On The Way to Japan (Sept 14-16)

The first leg of our trip to Japan was a quick flight to Chicago and an overnight stay at the O’Hare Hilton.  Once we checked in and dumped our luggage, we decided to take the airport tram to Terminal 5 to scope out our point of departure for the morning.  This seemed like a good idea but turned out to be a mistake.  For some odd reason, All Nippon Airways departs from Terminal 1 and lands in Terminal 5 (international).  So when we went looking in Terminal 5 there was no departure desk for ANA.  Okay, back on the train to Terminal 1.  ANA shares a departure desk with Lufthansa.  We asked the nice lady there to look up our flight and she was able to tell us that it did show as leaving from terminal 5.  All of that killed about an hour.

After the worst night’s sleep in a long time, we were up at 5:30 and back at Terminal 5 by 6:55 for our 9:45 AM departure.  Now of course, there were signs indicating where to check-in for our charter flight.  One team had arrived ahead of us.  The Target team came in right behind.  Most of the people had flown in from Indianapolis that morning.  Considering the lousy sleep we had at the hotel, it would have been nice to have that option.

It was an interesting flight. There was a group of people that stood in the back and drank beer for most of the flight.  The Target crew member that sat at the window next to me did not get up once during the entire 12 1/2 hour flight.  His butt must be made of steel.  I was up 4 times and felt like I should have done it more often.  Zero sleep of course.  I did get through 2 books and ran out of reading material about an hour before the flight ended.  I took the Japanese Bento Box option for dinner, which turned out to be a huge mistake.  It was the worst airline meal I’ve ever had, loaded with sodium.  Mostly I just ate the rice and noodles.  Since the food was so bad, we went through 14 fun size candy bars during the flight.  I felt a little nauseated from all the sugar.

Landing in Narita is a little like getting booked into prison.  You need to have your index fingers printed and a photo taken.  Prison mug shots are more flattering.  Plus I got slapped for trying to stay with Tim while we went through this process.  After going through customs and collecting our luggage, we were loaded on a bus for the drive to Utsunomiya.  Another 2 1/2 hours in an ass-numbing seat.  We were treated to some beautiful scenery along the way, including the sight of white cranes feeding in the rice fields.

After we checked in to the hotel, we went out in the rain to try and find some food.  We heard there was a McDonald’s nearby but were unsuccessful in locating it.  We finally settled for buying some yogurt and water at a small grocery store in the lower level of a mall.  By the time we got back to the hotel, we were soaked, exhausted and not really hungry.  I was sound asleep by 7 PM.

Welcome to Japan.

Thanks for Stealing, Here’s $10

I was flipping through an issue of Popular Photography when an ad for their reader photo contest caught my eye.  I went online to check it out.  The first red flag was a $10 fee per photo to enter.  Generally speaking, I distrust photo contests that require an entry fee.  To be fair, $10 is minimal and it may be largely intended to thin the herd of images submitted.  From that perspective, it appears to be working.  The contest has been open since June 15, closes in less than a month and has less than 1000 submissions so far.  (Assuming all submissions are posted online)  Compare that to the nearly 20,000 images submitted in a Conde Nast contest that I entered earlier this year.

The second red flag was the totally lame prizes being offered:

One (1) GRAND PRIZE: *Sony A550 DSLR Camera and Lens (Approx. value $849.99)

Eight (8) FIRST PLACE CATEGORY PRIZES: *Sony a NEX-3 with 18-55mm lens (Approx. value $599.99)

Even with the relatively low number of submissions, Pop Photo will still make money from the contest, assuming they pay for the prizes.  Nice gig.  Personally, I wouldn’t be willing to pay even the income tax on a Sony camera prize.  Okay, but the real prize is getting published if you win, right?  I mean, isn’t it sort of every amateur photographer’s dream to get published in Popular Photography?  So, of course I would expect that by entering you are giving them the right to publish your photo, if you are a winner.

The third red flag was this bit of wording in the rules:

By entering, you grant to Sponsor a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty free license to edit, publish, promote, republish at any time in the future and otherwise use your submission, along with your name and likeness, in any and all media for any purpose, without further permission, notice or compensation (except where prohibited by law).

So, you are asking me to pay $10 for the privilege of giving you free use of my image for perpetuity??  Even if I don’t win anything?  How stupid do you think I am?  Assuming people actually read the rules, I am amazed they received any entries.  I guess it was nice of them to throw in the “non-exclusive” part.

Sheesh.

Read the fine print.

Just Let Me Do It

Alright, I admit it.  I am a control freak.  I’m sure this confession will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.  It’s probably a large part of the reason I became a project manager.  (A pretty good one, at that)  I think I’ve managed to let go of a lot of my perfectionism over the years and be satisfied with good enough, but I still want to be in control of deciding what good enough is and how to get there.  So I am the one who does all of the travel planning.  I may grumble about it occasionally, but I don’t think I’d be willing to give it up.  In the past, the only exception to this was when we went on family trips.  Since those were always driven by my dad’s schedule, his assistant handled all of the details.  She’s an amazing person and always put together a very detailed itinerary well in advance of our departure, so my inner control freak was appeased.

Now we are leaving for Japan in less than 40 hours and someone else is handling all of the details (I hope) and providing us with minimal information only after some prodding.  To be fair, he’s doing this for about 50 other people, all of whom have made the same trip multiple times and are used to traveling as a group.  The first concrete piece of information we received was exactly 2 weeks ago and consisted of this:

We now have your flight information from Chicago to Japan. Please let me know if you would like me to help you with your connecting flights.

AYZDJZ

1 NH WE 15SEP  ORDNRT    0945 1240*

2 NH TU 21SEP  NRTORD    1130 0905

I am not kidding.  This told me the airports (which I already knew) and the flight dates and times.  So I booked flights to Chicago and a hotel, since there was no way we were going to be able to get into Chicago early enough to make a 9:45 AM international flight.  I also let him know that my first name was spelled incorrectly, something the TSA really frowns on these days.  A week later I received this message:

You will be going through Terminal 5 in ORD.

Great.  So now we know which terminal to wander around in looking for a charter flight on an unknown airline with an unknown flight number.  Hello, a little help here??  So I finally broke down and sent an email requesting the airline, flight number and (god help me) hotel information.  A day later I received an email with the flight information.  This was followed about 30 minutes later by another email with the hotel information.  I feel SO MUCH BETTER NOW.

Continue breathing deeply.

11 Years and a Day

Yesterday was our 11th anniversary.  For the math challenged, that means we were married on 9/9/99.  No, that wasn’t a happy accident.  After we got engaged (on Christmas Day 1997), we had a lot of discussion about the “right” day to pick for our wedding.  Most people pick a season or month and the actual day depends on availability of the venues for the wedding and reception.  Since we never intended to have more than a handful of people at our wedding, it made more sense to pick a date that would be meaningful.  I knew a couple that had married on 8/8/88 and I always thought that was a cool idea.  So we decided on 9/9/99.  It turned out to be a Thursday.

Finding a place was a little tricky.  I wanted a nice restaurant with a private space that would allow smoking in order to accommodate my dad.  This would not be possible today, but back then there were still smoking areas in restaurants.  Not too many of them were keen on allowing cigars, however.  We selected Nikki’s Cafe and Bar, which sadly closed some years later.  Nikki was a character and I was a little worried when 3 months after first talking to her, she still hadn’t charged the deposit to my credit card.

Total attendance for our wedding was 25, including the priest and his wife.  I had a moment of panic at the start when my mom failed to show up on time.  Turns out she was halfway downtown when she realized that she had left my bouquet and Tim’s boutonniere in her refrigerator.  She did all of the flowers for the wedding, including a spray for the top of the Wuollet’s cake.  I bought the smallest two tier wedding cake they made and it was still way too much.

It really was a beautiful wedding.  I have a secret theory that the happiness and success of a marriage has an inverse relationship to the size and cost of the wedding.  Short of eloping, which I had seriously considered, we had about the most cost effective wedding possible.  Unfortunately, I was so busy making sure we took photos with everyone there, I neglected to get a photo of just Tim and me together.  So our official wedding photo required a bit of Photoshop magic.

So what did we do for our anniversary?  We ordered a pizza, opened one of the nice bottles of wine from our trip to Watkin’s Glen and watched two Blu-ray movies on our new player.  It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Flying for Miles

I am sitting in the Delta Sky Club at the Atlanta airport.  I’ve never been to Atlanta before and since I won’t be leaving the airport, I’m not sure this really counts either.  Since it’s currently 91 degrees, I’m glad I’m not actually going to Atlanta.  Any place that’s not Phoenix isn’t somewhere I want to be when it’s over 90 in September.  I’m also missing a beautiful early fall day in Minneapolis right now – 68 degrees and sunny.  Pretty much perfect.

So, why am I in the Atlanta airport?  Am I on my way to or from someplace wonderful?  No, I’m just whoring for miles.  That’s right – I left MSP at 1:00 this afternoon and if all goes well I will be back there just before 10 PM, spending 9 hours and just under $200 to earn about 1600 frequent flyer miles.  Why would I go to the trouble and expense to do this?  Because my husband got ahead of me in the frequent flier miles game due to his extra trips to Phoenix this winter.  He will earn the coveted Silver Elite status after our flight back from Phoenix in Sept.  With the addition of this trip, I will pass the required 25,000 mile mark after we get back from Miami in early October.  Since we only have one day between those two flights, it’s about as close as I can get without doing another crazy one day trip in the next week, before we go to Japan.

As it is, I am making five round trip flights in just under four weeks.  We have a flight to Chicago next week to catch our charter flight to Japan, plus the aforementioned flights to Phoenix and Miami.  And since our charter flight to Japan leaves at 9:45 AM, we actually have to get to Chicago a day early and spend the night at the O’Hare Hilton.  Fortunately, Hilton is our preferred hotel brand (Hampton Inn, mostly) so at least we were able to use points instead of paying the ridiculous $359/night they usually charge.

This is the final stretch of insanity until the racing season comes to a close.  I’m looking forward to a more relaxing pace in Phoenix for the winter.  Of course then I’ll probably start getting bored.  I secretly thrive on organized chaos.

I’m trying to keep up with some of my photo processing, so here’s a couple from our Woodward Reserve bourbon tour.

Kentucky (Sept 4-5)

We made it home safely from Kentucky.  In terms of the track schedule it was almost identical to Chicago.  A not-too-early practice session on Friday morning, followed by an early afternoon qualifying session.  Pretty soft, compared to what we’ve gotten used to this summer.  It was, however, the most bizarre qualifying outcome we’ve seen this year.  Some pretty unknown drivers at the top of the grid and some top talent (including Dario) in the middle of the pack.  Not too worrisome, since passing is pretty comparable to Chicago as well.

The race started at 8:45 PM Saturday, the latest start we’ve had this season.  Since we had so much time open before we needed to get to the track, we took a detour to hit one stop on the Bourbon Trail.  Yes, there is such a thing, and yes, they have a sign for it.  We toured Woodford Reserve, one of the oldest and most historic distilleries in Kentucky.  It’s also my husband’s favorite bourbon.  Since he’s more of a Scotch man, that’s saying something.

For some reason I felt really calm before the start of the race.  With Chicago, I was on pins and needles, knowing the outcome would heavily impact our chances of winning the championship.  Maybe it’s because we’re so close to the end now or maybe it’s because the gap has narrowed enough to feel like we’ll get to the last race still in the running.  The race wasn’t nearly as crazy as Chicago in terms of the position changes, but there was still a lot of passing and the outcome was in doubt up until the last 5 laps.  When, unfortunately, most of the leaders needed to pit for a splash of fuel.  If not for that, Dario would have finished second.  As it was, he finished fifth.  It was still 3 spots ahead of Will Power, so the points lead has closed to 17, with two races to go.  Not easy, but not impossible.

All in all, it was a good weekend.  Our “hot” streak ended – race day temperatures were in the mid 70’s.  Our hotel was brand new, very nice (except for the wimpy shower) and reasonably priced.  The south is an interesting place filled with interesting people.  The scenery is beautiful.  There is not enough money in the world to make me consider living there.

We now have a full 8 days at home before we start out for Japan.  Between September 14th and October 9th, we will be home for approximately 4 days.  And yes, we are crazy, but I already covered that in a previous post.

As promised, here is the sign.

Kentucky (Sept 2-3)

One of the less glamorous aspects of logging a lot of miles on the road is seeing a lot of roadkill.  Sometimes the victim is obvious – a big puffed up deer with all four legs pointing to the heavens or the distinctive tail of a raccoon trailing behind a bloody smear.  Sometimes the remains are so thoroughly eviscerated and scattered that all you can do is guess based on the relative size of the internal organs and the color of a smattering of fur.  Deer are obviously the most common and typically the largest victims.  I can recall trips where we’ve seen as many as 8 or 10 in a single day.  If you travel internationally, the victims get more exotic.  One of our first sights after leaving the airport in Melbourne was a dead kangaroo on the shoulder of the highway.  In New Zealand, they encourage you to run down the opossums, a non-native scourge.  A dead one always brings a cheer from the car.

One of the more amusing aspects of car travel is reading road signs.  I especially love exit signs with two town names that create a humorous combination.  One that always catches my attention while heading south on 35 is Manly Forest.  Just how manly can a forest be, anyway?  Often the names create a plausible if unusual person’s name.  I’ve often thought it would be entertaining to write a book where all of the character’s names came from combined town names off of highway signs.  I have no idea what the book would actually be about, but the characters would have great names.  Plus, you could never be sued if one of the names turned out to belong to a real person, since you could point to the road sign that inspired it.

On our drive down to Kentucky yesterday, while looking for someplace to stop for dinner, we saw a sign advertising a restaurant with the unfortunate name of Possum Trot.  Possum Trot, seriously?  If you were near starvation, would you eat at a restaurant named Possum Trot?  First, you wonder about what’s on the menu and second, you wonder about the aftereffects of eating it.  While we were driving to the track today, we saw a sign for Big Bone Lick State Park.  I am NOT making this up.  I have to get a photo of it tomorrow or no one will believe me.  Why, why would you name a state park Big Bone Lick?  I’m sure there is some explanation that makes sense in a crazy southern kind of way, but the name conjures up all kinds of activity unsuitable for a state park.  Honestly, it makes me kind of want to stop there, just to check it out.

None of My Business

My business cards arrived while we were in Chicago.  Okay, so technically they’re not business cards since I don’t have a business.  But I could.  So I suppose I should call them personal cards (or calling cards as they used to say in the old days) but after 24 years of having business cards, I still tend to refer to them that way.  At any rate, they are super cool.  I ordered Moo cards (shameless plug – http://us.moo.com/)  based on a recommendation from my photo buddy and number one blog fan, Jane.  Actually I think Jane is my only fan right now but I am hopeful that I might develop a handful of regular readers, in which case she will still be my number one fan.  Of course my mom reads my posts as well, but only because I print them out and give them to her every week because she doesn’t have a computer.  (Bless her for that)

But I digress.

There are two things about the cards I really like.  One, they are printed on very heavy card stock so they feel substantial.  Not like the cheap, flimsy cards you usually get from people.  More importantly, Moo allows you to print up to 50 different images on the back of the cards for one set price.  So I get to hand out 50 cards and each one is unique.  It makes it more fun to distribute them because people have to look through all of the images and decide which one to keep.  It’s sort of like a mini psych test.  Are you attracted to landscapes, flowers or some of my more unique images?  Of course, there is less to choose from as I go through the set.  And I have set a few aside for specific people.

Some of the photos don’t translate well to the tiny size.  The simpler, more graphic images work better than really detailed ones.  And I did too many cute baby ones.  So I will select some new images to replace them.  But overall, I am really happy with them.

So, why do I need cards anyway?  Mostly because I am tired of writing my email address and website on little scraps of paper for people.  It’s just a little cheesy.

Besides, someday I might have a business.

This is the caricature I have on my cards.  It seemed less pretentious than a photo.  Okay, so my husband came up with the idea and I stole it.


We’re Going to Japan

The email came today confirming our flight information to Japan.  Yes, we will be attending the race in Japan courtesy of Chip Ganassi.

The day before the race in Toronto (July 17th) my husband sat down at a table in the team hospitality unit with Chip and a woman he had never met before.  Chip’s introduction went something like this:  “Tim, you know Molly right?  No?  This is Joe’s wife Molly.  (Tim didn’t know Joe either) Molly, this is Tim.  Tim and his wife are going to all the races this year.”  My husband said something about it being all the races except for Japan.  Then Chip said “You’re going to Japan.  I’m sending you to Japan.”  This pretty much stunned Tim and it was still sinking in when I joined the table ten minutes later and the whole story was repeated.  Then it was my turn to be stunned.

This is classic Chip.  No concern about any details, just “you’re going to Japan.”  So he asked me for my contact information for Fender (in my dazed and confused state, it took me a minute to realize he meant Allen Fender, the team’s travel agent and not Fender guitar).  And he promptly sent a message passing along my email address and telling Allen Fender that we would be traveling with the team to Japan.

Just like that.

Of course a number of emails have transpired between myself and Allen and I needed to overnight our passports to him and rebook our trip to Phoenix that had been planned for the same week.  But relatively speaking, just like that.

So in a little more than two weeks, we will be traveling to Japan with the rest of the team.  This really makes us part of the racing family.  And that’s pretty dam cool.

Chicago (Aug 28)

Sometimes Christmas comes a little early.

Words are inadequate to describe the emotional roller coaster ride that was the Chicagoland race.  The race set a new IRL record for number of lead changes.  Our cars would be running in the top five and then a few laps later be in 12th or 14th place.  By the middle of the race I was convinced that we would leave with an even bigger points deficit than we had coming in.  The last pit stop came with 26 laps remaining.  Dario came in seven positions behind Will Power and left with the lead.  Picking up one or two positions on a pit is difficult, we were stunned when Dario improved by eight.  We later found out that the team had made the call not to change his tires, allowing him to complete the stop considerably faster than anyone else.  It was an incredibly gutsy move, since he would be racing against a field with fresh tires.

For 23 laps following the race re-start, Dario narrowly managed to hold on to the lead.  At the end of the race, the top 10 cars were separated by less than one second.  Dan Wheldon battled with Will Power for second place until only 10 laps remained.  Suddenly, Will started falling back in the field and dropped down to the pit lane entrance.  We went crazy.  Apparently he had a problem on the last pit that prevented him from getting enough fuel to last until the end of the race.  His late stop dropped him back to 14th.  This, in addition to Dario’s win, tightened up his points lead to 23.  This is exactly where Dario would have been if he had won in Iowa.  Sometimes the racing gods balance the scale.

Three races remain.

This never gets old.