Spaf's Journal: Crazy from the Heat


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• • •

So, I'm off on another trip. This one was intended to be a quick trip for a Computing Research Association Board meeting. Then, a quick detour to a sponsor in San Antonio before heading home.

The only airline with an acceptable flight time out to San Diego was "Mumble Airlines" (I'll call them that in this account, because with my luck they have rapacious lawyers cruising the net looking for mention of their airline, and although they can't book seats, they can probably sue). We got a flight that left Indy at 8:05am, routed through their hub in Phoenix, and then on (using the same plane) to San Diego, with an arrival at 11:30.

Monday, I awoke at 4am. I remained in bed, trying to get back to sleep. No luck until probably about 5am. Then, I drifted deeper and deeper into sleep, starting a wonderful dream of winning a contest with a prize of several million $$ plus a free ticket to the Tropical Island of Nympho Supermodels. The plane was descending to the island's airport when all the emergency alarms went off, and the plane exploded. Well, actually, it was simply my alarm clock going off at 5:20, awakening me. Curses, so much for getting leied. (It isn't easy to use that pun, so give me some slack, okay?)

I dragged my tired butt out of bed, along with the rest of me, had 4 cups of coffee, did the usual shower & dressed, and off to Indianapolis I went to catch my flight. In fact, I did something really, really unusual for me -- I arrived 45 minutes before my flight. (People who travel with me marvel that I am often the last person on the plane because of my timing.)

Mumble Airlines had a huge line at the counter -- there must have been 50 people trying to check in and only two rather elderly and infirm people behind the counter. I had no luggage to check and an electronic ticket, so I smiled ever-so-smugly, and went on to the gate......where there were 50 people in line, and only one person at the counter. She was not old and infirm. She was, however, a trainee, with one hand bandaged up, and a poor command of English. It took me nearly 30 minutes to get to the head of the line, only to be told that I would have to wait -- the plane was oversold and they didn't have a seat for me. The would need to find volunteers to give up seats. Dandy.

So, I stood over near about 15 other people in the same situation. We probably resembled the stereotypical fathers-to-be waiting outside the maternity ward in old movies (back in the days before fathers could join the crowds in the delivery rooms getting a rather unique view of their mates and capturing it on videotape to embarrass the kids (and mothers) in years to come). Periodically, the clerk would call out "Andrews, -- congratulations, it's an aisle!" and the lucky recipient would grab the magic piece of cardboard, and scamper down the jetway, only to stand in line out of the air conditioning while people far ahead slowly stowed their steamer trunks and found their seats.

My turn came, and I was given a middle seat near the front of the plane. The good news was that the people on either side looked relatively normal (although appearances can be deceiving; some people claim I look relatively normal). The bad news was that the only place for my luggage was 15 rows back. Worse, the seat I was given was already assigned out of Phoenix, so I would need to deplane and board again.

The trip to Phoenix was uneventful. I tried to snooze during most of it. The woman to the right of me was quiet and read constantly, so that didn't disturb me. It was the guy to my left practicing his borborygmi that kept me awake. I'm glad the flight ended before whatever it was that he ate tried to claw its way out.

I deplaned in Phoenix, visited the rest room, and returned to check in, only to discover...a line of 50 people and a message board with "Plane is oversold. Volunteers needed." Unlike Indy, this counter had 3 people working, and at least one of them displayed signs of competence. I got to the head of the line, to see a trainee working the computer for my side of the line -- not the competent one. I showed her my ticket stub and explained my situation.

"I'll add your name to the list, sir."

"List of what?"

"List of oversold passengers who want to board."

"But I already boarded, back in Indianapolis!"

"Yes, but you got off the plane. So please step over to the waiting area. We'll get you on board if we can. Otherwise, we'll provide you with a voucher for a future flight."

"Can I at least go back on board to get my luggage?"

"I'm sorry sir, you can't get on board without a boarding pass."

Yossarian would be proud.


So, I joined the huddled masses, yearning to be boarded. And, as I often do, I spent time people watching.

Mumble personnel boarded the plane, in what appeared to be one seat at a time order. It took forever. By the time the plane had boarded, it was 15 minutes past the scheduled take-off time. I approached the desk again and inquired of the competent looking person about my status.

"Oh we were looking for you." (Doubtful, as I had not moved from 3 yards away, and I had not heard a single page.) "We have a boarding pass for you."

With that, I was given a boarding pass for row 712. You know -- the place so far back in the plane that you get frequent flier miles simply for getting to your seat? The one that is next to the on-board toilet that is so far removed that they never empty it or clean it and the flight attendants try to hide the smell by hanging several coffee filters inside the stall, only to ruin your appreciation for coffee? Well, that's where I got to sit. Last row.

However, I wasn't the only one. The guy with the earring and eyeshadow came on board after me, and also had that seat assigned to him. He fluttered his eyelids and exclaimed "Mercy, I wonder how we'll both fit in that seat?", which easily makes it into the category of "Questions I Do Not Want to Seriously Consider." Luckily, the flight attendant interceded. She instructed him to sit in the row ahead of me, even though he didn't have an assigned seat there, because "If you try to get it straightened out with the bozos at the counter, we'll be another 30 minutes late for take-off." From recent experience, he knew she was correct (and everyone in the immediate vicinity bobbed their heads in earnest agreement), so he had a seat. Then, another guy came back with the same seat assignment. Once again she moved him to another seat. Then she called to the front of the plane (a long-distance call, by the way) and instructed them to turn away anyone else with a boarding pass for seat 712-C.

Finally, the plane took off and we reached San Diego without incident (the front reached San Diego; back where we were, we were technically out of the city, so we hiked up the aisle into the airport and thence the city). Well, there was one incident -- I made the mistake of asking for my usual when they finally brought the drink cart around. Now I know what they do with those coffee filters they hang in the bathrooms. Mumble Airlines is really into cost-savings (or sadism).

My stay in La Jolla was uneventful. The CRA Board meeting was event-packed, as usual. It was good to see everyone (well, most everyone, but let's leave it at that). Three things stood out, however:

  1. The Board got an overview talk and tour of the San Diego Supercomputer Center. Wow! They really have some nifty hardware, and they're doing some great research there. For nerds like us, this was Nerdvana. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that one, either.)
  2. I met for a while with Sid Karin in his office. Sid is the director of the supercomputer center, and arguably one of the people most responsible for much of the excellent work being done there. That's probably why he has this big office on the 5th floor, with one wall completely glass looking out over the bluffs to the Pacific Ocean. Oh, and he has an outside balcony with chairs with the same view. My new office at Purdue has a wonderful view of a tree, and is smaller than his balcony. Sigh.
  3. UCSD has much better food catering than Purdue does. Macadamia-nut encrusted chicken with mint-jalapeno salsa? Yum!

Tuesday, I awoke at ...4am, California time. I'm jinxed. The plane in my dream was shot down this time. Sigh.

Resumed our board meeting at the Supercomputer Center. The schedule looked like we would get out earlier than planned, so I sent email to Marlene to see about switching my flight from Mumble Airlines at 6pm to something earlier. She found one on American Airlines at 2:30 and booked it for me. Instead of getting into San Antonio at 11:30, I'll now arrive at 9:30. Hooray!


The meeting ended, and I got a ride to the airport. Great. I went up to the American Airlines counter -- no line. Wonderful. The nice lady there looked up my record and said "Uh-oh. That flight has been indefinitely delayed." Not so wonderful. Then, what happened next is an example of why I prefer to fly on American instead of discount airlines like Mumble:

Apparently, the clerk in the Admiral's Club used the computer to find every Gold/Platinum AAdvantage member on the delayed flight, and had issued a courtesy hold on the next flight for us. She's building strong karma. I love American Airlines.

I sat in the club for 2 hours, reading email and returning phone calls. Then, I went to board the flight.

Now, if you've been reading my journal entries for very long, you know that I usually complain that the person sitting next to me invariably wants to show me his scrapbook from earlier in the week when he was declared both Mr. Halitosis Galactica, and winner of the Leper* of the Decade contest. Meanwhile, Venus incarnate sits two rows away. (Of course, I have less in common with beauty than with the beast. But I look at it this way: even though Kathy wouldn't let me keep anything I caught, and even though I have never had any real bait, I still like to fish. :-)

So, as I sat in my seat, down the aisle came the country's third cutest little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes (my daughter Elizabeth is clearly #1, and Andra's daughter is #2, although I suspect Andra would disagree a bit with that order). The little dear was about 4 years old, and stopped at the seats in front of me. I smiled at her, and then looked up. Her mother was Aphrodite as a brunette (they don't all have to be blonde -- I'm an equal-opportunity lecher). Tall, slim, tanned, about 26, and stunning. Her teeth were perfect, Her tan was perfect. Her nails were perfect. Her jewelry was incredible (diamonds, sapphires, silver -- wow!). Clearly, the woman had some monetary resources to back up nature's bounty. I gulped -- maybe I am on the plane to the Tropical Island of Nympho Supermodels! I braced myself for the alarm clock to go off, but nothing happened.

Meanwhile, the goddess pointed the little girl into the window seat in the row in front of me, then excused herself and....slipped into the window seat next to me! Amazing! But what about the little girl? That's when it registered on me -- that wasn't three people in the aisle, it's one. And now he's sitting next to the girl, who is calling him "Daddy." If appearances are any indication, the guy is a contract killer for the Mob during the off-season from when he plays pro football. Ouch! He's big. He's mean-looking. And if my luck is true to form, he's insanely jealous and has a nasty temper.

After a few hesitant exchanges of pleasantries with the lady, I commented "Your daughter reminds me of my daughter." Her reply: "That's cute. I bet you remind my daughter of her grandpa." Ouch! In one brief spell, she turned me into a newt. There is nothing quite so deflating as to be reminded I am an old geezer, and that sweet young things think I'm harmless. As I noted in e-mail to a few people yesterday, I'm almost at the age where "doing the nasty" means changing my Depends, so maybe I am harmless. That is a distressing thought. Unfortunately, my memory is gone and I cannot remember why it is distressing.

After disposing of me so deftly (and probably innocently), Venus decided to snooze for the whole flight while "Killer" kept turning around to look at her to ensure I wasn't talking to her. Thus, I spent my time typing this. Boring but infinitely safer. I also reflected on the fact that a leper* would have given me a better story about body parts falling off; this situation threatened to have some my own body parts ripped off. Ya know, it's really difficult to be training to be a dirty old man when no one will help me practice. I don't think many of you appreciate the effort required. Or the danger. And then I type it all up for you to live vicariously and chuckle at my misfortune.

We landed in Dallas at 9pm. At 6pm, it was 106 degrees. When we landed, it was much cooler -- only 100 degrees. The guy across the aisle commented "It ain't Hell, but it's only two zipcodes away." He looks like he knows (all during the 4-hour flight he was reading a Stephen King novel and chuckling ominously), so I nodded agreement. This trip has been through the suburbs so far. While deplaning, "Killer" wished me a very definite good bye.

My connecting plane arrived (late) in San Antonio. The temp outside was still 92 at 11pm.

At the car counter, I was asking the clerk about how to get to my hotel. After some partial directions, she said "Then simply ask any police officer."

"Well, how do you know I will find a police officer around there at this time?"

"Oh, there are lots of police out in that neighborhood at night."

(Sinking feeling.) "That isn't because they have a lot of doughnut shops, is it?"

(Realizing she may have said the wrong thing.) "No, but don't worry -- hardly anyone gets mugged around there anymore."

Clearly, this woman should get a job with the Chamber of Commerce.

Despite that auspicious introduction, I made it to my hotel without incident. The next morning I made it to my meeting almost without incident (it appears that somebody neglected to include a budget for street signs on the grounds at Lackland and Kelly Air Force Bases. Luckily, the guards are very helpful if you are polite to them. That they are armed with 9mm handguns helps to remind you to be polite.)

The trip back has also been without incident, although this plane is also delayed, and I should get home sometime after midnight.

It appears that my preemptive journal writing exorcised the demons of entropy (or maybe it simply exercised them, and they were too tired to cause me more trouble). Whatever, I am not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, to use an old cliche. (Note to self: it's probably not a good idea to look a gift horse in the other end, either, with a cliche or otherwise.)

* Yes, I know that leprosy is properly called Hansen's Disease and doesn't really cause body parts to fall off. I'm employing artistic license here, at least until the arts police discover that isn't really my picture on it.

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