Jul 26 2014

Lost and Found Dog Story

Published by under Declan,San Diego

This was kinda neat, so I thought I’d get it down before I forgot it.

Elaine and I had to grab our dog Pepper and head out in the car because someone was coming to see the house we are selling.  As we drove down the very busy, 4 lane Carmel Valley Rd. we saw a medium sized dog loping down Black Mountain Dr. and turn onto Carmel Valley.  She was on the sidewalk, but all by herself and looked like she could dart out into traffic at any time.  I was sick of seeing dead dogs by the road so, even though I’m really not a dog person, I asked Elaine to pull over and let me see if I could do anything.

I grabbed Pepper’s leash and walked back toward the dog, and she disappeared up into the bushes next to the sidewalk.  I approached where I’d seen her go in and found her plopped up under a bush, panting like crazy.  It was a very hot day and she had been moving pretty quickly, so I think she was exhausted.  She also looked older once I could get this close to her.  I don’t know much about dogs (Pepper and I co-exist and that’s about it, he is a mama’s boy), so I was chicken to put my hands too close to her collar.  I could see tags, so I was hopeful to get a name and number.  I called Elaine, who was still up the street in the car with Pepper, and asked her to get some water and I’d see if I could make friends with this scary beast.

I also called Animal Control.  They said they had no one available, but would put the dog on the list and have someone come look in the area when they could.  I sat and talked to the dog and waited for Elaine to come back with the water.  My phone rang and it was my buddy Mike wanting to know why I was sitting on the sidewalk talking to a bush on the side of the road.  I told him I like it there.  Elaine came back with a big bottle of water and a bowl, then took the car and Pepper back down the street to not spook the dog.  I filled the bowl and edged my way toward her slavering jaws… ok, not really slavering… She actually would just stop panting and kind of hold her breath when I got close.  She let me put the water right under her nose, and after a couple minutes she started lapping it up and quickly drained the bowl.

I refilled the bowl and got the courage up to sneak my phone in to see if I could shoot a picture of the tags…

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But it was too blurry.  I finally got the nerve up to scritch her on the head, and while she didn’t seem to like it, she didn’t snap at me which is good because I like all my fingers.  I eventually got to her collar and tags and rolled them around to read a name, “Ohana”, and a phone number!  Cool!!! This would be over soon and I could get a friggin taco.  I was hungry.

So I called the number and get… a fast busy signal!  Over and frickin over again!  Damn it.  The other tag had a dog license number, so I called Animal Control again, told them the story so far, and they gave me another number to call.  Cool!  Good deed almost done, right?  RIGHT?  “I’m sorry, this user is not receiving calls at this time.”  What does that even mean?  Someone went to all the trouble of cutting a dog loose AND canceling all of their phone lines?  WHILE LEAVING THE NUMBER ON THE DOG?!?  My mind was racing and I was getting pissed.  Did I tell you I was hungry?

Since I was delirious with hunger and sick of sitting on the sidewalk, I tried hooking up the leash with my left hand, thinking that losing that one would impact my life less.  She was cool with this and came out from under the bushes and walked along beside me for a bit.  Then she stopped dead and wouldn’t go a step.  I pulled on the leash because I wanted to walk up the block and tell Elaine what was going on, but this dog was having none of that.  As an experienced technical diagnostician, I tried walking the other direction to see what those results would be and VOILA! she had no problem going that direction.  All of a sudden THIS WAS AN ADVENTURE GAME!!!

I called Elaine and said that I think Ohana might have some sense of the neighborhood, so I was gonna see where she’d let us go.  So we headed back toward Black Mountain Drive, another really busy street.  Ohana was anxious to get across but impatiently allowed me to hit the crosswalk button and wait a bit til it was safe.  We progressed up Black Mountain until the next corner and I did the same trial and error to see where she’d go, and we went left on Sundance.  I was getting excited now and we started walking faster up the little hill.  Well I did, Ohana was showing her age and slowed down a bit on the hill and at the next corner.  We did the Magic Compass moves again and she wanted to cross the street.  A few times as I was walking and saw someone I’d ask if they knew this dog, but no luck…

We continued down the street, house after house, looking for people to ask about her, when BAM! she stops dead again and won’t keep going.  We’re in front of a bluish house with no indication of anyone home.  Just to test the Magic Compass idea, I walk up the driveway and Ohana is happy go that way.  Oh great, now I have to see this through and go around to the front door, all the while wondering what the hell I’m going to say and how to NOT make this look like some sort of weird con game.  I heard a TV as I walked up to the door and rang the doorbell.  Nothing….  I waited what seemed like 5 minutes and went to ring it again and heard “Ohana?” come from over the back fence.

I wondered if Ohana normally rang the bell and what the heck was going on here (remember… still hungry) when the door opened and a lady stood there.  I said “Yep, I found Ohana out by the traffic.”  She thanked me and was very happy to see her.  She’d been looking around the house for her and couldn’t find her.  I told her that I’d called the number on her collar and the woman said that she was in the middle of moving and all her numbers were disconnected.  At this point I kinda didn’t care, I was just stoked that this dog had led me half a mile back to her home!  I fist pumped, patted Ohana on the head (still a little scared to be honest, but out of my mind with hunger) and headed back to Elaine.

Then we got some friggin tacos.

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Jul 22 2014

Totes bloggoats

Published by under Declan,Friends,Fun

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 7.36.16 PM

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Jun 23 2014

Latest incarnation of the timelapser

Published by under Declan,Photography,Tech

I’ve been looking for a better case for my Raspberry Pi with camera kit, and ordered this ($17.25 shipped):

Raspberry Pi and Camera Enclosure

Link to the case

 

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I especially liked that it had a tripod mount:

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I’ve used it to capture a party at work, and it worked well!  The camera chip mounts upside down, so I had to flip all of the images before I made my movie.  Also, the power plug is in front with the camera, which seems like it would get into the picture, but it’s actually not a problem.

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So far I really like it!  Other than the screws to mount the camera chip, the whole thing just snaps together.  The little white snaps are kind of tight, but not too hard to use.  I use the timelapser a lot outside, so I wonder if clear is the best option.  I can always paint it though.

 

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Apr 19 2014

Timelapser Project

I was visiting my buddies Rebecca and Chip in STL and he said he was working on a making a timelapse device with a RaspberryPi.  This got me inspired, so I built one too.

Parts:

RaspberryPi v2

Camera Kit for RaspberryPi

The camera kit is just a floppy ribbon cable with the camera on the end of it, so it’s hard to position.  I looked on Thingiverse.com to see if anyone had created a RaspberriPi case with a camera holder that I could 3D print.  I didn’t find exactly what I was envisioning, but I did come across this:

http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:162594

RaspberryPi Camera Holder that slots into the Ethernet port

It’s a really cool little arm made up of 3 pieces that you connect with 2 screws.  The arm holds the camera at one end, and sticks into the Ethernet connector at the other end – no electronics, it just is the right shape to fit nicely and stay put.

Here’s my little rig:

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I had it in a box case, but I dropped it and it broke ;)  I need to get another one somewhere, or 3D print one.

Now that I had the physical setup done, I followed this blog post to set up the software:

Simple timelapse camera using Raspberry Pi and a coffee tin

The same author has a great post on using an app called BerryCam to help setup where the camera is pointed:

BerryCam – Use your iPad and iPhone to control your Raspberry Pi camera

The author goes further and gets the whole device stuffed into a coffee can with a battery pack, which I’ll get around to at some point.

I modified the python script so it names the captured files sequentially by date and time rather that the default setup.  I found this a lot easier to work with when I wanted to stuff the pictures into a timelapse video.

Now, the SD card on the RaspberryPi I have is only 8G, so it’ll fill up if I don’t drain it, so I rsync the files off to another, bigger machine once an hour with a cronjob.  I had to learn the “–remove-source-files” rsync switch and that helped a ton.

At first, I just wanted the timelapser to watch out toward the West and capture the clouds and sunset:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DplUSQ3jJlw

Then I had to idea to stick a dish of birdseed out in front of the camera to see what would happen, and I got some really neat pictures of local birds!

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More pix here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bigdpix/sets/72157644110782211/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bigdpix/sets/72157644050932461/

 

Here’s how I have the camera positioned:

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This took some trial and error, and the BerryCam software referred to above helped with positioning a lot.

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I finally secured the camera to the deck with cable ties:

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Hope this makes sense!  It was pretty easy to do, thanks to the blog posts I link to above.  I have a wifi adapter in the RaspberryPi – this might help you get that set up properly.  Also, when the camera is taking a picture, it lights up an LED on the camera board.  I thought this might cast a color on low light frames, so I disabled the LED using these instructions.

Have fun making one, and let me know if I can make this post more clear!

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Feb 15 2014

Second Tri Tip Smoke

Published by under Uncategorized

My mouth is on fire!!!  And I’m happy ;)

So this time I wanted to experiment a little more.  I got 4 tri tips and marinaded 2 of them in red wine, pepper, salt, garlic, ancho, and a few more spices.  I’d had a few beers and wanted to get them in the fridge overnight, so I may have been a bit too generous with the spices ;)

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I decided that I’d rub 2 of the tips, and leave the others plain.  I mixed up some pepper, salt, sugar (just 2 teaspoons), chili flakes, ancho, garlic, and onions and rubbed that on one plain and one marinaded tip.

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Then into the smoker with all 4!

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On our trip to Santa Maria, I’d picked up a couple boxes of red oak sticks, so I cut those down and used 3 chunks.

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I could probably have just used one!  After 3 hours, while I’d had plenty of smoke, the wood looked only half burned.

I let the meat temp get over 135F this time, to firm the meat up a bit and to see what the flavor might be like if it was less rare.  When I checked, some of the pieces had even gotten up to 145F.

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Out they come, and into the pan for 30 mins of foil covered resting.  Next came the slicing!  Here’s the plain:

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It was a lot firmer and easier to cut thin than the rare tips I made last time.  The beef flavor really came through.  Next was the rubbed, non-marinaded one:

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While it tasted great, I should have skipped any spice hotter than black pepper.  The heat just detracted from the beef flavor and the rub flavors were too complex for such a great piece of meat.  Next was the marinaded non-rubbed:

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I’m trying not to cut my glove, and fingers, open ;)  The wine smell and flavor were very strong.  Quite salty too.  Last was the rubbed and marinaded and, again, there was too much going on in the flavors.  I’ll take it a LOT easier on the rubs next time.

Here’s the bunch all together:

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I didn’t slice it all because I’m going to chill it down to see if I can slice it even thinner.

My wife mixed up a little Santa Maria salsa to add to the meat:

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All in all, a pretty good Saturday!  ;)

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Feb 08 2014

Santa Maria Roadtrip

In researching tritip for my smoking experiment, I learned that it was “invented” in Santa Maria, CA, so I’m sitting in a hotel here now!  I live in San Diego, so the wife and I jumped in the car and drove 5 hrs north and started hunting for good tritip.

Our first stop was at the Rancho Nipomo, and it’s been the best one so far!  The tritip is sliced very thin, and made into a sandwich.

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I was more interested in the meat than the bread, but then the owner, Richard, came over and said he forgot to tell us about the salsa that we HAD to put in the sandwich.  Wow!  It’s a pretty simple, fresh tasting salsa – made with canned tomatoes.  The combo was excellent.  He also had us try a hot salsa, made with Manzano peppers.  I think I’m still sweating!

You can tell he loves what he does.  He threw in a pulled pork sandwich

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and kept bringing us over other stuff to try, like the amazing chili on some chips.  My wife had the pork with a red sauce and nopales.

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It was great, with a good heat.

For Saturday lunch, we tried out Jocko’s in Nipomo, CA, but failed to read that the BBQ pit doesn’t open til 4, so I got a pretty good bbq sandwich.

Next, we headed up the coast, stopping for a bit to see some Butterflies:

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And llamas:

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But the pony ride was a lie!

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Very disappointing ;)

We headed back to Arroyo  Grande, CA to the Oak Pit BBQ.  I couldn’t decide what to get, so I got the sampler, which at $15 isn’t too bad!

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Pork rib, beef rib, tritip, pulled pork, and sides.  Oh, and corn muffin.  mmm! Like Rancho Nipomo above, their tritip was not cooked rare.  It was good, but not as good as Rancho.  Or mine ;)

Elaine was missing vegetables, so she got a salad.  A tritip salad!  ;)

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The cook was VERY nice and told us that they smoked on red oak, just like I’d learned from my research.  I asked where I could get some and he pointed across the street to a market.

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So now I have a trunk full of red oak pieces that are too big to fit into my smoker.  Elaine thinks my solution will be to cut it down, but it occurs to me that maybe the REAL solution is a bigger smoker!  ;)

On Sunday morning we got up and headed back to Rancho Nipomo for more BBQ!  Here’s a tri tip sandwich with the proper salsa:

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Also tried his ribs, which were very good!  Not as smokey as I like, but still great!

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And here’s a picture of that super hot sauce I mentioned above:

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Feb 02 2014

First try at smoking tritip

Published by under Food,Fun

I got 4 tritips from Major Market in Escondido, 2 plain and 2 marinated. One was wine and pepper, the other just wine, I think.

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I put Emeril’s steak rub on them all. Mostly it’s salt and pepper. They range in weight from 1.77 lb to almost 3 lb.

I put them on at 10:30a, hoping I can get them to a 2p Super Bowl party.  I’m sticking to around 225F and will start pulling them at an internal temp of 130-135F

2014-02-02 10.26.25

 

11:20 and I’m at 115F internal temp on the 1.77 lb one, pit temp is hovering around 226F.  Worried that I might have put it on too early.

Oh yeah, woods are cherry, oak, and hickory.  The hickory was a huge chunk – hope it doesn’t overpower everything.  Also wonder if I should have rubbed the marinaded pieces, but I like a good crust.  I haven’t done much beef before, just lots of pork.

12:00p and the smallest is at 129F.  I’m going to let it get to 135F.

12:30 and I pulled the small one at 135F, and the next size up at 133F.  I left the others to heat up some more:

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1:00 and the other two were 133F, so time to come out!

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I let each of them rest for 30 mins, then cut!

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SO GOOD!!!

Thoughts later:

So I brought most of the tritip to the Superbowl party and it was a big hit.  People I didn’t know hugged me.  Grown men cried.  Someone snagged a bunch to take home to her husband ;)

I’m thrilled with the results.  The pepper rub really accented the beef.  It was really rare, which people liked a lot.  I brought some buns and horseradish sauce, but no one used it – there was so much flavor in the slices alone.

One of the cuts had a really chewy vein of tissue which didn’t detract from the flavor, but sure lengthened the chewing time ;)  Not sure what I could do about that, other than make smaller slices.

Slicing was kinda hard, so I ended up with much thicker slices that I wanted.  I need to work on my knife skills so I can get it thinner for sandwiches.

The marinaded tritips didn’t seem to taste much different from the plain ones.  That pepper rub probably didn’t give the other flavors a chance.  Maybe I’ll do a rubless one next time.

 

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Nov 28 2013

Thanksgiving Smoked Turkey

Published by under Food

I did this last year and didn’t document anything, so now I am!  SCIENCE!!!

 

 

So, we got a 17 lb Foster Farms fresh turkey from Costco.  We stuck it in the freezer because we got it about 10 days before Thanksgiving.  We pulled it out on Sunday night and let it thaw in the fridge mostly, with maybe 8-10 hours on the counter.  Even after leaving it out most of this morning, there was a little ice left in the cavity.

2013-11-28 10.50.192013-11-28 10.50.55

 

Really, I’m not drinking.  Yet. For all things smoking, I rely on AmazingRibs.com, a great resource for beginners and experienced folks.  I followed most of the instructions on turkey here. According to Foster Farms’ website, they don’t inject anything, so I was responsible for salt content.  I am a little worried I might have too much, but we’ll see.  I dry brined with salt a day ahead – just a little sprinkled on the skin and rubbed in.  When I got it out of the fridge this morning, the skin looked pretty dry on top, but the rest of the skin was still pretty wet and soft. I made a batch of AmazingRibs’ Simon & Garfunkel Spice Blend & Baste (can you guess what’s in it?) and put it in some olive oil to blend into a wet rub.  I put a little salt in the rub too – this is worrying me that I have too much salt over all.

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Then I got all up under the skin and worked it in.

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I had trouble last year because I ripped the skin near the leg and it looked not pretty:

 

And I did pretty much the same thing this time:

2013-11-28 11.10.12TWA_5401

 

Dang it.  The skin is very thin there.  Elaine suggested stitching it, but I didn’t want to make a Frankenturkey. Next, I’d tried injecting last year and it came out great.  So I combined the little rub I had left with low sodium chicken stock, salt, sugar, and butter – I’m getting hungrier typing this…

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Years from now I’ll look back and wonder what the hell I was doing with that moustache…  It’s for Movember, a men’s health charity thingybob.  Please Donate!  ;) Now into the smoker, which has been pre-heating and has the water tray in already:

TWA_5402

I covered up the legs and wings for the first hour with foil to keep them from getting over cooked:

TWA_5404

Then I remembered I was supposed to put aromatics in the cavity!  I quartered an onion, put in some fresh rosemary, lemon peel, and garlic:

TWA_5411

 

I used oak and cherry wood and sealed it up!  I got the temp up to 325ish (it keeps jumping around up to 340) and let it smoke:

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An hour later I popped it open to get the foil off of the legs and wings:

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That back wing was tricky to reach!

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The color is beautiful!

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It’s all sealed back up now, and 3+ hours in the meat temp is at 130F! An hour or so later and it’s done!  163F in the deepest part of the breast.

TWA_5425

A proud daddy!

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Up close:

TWA_5433

Now it’s time to rest and get to the Thanksgiving party!

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I’ll try to get some carved shots in an hour or so!

I’m back!  Daaaaamn!  It was good!  Not too salty or dried out like I feared.  Very tasty and moist!

 

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Not too smokey at all.  My buddy made a rotisserie turkey and mine definitely had a smoky flavor while his had a more poultry one, so they were both good.

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Plated smoky awesomeness:

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Dueling Carci!  ;)

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So, overall I’m very happy with the results.  The butter injection didn’t seem to impart a butter flavor, but it sure was juicy.  The skin wasn’t crisp, but I couldn’t expect that after an hour or so of foiling so we could get to our party.  It was still tasty but the smoke was super strong in the skin.  I wonder what a lighter smoke would produce.  We WERE drinking some heavy beers, so the heavy smoke complimented that well.

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Jul 20 2013

Trip to PEI

Published by under Declan,Travel

I knew this would be a long day, getting to PEI was going to take 3 flights from San Diego, but I had NO idea…

The United hop from San Diego to SFO was nice, I got a security line with just a metal detector, so no opt-out and free molestation.  I mistakenly took this as a good omen! ;)

I had about a 3 hour layover until my Air Canada SFO to Toronto flight, so I got some early lunch and boarded on time.  I was in my window seat next to a very friendly elderly lady with a neat accent who looooved to talk – but I’m a friendly guy and humored her while subtly trying to stick in my earbuds to get my zone of silence going.  She wasn’t having any of that, so I chitchatted with her a bit, learning that the lady on the aisle, who was doing her best to NOT engage, was actually her daughter and that they’d been trying to get home for a couple of days because of airline problems.  I tried telling her about my Montreal trip recently to relate, but she had plenty of talking pent up because her daughter was DONE with her ;)

After a bit I noted that we’d been sitting quite a while.  The door was closed, but we hadn’t backed out to taxi.  The captain came on and said there had been an accident and that the runway was a mess and they were waiting on instructions…  An accident?  I broke the rules and fired up my phone.  CNN had nothing, so I did a twitter search.  I was confused and thought the accident was at our destination, Toronto, but as soon as I searched SFO I had tons of hits.  Wow…

After about an hour or so total, they told us the airport was closed and we had to deplane, but to stick around because the flight wasn’t canceled.  My seat mate needed a wheelchair assist, so I was the last person off the plane.  Her daughter was NOT happy, but hey, at least we weren’t in a crash!  They’d had a really hard week, so I felt bad for them.

We couldn’t see the crash from our plane, but as soon as we got out of the plane we could see it from the gate.  I had my camera and long lens and got this:

SFO Plane crash

SFO Plane crash

 

SFO Crash zoom

SFO Crash zoom

I walked around a bit and shot people in the bar watching TV reports about the crash outside the window:

 

Meta - SFO Bar showing the crash that's also outside the winfo

Meta – SFO Bar showing the crash that’s also outside the window

We all hung around the gate, occasionally getting updates from the Air Canada gate folks.  These mainly were “we have no idea what’s gonna happen, but don’t go too far.”  This went on for a few hours until, and I swear I am not making this up, they said “your flight is canceled, your bags are on carousel 9, we are closing the gate, go home.”  As one, the crowd angrily repeated “GO HOME?!?”  Mind you, a lot of these people are Canadians.  They don’t GET mad…  It was getting ugly.

Eventually we got the message to get our bags and go to the ticket counter to rebook.  I did so and joined a growing group of folks at the Air Canada ticket counter and was stunned to see 8 agents all in a huddle behind the counter doing their best to make no eye contact with the growing crowd.

Air Canada ticket counter with 8 agents

Air Canada ticket counter with 8 agents

 

Eventually the herd of agents pushed forward one agent, named Augusta I believe, who addressed the crowd saying that they didn’t know anything, the airport was closed, everything was a mess, and they didn’t know how to help us.  Also, all hotels are booked, so don’t even try to get one.  She was very brave, and took a lot of abuse from the crowd, but she was just out of her depth – as was the whole airline for the next several hours.

I went to find an outlet so my phone didn’t die and called the Air Canada 888 number.  It was totally swamped, but they had a neat feature to put in your number and they’d hold your place in line and call you back.  I did that, was told it would be 30-40 minutes and hung up.  I checked in with Elaine and she did some research on hotels, and I tweeted out that I might be looking for someplace to crash in SF that night.  I know, bad choice of words… No pun intended, I assure you.  I was getting pretty discouraged and depressed by this time, but all of a sudden I had nearly 8 offers of places to stay from a whole range of friends living around SF!  This really bolstered my mood and I am very grateful to have such wonderful friends!  Especially for the ones who also offered a lot of good beer.  ;)

Air Cananda called back as promised and a very cranky, overworked, and rather rude lady barely listened to my story and booked me on a series of flights that would get me to PEI on Monday at noon. WTF?  I asked her to try again, and she came back saying that’s all they could do.  It was still Saturday!  No offer of a hotel, or hotels, and I was going to have to route through Vancouver, then Montreal to get to PEI.  Wow… I took the booking because that’s all I could do.

I checked the Air Canada ticket line again, and they still seemed baffled.  I saw my seat mate and her daughter by the kiosks looking unhappy and checked in.  The daughter was furious.  Not only did she have her mother in a wheelchair, but also their 5 bags now.  “They are doing NOTHING for us!  What if my mother has to go to the bathroom, or lie down?  Who will watch our bags?  Where can we go?”  I offered to watch the bags for her, but she was afraid to leave the ticket counter in case anything changed.  I checked in with her a few times until they disappeared at some point.  What a stressful situation for them!

So now what?  Well, I booked all of this through United originally, and I’m Premier Silver there, so let’s see what they can do…  I find their ticket line and boggle at the number of people:

United line

United line

 

Daaaang…  I find the Premier Silver line and shuffle forward slowly.  For THREE HOURS!  United agents were handing out slips of paper with the United 800 number to see if we could get through there before getting to the front of the line.  BTW I didn’t, but I now twitch every time I hear their hold music.  Over and over and over.  Ok, so 3 hrs pass sloggingly, and I get to talk to a wonderful dude named Patrick who told me he couldn’t help because Air Canada had taken control of my tickets and he couldn’t pull them back.  He was super nice about it, and gave me tons of info, but in the end he directed me back to Air Canada.  Yay.

Air Canada’s line was only an hour long, so I did my time there and got to an agent who said she could get me on a redeye to Montreal tonight, assuming it was allowed to take off!  SIGN ME UP!  This was the same flight one of my colleagues was going to be on.  It was also the flight a couple I met in line needed to take to then go to Vancouver.  SFO to Montreal to Vancouver – what should be a 2 hour direct flight was going to be an 8 hour nightmare that they were desperate to take.  The agent also booked me on an 8a flight from Montreal to PEI, but said the connection was tight and my checked bag would slow me down at customs, but there was a chance I’d make it.  She booked me on the 2p as well, just in case.

I grabbed a late dinner and headed over to the gate for the redeye flight, meeting up with my colleague, Chris.  As we sat and chatted waiting for the plane, the gate people were calling up individuals who would walk away seemingly angry.  I think I even heard a Canadian say a bad word in anger, so I was worried that they’d over booked and I was gonna get nuked.  Eventually we started boarding and as I was about to get on I saw the Vancouver bound couple being told they weren’t going to be on this flight.  They were really upset.  I did get on though and saw lots of open seats, so I figured they’d end up making it.  But nope we taxied out, sat on the tarmac for a really long time, then eventually took off.

I talked to the attendant, asking why the other people didn’t get on when we had plenty of seats and she said that because the crash had taken the one long runway at SFO out of service, there were only 2 short ones.  Our plane had to be weight restricted to work on that runway, so they bounced people off, and that long time sitting on the tarmac was to burn off enough fuel to let us be light enough to take off!  I can’t imagine the math they must do to make all this work.  I’m just glad I finally got out of SFO and could get to my conference!

I don’t sleep well on airplanes, so it was a looong ride, but we eventually got to Montreal and I sprinted through to try to make that early flight to PEI.  This wasn’t going to happen:

Long Montreal airport corridor

Long Montreal airport corridor

 

Montreal airport has super long corridors and terrible signage.  So I missed the early flight and realized I was facing another 6 hours til the next flight.  I fleetingly considered grabbing the city bus and having lunch with my Montreal buddy Amy, but then I sat down for a moment and almost passed out from lack of sleep and food.  I punted and found the perfect Montreal food:

 

Montreal bagel and lox

Montreal bagel and lox

 

Then I found my gate and sleepily hung out until my blessedly uneventful flight to PEI!

 

Landing in PEI

Landing in PEI

 

I know a plane crash is a big deal, but how about some contingency planning, Air Canada?  Or calling up some reserve staff for handling the long lines and phone hold times, United?  (BTW, implement that call back feature Air Canada has working.)  How about opening the airline lounges for elderly people who need someplace to recover from the stress?

The mood at SFO wavered from relief that we weren’t in the crashed plane to panic that no one knew what we were supposed to do next.  Just some messaging other that “go home” would have settled some expectations.

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Jul 19 2013

Fun with United

Published by under Uncategorized

On Sunday June 23rd, my daughter and I were due to fly home from Montreal, through Chicago, to San Diego.  Our flight was UA3466 at 6:31p from Montreal, and UA1061 at 8:45p from Chicago.

We arrived early, checked our bags for the flight, and got our baggage check numbers UA 5016676576 for mine (Declan) and UA 50155676839 for my daughter’s (Erin).
Due to weather in Chicago, we were hearing that our flight would be delayed until 8p, making our connection in Chicago impossible, so I called the United 800 number and asked what I could do.  There was an earlier flight leaving Montreal so, the United agent moved us to this flight and said we’d need to go see the counter agent to get boarding passes.  I thanked her, hung up, and stood in the gate line for that flight for about 30 minutes, only to be told by the agent there that there were no seats available on that flight.
I asked if my old boarding passes were still good, he said probably and to check at that gate.  So we went over there, waited for an agent to appear, got in another 30 minute line, and was told by that agent that we were ok for this flight, but due to all the delays we’d probably miss the Chicago to San Diego flight – but there was a chance we’d make it because everything at Chicago was delayed too.  So we were pretty much where were at before I’d tried the earlier flight, and we eventually flew to Chicago at 8p.
We arrived in Chicago just in time to watch our San Diego flight leave the gate while we were taxi-ing up to ours, just a little after 9p.  I understand that United doesn’t control bad weather, but they knew we were close and maybe could have held that flight a few more minutes.  United certainly didn’t mind delaying our flight earlier that week to Montreal from Newark for 3 hours for an incoming plane’s delay!
We deplaned, and I immediately called the United 800 number to see what our options were.  The only workable plan was to wait until the next morning and take UA1408 at 9:56a to San Diego.  We’d need to find a place to stay the night and the phone agent said we’d need to talk to someone in Chicago about that.  So we got into another long line for about 40 minutes, with little movement (there were a lot of people stuck in Chicago).
It occurred to me that I didn’t know the state of my bags now…  So as I waited in line to talk to a person, I called the 800 number again, and was told (rather rudely) that there was nothing they could tell me, I have to talk to someone in Chicago.  So I stood in line for another 30 mins, again barely moving, when a roving United person by the line let us know that United doesn’t help people who are looking for rooms because of weather problems.  She had a flier with some a number I could call for a 50% off room.  I asked her about my bag and she said there was a bag office by baggage claim where I could ask more.  I took the flier, left the line, and found the office.
A lady at that desk said that our bags were probably in the system somewhere and would show up at our final destination eventually.  I was good with that, but asked if they were here if we could just get them since we had to go to a hotel anyway.  She said it was possible, but might take hours because of all the mess in Chicago, but I could wait if I wanted to.  I said normally I’d be fine just getting the bags when we got home, but I had a hard time sleeping without my CPAP (a breathing device that helps with sleep apnia).  She was very receptive to this and said to hold on a bit while she looked deeper.
I gave her my checked bag tags and she looked them up, then made a very weird face and explained that our tags were not in the system and that she can see them having been deleted twice – and she said that didn’t even make sense.  She had us wait while she investigated more.  I took the time to call the hotel service from the flier, and got that all set up.  After about 40 minutes she came back and said the bags were still in Montreal.  When I’d called the 800 number and been moved to the flight that had no seats, the bags went into some sort of limbo and got stuck there.  She said that the bags would be put on a Monday flight out of Montreal to Chicago, then on to San Diego later on Monday.  They might even be on the flight we got on Monday, so check the carrousel when we landed.
So we headed off to the hotel, got up the next morning, flew to San Diego without incident, but the bags were not there.  We went to the United bags office, told our long sad story, and the lady there could offer us no more info but that there was a later flight they might be on.  I left my cell number, got a case number, SAN42446M, and waited for a call.
It’s now Tuesday the 25th and no call, and the United BagClaim website just says: Check back later.  The 800 number I was given says the same. I whined on Twitter and @united asked for my info and said someone would contact me.  Nothing yet.
UPDATE:  United did have someone call me and they knew the Montreal story.  Eventually the bags showed up at the house on Weds.  Whee!!!!
As bad as this all was on the United side, and it DID suck that they put my bags into limbo AND didn’t hold that flight… I can’t believe the amount of crap the gate and baggage people absorb without choking someone.  The ladies at the baggage desk were saints.  I saw a lady walk up, still on her cell phone, and start barking at the United person about not being helpful.  She never did get off the phone.  The United lady was patient and kind and I was just impressed.  The lady who helped us was very nice too.

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