Friday, January 26, 2007

Holidays 06 (pt. 1)

Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
Whooo boy, what a trip. I think we won.

There was a lot of worry about getting out of London at the start of the trip. Flights had been cancelled for days on account of the fog. I was overhearing stories of people trapped in Heathrow for 2 days. Virgin said that they were unaffected and indeed, I had no problem getting out. It made me start wondering if the longhaul flights have better radar that allows them to not worry about the fog. That makes sense but does that mean that the continental flights don’t have the fancy radar?

The flight was very easy, going west is always easier than going east. We stopped at a great Italian restaurant in the Bronx Italian section. Around 184th and Arthur Anderson, called Dominics or similar, it is one of those great hidden gems. No menus, family style dining. They come out and tell you what they are cooking tonight and you pick a couple things. The other people at the table were very friendly and recommended some dishes. We ordered some of our own and some of their recommendations. Of course, their recommendations were far better. Simply fantastic chicken dish.

After dinner we headed up to the Catskills for Christmas. Everything came together nicely, other than the bottle of wine that broke in my luggage. It was, of course, red wine but most of the presents made it. And we figured out that dish washing soap and hydrogen peroxide gets red wine stains out very well.

Day after Christmas, we headed back into the city to meet up with Aunt Beth and Uncle Gerald. We went to the natural history museum and saw a show at the planetarium. There were a bunch of young kids running around the museum and we wondering how much of this they were “getting”. I was quite impressed when I saw a group of 10 years olds run right up to a topographical globe and pointed out the Himilayas. “Oooh, lets find the Rockies”. I guess our educational system is doing something. We stopped in Korea Town for a meal before I caught the train out to Newark for the next phase of the adventure.

Jay picked me up in Tucson in a small little desert airport. We headed up to his parents place and pretty much called it a night. Finally dug into some real Mexican food before we headed out to the Tucson outdoor zoo. It was called something else, but it was basically a zoo of all the indigenous plants and animals of Arizona. We walked the whole thing and felt very cultured afterwards.

After lunch (more Mexican) we broke so people could get ready for the big night out. Before that though, we hit the hill top resort for the twilight toast. Because seriously, who can pass up free tequila? We got maragrita’s at a very picturesque spot in front of a fire overlooking Tucson, At twilight, they passed out a shot of tequila and told a story about Pancho Villa. We toasted to a story in which Pancho Villa had to drink more tequila than the bride to be’s father. Nice setting for a drink.

Then came the hail. Marble sized hail and freezing rain, in Tucson? Go figure. After a bit of trouble getting the limo to show up on account of the weather (and they had forgotten our reservation), the guy finally showed up. Things got a bit hazy at some point but I am pretty sure we hit every bar in Tucson. We finished the night out on the mesa in true southwest style. Yup, we won.

Not exactly feeling our best the next day, we decided not to hit the road just yet. Instead, we went to the Titan museum. The Titan missiles were our way of assuring peace through Mutually Assured Destruction. As stupid of an idea as it sounds, it seems to have pulled us through the Cold War. The basic premise was that if you shoot at us, we are going to shoot all of these huge missiles back at you, ie if you take us out we are breaking the earth. Each of these missiles carries a 90,000 megaton detonation, this is equivalent to a multi thousand car train loaded with TNT stretching from Arizona to Kentucky. The Titan missile site is the only remaining, though non functional, site of the original 54, spread in 3 locations with 18 missiles each. The missiles are spread out around a 90 or so mile radius south of Tucson. As they were very careful to point out that it was “our biggest”, or the “US’s biggest” weapon, I have to assume that this is not the biggest ever produced. The museum was quite cool. The height of late 60’s technology, it is completely dug out and placed on big shock isolation springs. This means that it would take basically a direct nuclear strike to take it out. Inside the complex, which is all underground, was nearly entirely a “no lone zone”. This meant that anywhere you were in the complex, other than the kitchen, you had to be in sight of somebody at all times. Even just stepping behind a control panel or something, you had to have somebody watching you. For 20+ years, the one in Arizona was set to “Target 2”. Still classified, nobody knows what target 2 is. When asked how they were sure these would fire when needed, they told us about their testing program. 42 times over the 20-odd years of the program they removed a missile, removed the nuke, and sent the missile and team to the test center. Some time during that week, they were called upon to fire. The target was a small island I had never heard of. Out of the 42, only 2 missed by more than 100 yards. “You don’t have to be that accurate with a weapon system like this”, the guide remarked. Indeed, the fireball itself is 3 miles in diameter. At some point in the late 80’s (IIRC), we signed a Non Proliferation treaty to disarm many of our massive weapons. To show that we, and the Russians, had done this, we disabled the various parts of the installation (drilled holes in the rocket’s fuel tanks, etc) and left them outside for 30 days so the satellites could document what had been done. Then we salvaged what we could and filled in the silo.

The museum was especially packed because it was raining. It rained all day? This is just the weather fucking with us, which would continue to be a theme on this trip.

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