Friday, March 23, 2007

Traveling to Santa Clara

I made the trip to Santa Clara this week for SD Expo. It was a great conference, but I have a few minor travel-related complaints. Please bear with me.

1. The AirTrain. When you park in long-term now at JFK, you hop on the AirTrain to the main terminals. This is great, efficient, and free. And the gap between the train and the platforms is just the right size so that the $3 luggage cart you rent gets stuck when you try to wheel it on and off. All your bags go spilling. What a pain.

2. American Airlines. Remember "more room in coach?" They undid that. It's now "less room in coach." What the hell?

3. American Airlines. You're charging us for the snacks too now? Seriously, go F yourselves.

4. American Airlines. I used to be able to save up my miles and upgrade from coach. I guess I'm undesirable, because I now can't upgrade my tickets for any price, miles or cash. Why? What a load of shit. TWA used to let me do it. YOU used to let me do it.

5. Vector iMobile power inverters. Sure, the $25 deelies seem like a good idea when they first wink at you from the shelf at Target. Their only function, when plugged into a power port on a plane, is to stop working and beep loudly every three minutes. Utter crap.

6. SFO Airport. Why did it take us over an hour to get our luggage? The belt buzzed and started to go around, and two bags were disgorged. We all stood there as the two bags went around twice. Then the belt stopped. Time passed. The belt buzzed again and started going around, but nothing came out. Then it stopped. We had two bags going around in circles, plus a tabletop fan in a tray. Someone checked a loose tabletop fan as baggage.

The belt buzzed again, and five bags came up the conveyor belt, only to stop at the crest. A passenger ended up climbing into the middle of the conveyor to pull the bags down. Buzz, nothing. Buzz, nothing. This continued for over 45 minutes, until finally the luggage came spewing out. WHO THE HELL CHECKED A TABLETOP FAN?

7. Avis. I picked up my car. They gave me a complimentary upgrade, so that instead of driving something, well, driveable, I ended up in a Lincoln Town Car. It was like driving the Queen Mary. It was about 20 feet too long, too wide for many of today's slimmer parking spots, and it handled like a bear with a harness on. Big cars are supposed to be safer, but I was terrified behind the wheel of this thing. I could drive over a Mini and not even notice it. I had to keep checking all sides because I didn't have a feel for how far this thing stuck out into the other lanes. I had to swoop left to make a right turn, like a bus driver. I felt like my grandfather behind the wheel of this behemoth. I could've run over four or five people and never even noticed.

8. Food choices. I got in so late that the only thing I could find open was a Jack in the Box. I treated myself to a 99c chicken disk on a bun. A day and a half later, my hand still smelled like fast-food mayo.

9. The hotel. I stayed at a quaint place called Mariani's Inn, in the Korean muffler shop district of downtown Santa Clara, between Jimmy Kim's Muffler Panda and Johnny Kim's Muffler Nice. I opened the door of my room and got slammed by a blast of disinfectant backwash. The carpet was that deep burgundy pile you might recognize from the 1970s. I was a little bit afraid to touch any surfaces lest I get athlete's hand or find a scrunchie in the pillowcase. On the other hand, it was pretty inexpensive.

10. Jet lag. Maybe it was the paper-thin pillows I had at the hotel, or the way I was sleeping with one eye open in case the Sunnyvale Strangler decided to climb through my window in the middle of the night, but I just didn't get good sleep out there at all.

11. Early flights. What was I thinking when I booked an 8 AM flight out of SFO? Yuck. And I got lost in the back of the Town Car for 15 minutes, which made me even later.

12. The TSA. I actually got into an argument with a security guard at the airport at 7:00 AM. I was completely correct, but lost the argument. The TSA allows you to carry on a third bag with photography equipment. I knew this. The TSA security attendant didn't know this. The ticket agent didn't know this. She said "OK, sir, if you can bring me a printout of that rule...." Sure, that's what I'll do right now. I cited the rule exactly, and she said it meant that I could make my camera bag a second checked piece of luggage. Yeah, dummy, they have a special rule for what your second piece of checked luggage can be.

I asked her if she could ensure the bag's safety, or mark it as fragile. She said that they don't do any special handling for fragile items, but I could take one of their shitty paper name tags and write FRAGILE on it. I said no thanks, that would just be a signal to your employees to open the bag up and steal from it. Wow, you get pissy looks when you bring up the fact that airline baggage handlers are notorious thieves.

I took everything out of my little bag and shoved it into my bigger camera bag, then handed the empty, small bag over for checking. The clerk said "You're really checking an empty bag?" No, dummy. I'd like to give it to you as a gift for dicking around with me and being unaware of TSA regulations. Of course I'm checking it empty. That's the only way to ensure that your work-release program luggage handlers won't strip it down to its straps.

Note: TSA Editorial 1248 states that

You may carry one (1) bag of photographic equipment in addition to one (1) carry-on and one (1) personal item through the screening checkpoint. The additional bag must conform to your air carrier's carry-on restrictions for size and weight.

13. American Airlines. They evidently removed another 1/2" from their seats in coach between Sunday and Thursday. I think they even got smaller during the flight.

14. American Airlines. Seat 30C was supposed to have underseat power. It did on the flight out.

15. American Airlines. When a flight leaves at 8:00 AM, people don't want their only food option to be a smoked turkey sandwich 40 minutes later. Especially when you're charging them $5.00 for the privilege and that's it for choices.

16. American Airlines. Two hours into the flight is not the time to start telling people that there's no bottled water left, but they can get some water out of the sink in the lavatory.

17. American Airlines. Because the Eye On American entertainment loop they showed on the monitors was from last October, and featured "coming soon" previews of theatrical releases from early November.

18. American Airlines. Oops, the seats just bunched up by another 1/4". Here's a helpful tip, though. If you're in an aisle seat, you can usually reach under the outer armrest and find a ridged lever close to the hinge of the seat. If you slide this just right, it'll disengage the lock and you'll be able to swing your legs out into the aisle. And then the flight attendant who looks like Nancy Grace will repeatedly run your foot over with the cart they use to not serve food for six hours.

19. The AirTrain. Because of their sign pointing to "All Tereminals."

So now I have athlete's neck from the hotel room, all my clothes smell like hotel, and my legs are cramped up from the flight. At least the weather was nice out there.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

AirTrain, JFK

Airline Tereminals? I bet this one'll cost $25 million to fix.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Simulated coal miner

If you've ever wondered how to simulate life as a coal miner, it's now within reach!

Pop a couple of Entenmann's chocolate donut holes in your snackhole. Make sure they're the St. Patrick's Day ones with the green and white sprinkles. Masticate and swallow.

Voila! You now have the diseased black sputum of a lifelong coal miner. Effects last 4-6 hours.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Convicts, not immigrants

From the New York Times:

In a pilot program run by the state Corrections Department, supervised teams of low-risk inmates beginning this month will be available to harvest the swaths of sweet corn, peppers and melons that sweep the southeastern portion of the state.

Under the program, which has drawn criticism from groups concerned about immigrants' rights and from others seeking changes in the criminal justice system, farmers will pay a fee to the state, and the inmates, who volunteer for the work, will be paid about 60 cents a day, corrections officials said.

Concerned about the possible shortage of field labor, Dorothy B. Butcher, a state representative from Pueblo and a supporter of the program, said, "The workers on these farms do the weeding, the harvesting, the storing, everything that comes with growing crops for the market."

"If we can't sustain our work force, we're going to be in trouble," said Ms. Butcher, a Democrat.

So they outlawed immigrant labor in this area. The crops all rotted because they couldn't find anyone who would work for shit. Now they've worked it out so they can pay convicts 6 cents an hour.

If there were justice in this world, these farm operators would be compelled by law to mark any such fruit and veg as having been picked by prisoners. Maybe with a little Convict Fresh! sticker on each piece:

Geocoding to Brewster

This is geeky and kind of cool, while at the same time being painfully boring. I drove to Brewster NY yesterday, and I rigged up my camera to take a photo every 15 seconds. On top of that, I plugged my homemade GPS receiver into it, so every photo was tagged with its exact location. And now, I have a photo essay of the L.I.E., Cross-Island, and I-684.

The cool part is watching all the pins render on the map.