Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Sky Pulse

So, you probably knew this might be coming, given my recent flying trip. And I will have to say, overall, the trip was relatively uneventful, if you’re not counting the milk spill of the lady sitting next to me all over my right (black jean-ed) leg. But some observations I do have.

I was really looking forward to it, given all the hubbub over The Holidays about the new security measures and scans, and people arrested for fighting them, and all …

Well, the new security “measures” were not all that bad. Actually, they were not at all that … different. I have flown before September 11, and AT September 11 (which found me abroad for two weeks), and after September 11. And this time was no different than many of the flights after The WTC attacks.

The Salt Lake City airport had the “all body scan” option, but it had that in the fall of 2009, too. Nothing new there. What they can see on the other end, I choose not to think about. If they get giggles out of it, they need a life and it’s a matter too small to make me lose sleep over it.

If you “minded” the all body scan, which some people did, you were given the option to be “given a thorough pat down”. That didn’t “look” any different than any pat downs I have gone through before, when the metal detector beeped because I had too much jewelry on. Not sure how it felt, since I didn’t mind the scan and went through with that.

The Montreal airport had nothing. No all body scans. No “thorough pat downs”. You went through the metal detecting arch and you were free to go, if you didn’t beep. No extra jewelry on me this time, so I was clear.

So, despite the hype, I felt neither violated, nor embarrassed in any way, but as you see … I don’t think much of who sees what at the other end of the scanner … I just take is as normal protocol. After all, when human is against the system, the system always wins. So, why waste energy fighting it?! At least, that’s my expectation. Always.

And a word about the fees and taxes. Well …as usual, there is something I will complain about, here. So, we all know that the price of tickets is sky rocketing! With every trip, I am amazed at how much more they charge me for seemingly the same amount of travels (or less). With every trip, I wonder, pointlessly, why are they doing this?! To cover what?! Gas prices have not doubled since last time I traveled. We are not at some extra war. We are paying more or less the same for everything else we consume. But airline prices have to go up, up, up … and away … every single day, it seems. Totally unjustified, in my opinion!

The peanuts, cookies or pretzels were free. Water was free. But sodas were $2. Alcohol (read : “wine and beer” ) was $5. Liquor was $7 for an itty bitty bottle - you know: airplane size. I think it would have been better if you brought your own liquor in 3 oz bottles, which are allowed through security! Note to self for next time … Nothing totally new to me here!

What was new, was … the $2 charge for a set of headphones, to watch the movie (The Social Network) from Atlanta to Salt Lake. The hurtful part was that on the screen the disclaimer mentioned: “to enjoy this movie, purchase headsets for $2. Free on international flights”. (my italics) ?!?!?!?! Ex-cuse ME?! Please tell me HOW it costs Delta MORE to show you the movie on an internal flight than it does to show it to you on an international one? And don’t even get me started on “well, you paid more for the international ticket, so the movie should be free”, because OK… yeah, you paid more, but you fly twice as far! Totally blew my mind! $2 for a headset! I think I’ll rent a Redbox dvd when I get home for less!

Another obnoxious and cheeky punch in the gut was that when I paid for my checked in luggage (because, yes, you pay for ONE bag if you need to check it in, and I am sorry, I need a lot of crap for a week’s stay, and I’d rather not lug it all over the layover airport when you sell me tickets with less than an hour between planes), the itemized (kudos!) receipt I got for the bag stated I was paying for “excess baggage”. And I was puzzled. Excess of what, exactly?! I remember the days when you had included in your ticket price the checking in of not one but two bags! That was your allowed luggage! Perfectly "legal", because it is assumed you do need at least one change of clothes where you go, if it's far enough to fly there!! Now, it seems, that if you have anything more than your own body, it’s an “excess”?! I feel so decadent! So, that peeved me yet again, because again – you charge more for the tickets themselves, so you’re covered on whatever extra charges you might consider having.

The infamous punishing receipt ...

But they’ve got us by the balls, haven’t they?! (pardon my English!) We will pay whatever it’s needed, because our country is oh so large, and sometimes, you have no choice but to fly. You get only so many vacation days, so you can’t spend them all driving to see your family or friends. So, cringing will your jaw hurts, you buy the tickets, and whatever “extra” comes with it. No, let me rephrase: you buy the tickets and whatever they might think of as extras! And next time it'll be $2 for an ounce of oxygen you breathe! Because, you see, the system always wins!

I will add one positive note, though. This time, unlike other times, Delta had no delays! And it’s amazing to me how really that is a pleasant surprise anymore, rather than the norm. But as it stands today, it is the exception. The plane was at the gate for every flight, it always arrived earlier than announced, there were no overbooked flights, no “stand by” individuals, or passengers asked to wait for another flight because of whatever reason, no bogus mechanical issues. I had very short layovers, but every time I could grab a meal and get to my new gate comfortably, without running the toddlers over. Everything, in all my four flights, went like clock work. For the first time in a long, long time. And I call this a real improvement (un-jinxing fingers crossed!), especially considering I flew during the heart of winter towards and from and through the Great Big North. A lot of snowflakes could have impeded this trip. But they were not called responsible! Refreshing, I’d say, if I were over my price gouging. But that annoyance … will never end.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Old and New Family

“What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life - to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories.” ~George Eliot

I hear the small voice of a toddler, most likely. He's cooing a couple of seats in front of me. And then, he screams. And cries for a while. And then he settles down and starts asking his mommy, in his small voice, questions in French ...

For the first time, maybe, ever, on an airplane, I am not mad at the loud little man, taking over the acoustic space of the cabin, and every brain cell we have. For the first time, I smile and he makes me miss my nephew, Patrick.

I am flying back, from a week of spending time with my sister, in Canada, and her family, and my mom, who is visiting her. My sis is expecting her second and she needs a lot of care, love, and hands on help right about now ... After a week of constant baby talk, with Patrick, I am starting to like it. Well, I like his, anyway! I say "baby talk", but he talks quite like a little young man. A bit of French, a bit of Romanian, and a lot of a 2 and a half year old’s wisdom make him a bundle of creativity and permanent surprise.

He is so much like her: beautiful, sweet, vulnerable, fragile and smart; he is some like his dad, too: extremely assertive, strong, curious and tall, and ultimately, a lot like himself: funny, creative, unafraid, and incredibly unique and lively. I recognize a lot of our own families in him, and yet he shocks me every second with how much of his own person he is.

It was amazing to see my baby sister, who has always leaned on me before, becoming such a power house for Patrick. She is his rock. His playmate, his confidante, his “protectrice” when he's in trouble with dad. He must utter “mommy” at least 1000 times a day! He does nothing without her acknowledgment ...She still relies on me and mom, just like the old times, on things, but now, she has her own huge responsibility to carry on. The mechanics of our family have definitely become more complicated. And it’s so much fun to watch how families change, and grow, and yet everything stems from the same love and acceptance, as before.

Seeing my sister has always been top on the list of my travels. It’s my yearly spiritual journey, one I cannot live without, because it centers me, and brings me back to the depth of who I am. But since Patrick, our visits have acquired a new dimension: we have always had the past, and we always talked about our childhood. We never much thought further than the now, though. With him, and his future new brother in the picture, “tomorrow” is very much in the equation. And I am realizing that nothing makes me ponder more upon my own existence as well as the relativity of it as a child does. Especially a child related to me, flesh and blood. He makes me, as I know he does his parents, more responsible and more attentive to every action. He is the promise that the world as I know it will live on ... in possibly a better way.

I love my own life. And children are not in the cards in our house. And thus I am doubly grateful to my baby sister for giving me the family I cannot have for myself, and making me part of it. She allows me to be not just a happy voyeur into their life, but an intrinsic part of their universe. I have found myself growing with her, and with Patrick, over the past three years, and I am very much looking forward to the day when he, too, will be consciously and verbally aware of the bond we have. For now, I am happy to just be “Alina, the godmother and aunt, mommy’s sister from America” to him. And that’s quiet a mouthful for a two year old!

I am also looking forward to the new baby! Another opportunity to know, and learn, and laugh, and love ... and move on.

Patrick - a very rare moment of rest.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Gun Show, at First Glance

How can a couple better spend a cold, gray, winter, Saturday morning in the mountains than by going to a gun show? Apparently not just this one couple, but everyone else in the Salt Lake and surrounding counties.

My husband is a gun collector. There. I said it. And as much as I am terrified of guns, and I was programmed from early on that “guns kill people”, not “people kill people”, I married him nonetheless. I am slowly, very slowly starting to work with this fear and with this taboo. I was brought up to think (and see on TV) that only bad people have guns and use them. You never see a movie about tame, little, "normal" families with guns in the house where tragedy doesn’t strike! Usually, in our mainstream pop culture, where there is a gun, there is trouble.

I have met, in the past years, and mostly up here in the mountains, folks that own guns, and shoot at targets, others that collect them just as a hobby, and others that shoot them to kill Bambi. But all of these folks are nice, friendly, well balanced people, that keep a regular day job, marry, have amazing kids, and cook amazing Thanksgiving feasts. And so far, tragedy never struck. And so far, when we meet for dinner with them, guns are put away. They are used responsibly, only when it’s appropriate and with much careful safety. So, my “gun culture”, or … preconceived notions have started to shake a bit.

Anyway, this was his umpmillionth gun show and my first. When we married, he always doubted that I would ever go to a show with him. But sitting at my computer on Friday and pondering on the show announcement, I figured: enough is enough! I know that life needs to be lived, not watched from a distance, and I do live, it seems, in the middle of gun country (when we go camping or hiking, everyone seems to carry a gun, dress in camo and watch, with the barrel pointed and ready, for something to jump out of a bush), so I decided I need to at least know more, see more of these random folks in their natural habitat, browsing in this huge hall in search for their own next favorite hobby.

The show was not as “scary” as I thought it would be, nor as my husband thought it would be for me. Again, most folks looked “normal” – whatever you define by that word. Some came with kids, even.

Yes, there were a couple of individuals that looked rugged, unclean, unshaven, and made me think “wow! Sure, ALL you need in your falling apart trailer in the middle of nowhere, amongst thousands of empty bottles of booze IS a gun! Sure, you do! *shiver*”; but for the most part, I felt safe and much like any other show I have been to at an event center.

The show looked to me much like a car show, but instead of cars, every “dealer” had handguns and rifles. Lots and lots of them. Some were there to show old, antique pieces, some were selling new things. Unlike cars, where the newer they are the bigger they are, in guns, it seemed to me the newer they were, the smaller they were.

I even thought some of them were “cute”… Being the ever shallow visual person that I am, the craftsmanship of most of them is what attracted me: the huge, wooden rifles, showing off the beauty of the wood, and the small, stainless steal, “lady” handguns. But sorry, no pictures allowed, so I have no proof of this.

Some of the dealers in the show looked a bit tight and serious. Just lonely people, somewhat self absorbed, maybe just being focused and careful around their merchandise. But most of them were much as any other salesman: friendly, chatty, full of laughs that they shared generously.

All the guns were “safety locked” (I guess that’s the term?!), so you could touch, but … could not accidentally shoot anyone. I am still asking my husband for details on how a purchase is possible, how the guns are registered, and the folks who own them. It’s a pretty bureaucratic process, full of red tape, and yet … pretty much widely available anywhere in The States.

The place was packed! I was shocked to see much more people at the gun show (which was more expensive to get in) than the home decorating show which was being held next door.

The show also had other items beside guns: they had gun parts, for any repairs you might need to make on your arsenal, or for guns you wanna build yourself. They had antique furniture and books, they had houseware stuff, like china, crystal and bed linens. Even jewelry. There were merchants with samples of home made sauces, breads and even beef jerky- yum!

At one table, I picked up on a metallic, purple (of course) and black handgun. It just stood out from all the others, as it looked new, shiny and coquette. I even picked it up, which usually gives me the willies! The gentleman selling it, said “You like the purple one? I know! They even make them purple AND pink (and he pointed at the other two pink guns he had on the table). And you have no idea how many purple and pink guns I have sold, either! Tons of them! Amazing to me how many people wanna accessorize when they’re trying to kill ya!” – and laughed loudly.

I put the gun back down. He was a nice, jolly fellow, but the willies came back at that remark.

Yeah, I am not ready to shoot yet, for sure! Somewhere in the back of my mind, guns still kill people. I am more interested in knowing the people that own the guns now, and I wanna be in the know about how they work, and what makes them powerful (I know, gunpowder, right?!), but it won’t be my next new hobby any time soon.

I feel like a huge threshold has been passed, though! Just like a long time ago, I would not be caught dead in a room alone with a dog, I never liked to be anywhere in the same proximity with a gun. Loaded or not. Humans or not around it. I am starting to face that fear, and at least tolerate them in my presence. It’s a long road, but … the first baby step has been made. And it feels incredibly freeing.