Monday, September 29, 2008

San Jose Taiko - Part 1

Maybe a week or so ago, I helmed a flight from SLC to Houston, and as I looked over the passenger manifest, I noticed a bunch of people going to BTR, which stands for Baton Rouge. I went back to investigate, and there they were, four girls with ridiculously-defined arms and shirts that read 'San Jose Taiko.' I figured it was a pretty good gamble that they were the San Jose Taiko and not just fans, and so I asked if they were going to BTR for a show. They said they were, and then they halfway flipped out when I told them what theater they would be playing at (what they didn't know is that I used to work at the Manship Theatre in downtown Baton Rouge, a fantastic new venue and also the only place in Baton Rouge where you could get away with a taiko show). The story of where I grew up ensued, and moved on to the story of their cross-country taiko tour, and ended with me being sorry I was going to miss their show in Baton Rouge and promising to catch a show someday, either on tour or at their home base in San Jose.
My dad is a big taiko fan, and my mother is a fan of music in general, and so I told them about they show, and they went. The next day they called to tell me that the show was great and that they got to meet the four drummers that met me. And my ex-boss from the Manship emailed to thank me for putting them in such a good mood for the show (though I think that between meeting a guy like me for half an hour and having the dedication to devote your life to pounding drums that are bigger than you for hours at a time, it's probably that second one that was responsible for the good mood).
I can recommend seeing an SJT show not even having seen one based solely on the 'bring it on' attitudes of Patti Jo, Meg, Britt, and Yurika. But soon I will be able to recommend a show because I have seen one. Stay tuned for Part 2...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Con Air

Most of the passengers that get on our planes are regular free-roaming civilians. But occasionally, there will be an individual who, for whatever reason, owes a debt to society and is escorted by a few law enforcement officers. I've had a few prisoners on the plane so far, but I forgot I hadn't told you about it. A guy will get on board who looks like any other guy, followed by a guy with a jacket over his clasped hands, and then another looks-like-any-other-guy guy. The thing about the two regular guys is that they're police, and the thing about the middle guy is that his hands are not so really clasped as cuffed. They usually sit in the back of the plane, and things always go smoothly. The prisoner never wants anything to drink, I think maybe because the escorts told him he didn't, but they're always smiley and polite. That confuses me because they're going from one jail to another jail. The escorts are pretty amusing; a lot of the time they look like accountants, but sometimes you'd rather take your chances with the prisoner than with them. Of note is that, in the FA manual, it says that prisoners may not be cuffed to any part of the airplane, I guess so that if we land in the ocean (you know, that one between Wichita and Sacramento) and the plane fills up with water, the prisoner can get out too. But I just don't think I'm going to be telling a pair of police escorts their business, you know what I mean?
So far I haven't had a 'living weapon' prisoner in leg cuffs yet, but that will be cool when I do.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

L.M. Goes To Seattle

What you may not know about L.M. is that she grew up in Seattle. What you also may not know is that, in the airline industry, parents fly for free. My parents always told me that if it weren't for me and my sister, they'd be traveling all over the world... and now that I've got this job, the one chance to halfway pay them back for raising a hellion like me, they just sit on the couch and don't wanna go anywhere. Well, this time I cajoled L.M. into going to Seattle for the weekend, and so this is that story.
She flew from New Orleans, and I flew from Salt Lake, and we met at the airport. After we rented a car and checked into a hotel, our first stop was the Space Needle, one of my old favorites.

The elevator takes you up to the top of this thing in maybe forty seconds... that's fast for having to go 600 feet. This is me, being amazed by that fact. Or maybe the view.

That's an observation deck behind me there, and we observed.

That's downtown Seattle. And then there was this goofy building below. We had no idea what it was. But we'll find out by the end of this entry.

There's also a restaurant at the top, but it was booked solid, so we didn't eat there. But after several tries, I got this picture to turn out.

I also managed to catch some pretty cool sunrays off of whatever lake this is next to the Needle. Mom told me, but I forgot.

Back on terra firma, we unfolded a map and plotted a course for lunch. I must have taken a phone call here, because Mom snapped this shot of me. I don't stand on the ground when I don't have to, and it makes people nervous. I don't care... if the floor is ever suddenly electrified, I'll survive, and they won't.

Also found out that that funny building at the base of the Needle is the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum, a place that we were already planning to go. So that was two things I knew where were in Seattle. I really wasn't any help with that map thing.

It's not a day in Seattle if you don't see an umbrella. We walked seven blocks and passed 85 Starbuckses. And eventually we ended up at Pioneer Square, demarcated by this totem pole.

The clever settlers that founded the city named it in honor of Chief Seattle so he would allow all these new white people to hang around, and so there's a lot of Native American decor about. The big deal about Pioneer Square is that it's where the Seattle Underground tour starts.
Thing is, we were early, so it wasn't starting yet. To kill some time, we wandered into a place called Utilikilts. These guys have brought the kilt into modern times. There are denim kilts for the average joe, canvas ones with tool loops for construction workers, leather ones for motorcycle riders, and so on. As I walked in, the nearest employee (who was, of course, wearing a kilt) shouted,"Welcome to Utilikilts... we sell freedom!" I wasn't sure if this was a place I wanted to be in with my mother. But it was too late... a guy in a dress had already grabbed me and was showing me the various unbifurcated wares. "Every kilt we sell holds 8 beers," this guy says. "Which one you wanna try on?" You know I was curious. You know that. So I point at the nearest one, and the guy snaps it open, faces me against the wall, and says, "Drop 'em." That's right. No dressing room. He wanted me to doff my pants in semi-full view of all the patrons. Of course I did it. Never pass up a chance to be pantsless in a room with 30 other people. It's part of the flight attendant creed.

This is me in a kilt. And you know what? The thing was damn comfortable. "Rock your hips side to side like this!" the guy says. "Know what that is? Air conditioning!" Mom was trying unsuccessfully to not giggle. I have a history of wearing strange clothes, and I probably would have bought one of these things right then and there save for one thing: the guy on the business card is a six foot two, 200 pound, dreadlocked monster, and I am a middling height and weight flight attendant with a 'men's contemporary' haircut. I could certainly pull it off, but it would never look normal on me. So, with regret, I threw it back on the rack.
I always post the web addresses of these crazy places I go over there on the right side of the blog, and most of them are pretty bland depictions of said places, but I encourage you to at least check out the FAQ section of Utilikilts. It'll give you a perfect idea of what the people that run the place are like.
By the way, you know what I have on under the kilt? Socks.
After I re-pantsed, we checked out the bookstore next door. Saw this sign. Apparently, everyone's heard of New Orleans.

Finally it was time for the tour to start. It began with a half-hour history lesson about the underground, peppered with digs at Tacoma, Seattle's rival city. The short version is that early town of Seattle was built on mud that had been piled on top of more mud, and so when the town became a city, City Hall decided to build up the downtown area ten feet or so to create a stable base so Seattle wouldn't slide into the ocean. Business owners said hell no, because their first floors would be useless then. City Hall, realizing it only owned the streets, responded by raising only the streets ten feet, building new sidewalks over empty air, and saying, "There. Now your first floor is the basement." This did three things... it kept Seattle on land, ticked off a lot of business owners, and gave birth to the Seattle Underground, which is the maze of tunnels under the sidewalks.
If you know the right doors, and have the right keys, you just walk right down in.

The place was half museum and half catacomb.

Pictures on the walls showed how the city looked in the old days, and there were several places where you could see what you were looking at underground in an above-ground photograph.

The other half of the place was time capsule/trash can of the ages. Since the underground began, people have been using it to get rid of things they didn't want above ground. Lots of old wood. Old doors. Broken and unidentifiable machinery. Several toilets, or in the parlance of the day, crappers. Did you know that the name 'crapper' does not refer to how you interact with this device? It's the last name of the man most often (and incorrectly) cited as the inventor of the toilet, one Thomas Crapper. That right there is one of two things... a really rotten way to go down in history, or a really amazing coincidence.

Here's a teller's cage from an old bank where miners collected wages. You can tell because, well, there's a sign that says 'teller's cage.'

That's where a teller used to go.

At several junctions, there are skylights made out of purple glass. The tour guide mentioned that the glass was originally colorless, but over the years it's become purple due to some complicated chemical process that I'm sure he went into but I wasn't paying attention.

You can see the purple more clearly above ground. And yes I stood on it. I just took my pants off in front of a bunch of strangers... I'm not scared.

The next day we headed back to the Experience Music Project.

It's a really great building. Inside, it's a museum of all things musical. There was a full-size stage where bands could play, and a restaurant. A piece of one of Jimmy Hendrix's guitars is in the museum. L.M. spent a lot of time in the hall devoted to Beatles knock-off bands. What you have to know about my mother is that she knows everything about music from maybe 1952 till sometime in the mid-eighties. Everything. I win every argument about 'who sang that song' by excusing myself under the pretense of going to the john and texting her for the answer. When I was growing up, there was a rivalry between my mother and some other lady across town for radio station Z98's daily trivia question, and Mom always reminded us that the other lady had a book. Mom was never wrong.

There was also a tornado made of guitars. It was a sculpture two stories high, and many of the guitars actually played themselves with the aid of clever mechanical armatures.
You may remember up there when we first discovered what the name of this place was, that there were three more words in the name: Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum. I think you know what half I spent more time in.
It was all here. Deckard's air car from Blade Runner. Original Starfleet uniforms from Star Trek. Forbidden Planet's Robby and Lost In Space's Robot having an intellectual conversation. Spacemen. Monsters. Aliens. Mom knew what most of them were, but for different reasons; I had grown up with these things, and she had watched me grow up watching these things over and over again. If my mother is slightly insane, it's my fault.
Some standouts:

R2 always cheers me up, no matter what. You know you're not going to lose if he's around.

And speaking of losing, you know you will if this thing is around. The T-800 from The Terminator is still the baddest-ass piece of hardware ever invented, now or in the year 2029. Let's all remember Stan Winston, who created this guy, the full-size dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and a host of other monsters... he died earlier this year.
In what is only a half-non-sequitur, I watched The Terminator in Spanish a few days after I got back from this trip. I recommend doing this, even if you don't speak Spanish. Hilarious. Words on the screen in English are read out loud in Spanish, and so at the main title, the narrator says, "EL EXTERMINADOR!" Go watch this right now.
Last on the agenda was Ivar's Salmon House. This is a place that I think is on that same lake that the Space Needle is next to, and it's home to the best salmon I've ever eaten ever. No trip to Seattle is really complete without going here.
Seattle is a really great place, despite the constant drizzle and all the Starbucks. Go if you have a chance. And bring your mom.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Auto Affirmation

You may know this by now because I've bagged on gate agents so much, but the process is: the gate agent comes out to the plane if it's more than twenty minutes before departure, and sees if we're ready to board by soliciting a thumbs-up. This is a two person process... one person cannot do it alone. Which is why I thought it was both funny and sad that yesterday a gate agent stumbled onto the plane while I was in the back and, obviously in a state of confusion and disarray, gave himself a thumbs-up and almost sent passengers out. WAOW. Some people really need to calm down.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Museum Of Jurassic Technology

So I made it back L.A., and it was time for Lucy to take me to another wacky place.
She really outdid herself this time.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology may in fact be the weirdest place I've ever been to. Ever. And that includes Manhattan. First off, it's free, because California has a legal deal to where all museums are funded by the government. Having worked in a museum, I think that's neat to see a place where art is not scraping by. Once you get in the door, it's a dark and claustrophobic maze. The whole place is the size of a shotgun house on the outside, but on the inside... I think I walked several thousand miles. And there are exhibits, but I'd be hard pressed to find a group that they all belong to.

This one's from an intial section that was nothing but stage dioramas. There's an eagle attacking no actors in this one. Also, for reasons that shall pay off later, it's here that you become aware of a strange barking sound from further along in the museum.

Next up was the cat's cradle room. Here they had (as pictured) several pairs of eerily lit wax hands displaying complicated string patterns. There were holograms of what I think were Inuit folk demonstrating more stringwork (because I think that's where that game comes from), and recordings of Native American-sounding language filtering in though hidden speakers.

video

More holograms in the next room. This video is in two parts; the first shows a cloud made of cotton that, when you look through these strange binoculars made of glass cubes, is home to a few gods that I think were East Indian. There were several of these exhibits, each one more random than the next. The next part is from a circular rack of bells that's mounted on the ceiling right behind the cloud gods. The chime sound you hear in both parts is the bells. They were Russian, I think, and quite wonderful to listen to.

Next, quite randomly, was a tea room. Lucy (shown here, smaller than actual size) and I had tea and played with the resident pair of greyhounds. Also, there was a door that opened onto the second floor roof, which was odd because I didn't remember going up any stairs.
The barking was louder here, and it wasn't the greyhounds.

This is the pope standing in the eye of a needle. This room included several needles with incredibly detailed figures carved and mounted in them. Goofy was my favorite, but that picture ended up blurry, so you're stuck with the vicar of Christ on Earth.

This next exhibit is my favorite, and so bizarre that I'm getting nervous about the prospect of even trying to describe it. Here, as you can see, is a stuffed fox's head mounted in a plastic case. He's not barking, but the barking is coming from here.

More glass binocular cubes are outside the case, and when you look through them...

... you see a tiny hologram of a paunchy man seated inside the fox's imagination.

This man is calmly seated and happily barking. This decapitated fox is constantly imagining a tiny barking man. I have no idea what any of this means. But I stared at it for about ten minutes, until Lucy dragged me away.

You know those funny Magic Eye pictures that you can never see? Well, the precursor to those things were called stereoscopic photographs. They were originally developed in WWII to assist bombers by adding a third dimension to a 2-D map. You had to use two polarized lenses to see the effect, and that's what those big things on my head are. This hall was full of pictures of different flowers that became 3-D when you had your aristocracy glasses on.

Yes this is mice on toast. One of my favorite rooms was the Vulgar Cures room. Here were old wives' tales made Rx flesh. In the old days, toast mice were a cure for sickness. Caution had to be taken to ensure the patient ate the whole thing, you know... lest they stay sick. Other cures were similarly hilarious/creepy. "Remove all clothing pins when attending a funeral, or the spirit of the dead person will be trapped in the pin and haunt you." "Place the bill of a duck or goose in the mouth of children suffering throat maladies. The cold breath of the duck will be inhaled and the complaint will disappear." One cure I don't remember the sickness for was to have the oldest female in the house sprinkle urine from a toothbrush onto family members to wake them up in the morning. Man am I glad I live in a new century.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Head Bonk Recoilers

In this job, I get to see a lot of people bash their heads into things (and I'm not including pilots pulling the 'Guy Smiley' when they divert us). The cabin clearance is not quite six feet, and so right off the bat there I've got people cracking their skulls on the way in the door. That sounds like it really hurts, too... the door frame is made of very solid metal, and it goes POK! when folk find it with their noggins. It's mostly people in cowboy hats, which secretly makes me giggle because I was in high school when Garth Brooks ushered in the 'young country' movement with that damn song (and thus surrounded by suburban cowboy-hat wearing teens who probably could not even identify a cow) and to this day I scream a little when I see one of those hats or hear that song. I have to be sedated to go to Jackson Hole or Calgary. My apologies if you're at home on the range, and to recoup some karma, I'll warn you to doff the lid when you get in a small plane.
And on the non-lethal side, we've got the overhead bins. They're plastic, and so won't kill you if you bang into them, but they do make a terrific SPOCK! when someone makes contact. This has, however, led me to notice a phenomenon I like to call 'head bonk recoiling.' Like I said, the plane is very small, and so if you do hit your head, you're not going very fast because there's very little room to accelerate. But these people recoil like they're been shot with a gun that shoots planet-sized bullets, and some of them almost fall down not from the bonk but from the recoil:

VICTIM: Let's see, let me stand up here before the seat belt sign is--
HEAD: Tap.
VICTIM: OH DEAR LORD I AM SLAIN!
VICTIM slams onto the floor, skips three rows like a rock off a clear lake and somersaults into the lavatory.

I never, and I repeat, never, grow tired of watching this. Never. Maybe that makes me a bad person, and if it does, I'll just go to hell and amuse some lava attendants by banging my head on some stalactites.*

*Notice the correct terminology. Stalagmites are the ones that poke up (stalactites hold on tight). This is from the day I was awake in fourth grade.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Very Short Wingspan

Bet you can't figure out how this happened:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Houston Has A Problem

If you're going to Houston, be careful. The airport has been invaded by giant space-faring cows.
Bring space hay.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Stupid Wheel Cart

Today some lady got on the plane with way too much to carry, and handed me this thing to tag and stow in the cargo hold. It looked like a wheelie suitcase-carrier rack thing, and I tried to do what I usually do with tagged luggage, which is stick it the corner of the galley until all the people are done boarding. But this damn thing... it was all wheels. You couldn't lean it up against the wall, because it would slide down and roll away. You couldn't put it wheels-up against the wall, because it would still slide down and roll away. If I balanced it perfectly so the wheels didn't roll, they became a fulcrum and the whole thing would flap down over itself... and then roll away. I tried fifty different ways to just put this damn thing on the floor. It really became man versus nature there for a while. People put their stuff down and started to watch. Eventually I settled for just holding it there in one hand, sulking at my own ineptitude, while the rest of the passengers boarded. And the worst part? I have no idea what this thing was. How could something that cannot be controlled or contained actually help you in any way to carry anything else? I think maybe this lady knew that it was useless, because she was carrying all her stuff and this thing. Perhaps someone gave it to her a long time ago, and she just hasn't been able to figure out a way to put it in a trash can.
When I'm having a bad day, I sometimes envision the ramper trying to give it back to her.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Only The Best With Our Fish

There are frequently stellar wits on the plane that, during the service, preemptively ask for filet mignon or some such. My stock answer is, "Oh, we just have Chilean sea bass today." Well, the other day, some guy preempted, I answered stock, and he laughed... and then after I served him a drink and asked him what he wanted for snack, he asked, "You say something about chili?" And you know what? I'm pretty sure he was serious.