Tag Archives: travel

Montgomery Airport, Continued

We once wrote about the charms of flying out of the Montgomery airport. But sometimes, it can be less than charming. And lately, it has been downright annoying, sliding into an experience that one might reasonably call “unpleasant.”

It is nearly Thanksgiving, and it is already the holiday corridor when our nation’s skies are full of the most people and our airports are most crowded. As such, consider the following concerns about the local airport experience.

The airport likely has little control over TSA agents, who are federal employees and obviously free to make travel as unpleasant as possible. The airport can’t control the situation in Montgomery when one agent says to hold your hat in your hand, while the other tells you to send it through the x-ray machine. The airport isn’t in control (we assume) of the irradiating machines and the surly, bored jerks that rifle through your stuff and march you around telling you to “hold your hands up higher.” The airport itself doesn’t do the hiring and firing or the training of the sad losers drunk with power, herding rubes through a bottleneck.

But the Montgomery airport does employ the cops circling the single paved loop out in front, wasting gasoline and enforcing the ludicrous 15 m.p.h. speed limit. The Montgomery airport police officers make campus cops look like FBI agents.

And the Montgomery airport is also responsible for the wireless network, which is free but inoperable at least a third of the time. We’re glad it’s free, but hate that it is poorly maintained. The airport’s local strategists are also behind the unavailability of a bar after you clear security, and the airport is responsible for the monopoly of the crazy Christian and militaristic cartel’s coffee shop that doesn’t seem to understand how to provide decent snacks to hungry travelers.

The airport is bereft of any art or humanity. It offers virtually no choice of airline carriers, and is astonishingly bad in the department of flight delays and even outright cancellations on the mandatory leg to and from Atlanta. Increasingly, we experience exhilaration and delight when we get wheels up leaving Montgomery in a timely manner. And although we are often glad to be coming home, it is often with a sense of looming regret that we’ll spend an additional half hour or 45 minutes waiting for the lethargic baggage crew to unload a single arriving plane onto the  single baggage carousel.

Nine times out of ten, I’ll take slow-moving laid back apathy over an aggressively hostile and militant efficiency. I’m just Southern like that. But sometimes, people getting on an airplane are going someplace laden with stress, and the loafing and gossiping of every employee in sight is maddening, especially when things are delayed and there seems to be no interest in crisply getting you where you’re going.

So, again, it’s not the fault of the Montgomery airport that the TSA decided to do a special secondary screen at the gate, demanding photo ID from the same people that had already passed through security 200 yards away. And it’s not the fault of the Montgomery airport that those agents are on pathetic power trips, making people take off sunglasses with unpleasant demands (“Let me see your eyeballs”). Those agents are clearly saving America from terrorism.

But again, unionized federal jobs aside, it’s important to focus on the accountability parts that we can control: It is the fault of the Montgomery airport that flight departure and gate information is not updated on the screens. With only six gates (and usually one flight leaving at a time), it’s not hard to walk up and down and try to figure out where you need to sit. But it’s also not hard to update a screen, especially if there aren’t going to be gate agents present to let people know what’s going on.

And the fault lies with either the airport or the airlines (or both) when the same plane that has been sitting empty on the tarmac for nearly an hour isn’t refueled until after everyone has boarded. Nothing adds frustration to a planeload of delayed passengers like seeing a fuel truck pull up next to the plane after the doors should have already closed.

These anecdotes are from a single recent outbound trip through Montgomery Regional Airport this week. May your future adventures be more enjoyable.

Road Learnin’

We just finished up a pretty epic drive to Albuquerque and back for the holidays. It’s a long ways, about 1,300 miles if you take the northern route (Memphis, then the 40) and  a good bit longer if you go to Houston and the 10. We’d done it once before since we moved here, but this time we got the advantage of a super-luxe borrowed car with the following major advantages: 1. Lots of space for our dog to pace and sleep; 2. Satellite radio, allowing us to listen to Finebaum every day; 3. Heated seats, especially important since we were Driving Into The Great Storm of 2011 (which was played on television as a major blizzard but which seemed to have consisted of a dusting of snow by the time we got to the Home of the 72 Ounce Steak the next day).

We’ve posted here a few times about learning from other cities, including a recent trip to Minneapolis  – this time, a few things we learned traveling and one thing we learned from our destination city.

First, the road trip itself. We took the dog, which presents a whole set of challenges. She loves to go, but taking her means stopping more frequently, not totally blasting your music all the time and generally being more humane about the road trip experience than you might be if it were just you humans in the car. The advent of spacephones greatly helped with our dog travel experience. We used our phones to find dog parks on the way. It turns out that when you enter Oklahoma going east, the rest stop has free coffee, palatial marble restrooms and a fenced in dog park. Just across the freeway, evacuees are rewarded with the opportunity to stroll through the set of The Road and pee in a metal hole. The Internets also helped us to find hotels that would allow the dog to stay with us by laying them out on a map near our current location, even if we were in Van Buren, Arkansas.

Mapping in general is kind of awesome; having the mobile Internets allowed us to find cool place to eat so we were able to avoid chain restaurants (sure, we hit a Taco Bell one time, we’re only human, but it was in Moriarty – surely that counts a little toward our indie cred?). On the way there, we ate at the Sawmill Cafe in Arkansas – not through the Internet, just because it was the only non-chain at our stop and we were starving. Plus, we dimly remembered that we’d eaten there before and that they sold comics in their weird little gift shop (Jesus! Slightly crinkled James Patterson thrillers!). The buffet is pretty good, but also a bit overpriced – you’re lucky to get out of there for less than $30 for the two of you.

On the way back, we used mapping to find vegetarian food in Amarillo and Memphis, cities that are both nationally-known temples of animal slaughter meat culture. Our alternative to Amarillo’s 72 ounce steaks was vegetarian chili and a bagel pizza at The 806, where a display case of local art featured necklaces made of human bones ($50). It was cool to see part of Amarillo that we’d never seen before, an otherwise awful-seeming city looking like it has a scene after all. Much the way some people probably feel when they come to El Rey. It made us reflect on the way sometimes creative types end up retrenching in their own little areas of town. We are all challenged to take over our cities, not just hide out in enclaves. Truly great cities are big, sprawling canvases extending beyond a small neighborhood.

In Memphis, we ate at a vegan restaurant so good its own review is forthcoming – Imagine. It was in the Cooper-Young district of Memphis, the kind of neighborhood you drive through and know you’d love to live in. Next door at Goner Records, we bought an album by super weird Memphis music scene icon Tav Falco, then walked to get coffee at Java Cabana. It was advertised as the best coffee in Memphis. We concur, even though it’s also the only coffee we’ve ever had in Memphis.

One cool thing about Cooper-Young is that they publish a surprisingly large and well made neighborhood newspaper, the Lamplighter, every month. This is how we learned that two Memphis neighborhoods competed against each other last year in a contest to see which neighborhood could reduce their energy use the most – The Smallest User. Check out the website here, and there’s also a blog. I think this is the kind of thing that would be able to get our neighborhoods interested in a little friendly competition. Anyone game?

Our destination, Albuquerque, was warmer than usual despite the Great Storm. This allowed us ample opportunity to sample the Duke City’s ample off-leash dog parks. We know that Montgomery is going to (knock on wood) open its first of these in 2012 over at Blount, but may we humbly suggest that the Capitol of Dreams look west for some inspiration as it expands opportunities for dog recreation? Albuquerque’s approach is to use odd plots of land – the place right up against the freeway where nobody wants to live or own a business, the odd-shaped triangle behind baseball fields – and convert them into low-maintenance dog parks. Several are covered in mulch, rather than grass, so they don’t need a lot of mowing.

All in all, blogging has been light in the last piece of 2011. Look for more to come in 2012. Thanks for staying with us and thanks for reading. Happy New Year!

If You Go: Minneapolis

Since late July, we’ve been on the road – Florida, Minneapolis, Denver, Scotland, New Mexico, and now after a brief respite we’re off to Milwaukee and New York. Lots of travel, but it always feels so good to come home to our beautiful house – Montgomery really feels like home to us. Sometimes we wonder if we still feel like we are “Lost in Montgomery,” since we know more than our share of shortcuts, local weirdos, restaurants and contractors. We don’t want to be those people who live in Montgomery and are always putting it down. You know who we’re talking about – they’re always comparing Montgomery to some other place they used to live where lattes grew on trees and people actually had a choice of what live music to see after eating in some vegetarian Ethiopian fusion restaurant. We’re not saying we don’t like lattes or live music, but it’s pretty tiresome to hear people moan about your home city all the time.

There’s nothing like leaving the country to get some perspective on America and Americans, but you don’t need to pay the increasingly steep passport fees to get some perspective on Montgomery. Time may or may not do the trick, but you may be so old when you finally get perspective that you can’t do anything except complain to your nurse about the kids these days. Perspective doesn’t necessarily require distance, though some intervening miles can often help you catch your breath. Perspective comes when you can look at something differently than you did before. When the familiar looks strange, you’ve got perspective by incongruity. Creativity is a good way to make the familiar look strange, but so is exposure to other ways of doing things. A recent trip that took me to Minneapolis  did the trick nicely.

I’d never been to Minneapolis (but for a brief speaking engagement once at the downtown Convention Center). That place is a Habitrail for the nametag-and-totebag crowd, complete with tunnels and basements and endless steamy vats of industrial eggs. It could be anyplace in the world, and you’d never know the difference. And we’ve flown through the airport a few times, and always make a point of (after a visit to the Larry Craig Memorial bathroom) stopping to play one of the dozens of pinball machines throughout the terminals. They may not be super well kept up, but they are pinball machines, and since we live in a city that has exactly one such device (Bad Cats! at Chris’ Hot Dogs), every chance to play is worth it.

On this trip, I had basically a whole day to play around in the city after my work outside of town was done. I got on the light rail at the airport. The Hiawatha Line ran everywhere I’d need to go during my stay, including the Government station just a block and a half from my hotel. The train area at the airport was surprisingly clean – not the freaky/arty European action film clean of the fascist-scale Dulles tram system, but exceptional and comfortable. It was a short train ride downtown, and it seemed like everyone getting on the train after the airport terminal had a bike, a library book, or both.

The hotel, the desk workers told me, had been recently remodeled by “people from New York.” The lobby was full of drapes and lounging chairs and a wine-dispensing machine I’d never seen before, but which evidently relieves business hotels of the burden of selling wine while relieving patrons of substantial per-glass fees, all with a card linked to your room number. My room was deliciously cold and extra feathery. A nap and a shower later and I was ready for action.

At Government Station, near my hotel.

My first stop was the Walker Art Center. I walked a few blocks, easily found the right bus and went right to the museum. Just this little trip reminded me of what it’s like to live in a place with functioning sidewalks, buses that stop frequently (rather than every hour), and shelters at bus stops. Sure, the weather gets pretty inclement in the Twin Cities, but it’s not as if Montgomery’s without its own share of weather extremes. Let’s face it – our bus system is famous for other reasons besides accessibility and usefulness. There is free wireless throughout downtown, something that Montgomery is working on but is still limited. On my walk I noticed that downtown Minneapolis is really clean. The library was massive, beautiful, and bustling on a workday lunch hour.

The downtown public library branch.

The 6 bus goes to the Walker. I was pleasantly surprised by the diverse crowd on the bus, including a colorfully dressed hippie girl in striped tights who was museum-bound like me. I love to ride the bus. I love the feeling of asking for transfer even though you are pretty sure you won’t make it since you will stay too long at your destination.

At the Walker, full of galleries that are densely built up on each other in aphasic array of stimuli, I saw an exhibit curated by notorious weirdo John Waters. There was an exhibit that tried to mimic cabinets of curiosities, a la the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I enjoyed an amazing meal at the museum restaurant (a cocktail called the Minnesota Mule, a watermelon/feta/arugula salad, a goat cheese pannacotta). The museum’s got a cool outdoor area where they sponsor all kinds of community programs and encourage children (and adults) to play with a variety of art supplies and toys. You can also order beer!

Outside the Walker Art Center

Across the street from the museum is a the massive Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with, well, some pretty massive sculptures. The most famous is Spoonbridge and Cherry, seen below to give a sense of scale.

Evidently the spoon weighs 5,800 pounds and the cherry a whopping 1,200.

There’s also a beautiful glass conservatory that contains a massive fish designed by Frank Gehry and a whole host of beautiful art everywhere you look (Henry Moore! Noguchi!). I left the garden by crossing a huge bridge that connects to a large park.

On the bridge is, evidently, the world's longest poem.

I took the bus back downtown. While I walked back to the hotel I noticed the city’s ample biking facilities, including a very cool bike rental system that seemed very affordable and accessible. Nice Ride MN seems pretty amazing. You pay to rent and then pay for your time. You can rent a bike for a day for $5 plus a trip fee. Half hour trips are free. It’s designed for short-term trips, and I saw a lot of racks in my short time in the city. The Twin Cities also offer free cycling lessons through a cool program called the Bike Walk Ambassador Program. Needless to say, there are bike lanes. I wish we had bike lanes. Then maybe we can make with the bike rentals.

Bikes for rent

Minneapolis loves it some baseball, just like our fair city, so I spent my evening at a Twins game. I took the train, which was a dollar for the whole evening (I think they do this for games and other special events). I could have walked, but it’s fun to take the train. The Twins were playing the Red Sox, and Jim Thome was on the brink of 600 home runs, so there was a full house. My section was full of little league all-stars overflowing with sugar and peanuts and meat products. They had many theories about the game, some of which were corrected by the garrulous adults sitting in my row.

Note the awesome moon in the background.

Target Field sure is nice. We went to a game at the new Nationals stadium on a D.C. trip earlier this summer, and that stadium feels hastily constructed. It lacks soul and context. It’s cool that D.C. is trying to use its stadium to revitalize the Anacostia area, but still you can’t help but feeling that they could have tried harder. Target Field is new – the Twins have only been there since 2010 – but it feels homey and embedded in the city, like it’s always been there. There’s a giant Harmon Killebrew autograph on the right field wall (the little leaguers behind me were obsessed with it and insisted that Twins outfielders had to PROTECT THE AUTOGRAPH from marauding balls). There’s all the sausages you might expect from a Minnesota ball game, but there’s also whole stands that only sell beer made in Minnesota. Which is pretty amazing. And the beer’s good too. And they sell fried cheese curds. The Twins pulled off a surprise win against the playoff-bound Red Sox, to the loud delight of the crowd.

Art at the Walker

After the game, I walked back to the hotel with the rest of the crowd, peeling off euphorically one by one into bars, strip clubs, trains until I was the only one left to walk into the chi-chi lobby and take the old-timey elevator up to my ridiculously comfortable bed.

As I wandered off to sleep I thought about what Montgomery could be like. Beyond Helicity, beyond the endless charrettes and multi-use zoning planning and green space Facebook groups, can we not get together on some basics? We applaud the Dexter rehab. We are waiting to see the West Fairview “demonstration block.” We think the new hybrid eco-buses are probably great, but have yet to ride one. Seeing Minneapolis gives you perspective. What if Montgomery had rental bikes and bike lanes and classes for riders and bikers alike? What if we had a working bus system with sidewalks and shelters and libraries throughout the city? What if we had more than a handful of bookstores and a central art museum? What if we had public art in weird places that caused us to rethink our relationship to the usual?


The Red Sox did not, in fact, make the playoffs.