The Eastern Shuttle

Earlier this week the Washington Post printed an article about unrealistic expectations by airline travelers.

It starts off with a quote by a veteran flight attendant:

I’m weary of those entitled passengers who are continuously whining and complaining. . . I feel like telling them, “Take some responsibility for your choices.”

The columnist Christopher Elliott then goes on to discuss the airlines’ point of view, which in a nutshell is that you get what you pay for, and if you pick the lowest price, then expect very little in comfort and service, and the cost conscious travelers’ point of view, which is that fees are out of control.

The article continues:

“. . a retired civilian Army employee who lives in Troy, Mich., took his first commercial flight in the early 1950s, and recalls paying just $72 to fly from Washington to San Francisco in 1967. He still has the ticket. In economy class, the flight attendants served passengers steak on real plates, he says.

An  eight dollar plus change, one-way student Eastern Newark to Boston Shuttle ticket from 1967 may be in a box of my lifetime treasures stored under a bed in my house, but it is doubtful. Whenever possible I was on a flight to visit my college beau. Tickets could be purchased ahead of time or at the gate. One just had to show a student card. Simple. There was always a seat.

Checking on line to see what Eastern was now charging for a flight from Newark to Boston, I was surprised to read that Eastern no longer exists. Imagine my delight discovering that Trump actually bought the Eastern shuttle in 1988, that he installed marble-finish lavatory fixtures in them, and that On September 20, 1990, he missed a $1.1 million interest payment for the Shuttle operation.

Back in my 20s and 30s I traveled here and there and a telephone call to any airline would give me all the information needed: what flights were available, the price of a ticket, and the representative would book my reservation on any carrier.

Then for a while I didn’t travel much.  In the meantime, the world got internet, gas went up from 50 cents a gallon (I too do remember when it was twenty something cents), obscenely wealthy people, many of whom seem to be the only people who can get away with arrogant strutting displays of “entitlement” became the airlines preferred passengers, and the number of variables involved in making a reservation exploded.

I don’t feel entitled, but I am going to whine and complain. My complaint is that sorting through the many options when buying a plane ticket takes me hours and gives me angst. I don’t necessarily want to buy the cheapest seat available but I want to understand what I am paying for.

Back when life was simple I didn’t have to think about buying direct or through one of multiple third party sites. I didn’t need to study the nuances of budget, basic economy, economy, flexible economy, business class, first class, privileged class tickets on three or four different airlines. I wasn’t constrained by loyalty clubs.  I didn’t have to worry if my luggage would be accepted or not or where it would be stored and what I could put in the bags that would go in the cabin or in the baggage compartment and what would be confiscated and never returned. I knew that drinks and food would be served.   I could cancel or reschedule my flight without a hassle or a fee.

Not now. Now a ticket on United from Newark to Boston and return on the weekend of December eighth as listed on United’s website could cost me anywhere from $150 to $640. That includes taxes and fees but additional baggage charges could apply. That was yesterday’s price. Tomorrow’s most likely will be different. Do I dare check Delta? or American?

For a while my son who used to book travel for his boss would help me with my flight arrangements, but at this point in my life I have other things to pester him with. Now I go by train or drive, or tag along with friends who book my seats along with theirs, or if left to my own resources, become obsessed with the task — for weeks if time allows.  Perhaps if the airline industry acknowledged its “responsibility” to standardize terminology, to eliminate add-ons,  and to guarantee all of its customers a comfortable flight experience, flight attendants would not have so many complaints about “entitled” passengers, and perhaps I would travel more.


My birthday was at the end of March.  One of my dog-walking neighbor pals had her birthday last week, and yesterday we had a birthday lunch with a third dog-walking neighbor who celebrates hers later in April.

It seems like it has been my birthday for quite a while.  Because it has been such a happy experience, I have wanted to write about it.  Until today tho, I hadn’t found the way, hadn’t the time, and hadn’t wanted to bore people.   But if it isn’t on paper it will fade from memory.

charles lloydMy celebration began two weeks before the big day when my sons treated Lee and me to dinner in the city.  That was a whirlwind trip – we saw them Thursday.  We attended Charles Lloyd’s 75th Birthday concert at the Temple of Dendur in the MMoA on Friday, after a few hours of frustratingly looking for each other among the exhibits.  We topped Friday evening off with a drink at Duane Park in their new digs in the Bowery.  We’ll go back for a late night Saturday dinner when we can meet up with my son, a piano player in the band. We met recently acquired friends (the female half of which was celebrating her 70th birthday) for lunch on Saturday and then drove up to Rosendale for a party that night.  Even a meter maid gave me a present.  We spent the next two days catching up on sleep.

Most of that activity was not related in any way to my birthday but usurping the purpose and fun of these events for my own hurt no one and gave me great joy.  I enjoy joy.

Lee doesn’t believe in birthdays, so I don’t fuss about his.   I’m 99% sure, however, that this is all talk, as I am sure it is for most of those who belittle birthday celebrations and Valentine’s Day.  He certainly got into the spirit of mine this year.

When I suggested going up to Sunset Hill House in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, where we had spent a wonderful night when were “courting,” he said do it.  We weren’t the only guests in the inn this time, the cat no longer prowled the halls, and we were visiting New Hampshire at its worst.  Mud season really does make for dreary landscape.  We had so much fun that we’ll go again.


We spent one day in Littleton, stopping at Chutters.  My husband Clark and I had scoped out the store as an alternative business venture back when we were looking for our retirement b&b.  It screamed out to us:  “You will regret this.  I am more work than any b&b!”  Chutters has lost its old time general store atmosphere, but the famous candy counter is still there. The store-as-it-once-was probably did prove to be too much work.

IMG_0744As we started our walk on the main street, a carved chair in the window of The Art Works caught Lee’s eye.  We went in – what else do you do when you have nothing to do?  Lee admired the workmanship that had gone into the chair and we asked its history.  The owner’s sister had found the chair on the side of the road, restored it to its former glory.  I sat in it and we left.

We continued down the street, popped into a few more shops, had lunch, and then Lee took me to buy my birthday present – a new old handsomely carved, caned, and pillowed chair to go in front of my new old desk which I had found on the side of the road while walking the dog.  A matched set.

The next morning we left for Concord.  We were hoping to find Dan Dustin, New Hampshire’s colorful and uniquely talented wooden spoon maker.   First stop – The League of NH Craftsmen.  Happily Suzie, the executive director, was in.  I had organized the League’s archives and image collections.  Susie gave me a hug and gave us a whirlwind tour of the new gallery, education facility and headquarters.   The League should be so proud that people believe in it and have demonstrated their support by helping to provide it with this crisp, comfortable home.  Long live the League and its annual craft fair!

IMG_0746Dan is a member of the League. They called him, we talked, and we were off to his studio/home.  Lee knew him from his craftsmen’s fair days.  I knew of him through the League.  He showed us his “gallery” of hand crafted treasures bought and bartered for.  Each had its own intriguing history.  His enthusiasm for his collection helped me put Lee’s clutter into perspective.  Lee and he shared craft fair gossip.  We left with four gorgeous “spoons found in nature” that we will use as door pulls in our Spoon Cottage addition, and Dan had an unexpectedly good day.

The next morning we were off to Mass MOCA.  We traveled down Route 2, which turned out to be the scenic leg of the trip.   I seemed to see my life go by as I remembered different drives down that road – fitting for a birthday vacation.  The best views were of little clumps of windmills, stark against the blue sky.

If you look real hard you can see them through the trees.

If you look real hard you can see them through the trees.

Not knowing what we would find at the museum, we wandered around looking at   installations and art  — some creative and interesting, but some not.  Then we entered a room lined with large packing cases and encountered Xu Bing’s Phoenix, a masterpiece with a fascinating story attached to it.  At least one of the two homeless birds is scheduled to roost in at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York in October.  If it does, be sure to visit.  Can you imagine?  From factory to Gothic revival.  It will be a whole new experience. I’ll be there.

Xu Bing Phoenx : Art Evans: Globe

I like to treat myself kindly on my birthday, especially those years when nobody else does.  Sometimes I even buy birthday cards for myself.  I used to think they were for friends but recently I noticed the ones that spoke to me have been accumulating in a box.

As years go by I’ll remember #66 as one of the finest, that is, if I can remember to read about it here.

Empty Chairs by Yellow Fields

Exploring the Costa Brava a year ago Lee and I were under the spell of abandoned villas, sea and mountain landscapes, living medieval towns, highways that turned into dirt roads no wider than a private driveway, wisteria laden stucco walls – my list could go on and on.

It was Lee’s first visit to Spain.  Actually it was his first visit to Europe.  It was his first passport.  It was a delight to relive the excitement of my first European visit through him.

We spent a few nights in Barcelona and then drove north to L’Escala, our base for the rest of our stay.  We gradually approached the coast, winding our way through the mountains and the sea.  Lee had brought me out to California and taken me for my first drive along the Pacific Coast just a few months before.  I ooooohed and aaaaahed my way in California but I OOOOOhed and AAAAAAhed on the Costa Brava, stopping here and there to eat, walk and look.

We spent a day in Besalu, and one driving up to L’Alt Emporda and through the Pyranees to Cap de Creus where the Pyrenees drop precipitously into the sea. Our plan for the next day was to “do” the  Dali triangle but after the open road we found the congestion of the streets of Cadaques uninviting and instead of a quest for Dali, we traveled to France on a quest for the perfect patisserie.  Unfortunately we did not find one, but perhaps we will make that the focus of a trip to France in the future.

Puente de Besalú – 12th Century

Saturday’s article in the Times about the trafficking of foreign women for prostitution in Spain brought back the good memories of this vacation but also the puzzling ones. While driving through the Costa Brava we kept coming across two unusual images.  One was of yellow flower fields.  We kept thinking goldenrod or yarrow, wildflowers familiar to us.   But the fields appeared very neat as if cultivated, and we speculated on the commercial value of goldenrod and yarrow.

Català: Camp de colza, amb la muntanya de Montserrat al fons

Empty chairs along the highway were the other strange image.  We’d drive along and see a folding chair at an intersection or under a tree.  Was it’s someone’s chair left there while they were waiting for a ride or for the bus?  Was it a place where a farmer would arrive to sell fruits and vegetables?  Later we saw provocatively dressed women sitting in chairs along the road, and even though we found it hard to believe, we surmised that these women must have been prostitutes. We wondered about their safety.  Where were their pimps or madams?  Who watched after them?  Who came to their aid if they were in a dangerous situation?

When we came home we checked online and learned that indeed, prostitution was legal in Spain, but pimping was not.   In my naiveté I wanted to believe that these women, having no other source of income, turned to prostitution as their livelihood.  Perhaps their brothers protected them?  It seemed from the articles that someone in the establishment had their safety in mind.  A 2004 law required pedestrians on roads to wear reflective jackets and the prostitutes were fined 40 euros if they did not.

Reports since the Times article have detailed the sordidness of the sex business in Spain. It is not unusual for the women to be tattooed with barcodes that show who owns them and how much money they owe to their pimps.

Doing research on the yellow flowers I learned that they are fields of rapeseed.   Searching more I find that these fields have attracted others’ attention also and they appear in literature and photo logs.  Rapeseed is grown as a feed for livestock and its oil is used both for human consumption and in the production of biodiesel.  In 1981 more than 350 people died from ingesting rapeseed oil that was produced for industrial use but was sold as vegetable oil – not a mistake, but a scandalous abuse of power by the government and business.

Sadder but wiser.  Perhaps I should just let the unexplained go unexplained, stay away from google, and live in uneducated bliss.

A Contest, a New Hampshire Travel Log, and My Own Little Facebook Policy

Recently Sunset Hill House, a very special inn in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire announced a contest.  The innkeepers would select ten of the entrants to spend five nights at their inn sometime during 2012.  The winners would have free range in the inn, including spying in the kitchen and attending staff meetings.  They could spend their days and nights doing what they liked best – hiking, skiing, antiquing, cuddling, reading, enjoying the good life in the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, and along the Connecticut River.  All the contestants had to do was write a letter to the innkeepers, Nancy and Lon, and tell them why they were qualified to do this reporting, and Nancy and Lon and their staff would pick the winners.

Sunset Hill House!   What warm and powerful memories I have of my one night stay there.  It was two years ago this spring.  I was still in the gloriously high days of getting to know someone new.  I planned a trip to New Hampshire to retrieve my Miata. I had left my Miata at a neighbor’s house in January until the weather warmed so I could drive it with the top down to my new home in New York.

We rented a car and drove up to the Lake Winnipesaukee area and stayed at The Maria Atwood Inn in Franklin.  I knew the innkeepers, Fred and Sandi, from when my husband and I owned a b&b in Moultonborough.  A bunch of b&b’s belonged to the Lakes Region Bed & Breakfast Association and we would meet monthly during the off season for networking and morale boosting.  Even tho we always met at one of the b&b’s I guess I had never been to Fred and Sandi’s.  It was great – it was Lee’s first b&b, and he couldn’t have had a more positive first experience.  The home had been rebuilt after a fire, and it had been very authentically recreated (and of course modernized).  Post and beam construction, vaulted wood ceilings, stained glass, wide pine floors, and fireplaces.  Breakfast table conversation I remember as being exceptionally interesting.  Sandi cooked up moose sausage – Fred had shot the moose – I believe it was legal.  You’ve got to see their website.  It’s a hoot!

The second day we picked up the car, dropped off the rental, and visited my favorite Center Sandwich hotspots – the Creamery and the Corner House Inn, and then drove down to Concord.  We stayed at The Centennial Hotel.  I used to have lunch there in the Granite Restaurant & Bar with my mom.  She lived down the street, at Birches at Concord, an assisted living dedicated to those with memory loss. The hotel and restaurant were over the top for Concord, and may still be.  Their website calls it a “welcome alternative to both traditional franchised hotels and local inns . . urban contemporary flair . . . in a beautiful Queen Anne landmark.”  Sophisticated, yet not too much so that Lee, who wears only painters pants (with shirts, socks and shoes of course) and I were not uncomfortable.  The waitresses recognized us when we came in – my mom always had a shrimp cocktail and a rich dessert.   Lee and I had dinner and then went to see “Lunch” at Red River Theatres, Concord’s independent film venue.   It was a beautiful day.

We drove up to the eastern entrance to the White Mountains, stopped off at the Mt. Washington Hotel to look out the window, enjoyed a few waterfalls, and then drove to Sugar Hill, where Sunset Hill House is located.  I had heard that Sugar Hill was pretty, and I think I had actually been there when my husband and I were scouting out b&b’s for purchase, but nothing prepared me for the incredible views from this inn.  You could see way into the White Mountains to the east, the Green Mountains to the west.  We  were able to book a room on a “last minute” deal – I believe it was $80 a night with breakfast, and a gourmet 3-course dinner for $20 a person. We were the ONLY people at the inn that night.  We were the ONLY people at dinner that night.  The staff did not shirk from their duties.  It was perfection.  We were invited  to pick our room from the 30 available.   I cannot remember what the meal was, but I will always remember the meal.  After just one more glass of wine and a goodnight from the staff, we were left alone in the inn for the night.  The cat slept in our room.

We woke up to see another little red Miata parked next to ours.  It belonged to Nancy who greeted us at breakfast.  There was a table filled with young workers who were going to do some work in the gardens.  Breakfast was tops!

We left for home keeping close to the Connecticut River.  We crossed the river several times, stopped here and there, but mostly enjoyed the wind in our hair, the sun dabbling through the new leaves on the trees.  We agreed we would be back.

Unfortunately like many of the promises we all make to ourselves, we still haven’t followed through, but when I saw this contest opportunity I wrote my letter and sent it off with hopes.  Having just started my blog, having run a b&b for 7 years, and having had such a memorable visit to the inn once before, I felt I had great credentials for the job.

There was one little pinch in my enthusiasm.  At the end of the invitation to enter the contest was a request that applicants “like” or “fan” the inn on Facebook.

I had already dropped my Facebook membership.  I used to be a Facebook-er or whatever the nomenclature is that I used to be.  But I was very put out when Facebook chose 5 or 6 photos of me and pasted them across my home page.  I changed those to something more representative of my style and me and proceeded along.  Facebook gave me the chance to get a glimpse into my son’s lives, to find out what was going on with my friends socially and what they were thinking politically.  I caught up with one old high schoolmate who wasn’t actually one of my friends back then, and we regret that loss.

Then however Facebook started digging up my past and posting quotes from years before.  This was too much.  If I wanted to repeat those posts I would choose them and do that myself.

Websites I visit for shopping or for news started referring me to their pages on Facebook.  What at first I thought was just an inexpensive way for start-ups to advertise on the web was actually  a new marketing trend practiced by commercial enterprises and non-profit organizations. Facebook was now capable of keeping track of my shopping, travel, browsing activities, as well as my communications with friends.  My sons had already dropped out because they didn’t like the new all-encompassing world of Facebook.  It was time for me to take action also.

Before I closed my account I deleted all the posts and comments that I could and defriended all my friends.  I soon learned that I wasted my time.  That information is with Facebook in perpetuity.

Soon after I had sent my contest entry to Sunset Hill House I received a broadcast email from the innkeepers.  They were overwhelmed with entries.  They had decided to automatically award the first three “vacations” to those entries that received the most votes on Facebook.   Get your friends to vote for your entry, they wrote, and vote yourself.  Another way to influence the judging was to interact with the inn on Facebook.

I certainly wasn’t going to pick up my membership.  I asked Lee, who wasn’t using Facebook anymore but hadn’t closed his account, to “like” Sunset Hill House.  He did.

Then today I received another broadcast email from the innkeepers, again stressing the importance of the Facebook aspect of the contest.  I felt like it was written to me personally but I’m sure it wasn’t.  I won’t rejoin Facebook just to win a contest.  I responded:

I’m sorry to have to drop out of the contest, and I want you to know why.  Not everyone is a Facebook fan.

While I would be very happy to write on your Facebook page, I am not willing to have my own Facebook presence. I used to be an active Facebook-er but dropped out when it was no longer possible to ignore how invasive and powerful it had become.  I certainly understand your eagerness to market through this giant social network, and it will not keep me from visiting you again in the future.

I hope you will continue to have the vibrant website you now have off Facebook.  Otherwise people like me — who struggle to maintain even an illusion of privacy online — will not be able to know what is happening at your inn. 

 We all pick our own battles.  Pity we’ll have to pay for our next visit.