Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pardon the Error

Well, like a damn fool, I prepared a new post adding a brief account of the past few days, then carelessly and mistakenly posted it on my other blog site. And now, we are about to head off to a nearby restaurant for dinner and I have neither the time nor, frankly, the inclination to re-do it all here.

Therefore, with your indulgence, I will simply suggest that you click here which will take you there.

My apologies.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's A Good Idea to Expect the Unexpected

MOAB, UTAH -- We're here to visit two very popular national parks in this area - Canyonlands and Arches -- but this town is nothing like I expected. We're in Utah, after all, and that means Mormons. And, to me, that meant there would be no cold beer after a hard day's drive and no wine with dinner.

But -- surprise! -- Moab has clearly opened it's arms wide for us visitors and for our varied tastes, including alcohol in its many forms. The restaurant where we ate last night had an extensive wine list and featured a dozen different beers, several brewed locally. The last page featured a long list of exotic mixed drinks!

The streets are lined with shops featuring silver and turquoise jewelry, "red dirt" T-shirts and all the rest of the stuff -- mostly tawdry junk -- that tourists apparently buy.

Speaking of our fellow tourists, as was the case at the Grand Canyon, I am again noticing the large numbers of foreign visitors here. There was a table of French-speakers near us last night, and I am constantly hearing German everywhere we go. Clearly, what those folks are seeing here in this part of the U.S., is dramatically different from what they are used to. They are clearly dazzled by the vast spaces, the grandeur of the mountains and canyons, and the spectacular rock formations

Our plans for the next few days are shaping up: We'll see the two parks near here today, then head off into Colorado tomorow, landing in Ouray by the end of the day. Being free to travel (or not), go here or there (or not) is a different, but enjoyable experience. The only deadline on our schedule at this poiint is Tuesday afternoon when we meet Amtrak's California Zephyr in Grand Junction, Colordao, for our train trip back to the west coast.

More tomorrow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Not-So-Grand Canyon Impressions

A few random observations from our two days at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon:

First, and this will not come as a shock, a lot of Americans are fat slobs. You can't fail to notice it, and I find it both distressing and embarassing.

Second, you hear a great many of foreign languages being spoken here ... lots of foreigners enjoying this magnificent area and, by and large, they will come away with a very good impression because the National Park Service does a wonderful job of presenting and explaining this place.

Third, the top-of-the-line hotel here, the El Tovar, is a mix-mash ... some things very special, other things very half-assed, including high rates, small not-very-comfortable rooms. We paid $175 a night for a small room with one double bed, an air conditioner with two working settings: off and full-blast, freeze-ass cold. Oh yeah ... and a ground level view of the employee parking lot.

One of the breakfast offerings in the VERY pricey dining room -- example: $3.90 for coffee, albeit with free refills -- is french toast made with banana bread. Just awful!

Another weird, and admittedly petty example: the soap that they provide in the rooms is round and shaped like a donut, with a hole in the middle. Why the hole? Well, because it "eliminates the unused center of traditional bars." OK, but when happens when it's reduced to the point that it breaks into several little pieces? They get thrown out, of course. Who comes up with this stuff??

We're off in a few minutes, headed for Monument Valley. More to come.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Grand Canyon is Exactly That: Very Grand!

Amtrak's Southwest Chief deposited us in Flagstaff, AZ, exactly on time at 5:00 a.m. Still dark and damn cold. The temperature hereabouts gets into the high 30s at night, but runs on up to nearly 80 during the day.

While waiting for the rental car agency to open, we had a great breakfast in the local diner along with some very interesting people we had med on the train: a young Brit who has just earned his masters on math from Trinity College in England and is looking for a U.S. school for a doctorate. An Australian psychologist specializing in children and a German lady, now living and working in New Zealand, who is, by coincidence, also a psychologist working with older kids, most of whom have been abused. Breakfast lasted two hours and flew by!

We arrived at the South Rim in our rental car around mid-morning and to my relief and despite all my fears, the place is not swarming with people. There are plenty of folks, but not the hoards I had been warned about.

The canyon itself is a real WOW! ... wherever you look, whatever the time of day. You just sit and stare at it, not knowing where to look. Fortunately, today was very clear which just enhanced the experience. But, as for photographs, fergit it! They will be spectacular when I post them later, but none can begin to do justice to the grandeur of this place. It's just too damn big!

No plans for tomorrow yet. Just whatever strikes us. Fun, eh?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Reminder … and a Plea.

We’ll be leaving for a 12-day trip tomorrow morning (Monday) and I will be posting only intermittently over that time. My apologies for the long silences, but this is a vacation and I’m really looking forward to relaxing on Amtrak to the Grand Canyon, seeing some of the southwest, and taking the train again back to the west coast.

In the meantime, forgive me the following indulgence:

A year or so ago, my wife came across a dog running wild along the road. He had apparently been hit by a car and, judging from a large scar across his chest, we suspect he had belonged to a pig hunter. At the time, he was malnourished and scared, too. She got him to the Maui Humane Society and, after no one claimed him, we went back and brought him home. We had his hip fixed -- and had him fixed at the same time -- and he has long since become a member of the family. In fact, he has decided this place is now his turf and woe! unto anyone who shows up with mischief on his mind.

This morning after breakfast, however, I stepped out onto our lanai and found our fearsome protector like this:

(The pool is there for visits by our two-year-old granddaughter.)

So, may I use this space today to respectfully ask that you spay and neuter your pets, and that you support your local Humane Society. They are all walking a financial tight rope in these difficult times … and both they and the animals they save and protect need all the help they can get. And do consider rescuing one of the animals they are currently sheltering. You will very likely wind up with somebody like this ... who will spend the rest of his life thanking you.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Visit To the Great American Southwest

My wife and I will be off on a 12-day trip next week … with some train travel in the mix, of course.

After flying to Los Angeles, we’ll take Amtrak’s Southwest Chief to Flagstaff, AZ, and drive from there for a visit to the Grand Canyon. For years I have been hearing stories about how crowded the place is, which is one of the reasons we chose a date after the opening of schools around the country. We shall see!

After the Grand Canyon, we have set aside several days with no specific destinations, but plan on driving to a number of the National Parks in Arizona and New Mexico, ending that part of the trip in Grand Junction, Colorado.

That’s where we will turn back westward again aboard the California Zephyr, getting off near Sacramento, spending a night, and concluding our train travels on the Coast Starlight for it’s run down the California coast back to Los Angeles.

Should be fun and interesting. I’ll keep do some posting along the way and let you know how things go.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ranting About Government Support of Amtrak

To help me stay currant with what’s going on in the area of passenger rail, I have set up several Google Alerts. For instance, whenever “Amtrak” appears in a news story, it pops up as an alert and, with a click, I can read about a grade crossing accident or a city council asking for more rail service … a timetable change … whatever.

Unfortunately, it also sends me links to newspaper editorials or letters-to-the-editor mentioning Amtrak. Reading some of that stuff is very discouraging. Much of the misinformation is the result of pre-conceived ideological biases … from letter writers and – I’m sorry to say – journalists who constantly rant against any federal subsidy for Amtrak.

The reality, of course, is that all forms of public transportation are – and should be – subsidized by government at some level.

Government provides air traffic control and builds airports for the airlines.

Air service to rural areas all over the country is subsidized.

Government provides bus terminals for companies like Greyhound.

And those Greyhound buses ride on 6-inch thick, reinforced concrete highways that aren’t built that way for my Toyota Avalon.

When you get right down to it, government builds sidewalks for pedestrian traffic, too.

So how come all those people rant and rave when the federal and state governments support Amtrak?

Although it’s difficult to quantify, it is believed that Amtrak generates a higher percentage of its total operating cost through the fare box than any other national passenger rail system in the world.

The ideologues who rant about the Amtrak subsidy won’t go away, but there is some comfort in knowing that most of them are know-nothing blowhards.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Can Someone Explain This to Me?

Who started this idiotic idea of wearing baseball caps backwards, anyway? Kids, I suppose, because I guess to them it looks “cool”.

You even see guys my age wearing caps backwards. They are also carrying a large invisible sign:


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More Nominees for the Republican Rogues Gallery

A number of Republicans embarrassed themselves and their party during President Obama’s speech on health care reform to the joint session of Congress tonight.

The most egregious example was the arrogant buffoon from South Carolina, Joe Wilson (above, center, at the infamous moment), who shouted, “You lie!” when Obama said illegal immigrants would not be covered under health care reforms being proposed.

For the record, several non-partisan organizations have researched the proposals and said that Obama’s statement is correct. So Wilson is not just a boor, he is an ignorant boor.

But other Republican members held up signs and made derogatory comments during the speech … comments loud enough to be heard and reported by the media ... behavior that was reprehensible and unprecedented.

These are the same smarmy hypocrites who demand a bipartisan approach to this issue in the media, then tell constituents at their town hall meetings that their mission in life – well, for this year anyway – is to defeat “Obama-care.” Among others, that would be Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa (above).

Senator Jim Demint, also a Republican and, like Congressman Wilson, is also from South Carolina, is on the record saying that Republicans should defeat Obama on this health care issue, because it would damage him politically.

In other words, screw all you people who can’t get or can’t afford health insurance. And screw all the rest of us who are paying twice what we should be paying for whatever health insurance we do have. Politics, not us, is what’s really important to Demint and the others of his Republican ilk.

And what a miserable, petty, selfish, callous, pathetic bunch they are, too.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

“But Officer, This Isn’t My Stop!”

I was reading recently about a passenger on a cross-country flight who became upset for some reason and caused such a disruption that the plane made an unscheduled landing to get rid of the guy.

All of which brought to mind what happens when something similar occurs on an Amtrak train. In my various travels, I’ve witnessed incidents like that a couple of times and there’s something very satisfying about seeing some jerk put off the train.

Amtrak has a very strict no-smoking policy on all its trains, but on one of my train trips someone had been sneaking some puffs in the lavatories of one of the sleeping cars. One of the other passengers mentioned it to the conductor who made an immediate announcement over the train’s PA system: “Someone has been violating the no smoking policy on this train,” he said, “and if it happens again, the very next stop will be yours.” It didn't.

On another trip aboard the since-discontinued Desert Wind, a young man treated himself to quite a few too many drinks in the lounge car and became loud and belligerent when the attendant refused to continue serving him. The conductor told this clown to return to his seat and sit there quietly, but the kid returned to the lounge car after a few minutes, insisting he be sold more booze.

The conductor was notified and never said another word to him, but about 20 minutes later, the train slowed to a stop where a highway crossed the tracks. A Nevada State Police car was parked there waiting for us and two minutes later the drunk was ensconced in the back seat of the squad car on his was to the jail in Caliente, Nevada. Hasta la vista, baby!

I asked the conductor about the incident later. “No big deal,” he said. “If someone is causing a problem, we give them a warning. Then, if they don’t shape up, we have the dispatcher notify the police in the next town up ahead. The first clue a trouble-maker gets is when he looks up and sees two big cops standing there.”

I should add here that these “ejections” don’t happen very often. Most of the time, a stern warning from a conductor and the prospect of getting put off the train, is literally a sobering experience.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Stored

Three years ago, Kate Hanni was stuck in a jet on the tarmac for nine hours.

Well, many of us can say “been there, done that", although probably not for nine hours. But what did we actually do about it? Rant to our friends and spouses when we finally got home probably. After all, that’s just one of the hassles we now expect from air travel, right?

OK, how much of a problem is this ... really?

Well, according to a report just released by the U.S. Department of Transportation, in this past June alone, 278 airplanes sat on the tarmac for more than three hours after leaving the gate … and 42 of those planes sat there for more than four hours. Conjurs up all kinds of familiar images, doesn't it: missed appointments, disrupted plans, tired passengers, crying babies, no food, clogged and overflowing toilets ...

But Kate Hanni did more than just rant. She protested to the airlines, demanded action from Congress, founded the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights and created a web site that allows others with similar experiences to tell their stories. There is also a page where Kate keeps track of “passenger rights” legislation that is working its way through Congress.

Kate Hanni is definitely not someone to mess with. You go, girl!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Maui Can’t Possibly Be Taken for Granted

It’s always fascinated me that here on Maui we have many little micro-climates going on all at the same time. While we’re getting heavy rains here in Ha’iku, over on the west side in the Lahaina and Kaanapali areas, it will be a warm, balmy day that’s perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

The topography also varies tremendously. There are rolling hills and verdant pastures within a 10-15 minute of here. Meanwhile, over on the Lahaina side, it’s what you visualize when you think of Hawaii: palm trees, sandy beaches and blue waters.

My wife and I experienced exactly that over this past Saturday when we had dinner with some close friends living on that side of the island. To avoid the hour-long drive back home after dinner, we spent night over there at a perfect little hotel, The Mauian.

It’s a very low-key two-story place, built in the 50s and still holding on to a wonderful, informal “family” feel, with no TVs or phones in the room. There is a small kitchen in each unit and the hotel’s restaurant actually belongs to the resort next door.

But, best of all, you can step out of your room, walk 50 or 60 feet, and step right onto Napili Beach. It’s protected to some degree by reefs several hundred feet offshore, so the swell is gentle. The reefs are full of fish and offer a good experience for both veteran and novice snorkelers.

And there, right in front of you across the channel, is the island of Molokai. The island of Lanai is also plainly in view off more to the west. (You can see it in the distance in the photo of Napili Beach.)

I've lived here in Hawaii for more than 45 years, but I'll never get over the magnificent views and experiences that are always there whenever you turn another corner ... just one big Wow! after another.