Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tell Me, Doctor, What's Wrong?

I went to the doctor today because I'm getting sicker by the day. And the holidays won't give me much of a chance to go if I wait.

She said, basically, that I wasn't sick enough. But she knew if she gave me advice, a couple of prescriptions, I'd automatically feel better.

Okay, I don't. But I have complete faith I will. And she was nice enough to give me a prescription for an antibiotic, just in case I get worse before the weekend's out. I filled the prescription, and it will sit there until or if I need it.

A lot has been happening. We lit the first candles of Hanukah. We're going to set fire, I mean, fry up some sufganiyot -- donuts -- tomorrow. And play games on the 25th while all the stores are closed.

The new stackable washer and dryer was delivered. I was slightly worried that it wouldn't fit, but the guys were professional and got it in easily. Then they hooked it up to the gas hookups. Thankfully, the SEARS sales lady sold me a hook-up that was delivered along with the unit. It's a thing of beauty.

These last few weeks, and the next few weeks, are when we see the boys a lot. Birthdays are involved, and days off. It should be fun.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How to Feed 120 Kids

A bunch of Temple Sinai volunteers got together last night and fed about 120 kids at the First Methodist Church in Oakland. The event was sponsored by First Place for Youth, which helps kids who have aged out of the foster home system. This is Temple Sinai's 6th year helping; it was my first. Oh -- and by "kids," I mean young adults, 18 or a little older.

Just an aside here: I was truly amazed at how many young women had kids with them. Babies. My gosh. What a challenge.

Dozens of people came by and dropped off food. Ten or so of us stayed to serve. Alex brought three turkeys fully cooked, and spent most of his prep time sawing off pieces with an electric knife. I found myself heating chicken broth for eventual gravy (I actually had to take a match to the industrial stove, which scared me to death), opening cans of cranberry sauce (thanks to Laurie who completed that task for me by cutting up the tubes of red goo), scattering the desserts on trays for later (with Dawn), and finally, serving the salad and desserts.

I was kind of amazed that it all came together. Thanks to maybe 4 people who knew what they were doing, saw the need and filled it. (I was not one of them. I am happy to do what organized people tell me to do, but this was on such a scale that I couldn't even comprehend the job.) Cecille told me to take the salad station, so I did.

Cecille suggested I coat each salad collection with the dressing so that kids weren't standing around squirting the bottles. So, I did that, and had ranch vs. Italian vinaigrette. As it turned out, there was no question: the kids wanted the ranch dressing. Dawn was to my right, serving up slices of her cranberry jelly. Some went, "eek, beets!" and fled the scene, but she was smart enough to tell them what it was before they could leap to conclusions.

While all this was going on, they had Christmas music, pumped up, going on in the background. Dawn wondered why they couldn't play Bing Crosby. It's an Oakland Christmas, I explained, as we listened to Mariah Carey, the Ronnettes, and many more Detroit-style holiday songs.

The kids were very gracious, seemed to have a good time. I know I did. They were so cute, kind of excited over what was being served. And when the desserts came out, it took them a little time to react, but they finally came over and started scooping them up. Laurie and Dawn would prepare plates for them, offering them some of the strawberry and whipped cream holiday cake as well as whatever else they wanted. There were so many cakes and cookies and brownies that, well, it would've sent any diabetic within 100 yards into a coma, just looking at it all.

Pretty cool way of giving to Oakland's kids, especially the ones who will struggle just to survive. I'm glad we could give them a good meal.

Hanukah: So Many Lights, Not Enough Oil

We will soon be celebrating Hanukah! An actually very small holiday on the Jewish calendar. I think we make it big because, well, there's another big holiday in the same month with which many Jews feel we're competing.

I got a Hanukah present!!! Yes, it's a baseball-themed hanukiah! That is so cool, and mucho cute.

Also, Sweetie put some very small Hanukah decorations up on the window. Pretty nice.

Turns out Sweetie did a video just last week. She and her senior rabbi, Rabbi Sanford Aksulrad, both at Ner Tamid synagogue in Henderson, Nevada, put a video together about how to celebrate Hanukah at home. They call it the "virtual rabbi."

I think it looks quite professional.

Of course, we will be lighting one candle for each day of Hanukah. Baseball, all lit up for Hanukah. Very cool.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sin City vs. Religion

There's plenty of religion in Las Vegas. You just have to look for it.

And I don't mean worshipping at the blackjack table, although there are certainly people who do that.

I accompanied Sweetie to Las Vegas, and she worked at Ner Tamid, the synagogue in Henderson, while I played. I attended Friday night services for shabbat -- I really liked the music and Rabbi Adar's sermon -- and also came back the next morning for a rousing session of Torah study. And I met her for an occasional lunch and dinner.

My new "home" is the Sunset Station Casino in Henderson, a mere two blocks from our Hampton Inn motel. I thought the Sunset Station Casino would be something very small and inadequate, much like I was used to when I was stationed in Fallon -- you know, Chinese food, and the owner would quickly jump up to deal blackjack if you sat down. (Then scowl if you won.) No, the Sunset Station is fairly large. I immediately went over to get my player's club card. They offered you free money when you play. I didn't bother to look to see how much. I would've played anyway.

And they have the slot machine games I really like. The video-type ones with bonus rounds. I found three Reel 'Em In games. A bank of four Star Trek games. The Goldfish game. And a new one I just love: Invasion from the Planet Moolah.

There are 5 cows in flying saucers above earth. As you play 20 lines, the next commonplace items (a barn, a person, a truck, things like that) fall into place. Every now and then, a cow (which is WILD) falls into place. And sometimes they stack in 3's. If there are two of anything touching it, it turns into wild. And when you get paid, the flying saucers zap the items that have already been played, and everything drops again. If you get four matches like that, you get 7 free spins, another one and you get three more. That's the bonus round. Very cool.

The Star Trek game disappointingly did not recognize my rank and medals from the last time I played (which was four months ago). So I now have 9 medals and am some sort of recruit. That game doesn't pay off very well although the bonus rounds are well worth the wait.

And I actually sat down to play some blackjack today before we left for home. I played about an hour, and did well. Five dollar minimum, which is really good. It was a shoe, but I don't mind that. And they paid one-and-a-half times for blackjack. Unlike the newer places at the Strip and downtown. I think I've found my new favorite place to play.

They also have a bowling alley and a cineplex at Sunset Station. We went to "Australia" last night. Stadium seating, but the rooms are very small. They fill up quickly.

I really like the idea of going to services, then enjoying myself at the casino and all it has to offer. And I don't think any of it has to do with absolving myself of sin at the end of the day. It's just a wide spectrum, a continuum, of enjoying life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Rat-Man Cometh... and Takes Something with Him this Time

I called David from Capable Pest Control because I saw something in the trap downstairs in the storage room.

He set the trap in July, so I knew I'd be paying extra for the visit. No problem. I couldn't tell what it was, but it was big, and it was dead. And I wasn't tippytoeing up to the furry mess to find out what it truly was. But I had my suspicions.

I thought I had just thrown money away when I brought Capable out. He seemed rather unprofessional. They had just started their business. They didn't yet accept credit cards. But he seemed to think that a Snickers bar would do the trick in terms of bait, and set several traps, both in the storage room and in the crawl space.

I had taken his suggestions and filled the holes leading into the house. Thankfully my handyman saw more than David had, and filled those, too. I really don't see how anything could've gotten into that storage room.

Except that it had.

David came out this morning and using rather ordinary means -- tongs and a plastic bag -- hauled TWO rats away! Wow!! and Yay! Both were in the traps set in the storage room. I saw that the 2nd trap had been turned over, but had kind of assumed it was because I had had workmen in the room (shoring up the holes).

I'll have to keep this quiet. If sweetie and friends find out, I may be a hermit here. Forever.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Too Much Change

"Too much change." That's what one of the retirees I talked to told me. Why he retired. He was a supervisor on the Commercial Operations side (I guess they call it a generic "Trade" now), seemingly irreplaceable. They lost an overstuffed suitcase full of knowledge when they let him go. I know what he meant. Change is frightening.

But, truth be said, he misses the people. He goes back once a month or so, saying hi to everybody, going out to lunch with some. He and his wife are alone -- no dalmatians at home currently -- but his wife's father just died and his own mother is 95 and frail. But stubborn.

The party today at the South San Francisco Elks Club was full of stories like that. And the theme was "change."

And one of the biggest changes in our lives is the death of our family, our friends. MC Mike Freitas announced those from legacy Customs who passed away in 2008:

Emory Anderson, previous WAE inspector, passed away a few days after last year's Old Timers Luncheon.
Fred Del Porto
Al Boragno
Eleanor Antonich
Edward Kwas
Elinor Donnelly
Al Lacy, Jr.
Jonnetter Walker
Paul Lefkow

An announcement on a nicer note: Raul Palomo and Susan Miller are due to retire at the end of this month.

Much to our surprise, the Port of San Francisco sent someone to talk to us retirees, namely the port director himself, John Leonard. No one had met Mr. Leonard yet, as he just assumed his new position, and I have to say, he barely looked to be about 30. He said some nice things: "San Francisco is the one port I wanted to get to." And then he said something perfectly awful: "I'm a Red Sox and Patriots fan."

After the boos subsided, he laughed and added, "I'm going to the Oakland Coliseum to watch the Raiders and the Patriots later. Someone advised me that it would be a good thing if I wore my Patriots gear." That was funny. He won't make it out alive.

He told us that San Francisco is not the same port we remember. The merging of the three agencies -- Customs, Immigration, USDA -- into one under Dept. of Homeland Security has given the port director responsibility for 750 employees rather than the 400 of the past. "Immigration is a big thing, a hot-button issue," he said, and talked about how soon-to-be Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano seems to be well-suited for the role due to her experience with the immigration issue.

He also mentioned a million-dollar trade seizure at the Port of Oakland from a few days ago that involved a shipment of illegally imported t-shirts from Indonesia. Except that the t-shirts were really from China. The importers were using a quota from Indonesia; the quota from China was already full. Oops...

He also mentioned a new initiative called the Model Port Initiative, which, in short, will provide "a more welcoming environment." We all laughed at that. CBP Officers tend to resemble a certain 1940's militaristic force from Western Europe in recent years. Glad to see they have a fancy new title for making nice.

Rich Vigna, whom I knew when he was a GS-7 inspector at LAX but who now is the highest official in San Francisco and John Leonard's boss, also came up to talk with us. He mentioned something that one of the current supervisors had told me moments before: there is now an age cap of 37 on being a CBP officer. Everyone currently in is grandfathered in. Rich gave us a several-page brief on where the Port of San Francisco is these days. Thanks, Rich!

For instance, in 2007, 74,000 commercial aircraft were processed. 370,000 containers processed. 4,381 vessels cleared. 935,000 passengers processed. 537 pounds of narcotics and $2.7 million dollars of undeclared or illicit currency were seized. 348 arrests were made.

Makes me tired just looking at it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Big, Bright, New, Silver 'Fridge

You probably think, from recent posts, that the only time I visit people is when the delivery guy shows up. That I'm a lonely woman living by myself who only gets company when a service person comes with new furniture. Or to install a water spigot for the new refrigerator.

You'd be right! (Well, I'm not a spinster and I don't live alone.) But I do like to blog these things. They're exciting, ergo...

The refrigerator arrived today!

In preparation, we moved the couch back and then the long table by the door into the hallway. (In the meanwhile, we found Jamie's college diploma, which had been missing for a year, but you don't need to know about that...)

I opened the screen door and the front door as wide as they would go, hoping it would be enough. Sweetie kept saying over and over: It's Big.

And it was. The clever Sears delivery guy came in first to eyeball it all, to see if it would work. He immediately said, "Okay, it's over. It'll never fit through here." And then he laughed. He was joking. Ha. That was our big fear about this delivery. But he seemed to know what he was doing, so I took photos and kinda relaxed.

They spent a good half hour in the street, taking off all four doors (FOUR DOORS??!) and bringing the doors in first. Then, they brought the dolly to pick up the old 'fridge. Then they finally brought the new refrigerator in. Stainless steel, wide. It looked more like a trailer than a refrigerator. I could live in it.

He gave us a little primer on how the icemaker works. It's digital!!!

He told us to dump the first 1.5 gallons of water, and the same for the first batch(es) of ice. So I spent a bit of this afternoon watering the lawn with dirty water. And now we're waiting for the fridge to get cold. It's set at 37 degrees for the top part, 0 degrees for the bottom freezer drawers. Yes, two freezer drawers! I can't put milk in it for another day.

(Sorry for the gold look to the finished fridge -- the color is probably due to fluorescent light above.) It's definitely stainless steel.

So when I bought frozen pie crusts today for Thanksgiving's pumpkin pie, I had to take them to someone else's freezer, and will have to keep them there until I'm ready to cook on Wednesday afternoon.

But in a few days, the big monster will be ready to go. We have to have a meeting to figure out where to put stuff.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Plumber Cometh

We're getting a new refrigerator! Yay! That's the good news.

The bad news is that we need some new plumbing, new pipes, to feed to the new refrigerator's icemaker.

So, the plumber from Abante Plumber is here. He quickly figured out what he needed to do, occasionally telling me, "I'm going to have to break through this wall...", things like that.

This is a BIG job. So big, I never dreamed of doing it earlier.

And now he's doing it. (And he also fixed my toilet. In 5 seconds.) I love it when professionals are not only professional but competent. Whew.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Marches Continue

While I was doing an interfaith panel at the Temple Sinai Merritt campus, protesters swarmed around the Mormon Church in Oakland, close to where we used to live.

From MSNBC: "In Oakland, a large protest at the city's Mormon temple led the California Highway Patrol to close two highway ramps to ensure pedestrian safety. Protest organizers said they hoped to tone down the anger that has characterized some previous demonstrations."

And several protests were reported in L.A.

These appear to be last-minute put-together rallies, NOT put other by the Equality for All group or NCLR. It's kind of amazing. It's like this measure woke up the sleeping bear.

And it's angry.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Marching for My Rights

When my fellow students were protesting at San Diego State in the sixties, I didn't join them. VietNam. I couldn't identify. Didn't concern me.

Well, this one concerns me. Proposition 8 just stripped me of my fundamental right to form a legal family. I had the right for 6 precious months, and now it's gone.

First one son, then the other told me about the march tonight. I wasn't going to go. I went to a movie. After the movie, I found myself on a BART train, heading for San Francisco.

I wasn't going to miss this one.

I got there early -- of course -- at 5 pm at the Civic Center. I waited around with a little crowd, growing in number as the minutes ticked away. I saw several had "No on 8" signs with their own sayings on the back. They waved them at passing motorists. Some of the cars honked in approval as they sped past, quickly on their way home in the fading light.

Suddenly I saw that a man was approaching me. I couldn't believe it -- one of my former coworkers! He came over, I hugged him, and he signed a greeting to me. He's deaf. He brought me over to his friends, a man a bit younger than me and two lesbians who were, I'd guess, still in their 20's. We chatted, waiting for the event. I finally asked the guy how he knew my friend. He didn't answer right away, and instead signed to my friend. He finally answered, "Partner. I had to make sure you knew he was gay." Oh, yeah. I knew. And I knew he knew about me.

Finally the small crowd started moving towards Market Street. I wondered why it was such a small crowd, and I finally found out when we reached Market. The crowd was waiting there. When we all got together, the traffic stopped, and the crowd ventured forth out into the street, like Moses parting the Red Sea. Thousands and thousands converged, and we all marched together.

Lots of people started cute little chants, and then one would stop and another began. Lots of homemade signs. Lots of mostly young people, texting as they walked, some talking on their phones, others taking photos with their phones or cameras. We passed one guy on a bullhorn with a sign that said, "Marry Me!" An impossible task right now, it would seem.

I asked one young woman beside me what her sign said. She's a lesbian from Los Angeles and Mexico. She had something to say. Another young woman held a sign: "Let my Moms marry!" Another woman had a sign that said, "You give rights to chickens but take mine away?"

I didn't chant. I felt too small among all the tall people with huge strides, and had to watch where I was going. I was taking it all in. And trying not to be trampled. I'm new at this.

I know that not all these people are gay. Aaron called me -- he was there in the crowd. He supports us. I thanked him for his support on the phone. He answered back: "No, thank you!"

It was an awesome event. I should've done it a long time ago.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Night

I'm elated that Barack Obama won. I never in my lifetime thought I'd see the day when a black man would be elected president. It's totally awesome. People in Oakland are literally dancing in the streets.

On the other hand, I'm very depressed that the No on Prop 8 campaign is losing. That so many people hate us. That the polls were wrong -- it looks like some sort of Bradley Effect, where people said something differently than they voted. That it's such an uphill road at this point.

It's 1 am. I really do need to find a way to sleep. Somehow.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

If You're Undecided, Just Stay Home

A friend of mine pointed out a website where two older women blog --

Very interesting, very cool, very funny.

I am very excited about the presidential race. Very. Moreso than at any other time in history. It isn't coincidental that we really need change right now. Still, 7% of voters are undecided. That figure is down to about 2% in several key battleground states. But who the hell ARE these people? Mickey Mouse? Fugitives from illegal ACORN registrations? These two candidates, McCain and Obama, couldn't be more unalike. I think undecideds just want to be in the media focus. Grow up, people.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On the Train Again, Day 7

I watched the sunrise over the cold Nevada desert while I lay on my lower bunk. Beautiful red line rising over the horizon.

I decided to try out the shower, and much to my dismay, the line of water didn’t descend quickly. Realizing I only had a half an inch before the water would spill over, I rushed my shower a bit and rinsed off. The drain did work, but very slowly. Still, I got my shower in, and I’m still trying to convince Val to try it out.

At my insistence, we went to breakfast. I could smell the French toast before I got to the dining car. As it turned out, we were seated first with one gentleman, a New Yorker who was visiting his father in Oakland, and then a woman joined us; she lives in Albany. As Val later said, it seems we were finally seated with the only two other liberals on the train – oh, joy, oh joy!

Lots of conversation about Obama, Dellums, Las Vegas. We took a little longer for breakfast than is necessary.

I’m now back in the sleeper compartment as we pull into Reno. Val tells me that they have train memorabilia for sale in the lounge car. I’m gonna have to check that out.

Only a few short hours left until we pull into Emeryville.

What she and I both agreed: it's nice to leave a trip still wanting a bit more.

On the Train Again, Day 6: Leaving Chicago

Today we leave Chicago for another train ride. We caught a cab to Union Station, checked our two bags, loaded up on reading material and pretzels, and headed for the lounge waiting area. When we boarded, all of us following one agent, half the group got separated due to baggage carts on the narrow platform. Still, we finally found car 531 and boarded.

Our sleeper car is exactly the opposite of the one we had on the way over. The California Zephyr will take a southernly route through Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and then California over three days.

We were glad to see the speaker in our room works so that we can hear the announcements, but they just announced that none of our toilets will be working. They tried to get it fixed in Denver during our long stop there, but gave up. This does not bode well for the rest of the trip.

Our dinner companions on the first night were people who wear their faith on their lips. And the woman has some definite health problems, perhaps the reason they’re taking the train. The age skews upwards here, and many of the people we meet are on their way to visit their kids, who for some reason for another have moved to another state. They were pleasant enough, especially compared to the couple at this morning’s dinner. She said a few words to us, mostly negative, but he never spoke to us at all, ignoring us the entire time. Just as well, I guess. They looked pretty red.

We went to the Observation Lounge, and I heard a few people in passing talking about Obama. I sensed it was negative talk. And not a word about McCain. I think that’s the difference in this campaign. It’s positive or negative about Obama. And McCain just doesn’t figure in.

I did not sleep well last night in the bunk, mostly due to the lurching of the train. Still, I’m not worried about it. Plenty of time for a nap.

We are currently in the Rockies. Snow is all around us. It’s very pretty. As a matter of fact, the scenery this time around has been spectacular, mostly on our side of the train.

I went by myself to lunch, and was paired with the same couple as last night. They were very pleasant. Yes, they talked a lot about themselves, but I found it interesting. And it really passed the time, especially when we all had the Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

The dining car supervisor, Susan, stopped to talk with us a bit. She was still upset that a woman complained about her earlier this trip when she refused to repeat for the 4th time the choice of desserts. It sounds like a hard job. She sleeps at intervals, mostly between 11 pm and 5 pm, when she has to get up for the breakfast service. And she’ll be doing this until 5 am on Friday.

We apparently have some Asian people next door – my guess is Japanese – but they don’t speak English. The cabin attendant asked another attendant for help: “Do you speak Oriental?”

A problem has been brewing since Denver, 7 am this morning: the toilets are out of order in our car. We stopped a little longer at 4 pm at Grand Junction, and they had the truck ready to siphon waste out of car #531. But that didn’t solve the problem. The engineers on the train were guessing out loud that it was the pump, but it’s a little late now. Looks like we’re totally without restroom facilities in our sleeper compartment or our entire car for the rest of the trip. That means two days. I am not a happy camper. Or, rather, I’m a camper without a restroom and I’m not happy.

7 pm. They just came up with an announcement: “Everybody flush your toilets!” Sort of like NASCAR. “And press the button hard, several times!” I did so with much glee. And the pump held. We have flushing again!

Tonight we tried something new: I slept on the bottom, while Val climbed on the ladder to the top bunk. I slept very well, got to the bathroom easily, and Val seemed to have a jolly good time. So, when we make that long Australian trek on the train, we’ll know our sleeping arrangements.

Chicago, Day Five: Obama Territory

This was our last full day in Chicago. Those promised snow flurries may have hit the streets last night, but they melted once they hit the ground. It’s in the upper 30’s today, a bit gloomy, but we had a planned adventure up ahead.

We ate quickly at the hotel spread, and then walked into the chilly streets. We went down a couple of blocks to the subway entrance, climbed down steep stairs and put our one dollar bills into the CTA vending machine. We put enough in to get us a subway ride as well as a bus ride.

The subway reminds me of the Underground in London. It’s old but serviceable, and people tend to obey the rules and keep it clean. Once we went a couple of blocks, we climbed back up into the daylight, went down another block and immediately caught the “3” bus. Another clean bus! The two men at the driver’s seat were very friendly, and showed me how to insert my CTA card – upside down.

The 3 took us to Hyde Park, which is where Val lived when she was attending the University of Chicago Divinity School, and incidentally where Barack Obama currently lives. Our bus ride was probably a good 20 minutes when Val said, “Let’s get off here.” We walked in her old neighborhood when we decided that a local Greek restaurant called Salonica on 57th Street seemed a good place to get lunch. When she had visited the place before, she could only afford to order coffee. Times have changed, we thought, as we ordered a full breakfast rather than lunch.

Then we went out again into the brisk air and walked another 15 minutes to the school. The purpose of this visit was to visit the Co-Op bookstore, and she had to find it by memory. Once we located the entrance into what looked like a church, we took a flight of stairs down into the bookstore. I perused the shelves, not with any intent on buying anything, while she went to work seeing what would work for her work.

While I was looking at a paperback version of Wind in the Willows, I heard two young men talking in the bookstacks about Obama. “Yeah, it’s amazing to think that he’s a member, too.” A member of the Co-op. Cool.

I went out to the foyer, still a little cool but protected from the wind, to wait. About half an hour later, she came up and sat down next to me, proudly showing me four new books.

We went on back down the road toward the bus stop, but I had been whining for pie, so we stopped at another of her old haunts. The Medici bakery had a restaurant next to it, obviously a student hangout, and we both ordered the apple pie a la mode. The menu advertised that it would take 15 minutes to heat the pie (“we don’t use microwaves”), and they weren’t kidding. We were surprised and awed when the pie came out with a glop of melting vanilla ice cream on top, sitting in a dish. The crust was home-made, and delicate. The pie itself had cinnamon all over it. The whole concoction was delicious. And we needed the dish.

After that necessary little excursion, we went back to the hotel along Michigan Avenue. It’s awesome to see the Chicago skyline against Lake Michigan.

We didn’t go directly back to the hotel, though, as I wanted some souvenirs. We stopped at a mall and went into both a Chicago shop and a sports shop. I was able to find a White Sox t-shirt that had the ALCS on it and all the players listed on the back. Several of those players, of course, are ex-A’s players.

We ended up eating dinner at California Pizza Kitchen, which was only a block away from the hotel. Good thing, too, as the temperature was dropping as night fell.

Night was spent in the hotel watching news about the election. November 4th is getting closer.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Chicago: Day Four Part Two: Stuffed Pizza

We headed against the wind for the three blocks in order to arrive at Giordano's, a stuffed pizza place, before the meeting time of 7 pm. We walked into what seemed like an overstuffed subway station. And we were the sardines.

We very smartly got our name in for four people, and the woman there said, "Okay. It's an hour-long wait. Is that okay?" We nodded. "In 35 minutes, go place your order at the counter to your right. Then wait for your name to be called." What a clever idea. So your pizza bakes while you're still waiting.

About half hour of waiting later, just standing on our feet, trying not to be stepped on by commuters who demand their pizza, in walked a woman who seemed to recognize us. It was Lisa from 43Things. I must admit that I don't know Lisa, but she seemed very friendly, and so she waited there with us for our table. Val and I had name tags on so that the last person we were supposed to meet, RuthG, could find us. Turns out we never did see Ruth.

We placed our order for a medium stuffed cheese, and after another half an hour, got seated in the back. In the meanwhile, Joe Blanton was pitching an excellent game on T.V., but I couldn't see the monitor from where I was sitting. It took all my concentration to hear Lisa anyway, so we talked and stuffed the wonderful pizza into our mouths. "Stuffed" means "deep dish." I took some aciphex right before I started eating, and it worked really well.

When we walked back to the hotel, I didn't feel as cold as I did walking over. Val told me that eating helps. Well, gosh, that's the secret, then, to surviving in Chicago. Eat before you dive into the cold.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chicago: Day Four: Visiting the Art Institute

Chicago! Every street is exciting, no matter what part of town you're in. I really don't know anything about the city, and am allowing Val to show the way.

Our itinerary is very conservative. We had a nice breakfast at the same bistro we went to last night for dinner, one long block away. And then we caught a cab about two blocks later to the Art Institute. Since we'd had a lazy morning, we didn't get there until about 1 pm, and found demonstrators outside asking cars to honk for impeachment. I wasn't driving but I still honked, waving as we passed them into the entrance of the massive building.

Val used to visit here weekly in the early '80's. This was my second visit. Using the guidebooks, I was able to pick out what I wanted to see: the European masters (impressionists), and the modern American artists. We found both, using the map, and wended our way through the small rooms. I must admit, there weren't that many impressionists. It could be that they're being stored while the construction is ongoing -- a fate that several Picassos endured -- but I still enjoyed what there was to see. The large Seurat Sunday afternoon painting was outstanding. You view it from far away and then approach to discover the points of light.

And in the modern gallery I found Nighthawks, which later artists parodied. It, too, was so very interesting in person.

We went through a side elevator to find the little cafe, and stopped to have some yogurt to last us through until this evening.

When we got outside, it was darker and colder. As we went down the steps, I asked Val, taxi? She saw a busstop, apparently the same busstop she had used 25 years ago, and tried to figure out which bus to get on. So we found ourselves on Bus #3, going to Grand Avenue, put in our two dollars, the only words the driver would say, and sat back to enjoy the ride in a very clean, modern bus. So modern that the sign above the driver spat out which avenue we were approaching.

We are now in our hotel room for a brief rest before we have to go out again. We're meeting some 43Thingers at a pizza place two blocks away. The weather is part of the adventure: it should be about 30 by the time we get out there.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Take the A-Train to Chicago: Day Three

Saturday, October 25th

The day was one of sleeping in, relaxing, and getting ready to depart. We totally missed breakfast, but grabbed a cookie while we sat, read the newspaper (this time from Minneapolis), and waited for lunch.

We had a thoroughly delightful lunch (well, except for the food) with two women from Wisconsin. They had gone to Washington State for the death of their grandmother. They didn't seem terribly sad, saying that grandma lived to a ripe old age of 100. But they had to de-train in about 45 minutes, and were worried about the slowness of the service. For the first time on our journey, the place was packed. But they managed to get their meal and even order dessert. "I thought we were going to order some chocolate ice cream and take it back to our roomette," said one, laughing because her sister had ordered the cheesecake. Let me tell you, she really enjoyed her cheesecake.

We went back to the room, and watched three states go by. We were finally in Illinois, and from the state line it was only 20 minutes to Union Station. Our cabin steward nicely took our red bag down to the platform and we eventually followed him. We found our way to baggage claim. The next step was finding the car which would take us to the Holiday Inn, something which was a bit of a problem since they never return phone calls, but we found him by the taxi's. He drove us for about 15 minutes, winding in and out of busy streets, until we were finally there.

The room they gave us was a mess -- they explained later that their own employees had used it as an office earlier -- and reeked of smoke, so Val went down, complained, and I found her in the elevator, having gotten us a new room.

So I'm sitting in the room, hearing the cacophonous voices behind me of 20 or so channels on the T.V. as Val channel surfs. That's why I'm on the internet.

Tomorrow: The Chicago Institute of Art in the daytime, and meeting 43Things members at night for pizza!

Take the A-Train to Chicago: Day Two

Friday: Montana is icy cold

I woke for the last time at about 8 am this morning, and Val, sensing I was awake, asked me, “How are you feeling?” Tired, I replied. I know I slept, but not a lot. I asked her how she felt, and she repeated, “Tired.” The train was noisy, shaking constantly. And she has a cold. Knowing I was up in the higher bunk bed and couldn’t move was psychologically confining. There’s a ladder that stays put, pins under the rim. And two hooks with straps that hook to the ceiling to prevent me from falling out. Val’s bed pulled out just beneath, and prevented any other activity except going to bed. And using the bathroom.

My best-case scenario was staying still and not having to use the bathroom. My acceptable scenario was having to get down once. Well, I went ‘way beyond that. Let’s just say that I became rather good at climbing up the ladder and descending backwards (meaning, facing front) on the ladder. And I didn’t wake her up once.

We knew the dining room closed at 9 am (which is actually 8 am, since we had to forward our watches one hour). So we had to get a move-on. We were dressing, and just fell apart giggling when it became a challenge. A challenge to find our clothes, a challenge to stay upright while we tried to put them on as the train lurched forward. We were having a good time.

After breakfast, we dug further into the train and found the Observation Lounge, which has windows up above and windows all the way along the car length. We sat down at a table, and marveled at Montana. We could see Glacier National Park in the background, and parts of Canada on the left, and sometimes there was a light dusting of snow in the foreground. Not a lot of houses, people, cars. Just wilderness. The trees were intermittently yellow, then green, then naked.

I decided to go back to our room and left Val there. I was determined to try the shower. It’s a metal enclosure, and there’s a shower wand above. The directions were simple: turn the shower nozzle on, adjust the temperature, move the wand above you. What it didn’t tell me, and what I forgot, was to lower the lid of the toilet so that the seat didn’t get wet. Ooops. Well, I cleaned that up. The temperature was a little tricky, as the nozzle goes beyond the red/blue, but I found a nice, hot temp. We noticed the day before that they didn’t provide shampoo, so I put some of the sink liquid soap into a little drinking cup and used that. I luxuriated in it, in the impossibility of having a hot shower amid 30-degree temperatures outside. What luxury.

We went over around noon for lunch at the Dining Car, and found ourselves sitting with two young men from Wisconsin. Each was about 25, and very nice. We talked about innocuous subjects, like who names cities and how some get started, the benefits of public transit, things like that. I don’t think I learned much of anything about either of them, but the pleasantries certainly passed the time.

Amtrak is offering a wine and cheese tasting right now in the Dining Car, but Val’s stretched out, asleep. I don’t think we need the food anyway, although that belief has never stopped me before. Tonight we’ll be celebrating Shabbat, although it’ll be hard to bless the wine when other people are staring at you. I’ll let the rabbi handle that.

Take the A-Train to Chicago: Day One

Thursday, October 23

We are now pulling away from Wenatchee, Washington, picking up speed as the vibration increases.

My jeans are wet, as is my hoodie. I was in the tiny bathroom, sitting on the toilet seat when the train shifted and water came dripping, heavily, out of the shower head. So I’m typing this while a little wet. But, hey, it’s been an adventurous day.

Val is swearing she will not take a shower in our two days on the train. I’m convinced I must, just to be able to talk about it later.

We flew into Seattle from Oakland. Our Lincoln town car service picked us up promptly from the curb, and delivered us to the Amtrak train station in Seattle. We proudly walked in, checked our bags to be picked up in Chicago, and then discovered we had five hours until the train was to depart. So, at that point, we cleverly checked one more bag, to be picked up by us later, and got in a cab and said, “Take us to Pike market!” She quickly corrected me, “Pike’s Peak Market,” and then laughed and said people call it all sorts of things.

It turned out to be a beautiful day. It was probably hovering around 60, breezy and cool, and the sun kept trying to peak out over enormous clouds. All of the locals we met raved about the unusually good weather. We walked through the covered marketplace into a French restaurant. It promised us: Gorgeous views!

Well, not terribly gorgeous but certainly interesting. We were seated at an indoor table by the window. Our view was Puget Sound, but also the small apartments between us and the body of water. We were starting to wonder who lived there when I, in pulling my wooden chair close to me, snagged the wood with my left thumb. When I pulled it up, in pain, I noticed a large sliver of wood stuck in it. There’s wasn’t much of a head on it, nothing to pull out. Still, Val persisted and got it out. The waiter, who had been patiently leaving us alone until we settled things, came over and asked us if we needed a band-aid. He also brought a sheet of antiseptic. So, all bandaged up, we tore into our delicious terragon chicken croissants.

We left an extra dollar in tip for the bandage as we left – which I thought was generous, considering it was the restaurant’s fault – and started exploring the shops in the marketplace. We stopped along the way, after about 30 minutes, and had a soft drink while taking in another little restaurant. This one was much smaller, much cheaper, much more informal. It was help yourself, and we didn’t feel guilty about only having something to drink.

When it came time to get back to the train station, I called the number the woman taxi driver had given me, we found our taxi, and he took us back to Amtrak.

Getting on the train was no problem, and we were told which sleeper car was ours. I am amazed at how tiny it is, yet everything is here. A bathroom, sink, cabinet over the sink holding towels and soap. Two bunk beds. (That will certainly be interesting tonight!) I think a couple of mice would be very comfortable. We’re not mice. We’re anxious to see if this mode of travel suits us; if so, the possibilities could be very exciting.

At our designated time of 6 pm, we headed over to the dining car. I found out last month that we two had to sit next to each other so that the next couple could sit across from us. The couple at our table was from Pennsylvania, and had just visited their 26-year-old son and his girlfriend in Seattle. She works for the Salvation Army, and had an interesting story about how these hard economic times are really hurting organizations like theirs. Both Maddie and Charlie were very nice, but I could see redneck lines, sort of a conservative aura surrounding them. They live in a swing state. I am very glad politics did not come up in conversation, and whenever we thought it might, we would steer the conversation to the changing of the leaves right outside our window.

I’m going back to my book now. Bedtime will be the next adventure.