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Happy Christmas

Started: 2006-12-27 12:47:48

Submitted: 2006-12-27 13:35:29

Visibility: World-readable

I'm now on Frontier flight 792, inbound to Denver from Portland. The seat-back screens are not functioning on this aircraft due to unspecified mechanical problems, so I don't really know where I am at the moment. (Thanks to the vast power of the Internet, I can pull up my flight on Flight Aware, which is the coolest flight-tracking website since... forever.) I see snow-covered hills through patchy clouds, and I'm about half-way through the flight, so I presume I'm over south-eastern Idaho.

Monday, 25 December 2006

Our flight to Portland wasn't scheduled to depart until 1230 MST, but Frontier's website strongly encouraged us to arrive four hours early to combat epic queues at check-in and security. We tried checking in online but were thwarted by a cryptic message demanding that we check in at the airport. I hypothesized that altered reservations required some special agent processing, although what or why I couldn't speculate.

I woke up at 0630 and we left the house a bit after 0730. The drive to DIA took a bit longer than normal; most of the roads were clear, but our subdivision was still slick and we encountered snow blowing across the road on E-470. As I expected, Pikes Peak shuttle parking was full (even the normal access road was blocked, although that probably had more to do with snow that parking itself), and even Mount Elbert -- the huge, middle-of-nowhere shuttle parking lot used as a Pikes Peak backup -- was approaching capacity. The shuttle bus to the terminal sat at the stop for five minutes before actually taking us to the terminal, but we did make it eventually.

The queue at Frontier check-in was long, but not as long as I've seen it in the past. We tried to use the shiny kiosks to check in (since the queue is always shorter and it reduces the number of people we have to interact with), but it couldn't find our reservation using our credit cards; I typed the confirmation number and it cryptically asked us to talk to a human. A human came to our rescue within a minute and checked us in and took our bags without any further intervention or insight into the mysterious requirement that we seek human assistance.

The main level security queue was reported to be an hour and a half; the A concourse bridge security wait claimed to be much shorter at half an hour, although it did make it all the way to the end of the bridge into the upper walkway in the terminal itself. I started to get irritable (mostly by the unwashed masses who apparently were entirely ignorant of any security regime changes in the past year) and tried to restrict my human interactions; I turned on my iPod and cranked up the volume and all was well.

We got through security and found our gate with more than two hours to spare. I got a mocha at Concourse A's resident coffee shop and settled in for some quality photo cropping; I ended up cropping and posting all of the photos from Megafest 5.0. I grabbed a copy of last week's The Economist and bought a burrito (which, according to a court in Mass, is "not a sandwich") for lunch on the plane.

Our flight to Portland was a bit bumpy in the middle and was generally unremarkable... until we were a few hundred miles from Boise and a flight attendant came on the PA and asked, "Is there a doctor in the plane?" I contemplated the merits of diverting to Boise (and verified that Frontier does indeed have a ground presence there) and remained curious; I saw a handful of people standing and sitting in the front of the plane, and a flight attendant remove an oxygen bottle from an overhead compartment, but otherwise I was clueless.

We ended up flying all the way to Portland without further explanation or incident. (Too many diversions or cancellations in one trip isn't healthy.) Kiesa's father picked us up at the airport and took us to his parents' house in Portland, where the rest of the Stone family was assembled for Christmas. We declined the end of Christmas dinner (since we had just eaten lunch several hours before) but accepted dessert. We opened presents (the most common item was REI giftcards; I'm not the only one in this branch of the family who can spend entirely too much money there) and headed north to Longview, where Tristan and Jessica (who barely made it into Portland that morning after missing their early-morning flight out of Ontario) picked up their vehicle and continued north to Seattle.

We contemplated our options, which included our plans to see Bethany while she was visiting her boyfriend's mother in Camas (an outlying community of Portland on the Washington side of the Columbia River, east of Vancouver). The best option was for that evening; I borrowed the resident 2003 red Camry (which replaced Lyta when we took possession of Lyta in 2003) and drove back through Vancouver, turning off just before crossing the river. Bethany and I exchanged Christmas gifts (we got her a shiny tea pot from the Celestial Seasonings gift shop) and hung out, chatting about life, the universe, and everything, including some fascinating notes on the rest of our immediate family.

I eventually departed Camas and returned to Longview shortly before midnight, Pacific time.

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Boxing Day dawned rainy in Longview. Our plan (Kiesa, her mother, and I) was to head to the beach. We made it as far as Astoria and visited a maritime museum whose name escapes me. (Edit: It's the Columbia River Maritime Museum.) The museum featured a variety of exhibits focusing on the Columbia River, especially the treacherous mouth of the river where ocean currents meet river currents. When we emerged, several hours later, it was raining harder; our trek across the pier to a retired Coast Guard lightship (a floating lighthouse) made us quite wet. We went for pizza and headed back to Longview.

Our afternoon featured a walk along the levee on the west bank of the Cowlitz River. The evening featured a number of games of Settlers of Catan. We tried to bring Cities and Knights of Catan but forgot to bring the per-player painted wooden pieces for the expansion (the knights themselves and the city walls), so we ended up playing classic Settlers. Kiesa's mother won the first two games. I sat out for the third game (which Kiesa won) and barely managed to scrape together a win of the fourth game, with Kiesa and her father conspiring against me at the end and Kiesa's mother principally inclined to have the game over with. It was a fine warm-up for playing Catan or any other game at the upcoming Megafest.