Traveler Part 5

Vacation is winding down. Jet lag is almost gone. Sleep pattern should be near normal by the time it is turned upside down again on the return trip. Supposedly, there are plenty of ways to defeat jet lag. I intend to try another one next time. This time I tried the see food method to defeat it. The method is simple, while on vacation if you see food eat it. I will let you know how that turns out. That is if I can manage to keep my jeans buttoned during the trip home. Maybe I will resort to some of those britches with the expando waist band.

The sum of jet lag and keeping pace with the energy of two granddaughters added to the marathon shopping expeditions of one grandma equals a challenge for any grandpa. But to spend time with all of my favorite girls, I would happily start it over again tomorrow. Well, maybe day after tomorrow. That gives me time to restock my Motrin supply needed to counteract the back pain from trying to keep up with granddaughters and doubling as Grandma’s pack mule.

When is the last time that you went on an airplane ride that lasted more than 13 hours? I took my first such trip as an Army private in 1972. For those of you who may not be familiar with traveling Soldier lore, that first trip was on a Military Airlift Command (MAC) charter flight operated by Flying Tiger Airlines. Enterprising young Soldiers turned that airline’s initials into a whole set of acronyms. Fun, Travel and Adventure and yes, there were others, but I will leave them to your imagination. Flying Tigers has a history dating back to WWII. They were the long distance cargo carrier of the world for a time. Their history included military flights and even some covert ones, but don’t tell anyone I told you that. If you wonder what became of them, they were bought out by Federal Express. There is the answer to your military trivia question for the day.

These long air trips are a little more comfortable almost 40 years later, but sharing a flying cattle car with a couple hundred of your new best friends for 13 plus hours is still challenging. I do not have any great trips for surviving long duration flights. Except perhaps to stand frequently and annoy your neighbor first.

I remember when they used to try to project a movie on a screen for you to watch for your in flight entertainment. My Flying Tigers expedition had no movies. The best bet for entertainment was a book, sleep or searching for missing rivets in the wings. Playing rock, scissors, paper to see who gets to “accidentally” press the attendant call button is also entertaining. They place them right beside the reading light button. Or now they are on the touch screen of your personal digital display. These days, each seat has its own personal digital entertainment system including multiple movies, television programming, radio programs, music selections and games. It is more advanced than my cell phone and is sufficient to keep you occupied for much of a long trip. If it works. Our system was rebooted several times by an apologetic attendant. For the equivalent of a government bailout, you can purchase first class seats if you want. Sorry, bailout is probably not a good choice of words to use in connection with air travel.

If you are traveling soon, I wish you well.

Three weeks have been rather relaxing. Withdrawal from politics and news was also refreshing. If we could eliminate the travel portion of vacation, it would be better. I guess it will be a while still before our smart phones act as teleporters.

Hope I haven’t bored you with these posts while vacationing. Beam me up Scottie.

©2011

Traveler Part 4

I may be wrong. I have been before. There was that one time in 1970… Maybe we will talk about that some other time.

Do you reckon there are more homeless adults in the United States than there is cell phone-less adults? I have seen some of our presumed “homeless” using cell phones. Of course it could be similar to the lady wearing her tin foil hat and talking to her grocery cart. Frankly, I believe it is only a matter of time before humans quit having person to person conversations without assistance from an electronic gizmo middle man. At least the grocery cart lady, unless she had a friend tied up in one of those Hefty two-ply trash bags, talked directly to her grocery cart. I am sure that is because there are no Bluetooth enabled grocery carts or smart phones that also double as grocery carts – yet. However, hands free Bluetooth enabled grocery carts may make it easier to navigate grocery aisles.

Let’s see, we were traveling. Right, I remember now. Sitting at the gate and waiting for a boarding announcement, except for a woman pecking away on her laptop, practically every person present was either yakking away on a cell phone or performing smart phone tricks. The gentleman sitting right beside of me was making call after call, each of which he initiated by speaker phone. I had to listen to the ring on the other end and sometimes the voice mail prompt. As annoying at this guy was, I would have preferred that he talk to my voice mail too. I do not know how we survived all of those years before cell phones. We were clearly out of touch. Now, everyone has one and apparently the need to talk on it or text on it incessantly.

A young woman sitting behind me, in her early 20’s if I had to guess, was having a jubilant conversation with someone clearly of equal exuberance. We were being forced fed CNN and there was a spot announcing that President Obama was running again in 2012. This shocking revelation was the source of her glee. She proclaimed to whoever it was with whom she was conversing that there was no one out there that could possibly defeat him. She wished aloud, for the benefit of all present I presume, that Trump would actually run because there was just no way he could ever win or that it be Palin because she was just like so stupid. Try to hear that in your minds ear spoken in valley girl dialect.

The nannies who want to regulate every aspect of our lives should investigate all of the people wandering around like zombies with their eyes not on their direction of travel, but firmly affixed to their smart phones.

Near boarding time, an announcement informed us that our flight was delayed. There was a ground stop at our destination because of severe weather. This is another annoyance of air travel. A delay anywhere down the line affects travel across the country. This announcement caused a surge in cell phone activity. We departed only one hour late and arrived in plenty of time to make our connecting flight.

When we arrived at one of our nation’s major airports, we were surprised to find that we were inside the TSA security and walked several concourses to arrive at our gate with not even a glimpse of security. Not a single one. In days past, before TSA, I have memories of armed airport security police and occasionally local police walking the air terminals like beat cops. Our only security screening before we boarded a 777 with enough fuel in it for a very long flight, was at a small regional airport.

TSA must look to change it methods, or at least keep potential killers guessing. As long as they are focused on my shoes or the size of the bottle of hand sanitizer I have, it tells me they are waiting for the killers to show them something different.

What if a half-dozen people in cohort all carried a 4 ounce bottle of liquid onto an airplane? And, how many components could they squirrel away in those smart phones? Just thinking out loud.

© 2011

Traveler Part 3

In the Army, the grunts are the people on the ground that carry out the mission and try to do the best possible job within their leader supplied parameters. That is the context in which we should view the TSA officers who screen us before we are able to board a commercial aircraft.

If the grunts fail, the failure is most always a leadership failure. Inevitably, however, it is the low paid grunt doing the best that he or she can within the given bounds who gets the blame. Unfortunately, it is the same manner of blame that is meted out by talking heads, most of them self-labeled conservatives, when they gleefully lambaste all government workers who are doing the best they can within the parameters laid out for them by the government’s leadership. The leadership that was elected by the people who are doing the complaining. Is that not a paradox? Sadly, very few of the mouthy class take out their ire on the leaders who make the rules by which the grunts must operate. Oh, not to worry, the leadership joins the talkers in blaming their failures on the grunts in the middle who are trying to adhere to their oft inane direction. The system is dysfunctional and we are part of the reason. Our anger should be directed at those who are most responsible for it.

Sorry, I did not mean to digress off into something other than my traveling woes. It is just that the opportunities to exploit my attention deficit disorder continue to present themselves.

The TSA officer checked our passports and our boarding passes. He examined our passports with his flashlight. I am sure he must have been looking for a mark of some sort that would only show up with his light. I have no clue. The thought occurred to me that my passport was already checked by the person who gave me my boarding pass. Would it not make sense to have the TSA officer check the passports for problems before issuing a boarding pass? Better yet, might it not be a good idea if when you purchased a ticket online that your passport information was cleared through TSA before the purchase? And, if there was a problem you might need to call to book your flight? I do recall providing personal information “required by the TSA” at ticket purchase time. I am certain that there is some regulation or policy that prevents addressing potential problems before one turns up at the airport.

Remove your jacket and place it in a bin. Put your cap in the bin. Empty your pockets and place all of that in a bin. Send your hand carried bags through the scanner. Remove your laptop computer from its case and put it in a bin by itself, but no need to remove the Kindle. Remove your shoes and place them in a bin. Now step through the metal detector. Beeeep. Step back. Remove your belt and place it in a bin. Now step back through please. No beep this time, fortunately. I did not know what I would do if the metal plate that is holding pieces of my foot together caused the machine to beep. Remove your foot and place it in the bin?

I shuffled to the end of the conveyer holding my pants up with one hand while trying to locate my belt in all of the stuff that is now piled together at the end. First secure the britches. Then try to locate the shoes and put them on. Must consider slip on shoes next time. Strange, they did not separately scan the pair of shoes that I had to remove from my 4 pound overweight suitcase and place into the carryon bag. Put the computer back in the bag. Grab the carry on. Fortunately, I was able to avoid the guy with the rubber gloves. He did have his eye on me though, I could tell. Phew, re-dressed and headed for the gate.

I do not know what the measure of success is for the TSA. If it is the number of terrorists captured during the screening process then as far as I know, that is zero. We do know that there have been no terror related air catastrophes since the agency was formed and but one originating in the United States that really counted before that. What we do not know is if TSA is the deterrent that we can credit for the lack of air terror since 911. That is not measurable although the lack of events will always be used to insinuate that the agency is a success. We also know that some wannabe bombers, although fortunately unsuccessful, have made it through the screening process and onto airplanes. That is measurable failure. The shoe bomber is why we have to remove our shoes and walk around on a dirty air terminal floor in our sock feet. We still do not know what we have to give up because of the underwear bomber, except for potentially X-rated full body scans. Or, maybe we can just remove our drawers and drop them into a bin too.

If the TSA continues along the same path using the same methods, with enough determination more killers will eventually get through.

© 2011

Traveler Part 2

At my house, packing is an adventure. It begins several weeks before T-day and continues right up through the baggage check at the airport. There is always something that my bride, bless her heart as they say here in Wild and Wonderful, must add to the suitcase at the last second. Being an old Soldier, when traveling less is always better. For my wife, that means space available in my suitcase for all of her last second must haves. For instance, bags of chocolate eggs and jelly beans and other assorted Grandbaby oriented Easter treats and toys. About 4 pounds worth it turns out.

The airline sent me an email telling me to beat the potentially horrific lines it is a good idea to check-in on line before arriving at the airport. If I did, they advised, I could just drop my bags curbside and move on to my TSA engagement. Since my flight originated at a small regional airport for a connector flight, the horrific lines are generally a half-dozen people or less so I decided to forgo the online check in and let the airline use their paper and printer ink to print my scanable boarding passes.

Do you know what a blivit is? Right up to the last minute, I was still trying to fit the must have stuff into the two bags that the airline assured us could be checked for free. Ultimately, I reverted to an often traveled Soldier’s skill of making everything one owns fit inside one duffel bag. Each piece of clothing is rolled as tightly as possible and crammed into every available crevice. This is how one creates a blivit. A blivit is when 10 pounds of stuff is made to fit into a 5 pound bag.

Have you ever tried to hold a suitcase while standing on a bathroom scale? It is a tricky operation. I, unfortunately, know no other method of determining if the bags are over the 50 pound limit. After deciding that both were close, I surrendered and tossed them into the car.

After we left our car in the long-term parking lot and re-mortgaged the homestead to pay for said parking and with our rolling blivits, the wife and I headed for the terminal. You do know that as soon as we were around the corner that my wife stopped, looked me in the eye with a concerned expression and asked, “Did you lock the car?” I know I did because it is one of those unconscious habits, but I did not know for sure if I did. So I headed back toward the car pressing the car lock button on my key every few steps listening for the horn beep that would let me know it was locked. Naturally this did not occur until I was all the way back to within several steps of the car. It greeted me with blinking lights and two horn beeps. Two beeps is the car’s way of telling you that it is already locked and that maybe you should stop pressing the button. Sort of like the GPS gal’s declaration that she is recalculating.

As anticipated, there was no line to speak of. I was digging through my stuff for my electronic airline tickets when the lady at the counter rolled her eyes and told me that she only needed our passports. I did not ask why the cybermatron instructed me to print my tickets at home if I did not need them, but I wanted to ask. There is never a point when one should poke a gorilla in the eye, not to imply anything about the appearance of our gracious airline counter person. Just that it is not a good idea to irritate someone needlessly – if they could become more of an obstacle. I believe I learned that in one of those politically correct conflict resolution classes. Part of my transition from Army to civilian life.

She asked me how many bags the wife and I would be checking and I told her the allowed two. I placed the first bag, mine, on the scale and she gasped. It was 54 pounds. Horrors! Who knows what major problems a 4 pound overweight bag might cause a heavy lift 777, but I decided I should not poke that gorilla in the eye either. She directed that I would have to remove something from the overweight bag. She made no suggestion about what I might do with it. I only knew that the Grandbaby’s jelly beans would have priority over anything of mine – at least from Grandma’s point of view. First, she suggested that I weigh the other bag and it came in at 49.5. In the end, I had two bags that weighed in at fifty pounds each. The weight of my carryon bag increased by the difference. Don’t ask me. I cannot explain why that extra weight is fine in the passenger cabin overhead bin, but unacceptable in the cargo hold. It does explain, however, why I seem to always have to stop enroute to my seat and help some 90 pound 5 foot tall woman heave a 50 pound carryon bag into the overhead.

One gorilla pacified. On to TSA.

© 2011

Traveler Part 1

Air travel is my least desired mode for moving from point A to point B. There are a multitude of reasons. Not the least of which is an ingrained need to be in control. Also exists in me the desire to not sit three inches away from a large sweaty perfect stranger, who among other things fidgets and farts and whose 12 hour deodorant wore out long before the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) finished screening him. Do you think there might be large sweaty guy profiling going on? Of course not. Everyone knows that profiling is not allowed.

My preferred mode of travel is from the comfortable seating found inside the friendly confines of my car. The Nanny State is trying to make that less desirous too. The nannies, who are unable to solve real problems of state, do not want me to talk on the phone or smoke while operating my privately owned vehicle and demand that I wear a seatbelt. Those are sensible things, but I never felt it was the government’s job to concern itself with them. It implies that I am not wise enough to choose the sensible way. To the nannies, choice only matters when it is a choice they would make. The kind of thinking that feels it needs to tell me to not talk on my cell phone while I am in traffic leads to such things as nationalized health care, but I do not want to get off track here. These laws work as well as do speed limit signs. If they really worked, drunks would not be killing people on the highways, but back to sky travel.

Do you remember the days when you picked up the phone, called the airline of choice and a courteous agent booked your flight reservation and thanked you for choosing to fly the friendly skies? Then you turned up at the ticket counter shortly before the flight, bought your ticket, checked your bags, without purchasing passage for the bags themselves, and strolled leisurely to your departure gate. No? We were out of control in those days were we not? I do not know how we lived through it. We also survived without child car seats, seat belts, bicycle helmets and knee pads. Our inability to look out for ourselves has kept a lot of people employed I guess. Although these days the employed mostly speak Chinese.

So back to the future. Today, you go online to your favorite discount site or directly to the airline of choice. Or if you prefer human intervention you can call an 800 number and after pressing 1 for English, 2 for Arabic, 3 for… then making your way through an elaborate tier of menu choices, you may discover that you did not want to travel that badly in the first place. Or if you are more advanced in age, like over 40, your telephone cybermatron interaction may cause you to forget why you called, or who, resulting in you returning to something simpler like your oatmeal.

Online, you enter your desired travel dates, point of origin and destination into the queues. When you tell it to go, a message pops up and demands that you wait while it searches for flights. Even computers can develop snarky little habits like making you wait – even when you are the only one standing in the cyber line. Speaking of snarky computer antics, have you noticed how snotty the GPS gal sounds when she declares that she is “recalculating” because you had the audacity to choose another route? Let’s not digress into GPS, but I do think it is just another sinister piece of control. You have noticed how accurate the GPS is? If the satellite knows precisely where you are on the planet, Big Brother knows where to send the missile. Paranoid? Me? Have you ever met the guy who insisted that the government implanted a tracking device in his head? Well, we are all too smart to believe the government would ever stoop to that. Besides, they are too busy enforcing the no cell phone talking while driving laws to be tracking us subversives with our own GPS units. What were we talking about? Oh, I remember now.

The computerized air line agent gives you a multitude of potential itineraries, cheapest first if that is your preference. After your selection, you make your way through the process to the last step of selecting your seats. That is when you discover that, although it may be months before your flight, all of the aisle seats are taken up by stinky fat guys who fart and fidget. You also find out that no matter the amount of frequent flier miles you have racked up it is never quite enough to earn you a free ticket or an upgrade from the cattle car to human accommodations.

Once you have surrendered and typed in your debit card number, to include the security code you did not know you had and hit the buy now button the money for those non-refundable cheapest seats makes a hasty cyber-exit from your bank account. The computer does not ask if you are sure you want to spend all of that money here or ask you to please wait. No buddy. Zip – Zap, instant mugging. Let us pray that the government never figures out how to do take our money as efficiently. However, it may be better in the long run if they do rather than paying the salaries and pensions of millions of IRS agents. I know, I know. Digression again.

© 2011