Thursday, June 25, 2015

Update - life as a rail commuter


From approximately December 2014 to the end of May 2015 I rode Dallas Area Rapid Transit (http://dart.org ) light rail to work.  I had documented my initial reactions in an earlier post.  Link here.

I rode the train three or four days a week.  My client’s office was pretty much deserted on Monday and Friday, and there was often no one to talk to and no real point to going in.  If the weather happened to be horrible, I always had the option of working from home, since most of the team I was on were based in other cities.  So my experience is not the same as that of someone who needed to take the train every day no matter what.

The trains run pretty much on time, but there is a tendency for what they call, in the airline business, “irregular operations”.  I ran into this a few times:

  • ·      A woman had her face slashed at the Pearl Street station, which is my station.  There is only one pair of tracks through downtown Dallas, and the light rail system was effectively interrupted for half a day while they investigated the crime.  This displaced approximately 30,000 people.  As far as I know, they didn’t catch the perpetrator, despite having him on video.  They used buses to move people from the last available station to downtown.
  • ·      There was an electrical problem at Pearl Street where a train somehow snarled the overhead power lines, dragging them down to the ground.  This put the trains out of service for a while.  But I got a nice tour of Old East Dallas on the bus.
  • ·      During the torrential rains we had in North Texas this spring (2015), electrical problems put half the tracks out of service near downtown for a while.


Also, during the multitude of ice storms we had this winter, rail service was often interrupted.  When ice forms on the power lines, the trains can get no power and everything stops.  I wasn’t affected because I chickened out when it was icy and worked from home.

I learned that I wasn’t using our health club when I parked at the Bush Turnpike station.  This station has a couple of major advantages – 1) it is five minutes from the house, and 2) you can park more or less under cover, since the parking is below the elevated turnpike.  But it’s nowhere near the health club.  So I started parking at the LBJ/Central station, which is really convenient to Texas Instruments.  The health club is at TI.  Using this station had one other minor advantage in that the Orange Line goes all the way up to Plano only at peak periods, otherwise terminating at LBJ/Central.  So if I snuck out of work early, I could still get to where my car was parked.  (We have two lines, Orange and Red. Red always goes all the way north.)

To my credit, I never blew off my exercise, if the car was parked at LBJ/Central. 

The key to making the whole thing work, for me, was the DART Go-Pass app.  It is a free download. You can purchase your daily or monthly ticket using the app, and show the pass to the fare inspector when required using the app.  If you remember to bring up the app while you are waiting for the train or just as you board, it will even show that the ticket is active when you are in the tunnel and have no internet connection.  One of the fare inspectors let me know that when I asked about what happens if they check for a ticket when there is no cell service.  The app also has a panel for Where’s My Train.  You select your station and it tells you what trains are coming to that station on what lines and in how many minutes.  I used it sitting at my desk at work to time when to leave, when the weather was poor, or just too hot.  It works very well.

The office where I worked was right next to the Pearl Street station.  It was literally a stone’s throw away.  It would have been a 30 second walk except Dallas police will ticket you, or at least yell at you, for jaywalking, even if there isn’t a car in sight.  It could not have been more convenient.

The trip from Bush to Pearl was around 30 minutes.  In the mornings, I could have driven it in 15 or 20, but in the evenings that drive could be anything from 30 to 90 minutes.  The trip from LBJ/Central was less, maybe 17 minutes.  I got a seat right away all but one time. 

Seats are not comfortable, but adequate.  I witnessed some of the same passenger behavior that I saw all the years I commuted by subway and train in New York – man-spreading, people hogging the whole seat, one way or another, people standing in and blocking the exit, people trying to force their way on before letting anyone off. But in the 21st Century, we have other ways for people to aggravate you.  Talking loudly on the phone is one, and playing music on the phone at maximum volume with no earbuds or headphones is another.  And there is the ever-popular, hold a 42 ounce drink using your knees and drop it on somebody when the train stops suddenly.  Only got my shoes.

I witnessed one attempted crime – a guy had his bike on the train, and was standing up holding on to it.  A young man tried to grab the bike and run off with it as the train stopped at the Forest Lane station.  There was a scuffle but the thief was unsuccessful.  I also witnessed dozens of people who had not paid for a ticket and got caught by fare inspectors.  The fare inspectors are nice and just scold people, or have them buy a ticket on the spot using their phones.  However, one time the fare inspection was being done by a DART police officer, with a gun and handcuffs, etc.  They do not fool around.  He issued a citation to the guy sitting next to me for not having a ticket.  It was a $50 ride.  Then the cop asked for ID, and the unticketed passenger had an out of state license.  The cop asked how long he had been here, and he replied a few months.  The cop explained that he could issue another citation for not having changed the driver’s license within thirty days, but he didn’t.

As I rode the train for a while, I became less and less comfortable with it.  I started out watching movies on my iPad, until I realized some guy was watching me, and I wondered if what I was doing was really smart.  I think it wasn’t.  After that I switched to an e-reader, or just brought a book.  Mornings felt safe, but I sometimes would leave a little early in the afternoons, and, just like in New York, you felt less safe if there were fewer people on the train.


My most recent DART trip was after I stopped commuting for work.  My wife and I went to the Dallas Museum of Art, and took the train.  On the southbound leg, there was a middle-aged white woman wearing what looked like nurse attire who was talking very loudly and very clearly on her phone, with earbuds in both ears.  It was really loud, and was obvious that it was a work-related conversation.  Sitting behind her was an old black man, who started yelling at her, ‘Shut the f___ up’, over and over again.  I kind of agreed with him.  The woman got up and moved as far away from him as she could, never stopping her conversation.  Then the fare inspector came.  The man had no ticket, argued with the fare inspector for a while, and finally bolted off the train at the Mockingbird Station.  So, my wife got the full experience.  Our trip back in the afternoon was more routine.  And we had parked at LBJ/Central, and we did go to the gym.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A modest proposal

We need to do away with the anachronism known as the Bill of Rights.





Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment has been an unending source of problems preventing a just and equal society.  The ‘religion’ clause has been perverted by the radical right to prevent the much needed and popular distribution of birth control, for free, to any woman who wants it.  Instead the Catholic Church has been supporting the religious right in opposing this just and progressive initiative.

Furthermore, churches have vast fortunes which are not being subjected to normal taxation, which means a less fair society.

Also, the freedom of speech has been abused so badly that it needs some sort of limitation.  As Martin O’Malley has pointed out, we need to silence the National Rifle Association.  And the relentless attacks of radical right wing organizations such as Fox News on our President should not be allowed to continue.  A just, fair, progressive society cannot be created with such a background of vituperation.

This amendment needs to be repealed.

Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

This amendment isn’t even clear.  What it appears to say is that because the Redcoats might come back, everybody needs to have a gun, so they can get out there and fight them off.  The Redcoats are not coming back. 

We need to take guns out of our society for everyone’s benefit.  We need to allow Congress to pass laws restricting guns for all of our safety, and if Congress won’t act we need for our President to be able to take action by Executive Order.  Guns should be allowed only for licensed hunters, who have had background investigations, and hunters should be re-licensed every year.

This amendment needs to be repealed.  Even Karl Rove agrees that we can’t have gun control in this country until this amendment is repealed.

Amendment III
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

This is another completely obsolete amendment. The Redcoats are not coming back.  It needs to be repealed.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In order to enforce the new Federal gun laws, it will be absolutely necessary for the police (hopefully the Federal police, another much needed reform) to be able to go into any place in order to search for illegal firearms. The necessity for a just, peaceful, progressive society trumps the old, obsolete, Eighteenth Century notion of individual rights.  Anyone who has ever been on the Internet has already waived any right to privacy anyway.

The fourth amendment needs to be repealed.  It has been ignored for the most part by the Federal Government since (at least) the Clinton Administration and has certainly been obsolete since September 11, 2001.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The Fifth Amendment has been long abused.  Look, for example, at George Zimmerman.  Why is he walking the streets and getting into more trouble?  He should have been arrested for the murder of Trayvon Martin and should still be locked up.  Why is it even necessary to try an individual such as that?  Why do we have to spend taxpayer money on this Roof individual?  Everyone knows he is guilty.

The takings clause is widely ignored anyway.  Any prosecutor can just confiscate anything he wants to for any reason or no reason.  In New York City they can take your vehicle and not even have to tell you why.  Look at what happened to AIG.  The government seized the company and paid nothing, and then sold off the stock it seized.

As far as someone being a witness against himself, ‘taking the Fifth’ is widely understood to be an admission of guilt anyway, so there is no real benefit to it.  As for the prohibition against double jeopardy, the Federal Government has worked its way around that any time necessary.  For example the police officers who beat Rodney King were retried for the same offense (they only beat him once) on civil rights grounds.

The Fifth Amendment interferes with the just, equal, progressive society and must be repealed.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The Sixth Amendment is obsolete and should be repealed.  Do you think for a moment that an impartial jury can be found for someone like Roof?  And when that videographer made the anti-Muslim video that caused the Benghazi tragedy, wasn’t the President right to have him locked up, held with no charges, and throw away the key?  Why should a Zimmerman have to be given equal treatment in court with some innocent defendant? And why should we have to pay for his lawyer?

The Government is already ignoring this amendment whenever it needs to (cf. Gitmo) and it should already have been repealed.

Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Twenty dollars?  Absurd.  And courts overturn facts found by juries all the time – all you have to do is assert improper influence or bias and you can do it.  This amendment no longer serves any purpose and should be repealed.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This is another obsolete amendment.  The bikers in Waco were all held with $1 million bail even though most of them were just spectators.  Who decides what is excessive?  And our President imposed fines on the oil company responsible for the big leak in the Gulf without any legal proceedings at all.  With the near-elimination of the death penalty, which a more progressive Supreme Court will completely eliminate soon, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments will be obsolete.  This amendment should be repealed.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

This sure sounds like States Rights to me, and in order to prevent outrages like the Confederate Battle Flag appearing anywhere except in a history book, it needs to be repealed.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Oh, please, more States Rights.  The power should be in the hands of the Federal Government.  It is the surest way to a fair, equal, progressive society.  The states missed their chance.  This amendment must be repealed.

The Bill of Rights is really the Bill of No Rights, according to the Federal Government, and its repeal is basically already done, but we need to make it official.  This will help lead to a more equal, just, peaceful, and progressive society for all Americans.

Let's start the movement now!  Repeal the Bill of Rights!



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Life as a train commuter

This week I took the train to work every day.  Not a big deal, right?  Well, the last time I did that was in 1980, so it’s a big deal for me.  My client relocated to downtown Dallas, where parking is not free and where traffic is awful.

The train I am riding is Dallas Area Rapid Transit (http://www.dart.org).  It is light rail, not a full sized subway or anything like that.  Tickets can be purchased through an iPhone app, GoPass.  A monthly pass is $80, but due to my advanced age I only have to pay half of that.  The ticket machines are finicky, so having the ability to buy tickets by phone is very, very handy.

During peak times, the trains seem to run every 7 or 8 minutes.  I have gotten a seat every time so far, but the seats seem designed for someone who is maybe 5’7” and 150 pounds, which is me in the ninth grade.  Add a briefcase and you have a tight fit.  I am traveling a little off peak, which is probably why I can get a seat.  The train stops at Pearl St downtown, about a 30 second walk to the building where I work.

My ride is around 30 minutes, and I’ve been passing the time by reading on an e-reader.  I would like to read the paper but it’s just too confined a space.  I am hoping to watch movies on my iPad as a diversion.  The train is very noisy, with continual reminders that you have to pay to ride the train, and to activate your GoPass prior to boarding, etc.  Very annoying.  

I have seen fare inspectors twice in one week.  I wonder what will happen if they want to check my ticket when the train is underground, because the GoPass app needs an internet connection.  

It’s definitely a change from what I’m used to.  One problem is that the train does not stop at my health club.  I have experimented with using a park-and-ride station that is close by to the health club, but I’m not sure yet if that will work.


Check back in a couple of months.  I may be used to the train, or I may be retired.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Studying French – in France

We had studied French for many years, off and on, at the local community college.  The class schedule at the college was changed to a time that was difficult for us, so we ended up dropping out.  It’s difficult to keep your interest in a language without some structure, so we were slowly losing what little proficiency we had.

One of the many email lists I had signed up for was one from French Affaires, a business run by a woman in Dallas.  She puts together some trips for clients, and leads tours.  She is definitely a Francophile, with a Ph.D. in French.  I saw an email from her last fall proposing a two-week trip to Provence, with language classes in the mornings. The classes would be at the IS in Aix – we found out later that IS stands for Institut Suedois, or Swedish Institute, as it was founded for Swedes who want to learn French.  (Don’t be fooled by the English home page.)  In the afternoons and on weekends the group from French Affaires would have some excursions planned, some group meals, etc. We were really interested in the classes. 

After discussing it with my wife, I contacted Elizabeth New Seitz, the lady who runs French Affaires, and asked if the tour still had seats.  It did, so we decided to go ahead.  We found out later that the trip was very popular and she had lots of people hoping someone would cancel.

One of the first things we were asked to do was to complete an exercise for the Institute.  There were questions in French, and we were to answer as best we could.  The exercise was supposed to be used to determine what level we were at, so we would be grouped with students with similar skills.  The institute has students from all over the world, with varying degrees of expertise.  So we did that, and emailed them off.  Never heard a word about it afterwards.

We had an hour or so meeting with Elizabeth, where all the people going on the trip got together.  It was at a building near SMU (may have been part of SMU).  She went over the basics of how we would get to class, what time the classes were, and other things relating to the trip.  While we were responsible for our own travel arrangements, Elizabeth was very proactive in recommending flights, and warning us of schedule changes.  She arranged transportation to/from the airport in France.  The school is in Aix-en-Provence, around 30 minutes drive from the Marseille airport, under normal conditions.

As it happened, we were dealing with some difficulties at home which could conceivably have caused us to have to cancel this trip.  I did purchase some trip insurance, looking for both a reimbursement on expenditures and also possibly having to leave in the middle for some reason, but none of that happened. 

So the day for the trip came quickly.  The day before, there were storms where we live, and our power went out.  We were able to report the outage via cell phone to Oncor, and were given an estimate of 10 AM the next day – the day we were leaving.  Fortunately, it was a cool day.  We went out to eat dinner (not that there was a choice) and while we were eating I got a text from Oncor saying they had fixed something and our power should be back.  When we got home it was fine. 

Our itinerary had us going from Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW) to London Heathrow (LRH) to Marseille (MRS).  The first flight was on an American Airlines 777.  They dragged their feet about boarding the plane, and the gate agent had a major attitude.  After a while they halted boarding, and in fact unboarded everyone who had boarded.  They needed to change a tire on the plane.  This took over an hour.  We had a very long layover in Heathrow, five hours or so, and we had no worries about missing a connection, but some of the passengers did.  We were on a newer model 777, with an extra seat in each row of coach.  It was pretty unpleasant.  The flight crew made one pass with the beverage cart, after the meal cart.  That was it for 9+ hours.  The seat belt sign remained illuminated for the entire flight, except for a few minutes.

We got to Heathrow only a little late.  We landed at Terminal 3, and our next flight was out of Terminal 1.  I had thought we could hang around in the Admiral’s Club for a while, but to get to it we would have to go through the check point, and our boarding pass was for T1, so I didn’t even try.  Given our long connection time, we probably could have done it.  Instead, we boarded a bus to go to Terminal 1, which drove around the bowels of the airport for quite some time.  Not the most attractive welcome to London. 

Since we were connecting to an onward flight to another country, we were not required to be admitted to the UK.  This was fortunate, because the lines at passport control were very long.

We got to T1, and had to go through security.  I failed to take out my iPad from my carry-on, and got a thorough inspection along with a tongue-lashing from a security agent.  We didn’t get along.  Afterwards, Jody and I found a restaurant that was serving breakfast, and had a good meal with some hot tea. 

We had to wait a long time in Terminal 1, and they don’t post the gate number until they are just about ready to board.  Our flight to Marseille was delayed, but there was no indication of that on the board – they just didn’t post the gate.  Eventually, the gate was posted, after our scheduled departure time, and off we went.  The flight from LRH to MRS was very nice, and they even provided a little snack.  They had something vegetarian available as well.  I always enjoy flying British Airways – they helped me out tremendously when I injured myself in Ireland back in 2000, and had to rely on their help in London to get around the connecting airport (then Gatwick).  When I have a choice I fly with them.

We got to Marseille and had two vans waiting to take us to Aix.  On our way to Aix, the vans were rerouted by the police and delayed because, we found out later, there had been a head-on collision on the road we were supposed to take, with three fatalities.  So we went to Aix by some back roads, and the drivers had to get their phones out and look at some maps because they had no idea where they were.

On arrival at our hotel, Elizabeth greeted us and we were assigned our rooms, or, more accurately, our apartments.  Ours was the first one off the lobby on the ground floor, but it was not noisy or anything.  We quickly dropped off our stuff and rejoined the group, who were heading out to dinner.  We had a long dinner with a fair amount of very good Cote de Provence rosé, and got to bed at around 10.  Very, very tired, but excited.  The room was nice, with a very comfortable bed, adequate storage, a well equipped kitchen with a refrigerator, stove, microwave, etc.  Internet was via an Ethernet cable.  The internet was not great, but it was usable.  It was interesting how many US websites don’t come up in France – I guess they don’t like a non-US IP address.

The one downside of the apartment was that they gave us one flimsy towel each, plus a hand towel.  We use better towels at home to clean up cat puke.  It was a constant source of amusement among our group.  Some went to Monoprix (think French Target) and bought some towels.

On Monday morning, after breakfast at the hotel, Elizabeth led us over to the school.  We were sent to different rooms, but most of us were in the same classroom, which included people who had no French at all.  I was disappointed.  They had us fill out some questionnaires, similar to what we had filled out earlier.  Nobody looked at them as far as I could tell.  Then we were called out one at a time to speak with one of the teachers.  I met with a woman named Felicia for a few minutes, and she asked me a variety of questions, in French, which I answered as well as I could, not having practiced French in a couple of years.  She said I was far from a debutante.  I could have told her that, but ‘debutante’ is one of those French words that have been adopted in English but have a different meaning.  She meant I was not a beginner.  Somehow she had been told that I was.

We came back after a break to find our class assignment.  They have groups from 1 to 9, with 1 being little to no French and 9 being the best.  I was level 5; Jody was in 3.  While I missed not having Jody sitting next to me in class, it was probably better for both of us not to have each other to lean on.

My class had 9 people.  We had three Americans, including me, one of whom was from the French Affaires group and one was from somewhere in California (she had a mumbling problem and I couldn’t understand her in French or English). We had two Swiss, one of whom was also an Italian citizen, and the other was from the part of Switzerland that speaks Romansch, a Latin-like language, and whose name was Pius, after Pope Pius XII, who died the day he was born.  (Pius is not a Catholic.) We had a Swede, Anders, who sat next to me, and we became fast friends.  He was very reserved, very formal, but had a very dry and very wicked sense of humor.  There were three young women, one from the Netherlands, one from Japan, and one from South Korea.  The Asian girls were really hard to understand, and the Korean girl disappeared after a while.  Among this group, the only common language was French.

The class was intense.  The teacher spoke only French, and it came out in a torrent.  At home, our French classes in the evenings were taught by an American, and while her French is excellent, she does not speak one tenth as fast as a native French speaker.  It was really, really difficult to force yourself to listen to the incredibly fast stream of words. 

As a beginning exercise, we each were asked to speak for a few moments about our hometown.  We were given a few minutes to prepare.  It’s very hard for me to speak extemporaneously, or nearly so, but to do it in French is ridiculously difficult.  I had to remind myself that I would never see any of these people again so it didn’t matter how badly I did. I found that my ability to form sentences in French was weak – I could handle the present tense pretty well, and the passé composé, but my vocabulary is very limited, and it was very frustrating.  I have memorized a lot of key phrases and sentences over the years, but having to come up with something from scratch was really, really difficult.

The other students were pretty much in the same boat, but some of the Europeans already spoke two or three or four languages so their adjustment was much quicker.  The two Asian girls had a hard time.  One dropped out pretty quickly.  The other I couldn’t understand at all.  She just didn’t do consonants.  While I find French difficult, someone whose native language is not an Indo-European language is going to have a very hard time learning French.

The classes had some exercises that were handed out, and we would take turns doing them.  This was not like our French in Action classes in Texas where the answers are in the back of the book.  I struggled with things I thought I should already know, but in a different context, it was very hard to recall things when I needed them.  I was not alone.

One interesting thing about the IS is that they assign two teachers for each class, and they alternate days.  This really worked well – they obviously were used to collaborating in this manner and never missed a beat, but the interesting thing was that you had a different voice speaking to you (in French, of course) each day.  It helped us to focus and made it easy not to tune out the speaker.  And these ladies were intense, and animated, and made eye contact with everyone, and made everyone participate no matter how reluctant they were to participate. 

There was no textbook but there were well thought out exercises.  There were some audio clips to listen to, and some video.  They would run them once and start asking questions, and got nothing but blank looks until they ran the clip a second or sometimes a third time.  That was difficult for all of us.

We also had homework!  This was a problem for the members of the French Affaires group, because Elizabeth had all these wonderful outings and activities planned for us during many of the afternoons and evenings, and we had paid for these activities, but it left us with minimal time to do homework.  We ended up doing our homework in between breakfast (which began at 7 AM at the hotel) and the start of class at 9 AM.

There is something wrong with being pressed for time to do homework when you are supposed to be on vacation.  We have to think this one over next time. 

The biggest challenge for most of the students was that we had to do a presentation, on any topic we chose.  Amazingly, Anders (the Swede) volunteered to do his right away, ex tempore.  He was really good.  I needed some time to prepare, and the first topic I tried to research didn’t pan out.  There has been lots of discussion in the media about how Americans don’t have passports and don’t travel internationally.  There are statistics available to back this up.  I wondered if other countries had anything close to this.  Does everyone on Switzerland have a passport?  How about Italy, or Japan?  I could not find any articles on the Internet about this topic except about the USA.  But the one point I could make was that having a passport was exceptional, for an American.

I then launched into the topic of how I got my second passport (Ireland), figuring that if you had one passport you were an exception, then having two made you and exception to the exception.  So I prepared as best I could some notes about how I got my Irish passport, what documents were needed, how I got them, how some could not be gotten due to the explosion and fire at the central records repository in Dublin during the civil war, and so forth.  I did a terrible job of saying all of this in French, but they didn’t kick me out. 

Some of the other presentations were much worse.

During the second week, the pace picked up.  We had to do another short presentation, on an article in a journal from our country, and we had lots and lots of exercises and lots of homework. The classrooms were set up seminar style, which promoted conversation and eye contact. 



I haven’t talked a lot about our non-class activities, which were extensive, because I wanted to talk about the experience of studying French in France in a true international setting.  I expected a lot, and it exceeded my expectations.  But I still can’t speak French worth a damn.  A little better than before, though. 

Once our classes were over, we had an early morning van ride to the Marseille airport.  I found out that one of our group really spoke French well, when the van driver started talking about how the American forces in WWII had been all over this area.  He spoke too quickly for me, but one lady in our group had a French mother, and she was all over it.

Our trip home was okay.  A shorter layover in Heathrow helped, as did access to the Admiral’s Club. One smart thing we did was to hire a car service for our ride to/from DFW airport, so we didn’t have to drive while totally exhausted.