Home Again, Home Again

Today was homecoming day for us, via a 10-hour Delta direct flight from Amsterdam to Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma) International Airport. We were on an Airbus 330, which has entertainment screens for each passenger (on the back of the seat in front of you). This entertainment system provides music, games, and movies.

On the flight out I had planned to do a lot of reading and had packed my briefcase with everything I thought I’d need. As a result, my briefcase was too heavy for me to carry any distance, and my husband F. valiantly volunteered to tote it around for me. For the flight home I had learned my lesson and had packed little more than my laptop and my iPad in the case. I still hoped to do some reading, but this time I knew that I’d be able to plug my iPad into a USB port in front of me when it began to run low.

However, both F. and I decided to check out the entertainment system, which we had resisted on the flight out. Among the movies F. discovered The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington. I usually go to see any movie that Denzel appears in. I had wanted to see this one when it was out in theaters, despite the violence, but never got there. So we both tucked into this one.

After The Equalizer, we discovered the whole Taken series, starring Liam Neeson, available. We had seen the original Taken, but not 2 and 3, so we both went through those. It’s definitely time for this series to end, as Liam has noticeably slowed down in the action sequences. Next we watched The Drop, written by one of my favorite mystery writers, Dennis Lehane. This was the best of all the movies, as it had at least a bit of character depth and an intriguing twist at the end.

One other nifty feature of the Airbus 330’s video system is the section labeled “this flight,” which shows you a world map with the plane’s projected flight path and current location. Somewhere over the cold North Atlantic I took a break from my movies long enough to raise my window shade and snap this photo:

Icy North Atlantic

The only thing worse than a long plane flight is a long plane flight with whining, crying children. One row ahead of us in the middle four-seat section of plane was a group of four children who looked about 12, 10, 8, and 6. There was no sound at all from them for the entire flight as they, like us, sat enthralled by their personal entertainment systems. It must have been kid nirvana: endless movies, music, and games interrupted only by the occasional delivery of meals, snacks, and beverages.

I didn’t get any sleep on the flight, but I didn’t expect to. Despite the entertainment, it’s been a long day for us. We had to get up at 4:30 AM to have our suitcases out by 5:15, and our bus left the boat for the airport at 6:15. We got home by late afternoon and are now just about ready to hit the hay for several hours.

Unlimited mindless entertainment stunts human growth, but sometimes a limited dose of it is exactly what the circumstances require. Just ask those four kids if you don’t want to take my word for it.

At Home: My Two-Year Anniversary in Tacoma

Today I celebrate two years of living in Tacoma. I actually arrived in Tacoma on April 9, 2013, then stayed in a motel overnight before moving into my new home on April 10.

We had been visiting Tacoma for a week each year for several years before deciding to move here. I therefore knew a little about getting around, but not very much. I knew only one route to my new home from the motel where I stayed. (We’d been staying there regularly for many years.) I have since discovered a few alternate routes to my house, including one that cuts about 15 minutes off that route I drove on my first day as a resident here.

After two years, I finally feel that I’m beginning to know my general way around. I still use Google Maps a lot, but now when people say, “That store is on Hosmer Street” or “We’re on Steele Street,” I have a general idea of where to head. I also no longer fear getting lost and can approach finding somewhere I’ve never gone before as an opportunity to explore new places.

I arrived at my house at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2013, in a torrential downpour. Of course I knew about the frequent rain here—our daughter had been reminding us that we’d have to get used to it—so I wasn’t surprised. After getting my keys, I pulled my car into the attached garage and unloaded the boxes of necessities that I had brought with me from St. Louis. My car could not have held even one more dish or pan.

By the time I had unloaded the boxes—not unpacked them yet, but at least removed them from my car and put them in the appropriate rooms—it was 11:00 AM. I was ready to head out to Target, Costco, and Safeway to purchase necessities I hadn’t been able to bring with me (coffee maker, vacuum cleaner, cleaning supplies, and yes, food). Was I surprised to find that the sky was clear and the sun was shining brightly.

That was the first time I realized that the old adage “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute and it will change” applies here more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. In the two years I’ve been here I’ve learned a lot about dealing with the weather:

  • Even if it’s raining now, it might not still be raining an hour from now.
  • Even if it’s not raining now, that doesn’t mean it won’t be raining an hour from now (so bring along that umbrella or raincoat).
  • A morning of fog and drizzle (quite common) doesn’t mean that the afternoon won’t be beautifully sunny.
  • The hottest part of the day here isn’t around high noon, as it was in St. Louis, but usually at 3:00 or 4:00 PM.
  • If you expect to live around here, you can’t be skittish about occasionally getting a bit wet. Also, my mother was right when she told me, “You’re not sugar. You won’t melt.”

I do not miss the unbearable heat and humidity of St. Louis summers at all.

But after 40+ years in St. Louis, I do kind of miss the St. Louis Cardinals and still follow them in the standings. Nonetheless, I have adopted the Seattle Mariners as my home MLB team and faithfully follow their ups and downs (so far, unfortunately, mostly downs) and tune in to the games. I’m grateful that the Mariners AAA minor league team, the Rainiers, is headquartered right here in Tacoma. Attending their games is much easier—and much cheaper—than making the trip up to Seattle’s Safeco Field. And I’ve become an enthusiastic football fan here in Seattle Seahawks territory, where everybody is expected to be The Twelfth Man. Like a lot of other people around here, I still wish the Supersonics, the local NBA team, had not moved away and remade itself as the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Our recent five-day trip to Tampa, FL, for the Women’s Final Four college basketball championship tournament made me realize how much I’ve come to think of Tacoma as my home. Two features here that I love the most are the water, with its high and low tides, and Mount Rainier. There’s water aplenty in Tampa, too, but the sun just doesn’t glint off Tampa water the same way it does off the water of our Commencement Bay. And Tampa is just so FLAT. After about four days, I was craving a glimpse of my mountain.

Because our flight back from Tampa didn’t get in until after dark, we couldn’t see the mountains from the plane as we usually can. But I could feel their presence. For air travelers, the local airport represents home, and when we stepped off the plane at Sea-Tac Airport, I felt that’s where I was. I’ve flown into Sea-Tac lots of times over the years, and I was always excited to see my daughter and to be on vacation. But this time, walking through Sea-Tac made me feel grounded, made me feel that I was back where I truly belonged.

It’s great to be back in the Pacific Northwest, where there’s still a chill in the air that requires a light jacket. Goodbye to the 88 degrees F. of Tampa. It was a great place to visit, but I’m glad to be home. In Tacoma, WA.

Departing from Sea-Tac Airport

During the 40+ years we lived in St. Louis, we became spoiled air travelers. St. Louis was the hub for TWA, which meant that we could get a direct flight from our home airport to just about any other major city in the United States. And back in the truly good old days, we often had our choice of several direct flights and could pick the most convenient time for us.

But when TWA went belly up, American Airlines absorbed it and soon phased out St. Louis as a hub in favor of Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth. No longer could we get a direct flight to anywhere and instead had to travel to either Chicago or DFW to get a connecting flight to wherever we wanted to go. The number of available flights also dwindled. We usually ended up with no choices, forced to take the one available flight to the new hub and then the one flight to our destination city.

Now that we’ve retired to Tacoma, WA, Sea-Tac Airport has become our new hometown airport. Alaska Airlines has for some time been the major airline headquartered at Sea-Tac and has been increasing its service area. In fact, Alaska initiated a nonstop flight between Sea-Tac and St. Louis just before we left St. Louis.

Recently, Delta Air Lines has begun to compete with Alaska Airlines as the major carrier out of Sea-Tac. This healthy competition is good for consumers in terms of number of destination cities and number of available flights.

But the addition of flights is a drawback in that Sea-Tac does not have the infrastructure to support both the increased number of flights and the increased number of passengers. Where passengers already see this problem is in the horrendously long lines that form at the entrances to the security checkpoints.

And the problems will only get worse. On January 27, 2015, The Seattle Times reported on plans to expand Sea-Tac to accommodate an expected boom of passengers over the next 20 years: Traffic at the airport is expected to grow from last year’s [2014] 37 million passengers to 66 million 20 years from now:

A new International Arrivals Facility planned for 2019 is only the beginning. Also on the drawing board are plans for 35 more airplane gates added to the north and south of the airport’s 81 current gates, and potentially an additional new passenger terminal.

This article reports that Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines are involved in a dispute over “how, or even whether,” the new International Arrivals Facility (IAF) should be funded. The cost of the proposed new facility was recently increased to $608 million.

More recently KING 5, Seattle’s NBC affiliate station, reported on March 5, 2015, about a public meeting at which Sea-Tac International Airport and Port of Seattle officials presented expansion plans:

Sea-Tac projects up to 66 million passengers by 2034 and indicates it needs to add gates, a new international terminal and reconfigure other infrastructure around the property.

There will be several more public meetings in upcoming months to gather public input on the expansion plans.

In the meantime, anyone flying out of Sea-Tac Airport should plan to allow plenty of time for getting through the screening process. When we arrived at about 6:45 for a recent early-morning flight, the line was not too long, but later in the day the line can snake out of sight down the concourse. Plan to arrive at least two hours before your scheduled departure time, or even earlier if you’re flying out during the peak mid-day hours.