Saturday, August 28, 2010

Reunion: Durango High School Class of '65

Kathy caught up with a lot of old classmates Friday night on the patio of Steamworks Brewing Co.
in Durango.

Saturday morning the old Durango High School was open to the class to wander around. It's now the school district headquarters and it brought back a lot of memories to walk up and down the old staircases, visit the surprisingly small gym and, for Kathy, a special trip to the old bandroom, courtesy of the current superintendent's secretary, who had the key.

It's a stately old building built in 1916 - we saw the architect's original plans posted on a wall behind a glass in a storage room.

It's a three-story building with a lot of staircases, including fire escapes at the rear.

One highlight for Kathy was a visit to her old high school bandroom, thanks to the help of the school superintendent's secretary, who had the right key to this annex. Unlike other parts of the school that appeared smaller than she'd remembered, the bandroom was as large as she'd recalled. She did indeed spend her band teaching days in rooms that were tiny by comparison.

We enjoyed friendly company and a catered dinner wrapping up the reunion Saturday evening in the basement of the local Elks Club. People are happy to see each other and, at this point in our lives, realize we're all fortunate in a lot of ways.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Mexico Road Runners

No, we didn't see actual road runners of the avian kind, but we moved along at a good speed ourselves, once we landed in ABQ, the Sunport.

One unusual feature of the Sunport is that everybody renting a car has to ride a shuttle bus to a rental car facility located 5-10 minutes away. We can't help but wonder which politican's cousin might have owned the property on which this edifice stands. It's not as if there's not plenty of room in this part of the world. Maybe there are great reasons; after all, these are just the musings of casual tourists, who have time to think about it all as we ride the shuttle bus.

After the ride, we pick up our Thrifty car, a Kia Optima, and carefully mark off all of the little scratches and dents before leaving.

We leave Albuquerque close enough to 4:00 p.m. to run into a few modest traffic jams on I-25. Once we turn north on US-550 the four-lane highway, tremendously improved from several years ago, is uncrowded.

After a quick and unsatisfying stop for a snack at a Mexican fast-food joint, we spend the rest of our three-hour drive enjoying the vastness of the surroundings at 70-75 mph.

Yes, it's miles and miles of, well, miles and miles, and we've always found it starkly beautiful. Tonight we're staying at a Hampton Inn along the way, and tomorrow we'll drive onward to Durango.

Flying With Capt. Molly Flanagan - UA Superstar

We flew SEA-DEN this morning with Captain Molly Flanagan, our second flight with this UA 757 / 767 pilot and UA "celebrity," at least on FlyerTalk.

Why is she so popular? First, unlike some UA pilots she turns on UA's unique air-traffic control audio, Channel 9, for the passengers. Second, she keeps passengers scrupulously up to date with announcements about the flight's progress. Third, her practice is to come out of the cockpit and welcome the F (First Class) cabin in person before the flight, as she did this morning. Finally, she's one of a relatively few pilots to go to the trouble of handing out signed business cards to each passenger in F, although she didn't this morning, probably being somewhat busy with an FAA inspector riding along today.

This morning we turned the tables and asked our flight attendant to pass along a Wandering Warners card to her with our thank-you note scribbled on it.

We've also had the pleasure of meeting Captain Denny Flanagan, the other famous Flanagan pilot. They're not related except for both being exemplary pilot-ambassadors for UA.

A good start to our flying day as we sit in one of the DEN RCCs for a couple of hours until boarding DEN-ABQ.

SEA Security: The 5:45 A.M. Crowd

Not for the first time we arrive at the airport to find the security lines long and backed up at this early hour.

We bypass the main line by going through the elite lane but there's another line once we've flashed our IDs and the TSA employee peered at our passports with that funny little light.

A semi-poignant moment occurs when a young woman asks us if she can go in front of us as her flight to Denver is due to leave in eight minutes. We and others agree but there was still a delay and we wish her well as she finally runs toward the escalator and the train to N Gate. There's no way she'll make her flight, which was connecting her to Pittsburgh and then New York.

After we arrive at the Red Carpet Club, Kathy goes upstairs to look for her, with the plan of signing her in here as our guest and getting some concierge help, but she wasn't to be found. As far as we know she had to head back to the main terminal, try to get on a later flight, and then navigate the security line again.

Moral of the story: Arrive earlier than you think you need to at the airport.

Our flight to DEN leaves at 7:12 a.m. so we have to time for a cup of coffee. We have a 2 1/2 hour layover in DEN before flying to ABQ in a CRJ, so for us it's shaping up as a leisurely day, at least so far.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Six Airports Back-To-Back

We're packing up this morning for a drive to Seattle and a couple of upcoming trips.

August 26 we fly SEA-DEN-ABQ 1369 EQMs (UAL Elite Qualifying Miles).

We pick up a cheap rental car in Albquerque and drive up to Durango to attend Kathy's high school reunion weekend for the Class of 1965. We'll then drive back as far as Farmington NM where we're planning to sort though and document boxes of family memorabilia that belonged to Kathy's mother.

September 1 we fly ABQ-LAX-SEA 1629 EQMs and overnight at SEA

September 2 we fly SEA-SFO-BWI 3128 EQMs and spend two nights in Baltimore, a quasi-mileage-run for us (For dedicated Flyer Talkers, a true mileage run does not include any overnight hotel stays).

September 4 we fly BWI-DEN-SEA 2510 EQMs and hope to arrive in time to attend grandson Jake's family birthday party at his Unk's house in Issaquah.

We scooped up the Baltimore flight for a little over $100 each and our grand total for eight legs will be a respectable 8636 EQMs. With our 100% 1K bonus miles, UA will deposit a total of 17272 miles into each of our accounts, but who's counting?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Hands on: TSA tests 'enhanced patdowns'" - The Tipping Point?

This USA Today article presents even-handed (pun intended) coverage of the controversy over the so-called enhanced patdowns, including links to other articles.

We've been traveling long enough to realize that the words enhanced and enhancement, as (ab)used in the travel industry, most often refers euphemistically to something that will either cost more or diminish service.

The question is simply how much we, the traveling public, are prepared to tolerate in the name of "security." Could this be a tipping point?

Monday, August 23, 2010

TSA "Enhanced" Frisking Techniques - Ugh!

Getting through security to board the plane at Sea-Tac will soon present flyers with a Hobson's Choice:

1. Go through a full-body scanner, the safety of which is debated, not to mention the privacy concerns raised by what some of our fellow Flyer Talkers refer to as Nude-O-Scopes.

2. If you opt out of the body scan, you will go through a pat-down search that is about to become even more invasive, i.e. like a police frisk, if Logan Airport's pilot program is any indication.

We're not at all pleased at the idea of the full-body scans. Since the machines will supposedly soon be installed at SEA, it seems we'll have to make that Hobson's Choice sooner rather than later.

A third alternative, if the powers-that-be finally make it too unpleasant to stomach, is simply to fly a lot less.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dakota Creek Winery: "Art at The Winery"

We're lucky to live within a few minutes drive of a couple of top-notch little boutique wineries in Blaine Washington. One of them is Dakota Creek Winery.

We've visited this winery a number of times, we've tasted their wine with pleasure and bought quantities for our "cellar" as members of their Wine Club, and we've had the chance to chat with the friendly co-owners, Ken and Jill Peck. Today we dropped by their annual Art at The Winery event, featuring a multitude of booths with something like 60 local artists and artisans selling their wares, along with a live band and, naturally, reasonably-priced Dakota Creek wines by the glass.

We wandered around for a couple of hours, enjoying the warm weather and the ambience, running into Birch Bay neighbors and co-owner Jill Peck who, while darting from one project to the next, took the time to say hello. We even bought a few items as we sipped.

These folks make good wine, and if you scroll down to page 13 of this Wine Spectator listing, you'll see they've again earned 90 points for one of their vintages.

Yes, it's a definite enhancement to our neighborhood.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Highway 2: The Gold Bar Restaurant And Lounge

Back home and catching up on mail and miscellany today, we're still thinking about yesterday's enjoyable drive from East Wenatchee to Birch Bay, most of it on the scenic Highway 2.

A pleasant surprise resulted from spotting the Gold Bar Restaurant and Lounge for a lunch stop just off the highway as we entered the outskirts of Gold Bar, roughly 30 miles East of where Highway 2 merges into I-5 at Everett.

When we asked whether the soup of the day was made on the premises, the waitress proudly replied that they made at least 90% of the food on the menu, including the soup, from scratch. We were also impressed that the menu advertised Certified Angus Beef, and Brian's beef dip sandwich was exceedingly tasty. Kathy enjoyed an excellent Reuben sandwich, made with sour cream rather than the fairly weak sauce restaurants often slather on.

We split an order of their hand-cut french fries, also delicious. The bill for all of this was in the 20-dollar range.

It's such a treat to come across little independent restaurants like this one (Gold Bar wouldn't support a big franchise operation in any case) that serve good food at fair prices.

We'll make a point of stopping there again.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wenatchee Thai Dining

Last night after some fairly warm unpacking - we see 103 in one report and our car's external thermometer read 107 during one shopping trip - we decided to treat ourselves to dinner out.

There are at least two Thai restaurants in the area, both of which receive reasonable reviews. We decided to drive from the new East Wenatchee house over to Wenatchee to eat at The Thai Restaurant. Can a place-name count as eponymous?

We ordered some of the usual dishes we're familiar with and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. On this visit, selecting 3 out of 4 on the "hotness" scale resulted in dishes right on the edge of too hot for us, especially a Panang curry dish made without coconut milk in deference to cholesterol-counting. The Singha helped though and the employees are exceptionally friendly so we'll definitely plan to return on one of our many anticipated future visits.

The rental truck is still half-full and yesterday, as we sat resting in the air-conditioned house in the full heat of the afternoon, we made a phone call and a couple of movers are arriving at 8:00 a.m. to help us in unloading the really heavy furniture.

Wouldn't you know that the weather forecast shows the temperature dropping into the 70s later in the week? Timing is everything, as is said, and it'll be cool to see an empty rental truck later this morning.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wenatchee WA

Here we are in a Super 8 Motel in Wenatchee Washington, somewhat ready to start the day.

We helped son-in-law John pack a rental truck to the brim with his and Kim's furniture in Tacoma for two days, and our three-vehicle convoy arrived in Wenatchee yesterday afternoon.

Today we unload furniture at their new house, hoping to give John a head-start on preparing for his new teaching job next week.

The current heat wave has apparently followed us here and it's going to be yet another hot day today. Emptying the contents of the truck into their air-conditioned house as quickly as possible is the plan, before Mr. Farenheit hits triple digits in the afternoon.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Great Place To Lounge: The LAS CO Presidents Club

UA Red Carpet Club members are now entitled to use the Continental Presidents Club lounges, and we've discovered a gem in the Las Vegas Airport (LAS).

We'll post a photo at some later point but it's an airy and spacious facility with a panoramic view of part of the Las Vegas skyline through its curved windows.

The offering of complimentary beer and wine is something novel for RCC members but certainly a nice touch as well.

We fly back this afternoon after three nights at the Las Vegas Hilton, tempted by an offer of comped rooms. You have to know Vegas is hurting when Hilton offer low rollers like us free accommodation. It was relatively quiet, we enjoyed ourselves, but now we're ready to go back home, check the mail, and water the plants, before hitting the road again.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mac King: Great Afternoon Las Vegas Show

In case anybody visits Las Vegas in the near future...

We attended Mac King's show at Harrah's this afternoon after reading the extremely positive reviews on Trip Advisor and elsewhere.

We weren't disappointed. He's a terrific and funny magician who performs a low-key show with lots of audience involvement - fortunately that didn't include us.

It's not hard to find comped tickets - a lovely fellow tourist handed us one she didn't need when she heard us talking about it. There's still a "one-drink minimum" so for $20 (okay - we paid an extra $5 each for the VIP line and seating in the front) we saw a really entertaining show.

Monday, August 9, 2010

JetBlue Flight Attendant Steven Slater Has Deplaned

An unfortunate encounter between Mr. Slater and a passenger after the plane landed at JFK led to an alleged incident in which "Slater is alleged to have then activated the plane’s inflatable emergency slide, grabbed two beers from the galley, then slid down the chute..."

Is this called going out with style or simply going out with a bang?

Read about it in the Wall Street Journal.

See photos here of Mr. Slater in a better mood.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pacific Ocean Sunset From 36,000 Feet

SFO-YVR August 7...

Scenes From A Minneapolis Mileage Run

After driving the 35 miles or so from home to the Vancouver Airport Friday morning, we park our car, enter the terminal, and walk by Bill Reid's striking Spirit of Haida Gwaii on our way to check in at UA.

We enjoy ourselves with technology, soup, and salad in AC's lovely transborder Maple Leaf Lounge while waiting to board our first flight as we travel 1789 miles YVR-DEN-MSP.

The next morning we pay a quick visit to the Mall of America, a five-minute shuttle ride from our hotel.

As the West Edmonton Mall holds a water park, the Mall of America holds an amusement park.

A quick walk through a section of the mall on a busy Saturday morning in August persuades us to take the shuttle to MSP and spend some time in its newly re-opened Red Carpet Club. It's tiny but pleasant.

Almost before we know it, we're enjoying an extended view of the sunset as we fly SFO-YVR, completing our MSP-SFO-YVR return flight of 2390 miles, giving us a total of 4179 EQMs for this trip.

We land at 10:15 p.m., zip through Canada Immigration and Customs, walk to our car, pay the $33 parking fee (lucky we'd printed a coupon or it would have been $44), and discover our only delay of significance at the Peace Arch border crossing, where we must first merge into one lane, and then wait for only two open booths at this major land crossing. It appears the construction continues (the truck crossing is obviously a safer bet for now) but 30 minutes later we're on our way home and in bed by midnight.

For our bargain fare, United upgraded us to First with UDUs on all four legs, making for a very pleasant 30-hour excursion.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cheaper To Fly Than To Stay Home

Okay, we're exaggerating, but only to make the point.

This trip started when Kathy found us a bargain fare YVR-MSP. The $88 base price added up to about $153 all-in. Flying YVR-DEN-MSP-SFO-YVR will add 4179 Elite Qualifying Miles to our Mileage Plus accounts. With our 100% bonus as 1Ks, we'll each have a total of about 8300 miles in our account for this quick trip.

Since we flew in F, there were no meal costs on the ground. Our $75 stay at the MSP Airport Hilton was a "bed-and-breakfast" rate that included a full buffet breakfast. The hotel shuttle to the airport and the Mall of America are free of charge.

It's been a pleasant outing and, in return, we're 4000 miles closer to the prize we covet: Million Mile status on UA. As well, we've earned enough miles to cover about 1/3 of a domestic saver award ticket, and Brian will officially requalify for 2011 1K status by the time we get off in YVR. Kathy's already 1K for 2011 due to the UA flights she's bought on her UA Visa card.

It's a tough job earning points, but somebody gets to do it.


We're paying our first visit to the Minneapolis Airport Red Carpet Club. It re-opened at the beginning of April after being closed for a period of time.

It's one of the very smallest RCCs we've ever visited - an even smaller one in Baltimore is now closed - but it's pleasant, modern, it offers a panoramic view, and it has an abundance of electrical outlets for computers and other gadgets. Yes, it's cute as miniatures tend to be.

The staff are also Minnesota friendly. Of course everybody is here.

We'll be leaving shortly for our flight to San Francisco, and glad we were able to drop in.

Get Ready To Scratch When You Read This

In Toronto this question is being asked:

Can the city defeat growing bedbug crisis?

Thank goodness we slept in a hotel 677 air-miles away from YYZ last night. Hmmm... how far can those little critters fly?

A Rainy Day In Minneapolis

We slept well at the Airport Hilton and awoke to find that it's raining, with possible thunderstorms later in the day. It looks like a good day to check out the Mall of America before heading back to the airport for our late-afternoon flight.

It was only a couple of months ago that our travels led us to stroll through the West Edmonto Mall.

Let's hope these mall visits aren't the start of a disturbing trend in the Warners' wandering.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Flying DEN-MSP With Jesse Ventura

What's funny about both of us (among other attributes) is that we're not particularly visual people. We were waiting to board our flight to Minneapolis and also awaiting a last-minute upgrade. We vaguely noticed a tall, somewhat weather-beaten, yet still impressive looking fellow in a baseball hat who arrived not long before boarding started and sat down near us. We also noticed a couple of people shaking hands with him but thought no more of it.

At this point we were called to the counter to pick up our new boarding passes. We were seated separately, Brian on the aisle in 1C and Kathy in the window behind in one 2B. The nice young lady who was going to sit in 1D kindly volunteered to switch seats with Kathy.

Kathy squeezed past the gentleman in 2C and moved up to the bulkhead window seat with Brian. It wasn't until we noticed several boarding passengers staring at him or even saying "Hi Jesse," and then heard him say a few words in his quite recognizable voice that it dawned on us.

It was indeed Governor Jesse Ventura, who spent the entire 90-minute flight (with an extra half-hour awaiting our turn to take off after the storm disrupted DEN operations)quietly reading to himself.

How many other celebrities have we overlooked during our travels? Of course, those who know us well know that we wouldn't even recognize that many celebrities, or worse, even care that much.

A Guide To Five Hours in Minneapolis

On our way to MSP for our quick overnight trip, we were amused to open the current issue of United's in-flight magazine, Hemispheres, and find One City, Five Hours: Minneapolis.

Not one mention of the Mall of America either - impressive...

Maybe we can check one or two of those items off our list before flying back home Saturday afternoon.

Turbulence: Hope For The Best, Prepare For The Worst

We enjoyed a perfectly pleasant flight YVR-DEN, sitting in Row 3, the last row of F, on a 320. The pilot warned several times of turbulence ahead and the seat belt sign was on for a significant portion of the flight.

Toward the end of the flight he told us that DEN had been shut down for awhile due to a passing storm, and that we'd be flying in a holding pattern for at least a half hour before landing. That was no problem for us as we have a significant layover before flying on to MSP.

Despite the circling, sometimes through dark clouds, our actual approach and landing at DEN was among the smoother we've experienced in our arrivals there. That can be a very bumpy airport, especially when the summer afternoon rising thermal updrafts occur. The entire flight was smooth, and it's undoubtedly due to the pilot and air traffic control jointly figuring out a good route through messy weather

YVR: Our Day To Queue at Vancouver Airport

We've been in the Maple Leaf Lounge for about 20 minutes, thinking it's fortunate we left home as early as we did this morning.

We waited about 20 minutes at the Peace Arch border crossing and then made a quick trip up #99 to the airport, since the morning rush was over.

Parking wasn't a problem in the "Economy Lot" - truth in advertising? Hmmm... - and then the lines began. We already had our boarding passes printed up and we weren't checking any luggage; still, we ended up waiting in UA's First Class / 1K line for about 20 minutes. For some reason, after the gate agent dealt with the elderly couple in front of us she found it necessary to leave her post for five minutes.

We then entered the special security line for passengers flying to the U.S. That was easily 20-25 minutes. Our carry-ons sat inside the little X-ray machines for quite some period of time while an employee peered at the screen.

From there we went to another lineup, US Customs and Immigration. That was only a five-minute wait; however, the agent told us cheerfully we'd been selected for a random secondary inspection, so we had to enter a large room at the back and wait our turn. Everybody was friendly and, after waiting in chairs for another five minutes, another friendly agent searched Kathy's purse, x-rayed our luggage, and sent us on our way with a smile after we told him about mileage runs.

It arguably took us close to as much time to arrive in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge here as it would have taken us to drive to Seattle and SEA. Of course, we only drove a bit over 30 miles so there was less wear-and-tear on the car and on us, and the YVR-MSP bargain fare is too good to pass up.

The soup, salad, and complimentary beverages also make the Maple Leaf Lounge hard to beat and we're happy to be sitting here with no hassles, and nothing other than friendly treatment throughout.

YVR Parking: A Taxing Situation (With Update)

We're heading off later today on a mileage run. YVR-MSP (Vancouver to Minneapolis). This is our first time to park at YVR since British Columbia implemented its Harmonized Sales Tax, or HST.

How much do we pay in taxes for our parking spot? Try 35.52%! (While we generally eschew exclamation marks we feel that one is justified in this case - maybe two!!)

Another first for the Wandering Warners: a record enounter in the tax-the-tourist game that governments play so well.

It's another reason that Alaska Airlines will probably attract Canadian customers with its newly-announced non-stop Bellingham-Honolulu flights.

Update from the DEN RCC: While flying from Vancouver to Denver we were reading the Vancouver Sun and spotted a letter to the editor complaining about the very same tax imposed on parking at one of the universities. Apparently it's not just a tax-the-tourist tax but a tax-the-taxpayer tax - time for another couple of exclamation marks!!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

United Airline's Optathlon Game

Has any company ever thought up a sillier name for a game?

Still, now that we've won a few 10% off e-certs, we're willing to share the fun.

Click here to play. The Try for instant win at the end of the game offers you a chance to win a discount cert.

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"The Golden Age of Flight:" Maybe It Wasn't

The Wall Street Journal travel section regularly includes a fine column, The Middle Seat, written by Scott McCartney. Like us, he attended last year's Flyer Talk Star Alliance Mega Do and wrote about it, probably to a somewhat larger audience.

We recently read with interest his column,The Golden Age of Flight. We've been frequent flyers only since 2001, and the column leaves us with the impression we didn't miss as much as some would suggest.