Category Archives: travel

The Best Laid Plans: Delay’s Missed Connections and Doing the OJ through Newark International Airport

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A Long Flight Comes to an End

Well my friends my final post for today as I sit scrunched in steerage on this fully booked Airbus A320 enroute to Houston.

I last posted as I was waiting for my delayed flight to leave Norfolk for Newark. My plan was scathingly good. I left a flight that I knew was not going to get me to my connection in time in Washington Dulles for a $500 flight voucher and a flight that gave me almost 2 hours of time on the ground between flights in Newark and a chance to spend my second food coupon.

Well, as they say “the best laid plans….” The flight from Norfolk looked promising. Then came the delay, but the aircraft landed and they began to board it. I have to admit I would not to have wanted to have to had traded places with the beleaguered gate staff. They dealt with multiple weather delays from a nasty winter storm as well as other air traffic delays. Travel today in the eastern half of our fair land was a bit of a mess and the waiting area was thick with the scent of anger and frustration seething below the surface.

As we pulled away from the gate it looked like there was a chance that I would make my connection. That was until the pilot pulled to a waiting area and told us that there was a 25 minute air traffic delay in Newark. That ended my chance of making the connection.

Once we arrived in Newark my aircraft landed at Terminal A, like in Apple and I had to catch a bus to Terminal C, like in Charlie. Upon arriving at the Customer Service Center at the C90 gate I was greeted by a pleasant lady who first looked around and first booking me on a flight leaving about 9PM, but then she found a flight that was boarding that I could still catch.

So I put on my backpack and began the dash across the airport. I am not sure but I think I had to run about a half mile. Since I woke up too late to get PT in this morning as was my plan this wasn’t a problem. When I travel now I plan for this. I am wearing my Merrill Barefoot shoes a Baltimore Orioles T-shirt, cargo shorts and my every present Orioles fitted cap. The airport was crowed my friends, I ran, weaves in and out of the crowds and avoided getting hit by a number of carts carrying airport cart-people. I barely had time to enjoy the stench emitting from all the chemical plants and oil refineries in the local area.

Overhead I heard a voice announce the “final boarding call” for my flight so all thoughts of stopping to use the toilette or trying to grab a bite to eat went out the door. this was now a quest and I would not be denied. So I spread up and made the final few hundred yards in a sprint. I arrived at the gate sweating but not out of breath and boarded the very full aircraft. My seat was 30e, a middle seat between too other men, one pleasant and the other, well to be nice…not. Then we didn’t go anywhere. Evidently they launched so kind of new navigational flight plan program today and pilot had to personally go to operations to get the computerized software. He was apologetic but it took another half hour to get the program operating and it was over an hour after the door had been shut before we got off the ground.

The aircraft was full of other travelers, some like my one unpleasant neighbor obviously frustrated and less than gruntled while others were taking this in stride. I could feel the frustration and tension and decided that I would do my best to be pleasant and make the best of the flight which was was bunching around in turbulence for quite a bit of the trip. As I write this I figure that we are about halfway to Houston baby, whose “debutants couldn’t hold a candle to you.” (Gratuitous line from the Eagles the Long Run)

Since I wasn’t able to use my food coupon in Newark and I had only eaten a bowl of soup and drank a couple pints of Sam Adams Boston Lager all day I decided that I needed to eat airline food. Of course they were out of the salad, so I had some kind of chicken wrap when the flight attendant came by and she took the coupon in exchange for the very bland and less than exciting pseudo-sandwich. At least it was not very big as it was not that exciting.

I finally arrived in Houston about 930 PM Central Standard Time and things got better. My messages to the people of my church that I sent by text before I went wheels up in Newark were acknowledged. I picked up my one checked bag which had been waiting for me with no problem, and caught a taxi driven by a very nice Nigerian to my hotel.

No you say, “why the hell is he boring the shit out of me with all of these arcane details?” Yes like your last question I heard that one too, and I do appreciate your sentiments. But out of respect I will answer it. The truth be told air travel alternates between “boredom and terror” as Orson Welles so marvelously put it, with all the comforts of an overcrowded Greyhound Bus when you sit in coach, which is better called steerage. The fact is to keep myself from thinking about all the bad things it is much more therapeutic to write than stress out.

Remember that question that you asked earlier today “how do you cope when flying while dealing with PTSD?” I thought that you did. I discussed some of my coping mechanisms for for dealing with air travel. Well this is one of those ways that I cope. I figure that if it keeps me out of panic mode and keeps me from behaving like a complete ass when things don’t go as planned, which is par for the course when I travel by air.

Wait, one more question you say. What was the in flight movie. Well it was a film that I never heard of called Quartet. It had no action, no violence, no slapstick humor and no sex. It was film about a bunch of old people sitting around a hotel, pestering the wait staff and waiting for a concert of some kind. Evidently they were like old opera singers or something. It looked positively depressing. Of course I didn’t use the ear phones so it might have had a beautiful story with brilliant humor that I wouldn’t of appreciated anyway, but I digress…

I am safe and able to post this and now it is time to go across the street to my favorite Houston watering hole for a local craft beer or two.

Have a wonderful night and happy travels wherever you may be traveling.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Flight Delays and Waiting in Airports: Inshallah…

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Well my trip takes another turn as the delay, attributed to air traffic control gets longer. Allegedly we will get out of here about 1429, that is military time for 2:49 PM. If I get in to Newark on time I still should have no problems connecting to the flight to Houston where I should arrive at about 1918, or 7:18 PM Central Standard Time. As my Iraqi friends would say “Inshallah.”

However there appear to be a lot of delays around the country due to a pretty bad storm moving across the eastern part of the United States. I have no idea if that is creating a residual effect at Newark as according to the weather things look good up there.

Right now most of my flight information is coming from a Brit who has been checking online. The few gate personnel for United are swamped with Chicago passengers but none have gotten here for the Newark flight. Allegedly it is on the way.

Despite the delay my spirits are good and I am not too badly out of sorts despite the building crowds of people that appear to be growing more restless by the moment. Of course the fact that I have self medicated with a couple of pints of Sam Adams doesn’t hurt any and if delayed longer I can always have another. It could be worse. I could be flying through Chicago, Charlotte or Atlanta which are all being hammered by nasty weather.

However all that being said some of the people sitting near me. I have been talking with a German lady whose husband is retired US Army in German, it is good to hear her say what good German that I speak. One gentleman was supposed to leave here this morning at 0700 who will because of multiple delays not leave Newark until 10PM on a trip to Milwaukee. That would suck.

Hopefully I make my connection and get to Houston this evening, but for once I am not going to sweat the details. My aircraft has arrived, this still might work.

More whenever,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fly the Friendly Skies of PTSD: Padre Steve Takes to the Air Yet Again

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“There are only two emotions in a plane, boredom and terror” Orson Welles

So once again my air travel begins with an adventure, thankfully I am doing better and have learned a few things about traveling with PTSD over the past few years.

Air travel, especially having to go through crowed airports still terrifies me. Today I am traveling to Houston for a chaplain training symposium, part of which will deal with PTSD treatment. While there I will be touring to VA Medical Center and I have been tasked by my Commanding Officer to see what they are doing in regard to dealing with Peer Support to PTSD injured personnel and to their families.

The family piece has been slow to develop and the military, VA and others are now just beginning to wrap their heads around the issue of how to deal with the impacts of PTSD on the family. I think that part of the reason for this is that the military has had to figure out PTSD all over again since the current wars began in 2001. Since most of our previous experience came out of Vietnam where the majority of soldiers were single draftees who left the service after doing their time we did not really have much experience dealing with what happens when a soldier makes multiple deployments, is traumatized and has to deal with family issues while remaining in the high stress world of the military.

Of course I can testify that it does have a huge impact on the family. My marriage was in bad shape after Iraq as Judy and I both tried to figure out what the “new normal” was in our marriage. Even when I started to get better the process of re-setting the relationship was incredibly difficult and required a lot of adjustment. Since we have known each other for close to 35 years and been married for almost 30 I can only imagine what a newly married couple, or a couple married just a few years with young children go through. I see a lot of these young men and women in my work and know their stories and difficulties so my interest in this is quite personal on a number of levels.

Anyway, returning to the trip. I got to my flight and of course it was overbooked. That is par for the course, at least the Norfolk airport was relatively sedate today. However, they airline needed to board a flight crew and was getting ready to force passengers off the plane. They offered a $500 voucher and meal coupons and promised to get me to my destination this evening. Since the flight that I was booked on was running late and my connection time was next to nothing at Dulles Airport in Washington DC I volunteered to take the voucher. Most of my worst experiences flying have occurred at Dulles and I never enjoy making a connection there. They booked me on a later flight that goes through Newark which puts me in about 5 hours later than I would have arrived if I was able to make my connection. The layover allows me to relax a bit between flights and not rush. I can handle that.

When I fly I am almost always in a panic mode. I no longer enjoy it. Air travel today is like being a steerage passenger on the Titanic unless you have lots of money to fly First Class. Crowded flights, bad baggage service and less than friendly airports are the norm. If I had the time to take I would drive almost anywhere rather than to fly. I have flown First Class a couple of times, but only because the airlines upgraded me. The best was a British Air flight from Madrid to London where I flew with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. They actually give you really metal eating utensils, plates and glasses.

My last couple of flights have been filled with more drama than I would like, so in light of the fact that I was having to connect through my least favorite airport in the world I don’t mind the delay.

You ask me how I cope with air travel now. Don’t say that you didn’t I heard you. Now the fact that I have raging Tinnitus and my speech comprehension is in the lower three percentile, meaning that even most deaf people understand speech better than me has nothing to do with it. I know what you said.

So how do I cope? The answer is simple. Beer, a good microbrew or if one is not available maybe a Sam Adams, Yuengling or Stella. I could take a Xanax. My Doctor prescribes them for me, but they taste terrible and don’t fill me up. Besides, even though beer is loaded with carbs it is a fat free meal.

In addition to beer I try to make sure that schedule my flights whenever possible, if no direct flight is available to go through airports where there is good food, good beer and if I do get delayed or forced to overnight it, a place where there is something to do. I have learned in such cases to pack a pair of underwear and a clean shirt appropriate to the time of year and weather in my backpack just in case I get delayed. I went through Dulles once, had to overnight it and was forced to go to a mall that triggered every living nerve in me just to get underwear and a shirt. That my friends sucked like a Hoover.

So at the moment I am sitting at the airport bar having a half liter of Sam Adams and a bowl of Chicken Tortilla Soup while waiting for my flight. A man sitting next to me said that flight is now delayed. More from Newark or Houston as the trip develops.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Flying the Friendly Skies and Crossing the Pond

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Back when I was a kid I remember going on my first plane flights without adult supervision. I would fly from Stockton California to Long Beach to see my friend Chris who had been my next door neighbor when my dad was stationed in Long Beach. Back then I flew on Pacific Southwest Airlines whose aircraft featured a smile on the nose.  PSA is now part of US Air but my memories of flying as a kid are much more enjoyable than flying now.  I don’t do air travel and crowded airports well after Iraq so I do what I can to make the travel as easy as possible but certain things can get to me, especially on the American side of the pond.

When I was a kid air travel was considered to be somewhat of an adventure. In fact until the major railroads ended their passenger service in the early 1970s and left us with Amtrak my family almost always travelled by train. Even the commercials made air travel seem almost magical. Advertising lines like “Fly the friendly skies” “The big bird with the golden tail” and “First Class leg space even in Coach” went another. Even coach passengers were treated with a modicum of respect and while meals and leg room may not have been what it was in First Class you didn’t feel like you were traveling steerage either, which is what I equate flying in “Coach” to be.  Likewise because we didn’t perceive a terrorist threat we didn’t have to deal with the now common TSA agents and security screenings that take one back to the good old days of when a Gestapo Agent politely asked “your papers please.” But I digress…

Steerage of course was what steamship lines used to call 3rd Class where immigrants and other less than desirable passengers sailed to ensure that they did not trouble the elites traveling in First Class. As I said I equate Coach with Steerage without the ability to throw a party with dancing, singing and beer for everyone.  Little has changed and while all air travelers occupy a high tech metal cylinder propelled by tremendous jet engines those little curtains that separate the First Class from Business or Coach are as  impenetrable as were the locked doors on the Titanic.

Today so far has been yet another adventure in air travel.  It began with a delay due to weather on the inbound flight which resulted in such a tight turn around that it affected my follow on flight. Since that flight involved an different airline I spent an hour at the check in desk as the lady helping me worked her hardest to get me rebooked and out of the other airline’s system. So I had a well deserved beer while waiting for that flight prayed that the aircraft would leave on time.

It left the gate on time but alas the Air Controllers at Newark had other plans. As we taxied out to take off we pulled over off of the runway. The Captain announced that Newark had told us to sit on the Tarmac in Norfolk for 40 minutes. We arrived at Newark less than an hour before takeoff. Thankfully there was a shuttle bus between terminals and I hitched a ride to make it on time even finding a few minutes to do a “defueling operation” in the men’s room and a refuel my bladder with an overpriced soda before boarding the aircraft.

No my flight has been interesting. I flew to Newark on United Express. I flew to Frankfurt on a United flight that used to be a Continental aircraft that still had its Continental crew. The aircraft, a very nice Boeing 777 was thankfully not full and I got a full row to myself back in steerage.  The service on the Continental/United flight was good.  Unfortunately unlike the American Airlines flights that I took to Houston and back last week this aircraft did not have any wireless free internet, so I had no ability to communicate in the air. So after we were airborne I pulled out my Kindle and did my Evening Prayer liturgy before reading a book about the Battleship Bismarck.

I landed at Frankfurt just before 630 AM local time and of course passed through the Customs and Border Police. Now unlike the TSA agents, the German Border Police or Grenzschutz command respect. There is something about Germany where you do exactly what the police tell you to do. I remember back when I was stationed in Germany in the 198-s and it was quite common to see Grenzschutz officers walking the airport with automatic rifles and machine guns. That of course was in the era of the Rad Brigades and the Bader-Meinhoff terrorist group as well as the beginnings of PLO and Libyan sponsored terrorists.  I remember once when Judy and I saw a person that we believed was a Bader-Meinhoff terrorist in Wiesbaden and went to report it to the Polizei. That was an interesting experience as we were interrogated about the report for over an hour in German. Now days the Polizei are just as efficient but compared to our airport security seem so much more efficient and less obtrusive.

Since I read, speak and write German and have studied copious amounts of German history I go through those security points like a pro, like Newman going through the line at the Soup Nazi kitchen.

While in Frankfurt I have a couple of hours to relax, if that is possible at an airport. Unlike major American and British Airports which have almost the feel of going to a mall, albeit a mall that you have to get a full body scan, fondled and possibly strip searched to enter many European airports are all about air travel with very small areas devoted to shopping or being able to drink beer with breakfast. I actually like it when I have to travel through London’s Heathrow airport because I know a couple of pubs where I can have fried eggs and bacon rashers with a sliced tomato and a couple of pints of beer between flights. Heathrow is amazing, it is like an upscale mall packed with people from the world over and it has a couple of decent bookstores which I always found something interesting to read, usually books about military history not easily available in the United States.  But while I can read German fairly well it is not what I do for fun or relaxation so what I find in the a German airport is not as entertaining as in the UK.

Upon arriving at Frankfurt I did get a salad and beer and the airport has changed some over the years, a few more places to eat and shop but nothing like Heathrow.  I guess the weirdest thing is looking across the runway to where Rheim Main Air Base used to be. Back in January 1984 when I first arrived in Germany it was massive. You looked across the runway from the German side and there was line upon line of C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters and C-130 Hercules transports. Even in 1996 when I came to support the Bosnia mission Rhein Main was still busy though being reduced due to the end of the Cold War. As late as 5-7 years ago you could see the old USAF hangers and buildings. Now the area is being redeveloped and it is hard to tell the airbase was ever there.

Long Gone…Rhein Main Airbase in its Heyday…

So I post this from Frankfurt International Airport while waiting for my final flight of this very long day. It will be on a Lufthansa flight and a relatively short commuter type flight. When I get to Stuttgart I will be picked up from the airport by staff from the Judge Advocate’s office and believe that I will be offering my testimony today. That may change with the delay in my flight and so I will see. I am scheduled to fly back Saturday from Stuttgart back through Newark and Norfolk and should be home in time for dinner with Judy at Gordon Biersch.

So until my next post…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fly the friendly Skies: Adventures in Fast Round Trips…

Well my friends it is about 2100 or 9PM Eastern Standard Time and I am about 50 minutes from landing back at Norfolk after a long day of flying.  I keep thinking of lines out of the movie Airplane like “I picked a bad week to stop sniffing glue” and “You’d better tell the Captain we’ve got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.”  “A hospital? What is it?” “It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.”

But you might ask “Padre Steve I thought you were in Houston.” Well I was and when I landed I had multiple messages from my wife, the office and my bishop to get hold of her because she was being admitted to the hospital for some kind of massive infection. Thanks to the ladies in kurt travel office I was able to get a flight back out of Houston Hobby, had to do the O.J. through DFW to make my connecting flight, last one in the aircraft before they closed the doors and now have under an hour until we land in Norfolk…as my Iraqi friends say “Inshallah.”

Anyway so as soon as I get home I run to house to pick up some medical equipment that she needs and then dash to the hospital.  The dogs are going to wonder what the hell this is all about.

Anyway, apart from that the travels have been uneventful and American Airlines now has Wi-Fi.  I have also read a bunch on Kindle which really makes my backpack lighter as I used to have anywhere from three to five books with me any time that I travel. I finished the book Afgansty: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-1989.  That is a sobering red because with some exceptions they tried to implement many of the modern ideas that we have been trying and failing to do the past 10 years. It is well worth the read. The I read at the recommendation of Judy a book about a young boy who died and went to heaven and told his startled parents about the trip. Interesting read, not my normal selection but interesting, despite Jesus being there it bore no relation to Texas. Finally I have started the classic book about the Titanic disaster A Night to Remember by Walter Lord. I read it the first time back in  7th Grade at Stockton Junior High School.

I have a bunch of other books for the next trip I make next week should everything go well with Judy. I am assuming that they will but you never know. Pray for Judy to get well, she is not enjoying this.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Travels and Tribulations: Padre Steve’s Thoughts on Airport Security and Shared Sacrifice

Your Papers Please…

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin

it is going to be a busy couple of weeks. I will be on the road a lot and doing a lot more time going through airports than I like doing.  I will be heading off for my denominational clergy and chaplain conference tomorrow morning flying from Norfolk to Houston Texas. Then I will return to Norfolk next Monday and then go to Germany for a Military meeting the following Tuesday and return on the 28th. It will be the most I have flown in a two week period since I was with Marine Security Forces back in 2006.  I hate flying or at least going through crowded airports.

Now I am an old hand at air travel especially in the post-911 everybody is a potential hijacker world. I have been accosted in full uniform by TSA agent and nearly made to strip despite having orders and ID for my travel in uniform back during the Bush administration while people that were obvious foreign nationals passed right by me and through the screening process. I have been groped, scanned and nearly stripped and personally I think that we have gone overboard and that in the end that it is bad for the country and for civil liberties.

When I returned from Iraq I had to take off my boots and nearly miss my connecting flight because of the tight connection. You would think that the bureaucracy would have the sense to figure out that guys coming back from a combat zone should be treated with a little more care. Thankfully despite the hassle I made my flight and the people were nice. However the ridiculousness of hundreds of returning combat vets just back from the combat zone being told to remove their boots and belts on their return to the United States is not just ridiculous but humiliating.

I hate going through airports now. I don’t feel safe. Yes it is part of my PTSD as with the exception of the ballpark crowded places scare me to death and the “security screening” process does nothing to help. I know that I have bitched about this before and I have been criticized by pond scum “national security” fascists that have never even served a day in uniform who have told me that I need to realize that we are “at war and that terrorist want to kill us” and that we all have to “make sacrifices.” My personal feeling is that those that spout this stuff and advocate more “pre-emptive wars” need to blow it out their ass. Otto Von Bismarck who by the way was not pacifist said “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” 

I tell you what, those that spout that kind of crap piss me off to no end. When we actually resume the draft and something more than 0.5% of the country’s population actually bother to serve in the military and go to war then I will agree about all of us making sacrifices. Until then I think that all the talk about shared sacrifice is so much bullshit. The only people that have made the sacrifice are the military, those employed by the military and our families.

The real truth of the matter is that very little of this country is at war. It is not enough just to put a bumper sticker that you “support the troops” on your car or be able to quote some patriot bullshit out of a war movie. It actually means being connected and part of the war effort. It means paying taxes and volunteering to help the troops… wait even better join the military.

Back in the Vietnam Era the American film icon John Wayne went on Rowan’s and Martin’s “Laugh In.” In line that I will never forget Wayne walked on stage with a red white an blue flower in his hands. He began: “A Poem: The Sky: The sky is blue, the grass is green. Get off your butts and join the Marines.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp6_–RqzdM

We are not a nation that even acts like it is at war. We ignore the fact that Americans and our allies are fighting and dying in Afghanistan because we are more interested in our political party’s agenda or our personal economic bottom line.  Really, how many people even realized that a bunch of Americans were killed in Afghanistan during the past week or that the Taliban attacked supposedly secure areas in Kabul including the US,  Russian and German embassies as well as the Afghan Parliament building? Actually to read the news unless you follow MSNBC, CNN, NPR or perhaps BBC or Al Jazira you probably didn’t see it in the Drudge Report or other “conservative”media outlets. In fact it was’t mention by Drudge. I guess that it is not important then.

So tomorrow I will begin my travels and since I don’t do well in airport crowds after my time in Iraq and fond those places terrifying I will remember that any humiliations that I endure at the hands of the TSA are all for the war effort and to make everyone else feel better. At least I can have a beer at the sports bar in the airport for breakfast before I go through security. That will make me feel a bit better.

I hope that doesn’t sound too cynical but I have seen too much of war to listen to those that think that strip searches, genital fondling and scanners that show one in all of their naked glory do little for the actual security of the country.  It does make the average person feel better but it does little in the way of national security.  I mean really…

Think about it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fly the Friendly Skies….The TSA Way

Well, I used to be a frequent flier because of my military assignments.  Back in those days I became quite good at making sure that I presented as little trouble to TSA screeners as possible.  I planned and organized every part of my trip to make sure that the screening process would be quick and painless to all involved. Everything I did was done to make things easy for the TSA screeners because I figured that they had a thankless task dealing with irate travelers already pissed off about long lines, baggage fees, flight delays and generally being treated like chattel every step of the way. On rare occasion something would occur that caused me to get pulled aside, maybe it was my field communion set, my oil stock or some other religious item.  These were generally minor inconveniences that were resolved quickly and in a usually friendly manner.
However on one occasion I was subjected to the most humiliating public humiliation of my life. I was travelling in my Khaki uniform.  Of course I had me rank and ribbons on and my USS Hue City belt buckle.  Where I live we have a very large military population that frequents our airport with many having to fly in uniform.  Thus the screeners tend to be respectful of military personnel in uniform.  One day back in 2003 well before the current “Say Cheese” and “Grope on Sight” order went out.  I took everything out of my pockets, took of my shoes and presented myself for inspection. Of course as I went through the scanner my shiny big belt buckle, shiny rank and multi-colored stack of ribbons set of the scanner.  I was ushered aside and told to remove everything and even told to unzip my trousers.  The agent in full view of hundreds of people then went through a hard pat down that included my “junk.” Meanwhile people who were obviously foreign and wearing clothing that could hide a truck bomb walked by without getting groped.  I was stunned, embarrassed and shocked. I had just completed a combat deployment and this idiot was treating me like a criminal.  When I got home I wrote a letter to the head of the TSA requesting an apology. I got no reply.  This soured me on the TSA even before the new draconian rules went into force.
You see I am a patriot, I want to see terrorists killed off like vermin and I don’t want to see another American or anyone else harmed. However it seems to me in their haste to look like they are doing something in the name of “security” that the Department of Homeland Security is willing to trample over the rights of self respecting, law abiding citizens using methods that the Gestapo would have had wet dreams thinking about. Back in 2001 civil libertarians warned of the dangers inherent in the cleverly named “Patriot Act.”  We are now seeing how an agency created by that act is willing to abuse citizens, and yes groping qualifies as abuse especially in the absence of probable cause.  But wait, probable cause is given when a person refuses to go through a high powered x-ray machine that looks through their clothing to expose their nakedness to TSA employees who in some cases have laughed and made fun of their subjects and some of which have found their way to the internet.

I have seen videos of TSA agents patting down tiny children and watched in horror when the traumatized children were crying.  I’m sorry that is as close to legal sexual abuse of a child as you can get.  But then to keep us secure it’s okay for the TSA to do things that would get a teacher, pastor, scoutmaster or anyone else thrown in jail and forever listed as a sexual predator.
When I came back from Iraq and was going in my Marine Corps pattern camouflaged uniform after an arduous return which culminated in an 18 hour flight from Kuwait to the States I was welcomed home to an airport on the East Coast. Customs agents were kind and we had a small group of really nice people welcoming us home.  As I ran to the connecting flight accompanied by my trusty assistant Nelson Lebron we got to the TSA screening checkpoint with minutes to spare.  We got our gear through the machine and then it was time for us.  I had to remove my shirt, my belt buckle and my boots and run to the aircraft gate with my boots untied because they were getting ready to close the gate.  At least the screeners were not rude but even still, for crying out loud, we just came home from Iraq.  Is there something wrong with this picture?  Have we lost our minds?  Welcome home from TSA.

Now if you ask me I think that the complaints of people are entirely justified. On the absence of being able to bring home Osama Bin Laden’s head on a platter we now assume that everyone is a terrorist and those that complain must be sympathizers. Well I tell you what, as someone who has seen the ravages of what terrorists can do dating back to the 1980s when the Red Brigades terrorized Americans, NATO allies and Germans bombing and killing.  However even the thorough Germans never subjected their citizens to this type of humiliation.  I think that they learned something from the Third Reich, something that we seem to have forgotten. The “Greatest Generation” went to war to defeat Nazi tyranny and free Europe from the evil of a police state.  Now it seems that our own TSA deems that we the people are the enemy.  I figured that out in 2003 and again in 2008.

I think now with the abuses being heaped upon Americans that people are finally taking notice.

Until things change let’s all just sit back and enjoy the groping, enjoy the friendly skies.  Your papers please.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane…Reflections on the Islands of Unhappy Travelers

The 80’s group Blondie had a hit called “Island of Lost Souls.”  I love that song; it is kind of quirky and fun.  However, there is a time when you run into a place where the song seems more true than not. Airports are one of those places, they tend to be some of the most angst and anger filled venues known to man, excepting of course Fed-Ex Field where Dan Snyder is doing his best to destroy the Redskins and drive off their fans. However, I digress as I couldn’t care a whit about the Redskins because they are a football team, though I have sympathy for the fans that have been banned from bringing signs into the stadium.  With that exception and maybe the U.S. Capitol building and the set of any Cable Television talk show where politics is being debated the airports have to be pretty close to the top of the hate and discontent list.

I had to travel to Florida in the spring for chaplain conference.  Since I came back from Iraq I do travel a lot less well than I used to and to make matters worse conferences of almost any kind at best come close to pushing me to the edge.  Sleep tends to be difficult for me, especially before I travel on commercial airlines and endure the hell of airports.  The night before I travel, I try to anticipate every contingency, going through my packing list and ensuring I have everything that I need. Then after I go to bed I get up an hour later to make sure that I indeed get everything. Once I am sure that I do I go back and check the multiple alarm clocks that I have set just to make sure I don’t miss my flight.  I know why I do this. Before Iraq I traveled a lot and got good at it.  However in Iraq a did a lot more of this and got into a routine of checking, double checking and even triple checking to make sure that I had everything that I needed.  Over there I knew that if I forgot something, even something simple that it would not be available the places that I was going or places that I might get marooned.  I have carried that experience back with me.  I pack and lay out all my clothes the night before I go to work.  I actually use the same pack that I carried on every mission in Iraq.  It is an excellent piece of gear, made by Blackhawk.

Anyway that day was a hellish travel day. The weather across the east coast was crappy.  My first flight was delayed an hour, my second flight as well. If that was not bad enough the good folks at Delta airlines failed to have people at gates and jet ways when gate changes happened, leaving people to miss flights and nearly miss vacation cruises.  On our connecting flight at Atlanta’s Harts-Jackson Field was delayed, in my case that was a good thing as had it been on time I would have missed it.  While in line waiting for the flight announcements were periodically made, each one either delivering a later flight time or excuse for the delay.  The excuses often were inconsistent.  I began to think that they were lying to us.  Now I’m not saying that an airline would lie, but it seemed to my little pea brain that the excuses conflicted and each new excuse contradicted the last pathetic excuse.  I hate bad liars.  Let’s face it, if you are going to lie be consistent and strive to make it believable, politicians, lawyers and TV evangelists are great at this.  Unfortunately the people lying to us were not very believable.  However it may have been that they actually believed what they were saying which would be as George Costanza once said: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

As I waited that day I surveyed my fellow disgruntled travelers.  I was deep into a PTSD induced ass kinking anxiety attack.  By the time this was going on time I had taken both of my extra meds as well as my 8 AM and 1230 PM doses of Samuel Adams Boston Lager.  Normally I’ll wait until dinner for a beer, but I knew that I needed a bit more on that trip.  I try not to self-medicate and over the past year have gotten a lot better in not doing this. However there as something about airports and airline travel that almost inevitably pushes my buttons and so I will do this to take the edge off and keep me somewhat sane until I can get to my destination and hide.

I went to a conference in Orlando in the summer of 2008 shortly after my PTSD diagnosis and that about put me over the edge. If you have PTSD the Gateway to the fricking “Happiest place in the world” is the portal to hell.  Thus only a few months after coming out of a combat zone I discovered that Orlando during the height of the summer pilgrimage to Wally World to see Randy Rodent and Doofey is not a fun experience.

Thanks be to God for her good care during this trip.  She ensured that my doctor had given good drugs and the airport pubs provided good beer not to mention a Chili Dog with mustard.  Thus by the middle of the afternoon I was doing far better than most of my fellow travelers.  It definitely sucked to be them.  It was then that the Blondie song came into my mind.  Atlanta’s airport was not the Island of Lost Souls but the Land of Unhappy Travelers.  I listened to some of the folks around me as they lamented their situation and it sounded like “Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Atlanta had become the vortex of very disgruntled travelers who had missed flights, been bumped from flights or delayed endlessly.  If you don’t believe in the Catholic in the doctrine of Purgatory just try Atlanta on a day like that, which is about 362 days a year.  I looked around, and though barely holding on myself I was able to find some gallows humor in the midst of this agony.  I looked around the people around me and said “Ladies and gentlemen it is my distinct displeasure to welcome you to the land of unhappy travelers.”  I actually got a few laughs.  I then made a comment about the airline, which I had not flown in a couple of years, saying “I’m glad to see that some things stay the same, our airline still has same crappy service that they had a few years ago.”  As we started boarding we boarded by zones as some airlines do.  I personally prefer the first come or first signed in first seated way that Southwest does things, unfortunately the government contract was no longer with Southwest. As they announced “boarding zones one through five,” I commented, “Yep, you guys in zone 92 still have a while to wait.  On each flight we had bad weather, turbulence and on one flight the air condition did not start kicking in until we were getting ready to land.

When I got to my destination I heard stories even worse than mine, all focused around the vortex of doom that swirled around Atlanta.  The only place that I thought it could have gone worse was Washington Dulles, where my experiences have been nearly all bad. I survived but by the time I got to my hotel my ass was kicked. At the end of the day I had survived.  A few beers and a bit of wine with good fellowship with friends made things better.

Saturday I get to fly again and make my third trip to California to see my folks.  I am already making my list and getting mentally prepared for the trip.  I get to fly though Chicago O’Hare and on the way back LAX and O’Hare.  Thank the Deity Herself that Atlanta is not on the itinerary. I’ll do my best to at least find the humor as I pass through these islands of unhappy travelers, so pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve

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Minor League Road Trips

grainger stadiumGrainger Stadium Kinston NC

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams (1989)

There is something about baseball that is healing.  It is part of the fabric of our American culture something that somehow overcomes the political and religious divisions that so divide our country right now.  We were at Gordon Biersch watching the last couple of innings of a qualification game for the Little League World series between a team from Peabody Massachusetts and one from Rhode Island.  It was one of those magical games that ended with a walk-off Grand-Slam home run in the bottom of the 6th.  It triggered a flood of memories for me and ait got Judy, the Abby Normal Abbess and I talking about some of our own expereinces travelling the country and watching baseball.

I love the game of baseball especially going to a ballpark and seeing a game.  The experience of this for me has been life-long though difficult to continue from about 1983-1999 due to a tour in Germany with the Army a very difficult four years of seminary followed by residency, my first hospital job where I worked the second shift, a mobilized tour in Germany prior to coming in the Navy in early 1999.  During those years getting to games was a rare event, either due to time or money.  Despite this we as a couple got to a few games and I got in a couple on my own when traveling.  Thankfully, Judy, the Abby Normal Abbess tolerates and even joins me in my own baseball journey.

When I went into the Navy and moved to North Carolina that began to change.  North Carolina of course is the setting of the classic baseball movie Bull Durham and once can visit some of the same ballparks as are shown in the movie. The adventure of going to the ballpark again became a regular part of our lives.  It began in a little town in Eastern North Carolina called Kinston, the home of the Kinston Indians.  Kinston is a town that has seen better times, but the Indians, or the K-Tribe as they are known is part of the lifeblood of the community.  They play in Grainger Stadium, which though an older ballpark is still a great place to watch a game.  The Indians Carolina League which is advanced “A” ball and for a number of years dominated that League. When were stationed in Camp LeJeune we would make the trip to Kinston on a regular basis when I was in town. At the time the Indians farm system was producing a lot of great prospects, many who now are major leaguers, including Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta Shane Victorino and Victor Martinez.  When we left LeJeune we were stationed a brief time in Jacksonville Florida, where we lived very close to the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, home of the Jacksonville Suns then the Los Angeles Dodgers AA affiliate in the Southern League.  The ballpark is a great venue to see a game and the Suns management led by Peter Bragan and Peter Bragan Jr. who are part of a great baseball family run a great show, and the Dodgers staff was a class organization.  I got to meet Tommy Lasorda in Jacksonville as well as Steve Yeager.  I have 2 game worn special issue jerseys from the Suns.  When we moved to Norfolk in 2003 the season was already over but beginning on opening day of 2004 I began to worship at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  This if you follow this site is the home of the Norfolk Tides.  Ever since then I have had the opportunity to see the game close up on a very regular basis.

In addition to attending the games near us we would travel and see other games. We would make trips down to Kinston from Virginia.  Once we went to a reunion of a singing group, the Continental Singers and Orchestra that I ran spotlight for back in 1979 which was being held in Kansas City.  On the way we saw a game in Louisville with the Louisville Bats, followed by a game in Cedar Rapids Iowa where we saw the Cedar Rapids Kernels play the Battle Creek Yankees and followed it with a trip to the “Field of Dreams” outside Dyersville, where that film was made.  Judy indulged me by playing catch with me on the field and taking my picture coming out of the cornfield.  It was almost; well it was a spiritual experience.  Occasionally when we visit Huntington West Virginia we try to see the West Virginia Power in Charleston.

Until I went to Iraq Judy and I used to take trips to Minor League ballparks around our Wedding anniversary.  We would take about four or five days and travel city to city to see some of the most fascinating baseball venues around.  We haven’t made a trip like that, even outside the wedding anniversary in a while mainly due to time as my much leave time has been spent going home to assist with my parents, especially the past 18 months where my dad’s Alzheimer’s Disease has progressed to the point of him being in a nursing home on palliative care.  Despite that I would always try to find time to see a game when in Stockton.  Before Iraq we would see the Stockton Ports in Billy Herbert Field.  The Ports now play in Banner Island Ballpark which is a great place to see a game.  If the Ports have not been in town we have occasionally been able to see the Giants, the A’s or the Sacramento River Cats, the AAA affiliate of the A’s.

The anniversary trips took us to some of the most interesting places to see games.  I have already mentioned Kinston where on one of our anniversaries we got to throw out the first pitch.  We have also travelled to Winston-Salem, when they were the Warthogs and Charlotte home of the Knights, the AAA affiliate of the White Sox.  Actually, Charlotte’s stadium is just down the road a way in Round Rock South Carolina.  We got rained out in Winston-Salem as a major storm hit at game time.  To our north we have been up to Frederick Maryland, home of the Frederick Keys, the Carolina League affiliate of the Orioles and Harrisburg Pennsylvania to see the Harrisburg Senators, the Montreal Expos-Washington Senators AA Eastern League affiliate at Metro-Bank Park on City Island.  This park was used in the movie Major League II as the Spring Training facility. There were two really cool things that happened at Harrisburg which was on our anniversary.  First we saw Phillies Slugger Ryan Howard about tear the cover off a ball hitting a double down the right field line and the General Manager had a ball autographed for us by the team.  That was really cool.  Likewise when Atlanta still had its Richmond affiliate, the Richmond Braves, we made a number of trips to “The Diamond” in Richmond.  This was the worst stadium I had ever watched a game in, though the team was always good.  We saw a playoff game there in 2004 between the Braves and the Columbus Clippers, who were then the Yankees AAA affiliate.  Sitting behind home plate I saw Jason Giambi play for the Clippers on a rehab assignment.

I have done some parks on my own when travelling.  Any time I have been on the road in baseball season and have the chance I try to see the local team if circumstances permit.  I have seen a number of games in the Pacific Northwest seeing two Seattle Mariners short season single A Northwest League affiliate the Everett Aquasox and AAA Pacific Coast League affiliate the Tacoma Rainiers.  Everett is an especially interesting place to see a game.  The games are well attended and the team management has some great promotions including “Frogfest” where the team wears tie-dyed jerseys and there is a kind of 1960s hippy theme.  The Rainiers play in Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.  In Tacoma I saw Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez pitch his first AAA game. Both Everett and Tacoma are nice places to see a game.  While on the USS Hue City at the Maine Lobster Festival I worked a deal with festival organizers to get tickets for our sailors for two games watching the Portland Seadogs the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.  When the Seadogs hit a home run a lighthouse rises up from behind the fence and a foghorn sounds.

However the two most interesting place that we have seen games together are Ashville North Carolina, the home of the Ashville Tourists and Zebulon North Carolina home of the Carolina Mudcats.  Ashville has quite a history with McCormack Field dating back until 1919.  The grandstand was rebuilt a number of years back, but the playing field is the same.  The outfield wall backs up into a tree covered hillside into which home runs hit at night almost seem to dissolve.   Zebulon is another matter.  The stadium is about a mile out of town surrounded by farm fields.  When you drive to it down US 64 from Raleigh the stadium almost seems to emerge from nowhere as if it were beamed down from a orbiting starship.  It is a fairly new stadium and very modern a great place to see a game.  We went there to see the Mudcats, who were then the Marlins AA Southern League affiliate play the Mississippi Braves.  We got to the stadium and found that somehow I had left our tickets at home.  Since the game was in an hour and home was bout a 6-8 hour round trip I knew that going home to get them was not an option.  So I went to the ticket manager and explained the situation.  He had remembered taking my ticket order by phone as we had talked about shared military experiences.  He was able to print us duplicates for the seats that we had previously purchased and we saw the game, as always from down behind home plate.  In this game we saw Braves All Star catcher Brian McCann play the week before he was called up to Atlanta.

I hope that we have some time next year to make at least one trip out to see some other Minor League venues.  They are a lot of fun and part of the fabric of our country and somehow I believe if we reconnect in these locations, watching this timeless game that maybe just maybe we can overcome the emnity of all that divides our country and learn to be Americans again.  We will never all agree on politics, religion, domestic, foreign or economic policy.  No Americans ever have, but we can discover what it means again, through this wonderful game called baseball.  I do think that the Deity Herself approves of all of these local parishes of the Church of Baseball scattered about our land.  At the same time I always have my place in Section 102, Row B Seat 2 at Harbor Park.

Peace, Steve+

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My Home World Visit: Some things Change and some don’t….and the Terror of the Undead Tooth

The last time that I visited the Home World, aka West Virginia was before I left for Iraq.  While this is my family’s Home World it is only mine by default having worked there briefly after my residency.   Now because I was a West Virginia resident when I entered active duty in 1999 it is our home of record for all of my military administrative and pay purposes.  This means that we maintain our West Virginia driver’s licenses, vote in West Virginia elections and since we are out of state have no state income tax liability.

West Virginia, in the heart of Appalachia is an interesting place.  It was became a state in 1863 when the western counties of Virginia, which had seceded from the Union, seceded from Virginia and were recognized by the Federal Government.  My family goes back on both sides to the late 1700s in the state where they were early pioneers having moved west from Pennsylvania.  The Dundas side of the family had emigrated from Scotland in the late 1740s settling initially in Philadelphia where the early settlers served as suppliers of the Continental Congress and Army in the War for Independence and are buried in Christ Church cemetery near Independence Hall, the same cemetery where Benjamin Franklin and other notables from the early history of the United States are buried.  The family which settled in Cabell County owned a great deal of property along the Mud River and the James River Turnpike where they prospered by not necessarily being nice.   They built a plantation and owned slaves, the exact number I do not know.  They also sort of acted as highwaymen charging travelers along the turnpike to go through their land, in a sense they were the progenitors of the toll booths on the West Virginia Turnpike.  Their prosperity last through the Civil War in which they sided with the Virginians who seceded from the Union and not those that seceded from Virginia.  When the war ended the family patriarch decided that he didn’t like the results and as a Lieutenant in the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment refused to sign the loyalty oath when the Confederacy surrendered.  Of course Officers like Robert E. Lee did so, so the refusal was kind of stupid.  As a result the Federal Government seized almost all of the family land save for the homestead and a parcel donated to Mud River Baptist Church and the Blue Sulfur cemetery where as my cousin by marriage Betty says “all the good Dundas’s are buried.”  Thus my family became just another working family.  My parents were born in Huntington in the 1930s.  At that time Huntington was a booming city.  It was a rail hub as well as the site of many heavy industries including the manufacture of railroad cars, steel, nickel, glassware, chemicals and automotive parts.  It was also the home of Marshall University.   This boom lasted until the 1960s and early 1970s as industries moved out or shut down, the population which once numbered about 100,000 dwindled to barely 50,000 in 2008.  The city did nothing to help itself when it refused to let the Interstate Highway go down through the waterfront. The diversion of I-64 helped destroy the downtown and contributed to the move of many people to the outlying areas of the county.  As a result the areas along the Mud River gained both business and population leaving the city with fewer business, people and tax revenue.  Of course had my ancestor decided to sign the loyalty oath all of this would have been on our family land and the family would be wealthy.  The sins and stupidity of the previous generations do truly affect their descendants.  What a Dumb-Ass.

So my dad joined the Navy and I was the first one of my family born out of West Virginia.  Now we would go back often to visit my grandparents as well as other relatives and I have some fond memories of visits to Huntington in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Back then Huntington was still fairly affluent by West Virginia standards.  When I moved back after my residency in late December 1994 Huntington was a different town.  The city was smaller and areas that had once been nice were run down.  Gangs and drug lords from Detroit and Columbus made Huntington, which once had a very low crime rate a pretty sporty place.  Instead of industry service industries like telemarketing became major employers joining Marshall University, Cabell-Huntington Hospital and Saint Mary’s hospitals as the economic base of the city. The few remaining heavy industries were much smaller than they had been even a decade before.  Since I left to join the Navy in 1999 the city has continued its decline.  In spite of major expansions of the University, both Hospitals the opening of a new campus and University medical center a revitalized downtown much of the city is in disrepair and once nice neighborhoods are blighted.  There are signs of hope as the city and state are making concerted efforts to fight the drugs and gangs, while corrupt officials who allowed the infrastructure to collapse leaving the city in violation of EPA and other federal agency regulations.

The decline has affected everything, even churches.  The church that I was baptized at as a infant, Southside Methodist is shut down, the congregation merged with several others at another location.  Other formerly influential congregations of various denominations have shut down and in some cases the buildings demolished.   The city lost its Minor League baseball franchise in 1994 and it has not been replaced.  The population is now significantly older and poorer.  One only has to visit stores like Wal-Mart and see how poor people look and how bad their state of health is to understand how the city has fallen.

One thing that surprised me was walking down 3rd Avenue after departing the Marshall Hall of Fame Café and seeing two young let’s say late teens, early twenties girls wrapped around each other at a bus stop French kissing and pawing all over each other.   For a second I thought someone had turned on Cinemax, this was definitely not the West Virginia that I remembered growing up.  Now I know that Huntington is a college town but I still was not expecting this.  Had my paternal grandmother, God rest her soul been there she would have probably taken her cane and forcibly separated them while giving them a piece of her mind.  Granny was not to be messed with and even long haired men drew her wrath as what she would have termed improperly clad women who showed more skin than she thought was proper.   I’m sure the display of the two young women would have sent her into orbit. Of course I make no judgment on the young women, save perhaps their choice of venue to express their affection for one another.  Heck if they had been a hetro-sxcual couple I would have had a similar reaction and Granny would have at least accosted the young man had it been that situation.

Huntington has changed in a lot of ways, but some things remain constant.  For me these have been the parks, such as Ritter Park as well as eateries such as Stewarts Hot Dogs and the Frost Top Root Beer stand both of which take one back in time to when things were better.  I still like to go back; the pace of life is relaxing if you aren’t in pain.  Our trip this time was marked by a nice visit with our friend Patty a couple of visits to Stewarts and a visit to the Marshall Hall of Fame Café.  At least the beer at least gave me a bit of relief from the constant pain in my mouth.

As far as the matter of the “undead” tooth goes beginning Sunday night the pain was unmanageable.   I could not sleep and no matter how many 800 mg Motrin and Ultram that I took I was still in pain. I might have gotten two hours of bad sleep Sunday night.  Monday morning I got up, ate breakfast, took more medicine and went to back to bed.  After I got up at noon I went to the Hall of Fame Café for a salad, chili and beer, after which I saw the aforementioned Cinemax girls.  Monday night was more of the same and I was wishing for my regular boring insomnia.  Tuesday morning I woke up gave up and called our hospital dental clinic.  They referred me to the office that approves visits to non-military providers.  It took me a while to reach them but when I did they gave me permission and I went to the dentist who took over the practice of our old and recently retired dentist in Huntington.  I was x-rayed and the dentist said that the tooth was infected.  He wrote a couple of prescriptions, one for amoxicillin and the other for Darvecet a pain reliever.  Unfortunately they had no effect on Tuesday night and by the time that we left today I was in worse pain than any time previously.  The tooth was making groaning and popping noises throbbing and shooting out sharp pain.  By the time we got to the western section of Virginia I knew I had to get some help so I called our dental department.  The person at the desk told me to report to sick call in the morning.  About an hour later the pain was even worse so I called again about 40 minutes before the clinic closed.  I got the automated answering system that told me “thank you for your patience, we value you and you are number one in the queue.” I waited in the “queue” or 40 minutes, my call dropping twice due to bad cell coverage but each time I was still “the first in the queue.” Finally, after the clinic was officially closed I called m ICU and Stacie one of our Critical Care RN’s paged the on-cal dentist.  He called me back and told me to come in as soon as I got back in town.  When we finally got home we went directly to the hospital where the young dentist waited.  He consulted the on-call Oral Surgeon and the two decided to open the tooth back up and grind it down as well as give me a long lasting anesthetic that will take me through the night as well as some good drugs, Vicodin to keep the pain down not the Darvocet which was crap and didn’t touch the pain.  So tomorrow I go in early and the dentists will fit me in and excavate the remains of the tooth from my mouth and do some site preservation so I can get the implant later.  Thus, my saga completed I will try to get some sleep, unfortunately I am so wired from all the caffeine I took on board today that sleep, even if I am not in pain will be problematic.  Thankfully I have been assured that they will send me home when this is done.

Pray for me a sinner,

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, travel, west virginia