Monday, July 11, 2011

Sun Diego

There are so many reasons to fall in love with San Diego, California. The perfect climate. The pristine beaches and ancient bluffs. The sublime sunsets over the mighty Pacific Ocean. Torrey Pines State Reserve. The Gaslamp Quarter. Balboa Park. But it is the palm trees that always get to me. Even though most of them were imported in the 1920s and 30s, for me Southern California is defined by the sun drenched palm tree swaying against the backdrop of a powder blue sky.

Change is the only constant in life and no people embrace change more than Californians. When you live with earthquakes, mudslides and wildfires you learn to live in the moment and meditate on the temporary nature of all things.

There was change on my visit to San Diego. The Flower Hill Mall movie theater in Del Mar is shuttering after giving North County San Diegans thirty years (ten as an Ultrastar chain) of art house films and the latest blockbusters. It is being replaced by a Whole Foods Market.

More change as the Del Mar Highlands Town Center is undergoing a major renovation and expansion. The UltraStar Cinemas there will be adding new auditoriums and there will be a new courtyard and fountain, along with new shops and restaurants. The expansion will replace the auditoriums lost from the closing of the Flower Hill theater.

What better way to spend the Fourth of July then at the sun-soaked SoCal beach. In this case, a walk on the sand at Del Mar Shores in Solana Beach. Enjoy the pictures.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Los Alamos, New Mexico Fire From 30,000 Feet in Air

I snapped this picture from my camera phone as we passed near the massive wildfire that had at one point threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory -- one of the country's biggest nuclear research facilities and home to an old hazardous waste site. The fire was only 70 feet from the facility before firefighters pushed it back.

Thankfully the lab was spared and the fire is now 40 percent contained. But the largest wild-lands blaze in New Mexico history sadly still threatens a sacred Pueblo Indian mountain, although the weather is helping stave it off for now.

Props to the United Airlines pilot on the flight from Washington Dulles to San Diego Lindbergh Field for pointing this out to the passengers.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dulles Airport Aiming for World Class Status

For much of its history, Washington Dulles International Airport was derided by some travelers for its long distance from downtown D.C. and its clunky and inefficient mobile lounges. It just took too long to drive the 26 miles from the center of Washington, wait in long security lines, and then wait again for the crowded mobile lounge to slowly makes its way to the midfield terminal.

But Dulles is changing for the better by spending billions on improvements in and around the airport. And I have to say my experience flying out of there two days ago on United Airlines to San Diego was pure pleasure. 

For one, the mid-Friday afternoon drive along the Dulles Access Road was virtually traffic free. Along the way I could see the rapid progress being made on the Metro Silver Line extension that will eventually make its way past Dulles in 2016. The first phase to Tysons Corner and ending at Wiehle Avenue should be done by 2013. There is controversy over the cost of the project and whether there should be an underground station or aerial station at Dulles. But the bigger picture is that above or below ground, Metro is coming to Dulles and that means hopping aboard a train downtown and arriving at Dulles. Easy access to public transportation is one of the factors that makes an airport world class. And Dulles is getting just that.

Once at the airport, the new security screening mezzanine in the main terminal is the most hassle free and least clogged up post-9/11 security checkpoint I've experienced at any airport in the United States. The space is open with lots of light, there are ample videos and people guiding passengers in the proper steps to take before going through the checkpoint. It is the first time I can actually say I've enjoyed passing through an airport security checkpoint. And that is saying a lot in this day and age. So kudos to Dulles for making airport security less of a degrading experience.

But the best new feature of Dulles is the AeroTrain people mover system that replaces those awkward mobile lounges and whisks passengers from the main terminal to Gates A, B and C. Here is video I shot from the front of the AeroTrain car a couple of days ago.

In summary, while Dulles still has a lot of work to do to achieve world class status, including the final decision on where the Metro station will be placed, the airport deserves lots of praise for its progress in making the flying experience more humane and sensible. 

Soon Washington Dulles International Airport will fully live up to the ideals of its architect Eero Saarinen when he espoused that "the purpose of architecture is to shelter and enhance man's life on earth and to fulfill his belief in the nobility of his existence."