Monday, April 30, 2007

Road trip, Virginia to Maryland

Another gorgeous morning saw our little Mini motoring along another highway in search of old friends.

After leaving Roanoke we opted to spend as little time on I-81 and turned instead onto the old Valley Highway, Route 11, returning to the Interstate in order to bypass the cities. Our first objective was to stop at the Natural Bridge before continuing our trip north. We pulled into the parking lot and discovered that not many tourists were out yet -- a good sign that we would have a relaxing morning strolling this fantastic natural wonder in southeastern Virginia. After paying our fee inside the visitor center ($14 per person mind you) we found our way back outside and down the trail toward the Bridge.

Once owned by Thomas Jefferson this "natural bridge" is over 200 feet tall and some 90 feet wide. In addition to visiting the bridge itself -- pretty much a straightforward affair -- there is also a wonderful little trail that wends its way along the river bank for some 1500 meters or so. The trail takes you past an replica Monacan indian village:

Then past an old saltpetre mine dating back to the War of 1812 (using bat guano of course):

And past the "lost river," formerly an underground river, the subterranean entrance was exposed by blasting the front off in order to utilize the water for the mine (no I don't know why):

After returning to the visitor center (where we bought a can of Williamsburg Virginia peanuts) we walked back to the car and headed back north.

Not long atferwards we drove past an outdoor attraction billing itself as "Foamhenge", a unique bit of outdoor kitsch and yes it is a full-scale model of the you-know-what in England but made out of, well, foam.

A little later we drove through a small village zipping past a flea-market shop that billed itself as the home of "dead people's junk". Now that's marketing.

We got to Maryland a couple hours later and drove over to Antietam National Park to meet up with our friend Mannie, a park ranger and serious student of the American Civil War. We no sooner got out of our car than Mannie drove up and yelled out at us as we were entering the visitor center. He took us inside and introduced us around to his co-workers. Since he had a bit of work to catch up on before leaving for the day Susie and I just strolled around outside and hung out at the New York monument, overlooking the quiet and peace of this most terrible of battlefields.

A half later mannie joined us outside and the three of us convoyed to the their house, with a short stop at the grocery store. Shortly after we arrived at their new home, nestled in the hills around Boonsboro, Maryland, Virginia Rose joined us. We spent a wonderful evening of good food, lots of laughs and catching up on all the latest news -- the four of us shared the common thread of changing our lives in dramatic fashion so naturally we had plenty to talk about. (photo below: Mannie and Miss Vee)

Tomorrow we're off to Gettysburg and who knows where! So don't touch that dial!

Ciao,

Steve

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Road trip, Michigan to Virginia

We left Grand Rapids a little after 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 28. Pointing the Mini east we headed first to Detroit and then cut off toward Ann Arbor and continued on past Toledo. Just south of the city we caught a glimpse of the new (?) Greater Toledo Islamic Center, just off the interstate and seemingly out in the farmlands of northern Ohio. Odd perhaps but reassuring that the world changes even in the US.

Four hours after we entered Ohio we passed into West Virginia near Marietta, Ohio and then through Parkersburg and Charleston and finally stopped at Beckley where we spent the night. After checking in to a nearby Comfort Inn ("mediocrity is our middle name") we drove to the nearby Tamarack Artisan Center which intrigued us so much we went back the next morning before getting on the road. (photo above: Tamarack center in Beckley, WV)

Anyway we asked around for a good place to eat. "Well you can try Applebees." Hmmmmm. Anything in downtown Beckley? we asked. "Nothing but dentist offices and lawyer's offices. But it's a pretty little town though!"

We settled on The Outback, just across the street from our motel. As we walked in we couldn't help but notice the place was packed and our wait time was 50 minutes. OK so it was Saturday night but come to find out there were two proms that night in Beckley and many of the kids had opted to come to the Outback for dinner. So we sidled up to the bar, ordered some wine and watched the floor show: lots of kids dressed in ill fitting clothes, acting goofy and so we enjoyed ourselves immensely. (After we got seated we at a table across from us a young well-endowed woman, wearing a very and I mean very snug, dress, spent much of the evening constantly shifting her breasts up to keep her dress from falling down.

The next morning we checked out and drove over to the Tamarack again and checked out some of the local artisans -- pretty impressive stuff actually and well worth a stop if you're driving past this way.

Another beautiful day saw us on the road again, this time I-64 in the direction of Lexington, Virginia, but in fact we were going to Roanoke, Virginia with plans to see old friends for the evening.

We left the interstate at route 220 and turned south through the hills that make up the far end of the Shenandoah Valley. As we pulled into Daleville, just outside of Roanoke, we stopped at a local barbeque place, the 3 Lil Pigs and had lunch (pulled pork BBQ of course). The sun was strong, the sky clear blue and so naturally we had to sit outside and soak up just being back in the south again.

But eventually we had to return to the highway and soon afterwards scooted into Roanoke. We drove past our old house on 26th steet, up to Mill Mountain to see the Roanoke Star and of course the view of the city. Lots of changes since we first came up to the star more than 20 years ago. But hey everything changes, right?

After we left the star we drove to Towers mall and checked out Ram's Head Bookshop where I worked in 1981-82 when I took a year off from grad school at UVA. Although it was Sunday the store was open and one or two folks were actually browsing.

Leaving Towers we drove past Tanglewood Mall and then on to the home of Bob and Margie B. where we would be spending the night.

It had been four years since we had last seen each other and so the four of us spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on all the news.

That evening we drove into town and the four of us met up with friends John and Lolly at Billy's Ritz, where we had all eaten together after our wedding in 1983! The food was still OK after all these years although the wait staff was different. . . But more than anything else it was the friendship that circulated around the table once again that evening that keeps drawing us back time after time.

The next morning we said thanks to our hosts Bob and Margie, loaded our things back into the Mini and headed north up I-81, toward the Mason Dixon Line.

Next: Maryland and points north.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Midwest intermezzo

intermezzo |ˌintərˈmetsō| noun ( pl. -mezzi |-ˈmetsē|or -mezzos ) a short connecting instrumental movement in an opera or other musical work.

It's been a little over two weeks now since we slid in between two snowstorms and motored our Mini into Michigan (motto: "Feeling dumber? Buy a Hummer!"). Just hours after we passed through Albany, New York, on a beautiful sunny day a semi-major storm struck the Hudson Valley and points east. Meanwhile ahead of us just a few hundred miles another snowstorm was blasting the Great Lakes. We cruised along blissfully unaware. All-in-all pretty we were lucky indeed.

So we weathered the storms sleeping in Buffalo (of all places to weather a storm, eh?), crossed the border into Canada, then the US and soon found ourselves in Grand Rapids. We just wanted to just catch our breath -- we had been traveling since the third week of March when we left Paris for Italy -- and so we did.

While we recovered so to speak we hoped to spend time with Susie's mom and family and visit with old friends. We had dinner several times with Stan and Margie (out twice, at their place once and "our" place once), had Peter and Cyndi over for hamburgers on the grill one night, and after 20 years Susan caught up with her good friend Jane P. The two of them went through high school, college and medical school together. A surprise was seeing David V. and another good friend, Mary Beth T. and her husband Brent. (photo below: Susie and Jane.)


We also had two wonderful lunches with Susie's aunts and uncles: the VandenBergs on a Tuesday and two days later with the Van Halsemas. Mom fixed the lunch at her condo and susie fixed a selection of sweet treats. Not only did everyone get a chance to catch up on the latest news but Susan's numerous aunts and uncles got an opportunity to sample her pastries. Needless to say they were most pleased with the results!




The weather was pretty cooperative nearly all the time we were in Michigan, up until this past Wednesday at any rate when it turned cold and rainy and has stayed in that mode ever since. (photo above: Susan's aunts Betsey, Thea and Fran, and her Mom.)

I did very little Third Michigan "stuff" although I took the opportunity of such gorgeous weather to spend a little quality time in Allegan County, just south of Grand Rapids, looking for the burial sites of several Old Third soldiers (I found them if you must know). And just several days ago Susan and I took a drive up north to look for and found several other Old Third soldiers just waiting to be discovered out in the wilds of rural Newaygo County. OK we didn't find all of them but it was a grand day for a road trip. (photo below: Charlie Wheaton's grave marker in Elmwood cemetery, Allegan County.)


So the plan now is tomorrow, Saturday, we leave for the east coast: first to Roanoke, Virginia, to visit with John and Lolly and bob and Margie, then to Boonesboro, Maryland to spend a couple of nights with Mannie and Virginia, then on to Washington, DC for meet with Ann C., a friend of Susan's from Le Cordon Bleu, and afterwards to see Dick and Kathy and the "girls" in Landenburg, Pennsylvania, followed by an overnight stop in Princeton, New Jersey to see Anna-Maria and Guy. Then it's back to Douglas, Massachusetts to collect our wits before moving up to Maine for the summer.


Anyway I may not be posting for a week or so, probably not until we get back to Massachusetts. So don't wait any longer: go to Paris and if you can't do that then go to Siena. Life is too short.

Wish you were there and us too,

Steve

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Maine for the summer


We had a grand time visiting family in near Bangor, Maine. And of course the meeting with Patrick and Roxanne in Winter Harbor produced the surprise of actually giving us a place to hang our hats this summer.

By now some of you know that we will be in living in Winter Harbor, Maine for the summer where Susan has taken her first pastry job baking at J. M. Gerrish's cafe and bakery. Located right smack in the center of this tiny fishing village on the very edge of the continent and with it's own slice of Acadia National Park, Winter Harbor is going to be another fantastic adventure for us. It's scary of course, since we haven't a clue as to what will happen afterwards.

The cafe is right in the middle of the vilalge in a square yellow building (photo above) with a cool sitting are aout front for those warm summer afternoons, and don't forget to bring your laptop since the Wifi is free! So drop by, grab a cup of coffee (you should see the huge Rancilio machine) and say hi! And don't forget the pastry!

Ciao,

Steve

Monday, April 23, 2007

Michigan reunion

The Sunday after we arrived in Michigan Susan and I drove out to Holland, Michigan to meet up with her oldest friend, Jane P. The two of them went through high school together, and were roommates in both college and medical school. When we arrived at their cottage Susan was pleasantly surprised to find another old college and medical school friend there as well, Mary Beth T.

Anyway here's just a few moving images of that meeting and evening:

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A very short video of Italy

Here's a short video I shot on a recent trip to Italy. Nothing special but just a few moving images to remind of another world. . .



Ciao!

Steve

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

In the midst of the Midwest

It was just a week ago that we left Dick and Dorothy's house in Douglas, MA, south of Worcester, and pointed our car west toward New York, Canada and our eventual goal, Western Michigan.

The weather was just fine as we zipped along through the Berkshires, on into New York State and down the Thruway to Amherst, New York, a suburb of Buffalo where we spent the night. While watching the Weather Channel (motto: "Our world is one disaster after another!") that evening we learned that a serious snow storm had slid in behind us and hammered a bit at the Albany area and much of the upstate New York and beyond.

The weather soured overnight in Buffalo and we awoke to rainy, overcast skies but with warm temps. After checking out of the Comfort Inn (motto: "we're clean, cheap and not too picky about who stays here") we crossed into Canada. The weather cleared a bit by the time we got to the US border at Sarnia where we waited probably a half hour to get through into the land of the semi-free. I just love the border police questions, don't you? My personal favorite is "Why are you coming here?" Like a terrorist would pipe up and say, "Oh me? I want to blow something up!"

But this was the first time the GWAG ("guy with a gun") tried a trick question: "Where are you coming back from?" "Massachusetts." "Why?" "Because we live there." I mean our car has Mass plates. As we puttered off into the heart of DumberHummer country (DumbHum for short) we couldn't help but remark to each other how safe we felt. God knows we don't any psychotic Canadians crossing into the US to kill Americans. No, tragically we seem all too capable of doing that ourselves.

The weather remained tranquil all the way past Flint, Lansing and on into Western Michigan. Traffic was light, the roads in pretty rough shape in spots, lots of orange cones and of course the warning everywhere that if you kill or injure a highway worker you can get fined $7500 and up to 15 years in jail. Yep, it's the midwest all right.

By the time we got to Grand Rapids the storm that had hit the city day before had moved on. We scooted into town with no difficulty and pulled into the driver at Susan's mom's condo, home for the next couple of weeks or so as we tried to collect ourselves. Again we counted ourselves fortunate indeed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why travel, part 3

I like to travel because I enjoy seeing the wonders of other countries; seeing how the people live and how they adapt to being around ancient and modern times. I like the idea of seeing areas on TV or hearing about other parts of the world and saying to myself " Oh, I have been there: it was so beautiful and exciting" -- Irma

When I travel, I feel free. I travel to meet new people, and experiece new places. I enjoy experiencing the beauty of other places that I am not familiar with, and I enjoy photographing that beauty. -- Cheryl

My wife likes to travel to meet new people, see new things, enjoy different foods and find out about other traditions. Me, I travel to keep from working -- Don

Why do I travel? Why do I learn? Like a book, traveling opens my senses to a world outside my own. More than words or opinions, I am actively experiencing new cultures, people and places. All my senses are alive to something new… something different. Having just returned from my third trip to South Africa – once again, everything within me was stirred by the beauty of the land, the kindness of the people, the simplicity of life and the sacredness of nature. My memory tank is full as I try to replay some highlights in my mind. Now, back to the mundane… I long for the next travel experience. I hunger to learn more inside the best classroom life has to offer – the Classroom of Travel!! -- Trina

Monday, April 09, 2007

Phones, phones

Upon our return to the US from France we had in our possession SIM cards from four countries for our unlocked phones: the UK, France, Italy and the US. Of course only the US SIM card (T-Mobile) would work in the States but we thought now that we were back for some months what would we do about "serious" phone service? T-Mobile is not the most reliable of carriers and their coverage is very spotty particularly in the Northeastern US.

Two days after we landed in Boston we headed over to Millbury Centre, a typical American mall not far from where we were staying at Dick and Dorothy's house and started checking out our options.

Verizon was top on our list since we had their wireless and wired service when wwe lived in Vermont and thought highly of their customer service. But a walk in their store at Millbury Centre and we were immediately put off by the sales staff so we drove across the street to the Cingular store. Twenty minutes later we walked out with new SIM cards for a two-year contract family plan program, and we could use our old phones.

Several days later we were up in Maine visiting family and checking out a possible job opportunity for Susie (now a reality for the summer) and noticed that we couldn't get any coverage in the area where we will be spending the summer: Winter Harbor and Schoodic Point, across the bay from Bar Harbor.

After leaving Maine we returned to Dick and Dorothy's house in Massachusetts for one night before heading out to the Midwest and so we stopped in the Cingular store to register our problem. There was only one person working and she was pretty much overwhelmed with a constant stream of phone calls, while customers continued to come in to either talk about phones or (like us) discuss a problem.

We were faced with a choice: we could either buy two Cingular phones, thus in theory giving us better service or we could cancel our contract. When we signed up we had 30 days to test drive Cingular's service and frankly we were concerned that if we did opt for the new phones, and it would be several weeks before we would be back in Maine to run our test again and thereby past the 30-days' deadline, we would, in effect, be screwed.

So we opted out. We thanked the young woman and cancelled our service right there and then. C'est la vie, eh?

Now we were back to square one and had just an hour or so before we hit the big trail west. What to do?

We returned to Verizon and were pleasantly surprised this time: friendly sales staff, lots of tech support in-house -- in fact there were probably more than a half dozen people working there that morning -- and a half hour later out we went with new phone service and two new phones.

So now we have Verizon service -- like half of our family -- and couldn't be happier.

Well I suppose we could be if we were back in Paris. . .

Wish you were here,

Steve

Friday, April 06, 2007

Road trip no. 1, or Mini in the snow

Well I suppose we should've expected it -- snow in Vermont just before Easter that is. Susan and I left Dick and Dorothy's house about 9 a.m. Wednesday under cloudy and chilly skies with a hint of rain in the air. After our requisite stop at the Barnes & Noble in Ingleside just off the Mass Pike and on I-91, where we browsed and lingered before heading back north. We had generally smooth weather with a few showers. Of course this being Vermont that was about to change.

By the time we crossed the state line into southern Vermont we saw our first wet snow swirling around the little Mini. And by the time we reached Ludlow and the Green Mountains the roads had become coated with wet, icy slush amidst the driving wet snow, and north of town as the route 103 climbed the mountains traffic slowed to a crawl.

We saw no plow trucks anywhere but between Ludlow and the edge of Rutland we saw one car flipped off the road and a truck that had also lost control and run into a power line. Pretty nasty to be sure.

Lacking snow tires or chains the little Mini handled the snow just fine -- better than I did that's for sure -- and we were soon pulling into the city where the roads were, for the moment, just wet. But we soon started to hear reports that more snow predicted for later that night. And of course the predictions proved right.

Our original plan had been to stay with our friend Winnie Wednesday and Thursday nights but by the late afternoon Wednesday it was clear the weather had taken a very nasty turn. And since Winnie lives way up in the wild mountain fastness of Chittenden where the roads can frequently disappear for days on end beneath tons of snow we opted to spend the night in the city. So we got a room at a nearby Best Western (the old Hogge Penny from our Chittenden days).

And snow we got -- Winnie said the next day they received 14 inches up in Chittenden and Rutland probably got a half a foot or so. The snow continued as showers off and on throughout Thursday so we decided to just stay at the hotel through Friday morning.

The weather notwithstanding our 48 hours in Rutland went quickly: we cleaned out our safety deposit box, dropped the computer off with Billy D to have him do some preventive maintenance, we both paid a visit to the dentist, Susie visited the hospital and spent some time catching up with old friends there, and of course dropped by Mr. Twitters to see Becky and Joe.

We also too the opportunity to eat at two of our favorite places: Little Harry's on Wednesday evening where we met with Jack and Pat Facey, and caught up on lives in transition; and then on Thursday at Countryman's Pleasure with Winnie -- always the source of wonderful stories and lots of laughs. What a smile she keeps on her heart. The food was good, the company great and the weather cold and wintry. But it's Vermont after all.

Friday morning dawned clear, very cold with a blue sky and hints of overcast lingering among the mountains. We showered, dressed and checked out of the hotel and drove a couple of kilometers to Sugar n' Spice where we met our old friend Harris for breakfast. It was great catching up with him -- his life too is in flux as he moves toward realizing a lifelong dream of sailing and living in the Caribbean. A wonderful man and always an enjoyable companion to spend a little time sharing a few moments of life.

It was strange being back in Rutland. I'm not sure how exactly why. It seemed as if we were visiting a place we were only familiar with in a broadly general sense, a place we had traveled to often in the past but only in a casual way. Plenty of memories hovered around the edges of street names to be sure but we felt almost as if we had just been on an extended vacation here of a dozen years, just passing through.

And so we were.

Steve

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Leaving Paris and a new car

On 2 April, we borrowed Dick's car and drove first to the insurance agent in Whitnsville, then to Peabody Mini north of Boston where we took delivery of a new Chili red Mini Cooper. Here's a quick peek:




Ciao,

Steve

Limbo

Douglas, MA. -- Susan and I spent the better part of Sunday and Monday adjusting to the time difference and to our surroundings; the one much easier to achieve than the other.

It was nice to be among familiar and friendly faces to be sure and without a doubt Dick and his wife Dorothy have made our transition from Europe to the US that much easier. They spent the next 48 hours of their limited schedules seeing that we were fed, watered and bedded down in comfort and style.

Sunday began with a promise of gorgeous weather and we just hung out enjoying the warmth of a bright sun in their new sunroom (very aptly named). The rain began later in the evening and the weather pretty much remained chilly, damp and dreary through Monday.

After our respite on Sunday we began our process of reintegration bright and early on Monday: we were going to pick up our new car. I took Dick to school early so that we could use his car to get to the car dealership located north of Boston in Peabody, Massachusetts.

A little after 9 a.m. Susie and I headed off in a persistant light drizzle to meet with Dick's insurance agent in Whitinsville, MA. Since we were buying the car in MA, we needed MA plates and MA insurance and, well, for the time being we actually do live in MA.

Here's where it gets a tad confusing. Last week I called our bank in Vermont to set up the process for transferring money to the car dealer so that we could purchase the car. (Funny they actually wanted money!) I gave the pertinent information over the phone, and since we were going to be traveling and didn't have ready access to a fax but the our new insurance agent in Whitinsville did and since we were going there first thing Monday, the bank faxed the form to the agent's office so that we could sign it Monday and fax it back so the money could be transferred. Whew! I get tired just thinking about it. (photo below: Wiersma Insurance Agency in Whitinsville, MA)


Everything went off like clockwork. At little after nine we showed up at Wiersma Insurance Agency and met with one of their agents Carolyn who was very nice, and kindly allowed us to use their faxing facilities. The insurance business took about 20 minutes, we signed and faxed the wire transfer back to the bank, and called the dealer to let them know the money was on it's way and so were we!

Since we had a little time to kill before the transfer was processed we stopped at a nearby mall to check on our mobile phone options -- we need phone service here of course and decided we'll go strictly mobile for the time being. We'll keep one of our present unlocked GSM phones to use when we go back to France and Italy, but will have to spring for new phones with whichever carrier we decide to go with. It's always something with the phone company -- and why do they have so many programs and so many different "products"?

Anyway for the moment we've put off making a firm decision on which carrier, although that will probably be resolved sometime Tuesday.

So we drove over to Peabody Mini and met Steve Macateer, the guy we've been dealing with online. He walked us through the paperwork and then the basics of the car and less than two hours later we drove out in a brand-new Mini Cooper.


It was just about this time in 2002 that Susan and I have the good fortune to spend Easter that year in Rome. While we were strolling through the city we couldn't help but notice these new small cars whizzing around the streets -- come to discover they are the brand-new Mini Cooper produced by BMW. Since we were then in the market to downsize our cars -- and our life we hoped -- as soon as we returned to the US we did a quick online search, hopin against hope that we could find those babies here. But sure enough we could, and we did and although we sold the blue one some time back we now have a new red Mini for a new life.

Stay tuned.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Monday, April 02, 2007

Departures and arrivals

Douglas, MA. -- Last Saturday (just last Saturday?!) we said au revoir to Drea, her apartment on rue Poliveau and trudged our bags downstairs to await our shuttle pickup. Drea had come by about 11 a.m. and the three of us went through the formalities of letting go of our home, a proposition that would turn out to be somewhat more melancholoy than we expected.

We had no sooner taken our bags outside than the driver from Blu-Van shuttle service walked up and asked if we were going to Charles de Gaulle and we said yes. He turned and disappeared around the corner and then a few moments later returned with the van, loaded our bags and off we went down the streets we had walked so often in the past eight months.

Traffic was light and less than 30 minutes later we were pulling up to Terminal 2B, home of British airways, our air carrier of choice. Sad to say but CDG is not our airport of choice -- confusing in it's layout, poorly designed and showing it's age (whatever it is), but the staff were helpful and we zipped through passport control, and dropped our bags off (after a flurry of agent confusion over where we were supposed to check-in) at a fast-drop desk (we had printed our boarding passes and checked in online the night before).

No gate was posted for our flight since we had arrived a bit early (OK a lot early) and in any case we soon discovered that at CDG you have to know your gate to go through security and once you've done so guess what? No bathrooms! Yes that's right folks, the same country that gave us the mind of Victor Hugo, the drama of the Eiffel Tower and the eyes of Edouard Manet, also gave us the idea that once a person passes through security all bodily functions cease until the aircraft has reached a comfortable cruising altitude.

To pass the time we found a cafe at one of the ends of the terminal where we had a baguette sandwich of "jambon/emmenthal", our last in Paris and indeed in France. It was accompanied by a perky little white wine from the previous Wednesday's vintage. Not the best meal to have in Paris -- but then again maybe it was exactly the right meal to have, one way of easing ourselves from the place we have called home to wherever home may be.

Eventually we boarded the aircraft, found our seats, buckled in, took off and it was time to land! The trip to London only took about 45 minutes -- although we circled the city twice before landing -- and soon we were on the ground at Terminal 4.

Miracle of miracles! Every time we have flown through Heathrow we have had to switch terminals (usually from 1 to 4 and of course back again) but not this time. We landed at T4 and took off from T4.

Of course we had to go through British security -- frankly not terribly secure we discovered aside from all the serious looks and harrumphing going on around us. A little knife as well as several small vials of liquids (Oh no! NOT LIQUIDS!!) in our carry on bags had actually gone through the scanner. Not to worry though. I'm sure eventually they will be strip searching everyone, you know, just in case. . .

We had time enough for one glass -- or rather half bottle actually -- of champagne before we headed off to the gate. (They stick the flights to the US out at the end of the Victor Zone which looks rather like the main terminal at Da Nang and was about as comfortable. But hey they had two large-screen TVs blaring gibberish so not all was lost!)

The flight left the gate on time but sat on the tarmac for an additional 45 minutes while the air traffic controller came back from the WC and we eventually became airborne, remaining that way for about 6 hours and 45 minutes.

The flight was uneventual, food not bad (I had ordered the vegetarian which was an Indian dish that was quite tasty with lime pickle in fact!) and Susan had the chicken curry. She swore it was good and frankly it looked it. The meals were accompanied by a white wine from Bordeaux, a light, dry, fruity, innocuous one with no hint of chalky lactation.

Susan watched Breaking and Entering and I tried rewatching Casino Royale but switched to surfing the channels. Later in the flight I did settle down with the very funny Stranger than Fiction.

At one point Susan got my attention and pointed out that the flight data software, which one accesses on channel 1 of the in-flight entertainment system, a software package that hasn't been updated for more than a decade (same static, boring graphics) had us arriving at 9:10 p.m. local Boston time -- even though our original ETA was 9:35 and we were already running at least 45 minutes late! Hmmmm. If this stuff isn't giving us cattle in the back the right data what about the people driving this bus?

Not to worry of course because they got us to Boston just fine, found the airport OK even though it was dark, landed the place smoothly. And about a half hour late.

The good news was we disembarked quickly and moved through the maze of hallways quickly until we reached the place where the doors of the United States remain shut tight until everyone is screened for terrorist leanings, funny headgaear, acne, whatever. We ended up waiting in the US resident line for nearly an hour to go through passport control. As we inched forward we couldn't help but notice the "other" line for non-residents of the US. Everyone was being photographed and finger-printed like a common criminal -- the assumption being of course that we are all criminals until we can prove otherwise.

I know there are many folks in the US that feel OK about such procedures because it makes them feel safe and secure:

"Here Mr. Customs Man with the gun take my 16-year-old daughter and strip search her if you need to. I just want to feel secure."

But where do we draw the line we wonder?

Yet not one terrorist has been caught through such draconian methods. No sirreee, in fact what catches terrorists is really good intelligence: three words that are oxymoronic in the present administration.

Well we got through unscathed and picked up our bags, found our way to the exit (we actually knew where it was) and there was Dick, Susan's brother, waiting patiently for us to arrive.

The seven us left the terminal (Susan, Dick, me and four bags) and a few moments later we were whizzing around downtown Boston, heading for the peace and quiet of Douglas, Massachusetts.

The next leg begins.