31 March 2009

How USAirways nearly ruined our vacation

Anyone who has ever had to fly USAirways more than once has probably suffered some manner of abuse at the hands of any one of their customer-facing employees. And that's before you get on the theater of cruelty that is one of their planes. Now I know that USAirways has gotten all manner of feel good press of late as a result of the incredible actions of "Sully" Sullenberger and the crew of US1549 that ditched into the chilly waters of the Hudson River back in January. Let me be clear - if USAirways employed people like Sully in their airports, then people wouldn't hate the airline as much. The customer-facing employees are some of the most people-hating people on the planet. We ran into a bunch of them Sunday afternoon as we embarked on our vacation.

USAirways was not my first choice for this trip but money talks and they were the cheapest by a long shot. It meant a connection in Charlotte in both directions too. But they are a part of the Star Alliance and I'd get mileage credit on Mother United. Knowing that it was US, I had done my homework in advance. Since it was vacation for a family of four, we were going to have to check. I made sure we would only check one bag so we could avoid the stupid fees. I confirmed and reconfirmed our reservations. Upon arrival at ORD, we found their check-in area to be blissfully empty. It is normally a zoo of people waiting for assistance that they will never get because they seem to be perpetually understaffed. Anyway, we checked in at the First Class kiosk and out popped eight boarding passes and our bag tag. So far so good. Until I tried to get a ticket jacket for the eight boarding passes. This was a mistake. Three agents at the First Class counter were busy discussing what they were going to do after their shift and doing all they could do to NOT make eye contact with me or my family - the only ones in the First Class line. So after five minutes of waiting, I interrupted them saying, "Hi...just wondering if I could get a ticket jacket for all the BP's?" The supervisor turned and rolled her eyes at me (I thought she might be passing out) and hissed, "We don't have no ticket jackets." There you have it....game on. I thought to myself, "And so it begins."

And begin it did. After an hour of refuge in the United Red Carpet Club (it's the most hideous one at ORD - the one in Terminal 2 on the E/F Concourse but it was still better than waiting at the US gates) we walked down to our gate about ten minutes prior to boarding and we saw a long line of people at the gate. I knew we were in trouble. Of course, if USAirways had monitors that people could see we might have known that our flight had been delayed an hour, which meant we'd be misconnecting in Charlotte. So I got in the scrum and waited for an agent. When I finally got to speak to the rumpled guy (could USAirways agents be any more unprofessionally dressed?) he says that I can either stick with the delayed flight and go to Charlotte and take the first flight on Monday to Orlando and USAirways will NOT pay for the hotel since the delay was weather-related. I pointed out to Rumply that I was a Star Gold and a United Global Services member and he said, "I know. We already called United and they can't do anything." So I said, "So you've just ruined my vacation." I stepped out of line and called United. I got a delightful agent, explained my situation and she said, "Oh sure, we have a flight at 710PM and I can get you four seats. One moment for your seat assignments. Oh and you'll need to have USAirways write you over." Once again, my heart sank. The line at the gate had now grown into a seething mob. It was 605PM. I figured we were doomed but I got back into the scrum.

At 610PM, after listening to the agents' scream at people and tell them to either go home and come back tomorrow or to get to Charlotte and get their own hotel room, I was at the front and got the supervisor again. The same delicate flower who made it perfectly clear that they don't do ticket jackets anymore. I told her that I'd been able to get seats on United and could she please write me over. She said, "We don't do that." I said, "Yes you do." She proceeds to tell me that whoever I talked to at United lied to me or didn't know what they were talking about. I explained to her that was not true and to please check the record again. She then began to reenact the scene from "Meet the Parents" where the ticket agent does nothing but tap on the computer. This woman refused to look at me as she hissed and huffed. Meanwhile another of the crack service team is telling an Asian woman who had missed the boarding call for an early flight and had missed her flight that maybe she needed hearing aids. Another person in line heard this and had also missed the earlier flight and pointed out to the guy that had they actually announced the flight over the P.A. system that maybe they would have heard. He was told to mind his own business. It was stunning. Stunning. I still was steadfastly not giving up my spot at the counter. At around 625PM, Our Lady of Perpetual Hissing finally looks up and says, "OK it's done. You better run. And your checked bag - well, you better just file a lost bag claim now." Literally, her last words to me.

So I grabbed the stunningly patient SML, CAL, and the Boy and it was a mad dash from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 to the end of the B Concourse to make our flight that was boarding in ten minutes. We hauled it and made it to Mother United two minutes before they began boarding. Sweating like a stuck pig, I got to the counter and the agent says, "Mr L? Here are your boarding passes." I nearly openly wept. Say what you will about Mother United, I know they have their foibles, but I will tell you what, if you are loyal to them, they are loyal to you.

End result - we got on a nonstop and got in an hour early than we would have. The only positive thing I can say about USAirways is that they did deliver the stunningly patient SML's bag on the first flight to Orlando on Monday AM as promised and they didn't cancel our downline return for Friday...yet. I've reconfirmed it twice but still have my doubts.

Many people say they'll never fly an airline again after a certain in justice, until the next fare sale and suddenly all is forgiven. I get airline operations. The flights on Sunday were delayed due to weather in Philly and it impacted this particular piece of garbage airlines' operations. That stuff happens. What is not forgivable is the hideous treatment that was doled out to every customer on the affected flight and unfortunately, that treatment is all I've ever gotten in my experiences with USAirways. I'm not asking to be treated like royalty - just like a human being. Their management is crowing about the operational turnaround at the carrier. I have no idea what they are talking about - oh, they may be getting more planes out on time and getting bags where they should be more often than not, but it's time to focus on the people. Attacking low hanging fruit is easy. Clearly they've ignored the hard stuff - their people issues.

This much I know...I will never fly them again. We have to fly home on them from this vacation but that's it. Saving a few bucks is not worth the frustration, the mistreatment. What a horror story...

Anyway, aside from that, the other days of vacation so far have been awesome! I'll post some pictures tomorrow.

28 March 2009

IL. Spring Break = Winter Weather Advisory

Spring Break officially began yesterday for my kids. And when I logged off the work laptop at 530PM yesterday, my spring break began as well. My employer requires that certain groups of employees take a "core" leave - wherein there's no checking email, voicemail, or the 'Berry for five (5) consecutive days. I'm in one of those groups and normally I take it in the fall so that the stunningly patient SML and I can get away around my birthday but this year is different. I'm taking it early so we can join the rest of IL in getting the heck out of here. I'm not even taking the 'Berry - especially after the fatwa that was issued by my family against it. And the timing for a break could not be any better, quite frankly. Why? Read for yourselves - courtesy of our friends at weather.com:

Winter Weather Advisory for Dupage County, IL

from 7 pm CDT, Sat., Mar. 28, 2009 until 1 pm CDT, Sun., Mar. 29, 2009
Local Radar Map

What's This?
Updated 28 Mar 2009 12:10 pm Local Time

Issued by The National Weather Service
Chicago, IL
11:47 am CDT, Sat., Mar. 28, 2009





More Information


Seriously. Snow. Mercifully we are not on an early flight tomorrow, instead we are on a late afternoon flight. Hopefully the crews at ORD can keep things on a fairly even keel tomorrow. We really need to get the heck out of here, so we can plunge ourselves into a family version of this muck:

I'd like to point out that I don't recall a BYU Spring Break like this since A) there is not Spring Break at the "Y" and B) it's BYU and really not conducive to your typical university spring break shenanigans.

Yep, we're off to the nuttiest state in the country and I know of where I speak. It's where all the nation's flotsam and jetsam flows. I left it 1987 and pretty much wrote it off as the capital of crazy. But you know what, it's not snowing and it's not cold. It's a break from this madness. Bring it! Will try and post while on the road.

27 March 2009


Since pulling a Jed Clampett about two and a half years ago...you know, packing up the kinfolk and moving, I have thought a little bit about the differences in the life we knew in California and the one we know now in Illinois. I could make a long list of differences as well as pros/cons, and you all are more than welcome to chime in in the "Comments" section to voice your opinion as to why one is better than the other. The reality is that we had amazing experiences in both places and right now, home is in the Midwest. The freezing Midwest. Where it might just snow again this weekend. Seriously. It's enough already.

But I digress. Back to the differences in these two states. Today, I found two things that seem to nail the differences. Of course, they are food-related.


Those are donut fries, people! This may, in fact, be the greatest food creation EVER!

The Meatloaf Bakery

That is meat, people. Who does this with meat? And why can I not WAIT to try it?

Now the question, what state is the home of Psycho-Donuts and which proudly has the Meatloaf Bakery within its borders? It should be fairly obvious. CA is home to Psycho Donuts and IL proudly boasts the Meatloaf Bakery. And I think the two say a lot about their respective home states. The donut joint is creative, tempting and completely insane and so is California. The meat joint is, well, I'm not sure there are words, other than to say something so homey like that just makes sense, and so it is with Illinois. Things happen here that make you say "Whaaa...t?" but then it all makes sense. I have not sampled the goods at either of these places, but this much I know, I'll be going to both. Next time that I am in downtown Chicago, I'll be hitting the Meatloaf Bakery. I have got to get a meaty cupcake. And then when I'm in the Bay Area, it's off to Campbell for a stop at Psycho Donuts. Isn't food awesome?! I don't think there's a problem it can't solve.

Although we'll see if the orthopedic surgeon I have to see next Friday can solve my knee issues with food. Yep, my follow up with the doctor today lasted all of five minutes. He assessed me quickly and referred me to the orthopedic surgeon. Excellent. I've Google'd far too much about arthroscopic surgery now and am convinced I would like NOT to have it. Hoping the surgeon will have some alternatives for me.

23 March 2009

Heartland humiliation

It's been a particularly good couple of days. Sunday was really good. Long, as most Mormon Sundays are, but long in a good way. I serve with some really great men in our bishopric and we were running on all cylinders it seemed yesterday and there was a very decent spiritual feast. I appreciate the way I am challenged to improve as I serve with these men and as we serve our ward family. Anyway, capped the evening with another good episode of "The Amazing Race." I'm digging this 14th season as it has been really good and the teams not too annoying.

Worked from home today and it was one of those Mondays where everything chugged along. Everything clicked today, which can only portend that something is going to go horribly wrong, especially on a Monday.

So late this afternoon I made my way to our local blood donation facility. They had called a couple of days ago seeking my blood for a drive in a couple of weeks. I'll be in China so I said I'd come in earlier and hence my appointment this afternoon. I was prepared - I had a list of all the countries I've been to/through in the last three years so we didn't have to play the geography game. I also made sure that my current dalliance with Naproxin was not going to be an issue - it wasn't. So I'm there and the nurse/bloodletter takes me into that private room to do the question drill/geography review and finger stabbing for the iron test (that has got to be the WORST part of giving blood) and she asks me why I'm taking Naproxin. I told her and she asks if the doctor has talked to me about surgery and I said he mentioned it and I'd know more at my next appointment later this week. Senorita slammed her book closed faster than AIG collapsed and that was it. I would not be giving blood today. She very sweetly said, "You're going to need to keep all your blood. You'll need it." I was taken aback. I mean I'm not even sure if I have to have the surgery and it's arthroscopic, for Pete's sake. I mean it's not like they are going to hack half my leg off to shave a little bit of this lame meniscus (note to self - do not Google Image 'meniscus surgery' anymore - it's not helping).

So I was shuffled off in front of several other donors, whose average age was about 900, and they each had that somewhat judgmental look that people get when you get rejected from something like donating blood. You know the look - you can almost hear them thinking, 'I wonder what he's got.' I probably should have coughed or faked a seizure right then and there to make it worth their while.

I was bummed to not be able to do this. I tell you what I better get referred to the ortho for surgery on Friday now. I gotta have something to show for this foolishness.

20 March 2009

Did the doctor really say surgery?

A couple of months ago, I once again tripped on my shoe laces while running (it was one of those rare days during the evil Chicagoland winter where I could run outside without bundling up like Randy, the kid brother in "A Christmas Story") and when I fell (right in front of my running idol's house while he was standing outside to see me use the street to wipe my face), I slammed down on my right knee with all my weight. End result was some bleeding and torn running pants. Or so I thought.

I stayed off it about a week and then went back to some light running on the stupid treadmill. However, I began to notice anytime I was on the plane, seated, that my knee was a whole lot of agony. Relief was only found when I could get up and walk around. Fast forward to last weekend, I ran four miles outside and had to call the stunningly patient SML to come pick me up. The right knee was killing me and now it was making a somewhat funky noise. The pain when seated was still there as well. I was able to get into my doctor on Monday, which stunned me - normally, there's no getting in there for at least three months unless you are bleeding out your eyes - I think my doctor is practicing for National Health (go Canada!!). X-rays were taken and it was quickly determined there was no fracture but given the pain in my knee joint, the doctor suspected a meniscal tear. His take is that it is probably going to require some arthriscopic surgical attention. Outstanding!

So I am on a two-week run of an anti-inflammatory and then it's off to the orthopedic guy to determine if it really is going to require surgery. The fact that I am looking at a procedure like this is so funny to me. I've spent my whole life avoiding doctors and all things medical. The stunningly patient SML and I were talking the other night about our family's forays into surgeries, procedures, etc., and I was proud to note that I've had nothing to do with those things. And now, because I decided to lose weight precisely so I wouldn't have a heart attack or a fun case of diabetes, I may finally go under the knife, or laser-y thing, in this case.

The best part is that my doctor says I can still run. Excellent. Let's see how much more damage I can do. I'm all for it.

14 March 2009

Another reason to love the BBC

Reasons to love the BBC are myriad in my book. I think BBC America is awesome. Here's more proof why it's brilliant (from BBC3):
I think that guy was me before I dropped the extra poundage.

It's been an awesome day here in Chicagoland. The angry, angry shebeast that is winter in Chicago looks like it's truly on her last withered legs. Not a cloud in the blue sky and there was a glowing disc in the sky that apparently is called the sun that teased one and all with something we aren't particularly familiar with - warmth. I got up and made a rocking scrambled egg and hot italian sausage pizza for the family breakfast. It could not have been easier to make (note to self - use a whole wheat dough next time) and it was really good. Here's the "fruit" of that labor:

After that, I had some running to do. And not on that instrument of sheer boredom, the treadmill. It was incredible to be outside. I ran to our little 'downtown' as I was on a mission to get the muffin top pan as well as another pair of running shorts (as I left one pair in a hotel room in Honolulu - I can only hope that they are being put to good use as I am never going to see them again). It was a nice 4K jaunt downtown until I ran into the lame local St. Patrick's Day Parade. I was not festooned in green and was clearly the odd man out in that parade conga line. But who cares...I had shorts and pans to buy. I was successful on the shorts but no-go on the pan. Turns out I am not the only one obsessed with muffin tops. The lady at our local Sur La Table informed me that they sell out of them as soon as they put them out. Who even knew? I'll have to stalk the joint on any given Thursday when new shipments arrive. Duly noted on the calendar.

The stunningly patient SML, CAL, and the Boy met me downtown so we could get SML's cell phone fixed and then it was off for lunch. We believe we have found the closest thing that we are going to get to that temple of simple burger perfection that is In-n-Out Burger. Thy name is Meatheads. One could argue that it's a pretty close rip-off of the In-n-Out. Fairly simple menu (even down to the red and white lettering), everything appears to be fresh and not frozen, and it tastes good, particularly the cajun fries. Friendly staff and crowds of people lined up for a burger. The stunningly patient SML even proclaimed it may be better than the In-n-Out. I would argue that the long, long winter has affected her, but I would say that this place absolutely fills the burger ticket as we remain here in the Midwest.

Looking forward to a quiet night but man, it's been a good day. Love, love, love days like this.

13 March 2009

Weekend food and something awesome for the kitchen

It's Friday and I could not be more relieved. Woke up to over 100 e-mails in my work inbox this morning. Turns out some genius sent an email in error to more than 7,500 people. That prompted many of them to hit "Reply to All" to say stop sending the e-mail (really...does that make any sense?). If it weren't 13 March, I would have thought it was April Fool's. But it is Friday the 13th. Nice. I do have to give a shout out to my brethren in the UK - many of them used the never-ending chain to see who had managed to get tickets to Michael Jackson's train wreck/money grab concerts in London later this summer. Very funny comments back and forth. But what the heck is the UK's obsession with Michael Jackson?! That can't be healthy.

So glad the weekend is just about here. It means I can get some focus off of work (it's just oppressive right now) and on to food. Not so much to eat but to create. It's an outlet. I've been obsessing all week about making a breakfast pizza. I've been scouring for recipes and have decided to blend the best of what I've found when I tackle this tomorrow morning. Whole wheat crust, salsa base, scrambled eggs, some kind of hot sausage, mozarella - you get the drift. We'll see how it turns out.

That breakfast pizza plan nearly got derailed when I happened upon the following on the Serious Eats food blog:


Everyone knows that the best part of the muffin is the top. You'll recall the "Seinfeld" episode that was all about that...as well as the issue of the leftovers, or the stumps. It was brilliant and so is this muffin tin. It's available online here but I am also going to see if I can't find it at one of our overpriced kitchen/foodie stores here in our Chicagoland suburb. Who needs to watch the Chicago River being turned green when you can try and track down this gem? I'm on it.

08 March 2009

Some Amazing Race and some amazing sushi

Sundays are anything but a day of rest in our house. They are busy days full of churching. I know that's not a word, but I don't know how else to describe it. It's chock full o'church. One of the best ways to decompress for me is a hit of "The Simpsons" and thanks to the miracle of the DVR, I can record "The Amazing Race" and not miss a thing. Tonight's episode of America's favorite family did not disappoint. As soon as it was over, it was over to the DVR to watch TAR, which was already halfway done. CAL joined me to watch the slog through Siberia that was tonight's episode. This show is incredible - so much you get to see and I like how the producers aren't spending as much time in the airports and more time in the locations once the racers get there. While I won't give it all away, the idiot blondes who fly for Southwest partially repaired the damage that they've done to the reputation of flight attendants everywhere. Not completely but it was a start tonight. Luke, the deaf racer, and his mom proved to be a bit sly. I won't spoil it further. I'll just say again that this is an AWESOME show.

Well, during said viewing, the door bell rang. CAL answered it and a few minutes later she appeared with a bunch of sushi in her hands. Some good friends had made sushi and had some leftover and asked themselves who would eat it and my name hit the radar. They were really cool to think of me and bring that over. Totally made my night after a really long day. Here's a shot of my amazing race meal:

Thanks to the restless family for bringing the sushi! Awesome!

So now a new week begins. I hope it goes quickly. I'm tired thinking about it already.

07 March 2009

The weekends are getting quieter

The stunningly patient SML and I are entering into a new phase of our family life and that phase hit home again this Saturday evening. Our three children are growing up. Our Lady of BYU has left the building (although she will be home for the spring and summer in about six weeks), CAL is sixteen and getting out with friends more and more and the Boy is doing a little of the same. Tonight, CAL is out hearing some friends play a gig in another one of Chicagoland's fine suburbs and the Boy is at a Bat Mitzvah celebration for one of his school friends. Hence, we are alone tonight. Time seems to be creeping with everyone out. It did give us the opportunity to make our beloved alfredo prosciutto pizza (the fresh basil in it is the bomb) and over dinner, we laughed at the silence in our house and started joking that we will really be empty nesters sooner rather than later.

Weird, huh? It is. I am more than ready for my kids to grow up and go out into the world. I think we've prepared them well and there's still time make them even more ready, but the question is, what are the stunningly patient SML and I going to do? We're looking forward to the challenge, but would welcome suggestions. We've got some time though.

Today's been nutty. It started early (7AM) for me with training meetings at church that went til nearly noon. Then it was off to another 'burb to pick up the Boy and some buddies from the Bat Mitzvah they'd attended. While I was doing that, the girls made the heinous Costco run. That gave the Boy and I a chance to go to the greatest Israeli place ever, Naf Naf Grill, for lunch. My chicken shawarma pita was amazing and the Boy's falafel rocked. We've become regulars at this place. The owners are really friendly and came out of the kitchen to talk "shop" today. After that, it was haircuts for the both of us at the local Hair Cuttery/Hair Barn/Hair Clips/Hair _________ (insert descriptor). The Boy's stylist was a raging Chatty Cathy and she asked what he had for lunch that day and he tells her falafel, to which she says, 'Oooh, I love waffles! Did you have strawberries on it?' Proving that he is as much his mother's son as his dad's, he played along, describing the fruit he had on his "waffle." I would have told her otherwise. It was pretty funny.

It's been a good day. Nice cap to a long week. Ready to start another one.

01 March 2009

Day 58...a near breakdown

Last week was a bit of a blur as I spent Monday through Thursday in Mexico City. My Facebook page was abuzz with my constant updates on my taqueria exploits. Got home late Thursday and then had to go into the office Friday, which was wholly unpleasant. Friday night was going to be catchup night but instead, we decided to go out to dinner and get caught up as a family. This was a mistake - not getting caught up - but making the decision to go to dinner on a Friday night around 630PM in one of Chicagoland's western suburbs. Suffice to say, we wound up at a branch of the Corner Bakery that isn't on a main drag. Anyway, it was good to get caught up with the stunningly patient SML, CAL, and the Boy. To complete the night, we headed over to the local fancy-pants Target to do some last-minute grocery shopping for Saturday's slog (500 mile round-trip) downstate. Nothing, and I mean nothing, says good family fun like a Friday night trip to the Target. And that's when it happened.

The stunningly patient SML, CAL, and the Boy were in the snack aisle debating the virtues of Twizzlers versus Skittles as road snacks and I could take it no longer. So I moved on. Innocently. As I rounded the corner, heading toward the butcher's counter in search of pastrami, it hit me. Hard. An end-cap piled high with it. Twelve pack after twelve pack of it. I thought that they head ended distribution of it in Chicagoland. They haven't. It's back. What is it? See for yourself:
Diet Pepsi Vanilla, you cruel, cruel temptress

I stopped dead in my tracks. The sight of those cases piled up, and ON SALE no less, was almost more than I could take. Friday the 27th was day 58 of my self-imposed life without caffeinated beverages. I'd done so, so well. Nary a sip. And now for me, the mother of all temptations, was staring me in the face, calling my name like there was no tomorrow. And it was cold, I mean unpleasant Chicagoland cold Friday night and the DPV is the stuff of spring and summer. It evokes all the goodness of the best times of the year. Just one can would have sent me into a spring-like euphoria that would have been all kinds of awesome. So what was I to do? Succumb to the sweet siren song of the DPV (but I wasn't certain how I was going to get it bought without my family knowing - I knew my line about a charitable donation to a food pantry wasn't going to fly) or, and sorry Lance Armstrong for 'borrowing' this line, live strong and let it go. Ultimately, I rejected the tempter's snare and just walked away. Oh but what a long walk...I even found myself turning back to look at that end-cap, kind of like Lot's wife in the Old Testament. Now as we know, that glance back ended badly for her. I'm pleased to report that I was not turned to a pile of salt as I looked back.

So it's now another quiet Sunday morning here. Of course, it's freezing. I've managed to get all caught up from being gone. I've read all my foodie blogs this morning, which was a mistake, as I am fasting today. We've recovered from our trip yesterday downstate - took a bunch of kids from Church to Nauvoo. Quite an experience - first time I'd been there, let alone driven down there Illinois is a whole lot of nothing once you get outside Chicagoland. Iowa is worse. Glad to be home and ready to see what a day full of getting religion brings.