Archive for ‘ September, 2007 ’

Wow

That a Republican mayor is the one saying it is encouraging. What he has to say is great. How hard it is for him to say it has me puzzled a bit. I can make some guesses but can’t convince myself that one is better than another. http://cbs5.com/video/?id=26888@kpix.dayport.com

Deutscher, Deutscherinnen überalles!

Is this some massive German holiday I don’t know about? Everywhere I go I’m surrounded by people speaking German. I catch only enough fragments to be curious. I startle some of them by expressing my pleasantries auf Deutsch; they all have me pegged for American, and then they notice that although I’m dressed in Gap, I look like them.

I’m on the weirdest sleep schedule–perhaps it’s a good thing I ended up traveling here alone. The first day I slept until 4:30pm, then got to bed at a normal time and up at 7am Saturday. By 10:30 last night I was falling asleep, but I woke up at 2am and stayed awake until 4:30, drinking wine, eating cheddar, and reading; then I slept past 11.

By 1 I was heading out on my day, from my fleabag at Paddington by the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines to Covent Garden (I thought I’d fill in the Tube coordinates, since anyone who’s ever visited London will recognize them), where I grabbed a falafel for breakfast and ate that while wandering through the stalls of junk crafts. Everything available with your name on it, £2 extra. Do people have extra rooms in their houses for storing objects with their names? Have I erred by filling mine with musical instruments instead?

From there I proceeded to change my mind three times about whether I was headed to the Design Museum (further downriver from Tate Modern) or Museum of London. I thought I’d decided on London based on relative simplicity of train travel (Circle line from Embankment all the way to Barbican), but the Tube Diagram misled me on the length of that journey, and meanwhile I realized I was at the Tower Bridge stop for walking across and down the Thames to Design Museum, so that settled it. They had two main exhibitions, one of really out there but compellingly organic architecture by Zaha Habib and another of typography of dissent. Both were mixed bags–about half I’d stare at, fascinated, and the other half I’d glide past. (http://www.designmuseum.org/exhibitions).

Thus committed to a theme, I hiked back up- and across-river and got back on the Circle line to Embankment and Piccadilly to Charing Cross, then marched through St James Park to the Institute for Contemporary Art, which was showing a documentary film “Helvetica” (yes, about the typeface) that was surprisingly good. I continued my march (meine Füße tut mir weh) up Waterloo and Regent to Ran, the Korean restaurant near Liberty, where I had a subtle warm tofu dish, good kimchi, and an acceptable bowl of “gyoza and rice cake” soup. Why not dumpling and rice cake, or gyoza and mochi? Why not man du gook and whatever? After dinner, I caught Bakerloo from Oxford Circus (this time surrounded by Indians instead of Germans) back to Paddington, and here I sit on my wee balcony facing the fleabag across the street that has free wifi, my hot aching feet enjoying the cold, dirty asphalt, sipping an overly cold (just pulled it out of the refrigerator) bottle of Le Freak, an aptly named Shiraz with a touch of Viognier).

I wish Blogger’s edit box weren’t in Helvetica.

The pleasures of a Frankfurt connection

The Lufthansa Senator Lounge (the first class lounge, open to Star Alliance Gold members) is a fairly ordinary lounge, except that they have outstanding food and drink. The arrival breakfast on my flight from San Francisco was the usual cup of grapes, cantaloupe, and watermelon along with something revolting: a croissant with 2 slices of indifferent ham, a slice of unnaturally orange American cheese, and (wait for it) strawberry cream cheese.

WTF?

I couldn’t believe my eyes, and a tentative taste to determine what it was (Leberkäse, vielleicht?) was not enlightening, so finally I asked the flight attendant who was trying to offer me a beverage what the mystery food was. I did so with a conspiratorial grin, to make clear that I wasn’t trying to be difficult, I was just puzzled. She answered, “It’s a ham and cheese croissant.” I pointed at the pink goo and asked more specifically what that was, and she said, “Oh, that’s the stuff that shouldn’t be there. It’s strawberry cream cheese. They’ve been doing this for four weeks now, and I have no idea why. I keep calling it in.” I asked what kind of drugs they’re on and how I could help, and she encouraged me to complain to SkyNet. That I shall. I mean, really–I’m all in favor of experimental cuisine, but that’s just weird, and it’s a cruel thing to give someone whose stomach is already topsy-turvy from all the usual stresses of an overnight flight. Seasoned travelers know that the only way to handle massive time differences is to drink heavily and then try to sleep, and when you’re lucky you nap for an hour or two and awaken groggy and queasy. This is when you want something warm, comforting, simple; preferably savory, but most importantly simple. This is NOT a time to eat a misguided attempt at creative breakfast cookery.

Fortunately, I was landing not in LAX, where I was supposed to connect, nor Heathrow, where there is no edible food to be found, but Frankfurt.

My Wednesday afternoon plane to LAX had had a mechanical problem, so after a 45 minute trip to the runway and back, we were informed the repair would take at least an hour and sent back into the SFO gate area to wait in line for customer service to figure out how we’d all get whither we were going. I got on the phone with the 1K desk and was given an option to leave really late, fly to Dulles, wait a long time, and then fly to Heathrow, arriving close to midnight Thursday. There’s a slight mileage gain from that vs. a direct to London (this trip is, after all, all about racking up some elite qualifying miles), but not enough to be worth that kind of ordeal). I asked about the direct and was informed it was completely full and oversold with eight people on standby. I asked about connecting through Frankfurt and then getting a Lufthansa flight to London. She sounded puzzled but tapped away at her keyboard and told me I could take a 7pm United flight to Frankfurt, arriving 3pm, and then connect on a 4:20 Lufthansa to London arriving 5pm. This sounded a lot better than the Dulles option–faster, more miles, and a connection in Frankfurt!

Frankfurt is a huge, huge airport. I once had an hour and a half to connect from Vienna to SFO by way of Frankfurt, and to be on the safe side I decided not to pee until I got to my departure gate and had my walking behind me. I walked and walked and walked, as briskly as I could, which would be a fast trot to many people. And walked. And walked. I walked into my departure gate, onto my plane, and the door closed behind me. I peed in the plane’s lavatory. It’s that huge. But if you have a connection where you don’t have to switch terminals, and you have time to visit a Lufthansa lounge, you’re in luck. Fabulous food and drink await!

I’ve enjoyed a yummy, buttery carrot soup, a Frankfurter, a couple pretzels, and a glass of draft Beck’s. I’ve found there’s nothing quite like a good beer for settling a travel-jumpy stomach. I couldn’t resist tasting the Viennese grüner Veltliner wine, too, but it’s not sitting as well as the beer did, so I’m enjoying tiny sips with another pretzel. They have wifi here, but I’m too cheap to buy a T-Mobile Hotspot account (yet), so I’m just typing this into a file for now.

And now I see it’s time to start ambling to my gate, but first I’ll grab a few provisions for the rest of my day…

Benefits of carbophobia

Among the benefits of avoiding carbs (yes, the dreaded Atkins) are such discoveries as this eggplant recipe from the New York Times last week. Victoria loves eggplant in all forms discovered to date, so I know it would be a winner.

Eggplant, La Tavernetta Style
August 29, 2007
Time: About 30 minutes

  • 2 pounds eggplant of any variety, the smallest you can find
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, slivered
  • 12 good cherry tomatoes, halved, or a couple plum or medium-size regular tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 1 cup roughly chopped basil leaves.
  1. Cut eggplant into pieces about an inch or two long and no more than a half-inch wide; each piece should have a bit of skin and a bit of flesh. (If eggplant are small, cut them first in long strips, then cut them crosswise. If large, you may end up discarding or reserving the fleshy, seedy center.)
  2. Put 1/3 cup oil in a skillet over medium heat; a minute later add eggplant. Cook, stirring occasionally, and seasoning with salt and pepper until very soft, about 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put remaining oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until it colors slightly. Add tomatoes and about 2/3 of the basil, raise heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is saucy, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. When both sauce and eggplant are done, combine them. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature, or over pasta, garnished with remaining basil.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings.

Victoria was happy to pick up eggplants when I suggested it; unfortunately, I’d forgotten the bit about “the smallest you can find,” so she brought us several big ones.


As a precaution, I did the slice, salt, rest, rinse, wipe trick for reducing the bitter oils that can lead to tingling tongue syndrome. Otherwise, I pretty much did as I was told. It’s been forever since I’ve simmered garlic in oil on low heat, and doing so for this recipe was a good reminder that there are good reasons to do it that way–it puts off an incredible aroma and extracts the garlickiest of garlicky flavors. Probably gilding the lily, but I couldn’t resist a grating of parmesan on top.

Since I’m gluten-intolerant (besides doing Atkins), serving over pasta wasn’t an option. Instead, we roasted a spaghetti squash (halve, scoop out guts, roast inside-down at 375 for about 40 minutes, scoop out and fluff flesh with a fork, toss with butter and kosher salt) and of course also roasted the seeds (scatter with butter, salt, rescue from oven after about 10-15 minutes when lightly browned) as an appetizer.

To complete the menu, a little caprese (slice tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, grind fresh black telicherry pepper, place fresh basil leaf, place slice of buffalo mozzarella, grind kosher salt). This is a bit redundant when you’re having a tomato-based pasta sauce, really, but we had gorgeous fresh heirloom tomatoes and it’s a crime to let them rot in neglect.

Mojito madness, or Evolution of a recipe


Seems like it must be time to post a recipe, so let’s start with the it-drink of the day, the tall drink of water from Habana, the much-loved, often poorly-made Mojito.

I don’t know if the claim is valid, but this one claims to be the ur-recipe, “the one Hemingway himself enjoyed at the Mojito’s place of birth: La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba” (copied from http://www.tasteofcuba.com/mojito.html):

  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
  • Juice from 1 lime (2 ounces)
  • 4 mint leaves
  • 1 sprig of mint
  • Havana Club white Rum (2 ounces)
  • 2 ounces club soda

Place the mint leaves into a long mojito glass (often called a “collins” glass) and squeeze the juice from a cut lime over it. You’ll want about two ounces of lime juice, so it may not require all of the juice from a single lime. Add the powdered sugar, then gently smash the mint into the lime juice and sugar with a muddler (a long wooden device pictured below, though you can also use the back of a fork or spoon if one isn’t available). Add ice (preferably crushed) then add the rum and stir, and top off with the club soda (you can also mix the club soda in as per your taste). Garnish with a mint sprig.

** Optional ** While the following isn’t the authentic original Bodeguita del Medio Cuban recipe for a mojito, some people will take half of the juiced lime and cut into into four wedges to add to the glass. Another variation is to add Angostura bitters to cut the mojito’s sweetness, which is a popular version in Havana hotels although not the true Bodeguita recipe. Some Cubans also use “guarapo” in place of the powdered sugar, which is a sugar cane syrup available in some supermarkets or online Latin grocery stores.

So there’s nothing particularly wrong with this recipe, but it doesn’t work all that well, and I think the proportions are off. As with most drinks, you really want about a four-to-one ratio of booze to whatever (someday I’ll post on my grand unifying theory of cocktails), so make that a whole lime to 4oz rum and figure it’s a recipe for two drinks. Another problem is that even powdered or superfine sugar isn’t easy to dissolve in cold liquid, so you’d be better off using simple syrup. I’ve never had Havana Club white rum, but I have found that–contrary to my usual principle that better (and darker) rum makes a better (if uglier) cocktail, in the case of a mojito you really do want the cheap white stuff, so let’s assume that part is fine. But the real problem here is in the muddling: muddling is only so effective at drawing out mint flavors, and unless you muddle maniacally, this recipe is going to produce an insufficiently-minty mojito in my opinion.

Cut to the next candidate: the recipe I surreptitiously copied down while waiting for my to-go order at an estimable local Mexican restaurant when I spied it on the back wall, just barely legible thanks to some damn fine work by my ophthamalogist. This one is all about practicality: how do you make a muddling-intensive drink consistently good, quickly, on demand at a busy restaurant? Well, clearly you work ahead and make a mint simple syrup, of course! Here we go, and this one is for a pitcher, not just a wimpy pair. Since I didn’t exactly have permission to copy it and I’m about to criticize it, I’m not giving away which restaurant it was, but if you own that restaurant and would like to claim and/or defend your work, use that Comments link down there at the bottom of the article!

A certain restaurant’s mojito
Mint syrup

  • 4C water
  • 2C suqar
  • half bunch mint

Mojito

  • 9oz Bacardi
  • 4.5oz mint syrup
  • 4.5 oz sweet and sour mix
  • 12 mint leaves
  • ice, soda

Let’s deconstruct this one. First, I should probably explain the method, which wasn’t printed at the back of the bar but which is not hard to infer: boil water, sugar, and half a bunch of mint until mixture is reduced by approximately half. Cool and store, refrigerated, in a meticulously clean glass jar. To make the pitcher of mojitos, pull that jar out and dump a healthy dollop in the pitcher. Add an equal dollop of sweet and sour mix. Add a dollop of Bacardi twice as big (and here I can endorse the rum choice–Bacardi white is far from my favorite rum, but it’s just the thing for a refreshing mojito). Mix. Add decorate mint leaves. Now fill almost the rest of the way with crushed ice and top with soda. Get a runner to rush it out to the table and turn your attention to the next customer’s margarita needs.

This recipe is marginally better than the first one. Why? Several reasons. First, because making a mint simple syrup isn’t just efficient, it’s effective–it really does force the mint flavor out of the recalcitrant leaves and into the drink. It also gives you some cushion against out-of-season mint that looks nice but has no flavor. Second, it makes a pitcher instead of a lousy pair of high balls. Third, the booze-to-lime ratio is moving in the right direction.

However, it’s not perfect. First, it’s too sweet by far–rum is already a sweet booze, and that simple syrup adds a lot of sugar. Second, rushed bartenders don’t get it mixed very well–they’re just dumping liquids into a pitcher and hoping the addition of ice does the work, but some shaking or at least vigorous stirring is needed when you’re blending such unlike viscosities as rum, lime, and simple syrup. Third, and this is really important, what on earth are they doing with sweet and sour mix instead of lime juice??? Well, okay, fresh-squeezed lime juice isn’t the easiest thing to crank out in volume in a busy restaurant, so obviously that’s why they’re using sweet and sour, but sweet and sour is (a) too sweet and (b) not sour. And (c) not lime juice. Not even close. To be refreshing and brisk, this drink needs to bite of real, fresh-squeezed lime juice. Do not accept substitutes.

Enter the third candidate, my recipe, which I will put up against anyone’s, for a batch of four high balls:

Erin’s mojito

  • several stems’ worth of mint leaves, and then some
  • 8oz Bacardi white rum
  • very little superfine sugar
  • juice of 2 limes
  • crushed hard ice
  • club soda

Vigorously muddle mint leaves in rum and sugar and let stand at least several hours if not overnight. Squeeze in lime juice using one of those brutally effective lime squeezers that are effectively a garlic press on steroids. Fill highballs almost full with crushed ice (not the warm, watery kind you get at a fast food joint, the colder, harder kind your refrigerator’s ice-maker puts out). Add rum-sugar-lime mixture to the halfway point. Add decorative mint leaves, but tear them into little shreds with your hands while you’re tossing them in. Top with club soda.

Why is this better? It’s all in the details. First, when you muddle vigorously, I really mean it–vigorously. You might try adding a mortar-and-pestle round-the-sides swirling grind to your choreography. Mint leaves are thin and sturdy, so you really need to beat them up if you want them to release their flavor. Second, you leave it standing in the rum for a while, because the alcohol does the real work. Most flavors worth pursuing are fat- and alcohol-soluble, and you’re taking advantage of that by letting the alcohol break down the mint and get its flavors into the liquid. I got this trick from an article (sorry, can’t remember to cite) about mint julep recipes from all the bourbon distillers in Kentucky, and it’s a great tip. Third, fresh lime in the right proportion. Fourth, tearing those decorative leaves before tossing them in ensures that you get that fresh, just-massacred mint oil hit, especially on the nose, which probably picks up the mint better than our palates do. Finally, cold, hard ice–wimpy wet stuff isn’t cold enough, and it waters down your drink.

Finally, the lazy mixologist’s Atkins-friendly variation. For this one, I credit my friend Sue’s discovery that Fresca makes a good club soda alternative. I haven’t actually tried that, because although I think its grapefruit flavor would probably be a pleasant addition, I’d rather not tamper with the genetics of the drink too much. However, her pointer inspired my experiment, which was a stunning success:

Erin’s heretical diet mojito

  • several stems’ worth of mint leaves, and then some
  • 8oz Bacardi white rum
  • no sugar at all! none!
  • juice of 2 limes
  • crushed hard ice
  • Sprite Zero

Same method. The madness is using Sprite Zero at the end instead of club soda. And why not? It’s a sugarless lemon-lime carbonated beverage! Unlike Diet Coke, Diet 7-Up, and so on, Coke Zero and Sprite Zero have managed to minimize that nasty artificial sweetener taste to the point that even I, a die-hard saccharine and aspartame hater, consider them pretty darned drinkable. I’d rather have the real thing, but these are actually an acceptable substitute. Since the Sprite Zero is going to be adding plenty of sweetness, I forego the sugar in the muddling step, and the balance ends up being just right.

More travel wearies

About a year ago, I recounted a somewhat unusual version of my summer ritual: failing to fly out of the Southeast.

I call it a ritual because I fly in and out of RDU about once a month, year round, and during the summer months I’ve grown to expect that getting to RDU from SFO or OAK will be fraught with delays and headaches, and getting back home from RDU will be a hellish combination of delays, missed connections, exciting round-the-world trips for my baggage, and spontaneous weekends with my friends in the southeast. So often do I get stuck at IAD that I keep all the phone numbers I have for my friends Bruce and Kathy in Alexandria on speed dial on both my work and personal mobile phones (because you never know which one will have a dying battery). I also keep United, Avis, and Hilton’s numbers on speed-dial, to help with all those emergency rearrangements. So a few weeks ago, when Kathy visited us out west, I warned her that at the end of my trip this week, I might be calling her.

The red-eye long haul out here on Sunday night was fine, the Monday-morning connection in Dulles was several hours late (gee, that’s a surprise), it took forever for my bag to appear at RDU (gee that’s a surprise), and Avis was a complete mess (gee, that’s a surprise), so I had to spend over an hour queuing at the Preferred tend outside in the heat to get a decent car (while the hoi polloi were getting quick service in the short, air-conditioned indoor non-preferred building), but the real troubles began on Friday, when I tried to get back home to SFO.

I got up in the middle of the night for nothing. I’d had a feeling all along that I wouldn’t get home on Friday, starting with my warning to Kathy a few weeks ago, and I wish there had been some way to take advantage of that insight to save myself all the trouble of pretending I’d be flying home on time.

My 6:20 flight was supposed to board at 6am, and sure enough at 6am they had us queue up for boarding. Twenty minutes go by and still no sign of an agent ready to scan us in, so I take a seat. Nothing happens for a long time, so I check the monitors to be sure we’re still departing from gate 21A and then sit back down. They announce our flight is being delayed by paperwork (huh?) and start boarding the 7:20 Washington flight, and eventually tell us our flight is going to be another hour at least. It’s 7am, and my connection to San Francisco is at 8:30, so I know I’m doomed, and sure enough they’re announcing that we’re unlikely to make our connections, and there’s only two people working all of United, so we’re better off calling the 800 number to take care of rebookings, etc. I call the 1K desk instead and find out I can be rebooked in the next IAD-SFO flight but definitely not upgraded, and meanwhile my RDU-IAD flight’s delay of another hour is perhaps a bit of wishful thinking, because it’s in fact more uncertain than that.

Meanwhile, connections out of IAD are also likely to be a big mess, because all the intense storms in the midwest mean that 500 flights yesterday were canceled out of O’Hare alone, and an awful lot of travelers are all screwed up, and basically the entire nation’s air system is a total mess today because none of the metal is where it belongs for today’s flights.

The prospect of waiting indefinitely for a flight that will probably miss my rebooked flight, and then I’ll be stuck in Dulles for god knows how long waiting for the NEXT flight, which may or may not have a seat for me (let alone a decent one), and before you know it I’ll have spent my entire day in airports and probably still won’t be home. None of this seems fun. So I ask about better options, like say tomorrow. The 6:20am? No thanks, not again… I had her rebook me on an 2:48-15:57 RDU-IAD, 17:25-19:50 IAD-SFO itinerary tomorrow (Saturday), which does have room for me in first.

Still not free, though–because I’ve already checked in, I have to be “unchecked in,” which requires speaking with an agent. I see that my gate agents are boarding two different flights and have a line of about 40 IAD passengers waiting to speak with them, so I slip to the head of the line to ask about that. When I’m told I have to go back out to the ticketing and bag-check desk to do that, I’m glad that I didn’t wait politely in the big line with everybody else, and while I schlepp back to ticketing, I call Sue to make sure she can put up with me for another day. There I take my place at the head of the first/1K line but still have to wait about ten minutes, during which I call Avis to book another car. Finally one of the two beleaguered ticket counter agents approaches me. He “unchecks me in” (there has got to be a better way of expressing that thought, but apparently nobody at United has come up with it yet) and agrees to get my checked bag unchecked also. However, he looks pained as he tells me what I’d gathered already: that things are a total mess there right now and it will probably be a while before somebody can get it back to the terminal for me.

I head down to the bag claim area, take a seat, plug in my now-dead phone, and get comfortable. After about half an hour, Mr. Beleaguered appears and asks to see my bag claim ticket again, marches away, eventually returns, says something barely comprehensible about a radio not working and that he’ll go back upstairs and use the phone to see what he can do. Another half hour passes and finally the “bags coming” alarm goes off, but only three bags (none mine) clunk onto the belt before it stops again. I finally decide to speak with someone at the baggage desk but find the desk unstaffed. After calling “excuse me!” out into the oblivion a few times, I notice that there are a few bags lurking behind the desk. One is mine. Seeing nobody to stop me and no reason not to help myself, I do so, and schlepp out to the Avis bus.

I get to Avis and am rewarded for my top-tier status with three blessings. I’ve gotten a ghastly American car (1), and it reaks of an ashtray (2). I decide to deal with it but am stopped at the exit gate. Because I don’t have a contract. Because they hadn’t bothered to put one in the car (3)! So now I have to U-turn back into the lot, return it to its parking spot, and get the contract. At this point I decide that since I have to go to the booth anyway, there’s no reason to put up with an ashtray on wheels, so I haul my bags back out, schlepp to the booth, and am offered (oh, joy) the very same Pontiac G6 I had rejected on Monday morning for being a big-ass American car for knuckle-draggers (its seat puts my knees at my chin, my butt on the floor, and my eyes somewhere around the bottom of the windows, and there’s just no way I’m going to drive anything like that). Next he tries to offer me an even bigger Pontiac, and I ask for a third time for “anything Asian–anything at all.” He says he doesn’t have anything in my reserved size or bigger, and I tell him something smaller would be just fine if it’s Asian–say, a Hyundai Sonata, which is what I’d turned in three hours earlier, so I know he probably has one. He says his only Sonata has 33,000 miles on it. I have no idea why that could possibly matter to me, so I tell him I don’t care, that will be just fine, thank you so very much for all your extra help, sir. With a look that seems to combine pity and confusion, he hands me keys and a contract.

I drive back to my friend Sue’s house where I’ve been staying the week instead of spending yet another week in a hotel, retrieve the key from the dogfood bin, and here I am. I’ve been up over five hours, I’ve gone spectacularly nowhere, I’m still not napping in an airplane seat, so I decide to go back to bed, and later I put in some work time with the laptop while Sue’s rat terriers bounce all over me. Besides being a software colleague, Sue’s a dog trainer and breeder, and one spectacular benefit of staying with her has been getting all the fur fixes I can stand. Trust me, road-warrior-wannabes, you might think the hotel scene is glamorous and fun, but after you’ve been at it for ten years, you’ll leap at kind offers from friends, and friends with sweet dogs are even better.

The troubles continue Saturday.

Both airports were relatively quiet, and things seemed to be going like clockwork until I boarded in Dulles. That’s when thunderstorms hit, causing a cascading mess of ground stops, metered pushbacks, and ramp and pushback crews not being allowed to go out and play in the lightning. I’m sure glad I held out for an itinerary with room for me in Business, because I sat in that seat an extra three hours at Dulles, with a glass of wine of course.

For the first time in ages, I decided to listen to channel 9 (the cockpit radio), and it was fascinating to hear all the frustrated pilots and ground metering agents trying not to get testy with each other.

As a United bigot, I’m pleased to say that the United pilots were all comporting themselves with noticeably more class than the other airlines, perhaps because they know that they have some frequent-flyer-geek passengers listening in. Note to other airlines: you might not be putting your pilots’ radio behavior on the air for your passengers to hear, but United is, and you might want to suggest that they display the same courtesy you expect your flight agents to display. (And for that matter, some of you airlines might want to talk to your flight attendants about courtesy…)

While I’m on the subject of United vs. other airlines, here’s why I’m a United bigot. One big reason is that United Economy Plus seating means I can bring my kneecaps and both hips with me onboard when I travel. With those other airlines, coach seating means I need to check them. But the bigger reason is one that I’ve heard repeated many times by many others: stuff goes wrong in air travel–it just does–and what sets an airline apart is how they handle the problems. United has consistently demonstrated humanity and professionalism in this regard, and when I say this I’m referring not to some monolithic corporate values but rather the individual employees I’ve encountered, one after another. Many a United employee has knocked me out by going way beyond what I would have expected to take care of me. So take today’s story in that context: yes, it was a pain, but it wasn’t United’s fault, and I’m pretty sure that on some other airline (a few in particular), my story would have been much more exasperating. Now, as a 1K (platinum butt) I undoubtedly get somewhat better service than any old passenger, but I’ve never seen any United employees treating any passengers or folks from competing airlines with less respect than they deserved, and I’ve usually seen them displaying considerably more. I wish I could say the same of other airlines.

The flight itself was humdrum, service was fine, there were a few good movies, and I got my bag promptly at the other end (another reason to like SFO). Unfortunately, I waited quite a while for the parking shuttle van, but fortunately I got the driver I’d had on the way in, a sweet Peruvian guy who’s trying hard to learn conversational English, and doing pretty well–he’s certainly way ahead of my Spanish and probably even my German and Norwegian. I bought my car back for the usual extortionary fee and then headed into messy traffic, finally arriving home around midnight, fourteen hours after I’d left Sue’s house for the second time.

Grand total, 19 hours to go cross-country. Oy.