Tuesday, December 19, 2000


I associate certain restaurants with particular places fairly strongly, so much so that going to eat somewhere becomes a major goal of a trip. When I got to Cincinnati, I want to eat at Skyline; when I'm in Athens (GA), The Grill or Taco Stand is an important stop; and Ann Arbor draws me toward Cottage Inn, Zingerman's or Blimpieburger. During my recent trip to Berkeley, I missed my chance to visit Blondie's, a pizza place that is one of my few positive memories of my year there.

Yesterday afternoon, we were given the afternoon off the conference to explore San Diego. I decided to skip the sights and TCOB. Steve, another guy from Back East, had business at the same location, so I gave him a ride.

We needed to find a place to grab a quick lunch. Searching my memories of my summer in San Diego, the UTC food court was a close, convenient place to get a bite. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to us that holiday shopping season would be in full swing, and the quest for a parking space would throw "quick" out the window. Eventually, however, my karma prevailed and we found a place.

Steve lost any concern with his delay when he discovered that the food court contained a Rubio's franchise. Rubio's is, he explained, San Diego's foremost purveyor of fish tacos. Fish tacos, I knew, were the characteristic food of San Diego. I remember being jarred by the sight of a "Fish Tacos" sign at a concession stand at a Padres game.

I admit I didn't find Rubio's fish tacos particularly exquisite compared to others I had tasted before. But I was glad to get a chance to go there, even if I never made it to Blondie's.

Sunday, December 17, 2000

San Diego

When I got off the plane it was 81o. Wow. I briefly regretted my decision to pack long-sleeved shirts. (The weather has since cooled off slightly.) I retrieved my luggage, which was at the most crowded baggage carousel I've seen. People were tripping over each other trying to get their suitcases out of there. I picked up my rental car in a remarkably hassle-free experience and hit the freeways of San Diego.

I hadn't been back since I lived here in the summer of '93. Blue skies, warm weather, ocean views...why did I leave? Ah, well. I'm happy in Maryland, but this wouldn't be too bad either. I found my way to my hotel, which turned out to be in Old Town San Diego. It's fairly touristy, but as a traveler, having restaurants and shops nearby is pretty cool.

I could harldy wait to head for one of the many nearby Mexican restaurants. Sigh. But I had the opening conference banquet in a few hours. I wandered down the street, browsed through a gallery containing a number of Chuck Jones prints and contented myself with a couple of margaritas and some chips and salsa.

After a quick nap, I headed for the banquet. When I arrived, I realized that the conference featured many nodding acquaintances, but nobody I knew really well -- none of my old Georgia buddies. I picked out a table, nodded at a few people and sand down. One, an elderly mathematician, seemd to recognize me more than I expected, given that I had not seen him since '93. I chatted with a Canuck about the different voting systems in use in the US & Canada and tried to enjoy my non-Mexican meal. Then, at one point, the aforementioned elderly gentleman referred to me as "Jeff" and asked me a question about another mathematician. I realized that he had mistaken me for someone else, perhaps 20 years my senior. I felt really awkward -- how do you point out to someone that they not only don't remember you, but they've just mistaken you for someone who comes closer to doubling your age than equalling it? I ducked and said I didn't know anything about the guy he had asked me about, which puzzled the man I was talking to, since he thought we worked together.

I spent most of the rest of the evening trying not to make eye contact before ducking out early due to jetlag.

Frequent Flier

I have achieved my goal -- I am now a frequent flier. The results won't be official, I suppose, until the United Airlines version of the Electoral College convenes at year's end. But with the flight to San Diego, I will have accumulated in excess of 21,000 flying miles for the year 2000. I actually have flown more than that -- the real total probably exceeds 35K. But some of those miles were on other airlines or went uncredited due to various incompetences.

After a flying lifetime of spreading my flights across many different airlines -- I currently maintain memberships in four different frequent flier programs, I decided it was time to settle down with one airline. When I found myself flying to Belgium this past May on United, I had my airline.

My original goal was to hit 25K -- the level needed for Premier status. Unfortunately, even with the return flight from San Diego, I will only find myself with 24,551 credited flight miles. Fortunately, United has had much labor strife this year. Fortunately, because the strife has caused UAL to kiss some serious passenger behind in order to keep its customers. For example, by lowering the Premier thershhold to 21K. Victory!

So to what can I look forward as a certified member of the jet set next year? I get to skip the long check-in lines and use the Premier check-in. I get to "pre-board" the aircraft and put all my stuff in the overhead compartment before the rest of you unfortunates get on. I get to sit in "Economy Plus" with its 5 extra inches of legroom. (This alone makes all my struggles worthwhile.) And I get upgrade coupons, which will work out to an upgrade to Business or First Class on roughly every fifth flight.

I can't complain too much about my penultimate flight as a non-privileged traveler. The flight was less than 2/3 full (pre-Christmas doldrums?), and I got a row of three seats to myself. (Talk about legroom.)

Still, I can't help but think it would have been just a teensy bit better as a Premier member. I'll let you know next year.