If you're someone who reads a lot of my reports, you'll realize I am always trying to fulfill travel goals. Among the most important of these goals are seeing every state, visiting every continent and experiencing every Major League Baseball Park. While my brother James usually mocks every aspect of my travel, he is an even bigger baseball fan than me. Therefore when I proposed a trip to the West Coast for a game, he decided to come. Being in San Francisco would also provide me with a chance to visit my really good friend Josh. He and I get to see each other so rarely as he lives on the left coast. All in all we were both very excited.
FRIDAY JULY 30, 2004
American Flight 1
Scheduled Departure: 9:00 AM
Scheduled Board: 8:30 AM
I had been trying to see the new Los Angeles Admirals Club for a while now and finally the opportunity presented itself. However, James didn’t want to make anymore connections than necessary putting us at an impasse. Eventually we made a deal where I paid him $30 to make him go along with my plan. Our trip would begin in my aged Montero. We boarded it and headed with countless other suburbanites into New York City. Glancing at the people in the cars next to us, I couldn’t help but feel a little superior as they were off to the daily grind and I was off on vacation.
Soon enough we arrived at Kennedy Airport where I parked the car and we headed to the Terminal 9 Admirals Club. Check-in went smoothly and we dined on bagels while utilizing the free internet and free newspapers. The Terminal 9 Admirals Club is well appointed with a good amount of seating and TVs plus two computers. As it only serves Terminal 9 which has a few of the CA flights and the Eagle and DFW flights, it’s almost always about 30% of capacity. 15 minutes before departure, we headed through security and plumped ourselves at Gate 43 for the short wait before we were the first to board:
Seat 10J Business Class
Actual Board: 8:33 AM
Actual Depart: 8:58 AM – 2 Minutes Early
Take off 13 minutes after departure
I had been nice enough to use 60,000 of my miles to upgrade both us to Business Class for the entire trip as a graduation present to James. This was the best kind of present because its one that rewards the giver just as well as the receiver! During boarding I compared the various pros and cons of the American service on this flight to the United service while James did his best to tune me out. By the time the doors had shut, Business was full while the rest of the plane checked out at about 70% capacity. Between the doors being shut and our pushing back we received the usual choice of OJ, Water or Sparkling Wine. The service was correctly done from the back as this was an odd numbered flight. Our pushback was early, yet our taxi long as none of the JFK runways are situated near the American Terminal. Once off the ground I reclined my seat and watched as the gray overcast morning turned into brilliant sunshine and white puffy clouds. I felt all my problems that usually control my days remain on the ground as I began to enjoy my vacation.
The flight attendants (or stewardesses as my brother insists they’re called) seemed to sense I was trying to enjoy my vacation as they sprung into action early. As soon as the chime sounding 10,000 feet rang true throughout the entire aircraft, drinks were bestowed on us in the middle cabin. After we had adequate time to sip daintily and reflect on life, menus were handed out. Today’s choices were:
- Cheese Omelette
Fluffy Omelette filled with Asiago Cheese, accompanied by Hash Browns and Yucatán Turkey Sausage
- Smoked Salmon Plate
Smoked Salmon accompanied by Capers, Onions, sliced Cucumbers and Tomatoes, served with a warm Bagel and a spread of Cream Cheese and Chives.
- Cereal and Yogurt
I quickly eliminated choice number three as no man spends 60,000 miles to eat something cold. That didn’t make my decision any easier. Eventually I decided to take the Omelette as it was still breakfast hours for me and I’d probably get salmon on the way home. Today’s Flight Attendant correctly observed FEBO regulations meaning we were third and fourth to get our choices. When she asked what we wanted, I responded “we’ll both have the Omelette.” This prompted her to write something on her paper and then turn to James in the aisle seat and say “and for you sir?” James looked a little bewildered before recovering and saying “The Omelette too, please.” She then shuffled off to do 10G and I began to explain to James how smart I was for putting us in row 10 due to this being an odd numbered flight. I think he worships me now.
After a few minutes the ABD aisle received their linens followed by their appetizer trays. We received just our trays. For some reason the f/a’s on our side did not give us linens. The appetizer tray had a china plate with six pieces of mango and four strawberries on it. This was astatically pleasing as the colors meshed nicely; however mango tastes ok on the first bite and then gets progressively worse. This meant I managed to eat two slices to James’s zero. Offered with the fruit was either pound cake or cranberry apple bread. Although the bread was an interesting and somewhat tasty choice, I would have preferred a bagel. After a few minutes, the trays were removed. Unfortunately for James he chided by the flight attendant for not eating his mango (something I prompted her to do, leading to him hating me forever). However he cheered up as we soon received the entrees.
Remember, if someone tells you there are one billion stars in the sky, you believe them. But if they say “this plate is hot” you have to touch it because they may be lying. Sure enough I began eating my Omelette with a burned thumb. The situation rapidly improved as the breakfast was of a high quality with the Omelette oozing its pale yellow cheese as it was rapidly consumed by all who ordered it. The flight attendants were even nice enough to give me a leftover bagel to make a sandwich with. The meal disposed of, I settled down to a cup of coffee with Bailey’s followed by a nice siesta.
A half hour later, I rose to a darkened cabin filled with people working or enjoying a slumber as we headed westward. Among those out to the world was my brother. This left me for all intents and purposes, trapped in my seat. I didn’t see a problem as American’s Classic Rock Channel (33 1/3, channel 3) was excellent as was the American Way. Though I must say, I feel dumber everytime I travel as I am so hopelessly bad at the crossword puzzles.
We continued our westward trek as the ground which had previously been obscured by clouds came into view over the Plains States. After three hours aloft, James awoke and we began a dialogue over the music on the radio as we read our respective books. I took a moment to silently thank him for coming. Usually when I travel I’m alone with all but ten people who know where I am. On this trip even though we weren’t going to spend every minute speaking to each other I saw the improvement. Having someone WITH me instead of just next to me, meant a great deal.
About an hour outside of Los Angeles we were treated to a breathtaking view of The Grand Canyon basked in beautiful, unobstructed Summer Sunlight. At the same time they rolled out the “before landing snack” which is extremely ambiguous but whatever.
- Cheese Plate
A sampler of fine cheeses served with crackers
- Otis Spunkmeyer Cookies
Another tough choice for Kunz the Konnoisseur but this time it was made for me. The flight attendants handed everyone who asked for one a cheese and cracker plate followed by their choice of cookie. The cheese and cracker plate had a pack of Carrs Water Crackers, a bunch of red grapes and two kinds of cheese. I am not sure what either kind of cheese was, but I’m sure it was medium grade quality at best. Never-the-less the food was appreciated and the cookies downright delicious. This made the meal the perfect end to a perfect flight.
As I am the veteran of seven PHX-LAX flights on the year, I began to give James the running tour of our decent. I pointed out the airports, the landmarks and as soon as I knew what runway we’d be on, I told him what would be coming up. He confessed he’d never been as impressed by something as pathetic. That translates into “I love you” or so I hope. As I predicted, we landed right near the United terminal. As I used to use LAX as a jumping off point, I pointed out where the majority of flights were going. My good luck for the flight finally ran out when we stopped on the taxiway by T4. This turned into a solid half hour wait for a gate to open up. James informed me numerous times this was my fault. I was forced to agree.
Scheduled Arrival: 11:38 AM
Actual Arrival: 11:52 AM
American Flight 1936
Scheduled Board: 12:25 PM
Scheduled Depart: 12:55 PM
Finally we had reached our first waypoint, the crowded, air-conditioned, noisy rotunda of Terminal 4. As the two of us headed to the Admirals Club at the other end of the concourse, I was reminded of the famous scene in the movie Reservoir Dogs . In that scene, six killers in suits are walking down a road and we see their shadows as they walk in sync with each other. This was just like that except there were two of us, you couldn’t see our shadows and I was walking faster than James. But other than that, perfect match. After the short walk we arrived at our destination, the brand new Admirals Club by gate 40.
I had always purported the old club to be a fine institution of Domestic Loungeness but this new place was absolutely amazing. The first sight that greeted my eyes upon entering the club was a 767-300 literally less than 50 feet from me. My vantage point was on top of it. This meant I could see the entire way down the silver body. As I continued my walk around the club, I only liked it more. There were plenty of places to sit with all kinds of seating offered, lots of computers and a huge bar and some decent snack options as far as AC Snack Options go these days. The best part was the Qantas 747-400 flush against my face. I was on a direct line with the cockpit. My only complains were that I only found one bathroom and that after fifteen minutes we had to leave to scrounge food.
Pith helmets atop our domes we headed off to the Burger King by Gate 49 for sustenance. As an Arizona State Student, I used to eat Burger King three or four times a week as it was the cheapest option at the Student Union. I became used to the Chicken Sandwich Value Meal for the low low price of $3.99. Imagine my surprise when I found the same option for $7.69 at LAX! However I was able to console myself I was on vacation and thus allowed to spend what I wanted. Greasy food in hand, we headed back to await the boarding of our intra-Californian MD-80. Said MD-80 boarded slightly late due to late inbound arrival from San Fran.
Seat 4F First Class
Actual Board: 12:39 PM
Actual Depart: 1:11 PM – 16 Minutes Delayed
Take off 17 minutes after departure
Year to date I’ve flown 13 intra-California flights including four on this route alone. I knew this plane would be full when I made a reservation on it. Sure enough, people poured on from all walks of life and all origins. By the time the door shut every seat in First was filled up and 90% of those in coach went out occupied. Unfortunately late inbound arrival plus the large amount of connecting passengers equaled a long time to load all the bags. Meaning we were unable to get off fast to make up for the delayed boarding. While waiting I surveyed the cabin as I sipped the free Orange Juice. All of row 3 was an Australian family “on holiday” with their nanny in tow. They got into a fight with the f/a saying they’d been able to put their car seat for their infant into a closet on Qantas and the AA S80 should carry it too. He tried to explain to them that QF flew 744’s, slightly bigger than their current aircraft. For his troubles he got an exasperated sigh and a dismissal with a hand. The rest of the cabin was business men, fellow connecters from Qantas and a few non-revs.
To compound the delay we took off on the runway on the opposite side of the airport. While this provided a scenic view of all the TBIT and terminals 1 through 3 had to offer, it also meant a 15 minute taxi. However we did get an expedited departure and skipped the line of nine waiting aircraft to head to the skies. Once in the air the flight was just like any other non-meal flight. A drink in a real glass, a pack of pretzels and a pack of salted almonds were presented via tray to each F class passenger. In the Main Cabin it was the same except you got a plastic cup and no almonds. Later in the flight we were offered refills, something not offered in the Main Cabin.
However I did not come for the paltry snacks or cold soda, I was here for the brilliant view the DEF side of the aircraft offers. The flight starts by following the coastline about 20 miles off shore before crossing back onto land somewhere north of Santa Barbara. Once we began the decent, the city of San Jose, its airport and its suburbs are off the right side of the aircraft with the coast being on the left. Farther north the view becomes Moffit Field with its giant wind tunnels. Then the plane swings out over the south part of the Bay as the parade of bridges begins. The southern most Bay Crossing is the Dumbarton Bridge flanked by high-tension power lines and a railroad bridge. The next crossing is the San Mateo High Span which signals the airport hotels are off on the left the flight is less than a minute from touchdown. Less than a minute later we landed with a Northwest Airbus to our right. The outbound portion of the trip was done, now it was time for the baseball part.
Scheduled Arrival: 2:13 PM
Actual Arrival: 2:22 PM
-- July 30, 2004 – Millbrae, Burlingame, San Francisco, CA --
The two of us exited security and after some confusion managed to locate and board our shuttle bus. On the long drive over to the hotel (we had to stop at the Marriott first) many cracks were exchanged on the similarity of a prison bus to our bus. Our crash pad would be the SFO Airport Hyatt Regency, purchased on Priceline for only $37 by your humble narrator. We headed into registration where I was reminded I was in San Francisco when we were offered a king sized bed first, followed by two twins. The hotel was an average three star Inn with a decent amount of amenities offered. It was a very comfortable stay with the one exception of our room location. The hotel was in the shape of a diamond with our room being at the second corner from the elevator. We later determined we had the farthest possible walk.
After two hours rest and relaxation we began our pilgrimage to the game. My friend Josh had been a true gentleman and had looked up the best route to SBC (nee Pack Bell) Park. We began the trip by taking the Shuttle Bus back to SFO where we boarded the Airtrain to the BART Station. Once there we took the Bay Area Rapid Transit (or BART, see it’s a clever acronym) one stop to Millbrae. From there it was the CalTrain “Baby Bullet” Express Train to the last stop on the line. The whole jaunt only cost $9 round trip. Following the one hour journey, we joined the large group and moved in a great wave down the Embarcadero (great name if there ever was one) to the park.
SBC Park happens to be one of the better baseball parks I’ve ever been to. We enjoyed a game which contained Barry Bonds hitting a home run on the fly into McCovey Cove (his only hit of the three game series), injuries, and a six run inning for the St. Louis Cardinals with plenty of other baseball action. We endured temperatures in the low 50’s with the help of Garlic Fries and Choros and had an overall excellent time.
Getting home was more of an ordeal as we were forced against our will to play the waiting game. We sat waiting for the CalTrain to move for a half hour, we sat waiting for a BART to show up then sat waiting for it to move, we sat waiting for an AirTrain and finally we sat waiting for a shuttle bus. By the time we made it to the hotel we collapsed into slumber after a very successful day.
-- July 31, 2004 – Burlingame, San Carlos, San Francisco, CA --
Saturday dawned foggy and chilly but I was happy as I’d be seeing Josh today. Josh and I met back in 1995 at summer camp in Connecticut and were friends for a year before he moved to California. We lost touch until 2001 when the internet brought us together. Since then we have spent time at each others houses, an Admirals Club and a concert. This would be the third time we would see each other in the year of Our Lord 2004, a modern day record. He picked us up in his Jetta (which James is STILL complaining gave him Deep Vein Thrombosis). From the hotel we went to the San Carlos Airport to experience the Hiller Air Museum. Despite being presided over by an evil docent, this is a decent museum. They have a large scale model of the SST with full cockpit. The best part is they have the front part of the cabin of a 747-100 from door 1 forward. They restored the inside with old United Business Seats and even allow you to sit in the cockpit they kept in full working order.
From the museum we drove north to Daly City for James’s first In-N-Out Burger. Had it been any other fast food restaurant I would have left when I saw the line out the door, but for In-N-Out I’ll sell my own soul. After we had eaten a sufficient amount of meat (it is San Francisco after all) we fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine by driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. Josh had a problem with this but he’s a good man and gave in after my persistent whining. After our expedition to Marin County it was time to return to the Airport and then New York. Josh was even a good enough man to spend $3 to park his car to escort us to the ticket counter.
SATURDAY JULY 31, 2004
American Flight 20
Scheduled Departure: 3:30 PM
Scheduled Board: 4:00 PM
On that Saturday at 2:45 PM, some of the three biggest men to ever enter Terminal 3 at the San Francisco International Airport made their grand entry. James Kunz, a man who once ate seven popsicles in the span of two hours. Josh Cohn, a man who once averaged 37 miles per gallon between tanks of fuel. And Charles Kunz, who once walked five miles to an airport to save money on cab fare. Josh was a helpful addition to our traveling mistral show as he pointed out religious people begging for a handout and guided us past them to safety (The San Francisco Airport allows representatives of a certain church to ask for donations as long as they pay a vendor fee).
At the check-in desk after getting my boarding passes, I asked the woman if we’d be delayed due to the late inbound arrival from Kennedy. She looked at me and said “oh there’s no late inbound arrival, don’t you worry about anything.” I retorted that there indeed WAS an inbound arrival and the 762 was now scheduled in only 13 minutes before boarding. After she looked it up she seemed embarrassed and assured me we’d have an on time departure. As far as check in agents go she was one of the better ones. I practically asked her to be rude to me by contradicting her. Instead she was graceful. I appreciated this action and something James would have too if he wasn’t ignoring everyone connected with airplanes.
Unfortunately as we are in the era of attempted shoe bombings and no nail clippers, Josh had to quit the band at AA’s lone security check point. This is always the hardest part of the trip as we have the final handshake and final remark. Then he went one way and I went another, neither of us knowing when or where the next meeting will be. No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a trip to the Admirals Club so we made like tourists and headed on in. Almost immediately James ran off to the lone computer, I think he knew I’d start telling SFO stories as soon as we sat down. He’s getting too smart for his own good. After 20 minutes of making phone calls, we went down to the gate to see the mass of humanity streaming from the New York originating flight. We only had a short wait at the gate before we pushed through the Group 1s to board:
Seat 8B Business Class
Actual Board: 3:43 PM
Actual Depart: 4:06 PM – 6 Minutes Delayed
Take off 11 minutes after departure
People never notice the sacrifices I make for them. I gave up the window seat to James and all I received was a grunt. While I wallowed in my bitterness the plane filled up to just over half capacity. This included 8 seats empty in Business and lots more in First and Coach. Once again pre-departure drinks were all the rage as we were offered the usual choices while the baggage (both of human and leather origin) was loaded. Despite the promises of the check-in agent, we ended up being slightly delayed. Though our taxi out and take off were quick and we were headed east in no time.
This was the flight I had been looking forward the most out of the whole trip. After take off, Bill the very competent flight attendant in the ABD aisle served drinks and mixed nuts. I think I’ll take James on more flights with me as his hatred of nuts (both warm AND cold) means I get double the food! After the nuts began their digestion, we were brought the salad. Today’s salad was lettuce with a mozzarella salad (tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and onions) as well as smoked salmon with lemon. Once again my luck got better as James hates all things seafood and I was treated to a king’s feast thanks to him. Slightly later, as The Pretender’s “Time the Avenger” was playing, the Entrees were served. Today’s choices were definitely imposing as we were offered:
- Yankee Pot Roast
Flavorful and tender browned Beef, braised with Potatoes, sliced Carrots and Pearls Onions.
- Shrimp Ravioli
Ravioli filled with Rock Shrimp enhanced by a delicious Shrimp Sauce served with a duet of Tomato and Cilantro.
- Mojo Chicken Salad
Grilled Breast of Chicken presented over crisp Romaine Lettuce, offered with a Tomato, papaya and Hearts of Palm Salad featured with Feta Cheese cubes.
As much as I loved this menu I wish it would have had a different choice because James really disliked the offerings. Although he selected the pot roast and ate most of it, he spent the rest of the flight and the next few days complaining how bad the menu was. I managed to tune him out as the Shrimp Ravioli was the best entrée I’ve had all year. After sufficient whining by James and sufficient praising by me, the empty plates were cleared and the dessert cart was trundled out. We had a choice of White Chocolate Chip Ice Cream with almonds or Tiramisu. I had the same choices offered a year ago so I decided to try what I didn’t try then had have the tiramisu. I don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like but this was like whipped cream on top of chocolate cake. However this suited both me and James fine as we both enjoyed it.
The only meal of the flight done, the flight crew breathed a sigh of relief and all gathered in the gallies to converse among themselves. James noticed it too and said accurately “it happens in every job, people just go talk to their friends.” Shortly after his profundity, he decided to watch the movie Jersey Girl while I began a book about Vietnam and listened to an Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) CD. There was no more food on the flight but I didn’t mind as the first meal was very filling. However there was a drink offered to anyone who wanted it though many people were out like Charles in dodgeball.
Again I run into problems at the end of the flight as there had been thunderstorms in the New York area; we had to enter a holding pattern. This did provide me with a Boeing’s eye view of some brilliant lightning strikes. Eventually the problem cleared up and we swung out over the ocean to land near T4, a short taxi later and my trip was over.
Scheduled Arrival: 12:23 AM
Actual Arrival: 12:39 AM
We made the walk past the people spending the night at the airport instead of paying outlandish prices for a JFK hotel and headed home. The drive was without incident and we both reflected in our own ways about the brilliant trip we had just undertaken.