Dodging cyclists in Denmark

COPENHAGEN

Rush hour sounds different here–instead of the usual chorus of car horns and idling engines, the whir and rattle of bicycle chains take precedence. And I’ve felt like I need to take just as much care to avoid getting bumped by a bike as by a car, although the consequences of a mistake with the former would be much gentler.

Cyclists pedal past the train station and Tivoli Gardens in downtown Copenhagen on a cloudy Friday morning.

I’d read about the cyclist-friendliness of Copenhagen enough times and heard about it from my brother, who went here twice for work and then brought his family here for vacation because he liked the city that much. But seeing and hearing how many people get around by bike–37% report doing so on a typical day, according to a 2020 survey by the European Union that put Copenhagen second only to Amsterdam among major EU cities–is something else.

And the Danes seem to have done this without building a lot of complicated infrastructure. The typical accomodation here is a flat lane of pavement, elevated above the street and next to the sidewalk, where you might find on-street parking in the U.S. There are also a few cyclist-and-pedestrian bridges spanning the canals that split the city; seeing them made me look forward to the bike/pedestrian bridge due to be built across the Potomac as part of the Long Bridge project to add a second rail span.

The bikes aren’t too fancy either, almost all sturdy two-wheelers with fenders and cargo racks–except for the tricycles with the parallel wheels up front to accommodate a cargo compartment big enough for groceries, a kid, or a dog. Almost everybody wears street clothes, and most don’t bother with helmets.

A red regional-rail train's bicycle-stowage carriage blurs as the train pulls out of Copenhagen Central Station at night.

(It has to help that Copenhagen is a compact and flat city with short travel distances.)

Bike parking consists of not individual racks but entire arrays of them, some covered. Bike locks didn’t seem terribly strong, and I’m not sure how big of a problem bike theft is or if that’s the reason why so many Copenhagen bikes are on the plainer side.

The trains also welcome cyclists, with regional-rail cars setting aside plenty of space for bike storage. And the stairs leading in and out of stations each have runnels to let you wheel a bike in and out of them instead of having to lug it up and down.

It’s all a delight to see, but further investigation is required after my brief, four-day stay this week. For one thing, I didn’t get on a bike myself despite having bikeshare services as an option, and I feel bad about that.

New transit adventures in Berlin

BERLIN

The IFA tech trade show is not like CES in many ways, but transportation tops the list. Unlike the gadget gathering that’s owned my January schedule since 1998, Europe’s biggest electronics event takes place in a city with an immensely more advanced and useful transit network.

I thought I’d figured out Berlin’s expanse of U-Bahn, S-Bahn, tram, bus and regional rail lines fairly well, but this week here has taught me a couple of new tricks.

Photo shows a €9 ticket held in front of an arriving S-Bahn train at the Hackescher Markt station.

My first update came from taking advantage of Germany’s move to ease the pain of inflation, the €9 universal transit ticket it introduced in June. While I only had two days to capitalize on that promotion, buying one at a ticket-vending machine at Berlin Brandenburg Airport Tuesday still dramatically cut my trip costs over those last two days of August.

I enjoyed being reacquainted with the things I like about taking trains in Berlin. The rail system reaches almost everywhere (the now-shuttered Tegel Airport being a notable exception), trains come so often that waiting more than 10 minutes (as I had to do on the U5 Tuesday) comes as a shock instead of the usual, and the fare system prices every trip the same regardless of which exact service you take.

Thursday morning, I bought a 24-hour ticket at a ticket-vending machine. But then I screwed up by not getting a second one earlier than Friday evening, when crowds of IFA attendees lined up at the Messe Süd station’s TVMs. Only then did I think of downloading Deutsche Bahn’s app and using that to buy a ticket and avoid the unlikely embarrassment of having a fare inspector bust me for riding without paying.

Installing this app took only a minute or so, thanks to T-Mobile now offering full-speed roaming in the 11 countries in which its corporate parent Deutsche Telekom provides wireless service. Setting up an account and buying a 24-hour ticket took longer, thanks to the app demanding an account registration that included my street address and then not letting me select a credit card stored in Google Pay. But by the time I was three stops out of Messe Sud–the barrier-free, proof-of-payment regime let me board without paying upfront–I had my ticket.

And I’d learned that DB’s app cuts passengers a tiny break on fares, with a 24-hour ticket in Berlin’s A and B zones costing €8.80 instead of the TVM cost of €9.20. That makes DB Navigator a download I don’t mind having added to my small collection of transit payment apps—a set that now includes software for Austin and Las Vegas, but somehow not the city I’ve called home for more than three decades.

KSC FOMO is real

This weekend is treating me to the first-world problem of having travel booked to a place I haven’t visited in three years–at the cost of not being able to visit another place I haven’t visited in four years.

The Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, Shuttle Landing Facility Runway, and launch complexes 39A and 39B as seen from an American Airlines jet on the way to Miami.

While I will be packing Sunday to fly to Berlin for the IFA electronics show for the first time since 2019 (disclosure: the organizers are covering most of the travel costs for an invited group of U.S. journalists and analysts, myself included), NASA’s massive Space Launch System rocket will be enjoying what I trust is its last night of slumber on Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center before starting a journey to the Moon Monday morning.

Before everybody gets on my case for the subpar judgment I’ve just confessed, I booked the IFA travel in early July, weeks before NASA set tentative launch dates for this uncrewed Artemis I mission. At least I’ve got Monday morning mostly free to glue myself to a screen and see if SLS lifts off in the two-hour window that opens at 8:33 a.m.

Meanwhile, journalists I know are arriving at Cape Canaveral and tweeting photos from KSC’s press site, something I last got to do in 2018. The Artemis 1 countdown began Saturday morning. And if no technical glitches surface and all the other launch-commit criteria line up green Monday, everybody close enough will get to see NASA’s largest rocket since the Saturn V take to the skies–then hear and feel the crackling thunder of its engines, which apparently will be a lot louder than the shuttle’s.

I’ll only get to watch the proceedings from my living room. The closest I’ve gotten to the Cape since that February 2018 trip to cover Falcon Heavy’s debut is seeing KSC from a plane–which, don’t get me wrong, is a real window-seat treat.

But while I may have to wait two more years for a chance to see the next SLS launch, the launch calendar is now so busy at the Space Coast that even a randomly scheduled trip to central Florida allows decent odds of seeing a liftoff. So, yes, I will return to KSC even if it’s just for fun–and in that case, I’m bringing my family so they can see firsthand why I’m so crazy about this.

Rooting for laundry, yet again

The worst team in baseball traded one of the best players in baseball for the hope of better seasons to come, and Nats fans should have seen that coming. Because we saw this movie last year.

Tuesday’s trade by the Washington Nationals that sent outfielder Juan Soto as well as first baseman Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres in return for a cast of prospects (first baseman/designated hitter Luke Voit, shortstop C.J. Abrams, outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, and pitchers MacKenzie Gore and Jarlin Susana) evoked last year’s trade of pitcher Max Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner to Los Angeles, although with a higher long-term potential upside. It essentially completes the sell-off of our 2019 World Series team for a cloud of baseball probability.

And yet seeing a generational talent like Soto go feels like less of a gut punch than last year’s trade-deadline move.

First, last year we could pretend that the team had been in a 2021 equivalent of 2019’s 19-31 start. Yes, the Nats were also terrible in 2020, but that season started late and didn’t feature fans in the stands at Nationals Park, so it was just weird even before all of the injuries among an aging team.

This year, however, we have been objectively bad from Opening Day onwards. Soto gave those of us in the stands exciting moments, but if he wanted to win a lot of games soon, Nats Park was not going to be his home field of choice.

Second, the team made a good-faith offer even though current ownership is now exploring selling the team. You can say that management should have worked harder to keep homegrown prospects around over the past few years, but you cannot say that $440 million over 15 years was not a legitimate deal to put on the table.

Soto turning that down only made it a question of what we’d get in a trade before the 2024 expiration of his contract–unless you were thinking that new ownership would swoop in first, back up an even larger bank truck and get a different answer. But what about the star-crossed history of baseball in D.C. would lead any Nats fan who had been in the stands for the 2012 NLDS to pin their hopes on that outcome?

So I feel less gutted about the thought of Soto in a Padres uniform than I might have expected. It helps that he won’t be wearing a Yankees, Braves or Phillies jersey; it will not help if, years from now, the cap on Soto’s likely portrait on a plaque in Cooperstown represents a team that isn’t the Washington Nationals.

Meanwhile, I live in the same place that I’ve called home for the last three decades and counting, the players who run out of the dugout on the first-base side of Nats Park at the start of a game wear jerseys with a curly W for my city, and a pennant above the scoreboard reminds me that I saw D.C. win a World Series championship and redeem all the pain of previous postseasons. And the next time I see a game in some other ballpark, of course I’m going to wear a Nats cap. I love baseball and I love having it here, even if the daily reality of this business may sometimes make me feel like a chump.

Indie-rock rainouts are a less-obvious D.C. summer tradition

My first Fort Reno concert in three years lasted maybe 30 minutes. And in retrospect, I should have seen that coming–as in, I should have consulted the weather apps on my phone or iPad before heading out.

Thursday evening’s weather-interrupted free outdoor show in the Tenleytown park named after the Civil War fort limited me to watching most of an entertaining set by opening act Sparklebot. After that performance, I walked around the park to see how it had changed since 2019 (for example, the gravel path bisecting the field had been paved and lined with solar-powered lights), returned to my picnic blanket and started tucking into the dinner I’d brought from home.

And then rain set in, rapidly.

I hurriedly shoved the lid back on my meal and tossed that container into the bag I’d brought (of course, that lid popped off later to leave me with a mess), folded up my lawn chair, and tossed my picnic blanket over my head to avoid getting completely soaked. Then I retreated under a tree to wait for the downpour to ease.

After 20 minutes, it was obvious that the next set was not going to happen, so I walked a little more around the park as the rain faded to take a photo or two. Then I walked back to my car. My four idle thoughts on the drive home:

  1. At least I resumed what used to be one of my favorite D.C.-summer rituals–after shamefully missing all of last year’s Fort Reno shows.
  2. Since this show got suddenly rained out after Monday’s Fort Reno concert had been preemptively canceled because of rain showers that had then stopped before 7 p.m., what kind of beef does D.C. weather have with indie rock?
  3. Knowing what we know now about how effectively ventilation, especially a breeze outdoors, can prevent the pandemic, the show could have gone on at 40th and Chesapeake Streets NW in 2020. It could have been one little thing to bring my city slightly closer together during one of the tougher years we’ve ever had.
  4. The next show is Monday, and my calendar looks clear that evening. Could we please have clear skies then as well?

Travel delays can be a team sport

After weeks of walking between the raindrops of flight delays and cancellations, I got soaked coming home from Toronto after the Collision conference there. And while Air Canada started things by cancelling my Thursday-evening flight, I managed to compound it with some avoidable clumsiness of my own that ensured I would not arrive at my house until around 12:30 Friday.

Things started going sideways for my YYZ-DCA flight by midday Thursday, when the Flightradar24 app reported that the regional jet assigned to operate it had fallen hours behind schedule as it hopped from Montreal to Atlanta before coming to Toronto. Air Canada’s site kept listing this flight on time, but at 5:52 p.m. the airline texted and e-mailed that it had canceled AC 8786 due to “the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on aviation which includes government entry requirements, travel advisories, crew constraints, and local movement restrictions.”

That e-mail said the airline was “looking for an alternative flight,” after which I soon found one in United’s app: Air Canada’s last YYZ-IAD flight that night. Alas, Air Canada’s phone line dumped me after playing a goodbye-and-good-luck message: “Due to extremely high call volume, we apologize that we are not able to place you on hold.” And while its site had a rebooking tool, it didn’t list the Dulles flight.

An Air Canada CR900 regional jet at Toronto Pearson International Airport, photographed from a boarding ramp.

But Air Canada’s Twitter profile welcomed direct messages, so I tried that before accepting the site’s least-bad alternative, an nonstop to BWI at 8 a.m. Friday. I sent a DM asking for the YYZ-IAD flight and listing my booking code and then didn’t get an acknowledgment–until 14 minutes later, when a rep replied to confirm my requested rebooking.

“You will need to check-in for this flight,” the rep advised.

If only she’d added “in the next 20 minutes.”

I hustled over to Toronto’s Union Station for the next Union Pearson Express train and didn’t start to check in until reaching the UP Express waiting area. That’s when I hit an obstacle I had not experienced checking in via my phone the night before: AC’s mobile site didn’t show any way to upload my phone’s picture of my vaccination card or the SMART QR code generated from those records, instead directing me to take a picture of either.

Unfortunately, I lost my paper vax card a few months ago (which had until then seemed a sentimental-value problem), and I didn’t think to open my laptop and use my phone to take a photo of the picture of the card or the screenshot of the QR code saved in Google Photos. Instead, I selected an option to verify my check-in at the airport, thought I’d try to check in again using a different browser–and then got a message that check-in wasn’t available.

This whole time, I had been assuming I had 60 minutes pre-departure to check in. That’s the rule I’d seen listed before for international flights without checked baggage but had not researched further–leaving me unaware that YYZ’s cut-off time is 90 minutes.

Inwardly cursing my own stupidity as my train pulled out of Union, I switched back to my DM thread with AC, asked if I’d screwed up everything, and had a different rep assure me: “Not to worry, you will be able to complete the check-in at the airport!”

The rep was incorrect and the rule was correct. By the time I got to Pearson and jogged to the check-in area for U.S.-bound flights (while seeing in Flightradar24 that the IAD flight itself would depart hours late, because that incoming aircraft left Chicago three hours behind schedule), nobody was left at Air Canada’s stations except for two reps at a special-assistance desk who had passengers in line ahead of me with their own complex problems.

When my spot came up 20 or so minutes later, a fatigued but still polite agent said the system would not allow her to check me in–and besides, security and customs preclearance for U.S.-bound flights had already closed for the evening.

This agent said she would put me on the 8 a.m. Baltimore flight; having heard her colleague tell another delayed traveler that Air Canada would cover his hotel costs, I asked her if the airline could make the same accommodation in my case. To my pleasant surprise, she said the airline would reimburse me for up to $300.

As she then worked on my flight rebooking, I sat down on the nearest bench, opened my laptop to reserve a hotel, and got into a conversation with an even more frazzled traveler–a Toronto grandmother who had seen a flight cancellation thwart her attempt to visit her son in Alexandria. I described how I’d foolishly thrown away my shot at getting home that night, said it was a rough summer for airlines all over the U.S., and wished her luck getting to my city in the morning.

After a few hours of inadequate sleep in a Marriott Fairfield outside of YYZ and breakfast split between two Air Canada lounges, I finally boarded the Baltimore flight and slept through most of it. I rushed out of the terminal to the stop for the shuttle bus to the BWI rail station–and a minute later, the Toronto woman showed up, tired and unsure about how to get to D.C. I remembered my mother-in-law telling me about having the same experience years ago.

I said I was happy to walk her through what is, objectively speaking, one of the worst airport-to-rail connections in the U.S., and then we could take the train together if that would help. We had a pleasant conversation at the station waiting for the next MARC to D.C. that continued on the ride into Union Station, and then we headed to our separate family reunions.

Lesson learned: A trip interruption, even if partly self-inflicted, that only delays your return by 14 hours and allows you to be of some small service to a fellow passenger is not the worst thing in the traveling world.

I’m most domestic when I’m post-international

Coming home from the other side of the Atlantic, as I did once again Friday, reliably drop-kicks me into the “do not operate heavy machinery” zone of fatigue. No matter how much sleep I might get over a long day in a pressurized metal tube over the ocean, no matter how poorly I felt like I adjusted to my trip’s destination time zone, 6 p.m. on the East Coast remains 11 p.m., midnight or 1 a.m. where my journey had started somewhere in Europe.

Close up of the dial on an LG washing machine show it set to run a load of laundry on the delicates setting.

But because I know of no better way to get myself back into my home time zone than to stay up until a normal bedtime, this light fugue state also primes me for housework. Chores like doing laundry, washing dishes, baking bread, cleaning countertops, tidying up spaces and taking out the trash or recycling share a few convenient virtues for this scenario: They don’t don’t require exceptional dexterity, any higher-level math, or prolonged concentration. These household tasks also help to keep my jet-lagged brain off social media and, most important, represent tasks that I’d neglected over previous days by being 4,000 miles or so out of place.

And since part of the point of this exercise in tired housework is to make those evening hours go by a little faster, I have to see it as not a bug but a feature that these chores often require an extra level of diligence. Case in point: Before dinner last night, I spent a good 10 minutes walking circles around the house to try to locate my passport, only to realize that it was right in my laptop bag.

Twenty countries and counting… counting slowly

HELSINKI

Arriving here Tuesday afternoon added a new airport to what’s already a very long list of those I’ve flown in or out of–and put a new country on what’s a much shorter list of those I’ve visited.

Finland's flag flies in a breeze on the back of a boat in Helsinki's harbor under a partly-cloudy sky.

As of now, that second list includes only 20 of the world’s roughly 200 states outside the U.S. As grouped by continent, they are:

  • North America: Canada, Mexico
  • Europe: Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Portugal, Soviet Union, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom
  • Asia: China, Israel, Japan

That may not be a complete summary; it’s possible that I’m forgetting some long-ago toe-touch of a visit to a tiny European state like Liechtenstein or Andorra, and I’m not counting Vatican City.

But one thing should be clear from that list: what an inveterate Atlanticist I am, even after factoring in my also holding EU citizenship by way of my grandmother being born in Ireland. The scant representation of the rest of the world leaves me scratching my head a bit.

For instance, how have I not gotten to any part of Central America, despite that being so close to the U.S.? Why has my fondness for Asian megacities only led me to two countries there? What’s up with my failure to cross the Equator?

This list also reflects some missed opportunities. One of my best friends from high school spent a few years living in Sydney (unless it was Melbourne) in the 1990s, but I never looked into using what was already a decent accumulation of frequent-flyer miles to see him. And in the summer of 2001, I passed on a chance to join two friends when they visited a college pal living in Cairo at the time; in my defense, I had no clue how complicated U.S. relations with Mideast countries were about to get.

At least I am now once again adding to this list, even if slowly. After spending so many months confined to the D.C. area through 2020 and 2021–and still remembering how little I traveled anywhere in my post-graduation spell of underemployment–I am not taking that freedom for granted.

(Disclosure: I came to Helsinki to cover the security firm WithSecure’s Sphere conference, which in turn covered my travel costs and those of other journalists attending the event.)

Road-trip reminder: The scenery gets bigger out west

PORTLAND

Growing up on one the flatter parts of the East Coast, I got used to a certain scale of roadside scenery: no snowcapped mountains, no wide-open prairies, no long distances without seeing a city or at least a city’s post-industrial outskirts. I didn’t see the other roadside side of America until my first cross-country drive in 1992, when I spent much of the trip with my mouth agape at the scenery towering overhead and looming in front.

The view from a highway viewpoint off I-84 in Oregon spans hundreds if not thousands of square miles of prairie.

This week’s itinerary–courtesy of my second year in a row of doing drive testing for PCMag’s Fastest Mobile Networks project–has reminded me of what I’ve missed.

After landing in Boise Sunday and doing my share of the network testing there, I drove from there to Pasco, Wash., Monday. This roughly 270-mile haul took me up and over the Blue Mountains on Interstate 84 and then treated me to the view at right (from the colorfully-named Deadman’s Pass rest area) of what must be thousands of square miles of plain. After that, a shortcut on local roads past endless stretches of farmland took me to a last stretch alongside the Columbia River. Tuesday’s 220-mile drive from Pasco to Seattle started in flatlands, above which the first mountain peak came into view like some sort of trapezoidal moon. Then I-90 aligned me closer and closer to the Cascades up, through and down the Snoqualmie Pass… and I don’t know how people can stay focused on the road with those alpine views.

(If only I’d had a co-pilot to split the driving and let me take photos out the passenger side!)

Unlike that drive 30 years ago, I had the advantage of a vastly more modern car. PCMag rented a Tesla Model 3 for this trip–part of their agenda is assessing the charging infrastructure available–so gas prices aren’t a concern and neither is getting up to speed on a highway on-ramp. This battery-electric rocket is also a vastly more comfortable ride than the 1977 Toyota Corolla that figured in that summer trip.

The other thing that’s changed from 1992 is all the wind power in sight. And not just in the form of rows of wind turbines gently turning on ridgelines but on the highways, which have treated me to the spectacle of tractor-trailers towing wind-turbine blades. The scale of those is larger than life too, with each gently curved airfoil–longer than a 747’s wing, going by recent averages–stretching far past the back wheels of an already-oversize trailer.

Not all of the American West is blessed with epic scenery, though. Thursday, an already-slow drive from Seattle to Portland on I-5 that offered no exceptional views came to an unsettling halt when every car and truck in front lit up its brake lights–a sudden hailstorm had led to a series of crashes that, I learned later, killed one motorcyclist. As I crept past these wrecks and emergency responders caring for their drivers and passengers, I spotted at least four more vehicles that had skidded off the highway and down the wide, grassy trough splitting the northbound and southbound lanes.

I could only think about the random chance that had brought me to this scene then and not 10 minutes earlier–and about how much I will appreciate being home, smaller sights and all, Monday.

Every team is tied for first place at the start of Opening Day

Thursday gave me an excuse to leave my house that I haven’t had since 2018: a ticket to a Washington Nationals home opener. But instead of a sunny daytime game, hours of rain pushed a 4:05 p.m. start against the Mets back to 7:05 and then further to 8:20 p.m.

This Opening Night was also unlike every other one I’ve seen in D.C. because the game had a D.H. on both teams. Major League Baseball’s adoption of the designated hitter across both leagues as part of the settlement that ended the owners’ lockout of the players left me feeling a little lost every time I looked at the scoreboard and didn’t see a pitcher in the lineup column on each side.

I’m already in baseball mourning over the obsolescence of my rough understanding of double switches. I trust I have plenty of company in National League cities.

The game itself, however, fit into a familiar pattern of early-season mediocrity. The Nats lost to the Mets 5-1, with the highlights being some precision throwing by catcher Keibert Ruiz and shortstop Alcides Escobar to catch runners at first and home in the first and fourth innings, plus Juan Soto’s solo shot to right in the sixth.

The rest of this don’t-call-it-a-rebuilding season doesn’t look to be much better. But even if I’m going to see my team lose more games than it wins, I’ll still enjoy seeing less-likely moments like a crisply-turned double play that isn’t the usual 6-4-3, a double legged out into a triple, a stolen base that started at second or third instead of first, and a pitcher embarrassing the other team by hitting a home run… ugh, never mind.