Monday, August 31, 2009

Garmin Tales

I have no patience. Because of this, maybe me and the Garmin aren't going to get along.

Tonight I went on my club's Monday Night FootMall Run, which starts near the Watergate and essentially runs around the Capitol and back again. It's a bit longer than a 10K with a nice hill in the middle.

I ran over to the starting point from my office over near Union Station since I had to return to the office to work afterwards. That way when I ran to the top of Capitol Hill with the group I could cut over to my office from there and still get a 10K in, with the last half of the run being with company.

Except my Garmin wouldn't cooperate. I'm discovering its personality. It's temperamental.

When it spent more than a minute locating satellites, I took off while it was still searching. (They're in the sky, dummy!) It searched for a while more, then it asked me if I was indoors.

I started pushing buttons as I ran, trying to answer the question. There are seven buttons to choose from, none of them very well marked.

Finally the screen displayed big zeros across the display, 00:00:00. That looked like time, so I pushed the button labeled "Start/Stop."

It gave me time alright, but no pace or, more frustrating, distance. Those two display boxes stayed at zero as the blocks passed by.

The Garmin is in effect a very big wristwatch, so I thought that maybe it's sort of like a TV set. I gave it a good slap trying to free up those frozen boxes. No effect. I pushed more buttons. I reset the display. I cursed at it. Nothing worked. I had my Timex Ironman wristwatch on my other wrist so I already knew the time. I paid over a hundred dollars so I would get distance!

I ran by the White House mumbling imprecations against GPS. I passed through GW (George Washington University) muttering about technology, dodging hordes of freshmen clogging the sidewalks in their first week away from home.

I arrived at the Watergate without any information on distance. It was frustrating. I turned my Garmin off and turned it back on. It started looking for satellites again. This time I waited, stationary, while it "worked." Finally it gave me a display screen, after a few minutes.

The group was there and we took off. I hit the start button and the display screen on the Garmin jumped to life in all its functions. I had time, distance and pace readings.

It obviously doesn't like to be rushed. If you hurry a Garmin, it will mess you over. It will get in a snit and never show you distance. The thing is moody.

I practiced 9-minute miles running down the Mall with the front runner, Jay, while trying to get ready to be the 1:30:00 pace-runner at the Army Ten-Miler Race in five weeks. It was a cool evening, with the sky starting to darken. Fall is coming.

I said my goodbyes and cut off from the group early so I could run up Capitol Hill alone and really work it. My pace for the run up to that point was 8:51, but now it was too dark to see the unlit watch face. I pushed the pace up the hill and then the rest of the way back to the office. I finished the 3.82 mile run with the group (the last mile and a half was solo) at an 8:31 pace.

I'm going to have to get used to the Garmin. I'm certainly not in love with it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Another good run...

Today the club's Ten-Miler Program ran out of Fleet Feet in Adams Morgan. Local running legend Phil Fenty and his wife Jan opened up the first Fleet Feet franchise east of the Mississippi in 1984 and the store has thrived due to their hard work despite a lack of parking. Now it is owned by Shawn Fenty, their son (brother of the mayor), and he carries on in the family tradition of deep commitment to the running community. Several training programs run out of the store on weekends, including ours. (Right: Joseph Castro, Director of Training for the Army Ten-Miler Race and Shawn Fenty, owner of Fleet Feet, confer outside of the store.)

We went 8.3 miles on a double loop through Rock Creek Park. I am a "drop-in" coach and I enjoy the relative dearth of responsibility on these runs. I started in the far back, chatting up some runners back there. I gradually worked my way forward, talking for awhile with almost everyone I passed. By the time I made it up front, the lead runner was too far ahead to catch but I fell in with Jay, a coach. He's twenty years younger than me and deceptively fast. He hides it until late in runs when he puts the hammer down.

We ran along, pushing the pace until it seemed to me that we were doing sub-eights. I don't do those much anymore. The run was hilly because Adams Morgan sits on a high point in the District and Rock Creek Park, a half mile away, is far below it. We had to climb out of the park twice after dropping into it on each loop. We would pause at tricky turning points on the course until the next runner came into view and wave to show him the way. When he waved back, we'd take off again.

Regaining 16th Street two miles from Fleet Feet, we flashed down the road. Jay kept pushing the pace but I was game, mostly. Whenever I lagged behind by eight feet he'd lighten up just a trace and I'd catch up again. I knew what was coming but the hard running felt good after weeks of running with back-packers.

Half a mile out Jay engaged a higher gear and I had to let him go. He beat me back to the store by a block and a half. My overall pace was just over 9:40 for the run but that included a lengthy stretch of 10:30 running during the first half of the outing and some pauses at directional points.

Afterwards many in the group bought bagels and coffee from a nearby shop and we sat around on the sidewalk outside of Fleet Feet eating, drinking and talking.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Ten Mile Group

My club's Ten-Miler Training Program, which I directed the last two years, is going very well this year. In the spring, as club VP of Training, I assigned the directorship of it to Emily since thanks to her, we are the exclusive training partner for the Army Ten-Miler Race.

Emily has done a fantastic job. We had 174 people sign up for the Program, up more than three-fold from last year. Emily has handled it all, despite being in a "boot" for a degenerative Achilles condition lately. We run three venues on two weekend days, with three site directors under Emily. The Program is just finishing its twelfth week out of sixteen (counting the four-week precursor Jump Start program for persons new to running) and all locations seem to be humming along on all cylinders. I'm SD at the Gotta Run location in South Arlington (soon to be Pacer's, my man Andre, who ran the last independent running specialty store in the area, sold out--but I am looking forward to working with Pacer's, a terrific promoter of racing events in the area).

So far I have only had one gaffe, when I was properly called to task a few weeks back for saying in my customary weekly e-mail to the runners that everyone did great and then offering platitudes to the volunteer coaches, without whom there would be no Program. I particularly praised one coach who had dropped back and run with the "struggling" runners, thus ensuring their safe return. One of the "struggling" runners, very irate, wrote me and after complimenting the Program, offered strong criticism that I was implying there was no room in the Program for beginner runners.

Humbly I emailed this runner that I was sorry and apologized to the group the next week, saying that I often "struggled" when I ran but acknowledging that the word choice had been poor. Meanwhile, the SD at the Georgetown location had pretty much mirrored my e-mail in her message to her charges that week, saying that one coach had dropped back to run with the runners who were "challenged."

This turn of the phrase made all the difference. They love the SD at the Georgetown location (she is terrific), whereas they put up with me at the Gotta Run location.

Today we ran 9.1 miles through Georgetown Waterfront and on the Mall, and everyone looked great, even those runners who were challenged this week.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Hill

Last month for the third straight year I ran in the DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay on a team that Bex put together. She throws her home at the lake open to the team each year and we spend the second Saturday in June crawling around the 72-mile lake in a support vehicle while one teammate is out on the front lines. We always finish about eleven and a half hours after we start.

I have previously written about this year's run as a team effort. I wanted to write about my leg this year, because it was the toughest run I ever did.

I did Leg One the first year, but that turned out to be the next-to-easiest leg and everyone got mad at me because I was one of the veteran, experienced runners on the team. So last year I did what I thought was the hardest leg, the sixth leg (of seven) because it finishes up on a monster hill the last mile and a half that rises 525 feet. It was tough alright.

Leg Six is 10.5 miles. Leg Two, the other very tough leg, is "only" 8.2 miles. But the last four miles rise 700 feet on a steady uphill slog up a mountain pass. I can now tell you from exhausting research that Leg Two is the toughest leg.

Besides the final hill, another problem with Leg Two, which I hadn't considered beforehand, is that the "flat" portion of Leg Two is really two hills which rise 200 feet each with a corresponding decline. These "rolling hills" deliver you to the bottom of the ultimate hill climb. (Right: Leg Two. That's a hill.)

When I took the baton, the first mile immediately rose the aforementioned 200 feet. I arrived at the top of that minor protuberance huffing and puffing in the rarefied air of 6350 feet. Eighteen hours earlier I'd been living happily at sea level.

The second "protuberance" wasn't any better. But the scenery was beautiful, even breathtaking. (Left: The scenery off to my left was awesome. The view off to my right wasn't bad either.)

Then I powered down the last decline and hit the final long uphill. Only four miles to go.

There was no seeing the "top." Always above me, on the far hillside, was a series of ever higher roadways with cars traveling on them.

My teammates were very supportive, driving on ahead and then stopping to offer me water as I toiled ever upwards. My pace of course slowed considerably, especially after about two miles of climbing, and the doubt started creeping into my mind. My goal was to complete this leg without walking. There wasn't much passing going, everyone was in their own private sphere on the hill.

I tried to reason with myself not to break into a walk, even for a moment. My legs were getting extremely leaden and there were still about two miles to go, all uphill.

I had nothing to bargain with my mind with, really. I finally settled upon the phrase, For the rest of your life. For the rest of my life, I would never be six miles into a very challenging climb with a mere two miles to go to salvation. What I did in the next twenty minutes, I would carry with me as long as I live. If I could endure twenty minutes of pain, I would get release. If not, if I walked even a tiny bit, in twenty-one minutes I would find release at the finish line as well, but for the rest of my life I would have a mental shrug of feigned indifference whenever I thought of the hill and how impossibly tough it was. This is what I was thinking about.

A snippet of a song by Mick Jagger, Sympathy for the Devil, made its way into my head and swirled around and around. It wouldn't go away. His moment of doubt and pain. I looked up at the far hillside, at the tiny cars up there crawling along way above my head, knowing that there lay my path, too. His moment of doubt and pain. Twenty minutes, now eighteen. His moment of doubt and pain. Now fourteen, now twelve.

In a fog of fatigue, I finally felt the roadway level out at the top of the climb. In the last 200 meters before the exchange point, several younger runners sprinted past me but I didn't care. I hadn't given in. I had run the whole way. I handed off the baton after seventy-eight minutes and one second of extremely difficult running, a 9:31 m/m pace.

I stood around in distress while my teammates crowded around congratulating me. Suddenly I kneeled and wretched loudly, two long dry heaves. That was a first for me. My teammates looked away politely, laughing quietly. I loved them all at that moment. For the rest of my life. (Right: Where was the Porcelain God when I needed it?)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Virtual 3K

I missed my second Tidal Basin 3K in a row this month, due to a meeting I was summoned to at 11:30 a week ago last Wednesday. The race, run the 3rd Wednesday of every month, starts at noon over two miles from my workplace. Before last month, I had run in 98 out of the last 108 races.

The race has changed for me though, as some people who regularly run it blame me, as president, for my club ending its sponsorship this year of the forty five year old race. A new association was formed to run the race, which is problematic because it's run on Park Service land and it is unpermitted. There are problems when the wrong Park Ranger shows up and wants to take names and lay down the law about groups over 25 persons gathering for any purpose there (I don't know how tour buses get away with letting their passengers out for a short hike). This is infrequent, however. I don't feel welcome running the race, even though I personally contributed $50 to the association to help it get started.

Anyway, the next morning I decided to do a fast short run by doing what used to be my staple run, a 2.5 mile run to the schoolhouse up the street and back. In olden times I did this run at breakneck speed five mornings a week, 12.5 miles every week. I'd be done with my daily exercise before the coffee finished brewing. It kept me sleek and fast, but I didn't have much base.

Now I run in groups and do around 25 miles each week. I have a base but I'm much less sleek and far slower. Hmmm.

Outbound there's a hill that's a third of a mile long. I can tell I'm on track if I get to the turnaround a mile and a quarter out in under ten minutes, which is an 8:00 m/m pace.

This particular morning I labored going up the hill and I passed the mile marker at 8:20. I hit the turnaround at 10:20 and wondered if I could return in 9:19. I couldn't. I ran up to my driveway at 20:12 (8:05), for a return trip of 9:52. If I had been doing a virtual 3K race, my time for 1.86 miles would have been 15:04.

The coffee was ready by the time I got back.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Club Picnic and Cross Country Race

Earlier this month my club held its annual picnic and three-mile cross country race on the beautiful campus of the Landon Preparatory School in Bethesda, MD. We interface with a Landon math teacher and track coach at the school to set this idyllic afternoon up. The day before, he and the Race Director laid out a 3-mile course across the school grounds and marked it with spray paint on the grass and dirt. This was a good thing because the course twisted through a confusing maze of pine tree stands, across lawns and over athletic fields.

It was a hot afternoon, perfect for a picnic although maybe not perfect for a fast 3-mile run. This race was interesting to me because three former presidents of the club were running in it. A little executive competition as it were, a race within a race.

We lined up and were off. At one moment early in the race, after the runners had separated just a little bit, the four presidents were running in a line, one behind the other. Ed, the president I succeeded, was in front, followed by Bob, the only former president older than me, Susan, the executive who Ed took over for and who was elected into the club hall of fame this year, and myself. Ed and Susan are faster than me, and Bob occasionally beats me. The competitive fire was lit.

Ed soon pulled away, put distance on the little group and we never saw him again. I ran along behind Susan, who recently had twins, biding my time. I really was after Bob, whom I should beat although it's always close.

In an open field I moved up on Susan and ran past her. She fell in behind me. This wasn't necessarily good because it's hard to keep track of runners who are behind you. As we entered a long row of pine trees on the perimeter of the school property I darted by Bob on a little downhill part. Now they were both behind me, so unless I was strong and steadily pulled away, they would stalk me and perhaps strike at the end with a strong finish.

Down service roads we ran, up and down a steep slope behind school service buildings, and by some classrooms. On little out and backs I could see them both behind me, with Susan now ahead of Bob. Finally the last mile was rolling by. I dislike this cross country race because of the giant protruding roots of the trees we ran by. With one wrong step a season of running can be lost. It's tiring to so continuously and carefully watch your footfalls.

I was trying to catch the runner ahead of me but he was too far ahead. However, my effort helped ensure that no one came sprinting by me at the finish, like Susan or Bob. I finished in 25.55 (8:37), 29/58, although the course was closer to 5K than 3 miles. Susan finished in back of me by less than half a minute, with Bob directly behind her. Ed had finished 3 minutes earlier.

Ed and Susan won AG awards, and the RD actually won his own race. This impressed me because I had no idea he was so fast. I could imagine the incredible pressure he must have felt all year as his own race approached and he contemplated trying to win it. Club politics are such that I heard some people sniff that he shouldn't have run in the race he directed, that he should have been standing by for any exigency.

I don't know about that, what do you think? In four months on the job as club president, I have learned that countless judgmental and contemptuous attitudes swirl and flow beneath the outer surface of running clubs. Me, I go along to get along, but perhaps I'm not ambitious enough or enough of a "silent slayer." Maybe that's because I'm not fast enough to ever have contemplated actually winning something when I run.

The picnic of charcoal cooked burgers, veggie burgers, franks, beans and corn on the cob was delicious. Thanks, Landon School, we'll see you next year!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Moving forward

When I recently became president of my running club, due to my higher profile, the adverse reaction became pointed. Formerly, In my role as Programs Director for my running club, I took a lot of pictures because I liked to record the training programs I directed. You know, bands of indistinguishable runners loping down the Mall, that sort of thing.

For the past several years I have been using disposable cameras. I get the film developed and order a CD with electronic images on it. Although the results are not instantaneous, people tell me that film cameras actually take better pictures than digital cameras. But what do I know?

Some people within the club, who don't like my style, have taken this as further proof of what a cretin I am, still using last century's technology. It's not that they saw my preference as quaint, they were genuinely offended by it. Instead of being bemused when I use tried and true instead of cutting edge, they are outraged. These are much younger folks, less tolerant, who have no use for old fogeys who still mail checks or carry a cell without a camera or Internet capability on it.

I actually had a digital camera which I bought for $500 four years ago. I had a friend show me how to use it. It was simple to operate, really. I'll tell you one thing though. I'd rather lose or ruin a $6 disposable camera than a $500 one.

And I'll tell you another thing. I think digital cameras promote two things. One is that no shots are ever reduced to a "picture" anymore that can be shown to a friend, sent to Grandma or put in an album. It only exists, unseen, within someone's hard drive forever once it gets offloaded there. The other is what I call snapping diarrhea. Every little thing is shot, with no thought about framing the picture or relevancy.

So for a few weeks I've been using the digital camera. Mostly I take running shots. If I get ahead of the running crowd and open the camera, wait for it to get ready to shoot, which takes about five seconds (no point & shoot with this thing), and then click the shutter, it'll take a picture, in about another two seconds. In other words, I shoot the shot that will "appear" in two seconds, not the scene that is actually before me.

I learned to take head on shots, not side shots. And anything but a dead-head-on shot was blurry anyway. What I have is a $500 landscape camera. It's worthless for running shots.

I have learned a few things. My camera is worthless. It's 3 Mega pixels, and the standard now is 12. The photo card that came with it was 286 MB and cost me $85, back then. It took about 20 pictures and then filled up. So I got to buy another more "modern" card with 2 GB for $30.

My battery, which lasts about two years, dies after about five shots. I went to Best Buy to purchase a new one. Uh, they don't carry it anymore. 2005 hardware is all on the scrap heap. I special ordered it for $20. The salesman pointedly showed me a $99 Kodak with the aforesaid 12 Mega pixels. I think the implication was for me to throw out this $500 four-year old implement.

This is progress, right? At my house I have an entire shelf dedicated to charging units, for my Garmin, my laptop, my cellphone, my camera. None of the chargers will charge anything else. No attachment will fit into anything else. Wires and plugs everywhere.

I recently was at a super thrift store, perusing the clutter on the camera shelf. I bought an Olympus 35MM automatic advance date recording zoom lense camera for $4.99 and a Nikon 35MM automatic advance date recording zoom lense camera for $4.99. I used to pay $250 for cameras like that and yes, I know how to operate them even without the manual, which of course wasn't around. Two 123 batteries later ($13.59) and they are operating just fine. They take much better running shots and landscape shots than practically any digital camera I could buy.

I can wait for my special order digital battery to come in.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Despoiling the Bill of Rights

I have friends who are unabashed liberals (as am I) who suffer from paralysis of analysis, in my estimation.

It is said that a liberal is someone who tries to see so many sides of an issue that he can’t even agree with himself.

Some of my friends feel that no one should be denied the right to engage in any "legal" course of action, even brandishing guns at presidential rallies. This overly-tolerant attitude is a definite disadvantage in a dogfight. Savage infighting, in my opinion, is what is going on in the current health care "debate."

Nut-jobs are showing up openly carrying guns a block away from where our president is speaking on the issue. Common sense is giving way to a mania for niceties when these nut cases are allowed to congregate in public with small arsenals within a block of the president.

Bullying prevails until it is called out for what it is–an attempt at intimidation--and stood up to.

They carry signs saying the tree of liberty should be watered. Anyone who reads books instead of endlessly blathering text messages on their I-phones would know that this is a "clever" reference to Thomas Jefferson’s famous saying that the tree of liberty should be watered periodically with the blood of tyrants and patriots. (If you’re unfamiliar with it, look up the quote on the Internet and gain some more shallow knowledge.) (Right: The scene in NH.)

Is that a threat to kill the president? Maybe. Is this intimidation? Absolutely. It is also menacing, and disturbing the peace in my opinion.

It is ridiculous to countenance such jackbooted behavior as a paean to the First Amendment. I don’t care what those crazy "open carry" laws allow. You don’t bring guns to a political debate.

I was a cop once. I know about rousting people. Cops maintain the public order for the benefit of the good and genteel people of the middle class by moving along the crazy, the agitated, the homeless. These idiots carrying weapons on street corners near the president should be rousted by the Secret Service.

We don’t need insecure little men walking around with civilian versions of assault rifles slung over their shoulders near where our president is . I wish I had been there to personally congratulate these armed losers for finally having something long and hard attached to their bodies. (Left: The scene in AZ.)

I commend the democratic congressman who coolly stared at a fruitcake holding up a placard depicting our president wearing a little Hitler mustache and asked, "On what planet do you spend most of your time?"

This Massachusetts representative properly described such behavior as "vile, contemptible nonsense."

Leave the guns, and the scurrilous untrue hate-mongering bombast about proposed health care mandates, at home.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Charmin Garmin

Guess who got a Garmin. A factory refurbished 205 from Amazon for $120.40. It came on Friday.

I broke down and bought one because I need to zero in on a 9:00 M/M pace for when I'm the 1:30 pacesetter for the Army Ten-Miler Race in seven weeks.

I used it on Saturday, and now I know I went 7.1 miles on my training group's supposed 7-mile run. (I create the route.) Some folks got a little lost and went 7.6 miles. They were pissed when they got back, like it was my fault. But what's an extra half mile anyway?

Even the folks who didn't get lost were grumbling though. What's an extra one tenth of a mile? They all have Garmin's so they all know exactly how far we go. More than one came over to me afterwards and said, "You said we were doing seven today. We went 7.1!"

I told them to stop at the end of the block next time, before they reach the finish point, as soon as their Garmins chime.

What's 500 extra feet? Excuse me, 520 extra feet. These are new runners, for the most part.

This morning at 7:30 I went to Fleet Feet in the District to do a 7-mile route in Rock Creek Park with Sasha's training group. That group was late in getting going, so I said I was leaving and that anyone who wanted to do 8:30s could come with me. I had no takers so I ran alone, ahead of the pack.

Sasha had devised kind of a complicated route but I thought I knew it. Run 3 miles north up 16th Street from Adams Morgan, drop into Rock Creek Park by Carter Barron Amphitheatre and double back south towards Fleet Feet again. How hard could it be?

My Garmin kept me occupied on this solo run. Sometimes it showed my pace to be 8:10, then a few seconds later it would tell me my pace was 9:40. I think I need to read the directions. But I enjoyed watching the mileage tick off. When my Garmin got to 6.5 miles, and I didn't see anything I recognized in Rock Creek Park, I exited the park and got into some residential streets I didn't recognize. The route was supposed to be 7 miles so at 6.5 miles, I figured I had to be near Adams Morgan. I asked some suburbanites I encountered how to get to Adams Morgan from there. They looked astonished.

"Uhh, you're in Maryland. Adams Morgan is, like, six miles from here."

I had been running north in Rock Creek Park the whole time, instead of turning back south in the park. I was terribly lost and now I was in a confusing complex of suburban cul-de-sacs in Chevy Chase. That's a long way on foot from Adams Morgan.

I am thankful for my Garmin though. It told me I only had a half-mile to go and when I absolutely didn't recognize a thing, even though I'm a guy, I asked for directions.

It was the most lost I have ever been on a run.

But I did my seven, in 1:01:21 (8:46), not too bad. I took a taxicab back to Fleet Feet.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Five in the morning in San Diego.

I was out for a run at 5 a.m. in the harbor area of San Diego. Down around Petco Park, I heard some young men off in the distance, yelling out marching commands. I came across a building complex that looked like a convention center that had some killer stairs going up, which I climbed. From the top, I observed a band of fit, short haired young men in t-shirts and trunks come into view on the street below. They stopped, and I listened as their leader told them how they were going to "take" the stairs I had just run up. (Right: The waterfront in San Diego is a delight to run along.)

Up he went, then he turned on the landing below me and bellowed, "Come on!" The squad of six young men started up the stairs, arms and legs pumping furiously, yelling lustily. I turned and ran on, down the backside of the complex towards the harbor. (Left: A pretty nice set of stairs for a workout.)

A few minutes later this tiny band came running by me on ground level. As they swept by, I said, "Here comes the Army!"

"No sir!" barked the leader.

Instantly I realized my mistake. "I meant Marines," I said.

"Yes sir! The Army is still in bed asleep," said the leader as the band ran off into the darkness laughing. (Right: Soldiers or Marines? You make the call.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Snow Dome Rule

Coming into Los Angeles
Bringing in a couple of keys
Don't touch my bags if you please
Mister Customs Man (Arlo Guthrie)

"Is this your bag?"

Leaving San Diego after being out there a week on business, the TSA guy had pulled my carry-on bag off the conveyor belt coming out of the X-Ray machine.


"Do you mind if I look through it?"

I thought, I have a choice? "No," I said.

He put the bag on a table and told me to have a seat in the chair next to the table. He didn't want me interfering with his search.

He unzipped the canvas bag and started removing items. Out came a dress shoe, followed by some technical briefs, which were dry but vintage since I'd worn them running that week. He spotted the ziploc bag containing my toiletries. Inside, amongst tiny tubes of toothpaste, mouthwash and shampoo was something the size of an apple, wrapped in tissue paper.

He held the plastic bag, eying it. "Do you have a snow globe in here?"

Snow globes are those clear, water-filled plastic domes depicting tourist spots that easily fit into the palm of your hand. You can create a blizzard effect inside it by shaking it. I have a friend who collects them. This one depicted the U.S.S. Midway, a navy aircraft carrier moored in San Diego harbor that is open to the public for tours. (Right: The U.S.S. Midway.)


Unwrapping it, he asked me if I knew the snow globe rule.

"No," I said, "but it's under three ounces."

He turned it over and frowned. On the price sticker on the bottom of the globe, next to the printed words "Made in China," the label read "2.9 oz." I had written that on the sticker that morning when I stuffed the dome into my clear quart-sized carry-on toiletry bag.

The guard said, "Wait here," and left. He came back shortly.

"I imagine you're gonna think this sucks, but my supervisor said there is insufficient corroboration that this item contains less than three ounces of fluid. Therefore you have two choices. You can either dispose of the item now or you can go back out to the ticket counter, check this through as luggage, and re-enter through security."

(Left: The flight deck on the U.S.S. Midway, overlooking San Diego.) As I contemplated re-entering the thirty minute line for security screening, I had an image of me standing around waiting for a fruit-sized item to come down the conveyor belt in baggage claim at National Airport. What if they misplaced it. Could I put in a claim for it? Would they drive it out to my house once they located it?

I said, "You don't have to wonder about whether I think this sucks. I do. And what is the snow globe rule?"

"Well, many times these things are filled with antifreeze which is a hazardous material and can't be brought aboard a plane."

I thought of a jet plane filled with thousands of gallons of aviation fuel and hundreds of quarts of de-icer fluid and shuddered to think of the damage I could inflict with 2.9 ounces of anti-freeze. Maybe I could pour it down some child's throat to create a terror incident with it.

"Of course, this snow dome is filled with water, not antifreeze." I said. "Perhaps we could send it out for testing to verify that. Or better yet, please give it a good home, officer." I didn't want to get placed on the no-fly list. It's a long bus ride to Washington DC from San Diego.

TSA is on the job. And by the way, the alert level is Code Orange. Does anyone know what that means, or when it wasn't Code Orange?