Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Westward bound again

Deborah Fort, our host in Washington, D.C., and citizen activist since the 1960s!

The sign Deborah holds on the right reads:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

...under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 16, 1953, before the American Society of Newspaper Editors.


Catherine had left very early to catch her flight back to California, leaving behind a "thank you" note and "pink slip" (the actual garment, courtesy of CODEPINK) for her host. Deborah was off to Georgetown for a swim this morning.

For "breakfast", I ate a piece of pecan pie a la mode, just to leave less behind as waste. (Deborah had told me several times, she wasn't much of a sweets fan.) Cleaned up around the house a bit, made up the bed, carried out trash and recycling.

As I puttered, a familiar thought came to mind: “you must treat each day as if it’s your last, and be thankful for all you’ve been given." But there was a new addendum: "this must also extend to those you meet.” As if their company might be the last you'll enjoy before departing this world. Who knows?

At 10:00, I was off to visit the National Cathedral, which Deborah said is within walking distance of her house. It took about thirty minutes on this sunny, but cold morning. It felt good to be getting some exercise.

The massive gothic cathedral towers over a wooded hilltop. From an observation gallery, you can view The Mall in the southern distance. I never thought of Washington as having hills, but there are many in the area. Deborah tells me Washington was built on a swamp. Homes were built on the surrounding hills to escape the mosquitoes.

The National Cathedral's flying buttresses

The Washington National Cathedral's front façade

I wandered freely through the cathedral (except for areas of the nave and altar that were roped off.) I paused to observe various tour groups. A teacher gave his young students the task of calculating the height of the nave’s pillars, using tape measures to find the circumference and the formula, height = 1.125 x circumference.

A bearded, middle-aged gentleman, apparently a teacher as well, addressed a group of seniors seated in several rows of pews before him. “Now who here wants to go to heaven?” (All raised a hand.)

A curious question. Where is this place they want to go? And I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s 44th Sonnet “for nimble thought can jump both sea and land, as soon as think the place where he would be.”

Isn’t heaven in fact already within reach?

The National Cathedral is similar to those of Europe (except for the video cameras and plasma TV screens mounted for those whose view is blocked by pillars.) It’s not the modern design I had for some reason anticipated from stories about the cathedral. Construction began in 1907. Many of the masons spent their entire working life on this hill.

Periodically, visitors are asked to pause, while a “Prayer for Peace” is broadcast over loud speakers.

The large gift shop has a cultish feel, with a wide selection of Christian children’s books and toys. Though I was indoctrinated in the Christian faith, it feels more than ever steeped in bizarre and unhealthy tradition and ceremony.

I wanted to leave for the airport at noon, and still have time to say farewell to Deborah, so I had to hurry back, walking at a brisk pace.Took a couple photos of her before departing. (Later, on the airplane, I found out these were out of focus. For one subject inside the cathedral, I had deactivated the “Automatic Focus” feature - something I rarely do - then left it off.) I wondered aloud how she’d be, after all this activity, with a quiet house. Deborah assured me she would be fine. It was time to get back to her work.

An uphill walk with my bags to the Metro station. Weather changing, clouds moving in from west. Things were quiet in the subway, an easy commute to the “National” airport (“not Reagan National,” Deborah firmly corrected me.)

Checked in about 1:30 for my 2:35 flight. National is unusual, in that the restaurants are outside security. Since Frontier Airlines doesn’t provide meals, I reluctantly decided to give TGI Friday’s a try. (I’ve always found them to be mediocre.) The restaurant was crowded and my seating options were limited. I was told I could sit at the bar. When I went inside to look, I noticed small tables open, but was told I couldn’t sit there.

That’s all it took to make me leave. Found the Legal Seafood restaurant a couple hundred yards away. Fish sounded good. They seated me immediately and within minutes, I was enjoying a cup of very good clam chowder and excellent fish and chips accompanied by a refreshing Sam Adams “White Ale”. (The staff is obviously well-trained to accommodate travelers on a tight schedule.)

I was relaxing in the restaurant, awaiting boarding time, when suddenly, with a wave of panic, I realized I still had to pass through security. Arrived at the gate after personnel had locked the boarding ramp door. Unlocking the door for me, a crew member explained they were trying for an early departure. Early departures? That's a new one on me! Several other passengers arrived after me, but we did leave about ten minutes early. A row to myself, right side, rear of the aircraft. Luxurious! The smell of glycol has been common on this trip, as aircraft are de-iced.

During the flight, I actually read from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, one of the "tasks" stricken from my Pre-Americas Trip Reading List. (I use "actually" because, for me, reading books is not a common activity.) Speaking of people who live along America’s country roads, Robert Pirsig writes “the hereness and nowness of things is something they know all about.” I've certainly sensed a huge difference between traveling such roads, compared to interstates.

18" from your nose, Frontier Airlines now offers continuous advertisements to a captive audience. At least the ad-filled in-flight magazines could be stuffed out of sight in the seat-back pocket.

I couldn’t turn off the video screen in front of me, even though you are supposed to have the option. Reported it to a flight attendant. At first skeptical, she began to survey the cabin and found many could not turn off their monitors, which if you weren’t watching pay-per-view, merely barraged passengers with advertising. "One step closer to downloading this garbage directly into your brain," I thought.

I enjoy monitoring our progress on these maps, however each minute, the map is on the screen for about 35 seconds, and advertising occupies the remainder. In a perverted little manipulation, the timing of the ads is varied, so one's mind cannot gauge and predict when to look up and only see the map.

Would people tolerate this on big screens in the cabin (as found on some aircraft)? I would hope not. Why then on these “personal” screens?

A repair order was filed. I didn’t expect much, but when we landed in Denver, a technician was aboard before passengers started disembarking. Impressive.

Crossing the Missouri River at Kansas City, I look down and see groins, small jutting breakwaters designed to catch silt, lining the inside arc of each river bend. Man’s tampering with nature is always punctuated by unforeseen consequences.

Examples of human ignorance and stupidity are easy; instances of genius are more difficult (though this aircraft is certainly one example!)

About 15 degrees in Denver when we landed before 5:00. The Central U.S. quite a bit whiter than last Friday. Between connections, wandered the terminal, visiting an "Art of Colorado" exhibit. Bought a cup of coffee from a stand advertising “Italy’s Favorite”. It was insipid. Then I realized that, by some criteria, Folger’s or Yuban or some such crap might merit the appellation "America’s favorite".

Delays in Denver as crews tried to correct an air conditioning problem on the next Airbus. We departed about fifteen minutes late, which made the crew's actions in Washington almost prescient.

Frontier’s marketing campaign: “it’s a whole new animal.” But, except for cute animals painted on the tail and wing tips (“Ozzie the Orca” on this afternoon's flight), it looks like most other airlines struggling to cut costs. Passengers are urged to help clean the airplane up, since flight crews won’t have adequate time before unloading and loading of passengers. The flying experience is degraded. It’s hard to project what it might look like in the future.

In the air over Boulder, I think I witnessed a laser targeting the aircraft. I was looking down at a neighborhood, when I saw a brilliant green light flicker, then flash. It was odd because it appeared a sharply-defined luminous disc, not a point.

As usual, I couldn’t figure out our location (even with MapQuest's help on the monitor) as I looked down on Sierra foothill towns and cities. Reached Sacramento before 8:00.

In the Economy Parking Lot, parking police had lifted up my motorcycle cover to video my license plate. What? Did they think I'd make a break? (So easy on the GS!)
But $35 for parking a motorcycle is an outrage.

According to Deborah, George Bush's first act as President was to offer an alternative license plate to D.C.'s "Taxation Without Representation" plate


One way to mark the days of our lives is to record chronologically the actions, thoughts, tasks. Another way is to me more real: record significant moments according to their content, which though they may only occupy a moment, contain more wisdom than a month-full of ordinary days.

1 comment:

Dicky Neely said...

Hi Tim
I haven't been by in a while. I have been having considerable computer problems this year, and they continue!
Your new journey is certainly a worthy undertaking. I imagine you miss the wilds of South America sometimes but this war and this corrupt administration is surely something to resist!
Good luck.