Christmas Vacation 2: Tampa Takeoff

It seemed for most of it that this year would be one in which I remained grounded. No air travel. If that had happened, it would’ve been the first time since 2011 and only the second since prior to August of 2004. I can’t really say what it is about air travel that I find so evocative and desirable, but I suppose it has to do with the likelyhood of meeting new and fascinating people. Plus, that initial feeling of flight is matched by few other things.

One thing I have done frequently this year is ride the rails. I made round trip Amtrak trips to Charlotte in March, late June, late July, mid September, and Thanksgiving. On the Thursday following Christmas, I make my way onboard the packed Charlotte/Raleigh run for the last time in 2013, so that I can get back to Raleigh/Durham International Airport for my flight to Tampa Florida.

I do meet someone on this trip. I at first think she is a kid, but as I listen to her voice, I am actually not able to determine her age. She says she’s knitting a sweater that will be her own.

She first tells me that she generally likes to stay quiet, and then that she is going to sleep. I get the hint, though she’d said that I hadn’t been bugging her when first chatting, and pull out my phone to read and tweet for the duration of the trip.

In Durham, after debating with myself for a time, I opt to have my taxi driver to take me home so that I can swap out the giant bag of clothes I’d taken to Charlotte for a leaner set more suitable to warm climates. I also take out bulky items from my carry-on, so that it can slide comfortably under the seat in front of me.

My driver and I have agreed on a departure time to the airport of 4:15, as I have a 7:30 flight and she doesn’t wish to battle rush hour traffic in trying to get me there. I am not surprised though that she is already sitting outside at 4. She doesn’t play around when it comes to time, and works hard to make sure that her loyal customers get to where they need to be when they need to be. She kind of canned someone that had been working under her, because that person opted to take someone else home from the megabus when she was to take me after my DC trip. I really do respect that and her.

At the airport, the driver pairs me with another passenger so that she can skidaddle back to her cab before she is ticketed. I enjoy conversing with this passenger, who is going to Chicago, as we inch our way through the line toward the check-in kiosk. She says that she runs her own business, and suggests that people like her do have a need for folks who are learning to build websites, as I am. I’m always relieved to hear this. We exchange contact info and part ways before reaching the security line.

At the line, I make the mistake while attempting to take off my shoes of leaning against the pole that brackets the scanner, setting it off. I probably nearly cause a security breech, but all ends well. I am through and to the departures lounge fairly quickly after this.

I had already decided that I would purchase something to eat, in what I now call the price-gouging area. For a not-so-big cheese burger and perhaps 15 fries, I pay an insane $10! But, it does hold me for a little while.

After a slight delay, about which I learned through the Southwest Airlines iPhone app, we begin the somewhat chaotic boarding process. I thought before doing this that I wouldn’t like the idea of not having assigned seats, but actually it is nice as I can then choose the exact configuration I prefer: a right-side window seat. This optimizes the chances that I will be able to hear the passenger sitting next to me.

Prepare for Takeoff: Audio

A man chooses to sit beside me, not saying much other than to alert me that the flight attendant has arrived for beverage service. I get some sprite, often a bad idea but not too punishing to the bladder this time. I just recline a bit and disappear into my story until we arrive.

Once on the ground in Tampa, I have an agent escort me to the Super Shuttle counter, where I have reserved my ride to my friend’s apartment via their very usable iPhone app. I am informed that my wait for a van will be 30 minutes, but in actuality it’s about 5-7. I certainly wouldn’t have minded anyway.

As usual, I play with Ariadne GPS as we bounce through town, myself and a female and male passenger. Everyone else is quiet. My friend resides in the Northeastern corner of the city, not far from the University of South Florida, and the airport is in the Southwest. So, it’s about a 20-minute ride.

I meet my friend, actually they are also a male and female, in the guy’s place. They stay within walking distance with each other, and so visit quite often. They hook me up with a couple of slices of pizza hut’s Stuffed Crust, and we chat deep into the night about any and everything. This is my second time visiting them, as I had also done so while they resided in Flint, Michigan. They are fun.

Friday finds me rested on a couch bed, again after a night of odd dreams. I think I dream oddly whenever I’m not in my own bed. I awake a little after 8 to listen to local radio and some of NPR’s Weekend Edition on Tampa’s NPR affiliate, WUSF.

I shower, and then we venture out into the rainy day to acquire some food. We choose to go to Steak and Shake (Audio), because it is relatively close by. In addition to the mentioned chili cheese dog and fries, I also have a big, strawberry and banana milk shake. She chooses a brownie shake on recommendation of our server, and he opts not to have a shake at all. I think he polishes hers off, though.

I can’t come to Florida without spending some time outside. I try to on Friday, playing with the phone for about 45 minutes, but eventually give in to the gloom. While it is definitely warmer than in North Carolina, the lack of sunshine means that it is still a bit on the cool side. So, I spend the rest of that day inside, listening to Bowl games and having more food, this time a sausage pepper trio sub from Domino’s. I am fine with this, as I wanted mostly to unwind and unburden myself.

I will wrap up my Tampa trip in a subsequent entry. And then, hopefully, I’ll wrap up 2013! I guess that’ll likely happen on New Year’s Day, but we shall see.

Christmas Vacation 1: The Party

Well, this has been as good a vacation from work and holiday season as I could have expected. I am sad that there remain only three more whole days before I must return to the routine that has defined my existence for the better part of a year, but hopefully I will feel revived for having this experience.

During this last week plus, I’ve ridden in several cars, a Greyhound bus, an Amtrak train, and a Southwest Airlines plane. Now that’s the kind of travel I long for nearly all the time. Since everything preceeding my Tampa trip, which happened from this Thursday till Sunday, is basically standard; I’ll give a quick sumary of that. Then I’ll cover the trip in greater detail, perhaps in more than one entry.

Last Saturday, the 21st of December, gives me kind of a Florida preview weatherwise. In fact, it probably ends up being a better weather day than I even saw once traveling down south.

After making a fairly short journey to Fayetteville by bus, (Audio from aboard, I arrive and am taken to a small town near Lumberton to celebrate the second straight Christmas party with one of my good friends. Before leaving the Ville, we stroll along and do some window shopping, where I and the individual who has come to get me acquire trinkets for the gift exchange.

Because I am hungry, I opt to get two burrito supremes from Taco Bell as we make our way toward the country. Then, I sit outside chattering with my cousin and a couple of other folks around a stone picnic table at our host’s house while many others go back out to do some quick shopping. We marvel at the openness of that area, and how it doesn’t really block the incessant winds as a place with more buildings would.&lt

We stay out there till the rest of the party returns, then make our way inside where we remain for the rest of the day. Other than participating in the affore mentioned gift exchange, I eat a meal of spaghetti with meat, meatballs, and sausage balls. I also enjoy some homemade peanut butter type cookies from the host.

At the wrap of that evening, we took a couple of fun photos of us all, some being silly and some just sitting in neat rows on the couches and chairs. I think you should be able to see the one I posted on Facebook there. I enjo myself at this gathering, mostly just catching up with people who are becoming and some who had already been firm friends.

Sunday is another early riser, though I have managed to sleep well on the couch after having weird dreas. This time, my cousin, his wife, and I head to another rural town of Pinebluff, where my mom, next eldest sister, and some of my nieces and nephews reside.

Well actually, we first go to First Missionary Baptist Church in Southern Pines to attend service there. As they often do, our pastor opts for a fairly short, uplifting Christmas cermon. He mainly talks about the idea that we should find ways to cheer ourselves up during the holiday season, even if it involves bouncing around to some jazzy Christmas music. I am all for that, mainly feeling pleased that I have found ways to avoid the loneliness that often does plague me at this time of year.

I spend the following week in Charlotte, mainly because I need the transportation flexibility to ensure that I’ll be able to get to my flight on Thursday afternoon.

On Monday, my cousin and I watch bowl games and commiserate about life for most of it. My cousin then accompanies his wife on Tuesday to her parents’ house for a party. During this time, I decide to try and catch a differet movie from one I’d ever seen, taken from a rather comprehensive collection of described content. I pick The Book of Eli, but eventually shelf it as there seems to be endless violence and I am unable to understand the point. It’s a post-apocalyptic thriller in which someone is trying to hunt down and recover some important text that will save humanity.

Tuesday night is given to going to another party, this one a dinner breakfast that another of our longtime friends usually hosts. I post Audio of me unwrapping a gift I got from this party, which I now believe is a set of handcuffs. I can’t say I know what the meaning behind that is, but it gives us a good laugh.

Wednesday, Christmas, is a simple affair. We all have breakfast around the table, then head into the living room in my Aunt and cousin’s place for the gifting gathering. My youngest male cousin gets some nice stuff from his parents and girlfriend. I think my older cousin and his wife get something for nearly everyone, hooking me up with an iTunes and an Amazon gift card. And yes, I will do something for them. My aunt and uncle also help me with some dough to help with trip expenses. I, on the other hand, give to the charity that has helped me a lot in getting from that failed graduate school experience to where I am now, the Community Empowerment Fund. Their primary mission is to assist people who have become or are in danger of experiencing homelessness. I dig this. And I think I should promote the nonprofit organization that is doing research and working to strengthen support for those with my disorder, the Norrie Disease Association, to whom I shall give also. Being a board member of myself, I am well aware of the work we are trying to do.

I go with my Aunt to dinner at some other family members’ house, where I again eat only to capacity as I had on Thanksgiving. Then I just sit and take in the NBA games amidst the swirling mass of humanity.

And that’s about all for this entry. I will chronicle the happenings of my nice, relaxing Tampa vacation in an upcoming post.

Museum Musings: on improved access for blind folks

This post inspired by the many references I’ve gotten to the article Philadelphia Museum Allows Visitors to Touch Ancient Artifacts . I’d first heard of this via the Serotalk Podcast, and a few followers have tweeted it to me since.

Before reading it, I thought that this museum would only let folks maybe put their hands on things with a pair of latex gloves on, and then only for a second. Such has been my experience when allowed tactile access to an exhibit. I was presented with an object, able to just graze it, and didn’t even get enough time to discern details. Not to mention that the people who were letting us do this practically yelled at us the whole time, definitely making one and all sufficiently uncomfortable as to limit enjoyment. In fact, the sighted individual with whom I had been partnered while walking through decided she would let me get an extra, bare-handed feel, and she and I were reprimanded for so doing.

Now, I do understand that much of this stuff can’t really be touched, for all sorts of reasons from transmission of bodily and other fluids onto the objects that may weaken their ability to be preserved, to the possibility of breaking or otherwise mishandling valuable works of art and the like. But truthfully, standing in a hall while listening to someone attempt to render something into description is just not the same. So, I am glad that this particular institution is taking such an approach, and with things that might actually be interesting to grasp and, I think, changeable with time.

Of course, a “museum” doesn’t have to be what typically comes to mind when one thinks of the word, anyway. Some of the most interesting installations I’ve encountered have been of old homes with rickety floorboards that once housed historical leaders. They really demonstrate the utility of hands-on education, and perhaps transmit a bit of the power to me that most get by looking at things. It’s just a sense of encountering the environments that brought to bear national treasures like Martin Luther King, and also finding out that some locals lived in and were influenced by unusual, often difficult circumstances to move for change.

Speaking of entering an environment that changes one, I think the most moving museum to which I have ever been is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I went here during my formative college years, and along with my blind cousin, was given a specialized tour of the building with an individual who said she was a descendant of some who were effected by this sad time in human history. They really built the building in such a way that it would try and represent the horrors of that experience, using materials taken straight from concentration camps, Jewish ghettos, and the like. We could not only touch, but also hear sounds from this era and examine a specific record of an individual who had been taken to a camp. I was truly shaken to the core by these encounters, and learned far more than I ever could have in a textbook.

And this is why I agree that it is important to come up with unique, tactile ways to expose people who are blind to the artifacts contained within the walls that are designed to preserve information on the changing human condition: so that we can grasp the significance of archeological finds, feel the presence of past visionaries, and understand and contemplate some of humankind’s darkest hours. In my small way, I may actually be doing something soon that continues to expand this kind of access to information for all. Stay tuned.

Holiday Happenings and Ponderings

So, we’ve arrived at December already. Can you believe it? The end of the year! It is a time that I can find at equal parts exciting and depressing, but perhaps this go-round will be more the former due to having so many good friends.

And family, of course. That’s many of us her in the States at least have just celebrated Thanksgiving. I’ve always wondered when exactly the holiday season starts, but this year I think it can definitely be said to have begun on Thanksgiving as it practically fell into December. So, happy holidays! I’m looking forward to celebrating Christmas in a few weeks.

As a bit of an aside, I don’t know if I have any practicing Jewish people reading this blog but it had to be kind of neat to observe the beginning of Hanukah at the same time. Some media types took to calling this supposedly very rare phenomenon Thanksgivukah. I wonder what’s with our penchant for smashing words together these days? I guess it’s a bit amusing.

Anyway, my Thanksgiving was a welcome respite from the drudgery of this job. As usual for me these days, I hopped the Amtrak train to Charlotte to visit my cousin and his wife along with my Aunt. My mom sisters, and some of my nieces and nephews also made an appearance at my youngest sister’s nice house for the big dinner.

I didn’t even eat half of what was on my plate, and yeah I’m kind of sad about that. I didn’t wanna force it though, and just consumed till I felt full. My folks love to pile it on! I did eat some meatballs with sauce, mac and cheese, (which I MUST have every year), broccoli casarole, a deviled egg, and I think some vegetables. I topped it off with a delicious piace of chocolate cake that I was told my mom baked mainly because she knew I would want it.

The next couple of days were a haze of sports-watching and just catching up with my cousin between plays/games. Did you see that crazy Alabama Auburn finish in what they call, for reasons I don’t know, the Iron Bowl? After having missed three (3!) field goals, Alabama decided that it’d be a good idea to try one from 56 yards to attempt avoiding overtime. I think they’d put in a different kicker for the 4th try, but in many ways that makes even less sense as he’s coming in cold. Anyway, the attempt fell well short, an Auburn player corraled it in the end zone and ran it all the way to the other end zone for the winning touchdown. I think that was the best, or craziest, college game I’ve ever seen.

I’m also happy that the Carolina Panthers (NFL) have won 8 straight games, vaulting all the way to 9-3 and now gaining a share of first place due to the New Orleans Saints getting pecked by the Seattle Seahawks. Carolina and New Orleans square off this coming Sunday in what is sure to be a showdown.

I watched this last, Carolina vs. Tampa Bay, with my cousin and his wife after going to church with them at Providence Road Church of Christ. The pastor gave an interesting sermon on the importance of not judging others, as the Bible says “lest yee be judged”. To underline his point, he brought some unsuspecting little kid up there and handed him a balon, which he then popped quickly with a pen. Unsurprisingly, the kid then became skittish of accepting any further baloons from him. The pastor said that judging others was like popping their metaphorical balloon, and would make them a lot less likely to listen to what you might have to say. It was a good service.

By Saturday, I began to develop what is a fairly regular cold that still persists. I think today is the worst of it, I hope it is!, as between sentences I forage for tissue and count myself fortunate to have recently bought a giant box of Klenex. I think I’m glad this didn’t happen at the time I’d be going to the feast, as it did in the crazy 2011 season.

And now it’s time to start thinking about what I’ll do for the two weeks this job will be shuttered, starting either on the 23rd or the 24th and lasting either till the 2nd of January or the 6th. They say they don’t know yet, as we may be so low on work that just taking the extra Monday prior to Christmas and Thursday/Friday after New Years would be warranted. I sure wish they’d make up their minds, as my plans hinge on the decision. If they say we must be there on the 23rd, I’ll have to show up. This wll create more of a challenge/expense in returning from my friend’s party that she’s having on the 21st. But, I don’t really know if the need to have time for orchestrating transportation and the like is occurring to anyone.

One thing I might do if I can sweet talk someone into lending a couch, is zip down to a warm-weather destination like Florida for at least a couple of days. But at this oint, that idea remains far-fetched. In any event, I will get a lot of reading and perhaps writing done with all that time.

So, how was your holiday? Do you have any exciting end-of-year plans? I’ll be back with more in the coming days, but shall now draw this stream-of-consciousness piece to a close.