Friday, March 12, 2010

An extraordinarily inspired account (if I may say so) of intrepid peripatetics

Dear readers:

With the caveat that the following account is just over 11 months dated, I present you with a little gem that I today uncovered. Please be kind enough to pardon the occasionally unedited nature of the work.


1:00p, Monday April 7. Washington.

I’d just learned that my afternoon class – my only one of the day – had been cancelled, and feeling positively restless after a weekend with little in the way of excitement, I pointed my Firefox browser towards ITA Software to check out fares for same-day travel.

Such action surely seems ill-advised, even insane perhaps, but the would-be critic should be cognizant that on my mind’s front-burner was the thought of maximizing potential frequent-flier program benefits, thereby ensuring that the trip’s bang-for-the-buck extend beyond the immediate twelve hours of seemingly reckless consumption.

After a check of the usual West Coast destinations yielded nothing palatable, I focused my attention on the Northeast and struck proverbial gold with New York City. Fares on Delta were in the neighborhood of $120 roundtrip – cheap for an advance-purchase fare, and phenomenal for a walk-up; furthermore, flight times were near-ideal, and upgrades looked highly likely. I was booked moments later, proceeded to throw some belongings into my backpack, and left for the airport via Georgetown’s GUTS bus and the Blue line Metro service. My booked itinerary was:

DL 6676, DCA-JFK, 2:57p-4:20p, CR9 equipment
DL 6787, JFK-DCA, 9:45p-11:15p, CR9 equipment

Low-lying cloud assaulted Washington with rain throughout the morning of April 7, and while enroute to Washington’s centrally-located Ronald Reagan National Airport, my mobile buzzed into life, displaying an incoming call from one of my saved contacts: “DL Res.” The computer-generated voice, after a courteous greeting, shared the news that DL 6676, my CR9 ride to JFK, would be delayed until 5:00p. Of course, this just would not do, especially given the time-compressed parameters of my half-day hop.

(Bravely setting off)

I arrived speedily at DCA, hastened my way through the sparsely-populated security check, and headed straight to the gate of DL 5918, the 2:30p Delta Shuttle flight to LaGuardia (of course, located just across town from JFK). I presented to the gate agent the quandary of my delayed sector and short NYC ground-time, concluding with the request that I take the Shuttle instead, and the agent straight-away presented me with a boarding pass for the flight. After quickly stocking-up on a fresh roasted turkey sandwich and a banana for the flight, and thereafter availing myself of the day’s FT and NYT from the stash that Delta provides complimentary for Shuttle passengers, I took my seat near the gate, where boarding had just commenced. The reason for my reticent disposition towards marching down the jetway was – as many Delta flyers know quite well – that the airline clears upgrades but fifteen minutes before departure.

Now, a word about this chimera. Upgrades, like no other frequent-flier freebie, conjure images of undeserving entitlement and haughtiness of the highest order. Reality, however, is far more mundane. Short-haul domestic first class provides a somewhat larger seat, space at the aircraft’s pointy end, and perhaps a drink or two – hardly bennies that deserve loftiness by the have’s and lust by the have-not’s. In my opinion, the subjective value of domestic First becomes significant only when one flies so much that a degree of tedium encroaches upon the experience. That’s certainly a subjective threshold, different for everyone, and I’ve only rarely gotten there. Per this theory, therefore, I would truly desire an upgrade only, say, after a speedy succession of transcontinental or transoceanic treks; and I do find supporting empirical evidence in my own experiences. To sum up, then, I hope that talk of upgrades does not conjure associations of sickly snobbishness. An upgrade is graciously appreciated, but nineteen times out of twenty, flying in the back – even way, way in the pits – can still be a thoroughly positive experience.

As 2:15p struck – and I could almost hear the clock tower of Healy Hall some four-and-a-half miles to the north-northwest – the gate agent began to move down the list. After butchering my admittedly difficult surname, I had a new boarding pass in hand and proceeded finally towards the waiting Embraer 175.

On a side note, Delta recently replaced their MD-80 “Maddog” Shuttle service with the significantly smaller E75 aircraft, a move that places the airline at a capacity disadvantage but a fixed-cost advantage against their arch competitor on the route, the US Airways Shuttle. Given the present economic turmoil, it seems like a shrewd move.

I stepped into the cabin and noticed that F was about half-filled, but seat 1A, a prime spot since seating in this cabin is one-aisle-two, was unfilled. I proceeded to settle in, and, after enjoying a pre-departure glass of orange juice, noticed that we were beginning our push-back right on schedule.

The flight was absolutely delightful. Our journey commenced with a roll down runway 14 (shorter than runway 19 and used only by regional aircraft only) and a vigorous climb into the unsettled, mostly cloudy skies; winds had already blown most of the land-hugging rain cloud towards the northwest. I made short work of my brought-aboard sandwich and banana, enjoyed a 187.5ml bottle of mediocre merlot, and helped myself to another banana and Delta’s ubiquitous Biscoff cookies from a snack basket passed around by the courteous flight attendant. Soon enough, our pilot-in-command was executing alternating crisp turns to dodge the cumulous giants; we were catching up with the inclement weather and soon enough were taxiing through a persistent shower to our Marine Air Terminal gate at LGA.


3:40p, Monday April 7. New York City.

The Marine Air Terminal is lovely: diminutive and calm, elegant with oozing historicity, enshrined with evocative mural-work and sculpture, comfortable with spacious lounge-seating and club-like atmosphere. Alas, I did not linger to breath-in the milieu, and my dash outdoors, into the precipitation, proved particularly prescient, as my arrival at the adjacent bus-stop coincided with that of the sluggish M60. I was forearmed with a valid Metrocard, from which $2.00 in fare was deducted, and we slowly stepped away into the sluggish weather and traffic. A few minutes later, I changed for the N line at Astoria, and as the New York markets closed at 16:00 I was emerging from the subway at Lexington and 59th.

Here my fortunes temporarily dipped. Increasingly cognizant of a pulsating, hunger-induced headache, I darted into a promising-looking local diner. Per my book, this is as good as it gets; I love discovering dives that are off-the-beaten-path, gloriously unfranchised, idiosyncratic and independent, fiercely local. Yet the “East Sider Chicken Sandwich” I ordered was a risky leap off a sea-hugging cliff – straight into barely submerged, jagged rock of greasiness, excessive saltiness, and over-reliance on unappetizing white bread. I sought to remedy the precarious culinary condition with a new-found favourite: Fage Greek yoghurt with honey, washed down with a lovely V8 (I cannot possibly be the only one that likes this drink!). Alas, the Fage was of the full-fat variety, and I could not stomach the whole container. My final dubious decision of the visit was a last-ditch splurge on grapefruit juice, only to discover it to be pumped full of sugar (it tasted nothing like the Trader Joes grapefruit juice, which is magnificent).


Knocking the establishment’s proverbial dust off my shoes, I ventured into the rain anew, determined to head north along Lexington in search of a Starbucks. Yes, I do think their coffee is generally horrible (though I do confess to having a soft spot for their lattes), but their real value-added is the now-standard AT&T wifi connection, to which I have free access thanks to having the company’s DSL at my Chicago home; I needed the connection to find the address of St. Patrick’s church, where I was hoping to attend 5:30p Mass.

To my disbelief, I was finding myself increasingly immersed in the resplendent riches of the Upper East Side, but there was nary a Starbucks to be seen – or any mass market brands, for that matter. I did chance upon the Hewitt School, where one of my Uni friends was once a student. There were also instances of under-stated, old-money luxury:

(Hewitt school)

(Lexington Ave.)

Having reached Madison and 90th street, a full 1.8 miles away, per god-like Google Maps, I decided to turn back. I was giving up hope on this useless neighborhood, and just wanted to get on the subway (I was a bit cranky, as another hunger-induced headache was budding; this is quite a recurrent problem at times with my high octane metabolism). But then: could it be? Yes! A Starbucks! At no time in history was man ever so overjoyed to spot an inferior product.

I eagerly abandoned the rainy outdoors to enter the coffee shop and ordered a tall drip coffee; indeed, it was burnt and flavorless, probably having been reheated for some hours. But all was well once I successfully connected to the wifi. In no time, I located a nearby Roman Catholic church with a 6:00p Mass (it was already past 5:30p, and I was dozens of blocks from St. Patrick’s). Pleased with my sudden good fortune, I set out.

Mass on this Monday of Holy Week proved memorable at the small chapel beside (insert church name). I’d have never found the intimate, wood-paneled space, located through a side rectory entrance and down a tight hallway, if a grandmotherly septuagenarian had not gingerly guided us along. Inside, Mass had commenced moments earlier (those who know me, know that gentle tardiness is a regrettably frequent symptom of my ambitious schedules). Presiding was an avuncular, thoughtful priest, soft-spoken, gentle-voiced and most probably big-hearted. His cultivated appearance furthered the charitable image; full-bearded, hair tussled, and moderately chubby, he seemed hopelessly focused on a higher truth.

(Distinctive high-rise)

Upon my return to the streets of the Upper East Side after the uplifting service, a pleasant surprise: the clouds had begun to decisively drift away, as they had in Washington around mid-afternoon. Not only was the rain in retreat, but there were even ephemeral peeks of the setting sun’s effervescent rays. All roads lead to Starbucks, some wise sage once declared, and so it was now; I returned to the 87th and Lexington locale to scheme and strategize. Back on the full-strength wifi, I googled for some decent coffee shops and found an excellent NYT blog post with suggestions. One, Gimme! Coffee, is near the apartment of one of my City-dwelling friends, Victoria, and a feeler text was promptly sent to investigate the possibility of a spontaneous drink for two.

Moments later, I was speeding downtown on the express (insert line) train towards Broadway and 14th. So delightful, that the peripatetic party had traverse (insert distance) miles of traffic-clogged city in a mere two-stop subway surge; if only Washington had a way of bolting between, say, Metro Center and Rosslyn, avoiding the too-frequent intermittent stops. Gimme! was the destination no longer, as a different coffee shop was more convenient for V, and I was quite content to simply avoid another Starbucks concoction. We soon met and a great hour of coffee and light supper followed.

8:15p, my provisional time for commencing the return to distant JFK, came and went – my being firmly ensconced within post-modernism’s version of the town square (i.e. the coffee shop) until half-nine. Yet even the quarter-past-eight goal was optimistic, as any Soho frequent traveler would attest, for making a 9:45p departure from JFK. Once I was finally underway, I knew the terminal arrival would be nail-bitingly close.

(Underground tunnel with curious parallel steel ribbons)


I dashed to 34th on the N subway and waited only a few minutes for the next Long Island Railroad (LIRR) departure for Jamaica. Enroute, I consulted the Skyteam timetable for re-route options but found the pickings slim. Not only were there no later Delta flights to any Washington-area airport, I was finding absolutely no domestic Delta flights departing after my flight – until I checked Boston, that is. There was my one, single Plan B: a 10:00p departure, from which I could connect to a 6:40a flight on the following morning to Washington Reagan. Such an itinerary would get me into the District nearly an hour earlier than if flying the first morning nonstop from JFK. Furthermore, I knew I’d be in no mood to take the “ride of shame” – the Airtrain back and then the LIRR into town – after potentially missing my flight, hence making the 10:00p service to Boston a preferred outcome.

I pulled into Jamaica at approximately 9:15p and proceeded to execute a no-holds-barred sprint to the Airtrain platform located some 250 meters away. Departure on the computer-guided railway occurred at 9:20p, with only twenty-five minutes remaining until departure and fifteen until the scheduled closing of the gate.

It must be re-iterated: the situation was not utterly bleak. As I had purchased my $68 ticket earlier in the day, I was entitled to a full refund for any reason, per Delta’s 24-hour cancellation policy. Thus, a missed flight would not entail forfeiture of monies paid. Furthermore, there remained the option of the Chinatown bus lines to Washington; though admittedly unappealing, the bus could get me to my Georgetown University campus bed by the early morning.

The Airtrain pulled into the Terminal 2 station at precisely 9:30p and, needless to say, I sprinted off. Up the escalator with but a curt apology to the right-side standees as I whizzed past, acceleration to full Michael Johnson speed down the moving walkway, an impatient descent down the lethargic lift to the departures level.

Needing the miracle of an empty security line, fate instead dealt the near-knockout blow of closed security check. Not having much prior experience with Delta’s JFK operations, I had not realized that the premium passenger lobby closes prior to departure of the last bank of flights. Now, ever more harried, I hustled down a cruel labyrinth of serpentine turns and poor signage to another check-in lobby at the terminal’s back-side; to increase my travails further still, the relocation even required a dash through the now-pouring rain outside.

Finally through security, the time was approximately 9:45p and, upon quickly consulting a departures board for the identity of my gate, proceeded to run, laptop computer hugged firmly to my chest and backpack plopping around on right shoulder. I ran, rounded a corner, ran some more, took a few tight turns, accelerated further down a moving walkway or two, took a ramp up and another down. My mouth becoming parched, I was firmly committed to this folly and continued to run. And after some five full minutes of working out, I arrived to a gate 25 at which the status monitor proclaimed: “DL 6787, Boarding.” Hazzah!, I thought, but of course, it was too good to be true. Turning hopeful-eyed to the gate agent, I learned my flight had closed up.

Perhaps there’s a mechanical or other delay that would permit me to still board?, I pleaded, but to no avail. Luckily, I still had some wits about me and remembered by back-up Boston plan; as that flight was also operated with regional jet equipment, it was boarding at gate 25 as well! And so, turning back to the gate agent, I explained that I could fly to Boston and then down to Washington the following morning, with the routing allowing an earlier arrival than would a nonstop JFK-DCA sector. Mindful only of closing up the Boston-bound flight, the agent absent-mindedly acquiesced, printed me a boarding passed, and hurried me down onto the tarmac.

Thus, my fortunes had turned on a dime; I’d be heading to one of my favourite cities in the most spontaneous of fashions! The rain was now pouring as from a bucket, and I dashed through the bit of exposed apron to the stairs of the Canadair regional jet, pausing for just a moment to take in the brilliant, charged atmosphere. Push-back would occur moments later and, seated next to a deadheading pilot with whom I’d share great conversation, we were underway to Logan International.

(Disembarking our ship @ Logan)

(Boston, you quicken my heart's beat!)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

06/03: Swiftly to and through St. Louis, Part 1

About three fortnights ago, it was my pleasure to spend a whirlwind afternoon in the Gateway to the American Midwest, the iconic, energetic, unmistakably-aging St. Louis.

As my blitz-paced trips typically go, that Saturday sojourn was book-ended with flights on my airline of choice, United, was chock-full of visited spots within the destination city, and afforded opportunities for intellectual stimulation, thinking, and writing. Atypically, however, I only committed to Saturday’s wanderings late on Friday night, or about nine hours before I would leap from ORD’s runway 22L en-route to Lambert Field. To be sure, the seeds for a potential journey were firmly planted for some time deep within my brain, somewhere between the neurons that continually push me towards spontaneous, intellectual travels and the brain matter responsible for happiness / fulfillment / etc. Trips do seem an integral part of my raison d’etre, given their revelation of artistic and architectural beauties, anthropological nuance, and a personal level of historical understanding, to highlight but three domains from which I often derive very real intellectual gratification, particularly on trips to fresh locales. And that is not all; travel is also a tremendous aid in re-evaluating my own goals, strategies in reaching them, and in my recently exhibited performance. I can be a harsh critic, and time for intensive, honest, and inspired self-assessment is golden.

Mindful of these myriad of benefits, I was actively considering the calculus of various potential jaunts’ competing value propositions; metropolitan areas under review included New York City, St. Louis and Cincinnati. Vigorously pulsating Manhattan was atop my list, particularly as a midweek edition of the FT brought to my attention an exhibit of Eero Saarinen’s architecture at an Uptown museum. A near-worshiper of the divine arcs, airy and clerestory-like windows, and monumental volumes that the inspired Finn summoned within Dulles airport’s colossal Main Terminal, I was ravenous for a chance to contemplate within a dedicated exhibit his other masterpieces, which include heavy-weights like the St. Louis Gateway Arch and JFK’s soaring TWA terminal. And the show would move to Yale at the end of January, giving further impetus to a NYC daytrip.

Yet pricing was unappealing. LGA could be had for just north of $150 and would afford some 6.5 hours of ground time (whittled down to five, once ground transportation and pre-departure airport arrival would be factored in). While I yearned to see the Saarinen exhibit, I also wanted to diversify with time for a leisurely coffee, opportunities for wandering and possibly making serendipitous discoveries, etc. In contrast, CVG (Northern Kentucky / Covington / a.k.a. Cincinnati metro area) was pricing at $95 for slightly longer ground time. After a few pleasant jaunts through CVG early last year while utilizing my status-matched Northwest Airlines Worldperks Gold credentials, including one odyssey aboard the TANK municipal bus lines into the downtown area, I was eager to return for a bowl of chili and further studies of the quintessentially Midwestern post-industrial decay, depression, and scattershot, fledgling rebirth.

STL -- Lambert Field and its Dulles-inspired (though not nearly as grand or sublime) main terminal hall -- would finally edge-out the value proposition contest. Desiring admiration of Saarinen’s work, the prospect of rigorously contemplating his most celebrated, soaring and iconic achievement -- and in situ, not via two dimensional museum snapshots -- was a major selling point. Fares to St. Louis and its Gateway Arch were a mere $97. The other selling points: STL is efficiently linked to city centre and its near-suburban Art Museum campus, the sprawling and manufactured-bucolic Forest Park, via a light railway with fast and frequent service. I could distill eight or nine hours of ground time thanks to a well-timed flight schedule and a briefer flying time, all the while affording a valuable option of earlier return, if I should have desired to work an evening stint as an O’Hare Travelers Aid volunteer. And I’d never been to St. Louis since coming of age as an enlightened and discriminating individual (if I may take the liberty of saying so). Having solved these differential equations on Friday night (and including many more esoteric variables than I’ve hitherto revealed, including opportunities for taking a so-called ‘bump’ due to a flight over-sale, availability of my preferred seats and upgrade chances, local weather forecasts, the promise of inspired local dives for lunch or coffee, etc.), I decided upon St. Louis! I booked my flights around 11:30pm, set my alarm for 5:15am, and would be pushing back at 8:04am.

The first moments of morning were difficult. Under-rested after a strenuous work week, I recoiled at having to awake at my usual M-F hour, rather than sleeping-in to a luxurious seven or 7:30am. But when a zip on the cute and vibrant Embraer 145 awaits, how can I possibly complain? After the morning routine and a large three-course breakfast were expeditiously accomplished, I motored off -- for my usual leisurely reading of the Weekend FT at Starbucks. Energized by the literary eloquence and substantive political-economic content of the experience, I then commenced an aggressive, full-throttled assault of the John F. Kennedy expressway, bound for O’Hare and recording an average speed that must be near the takeoff gallop of many an aircraft. The silky, southern sounds of Swift beat full-throatedly from the Toyota‘s speakers -- admittedly, a guilty pleasure that can be justified only by moderated intake, given the pantheon of more worthy auditory accomplishment that exists, and that could have instead been contemplated. I know no moderation when positively jazzed by an unfolding trip.

Soon I was approaching the dawn-kissed O’Hare grounds and, eschewing frugality, I shot into the City’s cash cow parking garage. In an apex of decadence, I opted for a ground-level parking spot ($51/day), thus saving a 60 second commute down an elevator, in lieu of the higher levels ($31/day). I shall explain later!

Never has a mortal achieved such supremacy of the airport departure experience -- and I write with the experience of over five hundred thousand butt-in-seat miles under my belt. (I trust that you, patient reader, shall forgive the forthcoming boastfulness!) Leaving Starbucks around 7:20 or 7:25am, I shot across the 10.3 miles of space to ORD’s main parking garage, taking in perhaps two or 2.5 of Taylor Swift’s mesmerizing ballads to youth and love in the interim, before parking in the ‘money’ section, darting the approximately two or three hundred feet to ORD’s employee security screening area (just south of GS check-in, near B5), and then scanning my RFID-enabled, ORD personnel badge, providing a positive fingerprint scan (on the second try), and then positively strolling through the screening lane. Having thus waltzed through the formalities of airside access, I then executed a confident and vigorous walk to the area around F11, savouring the liberation of not needing to unduly rush, and arrived at the gate reader with about 4 minutes of boarding time remaining, or approximately 7:50am. As this is a (true!) tale of the absolute apogee of the human travel experience, the gate agent manning the gate reader was uncommonly cheerful and greeted me by name as I approached. Yes, I was the last passenger to arrive, and the aircraft was ready to depart. We exchanged smiling pleasantries, and I was thanked for my business as a 1K (top-tier) Mileage Plus member. Brilliant!

Executing a controlled descent down the pronouncedly downward sloping jet way -- those 145s do sit quite close to the ground! -- I was exuberant at having seized the opportunity to travel on that weekend day. In particular, after many evenings of late spent at ORD as a Travelers Aid volunteer, I was itching to finally complete the deed, to finish my journeys to the air field with a full-throttled acceleration and leap into the heavens, not with the Blue Line ride home after assisting immigrant laborers from Romania, Heartland Americana folk bound for Cedar Rapids or Charleston, and the odd dead-heading United F/A seeking the local Lego store for her four-year-old‘s edification. Indeed, I do love breathing and living the airport milieu, including parceling out experienced assistance like that just described; but nothing compares to the thrill felt after a tower controller announces “United XXX, cleared for takeoff.”

And soon, so wonderfully soon, I was airborne, where bliss and clairvoyance are invariably but a contemplative thought away. The journey to St. Louis was, objectively, none too pleasant, with a crying baby less than a dozen feet from my eardrum, with cloud above and below our 22,000 feet cruise altitude sullying any potential inspired earthly geography or heavenly sky, with a brief flight time inadequate for serious writing or reading. Yet, my own experience was starkly to the contrary! Our roll down 22L, with torso pushed carefully -- even tenderly -- against the padded seats, the mind accelerating in line with our trusty little flying machine, was mesmerizing, and soon afterward, I was positively surprised to learn that the flight attendant on this short-duration, regional jet -operated flight would actually conduct a proper beverage service. Emboldened to similar feats of productivity, I re-doubled my efforts to polish off the FT, going into sections for which I rarely have time, such as the various essays on the editorial pages. Strictly to aid absorption of said content, I availed myself of the onboard bar -- or, in less flowery language, placed an order during the beverage service that required the support of a United ‘drink chit’ -- and was soon sipping a tomatoe juice and vodka (not a bloody mary!; those mixes further spike the already criminal sodium content of a simple tomatoe juice). Having clearly scoped out the passenger manifest, which has notations for the quantity of a passenger‘s business, the flight attendant singled me out towards the flight’s end by coming to my seat and discreetly asking whether I would like another drink or some other service. While never an expectation, such unscripted extra attention is certainly much appreciated by us frequent fliers!

(Lambert: a Dulles look-alike)

(The Protagonist)

And so, our fifty-seater (well, 54 including 3 crew seats plus a cockpit jump seat) was all-too-soon navigating the ILS glide-slope to 19L (if I recall correctly) at the erstwhile TWA fortress hub. Having pierced the low cloud layer only seconds before touchdown, my first visual impressions of the city and suburbs would have to wait until my forthcoming light-rail commute. But before boarding that navigator of parallel steel ribbons, I performed the obligatory task of retrieving my return boarding pass from a United Easycheckin machine and, determining the next train departure to be some minutes away (I was carrying a printed light-rail schedule in my jacket pocket, created on Friday night during my last minute -- but still solid -- preparations!), I productively used the downtime to snap some artistic impressions of Lambert.

Pleased with my morning thus far, I was nonetheless slightly uneasy during the half-hour roll down the right-of-way of the fin-de-siecle, heady railroad era -- the history was apparent from the incongruously aged stone viaducts we occasionally passed under, which obviously pre-dated the modern light railway to a significant extent. Impetus for the perturbation was a pressing need to do some needed critical thinking, strategizing, and writing, work that I had put off yet which was critically needed. (Us writers are a strange lot.) I had given myself the goal of accomplishing something substantial while in St. Louis, but could I deliver?

(The relic: an overview)

(Lattice handiwork)

Abhorring the thought of perpetuating the unease, I decided to tackle the problem head-on. I disembarked from the light railway at the stop entitled “Union Station” where, presumably, I’d succeed in finding a quiet nook or caffeine-greased dive to tango with my netbook’s keyboard. And I’m pleased to report that I succeeded, with sincere apologies for the sudden anticlimactic curtness. But the real story here is the anthropological experience that was Union Station.

Which will have to wait, along with the remainder of this trip report’s content, to the forthcoming second installment! Cheers for your readership!

Friday, March 5, 2010

04/03: Markets nudge higher in anticipation of Friday's employment report

Equities ticked modestly higher on Thursday with bolder moves curtailed by uncertainty ahead of Friday's (i.e. today's) monthly employment report. The S&P500 added 0.4% to close at 1123, with an intra-day high of 1124 and an intra-day low of 1117.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

03/03: Markets pronounced dead. Second day of flat-lining

Markets chopped around during the middle day of the trading week, with the S&P500 up fractionally (and less than 0.1%) to close at 1119. The I-D high and low values of the index were 1126 and 1117, respectively. Of particular note, price action dipped aggressively below the 50SMA (using 15 minute bars) with a long thrust in the 2:00p (EST) hour. Here's a 10-day from the customary source:

The other two main benchmarks were likewise little changed: the DJIA settled at 10397 after a dip of 0.1%, while the NASDAQ closed unchanged from Tuesday, i.e. at 2281.

In my own trade, I scurried away from long positions taken at Tuesday's close, selling each into strength near the market's open, and reaping slight gains on each position. In the case of BA, I was concerned that Tuesday's resistance of $65.00 would not be broken. Indeed, price action retreated to below the 50SMA (using 15-minute bars). Here's what bigcharts says:

With regards to BAC, $16.57-16.60 is a significant support/resistance level at multiple points on a 60-day; hence, it was a logical exit position. Indeed, price retreated upon hitting an intra-day high of $16.62. Here's a 10-day:

Regarding QCOM, I likewise pulled the sell trigger as price approached the upper demarcation of an important price channel off the 60-day. Indeed, price action consolidated just under the price channel for the remainder of the session -- a bullish sign compared to the alternative of pulling back strongly. I expect to re-enter a long QCOM position if I perceive a durable break above the upper price channel during today's trade. Here's a 60-day (1-hour bars) from ThinkOrSwim:

In closing, I expect another subdued trading day today ahead of tomorrow's critical BLS employment report. Indeed, /ES futures (e-mini S&P500 futures, a 24-hour market) are currently showing only slight change compared to yesterday's close -- up about 2 points -- indicating that markets will open with only slight change. Yet no bets are certain vis-a-vis the equity markets; a forecast sleeper could turn out to be a thriller. Good luck, snake oil salesmen!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

02/03: Markets flat-line

Markets traded tepidly on the second day of March, with the S&P500 closing ahead by 0.2 percent and settling at 1118. The intra-day high and low, respectively, were 1123 and 1117. Yes, the trading range was indeed just shy of 7 points. Here's a 10-day chart (15-minute bars) with a 50-period SMA, courtesy of

In my own trade, I decided to dip my toes into the long waters yesterday. Many leading stocks became attractive upon the late-afternoon market pull-back, and I entered BAC and BA, each at key support levels ($16.40 in the case of the former, a key level off the 60-day; $64.35 in the case of the latter, an important support off the 10-day chart). Gold and the USD notched bullishness. In the case of the precious metal, one should be mindful that present prices, while off of last year's highs in USD terms, are actually at all-time highs in EUR terms. Something to ponder!

With the bell <60 seconds away, good luck tight rope walkers!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

01/03: Markets continue advance, spurred by M&A

Equity markets advanced on solid footing yesterday, with the broad-based S&P500 ahead 1.0 percent, or 11 points, to 1116. The index's close was its highest since mid-January, and its intra-day high -- also 1116 -- surpassed the mid-February intra-day highs on about 1113. Markets seem firmly en-route to, at least, a re-test of the mid-January high of 1150.

Leading equities onward was an announcement of a significant deal in the insurance industry: British insurer Prudential announced a purchase of AIG's Asian business in a deal worth $35.5bn.

Airlines continued their rip to higher ground, with many issues notching fresh 52-week highs. UAUA popped as high as 18.49, settling up 5.1 percent at 18.03 on heavy (but not quite capitulation) volume. LCC continued its month-long sprint, advancing 5.0 percent to 7.69; it began February around $5.50.

Gold is maintaining a more bullish hue, with price action hugging key resistance from the 1-month chart around $1125; this follows a bounce in the middle of last week from a key sloping support level (around $1090). Possibly expect an explosive advance if $1130 is breached. Longer-term outlook for the yellow metal is also favourable, assuming the USD begins to weaken anew, which it most certainly would should the Greek debt situation be expeditiously resolved.

Good luck, traders. And be careful in shorting those pesky airline shares.