Tag Archives: travel

Flight 15

On Alaska Airlines flight #15, seat 30D, Oct. 6, 2005

“This is the flight deck, giving you an update on our progress. We’re just leaving North Dakota air space, heading into Montana. We’re still holding to our original estimate of arriving at the gate about ten minutes after nine o’clock.”

A night flight, the cabin lights are off, but I’m too wide awake to doze. The light over my seat doesn’t work, so I can’t fall back on reading. The couple to my right are in and out of sleep. The woman across the aisle and just in front of me has been typing constantly on her laptop since they brought dinner around. Dinner was hot sandwiches and apple slices encased in plastic. The girl, maybe ten years old, in the middle seat right in front of me is watching “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” on a portable DVD player. Two young women across the aisle are talking, but I find I can’t eavesdrop due to the jet noise:

“It’s like I was just [drowned out]…” “…so I was thinking [drowned out]…” “…I was like[drowned out]….”

The anesthetizing effect of a good murder mystery would help the boredom. Maybe I’ll try to doze, out of boredom.


Bits of a conversation from the woman with the midwestern accent and the man behind me:

“It’s a long flight, isn’t it?” “Yeah. Yeah, it is.” “Five and a half hours.” “You don’t think it’s that long, but it is.”

“Can I get out? –when you get a chance, it doesn’t have to be now.” This to the woman was has been typing constantly on her laptop, and she gets up to let the man in the middle seat get out. She’s not typing now, though, she’s playing a video game. “Ah, that’s important work you’re doing.” The woman with the laptop laughs, and the man continues, “I’m gonna stretch my back, it doesn’t do well in these –ahh!” as he stands up and stretches. He rocks back and forth and stands in the aisle.

I sit and stare in front of me. Too wide awake to doze again. I let my mind drift.

“We’re supposed to get in just after nine so it’s going to be,–” the woman with the laptop looks at her watch, “–another hour and twenty minutes.” This in response to the woman on her far left, sitting in the window seat. The man stretching his back is still standing in the aisle, rocking.

I let my mind drift.

New Bedford

New Bedford, Mass.

Carol and I left Cambridge at about 10:30 this morning. We had to take separate cars since Carol will return to Cambridge on Sunday. She has to commute to Watertown, which could be a two-hour drive from here at rush hour, and she’s still trying to work on her next book while working full time.

I arrived here in New Bedford at about twenty past noon, twenty minutes late to pick up the key from Nancy C., who has kindly loaned us her house in downtown New Bedford until we can find our own apartment. The drive down here was bad. I had a hair-raising ride through Somerville and the Central Artery, and I learned that the driving directions you get on the Internet are pretty useless in the Boston area — in greater Boston, you don’t just need to know when to take a right and when to take a left, you need to know which lane to get into well before you have to make the turn, and you have to know that to stay on Somerville Ave. you have to take what looks like a sharp left. Of course being Boston, the drivers are insane, the roads are still a mess with the Big Dig construction, and Interstate 93 was all backed up south of the city. I sat in traffic for twenty minutes on I-93, and saw two accidents, and three cars pulled over by the State Police. It was just a nasty drive from Cambridge until traffic eased out close to New Bedford.

But at last we made it to New Bedford.

And at about one o’clock, my two sisters, Abby and Jean, my father, and Jim, Abby’s husband, arrived to spend the afternoon in New Bedford. We had lunch and walked over to the National Park visitors’ center. They wanted to see the waterfront, so we crossed the pedestrian footbridge over Route 18. Dad and my sister Jean had to stop every hundred feet to take photographs. Jean took 64 photographs yesterday. I don’t know how many Dad took. Downtown New Bedford is photogenic, with most of the houses and commercial buildings from the 19th C., and a few from the late 18th C.

“Seagulls,” said Jean, as several circled and cried overhead. “I could work in a town that has seagulls.”

We walked over to the waterfront, looking at the fishing boats tied up there, going into the Wharfinger’s Office which now houses exhibits for the National Park, and wandered over to look at the Ernestina, a wood-hulled schooner built in 1894, and originally christened the Effie M. Morrissey. She was a fishing schooner on the Grand Banks, sailed to the Arctic as an exploratory vessel, and is now a national landmark, currently being restored. As we were looking her over (as Dad and Jean were taking lots of photographs), a three-masted vessel, a barkentine, came into port and tied up just down the wharf from Ernestina. Carol being who she is, she immediately struck up a conversation with the crew, and learned they sailed from Philadelphia headed for Booth Bay Harbor, to go into drydock there. “If we stayed another half hour,” said Carol, “I would have gotten us an invitation to go on board.” She would have, too, but we had to head back to the cars, so Dad and my sisters and Jim could get back to Concord.

After we ate dinner, Carol and I went to Baker Books in Dartmouth, the town just west of New Bedford. Going to a bookstore is our usual weekend date. That we went on our usual weekend date says more than anything that we are here, we are settling in.

I’ve arrived now. The journey from Illinois is over.


I am reading a translation of travel writing and other prose by Basho, 17th C. Japanese writer. He writes:

Now, for those who set their heart on the spiritual arts and follow the four seasons, writing is as inexhaustible as the sands on the beach.

He wrote this in a haibun about a painting, and he decides that the writers of his day do not measure up to the master poets of the past:

The joy of continuing their truth is difficult for those today.


Cambridge, Mass.

Here at last — well, in Massachusetts at last. We got here sooner than I had expected, but that was partly because we decided not to stop anywhere along the way except to sleep. We’ve done a lot of driving over the past two days.

It was good to see Carol again. She’s been here in Massachusetts for six or seven weeks, working at a new job, while I closed up the apartment in Geneva. Carol is cat-sitting in Cambridge, which is why we met her here. She, Jean, and I went out for dinner last night at about 8 p.m. You can read my sister’s blog to read about our dining saga. But I want to go back to Monday evening….

Monday evening, Jean and I were in Batavia, New York, home of Batavia Downs. After an 18 month hiatus, the track is going to open again today. It sure seemed like there were lots of people trying to find a motel room in Batavia on Monday evening, maybe in anticipation of the opening. We finally wound up at a Days Inn, taking a room that had “weak A/C.” They said that was all they had left, and no one else had rooms so we took it. We dumped our luggage, and went to find dinner.

We followed the signs to Alex’s Place, right across the street from Batavia Downs. You can see the long narrow horse barns from the front door of Alex’s. Alex’s was packed. Lots of people who seemed to know each other, felt like a real locals’ hangout.

Our table was positioned so we could watch the bar. Right at the corner, my sister noticed an attractive young woman was flirting with a very thin young man. How did Jean know she’s flirting? “See the way she’s flipping her pony tail?” said Jean. The young man was clearly fascinated. He turned so I could see his face, and I saw he had a moustache that did not quite match his face, as if he hadn’t had it for long and hadn’t quite figured out how to trim it so it looked its best.

Then another young woman, wearing fashionable glasses, joined the first young woman (we called her “Glasses Girl” to distinguish her from the first). The first young woman made the young man get off his bar stool so Glasses Girl could sit between her and the young man. We decided that the first young woman realized that the young man just wasn’t going to go away, but didn’t quite know how to get rid of him.

It was quite a little drama to watch. I decided that these people probably all knew one another, maybe even worked together. Jean wasn’t so sure. Then Jean said, “You know where we got this from?”

“What?” I said.

“Watching people and figuring out their motives,” Jean said. “Mom used to do this.”

“Oh yeah!” I said. Suddenly I remembered Mom doing just this kind of thing — watching people, and figuring out the story or little drama that was being enacted.

Then back to the hotel, where we grdually realized that we didn’t have “weak A/C,” we had no A/C. It was stifling. At 2:30 in the morning, I called the front desk, and they found us another room. We had air conditioing from 2:30 a.m. until 8 the next morning, and then another long hot drive with the windows rolled down. And here we are, in Massachusetts ahead of schedule. I still feel jangled from all that driving. Good thing Jean was willing to come along and share the driving with me. Thanks, Jean!


Richmond, Indiana

It took longer than I had hoped to get around this morning — a few last things to throw in the moving container — deposit some checks in the bank in St. Charles — a few last-minute things to clean in the apartment. At last everything was done, and I went and celebrated by having brunch at Egg Harbor Cafe on Third Street in Geneva: three blueberry pancakes with lots of butter, two eggs over easy, and a side of bacon. A good midwestern breakfast. Then I drove over the Fox River one last time, headed east on State Street, headed for the Atlantic Ocean.

Driving was pretty horrendous. The Tri-State Tollway was all backed up from the construction south of Chicago. And Interstate 70 is down to one lane in three places from Indianapolis. Fortunately, my sister called me on the cell phone and told me how to avoid the construction on I-70 around Richmond. But even so, I spent about two hours today crawling in traffic. Which is unpleasant in a car that has no air conditioning.

But at last I made it to Richmond, Indiana, where my older sister Jean lives. I chatted with her and her husband Dick, catching up on the latest review of Jean’s new book, the state of Dick’s new photography studio, and talking about the drive east.

Just in passing, Jean said something about cars and air conditioning. “Jean,” I said, “You know what kind of air conditioning I have in my car.”

“What?” she said, giving me a kind of deer-in-the-headlights look.

“465 air conditioning,” I said.

“Danny,” she said (she is the only person in the world who can get away with calling me “Danny,” so don’t you try), “You mean, 4 windows down at 65 miles per hour — you mean you don’t have air conditioning?” Her voice was rising a little at the end.

Dick walked in at this point, and when he was filled in, he laughed. But my sister doesn’t let these things get to her.

“Actually, in some ways I like it better without air conditioning,” she said. “You really feel like you’re driving, not speeding along in this hermetically sealed — thing.”

Dick rolled his eyes and walked out. There’s only so much brother-sister talk you can stand before it gets cloying. Then Jean said, “Do you have some good music?”

“Well,” I said, “The cassette player is kind of dying, so –”

That was too much for Jean. 465 air conditioning is one thing, but cassettes? I promised I would get a portable CD player, which we can plug into my antiquated car stereo.

“Cassettes,” she muttered, shaking her head.

Whereas I don’t care so much about cassettes, or CDs or DVDs or iPods. What I want to know is where I can get free wifi access. Jean’s laptop doesn’t even have a wifi card! — that’s where I start shaking my head.

Actually, I think what all this shows is that we both have the same father, an electrical engineer and quasi-audiophile, and someone who would talk to us about good writing and about journalism when we were kids. Do I even need to add that, like Dad and me, Jean has a wireless LAN in her house? — which I think is cool.

By such strange things do we sometimes define our relationships.

(By the way, Jean, “wifi” (proper acronym is “Wi-Fi) does stand for “wireless fidelity.” How do you like that?)

It’s all about the Web, and worship

On board the “Texas Eagle,” en route from Fort Worth to Chicago

Looking out the window of the train, I see the grass in Texas has begun to turn brown for the summer. But you can only look at brown grass for so long. With an overnight train trip ahead of me, I’m going to have some time to reflect on General Assembly (GA).

The best part of GA for me continues to be my volunteer work with the GA Web staff. It was exhausting to write some ten thousand words for the GA Web site in five days (not including the writing I posted on this blog). But the exhaustion was worth it because each year, I learn more and more from the other Web workers about what makes a topnotch Web site. And more and more, I am coming to learn that a good Web site is essential for any church.

I learned that each Sunday there are hundreds of hits on the “Find a Congregation Near You! “Web page. This means hundreds of people each week go looking for a nearby UU church, and they find that church through the church’s Web site. Second, in one 24 hour period this weekend, there were over 1,500 hits just on the Web page which allows you to access video coverage of General Assembly, meaning that people who are already Unitarian Universalists use the Web to find out more about their own faith.

One more thing I learned from GA — really really good worship services do make a difference. We had some really really good worship services at GA, and cynical and snarky as I am, I have to admit those worship services deepened my faith. Now, I did not agree with everything that was said or sung in those worship services — but come to think of it, that’s one of the things that makes really really good Unitarian Universalist worship services.

Those are my reflections on General Assembly. Whether you attended GA in person, or experienced it through the Web — what are yours?


It all begins…

Forth Worth, Texas

Amtrak’s “Texas Eagle,” train number 21, arived in Fort Worth from Chicago almost on time. Almost, because somewhere in Arkansas, some idiot threw something on the tracks, and we had to wait for nearly an hour for the tracks to be cleared then checked. We made up most of the lost time, but not quite.

Yesterday evening, I was sitting in the dining car, chatting with a fellow who had grown up in Texas, gone to Chicago for a couple of years, and was moving from Chicago to return to college in Austin. It was just after the sun had gone below the horizon, we were pulling in to St. Louis, and we were just getting up to go — when we came around a curve and saw the gateway arch at the entrance to the city. A spectacular view at that hour of the day — we gazed at it in silence for a few minutes.

“That’s just about perfect,” I said to him, “coming on that arch at just this time of day.” It really was incredibly beautiful, all blue and silver and pink against the deepening blue sky, with a hint of pink at the western horizon.

“Before I went to Chicago,” he said, “I never saw any reason to go anywhere else. But then I lived in Chicago — seeing things like this — it’s having experiences like this….

Fort Worth is certainly an experience for me. A New Englander born and bred, this city feels like a foreign country to me. It’s both a Western city and, in some ways, a Southern city, with subtly different social cues that I’m not sure I understand. And I do have a hard time understanding what people say at times, just like in a foreign city.

At the same time, the influx of Unitarian Universalists has begun. I was sitting in a Starbucks, checking out their wifi connection (they wanted too much information from me, so I did not take advantage of the 24 hour free Web access) — sitting there sipping my iced coffee — when my advisor from Meadville/Lombard Theological School came up and sat down to say hi. She’s in town for interim ministry training, since she is leaving Meadville/Lombard and heading off to Ithaca to be the interim minister there.

The clerk at my hotel was looking harrassed when I checked in. He had just gotten off the phone with someone who wanted to make sure her room would only be cleaned with vinegar and water, and from what I could hear of his end of things, it was not a pleasant conversation for him (the word “entitled” comes to mind). Not surprisingly, he had been talking to someone coming to General Assembly. As he checked me in, he asked, “How many of you will there be at this conference?”

“Oh, a few thousand,” I said. He took that stoically — I’m sure every large conference has its share of pushy, entitled people. I just don’t like it when the pushy, entitled people are a part of my religious movement.

A final note to those of you who are coming to General Assembly — you can get free wifi Internet access at Billy Miner’s Saloon, on the corner of Houston and Third, about six blocks from the convention center. Which is where I’m sitting at the moment. Good cheap burgers, $1.50 draft beers, and free wifi — what more do you need from life? Although a quickie Web search reveals that Billy Miner’s got 16 demerits from the city health inspectors at their last visit (30 means things are so gross you probably don’t want to eat there) — so if you’re fastidious, you won’t like it here. Personally, I feel right at home — and the burger was pretty darned good, too.