I’ve been shot!

I was standing in line at the grocery store Friday night picking up some stuff for Toren’s birthday party.  The woman checking out in front of me was chatting with the employee scanning her purchases – I think they were discussing recipes.  I wasn’t really paying very close attention.  I put all of my groceries on to the conveyor belt and was waiting quietly.  After a few minutes, another family pushed their cart up behind mine.  It was a mother, her daughter, the daughter’s husband, and the grandson.  The grandson looked to be about 5 or 6 and was sitting in the child seat in the cart.  I glanced back at them quickly, then turned back around as it was almost my turn to check out.

As the woman in front of me finished up and the employee started scanning my items, I turned around one more time to see the people behind me.  Little did I realize that I would be staring down the barrel of a fully automatic assault rifle:

toy M16

Yep, the 5 or 6 year-old kid was pointing his toy M16 at me and firing away.  His parents and grandmother were ignoring him, but for some reason the intent look on his face as he filled me full of 5.56 x 45mm (.223 Remington) bullets repeatedly was a little disturbing.  He looked like he was engaged in serious business – destroying the enemy.  Apparently the really white guy with the goatee buying groceries was the enemy.

This prompted an obvious thought in my head: Should a kid be allowed to play with a toy like that?

I had toy weapons growing up – guns, knives, swords, etc.  I also had army men.  By the time I was 7 or 8 I had a BB gun and by about 14 I had a 22 caliber rifle.  I never killed anyone, though I did almost shoot one of my best friend’s eyes out (sorry Tyler; I still feel bad about that BB gun fight).  I also had a paintball gun and played paintball.  I’m not, now, a particularly violent person.  In fact, I’m quite anti-guns.  But I’m not sure letting kids play with guns increases the odds of violent behavior.  Thoughts, anyone?

(Oh, and just so everyone knows, there are no plans to buy Toren any violent toys – no guns, knives, swords, or army men.)

my best publication yet!

I don’t typically mention my publications on this blog, but this is one about which I am particularly proud.  I think it is a significant contribution not only to the study of Mormonism but also to theory in the Sociology of Religion as well.  I’m also proud of it because of the amount of time that went into it.  I’m guessing that this article took me close to 1,000 hours to produce (that’s about 41 days).  It started as a class project in graduate school, probably around 2003 or 2004.  It then turned into a series of conference presentations, was submitted to three different journals, all of which rejected it but provided useful feedback.  Eventually I decided that the article needed to aim larger than just Mormons, so I included Adventists and Witnesses and invited Ron Lawson to help me (he’s an expert on Adventists and Witnesses).  Anyway, here’s a link to the article:

The Secular Transition: The Worldwide Growth of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-day Adventists

If you’re really geeky and want to read the article but don’t have access to the journal via a university subscription, let me know and I can send you a copy of the article.

PEACE Alternative Break – day 2

Our second day in Southeastern Florida was mostly spent volunteering at Horses for the Handicapped.  We did a variety of things while there, from painting to picking up rocks to grooming horses, but mostly we cleaned up horse feces.  Horses defecate a lot.  I was happy to help, but I’ll be happy if I never have to clean up horse crap ever again.

The day was pretty uneventful until our way home.  The large van I drove down to Fort Lauderdale didn’t get the greatest gas mileage.  On the way home from volunteering we needed to gas up.  So I stopped at a gas station near our hostel to get some gas.  While I was pumping the gas a car pulled up to the pump opposite mine.  In the car were three young, black men.  The driver got out and began filling his car.  Meanwhile, the young man in the passenger seat seemed busy with something, then he threw something out the window onto the ground.

Enter one of Ryan’s major pet peeves: I HATE it when people litter!!!

I periodically see people through garbage out of their car onto the ground.  Whenever I do, my blood boils.  I’m not quite sure why I get so irate, but it really, really bothers me.  As most of the time I see people do this they are in cars and I can’t really pull them over to chew them out, I usually can’t do anything except honk or give them dirty looks (yep, I get that mad).  But this time… Well, the guy was sitting in the car 5 feet from me.  So, I put the pump on automatic and walked over to the car.  Here’s how the conversation played out to the best of my memory:

Ryan: Um, did you drop something?

Guy in car: Excuse me?

Ryan: I thought I saw something fall out the window.  Did you drop something?

Guy in car: Yes, I dropped something.  I threw it out the window.

Ryan:  Oh, you meant to drop it?

Guy in car: Yeah.

Ryan: Oh, okay.  Um, I wasn’t sure if you meant to drop it.

At this point the conversation paused while I considered whether to say what I was thinking.  Perhaps stupidly, I said it…

Ryan: You do realize there is a garbage can about 10 feet away, right?

Guy in car: Are you some sort of ecololo-ecolologist?  (that’s exactly how he said it)

Ryan: Nope.  Just a guy who doesn’t like to see people litter.

Guy in car: Why do you care?

Ryan: I just don’t understand why you’d drop something on the ground when there is a trash can 10 feet away.

Guy in car: I was done with it.

Ryan:  Oh.  Okay.

The driver of his car has now finished filling up the car and now gets in the driver’s seat and starts the car.  As he begins to pull out, the guy with whom I’m sharing this enlightening conversation decides he’s not done.

Guy in car (to the driver): Wait.  I’m going to pick this up.

He opens his door, bends down, and picks up one of the two pieces of trash he dropped on the ground.  He stands up in front of me and continues our conversation:

Guy formerly in car: There.  I picked it up.  (pointing over to more trash near the street)  But I have a question for you.  Why do you care so much about me dropping this when there is trash all over the f*cking place?

Ryan: Because it is littering.

Guy in car: But you’re not going to pick it up, are you?

Ryan: I volunteer picking up trash. (It’s true; part of what we did at Horses and the Handicapped is pick up trash.)

Guy in car: But you’re not going to volunteer to pick up trash right here, are you?

Ryan: I think you’re missing the point…

Guy in car: You’re not, are you?

It’s at this point he draws right up to my face until he’s about 6 inches from me, kind of like this:

This is pretty close to the real deal, except I doubt I was smirking and we were about the same height. This must have been how it looked to the students in the van (props to Quinton Jackson and Forrest Griffin).

He was actually about my height.  I think he thought he was going to be taller than me, so he could intimidate me, but he wasn’t any thicker than I am or any taller, so his attempt at intimidation didn’t work.  But he sure tried:

Guy formerly in car: Are you my f*cking mother?  (feints at me)

Ryan:

Guy formerly in car: Why don’t you mind your own business?!?  (feints again)

Ryan: (probably just staring dumbly at the fact that this guy is getting in my face because I called him on littering)

Guy formerly in car: Why don’t you mind your own business?!?  Why don’t you mind your own business?!?  (feints each time he says this)

Perhaps he thought I would back down or that I would throw a punch, I don’t know.  But when I just stood there and stared at him he eventually gave up his feints at me, turned, walked to the trash can, threw his trash in it, walked back to his car, got in, and drove away.  All the while I just stared.

After he left, I walked back to the van, removed the gas nozzle, and closed everything up.  I then opened the door and looked in to see all the students staring at me in a strange combination of awe and bewilderment.  One of the guys said, “I thought we were going to get in a brawl.  I was about ready to jump out and back you up.”

I laughed and said, “All that over a piece of trash.”

One of the students then said, “Remind me never to litter around you.”

Right.  So, that’s the story.  But I have to admit I’m really, really intrigued by this whole event.  As noted above, littering is one of my pet peeves.  But as a sociologist, I can’t help but wonder why people do it.  Almost every single person I’ve ever seen throw trash on the ground has been young, of a lower socioeconomic status, and black. Here’s where I’m intrigued.  Clearly there is a cultural difference between myself and the individuals who throw trash on the ground.  But I’m not sure which characteristics leads to this behavior.  I’m guessing it’s not a youth thing as I have been anal about littering since I was a kid and there are lots of kids who don’t litter.  I’m guessing this isn’t a racial cultural difference as I don’t ever see higher socioeconomic status blacks litter and I’ve been in predominantly black, middle-class neighborhoods (in Cincinnati) that were basically trash free.  Why it has been mostly blacks I’ve seen this, I don’t know, but it could be due to where I live (in cities where the poorest group tends to black) and the fact that blacks are more likely to be poor.  My best guess is that this is a lower socioeconomic status thing as I’ve seen poor white people litter.  I’ve also been in poorer, predominantly white neighborhoods that have a lot of trash on the street.  So, I’m going to venture a guess here and say that this must be a lower socioeconomic status cultural difference.

This leads me to my question, which I’m really hoping some of my sociology colleagues who read this post will be able to address:  First, am I right that this is a class difference?  Second, what is it about this socioeconomic group that leads them to litter?  I thought the response of the Guy in the car was somewhat telling – “he was done with it.”  Is that the mindset of people who litter?  They give no consideration to: (1) the environment, or (2) to the people who will have to pick up their trash.  Their only thought is: “I’m done with this and don’t want to have it around me anymore, so I’ll just throw it on the ground.”

I happened to catch a science news article a couple days ago after this incident that I thought might help explain it.  Apparently young offenders who think they are likely to die young are more likely to engage in criminal activities, which runs counter to common wisdom.  Perhaps there is a similar disregard for social order among those who litter?  Anyway, I don’t have an answer to this question, but am interested in any thoughts you have.  I’d really like to understand the litterer’s mindset.

Oh, and any thoughts on why the Guy in the car got in my face over this?  I have my suspicions, but I’m open to ideas on this as well.

Hail the Conquering Hero

It’s the weekend before Christmas and I’m trying to get all of my grading done when Debi comes into the office and tells me  that the clothes dryer is no longer working.  It heats up, but it doesn’t turn.  I was on track to have all of my grading  done so I could relax a little bit on Christmas before trying to get everything I have planned for the break complete.  Now this.  The first thought that came to my mind: “How much does a new dryer cost?”  Answer – at a bare minimum if you buy it new, about $300.  On Craigslist in questionable condition – $75.00.   A service call from an appliance repair person – $55.00.  Well, crap!  I didn’t want a new dryer for Christmas and I’m a sociologist, not an engineer.  I can’t fix a dryer!!!!

Enter gender stereotype: I’m the man of the household, I should at least make a token effort to fix this thing.  So, armed with a couple of screwdrivers, I venture into the garage and start unscrewing every screw I can find holding the dryer together.  About an hour later I have loosened one of the side panels sufficiently that I can peek inside the dryer.  I see something that looks loose, so I pull on it and it comes out.  Once I get it out I realize it’s a drive belt and it has snapped.  Aha!  I have found a problem – a broken drive belt.

Enter gender stereotype insecurity: I have discovered something that is wrong with the dryer – a broken drive belt.  But even having done that, I’m not sure I can fix it.

Re-enter gender stereotype: I am ‘the man’ of the household, I should at least make a token effort to try.  So, I start searching on the internet for replacement drive belts for a GE dryer.  I come across this site – partselect.com.  I type in the model of our dryer and voila – up comes a list of replacement parts, including the drive belt – $14.00 ($22.00 with shipping).  Great!  Now I’m really going to have to put some serious effort into this and actually see if I can figure out how to fix a dryer.  But my “male ego” is pretty low at the moment.  Remember, I spent an hour unscrewing every screw I could find and in that time was only able to loosen one side of the dryer enough to peer inside and find a broken belt.  I can order a replacement belt for less than 1/10th the cost of a new dryer, but I have no idea how to put the new belt into place.

So, more time on the internet…  Luckily, on that same site there are some stories by people who have replaced the drive belt on their dryer.  They mention that there are two screws in the door frame that loosen the top of the dryer, allowing you to remove it.  Arghhh!!!  If I had only known that before I started tearing the side panels off (bending one slightly in the process).  I check my dryer.  Sure enough – two screws right where they are supposed to be.  I loosen them and voila – the top of the dryer pops off.  Now I can see the drum, but I can’t get it out.  I read a little more on that same site and someone mentions a couple more screws right inside the top that keep the front panel on.  I check and sure enough, there they are.  I unscrew them and off pops the front panel.  I can now remove the drum and then I see the motor that turns the drum. Crap!  It’s beginning to look like I may seriously have to repair this thing myself.  I know enough now that I can probably do it.  But, just to be sure that the only problem is this broken belt, I come up with an idea…

Enter duct tape: I carefully tape the belt back together then put it on the motor and around the drum.  Hmmm… Problem!  There is too much slack.  When I start the dryer, the motor turns, but the belt is too loose.  I’m doing something wrong!  Back to the internet.  I spend another 30 minutes trying to figure out how the belt is supposed to go on.  I eventually find a diagram that helps me realize that I wasn’t putting the belt on the tension pulley correctly.  I can’t explain it, but it’s very particular and is supposed to look like this (courtesy of this site):

It’s kind of strange how it is supposed to wrap around, but once I see it, it makes sense.  So, with my duct taped belt, I put it on correctly (takes a while), put the front panel back on, and start the dryer.  Everything works for about 30 seconds then the duct tape gives and the belt breaks.  Verdict: The dryer needs a new drive belt; I can put it on correctly; and I have found one online for about $22.00.  I guess I’m going to fix the dryer…

I order the belt and wait.  Just a couple days later the belt arrives (super fast shipping).  Worried that this isn’t going to work and questioning my “manly” abilities, I venture into the garage to see if I hold the solution to our dryer woes.  Twenty minutes later, I have the belt on and start the dryer.  It works!  Another 20 minutes of reassembling the dismantled dryer (I really did remove a lot of screws) and the dryer is good to go.

Hail the Conquering Hero!

What have I accomplished?  Hmmm…. My going rate as a college professor is about $25.00/hour (if I actually worked 40 hours per week; since I work close to 80 I guess I can cut that in half).  I spent close to 4 hours on the dryer.  Cost in my time – $100.  Cost in parts – $22.00.  Total repair cost – $122.  We could have bought a replacement dryer on Craigslist for $75.  A repairman could have replaced the belt in 20 minutes for probably close to $100.  So, did I really save any money?  Well, maybe, since I don’t work 24/7 (more like 16/7), but probably not.

But the real accomplishment is more impressive: I simultaneously boosted my male ego (probably not a good thing) and raised Debi’s future expectations that I can actually repair things (definitely not a good thing).

Hail the conquering hero indeed…

England Trip – Day 7

We were surprised at how many things we had been able to fit in at this point.  If you’ve been reading these posts chronologically, you’ll know that we skipped two attractions for various reasons.  This was our make up day.  We started out with a visit to Abbey Road, the recording studio made famous by The Beatles for their album they recorded here.  There isn’t much to see there, but we stopped by anyway:

Abbey Road studio

From Abbey Road we returned to Westminster Abbey.  Westminster Abbey is a working Church of England Church and the location of British coronation ceremonies (and has been for centuries).  Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take photos inside (though I snuck a couple again).  Our primary interest in visiting the Abbey was to make another pilgrimage of sorts – to the grave of Charles Darwin.  Steve and I are both ardent evolutionists, so we had to pay homage.  In honor of our visit, Steve wore his Project Steve shirt to the Abbey:

Project Steve visits Westminster Abbey

The Abbey is a functioning church, but it’s also kind of creepy.  I really don’t understand the bizarre obsession of people to be buried inside churches.  I don’t really mean to be mean about this, but it almost seems as though the idea is to change the object of veneration from some supernatural entity to those entombed inside the building.  I didn’t actually get creeped out by the fact that I was walking around inside a building that literally has thousands of dead people scattered throughout the walls and floor, but it does seem kind of bizarre to me  (if any readers have any thoughts on this, I’m interested in what you think).  Anyway, access to Westminster Abbey costs a pretty penny as well – about $20.00, but it does include an audio tour that is pretty good.  Easily the most amazing part of the building is the sheer size.  As soon as you walk in and see the soaring ceiling you can’t help but be impressed.  As I couldn’t take pictures here, I stole some from other people who did.  Here’s a shot of the main altar that shows the height of the ceiling:

the main altar

Surrounding the main altar are a number of smaller chapels, most of which are filled with dead people – er, rather, monuments and gravemarkers to dead people that include the dead people inside; so, yeah, dead people.  A number of monarchs of England are buried here, though monarchs post George II are no longer buried here but in some other church.  The architecture, even of the tombs, is pretty remarkable.  The tour takes close to 2 hours if you listen closely to everything.  It winds its way around the church, but also out into several other areas where those who run the church live.  There is also a museum, though quite small, that is part of the tour.  I did snap a picture in the museum as it included a wax model of my famous ancestor, Lord Nelson (who is buried in a different chapel in London):

wax model of Lord Nelson

We knew about two famous people who are buried at the Abbey, Newton and Darwin, but were surprised to also learn that George Frideric Handel is as well, as is Winston Churchhill.  Here’s a picture of Darwin’s grave (stolen from someone else on the internet):

Darwin's grave marker

He is buried close to Newton and several other famed scientists.  Despite the creepiness of the thousands of bodies around the place, it is a site to see – and of course we had to pay homage to Darwin.

From Westminster Abbey we headed back to Trafalgar Square were we had lunch in The Crypt, which is a cafe in the former crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields church.  We then went to the National Portrait Gallery, which is right across the street from The Crypt.  The Portrait Gallery includes paintings of many famous Britons, from the aristocracy to scientists, like Darwin, Huxley, and Newton.  Probably the best part about the gallery for me was the pretty good history given of the aristocracy as you saw their paintings.  I learned a lot about past Kings and Queens as a result.  We didn’t stay too long at the National Portrait Gallery (about 2 hours) as I had arranged to meet one of the conference organizers at the British Library to discuss some research projects.

We met my colleague and talked shop for a while over tea (okay, we didn’t really drink tea, but we called it “tea”).  Afterward we went downstairs to see some of the famous manuscripts and documents the library has, including: 2 of the 4 remaining copies of the Magna Carta, Gutenberg Bibles, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, some samples of Shakespeare’s writing, Leonardo DaVinci’s notebooks, original song lyrics by The Beatles on various scraps of paper, and thousands of other famous documents, including a wide variety of religious books and manuscripts.  My colleague, who goes to the British Library at least once a month, didn’t actually know where the room with the collections was and had never seen any of the stuff inside.  So, she accompanied us to see the Magna Carta before she had to run to a different meeting.  Intriguingly, we spent a couple hours checking out all the documents and saw just one or two other people the whole time.  It’s pretty amazing to think that these treasures aren’t widely visited.

After the British Library we headed back to Hammersmith, stopped for dinner at another pub, and called it a night.

England Trip – Day 6

I drug Steve out to do a little more Sociology-related fieldwork during this day in London – we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the burial place of Karl Marx, Toren’s namesake, at Highgate Cemetery.  Unknown to me before we arrived, there are a number of other famous people buried in the cemetery, including: Douglas Adams and George Eliot.  I already knew Herbert Spencer was buried there, so that wasn’t a surprise, but Douglas Adams – awesome!  The only drawbacks to the cemetery: (1) it costs money to get in 3 pounds) and (2) to find out where different people are buried you need a guide, which costs a pound as well.  For any future visitors, I created a map of the famous people buried in Highgate Cemetery using Google maps.  You can see where they are without purchasing the guide.

We took pictures, of course:

Douglas Adams’s tombstone
Steve by Douglas Adams

The cemetery itself is very cool.  It’s basically like a forest as it is mostly left to itself with the exception of the paths, as you can see in this photo:

cool cemetery

The key attraction, of course, is Karl Marx’s monument.  Apparently he was originally buried in a nondescript location, but the surge of visitors as he became more and more famous necessitated moving him to this more accessible location.  He is buried with his daughter and a few additional people.  Here’s the monument:

Toren’s namesake – Karl Marx

Not 30 feet from Marx’s monument is that of another famous early sociologist, Herbert Spencer:

Herbert Spencer’s grave marker

This next photo shows their relative placements:

Marx’s monument is to the right; Herbert Spencer’s is to the left

While it would be overstating the case to say I’m very familiar with George Eliot’s work, I have heard the name (as had Steve). So, we stopped by her grave as well:

gravemarker of George Eliot

As we primarily came to see Marx and Spencer (and saw Douglas Adams as a bonus) we didn’t search down any of the others except Eliot.

From Highgate Cemetery we headed to the British Museum where we literally spent the rest of the day and still didn’t see everything there was to see.  We technically visited every room, but about 1/3 of the museum we simply walked through at turbo speed as there just isn’t enough time in a single day to see everything they have on display there, including the actual Rosetta Stone,a cuneiform tablet recording an ancient flood myth that is believed to be the origin of the flood myth in the Old Testament, dozens of mummies, all sorts of other ancient artifacts, and entire temples.  To illustrate the scope of the museum I took a few pictures.  This first photo is a shot from one end of the very first room of the museum (labeled room 1; out of around 95 rooms):

Room 1 – an amazing museum in its own right

This is just the first room and we spent over an hour here.  The collection is so remarkable in this one room that it could be a museum in its own right.

These next two also illustrate the size of the museum as well.  This one is basically the Parthenon, from Italy.  It’s not the complete Parthenon, of course, or even all that remains of it, but it includes large chunks of it:

the Parthenon room

This last one is a shot of the inner atrium, which kind of serves as a central staging area for the rest of the museum.  I can’t be certain, but it seems as though the museum was originally separate buildings and was eventually covered to make it easier to move between the buildings.  It’s enormous:

the inner atrium of the museum

We stayed until just before closing, then headed to the largest urban shopping mall in Europe, Westfield Mall, to look for presents for Toren (not much luck; the UK is super expensive).  We then had dinner and called it a day.

England Trip – Day 3

This was the day of the conference.  The conference was the inaugural conference of the Non-Religion and Secularity Research Network, an organization primarily made up of scholars interested in the non-religious.  The organizers of the conference were kind enough to invite me to give one of three keynote presentations.  The other two keynote speakers, David Voas and Colin Campbell, are luminaries in the field. I’m not sure how I ended up on the schedule with them, but I consider it quite an honor.

Aside from one question from a reporter who basically suggested I was over-stating my case, my presentation seemed to be well-received.  I’ll spare readers the details (the paper is under review, too, so I can’t really post it here), but my presentation was written up on one of my favorite blogs: Epiphenom.  I met the author of that blog at the conference; he’s a very nice guy.

The conference ran all day and about a dozen of us went out for dinner afterward where I made plans to meet up with one of them during the next few days to talk about collaborating on some research.  After dinner I took a train to London with one of the conference organizers and we talked some more shop.  She then helped me navigate the Tube (the London subway) so I could find my hotel in Hammersmith. Debi’s brother, Steve, who is doing a post-doc in Paris, came over to London to tour around with me for the few days I was going to be there after the conference.  I planned to stay only a few days originally, but when I went to book my flight, the cost of returning Saturday, Sunday, or Monday was equivalent to paying for a hotel and food through Thursday.  So, I opted to stay a few more days, which gave me a chance to not only see London but also to meet up with some of the people who attended the conference as well.

England Trip – Day 1

While I wasn’t particularly excited to leave for the UK on my birthday, in a sense it was kind of a nice birthday present, so I didn’t really mind.  I arrived at the airport a couple hours before my flight, checked in fine, and headed to the terminal from where my US Airways flight to Charlotte, NC was scheduled to depart.  I’m a bit neurotic about flights.  I always like to check at the terminal to make sure that the flight is actually slotted for that terminal (I missed a flight once because I didn’t check).  As I arrived at the terminal I noticed that my flight to Charlotte was listed as delayed by 15 minutes.  You may not remember, but that was the day that a storm hit the Northeast, delaying flights across the U.S. as a result.  I was connecting to Gatwick from Charlotte and only had about 1 hour and 20 minutes between flights.  A delay of 15 minutes probably wouldn’t make a difference, so I didn’t worry about it.

I sat down at a workstation (which the Tampa airport conveniently places all around the terminals) and logged onto the free wi-fi (Tampa’s airport rocks!).  I did a little work, then, as the time to board the flight drew near, I shut off my computer and pulled out my book (I treated myself to a fiction book as it makes flights go much faster for me).  When there was no boarding call at the time specified on my ticket, I decided to check the screen at the desk to see if the delay had gotten worse.  I walked over and still saw a 15 minute delay.  Assuming US Airways was being honest, I sat back down and continued reading.

Fifteen minutes passed with no boarding call.  I got up again and walked to the desk.  The flight was now delayed 45 minutes.  Not knowing if that would work for my connection, I got in line at the terminal to see what I could learn.  I waited in line for almost 30 minutes.  By the time I finally got up to the desk the plane had started to board.  When I asked about my connection in Charlotte, the gate attendant informed me that I would definitely miss it.  She then gave me my one and only option: be rebooked on the same connection to Charlotte the next day and catch the flight to Gatwick 24 hours later than my scheduled flight.  Basically, my trip would be delayed 24 hours.

If I were traveling for pleasure and not to attend a conference, I probably would have accepted the inconvenience and went home.  But this turn of events was unacceptable.  The flight across the Atlantic is an overnight flight – you leave here around 6:00 or 7:00 pm and arrive in the UK around 7:00 or 8:00 am.  I was leaving on a Wednesday so I could arrive on Thursday morning.  My conference started at 9:00 am on Friday morning.  From Gatwick to Oxford (where my conference was) via bus is about 2 1/2 hours.  If I flew out on Thursday I would arrive in the UK Friday morning at around 8:00 am.  By the time I made it to Oxford (after clearing customs and getting my luggage) it would be close to noon.  I was scheduled to give a keynote address at 1:00pm.  Yeah, flying out on Thursday wouldn’t work!

The person helping me at the counter basically told me that was the only option and that US Airways doesn’t put people on other carriers if it is weather related and not mechanical.  When I told her it wouldn’t work, she told me she couldn’t deal with me at that moment because there were more passengers behind me.  The passengers behind me were looking a bit annoyed as well because I wasn’t going to accept the alternative I was given.  I was furious!  Having been dismissed, I walked back to ticketing, stopping to grab my checked suitcase on the way.

When I got to the U.S. Airways ticket counter there were no people in line.  So, I walked up to Elliot D. (I still remember his name) and told him my situation.  He reiterated the policy that US Airways can’t put me on another carrier if the delay is weather related.  I told him I understood that, but that I couldn’t be delayed 24 hours or I would likely miss the reason for the trip – my keynote presentation at a conference.  Turns out Elliot D. was a nice guy.  He told me he’d see what he could do.  He started punching keys on his keyboard then told me he’d have to talk to the manager.  The manager said no the first time.  I told Elliot that I had to be there and that I’d go check British Airways if I had to (conveniently right next door) and just cancel my ticket (I did buy trip insurance).  He actually was on my side and told me what to tell the manager if he could get the manager to come out to talk to me: A delay of a few hours wouldn’t matter, but 24 hours was unacceptable.  He went back to see if the manager would come talk to me but apparently the manager was too busy.  He told Elliot, “Do what you want.”  Elliot came back with a smile on his face.  There was in fact a direct flight on British Airways from Tampa to Gatwick leaving at 7:40 that night and there were available seats.  He put me on the flight!

I thanked Elliot profusely and asked him if there was a way for me to let management at US Airways know that he had saved my trip and my conference.  He gave me a URL and his name.  After thanking him again, I went back through security then sat down at a workstation and sent a very nice email to US Airways management telling them that Elliot D. in Tampa had saved my conference!

I grabbed a bite to eat, then boarded the flight.  It turned out that I was in a window seat and there was an empty seat between myself and the other woman in my row, so we both had a little extra room, which was nice.  I was hoping to get some sleep on the flight so I would have energy to walk around Oxford the next day and still meet up with the conference organizers that night.  But the woman in my row was talkative – very, very talkative.  She ended up talking at me for about 4 hours of the 8 hour flight.  I think I got about 3 hours of sleep.  She was nice though, so I didn’t mind too much!

Tomorrow – Oxford.