Sunday, January 20, 2013

Making my voice heard, for all the good it will do

I finally got my letters...well, my to my congressional representatives on the hot topic of stricter gun laws. It was hard to get myself to do this, even though I wanted to do this, felt it was important to add my voice to those who are clamoring for changes in our gun laws, to at least try to cut down on the all-but-constant murderous rampages by people with guns. We are the least civilized of the civilized nations, because of our continuing tolerance for this kind of violence. We just shake our heads, say what a tragedy, and go on letting the National Rifle Association run this country.

So, yes, I wanted to put in my two cents worth, but it was hard to make myself do that, because it was so damn depressing. The whole topic is depressing. And it's not just the topic of "we need stricter gun laws but there are many people in this country opposed to the very idea;" it is the larger topic of this country's passion for guns, and violence. I have to say that with all the putrid proselytizing we've heard from the NRA in the last few weeks, I'd have to agree with their condemnation of the way we glorify violence -- particularly violence with guns -- in movies (and presumably video games, though I'm hardly an expert on those). When I was at a showing of the film "Lincoln" recently, I saw a trailer for the new movie "Gangster Squad," which would seem to be everything the NRA was condemning: policemen "leaving their badges at home" so they wouldn't be hampered by the law, in their attempts to do away with the bad guys. People being shot with automatic weapons, right and left, and it not appearing to bother anybody in the least. And we have endless movies like that.  What can I say, our culture depresses me.

So yes, we have the big deal Second Amendment that declares that, A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. But this S.A. says nothing about how many guns one may have, what kinds of guns one may have, how much ammunition, what types of ammunition, whether or not you must register your gun, etc., etc. Surely the government has the right, in order to preserve the safety of its citizens (the first responsibility of a government), to makes rules concerning these aspects of gun ownership. The idea that our much-vaunted freedom means anybody can have as many and whatever kinds of firearms s/he may desire is ludicrous, and it is simple common sense to know that our forefathers did not intend that. They had no way of knowing that this country would become essentially an armed camp, full of automatic and semi-automatic weapons! This is surely one of the disadvantages of slavishly adhering to a document that is 225 years old (the Bill of Rights, of which the S. A. is a part, is 223 years old). The times change, and we need to be able to change with it.

Every time one of these massacres of innocent people by people with guns occurs, and we do nothing but shake our heads, it makes me ashamed to be an American. For here's what gets me: this country is full of people who consider their freedom to have whatever weapons of violence they wish, to be more important than insuring that the kinds of mass shootings we are treated to every few weeks -- or indeed, to the gun violence we are subjected to on our streets and in our homes, every day of the year -- do not occur, or at the very least, are reduced. The selfishness within this country, as well as the anti-government paranoia, never ceases to amaze me.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It wasn't all misery

So, after four postings detailing what was wrong with my Christmas vacation, was there anything right about it? Certainly spending time with my brother and sister counts as a positive. Jeremiah and Ellen are both very funny people, so they kept me laughing.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have siblings they genuinely like and enjoy spending time with.  And they were properly sympathetic and supportive as regards my travel woes. On Christmas morning we got up and opened the presents under the tree, just like we did when we were kids. Three people in their 60s exclaiming with glee about this present and that, as if we were seven years old. There were even goodies in our stockings -- hung by the chimney with care -- thanks to Elf Ellen & Elf Jeremiah, who slipped things in at different times. (Elf Melody completely forgot about the stockings, as soon as she'd asked, upon seeing them when she first arrived, "Is there anything in our stockings?" "Not yet!" E & J both exclaimed. "It isn't Christmas morning yet!")

The dinner we had at the Broadmoor Hotel on Christmas Eve was lovely. This huge hotel, located at the lower edge of the foothills that lead up into the Rockies, is actually a AAA Five-Diamond luxury resort, ranked #1 among 104 hotels in Colorado on TripAdvisor. It naturally has several restaurants; we ate at the elegant Charles Court, which is in what they call Broadmoor West, the building on the other side of small, pretty Cheyenne Lake, which lies behind the main building. Both my appetizer -- Little lettuce with duck confit -- and main course -- Jumbo Lump Maryland Crab Cakes -- were excellent. E & J both had the Coconut Crusted Atlantic Salmon, which they also proclaimed excellent. (And note that we were all consuming perfectly prepared seafood, far from the sea.) Because Ellen was on her pain medication, and Jeremiah is essentially a tee-totaler, we didn't have wine, but I enjoyed a Rusty Nail, which soon had me feeling pleasantly relaxed, all thought of my missing suitcase banished for the moment.

The meal served to remind me of my former life, when such dinners out, with friends or my current Significant Other, were not that much of a rarity. I am someone who has never liked to cook, but has always enjoyed "fine dining," as the cliche goes. This evening at the Charles Court was a perfect example of that, with only a few negative notes sounded during the course of the evening (it was a little too cool when we first sat down, the main course took a little too long to appear on the scene). And the hotel was beautifully decorated, with a gorgeous Christmas tree in the lobby of the building we were in (I adore Christmas trees), and trees throughout the grounds covered with lights, turning the grounds into a true winter wonderland. It was also snowing, lightly, which also contributed to the magical look and feel of the evening.

But speaking of the Christmas lights reminds me of a surprising positive note that was sounded on my unfortunate flight back to Portland. On the bus ride from O'Hare Airport to the hotel, as we came off of the freeway, we were greeted by all these trees and shrubs and wire shapes covered with multicolored lights. Even from the depths of my black mood, I couldn't help noticing, and feeling amazed, particularly by the scale of the display. I haven't been able to find online any kind of explanation for this incredible display -- was it just the city of Des Plaines going all out? Something the businesses in the area did? -- but it was unquestionably something "right" about my Christmas vacation.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

All good things must end

The Hilton Garden Inn, a very large hotel in the midst of a ghetto of very large hotels, about a 15-minute shuttle bus ride from O'Hare Airport, was perfectly nice, and obviously quite adept at dealing with hoards of stranded airline passengers with no luggage (I had a travel toothbrush and toothpaste in my little cosmetic bag, but was very grateful for the complimentary deodorant). Once again, as had been the case for two days at the beginning of my trip, I was without my things.

I had purchased a sandwich at the airport, because I didn't know if there would be a restaurant at the hotel (there was). I heated the toasted sandwich in the microwave in my room, ate it staring at the television, took a hot shower, and went to bed in my underpants, the first time I've done that since I can't remember when.  But I'd spent the whole day in my clothes, would be spending all of the following day in them, so really didn't feel like spending the night in them.

I woke up about two hours latter and, unable to get back to sleep, decided to go downstairs to the Business Center -- i.e., room with computers and printer -- that I'd noticed earlier. There I looked up the bus service that runs a shuttle between Boston's Logan Airport, and the bus/train station in Portland. I printed out my ticket, and the schedule, seeing that I would catch either the 8:35 p.m., or more likely, the 9:35 bus, depending on when, exactly, my plane got in. Note that the trip lasts about 2 1/2 hours, so I would be getting to Portland very late indeed, and would still have to get to the airport, dig myself out of the snow that had accrued in the six days I had been gone, and then drive the hour to my house.

Very luckily, I thought to go back to the Business Center the following morning, after having the buffet breakfast that was o.k. but hardly worth $16, and check on the status of my 4 p.m. flight to Boston. Couldn't believe what I read there. It was not yet 10 a.m., but already the flight was predicted to be four hours late leaving its point of origin (Bozeman, Montana) due to "servicing." What the hell does that mean? What kind of "servicing" results in knowing that the plane is going to be four hours late beginning its trip? Sounds like they needed to bring in a new plane altogether.

The important point here was that if I were leaving Chicago as late as 8 p.m -- four hours later than my flight was supposed to leave -- there was no way I could catch even the last shuttle bus of the evening for Portland. So, heaving a great sigh, I returned to the airport earlier than I had planned, got into yet another endless line, and begged for mercy when I finally reached an agent. The young woman, clicking away at her keyboard, said, "Well, there's an earlier flight, at 1:15, with one seat left..." "I'll take it!" I cried.

And so I did, arriving in Boston just too late to catch the 4:35 shuttle. However, the next bus to pull up, which was the shuttle to Concord, New Hampshire, offered to take me to South Station (train station), as there was another bus leaving for Portland from there at 5:15. I got a real change in my luck, when this bus driver actually managed to overtake the shuttle to Portland at the next terminal, and pulled in front of him to box him in, so I could get off, trundle back and climb on board. I'd made the 4:35 shuttle after all.

I thought my luck had really taken a turn for the better when the woman I sat next to offered to give me a ride to the airport, once we reached Portland. However, this very sweet lady proved to be even more addled than I am. First she wasn't sure where she'd parked -- we wandered up and down lanes of cars, until she spotted hers -- then she thought she had a shovel in her car, but as a matter of fact she didn't, so we were using our booted feet and gloved hands to clear away the snow piled up behind and on top of her car. Then when we finally arrived at the exit gate of the parking lot, she couldn't find her ticket. "I know I had it in my mouth!" she exclaimed. "Then we started clearing off the snow, and I don't know what I did with it..."

It was finally found, we finally exited the lot, and then spent a bit of time getting lost, while she tried to "get her bearings." And I was thinking how if I 'd just walked straight out of the station and into a waiting cab, I would have been at the airport clearing off my own car by now...

We did at last reach the airport where, to my ecstatic relief, my suitcase was waiting for me. (The day before good ol' Farrell Williams had told me: "We can't get you to Portland tomorrow, but we can get your suitcase there.") I spent about 15 minutes shoveling out my car -- at least I had a shovel! -- and then I fled, positively fled, for home.  Which I arrived at 21 hours later than I should have, 32 hours after I arrived at the airport in Colorado Springs.

At last, end of story.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Travel Saga, Part III

O.K., yes, there was a big storm that hit the Northeast the day I was trying to get home to Maine. This is actually another reason -- besides the incompetence of United Airlines --that I have sworn off Christmastime air travel. There is virtually always a bad storm right after Christmas, that strands millions of travelers trying to get home. In 2010 my brother was prevented from getting home to New Mexico in a timely fashion by a true New England blizzard (see Note of December 31, 2010). But I guess we all hope against hope that somehow a miracle will protect us from the inevitable.

I had been watching the weather channel at my sister's house, but was hoping the worst would have passed by the time I reached Chicago's O'Hare. My plane left Colorado an hour and a half late (do United's planes ever leave on time?), but I wasn't worried, because I had a 3 1/2 hour layover in Chicago. But when I got off the plane, and sought out a Departures board, I was shocked to see that my flight wouldn't just be delayed in leaving, but had been cancelled. Because of Weather. What did I do now? I really had no idea. I asked the first United agent I could find who was not otherwise engaged; he checked his computer and said, with the usual United indifference, that yes, the flight was cancelled.

"But what does that mean for me?" "It means you'll have to overnight in Chicago, and take a flight out tomorrow." When I asked how I arranged that he directed me to Customer Service, which was of course clear at the other end of the concourse -- I walked there in a daze, envisioning myself spending the night trying to doze in an airport chair -- and where I found myself at the end of an excruciatingly long line of people, most of whom were on their mobile phones, either calling family/friends or the airlines, trying to make their own rearrangements while waiting to reach the agent.

After I'd been waiting about 20 minutes in the line, a woman came through encouraging us to go to the Customer Service stations at either Concourse C, or Concourse B (I was currently in Concourse F). She insisted there were "no lines there." I was skeptical about this -- could just see myself taking the 10 minutes or so it would take to get to either place, only to have to stand in yet another long line -- but finally made the decision to take the shuttle to Concourse C. There, sure enough, there was a line. It was shorter, but moved very slowly. When it was finally my turn, I got the incredibly bad news that they probably couldn't get me to Portland before Sunday. SUNDAY! It was 6 o'clock on Thursday! This was just so impossible for me to process that I went into a form of shock. All I could do was stare at poor, patient Farrell Williams and murmur, "I can't do this."

Quite simply, I have reached a point in my life when I am unable to handle this sort of curve ball being thrown my way. I have never been the most flexible, or resilient, of people, but I think I would have to say that these qualities may be at an all-time low. The Aging Body Syndrome? Or just a psychological withdrawal from the inevitable slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? I don't know, but there it is, another argument against air travel, which is full of curve balls these days.

This United agent worked with me for a very long time, trying to get me home sometime on Friday. I will say right now that he was the only United employee I encountered on either of my trips who impressed me with his courtesy, his patience, his frequently-expressed concern for my plight. Re that last: people need to hear that their situation is sympathized with -- it's like needing a good bedside manner from your physician. You don't just want the cold hard facts, you want sympathy.

But I couldn't get it through my head why people like myself who had tickets for today, couldn't get home before people who had tickets for tomorrow. "Why can't you bring out another plane, to transport all these people from today?" I wanted to know. Farrell patiently explained that it wasn't just a matter of more planes, that there was a limit on how much traffic you could put up into the air, into the various air lanes. This actually made a little sense to me, although I still felt (and still feel!) that the airlines, and air traffic control, should be prepared for these kinds of situations with just such emergency traffic, to keep thousands of people from spending days trying to get home, when they were expecting it to take them hours.

And despite my dismay at my own plight, I could look around and see lots of people I sympathized with even more, especially people traveling with small children. And it was the holidays: lots of people traveling with small children, on their way back from Grandma's house. Imagine having to cope with the news that it could be a couple of days before you reached your destination, with no luggage, but two tired toddlers on your hands.

Ultimately the best Farrell could do for me was get me on a 4 p.m. flight to Boston, whence, I knew, I could get a shuttle bus to the bus/train station in Portland, whence I could (presumably) get a taxi to the Portland jetport. Farrell then placed the phone call to the service that arranges accommodations for stranded passengers; I picked the one whose discounted charges I felt this Starving Librarian could afford (my delay ended up costing me an additional $138, since I also had to keep myself fed for an extra 21 hours, and anything you buy to eat in an airport costs at least $10). Farrell explained to me that because my overnight was the result of weather, something over which the airlines had no control, he could not offer me full payment for my room, but only a discount coupon. Yes, well.

And the fun still wasn't over...