Sunday, October 15, 2006

The journey home

We decided to head out on the early side to avoid the crunch at the border, early for us being on the 10 AM side given all the packing we had to do. Finished off the last of the 3 gallon can of cat food on the one condo cat that came around. Years ago, the place was overrun with abandoned kitties and their offspring. One day a resident (friend of ours) enlisted the help of a local vet and together they came out and neutered the whole tribe of them. Each cat received a notched ear to mark its transition into being a useful animal.

These days there are perhaps 10 or so and we always bring a couple of casks of wet food with us to feed them. This results in us having 4 or 5 friends for our time there, and so it's a nice tradition.

Amazingly the car started right up so I backed over and loaded all our supplies. Fun in the 90 degree heat. Finished up, showered and got ready to go. Dead car. Of course I now had the option of installing the Mexican Autozone Battery which I did. So much for my clean clothes and shower. Doesn't that figure?

Paying up, we took off for Rosa's and our final plate of Machaca. As always the best.

The drive back was uneventful. The old stomach ache checkpoint near Hermisillo is now a good opportunity to chat in Spanish with the boys in uniform, the current fall fashion being a smart gray-based desert cammy.

Arriving at the border we felt good about the length of the line, that is until it took us 65 minutes to make it to the gate. The vendors were hawking glow in the dark Jesuses (Jesusi?) on a long plastic bead necklace. Also foam maps of the US, retablos with the Virgin on the front and baroque angels on the back and my all time favorite - ukeleles in every color in the rainbow.

We made it up to La Migra and spilled out guts on the goods in the cold box. Yellow-tagged we limped over to the place where they take your car apart. A nice Border Patrol agent came out and seized my 5 Australian Tangerines and just for good measure, took my Mexican eggs as well. He told us to back up and head around the guy in front of us because his friends were in the process of dismantling the poor fellow's 70s Chevrolet van. In the words of my agent, "he's going to be here for a while."

For the second time, the car started right up. On our way, back in the USA and heading north for dinner with the family.

My attempt to start the car a couple of hours later in order to pull it into the driveway was met with, guess what - a couple of clicks and a dead engine. Hmmm, guess it wasn't the battery after all.

Next morning I repeated the ritual of loading up the car, showered, put on clean clothes and proceded to jump the car from Barbara's van. Ah, a new twist - it won't start at all now. Visions of hours waiting for someone to come from AAA led me to get creative. Knowing that my trusty Diehard, currently sitting in a bag in the back of the rig, had ever so much more cranking power, I thought "why not" and dragged it out. Reinstalled it, jumped it and miracles of miracles - it turned over. Another changed battery post shower and clean clothes, you'd think I'd learn.

Now on our way back home, secure in the knowledge that we could never, under any circumstances turn the car off, we settled in for 6 hours of southwestern landscape bathed in October light and carrying a comfortable outside temperature of 65 degrees. A far cry from the previous week.

Home at last, an old dog turning himself in corkscrews of happiness, some hungry horses and dinner at Pei Wei, another adventure winds to a close.

Picture Post

Here are the pictures you would've been seeing had the wifi pipe in the Marina Cantina been big enough to upload them. Enjoy!


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Car trouble and a day salvaged

Woke up this morning at 7 to test the car. There was enough juice to light the interior lights, but not enough to start it. So begins our next big adventure.

We waited until the office opened and talked to our friend who tried the GMC dealer in Guaymas. Not open. We decided to come back after 9 and try again. Rumor was that they will send people out with parts to fix your car in situ.

At 9 the dealer was open but they had no mechanics for loan and the soonest they could come was “maybe mañana” so we decided to drive in and get one ourselves. Problem was, no Americans in sight for a jump. So we asked if they could use the condo van to get us started. ” Well, it doesn’t have a battery.” “Well, we don’t do that.” After persisting, she finally relented and called the head maintenance guy who offered his battery charger. Off course that would’ve meant sitting around for hours so I insisted and he got the keys to the VW minibus and backed up to our car (previously parked nose out for just such a circumstance.) Interestingly, the negative terminal on the bus had a red cable and the positive, black. Hooked it up, fired up our car and then let it idle while we changed for the drive to the dealer.

We decided to take the scenic route into town, currently known as the San Carlos a Guaymas Carreterra Escenica just for grins. Went past the new Dolphin Encounter place they’ve been constructing for the last 3 years. Although the signs say “promesa complida”, there aren’t many dolphins encounters going on in that big dry pool.

Tular Lagoon showed the effects of a really high tide – no birds, although the Renault parked by a fisherman’s shack on a small island raised some questions.

Leaving the area, I chose the wrong exit and ended up on MX15 heading away from the dealer. No big deal, easily solved by a u-turn. As I was scoping for an opportunity, My Lovely Wife spotted an Autozone. Who’d a thunk? A quick discussion led to the conclusion that it was worth a try so in we went. A nice young man showed great respect for my butchered Spanish and helped us out. He asked for our phone number for the computer which we found very amusing. But I gave it and lo and behold the name and address of My Lovely Wife popped up. “Que milagro” I exclaimed. We got the goods and headed back thinking how a great combination of choices, wrong turns and keen eyesight turned a mundane errand into a grand success. That point was driven fully home when we drove past the dealer and saw the long line of cars waiting for repairs.

Being down to one more day we decided to take our last kayak trip and headed down the coast to the entry of the estuary. It’s a completely different place at high tide (read yesterday’s blog about hiking the shoals) and the paddling was easy. The birds, being unable to stand in the deeper water were perched in mangroves on all sides as we went in. I got nice shots of an Osprey before a mythical creature hove into view – a Roseate Spoonbill. I have to say, there isn’t much in the avian world I’d rather look at than a 4 foot tall salmon pink wader with a serving spoon for a bill. It let me squeeze off a couple of shots before it took wing. While that little experience would’ve lasted me months, the appearance of a second one 2 minutes later cemented the moment as a blog-worthy memory. More pictures before he too departed.

We paddled along, taking leisurely breaks and just soaking up the views and the silence. No Mexican rap music today. After photographing and chasing off a half-dozen more birds, we headed out. As we rounded a corner and emerged from behind a small mangrove copse, serendipity presented itself again – both Spoonbills were perched high above the waterway in a dead snag. We gave a couple of paddles and allowed the boat to drift with the current. They didn’t leave and I just started snapping away. We spooked a Snowy Egret out of a tangle near the boat and he flew up joining his pink friends. Now we had the added benefit of contrast, showing their wonderful salmon plumage. Fifty or sixty pictures later, we continued to drift by, the birds sitting there and regarding us with passivity mixed with curiosity. Yet another life moment for us and them.

Taking control of the boat we headed out the inlet and fought the wind and the rollers back to the condo. Boat ashore, a cooling-off dip in the sea and now it’s time for………..Carne Machaca!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Out on the ocean

Did a bit of kayaking again today. We have two boats, both Folbots. One is a double and the other a single. Folbots are an interesting option for those of us who do not live near enough to water to warrant a boat that’s available 100% of the time. They’re also great for people who lack storage, because they fold up into one or two duffel bags, depending on their size.

They’re designed on the basic concept of an Inuit boat. Instead of whale bone stays and a walrus skin, these boats use aluminum ribs and canvas for the covering. They’re very easy to put together, study and not terribly heavy. Well, the two person boat can be a killer to drag to the sea, but the one person boat can be carried by a tough guy like me.

We decided to go out on the bay in front of the condos this morning to take some pictures of the monstrosity condo development that is being built contiguous to our place. Pilar has been here unmolested since the 1970s, but now a bigger version is being constructed hard on the northern boundary. We thought some panoramas of the whole shebang would suffice to depress everyone back home. I’ll spare all my kind readers, not out of the kindness of my heart but rather because for some reason the wireless connection I’m using here in town times out while loading photos. So no pictures for you.

While loading up we saw the local dive shop tourist boat chasing the porpoises out on the water. Sheesh. We mounted our trusty bark and shoved off into the briny. Making a few passes and getting some reasonable shots we were headed back in when a pod of six porpoises passed between us and the shore. We did a quick u-turn and took a few photos and tried to keep up but they had the advantage of being in their element and they quickly disappeared.

The rest of the morning was spent in a quandary when we discovered that the battery in our car was dead. Now I hate car problems, and I really hate car problems here so once we got it jumped going we headed out to town with the notion that we would upload yesterday’s blog from the car idling in the Marina Cantina parking lot.

Arriving, I threw caution to the wind and turned the thing off, figuring we’d find someone in the restaurant to jump us if need be. Turns out, no problem. It started right up.

Spent the early afternoon lying around catching up on 2005 New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles and eating Valhrona orange milk chocolate.

Around 4, I decided to take the one man boat out into the estuary for an easy paddle. We carried it around the back and launched it. It was really wonderful. A couple of Great Blue Herons tolerated my approach until I entered their exclusion zone and then left their mangrove perch and flew off squawking. A Reddish Egret was not so touchy and continued its drunken man dance trying to scare up lunch from the bottom. Around the bend I came upon a mixed dozen of Great and Snowy Egrets feeding in the back bay. Like the Sirens, they beckoned me on to my doom because the water was about 4 inches deep and I quickly ran aground. Ever resourceful, I simply got out and walked, boat and all.

Off in the distance, pair of SUVs were parked on the shore blasting Mexican rap music, leading me to wonder how Mr. Stanley felt listening to the drums of the natives as he paddled up the Congo in search of his Mr. Livingstone and ultimately into his own Heart of Darkness. It wasn’t an ideal soundtrack to a magical moment, but at least it was real.

Heading back I found a little mangrove cove and slowly eased the boat in. That was a bit of a challenge because turning an 18’ boat around in a 20’ circle isn’t all that easy. I parked for a moment and did the old birdwatching “pish” and immediately was greeted by a couple of Mangrove Warblers angrily scolding me for ruining their afternoon. Two sleeping Black-crowned Night Herons blew out of the trees, their daytime slumber having been ended by the chattering warblers.

Pulling out and fighting my way across a strongly outgoing tide, I parked and pulled the boat out of the water.

Just before dusk we headed out to the sea wall to see if we’d get a beautiful sunset tonight. The cloud bank was making big promises. Joined by 100 or so of our closest friends, we waited and waited but alas, it was not to be. The clouds were too thick and all we got was some decent pinks just before dark.

Dinner was leftover chicken served up in those wonderful lardy tortillas that are unique to Sonora. We decided to go check the car, it worked and now we’re sitting in the Marina Cantina parking lot borrowing their wifi signal for your benefit.

The perfect end to the perfect day. Dead batteries not withstand

Una mas dia en paradiso

Another day in paradise.

Went on a pretty long kayak ride this morning, out to the island that lies about 2 miles off shore. The water was smooth and the ride in was aided by some gentle rollers. It was pretty hot though on the return trip, what little wind there was being straight at our stern. We saw a couple of sea lions alternately cresting and diving. No sign of the dolphin pod that is sometimes found here in the bay.

Spent the afternoon cruising around San Carlos after a midday repast of Carne Machaca. Had a nice visit with our friend Martin who works days at Rosa’s. We bring him pictures of the horses and he loves to hear their individual stories.

Driving around, it’s become pretty apparent that there is an ongoing influx of cash to this little locale. Lots and lots of vacation homes are sprouting up. Not sure if this isn’t the southern manifestation of our real estate boom with people mining their home equity for a place in the sun. Saddest of all are the two roads that are being cut up and around Tetas de Cabra, that mountainous beacon that has drawn the family to this place for more than half a century. Starting in the 1950’s when it served notice as the spot in the desert where one turned off for a drive across the track to the camps on the beach and more recently when it became one of the annual family outings during our Christmas visits. I’ve always managed to avoid those treks, making sure that I either didn’t have the correct shoes or that I was out counting birds when the team was assembled. I had nothing to prove, having made my bones walking up Long’s Peak in 1981 and no amount of bushwhacking through Catclaw was going to get me out on the trail. It looks like my intransigence is finally being rewarded, because pretty soon the climb is going to be crossing the back yards of Mediterranean-style starter castles. On the one hand it’s nice that I won’t have to make excuses, on the other it’s sad because this is truly the end of a tradition. A dangerous, injury plagued tradition, but a tradition nonetheless. And despite the post hike first aid requirements, there are plenty of great memories and stories associated with those climbs.

A bit about Boobies. The local cliffs serve as breeding grounds for Blue-footed and Brown Boobies. The birds survive by crashing out of the sky into small schools of fish, their aerial prowess being truly impressive. We’ve seen them by the thousands, diving into kettles of fish being driven forward by dozens of porpoise.

Lately, their numbers have declined along with their food supply. Not so many any longer here in Bahia San Francisco. A few still dive around us while we’re bobbing in the water, but nothing like the squadrons that used to own the sky.

I’ve had a few interesting experiences with them, up close and personal. A couple of years ago while out kayaking, I came upon one that was drowning in a fisherman’s net that was stretched across the entrance to the bay. Being a bird-guy, I decided to save it and paddled over, blunt-tipped riverman’s knife in hand. As I worked to set him free, he concluded that I presented more of a threat than his imminent voyage to Poseidon’s Court so he commenced to bite me. One lucky snap took off the side of my finger, and being that I was out on the sea, there was no end to the blood flow. I was cutting, he was biting and I was exsanguinating. Finally, I got tired of the incessant “clack clack clack” of his seven inch bill, so I grabbed his feet and lifted him out of the water, edge of net and all. He became completely passive at that point figuring his end was near. I finally extricated him and set him back in the water whereupon he took flight, circling the boat 3 or 4 times before sailing off. Less an avian “thank you” than him calculating whether he could get another snippet of Homo sapiens sapiens to supplement his daily fish dinner. This left me with the problem of by wound, still bleeding like a stuck pig. That was solved with a generous application of Duct Tape. My bright yellow flotation device still bears the reminders.

Today we found a bird that appeared to be close to death. It had been hanging around the beach in front of the place looking lethargic and spending most of its time sleeping. Tonight it was curled up by my kayaks when an ill-bred 5 year old boy felt compelled to yell and kick sand on it. I decided to take action. Yelling at the kid had a limited effect so I grabbed a shirt and my beach towel and went after the flagging bird. I covered him up and we decided to walk the ½ mile down to the end of the sand spit and deposit him there. At least allowing him some respite from the annoying children. Once covered, he was calm, but several times on the walk down, he freed his bill and went at me with the same “clack clack clack” that still haunts my dreams. In the end, we set him free up on a dune near the water, figuring he could at least spend his remaining hours in peace.

Dinner in tonight, My Lovely Wife cooking up another chicken based miracle in a pan. We talked at length about another trip to the Marina Cantina and decided that perhaps two “dates” in two days might be more than we could bear.

Brushing all that silliness aside, we headed out into the night. Pulling into the Cantina’s parking lot though we quickly came to the conclusion that our quest was in vain – no lights, no bar. So went spent a few more minutes driving around town looking for an opportunity to pirate a signal. But nothing appeared that didn’t require a password. That’s it, lights out until tomorrow.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Tides

One of the things we like to do here is monitor the tides. Not only is an awareness of them useful when it comes to birding, but it's nice to be in touch with the natural cycle of things.

Currently, the Sun and the Moon and the Earth are in this weird straight alignment. And any time you get something weird celestially, you get weird tides. Today, there are four vs. the normal two. Tomorrow, the high occurs earlier than it did today. Very odd. Tides are fun, and someday I hope to actually understand them.

A bit about our locale. Tonight we're coming to you from a bar, bar visitation being something that we don't normally do. We've got smoke, we've got margaritas, we've got chips/salsa and we've got Monday Night Football. It's an interesting place this Marina Cantina - lots of Jimmy Buffett clones talking really loudly. I hope I don't get in a fight, because My Lovely Wife, being taller than every other man in the place is going to have to defend me.

The wireless connection is good, but not good enough to upload pictures so you're just going to have to live with what you're getting. My rapier-like wit, finely honed by a bit of tequila observing the wharf rats living their lives.

Getting into vacation mode

Getting connected back to the world is always a challenge when you’re out and about. On the plus side, my XM radio is working like a charm. On the medium side, my Blackberry seems to be able to get mail, but only when wafts of the local network ply their way through our concrete block apartmento. This being a mitigated upside because My Lovely Wife continues to remind me that I am not here to stay connected. The down side – calling out on a cell phone. Now I’ve just come back from the other side of the world, and calling home from China was no big challenge. Turn on the phone and dial. Here, not so. There is a magic code and last night we didn’t have it. Each attempt was met with three frustrating beeps and an admonition that “este numero no existan.” Hmm.

The morning rolled around and we went out separate ways. She to go and discover the magic phone code, me to ride my mountain bike around the estuary. The code turned to be 00, the ride turned out to be a death trip. Well, I didn’t actually die, but I wanted to.

A couple of years ago, some enterprising person decided to cut a road that greatly shortened the trip from San Carlos to Guaymas. They pretty much paved the traditional route the family used to take on their annual trek from Pilar (our condominios) to Miramar, little beach place around the point. Used to be a 4 hour haul across sand and rocks. Now it’s a 15 minute drive. What used to be desert is almost certainly about to become houses.

On the plus side, it’s created a nice ride for me, a 15 mile round trip with some decent hills and nice vistas. Nice if you like riding in 90 degree heat and 95% humidity. Always one for a personal challenge, I went off.

The first thing that happened as I headed out of the place and down the main road was a close encounter with a full beer can thrown by some guys in the back of a pick-up truck. This was a surprise, because Mexicans have always impressed me as being courteous towards cyclists. I guess though that workers drinking beer at 8 o’clock in the morning are the same the world over. Oh well.

The ride itself was pretty average; I passed a young man collecting aluminum cans along the road who turned out to be an Anglo. That was a bit of a surprise, and it set my mind in motion as to whether he would try and kill me on the return trip. Something about his lack of a shirt and the fact that he was pulling off his shoes and throwing them on the ground didn’t set well with me. No more beer cans, just big hills, the final one almost causing me to cough up my lungs before I realized I was riding in the big ring and a really hard gear. I’ve been riding single speed so much this summer that I forgot the bike I was on had gears. Duh!

Crested the final hill and coasted down into Bacochibampo Bay. Tular lagoon was devoid of birds, we being in the middle of a period of very high tides. My Chongming Island birdless vibe seemed to be continuing.

Heading back I offered an “hola” to some young men working along the road who mumbled something like “dimwit”, by translation skills not being that good at 10 MPH. Climbed the killer hill, this time using gears and saving my lungs, although the bolillo with peanut butter I had for breakfast was threatening a return trip. I unzipped my jersey in hope that I could catch a bit of cooling, but the humidity said “no way.”

Cruising along, I passed the shirtless Anglo and did the calculations necessary to avoid being captured should he make a move on me. He just waved and I did the same. Stopped by the old road to the mountain bike track, the sign now peeling paint but now festooned with a “Livestrong” sticker. Heading home I passed a local rider and we exchanged waves.

I got back, walked straight to the ocean and dove in, minus my shoes but still in full cycling togs. The only person on the beach so adorned. The cigar smokers sat and stared, inscrutably.

We headed out to find some wireless connectivity to check in with home (connections being okay, when She wants to.) There are several in town and we decided to try to cute coffee shop. We ordered a cold coffee drink and sat down only to discover that my laptop would not connect to their network. So we decided to use their computers (30 pesos for ½ hour) which sadly turned out to be Macs. Once I figured out how to actually use it, we played with gmail and read about those pesky North Koreans and their sub-kiloton explosion. I guess nothing has changed during our short absence.

The Crossing

Ah Mexico!

This year makes 13 that I’ve been making the long haul down MX15 to our little place in the sun. In the early days, I used to mark the trip with stomach aches. Stomach aches driven by the various judicial challenges to my forward progress. My Lovely Wife used to tell me that those challenges were opportunities to practice my 4 years of high school Spanish, and to in turn make Mr. (or should I say Señor) Thorsen proud. After all, Señor Thorsen had to endure me drawing pictures of turkeys in my Spanish book with little arrows pointing at him as he moved around the classroom.

The first stomach ache used to come when we crossed the border at Nogales and headed into the dark unknown. This was the point where the visions of bonfires in the road manned by banditos armed with pitch forks first started to dance in my head. The second stomach ache came with passing through the hulking tile covered Customs House and the place where you had to stop for either a red or green light, the former presenting an “opportunity” to habla with the bored Federales, the latter a chance to dodge remedial Spanish and keep on moving.

Next came the Aduana and the stop for visas and car stickers (holograficos.) Here in the early days we bought the 6 month sticker with no intention of turning it back in on the way out. This despite the stories of poor Canadians in VW minibuses getting nailed with thousand dollar fines for not turning in their sticker. We were brave, muy macho and we thumbed our noses at convention, knowing full well that somewhere in some dank warehouse was a carbon-copy record of our indiscretion. How many times did our car enter, never to exit, the puzzled clerk was wondering. Again a game of chance with the red and green lights, again freedom or Spanish study hall. Our worst experience here being the good cop/bad cop routine many Christmases ago when the bad officer told us to unload the car while the good officer sat in the back seat asking us how much all of our stuff was worth. He was looking for a $20 “donation”, we played dumb and he departed, shaking his head.

The worst and final stomach ache generally came with the Federale check just north of Hermosillo. In this case it was originally a husky officiale sitting in a lawn chair with an attached umbrella. Just what was he thinking behind those Ray Ban aviators as we pulled up and waited for him to say “pase.” I’m sure he was wondering why the blond gringa was driving while her companion huddled shaking beneath a blue polar fleece blanket. The flip side of this stop on the northbound journey was manned by peach-fuzzed soldiers, redolent of marijuana packing HK Armalite rifles. The trick here was to pull your car over the grease pit enabling someone to inspect your exhaust system.

But these days, all of this is just a fuzzy, water-colored memory (you know the song.) Now I drive, laughing in the face of adversity. No more holograficos, now a visa suffices. No more red lights, our karma has shifted. Now the biggest problem with the trip is whether or not some kid tries to wash our windshield at the stop light as you enter Hermosillo.

Our trip started with a cross over the border around noon. Clear sailing down to the customs stop, a visa taking 5 minutes and then onward. Absolutely nothing of interest happened on the trip. Thankfully.

First night into town with thoughts of Carne Machaca having dominated our consciousness since our previous visit (October 2005) and we discover that our favorite restaurant is closed. Back-up plan – shrimp and fish al mojo de ajo and two bathtub sized Margaritas to wash away the road grime. A visit to our favorite store, La Fruitaria for Jumex, bolillos and limes. Back to the place and a well-deserved, tequila-enhanced night’s rest. Our once per year visit with the God of Agave.

Dawn brought a painful realization – it’s Columbus Day weekend. Several years ago we made the mistake of being here during this time and swore we’d never do it again. Too many people and too much noise. Oh, how those oaths get washed away by commitments and time. Last week I was in Arizona, next week, she’s getting ready for Worlds. So this was the week, and we were going. But, I wonder if our resolve might’ve been girded had we been warned with visions of large, sunburned Americans drinking beers and smoking cigars on the sea-wall at 9 o’clock in the morning. If that hadn’t done it, the wall to wall tents and sit-upon kayaks certainly would have put us over the top. Alas, here we were and our resolve morphed into a steely desire to just put up with it. Besides, this was people watching at its best and we’d have plenty to talk about.

Our attempt at breakfast at Rosa’s was stifled by the line of tourists out the door. Another sign that this week was cursed. So back to the condo for eggs and bolillos and Jumex and a nice long nap.

Following a little afternoon bob in the ocean, we went back on the Machaca hunt and headed into town for dinner. This time, no line, no tourists and two big plates of that special Comida de Sonora that keeps drawing us down here. Hot tortillas, tasty beef and a cold Negro Modelo. Life can be so good at its simplest. Not much else to say about the dinner or the day, but I do have to mention the 20-something young many who sat opposite us spreading butter on tortillas followed by a liberal dumping of sugar from the shaker on the table. He seemed to really be enjoying them. I don’t know why.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Phoenix and it's assorted splendors

Okay, so up until now this blog has been limited to international travel, well, international travel to China. And I have another blog for domestic stuff but even I haven’t spent much time there, waxing eloquent. All that changes today, since I just can’t contain myself any longer.

This trip is a short one – over to Phoenix for a couple of days. But since my last trip to the airport, things have changed. Notably a reduction in the security measures associated with blowing up aircraft with deodorant. The measures had been reduced to a pretty simple set – containers containing less than 3 ounces stowed in quart sized ziplock bags. Personally I welcomed this as I couldn’t imagine checking a bag for a two day trip even if the price was admitting in public that I was a Mitchum Man with a fixation for Purel Hand Sanitizer.

Off I went to the airport trusting that my fellow passengers had taken the time to fully understand the expectations. Of course I was aware of my own naïveté, having just completed an article in the NY Times in which people proudly touted their approach of heading to the airport and figuring out what to do once they got there.

The security in Albuquerque is now divided into 3 parts. First, an agent to separate the travelers into those with baggies and those without. Second, the traditional check of the boarding pass and identification. And third, the agent to draw a little orange squiggly on said boarding pass. The last one must have to do with union rules surrounding minimum hiring expecations.

I entered the baggie line behind two people. The first guy had a giant 32 ounce tube of toothpaste approximately 90% expended (although uniformly squeezed from the bottom, not doubly delighting persnickety life-partners the world over) shoved in a 2 gallon ziplock with a tiny bottle of hand cream. I guess he was one of the proud few, winging it. The agent immediately recognized the infractions. The man was offered the option of heading back to the gift shop to purchase the appropriate bag, this being solely for the purpose of saving the hand cream because that tube of toothpaste wasn’t traveling today. In the trash went the tube, followed by the hand cream. The man asked if he could travel with the two gallon bag and permission was granted, no doubt allowing him to attempt the same perfidy on his return leg.

The woman in front of me, next up, was tearfully admitting that she had failed to encase her bottle of Visine in the appropriate vessel. The Visine itself was Barbie-sized, holding not even enough liquid to blow up a drink cart, much less a plane. Again the offer was tendered to go buy a bag, again refused. Had I been the agent, I would have suggested these people go buy a clue.

Not much else to report other than the guy in front of me in the body check line that insisted on counting all 93 cents worth of the change that he had placed in a bucket for a quick x-ray. I guess he figured those underpaid TSA agents were coveting that Rhode Island quarter. I told him to move out of my way. Interestingly, the same agent was working the line and still wearing the same world weary look he had back when I saw him on September 5th as he guided the magician and tractor salesman through the same line.

Not much to say about Phoenix, it’s big, hot and bland. I did find the pontoon boats lined up behind the Santa Barbara houses in the golf course waterway to be an amusing sight. Funny to think about the snow pack west of Trail Ridge Road on it’s long journey to the sea instead ending up enabling a bunch of desert dwellers to motor up and down a 200 yard waterway bounding a bunch of suburban backyards. Only in America and only in The New West.

One last little anecdote for this entry.

Last night four of us decided to have dinner and we took the advice of one of our local colleagues on a good Thai place. It was close to the hotel and highly recommended. Map in hand we headed out for the 1 mile drive.

The intersection is a busy one with four large plazas on each corner. Our map had some room for interpretation, it being drawn sort of upside down relative to reality. Didn’t occur to any of us to turn it over because we would’ve had to read the street names upside down and we were pretty sure we had a grasp on where the joint might be. So we headed into the first strip mall. Circling it – no restaurant. Undaunted, we decided to drive across the street and try the next one and here we had immediate hope - the name of the restaurant was “Thai Pots” and the entry to this plaza was lined with giant clay planters sporting half-dead ocotillos. Alas, no restaurant. Given that there were still two to go and that we were armed with a working strategy, we hit them as well. No restaurant. Okay, so three guys in a car with one woman and can’t find the restaurant – what’s the solution? Ask for directions – right. We assigned her the AR to call the Holiday Inn to ask them how to get there which is okay with us boys because none of us have to cross our gender values and ask for directions ourselves.

We only had the 1-800 number but figuring it was good enough to get us the local version, we placed the call.

Listening to Rae-Ann’s conversation was just as amusing as it usually is when you’re listening to someone try to explain the obvious to another someone with a unique ability to not grasp that same obvious.

I’ll ad-lib the Customer Service person’s side of the conversation for the sake of thematic continuity:

Rae-Ann: Hello, I’m staying at the Holiday Inn in Ocotillo Arizona and I wonder if you could give me their phone number.

Customer Service: Where?

Rae-Ann: Octotillo, Arizona.

Customer Service: We don’t have a hotel there.

Rae-Ann (now trying for clarity): Oh Koh Tee Yo, Arizona

Customer Service: Sorry, I don’t show a unit there.

Rae-Ann (snapping to the problem): Oh Koh Tee Yo looks like Oh Koh Till Oh

Customer Service: Ah yes, here you go.

So much for Spanish transcending English here in the United States.

Number in hand we called the front desk and were assured that the restaurant did exist and that it was in fact located in the plaza we assumed. We headed back, increasing our scrutiny in the area between Taco Bell and the sports bar. No restaurant. Someone suggested a complete circle of the satellite strip mall and finally Thai Pots hove into view.

It was closed.