“Somewhere In Texas, There’s a Village Missing An Idiot”
Archive for May 2004
We landed in Adak in bursts of tricky crosswinds, as the fire department stood vigil. It may be that they scramble for every landing, and not just those that might provide them some business, but it still makes you wonder when you espy them out the window as your wheels grope for the tarmac. Adak is also known as “the birthplace of the winds”, and wind velocity can reach a sustained 100 knots during storms. While we were there, they were a relatively placid 20 - 25 knots.
During WWII, nearly 100,000 troops bivouaced on Adak, amassed there to push the Japanese off the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska (who stole the Kiska?). After the war, the military presence evolved into a Naval Air Station. At the height of the 80s military buildup, nearly 6,000 Navy personnel and their families lived on Adak. The Navy built tremendous infrastructure there, including comfortable housing units and a high school that any affluent suburb would be proud of. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the base was downsized, then abandoned for good in 1997. The base property now belongs to the Aleutian Native Corporation. Only 72 people permanently reside on Adak now, and all the housing units sit unoccupied like a modern ghost town.
I didn’t have much time to cavort around or explore the island, but one night after dinner I was able to borrow a mountain bike and take a bit of a ride. This picture was taken at about 10:30 pm, as the northern latitude and daylight savings time afforded useable light until well after 11. There are no trees on the island, just a tundra-like surface covered with coarse grass. Because the Aleutian chain verges southward as it extends, Adak is not as far north as it would seem - it’s on the same latitude as northern Vanouver Island. There are snow-covered mountains on the island, but the entire time I was there, a low-lying shelf of cloud obscured them.
A lot of the island is a wildlife sanctuary, and there are a lot of bald eagles hanging around, feasting on fish guts or the odd caribou carcass. The plane I came in on had a group of bird-watchers looking to fill out their birding dance cards with seabird species there. It turns out that bird-watchers provide a mini-tourist industry, though there’s not much to spend your money on in Adak. A woman on the plane from North Carolina introduced me to David Sibley’s marvelous bird books and illustrations, and I began to see how I could be hooked into this compulsive hobby, an adult version of the license-plate game our parents had us play on long car trips.
Alaska Airlines only operates two flights a week onto and off of the island. I flew in on Sunday, and was expecting to fly home on Thursday. However, my client had business that was urgent enough that they chartered a flight to Anchorage (a Lear jet, dahling!) on Tuesday, and 5 of us rode to Anchorage in style.
When I found out about the charter, I scrambled to get a flight from Anchorage to Seattle, and, with some magic certificates was able to negotiate a first-class upgrade as well. However, our Lear arrived in Anchorage just minutes before my Alaska flight was to depart, and I was resigned to standing by for a later flight, arriving in Seattle after midnight and, most certainly, losing my upgrade. When I checked in, the agent said that my plane was delayed, and that if I ran to the gate, I might be able to get on. Inspired, I hotfooted to the concourse only to find that, owing to my one-way ticket purchased the day before, TSA had “randomly” selected me for special screening. So, off with the shoes, out with the arms, apart with the legs - you who travel know the drill. I knew I was doomed, but hustled to the gate anyway.
As I stood in line, I heard the agent tell a couple that the flight was “closed”, meaning it was still at the gate but ready to depart. I presented my pass and the same agent told me the same thing, and I was ready to walk away when an angel of sorts appeared behind the agent and said, “Oh, MacchiattoMan, this way, please”. I followed her to the jetway and, as she passed her card through the key at the door and welcomed me onto the flight, I felt the piercing stares of those not possessed of the MacchiatoMan’s aura. Dinner in seat 2F was pork tenderloin stuffed with dried apricots and prunes, accompanied by a nice dry white wine, and I was home by 9.
I’m off on a professional adventure to Adak, Alaska this morning. It’s my first time in Alaska. I always thought I’d do some kayaking in SE Alaska for my first trip, but here I’m off to the end of the Aleutian chain. I’ve got my camera, and I’ll try to post some pictures. I had to sign a confidentiality agreement with my client, but I don’t think it extends to digital photography of rocks, water and tundra.
There are some informative slide shows here
Yeah, passing on internet jokes is a cheap way to fake an “update”, but I really liked this item that came from a Yahoo group I subscribe to:
You may know they’ve released John Hinckley from the mental facility
for unsupervised visits to his parents home on weekends.
For those of you who may be too young to remember John Hinckley
shot President Ronald Reagan to impress the actress Jodie Foster.
This is such a nice letter from the President:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Mr. John Hinckley
St. Elizabeth’s Hospital
Laura and I hope that you are continuing your excellent progress in
recovery from your mental problems. We were pleased to hear that you
are now able to have unsupervised visits with your parents. The staff at
the hospital reports that you are doing fine.
I have decided to seek a second term in office as your president and I
would appreciate your support and the support of your fine parents.
I would hope that if there is anything that you need at the hospital,
you would let us know.
By the way, are you aware that John Kerry is screwing Jody Foster?
George W. Bush
And I approve this message!
One of the hazards of visiting with my family (as I did last weekend) in temperate climes is that I will be asked to play golf. And this weekend was no exception. We went to a par-3 course to play 9 holes of fairly low-key golf. This favored me, as my tee shots are pretty anemic, while my brothers can hit some stuff that NASA’s telemetry might not be able to follow. I should, absent a backdrop of macho fraternal mindfuck, be hitting from the white (women’s) tees. You see, golf is something I have done ONLY when visiting parents or brothers. Living as geographically disparate as we do, this means I only participate in this patrician pastime once or twice a year.
Still, there’s an undeniable allure to the game. Unless you play on some type “A” course that requires you to use carts and has course monitors urging you to play faster, it’s a decent afternoon’s walking exercise. Especially if you hit like I usually do, and it becomes something of a wilderness experience. And it’s a great way to change the paradigm of a family gathering from an indoor, “when’s the next meal” kind of thing.
The downside for me is that I always put together 2 or 3 decent shot combinations, and I find myself enticed to engage the game a little, try to go home and improve and maybe be competitive. But that way madness lies. There are something like 15 clubs in a fully stocked bag, and probably 5 ways to hit with each club, and “improving” while faced with this array of ways to screw up would, for me, result in some sort of breakdown like Mickey had in Disney’s cartoon version of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Nah, I’ll stay with being the ingenue, and take compliments for the occasional inexplicably adroit hit, and carry TechNu to ward off the effects of the inevitable poison oak encounters when my drives transport me to the less manicured thickets and wetlands adjacent to, and sometimes well removed from, our nation’s golf courses.
Well, we pushed back late on Friday night, taxied to the end of our runway preparing to take off, then had to park for 20 - 25 minutes while the airport was locked down and Air Farce One departed. I don’t begrudge the delay. I consider it a gift to the city of Milwaukee to get Georgie out of town with the greatest despatch. However, it meant that I landed in Detroit with less than 15 minutes until my connecting flight to Atlanta departed. If you know what the new Detroit terminal is like, you know it’s a long and desperate slog from Gate 73 to Gate 25. They were a few minutes late loading that plane, so I arrived at the gate sweating, but in plenty of time to get on.
I was scheduled to leave Atlanta Monday afternoon for Seattle, and my brother improved my spirits by telling me that Bush was coming to Atlanta Monday to fund-raise. I’m starting to feel all Sleepless In Seattle about this guy. I volunteered, as it turned out, to visit my client’s Georgia plant and cover a bit for a fellow that passed away suddenly last week, so I’m flying home Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Bush raised nearly $3 million in Atlanta Monday, visiting the luxurious home of a Home Depot honcho for a $5,000/plate dinner. Me, I had Mexican with my brother and sister-in-law. Guess GW and I aren’t travelling in the same circles after all. Though that in no way demeans my brother and wife. Really. $5,000 a plate. No, Mexican’s fine, I’m not picky.
Friday morning and I look forward to departing Milwaukee after a week of work. The Acting President is coming to town to speak at commencement for some flavor of Christian college here, and there are rumors of traffic disruptions on I-43 and at the airport. I’m hoping my plane schedule skirts his arrival like a black cloud, as I only have an hour between planes in Detroit.
One thing, though, that used to be a problem on the road is becoming less of a challenge - finding a decent cup of espresso to jumpstart you from a bad night’s motel slumber. As I’ve written before, I used to carry a sweet little miniature espresso maker as a standard part of my luggage, because, unless I was on the west coast or in the downtown core of a large city, I would be at the mercy of the evil drip residue at a client’s office.
The remarkable transformation of America by Starbucks, however, has created a large and growing class of folks that won’t settle for Denny’s coffee. As many stores as Starbucks has, however, there always seems to be room in the interstices for smaller chains or local entrepreneurs to open a kiosk or shop and be successful. To my delight, the pictured cafe opened around the corner from my Milwaukee client a year or so ago, just in time to save me when my portable died of trauma at the hands of Northwest Airlines baggage handlers.
It’s a family operation, and usually staffed by the owner and her mother in the morning when I stop in. The building is a converted gas station, possibly on the historic register, the perfect backdrop from which to serve up my 40-weight morning drink - 4 shots of espresso and a little nonfat foam floated on the top. The mom has some memory issues, and I always have to tell her how to punch my order into the register, but the owner always knows exactly what to fix without my having to speak.
The owner of my client business, a hyper guy anyway, has started patronizing Kletzsch Perk in the morning, following my example, and has progressed from diluted drip to a double latte. I’m not sure that this is a good thing, as he seems incrementally more alert to the quality of product that I’m delivering, but I’m happy to help the coffee shop survive. My shoulders are a lot happier when I’m not carrying small household appliances through airports, and I can do without the suspicions and/or incredulous looks from the TSA scanners.
Here’s a distressing bit of news, from this morning’s Seattle Times
• Kerry himself: The Kerry campaign is not yet well-organized in Washington. The campaign will open an office here and name a local campaign director later this month. Pollster Stuart Elway found Bush running against “any Democrat” fares worse than Bush running against Kerry specifically. The candidate has to come here and spend the time earning voters’ affection. A campaign spokeswoman said he would come to the state around May 26.
It seems I’ve heard this “Kerry is not yet organized in _________ state” more than once, most glaringly in Florida. And the fact that Bush does better when you fill in Kerry’s name as an opponent make you wonder if there still isn’t time to draft an electable candidate. In this climate of bad news for the administration, Kerry is tanking by merely staying even. But that may be as much a reflection of the nation’s polarization - nothing will budge supporters from either side.
I’m working out of town again, and it always seems a bit like heading into a week-long tunnel. Fly, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep,etc. Notice I didn’t say “blog”. Either I’m not seeing anything stimulating, or I’ve just slipped out of gear. It’s also possible that I died Saturday night, and Haley Joel Osment is staring slack-jawed at me from behind a pillar.
This trip will be extended for a few days as I will head to Atlanta Friday to my brother’s house, and my parents are flying down from Toledo to join us. Hopefully, my Mom’s mother’s day present will have been delivered by then, so I won’t have to cringe as I’m told about how thoughtful the others’ presents were. If everyone seems a bit detached and sad (who knows - maybe even weepy!), I’ll start looking around for Haley Joel. Maybe I can grab him just as the earth opens up to swallow me.