I was on the road quite a bit in December. I actually took two separate road trips, and they couldn’t have been more different. The first one took me south to Florida, a quite reasonable place to visit in December.
After attending the NationaLease Board of Directors Meeting in Naples, I set out for Jacksonville, which is basically in the opposite corner of the state. Florida is a big state, and once you leave the beaches, the scenery changes significantly. Instead of sand and waves, I saw herons and egrets in the ponds and swamps I drove past. I had a few hours’ peaceful drive through the Florida countryside before approaching Orlando, right in the middle of the state, where I began to be bombarded with signs for all the tourist attractions. Just northwest of Orlando, I stopped in Apopka and met Jason Taggart of Florida Truck Leasing, a NationaLease Member. Since it was about lunchtime, Jason suggested we go to Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen for a bite to eat. As you probably guessed, Tibby’s is known for their Cajun dishes, and the Chicken Ponchartrain I ordered didn’t disappoint! After a tasty lunch and a great conversation with Jason about his growing business and the opportunities ahead in 2016, I got back on the road and continued across Florida.
A few more hours’ drive past billboards advertising Indian River Fruit, Pecan Rolls, Giant Alligators, and Fireworks brought me into Jacksonville. I checked into the Omni Hotel in downtown Jacksonville, dropped my bags in my room, and went outside for a walk to do some exploring. It was nearly 75 degrees, so a short sleeved shirt and sandals seemed appropriate to me, but apparently not to the locals, who were mostly dressed in sweaters and boots. I strolled along the river and on my way back, wandered through the Jacksonville Landing, a small shopping and dining venue. The whole place was decorated for Christmas, with a huge tree in the middle of the plaza. As I walked past the tree, a crowd was starting to gather, and I realized that a group of elementary students were getting ready to perform. I took a seat on the steps and listened for a while to the sound of children singing carols on what felt to me much like a summer evening.
The next morning I went over to visit the team at Tom Nehl Truck Leasing, a NationaLease Member. Bret Catto, Steve Bacalis, Jeff Fazan, Jamie Smith, and Greg Bacalis gave me a tour of their facility and discussed with me the growth they have experienced over the past couple of years, and the plans they have for the upcoming year. We went to lunch just a short distance from their facility in the lovely, historic neighborhood of Avondale. The Blue Fish serves a variety of seafood, as well as other dishes, in a bright, cheery atmosphere. My dish was delicious, and everyone else’s lunch looked great, too.
My trip to Florida came to an end too soon. I was enjoying the balmy weather, delicious seafood, and lively company, but it was time to leave. I had to get home and pack for my next trip…to Toronto, NOT a reasonable place to visit in December.
While warm for December, the weather in Toronto was quite a contrast from Florida. It was gray and rainy as my flight landed. I found my rental car and headed out to Brampton to see Trailcon Leasing’s new facility. Bryan Burningham met me and gave me a tour of their brand new office. We had a chance to discuss the purchasing programs available to our members as well as the upcoming Spring Business Meeting in conjunction with TRALA in Scottsdale on April 17-20 (insert link). We also talked about some of the recruiting initiatives NationaLease has in place to help our members recruit employees from technicians to salespeople, including our Careers Page.
From Brampton, I headed back to downtown Toronto to the Pantages Hotel, a boutique hotel right in the center of the theater and shopping district of Toronto. Of course, I had to go out and explore, so I bundled up (no sandals this time) and walked just a couple of blocks to the Eaton Centre. Toronto’s largest tourist attraction, visited by approximately one million people per week, the Eaton Centre is a huge shopping mall. I think there must have been one million people there that night, just three days before Christmas. I walked around mostly watching people and admiring the Christmas decorations, but I did have to visit the largest store in Canada: the flagship Hudson’s Bay department store, which occupies one million square feet. Since my Christmas shopping was already finished, and I didn’t have much room in my carry on anyway, I left the crowds behind and returned to the peace and quiet of my hotel room for the night.
The next morning, after a quick stop at Tim Horton’s (a must when I’m in Canada), I headed back out of the city to Mississauga to visit Jay Jasper at Jasbro NationaLease. Jay and I discussed the growth and evolution of their business over the years and some of the exciting initiatives they have planned for 2016. We also talked about the Introduction to Full Service Leasing course NationaLease holds every June. This course is great for new members, new salespeople, and people moving from other positions in their companies to a leasing sales or management role. When I told Jay that I was staying downtown, he insisted that I go over to the Distillery District that evening. I didn’t want to disappoint Jay, and it was a really nice evening (by Toronto standards, anyway), so I mapped out the walking route from my hotel to the Distillery District.
A quaint pedestrian-only village, The Distillery District houses shops, restaurants, bakeries, and pubs in the restored red brick, Victorian-era buildings of the renowned Gooderham & Worts whiskey distillery. I’m sure it is a fun place to visit at any time of year, but on the week of Christmas, it was magical. Every shop and restaurant was decorated with twinkling lights and evergreen branches. Families picked up last minute gifts and filled the tiny bakeries and spilled out of packed restaurants. It was a great way to spend the evening (Thanks, Jay!) but since I couldn’t find a spot for dinner that didn’t have a fairly long wait, I walked back toward my hotel and a restaurant that I had spotted the night before. Fran’s is a cute little diner right next door to my hotel. It’s actually a small Toronto-based chain, currently with five restaurants, that was opened in 1940. I arrived just as a wave of patrons cleared out in order to get to the theater in time for the performance of “Cinderella” playing just a block away.
In the morning, I got back on the Gardiner Expressway, this time headed toward Oakville. There I met Dan Villenueve at Tandet NationaLease’s facility, and we drove together to Cambridge, where Tandet’s emergency breakdown center, T-Fleet is located. I spent the whole morning with Dan, Kirk Tilley, Patricia Cameron, John Stafford, and Mekashe Lal as they walked me through their impressive procedures, metrics, and systems. I enjoyed my time with them, and learned a lot, but it was December 23rd, and I had to get home. The airport was filled with young people going back home to see their families, and parents with small children who were filled with excitement. My flight was delayed, but not for long, and I made it home in plenty of time to prepare for Christmas Eve.
Despite the drastic differences in my two road trips, there were a couple of things they had in common. Everyone I talked to was grateful for the abundance of the previous year, and enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead. Whether you celebrated the holidays on the beach or in the snow, I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, and I look forward to the many triumphs and achievements of NationaLease members that I will have the chance to write about in 2016.