Notes from the Southwest Corner: Christmas travel fun: Not!

Written for a column in The Lebanon Democrat, but i did not want to submit such a dark column the week before Christmas. Nevertheless, there are some real negatives about traveling through the Christmas season compared to what it used to be.

CHATTANOOGA  — Last week, Maureen took a two-legged flight to Chattanooga, concluding on what I call “Tree Top Airlines.” to begin our ten-day escape from the Southwest corner.

While excited about seeing family for the Christmas season, the problem of getting there has become an unavoidable pain.

When coming to Lebanon for the holidays, it was rather simple but still no picnic. We would rise at dark-thirty, find our way to Lindbergh Field, and catch a Southwest Airlines direct flight to Nashville. From there, it was a twenty minute drive to Deer Park, often getting there for supper.

The morning of our flight, we arose a bit early, finished packing and we drove in the rain — yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he brought the Southwest corner a wonderful gift: a slew of storms coming in off of the Pacific to greatly solve the reigning drought — to Coronado where my friend Pete Toennies took us to the airport.

Then the fun began.

At the TSA security check, the checkeree pointed out Maureen was “Pre-TSA” but i was not. He pointed me to the full check line (about five times as long) which required putting coats, shoes, belts, and my computer (which had to go through separately), and everything with metal through the scanner.

Another TSA agent tried to explain it was a random process when i asked. i how they could separate a married couple, especially since we had both been “Pre-TSA” for about a dozen flights in the past two years. The agent kept mumbling “random, random” while ushering me to the long line.

While i admit Maureen is quite a bit more responsible than i am, i am a retired Navy officer. I was responsible for nuclear weapons in three tours and held a “top secret atomal” security clearance, and now, i can walk or drive onto almost every military installation with no search by flashing my retired Navy ID card. But i’m not respectable enough to avoid the rather bizarre “random” screening of TSA.

i complied with the agents. There was a man significantly older than me pushed to the head of the line in a wheel chair. He could barely stand and an agent had to help him get out of his overcoat before he had to be helped through the magic screening box. In this process that took about five minutes, i wondered if he was random. While waiting for this search to conclude, the agents opened up a new line and ushered about thirty people behind me to this new screening post. About ten of them finished before me. Then a young man who did not understand the requirements was put in front of me to be re-screened and he had to keep coming back to the line to deposit something else he could not take through on his person. Consequently, my trip through the scan took almost 20 minutes longer than Maureen’s.

As we waited for our flight, i was struck with our current inability to be alone. i went to the men’s restroom and listened to a man in the next urinal talk on his mobile phone while doing his business. i stood in the walkways and watched an uncountable number of people talking on their mobile phones or “texting” on the way to their gate. Perhaps even more negative for the future, teens and pre-teens hunched over video games, oblivious to all but their small screens. They appeared almost anti-social, a projection for a hunchbacked, bug-eyed, introvert coming next decade.


photo by Dan Brownlee

The first leg of our flight ended at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. It was a grey afternoon, and as we approached the gargantuan mass of concrete, grey against grey, seemed to be more out of Orwell’s 1984 than today’s real world provider of air travel with emphasis on customer service.

The carrier offered drinks, but power drinks, alcoholic beverages, and appetizers came at a price, a high price. We declined. The night before we left, someone told us airlines are reducing seat space from 33 to 28 inches. I have friends who have to fly first class now because they can’t fit in the current seat size.

It is a far cry from Berry Field in September 1967 when i took my first plane trip. i was flown to Providence, R.I. on my way to Navy OCS in Newport. My parents drove me to Donelson, the Nashville suburb where they stood by the window at the gate as I walked outside to the plane’s boarding stairs. En route, i was served a good meal and paid one dollar for a half-bottle of wine. Berry, now Nashville International, was small and comfortable. Parking was not a problem. The Providence Airport was the same except we were handed umbrellas for our walk from the plane to the terminal in the rain.

People talked to each other. They weren’t as self absorbed. There was no security screening. There were no mobile phones or video games. The stewardesses were proud of their title and their service. It was a different age. i would prefer my Christmas flights to be more like they were a half-century ago rather than the way they are today.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: An early Christmas on the left coast

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, December 16, 2014. Only the photo of the puppet theater was included with the column. The others were added for this post, although my editing skills with the Mac are still being tested and two photos are small. The one of Kinsley hardly captures what a beautiful, fun, and behaved young girl she really is: a true delight, and i am looking forward to spending more time with her and her wondeful mother, Renee, in the coming year. Cousin Nancy, i wish you were here.

SAN DIEGO — Our weekend included packing for our Christmas trip, but Sunday, we had a Christmas treat of our own in the Southwest corner.

Late Sunday morning, we drove to Balboa Park. While most people associate Balboa Park with the San Diego Zoo, there are many other facets to the park, which was established in 1892 and blossomed in 1915 when the Panama-California Exposition was held in the city. The park has a working theater, a replica of Shakespeare’s Old Globe along with too many museums to count, hiking trails, gardens, and restaurants.

The view from our table at El Prado

The view from our table at El Prado

We ran some Christmas errands before lunch at El Prado, a wonderful restaurant housed in one of the exposition buildings with a courtyard in front and outdoor dining in back, which overlooks a pool, fountain, and garden. We had lunch outside and could have spent several hours there, but we were on a Christmas mission.

There was a Lebanon connection, or at least, a Cumberland connection.

We were on our way to meet Kinsley, the great, great granddaughter of my Aunt Evelyn Orr, who was mentioned in an earlier column about Thanksgiving and the road to Chattanooga. Evelyn’s daughter, Nancy moved to Florida where she still resides in Cape Canaveral. Nancy’s daughter, Kathy, moved to Michigan. Her daughter, Renee Hoskins became a Marine, got out and had Kinsley. They live in Oceanside. Just before Kinsley turned two this summer, we connected at, where else, the San Diego Zoo.

This lineage dissection proves there are many ways to land in the Southwest corner.

Our mission was to meet Renee and Kinsley at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater in Balboa Park. The puppeteers were putting on a Christmas program. We thought that would be something Kinsley would enjoy.

puppets3We drove to Balboa Park early, stopping at the zoo to pick up a few Christmas presents for our trip east, and then to lunch. I had the rock shrimp chile relleno while thinking it was not likely a menu item anywhere else except the Southwest corner. We sauntered past the Mingei International Museum where Maureen found a couple of gifts for friends, and I took note of some articles she liked but wouldn’t purchase for herself.

Finally we made it to the Palisades area of the park where Kinsley and Renee were waiting for us. The theater is a full-blown auditorium in the Spanish Mission style architecture which dominates the park structures. The staff/cast/puppeteers put on five shows a week, changing programs weekly. This is year round.kinsley-puppets - 2I wish every child under five could attend such a show. Kinsley was enthralled. She rocked and clapped with enthusiasm with every new Christmas song as mice, cats, jacks-in-the-box, and a snowman pranced around the puppet stage. I felt about five years old myself (Of course, Maureen often accuses me of acting like a five-year old).

As I tried simultaneously to watch Kinsley and the puppets, my mind wandered to the upcoming Christmas. We will be going straight, or as straight as we can on plane connections and tree-top airlines to Chattanooga tomorrow. Since 1992, Signal Mountain and Lebanon have been Christmas for Sarah, our twenty-five year old daughter. We wish to capture at least part of that this year. The special part of that is our grand niece, Allie Duff, another two-year old, will be the focus of attention. Allie is my sister’s granddaughter.

From there, we head to Austin for our first Christmas with our grandson Sam. We have wanted to be with him for this special time since he was born seven plus years ago, but we had to make choices.

You should note there is no Lebanon on that itinerary. Lebanon has been part of my Christmas holidays for about 50 of my nearly 71 years. I will miss James Cason making me a martini, a dinner with Mike and Gloria Dixon, spending time with Eddie and Brenda Callis and sitting next to them at the Sunday church service. I will miss Bill and Kathy Denny who took special care of my parents, and Charlotte and Kristy Johnson whom my parents considered family. And of course, I will miss Henry and Brenda Harding.

Obviously, the biggest missing will be my mother and father. However, our Christmas this year is focused on children. I am sure my parents think this is the way it should be.


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A Pocket of Resistance: A Beautiful Escape

When i saw these photos this afternoon during my eternal quest to organize an amazing pile of memories, i first began to write about that point in my life in 1980.

But as i began writing, i realized that the beautiful time in August when i escaped from reality, my world was a magical place because it was spent with Blythe and close friends, and the photos didn’t need a whole lot of description from me.

Blythe’s mother put the eight-year old on a plane i met in Seattle. We spent a day and night in that emerald city and then rode a hydrofoil from there to Victoria, British Columbia, staying in a secluded top floor suite of the Empress Hotel because it was the only room available. Then we rode the ferry to Orcas Island.

Blythe on the Puget Sound Ferry from Victoria, BC to Orcas Island

Blythe on the Puget Sound Ferry from Victoria, BC to Orcas Island

There we had a wonderful two days with my friend Cy Fraser and his family, including Evan, who is now one hell of a musician in the band Dirtwire. Blythe  and Evan got along famously.

Blythe and Evan on Orcas Island, one of my favorite places of all time.

Blythe and Evan on Orcas Island, one of my favorite places of all time.

And then we flew off of Orcas to SeaTac and flew over Mount Saint Helens as it was erupting, although we didn’t realize the magnitude, on our way to San Diego, where we played with my friends, including Pete and Nancy Toennies in spite of Pete having a hole in his pants in a most embarrassing location.

Pete, Blythe, and Nancy in Coronado

Pete, Blythe, and Nancy in Coronado

It was a beautiful wonderland for those two weeks with my daughter which i will always treasure.


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