Monday, August 20, 2007

Vacation 2007 Wrap

Okay, a week from today will find me back at work. Vacation is almost at an end. Overall, it’s been a very good month. A lot of it has been about reconnecting with family.

It started with a day on my own in Knoxville. It was my first visit there and from what little I saw of it, it seemed like a nice enough city. Next came the Baker Family Reunion in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It was a big success and it felt really good to get to know my Aunt and Cousins again and to get to meet their children. The only thing I wanted to do on that trip which I didn’t do was to go horseback riding.

Once back in West Virginia it was the usual situation of there being just enough to do to keep me busy and also enough free time to enjoy the pool and read. I visited with my Dad’s side of the family down in Ceredo, the little village on the Ohio River where I grew up. That included my great Aunt Sissy (my grandmother’s sister), Uncle Pat (Dad’s brother) and my cousins Norma Jean and Kyle. I visited with them twice. Uncle Pat gave us homegrown tomatoes, corn, cucumbers and cabbage. Things fresh from the garden really do taste better—it’s not a psyche thing either.

There was shopping to do at the Huntington Mall and downtown. There were new restaurants to try and some old ones to return to. Rocco’s 21 Club made for a nice meal and we saw Dancing With The Stars people there. Went to the movies and saw “The Bourne Ultimatum” and thought it was good for an action pic. Visited with some of Mom’s neighbors here in Island Estates. It’s never really that difficult to fill a day when I come home.

There was the Marilyn Monroe exhibit at the Huntington Galleries. We took Morgan, my 7-year old niece and introduced her to Marilyn. We took a trip up to Tamarack near Beckley and shopped the arts and crafts there after we had trout cooked by the Greenbrier Resort. We visited the new arts and crafts shop that opened in downtown Huntington called The Downtown Depot. They offer local artists, wood carvers, potters, photographers, glass blowers, etc. a place to sell their art.

I was really looking forward to flying to Boston and meeting up with Bronagh and Betsy and driving around Massachusetts and Brattleboro, Vermont, where we had first met in graduate school about 17 years ago. I was just putting my shirt on that Friday morning when the phone rang and an automated call told me my flight had been canceled. I rebooked a flight for 4 pm and switched on CNN. The reason the flight had been canceled was due to a security breach at the Charlotte airport. See, to get out of Huntington, you pretty much have to fly first to Charlotte and then onward. Anyway, I’d arranged with Jennifer to come by for me about 3 to take me to the airport. The woman (who was very nice and helpful btw) from the local USAir office called me about 12:20 and asked if I could get to the airport by 1. I knew I couldn’t and told her and she told me that my 4 flight was already showing 20 minutes late and that I couldn’t make my Charlotte connection to Boston. I canceled the trip and sulked my way up to the pool. I called Bronagh and Betsy the next day and they were having fun without me.

My brother-in-law Kent has a new boat and it’s killer. He took us out on the Ohio River twice. Both days the sun was out and the water was nice and warm. We went out yesterday, Saturday, and his father, Ken, and his Grandma Browning joined us on their pontoon boat. Ken does great grill and he cooked burgers and we swam and I got too much sun. Kent is an engineer for the Army Corps. Of Engineers and works on their river projects. He took us up near the Robert C. Byrd dam and showed us their dredging operation there. It was interesting watching them sucking the silt out of the shipping lanes and dumping it through this huge pipe to the other side of the river to let it drift on downriver.

Visited several times with my sister, Judy and her husband, Chuck. Judy has a new job and she seems to be a lot happier than I’ve seen her in awhile. One evening I took Judy, Mom, and our friend Carol out to Ironton, Ohio for dinner. A new steak house (Austyn’s) opened in the old railroad depot. It was heaving and we had an hour wait for a table. Carol knew of an old bar down by the river called The Fuzzy Duck. We walked across the parking lot and through the floodwall gates and there were like 30 hogs parked there and on the deck of the bar were their riders et al. There was some kind of biker convention going on in Ironton. We went in anyway and I got us drinks and we sat outside and watched the bikers and the river and talked and drank. The food at the restaurant was excellent, nothing fancy, just good eatin’.

Mom’s gone out of her way to cook some of my favorite foods. She’s sorta gotten out of the habit of cooking but she managed to put together several good meals. She cooked a turkey and we did an early Thanksgiving. Today she cooked meat loaf and Judy and Chuck joined us. We hit the pool after and my skin feels like it’s fried, especially after yesterday’s run on the river. Mom also makes great homemade barbeque and then she always does pinto beans and fresh kale. Kent also does a great grill and he did burgers for us one night at his and Jennifer’s house. I know I’ve definitely added a little to that spare tire around my waist.

I won’t be posting the pics from all of this until I get back to Abu Dhabi. Mom’s computer just doesn’t have the power. It barely hangs on so I can do this. Also, I have a political rant coming on and I’ll probably save that until I get back home. So, Thursday I fly home and Friday night I will sleep in my own bed again. I will have Saturday to recover from an 8-hour time zone leap and then back to work on Sunday. Wish me luck. Cheers.

Joe Klein Says Read This Now

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Baker Family Reunion 2007

I had a great time at the 2007 Baker Family Reunion. We arrived in Gatlinburg early Sunday afternoon. We drove to the office and couldn’t check in until 3 pm. As we waited a lot of people arrived and then Jennifer told me that the cabins weren’t located there by the office but were about a 15-minute drive away. Jennifer stayed in touch with Laura and Betty by phone through all of this. We finally got checked in and got directions and information about the bugs and the bears and piled back in the car to go to Pigeon Forge. Traffic was very heavy. We turned left at Traffic Light #6 and drove about 1.5 miles and then turned left and drove up a mountain until we found the cabin named “Mountain Retreat”. We sat inside and talked and waited for Laura to arrive with Betty, Evan, Jacob and Mallory. Jennifer manned the phone to give Laura directions on how to find the cabin. Once they arrived, we helped them unpack their car and Laura gave out our room assignments and then we carried stuff to our rooms. Laura, Jennifer and I then piled in the car and drove over to Wal-Mart for groceries. We filled two buggies. Drove that back to the cabin, unloaded the stuff and put it away then had a cold beer, meat pies (which Betty had brought on dry ice from Louisiana) and salad for dinner.

Monday we got up at a decent hour, got everyone fed and dressed and took off for Gatlinburg. Laura drove her big-ass car that talked to you to tell you which way to turn. She found a place to park. Jennifer was following in the van and followed suit. Gatlinburg is basically one street with a lot of tourist crap on it. We had lunch downtown. Laura took all the kids to Wacky Bear as secret shoppers. I shopped for a decent pair of shoes that I could wear rafting and horseback riding and which looked good with jeans. Towards the end of our day I found a pair of Top-Siders that were perfect. I also located and went to a liquor store to score a bottle of Jameson’s Irish whiskey. Laura rode with Mallory and I rode with Jacob up the mountain on a ski lift. It was cool and there was a beautiful view of the surrounding Smokey Mountains. We herded everyone back towards the cars and started for the cabin. Laura had been manning the phone with Liz and Mark (along with Micaela and Nathan) giving them directions to the cabin. We met them in the parking lot of Shoney’s at Traffic Light #6. Everyone hugged and greeted there in the parking lot and then they followed us up to the cabin. Laura and Micaela took the kids to Mr. Gati’s pizza for dinner while Mom, Betty, Mark, Liz, Jennifer and I ate at the Old Mill Restaurant. There was about a 30-minute wait for a table, but the food was good. I had trout, one of my favorites.

On Tuesday everyone, but Micaela, agreed to have a picnic at this spot that Laura knew of and the plan was to then hike up to a near-by waterfall after we ate. The sky looked threatening all along the drive and then as we pulled into the picnic area the sky opened up, along with some sound and light effects. Mom and Betty played statues under an umbrella and ate. I ate under a tree and got soaked. Finally, after about 30 minutes or so everyone was ready to leave. As we neared the waterfalls, Laura pulled off. Since everyone was already soaked, she wanted to go ahead and climb up to the waterfall. Betty, Mom, Jennifer and I declined and left with Evan to go back to the cabin. Jennifer and I fired up the hot tub and sat in it for about an hour and talked as it continued to pour the rain. Mom and Betty played Scrabble. Micaela sulked. Evan played. That evening was the birthday party for Evan and Jacob and Nathan. Liz, Laura and Betty had brought presents for all the kids. They tore through those gifts in bare minutes and they were very, very happy. The kids went off to play downstairs. Mom and Betty played Scrabble and I sat in along with Liz, I think. Jennifer watched.

Wednesday was Dollywood day. We all wore our Baker Family Reunion 2007 T-shirts that Liz had bought for us. It was a short drive from the cabin. The parking lots were full and we parked a mile or so from the main gate. A trolley came by and picked you up to take you to the main gate. We got our picture made and then grabbed maps of the place and I stood back while everyone made a plan of where and when to meet up. I slipped my music player into my ears, cranked up the music and headed up to Craftsmen Valley. It was a beautiful Tennessee early afternoon. There were some cool things up the valley, actually- glass blowers, wood carvers, pottery makers and Jennifer’s favorite, homemade pork rinds. I bumped into Betty and Mom as I was watching this rafting ride and talked them into doing it with me after lunch. We walked to the newly designated area to meet up with everyone else and then had lunch. After I finished lunch I went out to smoke and the kids came with me and there was a nearby pond where you could buy food for a quarter and feed the fish, ducks and turtles. They had a good time. All of us rode the water ride next. Betty didn’t know you got wet, but once she found out, she went anyway. Since there were 13 of us total and each tire held 6 people, I went as a single and rode with what I believe was a local family. It was still fun. Everyone split up again and I took Mom and Betty on the train ride around Dollywood. There was a breeze. After the train I took off on my own again, listening to music and looking for something else to do. There wasn’t much. I don’t like those rides that throw you around and upside down, too old, you know. I basically just wandered for about an hour or so, shopped a little, went into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and it started to just pour rain and it poured more. We all met up down around the gate and I remembered the pictures. We bought a few packages of those and then had to file out through the gift shop with everyone else. It was still pouring the rain and it seemed like the whole park had decided to leave at the same time so everyone was waiting for trolleys back to their cars. That part was a little miserable. Finally to the cars and back to the cabin and most of us opened beers. I organized dinner with Laura, in other words I called and ordered the pizzas. She and Micaela went to pick them up. After dinner was the now usual thing. The kids played downstairs. Mom and Betty played Scrabble.

Thursday was whitewater-rafting day. Mom and Betty stayed home with Evan. It was a long ride over to the river site, practically to the North Carolina state line. Everyone but Micaela and I did the lower rafting, for children. Micaela and I did the upper with class 3 and 4 rapids on them. The water was really wild in spots and several people fell off. Our guide was Jared and he was very good and patient. He said he’d been doing this for over seven years. I was a little bit nervous before we got started, but after the first set of rapids, I chilled out for the most part and had a fantastic time. By the time we got back to the offices, I was soaked. I bought a T-shirt because mine was drenched and dried off and put on my dry shorts and new T-shirt. Back to the cabin we went.

We showered and put on fresh clothes because I was taking Jennifer, Laura, Liz and Mark out to the Hard Rock for dinner. We left about 7:30. Jennifer drove. The CafĂ© was busy when we arrived but I used my All Access pass and got us a table before we’d even gotten a good start on our drinks. Evidently, Tennessee has a strange law that you must show an ID before you can be served alcohol, even if you look 50, it doesn’t matter, you have to show ID and if you don’t have ID then you can’t drink. America has become so rigid and filled with these ridiculous laws, most of them for stupid people. Anyway, working on my first vodka martini we hit the table and started scoping out the menus. We ordered the food and I ordered a second martini. I had the barbeque brisket and it turned out to be fabulous. I left them to go to the bar for a smoke. I returned and we chatted and got to know each other again. We hadn’t been together as a group like that for such a long time, if ever. Food came and I ordered a pint of beer. We ate and talked some more and laughed a lot about our respective families, which is a sure sign of love. Jennifer drove us home. Mom looked like she’d been tied behind a pick-up truck and drug for thirty miles. She and Betty had been watching all the children. Not long after we got back the Two Moms were tired and went to bed.

Friday was our last full day there. Jennifer and Morgan and I wanted to go horseback riding and Mallory and Nathan wanted to come along. Laura took the two Moms shopping. Liz and Mark took everyone else for another hike up to a waterfall. By the time we got to the stables, there was such a crowd that he told us there was a two-hour wait for riding. We didn’t have the time because we were meeting back up with everyone else for lunch. Morgan cried a little bit because she really wanted to ride. I really wanted to ride, too, but I thought it would look back if I cried. We got back in the car and started flipping through options. Jennifer hit on the Hillbilly Putt Putt. We stood in line for maybe 20 minutes and then rode a lift up the side of this mountain where they’ve carved out two miniature golf courses. We played eighteen holes of golf, laughing and carrying on like kids, which some of us were.

If Jennifer knew one thing about the Pigeon Forge area it was possible dining options. She is her father’s daughter. There was a place she knew called the Apple Barn and we were all meeting there for lunch. Liz and Mark had already eaten and they were coming later. The food at this place was really good and not faux homemade country cooking. We ate and shopped some in the gift store and then we all split up again. Mark and Liz took all the kids back to the cabin and then down to the swimming pool. Mom, Betty, Jennifer and I went to this huge Outlet Mall in Pigeon Forge. Laura and Micaela went there as well, but we never really met up with them. I went out on my own, listening to music and going into a few shops, but basically it’s just a rip-off. I mean the place is enormous, and filled with everything and nothing. Close to 5 o’clock I bumped into Betty and Mom and we wobbled back to where the car was parked, conveniently in front of a bar/grill. I saw some people sitting outside having what looked like a pint of iced cold beer. Betty was thinking along the same lines. Mom had iced tea. In a bit Laura and Micaela joined us and we had another beer. Liz and Mark and the kids had eaten so we just decided to eat there. What the hell, we were tired and a little hungry and just wanted to get it out of the way. Jennifer and I both ordered the seafood and it was horrific. It had definitely traveled and then sat, god only knows how long. I still ate mine because I’d paid for it and because I was hungry. Then it was back to the cabin to pack and get ready for Saturday blast-off. You MUST vacate the cabin by 10 am exactly or be fined.

Saturday morning was a little chaotic. I slept through some of it, as I’m sure surprises no one. Slammed down some coffee and a granola bar, showered, dressed, hauled stuff out to the van and drove off to meet everyone at the Old Mill Restaurant for a goodbye breakfast. And it was a great country breakfast. I took the boys out with me to see the ducks and have a cigarette while everyone finished up eating. Not long after everyone met in the parking lot and said goodbye. We all drove off looking for the interstate and our respective homes. It had been fun and I hope we all get the chance to do it again before we’re all on walkers.

I want to write more about the reunion, but it’s been all I could do to just get the details of the trip down. Vacation with your family can be a busy time, believe it or not. I want to write about my time here in West Virginia visiting family, etc. I’m flying up to Boston Friday to meet up with Bronagh and Betsy from grad school. There will be a post in that I’m sure. And then there is a definite political tirade coming. Stay tuned for all of it.

Here are a few links I thought you should read.

The three links below are regarding CNN correspondent in Iraq giving the straight poop on the results of the Surge.
Michael Ware: Surge is undermining the very government that America created

The Impeachment Dilemma by Scott Horton

Bush and Napoleon by Ed Bulliet

The greatest danger to American security after Bush and then Iran is Israel. Read this!
A New History Lesson in Israel by Rami G. Khouri

Read this. Frightening to say the least!
Bush on the Couch by Coleen Rowley

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

End Of July Sell-Out

It’s been over a month since I’ve posted anything here. I guess that’s not too bad. And it was a v. busy month. I should go back and check how many posts begin that way. Anyway, this is coming to you from Huntington, West Virginia. I’ll back up a little.

The day I left for the airport in Abu Dhabi was chaos and none of it of my making, really. Work was chaos for reasons I can’t divulge, you understand. George was supposed to pick me up at about 7 for a dinner party at Asli’s villa and then he’d take me on to the airport after, about 9 or so. The flight wasn’t until midnight, but I wanted to shop and use the open bar in the lounge, the usual. He didn’t arrive until almost 8 and was lost in my neighborhood. I talked him to my place on the mobile while I waited for him downstairs. Then, I was supposed to help navigate us to Asli’s villa and I was trying to do that and speak to my boss to make him aware of a problem George had discovered regarding work, of course. We drove around lost in Um Al Nar for about 30 minutes until we found the villa. Patricia and James were there, along with John and (my god I can’t think of her name, it begins with a B or an M and she’s Turkish) she was there, too. I met Asli’s daughter and her husband. Some other people from the embassy were there, but I forget their names. Had a little white wine and some dinner and got George to take me to the airport. John rode along to assist George. Got to the airport about 30 minutes late, which isn’t bad for George.

The airport was easy thanks to Golden Class Service and I dumped my stuff in the lounge and went shopping. No problems. Scoped out the bookstore, nothing to buy. Headed to the liquor store and found out that because of new regulations regarding liquids on flights, I couldn’t buy my usual two bottles of Jameson’s for the trip. I was shocked, shocked and thrown off my usual routine. I got a couple of carton of cigarettes and then moved on to the cologne shop. I bought a small bottle of Prada that fell under the new regulations for liquids and walked back to the lounge to consume some, Jameson’s. The Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt wasn’t bad except for the stopover in Kuwait City. The five hours in Frankfurt airport were pretty miserable, but at least there are smoking areas. The USAir flight to Charlotte was comfortable and I did manage a bit of sleep and also to snag one bottle of duty-free Chivas, which I had to stow in my checked luggage after I went through customs. I was only in the Charlotte airport for maybe an hour before they called my flight and I was off to Knoxville. Arrived Knoxville about 7 pm or so and seemed like I waited forever on my bags. I was so out of it. About 27 hours in airplanes and airports and very little sleep. Found a taxi and got to the Hilton. The taxi driver was very nice and very knowledgeable about things to do in Knoxville as well as in the Pigeon Forge area. I washed up in my room and stumbled down to the bar, The Pink Martini, and had a large vodka one followed by a hamburger with a pint of beer. Not long after that I was asleep.

Jet lag seems to get worse as I get older. I woke up about 5 or so and had a really hard time getting back to sleep. Next thing I knew it was 1 o’clock. The sky was blue and I thought the best way to wake up was at the pool. Out I went and had a dip. The water was pretty cold. I was hungry and found that there wasn’t room service at the pool. I went to the front desk and they said I could order it from my room and have it sent to the pool. That wasn’t exactly correct. I got room service on the phone and he told me that you couldn’t have glass at the pool. I got to the bottom line. I’m hungry and I want to eat at the pool, what can I have? The kid was bright. I can make you a club sandwich in a to-go box. I said great and went back to the pool. Not long after that, I ate. Then a mother came with two screaming children. Their screams hit my head on reverb and I stayed about another thirty minutes before I went up to shower.

After I got dressed, I went down to the Starbucks in the lobby for a coffee and then went on the computer. Checked mail and started reading some news. I tried to go to Salon and the net nanny told me it was blocked. I was stunned. They block at the Hilton in Knoxville. Later I tried to go to The Huffington Post and it was also blocked by the net nanny. They block The Huffington Post at the Hilton in Knoxville. Finally, I twigged to something and googled the fascist Drudge Report, clicked on the link and went right there. Well, being jet-lagged and a little hung over I went up to the desk and argued with some clueless little southern Christian bimbo who assured me NO, the hotel was not just blocking liberal news sites but that the computer guy who did that was off today. I told that was exactly what was going on and said I’m not in this country much but that nothing surprises me here anymore. I vented a bit. I finished on the computer and then went out into the garden to have a cigarette and to finish off my coffee.

I wanted to get out and walk and see a little of the city. I asked the same bimbo at the desk and she directed me to the Old Market Square area, a few blocks away. I got my music player on and cranked it up loud and went walking. I found it easily and shopped in several places. I found a Jesus action figure with glow in the dark hands. I also bought a countdown calendar to Bush’s last day in office and a copper bracelet. I wanted some water so I went into this bar and ended up having to buy this expensive water in a bottle and I started to leave and she handed me a glass. I went out to sit on the patio and have a smoke. I looked at the glass as I was about to pour the expensive water into it and there was lipstick still on the rim. I just drank from the bottle. I still had the music cranked up and there were two other tables taken on an eight-table patio. I lit my cigarette and was enjoying the water and the cigarette and the music when this waitress bimbo with multiple piercings on her face told me “this is a non-smoking patio”. I laughed at her, of course, and questioned her seriousness. She said she was serious. I said, “I’ll go then,” and left the water and the dirty glass on the table and started walking again.

One street over I found an art cooperative, The Art Market Gallery. I still had the music cranked up when I entered and felt a tap on my shoulder after a minute or so and the woman told me that it was an art cooperative and they have details on all the artists and if I needed any help, just to ask. I thanked her and put the music back on. There were some brilliant pieces there. I spent about a hundred, but I could have spent a lot more. There’s always the baggage weight allowance on the fight home to consider. I bought a nice piece of pottery, a lovely turned wooden bowl, and a really cool hand-painted glass soap dish. After I left there I headed back to the hotel and dropped off my purchases and then walked over to the Sundome (I think that’s what it’s called) that is a remnant of when Knoxville hosted the World’s Fair about 20 years ago. You ride the elevator to the top and you get this great view of the park and parts of the city and the river. The mountains are really beautiful in the distance. I walked the park a bit more and had intentions to eat out somewhere but when I got back to the hotel I just decided to go back down to the same bar, where you can smoke, and order the BBQ sandwich. It was very good. After dinner it was upstairs to pack, watch a little TV and try to sleep early because my mother, sister and niece were picking me up early the next day to go on to Pigeon Forge for the Baker Family Reunion 2007.

I’m on vacation so I’m going to cut this up into several parts. Next part will be on the Baker Family Reunion 2007 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. There is also a political rant coming on. Thus, the title of this post. I saw a Bill Maher comedy special on HBO at the Hilton. He said that he loves America; it’s Americans that he hates. I agree. The country is filled with sell-outs. From the minute you board any American carrier to come here you can see them. I’ll save my feelings on that for a later post.

This is a good piece on the next terror attack and what could happen.

I found this website and thought my friends back in the UAE would like it. You take a pic of someone parked like an asshole and post it on the website. Check it out.

War, Chaos and Bush’s Faith by Gary Kamiya