West Coast Dispatch

Tuesday evening: Odd trip. I’ve had difficulty connecting to the Internet each day, apparently I’m completely wiped out right now, so I can just sit here, watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and fire up the laptop. Speaking of Rudolph, the scene when the Elves sing to Santa, “We are Santa’s elves!” while he sits and listens strikes me as a little too fascist. Maybe it’s because the History Channel has shown nothing but Nazi documentaries all day, so that’s on the brain. The crazed look the reindeer get when first encountering Rudolph’s glowing snout is a little disconcerting as well.

We watched the Charlie Brown Christmas special last week (It’s on again later this week if you missed it). Little known fact: when I was five or six, my mom banned all Charlie Brown cartoons in our house. Did my mom have political differences with Charles Shultz? Nope. Someone she had dated long ago was involved with making the specials? Not that either. It’s because I would completely lose it anytime I watched. I think some of it had to do with how much poor Chuck got put down, both by himself and others. I was a sensitive lad and picked up on these things. It didn’t matter if it was the Great Pumpkin, the Thanksgiving special, or a Charlie Brown Christmas. I cried like a baby. The last straw was when Snoopy Come Home was on that fall. When Snoopy set out by himself, I couldn’t handle it. I sat in the corner and cried for what seemed like hours. It didn’t matter that he came home, I just kept on crying. It was probably a year before I was allowed to watch Peanuts cartoons again, and I think my mom made sure other kids were around so I was shamed into not crying.

Arizona is a strange place. On one hand, like the new south, it’s becoming more integrated, progressive, and the cities look more and more like every other city. But its maverick roots are always quite apparent. I saw one truck with a bumper sticker that said, “I’ve never seen an American flag burned at a gun show.” I’m not really sure what that means, or what one has to do with the other, but it seems representative of a certain element here. Even more interesting was a truck I was behind last night. Confederate flag flying on one side, an unknown state flag that featured the stars and bars on the other side. Confederate flag stickers plastered on the sides and tail gate. Then, for added effect, some more pointed comments were painted on the truck’s body. “Lee Surrendered but I didn’t.” A few anti-UN comments. Then, a list of various dates of importance to those on the far, far right: Ruby Ridge, Waco, etc. And this person is just driving down the streets of Tucson! Weird.

Monterey was brilliant. I woke to sounds of seals barking out on the piers. I highly recommend the Doubletree near Fisherman’s Warf and Cannery Row if you have the occasion to pass time in Monterey. $89/night rates during the week, extremely nice rooms, friendly service, warm cookies at check-in, and walking distance to many of Monterey’s most popular sites. The weather was absolutely perfect: sunny, 65, not a cloud in the sky. My meeting ended earlier than expected, so I marched up to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, dropped $17.95, and saw the penguins I’ve been watching on the Internet for months in person. Try as I might, I couldn’t coax them into jumping into the water, or running around (penguins do tricks, right?). They preferred to stand there and try to keep their eyes open. Apparently my favorite birds are quite adept and performing the trick of being drowsy. On occasion, they would change locations, which caused other penguins to snap at them in territorial dust-ups. Penguins also seem to have quite a range with their excrement. Without warning, they fire off massive blasts of semi-digested fish. It was equally gross and impressive. I would watch them for five minutes, then go check out some fish or otters or something, and then come back. Naturally, while I was away, there had been some kind of movement amongst the birds, but they were back to their drowsy ways as soon as I reappeared. Oh well, it was worth it.

If Charlie Brown made me cry, why didn’t the Island of Misfit toys? How depressing is that? Or maybe I did cry when Rudolph set out by himself after being called a misfit among misfits. This is seriously depressing. Every time Rudolph makes a friend, he loses them because of his freakish nose.

More notes while in the sky between Tucson and Chicago on Wednesday.

My first true Chicago flying experience. I’ve sat on the taxiway at O’Hare before, or in the lobby of another airport for an extra 30 minutes allowing traffic to clear before my flight departed. In fact, my first flight Sunday sat on the runway for 20 minutes before they could squeeze us into the pattern. But today was different. We were warned before we boarded that we should expect to be delayed up to an hour. So we pile on the plane, back out of the gate, and sit. No biggie, I was working on 3 ½ hours of sleep, so I grabbed a pillow, lay my head against the window, and slept for about 50 minutes. I woke to the cheery news that they had added an additional 45 minutes to our delay. Yes, there was some weather in Chicago, but the delay was primarily related to extra flights in and out of Chi-town added this time of year. Query: why add the flights if you can’t handle them, or if even a rainstorm will cause horrific backups? Just a thought. If we go the full 45 minutes, chances are I’ll miss my connection’s scheduled departure time. But it may be delayed too, and there are other flights to Indy this afternoon, so I’m not too worried. After 20 minutes, the captain breaks in to tell us we’ve been cleared. We hustle out to the runway and sit. Like many western airports, Tucson shares runways with a military base, so commercial and military traffic is staggered. We sit an additional ten minutes while eight F-16s take turns landing. Great, they’re protecting the airspace of landlocked Arizona and we’re forced to sit and wait.

Another DDB travel pet-peeve: the people who despite carefully numbered boarding groups, insist on barging in an established line in front of others. I’m quite proud of my Gold status with American, which allows me to board in Group One of each flight. I’m probably tenth in line this morning, with another ten plus people behind me in our group, and a lady comes barreling into the line three people in front of me. She’s clearly a part of Group One; she’s getting on the plane first. Why the rush? Not nearly as bad as Southwest, were people rarely have any qualms about jumping in front of 30 other people who have been waiting for an hour. We make our way onto the plane, she takes her seat, and I move to mine about five rows behind her. I get situated and notice that she’s pulling pillows out of the overhead bin space and throwing them towards seats behind her. A few land in the aisle, which she just leaves there. Is she trying to be helpful? Does she hate pillows? Is she a former flight attendant who can’t help herself? Whatever, she’s really pissing me off. A corresponding pet peeve are people who come rushing forward when exiting the plane and don’t adhere to the long established Zipper Principle. If you’re rushing to make a connection, that’s fine: let me know, ask if you can go ahead, and I’ll let you proceed. Otherwise, we’re all in the same situation. Cool your jets and let the people in front of you get off.

The space between airline seats fascinates me. I enjoy the angled glimpse of people you get. I like to check out what people are reading, working on, etc. Sometimes you hear far too much of their conversations, and the temptation becomes maddening. Other times, you can’t stop looking at the person in front of you simply because there’s nothing else to do. Today, for example, there’s a woman who vaguely resembles Alex Kingston, better known as Dr. Elizabeth Corday on ER. She falls into the “can’t stop glancing” category. She’s caught me a couple of times, but I like to think she enjoys it. Still, should I lean forward and tell her I just think she looks like an actress whose work I enjoy, I’m not stalking at 31,000 feet? She’s installing her iPod now. I’ll go ahead and stop before this gets too weird.