Thursday, October 26, 2006

Andre's American Chronicles - December 1999

December 1999

‘Lo you’all

I hope each and everyone is still well, and draining life for every little bit she’s got.

The northern winter is threatening to engulf us, but up to now the cold weather has always drifted away to the northeast before it could have a real impact here in Kentucky. We have had unusual warm days in November and even now in December. Currently, Sunday, just after 5 PM, its raining, soft Cape Town style raining, and it is lovely to sit here at the kitchen table, typing away on my laptop, and listening to the best of Joe Sample’s piano artistry. Through the bay window I get a full view of our backyard, the empty Maples and Ashes, robbed of their leaves by old man Winter, that looks like they have been turned upside down and their roots system exposed, and the encroaching darkness of nightfall.

Time certainly flies when you have fun! It feels like just the other day, when we bought our tickets in July for the December vacation to South Africa. Now its only 11 days away before we hope to put foot on South African soil again. But rather with mixed feelings. The Internet newspapers warn of more bomb attacks and the increase in the crime rate in Cape Town over the festive season.

At work it’s a mad rush to test and retest every conceivable piece of software and hardware for Y2K compliance. But I’m confident, although we do expect a few problems, hopefully no showstoppers.

Unlike 33 million Americans who traveled, we stayed at home the Thanks Giving Weekend. I felt sorry for those thousands of travelers that were stranded at airports due to bad weather. But we did the American thing: “The Big Eat”, with turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, etc. The afternoon I watched the traditional Thanks Giving football match between Detroit and Chicago.

Traveling America...
....and beyond...
(Tales from the happy bus...)

Last weekend Monica and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary with a trip to Louisville (an hour and a half’s drive away) to watch a ballet performance of the Nutcracker, danced by the Moscow Ballet company. Absolutely magical! Traveling has taken a bit of a backseat during summer. We spent most of our time with garden and house work, but I do hope we will have more time next summer for some traveling. There is so much to see here still.

During October I spent 2 days in Disney World in Orlando, FL., attending a conference, but I had time to walk around a bit. No time for a theme park visit though. The Friday I cut my visit short because a tropical storm was to hit Orlando by 4 PM and that would have grounded all planes. In the end the storm never had any major impacts on Orlando, but Southern Florida experienced minor floods before the storm moved out over the Atlantic.

States (in blue) we traveled in or through so far.

On September 21 I went to our North American headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey, again. For all practical purposes Secaucus is just an extension of New York City. Located just west or southwest of Manhattan, on the Jersey side of the Lincoln tunnel that run underneath the Hudson River. No less traffic and no less crazy drivers.

The day started on a terrible note with me waking up way too late to make it to the Lexington airport on time. However, ever optimistic, I floored the car to Lexington, breaking all speed laws, but I made...nearly. I got there while the plane was still at the gate, but the gate was closed and they refused to let me on the plane. Luckily there was still space on a United Airlines flight leaving just 30 minutes later, but this was going to Chicago and I was suppose to get a connecting flight in Detroit. Beggars can’t be choosers! There was a connecting flight from Chicago to Newark airport and that’s all that counts.

About the flight from Lexington to Chicago...nothing to report. The plane was still speeding down the runway, I fell asleep and only woke up as we came in for landing in cold rainy weather.

30 minutes later it was time to lift off again. It’s my 3rd time to O’Hare and I have never seen Lake Michigan from the air. Today though was bound to be different. After lift off and a right turn the lake came into view. Far off. We ascended through the clouds, patchy over the city. A few minutes later we were flying directly over the lake. An expanse of green with black patches caused by the shadows of the clouds. Looking through small openings in the clouds I saw small white spots, wondering if they are waves. Flying above the clouds it feels like I’m floating above a bank of pack ice.

A small television pops down from below the cargo rack and a voice tells us that we can now watch NBC Today and other programs on Audio 1. United Airlines! Whow! What’s going on? To my shock the hostesses, stewardesses or whatever they are called these days started to serve a breakfast!!! What’s going on? Have we been kidnapped and one of the demands is breakfast? Am I on the wrong plane? The pilot did say New York not New Zealand. Breakfast on a 2 hour flight in the USA is highly unusual. Certainly the 1st time it has happened to me. Unlike on those Cape Town-Johannesburg flights where it is standard. But I don’t know if it still is!

On the telly Jay Leno was asking the average American stupid questions and my breakfast of yogurt, orange juice, fruit and blueberry pancakes arrived. We have now crossed the lake and bright sunshine greeted us on the Michigan side of the lake. Pancakes with maple syrup? I could never dream of eating this for breakfast before coming to the States. Not that it has become a habit here, but I do indulge in it now and again. This is not bad. I rather like blueberries, especially in muffins. My coffee was cold and watery. But what did I expect? Starbucks? Yeah right!

During breakfast we left Michigan behind us and flew over Lake Erie. All along the northern beach of it with the Canadian side in full view. Big deal! Can I now say I’ve seen a tiny bit of Canada, but without being there? Reminds me of the time I was in the army at Rundu in Namibia, those days South West Africa. I stood on the banks of the Okavango River and looked north into Angola.

Matt Lauer, from USA Today fame, was now telling us about a new vaccine that promises hope for sufferers of an unknown disease as the pilot asks us to fasten our seatbelts. The cloud cover has become a thick layer of “packed ice” again, and above, the sky has turned a very deep blue. Every week the news or some actuality program will tell you about another just discovered miracle cure, and how it will give hope to millions. A couple of months later the very same news channel will inform you about the dangers of that same drug and then crucify the pharmaceutical companies for pushing the drug too fast, forgetting, conveniently, that they played a vital role in all this fictional marketing. Quite ridiculous! The news channels here are only interested in sensational news. On cable everything is “breaking News”. It has become a race for being first instead of being right and in depth. And it seems that there is news taking place only in America. Very little news from abroad. Oh yeah, they have the 80 seconds around the world snippet. Paul Simon said that he got all the news I needed from the weather report. And they are wrong half the time too.

I switched the audio to a jazz channel, decided to stop writing this article, put my stuff away and engross myself in John Le Carre’s “The Russian House”. I think I saw the movie once, but I can’t remember a thing about it. Also, the plane was becoming a bit unstable now as we are descending into the cloudbank. And then the great news! We are on hold over Pennsylvania. How can a plane be on hold in the air? I don’t see a highway or a red traffic light. We have now started to crawl. I guess that is the wrong terminology, but it feels like we’re standing still. I switch to channel 9. It informs me what’s happening in the cockpit and on the airways. Oh wait. Just heard that we can now turn inbound (whatever that means), speed at 210 knots, and to descend to 7000 feet. So United 638 is on its way to New York. Landing is 20 minutes away.

So let me continue with this day which has delivered so many ups and downs and surprises so far. Late to rise, speeding in the dark to the airport, late for my flight, luckily getting a seat on another flight and a connection in Chicago, didn’t have to cross the universe (as usual) to get from one O’Hare gate to another, and then breakfast on the plane. Can I stand more of this?

From Newark airport I took a taxi to our offices. And who would I get as a taxi driver? Another African. A guy from Ghana was my driver. All the way we discussed the state of Africa, the corrupt Nigerians (according to him), the improvements Gerry Rawlins is making in Ghana, and how he would like to visit Cape Town after seeing a TV program on the Travel Channel. Not to mention soccer, soccer, soccer. As if Ghana has a soccer team worth talking about.

The rest of the trip went well. But just like the time before, and the time before that, I still have not explored Manhattan.

On the return trip I came back with Northwest Airlines, first class, nogal. Lift off left me with a view over Jersey City, but we were quickly into the clouds again. Dinner was a fancy turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich with a mixed salad. I took a moment to decide between two loves, a Chardonnay or a Merlot. I took the Merlot, a Stonehedge ’95, with a very strong, but delicious nutty flavor, complimenting the Swiss cheese beautifully. Later the flight attendant asked how I was doing and I complimented the wine I’m enjoying so much. I must have looked and sounded extremely enthusiastic, or maybe it was my accent, or maybe she was just doing her marketing trick on me. Bottom-line is, she offered me a full bottle of the Merlot, still corked. Obviously I did not decline. But this whole trip is too good to be true.

Well, just before we get to Buffalo, in up state New York, the clouds clear and from here we flew over Lake Ontario, part of Canada, before we make the turn south to Detroit. Amazing thing about Eastern USA and Southern Canada is that you do not often find big farms like in the west. From the sky one sees this quilt of small farms in shades of brown and green. Coming into Detroit we flew over the Ford factory, which looked like a city within a city, with test track and more. We made a U-turn over Lake St. Clair to come in for the landing.

There is no such thing as a perfect summer’s day, or in this case a perfect plane trip. After I boarded my flight from Detroit to Lexington, the plane just stayed put, still attached to the terminal like a baby’s umbilical cord to its mother’s womb. Paperwork! Northwest’s computer in Minneapolis was down and the paperwork needed for take off could not be printed. For the next hour and a half we were stranded and I sipped a couple of G & T’s while perusing the Skymall magazine. I eventually got home at 1.15 AM.

Now for the big one to South Africa. And what a trip. We will be bushed by the time we land in South Africa. We’ll be flying from Louisville, to Atlanta, to Orlando, to Miami and from there to Cape Town (17 ½ hours in total). But no complains from me. We’ll be seeing old faces, friends and family and hopefully 18 days of rest and fun.

A Short “history” of Medicine
“Doctor, I have an earache.”
2000 B.C.: “Here, eat this root.”
1000 B.C.: “That root is heathen, say this prayer.”
1850 A.D.: “That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.”
1940 A.D.: “That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.”
1985 A.D.: “That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.”
2000 A.D.: “That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root!”

Sign on a church bulletin board
You aren’t too bad to come in
You aren’t good enough to stay out

Life is a riddle. Unfortunately, the answer is not written on the back of anything.

Son: “How come every time I ask you something, you answer me with a question?”
Father: “Why do you want to know?”

A Definition of being Prepared: It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark – Howard Ruff (Entrepreneur and writer)

Nowadays people can be divided into three classes – the Haves, the Have-Nots, and the Have-Not-Paid-For-What-They-Haves. – Earl Wilson (1907-1987)

If you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem – John Paul Getty (1892-1976)

The stages of Systems Development
1. Wild enthusiasm
2. Disillusionment
3. Total confusion
4. Search for the guilty
5. Punishment of the innocent
6. Promotion of the non-participants.

Being bored is an insult to oneself – Jules Renard (1864-1910)

Time for me to greet you. Those in South Africa, see you on Thursday, December 16, and for the rest….

Cheers from Danville, Kentucky.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Or as they say here in the USA, enjoy the holidays.