Monday, August 22, 2011

Win Win

I’m weird.

Anyone who knows me for a period of time longer than a week will certainly attest. I know there are other weird people in the world, hey maybe we’re all peculiar, but my particular eccentricities come forth in mysterious ways. Some of my rituals and fears are unusual. For example, I make strange noises each time I move, knees click, ankles creak and my every movement is punctuated by primal screams meant to preempt anything that the many herniated disks in my spine might throw at me. I also have irrational fears and lack of fears, often on my treks through big cities, I walk alone off the beaten track, down alley ways and dark corners searching for my inevitable “other way back”, all the while oblivious to the precarious nature of my surroundings. Recently, upon my return from a particularly seedy journey, I became unravelled with panic when I had to share an elevator with a man holding a poodle in his arms. Elevators are fine but they contain very little in the way of self-protective equipment, the kind I would need to draw upon if attacked by a 1 foot long furry ball of canine. The “other way back” for me has become a lifestyle choice. As my son can attest to the many lengthened trips we take on the way home from anywhere just to ride past the best “chewing candy store”, the one where we could decide together on a sports wager – anything to extend the journey. It’s a sickness.

I also realize the conversations and experiences that I fill my time with are…unique. Like the time I brought a beautiful woman to a particle accelerator for a date. I’m not sure what I was looking for but who could resist a long stair climb to the depths of University of Toronto’s quantum physics laboratory to see (or more accurately – not see) subatomic particles fly around a mile long racing tube only to be splatted against a wall to determine which of the little fellas made the best impact. Shannon, I’m sorry! Or perhaps my peculiar passions could be exemplified better by my trip to the heart of the Wisconsin Dells to see 2 of the world’s last whooping cranes frolic in the mosquito infested backwoods of cheese country. I am a sucker for the esoteric, the fragile, the vulnerable and the pure. Other people tell exciting stories about people and things. They inform about relatives, friends, motor boats, kittens and the cottage. They describe intimately details about shopping trips and the great deal they got on …insert item here. My stories generally surround ideas, like how cool it is that our bodies contain reconstituted atoms from Shakespeare and Mozart but none from Elvis. Why the constellation Cassiopeia (daughter of Andromeda) hangs upside down in the night sky or how the Chicago Cubs continue to be cursed by a billy goat for over 100 years. I would just like to say to those who have pretended to listen over the years. Thank you.

Some would say it’s never a dull moment with me, and I suppose others would say it’s nothing but dull moments, c’est la vie, I’m officially too old to change. I guess that’s the great thing about this blog. For me I can write undisciplined, stream of consciousness nonsense and I get it all out of my system. But maybe the true value of these passages is the public service I am doing for my companions who can now look at me as I am about to warm up the story about the life and times of Johannes Kepler and say, “no need, read it on your blog”. Win /Win I say.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Come fly with me....

It takes 4 hours to fly from Vancouver to Toronto. How long would it take to drive? I bet it’s easily 24 hours. So there is no question as to why airline transportation is such a viable option. It just gets you there so much quicker… or does it?

From what I hear, traffic in Vancouver is awful and it becomes gridlock around the airport so even if you live within a couple of hours of the terminal, let’s add on 3 hours to your journey to be safe, just to get you to the airport. We need to keep in mind that with all the security these days, even a domestic flight means 2 hours of dehumanizing cattle herding around YVR before any taxiing can commence. Then of course we need to factor in flight times, flight delays, the inevitable wait at Pearson while the plane docks and the ½ hour you spend at the baggage carousel waiting for your Swiss Army luggage to appear. By the time you've located a cab to get you to your final destination you have to admit that the four hour flight isn’t such a wham bam affair.

So let’s add it up, if you have a 10 am flight from Vancouver to Toronto you’re probably aiming to get to the airport at 8. You have a 3 hour ride and want to arrive promptly, so you hit the road by 5. Your plane is set to land in Toronto at 2pm (West Coast time, 5 p.m. EST) but add a couple of hours for delays, baggage and transport and I bet your lucky to arrive at your destination any time before 7 p.m. All in, I think you can safely say that a cross country journey is going to run you 12 hours minimum in real productive daytime hours. Oh well, I’ve effectively proven that air travel beats car travel by half a day. Where are we going with this…

Let’s dig a little deeper, in order to get on the road at 5 to catch a ride to the airport I needed to set the alarm at 4 a.m. and the decision to watch Sportcenter to get the final score in the Canuks game was effectively not even contemplated, the alarm was set by 9 p.m. the previous night, at the latest. The music was played, the spouse was kissed and the bedroom lights were dimmed. So if I include sleeping time I essentially accomplished nothing from 9 p.m. the night before to 5 p.m. the next day on a direct flight from Vancouver to Toronto. But then again, how often do you get a direct flight these days? More often than not you’re connecting in Edmonton or some such scrambled destination and adding another 2 hours of waiting time to your journey. Let’s say on average you’re looking at 9 p.m. at the earliest. You arrive exhausted and hungry. If you’re lucky enough to have had no delays when you get to your destination you should at least think about a quick shower and grabbing a bit of food before you get back to the hotel and head to bed before that 9 a.m. meeting the next morning. In short from the time you headed to bed the night before to the time you arrive at your destination for your meeting I make it close to 36 hours. And all that to catch a 4 hour flight from Van. to Toronto. Of course you realize it is going to cost you a couple of days later when the viral infection your seat mate was chewing on recycled through the cabin and made it into the bloodstream of every member of the lucky and unsuspecting herd of passengers also on the quick junket, but I suppose that is accepted as a sunk cost.

Allow me to propose an alternative. At 9 p.m. the night before rather than setting the alarm and donning your kerchief and cap, you are instead picked up in a limousine by Cindy, a gorgeous brunette and Linda, a pleasant and perky blonde ready to please. Indulge me, this is my fantasy. Linda gets behind the wheel while you hop in the Limo next to Cindy who pours you a refreshing tomato juice cocktail and already has your favourite movie playing in the back seat. While Linda follows the GPS, cleverly avoiding the morning rush hour by your evening departure, you snuggle up beside Cindy watching “Rear Window”, and suddenly you notice yourself getting a wee bit tired. Around midnight you lay down on the comfortably designed recliner as Cindy reads you the daily stock quotes, and before you know it dream time falls upon you. It’s so comfy in the air conditioned comfort of your private cabin that you don’t even realize that Cindy and Linda have changed duties during the evening and it’s not until 9 am when you wake that you see Cindy pulling off for your Breakfast stop. They’ve called ahead and have your favourite breakfast ready with eggs just how you like them at your refuelling stop, delicious. While you finish your toast and homemade strawberry jam, Cindy and Linda leave and are replaced with Julie and Sally for the second half of the trip, Julie was a former NASCAR champion and Sally is a certified massage therapist who low and behold has the massage table all set up in the backseat of the Limo (this ain’t no regular limo!). A massage, drinks, snacks, great conversation, a little nap, a read of your paper, it’s already noon and you’ve got your laptop out and working on your presentation for the next day. Sure there are the odd refuelling stops and the three of you must co-ordinate your response to natures’ calls, but your tray never had to return to its upright position, your laptop never had to disconnect from your VPN so as not to interfere with the Pilot’s navigation system, and not once were you randomly selected to prove that you were not a terrorist.

No doubt it’s a long day but it has been nothing but enjoyable. You enter Toronto at 11 p.m. having made a total of zero connections and have had a lovely time. Your suite is ready but you are in no real rush, you’ve already had a lovely meal on the way, you’ve had all the chance in the world to work and that footbath you had at Kilometer 1500 really hit the spot. The ladies have all of your baggage ready for you and leave you with a kiss (on the cheek…it’s not that kind of service) and your itinerary for your return trip after your meeting is in your hands.

I’m not saying you’ve saved any time and I bet you haven’t saved any money but if you have looked on Expedia lately and factored in the cost associated with all of the legs of the journey involved your probably not much lighter in the wallet from the Limo ride and as for time, well what have you really lost?

In my opinion, the same argument could be made for any domestic flight. I realize that international flights might be a challenge until Linda, Susie, Cindy and Sally all learn how to paddle in unison but then again if we start subtracting all of the needless domestic trips perhaps the airports and airlines could design more efficient and profitable products for cross ocean voyages. Win / Win.

So I leave it to the entrepreneurs of the world to solve my issues with air transit. I’m guessing I could have played the Carbon footprint card here and really made a statement but hey that’s not why I’m in this! Maybe I can acknowledge that my fantasy of Sally the Massage Therapist with a keen sense of roadside navigation may not be possible, but I dare you to convince me that domestic air transportation, the Billion dollar industry that struggles to make any real profits, social or otherwise actually solves any of the world’s problems. It adds to no real value. My suggestion is to essentially replicate the experience of a private jet but on the ground. The experience has to be better.

Well I guess, I’ll stop there, my final boarding call has just been sounded and I better get to that plane to listen carefully to that stewardess so I know how to insert my clasp into my buckle when the time comes, stale pretzels await! Come fly with me….