There and back again.


“Wherever you go, there you are.”

– Buckaroo Bonsai

The more compelling aspects of my last five days:

The Great Escape.

Since I had a ticket to ride (technically a ticket to fly, I guess) Wednesday night, I was starting to get antsy Wednesday afternoon. I’m one of those people who like to get someplace well in advance of when I have to be there, to cover myself in case something goes wrong. I had plenty of time to get to the airport for my 8:15 flight, but at 4:30 I couldn’t stand it anymore, announced I was leaving for the airport, and left work early.

I was completely thrown for a loop by the new automated check-in system, which was not in place the last time I flew a year and a half ago. You walk up to an ATM-like machine, stick your credit card in (for ID only, it doesn’t charge you anything extra), verify your seat on the plane, tell it how many bags you’re checking and it spits out your ticket. You hand your bag to a guy in the airline’s uniform at the end of the row of machines, and you’re through the first hurdle.

Of course there’s still security at the gates to endure, and the ID + ticket stuff as you board the plane, but at least one part of the system is a bit more streamlined now.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. The hotel’s shuttle was actually waiting for me outside the terminal after I finished at baggage claim, for once my reservations weren’t messed up, and my room was in a perfect position, close to both the lobby and the seminar room, but not so close as to have a lot of hallway noise because of it.

Interpersonal relations in a social, professional setting

The symposium was well attended, and by an interesting mix of people. There were several dozen VMAT’s there, as well as representatives from the Army, USDA, EPA, state agricultural departments, private practice veterinarians, private practice doctors, epidemiologists, educators, and even a handful of students. Representatives from pharmaceutical companies, retail organizations, and food safety experts also attended, making for a true mix of interests and people. To my delight, I ran into an old friend from vet school that I hadn’t seen for several years.

A few things about the meeting disturbed me. Although a good number of women attended, minorities were poorly represented. Those few who were there all seemed to be veterinarians, although this is admittedly a totally unscientific poll on my part. Likewise, most of the people attending had hair in various stages of greying. While I realize that this means that we had a fair amount of experience represented at the symposium, it also indicated to me that there is a need to get more younger specialists involved in emergency management planning.

The presentations were interesting, and I actually made it through the entire two days of nine hours of presentations with my attention span totally intact. Usually there is something worth sleeping through, but not this time. Many of the people in attendance are playing a role in the current influenza outbreak, and during the breaks those people were abuzz with the latest news about stepped up flu vaccine creation and discussion of the 18 year-old New England boy who died of influenza late last week. I think it’s safe to say that the experts are quite worried about the potential this year’s flu outbreak has.

Saturday was wet-lab day. It was a day of chasing cows, flipping sheep, and doing turkey necropsies. I did poorly at sheep flipping (guess my strength hasn’t come back as much as I’d have liked), but ran rings around most people when it came to moving animals from point A to point B.

How to flip a sheep (and other physical impossibilities)

I’m imagining at this point that at least one person want to know what I mean by “flipping a sheep”, and why the hell I’d want to do such an inhumane thing. Permit me to explain.

Sheep are wild and wooly critters, if you’ll pardon the expression. From a veterinary aspect, they are hard to restrain, a pain to examine, and a challenge to pill and get blood from. Unfortunately, sheep owners don’t see it that way, and so veterinarians are still called upon to treat these misfits of the animal kingdom.

To treat a sheep, you must first find a way to stop it in its tracks. The best way to go about this is to first slow the sheep down by putting one arm around the front of its neck and your other hand on its rump beneath its tail. Once you’ve achieved this, the sheep becomes easy to steer. To engage forward gear, relax your front arm slightly. To achieve reverse, stiffen the arm in front and ease off on the hand on the rump.

As with a car, though, getting the sheep into drive and reverse isn’t as good as having the brake on and the sheep up on blocks. The way one goes about this is flipping the sheep. With arm in front and hand in back, you need to get a leg back behind the sheep. By forcing the sheep to back into your leg while pressing on its side, the sheep will lose its balance and fall over. As it falls, you grab the front legs and sit the sheep upright on its butt, so that its back is resting on you and its hind legs are sticking out from under it. Picture a baby-sitting on its rump and being supported by an adult holding it by the arms, and you have the general idea.

Sheep do not like the procedure of being tipped, but once tipped they don’t seem to mind sitting on their rumps. I was very good at annoying the sheep, but it became clear that they were far better at tipping me than I was at tipping them. I publicly attribute this to having lost so much strength while I was ill, but privately I know it’s because I’m a wimp.

Personal finances

They fed us breakfast and lunch all three days of the symposium. Thursday there was also a social meet-and-greet after the talks, at which was served a rather decadent amount of appetizer type food. There was enough to eat that I really wasn’t hungry for dinner. Friday my friend and I took the shuttle to the local outlet mall, and ate at the Food Court there on the cheap. The only meal my company ended up having to foot the bill for was dinner on Saturday, so I’d say they have little to complain about regarding my expense report (which I really should submit soon).

Hanging around an outlet mall for dinner was probably not the best thing I could have done for my own wallet though. I did buy some necessities at the Hanes outlet. I also picked up something for The Socialist at a kitchenware outlet there. The one frivolous purchase I made was at Saks Off Fifth Avenue: a mirrored ring plate and matching trinket box that I’m going to use to dress up the downstairs powder room.

I did far worse damage to the bank account during my trip to Nashville two summers ago, when I stayed at the Opryland Hotel, a truly decadent place. If you ever want to spend an unconscionable amount of cash and hob-nob with tourists with money disposal problems, then put the Opryland Hotel on your list of “must see’s”.

Current events (what you don’t know can hurt you.)

Sunday morning my flight was to leave Raleigh-Durham at 11:00. The hotel I stayed at was mere minutes away from the airport, and I really didn’t need to be at the airport before 9:00 or 9:30. I turned on the weather channel when I got up, worrying about the snow/rain storm that was supposed to dump up to a foot of snow in my home state. The Philly area wasn’t supposed to be hit nearly as hard, but these storms have a way of turning on you when you least expect it. I tried to take the “que sera, sera” approach, but by 8:00 I was too restless to stick around any longer and took the shuttle to terminal A.

Checking in was a breeze. Having done the automatic check-in once already in Philadelphia, I knew what to expect and whizzed right through the check-in process. Around the corner, up the escalator, and … whoa Nellie!

There was a serpentine line of people waiting to go up the next escalator. I joined the line, figuring that Check-point Charlie for the gates had to be right at the top of the elevators. It seemed a weird place to put the gate security, but what did I know? Many airports had to be retrofitted for more complete security measures, and Raleigh-Durham is relatively small, so I honestly didn’t take much notice. The line went quickly, and I was soon signaled to join the next group of travelers to head up the escalator.

At the top, instead of being greeted by the security checkpoint, was another serpentine queue of people with their carry-ons. In all I’d guess there were perhaps a 150 of us waiting our turn to go through security, which was visible off to the far corner. The line moved slowly, and some people ahead of me started to panic. They hadn’t built enough time into their plans for this mega-wait, and were close to missing their planes. Twice I saw someone close to the end of the line agree to trade places with someone further back who was in danger of missing their flight. It wasn’t until I had been waiting there for half an hour or so before I learned the reason for the wait.

As the rest of the world had undoubtedly already heard (assuming they tuned in CNN rather than The Weather Channel, as I did), So-Damned Insane had been captured a few hours earlier that morning. National security was stepped up, and that meant airport security had been stepped up. Rumor had it that Raleigh-Durham had brought in 27 additional employees that morning to deal with the additional crunch the added security had caused. I was rather pleased with myself for having gotten to the airport so early.

Checkpoint Charlie

Finally it was my turn to go through security. I knew all the ropes at that point. Cell phone in my purse, shoes and jacket off, get rid of the change and keys in my pockets, load everything in a bin, and stroll through the metal detector in stocking feet to retrieve my stuff on the other side. Just one problem.

My carry-on kept jamming the x-ray machine. Not jamming as in “too big”, but jamming as in crashing the computer that ran the x-ray machine. It shut things down completely. They removed my duffle, got everything reset, threw my duffle back on the conveyor belt, and things jammed again. I stood there watching the proceedings, more and more sure that my bag was going to be opened and searched. I began to mentally review what I’d packed in there, praying that the bag with my manure-smeared coveralls and dirty underwear had been put in the bag I had checked through. I figured having to explain the pharmacy I have to carry with me was going to be bad enough, and I didn’t want to have to deal with anything else.

Sure enough, my bag was carried over to a nearby table, and I was asked to come over while they reviewed the contents. Fortunately, the dirty laundry was in the other bag. Unfortunately, the manicure scissors in the accessory bag that I threw in the carry-on at the last minute (in fear of getting snowed in at Raleigh-Durham) were sitting right on top of the accessory bag when it was opened.

They were really nice about, even though I was mortified by my mistake. They offered to have them shipped to me, but I told them that the scissors had already caused me more grief than they were worth, and asked that they please just trash them instead. What I found interesting was that, once they’d found those in my bag, they stopped searching my stuff. I’m rather certain that the scissors were not the reason my bag kept crashing their computer system, but they never (to my knowledge) pursued that.

Weather report

The offending snippers confiscated, I was permitted to continue on to my gate. On the way I purchased a perfectly terrible egg, cheese and bacon biscuit from some fast food shop that apparently specialized in grease and flour. Taking my sandwich (I use the term loosely) and orange juice to the waiting area, I watched the same video of Sadam being given a physical again, and again, and again, and again. The background noise made it impossible to hear the television, and I sat too far away to read the closed captioning, but I amused myself by writing my own running commentary to the pictures being shown.

At one point, a pick-up truck with perhaps a dozen and a half men and boys in the back was shown. The people on the truck were jumping up and down, waving their hands in the air in an air of celebration. Undistracted by commentary, I was able to take a better look at the picture. I noticed that most of the men were looking at people on the sidewalk, and closer examination revealed that there were no pedestrians on the sidewalk, just photographers with their still and television cameras. As the truck started to slowly move ahead in traffic faster vehicles were passing it on the right. An arm shot out of one of the cars passing; I couldn’t tell if it was a fist held up in victory, or the driver flipping the bird at the slower truck that was holding up all traffic behind it. Whatever the gesture, it was apparent that this show of celebration involved exactly one vehicle on the busy thoroughfare, though the television cameras were careful to keep the truck as nearly the entire field of vision.

The one thing I was hoping for was a weather report, to let me know what kind of trouble I could expect if/when I landed in Philly. Apparently CNN doesn’t do weather. At least not on days that the US manages to capture the Ace of Spades.

Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

The rest of my doings are somewhat anticlimactic. New York City was fog bound, and many cancellations were called out for NYC and points north. Philly traffic was unaffected though, and I landed within ten minutes of when I was scheduled. My baggage was not lost, my car was not frozen over, and the roads were perfectly fine as I drove home.

When I arrived, the cats did not greet me, the closest parking was on the far side of the parking lot to my apartment, and three Christmas balls were laying on the floor next to the litter box in the living room. Life, in other words, had resumed normalcy.

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  1. The sheep tipping sounds like fun, well, maybe reading it is better.

    I know when I flew back from Sacramento I just about panicked when I saw the lines. Like you, I have a habit of being very early. I would rather be there and safely people watch.

    Welcome home. Sounds like you had a good time. Now it’s back to the grind. Yippee.

  2. Yes, airport food is just as horrible as airline food. I think the word "air" has negative consequences on meals.

    I’m not sure what excuse hospitl’s have.


  3. Oh my goodness.LOL, I have funny images of you in my head flipping sheep!!

    A have to ask if sheep in the Northern Hemisphere are as dumb as ours in the South!!




  4. I’m glad my fair region didn’t treat you too badly. 🙂 I don’t know that I would want to try to flip a sheep. They seem so…otherworldly. And stinky. They never look stinky on t.v.

    Oh, yes: furniture project for hubby–to build a block-building station for the boy’s playroom. It’s well within his capabilities, but we’ll see if it happens.

  5. You can find them in some the markets here.

    Look under loquat ”golden nugget”.

    Eriobotrya, E.japonica.

    The fruit ripens in winter until late spring.

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