Friday, April 27, 2007

Strange Vacation

A funny thing happened on the way back from our Nation’s Capitol the other day. I went to the DC/Baltimore/Virginia area for a mix of business and pleasure. My trip started out momentous enough. I ended up sitting close to The Apprentice (above) on the flight out east. I was actually surprised that the poor guy wasn’t recognized by too many others.

Upon arrival in Virginia, I headed straight to Five Guys and inhaled a burger and cup of french fries. I’d have to say that the fries there are probably the best I have ever had before, or at least in the top three. Apparently, they cut and fry them at the shop. Later that evening, I had a much more refined meal at John Steven, Ltd., as suggested by Baltimore trivia master SUPEROCEANLAD. The steamed mussels there were the best I have ever had in my life. I am not normally a big mussel eating guy, but I have to admit I am glad that the super ocean dude recommended them.

Museums and More.

Then there was the usual mall tour. I took a friend of mine to DC from Baltimore who had never been there before. I was looking forward to it myself, since I hadn’t been there since probably 2000 if not earlier. It was the first time I had been to the area between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, where we walked the distance along the reflecting pool (above). I enjoyed finally seeing the Lincoln Memorial up close, as well as the new World War II memorial, although I have to admit that the latter – although nice – doesn’t come close to having the same visceral impact as the Vietnam Memorial.

I’d have to say that the highlight of the day was the Museum of the American Indian, which I had never been to before. I was really impressed with how closely the Smithsonian worked with tribal historians and curators to create the displays there. You had your “traditional” museum presentations with various artifacts on display behind glass.

However, I preferred viewing the multitude of colorful, multimedia educational presentations. There was a wealth of interesting information about native livelihoods in the displays, both historical and current. I would highly recommend spending at least a day there.

Then it was on to the Historic Triangle of Jamestown/Williamsburg/Yorktown. I drove in really late and had a horrible time finding my hotel in colonial Williamsburg because it was in the historic part of town with few street lights. The lack of car traffic and the overall quiet atmosphere was refreshing, yet eerie. By day, the place was packed. We got to tour the first legislative house in North America, and listen to people like Thomas Jefferson (above) opine on various issues.

The way back home was when things started falling apart.

We missed the flight back due to bad weather, and ended up staying in a hotel in Chicago where we got a 3 hour nap. We snuck on a flight early in the morning to Denver, and eagerly got onto a plane that was our last leg home.

We sat on the plane for over 40 or so minutes. I literally fell asleep, woke up thinking I was back home, and then learned that in fact we had not even taken off. It turned out that the security officials at Denver airport had forgotten to screen the plane itself before allowing us on. Apparently, airport security searches all planes on a daily basis before they go into service. They do this in case some disgruntled employee/sleeper terrorist leaves a weapon or bomb on the plane. By letting us on without screening the plane first, we were “contaminated” in the sense that one of us could have been working with someone on the inside to pick up a theoretical weapon or bomb. This was all explained to us by the officials in charge.

So after sitting in the plane on the runway, they ordered us to take our bags, get off the plane, and go back to the waiting gate. After a few minutes of milling around at the gate, about 15 or so TSA agents and police appeared at the gate and forced us into a “security corral” in the corner (above). Because we were “contaminated” we were not allowed to leave the area and had to be re-screened.

Reactions were mixed. Some people thought it was funny. Others were pissed and began arguing with airport officials. I was exhausted, and frustrated, since I had been trying to get home for 24 hours. One older woman – who only spoke Vietnamese – had no idea what was going on and became anxious. Fortunately, some other passengers called up a Vietnamese interpreter on a cell phone for her. TSA didn’t have any foreign language interpreters on hand. Another older woman wasn’t even a passenger on the original flight, but got caught into the “security corral” because she just happened to be standing in the gate area. TSA later let her go after learning she wasn't an original passenger, but by then she had missed her own flight. Nice job guys.

So we stood around for an hour or so in the corner of the airport surrounded by TSA officials, unable to leave the “security corral.” Then they decided to move us back through the boarding tunnel outside to the runway area and into a bus. The place was surrounded by TSA agents and those ubiquitous SUVs that “the feds” always drive in the movies. A moment after taking this photo, one of them started screaming at me to stop taking pictures and get on the bus.

One of the many pissed-off passengers who had been arguing with an airport official was removed from the bus by the agents for “being unruly.” It was bullshit.

Then they drove us to another area of the airport, escorted by more of those security SUVs. We were led off the bus, where we were surrounded by more cops, and then re-screened and searched. I had stopped taking photos at that point.

We were eventually allowed to go back to our original gate, and then re-board the plane after it had been screened. Everyone got a $50 voucher handed to us on the way in, and numerous scripted “we apologize for the delay” lines. One guy gave me his business card and asked me to email him my photos so he could complain.

I finally made it back home that evening. I called up the airline to complain. They told me they would send me another $50 voucher.

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