It’s the exact opposite of Home Depot, more employees than customers, a small shop where you can buy everything you need in 5 minutes, and no parking. I remembered we needed a few things for the new apartment, so I stopped in and picked them up. Then I set out again. Oh, but wait, Beth mentioned the other day we’re out of tonic water, and there’s a liquor store right next store. Another stop. After that I passed by a cleaners (the fourth one I passed on this walk), an antique store, the mysterious walled-off premises of an international religious cult’s mansion, and some other mansions, before finally getting back to our apartment.

I’m glad to be here, in a real neighborhood in a real city.

Posted in Drivel | 2 Comments

another spinal tap!

I had my fifth spinal tap (aka “lumbar puncture”) today. This is part of the recovery process from my SCDS repair surgery back in November, four months ago. The LP will allow us to see two things. First, what’s my cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure currently, since I’ve been taking 2 Diamox 250 mg pills a day. Second, what impact – if any – does lowering my pressure have on my ongoing autophony symptoms.

Three of the times I had a lumbar puncture, I was partially or fully sedated, and so those were good experiences. The last time I had one, I was not sedated at all and it was terrible. The anesthesiologist was poking and prodding around and hit several nerves on the way in. It was painful, and I had terrible lightning shocks shooting down my legs. So I was nervous when I learned they plan to do this fifth LP without sedation.

However, they were using a procedure I had read about but never had, where the radiologist guides the needle into just the right spot by using an x-ray machine.

Well, I don’t know whether it was just good luck, a more talented puncturer, or the x-ray guidance procedure, but this time was 180 degrees different from last time. It was anti-climactic, with less actual pain than going to the dentist for a routine cleaning and exam.

Lessons for if I ever had to do this again:

  • Make sure the doctor doing the procedure knows in advance how much fluid to remove
  • Get sedation if possible, and if not get the x-ray guidance technique

Oh, so you want to hear the results? My opening pressure was 22 (cm H2O). They removed 16.5 ml of fluid. And my closing pressure was 15.5.

Posted in Ears | 2 Comments

a new film by Todd Bradley

A few months ago, one of my Facebook friends turned me on to a short film contest that was right up my alley. It was the Real Food Media Contest, and they had a contest to make a short documentary on one of a set of topics related to food and farming. So I took footage I shot in Missoula, Montana when Beth and I were there for a month in the summer of 2012, and edited it into a short. Unfortunately, I didn’t win a prize, but today they announced the winners. If you want to check out what won, here you go:

My buddy Chad Johnson reviewed and critiqued the film I put together. His assessment was that it was a basically good edit and interesting story. But he felt I probably wouldn’t place in the contest because my film doesn’t have the “shallow depth-of-field DSLR look” that’s so popular. Well, he was right; my film wasn’t even a finalist. And if you look at the films that got the top 5 prizes, you can see his comments about the “look” the judges wanted to see were right on the money.

The winners are also interesting stories, so I don’t mean to imply that they won only based on their look. But my traditional video camera’s small imager just can’t produce the kind of pictures that people’s eyes want to watch. It’s awesome for sports, but not for sexy documentaries. So I’m gonna get a DSLR (or something like it) and learn to fiddle obsessively with rack focus. That’s my recipe for success. Just watch me.

Posted in 12 Cities, 1 Year, Film, Food | Leave a comment

Three important travel lessons I learned from my weekend in Dallas

I recently traveled from my home in Denver to Dallas for a short video project. My client was a small magazine with a tiny part-time staff.  Given the market they’re in, they have to operate frugally, and so at every turn we tried to plan for the least expensive option. That backfired in a couple ways.

Here are the big lessons:

1. Don’t fly Frontier

I almost always fly Southwest for both business and pleasure, because they’ve always treated me well. But Southwest doesn’t offer any direct flights from Denver to either of the Dallas airports. So, my client found a great deal on for Frontier. I booked that, and the round trip cost was $238.00 (taxes and fees included). Seems pretty reasonable, eh?

Well, of course there’s the bag fees to tack onto that. If you buy your ticket anywhere except, they charge $25 for your first checked bag and $30 for the second. On Southwest, both bags are free, which is one of the reasons I like Southwest.

What surprised me, though, is that as I was checking in, I learned that if you buy from anywhere but, you also have to pay $50 for a carry-on! Now keep in mind I was doing a video shoot, which means I’ve got a camera bag and tripod in addition to a suitcase for clothes, toiletries, etc. So I check my camera bag and my suitcase, and then carry the tripod on. With these bags, we’re now up to $105 in bag fees — EACH WAY! In other words, my roundtrip ticket of $238.00 went up by $210.00 for my luggage. $448.00 doesn’t sound so cheap anymore, does it?

So, my first lesson is that if you have to fly Frontier, only book your flight through Or avoid Frontier altogether.

(For comparison, if I had done a non-direct flight on Southwest, I would’ve paid somewhere between $160 and $330 total, including all my bags. And I won’t even go into my diatribe about Frontier charging $2 for a soft drink that’s free on Southwest.)

2. Allocate lots of extra time if you’re renting a car

The Dallas Fort Worth airport is designed such that there is a separate car rental center that serves all car rental agencies. So after you get your bag you stand in line to wait for the next bus. I don’t know if it’s this way all the time, but when I arrived Friday night, there was a long line of people. It took us about 20 minutes to cram everyone onto the rental car bus (at 4 different stops), and then another 25 minutes (that is not an exaggeration) for the bus to drive to the car rental center.

This bus travels at really low speed (good, given how many people were standing) and some Texan in his infinite wisdom put the car rental center miles from the airport. In fact, where you pick up your car is so far away from the rest of the airport that if you drive back to the terminal to pick up another arriving passenger (as I did), you have to take a toll road to do so. That’s how far away the rental center is. One guy on the bus, about 20 minutes into the ride, yelled to the driver, “Can you just drop me off at my hotel?”

Having never flown into Dallas, I had the impression that the DFW airport was supposed to be one of the gems in the US airport network. But now I know what a shithole it really is. As much as we in Denver complain about the airport being so far from the city, at least it was designed well from a traffic flow perspective. Maybe they learned from the terrible mistakes the designers of DFW made 15 years earlier.

So the next lesson comes from the car rental shuttle bus driver herself: When you return to the DFW airport, plan an extra hour to deal with your rental car. The same goes for arrivals. Don’t think that you can get your bags, get a rental car in 15 minutes, and be on your way.

3. Be careful who you rent your car from

So my flight was almost an hour late. That’s not ideal, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The problem was weather, supposedly. That should be no big deal. But after finally landing and getting my bags and taking the rental car shuttle to the rental center, it was after midnight. Can you guess where this story is going?

In our efforts to save money, I reserved a car from Advantage. When I arrived at the rental center, I and several other unhappy renters discovered that the Advantage desk closed at midnight. I called the phone number listed on the reservation, and there was no answer. No customer service agent, no recording saying what to do if you have a late arrival, not even a message of “sorry we’re closed”, just ring ring ring ring…

My second choice would have been Enterprise, since I’ve always had good service from them. But their desk was closed, too. In fact, about half the car rental companies close at midnight, which meant huge lines at all the rest. I chose the rental agency that had the cheapest sounding name, “E-Z Rent-A-Car.” They had two cars left, fortunately, and I got a small Chevy SUV for what was a good price for an SUV (less than many rental agencies charge for a standard car) but more than for the original econobox I reserved from Advantage.

When visiting DFW and renting a car, if your flight might possibly arrive after midnight, check in advance that your rental company stays open past midnight.

All in all, I guess the trip was a good reminder that trying to cut costs to the bone can backfire. If and when I travel to Dallas again, I’ll be doing several things differently.

Posted in Roller Derby, Travel | Leave a comment