Sunday, February 08, 2009

Have you missed me?

Dear Internets,

It's been a while, but I can explain.

Although it was actually late Thursday that marked my triumpant return to the Northwest, my body is still adjusting back to Pacific time. I started the week by getting up at 3:00 a.m. (no, it's not just a nasty rumor - there is a 3 in the morning and it can be experienced by getting up EARLY rather than going to bed late. I know! Who knew???), to make it to PDX for my flight and have been off kilter ever since. The time difference once I got to Michigan wasn't doing me any favors either. At least the cold kept me awake.

And, man, was it cold! There was one morning when the dashboard thermometer clocked in at a modest 1 degree. It actually hurt my lungs to breathe, which is a shame, because I rather like breathing. I may even be addicted to it. Maybe I need an intervention. It's too bad I'm not a celebrity. If I were I could go debase myself on television under the watchful but caring eye of Dr. Drew as a cast member of Celebrity Rehab. But I digress...

After a week in Michigan, Portland's mild climate seems almost balmy in comparison. There was snow, which meant I got to wear winter clothes like scarves and gloves that are too toasty for our generally mild climate. And, I got to see and learn a little about Detroit thanks to the Checker Sedan driver, who saw his role as not just driver, but tour guide. Within the hour drive I learned not only more than I ever knew about the home of Motown, but also that he was retired, raising his two grandchildren and that he was a really sweet man.

The Detroit area has been hit pretty hard by our tanking economy. Every time I go there (I say this, because "both times" sounds far less dramatic and if there's one thing I'm about, it's high drama!) they have been in the middle of major layoffs at the big car manufacturers. My company has gone through some hard times too and is in a season of cutbacks in benefits, pay and employees, but not like Ford, GM and their ilk. This is not to say that the American automobile industry hasn't made and soiled its own bed, but that doesn't help the non-executive employees who have kids and rent and life to meet.

The economy has affected Portland, but not to the extent I saw and heard about in the Detroit area. What I did find interesting was the number of people who not only shared my sentiments about bed making (why are we developing newer, bigger Hummers and not hybrids and other alternative fuel sources? If you are not in a war in the desert, you do not need a Hummer. The gravel patch between the edge of your suburban driveway and the street is NOT off roading), but also felt that the employment market had outpriced itself in that industry. I had expected a little more sympathy for the workers. I suppose at a time when everyone is feeling the crunch, maybe they've eaten too much tired to have a lot of room left over for sympathy. The layoffs and 10% across the board pay cut that my company recently instituted seems pretty par for the course in that area for those lucky enough to get to keep their jobs.

But it's not only industry that is different there. That part of the country has such a different look from ours. The streets are filled with the types of old brick and stone structures you get in areas whose economy is not so heavily timber dependant as ours. Missing are the towering, deep green conifers my eyes are so used to seeing against the grey sky. Instead the winter landscape is marked by a crisp, blue sky, leafless deciduous trees and old snow. You feel the cold just looking out the window and you learn quickly in those parts to breathe in through your nose instead of filling your lungs with deep, through the mouth inhalations.

Not that we got to spend that much time outside. The work days were long, but there was also a lot of socializing and dining out - P.F. Chang's, Champs, etc. AND (much to my delight) we did not return to that dreadful Tichonderoga place with all the dead animal heads lining the walls. I don't need the doleful eyes of what was once a moose staring down at me as I try to eat my butternut squash ravioli, thank you very much.

It is always funny how quickly such trips pass. When I left home at 4:00 a.m. Monday morning, it felt like there was such a long time ahead of me. Once I got on the plane, it all went pretty quickly. Even in this age of heightened security things move pretty seamlessly. I did have to step out of line while they searched my purse on the way home, but it didn't take long for them to deem that I wasn't a threat. I'm still not sure what set off their alarm but the TSA lady had on her no nonsense face, so I was glad it wasn't the time I took along my old camping backpack and forgot to remove some matches. In the before time I'd have been typing this to you from Gitmo. Thankfully, times have changed.

Flying is such a different experience from what I remember as a child. Flights seemed more cramped, the flight attendants more tired. In addition to being flying waitstaff, nurses, and babysitters, they also have to worry about shoe bombs and how to wield a beverage cart to subue a terrorist. There are personalized movies and games on board the bigger planes, but you have to pay extra for just about everything besides the complimentary beverage now. Still, thanks to my ipod, the airplane trivia game (damn you, Mr. ZZZZZZZZZ in 14F, you ruined my chance to obnoxiously sing "I am the Champion" in your face by foiling my attempts to win!) and in flight movies, even the four hours between Salt Lake Cit and Detroit went pretty quickly.

And so, I am again home and what seemed like a long week actually passed by in the blink of an eye - pretty much like the rest of life does. I hope you are doing well and that I hear from you soon.


P.s. If you see Delta Airlines, please tell them that as engaging and moving as The Secret Life of Bees was (who in their right mind doesn't love themselves a little Queen Latifah?), it made me and several women in the rows around me too weepy to be a good in flight movie. Sure, it's more appropriate than that one where the plane crashes and the surviving passengers eat each other (thanks for not showing it, because I'm pretty sure the big guy next to me would have made steak out of me in a second if he needed to and no one wants to spend a four hour flight feeling paranoid that their neighbor will gut them with a plastic spork), but if I'm going to cry at a movie, I want to do it in the privacy of my living room or at least under the cover of darkness at my local Edwards.