Monday, July 30, 2007

Misdirection At 30,000 Feet

There are certain things you have to do in life that aren't very nice, but you just have to do them in order to keep from going insane. One of them is something I've developed called the Backhand Ninja Carry, which is reserved for carrying water bottles to passengers who request one not during a service. You make an upward beak out of your hand behind one buttock, into which fits exactly one bottle of water. It's a complicated way of holding something, and requires more joules of energy than holding something in front of you. But it's not unnecessarily complicated, because if someone sees you bringing a water bottle to someone else, then they want one, and then the guy next to them wants one, and pretty soon you're doing a whole nother* service. It is always completely necessary to avoid this.
A variation of the BNC can be used to ferry blankets to single passengers. But if they ask for a pillow, you're totally hosed.

*Nother is not a word.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The World Is My Wastebasket

Today during our service, some guy tried to be cool and free threw his half-eaten cookie into the ice container on top of the cart. That added ten minutes to the service while we rolled back to the front, dumped out the newly-contaminated ice, and replaced it with new ice which we were lucky we had to spare. What a cool guy.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The 'I Dare You Stare'

You know how the phrase 'please wait until the aircraft has come to a complete stop' has become part of the public consciousness? Well, that's because we have to say it so much, and that's because important businessmen always jump up during any moment the plane is actually stopped on the runway and run to the front, thinking they'll get ahead of the competition by about three feet. Technically we're supposed to make an announcement asking them to stay seated when they do this, but I usually don't, and when I go to court over someone's demise, I'm going to cite the seven times I told them to stay in their seats prior to their fatal deceleration trauma.
Just lately I have developed a technique wherein 95% of the passengers stay in their seats until the seatbelt light is off. I call it the 'I Dare You Stare.' As we're taxiing in and some folk start to look like they're gonna make a break for it, I lean forward and stare menacingly at them, using telepathy to dare them to get up. Most of them are telepathy-proof, however, because you need a brain to recieve telepathic information. That's why the stare is there. And one or the other almost always works.
Occasionally someone who is telepathy-and-stare-proof will stand up while the plane is moving and start rummaging through the bins. Usually these folk are sound-proof too, and do not respond when I warn them over the intercom to stay seated. But no one is embarrassment proof. I only warn three times, and then, as I have done on one occasion, I ask the surrounding passengers to point at the offender until they realize their jackass status and sit the hell down.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Montana On Fire

There have been a bunch of wildfires in Montana recently. They're so bad that when we land in one of the five places we go there, everything's smoky and it smells like a barbecue pit full of angry tires.
This one was just north of Salt Lake. Small, but out here, things are so dry that it could turn big very quickly.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Baton Rouge, From Way Up There

Got this shot as we were headed to New Orleans, flying south and slightly west. There's a point-down triangle of lights roughly in the middle, and that's Airline Hwy (left side), Florida Blvd (top side), and Plank (right side). You can see Cortana Mall there where Airline and Florida meet (or The Mall at Cortana, as it's so pretentiously monikered now). That white pinpoint along Plank near Florida may or may not be Tiger Stadium. From there, you can kinda infer the black streak of the Mississippi, though it's hard to pick out the bridges. I kinda thought the interstate and the airport would show up better. Maybe next time I'll get the pilots to barnstorm the Capitol Building and get better shots.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Perfect Landing MY A@@!

Before, when I was talking about the things that Cockpit Voice says, I left out one important thing, which is the landing countdown. If you're in the forward jumpseat, just before the plane touches down, you can hear him say, "Fifty... forty... thirty... twenty... ten," referring to feet before impact. Of course, that's what he says when a pilot who knows what he's doing lands. When a pilot fresh outta boot puts one down, you often hear him say, "FiftyfortythirtytwentyBAM!" During one landing in Jackson Hole, the crosswind was so strong that I swear I heard him say all five numbers simultaneously.
And after a landing like that, the pilots will often smile while the dazed passengers deplane, and then ask you, "So how bad was it?" My personal method of rating landings is to count how many heads pop up in terror when we hit. So I reply, "A three-header, boss. No biggie." That Jackson Hole landing was a six-header.
Pilots have a whole different method. They rate them one through five, though only one through four can be assigned by the crew. You can only score a five if a passenger says, "Nice landing!" The score is based on the absolute value of the statement, so if some tousled lady indignantly mutters, "Nice landing," it's a five. And there is almost always some chowderhead who slept through the so-called landing and says, "Nice landing," just to have something to say, having no idea if the landing was nice or not.
The second-to-last passenger off that Jackson Hole flight was just this type of chowderhead, and gave the pilots a five.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Plane Over Easy

One of the pilots told me today that the jet we fly is capable of executing a complete barrel roll in less than one second.
Man I hope I'm on board when someone tries that.

Annuncio Interruptus

From earliest days, I was taught that when someone is talking, it's rude to interrupt. L.M. will back me up on this, only she'll wait till I'm done typing to do so. Always amazes me, though, how many people seem to think it's OK to just plow on through an existing conversation. And what gets me most is the people who try to do this while I'm actually making an announcement on the plane.
Two days ago, a guy who we'll call Interrupting Bastard decided he wanted to go to the bathroom while I was in the middle of the pre-departure speech. So he half stood and started mouthing, "BATHROOM? BATHROOM? BATHROOM?" for a great part of the announcement. And when it became clear that he had not derailed me enough to halt a federally mandated safety briefing to attend to his personal needs, he started making cutesy little finger-walking motions for the rest of the announcement. The predeparture announcement is easily two minutes long, and this urinally-challenged space-waster was waving and making faces for almost the entire thing. After that, on my way through the cabin, Mr. Bastard grabbed me to ask if it was OK to use the bathroom. I smiled and made cutesy little pointing motions to the very illuminated seatbelt sign.
What I shoulda did was mention to Mr. Bastard during the announcement that only good little boys who don't interrupt can go to the bathroom. I'm doing that next time.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Now When You Say 'Off,' What Exactly Do You Mean?

The rule says you can't have an electronic device activated during takeoff and landing. The reason, of course, is that an electronic device can potentially disrupt communications to the flight deck, after which all manner of bad things could then happen, from mistakenly landing a Seattle flight in Duluth to falling out of the sky in a fiery ball of doom. I differ in belief set from a lot of folks, but I am a fan of remaining alive, and in this I am pretty much the same as anyone else, and so you'd think people would be on board with this rule. They're not. Even though we even work it into the announcement that an electronic device is any device that has an on/off switch, every takeoff and landing there is someone who even with our help cannot define 'electronic device.'
There's the businessman who is so important to whatever company he works for that he has to be working constantly, during every available second, including the ten-minute span between boarding and takeoff. He's the guy to whom I say, "Hey, sir, when you get to a stopping point, I need you to turn that off," which earns me a 'you may go' nod, and then when I pass by him again, he's still tapping at Excel. It gives me great pleasure to stand over these businessmen and smile pleasantly while they shut off minesweeper and sulk.
There are the people that, having mastered the definiton of 'electronic device,' have moved on to the more perplexing difference between 'on' and 'off.' These Sesame Street dropouts wave their Palm Pilots around affectedly, seemingly to bait me into asking them to shut it down just so they can explain that it's got a cool 'airplane mode' feature that turns the phone part off so you can play solitare in flight. "Oh, it is off," they toss at me casually over the Backstreet Boys blasting from their brightly flashing phone. And though I'm a professional communicator and a fair hand at debate, I can never seem to explain to them in one sentence that their phone is indeed still on.

ME: No sir, the whole thing has to be off.
DUMB: But it's off... it's not transmitting.
ME: No, the entire phone has to be off. Turned off. Not operational.
DUMB: The transmit function is off.
ME: I need the phone off.
DUMB: But it--
ME: I need... the entire... phone... off.

Lately it's been the iPhoners. These guys seem to think they're above the law by virtue of their electronic device being so cool. Every time I halt an iPhoner, they launch into a demo of the device.

OVERSPENDER: But it's slim and has a revolutionary interface and does stuff when I turn it sideways--"
ME: Yes, Mr. Jobs, but I don't want to buy one. I already have a TV, DVD player and phone. Now turn it off.
OVERSPENDER: That's OK, I'll just set it to--
ME: Entirely off.

Maybe Bill Clinton's to blame for bringing into doubt the definition of 'is.'

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Metric System In Action, Or Knowing You're Elsewhere

A thing I think is funny about Canada is that it seems like an extention of America until something happens that reminds you where you are. The other day, in Calgary, the hotel van driver was shuttling us through the city to the hotel, and the pilot asked him about a restaurant he'd heard about called The Toad 'N' Turtle.
"Oh yeah, that place is good," the driver says. "On this road here, prob'ly a kilometer from here."
BOOP you're elsewhere.

Faster Than A Speeding Slow Thing!

Today, on a lunchbox trip to Sun Valley (where Harrison Ford and a bunch of self-absorbed ski people live), a guy tried to get on the plane with an ATM-sized carry-on bag. That's funny enough to try on the jet, but on the lunchbox it's just ridiculous, so I took it from him and told him I'd stash it in the cargo hold, which was a lie... I hand it out the door to a ramper (since I'm not allowed to leave the plane when there are people on it), and he puts it in the cargo hold. Now there's no rush on this process, because boarding people are slow, which was why I was so surprised to see this lantern-jawed ramper dash over to the bag and me, leaving contrails across the ramp. It was only when he turned around to streak away with the bag that I saw TURBO emblazoned on the back of his neon-green safety vest.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Where We're Going We Don't Need... Eyes

Did you know blind people can type? Neither did I. The gate agent handed me a blind lady the other day, and as I passed her in flight, she had what looked like a black tackle box on her lap. And it looked like she was typing, so I asked her what she was doing. Yup. Typing. A braille typewriter. She pointed out the row of spaces where could feel the letters you'd typed... the only way I can think to explain it is that each space is a braille letter-sized grid of holes, and braille pokeys pop up through the holes in different places to make different letters in the same space. Like whack-a-mole, in a literary sense. It was easily the coolest thing I'd seen all week.
Tell you what I've always wondered though... they have braille on hotel room doors, but if you can't see, how do they expect you get to the hotel, into the elevator, and down the hall to look for the thumb-sized braille adrift on a six-by-three foot door?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Out Of The Woods

About three months ago, I tried to fry a plant on my new balcony. I am happy to report that, after a lengthy convalescent leave, a painkiller addiction and a stint in rehab, the plant is fine. First aid is kinds the opposite of first aid for people... if there's a part that's having trouble, you just slice it off, and the plant gets better. I just went nuts with a pair of scissors, and now we're all green again.

I saved one of the more healthy-looking lengths and have jammed it into a vase. It's supposed to send out roots eventually (if the internet is to be believed). If that happens, I will have successfully cloned a plant. Fear me.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


In exactly one month, I will have been a flight attendant for one exact year. Exactly. Holy crap it's gone fast. I gotta think of some way to celebrate here in the blogosphere. Maybe do like one of those series finales in the 80s where they glue a bunch of highlight clips together and call it a show.
Or maybe I should just shut up. Might be less painful you you, the reader.

How To Speak Potato

I had actually figured this out a long time ago, but have just now remembered to tell you. You know how you can fake being from Boise, Idaho? People from everywhere else say BOY-ZEE, whereas natives pronounce it like they say it's supposed to be said: BOICE-EE.
Now go confuse some potato farmers.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Arm, Wherefore Art Thou Sticky

For a while now, I've been noticing that, when I get off the plane, my forearms and only my forearms are inexplicably sticky. I never gave it much thought, because airplane cabins are seething cesspools of germs and virii, and so I just take a shower instead of trying to itemize the source of every ick. But today as I was handing a passenger a carbonated drink, the sun filtered through the window and lit up the eight-inch fountain of spray that the bubbles spritz up over the drink and onto my arm.
Another mystery solved.

Melts In The Plane, Not In Your... Wait, What?

Now that it's summer, I'm noticing little things that the Utah heat affects... for example, the crew meals. Most of the stuff in the crew meals is heat-resistant (the not-Gouda fares well, of course, because it's not Gouda). But there's also a bite-size Toblerone wedge in there, and it doesn't do so well outdoors. I envision the rest of the food in there waiting, rock climbing boots and Camelbaks on, prepared for whatever adventure lies ahead, while over in the corner sits the Toblerone, hunched over the video game system, headset on, talking trash to internet opponents. And when I open the box, everyone comes tumbling out ready and giggling, except for the Toblerone, who dons shades and whines, "Man, I'm not going out there... that's sunlight!"
Most of the time, the erstwhile triangle shape is twisted into a double helix, or smashed flat into a bow tie. And you have to toss it in the ice bin to cool it solid enough to where you can open it again.
It's a rough life.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Extraterrestrial Space Technology

There are air vents inside the cockpit, there presumably to keep the pilots alive. And when the temperature is close enough to the dew point, these air vents blow fog for a few minutes when you first start them up. Really makes the cockpit look like the control panel of an alien vessel. Way cool. Of course, there are these same vents down the ceiling, right over the overhead bins, and the fog comes out of there too. And passengers don't think that's as cool as I do. Mostly they huddle in their seats in fear till it stops, but there's always that one clueless guy who raises his hand and asks, "Do you know your plane is smoking?"
"It's OK," I usually say. "The no smoking sign's not on yet."

KGBurger King

A random facet of the Salt Lake airport is that most of the people who work in the shops are foreign, and most of these foreign people are Russian. Usually, this is not a big deal, because usually they speak better English than I do, and have amusing stories about how they got cuffed by a bear once during an icy trek in mountainous regions. But sometimes there are those for whom the language barrier is a barrier, and one of these those works at Burger King.
I had stopped off to have it my own way while I was enjoying some AAT, or Airport Appreciation Time, which is what we call it when they schedule us a three-or-more-hour break between flights. And after I had gotten my credit card back from a young worker whose last name was comprised of mostly consonants, I asked if she could make change for a twenty (because on the plane, everyone wants to pay for liquor with a twenty).
"You geeve me kredit kard," she says.
"Oh, no," I say, "I mean for a twenty."
"You geeve me kredit kard," she repeats, forehead forward.
At this point I give up hope of getting any change, because I know no further sense is going to pass between us. But there was a little part of me that wanted to clear the air and let her know that I wasn't just trying to get change back from an even credit card transaction, and so I tried again. "No, no, I... I wasn't trying to get change back from the card. I just wanted to know if you... if you had enough change for a twenty."
She leaned over the counter and I think I heard the edges of the register crack in her fists. "You geeve... me kredit card."
I ran away. I didn't want a piece of anyone who gets cuffed by bears.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Lake Effect

No, not the new movie with Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and Morgan Freeman as the President. The lake effect is a something that happens here when the wind blows southeast. The Great Salt Lake is directly northwest of here, and the Lake Effect brings that sea-monkey-and-brine-fly smell all the way down into the city. The entire city. For hours. I had detected a foul smell in the air here a few times since I'd been here, but man... the other night I went out to Albertsons to get more not-food to put in my refrigerator, and I almost passed out on the stairs.
The only place you're safe here is underwater.

Meet The Cockpit

If you're the forward FA, you are separated from the pilots by a door impenetrable by anything but sound, so you're privy to a lot of things that normal people never hear. One of these things is the Cockpit Voice. He lives in the cockpit, and he may well be the offspring of Mother from Alien and HAL from 2001. When the pilots crank the plane in the morning, he runs through everything he knows how to say. "Jetpipe... overheat," is one thing. "Fuel bay... overheat," is another. He'll also warn you when the door is open by cleverly exclaiming, "Door. Door." There is a communication system completely separate from radio that the pilots use, and he pipes up, "Cell call... cell call," when they get a message. Sometimes pilots that amuse themselves amuse themselves by telling a new flight attendant that he's detected a passenger with a cell phone still on and would you please go find them.
Most of the things he says are not that important. You can tell if the fuel bay has overheated because the plane will have exploded. But there are a few things he says that do mean something. "Terrain! Terrain!" is one of these things. If you hear that one, it's usually the last thing you hear. Another one is "Traffic! Traffic!" He says this when the Traffic Collision Avoidance System has tapped him on the virtual shoulder and told him that we're pointed at a place that another plane is pointed at. TCAS is very far-sighted, and so you usually don't have to do anything; planes miles away can set each other off. But now and again you'll hear "Traffic!" and then get plastered to the seat as the plane suddenly swerves to port.
I make it a point never to ask the pilots what happened when that happens.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Man In The Iron Pants

You get all these blue polyester clothes when you graduate FA school, and none of them fit. So you take them to a place to get altered. It was all a blur, really, that two months of my life (I suppose I could go back and read what I wrote in September), but what I think happened is that, due to things like finding a place to sleep that wasn't a park taking precedence, I tossed my too-big uniforms at the first alterations place I found. It was less a place and more a guy. Bongo was his name, I think, and there was a lot of Mexican money tacked up all over the place, so he was probably more of a tailor than an alterator. And when I picked up one pair of pants, they were twice as big as when I left them, and so that should have been a clue to go home and try on all the other ones. Of course, I wouldn't be writing this if I had.
The point is that one of these pantses made it all this time without me putting them on to go to work. And, because all the other ones were at the cleaners, I was stuck with this one elusive pair which turned out to be about two inches too small waist-wise. So I ended up looking like the fourth Brother Gibb for a four day trip, not to mention having to learn to store my lower intestines behind my right lung.
I have since used that intestine trick at parties. Chicks dig it.

Gate Agents

Gate agents are the people you yell at in the terminal when your plane is late. You know, the ones whose fault it isn't. This is one job I could never do. If I had to explain to 62 people that they would be staying in a hotel in Salt Lake City for the evening instead of going to whatever destination they were destined for because it decided to rain, I think I would quit right there. So acknowledging that these people have the hardest job in the world, I am now about to bag on them.
There are certain places you find people who can't count to certain numbers. People who can't count to four you find at a four-way stop. People who can't count to 10, 12, and 15 are at the express check-out lane. And people who can't count to 50, 70, and 76 are gate agents. Just before the plane takes off, we have to count the skulls on board (categorizing them into adults, kids, and infants) and reconcile them with the gate agents who, more often than not, have it right. But sometimes you catch one smoking crack, and then this happens:

DUMB (walking on board): Abu-habu.
ME: Uh, what?
DUMB: Nothing.
ME: Right.
DUMB: So, do we have 16 adults, 40 kids and 37 infants?
ME: Uh... no. We have 47 adults, 5 kids, and no infants.
DUMB stares for a moment.
DUMB: Well... do you think we might have 16 adults, 40 kids and 37 infants?

I actually had a lady do that to me my first week on the job... she tried to Jedi Mind Trick me into agreeing with her count so she wouldn't have to count again. Didn't work... only money works.
Things have gotten incrementally worse now that we have changed the planes we use on certain routes. For example, some places we used to take a 76-seater we now use a 70 seater. And, like you might see coming, they sometimes send out 76 people. There's really not that much room in these planes to begin with, and it's only that much more amusing to see six people Tetrised into the space next to the lav, trying to figure out where to go.
Last week, we took a 50-seater home from Billings in place of the regular 70-seater. You can imagine how fun that was, having to deflect 26 people back to the gate agent.
And sometimes, for my own twisted amusement, I imagine now much fun it was for the gate agent once they got there.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Two Wierdos That Asked For Ridiculous Things

So we've already gone over what kind of passengers not to be. But every now and then some piece of work shows up that is so many of these bad passengers rolled into one that's impossible to figure out which they shouldn't be.
Take this one lady. She seemed to have a checklist of everything that you could possibly ask a flight attendant for in flight, and she went down this list in alphabetical order. She asked for a blanket, and then waited till we were back up front again to ask for a pillow. She complained that the seat didn't recline as much as she wanted. She wanted me to get her calf-sized* purse out of the overhead bin and then put it back up again an inordinate amount of times. She, not content to wait for the beverage service like everyone else, asked for Coke, water, Sprite, crackers earplugs, and napkins... both before and after the service. But where she really became fantastic is when she called me over and pointed at the five-year-old in the row ahead of her.
"Can you tell that lady in front of me to get her child to shut up?" she asks indignantly. Gesturing at the people around her (most of whom were asleep and none of whom were paying attention), she continues, "I think we all deserve some peace and quiet, and I've about reached my limit."
I look at the kid, who is quietly naming the things she can see out the window. She is not at all causing a ruckus. I look back at this lady, who is expectantly waiting for me to do something she is not courageous enough to do herself. So I lean over directly in front of the kid's mother and quietly ask her if there's anything else I can do for her. She shakes her head sweetly, and then I give the windbag a nod and a smile as I head back to the galley.
And then this other lady... I really can't believe I'm about to type this story out loud. This elderly lady began the same way by asking for things every five minutes in order of increasing wierdness, and capped it off by asking for vaseline.
With the same helplessness with which characters in horror movies open the creaky door, I asked what she needed the vaseline for. And she nonchalantly explained that she's just had surgery and lost a lot of weight, and she needed vaseline so her buttocks don't chafe together.
I really couldn't look at her for the rest of the flight.

*Baby cow, not lower leg

Monday, July 09, 2007

A Rude Acronym

Sometimes people get on the plane, and they're just huge. And one of the things this means is that the seatbelt will not fit all the way around them. So we have seatbelt extenders, which are an extra length of seatbelt, male on one side and female on the other, and you just plug it in to make a longer belt.
That in itself is not all that funny. What is funny is that they're mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration's Technical Standard Order, and that acronym is right there on the label on the belt.

What's For Dinner

Being home for only ten days a month makes for a slightly different norm in the homestead. Just thought you'd like to see one of the main differences.

Fire Fire Everywhere

Wherever you live, I'm sure that you heard that about half of Utah is ablaze. Wildfires are new to me. You really can't start a fire in a swamp. The hardest thing about camping or a barbeque in the South is getting the damn fire started. But here they just go. I think there's about 150 of them. And they've been going for so long that you can see the haze on a bright day.

They smell too. It's somewhere between charred meat and car exhaust. Utah, so far, has been one big smorgasbord of icky smells.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Addressing The New Header

Most of you have noticed the new image overlooking the blog. Some of you have been unsettled by this image. One of you has gone so far as to label it 'creepy.' With you, and all others, I agree, and will now issue an overlong story about the history of the face in this image.
I've been making this face since high school, ever since I realized that not everyone's eyebrows operate independently. It eventually earned itself a name; in scholarly texts, it's the 'Bill The Cat' Face, and in casual conversation it's the 'Ack Phht' (what you can't see in the header is my tongue lolling down to my sternum). There were always a few people I knew who could approximate this face, but friends were always drawn to mine, I guess, because it was the most disturbing. And people's fascination with this particular face followed me from high school through the military into college, where my platoon sergeant, who was a photographer of some renown, said, "Hey, that's a fascinating face. Lemme take some pictures of it for an art project." I don't know how the project turned out, but I used that photo as my acting headshot for a few years. I'm surprised anyone ever cast me.
And so when it occurred to me to put up a header image, that's the one that sprung to mind. I had delusions of an image of me in uniform, standing at attention in front of a rippling US flag and throwing a snappy salute at a plane flying overhead, but that would have been way too much work. Maybe for the book cover when I publish all this.
Nah. Again, too much work. I'll just use the crash face.

You Are NOT Going To Believe This

We've previously discussed how Mormons are adverse to the F-bomb, Jack Daniels, arterial spray, and Sex And The City. You would think then, when thinking about movies, that these non-predilections would cut Mormons out of a great swath of filmed entertainment. Apparently they themselves have noticed this, and have struck.

I had heard about this place from a Mormon FO who was big into theater, and I thought he was yanking my chain. But it's real; it's actually a few blocks from my apartment. Here's how it works: you submit your DVD copy of Dead Alive, Robocop, or The Exorcist that you've never seen (but inexplicably still own), and in two weeks they sell it back to you, having scanned through it and slashed out all the profane/violent/erotic scenes. Like I said, you don't even believe this.
As a post script, you'll notice the place is dark and seemingly uninhabited. That's because, strangely enough, Hollywood took issue to having its babies surgically rearranged without its permission, and so are currently suing the bejeezus out of this place.
Oh my heck.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


You never know who you're going to be flying with. During conversation with the FA I'm working with this trip, I found out that she had auditioned for Ralph Macchio's love interest in Karate Kid II, and it had come down to her and the girl that eventually got the part. Yeah, I know that's an almost, and thus one degree less than cool, but it strikes a chord with me because I have had almosts like having almost been in Failure To Launch and having almost played Texas Hold 'Em with Burt Reynolds in the might-soon-be-released Deal. So I'm impressed. Almost.

Wait... WHERE Are We?

Today, right after we landed in Toronto (in Canada, just north-ish of New York), the gate agent got on the plane and told me to page a certain passenger. I did, and when I asked this agent why, he said that this passenger was actually supposed to have gotten on a plane to Calgary (in Canada, just north-ish of Montana). I had always heard of things like that happening, but I had never seen one till then. I watched in anticipation as the gate agent took this guy a short distance away from the plane and delivered the bad news. Looked like that scene you always see in hospital shows where the guy with everything hears he has six months to live. You want to feel bad for the guy, you really do, especially when you watch the realization hit him in dumbshow that he is several hundred miles away from his important business meeting, but I know I said 'Toronto' several times before we took off, as did the aft flight attendant, both pilots, and several gate agents, and the flashy red marquee over the gate read TORONTO, NOT CALGARY. But I didn't... because, like I have stated previously, I'm a jerk.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Best Fireworks Show Ever

It's our birthday again. I was eager to see what kind of firework thing Utah could whip up. Or what kind of crushing Communist oppression versus firework things.
The fourth started out wierd; some people had collected Mardi Gras-style at the edges of State Street (one of the main drags here) on the afternoon of the third, and I just figured they were waiting for a fireworks show. That they were there a day before the fourth just made me think they might jump the gun here in Utah with their pyrotechnics. I mean, it makes about as much sense as anything else they do here. But these folks were still there, camped out, when I was driving home at four AM, before which there had been no fireworks. And then by noon on the fourth, they were gone. Found out later it was a parade they were waiting for and not fireworks. I can't think of a parade I would camp 18 hours for. Unless they were throwing quadrimegazillion dollar bills.
Anyway, as I started hearing fireworks happen on the fourth, I hustled out to the balcony, where I saw the top bit of fireworks over the treetops. This balcony of which I speak is separated from the balcony of the opposing apartment by about four feet of roof, and I'd been there for about two minutes when a girl from this opposing apartment hopped onto the roof and disappeared upwards. I followed, intrigued; I had thought it might be neat to get on the roof but had never done so. Up there I found her and her husband, who turned out to be agreeable neighbor-types. But let me just tell you about the view. The Salt Lake area is one big valley, and you see can all of it from up there, from mountain range to mountain range. The fireworks might as well have been in the duck pond out front. And then the other ones started up; Salt Lake City is actually slashed into smaller divisions with names like Sugar House, Cottonwood, and Murray (in which I live now), and each apparently has its own fireworks display. So the three of us watched not one fourth of July, but seven. And they were good displays... most of them lasted at least half an hour.
The neighbors told me that the fourth is a big thing here, but not nearly as big as the twenty-fourth. That's when Utah became a state, they said, and if that's bigger than what I saw last night, I'm gonna camp out on the roof now.
Happy birthday, everyone.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Great Salt Lake, Or A Whole New Level Of Disgusting

My college friend Lucy came into town to visit, and she wanted to go check out the Great Salt Lake. I hadn't been to see it either, and so we grabbed some aqua socks and tan lotion and headed out.

The easiest place to actually get to the lake itself is right behind the Great Saltair, which you'll remember is the low-rent concrete crater in which I saw Evanescence last fall. That's it right there with the Kremlin-tops. One of the times the Saltair burned down was when it actually flooded first, then fell over and then burned down, so the water is fairly close... it depends on how much of the lake is evaporated. How a building can burn when it's waterlogged with saline is indicative of the luck of this building. Anyway, there was about a hundred yards of salt flat to cover between the Saltair and the water this time. This is important because salt flats reek.
Let me put this in perspective. When I was in basic training, they had these latrines that were permanent structures built over a deep trough, and instead of ever cleaning them, they would just dump enough disinfectant in them to keep them from starting a plague or become sentient. And those places were decades old. We used to put on our gas masks to go in them. Those masks keep out nuclear and biological agents, and we could still smell the rank stink of privates past.
The Great Salt Lake makes those places smell like lilies.
It was a quick hundred yard dash trying to outrun the smell. About halfway there, we got to the brine flies. These things are very small, harmless, and number in the quadrimegazillions. They take off en masse as you near them, and you can actually hear them when they do it... not the buzz of wings, but the sudden movement of thousands of bodies. Like a tiny breeze... amazing in a minute way. And they taste bad, by the way. Here's a picture of them laying seige to a pair of footprints. That's not radioactive salt stink making the shot pink... there was something up with the camera setting.

And here they are making a poor dog wish he was dead.

The water was warm when we got to it, and blessedly stink-free. And shallow... I think I've read that the lake is thirty feet at its deepest point. The sand is rippled and the color of sand on the surface, but when you pick your foot up, there's a plume of deep black. Lucy, having been mostly insane since I've known her, delighted in smearing black sand-mud all over her arms and howling. And the flies stayed mostly on land, so we had a respite to contemplate the sole residents of the lake, brine shrimp... more commonly known as sea monkeys.
Chances are you've never seen a living sea monkey. Well, let me be more academic (superior)... brine shrimp are what you call cryptobiological, meaning they can stay dormant for long stretches of time in inhospitable environments. So, chances are you never saw a moving sea monkey... it was alive, it was just bored. Here in their native environment, they are wiggly as all unreason, and number even more than the flies. It was really kind of icky.

The whole deal with the lake being a 'salt' lake is its salinity. It's got so much salt in it that you are supposed to be unable to sink. When I moved here and heard that, I made up my mind to go experience that for myself. Well, out in it, surrounded by flies, wigglies, and stink, I was not overly motivated to move forward in that regard.
We reveled in the ick for a few more minutes, and then slogged back to shore. After a reek-evading reverse hundred yard dash, we hit the showers. Or, more precisely, the showers hit us; they were those beach kind of showers, and they were amped up to the 'firehose' setting. I actually opted to keep most of the mud on me because I wanted to keep the skin it was on.
So now I've been to the Great Salt Lake, which is really something you have to do if you're going to become a Utahn, I think. But to quote Lucy, "It was satisfyingly disappointing, wasn't it?"

A Hole No More

After weeks of workers digging and pushing rocks around, the duck hole is now a duck pond. Now it looks like this:

It was all dirt until they brought in all these squares of grass and lay them chess board-like all over the place. And they're watering them with those whack-a-mole sprinklers 24 hours a day, I guess to try to get them to catch. I'm sure it's a good idea, but I have to swim to the laundry room.
If you had sharp enough eyes to notice the fighting dinosaurs in back in South Dakota, you probably saw that Stalwart The Duck is back. That's him on the rock just in front of the big spray thing. Her, actually... she's standing on maybe six ducklets.

There are a few ducks hanging out in the biblical flood plains the sprinklers have created, but they don't go in the pond. It's her pond.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Shhh... You Smell That?

They recently did a lot of landscaping right outside of the Salt Lake airport, and I don't know what the hell they planted along the shoulder of the employee parking lot, but it smells so powerfully like onion that it seriously threatens to knock you unconscious at the wheel. And it follows you for about a mile. I imagine putting on scent goggles and being able to watch your car stream great contrails of onion stench along the freeway. And it's usually that amusing image that keeps me in my lane until I can breathe again.

A Beer Of A Different Color

Ever heard of a red beer? Well, I hadn't either. So a few months ago when this fellow asked me for a red beer, I said, and I quote, "What?"
He went on to explain that a red beer is half beer, half tomato juice. You know, to lend a few nutrients and vitamins to your toxin. Mystified, I asked the pilots about it at dinner. "Oh yeah," they said. "Red beer. Tomato juice. Lends a few nutrients and vitamins to your toxin." And since then, I've had quite a few people ask for those things.
The reason I'm just telling you about this now is that some guy yesterday ordered a beer and some orange juice, and right there before my horrified eyes, mixed up an orange beer.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Dumb At The Checkpoint

During this trip, I saw a lady trying to get though security. I think she understood in a single-celled sort of way what a metal detector was, but I'm also sure she had no idea why it was there. She had on this huge metal belt buckle, and kept setting the detector off. And each time the TSA officer would stop her, she would insist that it was OK, it was just her belt buckle, and try to head through anyway. Meanwhile, the twenty people behind her, late for their flights, could only watch and bang their heads on the table. And I wish I could say this was atypical.
If I was TSA, I think I'd shoot myself, and then someone else.

Deja Vu All Over Again

So you know there is security at an airport. You'd guess, then, that there are security procedures that we perform on the actual airplane. There are, and I'm not going to tell you what they are (for security reasons). But sometimes through a combination of poor planning and our own stupidity, we shoot ourselves in the foot.
Take for example, getting to Winnipeg. We had already secured the aircraft that morning, and so we boarded the aircraft for Canada. Then one of the gate agents says we have to do a second sweep because we're going to Canada. The captain argues that it's already been done. I watch him argue, glassy-eyed, because I know that no matter what he says, I'm going to have to do another sweep. While the pilot flips frantically through the manual and gets on the horn with operations, the gate agent tells me I have to tell all the passengers they have to deplane in order to replane moments later. I hand the phone to the gate agent and tell her she has to tell all the passengers they have to deplane in order to replane moments later. And let me tell you... when people get on the plane, you say hi, and when they get off, you say bye, but there's nothing you can say when they're getting off to get back on again.
Naturally, just after they finish boarding the second time, operations confirms that there is no need to deplane anybody, don't do that. So I announce to the passengers that we appreciated their patience and that Guinness was on the way to witness that we set the record for the most boardings in a single flight.


I have officially conquered the province of Manitoba, wherein lies Winnipeg. It's occurred to me to put up a Canadian version of the WTHIB Map, but it ends up looking like a big slug, and so I'm not gonna do it.
The thing I'm noticing about Canada is that they have great cities but ugly apartment buildings. I have no pictures of any particular ugly apartments, but just take my word for it, they look like egg crates built by one-handed leprechauns.
The hotel was very nice, but there was this light switch on the wall... I call it a light switch, but I don't really know if it had anything to do with the lights:

That's an I and an O on the first switch, a tumped-over equal sign on the second, and a colon on the third. I tried them all, and nothing happened in my room. Perhaps varied trigonometric functions were occurring like mad on the floor below me.
Later, the pilot navigated us to a place called Earl's, which he said was renowned for its 'talent.' Turns out the talent, as I had guessed, was ladies. The waitstaff seemed to have been culled entirely from Victoria's Secret, but sported a few more clothes. A few more. But before I call Earl out for his superficiality, let me state that there were plenty of other bars along the street, but everyone was at Earl's.
Eschewed Molson in favor of a beer called Rhino. It was still beer.
That evening there was a thunderstorm. This is what it looked like:

It's amusing, trying to take a picture of lightning. I have enough picture of this damn cloud to make a silent movie.
Oh yeah... the customs agents at the border there are not nearly as scary as the signs would have you believe:

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Ain't It Grand

You get tired of hearing passengers asking about the Grand Canyon. They'll call me over, sometimes with the call button even, and point at something out the window. Sometimes it's a small dent in the ground in Idaho. Other times it's a small dent in the ground in Kansas. Occasionally it's a parking lot in Fresno. And they always ask, "Is that the Grand Canyon?"
And I always say, "Why yes. Yes it is."
I got so tired, in fact, of looking out the window to see if something was the Grand Canyon, that when we flew over the Utah/Arizona border and I saw this, I thought nothing of it:

And this hole in the ground kept going on for miles and miles, and before I knew it, before I thought about it, before I could stop myself, I called the flight deck and asked, "Hey, is that the Grand Canyon off our starboard bow?"
And the captain said wearily, "Why yes. Yes it is."