Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Ack I've neglected my blog!

So I'm now 22 -- which doesn't feel much different from 21, except that it was less of a milestone. My "birthday weekend" (I didn't want to celebrate on March 7th since it was a Monday, and a very busy one at that) was fairly low-key. Saturday I got some work done & went to the jazz concert with Kathleen, where we ran into more friends. I tried the vanilla chai from our uncommon grounds place, and it was very sweet and very vanilla-y. And a cookie for later, as a reward for writing my 319 paper, which I did in the space between 9 pm & 1 am. Sunday I ran around between mentoring appointments, brunch, & the senior career fair thingy. Kathleen & I sat in on a round table discussion with alums & other students interested in grad school. When I said that I was deciding between two grad schools, and that one would mean being close to Andrew, the alum we were speaking with was like "Oh, go with your bf! Come on girls!" -- as in have fun and all that. Then I dropped the Stanford name, which always has the effect of reversing those opinions. And alas, even she backed up from her previous statement.

Afterwards, I headed back to my dorm room to wait for Andrew. We lounged around a bit before dinner -- Thai Corner! Which was yummy, I always order very safe things (pad thai). Then we watched Family Guy (or whatever the title is) -- that movie with Nicholas Cage in which he sees what would have happened if he had stayed in the states with his college gf instead of taking this great career move in Europe for the summer. We were laughing at points because it was like the same situation...

Monday was another crazily busy day. Mentoring appointments, class, preparing to leave for Stanford on Tuesday. I was all packed and ready by Tuesday around noon, just in time to be picked up. It had been raining all morning, but then around 11 am the fun started with little snow flakes drifting down... I told Andrew it was snowing and he said (ironically considering later events) that it wouldn't affect my flight. Ohhh the dramatic irony! So my PVTA ride was about 10 minutes later than the absolute latest they claimed they'd get there. So late I was contemplating giving up. By this time the snow was really coming down, and it had gotten colder. We got to the airport a little late, but my flight was backed up 20 minutes already. I heard a ticket agent say that everything was backed up with the weather. I proceeded, however, to my gate.

I sat by some middle-aged business men (they looked the part), because that usually seems like a good idea to me. And it was, again, in this situation. We sat there waiting to hear if the plane our flight was going to use had a change of coming in. Planes were deferring into Boston where the weather wasn't so bad. By this time, around 2:30, visibility was less than 100 ft, winds up to 50 mph (or so the rumor went), and lots of snow falling. It was swirling about outside the windows, and I couldn't even see planes docked at nearby terminals, so I figured it was pretty bad. F*&#ing weather!!!

It's hard to recreate this in my blog. We sat there long past our scheduled departure time, everyone around me was on their cell phones trying to find alternative flights or a place to stay the night and a flight in the morning. Not having a cell phone, I just sat there waiting for whatever the airport gods decided to do... One flight was canceled right away, as the plane had gone to Boston. We were worried the same would happen to the Chicago flight. Finally at least one plane landed near our terminal. It had circled for an hour and a half. Can you imagine? So there was hope that our flight would leave. At intervals the snow seemed to slow -- I could see further outside. Finally, around 4 pm, we found out that there was a good chance our flight would, in fact, leave today.

The problem with this was that the weather had only worsened, in my opinion, since various windows of "less bad snow." Plus it was just accumulating more and more as we sat there. The airport was closing off and on throughout the afternoon (also very disconcerting as you're sitting there waiting for a flight). I wondered if my luggage was still checked, or if all that had stopped working... very confusing. We finally did board, however, and the man I was sitting by (Chris I think) and I were incredibly happy. We must have been on the plane by around 5 pm, but then the fun was just getting started! I was trying not to worry about what would happen once I reached Chicago -- would there be a San Francisco flight later in the evening? Would I reach my host in time to tell them not to try to pick me up at the scheduled time? We all know how nervous I get about traveling, so it was amazing that I settled at some point & just figured that Chicago was closer to SF than Bradley airport, and had more promising weather!

Our flight didn't leave till about 6 pm. We sat at the terminal waiting for the airport to reopen (ie, get down plowing) so we could go for de-icing. At the de-icing pad we waited while two other planes were de-iced and sent on their way (one even got finished that arrived after us!!) At this point I was curled up trying to sleep and ignore the fact that I'd been in the PVTA van or at the airport or on a plane for 5.5 hours now, and that I should already be at Chicago catching my SF flight. No leisurely dinner with my host -- no time to meet other admits -- ahh! The de-icing took awhile, about 3 or 4 times the pilot's lie of "ten minutes." Whatever time anyone associated with an airline tells you, multiply it by about 6 and you'll get a more accurate picture. We finally did take off, however, and the antifreeze goop did its job so we didn't fall out of the sky.

We arrived in Chicago around 7:30 pm (their time). Or perhaps it was a bit earlier... hard to recall. At the ticketing counter, a woman told me that I'd been rebooked on the 8 pm flight. So I was very happy. I waited in long lines at customer service, hoping to use a phone for free as the flight attendants had promised earlier, and eventually just called my host from a pay phone to let her know what was up. OK, this is how good Stanford is. They'd already seen the problem, and one of the grad students (a wonderful person I met later) had heard from the office that they didn't expect current students to go out really late at night to pick up admits. So they'd already booked a taxi, and told the driver to stand with my name at baggage claim. Wow, no one had ever done that before for me! I was a little confused, however, because I figured my 8 pm flight wouldn't get me into SF tooo terribly late. Little did I know that Stanford had already anticipated my next problem with United airlines...

No one was at the gate I was supposed to be leaving from in 20 minutes -- and it said departure time 10 pm. This other person waiting approached me, and he was also confused. So I decided to see what customer service had to say. Some of the same people were there. I finally got an attendant, and he kept asking if my eyes were OK. I started tearing up (after all, it had been a hell of a long day, with poor airline communication, and no idea where I would sleep if I didn't get to SF). It always makes me more sad when people actually seem to care that I'm sad. So he was handing me tissues and asking to hear what was up. I found out that the 8 pm flight was not leaving till late (I later heard that the time got pushed to 10:20, and that people were skeptical about it leaving at all -- they had trouble getting a crew into Chicago from the east coast). But, I also found out that I'd been put on the 9:30 pm flight, and that my luggage would already be on that one. So I was frustrated to be spending even more time in the airport, but also strangely OK with things.

I headed over to my new gate via the trippy moving walkway. Those flashing neon lights and the deranged circus music can put one in a strange mood when one isn't feeling happy... I kind of just stood there on the moving walkway and squinted at the lights and wondered what the hell the world was coming to. Eventually reached the end of the moving walkway, which was repeatedly pointed out to me by a mechanical voice. I reached the gate, and talked to Andrew on the phone awhile, mainly bitching about the state of United airlines and flying in general. By the time I got off the phone, an onslaught of bewildered people had arrived via an international flight. I quickly realized that my gate had been changed, and scooted down to find it. At this new gate I heard from an older couple that the gate had been switched a number of times. Also I encountered the same man of the 8 pm SF flight, who told me that that flight might not be going at all, so he was now rebooked on the same 9:30 one. We waited, and boarded a bit late for a "mechanical problem." Once on the plane, this mechanical problem that should have been checked out long before, reared its ugly head. The pilot said that mechanics had spotted fuel leaking, and needed to observe it for 10 minutes to check it out. He told us this specific time later -- but I can assure you that it worked perfectly with my formula. 10 minutes x 6 = one hour. Yes, we sat there for an entire freaking hour. And nothing was fixed or accomplished except for some paperwork. I think that 9 times out of 10 mechanical worries result not in safer flights, but in delayed flights, because they all decide that the plane is air-worthy in the end anyway! No one was in the middle seat, so I spread out and tried to sleep. My seat-mate helped me to a blanket, and as we sat there with the mysterious mechanical problem that ended up not even being a problem, I told him to wake me only if we needed to deboard. It was now 10:30 pm, 11:30 pm eastern time, meaning that I'd been traveling now for 11 hours.

I got fitful, uncomfortable bouts of sleep on the plane. We finally arrived at 12:45 pm western time. Add that up, I've now been traveling for 15.25 hours. Found my driver easily, and we waited on my luggage. We were friendly, and he was sure that I wasn't from CA since I wasn't bitching about the flight. This became uncomfortable once we reached the van and he needed me to help read the mapquest directions. And he kept asking if I wanted him to show me the city while I was there... As if I didn't have a million things planned already!! I tried to be nice, but not too nice... Why a driver feels the need to come onto a travel-weary girl when according to her time zone it's freaking am, is beyond me. We got really confused on the Stanford campus, and picked up this Australian student who directed us to the grad student housing area. Once there, the driver called my poor host, who came running out in her bathroom to find me!

OK, so this is one of my fondest memories now. Sarah completely took me in, fixing hot chocolate & cheese sandwiches, and we talked for about 30 minutes, mostly on the subject of what we do English-wise, and what my thesis/ mentoring job are like. I liked her immediately, and there was something infinitely reassuring about this woman in her glasses & bathrobe, with a mug of hot chocolate. She had gone above and beyond the call of duty -- she had fixed up her room for me to stay in, even leaving a mint on the pillow & putting daffodils in a vase. I wasn't sure how right it was for her to have to sleep on the couch, but I did fall asleep instantly! Soo tired... I ended up being "in transit" between MHC & Sarah's from 12:30 pm eastern to 5 am eastern. So what, 16.5 hours??? Pretty f-ing ridiculous!

The next day I got up pretty early and rushed to get ready for Sarah's African American Lit. Theory class. But as I was trying to go, Sarah's roommate struck. This girl is not happy at Stanford, and mainly wants someone to gripe to. I was it for an hour. I kept trying to go, and she kept thinking I should go, but somehow it didn't work out... I finally made it, however, and found the English dept. where I met Judy & picked up my folder. She sympathized with my crazy flight problems, and then I was on my way with Prof. M. to find the right building. I sneaked into the class, which was absolutely amazing. It was comprised of 9 women and the prof, who was this awesome woman... ahh. They were watching this disturbing Spike Lee movie, and discussing the homoeroticism of this one scene, and how blackface relates to the hip hop "bling" in the film. Everyone sounded brilliant, and the discussion never waned. I was completely impressed.

Afterwards, I walked with Other Sarah & James (from New Zealand) to the faculty club lunch. OK, great food, and I had the most incredible chocolate truffle cake ever. I was in heaven. I met a prof. who is friends with Prof. W at MHC, and talked with Prof. S about going to a program far away from my bf's. The discussion hit upon an Old Norse course, the name Grendel being used for pets, and Hamnet. Between that and the truffle cake... yeah, amazing. Also listened to fellow admit Jessica, who is brilliant & cool, talking about her medieval/ early modern interests. Met Marie & Ruth, two amazing 2nd year students, and heard them talking about the difficulties of teaching CompRhet courses. Which they enjoy, overall.

After that I decided to skip out on an American lit discussion, and went to see where Jessika lives. Found the house, but not Jess! I called her, and then sat under and orange tree in the sun. This is another thing: coming from blizzard to 70s sunshine... WOW. I was so sold already. Later in the day I made it to the Aesthetics Theory course -- they were discussing Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just (I think that's the right title). Another amazing discussion. They were all giving presentations since it was the end of the quarter, so I got to hear a lot from the students. They're all super-bright, sharp people. The prof was also great, and already had learned my name. Again, I was super impressed.

After the class, we gathered in groups to head to Prof. M.'s house for dinner. My group was looking at housing options. In one of the Studio buildings, the elevator lurched twice and then stopped. We tried pushing the open door button, nothing happened. So we called the emergency line. A strange bonding experience. We all sat there, waiting for the firemen to arrive, and started talking. Another reason why my life is like an existentialist play -- rather reminds you of No Exit, doesn't it? But eventually the firemen did come, and told us just to push on the door. I was a little worried for our fingers, but with all of us pulling the door open, it worked... and we realized that we were standing just 3 inches above a floor! So we all stepped off... and it's still hard to believe that happened! Someone said, perhaps Sarah, "We could have done it all along if we'd only believed!" Strange!

So after that we decided to go right to dinner. One of my all time most favorite discussions over dinner. Most of the admits sat at one table in the lofted dining area. People were out on the porch, milling about in the living room with drinks, etc. It was like my image of what a nice dinner party would be like. Over dinner we shared admit/ reject stories, what our various choices were, which foreign languages we'd studied/ planned to study, and talked lit (of course!) It was amazing... I opted not to go out for drinks afterwards, and got to bed at a decent hour.

Thursday had been designated more of a SF day. I went to breakfast, and then we headed over to the library. The librarian of special collections had pulled out awesome original texts/ manuscripts that matched up with our interests. This was like a candy store for us -- Two editions of Chaucer (one put together by William Morris), an original Johnson dictionary (opened to "oats" which I'm going to use for my 319 assignment next week), the book of King John's inauguration or something of that sort, one of the original Ulysses published by the Royal Shakespeare Co. on Dutch paper, a serial edition of Ulysses, Woolf's Between the Acts (yay Hogarth Press!), various editions of Robinson Crusoe, a long poem illustrated by William Blake, an 18th century Paradise Lost... it was amazing. The librarian was telling us about how he gets these books, what the process was like woodcutting/ metal plates, etc. And the library is gorgeous.

Afterwards, we ran to catch the caltrain. We met up with J., a 7th year dissertating student, and some other 3/4 year -ers who live in the city. We had lunch with a prof (her apt. is cool, and we met the birds and turtles) at a pizza place, and then drove up to Twin Peaks for a view of the city. Very pretty up there -- can see the ocean, the city, the bay... Back on the train I talked with Jill and James, and back at Stanford I went to the English dept. and then planned to meet up with Jess & JP. I was standing out in the Memorial square area, with the sun beginning to sink... and the shadows from the archways were beautiful... and people were out on the lawn... and it was this idyllic, peaceful scene... palm trees' tops visible over the buildings... And then Jess & JP were there, and we walked around (they gave me a bit of a tour, explaining traditions, etc), and eventually I got to see her dorm, which is amazing! I kept joking that I couldn't understand why I didn't apply there for undergrad -- I felt like her dorm experience must be what MHC's used to be, but with better weather =)

Then Jess drove me around, and I got a much better sense of how the campus all fits together, where students live, and all that sort of thing. Plus it was so awesome to be sitting there with Jess! She walked me up with JP to the English dept, so I had this bubble moment of introducing my-friend-since-middle-school to my possible-future-cohorts! Ahh... Then all the admits and the grad student organizers went out to dinner at this cool restaurant in Palo Alto -- Mardi Graas beads and all... I had jambalaya, which was as spicy as warned... Our table was all women -- the Sarah who wasn't my host, and 5 other admits. Talked about moms & reading & finally asked Sarah what she had wished she had known before coming to Stanford, what what her least favorite thing was... the quarter system! Which Judy had warned me about before. I guess it can be something of a transition when you're used to a semester with all that dead space in the middle. Afterwards I decided to be daring and went out with Sarah for wine & dessert (which I didn't eat any of because I'm a germaphobe and can't bring myself to share things like that). A lot of current students were there, so I got more of a chance to talk with Joe & Ruth. Mostly about the long distance thing... and our conversation swerved to talking about bread/ baking... But it sounds like many people are in LDRs in the dept, and that the dept. understands personal lives... So that many people leave during their third year to start dissertating from afar... Or spend their summer language study months with loved ones... that sort of thing. I got the feeling that there's a lot of money floating around for grad students, and lots of opportunities to professionalize oneself.

Anyway... the next morning Sarah took me to the airport, and I think we hugged three times outside the terminal. I still feel like it was some fantasy I dreamed up. I told Sarah that one morning, I'd woken up and couldn't believe I was at Stanford, and couldn't understand how my life had led me up to this point. Really incredible... Ahh so it was sad leaving, but at least our flight left on time! It was a very full flight... And we ended up delaying landing as we waited for the runway to be de-iced (welcome back to the Northeast, right?) Andrew picked me up, and all was well -- we went to Sugar & Spice for dinner, and I had the purple rice (appropriate! Sarah saw me with my purple luggage, purple tennies, and purple shirt that morning, and said "Wow, everything you own really IS purple!") Then I did laundry, and repacked in the morning for Wisconsin.

Andrew dropped me off for my flight, which was supposed to leave at 1:25. I met up with Annie (awesome to sit and talk MHC English with her), and we were wondering why the plane hadn't started boarding yet (this is about 1:10). We got on the plane late, and then sat there till 3:10 or so as they checked out a mysterious "mechanical problem." People were pissed. The pilot kept saying "15 minutes"... "OK I know I said 15 minutes, and it's been 17, but it looks like 15 more"... "the mechanics are telling me just a few more minutes"... "we should be out of here in 30 seconds" (that one got a laugh). Yeah, it was ridiculous, like all my other plane experiences of the week. We finally got in the air around 3:30, and most of us missed our connecting flights. I got placed on one leaving Chicago at 8:10, so I had 3+ hours to stagger around my new favorite place: the Chicago O'Hare airport! Yippee!

Here's how I spent the time: First, rushing to the rebooking phones, where I was reassured that I was on the 8 pm flight and that my luggage would be on it, too. Then Annie & I went to this new gate, and I was told I needed to go to the original gate for a meal voucher (since mechanical problems meant I missed dinner in Wisconsin). Annie ended up on a United flight, and I trekked back to the original gate (no small feat). I went to an H-gate, in the general area, and the woman let me call Gwen to say "don't pick me up! I'm not there!", and then said if I wanted a meal voucher I needed to find the original gate. So I tried another, and a white haired lady gave me a form and said I could mail in a complaint, but that she couldn't do anything since in the computer it said we were delayed because of weather (it was barely snowing, and nothing like the blizzard I flew out of on Tues., so I was having none of that, esp after hearing he pilot reiterate "mechanical problems" over and over). So then I was about to give up, and started walking... Till I saw this man who looked nice & whose counter wasn't overrun with irate passengers. I talked with him, and he said he'd get a supervisor as I wanted... no supervisor came, and we talked about my trying to speak Spanish (and inability to roll R's), about people not understanding the diff. between weather & mechanical delays (mechanical delays mean you're guaranteed to be taken care of at the airline's expense, whereas weather means nothing), etc. Called the supervisor again, and he didn't come. So this man, one of the first human beings I've met at Chicago's airport, printed me a meal voucher and told me to use all of it. So I did!

I trekked back through the food courts, looking for something appealing. I ended up eating at Chili's, in a high table all my own. Then I called Andrew as I waited for the plane to board. I decided not to wait another hour for a later flight, in exchange for a $250 travel voucher. Funny how American Airlines offers $250 to wait an hour, but does nothing when they cause you to wait 3+ hours. I should have taken it in retrospect, but at the time I was worried about Gwen picking me up, etc... Talked to a student at Wisconsin as I boarded, he said to go to Stanford (if I'm remembering correctly).

It was a quick flight... but my luggage was not waiting for me at Madison. Funny how they had over 3 hours to load my one suitcase, and they didn't get around to it. Curses! I hope AA also goes bankrupt!! These airlines cannot function efficiently! Argh. So I met Gwen and Greg, and later Thom & Justin (all of the English dept.) We went out for drinks, and I saw Glynis (also of MHC -- there were three of us admits). Then my co-admit Emily arrived, who also stayed with Thom, Gwen, and Justin. I stayed in the basement among all the books.

On Sunday we went to lunch... and it was strange. I was sitting by an admit's friends who had nothing to do with English, and some CompRhet people. Also, nothing was paid for. Then we had a brief, cold tour, and I saw the ugliness of the Humanities building (built to resist student seiges), and the beauty of the views from within the building (out onto the frozen lake -- people playing with dogs and making snow angels). After going home briefly so that I could change, we found my luggage sitting there (finally arrived at 3:30...it must have sat in Chicago for a good 12 hours). So I was able to wear my own clothes (instead of Gwen's!) to the reception. I didn't mean any profs that I was crazy about, and none of them knew of me or my application (dif from Stanford's more intimate dept). Also, a lot of truly strange students who I couldn't imagine having as cohorts.

After the lukewarm reception, we headed to a prof's house for a potluck. Also kinda strange environment. Talked mainly to this girl Anne who's very loud, Emily, and this Matt guy who talked a lot. We four & a current student, Sarah, went for coffee & tea at Michelangelo's. I took some pictures of the state building (beautiful). Talked about movies, teaching, etc... Not as great as the conversations at Stanford.. Everything just felt less wonderful. I was not so impressed with my prospective cohorts.

Monday I got a late start since I didn't have anyone to walk over with for awhile. Finally Gwen, Emily, & I walked 30 minutes in the cold to the humanities building. I sat in on a panel about intellectual life in the dept (which sounded cool -- Prof. W seems sharp), and then a class about Ethics/ theory. The class was really awful -- no one talked, the prof wasn't dynamic, and people just didn't know their sh&#. I heard later that that was a particularly bad one since for some reason people didn't do the reading. Well, I knew at least one person in the Stanford class I attended who hadn't done the reading, so I imagine that isn't uncommon anywhere. But the diff. was, those Stanford classes still kicked ass.

Anyway, I left halfway through, and supposedly it got better. Emily & I ate lunch, and then attended diff. panels. I went with Morgan (fellow admit) to "What Will I Teach?" & Emily to "How Will I Live on a TA Salary?" It sounds like they are more bogged down with TA-ing (from 2nd to fourth years, and then no support except as a TA/ writing center person -- whereas at Stanford you TA & teach your first 3 years and then get support your last two years without doing anything but your dissertation), and it seems with more students, too, and probably not of the same caliber as Stanford undergrads. Soooo.... yeah. It seems like they have fun teaching, and that the students are good and hardworking, but I didn't get the same feeling that I did at Stanford. After this, we met up with Gwen and all four of us walked to the apt. to snack and talk and watch TV till dinner.

For dinner, we three admits with all our hosts went to The Weary Traveler for dinner. I had goulash, which was good and spicy, but it was a kind of strange meal... Justin kept smoking which was making me feel really gross (and got my clothes all stinky), and we talked about furries, Arcadia, etc... After dinner Gwen, Emily, Gwen's friend Laura, & myself all went to Woodman's for cheesecurds (Emily wanted to bring some home in a cooler. Strange). It was cool seeing Laura & Gwen -- they seemed more like people to have fun with on the weekends than I had realized earlier. Singing along to Beyonce songs & telling stories about going to nightclubs and having the guy friends pick them up at 2 am drunk.

Back at the apt, I ended up getting ready for bed early. Got plenty of sleep, and packed the next morning to leave. Thom brought me to the airport, and we talked... He said he didn't envy my position, since it would be a hard choice: Andrew/good profs at Wisconsin vs. assurance of Stanford's overall experience/ reputation. At Wisconsin it seems more laid back -- and Thom was like "but maybe you're a rock star, I don't know" (as in, should be at Stanford instead). So he's hoping to get profs. in touch with me to help with the decision... But talking to Andrew (and hearing Andrew's dad ask if we both realize I'd be crazy not to go to Stanford) and Mum... I just had that spontaneous gut reaction about Stanford. Maybe it's partly the weather, the order in which I visited the schools, the allure of the security of Stanford... But when it comes down to it, I feel really excited and elated about my Stanford visit, and disappointed with my Wisconsin visit. I guess that's as much as anyone has to go on, right?

Anyway, my flight from Madison to Chicago was smooth (although I started freaking out when we started boarding five minutes late... I was sure there would be another problem!) Then I had just enough time to eat, find my gate, call Andrew, and use the restroom before boarding for Boston. Quick flight -- like 1 hour 38 minutes I thought I heard? Must have had winds helping us out. I read "The Real Thing" and looked out the window. As we swooped over the Charles River, we had this incredible view of Boston's skyline with a backdrop of orange/pink sunset on the horizon. Everything worked out -- I got my luggage and called Andrew, and there he was in like five minutes. Dinner -- watching Jacob's Ladder (during which Andrew fell asleep) -- rest -- it was good to be home.

1 comment:

Myst Dragon said...

Happy belated birthday! And my, what a crazy experience with planes. After my wife travelled to Italy this summer, I'm not so sure I could deal with planes.

Good luck with your continuing saga.