Mar 22

American Airlines is the worst thing in the American airspace

Subtitled: Finally, now finally, on our Spring Break 2020 (And this time we mean it) trip

We are in Mexico today. We are finally in Mexico. Just as of today. Should have been here on Saturday. But the journey to our sojourn was negatively impacted by forces beyond our control. In other words …

TL;DR — American Airlines is a terrible way to travel.

It starts like this. We booked this in 2019. Then Covid. We rescheduled twice, because Covid. We were supposed to fly Delta, as we often do, but they canceled this route because of Covid. So American Airlines became our only option to Cozumel. Months ago, American Airlines rescheduled the first flight out of Indy, to make it even earlier in the morning.

So we woke up at 4 a.m. to arrive at the airport to do airport things and got on our plane which couldn’t leave on time. There was a fuel door that wouldn’t close, you see. The captain pilot must leave the plane, study the problem, Google the panel code, call his mom’s neighbor’s uncle about it, and then request a repair team to come and bolt the panel shut.

Then, and this part is very true, the pilot comes over his comm system and says “Well, that’s done, but this plane has an awful lot of computers, so it’ll take a little time for us to get started and in the air.”

Gentle reader, dear friend, if an airplane pilot ever complains, or speaks aloud in wonder about the amount of electronics on his flying sky tube, disembark the vehicle immediately. This is simply good life advice.

Only, you see, there’s a script the pilot is using now. Sure you can get off the flying sky tube. Reschedule a flight. Who knows how that will go. And if you leave this flying sky tube you’re not getting back on this flying sky tube. Tricky door panels and all that.

So we stay on. We depart (very) late. We arrive in Dallas very late for our connection. And this is where the troubles began.

We landed, and waited and waited and waited for the plane to connect to the airport, because of personnel problems. Meantime, our connecting flight just … left. Left five minutes early, even.

What airline does that?

(Later — Note how that flight departed early and was still delayed in arriving? Should have been a red flag for everyone.)

So now we’re stuck in Dallas with nothing but our luggage and dreams. There are no more flights to Cozumel, on the Saturday of the first week of Spring Break for most of the US. There are flights to Cancun and, after standing in a line for many hours, we are on standby for each of them.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter the purgatory of ineptitude that is American Airlines, and the studied indifference and downright rudeness of their employees at Dallas-Fort Worth.

Also, that sign in the foreground? May as well be hieroglyphics out here in the real world. You wonder how long before some bored maintenance crew takes them all down at this point, and where the last tattered one will be.

We also spent hours on the phone, to no avail..

We finally arrived at a place euphemistically called Customer Service. We went here three times on Saturday, standing in exceedingly longer lines each time, to be told different stories, tall tales, excuses and downright lies. Six hours or more in this line alone, for lies.

It was well-staffed. If you like irony and travelers’ distress. I painted over the very young person standing here just in front of us to demonstrate the time when the eight-station desk, the one featuring hours-long waits with a line stretching beyond eyesight into the distance haze of the airport. It was staffed by exactly one American Airlines “professional.” At max capacity, there were three people working at that desk.

And dear and gentle reader, at this point I have written 651 words on this shambolic experience, giving you only the highest points. The details will be spelled out to the executives at American. (I found a helpful mailing list.) Suffice to say, to you, that you likely haven’t had the displeasure of dealing with customer service of this sort in a long, long time. The business model, on the phone and in the airport, and at every level, seems to be “Get these people out of my line and into someone else’s.” We spent an entire day and night at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport dealing with these miserable people. And they are miserable. They are angry, and they are angry at you. Do not dare inconvenience them with your inconvenience, no matter how polite or flustered. Also, they’re the ones getting paid to be at the airport today.

Finally we got a voucher for a hotel. We had to re-coordinate with our condo people, who have been amazing. We had to cancel dives. (This is a dive trip. You go to dive and do little else. Because of this airline we have lost 45 percent of our dives.)

We spent Sunday doing nothing in exotic Dallas. Spring Break! We did nothing because The Yankee had to go back to the DFW airport on a luggage journey, another quixotic four-hour tale. One of our bags got to Cozumel yesterday.

American Airlines: Where incompetence meets apathy, in the sky!

Hertz canceled our car reservation, another American Airline knock-on effects, so we also spent about four hours on the phone with American Express and Hertz trying to make this right.

Which brings us today, and the Cozumel airport, after we finally arrived two years, and then two-days, late.

The Yankee retrieved the piece of luggage that arrived yesterday without us (I’m impressed we got anything back from these yahoos) while I stood in the Hertz line, because, we were told, time was critical. The people in front of us at the little Hertz desk, no dice. This bodes well. That poor family was irate, but no carros means no cars.

Meant the same for us. The guy starts to explain it to me. I said, “Please stop, and thank you. But you’re going to have to explain it to her,” and about that time my lovely bride came back with our lost luggage and I stood well, well away, over at the Avis desk, where I got one of the last cars they had available. We previously had a week-long Hertz reservation for less than the daily rate of this Avis car, and American Airlines will get that bill, too. (And the two-night Dallas stay, and the three extra Uber rides. And another for missed dives. It’s going to be fun.)

To sum up: American Airlines is terrible, and by 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon Smith’s First Rule of Economics, “Don’t make it hard for me to spend my money with you,” was invoked.

If American Airlines is the only way to get to somewhere I need to be, I’ll go anywhere else but there.

But enough about that, for now.

We’re staying at a place called Residencias Reef. Let us sing their praises.

It is a nice oceanfront place. We rented a one-bedroom condo. The furnishings are fine and it is well appointed. There’s a note on the printer that says you can’t get these cartridges in Mexico, but some are due in from Estados Unidos this month. Had I known, I would have picked some up for them. It seemed necessary after seeing all of the things there. Need Gorilla Glue? Got it. Forget your beach reading? Two shelves worth. Fresh fruit? At the ready. Sun block? Bug spray? Right over here. Bikes? Paddles for the paddle boards? Of course. Dry bags? You bet.

They’ve been beyond patient and kind to us. As we’ve noted, this is our Spring Break 2020 trip. We postponed it at the 11th hour that because of the rapidly deteriorating Covid situation, wondering “Will they even let us back in the country at the end of the week?” (The next week the mercurial federal government supposedly shut the door to Europe and Canada, after all. And there was something about a wall?) The condo owners were very understanding in 2020. We were ready to make this trip last year, but then a Covid spike hit. They kindly let us postpone once more. But this, they said, was the last time.

It was more than you could ask for, really.

And then we had to write them Saturday and say “We’ll be there Monday, because American Airlines is terrible at their job.”

Residencias Reef has been great. If we come to Cozumel in the future, or steer anyone else here, it will always be with them in mind.

Also, they have two heated pools.

And we waded into the ocean, which was chilly.

Tomorrow, we dive!

Jan 22

May your weekend move more slowly than your week

Bright and early once again this morning, headed in for a first-thing-this morning meeting, and was rewarded with a bright and clear morning for my effort.

I run a small Friday morning meeting and 80 percent of us were in attendance, a success given these pandemic times. The rest of the people are all students and, at the end of their second week of classes, they are all in full-on “Let’s just get to Spring Break mode.”

Oh, but aren’t we all?

When that meeting wrapped I went into one of the television studios, because there was television to produce. We will see the first shows on Monday, or thereabouts, but I was taken back by a philosophical conversation that evolved while we were transitioning between shots.

The host of the film show was discussing his move to wear suit coats this semester, because it is cold, you see. But he likes the cold. Prefers it. But he also likes warm temperatures. He might even prefer that, we decided, as he leaned into the bit. And before long he found himself saying that he imagined a place where he would be all the temperatures at once, and what would that feel like? Would it feel like anything at all?

Which gave us the moment to wonder what the absence of temperature would feel like. Certainly it couldn’t be room temperature, for obvious reasons. It also wouldn’t be the cold vacuum of space, for similar adjective-driven logic. So what would it feel like, the absence of temperature? And I found myself wondering about that for the rest of the day.

Mind you, this is a group that debates about which prepositions make the best puns.

After they’d wrapped up their second show in the studio I was able to retreat to my office to do office stuff. Until it was time to go into another studio to teach a few students how to use a new software setup.

It was there that I realized that, for the next week and a half, when I have to be in tight quarters with any of these people I will ask them if they were at the Purdue basketball game. If they rushed the court. You can find the footage online. Lots of people. Filled the stadium and then filled the court. The only people wearing masks were the cheerleaders.

I don’t know any of the cheerleaders right now, but, it turns out, I know a lot of these other people who enjoyed their moment of fandom. The rest of us are doomed.

If there is an outbreak I wouldn’t be surprised. Of course it might be difficult to find in the current trends. Of course “what even is an outbreak?” is now a thin rhetorical device. Well, here, it’s …

Computer, enhance …

We’re breaking records across this state, and locally, every day now. Consider that for a moment. Two years in and we are still breaking daily records of most any metric you’d care to examine. It has all led to some interesting stratifications. (Further complicating apathy and exhaustion.) I could spell this out, but I’m sure the same is happening around you.

Around my family, it is happening again. The testing positive part, I mean. Someone with youth and vigor and the general healthiness that most of us are blessed with in our younger days is out doing things without regard for the impact of others, then brings the disease to their older, infirm relatives.

And not for the first time, because we can fix neither indifference nor selfishness.

(Which is as kind as I could be toward specific family members after two re-writes.)

Anyway, near the end of the day I had a pleasant conversation with someone I don’t normally have the chance to talk with. That chat ran longer than I realized and so I left the office at about 5:30.

I worked late all four days this week, then.

Next week I hope to only do it twice.

The daily duds: Pictures of clothes I put here to, hopefully, help avoid embarrassing scheme repeats.

This is a new jacket. Bought it in the fall, cut the tags off last night. And it’s a shirt I bought ages ago, but have maaaaaybe worn once or twice, and a new pocket square. I like all three of these things.

Just not together.

Jan 22

Remember, it is twenty … twenty-two now

I took last week off from writing here, and now I have to rebuild my audience. Four people must be convinced to return. It will take weeks to establish that sort of trust. But it was worth having a few days away from this particular never-closed tab in my browser.

I hope you took some time away from the routine, as well, even if it meant time away from this site. And I hope you never close this tab on your browser. Just click refresh once a day. You’ll usually be pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, let’s get caught up. How have you been since we were here together last? I hope you had a good Christmas, if you celebrate, and a lot of time with people you care about and doing things you wanted to do, no matter how you mark the 25th.

We woke up on the 24th in Connecticut, to a white Christmas Eve.

The in-laws drove us to the airport, where we said our goodbyes, and headed inside from the cold to a warmer airport. I left my belt at the TSA checkpoint. For a week I’ve been trying to understand how I just … left my belt in that gray tub.

Sorry belt. We had a good run. And, despite my abandoning you, I liked you a great deal. You were starting to show wear, though, and I would have only gotten four or five more years out of you anyway. And now I’ll have to buy another black belt. (Or use one of the other three I found in my bedroom since then.)

We flew into Nashville, which is good, because that was the immediate destination of the plane we boarded, and also the destination for which we’d purchased tickets, and furthermore, where my car was. Our friend Sally Ann picked us up at the airport. She was just as excited to see us as when we stayed with her a few days prior, or when we saw her earlier in the month. It makes me wonder when people feel like they’ve caught up with those they’ve had to carefully avoid for most of the last two years.

He said, just as it was becoming apparent we’re going back to avoiding our friends and loved ones.

But not before Christmas, because we avoided everyone last year and that stunk and this is measurably better. We have soaring Covid rates, but also vaccines! Thank you science, and Merry Christmas. And so there we were, on Christmas Eve, in Sally Ann and Spencer’s home, planning for the next leg of our holiday travels. We’d removed our masks and took our first at-home Covid tests.

We took those tests because, once the 15 minutes of suspense was over and we were negative, which is a positive, we turned the car to …

We spent the better part of the next week with my mother, taking new tests every day, enjoying her walls instead of our own.

We had Christmas, of course, which is a thing we haven’t had a lot of in the last few years for a lot of reasons. But my mom picked up a bunch of silly little gifts for everyone and people unwrapped them and we laughed and it was different and fun. All of which, we came to find out, was just a setup for my being the recipient of a gag gift, which was clever and sweet and they’ll laugh about it for years because it’s now a part of the family lore.

We spent the weekend played dominoes with my grandfather, who you can see here performing trigonometry in his head.

He’s probably also there considering which dessert he should try, wondering about someone from his church, recalling a passing memory from his work life and thinking up the next sneakily hilarious thing he’ll say. He’s a smart fella, and dominoes aren’t the challenge for him that they are for me, is what I’m saying.

He won’t admit it, but he enjoys whipping me at dominoes. He’s not the sort that you’d think of us competitive, he’d much rather laugh at the moment than put up a big fuss about a game he’s playing. In the whole of my life the extent of his good-natured ribbing is “Goody goody!” But just as much as he likes to sit and visit and, as much as he was proud to teach me how to play dominoes, he also enjoys putting 45 points on the table while I’m drawing extra tiles.

But we play a lot of dominoes when we visit, now. It’s always my mother and grandfather versus me and The Yankee. And we’re getting better at it, at least a little. Occasionally we win a round or two. I am also experimenting with domino strategy, and counting dots on my fingers.

I will forever count dots on my fingers, even though my gag gift was a little calculator to go with my own set of dominos.

We had unseasonably warm weather, and we went for a few runs under some dramatic skies.

The whole time we were there the forecasts pointed at some bad weather coming later in the week, and we all tried to talk ourselves out of that eerie feeling you get this time of year when the barometer and the temperature are out of whack.

I seldom get to use that banner, but we ran over Wilson Dam again, so I’m going to use it here.

Water, as I have noted in this space before, is the predominant geographical feature of the area where all of my family live. The Tennessee River forms near Knoxville, Tennessee and flows to the southwest, into Alabama, before looping back up, helping form the Alabama-Mississippi-Tennessee borders and then heading on up to Kentucky. It created a topography that has defined all of the people that have ever lived there. (When we drove in on Christmas Eve we passed the “Entering the Tennessee River watershed” sign just as Christmas in Dixie came on the radio, like it was scripted to happen, and I was grateful for the darkness because it was a bit emotional in a nonsensical way.)

The Yuchi tribe, the Alibamu and the Coushatta, of the Muscogee Creek Confederacy, lived on this imposing body of water. They called it the Singing River. Alabama became a territory in 1817, white people moved in and it became a state in 1819. Some of my ancestors were among the first white people in the area, some even before the Native Americans were forcibly displaced by the federal government. From what I can glean, they were hardscrabble dirt farmers. Agriculture and water transit defined the era, but shipping was difficult. The shallow, turbulent water at Muscle Shoals was the problem, unlike this little man-made canal at Patton Island.

Then the Great War came.

There was a worry that the Imperial German Navy would cut off shipments of nitrates from South America, so the federal government decided to build their own nitrate plants, driven by hydroelectric power. Muscle Shoals was understood to have the greatest hydroelectric potential east of the Rockies.

So in 1918 they started building a dam, which became it’s own city, employing thousands. They had a school, barbershops, a hospital and more than a hundred miles of sewage lines. But the war ended before the construction did.

This is a view of Wilson Dam, completed in 1924 and named after President Woodrow Wilson.

It is a narrow, two-lane dam, always a bit intimidating when I was a kid. Back then, it was one of the last little bits of road on our two-hour trip to my grandparents’ home. My mom would tell me about how she learned how to drive on that dam, in the snow.

Well, I haven’t done that, but I have driven over it, jogged over it, biked over it in 2017, fished beneath it as a kid, marveled at the power of the spillways and the respect they commanded from people on the water, watched the ships pass through the locks, and dined above it. I didn’t grow up here, but the dam is omnipresent in my story because of the river it sits on and my family which lives in its orbit.

Wilson Dam has considerably less road traffic now, because of the almost-20-year-old Singing River Bridge, my vantage point for the above picture, which is a bit over a mile downstream. You can see the pylons of that bridge, here. I used to do news stories on the air about that bridge because, in the time around it opening, it was the most important thing happening in the area.

In 1933 the dam was handed over to the newly formed Tennessee Valley Authority, which also touches everyone and everything in the region. The dam was put on the historic registry in 1966, and boasts the highest single lift lock east of the Rocky Mountains.

I’m told they used to give tours. Sure, you could walk on that little sidewalk on the narrow dam, but why do that when you can walk through the dam?

As I said, they started building the dam in 1918. In 2016 we ran across the dam and saw a rainbow that was almost a century in the making.

Since they completed the thing in 1924, I now have two years to think up a good line and camp out on the dam until I see another century-old rainbow.

A word about those banners. The Spillway was a newspaper clipping from The Florence Times, the pre-merger ancestor of the modern Times Daily. The Spillway was one of those little social happenings sections of the daily paper The Northwest Alabamian is an old masthead from the still publishing paper of the same name. It’s been a twice-weekly community paper since 1965, tracing it’s own heritage back to 1911. The current publisher has been there since 1983. (He’s also now the county sheriff, and has worn a badge for 30 years, and was the agency’s public relations officer for some time. Small town papers, man.)

We stayed in north Alabama for most of the week, and have since returned to this.

Four days in a row so far, and three months until the reprieve that April will bring.

Hopefully the cats will forgive us for leaving them by then. They were demanding and cuddly over the long weekend.

And, now, for the first time in 2022, back to work.

Dec 21

Let’s start the family holidays

We have arrived in Pennsylvania. We departed Nashville this morning, an airport experience without incident. Checked a bag, got a free offer to check another bag and so we did. From the ticket kiosk to the desk agent, through security, no problem. The Yankee did the pre check and I went the conventional route. We found ourself on the other side of the security checkpoint at almost the same time.

We had plenty of time for the plane, so we sat and read things for a bit. Boarded our plane, and were told about the upcoming turbulence. There was minimal turbulence. Everything was great, except for the people who don’t understand masks. And also the landing. It was a bit hard, but as I’ve been told before, it wasn’t the pilot’s fault, it was the asphalt.

We taxied a bit, and then the plane was brought to a halt. There was, the pilot said a VIP moving through the airport and everything was coming to a halt. Clearly the pilot didn’t know about the guy sitting in 20F, me, who is literally wearing a VIP arm band.

I got a good two minutes of material out of this, which earned polite chuckles from the people around me. The Yankee, meanwhile, had looked it up. How many VIPs could there be, anyway? It was the president, of course. Air Force One was landing at about the same time, and the president was heading home to Delaware. They shut down everything for these sorts of moves. Entire airports, surrounding interstates, and all of that. But it took a while.

I sent him a note.

I did not send him a note. But it got another good chuckle.

And then our plane moved to the terminal, we got off the miraculous flying tube and went through the building and out the front. My godbrother-in-law (just go with it) picked us up and drove us to his home. We’re spending two nights with their family before moving on to other family events.

An event they had scheduled tonight was postponed because of some of the scheduled attendees tested positive and, following the news, this is obviously going to be the theme of the holidays. But there are children involved in all of this and you roll with the punches, and the kids are used it at this point.

So they decorated gingerbread houses and we had lasagna and I taught one of the girls a little bit about volleyball and everyone had fun. There were three couples and five kids, four of them 10-and-under. It was a whirlwind. That will also be a theme!

How are your holidays starting? I hope they’re pleasant and safe and full of promise.

Nov 21

The two promised unusual things

We’re coming to the last of it. The brilliant, crisp days before the gray moves in permanently, and the final trees before everything is just point sticks into the sky. Within the next week or so winter will set in, most decidedly, with an awkward plop. But, until then, we still have some lovely views of a few vibrant sweetgums.

These are on my little miniature walk from the parking deck to the office. There’s a half-block of sweetgums in a row.

I don’t know who planted, or left them, there, but it was the right choice, and I silently thank them for that decision this time of year.

It’s a good view walking east.

I had to walk further that direction on campus, today, because we signed up for the voluntary asymptomatic Covid tests. The university has been doing these on campus since the beginning. Initially all of the samples went to New Jersey, but they built a lab for this campus, and the one in Bloomington, and now you get your results in hours.
Anyway, this is part of that walk, from the Old Crescent, across Spanker’s Branch, past the IMU and the hotel (yes, there’s a giant hotel on campus) and one of the ancient gymnasia.

In fact, where they are conducting the tests is a small gym of some sort. Not sure what it is used for when we’re not in the midst of a pandemic, but today you register online, walk in, swipe your campus ID card at the first table, answer three questions, “Have you had anything to eat or drink in the last half hour? Have you had any symptoms? Have you been advised to quarantine?”

I remember the first time they asked you these aloud. Now they just point. The product of doing anything a few thousand times is finding the easiest way to do it. I also remember when I used to read the sign, now I just assume they haven’t changed the questions. No, no, no.

And then you go to a second table, two young men are sitting there waiting on the printer to produce a label that they wrap on the little plastic tube. They used to tell you how much saliva to produce. Now they just ask if you’ve done this before.

I have! It’s an asymptomatic testing site, and we’ve fortunately never had any symptoms, but it’s good to have the peace of mind before traveling or having guests.

So now you have that little tube in your head and you’ve been working the saliva glands overtime for the last few minutes. Produce, produce, produce. The first time or two you do this, it seems daunting. But the students are right: after you’ve had the experience you can generate that kind of spit on demand.

In the gym they’ve created lanes and there are stickers and don’t stand too near anyone because everyone’s mask is lowered and it’s time to spit into the little plastic container. You have to fill it to the bottom of the sticker. Did it in record time. Cap the sucker off, wipe it down with a few wet naps, put it in the tray and hope that the person who picks those up at the end of the day isn’t feeling clumsy. Then you get out of there. You get notified of the test results in a few hours.

(Update: Negative again, as expected. Bring on the in-laws.)

And then it was back to the office, for office stuff.

After work I walked the three blocks to the local public library. I’ve had a book on hold there for some time and this week Craig Johnson’s latest became available to me.

I enjoyed this lovely maple just outside the building.

Then I went inside — one of the few places I’ve been during the pandemic, and though I’ve been here twice, it’s one of only two dozen or so public buildings I have visited in the last 18 months — the library which is always amusing. It is built into an uneven plot of land. So going through this particular door means you go down an immediate flight of stairs. The children’s section is to the right and the used book store is nearby and there are a few meeting rooms and offices down there. It has a half-submerged feeling, not the least which is because of the large set of stairs that sweeps up and to the left to get to the main floor of books.

I walked down to immediately walk back up. And where those stairs deposit you is right next to the rows of reserve books. In fact the books for people with S names is directly in front of me, and mine is in the first section, at knee level. I was able to grab that quickly and say a silent thanks to the person who keeps those well alphabetized, and used the kiosk to check myself out. Scan my card, input my password, scan the book, print the receipt. And then back down the grand staircase, and then immediately up the half staircase to exit.

All of the power of a library, none of the human interaction. The most time intensive part, aside from waiting for the book to become available, was inputting my eight-character password.

Outside, I found another potential candidate for my jigsaw puzzle series.

And I walked back to the parking deck. Here’s one of the same sweetgums I photographed this morning, and showed you above.

Brilliant as they are, they really do need the right kind of sunlight. Either way, it’s a shame photographs can’t convey the real sense of a quality leaf turn.

So there you go, two new stories for an otherwise average Thursday. I spat in a cup and a checked out a book.

It’s all downhill from there.

And here’s the routine sharing of this week’s sports show. Lots of highlights to check out from the IU students, and it’s all brought to you by the IU broadcast students.

The daily duds: Pictures of clothes I put here to, hopefully, help avoid embarrassing scheme repeats.

I think this combination did better in person than in the photographs. Anyway, a new pocket square.

And a pair of the cufflinks I made this past summer.

And I am now one day closer to the Thanksgiving break. Just one day to go!