Chris Barnett on Business Travel
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In Long Beach, a Little Airbnb and a Little Noir
Thursday, March 15, 2018 -- I woke up early and there was a woman in the other bedroom. I heard her shuffling around in the middle of the night, flipping on the light in the bathroom a few steps from my door. But I was too groggy from 12 hours of conference-going to pay her any mind.

Outside, the March winds ruffled the tired palm trees lining quiet East Second Street in Long Beach. I'm inside a 1910ish, second-floor flat with a stucco and tile roof. Not a penny has been spent to upgrade it in a hundred years, beyond a new ceiling fan, a bathroom sink and a fridge where the old icebox once stood.

It's gritty and wonderful. It's also sixty bucks a night through Airbnb, a far cry from the $284 a night plus taxes that the convention hotel, the Hyatt Regency Long Beach, was quoting.

For this business trip, I ventured into the "shared economy," this hospitality industry disrupter, not just to save nearly $1,000 for four nights, but also for the experience. I remember meeting a $600-an-hour San Francisco lawyer who bunks into hostels around the world for the same reason.

My Airbnb "host" was the quintessential Millennial, a digital marketing consultant, entrepreneurial, well-traveled, spirited.

She stocked her spare cupboards with organic oats, basmati rice and other healthy essentials. Plenty of good coffee and teas. A clean-up sponge and recycling instructions. In the fridge: a couple cans of energy drinks, salad dressings, some almond butter. Fine, I wasn't expecting a stocked pantry.

The living room was bereft of art--or anything on the walls. It had a small curvy sofa and, thoughtfully, a vintage bar cart with a half-dozen or so liquors. There was a tiny table with two chairs and a nearby AC outlet.

My host met me at the appointed hour, handed me a blue key that fits three locks and reminded me to download a whimsical E-mail with some helpful hints about the flat.

Then came the surprise. "Oh, I rented out the larger front bedroom to a woman. I'm staying elsewhere, but text me if you need anything."

I clicked on the television in my room and discovered it only had streaming networks: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other on-demand options. No cable. No broadcast TV. No big deal. I was there to work, not binge episodes of Game of Thrones. I didn't log on to her Internet since I use my own hotspot.

In keeping with my not-the-same-old-business-trip "adventure," I'd skip my usual stops at the car rental desks to hail a ride with Uber or Lyft. Again, not just to save some dough but to let someone else do the driving and get me around a town with which I'm not familiar.

It was a gutsy move for me. I grew up nearby in Los Angeles and I'm wedded to my own wheels. I like being in control. But too often on city visits, I rent the car, park it for meetings, pay an all-day fee or feed a meter and sometimes get a ticket. Not to mention $3.50-a-gallon gas and filling the car before returning to the airport. And, of course, the ever-present risk that a rube would scratch my fender and dump an insurance hassle in my lap.

When I flew into quaint, art-deco, slot-controlled Long Beach Airport, however, it was a busy Sunday and I didn't want to deal with a ride-share. I grabbed an old-fashioned Yellow Cab instead. Rode in the front seat, too.

Tip: Check for flat rates. My cabbie said flat rates are posted in tiny print on the dashboard, but "most businesspeople" never notice and some drivers don't tell. The flat rate from the airport to the Hyatt, which is attached to the Long Beach Convention Center, is $25. The meter read $38 and could have been worse if traffic was bad. Second tip: Because of stiff competition from the ride-hailing upstarts, Long Beach Yellow Cabs will offer flat rates on any long run.

My scheme of booking an Airbnb close to the Hyatt worked perfectly. On practically all local rides, I hailed Lyft. The price to and from the hotel was always about $5.50, a bargain considering the flag drop on a Long Beach cab is $3. I hailed Lyft nine times and the drivers were always pleasant and friendly, their cars clean. The arrival times ranged from three to nine minutes. It was easy and efficient. I booked one Uber ride and it was just as effortless.

I also discovered a definite advantage Uber and Lyft have over cabs and rental cars. A friend was hospitalized in Torrance, north of Long Beach. The only time that I could visit him? In late afternoon, when freeway traffic was clogged. I did the roundtrip, with zero stress, for about $18 each way, and the Lyft drivers, aided by GPS satellite guidance, found the hospital with ease. A cab would have been around $35 each way. If I were using a rental car, the distance, traffic and parking would have frayed my nerves to the max.

Meanwhile, it's a Wednesday afternoon. Roustabouts at the convention center are breaking down exhibits and packing up promotional brochures. Attendees are squeezing in some last-minute networking or heading for airports. I Uber back to my Airbnb hideaway.

I haul myself upstairs, walk in and am greeted by two young women. Nursing students from North Dakota. In Long Beach for spring break. I suddenly felt like Willy Loman meeting the Hope for Tomorrow.

"Hi," says the one with long blonde hair. "We just arrived. We'll be here for a week, but we'll be quiet. By the way, the Internet isn't working."

I gathered my things, trudged down the stairs for the last time, stood on the porch and hit the Lyft app.

"Leavin?" asked an old woman behind a screen door in the downstairs flat. From what I could see, she was wearing a housecoat and smoking a cigarette.

"Yep. Going home."

"She running an Airbnb up there?"

"Yep."

Suddenly, the world went black and white. Very noir. The wind was up. The leaves were rustling. But then a blue Toyota arrived and reminded me that there's no ride-hailing in noir.

This column is Copyright 2018 by Chris Barnett. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Chris Barnett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.