Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Trip, Part 1

This Thanksgiving, I’m making more of a trip of it than I did last year. Since it seemed like too much driving packed into such a short time, plus I can’t say that that long trip up I-5 is really all that interesting to me currently (I’ve done it quite enough in the past few years!), I decided to fly up to San Francisco early Wednesday morning, spend Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday enjoying San Francisco, and then driving to my sister’s Clear Lake house for the family Thanksgiving on Saturday, and then driving back down to San Francisco to fly back on Sunday in time for going back to work on Monday.

I actually started the celebration a little early by taking my friend Kate out to dinner Tuesday after work, going to one Rosti’s, a Tuscan restaurant that is one of our hang-outs. Every time we have gone to Rosti’s, we have eaten outside. In fact, I have actually eaten inside at Rosti’s only once (and that was with somebody else, not Kate), but I found it to be way too noisy to enjoy. However, since the weather has gotten rainy and cold, I was sure that Kate and I would be eating inside this time despite my not really liking it inside. However, Kate saw that Rosti’s had the outdoor warming torches burning, so we ate outside this time, too! I don’t think the restaurant actually expected anybody to actually eat outside, but they were happy enough to have us do it and even though at first we were the only ones outside, after a while, some other people came out there, too.

Normally Kate and I will end up closing a place, but as I had to get up at the crack of dawn the next morning, we didn’t push it this time. Our timing was, in fact, impeccable, because just about the very second we decided that it was time to leave, we felt one raindrop fall. By the time I had walked Kate to her car, we felt a few more drops, and when I got inside my own, the rain really began to pour. While we could keep warm eating outside thanks to the torches, there was no way that we could have kept dry in the rain.

The rain was really heavy and I got completely soaked at home as I walked in from the parking lot.

Way way way too early, I had to get up, shower and dress, and drive to Johnny Park near the airport, the discount parking garage that I use whenever I fly. That early in the morning, traffic was very light and I got there quite quickly. However, there were several people at Johnny Park and we all filled up every seat on the shuttle that took us to the terminals.

I was flying Virgin America, which was a new airline for me. I already had my boarding pass that I had printed off at home, and was supposed to be able to check my suitcase on the curb. However, it ends up that Virgin doesn’t have curbside baggage checking at LAX, but they do have a special line inside for those who had printed their own boarding pass, so it was no problem and pretty quick anyway.

Security was quite quick, too. TSA always seems to get a bad rap, described as “thugs,” but I have always found them to be quite nice, jolly, even, and these were no exception. In fact, they were really quite friendly and they made the experience rather fun.

At the first security station, you show your photo ID and your boarding pass, and a Homeland Security official checks those out and them stamps your boarding pass with a seal and then signs the seal. He was wishing everybody a great Thanksgiving.

Then you ride the escalator up to where the metal detectors are. You are instructed to take off your shoes (I also took off my belt and watch, because those things always ring the alarm) and put them in a bin along with your liquids, if you are carrying any (my grooming stuff was in my checked baggage, so I was carrying no liquids). Liquids are limited to three-ounce containers that will fit into a quart-size baggie. Laptop computers are supposed to be taken out of their case for security inspection, but mine was in my checked baggage, as well. I had my heart medications with me, but they are pills, not liquids, so require no special security preparations. The only special thing I had had to do was put my camcorder batteries in a baggie inside my backpack, as they do not want them in your checked baggage (could be a fire hazard, apparently).

There was a friendly man at security roaming around announcing that we could put our photo IDs away since we had already passed that particular security checkpoint.

I breezed through the metal detector and then an official showed me where there were some seats so that I could my shoes back on. It was all very friendly and efficient.

I made my way a bathroom, and then the gate. I was really quite early, so decided to eat breakfast at Ruby’s diner, which was up there near my gate. While I ate, there was a woman talking on her cell phone about having had to evacuate her house due to, I don’t know, but it sounded like a fire. I guess we are still having brush fires. It seemed from her conversation that she was flying somewhere for Thanksgiving anyway, which was why she was at the airport, but due to the evacuation, she and her husband had to be there much earlier, like maybe their flight wasn’t until later that afternoon. Seems like if you have to evacuate your house, you might not enjoy flying somewhere for Thanksgiving, but then again, since you can’t be at home, you may as well already have plans to be somewhere else.

I felt like talking with the woman about her evacuation, except for the fact that I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t “eavesdropped” on her conversation. Instead, I wondered whether there might be a new etiquette based on cell phone usage, that now it might be perfectly permissible to discuss with a stranger something that they were talking about on a public cell phone conversation. After all, when they are talking loudly in public, whatever they are talking about is no longer private, but has become public knowledge.

This same issue came up again today when I was riding a cable car in San Francisco. A woman on the cable car was talking to somebody about her plans in San Francisco, saying, “We had the memorial service for my mother yesterday, and today I will be meeting with my brother for lunch.” I felt like commiserating with her over her mother’s recent death, yet my “new rules of etiquette” aren’t definite in my mind, yet.

After breakfast, I sat and read in the waiting room until it was boarding time. While I was waiting, I was somewhat surprised to watch a woman change her toddler’s diapers right there on the carpeted floor of the waiting room in full view of hundreds of other waiting passengers. I realized that the time for boarding was coming up pretty soon and the woman might not want to miss the announcement, but bathrooms with diaper changing stations were quite near.

I attempted to give the woman and her toddler some “privacy” by not really watching this scene, although ignoring it was like attempting to ignore a television; you can’t really, because your eyes are continually drawn to the action.

The woman was really quite deft with the operation (obviously having done it hundreds of times before), whereas in my case, seeing diapers changed is something I have seen only once before. Fortunately in this case it wasn’t as messy as it could have been, yet it was messy enough that I felt that it was something that really did need to be done in a bathroom where there was a water supply.

The woman took the dirty “Pampers” off, folded them up, and put them down on the floor. I hoped that she wasn’t going to them leave them there. The minute the little boy was naked down there, he began to make complaining noises and kind of wiggle and fight her, which I think is typical, but whether this is from an inborn feeling of insecurity, modesty, or something else, I just don’t know.

The woman grabbed both feet with one hand, lifted them up, and then cleaned his thoroughly exposed bottom with a cloth in the other hand. While this was going on, another little boy who was in the area, also waiting to board the plane, pointedly went right over to watch this whole thing closely. I half expected the mother to admonish him, “Do you mind, give my son some privacy,” but in reality, this was something she really didn’t have much of a right to say (plus it probably didn’t enter her mind).

Once her boy was cleaned, the mother taped on his new diapers, pulled his pants back on, slipped on his shoes, and the boy was done. Fortunately, she then threw the dirty diaper away and then waited to board the airplane. I felt that she really needed to wash her hands and if it were me, I wouldn’t be comfortable until I had washed them. But it didn’t seem to concern her.

When it was time for my section to board the plane, I got in line and boarded the plane. It’s been a while since I have flown and I was surprised how tight the seat was. While that might be due to my being overweight, I honestly felt that it was my pelvis bones, not my butt, that banged against the two arm rests as I squeezed into the seat. But yes, this is coach, so a lot of comfort is not to be expected.

The interior of the plane was quite pretty with its lavender ambient lighting on the ceiling and hot pink ambient lighting surrounding the windows. I wondered what kind of focus group marketing study had gone into that particular design. That, along with the touch-screen entertainment center embedded in the seat back in front of you were the two design claims of fame for this airline. However, I very soon got very irritated by the sight of seat-fulls of people poking at their screens. I can’t quite explain why this was irritating (and I, too, was poking at mine from time to time), but it was irritating in the same vein as audiences crinkling open their candy and snack packages in a movie theater.

The entertainment center had dozens of menu choices, but most of them were “empty” with “please pardon us, we are still in development” error messages. So no on-board shopping, text message chatting with other seats on the plane, checking e-mail, and so on, nor did the airflight map work either; however, they did seem to have dozens of computer games, music videos, television, and movie channels (the movies all cost $7.00). Since this was only an hour flight, I saw no reason to involve myself with renting a movie or doing any other thing that required buying a headset. I had brought a book along to read.

Food, when they offer it, is also a “cost” item, ordered on the screen with a credit card, and I presume they had alcoholic drinks for sale, too, but I stuck with the complementary cup of coffee.

Quite soon, we arrived in San Francisco, where we were told it was raining (I had expected that).

I followed the crowd down to the baggage claim, and then searched for a San Francisco Information booth where I understood that I could buy a 1, 3, or 7-day Muni Pass that would get me unlimited rides on the cable cars, street cars, and Muni busses. However, that proved to be problematic; the first booth said that they didn’t sell them, but they told me where there was one that would. However, that one wasn’t manned, but had a sign, instead, directing tourists to yet another one, “at the end” of the concourse. As this concourse seemed infinite, I couldn’t see where the “end” of it was (it actually was as wide as the entire airport, itself), I began to get irritated. I found a security guard to ask and he explained where I should go to find the end of the concourse. I told him that I was also looking for the AirTrain that takes passengers to the car rental section, which he said was quite near where the Information Booth was and, in fact, my walking down to the end of the concourse took me closer to the car rental area.

Fortunately, this third and final booth was manned and he did, indeed, sell the passes, plus he had all sorts of maps, magazines, and brochures that I have made productive use of. I bought a three-day pass and then rode the elevator up to the fourth floor where I could catch the AirTrain.

The AirTrain was like a Disneyland people mover and quite fun to ride, actually. It had two different lines, the red line that travelled all around the airport, and the blue line that diverted off of the airport concourses and out into the hinterlands where all the car rental places are in a separate building complex.

The San Francisco Airport far outdoes the Los Angeles Airport in appearance, modernism, and convenience. One can even take BART, the San Francisco Bay Area’s “subway” or light rail system from the airport into the city itself; very European. Los Angeles has light rail, too, but it requires catching a shuttle bus to get to from the airport. SFO, like San Francisco, is more about electrified mass transit, whereas LAX, like Los Angeles, is more about gasoline-run vehicles.

It was interesting to see the long line of car rental places. I found the counter for Dollar Car Rental, with whom I had confirmed reservations. However, despite my printed confirmation, Dollar’s computer had no record of my reservation. “That happens sometimes,” the man at the counter said. I had never used Dollar before, but I thought that this was not a good sign. However, he duplicated my reservation and sent me down to pick up my car.

I found the Dollar car pick up section, but the woman working that booth said that the man had sent me to the wrong place. I asked her where I should go, instead, but she said that it wasn’t my fault, it was “That man upstairs,” whom she then called to tease. “He always does that,” she said, and then told me to wait there while she went to go get the car from where it was, elsewhere. I have no idea what “that man upstairs” had done wrong, but when the woman brought me the car, she said something about how Thrifty and Dollar had merged, so I assume the man had used a Thrifty code on the Dollar rental, or something, which might explain why he couldn’t find my reservation. But no matter, I now had my rental car, a silver Dodge Caliber, into the back of which I put my suitcase and then I proceeded out of the car rental area and out into the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

To be continued….

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