Stray musings on openness, optimism, and pleasant surprises

And we are aloft.

Yesterday, the entire United Airlines global system shut down for nearly two hours thanks to a failed network router. Apparently every United flight everywhere was grounded. Had we been here, it would’ve been a total fiasco. As it stands, we’re not scheduled to arrive until 7 a.m. tomorrow. (Cue my griping about how much I hate overnight flights…)

When that many flights are cancelled or delayed across the entire globe, it wreaks havoc. Planes and pilots aren’t where they’re supposed to be. Connections and turnarounds are missed. It takes time for the system to recover. Nor did it build my confidence to read all the online chatter about how United has supposedly tried to merge its systems with Continental’s “on the cheap,” leading to massive technological clusterfks all over the place.

So I was, frankly, expecting a mess today… especially after United.com’s website wouldn’t let us check in last night.

But that is not what happened.

Everything has gone perfectly, from the moment I woke up today. I weighed myself, just under 150, lightest all year. I met my last two deadlines this morning. (There will be work to do on the plane — especially coming home — but right this instant, I’m late on nothing.) We left the house barely eight minutes late. There was hardly any traffic to Newark Airport (I found a way to evade Route 17). Off-airport valet parking was easy-peasy (and this time I did NOT take my car key with me, making it impossible for them to park my car.) The shuttle was right there waiting for us. Luggage drop-off and boarding-pass printing, quick and simple.

And get this: inexplicably, TSA handed special blue cards to Mom and me, exempting us from all that take-off-your-shoes rigamarole. (What algorithm finally decided we’re harmless?)

We left no cellphones or flash drives or passports in TSA’s buckets. There were free power outlets in the waiting area. (Would you believe Terminal C has a “Meditation Room” now?)

We boarded on time. We took off almost on time, too. The pre-takeoff safety video was actually entertaining. And it is alleged that Economy Class on this flight includes a three-course dinner. (I’ll keep you posted on this.)

As I write, we’re cruising at 33,000 feet. We’ve been quickly permitted to run our laptops again, and we’ve been promised a smooth 7 hour and 25 minute flight, landing ten minutes early.

This would have been my day to buy a lottery ticket.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pleasant surprises. (Perhaps you have, too?)

A few days ago, the Mets were playing out West, Dodgers, I think. It was midnight. They’d just gone down in order, top of the eighth, leaving the score – you guessed it – 0-0. Was there the slightest doubt what would happen?

I couldn’t stand to watch yet another remarkable pitching performance end in ashes. So I switched off the TV, and went to bed. Next morning, I discovered they’d scored three in the ninth, and won three-zip.

Good things happen. But more of them happen if you’re open to the possibility. And if you start from that premise, you’re less likely to miss the good things that might be happening around you while you’re grumbling and staring down at the sidewalk.

Orthogonal to this discussion, let me tell you what Mom’s up to, across the aisle.

I’d downloaded the Rick Steves travel app on my Android tablet, and loaded up the Munich video walking tour for her. Well, she’s already made friends with a German couple that knows the city well, and they’re annotating each new image with their own experiences.

Already, we’ve learned (reassuringly) that you can order less than a full liter of beer in a Munich biergarten.

That’s Mom. Friendly. Outgoing. Cares about people. Makes friends. People like her. And she didn’t even have to compliment anyone’s jewelry (though, admittedly, the night is young.)

Have you read the chapter in The World Beyond Your Head where Crawford trashes airports full of CNN and people with headphones and smartphones who are utterly resistant to human contact? But there’s Mom, proving it doesn’t have to be that way.

I suspect she is depending on me to do more of the human interaction this week. I took four years of German, and she knows not a word of the language. (Well, OK, she knows “Guten Morgen,” which will be quite useful tomorrow at 7 a.m.)

But you mark my words, it’ll be her, same as always. Sadly, I seem to recall a lot less German than she thinks I do. Far more important, though, Mom speaks human. I think she could connect anywhere. Count it a blessing and miracle you have those genes, too, not just mine! 🙂

(OT, the flight attendant just offered me a Chardonnay. Yup, wine in Economy Class, neatly accompanied by cheese and crackers. You’d get a kick out of these wine selections, too: poured from oversized juice box containers that remind me of the ones you used to get in first grade…)

Pleasant surprises!

Mom has been gleaning more details about how those Munich biergartens work. This reminds me of how I need to become a better traveler. Is there table service? Do you have to call the waiter? Do you tip? How much? I get weirded out when I don’t know what to do.

I need to work on that.

For one thing, I intend to watch more closely. If people go up to the counter to request a pastry in a Vienna coffeehouse, then that’s what I’ll try.

“When in Rome,” right? If everyone leaves the opera house and orders a wurst from the street truck, then I just might need a wurst.

I doubt those come in vegetarian.

(But lo and behold, United’s in-flight entrees do. Hey, it’s even Indian: “Chaka Saag; Cumin Basmati Rice; Tarka Dal.” Chick peas. Curry. My winning streak continues!)

Thinking of the wurst (so to speak) reminds me of one of my biggest regrets about Spain. Most really good restaurants in Madrid don’t start serving dinner until something like 9 pm, and I, we, don’t like to eat that late. So we wound up eating in crap tourist traps that served awful swill early. What’s more, most of the good stuff seems to contain jamon (ham). I passed. Purist that I am.

So, as much as I loved Spain, I can’t say I miss the taste of it. But that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Maybe I can do a little better this time.

Ninety calories of mango sorbet wrap up dinner here, as we pass a couple hundred miles south of Greenland on the Great Circle route. I guess it was a three-course dinner. I consider myself quite well fed for an economy class passenger in the year 2015.

What’s more, I may actually be starting to like the flavor of mangoes.

I wonder what else I might like if I tried it.

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