Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Sunday Afternoon and Evening: Traveling to Our Nation's Capital

I traveled to Washington, DC today to attend a series of meetings to let people in our "Washington Office" --the WO--know what we in the PNW are doing about H2O. I, of course, used GovTrip to make my reservations which means that it took me about the same amount of time to arrange the trip as it did to make it...

I ended up on United Airlines, flying through Chicago, my least favorite connection. My brother, who traveled A LOT, used to say he'd "rather go to hell than O'Hare..." It wasn't bad today, not the least because I had miles that were going to "expire" on United (can miles really expire?) and I was able to use them to upgrade to first class from Portland.



I stepped off the plane in what was, according to the cabin crew, Chicago. I checked and confirmed it at the first we-sell-everything-for-two-prices store. Yep, Chicago.








The Field Museum, famous for displaying the bones of fictional animals called "dinosaurs"--Sarah wouldn't believe they exist because they sort of didn't get any coverage in The Bible, which would seem to be a major oversight considering Noah had to have a bunch of them on the Ark and all...Anyhoo, they have a replica of some real dino bones right there where kids and adults alike can marvel at the size of those fictional creatures.




This one is called what it says to the left there. They note that it's a plant eater, I suspect to keep small children and Tea Party supporters from panicking and worrying about being consumed by a replica of the bones of a fictional, never-mentioned-in-The-Bible, creature. However, having picked up a bit of the sleuthing habit from my friend Jack D'Mestiere, I couldn't help but notice that a few of the plants nearby looked as though the leaves had been nibbled. ..







I continued to check out ORD, as Chicago O'Hare International Airport is known. There were some fun paintings on benches. And, they had the usual Foreign Exchange booth--what usury that is. Click on the picture to take a gander at the rates. I wonder who uses those things anymore since you can stick your cash card in a machine at your destination--at least most destinations they support--and get cash exchanged for a lot less than here. They'll be gone in a few years, I bet. Or banks will be gone...



Although I didn't have to, I went down in the passage way between the B and C concourses as they have a pretty cool neon light exhibit down there. It's been there for a long time now--more than a dozen years--and it still plays the old United Airlines theme song. But, it's still pretty cool if you like neon, which I do. It's called "The Sky's the Limit" and it's by Michael Hayden.




video


Align Center
I went back to the gate to see my least favorite airport name posted. What is it with Reagan anyway? I've been thinking about that during this whole health care "debate" where the naysayers claim we can't afford this and that the program must pay for itself or be repealed, as it will surely end life as we know it. Well, they may be right there, we may actually have health coverage for everyone, including the children they claim to love. However, you don't hear any Republicans demanding the repeal of the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, which we clearly cannot afford. Ronald Reagan convinced people in this country that they could have whatever they wanted and not have to pay for it, and we've been paying for it ever since. By the way, Sarah Palin's kids? Indian Health Service--government-employed physicians and free. Put that in your tea pot, wrap a cozy around it, and toss it in Prince William Sound. Crabby? You bet. I was number 21 on the list for an upgrade to First Class. I flew sardine class from Chicago to DC.




I got off the plane in DC--I checked to make sure it was DC--and all was forgotten as President and Mrs. Obama were waiting outside security to greet me. And the 10 billion other people pouring into town to see the cherry blossoms.

They are a stunning couple, so friendly and outgoing, and thin too! No waddling for them!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Tuesday Morning in Seatac Airport: Waddling Towards Fatness...er, Fitness

I’m headed to Alaska. Thanks to arguably the worst travel arranging program ever created--GovTrip--I have 3 hours to kill before my flight to Fairbanks. Three hours. There’s a flight at least every hour from Portland to Seattle, so there really isn’t any reason to have more than a 1 hour layover, unless you happen to have to use GovTrip to book your travel. Guaranteed to find you the least convenient connection at a premium price. Brought to you by a defense contractor. Who buys anything from a defense contractor if you have a choice? Expedia? Sidestep? No way.


Three hours to kill. Years ago, a boss of mine, Ralph, taught me that you can get some pretty good exercise in an airport. Ralph had had a heart valve replacement—they stuck a pig valve in there (Ralph always called it porcine instead of pig, but we always thought he looked a little pink around the snout after the operation…) Anyway, he used to park his bag at the gate in Pittsburgh and hoof it around the airport at a good pace. It was before the days of BlackBerrys and cell phones, so he used the layovers to get his daily waddle in. It was also before the days of nutso security so you could just leave your bag at the gate.


I have always remembered that, and I try to do it myself when I have time. Like when GovTrip--have I mentioned GovTrip--gives me 3 hours in Seattle. So today I took off on what I call the Program Manager’s Pack Test. The “Pack Test” is given to wildland firefighters to make sure they are in reasonable shape at the beginning of the fire season. You have to walk 3 miles carrying a 45 pound pack in 45 minutes. The Program Manager’s Pack Test is to waddle to every gate in concourses A, B, C, and D at Seatac in 30 minutes or less, carrying my 15 pound briefcase, and do it without experiencing chest pains.


Airports are set up to encourage waddling towards fatness, not fitness. There’s someplace to eat at every turn. If you are more than 50 feet from someplace to eat, there’s a sign telling you which way to go to get something to eat, drink, or buy. Often there are concentrations of places to gain weight called “Food Courts”.






Food courts contribute to making every airport in the nation smell the same. Oh sure, every once in a while a place like the BBQ joint in the Memphis airport contributes a little something different, but not often. Pretty much they smell like fast-food-burger-pizza-Chinese-sushi-friedfish-coffee-icecream-pretzel-bagel-booze-beer. The all look the same too except for the city name on the t-shirts.





I waddled from C2L where my flight from Portland arrived, 2 hours before I needed to arrive, thanks to GovTrip--have I mentioned GovTrip?--down to the main thoroughfare and turned left, which I believe is north, and headed for the end of the D concourse, passing on an optional trip to N gates, but that takes a train ride. I watched a lot of people watching TV and eating. You can’t escape the cacophony of “TV News” in airports now. Of course, it’s not a real news program, like the Daily Show, but Fox News with their Fair and Balanced coverage of how ObamaCare is the height of Socialism-with-a-capital-S and how it will destroy not only the country, but the rest of the FREE WORLD, defined as countries that don’t have universal health care…wait, I think that rules out any other members of the FREE WORLD…and it will cause EVERY SINGLE DEMOCRAT to lose in the fall, most likely to some illiterate wearing a string mop on his or her head who belongs to the Tea Party and had absolutely no idea what’s in the new health care plan. "Keep your damned government hands off my Medicare!" I'm pretty sure the Alaska flag was at half-staff over this.




I waddle back to Fat City—the food court—and then head for the B and A gates. I do pass some nice artwork along the way, like this mosaic of a western red-cedar on a pillar. Seatac has the requisite art installations which almost no one looks at while they are headed for food. There are no signs to point travelers to the art.









I waddle past VirginAmerica, a version of the famous Virgin Atlantic. Interesting concept for an airline--focus on new customers and forget about repeat business. At least I’m assuming you can only be a Virgin flyer once…








I continue to waddle, past the Africa Lounge which features ceiling fans and some tiger-striped decorative accents. I check out the menu--yep, it screams “Africa” to me…Click on it to make it large enough to read.















Finally, I make it back to the C gates, passing ice cream, cocktails, more bagels and baked goods, three or four coffee joints, and some pizza. I look at my watch. Thirty-one minutes. Technically, I’ve failed the Program Manager’s Pack Test. Damn, it was stopping for all the pictures. I guess I’ll just have to try again. I’m pretty sure GovTrip--have I mentioned GovTrip?--has built that into my trip home.

Morning in the Seattle Airport: Waddling Towards Fatness…er Fitness

I’m headed to Alaska. Thanks to arguably the worst travel arranging program ever created--GovTrip--I have 3 hours to kill before my flight to Fairbanks. Three hours. There’s a flight at least every hour from Portland to Seattle, so there really isn’t any reason to have more than a 1 hour layover, unless you happen to have to use GovTrip to book your travel. Guaranteed to find you the least convenient connection at a premium price. Brought to you by a defense contractor. Who buys anything from a defense contractor if you have a choice? Expedia? Sidestep? No way.


Three hours to kill. Years ago, a boss of mine, Ralph, taught me that you can get some pretty good exercise in an airport. Ralph had had a heart valve replacement—they stuck a pig valve in there (Ralph always called it porcine instead of pig, but we always thought he looked a little pink around the snout after the operation…) Anyway, he used to park his bag at the gate in Pittsburgh and hoof it around the airport at a good pace. It was before the days of BlackBerrys and cell phones, so he used the layovers to get his daily waddle in. It was also before the days of nutso security so you could just leave your bag at the gate.


I have always remembered that, and I try to do it myself when I have time. Like when GovTrip--have I mentioned GovTrip--gives me 3 hours in Seattle. So today I took off on what I call the Program Manager’s Pack Test. The “Pack Test” is given to wildland firefighters to make sure they are in reasonable shape at the beginning of the fire season. You have to walk 3 miles carrying a 45 pound pack in 45 minutes. The Program Manager’s Pack Test is to waddle to every gate in concourses A, B, C, and D at Seatac in 30 minutes or less, carrying my 15 pound briefcase, and do it without experiencing chest pains.


Airports are set up to encourage waddling towards fatness, not fitness. There’s someplace to eat at every turn. If you are more than 50 feet from someplace to eat, there’s a sign telling you which way to go to get something to eat, drink, or buy. Often there are concentrations of places to gain weight called “Food Courts”. These contribute to making every airport in the nation smell the same. Oh sure, every once in a while a place like the BBQ joint in the Memphis airport contributes a little something different, but not often. Pretty much they smell like fast-food-burger-pizza-Chinese-sushi-friedfish-coffee-icecream-pretzel-bagel-booze-beer. The all look the same too except for the city name on the t-shirts.







I waddled from C2L where my flight from Portland arrived, 2 hours before I needed to arrive, thanks to GovTrip--have I mentioned GovTrip?--down to the main thoroughfare and turned left, which I believe is north, and headed for the end of the D concourse, passing on an optional trip to N gates, but that takes a train ride. I watched a lot of people watching TV and eating. You can’t escape the cacophony of “TV News” in airports now. Of course, it’s not a real news program, like the Daily Show, but Fox News with their Fair and Balanced coverage of how ObamaCare is the height of Socialism-with-a-capital-S and how it will destroy not only the country, but the rest of the FREE WORLD, defined as countries that don’t have universal health care…wait, I think that rules out any other members of the FREE WORLD…and it will cause EVERY SINGLE DEMOCRAT to lose in the fall, most likely to some illiterate wearing a string mop on his or her head who belongs to the Tea Party and had absolutely no idea what’s in the new healthcare plan. "Keep your damned government hands off my Medicare!" I'm pretty sure the Alaska flag was at half-staff over this.




I waddle back to Fat City—the food court—and then head for the B and A gates. I do pass some nice artwork along the way, like this mosaic of a western red-cedar on a pillar. Seatac has the requisite art installations which almost no one looks at while they are headed for food. There are no signs to point travelers to the art.









I waddle past VirginAmerica, a version of the famous Virgin Atlantic. Interesting concept for an airline--focus on new customers and forget about repeat business. At least I’m assuming you can only be a Virgin flyer once…








I continue to waddle, past the Africa Lounge which features ceiling fans and some tiger-striped decorative accents. I check out the menu--yep, it screams “Africa” to me…Click on it to make it large enough to read.













Finally, I make it back to the C gates, passing ice cream, cocktails, more bagels and baked goods, three or four coffee joints, and some pizza. I look at my watch. Thirty-one minutes. Technically, I’ve failed the Program Manager’s Pack Test. Damn, it was stopping for all the pictures. I guess I’ll just have to try again. I’m pretty sure GovTrip--have I mentioned GovTrip?--has built that into my trip home.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Monday Afternoon in Memphis: Checking the Sights

So every now and again, business, if you follow, takes me out of town on a trip and I've got to leave Dolly-girl at home minding the Ps and Rs--that's Ping and Ryman, a couple of strays me and her took in and who don't earn their keep except by sleeping all day and all night too. Or most of the night. Anyhoo, I had to head over to another river city, this one where Mr. E. A. Presley used to set his brake. Yep, Blues City, Memphis, Tennessee. I had to go investigate some suspicious fire activity.


I don't pay much attention to arrangements when it comes to travel. Thelma takes care of that, and she's good at it. She booked me on the morning Clipper to M-town, yep, the city on the bluffs. The Clipper set down on the river and a car was waiting to take me to The Peabody. Thelma told me "It's the place to stay, at least that's what Madeline at the travel agent's told me when I was talking to her on the blower." Could be. Last time I was in River City, me and Dolly-girl were in harder times and the only stars you could see at our hotel were the ones in the sky through the crack in the roof, follow? This place is different than that one.


I was walking out the door at D'Mestiere Investigations when Thelma handed me my satchel. "I left you a note in there--gives you all the arrangements. Watch those Fire Crackers..." I opened the note when I got to my room. "Drown a couple in the lobby at 5," was all it said. A mystery. No one has to tell me to drown two more than once. I headed for the lobby so as I wouldn't miss whoever it was that I was supposed to be eyeballing. Trouble, I suspected. Blues City's seen its share. There was a crowd, so I was keeping an eye peeled. Something would show. It did.



video


So that was the ticket. Marching ducks. Go figure. And there was the trouble. One duck wasn't playing along. There's always one, isn't there? That's what Dolly-girl says, at least. After the ducks walked, I figured I'd take a jaunt myself. See what I could see. First thing you gotta like is a town with a newspaper called The Commercial Appeal.





It's also a town where people are said to take BBQ very seriously. I spotted this chicken leg bone on the street. Maybe people are right. People take music serious too, me and Dolly-girl found out the last time we were here. Big Jerry and his band were pretty serious, alright.













Lots happened in M-city that had to do with music. Stax was here. So was WDIA, the first all-Black radio station in the country. Wait, WDIA is still here... Sun Studios is here too. Lots of history there.















You don't have to look far to see the old days--there's a Cotton Museum, the fantastic National Civil Rights Museum

And, of course, Graceland











And lots of towns are bringing back streetcars. Blues City never lost them.

Well, enough about sightseeing, I gotta get done with my caper here so I can catch that Clipper, watch the river disappear below me, and head on back to see that welcome home through the wave...