William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson
nova_one

6. Homeward

I am now flying from San Diego to Houston. There’s an airport there named after the second greatest President of the United States (his son was the greatest).

This 737 is marginally better than the one I flew into San Diego on. There are actual entertainment devices in the seatbacks. Unfortunately, they are pay-for-play, unless you just want to watch Lincoln infomercials. So it’s a good excuse for me to catch up on blogging and schoolwork for free, I suppose. There are no power outlets on board this aircraft, though – good thing it’s a short flight to Houston. And the aisle still isn’t wide enough - “Cart coming through, cart coming through!”

It being the end of March Break, a lot of flights are jam-packed. They were calling for volunteers to give up their seats on this flight, and the compensation was generous: Hotel if necessary (if you were going to Houston, all the flights were booked), and first class seats and a $300 travel voucher that’s transferrable and usable anywhere in Star Alliance. Pretty sweet, but I need to get home for school. I have a huge scholarship application due the day after tomorrow, so I need to have my ducks in a row for that.

But percieving that I could still get back to Halifax tonight by taking a non-stop to Newark and skipping Houston, I “selflessly” volunteered to be switched to the Newark flight. It was just wrapping up boarding when I asked, but I had no checked bags, and they were desparate to free up seats on the Houston flight. Unfortunately, the Newark flight was full, too. The friendly gate agent thanked me profusely for volunteering. I also got my little rolling suitcase checked at the gate all the way to Halifax. At least United’s checked baggage scam makes me feel fortunate to have something checked.

I also want to compliment United on their print-at-home boarding passes. They are pretty slick. When you click the “Print Boarding Passes” button on the webpage displaing your passes, it automatically separates them into individual letter-size pages, and they utilize the space on each page very well. (Though I seriously think they should put IATA codes next to the city and airport names.) Anyway, among other things, you get a map of the airport(s) you’re arriving at and you get the weather at your final destination. For SAN -> IAH, I got a map of Jorge Ehch Dubya. For IAH -> EWR, I got a map of Newhat Liverpee. For EWR -> YHZ, I got... a Sudoku.

On the other hand United, the dumb video messages from your CEO about how you can’t manage an airline from a corner office would be easier to swallow (and the part about open, honest communication actually believable) if it weren’t for your ridunculous checked baggage scheme, absurdly long customer service phone call waits, dysfunctional rebooking, and abysmal on-time performance. Thank you for thaking me for flying United, Mr. Smisek, but overall I’d have to say, “You’re not welcome.” Like I’ve been saying, there are a lot of bright stars at United, and as a coprorate culture I see evidence that they want to make their employees feel appreciated. I am all for that, but the airline is currently being hobbled by some assinine policies and hurried technological transitions brought on by the merger. The fault for these must be placed solely on management.

Security at San Diego Terminal 2 was seriously backlogged. They have a snaking ribbon for their queue, and it moves painfully slow. While you wait, you can see videos on overhead screens that explain how much better and faster the improved terminal will be (“Coming soon: More security!”) on some sweet day in 2013. Meanwhile, you’re standing in line wishing you’d driven to LAX and flown out of there instead. But let’s give SAN credit for having free wi-fi like YHZ and the rest of the civilized world.

So there’s lots to talk about. Yesterday was a wet day, but the rain and cloud cast a pleasant mellow feeling on the day. Jim rang my phone sometime after 11 and said we’d all be going out. I should have showered instead of just blogging all morning, and I felt a little bit icky all day. But we all got pretty icky in one way or another because even though it was raining off and on, someone thought that we probably should see Balboa Park after brunch anyway. One good thing about it – there are lots of archways and alcoves, so you can duck in and out and wait out the worst of the downpours. I’m glad we went, even though I wouldn’t have gone were it up to me. In Balboa Park we saw a beautiful couple getting married – even though it rained, I think they were in good spirits. The archways and openings were making for dramatic photographs, and I don’t think they’ll be sorry when their photos come back.

Before Balboa Park, we had brunch at a Panera in La Jolla. That was fun – you order at the counter and take a number, and later they find your number and deliver your food. They bus, too. And you don’t tip! Just like every restauraunt in Japan! I am sorry to have to admit this to service industry employees, but I hate (the usual all-but-mandatory) tipping. I’d be happy to pay a little more and not have to deal with it. With a tipping system, I feel like I’m being judged every goshdarned time I eat or use other commonly tipped services. Anyway, at Panera I had an Italian sandwhich with chips and with that they let me add any pastry I wanted for 99 cents. The very friendly fellow at the counter (who let me keep 7 cents extra change because the order came to n.93) must have known I’d be reasonably stuffed after the sandwhich and chips, and so the pastry came in its own container, and that came in a bag. So I ate the pastry this morning at the airport while I was waiting to board. It was still good!

After Balboa Park, we went to Old Town San Diego and ate at a small Mexican restauraunt. I didn’t get to Mexico on this trip, but I’ve sure eaten a lot of Mexican food! Not that I’m complaining. Anyway, we all piled into this restaurant and ordered guacamole and strawberry margaritas by the liter. Mmmm! These margaritas were frozen and much more like the taste I would ordinarily expect. The guacamole was heavenly; almost the consecrated kind that people swear by all the time. Because we all know the answer to “What do you do with a rainy day?” is “Split it up among restauaunts”, we had been talking in terms of staying there for an extra few hours (keeping the drinks coming) and having evening dinner there, but I loudly came out against it because I for one was still full from brunch, and waiting around in a restauraunt for hour after hour isn’t much fun. I was still finding room for guacamole and margaritas, though. :-) Anyway, we decided we’d have supper elsewhere. It was all very confusing and wires were crossed many times. I wished for a smartphone, but my not having one absolved me of any responsiblity for research and planning.

We went back to the hotel and I basically had time to check my e-mail and change my clothes before we went out again, this time to (you guessed it) a Mexican restauraunt in La Jolla. (It had free on-site parking!) Barbara kindly treated us. I finally got to try fish tacos (breaded, with soft flour tortillas – just as good as fish and chips!) We had our last great conversational moments there. All good things must come to an end, but it was a slightly bitter pill nonetheless. We knew we had a time chock-full of activity and memories, because it seemed so long ago when we first got together and moved the liquor to the venue.

That night, we hung out in Mary and Brian’s hotel room and Brian shared some good craft beer while we talked about different things. We talked a lot about PEI and who would be going and what a good time to go would be. Brian minds the moquitoes – I think they aren’t as bad in August as they are in July, but they’re probably still going to be bad around dusk / in the woods no matter where you are. June and September are pretty good months to visit, though there aren’t as many obvious beach days.

I went back to my room and got a few hours sleep. When I got up at 4:30am, there was a slip under my door with the itemized charges from Marriott as of 2am. I was a little freaked out when I picked up the slip – I thought it would be a notice that they found me in violation of something or other! No, I’m not paranoid. Anyway, there was nothing but the standard room rate and fees and taxes, so the offer of complimentary internet was legit. But why can’t they have that all the time? I hate it when airlines and hotels decide to use value-added-but-critical services to fleece their customers. It betrays the fact that they hold their customers in contempt, despite what Jeff would have you believe. In situations where I have a realistic choice, I’ll pick a hotel that at least has free internet (I can live without free breakfast and I don’t really miss that), and an airline that doesn’t charge checked baggage fees.

Derek was catching a flight, for business reasons, at the same time I was, so I met him in the lobby at 6am and rode with him to the airport. It was in an extended wheelbase Lincoln Town Car (an L) but the driver didn’t seem to like my calling it that because I asked him, “Is this an extended-wheelbase Town Car?” and he said “It’s a limo, but not a strech limo.” I would have been happy to discuss the merits of a body-on-frame rear-wheel-drive car with tons of rear seat legroom and a silky-smooth V8, but his avoidance of my question kind of killed the potential conversation. After he dropped Derek off at the Commuter Terminal (he was going to LAX, then from there to the Great Blue Yonder), I said I was flying United from Terminal 2, but the driver just said, “Sure, United” and proceeded to take the lanes going to Terminal 1.

“I need to go to Terminal 2.”
“United is at Terminal 1.”
“Yes, but United flights to Houston and Newark depart from Terminal 2. If you look at the sign for Terminal 2, you’ll see ‘United’ and then ‘Houston’ and ‘Newark’ in fine print.”
“Oh! I didn’t know that. Sorry.”
Pleasant enough fellow, but if he’d said right away “I thought United was at Terminal 1” we could have saved the mortification and embarassment.

Anyway, this flight to Houston has been reasonably plesant – two cups of coffee were an excellent diuretic but other than that I’m astonished by how much writing I’ve gotten finished. Now I just need to deal with the San Diego / wedding venue photos. Visualize a glacier. :-)

* * *

At Houston now. This place is like an exurban shopping mall but without the charm. There’s a Bass Pro Shops and even a Fox News Channel store. (I doubt we’ll see an Al Jazeera English souvenir shop across the corridor anytime soon.) And there’s a huge shortage of free power outlets, but of course there are plenty of $3-for-30-minutes chargers and, as always, your major credit cards are more than welcome.

Impressions: Hot, overcrowded, lots of fruit flies. Free wi-fi? Ha-ha! But they use the same cartel as Newark, so I would have been able to surf teh interwebs had I had time.

Transferring from terminal E (where we arrived) to C (where I’ll depart) was just a short walk. I’m gnoshing on Wendy’s, but there weren’t a lot of value mainstays like Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers on the menu. They had plenty of power outlets in there along benches with bar stools, but it was too far away from my gate to hear boarding calls. As it is, I may yet be too far away, but I stopped as soon as I saw an outlet!

Anyway, I’d better hike up there now...

* * *

On the flight from Houston to Newark, we had a 757-200 that had power outlets and a much better (and mostly free) video entertainment system. I never did use my netbook because I ended up watching The Muppets (probably the only movie not hacked and slashed to death so as to neuter the wrath of the sensitive souls in the unfriendly skies), and then I played an interesting Berlitz “word traveler” game. You can select both your native language and the target language and off you go. It’s not going to make you a communicative speaker overnight, but it’s a helpful first step and kind of fun. I did reasonably well with the German and Spanish exercises, but Mandarin was a bit of an uphill climb! :-)

It must be mentioned that, as far as I know, non-Latin-alphabet languages are transliterated, so you can’t use the software to learn other alphabets. Also, some lanuages might not ordinarily use distinct words for, say, “afternoon” and “evening” (see Spanish ‘tarde’) but the software isn’t sophisticated enough to allow two pictures to be the right answers in these situations, and the “right” answer is completely random. I should probably file a bug report with Berlitz. :-p

Anyway, it was a pleasant diversion and I’m glad that I couldn’t get the Big Bang Theory reruns I really wanted to watch to play. As for The Muppets, I’d give them three stars. I think it needed much, much more in the way of funny sketches. Or funny in how they aren’t funny, like most of Fozzie’s routines.

We were delayed by yet another computer issue and I probably ended up watching half the movie on the tarmac as we waited 25 minutes for a takeoff opportunity. That’s one really nice thing about video-on-demand... the not-so-nice thing is that the playback controls are sluggish and don’t work intuitively. If you press “rewind”, the picture might go to fast-advance, even though your playback point is in fact going backwards. You press play while it’s flashing through two minutes ahead from where you pressed rewind, and then you end up watching from two minutes back. You have to count Mississippis to get back to where you want to be – needless to say, it’s really aggravating. I think, though, that this is a wide problem with VoD services as I’ve seen Rogers and Eastlink VoD have similar problems.

I also had an aisle seat but of course a mother and two children had gotten stuck with three consecutive middle seats instead of half a row, and she asked me to give up my aisle seat for a middle seat. D’oh! Anyway, it was alright – I was between two reasonably humorable guys, and it wasn’t as cramped as I feared it would be.

Almost home...
Tags: air travel, airports, family, houston, san diego
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