Annus Horribilis

In the Caribbean, this has been a horrible year. I know, because I’m scheduled to go there at Christmas. My wife and I have our annual cruise scheduled, in spite of the fact I’m still looking for a job, because we just need to get out of town for the holidays.

This year, there was a particularly nice cruise available on the Norwegian Jade, a ship we have sailed before and enjoyed. It’s ten days, so a good length of time away. It wasn’t that expensive, compared to other years. It was also calling on a number of ports that we had never visited before. So, with all the stresses of not working, I was looking forward to a cruise.

Then Irma. Then Maria.

Here’s our cruise plan, as of the original booking. All the red ports are currently closed. We should know in a couple of weeks where we’re actually going to sail, but as all the cruise lines have the same problem, and all of them will have a multitude of ships in Florida for the winter, it’s going to get interesting. The scheduling of multiple ships of multiple sizes (which limits which ports can be visited) with random cruise lengths to the same area of the sea will be challenging, to say the least.

This is not a complaint letter about our cruise being changed, although you can find plenty of those around. Our itinerary will change, we know that, whatever. It’s hardly Norwegian’s fault that two of the worst storms in history tracked almost exactly over their planned Christmas cruise.

That said, we learned a couple of bizarre things while watching Mother Nature destroy our vacation plans. One, many people care more about their vacations than other people. When Norwegian announced all their Eastern Caribbean cruises were suddenly sailing Western Caribbean routes until at least the end of November, people complained. Complained.

There are people living in the islands who depend on tourism who now won’t get tourists because the port has been destroyed, and by the way, their house is gone, and you’re whining that your vacation was ruined? Get a grip, people.

It was particularly painful for us, because we’ve been to some of the islands and we know some of the people. I fed birds in St Thomas. I haven’t heard how the resort made out. We made our own perfume at Tijon in Saint Martin. The store remains, the owner’s house is gone.

We support a dog rescue on Saint Martin. We donated what we could to their campaign to build a shelter last year. The shelter is gone now. It took a couple of days for someone to locate the founder of the organization because the power was out, nobody could get to her house, and she had refused to leave the dogs. Even though we haven’t met in person, it was freaking us out that nobody knew if she was OK.

So, having to go to the Western Caribbean instead of the Eastern Caribbean is not really a problem. Trust me.

I was very pleased to see multiple cruise lines donate ships, crew and time to get supplies to the islands and get stranded people off of them. I was horrified by some of the comments of passengers diverted by a hurricane to Cozumel. (“It’s humid here!”) Honestly, I would be freaking out if I was working (and paying a dog sitter) and suddenly had my vacation extended by an unknown amount of time, but I would like to think I could handle it more gracefully. It’s a freaking hurricane. It’s not really under the cruise line’s control. Have a margarita. Chill out.

We also learned that the islands don’t seem to exist in much of the US media’s eyes. At best, they’re flyover country – a large number of independent entities that are all just lumped together. Storms generate in the Atlantic, pass over the Lesser Antilles and then go towards Miami. There are over thirty islands. It’s not one clump. Some were hit, some were grazed, some were missed. The distinctions are important and it is newsworthy for each individual island. The Weather Channel seems to dwell mostly on what might or will happen instead of what has just happened.  CNN did a better job of reporting results, but if you’re all about weather, why aren’t you covering where the weather just occurred? Personally, I don’t really care right now if Miami is going to get hit in four days if someone I care about is getting hit at the moment.

(I also learned that you can find information, you just need to find the official channels or newspapers on the web. However, when their power goes out, the news gets spotty.)

Also, the US Virgin Islands are part of the US. The name should be a major clue. Newspeople don’t seem to know this. These people are your fellow citizens. (Here’s where to donate.) The same applies for Puerto Rico. I’m really appalled by the lack of coverage or concern because everyone was looking down the calendar at Florida.

I’m actually appalled by the media not covering more of the islands at all, even the ones not directly tied to the US. The Caribbean is a major tourist destination. There are expats living all over them. There are cruise ships steaming towards them, filled with drunk Americans. There are people spending their vacation money, planning to visit in the next few months. It does matter.

The Caribbean should be more important to us.

The islands will rebuild. They always do. However, a lot of what they need is imported (expensive), so it will take time. Months. Maybe years. Support them. If the ports aren’t open, I’m pretty sure you can still transfer funds. Donate, people.

I personally don’t mind visiting an island that’s half recovered, just to spend some money there and help the recovery by having some fun. I hope more people think that way. From what I’ve seen online, there are some who agree with me.

“It’s not like at home” is one of the great reasons to travel. I hope we all remember that.

Oh, and if you’ve been thinking about adopting a dog, I can help set you up. You just have to wait until they can arrange the flights, assuming the airport is open.

Falling Off A Cruise Ship

Another tragic story this week – a Texas man fell off a cruise ship. A search is underway. I’m sure all of us send our thoughts to his family.

Here’s the issue: I’m pretty sure nobody ever falls off a cruise ship. I just finished my twelfth cruise last week, and they’ve all been on Norwegian and the missing passenger was on a Royal Caribbean ship, but I’m pretty sure I can say he didn’t fall.

It’s easy to say someone fell off a ship, but it also moves the implied blame to the cruise line. Apparently, Royal Caribbean has ships that passengers can fall from. We have spent too much of the past few years moving blame to innocent parties.

Why don’t people fall off cruise ships? Mainly, because cruise ships are designed to keep people on board. There are railings everywhere along the outside decks, and it takes work to get over them. There are partitions underneath, so you can’t just slide under. Some decks don’t have any open areas at all.  It’s not like you can just walk up to the edge of the ship, trip and fall overboard. You can climb up and try to balance on the railings because your idiot friends bet you that you couldn’t, and fall off the railing, but that’s stupidity or drunkeness, not a fall. You can climb over and jump off the railing, but that’s suicide (and there are probably easier ways to commit suicide.)

In this case, I just looked at the deck plans, and deck ten on The Navigator of the Seas is all cabins – private rooms – and the outside cabins have balconies. Balconies have railings. I’ve been in a balcony cabin. You can’t fall off a balcony without some work.

So, this is tragic, as it always is when a life is potentially lost, and it is also sloppy reporting or at least an extremely poor choice of words. (It’s also sloppy to say Royal Caribbean built the ship. Cruise lines purchase and operate ships. Shipyards build them for the cruise lines. Does American build their own airplanes?)

Coincidentally, before I heard about the accident, I had attended a Q&A session with the senior officers on the Norwegian Jade, and someone asked the Captain about what happens in a man overboard situation. The question actually was “Has anyone fallen off the ship?” One of his first statements was “Nobody falls off a ship.”

In a man overboard situation, the ship’s crew will drop flares to mark the approximate spot, turn the ship around (which may take some time – it can take a mile or more to stop a cruise ship) and launch a life boat or tender to do a search. In cases where the ship is within range, the crew can ask the Coast Guard for help – helicopters and planes search a wide area faster.

The Captain of the Jade made it clear that the sooner it’s reported, the better the chances of finding and saving the missing person. This should be obvious to almost anyone, but apparently, some people on cruises are idiots.  That is the real reason you can have a man overboard.

A Royal Caribbean ship has a man overboard. The Coast Guard is assisting in the search for him. I know it’s hard on his loved ones, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t fall.

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.

Dancing With The Old Farts, or Tourists on Parade

I’m in Barcelona, briefly recovering from an eleven-day Transatlantic cruise from Miami. I heard the average age on the ship was fifty-nine. Therefore, I was a youngster on the cruise. This frightens me. (I also had my Mom with me. That will be the indulgence I claim to get away with the rest of this post.)

So after the cruise and today, I would like to apologize to the entire world for Old American Farts on package tours. I may have done this before, but I need to do it again.

Yes, the French always sound annoyed, Germans always sound angry, and Australians often sound drunk, but Americans can sound ignorant and arrogant at the same time, and that is worse.

First, I really must apologize to the Universe for all the assholes who have money and no sense of decorum. Being rich does not make you right. (I’m looking at you, Jerry Jones.) In fact, this behavior should just be called the Jerry Jones Syndrome.

For example, no matter how much you paid for your cruise, demanding a dish from one (surcharged) restaurant while dining in another (free) restaurant on the other side of the ship is a bit much. Yes, I saw this onboard.

When you are seated at a table, and the restaurant manager immediately arrives to see what’s wrong today, before the waitress even takes your order, you are assholes. Chill out. You may be rich, but that is not the same as privileged.

Now, it’s possible that the couple I’m considering spent all their remaining money for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise before one of them died of a rare disease, but bitching about absolutely everything will not make it a perfect vacation. Also, wearing an obvious wig that looks like a helmet is not a disease, unless bad taste has been upgraded while I was away.

I almost started a new non-profit this week. It’s tentatively called “Take a shot, Chill the fuck out.” (The name may need work.) It provides free drinks for people who desperately need an attitude adjustment immediately, before someone kills them, as a mercy killing, just to save the crew. I’ll post when the website is ready for donations.

Actually, it may be faster to just print some business cards that say “If everything were perfect here, it would be Heaven. Keep acting like you do, and you will never know. Tell Satan “Hello!” for me.” Well, “Congratulations. You’re an asshole.” would be cheaper to print, and easier to understand. I could have handed a few out this week.

I have to say that the staff and crew of the Norwegian Epic were cheerful, friendly and worked tirelessly for eleven days across the Atlantic to make sure all of the passengers had a good time. I just hope they were spitting in some food, just to save their sanity.

Back on dry land, I had the questionable joy of sharing a breakfast buffet with some different Old Farts in Barcelona this morning. The level of amazement expressed at simple things (“Clark! They have BREAD here! Ohmigod! EGGS!”) is really vastly annoying to me – mainly because I had not had enough coffee. After the coffee kicked in, I was just horrified.

People, the world is not all the same as at home, that’s why you travel, but in some places, they do have better food than your local Hampton Inn buffet. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I’ve been there. it’s called France, and Spain and Germany, just to name a few. Stop being shocked every time you leave the USA.

By the way, yes, the ham here in Spain tastes funny, it’s Iberian ham, and they don’t have it at Shop-Rite. They have it in Michelin-starred restaurants, and Spanish hotel buffets.

Now, I’m sure with the weakened eyesight many of them have, it must seem like the buffet goes on forever, but the one this morning wasn’t really that abundant, compared to some I’m seen in Europe. I’m not complaining, it was very nice, and I love this hotel’s staff, but I really don’t think I would swoon in joy over it, or loudly name each item to my companion. Unless she was really blind.

My beloved Spousal Unit told me I was overreacting (well, she told me to shut the Hell up), but I don’t understand how someone can live to that age, have enough expendable income to take a trip to Europe, and then be totally confused by a buffet, even if English is the third language on each sign. If you can’t recognize pastries without a sign, you’ve got issues.

Oh, a bonus observation – almost any European coffee beats the crap out of Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Just sayin’.

Maybe it’s me.

My real issue this morning was the Old Fart Shuffle – the famous dance step where some one stops short, looks in confusion at a common item as if seeing it for the very first time (“Clark! Butter here is mantequilla!”), then staggers forward and doubles back to look at the item next to it. This is only dangerous when the person in question is between me and my coffee, in a hotel where there is no coffee in the room.

The Old Fart Shuffle is not to be confused with the Salmon Waltz, which is when one person (say, for example, my Spousal Unit) wanders to the buffet, glances at the bountiful items – not the massive number of people already in line – and promptly swims upstream against a herd of tourists, because the one item she wants is near the end of the buffet.

It was much the same later today at La Sagrada Familia, although it’s a church, so people are supposed to shut the Hell up, and for the most part, they did.

As an aside, it’s interesting to me that the staff remind you it’s a church, and tell people to remove their hats and pipe down, while they also charge admission, have two gift shops and give guided tours. I guess “Eighteen Towers of Jesus” didn’t test-market well, so they named it La Sagrada Familia. They’ve been building it since 1882. This is before most of us were born, but significantly after most churches in Europe were completed.

Since most of the famous churches I’ve seen in Europe are surrounded by scaffolding, I give the Spanish points for actually admitting they’re not done yet. They could tell most Americans it was damaged in the Greek Rabies War of 1673, and the tourists would just nod, so kudos for telling the truth.

At the church, and most famous sites, tourists do the Fashionista Strut, where they blindly walk into everyone else’s photos. Granted, an iPhone is not known for its ability to capture architecture, but still, take a look around you when you walk. Unlike photo-bombing, which is cruel but funny, the Fashionista Strut is just people not paying any attention to their surroundings. If you see someone with a camera that doesn’t fit in a pocket or receive texts, and he is staring through a little hole in the back of it while twisting a long thingie on the front, he may be composing a shot. If you wander directly in front of him, and then stop just briefly to check Facebook, you will be in his shot. Often, you will completely block his shot. Beware. This is the same crime as getting between a man and his coffee at the buffet. Perhaps worse.

All these tourists, wandering around, completely oblivious. Then, they wonder why Barcelona has pick-pockets.

Back at the hotel, a guy just had a five-minute argument with the bartender because he had never heard of a gin martini. Dude, first of all, she’s a great bartender, she’s my bartender who runs a tab for me, so don’t mess with her, and if you don’t know the proper way to make a martini, just get a damn beer. (He finally did.)

After all that, I’m pretty sure, in spite all that I’ve done, when I am finally sent to Hades, the reason will be the number of times I thought “Jesus Christ! Get out of my goddam photo!” while in a basilica.

I just hope God remembers that I took my Mom along on the trip and I didn’t make her read this.

So it goes.

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.

America The Exported

One of the interesting parts of international travel is finding new and exciting ideas, foods, drinks and the like. If you wander around a foreign mall, you may find things that make you stare in wonder. You will also find things that just make you wonder.

Here in Malaysia, my hotel is connected by a covered walkway to the 1 Utama Shopping Centre, the fourth largest mall in the world, according to CNN. (It’s on their website with a link to the CNN report.) So, the other night, when I just couldn’t take room service anymore and I really didn’t feel like Asian cuisine in the restaurants, I wandered over there. First, was a Chinese restaurant. No surprise. Just not doing it for me. Next, a deli that looked like a local trying to do his interpretation of a deli. Hmm. Then, Carl’s Jr. Huh?

Now, I expect McDonald’s in all corners of the universe. I was really surprised I had walked over 300 yards and had not seen a Starbucks. But a Carl’s Jr? They can barely keep them open in Dallas, and there’s one in the mall in KL? (It was tasty.) (Don’t judge me.)

I went back to the mall this evening to wander around, since my feet were falling off from standing in class all  day, anyway.  Before I went over, I found their website, and looked at the list of restaurants. Wow. It was quite the list, and a homesick American will feel right at home.

There actually was a McDonald’s, I just hadn’t gone to the right floor yesterday. (This mall is so big, there are multiple food courts – or multiple areas where food shops seem to congregate.) It’s not that I wanted to eat at McDonald’s, I just feel strangely comforted knowing it’s there. (There is a part of me that will go to McDonald’s simply for the irony, but that only works in Paris, when you order coffee at the McCafe on the Champs Elysees.)

There actually was a Starbucks ( think there are two in the mall). (We drove past outposts of both on the way to the class this morning, so I knew they were around.) No surprise. Burger King? Hey, if there was one in Linköping, Sweden, there might as well be one here. KFC? A little strange, maybe, but I did see one selling fish and chips in London. TGI Fridays? I thought those were only allowed in airports, now. Kenny Rogers Roasters? Wait. Didn’t they go out of business?

Please excuse this (rather juvenile) interruption: The Kenny Rogers Roasters logo looked different than I remember. Maybe they’ve given the place a facelift. Bwa-hahahahahahaha! Wait. Shouldn’t Kenny Rogers run a laundry? He knows when to hold ’em and he knows when to fold ’em. I feel better now.

After all that, I ate dinner at O’Briens Irish Sandwich Bar – a place with “Irish” and “Bar”  in the name that doesn’t actually have beer. I saw “Irish” and “bar” and Googled it, and it’s a franchise of a Dublin sandwich shop that sold their Asia franchise rights to a Brit who lives in Singapore. That was so complicated, I felt obligated to try it out. I’m still a bit dubious on how an Irish place sells healthy fruit juices and coffee and not Guinness, but whatever. Maybe it was started in Dublin, Ohio, like Wendy’s. It was a very good sandwich, and the iced coffee rocked. That was actually the second iced coffee I had today. I don’t know why I don’t make it at home.

However, since I didn’t try any of  the local delicacies for dinner, I’m going to take massive heat tomorrow from my local IBM host, so after I finished my sandwich and iced coffee, I wandered around the mall, looking for the Japanese ice cream place I had seen in the list, because I thought they might have green tea ice cream. They did. It was pretty awesome. (Flashback to earlier this week – they also had sweet corn ice cream.)

Naturally, I got lost trying to find my way back out. As I wandered one floor below where I was supposed to be, there was a Hush Puppies store. A pretty big one, actually. I can’t find Hush Puppies in the shoe store at home any more and there’s an entire branded store here? (I loved Hush Puppies when I was growing up – they were slip-ons so I didn’t have to tie ties [yes, I was that lazy, and now I’m that inflexible] and they were close enough to dress shoes to wear to work or school. Plus, I always loved the puppy in the photo. No, Virginia, we are not adopting a Basset Hound.)

I just looked at the list again, and there’s a Kodak store. Really? I may have to go wander the mall tomorrow night, and see what develops. (Heh. Heh. Heh.)

I think sometimes we export stores to other countries, and sometimes we just move all of them, and never realize they’re gone.

So, if you have a craving for rotisserie chicken and a pair of Hush Puppies, I know where you can go. It’s just a bit of a flight to get there.