The Man Trying to Kill You May Not Be

So, it’s O’Dark-Thirty, and I’m trying to find the rental car return in Peoria International Airport.

I’m poking along, trying not to miss the Avis sign, when a Parking Shuttle bus comes roaring up behind me. Good Lord, man, can’t you see I’m lost?

I realize I’m in the Hertz return area, and it looks like real parking after that, so it’s time to turn around. This is why I leave early for the airport.

I’m slowly making my way down the lot when the insane shuttle bus comes roaring up behind me, again. WTF? I’m lost. Go pick up someone who knows where they are.

One more U-Turn, and the shuttle is behind me again. Seriously?

Now, he’s honking his horn.

That’s it. I’m going to die.

So, I pull over and roll down the window.

He says, “Need help?”

Wait. What? He’s not a murderer?

“I’m trying to find Avis.”

“Follow me.”

The van roars off at quite an inappropriate speed for a parking lot, but it’s not like anybody else is here.

He leads me to Avis (in my defense, it was out of the way.)

I parked and he said, “Want a ride over?”

Now, I can see the terminal, and my FitBit thinks I need the steps, but I’ve got two computers and two suitcases, and he seems friendly, for a murderer.

“Sure.”

“I’ll take you to drop your bags first, because the rental counters aren’t open yet. It’s easier to drop the bags, then drop the keys.

I was trying to get you to stop, because you looked lost, and you kept going. I was just following you, because I figured you needed help.”

So, trying to get me to stop so you can render aid just looks like stalking. Good to know.

So, a quick ride to the terminal, quick instructions on where everything is, and I’m good to go.

I’m back to being early, which is much better than being lost.

So, thank you, early morning shuttle driver, for taking pity on me, driving me around, and explaining the lay of the land.

Oh, and for not murdering me.

Lowered Expectations

I’m in Peoria, Illinois on business for three weeks, and two-thirds of the trip is now behind me. So, I will update this as required for the last week. I had quite a head of steam up the first week, writing everything down, but after that, I either got complacent or I managed to lower my expectations to where they were being met.

Somewhere along the line, it became too long and bitchy for a Yelp review, so it was graduated to a blog post.

I had some trepidation about staying at a Quality Inn, but this is my first contracting assignment with this company and nobody told me the hotel limits, and I was originally told the travel desk didn’t do hotels. (Had I been more in practice, I would have stayed at a really expensive place and said, “Nobody said there were limits”, but I really need to be reimbursed, and I’d like to keep the job, if nothing else for my resume.) If you put “quality” in the name, you’re probably concerned about being considered low quality. I can never remember where on the food chain Quality is, I think it’s actually below Comfort. However, I think it’s above Sleep.

I checked in on Sunday, May 20th, after my flight to Peoria got canceled and I got rerouted to Bloomington, instead. So, that was an extra hour’s drive. At that point, any room would be good. I hoped.

The room is not bad. It’s not a suite, but it’s designed for long-term stays (I think.) There’s a dishwasher, a refrigerator and a microwave. There are (some) plates and glasses. Well, one less, because I dropped one. There are pots and pans – but nowhere to use them. There is a minimal amount of silverware.

All I really needed was a fridge, a decent-sized glass and an ice bucket. I drink soda in the room. I don’t cook.

I filled my ice bucket Sunday night. By Monday morning, I had a bag of water. I went to Walmart that evening to get some other stuff, and got myself a big-ass glass. So, I didn’t really use the ice bucket after that, which was good, since when I got back to the room, I still had a bag of water. On Saturday, I still had a bag of water. I began wondering how long this would go on. I will be impressed if it is still there after three weeks. (The bag was replaced either Monday or Tuesday of my second week. By that time, I had stopped looking – but I caught it in the corner of my eye as I was making coffee Wednesday morning.)

When I got back from work on Monday, I had a hand-written note from the maid on the bed. She hadn’t made the bed because I had left my gym shorts and t-shirt on it, and she can’t touch my stuff. Ma’am, if you’ve cleaned any lonely businessmen’s towels and sheets, you should not be afraid of shorts and a t-shirt.

My wife hates that I leave my t-shirt and shorts on the bed, but it’s an interesting test for me. I’ve had some maids fold them, some drape them on a chair, some toss them on a chair, and one folded them and put them on the pillow. One folded them and put them under the pillow. And then, one wrote me a note.

Tuesday evening, I realized I had a laundry order form but no laundry bag. I needed to send some shirts out since I refuse to iron, and I’m allergic to doing laundry. So, I went down to the front desk and got a laundry bag. It tore when I filled it, but I can’t pack like my wife.

Wednesday morning, I staggered down to the front desk first thing, before I forgot about it, since it was in by 9, back by 6. So, I arrive in shorts and a t-shirt, with a laundry bag in hand. The clerk said, “Checking Out?” Quite the leap. I guess hobos stay here. 

After he took the laundry, I decided to grab some breakfast. The woman restocking the spread said I couldn’t be in there because I didn’t have shoes on. So, hobos can sleep here, they just can’t eat.

That night when I got back from work, no laundry. This did not really surprise me. At a hotel, it would surprise me. Here, not so much.

Thursday night, when there was no laundry and also no emergency medical shipment from my doctor, I went to the front desk. Since my room is at the very end of the hallway, this is an excellent way for me to get my steps in. 

Now, I admit, I am having a senior moment on my room number – I’m off by 2 constantly. I didn’t know that was the issue, but I considered it. 

The front desk guy recognized me – in fact, when I got two sodas from the little shop and told him the wrong number, I went back to correct it, and he already had.

“Did I get a package? And, have you seen my laundry?”

His manager asked my name. “Oh, I saw that. Just a minute.”

My friend said, “It had the wrong room, but we fixed it.” – uh, if you fixed it, why am I at the front desk asking for my stuff? The manager came back with a package and laundry. She then showed my friend how to charge the laundry to my room. I hope I am not the first customer to send out laundry. Given some of the outfits I’ve seen walking in the hall, I might be. 

Saturday – a day to laze around a bit, after five days of being in the office by 8:30am or earlier. I went and got some breakfast (with my flip-flops on), went back, put up the Do Not Disturb sign, read all my email and took a shower.

I got out of the shower, and there was a letter under the door. “We respected your Do Not Disturb and won’t do your room.” The note was dated 10am. I found it at 9:45am. The letter said to contact the front desk for anything I needed. Uh, I need my room cleaned. Back to the front desk. There was an employee standing there, talking to the clerk, so I figured fast service, because guests outrank employees, right? So, after I heard the front desk clerk discussing the employee’s lack of a paycheck with her (well, maybe that’s why they take off early), I asked to have my room done. No problem. Just go find one of the maids and ask her. Hmm. The note said “front desk”, not “self-service”. So, I wandered the hall, found a cart, looked for an open door, and asked a maid. She looked down my end of the hall, saw no cart, got a pained look, and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll have it done.” Amazingly, when I got home later that day, the room was done. I guess they’re expecting everyone to go to early Mass tomorrow. I’d better be out of the room early.

Saturday afternoon, there was some loud noise outside my window, and I’m by a parking lot (a lovely view, by the way.) I thought I had caught an illicit pool party – pool parties are verboten (in writing.) No, it was a tailgate party – with multiple tents and people in those fold-up chairs and everything. Well, at least it wasn’t a pool party.

The pool party (it’s not a pool party!) went on until just after 11:30pm when I heard a baby start crying. I guess if I would have smacked the kid sooner, it would have quieted down.

Second Week.

Monday was Memorial Day, so I was actually off work. I still got up early, so I wouldn’t block the maids’ progress. I had breakfast and went back to the room. No maid. I went out to Walmart for sodas, stopped for lunch and went back to the room. No maid. I went to Best Buy, bought an Amazon Fire stick, came back to the room about 12:30pm and was in the middle of installing and configuring it on their TV, when … a knock at the door. “Would you like your room cleaned?” Sure. Ten minutes in the lobby, clean room. Five minutes later, I don’t have to watch cable any more.

I finally decided to do my laundry, even though I’m allergic since there was a bunch of stuff I hadn’t sent out. Everyplace fun I would have gone to visit was closed for Memorial Day and the minor league team is on the road on the weekends the entire time I’m here, so I might as well do chores. The machines in the hotel are $1.75 each which seemed reasonable, so I went to the front desk for some change, since I didn’t see a change machine. One of my well-known clerks was there, so this should be easy – “Hi! How can I help you?” “Hi. I need some quarters for laundry.” Some rummaging around and, “We don’t have any quarters.” How is this possible?

So, off to find a laundromat, since I didn’t see the point of going out and getting change and coming back. Of course, it was almost 4pm, so everyone was closed or closing. All except one laundry about four miles away. I didn’t have the heart to ask the front desk for a laundry bag, so I just put everything in my small suitcase. The machines were more expensive, but they had quarters and a change machine.

Tuesday or Wednesday, one of the maids actually replaced my ice bucket. I didn’t notice which day, since I just load the ice directly into my big-ass cup. I was making coffee on Thursday morning, and I noticed a nicely folded, dry bag hanging out of the ice bucket.

Thursday evening, I realized that I had to send some shirts out again to get me through until I go home. So, I asked at the front desk for a laundry bag, since there was none in the room. (Dear hotel people, if you have a guest dumb enough to pay your laundry prices once, he will do it again. Give him another bag!) The woman at the front desk happily gave me a laundry bag, and as I walked off, I noticed there was no order form in the bag. So, I asked for an order form. (How can you use one without the other?) She was on the phone, and said, “Just a second, I have to print one out.” WTF? Don’t you have forms with the bags? The forms don’t come from the laundry? Apparently not. So, she printed me a form while she dealt with the call, and now she has an extra form, since the template they use prints two on a page and she had to cut them in half. I packed up my shirts, filled in the form, and double-checked I got the room number right.

Friday morning, I dropped them off at the front desk on my way to the office. I had to wait for the clerk to finish some very important task before I could drop them off, so I waited. Most places, I would just put the bag on the counter and wave on my way out the door. A lot of places, I would have just left the damn shirts on my bed, but here I probably would have had dirty shirts and another note on an unmade bed when I got home. So, I waited. He finally said, ‘Dropping off laundry?” No, I’m a hobo, and I’m checking out. I got home from work, and no laundry. This did not surprise me. I went out to dinner, and on the way past the desk coming back, asked if my shirts were back. “Oh, yes.” Shirts handed over. I guess nobody at the desk has a key to my room.

Saturday morning, I got up late (for me) but early enough to be out of the room before the maids rejected me again. I went to the buffet for breakfast, and decided to have a waffle. They have one of those cool “fill, flip” waffle makers. So, I get the cup of batter, open the machine, pour in the batter, close it and give it a spin. That’s when the hostess (an older maid promoted to buffet duty) informed me that the machine was being used. Excuse me? She said a young girl was using it. Hmm. Then, why was it empty? “I’m so sorry. It’s just the machine was empty.” “Well, she was using it. She only wanted 3/4 of a waffle, so she only filled three corners.” How was she using it? Telepathically? 3/4 of a waffle still requires batter and there was no batter. I apologized another three or four times, because it takes two minutes to make a waffle.

I got my (now tainted) waffle out of the formerly empty (yes, I’m bitter about this) machine and put it on a table, so I could go get some coffee. I came back, and some guy was putting his stuff on my table. Our eyes met, and we both looked confused. He finally said, “Is this your table?” I said yes, and he apologized profusely. He thought my waffle was his daughter’s waffle. Uh, Sparky, your daughter only eats 3/4 waffles. This is a full one. Get with the program.

I feel bad for stealing the waffle iron. The empty waffle iron. He feels bad for stealing my table. The table with food on it. Eventually, I said we should all just go back to our beds and start over. His daughter, the one with no damn batter in the damn machine, is still pouting.

I got back to my room. No maid. There is some altercation outside my window, though. Lots of loud voices, and what sounded like arguing. I looked through the curtains, and there were all the maids. It must be break time.

I decided to take a drive down the World’s Most Beautiful Drive, which is about ten minutes from the hotel. It is very nice, and the river views are impressive. On the way back, I stopped at Hardee’s for a snack (really, for the bathroom, but I’m polite enough to buy something.) I managed to get to Hardee’s just as they were changing from breakfast to lunch, so five chicken strips took almost fifteen minutes to make. I should have had biscuits. Got back to the hotel. No maid.

Started writing a note to answer one last question from work, since my boss will be out next week. 12:45pm, bright and early, a knock at the door. “Would you like your room cleaned?” I managed to not say, “No, ma’am, I prefer filth.” So, I went out to the lobby, and ten minutes later, I had a clean room. There was even blue water in the toilet, but I think she just did that out of spite.

Why did I get up early? Oh, yes, so I would be out of the maid’s way.

Maybe my expectations are too great. Maybe I’m just out of practice on business travel. This place actually has some good Yelp reviews. I now assume those writers are comparing it to boondocking  or boot camp.

Week three begins.

Sunday, I got up early. I didn’t mean to do so, I just woke up at 7:30am and couldn’t go back to sleep. So, then was the question – throw a t-shirt and shorts (and flip-flops! don’t forget the flip-flops!) on, and grab something from the free buffet, or shower, dress, and go out.

I’m not saying I’m tired of the gravy from a huge can or still traumatized by Le Incident De Waffle, but I decided to go out. I had laundry to do, so instead of discovering the front desk was still out of quarters, I figured I would get breakfast and hit the laundromat.

So, I went out, had breakfast, went down the street, did the load of laundry, came back, spent an hour and a half on the phone with my wife, booked a cruise for this evening, checked my work email, looked at the time, and it was ten to two. You know who hasn’t come into my life today? The maid. I just checked and she’s six doors down the hall, at least.

This means the first week was an anomaly – or all the maids that liked to work early didn’t get paid and quit.

So, when I was leaving for dinner and had heard most of the maids leaving (and having another loud discussion in the hallway), I saw what looked like a supervisor, and mentioned my room had not been done. She asked one of the other staff who had my hallway, and I just wandered off, as I had a cruise to catch.

I spent the evening on the Spirit of Peoria, with a buffet dinner and the music of Kenny Rogers. It was great fun.

When I got back, lo and behold, my room had been cleaned. My assumption is twofold, one, that a supervisor did it and two, there will be hell to pay tomorrow.

Travel Bag

My travel bag used to be pretty simple. Laptop, charger. Done. If I was going overseas, I needed a wall adapter. Lately, the list has started growing. What’s interesting is how much of the technology is duplicated – laptops and phones have cameras and GPS units, for example. This current trip has added a number of things out of boredom, but if you’re going to travel on business, boredom is a good possibility.

Now, we have:

Technology

  • iPhone
    • Wall adapter and USB cable
  • iPad
    • Wall adapter and USB cable
  • Macbook Air
    • Power cord
  • Work Dell laptop (actually, in its own bag)
    • Power cord

Photography (mainly because my backpack is also my camera bag)

  • Nikon D5300 camera
    • Fisheye lens
    • 50mm fixed lens (added this trip)
    • 18-140mm zoom lens
    • 55-300mm zoom lens

Medical Equipment

  • USB charger for Garmin vivosmart3 (“Fitbit”)
  • CPAP (actually in suitcase)
  • Glucose Meter
    • Lancets
    • Blood Testing Strips
    • Alcohol wipes

Navigation

  • Garmin Etrex 10 GPS
  • Bushnell Backtrack GPS
  • Bad Elf GPS adapter for iPad

Miscellaneous

  • Power strip (for CPAP or other needs)
  • Amazon Fire Stick (added this trip)
    • USB cord and wall adapter
  • Bracketron Window Mount (for iPhone camera & GPS use) (added this trip)

I really need an additional USB cable to leave in the car. Next trip.

What have I learned from this?

  • My back hurts. I may know why.
  • Don’t get a GPS from the car rental company when you can use a Bracketron and your own phone, especially if you have a long USB cable for charging. Plus, when you buy the mount, you get the opportunity to sign up as a Uber driver!
  • You can never have too many GPS units.
  • You can never have too many lenses.
  • You can never have too many USB cables.
  • A Fire Stick, Chromecast or Roku is pretty useful now because almost all hotel TVs have HDMI adapters, even the hotels (<cough>Quality Inn<cough>) with crappy cable packages.
  • Best Buy is a bad place to be when you’re bored.

You Can’t Go Home Again

So, I’m in Peoria, Illinois for three weeks on a work project and I’ve been up here before, so rather than travel back and forth on the weekends, I decided to just stay up here the whole time.

Flights to Peoria from DFW can be painful – you can connect through O’Hare (no, thank you!) or to fly back and forth non-stop on a commuter plane, you would lose half of Friday, which as a contractor is a very bad idea ($$$) and you would have to lose half of Sunday coming back. So, what’s the point?

(My flight up here was canceled, so I had to fly to Bloomington-Normal instead, change my rental car, and drive an extra hour to get to the hotel. I was not the only one on the plane who had done so. This may have been a warning.)

Besides, I was up here 20+ years ago on another project and had a good time with happy memories, so what’s not to like in Peoria?

As I sit in my hotel room, waiting for the maids to arrive, so I can vacate and then come back to binge-watch Netflix, I realize how much has changed in the 20+ years.

  • I was single back then, so it really didn’t matter where I was at any given time. I had visitation with my son on first, third and fifth weekends, but that was easy to arrange. I’m married now, so now I actually have a reason to be in Dallas – my dogs and my perpetually injured wife (just kidding, my love!)
  • I was home on the weekends back then. I really never stayed in Peoria over the weekend, so I didn’t have to find something to do. I did go on a river cruise yesterday, which was fabulous, and I might go again today, because everything else is closed.
  • I had someone from Caterpillar to hang out with last time. Mike was always happy to hang in the evenings and there may have been drinking involved. (The drinking may be why I am still blanking on his last name.) I’ve had two drinks this week, and one of them was on the airplane up here.
  • I was staying in a really nice hotel in the middle of downtown that was walking distance from my office. Now, I’m working at a plant so far out of town it doesn’t have an address, just an intersection. I’m in a Quality Inn & Suites (more later) on the outskirts of town which let’s just say is not the level of service to which I have become accustomed on business trips.
  • I was working for a really small company that tended to turn a blind eye to “interesting” expenses (until someone rented a U-Haul to help his girlfriend move.) Now, I’m really concerned about reimbursement and toeing the line (which in many cases has not been defined), which tends to put a damper on fun.
  • I’m older. Let’s just say I’m not as adventurous as I used to be. Back then, I had any number of co-workers to call to help me get out of jail. Now, I would have to call my wife, and she would probably just hang up on me, so she could call her sisters.
  • I picked a very bad weekend to start trying to hang out in Peoria – it’s Memorial Day. You would think that would mean more things to do, but the Peoria Chiefs minor league baseball team is out of town until Tuesday (and out of town next weekend!) and the Caterpillar Museum is closed on Sundays and holidays. There is nothing scheduled at the Civic Center – and that’s 3/4ths of the TripAdvisor top four things to do. The other is a scenic drive, part of which I saw from the boat yesterday.
  • The one great memory I had of Peoria was surviving the Flood of ’93 and flying in from Dallas on a Super-80 that had about eight other people on it. I realized this week that during the Flood of ’93, I was actually in Des Moines.

Voltaire and the Dog Whistle

I’m flying home. 

One random note, before my actual notes on the flight – we were served pasta with a lot of garlic for lunch and a black bean empanada for a snack. Someone at American Airlines hates U. S. Customs & Border Protection.

As some already know, flying over to France, I had the incredible sleeping woman sitting between me and the aisle  – and therefore, between me and the lavatories. I was determined to prevent 3000 miles on a full bladder this time.

So, I did some research on SeatGuru. I like SeatGuru, it’s a very interesting site. Check it before you fly. Trust me.

As an aside, I still maintain the idiots that outlawed our business class travel should be forced to have monthly team meetings in Kuala Lumpur, and fly home via Madrid and JFK, but that’s just me.

The American Arlines 777 has multiple models. The one that does the Dallas to Madrid run is the 777-200, also known as the “crappy” one. I’m pretty sure the pilots complain about their seats on this cattle car. If you read SeatGuru, there are complaints about the First Class seats on is aircraft. Ouch. That, my friends, is a bad plane. Plus, there’s no WiFi. Joy.

All of the recommended seats that I would consider were taken, but after checking at random times through the week, I finally found 31J – which should be a window seat, but there’s no window. It’s an emergency exit row, so you have to self-certify for the exit, but I sit in exit rows all the time. Come to think of it, the flight crew never even asked if I was willing to open the exit, in the case of an emergency. Hmmm.

SeatGuru mentioned that the slide compartment takes away some legroom, but I have pretty short legs, so that didn’t frighten me. It should have, a little bit – I can sit and point my legs sideways, but it’s annoying. I can’t imagine if I had long legs, especially since American advertises the seat as “extra legroom.” The “offset” window – there’s a window in the door which is in front of the seat doesn’t bother me too much, as in, I’ll tolerate it. I can’t see out of it without leaving my seat.

Another comment was that it is right by the lavatories and people tend to congregate here. So far, this has been true. There have been any number of lines.

Also, people keep missing the lavatory door. The gentleman sitting next to me has become the Potty Director. So, it occurred to me – on every flight tells you where the exits are, and there’s escape path lighting to lead the way. This is for emergencies, which by definition will not happen that often. Why don’t they light a path to the nearest potty? People need those all the time. 

In fact, I would say, based on the number of visitors, this particular group of passengers has produced so much waste, that I hope the cargo bays are in the front and back of the plane to balance the weight. If we dump the poop, we’re covering a small city or fertilizing most of Arkansas.

Now, my assumption on actual groups (people not hopping up and down, just waiting to pee) was that if you get the usual older, bitchy international flight attendants (“Where did I go wrong? Why aren’t I working First Class by now? What am I still doing in steerage?“), they tend to break up groups, because they can, so that didn’t scare me.

Oops.

I actually slept a bit on this flight. I managed to turn sideways, point my legs out, and approximate curling up. I woke to the low-pitched drone of a French lecturer – I’m assuming French, because every third sentence or so ended with “uuuuhhhh” – or as Basil Fawlty once said about his wife Sybil’s laughing, “It sounds like someone machine-gunning a seal.” 

“Uuuuhhhh” is French for “Uh”, because much as every dinner there takes at least three hours, everything takes longer in French. (This is not a bad thing.)

I opened one eye, and there were three skinny-jeans EuroTrash gentlemen in a circle, stationed (unfortunately) blocking my view of the actual speaker.

I’ve just spent a week with the French, and they are lovely people, and most are not what I would consider boring. Most are quite delightful, as long as they remember to speak English for me. However, this guy was droning on and on, except for the “uuuuhhhh”‘s and none of the others were saying anything.

What was this? A philosophy class?  

Hey! Voltaire! Find another potty to hold your lectures!

I’m saying lecture because the others never said anything. If he was talking about cars,  sports (the Rugby World Cup just started – what could be more important than that?), or carnal conquests (that would be more important than rugby), then guys being guys, there would be laughter and the others interrupting to one-up him. So, he wasn’t talking about anything interesting or important. Maybe he was their manager.

They finally just left – all as a group. I guess classes are still forty-five minutes, just like when I was in college.

This meant I never had to implement Plan B, which was putting my feet up on the exit, kicking the handle, and “accidentally” blowing them into space. This was good, since I never would have gotten another drink, and I wouldn’t be able to visit the potty without holding on to someone.

So, now I’m awake. However, I can’t really blame Team Lead Voltaire completely, because the one noise that will always keep people awake on a plane is the high-pitched, almost dog-whistle constant exclamations of a very small child. (The usual English version is “Dad! Dad! DAD! Mom! MOM! Look!”) These noises can only be tuned out when the child is in your direct lineage, say a grandchild. Then, it is somewhat cute. Somewhat. If it is your child, you learn to tune it out or you will lose your mind. The rest of the time, it tends to cause anyone within earshot to consider strangling both the child and his parents – which, I believe, is the real reason that the airlines tell you to stay seated and keep your seat belts fastened all the time.

This is why I say, “Children should be in the overhead bin, and not heard.”

Luckily, this child was in my row, on the other side of the aisle, although he could have been within a 42-row radius, and I would have heard him. People on cruise ships below can probably hear him.

So, before my next long-haul flight, I am going to put my excess weight to work. I have finally found a use for my beer belly. 

I’m going to grow a beard, dye it white and get myself a red cap.

If one of those little bastards starts chanting, I’m going over, and I will just say, “Hi! I’m Santa. I’m on vacation, and you just woke me up. Four times. You are never getting anything for Christmas again. I will have Rudolph crap on your house as we fly by. I hate you.”

I can sleep through crying.

Off The Grid

I’m flying home from a week in Nice, France for a bunch of meetings – actually, some successful meetings for once – and I just realized I am off the grid. Since I finally had a data plan in Europe this week, it’s quite disconcerting.

I can’t get online.

I’m on one of American’s rather tired 777s – basically, a cattle car with wings. I did score a bulkhead seat, so even though I have a slide sticking out of the door in front of me, I don’t have someone reclining into my lap, and I can go pee any time I want, even with someone sitting next to me. All I’m missing is a window.

Here’s the issue – there’s no Internet access on the plane. So, that’s 10.5 hours across the Atlantic without email, Facebook or Google. Email doesn’t bother me too much – I checked it before I left Nice and there’s one work crisis that’s going to have to wait until Monday anyway. Facebook can wait.

Looking up stuff is problematic.

I just noticed on the TV screen that it’s -52 degrees outside. I was wondering why American thought anyone would care – it’s not like you can go out on the wing for a smoke, and you can’t open the windows. So, I assume it’s a measurement they take, and they share it because they have it. I wondered how they measure it, and “pitot tube” popped into my head. I know a pitot tube is used to measure something on aircraft during flight, but what? I’ll Google it. Oops.

I’m off the grid.

I would rather use my maps than the maps that scroll in English and Spanish, Imperial and metric. I have a GPS adapter for my iPad, but I need WiFi to load the maps. Oops.

At least, I can write this and sync it for publishing later.

It is interesting to me how many applications now just assume there is a network available. Most applications require it – as opposed to years ago, when apps were written defensively, to recover if there was no connection and restore or update when it came back.

Having a data plan in Europe meant my phone worked all the time, not just at the office and the hotel, where I had WiFi. Suddenly, it was more than a clock!

I could use Maps to find the restaurant, even while walking down the promenade.

I could use Uber to get a better car at half the price of a cab – Uber in Nice is impressive, as in three days, I rode in a Mercedes van, a BMW and a Jaguar. Also, the driver knew where I was and where he was going without requiring my fractured French.

I got text messages about flight delays before I got to my destination, which was a pleasant change.

So, after a week of discussing cloud solutions with colleagues, it’s painful not to have a network connection.

I may be going through withdrawals, but I can’t check my symptoms until I get back online.

Current Events

I think I recreated a famous Spousal Unit moment last night. At least, I have a horrible feeling I did. I will deny all knowledge if asked.

Years ago, my wife was traveling with her sister and niece through Italy, and managed to black out an entire hotel just by plugging in her curling iron. Voltage matters, people.

However, that was years ago, when the most complex equipment somebody had was probably a curling iron, or perhaps an cassette player. One of the joys of traveling with entirely too much electronic gear (iPad, iPhone, MacBook, digital camera, CPAP) is that there is no hotel room in Europe that will have enough plugs to charge all of them at once. Plus, all of the plugs over here are different, and the voltage is different, so you need adapters, and if your device is old enough, you need current converters. (Just plug it in. If smoke comes out, you needed a current converter.)

Luckily, all my devices are dual-voltage, so I just need an adapter. Well, one adapter for each device. I solved that problem by bringing a small extension cord with multiple outlets. Plug the devices into the extension cord, and you only need one adapter.

I’m in the South of France, so I was actually surprised to find two outlets available in the bedroom. One was actually by the bed above the bedside table, so that was perfect for the CPAP so I don’t die in my sleep. Everything else I have can share the “other” outlet.

My first night, I had left my laptop in the bag, and was just using my phone and my iPad. So, before I went to bed, I plugged the extension cord into the adapter and stuck it in the wall. Then, I plugged in the iPhone and the iPad. Both showed “charging”, so I went to sleep.

In the morning, I swapped them out for my laptop so I could get some work done. Then, I went to the office and tried to stay awake all day (including having someone schedule a 4pm – 5pm meeting with me.)

So, last night, feeling lucky, since the extension cord had an extra outlet I hadn’t used yet, I plugged in my MacBook. So, I had an all-Apple extension cord. All I needed was a AppleTV, which would have been nice, since almost everything on the hotel TV is in French.

I got ready to go to bed. Then, the lights went out. Oops. It’s dark in here.

So, I panicked. I had a flashback to my wife blowing out a hotel with her curling iron even though I wasn’t there – I’ve just hear the story enough to feel like I was. I wondered how to repair the damage. What would the Spousal Unit do?

First, hide the evidence. The computer and its cords go back in the bag. Next, check around the room for any fuses, using my phone as a flashlight. I couldn’t find any.

So, the next step is to ‘fess up. I called the front desk, and said, “Uh, I may have blown a fuse.”

The clerk said, “No, it is a general failure. We are trying to find the problem.” (See? Good thing I hid the computer!) “We should have everything back in ten minutes or so.”

About five minutes later, the lights came back on. So, I turned them off, since I was trying to go to bed.

I didn’t charge my MacBook last night after all. I’ll survive.

Deep Sleep (or, The Princess and the Pee)

So, I’m flying over water again, this time, it’s the Arlantic, and I’ve found something even more challenging than smelly baby poop. It’s having a window seat, with a seat partner that refuses to awaken.

We’re three hours from Madrid, and the sodas I had with dinner finally need to cone out. So, it’s time to find a lavatory. Actually, there’s one located one row behind me, because I’ve been hearing it flush all night. Easy-peasy.

Except for one thing – I’m in a window seat. I like window seats. You can see where you’re going. You have something to lean on while you sleep. You don’t get slammed with carry-ons and drink carts. The only problem is getting up.

So, all I have to do is find a way past my seat mate. In almost all of today’s aircraft, this requires moving my seat mate. 

Usually, this is easy because I’m traveling with someone I work with or live with. So, a couple of good pokes, they’re awake, they get up, I get up. No worries. Most of the time, if I’m traveling with the Spousal Unit, she has to go way before me, so I just get out of my seat while she’s gone. Efficient.

However, this is a business trip, so I’m on my own. While I feared sitting next to the other large guy all the way across the Atlantic, fate has given me a young, pouty, possibly anorexic generic European woman. She’s probably in her late twenties. Her girl friend/traveling companion is across the aisle. They chattered quite a bit at the beginning of the flight, ate, and passed out. 

So, she has been asleep since just after dinner with her sleeping mask on. We’re five hours or so into the flight. I envy her, actually, I’ve slept some, but mostly just read. I don’t sleep well in planes anymore.

So, how hard can it be to awaken a possibly anorexic generic pouty European? 

I grabbed her shoulder. Gently. “Excuse me.” Nothing.

I squeezed her shoulder. Nothing,

I shook her shoulder. Nothing.

I squeezed her arm. Nothing.

I’m out of ideas at this point.

I could grab something else, but there may be Sky Marshals onboard, and I would not want to explain that particular arrest to the Spousal Unit.

I could just kiss her, but I’m pretty sure at least one porno movie started that way – and if not, there should be one – “Sky Booty”, maybe.

I could get her friend to help, but she’s asleep with her sleep mask.

You know, if I had offered to switch seats to put them together, I’d be on an aisle right now. So, it’s my fault.

I’ll just read another chapter. She’s bound to wake up. She had as much to drink as I did, and women have smaller bladders. Right?

She’s still asleep.

Commence grabbing and shaking (gently) again.

Nothing.

Try to figure out how many languages I can say “Excuse me” in, since maybe she just doesn’t speak English.

Well, that was an entertaining exercise (“Excuse me”, “Con Permiso”, “Pardon moi”, “Pardon me”, “Yo, Adrian!”), but I still have to pee.

I could call the flight attendant. If I get lucky and get the old, bitchy one, she’ll wake her up. She may even dump water on her. Revenge!

Maybe I could dip her fingers in water to make her need to pee. I still have a water bottle from dinner. I could just flick some in her face. That may be cruel, though. Also, I’m thinking I’m glad I didn’t drink the water bottle.

Horrible thought: Maybe she’s dead. Who could tell with the mask? We’re already delayed, if they have to take a corpse off, and do paperwork, I’m going to miss my connection to Nice.

If she’s dead, I’m glad I didn’t kiss her. That would be icky.

Can you ask a flight attendant to check if your seat mate is dead? What part of the manual is that in?

Wait. When will the crew wake her up for something, so I don’t have to be the bad guy? Hey, whatever happened to the duty free cart, anyway?

When’s breakfast?

She moved! Frantic rubbing of arm. “Excuse me!”

Nothing. However, she’s crossed her legs, so there is no way I’m climbing over her without hitting something that could cause an incident. Not that I could have before, but I was considering it.

This must be what it’s like to live in a Tiny House.

I’ll just read another chapter. I’m pretty sure it’s at least ten hours until a human bladder bursts, so I can always crawl into Madrid. Also, I’m reflecting on how glad I am the flight attendants didn’t offer coffee after dinner.

I remind myself again of my rule to never take my Furosemide unless in an aisle seat, even though it will make you walk the cabin.

She moved! Now, both her legs are in her seat. She still won’t answer my “Excuse me”, of course. So, I could squeeze past, except for the people in front of me who seats are all the way reclined. And they are occasionally smooching.

Luckily, American 777s still have barf bags. I may need one from having to watch the kissing. Hey, can you pee in a barf bag? Is there a pee bag? Why didn’t I keep my Coke can?

However, if that couple is talking and kissing, they’re awake. So, I ask if he could move his seat forward for a moment, so I can try to get out.

He finds this humorous. Just move the seat, Loverboy.

Now, today’s airplanes are designed to have less space between rows than buses or cornfields, so, it can be a bit tricky for a “person of size” (say, anyone larger than a six-year old) to squeeze out, even with the seat in front all the way forward, and your seat mate’s legs crossed poutily onto her seat. This is why I usually try to sit in the bulkhead row – which is where I was for the hunger strike and poop from hell flight.

I stealthily slide past my sleeping seat mate and immediately step on all the crap she has on the floor (not under the seat in front of her.)

I’m wondering if I can move another two feet while off-balance when she finally wakes up, raises her mask, and looks at me. She curls up even tighter on her seat, which does not help move the piles of floor crap, but apparently is her way of being helpful. Gracias, bitch. At least, she’s awake. No, she’s back asleep. 

I feel badly I awoke her.

Wait. What?

In the bathroom, it occurs to me she might have been just faking sleep all along because she thought I was hitting on her. I’m strangely flattered, yet insulted she would think I would try to pick up a woman on an airplane by squeezing her arm repeatedly, and saying “Excuse me.” I’m old and married and not European, but I’d like to think I would have better opening lines. Besides, that would make me a male cougar. What do you call a male cougar? A guy.

I used the lavatory and headed back to my seat. She was asleep. I climbed over her and she didn’t even budge. She didn’t even raise her mask. That’s faster than in most of my relationships.

I don’t think I’m drinking anything else on this flight.

I hope she’s awake in Madrid. I have a connection to make.

Stuttgart, 2000

For those who would like to see if I’ve gotten crankier over the years (that would be affirmative), here’s some notes I found from a trip to Stuttgart in September of 2000. This was not my first trip, since I was staying in the wrong city (and knew it), but I was going over every few months for a couple of years. Some of this is dated (the furnace was replaced, Rose is gone, and missed), but I probably still have a lot of the same opinions. I wish I could remember the hotel’s name – I remember I had dinner from the vending machine most evenings. 

Stuttgart – September 30, 2000

I’m back from Germany. I really don’t like surviving for a week in a country that doesn’t speak English, even though I knew going into this week, that was going to be a challenge. (Aside: What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Tri-lingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.)

All the bloody hotels in Stuttgart were booked, so I ended up in Boeblingen (which I can’t spell correctly here, since you need one of those umlautty things over the “o”), in a nice little place in the middle of an industrial park. Oh, joy. A twin bed, no room service, no restaurant, and three channels of English on the cable: CNN (“blah, blah, blah”), UK SkyNews (“blah, blah, blah” with a British accent) and SkySports (24-hour Olympic coverage.) So, I watched the Olympics.

I’ve always been rather prejudiced against the Olympics, especially the summer games – most of the events seem pretty pointless (if you can’t do dire bodily harm to yourself, is it really a sport?), and everyone knows that all those “amateurs” aren’t. Still, it beats watching “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” or “Married… With Children” dubbed into German (but not by much.)

Some of the highlights:

Diving: It takes a UK announcer to say what others only think – there was one of the women’s entrants and when she first walked to the platform, I thought “She’s a bit heavy for this.” My Politically Correct genes then kicked in, and said “A) Who am I to talk? and B) How hard is bloody diving?” Then, the announcer mentioned that she really was too heavy to be diving and really should lose some weight to get her scores up. Amazing.

Synchronized diving: What co-dependent idiot came up with this concept? One anorexic body flipping into a pool isn’t enough? Now, I need two of them?? If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do they all have to?

Diving: Here’s the only reason I can watch diving (besides the ever-present nipple scans during the women’s event) – I am always hoping against hope one of the divers who is hopelessly behind in the last round will climb to the platform, run off screaming “CANNONBAAAAAALLLLLL!” and drench the judges’ table. Is that too much to ask? Sure, the degree of difficulty isn’t much, but how can you screw up a cannonball?

Race walking: One of the race walkers was thrown out of the race. Disqualified as she approached the finish line. For jogging. I never thought I would see the day that jogging was going too fast. But really, now. Race walking? Can’t you just make the bit of extra effort and run?

Gymnastics: “I’m dancing to the music. Now, I’m going to stop for no reason, run across the mat and throw myself into the air. Now, I’m dancing again.”

Coxless rowing: Shouldn’t that be women only? Eunuchs, perhaps?

I think the high point of the week was seeing Yanina Korolchik win the women’s shot put. First, she was the most decent looking of the bunch(she reminded me of Ms. Lewinsky for some reason (did the President offer to give her the medal?)) Second, she beat the Russian. By a lot. That was pretty funny.

You know, that’s one of the major problems with the Olympics today. With the end of the Cold War, there aren’t any bad guys anymore. When Team USA beat the Russians in hockey in 1984, that was a defining moment. When you beat the Russians now, you just feel sorry for them. The Olympics need the bloodlust returned. Sports needs bad guys.

How do you make the French runners perform better? Park a Panzer tank at the starting line.

Oh, yes. While I was gone, Rose blew up the furnace in the house (“It’s not my fault!”). We’re now in day three of the installation, and the inspector should be here next week, so we can turn it on. I need a pint. (At least the soda machine in the hotel had beer in it.)

Fish Fries And The Hunger Strike

I’ve had some interesting food in Malaysia. I had noodles with pork for breakfast one day, Japanese pastries stuffed with a hot dog (it looked like a big kolache) for lunch, and an Asian breakfast burrito (I have no idea what the true name is, but it was really tasty.)

All the sausage seems to be chicken, since pork is avoided. The chicken sausage has been very good.

So, I had tried new and exciting foods, but I was on the way home at last. There was breakfast on the flight from KL to Hong Kong, and I was hoping there would be a non-Asian dish available. The flight attendant was asking if people wanted fish fries. I was surprised that they don’t call the fish they were serving fish fingers or fish sticks.

I kept hearing “Fish Fries”, which I thought was a Burger King name for mini-fish sticks. However, they would be good airline food, since they reheat easily.

As the flight attendant got to my row, she was asking if we wanted an omelet or fish fries. I hadn’t heard “omelet” before. Although I decided fish fries would be good, I had the omelet on the way to KL, so I chose the omelet again. It’s breakfast food.

The omelet is very tasty, and it comes with chicken sausage, so it’s a good breakfast, even if you’re not on an airplane. So, even though I haven’t had fish sticks in forever, I had the omelet.

The person next to me chose the fish fries. He received fish and rice. So, I think I need a hearing aid, since FishRice sounded like Fish Fries. For twenty rows.

The omelet was good, as usual.

That was the trip to Hong Kong. The next leg was Hong Kong to San Francisco, which was exciting because it was a tight connection, and we were late getting in from KL.

If this were a stand-alone blog post, it would be called “11 1/2 Hours Of Random Kicks From An Adopted Cleft-Palate Chinese Baby”, but that seemed really long.

When two gate agents meet the plane with your connecting flight on a sign, things are not going to go well.

One of the agents counted heads, got enough of us, and said, “Follow me!” Apparently, her goal was to make the plane, and keeping the group together was up to us. If I could dodge and weave that well, I’d still be playing soccer.

It would be easy to follow a young dark-haired, slim Asian woman in a red dress in the Hong Kong International Airport, except that describes most of the employees of Cathay Pacific.

We made the train to switch terminals, got to security, went through the crew-only line (woo hoo!), then made it up the elevator and down two sections of moving sidewalk to the gate. They were still boarding.

Our bags were searched (for appearance sake) and we got on the plane. I had booked a middle seat in the bulkhead row only because it was the only bulkhead seat left on the plane.

How bad could it be?

So, I have an old guy on one side and a Yuppie-Hippie tattooed Dad with a lap child (the baby in the too-long title) across from his wife (Earth Mother) and three other kids. Kill me now.

At times like this, I prefer to think there is no God, since I had said a quick prayer when I got onboard. Granted, He’s busy fixing people’s brackets this month, but a guy hogging the armrest on one side and a lap baby on the other? How much have I pissed Him off over the years?

Of course, I later found that a younger Italian-looking guy had switched seats so Dad could be parallel to the rest of the family instead of behind them. One row behind them.

I was beginning to think God really hates me.

During the first meal service, a really old Indian gentleman behind me didn’t get his vegetarian meal. The flight attendant tried to explain that you need to confirm special meals, but he refused to talk to her after she said it wasn’t onboard. This is the ultimate cranky old guy – she doesn’t exist anymore. The supervisor came by, offered to make him an alternate vegetarian meal, but he just muttered at her. Finally, he accepted. When she delivered it, he refused it. So, now I have a hunger strike in the row behind me.

This shit never happened in business class.

My little friend just took a dump for the ages. When Third World people get an “I smell stink” look, you know it’s an impressive one. I’m glad she was over by her Mom, not that I was spared much.

Baby comes back to Dad. Every time she rotates in his lap, I catch a whiff. Somebody didn’t bring the wipes, I guess.

A few hundred miles later, and the baby goes on a crying jag. Dad wanders off with her. Some of the poop smell lingers. Maybe the old guy next to me isn’t just belching. (I have never heard someone burp this much, and I used to drink in college.)

The hunger striker just agreed to green tea. I’m beginning to see rum in my future.

Six and a half hours to San Francisco. Oy vey.

The hunger striker was coerced into eating something. I would have thought an average hunger strike would last longer than a flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, but Cathay Pacific are taking no chances. I guess if the overhead bins are full, there’s no place to put a body. I wonder if a dish is still vegetarian if someone has spit in it.

I need a nap. I am not going to need white rice for quite a while.

One of the kids had an extended coughing fit. It went past medical into “Somebody notice me.” If that kid can hit a drum with the same rhythmic accuracy she can cough, we have the next Ringo.

Even flights from Hell eventually end. This one ended with my bag being almost literally the last bag delivered, which meant I was late through Customs. That meant I was running through my second airport in 24 hours to make a tight connection. There was another train involved, as well.

One other moment of excitement – Cathay Pacific hadn’t issued a boarding pass for my Dallas flight. The American kiosk wouldn’t give me a boarding pass since it wasn’t an American flight (it’s a code share.) Luckily, the agent printed me one. So much for self-serve.

That got me into the Priority Access security line, where businessmen and random stupid people collide. There should be a quiz for passengers before they are allowed to book travel. If people don’t know by now to take their damn shoes off, when my taxes are paying for a TSA agent whose only job seems to be droning, “Take your shoes off”, I guess that’s why airlines still have to explain how seat belts work.

I had my first window seat in quite some time, so as I watched the ground crew finishing up, I saw a truck come up with late bags, and saw mine going onboard. It’s time to go home.

Here’s when you know you’re back in the States. You can buy a glass of iced tea that has ice, and is more than six ounces. Here’s when you know you’re on a US flight – you get a can of Dr Pepper and a lot of ice. After 14 hours of juice poured into a small cup from a liter box or Coke from a liter bottle, it’s nice to be back to cans. Plus, the flight attendant’s name tag says, “Oh Miss”. Sarcasm, how I missed thee.

This is now officially the trip that will not end. I will explain.

My iPad battery is dying, my phone is dead, and we’re still flying. So, I got my GPS out to see where we were. It got a lock fairly quickly. We were almost to Albuquerque.

Then, the Captain came on the speaker. “We have a medical emergency in the back. The closest airport is Albuquerque.” So, at least the GPS works.

We landed in Albuquerque and taxied near a gate.

Paramedics took a passenger off in a wheelchair. His wife followed behind, with her head down. I don’t know if she was embarrassed or avoiding the hate stares.

Now, we have to top off the tanks, take off, and get a new landing slot at DFW. We were doing 580 knots back to DFW. Somebody at AA corporate must have decided paying for hotel rooms would be a bad idea.

The first estimate was an hour or so late into DFW. I am very glad I am done with connections for the day.

Let’s recap, shall we?

I left the hotel in KL at 5:00pm Thursday, Dallas time.
I crossed into Texas at 7:00pm Friday, Dallas time, per GPS, and yes, I cried a little.
I landed at DFW at 7:40pm Friday, Dallas time.

Of course, our gate was blocked, so we had to wait to get to the gate. The crew asked that people without connections let everybody trying to catch their next flight get off first.

It was like a clown car. I was in row 16, and I never realized there were 367 rows behind me.

Now, to get home.

First, I had go find my suitcase. The sign said carousel A16. The agent said A15. After a handful of bags, he said they were all off on A15. Mine was not there. Of course. So, I waited until the carousel stopped, and went to report my suitcase missing. The same suitcase I had seen go onto the plane in San Francisco.

My assumption was they pulled it for the medical emergency man by mistake.

It was on A16. I’m still wondering how bags from one flight ended up in two carousels.

Home at 9:15pm Friday, Dallas time.

28 hours, 15 minutes. It’s the fifteen minutes that really made it tiring.