I was just thinking to myself that I’d like to go to Georgia to visit family. Especially some of my family members that are starting to get a bit older. I’d like to see them while I still have the chance. I’ve been meaning to go see them for a while now.
I looked up the cost of a bus ticket. $106 one-way. Then I checked the price of an airline ticket. $126 round-trip. Wow. What a deal! But then I remembered that I’d heard about needing a COVID-19 test to be able to travel. I wonder how much that costs?
And then I realized that I’ve probably been exposed to the virus and that my desire to see my relatives before it’s too late really isn’t in their best interests, health-wise.
Plus, there are quarantine requirements there and here if I remember correctly.
The ability of the average person to freely travel is really being locked down. How much of these precautions are legitimate? How much is government overreach? Why was there never a huge bump in numbers after the closely packed protests and riots? When do things go back to normal? Next year? Next month? It’s really amazing and fascinating how questionable reality has become in the last 4-5 years.
It’s a testament to the power of the media to shape our understanding of the world. And probably a testament to the dangers of building profitability for a “news” site around ad revenue rather than subscriptions. Things probably went truly wrong with Facebook and Twitter, though. It became too easy to boost misleading and untrue narratives into the national consciousness.
Anyway, I’ll have to put off my travel for a bit longer. Until I’m sure I’m not going to ride into my relative’s homes on a white horse.
When I was offered the opportunity to go on this trip to Israel, I was really psyched about it. I mean, it’s not every day that you get the chance to travel to one of the most important places in the world. Israel, and Jerusalem specifically, has been the direction of prayer for Jews for thousands of years. For some Christians in some periods it has also served as a direction of prayer. The same can be said for Muslims. During the initial years of Islam, Jerusalem was the qibla, or direction of prayer, before it was switched to Mecca to create a distinction between Muslims and Jews. Jerusalem has been a place of pilgrimage for all three faiths. Millions and millions of people have turned their thoughts, hopes and dreams toward that city. And, I got the chance to go for free. I’m still not entirely sure why. The Jewish Studies program director said it’s just because of who I am. I suppose he means personality and academic achievement, but no matter the reason, I am exceedingly grateful because it was an amazing experience. Life changing in some ways. And, while we didn’t all become the best of friends, we all bonded with each other to varying degrees. How couldn’t we?
But, that came later. Before heading to the airport, we all met up at our professor’s apartment in Manhattan. She had arranged transportation from there to the airport so we could arrive organized, as a group. It was less stressful for her to do things that way and reduced the chances of someone missing the flight.
Security was less aggressive than I expected. I suppose I had built up the interrogation process in my mind and the actual process was sort of a let down. I suppose that sounds sort of odd, but being battered with questions is part of the Israel experience now, for good or bad. I was asked about my identity, who I was traveling with, how long I’d known them, if I’d packed my bags and had my bags in my possession the whole time, and whether or not anyone had tried to give me anything to take to Israel. I was also asked who was in charge of the group and how long I’d known her. I think the process of trying to explain to them that we were all traveling as a group from a school was more complicated and tiresome than answering the questions and Professor Kornfeld handled that part of it anyway.
We wandered around the airport for a while before we headed to the boarding area. I bought a neck pillow. I figured I would need it and got a firm memory foam pillow. It came in handy, especially on the flight back. I thought about how long the week was going to be. Besides Professor Kornfeld, I was the only married person on the trip. I was also the only guy on the trip. That made things interesting, but not in a bad way. But, what I mean is that I was wondering how well things were going to go with my wife being alone for a week with the dog and cats.
When we got to the gate, we went ahead and got in line to board. We stood near the velvet cords that are removed when the staff is going to allow passengers to board. There were people standing by the windows praying. I’m not sure if they were doing evening prayers, praying for a safe flight, or both.
As the time to board came closer, a lot of the Chassidic people decided we weren’t important enough to be at the front of the line, or perhaps that they were too holy to be second, and walked in front of us and squeezed us out of our spot in the line. We had to start telling people the line actually starts at the back, not the front, or I think we would have found everyone bunched in front of us in a huge cluster of stupid.
The El Al staff wasn’t much better. The woman that checked my ticket and passport before letting pass through onto the boarding walkway even made a “psst” noise through her teeth as she handed back my identification. I didn’t have time to stop and think about it then, or perhaps I was too excited to be getting on the plane, but I can’t understand how these people can be so rude to customers and still have their jobs. The flight crew made up for it. They were extremely pleasant.
The plane itself was not impressive. It looked old. The screens on the backs of the chairs were discolored, flickered, or were dim. There was no on-demand video. There was a screen at the front of our section of the cabin that was just set to show what was on one of the available channels. It was worse than most domestic Delta flights I’ve taken. It didn’t hold a candle to Singapore Airlines. Those guys even give out slippers, tooth brushes and tooth paste. Complimentary champagne too, in economy class. El Al wouldn’t even agree to provide vegetarian meals for people in our group who don’t eat meat. But, at least it was safe.
I had a surprise on the plane. When I looked to my left I saw a guy I recognized and after a while I realized he attends the same synagogue I do. When I caught his eye he smiled and waved and I found out he was heading to Israel for a wedding. I bumped into him again at the customs/border control area.
Arriving in Israel, we discovered that there is no immigration stamp anymore. Because the Arab countries behave like children and won’t allow anyone in that has an Israeli visa stamp in their passport, Israel has had to change the way they issue visas. Now, they provide you with a printed card that looks sort of like an ID, with a photo and an entry number. You get another one as you leave the country. I was disappointed. Even though not having that stamp is probably best if I want to do more traveling in the region, it would have been cool to have. And, do I really want to visit and spend money in countries that behave like that anyway?
We left New York City at about midnight and arrived in Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion airport at about 4 PM. The drive to Jerusalem wasn’t that long at all. Before we knew it we were dropping our things off at the hotel. We were staying at the Eldan, across the street from the King David Hotel. I can’t remember if we showered. I’m sure I brushed my teeth at least, but before long we were back in the van and heading out for dinner.
NYC uses a mix of old and new buses in the city. A few days ago, I was on one of the older buses (the M100) when I started to smell something burning. At the next stop, the driver turned the bus off and told everyone to leave. I think the engine must have been overheating in a serious way for that much of an odor to enter the bus. I thought a building in the neighborhood was on fire. An overheating engine makes a lot more sense, since there weren’t any sirens.
It wasn’t really too big of a deal because we were able to board the following bus for free. New York City is pretty good about that sort of thing and often provides free shuttle buses during subway downtime as well. I felt bad for the guy in the wheelchair, though. With the engine screwed up, there was no way to get him off the bus. The engine usually revs pretty hard when the ramp is being extended, lowered and retracted. The newer buses are designed so that the floor of the bus is closer to the street level, which would make getting a guy in an electric, heavy wheelchair, out of a broken down bus much easier.
I hope everything turned out ok for the guy. He seemed pretty cool when I briefly spoke to him as I was getting off the bus. I thought about staying to help, but I figured I’d just get in the way. When we were pulling away on the following bus, three police officers were standing by the open rear doors, probably figuring out how to get the guy and his chair out. The bus driver was still talking on the bus phone, probably requesting help. I think the LCD said “Maintenance Call,” when I had walked by.
Something that surprised me about Tupelo, Mississippi was the fact that there are so many military veteran’s living there. Some of them I could just look at and tell were in the military before. I don’t know why. That sort of thing sometimes sticks with a person. Maybe it was the level of physical fitness and the haircut, or the way they carried themselves. Others were wearing hats identifying themselves as veterans of previous conflicts. My suspicions were confirmed by the friends we were visiting.
But, what I couldn’t figure out was why those people all chose to live in Tupelo. What does it offer? Is it because they all came from Tupelo originally? Are there that many military veterans in the country now, that small towns are becoming saturated with them? I just can’t see myself getting out of the military and choosing, of all places, to go to Tupelo, Mississippi, especially if I had retired and still had privileges to shop on a military installation. But, that’s just my opinion. Maybe there are people who want both to get away from the military entirely and enjoy a small-town feel. Tupelo definitely offers the latter, but with the number of veterans, it doesn’t really offer an escape from everything military.
Whatever the reason, a large park in the town has been designated as a veterans memorial park. It was put together quite well, too. The photos I took don’t really do it justice, because I only had my phone with me and we went late in the evening on a weekday. I can see this place being a pretty popular spot for barbecues.
I didn’t take photos of them, but there are a lot of ducks living around the pond. They defecate everywhere, and on everything. Most of the monuments, including the World War II memorial monument pictured above, were covered with feces. Walking in the grass was hazardous as well. It would be nice if there were less duck crap everywhere, but what’s the alternative? Kill them all? That wouldn’t be fun either, and they add to the scenery.
When we were on our way back from our vacation in Georgia, I realized that I’d accidentally selected a return flight that would have us landing at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. I didn’t realize this until we were at Hartford International Airport in Atlanta, checking in. I couldn’t figure it out at first. When I picked these tickets, I’d selected to see only flights for “NYC” on the website. Why would the Delta site show Newark in New Jersey as a NYC airport? It’s not even the same state!
So, while we were sitting in Hartford, waiting on our flight, we had to do a quick check to see what sort of transportation was available from Newark into the city. I did NOT want to spend 70+ dollars on a taxi. Luckily, there was another, affordable option: the AirTrain. On the website, it looked fairly new and the tickets weren’t that expensive. It’s been a few weeks, but I think they were only 11 dollars apiece to get to Penn Station.
The thing is, the site is a little misleading. I saw that shiny train and thought that’s what was going to take us to Penn Station. The reality is that it just drops you off at another train platform where you get on this old-timey looking train where conductors come through the cabs hollering to see your tickets.
I couldn’t help but think of that scene in the Indiana Jones movie where Jones threw the bad guy off the zeppelin and then told the stunned crowd that he didn’t have his ticket.
It wasn’t a bad experience. It’s really convenient, even. But, from now on I’ll definitely be double-checking that the travel websites are actually showing me NYC airports that are in NYC. Landing at Newark, as opposed to landing at LGA, added about an hour to our total travel time.
So, down in Georgia, there’s a river called the Chattahoochee. According to Alan Jackson, it gets hotter than a hoochee coochee and it’s a great place to learn to swim, love, and live.
Back in the 70’s, which is when I assume he’s talking about, that might have been true, but these days there’s so much industrial pollution and waste water run-off in the Chattahoochee that if it’s hot, it’s because it’s burning your skin. Atlanta pumps a lot of waste into the river, ruining it for all of the cities downstream.
That hasn’t stopped both Columbus (on the Georgia side of the river) and Phenix City (on the Alabama side of the river) from both trying to develop the area. One of their projects is a river walk. I remember when the Columbus government first started building the river walk back in the mid 90’s. If I remember right, I did a March of Dimes event there when I was a sophomore in high school. It was pretty nice. The view was good. Even going back there now, after having seen the skylines of so many cities in and outside the US, it’s still good, though that may be partly the nostalgia.
The other project that Columbus is working on is something to do with white water rafting. The city government has this idea in their head that if they build it, ‘they’ will come, in the hundreds of thousands, so, sure enough, several historic dams that were built to power factories that used to operate along the waterfront were blown open to create a ‘white water’ effect in the river. Personally, I think it looks more like a ‘lazy river’ ride at a theme park, way too tame for someone seeking a real white water thrill, but maybe they haven’t opened up all the dams yet.
My wife and I went down the Phenix City riverwalk with my dad and he was telling us about how the city made a big deal out of blowing the dam we happened to be looking at, at the time. It was televised and people were expecting a large explosion, but it wasn’t really anything special. I still wish I’d been there to see it, but mostly because I’d have been interested to see what was at the bottom of the river. I bet they pulled a lot of neat stuff out of there.
Across the river from where we were, for example, there was a wall built of large square stones that was previously submerged. In the side of that wall there were square tunnels running back into the bank. I wonder what’s in there? Was it used fro waste run-off or sewage? The way it was built, with two walls in terraced set-up, it seemed like there used to be a road down there.
Anyway, there’s a lot of history in that area. One of the last major wars of the Civil War was fought in Phenix City. Columbus used to produce most of the boots and swords for the Confederate Army. Columbus was also the end of the line for river cargo from the Gulf of Mexico, since it sits on the fall line. Now, those old factories are being converted into expensive lofts and the river is being turned into a commercialized tourist attraction (which will probably fail due to health concerns), but at least the river has a bit more character now. I wish I could get down in there with a metal detector…
While my wife and I were down in Georgia, it wouldn’t have made sense for me to not show her around Fort Benning. I did my basic training there in 1998, after all, on Sand Hill at 2/54 (2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment). After spending some time driving around Sand Hill, getting lost, using my phone to consult Google Maps and then finding our way back to the highway, we got over to the National Infantry Museum. Technically, it’s not on Fort Benning; it’s just out the gate in Columbus, Georgia.
I wasn’t really expecting much when we drove up to the parking lot. I’d heard good things about the NIM but I remembered how decrepit the old museum building was. I’d only gone there once when it happened to be closed and spent my time outside looking at the tanks. From the moment we walked up to the building entrance, though, I could tell the planners had put quite a bit of effort into making the NIM a place worth visiting.
There was no fee to get in. That was a bit of a surprise. I guess I’m used to New York City, where every museum and art gallery wants to push you to the brink of poverty with their entrance prices, though those prices are usually just recommended donations, meaning you can give less and still get in. Anyway, there were donation boxes scattered around the lobby and we gave about ten bucks.
The most visually appealing part of the museum is the ramp that stands directly ahead of the entrance. It takes you up through recreated scenes of eight famous battles that were decisively won by the infantry, from Redoubt #10 in the American Revolution to WWs I and II and up to the recent invasion of Iraq in 2003 (of which I was a part). There’s no Natural History Museum or any serious art galleries in Columbus, but having a military history museum available must be nice, especially considering that quite a few people in the area are military or military dependents (wife/husband/kids). While we were looking at the recreations, a man was walking up the ramp with what I assume were his sons, telling them about the battles and why they were significant. The kids looked really impressed. I wonder why it is that war is always such a hook for people (especially kids) when studying history?
Behind the ramp of the eight historic battles was an area that had a lot of photos and videos about drill sergeants and infantry training on Fort Benning, called OSUT now, which stands for One Station Unit Training. Unlike other job specialties in the military, infantryman do all of their training in one spot, from beginning to end as one unit. For example, I wasn’t infantry, so while I did my basic training in an infantry training battalion on Fort Benning, I did my advanced training at Fort Lee, Virginia.
After you finish looking at the training stuff, you can go down to the lower level and look at thematic galleries that address different periods, wars, or theaters of war. Those were pretty cool. There were a lot more artifacts there than I expected, the most surprising of which to me was Hermann Goering’s Nazi baton.
The baton made me think about how these days you can’t keep anything you find on the battlefield. Now they call them “war trophies” and a soldier can face legal action under the military justice system for sending that type of stuff home. I don’t know why. If you’re going to ask soldiers to do something stupid for ambiguous reasons, you ought to at least let them keep a souvenir. Not that I think wholesale looting should be allowed, either, though. I suppose the problem of where to draw the line led them to think it would be better to ban it all together.
My favorite parts of the display were the mock trench from the trench warfare in World War I and the explanations of how the 3rd Infantry Division got its motto: “Rock of the Marne”. I was in a unit attached to the 3rd ID during my first enlistment and while I was in Iraq. At Fort Stewart, Georgia, where the 3rd ID used to be based out of, we’d sing the Dog Faced Soldier song every morning before PT, and Rock of the Marne was a go-to phrase when greeting officers (ex: “Rock of the Marne, sir.”)
I also enjoyed seeing the stuff from the war between America and the Philippines, which mostly revolved around fighting the tribes in Mindanao who refused to be subjugated. The information placards there indicated that the US eventually won that fight, though my wife disagreed and said that’s wrong, that those people were never conquered; they resisted the Spanish, the Japanese, the US, and even the national Philippines government. I think just recently the Philippines government had to grant them limited autonomy to get them to stop blowing stuff up.
A family member told me that a person could probably look through the entire place in about 4 hours, but I have to disagree. If we stopped to read and look at each exhibit thoroughly, we could easily spend two days there and not get bored. When we went, two of the galleries, the ones for the earliest periods of US history, weren’t even open yet. That would make the trip even longer. We wished we had more time to enjoy the museum, but we’d only set aside one afternoon of our vacation for the museum. We’ll have to go back again next time.
Statue at the front of the National Infantry Museum
Not shown: Personal Courage (LDRSHIP, Leadership)
Information marker stone in front of the eight historic battle recreations.
Statue of mother and child left behind by soldier at war at the entrance to a small gallery about soldier’s families during deployments.
A painting of a man leaving his family during the civil war.
Rock hard biscuit.
A recreation of the jungles of Vietnam at night.
A mock spike pit from a recreation of the jungles of Vietnam.
For the week of Christmas, my wife and I flew down to Georgia to visit relatives. It was the first time I’d been there in about two years. It was really nice to get out of the city, see my family and relax. Going around town, looking at the places I went to school, the places I used to hang out, and sharing those memories with my wife was a good experience for both of us. She left feeling like she knew me better and I came away from the trip feeling a bit more grounded. Going to college and taking heavy course-loads with only short breaks between (I’ve been cramming in Summer and Winter classes as well) had me feeling like I was mentally flying off the rails for a while there. I’m also not taking a class this Winter. That’s mostly because I have Grand Jury Duty but I don’t think I would have taken a course anyway. I just need time to let everything I’ve learned sink in, and time to just unwind.
While we were in Georgia, my wife and I visited Sand Hill on Fort Benning, where I did my basic combat training back in 1998. We also went to the National Infantry museum. I’ll be posting about those experiences over the next couple of days. I can’t believe how much Sand Hill has changed, or how nice the Infantry Museum turned out to be. I was expecting something, but not something that well put together. It’s the Army, after all!
Anyway, before we left for Georgia, we had one small issue we had to take care of: the cats. Dapper and Thumper probably wouldn’t have wanted to fly with us to Georgia, even if it had been affordable, not to mention the fact that I don’t think my family would want cats running around their houses anyway. So, they had to stay at my mom’s place with their long-lost sister, Marble. They hadn’t seen each other in about six months and Thumper hasn’t gotten along with Marble since I left the Philippines with Marble instead of her back in 2010 and she had to sit there for a year waiting on me to bring her to NYC. I think she got jealous!
So, throwing them all back together for a week was probably not the best idea, but cat-sitting is so expensive these days, and I trust family more than I trust a pet-sitting service anyway. I figured they’d be ok. Everything seemed to have gone ok, anyway. Bringing them back was entertaining. We had to wrap the carrier up in blankets because it was about 24 degrees outside that night with a brisk wind. When we exited my mom’s building, one of our cats gave this horrified meow when she felt the breeze. Then she buried herself in blankets!
I hope everyone had as good a time over the holidays as we did, and that everyone’s year is off to a good start!
My wife and I were looking through some of our old photos together and we happened to see these:
They’re not just cards with pictures. I know in the US you can get something like that as a sort of collectible, but these are actually stickers on top of ez-link cards from Singapore. You see, in Singapore, they use a transit card that’s like a contactless debit card. You just tap it against a reader and enter the train station or bus. You don’t even have to take it out of your wallet or purse if you don’t want to, and, because there’s no strip to worry about and they’re not disposable, you can decorate them. They’re simple and usually don’t expire, as far as I remember. We wound up turning these in for new ones, when they upgraded their system so that ez-link cards could be used to pay tolls on toll roads in cars as well. In fact, that might have been when we took these photos, just so we could remember our stickers.
I miss these things, and how much easier they were to use than the MetroCards we get in New York City. MetroCards seem like a waste to me, because you get one, use it for a while and then it has to be thrown away. Wouldn’t it be better to just use the same card until you wear it out? It would definitely be more cost effective. Of course, switching to a card like this would create a loss of work for whoever makes the current MetroCards. That’s probably the reason they won’t upgrade. I understand that it’s important for people to have jobs, but I just get tired of seeing it used as an excuse to halt progress, especially when the upgrade could make life easier and is better for the environment at the same time.
Friday morning I had an adventure with the L-Train. Sort of an adventure. Well, mostly it was just a pain in the ass that made me late for class. There was something wrong with the 7 train, so all of the people that normally take the 7 to get into Manhattan were taking the L. I didn’t know this, of course, until after I was already in the station and on the platform. I don’t have to take the L. I could just take the bus from Avenue B to Union Square. The L is usually a bit faster though. Sometimes I’ve stood around for 20 minutes waiting on a bus, only to see three of them show up at the same time. The L is usually more reliable. Usually. But when it fucks up, it really fucks up.
So, like I said, I swiped my card, walked through the turn-style and then down to the platform. I stopped for a moment to take in the huge crowd of people. They were packed in tight from the edge of the platform back, with barely enough space for people to squeeze through behind them. That should have been my first indication that something was wrong, but I rarely ever take the train that early in the morning. This was at 8:30 AM. I have one class per week that starts in the morning and it only meets once per week. Anyway, I took my position at the back of the crowd and waited.
About 10 minutes later, a train arrived. The doors opened and people came flooding out, trying to push through the crowd. Before they’d finished getting out, people were fighting to get in. You know how it is. The person running the train is playing the “Please stand clear of the closing doors” message before people even finish walking off the train. Before I’d even managed to take one step forward, the people boarding were fighting to hold the doors open while they got onboard. I got to the front and realized I couldn’t squeeze in, no matter how I tried, so the doors closed and the train left.
Ok. That was disappointing, but I could just get the next train right? Wrong. About 10 minutes later another train approached the station. Then it left the station, without even stopping. Damn. By this point, I was thinking I should have just taken the bus. I’d have been at Union Square by then. But I thought that by the time I got out of the subway and got to the bus stop, and rode the bus, another train would come and I’d waste even more time. Besides, I wasn’t sure I could manage to get some sort of pass and I didn’t want to pay again. I didn’t have an unlimited card. So, I just waited.
15 minutes later another train finally showed up. People streamed out of it, and then the crowd surged in. I grabbed the pole in the middle of the train, between the doors and listened to a girl next to me screaming about some asshole who threatened her. She had stepped off the train to let people out, and when she tried to get back on, someone stupid got confused and thought she didn’t have a right to get back on ahead of him. Morons.
So, I was finally underway. Maybe I wouldn’t be too late. Or so I thought.
The train pulled into the next station, 3rd Avenue, and the conductor got on the intercom and told us that the train would be bypassing Union Square and not stopping until 8th Avenue. What the fuck? So, I managed to get ONE station before having to get off the train and walk anyway.
When I got to Union Square I got in line at the ticket booth just in time to watch an old man scream at the guy for not letting him back into the train station for free after he had a problem with the L Train. He screamed “Fuck you!” and then stomped over to the turn-style and paid again to get into the station. That wasn’t very reassuring. When I got up the counter, I presented my case, and for being courteous I was let into the station without having to pay again. A small blessing.
So… to get from 1st Avenue to Union Square took me almost an hour Friday morning. Thanks to the L train. And the fun and games didn’t stop there. By the time I got to the school I was thirsty, but all I had was a 20 dollar bill and the café and cafeteria wouldn’t give me change, so I had to leave the campus again, back the way I came, to go to a convenience store to get a drink. What fun.
Luckily, when I got into the classroom, no great fuss was made about my being late. Word of the 7 and L trains’ problems had preceded me. I think from now on I’ll just take the bus, or walk, to Union Square. The L train is too much of a pain in the ass to even bother with.