Jun 28, 2012

Fly the Friendly Skies

I had to fly across country this week.  United.  Did I hear a collective sigh?  Everyone has their stories of flying United.  For our family, there was the flight to Hawaii for spring break when our daughters were still in school.  When we arrived at the gate, we discovered United had overbooked the flight by about twenty passengers.  We did not have seat assignments and did not make the cut.  We sat and sat, hoping someone, anyone would volunteer. No one did.  We finally accepted their flight coupons  and they assured us we would be placed on the next flight to Maui, but when we arrived at the gate, we learned it had the same overbooking problem the first flight had.  We had to wait through the excruciating gate side auction again, "We're offering a spot on the 10:45 p.m. flight and $400 in vouchers."  "How about a spot on the 10:45 flight and $600 in vouchers?" "Oh, c'mon, $1,200 in vouchers and a free toaster?" "Sold!  To the woman in the pink hat and the man in the Bermuda shorts."

Our return from Hawaii was the same story.  We were on an island so it wasn't like we had a lot of options for returning home.  We couldn't rent a car and drive home.  And it was spring break, which meant every family from the west coast of the US of A was in Hawaii or wanted to be in Hawaii.  Did I mention that I bought our seatless tickets five months before departure?  At least I learned a valuable life lesson: always, always make sure we have seat assignments.

Then there was the time we went to Europe on United.  When we showed up at Heathrow for our return trip, we were greeted by a United employee who had not yet attended charm school and who told us our flight had been cancelled.  We were to be put up in a Heathrow area hotel and put on a flight the next day.  They told us we would be fed all our meals and everything would be hunky-dory.  What they didn't tell us is that we would be fed buffets of Jell-o and trifle and would be in a location from which you could not walk anywhere for actual food.

So, here's my new United story, from my travel this week from San Francisco, CA, to Burlington, Vermont.  I flew from SFO to Washington/Dulles without incident.  It was the leg from Dulles to Burlington that was the problem. When you fly to Burlington, you're always on one of the little puddle-jumpers.  We boarded the plane; an extremely nice stewardess greeted us. An extremely likable pilot talked to us over the speaker. (Wait, is this really United?  Am I on the wrong plane? Seems like the Continental merger has had a good effect on United's interactions with the public.)  We taxied out to the end of the runway, and the pilot announced there was a troublesome light on the dashboard and we were taxiing back to the terminal, disembarking, and waiting for repair.

About an hour later, we were told to reboard.  We taxied to the end of the runway again, those scary propellers and the clanky engine made a lot of noise, we revved up, up, up, the wheels barely lifted off the tarmac, and the pilot decelerated and brought the plane back to ground.  He told us the repair had been an illusion and we were repeating our visit to the terminal for more downtime, while we hoped for a replacement plane, and were free to purchase any packaged foods we could find within shouting distance of the gate.

About five hours from our original scheduled departure United appropriated the next United plane that was scheduled to fly to Burlington that night and put our passengers and crew on it instead, leaving the other batch of passengers in who knows what position.  As far as I can tell, our passengers tried not to talk to those passengers and spill the beans that we were getting their plane.  This time our flight was a go, there was applause at lift off, the wise and kind stewardess gave free drinks to whoever wanted, the other stewardess made everyone laugh, and the pilot apologized many times over the course of the evening.

So, while none of this should have happened in the first place, United does seem to have improved in P.R. Ironically, their motto used to be "Fly the Friendly Skies of United."  Now they use "It's Time to Fly."  Really?  How about " You Never Know When It's Time to Takeoff"?

P.S.  Tomorrow: what I found in the Sky Mall catalog.

Jun 21, 2012

San Francisco Weather

The weather has been odd lately, but then weather is always odd in the San Francisco area, so I guess weather's been normal.  One day hot as blazes, the next sweater weather.  Today there's a chill in the air and my toes wish I would wise up and put on socks and shoes instead of yesterday's skimpy sandals.  Maybe I'll go do that now.  Be right back.

Much better.

We live about twenty miles south of San Francisco, and it's generally warmer here than in the city.  If you don't know about San Francisco weather, it's what's called a Mediterranean climate. It never gets Buffalo-style snowy or Miami-style sweltering. Much of the year the humidity is low and the climate is mild.

Winter, however is rainy as heck. It's not your pleasant Midwestern drizzle that cools down the air or a lightning storm that has you anxiously counting seconds until the boom of thunder to calculate how close the lightning is. No, in the San Francisco area we have a winter deluge. It pours and pours until you feel like you live under an open fire hydrant. The consolation prize is that the grass that died in the dry season greens up again.  Winter is our green season.

But tourists who arrive in January from someplace with six feet of accumulated snow and a disinterested city services department, think they've come to the best place in the world.  Who wouldn't want to live far from that biting wind and extra work of winter? What's a heavy rain compared to shoveling out the driveway? Hey, that's the other really big consolation prize, isn't it?  No snow.

If those same tourists arrive in July and failed to read up on the very local weather phenomenon,  they find themselves woefully underdressed.  And I don't mean they need something more formal.  They need jackets, sweaters, long pants, possibly gloves and hats.  They end up opening their wallets in the shops at Fisherman's Wharf and pleading "Whatever it costs, I don't care, just give me something warm!" They exit in pink sweatshirts, white socks, and baseball hats all with matching "I Left my Heart Symbol in San Francisco"logos.  Much poorer but starting to warm up.

Another San Francisco weather fluke is microclimates.  Here's what it means that we have microclimates: you drive twenty miles in any given direction and the temperature changes ten degrees. Drive one direction you're encased in fog, another and you need sunscreen. Microclimates can be really, really tiny. Like, turn a corner and the temperature drops five degrees. I've lived here sixteen years and I've just recently gotten the hang of keeping a cover-up in the car.  I'm a slow learner. And, no, it's not a pink sweatshirt. It's blue and it has a nice picture of Alcatraz on the front.

Jun 4, 2012

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

I seem to receive emails at the rate of fifty a day all targeted at the wrong demographic. I don't have a penis. I don't need to lengthen it and I certainly don't want to "scare people with my tool."  The last tool I used around here was a hammer to hang a cute little 'Cafe' sign over the entry to the kitchen.  How do you scare people while decorating the house?

And I've never had aspirations of achieving "my true manhood" or becoming the "Pied Pecker of chicks."  Aren't chicks those cute little fluffy cheepers? Who writes this stuff?  Are there paid ad-copy writers who come up with "hit a home run every night with your gigantic bat"?  Please tell me these aren't aspiring writers who haven't managed to successfully pitch their screenplay to a studio.

Ninety-nine percent of my spam folder is filled with penis-related help.  I could "take two pills" and, on the Barry White end of things, "become the latest love guru in town," or, at the other end of the spectrum, become "cockzilla."  My, oh, my.  I wish the spammers could see the frumpy, middle-aged, trifocal-wearing woman squinting at the screen to read their marketing attempts.

Yesterday, though, I got a very promising email that somehow ended up in my spam folder.  A nice U.S. Army Sergeant stationed in Yemen has a business proposal for me.  Heaven knows how he found me. And there is no risk!  After I get back to the Sergeant, I'll let you know more about his venture.  I think I could make millions.  Oh, and he also said the plan is easy. "There is no risk and it is easy" were his exact words.  Wow! This could be really big, I mean huge, and Yemen has an economy with longterm growth potential.

Isn't it odd that an email so different from the others ended up in my spam?