Rare Tour de France Flip

July 14 (Bastille Day)

In the Tour de France, it’s not every day that the race leader loses 22 seconds, and the race lead, in the last 300 meters (328 yards, or 984 feet) of a 214.5 km (133.3 mile) stage.  But that’s what happened to Chris Froome, 3-time TdF winner, yesterday.

The stage featured six categorized climbs, including two 1st Catégorie and one Hors Catégorie, but the true killer was in the last 500 meters or so, a short Cat. 2 with a 20% grade.  That’s one foot of rise for every five feet of distance.  Climbs like that, taken at race speed with everybody trying to finish first, are not for the faint of heart, or of leg.

Froome and his strong Team Sky mates took the lead in the opening time trial when Welshman Geraint Thomas won, and Froome himself grabbed the leader’s yellow jersey on Stage 5.  At that time he said he saw no reason why his team could not hold the lead all the way to Paris.  Such a feat would have been the first in 89 years, since 1928, when Nicolas Frantz, the Luxembourg National Champion, did so for Alcyon.

Froome’s closest rivals at this point in the race were Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet, and Rigoberto Uràn, who trailed after Stage 11 by 18, 51, and 55 seconds respectively.  Beyond 30 seconds or so, against a formidable climber like Froome, any gap is significant, and riders finding themselves more than a minute and a half adrift are in deep trouble if they’re seeking overall victory.

So when the race entered the Pyrenees yesterday, rolling out of Pau toward Peyragudes, with the six climbs looming ahead, all cards were on the table.  No more holding back.  This was the first big mountain stage, the one that was the consistent launch point for Lance Armstrong back in his United States Postal Service heyday.  His strong, tireless team would ride at a pace that would keep others from attacking, led by support riders whose efforts would keep Lance’s legs fresh for the charge up the last climb of that first day in the high mountains.

That’s how it was going yesterday, with Froome behind a couple of leadout men.  By the next-to-last climb, the legendary Col de Peyresourde, A group of about riders, including all the remaining contenders, was in the lead.  Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana got dropped before the last climb.  The rest followed the wheels of the Sky group of three, with Froome in third position.  TV announcers suggested that nobody was attacking because the pace set by Sky was so high.  Truth is, the potential attackers were saving it for when it would do the most good, inside that last steep kilometer with a climb that looked like a wall.

Fabio Aru (l) begins his move on Chris Froome (r). Romain Bardet, eventual winner, is just behind. Getty Images

All of a sudden, with about 500 meters to go, they went.  By 300 meters the stronger men created separation from Froome.  Uràn and then Aru looked good for the win, but Bardet at last shot ahead, taking it cleanly 2 seconds ahead of them.  Meanwhile, Froome looked as if his gears had jammed.  He was zig-zagging across the road, riding at an angle to lessen the steepness, looking just like me riding up Hunter Station Road on a bad day.  He came in alone, in 7th place, 22 seconds behind, not even the first man from his own team across the line.  Mikel Landa had gone on his own, because there’s no way to help a team leader whose legs just couldn’t take the angle of the slope.

Chris Froome, now trailing Aru by 6 seconds thanks to the time bonuses, may well win this Tour, but yesterday he was the central figure in an abrupt, unprecedented loss of time and race lead.  Good cycling, great theater.  Vive le Tour.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016.


“The Sweet and Merry Month of May”

This has been an unusually cool and rainy month in northern Virginia, as recorded in the average air temperature and the rainfall total, which should surpass 8” for the month before the end of the day.  Nights have been cool, many afternoons so chilly that I’ve worn a sweater over long sleeves.  The cats have had little sun to loll in, neither on the screen porch in the early morning or late afternoon, nor by the storm door in the front.

When we got home from recent travels we had long grass, encouraged by the cold and wet, and hard to mow because it was wet.  But we attacked it and got it done.  Not, however, without the mower leaving big clumps all over the lawn like an incontinent cow.

I was working clean-up duty, raking the clumps before they matted and spot-killed the lawn, on a rare sunny afternoon when I realized the other day that May, which Elizabethan composer William Byrd called the “sweet and merry month,” is truly just that.  Hot, and sweaty in the sticky air, I stopped to rest on the porch steps for ten minutes.  First, a tiny butterfly, looking for all the world as if it had commandeered a piece of sky to color its wings, fluttered leisurely across the patio, exploring random small weeds, leaves, clumps of dirt.  It was almost certainly a Spring Azure, though different butterfly sites provide very different structures of classification.  Next, a fox kit trotted nonchalantly into the yard from the back hedge, angled over into the neighbors’ azaleas, and was on his way.  He saw me, but neither paused in surprise nor hurried away in fear.  Then there was the “wild rose tree,” actually an ornamental holly tree that is now full of rose vines and looked simply splendid in the bright sunshine.  This simple wild plant is a free bounty, just eager to express its own beauty with its deep pink blossoms and yellow center, and with its gentle rose scent.

roses in bloom

Our wild roses in full bloom

Finally, sometime after my rest, I found a small bird’s nest in the arbor vitae.  It was a shallow concave thing, woven together with grass and pliable twigs, neatly and securely.  It evidently had served its purpose, but was a symbol of the simplicity of the needs of songbirds, the care with which they use what nature provides, and the procreational urges of the season.  Much to be thankful for in the “sweet and merry” miracles of nature, right in my own back yard.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017

“Dinger” Blanton

Today Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals pitched excellent ball, giving up 1 run and 2 hits over 7 innings, and whiffing 11 while issuing a pair of free passes. After a clean 8th-inning hold by Matt Albers, the Nats led the Diamondbacks 4-1 going into the 9th inning. They brought in Joe Blanton to close out the game.

Blanton has now appeared in 12 games (of 28) and pitched 11.0 innings. Before today he’d given up 5 homers in 11 innings. So while his Earned Run Average was 9.82, his home runs allowed per 9 innings average was 4.09. That’s just homers. He’d yielded 12.2 hits per 9.

Today Blanton faced one batter. Yup, homer #6. So now all those numbers are a little worse. Dusty had seen enough, and Enny Romero was waved in to finish off the D-backs with his 101-mph stuff. Blanton, by virtue of today’s and this season’s performance, earns my portable nickname “Dinger” with his abysmal effort. Indeed, let’s hope we don’t have “Dinger” Blanton to kick around for very long. There must be somebody in Syracuse who could make him just a bad memory.  Even Joe Nathan?  Can’t happen too soon for me.

The Chalice

Last Saturday Jane and I took the Metro to the National Gallery of Art to attend a lecture by our friend and my colleague Eric Denker.  The Metro was fairly crowded, because it was the occasion of the March for Science and Earth Day.  That’s why we did not drive; too many street closures were in the offing, and even if we got in we would not be likely to get out easily.  We struck up a couple of conversations with grizzled marchers (one couple from Newton, MA), carrying their placard slogans, and wished them well as they debarked at Federal Triangle, launching into the drizzle for their walk to the Washington Monument.

Our own walk in the insistent wet was to the East Building Auditorium, where Eric spoke on the subject of Frédéric Bazille, a young, aspiring French painter, friend of the more famous Impressionists.  His more concrete style stood in contrast to the broken brushstrokes of Monet, and was somewhat more in the Manet camp.  He decided, with the thorough disapproval of all his family and friends, to enlist to fight in the Franco-Prussian war as a Zouave.  The bright, flashy uniform on his 6’2” frame must have made a good target, because he was killed on his first day of combat, less than 50 miles from Paris, just a few days before his 29th birthday.

Afterwards we completed our tour of the Bazille exhibit that we’d begun before the lecture, and stopped by to see a magnificent exhibit of Della Robbia ceramics from the Italian Renaissance.  We’d never appreciated the differing styles of the different family members, or the secret and exclusive success of the glazing formulas.  Our favorites included Luca’s “Holy Visitation,” Andrea’s “Virgin and Child,” Girolamo’s “François I,” and Giovanni’s “Resurrection of Christ.”  We traversed the length of the West Building indoors to stay out of the rain longer.  And then, before the wet walk back to the Smithsonian station, we stopped to visit The Chalice.

The National Gallery of Art is not noted for its pre-Renaissance holdings.  For medieval and ancient art in our neck of the woods one really needs to head up I-95 to Charm City and the Walters Art Gallery.  But our beloved National Gallery of Art has one piece that will stand up to just about any single piece in any European cathedral treasury . . . well, except for Aachen.  Ever since I discovered The Chalice in the 1970s, I have been drawn to it like a moth to flame, and more often than not we stop by the small, dark room of which it is the spotlighted centerpiece when we visit the museum.

Smithsonian chalice

The Chalice

The Chalice is a 12th-century work consisting of a sardonyx cup dating back to the 2nd or 1st centuries BCE, carved from a single piece of spectacularly marbled stone, in a heavily gilded silver setting with rubies, sapphires, pearls, glass, and white glass pearls.  The goldwork is heavily filigreed.  On the base are four discs; the one original shows the Byzantine Christus Pantokrator and the Western Alpha and Omega.  The other discs probably portrayed St. Denis and his two companions.  It was made for Suger, Abbot of St.-Denis, near Paris.   Suger, a powerful French churchman and statesman, caused his abbey church to be rebuilt in a new, light and lofty style.  It’s the earliest Gothic church there is.  Suger believed in the mystic spiritual power and symbolism of light.  The choir of his rebuilt church is illuminated by tall pointed stained glass windows all around.  In 1144 this renewed building was dedicated with many notables in attendance, including King Louis VII and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  (As one historian said, “much of [Louis VII’s] trouble” arose from this marriage to the headstrong Eleanor).  This chalice was presumably used in the dedication ceremony.

It’s not just the building in which The Chalice resided that’s remarkable.  St. Denis himself is a worthy personage.  He was the Bishop of Paris in the 3rd century, a time when the Christian Church was subject to persecution.  So effective were he and two colleagues that the Romans who then occupied the region perceived him as a threat to pagan practices.  Denis (whose name is a Frenchified version of the original “Dionysius”) was executed by decapitation shortly after 250 CE on Montmartre.  He then attained fame as “one of many cephalophores in hagiology” (thanks, Wikipedia) by picking up his head and walking 6 miles (10 km) to the place that now bears his name, preaching repentance all the way.  (An alternative narrative has his headless corpse being thrown into the Seine, and then recovered and buried by his followers the same night.  But where’s the fun in that?)  A small shrine was built there in the 5th century, and from the 10th century onward all French kings were buried in the church, until their remains were all desecrated by the French Revolution.  Today the community is a working-class suburb of Paris, with a stop on the Metro and the French national football stadium, the Stade de France, as well as the church in all its 900-year-old splendor.

With all this rich Christian and French tradition surrounding The Chalice, who wouldn’t stop and soak it all in whenever possible?  We went home in the rain happy.

Hockey Game

About once a year I go to an NHL game at the Verizon Center, often as part of an anniversary gift.  Usually on my own, because my wife Jane is happier to have the evening to relax at home.  Last night was the night, determined by the opponent of the home-town Capitals and the convenience of the date.

The Nashville Predators are in the Western Conference, and so are infrequent foes for the Eastern Conference Caps.  Their logo suggests a saber-toothed tiger.  The name is a little ambiguous, like the Toronto Raptors of the NBA or the even-more-vague NHL Minnesota Wild (a state and an adjective!).  The Wild logo’s vague predator features a more ursine animal profile.  I suppose both these team names are better than those of a prey species, like the Penguins or the Ducks.  Nashville, in any event, seemed a suitable adversary for a team named after a seat of government.  I’d have called the team the “Nashville Sound,” but what would that logo look like?

Even buying the ticket was a new deal to me.  I use Ticketmaster, having found that the discounts on other sites are not dramatic, and that this site provides reliability.  I was not prepared for the ticket format choices, however: an app or my credit card at the gate.  Chose the latter, leaving me more mystified than ever about the “Order Processing Fee” of $6.00.  Amazon can and has recently physically delivered everything from Haynes briefs to a stand-alone printer/scanner to my door in two days with no fees at all.  But somehow the ticket folks need $6.00 to allow some electronic information to flow through their circuits and to send me about three emails.  When I got to the gate they swiped my card and printed out a small slip with the seat location.  They probably made about $5.98 pure profit on that transaction.

Jane dropped me off at the Metro, which conveniently has a stop right at the arena.  Not quite as good as the old Boston Garden, where you could walk right from the North Station platform to the admission gate without ever going outside, but not bad.  I headed straight to Fuddrucker’s for a pre-game burger and fries, and then went in to find my seat.  I wanted to watch the pre-game skate, and I knew getting to the spot would take some time.  I bought a $65.25 (tax included) seat, one of the cheaper available.  It was on the third level (what they called the Second Balcony at the Garden, though we had other names for it), nearly at center ice, three rows from the top, on the aisle.  Actually, it provided a very good view of the whole ice, from a somewhat high and distant perspective.  The shocking thing to me is how expensive these seats are.  For this very ordinary game, the best places in the stands go for nearly $300 apiece (this excludes the suites and other elite locations).  You can’t get a seat anywhere for less than $55.  I remember buying a box seat in the old Garden a couple of times, especially once when I was astounded that some people who’d paid box seat money got there late and missed some action (Don McKenney had scored twice in the first ten minutes on Jacques Plante, if you can imagine that!).  That seat cost me $12, and while I know that was “real money” in those days, it was not the equivalent of $250, and maybe barely of $65.

After a series of escalator rides and a walk almost halfway around the concourse, I arrived about 30 minutes before game time.  The arena was nearly empty.  But I had come to watch the pre-game skate, which began a few minutes later.  Whirling circles of skaters looped around.  A few players stretched or did their private rituals.  Dmitri Orlov practiced his stick handling, but let’s just say that at his best he’s no Brad Marchand.  Braden Holtby, after practicing splits in full goalie gear (!), went between the pipes, and players started giving him shots, some hard and some easy.  Nikki Backstrom got about a dozen pucks at the top of the right circle, and fed them one by one to his linemate Alex Ovechkin, who waited in the middle of the left circle, instantly slamming each one into the now-empty net as it arrived.  Goal, goal, goal, . . . At the end, TJ Oshie ignored his teammates filing off the ice until he was all alone.  Then, feigning panic, he raced for the door, did a flying leap over the boards, and disappeared down the runway.   Then two Zambonis came out to preen the ice.  So did a full-scale inflatable car balloon, powered and controlled like a drone, with 4 little props, advertising some dealership.  Made me wish for one instant that I had a good air rifle for just long enough to take it down.

At the start of the game the arena goes dark.  It is just 7:00.  The seats are now maybe half-full.  The four officials skate around to the very loud music designed to stir up the crowd.  Spotlight beams dart about in the dark.  Two minutes later both teams emerge.  While the Capitals get a full spotlight and a “color guard” consisting of peewee players raising Caps banners on hockey-stick poles, the visiting Predators skulk out in darkness.  Then it’s lights up, honor a soldier, national anthem, and the puck drops at 7:08.  Afterwards I heard a fan describe it as a “sleepy” game.  The Caps, red-hot and leading the Conference by several points three weeks back, had their “bye week” (a dumb idea if I ever heard one) and came back flat.  Since then they had been 6-6-2, including a zip-for-four West Coast trip.  Last night they played tough against a defense-minded Predators club that looked like they’d have trouble scoring in the between-periods peewee game.  Late in the first period a Nashville defenseman, carrying the puck, lost his footing as he was turning to the left of his net to head up-ice.  He fell and the puck skidded behind the other defender.  The Caps suddenly had a 2-on-0 right in front of the net.  Highly touted rookie Jakub Vrana drew the goalie’s attention, passed to (ex-Bruin!) Brett Connolly on the open side, and the Caps had a goal.

Other than that, the game was drowsy.  Some antics with the Caps’ cartoony eagle mascot and a pewee hockey “game” enlivened intermissions.  One team had a girl goalie, and she was interviewed.  A few contests, shooting t-shirts into the crowd, the usual stuff.  As if the sport isn’t enough by itself.  There were few good scoring chances in the actual game.  Both teams had a shots-on-goal number in the mid-twenties.  But the Predators won a whopping 70% of the faceoffs, which kept the Caps from applying constant pressure.  Neither team was good at puck possession, neither goalie was severely tested.  On the one setup Ovechkin got in his left circle “sweet spot,” he completely mis-hit the puck, despite his pregame practice, and it weakly drifted to the boards in the corner.  There were an annoying number of “commercial TV” timeouts, a practice entirely unknown in the old days.  In the third period Tom Wilson of the Caps took a Predator hard but clean into the boards by the team benches.  Another Predator decided to take Wilson on.  Big mistake.  Wilson is unlikely to instigate fights, but he likes to fight, and he’s good at it.  The last seven or eight punches, all hard rights, were thrown by him, and the refs mercifully called it a TKO.  Wilson went to the sin bin, the Predator to the dressing room, not to return.

Unfortunately, the two best shots on goal the Predators took both went in cleanly.  The second was in overtime, when they executed a beautiful set play, luring the Caps up-ice out of their defensive zone and then sending both forwards rocketing in on a 2-on-1.  The left wing had an open shot and did not miss.  I was outa there fast to beat the crowd onto the Metro, which does not put on extra trains for hockey games.  I got a seat on the Orange Line, but a couple of people stood all the way to Dunn Loring.  When I told Jane the game had gone into overtime but ended very quickly, she said “actually it was at 3:12.”  Coulda knocked me over with a feather.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017.


For one week of every fifty-two, we like to go somewhere warm, sit by the pool or on the beach at a nice resort, and relax.  We’ve been to a variety of such destinations in the Western Hemisphere, and this year it was Baja California.  Making our travel plans months ago, we found routes to Cabo San Lucas from Dulles Airport through Denver, Chicago, and Houston.  Our travel window, late February through mid-March, made the choice simple: Houston would be the most reliable transfer point.  How could we have predicted that by March 1 Chicago would have recorded no snow on the ground all winter, a 136-year-old record?

Only thing about Houston was that the outbound connection was tight, at 55 minutes from arrival to takeoff.  Understand that it’s really only 45 minutes, since aircraft doors are scheduled to shut 10 minutes prior to takeoff time.  And that 45 minutes is really only 25 minutes if we want to arrive at the gate in time to board the plane with our preferred passenger boarding privilege, which allows us to get to our seats in time to be sure our carry-on luggage can be stowed overhead.  (Lots of folks use only carry-on for warm-climate vacations, since you only need beach gear and enough clothing to pass muster at the resort restaurants.)  In that 25 minutes the plane has to taxi to the gate (“arrival” means when the aircraft wheels touch the tarmac) and get attached to the jetway, we have to debark (leaving no personal items behind, of course), to determine what gate our connecting flight departs from, and walk/run to that gate, toting our carry-on luggage, in time to line up and board with our group.

The wild card is that we have no idea where in the airport the departure gate is relative to the arrival gate.  It could be five minutes away.  It could be fifteen minutes away.  Usually you can count on 5 to 8 minutes from touchdown to gate, 2 or 3 more minutes until deplaning commences, and 3 or 4 more minutes until the seats in front of you have cleared (if you’re located about halfway back in the Economy section).  So that’s 10 to 12 minutes from touchdown to being inside the terminal building, leaving 13 to 15 minutes for the walking/running part.  That’s sufficient time, IF nothing goes wrong.

Our flight, it seemed, would get to Houston on time.  It was slow leaving the gate after the doors were shut 5 minutes before the 8:15 a.m. takeoff time, and actually left the ground 15 minutes after that scheduled time.  But airlines build some slack into their schedules so that they can claim a higher “on time” statistic.  And so it was that our airplane touched down just about exactly on schedule.  The pilot bounced the landing slightly, though, which proved to be ominous.   Because he got to the gate, turned off the seatbelt sign, and allowed us to grab our stuff and line up in the aisle.  THEN he announced that he parked the plane incorrectly, so that the jetway couldn’t attach to the plane.  Seriously?  I thought those folks on the ground gesturing with sticks assured that the plane would be right on the painted markings that indicate correct alignment.  Geez, if I had half that much help parallel-parking my car I would nail it every time!

We had to sit down, buckle up again, wait for the pilot to re-park, and only then disembark.  Luckily the rest is anti-climactic, as we discovered our gate was “just around the corner.”  In airline terminals that means only a five-minute (quarter-mile) walk.

So we got to Cabo San Lucas and spent a week in San Jose del Cabo at the Royal Solaris, a very nice place.  We left at the perfect time, sort of wishing we had one more day, but also looking forward to getting home.  This would be the easy trip, because we had one hour and 50 minutes for the connection, double what it was on the way down.  Yes, we had to go through immigration and customs, and yes, we had to go through security again, but so what?  The layover was almost two hours, and doing the math we still had an hour and 25 minutes for all the in-terminal processing.  Piece of cake.

The shiny new International Terminal at Cabo San Lucas relaxed us; we waltzed into the aircraft on time; we settled in, buckled up, and taxied what seemed like 15 minutes to the end of the runway (I hate it when the window-seat passengers keep the shades down to “preserve coolness” and “avoid glare,” because I want to see exactly what the plane is doing and where it is on the tarmac).

Then came the announcement: the plane was overweight, unsafe to take off.  It was an unusual situation, we were told, but we’d have to go back to the gate.  What?  WHAT!?!  This was a Boeing 737, the domestic workhorse of the medium-range fleet.  It’s practically the jet equivalent of the DC-3: been around forever; solid, functional, durable basic design.  After all the years they’ve used this plane, United still doesn’t have a way to figure out ahead of time how to prevent this aircraft from getting overloaded?

United wanted four volunteers to stay an extra day in Los Cabos.  It got them in a hurry.  (Having done this ourselves once in the past, we were not anxious to volunteer.  The airlines make it so hard to collect and use the financial reward you’re given that it’s just not worth the hassle.)  A quick, rough math calculation suggests the issue here: let’s say each passenger plus luggage = 250 lbs.  If so, they needed to lose 1000 pounds.  There were about 230 people on the plane, most of them having just spent a week at an all-inclusive resort.  That means that each passenger was responsible for about 4 pounds of the overweight.  If only everyone had eaten more healthily!

By the time the volunteers and their luggage were deplaned, the aircraft re-prepared for departure, re-taxied to the end of the runway, and ready to roll, an hour and ten minutes had elapsed.  We were down to 40 minutes for our connection in Houston, including deplaning, immigration, customs, re-screening at security, getting to the gate, and doors closing before takeoff.  I knew from experience that one jerk at any point, like the idiot Customs Agent we ran into at Dulles one night, could burn up 15 or 20 minutes of that time all by him- or herself.  Spending the night in the Lone Star State seemed inevitable.

By the time we got to Houston, a couple of new factors emerged: our pilot had made up 10 minutes or so on the trip, and the connecting flight itself had arrived late in Houston, giving us another 15 minutes.  The flight attendant with whom we had discussed our dilemma told us that United was monitoring several flights feeding into the one back to Dulles, and suggested the departure time could be set back further.  He also said that the departure gate had been changed, but that news was not good.  The original gate was one gate from being the farthest from Immigration in the entire airport.  The new gate WAS that one farther gate!  But we deplaned figuring we’d just give it our best shot, and hope.

Immigrating into Houston is better than the Dulles experience.  They have the same new automated machines that read your passport and require you to take a selfie.  But when you go to the agent at the desk with the printout, they don’t go over all the information with you again the way they do at IAD.  They simply provide a human verification of the automated process, which is exactly what they should do.  Likewise, customs has sufficient agents to handle the crowds, another contrast to our home airport.

On our way through customs, the same flight attendant was right behind us.  He said “you are going to make it.”  That seemed less sure to us, but we embraced the assurance with a passion.  Then we hit security.  There was not TSA Pre-check, and the line was fairly long.  Suddenly we realized we’d need to be in the mode of toiletry bags out, belts and shoes off—all the intricate rituals of regular security.  The line was moving, though, until we got near to the screening point, and some ill-trained TSA person strode out to lecture us about his intention to deliberately slow the line down to “teach us” that he really meant it when he said we could have nothing in our pockets.  Nothing like being talked down to in such an urgent moment as if we were children by a guy who seemed to barely have made it through high school himself.  At such times it is a real effort to hold my tongue.

However, sanity prevailed.  I didn’t even have to go through the full body scan because I am over 75; only had to reassure the agent that I did not have a pacemaker or any metal in my body.  But coming out of TSA screening we realized that the route to our gate was the longest way, looping backwards, and that time was running out.  You won’t remember the old OJ Simpson commercials for Hertz that involve running through airports if you are (1) too young or (2) settling into senile dementia, but they come to mind in these moments of crisis.  Unfortunately, we are not in the kind of shape OJ was in his prime, nor do we have his innate athletic ability.  But we were doing our best OJ imitation.  There were several defibrillators in the corridors along the way, well-marked for emergency access.  I asked Jane to note their locations because I might well need one.  Finally, about six gates away, I told her to run ahead and try to get them to hold the plane, because I could not keep up the pace any longer.

A while later I looked up and saw the last gates in the far distance.  Jane was just disappearing into the crowd, the crowd of people waiting to board the flight at Gate C-31.  Our gate!  I chugged up, a sweaty, panting mess; got into what I thought was the end of the Group 2 line; was advised it was longer; relocated.  It didn’t matter.  We all were going to be on that flight, in our seats, with our baggage securely stowed and our seat belts fastened snugly across our laps, remembering that in case of emergency we would put on our own face masks before helping others.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017


It all began, as most things do, with something simple.  One night a couple of months ago our refrigerator leaked a little bit of water onto the kitchen floor.  It had done that a couple of other times too.  The icemaker had been giving us trouble for a couple of years, producing ice cubes erratically, many of them hollow.  The water would leak out into the ice cube storage bin rather than going into the ice cube maker, making a solid frozen block and jamming the dispenser.  Occasionally water would run out of the icemaker, down the front of the fridge, onto the floor.  But the week after it leaked a little bit, it leaked a lot.  And when we went down to the basement we saw just how much more.  Water had been seeping all night through the kitchen floor to form a couple of big pools in the basement.

So we set the ice cube sensor to “off,” turned off as best we could the flimsy shutoff valve in the refrigerator water line, and contemplated our next move.  The fridge was 15 years old, so repair seemed futile.  After checking the internet and a couple of stores, we determined what we wanted as a replacement: a GE model with “French doors” and an ice and water dispenser.  We bought it and set the delivery date for December 9, a safe four weeks away, well on the other side of Thanksgiving.  Best Buy gave us stern warnings about measurements, complete with online videos explaining just what we had to measure, and reminding us that all passages from outside to the installation site had to allow for the passage of this 375-pound brute.  We discovered right away that our model, like all standard refrigerators, needed 2” more clearance than we had under our built-in kitchen cabinets.  The standard height of refrigerators had moved up almost 3” since the cabinets were originally installed 22 years ago.

I’d had to take off ¾” when the now-dying Amana had been put in, but this called for a skilled woodworker to take out the old cabinet, reshape it to allow the right amount of clearance, and not completely destroy the look of the doors, which are paneled.  Meanwhile, things kept happening.  One morning our toaster oven just didn’t work.  Jane discovered boards in the façade of our circa 2002 garage/bedroom home addition that were rotting out, thanks to an apparent flow of rainwater down the façade rather than through the gutters.  And a potentially serious plumbing leak developed in our master bathroom.  We needed help; we started calling handymen.

Aside from just junking the old toaster oven and buying a new one, the master bath problem seemed to be the easiest to solve.  We had a plumbing contract along with our HVAC contract with United AirTemp.  One of their guys came out to look at the master bathroom leak.  The culprit was a faucet in one of the twin wash basins.  Installed 14 years ago, the design model by Kohler was now obsolete (and its polished bronze finish no longer quite in vogue).  But the faucet was irreparable, so we had to choose another.  Obviously we didn’t want to replace all the hardware in the room, so we sought a similar design.  The plumber kept talking about the one we wanted “or something comparable,” gave us a major invoice that would cover the replacement of the faucet with that “something,” and said he’d be in touch.  We called the next morning to affirm the faucet we wanted, and to say that the (Moen) one identified on the invoice was not suitable.  But of course we couldn’t talk to the plumber or his supervisor; the person on the phone would relay the message and one of them would call back.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I needed a woodworker.  On impulse I called the guy who installed the cabinets 22 years ago.  It was like old home week!  The voice on the phone was the brother of the one who actually put the originals in.  Larry was retired and in Florida, but Bob would be glad to do the job, even such a small one.  He’d send a carpenter up from Lorton to look at it tomorrow.  Great that we remembered their work!  We skipped a weekly Church meeting to accommodate their schedule, because the refrigerator delivery loomed.   Time came; no carpenter.  Called the next day, and the staffer said both Bob and the carpenter were on a job, but they’d call back later that day.  No call that day; they still haven’t called.

As soon as they broke the appointment I began calling alternatives; we needed that work done before the December 9 delivery day.  Angie’s List seemed totally intimidating, with so many options, not all in our part of the metro area.  So we tried HomeAdvisor, a site where you describe the job, give them your zip code, and they give you three prime references that you can call or have contact you.  We got two calls right away, and set up an appointment with the first one for the next day.  Guess what?  No show.

By this time we were getting to feeling a bit vulnerable.  Calls unanswered, not one but two potential water leaks in the house, kitchen currently unfit to receive new fridge.  I finally called AirTemp, whose plumber had not called about the faucet despite follow-ups from me, with the ultimatum that if we did not have an appointment to install the faucet we wanted by the end of that day, I would cancel the entire invoice.  (My alternative plan was to buy the faucet at Home Depot and hire an out-of-contract plumber to install it.)  Mirabile dictu!  An appointment was made for early the following week, and the faucet design we wanted would be provided.  We had a feeling that the alternative they offered was cheaper for them to acquire.

As for the cabinet, I retried Home Advisor, got two new names plus the one who blew off the appointment before.  Figured he had work, checked the other two online, and called them both.  The first to respond was Bermudez Construction.  The estimator was there the next evening; he gave a thorough analysis of our outdoors rot situation as well as the cabinet job.  He talked about his methods and pricing, and we came to an agreement.  The work was to be done eight days in advance of the delivery date for the fridge.  He had to push that date back a couple of days because of complications on a prior job, but he assured us about our deadline.  He came with one assistant and did everything expertly in one day.  Aces!

In the course of his initial assessment, however, he moved the refrigerator, and it started leaking.  Oh, no!  We needed immediate plumbing.  This time, however, AirTemp came through.  A different plumber came to assess this problem, and returned the next day to put a modern, sturdy shutoff valve in the line to the fridge.  This job was covered in our contract.  And we were assured we’d meet Best Buy’s expectation of a strong, stable water supply for the fridge installation.

The Bermudez inspector had found another interesting thing, however: a white-faced hornet nest on the back of our house.  Naturally we called our pest control contractor, who came and removed it a couple of days later.  (See earlier blog for hornet details.)

Meanwhile, the other AirTemp plumber came back a few days later to install the new bathroom faucet, which went without incident, except that he had to get a helper to come in to loosen the old one from its mooring.

By December 9, everything was ready for the refrigerator delivery.  These new monsters are so big (36” wide, 34” deep, and 69” high) that they routinely have to remove the fridge doors to get them through standard entryway home doors.  Surprisingly, the two installers lifted the unit with straps, not a dolly, which made maneuvering in the tight right-angle turn from hall to kitchen easy.  Sure enough, the cabinet space gap was just right, and the new water line attachment was made with flexible hose rather than squiggly thin copper tubing.  In 90 minutes the old one was gone, and the new one humming away to cool itself down.  With all our refrigeratable food stuffed into the garage backup fridge and on the cool screen porch, cooling couldn’t happen too soon.

After only five weeks, eight different handymen, eight handyman visits, and about twenty phone calls, our house was not rotten, did not leak, did store and freeze perishable food, and had no white-faced hornet nest attached.  And there was still a little time for the quiet contemplation of the Advent season.  Amen!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016