Long Flight Home

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Finally recovering from a holiday spent in lovely Prairie du Chien, WI  53821.  I’m recovering from basking in the the glow of winning the most epic Monopoly game ever, recovering from having the typical turkey on the grill, and recovering from getting flooded by dog breath kisses when I got home.  Not to mention that I had to recover from the flight itself – which is fairly epic every time regardless of why you do it.  Since I am fresh off another round-trip to the Lower 48 and am not sure when the next one will come it seemed like a good time to blog about what it takes to get up here.

In short … its a long way.

Flying to Anchorage from the Lower 48 (that’s any state other than Alaska and Hawaii for those of you wondering .. yes I mean you, Dad) can be broken down into two categories: Alaska Airlines, and Any other way to get  here.

As the name suggests, Alaska Airlines is the major airline in and out of Anchorage.  If you haven’t heard of it, that’s not surprising … its mostly based along the west coast.  Based out of Seattle, they tend to run the routes as far south as Los Angeles and all throughout the small cities big enough for a prop plane and snacks – but only rarely do they move beyond the first set of mountains inland.  They are the main carrier throughout Alaska as well, going to anyplace that can’t be reached by car (which is practically everywhere).  They also run some great fares to Hawaii, including their best flights and fairs (and the most odd of travel destination couples) running from Honolulu to Anchorage and back.

If you are coming to Anchorage using Alaskan Airlines, you are most likely going to be flying through Seatac, the airport short for Seattle-Tacoma.  There seems to be loads of flights between Seatac and Anchorage; and its a three (3) hour flight … yeah … three hours from the nearest major airport!!!  While the number and times vary depending on the time of year, there is typically 4 or 5 flights in the evenings or mornings, almost running as clockwork as a bus line.  Alaskan is pretty comfortable and mostly run 737s (while this trip included a modified 737 that was half cargo … we entered into the back of the plane and there was a huge wall ahead of Row 15).  Alaska has code shares with a number of other airlines (with no rhyme or reason to it … Delta, United, American, etc etc), but many consider the Alaskan frequent flyer program amongst the best.  Included in that is the Alaskan credit card which gives everyone an annual $99 companion fare (so you fly anywhere Alaskan goes and a buddy flies there too for $99 .. which is a big deal for reasons coming up).

While you can ride on other airlines to Alaskan, nearly every major airline flies to Anchorage from most of the major hubs directly.  Of course, the flights will be much longer — DFW is a 7 hour flight, Chicago is 6 hours, Houston tips it near 9.

For the most part, flights heading to Anchorage get here late in the day — like 9, 10, 11 PM late.  In part, its because it takes a long time to get here, but it makes up for itself on the way back.  Most flights out leave shortly after the plane gets to Anchorage.  So you end up getting an overnight flight heading down to the Lower 48.  For instance, last week my flight to Chicago left here at 11pm, and arrived 7am into Chicago – meaning you get used to sleeping on planes.  That makes the Anchorage airport quite the busy place at 10pm.

For the record, ticket prices are quite high.  The low end is about $600, but during busy seasons (like Thanksgiving) it can push over $1000.  But of course, BP has taken that into consideration, and they drop us in Alaska a little bit extra every year to allow for the high cost of getting out of town.

So, that’s the rundown of flying here in and out.  Hopefully in the next few weeks I will have my guest room set up if y’all want to come visit.  The days are getting stupid short now, so sleeping should be easy.

Oversleeping, Traditions, and Monopoly

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For the record, I am the grand champion of Monopoly in the Nelson Household.  As much as my nephew and his grandfather tried to conspire to take me down, I put a whooping on them … In the end I owned every property and had a hotel on every one of them.

Thanksgiving with the family has been something I have been doing since before I left for college.  I’ve made it to Prairie du Chien, WI (aka “The Du”) annually whether I lived in Houghton, MI; Watertown, WI; St Francis, WI; Wichita, KS; and now Anchorage, AK.  We had all been busy in one way or another around Christmas, and the other holidays were worse — but we always found a way to get together for Thanksgiving.  This year, as far as it was, as much of a challenge as it was, I still made it happen.  I had to make it happen, it is what we do.

I would call it a tradition, but the word tradition is thrown around this week every year so much it seems the biggest tradition is calling everything a tradition.  Don’t get me wrong, we have loads of traditions during Thanksgiving.  There’s the dinner itself, usually well into the early football game; including a nice meal of turkey, stuffing, veggies, wine, and dad’s annual blessing before we dig in.  There is the tour through the town to see what’s changed, usually around what Blair Dillman projects were actually worked on in the last 12 months (I don’t expect anyone from outside of “the Du” to get that).  But the most consistent is the decoration of the “Charlie Brown Tree”.  The actual tree has cycled through over the years (and sometimes became 2 or 3 trees), but for a long time we decorated a single sickly looking evergreen on the St Feriole Island along the Mississippi.  It would be an image out of the Charlie Brown Christmas in itself.  These days the spruce we decorate is nearly 20ft tall, and took seven or eight strings of lights to cover.

Of course, this year I was challenged by the trip down.  For one thing, the overnight flight from Anchorage was made uncomfortable by not so stable seat mates; then the flight to Cedar Rapids was cancelled out of Chicago.  So my easy trip in, was longer and more exhausting.  So with my time zone difference, I slept in.  That and I paniced about Auggie all day since my phone got pretty shoddy reception.

But today is about what we give thanks for.  I am thankful for being able to get here and see my parents, my brother, and my nephew.  I am thankful for a little furry poopball that is likely creating havoc up in AK.  I am thankful for the sunrises over the Chugachs that remind me back home why I moved to Alaska to begin with.  I am thankful for the time to appreciate all I am Thankful for.

That being said, y’all should be thankful you weren’t whipped in Monopoly either!!

 

You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello

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Tonight I waved to Auggie as he hopped into the car of Melissa Morse (well, she carried him to be specific, but not the point).  I am leaving tonight at 11pm for my annual pilgrimage to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin for Thanksgiving.  Our family has been getting together for Thanksgiving since before I left for college, and while Christmas wasn’t always a given Thanksgiving always was.  I had hoped to add to the family with a fuzzy ball of poop, but … I learned some things.

For starters, I learned Alaskan Airlines has a no pet policy for the Thanksgiving Rush (also Christmas, but we ain’t going anywhere for that).  American Airlines (my other airline I am on) has a “no checked animals” policy for flights where any leg is under 20°F … and our high today was 15°F.   I could have carried him on (with a pet reservation of course) but to get on American the whole way I wouldn’t be able to leave until Friday, which would make this not a Thanksgiving pilgrimage at all.  So I tried to find a kennel for the little monster, but … trouble again.  Many places require pups to be 4 months old (which won’t be until January) and there is a full coarse or two of shots he will still need.

Lucky for me, the Morse’s stepped up and took him in, even with his recent potty training setbacks.  Of course, like going anywhere with a child, I had to load her up with tons of stuff — food, bedding, the Auggie Dome (his crate), treats, toys, clothes (yes, clothes … its frickin freezing out there, even a dog needs a little to keep warm), and a squirrel or two.

The house is quiet now for a couple hours, which is the reason I can actually write a blog post. Toys are left about the floor like the dead after battle.  The smell of pee still lingers in the air.  I was even tempted to have dinner at home tonight, just to not have barking interrupt my meal.  But then again, I get to go out tonight because I don’t have to worry about leaving him alone.

But I know I will miss the little guy in short order.  Maybe I like the silence now, but soon, I will need to feel sharp teeth on my socks.

 

Settled, Sorta

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It’s not every day that a company you work for makes headlines, and its not every day that it leads headlines for the better part of a day – but yesterday my employer did, because we made headlines for much of 2010.  Yesterday, BP settled criminal charges filed against us for criminal charges brought for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (aka Macando, aka Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill) accident that killed 11 workers and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf.  I am not going into the specifics of what the settlement was nor what the company’s response to it was — not for me to blog about if you ask me – but one spot (of the 3000 or so that came up in my search) that has details is here:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57550185/bp-to-pay-record-fine-in-gulf-oil-spill-2-to-face-manslaughter-charges/

What I will say is that this isn’t the end of litigation with the disaster.  This was only the criminal charges against BP the company, and doesn’t include potential civil charges brought by the US government, and what is expect to be at least a class action civil suit, if not multiple civil suits brought from other parties.  Additionally, as noted in the article, at least three current/former BP employees have been arrested for manslaughter.  I mentioned to my brother yesterday saying: “I wouldn’t call this the beginning, but its certainly not the end.”

The mood in the office changed through the day though.  When the news of the settlement broke, we were all basically coming into or on the way into the office – so we had the brief (“Settlement made, $4Billion”) and it was initially a relief.  We all thought it was over and for far less of the cost we expected.  Then we read the full article, and the  mood changed to more of a “concerned for the future as usual”.  Later, it became more sobering, when we realized that there were people who are going to have to stand trial for their part.  While I don’t know anyone who personally knows those going to trail, we all seemed to be concerned with our fellow co-workers in the Gulf, and realized what happens if we make decisions like they did.

At the end of the day, we (and “we” as in the actual human beings that genuinely feel this way, not just what the corporate communications say) are committed to making this right.  While folks in Alaska don’t have bearing over what is done with Gulf of Mexico production, we want the right things to happen all the time with what we do.  We are committed to making sure that oil comes from the ground, stays in the pipeline, and makes it to where it needs to go without a drop hitting the ground.  We want the wildlife to remain healthy even though we are dealing with toxic things around them.  Most of all, we are committed to making sure anyone who goes to work on oil production comes home in one piece.  None of that’s easy, but its because its not easy is part of the reason I wanted this job too … I wanted to be a part of a change that could help make the whole world a better place to live.

I’ll leave you with a joke I told when I was getting to leave Cessna went something like: “I am getting tired of working for a company that gets a bad reputation in the press and in politics.  I am tired of hearing things like ‘corporate jets’ this and ‘executives flying in their corporate jets’ that, its just way way too political for my tastes and its tough working for a company that can get a bad perception.  So I am going to work for BP.”

Snow Days

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One year ago today, I was in Anchorage for my job interview.  Yeah, I came here in the dead of winter and still wanted to move here, how about that bit of coffee to drink?

Knowing that this is the anniversary of the interview, it was easy for me to do a comparison of then and now.  The big difference is the snow.  By this time last year, snow was up to my knees.  They had been pounded with the white fluffy stuff for weeks before I came up here, and you can tell that people were pretty used to it.  Yeah, we had snowfall in September, but there really only was one time the snow flied before last week. Yesterday there were still places where you could see grass, even little Auggie could find loads of leaves and twigs to chew on.  It was a long way from being the piles and piles I saw last year.

Today we had a good bit of snow, getting 2 inches, most of it coming in the morning.  It was enough to pile up a good 20ft pile where they plowed it in the parking lot at work.  The city now feels like its a winter wonderland … complete with road plows, near car accidents, and every floor wet with melted ice.  The snow is at that pretty stage, the kind everyone wants to see from the moment they get in the holiday spirit until just around December 27th.

It is really really really dark out, just like it was last year.  The sun is not up yet when I go to work, and its essentially down when I go home from work.  At the moment, I don’t think its really had much effect on me.  Mostly because my life still revolves around the four-legged poop machine, and all the work it takes to potty train and keep him from thinking that he leads our pack.  But it will probably be pretty obvious to me next week when we head south to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving — not to mention the week I will spend on the slope next month.

Keep warm out there folks, and don’t eat the yellow snow.

 

 

Fog Days of November

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Let me start with a little business.  I have been kinda iffy with my posts the last week because of the pup, I think I mentioned that but just thought I would give you the full excuse.  Until he grows more he is going to be a handful and its hard to get peace for 30 minutes or so to do a post (we try out a new carrier tonight and so far he is sleeping peacefully right next to me.  I toy with taking him with me to Wisconsin next week for Thanksgiving.  The logistics of it all with such a small pup and the potential health risks weigh against the lost time towards training and bonding.  Also, his name has officially changed — its still pronounced the same but I had too many complaints about the spell (basically, no one was getting the pronunciation right).  It’s now Auggie, and it rhymes with Doggie … like Auggie the doggie .. and no, not Auggie Doggie, just Auggie.

It’s an unseasonably warm last couple of days here.  It’s been closer to 40°F yesterday and today, and while for many of you that doesn’t sound warm its as warm as its been here in about a month.  We had some snow last week that stuck well because of the cold weather we have been having, but that started melting yesterday and really started melting today.  The effect was that it was really humid out today, every smokestack, every chimney, every heater bellowed steam like massive clouds.

What was really interesting about the weather was watching the fog.  Of course, fog is going to happen at certain temperatures and humidity, but as the day changed, the fog changed as well.  I first noticed it today and the way home for lunch with the pup, and the colder ground up the hillside near the mountains had a couple thousand feet of fog growing upward.  Only the top parts of the mountains were visible, but somehow the fog made them dominate more than normal.  Against the cutoff clouds the peaks loomed and reached higher and stronger.  As the sun warmed the city, the fog moved down off of the hillsides and came into town.

By mid afternoon, the whole of midtown where I worked was enveloped by a cloud.  We couldn’t see across the street, and it felt unnaturally dark.  It seemed to hang easily over the town for an hour so before it break and seemingly break suddenly.  One minute it was foggy, next minute it was clear.   The fog though moved out to the west and out to sea.   Later in the afternoon it moved up from the lower elevations and hung about in the creekbeds and seaside.  All and all, watching the fog was nearly the most interesting part of the day.

That being said, the little pooper is now up, and I need to give him a chance to pee before I put him down for the night.

Time Zoned

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The little pooper had a long day, and after getting a little too bitey I put him in the kennel for a few hours before one last trip outside and a chance for me to sneak out and have a beer or two.  In the meantime, I am sneaking in a blog on something I have been thinking about for the last couple weeks … time.

Alaska is in the Alaska Time Zone.  No, that’s not being ironic or elitist, the time zone we are in is called the “Alaska Time Zone”.  It is one hour beyond Pacific (West Coast) Time Zone, three hours past Central (Kansas) Time Zone, four hours past Eastern Time Zone, and ten hours past Central European Time Zone — and yes, we have readers from Europe .. and no its not because I am popular (more like a pappnase).  Being in this time zone means that things you can be used based on national times, its going to be offset oddly for you.

The easy example is NFL football.  Anyone who follows the game knows that Sundays are set up nicely with games at Noon Central time, and 3:30 Central Time.  Not in Alaska.   The first game starts at 9am.  Think about it, a game that is traditionally enjoyed with a nice beer and a load of bratwurst now happens when you are more likely to be sipping coffee and nibbling on a doughnut.  The sports bars that show the games open early, but even they won’t serve beer right away.  While I never was able to get into a place for a game (too many football fans, too few sports bars) some tell me that nothing beats steak and eggs at the Crossroads while catching the early game.

Sometimes it works in my favor, like I am watching an Oregon/Cal football game that got started stupid late back in Kansas time, but as it moves along to late in the game I’ll move along to downtown.

The odd part of this for me to adjust to is that things happen later in the day here than I am used to.  For the most part, work begins around 8am, not just at BP but everywhere in town.  For instance, I have a standing meeting every Monday morning at 7:15am. While it was rare that we had 7am meetings back in Kansas, everyone was basically in the office or nearly there by then.  I go in for that 7:15am meeting and all involved complain about the time (except for the guy on the slope who probably had been in the office since 5) – and there are slow movers until at least 8:30am.

But its not just work.  I went to grab breakfast this morning and at 7am the restaurant was a dead zone.  Walmart was like a graveyard shift at 7:30.  Even the coffee shops were still slow by 8:30.

The first thing you might think is that people don’t get up early because its dark out.  Well, it’s dark out at night too but it doesn’t stop anyone.  But like all places, people are up and moving for the same amount of time everywhere.  Things are still happening and fun well up to 10pm.  Some shows and music doesn’t start until 9pm.

But as I got to think about things, I remembered when I visited Spain a few years back. That was a country where everything was shifted back to late late late — like, people would be eating dinner around 11pm daily.  And let’s face it, people starting work in Kansas every day at 6am is … well … just insane.  So time is what it is, it fits the schedule of the world it lives in.

Now … why a puppy needs to go potty at 5:30am every day is a complete mystery.