If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Texas

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium Texas. If you’re not old enough to remember the movie, never-mind. It was pretty forgettable. Just like the day of the week or the month of the year is forgettable when you’re a Top Secret Agent in Texas.

Life as a TSA is jam-packed with redundancy.

We work every day  – all day and all night. Heidi and I are year-rounders so we work every day and every holiday and every birthday, which makes every day pretty much the same.

That’s a fact, not a complaint. We’re extremely grateful that we’ve almost never been without a job since we started gate guarding. It’s just funny to hear someone say on the news: Have a great weekend! That’s something you never hear in the oil field because we just have days – not week days and weekend days and holiday – just days.

I’m writing this on Saturday but it might as well be a Tuesday in Texas. I may not know what day of the week it is or sometimes even the month or season but I always know I’m in Texas. It’s the unforgettable part of life as a TSA.

Texas won’t let you forget you’re in Texas.

The Texas flag flies high and proud everywhere. It’s often accompanied by the Confederate flag which seems like a little bit of a contradiction to the US flag to me, but there it is.

Michener sums it up for us Yankees.

What you northerners never appreciate…is that Texas is so big that you can live your life within its limits and never give a (darn) about what anyone in Boston or San Francisco thinks. ~ James Michener

I can’t count how many Texans I’ve met who’ve never been outside of Texas. Seriously. Not ever. Grown-up people who’ve never once been out of this state. We worked for a rancher (a retired postmaster) who had never been out of his county. Hmm…

We’re well into our 3rd year now as Top Secret Agents. People are always asking us how/why we’re here working as TSAs in TX.

It’s a great question. If I had a bucket list, which I don’t, Texas might not fit in it because I’m a:

  • Water lover
  • Forest lover
  • Bug hater (spider fear-er)
  • Cool temperature lover
  • Nature (involving things that don’t want to bite or sting me) lover
  • And an avid walking on the beach type of bum

You can find things like water in Texas but you’re not likely to find a TSA job nearby.

I lived most of my life in the Midwest of Grant Wood. It was lovely. I don’t miss the freezing winters but I do miss having 4 real seasons.

For the three years prior moving to Texas, we lived on the southern Oregon coast. Growing up in Indiana, my family spent almost every Spring Break in Florida, where I fell in love with the ocean.

But Oh! the ocean in Oregon with the mountains and forests falling off into the sea; the whales spouting; the fog horns; the crab boats; the lighthouses; the agate and jasper covered beaches. It seemed like a place people made up in books.

Walks in Oregon were in the beautiful old growth forests or, if Henry got to vote, on the beach.

Henry enjoying a romp and stomp with the seagulls
Henry’s favorite thing was a wild romp and stomp with the seagulls, no leash, ever. Those were his halcyon days – and ours!

Heidi and I both worked as managers at a beautiful ocean front resort. The location was idyllic but the chest pains that Heidi started having from the stress became alarming. At the end of a particularly hard week, I made a just catching up phone call to Joanie who used to work for me at the resort. She and her husband were full-time RVers, gate guarding in Texas.

To tell you the truth, the job didn’t really appeal to me but it was clear we needed to make a change. Heidi already owned a motorhome which was sitting empty in a lot since we had a 2 bedroom apartment at the resort.

Acting on impulse and with no idea what to expect, we talked it over, took the Level II Security tests and headed to Texas with the assurance from a gate guard company that they’d find us something eventually after we got in state.

We started working the day we called to say we’d crossed the border. And oh gosh, it hasn’t been anything like anything either of us have experienced before. Not Texas, and not gate guarding.

Continue reading

Christmas, Trucks and Easy Bake Ovens

We’re all hooked up and ready to rock and roll to yet another TSL at daybreak. Having almost, but not quite, conquered our HUAD (Hitching Up Anxiety Disorder) we decided to do all the hooking and unhooking today so we can hit the road before we get parked in tomorrow. That meant hauling around the furniture and pulling in all 4 slides.

We’re successfully hitched and the slides are back out but it certainly wasn’t worth dragging the furniture around again. I’m holding the computer – which is the first time my laptop has ever been on top of my lap – sitting in the recliner, which is perfectly upright, wedged between the table and the sofa.

The satellite and sewer and water hose are all packed away. Only the electrical line remains as a tentative umbilical cord, tying us to the nurse wagon until morning.

Getting ready a day ahead did give us a smaller audience of onlookers than usual. It’s a little like a being an old-fashioned carnival side-show attraction. Whenever we get ready to hook up, crowds gather. Step right up folks! You have to see it to believe it! Two Women, One Truck!

People (men mainly) are amazed that a woman can back up a dually. Seriously, it’s just like driving forward, except in reverse. They’re stunned that two women, with no help from a fellow, can hook up and haul a 40 ft 5th Wheel.

I feel like that little girl who started a petition for a gender neutral Easy Bake Ovens. I think that just meant an EBO that wasn’t pink since boys aren’t supposed to like pink. If you’re a boy and you like pink, you might grow up to be a man who likes pink. And everyone knows that if you’re a man who likes pink, you’ll have to become a professional football player or join the WWF to prove your manliness.

Most folks down here in Texas know that boys can cook. They just don’t all know that girls can drive trucks. Anyway, as my fellow TSAs know, we never know until we arrive at our secret assignment whether or not we’ll have any internet or phone service. Since I may be out of range after tonight, I wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

If you’re a frequent flyer here, you know I’m crazy about The Piano Guys. I recently posted Steven’s cheery cello rendition of Carol of the Bells. I thought it might be fun to include the piano guy (Jon) this time. 😀

I liked the Christmas message they posted with their video. It seems to fit with my readers, too, so I’m including it here:.

We love the Holiday Season. Why? It’s a great excuse to be extra nice to each other. =) … And we love Christmas music, lights, presents, and the excitement of our sleepless children anticipating the advent of Christmas day. We know there are many out there who do not celebrate Christmas or believe in what it may represent. This song is not meant to exclude anyone. We hope this song is an opportunity to reflect on everything we are blessed with in life — family, a beautiful earth, a place to rest our head, the warmth of the sun. The lyrics of this piece speak of being “ransomed” from captivity. In general terms, at some point or another in our lives we find ourselves at the receiving end of a “ransom” — a rescue by someone or something — even as simple as a note from a friend, a hug from a child, a much-needed vacation, or the unconditional affection of a loyal dog. That is what this song represents to us. People may define the “rescue” moments in life differently, but the meaning of the moments remain the same. To many, including us, the story of The Savior is the sweetest and most priceless “ransom” of all. To Him we dedicate this song.  ~The Piano Guys

O Come, O Come Emmanuel – traditional
Performed by
Steven Sharp Nelson: Cello
Jon Schmidt: Piano

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
[Refrain] Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
[Refrain]
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
[Refrain]
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
[Refrain]
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
[Refrain]
O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
[Refrain]
O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
[Refrain]
O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace

Before my signal fades away, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

The Four Seasons (Minus Three)

I have an affection for those transitional seasons, the way they take the edge off the intense cold of winter, or heat of summer. ~Whitney Otto

Seasons… I’ve been thinking about seasons because I keep forgetting which one I’m in. I miss having real seasons. Back in the Midwest I knew what month it was because I could see and smell and touch Spring (lilacs and crocus) and Summer (fireflies and freeze tag) and Fall (bonfires and a potpourri of colors) and Winter (snowflakes and hot chocolate).

As a TSA in southern TX, I only know what month it is by seeing which holiday cards Hallmark is selling or what gaudy items Walmart has on the end racks or from the ads on TV. However, since I record more than I watch, I’ve learned not to rely too heavily on the TV. Last night I saw an ad encouraging me to take advantage of Back to School sales.

I don’t seem to be alone in this state of un-seasonal confusion. A few days ago, when it was 85 degrees, someone wrote 7/7/12 on the TS log and from then on – for hours – everyone else did the same. It was August for most of a day that first week in December on paper and on the thermometer.

But tonight is something special. We’re having a brief bit of cool weather. Tonight, and for the next 2 nights, the prediction is for temps to be right at freezing (which isn’t freezing as in terribly cold – just freezing as in 32 degrees Fahrenheit).

Some folks here love it. Some, not so much. Some, especially those who have never been north of Dallas, (no kidding – never, ever) started wearing stocking caps and coats when it got down in the 50’s at night. I couldn’t even get my kids to wear coats to school in the middle of the real winter in Iowa and people here are wearing Down Jackets when it dips below 60!

It’s 31 wonderful degrees right now. Some nights, after hours of looking longingly at the fake fireplace, I turn it on just for ambiance. But tonight, Henry VIII and I are enjoying the real heat from the real blower above the very fake logs!

I know I am but summer to your heart, and not the full four seasons of the year. ~ Texas

This is really a quote by Edna St. Vincent Millay but she could be speaking as Texas where it is perpetually summer. My heart longs for the full four seasons … fleetingly.

Mostly I just miss Spring and Fall which only last about 3 weeks each, but they’re such glorious weeks! And at Christmas time, I miss snow – just for a few days.

If you love Winter (the real Winter), or if you miss snow just a little, or if you’re happy to say you don’t have to shovel rain (or caliche), or just because it’s great music, I hope you enjoy this is a new video by The Piano Guys (ironically featuring just the cello guy). May this be your perfect snow fix – no shoveling required!

Going On a Bear Hunt

Do you know the song/chant Going on a Bear Hunt? I learned it when I was 9. I thought it was great fun. I never expected to act it out in real life.

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!

Going on a Bear Hunt was one of our favorite songs in Brownies. There were lots of verses about grass and mushrooms and rivers and lots of hand motions and clapping and foot-stomping that went with it, but I’m going to skip ahead to my own Bear Hunt story.

It was a beautiful day as the 5 of us climbed aboard the little float plane and soared off to a remote Alaskan island. 5 passengers plus a major case of the flu, which I was unwittingly spreading everywhere, on the one hour flight. I don’t look too sick in this photo but my gills were green 3 hours later. Most of the green was due to the flu – some of it was The Bear Hunt.

B,T,D & H

Once the second plane landed, our little group hiked to the top of the hill where we piled into a van and drove back to the path we would follow down to the bear watching platform just above the creek. Before the hike, we were given a safety talk by our guide.

Our guide J

His main points were:

  • This is not a zoo

Polar bear napping in the Anchorage Zoo

~

Bears have really big paws and claws

~

This Black Bear was napping on his hammock in the Anchorage Zoo.

  • Although they prefer berries, bears can eat you
  • Bears own this island (5 of them for each 1 of us)
  • Don’t make aggressive movements toward a bear or he will want to eat you
  • We’re entering a very remote area – try to spot bears on both sides of the path

He would look something like this only bigger and smellier and hungrier – and quicker

  • If a bear attacks you, make yourself as small as possible and play dead (doubt that this would take much acting)
  • Don’t climb a tree if a bear starts to chase you – they’re better at it

Bear scratches on a tree on the trail

  • Don’t try to pet a bear, he will eat your hand (you have to tell people this?)
  • As you walk through the forest, be very quiet so you don’t scare the bears away

This last one gave me pause. J concluded his 10 minutes speech about all the ways a bear might confuse us for a snack, by telling us to be very, very quiet so we didn’t scare any potential traveling companions away. We’d only been hiking a short time when the man in the yellow jacket stepped smack into a whole lot of scat. He wore his scat like a treasure.

Soon enough we heard/saw/ smelled a bear to our right. He kept pace with us for a few moments before veering off down to the river.

He’s there – you’ll just have to take my word for it

Heidi’s bear phobic (ursaphobia) due to a series of unfortunate and rather terrifying bear encounters as a child on the Boundary Waters in Ely. She was understandably tense. I wasn’t worried since I’m more completely irrationally arachnophobic having had just regular encounters with spiders when I was little. But just to be empathetic, I tried to imagine the forest teeming with 400 pound spiders and that was plenty creepy.

The scariest part of The Bear Hunt, to me, was our guide, J. If I’m going to take a hike, in the wilderness with a bear stalking me I want to be led by one of two types of people:

  1. a Bear Hunter (who carries a rifle and knows how to use it) or
  2. a Bear Whisperer (who rehabilitates bears and trains people) Instead we had
  3. a New Yorker who got tired of the city life, moved to Alaska, bought a Jimmy Riffle hat, a really big knife and a can of pepper spray.

Note knife and pepper spray

I’m willing to concede that by the time we reached the platform, where we did watch a black bear enjoy a salmon dinner – I had a fever and my flu symptoms were raging.

Shooting into the light with my camera phone – bear is on right of the big rock

~

Snacking on salmon

Still, it didn’t feel quite right when J said that just last week, a cute bear cub had climbed onto the platform in the middle of a tour. Everybody had a great photo opps until the Momma bear came snarling up. Ironically she reached under the sign explaining the Life Cycle of Salmon and grabbed her offspring. J’s words: I just stood back and watched while people got to get real close to the cub. How cool is that?

J telling the baby bear story right on the spot where it took place

~

Always respect Mother Nature. Especially when she weighs 400 pounds and is guarding her baby. ~ James Rollins

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!
Uh, oh! It’s dark in here.
I feel something,
It has lots of hair!
It has sharp teeth!
It’s a bear!
Run in the house and lock the door.
Phew! That was close!

I’m not afraid!

Right.

The man in the yellow jacket got back in the van, still admiring his souvenir scat.

It wasn’t much like the bear hunt I’d imagined when I was 9 but it certainly was an adventure!

***Exit pursued by a bear. ~ William Shakespeare
[STAGE DIRECTIONS in The Winter’s Tale]

Lost and Found

People don’t take trips – trips take people. ~ John Steinbeck

And this trip certainly took us! This is the rest of yesterday’s story. I have one more short one to tell and then I’ll pack my bags. Here’s a recap:

  • We Found Tuscon without getting Lost (If you know us you, know that’s big)
  • H’s phone did get Lost (stolen) at jcp
  • We Found the best seat on the plane but Lost air space to the big blurry man
  • We Found our uglied-up luggage and my nice looking cousin in Seattle
  • We Found our ship and our room
  • We Lost our sea legs
  • We Lost our dinners

Our assigned table in dining room which we Lost for 3 nights

We Lost our dinners because I’m unfailingly polite. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes, not so much.

The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them. ~ Amelia E. Barr

For example, we Found Wala, our head cabin steward, finishing up our room when we boarded Friday afternoon. He soon got Lost and wasn’t Found again until Wednesday. Meeting him did make the voyage very different from all the previous ones.

On Sunday, we arrived in Juneau. It was a beautiful sunny day, which is really saying something about an area that gets 55-90 inches of rain between May and October and then it starts snowing.

Leaving Juneau by float plane

Heidi Found her sea legs but mine were still Lost as I griped my bottled water and filled up on tiny Tums.

Found these at the airport. How cool to get an antacid and breath freshener in one! They made up my entire Sunday breakfast. Haven’t been able to look at one since.

In Juneau, we took a float plane to a remote area and went on a bear hunt (which will be my next and final vacation story).

Beautiful float plane flight

I was moderately sick on the way to the island. I was really sick on the flight home and just barely Found the room before I Lost Saturday’s soup and a half a container of tiny Tums.

When we got back on the ship, there was a notice on the door.

Cruise Ship GIS warning

As it turns out, Heidi wasn’t seasick and I wasn’t tap-water sick, we had the Cruise Ship Flu. Since we got sick the 2nd day of the cruise, catching it so quickly was a mystery. The mystery was solved when I Found Wala on Wednesday, “feeling much better”.  Much of the crew had gotten the bug at the end of the previous cruise and the symptoms started when they saw us!

You probably can’t read the last sentence in the photo of our notice. It says:

The biggest problem is that this illness is readily spread from person to person (such as by shaking hands) as well as by touching surfaces and items that an ill person has touched.

In my pre-Top Secret Agent life, shaking hands wasn’t just polite, it was a standard professional practice. When we met Wala Friday afternoon, I cheerfully shook his hand. Heidi, wisely, just stuck with hi. In my weak defense, I doubt there was a surface in the room he hadn’t touched while getting it ready for us so maybe we would have gotten sick anyway?

Because this was a 2 week voyage, Juneau was followed by a 2nd At Sea day where I remained quarantined as requested by the captain. I Lost myself in book 3 of a Dean Koontz series I’d been reading on my Kindle. Everything on the ship changed. There were bars on all the books in the library.

Books behind bars

For a week there was no serving yourself anything at the buffet where the wait staff looked like surgeons in their plastic gloves. At nearly every corner, someone was squirting Purell on you. Even the salt and pepper shakers were removed.

Puzzles pieces were quarantined. I don’t do puzzles on cruises but it was strange to read puzzle warnings on the tables.

Missing pieces

To their credit, the staff did all they could to contain the virus and threw a party the second week with free wine (or soda) and cheer for all.

Celebration notice

Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey. ~ Fitzhugh Mullan

We Lost about 3 days of this 14 day trip, but Found new ways to celebrate the journey! One last story about Bear Hunting and then this vacation will be all packed up.

Learning to Roll With It

The older I get, the more necessary it becomes to learn to roll with it.

I was pretty athletic when I was younger getting straight A+’s in P.E. in every unit except gymnastics. I wasn’t flexible. I’d Run, Tuck and Splat Out Flat. I never did get the Roll part down. I’d just thump over onto my back.

In the past several years, my athleticism seems to have left me. I now tip over so often. I’ve had to learn to roll to prevent seriously damaging any one single section of my body.

In my life as a Top Secret Agent, being able to roll with things is crucial. I can’t tell you what things because they’re secret so you can just make some up!

Here’s a visual. It has nothing to do with my TSA job or with rolling with it, but Heidi did make rolls  today and the RV still smells like fresh bread!

Which would be a grand thing if I could eat any.

I won’t because I’m still on a diet. And yes, I did say diet. No I didn’t say a I’m on a quest to learn how to eat healthier.  I’ve always known how to do that. Pretty much everyone knows that.

Heidi’s on the pathway of healthy eating because she’s all done with her diet, as of last week! When I’m done with mine, I’ll hop and skip down the healthy eating pathway, too.

But, for now, I’m on a diet.

The word Diet has become very un-PC, even to the diet industry. Funny. Pretending I’m not dieting would be like that word game where I say I don’t have problems, I just have opportunities. That’s one of those motivational sayings that was made up to sell books and posters. Of course I have problems. We all have problems. And I really am on a diet.
I’ve had a bit of success with this diet thing and I’ll write about that soon, but tonight I’m just concentrating on rolling.

Back to vacation – no worries, Fork isn’t going to turn into a travelogue – I just have a couple more stories to share. Vacations require a different set of rolling skills. For me it means being awake in the daytime and sleeping at night, which plays havoc with the cogs in my TSA clockwork. Since a segment of this past trip involved a cruise, some rolling was automatically attached.

Holland America – Amsterdam

We successfully joined up with our luggage and my cousin T and her husband B (sticking with code) to begin our all expense paid vacation that we’d won (like the 6 cruises before this one) by virtue of the Generous Cousin Foundation.

Me and T before things went bad

We stayed at The Edgewater Thursday night, just down the street from Pikes’s Market. It’s built entirely on a pier – but it didn’t roll.

Definitely not Sleepless in Seattle at The Edgewater

In addition to being on a pier, which is very cool, it’s famous because The Beatles fished off the balcony of their room when they stayed there.

I have no idea if they caught anything? Probably not – but it sure made for a great photo opp!

We boarded the ship Friday afternoon feeling full of anticipation and optimism.

Heidi  is all happy here because she had no idea what I was about to do to us.

We sailed away out of Seattle’s beautiful harbor.

Leaving Seattle and Mount Rainier

We met our cabin stewards, Wala and Jocko. This was the tipping point – literally and figuratively. I’ll be coming back to this moment in the next post. We had a lovely dinner and everything was pretty perfect. We slept to the soft sounds of the ocean and woke up Saturday to rolling seas.

Heidi starting feeling sick right away. She’s a little prone to motion sickness. She tried all the conventional cures – Bonine, ginger, sleep, tea, Tums etc… but she kept getting worse. A half a Bonine (I assumed named for My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean – sick at her stomach) and she’s  usually good to go. Not this time.

Saturday was an At Sea day (no port – Tracy Arms Glacier).

Tracy Arms Fjord

By noon, I wasn’t feeling too well either and I’m a Tilt-A Whirl kind of girl. I love motion!

In my TSA job, I never drink the water. TSA’s all know better than to drink tap water (we never know what might live in it). I had been drinking tap water (because it’s free) on the trip. We diagnosed Heidi with seasickness and me with tap-water-sickness.

H spent most of the day on the veranda sleeping and glacier gazing.

Icy Strait Point, Alaska

I spent the whole day doing very little gazing – mostly just glazed over, lying on the sofa. It’s tradition to serve split pea soup to accompany glacier gazing. I can’t tell you how terrible spit pea soup sounds when you have motion/drinking water sickness.

My view of Icy Straits from my vantage point on the sofa. (If you ever take a cruise, spring for a veranda. It’s so worth it! Thank you, T!)

We were glad for the At Sea day to recover since the next day held the promise of a Float Plane Bear Hunting trip in Juneau. I had no idea that things were about to go from not so good to really bad, all because I was trying to be polite.

Flying The Friendly Skies

You define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful. ~ Paul Theroux

Clearly this is an old quote since they don’t give you food on flights anymore. Remember when you used to get those funky little TV dinners? They weren’t usually very good but they were free.  Eventually the microwaved dinners were phased out and were replaced by soda and smoked almonds.

That got me hooked on smoked almonds – I already had a diet Coke habit. Before long the almonds were gone and it was a soda and little pretzels. Then it was a soda and… well, just a soda.

So, before flying the friendly skies, I usually toss a few protein bars in my backpack. This habit indicates to me that subconsciously I either fear we’re going to crash-land and be Lost or I can’t fathom going 4 hours without any sustenance. Most likely the latter.

We flew Southwest for the first time in a long time.

Flying Southwest these days is different from my past airline experiences in several ways.

1. You get to check 2 suitcases (under 50 lbs) and a carry-on and a “personal item” (purse, briefcase, violin) for free. Actually, this is just like my past flying experiences, but certainly isn’t standard anymore.

Since neither of us can lift a suitcase over 50 lbs, that was a given. After years of traveling, we’ve learned to travel light. We each had 1 suitcase and a backpack (for 3 1/2 weeks of vacation). This only works if you believe black is the new black and you re-wear everything but your underwear.

I’m not sure why I included the shoes in the picture, but I have to say, it’s lot quicker to get in and out of ones you don’t have to tie. We had no problem with the security screening and for the first time in forever, Heidi wasn’t pulled aside and searched. I’ve always figured they picked her because she was so un-terrorist looking. The fact that we both made it through without a special search may mean our Secret Agent status is beginning to carry some weight.

I have no fear of flying but I always have a niggling bit of apprehension that my luggage will end up in San Diego while I’m landing in Seattle.

It’s never happened to me, but according to Fly.com, it happened 40,000 fewer times in 2011 than in 2010. I’m sure that’s supposed to be comforting, but something about saying 40,000 fewer times just doesn’t set my mind at ease.

If I were a newbie flyer, I would recommend buying ugly luggage. Since we have average looking luggage (although the red is way easier to spot than black or grey), we bought a roll of gold duct tape and wrapped a swath around the bags and then made big gold X’s on both sides.

They were so seriously uglied-up, I felt certain that if they made it to our destination (since we had to switch planes once each way), no one would want to be seen walking off with them. I was right. They came down the shoot and everyone stepped back!

2. The second thing that is different with Southwest is that you don’t have assigned seats. You just stand in line at the gate, based on your number. We printed out our boarding passes as soon as we could (24 hours in advance) and got assigned to a group.

In all but 1 of our flights, we were in the first group. On the long flights we headed straight for the back row. It’s not a popular spot. You’re the last off and your seat doesn’t recline – but it’s blissfully quiet behind you – and we had ample connecting time. After we returned, I learned that it may also be the safest spot on the plane according to a simulated crash test re-played on the Discovery Channel.

No matter where I sit, inevitably, some man will sit by me and use both arm rests. Even on a flight with many open seats, when I’m in the very undesirable back row, this happens. Because we did a lot of flying in 25  years of seminar presentations, we’ve learned that Heidi, who’s kind of claustrophobic and has a LARGE personal space issue, is better off on the aisle.

This means that for someone to sit by me, they have to go all the way to the undesirable back and crawl over both of us to claim the window seat and both arm rests. This invariably happens and we sit on our hips and tilt toward the middle the entire flight. It’s a complete mystery to me.

Blurring the Space Offender out of courtesy and because he said he works for the government and was reading Defense Weekly with great intensity…

3. Southwest is still feeds you. They were kind of insistent on it even. They give you baby (I mean the smallest I’ve ever seen) pretzels and a packages of peanuts and soda and coffee (which promises to give you a LIFT) and refills on all of the aforementioned.

If you have a flight in your future, my advice is to ugly-up your luggage, travel light, head for the back and enjoy the ride. This is a real quote from a pilot on another Southwest flight:

Weather at our destination is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but we’ll try to have them fixed before we arrive. Thank you, and remember, nobody loves you, or your money, more than Southwest Airlines!