Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Nice purse, fag..."

Most people, including many Angelenos themselves, don't realize Los Angeles has an extensive transit system. In fact, among the largest in the US. It is one that continues to grow albeit way late for such a large, innovative, city.

I live Downtown. Admittedly, it makes using transit far easier. So, I went to West Hollywood today by bus.

I enjoyed a Happy Hour with friends and new acquaintances, taking off on the bus knowing my husband was home trying to master my Great Grandmother's recipe for fruit cake. 

I left on a bus from San Vicente and Santa Monica in West Hollywood towards Downtown. Initially, it was crowded and somewhat uncomfortable. My husband text me telling me he was making progress. I know why people don't like fruit cake. But, they haven't had our family recipe. I dislike almost everyone else's fruit cake but that which I had every year growing up and have missed for at least the last 7.

I was walking back from the #4 bus, 3 blocks from our home. Passed by our Board of County Supervisors Chambers, then though the Music Center. The tree at the Music Center was in all it's glory. I crossed the street to the LA Department of Water and Power Headquarters. The fountains were in Christmas colors. For Los Angeles, it was a chilly evening, almost welcoming given the season and far from unbearable.

I was crossing my corner at First and Hope Streets and I hear from a car turning left "nice purse fag." Honestly, my bag receives lots of compliments on a frequent basis. In fact, just that afternoon, I had a nurse in my Doctor's office proclaim "I can't get enough of that bag." She then went on to compliment my boots. Unfortunately, this proclamation was anything but a compliment and was spoiling my otherwise very pleasant evening. Out of impulse, I screamed, "Yeah, come here and tell me that." But, they were gone, which is a good thing. While at the side of my complex and it having high security, I didn't need a confrontation. Then again, I refused to whimper away. Most idiots that would shout such a thing are nothing more than insecure wimps. One can make the argument that ignoring them shows power. I don't buy that; it makes more believe they have intimidated, humiliated you. Yet, we must be careful on how and where we throw ourselves out as a martyr. I would just like to believe it isn't something I would not confront in my immediate community, in Los Angeles, in 2012. It just reminds you that no matter how much progress, there is still more to be done.

My husband, to my amazement, mastered the fruit cake recipe. He is a good cook, but this is something which was such an effort in my family growing up I didn't think that someone who neither had liked fruit cake prior, let alone made one, would get it down on his first try. He has changed his own position, loving his fruit cake. Many are receiving them as gifts.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Closer and Closer to home

I remember when Columbine happened in 1999. Not somewhere I knew personally, but watching video at the time, I thought, "this reminds me of where I lived in West Bloomfield, Michigan." I could be off on one statistic or another, but it was a middle-class suburban America that I was well familiar. My Father said to me that night "I am so glad to not be raising children now." Mind you, this came before all his grandchildren where his reflection might have been all the greater. While uncomfortably seemingly similar, it was somewhere else. I had been to Colorado only once in my life at that point and never Littleton.

The recent shooting at Clackamas made me reflect. I've been to Portland many times, but Clackamas? It's a name that kind of sticks with you. I thought for a minute... Didn't I work out at a 24 Hour Fitness there? In fact, I think I went to that mall that same day. After a little checking online, there is in fact a 24 hour Fitness in Clackamas right by the mall and seeing further pictures of the shopping center, while not particularly unique to many a shopping center across America, I know I was there once, if not a couple of times 5 or 6 years ago. I had friends that lived in the area at the time.

Then, there was the senseless, inexplicable shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. That was sounding way too familiar. I never lived in Connecticut, but my brother did and graduated from Western Connecticut University in Danbury, just a couple of towns over. He lived for a while in Bethel, which is adjacent Newtown. I have a friend who lives now in neighboring Southbury, and I used to visit her when we were teens and she was growing up in Waterbury, also just a few towns over. I had other friends in Nagatuck and Middlebury; all in the same region of the small state. Sandy Hook stood out to me because I remember commenting about it then, as there is a State beach with the only nude beach in New Jersey called Sandy Hook.

My step Mother, sister and brother, spent many years in nearby Ridgefield, also in the same area. They too lived there for the same reasons many parents spoke of post this incident; a different world away from the intensity of New York City, albeit commutable. Great schools, bucolic and calm. I didn't know them then, so I only know limited stories of their time there. But, yet another registration of this was really apart of "my world" in more ways than one.

My Father and step Mother lived in Guilford, CT at the same time my brother was at West Conn. It is to the East of New Haven, down by the coast and a bit of a drive. Remind you, small state. The biggest part of the drive was the twisting and winding 2 lane roads to avoid the congested, limited freeways. Perhaps it was through visiting my brother with them I passed through Sandy Hook.

I am waiting to talk to my brother. But, I've been there. More significantly, I really know a community like Newtown. This is surreal to most anyone, but has totally blown away why so many of those families live with a longer commute, deal with the greater difficulty with often greater snow and more hills, and often long drives just to good malls.

As I was about to distance myself from news coverage for the evening, I learned of a shooting at Excalibur Casino Hotel in Las Vegas. We have an unofficial "adopted" son that is a student at UNLV. He works further down the strip at another casino.

There has been a shooting at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. Nobody injured, but over 40 rounds shot off and must have been terrifying. I live in Southern CA. I have shopped there with frequency. A friend of ours happened to be working there while it happened.

It certainly seems like we need to logically rethink much in America. Freedom begins with safety and security. The answer isn't to arm every school teacher, let alone retail worker, but to make their environments more safe. We also don't want to create a police state that makes us all feel burdened and discouraged at our every move. There is and we must find some middle ground.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fear of...Part Two

The next morning, a cardiologist came to visit and reaffirmed how lucky I was to had "made it." It still wasn't totally registering with me. I had horrible leg pain when I went into the hospital; I never felt my life was in danger. I thought perhaps this was something that built over time; later to learn that it can happen in seconds, including a clot starting in your leg and travelling to your lungs.

What is most frustrating is it isn't because of anything I did or did not do. At least, nobody yet, and I have been seen by no less than 10 physicians through since entering that ER, has a concrete reason for this to have happened. I had taken up smoking again, but I doubt my few smokes a day for 6 months caused the clot. I've since quit for good, by the way. 5 days in the hospital was perfect for stopping. I had flown home from New York some 3 weeks earlier; but I must have gotten up at least 3 times in the flight and have certainly flown greater distances and that journey no less than 100 times. I work from home, but am constantly moving. I pace on the phone. In short, the only tie we can make is genetics.

My Mother died of congestive heart failure in 2006. She had varicose veins stripped when I was a kid. In the last decade of her life or even longer, she was on blood thinners, as I am now. She had water retention in her legs for years, as I do in my left leg now. Her leg would itch to the point she'd scratch it until it bled and scared. Thankfully, I learned from her to control my itching. But, it is annoying.

I am not as ill as my Mother and hope never to be. But, this unexpected near death experience certainly gives reason to be concerned. To some extent, almost annoyed. I eat well overall, I work out, I moisturize. It doesn't seem fair or reasonable to have my leg in a compression stocking and to add yet another medication to my pill box for the rest of my life.

Fear of being your family

Let's face it. Most, if not all of us, carry attributes we most despise of our parents and other family members. Despite everything we said growing up about how we were "never going to be" like either our Mother or Father in one arena or another; there we are, in circumstance after another, where we are kicking ourselves saying "I swear I'd never be that way."

We can try to fight genetics in our personality. We can certainly eat better, not smoke, not drink, exercise more, any list of health aspects that may have been beneficial to our predecessors. We can decide to take medications to help or avoid them all together because of family history. We can spend lots of time and money in therapy to be less argumentative, more assertive; whatever it is we are lacking. But, at what point do you accept that is who you are and how to best manage it? Whether it be your genetic link to diabetes, outbursts of anger, alcoholism or name an issue, can you really fight your own destiny and being? Now, I am reminding myself of Greek Mythology.

In my first post, I mentioned a recent scare. I woke up one weekday morning with a quick chest pain. Didn't think anything of it as it passed in seconds. Then, I got out of bed. It was so painful to walk. Perhaps, a momentary thing, I dragged myself to the restroom for morning relief. I walked down my stairs, a task far more challenging that morning that normal. I made coffee. I fed the cats, all the time thinking "WTF." I walked over to my desk which passes a mirror. I was wearing either just my underwear or shorts, I honestly don't remember and who cares? My left calf was twice the size of my right calf. I knew "this ain't right." I immediately, and have no idea why, thought, blood clot. But, even in thinking that and quickly believing I needed to do something, I wasn't as threatened as perhaps I should have been at the time.

I struggled to get upstairs and shower. I had extreme difficultly drying myself and getting dressed. I returned downstairs to my desk and knew I needed to go to the hospital. I called my husband, but got his voice mail. I tried to do a bit more at my computer and instinct said "call an ambulance." So, I called our front desk (as they escort them anyway) and had them call one. At this point, I knew I couldn't make it upstairs to get shoes. I had been awake just over an hour.At least the cats had been fed.

LAFD was there very quickly. The paramedics were so LA they could be written into any TV show or movie. He was this, at best, 30 year old, tall, handsome, stunning eyed man with just a personality that made you feel confident in him the second you saw him. She was about the same age, muscular for a woman, also stunning, compassionate and comforting. I remember her saying "great digs" when they first walked in. We have a nice place. It isn't all that, but that comment at that moment was certainly an ice breaker.

It turns out at the ER, while I am waiting to be admitted, that the brother in law of my one paramedic is also at the same hospital. Also a scripted looking character, both in looks and personality. It turns out he has roughly 1 year old triplets. I have 2 family members with twins. I can't imagine triplets. It turns out the female paramedic used to be an award winning weight lifter and such, but got out of it not liking all the steroid and other drug use. This I all learned while waiting with them wondering why I was really there.

It took near an hour to get a space in the ER. However, once in, I was incredibly well treated and they had not only diagnosed that yup, I had a blood clot in my left leg, but that I had a pulmonary embolism in both lungs. At this juncture, I still wasn't really aware of how lucky I was to just be alive.

That reality still wasn't with me when they said I would be admitted, something I didn't think necessary initially. Wasn't there just an injection that makes this all go away and I go home? I went to the ICU and still thought, well, they are being cautious. That evening,  a Doctor visited and said "It is good you came when you did, otherwise we would likely not be having this conversation." Even then, I was thinking, well it took over an hour to be seen in the ER, it was a few hours before a diagnosis....

Monday, November 12, 2012

Buddy Passes-Part 2.

Following in true New England fashion, the weather during our week in Provincetown was literally all over the place. It was hot and humid, sometime sunny, others cloudy. At other points, it was a bit chilly. Rain would come at random, often with great intensity. All of the above could be apart of one day. Weather literally changes in minutes and with frequency.

About our 3rd day there, we went to T-Dance at the Boatslip, a longtime Provincetown tradition for our late afternoon cocktails and dancing. We were far out on the very long deck area and it suddenly down poured. Mac had to hobble at great speed across the deck in is cast. He made an impressive effort. Unfortunately, or maybe really fortunately at the end of the day, his cast was soaked and ultimately destroyed. We spoke to his Doctor in Los Angeles and that evening we were introduced to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis; the only place within 60+ miles with the equipment to remove a cast. 

Cast removed, we now had some more options, albeit Mac was still not 100% healed. He just had a bit more flexibility. It also made us both a bit more apprehensive as people are cautious around casts, but aren't as attentive with the "boot" that followed. It also didn't garner nearly as much attention, which was a bit diappointing to my husband.

We knew we were going to spend 2 nights in Boston at the end of the trip as we had missed our 1 night in Boston on the front end. But, should we continue on and go to New York City for a couple of days? The 4th was nearing; should we just get home? 

I called US Airways. They told me I could change my existing passes, but I would lose the unused outbound passes and the fares paid for them. That didn't seem right. It later turns out, it wasn't correct. The agent was just ill informed. Something I find is a common problem with airlines on such passes. He suggested I request a full refund for these passes and ask for new ones, just one way for each of us, be issued. So, we did.

We decided to error on caution and head back on Monday, July 2, from Boston with the new passes. We made the 1st flight from Boston to Phoenix. We didn't make the cut for the 1st connecting flight, but did the 2nd some 2 1/2 hours later to LA. This was more than reasonable amount of inconvenience for the type of fare (I refuse to call it non-revenue since there is revenue). 

The real next headache arose after we returned home in getting our refund. The credit card which was used months earlier to buy the passes was no longer a valid account number, but US Airways could only credit to the card initially charged. Further, they had confusion on what was used, not used, etc. After many calls and emails, 2 segments were credited back to the credit card. After multiple calls to the credit card issuer, that refund was returned. We were then told my cousin would for fit the unused passes. That didn't seem fair. In another call, it was suggested because she is retired they might return them to the account, which they ultimately did. At the end of the day, we finally received our refund in full from the credit card last week, some 3 months after the trip was concluded. 

I remain most appreciative of the passes being offered. I was warned that it isn't a lot of fun to use them. Boy, did that ever prove to be true. Granted our circumstances pushed the limits of the typical buddy pass traveler, but it seems that the process could be a bit more streamlined. My guess is the entire program is more of a necessary evil to airlines and not something which they have any interest in making friendlier. Watching the hell a number of full fare passengers were facing trying to get on standby, most often for no fault of their own, I can say customer satisfaction remains a real problem in the airline industry.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Buddy Passes- part 1

In my last blog, I mentioned Mac and I went to Provincetown last June. I didn't mention the incredible experience we had getting there and back with "non-revenue" tickets. I put this in quotes as it is 1st misnomer of the buddy pass experience. "SA7" or space available 7 passes are less expensive than an even non-refundable fare you might by online, but they do cost money. In this case, when I went to book plane tickets to Boston, we were looking at airfares between $500-700 round trip from Los Angeles. It was the end of June, so right into the summer vacation peak season. On US Airways, where my cousin is a retiree and offered us passes, the round trip fare was $197.20. No idea how they come up with that number. Certainly far less expensive, but definitely not free. They are to be changeable and refundable, which is a nice feature. They still charge you to check a bag. On United, which our friend works for an affiliated airline of United and who's passes we also used, it is $75 each way on most flights across the US and they don't charge you to check a bag. They are also changeable and refundable. There are other space available levels, from 1 to even less than 7, though I can't imagine what falls below 7 and they are based on seniority and other factors, and some can only be used by employees and their immediate family. Each airline, while there is some uniformity, has it's own policies as well.

We were warned that it isn't an easy experience. We went into it being mentally prepared for a challenge and, as my husband remarked, thought of it as an "adventure." I think nightmare might be a better assessment following, though it did provide for many a conversation and this blog post.

We were told to try and go out on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. We were told red eye flights from the West Coast were less popular. So, we booked (which really means added our name to a wait list) a Thursday flight on a red eye from LAX to Philadelphia and we would then take a morning flight to Boston. We had a back up plan as there was also a red eye to Charlotte and we could get a flight to Boston from there. Philadelphia and Charlotte are hubs for US Airways. We arrived at the airport plenty early, which I now know is less important than having your name on the list. A flight that day, one flight, was cancelled, so every other flight on US Airways that evening was overbooked. So, we patiently waited and hoped while 3 flights departed. We then, at 1 AM, drove home, slept for 3 hours and returned to the airport, hoping one of the really early flights might be possible. We tried to get on at least 3 US Airways flights that morning, starting at 5:30 and around 8 AM a gate agent informed us that the odds were not favorable we'd get on a US Airways flight until sometime next week. Next week? We had reservations in Provincetown that I had made a year earlier that started on Saturday.

Distraught, we called a friend in Boston. He works for Cape Air and has been in the industry a long time. Because he works for a regional carrier, I didn't think he'd able to do anything for us, nor was I expecting him to do anything, but thought he could guide us on what to do. I didn't want to call my cousin as she was so kind to offer the passes to begin with and I didn't feel it was fair to "disrupt" her retirement with our whining how we were about to miss our vacation. I looked into buying one way last minute tickets before our call to Greg, but those were just absolutely cost prohibitive.

It turns out Greg had been awarded a bunch of passes on United as some sort of promotion when they merged with Continental. He generously offered them to us and we graciously (really more frantically) accepted. He listed us on a flight at around 9 or 9:30 AM, so we raced our way from one end of LAX to the other to get to United's terminal. Although one of the larger airports in the US, LAX is not terribly user friendly on multiple levels. Getting from terminal 2 to 7 is a challenging and even life threatening experience; not a simple tram ride.

Turns out that flight was overbooked as well. But, United is a huge airline and has lots of flights heading East. So, we get on a wait list for another and all looks really good until a flight is cancelled. Suddenly, we went from #2 on the wait list to close to #60. Realizing we were in for a long day, we purchased day passes at the United Club, which wasn't only comforting, but fiscally responsible. They provide snacks and free drinks, along with Internet and agents to help with booking, so the $50 per person investment was less expensive than what we would have spent over the course of the day at one of the overpriced restaurants at LAX. It also saved running around terminal 7 all day and provided a comfortable seat, as opposed to my sitting on the floor, as I had been earlier.

Not getting on flight after flight to the East, Greg suggests that we get to San Francisco and try from there. It took 2 attempts, but we did get to San Francisco in the evening. At this juncture, Mac and I really just wanted to be somewhere other than LA. While San Francisco wasn't in our plans, at least we would be "out of town" if we ended up stranded there. Plus, we love the city and have a number of friends there. Never mind, our bag is already sitting in baggage claim at US Airways at Logan International Airport in Boston.

We had a nice dinner at a restaurant called "Yankee Pier" at SFO. Clam Chowder to start at a restaurant with "yankee" in it's name; exactly how I thought we'd start our vacation; other than we were still on the opposite coast! After spending over $100 to eat dinner at the airport, we go to the gate now praying that we might actually get to Massachusetts. Thankfully, Greg's plan worked, and we were able to get on the red eye to Boston, arriving Saturday morning, only 1 day later than originally planned.

Greg picked us up at 6 AM and we all went to breakfast at some diner. Diner's aren't as big in California and I finally felt like I had arrived when the sharp accented waitress served me mediocre coffee and a plate of food that should have really been for a family of 4, not one person. We showered at Greg's, then headed into town to get the car I had reserved so that we could drive on to Provincetown. Except Avis was out of cars. Never mind I had made the reservation at least 6 months ago! After some heated words with customer service while wondering the streets of Boston, we get a car squared away and go to the Ye Olde Oyster House, proclaimed to be America's oldest restaurant for lunch. I had not been there since I was in 7th grade and thought it was a perfect part of the Colonial America vacation experience. It did not let us down.

After lunch, I picked up the car, a Prius. I had always had a disdain for the Prius, maybe in part because so many people have them in LA and it's such a stereotypical car. I almost took it right back as I was having troubles understanding how certain things worked. I'm glad I didn't. We grew to absolutely love the car. It fit our needs perfectly and we remain in awe that we averaged almost 50 mpg all week.

That evening, we arrived in Provincetown. Our place was ready. Because Mac had called and explained he was in a cast, they gave us a 1st floor unit on a corner of the complex, directly across from the pool and with handicapped parking right outside our door. Things were looking better.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Not accepting present realities.

Last Memorial Day, my husband, Mac and I went to Yosemite (one location in CA, despite much travel and having been here longer than anywhere else, I had never been) and then on to Lake Tahoe. Timing wasn't the best. Mac had just had foot surgery, was in a cast and had a scooter to get around. It rained, sleet and snowed. I came down from something like 8000 feet on narrow roads with near whiteout snow conditions, cautiously sliding my way to the bottom. I spent much of my early driving years in such conditions. It is one of the many reasons I have lived in Southern CA for so long. Mac in the back seat expressing his worry wasn't helpful. But, we made it to Tahoe.

Yosemite is beautiful. Sometime, without snow and Mac walking, we shall return. We have always loved Tahoe and been multiple times, though I prefer it  without weather where I can't see across the lake.

One morning, I went out and sought out a hair cut. I went to a small salon in a strip mall. The woman that cut my hair was the owner and had the business for about 2 years. She has 2 teenage children. Her husband manages an arcade. She is quite concerned about whether her children will be prepared for college. She recited a recent experience her husband had hiring high school Seniors. He was worried about their ability to calculate and asked some what should be insulting questions, like "how many quarters in a dollar?" Something like 2 out of 6 could answer correctly. "How many nickels in a dollar?" was even more frightening. Hearing this issue in a small, an albeit rural, also affluent school system (at least it's tax base) made me even more alarmed. Wow, we in CA (and yes, she lived in CA) have destroyed our master plan. What made us really could a part of the ultimate demise of the CA Dream.

En route home, we diverted and went to San Francisco. We met up with 3 close friends for dinner. We discussed Mac's surgery. We discussed our one friend's upcoming 2nd knee surgery. We discussed our other friend's earlier knee surgery. Neither of these people are heavy or otherwise unhealthy, just bad knees. Around this dialogue, while trying to read menus, we all discussed our vision, need for glasses, and how it has changed. Mac was the oldest person at this table about to turn 50. The rest of us between 40 and 45. I stopped, looked and said "Really? This is what it has gotten to? We are spending dinner together talking about our ailments and how we deal?" It caused pause. It caused a laugh. But, the ultimate consensus was "yup, that is our lives now." Nobody was defeated, in fact all were determined to prevail despite their obstacles. But, it was also clear that life with people whom, in some cases I have known for over 20 years, was changing. In a couple of the friends, they are among my wilder earlier memories. We know now we have limits. We drink less, in one case, doesn't drink at all any more, which so sucks since a huge part of our relationship revolved around wine and food pairing, wine tasting, etc. Mac and I are going to Napa for the New Year and it would be now nasty and torture to invite him to join us, whereas it would have been great fun before. I am not minimizing, nor am I going to be prolific on the details of his scenario, but knowing that his quitting drinking had much to do with other issues and a lot being legal, I just wish I had not lost one of my best wine buds.

This June, we went to Provincetown, MA with a visit to Boston. We have 2 friends in Boston. They have both battled issues with cancer. They are both in their 40's. It is isn't their environment or drinking water (they don't live in the same area, nor were raised nearby each other, albeit both from New England), it is just another reminder that things happen that have no explanation. Not about smoking. Not about anything in particular. Just happened. Luckily, both are doing fine.

This whole post and the commencement of this blog started because of visiting a Facebook page of a former classmate of mine at Morristown High School (NJ). She died 2 years ago this last September. She had cancer. She was married and had 2 young children. This isn't right for anyone; certainly sucks when you have any memory of a fun and engaging young woman when she was in high school and the hardship those 2 girls will face throughout their childhood forward. I find it weird, yet engaging, that the page remains.

I had a recent scare event. I was taken away in an ambulance and hospitalized for near 5 days just 2 weeks ago. I will be OK, but a long recovery. But, that is another blog post.