Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Travel Day: Hartford to LA

My journey back to the west coast started with a car ride from Watertown, CT to the Hartford airport. The car ride was a lovely hour trip through rolling hills and little towns. I rode with 3 other people from the conference I attended so it was a nice continuation of many of the conversations we had throughout the week. We stopped at Dunkin Donuts and I had my coffee fix and a sprinkled doughnut. Then we seemed to pass Dunkin Donuts every few minutes. We must have passed 10 of them before we got to the highway. We returned the car to the car rental location and were whisked to the terminal by the shuttle bus. Since I was hitching a ride I ended up at the airport 4 hours before my flight, so I had lots of time to kill. My friend and I went to eat some food since her flight was only an hour earlier than mine. After she left to catch her flight I walked around the terminal which isn't that big.

I wanted to find some postcards but none of them looked good. About 30 minutes before my flight was leaving I headed to the gate. They were already boarding and had oversold the flight. Apparently they made that announcement before I arrived, but I didn't hear it until they made another announcement. I volunteered because I was flexible with my plans. I was flying to LAX and there had to be a ton of other flights for me to get. It took them a really long time to figure out alternate flights. They were going to put me on another airline, but I refused because I wanted to accrue United miles and not some other airline's miles. So I demanded that they rebook me on another United flight. They said that I couldn't get out that day and they could get me out first thing in the morning. They offered to give me a hotel for the night and I asked for a Hilton or Doubletree and they found a room at the airport Doubletree. So I would be getting Hilton points from them too. About an hour later I was booked at the hotel, they retrieved my bag, and I had first class seats all the way to LAX on my flights the next day. I didn't think that was half bad of a deal. Besides I was so tired from my exhausting week-long professional development that I was happy to have a bed that wasn't a single dorm bed. The hotel is about a mile from the airport and I grabbed the free shuttle. They had my reservation ready and I headed up to my room and immediately took a nap. I don't remember how long I was out, but I woke up and showered to feel human again and went downstairs for dinner. 

Their restaurant had a nice bar so I sat there because it looks less sad than sitting at a table for one. I had my Hunger Games book with me so I was able to get some reading in. Right after I ordered the bartender asked me if I was with the airline. I had no idea how to take that. I said "no" but I was put in the hotel by an airline. I think they give discounts to airline personnel, so I think that's why he asked that question. At least that's the version I'm going with. After about an hour there I went back up to the room to pack up and get some sleep. Actually I ended up reading for another hour or so and then went to sleep. There was absolutely nothing near the hotel so I didn't venture out. The view from my room was not inviting at all. 

I had to wake up at 4:00am in order to catch my 5:50am flight to Chicago and connect to LAX. The morning came quickly and I was down in the lobby by 4:30am. I waited a few minutes for the shuttle and it was jammed packed with people about 12 in all. Crazy. So I went to the United counter to check my bag and thankfully I was able to use the first class check-in because the place was a zoo. They were pulling people out of the huge line if they were cutting it close to their departure time. 

Anyway, it took me all of 3 minutes and I was at security. There was barely a line there and I was through in a matter of minutes. I went to the gate to wait for my flight. This flight was packed too but I had a nice comfortable seat 1F. I slept most of the way but I managed to eat a snack box. About 2 hours later we were landing in the Chicagoland area. 
I remember a day when traveling on Saturdays and Sunday mornings was light and easy. No longer is that the case. The United terminal at O'hare was jammed with people. Every Starbucks in that terminal had a line at least 10 people deep. Forget it. I passed on my coffee. I didn't really need it but it would've been nice to have. I had a window seat so I didn't want to have to get out to pee several times during the flight (if I know I have an aisle seat then I am usually not concerned). My connecting gate was at the opposite side of the terminal.

I went from one end to the other and waited for my gate. I was one of the first to board my flight and I settled into my nice seat 2A. There was a lot of turbulence at the beginning of this flight as we flew through some of the weather that is apparent in the picture below.
Once that was over the flight was quite smooth and nice. They served a nice cheese omelet dish. They played some typical airplane movie with Reese Witherspoon and the guy from the new Star Trek. Why are all airplane movies the same thing? Also of note, the soccer team Charlotte Eagles were on my flight. That's never a good sign because you always hear how an entire team goes down in an airplane crash together. I don't want to be on that flight thank you very much. But we actually did make it all the way to LAX without incident and I got a lot of my book read in addition to a catnap. We arrived at LAX about 15 minutes early, which is rarely a good thing because invariably there isn't an open gate if you land too early so you sit and wait and then end being a little late while waiting for a gate to open up. Terminal 8 at LAX was hoppin' at 10:30am and I was very glad to be out of the east coast humidity and back home.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Travel Day: Newark Penn Stn. to Waterbury, CT

I have been staying in New Jersey for the last few days and I needed to go to Connecticut. My train from Newark Penn Station to Bridgeport left about 9:25am on Amtrak. Newark Penn Station is very old and almost dilapidated. When I got to track 2 for my train, I was about 20 minutes early. There was not another person on the platform. It was kinda spooky, but there were people about on other platforms.
I love the art deco style of Penn Station, but it needs to be cleaned up. 
My train arrived on time and I got on to the "quiet car" where people aren't supposed to be on cell phones or anything. I wish they had these on airplanes. This train had free wifi and a power socket at my seat. How cool is that? My first stop was New York Penn Station and we waited there for about 15 minutes. I was wondering why the train schedule seemed like it took so long to get up to Bridgeport, but this explained it.
 The few minutes I spent riding through NYC.
 I don't know which bridge this is but we are north of the city.
About 2 hours after I left Newark Penn Station, I arrived in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was nothing like I was expecting. I thought it would be a nice station and Martha Stewart would be there to welcome me off the train. Little did I know that the station was really old and decrepit. It's an elevated station that is right above the streets. I had to change to the MTA North train to Waterbury. I didn't have a ticket yet and had to find a kiosk to buy one. It only costs a few dollars to go from Bridgeport to Waterbury. After about 15 minutes my train came. It only had 3 trains on it and one wasn't in use so it was a little tight. I had my huge bag with me so it wasn't easy finding a spot, but I settled into an area with seat that faced each other.
It took an hour to get to Waterbury, CT and the station is the end of that line. The station is also right next to the street and there were guys touting taxis. I found a guy to take me to the Taft School which is like 15 miles from the station. I found out later that he wasn't a legit taxi since he didn't have a meter. I had no idea how much it would cost me to get to the school, but after about 20 minutes up the highway and through small Connecticut towns, we arrived at the school and it cost me $25. I have no idea if that was a bargain or not, but since I had been traveling for about 5 hours, I didn't care. Here is my room for the week.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Travel Day: Zig Zag Coast to Coast

This journey to the east coast consisted of 3 flight segments that took me to 3 different United Airlines hubs: San Francisco, Washington Dulles, and Newark. I think the journey was about 11.5 hours long. Of course, there are nonstop flights between Orange County and Newark, but when I was booking it was about $300 more for the nonstop. In retrospect, it might have been better, but $300 is a lot of money to save. Besides, I wasn't in a hurry. The first flight was a United Express flight to SFO and I sat in the exit row with tons of room--probably more than first class has. 

This was the standard flight up the California coast. The normal path is to takeoff from SNA and fly straight out to Catalina Island, then hang a right toward the bay area. We flew right over Monterey and into SFO. Once we landed I went to the food court in the United terminal to eat dinner. It was about 9:00pm by this point. I had Chinese dim sum and Hong Kong style pan fried noodles. Yummy. 
My next flight to Washington Dulles was a redeye flight and it was packed to the gills. That flight had a series of little delays of 10-20 minutes. We ended up leaving about 45 minutes late but it wouldn't affect my connecting flight. Once again I sat in the exit row and it was a long 5 hour flight. I don't sleep well on planes especially when the person next to me was a very tall man whose broad shoulders crept into my personal space. I actually fell asleep before we took off and the revving of the engines on takeoff woke me up. I didn't even try to stay up to watch the movie or anything. I knew that daylight would soon arrive. The guy next to me passed out and would shake himself awake everyone now and then which would wake me up. In fairness, I'm sure I did the same thing too. That's what happens when you are sleeping in a seated position and your head dips. So that made for a long flight. Even though I was able to stretch my legs I was quite uncomfortable during most of the flight. Oh well. We landed around 8:00am to a muggy Virginia morning. 
My connecting flight was about 3 gates down and I only had about 40 minutes to spare because of our delay. Whilst waiting at the gate I witnessed two different people melting down. One guy was on the phone with someone and he was yelling so loudly and he was clearly being yelled at because he could barely get a word in. Whoever he was talking to was ripping him a new one. It was really uncomfortable to witness. Then a lady at my gate was upset with the gate agent because her flight left. She was sitting in a gate area 1 gate away and never heard any announcements or anything. The gate agent was quite loud and insisted that he made the announcements. He kept saying to the woman, "the plane is pulling out and I can't stop it, it's leaving." He sent her to customer service which was across the way. I felt badly for her because I have been in the position of watching my plane pull away while I arrive at the gate. Not a nice feeling at all. 
The flight from Dulles to Newark was 45 minutes long. I slept the entire time. It was on a little regional jet and I sat on the side with only 1 seat. It was nice. Little did I know that I was on the plane and my luggage was not. I wouldn't discover this until I arrived in Newark Terminal A, which is a dump. It looks the same as it did when they built it circa 1960. It has the smallest hallways and low ceilings and it really needs to be torn down. Compared to the main United Terminal C, it is a disgrace. When I discovered that my bag didn't make it, I filed a report with the luggage office. So it was really nice to not have anything to change into or have any toiletries. Thankfully I wasn't going to a hotel and I was going to my friend's house where at least I could take a shower and wear someone else's clothes until my bag arrived. After an entire night of calling and checking the status of the bag online, it arrived 23 hours after the fact. 
I'm on the east coast for 10 days and I truly hope that my return flight is much less eventful than this one was. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Getting the Upgrade

This graphic is from a New York Times article today in the Travel section. It shows the crazy game that exists for getting free upgrades. The way to make sure you sit in first class is to buy a first class ticket.  However, if you are an elite member of the airline's frequent flyer program then you stand a chance of snagging that upgrade. This graphic uses Delta Air Lines as the example, but just about all legacy carriers (not Southwest) have similar structures to their programs. This is almost impossible to explain in a logical/linear fashion.

10 Tips on Navigating College and Beyond

This post isn't travel related, but I recently had the opportunity to give a speech to graduating high school seniors. My speech was inspired by this blog and a lot of people asked me to post the speech somewhere.  So I posted some of it here:

1.     Take control of your credit: I learned this the hard way and I never knew that my credit was screwed up. As it turns out, family members used my credit to open credit cards and I didn’t discover it until many years later when I tried to rent an apartment. It took years to clear the problems in my credit that I didn’t even create. Having bad credit will mess up your life horribly, so take control of that.

2.     Get in the habit of writing thank you cards: This is one of the best things my parents taught me. It is so much more meaningful to receive an actual card than an email message. Writing thank you cards will teach you to be gracious and humble, and any potential employer will remember the candidate who wrote a card instead of an email. Besides who doesn’t like receiving a card?

3.     Safety pin your socks together when you do laundry: If you do this, you will never have lone socks and you won’t get them mixed up with your roommate. It will also save you time because you won’t have to sort them when they come out of the dryer. I’ve been doing it for 20 years now and don’t worry they won’t make holes or ruin your other clothes.

4.     Learn to tie a necktie: This goes for guys and girls. For guys, you should be able to know how to do this period. Men wear ties, so you need to know how to tie one. For girls, ties can be fashionable too, but you will probably meet guys who don’t know how to tie a tie, and they will be very impressed with you. In my dorm, I was one of the only people who knew how to tie a tie and word spread like wildfire. I was asked to tie them all the time.

5.     Never say never: You never know what you will end up doing in life. After my undergraduate degree in math, I said that I’d never take another math class in my life, but then I got a master’s in it. After that I said the same thing again, then I pursued my doctorate. I always end up eating my words, so I learned to “never say never”. I also said I would never go camping.

6.     Look like you belong: Act the part. Dress like you mean it. If you want to be taken seriously, then dress like it; pull up your pants and get some that actually fit. But another aspect of this is that you can get far in many situations if you look like you fit in. For some reason when I travel, I must look like I know what I am doing because in every country I have ever been to, someone asks me directions. I’ve also used the restroom in many luxury hotels that I wasn’t staying in because I walked in and looked like I knew what I was doing while secretly trying to find the lobby restroom.

7.     Learn to write letters: This is different from Thank you notes. Unfortunately we live in a world where the squeaky wheel gets noticed, and many people and companies won’t react or correct situations unless you bring it to their attention. So you need to learn to play the game until the rules change. I call these kinds of letters, nastygrams and I’ve mastered this skill. I’ve been able to get frequent flier miles, airline vouchers, free Vegas weekends, upgrades, free appliances and much more because I wrote a nastygram. But there is another side to it. I am a firm believer in karma and I have committed myself to praising good experiences as much as I complain about bad ones.

8.     Live your life for you: Don’t do anything because someone wants you to do it. Make sure that it is want you want, otherwise it won’t be meaningful and you won’t truly be happy. If I did what my parents wanted me to I would have been the world’s worst football player, I would have gone to USC, and I would probably still be living at home and never have discovered my other passions. I put myself through undergrad and 3 graduate degrees without the support of my parents and I made it. I pursued what I wanted to and no one can ever take that away from me.  One thing you should come to terms with is that you will invariably disappoint your parents in some way or another; we all have. They already have a vision for how your life should be, but it’s your life and you are the one who will live with all of the good and bad consequences of your actions.

9.     Learn from your failures: Remember that all advances and developments in the world have been the result of many failed attempts. The key to getting past your setbacks is to acknowledge them, reflect on them, and then move past them without making the same mistakes again. Learning to deal with failures and turn them around will be one of the most valuable skills you possess. When I was an undergrad, I thought that I didn’t have what it took to be a math major because it was so difficult and I doubted myself to the point that I changed majors. It took about a semester for me to get my confidence back and realize that I was capable. I had to understand for myself that meaningful accomplishments require hard work and I must be willing to fight for what I wanted achieve.

10. Remember your Costco etiquette: Don’t take people’s carts and certainly not mine because I will fight you in the middle of Costco.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ghost Hunting on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA

I had the most amazing opportunity to join our school's group who is studying the paranormal this week. We were guided by two investigators Erika and Matt from ParaXplorer Project. We met them in the Mauritania Room in the Queen Mary about 9:00pm. This room is near the bow of the boat and is located at the end of a very long hallway of rooms. It is a wide room that spans both parallel hallways. Matt set up  his laptop so that he could show us some information on the QM and some examples of EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena) and ENPs (Electronic Noise Phenomena). During the presentation many of us were seeing shadows and hearing voices on the other side of the room. At one point during the presentation the doors to the hallway on the other side of the room made a rapping sound and then were shoved open. When this happened Matt ran over to the door and it wouldn't open and there was no one on the other side of the door. It was kinda crazy. Erika is a medium who has the ability to hear spirits' voices and she was telling us that a spirit named John was with us. He likes to play pranks and he was probably the one who messed with the door. Erika introduced us to a lot of the equipment used in paranormal investigating including the K2 meter, the Mel-meter, thermometers, and dousing rods. We actually had some of the students use the dowsing rods to "communicate" with John.
After the presentation we headed down to the indoor pool that was originally the first class pool. It supposedly has a lot of "activity" and its best-known spirit is Jackie who is a 7 year old girl who drowned in the pool during one of the QM's missions during WWII. Some trigger objects were placed in different places around the pool deck. There was a teddy bear on a table and some gumballs on the slide into the pool. Again we used the dowsing rods to try to communicate with any spirits that were near. Erika said that there was activity on the upper deck of the pool area, but I didn't notice anything. She asked Jackie if she could makes the lights flicker or anything like that.
Afte we were in that room for a while we made our way to the changing rooms. This is a hallway of cubicles next to the pool. Erika said that there is a portal there that the spirits use to pass between worlds. I have to admit that I was really scared to go in especially because I don't like the dark. I went into a cubicle with 3 of my friends and it became very warm. Being in this area made the students on edge. They were really scared. The lights were off and I've never experienced darkness the way I did like that. There was a point where it became even darker and everyone noticed that too. Erika said that the shadow people affect that. It occurred when she mentioned that a spirit named Antonio was with us. He was an Italian prisoner of war who was transported onboard and he was missing his legs. She said that Jackie was with us too. Eventually another spirit named Henry came along. He was a worker in the engine room and Erika described him to us when we were in the Mauritania room earlier. Some students reported a feeling like they were being touched or tingly sensations. I never felt anything unusual except being really warm because of the close proximity in the changing rooms. But as soon as I stepped out of the cubicle and into the hallway I felt much cooler.
We left the QM about 2 hours after we arrived and we were excited to see what kind of evidence we had obtained from pictures and audio recorders. The teacher who organized the excursion discovered several EVPs and some of them are really freaky. It's awesome that we were able to obtain such good evidence. I watch all of the paranormal ghost hunting shows and it was great to experience a taste of what these shows do every week.