An Update to Lesson 5 – The Flight Back

Although I was pretty confident that I had Lesson 5 (Jetlag is for suckers) well under control, the flight back home was either going to make or break this idea. If I managed my travel and arrival well, I would prove unmistakably that I am indeed the king of jetlag. Otherwise, I would just show to be somewhat successful at managing it.

As soon as I boarded the plane at 10AM Sydney time, I adjusted my watch to Atlanta time (15 hours behind or 7PM the previous day). With that in mind I planned my "rest times" to be around night time in Atlanta – even though we were stopping in LA for a 3 hour layover. Although I couldn't really sleep, I managed to doze off for a few hours. That was crucial in what I will forever get to remember as the longest day of my life.

You see, I actually woke up at about 4AM Sydney time on Wednesday the 14th of October or 1PM on Tuesday the 13th in Atlanta. Although I didn't get up until 6AM, I was suffering from the "I cannot oversleep" jitters – it happens sometimes when I travel, especially if it's an early flight. So if I factor the hours I was actually awake that "day" in Atlanta time (actual time now), it was actually a 32 hour day (when a normal "awake day" is about 16-17 hours long). So I was up for twice as long as I would be on a typical day. What's cooler is the fact that it all happened on the same calendar day.

We arrived in LA and ate an early lunch (in Atlanta time - it was still mid-morning in LA). The flight from LA to Atlanta was fine. I was still feeling quite rested and in control. When we got to Atlanta at 6PM, we gathered our bags and got a cab ride home. After unpacking and taking a long, hot shower I was ready for bed. After 30 minutes of TV I was really ready. Lights out. I officially went to bed at 9:15PM.

Today I woke up at 6AM and got ready for work as any other day and feel fine. People were wondering if I was crazy going to work the day after flying back from Australia. I knew I had the key to beat jetlag and I had proven it flying to and from Europe in the past. This trip was going to push the limits of my jetlag-beating prowess.

Although I will confess that I am tired and will likely go to bed earlier than usual again tonight, I am doing pretty good and can triumphantly claim that I am indeed the master of jetlag. When I see people struggle so greatly with this I wonder why it is such a hard thing to manage. Some take days to get acclimated to a new time zone. The rules are easy and all it takes is a bit of self-discipline and body/mind control.

Created: 10/15/2009

Travelling to Australia - Five Lessons Learned

Earlier this year the President showed us that even the most insignificant and ridiculous of events could be turned into a "teachable moment." After just 2 days into our vacation to Sydney, Australia I can assert there have been some real lessons learned worth sharing; lessons that provide much more substance and guidance than anything those three men shared over a beer in Washington. And so, I giveth five lessons learned in the beginning of our trip to Australia:

Lesson 1: Don't ride MARTA to the airport (unless you have hours to spare)

This trip began as no trip had in many many years. We decided against previous experience to ride MARTA to the airport. Atlanta's light rail system had proven a bad idea years before and had been vanished as an option. Since our trip was to be long and to save an extra $100 we decided to ride the subway (made universally famous by Souja Girl) to the airport.

Things seemed like they would go without a hitch until I realized we'd left home late. We had to take a shuttle to the station and then, once on board, we were informed that the train ahead of us was having difficulties. And then came the stops. As a "non-rider" I had forgotten how many stops there were between our home station and the airport. With every stop I got angrier and more anxious. When I usually like to arrive from 2-3 hrs prior to departure for an international flight, it was looking like we'd be lucky to get 1.5.

Lesson 2: Arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before scheduled departure

No brainer, right? Wrong. I have travelled a good bit and know people who really don't pay attention to this airline/airport travel suggestion. They have never had any issues and they don't expect to ever have them either. Big mistake mostly because of Lesson 3, but let's not jump ahead.

We arrived at the airport 1 hour and 15 minutes before our scheduled departure for LAX, on our way to Sydney. I was already bubbling over with anxiousness. We got to the International check-in desk and everything seemed to go as planned. The "big bag" was just under 50 lbs and we were going to be just in time to clear security and get to the gate. But then I realized that the agent was taking a little long with my passport. He informed us that the system was not taking my Visa information and thus was not allowing me to check in. He tried this multiple times to no avail. His solution: run to the "Passport Office" and they should be able to help you.

I ran to where he'd indicated only to find that instead of a Delta or airport/government office, he'd sent me to a shop that specializes in getting last minute visas for Americans. I spotted a few problems with that scenario right off the top and immediately ran back to share my concerns. The agents asked me if I had already spoken to someone at the store and I answered truthfully, so they sent me back telling me they would be able to help. After hearing of my urgency as I freaked out watching a large group of people lined up in front of me getting pictures for visas to Bolivia (WTF, I've been and,… again,… WTF), they were kind enough to let me go to the front. I stepped up to the plate and the "head lady" took my passport and started rabidly typing into her computer. After several minutes she looks up and says, "I'm sorry. I cannot get you a visa."

Perplexed, but realizing she'd failed to fan out my passport, I responded, "But I already have a visa."

She flips through my passport pages until she finds it and after a quick inspection tells me (to my shock NOT) that I had a valid visa and that I should tell the Delta guy that it was and that there should be no reason why I could not travel. Big surprise.

So I ran back to the agent and informed him of this remarkable revelation. He could not believe it. So in a moment of momentary brilliance (where had this been earlier?) he decided to call a supervisor. Minutes later, a guy arrived and forced me into the system somehow. I got a boarding pass and rushed in.

Only minutes later, while arriving at the gate, did I realize that I only had one boarding pass: ATL to LAX and I was missing LAX to SYD. I thought the moron had just handed me one, but only later did I realize instead of handling the visa issue, they had passed it on to LAX for them to handle.

Lesson 3: People behind counters are morons.

If I hadn't proven this so far, our young journey offers more opportunities to make this point. Upon the realization that I did not have a boarding pass I went into a frenzy. As anyone could imagine, I was already sweaty and hot and my brain was on overdrive. I was ready to go off on someone. We walked to the gate agent and explained the problem to which they responded that although I was confirmed my seat had not been assigned. We were travelling next to each other and seating was an important part of the journey. Nothing worse than being seated in a crammed tin can next to smelly strangers for 15 hours.

So at the realization they could not do anything we were advised to go to the bigger Delta counter in the terminal. Things didn't improve. This guy was another gem of brilliance. He first told us we were in different records, despite the alphanumerical code being exact. I bought both tickets at the same time and they have been linked in Delta's records since that moment, months ago. He repeated what the other lady had said, except he did go a bit further and did two things. First, he printed out an itinerary that had the seat (unassigned and all) that I had booked from the onset. Second, he tore up my boarding pass to LAX.

After handing me the itinerary, he waved us away and I looked at him perplexed. "You just tore up my boarding pass," I mentioned. "

"You're not going to need the boarding pass," the man asserted. "Aren't you changing your seat?"

"I have to go to LA first."

He froze for a minute and then said, "I can't believe I did that. Just go to the gate and tell them that I tore it up."

By then Lesson 3 had sunk already and I was not going to just show up to face another set of mouth-breathers without a boarding pass or a little more ammunition. "Heck no," we said. "You need to come with us or call or something."

When we arrived at the gate they were already boarding and luckily they were expecting us. The first leg of our ordeal was over, but there was much more to come, many more lessons to learn.

Lesson 4: Don't Trust Airlines.

The flight to LAX was uneventful and thus successful. Upon arrival we were pretty tired and somewhat hungry. We first went to the counter for the flight to Sydney and got my seat assigned and a boarding pass printed. Surprisingly enough, they produced just that on the spot and without much problem. We heard from the gate agent that the flight was overbooked so trying to get the seat changed then was going to be a problem so we opted to try to do that while on the plane. Little did we know then that was not going to be in the cards for us.

After grabbing a small meal we headed back to the gate only to realize the madness that was to come. The plane was packed and apparently oversold by 20 seats. It wasn't 30 minutes when the gate agent made a tantalizing offer – an offer too good to refuse.

The offer: $750 in Delta flight vouchers, a hotel room and meals vouchers for a whole day, and (and here's the piece de resistance) a flight on the Qantas flight the next night on Business Class. Without that last piece the offer was tempting, but probably not a slam dunk. The Business Class seat made this a "no brainer."

So we volunteered along with a bunch of other people. After it was all sorted out and it was close to midnight LA time, six of us were standing waiting to be dispatched. We received the travel vouchers and a hotel voucher and $21/each for meals the next day (a ridiculous amount considering the cost of airport or hotel food). Finally we received a ticket that showed us booked in Qantas in Class J – Business. So off we went, excited about the sudden change of plans. We were losing a day, but gaining so much... or so we thought anyway.

Early the next morning we called Qantas to get seats assigned for safe measure. Everything went fine. We had seats in front of each other and were told we would be able to get side by side when we checked in. So far so good. We were overwhelmed with excitement.

So how does one burn a day in LA? Drive to San Diego. My friend had just had a baby 6 months ago and I had not seen her since. What an opportunity. So we looked online and got a little car and drove south a couple of hours. We went to her home and had a delightful lunch and drive to the La Jolla beaches. Baby was cute as heck and mommy was glowing with that happiness only new moms have. We had a coffee and some dessert, hugged our goodbyes and drove back north to LAX. It was an awesome way to start our vacation. It was spontaneous and incredible. I won't ever regret delaying the start of our Australian vacation… not even because of what was yet to come.

Excitement peaked when we walked up to the Qantas Business Class check-in counter. We turned in our paper ticket voucher and asked to be seated together and that seemed not to be a problem. A minute had not passed when a Qantas manager walked around asking if anyone had seen Delta-issued ticket vouchers. Our attendant showed ours. Long story short (really?) they would not get paid for a Business Class ticket if our original ticket had not been Business Class (which it wasn't, of course). So, they "demoted" us to economy. They did put us in what they call "Premium Economy" which is economy service with bigger seats. So it wasn't as bad, but it wasn't business. We talked and talked and complained, but Qantas would not budge. They said to talk to Delta. Of course, they were in a completely different terminal and there was no way to get anyone at the airport.

After checking in and arriving at the gate, I did call Delta and the reservation operator said she couldn't do anything, but that I should contact customer service. Fast-forward a few days later and I finally got a hold of a Delta customer service representative. They evaluated our complaint and were only willing to give us an extra $50/person in vouchers to make it an even $800. The person said that they usually don't give out that much and that we should be pretty satisfied, even despite not getting what we wanted. Lesson learned.

Lesson 5: Jetlag is for suckers.

I don't remember when it was (maybe before my first trip to Europe), but my father once told me, "The trick to beat jetlag is to stay up until it's time to go to bed."

Sounds pretty easy, but this can be a very tough thing to do if one doesn't plan accordingly. It always helps to put one's clock in the time of the destination and then try to time (if the flight is long enough) a normal 6-7 hour sleep time during the flight and when would be appropriate to sleep in the destination city. It can be expected that adrenaline would provide some juice to power the body for a while, but it can be pretty easy to crash if not rested.

We slept some in the plane and when we arrived at 7:45AM, I was rested. We went through customs and found our luggage (in the unclaimed luggage room – thank God) and met my sister and brother-in-law at the airport. We were driving out of there by 9AM.

We stopped at the hotel, checked in and took a shower. My sis and her hubby were gracious enough to walk with us for a while and then drive us around town for a while. We met his parents for lunch and had a good meal and great spirits. After a busy day, we headed back to the hotel around 6PM. We crashed early – around 7 or so.

The next day we got up at around 6AM, which is not uncommon for any other normal day. And thus, jetlag was defeated. We didn't lose a day or have to adjust any more. We battled on through without a nap and without a mid-day break. We made it until the evening and we beat the time change. And if there is a worse time change than Atlanta (even LA) to Australia, I do not know of it.

It's sad,… I know people that suffer from jetlag going from the east to the west coast and back. Pathetic. I am so confident I got this figured out that I am planning to go back to work the day after getting back from Sydney. We leave Wednesday at 10AM and will arrive in Atlanta the same day at 6PM. More than 20 hours of travel, but only 8 hours in time change. Crazy stuff.


And so these are five distinct and important lessons learned at the beginning of our trip to Australia. The good thing is these apply to most air travel, even if it's not out of Atlanta (at least 4 of them anyway). So go forth and remember. You will be a better traveler if you learn from my experiences. And as the 1980's G.I. Joe cartoon used to claim, "Knowing is half the battle."

Created: 10/12/2009

Under Water's Siege

"God is in the rain," remembers Evey Hammond as the rain washes her frail body after emerging from V's dungeon – a scene from one of my favorite movies, V for Vendetta (A+). She's quoting something written by Valerie in one of those toilet paper scrolls passed on from the adjacent cell – something her grandmother used to tell her. "God is in the rain."

Indeed God is in the rain. God is life and the rain brings life. Water is life. When we look for signs of life in other planets, the first thing we seek is the presence of water. Without water we could not live. But how much is too much of a good thing?

I have lived in Atlanta, GA for nearly 12 years and have seen my fair share of all sorts of weather-related incidents (tornadoes, sleet, snow, ice, etc). Never in that span of time have I witnessed the Biblical-style deluge that has pummeled the city over the past week. For a city that had until last year survived a multi-year drought, the water that has come this year has been more than welcome. Of course, you have to be careful what you wish for. We wanted water and got drenched with more than a foot of rain over a two-day period. Add in the rest of the week and we have more than 20 inches in some areas.

According to AP reports so far 8 people have died in the floods, including a toddler. There are areas that are not in a flood plain or flood zone that are under water. All major area interstates have had spots that have been covered by water making the already horrible Atlanta commutes even worse. Many people are in shelters as their homes have been swept away or have become uninhabitable. Most government schools are closed. Heck, even the Six Flags rollercoasters are under water. It's pandemonium.

Up until today, there had been no real rest from the incessant downpours. The city needed to drain and the earth to absorb. Things are looking much better, but more rain is expected to come down the rest of the week. I'm getting out of dodge and heading out of town for work, so I will likely miss more of this chaos as it unfolds.

On a pseudo-related tangent, I started writing a blog before the actual word "blog" existed. I guess you can't really call it a blog since there were only a couple of entries. On top of that, I used a pseudonym. Maybe it was more of an online column than a blog. Well, whatever it was, one of the two or three entries was titled "Ice 2K," and detailed the craziness that followed an ice storm that paralyzed Atlanta for half a week back in early 2000. I remember power was out in my place for days. This feels a bit reminiscent of that episode in Atlanta history except I don't remember the ice storm being much more than a nuisance (power, driving, etc) while this one is turning out to be much more of a real tragedy.

"God is in the rain," but enough is enough. Will be hearing "Here comes the sun" any time soon? I hope so.

Created: 9/22/2009

Back to this program already in progress…

When I began this blog of sorts I promised myself I would not let it die. I love to write. I designed it so that I would always have cubes to write since all the listed topics are near and dear to my heart. Well sometimes best intentions are nothing but that.

Time, that invaluable, irreplaceable, most-fleeting of all commodities, often plays against one's best interests and plans. Inspiration can be a moody mistress that shows up unexpectedly and then vanishes without warning. And thus she left right before summer and she hasn't quite come back. I hear a car around the bend. Is it her?

Truth is multiple events from summer on took a toll on my ability and desire to write. The economy, politics, family, sports, and other goings on all influenced, weighed down my state of mind. Just politics and the economy alone were enough to get one's self up on a ledge. Throw in a few more dashes of "bad" and it is easy to reach the conclusion that 2008 was not a good year. Unlike some other writers, this mental "recession" (not quite a depression) was not necessarily a source of inspiration for me. Instead of fueling my desire to express myself, it drained me dry. The sensory overload of 2008 shut me down.

So here we are in 2009. By some standards this promises to be a better year. There are a few things looking up for me personally that are enough to lift the spirit. Two huge milestones come to mind. Otherwise, this year must be taken one step at a time, one day at a time. God has a plan.

As far as cubes,… I have a stack of things I would like to cube about – events that happened, movies I watched, etc. Heck, after Christmas I have a new hobby that is likely to displace a less important cube topic. I am torn right now on whether I should cube into the past or just go forth. I'd love to write about The Dark Knight (A+), Son of Rambow (A+), and Gran Torino (A+). I would love to say something about the audacity of sacrificing the future of our nation through mountains of debt. Undeniably a lot of things worth cubing about have happened in the past 6 months or so. The question is: do I want to go back there for that? That question remains to be answered. Maybe I'll attempt to do my best Lost (the TV series) impression and do flash-backs and maybe some flash-forwards and span the whole gamut of time while I have it and it is available to me. That would be nice.

Created: 1/23/2009

MIA II: Out of Time

So I've been gone again for a while. June came and went and so did July and most of August for that matter. A bunch of stuff has happened since my last entry. My brother visited for a whole month and that was fun and expensive and exhausting. We went down to Florida for a few days to bask in the sun. I played a little golf there. I've also started playing tennis again and am getting back to my old form. I watched a ton of movies, some good some horrible – nothing has changed. A friend was just recently diagnosed with the big C and that makes two this year. Work has been a lot of work. The summer semester flew by. I was expecting a light load and it didn't feel much like it (although it was) – maybe the distractions got in the way. While my brother was here I played XBOX like it was going out of style. After he left, I started another Lego project (now completed). Russia invaded Georgia, the Olympics started in a very Berlinesque manner, the market is still in the toilet, Obama is still unqualified to be President. The more things change…

Time is such a valuable resource. There's so much to do and so little time. Sometimes I carelessly wish time away (I can't wait for college football season to get here) only later to recognize that I can't get that time back. The summer is gone: not much written, not much done, some things remain. And now I brace for the second to last semester in grad school. I also try to contain my anticipation for another college football season (can the media hype be real this time?). August is quickly turning into September and the holidays are just around the bend. Another year gone by; another year older. 2009 is upon us and it's going to be a big one for me. 2008 has proven to be a very emotional and trying, a very difficult year and we're only eight months into it.

So as I sit here with more than a dozen cubes started ranging from the latest Batman movie to Presidential politics, I will try my best (at least my second-best) to get these written and published. After all, writing is one of my passions, I enjoy it, and it exercises the brain – all good things. Let's see how this one turns out.

Created: 8/21/2008

January: MIA for a reason

So January becomes the first month in which I don't cube a single entry. A lot of things happened in January 2008. January was busy and draining. January was rough. January brought with it the promise of a new year. I hope against all hopes January was not the preview of what this year has to offer.

I welcomed the New Year walking with my boss and one of his friends from the Georgia Dome to their hotel after watching the Clemson football team under-perform and lose in overtime to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The post-holiday blues set in real nicely after that. Work was really draining ahead of our yearly sales meeting. I got to return to the Ritz in Reynolds Plantation. I watched Juno. It amounts to a bunch of nothing if you tally it all up with one exception. Everything (and I mean not only everything in January, but everything) really dwarfs in comparison to one other thing.

I have two families. One is my real family, scattered through the globe, in 3 different continents at any given time. The other is my "here" family. This group of people has embraced me over the past ten years and I have become one of their own. January began with the news that "mom" was not feeling well – she'd been having intestinal discomfort since right after Christmas. MRIs and ultrasounds discovered a mass between her liver and pancreas. An exploratory surgery revealed a tumor. A Whipple surgery removed the tumor. All reports are in and it is pancreatic cancer. All this unfolded in a span of three weeks.

It is impossible to explain the whirlwind of emotions that have ravaged the family for the past few weeks. I guess you have to live it to know it. I won't go into it because despite the diagnosis, there are a lot of positive things to focus on. Her recovery after the Whipple amazed doctors and nurses alike. Although there are cancerous cells around the area where the tumor was removed, there wasn't any metastasis. I don't want to get too much into it because it is a very private and painful matter. Emotions are raw and at this point there's a very rough road ahead. God-willing one day we'll be able to look back and remember these as the sad, hard days of the past. This is a tough cancer to go through, but it was found at a good time. She's a fighter and I believe she will prevail. She has a very tight family on her side and the prayers of hundreds around the world to help her through the whole thing.

More than anything January has made me realize that life is fragile and fleeting. We never know when our time or the time of our loved ones will be up. God has a plan for all of us and some plans run longer than others. Although I believe she'll be with us for a good while, a situation like this puts life in perspective. Am I doing enough? Am I loving enough? Am I telling those around me how much they mean to me enough? Am I letting little things assume major roles in my life too often? Am I achieving or working towards the achievement of my dreams enough? Am I enjoying the fruits of my work enough? Am I living up to my potential enough? Am I significant enough? Am I living enough?

January brought with it the palpable realization that life is what you make of it and that you better make it count because as far as we know there's only one go-around. January delivered a blow of reality, a wake-up call. January is now gone, but its impact will linger.

Created: 2/1/2008

The nightmare that is insomnia

Sleep is perhaps one of the most important things we take for granted in our lives (along with family, friends, loved ones, health, and life itself I guess). We assume that once we lay down in bed every night, our body will shut down and we'll get at the very least some rest that'll recharge us for the day to come. If that happened consistently with absolute certainly every night I went to bed, I wouldn't be talking about it. Insomnia is an absolute nightmare. If you've ever suffered from it, I would imagine it'd be hard for you not to agree. The worst part is that often I can even feel it coming on. Something gets me riled up and my mind begins spinning out of control. I try to force myself to rest, to shutdown, to stop, but like a loaded runaway truck, its momentum is too much to overcome. A perpetual motion machine, bouncing from one thought to another, from one topic to another, my mind chugs along unfettered by my body's fatigue. The clock strikes 12AM: "I'll only get six more hours", 1AM: "Five should be enough", 2AM: "Four will work", 3AM: "Too late now", 4AM: "I'm screwed", 5AM: "Prepare to get up", 6AM: "Rise and shine. It'll be a long day today." I remember specifically one period in college where, for about a month or so, I couldn't sleep. Of course, this sounds ridiculous – it'd be almost impossible to go a whole month without some recharge. It wasn't that I couldn't sleep at all, but that I didn't sleep a regular night's sleep – I probably got one of two hours of sleep per night and I zombied around during the day, falling in and out of sleep during brief down times. It was pure misery. I didn't use any over-the-counter (heck or under-the-counter for that matter) drugs to help – perhaps I should've. I tried everything else though – at least as much as I could try without bothering my roommate, snoring comfortably from the bunk bed above. The interesting thing was that, just as it started, one day, out of the blue, the insomnia went away. Every now and then – like for example last night – I get to fight that bout again and it sucks because I always lose. By the time I realize I'm indeed involved in this struggle, it's often too late to Nyquil or Tylenol-PM my way to sleep. As a side note: there's no better sleep than the one induced by a healthy dose of Nyquil. When I as much as feel a cold coming on, I pull out the bottle and nurse myself into a peaceful and uninterrupted rest. Good times. Last night, my mind was going on and on about the projects left for school, about another time drain that I've ventured into – friggin' Facebook, about work, about not being able to fall asleep. That's another thing, part of the mental activity focuses on the fact that I would like to fall asleep, need to fall asleep but can't. Amongst those things mentioned and others, I actually thought about writing this cube. Did I mention it is pure misery? So here I am writing about it, hoping that by exposing insomnia it'll just go away and never come back – like some scary creature from a B terror flick that cannot hurt you once called out. Yeah, that's right - I'm crazy. Perhaps I'm just sleep-deprived. Yep. That's it.

Created: 8/1/2007