welcome to week No. 3 of Road Warrior: Adventures of the Business Traveler, Wanderlust's compendium of tips and tales from people who spend the better part of their lives on the road. In the past two weeks we have presented worldly advice and eye-opening anecdotes from digital visionary Esther Dyson and Web and print designer Roger Black.
This week's featured interview is with Apple's strategic relations guru, Chris Gulker. Also check out Tip of the Week, about great places to eat and stay in New Orleans, and Informed Sources, where road warriors share their queries and advice. Last week a reader asked about salvaging soon-to-expire frequent-flier miles. Check out what one of our savvy road warriors advised, and see if you're inspired to respond to this week's letter from a reader complaining about sexism on airlines. We welcome your questions, suggestions, tips and ideas -- send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. And make us a regular stop on your weekly itinerary!
Chris Gulker is in charge of strategic relations for Apple Computer's Design and Publishing Markets group. Formerly director of development at the San Francisco Examiner, he launched the Electric Examiner, the paper's World Wide Web edition. Previously, he had led the Examiner's pioneering desktop publishing and digital imaging projects. Before joining the Examiner, Gulker worked as a photographer at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. As a freelancer he worked for the Picture Group and Saba agencies, and has been published in Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Glamour and the New York Times. Gulker resides in Menlo Park, California, with spouse Linda Hubbard and Cassie, an Australian Shepherd.
I conducted this interview electronically with Gulker over a period of about four weeks, in three installments. During this time he went on three different trips, always responding to my follow-up questions on his brief do-the-laundry stops at home. Rack up those miles, Chris!
How often do you travel in a year?
Average three trips a month -- 36 per year (75-100,000 annual air miles).
How do you deal with jet lag?
I guess I should get up to speed on melatonin and other remedies. Unfortunately, my travel plans tend to be A) planned well in advance or B) last-minute.
Not infrequently I leave work for the airport on short notice -- especially when flying east; I get in late and basically just tough it out.
When I can plan, I fly a day before if possible, both east and west.
Do you have a favored plane or seat?
Airlines have so many configurations that it's highly dependent on the carrier, the route and the particular aircraft.
Some general preferences and non-preferences:
Small plane (150 seat): Airbus A 320 -- by far the best, especially in economy.
Most 737s are just awful: There's only 2 classes, restricting upgrade potential and economy seats are too close for a 6-footer to have knee room, especially if the passenger in front tilts back. 727s and MD-80s are no better, often worse.
On small planes, aisle bulkhead and aisle exit rows are often the best seats, especially on 737s. Some miserably configured 737s have a terrible bulkhead arrangement, however. It's hard to tell unless you're familiar with that airline's equipment and routing.
Jumbos (300 and up): Boeing 777 (especially business class) is my current favorite aircraft. Airbus 300 (business class, for long hauls on Euro carriers) is a close second. Boeing 747 (Virgin, British Air, Air New Zealand have some particularly good configurations, but it depends on city, route, schedule, and so on). Business class downstairs is good on many, if you avoid a seat near the bathroom on planes where that's unfortunately configured; 10 hours of people standing next to you impatiently is no fun.
What places do you visit most often?
In order of frequency: New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, London, Melbourne, Denver, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei.
In these places, how do you get from the airport to your hotel?
I mostly use taxis, but I like to experiment with local surface transport: I like direct train connections, and use them in cities where I know how they work (e.g., the El in Chicago, MARTA in Atlanta) during reasonable hours -- it's not a good idea late at night (you end up arriving at downtown stations where there's little attraction for taxis in the wee hours). In Boston the ferries are interesting in summer, if you aren't carrying a lot of stuff.
I like the Carey and Communicar limos in NYC. They're not much more expensive than cabs, much better service.
In countries where there's a language issue -- I speak only English and tolerable French, so that's a lot of places, especially on the Pacific Rim -- I use taxis. Taxi starters at major airports can often be a good resource: They may be multi-lingual and, for a small tip, will give your non-English-speaking driver clear instructions.
If Apple has a local office, I phone or e-mail a colleague for advice: They often will offer advice about or arrange a reasonably priced, good quality local resource -- good tip for anyone who works for a global company.
What's your favorite hotel?
In NYC it's the Algonquin, small rooms and all. The lobby is priceless, and almost anyone in NYC will meet you there for a drink. They think you must have class.
My favorite chains are Westin, Grand Marriott, Ritz Carlton where rates are reasonable.
What's your favorite restaurant?
They're all in the Bay Area:
- Expensive: Fleur de Lys in S.F.
- Moderate: Chez Panisse (cafe) in Berkeley
- Business: Vertigo in S.F.
- Best Silicon Valley breakfast: Buck's in Woodside and Good Earth in Cupertino
- Best Silicon Valley lunch: Lion and Compass in Sunnyvale
- Best Silicon Valley dinner, drinks: The Village Pub in Woodside
If you have an afternoon free, where do you go?
In any city
- Photo galleries (especially NYC and London)
- Museums (especially technology-related)
- Newspaper offices (you can always find a friend of a friend if you've been in the biz ...)
In London, I take the tube to the last stop (usually in a country setting) and hike country trails to a local pub for tea, then return. There are good guidebooks on just this sort of fun.
If you have a night free, where do you go?
Back to the room. I order room service for dinner and catch up on e-mail and voice mail.
I check out the local night life (if I have a local friend or associate).
What's the best shop or souvenir?
Indigenous, small, not-at-the-airport, eclectic arts/crafts/local-produce shacks. The kind of place even the locals think is "different." It's good to take back wampum to spouse/child/relatives.
What's your single favorite place or thing in your most frequented cities?
- In New York it's a morning run around the reservoir in Central Park, which is best if you start from the Algonquin on 44th. Also drinks in the Algonquin lobby.
- In Melbourne: run around the cricket ground and surrounding parks.
- In London: run around Green Park and environs.
- In Tokyo: walk anywhere, especially in retail districts.
- In Washington, D.C.: it's a trip to the Smithsonian, especially the Air and Space and American History areas.
- In Chicago: Gibson's Steak House bar -- men from Mars, women from Venus and life forms beyond my mortal ken.
Have you made any memorable cultural or business faux pas?
I took an elegant clock as a gift to the very important head of a major Chinese technology company: A clock as gift is very, very bad luck in China. A local representative tipped me just in time, fortunately.
Do you have any cultural or business secrets you could pass along?
Be yourself. In my case, this means, be an American, which is what foreign colleagues expect.
Only try to act "native" if you've lived there, recently and for a long time, and know what you're doing -- trying to act like a local (when you're obviously not) is the worst possible affectation.
Be polite, try local cuisine et al, but not if it looks like it will hurt. With a few exceptions: It's OK to politely demur from downing dishes and drinks that aren't appetizing, especially if you try a sip or taste first.
What's your favorite (business) travel tale or memory?
A week after I started, Apple sent me on a 10-day press and customer-visit trip to Australia and New Zealand. It was wonderful, if intense, featuring interviews at most major newspapers and magazines, and meetings with the CEOs of major Aussie media conglomerates. I was shepherded by PR types, parked in nice hotels, chauffeured -- I didn't have a clue what to say or do, and made it up as I went along (not too badly as it turned out).
How do you cope with loneliness on the road?
Always take books, magazines: Reading is a great solace. Reading all the local newspapers is fun, informative.
Take new software, or new, difficult technologies on your laptop, and try to figure them out. You can spend hours this way.
Phone and e-mail home.
Any other tips or tales you want to add?
Big companies have big, and not infrequently poor, travel agencies. Especially in this downsize cost-cut era, it's important to be proactive about travel plans: Learn about airline deals, accumulate miles on one carrier if possible and then use them to get upgrades, better routing etc., while simultaneously saving the company money. Planning ahead is a big help -- but there are even ways to make last-minute trips work out.
One tip: If you have scads of frequent-flier miles on a particular airline, book a flight with connections on that airline -- you'll beat the price (usually by a big margin) of the no-name, goat-and-chickens airline the big travel agent is pushing (because they get a spif from the airline). Then, immediately, call and try to get the airline to move you to a nonstop for the same price. This won't work every time, but you'd be surprised, especially if you have lots of miles -- they will accommodate good customers.