Sunday, January 30, 2005


and it feels so good... *groan* That was Peaches & Herb, cats and kittens, comin' at ya smooth and mellow from 1979. We'll be right back after this word from Kelly Tires.

Gail's flight arrived a bit early Thursday night, and I was at the airport a bit early. But that's the kind of thing that the busy ground controllers at JFK take no heed of, so her plane spent around half an hour getting to the gate. Still, I was happy to see her at last, and we headed for Manhattan. While we inched up the Van Wyck Expressway, Gail filled in her last few days for me; she had been working around the clock, packing up her apartment and getting ready for the move. All the better that we had decided to get a bed nearby and spend Friday in NYC.

Or so I thought. Travelocity hadn't informed the hotel of my reservation, so it took a phone call and fax to get us registered. But we finally herded our luggage into the tiny elevator of the Hotel Wolcott, an indifferently renovated 100-year old rack on 31st. It was inexpensive, and not really that bad; the lobby is nicely restored and very ornate. The room was rather small, and short on amenities (no coffee, no hair dryer) but we were happy to drop the bags and rest. We were both starving, so I ran around the block to an all-night deli (ah, New York!) for some overstuffed bagels and a hamentashen.

Late Friday morning, we overstayed our checkout time a bit while we redistributed and repacked the bags; then we stashed everything in the lockers in the hotel lobby and headed uptown, intent on lunch and a visit to the Museum of Modern Art.

But I got distracted only two blocks away; the Empire State Building was on our left, and it was a beautiful, clear (but very cold!) day. The lure of a great photo op convinced Gail, and we went through a weekday-short line for the elevators to the top. The conditions were perfect, cloudless blue skies and 95-mile visibility; we started on the southeast side and remarked how pleasant and relatively warm the weather was. After we both ratcheted away with our cameras for a bit, we had an encounter with some of the charcoal-grey pigeons who hang around the ledges. (As Gail wondered, how hard must it be for them to fly all the way up there? They are small birds, and it's over 1000 feet!)

The pigeons were standing hunched and ruffled against the cold, very like the street vendors 86 floors below. But they lost all of their New York ennui when Gail handed me the brownie we had left from the deli - FOOD! DIVE! They hopped right onto our arms, and I had four of them trying to remove the wrapper from the brownie. (Heck, two of them made a grab for my watch; I wondered where in the city a pigeon would fence such a thing.) While Gail snapped pictures, I managed to feed them a few walnuts without being pooped on.

Then we rounded the corner to get some pictures from the north side of the tower - and were instantly frozen by the icy northerly wind! BRRR! No wonder everyone was on the south side. I wrapped my scarf around my face and pulled up my collar long enough to take a few more pictures.

Back at ground level and a short cab ride later, we made it to MoMA, and were happily surprised to find that Fridays the museum is open later, until 8 pm. It's actually free after 4:00, but we paid the admission anyway (it's reasonable, and we figured to beat the freebie-crowd by a little while.) We had a great light lunch at one of the museum cafes and got started exploring. We started at the photography and design floor, those being key interests of Gail and I respectively. I saw the great old posters and industrial design items that have been in the collection for years, plus a lot of amazing new things, and we explored the photo galleries carefully. The newly-back-in-Manhattan MoMA is better than ever; the interior layout is clean, spacious and full of interesting perspectives on both the exhibits and the visitors.

As we worked down through the art and sculpture floors, the crowds got thicker, but not impossible; and Gail got some good observational photos of the visitors interacting with the artwork on display. Finally we wrapped up our visit at the museum store, and bought a few gifts for friends and for ourselves.

The second cab ride, back downtown, was much more satisfying - lots of full-throttle sprints, swerving and screeching of tires. Good to know there are still some real en-wye-cee cabbies! Back on the blocks around our hotel there was a whole string of Asian restaurants, so Gail chose one with a Zagat rating; Dae Dong, a Korean place. I had never had Korean barbecue, and there were a few items that were new even to Gail. But everything on the menu was very good, except for the translations (Gail giggled and wrote down a few of the gems; check her journal!)

Finally we collected the car and the suitcases, and set off on the dark, quiet drive back to Pennsylvania. Gail banked some long-delayed sleep, while I listened to the rich library of music on her laptop.

I'm glad she's here. We had a great day - and it's good to be home.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Winter, finally

We got our first appreciable snowfall over the weekend. It started about 11:30 on Saturday, I just got back in time to get up my hill without trouble. Then it kept snowing heavily through the afternoon and night, totaling about 12 inches (30 cm). Luckily it was a Sunday morning; commuting would have been a mess.

I got up and out early to clear my sidewalks and driveway. All around the neighborhood was the whirr of snowthrowers, but my walks and driveway are small enough to do by hand with a shovel. I don't mind shoveling if I'm not in a hurry, it's pleasant work, although I'm feeling it in my back today. I was tempted to stay outside and play after I was done - I haven't made a snowman in years - but it was also very cold and windy, and I wasn't sure that my toes were still attached, so I went inside.

Later last night, the temperature dropped even lower; -1F, about -17C. My kitchen sink pipes froze, as expected, but the worst was yet to come. The soil pipe froze at the trap where it exits the house (the cold air goes down the vent pipe) and backed up my downstairs toilet. It didn't overflow into the bathroom, but instead geysered out of my utility sink in the basement. As I went to work on the trap with a propane torch, I heard more water splashing out of the sink; I had forgotten that I had a load of laundry going! So now the dirty water was joined by soap suds... argh.

I finally got the trap open again, and put a space heater there to keep it flowing until things warm up, and swept the dirty water down the French drain (THAT still worked, thankfully). Now I have a dehumidifier running in the basement, and a humidifier running in the bedroom. Ah, the manifold joys of home ownership.

I should have made the snowman. Plenty of snow left, maybe I'll pick up some carrots on the way home.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The China Clippers

Aviation history is my most serious geek-pursuit. I've been reading about flying, planes and pilots since I was 14 - and that's about a quarter-century, boys and girls. I am an unbeatable aviation trivia machine. So when Gail wrote about her search for airfare to the Philippines, it called to mind the story of the first commercial transpacific flight, in the 1930s - the age of the China Clippers.

Pan American Airways was the undisputed pioneer in over-the-ocean flying; they offered the first commercial service across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, having developed their planes and techniques on air service to South America. Since large airports didn't exist at the time, and airplane engines not as reliable as they are today, it made sense for the first large airliners to be seaplanes - flying boats, large aircraft with boat-hull bottoms. It did away with the need for long runways, and gave the option of landing in the water in case of critical engine failures, or fuel exhaustion.

Pan Am's colorful president, Juan Terry Trippe, had gone about setting up air service across the Pacific with a zeal that bordered on piracy. Determined to be the first, and where possible the only such service, he secured landing rights in Hong Kong and Macao, and built bases and hotels on Wake Island and Guam. Before the aircraft were even available to fly the long distances, Trippe had a virtual lock on the route.

Finally in 1935 the plane was ready that could do the job: the Martin C-130, by far the largest plane ever built, and the most expensive. (Pan Am had a history of being the launch customer for such planes, from the 1920s through the introduction of the Boeing 747.) There were only three ever built, but they were the most famous commercial planes of their time. Christened China Clipper, Philippine Clipper and Hawaii Clipper, they went into service in 1936.

The clippers flew low and slow by today's standard, about 150 m.p.h., and there were no advanced navigation radios or methods. Neither was there any accurate weather forecasting for the vast areas of ocean to be crossed. Navigation was done by the stars, when they could be seen through the Clipper's dome window. The Pan Am route took its passengers (no more than 18, when full fuel had to be carried) from San Francisco to Manila with stops at Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island, and Guam. The China Clipper inaugurated the service and set the standard for flying time - 57 hours, 42 minutes. A long trip, but the Clippers offered five-star cuisine and luxury accommodations like a fine ocean liner.

The Clipper flights were listed in the shipping register just like the passenger liners, and Pan Am ran everything in a nautical fashion - which is why all pilots today are called Captains, and wear four stripes on their sleeve; and also why airspeed is measured in knots, nautical miles per hour. Pilots flying jets over oceans today use some of the same navigation routes and techniques developed by Pan Am in the 1930s.

The Philippine Clipper began service in 1936 and flew the Pacific route right up until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. When the attack came, the crew was in the air headed east toward Guam. Notified of the attack by radio - "Case 7, Condition A" - they turned around and headed back to Wake Island. There, while floating in the lagoon, they endured a strafing attack by Japanese fighters that put over 90 holes in the big flying boat, but miraculously didn't set it afire. Overloaded with all of the Pan Am personnel on the island - save one - Captain Hamilton coaxed the plane into the air on the third try, and made it back to Honolulu. (The poor soul left behind, Waldo Raugust, was driving an ambulance for wounded Wake Island natives and civilians. He paid for his bravery with four years in a Japanese prison camp.)

Remarkable stories, from when flying was an adventure. Something to think about while whistling along seven miles up, just under the speed of sound.

(Painting, "Hong Kong Clipper" by Stan Stokes.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Vancouver Diary, Pt. VII - The Final Chapter

January 1st - Meet the Seattleites!

A fine start to the new year, but sadly it was time to pack up and leave Vancouver. Since I had an early-morning flight from SeaTac on the 2nd, Gail and I booked an airport hotel for the night and traveled to Seattle to meet some of the Seattle area Orkut crowd; Karl, Eric, Krisanne, and Francesca. (Clockwise from my left in the picture.) My big opportunity to meet everyone and put voices with faces - too bad I couldn't afford them the same chance, with my laryngitis! Hot coffee and beer made it possible for me to converse, though.

I had been long looking forward to this meetup; I've had a lot of fun online with the Seattleites. (Most of whom come from somewhere else, not unusual in that sprawling place). We met them at a coffee shop and lit out to find a restaurant in Krisanne's neighborhood. After rejecting a few closed and crowded places, we found a good grille in which to sit, feast and chat. I passed around Gail's engagement ring and the wedding ring, to show how they fit together. Everyone was as friendly and fun as they are online, and we managed to communicate without the use of emoticons.

Back at Krisanne's nice walkup apartment, we continued the chat and engaged in Orkut gossip (which I'm forever behind on.) Nowhere near the tech level of the Albany meetup, but with the essential geekiness intact; Krisanne brought out her laptop so that we could laugh at some video clips online. (A revealing social experiment; we watched a clip which substituted the SuperFriends from the old animated series for the guys in the Budweiser "Whassup" advert. The Americans: all ringing with laughter. Canada, represented by Gail: no reaction. As with beer, apparently it takes stronger stuff to amuse the wry Canuck.)

We were all hanging on Krisanne's skydiving stories, too. She showed us a video of her last jump; she's learning fast, and has been seriously bit by the bug. I know a lot of the crowd down at Hazleton and up at Sky Haven, the guys and gals that jump year-round in any weather they can - it's obviously a potent rush. I know I will try 'diving someday, but I still think my next step up adrenaline-wise will be aerobatics. I was powerfully drawn to the muscular little Pitts stunt biplane over at Sussex on Sunday, and I can get dual instruction there or a few other places.

We got samples of Lee's chocolate, and took one back for Heather M. - I got to meet Lee in Albany, but I didn't get to sample her craft until now. And we posed for the must-have blog pics, with Karl and Krisanne. I look forward to seeing them all again, at the West Coast Reception, if not sooner.

Especially Karl, since he's one of my six regular readers. Hi Karl! :^)

Monday, January 17, 2005

Vancouver Diary, Pt. VI

December 31st - First Night Vancouver

On the last day of 2004, Gail and I dismantled and crammed a lot of her furniture into the borrowed minivan (again, thanks Kevin!) and took it with us out to the Sunshine Coast, where her office is. A glass Ikea table and some metal chairs were headed for the office, and Gail's crimson fainting couch was going to her co-worker Melanie. Amazingly, we packed everything into the minivan and still had room for twelve boxes of envelopes that we picked up from the printer. (Although the only way to achieve this required me to ride tandem-style behind Gail!)

I got to experience the ferry trip that Gail has made once a week for a long time, a 40-minute ride out to the Sunshine Coast. It was raining and foggy (I did mention that this was the Pacific Northwest, right?) but I enjoyed the ride from our seats on the passenger deck. As we approached the coast, Gail pointed out the steeply sloping mountainside road that was our destination.

We dropped the boxes and furniture at her office, Equity Research Associates, which occupies half of her boss Kevin's big house on a steeply pitched hillside. Then the couch got dropped off at Melanie's house, and we said a quick hello to her husband, as she was out. We drove out to have lunch with Gail's retired employer, Ross and his wife Lee and a friend of theirs. We had some good turkey soup (which soothed my raw throat, but induced a bit of deja-vu; lots of turkey soup over the holidays!) and had a genteel good time. Gail and Ross told me some of their work stories, and we sat down to watch some video that Gail had brought of a truly grand retirement party, which she had organized. Ross and Lee were moved by seeing some of the footage again; it was apparent that the event was a big undertaking, and a big success.

Within a few hours, we were down the road to have dinner with Melanie and her husband, who is a chiropractor with an office attached to their home. Melanie gave us some nice wedding gifts and wishes, but also expressed her chagrin at seeing Gail leaving! Melanie will have a lot of new duties at work in her absence, but Gail will still be working as a consultant and will be traveling back and forth, so she won't really be thrown on her own.

I rested for a while before we headed out for New Year's Eve; we had bought passes for First Night Vancouver, the official downtown celebration. The human traffic was thick by the time we arrived, so we couldn't get into all of the shows; but we saw some good street performers, and enjoyed some short films in the CBC tent, and explored the area on foot and in photos. We took up a good position near the bandstand, where a great cover band was playing, tried a few self-portraits as the minutes counted down, and rang in 2005 with the happy, teeming multitude. Just after midnight, fireworks soared from the Canada Post building across the way, and we started to head back.

Walking through town, and through an increasingly drunken crowd, we stopped in for a snack (churros!) and watched as a poor drunken girl was herded in by her friends with a badly bleeding nose. While they hustled her into the washroom, they plopped another companion in a chair - which a minute later she slowly toppled out of. We finished our snacks and carefully picked our way back to the apartment. Gail and I have both done our share of drunken crawls; I enjoyed our New Years' celebration just as it was, mostly sober - no broken noses, lost clothing or police citations. I even remember it...

Vancouver Diary, Pt. V

December 29th - The Aberthau House

Gail and I have chosen two nice old houses in which to have our wedding and reception(s); the Tripp House in Scranton, and the Aberthau House in Vancouver. Gail describes them in detail here. Wednesday the 29th we went to visit the Aberthau House, being used as a community centre; when we went in there was some kind of a class or playgroup of little kids running around. The house is beautiful, an old Tudor mansion with rich, dark wood panelling and beautiful parquet floors. It will be a great venue for the West Coast reception.

After that we went to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. We had to do a rather abbreviated visit, as it was late in the day. Gail was intent on taking some photos, so we split up and I wandered off to look at whatever intrigued me. It's a beautiful museum, filled with art and cultural objects from around the world, and especially from the First Nations of British Columbia. One tall, striking gallery is filled with huge, ancient wooden totems and some latter-day art and carvings, and a central rotunda showcases a massive modern wood carving, "The Raven and the First Men" by sculptor Bill Reid. We stayed right up until the moment they were locking the doors.

Dinner was at another Japanese restaurant, Octopus' Garden. More new people to meet: Gail's cousin Tosca and husband Mike, and her friends Vicky and Mark. The company was great, but I was definitely the sushi tyro of the group; again, I didn't recognize half of what I was eating, but enjoyed nearly everything that came out. The sushi chef here was definitely skilled in the art of presentation, as well as taste - some of the rolls were nothing less than sculpture, dragons and other creatures. Most memorable was "Mr. Bean", which came out in the form of a comic green caterpillar (skinned with ultra-thin slices of avocado) perched on a glowing seashell.

I had a good day, but by this time I was beginning to suffer from what turned out to be a pretty serious case of bronchitis. I medicated with over-the-counter stuff and coped the best I could; I was determined to make to most of my short time in Vancouver (which I did) and leave the suffering for when I got home (which I did!)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

I Fly the Frosty Skies

Finally got back in the skies today after a month-long hiatus, which is about the longest I've played groundhog in the last nine years. It's a Bad Thing for airplanes to sit around without flying; regular use prevents corrosion on all those expensive, important engine parts. It's a bad thing for pilots, too; there is something about the skills and disciplines of flying that deteriorates without use, from student pilots to airline captains. Pilot certificates never expire; but it's illegal for a pilot to take passengers aloft if they are not current, with strict definitions for recent experience.

Flying small airplanes in winter conditions requires some extra care, too. Just getting the things out of a frozen hangar onto an icy taxiway is a chore; and the lightweight batteries and starters often require a preheat to even start the engine. In the air, piston engines are susceptible to carburetor ice; and ice can build up on the airframe, which has no built-in deicing equipment like jet airliners.

But today the elements were overcome easily enough; I chipped away at the ice in front of the hangar and pulled my plane out. 02P laughed off the -10C weather like any good Pennsylvania native, and started smartly on the first crank.

There was a fly-out to Lancaster scheduled by my local airport pilots' association, but I had gotten there too late to make the appointed meeting time. I was just going to fly locally, but two of the guys turned up and said they were heading for Sussex, NJ, so I decided to tag along. Sussex is about a 45-minute flight; it's a friendly, ramshackle little airport that houses a fair gaggle of light planes and an aerobatic flight school. (And has a cafe nearby, naturally!) It was the home of Leo Loudenslager, 7-time U.S. and one-time World aerobatic champion. I used to go to the small Sussex airshow every summer to see the best of the aerobatic world show off in Leo's backyard; but none could ever match the smooth, polished perfection of Leo's routines. When he did a point roll, you could measure the angles with a t-square; and I remember watching him land his tiny 1100-pound aerobatic plane in a blustery crosswind that had almost blown a B-25 bomber off the runway.

On the way back, I was just five minutes from my home when I hit a lowering wall of clouds; I ducked under and found just enough room underneath to press on. Light snow was falling, but the runway was just ahead and I slipped in with no trouble. Felt good to knock the rust off.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Vancouver Diary, Pt. IV

December 28th - The Aquarium and Stanley Park

Tuesday was rainy again, but we had a good activity planned - a trip with Melissa, Michael and Madeleine (I'm feeling lazy typing 3 Ms) to the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park. We again bundled all the little ones up and piled into the minivan. (Gail's boss Kevin had loaned us his vehicle for the week - which was a godsend, since Gail's old Volvo wagon had succumbed to electrical problems the week before. We wouldn't have been able to move it to Pennsylvania anyway, so perhaps it chose its time well to trundle off into automotive Valhalla.)

Predictably, Stanley Park was fairly packed with people, this holiday week. We had to park some ways off, and made our way through the rain (I did mention that this was the Pacific Northwest, right?) to the Aquarium. It's a nice one, but filled to capacity this day; at first it was hard to see the shows due to the crowd. I took turns parking Melissa and Michael on my shoulders for a look at the big seals and sea otters, then we made our way inside. It was a little more hair-raising to keep track of them here than at Science World, since the aquarium layout rambles and isn't partitioned for small children. With three Ems, and two of Gail and I, we had a brisk job of shepherding - especially when they all became fascinated by different fish at once! But there were some nice exhibits for the smaller kids, including a little animal hospital where they could don white smocks and minister to stuffed seal pups.

Between the excitement and the crowds, the kids got very wound up, and we struggled through to the food court for a snack before leaving. Our next stop was to have been the Christmas Train, and the kidlets were excited at the prospect; but there was a sign at the ticket kiosk that said they were sold out for the day. So we made do by touring the Christmas light displays, and by decorating cookies at a tent set up as a benefit for local emergency services. Photos in Gail's album, and a few in mine.

On the way back, we stopped in at a Gelato place (208 flavors - apparently they picked up a few new ones, since Gail recalled it had been 198 last time!) and had some ice cream. The shop features some very exotic flavors and encourages tasting; and the tiny cones that are perfect for wee kids are free. So we all got a dose of sugar, and agreeably sticky. On the long trip back home, the Ems colored for a while and reluctantly began to fall asleep.

Gail and I made our way back to the city and enjoyed a wonderful Japanese dinner - perhaps she will remind me of the name, I really enjoyed it. I tried a lot of things I didn't recognize, and didn't leave a scrap. Gail ordered a new kind of sake advertised on a little card, very light - almost like a sparkling wine, I had a taste. But we boggled a bit when we got the bill; even though the bottle was quite small, one portion only, the sake was 19 dollars - half again as much as the rest of the meal, and we had ordered a lot! It's a good thing we didn't decide to go on a bender...

Next chapter: The Aberthau House, Anthro Geeking and Mr. Bean!

Vancouver Diary, Pt. III

December 27th - We sleep in.

Monday we relaxed a bit in the morning - nearly into the afternoon, as I recall; sinfully late, for me, as I rarely am in bed past 8:00 on the East Coast! But we had stayed up late, as we did most nights while I was there. It's not hard for me to go nocturnal for a while, as Gail usually does; I am a morning person of necessity and habit, more than inclination. The weather was rainy anyway, so Gail and I drove around and ran some errands, and she showed me her environs, which I had long looked forward to. I only ever had a tourist's quick look at Vancouver, but Gail is a longtime resident, and one who loves her city. One of her main goals was to take me to plenty of restaurants, to show me the varied cuisines of the city; most of which are not to be found in provincial Scranton. (I can only escape to Manhattan for such fare, but NYC is generally expensive!) Later in the day we left the city and took a long drive north of Vancouver towards Whistler, and the weather finally broke a little so that I got some nice photographs of a beautiful Pacific sunset.

That evening, I finally got to meet some of Gail's friends - first Socar, who just took up residence in a modern apartment not far from Gail. I have been getting to know Socar through Orkut, where I met Gail, and I won't attempt to summarize her here - other than to say that she is an original and creative artist, and a wickedly entertaining writer. Her journal is one of my favorite reads. Gail and I had brought Greek take-out for us all (Socar's younger sister was visiting) and afterwards Gail and Socar tried to coax Stella, Socar's Giant Gambian Pouched Rat into a photo session. Stella, for her part, tried to coax Gail and Socar into finding other amusement; but dogged perseverance yielded a few photos.

Next we all went to the elevator to visit Gail's close friend Eliza, who will be Maid of Honor at our wedding. Eliza is Taiwanese, and lives in an ultra-modern (certainly to me!) apartment in the same building. (They helped Socar get into the building when her last flat was pulled out from under her.) Eliza dotes on her two elegant cats, Ebi and Tako, and is also apparently Gail's connection to the world of things Girly. Eliza will be instrumental in helping us plan the wedding; and she has a great disposition and is quite funny. Poor Eliza got her car smashed while trying to help Gail get to the airport to retrieve me on Friday; I don't think she's blogged it yet, but Gail can tell the story best. Luckily, it's more funny than tragic - no one was hurt.

Next: The 3 Ms (and half of Vancouver) visit Stanley Park!

Vancouver Diary, Pt. II

December 26th - The Big Ball of Science!

The day after Christmas (Boxing Day, as the sale banners proclaim) Gail and I began the week with a few outings with the "M"s, or at least the elder three. Sunday we took them to Science World, a very nice children's museum not far from Gail's neighbourhood. (The large geodesic dome over the museum prompted Michael, on one of his previous visits, to name it "The Big Ball of Science".) I'm accustomed to trips with adolescents and teens, so it was a nice change to spend time with younger children again - holding hands, picking up... chasing after! They were really no trouble, just active, happy kids. "Attie Gail" had taken them here many times before, but it was obvious that this was a favorite outing; plenty of hands-on fun, and a little interactive science show to see while sipping milkshakes. I was busy enjoying myself, but I managed to snap a few pictures.

In the evening we finally had some time to relax together, and of course geek out a bit and upload some photos. Thanks to the busy day, sleep came easily, when we finally slept.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Vancouver Diary, Pt. I

I spent the holidays, from Christmas Eve through the New Year, with Gail. I was too busy to write while I was there, and too sick to write when I got back, so - I'm going to start catching up, before I forget any more details.

December 25th, The Christmas Program

My travel tribulations are detailed elsewhere; luckily, I got in by late Friday night, so we were able to see the Christmas program at the church which Gail's family attends. This was my first meeting with her family, although I spoke to her father once on the phone; most importantly, my debut with the "kidlets" - Gail's four nieces and one nephew, all under five. We picked up her sister-in-law Cheryl and the twin babies, 10-month old Megan and Maribeth, since their minivan had broken down. (Gail's employer had loaned her HIS minivan, which turned out to be a huge favor to us for the week. I, in turn, had loaned my car back in Pennsylvania to a friend, so everybody got where they were going!)

The Christmas program was nothing less than great theatre. Older children and a visiting choir sang songs, but the spectacle for the day was the young ones - 30-odd little kids from 3 to 10 or so, including the oldest three Edwins. They sang songs, read parts from the Christmas story and went through several costume changes (from bathrobe-shepherds to white satin angels) in a state of high pandemonium; all of them fidgeting with their costumes, the microphones, each other, the stuffed sheep... I was in tears, trying to laugh quietly. Madeleine's shepherd costume was her brown bathrobe, complete with teddy-bear head sticking out from under the mantle. Just one of many priceless moments: at the end of a song, all the children fall quiet. The very patient woman organizing this program motions for the children to exit to their left, so they can change into the angel costumes. In the silence, Michael calls out - like the leader of an expedition - "COME ON EVERYBODY! THIS WAY!"

It was priceless, but very cute. (Gail's photos here.) During the presentation I got to sit with Allan for a while and hold Megan (or Maribeth, we traded off) and also talk to Gail's father for a while. He is an elder of the church, a small Filipino Seventh-Day Adventist congregation that is leasing space in a church until their congregation grows. After the pageant, everyone went downstairs for a good old church-basement supper, Filipino style, and we all sat (on teeny tiny preschool chairs) and ate and talked. I've been to a good many church suppers, of many faiths, and this was as warm and welcoming a group as any.

After the pageant we went off on our own for a while to let the kidlets have a nap. Gail and I took a drive in our borrowed minivan and she showed me around Allan and Cheryl's area, rather than go back to Vancouver. We did some final work on the wrapping paper and gifts for the kids, and then went back and spent a few more hours opening presents and playing with the M's. They had hand-made some gifts for Gail and I - literally, their hand-and-foot prints in paint on a t-shirt and a handkerchief. And I had a grand time playing with them, as is my wont with little people.

Next installment: The Big Ball of Science!

The Perfect (Ice) Storm

This past Thursday, January 7th, what was a cold rainstorm in Scranton turned out to be a very bad ice storm in Mount Pocono, just ten miles to the south. Temps there were well below freezing, and when the temperature inversion dropped rain on the area, everything rapidly became thickly coated in ice. Thousands of people were without power as the ice-laden trees fell, breaking power lines in hundreds of places. Some only got their power back Sunday afternoon!

I went out to the Mount Pocono airport to check on the CAP plane that I am in charge of; it was tied down outside, and I knew it would be heavily iced. But I have never seen anything like this; all the planes on the ramp were coated with more than 3 cm of ice! It was oddly uniform, coating every surface; and because it had added hundreds of pounds of weight to the light aft sections, the planes had tilted back onto their tails, and then frozen there like dinosaurs in a tar pit.

There didn't appear to be any damage; the best course of action is to just let the ice melt off gradually. It would be too easy to damage the lightweight structure by trying to remove the ice piecemeal with heat, chemicals or implements. But I did snap some pictures, of a few of the planes and of some of the poor trees near the Tobyhanna exit.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Notes from the Delayed

Dec. 24th, 2004 (transcribed from my handwritten* journal.)

A winter storm in the midwest has delayed or cancelled all of the early morning flights from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport, including mine. I arrived at 5:30 for a 6:30 flight; I have to wait in line at the ticket counter until 7:35 to even speak to an agent. Fortunately, I get a crafty booking agent, who gets me on an unlikely series of flights (detailed elsewhere).

Since my new routing doesn't commence until 12:30, I sneak over to Tech Aviation, the general aviation FBO at the airport; trading on my amateur-pilot status, I go to the empty pilot's lounge and nap away a few of my delayed hours in a comfortable recliner, rather than in the terminal with a lot of unhappy holiday travelers.

Back at the gate (one of two at this small-town terminal) the commuter flight to Philadelphia is delayed a further half-hour. So I sit with my carry-on, and since they are my neighbors, I begin to chat with some of my fellow Delayed. We swap travel plans, our most obvious common ground; since I am traveling to visit my fiancée, I show the rings to a few of them, and three college girls and someone's grandmother ooh and ahh. Then an east Indian man smiles and says hello; he had heard me complaining about the lack of world cuisines in Scranton, and recommends an Indian restaurant that I hadn't known of.

As we finally begin boarding, he - Ajay, a doctor - turns out to be my seatmate, and we continue a lively conversation. From world cuisine, we spiral outwards to world customs and traditions, and marriage traditions. He recommends the movie "Monsoon Wedding", which I recall that Gail has in our Netflix queue. As we travel I point out landmarks, as the flight from Scranton to Philadelphia takes us at a relatively low altitude over my aerial "back yard".

In Philadelphia I am to spend two hours until the next leg to Chicago, so I find my gate and pick up some Cholestero-Chinese food for lunch and settle in to people-watch. In the airport food court, a brass quartet is playing languid Christmas carols; the trombonist, in particular, looks stricken, wishing he were someplace else. I suppose an airport gig on Christmas Day is not what anyone dreams of in the conservatory. They play on as if the iceberg has hit, and the lifeboats are receding into the night.

Look at all the people coming and going. Here's a young boy in grey sweatshirt - on it, a Nike swoosh and the legend "Just Jew It: Brian's Bar Mitzvah, 2004". At the next table, a flight crew sits down, and I note that somewhere in US Airways' pilot roster is a virtual twin for Tom Jones, Welsh singing phenom, complete with muttonchop sideburns. Fun, fun.

My next two flights go off as scheduled and without much further delay; I arrive in Seattle 20 minutes late, and my luggage arrives on another plane (and another airline) an hour later. A holiday miracle, as I later discover there are thousands of pieces of lost luggage today. So I count myself lucky, in Seattle only nine hours late but at least on the same day. And best of all, of course, is to be back with Gail again.

*A primitive system of pigment marks made upon thin sheets of cellulose pulp, widely used in the last century; now archaic, like the author.

The "B" word

I'm beginning to see the usefulness of having an online journal; as Gail pointed out to me, it saves you from having to tell the same story over and over, and it helps you remember events of import in your life. I'm in the sporadic habit of keeping a handwritten journal, in my daytimer and on my flying clipboard; it's a mess, and no one but me has ever read it. I've resisted blogging, because I felt that it smacked of talking to myself, and because I've read so many dreadfully boring ones. Also because it's all too easy to start an online journal, and then slack off and not update it.

But I think I will try to get in the habit, and expand a little on my original intent of just posting my flying experiences. Those tend to come more frequently in the summer, anyway; though I still have a backlog of them in the handwritten journal that I may transcribe here, "someday". My posts, like the flying, may be a little uneven; but I'll try not to be dreadfully boring. You are invited to fasten your seatbelt and read on.

That said, and since I've told the story about five times already, I will try to recount my trip to Vancouver over the holidays...

Monday, January 03, 2005

Home again, home again

My return flight from Seattle went as planned and only slightly late; lost 20 minutes on the last leg due to a late pushback in Atlanta. My trip outbound on the 24th was greatly delayed by a holiday snowstorm in the heartland, which grounded the planes in Cincinnati that were scheduled to pass through Scranton. A savvy booking agent at the Scranton airport (AVP*) was able to arrange the following:

Original Flight: Delta, AVP - ATL - SEA
New routing: US Airways, AVP - PHL; American, PHL - ORD; Alaska, ORD - SEA

Wow! Three airlines, none of them the one I booked. On the upside, I was kicked up into first class for the last two segments. So the day could have gone much worse; many people didn't get out at all that Friday. So I arrived, 9 hours late, and miraculously my checked luggage also arrived an hour later. (It had all the Christmas presents for Gail's nieces and nephew!) I had a grand time in Vancouver with Gail. I met her family, spent a few days with her four nieces and one nephew, caught a cold from one or all of them. *cough cough* I'll have more to write later on the trip.

Since I spend so much time flying "my way", it's always interesting to experience air travel the airline way, and these days that means security. I am amazed at how throughly I was searched each time; patted down, removed belt and shoes, bags unpacked and searched. And they are doing this to nearly every traveler, tens of thousands of passengers each day. I don't enjoy it; I think it is excessive, and intrusive. Air travel in a free society needn't require us all to become suspects.

Traveling commercially also allows me to observe the hardware and practices of airline flying. As an instrument-rated pilot, I know how the various approaches and departures work (all airline flights are considered instrument flights, whatever the weather) but it's interesting to see the heavy equipment at work, and to fly at altitudes far above what I normally see. One of my commercial flights took me to 41,000 feet; the highest I have piloted a plane myself is 11,500. And it was neat to see how effective the de-icing equipment is. On my last flight in last night, on a Canadair Regional Jet, we descended through layered clouds that I knew would produce some ice. I watched the wing from my seat as a quick half-inch of grey ice built up, then I heard the hiss of bleed air as the crew activated the deicing gear; the ice melted off within five seconds, like butter in a hot frying pan. In small planes, airframe ice is a real hazard; for an airliner, it can usually be shrugged off with ease.

And I got to fly on a variety of equipment, fun for an old planespotter. In order, I flew aboard:

US Airways, Canadair Regional Jet CRJ-200
American Airlines, McDonnell Douglas MD-83 (the old DC-9)
Alaska Airlines, Boeing 737-900 (a very stretched Baby Boeing)
Delta, Boeing 767-300 (biggest plane for this trip)
Delta, Canadair Regional Jet CRJ-200

So, all in all I traveled well, but I'm still looking forward to taking the yoke again myself. That's first class.
*The full name, ridiculously, is "The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport". The airport is in neither town; and why is the name of the smaller town first? Also, there are no international flights available at either of the two gates; it only holds that moniker because of a bored customs agent who is available in case any unscheduled Canucks drop by.