Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Better to be Late

Our flight home from Dallas to Seattle last night was delayed. It was one of those where multiple things went wrong. First of all, the crew of the flight deck was delayed arriving at Dallas, and then they had to hike over from Terminal C to Terminal A to get on our plane. We noticed, in a dismissive sort of way, a mechanic getting off the plane with a towel before we got on, but didn't think much of it until we settled into our seats (30D and 30E, way in the back), and the people across the aisle and slightly to the rear suddenly stood up from their seats, spoke for a minute with the flight attendant, then moved out of the way into the galley. They had just had cold water leak on them from the overhead compartment.

Turns out the mechanic hadn't done quite enough taking apart of the plane, because when he came back and removed the ceiling panel, a lot of water poured out. It was somehow related to condensation and the air conditioning, but after digging around in the guts of the overhead compartment for 20 or so minutes, the mechanic finally decided the problem was bigger than he could fix at the time and we needed a new plane.

The new plane was over in Terminal C again, and was slightly smaller, so a couple of standby passengers lost their seats. Also, it was a plane that had been acquired from TWA and the galley configuration was slightly different than the classic American Airlines plane, and so more time was lost in figuring out drinks carts—and food for purchase wasn't available at all.

All the passengers dealt very well with this, though, even the half-dozen mothers traveling with infants. "Better to be late than dead!" said the man who had been in the wet, drippy seat. Better to be late than dripped on by icy water too, I say.

We fell into bed around 3.

Meat Sweats

From what I understand, there are very few open pit barbeques left in the US, even in Texas, and one of the few is the Salt Lick, about 30 minutes outside of Austin in the town of Driftwood (to me, driftwood is huge silvery logs washed up on Puget Sound beaches . . . the operative word there being "washed" . . . I have no idea why this town, in the middle of this arid state, has this name.).

The Salt Lick is crazy, like a Texan Knotts Berry Farm (not really like that, because the only amusement seems to have been the meat). The parking lot alone holds hundreds of cars, and the buildings where you eat seem to go on forever. Driftwood is in a dry county, so the place is BYOB. I'm not sure that being allowed—no, encouraged—to bring your own beer and alcohol, and open it on the grounds and drink it around everyone's children, really follows the spirit of the law, but we were happy to do it.

Bas came with us, and as he'd been there before, he pretty much took us all under his wing (did I say that Bas is about 6'5"? We could all, even Ian, fit under his wing. He is the perfect example of why KLM has more room between rows than any other airline on the planet.) and finagled a good table, then pushed the menus aside and ordered family style for five. Family style was served with bowls of sides and a platter of meat: potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans, pickles and onions, and pork ribs, beef brisket, and some kind of sausage, fresh out of the pit and slathered with barbeque sauce, with chipotle BBQ sauce to add if you wanted. We ordered at least three platters of the meat, and ate as if we were Hoover (We had made an attempt to not eat too much too close to dinner, although there is a fine line. J&C have coined a term for what many of us become when our blood sugar gets low: Hangry. And five hangry people is not a good combination.)

We finished off with a shared bowl of blackberry cobbler, bundled up our leftovers, and hit the road back into Austin. I had to make an emergency pit stop along the way (those bowels! They have no idea what to do with this crazy new schedule), which probably saved me some of the more enduring issues of the rest of the group.

Ian, for example. We were lying in bed hours later, still sated, lights out, and Ian just couldn't get comfortable. He kept flailing about with the sheets, and then he would roll over to a cooler part of the bed, which felt to me like he rolled over three times to do it. We were on an inflatable bed, which I normally hate, but this one is really great. The secret is the foam pad under the mattress pad—it takes care of the coldness of never being able to heat up the mattress because of all the air and, conversely, the problem of getting sweaty because of lying one thin layer of cotton away from vinyl. Not Sunday night, though, for Ian. He was a furnace, presumably from his body ramping up, trying to process all that meat. We eventually opened the window and, panting, he was able to drop into sleep.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Day 10 Starts Out Very Like the Morning After a Long Night on the Town in Europe

We went out in Austin last night with J&C and several of their new friends, only one of whom was American (from Georgia). We had Bas (pronounced "boss") from Holland (who is a post-doc in neuroscience and helped explain to me what the MRI was doing), Andrea (he studies invisibility and can make nanoparticles invisible . . . of course, we can't see them anyway, it was pointed out) and Suzanna (she is a cognitive linguist working with language acquisition) from Italy and Holland, Andreas from Germany, and Gustavo also from Germany (I believe). I guess there were two Texans as well who joined us briefly, but I can only remember Coco's name, not the guy. Anyway, we started close to 8:00pm in a brew-smelling bar serving lots of great beers, many on tap, many of them Belgian, then moved (most of us) at some point, maybe around 9:00pm or 9:30pm, to a nearby Mexican restaurant (okay, that was not European) which was fantastic (and I am very glad I still have at least half of my dinner from last night). We finished up there around 11:00pm (very European), and went out to another bar for a nightcap. I ordered a house special martini which, in what I believe must be true Texan style, had muddled jalapenos as one of the ingredients (along with gin and a house-made blood orange-cello, like lemoncello). It was very good.

We made our way back home around 2:00am, I think (I can't really tell what time it is on my watch, and really not after several drinks), all fell into bed, and slept until almost afternoon today. My constitution stood me in very good stead, however, I am pleased to report, and so the experience of waking up after the long night on the town (and I was annoyingly self-satisfied about this) was that everyone else was feeling a bit grotty and I wasn't.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Feels Like Home

Several weeks ago our friend J emailed us from Austin and told us that the weather would be hot and dry. He moved here from London in January, and in his experience, this was absolutely true. In fact, just around the time of the email, it was so hot that he couldn't sleep, as he and his wife C hadn't yet bought a fan. A week or so after J's email, a few days before we came here, C emailed and said, essentially, "just to be on the safe side, and so you think of us as a truth-telling couple, I'm going to say that it will be cold and rainy for your visit. That way we will have all the bases covered." At the time it was 86 in Austin, and we were very much looking forward to some hot dry air to clear our sinuses and kill the moss growing between our toes.

Well. A couple days before leaving for Austin, we started monitoring the weather, and lo and behold, C was on track to be right. Temperatures in the 40s, rain showers. There was a possibility of clearing Sunday, and temperatures in the low 70s, and maybe slightly warmer on Monday, but the forecast for those days was far enough away to be truly theoretical. The day before we came, we exchanged a few more emails with C, who declared her extreme annoyance with J for causing the rain by claiming it wouldn't happen, and hinted that we would be spending all our extra indoor time doing some intensive marriage counseling.

In the event, it is actually cold and rainy here. It's in the 40s, and it's wet. Of course, everywhere I've gone in the last three months the weather has been essentially the same, both places that I'd expect this to be true (Portland, Oregon), and places that I really wouldn't (Santa Cruz, Austin, and even Hawaii—where, okay, it wasn't 40, but it was rainy and cold for there).

I suppose the irony is that Seattle weather actually hasn't been endlessly, mind-crushingly like that this year—we've had a lot of snow, and a lot of bright sunny days, and a lot of "serious" cold (like, hovering around freezing). Last year was pretty much 42 and gray for six months, but this year has felt like a real winter, not just an exercise in stoicism.

Good thing I've been traveling.