Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Greetings From Stormy San Diego

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Dec. 29, 2011] © 2011

December, 2011

Dear American and Swedish friends -

It is hard to believe that it is time for our annual holiday letter again.  As I sit here at my computer on this chill night snuggled in my warmest beach hoodie and sipping a hot mulled pina colada, I’d like to assure you that all those rumors about San Diego’s terrific climate are totally unfounded.  Indeed, if I had to sum up the year 2011, I would say that it has been one of terrible extremes of weather.

Already winter has struck here with savage force.  Several weeks ago, the temperature plummeted to a news-making 58 degrees, necessitating us to figure out how to turn on the pilot light on our heating unit for the first time.  Failing at that (just couldn’t figure out how to get our barbecue lighter wand in that itty bitty space), we simply ended up wrapping ourselves in our cabana cover. Looking out the windows in the mornings, one could see the joggers fairly shivering in their thin cotton T-shirts, and of course, all the open air restaurants were in an absolute dither.  (They didn’t know how to turn on their heaters either.)  Though it has warmed up since then, Sundays at the beach have simply had to be abandoned, and even poolside sunbathing is possible only a few hours a day.  The ocean, of course, is much too cold to swim in now (but then, many of us think the Pacific is too cold in the summer too).  We’ve simply resigned ourselves to the Jacuzzi till spring.  Rather than fight it, we have just decided to accept that winter is here and prepare for it.  So last weekend, with heavy hearts, we went around closing the windows.

Of course, this winter can only be better than last.  Many of you probably read in the papers earlier this year about the absolutely torrential rains San Diego suffered - eight record-breaking inches for the year, a staggering three-quarters of an inch above normal.  Bike paths were muddied, tennis courts rendered unusable with puddles, and lemons torn from their branches by winds gusting to twelve miles per hour. Residents raced to get their patio umbrellas cranked down in time.   The worst of it, however, was that all the rain made the bougainvillea and night-blooming jasmine grow so fast that we were out there every spare minute trying to whack them back – in February yet!   Then, barely six months of perfect beach weather later and bam! – it was winter again. 

In between the recent unseasonably cold temperatures, the Santa Anas blew in  – clear and beautiful days with spectacular sunsets to be sure, but totally hot and dry.  We were forced to eat Thanksgiving dinner outside on our patio, barefoot no less!

So friends, wherever you are – Chicago or Boston, Stockholm or Goteborg – take heart.  Life here in San Diego is not always what it’s cracked up to be.  Meanwhile, Happy New Year and Gott Nytt År from your friends in La Jolla,

Inga and Olof

Tree branch slams local car during wind storm

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Husbands Who Travel Too Much

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published December 15, 2011] © 2011

A close friend recently reported that her husband, a 59-year-old senior executive, has concluded that the nearly ten million miles of business travel he has logged in his career have taken too much of a toll on his health and he is taking early retirement.  It could be more of an adjustment than he thinks, she adds. She’s not sure he realizes his only friends are airline personnel.

I couldn’t agree more that years of business travel would take its toll on anyone but in the last two years, the process has accelerated at warp speed. 

My husband, Olof, an engineer, has always spent a fair amount of time traveling to far away places to assist (cajole?) customers in nailing down their functional requirements.  (Describing the dilemma of his profession, he notes: “The delivery date is firm.  But the requirements date slides.”) 

But at this point in his life, there is no phrase that puts more fear into the short-notice flier like Olof than “Your requested seats [aisles] are not available.”  (A close second is, “It’s a legal connection.”)  With leg room having done a veritable vanishing act, the coach middle seat ought to be actionable.  His company flies people business class to the Middle East but anywhere else, it’s steerage. For the 6’3” Olof, it was always a tight fit but now his knees are painfully wedged against the seat in front of him. When that person reclines, discomfort becomes agony. 

I first realized how profoundly the rules had changed when Olof handed me an itinerary for a cross-country trip he was leaving on the next morning and said, “See if you can do anything about these middle seats.”  As soon as I brought up the reservation, a message popped up asking “Do you want to upgrade to an aisle seat for $28?”  I couldn’t hit “Yes” fast enough.  But it occurred to me that this same message had popped up when the company’s contracted travel service, Troglodyte Travel, made the reservation and they had obviously clicked “No”.   It was to be the first of several unhappy interactions with them. 

Keep in mind that in all the years that Olof has worked for his otherwise-lovely family-oriented company, I’d never had cause to be involved in Olof’s business travel.  But that was before the triple threats of customer-squeezing airlines, a bad economy, and indifferent travel agencies.

Now you might ask why Olof doesn’t take this up with the folks at Troglodyte himself.  That would be because Olof has worked seventy-five hour weeks for more months than anyone should be allowed to.  Besides, that’s what you have an obnoxious wife for.   The irony, of course, is that with years of business travel, Olof is a Grand Poobah member on two major airlines which automatically entitles him to aisle seats, extra leg room, and upgrades to First Class on domestic flights.  But somehow the folks at Trog seem to book him on middle seats on Brand X Airline (their motto: “We Hate You”) where everything but the seatbelt costs extra. (I’m sure that’s coming.) 

We’ve had some issues with the folks at Trog about the aforementioned legal connections as well.  I chatted up their agent, Evil Spawn (not his real name), on the subject of a forty minute connection in a major airport on a holiday weekend that required going through customs and changing terminals.   “It’s legal,” he shrugged.  “So is adultery,” I said, “but it’s not advisable.” 

Un-makeable legal connections, of course, impact another new phenomenon in the airline world: flights all run full.  Miss your connection and you can spend days hovering at an airport gate with your roller bag and ninety pound-briefcase vying in vain for a standby seat.  Olof made Marriott Gold status on Houston alone.

The contracted travel agency isn’t in business to make Olof happy, so it’s no scales off their backs if Olof has to fly to the UK in a middle coach seat or is booked on what should be all by logic an illegal connection.  Finally I said to them, “We’re willing to pay the difference between Brand X and Grand Poobah.  So book Poobah, or if Brand X asks if you want to upgrade to more leg room, say yes!”  Nobody is going to put my husband through eighteen hours of absolute torture when there’s an alternative of simple misery.

But back to our retiring friends.  She went on to say that she hadn’t really realized just how much her husband’s years of travel had impacted him until they started looking for homes back in their native Dallas.  Their historic DC house could fund at least two Dallas-area McMansions but my friend couldn’t help but notice that the ones that appealed to her husband had a common quality:  they all looked like Marriotts.