Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bringing us up to date ...

I've been trying to write something in here for a while but my visits with family and friends for the last month have kept me busy, too busy to take the time to jot anything down. But much has happened since I left Paris.

First off, I had to leave Europe. I spent big bucks for a taxi ride to De Gaulle Airport. I'm always nervous about making my flights on time, there was a Metro strike in progress, and this flight was a big one to catch. I was headed back stateside after my long and memorable European tour and I took what I thought were the necessary if expensive precautions to insure that I caught it. The taxi arrived promptly at 4:45 am for an 8 am departure. Tea and Arnaud both arose from their slumbers to see me off. As we said our good-byes we promised that, being world travelers and all, that this was not going to be the last time we'd be together. I headed out the door. The 45 minute taxi ride set me back 50 euro, or about $70 (Did I mention this already? Paris was by far the most expensive city I visited on my trip). Of course I arrived in plenty of time. But when the Air France counter opened at 7 am I was told I was flying standby. Wait, I sputtered, I've got a flight to catch at JFK, family waiting, Christmas is only days away, there's snow happening all over the eastern seaboard. WTF is up with this?

The clerk tried to calm me down and I was right at the point of causing a big disturbance when I heard her say, "We'll pay you 600 euro to fly standby." That did the trick.

Er, well, uh, yeah, I reckon I could fly standby, I said. She went on to tell me that the next non-stop flight would depart at 12:30, just over four hours away. I didn't really need any more time to decide, not that I had all that much to say about it, but I was pretty sure the $900 USD would come in handy someday. So I waited. I valued that delay at an hourly rate of about $200 per - sort of like lawyer's wages. LOL I got on Skype and phoned Jet Blue in the states to change my flight - that cost only $40. Then I called my sister to advise her of the change.  I flew back in an Airbus A-380; if I'm correct it's the biggest thing flying. A monster aircraft, and the quietest I've ever been on. And the food! Yep, food again-- it was the best I've ever eaten in an aircraft. Smoked salmon salad, a beef ragout with asparagus, french bread, a wonderful chocolate tart, a chunk of good Camembert cheese, as much wine as you might want, followed by some decent coffee. Care for cognac in your coffee? Why yes, thanks. I would. Merci. The French sure know how to live.

 As we approached JFK the video switched to a camera mounted in the tail of the behemoth so we could watch the landing from above. There's a shot of the camera image (right) taken at the gate in JFK. As the ship maneuvered over Long Island Sound I watched the wings change their shape and angle of attack, always fascinating to me. Pretty cool stuff.

I spent two weeks over Christmas in Buffalo with my sister Sandy and her husband Karl, my brother Dale, my mom and nephew Jason. Then I flew to North Carolina and spent two weeks freezing in the cold with my daughter Carin and her family. Finally I went to my son Tuli's in Eugene, Oregon, where I also got to see KJ, my partner with whom I made the long journey to Alaska and who is also Tuli's mom. Of course there's a new grandson in my life, Harper, and we both enjoyed him immensely. KJ and I rented a car and drove north to Bellingham to visit with Peggy, an old and dear friend from our Boston days, and to Pt. Roberts to hang out with Dody, another dear friend from our early days in Homer. Getting to hang out with Alice and Max Haggerty in Eugene was a bonus and a hoot as always.

While in North Carolina I experienced a major computer snafu. My little Acer netbook's hard drive crashed dead as doornail. The repair is covered under warranty but I knew there was no way I would get it back in time for the Thailand trip. I was very disappointed. I lost a ton of work. Journal entries, all of my Photoshop tuned images, my music. The original photos are intact on one of my two 16 GB memory cards but now I would not be able to blog or use Skype without a great deal of trouble. I've bought and maintained probably fifty computers in the past 25 years and never had a disk go bad. And I certainly didn't expect it to happen on a brand new machine. I reckon it was just my turn.

As it happens my friends Bill and Doug were scheduled to be in Seattle on the 27th for a commercial fishing meeting and by the most serendipitous of circumstances I needed to be there to drop KJ off at the airport the very next day. They brought my old Thinkpad laptop along with them and treated me to two days of fine dining in Seattle in the bargain. We had a great visit and ate one of the finest meals I've ever had at the Elliott Oyster Bar. Fresh oysters on the half shell and king salmon. The salmon we had that night was cedar planked, grown in the wild and freshly caught-- melt in your mouth delicious.  There is no finer seafood IMHO. Next day I headed back to Eugene to spend a few more days with Tuli and his family. It was good to be with them and to hang out with my new 1 year-old grandson Harper. Sure, all grandparents think their grandchildren are cute, adorable even, but Harper has a personality to match. He's a happy baby and is totally unthreatened by new people in his environment. He couldn't have remembered me from my short visit last year yet he was in my lap and laughing not 5 minutes after I walked in the door. The picture below was taken during that second short visit.

Finally it was time to head to Thailand. I had almost decided not to do that part of the trip thinking I'd maybe stay in Arizona or New Mexico and just play tennis. But as so many of my friends had been there over the years and had had such wonderful experiences I was leaning toward going despite my usual reluctance to commit to a firm plan. Then I learned that both Ainara from Bilbao and my buddy Joe who I met in Fiji last year had plans to go. That knowledge coupled with the fact that two of my buddies from Homer, DC and Albert, were already there pushed me over the edge. I bought my tickets for a two-month stay. There is a long story involved here because when I'm involved in air travel things can always take a turn for the worse. And they did. But I'm going to save that story for later. I want to get to the present moment before I run out of time. We're poised to jump off a on a 3-5 day motorcycle trip into the hill country in the north of Thailand and in the interest of traveling light I'm not bringing the computer along. Tomorrow morning DC and I, along with two other fellows, Al (also from Homer) and Andy, will head north to Chiang Mai on motorcycles. It should prove to be a very interesting trip. Perhaps the motorcycle trip of a lifetime.