Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: He was the best dog on the planet.

Bonding

Bonding
The author of Mark's Work with Ellie Mae

Guess who's coming for dinner

Guess who's coming for dinner
Blue heron, sitting on the dock of our pond

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
Air-borne bees

BFF's forever

BFF's forever
Margie and Ellie Mae

Tomatoes and peppers are us.

Tomatoes and peppers are us.
Spicy salsa with roasted peppers, here at HappyDay Farms

Much love, John-Bryan

Much love, John-Bryan
Eric at 26 on the left, and John-Bryan in January of 1973.

Halloween fun

Halloween fun
SmallBoy and Dancing Girl

Our house

Our house
The snow season approaches...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ireland # 12: From Cari to Cali

Ireland
From Cari to Cali  
I never get tired of writing while flying.  I am such a lucky fellow, to be able to soar 34,726 feet above the ground, at 852kmph, and tap the keys of my laptop at the same time.  Don’t even get me started on those cookies.  OK, talked me into it.  I have already chronicled my successful transference of my medication, from Cali to Cari (Carigaholt); all that was left to travel, was the twenty or so hours to get from Suan-Na-Mara, back to San Francisco. 

Though I woke up shortly after midnight, (after about three hours of sleep) and arose at two, I waited until exactly four-twenty, to eat the last two cookies that had come from California in the mail.  What was left, was the snacky combo that I had put together before we left Mendocino County.  I had taken a small package of trail mix, combined it with some dried banana chips, and crumbled up about a half-dozen or so of my oatmeal dainties, and mixed it all together.  It smelled delightfully of cinnamon, and since I never did see any dogs in Shannon’s airport, I never even thought of it as contraband.
As we took our seats in the second row of economy class,  and the passengers boarded, I snacked on trail mix.  I found the irony of the whole venture very enticing.  The guy behind me in the security line, the one with the frizzy hair, and the girlfriend with the funny hat, had been detained and led aside behind the curtain, and searched.  The ancient hippie with the long thin pony tail, and mostly bald head, whose wife had appealed to us earlier for help in finding the way through the airport maze, had been detained and searched.  We saw all four of them later in the plane, so we figured they had survived the experience.  So why them, and not me?  
The Irish girl sitting next to Annie had said hi, as she sat down, and then smiled and mentioned that she recognized me from the flight two weeks ago.
“What, me?  You remember me?” I asked in mock surprise.
“Well, you do have a distinct appearance.”
Which is why I wonder how I get past the scrutiny of Security, and I should qualify that.  I do not believe anyone could either definitively identify anything other than oatmeal cookies on the spot, nor do I believe anyone would care.  However, I might have thought, that somewhere in my journey, some person, just like that guy in New York, who wouldn’t serve me some cabernet for Ann, would drag me aside, just because he/she did not like my appearance.
I think no one bugged me because I am the child in the candy store.  Being a novice traveler, I look up, I look around, and I am trying to see more than the two directions that I have eyes for.  When the nice lady asks me all of those security questions, she has my rapt attention.  I want to hear the question, and I want to give her crisp, clear answers.  I am an attentive pupil.  Take my shoes off?   Sure thing.  Help with an emergency?  You better believe it.  And smiling?  Life in an ivory tower.
I am not the guy they are looking for.  I am stamped by my appearance and my demeanor, as a novice flyer, and do not fit the profile of whomever it is they have on the list.  Our last stop in Shannon Airport, ostensibly for Customs, also included the third different security point.  Senorita Rivera was very courteous, and very good at her job.  She held my customs claim in front of her face, so that she could see both it and my face.  
“Mr. O’Neill, can you tell me what you have to declare?”  I could, I did, and she seemed impressed, if for no other reason than the fact that I could list it all, even though I bounced all over the form, almost forgetting the little red fire engine for a certain fire fighter.  That drew a smile.  
When she flashed the picture of Big Red, my suitcase, on the screen for me to identify, I gave his name a quick tweak, and announced, “Hey, that’s Rojo.  Yes, that’s my bag.”  You do not want to joke with the security personnel, but she was caught flat-footed, and gave me a dazzling smile, as I added, “There can’t be two of those.”  I had brought a duffel bag that was forty-two inches long, and would have had a seasoned traveler cringing, but it was so me.  "Go right ahead, Mr. O'Neill."
I came over to Ireland with thirty-three pounds in Big Red, AKA Rojo, well below the 23 kilogram limit. However, I had gained a fair amount of [excess baggage] during my stay, and now had to pay the “Luxury Tax” assessed when you exceeded that weight.  If Eric could have done something to prevent that from happening, he would have.  He tried, and I appreciated that he was trying to help me with his knowledge.  I kept saying. “I worked all summer so that I could do this, and I just think of it as a mini tax on each of the items I had brought back.”  Well, I wouldn’t tax the pair of Ann’s boots that I gained, nor the Aaron Elkins books, but you get my meaning.  If I brought back fifteen items purchased in Ireland, then I just got taxed a few Euros each.  Heck, luxury tax, funny money, it’s just like Monopoly, and I’m good at board games. 

The woman behind the counter was far more bummed than I was, that our bag was overweight.
“Ay, sure and your bag’s a bit heavy, you know.”  She looked up expectantly at me. 
“Yes, I know.”
  “You can redistribute the weight, and move some into another carry-on...” She waited. 
“It’s all good,” I replied.  “We have already talked it about it, and decided that the hassle at this point, is not worth it.”  Ann’s backpack was more than adequate for her needs, but did not have a reliable enough fastening device, to guarantee that that backpack would not open up, if it were stored in the hold.  She wanted to take it on board with her, and we didn’t think we could keep jamming stuff into it, and still get it into the overhead storage bin.
“Sure, and you can just step out of line, and take your time.”  Again, she looked at us both as if we were sure to take her up on her offer.  I didn’t have to look around me to know that, if we left this line, we would then be back behind a whole lot of people who were currently staring at our backs.
“We’re taking the Less Stress Express, but you are very kind to offer timely advice.”
“Well, and I’m feeling bad, I am.  You’re sure?” Her fingers were working industriously on her Mac Henry, as she suddenly paused in mid-flight, and sang out, “Well, look at that. Would you fancy an emergency exit row?  That’s the least I can do.”  
I couldn’t believe my ears.  Those were far more spacious seats, with more legroom, and I was all about it.  I remember Eric telling us that these seats were more expensive, and were sometimes offered to people who had had some sort of issue.  It wasn’t Delta’s fault that Old Rojo was too heavy, but we jumped at the seats.
“We’d love an exit row,” I said.  “You are being very nice, and we appreciate it.  And, yes, if there is an emergency, we would be more than happy to take on the responsibilities required,” with an even bigger smile.
“Grand, then, if you’ll just give me your card...”  One more step removed from greenbacks.  From Euros to plastic to the bank.  It’s only money, and this was as smooth as landing on Free Parking.  Why mess with a good thing?  The travel experience on the way over, had gone so blissfully well, that we were determined to keep the formula alive and kicking.  Sitting here, munching on trail mix, I  have the formula.  I have been exchanging pleasantries with each of the attendants with whom I have interacted, and it always pays dividends. 

Back in  Carrigaholt, preparing for the return trip, we had determined that departure time, for the final excursion to the airport, was to be five-thirty the next morning.
“That means we have to get up very early,” said Eric.
“Oh, Eric,” exclaimed Cecilia. “We don’t have an alarm clock.”
Eric looked over at me, because, of course, I was smiling broadly.
  
“Oh, I don’t think we’re going to need one.  We have our own alarm clock right here.  Isn’t that right, Mark?”
“That’s the name of that tune, Ollie.  I’d like to say that I will be sleeping eight hours through tonight, but I also don’t want anyone to think I’m a liar.  I’ll be emailing JT by no later than two a.m.  What time would you like to be awakened?”
“Four o’clock,” said Eric meaningfully, looking around to see if there was any hint of insurrection in the group.  Knowing that he was only person remotely qualified to drive from Carrigaholt to the Shannon Airport, no one argued.   Besides, he was the pro from Dover, and we all knew it.  If Eric said four o’clock, everyone agreed.
“The next question is, how are we going to get all of our luggage into Megan?” I asked.   “After all, you guys got here a month before us, but we’re all leaving together.  Probably what will have to happen, is that we will have to put Big Red on the seat between me and Annie.  He will have a tendency to slump, but it’s nothing personal.  He’s kind of lumpy, any way.”
“Then we’ll put all of our stuff in the trunk, and that should work.  Listen, Mark.  I don’t think you should leave your computer behind, because I am putting the keys through the mail slot, after we are all locked up, so...”
“Listen, just because I left poor Terra Jean behind twice in Cork, and once here in Cari, doesn’t mean I am going to do it again.  What do you think, that I need more than three wake-up calls?  A fourth?  OK, maybe.
I kept up a steady stream of chatter, much of the way to Shannon.  It’s not that I thought Eric would be nodding off, it’s more because I wanted to preserve the minute for as long as possible, maybe try to transport us back to our living room in Cari, looking out on the blustery weather, with the sail boat in the window one last time.
“So, Eric, remember how I was saying before we left, that I hoped we could do a better job of taking advantage of the fact that we were overseas, since we didn’t exactly have the same caliber of responsibility as last time?”
“You mean because I’m not in the Peace Corps, and you’re not in the army?” asked Eric.
“That’s funny, neither am I.  But, yes, that’s what I meant.  This time we did what we wanted, and it worked out great.”
“That’s right,” he added.  “You have to go with the flow.”
“Not only do you have to go with the flow, but you have to be able to divert that flow, if that’s what works for you, and go with it.  That day that you guys went went looking at cliffs, I was feeling as though I had fallen off one. I barely moved all day, and it was exactly what I wanted to do.  Ah, nice.” 
“Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Now, my brain was in overdrive.  “Well, just so’s you know, there are 101 days left until Christmas.  Inquiring minds felt that you needed to be aware of that information.”  Long pause.  “So Eric, is there as much of a Christmas celebration in Colombia, as there is here?  Or, in California, anyway, not here”   I was asking because after going home long enough to collect the mail, and change the sheets, he and Cecilia are going to San Gill, Colombia, for a prolonged stay.  Actually, six weeks does not constitute a blink of the eye, but they will be in Colombia during the Holliday season.
“Well, do you mean in the family or within the city?”
“Yeah, the second.  I figure families are all going to be different, but what about Christmas music?  Do you hear it in the stores?  Is it in English?  Probably not.”
Cecilia said, “Well the official time to start is December seventh, but maybe not as early as in California.”
Eric added, “When it gets close, I put up lights out front of our house, a real cigar stand.”
“That’s what I’m saying/talking about.”
The airplane ride was as sweet of a Disney attraction, as I could have  hoped for.  Our flight attendant was on target, and she appreciated humor.  There always seems to be some little exchanges that are warm and fuzzy.  At one point the male attendant took the opportunity, during a lull in the action, to collapse on the attendants' bench seat, and judge rest his feet.  No one paid any attention to him, and I had been buried in my laptop, when I looked up and made eye contact.
 "Whoa, they let you sit down?  How did that happen?"
As soon as he realized I wasn't asking him to get me some coffee with cream and sugar, he broke out a happy grin.  "I know.  Don't say anything.  They'll catch me."
"I mean, I haven't even seen you slow down yet, let alone sit."  He obviously appreciated the comment.  


The male flight attendants share many characteristics, some of course mandated by the airlines.  They wear their hair meticulously short, and do not wear facial hair.  They are smooth, even polished, whether they are pouring the wine, or attending to the technical difficulty in the lavatory.  They maintain a very professional expression on their faces, until a passenger extends the hand of humor, and then they are effusive in their appreciation, comfortable making chit-chat, under the most trying of conditions.  They manage to convey a sense dignity in a field where the people around them often act quite the opposite.


On this last leg of the journey, the passengers were an entirely different breed, than those on the international flight.  Instead of predominantly elderly, this flight consisted mostly of twenty-somethings, and they were a restless lot.  The two guys/one gal in the row next to me, did this constant shuffle, with one going to the lavatory, and the other two switching seats.  It went on the whole flight, and made it so that someone seemed to be continuously standing over me.  Come to think of it, what was going on in the lavatory?  There was such a systematic rotation going on.


 Otherwise, this woman eight rows up kept coming back, whenever the gal was sitting on the outside, to chat with her, until it was her time to start the shuffle.  It seemed the same throughout the plane.  Maybe it was the turbulence, but for whatever reason, the flight crew seemed to take it in stride. 


 Meanwhile, I’m fishing through my trail mix, snagging nice little chunks at first, then the smaller clumps, and then I’m spooning crumbs off the bottom of the little plastic bag.  I never ate so many raisins in my life, because I couldn’t tell the ones that came with the trail mix, apart from the ones that came from my cookies.  Annie suggested that with the cookies disintegrating, and coming into contact with all of the rest of the trail mix, that the oil would simply be distributed uniformly throughout the mix.  
So, I should obviously keep eating trail mix.  While doing so, I watch the mini TV screen in front of me at eye level, which does an in-flight monitoring of our plane’s progress.  I like it because it tells me the altitude, the distance we have traveled, speed of the headwinds, temperature outside the plane in Celsius, and the time of day at our destination.  The flight from Cari to New York, turned out to be more than six and a half hours, a full hour longer that the flight over had been.  In fact I had carefully calibrated the time from NY to SF and come up with six and a half hours.  When it turned out that I was off by almost an hour, in our favor, we felt that we had gotten a break.  Then we lost that hour with some furious headwinds over the Lakes.  As we travel, we watch a plane simulate travel along the route on the map.  If nothing else, it’s a great refresher course in the geography of the route. 

There was a distinct difference in the service aboard the two planes. On the international flight, we were served first a meal of pasta or chicken, and then later a snack (single slices of a pesto pizza-one bite sufficed).  We had free movies, free earplugs, and an all-around full-service experience. 
  On the JFK to SF flight, we got a bag of thirteen mini-pretzels, and a coke.  The plane had signs all over it, proclaiming that this plane was equipped with Wi-Fi, or the internet, but when I tried to hook up, we found out it cost nine dollars and fifty cents for it.  After all those nights at Carmody’s with free access, I said, no thanks, I don’t need to check my e-mail that badly.  There was such a contrast between the two travel experiences, as far as service.
  
JFK Airport was staggeringly easy.  I was the first one off the plane, after business class, and Ann and I followed the arrows, for twenty minutes of welcome exercise, after eight hours on the plane.  It was all so easy, because the airport is set up so that no matter how long that walk took, we could never have left a secured zone, and no one who has not been through Security, could enter.  You knew that already, though.   That meant that we were done with security and lines.  We had survived what everyone had told us was the most challenging aspect of travel. 
Annie found an electrical outlet all by itself, at the base of this silver pillar, and I tended to Terra Jean’s insatiable need for electricity.  I still had half of my available power, having had the computer on for more than three hours.  Buddha, does that make an airline flight go fast.  I had told Kris, our attendant on the first flight, that her plane was ideal to write in.  That was right after I had asked her if she had any idea how many miles she had flown.  

She responded immediately, with a snort and a guffaw, while she snapped her head back.  “No idea.  Never kept track.”
“That many?”
“Twenty-four.  Years, that is.”
“Marvelous.  So when you land in New York, it’s ho, hum?”
Yawning, she smiled brightly, almost as broadly as me.
Being first off the plane on the earlier flight meant some serious cosmic balancing on the second one, with Ann and I being seated in the third to the last row on the plane.  At least we knew that when we arrived in San Francisco, we were going to be last off the plane, so we wouldn’t even bother trying to stand up, until the place was deserted.  That is the best strategy to go with, because things can only improve.  That pretty much summarizes our strategy all along.
Speaking of cosmic forces at work, I have ended up with my name on a boarding pass with an aisle seat, all four legs of the journey.  I am sure Eric had a hand in some of it, but Irene had some influence too.  Odds say twice on the aisle was already better than expected, so that was lucky for me.  Riding on the aisle is not without its hazards, though. 

Two weeks ago, while on the tarmac in New York, some guy was bleating into his cell-phone, several rows back, before he suddenly railroaded his way down to my row, where he paused.  He was going against the flow, because everyone else was trying to board.  He stepped into my spot, jamming himself up against me, without so much as a break in the conversation.  My smile may have lost a bit of its luster, but I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Annie was amazed that I just sat there.  Then he took one more tiny step backward, and put his heel down on my toe.
“Whoa, DUDE.  How long you gonna be?”  Apology?  Warm and fuzzy?  Not so much as a sneer.
“I’m on the phone.”
“YOU ARE ON MY FOOT.”  And I stood up, and smiled.  He went right up that aisle to the front of the plane and exited, never stopping his conversation.  New York.
All I can say on this trip is that there are a whole dugout of Yankee hats on the flight, and only one SF Giants hat.  Not one of those guys has so much as glanced in my direction, doggone it.  All I wanted was a chance to say to anyone who pointed out that the Yankees are further ahead in the standings than the Giants, “We don’t have to prove anything.  We are the World Champs.”
Another pitfall of the aisle is the serving cart.  I don’t mind them, but you’ll get a wild one occasionally, and it hits the back of your seat with a thud, especially on those emergency seat rows.  The novice flight attendant on the earlier flight, kept nailing the seat of the poor guy in front of me.  Even I felt the thud.  Most passengers are pretty easy going, but once in a while you see a little flame-on-Johnny.
The carry-on baggage is the biggest pain of all, with people bringing absurdly huge bags, and so many of them.  One poor guy was simply among the last to board, and there was no room for his carry-on, so he had to go to the front of the plane to check it in.  When the word came that we were on the verge of take-off, and his scene was still hard times, it seemed as though they were upset at him.
Another guy had his seats taken, when he came to claim them, and he ended up with a middle seat, instead of an aisle seat, because the people in the seats had boarding passes issued to the same seats.  He raised a ruckus, while the attendant apologized sincerely, and sweetly, and once.  When he seemed to be gearing up for a more prolonged engagement, he found to his surprise, that the conversation was over, and he was either taking his seat, or disembarking the plane.  He sat down, but his fat, happy smile was gone.  I felt bad for him, but figure it’s part of the allure of being an international traveler.  I hope it doesn’t happen to me, but what are you going to do?  Someone is going to end up unhappy, and it looked like this was his flight to bite.
We can’t actually see the ground, and probably couldn’t even if we were at a window seat, but it amazes me that our flight takes us over four of the five Great Lakes.  I guess I just thought we would fly along well below them.  We split the middle between lakes Erie and  Ontario, crossed the bottom of Huron, and flew square over Lake Michigan.  I would have liked to have seen them from the air, but the map is pretty cool.
This flight over the Great Lakes had some serious shaking going on, which prompted me to remark to Annie that Bell Springs Road was awfully bumpy today.  That made me laugh, because if I can equate the turbulence to BSR, I’m in pretty good shape.  The first thing I notice on my handy plane tracker, is that we are gaining altitude, and are now at 38,002 feet, up at least three thousand from the last time I checked.  The immediate response is to suggest maybe we go up a little higher still, but since the pilot didn’t ask me.  Eric says it’s probably best not to volunteer any assistance, so I didn’t do anything but smile, type and listen to “Who’s Next,” an icon of this traveler, ever since the days of going to Big Sur.
Well, that was a bouncy half-hour, but now we are over Wisconsin, so maybe some of that Windy City business will remain with the Cubs.  They could use a little push.  We are going to miss Minnesota by an inch on the map, so we will pass through Iowa instead.  We are dead on for Denver, and I really would like to see the Rockies.  When I flew from LA to Fort Leonard Wood in 1972, I did see the Rockies from the air, so that will have to suffice.  If any of those mountains have switched places in the interim, I haven’t heard about it.
Oomph, I just got nailed by this little old lady, who doesn’t seem tough to have ruffled the feathers of a chicken.  While walking down the aisle, she made a grab for the seat in front of me, and missed, literally falling into my shoulder.  She, at least, was gracious, and heard me repeat my mantra, “It’s all good.  If I weren’t here, you might have fallen.”  She walked away, pleased that I was happy.  She knew I was happy because I was smiling.

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