Archive for the ‘transportation’ Category

Josh B., where are you when I really need you?

January 17, 2008

Buster and I are back. We had a grand adventure, as promised.

Buster is my little truck. I’ve never named a car before, but I’ve never had one wink at me in the dealer parking lot before either. It felt like he deserved a name.

Buster is the first car I ever bought all by myself (I mean without the help of a male person of some sort or other). I got a good price without assistance, and after somewhat over 100,000 miles, I think I got a pretty good little truck, too.

For the last 10 days, I’ve been a “residency assistant” at my old MFA in writing program. One of the blessings of being retired (and there are many) is that you have a lot of freedom in arranging your schedule. So when the call went out for program graduates who could come for the 10-day residency and do assorted stuff, I raised my hand.

My responsibilities were nebulous, mostly introducing writers at their readings and doing a little airport ferry duty. Buster becomes important in this part, because the airport runs were all on Sunday and Monday. You may recall that we had a little snow and ice those days.

Buster performed like a champion snow car (frankly much to my surprise), slipping occasionally but getting us safely from here to there past spinouts, head-on collisions and rolled-over semis. I never even had to chain up, which hurt my feelings not at all. The Monday morning trip to the airport over Hwy 30 took nearly 4 hours. The return trip, when things were thawed, was just over 2 hours.

In exchange for these light duties, I got to attend 10 days of lectures and readings by world-class writers, drink a LOT of Keoki coffee (just what my bronchitis needed, I’m pleased to report), and eat fresh seafood for a week or so in Seaside. I’ve OD’d on Dungeness crab and razor clams. The paying folks spend about $2,000 for this experience. I got it for free.

Long days of readings and writing craft discussions were topped off with evenings of sincere discussion of the curvature of space/time, Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems,” games of Catch Phrase, and other really important matters.

So I’m back. One of the things I found in Seaside was my Mario hat. I was sure it would improve my power star accumulating ability by leaps and bounds. But the truth of the matter is, even with my magic hat, Major Burrows is still kicking my butt. And I thought we had mole problems on the golf course. . .

So, Josh–what do I do about this guy? Several times I’ve had him running down the trail holding his rear in pain. Then he turns around and offs me, and I seem helpless to prevent it. Any suggestions?

The forest damage from the December storms around Seaside and Astoria is mind-boggling. Picture a hillside of a couple of hundred acres with a half-mature forest on it, thousands and thousands of trees 20-25 years old at a rough guess. All but about 50 of the trees are simply blown over, lying flat on the ground. The “survivors” are all broken off about halfway up. There’s not a single tree intact. It was like a massive explosion or meteor strike or something. It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a long time.

I’ll write more tomorrow, but after all that fun and frolic, I’m really bushed tonight “and so to bed.”

Josh, I’m counting on you to tell me how to finish off Major Burrows before I throw the Wii controller through Ralph’s TV set.

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Planes, trains, and automobiles, redux

April 14, 2007

It took about 24 hours to get us back to Oregon from Boston, something that seems almost unfathomable in today’s world. At some point we began to joke about living out the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” but after awhile it wasn’t very funny. Here’s the story.

The hospital asked Tom to stay over an extra day for treatment preparation and planning. That treatment is now perhaps off the table for the moment, but of course we didn’t know that at the time.

I called United AL to try to change our tickets (heavily discounted fare). They wanted a modest $1,500 to rebook the two of us one day later. This was about three times the total original fare, and I’m afraid I went ballistic. The poor customer service rep, who I know was doing his best and only following his scripted policy, closed the call with “We certainly hope you’ll consider United for your future travel arrangements.” I’m afraid I just started laughing, but all I could respond was “I’ll bet you do.”

Let me just say that I have a new code for future travel–ABU: “anything but United.”

But then the adventure began in earnest.

A relative had offered us guest passes on Alaska, my favorite airline. The two tickets cost about $50 each. As of Tuesday there were ten seats available on the Thursday flight we wanted, so we took them. What we didn’t know was that on Wednesday weather had created havoc at O’Hare, and between Tuesday and Thursday United and American had snapped up all available seats out of Boston that didn’t go through Chicago, trying to get their affected passengers out. Had we taken the United change, we would have been out $1500 and been part of the affected group with no recourse.

That morning we took a cab out to Logan Airport. When we arrived Thursday morning at Logan to check in for our standby tickets, the passenger service rep for Alaska just looked at us in horror. She told us the first available seats were currently for the following Wednesday. We bought the tickets anyway and went to the gate.

The same agent came down to check in passengers, saw us waiting there, and started burning up her terminal. She said she really thought there was zero probability at that point of getting us out before the following Tuesday. We were both out of our prescription medications, having brought enough for two extra days only.

But then she offered a suggestion. There was a flight with lots of available seats leaving the Newark airport that evening. Then she gave us a whole transportation plan, complete with departure times and estimated fares on all of the elements required. Here’s what we did.

We left the terminal and boarded the T’s (Boston central transit authority) Silver Line ($2 each). It took us directly to South Station. We walked several hundred yards and bought tickets (total cost $188) on Amtrak to the Newark airport. At the airport stop, we took a monorail into the terminal and checked in as standby. Then we waited.

The flight was delayed from 6:10 to 8:30 p.m. Congestion at the Newark airport had caused air traffic control to hold our plane in Seattle for 2.5 hours. The gate agent advised us that we would be arriving in Seattle about two hours after the last flight to Portland that night. We went anyway, just wanting to be back on the left coast.

I briefly flirted with the idea of renting a car in Seattle to drive to Portland, but figured (rightfully) that after being up for 24 hours I probably would not be in condition for three hours of freeway-speed driving at night. Besides, John Candy set fire to his rented car. . .

So we waited from about midnight to 5 a.m., got on standby on the 6 a.m. shuttle, and just squeaked on, making it to Portland about 7 a.m. Tom’s wonderful wife came and picked us up at the airport. We drove an hour to their home, I got in my car, and made it back home (including stopping for groceries) at around noon. Then I collapsed like I had been pole-axed.

We both got home for less than $300 total. It required a cab, a bus, a train, a monorail, a lot of walking (although we never resorted to hitchhiking), and a private car pickup. But we made it.

After a good night’s sleep, I’m feeling almost recovered. One more night should do it. The trip was very hard on Tom, and he caught a cold or something that’s got him a little laid up today. This is the first air trip I can remember that I didn’t get a sinus infection, so adrenalin and exhaustion must be good immune boosters.

I am so glad to be home.

One thing I forgot to mention. Because we were flying one-way, and standby, we got selected for super security screening each time we went through a gate, a fact that just added to the idiocy of the whole experience. It seems to me that people flying on airline employee guest passes would logically be the least suspicious, but what do I know?

Just one thing–I am so glad to be home. Our security system here, a lock on the gate, is just right.