NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The baseball season is here and I am back on the road. Now that Spring Training is in the rearview mirror, and I'll be spending much of my life touring airports, hotels and ballparks, you can expect more regular entries on the blog.
So please make sure your seats and tray tables are in the upright position...
"Can I help you with that, sir?"
"Crap," I thought to myself.
I never do the curb-side check-in at airports. I have a routine and this is one thing not included in the step-by-step, risk-avoiding system I have developed in my years on the road. On my first trip of the 2010 regular season, I let my guard down and was trapped.
"Sure," I replied as the porter snatched up by bags and hustled them away.
I go to the counter inside the airport. This is my Step 1. They're friendly in there, they know what they're doing and best of all... you don't tip. They'd probably look at you funny if you tried. My cab driver put me behind the eight ball from the beginning, though. He pulled in right alongside the skycap in the parking garage, giving the porter the advantage.
Before I was even out of the taxi, my bags were being transferred from driver to porter. They must have had an arrangement set up beforehand or something. This was too well organized. I wasn't the first sucker. But, I went with the flow and altered my routine this one time. Whatever. Live and learn and all that.
"Where you goin'?" he asked.
"How many bags are you checking?"
"Just these two, thanks."
I wait. He tags my bags, placing the all-important "PRIORITY" stickers on the tags. You've got to log a few miles over the years to earn those babies. Of course, all my hard work was possibly about to be rendered moot, depending on what I did next.
"OK. You're all set."
"Thanks again," I said, turning to walk away.
"Tips are voluntary."
I stopped dead in my tracks. What else could I do? This is why I go inside. I tipped the bag guy at the hotel. I tipped the cab driver. Later in the evening, I planned on tipping my waitress. That's my tip quota. Besides, since I never use the curb-side service, I had no frame of reference.
How much do I tip this guy?
Suddenly I'm in a Seinfeld episode. OK, well, one dollar is fine for the porters at the hotel. So I figured that's got to be acceptable for the guy who basically did the same job at the curb, right? I mean, he even had the guts to tell me that tips were voluntary. If you come out and say that, doesn't that decrease your tip?
All these factors are running through my head as I fished out my wallet.
What good was that tip calculator app I just downloaded on my phone? Useless here. Completely useless.
I opened up my wallet, and I know this guy sees the wad of cash I've got on me. I just stopped at an ATM at the hotel before heading to the airport. I've a handful of twenties. I had to flip through those, then past a ten and a couple fives and finally, after he's probably added up how much green I'm packing, I pull out a single.
I can still see the look on his face when I set the dollar on the counter. All that was missing was a huge sigh of disappointment. I avoided eye contact, grabbed my carry-on and headed away quickly. I obviously was now a bad tipper in his mind. He even had to ask me to tip! What kind of jerk was I?
When I got to my gate, another writer was there waiting to board the same flight.
"Hey, what do you tip those curb-side guys?" I asked.
"I don't know. Don't use them," he replied.
"Yeah, I don't either, but I got hustled out there."
"So, what would you guess is a good tip?"
"Maybe five bucks?"
"Crap. I gave him a dollar."
"Your bags are going to Honolulu."