Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mexican airport food

Andale, SFO - 1 star

Qdoba, PIT - 0 stars

Tequileria, CLT - 1 star

Even the airport food is better in California. Those who fly through San Francisco will have noticed the market upgrade (in both quality and price) of the SFO restaurants in the last few years. The sushi place, the Chinese place, and the Italian place are all decent, but my favorite is probably Andale, the Mexican place in both Terminals 1 and 3 that is actually a branch of a restaurant I've eaten at in the Marina in San Francisco itself.

This time I had a vegetarian burrito (for $9.85!), which was basic but well done, with cilantro rice, black beans, guacamole, and salsa. What was especially impressive (for an airport) was the side salad, made with fresh romaine lettuce and, among other things, surprisingly good chunks of avocado.

I've been spending a lot of time in airports lately. One of the worst flights I know is the 6 am flight (with a connection) from Hartford to San Francisco, which requires waking up at 4 Eastern time. Two days ago I woke up at 4 to catch a 6.15 flight through Pittsburgh (Qdoba egg and potato breakfast burrito, not bad but still 0 stars) to San Francisco, went to the office, and worked until 8 pm Pacific time (nineteen hours later). The only flight worse than that is the redeye back from San Francisco (with a connection in the morning), because if you fall asleep you get at best four hours of sleep, and if you're in coach like I was you don't really sleep at all. Last night I took a redeye back home, through Charlotte (where there's a decent "Mexican" restaurant called Tequileria at the base of C concourse - hash browns beaten with eggs and cheese and baked, topped with a fresh salsa of tomatoes, scallions, and fresh lime juice - 1 star, but not as good as the Andale breakfasts, which are better than their burritos). I did the same thing last week (except through Dulles instead). And the week before I flew to California for four days, although I didn't take either the 6 am or the redeye.

My company is going through interesting times. In the last month our CEO "retired" and our vice president of North American sales resigned; three months ago our CFO announced that he would be retiring as well, and a search is on for his successor. These events brought to a close a strange eighteen-month interlude in my company's history, when a set of "experienced senior executives" was brought in by our VC backers to "take the company to the next level." As if, as Buffy might say.

The net result is that I and the close group of thirtysomething friends I founded the company with six years ago (when half of us were in their twenties) are once again running the company the way we want to - only now with a crush of additional work to do. Hence the three consecutive weeks of flying to California - and I may be going back next week again.

Flying to California is something I did a lot of in the early days, when the whole company was there and we had no or few customers to tend to. The current experience emotionally reminiscent of those years, when we got together as a team to work on all the major issues facing the company, before growth in multiple dimensions spread us out. The 6.15 US Airways flight to Pittsburgh, the one I took last week, and the Pittsburgh airport as a whole remind me of the many months I took that flight to work on our first customer project, when it was still unclear that anyone would ever use our software for real. Redeyes back home are something I did a lot in the beginning, when I spent every other week in California, but swore off a few years ago; as recently as this spring I even went two months without getting on a plane - the longest stretch in six years.

But more than anything else it's that feeling of pressure, adrenaline, and exhaustion you get when you're starting a company and spending half your time in the wrong time zone, but that fades away as the company grows and becomes more and more like every other company in the world. The last few weeks have reminded me that we're not like every other company in the world. And that a small group of people who care and work hard can make a difference, even if it's just in the business world. Is that enough to compensate for the physical pain and the time away from my 10-month-old daughter? Probably not. But it's something.