01.09.12 Ne' Hehmpsheh






It’s a morning flight to Newark! Romance and excitement await. Actually, that’s just a way station between home and New Hampshire, where I will be doing an event for this magazine for which I write. But we’ll get to that.

I always start these things at the airport, and dump the top portion later because it just seems like throat-clearing. Which I suppose it is. But this morning’s check-in was notable: I was behind a tour group of college students going abroad, which meant that at least 15% would have luggage or documents issues to give the line the dynamic, confident pace of Napolean's retreat from Moscow. One girl had some problem with something, and nothing moved for 15 minutes. Not that she minded; she bopped around on one foot and played with her hair and grinned and had a grand old time - it’s so exciting to travel!!! - and since she was part of the tour group, the rest of the people in the line weren’t seething with spiky-line anger, as might otherwise be the case. Oh that’s just Ashley, she’s such a ditz! Well, her passport has to be somewhere in that enormous bag.

After the tour-group bolus moved through the system, I was behind the following:

Enormous couple with enormous luggage, all of which had to be repacked on the spot to get them below 50 pounds

A family with seven bags who were unaware that luggage had to have tags, which meant they had to write out seven tags

A woman with A DOG IN A KENNEL

At this point I expected a guy who wanted to check a rifle and some fireworks. But I made it through, and headed to the security line. Apparently they opened up a lane for Special VIPs, because when I reached the podium where the agent makes the special Security Squiggle, there were four guys to the right of the podium, merging with our stream. TSA takes the guy in front of me. Then she takes the first guy in the VIP line. Passes him through. The second guy in the VIP line takes advantage of the guy crossing in front of me to present his boarding pass, and the TSA agent is actually reaching for it - I’m seeing this, as if it’s in slow motion - but I raise mine and cast a look at the guy who tried to jump in front of me. He looks down, abashed. Unmanned. Defeated. He looked like Anthony Weiner. Maybe it was him. This just isn’t his century.

Small triumphs. Got a sandwich for a ridiculous amount of money, bought a newspaper. It must irritated the news stands to have the price printed right there on the paper; otherwise they’d charge nine dollars for the Wall Street Journal. Why? Because you are now in the land where the consumer is truly hoisted up to tiptoes by the short hairs. Clerk: “Nothing to drink?” This is now required to be asked of all customers, just to add another level of irritation to the airport experience. I don't mean to be prickly, but I just don't want to be upsold before 7:30 AM.

And now I'm in the departure area, waiting to board. Small plane. How small? I have an aisle seat AND a window seat. And they’re the same.

Just overheard the tour-group chaperone: they’re heading off on an Environmental Sustainability Field Trip. Never doubted it would be anything different.


Up in the air. Nice view. The world looks something glimpsed through an electron microscope:


The last step in getting over your fear of flying is looking out the window when you take off. Once upon a time I would’ve never done it, unless I was so insensate from drink my head lolled against the pane, but that was long ago. Perhaps one of the boons of getting over your fear of flying is exulting in the experience, while all the people who endure it regard every aspect of the journey as an inconvenience and a trial. How can I not have fun? I have books, lunch, media to watch, some old radio shows, games. Now and then you can take a break and behold the handiwork of Man:




It was beautiful, and at the end of it all I looked up as we descended: Manhattan outside the window. From my home to Gotham, and it's not even noon. Such a world.


Now at Newark airport. United’s slogan - “Could we be any worse? I don’t know. Make a suggestion” is being borne out here - frayed gate, surly clerk, junk around on the floor. The plane is delayed because of a mechanical problem: the light over the emergency exit door isn’t working. You suspect this is REASON 2A from a list of specious reasons - tell them something that won’t make them worry, when the truth is “Wing seems loose.” I’m sitting next to a mom and her middle-aged daughter, both of whom are peering at the world with the expression of suspicious turtles with toothaches. Their conversation goes as follows:

Daughter: “I went to the bathroom and I come back and the plane’s delayed.” (laughter)

Mom: “Ha ha ha”

Daughter: “Better not go again.”

Mom: “Better not.”

Silence for twenty minutes follows.

Okay, here we go.


Up in the air. Well this is different, at least for your host:



Never been on a plane this small. Knew something was up when we went down the jetway . . . then took stairs down to the airfield. Wished I was wearing a hat and smoking a Camel.

When the motors started up it felt like the end of Casablanca, but I'm pretty sure the stew on the flight that took Victor and Ilsa to safety didn't harangue people who were wearing headphones.

“But they’re turned off,” I said.

“Headphones have to be removed,” she said, not even bothering to garnish the command with a desultory "Sir." Since she had absolute authority, I turned them off. But when we were landing and she said “turn off your Kindle,” I - just - had - enough of this BS. She was standing there watching, and I said “From this . . .” Picture of letters; “. . . to this.” Picture of author. “This thing emits nothing dangerous,” I said.

“I know, but it could have the wifi turned on, and looking to download a book,” she said. “That’s how you get books, isn’t it?”

“But it’s not on.”

“We don’t know that.”

Sigh. I wish I could hack my Kindle so the OFF screen looked like a page of text. If they complained, I would show them the OFF switch. See? But it’s still showing words. Yes, but it’s off. What sorcery is this, sir?

Landed. While I waited for the bag I saw I had wifi, so I FaceTime'd my daughter from outside, showed her where I was. In a year or two this will be the default for post-flight chats, and everyone will have video conferences with loved ones, and show them the thrilling sights of their destination. No one predicted this. Star Trek didn't see it coming. But the future arrives in leaps and half-steps; one day you realize it's not remarkable to call someone on the other side of the country from your pocket communicator as you leave the plane, and a year later you're cursing the wifi at the airport because your two-way video feed is stuttering.

G'bye, hon, bag's here, later. I noted a call that arrived en route from the magazine, which I was certain was a sad confirmation that I couldn't change hotels. See, I don't have a car. The hotel where everyone's staying is out there. It has no restaurant. Long story, boring details, but one of the events I was supposed to do had been cancelled due to last minute britches-inflation, and I'd tried to get one of the rooms at the nice hotel vacated by the crew that wasn't coming. Sigh. Call up voice mail:

I had a room at the SHERATON. Visions of luxury unspooled in my head. I looked up, and saw the SHERATON shuttle bus pull up to take me to a place with a restaurant and a bar and a pool and wifi and all the accoutrements to which one becomes accustomed, and if someone had pulled out a hornpipe and tootled away I would have danced a jig. NEW HAMPSHIRE, I HAVE ARRIVED.

Got to the hotel, unpacked, settled in, Tealized I could sum up the entire day of travel with one simple phrase:


One more thing: here's the Google Maps view of my neighborhood. Apparently I’m staying in SimCity 2.




Yawn scratch where am I? Oh. Right. You orient yourself to the room, get ourt of bed, push the ON button of the coffee maker you set up before you went to sleep, and pull open the curtains.

Oh. Kay.



Er. Hmm. Well. But the lobby's nice! Just look at the photo on the website:



Here’s the reality.



The pool, according to the website:






Same chairs! Probably because they’re rarely used.

The guest rooms are larger and taller than they should be, as if the contractors misread the specs and assumed it was a hostel for professional basketball players. There’s an odd stain on the ceiling, but at least it's not red. The hotel was built in the early 80s, and was a Koala Inn - a chain you don’t hear much about these days. Then it was a Days Inn, a chain named after the part of the 24-hour cycle on which you need a hotel the least. Then a Sheraton Four Points.The 2007 renovation helped, but it can’t get around the lousy design of the place itself: the windows are small and located in the corner of the room, so natural illumination is scarce. The rooms have the feeling of a sarcophogus until you turn on all the lights.

You have to love the name of the hotel restaurant: NUTFIELD. It’s exactly the term some amongst the left might use for the GOP candidates. As for loving the restaurant itself, no. I had the buffet breakfast this morning. The potato portion was expressed in silver-dollar-sized hash-brown patties. I took a bite. It resisted. I bit harder. No good. It could not be chewed. Next step: cut up the French toast. The knife would not cut the crust.

I sat back, thinking: have I lost my strength? Withered away? Foiled by mere breakfast? I tried the French toast again, sawing with the serrated portion of the knife, which of course was exceptionally dull for my own protection. The French toast would no yield. It was like a piece of wet wood, and I was trying to cut it with an envelope. The hostess came over and said “Oh, I forgot all about you,” which makes you feel good about the figure you cut. “How’s the breakfast?”

“Not - not good,” I said. “The potato things are inedible.”

“Oh they just put some more out.”

Indeed they had: a big pile of fresh ones dumped on the old ones. New French toast, too. This time it could be reduced to smaller portions. By the way: explain to me why French Toast Sticks seem like candy, but French toast you’ve personally cut into strips is acceptable? So much of breakfast is just dessert. If you’re doing it right, anyway.

The Friday events were cancelled when one of our party declined to show, as is his wont. So I went to the Mall. The big mall! The pride of New Hampshire! I hiked over from the hotel, eyes streaming from the cold, ran across a highway, tried to find a sidewalk, failed, went down a steep hill, and entered via the jumble of retail failure that is Sears. The mall itself is just another mall. There was a time, I suppose, when I would have enjoyed a trip to a strange mall, to see what different things they had; this time would have been, oh, 1978 or so. When the idea of a mall was still new. I still like going to Southdale - it’s familiar and I know what I want to get, and no doubt people who live here feel the same way. If you grew up here it would be Your Mall, and you’d have memories of going with your friends to examine members of opposite sex, be seen by them, and posture accordingly. You would love the food court because you could eat what you want and pay for it and sit with your friends and feel terribly adult. If it was a hot day, you could say you were there for the air conditioning. If it was a cold day, you could say it was something to do on a bleak winter afternoon. It was your mall, and would always be your mall, and when you came home you’d go back to Your Mall and wander around feeling a pang of disconnection. All those people going about their normal mall days, just as they did when you lived here.

It takes a long time for that feeling to pass.

I don’t feel that way about Fargo’s West Acres anymore, because A) parts have been remodeled out of all recognition, and B) it’s just been so long. But someone who grew up with this New Hampshire example probably recognize the mall of their youth, because it doesn’t appear to have changed much. Stuck in an early-90s design. The usual stores. I felt like an interloper, an outsider. But lone middle-aged men in a mall in the middle of the afternoon are a peculiar sight. It’s not our element.

Anyway. The food court was unnerving. There was a Cajun restaurant, and it sold nothing but Asian food. A fellow stood on the customer side of the coutner wth samples: here, try our underwhelming, salt-infused salt chicken. Next to the Cajun place was another Asian restaurant, and the proprietors waved me over to examine their indistinguishable food, telling me it was good and I should order and what do I want. For heaven’s sake, BACK OFF. Made me keep going, because if you pause and look, an obligation develops after a few seconds. You’re locked in. You can’t escape. You have to order and now they’re impatient for you to decide what you want.

Went to the other side of the food court, where there was another Asian restaurant, and a fellow with a tray of samples. I asked what it was.

“Chicken,” he said, with a “no duh, man” tone.

Okay, well, I’m not buying your chicken, then. See that Arby’s over there? Here I go.

I also had a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. It was awful.

There was more to the day, but nothing quite so fascinating as the events described above. I mean, I got out, and saw the city, but it was dark.

Well, there's more. I walked to an Indian restaurant, hunched against the cold, feeling utterly alone and wondering okay what, exactly, am I doing here? Hmmm? It came to this, how? When I got to the Indian restaurant I realized I didn't want any Indian food. So I ate at a pizza joint and read the Economist and felt like all that stuff I previously believed about being a married father with a house was just a dream. On the way back I wandered through an enormous Stop & Save grocery store and took pictures of store brand logos, thinking: one big-name guy declines to appear, an event gets cancelled, and I end up in a grocery store at 8 PM snapping pictures of generic raisin bran. I can put them up on the site!

Something in my life is horrible amiss -

- then the phone buzzes, and it's Rob, and he's en route, and should we go downtown to find some media people putting it away in a hotel bar? There's no caps loc on the iPhone text-message program, so I just said Yes. YES YES YES YES was more like it. Deliver me.

Back to the room at 1:15. Okay. It's looking up. Check the phone . . . what are all these pictures of generic raisin bran? Jeez. Delete delete delete



Had breakfast at Friendly’s. It was. Rob showed up, and we went to the Puritan Backroom, which sounds like some place where people have orgies while wearing hats with buckles; it’s one of those old places that’s famous and everyone has to go there. It was worth it for the sign:


I had the pastrami, which was not entirely made of salt, and we discussed the site, and movies, and things. Then a trip through town, which was much brighter than it was the previous night. If you grew up in this part of the world I imagine the plain honest architecture and general air of flinty thrift and sensible rejection of frippery would speak to your marrow, but if you’re a first-timer on a grey day in January you can be excused for not falling heedlessly in love. Hey, wouldn’t someone say that about Minneapolis in January? No.

As you can tell, the pace here is just EXHAUSTING, and I need a nap before tonight's event. It's easy to nap in this room; the heater makes the desired white noise sound, although it may actually be Puce Noise or Periwinkle Noise. It's hard to stay awake in here.


It’s about 1:30 AM and I’m back in the room after the event. Rather, after the post-event event. It was a debate-night meet-up for the National Review. The Ballroom at the Radisson:


About 400 people. Folks came from near and far, although I think I came the farthest. There was a panel of Guys Who Observe and Know Things, and then the panel of Knavish Japery, being me, Rob Long, and Jonah Goldberg. Then everyone watched the debate; then the Knaves got up on stage again to have sport with the candidates and the events and nyuk-nyuk our way through an hour. The post-debate session was better than the first, because we had fresh material, and hence a theme, and I was happier with what I did in the second installment than the first; I always feel just a leeeeetle bit out of my element in these things, because A) I do not marinate in the wonkery of these things for a living and hence devote a smaller portion of my brain to it, and B) my column for NR is intended to be a respite from all the perishable issues of the fortnight, and so I tend to write about cultural absurdities. But I did what I could.

The greatest bestest happy-happy-joy-joy moments came when I met Bleat readers from the region: made my night, folks. You have no idea how cool it is to hear that you're readers. Just wish I’d gotten a haircut before I met you all.

Afterwards we went to the bar, of course, and found Mickey Kaus among the thronging multitude of media & political types, and yelled about things over wings and drinks for another hour. Met Jake Tapper; nice guy. Expected to run into Vermin Supreme, but I didn’t.

Can’t sleep now. I assume I will.


Heading home; first leg. Again in a small jet, which is an Aembaereaon, or something like that. The Starry Embreon, I’ll call it.

Here, have a nice little video. Should have set it to some langourous Gleason, which is what I was listening to as I slid over the world, but had none handy on the laptop.



Updates resume tomorrow! See you around.

Oh, one more picture. I had a layover in Chicago. O'Hare's United Terminal. They were going for classic 30s / 40s style, and in a way they hit it - but it's damned gloomy at night. Still cool. I wandered around for two hours, had a coffee, took pictures, marveled at all I'd seen and done in the last few days, and thought: And now we go home. What a lucky, lucky man I am. Life is cool; life is fun.

Still wish I'd gotten a haircut.


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