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Dulles

Started: 2021-12-31 21:21:42

Submitted: 2021-12-31 23:05:57

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Flying back across the country to Walla Walla for Christmas

After attending Worldcon 79 in Washington, DC, it was time for me to fly back across the country — but instead of flying home I headed to Walla Walla, Washington to celebrate Christmas with my parents and siblings.

I woke up at 05:00 in my hotel in downtown Washington, DC and caught a Lyft to the airport in the pre-dawn chill. The ride took me past the White House and onto the E Street Expressway, past the Watergate complex on my way out of the District of Columbia.

United Airlines had suggested that I ought to arrive at the airport three hours early to accommodate crowds. This seemed excessive, but I was cognizant of Kiesa's experience checking in at San Francisco the day before in which the baggage conveyer had stalled for an interminable amount of time while she was trying to check her bag, so I decided I'd arrive at the airport on the order of two hours before my 08:15 flight. Getting up at 05:00 Eastern time was early enough, but then I did the time zone conversion into my target time zone and confirmed that it's 02:00 Pacific time.

Dulles Airport terminal lit up for Christmas
Dulles Airport terminal lit up for Christmas

Despite my paranoia, I breezed through checking my bags (there was no one in front of me to get my bag tags, and only one group in front of me to drop my checked bag) and security (no one was in front of me at the security checkpoint).

John Foster Dulles bust at his airport
John Foster Dulles bust at his airport

Immediately after passing the security checkpoint I found myself face-to-face with the bust of John Foster Dulles, with his name written in the distinctive retro-futurist font used around the airport. There was something about the font that made me think that it belonged in the title crawl of a 1980s sci-fi/action movie, probably staring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Terminal" in the Dulles font

I rode the new automated people-mover to my concourse. It was still early enough that there were few people around the airport, on the last Monday before Christmas.

Jaeger in the Dulles people-mover
Jaeger in the Dulles people-mover

I ate breakfast at the airport (from Au Bon Pain, which I'm still not sure how to pronounce) and boarded my flight to Denver.

As we flew west across the country I watched the terrain gradually change from the suburbs of Northern Virginia to the Appalachian Mountains to the fields and cities of Ohio. Once we reached the Great Plains the patterns on the land became regular, square, aligning with the public land survey system. I watched my progress on Flightaware (it was a little weird to buy Internet access on the plane to track my flight while I was on it) and saw that we were coming up on Council Bluffs, Iowa. I looked out the window just in time to see the Google's Southlands data center appear under the wing of my plane. This is the data center where my server in THE CLOUD lives, and it's the data center I visited on SRE Exchange four years ago. It looks like the data center has grown since my last visit, as Google doubles down on its strategy to build bigger data centers everywhere.

Southlands data center from the air
Southlands data center from the air

We landed in Denver and waited on the tarmac for a few minutes for our gate to become available. Once we disembarked I had two hours before my connecting flight to Pasco departed, and it was past time for lunch in the time zone I woke up in, so I took the people-mover to Concourse A and walked to the far eastern end of the concourse, past the regular gates with jet bridges and down the escalator to the regional jet wing, where I found an outpost of Snarf's Sandwiches, the Boulder-based purveyors of my favorite sandwiches.

Snarf's Sandwiches at DIA
Snarf's Sandwiches at DIA

I boarded my flight to Pasco, on a CRJ-200. I realized, as we climbed out of DIA from one of the north-facing runways, that I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane: to see Boulder County, my home from 25 years, I should have sat on the left side of the plane. On the right side of the plane I saw Greeley, and as we turned to the north-west to cruise towards Washington State I saw snow on the ground, when I could see the ground at all. We descended into Pasco through thick clouds; only when we were about to touch down could I see anything out the window.

Jaeger disembarks CRJ-200 N492SW at Pasco
Jaeger disembarks CRJ-200 N492SW at Pasco

When I landed in Pasco I found myself suddenly in winter, and I lacked a proper winter coat to visit winter. (The zipper on the North Face coat I've been wearing for more than a decade died early in 2020, and I haven't really been in a climate where I needed clothing to handle below-freezing temperatures since then.) Once I picked up my bag and rental car I drove to REI across the river in Kennewick. It had snowed recently and the ground was wet but passable. I was not impressed by the choices in the smallish REI, but I did find a down jacket to buy to keep me warm while I was visiting winter.

I grabbed a coffee and snack at Starbucks across the parking lot from REI, and then the last thing I did before driving to Walla Walla was take a COVID-19 fast antigen test while sitting in my car in the Starbucks parking lot. I didn't think I was especially likely to test positive, since I had just gotten my booster shot, but I had about as much potential COVID-19 exposure in the last week as in the entire rest of the year combined. (This says as much about what I was doing the rest of my year as it does the last week.) I was fairly careful to wear my mask except when eating or drinking, but I did eat most of my meals indoors at restaurants, some more crowded than others. Worldcon required masks and vaccine checks, and most of the places I went indoors (the Metro and Smithsonian museums) required masks, but no restaurants or museums checked vaccine cards. Physical distancing was impossible in many of the Worldcon panels I attended. I didn't want to bring COVID-19 to Christmas this year. Everyone attending Christmas is fully vaccinated, and most of the adults are boosted, but my parents are old enough that they're beginning to be at higher risk if they do get sick so I wanted to make sure I didn't infect them. I wasn't sure what I'd do if I tested positive, but at least I wanted some confidence I wasn't bringing the virus with me. I was relieved when the test turned out negative and I didn't have to worry about my contingency plans.

I drove to Walla Walla as darkness fell. The rain picked up, falling on the snow on the ground, threatening a slippery mess on the roads, but US highway 12 remained clear enough on my drive to Walla Walla.

I met Kiesa at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, where she'd reserved a room for us to stay during Christmas, close enough to my parents' house that we could spend much of our time there (except for the first couple of days, when we would be working remotely before the end of the year), while still giving us our own space. We drove to my parents' house for supper, and (because I was a bit jet-lagged from Eastern time) returned for an early bedtime.

Stockings hung by the mantle with care
Stockings hung by the mantle with care
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