Wednesday, April 03, 2002

CATCHING UP. Sorry, but this might take a while.

Saturday, March 23, to Tuesday, March 26
A business-and-pleasure trip to Michigan, where I spent my first 17 years (I've probably mentioned my birthplace, Pottsville, Pa., here, but we left Pennsylvania before my first birthday). Don, a friend and former colleague who now works at the Kalamazoo Gazette, invited me to talk to the staff there about copy editing. So I arranged to fly to Detroit first so I could spend Saturday with Paul, a friend who I met in junior high school.

Paul lives in Ann Arbor, so I didn't get to do the suburban-Detroit nostalgia thing — but I did get to go to Ann Arbor, which is a good thing. I make fun of Michiganders for their aversion to city life. Say the words "downtown Detroit" to a white person in Madison Heights or Warren or Troy and he'll shudder. But there's a pretty good reason for that mind-set. Detroit remains scarred from the riots of the late 1960s. It's a huge city, geographically, and there was only so much "renaissance" to go around. And while Detroit was once a thriving urban center, it was never the kind of place that today's "new urbanists" remember so fondly. The blocks were built for cars, not pedestrians (remember, it is Motor City), and that makes a big difference. On foot, homesteaders can reclaim an area block by block. Forced to travel by car, they are likely to feel as though their historic house or beautiful loft apartment is a fortress.

But there are some great downtowns near Detroit. Royal Oak, a suburb near the suburb where I grew up, has one. And Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, has another.

I flex my meager public-speaking muscles once or twice a year, mainly at the annual conference of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), but I still dread public speaking and I still suck at it. It's not so much the stage fright (though there is that). I just have no presence. I don't speak much even privately, so my already reedy little voice has to go into overdrive to "project." Not that I'm not one of those people who speak too softly in such a position; no, that would be stupid.

Oh, the presentations usually go just fine, with one notable exception. Kalamazoo was fine; ACES in Dallas was fine — almost good, even; ACES in Long Beach was borderline. ACES in Baltimore? My apologies if you were there.

The Kalamazoo talk went just fine, aside from a photocopying glitch that left me with the wrong props. (As if I needed another reason to never, ever let someone else do something I could do myself.) Good questions go a long way.

The trip home was, well, a trip. I got up at 4 a.m. to make my 6 a.m. flight and return my rental car. Returning the car meant simply leaving it, as Avis doesn't get up that early in Kalamazoo. Then Delta Connection/Comair canceled my flight, which meant that instead of spending a few hours on a layover in Cincinnati, where I could have at least hunted down a "four-way" bowl of chili, I got to spend a few hours in Kalamazoo, where I was treated to a campaign rally by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). I didn't have the heart to tell Mr. Upton that people in airports don't tend to be local constituents.

Delta arranged to put me on American Airlines to Chicago and then United from Chicago to Washington. The connection was too tight to allow me to check my bag, I was told, so it was carry-on all the way. Carry-on on a commuter airline is quite sweet: They take the bag and put it in the hold when you get on, then give it back to you when you get off. Very nice.

In Chicago, the carry-on situation wasn't so convenient. The monitor said my flight to Washington was already boarding when I got off the flight from Kalamazoo, so I hurried over to the new gate, where I was the last person to board. That didn't stop everyone in a half-mile radius from checking my driver's license, and then I got the full search. The searchers gave me the "Haven't you been reading the papers?" stare when they found my nail clippers, and I don't blame them. I just kept repeating robotically, "I tried to check my bag, but they wouldn't let me." At least I got to keep my shoes on; they just had me lift my feet so they could pass the wand underneath. (Speaking of not wearing shoes, on a day when snow delayed flights into and out of Chicago, a sizable proportion of the female crowd at O'Hare was wearing sandals. I have a hard time considering that a valid fashion statement even in hot weather, but has this desire to display our ugliest body parts gotten so out of hand that we're willing to risk frostbite for it? And given the close quarters of modern air travel, I think the mandate to keep one's tootsies to oneself goes double for those boarding flights.)

I'm starting to like United Airlines, though. Half-empty plane, exit row and the extra legroom of "Economy Plus" seating!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com