On United and the Doctor…

Once upon a time I use to travel a lot for work. Useless hours in airports and tens of thousands of miles in the air wasn’t uncommon hopping between Memphis and DC, Chicago, Fort Worth, and Baltimore. This was almost a decade ago, but I can tell you from that experience, overbooking a flight isn’t exactly something that airlines just started doing this week. If you’re going to fly, overbooking is just one of the more obnoxious facts of life.

Finding out at the last minute that you aren’t getting where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there sucks. It happened to me on more than one occasion even when I was flying on full-fare tickets. I pocketed anywhere from $500-1000 for my trouble, stayed in the airport hotel, and got on the first flight out the next morning. Inconvenient, yes, but not life-alteringly terrible.

The thing I didn’t do in those circumstances was dig in my heels, make excuses for why I was a snowflake more important than any of the others and couldn’t be bumped, and then refused to give way. A lot has been made by the media about this guy being a doctor rushing home to get back to his practice. Fellow passengers were “outraged,” but I didn’t see any of them rushing to give up their seat so the good doctor could continue on his mission of mercy so their opinions, while interesting, are not relevant.

Look, I agree that United made a whole series of bad decisions, but their contract of carriage (which everyone agrees to when they purchase a ticket) pretty clearly spells out what happens when a flight is oversold and you’re bumped. Sitting in your seat and pretending that those rules don’t apply to you strikes me as the trigger that made the whole series of unpleasant events possible.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. You’re a racist. Can someone explain to me, perhaps using small and easy to understand words, why I’m a racist because I believe it’s a responsibility of the federal government to have functioning boarders for my country. My travels have carried me to England, France, Germany, Italy, and Mexico and I entered those countries using their established processes and in accordance with their laws. It doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to expect the same of people who want to come to the United States.

2. Oh my God the traffic! In the absence of anything even remotely newsworthy to cover, news outlets across America have spent a fair amount of time over the last 36 hours commenting on the high volume of Thanksgiving holiday traffic on the roads. The fact that large numbers of Americans take to the roads as part of their holiday tradition probably hasn’t been news since sometime immediately after World War II. Hyping it as “the worst traffic we’ve seen since… last Thanksgiving,” is just lame and not worth the time it took to script the story. Maybe we could use the free air time and column inches to report on something going on somewhere else in the world. I mean you do know that other places aren’t stuffing their faces with turkey and pie today, right?

3. Selective memory. My liberal friends are howling because of the conservatives President-elect Trump is appointing to fill his Cabinet and White House staff positions. In a grand fit of selective memory, they seem to have forgotten the howl that went up when President Obama selected his cabinet and counselors and surrounded himself with leading lights from the left. Sorry folks, that’s what happens when the party running the Executive Branch changes. It means the heroes of the opposition party have to go away for at least four years. Expecting a liberal president to appoint a deep bench of conservative advisors is stupid… and so is expecting a conservative president to surround himself with liberal lions.

Fundraiser…

I was reading an article today. The subject of the article isn’t particularly important unless you have a particular interest in Antarctic tourism. It was well written, articulate, and humorous. This blogger was ticked off all the appropriate boxes for what make a post enjoyable reading.

As the author regales us with tails of expedition ships and Russian sailors, and researchers who seem ever so slightly “off,” there was a thought lurking in the back of my mind. I wondered who the hell has the time or money to take off on 38-day cruise to the bottom of the world just to have something to write about. The blog itself was a fairly run of the mill affair without many bells or whistles – the kind of think you build when you’re more interested in writing than working in web design.

The answer to most of my questions came when at the end of the post, when the author thanked all of his supporters for donating to his Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter. Sonofabitch. This guy was crowdsourcing his writing and travel habits by taking online donations. I didn’t know that was even a thing people did, but it is… and it’s apparently far more lucrative that selling short stories $.99 a copy on Amazon.

With trepidation in my heart I sought out the Kickstarter campaign for the blogger in question. I wish I would have let it go, because I can’t unsee what I saw. I’m never going to be able to forget that 900+ people donated a total of almost $38,000 to this heroic blogger to go out and play advanced tourist. I’m amazed and jealous and sunned all at the same time.

It’s given me more than a moment’s pause as I wonder how I can coax 900 people out of $42 a piece – or more importantly can I coax 3000 to donate that much. Is it possible that someone is out there now using Kickstarter as their primary source of income? If there is, can that person please give me a bit of “how to” coaching?

There’s a quiet little corner of beach on St. Thomas I think would make a great spot for writing. Send me there and I’ll tell you all about it.

That would be great…

Christmas vacation is about to get truly under way and as much as I’d like to say I’m going to spend the evening warming my toes by a roaring fire, the reality is something more like packing out an expedition from Everest base camp. Between now and the time my head hits the pillow this evening there are hundreds of pounds of equipment and material to be toted, lifted, and strategically placed in the truck to ensure proper load placement and balancing. All of these preparations must be carried out in such a way as to avoid raising the suspicions of either of my canine traveling partners – as that would lead to passing a very uncomfortable night with a dog firmly attached to each hip from fear of being left behind.

This part of the annual rites of winter is not particularly restful or relaxing. By Friday, though, the initial mayhem and chaos should have worn itself down into something a little more manageable. If not, I’m fairly sure there’s a flask or two in one of these bags that will help smooth the way.

As much as I always look forward to the trips back into the beating heart of the little piece of geography that made me, getting there from here (regardless of where in the world “here” technically is at any given moment) always boarders on exhausting. Fortunately a good night or two’s sleep will shake that off.

For all the others out there preparing to do battle with the interstate highway system, good luck and godspeed to your destination of choice… And if slower traffic could go ahead and merge to the right that would be great. Mmmmmkay? Thaaaaaanks.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Ten hours, 500-ish miles, and three states later, I think I could be forgiven for not immediately checking in to the hotel and sitting down at the keyboard… still, that’s exactly what I’m doing – A) Because WAJTW is a weekly standard that is near and dear to my heart and B) The universe doesn’t stop pissing me off just because I’m on the road. Those two feel like reason enough to sit down and get this done. So, as always, in no particular order, here they are:

1. White Marsh. The area at and surrounding the I-95/I-695 interchange has been under construction since just after the earth coalesced from stardust. There are places where the interstate in that area is at least 20 lanes wide. At the same time traffic flow has never actually gotten any better there. I don’t know if it’s crummy engineering, worthless drivers, too many people trying to cram through too little geography or some combination of the three, but the only time I’ve ever had a good experience traversing that mess is between the hours of midnight and 4AM. For some reason, that strikes me as less than ideal for one of nation’s premier north-south arteries. I’d love to offer a brilliant suggestion for making improvements, but I’ll defer to the hundreds of professional engineers who are working on that never-ending project to come up with something in that part of the highway network that doesn’t suck so hard.

2. Interstate 81. I-81 gets bad press because of the heavy volume of truck traffic it carries on a daily basis. My experience is that 81 may just have some of the most disciplined drivers in the nation. The left lane was kept clear except for passing and even with trucks and passenger cars intermingled, the average speed never dropped much below 70. It was one small slice of the American highway where everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to do. Everyone except the asshole in the powder blue Scion who couldn’t for the life of him find the accelerator but insisted for driving for mile after mile in the left lane. People like him are the reason I’ve not put a push bar on the front of the truck. If I wasn’t worried about scuffing the bumper I’d be too sorely tempted not to give them a helpful nudge in the right direction.

3. Glory days. As few as 4 years ago I use to jump in the truck and drive the 14 hour, 800 mile run from Baltimore to Memphis while only making two stops for fuel and to give back the coffee I’d rented earlier in the day. When I got there I was ready to unpack, make dinner, and enjoy the evening. Today I drove a little more than half that distance, took 2/3 the total amount of time, and made three stops. When I arrived at my destination, I limped to the front desk nursing a bum shoulder and a sore knee and utterly unable to stand up straight. Honest to God, if I remember my 30s for anything it’s going to be as the decade when my body started to completely disintegrate before my eyes.

I should have hired a Sherpa…

I’m good at a lot of things, but as I’ve mentioned previously, packing judiciously is not one of them. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to see much difference in how I prepare for a 4-day trip to a location less than 100 miles from home as compared to let’s say a 2-month expedition to the source of the Amazon. I’ve spent a very large percentage of my years acquiring items that bring me comfort, make life easier, or that I otherwise just enjoy having around. In setting up shop in a home away from home, I’m basically of the opinion that as many of those items as possible should make the trip with me. My packing calculus recognizes no actual difference between being gone overnight or wandering off for a year.

The good news is that whenever I get where I’m going, I almost always have what I need – sometimes (often) to the point of being duplicative. The down side, of course, is that since I don’t have a Sherpa, I’m the one who ends up toting and hauling this mess from Point A to Point B and back again to Point A with whatever additional provisions I’ve laid on during my stay. It’s particularly bad when I’m driving from place to place with basically unlimited capacity to tote more “essentials” with me. The $50 a bag fee on most flights helps keep my over packing in check when I fly, but certainly doesn’t eliminate it.

I’d like to say I’ll try to change – that I’ll try to mold myself into that kind of traveler who can set off at a moment’s notice with just a carryon bag and a passport, but I know that’s not me. That’s never going to be the way I travel. Traveling with me is always going to be more akin to supplying the Normandy landings than it is to backpacking across the Continent with a Eurail pass. Sherpa or not, I’m totally alright with that.

Home again…

Having made the drive and settled in with 2/3 of my critters leads to the inevitable question – What now? I’m not exactly known for my comfort level with “just being.” There’s always one more thing to do. One more post to make. Laundry to do. Etcetera and so on. You see, as much as this was home for 19 years, it’s still a place other than my own. It’s a feeling somewhere between being 17 again and being a random out of town relative stopping in for a visit. Maybe “unsettled” is the best descriptor even though I’ve done my level best to temporarily reposition all the essentials here with me.

So it’s safe to say we’re now well into the period of sitting around wondering what it is I’m supposed to be doing. With nowhere to be, nothing here to tinker with, and even less on the “needs done now” list, I’ll do my best not to drive myself crazy with a day and a half days marked off with only a vague “to be determined.” I’m glad to be here and it’s always good to be right back where I started from, but it does a marvelous job of making mince out of my routine. And that always makes me just a little extra crazy for the holiday.