The Day I Rode In The Belly Of A Whale

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Or: Tales From The Upper Deck

When word came down at work that I had approval to travel to Porto, Portugal to participate in meetings with key folks from around the world, things began to follow a usual path.

Since the place I work for gets a lot of Federal funding, we’re bound to abide by the Fly American Act, i.e. when on Federal business, fly US carriers.

No problem. I’m used to shoving my cookies onto a United Airlines jet and riding around the world, so per the norm I picked out my United flight pairs and the admin booked them. I was all set.

Because I am a little weenie and need more leg room, I like to pay out of pocket to upgrade my government bought United economy seats to United Plus economy seats.

My employer doesn’t pay for business or first class and I don’t fly enough to rack up the miles to get me there, so I ride in the back half of the plane. Economy plus at least gives my long legs a little room. A little less sardine-like.

However, when I logged into my United account and tried to upgrade my seats, I was told I could not. That I would have to wait until the day before the flight to pick out seats. What?

It took a little work but I figured out the deal. Three of my four flights on this trek would not be on United planes but a codeshare on Lufthansa.

Well hell, I’d never flown Lufthansa before so this was an adventure.

Doing some research on the Lufthansa site, I also figured out that my plane for the San Francisco to Frankfurt leg of the trip would be on an Airbus A380-800 airplane. A gigantic double decker of a holy-crap-that’s-huge airplane.

In fact, it’s the largest passenger plane flying today.

Looking up the specs of this plane online, I found people affectionately call it “the whale,” and it’s no wonder. The configuration I rode seats about 500 people.

When I was finally able to select my seats, I found that the second floor of the airplane (this airplane has two floors!!) was mostly first and business class, but the back of the upper deck had a small grouping of seven rows of economy seats. So yeah, I scooped up an aisle seat upstairs right away.

On the day I arrived at SFO, I let out an audible “wuh-huh-hoooooo” when I saw the airplane sitting at the gate. Then I became filled with anxiety. “How will that ever fly?” said my worried mind.

I wondered if my brain had anything I could compare this to. Many years ago I worked for a Lockheed Martin site that was right next to a military airstrip. Every once in a while the military would practice “touch and goes” with various planes and pilots. We’d drag our desk chairs outside and watch the show.

What I’m trying to say is, I’ve seen a fully loaded C-130 execute a touch and go, so yeah, I realized that the A380 could certainly fly. And I was going to get on it.

As I walked down the jetway to the plane, my heart began trip hammering. I always have a moment of pause before boarding any plane but this was different.

I stepped through the nice wide doorway and saw a beautiful gleaming white staircase front and center. “Ah, that must be how I get up there,” I thought.

The oversmiling male flight attendant looked at my ticket and informed me that I needed to go all the way to the back of the plane and find a staircase there.

In other words, your economy-seat riding ass don’t climb these stairs, honey.

Fair enough. I set off on my journey to the back of the plane. I stopped rest once or twice. I had snacks to keep my energy up. I may have camped out overnight. Jesus, that’s a big airplane.

Finally I reached the end of the plane and scurried up the stairs, then slid into my seat.

It was still an economy class seat so it fit tight around the hips. I got snug like a bug in there as the plane began to push back from the gate.

The Lufthansa A380 features three live cameras, one on the nose pointing forward, one on the tail also pointing forward, and one on the belly looking straight down.

Here is a terrible quality image. It’s a photo taken with an iPad of my screen on the plane as we are somewhere over the Labrador Sea. It’s enough that you can see what the view from the tail camera looks like:




I wanted to stick my hand out the window and wave to the camera, but that’s mostly frowned upon


It was mildly surreal to watch this behemoth take off from a bird’s eye view but I was fascinated.

Once aloft, I began to realize why non-US carriers rock the casbah. It’s one word: alcohol. The wine flows freely on non-US airplanes. I had flown a Singapore Airlines plane a few years ago and was gently surprised at the wine served with meals. The Germans have the Singaporeans beat. Wine with snacks, wine with dinner, brandy and irish crème after dinner.

All of this is a plot, however. They ply you with food and booze then turn down the cabin lights. Pretty much everyone falls asleep right away. Except me, I have a flaw in my DNA. I can’t sleep on a plane. Not even a long haul. Nope.

The Good Man shares this flaw and it’s good when we travel together because we entertain each other like little kids while everyone else sleeps. Sadly on this trip I was alone.

The flight attendant overseeing our little cozy area of economy class seats was a rockstar. He noticed I was the only one awake and didn’t let up on the top-notch service. He checked in on me constantly and brought water, juice, snacks and some cookies that seemed way too delicious for economy class.

Even though I was packed into an economy seat I felt spoiled like a little princess up there, inside the white whale.

When she touched down in Frankfurt I was reluctant to leave my cozy little seat and my white glove service. It was a gentle landing as the plane beast docked next to its siblings.

That was one of the most comfortable and happy international flights I have ever known and I am sure I will reflect back on it for years. It has become the high water mark by which all other flights will be measured.

Sadly, when going home from this journey, the Frankfurt to San Francisco leg will be on a plain old United jet, a Boeing 747-400. That plane also has a second deck, but only the pish-posh get to sit up there.

I’ll be seated among the cattle, in an economy plus seat but still among the unwashed. No first class cookies for Karen on the way home.

I think I’ll write a nice letter to Lufthansa to tell them how much I appreciated the flight attendant. As I have learned in my short time in Portugal, I will extend a hearty obrigada (i.e. thank you or much obliged) for his attention and job well done.

And I will wistfully dream of my time inside the whale, a modern day Jonah high above the bustling world.




Thar she blows!






With a nod and a smile to Johnny Jet for the photo and for his awesome blog post about the Lufthansa A380. Read it here.





My Fair New Mexico, In the Zeitgeist

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When I travel internationally (or even in the US) I know I have to find many ways to distract my monkey brain. Sitting still in a seat for flights that last anywhere from six hours to sixteen hours means I have to bring a lot of toys and distractions on an airplane to keep me sane.

Lately the best and easiest distraction for me is to load my iPad with movies. Good long movies that will help me while away the hours.

On this recent round trip to Ireland, I had four movies on my iPad and watched two more on the plane. Six movies, all told, have been absorbed into the ol’ brain pan.

They were: “American Hustle” (awesome movie!), “Don John” (far better than I had expected), “The Great Gastby” (far worse than I had expected), “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (way better than expected as I expected to fully hate it), “August: Osage County” (was a little hard to watch, hits too close to home and is rather depressing), and “The Wolf of Wallstreet” (eh, I was lukewarm).

So as I found myself locked and loaded and flying the skies, it was kind of funny to stumble across not one but two references to my fair New Mexico in these movies. A little “hello” from my homestate as I flew thousands of miles away.

The first was in American Hustle. (spoiler alert!) The character Sydney (Amy Adams) has been affecting a British accent and a faked up backstory of being a British aristocrat and finally has to come clean. She and Irving (Christian Bale) are fighting and she admits not only is she not British with ties to banking and business in England, she’s actually just a girl from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This made me pause. What am I to take from this? She’s not a big time global force, but a simple girl from New Mexico?

Or do I infer that she learned her hustle in New Mexico? Hell, I don’t know and really it doesn’t matter, but it was a little startling to hear the name Albuquerque casually tossed about. However, I was a happy for the name check of my hometown in a big time movie. The Sydney character is pretty cool.

The other reference came along in “The Great Gatsby” when Tom is riding in a car with Jordan and speaking ill of Gatsby, as they have just had an unpleasant encounter in a hotel room in New York City. Tom is apoplectic and the dialogue goes something like this (parentheses added by me to make the speaker clear):

“An Oxford man!” He was incredulous. “Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.” (said Tom)
“Nevertheless he’s an Oxford man.” (said Jordan)
“Oxford, New Mexico,” snorted Tom contemptuously, “or something like that.”

From that exchange I certainly could infer what was being said. Oxford, New Mexico said contemptuously. As though New Mexico is the most backwater place a rich man from East Egg can think of.

That one made me wince a little, even as I was pleasantly startled to hear New Mexico called out again, in another movie.

A little research showed me that this dialogue is in the actual book by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which I read a thousand years ago and didn’t remember this.

But there it was, in a blockbuster movie!

I’m not entirely sure why New Mexico is in the zeitgeist these days, maybe it’s chalked up to “Breaking Bad” or maybe it’s something else, but hey here we are in the big time.

Not sure how I feel about that, really. Sometimes it’s best to keep our something very nice as something very secret.






Went back to the very first post on this blog to snag this photo, one of mine. It just seemed right.




Photo of ristra Copyright © 2007, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the far right column of this page.




Wha-a-a-a-a-a-at Was That?

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There I sat last night, watching something or other on my iPad in the living room. The Good Man was there too, doing something similar.

It was a nice quiet Sunday in the house of The Good Man and we were calm and enjoying the company of both electronic devices and each other (not in that order).

Suddenly I had this feeling like someone quite strong had bumped very hard into the back of my comfy chair, shoving it over about an inch or so.

Odd, though, because the chair backs up to a wall in our apartment so no one could have rammed it from the back.

Then I heard the large picture window behind me creaking a little and the front door rattling in its frame.

This led me to a big panicky feeling of, “oh my gosh, someone is breaking in!”

My now large eyes went to The Good Man, panic all over my face, mouth agape.

There he sat calmly, cool as a longtime Californian cucumber.

Every one of my nerve endings was on jangle. None of his nerves even put up their head to see what was going on.

Then I realized what was going on. “Was that an earthquake?” I asked frantically.

“Yup,” he said casually. “It was a good roller. I wonder how big it was? Oh, the USGS site is down because of the government shutdown. Let me see…”

I replied, “You look at your sites, I’ll look at mine.”

While he looked for scientific data, I took to Twitter and Facebook.

This is what Californians do when there has been an earthquake. Everyone goes online or turns on the news to see how big it was, then everyone talks about it. Where they were, how it felt, etc.

When all was said and done it turned out to be a 3.0 (just a lil’ ol’ teacup rattler, really) and it was centered somewhere nearby so we felt it a little more strongly than others.

The Good Man went casually back to his book. I sat in my chair and shook like a Chihuahua for a while, then went back to my Netflix show.

No matter how long I live here, I will never get used to the earth suddenly moving under me. It is simply creepy.

Longtime superstitious Bay Area residents will talk about how October is earthquake season. That’s when the big 1989 quake happened and everyone seems to believe the conditions are right this time of year.

Me, I know better. The ground shakers can happen anywhere, anytime.

There is also a faction of people who say “The little quakes are good! They release pressure keeping us from a big one.”

I would really like to believe that’s true. It’s not, but I want to believe.

Meanwhile, Sunday brought just another shakah in this crazy mixed up California life.




I say, good madam, t’was but a shaker. More gin?




Photo Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone5 and the Hipstamatic app.




Admitting You Have a Problem Is The First Step

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Each day at work, I spent nine to ten hours in front of a computer, looking at a screen, tip tapping away on my keyboard.

I go to lunch and while noshing I pull out my iPhone and I catch up on email, Twitter, Facebook and when that’s done, I read a couple chapters of a book on the Kindle app.

When I come home from work, I have my phone with me at all times and I check in on email, Twitter, Facebook and others. Sometimes I log into my iMac and do some writing work or I edit photos or just fiddle about. Occasionally in front of the television I’ll fire up my MacBook and I’ll do the two screen thing, telly and computer.

When I go to bed at night, I set the alarm on my phone and I do a last check of email, Twitter and Facebook and maybe read another chapter of a book on my phone.

Then I sleep. When the alarm goes off, the first thing I do is check the meetings on the day’s calendar on my phone. Then I check email, Twitter and Facebook.

Recently, I had to admit to myself that this is a problem. I spend way too much time with my head in a device.

Way, way too much.

I’ve been trying to wean off but I have to be honest, it’s hard. Those “likes” on Facebook are as addictive as pellets to a lever pushing rat. Payoff! Reward! You like me you really like me!!

While out and about with a friend a few weeks back, she commented, “You are on Facebook a lot” and my internal gears seized up. Am I really? That can’t be.

Only it is.

I was doing better (for a few days) and really making progress, but then baseball’s post-season started and it got worse. I wanted to watch the games and see what everyone was saying and see updated stats online and photos from the yard! At some points during the course of the post-season I was watching TV, Twittering on my MacBook and checking Facebook on my phone all at once.

Meaning, I slipped off the wagon and bounced a few times on the dirt road.

Last night I was thinking AGAIN about my need to back away from the shiny electronic devices. They are so alluring!

While waiting in the coffee line this morning at work, I idly browsed the local county newspaper (an actual paper copy) and came across this little ol article:

 Can true solitude be found in a wired world?

I used to be that girl…I loved to sit in an airport waiting for a plane and instead of my nose in a device or even a book for that matter, I would sit, quietly, and observe the world. The sights the smells the sounds. I would hear my own thoughts. I would find a place of calm.

Not anymore. Now if I fly I make sure my iPad is loaded up with content, both books and movies to distract me the whole way and I hardly make note of anyone or anything around me. Hell, I can’t even sit quietly in my own home and listen to the squirrels fighting outside. Nope, gotta Tweet about it.

What is wrong with me? When did I get sucked in and how can I back away slowly?

I had a revelation one night last year while in the midst of twelve to fourteen hour workdays and I was losing my mind. My beloved Good Man took my phone out of my hand, went into Settings and turned off my work email.

It was like he opened my eyes for the first time. That I could really do that…I could ignore email for a few hours? Magic!

Perhaps it’s now time to turn the entire device OFF the moment I come in the front door. There is no emergency in APAC that can’t wait to the next morning. My coworkers in APAC are fairly used to this.

Or perhaps I set a time…say 8:00pm and after that the phone is off. That allows a window for emergencies from the Pacific Rim but a time of peace in my home (and mind).

I have a good friend who doesn’t work on email at night simply because his company turns off access to email every evening then turns it back on in the morning. How glorious and how sane. My employer would never do this.

To be honest, when I think about having an unwired vacation (as suggested in the article), it sounds both awesome and a little scary.

Which is a sure sign I need to implement this in my life right away.







Image from The Indian Fusion.