Sunday, May 12, 2013

Road Trip: San Francisco! Pt. 2--The Flights!

If I were designing an airliner, one thing I'd add would be High-Def panoramic cameras that feed to each passenger's seat-back screen, with an assortment of controls to let people look all around the plane, zoom in on points of interest, and label locations so you know where you are and what you're seeing. Pop an SD card in and get stills or video. Like Google Earth, but in realtime.

There would need to be a "virtual" mode for cloud cover.

When we took to the air on June 28th, it was pretty clear; I could see the lower half of Santa Rosa County as we circled eastward from the north runway, then south, then west. Santa Rosa Island, Pensacola Beach, and Fort Pickens scrolled by beneath us.

It didn't take long before Fort Morgan and Mobile Bay were below us--and then a thin haze gradually thickened into a mat of opaque clouds that stayed with us all the way to Houston. I did get glimpses of the Gulf and the Louisiana peninsula. At some point either someone broke wind...or we were over Mississippi (love y'all, mean it! Keep bangin' them rocks together...).

Part of the fun of flying is in getting pics of places you've never been to, then trying to find them in Google Earth:

The FoodMart at Richey and Imperial Valley, just west of the Houston Bush Airport. Took a while to find it in Google Earth (I was looking in all the wrong places).

Once we turned northward from the Gulf toward Houston and started losing altitude, my ears felt like  they'd been hammered into my throat. Now I could only hear the hissing of the air vent over my seat and other high frequencies. My right ear cleared after about 30 minutes on the ground, somewhere in the airport. My left stayed blocked up all the time I was in San Francisco.

Once we left Houston, it was clouds all the way--and my seat was right over the wing. Looking forward, I could see the engine, clouds all the way to the horizon, and the occasional airliner crossing our path below. Looking sideways, there was The Wing. I had a sliver of landscape behind and below, with mountains (snow-capped? Hard to tell) and rugged terrain:

In-flight entertainment was a bunch of ABC programs--something with Matthew Perry (I was thinking this was just United Airlines-produced  happy-happy propaganda until I saw the "ABC" logo), some other show with one of the Wayans brothers, some really bad-looking swords & sorcery thing with Jennifer "Dr. Cameron" Morrison that looked like an all-female Dungeons and Dragons game with nothing but pretty people, and some reality show called "Shark Attack" or somesuch where people act out or demonstrate business proposals for a board of money people, hoping to get financial backing. I glanced at this stuff occasionally to rest my neck from being cranked hard-right so I could watch the mountains and such behind my wing.

By the time we were on final approach to San Fransisco, the sun was glaring me in the face, but I could see the bay, Treasure Island, and the hills to the north:

On this leg, every place past New Orleans was the furthest west I'd ever gone, so now I can say I've been within 37,000 feet of New Mexico and Arizona and actually planted feet in Texas and California.

The trip from San Francisco to Charlotte a few days later was more like riding in a car at night. Lots of nothing to see. There was an occasional sighting of mountains, irrigation circles, a large lake (we were too far south for it to be the Great Salt Lake; might have been Strawberry Reservoir in Utah--something with small islands), and a wide, meandering stretch of river (Mississippi?). Really could have used that Google Earth interface.

Once we crossed over Colorado, it was clouds, clouds, and clouds (aside from that big river) all the way to Charlotte--and even as we were on final to the airport itself. Didn't help that for this flight I had an aisle seat. All I got was glimpses when there weren't clouds; the guy who had the window freaking WASTED it by sleeping.


I can see where doing enough flying might inure one to the wonders of being in a thin, fragile tube of aluminum and plastic, sailing 37,000 feet above the ground, so high up that one can't see trees, cars, houses, or even cities as anything more than a general "place" (trees make a place green, a road's a gray strip).

But you're freaking FLYING.

Never fails to amaze me, living a few miles from Pensacola's "International" (bwahahahaha!!) Airport and seeing planes big and small floating along on their approach to the north-south runway. Even knowing some of the physics behind it doesn't take away the magic, knowing that the jet thundering overhead is moving close to 200 miles per hour (looks like it's creeping along).

Even more amazing being in one, being pushed back into your seat as the engines spool up to full power and the plane starts rolling like a dragster, waddling as its nosewheel turns just slightly left or right, every crack in the runway kicking you in your seat...then the nose comes up...then the main wheels, and you're suddenly moving in all three dimensions at once.

You're freaking FLYING.

And this guy's taking a nap.

So yeah...clouds. And glare. Man, was it bright outside. But now I could say that I'd been within 37,000 feet of central Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, a little sliver of northeast Tennessee, and South Carolina. Missed Oklahoma and Arkansas, but now I've at least been close to most of the southern half of the country. Could have mooned the ones who deserved it, if I'd have been able to twist around to present the salute. Those cabins are tiny even if you're not Mr. Chunky.

What he said. Did I mention that for this one flight (San Fran to Charlotte), I had to ask for an extension seatbelt? Yeah. The existing one was 1/4" shy of touching. Forget about buckling it. My ears repeated their "hammered into my throat" trick. Couldn't hear the screeching toddler creature in the row ahead of mine, so there's that. Then both ears adjusted a little--and ALL I could hear was the screeching toddler. Nice.

The flight from Charlotte to Pensacola was canceled. "Aircraft maintenance." I learned from several other people that their flights had been canceled for "aircraft maintenance," too. We all speculated that it was from the airline being unable to maintain enough dollars bodies in the seats to bother flying the aircraft (I snarked that if it was really a maintenance thing, they could do what all us drivers do: put some black tape over the warning light and keep driving). I didn't complain, though. Unless I wanted to try bouncing from Charlotte to Tallahassee to who-knows-where to Pensacola (more airports? Screw that!), better to look at it as an adventure instead of an asswhipped and thoroughly exhausted traveler who just wants to be done with this crap already. Got to keep my blood pressure down.

Hell, maybe we were sequestered out of our flights. But I can kick a Republican anytime.

The hotel was pretty damn nice. The Hilton Embassy Suites maybe 10 minutes from the airport. At first, when the shuttle dropped me off and I'd checked in, all I wanted was to crawl to my room and collapse on a horizontal surface. I'd have settled for the elevator floor, but those tend to be kind of busy. As I was wobbling toward the elevators, though, I caught sight of The Restaurant. Can't even remember the name, but survival instincts kicked in. I hadn't had solid food for two thousand miles and I was feeling that way. So I made my way to the lounge, collapsed into a very comfortable seat, destroyed a Coke, and then destroyed the best hamburger I've ever had.

That's not exaggeration. This was one of those restaurants that asks how you want your burger cooked instead of making it assembly-line style. This burger tasted like steak.

My room was impressive, for someone being shuffled to a hotel for the night. Bedroom, living room, a little kitchen-like spot in the hall (fridge, microwave, coffee maker), and a generous bathroom with a walk-in shower, a Shower Massage head and plenty of awesome hot water. I have GOT to get one of those.

The only thing to mar my night was some jerk downstairs who kept throwing what sounded like metal and glass into the Dumpster outside the kitchens--and right below my bedroom windows. Sounded like a Pottery Barn being invaded by a cookware store.

The flight to Pensacola was another cloudy "nothing to see here" ride. At least my seat belt fit. :)

I've never been so happy to see ground. I was almost giddy with relief when I walked out of this final airport. Had to sit and rest, of course, but then I laid eyes on a line of cabs waiting for fares, told my goddamn legs to get stuffed, and power-marched the first 20 feet...lost steam and went back to hobbling, wishing I had more than the one speed. Had to rest again once I got to the cabs, but now I was a few car lengths away from not having to walk. Cabbie told me it was $11 minimum. I didn't care. Guided him on the shortest route, gave him $20, got into the house, and utterly failed to fall asleep for several more hours.

That left ear still hasn't cleared.

I'm still amazed at how a simple backpack with 4 T-shirts, underwear, 1 pair of shorts, a washcloth, a polo shirt, a pair of khakis and a hoodie could weigh so damn much.

It was fascinating, mostly fun...but I'm not going near a freakin' airport for the next few years.

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