Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rules for airplane travelers

I wrote yesterday's entry yesterday but only now got around to posting it. My boarding and flight experience steamed me enough that I thought I'd offer these rules to my fellow travelers. All our lives would be better if you followed them.

* Put one carry-on bag under the seat in front of you. Yes, I know your legs would like the space; so would mine. More important, though, is leaving enough space overhead so those with two bags can store them, sit, and make it possible for the plane to take off.

* Take your seat quickly and efficiently. Don't fart around talking to your companions or fidgeting with bag placement. The angry murmur you hear is the growing rage of the people stuck behind you in the aisle.

* If the delay is due to equipment issues, shut up and be grateful they're fixing the plane rather than letting you fly with a known problem. Getting home on time is indeed important, but getting home outweighs it dramatically.

* Modulate your voice. We don't all want to hear your conversation.

* Don't lean back on a daytime flight. Most daytime travelers, particularly on weekdays, are businesspeople. We want to work. When you lean back, we can't. When the person in front of you leans back, you can't, either.

* Be gracious when someone needs to go to the restroom and you're on the aisle. You'll want the favor someday, and there's no need to penalize someone for needing to go.

* Don't blame the flight attendants for the airline's policies. Really, they aren't the ones who decided you don't get snacks any longer.

* You're not the only one with problems, so don't act like you are. If you're uncomfortable, odds are that many other people are, too. If we all act like adults and behave well, the veneer of civilization will stay in place, as it should.

More will undoubtedly come to me, but you get the idea: behave well, and travel will be better for all of us.

On the road again: Portland, day 5

I’m home, and I’m very glad to be here. Travel today separated into two very distinct stages.

The first was about as good as modern air travel could be. After taking a wrong turn on the way out of town, I course-corrected and made it to the airport without incident. Traffic was better than normal for Portland at 6:00 a.m. The rental car agent was pleasant and efficient, as was the check-in agent.

I grabbed water and Diet Coke, then settled in to work. PDX provides free bandwidth, and the signal was good where I was setting. My first-class upgrade came through. My seatmate was pleasant and worked in tech. I worked almost the whole time, and all was well.

I had a two-hour layover at DFW, but my departure gate was only nine gates from the Admiral’s Club. I walked there, found a corner with great views and a power outlet, and worked the entire time.

Then the fun began.

I had managed neither exit row nor first-class upgrade for the flight to RDU. The plane was oversold--of course; when isn’t it, these days? Platinum status let me board early, where I had the privilege of watching businessman after businessman put his one carry-on piece in the overhead compartment instead of under the seat in front of him. I appreciate the selfish desire to do this, but on a completely fully flight it is a sure path to trouble, because some people have bags they must put overhead. As I expected, we were late in departing thanks to luggage issues we could have avoided had these jerks followed the rules of the community of fellow passengers.

The window seat next to me--I was lucky enough to get an aisle--was one of the last to fill. Coming down the aisle were two people: a tiny, cute Chinese woman with a killer smile, and a man who looked at lot like a magnified version of me. You know which one ended up sitting next to me. Even with him leaning against the fuselage and me leaning into the aisle, our shoulders touched the entire flight.

The two women in the seats immediately behind me began talking the moment they closed the airplane doors. One’s voice was pleasantly normal, but the other could pierce tank armor at thirty yards. You know which one dominated the conversation. She told our section of the plane so much about her various plastic surgeries--and there were many--that I had to check her out when I headed to the rest room. I have to give her and her surgeon credit: she looked amazing. I know from her endless prattling that she was 55, but I would have guessed her at 37.

I was very happy when we touched down and I was able to get out of that plane.

Dinner was the usual take-out Chinese, and then we headed to see The Forbidden Kingdom. I wanted to love this movie. I'm a huge Jet Li fan, a big Jackie Chan fan, and I love Chinese martial arts flicks. The trailer looked promising. I entered the theater with high hopes.

I left with a mixture of enjoyment and disappointment.

I loved Jet Li as the Monkey King. He rarely gets to have fun in movies, so it was a pleasure to see him laugh and play. Jackie Chan's performance ranged from sad to quite good. The supporting cast did solid to good jobs.

The problem was the lead. He was uninspiring at best and annoying and boring at worst. Every scene with him was weaker for his presence.

Overall, I can recommend this one only for some of the fight scenes (and not the opening one, alas, which was wirework at its worst).

Friday, April 18, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 4

I'll spare you the work portions of the day, which admittedly dominated it, and mention the high points.

Lunch was at the Heathman Restaurant & Bar in the Heathman Hotel, and the meal was, as always there, quite good. High points included a soup of local mushrooms and a made-on-the-spot bleu cheese dressing on my Cobb salad. I had ordered a side of the dressing and they did not carry it, so they grabbed some bleu cheese and made me a small batch. That's service!

In addition to work, we invested a little over an hour roaming part of the Pearl district of Portland. Though I wasn't as taken by the area as some folks have been, I enjoyed the wandering. Besides, you have to love a place with a Ben & Jerry's and a cupcake shop side by side.

I opted for room-service dinner and work so that I could cram in Margaret Cho's Beautiful show at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Simply being in the hall was a treat; what a magnificent place! If you're in Portland and can find an excuse to attend a show there, do it. Cho's show was what one expects from her: funny, dirty, political, funny, sexy, funny, and occasionally preachy--but always funny. I laughed and enjoyed myself, and I was reminded again how hard it can be for those who are different from the mainstream in a way that society decides to stigmatize. I've never understood why another person's sexual orientation was my business, and I still don't think it is. I'm happy to support her preaching of tolerance.

Enough of my day. On to the book!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 3

Like most days on most business trips for me, today followed a familiar pattern: get up too early after having worked too late and slept too little, work, shower, go to meetings, work until dinner, dinner, work after dinner. Wow, my life sounds so glamorous.

Dinner, though, was quite lovely and tasty, courtesy of the fine folks at Genoa Restaurant. We had the place almost to ourselves; only one other table vied for our waiter's attention. We got the seven-course menu, which was basically what they were offering. Every course was at least very good, with the pork cheeks being particularly flavorful. The desserts were straightforward but yummy. I had the mango-mascarpone cheesecake, and it was the first light cheesecake I've really liked in quite some time. I definitely recommend this place.

On the book news front, I continue to chug ahead, though not as quickly as I'd like. Come to think of it, that's not news; it's SOP.

Back to the pattern and to work.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 2

From the early wake-up call to the early evening, the day was simple: work. I spent a fair amount of time catching up with some clients who are also friends, so that part of the work was fun.

Dinner was a treat: Le Pigeon. Its chef, Gabriel Rucker, is a nominee for a James Beard award for Rising Star Chef, and he well deserves it. I had the Duck Neck, egg salad, and tomato vinaigrette starter. It proved to be a lovely coupling of disparate tastes and textures, with the fried necks and egg salad contrasting wonderfully. From the reaction of the two guys to my right, however, I perhaps should have ordered the Lamb Belly; too many good choices. My entree was the Skate, pork belly, potatoes, and fennel; wow, was it yummy. We split a cheese plate, which featured, as always, three selections from a local shop, Steve's Cheese. My dessert was the Chocolate Cake from Satan with port cherry ice cream, which was a wonderful blend of chocolate and cherry, hot on the bottom and ice cream on the top.

We were able to sit at the bar, so our dinner was even better for getting to watch Rucker and his two fellow chefs prepare it. The best seat in the house is always, in my opinion, in the kitchen.

Lest Fred chide me for spending too much time eating great meals and not writing, rest assured that I am marching ahead with Overthrowing Heaven. As I shall resume doing now.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 1

I rose after 3.25 hours of sleep--not enough even for me--trimmed my Grizzly Adams beard, showered, and headed to the airport. The flights were close enough to on time to be tolerable, and sold out but at least not unbearable. So, the trip itself went about as well as modern air travel does.

Much work occupied the flight, the time after the flight, and pretty much the entire day except for dinner. For that meal, we decided to try someplace new, a sushi restaurant named Masu. We ate at the sushi bar and talked as time permitted with Lance and Jules the two sushi chefs. Both guys were quick, nice, fun to chat with, and, most importantly, made very tasty sushi. I definitely recommend the place if you're in Portland and get a jones for some raw fish.

Overthrowing Heaven proceeds apace. I find myself in the odd position of both really enjoying the story as it unfolds and being terrified, as I usually am, that there's entirely too much talking and not enough action. I'm not in the dread yet, but I can see its shadow up ahead. Perhaps this time I'll skip that neurotic phase entirely!

Or not. Maybe the not.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Last night's movie was 21, a film I was primed to enjoy. I'm a big Kevin Spacey fan, and I'll give a look at anything with Laurence Fishburne. (Yes, I've seen both XXX movies.) I thought Jim Sturgess did a good job in Across the Universe and was looking forward to seeing him in a different role. I love to play blackjack and have done so a fair amount in Las Vegas. I'm always up for a caper film. 21 was number one in the box office for a few weeks.

So why didn't I like 21 more?

I believe the answer is that both the plot and the writing were always a step short of full speed. While in the theater, I enjoyed the movie well enough, I suppose; it was a pleasant couple of hours. No scene, however, ever quite reached the level of tension, pacing, drama, or comedy that it might have achieved. I felt at times like I was watching the first draft of something that needed a serious editing pass.

I'd like to believe that somewhere there's a (possibly longer) director's cut that makes it all better. I frankly doubt it, but I'll keep an eye out for just that when the DVD hits.

A Halo 3 apology

On the weekends, with Scott, Sarah, or both, and sometimes via Xbox Live with Kyle, I play Halo 3. I am routinely, though not always, the worst player on my team. So, because my damn headset rarely works and I thus can't do it in person, I'm writing today's blog entry to apologize. If I've played with you in the past, I'm sorry I wasn't better. If you end up on my team in the future and I play badly, I'm sorry.

It's not that I can't play at all, mind you. On the right map and with the right type of game, I can hold my own. I just can't do it most of the time. I'm still not sure what I'm doing wrong, though I'm confident that my thumb control is sufficiently poor that my aim isn't what it should be.

If you want a chance to kill an SF writer online, email me via the form on my site , and I'll tell you my Xbox Live ID.

Of course, as time permits, I will keep practicing. Maybe one day it will take.


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