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Walla Walla

Started: 2012-10-20 12:39:09

Submitted: 2012-10-20 13:50:40

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits Walla Walla, Washington for his father's birthday

Two weeks ago, we visited my parents in Walla Walla to celebrate my father's sixtieth birthday. (I took a quick look at my forthcoming Christmas-time trip to Hong Kong and decided any of my likely excuses didn't hold water, and it didn't hurt to have a short trip on which to beta-test some of our ideas for transporting a preschooler by air.)

We took Friday, 5 October off and caught a direct flight from Denver to Pasco, marketed as a United Express flight operated by Skywest on a CRJ-200. This was my first chance to exploit my new Premier Silver status (acquired by virtue of flying to India and back on a business-class ticket), which was not all that exciting except for the free checked bags. We decided to check Calvin's carseat and prop him up in the seat using the FAA-approved CARES harness, which loops around the seat back and attaches to the regular seat belt to create a four-point harness for small children. Neither of us were quite sure what to make of this idea, but Kiesa found an eBay seller who would rent the harness, so we decided to give it a try. This worked less-well than we'd hoped; on our little regional jet the tray tables were inset into the back of the seat, so the harness (which requires wrapping around the seat with the tray table removed under normal circumstances) required wrapping over the tray table, rendering the tray table inoperable for the person sitting behind Calvin. This was bad-passenger behavior we were unwilling to inflict on our neighbors, so we skipped the harness and just sat Calvin in the full-sized seat with nothing but the full-sized seat belt to keep him in place.

This actually worked pretty well: airliner seatbelts are designed to keep passengers from flying wildly about the cabin during normal turbulence, maneuvering, and ground movement, and Calvin was large enough (and sufficiently well-behaved) that I could position the seatbelt "low and tight across the waist" and keep him in position. He found it a little awkward to reach the tray table to play with the small tub of Legos we brought for him, and with the seatbelt fastened he couldn't lean far enough forward to look out the window, but for the most part he did fine. He had some trouble sliding down the seat, which the harness wouldn't help for; Kiesa compensated by having him sit on the sort of rubber mat one normally uses for extra traction in kitchen cabinets.

Calvin plays with Legos on the plane to Pasco
Calvin plays with Legos on the plane to Pasco

This short trip was our easiest trip yet with Calvin: he's old enough that he no longer requires a suitcase full of diapers and other baby paraphernalia, and he's capable of amusing himself (either with Legos, or books, or the iPad) with minimal intervention. He's still small enough that we get some deference from the airport and airline staff: at the security [theater] checkpoint, while everyone was queuing for the electronic strip search, I picked up Calvin and we were quickly whisked straight through the metal detector without fuss or an 'enhanced' pat-down. (Exploiting this loophole for nefarious purposes is left as an exercise to the reader.)

We took up three of the four seats per row on the regional jet. After we boarded, a woman with a lap infant took the fourth seat, seat A, the window seat on the left side of the plane (facing forward). The flight attendant noted that the extra oxygen masks for lap infants were on the right side of the plane, so we swapped positions around the aisle so Calvin had seat A and the lap infant was under an oxygen mask, which remained unused for the duration of our flight.

When we reached my mother's house, I found the big wooden train set I played with as a kid and got it out for Calvin. (This set established my expectations for how toy trains ought to work, and I was pleased to see that it did in fact feature a handful of signals for the trains.) I think Calvin enjoyed playing with the trains as much as I did.

Calvin plays with a wooden train set at Nana's house
Calvin plays with a wooden train set at Nana's house

I made a brief attempt at implementing my grand vision for Lego architecture but decided to abandon the effort when I failed to locate enough 1x1 white pieces to implement even one corner of the mausoleum. (It didn't help that Willy had used up a number of the red pieces in a red sandstone Mughal fort, or the white pieces in a stupa.) Before leaving, I raided a handful of the pieces I thought Calvin would especially appreciate, including wings, wheels, and minifigs.

We got to see Swinyar, Heather, and Veronica and compared notes about parenting and engineering.

The key event of the weekend was my father's birthday party on Saturday night, where I was the second-youngest guest, after Calvin. The party featured my father's colleagues in the school of engineering, most of whom were around when I took engineering at Walla Walla, giving me the chance to catch up with some of my old [engineering] professors.

On Sunday morning, I walked over to Kretschmar Hall and found an authentic iTi XY table sitting in the manufacturing lab, courtesy of another Walla Walla graduate who inherited it when iTi failed and finally decided to excise it from his garage. Two engineering professors met me in the lab and I tried to tell them useful things about it. It looked mostly complete, though it had a few additions that appeared to post-date my time, including a camera mounted in a position to inspect the material being printed or to help register the substrate as it was being placed. I tried to say intelligent things about how it might be used, but I was mostly fascinated to simply see the hardware again, six years after leaving iTi (and three years after it finally failed), bringing back memories that were not entirely unpleasant (at least when tempered by time).

We flew back to Denver on Sunday afternoon, after a brief but successful trip to Walla Walla.