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[personal|travel] Leaving Omaha for the last time

More weird, restless sleep, with weird, restless dreams. Something about the weather, or the heater in my hotel room, or my unsettled spirit, has kept me awake nights. This time it was vehicular arson as part of some large coverup, except I was very bad at cleaning up evidence of my misdeeds. The car in question in my dream was my first car, an orange 1976 Datsun 710 station wagon I drove in college. Not hard to interpret what that means, really. All in keeping with the melancholy of my visit here.

A friend who has been out of town all this past week is meeting me for breakfast, then taking me to the airport. American Airlines yesterday cancelled my flight this morning. Getting rebooked involved spending over an hour on hold with the Aadvantage Platinum desk (apparently hold times for the main desk were running closer to twenty-four hours). I am dubious of my new connection through Chicago O’Hare, mostly because of ORD’s chronic problems with delivering timely wheelchair transfers. Basically, in my experience they are incapable of doing so at that airport.

None of that matters so long as I get home tonight. Today is Lisa Costello‘s birthday, the last one I will likely ever be alive for, and I’d like to see here thereupon, and I have two oncology appointments tomorrow. So, yeah, this terminal cancer patient really needs to get home today.

Even so, my weather karma has brought not only deeply subfreezing temperatures and inches of snow to Omaha, it appears to be doing the same to Portland today. Unseasonable here in Nebraska, almost unheard of their in our part of Oregon.

And I’ll have the long trip home to think about how I feel about having been here one last time.

Wish me luck, I’m going to need it.

[photos|travel] My trip to Omaha (at least so far)

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I flew there, of course

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Hanging with the pooches

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A friendly meighborhood duck

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Yesterday we set out in the car of [info]garyomaha

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As always in life, we drove down uncertain roads

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Until we came to my joint in Shenandoah, Iowa

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A slightly more sobering neighbor

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Me and my namesake (or vice versa)

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The store was full of cool old things, like those sliding ladders, and the manager was very kind about us wandering around gawping and photographing

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[info]elusivem and [info]garyomaha enjoyed old fashioned fountain treats (I had an iced tea)

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Themselves

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We then looked at interesting old buildings in Shenandoah, which reminded me of my grandparents’ town in north Texas when I was a small boy in the late 1960s

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Including a dry-docked caboose

As usual, more at the Flickr set.

Photos © 2012, 2013, Joseph E. Lake, Jr. and M. Jones.

Creative Commons License

This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. and M. Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

[cancer] Being in the world

Being here in Omaha, being in the world at all, keeps stirring my thoughts of mortality. My dreams these days are almost always about incompleteness, failure and error. Comically so sometimes, some nights a tragedy in six REM cycles. I feel like I am digging my own grave, slowly.

I am so very glad to be here, and so very sad to be here. Which in truth is how I feel about almost everything these days. Fortunately for me, it’s my nature to enjoy myself most of the time. Even when the grim dusk of my own death casts shadows across all my words and deeds.

We all die. Most of us spend most of our lives assiduously ignoring that most basic fact of human existence. I keep trying to convince myself that my own enforced awareness of my ending is a gift.

On occasion I succeed.

[personal] In Omaha, various reflections, an open dinner of sorts

I’m in Omaha, where it is currently 10 degrees outside. Because reasons.

Due to travel (which went fairly well, minus a few bobbles) I did not get to sleep until a little after midnight last night. Even allowing for the two-hour time difference between Pacific and Central, this is staggeringly late for me. It is probably no coincidence that I slept solidly for nine and a half hours.

The downside of that is due to a lunch date with a friend, my morning has been very rushed and out of sorts, where I’d expected to move slow and fly low today. Hence also the late blogging.

The Omaha Beach Party meets tonight at 6 pm at Zio’s on Dodge. If you’re within striking distance of Omaha and would like to see me, feel free to drop by. It will be a bunch of writers and friends eating pizza and yakking for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, being here is bringing a bunch of my mortality thoughts hurtling back to the surface. I’ve spent the years from 1999 to 2013 working jobs either based in Omaha or with a strong connection to Omaha. I’ve visited this city at least a hundred times, literally so — that’s not hyperbole, that’s 8-14 trips a year across most of those 14 years. Omaha represents one of this big parts of my life that has already sloughed away in the face of cancer’s mortal decline.

Still, weather and ruminations notwithstanding, I am happy to be here. I will see my old work friends, and spend the weekend with some of my dearest friends in the world. That is a goodness.

Back to Portland on Monday, and a medical appointment on Tuesday regarding one of my possible avenues for a clinical trial. No rest for the weary. (Well, except that long night’s sleep.)

See some, all or none of you tonight.

[conventions|travel] The high cost of cancellation

As I mentioned yesterday, I am having issues with United Airlines. This first cropped up a while back, as discussed here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

This all goes back to my troubles trying to get to this year’s World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. (I have discussed some of this previously here on the blog.) Last summer, I tried to book plane tickets for me and Lisa Costello to fly there. The $700 per person UK arrival fees for a free mileage award ticket were impossible for us to meet. At the time, I checked out simply paying for a fare, and even the cheapest was far higher, because those $700 fees were embedded in any trans-Atlantic airfare to London.

Unnamed Benefactors stepped forward and offered to fund our airfare if we would pay our own on-the-ground expenses. I very gratefully said yes, and proceeded to arrange a low-cost European vacation for myself by couch surfing in London and Paris, spending money only on the Eurostar train to get between the cities. Except for the convention hotel itself, my only expenses otherwise were going to be food and incidentals, as my Unnamed Benefactors provided tickets for the two of us on United Airlines. Lisa was planning to fly out the day before the convention and join me.

Three days before my scheduled departure, Lisa’s father suffered a massive stroke. Other relatives stepped forward to respond with immediate help, but Lisa needed to fly to Maryland at the end of that week to help with the necessary but difficult lifestyle transitions now underway.

That meant (and still means) that Lisa was now juggling my life-ending terminal illness and the life-changing illness of one of her parents. I could not leave her alone with this. So with great reluctance, we cancelled our trip to Europe. We also severely truncated a post-trip engagement with my agent, and cancelled the visit of another friend who was due after Orycon, both of these to great regret.

The financial aspects of this situation have turned into a severe mess.

In order to cover the expenses incurred by my Unnamed Benefactors, I also sought a compassionate medical emergency refund from @UnitedAirlines, which states on their Web site that they provide such consideration. Unfortunately, since our tickets were purchased as nonrefundable airfares, United Airlines also does not offer any refund. Their response to me did not even acknowledge the nature of my request, simply stating that my tickets were nonrefundable, but that I did retain an airfare credit. Which isn’t even my money, as the Unnamed Benefactors paid for it. And it’s not like I’m going back to Europe anytime in the rest of my drastically foreshortened life.

At the same time, my Unnamed Benefactors wrote me asking me to pay them £1,295.90 (approx. USD 2,073), as we would not be attending WFC.

This absolutely floored me. If I had $2,073 to spend on airfare, I would have bought the damned tickets myself in the first place. What I thought had been an act of kindness and charity towards me turned into me being expected to pay $2,000 for the privilege of not attending WFC so I could help Lisa care for her stricken father.

The books do in fact balance somewhat. Were I to directly pay back my Unnamed Benefactors, I would get to keep the airfare credit, less change fees and penalties. But I don’t have $2,000 sitting in a travel budget to give them. If I did, I would have bought my own tickets in the first place. If United were going to refund the tickets, the whole business would just be a wash.

But after multiple rounds of discussion, United has flatly refused to refund the airfare. Apparently a sudden life-threatening illness on the part of my partner’s father does not constitute a medical emergency in their eyes. Which makes me wonder what the hell does? I’m pretty damned irritated about this, most especially about the amount of time I have already spent focusing on this issue. My life is running out of time — between the shocking and insensitive demand from my Unnamed Benefactors and United Airlines’ refusal to honor their own compassionate exemption policy, I have been expending significant amounts of that finite time and energy on things I should never have had to deal with.

All to no avail thus far.

I’m honestly not sure what to do here. Had I known the original offer of tickets to WFC required a complete payback in the event of cancellation, I almost certainly would not have accepted it. My own health is too precarious, quite frankly, which is why all plane tickets I buy and pay for these days are purchased with trip insurance. While I have enough money sitting in my bank account to pay back my Unnamed Benefactors, that’s not what it is for. And I cannot spend a United Airlines airfare credit to pay my bills or help Lisa help her parents. The budget isn’t there, especially to pay for a trip I am not even able to take.

I’m feeling very pushed around right now, and looking at a lot of expense well beyond anything planned or budgeted at a time when our expenses have skyrocketed due to both my own illness the problems in Lisa’s family. I’m also much more wary of accepting offers of assistance in the future, as I never foresaw hidden strings like this and do not know how to foresee them going forward.

There’s a strong temptation to tell my Unnamed Benefactors to take a hike, but that’s hardly ethical as I’m apparently inheriting the airfare credit regardless, given the intransigence of United Airlines. I’m tempted to hold a small fundraiser to pay this off, but that also hardly seems fair to people who might want to support me. If United Airlines honored their own compassionate refund policy, the problem would essentially not exist, but that road has now been closed.

This situation frustrates me immensely. At this extremely difficult time in my life, I am left with yet another large, unbudgeted expense for which I have nothing to show but trouble and a waste of my precious, waning days.

[personal] Moving right along

Still feeling pretty loopy from this low grade bug. Very much in a state of anticipation this week, and not in the fun way. I’m currently scheduled to fly to Omaha Wednesday for one last round of visiting with my many friends and colleagues there. I’m pretty sure this trip will happen, at least at the front end. Waiting to hear back from various clinical trial sources about my next moves there (NIH and elsewhere). Any of those phone calls and emails could trigger an intake visit at their convenience. Plus I have to sign my updated will and estate planning documents this Wednesday, right before I head for the airport.

Various friends want to come visit. I’ve been reluctantly putting everyone off for the sake of sorting out some of this healthcare stuff. It’s leaving me slightly testy, but I don’t see much point in firming plans which are more likely to fall over than not. At the same, in putting people off I’m putting off things I want to do while I’m in relative good health.

So, yeah. Grumble grumble. I’m alive today, I should be grateful. But sometimes I feel like I inhabit the bottom of a deep well of logistics, and it’s all shifting shadows and angles of the light down here.

[links] Link salad had a snake the size of a sewer pipe livin’ in its rib cage

FDA orders personal genetics company 23andMe to stop selling testsClaims company ignored repeated efforts to get safety data and approval. Hmmm.

Mushrooms ‘Make Wind’ to Spread Spores — Fungus farts? Really?

How cool is the airplane of the future? — I miss the stratoliner.

Redefining the habitable zone: where should we look for life?Desert planets, hydrogen-heavy giants, and hydrocarbon-rich worlds considered.

The Star as StarshipMoving entire stars rather than building spaceships would have certain benefits as a way of traveling through the galaxy. After all, it would mean taking your local environment with you on a millennial journey. Some have suggested it might therefore be an observable sign of highly advanced civilizations at work. But how would you move a star in the first place?

Costco apologizes for labeling Bibles ‘fiction’ — Sometimes the jokes just write themselves. (Via [info]threeoutside.)

Pope Francis calls for power to move away from VaticanPope Francis has called for power in the Catholic Church to be devolved away from the Vatican, in the first major work he has written in the role. Huh. Not that church internal politics is any of my atheist business, but this is interesting. I wonder how this dovetails into the conservative political radicalism of the US Catholic bishops, who have become nothing but Republican shills these past decade.

‘Earliest shrine’ uncovered at Buddha’s birthplace

Scottish government outlines case for independence — I have no basis for an informed opinion on this topic, but it is a fascinating piece of politics.

?otD: Who are you?


11/26/2013
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 7.5 hours (solid)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Weight: 241.4
Number of FEMA troops on my block closing down donut shops: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)

[personal|culture] Me and customer service just lately

Like most white men of a certain height, class and educational standing, I wander through life in a cloud of largely invisible-to-me privilege. This privilege often expresses itself as good customer service. Sometimes it’s earned (for some value of “earned”) such as my frequent flyer status, sometimes it’s situational. I do make a serious effort to notice this sort of thing, so that, for example, if I walk up to a busy deli counter and am called next, I defer to the people who were waiting before me.

Lately the customer service levels which affect my life have been noticeably compromised in various ways. Yesterday I was talking to Lisa Costello about this. As I said to her, am I more needy due to my recent disabilities? Am I more demanding due to being shorter-tempered and fussier? Or am I really just bumping into increasingly weird problems at a higher rate than usual?

Her response was to comment that I’d become a strange attractor for customer service problems. Which doesn’t really answer my question, but was kind of funny. It was helpful to me in confirming that I’m not just experiencing observer bias or enjoying a version of the recency illusion.

I actually think it’s a combination of all three of my theories. My recent travel difficulties with wheelchair service wouldn’t have occurred in the first place if I didn’t need wheelchair service, for example — my recent issues with American Airlines. I am crankier than I used to be, what with the whole dying of cancer thing going on — yesterday’s noisy restaurant problem. And some of the problems I’ve encountered have been categorically weird, outside the usual run of issues — the whole CarMax power-of-attorney thing.

Being white, male and well-spoken didn’t really help me with any of these issues, though it certainly helped me resolve them post facto. Being disabled, well…

One more set of things to burn spoons on and have to deal with.

[links] Link salad mutters

Analysis of “Midnight at Valdosta’s” by Jay Lake — Hmm. Interesting.

Sophia Stewart wins the Matrix copyright infringement case — Fascinating. (Via [info]danjite.) Update: Snopes.com reports this is false. (Thanks to [info]corwynofamber.)

11 terrifying kids from vintage adverts who will freeze the very marrow in your bones — Contributor David Goldman says the kid in #11 looks like a young me. (Via David Goldman.)

24,000-Year-Old Body Shows Kinship to Europeans and American Indians — Much as with Kennwick Man, if the science had not been suppressed.

Print your own dinosaur bones Ever dream of holding a sauropod skull in your hand? New imaging and printing technology may soon give the public unprecedented access to millions of fragile, rare fossils. Love the headline! (Via AH.)

Eating nuts ‘may prolong life’ — My dating strategy is validated! No, wait…

Boeing 747 Mistakenly Lands At Tiny Kansas Airport — Oops. (Via [info]danjite.)

Universal Law of Commuting Discovered in African, European and US Mobile Phone Data — Marchetti’s constant. Huh.

Bill Gates condom challenge ‘to be met’ by graphene scientists — (Via David Goldman.)

Japan reports volcano raises island in seas far south of Tokyo

4.4 billion-year-old meteorite NWA 7533 is straight outta MarsSimilar to rocks found by Spirit rover, meteorite is a clue to early Mars. Warning: facts not valid for Young Earth Creationists and other willful idiots who believe The Flintstones was a documentary.

NFL Hazing and Jonathan Martin’s “Man Card” — I have found this whole business utterly ridiculous, but then I have a strong (and unreasonable) personal bias against any story involving organized or professional sports.

The persecution of Christians: 4 ways to respondSlacktivist Fred Clark deliberately avoids deconstructing the false self-valorizing persecution narrative of American Christianists in favor of a broader view of actual religious persecution.

?otD: Argle bargle?


11/21/2013
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 8.5 hours (solid)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Weight: 241.6
Number of FEMA troops on my block closing down donut shops: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)

[travel] Flying back to Oregon

Lisa Costello and I are flying back to Oregon today. We seem to have accomplished all our critical priorities here in Maryland. I personally do not ever expect to come back to the East Coast except possibly for some medical purpose. Was nice to see folks yesterday, will be nice to sleep in my own bed tonight.

[food|repost] Open lunch in Bowie, MD on Saturday, November 16th

This is a repost for an event happening midday today. If you have already RSVP’ed, I do not need an additional RSVP. I you haven’t RSVP’ed but are planning on coming, please let me know.

As Lisa Costello and I have been back in Maryland this week, I am declaring an Open Lunch in Bowie, Maryland today, Saturday, November 16th. We’ll meet at DuClaw Brewing Company in Bowie Town Center at 11:30 am.

If you can read this, you are invited. Whether we’re old friends, casual acquaintances, or you’re an Internet fan/lurker, you are welcome to attend.

Please do RSVP in comments or by email so I can try to secure a suitably sized table.

See some, all or none of you in Maryland at lunch.