Monday, May 24, 2010

Appalachian Trail (Part 2)

The sun woke me up before my alarm clock on Wednesday morning; the sky was cloudless and deceptively warm looking, making for a breathtaking surprise when I stepped outside. Asheville was under a freeze warning until mid-morning, which surely meant the Parkway would be treacherous until around noon. We had plenty of time for breakfast, so before Daphne left for work at the Sunny Point Cafe she suggested that we come by. It was a special morning at the Cafe: Good Morning America was filming there for their "Best Breakfast in America" feature, of which Sunny Point was one of the four finalists. When we swung the bikes into their lot at 9am, there was a long and enthusiastic line of diners, but we were seated and served surprisingly quickly. Both Brad and I tried the dish which earned Sunny Point the "Best Breakfast" nomination, Huevos Rancheros with black bean cakes, chorizo, and tortilla chips. It certainly got my vote. The film crew actually filmed Brad and I being served our plates, but when the segment aired on May 15 we were nowhere to be seen. Apparently two wild-haired, scruffy-bearded bikers straight off the road weren't quite what the producer was looking for!

After we said our goodbyes to Daphne and the crew at Sunny Point, we rode to a nearby auto parts store so Brad could change his oil. He didn't know when it had last been changed, as he had bought the bike specifically for the trip a few weeks prior in Nashville. This store didn't have an oil pan we could borrow, but a discarded windshield washer fluid bottle with the top cut off worked nicely and we were on the road a half hour later.

As soon as we got on the Parkway, it was obvious that we had made the right decision in stopping early the previous day. The downwind side of every exposed tree branch was coated with a half-inch of rime ice. We stopped at an overlook to take pictures when the wind began flaking the ice off the trees, creating the effect of snow despite the blue skies. Brad pointed out a group of Harleys with Minnesota plates, so I went over to talk to the riders. They asked where I was coming from, so I launched into the by-now familiar catalogue of places I'd been and roads I'd ridden over almost 11,000 miles. "Which way did you come?" I asked my fellow Minnesotans. They sheepishly admitted they had trailered their bikes the whole way and had ridden 25 miles so far.

The first forty miles of Parkway followed the ridge at between 4000 and 5000 feet elevation, and there was still ice in the shadows; we rode more carefully than we might have on the undulating sweepers. We had just started to descent to lower, warmer altitudes when we came across a "Road Closed Ahead" sign. The Minnesotan Harley riders were stopped at the closure, discussing their options for bypassing the areas of the Parkway closed by the prior day's rains. After talking to them, Brad and I decided on taking NC-80 to US-19E to NC-226, rejoining the Parkway to Linville Falls, and then bypassing it on US-221 until Linville. From here, the Parkway was open to its terminus at Waynesboro, Virginia.

North of Blowing Rock, the Parkway descended into rolling woodland, yet the still-curvy road was no less enjoyable for the scarcity of overlooks. We'd been exceeding the ridiculously low speed limit all day, but now our tempo crept steadily upward into freeway territory. Neither of us said anything about it at the time, but both of us were thinking the same thing: what if a deer jumps out? What if there's stopped traffic around one of these blind curves? In light of events later that day, we talked about this as we drifted off to sleep in our tents that night. It struck me that we, two airline pilots, were both thinking in terms of risk mitigation, yet neither of us was really inclined to slow down.

Along the North Carolina / Virginia border, we rode through at least twenty miles of heavily storm-damaged forest, and crossed at least two narrow swaths of utter destruction that were the unmistakable work of tornadoes. I asked about it at a gas station down the road in Meadows of Dan, VA, and the clerk said the storm came through nearly a year ago. The terrain continued to descend and the countryside became more populous as we approached Roanoke, which the Parkway skirts to the east. We stopped at an overlook around mile marker 105 to call the wives, eat a cereal bar, and decide how much further we wanted to go. At this point it was after 5pm and we had ridden nearly 300 miles since Asheville. I had hoped to reach the end of the Parkway that day but the late start meant we would come up about 50 miles short. I slowly rose off the soft grass where I'd been basking in the late-afternoon sun and climbed back on the bike for one last fifty-mile push.

Shortly after we got back on the Parkway, it climbed dramatically to nearly 4000 ft elevation and followed the top of the Blue Ridge for over twenty miles. The road meandered through strands of birch and poplar trees that occasionally gave way to open sections with vertiginous views of the countryside below. This stretch of Parkway was on par with the most spectacular sections we had seen just out of Asheville earlier in the day. Again our speed crept steadily upward in the absence of traffic or sharp curves. I was getting hungry and was eager to reach Buena Vista, our destination for the night. Twenty-five miles away, the road left the ridge top and started dropping down the eastern flank in its way to the James River crossing, the entire Parkway's lowest elevation. The blacktop became curvier as it followed the terrain, but the first few turns were sweepers and I barely slowed going into them, for most of nearly 350 miles that day had been spent riding the edges of my tires and I was feeling pretty confident. That was the final ingredient needed for what was about to take place.

Much of the descent took place along exposed cliffsides, some turns protected by guardrails and others not. Now we descended into woodland and the ridge's flanks became less vertical. I saw that the next curve was tighter than the rest, so I slowed a bit going into it. As I leaned over and looked into the turn, I realized that it was much tighter than I had anticipated, and I kept off the throttle. I leaned harder and harder, keeping my head turned and eyes out around the curve, and noticed with consternation that no matter how hard I leaned, I was drifting way outside. Suddenly I felt my wheels drop off the pavement and into the dirt, and they began slipping out from under me. My first reaction was panic, then disbelief. "Aw, $#@&!" I exclaimed as I stood the bike up to keep from low-siding and turned my eyes ahead to survey what I was about to crash into. There was a bit of a ditch alongside the road and then an earthen berm perhaps two feet tall; beyond that, the hill dropped away steeply with only hard tree trunks to stop one's progress. I plowed through the ditch and popped up onto the berm, getting airborne for a split second before slamming down, my rear wheel fishtailing about. "Ride it, ride it, ride it!" was the only thing going through my mind. I fully expected for this to end with me and the bike on the ground, but I hoped to at least be somewhat slowed by the time that happened. The berm was maybe a foot wide, and although it was quite bumpy along the top I was actually able to keep the heavy bike upright and pointed in the right direction. Before I realized it, I had slowed to a quite survivable speed, and then a perfect little ramp appeared off the edge of the berm. I rolled down the ramp and back onto the road, no worse for the wear. I slowed to a halt and looked over at Brad as he pulled up alongside, shaking his head. The backside of a blind curve is a bad place to stop, so Brad motioned for me to follow and headed down the hill, pulling over a mile later.

"I was getting bored with the Parkway so I thought I'd try a little off-roading!" I cracked as we turned off the bikes and flipped up our visors. Brad smiled at my weak attempt at humor, then shook his head in amazement. "Dude, I cannot believe you didn't go down right there. I've never seen anything like it! That was some good riding, but you also got really, really lucky." I knew exactly what he meant. That was the first curve in several miles where going off the road was even survivable, to say nothing of being rideable. I inspected my bike for damage; there was a little dirt in the tire treads but no other signs of my close scrape. Brad and I talked about what caused me to go off the road in the first place. Although the curve was tight, I'd gone around several equally tight turns throughout the day, scraping my pegs a few times; I couldn't lean over far enough to do so this time. Brad provided a big clue why: I'd been using my front brakes well into the turn. I didn't even realize I was doing it, but he was right behind me and clearly saw me doing so. I knew this was a big no-no, but didn't have a clear understanding of exactly why it's such a bad idea. Brad explained that using any front brake compresses the front tire, squaring it off and making it much, much harder to get on edge no matter how far you lean. I didn't know that, I thought that using brakes in a turn simply uses up available traction. He told me to do an experiment on the next tight curve we came across: enter it with front brakes applied, then release them smoothly and feel how much easier the bike is to lean over. The difference was astounding, and I'm a little ashamed to say I went 20,000 miles over the last three years before finally understanding why it is so critical to stay off the front brake once you enter a turn.

I tried to put the incident out of mind and concentrated on riding well the last twenty-five miles to Buena Vista, although I certainly backed off a bit from our previous pace. It was dusk by the time we made camp on the banks of the Maury River in Glen Maury Park. We rode back into town to an interesting-looking bar we had passed on the way to the campground. The Stone Grey Pub is located in a unique triangular brick building that was built by a retired ship captain in the late 1800s. When we entered the packed pub, it was obvious that this was the hot spot for nightlife in an otherwise slumbering town. A middle aged man in a plaid shirt and a ballcap was strumming an acoustic guitar and softly crooning into a microphone, accompanied by an old-timer deftly plucking an upright bass. We shared a table with a burly white-bearded man picking on a second acoustic guitar; later he took the microphone, and the original singer went to drink at the bar but would occasionally stand up from his beer, wander over to the microphone, and harmonize on a chorus. An emaciated-looking guy in a tattered t-shirt had an array of harmonicas in every key laid out on the table across from us, and every once in a while he'd pick one up and add a few haunting notes. As everyone seemed to know each other, we were obvious outsiders and an older woman behind us asked where we were coming from and where we were going. Before I knew it, she was taking our picture and writing in a notepad; she turned out to be a reporter for the local paper. She introduced us to her son, her best friend, and several of the other patrons. Brad got talking to Dave, the harmonica guy, who turned out to be a pretty interesting character. He is from central Pennsylvania but has been living a nomadic life in his camper van for some time now, traveling up and down the Blue Ridge doing odd jobs, playing music gigs, and hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail whenever he can. The conversation, the music, the Yuenglings and hot chicken dumpling soup (just like mom used to make!) all made for a very nice end to the day, and I felt immensely grateful to have made it through my close call unscathed.

After last call at 9:30pm (!), Brad and I rode back to the campground and settled into our tents for the cold night. I called Dawn and we talked for a few minutes about our respective days. Against my better judgement, I told her about my off-road adventure but left out the juiciest details, like how steep and wooded the hill beyond the berm was. She sounded surprisingly unconcerned but told me to ride carefully. After I hung up, Brad and I talked a little bit between our tents as we drifted off to sleep. Despite the near-disaster on the Parkway, it had been a very good day, one of the best of my trip so far. As for my screwup, I learned a valuable lesson at about as cheap of a cost as could be imagined. Usage of brakes in turns was part of it, but so was riding faster than prudence dictated on an unfamiliar road. Best to take that lesson and move on, for it has been my experience in flying and in life that dwelling too long on my mistakes leads to distraction and more serious mistakes.

To Be Continued....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Appalachian Trail

There are two people to thank for igniting my current motorcycling obsession. The first is my Dad; he was an avid motorcyclist back in the 70s, owning several British and Italian bikes that would be collectors items today before acquiring a Harley Electra Glide that was his pride and joy. He sold it when I was born and didn't ride again until a few years ago, when my brothers found a good deal on an '87 BMW K75S and bought it for him as a Christmas present. He encouraged me when I showed interest in learning to ride and even let me learn on his tall, heavy K75 when I knew frightfully little about riding. He now rides a '98 BMW R1100RT, my brother Josiah owns the K75, my brother Jon rides a Yamaha R6, and my brother Steve is perpetually between bikes. We are all blessed with wives and girlfriends who enjoy riding, making for some very enjoyable family outings.

Well before my dad started riding again, my good friend Brad was pestering me to buy a bike. Brad has been riding since he was 16 years old, and has had a plethora of bikes pass through his garage since we met while instructing in Southern California. After I followed Brad to Horizon and Portland, we hung out a lot but seemed to do little but drink each other's beer. "If only you had a bike," he'd say, "it'd be a gorgeous day for riding." I didn't know what I was missing out on. I was interested in motorcycles but it was too low on my list of priorities to merit a chunk of my limited disposable income. Brad was simultaneously pleased and aghast when I learned to ride and bought a bike only months after moving back to Minnesota.

Since then we've been trying to do a motorcycle trip together. Shortly after I bought the BMW in October 2008, we planned a ride down the east coast for the next spring. That fell through when Brad's father became severely ill and passed away shortly before we were to leave. When my bike was in Portland last year, we did some riding together, including a three day trip around the Olympic Mountains and San Juan Islands after we somehow convinced our spouses to spend their anniversaries on the backs of our bikes. When I started considering a Round-the-USA ride last fall, the inclusion of an east coast trip with Brad in the spring was the major motivation. I bid vacation for the last week of April and rode around the country with that timeline in mind; Brad worked his charm on Horizon crew planners to get the whole week off as well.

It almost all came undone in the silliest way possible on the morning of my departure to Atlanta. I was walking across our living room floor as I was packing, and suddenly collapsed to the floor with excruciating pain to my lower back. I was able to get up and walk only with great difficulty. This has happened to me a handful of times since I injured my back in high school; the pain has always come on unexpectedly and inexplicably, and has always faded within a day or two. I decided to fly to Atlanta anyways and see whether I could ride through the pain. Unfortunately the flights to Atlanta were all packed, so I spent a good part of the day hobbling around the Minneapolis airport bent over like a hunchback, dragging my heavy saddlebag along. I ended up making it south only by connecting through Grand Rapids. It was dark when I emerged from Atlanta's midtown MARTA station; I could barely walk by now, and the four blocks to my friend Jeff's condo were painful and slow. I had real doubts about starting the trip the next day.

Monday, April 26 dawned bright and clear over Atlanta, and I woke to almost no back pain. It returned somewhat over the course of each day, but was completely gone by the end of the week. I set out for Chattanooga shortly after 7AM. Once clear of the rush hour traffic, the riding was good on I-75. I was due to meet Brad in Chattanooga later in the day; his bike was in Decatur and he had a chain problem he needed to sort out before riding up to meet me. In the meantime, I needed to get my engine, transmission, and final drive oil changed. I stopped in Dalton GA to eat breakfast and search for an open bike shop (most close on Mondays); I found one nearby but they work exclusively on Hondas and refused to lend me an oil pan so I could do the change myself. Instead, I rode to the nearest O'Reilly's Auto Parts. They had my preferred oil in stock, let me use their oil pan, and recycled the used oil. I was back on the road in 45 minutes.

I called Brad; he suggested it might be a long wait in Chattanooga, as his bike's chain was definitely not being cooperative. On the prior suggestion of an acquaintance, I swung over to the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, site of one of the largest battles of the Civil War. I spent most of the afternoon browsing the museum and riding around the expansive battlefield, examining the memorials erected by Civil War veterans in 1890 and reading the plaques that explained the flow of battle. For some reason, I've never been quite as interested in Civil War history as other periods of American History, but visiting the battlefield piqued my interest. It is one thing to look at orderly blue and red lines across a map, and quite another to stare up a wooded hill that men fought their way up inch by bloody inch.

It was after 6pm by the time Brad made it to Chattanooga. I had been hoping to at least make it across the Great Smoky Mountains near Robbinsville that night, but that would now require negotiating the Cherohala Skyway in rapidly fading light. Instead, we decided to stop for the night in Tellico Plains TN, at the base of the Skyway. We took several wrong turns on the way there due to poor signage, and then rain started to fall. It was almost dark when we pulled into Hunt's Lodge Motorcycle Campground. Camping in the rain our first night didn't sound too appealing, so we rented a cozy cabin, complete with a bike shelter, for $50. The town was almost completely shut down when we rode back in for dinner; instead we got brats and buns and beer at the grocery store and returned to the resort to use their grill and picnic shelter.

It rained off and on through the night, stopped at dawn, and began again as we prepared to leave in the morning. The skies were leaden and threatening; it did not look like a good day for riding. Due to the late start the prior day, I had hoped to put in some good miles. We lingered, waiting for a break in the rain, then left around 9AM. The first portion of the Cherohala Skyway was good riding despite the wet road, but then we went into the clouds. Visibility was cut to 100 feet, our face shields fogged up, and our pace slowed to a crawl. When we stopped at the crest for a photo, Brad declared he was ready to throw in the towel on The Dragon. He was referring to the stretch of US-129 known as "The Tail of the Dragon," famous in motorcycling and sports car circles for its 318 curves in 11 miles. A rockslide had recently closed it from the west side, but it could still be accessed from the east via a detour from the Cherohala Skyway. If the Dragon was shrouded in fog and rain like the Skyway, though, there was little reason to make the side trip over there.

We didn't have to descend very far down the eastern side of the Skyway before we popped out of clouds, and little bits of blue sky had even started to poke out between the clouds by the time we stopped at the turnoff to the Dragon. We turned off the bikes and nearly talked ourselves out of doing it - "The road will be wet, we won't be able to ride it like we wanted, we might detour only to find it fogged in, we're already running late," etc - when my "when in doubt, adventure wins out" maxim started bouncing around the back of my mind and I knew I'd later regret skipping the Dragon. "Argh, we came this far," I said. "Let's go see what all the fuss is about." We started the bikes and headed down the road past Santeelah Lake.

The Dragon is but an eleven mile stretch of curvy road - one of many in the area - but it has an outsized reputation among bikers. It's a self-perpetuating legend, actually: everyone sees the YouTube videos and hears the stories, many come to ride it with macho determination to "slay the Dragon," and a portion of these exceed the limits of their abilities or their luck, further adding to the legend. I was a little hesitant to take on such a notorious road on a rainy day, but the combination of weather and the rockslide served to minimize the Dragon's real hazard: traffic. We saw only three bikers - slow-cruising Harley riders who graciously pulled over to let us pass - and a couple of tricked-out Mini Coopers in the area for a Mini convention. The road has very good, unusually sticky pavement that didn't seem to be any slipperier for being damp. I was riding fairly conservatively, but constantly throwing my 630-pound bike around 22 miles of tightly twisting turns was still exhausting work. Brad patiently followed behind me; my pace was using but a fraction of his late-model FZ-1's amazing performance. In the end, the Dragon was well worth the detour, but not necessarily any better than a half-dozen other fantastic but less well known roads I've been on over the course of this trip.

North Carolina Route 28, nicknamed the "Moonshiner 28," was an unexpected treat with nonstop fast, sweeping turns. I really enjoy this sort of road; the K100's heavy weight isn't nearly as noticeable as it is on snarly roads like the Dragon. After about 20 miles, the road straightened out and widened to four lanes; then we joined US-74 into Cherokee. We stopped here for lunch before heading to the start of the main feature of the trip, the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the time we starting riding the Dragon until now, the day had turned sunny and warm, but in the time it took to eat a six inch sub sandwich, dark clouds again covered the sun and began spitting out rain.

We still had our rain gear on from the morning, so we didn't pay the rain much attention as we rode the few miles west of town to the start of the Parkway. At first, there was only sporadic drizzle, not enough to really wet the road. In these conditions, the start of the Parkway was immensely enjoyable. I was somehow expecting a tight, slow winding mountain road and instead found a wide open, sweeping road just built for speed (albeit posted at 45 mph for its entire length). After twenty miles, the rain returned with a vengeance; we were at higher elevation now and it was definitely colder, but I didn't think it was anywhere near freezing. Then, we turned a sharp corner onto the exposed side of a ridge and the rain instantly turned to sleet. The slap of pellets against my faceshield so surprised me that I didn't see the half-inch accumulation of icy slush on the road until several seconds later, right about the time my rear tire started sliding sideways. I stood up in the pegs and eased off the throttle, the tire caught traction again and fell in line, and I rolled to a halt just as Brad exclaimed "ice, ice, ice!" into my helmet. He had seen it as soon as we rounded the curve, but our intercom system was in standby mode and took three seconds to wake up. I very gingerly turned the bike around on the narrow, slippery road, and we retreated a few miles back down the road to US-19.

I had really hoped to do the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, 469 miles in all, but it was obvious that at least the section between here and Asheville would be impassable for the day. We rode the forty miles of US-19 and US-74 into Asheville, then stopped to gas up and discuss our options. The rain wasn't constant but the heavy showers were not getting any less frequent and more threatening clouds appeared over the ridge to the northwest. The section of the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville has elevations over 5000 feet, which was where we had encountered the sleet further south, and there was no easy way off the Parkway up there. We could bypass the Parkway on US-221 - but hadn't we come here to ride the Parkway? If we pressed on further for the day, the miles were sure to be cold and wet, with only the promise of cold, wet camping at days' end. Brad had a cousin in town; he called her and she immediately invited us to spend the night. A warm, dry bed sounded great, but I couldn't help rueing our lack of progress thus far. I didn't have any plan set in stone, but I had a 2300 mile route in mind that would take us up the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive into Virginia, then across central Pennsylvania to New York's Adirondacks, Vermont's Green Mountains and New Hampshire's White Mountains, through rural Maine to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, then down the coast to Boston. With two days gone and not 400 miles up the road from Atlanta, the math wasn't looking promising.

I tried to put that out of mind as Brad's cousin Daphne showed us around Asheville. Once I figured out the layout that had so confused me when Dawn and I rode through a few weeks prior, I found it to be a really charming, inviting town that seems to have a ton of stuff to do if you'd stick around for a bit. With only one evening open, though, we settled for our second favorite activity after motorcycling: quaffing craft beers in several of the town's 36 microbreweries and brewpubs. Asheville only recently overtook Portland Oregon for "Microbrew Capital of the US." When we came back to Daphne's apartment, I noted with some satisfaction that the rain had done a passable job of washing several thousand miles worth of dirt off the Beemer. I went to sleep to the sound of rain on the roof, hoping for better weather in the morning to put some decent miles under our wheels.

To be continued....

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Merger Mania!

In an unusually transparent move which analysts believe is a response to the government's renewed watchfulness against corporate fraud, anti-competitive behavior, and profit motive, United Airlines and Continental Airlines management yesterday posted to an audio recording and transcript which details the process by which top executives agreed to the proposed merger between the companies. Although the date and location of the recording is unspecified, company insiders say the conversation took place in the steam room at St. Moritz's Palace Hotel during an IATA function there in March 2010. The following is true to the original transcript except for the added explanatory remarks in brackets.

[beginning of recording]

Doug Parker [USAirways]: ..."and after that, all I remember is waking up in Central Park the next morning with a raging hangover and wearing only a leather gimp suit."

[uproarious laughter, multiple voices]

Gerard Arpey [American]: "Ol' Bob was quite the prankster. Between that night, the time he tied Lorenzo's shoelaces together, and the B-scale, we really miss him over at American."

Parker: "Yeah, we had some good times. Hey Jeff, you gonna bogart that bottle of Remy? Pass it down!"

Jeff Smisek [Continental]: "Um, you already have my fifth of Blue Label."

Parker: "Drank it all!" [sound of shattering glass]

Smisek: "You almost hit me with that, you crazy drunkard! Now who's going to clean up this mess?"

[sound of door opening]

Richard Anderson [Delta]: [calling] "Oh Glen! Come here for a moment and do bring a broom, won't you?"

Glen Hauenstein [Delta]: "Right away, sir."

Smisek: "You gotta be kidding me. You couldn't just bring your mistress like everyone else, Rich?"

Anderson: "I've found Glen to be absolutely indispensable. I don't go anywhere without him."

Glenn Tilton [United]: [shouting suddenly] "Consolidation is our salvation!"

Smisek: [groans] "Oh jeeze. Don't start up with that consolidation crap again, Tilton. Seriously, give it a rest, man!"

Anderson: "Mr. Tilton isn't entirely wrong, you know."

Smisek: "Don't encourage him, Rich. And for what it's worth, your merger has really kinda turned you into a smarmy prick. Not that you weren't before."

Anderson: "Don't be that way, Jeffery, jealousy doesn't become you. Nothing's stopping you from merging Continental."

Smisek: [laughs] "Oh, exactly which one of these winners do you propose I merge with?"

Tilton: "Pick me, pick me!"

Smisek: "Not freaking likely. You couldn't even get USAirways to merge with you. No offense, Dougie."

Parker: "Naw, it's okay man. I just wish I could go back to the happy days of running America West and driving around Phoenix blitzed out of my skull." [sighs]

[sound of door opening]

Hauenstein: "Your broom, sir. Oh, hi Jeff."

Anderson: "Be a good man and sweep up the broken glass, won't you Glen?"

Smisek: "Good Lord. You left me for this schmuck, Glen? I never treated you like that."

[awkward pause, sound of glass being swept]

Tilton: [shouting] "Consolidation will finally enable capacity discipline!"

Arpey: "Of course, the death of United would do the same thing."

Parker: "Or USAirways. I don't really care anymore." [sobs quietly]

Smisek: "It really pains me to see you like this, Dougie. Here, have a nice glass of cognac."

Hauenstein: "If that's all, sir, I ought to be going. Oh, hello there, Mr. LaHood. Come on on."

Ray LaHood [US Secretary of Transportation]: "Hiya, Fellas! How's the airline biz?"

Anderson: [groans] "Dear heavens, who invited this vile man to our function?"

Arpey: "Don't be rude, Richard. Mr. LaHood is here on my invitation. Glad you could make it, Ray!"

LaHood: "Thanks a bunch, Jerry! Always wanted to come on one of these junkets."

Anderson: "Do close the door, you're letting the steam out."

[sound of door closing]

Tilton: [shouting] "Consolidation will finally raise yields to profitable levels!"

LaHood: "Whoa! Hiya Glenn, you surprised me! Good to see you though, buddy. You're dead on about the yield stuff."

Anderson: "You know what else would help push yields to profitable levels? Letting the LaGuardia/National slot swap between Delta and USAirways go through."

Parker: [slurred] "Yeah! What he said!"

LaHood: "Now, now, fellas. We're perfectly happy to let your little swap go through. We just want to confiscate a quarter of the slots and redistribute them the carriers of our choosing to finally bring some competition to two of the most under-served airports in the country. Back in Chicago, we call that the price of doing business!"

Anderson: "How does one even respond to that?"

Arpey: "Sound like a reasonable position to me, Ray."

[sound of door opening]

Anderson: "Why, what a pleasant surprise, William! Come, come, I've saved you a spot next to me!"

Arpey: "Bill! I've been looking all over for you! Come on in, I have an idea to bounce off of you!"

Anderson: "No, No, No! Don't listen to him, William, at least not until you've heard me out."

Arpey: "Bill can listen to whoever he darn well pleases, you're not his boss just yet!"

Bill Ayers [Alaska]: "Oh jeeze. Um, can you guys put your towels back on, or at least sit back down or something?"

Anderson: "Oh dear, my apologies. I just got a little careless in my great excitement over seeing you!"

Ayers: "Uh, yeah, I noticed. Um, I just remembered...I forgot something...uh, in my room...sooo...."

[sound of door slamming shut]

Smisek: "That was awkward."

Tilton: [shouting] "Without consolidation our industry is doomed to an endless cycle of boom and bust!"

Smisek: "You're really starting to get on my nerves, Tilton. It's pretty cold outside in the snowbank. I'm just saying."

[door opens]

Gary Kelly [Southwest]: "Howdy, ya'll!"

[mumbled greetings; door closes]

Kelly: "I just saw the darndest thing. Bill Ayers from Alaska was running the other way, barefoot and half-naked in the snow!"

[Parker laughs hysterically]

Arpey: "How are you enjoying St. Moritz, Mr. Kelly?"

Kelly: "Well, it ain't too bad I suppose. Kinda purty here. Ain't much like Texas, though, that's for sure!"

Anderson: "Oh dear, where to begin?"

Kelly: "I had a bit o trouble finding a McDonalds, with all the winding streets and all. And when I found it, those crazy buggers wouldn't even take my dollars!"

Anderson: "Who could've anticipated that the Swiss might prefer to be paid in their own currency?"

Kelly: "So I went to a bank - there were five within a half-block - and traded my greenbacks for this funny-colored money. Problem is, it took twenty bucks worth to buy a Big Mac and a Coke!"

Arpey: "Switzerland is an expensive country on an expensive continent."

Kelly: "It got me thinkin', though. If Europe is so rich and dandy, and if their money buys so many dollars, why don't we price our tickets in their money?"

Arpey: "We do, for tickets originating in Europe."

Kelly: "Well that's just downright smart. In fact, come to think of it, Southwest really oughtta fly here."

[all gasp in alarm]

Anderson: "Honestly, Mr Kelly, Southwest's structure doesn't lend itself very well to international operations. Your aircraft are too small to fly across the Atlantic and your network is too dispersed to feed widebodies."

Kelly: "Well darn it, I need to fix that somehow."

Tilton: [shouting] "Consolidation is the answer to all our problems!"

Kelly: "Glenn, you ol' sly dog, you're a genius! United has the jumbos and the hubs to bring the Southwest Effect to the rest of the world!"

Smisek: "What!? No, no, no, no, no!"

Kelly: "Whaddaya say, pardner? Southwest and United?"

Tilton: "I'll sign this very minute!"

Smisek: "Somebody tell me this is a bad dream!"

Anderson: "Let's not be hasty, do remember any such deal will require DOT and DOJ approval, which seems unlikely."

LaHood: "Actually, Mr. Tilton has shown himself to be very, erm, flexible. I'm sure we can work something out."

Smisek: "No, stop! I'll do it! I'll merge Continental and United!"

Parker: [burps] "Are you drunk out of your mind or what, man?"

Smisek: [moans] "What choice do I have!?"

LaHood: "It looks like you have two offers, Mr. Tilton. Who will it be?"

Tilton: "I pick Southwest!"

Kelly: "You got yerself a deal!"

Tilton: "We'll name the merged airline United to retain its stellar reputation for customer service, and replace all those godawful poop brown 737s with super-efficient outsourced RJs, and I get to be co-CEO!"

Kelly: "Are you insane? You already ran one airline into the ground, pardner, I'll be whooped if you're gonna ruin mine too!"

Anderson: "Your move, Jeffery."

Smisek: "OK Glenn, here's the deal. We take the United name but keep the Continental paint. My niece is good with computers, she should be able to photoshop United onto the side of a Continental 787 or something. No more RJs but we'll keep the ones you have. I'll run the airline, but we'll give you a big bonus and an important-sounding title. How does 'Non-Executive Chairman' sound?"

Tilton: "Do I still get to come to these IATA parties?"

Smisek: "Of course! Even Doug Steenland still tags along. Tell him, Richard."

Anderson: "Yes, he's around here somewhere. Last I heard, he was hot-tubbing with the Swiss beach volleyball team. The women's team, I think."

Tilton: "It's a deal!"

[door opens]

Smisek: "Dave! What are you doing here? I thought you were out of the industry!"

David Neeleman [former jetBlue]: "I'm back, baby! I'm starting up a hot new airline, and I have some great new ideas that have never been tried before! We're going to base it at one of the busiest airports in the US, where we can cherry-pick the most profitable routes. And we'll fly brand-new airplanes with spiffy leather seats and entertainment systems. We'll employ young, attractive crewmembers, all at starting pay. We'll offer the cheapest tickets, and everyone will love us!"

Arpey: "Not to burst your bubble, Dave, but I foresee real problems raising venture capital in this economy."

Tilton: "I want in! I have a big bonus check on the way!"

Smisek: "Well, there's also the small matter of procuring slots. All the popular airports are at capacity."

Parker: "I'll sell you our LaGuardia operation for a case of Jack!"

Anderson: "Doug, the DOT won't let you sell those slots, remember?"

LaHood: "No, we won't let him sell to Delta. A new entrant, we'd have no problem with."

Neeleman: "We're in business, baby!"

Smisek: "God help us all. What are you going to call it?"

Neeleman: "I was thinking something with people in the name, and something fast-sounding. What do you think of People Express?"

[end of recording]