Travels with My Annette… or Planes, No Trains and Automobiles.


It was a big project — the biggest I’d ever worked on.

Everyone on the production team traveled to DC for four days and three nights. Our sheer number had us scattered around town at five different sleeping hotels. But every morning we taxied and shuttled to the venue hotel, where it all happens.

Working a corporate event (which was why we, the production team, were there) is a tiring venture. You spend months preparing the show of your client’s dream (their corporate, not necessarily personal dream.) As a team you propose, create, write, build, assemble, print, proof-read, film, record and word process, all in the service of making it come alive. Then you go do just that — travel to the pre-chosen city for the birth of a bouncing, beautiful show!.

So four days and three nights later, we’re ready to go home. Really ready. Annette and I are traveling together. We grab a cab, wave good-bye to that Grand Dame of Connecticut Ave, The Mayflower Renaissance (where, incidentally, the first night I flooded the entire bathroom floor as I tried to take a relaxing bath. I did not find that relaxing) and taxied to Ronald Reagan National Airport.

A little backstory: Annette had shared her habit of curb-side check-in, which required having a boarding pass. Eager to join, I’d printed my boarding pass at the hotel. It hadn’t been easy. I had my travel info on my phone in an email. Somewhere. After 10 minutes of searching, I found it. I went to the concierge station to the complimentary boarding pass printer and selected my airline – USAir. I put my confirmation number it, but was told although my travel info said I was flying USAir, American (with whom they merged last year —  which merger kicked-off, incidentally, on the very day I was flying USAir back home from another event in Phoenix — it’s own story…) Anyway, although ticketed to USAir, my actual plane was being run by American and I needed to go to their website to check-in. I tried. But they wanted my ticket number on the American site, not my confirmation number. My ticket number was 225 emails down on my computer (too far back for my phone), already packed, back up back in my room. So, elevator up, unpack and start the laptop, locate the email, note the ticket number, run back down, print out the boarding pass, gather my things — now, we’re back in the cab (everybody with me?)

We reach Reagan. The taxi driver drops us at the American Airlines gate. We step up to do curbside and the sidewalk attendant starts to do the standard kiosk “check in” routine. We say, “No, no, we have our boarding passes, we want curbside check-in.” He looks confused. We point to our bags. He points at the door to the terminal. We look at each other and start walking. We get in side and see the luggage drop off conveyer just inside the door – yay!

We get to the attendant, he points to a small sign — Virgin Airways. We say “American?” He gestures further down the hallway. We start walking and dragging and fuming. We see another luggage conveyer – not ours. We ask an airport employee. He indicates to keep walking, past two more stations. I’d like to remind readers that we’d exited the taxi at the door that said “American Airlines.”

Finally we find our luggage drop-off. We step up to the attendant. She checks our paperwork, then silently points. Although this is our luggage area, we need to walk around, through a construction cordon, to the back of the structure to actually hand off our bags. The fuming had continued and the temperature of the terminal had risen to a humid 89 degrees inside my mohair sweater coat.

We hand the bags in and finally, we’re luggage free. Except for handbags and rolling carry-ons. Next we’re pointed down the escalator to find our gate. Let me mention here that I have trouble with escalators, it’s a balance thing. They always fill me with trepidation. So an escalator with a big handbag and a rolling carry-on while sweating in a fussy mohair coat — the highlight of my week! Or so I thought…

We found the security line for American. When we reached the security guard, she pointed over her shoulder all the way down the huge arched hallway. “The red flag,” she piped then looked past us to the next person.  Annette trundled off and I followed. I kept looking for this red flag. Far, far down, at the end of the airport tunnel I saw a huge Stars and Stripes. “Where’s the red flag?,” I asked Annette. “There,” she pointed in front of us. “I can’t see one,” I said, “I don’t have my glasses. I only see an American flag.” We stumbled to a halt. Just as we were trying to decide whether to continue or turn back, that same airport employee who’d helped us upstairs happened by. “We have a stupid question,” I whined as sweat dripped down my nose. Annette continued, “We’re looking for American Airlines security?” He gestured back from whence we came. “See that woman…” He pointed right at the lady who’d sent us packing. We both started to sputter, then acquiesced. The man stayed surprisingly polite, considering at that point we must have looked like the Golden Girls minus one on holiday without a map.

So we trudged back to the same security attendant. I hadn’t noticed her marked island accent the first time, but this time it was clear as day. “You silly ladies are back? I told you — the red flag, all the way down!” She smiled a bit indulgently but shook her head at the same time, which put a definite crimp in the niceness.

Back down the hallway we rolled. And walked. And sweated. Well, I sweated, Annette, wisely, was wearing a more breathable fabric. Finally, we see way at the end, by the big red (and white and blue flag) another American Airlines security line, handling passengers for our specific gate. And I mean finally. It was at the very, very end of the hallway, essentially taking us back in the direction where we’d originally entered the terminal. So, in essence, I guess the American Airlines door where we’d exited the taxi was technically close to where we had to enter to catch our American Airlines flight. If you looked at this in a very three-dimensional, as the crow flies, shortest distance between two points, way — had we been able to walk in the door and slide down a chute.

The hallway. THE flag.

The hallway. THE flag.

Annette sailed through as a pre-TSA. I went through the hard way. Finally, we were in. We walked a ways and found our gate. There were even seats available. The first thing I did was take off that damn coat.

We had plenty of time. While Annette watched the bags, I hit the bathroom and bought a huge bottle of water to replenish my sweating, dehydrated body. Then she did the same, minus the sweating. Shortly, the announcements started, informing travelers on flights leaving before ours. “When your flight number is called, please take the escalators down one floor and line up at door (insert appropriate number here.) There will be a bus just outside the door on the tarmac to take you to your plane.”

Suddenly we both noticed the double set of down escalators twenty-five feet in front of us.  I turned and looked at Annette. She was looking at me. “Are you kidding me?” I squealed? “Nope.” she said, but it was her face that really said it all. We started to chuckle. Then laughed right out loud. We toasted with our water bottles and waited.

Soon, they called our flight. We jumped up and joined the line to the escalators. I was relieved to see it was the model where the four top steps cycle on the same level. I can almost get on those without needing a tranquilizer. And a drink.

In a minute, we’re downstairs in line. A short wait, then they opened the doors and there it was, our bus. The line snaked out of the terminal and into the back door of the bus. It was a bus such as you take to the car rental place; some seats, some open spaces. The back door area filled up quickly, so I stepped around to the front, entered there and snagged the last seat.

But the people kept on coming. We sat there for at least 15, if not 20, minutes, as passengers continued to load. Eventually we had to start playing subway chess, that game where everyone starts scooting over, backing up, turning sideways, shuffling to the left, shifting knees and bags, until everyone can shoehorn into the sardine can. One of the bus passengers, a flight attendant who was flying deadhead on our plane, started berating whomever was in charge, yelling loudly “You guys need to make this two buses. There is never enough room.” No one listened. Instead they shoved a few more people onto the bus.

Finally, slowly, the bus started rolling. We traveled for about 1 minute and 45 seconds. Okay, maybe it was two minutes. The bus stopped and the doors opened. I was incredulous. I turned to my seatmate and said, “Seriously? We could have walked that backwards and single-file twice in the time we sat there!” Had she been drinking, she would have done a spit take.

We were herded slowly up a covered, climbing walkway, the awning snapping in the wind. It felt a little like you were online for a ride at Six Flags Great Adventure. Finally, I came to a very scary piece of what looked like wooden shelving. It bridged the gap between the end of the walkway and the lip of the flight door. I crossed my fingers, stepped on, ducked and was finally inside the plane.

It was one of those commuter specials, with two seat rows down one side and single seats running down the other. Mine was the last open single seat. In the back. By the time I reached it, there was no overhead room left, except where someone had placed their coat; their raincoat, their very light, easily hold-able raincoat. Luckily another deadheading flight attendant was nearby and jumped to my aid. “Is this your coat?” she inquired of the woman sitting directly in front of me.” She got an affirmative, but annoyed nod of the head. The flight attendant continued, chirpily, “If we can just carefully move your coat over here…”  As the flight attendant gently transferred the coat to the adjoining bin, the woman reached out as if to stop her newborn from being tossed off a bridge — “then we can fit this right here.” The flight attendant patted the coat reassuringly. Then she helped me to slide my computer bag into the newly de-raincoated half of an overhead bin. She snapped both doors closed with a smile. I smiled in return. The passenger hissed at me with her eyes.

It was finally time to sit down. I’m not small and airline seats are always tight. But this was ridiculous. I stuffed myself in, thinking “I’m going to have some damned interesting bruises when I get home.” Then a truly wonderful thing happened. Because I was already tired from being on-site for a show, which is always exhausting. And because I was tired from huffing, puffing and sweating through our Airport Iron Man Event, I dropped right off to sleep and didn’t wake until we landed.

Ah, travel! What a joy, what a wonder. That was just two weeks ago. Tomorrow morning, Annette and take off again. This time it’s six days, five nights in Orlando. We’re booked into a family hotel. In Orlando. A family hotel. With four pools. In Orlando.

Your honor, I rest my suitcase.

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This is a Ma’am’s World…


… This is a Ma’am’s world. But it wouldn’t be nothin’, nothin’  —

Oops — wrong music.

Eastside, westside, all around the town…

Recently, as I walk the sidewalks of New York, a strange thing has been happening. People are passing me by. In droves. I mention this as strange because I am one of those fast, clippy New York walkers. Apparently, the truth is that I used to be one of those fast, clippy New York walkers. The evidence is clear, in the sidewalk game, I’m no longer a leader of the pack.

Here in the city, sidewalks are actually pedestrian roadways. That means, just as with the yellow cabs zooming by, New Yorkers are bipedal vehicles getting where they need to go as quickly as possible (all while trying not to get ticketed for jaywalking.)

I pause for a little safety tip for NYC visitors: nothing marks a tourist faster than someone slowly meandering down the sidewalk. Or groups stopping to gawk at a map. That’s akin to a couple of cars braking mid-highway for a picnic lunch. It can be downright dangerous.

Sidewalk prowess is a point of identity for Manhattanites. Outta’ my way, sucker, I know where I’m going… So the realization that I might be losing my skills cut me to the quick. I started searching for an explanation. Clue #1: Perhaps it was the recent foot surgery. Despite having chucked the cane a few weeks ago, I guess it’s still a temporary handicap. Clue #2: Perhaps being off my feet for those weeks of recovery took a bite out of my usual stamina.

But none of that helps as people continue to step, even zoom past me on the sidewalk, without even breaking a sweat. I’m chagrined to share that recently, when boarding a bus, someone who appeared to be around my age got up to offer me their seat. This happened more than once. I actually checked behind me for their target before I understood it was me. Not that I’m not appreciative of a gracious gesture, but it makes me wonder “Just how tired do I look today?”

And I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the contribution of my old dance injuries, as I delight in romanticizing them, when it comes to getting around town. My knees are pretty much shot. So on a bad day, climbing into a bus or rising from a sitting position can sometimes appear to be an amuse-bouche for avant garde dances to come. Cue Mia Michaels and SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. I’m available to tour.

Despite these truths, I confess nothing makes me feel older than when I am called “ma’am.” I understand it’s a contraction of “madame,” a polite sign of respect, especially when addressing the Queen of England. But, I’m usually sans crown. (Although, there have been occasions.) So whenever that palindrome is tossed in my face, a virtual arthritis sets in. Suddenly I’m tucked into a rocking chair on some picturesque mid-west porch knitting my own lap robe as I watch life pass me by.

On the occasions I am met with a full-fledged, flat-out  “Pardon me, ma’am” I instantly shrink to become Miss Kitty’s wizened grandmother receiving a tip of the hat from that whippersnapper, Marshall Dillon. (What, you GUNSMOKE fans don’t remember Miss Kitty’s grandmother? Apparently she was too old to appear on television, even back in the kinder, gentler ’50s. That’s how old this makes me feel.)

Now, at the utterance of this delightful phrase, do I smile benignly like a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s? Nope, I want to reach out and slap someone. Apparently, I’m not alone. It’s a widely-held source of annoyance, as illustrated by U.S. Senator from California, Barbara Boxer (Please Don’t Call Me Ma’am) and my illustrious fellow blogger, Kristen Hansen Brakeman (Don’t Call Me Ma’am) — not even a ‘please’ there, it’s that serious. Check them out to appreciate the scope of this comprehensive sociological issue.

Me, I’ve decided to tackle this head on. I’m not interested in finishing out my game, a beachball with a slow leak. I’m back in training, sharpening my skills to rejoin the bustling New York throng. As to that four letter word? I vaccinate myself against it! From now on, I’ll jump up to offer my seat on the bus. I’ll take the E train instead of the C because (woo hoo!!) it means I can climb an additional two flights of stairs to reach the street. I will stop purchasing exercise equipment from TV and actually unpack the AbDoer Twist that’s been sitting in a box in my living room for the past 3 years. (Game on!)

So, there it is. I’ve decided. I will not go on living in a ma’am’s world. Not to be hard-nosed about this, for it’s a lovely form of address — just not for me, just not right now. Perhaps in my 90’s I’ll be ready to embrace it.

So the next time that term of honor comes tumbling from someone’s lips, I’ll put my hand on my hip and pointedly say:

“You can call me Madame. You can even call me Miss. But please…don’t call me Ma’am.”

Grandma 2

She’s Back…


To paraphrase the iconic Carol Anne, she’s back…

No, I don’t mean me — although it is true RIPE and I are finally on the move again. (Yippee!) I’m actually talking about my new BFF. You all know her. I’ve mentioned her here before. The woman I would most love to sit down to lunch and talk low-cal, high fiber recipes with. The gal whose opinion I am curious about — does she watch the THE GOOD WIFE primarily as a law procedural or more for the character-driven drama? And more importantly, is it BREAKING POINTE or BUNHEADS? Or both? (There’s no denying the lady likes to dance, right?)

Of course I’m talking about that first lady of sweater sets, the one who lately has graced every taping from LETTERMAN to LIVE! with KELLY (and dig that co-host of the week), where she actually jumped rope with aplomb. I’m talking about your friend and mine, Michelle Obama.

I’ve been hearing from Michelle quite a bit lately, we just haven’t managed to connect. There was another letter this week. And few recent emails about a lunch get together. But we ran out of time. She’s been busy. I’ve been busy. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes.

I haven’t written back yet, but this won’t sully our friendship. Nope, cause I know she’s got my back. Well, strictly speaking that’s more feeling than fact, since we haven’t actually met. But everything about her points toward the positive. It’s almost like we’re having a conversation when I read OBAMAFOODORAMA, the Blog of Record About White House Food Initiatives, From Policy to Pie. And you all know my food focus of late, so I relish the good info.

Last fall, when I received that first letter from Michelle — the one that helped inspire my first post on THE RIPE PROJECT — it was totally unexpected and just the kick I required. Actually that reminds me of the time I just couldn’t get my head around cleaning and organizing my apartment. I procrastinated. And procrastinated. Then finally, when I could stand it no more, I cleaned my apartment. [Ed. Note: For those of you who are home – not apartment – dwellers, this reference may lack a certain punch. Here’s a little game: take at least half your furniture and belongings and move them into two contiguous rooms of your house. The rest of the space is off-limits except as a storage facility for the overflow, for which you pay $225 a month and can only enter from 8 am to 6 pm. Now, go ahead: live and be neat about it.] Anyway, once I finally broke down and just cleaned the place, you know what happened? It wasn’t that big a deal. I had a much more enjoyable living space and I found a $100 bill. No, it wasn’t magic. I’d always had the money. I’d simply lost track in all the self-created chaos.

My point is, same thing with Michelle. There I was last August struggling for clarity, trying to locate the lost kernel of my idea for this blog when — voila!!! Une lettre de la Première Dame des Etats-Unis! It stopped my in my tracks. At first I was stumped. Compared to Michelle Obama, why should I even try. But a moment later it became just the creative compass I needed. As I compared the map of my life to the map of Michelle’s, at first the differences seemed insurmountable. Eventually Michelle helped orient me to who and where I am and where I want to go.

So take a few lessons in living from our First Lady. Eat healthy. Stay active. And write a letter to a friend. Help keep the US Postal Service in business (it’s nice receiving something other than bills.) Now that we have the Forever Stamp and you can buy them online, there’s no excuse. And won’t your Grandmother be proud?

Ran into a little Interferon-ance…


Well, it’s been a while. To my vast coterie of followers — all 13 or 14 of you — apologies. Best laid plans and all exploded when I received an early Christmas present, a diagnosis of perianal malignant melanoma. I’ll skip the details and let the name tip you to the salient facts. My friend Bob’s response upon hearing was, “So, you’ve got ass cancer.” And there you have it. Shit happens.

If I had to share something with Farrah Fawcett, I would have preferred the hair. It was a surprise find during a routine surgery for (polite cough here) hemorrhoids. Unlike the melanoma we all know — skin cancer — this particular delight accounts for only 0.2% – 0.3% of the disease. Thanks, but I’d rather win the lottery. Being an internet whore, as soon I my surgeon called with the news I jumped online and read every mention of the disease I could find. And the internet, being a bit of a whore herself, generously served up both the possibility of complete cure and a “Ho, ho, ho — you have three months to live” super-size value meal. Merry Last Christmas. God bless us, every one.

Now I’m your basic dreamer/pragmatist, so of course after a day of anger and desperate panic, I immediately began eating a healthy, anti-cancer diet. Yeah, I know. I stopped dairy and red meat. I bought tons of fruits and vegetables and no longer let them just rot in my produce drawer. I started each morning with a fruit and veggie smoothie (finally putting that $300 Montel Williams juicer to use.) Gluten didn’t pass my lips. I vitaminized, mineralized and visualized. In two months I lost 50 pounds (Ed. Note: There’s plenty where that came from, so not as drastic as it sounds.) The phrase ‘eat to live’ became more than just the title of Joel Furhman’s very informative bestseller. It was my new directive. And guess what — pretty quickly I began to feel like a million bucks.

Luckily this wasn’t an instance of that famous last gulp of life before kicking off. I’m still here and, as of my last PET scan, technically disease-free. Apparently, this is what it feels like to eat well and take care of yourself. Guess some of us just need a bigger foot in the butt to pay attention. (Had my mother, the dietician, not been cremated, she’d be turning in her grave…)

Now back to the villain (or hero?) of this piece — perianal melanoma. The logistical reason this was even discovered (because there are virtually no symptoms until it’s usually well on its nasty way) was because I was unhappy with my healthcare situation and wanted to return to my previous physician. That required changing my health insurance, which as a freelancer was actually up to me since I pay out of pocket. (Ed. Note: This would still be on my to do list had there not been SERIOUS effort on my friend, Annette’s part. She would not stop bugging me until I did the paperwork. Lesson here: It’s always Nike time. )

Once on my new plan, even though I’d had one only 4 months prior, as a pro forma gesture I went in for a physical. Dr. Painter, being the thorough physician she is, noticed a few things, sent me to a few specialists who ultimately discovered my early Christmas present thus securing the truth that my decision to change back to Dr. Painter was one of the best of my life. [Ed. Note: See image above.]

Okay, we have the pathology report — what next? Dr. Nandakumar, my colorectal surgeon had never run across this particular melanoma. My brand new oncologist (and who doesn’t thrill to speak those words?) was in the same boat. So they presented my case to the surgical review team at Weill Cornell, seeking opinions on a treatment protocol.  

The group decision: a second surgery (when they used the words ‘wider’ and ‘deeper’ I was ever more grateful to the inventors of general anesthesia) followed by weekly interferon shots — for up to 5 years.

Flashback here to my initial oncology visit with Dr. Popa (a delightfully intelligent woman with great experience and a generous sense of humor.) She gave me the lowdown on standard treatments for melanoma – one of which was interferon. As she outlined the nasty side effects (suicidal ideations, anyone?) she promised it would be prescribed only as a last resort.

Returning to the land of happy treatment news, I looked across at my friend, Eric who’d been a brick, attending every doc visit with me since the diagnosis. He was masking the same “Oh, shit” expression on his face as I had on mine. “But,” Dr. Popa chirped, “It’s the fancy interferon!” Well — I don’t usually go in for labels, but as long as it’s tasteful…

She explained that my prescribed treatment, Sylatron, was pretty new having just been approved by the FDA in April of 2011. Developed by Merck, it is a pegalated (coated) version of the traditional drug. Interferon is the general label for naturally occurring proteins which are released in response to pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria or tumors. So strictly speaking the method of action for Sylatron is to boost my immune system so that my body would target cancer cells and eradicate them. Faster, pussycat, kill, kill!!

I’d like to take a moment for a little life irony here and point out that my freelance job for the past several years has been developing training for pharmaceutical companies. What this meant was suddenly I was uniquely qualified to read and understand the Prescribing Information for my own cancer drug (you know, that multi-folded piece of thin white paper with the tiny, tiny print that you get inside every prescription box. Yes, Virginia, I actually read mine.) Ain’t life a kick!

I chose Friday as my weekly injection day, so I would have the weekend to deal with the promised side effects (fever, chills, nausea — the usual cocktail crowd.)  As I was the first patient to receive this treatment at Weill Cornell, they wanted to observe me at the infusion center for the first 10 or so weeks. Pat, my regular infusion nurse, was the personification of experience, humor and grounded intelligence and would make anyone feel safe. So I happily offered up my arm week after week for my Sylatron dose.

Upon receiving the shots, there was an immediate reaction. First, a noticeable band of pressure developed around my head. Then, according to Eric who was always there to watch, I would sprout a pair of red “Spock” eyebrows while a flush traveled down my face, sometimes ending as a scarlet goatee. My blood pressure would spike and I definitely felt strange. Within 10-15 minutes, the reaction would lessen and once my blood pressure returned to normal, Pat would send me on my way.

I won’t lie. That first night, with a fever of nearly 104 degrees, as I hugged a huge surgical ice pack and struggled to lower my temperature while attempting to keep the top of my head from flying off, I wondered if I could handle this treatment. Luckily a combination of the cold embrace and a Bob Newhart rerun (“Life is a Hamburger,” the one where Carol announces her engagement to Don Fezler, an unemployed would-be poet) at least got me to sleep. When I awoke in the morning, things were much more manageable.

After the first eight weeks, the dose was cut in half. The benefit was some of the side-effects lessened. By week twelve I’d graduated to shooting up at home. Giving myself the needle was the easy part (it’s just like a sub-Q insulin shot) but mixing the drug properly required really paying attention! Luckily it all comes in a sweet little package with instructions and syringes so now it’s just what I do on a hot Friday night.

Well, that’s it. I’ve got cancer? I’ve survived cancer? I’m living with cancer? I’m not sure what my label of choice — if any — will be. What I do know is that a little sense of urgency can be very effective at driving the dramatic structure. So RIPE and I are back on the boards. Countdown to opening night.

So I invite you to stay in touch, and perhaps raise your glass in community each Friday evening as I’m having cocktails for one (on the advice of the manufacturer, not shaken. Just gently turned.) Hear that, Mr. Bond?