The Great Atlanta Shutdown

Since I don’t have any photos ready to post and it’s currently 1:27AM, I am resorting to sharing a few iPhone images I took from inside my rental car on my way to the Atlanta airport a week and a half ago.

I made a colossal error in judgment.  I knew that Atlanta had gotten into gridlock a week ago last Tuesday.  What didn’t occur to me was that they might still be in gridlock the next day.  When my flight from Chattanooga to Atlanta (on the way to Orlando) cancelled, I thought it was perfectly reasonable to rent a car to drive the 100 miles to the Atlanta airport and catch my flight to Orlando.  I wasn’t going into downtown Atlanta, just around the outer belt.  How bad could it be?

All went smoothly for the first 55 miles–it took about an hour to get just over half way to the airport.  Then, everything came to a full stop.  I spent the next 5 ½ hours trying to get to the next exit, which was about 3 miles away from where I first stopped.

At first, I thought patience was best.  I turned off the car to save fuel.  I sat in the midst of what had become a semi parking lot.  We all sat.  Then we sat some more.  A man on a bicycle appeared–he rode between the rows of parked cars for no apparent reason other than, perhaps, to be able to tell the tale of how he rode on the freeway.

Then the ATVers started buzzing by on the side of the road.  They were having the time of their lives.  The rest of us were sitting.

As calm and patient as I was feeling, the growing realization that I was going to need to heed the call of nature sometime within the next hour created a new sense of urgency–the clock was ticking.

I drove on the shoulder.  I hate this.  But, driving on the shoulder in order to exit the highway is really a favor to all.  One less car stuck on the road.  I got within a half mile of the exit when suddenly we all came to a stop yet again.

Eventually, after a man walked down to the ramp and determined a route through the parked semis to access the ramp, a line of us followed an SUV through gaps between trucks, weaving our way through until at last we were free.  It took another 3 hours to get to the airport over the back roads.

The experience of driving past hundreds of abandoned cars, some of which were sitting in the middle of traffic lanes, made me feel like I had been transported to the middle of a sci-fi thriller movie set.  Unfortunately, I also felt like part of the cast.

 

Finding Fun

Pink clouds capture my attention when I glance out the window

Pink clouds capture my attention when I glance out the window

We agreed to do something fun this weekend.  However, we didn’t agree on what we would do.  I, of course, wanted to go hiking.  My husband, however, wanted to do something that wasn’t physical because his ankle has been bothering him.  Given that I can’t argue with an injury, I contemplated what we could possibly do that would not be physically demanding, but that could include Tisen.

I suggested we take a drive to Atlanta to go to IKEA, something we had planned to do a month or so ago, but ended up not doing.

The pink streaks reach all the way to the view directly in front of us, which is almost due North

The pink streaks reach all the way to the view directly in front of us, which is almost due North

IKEA is one of those places that always sounds great to me.  Lots of cool, clever, and affordable concepts to make a home more livable.  And, we could use some shelving and lighting, etc. in our new place.

So, we loaded Tisen up in the car about mid-morning Saturday and off we went.  The drive to Atlanta is not nearly as scenic as the drive to Nashville.  There is no IKEA in Tennessee, however, so Atlanta was the closest choice.  We made one stop for a fast-food lunch.  It occurred to me that if we’re going to do a road trip, we should start planning our route based on enjoyable, healthier restaurants.  It’s just no fun to eat fast food.

Once we made it to IKEA, by the time we found a parking spot and through the front door, I was ready for a nap.  Have I mentioned I hate to shop?  I don’t know why I always think going to IKEA is going to be fun.  I’ve been to about 3 IKEAs now and I always have the same experience:  I start out excited by the idea; then, as soon as we walk in the door, I feel exhausted and overwhelmed by choices.  By the time we get about a quarter of the way through the first show room, I am practically shoving people out of the way because I can’t get through there fast enough.

The light eventually fades, leaving only a faint glow between the clouds and the ridge

The light eventually fades, leaving only a faint glow between the clouds and the ridge

The further we get into the store, the more my desire to leave increases.  All I can think about it how much I don’t want to be there.

We did make it out of the store without inciting a riot.  We immediately used my iPhone to find the closest park.  We found a lovely little park in the middle of a nearby neighborhood and took Tisen for a loop around it.  I felt human again afterwards.

Able to breathe again, we returned to the car and drove the nearly two hours back home.

We not only failed to do something fun, but we also ended up walking further than my husband intended.

On the plus side, we spent some quality time together in the car.  And, later that day, there was a nice sunset partially viewable from our balcony.

I decided to do a short time lapse “video” of the clouds blowing through as the sun went down and the light faded away.

Tisen and his infamous purple monkey

Tisen and his infamous purple monkey

Home Again

There's a Golden Eagle perched in the Sycamore, but it was only visible through a scope

There’s a Golden Eagle perched in the Sycamore, but it was only visible through a scope

Perhaps you didn’t notice, but I was out of town for the past 3 days.  It was a work thing.  So, yes, another post with photos from the Sandhill Crane Festival.  While I would like to have lots of cool pictures from the Atlanta Marquis Hotel (where I did not get to stay because it was full by the time travel approval came through, but I did spend at least 12 hours a day there), it just wasn’t a good time to be lugging around my giant camera and tripod.

Adult Bald Eagle

Adult Bald Eagle

In fact, it wasn’t a good time to do anything.  Had I not been staying 2 blocks away, I might not have seen daylight for 3 days.  Several of us commented that we felt like we were in Vegas–no sense of time, confined to a conference center all day, moving from room to room, meeting to meeting, session to session, the only things missing were gambling and booze.

I did get to go out to dinner with some of the folks I work with whom I rarely get to see in person, which was great fun.  But, of course, it was well after dark (and even after bedtime the second night) by the time we went to dinner.

Adult Bald Eagle a little closer

Adult Bald Eagle a little closer

If you have never been to the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, it’s worth seeing. In fact, I need to plan a weekend in Atlanta that includes shooting the lobby.  I shot the Marquis lobby many years ago with my old PowerShot G3 and no tripod.  I would love to see what I could get with my current camera on a tripod.  If you want to see what it looks like, here’s the post with the old photos.

The thing about going to work events is that it sounds like fun, and some of it is fun, but it’s really tiring.  Pat and Tisen delivered me to Atlanta on Monday night.  We stayed in a La Quinta hotel a few miles North of the Marquis.  This is because La Quinta allows dogs.  They don’t even charge extra.

Three cranes circling the refuge

Three cranes circling the refuge

However, La Quinta is not in the best of locations and they don’t have the most comfortable of beds.  So, I started my 3 days already tired and slept less and worse the next two nights alone in a hotel around the corner from the Marquis.   Between limited sleep, walking around all day, eating crap, and being on my best behavior from 7AM to 11PM for 3 days, I’m pretty darn beat.

I think it’s probably the being on my best behavior part that’s so darn tiring–it’s be so much easier to just be myself.

Clearing the tree

Clearing the tree

The saving grace was that I was only a 2-hour drive away and in the same time zone.  Given that many of my colleagues were there from Europe and a few from Asia, I didn’t really feel like I could complain.  I’m feeling ready to go to bed (and to perhaps stay there through the weekend) none-the-less.

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Looking across the lake

The Marriott Marquis

I was recently at a Photographic Society of Chattanooga meeting when the speaker displayed an image so familiar to me, I almost thought is was one of mine.  But, then I realized it was better than my version.

I don’t feel bad about this–the subject was the Marriott Marquis hotel in downtown Atlanta.  It may be one of the more striking architectural features in Atlanta (from the inside), but it’s also quite a challenge to shoot.  Plus, the day I got to shoot inside the Marriott Marquis, I had owned my PowerShot G3 for about 2 weeks and knew about as much about photography as my elderly aunt (who couldn’t figure out how to use a camera with only one button).

I was in Atlanta for work at the time.  There was a huge tradeshow there and I was playing “booth babe.”  This is a joke because I worked in the telecom industry at the time and it was considered bad form to have anyone in any booth looking anything other than geeky.  I got to don a men’s button-down shirt that would have fit great if I were shaped like a large block and was long-waisted and short-legged.

But, I digress.

Just by good fortune, I was staying at the Marriott Marquis.  I had no idea at the time that it was going to be a photographic opportunity.  I brought my brand new, fancy point-and-shoot camera purely because I was so excited about having what was then by far the nicest camera (digital or film) I’d ever owned that I brought it along purely out of the desire to learn how to use it.

The problem with the Marquis is the difficulty of getting what you want in the frame without getting what you don’t want.  For example, you cannot get the entire stunning view of the balconies into the frame.  My focal length was 7mm for these shots.  I don’t know of an SLR lens that will go that wide unless it’s a fisheye.  Additionally, it’s a hotel with lots of people milling about doing what they want without concern for your shot–they’re there day and night.  A long exposure on a tripod might have done the trick for removing some people, but there are always people standing on the balconies gazing down and up and taking in the incredible structure.

Another problem is the lighting.  Higher up, the balconies get quite dark.  It’s difficult to get a balanced exposure that shows both the lower and upper balconies.

As someone who was:  there for business, without a tripod, in a hurry, and using a point-and-shoot I barely knew how to use, I think I walked away with some surprisingly good shots.  Of course, I cannot look at them now without thinking about how much better I could do today.  Atlanta is only a 2 hour drive–maybe I’ll have to actually go test myself one of these days.

Dogs and Nomads

It was a big day for Tisen.  We drove to Atlanta last night and stayed in a La Quinta (did you know they allowed dogs for free?).  Pat hung out with Tisen until my work meetings were over and I could take the rest of my meetings from the car while he drove us back home.

Tisen did not seem like he felt well from about an hour into the drive to Atlanta until we returned home today.  He was clearly nervous about traveling.

After returning home, we took Tisen with us to McKamey Animal Center to officially adopt him.  Nearly every staff member on duty came to see Tisen and to thank us for adopting him.  I’m not sure why they were thanking us–we are so grateful to them for saving him.

I have spent much of the evening with eyes brimming with tears, overwhelmed with gratitude.  Gratitude for the people who saved Tisen.  Gratitude for Tisen himself.  Gratitude that my sister-in-law fosters cats (which gave me the ides to foster dogs).  Gratitude that Anna introduced us to Tisen.  Gratitude that Tisen picked us as much as we picked him.

While we are at the shelter, Tisen flirts with a boxer/bulldog mix named Rosie through a glass door.  She has the opposite eye patch from him and they seem like they were made for each other.  She is so ridiculously cute, we are suddenly tempted to bring home a friend for Tisen.  But, when we do the “meet and greet” to see how they get along, Tisen will not allow Rosie to get any affection from any human in the room.  When someone starts to pet her, he dives between human and Rosie, making growly noises.  We decide Tisen wants to be an only dog, which is probably for the best.

After another stop at PetsMart for a couple of items we forgot last trip (which results in the purchase of yet another squeaky toy), we return home.  I cuddle Tisen on the couch.  He lays across my lap and sighs like life just doesn’t get any better.  As I sit here petting him, I think he might be right.

But, I am trying to write my blog.  Tisen seems to want to be between me and my laptop.  I tease him that he is both helping me write my blog by providing a subject and preventing me from writing my blog by physically interfering.  He doesn’t seem to get the joke, but he sighs again and readjusts, hoping for a belly rub.

As I contemplate the long-term commitment we have just made, I realize I might have to change my domain name.  We came to Chattanooga thinking we would live here 6-12 months and then move on to a new area.  Instead, we have extended our lease on our apartment, committed to lease a manufacturing space for 3 years, and taken in a dog.  So much for being nomads!

 

 

Getting to Germany

Having driven to the Atlanta airport, checked our luggage and picked up our boarding passes, we head for the MARTA station. We pause to do a time check and debate whether we’re better off spending the 3 hours until our plane starts boarding in the airport or going downtown for lunch. We want to allow plenty of time, figuring security will be tighter since it is the tenth anniversary of 9-11. I say, “Let’s go downtown–it will be more of an adventure than sitting in the airport.” Pat agrees.

Once we settle onto the MARTA train, we start calculating how long we will need to get back, get our carry-on bags out of our car and get in the security line. We have allowed ourselves 30 minutes of travel time in each direction and still have an hour and a half to get lunch. We get off at the Peachtree station since it’s an area I’m familiar with. I forgot that it’s a Sunday and the Atlanta downtown is not exactly hopping. We head towards the Olympic park once we find ourselves back above ground. It’s a beautiful day and the walk more welcome since we are about to take a 9+ hour flight.

We find a Googie’s hamburger place in the middle of the park. I order a coke float with my burger and we sit outside. There are plenty of people in the park. Some are playing a sport I can’t identify because they are downhill and all we can see is the top halves of people moving around a field. I assume it’s soccer. After relaxing in the shade of a giant old tree while we finished our meal, we head back towards the MARTA station. The walk is now uphill, the sun is higher, and the temperature is rapidly rising. Pat starts sweating through his shirt and then worrying about being all sweaty getting on the plane which probably makes him sweat even more. The platform is surprisingly warm considering how far underground we are. I think back to how long the escalator was and wonder if we are now so close to the center of the earth that the temperature is higher. 🙂 Pat, in the meantime, moves us to the center of the platform between two giant fans that circulate the air. He stands with his arms spread, trying to get his shirt to dry.

Back at the Atlanta airport, we are surprised that security does not seem any worse than usual. We get through the line in 15 minutes and neither of us is randomly scanned in the new “naked” scanners. When we amble up to the gate 45 minutes before our flight, they are all ready boarding all passengers. The boarding process for long flights is different than the short domestic hops–people take their time and settle in gradually. Yet, the entire airbus is full and everyone is ready to go well before our take off time.

The man sitting next to me (I took the middle seat) starts up a conversation. He tells me he’s on a business trip and I ask who he works for. It turns out he and I work for the same company! I wonder aloud how many people on this flight are our colleagues and what the odds are that we would end up sitting next to each other. He also was part of a smaller company acquired by our now mutual corporation. We swap stories of integration and he tells me that everything will settle down and seem normal in three more years. I was really hoping it would only be one more year.

As the plane reaches altitude and the movies become available, he reaches for his ear buds and I reach for my iPad. We do not talk again in the 9 hours that we sit next to each other until we are arriving in Frankfurt and he points out the location of the office he’s going to on the flight map. That’s OK. We’re unlikely to ever see each other again anyway.

The flight goes smoothly, although my knees start twitching when I get tired and it is impossible to get comfortable. I long for the days when I used to fly business class, but it’s hard to justify paying 4x the price for an already expensive ticket when the trip is only 9 hours. I nod off in fits and starts and wake again every 10 minutes. I think I managed to collectively get a couple hours of sleep, but I feel like I was up all night when the flight crew turns the lights back on and starts serving breakfast. Having lost 6 hours between dinner and breakfast, I’m not really sure I’m hungry, but I eat anyway.

When we deplane, there are no restrooms between the plane and immigration. The line is endless and moving slowly. We wait for over half an hour crossing our legs and trying not to think of water. A man is escorted away just before we are called to a desk. This often happens to Pat–he apparently has the same name as someone on the no-fly list. Having been detained 4 times now, we cross our fingers that this won’t be the fifth. Luck smiles on us and the agent stamps our passports. We find a restroom and our luggage and look for the train.

We take a bus to terminal 1 to get to the train. But, having done very little planning for this trip, we have to wait in another long, slow line to get our train passes. On most our trips, I take care of these arrangements, usually in advance. But here, Pat takes the lead since this is his birth country and German is his first language. I am reminded of a man who recently told me I need to learn how to follow; it doesn’t come naturally to me. I would like to think I am a natural leader, but I suspect I’m really just a control freak. While the ticket agent speaks fluent English, Pat’s command of German gets us 4 days of train travel in first class at a reduced rate, saving us about $550 Euros. Not bad for just letting him do the talking.

I have ridden the train in Germany before, but it’s more impressive to me this trip having taken the train from Portland to Glacier National Park back in the states since then. First, German trains are on time. Second, they run as efficiently as subways, often having only 3 minutes between arrival and departure. Finally, they are so quiet and smooth that you have to remind yourself you’re on a train. The first class car is an extra bonus–after being so cramped on the plane, it’s nice to lay back and stretch our of legs fully. I am always amazed at how tired sitting on a plane makes me feel.

In spite of being re-routed once on the way to Freidberg due to weather, we arrive only 10 minutes late. We find a cab and get to our hotel only to learn that our room won’t be ready for 2 1/2 more hours–it’s only 12:30PM. We check our bags and drag our tired selves around this ancient black forest town for an hour. Then we sit outside in a square by the farmer’s market and eat. Oh do we eat! I allowed Pat to order for me and he has chosen two dishes that we share. One is a “fine” bratwurst with fries and the other is some kind of dumpling stuffed with vegetables neatly ground and mixed with cheese. Both are good, but the brat particularly hits the spot today–maybe because it goes so well with the pilsner we drink?

We sit in the shadow of an enormous church that was razed to the ground during World War II and has since been reconstructed, stone by stone. They are still working on it or working on it again; scaffolding shrouds the main steeple. The courtyard below is full of vendor’s tents–it’s an open farmer’s market that apparently opens every morning and shuts down every afternoon. By the time we are done with our entrees, the tents are disappearing.

We sit a while longer, ordering meringues for dessert. They are served with ice cream, whipped cream, and carmel sauce. I resign myself to gaining weight this trip and relish the dessert. We are surrounded by locals and tourists alike. One table over, a group of Americans discuss their plans while failing at keeping their young children entertained, resulting in crying and whining. I wonder if German children expect to be entertained all the time, but none are around to watch.

We wander around the town some more, struck by the stone streets and the old architecture laden with flowers. Nearly every building has flower boxes at every window. We attempt to walk to the river, but get ourselves mixed up. At 3PM, we stop in a coffee shop to use the restroom, get directions, and buy a bottle of water. We head back to the hotel more than ready for a nap.

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Traveling on the Tenth Anniversary of 9-11

It’s just after 10AM and we are packed and ready to leave for our two week vacation in Germany. We are flying out of Atlanta because the flight schedule to leave from Chattanooga will not get us home in one day. We have a plan for today: we will drive to the Atlanta airport, check two of our bags, leave our carry ons in the trunk, and take the MARTA downtown for a few hours before our flight. We divide our bags between us and head out the door looking somewhat like pack mules.

The weather has cleared and warmed up again. It’s cool this morning, but promising to get into the upper eighties. We are preoccupied with our plans and have not given much more than a passing thought to the significance of this day. But as we cruise down the highway around Chattanooga, we pass under a high overpass with a group of people on it unfurling a huge American flag and waving. I wave back as we pass under the enormous flag, and am instantly returned to ten years ago.

I was at my desk on 9-11, thankfully on a reprieve from the constant travel that I did at that time of my career. My phone rang and a colleague in NJ excitedly informed me that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. At first, I waited for the punchline, assuming it was a joke. He didn’t yet know that it was an attack; it was just a crazy event for the next half hour until he called me back and told me that a second plane had crashed into the other tower.

I went down the hall to talk to my boss. He was getting updates and it was clear now that this was, in fact, the first attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. In that moment, the sense of security I’d never known I had was shattered. Many of us gathered in the halls, talking quietly of people we knew who worked in the area. More news came in and we heard of the two other planes, one still in the air. Most of us decided to go work from home the rest of the day–it felt safer not to be in a building that once (decades ago) employed over 18,000 people.

When I got home, I turned on the TV and watched the news. I was on the phone with more friends and colleagues in the NY area, each of us recounting the stories we had learned of missing loved ones. For me, it seemed close to home even though it was a distant event. I was happy that all travel was suspended for two weeks–no one seemed to want to have a meeting in light of the tragedy. I had no desire to go get on a plane.

When I flew into Newark two weeks later, the airport seemed like a ghost town. I met with customers that day who had regular meetings in the trade center prior to 9-11. Two of them recounted their 9-11 stories. One missed being on the 11th floor of the first building when it was hit only because he’d stopped to get a cup of coffee. The other was in the street when the first tower collapsed, diving behind a dumpster with a woman he’d never met before and running for shelter in an abandoned building, barely escaping unharmed. They still didn’t know if the people they were on their way to meet had survived. I never learned the outcome.

I add these stories to my collection from people who had relatives in the city that day–one of my colleague’s daughters had a terrifying day just trying to leave the city to get to the safety of her parents’ home. Photos of one of our customer sites across the street from the destruction were forwarded around. An entire wall is missing from a data center that houses the equipment we make. Those of us who know the people that work there are stunned by these photos. These stories make what might just seem like something in the news feel next door. I am reminded of a person I once met who was sent to Grenada (or was it Panama?) in the military. He described walking through a suburban neighborhood while under attack. I imagine war in a whole new way when I hear his descriptions. I try to imagine where I would hide while soldiers go through my quiet suburban neighborhood shooting at one another.

These are the images that come to mind as we cruise along the highway. I think about what it would be like to live somewhere where personal safety is a foremost concern on a daily basis. In the ten years since 9-11, we have collectively forgotten the fear that the attack created and been more annoyed by ridiculous security rules in the airports that are hard to connect to increased security than worried about repeat attacks. I suppose that’s a good thing. After all, what would being afraid accomplish? At the same time, prior to 9-11, no one would have thought that a terrorist would crash a hijacked plane. Since that day, I’ve swapped many stories of “what we would do” with fellow travelers, each of us feeling personal responsibility for the safety of each flight in a way we never considered before.

I received a news alert from the Wall Street Journal that plans for car bombings on 9-11 were discovered and foiled. I feel oddly reassured by this news, I suppose the fact that they were found out and prevented is reassuring, but it always makes me wonder what else is going on that they haven’t found out about yet? I think the majority of the relief is purely selfish–the attacks were about car bombs and not planes and, after all, it’s a plane I’m getting on.

I feel like I should pause for a moment and honor the dead, the injured, and the chronically ill that resulted from 9-11. Yet, in some respects, do I honor them by flying on this day? Does the fact that I feel confident enough to get on a long, international flight say that we recovered well? It is impossible to know what the people most horribly affected by the attack would say, but since I am going to Germany today regardless, I choose to think they would be pleased. I say a silent thank you to the men and women who responded to the attack and an apology to those who did not survive. Then, I tuck away my fears and focus on the road ahead.