Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Monday, February 27, 2012

Riding On Trains With Old People

Recently, I was dispatched by my parents to go to Sarasota, Florida to assist them in getting back home. Not a bad gig if you can get it. It did, however, require me to travel via (clich̩ coming) planes, trains and automobiles. I was to fly to Florida on a Thursday; drive from Sarasota to Orlando on Friday; load us and their vehicle on the Amtrak Autotrain Friday afternoon; spend the night on the train; arrive in DC on Saturday morning; and drive them home from there. So yeah, a couple of thousand miles in forty-eight hours. I did it Рhere is the train part.

2:30PM – We board the train without being asked for any ID and without one bag getting searched. Zero, and I mean Z-E-R-O security on the rails – just sayin’.

2:50 – The old lady down the car leans her head out of her room and asks me if they have started serving the free wine and cheese yet.

3:00 – They announce that free wine and cheese is now being served in the lounge car. Stampede of old people toward the lounge car begins in earnest.

3:05 – I arrive in the lounge car to what looks like a pack of jackals fighting over an antelope carcass.

3:06 – I go downstairs to the bar for a Sam Adams. (The first of many.)

3:25 - My son Dylan calls me and says, “Dad, we have a major dilemma. Shingles are blowing off of our house.” “Dylan, I am on a train in Florida!” Frantic phone calls ensue. (All is well.)

5:00 – Our call for dinner. You have a choice of the 5:00, 7:00 and 9:00 dinner times. My parents of course choose the earliest one, which means after dinner I am going to have about five hours to kill.

5:03 – We arrive at the dining car and are served salad, dinner and dessert in about twenty efficient minutes.

6:15 – I am back in the lounge car drinking Sam Adams and reading Rolling Stone. Turns out Pete Townshend just sold his all of his publishing for an estimated $30-$50 million. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

7:10 – Two cute blondes sit down at my booth to watch a Dolphin movie. (Not sure which one, the dolphins may or may not have been talking.)

7:15 – The cute blondes mom tells them they have to go and get their pajamas on.

8:00 – I head downstairs to a little slice of heaven known as the smoking lounge. I smoke a cigarette but feel (and smell like) I smoked a pack since it is like smoking with three other people in the middle of a group hug inside a phone booth.

8:05 – 9:00 – I drink more Sam Adams.

My coffin (strap array on the right)
9:30 – Kyle, our porter, turns the “roomette” my dad and I are sharing into a double-decker, coffin sized sleeping berth. The top bunk I will be sleeping in is suspended by an array of what appears to be seatbelt straps.

9:45 – As my dad goes to sleep he says, “Be careful you don’t fall out of that sonofabitch, you’re liable to strangle yourself in those straps.” Thanks, dad, you sleep well too.

10:00 – 6:00AM – I spend a fitful night being jostled around in my crypt while worrying about death by hanging.

8:00 – We arrive in Lorton, Virginia, retrieve the car and drive home.

Mostly, I ask my kids to put away their laundry and take out the garbage. Mine just asked me to come to Florida. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

When Kids Just "Shut Things Off"

Every week day at 3:00 I call home to talk to my kids who are just getting home from school about then. The conversations are brief; how was school, any homework, let the dog out. But sometimes, I relay a very simple request. On Thursday, I asked for the following three things:

1. Take four chicken breasts out of the freezer in the garage for dinner and put them in a container of water in the sink. (Not: Go to the local farm, track down a couple of chickens, slaughter them, butcher them, and prepare chicken cacciatore.)

2. Bring in the garbage cans. (Not: Bring in the garbage cans at our old house thirty miles away. I mean the ones at the end of the driveway that you walked around on your way in the house.)

3. Put your clothes away. (Not: Take your dirty clothes down to the creek, wash them against a rock, dry them on a clothesline, iron them and put them away in order of color.)

If you belly crawled to complete these tasks, it would take five minutes tops – seven if you actually put the clothes in drawers instead of on the floor.

Do I have to tell you how many were done when I got home? I didn’t think so.

When I inquired about this when I got home, and by inquired I mean I yelled, “Dammit! Why didn’t you at least get out the chicken?” The response was, “Sorry dad, I forgot!” What my son meant to say was, “Dad, shut up you ass. And stop yelling, I am playing xBox.”

But he was lying – he didn’t forget. To forget implies that you knew something, and it slipped your mind. Like, “I knew I was supposed to get milk on the way home, but I forgot.” You can’t forget if you never knew it in the first place. (A derivative of this strategy is employed in DC all the time.)

You can only be pissed off about frozen chicken for so long, because as a parent you just make it work. Today’s garbage cans is tomorrows running out at 8:00 at night to get a tee shirt for a school project that is due the next day even though they knew about it for a week and when you are ask him in the car why he didn’t tell you earlier he says, “Dad, sometimes I just shut things off.” Wonderful.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Airline Reservation "Option" That Cost Me $12.00. (Or - How the Airlines Are Fully Engaged In The "Very Serious Business" Of Screwing Their Customers.)

In my previous post, I talked about the “very serious business” that my parents summoned me to their house for. They had asked me to fly to Florida at the end of the month and travel back home with them to help drive. This precipitated the unenviable task of getting a plane ticket that did not involve a layover in Kandahar.

I was pleased with the most recent DOT regulation that required airlines and travel websites to include all their fees and taxes in the price of the ticket up front, so that when you get to the check-out page of the website, the price does not escalate from $215 to $3,812.

The DOT regulation, however, had one caveat. The airlines were still entitled to exclude “optional fees” from their pricing. Therefore, AirTran got down to the “very serious business” of screwing me.

I found a flight that did not require me getting to the airport while the bartenders from TGIF’s were still counting their tips from the night before and proceeded to the seat assignment page. You have to admit, it is sort of fun picking your seat – it’s like one last vestige of self-determination. AirTran wants you to pay for this.

Here are the options:

1. Priority Seating - $13 – $15. This not only gets you the fancy, up front seats, you get to board first. Outside of First Class where you can get a cocktail immediately, I never understood the rush to get into a seat that has the plush comfort of a wooden folding chair without the lumbar support.

2. Exit Row Seating - $20. If I am reading this correctly, airline safety stops the second the overweight, drunk guy with an extra $20 decides he wants to park his fat ass in an exit row. Call me crazy, but I think this seat should be given to the person who can do the most pushups in the boarding lounge.

3. Steerage Class - $6. This is every other seat in the plane, including the middle seat in the last row next to the bathroom.  (I have a layover, so that's $6 x two legs - amazing this isn't charged by the air mile.)

Now, this is one of the “optional fees,” because you do not have to reserve a seat. The airline will tell you that you are more than welcome to come to the airport without a seat assignment and you will be given one there – if they don’t overbook the flight.

Would you make a reservation at a restaurant, pay up front and be content if you were told that for only a few extra dollars they would actually guarantee you a seat? Would you pay an extra $20 for a really good seat?

But the airlines have been in the “very serious business” of bilking their customers for years, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I am just looking forward to my thimble of Diet Coke and a Gold Fish Cracker.