7.21.2010

Chuckles: A Fable


Chuckles the Chocolate Lab knows that the sun's UV (ultraviolet) radiation has been linked to:
1.  Cataracts, a clouding of the eye's lens, eventually necessitating surgical removal,
2.  Cancer in the delicate skin around the eyes (melanoma),
3.  Macular degeneration (according to some studies), resulting in loss of vision in the center of the visual field,
... and several other types of eye damage.

So Chuckles doesn't leave home without his sunglasses, especially in the summer.  When he purchased them, he made sure the lenses block 100% UVA/UVB.  He was savvy enough to decline sunglasses with plastic lenses, even though they were tinted very dark; he knows it's the glass and polycarbonate lenses that protect his eyes.  Furthermore, Chuckles was careful to select a pair with large, close-fitting lenses—and not just because they're fashionable.  He realizes UV radiation poses a hazard to his eyes.

Chuckles knows it's no laughing matter.

(This thinly-veiled admonition brought to you by your friendly virtual optician.)

7.17.2010

All the travel headaches were worth it in the end.  I had a pleasant ten days visiting family, as these photos attest.  Featured characters in this little slideshow are my folks, my brother and his wife, my nephew and niece, paternal grandparents and maternal extended family.  The building project was a storage shed for my brother's yard.  And the background music?  One of my favorite cuts from Tom, my traveling buddy.  It's called "First Winter"; he plays both acoustic guitar and mandolin on it, and I believe he wrote the music as well.
video

7.16.2010

Part IV: Emotional Baggage

(Read Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.)

2:45am  Tom and I have split a bag of Twizzlers, found a quiet corner, and made every effort to fall asleep in these terribly rigid chairs.  No luck.  What to do, what to do?  Why, deliberate the American political scene, of course.  That and generational gaps, the Apostle Paul, dog breeds and mandolin flat-picking technique.  Later, we pull out our laptops and he transfers a bunch of music files to mine—songs he has written and recorded.  And so, despite less-than-ideal circumstances, the wee hours of the morning are pleasantly spent in Denver International Airport.

4:45am  My folks are in Central time and should be be up by now.  (This may be the first time in the history of the world that I am awake earlier than they.)  I call home and announce I am headed to Omaha in six hours; could they meet me there?  Or should I try to fly directly to Minnesota (we had been planning to drive there from Kansas in two days)?  Or attempt to fly standby to Wichita?  Ever calm and analytical, Dad states, "There are no good options here."  He decides on a plan I hadn't even thought of: he and mom will drive the six hours to Denver and pick me up.  Note to self: nice Christmas presents for the folks this year.  Maybe a cruise?  A jar of cashews is definitely not going to cut it after this.

5:00am  It's time for Tom to find his gate.  I walk him there and we shake hands with, "Take care, God bless."  I wish I were better at goodbyes.  It's only been twelve hours since we met, but I'll miss Tom.

5:45am  I sit with a $3 scone and a $3 hot chocolate (Starbucks was the only food vendor open this early) beside the customer service desk in the United Airlines wing of the terminal.  It is insanely cold down here.  At least customer service will be open in fifteen minutes; then I can cancel my ticket to Omaha and get some help finding my checked baggage.

6:10am  I know I was rudely told last night that customer service would open at 6:00am, but here I stand shivering in front of an empty desk, with no airline agents in sight.  There are a few other travelers around, sitting hunched up against the arctic air that blows incessantly from overhead ducts.  Those who don't have coats are wrapped in newspapers.  I have neither.  It's June, for crying out loud, but I promise myself I will never fly without a sweater again.  If I survive hypothermia today, that is.

6:20am  It's killing me to just sit here doing nothing.  I imagine my suitcase full of clothes and gifts and presentation materials being loaded onto an Omaha-bound plane in the quiet Denver dawn.  Ugh, the last thing I need right now is a lost suitcase.  I pull out my computer, locate United's website, and place a call to their  24-hour customer service number.  What follows is a thirty-minute exercise in futility.  English is not this woman's first or even second language.  Maybe fourteenth?  It doesn't help that there's all kinds of static.  (Me: "Can you locate my baggage?"  Her: "Num thalit wintrup feenwally.")  Finally she calls in her supervisor.  "Sorry," he tells me.  "Your baggage destination is Wichita and there's nothing we can do to stop it."  Then he assures me that United will deliver my suitcase to my parents' home... for a fee.  This is not a satisfactory answer.  I hang up.

7:05am  Someone arrives at the customer service desk.  A very sour-looking someone wearing a sweater layered over a turtleneck (shouldn't that be a clue to the climate control people at DIA?).  But it takes her all of twenty seconds to reroute my suitcase to the Denver baggage claim.  No unintelligible responses, no fees—that's my kind of customer service, sour or not.  Now there is nothing to do but find the baggage claim and wait.

9:00am  I have been sitting by the baggage carousel for an hour and a half, slowly growing more apprehensive.  My suitcase could be on its way to Wichita or Omaha, or it could be lost in the labyrinth of Denver International Airport baggage conveyor belts...

9:20am  A big black suitcase with an Expedia ID tag tumbles out onto the carousel.  Mine!  I admit I got teary eyed.  It felt like a measure of sanity and control was returned to me along with that suitcase.  The first thing I do is pull out a sweater... still trying to thaw out.  Now for more waiting.

12:00pm  I figure this is the very earliest my parents could arrive from Kansas, so I put away my book, my laptop and my iPod and begin to pace.  Remember, they have no cell phone, so we're hoping to just run into each other in the expansive baggage claim area of this terminal.

12:45pm  Still pacing.  I catch a glimpse of red plaid out of the corner of my eye.  It's French Guy!  He looks rough, but then I probably do, too.  I try to make eye contact and give a sympathetic look, but he is too distracted by his plight to notice me.  Bless his heart, I wonder if he'll ever reach Europe.

1:15pm  I finally spot my mom walking toward me.  She sees me about the same time and it's like one of those slow motion movies where two people run toward each other with arms wide open.  No matter how old I get, I still believe my parents can make everything okay.  The nightmare is coming to an end.  We climb in the car and head east.

8:15pm  Home sweet home!  Only 22 hours behind schedule.  Shower, bed, sleep, oh! blessed sleep.  Thank You, Lord, for safety, for blessings amid the bumps, for self-sacrificial parents, for always being in control.


Postscript:  There was no toaster from United; it was a $150 voucher.  A nice gesture... not that I'm eager to fly again anytime soon.

7.08.2010

Part III: A Tale of Two Vending Machines

(Read Part I here and Part II here.)

9:45pm  My bladder is about to burst.  I finally give in and use the airplane restroom.  It is every bit as foul as I fear.  I stumble back to my seat and force myself to think on roses, mountain breezes and the innocent laughter of small children until the nausea passes.

10:00pm  Begin the taxi to takeoff.  We'll try to arrive in Denver between storm fronts.

10:20pm  Still taxiing.  Just when I begin to wonder if we are in fact driving this plane all the way to Denver, the captain announces that right before we were cleared for takeoff, the wind reversed directions and we had to taxi to the opposite end of the airport to get on the other runway.  A few of us bravely attempt a chuckle at this news.

11:15pm  We're in a holding pattern over stormy Denver for the second time, waiting for clearance to land.  Fuel is low.  Spirits are even lower.

11:30pm  Landing in Denver?  Not gonna happen, cap'n.  Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's back to Grand Junction we go!  I can't decide whether to laugh or cry, so I just turn and ask Tom if he's ever played a bouzouki.  He has not, but the question leads into a fascinating discussion of instrumentation and alternate tunings.

12:00am  (Saturday)  Landing again in Grand Junction.  I have nothing against this pleasant, outdoorsy little town at the foot of the Rockies—but I do not want to see it for the second time in three hours.  This is beginning to seem surreal, like I'll never get home.

12:10am  We are allowed to deplane.  It feels glorious to step into the fresh night air (no thunderstorms here!) and walk inside the tiny airport.  The last time most of us ate was twelve hours ago; we swarm the lone vending machine.  When a passenger discovers one-half of her Little Debbie covered in green mold, the rest of us think better of it and ignore our grumbling tummies.

12:30am  Back on the airplane, it is announced that the aircraft has taken on the very maximum fuel load.  We'll circle Denver as looooong as we gotta!  Flight attendants, in a sudden gesture of generosity, pass baskets of small pretzels packages and bottles of water.  It is amazing how a half-day of mind-numbing, meal-less waiting can change one's perspective about the otherwise-laughable airline "food service."  I take the pretzels meekly, gratefully; I savor ever bite.

1:00am  We have landed!  In Denver!  A mere nine hours tardy.  As we taxi, a flight attendant announces a website url, where we will find a gift from United Airlines, a "token of appreciation for your extended patience."  My seatmate, Tom, grumbles, "They'll probably give us—what?—a toaster?  I don't want a toaster, I want to go home."  It's a good-natured sort of grumble; I laugh.  Everything is much more cheerful with the Rockies to the west.

1:15am  Inside the Denver airport, we are greeted with the news: customer service closed fifteen minutes ago.  Tom and I frantically search for a desk still open.  Our search pays off: one agent is just beginning to leave.  We all but grovel at her feet, pleading for help to rebook our long-ago missed flights.  She reluctantly agrees.  But I am not out of the woods, not by a long shot—there are no seats open to Wichita for two days!  Kansas City?  Not there, either.  I wrack my brain for the next-closest airport.  Omaha? I ask in a small voice.

1:45am  I clutch a ticket to Omaha; Tom has one to Pittsburgh.  We throw mold-caution to the wind and go in search of a celebratory vending machine snack.  A fellow stranded traveler helps us hunt one down in a forlorn niche of the terminal.  Tom treats me to a package of Twizzlers.  We step around the scattered bodies of fitfully-sleeping travelers and find a couple of empty seats, confident that this nightmare is nearly over.  Not quite...


Next: Part IV, including a reunion with French Guy (see Part I), a farewell to Tom, and a panicked search for a suitcase.  (I promise—no, I hope—it will be the overdue conclusion of this drawn-out travel saga.  This thing is like the Energizer Bunny or the Democrats' spending: it just won't stop.)

7.05.2010

Grand Parade, Provo-style

Here's another taste of Provo culture for you out-of-staters.  The following clips are from today's Freedom Festival grand parade.  Yes, those are LDS (Mormon) missionaries being cheered on by the crowd.  To be fair, people applauded almost as loudly for every military veteran who passed.  The second clip shows a float depicting the Salt Lake City Temple and some Mormon pioneers.

video

7.04.2010

Happy 3rd of July!

Only in Utah do we celebrate the 4th of July on the 3rd of July when Independence Day falls on a Sunday!  (The LDS Church teaches that Sunday is the sabbath and thus "our attention is on doing the Lord’s will and not continuing to work nor indulge our carnal appetites for recreation and loafing.")  Provo's Freedom Festival is one of the biggest patriotic celebrations in the nation, and its Stadium of Fire event hosts the largest stadium fireworks display.  Patti staked out a spot on the BYU campus earlier in the evening so we had a great view of the fireworks, except for an inconvenient tree branch.  Gabe and Zeke, the boys of my co-laborers Josh and Christina Harding, are my fireworks-watching buddies here.  (Note: I am not impressed by my own voice in the video's background.  Good thing I'm not on the radio or anything.)
video
Happy Independence Day!  Thank you to all our veterans, and may God shed His grace on America.