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Archive for May, 2010

Our trip began in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and ended on the East Coast of the U.S. We covered almost 6,000 miles and passed over and through a few time zones and temperature ranges.  Needless to say, boarding our airplane in 80-plus temperature and deplaning (love that word) in one of those unpredictable East Coast cold spells, combined with a severe case of jet lag, shocked my system. As a seasoned traveler, my buddy seemed impervious to the trip’s rigors, which irked me because I wanted him to suffer along with me.

But more than time zones and temperature ranges, we flew out of, into, and over a few Music Areas.  These aren’t parts of the country with lines delineating a clear separation of musical preferences. When you leave one music area, you won’t see a sign that reads “You are now leaving the Hawaii Music Area and  entering West Coast Blues.” And when you cross the state line from Nevada into Utah, there will be no proclamations about “Entering Mormon Pop Area.” (I am not making this up.)

In fact, when traveling by air, you will lift off from one Music Area and hit the tarmac at the other end in a Music Area distinctly different from the one you just left. For example, we departed from the Hawaii Music Area and landed first in San Francisco. What preferred musical styles and genres did we leave behind and which ones did we encounter at our intermediate and final destinations?

The Hawaii Music Area
The modern music of Hawaii includes just about any genre you want to name, rock, hip hop, reggae, Jawaiian, and, of course, Hawaiian music. The local groups that become popular in the state seem to manage an amalgamation of the old and the new with sounds that appeal not only to the local population but also to the influx of tourists from the Mainland U.S. as well as from Asia. A listen up and down the radio dial will bring you the modern sounds of U.S. pop, Hawaiian, Country and Western, Japanese, Korean, Samoan, and some easy listening Frank Sinatra recordings. Maybe “eclectic” would be an apt label for the Hawaii Music Zone.

The San Francisco Bay-Area Music Zone
The San Francisco Bay Area Music Zone is also eclectic but with a slightly different emphasis on preferred styles. Although we remained inside the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and thus had no opportunity to get out and around the city, we were somewhat familiar with the music. Many of you will remember The San Francisco Sound personified by the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, not to forget Santana and Journey. But long before The San Francisco Sound of the 1960s, San Francisco was a Mecca of blues, jazz, and Dixieland. Perhaps the personification of that era was Turk Murphy and his Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band, which played for many years in San Francisco. Oddly, or not as you see the world, the Bay Area has its Country-Western and Bluegrass aficionados, hangovers, perhaps, of the millions of World War II and Korean War servicemen and women from the South who transited San Francisco and other points in the Bay Area on their way to war zones in Asia. As for modern musical genres, some sources include a multitude of styles, including Skacore, Deathrock, and Cowpunk. However, confined as we were to SFOs terminal, the only local music we were exposed to at one a.m. consisted solely of elevator music.

The Washington, D.C. Music Area
Dulles Airport was the last stop on our flight and we were in and out of the airport and the surrounding area in a heartbeat. We didn’t have the luxury of pausing to soak up a little local culture because we were on our way to a Mother’s Day dinner in a distant corner of the Washington Metropolitan Area. But a quick look at a few internet sources made it clear that the music of the area consisted of more than the bleating, whining, and lying sounds of politicians. Today, the area is known for its hardcore punk, Bluegrass, and varieties of hip hop. At one time, however, in the distant past, the area was noted for the marches of John Philip Sousa and, later, swing bands such as Duke Ellington’s and vocalists like Roberta Flack. D.C. also has a plethora of symphonic venues, which, along with Bluegrass, seem to have an elitist tinge to them. We are, after all, surrounded by the most powerful individuals in the world. Dress and decorum must be maintained at all times, or at least shed only for the lying times when politicians return to their home music zones for the express purpose of pretending to be members of the lower economic classes just like everyone else. Washington, D.C. is, if nothing else, home to the highest per capita population of deceiving liars in the universe. Can we expect them to be honest about their musical preferences?

Postscript
Of course, there are more Music Areas than I have talked about in this post. There is the Tejano sound of the Southwest, the nasal sounds of Appalachia, the soothing sounds of Montana cowboys crooning to their cows, and the Southern blues sounds of the Mississippi Delta. For a more complete treatment of Music Areas, see Wikipedia.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I use “Music Area” and “Music Zone” interchangeably. I have no other reason for this idiosyncratic preference but  to avoid using the word “Area” too often. It just doesn’t sound right to say “The San Francisco Bay Area Music Area.”

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I’ve alluded to a couple of people we encountered during our trip, a rather officious airline steward and an unemployed guy on his way to the Gulf for a job with an environmental cleanup company. Then there was the super nice stewardess and a couple of friendly airline agents. I’ll get to them later, but first let me tell you about my traveling companion.

He is a seasoned traveler who racks up miles measured in round trips to the moon. And he isn’t bashful about using those miles to upgrade his status from cattle car to first class. He lives by a simple rule: if you don’t ask, you won’t get. And, boy, does he ask. This was my first trip with him and I had a front row seat as he took me, a cattle car rider, with him to the front of the line and even into business class.

His modus operandi was simple. He’d approach a ticket agent or a gate attendant, point to me, and say something like, “He’s with me,” and lo and behold, the agent would wave me through. This guy was a pleasure to travel with and a wonder to watch. He was smooth, no question about it.

He was the one with a large Number 1 on his ticket, meaning he was in Boarding Group 1 while I was in Boarding Group 4. Boarding Group 1’s disdainfully saunter on board ahead of the slavering cattle jostling for a spot at the head of the Number 4 line. By the time the Number 4’s manage to reach the interior of the airplane, Number 1’s are comfortably ensconced in the front section of the plane, in business or first class, depending on the number of miles they chose to expend.

My Friend the Number 1 always managed two things on my behalf, a good seat in the cattle section and an early entry on board the plane. He is a miracle worker, and for that I am grateful. As a mid-novice traveler, I would have wandered around until someone had pity on me and led me to the plane, which I would have boarded dead last.

The first member of the cabin crew I came into contact with was the somewhat officious chief steward in the business class. The moment he set eyes on me, he seemed to bristle. I could almost see the testosterone shine on his forehead. I became aware almost immediately of his self-important manner when I tried to stow my carry-on above my seat only to find that it wasn’t going to fit in the small space.

The guy stood nearby watching me as I struggled. He said nothing and offered no assistance. Finally, I turned to him and said, “I can’t seem to stow this in the overhead bin”

“That’s because it’s too big,” he replied, still offering no explanation, no assistance, and no advice.

“What am I supposed to do, then?” I asked.

“Take anything out the bag you might need in flight and stow the bag back there.” He pointed to the rear of the cabin. Obviously, I was on my own.

The upshot of my contact with a guy who apparently wanted to bump shoulders in the manner of high school adolescents was avoidance. I wasn’t in the mood to call the guy on his rudeness for one simple reason. I had no desire to be escorted from the plane for causing a scene or something. Someone once said “Discretion is the better part of valor.” I was very discreet on this day.

Besides, the good stewardess I have briefly mentioned more than made up for the wicked steward’s behavior. She smiled, she offered advice, and she asked if she could do anything to make my trip a pleasant adventure. She was a joy and I am sorry I didn’t get her name and drop the company a note about her.

I’ll finish my people report in my next post. There were a couple more that caught my attention because of their friendliness.  And I  hope to describe my observations of the changes in dress and demeanor as we flew from West to East.

Okey, dokey. See ya.

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After a rocky start in Honolulu and a missed flight in San Francisco, we arrived at Dulles International Airport about 8:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, Mothers Day.

This was my first experience with the Dulles airport. I was quite surprised at the size of it. From our terminal, we caught a huge, wheeled tram that looked like something out of a sci movie. Here’s a picture of one that I located on Flickr.

Although I ran across a number of uncomplimentary comments about Dulles and its trams on the internet, I personally found the tram quite comfortable, mainly because it was almost empty. I have a hunch the airport would have been bursting at the seams on any weekday and travelers would have been packed into the trams like kipper snacks.

To a Dulles novice like me, finding the baggage claim area from the point where our tram docked at the main terminal  would have been like finding my way through one of those mysterious mazes that appear overnight in corn fields. Alone, I could easily have wandered endlessly through the maze that is Dulles.

But fortunately, my traveling companion knew the airport inside out.  With me trailing, we walked briskly to the baggage claim area where we collected our bags and then caught a car rental bus to an off-airport location. Once we were on the road, I relaxed, knowing we would arrive at our final destination in about an hour and a half.

Our route took us North of Washington D.C. on a section of the Beltway that eventually intersected U.S. 50 East. This is one of the oldest federal highways in the nation. Its Eastern terminus is in Ocean City, Maryland while the Western end of the route is in Sacramento CA where the old stretch between Sacramento and San Francisco has been replaced by the Interstate Highway System. At one time U.S. 50 was a part of the Lincoln Highway which terminated at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park San Francisco.

Back in the day, I traveled U.S. 50 from Kansas City to Oakland and back via car or a Greyhound Bus. But today, we were headed East on 50’s modern, four-lane divided highway to Annapolis for a short rest and a Mother’s Day dinner at a fantastic Italian restaurant on Annapolis’s main street. I had the good fortune to sit facing a large window with a good view of the never ending stream of pedestrians. They were a diverse lot, probably tourists like me for the most part.

That’s it for the time being. I’ll have one more report about this trip in which I’ll recount my observations of some of the people we encountered.

Until then, see ya.

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A few days ago, I recounted our anxieties during a four hour delay as we sat on the tarmac and waited at the gate for our flight from Honolulu to Dulles via San Francisco to lift off and head out. In that time span, we encountered a cargo mix up, a change in cabin crew, and an unusually officious Chief Steward in the Business Class section who wouldn’t permit my traveling companion in Economy Plus Class to move on up to the vacant seat beside me.

We finally roared down the runway, headed for San Francisco and our connecting flight to Dulles. To our dismay but not to our surprise, the connecting flight had long since departed San Francisco by the time we landed.  What were we going to do? We pondered a few alternatives.

We knew we would arrive in San Francisco after midnight. And we knew, or thought we knew, that the next flight to Dulles departed around seven a.m., arriving at Dulles in the afternoon, too late for a scheduled Mother’s Day dinner.

And, the short interval between our arrival and the next flight to Dulles made it impractical to reserve a hotel or motel room in any one of about a thousand establishments around the airport. Plus, leaving the airport’s premises would mean a repeat security check when we returned, which is okay in the interests of assuring our national security but which can be a royal pain in that well known bodily location where pain usually resides in times of troubles.

We had thus resigned ourselves to resting the best we could on a bench or on the floor in the terminal, provided that the terminal remained open overnight. Fortunately, our choice of alternatives became moot when we were informed by the agent that we were indeed in luck. A delayed flight would arrive shortly from Dulles and after 30 minutes or so, the plane would return to Dulles.  And, wonder of wonder, seats were available, good seats in fact. My buddy had his choice of several window seats and I chose my usual isle seat.

And if that weren’t fortunate enough, the middle seat in my row was empty and a young lady occupied the window seat. Throughout the flight, she helped me locate the movable arm rest, various buttons on the television console, and the light switch, which I couldn’t see well in the dim light because my eyes were still adjusting after my cataract surgery. She was super-duper all round nice.

But before we learned about our good fortune and boarded the plane, we stood in line mulling our options and chatting generally about the things people chat about while standing in lines at airports. At one point, the guy in front of us chimed in and we learned that he was on his way to the Gulf Coast for a job with an environmental company with a contract to clean up after the recent catastrophic oil spill.

Our new “standing-in-a-line friend,” we learned, was married with five children, one of them a newborn son. He had recently lost his job and the Gulf Coast cleanup was the only work he could find. He wanted to remain with his family but he needed to support them even if it meant an extended stay in Louisiana. I empathized with the poor guy, but there was nothing I could do but offer my best wishes.

Finally, we finished our work at the counter, boarded an Airbus Number Something or Other, and took off for Dulles. It was well after one a.m. on Sunday morning, Mother’s Day. If we made our appointed Mother’s Day dinner, it would be by the hair of our chinney chin chins.

I’ll cover our arrival at Dulles and the hour and a half drive to our final destination in the Third Installment. In later installments, I’ll write a few words about my impressions of various aspects of the trip, the people we met and the evolution of their clothing and mannerisms from casual to uptight as we moved from West to East.

See ya.

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Although I love traveling, preparing for a trip is a pain in that well-known location where pain seems to reside. But on this trip, I completed the preparation process relatively pain free. The beginning of the trip, however, was another matter.

We arrived early, checked our bags, and cleared the security checkpoint without a hitch. From there, we found a seat in an airport eatery overlooking the runway and waited. After thirty minutes of watching airplanes land and takeoff, we walked the few remaining steps to the gate and boarded our plane, I in the business section located behind the flight deck on a Boeing 747, and my friend in Economy Plus. I pitied him, but that’s fate.

The equipment originally scheduled for our flight was a Boeing 767, but because of a glitch somewhere down the line, the 767 was delayed or something and the company substituted a 747, which is configured for international travel, meaning that its business class is located upstairs in the bubble behind the flight deck. My seat was directly behind the flight deck and I could easily see the flight crew as they worked through their check lists. They finally finished and closed the door. We were off. I thought.

We taxied and taxied and taxied and taxied to the runway and turned onto it, lined up and ready to go. This is a part of the flight I love, feeling my body sink back into my seat as the plane speeds down the runway and lifts off. But on this day, something happened to delay that feeling.

I thought things were going wrong when, instead of taking off, the plane swung around onto a taxiway where we waited as incoming planes landed and taxied slowly past us to the terminal. Finally, the Captain announced, “We’re sorry ladies and gentlemen but we’ve encountered some sort of cargo error and have to return to the terminal. We anticipate just a very short delay.” Well, of course, he was lying through his teeth but we didn’t know it at the time.  I bet even he didn’t fully anticipate subsequent events.

At any rate, the Captain finally swung the plane around and we taxied and taxied and taxied and taxied back to the gate, which now was swarming with baggage and cargo vehicles. As soon as we docked, men who looked like loadmasters or something flocked to the flight deck and began reviewing paperwork with the Captain, who nodded sagely as he munched on a dinner the stewards had brought him as soon as the plane docked.

The review process went on for about an hour and a half before the Captain finally announced our imminent departure. As fate would have it, imminent happened about two hours later because, in the hour and a half the Captain and the loadmasters worked to square away whatever glitch was causing the delay, the legal amount of time that the cabin crew is permitted to work at one stretch had expired. The company had to call in an entirely new crew and, again, as fate would have it, the new crew was onboard an incoming flight that wouldn’t arrive for about an hour and a half.

In the meantime, I decided to walk downstairs and talk to my buddy. At the head of the stairs a really friendly stewardess ask me if I needed any help and I told her why I was going downstairs. She said, and I’m recording her words as near as I can recall them, “You have an empty seat next to you. Why don’t you ask your friend to sit next to you?” I thought she was really nice and helpful and a few minutes later, my friend was ensconced next to me. We chatted and waited for the new cabin crew to board at which time we would be up up and away.

God has his her its reasons for punishing the excessively optimistic. The overly officious male steward, whose legal time hadn’t ended with the other members of the cabin crew, approached us and asked if my friend had a ticket for the airline’s business class service. I explained why my friend was sitting next to me but he didn’t buy it. He said, “She (the stewardess) doesn’t have the authority to upgrade someone. Only an agent can do that.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, I thought about the movie The Natural. Roy Hobbs is signed to a baseball contract by the team’s chief scout. Roy dutifully reports to the manager who denies that his chief scout has the authority to sign Roy. I started to ask the Chief Steward if he’d seen the movie, but better sense overcame me in the nick of time.

By now, my friend was getting a little antsy so he stood up and went back to his assigned seat. Sadly, I realized that, after almost four hours at the gate and an additional four and a half hours in flight, I would have to be content with an empty seat as a seatmate.

I’m not sure this incident has a moral. Perhaps if anything, it illustrates the hazards of going over the boss’s head. Be very cautious about stepping on the toes of authority.

I’ll finish the tale of my trip in the next installment, in which I’ll cover our late arrival at SFO and our ultimate end-of-flight experience at Dulles International Airport, where everyone seemed twice as officious as our in-flight steward.

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