Saturday, June 28, 2008

Early morning travel complaints

OK, it's not quite 5 AM, I've been up since 2:30 (!!!), and I've had no caffeine, so I'm a little cranky. To blow off some virtual steam, I'll share a few pointed observations from the last 20 hours or so:

1. When you're sitting in the gate area, surrounded by groggy travelers at 4:50 AM, do NOT put your cell phone voicemail on speaker so everyone is forced to listed to the recorded inanities of your friends and family. It makes us want to throw you in front of an oncoming aircraft. I'm talking to you, Mrs. Unbelievably-Tacky-Orange-and-Yellow-Hawaiian-Shirt. I don't care if you wanted to share those voicemails with Mr. Unbelievably-Tacky-Red-and-White-Hawaiian-Shirt next to you. Listen to your own damn voicemail and tell him anything important, preferably in a soft voice befitting this ungodly hour.

2. To Ms. Unbelievably-Rude-TSA-Agent: I'm sorry you have to be at work at 4:00 AM. It sucks. I know, because I'm here at 4 AM too. In order to reduce the suckage ever so slightly, I offer you a friendly good morning. In return, you don't look at me, don't talk to me, put your gloves on at a pace befitting the banana slugs in my garden, and bark some orders at the bedraggled line of travelers behind me. Finally you condescend to take my ID and boarding pass, still neither looking at me nor speaking to me. If you hate your government job with a reliable salary and full benefits that much, quit and find something else to do. I'd suggest fast food, but I doubt you'd meet even their standards.

3. While we're on the subject of the TSA... All your instructions tell us to be at the airport 2 hours early for domestic flights. Even though that's rarely necessary, I hauled my sorry carcass out of bed at 2:30 to be here 2 hours before my 6:15 AM flight (What the hell was I thinking??), only to be told that security doesn't open till 4:30. If you want us here 2 hours early, have the checkpoint open! Standing around holding my laptop and bag o' liquids and gels at o'dark thirty isn't my idea of a good time.

4. To the proprietors of the fine establishment in which I spent last night (or at least the part of last night preceding 2:30 AM--did I mention that's when I got up?): Fix your key card system. When I get back from a late meeting at 10 PM (the night before I have to get up at 2:30), I expect my key card to work. When I schlep back to the office to tell you it doesn't work, don't just verify that it's programmed for the correct room and send me back down that looonnnngggg hallway to try again. It still didn't work. If reprogramming the card fixes the problem, as your maintenance person told me, then you should have done that in the first place. I admit I need more exercise, but not at 10 PM the night before I have to get up at 2:30.

5. To the operators of LAX: When flights leave at ungodly hours, and we aren't allowed to take more than 3.5 oz of liquid through security, have the coffee stands and breakfast concessionaires open. It was like a tomb when I got here, and even now there are no vendors open in my gate area. Does anyone wonder why there's so much air rage, when people have to get up at 2:30 to catch flights and are then deprived of caffeine? I think Homeland Security should work on that problem.

6. The managers of the nationwide airport shuttle company I used on my visit (rhymes with Pooper Puddle, sort of): If I make a reservation for a specific time, there's a good chance that's the time I'll want airport transportation. There's an equally good chance that I won't want to wait on your charming little concrete island for nearly an hour for a van. And there's a *really* good chance I won't enjoy arriving at my hotel with about 15 minutes to spare before setting off for my first meeting. If your passengers make reservations, can't you plan ahead a little?

Don't get me wrong--my trip has actually gone fairly well. But the fact that I can describe it that way in spite of the above issues tells you how inured we've all become to the misery of the modern travel experience.

And finally, lest you dismiss me as just another whiner, I'd like to give many kudos to Portland International Airport, my beloved home airport, and especially its OUTSTANDING TSA staff. Yes, I used "outstanding" and "TSA" next to each other in the same sentence, and sarcasm wasn't involved. PDX TSA staff are friendly, helpful, and incredibly efficient. They all deserve bonuses, as well as the gratitude of weary travelers like me. Thanks for getting my trip off to a great start.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Today's spam subject line is...

Update your Penis

So is that a hardware or software update???

Gives a whole new meaning to a "pileup"

Need a cheaper way to travel? BBSpot has a solution for you--the trebuchet! I wonder if they could extend the range a bit with some well-placed trampolines, like the ones in my son's video games.

Signs You're on a Summer Vacation with a Geek
Microsoft Purchases Evil from Satan

And the ever-popular, How White and Nerdy are You? And for all you people who tormented me in high school, here are my results:
You are 14% white and nerdy.
How White and Nerdy Are You?

The sad thing is, I'm a little disappointed at such a low score. I've learned to embrace my nerdiness. I think I should have gotten bonus points for a) being a librarian, b) being a librarian with a background in cataloging and systems, c) writing my blog posts in raw HTML (Editor? I don't need no stinkin' editor!), and d) being able to perform several basic functions from a Unix command line. Oh, yeah, and e) disputing my nerdiness test results by f) coming up with several additional examples of nerdiness, and g) assigning each one a letter. Viva la nerd!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dateline Washington Part 5: Arlington National Cemetery

P1060603.JPGI just finished helping my son create a PowerPoint presentation about our trip to Washington, which reminded me that I never finished my travelogue. We spent an extra day in Washington after my conference ended, so I could have one more full day to explore. To save time and avoid blistered feet, we bought Tourmobile tickets so we could ride around to the various attractions. We spent about half the day in Arlington National Cemetery. If you truly want to understand that freedom isn't free, go to Arlington. Symbols of sacrifice surround you: row after row of headstones, monuments to various people and events, and a solemness that one finds in few places these days. Let me take you on a virtual tour...



A crowd gathers at the eternal flame, which marks the resting place of JFK and his wife:

Nearby lies the grave of Robert Kennedy:

The tomb of the unknowns:

Guard at the tomb of the unknowns:
There are marks worn into the stone showing the path the guard follows. The guard changes every half hour in a ceremony that takes about ten minutes. In the photo above, you can see the resting places of the three unknowns, one each from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. There used to be one from the Vietnam War too, but his remains were identified with DNA testing. His remains were then exhumed and reburied in a cemetery in his home town.

There's a small room below the tomb that's used as the guard quarters. Their creed is posted where you see it as you enter:

In addition to the Kennedys, many famous people are interred at Arlington. Here are just a few:

Audie Murphy:

Joe Louis:

General George C. Marshall:

The cemetery includes several memorials, including the sinking of the USS Maine, the Challenger, and of course 9-11.

The land belonged to the family of Robert E. Lee and was forfeited to the US government when Lee didn't return to pay taxes on it. I suppose it would have been a bit awkward for him to return, since he was by then the leader of the Confederacy, and taxes had to be paid in person. The Lee family home remains at Arlington and is open for tours. It includes the main house, a garden, and the slave quarters, plus a museum devoted to Lee.

In addition to Lee, there are many Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington. I find our nation's treatment of the Confederates, especially Lee, interesting. They were traitors by most definitions, taking up arms against their country. Yet Lee was not hanged when he surrendered, nor were his soldiers. Union generals even forbade their troops to celebrate openly when the war ended, lest it look like gloating. The seeds of reconciliation were sown immediately. Somehow I don't see that happening today.

Finally, I'd like to end this post with some eloquent prose about the meaning of Arlington and the feelings it evokes, but even a month's reflection hasn't helped me come up with anything to do it justice. So I'll end, not with my words but with the words of one of the Tourmobile guides. A former military man with the eloquence and cadence of Barack Obama, he spoke of the shared sacrifice of generations of soldiers buried there. Then he made a comment that I didn't expect: Indicating the many memorials to the terrible cost of war, he commented that war is sometimes necessary but should always be the last resort. Amen, brother.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sunset in scenic Boardman, OR

Here are those sunset pics I promised a couple of posts ago. These were taken at a park on the Columbia River in Boardman, OR. It was a beautiful night, as you can see, but the wind was so strong, it made my eyes water every time I looked up. Needless to say, that made photography a bit challenging.





Beach bums:
Tony and Jerry on the beach in Boardman

And a big barge:
Barge in Boardman
You can see these huge Tidewater barges cruising down the Columbia all the time.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The times they are a changin'?

Parked outside my motel room in Boardman, OR: a huge pickup truck with Texas plates... and a wind energy sticker on the back window.

Its owner is probably here in connection with the wind farm just downriver from here, but... Texas? Big pickup truck? And wind power?????

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Greetings from Boardman, OR

I'm on the road again, this time en route to Eastern Oregon University in La Grande for a meeting Friday and Saturday. I decided to bring the family and leave a little early. We didn't leave Portland till almost 5 pm, so we didn't make it all the way to La Grande tonight -- which is why I'm typing this from a motel room in Boardman, OR. Boardman is a town of a little over 2000 people, positioned in the northwest quadrant of The Middle of Nowhere. It's sandwiched between the Boardman Bombing Range (which apparently isn't used anymore, so we might actually get some sleep) and the Umatilla Ordnance Depot, a/k/a Oregon's very own chemical weapons dump. If you follow the link, you'll see that the description of the place is under the header Weapons of Mass Destruction. That's why they couldn't find any WMD in Iraq--they're all over here in Oregon, probably upwind from my motel room.

Lest you think Boardman has nothing to offer except military targets, we did discover a lovely beach on the Columbia River tonight. I got some great pictures of the sunset over the river, but you'll have to wait till I get home to see them, since I forgot to pack my card reader. There's a great paved trail along the river too, which would have been very inviting if a) I weren't still sick, and b) the wind didn't make my eyes water within about 15 seconds. Yeah, I'm pathetic.

Tomorrow we're heading for La Grande, but I think we'll take the scenic route and stop by Lehman Hot Springs for a dip in the mineral pools. That should be a pleasant change from bombing ranges and chemical weapons.