Thursday, July 23, 2009

Margin Notes: Travel, Running Lean, Ford

VIA Rail Canada train #71 sat at Windsor, Ontario after its arrival from Toronto on 23-July-2009

FLINT, MICHIGAN - Quite a number of companies seem to be running way too lean during this recession. VIA Rail Canada, normally a master of customer service, couldn't seem to get enough staff people to organize a high passenger loading from the Special Olympics earlier today. At every stop from Toronto to Chatham, Ontario (except Ingersoll and Glencoe), there were Special Olympics athletes boarding the train, and getting them on board took more than ten minutes in virtually all cases. Even after making up some running time, this meant my train to Windsor, Ontario was nearly an hour late, almost completely because of increased "dwell time" at the stations.

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Another company clearly running lean is Enterprise Rent-A-Car. An employee at the office I visited today said, "We're not buying any cars--we don't know what's going to be around in a year, and so everything we have is out on the road." As a result, I had to wait a bit longer than desired to pick up a reserved car, but I've waited longer for less honest reasons at other rental car companies in the past, and the desk employee was clearly working hard to find one. For the incredible daily rate I was getting, that was all I asked.

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On board the train, VIA employees were clearly trying hard. As much as I prefer getting up and going to the café car as one usually has to do on Amtrak, it is rather nice to be served at one's seat as VIA does on its corridor trains. With the train running late, I decided to eat on-board, and purchased a "sandwich combo" and soft drink. While value for the dollar may be debated, it's hard not to view VIA food as high-quality; I've always said it is because the Quebecois will not put up with bad food so VIA has no choice. For whatever reason, the turkey sandwich was the best I've had in a long time, and it came with cheese and carrots.

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The salad dressing on-board my VIA Rail Canada train on 23-July-2009 had an interesting brand name

Apparently "FOB" doesn't have the same connotations in Canada as it does in immigrant communities in the United States. The dressing (actually dip for my carrots) that came with my lunch had the brand name "FOB"--I guess "fresh on board" doesn't conjure up images of "fresh off the boat" here. Maybe they were trying to evoke the political FOB--"friend of Bill" [Clinton].

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I don't think being a political FOB would have helped much at the border. The United States border agents were excessively rude, but more disturbingly, they seemed rather incompetent in retrospect. They never asked me if I had anything to declare (which I didn't)--if I had, unless I had offered that information on my own, they would have never known. Are they so busy worrying about terrorism that they've forgotten about commerce?

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Ford's global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan were noted on 23-July-2009

Once on the United States side of the border, I was clearly in Ford country (well, after leaving the Renaissance Center and its GM offices, anyway). I drove on the Ford freeway, I found "The Henry Ford" (with its plethora of museums and attractions practically on the order of Disneyland), and while enjoying Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, I drove past Ford's world headquarters.

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A Joe Ricci dealership was found in Dearborn, Michigan on 23-July-2009.

The car dealerships on Michigan Avenue also don't seem to end in Dearborn. Among them, I found a familiar name--Joe Ricci, known to boat racing fans across the nation as the sponsor of an unlimited hydroplane in 1985 and 1986.

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