Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Phoenix

Phoenix, AZ

Two weeks ago I took a business trip to Phoenix. It was a simple trip--just to meet the new employees in the IT department and help them with a move to a new office, setting up computers, network connections, etc. I went down on Wednesday and was going to work with them on Thursday and Friday, the move would happen on Saturday morning and that evening I'd fly home.

I arrived on Wednesday night and picked up my rental car--a Kia minivan. Last time I got a 2008 Ford Mustang; this time, a Kia minivan. Alright; a car is a car and I wasn't going to complain.

A few months ago my company revised their business travel procedures and required all sorts of paperwork for them. One of the policies they implemented was that employees are eligible for $50 a day food reimbursement. Personally, I live off of about $32.49 worth of groceries a week. It's not that my budget limits me to that, but rather that I can cook good meals for a week without paying as much as a many people worldwide make in a month. My initial reaction to this stipend was that I'd buy some peanut butter, jelly, and bread, and then pocket the cash each day since I had no reason to spend $50 on food daily. That would be too easy, of course. The money isn't given as a stipend; it's a reimbursement. This means I only get $50 a day for food if I spend $50 a day for food.

Realizing this, I made it my goal to spend $50 on food each day I was there.

This proved challenging on Wednesday night, as I had one meal to blow it all on. I went to a restaurant called Fajita's and ordered some nacho appetizers and a top sirloin fajita; the total came to $28.68 with tip. So far I was failing on my goal.

Thursday and Friday it wasn't too hard--going out to lunch each day I'd spend about $15 or $20 on sushi or what is arguably the greatest sandwich ever (Miracle Mile's "Straw"--if you're in Phoenix, go there and get it). For dinner on Thursday I went to a nice Cajun seafood place I went to last time and got a very good salmon; $28 for a salmon with asparagus gets you some good fish.

I did find that sometimes the price of a meal isn't proportional to quality but rather the quantity. On Friday I ate at a Mexican place that the hotel front desk recommended and I decided to order the steak and chicken enchiladas for $21.99 on the menu. As it turns out, this wasn't a high class place where $21.99 gets you a nice salmon; instead it got me about 8 enchiladas covered in refried beans, cheese, rise, lettuce, and pico de gallo. I ate two of them.

On Saturday the move to the new office didn't happen; the building wasn't ready yet.

This meant I had a Saturday to spend in Phoenix with no obligations and a $50 food budget. Eating breakfast at the hotel, I figured I'd drive around see what I could find. A coworker from Utah recommended a place that sells Nordstrom returns and overstock for really good prices on Camelback road, so I thought I'd try to find it. Driving down the road I passed several restaurants, small business, large business buildings, and a strip mall; no sign of the place my coworker told me about. Figuring I had a few hours to kill, I decided to stop at the strip mall.

This wasn't an ordinary strip mall.

Instead of Gap they had Gucci. Instead of Banana Republic they had Tommy Bahamas. Instead of Express they had Saks Fifth Avenue. They had valet parking. The lot was filled with BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, and Bentleys. I parked my large white Kia minivan myself next to a bright red Porsche Carrera S and shiny black Aston Martin.

Walking around the shopping outlet was like walking through an issue of Details. Everyone was dressed in nice polo shirts or suits; everything was made by a fashion designer from Italy; all the store clerks either ignored me or assumed I was shoplifting.

I found a little bistro called Tru Food where all the waiters were dressed in cotton pants that hadn't been dyed and used notepads made of bamboo. The menu had items labeled vegetarian and vegan and the few options that had meat explicitly mentioned that the animals were all raised organically in free range farms or wild caught and humanely given anaesthetic prior to being killed. I ordered the open salmon sandwich along with the "antioxidant doctor berry juice" that had no added sugar and was made solely from blueberries, acai berries, and 8 other berries found only in the remote hills of Sweden. Both the drink and the salmon were exquisite. Looking at my budget I still had a little over $20 to spend on food. Walking around I found a Cheesecake Factory and decided dessert sounded good--walking in I was quickly seated, the waiter quickly attended and recommended the vanilla bean cheesecake, I accepted and ordered a shake to go with it. (I was on a trip and I had money that had to be spent! Don't judge me.)

When all was said and done I realized that I don't particularly enjoy the posh shopping centers. I don't fit into that world--I assumed the world that Details magazine covers existed only in their own minds; I didn't know people actually dressed that stuck up.

People dress like this?

I'm all for looking nice, but I mostly use fashion and style as a guide that I then apply to my own wardrobe. This place followed it exactly and it scared me. I always assumed fashion shows were to give ideas, not to tell you exactly what to wear. These places had no imagination; the people weren't unique. These stores--Ralph Lauren, Tommy Bahamas, Saks--these aren't where style is created; this is where it dies because it's all dictated. While the quality was remarkable; the originality was lost.

Each day I was there the temperature hit about 106 F; I didn't enjoy that part.

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