Monday, September 17, 2001

My Trip Began With Flight 2

Darn those time changes. Despite getting to sleep pretty late last night, my body decided to get me up wide awake at 6 this morning.

Anyway, "Bill", co-worker A and I left on a shuttle from work on Friday the 7th. Because of potential traffic delays, we were put on a shuttle at 3 for a 7:45 flight. We got to Dulles a little after 4. That gave us mucho time to kill. Fortunately, Bill is a Red Carpet Club member, and he can bring two guests.

The Red Carpet Club is an oasis United provides in the airport to its customers who pay for the privilege. It has comfy chairs, free sodas and munchies, free local phone calls, and perhaps most importantly, a quiet air that harkens back to a more refined era of air travel. So we sat there for a couple of hours. A and I read; Bill used his laptop. Then I ran out to McDonalds to get hopefully-mad-cow-free beef for the last time in a while.

My verdict on the Red Carpet Club -- it's nice. But I have a pretty good ability to find a secluded spot in the airport and tune everything else out. Once, when I was a kid, I was waiting for a bus at a playground with a whole busload of other kids. I was sitting on a swing or something reading a book. When I looked up, I noticed the bus had arrived and all the other kids had gotten on and were now yelling at me to hurry up. Which is to say with my nose in a book, which it usually is while waiting at an airport, I can't tell the difference between the Red Carpet Lounge and an unused gate I've wandered off to. Besides, next year with my Premier Executive (50,000 mile) status, I'll be able to use the Red Carpet Lounge when traveling internationally. But I can definitely see the attraction of the place.

So then it was time to board. We were on United Flight 2, which is United's round-the-world flight. It's the counter-clockwise version -- from Santa's perspective, at least. It goes Dulles to London to Delhi to Singapore to Hong Kong to Los Angeles and back to Dulles again. We were only on it for one hop, but there were a number of Indians on it for 2. (I sneaked a peek at their boarding passes.) Economy Plus and its 6 inches of extra leg room did not exist on this flight, and foolishly I put my carry-on luggage under the seat in front of me and reduced my leg room a bit more. Last time for that. I've learned my lesson, and I think there's going to be a lot more room in the overhead bins in coming years.

And so it was across the Atlantic for the most light-hearted flight I'll be taking for some time.

Sunday, September 16, 2001

Buying a Shirt in London

Well, I'm back. More on that later.

So after I posted the last entry, I went off in search of a new shirt. We had gone down Earl's Court to get mediocre tapas Thursday night, so I figured the commercial district there must also have a clothing store, right? I think in America I would have been OK -- in America, everybody sells t-shirts. "Try Our Mediocre Tapas" or some such. And at the very least, there would be an intermingling of stores. But no, in London, they specialize. I walked block after block, with the only thing even close being a women's clothing store. I stopped into a bookstore. I bet in the US, you could get t-shirts at Borders. But at the Waterstone's, no such luck.

Finally, I came to a store that looked like it might sell shirts. As I ducked inside, I gradually realized that it was a gay sex shop. I mean, the sign on the wall that said "sex shop" was one clue. Then the pictures of buff men was the other. And the shirts were just way too expensive. Especially for a style I was not going to wear more than once.

Finally, in desperation, I ducked into a Mailboxes, Etc. and asked where I could buy shirts. The guy suggested High Street Kensington, but said it was about a 20 minute walk, and it was 5:40. He wasn't sure if the stores closed at 6. Uh-oh. So I walked a block north, went to the Earl's Court Underground Station, and took it a stop to Kensington High Street. It was almost 6 when I got there (but my feet thanked me). And the tube stop led out right to a Marks & Spencer that was open 'til 8. Whew.

So I got a shirt much more my style, for a third the price. Good. Then I walked back to the hotel (should have taken the tube again), and met F for dinner. We went to a pub. It was the same pub I had fish & chips for lunch, but I thought I could avoid being repetitive by ordering the lasagna. No dice; they were out of the sauce. So I ended up ordering curry, the 4th time I had Indian food on this trip.(Hey, what am I going to eat? English food? Not unless it's breakfast.) Tip: if you order Indian food, order it from Indians, not Englishmen.

I got up early this morning for my flight. Everything was more or less normal. There were those men with guns. As with last year, I got the extra hassle treatment when checking in, only now everyone got it. And I got a quick frisk thrown in.

The flight back was reassuringly mundane, mostly. You know, cramped seating, Smelly Guy sitting next to me. We did have to circle New York for a while because, presumably, of air traffic delays. That allowed the captain excessive time to point out Manhattan to people on both sides of the plane. "It's still on fire; you can see the smoke covering the lower part of the island." I don't think it's still on fire.

When we landed, everybody clapped. Then the flight attendant said, "Welcome to America; God Bless America," and we all clapped again.

Saturday, September 15, 2001


I called United and was told I needed to go to Heathrow to get my ticket re-issued. So, after a few phone calls back home and a satisfying lunch of fish and chips, I took the long Tube ride out there. When I got there, the ticket line was suprisingly short. After the 6 individuals in front of me were helped, I stepped up and was told that my flight was, in fact, going to take off. Did I still want to be on it? Well, yes, except for the fact that all of my luggage was back at the hotel. The guy apologized, and said that he'd put me on a flight tomorrow. That was pretty cool, especially since I thought they were booked up until next Thursday. "Aisle or window?" he then asked me. Wow, guess they have more seats than I thought. So I got my window seat, and will be attempting to leave again tomorrow. This time I'm not calling first. Look here if you want to see the flight status.

On the way back to the Underground, I walked a few feet away from security forces carrying rifles. That was fairly jolting.

So now I have to buy a clean shirt for tomorrow. (I have clean everything else for one day.) I think I can handle that.

Stuck Here for a While

I called United this morning to see if I should show up for my flight, and they told me it was canceled. That's not what their web site is saying right now, but that doesn't matter as I've been re-booked. I'm sure if the flight does go out, somebody with a more pressing need to get back will get my seat. In general, I realize my cares aren't such big ones in times like these, but they're what occupy my time, so they're what I'll write about.

You never want to have a conversation with an airline agent that includes her asking the question, "Have you ever heard of this airline?" I had (Sabena). But they had cancelled tomorrow's flight from Brussels that she was trying to get me on, so that attempt failed, as did a previous one to get me out on a United flight out of Munich. She started asking about Austrian Airlines, at which point I enquired whether I could get a US carrier.

Well, not any time soon. I may have a reservation on a United/British Midlands codeshare out of Manchester Monday. And I have a back-up on a United flight out of London on Thursday. My current plan is that if I can confirm (as well as possible) my flight out of Manchester, I'll take the train up there tomorrow (Sunday) and leave from there. Right now I've got a reservation on a Lufthansa/British Midlands codeshare from London to Manchester Monday at 7 AM. I really don't want to take that, since I'll have to get to Heathrow between 3-4 AM. And the transfer will just make the whole process worse.

So I'm hanging out and seeing what is going on.

Friday, September 14, 2001

Last Night In England?

Well, I headed to St. Paul's Cathedral. Stood with the crowd outside and listened to the broadcast of the service. I was moved when they played the Star-Spangled Banner. I sang along; nobody else within earshot seemed to know the words. Then again, they all knew the words to the Lord's Prayer. One guy behind me knew most of the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and he had a pretty good singing voice. I sang along with "America the Beautiful", but everybody else seemed to be singing different words.

Then I took off for the Tower of London. I had planned on visiting that all along, and so I thought I'd finally take it in. It was really neat for a history buff, even if the treatment was a bit Disnified. The "Beefeater" tour really helped me get oriented in the place, but he acted a little bit too much like a cartoon character for my taste. Ah, well. Then I got to go through the White Tower, which was the original fortress started by William the Conquerer. It was a little awesome walking in what had been the home to English monarchs for a few hundred years. And it was interesting seeing how the building had been used over the years. One of those uses was as an armory, so they had a lot of historical weapons on display.

Then I went off to see the Crown Jewels. It seemed kinda silly, but obligatory. Nevertheless, I was impressed. I actually found myself letting out an involuntary whistle. I didn't know people really did that. After that, I saw the Medieval Palace, the Bloody Tower, and the Wall Walk. All worthwhile, although again, the reconstructions of some of them seemed a bit hokey.

But I'm glad I got some garden-variety tourism in with all that's going on. I tried to call United to make sure I was still on my flight tomorrow, but I couldn't get through. I can't tell if that was because they were busy or because I couldn't figure out the phones. Keep your fingers crossed.

Other's People's Thoughts

Well, Friday morning and I'm back at the cybercafe. I have hundreds of messages to sort through. That's what I get for signing up for all those "news alert" services. I think I've gone through them and gotten all of the e-mail from people not knowing where I was and concerned about me. In a little bit, I'm going to try to go to St. Paul's Cathedral. There's a memorial service there at noon. I know I won't be allowed in -- the Queen and such are going to attend. But it seems like some sort of show of support by being outside.

Christina has posted some thoughts about the changed world we now live in. Jeanene has some thoughts from Tuesday.

Thursday, September 13, 2001

It's Raining In London

I'm back from dinner. Medicore tapas recommended by the Lonely Planet London guidebook. The first three dishes we ordered -- chicken, chorizo & mussels -- all came in more or less the same red sauce. For seconds, we had a hard time finding something that didn't involve red sauce. That was the squid rings & Spanish omelet. I'm not a huge fan of squid, but I prefer it served fried than our other alternative. I don't know what was "Spanish" about the omlette. It was certainly not as good as the English breakfast I turned down this morning.

In my early 20s, I could stay up all night w/ no consequence beyond sleepiness the next day. Now, as I near the end of my 20s, I find myself unable to cut into my 8 hours of sleep much w/o getting headaches and upset stomachs. Blech. Eventually I was fine, though. Also, I'm running out of my allergy nasal spray; should have checked that more closely before coming over here. Ah, well, with decongestant and antihistamine, I'll make it.

Wish I had something more coherent to say than whining. Ah, well.

On A Lighter Note...

Christina had another article published at This one's about whether a strategy book can help your gambling.

In London

Hi. I'm in London, which is a weird time to be at a time like this. I had been out in a more rural portion of England, and I have to admit I was a bit jolted when we were driving in and I saw skyscrapers for the first time. They've always made me a bit nervous, but they never seemed as malign as now.

Anyway, some colleagues and I checked into a fairly nice hotel in South Kensington. I guess work'll be picking up the tab; I don't know. I don't much care, but I have to have something to worry about that I can do something about. In the short term. For a while I was obsessing over the stupid hotel reservation I had at a place in London that doesn't seem to exist. More on that later, perhaps. I'm tempted to write up the earlier portions of my trip over here, because I figure people need a good diversion right about now. Who knows?

Anyway, I'm supposed to be on a flight back on Saturday. I'm a little bit optimistic that it'll go. I mean, it sounds like they may start tomorrow, so things should be getting back to "normal" by Saturday, right? But who knows. I'm saying that a lot. If I don't get out Saturday, it'll probably be a long time. Someone who had a flight today is now scheduled to go out on Tuesday. Guess I'd be in line behind him if things get messed up.

I probably won't have much to say directly about recent events. If you know me and you're reading this, I'll probably be talking to you in person. If not, well, what do you want to know what I think?

I miss my country.

Thursday, September 06, 2001

The Las Vegas Wedding

Christina just had a short article published on Vegas weddings.

Wednesday, September 05, 2001

Vegas Pictures

I've posted some pictures from the trip to Las Vegas. Also, see the collections by Jeanene and George. (About half of the pictures in my album were e-mailed to me by Martin; I posted the ones that didn't make it to Jeanene's page.)

[As of Dec. 2004, George's link no longer works.]

Monday, September 03, 2001

Wedding Bells

Finally, it was time for Martin & Jeanene's wedding. I must admit I was more choked up by the ceremony than I expected. I could see what a special moment it was for the two of them to have all these people that they cared about together at once. And the look of pure bliss on Martin's face when Jeanene walked down the aisle was priceless.

The wedding was not strongly themed. Jeanene had on a lovely dress that she had made herself. The girls were in medieval costume, but Jeanene's son was in a tux, not armor. The minister was probably the one in the strongest get-up -- it wouldn't have entirely shocked me for him to say, "Of course I can cast the marriage spell; I am a third-level cleric." But he didn't, and the ceremony was short and sweet.

Afterwards, we all moved to the reception room. Basically, we hung out for a few hours, drank, ate and danced. Or did some approximation of dancing, as the pictures will no doubt reveal. The reception was small and intimate, and we got to spend a little time talking to the newlyweds. That was nice; at some weddings, you just sorta glimpse the couple across the room.

Afterwards, it was back to play the plastic horses. I think the happy couple was supposed to arrive at some point, but Christina and I were both exhausted. We had an early flight the next morning, so we called it a night.

The next morning we were woken up by a call from George, who had won most of his money back, and wanted to spend it on breakfast for people. Unfortunately, we had to catch our flight, so we packed and took a taxi to the airport. When we got there, they said our flight from Denver to Dulles had had a change of plane, so we couldn't get our seat assignment until we got to Denver.

I don't want to sully this with a litany of complaints, but the rest of the trip home involved a mechanical delay, not being given seat assignments until the last minute, another plane change (to an even smaller plane) at the last minute because the mechanical problem cropped up again, a rush for seats on the new plane, and the jetway getting stuck when we finally landed in Dulles 3 hours late. Not the worst flight experience I've had, but it was up there.

Anyway, Vegas was cool. The main point of the trip was, of course, the wedding. And it was neat to be a part of that special moment. Vegas itself was more fun than I've experienced in the past. Since then, Christina and I have mused about going back. Probably someday...but not until I learn how to count cards.

Saturday, September 01, 2001

Shoe Shine

Well, before I head off to London next Friday, I should really finish up the story of last month's trip to Vegas. That leaves me with Saturday to tell about.

We got up and made our first destination Walgreen's to pick up some sundries for the bride and ourselves. Unfortunately, there isn't a line of taxis outside Walgreen's, like there is with more tony Vegas locations. So we then hoofed it over to the Luxor, where we dropped off the sundries at the bell desk for Jeanene.

The Luxor is, to my opinion, the most distinctly themed of Vegas' casinos. I mean, the whole thing is a giant pyramid, for heaven's sakes. Faux-Egyptian stuff is everywhere. I think if and when I make it back to Vegas, I'd like to stay there for the whole kitschy experience. (Though the margarita glass in the shape of the Statue of Liberty from New York, New York is right up there.)

We made our way through the line at the buffet to meet up with our friends. The line was fairly long, although you could bypass it if you were a "VIP". We weren't. The food was pretty good, and for 1/2 the price of the Paris one, I probably shouldn't complain. Still, I think I could eat at that Paris one every day for the week. I couldn't say the same for the Luxor.

We counted at least three separate bride/groom pairs at the buffet. To me, it's sort of sad to have the reception to your wedding at the buffet. It's even sadder that they weren't allowed to go through the "VIP" line.

Then we walked over to Mandalay Bay, at what is currently the southerly terminus of the Strip. It's a nice casino -- I can see why Circus Circus renamed itself after this, their latest property. The sports book was as nice and large as advertised. I should have made my bet on Michigan there; they had better odds than the Excalibur. Always comparison shop, I guess. I really wanted to see Zen Sum, since we weren't going to get a chance to eat there. The guidebook said, "diners sit at a counter and pick tasty plates of dim sum from a conveyer belt." How cool is that? Apparently, not cool enough, 'cause it was closed. Its successor restaurant fortunately retained the "futuristic restroom area"; I'll have to give that a closer look on another visit. We walked through the casino to the shark exhibit, but upon finding out they wanted actual money, I decided we might as well head back to the Excalibur.

So we went back. I played the plastic horses for a bit while Christina started to get ready for the wedding. Then I started to get ready. With about an hour to go, I figured I had enough time to get my shoes shined before the wedding. So I went downstairs to the casino floor. On my way down, I realized that I had failed to pack a tie, so I wandered through the gift shops until I located a nice gold one.

Then it was off to find the shoe shine stand. After directions from some casino employees of varying helpfulness (including one who claimed they didn't have a shoe shine stand), I made my way over. The guy invited me to have a seat, and asked me if I wanted "the full treatment". These shoes have been living in the back of my closet for quite some time, so I said, "Sure." The guy was quite a showman, talking about the necessity of proper shoe care and the ethic of doing a good job. He explained that the shoes needed dyed at least once a year. So he did this and that with them, rubbed some dye on, took them off my feet, and set them on fire.

Yes, set them on fire. At about this point, John Giglio came wandering by to use the restroom. I tried waving at him, but his eyes were transfixed by the flaming footwear and he failed entirely to notice my presence. Only when exiting did he notice me. He asked me if I was going to have my shoes set on fire. I explained that I already did, and the shoe shine guy explained to John how this was much better than the "New York shine" John may have been used to.

At some point, the guy asked me what my shoe size was. After I told him, he mentioned that a customer had given him a pair of shoes of that size, but they didn't fit him. This seemed odd, but I was in a bit of a hurry, so I just played along. Later, of course, the guy tried to get me to try on the shoes. I reminded him that I was in a hurry. The weird sense I was about to be dragged into some shoe scam, along with the fact that the guy never explained how much more "the full treatment" was than a regular shine balanced against the entertainment value of the experience and what was really a great shine ended up having me leave him a good, but not great, tip. His entire manner deflated when he saw my enjoyment wasn't going to translate into an extra $10.

I tried to call Christina to let her know that the tie excursion and shoe fire was making me run late, but my cell phone wouldn't work on the casino floor. I tried calling from a hotel phone, but there was no answer. I rushed back up to get my jacket, and as I popped out of the elevator, she stuck her head out of another. She was understandably concerned that I had just gone ahead to the wedding without her. At this point, I began to realize I couldn't close the top button on my shirt. After much exertion, we ended up buying a safety pin at the sundries cart and making due. With mere moments to spare, we headed off to the Excalibur wedding chapel. Fortunately, the previous wedding had not concluded, and Martin and Jeanene's ceremony had not gotten started.

Well, that's enough for now. The exciting conclusion soon...