Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

When You Know You’re Old

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment


I wrote four posts last Sunday about our visit to New York the week before on the occasion of my mother’s 94th birthday. Left unwritten was this one, in which our trip ends with an unexpected gift.

You may be familiar with the once-glorious Pan Am terminal at JFK, pictured above. On Pan Am’s death, Delta took it over. Under the numbering system developed for JFK’s different buildings, it became the prosaic Terminal 3. It also became a dump, though no less so than its neighbor, Terminal 2, which Delta also uses. Flying Delta to JFK, you knew you had arrived in hell, especially in contrast to the new terminals (5 and 8) that JetBlue and American built.

And then there was the old international arrivals terminal, which in an era when only Pan Am and TWA, among US carriers, flew overseas, and from their own terminals, was where all the foreign airlines came. It received its own facelift a few years ago.

With T3 beyond repair, Delta decided to invest in a huge extension to T4, which opened last May. They still use T2, while T3 is now a ruin. The T4 extension is a huge arm running perpendicular to the main entry building for as far as you can see, and then some. We flew into the end gate last summer and walked/rode the moving walkway forever to get to baggage claim.

The terminal’s new Delta Sky Club is far past the wing’s midpoint, which suggests that the extension isn’t finished, and that is indeed the case. Last November, I dropped Gail and Joel at T4 for their return to Seattle and then took the post-security shuttle bus from T4 around to T2 to catch a flight to Chicago, giving me a good view from the tarmac of the continued construction. When the extension is completed, the club will no doubt find itself at the midpoint.

Anyway, here we were, two Sundays ago, at T4, just through security, with a long walk first to the Delta wing and then to the farthest end of it for our Seattle flight. Or maybe not quite the farthest end, since we were going to stop first at the club.

As we made the turn from the main terminal area to the Delta wing, one of those beeping shuttle vehicles was headed right at us, the kind with a few rows of bench seats that ferries passengers with mobility problems out to the gates. It was returning passenger-less, and I was trying to get out of its way when suddenly the driver pulled alongside to ask what gate we were headed to. I gave him a number just short of our actual gate, one by the club. He said hop on.

Hop on? Did I look like I needed a ride? How old do I look anyway?

Well, who cares? This was too good an opportunity to pass up. And there was plenty of room on board. Gail got in one row, me in the one behind. Joel looked at us like we were insane and kept walking. Then we were off.

I had to record this, at the least so I could show Joel what he was missing. I got my phone out, took a photo, then switched to movie mode. You can see the result below. We asked the driver to pull up to the club entrance and we jumped off.

If this is what being old is like, I’ll take it.

Oh, bonus viewing: see if you can spot our son as we pass him. I didn’t even notice him when we went by, but he’s there, in the video.

Categories: Life, Transportation, Travel

Motorcade Madness

December 1, 2013 Leave a comment


[Click on graphic for better image. Graphic from The Atlantic, by L-Dopa, accompanying this article]

I mentioned in my last post, by way of explaining my absence from Ron’s View of late, the events of two weekends ago (my mother-in-law Bea’s death) and last weekend (funeral, associated family events). One of those family events, dinner a week about about now for dinner at Gail’s sister’s, led us straight into an unexpected traffic mess.

On the way up, we stopped at the Apple Store so Gail could get a new screen for her iPhone, which was becoming less and less functional two months after its great fall. From there, I was stunned to find us in a long line trying to exit northbound on a local street, a street that in my decades of driving regularly through that neighborhood has never been so backed up. Not counting just after UW football games anyway. Then, as we slowly worked our way north and west toward I-5 to continue our route northwards, we encountered still more traffic in unlikely places.

With I-5 in sight and a massive line of cars heading north on a local road, I said to Gail and Joel that I-5 must be closed. Joel checked the map on his phone and said no, it shows no traffic. I pointed out that if it were closed, there would indeed be no traffic. Then Gail asked if any event was taking place and Joel said oh, yes, Obama’s in town for fundraisers. Had I read the paper, I would have known that he was due to head from the airport (south of downtown) through downtown to a private home in the north end of the city. We had stumbled right into the stoppage of I-5 that was designed to offer him clear sailing. We slowly edged north until we were able to get on an entrance with traffic flowing freely, Obama having apparently gone by. A routine 25-30 minute trip had taken an hour.

Perhaps it’s worth explaining that Seattle is long north and south, narrow east and west, with water on both the east and west sides–Puget Sound and Elliott Bay to the west, Lake Washington to the east. I-5 runs north-south right down the middle. And the city is divided east-west in the middle by natural and artificial waterway, so one can’t get from south to north without driving across one of a handful of bridges. What this means is, if you stop traffic on I-5 northbound, you are screwing everyone who wants to go north, even a limited distance.

Is this sensible or is it madness? An awkward question to ask on the weekend that fell exactly fifty years after the assassination of JFK.* Yes, presidential security is important. I get that. I do. But must thousands and thousands be pushed aside? For a fundraiser?

*I won’t dwell on where I was fifty years ago, but yes, I remember well where I was on learning of the assassination. I also remember where I was two days later, fifty years to the day before encountering the Obama motorcade. You may have read last week about the NFL’s decision to go ahead that day with its regularly scheduled games. I was at one of them. My beloved Giants against the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium. That morning, my father stopped with my brother and me at the local post office to meet my uncle, who was dropping off my cousin to join us. As Jimmy got in the car, he announced the shocking news that Lee Harvey Oswald had just been shot. And off we went, to the Bronx and the game. 24-17 Giants. I’ve never forgotten the score. Let’s see. Here: the boxscore. It says the temperature was 48 degrees, with 19 mph winds. I remember the wind, and being plenty cold.

Anyway, we made it to Tamara’s and ate dinner: leftovers from the post-funeral dinner the night before. Gail and her siblings got to take care of some business. Eight o’clock rolled around and it was time to head home.

We were happily driving south on I-5, back from the suburbs into Seattle, southward through the northern part of the city, approaching the I-5 bridge that crosses the ship canal. And suddenly everything slows down. All southbound lanes uniformly. Then stops. Then stop and go. A mile ahead is the left-lane exit to State Route 520, which leads toward our house and then over the Lake Washington floating bridge to Medina, Bellevue, and the other communities of the Eastside. High up on the bridge is a sign that offers traffic warnings when needed. It is lit up. We finally get close enough for me to see that it says there’s been an incident on SR 520. Bridge closed. All lanes closed. Exit to 520 closed.

Wow! That must be some incident! Or so I was thinking.

Not your ordinary incident, though. I was naive. You see, after his North Seattle fundraiser, Obama was off to Medina, to the home of a retired Microsoft exec for fundraiser number two. And the time had come for him to drive back to Seattle to his downtown hotel. They closed the entire 520 bridge westbound and I-5 southbound just for him. For fundraising.

This is total madness. There are so few ways into Seattle. Two of the three biggest were closed. (There’s also I-90, coming across Lake Washington a few miles to the south.) We sat there for 15 minutes. No more stop and go. Just stop. Then Gail and Joel noticed flashing lights coming west on 520, south on I-5. Moments later, we were released.

Maybe next time Obama can do his fundraisers via Skype and let us go about our business.


November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Milano Centrale

The last post in my Eating in Paris series described our meals in the short time we spent in Paris between arriving from New York and heading to Grenoble to see Joel. I still need to write about our meals on our return to Paris, which I thought I was going to do in this post, but I got diverted, so I’ve changed the title and have let it take its own course.

From Grenoble, we went to Venice, Rome, Florence, and Milan, completing our time in Italy on Gail’s birthday. I already mentioned a little bit about our short time in Milan in in one post or another: We got into Milan around 2:30 in the afternoon, checked our bags, found the subway, bought tickets, and headed to the cathedral. Then we walked past La Scala to the Pinacoteca di Brera — Milan’s principal art gallery, from which we walked back toward the center of the city, finding a taxi in front of La Scala, and made our way by taxi to Santa Maria delle Grazie in time for our 6:00 scheduled visit with Leonardo’s Last Supper. That’s worthy of a long post, if I ever write it. And then we walked back toward the city center, getting slightly lost as we searched for Trattoria Milanese without benefit of the correct address. It seems I was off by a letter and had found the address I thought I wanted, but it was a deserted block of office buildings. Fortunately, a little searching on my iPhone brought the error to light and the correct place was just around the corner on an almost-hidden narrow street. Our birthday dinner was among the best on the trip. It was long anticipated and did not disappoint. We walked back to the cathedral, it was only 9:00 PM, and after killing as much time as we could, we descended into the subway, bought tickets from the machine, and returned to Milano Centrale, where we re-claimed our bags and found ourselves with two hours before our 11:35 PM overnight train to Paris was scheduled to depart.

Let me suggest that if you are planning a trip to Italy soon, you not include Milano Centrale at 10:00-11:00 PM as part of your itinerary. It was cold, there was limited seating, the first class club room had closed at 9:00 PM, the pigeons had free run of the place, and it was just plain creepy. All in all. I did get to make a new friend. My dear friend Carol in Cambridge shares a birthday with Gail, so I decided it would be fun to surprise her with a quick call, all the more because she knows more about Italy than anyone else I know in the world and I suspected she would be delighted to get birthday wishes from us in Italy. Once I reached her, I gave Gail the phone so they could exchange mutual happy birthdays. But here’s the thing. The few benches available for seating had arms that divided the space into widths suitable for 1.7 people. Gail and I shared such a space. Then when a group of men left the nearby bench, we shifted and each took a 1.7-person space. Gail thought we shouldn’t and I assured her I could move if somebody came. So I give her the phone, I look up, and what do you know, some man is rolling a suitcase about 20 feet in front of us, African in appearance, and looking around. I gesture to him, indicating that he could sit in my bench, and I proceed to stand up so he can have the 1.7 space and I can squeeze next to Gail in the adjacent 1.7 space. He gestures back, no, don’t bother, no problem. But then he thinks better of it, turns in my direction, smiles, walks up to me, and asks if I speak English. I say yes, a little. He then sits down, so now he and I are squeezed into the 1.7 space, since I never did get up fully and move to Gail’s space. Our faces are inches apart as he shakes my hand and asks where I’m from. The US. He lights up. He loves the US. He asks if I’m living in Italy. I explain. Where am I from? Seattle. (He doesn’t seem to recognize it.) Where is he from? Nigeria. What do I do? Teach math. He is in the book business. He tells me how generous I am, apparently moved by my willingness to move so he can sit. What’s my phone number? Um, what? My phone number? Maybe he’ll come to the US. That’s his dream. And then we can get together.

Whoa! This is all happening a little too fast. I hate to be suspicious, but really, what’s the deal here? Should I extricate myself? If so, how? And won’t Gail stop talking to Carol so I can reclaim the phone, excuse myself from my friend, and talk to her? I keep looking her way. She seems oblivious to my situation, as she regales with Carol with stories of our travels. I suggest to my friend that he doesn’t need my number. If he does come to the US, he won’t come to Seattle. It’s a big country. He’ll want to be in New York probably. He isn’t as fluent in English as I may have suggested, and clearly he’s puzzled by what I’m saying. Finally we stop talking and sit in silence for a minute, or maybe a little more. I keep wishing Gail would give me the phone. She does. He gets up and wanders off. I tell Carol about my new friend. We talk briefly, say goodbye, and I suggest to Gail that maybe the train, though it departs at 11:35 PM, might show up earlier and we can board.

So we walk off, even though it’s still only 10:40. We go out to the platforms, study the board, see which train departure platforms are listed — not ours — and continue to stand in the cold, staring up at the board, waiting for our platform to show up. It does around 11:00, the train comes in from Venice, and we board. Privacy at last.

Privacy, and not much more space than we had on that 1.7-person bench. But that’s another story. Somehow we got into our bunks and eventually slept. I awoke at one point as we pulled into a station, pulled up the blind, and saw we were in Dijon. At 7:45, our attendant knocked on the door, waking up Gail, who had to get me (on the lower bunk) to wake up so I could open the door. He waited with a tray that contained awful orange juice, an awful croissant, a roll Gail passed on, and two coffees. I asked for tea instead and got something that tasted more like lemon water. In less than half an hour, we were rolling into Gare de Bercy, Paris. This is not your classic Paris train station. It’s something of a dump. It serves the night trains from Italy, auto trains, and I don’t know what else, but coming through was dispiriting. There was a taxi rank, but people were operating like they were in Italy — general chaos, no line — until some woman started shouting at everyone in French to get in line and get into the lane formed by a metal barrier. That worked, except for one recalcitrant couple that made a break for the next taxi to pull up.

No big deal. Within another 3 minutes we were in a taxi.

Except this was November 11, a national holiday, the observance of the 91st anniversary of the Armistice. And not your ordinary observance. Sarkozy had gone to Berlin two days earlier to participate in the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall. On this day, Merkel was returning the favor. We didn’t know it, but they would be making a joint appearance at the Arc de Triomphe. And this meant that the Champs-Elysées, which they would be driving down, was completely closed to traffic. Of course, our hotel, Hotel Lafayette, is just off the Champs-Elysées, on Rue de Berry a one-way street that runs northward from the C-E. The normal way to get there would be to drive along the Seine, get to the Place de la Concorde, circle around it, get on the C-E northwestwards, and take it to Rue de Berry. I was pretty confused when our taxi driver, heading west on the left bank, passed the bridge that would have taken us to Place de la Concorde. And the next bridge too. He finally crossed over on a bridge that I realized made sense, as it would allow him to cut over to the C-E right about at Rue de Berry. Except as soon as he crossed the bridge, the road was blocked. He had to double back east to Place de la Concorde. And he made a full 360 degree circle around it to confirm that we weren’t going to be permitted easy passage toward the hotel. Another half loop and we headed north, to make a convoluted approach to the north, the west the south, and west again, arriving at Rue de Berry north of our hotel about 50 meters, which was pretty darn good under the circumstances. Our fare, of course, was at least 10 euros more than it would have been via a normal route. But what can you do?

Fortunately, our room was ready, so despite our early arrival, we could go straight up to the room. And now, at last, I can tell you more about eating in Paris. But maybe in the next post. Sorry about that.

One more thing. We headed out at 11:30 AM to begin our day in Paris. And discovered that the C-E was closed not just to cars but also to people. We weren’t allowed to cross from the north to the south, which we needed to do in order to get to my sister’s place. Barriers were up, people were lined up along them, looking down the street more out of curiosity than any apparent excitement. And then, what do you know, a motorcade came by with a Citroën limousine. After a half minute, another motorcade came by. Was this Sarkozy and Merkel? I would guess so, though we never found out. I would imagine they had a ceremony at 11:00 AM, the time of the Armistice (11th hour of 11th day of 11th month). And by 11:30, they would have been ready to move on. So, how about that? We were there for a moment of history. And then we found the stairway to the George V metro stop, descended, walked through the passageway under the C-E, climbed back up the other side, and had made it across the street. We were off to eat and see my sister. More to come.

Categories: Transportation, Travel

Subway Yearbook

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment

In June I had a couple of posts (here and here) about the inspired work of Improv Everywhere. They hadn’t posted any new missions since then, until yesterday. The latest mission may lack the conceptual brilliance of the surprise wedding reception or the JFK welcome, but it more than compensates with its heartwarming results. You can watch the video above. (Go ahead. Stop reading and click the play button.) But then, after watching it, read more about the mission at Improv Everywhere’s website. The still photos of the mission are a good complement to the video. But best of all is the subway yearbook shot. I could say more, but just see for yourself.

There are many wonderful reasons to live in New York. (And, yes, some reasons not to.) But one reason to live there is to have the opportunity to participate, wittingly or not, in Improv Everywhere’s missions.

Categories: Arts, Culture, Transportation, Video

Average Rider

July 12, 2009 Leave a comment


Light rail comes to Seattle next Saturday. We’ve been watching the line get built for years now. It’s hard to miss on trips to the airport, between the elevated tracks and the rise of the giant station. (And for those who live or work along its right of way, its presence has been especially noticeable.) It will run from downtown to just north of the airport, and in half a year it will reach the airport.

Given the locations of our house, work, downtown, and shopping, we are not likely to be frequent users of the line. Construction recently started on the next phase, which will run from downtown to the university, with the expectation, once more funding is secured, that it will continue on northwards from the university to the Northgate area, the densest part of north Seattle. This will make the line more convenient to us, but who knows where we’ll be living by then. We’re talking many years down the road. Or down the rail.

Anyway, however often we are destined to use the line, I plan to be on it on Saturday. I can’t wait. And I’ve been a close reader of the articles the Seattle Times has been carrying on it in the buildup to opening day. Each station has had its own feature article. Today there’s an overview of the line, along with a discussion of the public art at the stations, an interactive map, and a graphic showing the light-rail train.

Which brings me to the point of this post. In the graphic on the train, the accompanying text tells us, “To the average Seattle transit rider, a standard 190-foot, two-car Link train will look huge — about three times as long as an articulated bus.” I’ve long tired of lazy or inaccurate uses of the word ‘average’. For instance, whenever there’s a ballot measure to approve some new property tax, we learn that the average homeowner will pay an additional $200/year, or whatever.

I would prefer that we speak about taxes on a house with the average assessed value, if we are to use such formulations, rather than the tax for an average homeowner, whatever that is. But this seemed to take the lazy use (I might call it the wrong use, but I don’t want to be so judgmental) of ‘average’ to a new level. The train will look huge to the average Seattle transit rider. What could this possibly mean? I’m above average in height and well above average in weight. Will it look less huge to me? Is that what they’re getting at? Or has the average Seattle transit rider not gotten around much, so the rider doesn’t know that there are vehicles larger than buses. Like, um, trains. Commuter trains, like the ones I grew up riding in New York. Or Amtrak trains, like the ones that pull out of Seattle daily. Or, my gosh, freight trains. They’re galactic.

Am I missing something?

Categories: Language, Math, Transportation