Wrapping up 2017 in Alabama

I’m not a regular writer of Christmas letters that chronicle the year, but this has been a busy year, and we’re far away from family and many friends.

January

  • I decided not to retire this year, something I’d been considering. But realized that the work that was coming my way this year would require being in shape, so  …
  • On January 4 Lifelongnewyorker started a diet, determined to lose all of the seven pounds gained since the election, plus a few more. Every day began with two scrambled eggs, with a modest protein-plus-salad at lunch, and smaller portions at dinner. The most important part: cutting out what had become my customary two three glasses of wine at night.
  • Mid-month, The Abandoned One’s band, Out of System Transfer, had an open night on their Southern tour between gigs in Atlanta, Georgia, and Pascagoula, Mississippi. We cleared out our garage, invited friends and neighbors, and had a short show. IMG_5668
  • Mr. NewYorker spends lots of time at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, where he is a docent; when he’s not doing tours or attending docent meetings, he’s putting in serious hours building sets, watering the lawn and whatever else needs to be done at the Cloverdale Playhouse. In January, he worked on set for The 39 Steps.

February

  • Mr. NewYorker turned 65. We celebrated with a trip home to New York and tickets to Hamilton.  I was supposed to speak at Fordham, but a blizzard intervened (and I recommend staying at a Manhattan hotel near a subway line during a blizzard) and reminded us of how cold it gets in the city. We got to see old friends, and took a long walk through Carroll Gardens and Red Hook with Lifelongnewyorker’s sister and brother-in-law. On Union Street, we popped into a bakery to buy regina cookies to take home.
  • Little did I know that this trip would be the first of many that added up to 100,000 miles this year. Lifelongnewyorker does not want to hear your airline stories. She has lived every single one of them. Business trips in February included Washington, D.C. and San Antonio.

March

  • Mr. Newyorker was cast in The Crucible and began rehearsing on nights and weekend. During the day, he helped build the set.
  • Because of the Great Washing Machine Disaster we moved, with our three cats, into a one-bedroom apartment at our local Homewood Suites. Here’s the short version: We didn’t notice that the washing machine hose was loose where it connected to the machine and was slowly leaking onto the tile floor. That steady drip saturated the subfloor, which caused the oak floor in the kitchen to buckle. Kitchen cabinets had to be removed and high-powered, loud dehumidifiers ran 24/7 to dry the subfloor.  The kitchen floor had to be ripped up, replaced and finished. Because the kitchen floor is contiguous with the dining room, the living room floor and the foyer, they too needed to be sanded and refinished. Which meant boxing up our belongings and having our furniture moved and put in storage. Oh, and because the seepage traveled in the other direction, too, we needed to pull up and replace the flooring in the hall and bedroom. Lessons learned: 1) turn off the water when the washing machine is not in use; 2) have good insurance.
  • And, if you want to see freaked-out cats, move them into a hotel for weeks.
  • Meanwhile, Lifelongnewyorker went to Austin, Washington DC, San Francisco and Dallas, where she saw an old high school friend for the first time in over 35 years and another friend for the first time in eight.

April

  • Thomas Proctor took over Mr. Newyorker’s life as he rehearsed for his role. Proctor is not the kind of person you actually want to live with. The play opened in late April to critical acclaim and sold-out audiences. With a post-apocalyptic setting, it was not only timely but one of the best productions Lifelongnewyorker has ever seen in community theater.
  • Lifelongnewyorker went to New York and to Lexington, Kentucky, where she observed this lamppost. IMG_0456

May

  • We were very happy to move back home, and pledged to be more vigilant about potential disasters.  Lifelongnewyorker soon became convinced the roof was leaking.  (It wasn’t.)
  • A lifelong dream fulfilled: Lifelongnewyorker spoke at Harvard. Another highlight of that trip: Going into the Legal Seafood in Cambridge for dinner, grabbing a seat at the end of the bar and finding a brass plaque that identified it as Robert B. Parker’s usual seat. IMG_0482
  • Later that month found me in Philadelphia, which is much better than W.C. Fields would have had you believe.  It’s a great restaurant town.

June

  • The garden looked great in June and, when I wasn’t in Washington or New York, I noticed a lot of mating behavior among the lizards.
  • Mr. Newyorker put on his best Southern accent and appeared in a staged reading at Cloverdale Playhouse.
  • We may have to consider a new name for the Abandoned One, who spent the month looking for a new apartment to share with his girlfriend.
  • After six months, LIfelongnewyorker was pleased to have lost 15 pounds.  It didn’t last.

July

  • IMG_5752We flew to Baltimore to our niece’s house to surprise Lifelongnewyorker’s older sister and her husband and celebrate their 70th birthdays.  Almost everyone was there, except for The Abandoned One, who had other plans.  It was great to see all nine of my parents’ great-grandchildren in one place, a rare event.
  • I went to New Orleans for a two-day meeting, and drove.
  • Mr. NewYorker and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a trip to Hawaii.  We married young.

August

  • We spent the first half of the month in Kauai and Maui. The food was good, and we celebrated our anniversary with exotic cocktails and a lot of dessert. Lifelongnewyorker gained at least five pounds.
  • While in Hawaii, I got my lifetime Senior pass to National Parks for $10, before the price went up to $80. There are rewards to aging.
  • We also met a local restauranteur who hailed from Red Hook and whose Italian chef/husband made great pizza.  This one is artichokes and pepperoncini.  It was unbelievably hot.  But good. IMG_0577
  • When we came home, I decided it was time to replace my 10-year old car.  I bought a Miata with a retractable hard roof which I drove to Pensacola for, yes, another meeting.  We call it the transformer car. IMG_0598

September

  • We joined the Old Cloverdale community garden and planted lettuce and arugula.IMG_0606 (1)
  • Mr. Newyorker continued to hone his set building skills on And Then There Were None. 
  • Lifelongnewyorker went to DC, Boston and Colorado Springs.  In Colorado Springs, I had dinner with two friends from my teaching days.  It was great to see them both.

October

  • Took our annual drive to the Kentuck Arts Festival, one of the highlights of life in Alabama.  Great art, good music, nice drive and, since it’s October the weather might be in the 80s but the humidity is gone.  This year, though, rain threatened.
  • October is cotton season in Alabama. img_0652-e1513551311549.jpg
  • Lifelongnewyorker has no idea what else her husband did in October. She was on the road to: Joliet, Illinois; Clinton, Tennessee;  Pensacola Beach, Florida; New York; Worcester, Massachusetts; and Menlo Park, California. In October, she achieved platinum medallion status on Delta. And yet she’s still somewhere around number 36 on the upgrade list for first class.
  • While in California, I got to spend some time with a former student, who is as smart and funny as I remember her.IMG_0612
  • One of the meetings was at the Alex Haley Farm, which is a magical place even though you’re not allowed to smoke, use alcohol, or swear.
  • Another meeting was at Facebook. The campus is everything you’ve ever heard about it; I can’t say anything else because they make you sign a non-disclosure agreement agreeing not to reveal what you’ve seen inside.

November

  • On a rare weekend at home and one with beautiful weather, we took a day trip to Moundville Archeological Park, a Mississippian culture city that once held over 10,000 people. They built mounds and specialized in funerary practices.  Like Horseshoe Bend, it’s beautiful and haunted .
  • Lifelongnewyorker travelled to DC and San Francisco.
  • Mr. Newyorker help build the set for Little Women.
  • We flew home for our regular Thanksgiving at Lifelongnewyorker’s sister’s house in New Jersey where both ham and turkey are served and bourbon is an increasingly popular ingredient in side dishes.
  • The next day, after driving the Abandoned One to work in Brooklyn, we went to Manhattan where Lifelongnewyorker was scheduled to appear on MSNBC. She got full hair and make-up and then, minutes before going on, was bumped because a holiday crowd panicked at at the Marble Arch Underground station in London.
  • We stocked up on baccala and regina cookies and brought them back to Alabama.

December

  • We returned to New York the week after Thanksgiving so Lifelongnewyorker could do an educators’ workshop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and we could enjoy some time in the city.
  • We both came down with terrible colds.
  • I brought regina cookies back with me. The woman in the row in front of us on the plane was carrying 20 pounds of Junior’s cheesecake. If I thought they’d stay fresh,  I would have brought back a dozen fresh bagels too.
  • On December 12, we felt a lot better than we have in a long time about living in Alabama.
  • And now, in mid-December, we’re looking forward to a visit from Abandoned One and his girlfriend.
  • And at the end of the year, we’re resting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flying First Class

New Yorkers enjoy one big advantage over many other folks when it came to flying: three airports and plenty of carriers.  Traveling on business to Los Angeles rarely cost more than 300 bucks, if you were willing to haul yourself out to JFK.  And with town car service, it was no big deal.

The downside for the business traveler?  It took a lot longer to rack up those frequent flyer miles or qualify for the perks they could bring when you took a different airline for every trip.

But when you live in a small city, life is simpler. Montgomery is at the end of a short radius in the hub-and-spoke air travel system that emerged in the late 70s.  Although three airlines fly into the Montgomery airport (MGM), two of them provide service that is more theoretical than actual.  American runs one flight a day to Dallas. Perhaps two U.S. Air flights take you to Charlotte.  Otherwise, you’re flying Delta, to Memphis or Atlanta. Mainly, you fly Delta.

Since virtually every trip involves two legs in each direction, and since Delta counts “segments” toward Medallion status (of which there are three levels) it only takes six flights to qualify for Silver Medallion.

And what does that get you? A special luggage tag. Zone 2 boarding, before the overhead storage is full. Seating closer to the front of the plane. Fees waived for checked baggage.

But the best perk?  When you’re a Medallion member, you are automatically put in for a first class upgrade.

Delta’s policy is to fill first class.  Keep that in mind next time you travel: those people in rows 1 through 4 most likely did not pay $1,000 for the seat.  They just paid their dues by flying.  A lot.

When you book a coach seat on Delta, there’s a bit of a thrill at the end when the message appears, in red, that an upgrade has been requested automatically.  Sometimes, a message arrives in your email a day or two before the flight that you’ve hit the jackpot: You’ve been upgraded and your new seat assignment is 2A.  Mainly, though, you get to the gate and watch the TV to see what position your name has on the upgrade list.  All those gold and platinum members are ahead of the mere silvers, so when you’re number 18, you figure you’ll be flying coach.

This week, I got the prize, an early upgrade on my return flight from Boston to Memphis.  And then the snow started.  My flight was pushed back an hour, and the risk of missing the connecting flight in Memphis was just too great.  I switched to an earlier flight to Atlanta, and saw my first class 2A seat assignment morph into 33E.  And I was cast into Zone 4.

But then, just as they began boarding, my name wafted from the PA system.  Come to the desk, it said, for “reassignment.”  In other contexts, this could be alarming, I know.  I drifted to the desk and traded in my boarding pass for one inscribed 2D.  I had scored.

On the inbound flight I’d sat in row 18, and watched as a restless three year-old, followed closely by his mom, approached the first class cabin.  He wanted to visit, but she held him back, explaining that they weren’t allowed in there.  It was weird.  I kept expecting him to hold out his hands and ask, “Why do they have food?”

Because that’s one of the things you get in first class: food, served on plates, with real metal forks and knives.  They’re dull, it’s true, but that is beside the point.  When you arrive, the flight attendant (one, just for the folks in first class) takes your coat and hangs it in a closet.  You arrive at your seat to find a bottle of water sitting on the broad armrest that has ample room for your elbow, your seatmate’s elbow, and the two bottles of water.

Almost immediately, even while the folks in steerage are jostling aboard, you’re offered a drink.  Wine and beer are part of the service.  But really, anything for you.  After all, you’re first class.  Your coffee is hot and it comes in a ceramic mug.  No styrofoam here, except perhaps in the extra-wide seat cushions that envelope your body.

The steward winks when you inquire about stowing your laptop in the seat pocket prior to takeoff.  Those rules don’t apply to you, ma’am.  She offers another drink.  Would you like that water in a bottle or in a glass with ice.  That’s right.  A glass.  Your wine comes in a stemmed glass.  Soup is served with your southwestern salad.  It’s a Thai tomato, and it’s good.

After the meal, the steward offers you a hot towel.  She picks it out of a bowl with bamboo tongs and places it directly into your hands, murmuring, “Be careful, it’s hot.”  As soon as you’ve finished removing the grime (no doubt drifting forward from the nether regions of the plane), she appears again to remove the used towel from your sight.

It’s quieter in first class, and there’s plenty of room to set up your laptop, spread out your papers, and work.  If that’s what you want.  Otherwise you can recline and burrow into the spacious seat, ask for a blanket, and doze off.

What did you do to deserve this?  Not much really, and therein lies the problem.  The absurd difference between the treatment in first class and coach is, frankly, disturbing.  I kept imagining that scene in Dr. Zhivago, when Yuri returns home from the war to find his once-aristocratic in-laws’ home transformed into a commune for the comrades.  He is welcomed by the comrade-in-chief who explains how the previous arrangement was wasteful and bourgeois.  “Yes,” Yuri stammers, “This is much more … fair and egalitarian.”  He explains to his wife as he climbs the stairs that he really means it, it is more fair, but at the same time he knows he’s being seen as a decadent aristocrat.

Which is kinda how I felt when it was time to deplane and I saw the final perk of being in first class.  This was a 757, with the boarding door located between the first class cabin and the coach seats.  As we pampered first class passengers, having been handed our coats, skipped up the aisle, I saw that the flight attendants were physically blocking the aisle in coach so we could leave the plane first.  The rabble in steerage would follow later.