Monday, December 20, 2010

Planes, pains, and automobiles

For years, I have avoided running. After all, what's the point? Sure, there's exercise, but I accomplish that through walking (when the weather is nice and I have proper motivation), reading (it exercises the mind, right?) or by regularly dancing the night away at the local discotheque. (Not true, but it does conjure a pretty funny image.) I figure that I won't ever be signing up for any road races and that the odds of being chased by dangerous wildlife near my home are not strong (though some squirrels do occasionally give me the stink-eye), so there's probably little in life that would ever require me to churn my legs in a running-like motion. Unfortunately, I happened upon a need to sprint the other night - the airport dash.

The story begins with my co-worker and I preparing to return home to Kansas after a few days in Orlando, Fla. As you might have guessed, being forced to spend three days in The Sunshine State in the midst of winter was pretty much torture. After all, who wants to enjoy a nice drink by a pool in 75-degree temperatures when he could be dealing with snow and wind back home?

Truth told, it was nice to get away for a few days, but both of us were ready to return home by Saturday. Our trade show* wrapped up early and we had checked out of the hotel so we arrived at the airport a few hours before the schedule boarding time of our flight. We wasted time by eating lunch in an airport restaurant (where, oddly, the waitstaff behaved as if they had not hoped to end up serving tacos to people lugging suitcases), surfing the Internet wirelessly, and staring at the wall. We did all this while staying far away from the gate our plane was leaving from, since it was packed so tightly with travelers that I'm fairly certain I saw two strangers sharing a pair of socks.

*Note to future self: "trade shows" don't involve swapping baseball cards. Leave them at home.

Finally, about 10 minutes before our boarding time, we approached the crowd surrounding our gate. Through the large windows in the airport, we noticed that there did not seem to be a plane actually sitting near said gate. This struck us as slightly odd, as we were fairly confident our tickets were, you know, plane tickets. Luckily, a couple of minutes later a plane taxied up. As folks started to exit the plane that had just arrived, the crowd parted like a balding man's comb over - rather sloppily. One seven-year-old boy was sitting in the way of an old woman and nearly wore luggage wheel tracks on his ankles as a result.

By this time, it was clear that things might be a bit behind, but we didn't figure the delay would be too awful. Minutes passed. We kissed the initial boarding time goodbye. More minutes passed. Then more. Finally, five minutes before the plane's schedule departure time, we heard an announcement from the gate attendant. "We're sorry for the delay folks. The incoming flight arrived a bit behind schedule and now we're still waiting for a crew to come clean the cabin."

Yup, my flight was being delayed because Mr. Belvedere was AWOL. Frankly, I did not care if there were some napkins on the floor of the plane, I just wanted to go and escape the sweaty blob that had formed from the crowd waiting to get on the plane.

After what seemed like hours of waiting and sweating, they finally allowed passengers to begin boarding. After what seemed like more hours of waiting (but at least no more sweating) we finally began to roll around the runway and actually took flight. It was at this time that I really let the situation at-hand sink it. Our plane was leaving the ground 50 minutes later than originally scheduled. My coworker and I were originally supposed to have a 75-minute layover in Dallas before our flight to Manhattan departed. After crunching some numbers in my head (ninth place in mental math at the State Math Contest in fourth grade... booyah!) I realized one thing: we were nearing a bind. Here came the sweating.

Up in the air, things seemed to get worse by the minute. No, the wings did not fall off the plane and there weren't any Airplane!-inspired issues with fish or singing stewardesses, but we seemed to be traveling at a snail's pace.* Further glances at clocks brought forth more worry. It was clear that we were going to be cutting the arrival at our next gate extremely close.

*You know, one of those snails that flies at high speeds, just not speeds that are high enough. You know those snails, right?

As we began our descent into Dallas-Fort Worth, a flight attendant announced that folks who had connecting flights should be given priority when exiting the plane. Yahtzee. Finally something was going our way. We would need it, as our plane touched ground just 15 minutes before our flight to Manhattan was scheduled to leave.

My coworker and I zigged around folks to get off the plane and as we neared the jetway, he said one thing. "Get ready to run."

With that, we took off. I've seen people sprinting in airports often on television shows or commercials; I always thought the situations seemed a bit hokey. Now, here I was sprinting by curious on-lookers. My coworker, though 10 years my senior, is a former college football player who had an NFL tryout once. Needless to say, he was a bit faster than me. (Though I was once unbeatable in Madden football on the Gamecube.)

I had the chance to attempt to catch my breath when we made it to the tram that would take us to the next terminal. It was at this time that I began to cough like someone who had just smoked a box of Cuban cigars while running the Boston Marathon. Note to self: run more often.

The tram stopped and we were back sprinting. I'd never advise anyone to run down a moving escalator, but we did just that, complete with laptop bags in tow. We even split through an elderly couple on the way down the moving steps. I didn't have time to get a long look, but they were certainly staring at us as if we had turned green and were cursing in Latvian... Then again, I may have by that point.

At long last, after more running than I've done since high school basketball coaches once forced conditioning on my team, we arrived at our gate.

It was empty.

We ran up to the desk and looked at the screen, only to read "Flight XXXX to Manhattan: Boarding Completed." One desk over, a woman stood covering a flight to San Juan. We asked her if there was any way we could still get on the plane to Manhattan. After all, the clock at the gate said 7:18 p.m. - still two minutes prior to our schedule departure time. She said she could not help us, as it was not her flight, but that the gate attendant for that flight would be back soon.

Seconds later, a middle-aged guy walked up to the desk at our gate. We immediately began asking him if he could help us; if there was any way we could still get on that plane. His response? He ignored us. Though we were two feet away from the guy, he said nothing. Finally, after a full-minute, he addressed the question of an older gentleman that had approached the desk and was in the same situation as we were. Unfortunately, the gate attendant was slightly less helpful than a paraplegic trained seal would have been in the situation. He clicked keys on the computer, but never had a reason that the plane could not have been held - since they knew ours was arriving late - or suggestions of alternative ways to get home.

Finally, my coworker snapped. With some choice words, he drove home the point that it was slightly ridiculous that his airline had put us in this situation, that we had done all we possibly could to get to the plane on time, and that he was not cooperating with us whatsoever. His response? A rather wide-eyed look and a call to his supervisor. Luckily, his supervisor acted as if she was actually familiar with the phrase "customer service." (Crazy thought, I know.) She calmly explained that they had been asking to hold the flight since ours was arriving late, but that the flight tower had the final call in the situation and that they had instructed the flight to leave. Fair enough. Frustrating, but fair.

The supervisor assisted us in arranging a flight to Wichita (which would then involve a two-hour drive home) and even provided us with a $20 refreshment voucher that would be accepted "anywhere in the airport."

We weren't thrilled, but we headed on our way to the gate for our flight to Wichita. This time, we didn't have to run. I guess things could have been worse... Then we attempted to purchase food and the vendor refused to accept our voucher and our request to rent a car in Wichita and drop it off in Manhattan was turned down by the car rental company.

Ever seen the movie, "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"? If I was an overweight, mustached fellow that sold shower curtain rings for a living, I would have felt right at home on this trip.


After a few days to reflect, I'm still not sure how it took so long to clean that plane. All I know is that I'm going to run if I ever hear that announcement over the PA again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A look at lyrics - Winter Wonderland

I know some people that listen to nothing but holiday music as soon as their calendar flips to the year's twelfth month. I have no qualms with this, however something struck me as Christmas tunes emanated through my car radio speakers during today's commute. It seems like Christmas carols are all just assumed to be jolly songs celebrating the season; the meaning behind the words is never really considered. I think it's time to begin taking a realistic view at the songs we sing so cheerfully each year. It's time to really dissect the lyrics. We begin with a song written by someone who obviously never had to shovel snow in his or her life. Get your scalpels ready.

Winter Wonderland

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening.
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.
I'm not sure where these folks are, but it sounds as if they're risking death by walking on a roadway while a bell-adorned sled of some sort bears down on them. I don't know that I'd be singing in such a situation. My guess is that, originally, this opening stanza contained cursing.

Gone away is the bluebird,
Here to stay is a new bird.
What sort of new bird? One that eats bluebirds, apparently.
He sings a love song,
As we go along,
Walking in a winter wonderland.
It's true. There's nothing more romantic than bloodthirstily devouring a bluebird. Remember this when Valentine's Day rolls around.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown.
Who is Parson Brown? Through hordes of research (read: a Google search) the best answer I have is that Parson Brown is not one particular person, but a term used to refer to an angelican priest of the 18th and 19th centuries. By pretending that the snowman is Parson Brown, I assume those who built it are just going to continually ask him "Now who are you again?"

He'll say, "Are you married?"
We'll say, "No man,"
But you can do the job
When you're in town.
Is it just me, or does "Parson Brown" sound either 1.) really creepy; or 2.) desperate for work? After all, who goes and asks a couple whether or not they're married within minutes of possessing the frosty body of the snowman they just built? That's a bit personal, Parson. (If that is your real name.)

Later on, we'll conspire,
As we dream by the fire.
This song seems to take a devious turn here. Who plots conspiracies around the holidays? Anti-Santites, that's who.
To face unafraid, 
The plans that we've made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.
The anti-Santites are approaching their joint mission with no fear of death. I just hope they haven't brainwashed Rudolph.  Think about it - his nose is red. It's quite possible that the anti-Santites are also Communists. That red nose could lead the sleigh right into a pretty wicked ambush.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he's a circus clown.
I think this means laughing halfheartedly when the snowman attempts to be funny.
We'll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
Until the other kids knock him down.
I've never been a fan of those kids that run haphazardly through the circus looking to knock clowns over. Jerks.

When it snows, ain't it thrilling,
Though your nose gets a chilling.
Getting a runny nose is thrilling in the same sort of way that getting the complete series of The Nanny on DVD for Christmas is thrilling.
We'll frolic and play, the Eskimo way,
Walking in a winter wonderland.
I'm not sure how Eskimos play, but I'm worried that it might somehow involve blubber and that's pretty disgusting.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday Lessons

If it hasn't become Windex-clear by now, activity at The Writings slows down a bit near the holiday season. (Read: In Winter.) While I could claim that postings become less frequent due to my immense popularity, which has me attending numerous holiday parties, I also respect the intelligence of my readers and know that they would see through that lie like they see though a window after it has been cleaned with Windex.* In truth, my social life is pretty much the same as it always has been, meaning I attend about as many parties as the guy who looks through your trash for recyclable cans. If there is one aspect of my life that does change this time of year, it's that I find myself spending more time around the fireplace at my parents' home.

*The Writings: We're shooting for sponsorship... Buy Windex now!

Since the day that my parents became empty-nesters, their home has always been the place where the family could reconvene, and it works especially well when the temperature drops below freezing. On such days, the males in the family take turns playing pyromaniac with the goal being stoking the flames in the fireplace to the point that anyone sitting within eight feet of the thing will soon be sweating. The fireplace becomes our own personal blast furnace and its lure is strong.

This winter, time spent near the fireplace has been a bit more interesting thanks to the sharp, developing mind of my two-year-old niece. Calling her "excitable" is akin to calling any program featuring a Kardashian "worthless." Though she really has no recollection of last Christmas, she's wildly geared up for the 2010 rendition. It's undeniably entertaining to see her hop up-and-down in excitement at the mention of presents or to hear her yell "Whoa, look at those ones!" when driving by a house with Christmas lights, but it has also been quite fun to hear her take on the holiday. After all, she's two, so everything is either taken at face-value or embellished with the sort of imagination that can spot friendly monsters while driving down the road. Thanks to her teachings, here's what I know...

Christmas is Baby Jesus' birthday, as is depicted in all those nativity scenes that pop up around this time of year. Nativity scenes feature Baby Jesus, Mary, God, shepherds, sheep, wise men, angels, cows, and a puppy. While you may argue that Joseph is depicted, it's obvious that you're either mistaken, or that his close friends called him "God." You also might be curious what sort of nativity scene might depict a puppy. Answer: all of them. You're obviously not looking hard enough.

The Grinch is a scary green character, but he's in a good movie... Well, it's good until you are about ten minutes into it. At that point, you should begin begging to watch a different Christmas moving, claiming, "I don't like the Grinch." Soon your call to action will be met, and Frosty the Snowman will find his way into the DVD player. Now that's a good movie... Until about about ten minutes in. Then? "I wanna watch the Grinch."

As for Santa Claus, despite rumors that you may have heard about the North Pole, he lives at the mall. He says "Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas!" One of his reindeer is named Rudolph, but you should really call him "Rudolph the Red Nose." On Christmas, he's bringing presents, all the way from the mall.

Also, according to my niece, he's bringing Uncle Derek a duck for Christmas. Now I'm excited.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


When I opened my refrigerator this morning, it was not to grab the milk or see what fruit might be inside. (Answer: none... The royal hierarchy of the food pyramid should be pretty upset with me right now.) No, I opened the fridge this morning in effort to locate my money clip. That's desperation.

The morning began as they typically do, with me sleeping later than I should, showering longer than I should, making more coffee than I should, and neglecting breakfast when I shouldn't. As I prepared to leave, I double-checked to make sure the coffee pot was unplugged* and made a move to grab the day's essentials: my cell phone, keys, iPod, and money clip. Alas, one member of the quartet was missing.

*Something I do about eight times each morning. I guess there are probably worse obsessive-compulsive habits. After all, at no point do I put my hand into toasting toaster.

I typically place all essential items together in order to avoid situations like the one I now found myself in. I began carefully moving the other items located on my coffee table to discover which of them had covered up the money clip. Oddly, the search did not yield the results I'd hoped for. I stepped over to my desk and calmly glanced about, expecting the lost item to present itself. Phase two of the search also proved unsuccessful and I began to show slight concern. Though the money clip rarely holds any substantial amount of actual money (that's what I get for habitually reenacting the scenes in rap videos where they toss paper bills around like they're used tissues), it does play host to my debit card, driver's license, and K-State basketball schedule - all of which are critically vital in regard to my day-to-day activities.

Because my apartment is just slightly larger than Shaquille O'Neal's shoebox, it took two steps to find my way to the kitchen to continue my search. Kitchen table? Nope. Kitchen counter? Empty. I was officially entering the danger zone, as sensible locations for the money clip were running thin. I zipped to my bedroom, tossing things about in effort to find it, but the mission proved to have the same level of success as all those prior.

Back to the living room, I took to the floor, doing my best army crawl while vainly searching for the money clip. Though I did discover a mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cup underneath my couch, it served as little consolation. I began to face the reality that my money clip was lost. That meant calling to cancel my my debit card, wading through a DMV line for a new driver's license, and facing the sheer hassle that comes with picking up a new basketball schedule. Life is rough.

Now officially desperate, I took to my apartment like a blitzed elf on December 26. I tossed things about, I looked in ridiculous locations (enter: the fridge), and I continually waved my hand in front of my face to make sure I had not gone blind.*

*Patent pending on this non-blindness assurance test.

I was late for work and life seemed grim when I found the pair of jeans I wore yesterday. A quick search of the right pocket brought my racing mind to a peaceful halt. The clip had been in the pocket all along; the pocket of a pair of jeans I'm fairly confident I had tossed aside earlier in the search. Oh well, life was right again.

As I threw on my coat and headed to work - all essentials safely in my pockets - I began to wonder why I had not checked the pockets of that pair of jeans earlier. After all, I'm fairly confident the same predicament has befallen me previously, and I'm fairly confident it did not turn into the chaos that this occurrence did.

Moral: Eat breakfast, kids. It might just help you think clearly in the morning and avoid looking in the refrigerator for your cash.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Deep Thought

Which came first, the tortoise or the egg? If a tree falls and crushes a chipmunk in the forest, does it make a sound? What is the sound of a footless person tap-dancing? Life is full of intriguing questions; the type that one could ponder for hours on end. Luckily for me, I seemed to have such time on my hands today, thanks to the insanity that comes with the holiday shopping season. (Note to self: Do your 2011 Christmas shopping in February.) I had the opportunity to be a part of a checkout line 25 people deep at a rather large consumer electronics store today, providing ample time to ponder the questions above, plus many more. Here's a sampling of today's topics of pondering.

Who or what is the owner of a camouflage Snuggie attempting to hide from... aside from good taste and common sense?

What level of a lush does one have to be to trust their perception of sobriety to a $14.99 breathalyzer keychain?

Why does the girl in front of me think that continually asking her boyfriend "What is taking so long?" will make the checkout line move more quickly?

If one pays for "Black Tie Protection" on their electronics, are they actually supporting the mob?

Does anyone need a new hobby more than the person who buys full seasons of "Reba" on DVD?

What is a "Plannerzine" and why does it feature that wolfy guy from Twilight on the cover?

Does your kid really need 13 different Nintendo DS games for Christmas?

Are the small bags of fruit snacks on sale for an overpriced $2 apiece in the impulse-buy area placed there as a simple test of sanity?

Finally - and most importantly - why in land of LED screens are there only two registers open on a Saturday during the holiday shopping season?