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June 30, 2007

24 Hours in O'Hare

I opened my blog entry for June 20 with “You know I like to travel.? Well, this statement became problematized when I spent 24 hours from hell in Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

OHare airport.jpg

My itinerary didn’t even call for me to go through O’Hare. I was spending a week in New Mexico with Susan. But while there, my father was released from the hospital (in New Hampshire) and my sister had several non-negotiable work commitments, so I changed my travel plans to cut NM short and fly to NH before returning home.

It started out smoothly enough, taking off from El Paso. But just as we were boarding, the agent said we’d be making an unscheduled stop in Omaha for refueling. Refueling? Why?

Well, the story goes like this. (And if a physicist or aeronautical engineer can verify it, I’d appreciate it.) It was very hot in El Paso (typically lower 100s in late June), and the flight was full - in fact, oversold. They reasoned that in that heat with a full load, there would not be enough lift to get the plane off the ground with a full tank of gas as well. So they either had to bump 25 people off or not go with a full tank of gas, refueling along the way. It sounded plausible and not traumatic. We landed in Omaha just fine and started to refuel. Then came the rest of the story. There was very bad weather in Chicago, and planes were not being let in. So it wasn’t clear when we could take off. Mercifully, they let us off the plane, which was getting incredibly hot and close.

They warned us to stay near the gate and be able to leave on a moment’s notice. We all saluted. But some people snuck out for a smoke -- outside, of course. And even though they had their boarding passes, the documents didn’t say anything about Omaha. They were from El Paso to O’Hare. So the attentive TSA agents didn’t let them back through security without a lot of cross checking and some angry words and flared tempers. This delayed our departure, but we finally did leave.

By the time we got to O’Hare, I had missed my connection to Providence. (Yes, the closest I could get to NH on 2 days’ notice was Providence, a 2+ hour rental car drive away.) If we had taken off 10 minutes earlier, I would have made the connection and wouldn’t have this fascinating story to tell.

O’Hare was chaos. They said we should go immediately to the relevant gate (I did, but the plane had left), or call their 800 number on our cell phone, or stand in the re-booking line. Me and about 500 other people. I stood in one line for FOUR SOLID HOURS. They had 5 agents trying to serve about 500 people. I tried to call the 800 number while standing in line, and it first said the estimated wait time was 37 minutes - then it cut me off! Which was good, because my battery would have died. (One by one, cell phones were shutting down as batteries died.)

I really felt sorry for the families with little kids and seniors traveling in wheel chairs. Once I finally got up to the desk (after midnight), the agent booked me on a Continental flight -- but when I came to take the flight the next morning, there was no such flight. No such departure time, no such flight number. Hmmm.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. While I was standing in line, Susan was trying to find me a hotel room (online back in NM). Word was that there were NO rooms available in the city. Amtrack was also completely sold out. After trying almost 100 places, she found a room in Glendale Heights, purportedly not too far from O’Hare. I was very grateful!

So after rebooking my (bogus) flight, I confidently left the airport to get a taxi to Glendale Heights. When the Suburban taxi pulled up, I was a bit suspicious because it was a black limo with no meter. I asked what the approximate fare would be: $75 one way! WHAT!? Even under the best circumstances, I would only be at the hotel 4 or 5 hours, because I had to be back at the crack of dawn. So I told him to forget it. He said he’d take me for $60. I declined.

So I went back into the airport and thought I’d go and claim one of the cots they were setting up, if there were any more left. (I doubted there would be, but thought I’d try.)
Guess what? Security was closed until 3:30 a.m. So I had the pleasure of spending the night in the baggage claim. What happens in baggage claim over night, you might ask? Welding, floor waxing, cleaning, and oh those announcements every 3 minutes. I knew them by heart. The threat condition is orange, don’t pick up unattended luggage, and remove your electronic objects before going through the magnetometer (seriously).

I felt like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal.? (great movie, by the way.)

airport chair sleep.jpg

Food?? Hmm, dinner never happened. I had a bag of trail mix, but had already ingested a zillion peanuts. The only food open in baggage claim is the 24 hr Starbucks. Coffee was NOT what I needed. Hey, they have great baked goods. But hey, I can’t eat any of them. Fortunately, they had yogurt. It helped make my throbbing headache go away.

Of course, I was still confident that I’d get out in the morning, not knowing that I had a bogus reservation (I’m glad I didn’t know at that point.) After I discovered the non-existent flight, I had to spend an hour on the phone rebooking again. The agent told me he couldn’t get me to the East coast until Sunday. Sunday! It was only Thursday! So I said - go home; this is not working. Can you get me back to MSP? No - but I can get you to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Fine - get me to La Crosse. (and where is that??) And by the way, that plane departs in 12 hours. So another 12 in O’Hare. The seats in the main terminal aren’t much better than in baggage claim -- and oh those announcements and ubiquitous TVs.

Finally got to La Crosse, and Mark drove there to pick me up. We made it home at 1 a.m. Almost 36 hours later, I still don’t have my suitcase.

American lost a customer on this one. As Susan pointed out, the U.S. transportation system works great when there are no problems (strikes, bad weather, terrorists) -- but throw one monkey wrench into the mix and the dominoes start falling - and bring everything to a standstill. That’s what happened Wed / Thursday. There were huge storms in Dallas (the main AA hub) and Chicago - and everything just domino’d one after another.

I’m glad to be home and am looking forward to re-connecting with my luggage. At least I won’t have to go to La Crosse to pick it up. In the meantime, Dad made it home and has no memory of having been in the hospital for two weeks. But that’s a topic for later.

Posted by hgroteva at 12:07 PM

June 29, 2007

Seduced by Sudoku

sudoku example.jpg

Blame it on American Airlines. (There are several other things to blame on AA, but that will be the subject of a later post.)

On my flight to NM last week, I didn't feel like reading and the music wasn't enough to keep me occupied, so I opened the AA magazine and found the sudoku page. I had seen these puzzles for several years but had never tried one. Well, why not? So I did, and now I'm hooked.

There's a real satisfaction to unlocking the puzzle. Every row and column must be filled by 9 unique numbers (1-9), and the nine 3x3 boxes within the larger grid also have to contain the 9 unique numbers. As in the example above, the puzzle begins with some of the squares filled in, and all you have to do is fill in the rest. Simple, right?

Well, some are indeed simple - labeled such things as "light and easy," etc. But some are incredibly difficult.

I found that even the first few I did took a fair amount of brain power, but once I got the hang of the logic and figured out several strategies, I started flying through them. It was fun (and psychologically interesting) to experience the quick learning curve.

Now - this type of puzzle requires convergent thinking -- trying to determine the unique solution to the puzzle. What is the one and only one set of numbers that will make it work? Of course, most of life's puzzles aren't solved this way. But every once in a while, it's very satisfying to figure out that unique solution that makes it all click in. Kind of like making that big SPSS syntax file run without a hitch, or making that account balance to the penny. Doing sudoku saved my sanity while surviving in Chicago O'Hare airport for 24 hours - but that's another story too. Stay tuned...

Posted by hgroteva at 10:21 PM

June 20, 2007

Appealing or Appalling?

You know I like to travel.

When I'm grabbing some lunch at home, I often flip to the Travel Channel to see what's new. This afternoon, I was alternatingly excited and appalled by the show about "The World," the world's "first floating gated community." The management company is ResidenSea. The World is a luxury liner where you can "be at home and see the world passing by your window." It is a residence - people live on board full time, but circumnavigate the globe, calling at exotic ports. Units are as large as a reasonable house (c. 2000 sq ft) and are highly personalized with the most opulent furnishings. The emphasis is on PRIVACY. There are no more than 350 persons on board, although there could be 4 times that many in the same space. The spokesman said the ship was designed for penta-millionnaires. Yes, that means you need to have at least $5 million to afford this lifestyle. And you don't even own your unit. You buy the right of use for 50 years.

Click here for the details and a slideshow about the ship.

At first, I couldn't stop gawking and imagining what fun it might be to live there. Then I felt ... well ... it was just way too far over the top. I've lived in Minnesota long enough to know that it would never pass muster here. Remember, everyone's above average but no one is too much above average. It would fit the Texas life-style, but not the Austin life-style.

It made me think about a piece I heard on Morning Edition on the way to work this morning. If I recall correctly, they said that the cost of the political campaigns of the 10 most hotly contested Senate seats exceeded $250 million last election. That's a quarter of a BILLION dollars on 10 political campaigns. When you add the other Senators, all the Representatives, and the Presidential ticket -- it's absolutely staggering. Think about how much good could be done in the world with all that money.

My idea of campaign reform: let everyone have one brochure (multi-colored is OK, but it has to be copied back-to-back), one website, and one TV debate appearance. Take all the other money and end homelessness and provide health care for everyone.

I know -- it's naive and simple-minded. But hey, it's my blog! Have a nice day.

Posted by hgroteva at 3:15 PM

June 18, 2007

Healing Power of Music

Baker from Fergus Falls.jpg
"Steve Baker worked on an amplifier knob at Fergus Music in Fergus Falls, Minn., on Thursday. The store serves as headquarters for Operation Happy Note" (from Startribune.com)

The Strib this morning carried an uplifting piece about Steve and Barbara Baker, from Fergus Falls, who have been sending musical instruments. especially in the guitar family, to soldiers stationed in Iraq. The article showed a picture of crew members from the USS Nashville with their instruments. Apparently, they have a list of 150 musicians waiting hopefully for instruments.

Here is some further information provided by the Star Tribune:
"Operation Happy Note is a volunteer effort to send musical instruments to our deployed service men and women throughout the world. Steve and Barb Baker from Fergus Music started Operation Happy Note after their son was deployed to Iraq. They had sent him a guitar and then a buddy wanted one. These soldiers were so pleased with having these instruments over there that Steve and Barb wanted to find a way to get more instruments to our troops, hence “Operation Happy Note?. Since March of 2005 we have sent hundreds of instruments including guitars, mandolins, banjos, violins, harmonicas, and accessories. Steve also wrote a lesson program with CD for those who don't know how to play.“ We can’t stop now!? says Barb just because her son is now back home with his family. There are just too many requests that keep coming in, these soldiers need the joy that music brings to them. "

soldier with guitar.jpg

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a plane next to a soldier on leave from Iraq. The conditions under which these folks are working are every bit as bad as we can imagine from the media. He talked of 130 degree days, walking around with a 70 pound pack, full combat gear, and wearing gloves because you can't touch anything without being burned. If a few guitars can help these folks keep it together, I'm all for it.

Contact information for Operation Happy Note:
122 E. Lincoln Ave. Fergus Falls MN 56537 | info@operationhappynote.com | 218.736.5541

Posted by hgroteva at 8:11 AM

June 13, 2007

Once Twice

Busker.jpg

I saw "Once" for the second time tonight. What a gem of a movie. Why am I so drawn to this film? Well, it's about music and musicians. And about spontaneity. And about joy in living. And joy in making music. And about simplicity.

Once - band practice.jpg

And it's about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. And it's about people being decent to each other and doing great things together.

Marketa + Glen.jpg

And it's about passion - doing something you really care about with other people you care about. And being surprised and in a state of wonder and not jaded.

Here's a link about the movie, including the soundtrack that will play for you. I've got the CD and highly recommend it.

Posted by hgroteva at 11:29 PM

June 12, 2007

Rome Reborn - Virtual Rome

Colosseum.jpg
(Associated Press via Star Tribune.com)

This morning's Star Tribune brought news of the exciting new website, "Rome Reborn 1.0", from the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia.

It's quite a project - "a digital reproduction of ancient Rome as it appeared at the peak of its power in A.D. 320". The website includes still images, video clips, audio clips, and scholarly papers.

If you really get into it, check out another site that I have on the Inner Geek sidebar, Capitolium.org, the official website of the Roman Imperial Forum - they complement each other nicely.

And to go yet a step further, check out the website for the HBO series, "Rome." (and see my blog entry of April 6, 2007) I'm still waiting to see whether they'll do a Season 3. Now that I've got my new elliptical machine, I'm ready.

Posted by hgroteva at 4:51 PM

June 5, 2007

Once

once.jpg

It's funny how even the best movie reviews often trivialize their subjects. I've read several reviews of "Once," (all positive), but wasn't fully prepared for the deeply satisfying film I saw last night. Of course, it'a about musicians, so what's not to like? But the characters are just "real" people. They don't even have names in the film, and I didn't notice until the closing credits. I was just drawn into their lives immediately. After the final scene, no one budged until the closing credits had all run. Now that's a very good sign, indeed. And did I mention how great the music was? I'm going to get my copy today. I won't add to the drivel or even try to summarize or "review" the film, but hey - go see it. Feel free to comment once you have.

Posted by hgroteva at 8:54 AM

June 3, 2007

Ten Things I'm Enjoying about Austin

in no particular order...

**Reading my favorite novel about emotionally tortured musicians (An Equal Music, by Vikram Seth)
**Hearing live music when I got off the plane at the airport
**Reading Maurice Sendak’s “Pierre? over and over and over and over to Reid
**Seeing Meredith’s big smiles and triumphs as she navigates her new world, walking
**Being chatted up by Nathan, the checker-dude at the Market
**Being truly away from e-mail, guilt-free
**The 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper – it seems appropriate that this would happen while I’m in Austin. The album came out just as I finished my freshman year in college, 40 years ago.
**Chicken molé enchiladas at Curra’s
**Finding new CDs by Conspirare and Chanticleer
**Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla on top of Central Market chocolate crispies

and many more.....

Posted by hgroteva at 9:12 AM