Blog posts tagged "travel"

Seattle, Flying and Security (plus Alaska Airline Sucks)

February 3rd, 2005

I can’t decide if I saw security procedure work this morning, or was once again brought face to face with TSA’s incompetence. I was yet again flagged for extra security screening, a rather familiar procedure by now, yet I was able to walk through 2 security checkpoints without being being so much as patted down, and was quietly sitting at the gate before anyone noticed. At some point someone seems to have called my gate, who paged me, and I was sent back to the original security check point, which this being SeaTac meant I had to traverse a half dozen escalators, and a train trip back to the main terminal.

Back at security I was able to observe what appeared to by a list of people who had checked in and were flagged for the extra screening, including what time they had checked in. I guess I had been in the terminal long enough that they were wondering why I hadn’t passed through the extra screening. I wonder if I had been running late if I could have made it on to the plane before anyone thought to check? Logically my approaching boarding time should have triggered a search event, however the log was just a piece of paper with a list of names on it, and something tells me I would have slipped through.

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One of the interesting things about flying out of Seattle is there are always Microsoft people on the plane; flying out to MIT to a recruiting fair, or to Chicago for a product demo, or down to their Silicon Valley campus. It’s the only time I actually meet anyone who still works over there. I traipsing back and forth and back again to the checkpoint while people around me chattered about their latest MS Office product meeting I couldn’t help but wondering if there is something about Seattle that makes people inherently bad at security.

Captive Audience

Unrelated to security (except perhaps when I almost breached the pressure seal on the cabin trying to walk out), I was shocked by Alaska Airlines abuse of its power this morning. 3 hours into flight, the captain came over intercom.

“If I could have everyones attention,” the authoritative voice boomed out. “How would you like if next time you flew, you could get a companion ticket for just $50? Well with the Alaska Airline’s VISA, voted number one in the industry 5 years runnning….”. And the sales pitch went on and on, familiar from late night TV I’m sure.

We squirmed unable to get away from this ads, sucked in by our training to assume that the captain coming over the intercom is to impart important information. I scrambled for my head phones. But the voice penetrated my music with the ominous final rejoinder, “We’ll be passing through the cabin handing out applications.” I won’t be flying Alaska again if I can help it, even though they have one of the few direct flights from Seattle to Boston, this was the last straw. (that and the word “digiplayer” is just so lame sounding, you feel sympathetic embarrassment every time they mention them)

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Special Treatment

July 10th, 2004

I’ve gotten used to the extra screening I get selected for when I fly (they’ve had the good grace to stop calling it “random” selection which was offending my CompSci soul). It’s a mixed bag really. There is nothing quite as much fun as being reminded that you’re living in a police state, especially first thing in the morning. On the flip side it is kind of fun to jump the queue. I play a game of monitoring the progress of the person behind me in line. About half the time I make it through security first.

But this morning was different. This morning I forgot my photo ID. (I don’t drive, so it isn’t like I’m actually required to carry it, and frankly I’ve been flying so much lately I must have left it in the pants I was wearing Monday) Ick. I not only got the four red Ss stamped on my boarding pass, but a special red squiggle. Which meant instead of just being sent to the special queue, I got to go to the special room. Interestingly procedures were exactly the same, there was just a door, which I guess meant they thought we were flight risks (no pun intended). Anyway the real novelty was being the only white person in the room.

Still I got to sit there and have an interseting chat with a man from Sri Lanka (who works in “human resources for the garmet industry”, meaning he oversees one of Sara Lee’s sweatshops manufacturing lingerie for Victoria Secrets). We chatted a while about how the number of people living on the streets in Seattle had really shocked him. Nothing quite like having someone from the Global South whose country that has had 30 years of civil war telling you you’ve got a poverty problem.

update: well I made it home proving that it is still possible to fly in this country without a photo id. but I can’t say I would recommend the experience.

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Back at the Desk

June 8th, 2004

Thanks to everyone who sent condolences. It doesn’t currently look like insurance is going to cover any of it, but hope springs eternal.

Other then a few rough spots it was a lovely week, kayaking around in the San Jauns was beautiful (I’ve got some pictures on my camera which wasn’t stolen, but will have to wait to be uploaded until I get a laptop to download then to), and Vancouver was interesting, much more urban, and diverse feeling then Seattle, and very lovely. I have to say though just mentioning you’ve been robbed in Vancouver brings out a well of similar stories; the people behind us at the coffee shop had had their backpack stolen the night before, we’ve met a number of folks who’ve experience car breakins, etc..

I recommend Vancouver highly, but as an international traveller (rental car with foreign plates, or large backpack) I think I would recommend operating on developing nation travel rules, at least as regard to property.

Voice mail is working again, but I still don’t have a new phone, email will reach me, but I’m digging out of a week backlog, and only at work. If I haven’t replied yet, I will soon.

For the record we were parked in a busy part of Stanley Park, and we weren’t gone for long. Also if you’re passport/birth certificate gets stolen, some sort of photo id, and your police filing number are recommended for getting back into the country.

Not Welcome

August 9th, 2003

Danny continues to provide interesting coverage of the real life issues dealing with visas, and passports in our new security state. Including the new, amazingly invasive DS-157 form.

A friend of mine was going to drop by while on a trip to San Francisco in a few months. Not anymore. He’s a french citizen living in the UK…And from October the 1st, the US is refusing visa-waivers to anyone without one. You have to get a normal visa. Male visa applicants aged between 16-45 also have to fill in this new extra form, DS-157.

Questions on the new form include:

  • Mother and father’s full name.
  • All the countries you have entered in the last ten years (with year)
  • Your last two employers (with address, telephone number and supervisor name)
  • All professional, social and charitable organisations to which you belong or have belonged, contribute or have contributed or with which you work (or have worked)
  • All educational institutions you attend or have attended (excluding elementary school)
  • A list of specific locations you will visit in the US
Understandably, he objects to filling in this form.

This a gross invasion of privacy, made more shocking by the fact that I probably never would have known it was out there, being an American citizen who can breezily blow through other peoples’ custom lines. (flying in the U.S. is a bit more tricky, involving unpacking every bag I bring, and nearly stripping after being “randomly extra security screening”)

However my first, selfish thought was, “This is going to make it even worse to travel as an American.” We can only abuse other the citizens of other countries so long, before an American passport stops being the gold currency for travelling, and advantage which I’ve always enjoyed. Currently the one downside of travelling as an American is our total lack of decent health care system in this country, which makes it nearly impossible to get health care from overseas providers who know wisely steer away from getting embroiled in the scam that pass for US health insurance. I think its going to get worse though.

Feels like a concerted effort to roll back the positive gains that globalization has made; people travelling and communicating, and learning about their neighbors is bad, only capital should be allowed to see the world.

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A Few Thoughts on Life in the 21st Century

July 8th, 2003

Faced with the prospect of July 4th with a disturbing year behind us, and equally disturbing year stretching out in front, Jasmine and I did the most patriotic thing we could think of, flee the country. If only for a weekend of jazz in Montreal.

I’m sitting on the ground in the jetBlue terminal of JFK, huddled up to the one functioning power outlet. Wireless apparently is delayed until at least 2005 as NYC Port Authority gave an exclusive contract to bring wireless to La Guardia and JFK to some company who is in the process of filing for bankruptcy and that exclusive contract is part of their assets.

I’m growing increasingly tired of being told that I’ve been selected “randomly” for increasingly invasive search searches every single time I fly.

The question “where are you from?”, confuses me. How to pack the long complicated narrative that is the answer to that question into a polite exchange? Often you edit, you choose the answer which makes the most sense in context. Traveling by bus from Boston to Amherst, you don’t tell people your from San Francisco. Flying from New York to Seattle, you don’t tell people that you started your trip in Providence. When crossing the border you are from the town where the car was rented, even though neither person in the car has an ID from that state, and in fact those IDs point to home addresses 3000 miles away. You occasionally have to go back a decade to dredge up an appropriate answer. You don’t ever mention that the answer is subject to change every 6 months, and only rarely explain that sometimes the question has no answer at all.

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Made it home (Santa Cruz)

May 30th, 2003

Flying, an activity I used to enjoy, is becoming miserable. The interminable lines, the ridiculous security, the half assed cost cutting measures really add up to a degraded expirence. I flew Southwest for the first time in a while, as opposed to making the trek down to New York to fly Jetblue. It cost a bit more (~$80), but the hassle of getting to the airport was significantly reduced.

A Few Thoughts

I am not impressed with the new heightened security. I was wandering around in my stocking feet, demostrating that yes my laptop turned on, and no I didn’t have a bomb in my coffee cup, and well on my way to inflitrating the American skies before anyone noticed that when I checked in Southwest gave me the wrong ticket, a ticket for one “John Kenner”, easy to see how that might be confused with the “Kellan Elliott-McCrea”. (then they tried to convince me I didn’t have a reservation because Sabre can’t deal with hyphens in names)

I hate the open seating policy. Its a smug piece of social engineering to get people to show up early, and board the place quickly, but it brings out the worst in people. Feeding frenzy/mob at the boarding gate is ugly.

After the ongoing cold gray in Providence, and a brief exposure to the blistering 110 degree heat in Phoenix (you couldn’t pay me to live there) it is wonderful to be in Santa Cruz where the weather is perfect.

Being in the house of Mac, I’m going to try to steal away some time to finish a redesign of this site I’ve been playing with, something slightly less generic, don’t expect wonders, but at least it won’t look quite so generic. (though it will probably damage my search ratings, not using MT’s well optimized layout, ah well)

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Rooibos is Calling Me Back

February 25th, 2003

Upon returning to the North East several months ago, I moved into a lovely Providence house, with 3 delightful strangers. One of the strange convergences we have found is that 3 of us have spent considerable time in South Africa. (and want to go back)

Which is why it is strange to all of a sudden be finding rooibos popping up everywhere. Rooibos is a uniquely South African herbal tea (a tisane) made from some plant found around the Western Cape. Its a sweet, fruity tea. And I’ve never seen it anywhere else, not even in Perth which was crawling with Cape Town expatriates. Now its started showing up at local coffee shops (Espresso Royale was pushing free cups of it last time I was there), and on the shelves’ of Whole Foods.

And so I found myself staring at five Republic of Tea “Red Tea” offerings in highly decorative, probably collectible tins. I don’t remember this plurality of choices: Botswana Blossom (“scent of rose petals”), Safari Sunset (“cinnamon, cloves and orange”), Good Hope Vanilla, Capetown Harvest, and Cedarberg. My hand wavered towards the Cedarberg, some distant memory telling me that Cedarberg played an important role in the history of rooibos and was most likely to be authentic.

It seemed like a good idea, share it with my other South African nostalgics. And then I remembered, that I wouldn’t call rooibos a “pleasant memory”. And it all came back to me; being out in the bush for 2 weeks, with the only tea this weird red stuff, soaking rock hard unsweetened biscotti like things (hmm, what were those called? must check my journals) in it for breakfast. And the slow dawning realization that this was the only tea Paul had packed, and it was utterly devoid of caffeine or anything else vaguely resembling a pick me up. So at nearly $9 for a rather small container, I put it back on the shelf, and bought some nice Earl Grey.

The Boston of Italy

November 13th, 2002

Chatting with an elderly gentlman in a suit who is selling me $4.68 in dry socks, he asks, in a restrained diction,

“So….where are you from?”.
I answer, “San Francisco.”; as I usually do when it is simply too much to go into the complicated, multi-coast (multi-continent) story that is the last decade of my life.

“Ahhhh”, he says, drawing it out, as if I’ve confirmed his suspicions. “You don’t, as they say, have the Boston accent.”
I nod, and smile, unclear how to express my deep relief at this relevation to a man who in all likelihood grew up in the surrounding towns.

“And you?”, I ask, “Are you from Boston?”.

“Five generation, but I had the luck to spend much of my youth in Italy.”

“Where abouts?”, I ask.

“Just outside of Florence. Do you know Italy?”
“I spent a little time there 2 summers ago.”
“And did you like it? How could anyone not like Italy?” he says.
“Well”, I say, feeling like I’m not quite tracking this conversation, unnaturally focused on my desire for dry socks. “I found Florence less welcoming then other parts of Italy.”

“Ahhhh.”, and this time it really hangs there in the air, the “Ahhh” pratically a third entity in the room with us. “Florentines do tend to be more reserved. After all, they are inudated with tourists all year long,” (I nod sympathetically), “and, because of their superior education, family, and breeding, they tend to be less outgoing. In a way, they are the Boston of Italy.”

At which point, we are joined by another man asking about umbrellas, and I venture back out into the rains with a new perspective on Florence.

(hmmm….I’m not sure how to format dialogue on the web, perhaps I should ask biella to keep an eye out for an elusive “Manual of Style”, I hear that they are so plentiful in Chicago, they have been declared a pest like New York’s pigeons, and visitors to the city have been asked not to feed them)

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September 5th, 2002

In our modern, mediated, sterile, controlled life there is little room for magic, the surreal, fantasy. Which is why I’ve alway appreciated flying out of Boston’s Logan International. Logan’s tight affinity with the T is the best airport/subway integration I’ve expirenced in the US. You hop on the Blue Line, and get off at Airport stop, simple. But it goes beyond that. As you follow the twisting corridors of State, or the narrow stairways of Government Center, like Alice, down the rabbit hole, you follow the signs that say “To WONDERLAND ->”.

If you are flying away to remote tropical island (say Vieques for a long weekend with your significant other) this seems a poetically appropiate grace note in a world much lacking in grace. If, on the other hand, you are flying to Detroit, at least its good for a chuckle. Either way, it lifts the flagging spirits, weighed down under a heavy load. (usually my Gregory pack)

Speaking of Detroit

By the way, if you are flying to Detroit, say as a 50 minute layover on your way to San Francisco, do yourself a favor and get off the airplace and explore this little fairytale airport. The very image of a major modern airport, white steel girders, clean, airy, giant windows. The first unusal thing I noticed was the Tomorrowland inspired red monorail that glides along quitely above the concourse. Confused about how to board, I walked to the center of the terminanl where I found a reflecting pool.

The Living Water

Raised several feet into the air, upon a circular ~30ft diameter black marble pedestal, a thin layer of water rippled across its surface refracting subtely among the stainless steel divots scattered randomly acrss the surface like stones in a zen garden. As I contemplated its quiet nature, the pool transformed into a fountain, one of those ultra-modern ones, perflectly regular strands of waters arced from the divots into a forthing center. I tried to stifle my disappointment, and appreciate this new form, but the fountain transformed again on me, the water now sputtered out in quick bursts, creating short cylinders of water that arc through the air in a school of confusion, like a school of drunk flying fish, and seem to slip beneath the water in the frothy center. Its hard to explain how these water elementals lifted my spirits, their joie de vivre was so obvious for their short live span, and who knows what happy world they disappear to down that center well.

The spigots again on their steady streams, creating solid bridges of water, but shut off again as quickly as they turned on, creating the feel that the water has been snatched by something in that dark center (which is now, in my mind, fully equipped with an active underworld) and is being reeled in quickly, the end deattached for its source whips through the air. The quiet reflecting pool repears.

Tomorrowland, and the People Mover

Walking on, happy from my encouter with the fountain (I adore fountains), I found: edible Chicago style pizza, the far end of the terminal, and an escalator up to the monorail. At the top of the escalator I find a platform equipped with digital readout telling me when a train will arrive ( 0:48 minutes) and a map that shows me where in the system each train is.

The train glides smoothly in the station, lining up just so with the double class doors that separate the passenger from the tracks. No danger here of being pushed from the a busy subway platform where you meet ignominious death by rats, rat poison, the third rail, or an oncoming train. The doors open, a voice annouces our desitination, and we’re off. The whole system is pleasingly automated, the acceleration, deceleration, opening and clossing of the doors, all have that graceful precision you only get from a computer. The tracks widen to 2 lanes just long enough to allow for the trains to perform a timed dance of gliding past each other as they move in opposite directions, before continueing their monorail existence.

Illusions and Disillusions and Henry Ford

I ride the train back and forth a few times, back and forth between its three stops, feeling like the kid who spent hours riding up and down the day JC Penny’s opened with Santa Cruz’s first escalator. I’m torn though. Because while part of me loves this slick futuristic monorail, part of me resents that its just a toy. The train only has 3 stops, and uses a simple cable and pulley system for its locomotion. Far from being the basis of a modern transit system, its more like the kiddie rides at the fair, you know the ones you have to be under 48 inches to ride.

Then it hits me, how odd this paen to public transportation is in airport that also includes the “Heny Ford Musuem Shop”. We are in Detroit! Suddely I look around expecting to see little personal golf carts for each person, traffic lights, traffic jams, and smog. The bitter irony of a cable powered people mover in the home town of the very industry that spent millions of dollars killing off public transportation including turning the only real cable powered train system (SanFran’s cable cars) into a tourist trap. The shiny red space age train is just a gloss PR puff piece by the car industry, cute but empty and calculated.

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A Day at MassMOCA

August 19th, 2002

Jasmine and I ditched Boston and its cement melting temperatures for a weekend back in Western Mass., where we both went to school. And we finally cashed in that rain-check to go MassMOCA, the current show, Contemporary Viennese artists, didn’t really excite us, but we’ve been saying we would go for nearly 3 years now.

A long road ahead

First thing you should know about visiting MassMOCA is it is far away. I mean everyone says its far, but its just hard to believe how far. I grew up in California where we have counties larger then Massachusetts, and the only explanation I can think of to justify how far out there North Adam is and still be in Massachusetts is that it exists on some other plane. So when you call the museum and they say take 91N to Greenfield, get on Rt. 2W and you’re almost there. They are lying!

Heading out Rt. 2 we nearly turned back in despair several times, only sustained by the how beautiful and green that part of Mass can be. Even after finally seeing the “Entering North Adams” sign, we hadn’t arrived, it was merely a lure to reel in the reluctant. We would pass through 2 more towns, and cross a small mountain range, before we descended (beautiful view) into the Hoosac river valley, and the old industrial town of N. Adams.


I’ve been told with MassMOCA the show is everything, the curating can soar to heights of brilliance, but apparently maintaining the altitude proves tricky. So I was a little worried. My worries felt confirmed when we walked into the show and were confronted with sophomoric video art that expressed the artists desire to “break free of the conservative and oppressive Viennese art regime”, and a painter of abstracts that cheerfully embraced the appellation, “decorative”. However there were some hilights.

Franz West

MassMOCA is in the back of beyond so that they can have a really huge space cobbled together out of those great abandoned New England factory buildings. I vacillate between: fanatsizing about remodelling them into amazing live/work spaces with steampunk enfused aesthetics, and the dread certainty of a Californian that one day the Big One will hit, and I would be buried by a city block worth of red bricks. Either way, the Franz West exhibit blossomed in the enormous space.

Walking into the exhibit room a cheerful note proclaims, “All Chairs May Be Sat In.” A 30ft tall sculpture of a Pepto Bismol pink intestine, “Drama (Model)” quickly draws the eye. As does the 90ft long white table, “Kantine”“, that attempts to play with Kant’s 2 ideals of pleasure. We’re told at the MAK this was a performance piece, where you ate heavy German peasant food while staring at the high art intestine so that the lump in your stomach and your growing panic of not understanding why Austria’s most influential artist has sculpted a giant intestine come to symbolize Kant’s interested and disinterested pleasures. I don’t personally remember Swedish meatballs coming up in our discussions of the Enlightenment but it was an intriguing piece.

Erwin Wurm

It was this piece that prompted Jazz’s insight, “They are going for Disneyland. Art that is fun for the whole family.” Which is not to say we didn’t like it, a lot, but one worried if the curator had sacraficed critique in bringing it to you. Still, Wurm’s center piece was worth seengi

A self portrait of the artist in a hot pink button up and tight black pants, shot from a decidedly unflattering angle, looks down upon a car which sags with heavy curves of flesh. The hood is chubby; the bumper and skirt, and mirrors droop with cellulite; the door handle, and key hole are deep dimples. The whole car is the unreal pink of a “Flesh” crayon, and fat. Unlike West’s more conceptual intestine, endless hours have clearly been put into to making the hard plastic shell of this car look like you would squish into its fleshy expanses if pushed up against it. I feel as if we are supposed to be repulsed by its obesity, but to someone like myself who has never embraced the sleek metallic aesthetic of modern cars it is also sexy.

As we stand in awe, staring at this contrivance, we are excitedly informed by a fellow museum goer that underneath all that pink excessive is “a Ford Escort! Can you believe that? A Ford Escort!”. I feel deeply alienated from my fellow citizens.

(Update: Actually the photo behind the car is not the artist, a man, but the curator. Suddenly my whole understanding of the piece bucks, and swims before my eyes, as I reconsider how I feel about it…)

Lois Weinberger

Probably my favorite artist from the show, and probably the understated. His little alcove revolved around a collection of plastic bags, filled with dirt and plants under a grow light, “Portable Garden”. The plants were weeds transplanted from the grounds of MassMOCA, the bags I recognized from Tijuana, but apparently they are also popular among the Vienna’s poor immigrants from Eastern Europe, and Africa. Hard to capture in words, you could sense Weinberger’s deep sympathy with these scrappy, unwelcome transplants. A message that blended environmentalisms, and social justice.

Against one wall was a large piece of newsprint in which a sprawling fictitious city plan has been depicted, “Course/Drift”. The city has grown smack up against its encircling mountains, represented with topo lines, and is now trying to figure out how to go on growing. The cityscape is labeled, not with traditional names like Main St., or 6th Ave., but with a powerful and loaded vocabulary. (on which I did not take notes, unfortunately) A plaza might be named happiness, taxes, lost, or ball game. A concourse I remember was named “Upper Class Concert”, a little neighborhood block named “Revolution”. It conjured up one of Calvino’s invisible cities, and I stood and stared for a long time.

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