Saturday, April 21, 2007

Plane down

I am a bad person.

I was working out at the gym this afternoon. I was on a treadmill, going nowhere, but running just the same. I looked up to the television monitors to see the CNN newsflash that one of the Blue Angels had crashed. My first response, which I hope nobody at the gym saw, was to clap. I got a big grin on my face and I clapped about four times. Finally! One of those terrorizing blue airplanes -- the ones that blast air pollution and noise pollution all over the skies of San Francisco in October during Fleet Week -- had crashed.

I had always known it would happen. I secretly hoped that it would just happen in San Francisco, taking down the Bay Bridge. But South Carolina seemed like a good place for it, too. Just another air show gone awry. I could imagine a bunch of horrified bystanders who had just seen six aircraft fly to the east, their eyes darting all over the sky as the aircraft returned to the airport minus one, a giant cloud of smoke coloring the sky black. A great way to show those people that a bunch of airplanes flying in formation, and making a lot of noise, is just the stupidest thing on the planet! It’s even worse than a NASCAR race!

I’ve never understood air shows. They seem like the biggest waste of fuel to me. A gaggle of people looking up at airplanes. Sure, airplanes are cool: they are gigantic metal tubes that somehow seem to get off the ground and fly around in outer space. When you’re on a plane, you don’t usually have a sense of the speed you’re traveling. In days gone by, you felt a little special in a plane. Above the fray. Nowadays on a plane, you are sitting between the fray.

An airplane flying from one place to another makes sense to me. A plane taking off in Wichita should get those people the hell out of Wichita, safely landing them in Atlanta. An airplane taking off and flying around in circles and releasing purple smoke while Eye of the Tiger blares over the loudspeakers surrounded by people eating hot dogs and elephant ears standing next to the landing strip’s runways makes no sense at all. No sense!

I was terribly embarrassed for myself after I clapped. I sheepishly glanced around at the other gymbots who were treadmilling next to me, at the stair climbers climbing in place, at the elliptical users busy elipticizing and going nowhere. Nobody seemed to notice me. If they did, they had decided I was indeed a bad person and they shouldn’t look at me. Maybe they had better things to look at anyway. I was kind of gross and sweaty, and I’m sure some of the muscle boys around me were looking much fresher.

I have a conscience. It only took me two seconds after my initial response to realize it was inappropriate. I didn’t really feel elated. I felt bad, because a plane crash likely meant someone had been killed. Perhaps many. It meant some houses had burned to the ground. It meant thousands of onlookers would never be able to get on a plane again without heavy doses of Ativan. It meant my tax dollars, which had already been wasted on the Blue Angels, would be further squandered investigating and retooling. And it meant I might not have anything to complain about come next October, when the Blue Angels aren’t terrorizing the residents of San Francisco once again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Transportation enhancements and failures

Complaints. I would normally keep my mouth shut about United Airlines, but it just seems the airline is floundering. Their route network is all about Asia and it seems that I end up on regional jets for most domestic flights. They have some great employees and United provides better routes from San Francisco than most other airlines, but I eagerly await Virgin America's arrival so I can enjoy a better level of service from my home town.

Even though United’s route network is better than most from SFO, they don't offer more than one flight per day to places like Atlanta and Houston (I would say a hub deserves more than that!) and a change of planes is mandatory if I'm headed to major Midwestern airline hubs like Minneapolis, Detroit and Cincinnati, so I must fly other airlines rather than United. In the last six months, United has canceled my flights, delayed my luggage, raised fares, and reduced flights where I need to travel. I've been courteous to customer service agents who have treated me like dirt at O'Hare. I've been on a lot of crusty old United 737-300 aircraft and also tried to explain problems to the people who answer the phone in India -- who are poorly trained and have no clue what's going on -- when I forget to call the 1K phone numbers. Yes, I have talked to some wonderful customer service agents and encountered some terrific pilots and flight attendants, but more and more they seem to be in the minority.

No food. The policy they implemented earlier this year -- not to offer the teeny bag of snacks with the beverage service on flights less than two hours has, for some reason, really showcased that the airline’s quality has bottomed. It's crazy... I know... but it says a lot. At least several domestic carriers and European carriers that don't provide free snacks will at least sell them on the plane. I thought American was the lousiest airline in the US when I flew them in December because they offered no snacks on some long flights. But now United is the same.

I've been trying to fly other airlines more because they seem to actually care a bit more about customer service (even as a 1K member, United often doesn't treat me as well as some other US carriers treat me as a no-status flyer), but it's still always going to be about price and convenience. I'm disappointed because I'd like to "like" United, but it's hard to do so when the airline keeps cutting back on the little things that enhance the dismal experience of flying. Separate red carpet boarding areas for 1K members? Who cares about that? I'd rather have a small bag of pretzels on the plane.

I wish they would sell their snack boxes on all flights. They're really not so good -- and overpriced for the unhealthy things they put in them -- but at least they provide an option for hungry travelers. I just don’t know many people who would typically pay five bucks to spread strawberry jam on saltines.

Muni. At the same time I’m disturbed by United, our local transit system -- ridiculously known as Muni -- has been making some improvements. I was so excited to board a bus this morning, find a seat in the back of the bus and enjoy my ride to work. I arrived at the Haight and Pierce Street bus stop. As usual, two buses drove by, a Route 6 and a Route 71, passing up the stop. Even though it’s one of the busiest stops along the route, for some reason the 71L bus doesn’t stop there. But then, rumbling down the hill came a Route 7 bus: an articulated bus! It actually stopped and allowed the dozen or so individuals waiting at the corner to board.

Granted, it’s taken Muni years to finally put the capacity on this route to accommodate its ridership, but everyone knows that nothing gets done at Muni in short order and this is a good first step.

Ok. That's my rant for now. Nothing very substantive, but thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Monday, April 16, 2007

More Edutopia

More amazing photos from Edutopia Magazine! Get your subscription while you can. And you can see some of the same photos on Edutopia Website!

Look at Mr. Brad's neat handwriting.

With a cover like this, who wouldn't spend $4.95 for an issue?

He obviously took this away from one of his students who was listening to an Elmo podcast in class.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hot for teacher

I'll keep this teeny, but I was at the newsstand today and I noticed the new issue of my favorite magazine is out!

Who's that seeexxxxy teacher on the cover of Edutopia?

Hot hot hot.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Photos of Easter

Rather than rant and rave about the merits of children wearing pastel colors and eating baskets full of Palmer hollow chocolate rodents, I'll simply share a few special images of my Easter.

Easter morning. We flew back from San Diego and went straight to Easter Brunch. Neil and Lou made some fabulous Easter offerings including a stunningly beautiful Malt Ball Cake from Food and Wine magazine inspired by the holiday cheer and Miette Confiserie. They took some gorgeous photos that already appear on Neil's Foodphiles blog (, and deserve to grace the pages of Food and Wine.

But who cares when you've got Peeps? In addition to the Easter delicacies enjoyed in their home, Neil gave me the gift of Peep bunnies and Easter Grass!!

I would title this Anna Nicole Smith Peep and Baby Danielynn Peep, but that would be insensitive

Still life with lemons, chocolate cake and Easter Grass

Little Bo Peep

Even when separated, Peeps learn to relate

I see Peepie in the toilet

Attack of the 50 cent Japanese sponge from Daiso

Ok, that last photo just made me realize that I have to comment on Daiso. According to their website, Daiso is, like, the largest junk store in Japan. One opened not so long ago next to the classy Serramonte Mall in Colma, and my friend Mark and I dropped by there, thanks to Brad's recommendation. Essentially, everything in the store, with some exceptions, is $1.50. And they carry everything. It's like being in an Osaka suburb, but instead you're in a downscale San Francisco suburb. Mark and I spent a long time in the store picking out weird wooden heads with lips drawn on them, Woody Town Characters, pink fish sponges and steel soap dishes. Everything is in Japanese, so it's hard to really know what's going on. I might have to get my friend Anne to swing by to translate those weird lotions and nets. But if you ever go to Japan and come back and realize you forgot to get a gift for your best friend, swing by Daiso! And you'll be happy you did. According to their website, "Daiso offers around 90,000 products, nearly all of which are original products developed by Daiso through repeated trial manufacture with customer satisfaction uppermost in mind. As cheap stock and dead stock are immediately rejected by customers, we have focused on improving quality even if it means higher cost prices." Exactly. It doesn't make sense. I like it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A tale of two seders

I went to two Passover Seders this year. So did Brad! Both were sort of half Seders, meaning that people started to escape and the leader was able to skip large portions of the ceremonial text after the meal.

At the first Seder, lovely and hosted by Bethany and Abigail, a slew of children got cranky. Their parents were fortunate enough to be able to use their tots as an excuse to leave immediately after eating dinner. The Seder itself included a dramatization of the Jewish slaves' exodus from Egypt -- a hokey, but entertaining, way to engage participants in the story. It also included a very dorky Doctor Seuss-like poem that was easily skippable, but amusing enough to include, reducing boredom and allowing the adults around the table not to have to think about the meaning of liberation.

The meal. Forget about liberation. Food is the only thing anyone is really thinking about. When your host invites you to a dinner party and also calls it a Seder, you may sit passively through a few rituals, but then you'll promptly be served. It was a rush job to get to the food, but Bethany did a nice job of keeping her drive through the ceremony covert. More time could be spent on food and conversation than hearing about the four children.

Of course, when all of the parents are eager to escape, even desert is passed over. I had baked a lemon sponge cake wrapped in whipped cream and strawberries. It looked like big pile of Colgate shaving cream, but it promised a lemony and moist matzoh meal treat inside. Bethany and I ended up dumping at least half of it into the trash at the end of the meal. I guess next time I'm told to bring a desert to a potluck Seder, I will pick up some fruit or some ice cream.

It was a nice Seder. Not spiritually uplifting, perhaps, but celebratory, good company and the kids were cute. And it was nice not to have a Seder scheduled for the second night of Passover. But, the sixth night was scheduled.

Italian restaurant Seder. Every year, for as long as I can remember, my dad's relatives spend my grandmother's remaining money and host a Seder in a dim meeting room in the basement of the Empress Hotel in La Jolla. It's not always on Passover – they simply schedule it on a Saturday that typically is overlapped by Passover. I skipped out last year because I was co-hosting my friend Mark's 40th birthday, but wanted to show up this year and see my grandmother who is, unfortunately, too frail to come to the dinner and instead must eat a nursing home ham on Seder night. It's lovely that my Aunt Carol goes through such a great effort to plan the Seder and schlep the jars of gefilte fish over (the Italian restaurant doesn't provide gefilte fish). And it's nice to see the members of my family who I rarely see (just once per year in San Diego). Other than my dad's sister Carol, I don't get the sense that the other relatives even care that I'm in town. Still, they are my relatives.

As nice a guy as my dad is, he just does a lousy job leading the Seder. It's not entirely his fault. We use a Haggadah that my grandfather pieced together. It is relatively archaic and misses some key elements of the traditional Seder service line-up. My grandfather put some effort into this, and it is nice to see it, but it is probably outdated to use as our principal outline. (I believe at one point my grandfather responded to the complaints of family members that the pages of the Haggadah weren't numbered, so he went through and wrote page numbers on each copy of the Haggadah. Unfortunately, the numbers assigned to pages in about three quarters of the Haggadahs don't correspond to the numbers on the same pages in the remaining quarter of the Haggadahs.) I think my dad recognizes that it's not the best tool to direct a bunch of people who couldn't care less about Passover through the ceremony. He just rushes through the service, calling on the men at the table (he always forgets to call on the women). He sort of mumbles and mispronounces and happily announces that it's time to eat after only about 30 minutes of ritual.

It's really worthless and I've secretly wished they would just forget this sham of religious observance and convert the event to a dinner party. Perhaps a costume party? A different theme each year? Perhaps the children, rather than searching for matzoh, must guess everyone's age. Given some frightful plastic surgery at this Seder, it could have been fun.

Again, the parents with kids escaped as quickly as they could and my dad cut the second half of the Seder to about five minutes. I insisted on a rousing round of that joyous Passover favorite "Had Gadya" about animals eating each other and being smote by fire. And then it was over. Another ritual without meaning.

It makes me wonder sometimes if my true liberation would be an escape from rituals that are just about going through the motions.

Going through the motions. I suppose that's what traditions are all about. I like traditions when I like them and when I get a sense of who I am because I participate in them. I don't like traditions that I don't like.
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