Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Month That Was - October 2006: Not a lot of content here. I've been working steadily on the football column, the site is linked up to your left. Also, my Reno Round-up appeared over on Hotel Chatter (parts 1, 2, 3, 4) a couple of weeks ago. Same info as what was in the Reno/Tahoe trip report which I am going to replace with links.

Other than that it was a pretty slow month, taken up with decidedly uninteresting stuff like ordering a new bed, getting sofa cushions re-foamed, and refinancing my condo. Ain't I a regular Suzy Homemaker? Would you like to hear the details? Didn't think so.

TSA burn
DC Dash
Rods and Sods
Short-time TV
TSA Burn: OK, the terrorists have finally succeeded in annoying me. I had a two-nighter in Washington DC for work and it's really the first time I have gotten aggravated over airport security.

Longtime readers know that in general I have had little problem with the post-911 security measures. Apart from the first few months after the attacks, when the wait time crested 60 minutes, I have been able to sail through with relative ease. Part of this is because TSA got more efficient; part of it is because I knew the rules and was able to speed everything up.

Then came the whole liquid explosive fiasco. For a while, pretty much all bags were getting checked, even for a short over nighter. If you were bringing any toiletries -- shaving cream, toothpaste, etc. -- you had to check the bag they were in. Well, if you are going to check one bag, you may as well check them all, right? So for a couple of months, the overhead bins were empty and bag-less folks were sailing through security screening to the point where I was comfortable getting to the airport as near as a half-hour to boarding.

Then TSA decided to lighten up and allow toiletries less than three ounces to be carried on, making carry-on only travel feasible again. What I didn't know was that you can just have them in your kit inside your carryon. In Detroit you are required to at least pull your kit out and open it up as you send it through the x-ray. Naturally I just sent everything though like I normally would have, so I got the pleasure of a bag check and some condescending words from a TSA agent.

With this in mind, on the way back from DC, I dutifully pulled out my kit and opened it up to send through the machine, only to be told that it was unacceptable. At Reagan National they want you to pull specific items out and place them in clear plastic bags. In fact they are so keen on this that they won't even send your items through until you do so. Luckily I happened to have a see through plastic baggie; I have no idea what they would have made me do if I didn't.

So here I am with my laptop case and a little carryon bag and I am sending the laptop case, the laptop (must be separate), my carry on, my baggie full of toiletries, my jacket and my shoes through. That is really obnoxious. I mean really, really obnoxious.

OK, if I was prepped for it maybe it wouldn't have been so bad, so I suppose it is partially my own fault for not being on top of the TSA rules. The problem is that, as usual, the rules and the level of enforcement are slightly different from airport to airport. This is typical of TSA, and all bureaucracies for that matter. They issue policies that are unclear, so everyone ends up interpreting it however they want.

But another issue is that they seem to have no conception that when they change the rules they need to change the system to allow people to adhere to them. I don't know how many lines have been held up because everybody is waiting until the very last minute to strip off their jackets and pull out their laptops because there is only the only little folding table in front of the screener. And how often have you had to grope around for a plastic tray. Is there a reason they can't expand these areas so you can use the time you normally spend just standing in line, to prep at a more leisurely pace?

I know most people believe that TSA does little to nothing to enhance security. I sometimes feel that way too, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as long as things don't get too silly. Also, I accept that security is as much about perception as reality. But instead of just issue new policies, they need to give a lot more thought to facilitating adherence.

Whether they do good or ill, TSA continues to exist because they haven't pissed enough people to make them into a burning issue. But every new person they piss off pushes them closer and closer to the brink. And frankly, if you've pissed me off -- someone who is about as reasonable minded about TSA as is humanly possible -- you're taking a big step in the wrong direction.
DC Dash: But the misadventures on my tiny little trip to DC didn't stop with TSA.

Trying to get out of Detroit we sat at the gate for an hour because the co-pilot for the flight could not be located. The pilot was rather straightforward about this, telling us that that everything was ready to go but we were sitting there because the co-pilot was missing and no one knew where to find him. I was careful not to suggest they look for a trail of empty bottles of Scotch, lest TSA violate my personal body space. A replacement co-pilot showed up after about an hour.

I stayed at the L'Enfant Plaza hotel just off the Mall. I have stayed there before, back when it was under the control of corporate hotel giant Loews. It has not fared well over the years, whether this is because of the loss of Loews sponsorship I cannot say. The furnishings and paint are worn down, the amenities are the bare minimum (were talking a 21-inch TV set from the 1981), and the plumbing is a mess -- I had a toilet that barely flushed and a tub faucet that wouldn't shut off. The wi-fi is costly and doesn't work in the meeting rooms (although it works fine in the accommodations). It has a great location with a metro stop in the basement and a short walk to the Mall, but I can't think of any other reason to recommend it.

Of course, not all the screw-ups were the fault of the travel industry. I managed to forget a number of key documents I was supposed to bring. I also forgot the power cord to my iBook so I spent the days with only parsimonious access to my laptop.

I did manage to arrange for meet up with Misses Kate and Anna for one night to treat Kate to a birthday dinner. Even that was marred by incident. Cruising along the Georgetown Pike, Kate's Saab snapped its serpentine belt. We had a two hour wait for a tow truck. Serendipitously, we found ourselves stopped in a local wooded area comically named Difficult Run Park. It's a really nice little spot with a picturesque stream and hiking trials through the woods. If you are ever stranded with car trouble and have a two hour wait for a tow truck in Northern Virginia, I highly recommend it. When all was said and done, we did get to have a nice dinner and I got to catch up with them, which made the trip worthwhile.

At the moment I am writing this, I am sitting at the gate waiting for my flight home. The flight has just been delayed by a half-hour.

At the moment I am writing this, we have been sitting on the tarmac in Detroit for 20 minutes because another plane is in our gate.
Rods and Sods: I lost interest in Rod Stewart after Altantic Crossing (yes, I'm that old). He's been selling tons of records lately by recording Great American Songbook renditions which, from what I've heard, prove that vocal ability in one genre does not transfer to another. But it now seems he may have hit rock bottom.

I am sitting in Barnes and Noble, trying to get my next football column done and they are playing his latest record, which consists of retreads of "rock classics." Except they are not rock classics. They are among the most horrendous pseudo-ballads ever to come be played on FM radio. I don't know if he picked these out, but if he did he needs to be tested for brain damage. They are the most leaden, soulless songs every put on vinyl. The kind of stuff they might play in the waiting room at the geriatric ward, or possibly pump out the speakers in front of a suburban 7-11 to keep the skater boys away.

Here's the song list:
Have You Ever Seen The Rain
Fooled Around and Fell In Love
I'll Stand By You
Still The Same
It's A Heartache
Day After Day
Missing You
Father & Son
The Best Of My Love
If Not For You
Love Hurts
Everything I Own
Crazy Love

Apart from the Dylan throwaway, it is pure tripe.

Rod has become my generation's equivalent of Perry Como. They guy the old people have on in the background while they play canasta. Like Perry, he has a recognizable voice and sings the most inoffensive songs imaginable. Also like Perry he clearly has some talent, but dude, coming across on the Easy FM station in Buick Lucerne is no way to finish up a career for the guy who sang 'Stone Cold Sober' and 'Pool Hall Richard'. If Rod's taste now runs to these types of songs, it's easy to see how he got here.

Say what you want about Jagger, at least he's not crooning drivel to the early-bird buffet crowd. This as depressing as anything I've heard.

I need an iPod and some thick headphones.
Things That Make You Go Arrrgh!: Two species of idiots:

I have been trying to re-finance my condo. This has been among the most tedious processes I have ever been through. I'm not talking about the paper work; I'm talking about how there doesn't seem to be a single mortgage rep who is capable of using email. I understand that there are phone people and email people, but frankly, if you want my business you need to able to at least follow through on some basic communications via email. They seem to be able to fill my spam folder with offers.

The net result is that I end up play phone tag with all these people, and then when I finally do get a hold of them I end up hearing the same damn spiel about rates and points and have to politely listen as they try to personalize their service. Look, I don't want to be your friend, I want a quote from you. That's all. When did mortgage reps become the new car salesmen?

There is no reason for this. Why cannot I send a single email or web form and then get back a quote. I do not need anything more than that and they make me go through hours of nonsense for this. How stupid is it to spend half our day trying to catch up with people on the phone when a 5 minute email will provide certain communication? Idiots.

The mere idea that those inane political ads work is enough to turn someone into a misanthrope. I know nothing about the current issues of the day, but I can tell just from the tone and the wording that they are utterly manipulative and contain little more than fractional truths. How can anyone with an IQ greater than 4 take them at face value? Why not just vote based on bumper stickers? Or better yet, flip a coin.

And is there a reason I need to get thirty flyers in the mail every day, none of which has any purpose that I can see other than to encourage people to vote based on name recognition. If they didn't have to pay to level entire forests to send these out they could probably lower our taxes.

If it's this bad now, God help us in two years. Idiots.
Short But Happy Lives: Occasionally I am reminded of how much I hate TV. Actually I don't hate TV, I like TV, but I hate the decision makers behind TV. I have just stumbled on another of the endless litany of decent TV shows that got cancelled after a brief run because a time slot was needed for some miserable knockoff of a tawdry reality show or asinine action fantasy that was a hit on another channel.

This time it is Wonderfalls. I happened to stumble on this series while channel surfing and found it delightful. It's the story of a slacker girl who works in a Niagara Falls gift shop; she suddenly finds that animals are talking to her. Not real animals, fake ones: little figurines, stuffed toys, pink lawn flamingos, etc.

The show is loaded down with lighthearted ironies and affecting characters. Nice balance of comedy and weirdness, fateful action and random chance. Nothing dramatic or bombastic, just small clever stories filled with wit and served with a wink and a smile. To give you a sense for what is was like, two of the people behind it went on (separately) to do Malcolm in the Middle and Dead Like Me.

It is currently being rerun on Logo, the gay channel. Except half the time when I try to TIVO it I only end up with some silly gay show instead because apparently Logo can't manage to set a straight schedule. (Get it? A "straight" schedule? The gay channel can't keep a "straight" schedule. That's a joke, son.)

I could easily buy the series DVD but I don't want to. They only made 13 episodes before it was replaced, probably by some dire and dreary variation of Law and Order, and I would prefer to have the discovery last a while.

Networks should rerun these unjustly-treated short-time shows more often. Is there a reason Encore Western has to rerun tedious melodramas like Gunsmoke when they could fly through The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. in a couple of weeks? And why can't the Sci-fi Channel take a break from the 24/7 Star Trek inundation to show Eerie, Indiana.

But I'm now officially rambling. Your (correct) comment at this point is, "Quit yer whining and go out and buy the DVD. Now where's the next football column?" Touche.