27 and Airborne

So I decided to spend my 27th birthday in St. Louis, at a users' group conference for UW's fundraising software. It seemed like the only appealing choice at the time. After sixteen hours on airplanes in three days, I can't help but wonder if I made the wrong choice.

It started at 4:00 on Wednesday morning, when my alarm went off in the total darkness of my bedroom. I must have fallen asleep in the shower, since I hadn't eaten breakfast or changed out of my slippers when Jane called from my driveway at 4:40. Matthew was kind enough to drop Jane and me off at PWI, where we waited in our first airport line of the week, ditched our liquids over 3.4 ounces, and took off for Detroit, our first layover.

By 8:00, we were hovering over Detroit, in good shape to make our connection to St. Louis. I suppose I should have chosen a layover in Atlanta or Houston, somewhere mired under less fog and ice than Detroit. After suggesting that we may divert to Saginaw or Traverse City, our pilot graciously rerouted us to Pittsburgh, the nearest airport with sufficient visability to land.

After an hour on the tarmac, we were assured that there would be a client service representative waiting on the runway to help us all with out connections. There were, in fact, two. And hundreds of people waiting to be helped. By 1:10, after two hours in line, we were told that another flight to Detroit had opened up, and that we could be on it if we hurried. We did, and by 3:20, we were at the Detroit airport, where we each ran an escalator-aided four-minute mile, reaching terminal A in time to catch a 3:30 to St. Louis, where we would arrive just after the conference ended for the day. My suitcase, however, was not so lucky.

A dozen wings at the hotel bar at 6:30 were the first meal Jane and I ate, 14 hours into our trip. Best wings ever. We met up with Andy, ate dinner at a Thai place on Washington Ave, and called it an early night. Between inquiries to the concierge and Northwest Airlines (which they do abbreviate NWA, in case you were wondering) as to the whereabouts of my bag, I called my dad to wish him a happy birthday and let Jill know I'd made it safely to my king bed, where I would wake up at 6:30, refreshed and 27.

After a day of seminars, networking, and the arrival of my luggage, I spent the afternoon taking in the Gateway City. The new Busch Stadium's entire field is visible from the street, and the Arch is every bit as archy as advertised. I contemplated the scenic tour to the top, but it would have made me late for dinner with Mike and Jenn. The newlyweds picked me up at the hotel and took me to the Schlafly Brewery, a perfect spot for microbrews, bar food, and rehashing thirteen years of suburban complacency and everything we've learned about the real world since. Later on, Jane and Andy met me in the hotel bar with a piece of cake and a candle, and each bought me a birthday scotch. I responded to several phone calls and text messages (thanks to all who remembered) and went to bed.

On Friday, I caught breakfast and one last best practices seminar before another jaunt into St. Louis. The municipal section of town is flush with statues of anonymous St. Lunatics, all pointing the way to the city's most unexpected attraction, the Bowling/St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. I stopped by with about an hour to burn and spent 45 minutes in awe of Cool Papa Bell, Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, and the appallingly mediocre 2006 team that won 82 games and one World Series. I took a quick jog through the history of bowling and decided it would be foolish not to cash in my four free frames. After three straight spares, I slapped down a dollar and finished the game, speeding my way to a 111.

I raced back to the hotel to check out and grabbed lunch with Jane and Andy. After lunch, we learned that flights out of Newark, the site of our return connection, were severely backed up, so much so that we wouldn't be able to take our scheduled flight and get back to Portland that night. Jane worked her magic on the phone, put NWA in its place, and got us confirmed on an earlier flight, so we hopped in a cab, crossed our fingers, and flew to Newark, where we would spend four hours looking for a serviceable restaurant (no dice) and chatting at the Sam Adams Brew House before boarding our final flight. Already two hours late, we were informed by the pilot that we were thirty-fifth in line on the runway. Seventy minutes later, we were in the air, jammed into seats built for one-armed dwarves for the last time all weekend. I was thrilled to see Jill waiting just outside when we landed just before midnight.

By week's end, I'd spent enough time on planes to take me to Eastern Europe or South America and back, all for four donor choice seminars and a dozen delicious chicken wings. Happy birthday to me.


"Was it a black guy? That's George!"

Valentine's Day happenings in the O'Connor household:

Jill wakes up at 5:30, learns that the Portland Public Library has canceled their tax assistance program due to inclement weather, and promptly cancels the CA$H program for the day. Minutes later, she turns my alarm clock off, silently telling me that the UW offices are closed for the day. Not half bad.

I get out of bed around 10:30 to tend to a few payroll-related items and make breakfast (egg sandwiches for me and a half grapefruit for Jill). Jill stays in bed until I drag her out sometime after 11:30.

When UW payroll is taken care of, we watch the rest of "The Shining," during which I'd fallen asleep last night. Stanley Kubrick's take on Stephen King's horror, which I'd improbably never seen in full. A solid A-.

Just before 1, I decide to shovel the walkway and sidewalk, just to be sure the mailman can bring us a day's supply of Netflix. Sure enough, "The Departed" is here, a day after it's debut on DVD. Is there anything Netflix can't do?

Lunch is leftover taco pie from the previous night. A delicious 'tween-movie snack. And to answer the question I'd asked 2 1/2 hours earlier, Netflix can't make a decent flick out of "The Departed," a gratuitously violent stroking of Martin Scorsese's ego, with utter disrespect to human life and thought, the passing of time, and the Boston accent.

After way too much bloody tripe, we take a break at the Great Lost Bear, downing a tower of Harpoon Hibernian (or was it "Valentine Red Ale?"), some Irish nachos, and a game of "who would play each member of our respective families in a film?", all of which would have been free if Jill hadn't tracked down our reclusive waitress on our way out of the building.

Once outside, we ran into a flustered gentlemen, who asked us if we lived nearby, and when we said yes, assumed that we could drive him home. Our driveway still lost under most of a foot of snow, we couldn't, so we walked on, only to find his Grand Am stuck in a very manageable amount of snow on the corner of Ashmont and Forest. Our senses of philanthropy heightened by a few Valentine Reds, I kicked the snow out from around his tires and we went back to the Bear to find him. We asked the happy host, who said he hadn't seen anybody, until something clicked in his brain:

"Was it a black guy?


"That's George!"

Why didn't we mention that it was Maine's African American whose car we wanted to rescue? George was summoned from the Black VIP section and told us that his car wasn't stuck, but that he'd locked his keys in his car. Enough said. We went home, satisfied with our meager attempt at philanthropy and ready to chow down on a delicious crockpot-cooked pork and watch "Flashdance". Hey, it can't be worse than "The Departed".


The Long Red Carpet

Imagine it's Oscar night. There's a particular buzz in the air, not unlike the usual Oscar buzz, but a little more palpable, a little more grand. The type of buzz that comes from a Best Actor lineup like this:

Brando. Deniro. Nicholson. Pacino.

Can't think of a year when all four of the greatest actors of the last half-century made a film, let alone an Oscar-worthy performance? If you said no, you're probably right, but this isn't your typical Oscar night.

Imagine Julianne Moore, nominated for Best Actress, trying to scribble an adequate acceptance speech in case she beats out Meryl Streep, Sissy Spacek, and Maria Falconetti, a woman who died before every speaking a word on camera (or drawing a negative review).

Imagine Almodovar and Jeunet hobnobbing with Fellini and Antonioni, all nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Then there's Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen, masters of their craft today, wondering if they have the funny to compete with W.C. Fields and Peter Sellers.

Christopher Walken is present, cracking jokes at a round table with Anthony Hopkins and James Caan. Francis Ford Coppola is beaming, having directed the only movie with to garner two nominations. Sellers and Brando are the other double nominees, each honored as an actor and for a character he portrayed.

This is the latest project in the QHS 200 series. Rather than a small group of us ranking our 100 favorite movies and creating one master list, we went a more democratic route. The original voters spent a few months nominating films from any time and place in each of eight categories, and this weekend, we open up the voting (a four-month process itself) to the public. In June, we'll unveil the winners in each of these categories:

Best Performance (Male)
Best Performance (Female)
Best Comedic Performance
Best Fictional Character
Best Death Scene
Best Nude Scene
Best Use of Music in a Film
Best Foreign Language Film

If you're interested in a full ballot, email me and start filling up your Netflix queue. All I ask is that if you want to vote in a category, you watch all four films nominated in that category. The voting deadline is June 6.

Let the games begin.