Sunday, June 19, 2011

Our latest trip to Wisconsin

If it weren't for our family, believe me, we would never make the airplane trek to Wisconsin. But the payoff is soooooo worth it. Our trip from Philly to Madison was as uneventful as a crowded airport and crowded planes would allow. As usual, we met and talked to interesting people - a flight attendant who was travelling to Chicago to catch up with her Shanghai flight which she discovered had been put on hold for an indeterminate time. Her husband, an airplane captain, had the weekend off because he was in an aerobatic show near Pittsburgh. She said that watching him made her very very nervous and she was just as glad not to be any where near the performance. We talked about the P-51 airplane. She told us that a buddy of her husband, also a "stunt" pilot, took her up in one, didn't warn her that he was going to go straight up and exert a lot of "G's" on her, and she passed out. He thought that was hilarious. She did not appreciate it one bit.

From Chicago to Madison, a young man who was born in China, and spoke beautiful English, told us about his recent trip to Tianjin. "There are about 350 million school age children in China," he said. And then he went on to say that although a prescribed curriculum of literature, mathematics, science, English, and history is mandated for every child, the rigor and intensity of instruction varies with province and geography. To our surprise, we knew more about ancient Chinese history than he admitted to knowing.

We enjoyed our stay in Stoughton, on Lake Kegonsa, near Madison. The children were loving with hugs and kisses on arrival, during our stay, and then mixed a little with tears when we left. Their parents seemed to tolerate us - the usual reaction of grown children with their own parents. We visited a crane sanctuary where, in addition to cranes we saw a beautiful red-wing blackbird, heard a rousing "Hot Money" concert, picnicked at a State Park, attended a karate lesson, and watched the peaceful sunset over Lake Kegonsa from the back porch.

Our trip home, except for the fact that we arrived home safely, was a traveler's nightmare. We arrived at the Madison airport at 2:00 in the afternoon and got to the Philly airport at 2:00 the next morning with the hardest landing we ever experienced. Our teeth jarred on impact. The trip was so long that we could have been in Honolulu.

But, sitting in the Madison airport, we enjoyed an intellectually stimulating conversation with the Dean of the UW Engineering School. I thought I was a first class cynic, but he was at least my equal. When our flight to Chicago was delayed (because of a ground hold in Chicago), he predicted that our plane would be used to send another group of American Airline passengers some place else and we would have to wait. He was right. The two flights to Chicago were combined into one and we left Madison after our flight to Philly departed Chicago.

We had a brief conversation with a TSA employee who came to Madison from San Francisco to take care of his ailing parents. He had been a pastry chef, trained at a first class restaurant school in California, and enjoyed his job as chef to the San Francisco Forty-Niners. His favorite people to serve were the referees, during half time and he described the roast beef sandwiches that he made for the men. "We piled on the roast beef when we fed them during half time," he said, "and then all the calls went in our favor during the second half."

And when we landed in Chicago, the mess was almost indescribable. I won't deny that weather was a problem. Lots and lots of flights from all over the country were still having trouble and airport employees were setting up cots for stranded passengers. American Airlines could not figure out where our departure gate would be and, because we're old, we had wheelchairs. Our assistants wheeled us all over the terminals from L to H to G where we got our new boarding passes and waited.

The flight to Philly passed quickly as we spoke, at length to a young man from Brazil who worked for an oil company that had bought an interest in Sunoco. He lived at 16th and Chestnut in the city and worked "across the street" in the Mellon Bank Building. His English was impeccable and his curiosity about places to go and sights to see was unquenchable. His parents have never seen the trees change colors and he wondered about the best time to see that in our area. Late fall we told him. And the trees turn color earlier in the season, the further north you are. He told us that crime has decreased dramatically in the large cities in Brazil. "Why?" Brazil has added a lot of police and the presence of the authorities has cut down on the amount of crime. He enjoyed talking about Brazil's role in WWII, especially after it left its neutral stance and permitted Allied ships to port in its most Eastern city.

You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men (aft gay aglay). We were supposed to land around 9 PM and our friend kept watching the computer screens to see when we were going to actually land. I called her and told her to go to bed and we would find a taxi to take us home and she became indignant and said that she is a friend and would be there for us. And she was. At 2 o'clock in the morning. And she knows that we would do the same for her.

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