The day was long. I was tired. And boy, did I need a vacation! But what’s a hardworking freelancer to do? Assignments were piling up. Clients were calling and giving me more work. Great! But again, I needed some time off.
Then a client from Los Angeles called and asked if I could fly out to give a presentation on Thursday. Let’s face it–what freelancer ever feels comfortable turning down work? And then it dawned on me: Why not take advantage of this sojourn and combine business and pleasure? After all, my client is even springing for the airfare.
Lala land. L.A. The possibilities were endless. Hop a flight on Wednesday, present on Thursday, and take a few well-needed days to recuperate and refresh. With a fresh cup of java in hand, I plotted strategy. To plan my weekend in L.A., I would use any technology I could lay my hands on. I had Internet access and subscriptions to the Microsoft Network and Compuserve, in addition to numerous travel-related CDs.
My first port of call was the Internet. Southern California is probably one of the most wired places on the planet. Firing up my Web browser, I pointed my mouse west to California and zeroed in on L.A. I found few sites as helpful as the Virtual Tourist and CityNet. I ran searches on Los Angeles and discovered links to hundreds of travel and recreational sites in Southern California. After a couple hours of browsing, I had lists of dozens of clubs, restaurants, museums, and galleries–enough to keep me occupied for a month or longer. I was only going there for a long weekend. I needed to focus my efforts.
Through CityNet, I found a link to Virtually Hospitable, a collection of home pages for every major hotel in Los Angeles. Each page gives the hotel’s location and price along with photos of its rooms. Of the hotels listed there, I chose the Best Western Mayfair for its location, price, and quality. I got a great deal. Keep in mind when starting your own searches that the prices listed for rooms are not written in stone. Try bargaining, or just keep asking for a lower rate. I ended up with a corporate rate that was 15 percent less expensive than what was posted.
My next step was to sign on to the Microsoft Network (click on the Travel forum in the Interest, Leisure, and Hobby category) and Compuserve (go: travel and go: california) to see what advice I could get. These discussion areas are where subscribers trade travel information. Before I posted a query, I read the old postings to see if L.A. had been mentioned. I then posted a very specific question: Given my time frame–about three days–and my wide range of taste in music and food, what reasonably priced clubs and restaurants should I visit while I’m vacationing?
My experience on the Microsoft Network was disappointing. MSN’s travel forum is basically a link to the Travel Bulletin Board. The only response I got was from someone sending me an invitation to The Magic Castle, an exclusive hangout in L.A.
CompuServe offered up a gold mine of information after only an hour of searching through old discussions and other information posted there. The California Travel forum gave me just what I needed. In the Los Angeles section I downloaded lists of amusements, one- and two-day sightseeing tours and some welcome weather data. (I like to travel light, so weather information is essential.) The Zagat Restaurant Survey provided reviews of a dozen of the best moderately priced Chinese, Tex/Mex, and Cajun eateries in town. I don’t normally go strictly by anyone’s say-so–Even Zagat–but if I find the name of a restaurant recommended more than once-say, in a discussion group or in a newspaper review–I’ll give it serious consideration.
I then dipped into Microsoft’s Automap Road Atlas on CD. Unfortunately, its city map was not detailed enough to show individual streets. However, it is loaded with lots of information on parks, entertainment, and sightseeing. I zoomed in on the map of Southern California and was finally able to picture L.A. and its environs in my mind. I was especially impressed with the topographical maps that show the Los Angeles basin between the mountains and the sea. I printed out maps for future reference, but I also bought a regular street map that I could carry with me on my travels. Technology, it seems, can only go so far.
My client will pick up the tab for the flights, two nights in a hotel, and some of my expenses for Thursday and Friday. If you find yourself having to pay for your flight, check out the OAG (Official Airline Guides) on Compuserve (go: oag). There, you’ll find available flights, airline schedules, and ticket prices. And even though I decided to go to L.A. for my work/vacation combo, don’t feel your choices are restricted. There is online information for just about every city in North America through a variety of Web sites (check out Citynet to get started), CompuServe’s Travel forum (go: travel), and America Online’s Travel areas (keyword: travel). Using such Internet search tools as Web Crawler to find references to a particular city can turn up all kinds of interesting information.
Now that my trip is planned and I am satisfied that I will get the most out of it, I am looking forward to the weekend. And yes, I realize that it’s not quite the full-fledged vacation I need and deserve, but for now, it will be a welcome respite and it’ll make me a star in at least one client’s eyes. Now that I have all the information I need, I can plan an itinerary. My first stop will be the La Brea Tar Pits to see the saber-toothed tiger that’s riding on the mastodon’s back–an image that has haunted me since childhood. I plan to make a pit stop at nearby Kate Mantilini for lunch, since I love Italian food and this restaurant cam highly recommended by several wired Angelenos. I will also try to get in a few hours at the Museum of Contemporary Art. And the Border Grill in nearby Santa Monica certainly beckons for a bright and raucous Tex/Mex dinner.
On my second day I want to stop by The Pantry for breakfast. This 1930s diner is described as an ideal locale for a Raymond Chandler novel. After breakfast I’ll head for Olvera Street. This museum/shopping area is maintained as a 1920s Mexican market and park. In the afternoon, the Huntington Library and garden in nearby San Marino beckon. This is the home of Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, part of a wonderful art collection In the evening I’ll dine at Al Amir, described as the best Lebanese restaurant in America.
Sunday morning I’m going to wander over to the Santa Monica Pier for some relaxing California beach ambience, sightseeing, and shopping. Before heading to the airport, I’ll try one of the reasonably priced restaurants on the Third Street Promenade. Assessing the damage, my extended stay in L.A. will cost me about $300 for my hotel, car rental, meals, and entertainment.