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Foggy Bottom Diaries Part I. Tales of a stranded academic

By David Bailey on Apr 20, 10 03:23 AM in Economics

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Greetings from Foggy Bottom, Washington DC. I'm stuck here at the moment awaiting a flight home after the Volcano with an unpronounceable name blew its top...

I'd been in Washington as Chair of the Regional Studies Association chairing a session by Paul Krugman (he of Nobel Economics Prize fame) at the American Association of Geographers Annual Conference.

Imagine 7000 geographers in town and a volcano blows, stranding lots of UK and European academics; we looked in the bars for geology and volcano experts to tell us how long it would all last. 'You cannot be serious' (a la McEnroe) was the answer.

Professor Krugman gave a fascinating lecture and even took time out to come for dinner with us the night before. The arrival of 'Tea Party' protestors complete with placards at the restaurant brought us all much amusement, and Krugman blogged about them presumably ordering 'freedom fries' here.

His blogs are well worth reading. I don't think I'll ever meet - let alone chair a talk by - a Nobel Prize winner again and I was humbled to be in such intelligent (and witty) company.

Back to air travel. So far I haven't been able to get through to Air France or KLM despite numerous attempts. What has been impressive has been the service offered by Coop Travel.

The Coop emailed me as soon as airspace was restricted and stayed open extra hours to give advice and rebook passengers. I was able to get through to them last weekend on the phone first time and they have got me on the first available plane home - Saturday (assuming airspace is opened up)...

Fellow stranded travellers I spoke to had a rather different experience with the likes of Expedia; they were on the phone for hours, trying to get through to someone to speak to and then to find a seat on a plane.

I'd been moaning that the Coop wasn't always the cheapest place to book flights, but I'll eat my words now... their customer service has been excellent.

Hotels in DC soon filled up this week as stranded people couldn't get out of the city, and rates went up. We've found a place for a few days but will have to move again on Wednesday so are looking around again for some reasonable accommodation.

Other than the uncertainty of not knowing how long we'll be stranded, DC is a rather interesting place in which to be stuck. I've been able to get some work done, the Library of Congress is excellent, and today we rode the open top bus, visiting the Arlington National Cemetery. Row after row of white headstones is an amazing and saddening sight.

Other than trying to finish off an academic paper, and rearrange piles of work commitments, I'm reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, which is set in Washington. It's quite a useful tour guide as it brings to life much of the hidden symbolism of the city.

What I am missing is the election back home. As a self-certified political junkie I'm missing the excitement of the TV debates and the wild poll swings.

Indeed it all seems a very long way away... for the time being at least the world is a much bigger place again. Higher education in the UK is very much a global business these days, and Business School colleagues are currently stuck in China, Italy and elsewhere.

One possibility might be to fly into southern Europe and then try to make our way home. Or, if the flights don't open up soon we're even wondering whether we can hitch a ride on a cargo ship. There's a big container port in South Carolina, and we're checking to see when the container ships and banana boats come and go.

Tomorrow: After work, a visit to Georgetown and the Newseum (a museum dedicated to the media).

Professor David Bailey works at Coventry University Business School (when he can get back to the UK).

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