Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Fly First Class

Flying isn't what it used to be.

I don't mean to boast, but I will, nonetheless. There are few things that I am better at than air travel. My mom being an adventurous sort and a recreational pilot herself, we were always heading out for some destination. I, by law, should have repeated the 7th grade due to travel related absences. But what are laws if not to be broken?

When I was young, we flew an obscene amount, even logging over 115,000 miles in one year, and let me tell you, I was good at it. Not since I was 8 or 10 have I ever experienced as much success with the ladies (stewerdesses, as they were still called) or the boys (stewards), for that matter: upgrades to international business and first class, when stuck in coach, I was showered with first class amenities: milkshakes from the front, coloring books, toys and cards reserved for the fortunate first class kids.

So from a young age, I had a good grasp on what makes air travel elegant, fascinating, and luxurious, as well as humiliating, degrading, and unbearable. I was there when United Airlines first rolled out plastic cutlery (GASP!), and when airlines stopped letting kids wander around the cockpit. Fortunately for you, my good readers, I am here to share my experience and wisdom with you before the hectic holiday season of travel, albeit a somewhat unorthodox wisdom.

First, we must consider what makes air travel great, and, unfortunately, we must look to The First Class.

1) They board the plane first and are immediately showered with cocktails.
2) Free cocktails.
3) The look of utter disdain for the proletariat boarding the plane after them, forced to shuffle through their cabin like migrants in a deportation line. (Who are you kidding? You'd all give that look, too.)
4) More free cocktails.
5) Wide seats and more legroom.
6) Meals served with glassware and cutlery.
7) The plane is quieter up front.
8) Even more free cocktails.
9) A clientele of a more decorous nature.
10) And more cocktails.

So let's parse this out, bit by bit, to ensure that you, my readers, enjoy first class travel this holiday season without paying the first class price. What is required here, is a different approach and a bit more planning. The result? An inflight experience second to none, ... except REAL first class.

1) Why would you want to spend any more time on that tin, rattle-trap than you have to? When you get on, it's either too hot, or too cold. You're stuck breathing other people's air and not moving. So, wait until the last possible minute to board the plane, and if the plane is delayed at the gate, you are free to wait at the gate, but passengers who have already boarded are not allowed to deplane. By the time you do board the plane, the folks in First Class will be so soused and distracted by trying to read The Wall Street Journal, they'll forget to look at you with disgust. (Also, they're not really reading The Wall Street Journal. They wouldn't know an "IPO" if it bit them in their leather-clad seat bottoms. They've simply tucked a copy of USA Today in there and are looking at pictures of Britney's new boyfriend.)
2) More later...
3) There is an important facial expression associated with air travel. I call it The Airport Face. You must look so peevish, ornery and unstable (a similar but different look than the, I'm In First Class Face) that you may stab your seatmate with your pen if they try to get chatty, thus warding off lengthy conversations about your seatmates' bunions. This simultaneously accomplishes two goals. Firstly, It prevents loquacious individuals who may or may not be sitting next to you from getting started. I discovered this look in my early tweens while flying solo with long hair, Chuck Taylors and generally looking angst ridden. I noticed it prevented the nosy folks next to me asking me all kinds of dumb questions, but really only wanting to ask, "Where are your parents?". Secondly, the laity will mistake it for the I'm In First Class Face and assume you are disgruntled simply because they overbooked First and you were forced to sit "with them." As a side note, it is important to dress this part. No one will believe you if you are in sweatpants and a Yosemite Sam T-Shirt.
4) More later...
5) You can't change the dimensions of your seating area, but I offer two helpful hints to maximize the area you are allotted. The first is that you should pack lightly. The personal item you are forced to store in your preciously, scant legroom should be as small as possible. Additionally, pack everything you need in a roll-aboard suitcase that barely fits in the overhead bins. This will eliminate the checked baggage charge, freeing up $25 for items 1, 2, 4, 8, and 11, and since you boarded the plane last (Item 1), there is no more room overhead and they will check it through to your final destination for free! Secondly, lose weight. The skinnier you are, the more lateral position you will have at your disposal while seated in a standard coach class seat.
6) Sure it'd be nice to have something more than peanuts on your 4 hour cross country flight, but look at this as an opportunity to loose that weight so that you'll fit into your coach class seat better on your next flight. This eliminates the need for real cutlery. I do admit that the glassware is a problem given that you will be enjoying cocktails en route. Your two options at this point are to bring aboard your own double old fashioned glass (which I have done), or slum it with the rest of your cabin mates and use the plastic cups.
7) You're going to need to invest in a good pair of headphones. Earbuds are the best because they block out the guy snoring across the aisle and the crying baby, and are also small enough to rarely be noticed by the flight crew so you can listen to your tunes from the minute you board the plane until you leave. I realize it's a little illegal, but...
8) More later...
9) Here again, headphones are key to ignoring the less than stellar decorum of you cabin mates. Don't be afraid to throw disapproving glances at breastfeeding mothers (inappropriate) or loud sighs and snide comments when someone expels gas (gross). The only thing children should be eating or drinking on a plane is benadryl. Additionally, should you be seated next to someone who genuinely looks as if they could be your new best friend or the love of your life, break these rules as necessary. Buy her a drink or feel free to chat it up, just be aware that if things don't go well, you'll be sitting next to them for quit some time.
10) Airplanes are my favorite place to imbibe, the lure of a new destination or the comfort of going home, the excitement of what may come, introspection, retrospection. All of these form an exhilarating elixir. The first thing most people say is that it's too expensive to drink on the plane. FALSE. Even if you went for it hard on an all day flight, you wouldn't spend more than $35, which pales in comparison to a first class ticket of 2 or 3 times what you paid for your coach ticket. Also, the spirits which airlines serve are generally of premium quality and the best part is that you don't have to tip a flight attendant. So if you know of terrestrial bar where you always get a generous pour of Woodford Reserve for $7, tip and tax free I'd like to know. Here are some other money saving tips. Buy your own mini-bottles from your local package store and carry them on with you. Make sure to match brands with your air carrier though to avoid suspicion. Put them in a quart, zip-lock bag like your other liquids and gels for security. While this isn't illegal, it's frowned upon by the carrier. Always ask the male flight attendants for drinks, whether your a man or woman. Guys drink more and are more likely to understand that you are less likely to punch the 4 year old behind you who is kicking your seatback while he plays his portable game box if you've had a cocktail. If you're attractive or extremely witty, some flirtation will help your chances of getting a free drink, and, again, always ask the guy. Also, from 33,000ft, initial descents begin about 30 minutes before landing. If you order a drink about 40 minutes out, it's almost always free since the flight crew is busy getting ready to land, and won't want to stop what they're doing to run your card.

Here are some other tips to help you this season:
1) On a three-seat row, the middle person ALWAYS gets both middle armrests.
2) If you are brutally hosed by an airline due to weather, malfunctioning parts or some other disaster and are waylaid for a long period of time, purchase a one-day pass to the club of your airline. There you will have snacks, better wireless, ambient lighting, leather chairs, more privacy, and, yup, you guessed it, free drinks!
3) Compression socks help you to arrive feeling fit and fresh, and, in long haul flights, help prevent the ole' Deep Vein Thrombosis.
4) Even today, flying is a privilege, you ought to dress like it.
5) The flight crew are deputized air marshals and can have you arrested, so watch your mouth, don't leave the plane without permission and try to be nice. They're as tired saying the same things as you are hearing them.

Here's wishing you safe, happy and tipsy holiday travels! And, if all other transportation fails, take a ride on the Payne Train.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Barbara Gayle

Mom in full cheering regalia at the South Carolina 1/2 Ironman.

For all intents and purposes, this blog is designed to be the story of my pursuit of athletic achievement, my athletic dreams, and one chapter's omission has become glaringly obvious. Last Saturday, November 13, was the first anniversary of my mother's passing from pancreatic cancer. In so many ways, without her, I would not have had the strength, discipline, courage or sense of adventure to sink myself, wholesale, into this dream.

When I began swimming, at 12, I was the oldest new swimmer. Everyone else my age was in one of the three more advanced groups and had been swimming competitively since they were able to crawl across the pool deck.

I think most people play several sports growing up and then choose their favorite. Then, if they seem to have a knack for it they'll take it more seriously. If they have a knack for it and they're disciplined they'll think about collegiate athletics. Then, if things go well there, they'll start thinking about international competition and, finally, The Olympics. As in most things I do, I went bass ackwards. Having just started swimming around the time of the Atlanta summer games of 1996, I decided that that was what I wanted to do. I never recall having a conversation with my mom about my lofty goals, but I guess she just kinda knew.

When you are in middle school, parents are the most hideously embarrassing thing, an extreme liability in the universal pursuit of looking cool. Even having a parent take you to my private school was terrible unless they were sporting a new S-Class or S-Type or S-anything-cooler-than-my-mom's-Honda.

Our trips to school were no different than any other time, to be used effectively, with maximal educational and inspirational benefit. Around this time she was on a self-help, books on tape (our Accord didn't have a CD player) kick, and she had "a special reading" she wanted me to hear. You know, the Zig Ziglar on Selling or Suze Orman sort of thing... All I remember was the narrator talking about normal kids, who turned out to be outrageously successful in their chosen fields; Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, head engineers for Boeing, etc. The "special reading" ended with the narrator asking his rapt audience through Dolby tape technology what was meant to be a rhetorical question: "Can you see your child directing the Boston Symphony? Will your daughter be the next Diane Sawyer? Can you see your son designing the next Boeing 747?"

"YES!" my mother exclaimed from the drivers seat of our green Honda Accord at the top of her lungs in rush-hour traffic with a hearty and well intention fist pump. ...I died inside.

I think it was meant to be a segue to, what I'm sure would have been a very motivational and inspirational dialogue about my innate talent being unlocked through hard work, discipline and time management. I'm pretty sure I ended it and quickly and quietly skulked off to another harrowing day at Middle School.

Now, you as readers, are obviously endowed with the wisdom of my objective retrospect and see the incredible value of what she was doing. Congratulations. I would have loved to have seen you in middle school.

So, as most middle schoolers do, I missed the point. I didn't realize that we very easily could have bought an S-Type if my mom hadn't sent me to a school that championed education. I didn't realize that my mom was speaking from her own experiences in drive, discipline, education, hard work and success.

It's ironic that now, without her here and 13 years after that terribly embarrassing incident, I'm banking on what she wanted to say that day and the fact that she is right. I know that she was though, she already proved it.

So thanks mom, you were pretty legit.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How a Comedy of Errors Yielded the Best Toilet Paper ...Ever.

This winter is dedicated to my run. It's been a perennial weak discipline for me. Fortunately, I live in Missoula where I can say, "Hey, I need a 70 minute run and I want to get worked," and 4 guys and 1 dog show up to do the honors. Here is the story of an evening gone terribly wrong. The faint of heart should read no further.

A couple notes to set the stage: Montana is a very Northern state, and with the recent time change, darkness falls early. Even earlier in the many valleys and corridors, or, as we call them in the redneck South, "hollers". It is also especially cold in these corridors as they get much less sunlight throughout the day. Also, there have been about 20 black bears relocated from the neighborhood at the base of this corridor. Here, black bears are like opossums, just bigger and scarier. Additionally, mountain lions are not uncommon in these parts. I was never particularly concerned about mountain lions myself. I thought they were a kind of large, ornery cat until I saw one. This is false. In reality, they are slightly smaller, more cunning lions and closer to the size of deer than a house cat. Stage set.

Our 5:00PM departure is delayed until about 5:30 for generalized sitting around, chatting, lollygagging, and waiting for tardy participants. We set out heading North up the main corridor of the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area, following a lovely creek and wide trail. All are in good spirits. Our company consists of three fast running professional triathletes, Major, the intrepid mutt, Jeffro, and myself. Little did I know how close we were to finishing the evening out Donner Party style.

About 20 minutes in, Jeffro, whose heart is eager and outfit entertaining, settles into a slightly slower pace. Cupcakes (aka Adam Jensen) stays to run with Jeff. I sink everything into staying with Brendan and Matty-Ice. The three of us take a left which will eventually take us back to the corridor's main trail where we will meet up with Cupcakes and Jeffro. It is at this turn that I realize it's just plain dark out. I pick my feet up and try to hang onto Matty for dear life. I don't know the trial around here in the daylight, much less the pitch-black, Montana night. By the time we reach the main trail and start heading back South we run into Jeffro who fell off of Cupcakes' pace for the exclusive purpose of ralphing from the intensity. Cupcakes ran further North on the main trail to fetch us, but we weren't on the main trail. Now, here is where you are correct in thinking "Wouldn't it have been smart to discuss our route before we set out?" and the answer is "Yes." We, however, are not smart. I am limited to 70 running minutes so I let Matty, Major and Brendan reel Cupcakes back South. I take the opportunity to relieve my bladder. It's probably about 25 degrees where we are in the corridor, and, me being unsmart didn't wear tights. Not necessarily a huge deal, but a complicating factor in that the temperature prevents the accurate nerve messages being sent from my gentleman-parts to my brain and back to my bladder. Also not a huge deal, in that one would normally be able to visually ascertain the completion of his urination. In the pitch black dark, however, this was impossible. I made a "best guess" but was, apparently terribly wrong as a significant amount of urine was deposited onto the front of my shorts.

Jeffro and I then began a slow, Northward jog, assuming they had since caught Cupcakes. They hadn't. At which point we began a slow Southward walk to to let them catch us, not using up my 70 minutes of alloted run time. I then became cold due to the afore mentioned lack of tights and recent excessive moisture deposit on my trousers. We then resumed our Southward run, deciding to just head back. Jeffro abandoned his mountain lion fighting, bear scaring stick back onto the ground and we ran on. Several minutes later, Major the mutt then showed up. Huzzah! We now had a trusty ally in the fight against, The Nature (as my friend Katherine Todd would put it) and would soon be reunited with our group. So we turned North again to quickly close the gap. No luck and no sign of our trusty companions. It is then that both Jeff and my thoughts turn to the violent travesty which must have occurred that evening in The Nature, so, again, turn South to head back in case we needed to get help. Once this thought enters your mind, it becomes a full-on mental war to stay calm. Not being accustomed to such wildlife, I proclaim to Jeffro, "You know I'm probably just naive, but I'm not that concerned about the deadly wildlife," which is, in my mind, stalking us at that very moment. Jeffro, who has zero verbal filter then says, "Oh, well you should be. Mountain lions are deadly and scary and you know Sam just saw one on his bike up here, and ...." "Jeff!, now is not the appropriate time to rectify my naivete." We run on, beginning to grieve the undeniable loss of our dear friends, high in corridor. In the vain hope that they aren't dismembered, bloody carcasses, being fed on by untold wildlife, we periodically yell their names, we also hope this hollering will frighten away our predators. To lighten the mood, we then take to yelling other funny words: "Panis!" "Ovem!" "Palin!" ...our words falling back to us off the canyon walls, cold and dead in the nameless Montana night.

About 40 minutes later, a headlamp bobs behind us. Major turn and runs. It is Brendan, Matty and Cupcakes! We all run jauntily and quickly. We laugh and exchange stories from our time apart. Matty thought Major had been slain, but he was with us. Brendan and Cupcakes left Matty to search for major, ran ahead, hid in the woods and scared the bejesus out of Matty. All is well that ends well...

My ordeal, however, had just begun. When you don't grow up running, there are several reason that you build your long run incrementally. The main one is injury prevention. A secondary and often overlooked reason is to acclimate your body to burning that many calories over a long period of time without voiding them... so you don't crap yourself. We were already about 25 minutes beyond my most recent long run. The combination of the duration, the emotional toll of having lost some of my best friends and then having them resurrected, the downhill running, the high intensity, and the jaunty running presented itself in a rare and unprecedented form of gastric distress.

My pace slowed and stride shortened to minimize vertical acceleration as my sphincter prepared for what would be the fight of its life, its defining moment. It's important that you know, bowel movements are the absolute worst part of everyday of my life. I find them base, demeaning and sensorially offensive. Matty and Brendan again ran ahead. Cupcakes generously remained with his headlamp. An emergency pull-over.... a false alarm. Several minutes later, it was the real deal. Like the levies in New Orlean, sphincter failure was eminent. I grabbed the light, and took a hard right into the woods. Quickly scouring for wiping implements... too late. Drop trou... Done and done. My favorite pair of Smartwool socks, the only casualties in what was destined to be a disastrous night.

You may scoff at at this crass experience, but you've either been here, very nearly been here or you're fat and will die of heart disease in about 6 years, so scoff away. Have you had the pleasure of using $15.00 toilet paper?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Offseason: Phases 1-4

I've been in several offseason phases as of late. They have involved varying degrees of not working out, shenanigans, costumes, cocktails, working out and traveling. Offseason: Phases 1-4 have also, evidently not involved blogging. This post, therefore, is to inform you that I will be blogging at my leisure about that which may or may not be triathlon related.

Cheers, Until-A-Time-I-See-Fit