Monthly Archives: February 2019

On returning to the USA

Thoughts on returning to the USA . . . .

[some of these ideas will not be popular!]

First of all, my usual airport-at-home meal of chips was accompanied today by queso instead of salsa. And all was well.


I heard very little about Donald Trump whilst in Africa or Europe, thanks be to god. But the Philly airport has all these televisions turned to news, filled with the noise and bloviations of this man. He’s a nuisance, an idiot.

I’ve just traveled to two continents, and I can confirm what I already knew and have witnessed over and over — Americans abroad are are by-and-large noisier and needier than others when abroad. At breakfast today, in the midst of quiet meals, two tables of Americans were obnoxiously noisy. At various gates at Madrid today, the Americans were the ones being bossy and needy and full of gripes.

Look folks — air travel is air travel, and full of weather and mechanical issues that might disrupt. Live with it!

And please take a cue from your surroundings and try to fit in more adroitly with your surroundings?  Perhaps be quiet and listen first??

I would also note that Americans as a whole are some of the largest people traveling. I myself should lose some pounds. But I watch Americans who just too large, and who have breathing problems and mobility problems, and who drink full-sugar colas and eat processed, packaged, calorie-laden foods. We are killing ourselves. (Professor, heal thyself, and give up chips and queso.)

My thoughts also turn to infrastructure. This tax-mad (as in ‘mad at taxes’) country continues to fall behind in a critical area. For instance, Morocco is building new train stations, has inaugurated high-speed train service, is renovating airports, and is pouring money into public works. Madrid has a world-class airport, with loads of space, trams, clear signage, comfort and multi-lingual staff. So does Stockholm. Vienna, The new QE terminal at Heathrow.

Then I come home and find yet another airport that is clearly past its prime, with crumbling physical aspects, carpet that is beyond replacement, and staff who couldn’t do three languages if required. This latter seems endemic in international terminals in the USA. TSA requires that all inbound international passengers be re-screened at security, but provide no staff who are better trained in languages than those at Helena or Harrisburg. We just seem chauvinistic. While other countries go out of their way to make tourists and travelers feel welcome, we expect foreigners to figure it out with no help upon arrival here in the USA.

We read it all the time: domestic train terminals are a mess, bridges are years past their useful life, roads are literally falling apart as we drive on them, air traffic control continues to be run by ancient computer technology, the IRS is using 1960s computer programs. And yet our federal government cuts taxes to help the wealthy, can’t seem to think in terms of making the USA a 21st century country (in its nuts and bolts), and kicks the can down the road. (After taking the inter-terminal tram in Madrid, the diesel-belching transfer bus route in Philly made me avert my eyes, so ugly and scarred was the underbelly of the airport.)

Meanwhile, our country goes through what I hope is the last throes of debate about the rightness and correctness of a global economy, and American primacy on the world stage.  We must leave xenophobia and iconoclasm behind.  Whether we like it or not, the future of the 21st century is one of cooperation and collaboration, rather than ‘me first.’  And we must make the hard decisions about carbon and fuel and climate and saving this planet, or our children and grandchildren will have nothing left except even more ‘me first.’  

I wish I were eloquent on this, but I’m damned tired of this chauvinism.

God help us.

I need some more tortilla chips.

This week’s menu

Tuesday, February 26
Breakfast at Southwest Diner
Greek-herbed chicken breast, and rice pilaf with pine nuts (
Tacos and refried beans

Wednesday, February 27
Eggs & bacon, sourdough toast, then make an almond cake (Cooking for Two, p. 395)
Cooking class at lunchtime
Caesar salad with chicken and homemade dressing, almond cake

Thursday, February 28 — sourdough day!
Sourdough French toast and bacon
Fish Menuiere, rice pilaf, almond cake

Friday, March 1
Eggs & bacon, sourdough toast
Caesar salad, scalloped potatoes (Baking for Two, p. 200)
Barbecued steak tips (Cooking for Two, p. 286), hominy, tapioca

Saturday, March 2
Two meals at Alton High School whilst adjudicating
Leftovers at dinner, or possibly another gig with Ruth Price

Tuesday morning grocery list:

  • fruit
  • chicken breast
  • Romaine lettuce
  • sole
  • diced ham
  • potatoes
  • blanched almonds
  • milk & cream
  • pancetta

And from Penzey’s:

  • celery
  • bell pepper mix

An update

Boy howdy!

Did I ever make the right decision in trusting my gut!?

The American Airlines flight to Dallas was canceled more than four hours after it was supposed to depart. Passengers were loaded and on the plane (I saw them loaded before I got on my Philly flight), and then had to wait for hours before the decision was made to cancel.

Meanwhile, I am now over Canada, or at least Canadian waters, on my way back to the US.

Airline travel is fraught with possibilities of things to go wrong, and that things do not usually go wrong as a testament to hard working ground and maintenance crews. Today’s flight to Dallas just felt ill-fated, and I am counting my blessings.

American Airlines

Confession: I usually avoid USA flagged carriers when flying on international trips, preferring the greater comfort, better food, and amenities of international carriers.

This trip, however, has been on American (and two legs on Iberia once in Europe).

The American Airlines experience this trip has been remarkable indeed.

At Saint Louis Lambert, the airline staff were happy, helpful, and friendly. Smiles abounded. The Philadelphia staff was less happy, but that may have been the late-leaving Orlando flight coloring everything for them.

The outbound flight to Madrid left on time and was only 1/4 full. My upgraded (for a fee) seat got me a couple of vodka tonics and a better meal, plus a reclining seat.

Now back at Madrid, I can say that I’ve had a bad feeling all week about the MAD>>DFW leg of this trip. I woke this morning to find the inbound flight all in good shape, and came to the airport. At the gate, just as the flight was supposed to board, the announcement: mechanical issues are being checked.

I really want to get home today. As I write, the DFW flight is still waiting to board, and will now be, at best, 90 minutes late.

So I walked over to the connection desk, and inquired about changing to the Philadelphia flight leaving at 1 p.m. Senora Maru told me I’d have to call customer service, that this desk was not able to issue tickets.

And then she loaned me her phone!

(AA is now bringing sandwich lunches for the passengers who are delayed on the DFW flight, and offering apologies and thanks for patience.)

Bottom line: customer service got me changed without penalty to the Philly flight, which is shorter anyhow. I will be home only 30 minutes later than planned.

And the connections desk staff got me in better seats that I’d originally had.

And then one of the staff called the baggage folks and got my bag switched to this Philly flight.

I should give a special shout to Manu (Maria Eugenia) who loaned her phone. But the entire AA staff here today has been gracious and helpful, restoring my confidence somewhat in domestic-flagged carriers.

(And as I finish writing, AA is now boarding the DFW flight. But I’d miss my final leg if I had stayed on DFW, and the Philly flight is shorter by nearly three hours. Assuming Philly leaves on time, I made the right call.)


On a layover, a three-hour ramble around central Madrid. I watched some street dancing, caught the 7 p.m. bells at the Cathedral, sat through most of Mass in Spanish, and found some pizza and beer, which really it the spot.

The edge of the royal palace.

My room at the airport Hilton.

This Hilton, near the airport, is a solid 1 km walk from the nearest Metro stop, which is itself more than a dozen stops from the city center. I got my walking in today.

Scenes from the San Miguel Market:

Tangier: departure

From the airport —

In the exec lounge, breakfast condiments.
The jet to wing me away.

The runway ends at the ocean. Here’s the surf, breaking taller than an SUV.

The pilot took off heading east, and then past Tangier banked a 270 pig-tail turn.

And I got to see Tangier from the air!

Notice the scallop-shaped bay on the east side of town. That’s the bay about which I wrote on Wednesday morning — a natural harbor for sailors and pirates alike.

In the cropped photo, you’ll notice three taller building just to the right of center. The buildings have dark window glass. The most easterly of these is the Hilton. My windows, on the other (north) side of the hotel, looked out onto the bay, and over to Spain, which you can see most clearly in the cropped (second) photo.