Last March I took an extended vacation.
I spent a few days visiting relatives in Virginia, and a week in Washington DC.
It was my first trip to both places and, while I've already written a little about the adventure here, and on my BikeBlog, this series will be my attempt to finally tell the whole story.
To paraphrase author James C. Davis: "My hardest task will be leaving out. Writing a travelogue is like packing a suitcase, you can't find space for everything." Maybe not, but I can damn well try! (Most photos will be clickable Thumb-nails of larger images)
March 7, 2008 - 2am:
All the planning and packing of late Feb., and early March, came down to this:
After getting 2 hrs. sleep, filling Nikita's food and water bowls, and hugging him good-bye...I walked out the door.
30 minutes, and a 1mile walk later, I walked to where I caught my 1st of 2 busses for the morning.
It was a dark, and cool, night, but not too cool at 49 degrees, traffic was light, and I was the only person around on foot in that small corner of Santa Ana, CA..
Oh, and guess what? I forgot to shave!! ;-D
On the bus a young Hispanic couple, on their way home from a night on the town, looked at me kind of funny, and the woman asked me if I was on a road trip.
I said no, and she, only half-joking, said she thought I was on the run. ;-D
My reply to that observation? "I am! From work!"
In spite of all we hear America is a great place, with wonderful people, and this journey will be my chronicle of my experiences in select parts of this Beacon of Democracy.
I brought along Davis's book, The Human Story: Our History, From the Stoneage to Today, to keep me company on my journey.
On this first bus, across from me, was a homeless black man, needle scars on his hands, sound asleep. All that he owns in the world are in a large beat up suitcase, and 2 dirty duffle bags.
The four all night bus lines in Orange County are famous for their use by the occasional homeless person as temporary, safe, places to sleep for acouple of hours each night.
The bus takes less than an hour to reach Long Beach, and I cross the street to wait for my bus to LAX.
The bus stops, on the corners of 1st and Long Beach Blvd., have really nice benches so a person can wait 30 minutes for his or her bus in comfort...Except that most of the time, at night anyway, the homeless sleep on them.
This morning was no different, except that they were all awake, and their various belongings took up space on the benches.
6 Black men, of various ages, and one, very drunk, young white guy with a bottle in his hand, were standing around talking, and all seemed to know each other by name.
The white guy was saying, "I don't know about you guys, but I think this Barack guy actually has a chance."
Quick, someone call CNN! This guy may know something the rest of us should know! ;-D
It turns out that there was an earlier bus going my way so I left Good Morning, Long Beach behind.
Since the light on the bus was too low to read by I observed the passing scene outside the window.
As the world began to awaken, and head to work, a few Blacks, and Hispanics, get on and off the bus as it travels through Lomita, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and LA,as it headed to the airport transit center.
Passing through mostly business districts, and traveling a good portion of Pacific Coast Highway, the ride takes 80 minutes.
It's 5am, and I get on the free shuttle to the Terminal, and by this time you, dear reader are no doubt wondering what in the hell I'm doing there 6 hours before my flight, right?
The last time I was on a plane was the wekend before Sept. 11, 2001, and so, with all the new rules I figured I wasn't going to let a late bus keep me from getting to the airport the recommended 2 to 3 hours ahead of time. ;-D
On the shutle I chatted with a family on its way to Alabama, and one young member seemed to know a little about the White House tour so that was cool.
At 530am in the morning I had the Men's Room, in the International Terminal Baggage Claim Area, all to myself!! ;-D
While there are Boarding Pass Kiosks and self check-in stations, I opted for the familiar, and and went to full service with a smile.
Well, ok, they smile most of the time, I suppose, but my attendant didn't, thoughshe did seem in a good mood.
It was at least an hour too early to leave my bag so the lady said to return.
My check-in luggage was 20 lbs., well under the 50 lb. limit so I didn't have to shell out $50.
I settled down to read my book for a while, and also obseve the passing scene.
By 6am it's daylight and the check-in areas are just beginning to get busy.
Young people, older people, families, of all nationalities, pass by, carrying luggage o all shapes and sizes, heading who knows where.
At 7am I got my baggage checked in, and went through security.
It was an interesting experience.
When i left my luggage I had to wait while it was scanned since it was locked, and might might need to be opened.
It didn't, and so it was on to Step 2: Going through the scanner to reach the boarding areas.
Out of my pocket came my pens, 2 camera batteries, and a change purse, and these, plus my keys, wallet, book, camera bag, notepad, shoes,
pants, shirt, all this went into a bucket which, along with my carry-on luggage, went through the scanner.
Finally, FINALLY! I was able to go rustle up some breakfast!
It was 745 am, and I was starving!
I had not ate at McDonald's in years so decided to try the breakfast menu while perusing the LA Times and USA Today.
Since the plastic bag I had barely made it to the check-in, I honorably retired it in favor of a cool blue bag that came with the papers!
After breakfast I walked around a bit and noticed the computer access terminals where you can check your e-mail, and go online for a fee, thanks to something called the Neptune Network.
I was surprised to see most of these sitting unused.
Such will power! America, I'm proud of you! ;-D
Finally, around 1045am, it came time to board, and everyone found their seats.
On all my flights I had a window seat. Why?
I love flying, and I love the view!
This coming from someone who often has issues with heights!
I'd flown twice before, in my life, and they were mostly night trips, so this was going to be special, crossing the length of the nation in daylight.
The plane heads out over the Pacific before turning back inland, and I am in awe!
I'm looking at a real life, real time, Google Map on Steroids!
My row has 3 seats, and while the middle seat was empty, the outside seat was held by a white guy, named Mitch, on his way home to Philadelphia for the weekend.
It's fascinating what strange things you can spot from so high up! Yes, yes, you can watch an in-flight movie, but for my money the best show is the one right outside my window!
You don't realize, until you actually can see it, just how much of the land that is America is yet to be urbanized, much less even developed at all.
As I look out the window I see snow-specked mountain, and open desert, with not a building, or road, for miles.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, but was only 40 minutes, civilization returned to the landscape in pockets, here and there, before disappearing again as more mountains, and deserts appeared.
Well, hot damn! That explains it! ;-D
As I watch, the landscape began to have just a few pockets of developement again before Ma Nature said, "Enough!", and threw up a Mountain Range.
Civilization tried to fight back but was once again thwarted before an empty, snow covered, plain allows a few roads, and highways, to pass through.
A few hills, lakes, and streams, though!
Around 330pm, by my watch, and I know we are in a new time zone, and the view out the window begins to get cloudy.
Patches of white clouds begin to block the view but, with only wide open spaces below, that's ok, hee, hee! ;-D
But wait! This is interesting! The clouds make huge shadows on the landscape!
Finally the clouds spread out , like a blanket, almost totally obscuring the earth.
Here, and there, I spot a few buildings, and roads, but still no suburbs, and cities, until finally... Eureka! Look, there's one! Oops, sorry, passed it...
After another 45 minutes the couds give way, but the view has not substantially changed.
Squares, and circles, some two-toned so that they looked like something from a collection of statistical surveys are dotted with buildings, and intersected with roads, and i spot the occasional one-stop town, and some foothills.
Then I spotted a large urban area with a lake that is boomerang shaped.
It's nowhere near like California, but the region has cities and suburbs.
Then the clouds return, again, obscuring the view.
Meanwhile...on the plane...Sandwiches, salads, chips, soft drinks, water, beer, and wine, are offered to us and, since the soft drink is free, I get a Classic Coke.
While some passengers watch the inflight movies, others use laptops, and portable players, and still others read books, magazines, and newspapers.
A few, like me, gaze out the window, and some take a nap, as if the say..."Ho hum, wake me when we get there!"
Even on an airplain one can't avoid sales pitches as the attendants come by offering a credit card with frequent flier miles incentives designed to entice you in to signing on.
Up here the only birds are man-made, and I finally spot another one in the distance, lower in altitude, hauling ass in the opposite direction from us.
It made me smile watching it high-tail it across the blanket of clouds. ;-D
Speaking of those clouds... Up here the tops of the clouf cover are a landscape unto themselves.
That prairies give way to hills, valleys, and small mountain peaks, and ranges, and while most are lite-gray, there are patches of much darker clouds.
The young Asian lady in the window seat in front of me finally opened the shade on her window, and her eyes grew wide when she looked outside.
I leaned forward, and remarked how it looked like you could take a stroll across the "land".
She smiled, and said she wanted to go skiiing. ;-D
A couple of hours later and I was no longer inclined to step ouside for a stroll because the clouds had all turned dark gray, and I started seeing a thin layer of clouds above us as well.
I was getting darker outside, and all around us there was a dark gray landscape full of rain, and unseen, or heard, thunder, and lightning.
The plan began to shake ast it hit turbulence, and headed into a lower altitude.
We found ourselves engulfed in a dark gray fog, erie, yet beautiful, at the same time.
I was no longer able to take pictures, even with the flash.
As we descend into darkenss the pilots are able to see the unseeable and, thanks to modern technology, fly straight and true.
At 645pm EST, I briefly see a blinking dot of light below us in the distance, and wonder what it is.
A few minutes later i see it again, but parallel, and behind us.
It was white the first time, red and blue the 2nd, clearer, and closer.
It was completely dark by then, and the pilot said we were 73 miles from Philly, a half hour from touchdown.
Maybe those lights had something to do with it, I don't know.
Suddenly it dawned on me that the second light belonged to the wing of the plane!
Gee, am I smart, or what? ;-D
The plane is finally heading in to land, in rainy Philadelphia, and our 5 hour journey is over.
We exit at Gate A, and I have less than 2 hours to find Gate F4.