Mid-Life Crisis Trip

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Entry 21: Standing in line with Tater Salad

Sun, Aug 20, 2006

3:00 pm

We decide to sift through the ream of paper that VISTA sent each of us and pluck out the four forms that we actually have to fill out (and two of them are about if we die while doing this).

One of the forms we're supposed to fill out is a set of fingerprints. According to the directions, they don't care if you're a burglar, but they do care if you're a molester.

We have no problem with this (although we did have a problem with the "you must prove you're an American to be elegible for a minimum wage job helping poor Americans" requirement). We don't think it's a good idea to hire molesters to maybe work with kids, either (although neither of our jobs involves kids, but hey—this is the government!).

We can't actually fingerprint ourselves (they don't let you) but we can fill out the rest of the form (weight, height, hair color, and so forth). Sadly, they ask for "aliases," and Robert immediately seizes on this as being the best idea he's heard all day. He finally decides that he wants his alias to be "Tater Salad," and that's what he puts on his soon-to-be FBI-filed fingerprint card.

So, if you hear about any manhunts for "Tater Salad," you know who they're looking for...

[And yes, he did steal this alias from Ron White of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, but it's a GREAT alias.]

Monday Aug 21, 2006

4:30 am

Ugh. We really are up this early. The VISTA office booked a flight out of Portland airport at 7:30 am, which means we need to be there at 5:30 am (without any hand lotion in our carry-on bags), which means we need to leave Salem at 4:30 am.


Not a lot of traffic at this hour, though.

6:00 am

Good thing we got here early, as we've spent half-an-hour standing in line waiting to check-in at Southwest Airlines (motto: "Hey, if you're in a hurry, take a bus").

Fortunately, it's still so early that we don't mind standing around staring into space. Kind of relaxing, actually.

6:15 am

Now that we're checked in, we're standing in line to deliver our bags to X-Ray. Yep, they now make you carry your own bags over to the X-Ray machine and load up the cart. Coming soon: load your own bags onto the airplane!

6:45 am

Now we're standing in the security line, where everybody is very nervous about bottled water and hand lotion. And hair gel ("Does mousse qualify as gel?" one person in line inquires of a fellow traveler).

We think it would be pretty funny if somebody invented a plot that involved hijacking an airplane using underwear. You can bet that the next week we'd all be shucking our shorts and waving them at bomb-sniffing dogs.

7:15 am

We're now standing in line for our airplane. Southwest Airlines actually turns a profit, and they do this by streamlining the whole process as much as possible. One method is to use seating that's first-come first-served ("festival seating" to all us old-time rock-n-roll concert goers).

It actually goes quicker than having assigned seats because nobody is looking for a particular seat. And the seats are reasonably sized (not designed for supermodels like most of the other airlines).

8:00 am

We're in the air on our way to our first stop on the way to Salt Lake City: Boise, Idaho!

Yeah, it doesn't make much sense to us, either, but then this plane continues on to Los Angeles after it drops us off in Salt Lake City, so what do we know?

9:30 am

On our way to Salt Lake City.

The flight attendant who gives the safety lecture has done this about 10 zillion times, and knows that nobody pays any attention to it (or, like us, has it memorized). So she whips through it at about 400 words a minute ("fastentheseatbeltbyinsertingthemetalbuckleandpullingthestraptight").

At the end of her monologue, she adds "Wah wah wah wah wah" (just like the teacher in the Charlie Brown TV specials). We think she's captured her milieu perfectly.

11:30 am

After setting our clocks ahead an hour, we're here in arid, desolate, god-forsaken Salt Lake City. We did get to see the lake on the way in, and boy howdy, it's big.

There's also some very strange brightly colored square patches near the lake. Giant green and red rectangles that are too regular to be natural formations. We're thinking maybe they're drying out seasoned salt? We'll ask around and try to find out. (One patch in particular is purple and green and blue.)

12:00 Noon

We stagger outside to catch our special VISTA bus to the hotel and that's when we find out that a whole mess of our fellow travelers are VISTA people. About 60 of us cram into the bus (and we still leave 10 at the curb, and this is with eight folks standing in our bus).

The VISTAs are mostly young (early 20's) and female. We're feeling like Grandma and Grandpa.

12:30 pm

Our bus driver is inordinately proud of the wonders of the great state of Utah and points out many local landmarks on the way in:


The Kennecot Copper Mine! The world's largest open pit copper mine! It can be seen from outer space!


eBay headquarters, which is a warehouse with "ebay" on the side.


The mill and high school where they filmed "Footloose" with Kevin Bacon (who sometimes still comes to town and plays in a band with his brothers!).


The town of Orem where the Osmonds are from! Of course, only Marie lives there now, as the rest of them have moved to Branson, Missouri where they perform nightly whatever hit they had. (What the hell hit DID the Osmonds have? "I got plenty of teeth"?)


There's a giant "Y" on the hillside (of the Wasatch Mountains). Seems that Brigham Young University (BYU) is located here and the college wanted to put their initials on the hillside. But after they got the "Y" up, something happened and they never put the "B" and the "U" on the hillside (we think they probably got too drunk to finish).

Our bus driver also informs us that if you want to get drunk in Utah, you first have to get a drink and that involves joining a club and then paying for your drinks on top of it. We think that they are trying to weed out people who aren't joiners and keep them from being solitary drunks.

Also, all the liquor stores are run by the school districts. "I'm shupporting educashun, offisher!"

1:30 pm

All the young VISTA kids get into a long line so they can check in to the hotel. Except that it's too early to check in, so most of them just get storage tags for their bags and directions to sit down somewhere until their rooms are ready.

Being older and craftier, we start out sitting down and wait for the line to go away. By the time everyone else has been through the line, our room is ready and we head straight up to it.

Where our bodies remind us that we've been up since three in the morning and we sack out.

6:30 pm

We finish up our dinner and start into the "Must-not-roll-eyes" portion of the training. This is the part where we get to "bond" with the other folks here, people we will probably never see again.

But first—let's get some enthusiasm going for various minor functionaries! Woohoo!

And then—let's form various transient groups and answer questions like "What do you want to learn from this training?" (Robert: How to fill out a mileage and expense report) "What do you want your (TV) theme to be for the next year?" (Laura: So You Think You Can Dance?).

We try as hard as we can to not roll our eyes (especially after they point out, again, that they can still decide that "perhaps VISTA isn't a good choice for some of you").

There's about 200 VISTA folks and supervisors (supervisors perform some unknown function in the organization—so far, what they've done is give us bad advice about how to get reimbursed for airport transportation).

It sounds like they're might be some actual valuable training that happens tomorrow and doesn't involve answering questions like "What's one thing that most people don't know about you?"

We'll let you know while we try to keep our eyeballs from rotating out of their sockets.

Robert (aka Tater Salad) & Laura
Mid-Life Crisis Trip