Category Archives: travel

Home Away from Home

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Neil Diamond once expressed a thought that I often wrestle with in his song I am I Said, dealing with the subject of what is home. We great day today with our German friends in the town of Loehnberg which is near the cities of Limburg, Braunfels, Weilburg, and Wetzar in the German state of Hessen. This morning we went with our friend Gottfried to see the town and the castle which belonged to the House of Hessen and Nassau, then we went to Braunfels to see the town and castle, and finished in Wetzlar.

All are fascinating towns from a historic and architectural point of view, many of the houses and buildings have the exposed wood beams that one might find in Tudor period houses in England, while the churches all show different aspects of Romanesque or Gothic design; the castles also represent the periods that they were built well. Laneburg, which is here in Loehnberg was built in the 1300s and destroyed during the Thirty Years War. It has been restored and is used for many events but the city has tried to capture what it was while renovating it. Weilburg was one of the principle castles of the House of Hesse-Nassau, along with Schierstiein in Wiesbaden.

The area is mostly an agricultural center with mines for precious stones and mineral springs scattered throughout. The Lahn river winds its way through the area creating a river valley with steep hills on either side flowing to the Rhine where it ends.

It is a beautiful area, Judy and I have been coming here since 1985 and truthfully it feels the most like home away from home than anywhere we have ever been. Part of this is because of our friends Gottfried and Hannelore and their family, through which we have gotten to meet and know a good number of other people in the area. Likewise, having lived in and visited the area many times I understand the dialect of the people here better than any place in Germany with the possibility exception of Bayern.

When Gottfried Judy and I returned home I decided that I needed to walk and I got in about 10.5 kilometers in 90 minutes walking up and down the hills of the town and on the trails that meander through the town, the farmlands, and the forests around it. The weather was beautiful and had we not had a planned dinner engagement at a great brewery restaurant in Braunfels I might have continued until it got dark. It was exhilarating. But I digress…

We had a great time at dinner, the restaurant, Brauhaus Obermuhle was excellent and I had a great Kuferschnitezel, which is a schnitzel a different type of gravy than I have ever had toped with onion rings. Now I am not a fan of onion rings but combined with the pork cutlet, spices, and gravy, it was an amazing taste experience. Likewise, and probably more importantly, I drank one of every beer they brew except the Hefeweizen so I can give a full report to my brewmaster and friends at Gordon Biersch when we return home. The Pils was very good, and I had a blonde bock and a brown bock, followed by a dunkel, and a Saison. The Dunkel wasn’t bad but was a bit sweet for my taste, the Bocks were both excellent as was the Pils and Saison.

Anyway, when we were finished we returned home, talked on a wide range of subjects and eventually turned in for the night. Judy and I a both continuing to expand our German language abilities and except with each other we spoke little English, and even then I would find myself addressing her in German. Honestly I think that immersion in a language and culture is the best way to learn and appreciate foreign lands. As I have said before, I have gotten good enough over the years and because speak with a mixture of the Hessische and Bayriche dialects, most Germans don’t realize for a while that I am an American.

Tomorrow I will get a long walk or run in and we expect to travel to the university town of Marburg which is significant for a number of events that you will get to hear about tomorrow.

So have a great day, or night, or whatever,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Stamtisch, a March, and a Memorial: Time in Munich

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post before turning in for the night and getting ready to drive from Munich to see old German friends in the area north of Wiesbaden, in the German state of Hessen where we spent much of my first tour in Germany from January 1984 to the end of December 1986. My friend has battled prostate Cancer for a few years and told me that his doctor has given him bad news. I can only imagine that it has spread, so this part of our visit may be more somber than usual.

Today was a good day, we slept late, had a last dinner at our favorite restaurant here where one of the women Judy has become friends with sat us at the Stamtisch which is a table reserved for customers that are regulars. Today we shared it with a number of older German men, all locals and had a nice talk. Afterward Judy went back to the hotel while I went went walking. Today I left the S-Bahn at Rosenheimer Platz, which put me near where the Burgerbraukeller once stood. That place, where Hitler and the early Nazis gathered to overthrow the Weimar Republic on November 9th 1923 was the beginning point of what is now known as the Bier Hall Putsch. Hitler and his storm troopers marched from there, across the Ludwigsbrucke, through the Isar Tor, to Marienplatz and the Rathaus, and from there turning North up Theatnerstrasse, to Residenzestrasse to the Odeonsplatz where they were met by a contingent of well armed police. The Nazis began a fight when the police refused to give way and were repulsed with casualties. Hitler was uninjured but was arrested, tried, and convicted for his role in the putsch, serving a minimal sentence of nine months in prison, free to receive visitors and write his book Mein Kampf.


It is always weird for me when I go to these places, to think that not even one hundred years ago that Hitler and his followers attempted to overthrow the German government right where I was walking. Of course Hitler changed his tactics to get enough of the vote so that President Paul von Hindenburg was persuaded to appoint him Chancellor, and of course the rest is history.


This was the second of two days where I walked and visited places that are important in history so that we do not forget. Yesterday I went to the National Socialist Documentation Center near the Konigsplatz. This is a great place to go for anyone serious about studying the Nazi era. Like all museums in Germany it pulls no punches about the country’s Nazi past and just how evil it was while also confronting the same threats from similar people today.

I wish that I could have spent several days there doing nothing but studying and reading original documents and records from the era. The center is build where Hitler and the Nazis made their headquarters in Munich in the years before the seizure of power, the Brown House. Around it the Nazis either occupied or built other buildings to house various party offices, including the SA and SS. I walked around that quarter of the city, and also went to the Monument to the Victims of National Socialism, which are commemorated by an eternal flame. I only wish that more Americans could take this in and then apply the lessons to our own genocide of the Native American tribes, American Slavery, and America medical experiments in Eugenics, Medical sterilization, and infectious diseases which involved human subjects, mostly African Americans. If we did we might have fewer memorials to the perpetrators of these crimes and more things about remembering the crimes and the victims, rather than hundreds of monuments dedicated to the mythologized and sanitized past in which we remember the perpetrators as military heroes or great Americans, even those that rebelled against the United States in a war that cost about three quarters of a million lives.

But anyway. The hour is late, and yes I have more to write about my time in Munich, including a this evening at the Neil Diamond 50th Anniversary Tour Concert at the Olympia Halle, but tomorrow is a travel day.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“A New Way of Seeing Things” the Value of Travel

Judy with one of the barmaids that she has gotten to know the last four years at Oktoberfest

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Mark Twain once wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

We are in traveling in Germany for the Oktoberfest, to see friends, and for me to visit some historic sites. I have to admit that I do love traveling. If I had unlimited time and money or was paid to travel I could easily imagine spending at least six month of every year away from home, preferably with Judy and our Papillons, all who travel well.

For me travel is an adventure and it always has been. When I was a child and my father was in the Navy I was crushed when he retired because there would be no more moving to new places. Even as a child I was infected with a wanderlust that I have never tried to treat. Even when I go to a familiar place I try to find new places to go, especially to when history was made. This week was no exception, and yes there will be more before this trip is over.

Judy and I also like meeting people who come from different places than us. At Oktoberfest this is easy because in addition to the Germans, there are people from around the world. For us those are some of the most interesting and pleasant experiences because we didn’t even try to script them, and in some cases, both at the Fest and a local restaurant near our hotel, there are people who now know us and give us friendly greetings. Of course it does help that we speak German, but even without that simple acts of kindness, friendliness, respect, and thankfulness go a long way to make the experience great.

I think that traveling as much as we have has been very influential in how we see and relate to the world and why we just shake our heads when we see people who have never been out of the bubble of home declare themselves experts about people they have never met and places they have seen. The prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness of some people bolstered by their ignorance saddens me because I know that a simple change of perspective is often all that is needed to open people’s eyes and minds to a bigger and better world. Of course travel is not a magic wand, there are some people whose prejudices, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness is only reinforced by traveling.

But Judy and I are not tourists. We want to experience where we are. Tourism focuses on seeing sites or doing certain activities will traveling, and that is okay to an extent, but it is more important and richer to discover what makes a people and a place what it is, to experience hospitality, and to extend a hand of friendship. Henry Miller wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

When you travel, especially to a foreign county it is somewhat humbling, not that there is anything wrong with that. You discover that things that were simple at home are either more difficult or different, and it doesn’t hurt to learn both how and why the locals do things. Learning those things has helped us back at home, because we talk much of what we learn with us because we found that it works. We love the mass transportation system, we like the smaller stores, and I like being able to do a lot of walking because the cities and towns are designed for it, unlike much of the United States.

There is a saying here in Bavaria, or as it is called here, Bayern, that “Im Bayern geht die uhren anders,” or in Bavaria the time goes differently. This is because even their fellow Germans often find the ways of Bavarians perplexing.

But anyway, that is all for today, it’s almost one in the morning here and we need to get up a bit earlier than we did today when my lack of sleep cause of the six hour time difference between here and now finally caught up with me.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Oktoberfest Pilgrimage Live Blog: A Visit to Beer Land

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“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Benjamin Franklin

One of my favorite comic strips is Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine. A few months ago one of the main characters appropriately named Rat, since he is a rat, decides to open his own amusement park called Beer Land. The series of strips is amazingly brilliant, especially to true beer drinkers. I think the strip from that series that I most enjoyed was this one, because of the way Pastis linked a ride at the strip to the syrupy Disney ride It’s a Small World.

Today we did a bit of a road trip and took the U-Bahn from Munich to a small town on the outskirts of the city called Erding, for a visit and tour of the Erdinger Weisbier brewery, the largest brewer of wheat beers in the world. Before heading to Erding we had taken a short visit to the historic Marianplatz where we were able to see the famous Glockenspiel at the old city hall, or Rathaus.

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Now Judy has incurred a couple of injuries to her knee, ankle, and a couple of years ago had to her Achilles’ tendon repaired. As such sometimes a lot of walking causes her a lot, I mean a lot of pain. We tried to go out some yesterday but after a few minutes at Marianplatz but she was in such pain so we went back to our hotel until later in the evening when we went to dinner with our friends.

This morning she was in less pain but she knew if she didn’t get some European style crutches that she would not do well and possible be confined to the hotel for must of our remaining time here. For those that don’t know, European or as they are referred to in the United States Canadian crutches are far superior to the type most of us know and loath so much. They provide the user much more mobility and less pain to the armpits and shoulders because you do not swing from them.

So while she hung out with our friends I googled where to find the crutches in Munich. The word for crutches is krucken and they are sold at stores that specialize in equipment for those recovering from injuries as well as those with various physical disabilities called a Saniatshaus. The closest of these was about two miles away, so with google maps to guide me I set off. I walk pretty fast so it didn’t take that long to get there and when I did after the normal greetings with the lady at the counter I asked for a pair of crutches, which she showed me and allowed me to even pick the color. They cost about 34 Euros, which isn’t too bad, and for that quality I would have payed more in the U.S, had I gotten them at home. I made my way back by hailing a taxi to save time. Had a nice conversation about Munich, beer and the Oktoberfest with the driver and he delivered me back just city meters from where Judy and some of our friends had gathered. Since we were waiting on some of the rest of our group we had a beer at an outdoor cafe across from the Rathause where we saw the Glockenspiel do its thing when the clock stuck eleven.

Once all of us were gathered we boarded the U-Bahn to Erding a trip of about 45 minutes. Once in Erding we caught a city bus to the Erdinger brewery. We got our tickets for the tours and bought a couple of items in the gift shop and then went on the tour. The tour took about an hour and a half and was amazing.

I was impressed with how well a large brewery can make great beer using only the natural ingredients of hops, barley or wheat malt and water. There are no added sugars, food colorings known to be carcinogenic, Bisphenal A (BPA); cheap filler grains such as rice and corn as well as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and mono sodium glutamate, and even propylene glycol (a component of anti-freeze) are found in many mass produced American beers. This is because of the observance of the strict Bavarian or German beer purity law the Reinheitsgebot which stipulates what are acceptable ingredients in beer. Frankly the difference in taste is amazing as well as the effects, especially the morning after. But I digress….

As I mentioned the tour was informative and enjoyable. At the end of the tour, which cost 12 Euros per person we were provided freshly baked Bavarian pretzels, two large Bavarian Weiswurst, which are a mildly spiced and finely textured pork sausage and three half liter glasses of whichever of the eight styles of Weisbier that Erdinger brews.

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It truly was a visit to Beer Land and I am sorry to say that at each stage of the tour I kept thinking about that comic, but no, I didn’t see the German kid beat up the French kid for his Hefeweizen.

So Since this a religious pilgrimage, I will close with a quote from one of my favorite rebellious theologians, the eminent Doctor Martin Luther:

“Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long does not sin; whoever does not sin enters heaven! Thus let us drink beer!”

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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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