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Random Travel Notes 13 March 7, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Up and Away.

This is the lucky thirteenth installment of Random Travel Notes, the “briefest trip to New York and back again” (also known as “it’s now or never to present your dissertation proposal”).

Missing the wife. I’d done this before and been away for months at a time a few years back, and it didn’t phase me. Now? I’d say the first thing that came to mind was how much I wish the wife could’ve come along on this trip.

Come to think of it. While waiting for my connection in Hong Kong, the odd thought came to mind: What ever happened to the Northwest pilots who overshot their destination? Now there’s one news story that quieted down too soon.

Viand. Funny how airlines make an effort to enlist executive chefs to jazz up their meal offerings. The way I see it, no matter how airlines dress up their in-flight menu, the choice still boils down to: chicken, fish or beef.

Longest. Ash Wednesday. Ever. I left on Ash Wednesday; I arrived in New York on Ash Wednesday. I think the Almighty will forgive me for breaking the fast and not abstaining during the trip, if only because traveling such a distance is hard enough with a normal diet.

Cabin Fever. For the first time, I managed to take the direct flight to New York from Hong Kong. It has its pros and cons. On the one hand, it’s much more convenient from the standpoint of getting more uninterrupted sleep while in transit, as well as not having to be bothered with collecting one’s things and deplaning for a layover. On the other, it’s significantly more expensive (and how!), and I must say that at some point I began to wonder if I was going a little stir crazy from being in such cramped quarters for so long a time.

Border Patrol. I suspect I’ve made remarks to this effect before, but it seems to me that immigration officers in New York are much more straightforward to deal with as compared to other ports of entry into the United States. This is not to say that they’re more lenient — I find that Homeland Security professionals are pretty serious about their work regardless of where they are — but rather that there’s much less added baggage in the way they process travelers. In San Francisco, for instance, there’s just too many questions unnecessary questions asked and suspicious glances offered (or maybe I’m just paranoid). In New York? Much more businesslike. I would think it has something to do both with the city culture and the volume of visitors they process. That said, is it just me or are immigration officers trained to ask you questions without actually looking at you?

Misquote of the day. From the flight attendant, upon landing: “Please remain seated as the jetway is not yet connected to the gate.” Now wouldn’t that have been scary?

Hello, Friend. I met up with my good friend Carlo while I was in New York. He’d just moved there some time ago, though we saw each other last when he was visiting and while I happened to still be living there. I asked him if he managed to meet up with any of our other friends that have also visited the city, and his reply was that I was probably the one person he’s seen the most in New York. Thinking back: he was right. He’d visited when I first moved to New York and started grad school, visited again right when I was moving out having finished my coursework, and here I was with a chance to see him again now that I was scheduled to present my dissertation proposal. Personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the next time I get to see him will be when I graduate.

The upside of BPO. Something I realized: Because there are no call centers in Manhattan like there are in Metro Manila, there are few places to grab a bite to eat at 3am. Sure, I’ve heard New Yorkers trumpet “the city that never sleeps” schtick over and over again, but as far as I’m concerned they don’t know what that really means until they experience the convenience of a 24-hour MiniStop right when you get the munchies at an ungodly hour.

When the jet lag set in. I was fine for all of two days when I arrived. Then past midnight (EST) on what should have been the third day, I was roused from my sleep by several beeps from my phone. There were a couple of work-related messages from people who didn’t know I was away. After that, my sleep cycle stayed out of sync for the remainder of the trip.

Dissertation Proposal — Done! The presentation of my dissertation proposal went well, thank you very much. By that yardstick alone, the trip was well worth it.

Out of sight, out of mind. I didn’t realize how much stress I was under until after I was done with the scheduled presentation. Strictly speaking, there wasn’t much for me to do prior to that as the paper had already been written, slides prepared, and feedback from the very people to whom I’d be presenting to was already in hand. Really, all I had to do was show up and deliver the presentation. Still, after the presentation it felt as if a huge load was lifted off my back. I must be getting soft in my old age.

How’s the weather. Overall, I was lucky that New York experienced good weather for most of my trip. Right before, there’d been a couple of snowstorms; a few days after I left, there would be a couple more. While I did experience the rain that preceded these on my last full day in the city, I’m glad that the weather cooperated, making the trip possible and allowing it to go on without a hitch. Well, aside from a delayed to my outbound flight, which in the grand scheme of things hardly counts.

Chuga-chuga-choo-choo! While waiting to board the flight home, there were a couple of kids running around outside the departure gate. One was Chinese (the flight back would also be via Hong Kong, of course); the other Caucasian. Apparently, they were pretending to be trains, exclaiming “Chuga-chuga-choo-choo!” and making quite a ruckes from one end of the waiting terminal to the other. As I watched, it struck me that these kids probably wouldn’t be able to understand each other given the language barrier, and yet here they were happily playing together to their hearts content. Truly, childhood is its own universal language.

Again with the forms. It happened again: once more, I ended up on the receiving end of customer feedback forms. I rest my case.

Litmus test. It bears mentioning that prior to boarding my return flight home I was on the receiving end of the new security procedure whereby passengers are randomly screened for traces of explosive chemicals. My hands were swabbed, the swab was analyzed by some machine, and only after the results came back (thirty seconds later?) was I allowed to proceed on. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take as much time as I thought it would when I read about the new procedures in the news; still, multiplied by the number of travelers that might have to go through this — I wasn’t the only one, so there’s no discrimination here folks — it can potentially be an enormous hassle if this security screening becomes SOP.

A-team, B-team; New and old. On the way to New York, I ended up on noticeably newer aircraft, with well trained crews, on flights that weren’t full. I think there’s something telling in that. For the journey home, I noticed I was in relatively older aircraft, slightly less polished crews, and the flights themselves packed to capacity. I think there’s something telling in this, too. For each, though, I can’t say what exactly.



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