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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

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while the Western end of the route is in Sacramento CA where the old stretch between Sacramento and San Francisco has been replaced by the Interstate Highway System.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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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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I saw Elvis Presley yesterday. At the Coco Palms Hotel on the Island of Kauai. That’s where the wedding scene at the conclusion of the 1961 movie Blue Hawaii was filmed.

My wife and I stayed at the Coco Palms for three days once upon a time. We weren’t there on a romantic sojourn. I happened to have a business conference in the Coco Palms and we decided that we’d spend some time looking around the island when no conference sessions were scheduled.

At check in, we were given a room on the second floor overlooking a moat and a grove of coconut palms. At first, I didn’t make a connection between the moat and the movie. I did mention to my wife that the place seemed oddly familiar, although I couldn’t imagine how I might have thought so. This was our first visit to Kauai and it was more than thirty-years after the movie was filmed.

I continued to worry about the moat’s familiarity until just by chance I opened a desk drawer beside the bed and saw a postcard with a picture of Elvis and his bride on a (for lack of a better description) moat boat surrounded by the wedding party, all dressed in the baroque wedding splendor of the times.

Fast forward to yesterday when the air and radio waves saturated us with stories about Elvis’s 75th birthday accompanied by many of his greatest musical hits. I had an immediate flashback to Elvis standing regally next to his soon-to-be-bride with his rendition of the Hawaiian Wedding Song playing as the moat boat glided softly to the end of the moat where the two embraced.

This may well have been one of the more romantic moments in film history. Certainly, it made the Hawaiian Wedding Song one of the more popular songs at weddings in Hawaii and beyond. And in my mind, it reinforced my perception of Elvis as one of the best singers of romantic ballads in American popular music. He may have been the King of Rock and Roll but the versatility of his voice was something to marvel at, and in no song was that versatility illustrated more prominently than in the Hawaiian Wedding Song.

I like Can’t Help Falling in Love (With You), too, which I used to sing in my raspy, atonal, tuneless voice to my wife.

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My Ten Resolutions for Twenty Ten

1. Use the phrase Twenty Ten as often as possible. I like the sight and sound of it when I say it out loud.

2. Continue posting sporadically because my mind is still too screwed up for regularity.

3. Neither write nor say negatives about people. My old aunt used to tell me, “Unless you can say something good about others, keep quiet.” A rule that is hard to follow in every instance, but worth the effort.

4. Read more books about cowboys.

5. Write at least one positive post about Sarah Palin. I may have to hire a ghost writer for this one. But, then, she has nice legs.

6. Figure out how much detergent to pour in the washing machine to avoid flooding the floor of the laundry room with suds.

7. Maybe hire a housekeeper. I say maybe because this is still a little bit iffy. A cook would be better. I’m sick and tired of cold Vienna Sausage.

8. Tell my neighbor, who is a police officer, how much I appreciate her help and thoughtfulness after my wife’s passing.

9. Sell my house so I can move on; perhaps find a new life somewhere. This will be very difficult, but I need to try.

10. Maybe teach again. Another hard goal to achieve. I have lost patience with students who perceive college as a place of encounter rather than as an arena for learning.

Okey, dokey. I’ve shown you mine. Now show me yours.

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Be honest now. If you were given a choice between an all expenses paid vacation to Chicago or Rio de Janeiro, which one would you choose.

Personally, I’d choose Rio. I’ve never been there so the town would offer a new experience. Just looking for the Girl from Ipanema would take a week or more.

Chicago is so, well, so American. America is a great country, but it’s pretty similar in most geographical areas. Sure, there are beautiful mountains, grand vistas, lakes, rivers, fields of amber waves of grain, ocean waves crashing against seashores, wild horse preserves where magnificent animals run free, and cypress swamps where old-growth timber still thrives.

The trouble is, none of this is in Chicago. Oh, sure, Chi has its wind from Lake Michigan and a beautiful lakeshore drive. And there’s the Sears Tower, a wonderful example of American architecture and engineering innovation.

You may even find a speakeasy or two if you’ve got the guts to wander off the beaten path. Only, the Windy City’s 21st Century speakeasies are speakeasies in name only, Hollywood’s concept of Chi in the Roaring Twenties.

Before the Roaring Twenties, Chicago had another history and another reputation. The American poet, Carl Sandburg, said this about the city in 1916 in his poem Chicago.

HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.

Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

In many ways, Chicago is still the brawling City of Big Shoulders. There is a bravado about its residents that speaks to its industrial past and reputation as Hog Butcher for the World.

But the stormy brawling today is reflected in its drugs, gangs, and the crime that inevitably accompanies these activities. Chicago can be and often is a city that elicits a degree of apprehension when potential tourists are planning their vacations.

Rio also has its share of crime, but few people in the world are aware of it, whereas most of the world’s inhabitants who have seen Hollywood movies and television shows about Chicago are convinced that a vacation there would be an unpleasant experience at best.

In contrast, the vision of Rio is largely one of frivolity, symbolized by its annual Carnival, beautiful girls walking virtually nude along the beach at Ipanema, and the breathless magnificence of the city as seen from Mount Corcovado.

When I learned that the International Olympic Committee had eliminated Chicago as a contender for the 2016 Olympics on the first round of voting, followed in subsequent rounds by Madrid and Tokyo, leaving Rio as the winner, I wondered if the visions of Rio’s sugarplums in theit heads colored their votes.

Certainly, I do not know the answer to that question, and I doubt if even the judges themselves could explain their rationale. Oh, sure, they could provide reasons, such as “Rio’s presentation was the best of the lot.” But what is “best.” I have a hunch that the judges voted their preconceptions but we’ll never know. It’s a done deal. Why agonize over it?

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, I wanted Chicago to win. If Chicago won, I reasoned, America would win. I didn’t attach Barack Obama’s name to the matter in any sense. Even if Rush Limbaugh were president and supported the selection of Orange, Texas, I would still want the Olympics in the United States.

But if it came down to a vacation, I’d still opt for Rio.

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