Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Planning Paris -- the Logistics update

For this installment of “The Battis Girls Take on Paris”, I’ll just update you on what we’ve been doing to get ready.

I have officially launched the countdown clock in my head. Dear Sister doesn’t like me to announce the countdown regularly because that puts here X number of days closer to a plane. She is of the ilk that it’s better to just be beamed up to the location, which I think is what she pretends to do in flight, since she seems hardly bothered by actually flying. But DS, don’t read this, there are 70 days until departure. I need this mental countdown to get me through the mundane and minutiae parts of life.

So, independent of me, DS has been collecting things she wants to do and see in a Word document. She has Word documents for many destinations world-wide, and I take my hat off to her for organizing her wish lists like this ahead of ever actually planning to travel to these places. DS is now taking her Paris and Vienna Word documents and plotting the sights listed in them on a map. She is intending to conquer sights in logical order, based on geographical location, which in Paris is fairly easy to do. I think she is also prioritizing things since we know that we won’t get to everything on the list (but will damn well try!)

I have only three must-see destinations for this trip, the Louvre (to see the Vermeers with my sister), the L’Orangerie museum in Paris and the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna. The Orangerie was closed for renovations the first four times I traveled to Paris and reopened the week after my fifth trip to Paris. I missed it bythismuch. The Kusthistorisches I have visited before, but in 2003, its Vermeer was on loan to Tokyo, and that is our sole reason to visit Vienna. We have written the museum and confirmed that it will be on view in April (or else we’ll be knocking into the woman who confirmed its availability!)

I think we have decided that for the purposes of the Paris museum pass, we will be buying the 6 day pass (60 euro) and use it from the Thursday we arrive through the Monday before we depart for Vienna. I think we can easily see the museums we want to see in that amount of time, and easily recoup our money on the pass before we head to Vienna. That will leave one full day and one half day in Paris when we return from Vienna to do things not on the pass, such as Montmartre, Eiffel Tower (we will be staying in that neighborhood then anyway), Musee Marmottan, shopping, etc.

The last logistical bit is to book airport shuttles. Taxis in Paris can be expensive, but I figured our arrival and departure times were well outside of rush hour, so we’d be fine. But today I read that taxi drivers are threatening to strike intermittently for the next few months, so I am going to book shuttles just to have them handy. It’s a flat rate, but oftentimes you have to wait a bit before they pick you up at the airport, and you have to share the ride with other travelers (again, may not be a problem given our time of day to travel). So that is on my agenda as well.

My other task is to pick restaurants all over the city that we could eat at when we are nearby. Since we’re in Vienna for literally 27 hours, I am not as concerned about where we eat, since in my mind, Figlmuller’s heavenly wienerschnitzel is all we’ll need. So I’m focusing on Paris and am devouring a book of restaurant reviews written for Parisians. I am bound and determined not to eat in the touristy, overpriced cafes and still to enjoy authentic Parisian cuisine. I am highlighting restaurants in every arrondissement just to have some ideas handy when we’re there. If anything outstanding pops up, I’ll have the hotels book ahead for us.

Overall, I think we are slowly getting ready. I am not doing much reading as I’ve been to both places before and am really looking forward to just revisiting Paris (one can never see too much Paris) and seeing it through the eyes of my DS.

Really, it shouldn’t be this difficult to vote

Time to vent...

Being a commuter to the Hub for as long as I have, I learned to work my life around things you just have to do at home. Like vote. So it is a joy that the polling places open at 7 a.m. and stay open until 8 p.m. so that people like me can wedge it into a day already full of 8 hours of work and 2 hours of commuting. You’d think that would be fairly straightforward, no?

Not in Beverly.

I opted to vote at 7 a.m. because I teach spinning at 7 p.m. and I didn’t want to run the risk of the commuter rail not delivering me back to Beverly in a timely fashion to get me to both a potentially crowded polling place and to my class. So I was there when the voting location opened. At 7:00 on the dot, I had 24 minutes to go in, vote, and drive 2 miles to the train to make a 7:24 train. Again, fairly straightforward, right?

I’m not sure how things work in other cities in other parts of the country, but in Beverly, the people running the polls are all retirees. Ordinarily I’d say they love what they do, it gets them out of the house for a while and they are efficient.

Not in Beverly. Not on Super Tuesday. Not yesterday.

I walk up to the “check in” table, and there are two workers sitting there, one with a book of registered voters, sorted alphabetically by street from A to some midpoint in the alphabet (let’s say J), and another worker with a similar book with streets starting with letters from K-Z.

An elderly woman is in front of me, checking in. She must have been Undeclared, and in the state of Massachusetts, for primary purposes, you have to declare for the day. No, check that, you have to declare for the approximately 15 seconds it’s going to take you to pick a ballot, walk to the booth, vote and walk out. Elderly Woman is baffled that she is Undeclared, and is being forced to pick. “What are my choices?” she asks.

I am starting to simmer. Are you kidding me? What are your choices? How the hell have you done this for the last, oh, SEVENTY YEARS?

So the polling folks walk her through the list of possible parties she can belong to for the next 15 seconds. I think to myself that this isn’t going to be engraved on her tombstone, just get her out the door. She finally screams “YES” to the polling person when they reach “Working Party” as a possible choice. I don’t know about you, but I follow politics and I don’t know the damndest thing about the Working Party, but all of a sudden, Mrs. “What Are My Choices” is now a member. Ok, then she picks up the “Pink Ballot” to vote Republican (probably because it was a nicer shade of pink than the Democratic baby blue, and there were, as you know, no Working Party ballots) and off she goes. Phew. It’s 7:06. I’m still good.

I’m up next. The female poll worker (with the A-J book) looked up at me and said “What street?” I said, “Summer” and she starts flipping through her book, looking for Summer. Then she starts lamenting that “we didn’t have time to put the tabs on yet...” referring to the tabs on the edge of the pages that could get you to a section of the book faster. Rather than going Then, right there, she starts putting the tabs on. As if that’s an ok thing to do with (now) three people standing to check in. I realize she is keeper of the A-J street book, so I step to the male poll worker and tell him my street: Summer (trying to hurry this along) and he says “That’s her...” pointing to the tab-less wonder I just purposely overlooked. I said “No, Summer is you, that’s an S.” I can understand that not using the alphabet every day, you might be tempted to forget what letter falls where in the overall alphabetical universe, so I am not surprised when he asks again, “Summer?” and I said “Yes....” And he said “What number?” and then I hear “Three” from behind me.

Three? And I turn and look and there is a guy who lives up the street from me. Now trying to push to the front of the line (of three). I politely say “NO, actually it’s EIGHT.” Poll guy scans down to number eight Summer and asks my name. I tell him and he says I’m not registered. I clearly see my name and point to it to expedite this already painful process (although for a moment I ponder the thought that I could come back later and just point to any name without a checkmark next to it and vote in their place, but I don't have time to linger and file that lack-of-ID-at-voting-places argument away for later). He asks me which way I’m going to go party-wise, I assert Democrat, he marks it, I take the blue ballot and move on. 7:12. There’s still time.

I get to the little voting nook and I savor the moment. I’ve been waiting to do this, so I take the time to scan the list, find my candidate and carefully fill in the circle to the right of his name. Then I see that there are four or five other positions on the ballot being voted for. I look at my watch, 7:14, no time...gotta run.

I turn and head toward what appears to me to be a check-out table. “Where’d you check in?” they ask and I point to Alphabetically Challenged and Tab-less back by the door. “You have to check out over there,” and they point to the other side of the room. Clearly. So here I go again, back to two more retirees with their tab-less books of streets sorted alphabetically, and I steel myself for more confusion. I walk up to the male who I see has the book for “L-Z” at the ready. I say “Summer Street” and he asks, “what number?” And I hear, again, “THREE” from behind me.

HELL? (ok, not really “hell” but this is a family-friendly blog)

And I turn and look at the neighbor who I barely know and I say “No, he’s asking ME, not YOU. I am just trying to get out of here to get on my damn train.” Apparently, I raised my voice because the female worker looks at me and says, “There’s no reason to panic...(long pause)...although the weather is quite bad and it’ll be a tough drive through all this traffic.”

Really, you think? Thanks for the enlightenment. Speechless, I look at my watch…7:16.

I turn back to poll guy and I have to point again at my name because it appears to him that I’m not registered (although I made it this far through the stringent check-in process already!) and then I stand there. There’s no tally box in sight and I’m holding my ballot.

“Where does this go?” I ask.

And both poll workers turn and point to a box that is easily, 50 paces from the check out. Is that safe? Is that logical? Whatever, time is a-wasting.

I run my ballot through the slot and check the counter. Just to make sure it registered. And the counter goes from 0002 to 0003. I look at my watch. 7:18 and I’m only the third person to make it through the Beverly Electoral Obstacle Course. That, my friends, is just ludicrous. But I am certain that with crowds it would have only gotten worse (although the tabs on the street listing books might have sped the process up a bit), so I am glad I had it done before the work day.

And I made my train. Just.

In retrospect, I really believe the Iraqis had it easier in their recent, first free elections. Walk in, vote, dip your thumb in indelible blue ink, move along. I’m sure they got in and out in under 18 minutes. No tabs and no alphabetical knowledge required.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Getting my groove back

In non-political news, it seems I'm finally finding my footing again in the world of spinning. It had been puzzling me for weeks because I felt as if I was in a funk following the loss of my hard drive and spinning music collection (rendering me temporarily unable to create new rides) and the Christmas/New Year's holidays (rendering me without my usually Mon/Tue night classes two weeks in a row). I spent that time taking classes elsewhere, reminding myself what it is like to be a student in a class and, quite frankly, trying to steal ideas I can bring back to my classes.

To no avail.

My first several classes back in the saddle were disappointing. For me. My classes didn't complain and they were all just in that New Year's "burning off the damage" mindset. Indeed, I had dozens of new students, who required various amounts of coddling and hand holding, as well as adjustments to my usual rides. Maybe that threw me off too.

But it continued. Was my confidence shaken from my performance review? Perhaps. I was more irritated than disappointed that it was obvious that my fitness director didn't know she was seeing a Madd Dogg ride as opposed to 80s high hair aerobics on a bike. The fact that I wasn't doing sprints (unsafe) or jumps (unsafe) or using faster music (on a slow hill climb?) really seemed to nag at her. But I couldn't convince myself that I still knew better. I'm a 4.0 student in every other aspect of life, this was really getting under my skin.

So, I did what any other desperate woman would do and I wrote to the woman who inspired me to do teach to begin with. I hadn't talked to her in a while and wasn't sure she'd remember me. When I told her what I was up against, she wrote me a lengthy missive back, and in short said "Stay true to yourself, you know the right thing, and if you give them that, they will will come." But also, she got me a gig subbing classes where she teaches now.

And so I have subbed there twice. Both times I subbed, I presented rides I had done before. Both times I knocked it out of the park. They were a phenomenal group to teach, which is just amazing to me given that I'd never met them before; usually it takes time to build a rapport to the point where it is emotionally inspiring. But I walked in confidently, presented my ride the best I knew how, and had them in the palm of my hand faster than you can say "that was your warmup".

And with those rides at a club that is totally unknown to me, I was reborn. I know I still have it and I can deliver it and I can have people leaving with that happy glow. For me, that's what it's all about, sharing with them what made me love this spinning thing to begin with.

One more before Tuesday

So, if you read nothing else this weekend, read this. It says everything that I wish I was talented and articulate enough to say about this Super Tuesday primary.

And if you do nothing else Tuesday, at least vote. Even if you don't vote my way, even if you have to navigate your way over, under and around a completely unnecessary Superbowl parade, get out there and celebrate one of the greatest rights we have in this nation.

Over and out.

For now.