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Going Home: First Class

June 27th, 2006

MONDAY JUNE 26, 2006 – ALASKA FLIGHT 369, FIRST CLASS Compared to the last seat, last row, next to the engine on the way down to Sacramento, first class is pretty damn nice. No, I don’t have the money. No, I didn’t get an upgrade. It’s just that there are 11 of us on this MD80 and, believe it or not, five wanted to sit in the main cabin. First class comes with plush seats, warm nuts, and scotch.

I’m having a little bit of a problem with this though; today was 100 degree heat spent tromping through the dust of the construction site for the Pacific Ethanol facility under construction in Madera, California, followed by manure and feed at a dairy farm. I’m talking alternative energy while burning thousands of gallons of jet fuel to get home in an empty aircraft usually meant for 128 people and their luggage.

The connection between the construction and the dairy is the ethanol plant is essentially a brewery with a byproduct of distiller’s grain. That grain is good cattle feed but when it is wet it spoils in about a week. Pacific Ethanol is building its plant in Madera for two reasons; there’s an ethanol market and there’s a grain market. The oppressively flat Central Valley has vineyards, orchards, and dairy farms. And sprawl. There is also one large cattle producer but they’re a little cagey about the media, seeing as their cattle are destined for slaughter.

Because of their location Pacific Ethanol won’t have to dry the grain, saving on energy, and with the cattle market and the nearby rail lines it seems like a well planned business.

But we’ll see. They’re expected to be online in the fourth quarter of this year but ethanol facilities are (comparatively) growing like wild fire and expected to produce a glut in the ethanol market. So says the New York Times.

Right now, all I can say is while sleeping out on the top of El Cap again would be nice, I’m looking forward to my own bed and some more tolerable temperatures. I hear it’s only in the mid 90’s back home.

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