Underway

The hardest part of any trip is getting started, especially when getting started at 2:30 a.m.

We had a layover in Memphis. Lore and I were looking around the airport for coffee. You can tell Memphis is not a coffee town by the seven-to-one ratio of barbecue restaurants to coffee shops.

For amusement, when not writing in my little book, I perused Sky, Delta’s in-flight magazine. It included a politely written six-page feature article about what a dipstick Ashton Kutcher is. According to the article, his life philosophy is based on using the word thrash as a noun. To quote:

You just gotta have thrash… Thrash is a wake of moving toward a target.

Anyway, we are moving toward our next target, Miami, where we will spend the night before the long trip tomorrow. Today we’re flying Delta. It’s a nice plane and a good flight with no problems, for a change.

Flight to Maui

On the plane to Maui we were seated next to a lady carrying a bird in a travel cage. I tried to fit it under the seats in front of us, in the process bumping the poor animal against the arm rests and seat backs. The lady grimaced with each bump, causing Lore to laugh hysterically. The flight attendants found her another seat.

The flight to Maui from Oahu is an up-and-down flight of just over half an hour. I don’t remember the plane leveling out except for a few moments. They still managed to serve Pass-O-Guava (passion-orange-guava juice; I can’t get enough of it). Maybe they could engineer the beverage service to deposit the drinks and collect the trash using the pitch of the plane.

Syracuse

Last week’s trip to Syracuse was not just a visit to my uncle but a chance to show America’s vast rust reserves and spare industrial capacity to my fiancee.

A modern office tower on a block of Victorian buildings.
A modern office tower on a block of Victorian buildings.

During my trip last year, my uncle took me on the “Urban Renewal” and “Family Heritage” itineraries. This time Lore and I took the “Faded but Beautiful Downtown” tour. As in a lot of declining cities in the Northeast, the bright side of stagnation is that some of the cool old buildings are still standing. In fact, the more modern buildings that are sprinkled around look a little out of place. The most stunning of the old buildings is the flamboyantly Art Deco stainless steel Niagara Mohawk Building. It’s like the Chrysler Building had a baby.

A male teacher demonstrates an interactive classroom projection screen.
A teacher demonstrates an interactive classroom projection screen.

The occasion of the visit was my uncle’s retirement dinner. He was still working while we visited, and when we picked him up at work he showed around his school. The school had installed an interactive white board in his classroom. A computer image is projected on a touch screen. My uncle demonstrated. It was very high-tech and impressive. He reminded me of Tom Cruise in “Minority Report”.

A seated lady watches as a man opens a wine bottle on a patio table set with bread and grapes.
A seated lady watches as a man opens a wine bottle on a patio table set with bread and grapes.

We took a quick spin around the Syracuse University campus before joining Dave and Nicky for a tasting at a wine shop. A man let us sample Portuguese wines, which were more palatable than the horseshit in his sales pitch. Flavor won out and a vinho verde accompanied the usual tasteful dinner associated with these visits.

On our last day– we’ll call it the “North Side Commerce” itinerary– we shopped at Syracuse’s big farmers market. My uncle bought some artisanal pasta he’s fond of and gave us some to bring home. It was very good; almost as good as the Hofmann Snappy Grillers I like to bring home from Syracuse. We ate a late breakfast at Stella’s Diner, where people wait a long time for tasty food in gluttonously large portions that invoke the law of diminishing returns. And then on to the Carousel Center, a massive challenger to the Mall of America that looks more and more like a Borg cube as it devours the north side of the city.

My travel notes wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our miserable airline experience. I would rather not travel than deal again with the Delta employees at JFK and La Guardia airports.

Christmas in Colorado

My two year old nephew looks under the Christmas tree for his presents.
My two year old nephew looks under the Christmas tree for his presents.

United Airlines has a bad habit of not posting their delays until the last minute. In our case, they posted a two-hour delay ten minutes after the flight should have boarded. But we eventually escaped from icy Iowa to icy Colorado.

St. Nicholas visited my nephew Christmas morning in the form of his Uncle Mike in Santa drag. I’m not sure he understood it all, but he likes unwrapping gifts.

Looking back on it, we packed a lot of activity and inactivity into five days.

Photos from Argentina

A busy street and cityscape behind a government building with a Córdoba marquee.
A busy street and cityscape behind a government building with a Córdoba marquee.

I’m home from Argentina, a beautiful place with beautiful people. Yesterday’s return trip was smooth but still grueling: four airports and three countries in 28 hours, 12 hours of which were layovers.

Here are the photos. Leave a comment if I got something wrong or if you can help with the architectural descriptions.

Enjoy.

Santiago de Chile

Arid mountains and a blue sky seen across a airport tarmac from inside the terminal.
Arid mountains and a blue sky seen across a airport tarmac from inside the terminal.

Layovers in the airport don’t count as visits, so I can’t say I’ve been to Chile. Can you learn anything about a country from airport terminal gift shops?

Like Argentina, the local edition of Maxim features models with bare bottoms on the front cover. A good start. The moai of Rapa Nui figure prominently in the shop displays, followed closely by penguins. There are wine shops with many, many wines.

A photo book of Chile shows lots of beautiful desert and mountain landscapes. Official maps depict outlandish claims to Antarctic territories. A book of Chilean recipes indicates a varied diet of fruit, vegetables, meats, seafoods, and legumes.

From the window of the terminal I can see that Santiago is surrounded by mountains, a landscape much like southern California. I can also see the Holiday Inn and a billboard of Don Francisco selling cellular phone service.

In transit

A statue of Snoopy the World War I flying ace brightens the terminal.
A statue of Snoopy the World War I flying ace brightens the terminal.

The passenger terminal at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport is named for Charles Lindbergh. His feat of flying solo across the Atlantic is receding in the collective memory, and I just tend to think of him as right-wing kook (there are only two aviation feats worth remembering: the Wright brothers’ first flights and the moon landing). I found a more appropriate representative of the Twin Cities in Snoopy, as the World War I flying ace.

I flew Northwest Airlines which is without a doubt our worst domestic carrier. They’re always late or have some other problem and so have both cranky passengers and cranky employees. Too bad the big airlines devoured all the regional carriers in the 1980s. Maybe it made sense to consolidate the industry then, but with the Internet I can put together a multi-carrier itinerary on my own.

A colorful illustration of the Everglades etched into the black airport floor.
A colorful illustration of the Everglades etched into the black airport floor.

So Florida was my fourth state on Saturday afternoon as I waited around the Miami International Airport. MIA is a regular global intersection. I heard Spanish there at least as much as English. It’s a good transition to when traveling to Latin America. The J concourse is nice a modern-looking, if dark. A treatise on the Everglades is etched at intervals into the concourse floor, like a weird manifesto (or an amateur blog post).

So much waiting. I brought my travel sudoku book. I haven’t played in a couple of years, but I tried out some new moves.

Things in the sky

I’m back from the holiday weekend in Colorado. I spent a fair amount of time playing with my nearly one-year-old nephew. He’s so cute I can’t stand it. He walks around now and babbles in baby talk.

The flights were uneventful, and were a nice break from my recent streak of delays and other nonsense. The Cedar Rapids airport has a giant mobile in the terminal of different mythological representations of the cosmos, which I took a picture of in my boredom.

Iowa was cold on Thursday, but Colorado was much colder. It was well below freezing most of the time I was there. They even had more snow than we got in Iowa.

When I got to my brother’s place in Colorado, I was startled by a much closer celestial object: a hot air balloon.

2007: Let ‘er rip

A family relaxes after the chaos of Christmas morning gift opening.Picture of the Christmas morning aftermath. You’ll notice that the sofa in my brother’s house is built for lazing around.

I managed to get in and out of Denver between blizzards without incident, but I couldn’t get out of Newark on Monday on time because of slightly inclement weather and low visibility.

I missed my connection in Chicago and, rather than wait overnight at the airport for the next flight to Cedar Rapids, I rented a car and drove the 210 miles home. I think I let my impatience get the best of me. The rental car was more expensive than the money I hope to be refunded by United, and I was dead exhausted the next day. I had figured I wouldn’t sleep at the airport anyway.

Colorado blizzard

It’s snowing like damn in Colorado. I just called my brother and they’re totally shut in there, not having to go work, with his loving wife and their newborn baby, and his in-laws who cooked a delicious turkey dinner. Those, poor, unfortunate bastards.

Conveniently, this natural disaster is scheduled to end tomorrow at noon. That should give C-DOT plenty of time to plow me a route between Denver International Airport and my folks’ place in Longmont.

Meanwhile, it’s hardly seemed like winter is upon us here in Iowa. Since that frigid weekend earlier this month it’s been no worse than winter in, say, the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Home from the holiday

I got back home at about midnight last night, after a relatively smooth flight. I was due for a smooth flight after my canceled flight in July, getting stiffed on a ride from the airport in August, and having to bail out on the inflatable slide in September.

A saddled brown horse with a white blaze hitched to a post in front of a white stable.I capped off the holiday weekend with another trip to the horse ranch with Colorado Red (my dad) and The Horse Whisperer (my brother). I couldn’t manage to get Belle, my dad’s horse, into the big pasture, but I maneuvered her around a simple course in a little arena.

Lousy way to end a vacation

I got back to Iowa yesterday. The following things happened:

  1. Before leaving Las Vegas, my girlfriend dumped me for the second time in two weeks and for the umpteenth time in the last four years. It does not get easier with practice, it gets harder.
  2. After landing in Cedar Rapids the cabin filled with smoke and we had to exit via the inflatable slides.
  3. I came home to find my ceiling leaking from the kitchen upstairs.

Other than that, the vacation was okay. There was good and bad.

More later.

First impressions of Vegas

Coming into McCarran Airport, we flew very low over a mountain escapment, revealing the shiny city in all its nighttime decadence. From the plane I could see that there were very many hotels. A lot of them were right near the airport. Doesn’t the noise and air pollution make it less desireable to build there? Then again, these casinos don’t have a problem with light pollution, or gambling, wasting water, and so forth.

There are slot machines in the airport! I wanted to shout out to those playing them while waiting for their flight, “You people are freaks!”

Vegas is a SimCity. It looks like it took landmarks from all over the world and plopped them down on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Speaking of Las Vegas Boulevard, the traffic in the city is abominable. It’s a big, sprawling, new Sun Belt city, designed around the car. The only place people walk around is on The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard), and the traffic just crawls down the street.

Vegas is disgustingly hot; the desert surrounding it shows just how uninhabitable the area really is. It was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day I was there; the seven-day forecast on the local news was all triple-digits. At Lake Mead, a lady told me this was a “cool spell”; they don’t talk about the heat until it gets over 105 degrees.

That’s nuts.

Adventures on Allegiant Airlines

On my flight from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Las Vegas, Nevada, the flight attendant said, “In the event of a water landing…” which struck me as funny because I didn’t expect to fly over any bodies of water large enough to land a jet in.

Allegiant Airlines flies from small-market airports to Las Vegas and Orlando. They sell drinks and snacks. The flight attendant was passing out menus, asking “Menu? Menu?” but under the noise of the jet engines, he sounded like a tree frog: “Mm-nn. Mm-nn.”

Back from West Virginia

Training at Harpers Ferry was great. I had fun, met a lot of nice people, and learned a lot.

Historic 19th century buildings on a hillside street.Harpers Ferry is a pretty little town. The old part is a National Historical Park. It looks very European, with stone and brick buildings built organically into the hillside and along the river. In addition to the historical park, the NPS has a training center in the old Storer College building. This week’s training was the fifth and final part of NPS Fundamentals program (last year in Grand Canyon was the second part).

Since the motel was in Bolivar, the town right above Harpers Ferry, I could walk to class and down the hill. I took pictures before and after class and during breaks, but I didn’t get to see inside most of the historic buildings.

A broad view of fields and farmland dotted with green trees against a gray sky.Most of the training was excerises in leadership, teamwork, conflict resolution, problem solving, and the like. On Thursday, our class took a field trip to the nearby C&O Canal National Historical Park to discuss a recent controversial issue. We had some time at the end of the day to visit Antietam National Battlefield. On Friday our respective teams had a final project: a presentation addressing an issue facing the NPS and recommending a course of action. My team did an especially fine job presenting on partnerships.

I got back home around noon today. The airport in Cedar Rapids is so small and quiet compared to O’Hare and BWI. I was out the door–with my baggage claimed–in about ten minutes.

Heat and travel

I’m back in town after a couple of short trips. I spent the weekend in Colorado with my family, then came back to Iowa and drove to Springfield, Mo. for a workshop.

My flight out of Colorado was cancelled Sunday night, making Monday a near-sleepless marathon of travel from Denver to Dallas to Cedar Rapids via airplane (with more delays) and then the eight hour drive from Iowa to Springfield. The weather was 100 degrees at all destinations, but a little cooler (90s) back home in Iowa.

Journey to the center of America!

Iowa seems like a pretty nice place to live. There are farms everywhere. In fact everything is either a town or a farm. There is no vacant space or wilderness. Even the ditches are managed. It’s very pretty. West Branch looks like it’s out of Norman Rockwell painting. It is also tiny; I could probably walk around it half an hour. Iowa City is a fun university town. I haven’t made up my mind where to live, but I think I’d like to live in Iowa City and commute the 10 miles to West Branch, though I did find a nice, reasonable apartment in West Branch. Iowa is also much more bicycle-friendly than Mississippi. I might invest in a better bike if I can ride it around more.

Speaking of bikes and Mississippi… the first thing I saw tonight when I stepped out of the Gulfport Airport were two bicycle cops stopping a motorist. This guy was driving some old GM beater that looked like it fell off a bridge. Most of the front end was busted up and neither headlight worked. This is at 9 p.m. If I had to pick one place that I would always find a cop these days it would be the airport. I would not drive my illegal car in the dark to get there.

It funny, the Gulfport airport has been undergoing major renovation almost since I moved here. The construction went into full swing last year; people visiting the coast for the first time probably think the airport was destroyed by hurricane Katrina.