Saturday, March 20, 2010

Noble Pils is a No Go

In general, I'm a fan of Sam Adams Seasonal Brews.  But if you're thinking of trying the new Sam Adams Spring Noble Pils, let me save you the trouble and the $8.49 it will cost you to buy a six-pack (give or take a little depending on where you live).  This stuff is like drinking liquid sour patch kids, but without the fruity flavor.  I puckered up so tight, I thought I was going to crap a diamond.

Ironically, Holly liked the beer so much, she decided to give some honorable mention in a recent blog post of hers.  I didn't want to go on record against her in her own forum, as I thought that would be perceived as less than supportive at best, or a heckler at worst.  She doesn't say much about the beer, but if I were to add the commentary on that portion of the post, I'd say that "you should only drink this if you feel you're honestly ready for the dastardly rough 15 minutes that it's going to take you to get through it."   It's not that I have a problem with hops, it's just that they compiled 5 of the most bitter hops on the planet and threw them all together for this ultimate smack in the face beverage experience.

I encourage you to contact Sam Adams and let them no:  it's a no go on Noble Pils.

Contact Samuel Adams (the beer company, not the person)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Better Way to Fly

"you are now free to move about the country...... sort of".

It's thirty-five minutes prior to pushback time, and I'm nursing a hot cup of coffee in the gate area at Reagan National.  I decided to take the Metro here from my office to save on parking fees, and also to give Holly a break from having to cart me to the airport before her long day at school.  After a quick run-through with my blue-shirted friends at TSA, and a four-person-deep line at Starbucks, I'm ready to cruise the friendly skies.

I used careful consideration when booking this flight, as I do with most of my air travel.  The best price on a desired trip rarely yields the most preferential routing combinations.  So, when I was faced with the option of paying a few extra bucks to fly nonstop to my destination from the airport just a few miles from my house, I went against my better instincts and booked with an airline that I typically don't fly with.

Now, let's be clear.  Here in the U.S., our airlines are some of the safest on the planet.  Without some kind of concrete inside information, it would be unfair to say that one airline is "safer" than any another.  And frankly, that kind of inside information is the kind that doesn't stay inside for long (see Southwest Tried to Hide Safety Problems, April 2008).  However, it would seem that some airlines are just more susceptible to problems that result in delays or cancellations than others.

Today I'm routing DCA-PBI on a perfect weather day here in Washington, even if it is a little bit cold.  It appears I'm not the only one escaping to warmer climates, as the gate area is nearly full with passengers waiting to board.  The equipment on today's ride is a Boeing 737-400 series aircraft, delivered to the airline brand new in the early 1990's, which by today's standards is akin to your aging but still spritely Grandmother who can still keep a brisk pace of life. She was the queen workhorse of the skies in her hay day, but most like her have since been retired and scrapped or sold off to foreign operators.  This airline, however, still employs her services.

An announcement over the PA notifies the departing Palm Beach passengers of an oversold situation on this flight, resulting in 5 seats they need to move over to the Ft. Lauderdale flight, departing at the same time, for a $350 airline credit.  I briefly consider this offer, but then remember the long drive from Lauderdale to my destination, which ultimately made me decide to stay put.

A half-hour later, and I'm nestled as comfortably as possible into seat 22F.  Window seat, awesome!  Everything seems normal, until we are informed there is a minor mechanical issue they need to have addressed with line maintenance here in DC before we can be cleared for pushback.  Estimated delay is 15 minutes.  Ok, that I can handle.  I watch out the window as the sister 737 heads off for Ft. Lauderdale with 5 additional passengers that should be in here with me.

30 minutes later...

Still at the gate, and seat 22F is becoming less comfortable by the minute.  I've been offered coffee twice, which both times I have accepted.  Probably not the best decision at this juncture.  A crying baby towards the front of the aircraft has taken itself beyond the normal pleasantries of adjacent passengers, and now the mother is clearly getting dirty looks, as if to say, "control your kid, or we will do it for you". As my knees begin to get fidgety, the deep voice of our warden, oops, ah... pilot... sounds from the flight deck: "Folks, ahhhh, we're still working on this issue up here.  It's actually turned in to two separate issues, a bad fuel gauge and a bad fuel pump.  So our center fuel tank can't be used.  That means we need to move all of the fuel that's in our center tank into our left and right tanks.  This process should only take about thirty minutes.  We appreciate your patience and we'll be underway shortly."

60 minutes later, and 90 minutes after scheduled departure time...

Still at the gate.  Seat 22F has become my personal prison cell.  I feel like a piece of string cheese in my own individual cellophane wrapper.  By now my ass is completely asleep, and I can feel little springs in the quasi-cushion making numerous jabs at my numb backside, like a bad comedian making tasteless jokes to a one-man audience.  As I watch the other planes come and go, I'm now idolizing the select few chosen ones who had the sense to get paid to ride the other flight, and I'd give my left arm to go back in time and trade spaces.  Again, a message from above:  "Ahhh, folks as you can see we're still here at the gate trying to work some things out..."  Yeah no shit, pal.  "In the meantime, we're going to be having a technician come on board to complete some routine maintenance in the rear of the aircraft, so if the folks standing in the aisles could be so kind as to let him through.  Thanks."

Immediately my bull-shit alarm sounded so loud my ear drum popped.

Yet, moments later I see a short, Caribbean looking fellow with a yellow mesh coverall over his sweatshirt coming down the aisle.  On the back of his shirt it simply says "Line Maintenance".  Hmmmm.  Under his left arm I see a box about the size of desktop printer, and in his right arm a toolbox.  As he approaches closer, I realize that he is carrying a coffee maker.

Really?  REALLY?

30 minutes later, and 2 hours after scheduled departure time...

Seat 22F is Satan disguised as an airline seat.  I begin jotting loose notes on my airline-branded cocktail napkin about the people I need to apologize to before I die.  I realize I'm working against time as the numbness in my rear end has spread as far north as my shoulders, and as far south as my toes.  The baby in front has long since perished, and now I'm wondering if the elderly population on board may start dropping off too.  As I briefly consider the availability of a priest for last rites, the voice of Sir Pilot breaks the sounds of the whimpering passengers around me.  By now I'm just praying to Allah that this flight will be cancelled, and I can return to my life as a normal, walking human being.  "Ladies and Gentleman, your patience is very appreciated, and I hope you know that we want to get out of here just as badly as you do..."  Oh I seriously doubt that, Sir.  "Here's the situation.  We are moments away from being done with our work, and we will finally be underway to Palm Beach.  However, due to the decreased capacity of our fuel tanks, we will need to make a fuel stop in Jacksonville, Florida.  This is required by the FAA as a safety precaution."

So, let me get this straight.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, this aircraft is not capable of making a routine flight from Washington, DC to Palm Beach, Florida without making a stop for gas?  This, my friends, is not a good sign.

30 minutes later, and 2 and a half hours after scheduled departure time...

Having had another half an hour to ponder the idea that this aircraft is nothing more than the airborne equivalent of a rusty, 1989 Ford Taurus wagon with wings, I decide to stay on board for this trip out of sheer curiosity of whether this thing can actually fly or not.  I figure hey, worst comes to worst, if this thing goes in the drink, my family can at least retire happily without having to worry about money.  Ok kids, can you say "Class Action Lawsuit?"

Sure enough, 153 minutes after scheduled departure time, the aircraft pushes back from the gate, and miraculously, she flies.

Arrival in Palm Beach, 2 hours and 55 minutes behind schedule...

I've been on board this aircraft in seat 22F for six hours and ten minutes.  The delirious insanity I experienced earlier has long since come and gone, kind of like when you are starving and never eat, eventually your hunger goes away.  As the ordeal finally comes to a close, I glance at one of my unused cocktail napkins.  I'm amused by this airline's slogan:  A Better Way to Fly.  I make a note on the napkin and put it in my pocket.

As the passengers deplaned, the routine apologies from the flight crew were in full swing.  "Thanks, thank you.... thaaaanks.... sorry about the delay... thaaaaanks.... ".  As I approached the gangway, I pulled the napkin from my pocket, and handed it to the pilot with a grin.

THERE HAS GOT TO BE A Better Way to Fly.

He read it, looked back at me, and said, "you know what, you're absolutely right."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Memory Lane

"The Weather is here, I wish you were beautiful.  
The skies are too clear, life's too easy today.  
The beer is too cold, the daiquiris too fruitiful.  
There's no place like home when you're this far away. 
I don't care what they say."

No one can stop the hands of time from doing what it does best:  changing things.  Time changes places and people sure enough as the wind blows.  Any attempt to stop it is futile.  

It's been eighteen months since my last trip to South Florida.  It's the longest stretch of time I've gone without paying a visit here in over a decade.  In my own defense, during that time I've been busy relocating my household, starting a new job, and working towards further developing my career.  But this was once my home, and I'll never forget that.

Unexpectedly, little old South Florida snuck up on me this weekend.  She caught me trying to forget how much I love her, and so many people who rise and sleep under her sky.  She reminded me through soft, gentle breezes rustling the fronds under palm trees; she nudged me with pleasant surprises like new friends and amazing culinary adventures.  She brought me to tears on numerous occasions, as I saw dear friends preparing for their first baby; or an old friend who lost far too much weight; or the frequent occasions where I'd turn a corner and become shocked at what I saw  (that huge building wasn't there before).  She taught me that life here goes on, in the form of a favorite old haunt that had served as a forum for too many laughs to count, now closed forever, it's contents and occupants nothing but a memory.  She regaled me with her beauty in the form of a spectacular sunset and a beautiful full moon reflected off the ocean, both enjoyed over drinks and amazing conversation with a great friend with whom I had lost touch.  

This trip cued deep and distant memories of a time gone by.  Though they remain in tact in my physical memory, they are frankly too powerful and emotional for me to access regularly.  To be truthful, it's far less painful to move along with my own life and just try to forget what I've been missing in the lives of those I hold so dearly.

So hasta luego, my good friends.  Thank you to everyone who made the effort to see me over the last few days.  I'm not sure that I can accurately express just how much it meant to me to see you all.  Thank you for the laughter, thanks for the tears.  When I lift off the runway at PBI, and watch the sandy white beaches of the South Florida coastline fade away in the distance, I know I'll be comforted by the love in my heart which overflows with gratitude for each one of you.  

Until next time.