Well I haven’t been out on the road for a while, at least not a road that merits a blog entry. But I thought this trip had a few moments worth capturing. That and some nice fall pictures of Oregon.

Southwest has a new boarding process for those that have not been to the airport for a bit. You can learn about it from their web site where they have kindly created a section called “Boarding School”. I wonder who came up with that clever moniker?

Now you might think that it their old system of boarding was just fine for what it was. Socialism that rewarded those that were willing to come early and stand for a long time. Of course the lines eventually devolved into a line of suitcases, as the weak staked their claim but retired to local chairs when the standing got tough. What could anyone do to improve on that? Well, you asked.

They installed 6 steel poles in the boarding area leading up to the gate. Each pole is labeled: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, etc. Up to 26-30. The flip side takes the numbers up to 60. We now have two boarding groups, A and B, each with 60 members. The plan is simple – line up between the poles that match the boarding pass number that you can obtain 24 hours in advance. Really pretty simple, and because you are guaranteed a place, +/- 5, there is no point to claiming your spot in the line early. Honestly? I like it. What’s especially cool though is the palpable pressure in the boarding area to remain seated. Southwest patrons are so trained, that everyone now sits there on the edge of their chair, trying their hardest to display a complete lack of caring as to fixing their place in the queue. Of course, there are always a few that buck that trend and stand up early anyway, even though it buys them nothing. Their body language is slightly different, they’re trying to say, “Oh, I prefer to stand and so I may as well just stand here.” The difference now though is that the first lemming does not precipitate a mass dive off the cliff.

The second element of Southwest’s revival is “Business Select”, a class that allows early boarding for the mere cost of paying twice the ticket price. What you get is a guaranteed spot in the first 20 boarding slots. And judging from the number of people standing in places 1-20, I’d say it’s not a smashing hit. If you refuse to pay, you’ll find yourself with a number greater than 21. If you take that and get in line, you’ll find that they may as well have given you #1, because there is no one in front of you. That’s happened to me 3 times now. So save your pennies unless you’re booking within 24 hours of the departure. In that situation, a coupla hundred moves you right to the front.

Oregon – what can I say? One of my favorite places. Just beautiful, if not freezing this time of year. I got in late and then braved the incredibly confusing drive from the airport to Hillsboro. It’s been 4 years since I was here last and although things have changed, the route remains the same. One of the most interesting things about traveling here is getting out of PDX and making your way down the dark slick highways, across town, across the bridges, up the loop, through the tunnel and out to the farmlands. It’s a tough haul after a long day, but who doesn’t love a challenge?

Missed the hotel on two passes as it is located down at the end of an unmarked street across from Orenco Station. Finally found it and checked in. The elevator is apparently used as a meat locker overnight, because for some reason it was well below freezing. Room was nice but sparse on blankets which required me to leave the heat running all night long, against my better judgment. And I had to unplug my clock radio because for some reason was channeling my Blackberry every time it did a send/receive.

The day started dreary, but by the time I was done with my meetings, the sun came out and the sky cleared up. Just gorgeous but pretty chilly. So got into my grubbies and headed out Highway 6 towards the coastal range to see if I could get a non-standard picture of the day. Many opportunities added below. I love driving in the pine forests here; it’s just so different than driving at home.

It was getting dark so I did a u-turn and headed back to the plains. As I came off of 6 and onto 26, there was a sight which eludes me just about every time I’m up here – Mt. Hood, blazing pink in the setting sun. Against all better judgment and multiple Oregon traffic laws I pulled onto the shoulder and squeezed off a couple of shots. Wrong camera and bad location, but better than nothing. At least now I have some evidence that I actually saw it.

From there, the day winds down. The last adventure of the day involved filling the rental car. No self-service gas stations? What’s up with that? I pulled into a slot behind a car that wouldn’t pull up to the second pump. I realized that the forward pump was broken. I got frustrated and turned around and headed out. But the traffic was so voluminous that I couldn’t get out of the station. So I did a u-turn and saw an open pump. And pulled in. Only to discover it was broken too. So I backed up and as I was about to just drive out through the shrubberies, saw another open pump. I pulled in and waited. The attendants all gave me weird looks, figuring I was going to a pain of a customer but when they finally showed up I handed the my card with a “please” and a “thank-you” and just sat there putting my gas station experience into the bucket of “adversity makes me a better person.” They pumped, I paid and that was that.

That’s it for this trip, next month it’s off to Mexico and early in the New Year I’ll be heading back to China for a winter-time visit. Check back then for the next round of journeys across the sea.