Saturday, October 24, 2009

Proper Air Travel


Dear Reader,

All of us make mistakes and I believe the best thing we can do when we recognize a mistake is to own that error. To that end, I have an error to admit. It isn't a tragic one. It isn't a substantial one. Instead its one of those bungles of the brain - the type where you deftly explain your reasoning and conclusions only to realize much later that you didn't have the question quite right.

Yesterday, when I wrote about traveling by train, I made a bit of a mistake on the fare information. In actuality, the price for travelling by train with a bedroom works out to be over $600 round trip. I neglected to include a return trip in my original estimated price. I also realized that the comparison wasn't exactly of the old apples vs. apples variety - my plane ticket was coach and my train estimates were definitely first class. To rectify this I performed a quick fare estimate with Delta Airlines for a flight leaving on November 8, 2009 and returning November 11, 2009 and I came up with a cost of $1100.00 round trip. Also I didn't realize that meals are included with your fare when you book a bedroom with your train trip.

What it comes down to is you're buying time when you fly. If time is what you need (or something you don't have to spare) air travel is your bag. If you have time for a more gentile trip (and its within your budget) I recommend the train.

Yours Most Sincerely

- G

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Addendum on Traveling

Dear Reader,

This morning, after a short nap of nine hours, I had an opportunity to read my last missive about traveling. I think it could best be described as downtrodden. Maybe spending too much time alone in a hotel room is apt to put anyone in a bleak kind of mood - that is unless it's a hotel on some sun-blessed shore with good music and warm starry nights. Then again, I guess if you're in your room long enough instead of out somewhere dancing and enjoying good company, well you'd probably be depressed in Bali Hai. I guess the point is, I don't want to come down on the wrong side of travelling because I really like to travel. Well, at least somewhat.

It seems at the moment travelling has kind of run down hill and, at the moment, is lying in a ditch waiting for an ambulance to arrive. I'm old enough to remember a time before the major airlines started knocking on congress' door with a cup and cart of apples, so I remember a time before the airlines cut costs by eliminating service. Ah, yes, the times before every plane was packed to the overhead bins, before passengers and ungulates had a shared understanding of the trip to the slaughterhouse. At present there are two trips a day from Indianapolis International Airport to Dulles - one departs at 6AM and the other arrives at 11PM. Any enjoyment in between would seem to be of the delirious, bleary-eyed sort. Add to this the fact that the major airlines have steadily decreased space for passengers and gotten progressively worse at making schedule and you've a good idea of why travel (business travel) can be distinctly unpleasant by its very nature.

So, what's a fellow to do? We're all prisoners of the Airlines, aren't we? The simple answer is no, we are not - so long as we have time, that is. We're prisoners of our schedules, when we adapt and make our schedules adaptable a great number of opportunities present themselves.

I give you my schedule for my latest business trip to Virginia: Depart Monday morning, arrive Monday afternoon, shuttle to the rental counter, pace the hotel lobby and sleep on an uncomfortable bed, go to work over the course of three days, return Thursday evening, delayed by the airlines, and finally arrive back home in time to welcome Friday morning which was already an hour old by the time I parked in my driveway. Total cost, $414.00 plus rental car and meals with all the health benefits of drinking a slurry of catsup and salt.

Now, I present an option:

You can catch an Amtrak from Indianapolis to Chicago Union Station and then on to Washington DC, a seventeen hour jaunt on train with a 2 adult bedroom car, for $366.50. On-train meals won't cost any more than they do in an airport and if you bring a deck of cards and maybe a good friend you can make a rolling party of the jaunt. Grabbing a rental at Union Station isn't a problem since the rental car agency (at least the one I use) has a desk in the train station. GPS will get you from the station to the hotel in barely more time than it took to drive from Dulles.

The difference is obvious - 17 hours. Think of my trip, though. If I would have left Sunday Evening I could have ridden through the night and arrived Monday morning and probably wound up at my hotel earlier than I did by flying. Not to mention the sights between Indianapolis and DC, the off chance of meeting a few colorful people, with a wireless account I could have worked from my bedroom, or if I wanted I could have gotten a few chapters of my next novel written. And all for the cost of 17 hours trundling along on the rails - it's worth considering.

Yours in Sharing the Rails,

- G

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Traveling Man

A week of business travel has got to be the loneliest, most alienating thing possible – except for, maybe, being an expatriate. Schlepping from airport to rental counter and across alien countryside to a nondescript, corporately approved hotel leaves a guy feeling like he’s got no country. I find myself staring out the hotel window, past the heavy-duty tapestry drapes and across a sea of asphalt to the strip mall across the street at odd hours. As if I might see someone I know out there – somebody dropping by to say hello. It doesn’t happen.

I get up at whatever wrong hour work demands and hit the free breakfast buffet in the lobby. I never have eggs on a Tuesday and definitely never eggs and sausage – but they’re there on the steam table. Tossing aside the pretence of hominess, I get cold serial and skim milk with a toasted English muffin. I never have those things on a Tuesday either – but they’re closer to my normal breakfast bar while I drive fare than anything else the hotel has to offer.

I roll into work at what, back home, would be the god-awful late hour of 7:30. Showing up at an out-of-state plant site requires showing up late – your schedule has to conform to the hours of the front desk when there will be a receptionist or security guard whose well enough informed to get you the prerequisite visitor’s badge and let you sign off on the magical book that documents your arrival and departure. I wonder if there are hundreds of register books stowed away at elder companies – all of them bearing witness to the comings and goings of people long since dead and gone.

Tense hellos and introductions lead to the temporary office – a space as denuded of character as parts of the Amazon after slash and burn farming. My spot is on the second floor among rows of file cabinets and disused copiers. The vent huffs noisily when the heat comes on and directly below me is some machine that pounds most of the morning, apparently smashing big somethings into littler somethings.

Nobody visits you when you’re the guy from the Indy office come to stay for a week. Well, unless some low-ranking schmo has pulled take the visiting guy to lunch duty. I always feel sorry for the guy whose got to take me to lunch. Not that I’m unpleasant to be around but what the heck do you talk about with someone you don’t know, probably won’t see again, and don’t know anything about? Sports, weather, work, and then whatever you’re eating – then you’re out of bullets and its just chewing until time to get back to work.

In a half hour I’m off for the airport again. Waiting in some noisy bar or lounge while US Air screws up the schedule. Then it’ll be crammed into the flying sardine tin for the trip home. That old crutch “home is where the heart is” should be amended to “home is where your life is”. Everywhere else is just a shadow of life – life on pause, flickering like a VHS tape paused in mid-scene.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dresden Files, Kindel, and Lighting my Fire

I'm not a reviewer and I don't intend on turning this blog into just another opinion column on books, writing, or anything else for that fact. I don't mind recommending what I thought was a good read, though. Over the weekend I finished Jim Butcher's first Dresden File novel, Storm Front. As a writer of hard-boiled mystery I appreciated his treatment of the genre and his portrayal of the magical world of his protagonist, Harry Dresden, had the right mix of comedy and tragedy for my tastes. I'd recommend it to anyone who's in the mood for mixing mystery with magic.

I also have to say my first experience with the Amazon Kindle turned out to be positive. The device is easy to use, readable, and not too focused on its own tech to be user friendly. I'm using a Kindle I, so I don't have any idea what version II has improved – I hope it adds a backlight for those of us who read in bed.

Reading Butcher's work has put me in the mood to brush the dust off my own keyboard and get back to work. I've given my writing enough of a rest, I guess, and as I said last week: writers write, always. Ideas have been plunking around inside my head and its time to let them flow out through my fingers – that's the only way to shut the characters up, in the end. Let them voice their opinions, prejudices, and foibles on the page so that they'll quiet down inside my head. So it begins.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Black Thursday

I spent a dreary, October morning listening to Radio Dismuke – the tunes of the 20's filled my headphones, doing their best to lift the morning's mood. Their effort turned out to be totally wasted. I'm sitting with a certain sense of melancholy this morning.

Think about driving down a divided highway. You're heading southbound and, across the grassy median, you can see northbound traffic. As you drive you see the aftermath of an accident blocking all of the northbound lanes. For ten miles after that, northbound traffic is utterly and totally snarled – at an absolute standstill. Once you pass the last cars in that traffic jam, and you've crested a hill or two, you start seeing northbound drivers who've got no idea what they're heading into. They're driving along, thinking their day's in perfect order, oblivious to what waits for them. But you know.

To me, listening to songs of the mid twenties is somewhat like being in that southbound car. I've got a kind of omniscience, I know in 1929 the market will crash, that millions will be destitute, and that the nation will labor under the yoke of economic despair and only shrug it off through the auspices of a world war. I know all the light songs of cheer and good times exist inside a champagne bubble that's about to burst. Outside that bubble is a cold, hard world with little room for silly songs of love and youth.

I'm also aware that I'm living in my own bubble – champagne or not, a bubble none the less. Inside it's only possible to see the now and the nearly now. I'm in suddenly transported into one of those northbound cars and unaware of what I might be hurtling toward. Sure, maybe I've noticed a few cars slowing down around me. The economic woes of our times are only missed by those rich enough to be unaffected and I don't belong to that set. I'm just another motorist in my steel and glass bubble, speeding along with the radio turned up and the windows up. Comfortable and ignorant.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Writers Write

It's taken me quite a while to work up to this blog. Two years ago I had the inspiration but it was unfocused – should I write about my beloved home state of Indiana and expound its virtues or should I write something else? I wanted to start a writer's blog but I didn't want to just write about writing because that seemed both self-serving and too restrictive. In July I penned my first entry, choosing the latter subject as the focus of my blogging based both on what I wanted to write and what didn't seem to be present on the web…but soon after I found myself mired in the doldrums of being unsure what I should say and how. Between those two pointed rocks I sat, pinioned and immobile while the world ambled past. There's something to be said for momentum. It can keep you in motion but it's equally good at keeping you stuck right where you are.

Today I penned a few words for another blog I write and I found myself in a groove. The blog itself (Blue Suede Souls) is about dancing and as I wrote I realized that I'd strayed afield of the subject of dance. I was writing about culture and pop art and generally having fun. Before I knew it I had over a page of text (as MS Word flies) and it'd seemed like nothing. The sentences just flowed from fingertip to keyboard to screen and on to publication. That's when it struck me. The problem was worrying over what I should write instead of just writing.

Back when I was in high school I had a creative writing teacher who handed down an old cliché about writers. He said "writers write – always." I think the point was to get us interested in journaling and keeping the sort of notes that many writers go back to for subjects for their novels and short stories. As I'm reentering my blog concept today I can't help but think on those words and realize the nugget of truth that makes any good cliché. I should write and I must write if I want to be a writer. There are no right subjects, there are no right approaches, there only is writing and not writing.

In my head I can feel the tickle of a good rationalization forming. It goes something like this: Over the last seven months I've found out that the company I work for is pulling up roots here in Indy, spitting its operations up, and sending them to the east and west coasts. This, of course, means practically everyone in the building will be losing their jobs. Starting in December the first people will be without work - merry freaking Christmas. Due to my role in the company (babysitter of the documents) I'm "lucky" and my job will be one of the last to go. I've got until October, 2010 before my job wends its way coastward. So I've been investing my time in fretting over making a paycheck and watching the place slowly dissolve.

That's the rationalization. It's probably a really valid one. It's an emotional time and it's hard to focus. The thing is that rationalization really is just an excuse. I firmly believe where there's an excuse there's something that'll never get done - and I don't want my writing career to be something that doesn't get done.

So, here's to writers writing. Here's to living the cliché. Here's to putting in the hard work that is being a writer - rain, shine, and when you really don't feel like putting pen to paper. Here's to having at it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Taking the Plunge

I've been mulling this blog over for a long time. I pinned down the title over a year ago but after the initial rush of enthusiasm died off I found myself wondering just what I had to add to the blogosphere that's worth expounding upon. I reasoned that I could go the route of vanity blogging but pining away on the whatever-ness of being me didn't seem worthwhile. Don't get me wrong, I'm not waxing depressive; I'm just pretty sure that there are enough bloggers out there pounding the virtual paper with that kind of theme.

So what to write about? Maybe it's all been done? Maybe the whole blog wave has passed and the tide's gone out leaving everybody standing in the mud among the tide pools. I took to Google, typed in "Indiana Blog", and hit return to - if I came up with pages after pages about life in the state I promised myself I'd put the idea to rest and walk away. The results were interesting.

There are a lot of lawyer blogs out there. I never thought that there'd be law blogs - I mean, don't get me wrong, but it's kind of a dry subject. Now add to that the concept of law blogs directly associated with Indiana? Talk about niche markets! The Indiana Department of Tourism and Chamber of Commerce have blogs. Some Indiana-based news organizations have blogs. In fact there were over 58 million hits for my combination of search terms but in the first three pages I didn't find a single link to a blog belonging to a resident (as opposed to a business or organization) of the state who'd decided to write about the state and living inside its borders. On page four I did find a web ring that provided a few links to blogs by actual Hoosiers about actually being a Hoosier, but too many of those blogs seemed to be dead and forgotten.

My interest was piqued and my thoughts of dumping my blogging idea vanished.

So, what is this project about? What is my mission statement? What is the y purpose for putting out all of this creative effort? Well, we all know that blogging won't make you rich so obviously I can scratch that off the short list. Instead I'm hoping to show some of the things in the state that people don't usually see, expound on the psychology of being a Hoosier, and generally write about the state I love.

So, on July 5, 2009 I step off the end of the pier and take the plunge. Whether I end up splashing into pleasantly cool water or find that the tide's gone out remains to be seen. This project might ill-conceived, doomed, and in a few months this blog might end up discarded with the wadded-up fast food wrappers alongside the information superhighway with the rest of the Internet's jetsam. It's a possibility but you'll never know if you don't try.