Tag Archives: travel

I Need Your Dog Real Quick

10 Jun

I’ve been in Portland for a few days for a work thing and I’m wondering if I’ll bother to jump the plane back home. Portland, Oregon – not Portland, Maine – just in case you were wondering. I’ve been told no one but me ever does, but hey: just in case.

I think the hotel I’m staying at is built specifically to keep me here. There’s a button on my phone that I can push that says “get it now” and if I push it, I can have them deliver a pint of locally made ice cream to my door. On-demand ice cream. The new world is a marvel.

They also have something called a dog spiritual menu. At first I thought this meant that I could steal a random dog from the street and pamper him with a hot stone massage or get its chakras balanced, but it turns out it’s just a library of books available to me on pet psychology and whatnot. However, the front desk is also happy to help refer me to a pet psychic if it will make my stay more memorable, so I’m currently on the hunt for a dog with an owner who isn’t paying much attention to them. 

pet psychic

I know, pup. I have a lot of questions too. (photo cred: Joseph Morris)

There’s also a pillow menu. In case I’m not content with the 6 pillows on my bed already, I can call someone and custom order the type of pillow I would prefer. I’m not sure how to do that without sounding like a total and complete A-hole, but the curiosity is killing me. Do they bring sample pillows for me to choose from? Do they wheel a cart into my room with little fancy placards labeling their firmness? Why aren’t the pillows they bring up already represented among the several pillows already on my bed? WHY ARE THEY WITHHOLDING SECRET PILLOWS. WHY DO I HAVE TO CALL TO UNLOCK THEM?

In spite of these luxuries, this boutique hotel is lacking the only amenity worth booking for: the good old fashioned continental breakfast. I gotta say, I’m getting pretty tired of classy-claiming hotels that don’t give me free breakfast. In what world do I shell out more money than it takes to stay at a Holiday Inn to have my morning made-to-order omelet replaced with nothing but a pitcher of fresh cucumber water? Why can I rent a book from a dog wellness library and not get some free morning toast?

Maybe I’d feel differently if the amenities were geared toward cats instead of dogs. I’d swap out my free daily breakfast in exchange for someone getting inside Monk’s head. That cat is in dire need of some psychoanalysis. Really. I should have put him on a leash and stowed him in the plane. I could distract him with a damp sponge bath at the hotel while I have someone get to the bottom of what makes him punch me in the eyeball with his furpaw at 4am.

Even if they offered a cat spiritual menu, I’d still need to work up the chutzpah to pick up the phone and request it. I have yet to work up enough to request the pillow menu and ice cream. I don’t mean that from a lazy perspective (although – yes.), but just from a phone-hating perspective. I don’t even like to talk to my friends on the phone. I have a longstanding friend (15 years now?) with whom I have only exclusively chatted online. I credit it as the reason we’ve been able to hang in there so long. Still – the curiosity is killing me. I should call.

I really have to continually work at to getting over these sorts of little hangups in my quest to not become a bitter old shut-in. So, it’s decided: tomorrow is the big day: I’m going to pick up the phone, dammit. I want a firmer pillow. And a body pillow. All of the secret pillows. I should also grab a dog real quick just to get my full money’s worth from my stay. If I can just work up the courage to commit a tiny bit of random dog theft and pick up the phone, I can celebrate my wins in a pile of pillow with a $12 pint of hand-delivered ice cream.

Maybe I can even manage to save half of it for breakfast.

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Death Is a Pink-Faced Fat Man

20 Feb

I have seen death, and it’s a pink-faced fat man.

megabus man

It was approximately 10:00pm on Monday, February 17th when it first occurred to me that perhaps I frequent the Megabus too often to be able to statistically avoid certain death. I was on a return-trip from Harrisburg where I had spent a long weekend with my niece and nephew and I was slated to arrive in Pittsburgh at 11:30pm but thanks to relentless white sheets of snow and wind, would perhaps never arrive at all. It was late, I was worn, and I was very aware that I did not want to die under my current circumstances.

It isn’t until you’re in white out conditions late at night uncomfortably squished beside sweaty frat boys and no working seat belts that you realize maybe a ten dollar ticket to go across the state  really has some obvious weaknesses. On that particular evening, I was aware of them all.

It began when I noticed that what used to be a 4 hour trip from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg for less than the cost of a turnpike toll has now been converted to a 5+ hour trip from Pittsburgh to State College to Harrisburg (and then on to Philadelphia). This may seem a minor change, but I assure you that when you’re crunched up against a girl who brought a life-sized pink teddy bear on the bus because her boyfriend gave it to her over the weekend and she could only check one thing, every hour counts. It also means that instead of stopping at a reasonable rest stop on a major interstate featuring several restaurants for dinner, we stop at a convenience store named “Tom’s”, which results in meal arrangements including but not limited to Cheez Its, a family size bag of fruit snacks, and a king sized Kit Kat bar.

It was not my finest hour.

As if my experience at the shining American establishment that was Tom’s was not enough, my bus driver was kind enough to note that we should all return to the bus at 8:15pm and did not himself return to the bus until 8:30pm. I’m not one to get in a mess about a 15 minute delay, but given my proximity to pink bear girl, the bathroom door, and the (open) door to the outside, I was keenly aware of every extra minute needlessly spent in a three-layer sandwich of teddy bear stuffing and cold and poo.

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time, only months ago, when my trip from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg was a cost-savings stroke of convenient genius. I’ve frequented the Megabus so often that I’ve pinned it down to a beautiful science. I arrive exactly at the right time to be the first in line so that I get the absolute best position on the bus, I nest in my seat of choice with a pashmina and a Netflix binge, and I check out until I fall asleep.

There are a variety of typical concerns when traveling via Megabus. One of the most pressing is that if you get on at a pick-up point, you’re going to have a terrible time. That’s because everyone at the starting point has formed a nest already and is asleep by the time the pickup point is reached. Many seats are full and the spaces that are vacant of people are instead consumed by bags, legs, and teddy bears of various unreasonable sizes.

I am convinced that the true test of whether one is an asshole or not is how they handle the pickup point transition on a Megabus. It can be tantalizing to pay only a few bucks for a ticket across the state that affords you power outlets, comparatively decent leg room, a panoramic double-decker top view if you’re first in line, and, if you play your cards right, two seats to yourself.

There are a variety of tactics one can employ to ensure they get to enjoy their seat in solitude. The most common one is to sleep or feign sleep at a pickup point and to have a back or a body part across the adjacent seat so that someone will have to wake you from slumber to sit down. Others will just put on headphones and put a bag there to help deter people from asking while saving themselves from guilt by being polite and lovely if they do.

My preferred method is to leave the seat empty but to get out a bottle of lotion and obsessively rub my hands until all passengers are seated. It’s a perfectly innocent act, but when done with the right amount of intensity, is incredibly effective at inspiring strangers to wake up a sleeper rather than sit with me.

Over time, however, I have experienced pick up points with enough frequency that I ditched the lotion bit altogether and simply open the seat and take my chances. I’ve been that poor, wandering soul too often, and the choice between a 3-hour seat partner who is mad that I woke them up, annoyed that they have to ride with their bag on their lap, or showing indicators of homicidal tendencies is one I wish I didn’t have to make.

But those days are long over. I’m not afforded choice in my return trip anymore, my dinner is at a gas station, and my ticket time has increased. Especially in light of the insta-blizzard.

I remember texting Dave around 11:00 to let him know my bus would be late and that the weather was bad. He asked me how bad, and I said I was worried enough to move to a seat with a working seat belt. The snow was coming down so quickly and the wind so harsh that, looking out the windshield, I was fairly certain the bus driver was just hoping he was still on the road. I didn’t see how he could possibly know for sure.

I told myself to just go to sleep and that when I woke up I would be home, but it’s nearly impossible to sleep through the possibility of death. Having viewed the safety video no less than forty times, I thought it prudent to locate my emergency exits since at first glance I looked like the only human capable of assisting during a crash. To be fair, the teddy bear may have been able to also lend a hand.

From time to time I can harbor some Nervous Nelly tendencies so I tried to calm myself in spite of our crawling down the road like a half-squished slug and to watch House of Cards. That was when the Jesus music came.

Apparently our bus driver had concerns too, because just two hours after instructing us to relax and sleep until Pittsburgh, he put on his finest Jesus album to get him through the storm. Though artistic liberties beg me to say it was “Jesus Take the Wheel”, I am disappointed to admit that it was far worse than that. It was the repetitive kind that even born-and-bred-Baptist folk like me get grumpy over. One of those ones with a repeating chorus that goes on for 10 minutes in various iterations of someone speak-singing over a gospel choir and then riffing on a plethora of glory notes.

There’s nothing like waking up to a blizzard of snow and a choir of people yelling for Jesus to draw them close to really scare the daylights out of you.

I took to Facebook to announce my perhaps-impending doom and asked that instead of dying-by-Megabus, I would prefer my story be adjusted to something more eventful like “death by honey badger joust.” And just then, the storm cleared, the white curtains were parted, and the gospel choir was silenced. 

We were cresting the summit that reveals the Pittsburgh skyline at 1:30am and it was a glorious sight to behold. I hugged the life sized bear beside me in jubilant relief. It was a 7+ hour trip from a snowy day in hell and I was pleased to not have to leave my obituary to those who survive me. 

Take note: should I find myself in similar circumstances again, you can just go ahead and let this serve as it instead. Until then, I’ll be looking into planes, trains, and a new automobile. ♣

PS – My 30 Day Challenge for February is well underway. Thank you to everyone who voted for me to read books and not for me to have to hang out with humans every day for a month. Going vegan was a close second but is still certainly a contender for the coming months. In the meantime, my biggest struggle is in finding an hour to focus where I don’t fall asleep. Maybe my next challenge can be 30 days of real sleep? 

Smuggle Me to Canada

11 Dec

My Canadian voyage draws nearer.

It’s difficult. Gas money to the north is tight, it’s going to be cold, and I have questions.

Normally I wouldn’t fret over questions. I would take comfort in the fact that two heads are better than one and that when Dave and I are together he will take care of the things I openly struggle with on this blog, like navigation…and a steady supply of clean pants…and managing my Skittles intake.

Do they have Skittles in Canada? Are they weird Canadian Skittles or like, regular Skittles? I want American Skittles. I’m a patriot.

Regardless of the Skittles situation, I don’t have Dave’s help on this one because I’m flying solo. What are the roads like? What if I don’t understand the signs? What if there are lots of assumed Canadian normalcies that I don’t know about and what if I don’t answer the questions at the border correctly and what if the states won’t let me back across the border because they don’t believe that a young healthy American woman would launch herself across the border at a prime stage of life or that she would choose Canada as her first international adventure and what if they interrogate me?

I remember when my family once went to Niagara Falls they asked my mother her nationality at the border. She answered “Pennsylvanian.” I don’t think I’m really set of up success here.

Can I bring my cats? Can I take cats across the border? I have a complimentary pass for two to the Museum-of-Something-Kind-of-French-Sounding. Could I redeem that pass for say, my cat? Because it’s unlikely I’m going to befriend a Canadian in less than a day in a way that says “Hey, I’m totally normal and safe and I know this is fast but you should totally go to this museum. Which one? I don’t really know. Where? I’m not sure – can you tell me? Here’s my American coupon for your Canadian land attractions. Show me to this so-called ‘museum.'”

I might be able to use my extra pass to try to pick up a male specimen. I could pretend to be a mysterious American who is looking for adventure in Vancouver and just happens to have a pass for two to the Museum-of-Something-Kind-of-French-Sounding and see if my quirky American wiles are successful across the border. I guess that’s not really pretending because I actually am all of those things except looking for a Canadian male.

That might also be a classic serial killer tale. I’m not sure which. The differences between the serial killer tales and the best friends forever tales can be quite minor.

I have dreams that in Canada they find my squinty right eye and half-hunch appealing. Those maple leaf lovers might hop on this in a hot second. Especially if I bring my cat.

By the way, Dave doesn’t read my blog. I discourage it. So if I disappear someone is going to have to alert him that I could be trapped in Canada with a perhaps-serial-killer.

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 1.25.08 PM

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to pull off this “go to a new country” resolution before the end of the year. I have the passport and I have the voucher that’s redeemable for a place to put my head and a place to go when my head wakes up. As long as I eat something in the midst of all that, I’ll have a full-fledged whirlwind tourist experience in only 24 hours. I just need to get the money to eat. And to drive there.

The voucher includes valet parking. I like the idea of my tired little car going all the way to Canada and then getting to sleep with all the fancier cars. That’s if my little car doesn’t tire out on the way. It’s used. Very used.

My whole adventure is littered with tiny problems. Mostly they’re financial but I figure I’m two complete steps closer to crossing a border than I was this time last year. A tax return or an unexpected ebay sale or a few laborious babysitting stints and I’m on my way to The Great North. I briefly considered a little online fundraiser to see if people would fund a 20-something white female shut-in getting some culture, but I can’t imagine that resounds loudly with a large population of crowdfunders.

That, and I might need to call on that one for my potential 2014 365 Project, wherein I try to save $10,000 in a year or have to donate an egg.

I haven’t had a 365 with an ultimatum before, but I figure hey: let’s go right for drastic. I’m going to need that crowdsourcing card when I’m faced with two months left on my ultimatum without meeting my goal and I’m starting to reeducate myself on the effects of being hopped up on hyper estrogen.

That’s unofficial, by the way. I still have 20 days to finalize the plan. There are a lot of things I suck at so there are a lot of things to consider conquering, not just being poor. While I’m at it, I encourage you to consider taking up a 365 as well. I’ve pulled this soapbox out a lot of times so you can read more about why that’s the best decision you’ll ever make in your life here or here or here.

Or here.

Or here.

Just, you know, think about it. You have 20 days. And maybe after enough of my readers have tried it (like this one), I can finally convince Dave to do it too. I’m like Oprah but instead of giving away cars and books and flights with John Travolta, I’m giving away hesitant year-long commitments.

Seriously though it’s awesome and every year of your life you don’t do a 365 is basically a waste, as proven by myself in the dull, dark year of 2012.

So here’s the plan: I’m going to continue to find ways to scavenge for dollars to fuel my car to Canada to complete my 2013 resolution, I’m going to work on a post that sums up my 365 for 2013 (dubbed Project Fatass 365) I’m going to figure out the details of my 2014 365 Project, and you’re going to consider slightly the possibility of completing a 365 Project as well.

It seems I have a lot more to do than you. Maybe you could do more than “consider slightly.” Perhaps we can upgrade to “consider moderately.”

We’re running out of time, people. Twenty days until the end of the year. Get your goals together and let’s debrief after I conjure creative ways to raise money in ten days or less.

Canada, I’m sorry for the delay; I’m coming. I’ll figure it out.

It might be time to put smuggling on the table. 

Can’t Work; Gone Camping

29 May

I’m approaching my foretold destiny as a child of the forest.

By “foretold”, I’m referring to my having told you before. Though, I’ve also told you I’m a well-ripening cat lady so it appears I’ve laid out before you two possible Jackies: forest child hippie commune Jackie and shut-in cat lady Jackie.

I know no other futures.

The thing is, this year has been doing funny things to me. Ever since I committed to a 365 Fitness challenge, (I believe it’s formally dubbed “Project Fat Ass 365“), I’ve been getting out more often. I mean, I kind of have to. I was doing Jillian Michaels for a while there (and still do when I have need to crush a can with my butt cheeks) but working out is a lot better if I keep my options open. Lately, that has meant biking a lot.

A really cool thing happened in Pittsburgh recently- a bike trail that runs the length of here to D.C. called The Great Allegheny Passage was completed. Well, technically it will be complete in two weeks when everyone plans to celebrate it. Anyway, it’s just a few miles from my place, runs along the water, features several pedestrian bridges and even serves as home to a Bald Eagle. I discovered it after volunteering for Bike Pittsburgh a few weeks ago and am having a hard time getting things in life done because I’d rather be riding the trail. Oh yes, that’s right – you heard me: I’m having a hard time being a responsible adult because I’d rather be biking.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner. Biking is the perfect activity for a hermit. You move quickly through the space so no one can notice your fat jiggle while you exercise or see your face long enough to recognize you. It’s acceptable to practice biking alone and since everyone you pass gives you a nice smile and a flick of a nod, you kind of feel like you’re being social. Well, you kind of feel like if you do it once in a while, your skin won’t be so pasty and your eyes look so terrified all the time.

Part of the grand allure of The Great Allegheny Passage is that it makes a nice substitute for hiking The Appalachian Trail. I’ve often told myself I should just put my stuff in storage, select a good trail name, and make like a nomad until I understand all the mysteries of life and/or get eaten by a bear. Of course, my parents are terrified that I’m more likely to be bear food than to be enlightened and when I consider the requirements of the situation, such as buying a bunch of hiking gear, leaving my job for about a year, and somehow managing to pay for all my junk in the meantime, well, I go back in my apartment and play Fat Princess some more.

 

This gem was done by TheGrossUncle, who has a pretty groovy collection of work over at thegrossuncle.com.

This gem was done by TheGrossUncle, who has a pretty groovy collection of work over at thegrossuncle.com.

But this bike trail would just require that I take a vacation, a few hundred dollars, and head into the woods with all the bike equipment I already own. Plus, Dave said today that he’s getting the itch to get rid of a few things and go buy a bike. And since we all know that Dave is the king of the forest, his doing so would mean that I can bike and hike and camp to my heart’s delight and while I’m busy getting all enlightened, he can tend to the bear fighting.

That’s where he’d rather be anyway. I could strip him of everything but his underwear and drop him off in the woods only to come back three days later and discover him the king of some man tribe, complete with forts, trolleys, and a fully-fledged hunter-gatherer society.

When presented with these fantastic possibilities, I find it difficult to focus on daily tasks like work and hobbies taking showers. 

So for now, there are two potential Jackies: forest hippie child and shut-in cat lady. Maybe my life is about being the latter and constantly seeking the former. I have been hexed with the struggle. This is my burden and I share it now with you.

Quickly: to the forest! 

I Finally Learned How to Use the Bus

1 Nov

It's so big and scary.

Oh man, only 10 Lollipop Tuesdays left.  Whatever shall you do with your Tuesdays in 2012?

Cry, that’s what.

Happy Lollipop Tuesday, ya’ll.

In light of the Great Car Totalage of 2011 (also known as The Day of Sorrow), I decided it would be a good time to hone my bus skills.  And when I say ‘hone my bus skills’, I actually mean ‘learn how to use the bus’.  I’ve been doing the whole car/walk/bike thing for every one of my almost 6 years in the city because the idea of mass transit paralyzed me with fear.

There have been two exceptions: when I was with a large group of friends (monkey see, monkey do), and when the Burning Crusade Expansion for World of Warcraft was released.  I had to take a train out of the city to get to a WalMart, where I stood in line for the midnight sale because I was a sad, sad slave to the massive multiplayer online fantasy game

There’s no judging on The Jackie Blog, so stop it.

Anyway, I’m carless and it’s cold.  And while I still walked for miles out of fear of the bus system, it’s gotten a lot easier to try new things under the umbrella of a Lollipop Tuesday Adventure.  I’m happy to report that I’ve competently used the bus without a single familiar face to ride with me for an entire week. 

But since I’m sure lots of you live in the city and think that’s pretty lame (and you obviously don’t follow the ‘no judging on The Jackie Blog rule), I thought I should go a step further and experience the Megabus as well.

For those of you who aren’t aching for a cheap way to get from Point A to Point B on a regular basis, allow me to enlighten you to the ways of the Megabus.  You may have seen them rolling around the U.S. or even Europe.  They’re bright blue double decker buses with an enormous picture of a portly, cherry-cheeked guy in a bright yellow uniform touting seats for just one dollar* (*plus .50 registration fee).  It’s somewhat true that you can get a seat for one dollar.  It’s more true that the first 5 people to book a seat on a bus get it for one dollar and that the price goes up from there.  To get a seat for just one single George Washington, you have to book pretty far in advance.  It might be best to go by the “eh, I might go to NYC 5 months from now.  I’ll book it just in case” method. 

All the one dollar nonsense aside, it’s still a cost-effective mode of transportation.  For some routes, it’s half the price of a train and still well below the price of a Greyhound.  In most cases it’s also faster.  And the only thing you sacrifice is your personal bubble, any sense of comfort , and the ability to drink, eat, or pee comfortably for the duration of your trip.

They seem to have a pretty lax tracking system wherein you only need to get in line and have your reservation number handy.  They don’t ask your name, they don’t ask for ID, they don’t check bags, they don’t do anything that you would expect a transportation service to do.  You just give them a number and you board.

Sometimes you’re boarding in the middle of a much larger trip.  For example, there is a stop in State College between Pittsburgh and New York.  If you’re boarding at the midpoint (State College), you have to get bold because when you board, every New York passenger will have a pile of junk on the available seat, a pair of headphones in, and look mean as possible so you don’t choose to sit by them.  And you can either wander around to look for the folks who will willingly give up their seat with a little eye contact pressure, or you can just march right up to the folks who splay out all their belongings in their area and ask them to please move.  

Personally, I find the latter much more amusing and gratifying overall.

On the return trip, I was blessed by the Megabus gods, who made it appear as if the company had overbooked and sent a second independent charter bus to pick up the excess customers.  But thanks to a bundle of no-shows, the extra bus wasn’t necessary.  Having already been set on a course to Pittsburgh, however, the driver was willingly accepting passengers.  So I stepped on the bus expecting it to be fully crowded with cranky, tired New York folks and instead found myself on board with only 3 other humans in site.  I had 1/4 of the bus to myself and it was glorious.  

It reminded me of  another Lollipop Tuesday when I found myself in an entirely empty movie theater.

Sometimes you get a little unexpected reward for mustering up the mojo to try something new.

Reenacting the First Battle of Bull Run

26 Jul

Ladies and gentlemen, I have promised you epicness and I now bring you epicness.   Straight from the 1860’s. This past weekend, while nestled in the historic bosom of Manassas, Virginia, I proudly reenacted the First Battle of Bull Run.

Happy Lollipop Tuesday, ya’ll.

Getting into formation before heading out to the battlefield in the sweltering heat. Like this group, many chose to don the complete uniforms in spite of allowances made by the organizers for the elimination of jackets, gloves, and a variety of equipment.

It all started when a loyal reader casually mentioned her long and lustrous history of reenactment.  For those of you who are lost, reenactors are folks to trot from one famous battleground to another to reenact a historical event that took place there many year prior.  They don the clothes, they sleep in tents, and even the greenest of them know more about history than your high school teacher.  In fact, many of them can tell the story of a battle in such interesting and tremendous detail that it makes you want to be a history teacher.

Apparently, my reader has been donning crotchless pantaloons (and a host of other period-accurate items) since high school and wanted to share her joy with me.  And as if that weren’t enough, she also suggested I apply for a media pass on the grounds that I was covering it for my blog.

And to my surprise, it worked.

I drove in the evening before to get the lay of the land and conduct an “interview” with my friend.  I donned a dress with my bright red magical media lanyard sticking out like a sore thumb and in the parking lot stumbled upon a group of rowdy men in camping chairs, drinking beer.  I walked past and gave it a moment – considering the power of my magic lanyard, and whipped back around to actually, well, interview someone.  Without the quotation marks.

They greeted me happily with a camping chair and a beer – which in any other scenario I might have declined but I was on official business.  And if I had to stomach a can of fizzy urine to have an experience, then by golly I was going to make that the best damn beer of my life.  I asked them what reenacting was all about, what brought them there, and things like there they got their uniforms.  Out of respect for their privacy and for what they shared with me I shan’t go into further detail.  But suffice it to say they were a wonderful group of fellas who gave me my first glimpse into what an interesting mix of fun and sincerity goes into the life of a reenactor.   When I parted, I left them a bottle of Brandy for their troubles and decided that I had experienced something fantastic that weekend even if all the rest was a bust.

A reenactor in full uniform takes his horse to practice maneuvers with a view of the Union camp behind.

Which it wasn’t.

Because the next day when I walked onto the battleground, I was greeted by horses, muskets, canteens, and wool uniforms on every lad and lass in spite of the ridiculous death-taunting heat index.  Make no mistake: these people aren’t joking around.  One man brought his 2-week-old baby along.  (Fear not – rumor in the Union camp was that they were harboring a small AC unit in their tent for moments of dire need.)

As with any Lollipop Tuesday, I tried to get as involved as possible.  So when my reader offered a pair of crotchless pantaloons, a modesty skirt, a full button-up dress, and told me she could get me onto the battlefield if I donned them all and followed her command, I giggled like a little schoolgirl.

To be frank, it was awesome.  The entire thing.  With over 8,000 registrants, what could have been better than standing in the battlefield with the Pennsylvania Artillery as they rallied the horses to pull the canons forward, cried havoc, and let loose the dogs of war?  As they pushed their way farther onto the field and gun powder and dust overran them, I made my way  over to the official spectators area to see the fruits of their labor.

And my heart sank.

I saw real gunpowder, real formations, real charges, and real horses.  I saw men fire guns and others fall to the ground.  And while I knew it wasn’t real because I was just having a beer with those men or laughing as they shoved ice in their hats to fight the heat, I couldn’t ignore the fact that not long ago, men gathered on these fields to fight for something far bigger than themselves.  And when it was over, they did not retire to their tents to talk about what a good time it was or drive home to air conditioning, or – in most cases – get to rise from the battlefield and brush themselves off.  That’s what brought people from all over the world and the United States to reenact the 150th Anniversary this past weekend.  In fact, some of them took it upon themselves to represent a member of their own family who lost their lives that day in Manassas.

And even after the camaraderie, the thrill of a new experience, and a beer enjoyed with a great group of men, that realization is one that quiets my soul. 

To see professional photographs of this event, consider viewing the Richmond Times-Dispatch album here.  Their photographer, Kevin Morley, did a fine job of capturing the weekend.

Rodeway Inn Owes Me a Coffee

12 May

COFFEE 

Last night I intended to be a responsible adult and go to bed early so that I didn’t need a mid-afternoon caffeine kick to get me through my boss’s ridiculous, unending demands.   Unfortunately, my plans were spoiled by a little hotel about 45 minutes away from my humble apartment, where a group of morons were working the desk as my parents attempted to check in for the night.

I’m not really one to blast companies for bad first experiences because I understand that things happen and people are human.  In fact, I’ve been on the other end of customer service at several establishments and know it’s a living hell so I do my best to make things as painless as possible for the other party.  I learned the Military Phonetic Alphabet so that they know what letters I’m spelling out for names (really), I always begin my call by asking for the correct department for my inquiry and then immediately offer up my confirmation number for reference.  I mean, I’m kind of a pro at it.

But last night I was tired, and the Rodeway Inn in Greensburg, PA did more than test my patience.

My parents attempted to check in at this cheap hotel just outside city limits because they love me and want to spend time with me and they don’t mind staying in a modest place to do so in order to spend money on touristy things instead.  Usually it works out really well.  Unless, you know, you have complete imbeciles running the place.

Having already made a reservation online without submitting card information, my darling mother checked in happily to The Rodeway Inn at about 10:00pm.  I attempted to call the hotel earlier to have them make a note that she would be checking in late and had a conversation that went something like this:

RI:  Rodeway Inn.  How can I help you?
Me: Hello – Reservations please.
RI: How can I help you?
Me: Oh, okay – can I give you my reservation number for your reference?
RI:  What for?
Me: So that you know which reservation I’m referring to for this call.
RI:  Well what do you need?
Me: Okay – well my parents are running a bit behind this evening and I was hoping you could make a note on their reservation record that they will be checking in late tonight.
RI: They can just come.
Me: What?
RI: It will be fine.  Like, whenever they come they can check in.
Me: Oh – okay… I just wanted to make sure that they could still have their reservation held. 
RI: Yeah.
Me: Great, thanks. *click* Right.
 

I have made similar calls to pretty much every hotel everywhere, as the front desk likes to have an idea of whether someone is checking in late or simply a no-show.  In addition, some hotels have a policy that if you don’t check in by a certain time your reservation is no longer held.

Their lack of familiarity with this polite process should have been the first indication of trouble.

So my parents finally made it to the hotel and because my mother is kooky about the way she budgets, she needed to put part of the reservation on one card and the rest on another, but was promptly informed that it was not possible.    She then asked if she could pay part in cash and the rest on a card and was informed that that, too, was impossible.  So she decided it was no big deal and that she would just cancel her reservation and come stay with me.  The front desk told her that would be fine but that she had to cancel the reservation online.

That’s stupid, but okay.

My parents left the establishment and I got online (because my mother is a baby boomer, after all, and doesn’t take the Internet with her everywhere she goes) to cancel her reservation.  But when I brought up her record, it indicated that she was outside the cancellation period and couldn’t cancel her stay.  She would be billed the full amount.  So I called her back, told her to turn around and go get the front desk’s advice – if they couldn’t split the payment and they couldn’t cancel her reservation, what exactly was she supposed to do?  Was she supposed to be billed when she goes home for a reservation that she was unable to check in to? Apparently the answer was yes.

So they left again, frustrated and tired, and headed back to their home 2 hours away.  Finding the entire scenario ridiculous (my mother’s strange payment methods, the front desk’s lack of customer service), I called my brother.   To solve the problem, he called to authorize a payment over the phone for his card (something I do every day at work without fail for hotels that are 5 times classier than this) and was told he couldn’t.  Instead he had to send a fax with his card information and write out a statement that he was okay with the charges.

My brother is a Senior Software Engineer and Systems Analyst.  He spends his days developing the most efficient, cutting-edge methods to solve problems.  He’s not really down with obsolete technology and asked if he could email it instead.  The front desk said they didn’t have access to email at night (what?) and that the only option was faxing.   

My bro has no patience for nonsense or stupidity (sound familiar?) and insisted that they accept an email, which they agreed to after a lengthy discussion that resulted in a call to the manager.  The manager required that before my brother could send the email, my parents return to the building (…what…).  When my brother inquired as to why, he was informed that my mother seemed upset at the front desk and they were afraid that after processing her payment my parents would go to their room, be upset with it, and want to cancel again.

Dear Rodeway Inn:  Even if my parents were difficult customers, you can’t just assume that they will continue to be difficult.  You certainly can’t say to another member of the family that they seem like the kind of people who wouldn’t be happy with anything.  And actually, if you were paying attention, all they wanted was to get in the room.  That’s what all the fuss was about so why would they say no after they got inside?  What could they possibly expect from a budget hotel named “Rodeway Inn”?

So my brother flicked on his switch that allows him to have the patience of Job and called my parents to tell them to go back to the hotel.  Once they arrived, he sent the email.

But it bounced back.  Turns out the front desk girl didn’t really know the address (WHAT?) and wasn’t sure of anything in her life whatsoever.  Finally, her will broke and she allowed my brother to make the payment over the phone, we rewound to half an hour earlier when he asked if he could do that in the first place, and joy was restored to all.  

My parents went to the room, saw no problem with it, and promptly fell asleep.

And I, having a blog topic after a night of struggling (and failing) and content to blast a poor excuse for an establishment, did the same. 

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Human Flight: A Survivor’s Tale

3 May

Photo by Xlibber on Flickr. Click to check out his photostream.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have survived human flight.   Happy Lollipop Tuesday.

Thisweek, I abandoned my assigned status as a grounded biped and soared into the great blue somewhere. 

There are Lollipop Tuesday adventures that make me a little nervous or require me to try something I’d typically ignore, or to just jump in both feet and see what happens.  And there there is getting on a plane for the first time, which scared the absolute living daylights out of me the way, oh, I dunno – dying might scare the living daylights out of someone.   Because that’s all I could picture.   All I could think the entire time I was in the air was of what absolute disaster was about to overcome me.

I was raised on a lot of action movies.  So if I’m on a plane, I expect to see Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis.  

There I was, strapped into the seat in a steel death cage thinking of all the possible scenarios that could lead to my timely demise.   The stewardess is up there doing her safety demonstration thing and I’m staring at her intently, taking notes of every single thing she is saying.  Everyone around me is busy doing something else. 

I kept thinking, Can you possibly review this enough? Even if you’re a frequent flyer, shouldn’t everyone be paying attention every single time? Who knows what we’ll remember in the face of death!

But everyone just tuned her out.  Before we started moving, the stewardess instructed the exit row behind me that they would have to help in the event of an emergency given that they were in an exit row.  She asked that they take time to review their instruction cards and check in with her soon.  But the girl behind me was having none of it.  When the stewardess approached and asked if she was prepared to help in the event of an emergency, she had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.  After some explanation, she agreed to comply so that she didn’t have to move and give up her 6 extra inches of leg room.  She followed it up with “Whatever, if something happens, I’m the very first one out of here.” 

So I’m right in front of her, trying to listen to The Postal Services “Recycled Air” ironically, and I’m thinking about how someone’s going to hijack the plane because the President is secretly on board and some terrorists want to use him as leverage to get a Presidential pardon for one of their jailed buddies.  And all the while, this silly wench behind me won’t be able to get it together to lend a hand and stand up for America.

Luckily, the ride to Chicago is only a little over an hour and by the time I played through 3 full-scale action movie scenarios that could apply to my life right there in that moment, we had landed in O’Hare.

Besides the flight, everything else was pretty enjoyable.  I mean, airport security really does yell at you and treat you like an idiot for not knowing that you’re supposed to take your shoes off or that when they tell you to put your hands above your head, they don’t mean like the police mean when they say the same exact thing.   And I think that taking my water bottle so that I have to go through to the other side of security and buy another one is a little silly.  

But hey – I survived a flight.  And since my only experience with planes has been action movies and not many of those folks come out alive, I’d say it was pretty freakin’ fantastic. 

Lollipop Tuesday win

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