Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Miss those Georgia piney woods" - The Osborne Brothers

That's better. Bluegrass trumps anything Bon Jovi will ever even aspire to.

Part 2

You may recall in our last episode, Gilahi had managed to land a nonexistent seat on an airplane with an exploding engine that was leaving approximately 2 1/2 hours past its scheduled departure time for a 1 hour, 20 minute flight to Atlanta. The high points of the story so far have been that we've had a couple of glasses of wine and my wife found a penny. I should point out here that we had actually planned to arrive in Atlanta in time to grab a bite of supper before driving the hour and a half to central Georgia, where we were staying. We thought we would have been in Atlanta by now. We're just leaving Virginia.

Also, there was the extremely humorous and creative use of a simile of the babysitter in a slasher movie and how her horror parallels ours. By now, she's taken a butcher knife from the kitchen without noticing that one is already missing, and is moving slowly through the house with the knife raised in her fist to eye level, which everybody knows is not the proper way to defend yourself with a knife.

Anyway, the flight itself was pretty uneventful and we landed in Atlanta some 2+ hours late. It was one of those occasions where applause breaks out on the airplane as soon as the wheels touch down.

We go to the rental car counter and get our pre-reserved rental car. After just a couple of wrong turns (it's late, and we're tired and hungry), we finally find the bus that will take us to the rental lot. We're dropped off right next to space #39, containing our rental which is approximately the size of a roller skate. I throw the bags into the trunk as a fine, misty rain begins to fall. We climb into the car, adjust the seats, adjust the mirrors, put the key in the ignition, turn the key and... nothing happens. Not a click, not a whirr. This car is deader than Rod Blagojevich's political career.

So I walk through the rain to the main building in the lot. There is a lady behind the counter who, by all indications, is extremely angry at the piece of gum in her mouth. I explain the situation to her, and she asked me if I wanted a car just like the original one I had. Any other time, I would have said, "No, I want one that works", but I was just so tired that I told her that all I cared about was that it didn't cost me any more. She gave me another key and we got a car a few spaces down which, happily, ran well.

In case you're not familiar with the Atlanta area, Interstates 85 and 75 run north/south through the center of town. I-20 runs east/west through town, and I-285 is the perimeter highway that encircles the city. The airport is just south of I-285. I want to be east of the city to get on the highway that will lead me to small town central Georgia, so I want to go north on I-85, around the east side of I-285, and then east on I-20 to my exit. However it's now dark, driving rain, I'm tired, and it's been many, many hours since I've had any food. I fail to negotiate the fact that I-285 is round and, much like our beloved Washington Beltway, has north/south/east/west designations that change depending on where you happen to be. You see it coming, don't you? I went the wrong way on I-285. I didn't realize this for many miles. By the time I did, I was only 9 miles away from I-20 (albeit on the west side of I-285), so I decided to just continue on, get on I-20 east, and go through town.

My wife is hungry too. She starts asking when we're going to stop. I tell her that we really don't want to stop in this part of town this late at night. Believe me. Never the less, we're both hungry and grumpy, so as soon as I feel that we've gone far enough past the city limits, I pull over and start looking for food.

At this point, all of the lights would go out at the babysitter's house.

We found a place that offered "chicken and seafood" and was open at 9:30 PM on Christmas Eve. How great is that? We park the car, run through the driving rain, and stop at the door.

I've read many restaurant reviews, and there's one little thing that I've never seen mentioned. I really believe Tom Sietsema (The Washington Post's restaurant reviewer) should add this to his column. If there's a very large person frisking people before they can go in, this restaurant may not be the best place for haute cuisine. Amazingly, we are so hungry that I submit to being searched before entering the establishment. Apparently my wife didn't appear as threatening as I, since they let her pass unmolested.

The interior of the establishment was smoke, pool tables, and low lights. The music was so loud that the balls were actually bouncing on the pool tables. A man wearing a Dekalb County Department of Sanitation uniform stopped by our table for several minutes to tell us how happy he was that we were there spending Christmas Eve with him. We never saw any indication of the advertised chicken or seafood.

Even in our exhausted stupor, it eventually dawned on us that this probably wasn't the best place to get something to eat. As we were leaving, we asked the very large gentleman, with whom I was now so intimately acquainted, if he knew where we might get something to eat at 10:00 PM on Christmas Eve. He told us that there was a Waffle House right across the street. We decided to keep driving.

We ended up in beautiful Conyers, GA, before we spotted a Comfort Inn on the side of the road. At this point, we just wanted a cube with a bed and a shower, so we pulled over. I had already phoned my family and told them that there was no way we were driving for an hour and a half on a two-lane road in the middle of the night in the pouring rain in the condition we were in.

When we walked into the lobby of the Comfort Inn, a young lady came from the back room and quickly and efficiently gave us a room. We asked her if there was any place at all in Conyers where we could get something to eat. We were hoping for something like a Ruby Tuesday's, or a TGI Friday's. Anything that might be open late on Christmas Eve.

"Just across de bridge is a Wapple House," she said. "Dey have BIG wapples and good coppee and hamburgers and chicken..." and she proceeded to recite the entire Waffle House menu to us as if it were some exotic establishment serving viands from The Sorbonne.

We would have eaten old tires with radiator water at that point, so we went to the Wapple House, as that establishment has forever been redubbed in our minds. I ate an egg and cheese sandwich with hash browns and a soft drink. My wife had grilled cheese and iced tea. You know what? Much like the Buddhist story of the man and the strawberry, it was some of the best food I ever ate in my life.

That's it. We slept, showered, and got up to a glorious sunny Christmas Day in Conyers, GA. We arrived at my family's house approximately 14 hours later than we had planned, but the adventure was over and we had survived it.

Had we driven, we would have saved the cost of two airline tickets, overnight lodgings, a rental car, and it would have taken us approximately 11 hours to get there.

Oh, and the babysitter kills the slasher and runs out of the house to the waiting arms of her boyfriend, but when the police go inside the house, there's no sign of the guy. So you know there's going to be a sequel.

There always is.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Who Says You Can't Go Home?" - Bon Jovi

Wow, talk about your mixed emotions...

On the one hand, I'm finally getting around to blogging about our adventures when we went to my home state for the holidays last year.

On the other hand, I'm quoting Bon Jovi.

You have to believe that things can only get better from here.

Anyhoo, here's the chronicle of Gilahi & Spouse's Excellent Adventure, starting on Christmas Eve, 2008:

Homeland Security says we have to sit around Reagan National for 2 hours before we board our one-hour twenty-minute flight, so we left the house in plenty of time. Upon arrival, the first thing we did was to check the departure board. We discovered that our flight had been delayed 30 minutes. Not a big deal on Christmas Eve, right?

You know those horror movies where the young babysitter hears a strange sound outside and chooses to ignore it? That's what our flight delay was like.

We do as much as we can electronically to avoid having to actually deal with people, especially people who are having to work on Christmas Eve, so we went to the electronic checkin. We had booked the tickets months in advance and we always, always go straight to the website and reserve our seats. Imagine my chagrin when the little electronic kiosk asked us to choose seats. I was sure we had already done that, but I had no way to prove it. So I pressed the "OK" icon and was presented with a diagram of a plane that had exactly one seat available on it. My wife, being the selfless, giving person that she is, immediately volunteered to forgo the quintessential joys of spending days with my family, go home, open a bottle of wine, and start sending me text messages about which episode of "I Love Lucy" was playing at the moment so that I could take the one available seat. I was so overcome by her generosity that I accidentally assigned the one seat to her, printed out two boarding passes (mine said SEAT ASSIGNMENT instead of actually having a seat designation), and we headed to the gate figuring we'd get the mess straightened out there.

As we were going through security, my wife noticed a penny on the floor and pointed it out to me. I told her that she should grab it, as that might very possibly be the best thing that happened on the entire trip.

This would be the second time the babysitter hears the noise outside.

We got to the gate, only to find that the delay had now been extended to an hour and half. There was no one manning the gate yet, and an employee at another gate told us they only showed up a half hour before the actual flight. At this point, we decided to leave the terminal area and head back up to the desk to get the whole seating thing straightened out. A very tired Delta employee tried to explain to us that the FAA requires all airlines to reserve several seats on flights for people who are handicapped or otherwise have special needs. These seats are opened up just before the flight. He assured us, by virtue of the fact that I had printed a boarding pass, I was guaranteed a seat on the plane although he was unable to actually assign one at the moment.

Since we were outside of security and we now knew that we had at least an hour and a half to spare, we decided to hit a nice, new little wine bar that they've opened in Terminal A. Thus fortified, we went through security a second time and headed back to our gate.

By now, there were approximately 427,332 people at the gate waiting for our flight. I got in line to talk to yet another very tired Delta employee about my seat assignment. After standing in line for 20 minutes or so, I was told that I still could not get a seat assignment, but that they would call me by name before they started boarding.

This is the point at which the babysitter would notice that all the phones in the house are dead.

The flight ended up being delayed by just under 2 hours. Imagine my surprise when it was announced that first class and those in need of special assistance could begin boarding our flight immediately. I rushed back to the desk, waving my SEAT ASSIGNMENT boarding pass, and mentioned in as calm a voice as I could muster that my name had in fact not been called before they started boarding. I was given a seat several rows away from my wife. None of our neighbors would switch seats, so we flew separately. It's only an hour and 20 minutes, right?

The babysitter discovers that her cell phone is also not working.

After many exhortations to please get settled as quickly as possible because it's so late, the fully-packed plane finally backs away from the gate.

And stops.

And sits for 15 minutes.

Then the pilot comes on and says, "Folks, I know it's late and I really hate to be the one to pass along this news, but our right engine won't start. They thought they had it fixed at the gate, but it's not. So we're going to have to pull back in to the gate. Hopefully they can get it going again and we can leave without much more delay."

This does not inspire confidence in me. I have visions of a guy in coveralls with "Earl" stitched across the pocket banging on the engine with a monkey wrench and calling out, "Try 'er now Joe Bob!" Even if this is fixed at the gate, how comfortable am I with this at 10,000 feet?

Astonishingly, we backed away from the gate again within about 10 minutes or so, although there was an odd odor in the cabin. As we're approaching the runway, the pilot comes back on and says, "For those of you who may have seen flames exploding from the back of the engine, and for all of you who may smell something like smoke, I'd like to assure you that this is perfectly normal. You normally don't see this because we're out on the runway in takeoff before the engines are started, but as a test we had to start the engines in the gate, which is why you saw the flames and now smell the smoke. Please sit back and relax and we'll get you Atlanta as soon as possible."

"Sit back and relax?" The babysitter is wa-a-a-a-a-ay past that point now.

As so often happens when I write, this has gotten longer than I realized. I have therefore decided, in the spirit of "Flash Gordon", to make this a 2-part serial. The adventure is not over. Stay tuned.

Coming up next: "Atlanta"

Friday, February 20, 2009

Blind Faith

Am I pleased?

You bet your Bellbottom Blues I'm pleased.

Why am I pleased?

Thanks for asking.

I just scored two tickets to see Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood at Verizon Center in June.

My wife and my best friend down in Atlanta have teamed up to present me with these tickets as a birthday gift, although my birthday is months away.

You know what this means, don't you? This means that my wife has the dubious pleasure of hearing me walk around the house for the next 4 months singing.

But I'm
near the end
and I just ain't got the time.
And I'm wasted and I
can't find my way home.


I have finally found a way to live,
just like I never did before.
And I know I don't have
much to give,
but I can open any door.

Everybody knows the secret.
Everybody knows the score.

I have finally found a place to live
in the presence of the Lord.

I pity her, really I do, but she brought in on herself when she gave in to my begging-on-hands-and-knees, hold-my-breath-until-I-turn-blue, extremely masculine persuasiveness.

You may not understand the significance of this, but Mr. Clapton and Mr. Winwood constitute half of Blind Faith. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I could have the opportunity to see such a seminal group as this. God I hope they perform some Blind Faith songs.

So at least I'll have something to write about in June.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Inside The Blogger's Studio

First off, I'd like to apologize for my extended absence. There's been an awful lot going on and quite frankly, I just haven't felt much like writing anything. In the past, when I've done stuff when I wasn't particularly inspired, I've been much less than satisfied with the results. Thanks to those of you who have left comments on my last entry wondering where I was.

Having said that, it occurs to me that the lovely and vivacious Fiona tagged me with yet another meme about 2 1/2 weeks ago. That seems to be sort of a built-in way to get back in the saddle, a metaphor which I'm sure she will appreciate.

The rules are that I'm supposed to tell you 10 honest things about myself and then tag 10 other people to do the same. While I'm not particularly predisposed to tag other folks, I'll do what I can. This becomes especially difficult when I realize that Fiona reads most of the same blogs that I do. I'm displaying the award anyway, since I can't display just half of it.

Never the less, we press on:

1) I find it very difficult to list 10 things about myself that I haven't already said in this space. That's what a blog is all about, right? You talk about yourself as if you're being interviewed by James Lipton and anyone might care.

2) As a result of either my advancing age or the length of my relationship, my wife tells me that I often repeat stories that I've already told her multiple times. Despite the fact that I don't recall relating these stories, she's always able to finish them for me so I know she must be right.

3) In 1975, I was the #2 ranked epee fencer in the southeastern United States. It's the most athletic thing I've ever done, and I continue to embrace it despite the fact that the accomplishment itself is older than most of you reading this.

4) I occasionally have these little bouts of OCD. I have a 3-CD player, and whenever I play just one CD, it has to go in slot #1 despite the fact that it would play equally well in any of them. I have about 700 CDs. They are arranged in alphabetical order by artist, and I can't stand knowing that one or more of them is out of order. And, as Lilu once posted, if I see a microwave that's not running but is still showing seconds, I simply have to reset it.

5) I also occasionally have bouts with (idiot) savantism (savantry? savantatiousness?). In a previous position, we had a project that was dubbed "902". When I asked about the name, I was told that it was supposed to be such a lightning-fast communication method, that it was named for twice the temperature at which paper burned (remember the novel "Fahrenheit 451"?). The person giving the explanation couldn't let it rest there, and also went on to say, "It's also the smallest prime number that..." at which point I interrupted him to say that 451 was not prime and that its factors were 41 and 11. I spent the next hour or so wondering how I knew that in less than a second.

6) Possibly related to the previous item, I find that I often play math games in my head. As I've mentioned, my wife and I are loyal viewers of "The Biggest Loser". At the end of each show, they weigh the contestants to see how much weight they've lost this week, which they express as a percentage. I find that I cannot resist trying to calculate the percentage in my head, at least in the ballpark, before they tell us what it is.

7) As a result of either my advancing age or the length of my relationship, my wife tells me that I often repeat stories that I've already told her multiple times. Despite the fact that I don't recall relating these stories, she's always able to finish them for me so I know she must be right.

8) I tried to learn to speak Cherokee. I had tapes and books. What I found was that, unlike the Spanish which I studied and the Latin and French I had been exposed to, Cherokee has no relationship to English whatsoever, and the language reflects an entirely different way of even thinking than I'm used to. I still remember a few words, but the difference in the sentence structures and verb conjugations, not to mention the fact that I had no one to practice with, pretty much killed that project.

9) My first car was a 1964 Chevy II. It had no power steering, power brakes, air conditioner or even a radio. My brother and I pulled out the front seat, drilled two holes in the floorboard, and mounted an 8-track player under the seat. This meant that when you looked in my car there was no visible means of producing sound, and yet there were 2 Jensen 6x9 speakers behind the back seat. We also hooked it up directly to the battery so that it would play when the car wasn't running. The result was that I could take a date to a secluded spot, park the car, and with just a slight motion of my heel pop in a tape and have Marvin Gaye suddenly start playing seemingly out of nowhere. It was magic.

10) As a former chemistry major, I know what paranitrobenzeneazoresorcinol is, and I aced the chemistry test which included requiring me to spell it correctly.

And I'm sorry, but since I haven't posted in so long, and since I really don't think I could handle much in the way of rejection right now, I just don't feel that I can tag 10 other people. If they had blogs, I might tag Oscar Wilde, Red Skelton, Harpo Marx, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, George Burns, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Tommy Chong, but I'm not sure they'd appreciate it either.

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