The SOWER men continued work on the units of the fourteen-plex at the staff motel of Way of the Cross.
The two units from November had the finishing touches done as well as an additional unit which was completed from start to finish. There were two units that had most of the heavy work done on them and some other flooring repairs in a sixth unit. The final work on the fourth and fifth units were left for the SOWER groups coming in the next three months.
The ladies continued their work filling gift bags.
One couple went across the border for a bit of shopping and lunch on Saturday. They spent a couple of hours laying on the floor under the restaurant table while some drug people and the authorities held a gun battle down the block.
On another Saturday, December 12th, the SOWER couples attended the " 'Tis the Season - A Christmas Concert" by the Harlingen Community Band. A most enjoyable evening musically, even if everyone else was too noble to stay for the cake and beverage after the concert and I was too cowardly to test whether they would leave me behind.
Travel Home for Christmas
After the December SOWER project ended we flew back to Canada. The trip had a few events such as the Jazz Air pilots who would not take off from Houston until somebody brought them a hot meal. No way were they going to eat the four dollar sandwiches we could buy for eight dollars. I guess they are entitled to their entitlements even if we left an hour late and would have missed our connecting flight except that it was running late. They need to practice their attitude if they wish to qualify to move up to Aeroflot Canada when they grow up.
Calgary airport was the typical zoo. The pilot was going apoplectic while the de-icing crews did and re-did the de-icing. We took off a couple of hours late. Can't blame Calgary airport I guess. They can't be expected to expect freezing weather in December. Can they?
Weldon Gray came to the airport and brought us to his home when we called that we had arrived in Saskatoon. Debbie came the next morning and picked us up. From there things were wonderful.
Going out to our shop/studio and lighting the first fire in the wood stove.
Christmas with family.
Christmas Eve service in our home church.
Looking out at the cold and knowing we were going back to warm.
The Long Road Back
So. Once upon a time (December 27) we got dropped at the airport in Saskatoon about 4
am for our 6 am flight after being told to be there 3 hours early by the
airline publicity of the security changes surrounding the Detroit Muslim
would-be bomber on Christmas day. We went in. As we suspected two hours
early was enough. Actually, still a bit too much. We were there before
anybody at the ticket counter and all but one clump of travelers waiting
with a mountain of baggage in the first class check-in line. . We formed
the plebe line and waited. Eventually somebody showed for the nobles'
line and a while after that for the commoners' line. We asked about the
new rules and they said we could only have one "small" carry-on e.g.
"purse, laptop, essentials, etc." for the flight into the states, but
that the rules were the same as last week for the flight to Calgary. We
could check our bigger carry-on baggage through to the states there or
wait until we were in Calgary. If we didn't check our luggage they
couldn't give us boarding passes for Calgary to Houston. How is that
logical when you can print your boarding passes on line? But I didn't
argue. Truth is considered abuse and abuse "of" airline employees is
forbidden, unlike the reciprocal abuse "by" airline employees. We showed
unusual foresight and said we would wait until Calgary then went and had
breakfast at Tim Horton's before going through security. Security was
normal - take off shoes, leave stuff on belt, walk through metal
detector, collect stuff, put shoes, glasses and belt back on and proceed
The flight to Calgary was okay. We arrived without incident and left the
arrival area to enter a bureaucratic gong show of gigantic proportions.
First we got in line with our luggage (formerly known as "carry-on"
luggage) and got our boarding passes for Houston and even for Houston to
Harlingen and baggage routing tags put on our bags. We took our bags
both carry-on and checked and went to scout out the customs and security
entrance to US Customs & Immigration for US bound flights. The sign at
the portal into no-man's land said not to arrive there more than two
hours before the scheduled departure of your flight. With the time
change it was about 6:30. We we shouldn't be there before 9:10 for a
11:10 boarding time for an 11:30 flight, but the line for the portal
went up a corridor and half way across the terminal so we got in line at
the back of the line. After a couple of hours the terminal personnel
seemed to figure out that people were in the line in random order so
they started pulling people out of line in sequence somewhat in time to
make it through security. About 11 we made it to the front of the line
and we were told that people on our flight would be the next flight to
enter the portal to the promised land. But promises being what they are
that changed. We were told that the flight departure had been delayed,
but they would be calling us "soon", maybe in an hour and a half or so.
They also said that there would be no point in staying close to the
gate. However, we knew that the PA system for that area had broken down
and notification of which flight was next consisted of somebody shouting
the information into the terminal. Not all shouters are created equal so
we elected to stay within normal speech distance.
By now the line to the portal was across the terminal and halfway back.
Somebody said a thousand people. Sometime around one pm I noticed that
our flight had disappeared from the departure display board. I button
holed an Air Canada (affectionately known as Aeroflot Canada by their
users) rep and asked her about that. She said "yes, that's disturbing
when that happens isn't it?". That was helpful.
Around two I left Juanita to guard our spot and got in line with all the
passengers in the check-in line and when I made it to the front was told
to just "be patient it is still going". How that could be when it had
departed sometime before so the crew could get the empty plane to
Houston before their flight hours were exceeded for the day I don't
know, but I didn't know enough then to ask that question. Sometime
around four AC sent me an e-mail that the flight was canceled, but I
didn't know that then either being in e-mail limbo. When it became
apparent that the connection to our Continental flight would not be
possible in Houston I went back to the check-in counter. Rather than go
through the line a third time I lurked near the first class check-in
person who had given us our boarding passes until she asked if she could
help and I asked about re-booking the flight we were connecting to. She
said she wouldn't have the tools to do that, but the ticket agents at
the far end of the terminal could help. I went to that line and waited
until I got to the front. There was rep there doing triage to see if
your needs matched the ticket agents' capabilities. Why they don't do
triage at the entrance to the line is beyond me, but it is consistent
with the AC approach that seems to put the employee ahead of the
customer. The triage is to prevent ticket agents wasting their time. To
leave passengers in the wrong line until they get to the front is a form
of crowd control. This is not to say that there were not many AC
employees who were showing exceptional grace under circumstances beyond
their creation, but organizationally the focus seems just enough off
that one feels to be a necessary evil. Perhaps my 'feelings' are
colored by sitting on the tarmac in Houston for an hour on the flight
north while the pilots waited for delivery of the hot meal they were
entitled to. When the emotional account in a relationship is overdrawn
benefit of doubt flies out the window. But I digress. The triage person
said that they didn't re-book connecting flights until you were in the
air since there would be no point. Another almost truth. They don't book
connecting flights that are with other airlines under any circumstances
whether in the air, on the ground or somewhere in between wherever that
might be. I left to return to our spot in the other line.
Eventually the rumor circulated that our flight had been canceled. The
same AC rep that did the throwaway line about the disappearing display
confirmed the rumor and told us to go to the ticket agents and re-book.
Myself and half of another couple left to get to the back of the ticket
agent line. My second time. This time I moved over to the end of one
roped section and tried to get the attention of the person talking to an
mid-line person about his issues about how to get a refund if he changed
flights and whether it could be cash if it was anywhere but at the
airport. Seemed like she told him the answer in the first minute, but he
was kinda attractive and she didn't seem to mind re-tilling the same
verbal soil for about five minutes. She then made a break for it and
avoided eye contact with me but I was too insistent and she had to ask
me about my problem and she said "let's go see" and started walking me
back toward the check-in lines. When we got close she said "there, that
person there is re-doing things for the Houston flight" and I got in a
line of two and she issued new boarding passes for Calgary to Houston
but couldn't issue checked baggage tags without the baggage there or a
new flight to Houston to Harlingen or a boarding pass for same. I took
the new boarding passes. Went and found the other Houston passenger
standing in the ticket agent line and told him and showed him where to
go and went and got Juanita and our bags and stood in the now longer
line where we got the new boarding passes and the agent came out and put
the tags on our luggage. Bless her!
Then it was off to the Continental check-in where the agent asked why I
didn't get AC to change my flight and I explained that I had bought them
separately because AC doesn't do reward flight our of the RG Valley
during times you would want it and although I had lots of points I was
going to use them to buy a stereo system and pay cash for tickets on
airlines that treated you better than AC. Heat of the moment, I guess.
The flight being canceled and the total screw-up in security had nothing
to do with AC, but the moment they sent that flight they knew it and it
shouldn't take four hours to tell the passengers. A simple "Due to
circumstances beyond our control your flight has gone without you. We
are busy right now, but will deal with you in three hours" would have
been better than the mushroom treatment. But I digress again. In any
case she booked us on a flight from Houston to Harlingen the next
morning and in appreciation for paying full fare gave us "Elite" status
that means you get to board first and get your checked bags first.
We were booked on a flight to Houston that was going to leave in two
hours, but there was no sign of the passengers for that flight being
allowed through the portal anytime soon, but eventually we were and
eventually (about 3:30 am) we arrived in Houston. More on that later.
When we allowed in the portal we joined a line that snaked past the
baggage carousel that had people's connecting luggage circling on it. If
we had checked out bags in Saskatoon they would be circling and have the
wrong directional tags on them. Plus we would not have had access to our
stuff as we finished books and as we acted on rumors about what was now
allowed in the 'personal item' bags and transferred more and more stuff
to the formerly known as carry-on bag. We passed from there to a line
that went to customs and immigration and the signs reading no food or
drink or cell phones in line. The line was long and moved slowly.
Airport personnel handed out bottled water. I made the assumption that
nobody would be Machiavellian enough to hand out bottled water so they
could kick you out of line and took one. Came at the right time. Much
needed. As we pondered how slow the line was moving but it didn't matter
since we were on our way to our flight and would eventually leave this
mess a new anxiety surfaced. A United Airlines rep escorted a group of
passengers from the bowels of no-man's land. They didn't make it.
Nothing was assured until you were strapped in and the plane wheels were
leaving the runway! Oh dear! Finally to the front of the C&I line. Talk
to agent discuss in detail the number of times we have crossed border in
last couple of years. Assure him we have house in Canada and are
Canadian residents. The truth outs and we are allowed to proceed. Get in
the next line. Abandon our formerly known as carry on baggage to
conveyor belt. Off it goes wheels in the air like road kill.
We get in the next line, it goes around corner, airline agents start
shuffling people in order of urgency, get to next corner, another corner
in distance, get to that corner, there is another corner, but close
ahead. Turn last corner to see long lines to half a dozen or so security
stations. Get herded to far end of space to formerly shorter line. Take
off belts, shoes, glasses, everything from pockets gets put in rubber
trays. Stuff gets indexed through x-ray machine to match timing of
person going through metal detector. If you touch trays going into
scanner you get yelled at. Putting trays into scanner is job of bored
person staring off into space oblivious that there is a stack of empty
rubber trays next to scanner, but none at the in belt and saying how
bored she is, but at least it is overtime. Go through metal detector. No
beep. There is a male and a female person there. I get patted down by
the male. I would like to have objected to the sexism of this, but
resist the urge. He is pretty thorough pulling my sleeves and pant legs
tight and asking me to show him the soles of my feet (that was tricky,
but I was allowed to lean on the out conveyor). Thorough, but if I had
explosives in my crotch like the Detroit wannabe bomber he wouldn't have
found it. Good show, but a waste of time. Meanwhile in line with us is a
twenty something dark skinned guy with a knitted cap and a bushy black
beard carrying a book in Arabic script and wearing what on a woman would
be called a dress. His pat down consisted of a gentle from the sides
only cursory touch. He could have been carrying a bag of potatoes
hanging from his crotch and they wouldn't have caught it. I was not
reassured when he boarded our plane. Go to rubber trays. reach for my
glasses. Get shouted at. Stop reaching for glasses. Explain just getting
glasses. "Not until they are inspected". Thoroughly inspects glasses.
Lets me pick them up and put them on. Goes through every item, handling
it, opening it, fanning pages in the case of books, etc. Very thorough.
Person doing Juanita's stuff just glances at it. Not only could they do
with some work flow analysis and some tips from Miss Manners they could
also benefit from some quality assurance to achieve consistency in
results from their no less than six people per security station..
I refrain from offering my helpful observations and limp quickly to the
wrong gate and then to the one not on the boarding card. Get new
boarding card for Juanita and we board the plane. It leaves when
everyone is aboard. Flight attendants are gems. Hand out free stuff that
they normally charge for and generally try to make us forget the
security schmoze we went through. We get to sample four dollar
sandwiches for free without paying the $8 normally charged. Their
efforts are in vain since TSA is not through with us yet. An hour and a
half from landing we are advised that for the last hour of flight the
restrooms will be closed and we have to put away everything including
books, coats, MP3 players, etc. We are to sit with our hands in view,
trays stowed and seat backs in the upright position. Unlike kindergarten
we are allowed to listen to the in-flight entertainment. That will
prevent terrorists in the last hour. Wonder what they plan for the
numerous hours before that? I'm willing to fly naked if they let me have
a towel to sit on, and there is a bomb sniffing pig walking the aisle
but I am not in favor of going through a bunch of nonsense that does
nothing to improve security. Fat old married white guys with forty years
of credit and work history are not the same threat level of twenty
something unemployed single male members of a religion that has sworn to
cause us harm and furnished the west the last twenty or so airline
Flight arrives in Houston. Wait for baggage. Mine is unscathed.
Juanita's is torn. Use shipping tape to effect a temporary repair. It
should be okay we are back in the states. It has been transformed into
carry on baggage again so won't see any more abuse today. Shuffle
between terminal buildings and back. Continental is big in Houston lots
of choices for gates, but eventually we find somebody who knows which
gate is for our flight and we head for the security for it, taking the
Elite line to a lady who checks our documentation and boarding passes.
Glasses, belt etc. in rubber container on rollers ahead of the belt into
the x-ray machine. Stand there. One of the two people for our`security
station says in an annoyed tone like talking to a backward child, "push
the bags onto the belt". One bag gets put through the machine other side
up so he can take a second look. We stand there like dummies at the out
conveyor and then realizing they are done with us we gather our stuff
out of the trays and leave. Two people per station about one minute per
passenger, if that.
We buy breakfast at McDonald's and then go and wait by our gate. We are
early enough that another flight uses the gate first, but eventually our
flight arrives disgorges its passengers and we board with our carry-on
baggage. We arrive at Harlingen and when the plane touches down we call
Bert and Nancy, the SOWER couple who said they would meet us. They are
at the curb when we come out and we ride back to the WOTC training
center to find out what is going on. I end up going to Mexico with an
outreach team and Juanita works in the kitchen. More on that later.
The Big Feed 2009
Way of the Cross holds a "Big Feed" in Matamoros each year from December 27th through 29th. On the 28th a number of outreach teams go out. On hte 29th between five and ten thousand people are entertained and evangelized and fed. There are many game and raffle prozes throughout the day. The big proze this year was a small ready-to-move house.
Juanita stayed on the US side and helped cook for the teams going across the border. Paul went along for the ride. There was no shortage of drivers this year.
A good, muddy time was had by all.
The year ended with the annual chili-cook-off and fire works.