Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A New Friend . . . that I will never see again

The National Museum of Iraq holds some 170,000 cultural artifacts from Mesopotamian civilizations, including the Code of Hammurabi.

Short Story . . .

  On Monday, Barbara and I flew back to Denver after a wonderful Christmas with our children in AZ.  As we were getting on the train from Terminal B to the main concourse at Denver International, three airport policemen brought a middle-aged Chinese gentleman to the train door and asked if anyone was picking up baggage.  When I raised my hand, they passed off the Chinese man to me and said "make sure he gets off at the baggage return stop."

  It was quickly apparent that this gentleman spoke NO English and could not read any of the signs.  My Chinese is a little rusty . . . OK . . . I speak no Chinese at all, so using gestures and miming we brought this nicely dressed, middle-aged gentleman all the way to the baggage carousels.  Barbara went to get our bags, and I asked him for his boarding pass.  He showed me his ticked for Flight 770, and we found the right carrosel and waited.  About 15' later the bags started coming, but his did not show up.  For  the next 30' or so we worked with the United baggage personnel (who also spoke no Chinese) but they could not figure out where his bags were either.  Finally, I indicated I wanted to see all of his papers.   Oh No!  He was not supposed to be getting his bags; he was supposed to be changing to a plane for Houston!  The policemen had completely misunderstood the situation.  Now we were on the wrong side of security, he needed to get back to his gate, and I had no boarding pass to go through security with him.

  Among his papers was a phone number that I recognized as a Houston area code.  I called that number, and sure enough the lady on the other end spoke English and Chinese, and was expecting him.  Passing my cell phone back and forth for translation, I had her tell him what we would need to do, and she was going to be at the airport in Houston to meet him, as long as I could get him on the flight.

  To shorten the story, I met a number of seriously nice TSA people that night.  With their help and cooperation, my boarding pass from earlier in the day was re-stamped, and the man and I went through the security screening again (I always get patted down) with the agents being very courteous and helping me keep my Chinese partner in the right places, and made our way onto the train to terminal B and, with a stop at the men's room, finally to gate B-33 with about an hour to spare.  We communicated until I was sure he knew to board that flight around 7pm, and I had another gentleman waiting for the flight agree to make sure he did get on the plane.

  Before leaving, I gave him my card and cell phone number should he get stranded again.  He entered a long number in my cell phone, hit "call" and then "hang up".  He then pointed at himself, then at the phone number and said "Beijing!"  I guess I now have a contact if I get lost there.

  I waived goodbye and shook hands.  He shook my hand for a long time, then pulled me in for a long hug.  His eyes were a little moist.  That moment was far more reward than I expected or needed.  I was happy for him to be again on his way, and happy for me that I was some help in the process. 

  Some people have suggested that what elevates certain animals, notably humans, to a higher plane is an (evolved?) capacity for empathy, the ability to put one's self in others shoes so to speak.  I think this is at least partially culturally derived as evidenced in many religions and philosophies including universal moral codes that have been passed through generations for centuries, the Code of Hammurabi (~1700 BCE) being one of the oldest moral/legal codes recorded.

  Behavior based not on self-interest, but on needs of others can be observed occasionally in the animal world, and can be seen to be occasionally lacking in humans who have not yet learned the rewards of the golden rule.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

9 Reasons to Love Chicago

Chicago at night

For the 24th time in 25 years I attended the annual meeting of the Radiologic Society of North America , traditionally starting the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Chicago.  In recent years, Barbara and I look forward to this as an annual vacation in this great city, with Barbara doing research at the Newberry Library and other interesting explorations of art museums and other establishments while I attend the meeting.  The weather is often "iffy," but along with the Christmas decorations and lights there is a festive atmosphere to the city.  After the meeting ends on Thursday, we stay over to play and explore in the city together.

We usually skipped lunch and/or breakfast, and enjoyed a nice dinner in the evenings.  There were two restaurants we already knew well, but we had 7 new discoveries.  I just thought I would list our findings with short comments, for what it's worth.

Bistrot Zinc is an oxymoron; a moderately priced French Restaurant.  Very, very good however:

Le Colonial is a Viet Vietnamese French (Colonial French) restaurant.  My partner Paul pointed this out as one of his favorites.  The dishes have a bit of kick, but excellent quality and preparation, and the service was top notch:

At The Tavern on Rush we arrived early and were seated next to the 2nd story glass wall overlooking the small park where Rush merges with State.  We both had the small fillet, and it was just about as good of a steak as we have ever eaten, anywhere:

A repeat, Shaw's Crab House, produced the best king crab legs Barbara has had since Alaska:

The unique experience of the trip was North Pond, a restaurant crafted from an old warming house at the edge of a pond in the Lincoln Park area, just east of the zoo.  You have to walk down a path from where the cab will have to drop you off.

Pane Caldo is a small Italian cafe on the two-block walk from the Newberry Library to Michigan Ave; about 2 blocks from Water Tower. We had the set three course lunch menu for $19; quite good.  We will go back for dinner at some point.

James Burk's Primehouse is in the James Hotel, and is known for it's dry aged beef.  We had a very special dinner here with Barbara's cousin Steve and his wife Janet, who like me attends the RSNA as a triple boarded Internist/Nuke/Radiologist:.

The other repeat was our perennial fishouse favorite, Hugo's Frog Bar and Fish House. Contrary to one's first impression, it is not named for the amphibian whose legs are served there.  "Frog" was the nickname Hugo Ralli called his Grandfather, General Bruce Hay of Her Majesty's Imperial Forces:

Eggstasy, a new discovery for breakfast or brunch, is in the Oakbrook area if you are on your way into or out of downtown Chicago and you are very, very hungry.  It's just off the I-88 turnpike: