A wedding out west

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  1. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    This report begins at the Sheraton Crystal City, where
    I occasionally try to find a cheap room the night before a
    very early flight (moderately early ones get a different,
    nicer, often cheaper hotel, probably the Hilton Mark
    Center). I checked in around 4 with the pleasant desk
    staff, one of whom at least pretended to remember me. I
    slung my bag into the 14th-floor room and headed to the
    club lounge, which was accessible and had two staffers
    but was devoid of snacks and drinks except for a couple
    Coke products, so I went back to the room to surf a bit
    and returned around 6 to find chicken wings, soggy but
    flavorsome, and eggrolls, soggy and of below-average
    tastiness, followed by a quite respectable chocolate
    whipped-topping cake. Beck's was listed at $4 but appeared
    on my bill next day with 9% tax added.

    My friend Susie was as usual working late and joined me at
    8 at Harar Mesob on "Restaurant Row" - a block-long section
    of 23rd St. She is close to vegetarianism, and I am into raw
    meat, so Ethiopian sounded good.

    It's a smallish room with a combination of western and
    Ethiopian-style seating and a bar area (important for the
    survival of restaurants around here) at the far end. I'd
    guess that it seated 50 or so. I think there were nativish
    decorations, but it was kind of dark, so I couldn't really
    see them. Piped-in music ranged from presumably African to
    international pop to Beethoven, in a loop that became
    familiar as the evening went on.

    The service was pleasant but way too leisurely.

    Ethiopian food seems to consist of raw lamb or beef, pulses
    of various kinds, and cruciferous greens, all in red-tinged
    spicy preparations of various kinds, served on a tablecloth
    of spongy steamed leavened bread called injera, which here
    is said to be made out of half teff (the authentic grain)
    and half millet (a related grain, said to hold the water
    better); it had that typical pleasantly sour but to me less
    pleasantly brown cereally taste. What is most notable,
    though, is that it was served cold. In fact the whole
    restaurant was kind of cold, come to think of it, and the
    dishes, of varying temperatures when they arrived, but
    never hot, got cold quickly.

    I like kitfo and gored gored, buttered spiced raw beef, the
    former minced, the latter cubed. As the menu promised tender
    prime beef, I went with gored gored, which turned out to be
    almost unchewable probably not very prime round in a sauce
    that had a spicing scheme, involving citrus, that I was
    unfamiliar with and didn't really care for. It was sadly a
    huge serving, over 12 oz, or enough to feed an Ethiopian
    village, and I left much of it. Susie got the vegetarian
    combination, which was served with mine on the same injera
    plate; good thing she doesn't object to carnivores, or, for
    that matter, animal protein.

    A red lentil dish was nicely spiced, rather like a veggie
    chili; its yellow lentil counterpart was pleasant but a
    bit bland, sort of like split pea soup of course minus the
    ham. Stewed cabbage and sauteed collards were ordinary
    preparations. A tomato salad had diced jalapenos and onions;
    I'd have liked more of this and would have asked for some
    but for the fact there was too much food for two Americans
    or half a dozen people elsewhere. There was a ladleful of
    some red substance that might have been any legume cooked
    down to a puree with tomatoes; this had a musty taste that
    took some getting used to but ended up becoming really good.
    A kind of crumbly white cheese rounded out the meal.

    Given I'd had a beer or two, I was too full and logy for
    dessert or anything else. I saw Susie off to the last train,
    returned to the hotel, and collapsed into bed.

    A strong menthol-eucalyptus scent next to me wakened me
    around 3. As I'd not entertained a guest of any kind, and
    as I haven't used Vick's in a year, this was a bit of a
    suspicious circumstance. I sniffed around, and parts of
    3 of the 4 pillows had the odor, as well as the lower
    half of the sheets.

    This was an unpleasant development. I leapt out of bed
    and immediately took a long hot shower, scraping and
    scrubbing every square inch of me; then around 3:30
    went down and checked out. Ah, I was only going to get
    a couple more hours of sleep anyhow. The desk clerks were
    polite and seemed to make an effort to make me feel better.
    My complaint netted me enough points for 1/2 a night stay in
    the future; I figure I'll use them for a full night's stay
    at an honest category 2 sometime.
     
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  2. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    [Further communication with the manager yielded such terms
    as "one of our best housekeepers" and similar nonsense. I
    figure I might go back there someday if someone else pays.]

    It was early still, and the shuttle wasn't running yet, so
    I walked to the airport, about a mile in the dark.

    CO4117 DCA CLE 0625 0741 ERJ 12A

    This was flown by a windup toy plane: perfect for this
    length of route, but I still marvel at the marketing genius
    that allows for these unprepossessing aircraft to service
    the flagship airport for the capital city of the free world.
    You'd think that Congress would do something to change all
    that - certainly after being wedged for hours in such little
    space, a government fat cat would be feeling the pain enough
    to want to change the situation. I shouldn't much complain,
    though, as as usual I was asleep for most of the flight.

    Walker's shortbread and OJ at the club in Cleveland. And,
    yeah! they are now stocking bananas at breakfasttime.

    A short stroll through a construction area to the unpleasant
    low-ceilinged, dimly lit gate area, which I reached right at
    the end of boarding.

    CO1101 CLE SFO 0845 1058 753 3B

    I find the CO seating really uncomfortable. The full upright
    position feels really wrong, and the reclined position feels
    somewhat wrong. The upholstery is no prize. Old-style over-
    aisle entertainment, no electric outlets.

    Our crew appeared distinctly Texas, my own attendant being
    a blonde country girl somewhat younger than myself.

    A request for Courvoisier neat got the response, "that's
    Cognac, right?" [nod] "Good, because that's easier to
    spell." I didn't peek to see how she spelled Cognac.

    Presently she came back with a water tumbler full of the
    stuff. "Do you know what you just did?," said I. "You asked
    for a glass of Cognac with no ice." "Did you have to open
    four of those little bottles for me?," said I. "Yep. I'll
    see if there's more in the back." "I'm not sure I'll need
    any more." She winked and answered, "We'll see how you do."

    The meal was of mixed quality.

    A fruit appetizer: edible melon and pineapple topped with a
    slice of mango that had been cut fresh last month sometime.
    Siding this was a soup bowl full of pink berry yogurt (I try
    to avoid yogurt, but this was certainly more than any
    normal person would eat).

    The hot plate had extraordinarily salty but not country ham
    next to a saltfree tastefree sausage patty: the memo must
    have gone out to boil the ham, but they boiled the sausage
    instead. A mushroom cheese omelet was very mushroomy-tasting
    despite containing but two small slices of mushroom; cheese
    (thank the heavens) was missing. A substantial serving of
    broccoli in a squishy tasteless substance rounded out the
    meal. Someone came by with a choice of homestyle biscuit or
    cinnamon roll; the latter was, shall we say, no Cinnabon.
    On biting into it, a squoozle of stroozle (one daren't call
    it by the official name) squirted out; an exploratory taste
    showed no flavor and no merit - the sweet and bland
    counterpart of the salty and bland broccoli substrate. All
    in all, a sugary doughy experience that called out for yet
    another Courvoisier.

    Some substantial bumps probably caused by headwinds: there
    had been an announcement that we'd be landing around 10:40,
    but in fact we landed shortly after 11. I hate it when they
    give us these optimistic estimates that unduly raise our
    expectations and then dash them. Texted my buddy to fetch
    me. Shortly after I got to the curb Sheri roared up in her
    snazzy black vehicle, and off we went to the Elisa & Fish
    extravaganza. It took less time than the mapping programs
    say, and we were early so got to take a peek at the house,
    which though one of those faceless things on the outside
    was very nice, and good for them.
     
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  3. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    It was a rather untraditional ceremony, MCed by a tall
    young recent theology grad dressed up sort of like the
    Cat in the Hat. Untraditional? It was more like open
    mike night. Everyone seemed to love it, even the bride's
    very traditional Japanese family, including some who had
    flown across the big water for the occasion.

    The reception was held in the same spot. Pretty fancy
    passed hors d'oeuvres, good booze, a load of laughs,
    partially fueled by incredulousness at the variety of
    variety under this roof this day.

    House wines included the not too sweet and fairly pleasant
    Ghost Pines Merlot 09 (half Napa, half Sonoma) and a Navarro
    Pinot Noir 05 (Mendocino) that was okay but for being
    really, really oaky. The spirits were of a high order, so I
    stuck to Maker's mostly, though there was a kickass rum,
    whose name I've forgotten, and a bottle of Johnny Blue.

    Sheri and I stayed for most of the festivities, but when I
    looked as though I was about to jet lag out, she bundled me
    back into the car and dropped me off at the hotel, where a
    good long coma was in order.

    The family hotel, the airport Westin, had looked nice, but I
    saved myself $40 by staying at the Hampton a couple blocks
    away. It was perfectly decent but not the Westin. The bed
    was fine, which was just about all I needed.
     
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  4. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The alarm was functional, so I went down and checked out
    breakfast: smoked sausage of the Hillshire variety;
    scrambled eggs probably from powder, but not bad for that,
    with ham and cheese; and salty squishy lurid orange home
    fries. For a special treat, airline fruit cup: pretty good
    orange segments, slightly over the hill pineapple, and
    orange and green melonlike substances of great crunchiness
    and little flavor. Correction: coach class fruit cup.

    I walked down to the Westin to get a ride with the groom's
    brother and folks-in-law; better than public trans, which
    I'd originally planned on and would have taken another hour.

    In what seemed like no time flat, we were at the Beach Chalet -
    even with a wrong turn we beat the Mapquest and the MSST time
    estimates; as we were among the first, and everyone who was
    there that early was family, I got to sit at the head table.

    Gradually the tables filled up - the Japanese relatives at
    the far table in the sunshine (I'm not sure if this was good
    or not), the nonrelative friends at the middle one.

    The Chalet is a working testimonial to the social welfare
    philosophy of the Roosevelt administration: a pleasure
    palace for the multitudes built by the best out-of-work
    1930s craftsmen federal money could buy. Sculptors, masons,
    murallists, all in concert creating a work for all to
    enjoy. At a price, of course - the restaurant that now
    occupies the second floor, commanding wonderful views out
    over the Pacific, is nowhere near cheap. Some interesting
    stuff, though when I'd been here before it was the single
    malt listing (some rare ones at relatively merciful prices)
    that captured my attention. Today, we had our own little
    commemorative dejeuner fixe menu - composed of stuff that
    could be made ahead or quickly, suitable for serving a
    ravenous horde of 30 at prime brunch hour.

    We started off with a fruit plate that reminded me of
    the airline appetizer, only more so. The fruit looked
    unripe and hard but was in fact delicious - I don't know
    how they did that, whereas in the normal marketplace the
    aim is the opposite. Following this, a choice of a burger,
    Dungeness crab benedict, fish and chips, or something else
    I forget. The burger looked big and good. The fish and
    chips, done in a puffy beer batter, was a sizable serving
    of pretty fresh pacific cod with nicely done fries. I of
    course went with the crab thing, which would have been
    okay but for them paying mere lip service to crabbiness
    with a few shreds of undistinguished seafood filaments
    hidden by the eggs, which in my case looked like large
    rubber erasers but in fact were nicely cooked.

    The house signature chocolate castle is less enthralling
    in person than it is on the menu: it's a slice of quite
    ordinary, dryish though pleasant cake that had been stood
    up on its end flanked by a pair of brown cookies cut in the
    shape of turrets. There was a cheesecake option as well
    that looked pretty good.

    After a long linger and the obligatory photos the party
    broke up, planning to reconvene in the evening.

    I didn't have anyplace to go so went back to the house and
    socialized with family and helped prepare for the afterparty
    - I'd sort of wanted to cook, but as that had all been taken
    care of by the bride well in advance (with detailed
    reheating instructions that I left others to expertly
    misinterpret) ended up broomsweeping three floors, something
    I haven't done in decades.

    Interstitial snacks included tuna and salmon tartare,
    sausage and mushroom gow gees, and various kinds of nuts.

    The party had various phases. The 4-6 early birds with early
    flights, a fairly staid lot; the until 10 crew, performing
    major feats of eating and drinking; and the 10 to close,
    adults only, doing what adults do. I managed to stick around
    until somewhat after midnight, helped by a good tot of
    Johnnie Blue (it's not my favorite, but seldom does one get
    to drink all one can of it) followed by a long communing
    with my friend Mark (Maker's, that is). Many of the guests
    seemed overawed by Johnnie, which is in fact very smooth,
    though also very sweet and wimpy. There are acquaintances
    of mine who fit that description.

    I left as the party was getting into gear; Fish's former
    colleague George drove me to the airport, where I snoozed
    briefly and played on the Internet for a while before
    passing security in a jiffy and getting on my plane well
    into boarding.
     
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  5. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    UA 552 SFO DEN 0545 0917 763 1H

    Where I found some guy comfortably ensconced in my seat. I
    opened the front bin only to find it jampacked with the
    guy's stuff. I went to look at the next bin, to be met with
    a steward's bitchily intoned statement "if the bin is
    closed, it's full." I handed my bag to the offending party
    and asked (I thought fairly nicely) if he could take care
    of it for me. He sort of spluttered and pointed to an open
    bin on the other aisle about at row 4. Then back to see
    what was what with my seat. I just decided to cave and take
    1J, which seemed fine until the real 1J showed up, and the
    guy said "shall we do this the easy way or the hard way,"
    gesturing at his real seat, 2H. I opted for the hard way.
    He seemed fairly gracious - as well he ought to have been
    - about losing his apparently favored seat; he kept his
    belongings where they were, though. Funny thing: a rather
    less bitchy FA managed to find space in the overhead for
    the real 1J's belongings.

    The bitchy one, having got it into his thick noggin that I
    was in fact the aggrieved party, was grumpily solicitous
    through the flight, what I was awake for, anyhow.

    It was a fairly bumpy ride, especially going over the
    Rockies on our descent, and breakfast was really horrid;
    not the flight to beat all flights.

    The fruit appetizer consisted of unripe pineapple, honeydew
    that was so green it could hardly be bitten into, and half a
    dozen decent red grapes. An omelet, much less soft and fat
    than the normal (often rather good) United omelets and a bit
    hard around the edges, was loaded with rather bad-tasting
    cheese. The usual sausage and ham that were both strongly
    salted and otherwise tastefree; of these I took just a few
    nibbles.

    I probably should have had a bunch of Courvoisier (it's my
    role in life to make sure that United doesn't stop offering
    Courvoisier, but I didn't need any in order to catch a few
    more Zs, powered by last night's boozy excesses (I didn't
    participate in any other kind).

    UA 484 DEN DCA 1051 1600 752 2B

    A little ramekin of warmish cashews, followed by hot towel
    service.

    Our lunch choice was a Black Forest ham sandwich or teriyaki
    chicken salad, sided with a "spring asparagus soup," the
    irony of which name was apparently lost on the FA taking our
    orders, who intoned these words seriously and without
    cracking even the tiniest smile. I told her that I'd take
    whatever came for the main course; as it has been
    represented to me that I need to watch my sodium, I was
    marginally gratified that there was a salad left at the
    end: a sizable brined breast, fairly tender, counteracted by
    mandarin oranges, shredded romaine, soybeans, canned olives,
    red bell peppers, pea pods, and almonds (this being sort of
    the standard mix that can go either teriyaki or southwest,
    depending on what's on this year - the oranges, soybeans,
    pea pods, and almonds alternating with corn, black beans,
    and cheese).

    The red wine was tolerable for a change, Courvoisier better
    especially with the white chocolate cranberry cookie that
    has replaced the much preferable chocolate chip on many
    flights.

    We landed on time and as usual did the gate wait thing.

    -eot-
     
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