Travel

January notable nine

For perhaps obvious reasons, this month’s list has been a little harder to write up. And the most important item was also the hardest to find any good words for at all. The pictures will have to do.

  1. Mocha Java, Empress of All North America. I let the old girl go on Jan 21. It was time. She went quietly and peacefully. I still miss her, of course. And I’m sure I will for a long time to come.
    mocha1.jpg     mocha2.jpg
  2. Paris. Right before classes started, I spent seven days in Europe, mostly in my capacity as Acting Chair of the Association for Cultural Studies. The bulk of my time was spent in Paris to help survey the facilities for the Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference . . . and I think it’s shaping up to be a fabulous event. Here, though, I simply want to note how weirdly comfortable Paris felt, given how awkward my “command” (much too strong a word in this context) of the French language is. If you believe my undergraduate institution, I’m “proficient” in French and German. Even then, I knew that institutional proclamation overstated my abilities to handle either language with real comfort. Twenty-five years later (and with little real practice in the interim), as I boarded my flight, I felt even less confident. And yet, on this trip, just enough of that ancient training came back to me to make me feel as if I could stumble my way through with only minimal embarrassment. With a little (okay, a lot) of practice, I might even be able to hold brief conversations about something more complex than purchasing train tickets or sandwiches. This sounds like a laudable goal for me to aim for between now and next July.
  3. Ghent. The small chunk of time I didn’t spend in Paris on that European trip was spent in Ghent. Also on ACS business, but this time to do some advance planning for the first ever ACS Summer Institute. Which I’m also very excited about. Not the least because Ghent is a wonderful little city, and will be even more exciting when (a) I have more than 24 hours to experience it and (b) it’s summer. I even found a Belgian beer (Westmalle Dubbel) that made me feel okay about spending so much time in countries where the hop-heavy brews I generally prefer are nowhere to be found.
  4. European trains. The one major blemish on my otherwise thoroughly enjoyable week abroad was a small (but expensive) curse that appeared to settle over my attempts to move around the continent (even in a small way) by train. I booked my train tickets between Paris and Ghent prior to leaving the States, hoping that this would help make things easier for me. Which it totally would have done . . . had I not misread my own timetable and missed my scheduled train to Ghent. Or had I not managed to lose my ticket for the train back to Paris in the short walk from grabbing dinner in Brussels (where I knew my ticket was in my hand) and walking back to the train station (where said ticket was nowhere to be found). The trains themselves were comfortable, pleasant, and quick. But my ability to manage my timing and my tickets was clearly beset by some bad juju.
  5. Car troubles. The flights to and from Paris were absolutely fine — especially the flight back, which was only about a third full, and where everyone got to stretch out quite comfortably indeed — or else I might think that bad juju covered just about any form of transportation I touched in January. The first time I tried to drive my Beetle after I got back into the country, it stalled out on me . . . and wouldn’t start up again. At some point, it seems, I must have hit a rock or a chunk of jagged ice or something that ripped a hole in my oil pan. Which, of course, drained all the oil out of my engine. Which, in turn, caused the engine to lock up. For good. Ouch. On the plus side, my insurance covered this. And my usual mechanic (who I’m delighted to recommend as fast, friendly, and affordable) happened to have a used Jetta they were looking to sell, and that I’m very happy with. But losing my dog and my car in the same week did have me wondering whether I’d stepped into some old-time country song.
  6. Ice dams. For folks who live south of the frozen tundra that is Minnesota, ice dams may be an unknown beast. I certainly knew nothing about them until I moved here. But they’re a plague that can beset snow-covered roofs if just enough heat escapes for some of that snow to melt and then re-freeze . . . so that any subsequent meltage gets blocked by the wall of ice that’s formed on your roof . . . and, with nowhere else to go, said meltage can then trickle underneath your shingles and into your walls and ceilings. And you can only imagine the fun that results from that. Unfortunately, my knowledge of such “fun” was not simply imaginary this year. Fortunately, the internal damage I suffered was very minor — and caught before it grew into something much more serious. Still.
  7. Lauryn Hill. Her First Avenue show could have been fabulous. I certainly wanted it to be. After I’d already dropped money on not-so-cheap tickets, I started hearing tales of other recent shows where she would wait hours to appear on stage and then perform badly . . . but I was still hopeful. But that hope was misplaced. Even at the end of a loooong day on campus, I could probably have weathered the 2.5 hour wait (doors opened at 9, with nothing but a so-so DJ to entertain the actual show started at about 11:30) if Hill had truly rocked the house, or if her band had been tight, or if her grooves had been compelling. But none of those things happened. My friend and I toughed it out till about 1 . . . but then decided that we hadn’t seen her do anything strong enough to make us hopeful that we were going to get anything better in whatever was still left of the show.
  8. Beer Dabbler. Minnesotans love their winter. So much so that they do things the rest of the country (the world?) would think are insane. Like hold outdoor Winter Carnivals in January, even (or especially) when the thermometer is well below freezing. Or hold outdoor beer festivals in the midst of that Winter Carnival. Done well, the Dabbler could have been a truly special event. Even on one of the coldest days of the year. There were lots of good breweries present. There was plenty of room in the park where the event was held. There were certainly lots of people who wanted to be there. Sadly, though, there were not enough volunteers to help ticketholders enter the park when the gates opened . . . and so the line still stretched for a full three blocks half an hour after the event began. And the Dabbler only used about a third of the actual space of the park . . . so all those people were crammed into not enough real estate. And, most amazingly, no one had bothered to actually clear the park’s walkways of snow . . . which, even for a Winter Carnival, seems like a major safety issue when you combine (a) 12-15″ of the frozen white stuff, (b) a few thousand people, (c) minimal post-nightfall lighting, and (d) what is effectively an open bar. Again, we left early. And, again, leaving early was a damned good idea.
  9. The new semester. January was (clearly) a month filled with challenges this year. But it was also the start of a new semester. And new semesters always begin — at least for me — with a certain spirit of hopefulness. Sure, the last few days before that first class meeting tend to be filled with sizable measures of stress and strain, as I try to get all the pieces in place so that Day One can come off smoothly. But there’s also something exciting about meeting a new group of students, watching them start to gel as a group, and seeing them start to wrestle with the course material in productive fashion. And, so far anyway (even more than a third of the way into February), I’m still feeling a large dose of that Day One optimism.

November notable nine

Nine days late, I know, but it’s been a busy week or so.

  1. Mocha. She’s still with us. Believe it or not. She’s had a couple of spells where she stopped eating for a few days, and I thought she was ready to go . . . but then she’s suddenly rediscovered the joy of kibble.
  2. In like a lamb, out like a frozen four-pack of lamb chops. Our slow arriving fall treated us mellow and fine deep into the second week of the month, when we had highs in the 60s . . . and then we got walloped with 6-10 inches of snow. By month’s end, the city had already declared its second snow emergency of the season, and we’d all forgotten what outside temperatures above freezing felt like.
  3. The American Studies Association conference. I got to escape some of those early sub-freezing days by flying off to San Antonio for the annual ASA meetings. And, as scholarly gatherings go, the ASA is routinely much more interesting and enjoyable than the annual ICA and NCA confabs. It didn’t hurt that I got to wear sandals for four days in mid-November without putting myself at risk of frostbite. I did struggle to find anything that resembles good beer in San Antonio . . . but the margaritas made up for that.
  4. Town Hall Tap. My fave brewpub in town anywhere opened up a new location at 48th and Chicago in south Minneapolis. And, not surprisingly, it appears to already be a huge success. The official opening happened at 3 pm on a Friday. By 4, the place was standing room only. By the time I left that night, the wait list for tables was about 45 minutes long. The opening was even sweeter for me, thanks to the unexpected pleasure of not one, but two different former undergrads — neither of whom I’d seen in years — spotting me and making a point of saying how much they’d enjoyed the classes they’d taken from me.
  5. The collapse of the Cowboys. It was not a good month to be a fan of Washington’s professional football team. An embarrassing loss to a bad team (the Vikings). A humiliating loss to a good team (the Eagles). A squeaker victory over a mediocre team (the Titans). On the other hand, it was delicious to watch the Cowboys self-destruct so thoroughly. Even more delicious to have The Onion capture the joy I felt so perfectly.
  6. Apple pie. Thanksgiving found me baking my very first ever pie. From scratch, no less. The filling, if I do say so myself, came out quite nicely. At least in terms of its taste. A little more cornstarch would probably have helped it firm up a bit. The crust, on the other hand, needed some serious help. Again, it tasted fine. At least insofar as it stayed intact, since the bottom crust basically disappeared during the baking process. Perhaps it melted into the filling. But there was little to no there there when it came time for dessert.
  7. A kind mention. Proud as I still am of Elvis After Elvis, I also don’t figure it gets much attention these days. It’s nearly fifteen years old (as a book, anyway), and so it’s well past the usual “freshness” date of an awful lot of scholarly volumes. So I was quite surprised to stumble across the brief shout-out for it in this interview.
  8. Bettye Lavette, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. Wow. Just wow. Worth it for the opening track alone (a stunning cover of an otherwise little-played Beatles track called “The Word”), but the rest of the album is awfully sharp too.
  9. Mavis Staples. Also wow. Only this time for a live performance at The Cedar. If the opportunity presents itself to see her in concert, run (do not walk). You will not be disappointed. Promise.

September notable nine

Lots of people do Top Ten lists of one sort or another. But do we really need to fetishize the number 10 simply ’cause that’s how many fingers most of us are born with? And do such lists really need to revolve around hierarchical rankings? I don’t think so.

So here’s my “notable nine” for September 2010. These aren’t necessarily the best — or the worst — things that happened to me this past month. And they’re not presented in any clearcut order. They’re simply nine slices of my life from the past 30 days that deserve some sort of recognition.

  • Mocha. The old girl is still with us. She is now fourteen and a half. She was diagnosed with a tumor in her snout in March, and there isn’t anything to do about it that will make it go away. The tumor has grown large enough that it’s reshaped her face a bit. She’s got a perpetually slow-dribbling bloody nose. She’s stopped eating cheese and seems indifferent to treats. And yet, she still gets a pep in her step when it’s time for a walk, and she’s still a pretty perky pooch overall. Not sure how much longer she’ll hold on, but she’s here now. And that’s good.
    2.jpg
  • Tank. People have asked if I intend to bring a new dog into my life once Mocha decides it’s time to retire to the Land of Fat Squirrels With Broken Knees (aka, Doggie Heaven). And I don’t know for sure. Mocha will be a very tough friend to replace, after all. But for the next 8-10 months or so, the question is moot, as I have temporary custody of “my” former cat (back when that “my” would have been an “our”). And she’s as adorable as Mocha, though she fancies herself to be a cruel and vicious killer.
    photo.jpeg
  • Mom. I shared a brief Mom anecdote in this space a couple of weeks ago. There’s no fresh update since then (which is good . . . or as good as it gets, anyway), but my trip to DC back then lingers for me still.
    family16.jpg
  • Billy Bragg. He played live at The Cedar on the 8th. And was amazing, of course. Even if he didn’t play the tune below.
  • Hops. When I moved into the new house a little more than a year ago, I decided that I needed to expand my homebrewing adventures a bit by growing my own hops. So back in March, I planted a couple of hop rhizomes (calm down, you crazed Deleuzeans) on the south side of the front porch . . . and they appear to be almost ready to harvest.
  • Theme Time Radio Hour box sets. A few years ago, Bob Dylan started hosting a weekly satellite radio show. I’ve never heard it live, and have only heard one episode in full. But I know enough about it to know that his playlists — which revolve around a different theme every week — are a glorious potpourri of old country, folk, blues, r&b, soul, gospel, and then some. And, thanks (I think) to the quirks of how UK copyright law treats compilations of recordings of a certain age, there are three separate labels (Ace, Chrome Dreams, and Mischief Music/Music Melon) that have each released a series of multi-disc sets drawn from Dylan’s radio show. There are a handful of duplications across the collections, but nowhere near enough to make any of them redundant. And, between them, that’s 22 discs (so far?) chock full of musical delights.
  • Washington 13, Dallas 7. I was born and (mostly) raised in DC. And while I was never even remotely close to being an athletic child, I was still a straight boy. So it was almost inevitable that I would become a fan of the team with the most heinous nickname in all of US sports. And I’m a very loyal sports fan. So that allegiance still holds. Even without the nickname problem, this has not exactly been an easy cross to bear for the past decade or so. ‘Cause the team has disappointed on the field far more often than it’s provided moments of glory. So it was awfully fine to see them open the season with a primetime beatdown of the Cowboys. The two games they’ve played since have not ended so happily. But it’s always good to watch the Cowboys lose. Always.
  • USBank. Over the past several years, I’ve toyed with pulling my money out of USBank and finding somewhere else to put it. A different bank. A credit union. A shoebox hidden in the freezer. Anywhere. That interest-bearing, mile-earning, no-fee checking account I opened when I first came to Minneapolis has gradually morphed into a no-interest, points-for-gifts-I-don’t-want, $20-per-year checking account. And they closed the branch on campus right across the street from my office. Grrr.
    But then I went and did something stupid. And, much to my surprise, USBank made it right.
    Several months ago, I realized that my favorite brewpub has dartboards. Real ones, that is. Not the cheesy electronic ones. And so I started carrying my darts in my computer bag, for those occasions (and it’s happened more than once) when I was at Town Hall and had someone to beat at darts with me. Being prepared like that was smart. Forgetting I had my darts in my bag when I tried to fly to DC to visit Mom, however, was not so smart.
    Fortunately, I had arrived at the airport with time to spare. And the TSA agent who took me aside was very nice. He said that I could go back to the “dangerous” (my word, not his) side of the security checkpoint and get the customer service office to mail my darts home for me. The “customer service office,” however, turned out to be the airport branch of USBank. Who not only mailed me my darts, but they did so for free. And, evidently, they do that for everyone, not just USBank customers. My darts were waiting for me when I got home.
    Even more impressive? Two days later, there was a handwritten note in the mail from the teller I’d dealt with: “I hope your package arrived safely, & I’m glad we were able to help.”
    None of which guarantees that I won’t still move my money at some point. But even big, greedy, penny-pinching corporations can still do nice things sometimes. And it’s good to acknowledge it when they do.
  • Reclaiming the University. In response to this dispiriting-looking event, the Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education (of which I’m a proud member) and the Education Action Coalition MN organized a much better conversation. Our event rocked, and was very well attended. Their event pretty much lived down to my already low expectations.

Crossroads 2008

Several people (including many blog-less friends not linked here) have asked me about the Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference in Kingston, Jamaica that wrapped up early last week.  And I would be hard-pressed to do better than Melissa Gregg’s summary of the event . . . except, perhaps, to simply say to all those people who wanted to know how it went: You should’ve been there.

I know, of course, that there are lots of good reasons why people don’t make it to conferences.  Not enough time.  Not enough money.  Competing obligations.  The simple need/desire to be a homebody for a while, especially when conferences fall during the gap between semesters.  So I don’t really blame my curious but absent friends for not making it to Jamaica.  Still:  You should’ve been there.

I have been struck by the multiple requests for reports — not just friendly “how was the conference?” queries, but an explicit desire for extended details (who was there? who gave good papers? what’s new and hot in the field? etc.) — from friends who would have fit in perfectly, who would’ve enjoyed themselves immensely, and (most tellingly) who have been to enough conferences themselves to know that even the most thorough “report” is no substitute for being there.  The feel of a conference often matters as much as (and probably more than) the actual content of the presented papers, or the roster of attendees, or a rundown of who said what to whom at the hotel bar on the final night.  So I’m not going to try and provide a detailed accounting of the who and the what of the event, ’cause even if I were to feel the muse and be graced with the most eloquent way to capture five days worth of conversations, I still couldn’t do the event justice.  You should’ve been there.

One of the things I most appreciate about the Crossroads conferences — or at least the past two renditions — is the degree to which they take their international-ness very seriously.  To be sure, they’re not some perfectly ideal space of worldly cosmopolitanism: the official language of the conference is still English, and the global South remains under-represented.  At the same time, Crossroads isn’t the sort of “international” conference where most of the usual suspects from the US, Canada, and northern Europe simply gather in a big chain hotel in some different corner of the world for a long weekend and have the same basic conversations with each other that they could/would have had at a conference back home.  For me, Crossroads somehow manages to simultaneously feel both smaller and larger than those sorts of conferences.  It’s smaller, insofar as Crossroads has a much more tight-knit, communal feel to it than a Hilton/Sheraton/Hyatt-style conference.  While it’s still a fairly large gathering, I’ve come away from the past two versions feeling like I’ve shared an experience with several hundred people — and that doesn’t happen at most other conferences I attend.  And it’s larger, insofar as the people you’re sharing that experience with represent a much broader slice of the world than is the norm for “international” conferences.

We do it all again in 2010.  In Hong Kong.

You should be there.

Catching up, checking in

I’ve been meaning to post about the Cultural Studies Now conference and my trip to London ever since I got back . . . but Margaret’s mother arrived for a week’s visit three hours after I got back . . . and then three hours before she left, the roofers showed up to start what turned out to be a three-day job that drove Margaret and I out of the house for much of the duration (have you ever tried to write coherent prose while half a dozen men pounded on the ceiling directly above you for hours on end?) . . . and then three hours or so after the roofers were done, the I-35W bridge collapsed . . . which has been its own distraction for the past 24 hours or so, partially for the “disaster porn” that goes along with tragedies of this sort, but mostly because of the varied and multiple rounds of “checking in” that have taken place since last night.

Sometime over the past week, I did actually manage to HTMLify my presentation from the conference, but let me save a more detailed report on the event as a whole for a later post. For now, I’m still processing the bridge collapse. So far, at least, no one from my circle of friends and colleagues and acquaintances was on/under the bridge at the crucial moment yesterday . . . but given the where and when of the situation, it’s still perfectly plausible that someone I know wasn’t so lucky, and I simply don’t know it yet. The bridge is — was — right next to campus, and I-35W is the major north-south highway running through Minneapolis. I didn’t use that bridge every day, but it also wouldn’t have been unusual for me to have done so: I crossed it at least twice last week, walked by it on two other occasions, and was more or less right around the corner a mere hour before it fell.

For me, though, I think the biggest chunk of my “there but for the grace of Elvis” reaction to yesterday’s tragedy is the fact that Minneapolis is very much a river-straddling city. Unlike, say, St. Louis or Memphis, where the river marks the line between the city and the suburbs (and not always the most desirable of suburbs either) and one can plausibly spend years living and working in the area without ever needing to cross a bridge, here the river pretty much runs through the heart of things. I’m sure there must be people in town whose lives are such that they rarely have to cross the river, but I suspect they’re the exception, rather than the rule. There are six or seven different bridges across the Mississippi that I might use on any given day for any number of reasons, and I can easily need to cross the river a dozen times (or more) every week. I’m not exactly worried about crossing those bridges again — the odds that a bridge that’s stood for decades will crumble at precisely the moment you’re on it are still pretty damned small — but I’m also mindful of the fact that I could very easily have been on the I-35W bridge at the wrong time yesterday . . . or that those long odds might’ve kicked in during any of the other bridge-crossing moments that routinely happen.

Travel notes from Texas

More mini-comments…

  • During my 2 hour layover in Terminal D of the Milwaukee airport, I got to witness the bar manager train a couple of new bartenders. And in an astounding act of indiscretion (at least insofar as he did this right in front of my seat at a full bar, and without any serious attempt to make sure his comments didn’t get heard by the marks paying customers), he told one of them to always make bloody marys as doubles and never to ask first. And, from his tone, it was pretty clear that this was a policy intended to boost receipts, rather than to be generous with the airport’s booze.
  • My flight from Milwaukee to San Antonio included a stop (but no plane change) in Kansas City . . . where there was also a crew change. And the new flight attendants made it clear that we were preparing to go to Texas. Not because of their accents (which were barely there), but because of their hair. It had been years since I’d even had to think about “Texas hair” and suddenly there it was, large as life (and I do mean large) to remind me of what I’d been missing.

Turkish delight

I really meant to type up (blog up?) some of my thoughts on the Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference sooner, but life got in the way. More than once, clearly, since the conference was over nearly a month ago already. Eventually, I need to produce a more polished review of the event for Cultural Studies, but this is as good a place as any to get some of my preliminary thoughts in order.

Let me start with the “bad” stuff, simply to get it out of the way. There’s not very much of it, and none of it is exactly the stuff of scandals or nightmares. And, to be frank, that’s a bit surprising — if only because it’s next to impossible to hold a conference this big (600+ presenters on the program) and this global (50+ nations represented) on a shoestring budget . . . and have everything go right. The fact that so little went wrong is a testament to how well organized everything was (and a big tip of the hat to Ferda Keskin and his team of student volunteers who made that happen). My short list of “what went wrong” really boils down to two items:

  1. No-shows. Absenteeism and emergency cancellations are nothing new when it comes to academic conferences, but the gaps between the printed program and the actual panels that took place in Istanbul seemed much larger than normal. Four-paper panels where only one or two speakers showed up were not uncommon. In some cases, entire panels were AWOL. I suspect that, overall, most of the scheduled presenters were actually present for their panels . . . but the no-show rate was still high enough that seemingly everyone I talked with reported having attended a “short” panel or three.
  2. Poor panel attendance. The flip side of the no-show coin? Maybe. Again, it’s a problem that plagues a lot of conferences, but (again) it seemed to be slightly more common in Istanbul. A few folks at the business meeting suggested that this was a side effect of holding the conference in a city distracting enough for would-be attendees to play hooky — and I know a few folks who did, in fact, skip a day of panels so they could go sightseeing — but I’m skeptical of this explanation. If nothing else, an exciting city also brings more people to the conference in the first place (I’m pretty sure the previous Crossroads — in the bustling metropolis of Urbana, IL — didn’t attract 600+ registrants . . . though those who came certainly weren’t likely to spend the day sightseeing instead).

Put these two things together and the conference’s formal sessions were not always as scintillating as they should’ve been . . .

. . . but, then again, the same can be said of many conferences. And I long ago learned not to judge the merits of a conference based on the overall quality of the panels. [Sidebar: Some of the best advice I was ever given was that a good conference was one where you saw one good paper, made one good contact, or came away with one good idea for a project of your own. By this standard, I've never had a bad conference . . . and I've managed to enjoy conferences that might otherwise have seemed to be huge waste of time.] What made the Istanbul Crossroads an exciting event was not the papers and panels as much as it was the people, the setting, and (at the risk of sounding much more new-age-y than I am in everyday life) the amazing energy produced by the mixture of the two. The highlights for me (in no special order) are as follows:

  1. Istanbul. I didn’t get to see anywhere near as much of the city as I would’ve liked — and there’s clearly a lot to see — but the small taste I had of the place was delicious. Other folks made extra time in their visits (or, perhaps, stole it from their conference time, thus contributing to the problems described above) to see some of the major tourist venues, but I “settled” for the (literally) pedestrian attractions of wandering around bits of the city near the conference hotels and soaking up some of the local vibe. The contrast with the Urbana edition of Crossroads could not have been more striking. Or more desirable.
  2. A truly international affair. To steal a riff from Meaghan Morris’s comments at the business meeting, this was most emphatically not the sort of “international” conference typical of US academic life. That sort of conference still tends to be dominated by US participants, with a tiny sprinkling of attendees from mostly Anglophone nations . . . and so, not surprisingly. they don’t feel terribly different from more local affairs. This conference, on the other hand, brought together people from more than 50 different countries . . . and while it wasn’t quite a utopian global village (if nothing else, the conference’s lingua franca was still English), it also wasn’t the faux internationalism of the usual (American) suspects talking to no one but themselves in a Hilton ballroom on some other continent.
  3. An intellectually rich gathering. Again, this isn’t so much a function of the papers I heard (though there were some noteworthy standouts here, such as Devleena Ghosh on call centers in Bangalore and Sue Murray on online photo-sharing networks) as it was the overall character of the gathering. On the whole, I felt more intellectually stimulated by the various conversations I had in Istanbul — at panels, in the hallways, over food and drink — than I have at almost any other conference I’ve been to.
  4. A surprisingly intimate conference. And I don’t mean that in a saucy, salacious kind of way (though I’m sure it was that kind of conference for some attendees . . . but this isn’t that kind of blog). I mean that, despite the overall size of the conference and the number of attendees, the gathering — happily — had very little (if any) of the giant, impersonal, anonymous feel that one gets from most large conferences. Some of this, of course, may have been a side effect (for me) of being a non-Turk in Istanbul, and thus finding it easier to feel a sort of immediate connection to various conferees that would not normally happen at, say, your average NCA or ICA gathering. But some of it was also the result of the way the conference was structured and organized — with a special nod here going to the Friday evening boat ride up the Bosphorous and back, which went a long, long way to giving the conference a sort of intense affective and communal charge that one doesn’t typically get from hotel meeting rooms and convention centers.

My new favorite airline

I’m not interested in pimping this blog out to corporate sponsors, but there are also moments when it’s worth giving props (no aviation pun inten—well, okay, maybe there’s a little intent here) to those who deserve it. As one of Northwest’s major hubs, Minneapolis is almost a one-airline city . . . and it’s an increasingly lousy airline. Even if I were willing to overlook Northwest’s egregious labor politics (which I’m not), they’ve simply become an annoying airline to fly with. The usual complaints apply here: no legroom, no elbowroom, bare-bones in-flight amenities for domestic travel, and a frequent flyer program that makes it close to impossible to actually use your accumulated miles. But the final straw for me came on my return trip from Istanbul, where the flight crew from Amsterdam to Detroit was far and away the rudest, the surliest, and the most xenophobic bunch of flight attendants I’ve ever witnessed. These folks got on the plane with a mighty bad attitude . . . and even if that attitude might have been justified by (surprise) Northwest’s egregious labor politics, the passengers wedged into tiny, uncomfortable seats for a nine-hour flight simply weren’t the proper target for such frustrations.

So Northwest is moving fast towards the bottom of my list for airline choices — while two trips to DC this summer have me convinced that Midwest should be at the top of my list whenever circumstances allow. The downside is that they’re a small carrier serving a relatively limited number of destinations (so they won’t always be a viable option) and currently everything that they fly in and out of Minneapolis gets routed through their Milwaukee hub (so they’re rarely going to give me a non-stop flying experience).

But their planes have wide, comfortable leather seats for all passengers (there’s no separate business class here). Because they’re not trying to squeeze extra passengers into every square inch of cabin space, their overhead luggage bins don’t seem to get filled up prematurely, and the boarding process runs more smoothly and quickly. Without exception, every one of their flight attendants on eight different legs of my summer travels have been personable, relaxed, and seeming quite happy with their jobs. And surprisingly tasty baked-onboard chocolate chip cookies are standard snack fare. This is how flying should be — even on a budget.