Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Another trip


Arriving at the Holiday Inn, Arlington, VA. Jeff's room was well-stocked.


San Francisco Airport Departure terminal

2:30 p.m., Monday

A wonderful feeling of well-being. I’m about to travel! I just had lunch at Gordon Biersch (chicken Caesar salad and 20-oz. hefeweissen), I’ve got my Peet’s Coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. My computer’s plugged in to an AC outlet. The only problem is T-Mobile has the wireless concession, so no free internet service. But life is good.

I was thinking it’s outrageous that disposable plastic flatware is used in the “upscale” Biersch café, but I realize Homeland Security has probably mandated no access to metal utensils beyond the security gates. (Still, I’m tempted to inquire whether the First Class Lounges also use plastic.)

How do you reconcile this love of technology and travel (and all its attendant waste and pollution) with a love of environmental and social causes? The question dominated much of the conversation as Henry and Charlene delivered me to the airport (in their nice SUV.) They were coming to San Francisco anyway, and offered to bring me, rather than have me take the $28 shuttle. They refused any payment for the kindness. (After all, they countered, I had taken care of their yard while they were in Hawaii.)

Maybe the reconciliation must come through a cost-benefit analysis? Maybe by having the travel serve to improve the human condition. (Which none of my travel has thus far qualified as.)

Sitting in the restaurant, gazing out to the tarmac as several 747s departed their gates and ponderously lifted into the hot atmosphere, I divided my attention between the outside and the nearby TV broadcasting an MSNBC financial program displaying a banner “Mideast Crisis”. I was incredulous at the jocular bantering of the host of “Kudlow and Company”, as he questioned how the violence in Israel and Lebanon was impacting markets. As the various experts joked and clearly supported the “cleaning-out” ass-kicking that Israel is currently involved in, I was appalled. “Send these asshole clowns and their families to the front lines and wipe the goddamn smiles right off their faces.”

The 747s, as magnificent as they are, in a darker way exemplify the reality of classes, with their “upper deck” which only the affluent can access. I’ve never seen that space. But they are amazing, and if given the opportunity, I’m happy to ride in Economy. The fact that I have even flown in one sets me apart from most people on the planet.

Now is a good time to invest in defense industries and the Israeli stock market, they say. It is nothing but a game for these greedy lunatics.

Every time I experience the flood of such thoughts, I have to examine “what are my prejudices? What am I missing?” From one perspective, this is reality: standing on the sideline wagering “who’s going to obliterate whom?”

"Their loss is my gain. Let them burn. I get the spoils when they’ve killed each other off. Besides, it’s good for business, good for the economy. It’s all part of job creation, and jobs mean security, better schools and happier families. So let the fools bomb each other to dust." War gives purpose to so many of our lives.


THIS MORNING

Before leaving the house, everything staged and waiting for the appointed hour, I tuned into Rush Limbaugh’s show. Rush and the morons calling in to his show gave me a glimpse of a reality that’s difficult to grasp. Here, this nutcase is advocating the bombing of Syria and Iran! The most irresponsible boosterism imaginable.

It really makes me think there is no hope for humanity whatsoever. Extremists like Limbaugh, like the Sheiks he condemns, can undo the work of so many good-intentioned human beings. As I listen to his callers, I wonder “where do they find these people?” And how did our educational system utterly fail to have an impact?


***

My flight is on a division of United called “Ted, a part of United” (how witty!) It's no doubt intended to compete with Southwest Airlines. But United misleads you when you book reservations, giving no indication that you’ll be flying the budget airlines instead of the actual United.

Remarkably, the orange logo on the tail reminds me of flames. "The geniuses in marketing at work again."

I watch the pilots board ahead of passengers. A graying bunch approaching the age where stress takes its toll, I’m amazed how readily we entrust our lives to their care.

It used to be only crazy people talked to themselves. Now I’m surrounded by people who seem to be doing it. It’s harder than ever to tell the crazy ones.

We're flying an Airbus A319 to Washington. Isn't that a long way for this smallish aircraft?


***

After our 4:30 lift-off, we sail eastward through the hazy afternoon. Below, the Sierra’s Stanislaus National Forest is a patchwork of clear-cuts.

Flight attendants pass down the aisle. “Would you like to purchase a snack?” The $5 chicken salad or salami sandwich snack is a slap in the face for travelers. What happened to “complimentary” meals?

After this trip (paid for with accumulated miles), I don’t intend to fly United. Customer satisfaction means little. The amenities are disappearing, while the hassle and inconveniences are increasing.

In the cloud tops, there is a brown layer of haze. I worry it’s the result of man-made pollution, but perhaps it’s only from naturally-occurring forest and range fires.

Tried to monitor progress across the country, listening in on the cockpit channel. Some rough weather from the Sierras eastward. The pilots sought permission to “vector” around numerous thunderheads, occasionally getting into some moderate chop. On recent flights, I’ve almost been bored for lack of excitement. But the bumpy ride today reminded me of some past flying adventures that were just a bit too exciting.

Arrived at Washington’s Dulles airport around 12:30 a.m. It’s a huge place. And, even after a trolley ride between terminals, it feels like I walked half a mile to reach the baggage claim. Surprised to see a Gordon Biersch restaurant at this end of the line as well.

Called Jeff at the Arlington Holiday Inn. Stepped out into the 85-degree heat and high humidity. A different world. Only a few people quietly waiting at this hour. I think all the flights were now in.

Cars remained in motion around the airport. Security requires that no one stop, except for immediate loading or unloading. I began to recognize them repeatedly making the long slow circuit, slowing to look for someone as they passed the terminal.

Jeff arrived after about thirty minutes and I stepped into the comfort of his air-conditioned Honda Pilot.

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