The Long Trip Home – Ontario Airport

This morning its base is covered in low clouds but its peak is visible.

We’re on our way home to Connecticut. That very well could be a problem. It’s raining lightly and 37&#176 at Bradley Airport right now. It will probably be snowing upon our arrival!

The drive from Palm Springs to Ontario was uneventful. Most of the windmills in the pass were still. I wonder if they’re on-demand or how it’s decided whether they spin or not. Shouldn’t windmills be the first type of electricity generated?

IMG_0315[1].JPGWe stopped for breakfast once we got close to here. Is there anything more California sounding than Advocado Burger? We both had pancakes.

There is a very tall mountain adjacent to this city. I’m assuming I’m talking about Ontario Peak, but I can’t be sure. This morning its base is covered in low clouds but its peak is visible.

Helaine said it looked spooky–and she’s right. It does!

We checked our bags, dropped off the rental car and returned to the terminal. Now we wait. This flight to Las Vegas is on time. The bigger concern is the flight from Vegas to Hartford. I expect the weather will allow us to get to Connecticut tonight… I just can’t be sure.

More to come, probably from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas.

In The Valley

Flying to LA was reasonably uneventful, though the last thirty minutes felt more like driving down the Cross Bronx Expressway than LAX Approach. We lumbered through a series of ugly looking cloud layers. Imagine flying slower and lower than you think a 737 should for thirty full minutes.

It’s been raining on and off in LA. It’s not ‘shut down the city’ rain, just some showers with temperatures in the fifties. It’s actually quite pleasant, though the roads here scare me when wet.

Got my rental car with no problem, hooked up the GPS and was on my way. I know most of the route, but the GPS adds a layer of confidence.

It took about 25 minutes to get to my friend’s home – the ‘secret’ location in the San Fernando Valley where I’ll spend the next few days. My friend, his wife and 20-something son, live in a beautiful and large home a few seconds outside the Sherman Oaks business district.

For dinner, we walked to “Fukyo,” a local sushi restaurant. I love sushi and now I love it even more! The food was incredibly tasty and with a spicy kick that snuck up seconds after you took your bite.

This is a long day. My commute to California started at home around 9:30 AM. It was after 6:00 PM PST before I got here.

Plane Talk About The Flight Home

We’re on our way home from Las Vegas. I’m typing this from 39,000 feet somewhere over the vast void that is the middle of America.

Helaine obtained a late checkout, so we left the hotel at 2:30, heading first to refill the rental car and then return it to the “Giant Rental Car Building,” newly opened south of the airport. All the car rental companies share this facility and the shuttle buses that leave every few minutes. This part of the experience, coming and going, was painless.

Oh – there is one thing. Our car had Sirius Satellite Radio. We discovered that sometime around day five and quite by accident. Since Dollar pays for it, and I wanted to use it, you’d think there would have been a placard or sticker advertising its availability. Even when I hit the right button (by mistake) there was only a hint of what I’d unlocked.

We did get to hear a little Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, Mark Goodman and former Philly favorite, Michael Tierson. I always had a thing for Martha.

Sunday afternoon at McCarren Airport is a medley of your favorite lines. We stood in line to get our baggage weighed and tagged. We stood in line for security. Helaine stood in line for food. And, of course, we sat in line to get our choice of seats on the plane.

AMAZING, BUT TRUE STORY ALERT: As we checked in, the agent asked for our heaviest bag first. On the scale it went. Southwest only allows (in my family the word ‘only’ must be included) 50 pounds per bag. The bag weighed 49.95 pounds! When the agent put the tag on the bag, the weight rose to exactly 50.00 pounds. None of us had ever seen anything like it.

This was probably the last time we’ll be sitting on the floor, holding our place in line, in the Southwest terminal. Next month they unveil a new, modified boarding system which will reward those who are anal retentive and get their boarding passes within the first few minutes after they become available. The punctual will then get their choice of the best seats!

From the cockpit, this is the pilot.” How many times do you want to hear those words on a flight?

Why ask?

We wanted to sleep. He wanted to speak. “Folks, it’s going to be bumpy over the Rockies.” “Folks, we’re over the Rockies and it’s bumpy.” “Folks we’re passed the Rockies and I’m turning off the seat belt sign.”

There were a few more announcements. I forget exactly what they were, except Iowa City was off to the left during one and “we’re over Chicago,” on the other. The “peddling as fast as we can” line was only funny the first time.

Considering the hour of this flight, I’m surprised the cabin lights were never dimmed. Though, with chatterbox driving, the point was probably moot.

Our flight left Las Vegas 45 minutes late. The plane was there on time, but we waited for connecting passengers from Oakland. Having been on the receiving end of that kind of largess in the past, I didn’t mind being on the giving side tonight.

All Southwest flights are in 737s. It’s funny how times have changed, because Southwest now uses that as a selling point in its ads. You never fly in a little plane on Southwest. A few years ago, when the domestic carriers used wide bodied jets of many more routes, Southwest’s claim would have been laughed off the TV. Now, when the alternative is a 30, 40 or 50 seat regional jet, Southwest has a point.

I have spent much of the last few hours trying to figure out a way to allow fully reclining seats on a 737. Maybe if you remove the overhead bins and create an upper-lower configuration for the seats? There’s got to be a way, and whichever airline does it first, wins.

It’s 1:00 AM now. We’re still in the air. Will there even be baggage handlers when we arrive?

I so want to go to sleep.

More On Monday From Las Vegas

Lots to be done as we settled on on our third day here, but the day that had been scheduled to be the first. Max had to go to the airport, and that was the perfect opportunity for me to pick up our rental car, also at the airport.

Melissa was driving. Note to NASCAR: Any teams needing a new driver, Melissa is your girl. I have flown in an F/A-18, but it didn’t have the maneuverability of Melissa’s Toyota Sequoia.

With bumper-to-bumper traffic on Las Vegas Blvd I’ll swear she hit 80 mph… and that was just changing lanes!

With lots of people to shuttle around, we needed to rent a car with room. Helaine (Queen of Deals) had found a Chrysler Minivan from Dollar for about $130 per week. Taxes and fees added an extra $60!

I have a Dollar FASTLANE card. It cost nothing. The program is now named Dollar Express, but the effect is the same.

We walked into the rental office and saw a long line. Next to it was a space for Dollar Express members. I walked up and was taken next! Without the little, free, card, we’d still be in line.

We saved at least an hour – maybe more.

This car is not stylish. In fact, it sort of represents everything this trip is not supposed to be. It will do, because it is what we need.

On the way back from getting the car we stopped to get water and soda to keep in our room. It was interesting to see both the drug store and grocery had small video poker rooms.

I wasn’t done with poker, and when we got back, I sat back down. My luck from the morning hadn’t changed.

Actually, that’s wrong. My play hadn’t changed. I was playing sloppy, like a tourist who wanted hands to play and was willing to play lesser cards. That was a $180 lesson.

I was still up, but now my winnings were marginal… and I was upset, because I knew I could play better.

We all had dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant at the Venetian – Zeffirino. I had a pasta/seafood dish, which was very tasty.

As dinner ended, the waiter, captain and the restaurant’s strolling mandolin (Was it a mandolin… I’m really not sure. It wasn’t a guitar) player came by with a piece of cake and candle to celebrate my dad’s 80th.

The birthday isn’t until later in the week, but that’s what the trip is all about.

Michael and Melissa and my folks stayed at the Venetian. Helaine and I returned to the Mirage. I needed to redeem myself.

Let me stop for a second and explain something. Even when you know how to play poker correctly, it is always possible to be swayed by the siren song mediocre cards. That’s especially true of someone like me who will be here a relatively short amount of time and wants to play, not fold. I have to fight the temptation.

As it turns out, I did stick to my guns and played very nicely… until 2:30 AM PDT. Bottom line was a $40 win.

It would have been more (it would have been a few hundred more), but, with Aces full, I was beaten by an unlikely four of a kind by a player who went in, in the face of betting action, with nothing but a 2-4 and caught just the right cards.

I’m sure I also had a few unlikely wins, but it’s always the ‘beats’ you remember.

My sister and brother-in-law are on a plane now, heading into Vegas. I’m the designated driver, so I’d better get going. More later from Fabulous Las Vegas.

Wish you were here.

Poker – Grrrr

We had a family breakfast this morning. Then, while my parents and cousins went to look at the animals in the Secret Garden behind the Mirage, I went to play poker.

All that was open was $3-$6. That’s what I used to play, so I sat down. I was in for a rude awakening.

I should have known early on when I caught a good card on the flop. I bet and EVERYONE called – everyone! C’mon, they couldn’t all have good cards.

I lost one big pot when another player caught a flush on his J-4 clubs. Nothing wrong with that, except he went in to see the flop with those two miserable cards even after there had been a bet!

It’s tough to think of worse cards, but he was here to play, not sit.

Bottom line, I gave back $120 and it was painful doing that.

We’re going to drop off Cousin Max (flying home to Orange County) and pick up the rental car in a little while. I’ll write later.

The Cracker Barrel Experience

Helaine was away this past weekend, at concerts in Illinois and Indiana. She and her friend Renata put a few hundred miles on a rental car out of Chicago.

As they drove through the countryside (certainly beyond the edge of civilization) they looked for a spot to eat. Somehow, early in the trip, they ended up at Cracker Barrel.

For the uninitiated (and until an hour ago, that included me) Cracker Barrel is a chain of absolutely identical kitschy restaurants with a country flavor. In the Disneyworld tradition, the only way in or out is through a gift shop!

Helaine ate her first meal and immediately picked up the cellphone. The food was so good… and unhealthy. It was fried and gravied and breaded beyond belief. It was yummy.

On her quick weekend trip she paid three visits to Cracker Barrel! Thank heavens she took a cholesterol test the week before she went.

As you might imagine, Helaine was anxious to get me to share the experience (and, selfishly, return for dinner herself). Tonight was our night, because as it turns out, there’s a Cracker Barrel in Milford just off the Turnpike.

Somehow we had gone through 21 years in Connecticut without seeing more than this restaurant’s sign, sitting high above the Interstate. We had directions, but even then it was a little anti-intuitive. You really had to know where you were going.

We turned into the parking lot, driving past the sign showing buses and RVs where to park. As we walked in, Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” was playing on the ceiling mounted speakers. A group from “Christian Tours” was lining up to pay and leave.

We were escorted to the back room. In the Midwest, this room was a smoking section. Not so in polite New England, where smoking is prohibited pretty much everywhere… certainly everywhere food is served.

Helaine ordered the “Chicken Fried Chicken” and I had an egg and meat platter. I know it’s sacreligous there, but I am still watching my weight.

While waiting, we played a little game, left on the table, with a rectangular piece of wood and plastic golf tees stuffed in holes. The object of the game was to do better than either of us did!

The food came quickly and was pretty good. My eggs arrived with whole wheat toast which allegedly has only 7 net grams of carbohydrates. Helaine’s chicken came with some sort of gooey, sugary, baked apple concoction and gravy thick enough to caulk a bathtub.

Overhead classic country played continuously.

We finished, got up and began to leave. As we did, the table to our side all let out, “Hi Geoff.” Ratted out again!

Dinner for the two of us was around $20 including the rectangular golf tee game Helaine bought to take home.

I suppose if I made the suggestion, Helaine would go back tomorrow night too.