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.

Fall Break, 2000

Hmm. I had forgotten I ever wrote these reports. If I keep recycling, it looks like I’m creating. (You know this is really old since it says “both pets”.) Also, it’s been long enough ago that it’s funny. Now. 

Fall Break 2000 highlights: Dad, son, step-mom. Two nights train, three nights hotel, two nights in-laws, no injuries, no arrests, both pets survived bunking at the vet’s. Who could as for more?

Fall Break was a calculated risk – in retrospect, with so much to go wrong, it’s a wonder we’re all still speaking to each other. J. R, Virginia and I decided to try to do something that would make each of us happy in the same week, so we took the train (me) to New York City (J. R.), and then drove out to the New Jersey countryside to visit my in-laws (Virginia).

The train ride was fun – we had the family car from here to Chicago and two rooms from Chicago to New York. It was the full Amtrak experience – we were almost eight hours late out of Chicago since there was a power failure a few hours before we arrived, and the train yard where they assemble the trains was in the powerless zone. Since we were that far behind, we went down the Hudson riverbank (the one portion of the trip I had been selling since early March) in the dark. Sigh. Still, the food was good, the crew pulled an extra shift and served an extra meal without complaining (the staff was pretty impressive, given the stress of the extra time worked), so it worked out well. I thought a power failure in the city was a novel excuse for being late, as well.

New York is still New York – like London, there just isn’t enough time to do it justice, so you will always leave feeling you missed something important (and you have.) We spent most of one day at the Museum of Natural History, and probably could have spent the week there. The Museum of Radio and Television has gotten tired of people requesting the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, and just shows it on the big screen regularly.

Here’s an exercise the next time you’re in NYC – go to the Museum of Radio and TV, and check out your favorite TV show from childhood. They have thousands of shows online – you pick four you want to see on a Mac on one floor (they have a room full of Macs!), and then you go downstairs to the viewing room to watch your selections in a “private viewing booth.” (Having spent some time in my misspent youth on 42nd street, I think they may want to rethink that particular term.) The cool part for me was that the shows are intact – when you see the Beatles on Sullivan, you see Sullivan, commercials, other acts and all. It really gives you a sense of the era. (It also gives you a sense of priority – the Beatles finish their last number, take their patented bow, and Sullivan brings out the juggling act to close the show.) J. R. thinks we must all have been dweebs if the commercials had any effect on us, at all. Some of them were pretty cheesy, come to think of it.

We also saw “Stomp” which was a very, very good show, after getting tickets from TKTS about two hours before curtain. I really didn’t expect to get any tickets, but I thought we should go through the motions, since I really wanted to see a show while we were in town. Then, they had them at 25% off. This means the little fart has now seen off-Broadway theatre, so that’s one more thing crossed off his list.

Time spent with the in-laws was a lot of fun. We’re slowly adapting to each other, since I was on less good behavior than last trip, and may actually be myself soon 🙂 Besides, J. R. was the center of attention this trip, so I just hid in the background.

Here’s why I like my in-laws: Her sister decided it would be really funny to take a photo of Virginia with one of her chickens, so Basil the budgie would think Virginia was cheating on him. First of all, what sort of twisted mind would think to blackmail a person with a bird? Secondly, who else could make Virginia (“AAIIGH! Get that thing away from me!!”) pose with a chicken?

Here’s why J. R. likes Virginia’s family: her sister gave him an 8×10 copy of Virginia’s chicken photo.

We flew home into the Sunday thunderstorm in Dallas, circled forever, ran low on fuel, got diverted to Austin in time for its thunderstorm, and got home only six hours late. Let’s see, six hours late on a four-hour plane flight, with one extra bag of snack mix, versus eight hours late on a thirty-hour train trip, with an extra steak dinner. Hmm… Why do I fly?

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.

Almost Acclimated

I’m in Petaling Jaya to attend a seminar that starts tomorrow. I was going to have meetings with the local team today, but as the local team is only one person, and we met yesterday, I’m just working from my hotel room this morning. I know where the coffee is, somebody will bring me food if I call, so why would I walk next door to the office where I don’t have a desk?

I suppose I should be annoyed about traveling here early but I slept until almost 5:30am this morning and I will have to be in the seminar for six hours or so tomorrow, so the extra rest is probably good. I do know I went to Australia once for three days, and was still jet-lagged from Australia when I got home, so the extra time to acclimate is helpful.

I did visit the office yesterday and wandered around the Innovation Center, so that’s another one crossed off the list.

I was probably the only one in the bar last night having a wee pint for St Patrick’s Day. I had to settle twice – first, I went to the Cigar Bar (the Havana Club, which according to a glass by the register is actually a rum brand), and asked for Jamesons, but they didn’t have Irish whisky, so I had to settle for Scotch. Well, they learned it from the Irish, so that’s close.

The Havana Club reminded me of the Ice Bar on the Norwegian Epic – from an employee standpoint, it probably sounds like a really good deal, but then you realize there’s not a lot of traffic (I was pretty much the only customer the whole time I was there last night – my wife and I were alone in the Ice Bar last year), so it’s actually pretty boring. I’m pretty sure in both cases, it’s treated as a promotion – “You’re going to be the bartender at The Havana Club! You will have your own bar!” – but then you get there, and you realize “your own bar” means working alone, and while there are a lot of cigar bars around, there don’t seem to be a lot of cigar smokers. Actually, I was told most people come in, buy some cigars and leave. I felt a little hypocritical having asked for a non-smoking room and then going to the cigar bar, but so it goes. Plus, because I went, I heard the basics of the career aspirations of a cute 28-year old Malaysian woman who doesn’t smoke cigars and is really tired of being alone at work for long stretches.

It just occurred to me that was probably good training for me to be an old, crotchety bartender as my second career. Wait. Wasn’t she supposed to be listening to my problems? It’s a bit awkward to be in a bar when you’re getting hungry, but you feel the need to have one more drink, because the bartender is not finished with her story yet. So it goes.

One interesting note on the Havana Room (for those who don’t follow @xriva on Twitter because I mentioned it there last night, I think), the walk-in humidor has a biometric lock on it. So, the bartender had to lead me into the humidor to choose a cigar after opening the door with her fingerprint. I should have checked if she was packing heat.

This was the second biometric lock I’ve seen in a couple of months – the other was on the SoftLayer Data Center in Dallas. So, I have now have had a cigar that is as secure as the computers running the systems that turn startups into millionaires.

Since I hadn’t had a Guinness for St Pat’s, I stopped in the lobby bar on the way back to my room, but they had Carlsberg on tap, so I settled again. By this time, I was starving, and there was a small tray of sad somethings rotating in a warming oven, so I asked if there was any food available. The waitress brought me a menu, and then brought me another one. The second one was the room service menu. (The first menu seemed to be a subset of the room service menu.)

Another good idea. (Norwegian does something similar on their cruise ships – they will bring you a pizza wherever you are on the ship.)

So, I had a cheeseburger. It was amazingly good. I may have one for lunch, in fact.

Here’s an interesting question – the hotel has a Japanese restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, and an Asian-inspired buffet (where I had lunch yesterday, including sweet corn ice cream), so where does the American food on the room service menu originate? I would actually rather go to the restaurant and have a steak for dinner than try to eat it on the same desk as my computer, but the only place you can get cheeseburgers, sandwiches and mozzarella sticks seems to be from room service, or from room service in the bar.

An interlude – Sweet Corn Ice Cream. Now, when I saw that small tag, I just assumed it was another instance of mis-translation, and it couldn’t possibly be what we call “corn.” I steered clear of it anyway, and took vanilla, which looked very yellow, which means there’s a lot of cream or fat (or something.) 

Back at my table, I took a bite, and it didn’t really taste vanilla. It tasted like … sweet corn. Wow. Now, I’m not saying I would come back here just for the sweet corn ice cream, but once you get over the weirdness, it’s not too bad. It’s just .. weird. 

So, the physical part of acclimation is done – I can go to bed at a reasonable hour, and almost sleep through the night. (Didn’t I have to learn this as an infant?) Tomorrow, comes the schedule acclimation – starting at 9:30 am (maybe 9:45 am) instead of 8:30 am or 9:00 am at home, eating lunch at 1:00 pm (ouch) and finishing, well, when we finish, I guess.

I’ve learned to ask about schedules ever since I had a workshop in Stuttgart years ago, and about 11:30 am, I hit the end of one of the modules, and said, “Well, let’s break for lunch” and my host said, “We’re going to lunch in about an hour and a half.” Oops. Time to keep talking. So, always ask the locals, because not everybody in the world is on the same lunch clock.

Why doesn’t everyone do this?

One of the best parts of international travel is discovering that all cultures do things slightly differently. This is also one of the worst parts, since you end up asking “Why doesn’t everyone do this?”

First, let’s have a counter-example, since it has now happened to me on two continents in the past week. A lot of the hotels I’ve stayed in lately have beautiful stone or faux marble bathroom floors. While this would make my wife extremely happy, these surfaces are extremely slick when they are wet. I am now beginning to assume the Fall of the Roman Empire was due to marble bathroom floors. The floor here in KL is stone, and I slipped this morning – not much, but enough. The floor of my huge walk-in shower in San Francisco (actually in Burlingame) was faux marble and it was really slick. Why did I have a huge walk-in shower? Because when I checked in, the receptionist put me in a handicap room. Now, think of the irony of dying from a fall in a handicap room. This would not look good on a headstone.

Go back to the cheap floors. The clumsy (and splashy) among us will appreciate it.

Now, the proper examples. The first time (and only time so far) that I went to Taipei, there were two rather unique features in the hotel. One, there were rubber ducks sitting on the tub, which a sign around their neck that said you should adopt them. So, I have two Taiwanese ducks at home somewhere. (They’re not as tasty as Peking duck, but they’ve lasted longer.) From a business standpoint, a more important feature – that every hotel should do – is that when the bellman called a cab for you in the morning, he gave you a business card. On the business card was the hotel’s name and address, in English on one side and Chinese on the other. So, when you finished at work, you could hail any taxi and just hand him the card. Brilliant.

I’m in Kuala Lumpur,  Malaysia (actually, in Petaling Jaya – which is like just telling people you’re the Dallas Cowboys when you’re in Arlington) this week, staying at the One World Hotel and I was very happy to find that I have a minibar in my room. Then, I was distressed to find it was empty. Barren. I had never actually seen an empty minibar. (It looks a lot like a refrigerator.) When one of the maids came to bring more bottled water (free and apparently unlimited bottled water – I’m looking at you, every American chain hotel on the corporate list), I asked her about it. First, I apologized and told her that I assumed it wasn’t her department, but then I asked, anyway. She pointed out the card titled”Why is my minibar empty?” which I had missed. Hey, I’m jetlagged. Plus, it was right next to the order form, so it was easy to miss. So, I read the instructions, after she patiently explained it to me. The system at One World Hotel is simple – they fill the minibar with what you order. That’s what had confused me – usually the order form is your sordid confession of what you drank the last night of your stay, when you’re so stressed you drink all the vodka and finally eat the $7 Toblerone. The One World has figured out there’s no sense in having four cans of Heineken in every minibar in the hotel if only so many people actually drink it. There’s an order form that’s an actual order form – it’s not for what you did consume – it’s  for what you will consume if they just put in the minibar – just fill out the form, order what you think you need for your stay, and drop the form off at reception. They’ll deliver it. Why doesn’t everyone do this?

I also give the One World Hotel credit for having random stuff I’ve seen in other hotels, but not usually all at once. In my room, I have a robe, slippers, an iron and ironing board, a safe, a scale and a flashlight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flashlight before, and as a basic security tool, it’s a pretty good idea. They also have a thermostat that will display in F or C, depending on what you want, which is great since I forgot my portable thermometer again, and I can’t do the math in my head. That’s a pretty good list of stuff for a hotel that I selected solely because it was next door to where I will be working this week.

I’m thankful that most places have just started writing  the WiFi password  on your room key jacket without waiting to be asked. It saves a phone call. I’m surprised more hotels don’t just have open WiFi (thank you, Best Western in Hondo, Texas), but I suppose now that they’ve finally chased all the homeless people out of the parking lot, they don’t want to start chasing out the homeless people stealing WiFi and checking email to get their intersection assignments. I do wish more hotels would just have a WPA key so you could create a profile for the location and it would always log in – the software I use creates a profile anyway, so just storing the password would save time. Having to enter a password on a web page is tedious, especially when you can’t always get the page to load. From last week’s four nights in two different Embassy Suites, I appreciate that Hilton has a partnership with AT&T (and admits it) so I can logon to their WiFi with my home AT&T credentials, since I usually lose my room key jacket with the password eventually. Also, kudos to the One World – my laptop was still connected this morning. At most places, the connection automatically drops after some period of time.

The receptionist at the One World Hotel specifically told me the password provided would work for up to four devices – it’s nice knowing there is a limit, since I always wondered. Since I have my mobile phone (no connection other than WiFi since I can’t find Sprint here), my iPad (WiFi only) and my laptop (WiFi), that’s a good number. It also means I don’t have enough devices.

The receptionist did one other thing that every receptionist in the universe should do – even if it’s bullshit. She asked me “smoking or non-smoking floor?” and when I said “non-smoking, please”, she said, “Let me see if I can get you a better room.” Now, for all I know, I have the smallest, crappiest room in the hotel, but when I first walked into it, I’ was pretty sure it was better than the one I almost got, and I was very impressed with it. Marketing genius.

I miss the rubber ducks.

CX881 LAX -HKG

Wow. This is one long damn flight.

Here’s my new definition of a long damn flight: You get on the plane, climb to cruise, eat dinner, take your nighttime medications, and sleep fitfully for what seems to be a long, long time. When you finally realize you can’t really sleep any more, you turn on the navigation channel. There are five and a half hours left to go.

Five and a half hours. I needed to walk around, but I just couldn’t get motivated. It was like I was glued to my seat. So, since it had been almost ten hours since I took my medications, I found the one thing likely to make me walk. I took my diuretic.

After that, I walked around about every thirty minutes.

My seat wasn’t bad, for coach. I had the aisle seat in the middle section, just behind the galley. So, nobody in front of me, and only one neighbor, an older Chinese gentleman (which is important later in the flight.)

Cathay Pacific actually has premium coach, so there are four classes on the plane. Thank you, Corporate Finance, for managing to bump me even lower down the food chain.

Random Thought: There should be a convention of all corporate finance people in Australia. Those fuckers should all have to fly coach to get there, and they should all have to route through at least two airports. Maybe then they would realize business class is not a luxury when you’re talking about flights over four hours or so. (This may be too soon, but on the way home, we should charter a Malaysian Airlines jet and hope for the best.)

The plane is a mix of Chinese and old Americans. From some of the conversation I overheard during boarding, many of the old Americans are going on a cruise. Considering how lost most of them looked just navigating the two aisles of the 777, they’re going to be really lost on a cruise ship. It was like being an extra in The Night of the Living Dead trying to get to the lavatory.

Food was decent, but my recollections of Cathay Pacific business class food were not met (not surprisingly.) The exciting meal was breakfast, where the choices were a mushroom omelet or chicken congee. I did not know what that was, so I assumed it was the token Chinese dish, as the omelet was the token American dish. The person across from me didn’t know what it was, either. All I heard was a muffled discussion, and then “The omelet, please” in a choked voice. The person one row up and across from me didn’t know what it was, either, he just knew it was the only thing his flight attendant had left on her cart. She said in a bright voice, “Chicken congee. It’s like a chicken porridge.” Now, I understood the choked voice.

My flight attendant had one omelet left, and two passengers. Luckily, the other passenger was the older Chinese gentleman next to me, so he had the chicken. I got the last omelet on the plane. Perhaps, there is such a thing as Divine Intervention.

It was a pretty good omelet.

Random Thought: All Boeing 777s should have a photo booth, so you could get a passport photo that reflects how you actually look after an overnight flight.

It’s Sunday.

Remember how I woke up with five and a half hours to go? That’s about how long my next flight will be.

Actually made my connection with time to spare.