Monday, July 21, 2008

A Solo Act

SOLO is getting along fine - with regular flying and rat catching practice. He's fully grown and has a new buddy - another Red Tail in the neighborhood who comes down now and then to visit and chatter. I climb into his house now and then to read - fearful only of the occasional projectile poop. I will upgrade him soon to squirrels.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Jet Blues

JetBlue Airways

Salt Lake City, Utah

I’m sitting at Gate 19 at New York’s JFK Airport. My flight home to Austin has been delayed – twice now. It was scheduled to leave here at 8pm, the second scheduled time to leave here was at 9:45pm – but we just got a casual, “oh by the way …” announcement that the equipment they were using for our 8 o’clock (now 9:45pm) flight was getting fuel at Washington Dulles and that if and when it gets up in there air, they will make some other announcement. 

I did ask if there was an equipment failure. They said , “nah-–the flight was delayed by air traffic control.” Sounds to me like you guys just cancelled it, expired a crew, moved equipment--something other than an ATC delay, which means you lied.  Oh--we are now supposed to leave at 10:45pm. 

The news of the delays are bad, that’s for sure, but it’s not the reason I’m writing you. 

While I was sitting here waiting for my ever-delaying flight, I was seated with a bunch of folks waiting to fly to Rochester, NY.--leaving out of gate 19 at 9pm on Wednesday, July 16, 2008. Amid the crowd was a precious, stunning and stern looking rosy-faced Russian man with four adolescent aged Russian boys and girls. He stood smiling in front of the four children--five red passports in hand, perfectly stacked together--each inlaid with a corresponding ticket. None of them spoke a lick of English. He was a pleasure to watch--standing proudly in front of the four kids who he was obviously in care of—all in America, perhaps for the first time. He smiled at everyone as they walked by. The kids, ages 8 to 11 maybe, were sitting in the front row of chairs right next to the counter, each with some sort of toy, blanket, or pillow and perfectly behaved. 

An American Airlines flight attendant waiting to fly standby to get to her own home happened to see them as well and spoke with the older man with what little Russian she knew. Her name was Jo Ann Schuetz. Her gesture of courtesy generated a brief kinship between the two and she became the conduit for communications between this Russian family and your ground and flight crew at Gate 19. 

By the way, my flight has just now been further delayed, no time specified.  And since I flew home from Italy today, having been a special guest of the International Press Awards Ceremony in Ischia, I’m starting to get a little tired. They are now saying 11:45pm for departure with a 2:11am arrival time in Austin. 

As I watched this handsome group of foreign visitors from just the few seats away – I watched the grandfather pour the children some water into small plastic cups he’d carried with him in his belongings. 

The American Flight Attendant walked the grandfather to the counter and explained to the desk attendant there that they were Russian and spoke no English. Although your counter clerk acknowledged her, he seemed disinterested, waving her off and the extended passports and tickets. The American Flight Attendant explained to the grandfather about the flight time and they compared watches. 

In addition to the flight crew and desk attendants, three Jet Blue employees, who also were trying to fly standby were behind the counter eating food, cutting up, kidding around, hugging each other and telling “shitty customer” stories, and generally not giving a damn about the many customers on the concourse--all of whom were awaiting delayed flights (except your Puerto Rico flight, which seemed to be the only one out of there on time). 

When the flight time came around, the Russian man got up from his seat and walked over to the gate. He checked his watch and when the time passed, he signaled to the four children with a grin and a nod, who all then immediately jumped up from their seats and scurried over to be with him--all with smiles and enthusiasm. 

By the way, I just now got another update on my flight: a gate change from 18 to gate 6--our third gate change so far (that would be Gate 23, Gate 18 and now Gate 6). I don’t need to tell you that there’s a planeload of people who HATE you right now….. as customers lament and your counter clerk at gate 18 yells at them with a furrowed brow, “so we don’t inconvenience the incoming flight”…as we all walked to the shuttle bus, again. 

I am now sitting a Gate 6, as is the man with two babies in a stroller. It’s a good thing I only have a computer and a camera bag and my press credentials. Can you imagine trying to handle two kids--just old enough to talk--on a customer service black hole Jet Blue adventure like this one?  ...lurking deeper and deeper into the night. 

But, as I was saying, this happy group of Russians, a grandfather and four grandchildren I assume, waited patiently at the gate to be called. Jo Ann, the American Flight Attendant, was still seated waiting on standby. Behind the counter was your crew working the flight, the three Jet Blue employees waiting for jump seats, and I assume some of the working flight crew. The inbound flight had just arrived. 

One of your employees, a uniformed black man, took it upon himself to clear the aisle in anticipation of the passengers off-loading. You can imagine the chaos – but then perhaps, it’s normal. He commanded, not smiling, for people to move back and clear the aisle. The Russians of course did not know what he was wanting, did not understand, and continued to stand there smiling. Your employee took this personally, and further escalated his decline from professional conduct--now waving his hands and exercising his frustration in the elevated tone of his voice. A second employee, also uniformed, a female with punk died red hair chimed in—she, raising her voice for these people to get out of the aisle, walking forward toward them flailing her hands as if to shoo cattle. The Russian grandfather stood there with a perplexed look on his face--eyes wide open—comprehending only he was the target of someone’s disdain. The kids knew something was wrong too, huddling together. In just moments, your flight crew made this small band of happy Russian guests into a public spectacle and the subject of everyone’s attention who was within earshot. It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t the welcoming, considerate America I know. 

To further your employee’s conduct deeper into the abyss, a female member of your working flight crew called out across the concourse to the America Flight attendant, “do you speak Russian, can you tell these people to get out of the aisle?!”, like it was her problem to handle. 

Jo Ann, the American Airlines employee, got up from her seat, smiled at the group of Russians, and motioned gently with her hands to move backward, pointed toward the door and then moved her fingers as if someone was walking. They understood and stepped back--but the damage was already done. Your black employee huffed back behind the counter making faces to his colleagues, proud of his conquest, commenting aloud how stupid these people were. The redhead went back to eating some sort of vegetable medley from a Tupperware bucket, laughing at the whole situation, inciting conversation among them all about stupid people. The redhead boasted at one point in their conversation, commenting that patience was a virtue she did not possess. 

The Russian Grandfather and his four impressionable companions did not smile again. 

So pissed I was at what I was witnessing, I got out my camera and photographed your Jet Blue crew. Had I been a supervisor under your employ, I would have fired every one of them on the spot. 

As you’ve no doubt surmised, I’m not very happy about the way you operate your airline, and even less pleased about how you treat guests to our country. Our President has already done quite enough to screw up the World and our reputation in it without you helping. The U.S. State Department, Disney, and a lot of good Americans,--despite the current administration--have spent a lot of money and effort trying to facilitate international travel and goodwill, to overcome our bad press and welcome foreign visitors--a multi billion-dollar economic stimulation --an essential component to our overall national economic health.  

I expect you will most likely attend to this letter in the same way your employees seem accustomed to treating your customers—one of whom is ME. But I’m sending it to you anyway. When you receive it, you will be receiving maybe the 450th copy, as I will have already sent it to my entire and extensive email list, posted it to my travel blog, sent it to my friends and colleagues both here and abroad, and to your competitors – and one copy each to American Airlines and the US State Department Travel and Tourism Boards. 

I boarded my flight at 11:30pm, staying parked on the tarmac until 12:30am. We arrived in Austin at 2:26am. Everyone here--the young people mostly--are talking with each other about how to get rides home, whom to call and wake in the middle of the night, whether they can afford a cab, how to reschedule their rehearsals, appointments and events for the day—which begins in only a couple of hours…. 

Perhaps your marketing department should consider adding a single S to your company name: Jet BlueS. 

Happy Jetting to you, indeed

Carl H. Deal III

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


When In Rome

I am as introspective as one can be at this moment – late at night, another bottle of wine - only hours before a flight to the other side of the World where it’s apparently hotter still than it is here.

There are so many quotes about traveling that do well with me. I am blessed every time I leave home – having grown upon my return, both appreciating home more but yearning to wander again to someplace new. 

I came here for work – and as you know, I am well able to mingle a good bit of pleasure in between anything productive. I sought to learn Italian – and although I have not yet mastered the language, I have indeed assimilated many of the great Italian habits that set this culture apart from the many others which encompass our globe.

On the night that I heard Timothy Ash received his international press award in Ischia Ponte, he spoke briefly about his televised speech earlier in which he spoke at length about the United States and Europe as well as our upcoming election. In his short comments after receiving his award, he said that Europe was more unique and different than any place in the world with so many different cultures, languages and ideologies only a short train wide away from one another – and that in all of then, although very different from Oxford his home, he felt as though he was at home. His last sentence was this, following a brief discussion on the detrimental influence of the United States on the EU – “It’s time we paid more attention to ourselves and our place in the World, after all, Europe discovered the world five hundred years ago, it’s high time we discovered it again.”

I have thought a lot about that night and our place in the World. And so while I was here – I took on everything I could – from home and abroad - food, wine, swimming, cantaloupe melon gelato, feeding cats under the table, wearing my UT and/or POW/MIA hat always, smiling always, meeting everyone I could, smiling more, the most important being driving habits. 

Sure enough, people are crazy here when it comes to driving, that’s for sure. Driving in Rome or Palermo is no cakewalk – but give me a driving challenge, and I will take it. 

And so today – I drove the five or six hour trip from the City of Savellatri on the Adriatic Sea to my Hotel near the Spanish Steps in Rome in 3 hours and 45 minutes. Not only did I rap out that little turbo BMW, I figured out how to time the passing of a speed camera with an 18 wheeler on your right, just when to raise my sunglasses when entering a tunnel, how to fill up, pee, buy water and eat a sandwich all at the same time - and how to draft a Mercedes – and sight see while blazing along at 170.

Gloria met us for dinner near the Spanish steps and afterward, we went to visit her new business partner in a joint venture of some sort at his new apartment. Well – what a pad if you were single. He is of course married with three kids – a good Sicilian Catholic boy – and as Gloria said, “well, his wife is in a different place you know”. On the sixth floor – a four story pad with two kitchens, and a rooftop balcony with an outdoor tub, a view of Parliament on one side and historical Rome on the other. He was on his way out the door to have dinner with the Minister of Defense – the Defense Secretary of Italy.

Tomorrow – I buy a few gifts for friends back home – make my pilgrimage to St.Peters and then fly home. By the time this jumps from server to server and makes its way across the sea, I will no doubt be sleeping in sea 1L and heading into the wind – Vento Forte 



Bugs Bunny Lasagna

Well friends, this latest trek comes to a close. Tomorrow we race across our last five or six hours to Rome for dinner – a run through St. Peters, and then we fly home to the US. This – our last night out is in the nicest five star place I’ve ever been to – Massaria San Dominico – and tonight I had five star rabbit lasagna.

As I mentioned before, we are on the Adriatic side of Italy now near the City of  Savellatri. The olive orchard just outside our room has trees over a thousand years old. It’s a 500 hectare facility with olives, grapes, figs, lemons, plums, roses and nearly every vegetable – most of which are used to produce the daily necessities for the hotel. The only thing you can’t do here is take pictures.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Savellatri - Massaria San Dominico

Dr. William R. Rogers, D.O.

Just before leaving on this trip I went to see Dr. Rogers to get my travel drugs - none of which it seems I've needed. He told me then to stop using artificial sweeteners and that he doesn't have bread in his house. 

As my waiter buttered my croissant and then filled it with cheese and salami, I thought for a moment whether this was something I should be doing and what Dr. Rogers would say. As I've been drinking a heart healthy bottle of wine a day for the past eighteen days, I figured it was OK.

Blazing Hot

The Adriatic

Rome is just over the horizon. We’ve driven across the state onto the Adriatic Sea, across from Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. It is blazing hot – the grapes hang like turgid udders impatient for attention, in sensational and tender anticipation  – udderly ripe, udderly prepared, udderly hanging .  But, there are no udder bars. The olives here are as large as we’ve seen anywhere in Italy – the grove by our hotel with individual trees that are centuries old, some trunks six feet in diameter of knotted, twisted and time bleached wood.

We are off the beaten path – this last leg of our journey. The pool is twenty feet deep and the size of a city park – with date laden palms, olives and Sophia look alike but slightly augmented Italian ladies bathing in the blistering sun – ripening figs in the distance. The sea is beyond the olive orchard to the East – a rock and pebbled beach. There is Leschmaniasis here and so we are required to hose down with repellent before landing on the beach. The last place I encountered such a thing was in Bolivia, also carried by the sand flea. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Underworld

Yesterday I did'nt take a single picture and so I thought I edit a few images for your edification. The Sicilian culture is different than anywhere in Italy - they say. I watched a group of about twenty young men - maybe 15 to 18 years old stalk another single kid for about ten blocks trying to get him to stand his ground and get his ass kicked. He retreated for the whole ten blocks and I followed with my camera from the other side of the fence. I didn't stick around to see what happened to him as I lost interest. We did have a city wide blackout a few hours later, and so if he was still around, he might not be so pretty today. Anyhow - the point is that amid what seems like a happy, fun loving culture there is a bit of an underbelly. The entire island of Sicily has been critical to elections in all of Italy for decades and thus politicians have had to entertain to Mafia for just as long. This is the seat of the Mafia here.

People who are affiliated with the Mafia gangs here do wear paint or implements that identify them, although most of the time, they look pretty normal. Some of the older cats definitely look street wise and prison worthy.

The best pic I have was of a young kid - ten or eleven years old. He was playing with a soccer ball near where his mother was running a small street vending stand. I report - you decide.

Carl Deal