A welcome surprise in Southern California Extended Stay America – Simi Valley, California

Bob van der Valk gives the Extended Stay America in Simi Valley two thumbs up.
Bob van der Valk gives the Extended Stay America in SiMi Valley two thumbs up.

We have had the opportunity to travel and visit family and friends as well as do business in Southern California for the last five years traveling from our home in Terry, Montana. My wife and I lived and worked in Southern California most of our lives prior to our move to Big Sky Country Montana about five years ago.

We typically bunk up at the home of a family member or friend but did not do so on our recent trip in the beginning of August 2013. This time we planned mixing business with a little pleasure since we hardly seem to make time to visit museums and amusement parks while we are “in town”.

Our daughter recommended the Extended Stay America in Simi Valley being in close proximity to our various stops scheduled during our stay. We reserved a room with a queen size bed, kitchen (with utensils) and a desk to get some work done. The price quoted was under $100 per night for a 4-day stay. The short of it is they exceeded all of our expectations and then some.

Upon checking in the desk clerk recommended the king size bed and even gave my wife the key to the room so she could check it out. My wife decided it met our expectations and we finally got some much needed rest after our travels to the hotel.

The “Wow’ factor is the friendliness of the staff at this hotel. Verica Weikal, the Manager of the hotel, took time to greet her guests and patiently answered any questions posed her. I had two exhausting days of work during our stay but each time was relieved to see the insignia of the hotel ahead knowing I was at my home away from home.

Verica Weikal posing next to the picture taken of her meeting President George W. Bush.  She said he was a "hugger", which he had learned from his mother Barbara.
Verica Weikal posing next to the picture taken of her meeting President George W. Bush. She said he was a “hugger”, which he had learned from his mother Barbara.

The run and grab morning continental breakfast was helpful in keeping me on schedule for my early morning appointments along with having Freeway 118, right next to the Kearns exit, easing my traffic concerns. The shopping center next to the hotel has a variety of fast foods and to our great surprise an In ‘N Out Burger restaurant is located just on the other side of the 118 from this hotel. a

Two supermarkets are within a mile of the hotel with many more restaurants with foods of any choice of which you might want to eat when you’re hungry. It made our stay even more comfortable and we did not have to cook with the inexpensive places to eat out or bring-in so close by.

Dogs and cats are allowed at this hotel and guests were polite as they brought them in and out of their rooms for their regular walks.

After two hard days of work came the “pièce de résistance” visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum located close by this hotel as well. Again Verica Weikal came to our rescue and informed us about the ins and outs and does and dont’s to make our visit to the site easier and spend time on the most worthwhile exhibits since we were on a limited time schedule.

Our trip to Simi Valley was made even more comfortable by being able to sleep on king size bed as well as not getting that cooped up feeling whenever we stay at a place where we did not have time to check reviews before booking our room.

I give Verica Weikal, her staff as well as the hotel two thumbs up and will be back soon to stay there again on our next visit to Southern California.

Bob van der Valk is the Managing Editor of the Bakken Oil Business Journal as well as Petroleum Industry Analyst living and working in Terry, Montana. He can be reached at editor@bakkenoilbiz.com

West Coast Gasoline Pump Prices To Soar Before Memorial Day

Dateline: Terry, Montana
May 10, 2013 – 6 pm MDT
By: Bob van der Valk

This is “The End” for any hope of gasoline prices on the West Coast, specifically Southern California, before Memorial Day. Today’s AAA Fuel Gauge for Los Angeles-Long Beach showed the average gasoline price already over $4 per gallon. The two major oil company refinery upsets in Southern California this afternoon will result in spike for gasoline prices starting on Monday with retail pump prices expected to hit $4.25 per gallon. The remainder of the West Coast including the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest gasoline prices will follow suit.

The CononoPhillips 76 refinery in Wilmington reported flaring this afternoon. Then the kicker came in the form of the ExxonMobiil refinery suffering a “power bump” putting their Fluid Catalytic Cracker (FCC) unit out of business.

ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, CA 5-10-13
ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, CA 5-10-13

Because of it the ExxonMobill was flaring Friday afternoon at its 149,000 b/d refinery in Torrance, Calif., with the shut down of their FCC unit, which had been kept running while other units in the refinery were going through a planned turnaround. Now all of the units at this refinery are down.

The FCC is out of service and the refinery is flaring,

The refinery issued an unplanned flaring notification to the South Coast Air Quality Management this afternoon citing a breakdown. The flaring event began at 2 p.m. PDT and is expected to end before midnight.

ExxonMobil began a large-scale, multi-week turnaround May 3 on Torrance’s lone crude unit, an alkylation unit, a delayed coker unit, a sulfur recovery unit and a hydrotreater.

“Although we anticipate impact to production, ExxonMobil expects to be able to meet its contractual commitments,” a company spokesperson previously said about the planned maintenance.

The fluid catalytic cracker was not involved in the turnaround and had been operating via gasoil feed stored in railcars before a power glitch affected the unit.

Late Friday afternoon David Dumais, deputy fire chief of Torrance Fire Department, confirmed the following by phone.

* Upset occurred during maintenance turnaround,
*Refinery started turnaround this month on units including crude unit, alkylation unit, coker, hydrogen
plant on May 2, 2013.

Any or all of the above article can be re-published with proper attribution to the author and the Bakkken Oil Business Journal.

Feel free to contact me for updated information.

Bob van der Valk
Managing Editor
Bakken Oil Business Journal
Terry, Montana
(406) 853-4251

No Room at the Hampton Inn & Suites

This is an article about my travel debacle at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Van Nuys, California in February 2013. To start with I was charged for a “no show” as well as the full rate for a room for which I should have not been charged. But as Paul Harvey used to say on his radio broadcasts: “Stay tuned for the rest of the story”.

Travel writing is somewhat out of my league being the Petroleum Industry Analyst consulting for various independent West Coast clients. I am also a contributor to the Bakken Oil Business Journal, which is an on-line as well as print magazine for the Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota oil shale exploration and production business. This trip was scheduled for a meeting at an attorney’s office in Sherman Oaks, California, which just happens to be just around from the Hampton Inn in Van Nuys.

Bob the Weary Traveler
Bob the Weary Traveler

My odyssey started out early in the morning on Saturday, February 16, 2013 leaving home in Terry, Montana for the 185 miles trip to Billings Logan Airport traveling to me end destination in Southern California.

I made my hotel reservation through the on-line Hilton reservation line and all seemed to go well until . . . . . . . I had to change my arrival date by one day! I called the Hampton Inn the day before my original arrival date and asked the desk clerk to move my arrival date up from arriving on Friday to Saturday night. The clerk said his computer was not working but would make the change when it came back up. This should have put the red alert flag up for me right away, but I digress.

Fast forwarding to my fateful Saturday night and after a long day of traveling, which included a layover in Seattle on my way to Los Angeles, I finally arrived at my destination at the Hampton Inn for a much needed night of rest and relaxation. But, alas, it was not to be and much to my chagrin I found:

• The staff at this facility is not properly trained to handle changes in reservations.
• I called ahead to the Hampton from the Burbank Bob Hope Airport and was told I did not have a reservation. They were totally booked with the PGA tournament in town. After giving the desk clerk my guaranteed reservation number I was told to come to the hotel while they worked out a solution.
• The GPS showed no Hampton Inn at the address in Sherman Oaks printed on my confirmed reservation. I called the desk clerk again to obtain directions and was told the Inn was actually in Van Nuys. The GPS than accepted the address and I was able to take the most direct route to the hotel.
• The parking at the Hampton is inadequate for the number of rooms available at the Inn. Off site parking is handled by a valet but is not close to the hotel.
• Upon my arrival at about 11 pm the driveway to the Inn was completed blocked by a locked up minivan, the owner of which had disappeared without giving his or her keys to the valet.
• Being unable to get into the driveway I left my rental car parked sticking halfway out on Sepulveda Blvd. while I walked into the hotel to check in.
• It was then I was told they could not find my reservation and there was no room at the Inn.
• I was eventually checked into a smoking room against my better judgment but by then would have slept on the couch in the lobby just to get some much needed rest.
• The Hilton customer service staff was very courteous to me after I discovered the charges for a “no show” and the room for my one night stay was billed on my AmEx credit card. However, I was told the other items I was reporting were internal policy issues on which he would not be able comment.
• I received a call from the General Manager of the Hampton Inn & Suites in Van Nuys apologizing for the lack of service and to let me know credit for the smoking room had been processed to my AmEx credit card account. The no-show credit had already been processed.
• He further explained the parking problems by stating they are in the middle of a building a two story parking structure next to the Inn, which will be finished by September 2013.

I checked out of the Hampton Inn on Sunday morning on February 17th and was able to find a room to my liking at the Best Western across the street. This affair ended up ruining my one “down day”, which I had planned in order to prepare for my Monday morning meeting.

My various emails to the CEO of the Hilton @ chris.nassetta@hilton.com have been ignored other than receiving emails and phone calls back from the Hilton customer service personnel apologizing for any inconveniences I may have suffered.

To be fair and balanced I invite your comments to the above article. All will be published without your name and email address being identified if you wish me to do so. Comments are to be pertinent to any service – good or bad – you may have received at any of the Hilton hotels.

Journalist Insists “Seriously, Almost Done with San Fran”

I know it feels like we’ve been in San Fran for like a thousand years or so, but it really wasn’t that long. It’s more about the fact that we really had a blast and a half and we wanted to share as much as we could with all you good people.

And it’s because we love you so much that we’ve removed almost ten of the articles about San Francisco we intended to run, instead opting to offer them as part of our forthcoming travel book, “Perplexed in San Francisco, Seeing The City with Kids”. No matter, you’ve suffered through enough of these mediocre pieces and I’m happy to tell you they’re just about done. Continue reading Journalist Insists “Seriously, Almost Done with San Fran”

Where to move after Japan radioactive plume reaches the U.S.?

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization picture  below shows how weather patterns might disperse radiation from a continuous source Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants meltdown in Japan.  The far extent of the plume will reach the U.S. West Coast by March 18, 2011.

Continue reading Where to move after Japan radioactive plume reaches the U.S.?

California Gasoline Pricing Depends on Location of Gas Station

On March 7, 2011 the average price in California for regular gasoline increased 15.5-cents from the previous week. The average statewide price for regular was $3.874.

Following the gasoline margin breakdown for per the California Energy Commission as of March 7, 2011; Continue reading California Gasoline Pricing Depends on Location of Gas Station