Sunday, June 01, 2008

Chased around the west by the Balloon of Zen

Last night as I was mowing the front pasture, steeped in self-pity at this impending trip, I looked up at the heavens and as I was about to say, "Why?" I spotted one of my favorite things - a helium weather balloon. It was high over the Sandias and catching the glancing rays of the sun imparting that wonderful crystalline look they get when illuminated. It hung there motionless for the longest time and when I was done mowing I ran inside and grabbed my camera and took a handful of shots. I don't get to see them all that often, and when I do I try to spend a few moments appreciating them for what they are - giant jellyfish floating in that wonderful protective envelope we call our atmosphere.

By the time our chores were wound up, it had slowly drifted to a spot directly over the barnyard so I took a few more shots and went in for dinner and a movie knowing that my morning was coming early with a 6AM flight to SFO on the dawn horizon.

The business of the Albuquerque Sunport at 5AM on a Sunday never ceases to amaze me. Honestly, where are these people going? The lines were long at all the airlines except for the Premier option at United which didn't help me at all because the people in the regular line didn't seem to understand that I had priority. An counter would open up and they would scurry over there before the agent even had a chance to wave me ahead of them. My turn finally came and I of course managed to get the 14 year old summer help fellow who was learning how to run the computer. I watched him scan my passport 4 times, twice with the mag strip forwards and twice with it backwards before he finally gave up and typed in my number. It really makes me wonder where my bag is going to end up.

Despite the crowds, security was fast and I was down the lane and boarding just about before I could quit complaining. I managed to snag a 1st Class seat again today which was very nice. Sadly though I sat next to Mr. Full Body Thrash who fidgeted through the entire flight, culminating in him slamming his armrest tray table back into place 5 minutes after I had managed to fall asleep. Sleep came easy on this flight because unlike the people in steerage who were served pretzels, we received a nice little snack pack that I will call the Banquet O' Carbs.

Bagel chips, apple coated walnuts, a little pot of cream cheese and one of strawberry jelly, a nice chocolate filled pizzelle cookie, a Quaker granola bard and a bag of Gummy Fruits which I declined to eat, having received so much reproach from friends and family last time I mentioned them. Having cleared the plate (well, I did save the pizzelle and the granola bar for later), my blood sugar made a nap readily achievable.

But back to that balloon. Forty minutes into the flight the captain interrupts my breakfast to tell us that off the left side of the plane is a weather balloon, the very same one I had seen over the house last night. In its inexorable drift to nowhere, it had made it somewhere on the path of my flight and so I once again had a chance to see it.

Mr. Full Body Thrash continued to heave and hack and cough and snuffle to the point where I was about to place both hands on this throat when the announcement came - we were beginning our descent into San Francisco. I was able to see the city today as it was not terribly foggy for a change. The Transamerica building is always wonderful to spot.

On the ground and off to the international terminal on foot, because it's too early for the shuttle bus. That also means back through security which I managed to trigger again, more than likely due to the new watch I am wearing. Normally I am a fan of leather straps, but wearing a leather watch means I also have to wear a belt and shoes to match. One cannot go off into the world with a black watch band and brown shoes, correct? Well, mixing and matching shoes and belts on a longer trip generally means I also have to pack a second watch, which I hate to do because they are too expensive to be packed with my checked luggage. So it has to go in my carry-on which in turn leads the TSA people to think I am carrying a time bomb. So to solve this, I bought a watch with a steel band, because steel comfortably spans the gamut from brown leather to black and so a second watch is not needed. Well, the price for this sartorial precision seems to be setting off the metal detector every time I go through. Fashion over efficiency? Yes, it might be worth it.

The Lounge here does not open until 8 so I walked around for a couple of minutes and headed back. Still not open, I leaned against the wall by the sign that said "Form a Line Here" and waited. Along came a second person who walked up to the door and tried to open it. I cleared up the situation for him. 15 seconds later, along comes a couple who walks up to the door and tries it. I cleared it up for them. 30 seconds after them, here comes Mr. Full Body Thrash who looks at the line, looks at the door and chooses to walk up and try it. I guess he thought we were waiting for a bus or something. He joined the queue. At 8 on the dot, the guy from the couple breaks formation and walks again up to the door, this time waving his arms at the sensors. I told him it was not time yet and he replied that he thought there might be a switch somewhere that they threw to enable the doors. A minute later, the United guy came along and unlocked the door, allowing us in. I declined the free drink at the bar and went to find some tea. Rounding the corner, I set my items in one of the alcoves and realized I had sat down across one more time from Mr. Full Body Thrash who was sitting there hacking and snuffling with as much fervor as ever. I grabbed my stuff and moved to the other end of the lounge. If he's on my plane to Shanghai you're going to get a blog to remember.

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