Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A girl walks into a coffee shop

A girl walks into a coffee shop and orders a latte, which she carries to a small table on a brick sidewalk outside the building and starts to read her new novel when a distinct rumbling causes her to think that a train must be coming.  The brick wall of the coffee shop is shaking and the girl thinks it must be a very big train indeed or a truck or... the ground starts moving in sharp, angry jerks and the girl thinks, "Holy shit," and she jumps up and moves away from the building at the very same moment that everybody else at all the other tables also jump up and step away from the building, and the coffee shop proprietor runs out of the shop and says, "It's an earthquake!" and they all look at each other and laugh happily as if an earthquake was the very thing they had hoped would happen that day.

It occurs to the girl that she ought to check on her children only her phone makes a strange sound when she tries to make a call and she realizes that all the people around her are punching the buttons on their phones and frowning and back at work no one can use their phones but the internets is working so they all search for news and the girl learns that there is no 911 service and that the earthquake had a 5.8 magnitude and was centered 25 miles away, that it was felt as far away as Detroit and Toronto (it woke the girl's brother in Buffalo) and that the nuclear power plant located very close to the epicenter was shut down.

The girl thinks that an earthquake in the middle of a work day is pleasantly diverting, indeed it is so excessively diverting that it is nearly impossible to get any more work done.  Later, the street in front of her office is blocked with fire trucks because of a ruptured gas line and it's time to go home and the ruptured gas line lies directly across the girl's path but she finds a way.

At home, the children are fine.  The boy had a dramatic  experience clinging to a stone wall which he had been in the act of climbing--his two friends fell off, but this boy is tenacious.  The wall is the boundary of a 200 year old cemetery and the boy witnessed the tombstones heaving and shifting--an awesome earthquake experience for a twelve year old.  By the time he gets around to telling this story to his grandchildren, he will have the corpses popping out of the ground.  A moderate earthquake on the last day of summer vacation is a gift from the gods.

The girl checks her house for damage and she discovers some!  A bag of pasta and a box of Zone bars have been knocked to the ground from the pantry shelf.  They lie on the dining room floor, reproachful.   Nobody picks them up.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Intrepid Traveler, or, How to Amuse Yourself for Sixteen Hours.

I know I write an awful lot about airports, but they are places of such high drama.  Everywhere you look, there is a story happening.  Jon always meets fascinating people in airport bars, so many that I've toyed with the idea of writing a book about interesting encounters in airport bars, like actually going to airports specifically to talk to people.  Jon is one of those people who can talk to anybody and become best friends in under three minutes.  Me, not so much. Not to mention that that would be an awfully expensive way to write a book.

It took sixteen hours to get home last Saturday. I have spent so much time sitting at gate L2 at Chicago's O'Hare airport, I feel like I have become personal friends with the gate agents. In Madison, a colleague and I arrived at the airport at 8:00am for our 9:00 flight, which boarded more or less on time.  We were at the start of the runway, on the very point of taking off when the pilot said he had "bad news."  The storms in Chicago were so bad that they were directing us to take a "more northerly" route, which was so far out of the way that we didn't have enough fuel to attempt it and that we would have to go back to the gate to refuel, but since refueling takes time and there was already a two-hour ground delay at ORD, it probably made more sense to sit out the storm rather than reroute ourselves through Saskatchewan or the North Pole or whatever it is that is north of Wisconsin.

Back to the gate we went and we all had to get off the plane.  My colleague and I conferred.  We had a three-hour layover at ORD, it's only a twenty minute flight, and since everything there was delayed, our connecting flight would most likely still be waiting for us when we got there.  We decided not to be concerned and the colleague went off to buy some breakfast, but I am constitutionally incapable of being unconcerned so I got in line and got myself booked on a later flight to Charlottesville, just in case.

We waited and rumors somehow flew through our group of stranded passengers--there were tornado watch boxes stacked all on and around Chicago.  A 737 jet was being diverted to Madison because no one could land in Chicago--which was true.  Our flight was delayed some more and when my colleague tried to get herself on the later flight to C'ville, she was told there were no seats, and nothing for the next day either.

We got to ORD eventually--our connecting flight either long gone or cancelled.  I now had a six hour wait for my flight and the colleague departed to find a hotel.  Six hours is a long time but I am not without resources.  I bought a salad and a latte and used the twenty minutes of free wifi to announce to  facebook that friends don't let friends fly through Chicago.  I had finished Women in Love and started Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh, a book that is as philosophical as WiL, discussing the nature of faith, but far more readable.  So readable that I realized with alarm that I was in danger of finishing it long before getting home.  

I took a break and studied the people around me, trying to pick out people from Charlottesville, although there were still several hours to wait.  The gate area was very crowded with a huge group standing in front of the gate agents' desk, which the agents were unable to disperse.  They all had murderous expressions.  Near me was a neat, middle-aged couple.  The woman had a metal water bottle that announced "I'm Eco Friendly" and she was reading The Tiger's Wife.  Charlottesville, I decided.  A woman strode past wearing an Argentinian gaucho's hat and carrying what appeared to be a tuba wrapped in a yoga mat.  She sat on the floor.  Definitely from Charlottesville.  Two women, sisters, presumably, sat next to me, speaking a language I didn't recognize.  I peeked at the screen of the one woman's kindle and saw what I guessed to be Swedish.  There were those A's with o's perched over them.  A flight to Oklahoma City boarded, then one to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, along with the woman with the tuba.  A gate change was announced for a flight to Denver, and the "I am eco-friendly" couple got up and walked away.

I went for a walk, wandering into a posher part of the airport that was less crowded and had a smart sushi restaurant and a children's museum.  I bought the last copy of the September issue of Vogue, and for some trashier fashion, Marie Claire.  I walked some more, began to feel like a homeless person, and bought dinner even though I wasn't very hungry.  I bought something called a "teappuchino" for dessert and returned to the gate where the Swedish sisters still sat, along with a group of Russians and a man who I could tell was foreign but couldn't identify with any country.  They all boarded a flight to Cleveland, their seats refilled by people awaiting a flight to "Northwest Arkansas" and who discussed the merits of the kindle versus the nook in twangy accents.  Their flight left and the gate area was decidedly less crowded.

I turned my attention to Vogue.  I used to never miss the September issue and it was like greeting old friends to see the ads for Fendi and Salvatore Ferragamo and new (to me) designers like Christian Louboutin.  I would like to own a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes simply because Christian Louboutin is so much fun to say.  Of course, nothing in my wardrobe is good enough to pair with shoes like that.

It was time to think about a pre-boarding bathroom visit when a gate change was announced for Charlottesville.  We all had to descend to the underlevel of G concourse, where, it turns out, there are no toilets.  And with amazing rapidity, considering the long delays earlier, we boarded, me with my "teappuchino" straining my bladder.  Was there someone I knew on the flight?  Of course there was!  A former co-worker from my old unit, plus a man I recognized vaguely as the father of one of my children's classmates.  Our flight attendant was hilariously unprofessional--he had a hole in the ass of his pants. "Welcome aboard our flight to Charlotte...somewhere," he announced, then confessed,  "Actually, I have no idea where we're going. "  And so we took off, to get tossed around like a paper airplane, drink service had to be cancelled and I alternately read Marie Claire and said Hail Mary's.  We landed at midnight and then there was a snafu with my luggage, so I didn't actually get home until 1:00am.

I have no idea when (or if) my colleague got home.  I called in sick today, rightfully, I believe because not only did I have that sixteen hour ordeal, but crossing a time zone four times in  two weeks is pretty tiring.  If you think it isn't, imagine going to daylight savings time and back again four freaking times.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Third verse, same as the first.

There was a "Surprise, we searched your bag!" note from the TSA in my suitcase.  I guess it serves me right for calling them Mall Cops.  At first I thought they had confiscated my $45 Anastasia eyebrow tweezers, but then I found them at the very bottom of the suitcase. 

Speaking of the TSA, my gate at Chicago was right in front of a screening area and one of the people they pulled aside for a "random" search was a nun.  That's not random.  That's "Look how random we are by searching nuns!"  On the other hand, it'll teach the terrorists not to try and hide in a habit. God, what an awful thought.

ENOUGH about airports.  I'm back in Verona for more Epic training and I am STILL reading Women in Love.  It's  very sensual and explores many deep topics like love and death and relationships between men compared to those between men and women.  I can appreciate it, but I can't say it's the sort of book to cozy up with at the end of a long day.  I also packed Knowlege of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh.  Is anyone familiar with her?  I've only read to page 42, but I can see that this is an author I will want to read more of.

I got back into Madison Wednesday afternoon, dazed with hunger and exhaustion.  I'd had to get up at 03:45 (after having just three hours sleep)  in order to catch my flight, had had nothing to eat since 4:45am, (aside from THREE Starbucks lattes in Chicago) and now it was 3:30pm--4:30 by my time--and I had moved into my "end of night shift "state in which I am unable to make decisions and my short-term memory fails.  I wandered about, starving, surrounded by restaurants, and completely unable to make a decsion about where I should eat. 

Finally I plunged at random into a cafe, was briefly confused by the fact that I had to climb a flight of stairs to get to it, stared uncomprehendingly at the chalkboard menu, blundered up to the counter and ordered the "chicken salad"--something I realized later was not even listed on the menu.  I asked for a bottle of water.  "But our water is filtered," said the girl at the counter.  I gaped at her.  "Are you sure you want bottled water?" she asked.  It seemed she was not willing to sell me any and I must have seemed awfully stupid because she had to practically take me by the hand and show me the water pitchers and glasses and then I understood that  one must not order bottled water because it is Bad for the Environment, something I would have got right away if I hadn't been so tired.  Plus, I am used to restaurant people who get pissy when you ask for tap water.  My "chicken salad" arrived and it was TOTALLY not what I thought I had ordered.

I felt more normal after eating and hit the shops--most were small, locally-owned boutiques--but I did stop into a Lands End Canvas shop.  Do you know Lands End Canvas?  It's Lands End's new, more stylish line of clothes.  (L.L.Bean has a similar thing called "Signature") The "Canvas" line is aimed at people in mid 20's-30's.  It's a nice effort, but when you try things on, they are a tad matronly.  I did find a couple of good belts. 

I had to buy another Starbucks latte--my fourth of the day-- specifically so I wouldn't become comatose on the bus ride back out to Verona.  Speaking of buses--you know I am ALL ABOUT alternative ways of commuting--many of the buses in Madison have free wifi.  Doesn't that make commuting by bus seem a whole lot more attractive? 

Yesterday my class didn't start until 1:00pm, so I walked into downtown Verona to check out The Sow's Ear, a yarn shop + cafe.  Charlottesville has two very nice yarn shops, although none of them serve coffee and sandwiches.  I figured a yarn shop is a yarn shop, but this one had a nice display of Nordic knitting, with pattern books from Norway showing the Norwegian ski team wearing fantastic knitted sweaters.  There was a selection of Dale of Norway yarns, which comes in stern, northern colors and even though I don't really have the patience for nordic knitting I could not resist buying a book of patterns for small nordic projects, some Dale yarn in red and white, and a pattern for a nordic knitted beer can cozy, designed by the owner.  I can not WAIT to get home and start knitting.  Then I ordered a latte and sat on a comfortable couch, sipping and reading until it was time to leave for my class.  I had ambitious plans to walk from the yarn shop all the way to Epic, which I did, although it took more than 45 minutes and I have several painful new blisters.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Little Corporation on the Prairie

My  first day at Epic,  I wondered if I'd have difficulty finding my classroom, as the training center is enormous and there are hundreds of trainees.  Inside the door was a row of electronic notice boards, arranged by first name.  I didn't see my name on the A-B board, but a little sign at the bottom said, "More names loading in 12 seconds....more names loading in 8 seconds....more names loading in 3 seconds...."  Then:  Patience Crabstick--Parallel Universe.  I read this several times, wondering what it could mean, and eventually realized that my class was in the Parallel Universe room.

Parallel Universe is an apt name because I seemed to have fallen down a rabbit hole into a sort of corporate fantasyland.  Most of my work experience up to this point has been in health care.  My current office used to be a Sears.  I've never known a workplace decor not dominated by thrift, so the Epic headquarters was a bit of a shock.  Consisting of  about eight buildings on a treeless hilltop with views that stretch for miles, it's like someone took Disneyland and put it in a blender with the Vatican Museums.

Epic is orchestrated for whimsy down to the last detail.  My computer in class was named "Faramir."  Squat fiestaware salt and pepper shakers graced every table in the trainees dining area, where we were served free breakfasts and lunches which were delicious and plentiful--with recipes posted near each dish for the benefit of people with allergies, or for cooks, although you'd have to do quite a bit of dividing because each recipe ended with "serves 800."  I swear the beef tasted grass fed and the coffee was labeled as fair trade and organic. At the end of each class, we were given little boxes of candy from an artisan chocolatier in Verona.  Every classroom had a different theme and was decorated accordingly.  Outside my "parallel universe" room was a timeline of the future which, among other things, predicted the invention of Smart Cheese 1,000 years hence.  I've often wondered how to make cheese work for me.  Trust Epic to make it happen.   Not only was it a beautiful place, everyone who works there is young and gorgeous and the trainers say "golly" and "holy smokes" without irony.  I lost three pounds and I think I'm cured of seasonal allergies.

But why use words when you have pictures?  I took many pictures, and if you want to see them all, the whole album is at my Patience Crabstick facebook page.

Epic Art

This building had a Dungeons and Dragons theme.


Landscape--I prefer these open spaces to the woodsiness of Virginia


The inside of an elevator in the western-themed building

Stairway in the "Heaven" building

Common area in "Heaven"

Tunnel to the "Andromeda" building

Another tunnel made to look like the NYC subway

Swings for trainees

A final adventure:  in an airplane in Chicago, taxiing to the runway, one of a long line of planes.  It was about 10:00pm, i.e. dark.  I've already told you about my geeky fascination with airline art.  Out of my window I  saw a jet tail painted with a grinning, fanged death's head.  At first I thought that the darkness was playing tricks on me, but after peering intently, there was no mistaking the image.  What the hell was this?  Axis of Evil Air?  Was I hallucinating? A quick mental review of my systems couldn't find a reason why I should be.  The plane taxied in front of us and the heads of all the people near me craned to look out our starboard windows as it passed.  At least I knew I wasn't hallucinating.  I had to see what airline this was and just about put my head in the lap of the guy across the aisle, and was rewarded with:  Iron Maiden.  Iron-freaking-Maiden's jet?  How awesome is that?  It's not like I actually caught site of the band (what would they be doing in the cracker concourse with the likes of me?) but I still thought it was awesome.

Close up of the tail

Lucky me, I get to return to Epic tomorrow for another class.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Table for One

Bus or no bus, I was determined to get into Madison, and on Wednesday night, all the stars were aligned.  It would be a 50 minute bus ride and I resigned myself to taking a cab back.  The rest of our hotel--almost all the guests had business at Epic--were taking "dinner shuttles" to local restaurants, something I wanted no part of.  The hotel manager, arranging the shuttles, showed consternation when I told him my plan was to take a bus, alone, downtown. I could tell that this made him take a more reserved view of my character.  Clearly, someone who preferred to ride on a  public bus rather than be shuttled in a van to a suburban restaurant, was slightly unsavory.

Nevertheless, I waited at the stop at 7:00pm and the bus arrived, full of Epic employees and their bicycles.  In about five minutes I had absolutely no idea where I was.  It was a tiny bit terrifying, but mainly I was very, very happy.  The end of the line was the "Western Transfer Point."  It was a bit seedy, as bus stops usually are.  Even in Charlottesville, I can't find a seat at the transfer station in the morning that doesn't have beer spilled on it.  Some of the people waiting were a little sketchy, and I accidentally caught the eye of a man, which is, of course, the last thing you want to do if you are a woman alone in a strange city at a seedy bus stop. My bus came before anyone had a chance to start bothering me.  We drove a long, long way, turning down different streets until I became utterly disoriented,  and eventually stopped at State St.  It was now nearly 8:00pm and most of the shops were closing, but there was lots to see:  plenty of people walking about, many restaurants, and the Wisconsin Capitol building at the top of the street. 

Everywhere were phalanxes of cyclists.  In Charlottesville, when you see someone riding a bicycle, there's a certain tense aggressiveness about him.  He is riding for is life, the main goal being to get to his destination without getting "doored" or hit by a car. You must be constantly on the defensive to cycle in C'ville, and if the people who write the mean comments on the Hook's website, or call the Cville rant line are an accurate representation, there are a lot of motorists in Charlottesville who hate and resent bicycles.  In Madison, the cyclists looked relaxed, and there were so many of them, no car would dare mess with them.  Not only were there lots of people riding bicycles, all the bike racks were stuffed with the bikes.  I felt like I was in Holland.  I wish Charlottesville was like this.   Our city council means well by posting signs and painting bike lanes but this doesn't solve the problem of a hostile local population.

Anyhoo, I walked to the Capitol building, which is kind of famous and sits on a hill, dominating the city, did a lap of the building, and discreetly displayed the middle finger to the office windows I thought most likely to be Governor Scott Walker's--partly on behalf of union workers, and partly on behalf of the gay couples Walker thinks should be prevented from visiting each other in the hospital.  A woman, dragging a small boy came hurrying up to me.  "Is it open?" she gasped, out of breath.  "I want him to see the  beagles."  Beagles? She said, "Not beagles, you know they're like eagles."  Eagles?  "Badgers, " she said finally.  "I want him to see the badgers."  It had never occurred to me to try to enter the building, and I didn't know anything about any badgers.  Apparently, the building is usually open to the public until late, but this time the doors were locked--it was the day after the recall election--and the woman went away disappointed.

Despite having an intolerant twat as a governor, Wisconsin is pretty awesome.  The weather was beautiful--almost autumnal by Virginia standards--the streets were alive with interesting people, and the place had a happy, friendly vibe and beer is clearly a very important part of the local culture.  I walked into a restaurant at random, an elegant tapas place, and I expected to be sneered at for being alone and  casually dressed, but the hostess was friendly and let me sit at the bar, where I enjoyed an excellent glass of wine, some marinated salmon on a skewer and an interesting composed salad.  I strolled some more, window shopping, and making note of the shops I want to visit when I return.  It was now getting late, there were fewer people around and I was cold.  I called a cab and waited at "Madison's Happiest Corner" for it to pick me up.

Wine, Beer, Spirits:  Madison's Happiest Corner. (Click on pic to enlarge.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Literary Enforcement

Tim Gunn, in A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style, advises us  not to be  "pack all the outfits I never wear at home" packers.  One must also pack literature--it is unthinkable to travel without a book, multiple books in my case-- and I have a habit of packing books that I feel I ought to read, but don't necessarily want to read--a sort of literary enforcement similar to the fashion enforcement of packing all the clothes you wished you wore more at home.  On this trip, I was warned to make room in my suitcase for all the training manuals that will be sent home with me so I could pack just one book and unfortunately the ONE book I chose to pack is Women in Love by D.H Lawrence.  I feel like I did when we went to Rome and I accidentally packed Persuasion when I thought I had packed Sense & Sensibility.

Not that it's not good.  It's considered the masterpiece of one of the major writers in the English language and I can appreciate why, but the characters have long, intense, hard-to follow philosophical conversations and there's this chick name Hermione who I want to smack upside the head and shout some sense into.  It's lucky I also have Don and Betty Draper, along with the gang at Sterling Cooper, to amuse me.

I feel like I am talking to myself here.  This whole week, I've barely spoken a word to anyone, which is fine because I like solitude, but one does end up with lots and lots of thoughts that need to be expressed.  You may or may not be wondering if I'm going to write about what I'm actually doing here.  I  didn't come to Wisconsin to read Women in Love, watch Mad Men, discover a way to amubulate myself into an impregnable corporate campus, investigate the public transportation system of Madison, WI, or suck every last drop of enjoyment that Verona, Wisconsin has to offer.  No, I'm here to work, which is what I've been doing from 8:30-5:00pm every day, and my experience at Epic has been truly something--something that is best illustrated with photographs--so I'll write about that when I get home and can hook up my camera.  Ditto for the trip into downtown Madison I accomplished last night (by city bus, although I had to take a cab back).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

An Epic Walk

Frustrated by my failure to get into downtown Madison (the public transportation link between here and there is minimal and set up for people whose bedtime is 8:00pm), I decided to find a way to walk to the Epic headquarters, another nut I am determined to crack.  Consulting my resources (google maps + map my run) I found a different route, and after equiping myself with running shoes and an ipod, I set out Monday evening after dinner.  This route describes a large circle on the perimeter of the housing development, becoming ever more sparsely-housed until I got to "Northern Lights Way" where there was a  walking/bike path and Epic in site at the top of the hill. The bike path appeared to lead straight to Epic.  I had achieved success, I was sure.

The Epic headquarters is an imposing site:  a collection of beautifully designed buildings made of mixed (and expensive) materials, with massive walls of windows, all reflecting the setting sun as I approached. Soon I was level with Epic. The buildings were only a hundred feet away.  I could see its employee's cars leaving the underground car park.  I could not get anywhere near the facility, at least not in a civilized way.   I COULD have waded through a brambly drainage ditch, gotten soaked to the knees and  bitten by something, then hiked across a field and up the staff driveway, blundered into a building where I wasn't allowed, got lost, and  firmly escorted from the premises by security, burrs on my pants, water dripping from my cuffs and leeches adhered to my ankles all the while protesting, "But I'm a trainee!"

I didn't want that to happen so I continued along the trail  and eventually came to the road that leads to the  training building.  A side trail paralleled this road.  Success at last!  It was getting dark but I hurried along the side trail which passed a corn field and the Epic Farm.  The facility was long past me now, but this road loops around and approaches from the south.  And then, disappointment.  The walking trail ended abruptly.  The road had a soft shoulder, just wide enough for a walker, so I continued to follow it, and after a little way I finally entered the Epic grounds.  A sign at the entrance says--I am not making this up--  EPIC INTERGALACTIC HEADQUARTERS. 
(Image stolen from the internets because I neglected to pack my camera cord.)

By now I was clearly trespassing--I wasn't sure how much unsupervised wandering by trainees is tolerated, especially at night--but I continued up the drive. If challenged,  I would say I was from Florida, a trick I learned from my sister, who lives in Florida and has discovered that society doesn't expect much from Floridians thus allowing them to get away with all sorts of naughty behavior.

There was now no shoulder and I could see it would be hopeless to try to walk this way in the morning, with all the hotel shuttles whizzing past.  I was defeated and there wasn't much point in going on, not to mention the fact that I had walked well over three miles and it was now dark.  The trail through the cornfield was decidedly spooky.  It seemed like just the sort of place where one could expect to be abducted by aliens.  And if aliens were going to visit the Earth, wouldn't they choose the Intergalactic Headquarters?  Suddenly I felt faint and dizzy and I remembered I had felt faint earlier that day in the grocery store, and now my walk assumed a new, sinister character.  There was no one around, and really, what could I do but keep walking, which is what I did and the faint feeling left and I got back to my hotel safely. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Amusing Myself in Verona

There were five of us on the shuttle from the Madison Airport to the hotel.  At first we rode in silence but the man and woman in front of me began a long, inane conversation, at least inane on the woman's side, who took everything literally.  She was chattering about all the trips she's made lately and how behind she is in other aspects of her life.  "So the laundry's piling up," said the man.
 "Oh no!"  said the woman.  "I don't really have that much laundry."

It developed that everyone on the shuttle was here for classes at the Epic HQ.  They were all report writers.  I don't know if that's better than a builder or not, but I was the only medical person.  It was a long drive to Verona and our driver took us straight through Madison and I caught a glimpse of State St., which looks like the fun part.  I will get there, somehow .  If you think I'm going to spend an entire week languishing in the suburbs without once making a trip into town, you don't know me very well. 

Once in the hotel, it was 4:00PM on a Sunday and I had nothing to do.  After consulting google maps, I decided to take a walk.  I felt very conspicuous, as I was the only pedestrian, and since google has slightly misplaced my hotel,  I walked confusedly up and down W Verona Ave getting my bearings.  It was hot and flat and there wasn't much to see, but I headed toward Main St.--usually the place to find any action in a small town--and after walking half a mile I found it.  This was more like it, or if not more like it, at least something like it.  Small, semi-cute, with  old houses and locally-owned businesses--a yarn shop/espresso cafe (nice concept) an art gallery/cafe, a couple of pizzerias, a commons with a covered pavillion for the weekly farmer's market .  I stopped into a grocery store--it looked locally owned--and bought a few supplies.  The food situation is going to be grim since I am following a strict diet.   The market had non-fat Greek yogurt and cans of tuna, and on these pathetic foods I dined alone in my room.

It was only 6:30 pm.  The time difference was turning this into an endless day.  I decided to go for a run, choosing as my route the way to the Epic headquarters, a nice 3.6 miles, round trip.  The run did not go well.  For one thing, my diet is causing me to experience significant muscle weakness, and for another, I felt horribly visible running through the neat suburban neighborhood near Epic.  The sun was still bright--I prefer to run at dusk or before sunrise, but didn't want to get stupidly lost in the dark--and the good citizens of Verona were mowing their lawns and taking out their trash, but none of them were running.  I was alone, a stranger in a small town, and as conspicuous as a carrot in a bowl of cabbages.  My poor sugar-deprived muscles were protesting and then I encountered the Hill.  I thought Wisconsin was flat.  But no, here's this mofo hill that goes on and on and on, eventually ending within site of the Epic facility, but where google maps  describes a road to headquarters, there was actually no such thing and I realized that if I had tried to walk to Epic in the morning (as had been my plan) I would have had to struggle across a field and look  like an idiot. Lesson:  it's always good to do some scouting.

Back at the hotel, I settled in for a cozy night of catching up on Mad Men via netflix.  People always say, "Don't bring your laptop, you don't want to lug it around."  They're wrong.  ALWAYS BRING YOUR LAPTOP.   My hotel, by the way, is very nice.  It's a Holiday Inn Express, and while "express," in the service industry, is usually a euphamism for crappy, that doesn't apply here.  I'm especially impressed with the pillows.  There are six of them on my bed, and the pillow cases are embroidered "soft," "medium," and "firm."  Very considerate.  There's also a phone on the wall right next to the toilet, you know, in case you're sitting on the toilet and get a sudden craving for a cheeseburger or to call your mother-in-law.  (OK, I KNOW it's for emergencies of the "I've fallen off the toilet and can't get up" variety, but still.  It's not like toilet phones are standard equipment.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Make airport security fun! (Or fun to watch.)

And now I am going to bore the shit out of everybody, daily, because I am all alone up here in Wisconsin, with nothing to do because the town I'm staying in is a good 30 minutes from the fun part of Madison, there isn't a bus that will take me there on a Sunday, and taking a cab that far would cost a lot more than I am willing to spend. 

So back to O'Hare, where my flight was delayed and delayed and delayed some more.  As were many other flights, and the gate agents were going crazy trying to control the press of people.  At one point, a much-delayed flight to Flint, Michigan was taking off at nearly the same time as a different flight to Flint, from the same gate.  The gate agent was screaming into her microphone, "Attention!  There are TWO FLIGHTS TO FLINT.  TWO FLIGHTS TO FLINT!"  And if you don't see why that's funny, scream "flights to Flint" out loud five times fast into a microphone.  Everyone around me was laughing.  Except for the people from Flint, who were treated to a random gate-side luggage search, courtesy of the TSA, like a terrorist would ever seriously target a flight to Flint, Michigan.  But of course these searches are "random."  Several TSA agents arrived before the Flint flights boarded and stalked menacingly through the seating area, eyeballing us and our bags as if they expected to find a bomb-making clinic.  They were all wearing blue latex gloves

OK, TSA agents, there are three reasons why you should not walk around wearing your latex gloves.
  1. It makes you look like idiots.
  2. It makes you look really, really sinister.
  3. It's gross.
Sinister, idiotic and gross.  Is that the image we are looking for? And could someone  do something about the TSA uniforms?  Rumpled blue short-sleeved shirts and high waisted mom chinos?  Really?  Is our national security not worth a more dignified uniform?  Work with me, people. Valentino, for crying out loud, designed the uniforms for the carabinieri.  And Italian airport security guards look pretty sharp too.  I don't remember the exact uniform, but I do recall navy pants with white belts.  Italian men love white belts.  And they look hot in them.

Wouldn't we respond better if our TSA guys looked like that?  Maybe if they weren't dressed like mall cops, they wouldn't behave like mall cops.  I'm seeing a future Project Runway challenge.  Remember the one where they had to redesign the mail carriers' uniforms?  That's one of my favorite episodes.  Tim?  Heidi? Michael?  Nina?  Please can we have fashion forward TSA agents? Or at the very least can they wear long sleeves?  They could roll them up if they're that concerned about passenger cooties.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

In Flight

At O'Hare Airport in Chicago, awaiting a flight to Madison, Wisonsin, where I will begin the process of becoming certified to tinker with my hospital's EMR.  I love traveling alone, and I love to fly.  I used to be afraid to fly, but I've discovered that the best way to overcome a fear of flying is to force yourself onto an airplane.  I was crackers with anxiety over our flight to Italy, but found various helpful websites, including one run by a Pilot, one Captain Tim Bunn, whose site I made fun of a little, and so was somewhat disconcerted when Captain Bunn himself commented on my blog. 

Charlottesville's airport is tiny and homey--there are actually wooden slatted rocking chairs for waiting passengers to sit on, giving it a "Welcome to the plantation and pull up a chair, let me get you a mint julep" feel.  The view, after taking off from C'ville at 06:30, was exceptionally lovely, with the dark humps of the Ragged Mountains rising above mystic lakes of fog that filled the hollows.  Then we were flying over a vast spread of clean white clouds with bright sunshine reflecting off them, a site that always reminds me of going out to play on a bright snowy day, hands covered with hand knit woolen mittens, anchored around your neck with a string, legs barely able to move because of a bulky snowsuit, an icy wind, and what seemed like miles of snow banks to sled down.  We flew over the terrifying expanse of Lake Michigan, and landed without incident, despite being warned of severe turbulence.

Now comfortably installed, with my latte at hand.  I had to switch seats because a man sat down right next to me--despite there being approximately 500 empty seats in the vicinity--and after inexplicably taking a photograph of his own face, or maybe of his shoes, I'm not sure which side was his lens was facing, began eating goldfish from a baggie.  And speaking of my latte, what is it with people at coffee counters?  WHY would you plant yourself RIGHT IN FRONT OF the sugar and stirrers and milk, while you wait for your coffee?  Do you not realize that other people MIGHT WANT ACCESS to that very area?  These two girls did this today, at the O'Hare Starbucks, and not only did they block all other customer's access to the sugar, they had an extremely irritating (to me) conversation about their hangovers and what they couldn't remember from last night, all the while oblivious to the people behind them saying, "excuse me."   Maybe my new crusade will be coffee bar ettiquette.  First World problems indeed.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Weekend Entertainment


Ahead lies the daunting task of moving Brigid out of the house and into her new apartment, but don't worry, she went to Urban Outfitters and bought herself a necklace stand, so matters are well in hand.  Yesterday we drove to Richmond to sign her lease and get the key.  The girls she is sharing with are still an unknown quantity.  Let's just hope they aren't all in the same sorority.
A picture of B's house (far right):

And one of Ian's street in the Canisius student ghetto, for comparison. He and his friends have the second and third floors of one of these houses.

After the lease signing, we drove to nearby Diversity Thrift--the shop that benefits the gay community of Richmond and whose proceeds fund the Gay Community Center.  Which is cool, but on the drive home I started to wonder what goes on at a gay community center.  At any rate, we found all the dishes and pans Brigid will need plus a chair for her desk and a lamp, all for a paltry $27. Not to mention that I immediately spotted a set of white bowls--my hand fairly tingled as I reached for them--and they turned out to be Buffalo china, which I collect.  If  I have helped fund fabulous parties for queens, may they have a good time.  Add to this the $20 I spent at a neighbor's yard sale for a desk and dresser, and we have outfitted Brigid's apartment for $47.    Which is good, because the needs of the art student are many, expensive, and specific.  Her long supply list begins with Macbook Pro with 15" screen (nothing else is acceptable) and includes a set of drill bits, a very precise type of hammer, expensive arty software and expensive non-arty software.


My other weekend accomplishment was to buy new running shoes.  Usually I go to large, impersonal athletic stores and select whichever pair of New Balance shoes have the most pleasing color scheme.  This method has worked out pretty well for me since I first started running at age 18.  This time, I decided to try the fancy running store downtown, where, to give them credit, they were very nice and  not much more expensive than the big stores.  They were, however, anxious to analyze my gait before selling me a shoe, a procedure I submitted to because I did not want to appear rude or ungrateful.  It involved running on a treadmill while the 19 year old clerk knelt beside me and filmed my feet and the slightly-older other clerk coached me.  I had never run on a treadmill before, a fact they found astonishing. "You might want to try letting go of the handle bars," the coaching clerk suggested.  And fall flat on my face and get the hem of my sundress caught in the belt?  I think not. Next came the horrifying spectacle of my bare feet and calves  thrown up onto a big screen TV for all the store to see, while the young clerk alternately played the feed in slow motion and sped it up.  The result?  I am afflicted with "over pronation." OH GOD NO!   The sign of the thunder-thigh'ed.

Based on my propensity to run on the insides of my ankles, two pairs of shoes were selected for me to chose from.
 "How do they feel?" asked the clerk, of the first pair.
 "Good," I said. "They feel fine."  It seemed I was expected to say more, so I volunteered that they didn't pinch my wide feet.
"They should feel firm along the top and sides of your feet, "said the clerk.  "Why don't you walk around the store and make sure they're firm enough."  I walked and said that I could feel the shoes pressing along the sides of my feet.
"They shouldn't be pressing, they should be gripping, " said the clerk.  I walked some more and feigned deep concentration.
"Yes," I said, "This actually feels more like 'gripping' than 'pressing.' Yup, these shoes are definitely 'gripping' and not 'pressing.'" How could I have been so stupid as to believe these shoes were pressing, when they were very clearly gripping.
"Are they rubbing anywhere?" asked the clerk, "they shouldn't be rubbing."  No, they weren't rubbing but I tried on the other pair for comparison.  They felt exactly the same as the first pair.  I couldn't decide which was the grippiest.  The clerks were looking at me expectantly.  I said, "I usually just buy whatever and it works out fine.  I'll take whichever pair is cheapest."  The shoes were priced almost identically, so I went with the first pair because they are prettier.  They gave me a free t-shirt that says RUN LIKE A GIRL across the chest and leaving the shop I witnessed a spectacular parallel parking fail. (Charlottesvillians are incapable of parallel parking.  WHY do they persist in positioning themselves three miles from the car they're trying to park behind?) All in all the running shoe adventure turned out to be highly satisfactory.

And now,  random photos with which I shall grace this post.
My four tawny children:

Best spaghetti sauce in the western hemisphere--corner of Lafayette & Niagara in Buffalo.

Seamus drives the Barbie car.

Two beautiful nieces: