Monday, November 28, 2011

I think flying bothers me more than I should. I know that the experience itself can be uncomfortable for some people, but I'm not particularly claustrophobic, acrophobic, agorophobic or aviaphobic. I don't like the expense of it, but I'm not frugal about other things, and of course, it's not like anyone enjoys the expense of it either. The only problems with it I can articulate are the security line and how airports have not just lots of people, but all the worst parts of lots of people. Commercialized spaces, disorganized people in your way, etc.

Also, I got a bit snippy with my parents when it came time to leave Sunday. I didn't mean to, but T. confirmed it and in hindsight, yeah, definitely.

Part of the problem is that if problems are likely in most settings, the rational, responsible thing to do is to be early, right? You'll be at the front of the line if there are any problems, if things aren't crowded when you're there then problems are less likely in the first place, and so on.

Well, that logic makes sense regarding lots of potential problems in potential settings. By far the most common problem with flying, though, both this week and in general, is delays. So getting there early just makes that worse. More time to sit around and do nothing and/or worry.
My anxiety about flying? Totally justified in hindsight. My flight from DC to JFK on Wednesday was delayed by about half an hour, so we'd still make our connecting flight but we were worried about having time for dinner. We had plenty of time for dinner, though, because our flight from JFK to Burlington was delayed again and again due to multiple problems, I think. We arrived after midnight Tuesday, more than two and a half hours late. The weather didn't help; in Washington and New York it rained all day long, and in Vermont I think it started snowing around 10 p.m. Tuesday. All in all, out of four flights for Thanksgiving weekend, only one was on time. (I guess I should be glad that it was the last one, so at least we didn't get home any later than we expected.) The average delay was about 50 minutes.

Well, to be more proactive, I started a list of airlines to avoid. And I already booked my tickets for Christmas, and they aren't perfect either, but at least they're direct flights, which seems like the most important thing.

Other than the all the travel stuff, the Thanksgiving break was fine. Caught up with a bunch of family. It snowed Tuesday night, like I said, through most of the day Wednesday, and my parents live out in the woods, so we actually lost power before anyone woke up Wednesday and they didn't get it fixed until after 4:30. That was aggravating in some ways, but it was fun to see some snow briefly and without serious cold, and T. got good pictures of my parent's neighborhood covered in snow.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I really need to get better about how I handle travel.

Well, organization in general. Retirement planning, coordinating my days off with other stuff going on, etc. But I think I'm particularly bad about travel, and it's particularly relevant right now, of course.

For one thing, I want to stop booking flights with layovers. To get from DC to my parent's place in Vermont, flights with one stop tend to be about $100-$200 cheaper than direct flights or even more. When everything goes right, booking the flight with a stop seems like a no-brainer. My day is already shot by the whole process of packing and getting to the airport and stuff, so what's an hour or two in an intermediate airport if I'll save that much money?

First of all, though, "when everything goes right" is such a huge assumption that now that I write it down I feel like an idiot. I've never had my luggage lost personally, but I've seen it happen. And then there was one time when my luggage wasn't lost, I knew where it was all along, but I went on ahead of it by train because my connecting flight was grounded by the snow. In hindsight I wound up being impressed by how quickly they got it to me considering all the problems the airlines were dealing with at that time, but it was still several days before I got my stuff. But anyways, that's another thing - every flight increases the odds of a delay due to weather or whatever by 100 percent. Probably by even more than that, in fact, because the later in the day it is the harsher the weather gets, generally.

And aside from all the practical difficulties of connecting flights, there are purely psychological problems. I was in Vermont just two weeks ago now, and I had taken a connecting flight, and 15 minutes before my flight from Burlington to La Guardia or whatever it was, there was a flight from Burlington to Washington National. Factor in the wait and the fact that National is much closer and more accessible than BWI, and I could have been home four hours earlier. I had to remind myself that that flight was at least $100 more expensive than what I found, but I still regretted it.

But then, no matter what I do, flying to and from Vermont is risky in the winter. The weather forecast for tonight is snow up there. I should also have traveled earlier in the day to avoid that, since the chances of bad weather are fairly high throughout this time of year.

Another part of the problem is that I'm frugal with my time off. T. suggests a nine-day vacation and I talk her down to seven, if I have a flight in the late afternoon then I'll come to work and work a half-day, that kind of thing.

If I were smart I'd fly direct flights, try to take off around noon, and not sweat the rest. My co-worker H. told me as much today, and as annoying as it was to hear in exhaustive detail about how I should totally do what I've already decided I should do and am already worried about plenty, she wasn't wrong.

Despite all the rest of it I still feel justified in being a bit frugal with my time off, though, because my girlfriend T. likes to travel. Before we were dating maybe I'd take the standard four-or-five-day weekends for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a week-long vacation in the summer or maybe just two four-day weekends, and that was it. Last year we took one trip to France and another trip to California. Each was longer than a week. Technically I have enough time off for this, but it's kind of close, especially considered whatever else might come up, and then there's the fact that I only have one pool of days off for sick days and vacations...

Well, by this point overthinking it is making my day worse than the weather is likely to. I'll try to check in within 24 hours. I'm sure things will be fine.

Knock on wood.

Friday, November 18, 2011

I might get back into reading comic books. That worries me.

For years, I read superhero comics fairly regularly. I'd estimate that my total collection is roughly a third X-titles (X-Men, X-Factor, etc.) a third other Marvel titles (Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, etc.) and a third DC and other publishers. My comic-buying probably peaked during college or shortly after. Since then I've lost interest in series when they got bogged down in Kudzu Plots*, or when I missed a few issues and couldn't get back into it, or for many other reasons.

So by six months ago, the only monthly comic book I was buying at all regularly was Invincible, and occasionally picking up one or two issues of X-Factor. The only comic book store I liked was an hour out of my way. I'd make an afternoon of going over to that neighborhood once a month or so, sometimes with my girlfriend, for the comics plus other shopping or eating out in the area. I was pretty much happy with that. But over this past fall, three events have coincided**.

(1) DC Comics relaunched its entire line. (Sort of.) This includes a relaunch of Blue Beetle, which I liked until it was cancelled a couple years ago, and reboots of lots of classic stuff that potentially could turn out to be interesting to anyone who even vaguely cares about the genre.
(2) Marvel Comics revamped the X-Men line. Like I said, I liked the X-Men family of comics in general a lot, and what seems to be the two "main" titles of this relaunch are both especially interesting to me. Cyclops' X-Men as an all-heavy-hitters paramilitary team actively aspiring to global peacekeeping? A series with Wolverine of all people as a teacher, and it also includes a bunch of other characters that look fun? Awesome.
(3) That store an hour out of my way? It moved to a new location, less than a mile from my place. If I go grocery shopping after work, the comic book store is on the way there.

So both major publishers are doing new things I find interesting right now, shopping for comics is more convenient than it ever has been, I've already bought several issues of different titles, and as I said at the start of this post, yes, I consider this bad. I'd say there's two reasons for that.

One problem is that I feel I should avoid getting back into comic books as a hobby. It's not that I care about being "too geeky" or something, it just seems like not enough bang for my buck. For the price of five comics I could instead get a trade paperback, a movie ticket plus a drink, two nice beers at a bar, or spend half the day playing Magic: the Gathering at a Limited event. For something that I'll read in 10 minutes and probably will never find out how that storyline ends because it's a decompressed comic*, that is simply a waste of money.

The other problem is that these comics in particular don't seem that great. I bought them because the cover is flashy and I liked the characters and/or title five years ago, but when I read them, it's just "meh". These days almost all comics are decompressed, and more storylines than not are crossovers. More specifically, forget about my own personal priorities, the first issue of the new Superman series was not worth the cover price by any standard. (Maybe I'll expand on that in a future post.) Uncanny X-Men's first issue was little better; it too is just scene-setting, but at least the scene it sets is more interesting. The new Blue Beetle would have been decent as a truly new comic, but as a revamp of the previous title it seems to have lost everything that I liked about it.

It's not all bad, of course. I liked the Wolverine and the X-Men, and still might try out some more new or recently revamped series. If six months from now I just go to the new store once a month, make a beeline for Invincible and leave, then I'll still have come out ahead. But in the past month I've bought a dozen issues of seven different series, and more than half of them made me think "I could write a better story than this", "Where's the rest of it?", or both. This is not a good sign.

* Throughout this post, any word or phrase that's not easily understandable can probably be found at
** For more references on the comics world, see... pretty much anything by MGK with the "comics" tag at this blog. Not that I agree with him about every bit of it, but it was all interesting.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My mom's cousin died a week ago today. R.I.P. Chuck.

Cancer sucks. He was sick for less than a year, and the last month of it was in hospice. I probably I should have done more than I did for his family. I don't see much of them, though - maybe annually since I moved down to the DC area - so until near the end I was content to go on what I heard from my parents. I didn't make it to the memorial service, but I did make it up there in time to see him in the hospital, and I'm glad of that, at least. It wasn't easy, of course. He apparently aged from 60 to 80 since the last time I saw him, and couldn't get out of bed.