Thursday, April 06, 2006

#123 - More Vacation Thoughts

March was a looong month.

March was the run-up to this week's vacation. As every good programmer knows, that means having deadlines on every single project in your goody bag. Plus extra meetings, just to make sure you have no chance of completing any one of those deadlines.

Boss: So, how are things going?

Me: The alligators have made it to nose level.

Boss: Good! Let me know if I can help with anything!

Me: [stunned silence]

Boss: And don't forget, we have that briefing with our Big Boss tomorrow. Let's meet all afternoon to plan our agenda.

Me: [heart attack in progress]

Boss: Can I get you a drink of something?

Me: Arsenic. Rocks. Dirty glass.

It got to the point where I spent the entire last week before we boarded the train staying up all hours of the morning to get actual work done, so I could be adequately prepared for all the meetings everyone wanted to have the next day. Consequently, my memory of the train ride from Los Angeles to San Antonio went something like this:

Depart Union Station in Los Angeles.

Close eyes.

Open eyes. "Where are we?" "Palm Springs."

Close eyes.

Open eyes. "Now where are we?" "El Paso."

And so on. I snoozed a lot on this train. Which is good, because, as I mentioned, the Sunset Limited has just about the worst on-time record of any train in Amtrak's fleet. We were told to expect anywhere from 5 to 12 hours' delay getting in to San Antonio. This is because the mainline on which the Sunset runs is owned by the ever-efficient Union Pacific Railroad, which bases its freight schedules on the sun dial which stands in front of Griffith Observatory and only operates on sunny days. I just slept through most of the delays.

We were actually pleasantly surprised to arrive at San Antonio only 90 minutes behind schedule. At one point, somewhere between El Paso and Del Rio we think the train was actually levitating just above the tracks so the engineer could make up the time. And I don't think it had anything to do with magnetics, either. I suspect the rails just got too hot for the train to keep running on them. So the train was doing the same sort of not-really-making-any-contact shuffle that I used to use when running across the hot sand at the beach every summer.

On arriving at the hotel in San Antonio we were greeted by a very friendly security guard (the thought of even needing a security guard in a hotel bothers me somewhat) who couldn't wait to inform us that the entire hotel had been overrun by cheerleaders. All shapes and sizes, and all of them in town for some state-wide cheerleading competition. He then cheerfully informed us that some of them had been reported for practicing in the halls, and that he hadn't apprehended them yet, although he knew who they were. How comforting. Despite the chilling aspect of a hotel full of cheerleaders, we managed to get a pretty decent night's sleep.

We visited the Alamo, of course. One cannot visit San Antonio and NOT visit the Alamo. There's no law against it that I know of, but you would probably feel somehow unpatriotic if you didn't pay your respects there. So we did. And it was well worth the effort to find a decent parking space. The tour of the grounds and the "shrine" are a humbling adventure. The Alamo is one of those pieces of American history with which I have never connected to my satisfaction. It's always been one of those stories that you grow up with, but have a hard time identifying with. No longer. To see the barracks and the main hall where those men defended their young republic is truly awe-inspiring. Texans identify with this event in ways Americans rarely do any more. But I get it now.

And now we're visiting with family in McKinney. It's a beautiful town and the surrounding countryside is expansive. The humidity I could do without. I'm not a big fan of any humidity above single digits. I live in California where any hint of humidity is instantly replaced by smog. That's what's missing here in McKinney; they don't have enough smog. No wonder my lungs are going crazy. Have no idea what to do with all this filthy oxygen.

Anyway, we board the train once again day after tomorrow. Back to civilization and smog and deadlines at work. We'll miss our loved ones here in Texas, but they're really only a few states away. We will see them again, and probably sooner rather than later.

We are motivated, after all.

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