A House Full

Posted from the capital city of Little Rock, Arkansas by Linda Lou Burton – Yesterday I talked about the US Census. Now you can see why the count of PEOPLE is so important in our united STATES! Each state gets two senators, but the Constitution provided for a House of Representatives based on population. Let’s go back to that original document, where Section 1 states: All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives. Section 2 spells out the directives for the House – two-year term, at least 25 years old, a resident of the US at least seven years, and a resident of the state they represent.

The Logic

The Constitution intended to have two different groups each with a different method of representation: the Senate, always, to have TWO representatives from each state, no matter the land area of the state, or the number of people who live in that state. Meaning, today, Rhode Island, the smallest US state with 1,545 square miles, and Alaska, the largest state with 665,384 square miles, are entitled to the same number of senators: TWO.

But the House of Representatives, the Constitution writers figured, should be based on the number of people in each state – We The People, remember? So they rigged up a system to count people, and then allot a certain number of representatives per PERSON (which in 1789 was considerably smaller than it is now).

Today, the number of Representatives is fixed at 435 (a House full!), representing – got your calculator handy? – whatever a state’s population may be. Here’s a link to see, and track, who represents you, and how that divvies up state by state, and political party by party; it’s the website maintained by the House of Representatives. https://www.house.gov/

From That House Site: Also referred to as a congressman or congresswoman, each representative is elected to a two-year term serving the people of a specific congressional district. The number of voting representatives in the House is fixed by law at no more than 435, proportionally representing the population of the 50 states. Currently, there are five delegates representing the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. A resident commissioner represents Puerto Rico. Learn more about representatives at The House Explained.

Unlike the Senate, where residents of the District of Columbia and US Territories have no voice, the House provides for delegates who have no vote, but do have floor privileges, can serve on committees, and can introduce legislation.

Can you guess which state has the most delegates in the House? You guessed California, of course, because California has the most people.

In 2021, California has 53 delegates in the House of Representatives. Seven states – Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming – have 1 delegate each in the House of Representatives because these states have the fewest people. Does this change as population shifts? Yes, it does. “Reapportionment” is the word.

Seeing the People

Imagine the differences in needs and viewpoint scattered out there in our 50 states! To really get a handle on these variations, read the summaries I wrote during my Journey Across America as I experienced PERSONALLY what makes up our country. What a way to dispel pre-conceived notions and see what is really there. It took me two years and 31,710 miles to get around to all of you. But I can vouch for this: the United States is  full of great people.

Our 435 delegates in that crammed-full House have a tremendous task to do, representing not just their state, but working for the good of everybody. And us PEOPLE have a tremendous task too (besides getting along with each other), and that is to thoughtfully elect delegates – to both the Senate, and the House of Representatives, that work together for the highest good of all of us.

We The People is a pretty awesome concept, when you think about it.

‘Nuff said.

Tomorrow: The President


Two by Two – The Senate

Posted from the capital city of Little Rock, Arkansas by Linda Lou Burton – Although the 2020 US Census count has not yet been released, there is a rolling counter on their website that will give you the second-by-second estimate. As I write this post on Monday, January 18, the counter says there are 330,831,523 of us in the United States. By the time you read this post, the number will have changed – there is one birth occurring every 9 seconds, one death every 10 seconds, and one international migrant every 47 seconds, for a net gain of one new person becoming part of the United States of America every 26 seconds. Here’s the counter link, look for yourself: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/geography.html

Back in 1790, when our Constitution went into effect, the US had 13 states and a population of 3,929,214. The largest city in the country, New York, had a population of 33,331. Philadelphia, where those 55 guys met to thrash out a Constitution for this baby country, was the second largest, with 28,522 residents. Just think – there were no cell phones, no airplanes, no fast foods, and, in their summer meeting room, no air conditioning. Those fellows could not possibly have foreseen what we are today – almost 4 times as many states, and almost 100 times as many people!

Yet the Constitution they put together still stands, with the additions of The Bill of Rights (rather quickly) and, over the years, 27 Amendments. But interestingly, Article 1, concerning the Congress, still stands as set out in Section 1: All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

The Senate

Let’s look at the Senate first. Every state, regardless of area or population, gets two senators, and each senator has one vote. Residents of the District of Columbia, and of the US Territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands are not represented in the Senate.

That totals up to 100 people sitting in for 330+ million of us. These men and women have a tough job, but, unlike the 1700’s, an excellent system of two-way communication. The Senate.gov website, https://www.senate.gov/ not only lists every one of those 100, but allows you to connect with them throughout their term, and to observe the proceedings when they are in session.

So if you want to see for YOURSELF, sans the filters of the media, you can. In addition to LIVE sessions, all sessions are archived. Pick a date, say, January 3, 2021, when 32 newly elected senators were sworn in, and watch the elegant ceremony – two senators at a time, called in alphabetical order and accompanied by the other senator from their state, came to the front for the administration of the oath of office. They carried a Bible or a favorite text in their left hand, raised their right hand, and said “I do” to these words read aloud by the President of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence:

Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?

There was a congratulatory elbow bump afterwards by President Pence, then each new mask-wearing senator stepped to the desk of the Senate secretary and signed the Senate Oath Book.

Something worth watching, two by two. https://www.senate.gov/floor/index.htm

The 117th Senate convened during the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, and will end on January 3, 2023, meeting during the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency. Beginning January 20, 2021, the new President of the Senate will be Vice President Kamala Harris.  


Commitment – The Oaths

Posted from the capital city of Little Rock, Arkansas by Linda Lou Burton – Before a person elected or appointed to serve in a federal position may officially take office, they are required to take an oath. The oath for the President of the United States was spelled out in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8 of the Constitution that went into effect March 4, 1789:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The Presidential Oath hasn’t changed since the Constitution; but the Constitution originally specified only that other officials “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support this Constitution.” The First Congress reworked that into a simple fourteen-word oath in 1789 — “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.” That remained in effect until the Civil War, when Congress mandated that the oath bar from office anyone who had been disloyal to the Union. Eventually, those elements of the “iron-clad” oath were dropped during revisions in 1868, 1871, and 1884. The oath used today has not changed since 1966 and is prescribed in Title 5, Section 3331 of the United States Code. In contrast to the Presidential Oath, where it’s used only by tradition, the phrase “so help me God” has been part of the official oath of office for non-presidential offices since 1862.

The Vice-President, all members of Congress, and every member of the President’s cabinet must take the following oath before they can assume the duties of their office.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”



Basic – The Constitution

Posted from the capital city of Little Rock, Arkansas by Linda Lou Burton – For $19.95 you can order a facsimile of the Constitution of the United States as it was originally written, way back in 1787. Not kidding – the folks at the National Archives have gone to the trouble of printing all four pages in a 23 x 28 size, on paper that is crinkled and aged in appearance. Go to their store at if you want to see it as it was handwritten, and signed. If you have trouble reading the flourishing script, get yourself a copy of the transcribed version. Or go digital. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript

The point is – if you live, and work, and play, and sleep, and eat, in the United States, it’s vital that you understand just what that means with regard to your responsibilities, and your privileges. So start by reading the Constitution.

The United States Constitution consists of a Preamble and seven Articles, addressing the idea of a country of united states (there were 13 at the time), and providing directions for how it would work; a “recipe” for a new country. It was created and presented in September 1787 by 55 men representing the states of:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia

Note: Rhode Island declined to send delegates.

The Preamble

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Article I – Legislative

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Sections 2-10 describe the scope and limits of these powers, and specify the who, what, and when for election of a person to legislative office.

Article II -Executive

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

Sections 2 and 3 outline the duties, responsibilities, and powers of an elected president and Section 4 addresses the removal of an elected president.

Section 4.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Article III – Judicial

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

Sections 2 and 3 further outline the duties, responsibilities, and powers of the United States judiciary.

Article IV – States and Citizens

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

Section 2.

The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States. A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.

Sections 3 and 4 outline the admission of new states, and the protections for each state.

Article V – Amendments

Provisions made for amendments to the Constitution as deemed necessary and appropriate.

Article VI – Debts and Oaths

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Article VII – Ratification

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

What Happened Next

Only 39 men actually signed the Constitution, which illustrates just how hard a task it was to get agreement on this “never done before” undertaking. It was crafted by men representing very different interests and views, who cared enough to come together and, after three hot summer months of thrashing out ideas, move forward in compromise. The delegates ranged in age from Jonathan Dayton, aged 26, to Benjamin Franklin, aged 81, who was so infirm that he had to be carried to sessions. Five states – Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut – ratified the Constitution quickly; followed by Maryland and South Carolina; the ninth state to ratify was New Hampshire. It was agreed that the Constitution would go into effect March 4, 1789. Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island were the last four states to complete the ratification process, by May of 1790.

Today the United States Constitution is the oldest written constitution in operation in the world. It consists of 4,543 words. Check out that original, the beginnings of the framework of the United States.

Give it a read. It’s a basic.

A BONUS – The National Archives not only offers you the opportunity to see that document and all those signatures, beginning with George Washington’s, but allows you to add your digital signature!  https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/join-the-signers

Footnote: Jacob Shallus was the “engrosser” who penned the document on four sheets of parchment made from treated animal skin (the conservator at the Archives says it was either calf, goat, or sheep skin). He used a goose quill with ink made of iron filings in oak gall. It started out black, but has aged to a brown color. Jacob, who was 37 at the time, was paid $30 for his work; he was Assistant Clerk to the Pennsylvania Assembly at the time, so likely was chosen for the job due to the Convention’s desire for speedy drafting; he was there and available to do the job. His name appears nowhere on the document.

Upcoming posts: Amendments, Growth, Changes

Tomorrow: The Oaths


Reflection Riding

Originally published March 1, 2006 by Linda Lou Burton from Seattle, Washington, United States – Now what? So you set a goal and accomplish it. So you overcome the hurdles. So you have a log of all the planning, the anticipation, the event itself, even the homecoming. Now what? The fruit-juicy mouth-watering bonus surprise, is this – reading about it, looking at the little map-dots there and there and there, makes me want to do it again! Over and over and over. And, it makes me want to be a better traveler while I’m at it.

What will I do differently, next time I set out, a grandma traveler in buckle-strap shoes? What have I learned, so far?

First, I’ll learn at least a smidgen of the language. Every travel writer, travel speaker, travel promoter I’ve ever heard has promoted Travel in English. “Don’t worry about language,” I’ve been told. “Everyone in the world speaks English.” I say, bunk and baloney to that notion. True, most people who have to deal with traveling Americans speak enough English to conduct trade. But how blasphemously RUDE of us, of ME, to wander here and there, traipsing around someone else’s homeland, expecting them to change for me! (The Egocentric Traveler.)

And then there’s the matter of basics — a drink of water, a restroom. I should be able to ask for that, at least. I should be able to read signs, calculate tips, say good morning, please, thank you. I should understand enough of the language to get a handle on the culture, the place, the people. Language is the foundation on which to build a better experience than “arrive, spend, depart.” I’ll call that simple premise Travel 101. Language.

Second thing, The Savvies. Should the tour company have told me? Or, should I have endeavored to find out myself? The LA Airport — should I have known there were two separate terminals? And how would I think to ask that question? Seattle airport has international flights and I’ve picked up passengers after Customs, all in ONE terminal. Even the flight attendants on my United plane had no knowledge of where Lan Chile Airlines was! Now I know, that’s something IMPORTANT to know. From one flight to another — how far? In Buenos Aires, domestic and international are twenty miles apart. KNOW THAT, if you’re making connections! Save yourself a hell of a headache.

Other savvies, like packing. I’ve never used a Swiss Army knife in my life. Why would I think I would need one on a cruise ship? I bought one, because the list said to. It hasn’t been opened yet. I also don’t sew, but I have a cute little sewing kit. And the apparel! Long johns, waterproof pants, ear muffs for 20 below. REI benefited, but I didn’t. It was 41 degrees when I went ashore at Base Arctowski. That’s a normal Seattle winter temp for me, where I walk around with my coat unzipped. I know, it “could have stormed,” but hey, I didn’t HAVE to get out in it! And besides, we were only allowed an hour ashore. With my body fat, I’d be hard put to freeze solid in 60 minutes. Savvies, that’s #2. Don’t take too much STUFF.

What else? I was relaxed. I was open to new people and new experiences. I anticipated wonderful and I got something even grander. The tired it took was worth the memories I’ve got. The tired goes away. The memories never will.

The dreaded tour-bus. Not my first choice for seeing the world. But, limiting as it is to be stuck with a “20-minute glance” and someone else’s decision on where to stop; it’s better than flopping on the couch at home, fearful of stepping outside the bounds of the familiar.

Maybe I didn’t have much time in Plaza de Mayo, or at Base Arctowski, but the time I had was enough to change my view. They belong to me now.

No longer is Antarctica a place of howling winds and penguins stoically enduring cold. When I think of Antarctica, there is warmth, personality; I see Mario, eating Christmas turkey with the Copacabana crew; I see Evie, waddling across the rocks, clear-eyed and feisty, full of life.


She’s Back!

Originally posted January 1, 2006 by Linda Lou Burton from Seattle, Washington, United States – The baby beside me cried all the way from Los Angeles. The plane shook, and bumped, the air pressure seemed to change. The pilot apologized, explained, tried to keep us calm. My ears were in a furious ache. What must the baby feel? He screamed, and screamed. The brother, a toddler sitting with his Dad, screamed too. “Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy, Mom MEEEEEEE,” echoed in my head. Mother exchanged squalling baby for screaming two-year old. I kept crying too.

Then it was over. We were on the ground. I can bear anything now, I said to myself. Anything. I’m almost HOME. I found a cart by the baggage carousel, retrieved fancy-schmancy in no time, wheeled my way to the correct floor, the right spot in the garage, checked in with Shuttle Express. Driver stashed my luggage in the van. So close!

A passenger in back inquired about my trip. “Antarctica and South America,” I replied. “My God!” he exclaimed. “You rode on South American planes? That’s not good. I work on planes. I know. They are NOT maintained.” “Thanks,” I said. What else could I say?

The driver waited for the van to fill, it took an hour. Once on the freeway, it began to rain. Through the city, traffic heavy, traffic stopped. Five miles from my house, all lights were red. Cars sitting, braked. Off the freeway, onto a side road that I often use. Stop and go and stop and go and stop and go. And stop.

My driveway! My carport! The porch light on, a timer set before I left.

My luggage was the bottom of the stack. The driver moved all bags out into the rain, reloaded. I shook his hand and tipped him well, felt like giving him a hug. Still such a drive he had ahead! But me, I’m home.

Inside, it’s warm. Jack and Alex meet me at the door, tails curled, a normal greeting-purr. “Food please,” they begged without a hint of shame. I opened Fancy Feast, filled the water dish, watched them as they ate.

Bags to the bedroom, my bed! I’m not tired now. Into my office, I hooked my camera to the cable, began the pictures move to my computer screen. I could hardly wait to see it all again.


Rainy Days and Sundays

Originally posted January 1, 2006 by Linda Lou Burton from Los Angeles, California, United States – Somewhere between Lima, Peru and Los Angeles, California, USA, 2006 came upon me. I had visualized happy announcements from the captain, good wishes to all, thanks for flying with us, maybe even champagne served by the flight attendants. I don’t care for parties, but I am accustomed to watching the Times Square crowd on television as the firecrackers pop in my neighborhood.

This time I got a shaky plane, three hours of turbulence, an unintelligible squawk from the speaker. “Was that Happy New Year in Spanish?” I wondered. My feet were hot. I pulled off shoes and socks. Across the aisle, a Korean lady who boarded in Lima sat placidly, legs balloon-wrapped and feet slippered, a wool hat on her head. I’d watched in fascination earlier as she inflated the leg-wraps, screech screech screech with a tiny hand-pump. Protection against clots, I figured. Better than my compression stockings, that caused such blisters on my feet the first day. I massaged my legs, told the blood to flow. “No clots!” I commanded. Or maybe it wouldn’t matter, if the wings fell off and we crashed into the Andes. The plane shook and shook.

I must have slept. I smelled breakfast. An omelet, and coffee. A few more sips from my water bottle. Good things, but I was “flying ugly” – that raw-eyed look you get when you stand in endless lines and sit for endless hours without sleeping, or a bath.

Touchdown, American soil! On the ground in Los An-ge-les. It was 7 AM Pacific Time, noon in Buenos Aires. Thirty hours since I left the bed in my hotel room. My luggage was tagged for Seattle, so I only had my carryon, thank God.

“Welcome to the United States of America” bannered over the escalator. I was in a huge room, high-ceilinged, fresh-air flow. Everything looked clean and new. Many counters rowed in front of me, manned by uniformed personnel. Customs. “US destination, go to Number 13,” a woman called, over and over. I headed for 13, waited my turn,

“Good morning maam!” A young man held out his hand, blond hair, short-trimmed, clean-cut, he was. “The form?” he questioned. “I don’t have a form.” “They gave it to you on the plane.” “Nobody gave me a form. Do you have one here?” This kindly person looked under his counter, looked all around, called a passing guard. “Can you get me a form for this lady?” The guard could not leave his area. “Maam, I’m sorry, you’ll need to go back to the information desk and get a form.” I was good at this by now. I trudged back through the line to get The Form.


“Are you bringing anything into the US?” The Form wanted to know. “No,” I answered.

Back into the line. Hand over The Form. Stamp! “Welcome to the United States,” said a smiling Latino customs guard. Into the wait-pen. Since I had no luggage, I did not have to go through customs check. That did not prevent two serpentine turns in a line around the giant room  JUST TO GET OUT THE DOOR. A pilot behind me, spiffy in his uniform, circled just like me. “Surely you don’t have to wait in this line too,” I sympathized. “Oh yes, I do,” he answered.

There are too many people, I thought to myself. People in one place want to go to another place, the world is HUGE, there’s much to see. But we all have to crowd through one little butthole to get there. It’s called an AIRPORT. I HATE airports. I feel sorry for anyone who has to WORK in one, in any capacity. And I would spend my New Year’s Day in this one. I had reached Stage Three on the Grumpy Chart. Outside, cigarette-puffers alley, too tired to care. I sat down by the azalea bed and looked at the American flag. One more flight, one more shuttle ride, and I’d be home. But first, seven hours to kill. I decided to walk to the United gate. I’d been sitting long enough.

United gate now. Inside, people, people, people everywhere. Please God, not another line. God answers prayer. In front of my eyes an auto-ticket machine appeared. Nobody there! It beckoned with a flawless screen. “Give me your CREDIT CARD.” Pop it in, my name, my flight, displayed. I touched YES, my boarding pass slid into my hand. Thank you good angel, I smiled in thanks.

Good news again. An elevator, ten feet to my left. At the top, security. No one in line! I breezed through. The walkway was clean, marble, polished, wide. My gate was not too far. McDonalds! Starbucks! Short line at Mickey D’s, I ordered lunch. “We’re serving breakfast, maam,” I’m told. “Big breakfast then!” I laughed. “Happy New Year!” came with the food and now I had my tray. Two New Year’s breakfasts then, who cares?

A bookstore there. I’ll buy a book to read today. A corner seat, tucked and snug. One person there. One person with one cell phone. Girlfriend quarrel. Painful talk. Hangups. Recalls. “Make up or break up!” I screamed inside my head. His plane was called. Across the way, a child. On the floor, hands and knees, futile travel, getting nowhere, britches tightly clutched by Dad. “I want to go!” the child sobbed, and sobbed. Airport fatigue, I dubbed it, suffering a massive case myself.

After Chapter 12 I went to Starbucks for a coffee break. Kept reading. Chapter 20 finished. Time for lunch. Checked the famous chef’s place, pretty and pucky, but crowded loud, loud, loud. Back to Mickey D’s for fish filet, with cheese and quiet. My needs are simple. Leave me alone. I read some more. Three PM, at last. Boarding call, at last. “When I get on this plane,” I thought, “I can sleep all the way home. Two and a half hours of good solid sleep.” I smiled. Yes, I got my window seat. I settled in, head leaning, eyelids falling. A woman eased into the seat beside me, quietly. Peace.

Announcement. “We have too many babies on board in the same row! I need someone to switch seats.” The woman beside me raised her hand. “I’ll move!” she said. I grabbed her arm in horror. “Oh NO! PLEASE don’t do that!” It was too late. Mother and tiny squalling baby slid into the spot beside me. I knew the baby was wailing in misery. I was miserable too. I began bawling, just like the babe. I’d passed Grumpy and was now in full-fledged Stage of Wallow. I could not help myself.

I cried for the baby. I cried for all the sleepless hours of push, and shove, and hurry, and wait. I cried for the rain that was pounding Los Angeles on New Year’s Day. The Rose Parade!

It’s not SUPPOSED to rain in Southern California, I sobbed, as the plane taxied to the runway.


I Haven’t Had a Bean in Weeks

Originally posted December 31, 2005 by Linda Lou Burton from Lima, Peru – Seating roulette. Interesting how it’s played. Boarding in Santiago, expecting the window seat this time for sure, I found myself once again in the center, but on the aisle. Ah, no one in the center seat. Could I be so lucky as to have a little room? First switcheroo – girlfriend moved from elsewhere to sit by guyfriend, assigned the other aisle seat. Center seat, now taken. I clamped my elbows closely to my side. Anything sticking into the aisle would get chopped off at the nub, for sure.

Across the aisle from me, two newly-marrieds, doing the Versace stroke. They had a window view, but they pulled down the shade. Behind them, two empty seats. I waited, pounce ready. Before I could blink, a little girl moved from behind me and stretched out in those two seats, ready to sleep. Her window shade also was closed.

Oh well I’ll entertain myself with the GPS map, I thought. Alas, no such feature on this plane. No screen, no games, no room, no air. For five cents I would be miserable. But it’s almost the New Year. We’ll celebrate! Every time zone! Yea! Airbound at last.

Dinner was served. Gunky pasta with meat sauce, salad, roll, a bit of orange-flecked cake. The couple to my right indulged in intimate whisper-talk. I interrupted long enough to say “Our New Year’s dinner, eh?” They laughed. Salt Lake City, they’re headed there, they said. Dinner over, I struggled down the aisle to pee.

No sleep before our Lima stop. Then on the ground, a flood of newbies filled the plane; bags banged against my shoulder, klump, kalump, kalump. Evicted from her comfy seats, the sleeping girl was yanked across the aisle by father’s hand. Too many people now, too little space. I sucked in air, hoarding breath, grasping for some calm. Think of something else, I told myself.

Lee-ma, Peru. Ly-ma bean. Lee-ma. Ly-ma. Nothing could be fine-a. Good grief, I thought, as I scanned Nordnorge’s smorgasbord in my memory bank. I saw salads, seafood, myriad desserts. But no beans, anywhere.

No wonder I’m getting cranky. I haven’t had a bean in weeks.


Play it again, Sam

Originally posted December 31, 2005 by Linda Lou Burton from Santiago, Chile – Time to move on; leave the comfort of  our beautiful hotel; board the the 3 PM shuttle bus to the international airport. Maria was with us again! She had a family barbecue planned for the evening, she said, to bring in the New Year. But she was good-natured, as ever, her gentle melody-voice explaining the four stops we would have to make inside the terminal. One, check our bags and get our boarding pass. Two, go to Counter 54 and pay the exit fee of $18. Three, go through the security line. Four, turn in the declaration form. Check the bags? Oh no, I have to deal with BAGS again. Didn’t my tour information say “Baggage transfers included”? What did that mean?

The international airport was a good distance from the city, a pleasant freeway ride, with stands of pink-tasseled mimosa trees and glossy-leafed magnolias along the way. My Myrtle Beach seatmate and I agreed, it looked like South Carolina. Now, the terminal. Maria and our driver scurried to grab carts, piled the luggage on. Ah, that’s what it means, I thought. Maria helped me push my cart till I reached the line, got into the serpentine maze, then off she went to a special counter with Ross, who’d lost his passport. “Maybe he can just show them that Antarctic pebble he has,” I thought wickedly to myself. “Or the knife he says he won’t take out of his pocket no matter what security tells him.”

My wait began. I made seven serpentine turns before arriving at the check-in counter. But I was cool, full of Buenos Airesian hospitality, ready for anything. Others were not. “Stop fidgeting!” said a mother to her little boy. “Tuck your shirt in!” she said to another child. “Tie your shoes!” she said to a third. Their cart was piled high with enormous bags, the children were leaning, pushing, laying on the floor. “How much longer will it be?” said one of my South Carolina tour mates just behind. “I don’t know,” answered the other. That question, and that answer, repeated on a five-minute track, again and again and again. A Lan Chile employee, gorgeous, sleek and smiling, walked the line, threading plastic locks through every zipper on every piece of luggage. “We want your bags to be safe,” she explained to each of us. “We can’t lock our bags in the US,” I commented. “I know,” she answered, “but we don’t think it’s a good idea to have unlocked bags.” I thanked her profusely.

Overhead, a fright. A Versace perfume ad postered a 40-foot woman in a state of swoon, eyes glazed, in a hands-on ceremony of multiple caressments by several other glazey-eyed swooners. Powerful stuff, Versace. More raunchy than Manuel’s penguins mating. Cover the children’s eyes! Cover mine! It made me chuckle.

Finally I’m up to bat, I swung my fancy-schmancy bags from cart to counter. In no time I had my seat assignment, my gate number, and a smiling wish for a “good trip.” Next to Counter 54, past the blue sign, Maria had said. I saw blue signs ahead, picked the wrong one, backtracked, handed over a US $20. Change back, it was $18 to leave Argentina. Security next. No problem there, except for lack of air. (Why do they call them AIR-ports? Most rooms are incredibly stuffy.) Oops, geez, what was the fourth stop? I couldn’t remember anything else. But there was a gate to stop me again. Hmmmm. Oh, the declaration form! I grabbed one from the counter, checked the boxes, in like flinn, it’s OK, I’m done!

The waiting area by the gate was pleasant, not too crowded, I picked a seat where I could see the plane. Eek! A fright again. The Versace woman was there too, swooning above me, I moved. A tiny snack bar ahead. Aha, I remembered this time. Buy a bottle of water. I approached, asked. My God! Embarrassed. After two weeks I still don’t know the Spanish word for water. The clerk did not speak English. I pointed. She asked a question I did not understand. We leaned closer to one another, neither understanding. Finally she handed me a bottle, told me the price. I began laying money on the counter, but it was not enough. She was frowning at me. I should know how to trade by now. Still embarrassed, I vowed to better prepare for my next trip. An American sitting at the counter finally told me what to do. “Thanks,” I said to him, clutching my precious bottle of water. I slunk back to my seat, away from the scary Versace woman, away from the South Carolina travelers who were now in full-quarrel mode.

On board! And now I see, my boarding pass gave me an aisle seat, not the window I requested. But, ahhh, looky here. Must be a movie star, surely. A young man, handsome, slender, tight jeaned, day-old beard; he nodded, sat, whipped out his cell phone, made a call, low-voiced. “Do you want me to come and run naked on the beach with you?” he almost whispered to the phone. I was reminded of a song, “Hello young lovers, wherever you are”; if you don’t know it, look it up. Shades of Versace.

Buenos Aires to Santiago, that was the first leg of the flight. My Argentinian cowboy-movie star and I waited as others exited, a long, slow process; laughing at the image of what would happen in an emergency. “The disaster instructions show everyone quietly reaching under their seat for their life jacket,” he said. “Yes, and they don’t tell you NOT to pull the cord till they get to the end of the instructions!” I added. “I can see all of the life jackets going whoosh whoosh whoosh inflating before they remember.” We laughed harder. “And exiting the plane!” he said, “you know people would be fighting each other to get out first!” “Right,” I laughed, “pushing and shoving and stepping on each other.” We shook our heads at the thought of it, sniffle-laughing till it was time to go. He was headed for Mendoza.

I exited the plane expecting to spend a few minutes in the waiting area while they spiffed things up for my reboard. But no! We were pinned like cattle in a hot and stuffy glass-walled passage. What was happening? Outside, I saw the familiar brown-hazed hills of Santiago. The crew exited the plane, pushed their way around us. “Why are we waiting here?” I asked one of the flight attendants. “I don’t know.” She shrugged her shoulders and kept walking. An American family waited in line in front of me, Mom and Dad, two teen sons, a daughter, maybe 12. She was cute in flippy short shirt and flip-flop sandals, fingers and toes glossed in Barbie pink. The boys were studying plane activity outside, theorizing our delay. The father was scowling at the crew, as they walked away. The mother began to rattle questions in Spanish; one attendant turned around, answered. I decided to hang close, a language-bridge here, aha! The mother turned back to her family, explained there was a change of planes, we were to go to Gate 17. “For Lima?” I was quick to ask. “For LA?” “Yes,” she nodded, that’s where we’re going.” Well, I thought, at least I have a clue. I stood near the daughter, hoping I’d blend into the family circle. I could be the grandma! I asked her where they’d been, she named the cities, a Christmas holiday in Argentina. We talked about penguins, horses, sheep, the ranches, the barbecues. “I can’t eat lamb!” she said, “cute babies, oh no!” She showed me her fuzzy lamb souvenir.

Finally the line began to move, around a corner, we turned, we’re in an x-ray room! Security, again. What the &%$#*(&)(*&? How many of us have had a chance to purchase bombs and guns since the security check that put us ON the plane? I’ve never been x-rayed getting OFF a plane. But, there it was. Then, worse. My pack was stopped, pushed to the side, I’m signaled over. “Senora, I need you to open your pack,” the attendant said. I smiled, complied, unzipped the top. She pointed to an object, queried, “What is that?” I reached for my laser-thermometer, quickly picked it up. She jumped back a step; I slowed my movements down. “It’s my thermometer,” I said clearly. “Would you like me to show you how it works?” I realized she could see its push-button — could it be a detonator? I didn’t dare to laugh. She studied the object in my hand, I forged ahead and pushed the button. “78” registered on the face panel. “See,” I said, “it shows the temperature in this room.” She nodded, smiled at me. “That’s fine,” she said, “that’s all I need to see.” I was dismissed.

I hurried out the door, but my language-bridge family was nowhere in sight. A marker overhead said Gate 13. I ran, chest tightening with every step, towards Gate 17. I had no idea when my plane was due to leave. I could not bear to miss another flight. Puff puff pant pant Gate 17. There, a flight prepared to leave for Canada. My heart sank. And then, I gained my senses back. “You don’t need no stinking translator,” I thought to myself. “Just read the Departure Board.”

“Lima,” it said. “Gate 21. 7:30. On time.”  Well rats and hallelujah. I had been fretting and rushing for nothing. I had plenty of time. I ambled down the walkway, thinking about the cup of coffee I’d buy at the Dunkin Donuts spot I remembered from my pass-through two weeks earlier. Ah, just ahead I saw my adopted granddaughter in the flippy skirt, waving at me. I might have a donut too, I thought as I reached for my change purse. After all, it was New Year’s Eve. A quick left to the donut counter. It was closed.

No coffee. No donut to dunk. But I had my bottle of water. And I had my gate. And I had time to spare. My Barbie friend came over to chat, while we waited for airport things to happen, in their own good time.


Don’t Cry for Me

Originally posted December 31, 2005 by Linda Lou Burton from Buenos Aires, Argentina – The year was winding down. The trip was winding down. And I was winding down too. Breakfast at 7 in 214, part of the tour stuff, Antarctic adventurers sitting together one more time over eggs and toast. Unassigned table, suddenly I’m with a bunch of Americans, most I hadn’t encountered on the ship. South Carolina, Myrtle Beach, Clemson; Connecticut; New Hampshire; we met in Buenos Aires!

Downstairs, the City Tour at 8. Maria. Maria, blond, slender, people-savvy. Maria knew her city, Maria knew her facts. She told her story golden voiced, syllables stretched slowly into bells, a lovely melody. First corner, a pause. The Opera House. Teatro Colon. Colon Theatre. Known worldwide for its excellent acoustics. One of the world’s premier opera houses. Maria Callas, Toscanini, Stravinsky, Caruso.

We drove on. I snapped my pictures through tour-bus windows. Time, too short. Maria told grand stories about the city, melody creating mood, as we moved through the Centro district, San Telmo, Montserrat, Palermo, La Boca, Puerto Madero. First stop, Recoleta Cemetery. One of the most famous cemeteries in the world. Founded in 1822. Six hectares in size. Famous sculptures, crypts, graves where famous people rest. Historic monuments. Important mausoleums, such as Evita’s, other national heroes, writers, Argentine Presidents.

The bus pulled to the edge of the brick-walled haven of quiet and Maria began her story. Eva Duarte, who married Presidente Peron, a woman of the people, then first lady of the land. Evita! “We’re going to walk around inside,” Maria told us, “and though we believe it is safe in our city, I ask that you leave all jewelry and valuables in the bus.” Since I had only two small cameras — one for each zip-up pocket — I was good to go. We had 20 minutes inside the walled cemetery.

Cats wandered lazily, or curled in a spot of sun. Lives to spare? Maria told more stories. Tour mates darted into walkways for the perfect shot — the angle of an angel’s wing; a name carved in marble, long ago. Long forgotten? A man with a cane, walking alone. Trees shaded the peaceful sighs of the dead, resting now.

Maria disappeared. I could hear no voices, do I go right, or left? I saw the church ahead, hurried to catch up. The Nordnorge sign, lifted high, passing through the gate. Across the street purple flowers beckoned to my camera. Maria and the bus beckoned too. Hurry. I jumped aboard, snapped McDonald’s on the corner as we drove away, on fast-food time.

Second stop, Plaza de Mayo. The city center. Site of Argentina’s most important historical events. Surrounded by Government House, Metropolitan Cathedral, Town Hall, Bank of Argentina. Maria’s history lesson flowed through the bus as we made each turn around the square.

The driver eased the bus to the curb in front of the Cathedral. “Twenty minutes,” Maria said, before she allowed us out the door. “Be back here in 20 minutes.” I stepped into the heat, surrounded by tour buses, radio taxis, tourists, beggars, vendors, orange-vested policio; jumbled real-time and past-time meeting on the square, under a last-day-of-the-year blue sky. Will I be a part of Plaza history now, or will it be a part of me?

The Cathedral portico was lined with beggars; women crouched as crippled; children brushed the arms of passers-by, pleaded. I had nothing in my pocket but cameras. Inside, I offered prayers. The church was huge, ornate, saints and sinners mingled under gold and blue, death and life. Symbols. Faith. And hope. I prayed for children everywhere.

The sidewalk now, vendors hawking Argentinian leather purses, jewelry, t-shirts, flags. Wait patiently for the light to change. Across the street, the Plaza. No demonstration today. But the black fence was there, stay back, stay back, stay this far from Government House. Today it had no use. The Policio were chatting, enjoying the sun.

Tour buses made the turn only a sidewalk-width from the pink walls of Government House. I walked to the front for pictures, stood under the palm trees, saw two guards standing at attention beside the door. I could never get this close to the Capitol in Washington DC. What does this mean, as I stand in the heart of the fourth-largest city in the world? What does it mean about my country?

My twenty minutes were gone. Children and pigeons played in the sunshine of the Plaza, while grown-ups rested on nearby benches, a summer holiday. The blue flag of Argentina decorated the vendor’s stands, hand-sized versions for sale. But I had no money in my pocket, I had to hurry, run, hobble-run through the crowd, waving, waving at Maria, who stood by the door of the bus, ready to move on.

Third stop, La Boca. Little Italy. Mediterranean style. Brightly painted wood and corrugated tin houses inhabited by families, artists, musicians. One of the most picturesque places in the city due to its colorful port setting, said the brochure. A working class neighborhood located at the mouth of the river (La Boca means The Mouth). Main street is Caminito.

We knew before she said it. “The bus will stop for 20 minutes.” I was out in a flash. The street was only two blocks long, but I wanted to absorb the color, the noise, the feel of the place. I walked rapidly to the turn-around spot where I saw boats and river, timing the time I had to leisurely stroll the cobble streets back to the bus.

Blue. Pink. Yellow. Green. Color everywhere, on everything, unexpected curves and angles, a painting hung below a window on a wall of brilliant blue, a wood-carved head jutting from a ledge, flowers, cats, voices, music, caricatures, exaggerated smiles, stick-your-head-in-the-hole-and-get-your-picture-made, postcards for sale, trinkets, souvenirs. A playful place.

Back at the bus, Maria was not there, the driver was not there, the door was closed. We gathered, watched a dog lazing in the door of a shop, knowing this was almost the last thing we’d do together. We did not mind Maria’s tardiness. Here there were trees, a life-sized papier-mache cow to keep us company. Ross confessed, he took a pebble from the shore on one of our Antarctic stops. Mary fussed, told him he is a lout. Maria arrived, and we were on our way. Did Ross understand?

Time was almost up. The bus followed the river, Puerto Madera now, renovation, beautiful new buildings along the water. Offices below, condominiums above, expensive, glitzy, gorgeous; finest restaurants in town here now. The tires of the bus were almost squealing as we hurried back, moving fast, there were planes to catch. Back at the hotel, I packed my bags and turned them over to the concierge to wait for our 3 o’clock airport shuttle. Noon checkout was required.

Needed lunch. Mostly, needed something COLD to drink. It was hot and humid in the lobby, although the hotel staff were dressed in fancy-dancy suits and ties. I checked the temp with the laser-thermometer I keep in my pack. 84 degrees. Meltdown. I headed for the beautiful terrace restaurant at the back of the hotel lobby. Locked! The bar was not an option, cigarette smoke swirled in blue clouds around the plush and comfy chairs. Grrrr. I walked to the back patio, checked the restaurant’s outside door. Locked. I shook and rattled the door, it was after noon and the sign said Open 11 AM. It opened. “May I help you, Senora?” “I’m looking for lunch!” I replied, gruffly. “Then please to come in,” he smiled. I walked inside. It was hotter, muggier, steamier, than the lobby. “Don’t you have air conditioning?” I asked with attitude. “Why is it so hot?”

“We have the glass roof, so we cannot stop the sun come in,” he said, “but we have the fan so you can sit under,” he gestured to a table directly beneath a slowly whirling fan. The room was beautiful, filled with palm trees, climbing vines, orchids, even the song of birds, a tropical jungle-haven. Just ahead the luncheon buffet was spread, the display itself nothing less than a work of art. The table legs were different heights, each course set up at different levels to catch the eye; the plates were huge, and square, perfect for a buffet gorge. I walked around the multi-layered food, entranced. “I guess I’ll stay,” I mumbled. “But only if you have ice.”

“Si, Senora,” he said, pulling out my chair. He brought a bottled Coke, cold from the cooler. He brought a tall sipping-glass. He brought an entire bucket of ice. “Please to help yourself, Senora,” he said, when he saw I had begun to cool down. “Is all for you.” He gestured to the food display. It was true, there were no other customers in the room, and the fabulous assortment of meats, fish, salads, vegetables, desserts, and breads was, in theory, mine.

This was the first moment since my trip began that I’d had so much privacy, so much personal attention, so little need to hurry. I suddenly felt queenly, rested, back on top of my game.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina. I will remember you well.