Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lying Airlines

I thought this article on CNN was pretty funny, as I had a "weather" delay for a Jan 17th flight out of Montrose, Colorado. I received a phone call at 8:00 the night before telling me my scheduled early morning flight was canceled due to "weather." The sky was clear, lots of stars, not too cold. While the United agent was on the phone looking for alternates for me I pulled the weather for Montrose: Mostly clear overnight, sunny in the morning. OK, maybe high winds aloft? Nope, all good there. Ah, freezing rain? No. I told the agent that and she insisted it was a weather delay. OK, maybe United has some sort of super-secret weather forecasting info. While the nice agent tried to rebook me and my family I kept surfing the web--there was absolutely no weather event within 1,000 miles that would preclude even a paraglider flight--no fog, no snow, no freezing rain, no thunderstorms, nada. I believe that the small planes that fly Montrose-Denver and back do just that and perhaps other short local trips; weather elsewhere in the flight system (like Chicago) doesn't seem likely to have been the problem. I was due to meet five other people and drive three hours in a van after my flight, so I wasn't happy when the agent told me I was now going to arrive six hours later--arriving in Mexico city past midnight for a scheduled van that left six hours earlier isn't a great plan with a family. I kept working with the friendly agent, who finally allowed that United could book me on other carriers "if available." I read her the weather forecasts with some laughter and we talked about flying, her husband was a pilot and she got where I was coming from. Eventually we were booked on another airline.

I woke up at 6:00 a.m to crystal clear starry skies. At the airport I asked a few people what was going on, and a maintenance sorta guy said, "Oh, the runway lights are having problems, but we can't say that 'cause then the airport has to pay for diverted flights and the airlines have to deal with their passengers." Hmmm.... I asked a baggage guy what was up and got the same answer. At the United counter (still had to deal with the tickets for 45 minutes) I got, "Weather" until I repeated the stories I had just heard. She then said, "Yeah, it's the runway lights, but we can't say that or we have to pay for hotels and stuff. We hope the part shows up soon." So the real deal was that the lights at the airport weren't working, which meant they couldn't fly the plane in late at night or early in the morning.

And the airlines wonder why people hate 'em? When you get flat-out lied to repeatedly it sorta makes you less than trusting, know what I mean? If United had said, "The runway lights are broken and we can't fly your plane here in the dark, so we've got to schedule you on a different flight" I would have been a little annoyed, but OK, United doesn't fix the runway lights, fair enough. But to get a lame excuse about weather just makes United look like not only liars but idiots--it's pretty bold to invoke bad weather when the sky is clear, a sort of Jedi mind trick, "No, really the weather is bad, that is not the sun..." Right.

Competitive Yoga

Everybody makes New Year's resolutions. Given the number of minor but still debilitating injuries I've gone through in the last year my most "major" resolution was to try and do some form of stretching at least 150 days this year. That works out to about every other day, so it seemed like an achievable goal. I did Yoga about 50 percent of the days in November and December (modified due to a torn oblique), it was feeling good, but I wanted to feel "looser" and perhaps also prevent some of the soft (and not so soft) tissue injuries I've been having. I blame these injuries directly on getting older--I'm as motivated and fired up as ever, but my body just doesn't do as well with rapid sport switches and sudden random movements as it used to. I'd really noticed that my comfortable range of motion was decreasing; it stands to reason that a better range of motion in my muscles, and putting my body into weird positions more regularly, might result in fewer injuries or at least a more comfortable feeling.

I'm wired as tightly as an ostrich; I've always done some form of irregular and often injury-causing stretching over the years, but the reality is that my range of motion was still decreasing. Yoga helps fight my natural stiffness when I do it regularly, but Yoga can also be really damaging. Yoga instructors usually have no clue how to deal with competitive athletes or the male ego in their students. When I walk into a class and flop the mat down I'm just NOT there to get in touch with my inner chillness, I'm in there to bust a cap on my stiff ass, know what I mean? The problem with this attitude is that it results in "competitive yoga," which results in injuries. Touch my toes? Yeah, so I can't do that normally but the flabby-assed punter on the next mat is touching his head to his knee so I'll just try harder... Oops, that was the sound of hamstring ripping... Eventually I figured out that Yoga wasn't competitive, but I watch guys in classes do exactly what I've just described a lot. Yoga instructors should start their classes by saying, "If you're an athlete the next hour needs a mental adjustment. It's not like the weight room, where the goal is to lift the heaviest weight you can and try as hard as you can. If you use that approach today you WILL be injured, perhaps seriously. There are people in this room who can do what you will likely never be able to do unless you also practice Yoga regularly for years. So just work gently with your range of motion or you will be injured. A stretch should feel good, like yawning, not like a jack is forcing your body into a new position. Forcing your body in Yoga will only result in injuries, which will make you stiffer, not more flexible. Regular gentle practice will help you gain flexibility and strength through a range of motion, which may make you a better athlete. Going hard at Yoga once a week will only result in INJURY. So mellow out, do NOT push into pain, just practice regularly with a relaxed and smooth attitude and you might not get hurt. Guys, this means YOU. Clear?" Most Yoga instructors seem to think their students don't try hard enough, and will urge "Push into the position, relax into it, push a little farther" and similar rhetoric that any decent athlete will respond to with effort to the point of injury... It only took me three years and a lot of injuries to figure the above out, maybe you learned the lesson faster. I've done fits and bursts of Yoga for the last three years, it's still helped once I mellowed out a bit, but I don't think I'm seeing good gains because I wasn't regular about it. So 150 days of Yoga this year or bust!

It's day 42 of the year and I've hit the mat 22 days despite four weeks of travel of chaotic travel (travel is always chaotic, but add in an eight-month old, some competitions and some foreign countries and it's total chaos). I've done yoga in the business lounge of several airports, in the hallways of hotels early in the morning, and on a nasty tile floor in Mexico. I have a basic routine that takes 25 minutes at a bare minimum, and 45 if I work with it a bit. The first five minutes involve no "stretching," just moving through my range of motion and generating heat. That's another beef I have with most Yoga classes--you walk in from a -10 day and immediately start stretching while totally cold. Super-bendy young female yoga instructors just don't realize that for a lot of male athletes sitting cross-legged on the floor for five minutes IS a serious stretch, or that "gently bending forward and placing your hands toward the floor while contracting your inner Bunny" is a MAJOR stretch. I don't need to contemplate my navel in a painful position for five minutes at the beginning of a Yoga class, I need to get the blood moving... Yoga classes where I live are scheduled for people with regular schedules, which I don't have, so it's important that I do it on my own most of the time. I don't have to think much with my routine, just relax, feel the poses and the motions and do it. The results are slow but definitely there even after only a few months--I can touch my toes easily when I'm warmed up, and my messed up left hip has opened about an inch. I feel looser while climbing, and even just walking down the street. If you're under 30 and female that's probably less than impressive, but for a 40-year old high-mileage male athlete I'm digging it. I find my yoga days are also a little better mentally too, which is a bonus...

A half hour every other day of Yoga is achievable, we'll see what the results are at the end of the year. Because for me results count more than anything, the rest is just justification and excuses for non-performance. To quote Fugazi, "Function is the key." I want to function better.