Sharing some thoughts after a month and a half of travel and updating one past post.
I am terribly spoiled. Spoiled by the fact that most of my travel these days is on team charters for various KU sports. Checking bags is a snap. All my camera weight is not an issue. Security is a breeze. Most of the rules about seat backs being in their upright position with my table locked don’t apply. Mobile devices and computers are on all the time. The flight attendants all seem happy to help and serve. Yeah, life is pretty good when it comes to flying – unless it is commercial.
Then, my sympathy goes out to those who fly what have become the unfriendly skies on a regular basis. During the past six weeks, I have made two air trips to Portland. I have not been on a flight that wasn’t full or overbooked. Airlines have reduced the number of flights in a cost-cutting effort to the point it is hard to believe money can’t be made today. However, that clearly must still be a major problem as airlines disappear and merge regularly. Employees have been hit hard by loss of salary and benefits. I recently met a United Airlines pilot whose salary has been cut back to 1969 levels. That is very disturbing. Makes me wonder why so many want big government out of everything and to let free enterprise rule. If commercial flying is free enterprise, then it isn’t exactly setting a very high standard.
Now, on a strictly personal basis, I must rant about a few things. Why is it that everyone at an airport is either racing at breakneck speed dodging and darting in, around and even through others, or they seem to be moving slower than the earth can rotate in a day? Just trying to move comfortably through an airport is impossible. Of course most of those moving at a creeping pace are the same people sitting right next to me on my flights.
On my first trip home from Oregon, a rather large man, not even huge mind you, had the center seat. As he began his uncontrolled decent to seating surface, he whipped up the two arm rests, squished down and spread out from his seat in both directions until the extremely fit runner returning from the NCAA Track & Field Championships sitting by the window and me in the aisle seat had lost most of our seating area. I sat there squeezed and leaning into the aisle as one lithe female runner after another seemed to float past to their seats that could have been as narrow as a few planks and still allow comfort.
With no food service and barely a drip of water available, out comes the food and drink travelers are forced to drag aboard. The plane can smell like a church smorgasbord pretty fast. I watched in horror on our most recent flight as a man literally engulfed a large salad in just minutes. What he paid for that at an airport diner versus the time he allowed himself to enjoy it is not good economics.
No wonder most flight attendants seem tired, worn and beaten down. Gone are the days of perky, young beauties making hearts race as they whisked through airports with Leo Dicaprio-like pilots. I came home from one flight and told Laura that her mother, a veteran American flight attendant on international routes, would easily be classified as “HOT” if there was a lineup of talent today.
While Laura and I flew back last weekend through Denver, we were able to take a slightly later flight and pick up $800 in future flight vouchers after our flight was grossly overbooked. Compare that to our friends Mike and Linda VanDyke’s earlier flight home from the same Capital-Journal reunion in Oregon. He shared this with me Monday: “We boarded in Portland last Friday at noon Topeka time. Got off the plane in KC at 5:55 p.m. Topeka time. Had weather issues upon getting to the KC airport and had to divert to Omaha for gas, come back to KC and circle the wagons for an hour, then sit on tarmac for 45 minutes after landing because of neighboring lightning and the plane not being able to taxi to the terminal. Therefore, workers couldn’t come out because of lightning restrictions. Made for a long, long day.”
That seems very cruel and unfair compared to our vouchers, but sorry folks, they are non-transferable. Besides, no matter how painful, there is nothing quite like sitting back and feeling the rush of a jet taking off and touching down in another city before you know it – even if all the romance of flying is sadly ancient history.
While making our way to the various gates in Portland airport I couldn’t help but wonder what Usain Bolt might do on one of the moving walkways. How much more time would the “Lightning Bolt” take off his 9.58 100-meter world record mark? For some really funny TV, how about me on the walkway and Bolt running on the carpet to the side. Bolt would win by 50 meters don’t you think? I am far too slow. That’s my wished for super power. I’d love to just be fast. Fast afoot and fast on the bike. How much fun would that be.
If you are traveling to Portland, we found the Alphabet District in Nob Hill area to be a fascinating and lively area in a city noted for its diverse population. Picking where to eat out of the plethora of ethnic restaurants might have been impossible. Fortunately, Carl Davaz’s wife Kim does food and dining reviews for the Eugene Register-Guard and directed us to fine lunch and dinner spots. Kim baked a table full of pies for the reunion. The Marionberry pies were the most popular. Ninety percent of the world’s Marionberries are grown in the Salem, Oregon, area. Much like blackberries and very delicious. I rarely eat pie, but love blackberries, so a sliver of Marionberry was required.
Another favorite was our visit to Ashland in southern Oregon. Noted for its renowned Shakespeare Festival, the quaint town definitely deserves another more lengthy visit. Even the small homes tucked into the mountain that climb up from the city center are gorgeous in their lush settings. Needless to say, prices are not cheap. Johnny Depp, William Shatner and singer Jack Johnson have get-away homes in the area. Southern Oregon’s weather was wonderfully warm during the day yet nicely cool in the evenings. When we drove up to Portland, we had to dig out sweatshirts for a July summer day. No matter the weather, dining alfresco is always very romantic, especially when people do that for the romance and not to just have a smoke.
We are truly saddened that we couldn’t bring our bikes along for the trip. The riding in the Eugene, Ashland and Portland areas will get us back with our bikes soon. Portland’s love of cycling is legendary with a special addiction to the grit of cyclocross in the fall. While touring River City Bicycles, the most well-known shop in a town where there are over 30 shops, we noticed a number of bikes with break-away couplers that allow a bike to be packed into a case that is airline legal without additional cost. If ever I need a new bike, that will be something to consider. Gee, as if I don’t already lug enough camera gear with me everywhere. Why not another bag?
River City actually carried the rarely-seen Calfee bikes like mine, a California company that was the first to build carbon fiber frames. Have loved mine from the day it arrived. However, I have a problem with the glue that holds one of the rear dropouts to the seat stay. Climbing out of the saddle right now is impossible as the rear wheel will shift on me every time. Off the frame will go to California on Monday for what is sure to be too long a repair in my mind. I will be confined to my mountain bike, which will still be fun, but never as much fun as a long ride on the roads with Laura.
One final road bike note. How happy must the Specialized bicycle company be to have both Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, the two best riders in the Tour de France riding their bikes and in kits adorned with their trademark? A very interesting Tour with the two young riders sure to be battling for years to come. The battle between the duo’s Specialized bikes and Lance Armstrong’s ever-popular Trek bikes will be heated as well. Laura and I both like Schleck very much, but I’ll still be happy if Contador wins and proves that he can do it without Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong.
I reported on Dan Lauck’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease and the dramatic steps he has taken in hopes of improving his condition. Sadly, he informed me in a recent phone conversation that while certain symptoms have changed, his overall state has not. He has no regrets and stated he would do it all again. The latest problem he faces is a condition that stops his feet from moving while the rest of his body moves on. The frequent falls certainly take a toll both physically and mentally. However, typical of Lauck, he also reported that his golf game is as good as it has ever been. Amazing. Hope I can play with him soon. He hopes to return in early September to his alma mater Kansas State for the 100-year anniversary of their fine journalism department.
We plan to get over to see Dan and take in the photography exhibition by the many outstanding photographers that have come through Kansas State. The long and distinguished list includes the current White House photographer Pete Souza, friends Jim Richardson, Bob Graves, Jeff Tuttle and current Topeka coffee king Jeff Taylor of PT’s Coffee.
Still suffering from reunion withdrawal. Let me close with one final story. It struck me that no one enjoyed the reunion more than the photographers that made up Rich Clarkson’s early staffs. Bill Snead was Clarkson’s first hire followed shortly by Gary Settle. On Sunday before the reunion, Laura and I joined Brian Lanker, Snead, Settle and their wives for a hilarious evening trading stories. We shared stories about the famed one-way, red-glass window that photographers would use in the print darkroom to keep tabs on the boss. The key reason we used the window is that the front office was totally off limits unless you needed to edit film at one of the light tables. No one could be caught out front for fear of hearing the words “need a project?”
That is unless you were Susan Ford. While Ford’s father was President, she became fascinated with White House photographer David Kennerly and photography became an interest. Snead, was then the photo editor for the Washington Post. Realizing he could never offer her an internship, Snead turned to Clarkson. Ford was soon in Topeka with her contingent of Secret Service. Somehow I was assigned to be her escort for the first two weeks of her stay. I might share some epic stories another time.
As her internship continued, Ford became less and less enthralled with the day-to-day life of a newspaper photographer. When she wasn’t busy, she would often sit in the front office which thoroughly amazed us all. Entering the office, I once found her sitting cross-legged on top of one of the desks leafing through a magazine completely oblivious. In a dead sprint, I headed for the red window only to find it filled with other photographers all delighted to watch Clarkson endlessly squirm as Ford enjoyed her office time. I thought Lanker, Snead and Settle were going to die laughing because we all knew that Clarkson could never ask the President’s daughter, “Need a project?”
It was very special to see the men that really helped Clarkson get things rolling having so much fun. All that followed owe them our thanks forever.