Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I love the airport!

Ah, the airport. A place filled with sunshine and rainbows, good will and smiles all around. As I type this, I'm being jerked around the Philadelphia airport. The airplane required some kind of maintenance, and then they decided to replace the plane. First we had to check-in again, because some seats might have changed with the new plane. I was spared any change. Soon after we all went through that fun, they decided to send us to a completely different gate, in a completely different terminal. Good times!

I was reflecting earlier about things that I've learned from traveling. And the flight is just as important as anything else to the happiness of your trip. The big deal about the flight is that it's going to be the most uncomfortable part of the vacation. Please excuse my voice, as I choose to switch back and forth between first and second person. You understand, I'm sure.

First you have to make your way to the airport. This time, I rode BART. How much more exciting can a vacation be to start with an hour and 20 minute BART ride with the Bay Area's finest citizens? Luckily, BART now goes directly to the airport, making things more comfortable.

Second, you get to check in. This time I was smart and checked in online. That meant that I didn't get the thrill of standing in line for 20 minutes. Once you reach the front, you get to hand your ID to the ticket taker. That person will then spend the next 20 minutes staring at the screen and occasionally typing. They then get to ask you the questions about whether you had your bags with you the whole time, but they don't look at you when they ask said questions. Nor do I think they notice when you answer. Since I don't check in luggage, they then stare at my bag for about 30 seconds, wondering whether to make me check it in or not. Finally, they push one more button and my ticket pops out.

Third, on to security. This is that place in the US where we bend over and ask them to shove the Bill of Rights right up our asses. But of course or safety must be MUCH more important than liberty. I mean that person in front of me could have done some serious damage with that hair gel. I might have gotten my hair gelled. And the Ziploc bag of Nutter Butter bites in my pocket certainly warranted me getting pulled to the side for a full search. I'm guessing that someone was worried about travelers with peanut allergies.

Fourth, you get to go to the gate. And sit there. For an hour and a half, because you were smart and showed up extra early "just in case." For me, this hour and a half is filled with wondering, once again, if they are going to make me check in my bag. Yes, it's the correct size for a carry on, but these guys like to make you check them just for fun. On the way to DC this past spring, the guy at the gate walked by me and gave that 30 second stare to my bag as I had it on my back. I think they are trained in that stare, their minds filled with geometric computations and visions of me pissed when they make me check it. He then said," I don't know if that bag will make it. We might have to check it." I coolly responded, "It's fine. It will fit." He stared again, and mumbled as he walked away, "We might have to check it." I didn't see him again. Jedi mind trick, bitches.

Fifth, your anxiety for the trip builds up again, because you're getting on the plane! You jump to the line when they finally call your "zone," only to find the line extends out of the plane and into the walkway leading back to the gate. Why? Because they load the plane from the front. And people take five minutes to adjust themselves in the aisle. Finally you get to your seat, where you then sit for another half hour. And these seats are the comfort equivalent to the desks in my classroom, which is strange because they look quite plush. It's a miracle of design. After slowly taxi-ing (?) around the airport, you finally get to take off. That adrenaline builds because you're finally on your way! The plane lifts off and... you feel like you're in the exact same place. That plane is moving, but the uncomfortable seat is only going to get worse and worse over the next several hours. All the adrenaline form the excitement leaks out of your body.

Finally, we're ready for the decent. The plane is coming to the ground! Another half hour later, it finally lands. After another 20 minutes of taxi-ing (??), we're to the gate. And everyone stands up. And remains standing for another 15 minutes. I'm an experienced traveler. I stay in my seat. Suckers. And then you're off the plane! Here you are in… your connecting city. Let's do most of it all over again.
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European preflections

I'm about to head back to Europe. As an adult, this will be my fourth trip. As I lived in Europe for four years as a kid, it's tough to have an overall count. In the broad scope of people who would consider themselves to be real travelers, I'm very much an amateur. But for the average American, sad as it may be, I'm practically an expert. Before I depart for this next trip, I want to write out some things I've learned from my first trip.

The first trip was to Italy. The biggest thing I had to figure out in that trip was how to pack. I bought a suitcase that also served as a backpack and was also small enough to carry on. I spent days and days trying to pack up everything I thought I would need for a couple weeks and make it fit. It didn't work. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get it all to fit in that tiny pack. So I returned it and bought the next size up. I had to check it, and it was heavy.

What I figured out while I was there was that my packing problems were due to my casual American clothes. You see, to be a light packer, you need to be able to do laundry quickly and easily in the sink in the hotel room. With jeans, cotton shirts, boxers, and socks, you can't really do that. They need to soak longer, they need more activation in the water, and they take way too long to dry. That means that you need to find laundry facilities, and that not only takes money, but too much time. So I had to bring more shirts, boxers, and socks in order to stretch out the time. So before the next trip, I spent some cash at REI before going to get some travel clothes. Now every few days on the trip, I fill the sink with water, a few drops of Woolite, and soak the clothes for awhile. Then swish them around for awhile, rinse, stamp out the water, and they are clean and dry the next morning. If you plan to travel light, get some travel clothes.

I also learned the need to have the occasional link to home. I left with this mentality that I was going to travel correctly as a European - there was no way I was eating at McDonalds! That didn't last too long, as I soon discovered that while I like trying new stuff, I don't always like what I try. The lousy meal can easily be followed up with a Big Mac. I had plenty of lousy meals, as on that trip, I wasn't good at picking places to eat. I didn't really learn that until the next trip.

But it was a strong link to home that I had near the end of the trip that allowed me to make it happily through the last few days. My last stop on that trip was five days in Rome. For the previous 10 days or so, I had been dropped head first into this other culture. Cold drinks were rare. I didn't often hear English. On that first day in Rome, I had to do laundry one last time. Again, it was an inconvenience of time. But I had also spent the past couple days doing a lot of exhausting activities, so I was beat. I knew I had five more days, but I was feeling like they might be spent just lying in my hotel. I needed something to kick me in the butt.

So I was lucky to find a full service laundry. I just had to drop off everything, and it would be ready a few hours later. So I started walking around to find food. By that time, it was an almost dreaded activity. As I mentioned before, I wasn't good at finding food. Even in Italy, which has some of the best food on Earth, I had found some of the either worst or most expensive (or both) food imaginable (Yep, even pizza. I managed to find the worst pizza ever in Venice). But on this night, fate was with me. I turned a corner to find this nice little neighborhood with outdoor dining, fairly typical of Europe. And right in the middle, there it was. It was a beautiful sight. It was - The Hard Rock Cafe.

You see, if I were to find a Hard Rock Cafe anywhere else, at any other time, I would probalby keep on walking. Yeah, I've had a Hard Rock T-Shirt before. I've eaten there and enjoyed the decor. But after leaving my early 20s, I lost interest. But you see, there were a few things that linked me back to home. Of course, they played music videos the whole time. American videos. Comfort music from home. I had a big, fat burger that wasn't a McDonalds burger. I had a Caesar salad, so that I would feel like I was still in the Roman spirit. But the best thing of all was the drink. It was a Pepsi. With ICE. And free refills. Even though I was there and went through it myself, I feel a bit like an idiot even typing about the event and how excited I was for ice and refills. But at that moment almost six years ago, it was a huge deal, and it got me through the next few days with a renewed vigor.

I don't want to type out the stories right now, but here are some other things I learned about travel in Europe. 1. Always check your pizza to see if it was cut into slices. 2. Check the top of your bottle to see if it's a twist off. 3. If you aren't 100% sure you know where the bus goes after your stop, don't stay on to sight see. They don't all make round trips (D'oh!)

My second trip was the biggie. I was there for six weeks, covering as much of Western Europe as I could. I discovered that it was just a bit too long. I was ready to come home about about five, and I kinda started losing it a bit. When you start talking to yourself out loud (in your head or mumbling lightly is always perfectly acceptable) at the Aquarium Portugal about the majesty of the Ocean (singular), it's about two days after you should have gone home.

The third trip was to Central Europe. You can see the details of that trip on my website (www.scottcharris.com), though I still haven't finished the last four days. I keep telling myself that I will actually finish the website, and perhaps this trip will encourage me to do so. I tried to make the site much more complicated than it needed to be. For this trip, I'm going to post some pictures and updates to the blog. I know that I'll put something on the website. But it won't be as complicated, especially since I don't really know how to use the software that I have on this laptop.

So here's the approximate schedule. I arrive in Stockholm Wednesday morning. I'll take an overnight cruise to Tallinn, Estonia, then spend Thursday night there. On Friday, I speed up to Helsinki, Finland and spend the night there. Saturday night I'll take another overnight cruise back to Stockholm. On Sunday I start the tour. Here are the details. Late afternoon of the tours end, Day 14 ( July 4) I'll fly back to Oslo to spend the night before flying back home on the 5th. So when I have some internet access, I'll let you know how I'm doing and show you a few pictures.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Annoying Things of the Week

These are the top five things that annoyed me this past week:

5. Sarah Palin – So David Letterman made a joke about Palin’s daughter having sex. Palin then tried to make a big deal about how it was her 14 year old daughter with her, not the 18 year old, thus making the joke totally out of line. Now I’m usually one who prefers to look to facts, such as in religion, evolution, paranormal activities, history, and much more. But when it comes to jokes, are facts really necessary? The only thing that matters is if it’s funny or not. Now we all know that Sarah Palin has a daughter who has had sex. And since Palin made a big deal about abstinence, that opens up the joke bag. So the 18-year-old not actually being present? Irrelevant. It was a joke.

The topic of jokes brings me to an observation I made this week. While talking with a group of three students at the end of the last day of school, we started joking that one of the kids was actually my son. We both have red hair, though that’s exactly where any similarities end. But that’s not the point. These three students demonstrated to me another good way to categorize people (since that’s exactly what we need in this world). The first kind is the type who will go along with a joke. Those are the smart people. They realize right away what’s going on and help you out; they run with it. The second type is much more common. They are the type who laugh at a joke. They aren’t necessarily going to jump in and extend the joke, but they are bright enough to know that it is a joke. They laugh along, with actually helps to keep it going. That was the second student in the group, just laughing along. The third type is the type to stop the joke. In this case, the third student had to step in and proclaim that she knew his dad, so there was no way. Well NO SHIT. This is the type of person who watches a movie and proclaims “That wouldn’t happen.” These are some uptight people, and also pretty dumb. Sarah Palin clearly falls into this category. Palin could have jumped back at Letterman and launched a joke about him. She still would have been defending her daughter, and she would have looked better in the long run. So which type are you?

4. Time – I totally forgot that the game started at 5 instead of 6 today. I missed most of the first half. Stupid clocks. I also just remembered that I’m going to have time problems in Europe. I don’t wear a watch anymore – I use my blackberry as my source of time almost exclusively. So I’m wondering if it’s going to be worth the time, effort, and money to go buy a cheap watch tomorrow. I do have a moderately nice watch, but it doesn’t fit around my fat wrist anymore.

3. Reindeer - According to this article, http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20090612/sc_livescience/reindeercariboupopulationsplunge, the population of reindeer is dropping. I’m heading to Scandinavia on Tuesday, and one of the things I like to do while traveling is to sample the local cuisine. Quite often that means that I’m going to be eating an easier meal right afterwards (okra gumbo), but sometimes it means I’m going to find a new, amazing flavor (turtle soup).

It has also led me to try horse. I wasn’t planning to, but the place I went in Slovenia was out of beef burgers, so I had a horse burger. Here’s the weird part: I recognized the flavor. This either means that it was prepared with some spice that was unique or, more likely, I’ve had horse somewhere else. I’ve never ordered horse, so someone is serving horse around here somewhere.

One of the meats I want to try in the next few weeks is reindeer. I hope this plunge in population doesn’t mean that I won’t have the opportunity.

2. Eighth Graders – I was right. About 2/5 less annoying this past week. Good job, kids!

1. Corbett – Because he’s in Europe already, and I don’t leave until Tuesday.

So what annoyed you this week?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Clean sweep!

The committee has decided! Every week, every month, and now the year. It's quite an honor, and it's good to know when you're the best.

And just for the sake of posterity before I have to erase it:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Annoying Things of the Week

First, a note for the loyal readers (all five of you). I’m heading out of town a week from Tuesday for about three weeks. I plan to have an “Annoying Things” next week, but it will be brief. Then I’ll be off for awhile. Last summer I didn’t restart after I returned from vacation. I hope to restart this time, but in case I don’t, and to make up for the void in your lives over the next month, this is an extra long version, and I tried to be annoyed by just about everyone.

These are the top five things that annoyed me this past week:

5. The sun – Yes, the sun. That frickin’ light up in the sky that gives us energy and heat and makes all life possible. Fuck that thing. You see, for some of us, it’s a nuisance. And those of us are the pasty skinned, red haired (though I prefer Indian Rose), befreckled sun burners of the world. That sun thing gives us pain.

Of course we have two other alternates. One is to stay inside. I’m often all for that. I happen to enjoy my TV. But sometimes you have to go outside for things. And then our other option is sunscreen. Now I will say that modern science has been making leaps and bounds with the sunscreen. It doesn’t necessarily only smell like coconut or froofy lotion. It doesn’t have to smell like anything anymore, or might only have a mild odor. And it doesn’t make the skin feel slick all day anymore. But you still feel it. It’s always there. And worst of all, it’s eventually coming off. Especially the sunscreen that I gooped onto my forehead. About five or six hours after application, the sweat (and I can sweat – you all know that)and/or gravity is dropping that crap into my eyes. I want to start a petition to ban the sun. As I type this, I keep having to go wash the sunscreen out of my eyes. It's seriously getting in the way of my ranting.

And what's the deal with it going all super nova and killing us all some millions or billion years into the future? What's up with that?

4. Voices That Care – Yes, the crappy song that came out in 1991 to support the troops in Iraq or something like that. That song sucked.

While I would love to leave it there, allow me to add some context as to why I’m annoyed with it this week. For the last full week of school, I wanted to get into the 20th century. My first few years, I taught the history of popular music, primarily Rock ‘N’ Roll. It was fun, but I got away from it. I was thinking about bringing it back this year, but didn’t decide to do so until I found out that Boyd was teaching the same thing in his fancy shmancy Northgate cafeteria. I knew that I wanted to give a little more discussion to hip hop, adding to what I had taught several years ago. My basic idea, when I teach that part, is a general theory about why rap and hip hop had such a large rise in the 80s, making it so popular and (more importantly) so profitable by the 90s. Anyway, as I debated whether to add a seventh point to the six I already had (I chose to stay with six), I ended up reading a bit of Will Smith’s Wikipedia page. It mentioned that he had a line in Voices That Care.

It’s also the time of year for graduations. So thinking about graduations and the song Voices that care in the same instant, I remembered that a large group of us musical folk played that song for our graduation, Clayton Valley’s Class of 1992. I played bass. And that got me remembering – damn, that was really lame. And I was lame for not speaking up against it. What a lame ass song.

3. You – I regularly check out Ain’t It Cool News. Why? Because it’s a site for geeks, and I’m a geek. Every once in a while, for some lame reason or another, I check out the video they post by someone named Script Girl. If you want to check out the latest, head OVER HERE. In case you didn’t watch, or if you watched it like I usually do with the page scrolled up so you can only see the bottom half and with the volume turned down, this time she was talking about some remakes. In particular, she mentions Short Circuit. Yep, that 80s about GEM starring Steve Gutenberg, Ally Sheedy, and the lovable robot who thinks he’s alive, Johnny Five. Because YOU demanded it. That’s right, you. If you hadn’t it wouldn’t be happening.

You see, I rememeber Don Peavy talking about the movie. For those of you who don't know who Don Peavy is, you jsut aren't in the know, are you? So once again, you. But this weekend I did see a movie that was original and hilarious - the Hangover. It was good, and good movies should be supported. Have you seen it yet? No? Then once again, YOU. (If you have, then exclude yourself from this rant. And if you have but you didn't like it, comment on that, fool!) The things is, my crystal ball (singlular - the pair are titanium like Colbert) is telling me that a Short Circuit remake would be number one at the box office. Why? Because people are dumb. And you are a person. So I blame you.

2. Eighth Graders – but I sense their level of annoyance will drop significantly this coming week.

1. Teachers – For those not employed at my school, a large percentage of our staff members received pink slips. Several staff members have been demonstrating every Friday before school out on Concord Blvd, which is a pretty busy street from 7:30 to 8:00 in the morning. Last Friday, a few of those members chose to extend the demonstration for the entire school day. So on the outside, I enjoy a good demonstration. I was happy that our school was doing its part to raise awareness. But this particular demonstration, during the school day, created a great deal of negative feelings among the rest of the staff. I was one of the staff members who was not down with the methodology.

Before I continue this rant, I must say that while I wasn’t alone in being pissed off, I speak completely for myself. If you were one of the demonstrators and you’re reading this, these are my thoughts and mine alone – respond to me only if you take exception to anything I state (I might reference the office staff, but I DO NOT speak for any of them). And if you are overly sensitive, how about you stop reading right now? I’m not interested in attacking any individuals, as I believe that this was a horrible group decision. And finally, I’m totally over it. I’ve moved on. I didn’t take anything personally, as I usually don’t in professional situations. If you feel good about demonstrating last Friday, don’t let me change that. That said…

There was no warning for this event. Probably a few people knew about it, and I know that the office staff knew by the night before. But I wasn’t the only one totally caught off guard. I know that several people had talked about doing something big. (That’s part of the problem – this wasn’t big. It was big enough to make everything difficult and inconvenient for the rest of the staff, but small enough so that our office staff could handle it (though at the expense of everything else they should have been doing)). There are lots more little things about it that could have been avoided with early communication with the staff. But the thing about this protest that I really question was the TIMING. And that’s what I want to be annoyed with.

FIRST, you chose to demonstrate during the school day. Haven’t you read any of the negative comments about previous demonstrations? There were several people (mistakenly) asking why teachers were demonstrating while they should have been teaching. We could respond that it was only happening outside of site time. That argument is now gone. Yes, you all had subs. At about $100 a pop. About the same amount we were asking the voters to give us per parcel. Is that where we want the money to go? And weren’t the demonstrations suggesting that teachers weren’t expendable? When you demonstrate during the school day, aren’t you SHOWING that you are? Yes, we know that subs can’t handle the classes or the school the same way that full time teachers can. And that was part of the argument from the staff – but that’s the opposite argument you are showing by demonstrating during school.

SECOND, I’m wondering why you chose this Friday to demonstrate. The fourth to last day of school. You aren’t new teachers, so you know that the school becomes more chaotic as we get closer to the end. But you thought we could handle it with almost 10 subs. More actually, because you knew the eighth grade events were happening the same day, which I’ll get to soon (and the eighth graders who were already being left behind weren’t exactly the cream of the crop. I’m thankful that the only suspensions that day were seventh graders, though that shouldn’t be a shock). Was it because you felt it was the last chance to make a statement? You made a HUGE statement (and a positive one) last Monday with your trip to Sacramento and meeting with Senator DeSaulier. That wasn’t the exclamation point you wanted to put on the school year? And really, you couldn’t think of another Friday that would have worked? Perhaps a Friday that would have had all of the opposite effect from my first thought? Really? Here’s a hint – NEXT FRIDAY (for those who don’t know, Wednesday is the last day of school. So a demonstration on Friday would cost the taxpayers nothing and show an advanced level of dedication from the teachers).

THIRD, Friday, June 5, wasn’t supposed to be about you. Our eighth graders were your students once. They spent three years at El Dorado, and Friday, June 5 was supposed to be their day to celebrate their time at our school. It was their pool party and their dance. That was supposed to be the buzz in the morning. That was supposed to be the buzz after they left. It was supposed to be about them. Instead they were talking about the teachers outside. They were asking about what they were doing. Was that the purpose – to have the kids talking about it during school? Even if it wasn’t the eighth graders day, that still would have been the result. But it was. And they lost some of their attention. Not all of it, but we noticed.

One last note – why should I post this publicly instead of privately? YOU represented me when you were out there. Your demonstration was public, as is my response. I’m really glad that Claycord chose not to cover this event (as of the time I’m typing this, at least), because you know their responses would have been BRUTAL. How about we take a little time (we’ll give you about 10 weeks) to figure out what the goal of this movement is supposed to be and perhaps plan some things that will be positive and shed more of the good light on what we do? If the demonstrations continue through next year, I'll still be there (not holding a sign) if I'm invited. But the “it wasn’t our intent to upset anyone” argument doesn’t really fly. You knew it would make life difficult for the people working at your site, particularly the office staff. Ralphie didn’t intend to shoot his eye out, but the adults knew he would. Good thing he was wearing glasses, eh?

So what annoyed you this week?

Heh heh - taint

The worst taint is ignorance. Destroy this one taint and become taintless. - Buddha...