Monday, October 29, 2007

My Trip to DC

I'm sitting in the lounge of the DC hostel after just having the most expensive, most insipid beer in my life.

The fancy restaurant across the street has a bar, and I figured, how expensive could a beer be? What I didn't count on was the beers were all unpronounceable Belgian imports served in tiny glasses for the price of a fine sherry in reality land. For all their descriptive overload ("blonde with a white head and hints of citrus and coriander"), they are flavorless compared to the earthy California microbrews.

Otherwise, things are great at the hostel. The photo above shows the front desk, and the other one the lounge. The hostel is quiet--there is Wi-Fi in the lounge, as well as pay-per-minute desktops for the less fortunate, and there's a certain camaraderie missing as people stare at their bluish screens or write in notebooks or plug into their Ipods. No international confessions or courtships are going on. Did it use to be like this? A very tall man comes in, sits in a corner and reads a dog-eared Bible for ten minutes, then leaves. I saw him on the airporter earlier, so he must be from out of town like me. A middle aged woman sits down beside me and reads Charlie Brown's Cyclopedia. She too leaves ten minutes later.

Here is what I wrote on the plane from SF:
Ah, the thrills of the flying stand-by! On the bus trip to the airport, I was unexpectedly tranquil, compared to my usual unreasoning anxiety at the beginning of every trip. I guess I'm mellowing out. (Or maybe the meds are finally kicking in.) The bus arrived early and I had a whole hour to relax, drink coffee and read the newspaper.

But as the flight approaches the end of loading, I find myself beginning to fidget, my eyes riveted on the desk, as names are called out that aren't mine. Finally the suspense drags me out of my seat to edge ever closer to the desk and fix whichever attendant glances my way with a fierce stare, as if to force them by brute concentration to call out my name. This always happens. Finally one asks me what I want, and I say I’m just waiting for my name to be called. He smiles and says, “You’ll get on,” and I relax and observe the other passengers.

The man sitting next to me wears a dark blue suit and white shirt. He has a distinguished shock of white hair. Clearly, a government official or lobbyist.

Well, maybe not. It turns out he too is flying standby. He gets called just before I do.
I was hoping for first class, since there were five seats open. Instead I get one of the four economy seats that are, inexplicably, in the business cabin. I was warned that business class services were not included. But apparently the attendants didn’t get the message, and I am offered a parade of free food and drink, hot towels and linen napkins. I had a fruit plate with a croissant for breakfast and I’m now sipping a tomato juice. So I haven’t touched my hoard of food. But I think I will before we land.

You know those little bags of party mix they give out instead of real food? They give the same stuff to the privileged classes. Except that here the mix also contains almonds, and is known as “Supreme Mix.”

They gave me noise-canceling headphones, which turned out not to work with my economy seat. I asked to keep them anyway, because they do cut down on the noise a little. I’m wearing them over my Ipod earbuds; I’ve so far listened to “This American Life,” Rachel Madow and Thom Hartmann. Friday’s news, but since I didn’t read the news on Friday, who cares? While listening, I work the Sudoku puzzles in the airplane magazine—not the easy ones like I usually do, so I was only able to complete one without botching it up beyond repair.

An 82-year-old Filipina lady is sitting by me. When awake, she talks incessantly; but mostly she is asleep, except when the attendant wakes her up every 15 minutes to ply her with more food and drink.

I’ve got a window seat, but precious little good it is. The window is almost behind me, and looks out over the engines and the wing. Still, I did see a little. It’s been mostly clear across the country.

We’re about an hour and a half from landing. With my laptop on its lowest light setting, I still have four and a half hours left on my battery. I think I’ll break out the yogurt and listen to some more Thom Hartmann. He talks to the Code Pink lady who got arrested the other day, and she gives a Web site and pleads for people to come to DC to replace the people who have been arrested and given "stay away" orders. I write down the URL and later, at the hostel, sign up to help out if needed.

We land uneventfully, and it's an easy and fast trip on the Washington Flyer to the nearest underground station, and then on to the Metro station in the heart of DC. A true tourist, I light out on the three block walk to my hostel in the wrong direction. It takes a block and a half for me to get that the sequence of lettered streets is going the wrong way, when I could have simply looked up and noticed which way the sun was setting.

A minor problem with the computer--it wouldn't do anything, despite several reboots!--turned out to be nothing more than a particle from the "Supreme Mix" lodged under my left mouse key.

Now, though my computer refuses so far to acknowledge the time change, I actually feel like it's 8:30 instead of 5:30, and moreover, having slept four and a half hours last night, am just about ready for bed.

Tomorrow I'll call Lynn Woolsey's office and see what I can get for my political contributions!

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