Removing a bad Windows driver, the hard way

From the “don’t touch what isn’t yours” department…

Yesterday I wanted to do some administrative chores related to a large stack of bills that were cluttering the dining room table. I grabbed my Surface Book from my laptop bag and plunked it on the table. My son’s Dell laptop was nearby, with his fancy Razer gaming mouse plugged into it. “Hey, free mouse,” I thought. I plugged it in to the Surface Book, opened it up, and went to get a diet Coke. By the time I came back, Windows and/or Razer had managed to install some kind of evil driver from hell™ that rendered every USB device plugged into the system inert.

That includes the built-in keyboard and trackpad, BTW, as well as anything plugged into the Surface Dock. The clipboard still worked great, though.

I tried rebooting and that didn’t help. Trying to search for a solution with just the on-screen keyboard slowed me down a bit, and I had other stuff to do last night, so I let the broken machine sit forlornly overnight and went back to it this morning.

The touch screen functioned normally, which was helpful so that I could open apps. When I looked at the “recent updates” list, I saw that a Razer device driver had been installed when I plugged the mouse in– but it was a version labeled as being from 2012. Why this happened, I don’t know. This was clearly the culprit… but Windows 10 doesn’t give you a way to remove an individual device driver update from the settings interface. Nothing relevant appeared in the add/remove programs list. There was no “undo the last update” button, and I didn’t have a recent backup. Device Manager didn’t show any driver at all for a Razer HID device of any kind… so back to the search I went.

First I tried installing Razer Synapse, their all-in-one utility. All that did was invite me to sign up for a Razer account. No thanks. Then I poked around various arcane parts of %systemroot% but didn’t find anything suspicious. Re-running Windows Update didn’t force a new version of the driver either.

To make a long story short, the answer is here: I had to run pnputil.exe -e to figure out which driver store package had the bad driver, then remove it with pnputil.exe -d -f. Once the offending driver was removed, all of my USB peripherals miraculously resumed their normal operation.

Moral of the story: don’t plug in your son’s gaming peripherals. Lesson learned.

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Flying Friday: happy birthday, N32706!

Three years ago this week, John Blevins and I flew Delta to Salt Lake City to pick up N32706 and fly her home. I was perusing my logbook earlier in the week and realized that more than half of my total flying time (318 hours of my total 611) has been sitting in the left seat of this particular airplane. I’ve traveled for races/events (DC, Vermont, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia), family visits (Louisiana, Florida), business (Toronto, Missouri, Kentucky), and fun with the kids (Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee), and flight training (Utah, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska).

where I’ve been in years 1-3

There are times when I think it’s silly to own an airplane instead of renting– like a horse or a boat, you’re always paying the maintenance and fixed costs even on days when the weather is bad, you’re busy, and so on. But the freedom and flexibility of being able to travel where and when I want to, and the comfort of knowing that I’m flying a well-maintained, well-equipped airplane that hasn’t been neglected or operated improperly, more than make up for it.

My next trip is later today, from Decatur to Orlando (well, Kissimmee) for a weightlifting meet. Later in the year, I’ve got Tuscaloosa, Biloxi, New Orleans, and a few other places on my to-go list. I can’t wait!

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Watch out for bird nests

I recently had a really interesting cross-country trip. It featured virgins, dirt, avian invaders, and tractors.

Some local friends talked me into running the American Odyssey relay race: just under 200 miles from Gettysburg to Washington, DC, over two days. (Look for a race report in the near future.) Some of my teammates were flying commercial, and some were driving, but I found three hardy souls who volunteered to go with me. Jim’s a Navy officer who’s used to airplanes of all sizes, but neither Rese nor Melissa had flown in a small airplane before… so they’re the virgins in this story.

I’d planned to fly from Decatur to New River (PSK), fuel up with avgas and diet Coke, and then fly into College Park, MD (CGS). This would allow me to use my fancy secret code to fly into the Washington DC ring of restricted airspace. However, because we were staying in Harpers Ferry, it didn’t make sense to fly 60+ miles to the east just so we could have extra drive time going back to Harpers Ferry. I decided to go into Martinsburg (MRB) instead to avoid the extra driving.

We departed on schedule, with about 1500′ ceilings leaving Decatur. A front was on its way so my goal was to get us to our destination before the weather got bad. We benefited from an epic tailwind– my normal cruise speed is about 135kts but I was seeing over 200kts for a good part of the first leg.

208!

Unfortunately, with wind comes bumps.. so one of our crew (I’m not saying who) needed to use a barf bag. No major damage, thankfully, either to the victim or the airplane. Apart from that, the rest of the flight was uneventful– a quick stop at PSK for fuel and diet Coke and we were on our way. Potomac Approach made me fly the RNAV 26 approach even though the weather was VFR. Martinsburg is home to the 167th Airlift Wing, so there were a bunch of big gray C-17s on the ramp. Always a fun sight.

Aero-Smith, the local FBO, had prearranged a rental van. It was waiting, so we loaded up and off we went. The next couple days were a blur– I had a fantastic time at the race. All too soon, though, it was time to head back home, so I planned our flight to follow roughly the same route. While the big front had passed through, we were still forecast to have 20+ knots of headwind, so I tried to choose a more southerly route to reduce the wind penalty (spoiler: that didn’t work). I’d planned the first leg from Martinsburg to Ashe County, NC, then home.

We got to Martinsburg safely and turned in the van. The FBO lineman offered me a box of rubber gloves. “We saw a lot of birds on your airplane,” he said. “There’s probably some poop on it.” I’ll take “things you don’t want to hear at the airport” for $200, Alex!

I walked out to the plane, which they’d parked on the far edge of the (empty) parking area. I saw a few poop spots and used a gloved hand to remove them. Now, this next part is relevant: I usually start my walkaround by turning on the master switch, existing the forward passenger door, and walking back down the right side of the plane, around the tail, and up the left side– finishing at the engine. That’s what I did… except that when I got to the engine, I noticed what looked like a few pieces of grass sticking out. That certainly wasn’t there when I parked the plane, so I poked a flashlight into the front of the cowling and was surprised to see some more grass.

That led me to remove the upper cowling, whereupon I found this (click it to see the detail).

Bird attack!

Yep. In two and a half days, the forces of evil invaded my cowling and built two large, flammable nests. I started pulling out handfuls of grass and twigs, and the other three came to help. All this action attracted the attention of the FBO staff, and they brought us a handheld leaf blower.

Now, a brief note. Air-cooled piston airplane engines work on a principle called pressure cooling. Baffles inside the cowling drive airflow from top to bottom, not back to front, to cool the cylinders. When you look at the picture above, what you can’t see is that there are only a few small openings under the top deck for air to flow down– making it very difficult to get all the bird debris out with a leaf blower. We ended up having to spend 30 minutes or so picking little sticks and blades of grass out of the engine compartment. Here are Rese and Jim doing just that:

cleaning the bird damage

Once that was finally done, I wanted to run the engine with the cowling off, whereupon I discovered a failed cell in the battery.. so the plane wouldn’t start. This was not popular with my passengers. Or with me, for that matter.

The FBO staff was very reluctant to help start the plane. They claimed not to have a ground power unit, but I eventually talked them into bringing their tow tractor out so I could use my jumper cable. The problem with this cable is that after the plane starts, you have to unplug it, and the FBO guys didn’t want to do it “for liability reasons.” Thankfully Jim wasn’t a big baby like they were, and he volunteered to pull the cable after engine start. We deployed the tractor, got everything hooked up, and the engine immediately started up.

Getting ready to tractor-start

Once we got up to altitude, we got a 1-2 punch from the headwinds: it was bumpy, and we were only making about 105kts over the ground– so less than half of our groundspeed on the way out. After a little fiddling, I got permission to climb from 8000′ to 10000′; as we slowly climbed, we got bounced around quite a bit. To make things worse, the wind was even stronger at 10000′, so we went back down to 8000. It was a steady parade of mountain waves, something I hadn’t spent any time dealing with before. Frankly I didn’t much care for them.

As we got closer to GEV, the wind diminished a bit, although not enough to give us any appreciable speed increase. The Ashe County airport sits at about 3000′ above sea level, and the airport description helpfully notes “RISING TERRAIN ALL QUADRANTS,” so flying in means dealing with shifting winds funneled in various directions by the surrounding terrain. Despite the wind, I stuck the landing, and we were well and cheerfully served by the airport manager, who coaxed the balky full-service pump into working long enough to fill the tanks. I’d happily stop there again. (Note that KGEV has no AT&T cell service and no diet Coke in the soda machine, so plan accordingly.)

There was a good-sized line of storms stretching from south to north moving through Mississippi when we left. Our original plan was to get home before it arrived, but due to our de-birding time, there was no way we were going to make that. As we flew, it became clear that the headwinds were going to prevent us from making our alternate at Winchester, so I decided to stop in Chattanooga, which has rental cars, nearby hotels, and food.. just in case. We landed and found the ramp crowded with more expensive airplanes that had obviously stopped for the weather as well. Luckily the FBO had one crew car remaining, so we headed out to look for dinner and wait for the storm to pass. The city got roughly 1/4″ of rain in the hour we were at dinner, but it had tapered off to a light drizzle by the time we got ready to depart. I pored over the radar and it looked decent if we flew a little to the northwest, more towards Winchester, and then turned south, so that is what I planned for.

Once airborne, I quickly saw that the radar depictions didn’t give the full picture– they showed rain, all right, but the clouds were well above our altitude, so for most of the flight we flew through falling rain but still had decent visibility. The picture below shows what the radar depicted (they’re different, but that’s a topic for another post). After an uneventful trip, with mostly smooth air, we landed at Decatur, packed up, and headed home.

Which one’s right?

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Flying with Avidyne’s version 10.2 software

If you think updating the software on your phone is hard, try it with avionics.

Avidyne has been promising a new release of the software for their IFD line of WAAS GPS units for a while now. Originally announced on April Fool’s Day last year, version 10.2 packs a pretty impressive list of features, including synthetic vision, support for a bunch of new devices (including digital radar and FLIR cameras), display of more ADS-B weather and traffic data, and a new “IFD100” iPad app that essentially acts as a second screen for your IFD. They generously made the update available for free, but with a catch: it has to be installed by an avionics shop. The FAA lets aircraft owners make “minor repairs and alterations” (a phrase which has a very specific set of parameters around it), and avionics software updates aren’t considered “minor.” When they finally announced that 10.2 was available, the first order of business was to find a shop to install it. None of the local shops are Avidyne dealers, so we decided to head back to XP Services in Tullahoma. A quick phone call to schedule an appointment was all it took.

The flight to Tullahoma was pleasant, and the XP team had the upgrade done in about 2 hours– right about the amount of time Avidyne says it should take. The update procedure is very detailed and specific, with lots of dire warnings about what happens if you do it wrong, so I’m glad they didn’t. They also upgraded the software in our SkyTrax 100 ADS-B receiver, which will become important a little later in the story. I can’t say enough good things about XP’s staff: they did good work, quickly, at a fair price, and were very friendly. Be forewarned if you go there though: there are no vending machines nearby so bring your own snacks.

On the way home I got to start playing with the new features, but it wasn’t until last week’s Easter trip from Decatur to New Smyrna Beach that they really came into their own. Here’s a partial list of the new goodness in this release.

Let’s start with synthetic vision. The IFD540 doesn’t have a way to sense the attitude of the airplane, so its syn vis feature is limited to showing a “plane in trail” (Avidyne calls it exocentric) view of you, your route, and the surrounding terrain. In this case, I’ve programmed the ILS 18 Y approach into my home airport. You can see the magenta line indicating that I’m on the final approach segment. The white line-and-loop to the upper right is the missed approach procedure that I’d fly if I couldn’t land. There’s another airplane in the area, at 1900 feet and descending. The synthetic vision display makes very clear what the surrounding terrain and obstacles look like, and how my planned flight path would interact with them. This is not a huge deal in the flat riverine terrain near Decatur but in someplace like Montpelier, with more significant terrain, it could literally be a lifesaver.

heading for the approach

Another nifty new feature: temporary flight restrictions (like the one shown below, for firefighting in southern Georgia near Waycross) and winds aloft data (the little white flag-looking things in the second picture) can now be shown along with all the other flight data. You can see that we have about a 20kt headwind. It’s important to remember that, like all other ADS-B weather data, the wind data comes from the ground and may not reflect what’s truly happening in the air at that moment.

Don’t fly in TFRs unless you want to meet the FAA in person

The direction of the wind barb shows which way it’s blowing; the number of little flags shows how strong it is

Traffic display is greatly improved in two ways. First, you can now see trend lines showing you where a traffic target is going (along with its N number, if it’s transmitting one). This is really helpful in crowded airspace, like the area around the Daytona Beach airport. You can see that both airplanes on the display are headed in the same direction as we are, one at roughly our same altitude and the other descending.

In 10.2, you can see where traffic targets are going

I also now get traffic alerts when there’s a potential conflict, i.e. someone else is flying towards me. An aural alert (“bong! TRAFFIC”) comes first, then the screen changes to show the conflicting traffic. This is an extremely valuable feature.

When you hear “TRAFFIC,” you’d better start looking around

The IFD100 app does what it promises: it lets you control the physical IFD, but it also lets you configure its display completely independently of the one on the panel. It does about 80% of what the “real” IFD hardware does. For example, you can load a flight plan into the iPad app while the panel is showing you the map/weather/traffic page, then push a button and activate that flight plan from the iPad. You can see and tune frequencies (but not activate them), zoom in and out on maps, and in general act like you have a second IFD540. It’s pretty neat, although there are some quirks to it that I’m still figuring out.

Not quite a replacement for Foreflight

The IFD100 app isn’t a replacement for FlyQ or Foreflight though; it doesn’t let you anything that the physical IFD can’t do, so no looking up fuel prices or FBO reviews, no satellite imagery display, and so on. ForeFlight has all sorts of useful planning features like terrain mapping, wind estimation, and flight plan filing that the IFD100 doesn’t, and won’t. I don’t think Avidyne intends the app to replace a true electronic flight bag (EFB) app, but rather to give you more options and flexibility with using the in-panel hardware.

I haven’t been able to test one of the signature features of 10.2 yet, though: its ability to do two-way sync over Wi-Fi between the panel device and a tablet. I can already stream a flight plan, and GPS position data, from the IFD to ForeFlight or FlyQ. 10.2 adds the ability for the IFD to send traffic, weather, and TFR data (which means I won’t need my Stratus receiver to see that stuff in ForeFlight), but also the ability to load a flight plan from the iPad to the panel. That means I can plan a complex route at my leisure in my armchair, file it, brief it, get my expected route, and push the route to the airplane when I get to the airport with a single button press. That’s going to be glorious when it finally arrives.

It speaks well of Avidyne that they made this major feature release available for free, and I’m excited to see how they continue to build on the wireless connectivity built into the IFD line.

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Training Tuesday: 2017 35.1 Challenge

The second weekend in April here in Huntsville features two marquee races: the Heel & Crank duathlon (run by Team Rocket, our local triathlon club) and the Bridge Street Half Marathon, sponsored by our local Fleet Feet. Two years ago, the sponsors joined forces to offer a “35.1 challenge”– do both races back-to-back and you get some kind of swag, plus bragging rights.

In 2015, I completed the challenge,  barely: the duathlon was fine but the 13.1 was a bit of a grind, and I was super sore for the following week. Last year, I signed up for the duathlon and the challenge, but stupidly forgot to register for Bridge Street. One thing you should know: Suzanne Taylor, the RD for Bridge Street, absolutely does not allow transfers, deferrals, or late registrations. Period, full stop. So I didn’t complete the challenge.

This year I made sure to register for all 3 events. Dana had planned to return to the 13.1 world after a long layoff by running with our friend Teri… who managed to catch a stress fracture to her femur (how do you even do that?) just in time to be sidelined for the race. I told Dana I’d run with her instead, at whatever pace she wanted– like a really slow and not especially scenic date. Therefore, my plan ended up being to treat Heel & Crank as a legitimate race, then run the 13.1 more like an LSR. I ran that plan past my coach, who gave me a big thumbs up, so I was all set.

I also planned to volunteer for both races– for Heel & Crank, it was race-morning packet pickup, and for Bridge Street it was day-before packet pickup.

Prerace

Duathlons are easy to prepare for– it’s basically a bike ride (so you need bike gear) plus running shoes, with none of that pesky swimming stuff. I packed everything up Friday afternoon, made sure the ELEMNT was charged, and so on. I didn’t eat anything special for dinner; in the morning, I had a protein shake and a poptart, plus a dose of BeetElite, and headed out to the race. This was the first year for a new RD, and he did such a good job lining up volunteers that they didn’t need me; that gave me a chance to enjoy visiting with friends instead of working. I got transition set up, walked around chatting with people, and waited for the race to start– it was really nice to have plenty of extra chill time, instead of my usual MO of screeching into the parking lot at the last minute and then being harried. My friend Coop was kind enough to buy me a hot chocolate at JaVa.Mooresville, a really good coffee shop that coincidentally happens to be the only one anywhere nearby. It was about 55 degrees and clear just before race start.

Run 1

The run course at Heel & Crank starts on a paved street, which after 0.3mi or so turns into a hard-packed dirt trail. It’s an out-and-back; some of the trail is shaded, some isn’t. It’s almost completely flat. As you can see from the map below, a good portion of the course runs alongside farm fields, which add a lovely pastoral feel– you can literally see the grass (or whatever) waving in the breeze, when there is one, which there was. I settled in early on and tried to hold a steady pace, finishing with an 8:41/mi average in 24:37.

Heel and Crank run course

T1
Transition was completely unexceptional– I dropped my headphones, swapped my hat for a helmet, changed shoes, powered up the bike computer, and choked down a pack of Gu chews. Out the gate in under 2min, which for me is lightning-quick.
The bike
The course overlaps some of the familiar Jetplex course, so my plan was to ride it at a steady pace, in aero as much as possible. This doesn’t sound like a terribly complex plan, but I am still getting used to my tri bike, so I figured anything more complex would be pointless. I made a weighted average of 177W, certainly nothing to write home about, but overall good enough for a 6-minute CR and a PR on one Strava segment.
T2
T2 was even faster– helmet-to-hat, headphones in, shoes on, and out the gate.
Run 2
I was really leery of blowing up by going out too hard on the first half of the run, so I tried to keep my HR caged around 150. I actually ended up averaging 151 for the run; I possibly could have pushed a little harder on the outbound leg, but I was feeling good on the return and was able to hold right around 7:05/mi for the last half mile or so. For reference, my mile PR time is 7:11, so I was well pleased with this. Run 2 was done in 27:26.

Wraup and post-race
Overall, my times were good enough for a 1:52 finish, a 15-minute PR for this race. To say I was pleased would have been a massive understatement. I celebrated with a big plate of the post-race pancakes for which this race is famous, plus a glass of Rocket Republic Scotch Rocket served by my fellow cubano Warren. It was a pretty successful day for the Cubans, in fact: the relay team of Tony, Craig, and Warren placed second, and Lance won the Clydesdale division. I’m sure if Julio had been there he would have won something too. Hats off to first-time race director Paul Erickson and his staff of volunteers for putting on a fun, safe race with excellent post-race food and drink.

I headed home, showered, and went over to Dana’s. Dinner was a giant bowl of Nothing but Noodles‘ finest mac-and-cheese, always a solid pre-race choice.

Race day
We woke up about 530a, with a goal of getting to the race site about 630a. This turned out to be easy. One of the nice things about Bridge Street is that it’s held at an outdoor mall. There is plenty of parking and tons of porta-potties, as well as some nice indoor bathrooms. We wandered around to chat with people for a while, then queued up near the 2:30 pace group for the gun start.

Pre-race

After a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, the cannon went off and so did we.

I wish I had kept better notes on the race itself. The Bridge Street course winds through Research Park, which is pretty flat and not all that scenic for the most part. The course starts in front of Barnes and Noble, runs west for a bit along Old Madison Pike, runs north on Jan Davis and then on Explorer, loops around West Park, and then turns south again. Perhaps the most interesting part is the Double Helix path near HudsonAlpha, which is marked with educational signs about the human genome. It’s also interesting to note the incredible funk we smelled while running past one of Adtran’s buildings; it smelled like someone had bred a skunk the size of a VW Beetle, wrapped it in shrink wrap, and then boiled it in 10W40 motor oil. Truly a scent I will remember for a long time.

The Bridge Street course

It was cool at the start, and we made good time through the course. Dana had planned to do 4/1 run/walk intervals, running for 4 minutes and then walking for 1, but she pretty much ignored these intervals and ran most of it, holding right around a 10:44 pace. I just stuck with her (well, except for once when I let her go ahead while I hit the porta-potty, but let’s not get into that). We crossed the finish line in 2:23:50, quite a respectable performance for Dana’s return to the 13.1 world. We collected our medals and breakfast coupons, then found our friends to hang out and visit a bit.

race posse unite!

The race organizers had thoughtfully arranged for a free breakfast sandwich (which was about the size of a Clementine) at Bar Louie, which we supplemented with a genuine brunch (and, in my case, a couple of ice cream sandwiches). I also grabbed my 35.1 award, which now occupies a prize position on my dining room table until I can figure out what wall to hang it on. Kudos to Suzanne Taylor, the folks at Fleet Feet Huntsville, and the zillions of volunteers who chipped in to put on the race– Bridge Street is one of my favorite races because it’s so well organized, supplied, and staffed.

swag life

All in all, it was a weekend well spent, and I felt fine the next day, at least until I started doing squats… but that’s a story for another time.

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Speaking at 2017 Office 365 Engage

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be presenting 3 sessions at the new Office 365 Engage conference, 19-22 June in Haarlem, The Netherlands.

With the death of TechEd and the product-specific conferences, Microsoft has more or less abandoned the broad conference market in Europe. They’ve hosted smaller, more focused events covering specific technologies in individual countries, but customers who want a broader perspective, or any degree of engagement with non-Microsoft speakers and experts, have had to come to the US-based conferences. Now the UnityConnect team, led by the redoubtable Tony Redmond, are hosting a full-spectrum event focused on all aspects of Office 365, including Teams, Planner, and Groups– not just the more established Exchange/SharePoint/Skype trinity (although there is plenty of that content, too). The speaker lineup is stellar as well; in fact, I wonder how I got in. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from Michael Van Hybrid Horenbeeck, Steve Goodman, Michel de Rooij, Sigi Jagott, Brian Reid, Alan Byrne, and a host of other MVPs and Microsoft technology experts. The session catalog is pretty impressive.

As for me, I’m presenting three sessions:

  • The Ins and Outs of Monitoring Office 365 covers the fundamentals of monitoring such a complex service environment. Although it may be tempting to just say “let Microsoft worry about it,” the fact is that it’s critical to keep tabs on the health and integrity of the service and all its components, as your users depend on it and probably won’t accept “it was Microsoft’s fault” as an answer. The session will cover the basic tools that Microsoft provides and analyze how they compare to the monitoring needs imposed by dependence on a hybrid cloud service.
  • Windows Information Protection and Azure Rights Managment: Better Together. Normally I hate the phrase “better together” because it is Microsoft-speak for “buy more of our products,” but in this case it’s apropos. WIP and AzureRM work quite well together, and the combination enables some interesting data protection scenarios that I’ll cover here in depth.
  • Like a Megaphone: Skype Meeting Broadcast will cover the little-known, but quite useful, Skype Meeting Broadcast feature. As its name implies, Broadcast lets you take an ordinary Skype for Business meeting and scale it out to up to 10,000 attendees… but there are some caveats you’ll need to know about to use it effectively.

There’s a full slate of pre-conference workshops, receptions, and so on as well. Perhaps I can persuade Tony to do a live episode of Office 365 Exposed while we’re there– we shall see. Come join me! The conference team has given me a discount code, SPRPR469, which will save you 10% on the registration cost. I hope to see you there!

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Havana, day 7

(See reports from days 01245, and 6.)

Day 7, and time to go home. Logistically, this was a pretty straightforward process, but cognitively, it was deeply weird.

Our flight home was scheduled to leave the Havana airport about 225p. We decided that a 9am pickup time would give us enough time to get all our stuff loaded, get to the airport, and struggle through whatever challenges might be imposed there. Julio had flown home the day and gave us some useful feedback about the amount of time required. Of course, before we could go anywhere, we had to marshal all of our gear and get it down the frighteningly narrow steps to the street. There was a lot of last-minute swearing and horse trading as we all looked for errant pieces of gear (Tony ended up with my Garmin charger and my cycling kit, for example) and scoured the apartment to make sure we weren’t accidentally leaving anything behind. We had the gear stacked by about 9am, so it was time for one more shot of Tia’s coffee:

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Tia’s coffee is best coffee

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a driver. Eventually Eric, our guide from day 1, showed up.. in his Plymouth.. which was useless, as we couldn’t fit all of our people or luggage in it. A long series of negotiations, with some arguing, then ensued. I couldn’t follow it all, but the eventual result was that Juan Carlos showed up in this beauty, with its original engine intact:

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Not a common sight in Alabama

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The original small-block 283, lovingly maintained for decades

Shortly thereafter, two dudes in a stake-bed truck showed up. We loaded up the luggage, and off we went.

It took about 35min to drive from the apartment to the airport. I was much more aware of my surroundings than I had been on the inbound drive, so I noticed more of the details as we moved between areas of the city. Apparently there is very little zoning law in Cuba– it reminded me of Houston in the way that you’d see residential, commercial, and heavy industrial space cheek by jowl. The typical Cuban mix of ugly Cold War-era buildings, graceful but crumbling older buildings, and improvised vehicles and structures held my attention throughout the drive.

Now, here’s the thing about the airport: it’s like every other airport you’ve been to, except it isn’t. For example, there are ticket counters for the various airlines that serve Havana. The Delta counter has the same Sky Priority signs and so on that you’d see in Europe or the US. But the ticket agent didn’t want to hassle with making the computer accept the $150 bike fee that Delta normally charges, so, with a casual wave, we were beckoned around the corner to the freight elevator and our bikes flew free. Of course, there’s no online checkin (at least for Delta), nor is there any wifi on the land side of the terminal… although there are pay phones, something I haven’t seen at a US airport in ages.

The basic workflow is the same as at US airports: check in, drop off your bags, go through security and immigration, and go to the gate. The immigration part is interesting because you are required to turn in the second half of your tourist card. Hypothetically speaking, if you lost it, you could be detained for further questioning or just hassled, unless a bored and irritated immigration agent decided to let you pass without it… hypothetically.

Immediately past immigration, the first thing you come to on the air side is the duty free shop. It was packed. No surprise, since the prices for rum and coffee are set by the government and identical to what you’d pay out in town. We all loaded up with more rum and coffee; I think Warren also bought some more cigars.

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dark and smooth, this is perhaps the perfect rum

The name of our game overall was “spend all your CUC” since there’s no feasible way to change it back in the US. There is a cadeca on the air side, along with a row of small shops (kiosks, really) selling random crap– a far cry from the typical excess of US airport shops. There are two places to buy food– a small coffee shop downstairs and a weird sort of hamburger place in the main concourse. The gates, chairs, and so on all looked essentially the same as in a US airport, but the mix of airlines serving the airport is very different than what you’re probably used to. Aeroflot and Air China are both prominent, for example (I really wanted to take a picture with an Aeroflot flight crew but they were gone before we got to the gate). I had a ham sandwich at the coffee shop, bought some sodas, and settled in with the boys to wait for our flight. There’s (government) wifi in the terminal, so that helped kill some time, but I spent most of it people watching.

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because writing “KILROY WAS HERE” would have been rude

The rest of the trip, to be honest, was anticlimax. Being on a Delta airplane in Havana is just like being on one in Houston, Heathrow, Huntsville. Lance and I got upgraded so we immediately asked for Diet Coke– something that just doesn’t exist in Cuba. Our flight was uneventful, the in-flight wifi worked flawlessly, and soon enough, we were touching down in Atlanta. I had previously signed up for Global Entry and it was magnificent– a quick stop at the kiosk and I was through customs in about 2 minutes total. We all had to do the bag drag to get our bikes and checked bags (most of which had serious quantities of liquor and coffee therein) to the drop off. After that, it was just like every other time I’ve changed planes in Atlanta (well, except that Tony immediately started hunting Pokémon). I had a turkey burger, walked the concourse a few times, and happily boarded our homebound flight. Teri and Theresa met us at the airport, and we happily chatted as we waited for our luggage. Once it arrived, Lance gave me a ride home, I dragged all my crap inside, and that was that… except for Pancake spending the next two hours dogging my heels and/or leaving cat hair on every item I’d brought back. The unpacking and general recovery took me the next few days; I think I’ve put everything where it belongs.

¡Cuba Libre !

 

 

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