Pennsylvania’s New Welcome

On Tuesday I drove from Columbus to Pittsburgh.  As I crossed the state line between West Virginia and Pennsylvania, I noticed that Pennsylvania had a new sign welcoming motorists.  It had “Pennsylvania” written in a kind of kicky script, with the lowercase slogan:  “pursue your happiness.”

pa-signpng-dbea1948237525b4Pennsylvania used to have a more sober sign saying that Pennsylvania welcomes you and referring to the Keystone State as the “State of Independence.”  Now Pennsylvania has taken a decidedly different approach.  Before, it was content to simply be known as the “State of Independence,” referring to its historical status as home to the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration of Independence  Now Pennsylvania has lifted a line from the Declaration’s reference to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and issued a directive that motorists must “pursue your happiness” there.

With the use of the kicky new script Pennsylvania and slogan, it’s almost as if Pennsylvania is trying to use road signs — road signs, of all things — to project a cooler, more youthful image.  No doubt the new sign was the product of a long, costly, consultant-filled campaign to pick a new look and slogan . . . and this is what they got.

Who knows?  Maybe the signs will work, and every driver crossing into Pennsylvania will resolve to change their ways and relentlessly pursue happiness with every fiber of their being for so long as they are in the state.  The Pennsylvania sign really puts a lot of pressure on the driver, when you think about it.  If a visitor would just like to get to their hotel, get a quick bite, and then crash, which is what I did, they’re not exactly living up to the command on the road sign, are they?

I suppose it’s tough coming up with road signs welcoming drivers to a new state.  We’re long past the straightforward “Welcome to Ohio” days.  Now, everybody’s got to have a slogan.  When I drove back to Columbus last night, I checked out Ohio’s welcome sign at the end of the bridge spanning the Ohio River, and it says “Welcome to Ohio.  So much to discover!”  It’s pretty bland and forgettable, I guess, but at least it’s not instructing me on how to live my life.



In Today’s Nor’easter

I was in Pittsburgh for meetings today, and the grim, icy grip old Old Man Winter was everywhere in evidence. Pittsburgh was one of the cities in the path of the last (we hope) nor’easter in this endless winter, and it was getting pounded with blizzard-like conditions and what appeared to be about a foot of snow.

I set off to drive home with some trepidation, hoping I wouldn’t get stranded on the road back to Columbus. Fortunately, by the time I hit I-70 the snow really wasn’t bad, and when I crossed the Ohio state line there was no snow at all.

Pittsburgh, however, was another matter.

Avoiding An “Airplane Cold”

If you travel much, you’ve probably encountered the scenario where you’re seated next to somebody who is obviously sick.  They’re sneezing like crazy, constantly blowing their noses, or coughing like they’re about to eject lung tissue, or you’re sitting there, acutely conscious that you are in an airborne metal tube where the air is recirculated and every tiny droplet ejected by Typhoid Mary is ultimately coming your way.  And you wonder:  will I leave this flight with an “airplane cold”?

1-101A recent study conducted by Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology tried to scientifically analyze the chances of catching an “airplane cold.”  The researchers on the study took transcontinental flights, tested the air and surfaces in the cabin for strains of cold and flu viruses, and carefully tracked the movements of passengers and flight attendants during the flights.  Although the data compiled during the study is limited, and the researchers did not find as many coughing or sneezing people aboard as they had expected — lucky them! — they reached two key conclusions.

First, there is a clear risk of catching a cold from a sick fellow passenger, but the zone of contagion is effectively limited to the people sitting next to the sick passenger or in the adjacent rows to the front and rear.  Those unlucky folks have an 80 percent, or greater, chance of becoming infected, whereas the probability of infection for the rest of the cabin is less than three percent.  And second, if you want to improve your chances of avoiding infection — understanding that you can’t control the identity or wellness of the random stranger who might be seated in your zone of contagion — book a window seat and don’t move during the flight.  By sitting in a window seat, you’re eliminating one of the seats next to you, and by staying put you’re reducing your movement through other contagion zones in the aircraft cabin.

I’m a bit skeptical of strategies to reduce the chance of an “airplane cold,” because so much of airplane travel is pure random chance and you’ve just got to grin and bear it.  I do think the study’s conclusions about the movement patterns of passengers, however, are quite interesting.  The study found that 38 percent of passengers never left their seat, 38 percent left once, 13 percent left twice, and 11 percent left more than twice.  Really?  Eleven percent of passengers left their seats more than twice?  Don’t pea-sized bladder people know you should go to the bathroom before you board the plane?

And by the way:  why do those 11 percenters always seem to be in my row when I’ve got an aisle seat?

Questioning Your Very Existence

Philosophers, from Aristotle and Plato, through to Kant, Descartes, and Leibniz, and down to the present day, have wrestled with crucial questions of being and existence.

Just imagine how profound the philosophical debates might have been if Aristotle, say, tried to use one of those automatic faucets in an airport restroom and found that, no matter how much hand waving and cursing he did, the photovoltaic cells would not register his presence and start the water flowing?

It gives rise to troubling existential issues. Can I be said to truly exist if the automatic faucet doesn’t acknowledge my being?

What’s Wrong With Our Airlines?

Every time you turn around, it seems like you are reading some disturbing new story about a poorly handled incident on an airline.  The latest is the story of a puppy that a United Airlines flight attendant forced into an overhead bin — where the puppy died.

united-airlinesThe incident happened on Monday, on a United Airlines flight from Houston to New York.  The dog was in an approved pet carrier device when a flight attendant required the dog’s owner to put the pet carrier into an overhead bin.  The flight attendant now says she didn’t realize the dog was in the pet carrier.  Another passenger on the plane, however, says the dog’s owner resisted and told the flight attendant that there was a live dog in the carrier, but the flight attendant insisted and the dog’s owner eventually complied.  When the pet carrier was retrieved at the end of the flight, the dog was dead — perhaps from lack of oxygen.

United Airlines has apologized, and a statement from a spokesperson said:  “This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.”

In this instance, perhaps the flight attendant was at the end of a long shift and at the end of her rope, or perhaps she was confused about whether there was a live animal in the pet carrier.  (Of course, why else would somebody take a pet carrier on a plane as a carry-on item?)  Whatever the cause, the story is extremely troubling, because it’s another example of airlines treating passengers like cattle.  We’ve seen incidents where ticketed passengers have been forcibly removed from planes, including one instance that raised such a ruckus that United’s CEO sent an email out to me and other United passengers that spoke of passengers being “treated with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect” and that the airline intended to try to live up to “higher expectations.”  I guess that effort still has a ways to go.


Fountain Art

On the walk between my hotel and my meetings in Houston this week, there is one of these timed fountains. Maybe it’s because I live in fountain-deprived Columbus, but I find it to be fascinating and beautiful. Not in an overpowering, Las Vegas fountain performance to the sounds of Mannheim Steamroller kind of way, but rather for the simplicity of the arcs traced in the air by the controlled bursts of the water.

It makes me wish that Columbus were more like Rome, and that there were more fountains in the world. I’ll take a fountain over a rusting piece of generic abstract art on a corporate plaza any day.

Down-Home BBQ

I’m in Houston for work. When you’re a visitor to a town on a working trip, it’s nice to get away from the hotel scene and hit one of the local joints and, if possible, enjoy some true regional cuisine — like authentic, wood-smoked barbecue.

Last night I hit the mark when the Tattooed Cyclist and his lovely wife took me to Gatlin’s BBQ, one of their favorite hangouts. There we feasted on ribs with an excellent bark, venison sausage, spicy sausage, and some succulent brisket. I added to that a few heaping spoonfuls of mac and cheese and, at the insistence of Mrs. Tattooed Cyclist, some fried okra. Me, eating fried okra! It was good, and proved that pretty much anything fried is palatable. And, of course, when you’re attacking a platter of BBQ, a local brew is essential.

Some people argue about which kind of barbecue is best — Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, Carolina, or wherever your favorite may be found. I think that’s pointless, really. It’s like debating whether Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Renoir, or Jackson Pollack is the best artist. Each should be appreciated for their mastery of their own styles and the masterpieces they produced. When it comes to BBQ, I’ll gladly sample the different offerings of anybody who treats the production of smoked meats as an artistic endeavor, and consume their creative output with relish.