IT’S TIME TO CHECK OUT TSA PRE-CHECK!

TSA pre-check

TSA Pre-Check has been around just over four years now. It is a way to expedite your movement through security at most US airports. Designed primarily for the business traveler, it provides three bonuses we all can enjoy: (usually) shorter, faster moving lines; you don’t have to take your computer or other electronics out of your bag; and you can keep your shoes and jacket on. Frequent fliers such as myself have customarily been gifted this benefit by the airline with whom we have status. But when I fly on another airline, I have to join the long line and start undressing!

Even if you’re an infrequent traveler, you may have enjoyed the TSA Pre-Check experience on a past flight. It’s been given out randomly for the past few years so that more people could sample the program. Ultimately, it’s a subscription service offered by the TSA. The more who experience it and like it, the more subscriptions they will sell. It’s marketing at its best!

Of course, something that is designed to keep “the friendly skies” safe should, perhaps, require that everyone going through the expedited (and therefore arguably not as thorough) screening process be worthy of the benefit. As subscribers increase, they are growing frustrated by those in the line who don’t really know where they are or why, nor what the line requires. They slow the process, resulting in the expedited line sometimes being slower than the general line. TSA has put into motion new regulations that will decrease and eventually eliminate not only the random gifts of Pre-Check by US airlines, but also offering it as a benefit of status to their frequent fliers (USA Today – 10/19/2015).

I decided it was past time for me to find out the process for getting permanent Pre-Check status. Like most good things, it began with a Google search which quickly took me to https://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/apply. The application process is simple and straight-forward. Then you must answer a battery of questions primarily pertaining to whether you’ve been involved in any sort of a felony situation in the past 7 years. Read the questions carefully! They are worded so that sometimes the “right” answer is yes and sometimes it is no.

Next, I was directed to a location where the face-to-face part of the process would happen. Despite rumors I’ve heard that this can be done downtown, in Folsom or in the Sunrise or Country Club Mall areas, the website showed the only “local” office being in West Sacramento (across Jefferson Street from Club Pheasant in the Lowe’s parking lot). The next closest location is in Stockton. I selected a date and time that suited me, and received an e-mail confirmation.

My appointment was yesterday. Despite the fact five people sat in the IdentoGO, USA office when I arrived, with proof of my appointment I was ushered right in. They checked my driver’s license, scanned my passport and collected $85. (Credit cards only – they don’t take cash!) I reconfirmed my answers on the online application. Then they electronically took all ten fingerprints. No ink! I was out in 10 minutes.

Though I was given a card on the way out saying TSA would notify me of my acceptance (or not) within 45 days, they also gave me a website where I can monitor my status. They said a Known Traveler Number (KTN) is usually assigned within 7 days. Sometimes it happens in as fast as 24 hours. Once I get that number, I will provide it to all the airlines on whom I fly, whether frequently or not, and enjoy expedited screening. They did stress this action must be taken in advance. Ticket counter agents cannot add the benefit on the day of travel.

One last thing – the subscription period is five full years. Even if you’re a relatively infrequent traveler, I think this is a pretty small price to pay for an expedited airport experience. Your thoughts?

In the Eye of the Beholder

 

I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting New Zealand for the first time back in February. Despite the fact I was traveling with my laptop computer and a brand new iPhone, I was unable to connect for days on end. Call it a combination of different systems in use on the other side of the world and my own status of Technological Neanderthal. Whatever the case, when I was at last able to log on in the capital city of Wellington, I went crazy!

The first e-mail I opened was from KVIE, Sacramento’s PBS station. They were trying a new fund raising tool called Bidding for Good—basically an online auction. I saw my artist friend and fellow KVIE volunteer Gayle Rappaport-Weiland had donated an art party for eight with instruction and all supplies included. On a whim I bid, then lost my connection, something I would not regain until I was once again stateside. Imagine my excitement when the first e-mail I opened was again from KVIE. I won!

It was a challenge finding a date that worked for Gayle, my seven eager friends and me, but at last invitations went out and RSVPs starting coming in. It was only then that my eager anticipation shifted to dread. I’ve painted a lot in my life . . . always walls . . . usually holding a roller. How on earth could I master the subtle art of watercolor and create a masterpiece in just two short hours? Sure, this was Gayle’s promise to all participants, but was it really possible for me?

I invited everyone to lunch before we began, complimented by a liberal ration of champagne for all. I could tell I was not the only one in the room with a bit of anxiety over what lay ahead. Thankfully, the bubbly began to do the trick and temper our various fears. At last it was time to start. At each place was a blank piece of heavy, textured paper, a pencil, four brushes, wax, a cup of water, toilet paper and our “palate” (paper plate) with just four dabs of paint. Gayle’s instructions were simple: “Do what I tell you to do, exactly the way I tell you to do it, then LAY DOWN YOUR BRUSH.” She also demonstrated each technique before we had a hand at it.

And you know what? She was right. It was easy. More than that, it was FUN. And best of all, each of us actually produced a masterpiece that clearly looked like a birch tree in the forest. But oh, what art critics we all became! “I like my clouds, sky and horizon, but my foreground never quite reached its full potential.” “My water is a little murky, but check out my evergreens!”

And my favorite, “You have the best bark. You even mastered a knothole.”

“Actually, that’s where I spilled some paint and tried to cover it up.”

“Oh . . . well, it looks like a knothole to me . . . or maybe an owl.”

I don’t think any of us will be quitting our day jobs anytime soon, but I think it’s also safe to say the next paintbrush one of us picks up just may be to apply something other than latex wall paint!

Thanks to Gayle for a wonderful afternoon, and for her charitable donation of the party to support KVIE. If you’re looking for a party or team-building activity for workmates or a special group of friends, I could not recommend Gayle more highly. Check out her classes, art and upcoming shows online at www.grappaport.com.

Postscript: If you’re wondering what role toilet paper fills in the subtle art form of watercolor, you’ll just have to ask me . . . privately, please.

 

One State Park a Week – That’s All We Ask!

Remember that advertising campaign from Blue Diamond Almonds? “One can a week, that’s all we ask.” The same could be said for California’s State Parks. If everyone visited a state park each week, the perilous situation our parks are facing would change dramatically. Of course, it’s certainly not realistic to expect busy Californians to visit a state park every week: Maybe once a month would be possible?

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I visited four state parks, none of which I had visited before: Boethe-Napa State Park near Calistoga, Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, Bale Gristmill State Park, and Jack London State Park. All were wonderful. I camped with my wife and two children (along with three other families) in Boethe-Napa. One of only two state parks with a swimming pool, the other being Hearst Castle, the park is in the process of being taken over by the county park system which is already working to make the park more marketable for year-round visitation. During our stay we observed members of the California Conservation Corps building “yurts” for more comfortable winter-time camping. We also paid a visit to the pool and looked through the small visitors center with its adjacent Native American garden.

From our home base at Boethe-Napa, we hiked a short trail to nearby to Bale Gristmill State Park, also now being managed by the county park system. On weekends, the gristmill is going full-tilt with tours. Pass from the rustic museum into the mill itself and enjoy a wonderfully informative talk by the onsite miller. One jerk of a chain to allow water to pass over the largest working water wheel west of the Mississippi River, and the belts, cranks, gears and millstones of the mill come alive. The not only does the mill still grind corn, wheat, and buckwheat, it supplies several area restaurants!

At nearby Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, we tramped along trails frequented by the famous author during his honeymoon. The Napa Valley was one of his favorite locations in the world. Of course, he wasn’t the only famous author to fall in love with the area. Next door in the valley of Sonoma County, Jack London built his dream house only to see it succumb to fire days before he moved in. He died before he had an opportunity to restore it. His widow lived the rest of her life at the first home on the site and then gifted the home and land to the state. Today the old home serves as a museum dedicated to her husband and a short trail leads down the mountain to the ruins of the home that was never occupied.

Look for Sports Leisure to offer daytrips to all these locations in the near future. Without our state parks, our history continues to be forgotten as well as our inspiration.

Charity Begins at Home

A few months back, a Travel Club member got in touch and suggested a daytrip that would tour Sacramento’s Shriners Hospital for Children. Normally our staff spends its time trying to find places outside of Sacramento in which to travel. But Joe Hassna, the Travel Club member who contacted me, painted a wonderful picture of the important work the hospital and its staff performs on behalf of children who need the unique healthcare they provide. The hospital volunteers also provide private tours for groups on demand.

I contacted the hospital and made arrangements. Lunch would be important too so it made perfect sense to visit the Casa Garden Restaurant, owned and operated by the Sacramento Children’s Home. It was a perfect compliment to our daytrip. Soon we had a name for the tour: You Have a Date for Lunch for the Children. The tour quickly sold out and I volunteered to serve as Tour Director.

We were greeted with open arms by the staff at the hospital which gathered us into a small auditorium off the main lobby to show us a brief five minute film about the mission of Shriners Hospitals and specifically the hospital in Sacramento. Officially known as Shriners Hospital for Children of Northern California, the facility moved across the street from the UC Davis Medical Center about 15 years ago from San Francisco. Our Shriners Hospital is the only one in the system of twenty-two hospitals that serves all four medical missions of Shriners: burns, orthopedics, cleft lip & palates, and spinal cord injuries. Additionally, it serves as a research hospital and manufactures its own prosthetics on site, saving both time and money. Rooms for families of children staying at the hospital are also provided free of charge on site.

What’s amazing about the hospital is that it serves children of all needs, regardless of income or insurance. In other words, a middle-class family with health insurance would still get care free of charge at Shriners. What’s even more amazing is the fact that the hospital is never full; Mostly because people are simply “wired” to bring their children to regular hospitals to have their families taken care of in those facilities. As a result, the 80 beds at Shriners Hospital Northern California are typically only half full at any time. That said, the hospital does serve around 75 to 100 children on an outpatient basis every day, mostly providing follow-up care to children who have experienced multiple day stays in the hospital.

Started in 1867 as a home for orphans, The Sacramento Childrens Home has greatly expanded its mission to include crisis nurseries, a counseling center, residential and age-transitioning programs, and educational programs concentrating in after-school and youth literacy. One of the fundraising activities that supports the organization is its own on-site restaurant, The Casa Garden Restaurant. Open since 1973 as a restaurant and meeting center, it is staffed mostly by volunteers who don’t accept wages and donate their tips back to the organization. In fact, the volunteer servers at the restaurant have donated over $3 million in tips since the facility opened its doors.

Sports Leisure will be donating all the proceeds of our daytrip to both Shriners Northern California and Sacramento Chidlrens Home. As April 15 approaches, I hope you will take time to consider making tax-deductible donations to both these worthy charities. The websites are http://www.shrinershospitalsforchildren.org and http://kidshome.org/. And even more importantly, please help to spread the word about their important missions.

Love, Chaos, Dinner – My New Infatuation with Teatro Zinzanni

I’ll admit it. I was a Teatro ZinZanni virgin until a recent weekend performance.

For years Sports Leisure has been escorting groups to this very impressive and very unique dinner show and for years it has been on my bucket list of things to do in San Francisco along with Beach Blanket Babylon and a host of other activities one can only find in the City by the Bay. Now I can’t wait for the next performance.

Several weeks ago we learned the Teatro tent will be pulling down its poles to make way for a massive redevelopment of the city’s waterfront along the Embarcadero between the Ferry Building and Pier 39. The project anticipates the arrival of the final sailing races of the America’s Cup Series, scheduled for the summer of 2013. Teatro ends its historic run at Pier 29 with a closing show and party on New Year’s Eve. Unsure of where the performance will be moving, and when, I resolved to head to one of the final shows along with my wife Susan and our good friends Ted and Faye – longtime residents of San Francisco and themselves Teatro ZinZanni “newbies.” A matinee to accommodate the schedules of our respective babysitters suited both couples quite well.

We arrived early and took advantage of the beautifully decorated lobby. Before show drinks were available at the lobby bar, adjacent to the show’s kitschy boutique where one can dress up in purchased hats and feathered boas in anticipation of the performance. Shortly before noon, the doors opened and our costumed wait staff, who are themselves supporting cast members, seated us at our table.

Presented “in the round” the show changes themes regularly throughout the year but maintains a stellar cast of musicians, singers, and vaudeville-style entertainers. Jugglers, gymnasts, and acrobats joined a cast of very talented dancers and singers. The theme of this version of the show harkened back to the days of old-time radio and featured some beautiful songs, catchy jingles, and a little bit of the “chaos” for which the show is known. In between the impressive acts, a four course lunch was served: a starter of crostini, brie and fresh olives, a delicious spinach salad followed by a choice of three entrees, and an exquisite chocolate dessert.

After the show I had a chance to speak to a staff member who confided in me that Teatro ZinZanni will build a new permanent home on San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront to open by the end of 2012. The new site is a triangular parcel, located where Broadway and Davis meet the Embarcadero. With any luck, Sports Leisure’s next visit to Teatro ZInZanni will be announced toward the end of next summer. I know I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed!

S.O.S. – Save our State Parks

The phone call came a few weeks ago. The California State Parks Foundation was asking me to speak on the steps of the state capitol to a small rally. Comprised of concerned businesses, the folks at the rally were dropping off letters to Governor Brown supporting state parks and attending an Assembly committee meeting to discuss the impact of closing 70 state parks next year. I quickly accepted.

State parks are a tremendous resource for Sports Leisure customers and therefore, our business. We regularly visit state parks throughout California, many of which are on the closure list: Bidwell Mansion, Benicia State Capitol Park, Leland Stanford Mansion, and the Weaverville Joss House to name just a few. These parks provide not only products to sell and income for our company, more importantly they provide destinations for our customers to discover or re-discover.

Of course, they also generate income for the state through admissions and use fees. These figures say nothing about the local businesses adjacent to these parks that also rely on them for income; income that generates sales and employment taxes. In fact, the California State Parks Foundation estimates that for every dollar the state invests in a state park, it receives $2.35 back to its general fund.

Naturally these parks will never “close” in the traditional sense of the word. They will be operated under “caretaker” status. But how do you stop people from camping in parks? You can’t just erect a fence around an entire outdoor camping area. If the state has no money to keep them open how will they afford to keep out people who attempt to dismantle or deface buildings or other improvements? How will they prevent illegal activities from occurring? And what about parks that hold priceless treasures like the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento or Bidwell Mansion in Chico? How will these parks be secured? Will their contents be climate controlled to prevent irreversible damage? And what about the buildings themselves, many of which are on the register of historic places and in need of constant care?

It’s a terrible tragedy that our government is being allowed to sell off our inheritance. If you truly care about state parks and want to preserve them for yourselves and future generations, then you need to act. Speak out by contacting your representatives in Sacramento. Visit a state park or even better, volunteer in one. And spread the word to your family and friends or through social media outlets like Facebook. Only then can we assure these parks remain open to those to whom they truly belong.

To learn more about the state park closures and how you can get involved, head on over to www.savestateparks.org.

 

Are You New?

Since my 22nd Tour Preview Day is fast approaching, I started thinking about the past 21. In 19 of the 21, including last year, at least one person has asked me this question. Are you new? Well, not exactly. I have been Sports Leisure Vacations’ controller for two decades. Since I am not a tour director, I have become the company phantom. To change that fact, I am writing a short biography.

I grew up in rural New Jersey. By the time I was 18, I was sick of shoveling snow. Like Clayton, I love the South. I moved to Tuscaloosa to attend the University of Alabama. I am a proud graduate and a huge fan of Crimson Tide athletics, especially football. After graduation, the Air Force brought me to the Golden State.

California has been golden for me. My daughter, Robin and son, Nick were born here. Yes, they are twins. No, they are not identical. I was introduced to my lovely wife Linda by mutual friends.

In the July/August Traveler, Clayton & I were pictured with our classic yellow cars. My wife and I are the original owners of a 1979 MGB. I am also the long-time treasurer of the Sacramento Valley MG Car Club. On numerous weekends, you can find us motoring around the back roads of Placer, Sacramento and El Dorado counties. If you see us, honk and wave. We will do the same.

For an accountant, I am quite friendly. If you are in our office, pop your head in my office and say “Roll Tide”. If you are attending preview day, I will be wearing a blue SLV shirt and Bob Veliky will be on my nametag. When you see me, please do not ask “Are you new?”.