Saturday, January 01, 2011


While traveling to Australia, I heard the news that the world had lost another genius (I understand, this will keep happening the longer that I live). Though he hadn't made music for nearly thirty years, Don Van Vliet - Captain Beefheart - had made enough music to fill most of our heads with wonder until we disappear into the void ourselves. His was a strange, difficult, complicated gift, adding to the rock & roll idiom ideas beyond its immediacy & passion - though Beefheart had those too - ideas perhaps more suited to jazz or classical music. I confess, it was hard to get into him, but when his work clicked, it clicked into place as if it had belonged there all along.

I did my sorry best to celebrate his life with his songs & others' interpretations of his songs, on a sub show on WRFL Thursday. You can listen to it here. Even if I didn't manage to show off a fraction of his brilliance, I hope it caused someone listening - or someone still to listen - to want to seek his work out more. It's what a deejay usually wants.

How grateful I am I live in a time where his music has been preserved for me to listen to as long as I can!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Back, At The End Of The Year

Every time I thought about writing in this blog this morning, I wanted to just detail how horrific the experience I had over my vacation - not in Australia, which was lovely - but in getting to Australia, & getting back from Australia. My god, how awful is United Airlines? As fucking awful as awful can be. That's what I want to write. Over & over & over.

Check this:

Our itinerary was fairly simple. Lexington to Los Angeles, with a stopover in Chicago. Then a looooooong flight to the bottom of the world. We'd leave on a Friday but arrive on a Sunday, which was fine, because on the way back, we'd leave on a Monday (at 5pm) & arrive on a Monday (at 11pm). The flight home, by the way, was supposed to be a mirror image of the flight there - looooooong flight to Los Angeles, then to Lexington with a stopover in Chicago. Easy, right?

No, United Airlines was not going to make it easy. We were in time for the flight to Los Angeles, way back two weeks ago, but the crew from United was late. That's all we heard, the only explanation, given with a shrug. "The crew is late, ho-hum. I'm sure you'll miss your flights but what can we do? The crew is late. Now leave us. You bore us."

We made it to Chicago some three hours later than we were supposed to, got very lucky & were able to fly standby to Los Angeles, but couldn't fly standby on the final flight (not the one we were booked on, of course, which had left three hours earlier) to Australia that evening. We apparently were not put on "emergency standby" (a status we didn't know existed before that time) by the last United employee we talked to. We watched our names on a television screen with all the graphical magic of 1980s public access cable get jumped over by people we felt were just complaining more loudly than us. Or maybe someone was getting blown. We just stood there for an hour in disbelief.

United oh so kindly gave us a hotel room & a fifteen dollar voucher (each!) for food. Never mind that the only flights down under were in the evening, & that we had to be out of the hotel by ten a.m. Never mind that you can't really eat all day *anywhere* for fifteen dollars, let alone in LA. Ignore that. We didn't get any sort of apology from United, nor really any sympathy or expression of regret for our situation which was caused entirely by their own mistakes. To be fair, a harried but helpful employee named Lou managed to get us flights for the last Sydney flight the next night (Saturday), & a nice fellow named Marcos helped us find our bags, which they wouldn't send to Australia since we weren't on the flight, but which, we found out, might not be sent along with us the next night unless we re-checked them in.

We lost a day on our vacation & never got a single "we're sorry" nor any attempt to offer us anything in recompense.

All of this would be a frustrating but zany story about how we got to a wonderful city & had a beautiful summer vacation while our houses back home were covered in ice & snow. Speaking of, this was all before the big blizzard that swallowed the east coast after Christmas. Indeed, since none of our travels went anywhere near there, it didn't really affect us at all. I bet you can hear in my voice a "however..." Because there is.

We arrived at the airport in Sydney on our last day there about three hours before the flight, only to find that hooray! United had delayed it till the evening. Why? Because the flight from Los Angeles was late, of course. Why didn't we think of that? So, six hours later, we take off, fully aware that our connecting flights were gone, gone, gone. A United employee in Sydney informed us that there were no United flights to anywhere near where we needed to go & punted us to US Airways. They arranged a red-eye to Charlotte, then an early morning flight to Lexington, meaning we'd get home about nine hours later than we were supposed to. With, of course, a long layover in Los Angeles, although not enough to earn us fifteen dollars each in meal vouchers. (Though we tried.)

I want to interject something here which I wish could be somehow taught or otherwise imparted to airline employees before they attempt to reschedule passengers on flights. I understand they're underpaid, & pretty underappreciated, but surely they could pay a little more attention. There were four of us - my wife & me, & her two graduate students - & when there are four people, there's an astonishingly good chance - I'd say they would be the best odds of your gambling life - that they want to sit together. We had four or maybe five sets of replacement boarding passes for different flights made for us by United & US Airways employees trying to be helpful, & every time we had to say, "Is it possible we could sit together?" after they gave us our first passes. I know, it seems too common sensical. Better play it safe & assume the four people who appear to be together would rather not sit together.

Oh, & we always got seats, at least in pairs. So it wasn't like there weren't any. The helpful airline drone just hadn't thought, "I bet the married couple might want to sit together."

We arrived in Los Angeles very tired, very frustrated, although apparently the flight from Sydney to the States is shorter by about an hour & a half. Who knew? I was happy to be home, & was happy when the mustachioed Customs fellow said, "Welcome home!" That was nice. We were able to kill five or six hours until the flight to Charlotte, which was also mercifully short. We really thought we'd be home soon. What fools we were.

At 6am, in a North Carolina airport, I was the first to see that the flight to Lexington had red letters next to it that said "Cancelled." We managed to find a fellow who could book us on a flight to Louisville. (He was busy, & I am grateful for him taking the time out to help us, but he too didn't think we needed to sit together. I suspect they love randomization.) Why Louisville? It was simply the closest we could get to Lexington. We arranged to rent a car to drive home.

We wouldn't see our baggage, of course, for maybe thirty-six hours, but we just wanted to be home. The friend who was watching our pets had to go & the grad students had two Christmases to make up for. The wife bravely drove us home.

All of this, you understand, because an airline which, on all its flights, proudly trumpeted its upcoming suck-merger with Continental, couldn't be assed to actually make one of its scheduled flights. For no reason but the crew was late. They could have just lost time in their ugly person drug orgy, or they could have overslept. The airline itself couldn't have cared less. They cost us a day of vacation & needless anxiety & we were so exhausted & exasperated that the kindest word would have done us a world of good. None was forthcoming. They don't need to. I'm sure they expect that, once their "too big to fail" airline fails, the government will help them out.

If you ask me why I'll never fly United - or Continental - ever again, I will refer you to this story.

I'll talk about my radio show tomorrow. I just couldn't write anything else today.