Saturday, December 1, 2012

Why I'm ranting against Delta Airlines

Knowing your son has moved overseas after a divorce is difficult enough. Visitation becomes expensive and stressful.

But when an opportunity arises to make a trip to see your child, you take it. That means putting your faith in a travel agency to get you there. And spending some hard-earned money.

Enter Delta Airlines.

The itinerary for my girlfriend and myself arranged by AAA required flying from Sioux Falls, SD, to Minneapolis, on to JFK in New York City and then on to Stockholm, Sweden.

Our trip began to sour while flying from Minneapolis on Aug. 28, 2012. Delta representatives told us aboard the flight that we would have to get off the plane in Chicago before continuing on to New York. Why? We were never told whether it might be a medical emergency, etc. --- only that our time at a gate in Chicago would last about an hour.

Fortunately, the redirection didn't throw off our travel schedule. But it was during our stop in Chicago when Delta's ineptness began to hamper our trip.

We arrived at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport around 7:45 a.m. on Aug. 29 after 14 hours in the air. Exhausted, but excited, we moved to get our bags and get started on making our way to our hotel. Bag after bag was spit out on the luggage carousel. Then, the carousel finally stopped and our fellow travelers began to disappear with their belongings. Ours weren't there.

A little panic set in. How did this happen? How could this happen? We would soon come to find out that while in Chicago, somehow our bags had been removed and not returned to the plane. At least, that was the explanation we were given.

We went to get our rental car after setting up a lost\delayed bag account through Delta at the airport. After expressing our dismay about our bags at the desk for Hertz, a woman kindly upgraded our vehicle from a manual to automatic transmission for no additional charge.

That, friends, is customer service.

Our next few days involved time hunting down toothpaste and other toiletries, clothing and making calls where our bags might be and when they might arrive in Stockholm. Time that could have -- and should have -- been spent enjoying our trip. The phone calls to Delta's baggage tracking folks was amusing and frustrating in itself. We were told our bags were in Chicago -- no wait, Paris -- no, Stockholm; our bags would be at our hotel tonight -- no, tomorrow -- we'll let you know.

Luckily, I didn't have any diabetic supplies in my bag. But there was medication in my girlfriend's bag. Less important, but equally aggravating, was her curling iron was in it. Silly on the surface, but we basically limited where we went and what we did because we didn't want to stroll in high-end restaurants or tourist attractions looking like we just rolled out of bed and off the plane.

My bag arrived after two nights. A report from the airport courier showed that my girlfriend's bag had been found. Not mine. Time to make more calls to Delta's baggage trackers to clarify.

My girlfriend got her bag on the fifth night of our weeklong trip -- after spending $400 on emergency clothing. Good thing we had travel insurance. It covered $250 of that amount. Thanks, Delta.

So, the trip ended on a good note. Or, it seemed to. We got our bags to end our trip. But we had to return home.

Our return to the U.S. came through Minneapolis. Clearing customs, we grabbed our bags and placed them together to go onto a conveyor belt for our return to Sioux Falls. Pretty easy.

We arrived in Sioux Falls around 8:30 p.m. Sept. 4. My girlfriend and I made our way to the baggage carousel, hoping to get our bags and get home quickly. My girlfriend had to travel to Pierre the next day for work. Looking her best was important for her meetings.

My bag came out on the carousel. Hers didn't.

Keep in mind there are no agents behind a Delta ticket counter in Sioux Falls at this time of night. We tracked down an agent from Frontier Airlines and a baggage handler who were able to tell us the bag was scheduled to come on the final flight out of Minneapolis that night. That meant an hour wait.

Before heading home, we made contact with a Delta agent on the phone and thought we had scheduled a courier to deliver the bag to our home when it arrived.

An hour passed. No one showed up.

We decided to drive back up to the Sioux Falls airport to see if the bag could be claimed.

It was claimed all right -- sitting alone out in the open behind the Delta counter.

Since the trip, we wrote a letter to Delta describing the disappointment and aggravation suffered because of the airlines sloppiness and disregard for customer service. This past week, we each were offered a $100 credit voucher.

I'll repeat that: A $100 credit voucher. For a trip that we each spent thousands on.

That's why Delta sucks. And that's why I will keep spreading this message until Delta decides to step it up with that thing once known as customer service.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Aging parents and anxiety

My dad needs a liver transplant.

He is the caregiver to my mom, who is battling the degenerative muscle and tissue disease scleroderma.

I'm watching it all unfold, helpless.

Reality sunk in on Thanksgiving Day.

Scents of sweet potatoes and turkey breasts filled my parents' home, carrying on as business as usual. I can't help but admire them, knowing our life as family is going to change greatly and continues to change rapidly.

But this feeling of bleak days ahead, mixed with touches of their personalities and the memories of togetherness during the holidays, is something I couldn't shake.

It was a pair of jackets my dad gave me. Shoes I was asked to try on and keep if I wanted. Scrapbooks of my brother, Trent, and myself as students, athletes, confirmands, a writer, a soldier -- sons -- were handed off. Paintings of my mom, brother and myself that were composed by a Korean artist my grandfather had hired while he was in the military after lending him photos of us as infants sent by my beautiful young mother were let go.

Scaling down to make way to move into an independent living complex. That's the reason behind my parents' reduction of most of the things tied to our family history -- a history that made me and defines me.

It's difficult to say what's next. My parents' offer their ever-present stiff upper lips. I selfishly sense more anxiety. Worry can't be tossed off when you're hugging your dad when he cries thinking about the possibility of dying too soon. Worry also doesn't go away when your mom says things such as "It wasn't supposed to be like this" through tears.

Strength needs to replace the anxiety, worry and fear. That's what defines us as a family and what I'm probably most thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Monday, September 3, 2012

My first visit to my son, who now lives in Sweden

It was an amazing trip, and one that shows me the impact my son has on my life and how this move also has affected his.

First, his move to Lidingo, Sweden, with my ex at the end of 2010 scared and angered me. How would I see him? Why is it OK for my ex to move to 4,500 miles away and I have no say in that? Would he be OK?

After seeing him during this past week, I can say I am a proud father. Proud that he is smart, appears to be doing well, and most importantly, that I was able to see him.

During my time with him, I was able to watch him enjoy a big dinner of barbecue ribs, listen to him tell a waitress in Swedish that he did not want dijon or cole slaw with a burger, have him lead me through Stockholm's subway system, explode with the excitement of a 10-year-old boy at an aquarium and explain to me the history of the Vasa ship at a museum dedicated to the vessel. But it was even the smaller things -- the hugs, the smiles, listening to him sing a song from "The Lorax" film while walking ahead of me that made me so happy, and alternately so sad.

I think about what I've missed -- and will miss -- while he lives here. Fortunately, on a long walk in Stockholm, he pulled out a loose tooth he had been wrestling with for the better part of a day. It was the third tooth he had lost in the week. It was a tiny moment that as a dad I was grateful to witness.

He didn't seem all that excited that I had brought him gifts representing the Sioux Falls Fighting Pheasants minor league baseball team. A cap? A T-shirt? A baseball signed by the mascot? Baseball isn't popular in Sweden. They were given to him on one of the first nights during my time here. But when I hugged him after dropping him off at his apartment, he patted my back softly and slowly. I did do good.

Can I keep doing good? That's what I wrestle with now. It was an expensive trip. It's expensive to do things here. I don't make enough to come here frequently. And because of my vocalization about my unhappiness about the move here, knowing the cost and distance would strain an already difficult situation, I'm honestly not sure when I will see him again. I will work at it, that I am promising myself. But will it be frequent enough for me, for him, for us, to be good? I don't know. But I am doing all I can do, and that's the best I can do.

And it's not good enough. Just not good enough. And despite the cooperation of my ex and the times I enjoyed with Gabriel this week and the efforts I put forth in the future, the whole situation hurts and it's going to keep on hurting no matter what I do. I'll have to live with it the best that I can.

Friday, July 13, 2012

How one S.D. father is losing the battle to see his son (Part 1)

How One South Dakota Dad Is Losing The Battle To See His Son (Part 1)I don’t know where to turn anymore or what to do. But I guess it’s all my fault. Again.I turned to this blog to get how I feel off my chest. This is better than alcohol and other self-destructive behaviors. That almost ruined me in the past — and almost claimed my life. Those details I will share in a later post.For now, the turn of events this weekend is what tears me up inside. And, like I said, I don’t know what to do anymore.This spring, I learned that my 10-year-old son, Gabriel, would be visiting the U.S. from mid-June to mid-August. My window of time to visit, or so I thought, would be in mid-July. It’s not happening. Why? My ex-wife said so on Saturday, July 7. Why does she get to decide? She’s the primary custodial parent. South Dakota said so.Here’s the summary: My son will be staying with my ex-wife’s father in a little town outside Council Bluffs, Iowa. Drive time: About 150 minutes.My ex-wife’s father also paid for the trip for him to visit — not my ex. Or, at least that’s what she said. She moved to Sweden with my son in December 2010 to take a job teaching. Did I try to stop it? I sure did. But a judge did not find in my favor because she is permitted to find work. It doesn’t matter whether a father expresses concern about the difficulties and expenses that a greater distance a father would have in an effort to see hi boy would have nor, apparently, whether that job is in Europe or Orange City, Iowa. I use Orange City as an example because while I was working as a copy editor for the Argus Leader, I would look at the classifieds for education jobs near Sioux Falls. There was at least one position I remember seeing that she would have been qualified for. That was during a time when my ex-wife had been unemployed for two years while living in Des Moines with our son.That also was a time when my child support was at a level double what it is now. That also was shortly after my ex-wife decided to leave for Sweden. That also was a time when, according to her, it was important that I was more of a father in his life. More on that also later.So, in keeping with that theme and as a father who wants and is fighting to have a relationship with our son, I made plans to bring him to Sioux Falls to spend time with him. I knew he would be in Iowa in mid-July after talking to Gabriel on the phone. He gave me a generic window of when he would be there. It wasn’t my ex, Jen, so much. I get vague details, so it’s left up to me to guess. And plan around guesses. I should ask more questions, I guess. I’m a horrible father.I was told in late March-early April about the trip in an e-mail. I had asked about a summer visit. I thought I had better ask about a summer visit because I was told 11 days before Christmas last year that Gabriel wouldn’t be able to make it to the States for Christmas. Jen couldn’t afford it. More on that in a later post.I sent an e-mail to Jen’s father on June 28 asking when I would be able to see our son. Nothing. Crickets. No reply.So, on July 7, I called my ex’s phone, her dad’s phone and her stepmom’s phone. A short time later, I got a text message from Jen saying I should’ve planned better. I can’t expect to see my son on short notice and should’ve called her father earlier. Besides, her father paid for the trip. And my ex-wife is not my son’s “social secretary.”I told her that South Dakota visitation guidelines do not allow her to forbid me from seeing my son. Especially in a situation such as ours. I also told her that I did indeed intentionally wait until the last minute because of what happened in the summer of 2011. At that time I had scheduled two weekends to see him and told Jen so before my time off was officially approved. Shouldn’t have done that. I didn’t get the one weekend. My following weekend was approved and I enjoyed my time with Gabriel. I was able to get the weekend after that off and told Jen upon my return with him.Too late. I was informed he would be spending that time with her boyfriend in Des Moines before flying back to the East Coast to return home to Sweden.I did not want to get jerked around again this time. But I am now, even though I tried to hold off making plans until I could pin down a time that was guaranteed. But that’s hard to do when you’re given vague details, are fed lies and deception and “it’s not about you.”The quote is part of the last e-mail I received this weekend before deciding to launch this post. I will be writing more about this saga. This isn’t intended to be a sob story. It’s life. A very difficult life.For now, I just want all fathers out there who sincerely are interested in having a relationship with their sons but struggle because of legal, financial or other reasons that are worthy of merit to know that I’m in a losing battle, too. I also want the mothers out there who are primary custodians of children in a divorce to respect those fathers who sincerely are interested in having a relationship with the child or children to honor and respect that. It shouldn’t take a guideline, memo or legal action to generate an act of decency and mutual respect on your end.I’m not perfect. There are reasons why we divorced. More on that in a later post, too. But I’m not behind on child support payments, nor am I a monster, felon, child molester or some other type of cretin who would deserve this type of treatment, either. I’m just a father trying to see his son.So, for now, I will go to bed and continue stewing over what transpired this weekend. Because my brain hurts. My heart hurts, too.
(The photo is of myself and my son in Des Moines about four years ago)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Portfolio entry Part 3 (Dr. John)

The end of a trio of CD reviews recognized by the New Jersey Newspaper Association in 1999. This one could be the closer that prompted VH1 to contact me in March 2000. The network tapped me to be among 300 other critics nationwide to offer 50 suggestions for a "Top 100 Rock and Roll Movies of All-Time" special. Sadly, I don't believe the countdown was made.

This review appeared on page B2 of The Daily Journal in Vineland, N.J., on Sept. 19, 1998.

Headline: Dr. John's "Anutha Zone" will put a spell on you

By Todd Norden
Staff writer

Name: "Anutha Zone"
Artist: Dr. John
Label: Virgin Records

From the moment Dr. John opens his latest recording with the brief, downcast piano solo "Zonata," the listener is transported to some lonesome, smoky dive found in some foggy Louisiana swamp.

Blending Creole and pop like a bewitching shaman, John (a.k.a. Malcolm Rebennack) has an enduring, magical touch that stirs the imagination and cleanses the soul.

Feel the snakes slither between your muddy toes on the sinewy "Ki Ya Gris Gris." Its funky bayou rhythms, accompanied by slapping congas, effectively put the album's juju in motion. Note the crazed South Louisiana field holla by percussionist Herman Ernst, too.

"Voices In My Head" has a catchy, but diffused, power-rock vibe to it, and it's boosted by brass inflections from The Kick Horns.

How do he do the voodoo that he do? Wish I knew.

But Dr. John's charm is almost formulaic. His appeal rests in that scruffy Southern cadence, paired with a jolly piano meter during the chorus and stream of trumpet toots. It's a classic combination that makes "Voices In My Head" and the title cut swing.

John's a clever songwriter, too. "Hello God" has the artist chatting with The Man Upstairs as if the two were sitting on the front porch. Its lazy groove and wah-wah guitar contrasts its soaring chorus and playful keys. And the grammatical travesty "Why Come" is a platform for John's jive-talkin' romp. When John fusses in his phlegm-soaked growl about why boss spelled backward is "double s-o-b" and warns people on the lookout for #1 to watch out because you might step into #2, you just hafta admit this is freakin' cool.

The dull "Party Hellfire" and a bland, quizzical ode to history, "The Olive Tree," hex "Anutha Zone." But there are heaps of dazzle and musical integrity here to make the album a scintillating and worthwhile buy.

Keep on keepin' on Dr. John.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Portfolio entry Part 2 (The Rolling Stones)

Here is the second of the CD reviews that garnered attention from the New Jersey Press Association. A complementary copy of a Rolling Stones CD landed on my desk. That's all I needed to start hitting my stride.

This appeared on B2 of The Daily Journal in Vineland, N.J., on Nov. 7, 1998 (less than a week before I turned 28. Maybe that's why I was hitting my stride, too -- hunger for success was growing).

Headline: You'll get "Satisfaction" out of Stones' latest

By Todd Norden
Staff Writer

Disc: "No Security"
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Label: Virgin Records

The Stones keep rolling and gather no moss on their seventh live album built with highlights from shows during their "Bridges To Babylon" tour.

Few groups endure long enough to record seven live albums (unless of course you're The Grateful Dead). But beyond The Stones' incredible longevity is a vault of timeless songs.

You won't get no "Satisfaction" here, and "Jumping Jack Flash" takes a seat to mid-1970s nuggets and recent singles. That's a welcome treat.

"No Security" begins with Mick Jagger and the gang actually sounding a bit worn on a note-for-note version of the "Voodoo Lounge" anthem "You Got Me Rocking." However, an enthusiastic Ron Wood guitar solo and Chuck Leavell's rollicking honky-tonk piano save the day. Other newer songs included in this set are "Saint Of Me," "Flip The Switch" and "Out Of Control." "Saint Of Me" transforms into a clap-along, sing-along arena chant with a revved Jagger intermittently spitting "C'mon y'all" and "C'mon sugar" between refrains.

Bigger surprises are delivered when The Stones delve into their catalog and share the stage with special guests. Dave Matthews collaborates with Jagger on a foggy-blue version of "Memory Motel" from The Stones' obscure 1976 album "Black and Blue." And blues great Taj Mahal offers an appropriately loose and sloppy interpretation of his song "Corinna" to the mix, while Jagger puffs away at the harmonica.

The redeeming value of "No Security" is several songs that haven't been, or were rarely captured, on live Stones albums. Even Jagger admits before "Live With Me" that it's something they hadn't done in a very long time. Thank God they brought it here. "Live With Me," from 1969's "Let It Bleed," is classic and dirty Stones, especially with Darryl Jones' vigorous bass line drawing naughty grins from listeners' faces. The Stones also effectively recreate "Gimme Shelter's" creepy undercurrent, although Lisa Fischer's backup wailing about rape and murder isn't nearly as spine-tingling as the original. The Stones do its fans a favor by dusting off "Sister Morphine" from 1971's "Sticky Fingers." A rubbery slide guitar gives the song its seedy edge, but when Jagger sings, it eerily recalls another era and yet firmly describes the drug daze of today. And much like the United States since the turbulent 1960s, our country's "stained white sheets are now stained red."

Jagger's and guitarist Keith Richards' songwriting abilities are too often ignored. Compare their mop-topped dance-hall jam "The Last Time" to the snotty and cynical "Respectable," to the soul-searching "Saint Of Me." The differences are like black-and-white versus Web TV.

"No Security" is not "Get Yer Ya-Yas Out," but it shows why you can't keep this good -- actually, the world's greatest -- rock 'n' roll band down. The Rolling Stones' lyrical power has matured from a stealthy panther into an arresting other-worldly power.

Portfolio entry Part 1

I've been digging through past articles I've done during my journalism career and because I failed to keep a digital portfolio during that time and don't have a scanner, I am retyping some of my favorites -- and some to show just what I did. It's kind of a "greatest hits" if you will. Or, better yet, a digital perspective on my past work.

I am starting with one of three CD reviews (yes, CDs -- remember 'em?) written for The Daily Journal in Vineland, N.J., in the late 1990s that, together, earned an award for critical writing from the New Jersey Press Association. Music always has been a favorite subject of mine.

This review was published, as written, on B2 of The Daily Journal on Nov. 28, 1998:

Headline: "Soundtrack remembers glitter rock era"

By Todd Norden
Staff Writer

Disc: "Velvet Goldmine" soundtrack
Artist: Various
Label: London Records

"There was a time\everything was fine\...and all the children\they put the flowers in their hair\and all the grownups\they put daggers there instead." -- From an intro to 1971's "RawRamp" by T. Rex

Every decade has its day, whether it's grunge of the 1990s or disco from the 1970s.

Besides disco, another scene flickered and faded quicker than a moon-age daydream in the '70s. It was glitter rock; part bubble-gum bliss, part gritty hard rock with an undercurrent of sexual ambiguity.

Several British artists were caught between the demise of hippie culture and the advent of punk -- T. Rex, Mott The Hoople, Sweet, David Bowie, Slade, Gary Glitter -- and they wrote songs about alienation, spacemen, unicorns and being pretty. Todd Haynes explores glitter rock's sheen in his new film "Velvet Goldmine." And the soundtrack is a fitting tribute to all those young dudes.

"Velvet Goldmine," named after a Bowie B-side, forges a bond between the old and the new. The Venus In Furs and Wylde Rattz are two glitter band prototypes fronted by Radiohead's Thom Yorke and actors Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. McGregor and Meyers play the lead characters in the film, which are very loosely based on Bowie and Iggy Pop.

Meyers does a fine job singing "Tumbling Down" and injects Brian Eno's "Baby's On Fire" with demented glee. Yorke astonishingly sounds like Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry on the smoky, dreamy "2HB" and the band supplies "Ladytron" with the quirkiness of Mott The Hoople during their "Brain Capers" period. However, McGregor's flat take on "T.V. Eye" is a downer.

The best efforts from a newer group come from Shudder To Think. On "Hot One," the band arranges the perfect balance of fayish falsetto and machismo characteristic of glitter rock. Shudder's "Ballad of Maxwell Demon" also contains the perfect guitar notes, pristine harmonic trills and chopsticks piano accompaniment. Other highlights are Grant Lee Buffalo's campy "The Whole Shebang," the raucous "Personality Crisis" by Teenage Fanclub with guest vocalist Donna Matthews, and the razor-sharp snap of Pulp's "We Are The Boys."

The few bad spots are the boring schmaltz of "Bitter's End" by Paul Kimble and Andy Mackay, and the equally patience-testing "Bitter-Sweet" by The Venus In Furs, lead by Meyers. And while most original glitter rockers either took themselves too seriously or not seriously enough, the cheeze and indifference becomes too heavy-handed after listening to the soundtrack's 19 songs.

While reflecting on this disc, I discovered it's easier to embrace cynicism and reproach as you get older; when I loved glitter rock as a youngster for its imagination and innocence. "Velvet Goldmine" is a worthy nod to the Children of The Revolution. And the Children of Rarn would approve.

Other recommended listens: Sweet's "Desolation Boulevard"; T. Rex's "The Slider" or "Electric Warrior"; Bowie's "Hunky Dory" or "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars"; and Mott The Hoople's "All The Young Dudes."

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Incident: A fresh voice in the Sioux Falls music scene

The Incident performed a 16-song set full of original music Thursday night at Old Skoolz Wine House & Pub (, 921 E. Eighth St., in downtown Sioux Falls. The band brings a refreshing voice and alternative to a scene full of popular cover bands. The Incident are David Hatt (vocals, trumpet), Sean Egan (lead vocals, lead guitar, saxophone), Jim Kirby (rhythm guitar), Greg Hill (bass, background vocals), Lora Egan (trombone) and Mike Glau (drums). The group formed in 2010 and began playing locally in August 2011. Sean Egan describes the band's music as "skunk," or a mash of ska and punk. The Incident's material recalls the sounds of punk and ska heavyweights such as The Clash or The Mighty Mighty Bosstones but with an attitude usually associated with that hunger burning within a spirited, intimate Irish pub. It's music that's not overtly aggressive but balanced with punchy brass accompaniment. "Better Than None" is one such bright and catchy original featuring Hatt on lead vocals and solid drum fills by Glau near the closing. Sean Egan leads the band and his snarl resounds on songs such as "Building An Apocalypse" and "Staring At The Sun." "Staring" also is a song that best exemplifies how this band works together. Egan and Kirby's crisp guitar licks lead in tandem with tight flashes from the horns. Another highlight, "Cropsey," features a tin whistle solo by Lora Egan. It's those types of touches that help The Incident stand out and draw in an audience. Also worth noting is the group's originality. Of the songs performed, The Incident played one cover: "The Silver Tongued Devil And I" by Kris Kristofferson. It was a great take on an old (and somewhat obscure) country nugget. The group closed with "I Need A Beer." It was the first tune the band wrote, according to Lora Egan. Hopefully, it won't be this band's last. The Incident performs Jan. 14 at The Phoenix Lounge, 321 Willow St., Harrisburg. For information, visit and The Phoenix Lounge's official page on Facebook. The Incident's show was part of January Jazz, Blues & Brews @ Old Skoolz. Coming up: Geoff Gunderson, 9 p.m. Jan. 7; Abita Beer Tasting, 7 p.m. Jan. 12; Elisabeth Hunstad, 9 p.m. Jan. 13; Sena Ehrhardt, 8 p.m. Jan. 14 (tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of show); 47Fires, 8:30 p.m. Jan. 19. For more, visit or

Location:Sioux Falls