22 August, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Heart

The REST of the story (for Paul Harvey fans): Woke up yesterday morning at a truck stop somewhere in Ohio. I left New York about 10 AM. and drove until about 11PM and then figured I'd better stop before leaving the highway and venturing into farmland. That was fine, either the truck noise or carbon monoxide lulled the dogs and me to sleep. We continued on to the the camper factory in Sugarcreek, where I gave the nice young service guy, with whom I've spoken a few times, the rundown on the camper saga, gave him the broken and melted parts I'd already replaced, gawked at some campers shinier and newer than mine, and we headed a half hour north to the planetarium where I'd read there would be eclipse viewing with telescopes and glasses beginning at 1 PM.  


The President McKinley Monument stands at the top of a reasonably high hill, and I thought that the domed structure on the highest point looked like a planetarium. The only parking spot was high up and directly behind the dome, and luckily in deep shade as it was hot and there were "No Dogs Allowed" signs everywhere. Maybe he was a cat lover? I entered the dark dome only to discover two giant tombs, it was a mausoleum. Oddly enough the planetarium was in the low, flat building down below, so down I went. 


The sign on the door said glasses would be sold only at 1:00 PM up on the monument (aka mausoleum) from where I'd just descended and people were sitting on the curved stone benches. Back up I climbed, asked the first person on the bench if it was the spot and was told in no uncertain terms he was at the head of the line, the end was about 30 people back.  

It was about 11 AM, and I needed my asthma inhaler after so much up and down the mountainside of Canton, Ohio, so the next-to-last lady let me put down my things to return to the car.  I huffed on my puffer, checked the dogs, put down all the windows, and on a whim grabbed my rain umbrella and a bottle of very warm water. Quite a few people had joined us on the stone bench as it got hotter. We all got chatting. Two young girls were in front of the lady in front of me, and they were soon joined by a red-headed toddler and an eight year old. We all waited and chatted about other celestial sightings and adventures. It got hotter and the line got longer. Tempers got hotter at the front of the line as newcomers were given the lowdown after climbing the steps. 

About noon time close to 500 people were winding around the mausoleum. Being a type-A, controlling, Yankee brat I called the office of the planetarium to suggest they get up there and hand out numbers so we could all go sit in the shade. There was only a recording saying they'd be selling glasses at 1:00 until they ran out. As a Yankee controlling northeasterner with a Masters Degree I started emailing the guy named as "in charge" and the director. Then, this being TwAmerica I started tweeting at them. Not long after some people wearing name badges appeared carrying two very small boxes. They sat at the roped-off tables with folding chairs at which we'd all been staring for hours. The line had grown to about 1000, winding around itself like a nautilus shell so that the end appeared to overtake the beginning and a few shouts of "hey, people have been waiting" were answered with "hey, they know, they are the END. Turn around!" Angry, hot Ohioans are pretty polite, compared to angry, hot, New Englanders. Still, the name-tagged few sat at the table, silently awaiting 1:00, for reasons only knowable to the two lying just inside the cool mausoleum door a step away. Yes, they just sat there without hats nor umbrellas, with two small boxes, as the nautilus tail continued to grow. I had by now ordered the young girls to get the red-haired baby into the shade. She'd refused to drink any of my water even though her sister showed her I had not poisoned it. 

Things got exciting, and testy, when the Man in Charge pulled out what appeared to be a portable speaker and microphone from the Nixon era. He stood behind the ropes, far from the maddening crowd, and chirped out something about a limit of four pairs of glasses per buyer, and a total of 500 pairs. Despite a chorus of "what?" he did not come closer to the crowd nor attempt his own voice instead, but word was passed: only four, only 500, and totality was imminent.  

I had become fascinated by the girls, now joined by another, exerting authority by way of most tattoos. One of the girls was pretty, very pretty, in a pre-Raphealite way. She was delicate, with ringlet curls and very fine features. When she spoke it was with a harsh Southern drawl, not a lilting one, and in a way that at first made me suspect a mental deficiency, with vocabulary and ideas much younger than her age. She wore a tank top, basketball shorts, mismatched socks and worn-out slides with a cigarette tucked behind one ear. She talked about a very long bus ride to get there. 

At exactly 1:00 PM, the small boxes were opened and the line began to move forward. I joked about them accepting credit cards but nobody laughed. A paramedic truck had joined us on the hill. There was only one cash box, so one volunteer could only take exact change. On a whim, I asked for five pairs of glasses when handing over my twenty dollar bill. There was a limit of four, so they had to count back the ones and fives and tens. I took four and was immediately offered $10 a pair from someone at the nautilus tail end. I declined, saying they were not for sale, and with a feeling of unreasonable power walked toward three random families with no hope of buying any and distributed my booty. I headed back to the car to release the hounds, since cars were now parked on the manicured lawns so dogs were probably a lesser evil. We sat in the shade in a quiet corner, while I periodically put the flimsy dark film up to my glasses to see if anything was going on yet. 

I decided the event needed music, and a BBC show featuring Bartoch was available and seemed suitable as the sun began to reduce sliver by sliver. I experimented with putting the dark film over my camera lens and angling the viewing screen, and it actually worked. Yankee ingenuity triumphed once again. There was an older man alone, under a tree, between myself and the cemetery, and he was without eclipse viewing glasses. I held mine up and gestured, inviting him to look. He came over and complimented my fine dogs, and we chatted while passing the glasses back and forth. He asked where I was from, and instead of my usual reply of Boston to avoid giving a geography lesson of the Bay State, I asked if he knew where Cape Cod is. He answered with a third question, how far was I from Martha's Vineyard and Teddy Kennedy? 

I occasionally am asked if I live near the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis, which I do not, but had never been asked even indirectly about Chappaquiddick. 
Given this rare opportunity I offered that I felt he'd have been president in good time had it not been for that, and was again surprised that the gentleman agreed and went on to say John F. Kennedy was in fact the most handsome man he'd ever met, even better looking in person, and his wife Jackie too. We kept passing the glasses as the sun continued to slip away.

It seemed my new friend has been in the Ohio state legislature, and had been a democratic delegate to a certain important convention. I told him I'd recently been a delegate to the Massachusetts state convention, and am involved with a state legislature campaign for a Democrat. I yelled at the dogs not to trip the fella, as they had jumped up and started wrestling as the day suddenly cooled
noticeably and they got less lazy. My gazing companion quipped that we had a lot in common, and wasn't politics fun? He chuckled a bit. He told me about the fine park we were in, and when he was little there had been a wading pool down below. He mentioned his Lithuanian grandparents, and his 30 years as a Chevron executive, and his years as a course reviewer for Golf Digest. That's how he'd met Donald Trump, when reviewing one of his courses, and how they'd had a substantial chat aimed, he was sure, at garnering a good review. I said I'd heard Trump's a lousy golfer but he said no, he's pretty good at that. By now the show in the sky was nearly over, my daughter had been texting her eclipse experience from Seattle and Bartok had ended.

We exchanged names, he said how he was glad he'd taken his two sons to Washington, DC, and I told my story about marching up the mall alongside Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King in 1993. We passed the glasses one last time and he said how glad he was he'd come up the hill and that we'd met. As he left I put the dogs in the car, then realized I'd left the keys in the car and they battery was dead.

None of the eclipse watchers near me had jumper cables, so down the hill I went again and the museum's Education Director kindly got us going again. I wondered if I'd tweeted at him earlier. We drove to the hotel I'd reserved in North Canton, which was supposed to accept pets but did not, which entailed a call to the online reservations to refund the non-refundable payment. It took a while to find a reasonably priced, dog-friendly hotel that would give me 2,000 airline miles (because I'm a thrifty Yankee) and another half an hour to drive there. I was looking forward to a rest and some food when the freight train barreled through the back yard.

The post-eclipse downturn of luck continued with the president's address for an unlimited limited engagement in Afghanistan, an email saying the damage to the camper was "shockingly bad" requiring another night in a mediocre hotel (requiring a change of rooms and a second dog-deposit) and a huge repair bill, the diminution of my bank account from the as-yet non-refunded amount from the dog-unfriendly hotel and the prospect of another meal from Hardee's and no one with whom to discuss the beautiful face of John F. Kennedy.

18 July, 2017

Camino Travel Lessons: Flow with It

I don't always do well with travel nightmares, whether acts of God or humans. Making our way on two caminos did help me learn a bit of zen in travel matters. We, my 13 year old son and I, are just back from two weeks in Europe on a Baltic cruise and a few days in Copenhagen, and while the majority of the trip flowed well there were some snags for us and our travel companion, a camino friend from the 2016 camino.

We met Diane on the trail near Melide in 2016 and entered Santiago de Compostela together

Planning is probably my forte, it's my strongest Virgo trait. I am all for wanderlust and unstructured days but when turning your money and travel time over to someone else's hands, be it an airline, bus company or the TSA planning makes sense.  I'm also hamstrung by a custody agreement that limits our travel time together (yes I'm bitter about that).

I also try to maximize cost savings with points and loyalty programs to get the most out of a current and future trips, a game the travel industry plays with us. Play it well and see more of the world.

The airline industry changes daily in favor of the companies not the customers, and I find European airlines still provide better service than American ones when going to Europe, with the major exception of Norwegian Airlines.  They are a no fly zone for me. British Airways, Air France, Icelandic and Aer Lingus have all provided good service to us recently, including a tiny pillow and blanket, no upcharge on bulkhead seats (if you know how to get it) and palatable food. Norwegian left us sitting on the floor of a crummy JFK terminal for six hours with one overflowing bathroom and no food or water available, with a kid, without explanation nor compensation. We missed our connecting flights on Iberia and had to buy all new tickets and spend a night in Copenhagen ($$$) so those "cheap" tickets cost plenty in time, money and aggravation.  This past week my travel companion received a text the morning of her flight on Norwegian telling her the flight was cancelled.  Since she had two connecting flights in Europe back to Texas, including an overnight hotel, this created some havoc. With two iPads and two iPhones working the problem for an hour, I noticed a second text come in basically saying ignore the first text.  I was on a "live chat" with Norwegian for 26 minutes trying to get them to confirm their flight was indeed going to happen. Had we hit "buy" on the replacement tickets, she would have been out a big chunk of kroner.  How many people did in fact rebook based on the bogus text? Done with Norwegian. Fake news reigns.

Heathrow gave us a private terminal.
It does serve to remind folks: having technology in hand to reroute yourself can make a huge difference; it is often cheaper to throw out a ticket and buy a new one rather than pay change fees plus the fare difference; be mentally prepared for major route and accommodation changes and have access to funds to make those changes. Travel apps I use all the time include skyscanner, google flights, Rome2Rio, Google Maps (download maps for offline use), each airline's own app, Seat Guru and Booking.com, and Rocketmiles.

Places I found in Madrid thanks to Google Maps

More on why I think American "travel agents" can cost you money in a separate post, and how the bus left us stranded at Logan Airport yet again (fool me once...) in another post.

Buen camino!