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 Most of this is going to be a simple travelogue, with a few trenchant observations, so please skip everything with the tag "UK 2017" if this is boring to you. Sorry, dreamwidth informs me I must delete 846 tags before I can make any new ones, and that is just too damned much work, so the tags for these are going to be vague.

The only things to say about the flight are, one, I was extremely smart when I packed myself piroshkis and carrot sticks. I had made the piroshkis of my own pickled cabbage, leftover bread dough, some ground meat, manymany onions, and dried mushrooms. They were good, they didn't cost me extra, they helped with the goal of leaving my fridge empty of perishables, and frankly the weird little dinners they gave the other passengers did not look filling or tasty. But not terrible. Just not forty-seven dollars worth of comfort.

Two: I had terrible, terrible seatmates. They were not mean to me, or especially rude (with exceptions I'll mention in a bit), but they were terrible, terrible people. I didn't have to interact with them much because I had an aisle seat, but they were about to commence on an affair so they spent all but a couple of the ten hours in breathless conversation in which they revealed their most terrible aspects as if they were precious diamonds: fortunately for them, they each found the other's tedious and horrible personalities enchanting.

Look, you know me. I complain a lot but I rarely say a person is just plain terrible. So it means something, right?

The fellow was one of those English guys who Americans always find attractive at first glance: a bit tweedy, maybe sixty, with a softly rumpled beard&silver hair, impeccable manners but not stuffy. You know what I mean: you expect an archaeologist or a botanist or perhaps a player of an obsolete musical instrument. This fellow was coming back from a conference in San Francisco: was it a Zen one or just a general spiritual one? Anyway, he was there flogging a book called Zig Zag Zen. I don't know which of the editors or authors he was. He asked was it all right if his friend joined us as we had an empty seat between us and of course that was all right. Even if I had known how the night was going to go I would have said yes because if you can't accommodate the worst, being kind to the best is kind of hollow.

She arrived, and she was another English type Americans recognize. Tall, blond, willowy, maybe forty, with an accent I think is a normal middle class one but it sounds a little affected and self-conscious to American ears? You expect an academic, or maybe someone who works in publishing or possibly fashion. But she was at the conference as a delegate from a group of Zen? or maybe something else? practitioners? 

Look, even though I'm uninterested in spirituality, this could have gone another way. They could have spent the time breathlessly exploring the history and practice of Zen, and they did a bit, but only in self-serving and self-aggrandizing ways. He was arrogant, self-regarding, and always sounded like he was lying about his accomplishments (he probably wasn't always). She was gullible, self-regarding, and always putting down some other party to magnify her own wisdom. Plus, she was convinced she had second sight or some damn thing because she predicted trouble with the pound sterling and Donald Trump's election.

They went on and on and on. He slept and she read for maybe two hours out of the ten-hour flight. By the end, they were talking about their respective love lives. Obviously this was their own business, and of course they had to have that conversation because they were going to part at the airport (she lives in London somewhere, he in Ramsgate)  and they had to send the signals that they were mutually up for working something out at a later date--and it was clear neither of them had a monogamous partner to consider, so this was certainly okay and not my business. It's just--they were so loud, and they had been being so awful all night long, and I couldn't escape them even by sleeping--that what could have been nothing at all or even kind of cute was terribly annoying.

I did pass a couple words with them, once when she had gone to the toilet and I was struggling with my chromebook (it likes to hide files sometimes and I was trying to work, silly me) and he asked me what work I was doing and I told him and he said he used to write for Marvel-My Little Pony and Dr. Who-- but "don't tell anybody." Given what I had heard all night I was not inclined to believe him, but then again, maybe he did. (I hadn't said a word about comics, by the way. Just I was working on a fantasy story)

The other time was when we were about to disembark-have you noticed that most stranger-seatmate conversations happen at that time? They asked where I was going and I told them and they drew a blank. They had nothing nice to say about Leicestershire. She said, twice, "It's not a cultured sort of place, is it? I mean, not like Manchester."

(I'm going to be a lot more careful about how I talk about hinterland cities to visitors, from now on)

And to think I sat in the terminal next to a large rowdy family from Modesto who had a great salty sense of humor and a lot to say to each other about everything. I was hoping I'd get to sit by them in the plane, because they would have been fun, but no. (My favorite moment from the terminal was during the long facetime call the younger matriarch was having with a motley group of children, some hers, some nieces and nephews and other assorted kin, when she said, "Now don't fall over, watch it--" she looked up and said, "she just fell right over and dropped the phone." My second favorite is when she said "Tell him put that puppy right back where he found it. It;s not his. We already have five dogs in the house. I'm outnumbered by dogs and children."  You can see why I wanted to sit next to these people and I was so disappointed when I got the terrible people instead).
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If you were to fly from North America to end up in Leicester, which airport would you choose for best economy? I am not excluding ones with a substantial train or bus ride involved, so long as the expense doesn't negate the savings.
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So Saturday I had to drive over the hill -- in the entirely unseasonable rain -- to the San Jose airport to show my credit card (debit card) to a Delta ticket agent. Nobody I've talked to has ever had to do this, but apparently Accra is one of those places that has substantial fraud associated with it, and this is some kind of extra assurance that the card is real and so am I.

Lately I've had a problem reading the map: this is because the major north-south freeways have east-west patches in Silicon Valley and I've been looking at small map patches on Google maps and they're all weird at those places so I keep getting the wrong idea about which side I need to get off the freeway on. I need to invest in a new set of actual paper road maps for the car. So I hada small but extremely frustrating detour. Other than that it went pretty smoothly except . . .

There were several ticket agents standing around doing not much when I arrived. Good, this meant that my small mission would be quickly accomplished. But no. Only one of the ticket agents got what I was talking about, and he was all over that and smugly efficient until . . .

This fellow showed up with a weird story. He had gotten a call from Delta telling him that his flight was delayed, but when he got to the airport, he found that it was not delayed, it had already left. First they sent him to the next door airline that actually flew his flight, but they sent him back because he had ticketed through Delta and the false delay message had come through Delta. They had no problem agreeing that he was entitled to a re-ticket or a refund, but it took six Delta agents, including the one who was processing my car, and two Horizon agents, to work out the logistics. For some reason. So the officious but competent-seeming little nerdy guy in the black turtleneck who had apparently forty or so fields to enter things into to register the fact that my card had a physical reality kept leaving the screen that he was working on my problem with to look at other screen relevant to the other person's problem and I was standing there with a very impatient bladder and an expensive parking place (well, expensive by my standards, I don't think it's all that expensive in the grand scheme of things)for much longer than I expected or intended.

My issue went without a hitch, eventually, and I got to pee and to get out of there in less than an hour, and I got to Ranch 99 and I got back over the hill and picked Emma up at the fabric store and returned her to her house and I have Gelatinous Mutant Coconut Strings! And Frank is good to go to Ghana, despite the fact that he's forgotten his bank password and the kindly Czech bank won't tell him his password or allow him to reset it (what?).

In the course of listening to this drama next to me -- the guy had a really complicated itinerary involving flying to LA for one day, flying up to San Francisco for another day, and then flying to Florida -- I learned that in fact, a lot of passengers had been getting random false messages that their flights had been delayed. Nobody knew where in the system the problem was -- was it the airport? was it Delta? was it in the computer system? where? The moral of that one is: if they tell you your flight is delayed, go at the original time anyway and take an extra snack and an extra puzzle book.

But really, eight ticket agents to solve that? When all they actually had to do was to check if there was a flight to get him to Los Angeles that evening? (there was, and there was exactly one seat left on it)

On another front, mutant coconut on top of roasted pumpkin makes a really nice desert.
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I got the student and faculty suite of photoshop and illustrator plus a bunch of junk I don't care about. Now, of course, my computer is infested with demands to register at adobe.com and the update spam I had already turned off (several times) appears to have been turned back on. Damnit.

However, they are shiny!

I am flummoxed in Illustrator though -- when I make a vector object, and I want to go on to a new one, how do I tell the program that the next thing I'm going to do applies to the new vector? So far I have only gotten to the next vector by accident. In paintshop 9, you clicked "apply" to exit one vector and start another. Illustrator seems to have no such thing.

Also, very bad, stupid, terrible manual, which doesn't actually tell you stuff like that. Mostly it tells you how wonderful the program is. I did learn some things from reading the manual, but until I can do this one thing, I won't be able to do anything. Because, as it is, weird artifacts show up between the objects when I go to start the new one, like chunks o'color, or extra line segments, or everything changing to the properties I want the new one to have. Or worse -- stuff I really can't identify and don't know how it got there.

edit: I can't make photoshop do anything either.

On another front, I can say "Muj syn je student na universitu karlovy. Studuje medecinu. Moje datr studuje morske biologie." Only that's missing all the antennas because I'm lazy, and the antennas on the r in "marine biology" indicate a sound that nobody who is not Czech would imagine making voluntarily. You might make it if someone was licking you and you weren't sure whether it was delicious or creepy.

I can even say "Muj manzel je mrtvy." The only thing missing are the antennas. The U in muj has a little tiny O hovering over it to indicate a sound that I cannot distinguish reliably from a regular non-palatized longish U. Or sometimes it seems to sound more like an O. The Z has a little V that turns it into the sound of the S in the English "treasure" (quite straightforward, relatively). The y in mrtvy has an acute accent which makes it sound like the i in atropine instead of the i in pin.

In case it's not obvious, I said "My son is a student at Charles University. He studies medicine. My daughter studies marine biology. My husband is dead."

I had to look some stuff up. Mrtry (dead) was the only word I had to look up for more than confirmation.

I can give terrible directions in Czech, too. I can't say "the station is to the left of the post office," but I can say "Look at the post office. The station is to the left."

In general, I find that I am learning much more Czech philology than useful language, and I wonder if this is a personality flaw of mine.

On another note: Jason's mama offered to take care of the dog and cat while we're gone. I'm floored: it's too much! But I agreed. Now I have to clean the house, out of respect.

On an unrelated note: the keyboard appears to be finally losing its mind -- one key at a time. Right now the letter C is unreliable and I have to pound on it sometimes. So if you see it missing, you know why.

Head thing is a tag because after I realized I had to chage the tickets I had almost a whole week of not sleeping and not doing much of anything else either.
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I forgot to print out Frank's itinerary but I knew he was on the 11:44 flight from Philadelphia. Not too hard, right? Philadelphia to San Francisco is not one of those flights like Los Angeles to San Francisco where there can be several arriving at the same time. Also, because we allowed an extra half hour to park and pick him up, and for some reason it took an hour instead of an hou and a half to get there, we were an hour early. Confident.

So I -- thinking that he would not have gone through customs at Philadelphia -- said we were just going to have to hang out in the vast vault of the international terminal for a while. But we didn't see anything on the monitor that corresponded with his flight. So we asked, and were told that he was going to be at terminal 3 (one of three domestic terminals). We got worried when we didn't see what we were looking for on the domestic monitor either. So we looked in my email correspondence, where Frank had corrected my impression of his arrival time, which told us I had the airline wrong.

So far it has been a comedy of my errors. We will gloss over the fact that at one point I remembered the airline incorrectly.

So we went to the desk of the correct airline and the woman there roundly denied that they had any more flights coming in from Philadelphia. The only flight they still had coming in, right now at 11:30 (yes, this has taken an hour, running around the airport), is from Las Vegas. I'm doubtful but I've been a doofus all night, so maybe I missed a leg of the flight and he's not flying from Philadelphia? I could be wrong, because at one point I had thought he had a direct flight from Munchen. I've been wrong about a lot of things.

So we watch the Las Vegas flight debark. No orange guy. Emma checks outside. No orange guy. We check baggage. No orange guy.

At this point I remember that my sent mail will have a complete and detailed copy of his itinerary so I swipe my card for a second time at a pay-to-surf terminal and after checking both email accounts because I can't remember which one I used (I usually like to use my cruzio one for correspondence and my gmail one for chat to keep things straight, but lately gtalk has been showing up in gmail windows and it's all gotten muddy) I see that I was right, it was straight from Philadelphia, and now we have the flight number.

Using the flight number Emma easily finds it on the monitor, with the note that it is both a US Air flight and a United flight, and a big note that it is at TERM (illegible). Because the letters are large for this, the number is cut off. We decide that the US Air lady was confused because the flight was coming in as a United flight and therefore is at Terminal 1 instead of Terminal 3. By this time there's nobody to ask. And it's just going 11:40.

And by this time the Air Train that takes you from terminal to terminal has shut down one of its routes so the other one has to do the long loop in the wrong direction from where we're going and it takes fifteen minutes to get to Terminal 1.

Where there is no such thing as that United Flight.

Emma has a rush of brains when she sees the information terminal: which didn't exist in Terminal 3. She types in the flight number and finds that it was always at Terminal 3 and that it is on time.

So back we go to Terminal 3: we're going in the right direction this time. We assure ourselves that Frank is going to be grumpy, but that's not abnormal.

When we arrive at Terminal 3 we first see that the flight is delayed, and that is reassuring, and then when we're actually at the gate the monitor announces that the flight has landed. Oh good, we're just in time. So I stake out the gate. We realize a few people have gotten out before we got there, so Emma goes to check the curb. Nope. When the last of the flight crew walks out I get that sinking feeling, but not as bad as last year because I've been through this before.

All this time I've been sure that Frank would travel light with no checked luggage. So now we go downstairs to check the other curb and the baggage carousel.

He's standing at the baggage carousel in a completely zen frame of mind. He said he had a moment when he didn't see us but he's been through this before also so he just went to baggage and figured it would all sort out.

We shouldered his many bags (he brought home all he owns) and came home by way of Santa Cruz Diner so he could have pancakes with maple syrup. The next day he rolled out of bed and got a burrito at Tacos Vallarta and went to a coffee shop.

He's in great shape. Nothing seems to faze him anymore. He said yes, airplane travel is uncomfortable and it's hard to sleep in airports, but hey, he flew from Munchen to San Francisco in less than 24 hours! He flew!

And when the subject of bureaucratic inconvenience comes up, he pulls out his arrest record from Czech Republic (in Russian, because it was the Foreign Police, and therefore the paperwork is in Foreign) and says bureaucracy can't bother him any worse than that, so hey, it's just stuff.

But he does say that when the Czech Republic turns into whatever it's going to turn into next he won't miss it (the longest-lasting sovereign state that has lasted in the area surrounding Prague was the Warsaw Pact Czechoslovakia: if you say the Holy Roman Empire, rempire that it was redefined and its boundaries redrawn after every short generation).

On another front, I had decided I wanted the dog, but the vet had already found a home for him.

And either I have the flu or the anti-flakiness medicine is having rather heavy side effects.
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This is for personhead frogs of war, who asked for descriptions for a story she's writing. Comments and additions welcome.

This trip I was in two international airports, one large regional airport, and two small regional airports. I flew in a couple of very large planes and a couple of medium sized planes and one so small that tall people had to hunch over in the plane.

The thing about large international airports is that they are, in fact, very very very large. They spread out over enough land to build a small city on. And yet they are not much like a city. They are very much like spaceports as they are described in old science fiction. Bright, plastic and metal, huge cavernous rooms connected by vast corridors with no place for a shadow. Once you get inside the security gates, which warrant their own description, you're in a self-contained world that has everything the traveler needs except a comfortable place to lie down. Restrooms, restaurants, retail stores selling souvenirs and necessities, bars, horrible slow computer terminals you can rent for exorbitant amounts of money, places you can plug in your own computer if you brought one: and in Las Vegas, immense ranks of slot machines as well. The carpet usually has a bright and complex design with a large repeat woven into it. There are huge windows looking out onto the tarmac where airplanes lie around like oversized sheep without a thought in their heads. They really look like they have no idea what they're doing there. On the tarmac men and women are driving carts around with luggage. Lights on the tarmac go on and off for unapparent reasons.

Most of the time the airport is teeming with people walking purposefully in many directions, dragging wheeled luggage or toting duffels. Used to be there would be large families with more bags -- literal bags, plastic, paper, cloth -- filled with dog knows what they are clearly taking to relatives in exotic places. But now you get one piece of checked luggage, one carryon, and one "personal item" before they start charging you something like ninety dollars a piece. So it's cheaper to mail crap home.

There's abig difference in the conviviality of airports. The big international ones tend to be more low-key and impersonal. At the little regional ones people are more likely to chat with you.

Communication between people in the airport and outside of the airport is really difficult if you don't have cell phones, and sometimes if you do, because reception can be lousy. The only place I saw public phones was at Pensacola, and the ones there only operate with phone cards that cost 22 dollars. You're supposed to be able to call emergency (911) or 800 numbers but it didn't work for 800 numbers so I spent 22 dollars for a free phone call that didn't answer my question. naturally, I complained. And naturally, I got a polite answer right away that missed the detail that the phones don;'t actually work for 800 numbers. They barely work for the phone cards.

Airport stories. When Frank came in from Prague to San Jose, which is a regional airport with international flights, we couldn't find him. His plane came in early but we didn't know that. We couldn't find his flight listed. We talked to everyone. Nobody could tell us anything. Nobody would tell us even what they knew. I had a horrible moment when I realized that it would be just like this if Homeland Security decided to hold him. They could have him forever and we would never know. But he was standing outside the baggage claim door in a spot that looked obvious to him, and he was pretty pissed that he had to wait that long.

But doesn't it just hurt your heart to know we live in a country where this is a legitimate fear?

It used to be airport food was so ridiculously expensive that nobody in their right mind would ever eat in an airport. Now it's only a bit more expensive than the same things outside the airport, so if you're stuck there you might as well eat.

At the Houston airport -- which was the least decorated of any of the airports I was in this time -- there were these carts you could ride in and be driven from one plane to the other. The drivers wore uniforms like old-fashioned bellhops, kind of. One of the drivers was a woman with short blond hair who obviously loved her job a little too much. She practically yelled yippee -- she shouted "cart coming through, cart coming through" with great glee and whipped her cart around the crowds like she was slaloming.

Every ten or fifteen minutes a recorded woman's voice announces that the Homeland Security threat level has been increased to orange (it's never anything else, never, so I don't know how it could have increased) and urges us to be continually alert for threats and to never leave our bags unattended or accept items to carry with us from people we don't know. Only at Houston were we also reminded that tasteless jokes would not be tolerated and would garner us the attention of Homeland Security and make us miss our flights.

Since the last time I flew all the biggest airports appear to have installed "air trains" which are little metro-style shuttles with no place to sit that take you between terminals, or as in my last stop at the San Francisco airport, to ground transportation (that means parking lots, taxi stands, bus stops and subway stations. I opted for the last in that list, which meant I took the BART train north to San Bruno, hopped on a different BART train going south to Millbrae, bought a ticket for a Caltrain train to San Jose, where I waited for about thirty-seven years and six months for a Highway 17 express bus to Santa Cruz which threatened not to come at all because of some bottleneck at the summit). These are really strange. They operate at high altitude, at the top of the airport (most of which is set realtively high off the ground, I suppose so it will be level with the belly of the airplanes), and they have some kind of spacewarpo deal going on so that distances that could easily take you an hour to go on foot are traversed in times better measured in seconds than minutes. Like I said, there's almost no place to sit down. The recorded voice tells you so many times what place you're leaving and what polace you're arrving to that it becomes confusing, and every time the voice announces anything it reminds you to hold on and to put wheeled luggage in the locked position.

Houston had a great view from the airport, or maybe I just thought so because of the rousing sunset giving out dramatic encores to the dazed audience.

Every airport labels its terminals and gates differently. The terminals are not ordinarily arranged sequentially with respect to each other. The gates are nearly sequential within the terminals, though. You just have to know your way around, I guess. There are few maps and the staff give such telegraphis directions they may as well have told you to go to hell, no matter how friendly and helpful they seem to want to be.

Considering how many television screens with lists of arrivals and departures there are scattered around the airport, it's surprising how hard they are to find when you really need them.

None of the airports have benches you can spread out on. They all have curved seats and arm rests to keep you from lying down or plopping your baby onto the seat next to you. The restrooms are huge and the toilets, faucets, soap dispensers, and towel dispensers operate with electric eyes.

Houston didn't have art in it that I remember. The Las Vegas airport is hideous, but it has some good art. There are murals of desert life, which are handsome and unpretentious -- they look like postcards from the 30s, honestly. There was a big, witty statue of a jack rabbit, which is the national animal of the western plains. More so than prairie dogs, definitely. The mural depicting the Strip and all the Las Vegas archetypes was ugly. Either it was executed by someone different from the others or the person just can't do portraits.

Heathrow was cold, but it was February in London after a freak snowstorm. Houston was warm in April. San Francisco was cold, the day after a heat wave broke.

The staff of the airports really reflects the area. That shouldn't be surprising, I guess, but the accents are thick in Southern airports. I'm not complaining. In San Francisco and Heathrow the staff are all kinds of color and accent, and you see the occasional turban or headscarf. In the South the staff is mostly just white or black Southern. It seems to be true what they say about Southern friendliness -- at least in Memphis and Pensacola. I guess Texas is its own thing, not really Southern. Anyway, everybody seemed very friendly and hoispitable and generous. When I was visiting with my friend's auntie, though, I had these flashes of knowing that she wasn't actually agreeing with everything she said she was agreeing with and she wasn't approving of everything she seemed to be approving of. I wouldn't call it exactly dishonest in her case though I suppose it has the potential to be. I said to my friend I couldn't tell when she was being sincere and when she was being gracious, and it made me nervous. I think when people do that you never know when they're going to come to the end of their graciousness quotient and suddenly turn furious.

Thge airport is big like a city and populous like a city but it's not like a city. The shops in the concourse are shallow -- almost like movie sets instead of shops. People's lives happen in the airport, but they don't actually live there.

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