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.





A Promise Made. Finally Kept.

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Back on July 12, I made a cryptic post on my Facebook page that said “Got a lit mag acceptance in the mail today. Sa-weet! A nice way to end the week. Details as soon as I can share!”

And then tick-tock, calendar flip, no details were to be shared.

Recently a friend asked, “oh hey, what ever happened with that?”

Well, here’s what happened: I wanted to lay back on details so as not to tick off the editor of the magazine. They like having first crack at this stuff, so I kept it to myself.

My story was supposed to be published in the Winter (Oct/Nov/Dec) issue, so I was biding my time.

Turns out the editor decided to push up the publication, so my story actually appeared in the Fall (July/Aug/Sept) issue.

Editors are going to do what they need and I have ZERO problem with that. The editor chose to publish MY little ol’ story. With ink. In a literary magazine. Yes!

And since the publication date has come and gone, I don’t feel bad about sharing that story with you now.

Without further ado, here is my story “What Leibniz Never Learned” as published in The Storyteller magazine.

You can also click on the magazine cover, seen in the right column section title “As Seen In” on this page.

Yay!

: jumping for joy :








Happy leaping lamb image found here.




A Shiny New Toy

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My fascination with bridges is pretty well documented. I have a mini project going on in my creative background to photograph bridges (and rivers, boy do I love rivers!).

This weekend I had a nice opportunity to photograph a brand spanking new bridge.

For years, ok pretty much since I moved to the Bay Area, I have railed about the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The western span is a beautiful, elegant suspension bridge while the eastern span is a bunch of clunky tinker toys, better known as a cantilever bridge.

Here’s a photo I took from the upper deck of the tinker toy:



Image Copyright 2010, Karen Fayeth

This part of the bridge is very functional but not very aesthetically pleasing. At least in my personal opinion (others disagree).

You’ll recall that in 1989, this was also the section of the Bay Bridge that collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake.



Image from Wikipedia and used under a Creative Commons license.


If that photo don’t make your heiney pucker, than you have a set of brass nerves that I just don’t have.

In the wake of the 1989 earthquake, planning and work began to replace this span of the Bay Bridge with something more seismically stable. This project was not cheap and it was not simple, but by gum, now some 24 years later the brand spanking new eastern span of the Bay Bridge opened up to the public last night.

Traffic reports this morning were pretty bleak as plenty of people crammed onto the new span for their first ride.

Yesterday The Good Man and I sought to escape the breeze-less heat at our happy home and drove out to the marina near Emeryville, which offers unobstructed views of the City, the bridges and downtown Oakland. I took my camera along as I am part of a photography club and this month’s theme is landscapes.

Here is my semi-artistic view of the new eastern span (to the far left in the photo) and how it blends is perfectly with the existing buildings and landscape of the San Francisco city line (that’s the top of the iconic Transamerica building just to the right of the new bridge).

At first I was no fan of the white paint on the new span, but now I’ve come to love it. This new suspension bridge really stands out against the backdrop and claims its own place in Bay Area history.



Image Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth


Hard to tell from this photo, but there are no cars on the deck of the bridge. Who knows how many years will pass before we see that again!

And while I’m excited to the point of hyperactivity about this gorgeous new suspension bridge and looking forward to seeing it every day as I drive to work, I find something curious is happening.

The news reports say that the moment the new bridge is up and running, the old eastern span will be dismantled. The pieces will come out in the reverse order they went in and much of the metal will be sold for scrap. This makes me a bit sad. It seems that ugly ol’ bridge found a way into my heart. Those 1934 era tinker toys now mean something to me, and I’m more than sad to see them go.

In the wake of this shiny new toy, that unseismically sound bridge now seems awfully lovely. In the many months I commuted to the east bay across the Bay Bridge (before I made the big move), I learned to love the forgotten little sister to the Golden Gate bridge.

Sure am going to miss one half of my old chum, even as I welcome this safer new span.

I’m glad the Bay Bridge is having a much deserved moment in the sun.





Image of the old eastern span of the Bay Bridge, Copyright 2010, Karen Fayeth. Image of new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth. Both images subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Old span taken with an iPhone and the Camera+ app, new span taken with a Canon Rebel and fixed up a bit in Photoshop.




So Hard To Resist

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Earlier this week we had occasion to experience a surprise fire drill in my office building. Well, mostly a surprise. For the people working away in their cubicle farm, they noticed the designated safety prevention people suiting up in orange vest and hard hat and figured things out pretty quickly. I was in a meeting and had no such tip off.

When the alarm went off, like good little children, we rose from our seats and milled around, lost. A safety coordinator pointed at me and told me to go through the emergency exit right there in the conference room.

Okey dokey, I hit the safety bar on the door and “weeoooo weeoooo weeooo” a second alarm sounded loudly, sharper than the already blaring fire alarm.

I have to say, that was kind of fun. A little bit of a rush. To be able to actually open the emergency, don’t go through it or an alarm will sound door was awesome!

While milling around outside at our designated checkpoint, I was chatting with one of my coworkers about the happy adrenaline run I had from setting off an alarm.

He said, “You must be the kind of person who wants to pull a fire alarm.”

“Well. Yeah.” was my reply. “But not just any fire alarm, one of those alarms they have in our really old buildings. The ones with the little pane of glass and a tiny hammer? Yeah, I can hardly walk by one of those without wanting to smash that little glass window.

And so, dear reader, to make my point, I snapped a photo of the kind of ancient fire alarm I’m talking about. These things are peppered throughout a building that dates back to the 1940’s, and my fingers itch every time I walk by.

If weren’t for that whole being against the law thing…






Image Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons License in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app.




Oh. That’s New.

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*blink* Ow!

*shrug* oooouch!

*wiggle little toe* aiiyyeeeeeee!

Ah yes, folks, the unmistakable sounds of a post-move body.

Everything hurts. My arms and legs are bruised all to heck and my knee is making a crunching sound it didn’t used to make.

In my younger days, I would bounce back from this sort of event within a day or two and go on about my day. Today I have to remind myself to get up from my desk at least once an hour or I will surely become locked up like the Tinman.

When the alarm clock went off this morning I muttered “should have taken today off” but alas, I didn’t.

For a work day, I have to say this morning was pretty nice. Instead of my usual 45 minutes to an hour commute across busy roads and over a bridge, today my commute was just 13 minutes (I timed it) on surface streets.

That right there makes a few days (weeks?) of sore muscles all worth it.

So far we are loving our new pad. A lot. On Sunday we took a short walk in the neighborhood and managed to meet the neighborhood kook. She’s a friendly kook, but a kook nonetheless.

I happen to think knowing the local kook is an important part of settling in to any neighborhood.

So for now we are still living out of boxes, but we’ve even put a pretty good dent in that work. All in, I’d have to say the whole move went really well.

It was, dare I say…a smooth move? (*snicker, snort, guffaw*)

Onward to this sunny Spring Monday. May you all have a song in your heart and a bounce in your step.







Image found here.