First Post from Binghamton

August 24, 2012

So I thought only weird people lived in NYC.  Well, Binghamton apparently has them as well. Only here, as our conductor shared with us, you can’t pick them out of the crowd.

It’s 1:30 in the morning, and I should be sleeping, but could not fall asleep because the upstairs neighbor (who is not home) has allowed someone to stay at her place who decided that coming home at 12:15 am and making a racket was a great idea. (This is the 3rd night in a row, so I’d had it) Side note suggestion: when a guest in someone’s home, be quiet.

So the singer who I’m taking over the lease from, and who’s lived here a year went with me upstairs to ask the person to keep it down.  He was very nice. Turns out he plays in a rock band, and is a night owl (oh yay for me). Then out of the blue, he asks, “Are you leftists?” I’m like, “Um…like a lefty, as in handwriting?” “No. Like liberal.” He then launched into supporting our unions. Um….at this point I’m thinking to myself, “It’s 1 in the morning. Are we really having this conversation? And, uh, I don’t think classical liberal will mean much to you.”  I just smiled, and we said our goodnigts.

Now to get some zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’s.




October 24, 2011

It’s official. The only airline anyone should ever fly to Germany is Lufthansa. And here’s why. 3 words.

They are nice.

Yes, yes. I know. The Germans get a really bad rap for being rude people, and generally speaking, the population as a whole does tend to come off that way, however, they know how to treat customers when they fly.

See, I remember the days of flying internationally before 9/11. Back in the good ole days when the American carriers still treated you like you were human. Back when they gave you your headphones instead of making you buy them on board. Back when you could get a glass of wine or beer without being charged. Back when, at the end of the flight, the flight attendants would walk around with a warm cloth so you could freshen up. Back when the flight attendants were actually glad that you decided to spend money with their company so that they could keep their job.

Yeah. Um. That’s G-O-N-E from the American carriers when you fly both domestically and internationally. But the Germans haven’t forgotten. All the flight attendants actually seemed happy that we decided to fly with Lufthansa. The food was actually good (for airplane food). The wine was tasty. They gave us headphones. And they brought us little warm towels right before we landed. I was floored! Lufthansa has also redesigned the interior of their airplanes. They have managed to give coach a couple more inches of leg room by making the seats a few inches thinner. Same number of sardines squashed in the can, but they have a bit more breathing room now.

So kudos to Lufthansa! Give them your money (they were cheaper than the other guys this time, too!)!

Side note: I have also recently flown Air France to Hungary. Same story. The French are considered rude, but not in the air. Super nice. You are also allowed to give them your money.

Junior Boy

August 2, 2011

“Do you wanna play barbies with me?”
“Uh…thanks, but, um, no. Wanna play with my army guys?”

Of course, I did. Are you kidding me?!

My brother and I played together all the time. I mean, not like there was anyone else around to play with, but still…I always wanted to play with him. He was my older brother! And crazily enough, he always wanted to play with me. Though not barbies. He drew the line at barbies. He’d play house, but not barbies. The four main events in our lives were sledding, riding bikes, playing with his army guys or his acquiescence to playing house, which meant him being “Junior Boy” and me being mom. That usually involved him walking around on his knees so we were at least the same height, and me bossing him around….hmmmmm…not much different than real life…

And then we grew up. Sledding went away, riding bikes turned into motorcycles, army guys turned into him actually being a Marine…but he was still Junior Boy. That one he never outgrew.

My brother left us 4 years ago today. At times it seems like yesterday, other times it seems like a lifetime ago.

I sit here at my computer today with a mixed bag of emotions. This year is tougher than others because I’m back in Austria – the same place I was when I got that horrendous phone call from my dad. Today is a day of reflection. While I hesitate to call it an “anniversary”, it is a day of remembering. It’s a time when I remember what happened, when I think about Chris – the good, bad and ugly:) – and allow it. The soul cannot live in perpetual sadness and grief, but a day of remembrance is a salve to the soul. It allows the soul to grieve, to cry, to laugh and remember. It needs that boundary to know that it doesn’t have to stay there forever, but it can rest knowing that the time is set aside for it to do what it needs to do.

I am blessed to have some wonderful friends around me here. There are a handful who know about today, and they have been extremely loving and caring. Like I told one of them this morning, what really counts is that I know that someone cares. Just a hug. Just a word of love. Just a little peck on the cheek. That’s all. It doesn’t need to be anything more. The toughest part about grief is no one really can empathize unless they’ve been there. So if you haven’t been there, just show some love.

I miss him more than I could ever express. The knot tightens in my chest and moves to my throat. But above that knot, my face can smile because I know this is not the end. I just have to wait awhile to hang out with him again…I can’t wait.

I love you, Chris.

Obit and my fresh reflections of 4 years ago.

A memorial webpage for pictures and stories.

Do I stink?

July 29, 2011

The following story is completely true. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.

I am at the grocery store looking through the dairy case for my beloved quark and whipping cream when my nose is accosted by an overwhelming stench of body odor. I mean, I’m talking serious B.O. The kind that knocks you over. The kind that you know has been on that particular piece of clothing for at least a week. The kind, that if were found in my closet would be walking on its own. Wait. I take that back. My clothes would never get to that level of stench. Anyway, I look down to my right and see a shorter woman in a black t-shirt. As I look down, she lifts her arm, smells her pit, shrugs and continues on in conversation about beer for the party later tonight.

Y’all, I have no idea how she lived through that. I was 3 feet away, and it just about bowled me over.

I was craving pizza. I don’t have an oven, so I can’t make it myself. But I have this little wheat allergy, so eating pizza is a little tough when I can’t make it myself. Well, the angels smiled on me the other day and showed me a little pizza joint that said “gluten-free”. I was stoked! So I grabbed a couple of friends and dragged them to the pizza joint.

Now, before I continue, I must make the following disclaimer. The Austrians are really wonderful people. They are extremely nice, friendly and warm – well, in comparison to the Germans anyway. Sorry, my German friends. I lived there long enough to make an educated judgement:). The attitude is much more mediterranean here.

That said, we headed to this pizza joint. We sat down and the waiter came out to ask what we wanted. Stupid me, I asked him the simple question of how big the pizzas were. Bad move on my part. He looked at me like I was an imbecile, waved his hands around like a maniac and said, “Normal size.” With a dumbfounded expression on my face, I asked exactly what “normal” meant. Waving his hands around again like a maniac, he said, “you know, normal.” He threw in a bit of disgust for good measure. At this point, Alan, my teacher, looks at the guys and says, “There are many sizes of normal. How big is your normal?” I was like, are we in kindergarten here? The guy finally made some movement of his hands that indicated it could feed two people. Whew. We got through that. So I went on to the normally easy part of ordering. I asked for this certain pizza and asked if it could be gluten free. He wrote it down, looked at me again and said, “Oh gluten free?” And replied with a smile, “Yes.” And he retorted, “Gluten free pizza. Hmmmm, well that’s something completely different.” I was like, “Uhhhh…that’s what I said. How is that different?” But I kept my mouth shut for fear he’d spit on my food. The ordering continued and when it came to Alan he ordered a salad. Wrong move. The waiter looked at him with “x’s” for eyes and said, “We don’t have salad.” Alan looked at the menu, pointed at it on the menu and asked again. The guy responded by saying, “There’s no price next to it so of course we don’t have salads. What do you think? We are a full service restaurant?” Um…yeah. Actually…

At this point, we should’ve left, but we were hungry and I had a hankering for pizza. So Alan ordered nothing, another guy and I shared the pizza that was not nearly enough for 2 people and we left without tipping.

Which left me pondering again this idea of customer service and capitalism. This guy had no idea that we were connected with over 100 other Americans looking for tasty, cheap food. Had he been nice, he could’ve had some great business, but instead, we’ve told everyone we know not to go there. So what’s so hard about being nice to people giving you money for the service you provide them? Why would you be pissed that we came in, even spoke German, and gave you money for your food?

Hmmmm…sometimes the Europeans don’t make sense to me. But then again, they wonder why we come in and drink tap water…

Organic Irony

July 7, 2011

A bit of irony for the day:

The organic grocery store across the street is the only place in Graz where I’ve found with air conditioning.

Germans and Gas

July 6, 2011

Nooooo…not THAT kind of gas. The other kind. Sheesh.

There are 2 things that never cease to amaze me in Germany (and really all of Europe)

1) The price of gas which currently is $7.14 a gallon in Austria.
2) The fact they drive as if oblivious to the fact that they are giving their kidney away every time they fill up! (They have more than 2 kidneys over here, by the way. They have to in order to drive.)

For countries who have an intense PR campaign that depicts them to be environmentally friendly, the people don’t seem to pay attention when they stomp the gas in their BMW’s, Audi’s and Mercedes like there’s no tomorrow! It’s not like they are driving cars that get 100 miles to the gallon. Their cars are just like ours…granted, more of them diesel, so their gas mileage is better. But come on, when you’re doing 0-60 at Mach 3, it doesn’t matter what kind of gas your car uses.

And, see, this type of behavior is aided by the government. Let me explain. The government is in charge of road construction, signs, lights etc…Well, they have this handy little red light system that not only gives you yellow when it’s time to stop, but gives you yellow when it’s about to turn green. It’s actually quite handy. All the drivers sit with bated breath for that wonderful yellow light to appear that indicates for them to “start your engines!” and when that light turns green, you’d think it was the Indy 500! Screeching tires! Smoke rising from the asphalt! Rouring engines (or high buzzing from the poor Fiats and Chevys). But, alas, it is not. The next light is a mere 100 feet ahead and that yellow light that just brought them so much pleasure is now ending their few moments of joy by lighting up and heading in the wrong direction to red.

TSA Story #2

July 1, 2011

I’m on the road again which means…more fun stories!!! Yay!!! Well, that’s a good thing for you all. For me, it requires work, but since this is fun, is it really work?

Forgive me as I write this. I’m seriously jetlagged and my head still doesn’t feel quite right. I think jetlag actually messes with my equilibrium, because I’m literally dizzy. But none of that matters. You don’t come here to read about my troubles. You come for entertainment!!!

Well, I went through TSA again. Yes, folks. I have managed to avoid flying since my last TSA entry 3 months ago. I have been one with the road. I’m actually sticking with my threat to not fly unless I absolutely have to. It’s kind of impossible to drive to Germany. But I did actually look into taking a boat. Though it would’ve cost the same, it would’ve taken 7 days, and I would’ve still had to get to NYC and then get from London down to Germany. Both of which are driveable, but would’ve added another few days to the trip. So I had to opt for the not-so-friendly skies.

Before I even got to the airport, I had a plan of attack. If I wore as few items of clothing as possible, then they wouldn’t have to touch every part of my body, right? So I donned a skimpy tank and short shorts.I had another outfit in my carryon for flying. I got in the security line at Nashville airport. Like the observent person I am, I looked around to see which lines are being forced to go through the backscatter and then tried to get in them. Sadly, TSA is smart enough to know there are people like me who hate the backscatters…well, actually, a majority of Americans find them invasive, but I digress… so they now just randomly pull people to go through them. Alas, I was one of the unlucky few. I almost got into a line that had a backscatter that was out of order, but I missed it my 2 people! Dang!

So I got up to the TSA agent who was deciding who would be allowed to just go through the metal detector and who had the awesome choice of being exposed to unknown amounts of radiation or being touched all over my some stranger. One look at me and he sent me to the backscatter line. With as much puppy dog in my eyes as I could muster, I asked if I could go through the other line…and he actually stumbled a little over his words, and I could see he was actually feeling sorry for me!!! The battled raged in his mind over whether or not to let this poor young woman decide her own security fate! But, alas, in the end, he replied, “Er…well…I’ve selected you for this line so you have to go through.” And I replied with my only 3 words of somewhat individual power, “I opt out.” But still, it’s no victory since the result of my decision is a person touching my stuff.

So he pulled me to the side, and I waited for a female agent. Fortunately, the wait was maybe only 30 seconds, and I must say, this lady was much nicer than the other lady who got to know me intimately. I didn’t feel as though she had already considered me guilty of trying to harm other passengers, which is always nice. As she explained what was about to happen, she said, “And I will have to pat down only the clothed areas of your body…” to which I responded in my mind, “Woohoo!!! Part of my plan worked! Now if there was some way to have my special areas unclothed without actually having them unclothed…hmmmm…must consult with an expert.”

She began the pat down. Because I was scantily clad, it didn’t take so long, but I gotta tell ya…she was rather forceful. Her hand went up the inside of my leg to my crotch and had I been a victim of assault or abuse, I would’ve gone ballistic. I was actually caught off guard by it. She checked between my legs 4 times. Twice from the back and twice from the front. Really? Seems a bit like overkill. But my one saving grace is she forgot to check the front of my chest. Whew. One area of my body remained my own!!! Yes!

She ran the bomb dust test, and I was free to go.

Now, for those of you new to reading my blog and are curious as to why I am vocal about my TSA experienced, make sure read my first entry about it.

Since writing that entry, there have been a few more articles that have come out about how Homeland Security really hasn’t been all that forthcoming about the radiation studies done on the backscatter. Apparently, DHS’s claim that the National Institute of Standards and Technology had fully tested the equipment and deemed it safe is, well, false. Apparently the NIST didn’t actually test the equipment. Oops. radiation_NIST_USAToday

There has been a spike in cancer among TSA screeners at Logan in Boston. Now whether or not their work there is the reason or because it has allowed otherwise unemployed people the chance to have benefits so they are actually going to the doctor and this stuff is being found is debatable. But documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Electronic Privacy Information Center show that when heads of the union at Logan asked for testing to be done after they found these clusters of cancer, the TSA refused. In fact, the TSA refused to do any dosimeter testing on any worker. TSA workers are told that the radiation coming off the machines is less than a cell phone. Really? Have you seen how small a cell phone is? Have you seen how big those backscatters are? I feel bad for them. I’m pretty sure they are being lied to by their employer. Doctors and nurses who do x-rays have very strict guidelines as to how much they are around the equipment, they are in different rooms when the machine is used and are given regular tests to detect radiation levels in their bodies. While the backscatter may not give off as much radiation as an x-ray machine, it’s doing a similar job, and I actually do feel concern for those workers. I don’t like anyone being lied to.

So the saga continues.

So I just got it. The enhanced pat down. At the buzzing, terrorist ridden airport of Raleigh-Durham. Since the installation of the backscatter (aka: Michael Chertoff’s retirement fund. See below), I have managed in all my travels to be able to scope out security before going through and figure out which lines were not forcing passengers to go through the useless machine. Well, my luck ran out today. I walked up to security to find that my only option was Chertoff’s machine or the hands of a stranger going places that really only my husband’s should go. So, I opted out. And here is my experience.

I was led past the backscatter and told to wait for the next TSA agent and not to touch my bags. I didn’t really like that idea because I was about 30 feet away from my belongings and could only try and keep an eye on them while other people walked by. This only made me nervous for the mere fact that TSA agents have been caught stealing stuff. The next female agent came over and told me she would get my stuff (that was kind of a bonus. It saved me from grabbing everything in a frenzy while other passengers step on me and TSA agents yell at me to be faster. Plus it makes the agents actual do something to earn their paycheck). I was traveling with friends who chose to go through the machine (which, as an interesting side note: my guy friend still got his junk grabbed after going through the machine because apparently that little coin pocket in your pants? Yeah. Chertoff’s great retirement scheme machine can see my underwire and an outline of my breasts but just can’t seem to see into that little coin pocket. So naturally, when TSA needs to check the coin pocket on the hips of millions of Americans, they also must touch your genitalia. So much for going through the machine to keep a stranger’s hands off your private bits). But I digress. On with my story. As I was saying, I was traveling with friends. The spot where I was old to wait happened to be at the exit point of all the people going through the backscatter. So, of course, my friends come by and start talking with me to keep me company while I was waiting on TSA. Well, apparently, this is not allowed. The TSA agent who was to conduct the pat down came up and said,

“You’re not supposed to talk to your friends. You can’t touch your items and you can’t talk to anyone. You know that.”
I looked at her and said, “Actually, I didn’t. Sorry about that” Because, really, I had no idea I couldn’t talk to anyone. Last time I checked, I wasn’t under arrest and was a law abiding citizen.
And she responded, “Yes, you did.”
And I said, “No, really, I didn’t”
“Yeah. OK”.
Did I miss something here? I thought I was in an airport with adults, not kindergarten.

Anyway, she brought all my stuff over and asked if I had been through this process before. I said I hadn’t. She went on to say that her job was to give me an enhanced pat down. I told her that it was just fine with me as long as she did not “touch my breasts or my genitalia.” Her mature, highly trained response? “Why don’t I tell you what I’m going to do instead of you telling me what I can do?” I responded, “No. You may not touch those areas.”

She wasn’t really that happy with me. She went on to tell me what she would do, etc… I smiled politely. I was never rude. Assertive, but never rude. And, honestly, she wasn’t rude either. She was just a lowly TSA agent who was doing her job and didn’t know how to respond properly to a passenger who asserted themselves.

She asked if I wanted to have a private pat down or in the open. I opted for private in the room next to us. This was the subsequent dialogue. No joke.

She asked, “Would like someone to come in with us?”
“No, I trust you.”
She replied, “If you want a private screening with the door closed someone has to come with us.”
I was like….uh…you just asked if I wanted someone. I thought I had an option. I’m confused.
She continued, “We can leave the door open and then no one has to come in.”
“Oh, OK. Then just leave the door open.”
“Well, then that’s not private. It’s just out of the way.”

Anyway, I opted to leave the door open.

I was allowed to keep my eyes on my belongings, but I could not touch them. She patted down my entire body. Another side note: when I travel now, I wear leggings and a skin tight shirt. One would think that a pat down would not be necessary because if I was carrying something, you’d be able to see it. But this bit of logic seems to surpass the massively intelligent TSA group. Anyway, she used her palm until she got to my breasts. There was no groping. Just the back of her hand running along the underside. There was also no groping between my legs. One hand went on my hip while the back of the other went up my inner thigh until it “doesn’t go any further”. She put her hands around the inner top inch of my waist band. Everything was fine, but she did get stumped when the bottom of my shirt bunched up…the same shirt that she herself had rolled up in order to check my waist band. Her quote? “Oh, I need to check this weird bunch of fabric. I’m not sure how that got there.” Really?

Anyway, it was over and I grabbed my stuff and left.

There were several people getting the pat down after going through the machine, so like I said earlier, going through the machine does not guarantee that you won’t be touched.

I understand that there are probably people reading this who don’t understand the hub bub or think I’m some right wing crazy person (as a side note, the ACLU and the Tea Party were united on this issue). I won’t try and convince you to change your mind, but I would like to let you know why I am upset by this and maybe embolden you to do what you think is right instead of just kowtowing to a large, federal institution.

First of all, both options of security are massive invasions of privacy. In order to fly, I either have to subject myself to a machine that sends radiation through my body and takes a naked, full body picture (the machine is called Rapiscan. Did no one catch that before the printing started?). No one truly knows what the radiation will do. I understand that not all radiation is unhealthy, but no one can tell us for sure what kind of radiation is being sent through our bodies. I am ferociously active in staying healthy in all areas of my life, including flying. I even opt for flying early in the morning or late at night to avoid the high levels or radiation associated with flying during the daylight hours. I also understand that the full scan of my body is not associated with my name, and so when they don’t actually erase the images (there are several instances where they haven’t) I know no one knows its my body. But the person behind the screen knows, and for me, that’s enough. My “option” to “opt-out” really is no option. Because in this case, a perfect stranger rubs their hands all over my body. I am not comfortable with this option either. I don’t let anyone rub down my body except my husband…and I should have the choice to keep it that way. But because these folks are in uniform and have the full power of the federal government behind them, they are allowed to without my say. My only true option is to not fly. (Which, by the way, is a right I have exercised multiple times since the introduction of these things.) But sometimes, there really is no other option except not to go somewhere, which then infringes on my freedom to move freely about the country quickly. It is also no real option for people who have been sexually abused. Either way, their private body parts are being exposed. Either on film or by the hands of a stranger. Is this really an option? And you know it’s bad when you overhear a TSA agent say to the 8 year old girl, “Honey, don’t you ever let anyone touch you like this.” Mixed signals anyone?

Oh, and I just can’t leave the airport. They hold you for questioning and you run the risk of being slapped with an $11,000 fine.

Second of all, I’m not a fan of an ex-homeland security head now working in the private sector sending fake bombs from Yemen to prove that current security measures aren’t working so that we should use his machine to make us safe. Hmmmmm…. makes you kind of wonder if this is really for our safety or just for Michael Chertoff’s retirement fund. It stinks to high heaven. The Huffington Post actually reported accurately on this story.

Thirdly, regarding the issue of security. Don’t worry, I won’t barrage you with quotes from our founding fathers. While I agree with many of them and their principles, Jeffersonian quotes are way overused. Instead, I will say this. 1) There is proof that these machines fail. 2) Israel doesn’t do this stuff and they have a great track record. Israel has never had a hijacking leaving Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv. The last highjacking was in 1969 on El Al to Tel Aviv, there has been 1 incident at Ben Gurion airport and one guy made it on a plane with a pocket knife. Um. That’s not bad when you have 1 billion people living around you trying to annihilate your existence. They have 3 things I really like and have been proven to work

1) Dogs
2) Guns
3) Actual trained professionals

I like dogs because they are cheaper and are more effective. This is proven. It costs around $7,500 to train a dog. These machines cost around $170,000 a pop when bought in bulk. TSA bought 150 for $25 million and it has been proven that dogs find stuff that the machines don’t. I also like dogs because I’m used to the ill behaved dogs of my friends sniffing my junk. That’s just kind of normal.

I like guns because, well, they are guns. Need I explain more?

I like actual trained professionals. These people know how to watch people and tell if something isn’t right. They know the right questions to ask and watch reactions. A passenger is only taken aside when something smells fishy. I was one of those passengers and had I been in their shoes, I would’ve taken me aside, too. That story here.

People normally respond with, “Well, that’s Israel. It wouldn’t work here.” Um. Why not? Sure, we have many more airports than they do and millions more passengers, but each technology we come up with gets trumped by a bad guy. Experts have already trumped it. What’ll they do after that? Walk us in a private room actually naked and conduct cavity searches? Israel doesn’t seem to have that problem. Their system works. Their system is cheaper. If, instead of the billions of dollars going to TSA and these machines (and Michael Chertoff), we’d spent the money on systems that have been proven to work, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

And lastly, I don’t like being considered guilty before being proven innocent. When I go through security, they are assuming that I want to hurt the people around me without any just cause. If they can do that in the name of aviation security, what will keep that from happening in another area of life?

I’m not one of these conspiracy theorists who thinks there’s some big, shadow government using TSA to push Americans closer to 1984, groupthink and a totalitarian government. I think it’s a situation of good intentions resulting in unintended consequences and people looking to make big money off of a special relationship with the government.

But I do beseech all of you out there to have a bit of intellectual honesty. We all tend to go along with something if it has been instituted by a politician with whom we agree, and vise versa. I am guilty of it myself. But I have learned the dangers of such thinking, and I try to look at things as objectively as my subjective world view will allow. I am always open to people pointing out inconsistencies in my thinking and logic. If you see any here, please share.

In the end, at this point, there’s not much that can be done except each person doing what they think is best for them. If you really don’t want to go through the machine, don’t. If you don’t want the pat down, don’t. And if you don’t want either, well, you’re kind of screwed, because the TSA will go after you for $10,000 if you refuse both and try to leave the airport. Unfortunately, we don’t have recourse with the TSA. That in and of itself should make you nervous. But there are millions of us and only thousands of them. I do believe that each person acting out of their conscience instead of fear of what might happen to them if they don’t comply (wow, did I just say that in America?) can make a difference. And if I’m wrong in that belief, at least I have taken control of my own situation and am setting boundaries of what others can do to me.

“If you see something, say something” – this is a campaign that Homeland Security rolled out and was immediately picked up by the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (it’s now being picked up elsewhere in the country). Suddenly, there were posters all over the subway system with this proclamation and then some stats about how many calls were made into the anonymous hotline. I’m not really opposed to this, but this is my beef with the campaign…it relies on citizens noticing odd behavior from odd looking people…

um…excuse me, but we’re in New York City. What exactly is the meaning of “odd”.

New York City’s middle name is “odd”. If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you already know all the “odd” I have reported. I mean, I didn’t even bat an eye when I was walking down the street with a friend of mine the other day and noticed 2 girls, dressed completely Goth, standing on top of a rolled up carpet with a body inside of it…and there were no cameras around, so it wasn’t like CSI: New York was filming. In regular American, that’s weird, OK? But here? We need some more direction and explanation of what “odd” is.