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 received the finishing touches. An additional unit 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 the hot meal that was in their contract. 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, too. I wonder what its pilots held the flight up for. I gues they are practicing their attitude 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.
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 very 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
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 to gate.
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.
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.
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. Temporary nobles!
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 were 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!
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 a 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 terrorists.
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 plane 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 the 29th between five and ten thousand people are entertained and evangelized and fed. There are many game and raffle prizes throughout the day. The big prize 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 on New Year's Eve.