Thursday, April 30, 2009

Smarty-Pants In Chief

With Alma off having fun in New York, Z. and I watched President Obama's prime time press conference. At this rate, Obama will have addressed the press and public more in his first year than Bush did over the course of eight, but that's no shock. Simply put, Obama has more to say, and is better at saying it to boot. Again, that's no shock - Bush was historically dim and disengaged. But, man, what a consistent joy it is to have a President able to speak lucidly and intelligently on a number of different subjects, all with great calm and intellectual curiosity, even in the midst of several potentially world-ending crises. Frankly, it blows my mind that some on the right can't even bear to acknowledge that, like his policies or not, Obama is totally on the ball as a communicator. These nuts actually think he's stupid, which seems about as far from objectivity as you can get - total up-is-down, left-is-right thinking.

But that's no shock, either. The right is growing increasingly marginalized as the conservative crazies who continue to circle the wagons ever tighter and listen only to their own internal echo chamber of conspiracy theories and short-game faux populism. I have a theory of my own, actually. These people who think Obama is dumb or incompetent? Is it possible that maybe they just don't understand what he's talking about, but like petulant children, won't own up to their own ignorance? If Bush was a set of handed-down pre-highlighted Cliff's Notes, Obama is a text book, and we all know what Bush and his ilk thought and think of textbooks.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Home Security Fail

Now, I'm not one to harp on screw-ups, but whomever at the White House OK'd buzzing NYC with Air Force One should be put to bed early with no dessert. I mean, come on.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Trip Back

Due to popular demand (OK, Alma's mom): the anticlimactic tale of our trip back home.

To be honest, I was dreading the trip back as early as the first full day in England, when I slept until 9:30 and woke up still tired. Thanks, jet lag! Still, I worried if it was hard to wake up at 9:30, how in the world was I going to wake up in time to catch the 7am local train, the first of several modes of transportation that would get us back to Chicago?

Fortunately, waking up was easy, and in fact Z. (possibly excited about the trip back) was up and cooperative by 6am or so, along with my sister (who is a light sleeper in the best of circumstances). I packed things up and got showered while my sister helped feed Z., then by 6:40 we were out the door, walking the five minutes to the local train station to ride to the Leeds station, where we would transfer trains to Manchester, where we would take off for Chicago. Z. did great on both the short first train ride (10 minutes) and the later, longer one as well (closer to 90 minutes). She was a trooper at the airport, too, where I followed the confusing signs to one wrong terminal after the next until we got to where we were supposed to be.

My sister once again had given us some money to spend on food, but nothing for sale looked like it would appeal to Z., and we didn't have much time, anyway, before we boarded. For this flight, it would be daylight the entire way, which makes napping a little tougher, if not totally inadvisable. Worse, my plan to load the iPod with bootleg movies didn't work out, and what I thought would be an in-flight "Kung Fu Panda" turned out to be the not very Z.-friendly and totally lame live-action "Four Christmases" (the switch from March to April programming was to blame for the bait and switch).

We got a couple of meals served to us, including a pizza that was every bit the stereotypically inedible airline food, but Z. mostly grazed on bread and other snacks. She did well on the 7 1/2 hour flight (of which I was constantly aware would only be half the length of our future flight to Australia; let the anxiety start stewing anew), but was pretty tired by the time we got to Chicago and through customs. I rewarded her with a rare trip to McDonald's (also the only choice by baggage claim) for a happy meal, which she patiently waiting for while we took a shuttle train to the El and an hour-long trip back to Oak Park.

On the shuttle a man commented to me, "You can't imagine how good that smells!" I think McDonald's smells like barf, so I asked him where he and his cross-adorned travel companions were returning from. "Liberia," he said. "How's Liberia?" I asked. "Getting better," he said, but his wife shook her head and basically said it had a long way to go. No duh. Still, it made me think how fortunate I was that I have family in England and Australia, and not Africa.

On the long, boring, train ride home, Z. barely stayed awake, but sat still and didn't complain as we wound our way home on good ol' uncomfortable, dirty, smelly, bathroom-free Chicago public transportation. At one point while Z. dozed a woman walked over and commented how impressed she was at the father/daughter bond we had. I thanked her, and for the rest of the trip home Z. asked me who the woman was and what she was talking about.

It was cold at home, too, which is how it's been ever since, which is nothing new this time a year, and A. didn't seem to care/notice that I was back. But over the next few days everyone kept commenting how Z. seemed so much older and wiser after the trip, and I kept telling people how well behaved she was on the entire trip.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Last Day

We woke up late, as usual, so took our time catching the train to historic and beautiful York. Of course, every place in England is historic, but not every place is beautiful, so York was an all-around treat. Even the station is nice, and you're greeted, as soon as you cross the bridge into town, with very old streets and towering churches, with tons of shops squeezed in between that sort of blur the line between ancient and modern (case in point: the pub with Roman ruins in the basement).

We spend a good deal of time in the Castle Museum (the museum by the castle, not a museum about castles), chasing pigeons, eating fudge (my favorite was a clotted cream flavor), walking (again, very few complaints from Z.), admiring the sites, getting lunch at Betty's famous tea room (Z. had already eaten her PBJ, which earned her a brownie; Bethany and I ate more traditional lunches though, oddly, did not have tea), walked some more, killed time waiting for Bethany's friend to sneak out of a meeting, went out to dinner at an Italian place (Z. had little gnocchi in meat sauce, I had rissotto ai funghi - she and I split profiteroles for dessert), then hustled to catch a train back to Leeds.

By the time Z. was bathed, dressed and brushed, it was close to 9pm, a reminder that as well as she's been faring, she's clearly not totally adjusted. We'll see how tough things are when we get back tomorrow (Thursday). We have to leave Bethany's home pretty early, before 7am, the catch a train to the central Leeds station and then another train back to Manchester, where we then must walk to get to the right terminal, where we then must wait before boarding our 8+ hour flight back to Chicago. And this time, the flight will be all daylight, which may make occupying Z. tougher, but we'll see. Our reward, upon returning tired to likely chilly Chicago will be a 90-minute train ride from O'Hare to Oak Park, door to door, and needless to say, the El does not remotely compare to British rail when it comes to comfort or convenience. The trains in Britain have snack carts and drinks, clean cloth seats, tables and even (gosh) bathrooms. In Chicago, you're lucky if the heat works and someone has hosed off the urine. Chalk one up for the British.