Posted on Wednesday, May 21st, 2003
Alrighty then! I wish I could say that I have been on some kind of exotic expedition to the Himalayas, taking time only to blog the Friday Five and see The Matrix Reloaded, but that would be an oversimplification of the truth. I have, in fact, been working day and night to catch up with various projects that have been piling up over the last month. So, for those few friends that have my blog on an XML feed and thought I was dead... you were not far from the truth. About the only interesting thing that's changed in my life is a decision to put off my Australian Hard Rock run for a little while so that I can buy a bike for the summer. Lately I keep running into friends who have purchased new rides, and find myself growing increasingly jealous with each new day (it's nice to get my mid-life crisis over with). The problem is that I have not touched a motorcycle in nearly 13 years! So come July, I'm off to take the MRC so I can get my ME on my DL and then go into all kinds of debt and get a bike. Then I can spend the weeks I was going to be in Australia learning to ride all over again. I can't think of a better way to spend the summer.
Posted on Wednesday, June 4th, 2003
Every year for Mother's Day, I take my mom on a vacation (good boy that I am). This year was supposed to be a trip to Asia, but the last thing I wanted was to pick up a case of SARS, so it was decided to stay closer to home. Since neither of us had ever been to the Grand Canyon, it was off to Arizona for four days of fun in the sun. Now, as impressive as the Grand Canyon is (personally I prefer Waimea Canyon on Kauai) I'd have to say that the absolute highlight of the trip would have to be a stop-over in Sedona.
This amazing, amazing place was supposed to kill 2 hours on the way to the Big Event, but ended up sucking an entire day... and I would have dearly loved to stay longer. Probably one of the most beautiful places I have yet experienced, the best way to see it is with a great company called Pink Jeep Tours, which will take you on a 4-wheel excursion into the Sedona outback. It's a wild wide, a heck of a lot of fun, and an incredible experience that you will remember for the rest of your life. For anybody looking for a quick vacation (or even a long one), you could do a lot worse.
Posted on Wednesday, July 16th, 2003
It's not the added security, long lines, rude people, freaky security agents, lack of seating, take-off delays, or even the noise that pisses me off about airports today... it's eating at the airport that sucks ass! On top of your choice of dining establishments being limited, your choices within those establishments are even further limited. Even if you manage to find a McDonalds, Burger King, or Taco Bell, you're assured of a gravely reduced menu that is extremely vegetarian hostile. And heaven help you if you have to use a crappy independent eatery... they have even fewer choices and far worse food than the shite they serve on actual airplanes! This morning in Milwaukee I stopped at a place that was selling a limited menu for "breakfast." The problem was not that hot dogs were considered a breakfast item whereas pizza wasn't, the actual problem went more like this:
me: Do you have any apples or bananas?
them: I'm sorry, we don't.
me: Oh. Can I get a toasted bagel please?
them: We don't toast bagels.
me: Hmmm... that's unfortunate, can I get it heated?
them: I could throw it in the microwave.
me: (realizing full well that a microwave will destroy a bagel) Okay then, I'll take a nuked bagel with cream cheese please!
them: We're out of cream cheese.
me: (refusing to pay $2.49 for a microwaved bagel without cream cheese, even if I was going to have to pay 49 cents extra for it) Alrighty... can I get a sandwich with cheese and vegetables only then?
them: You can take the meat off, but the sandwiches are pre-made.
me: Well, I guess I'll take a bag of Sun Chips.
them: Is that all? (oh the irony!)
me: Given that I'm a vegetarian, and my only food choices are a rubberized bagel with no cream cheese, a hot dog, or a meat sandwich, I think that's gonna have to be it, thanks.
them: Okay then, you have a good day! (Wisconsin folk are among the nicest people I have ever met, even when telling you that all you're getting for breakfast is a bag of chips).
How sad that you can't even get a piece of fruit for breakfast anymore. With every passing year, the American diet is heading further into the crapper, with the only thing available to eat on the road being foods littered with dead animal flesh, packed with deadly hydrogenated fats, or void of any nutritional value what-so-ever. Is it any wonder that, as a Nation, we're getting fatter and less healthy?
Posted on Tuesday, July 29th, 2003
Here I am in lovely Spokane, Washington! Actually, I am not a big fan of the city, because it's hard to get excited about something when you have to drive 3 hours in 106-degree heat to get to it. The thing I am excited about is the opportunity to eat the best damn pizza on the planet at David's Pizza. This is no joke. I have eaten pizza in every major American city (and oh-so-many not so major cities) along with a good chunk of other cities around the world... and none of them compare to the fine fare you can get at David's. Chicago thick-crust pizza? Fantastic, but this is better. New York stuffed pizza? Excellent, but this is better. Authentic Italian pizza in Rome? Amazing, but this is better. If you ever find yourself in the backwaters of Eastern Washington near Spokane, you owe it to yourself to have a slice (or three) of their "Da Vinci" pizza (with Feta cheese, basil pesto, fresh tomato, and mozzarella) at David's. They've been voted "Spokane's Best Pizza" for 6 years in a row, but I find it to be true no matter where I go.
Posted on Monday, August 11th, 2003
So here I am in sunny L.A. for a few days (sadly, it's all work, so it's not like I'll actually get to enjoy it!). Had the usual delays/gate changes/freakiness that comes with flying now-a-days, the upshot being that I got into the Ontario Airport an hour late (after midnight) which gave me precious little time to get my work set up for the next day, and a measly 3 hours left over for some bad sleep (thank you Alaska Airlines!).
Though everybody in L.A. will tell you that the traffic here is the worst anywhere, I can give a more objective opinion that it is not. Don't get me wrong, it is pretty bad... it's just not as horrible as, let's say, Atlanta or Seattle. At least the people here know how to drive in it. Motorcyclists appear to have it made, because traffic seems very accommodating to lane-splitting. I've seen cars pull to a side to let a motorcycle pass, which is quite different than what I've noticed from Seattle traffic (where they make whiplash lane changes and have no qualms about cutting off anything with two wheels... even if they make no headway doing so).
About the only gripe I continue to have about the "City of Angels" is the smog, which seems to get worse with each passing year. Even on a clear-blue sky day like today, the surrounding mountains are barely visible! The upside is that all that pollution makes for some amazingly beautiful sunsets.
Posted on Sunday, August 24th, 2003
Since I'm at 470 miles on my motorcycle, and it's due for a check-up at 600, I decided that a 380 mile trip to Spokane would put me too far past the mark when you add on the fact that the 120 mile trip to Seattle (where my BMW dealer is at) would total 970 miles. Oh well, there's always another trip to Spokane. Or is there? I mean, summer is running out, and warm-weather days are getting fewer. And then I look out my back window and see this...
How in the heck am I expected to sit in a cage for 3-1/2 hours on a day like this? There is no way I am not riding my motorcycle to Spokane! So now I am unpacking from my carry-on bag into my new Joe Rocket Pack, which is about half the size. Since I am a very light packer anyway, it's not much of a change, but it does make me question whether I really want to carry a fresh pair of jeans over now that I'll be carrying them on my back (hey, they are heavier than you think!).
Posted on Sunday, August 24th, 2003
Well that was fun. My 180 miles into Spokane was uneventful except... after an hour, my ass went numb... and a half hour after that, my legs started cramping up, so I decided to stop for a break. It would seem there really is no comfortable way to spend 3-1/2 hours on my motorcycle\, which I suppose is to be expected, because a cruiser it is not! (half my kingdom for highway pegs!) Even so, there was still much fun to be had (Highway 2 has plenty of interesting curves that makes it really sweet for bikers, and you see a lot of them on the road here). I found out that the F650 GS has no problem at 110 mph, which makes passing much more fun than it has a right to be. I also found out that it is folly to wear my Joe Rocket Pack for more than 15 minutes unless it's empty, which is fine because it straps to the handles on my "passenger seat" easily enough. All things considered, it was a much better ride on a motorcycle than trapped in a car! That pleasant thought has me even more worried that snow could be just two months away. How am I supposed to survive the winter if I won't be able to ride?
Posted on Monday, August 25th, 2003
Nobody stole or vandalized my motorcycle in the middle of the night (which was my biggest worry for this trip!).
Posted on Monday, August 25th, 2003
Coming back home was a little easier than the trip over, and I only had to stop once in Wilber, Washington to take a break for my aching legs and numb ass. Overall, it was a great ride, and beats the heck out of being stuck in a car.
A few things I learned...
And since I am now drastically past the 600 miles for my service inspection, I suppose my next trip will be over the mountains to Seattle. I can't wait.
Posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2003
Okay then. I can deal with the torrential rain and freezing wind... that's just part of riding a motorcycle. But the Seattle traffic I was dreading ended up being just as horrible as I imagined it would be. How bikers in Seattle can stand it, I will never know. The constant stop — go four feet — stop again cycle is sheer torture on a motorcycle, and 8 miles of it is complete agony. By the time I made it through, I felt like I had been beaten in the head with an exhaust pipe.
But there is good news to the day... all the little things that have been bugging me about my F650 GS were fixed right up by the capable service crew at RideWest BMW. And even more important, my heated grips finally arrived! Nothing is sweeter than having warm hands when the sun goes down. The apparel shop even had a solution for road grime obstructing my view... cool BMW Motoraad "Atlantis" gloves that have a nifty "windshield wiper" on the left index finger... just run it over your face shield and problem solved!
But the best part of the day was the ride home. Highway 2 out of Seattle has some truly beautiful scenery, and the road has just enough twisties to make for a fun ride without wearing you out. Makes me more than a little depressed that I have to be trapped in my car for the drive to Spokane tomorrow.
Posted on Friday, September 12th, 2003
I'm heading off to Iceland and Sweden in a couple of weeks, and decided to use a coupon I received to get a new GameBoy Advance SP to kill time on the plane. It's pretty sweet, but the games they have for it are simply amazing! Right now I am addicted to Final Fantasy Tactics which is more fun than Dungeon & Dragons ever was... incredible that such a deep and involving game could be fit into the palm of your hand!
If you've got a lot of time to waste, FFT-A is highly recommended! (screenshots were swiped from IGN).
Posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2003
What a dilemma! I'm using the restroom at the Detroit airport during a layover. As I finish washing my hands, a guy comes from using the urinal and doesn't wash his hands, nearly running over me on his way out. A few seconds later, I emerge to see the same guy approaching some other guy he apparently knows, reaching out to shake his hand. Now, it occurs to me that I'd probably like to be told if I was about to shake some guy's hand after he's been touching his piece, so it's in my mind to scream out a warning, but what in the heck do you say in a situation like this? I mean, the guy probably has urine and heaven only knows what else splashed on that hand! Even sicker is the fact that it was lunch-time, and this guy probably went on to grab a bite to eat.
Posted on Wednesday, September 24th, 2003
Here I am in sunny Baltimore, killing time before my flight to Iceland. For lunch I decided to pop into the Hard Rock and see what's new. Much to my surprise, the Veggie Sandwich is BACK! Much to my horror, it is not the same! First of all, it's not on their famous icebox bread... it's on a crusty roll. So every time you take a bite, the avacado and other goodies go squishing out of it. Second of all, it's much smaller and doesn't come with fries or a baked potato (which, I'm told, they don't even offer anymore). And to top it all off, my chocolate shake was not thick and frosty, it was runny and sloppy (and only 3/4 the way full... there was nearly more whipped cream than actual shake!). So what in the heck is going on at the Hard Rock? It seems they are more about the souvenirs and gift shop than the food anymore, and that sucks!
Posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2003
I arrived at Keflavek Airport at 6am via Iceland Air out of Baltimore, almost a half-hour earlier than scheduled (must be nice to come and go as you please, since you don't really have to worry about disrupting schedules of other airlines in Iceland... heck, are there any others?). The airport is pretty nice, actually, with my luggage arriving at baggage claim just minutes after I got off the plane. It was -3 degrees Celcius with a nice frost covering the area, which is a big difference from the 80 degrees I left in Maryland. The capitol city of Reykjavik is about 40 minutes away via "FlyBus," which runs continuously from the airport at tight intervals. Iceland must have an abundance of electrical energy, because the entirety of the highway leading to the city is well-lit... one might even say "overly-lit"... with a glittering path of streetlights strung out over a barren wasteland in-between.
I decided to stay at the Hotel Loftledir because it is the end-line location for the bus (which means I might get an extra hour of sleep, since I won't have to shuttle in tomorrow morning). The hotel is nice enough... neat and clean, with non-smoking rooms available that are smaller than what we would get in the States, yet fairly standard for Europe. The odd thing is the smell that permeates the place, which is kind of like a lingering fart that won't dissipate. Ends up that this is a sulfur odor from the heating, which is geo-thermal steam from nearby geysers. The smell is also in the hot water, which is piped directly from under the country. After half a day, I stopped noticing the smell so much, but it's still a bizarre kind of reminder that you're not at home.
Probably my favorite part of exploring the city was when I ran across this cat who was smarter than most people I meet. After saying hello, he ran up the side of a building into a window to observe life in the city from a new perspective.
And I also ran across the best use for a top-level domain I've ever seen (Iceland is ".is" for the native spelling of "Island").
Posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2003
The Hard Rock Reykjavik is located in the Kringlan Mall complex, east of the city center, but just a 15 minute walk from my hotel. The cafe itself is quite nice in a classical sense... plenty of wood, with memorabilia crammed in every nook and cranny (sometimes in interesting and inventive ways). The chocolate shake here was excellent, but different than I was used to (there were flakes of chocolate inside!). I wasn't hungry enough to eat anything except a side of fries so I have no idea about the food. Service was nothing special, as the staff seemed far more interested in dusting and cleaning than tending to patrons, but at least they were friendly when they did pop 'round.
The merchandise shop is fairly large for an older property, but all that space is wasted because there were NO LARGE T-SHIRTS!! As if that weren't bad enough there were also NO CITY T-SHIRTS in any size!! And when I asked about it, I was told they have been waiting for stock for nearly two months! The money from T-Shirt sales is gravy for a Hard Rock, so it's almost as if the management decided to ceremoniously burn a couple of hundred dollars every day in lost sales. Every time I run into something stupid like this, I'm left wondering if the cafe in question cannot afford to purchase new shirts and will soon be going out of business (this logic comes from actual experience at Planet Hollywood locations that were eventually closed).
Oh well, I'm still quite happy to have visited the city of Reykjavik and the Hard Rock here... after all, how many people can say they've been to Iceland?
Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2003
The early flight from Reykjavik was uneventful except for the second security screening you get upon arrival to Arlanda Airport Stockholm (which seemed no more thorough than what I got at Keflavek Airport, but oh well). I opted to take the Arlanda Express Train into the city, which is a quick 20 minutes and 180 kroner (about $25 US)... it arrives at Central Station, just a block from my hotel, which is sweet because I didn't have to shell out for a taxi.
It's now 2am and I've just come back from a night out with some new Hard Rock friends I met through my web site. I guess this is one of those times that I'm glad I'm still on US Pacific time, because I'm still good to go! The club scene here is not so different from most anywhere else in Europe... American music and American fashion mixed with a little local flavor for an experience that's much like home, but with enough oddities to remind you that you're a long ways from Kansas.
Since Stockholm is outrageously expensive it was decided we would take a break in the evening to eat at McDonalds, which is far less money than ordering a bite to eat at a club. I tried their "Blueberry & Vanilla Pie" and was surprised to see that they are still frying their pies here... unlike in the States where they've switched to those baked crusts that taste like dried paste. From a health standpoint, I'm sure the frying is worse off, but they sure taste a hell of a lot better!
Before meeting my friends, I took a quick walk through the surrounding area and made a dash through the northern section of Gamla Stan ("Old Town"), which is quite remarkable. Assuming I can drag myself out of bed in the morning, I think I'll head back down and see the Royal Palace... check out a few museums (the Museum of Modern Art here is supposed to be a good one)... then head over to "Vasa Museet" which is supposed to be a cool restoration of the sunken ship "Vasa."
Posted on Saturday, September 27th, 2003
I felt fine last night, but somehow ended up with a hangover anyway. I don't know if it's some kind of jet lag or what, because I didn't think I had that much to drink. In any event, my plans to get up early and explore the city were dashed, as I didn't haul my carcass out of bed until 10:00.
It rained for much of the morning, which was fine by me since I was planning on spending my time in museums. I started by taking a taxi to "Vasa Museet" which is just as incredible as the guidebooks lead you to believe... they managed to restore this old ship after it sat underwater for quite a long time, and it's pretty humbling to stand beside such a masterpiece of workmanship. From there I headed over to the "Nordiska Museet" which is filled with all kinds of crap from everyday living in Sweden over the years... clothes, toys, dishes, tableware, furniture, and just about everything else you can imagine... and found it to be much cooler than I thought it would be. Then it was off to The National Museum so I could take a look at their lone Monet (not really one of his better paintings) and the rest of their collection (which was interesting, but lacking in the areas I like the most).
It was then that I received quite a shock: The Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Architecture are both closed for renovations! That sucks ass! Those were definitely in my top-ten-to-do-list while I was here, and they don't open until 2004! Harsh. I decided to console myself with lunch at Pizza Hut, which may seem like a total cop-out but, since I am vegetarian (and Swedish dishes all seem to be filled with fish), it was better than nothing (though the service was so bad I was wishing I had chose nothing). Lastly, I took a stroll through Gamla Stan (Old Town) and saw the Royal Palace and Treasury.
I've spotted a few motorcycles around, and many times they are BMW, which has me a bit homesick for my own ride back home. I kind of envy local bikers, because the surrounding area must be amazing for countryside riding. And Stockholm knows how to treat motorcyclists right, because I see "motorcycle parking" areas from time to time... that rocks!
Tonight my friends are once again taking me for a night out on the town. One of the girls has to travel in the morning, so we're going to cut the evening short around 11:00. This garnered a few apologies, as I am told that this is when things just start to get going in Stockholm on a Saturday night! Maybe I am just getting old, but I am not too sad about that. Any later, and I am wrecked the next day. At least I got to see the Hard Rock Cafe, at last...
BIZARRE! As I sit here in my hotel room typing this, I hear somebody whistling the tune from "The Andy Griffith Show." I was thinking perhaps that it might be some bored American tourist, but instead see that it is a one of the maintenance staff. How nice that American "historical culture" is thriving with the locals.
Posted on Sunday, September 28th, 2003
Since it was an early night last night I was up a little earlier than usual, and decided to explore a little more of Old Town. True to form, the minute my feet touched Gamla Stan, it started to rain (just as it has the past two days). Perhaps the Norse gods just don't want me in that part of the city because, within an hour of leaving it, the rain stopped.
It was then that I decided to find a T-Bana (subway) and Bus route that would take me to the Royal Palace at Drottningholm (about ten miles outside of Stockholm). While buying a few postcards, I wanted to extend my conversation with the stunningly beautiful sales clerk, so I asked her about my plan. She suggested that it might be nice to take the steamship, which ended up being across the street from my hotel. So, 45 minutes (and 110 kroner) later, I am at Drottningholm Palace. It's nice and everything but, once you've been to Versaille, there isn't much else that can compete (especially when you paint fake "marble" over wood instead of using the real stuff!).
Back in chilly Stockholm I took a walk through the city until I got a bit hungry, then decided to have dinner at a cafe (pretty much bread rolls with cheese and some tea). That was when the moment I always dread happens... I run into other American tourists. Here is about what happened:
Loud American: (screaming to her husband) UGH! THIS HOT CHOCOLATE IS HORRIBLE... BITTER!!
Me: (using a thick, generic, pan-European accent) Excuse me, but zhat ees why ze waiter brought ze bottel of shugar... like your coffee, you may sveeten it as you like [Translation: Hey you loud, obnoxious stereotype, if you would take two seconds to look at your table, you would notice that the waiter has brought you some sugar for your hot chocolate. They do this so that you can sweeten it to your liking, instead of forcing a hot cup of sugar water on your lazy ass like they do in the USA].
Loud American: THAT'S CRAZY!!! I THOUGHT THAT THIS CHOCOLATE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE BEST IN THE WORLD!!!
Me: Perhaps you are theenking of Sweetzerland, no? [Translation: Don't you even know what country you are in, moron? Or is anything outside of the US just "Not America" and that's all you care about? No wonder the rest of the world hates us].
Loud American: YES, SWISS CHOCOLATE!!!
Me: But thees ees Sweden, it ees entirely a deeferent country. [Translation: Just how big of an idiot are you really? Please do America a favorite and take your next vacation to Disneyland so the rest of us who actually give a crap about life outside the United States don't have to pay for your ignorance].
Bloated American Bitch: OH HA HA HAAAA! THAT'S RIGHT!! Your English is very good! Are you from Stockholm?
Me: No. I am from Mazbekistan. Goodbye. [Translation: Since you obviously haven't a clue, I will just make up a name of a country so that you can spend the rest of your vacation wondering if you just spoke with a terrorist].
Oh how I loathe ignorant, arrogant, American tourist idiots.
Posted on Tuesday, September 30th, 2003
Argh. Just one more day in Sweden would have been sweet but, all good things must come to an end, so now I'm back home. As sad as I am that the vacation is over, I am really, really happy to be able to ride my motorcycle again. It was like a punch in the gut every time I saw a Beamer cruising past the streets of Stockholm and, now that I've been riding, I dread the next trip where I have to spend time apart from my ride. Heaven only knows how freaked out I'm going to be when the snow hits.
The worst part about leaving for vacation when I did was the start of the Fall television season, so now my Tivo is completely stacked to the max. The good news is that most of the crap could be immediately deleted... case in point: Coupling. The original version out of the U.K. is one of my most favorite programs, so I was a little worried about how badly it would translate for American television. Well, all fears were justified, as the program is complete and total crap. They've destroyed it. The acting is abysmally bad... even from Rena Soffer, who was amazing in "Oh Grow Up." No spark. No timing. No ANYTHING. And I don't think I would feel any different if I hadn't seen the BBC original either... this show is just plain bad.
Fortunately, Alias was as excellent as always. Why in the hell doesn't this show get better ratings? It's got everything... hot women beating the crap out of people, mystery, intrigue, action, drama... amazing acting and writing talent. If only they would ditch the stupid "Marshall" character (why in the hell does every show have to put an idiot in it?). Tired of the same old boring television? Watch Alias... it completely changes every 4 episodes!
Posted on Thursday, October 2nd, 2003
Why is it that so many people feel the need to stick their nose in other people's business? While waiting in Detroit for my flight back from Stockholm the other day, I purchased a few magazines to have something to + ahem + read... namely, Maxim and Maxim Stuff. I sat down and just started reading an interview with the babealicious lawyer from JAG, Catherine Bell, when some hippie woman across from me has to interrupt:
Uptight Moron: That's not a magazine, it's pornography!
Me: Nobody asked you.
Uptight Moron: I think you should take your smut someplace where children aren't present.
Me: NEWSFLASH: ABSOLUTELY NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU THINK... so shut up and stop bothering me.
She then got up and left in disgust, while some people around me started laughing. I thought for sure she'd end up in the seat next to me on my flight, but sometimes you just get lucky and I never saw her again.
Now look, I am not one to pass my morals (or lack thereof) on other people, and all I ask in return is that you give me the same courtesy. If you feel women in bikinis are pornography, then go protest at a beach somewhere... that's freedom of expression and I'm fine with it. But don't go shoving your "thinking" in my face because, unless you are somebody I know or respect, I just don't give a shit.
Images above were stolen from the Maxim Magazine and Stuff Magazine web sites. Both magazines are packed with high entertainment value, so I recommend picking up several copies.
Posted on Saturday, October 18th, 2003
One of the major benefits of loving to travel the world is the cool things you get to see and do along the way. While on a long layover in Kuala Lumpur, I went into town to have lunch at the Hard Rock and also to visit the world's tallest building(s)... Petronas Towers. This amazingly structure is a work of art in glass and steel, and far more beautiful than it has a right to be. They limit the number of people that can visit the observation deck each day, so I had a long wait to get my visitor pass, but the bragging rights to having been up the world's tallest building was worth it.
This morning I was devastated to discover that I no longer have my bragging rights. As of yesterday, the world's tallest building is the Taipei-101 tower in Taiwan.
Posted on Saturday, November 29th, 2003
Holy shit! While we wait for Horizon to fix the airplane, some old guy has pulled out his BANJO and started to SING! As if the delay wasn't torture enough? I mean, sure the guy is probably just trying to do something nice... BUT A FRICKIN' BANJO?!? Ack, just kill me now.
Posted on Saturday, November 29th, 2003
As it turns out, the stupidity of this morning's Horizon flight delay was just the beginning. I was promised that somebody would re-book my flight, but after 30 minutes of waiting, I decided to use my mobile phone and do it myself. Thanks to the friendly and efficient phone staff at Northwest Airlines, I had completed my re-book in just ten minutes (my first-class upgrade intact). I was told my confirmation code was the same and I was seated in 3-A for both of my connecting flights.
Or so I thought.
Horizon finally boards the flight when I get a rude shock... sometime in the 15 minutes after I hung up with NWA, I had been re-booked again on a different flight with a later connection in Memphis...landing 3-1/2 hours later than my already-delayed arrival. No problem, I board the aircraft and call up Northwest again to find out what happened...
... and this time get the rudest, most horrifyingly incompetent person I have ever had the displeasure of speaking to in my 20 years of travel. It went something like this:
Me: Hello, I'm having a problem because of a mechanical delay in my Horizon flight #2155 out of Wenatchee. I had re-book a flight through Minneapolis, landing in Milwaukee at 4:38, but somehow I'm now booked on a connection through Memphis arriving at 7:05.
Rude NWA Agent: You are going to have to calm down while I pull up your record.
Me: Sorry, I am— (I was GOING to say "I am in a hurry because I am on board a plane and they are going to close the cabin door in a minute," but she cut me off in mid-sentence!!)
Rude NWA Agent: You need to take a deep breath and be calm before I can help you. Now tell me your confirmation number.
Me: Sorry, but I couldn't get to a pen, be— (I was GOING to say "Because I was in-line at the ticket counter when I re-booked and could reach my bag," but she cut me off AGAIN).
Rude NWA Agent (REALLY rudely): You really should be more prepared when you travel. You should always have a pen with you to write down important things like this!!
Me: Uhhh... sorry, but I—
AND THIS IS WHERE THE f#@%ING PIECE OF $#!T HANGS UP ON ME!! Yes, you read that correctly, SHE HUNG UP ON ME!!!
Let me state up-front that at NO TIME was I rude, did I raise my voice, or act hostile IN ANY WAY. I was in a bit of a hurry because I had only a few minutes to use my mobile phone, but that's it!! I don't have any idea what her problem was, but it couldn't have been me.
So I get to Seattle, have to go through the entire story yet again with a new (and much nicer) phone agent as the battery in my mobile starts to drain away. She finally tells me that she can't seem to get me re-booked, and that she'll have to transfer me to another agent. So, for the fourth time in two hours, I explain the problem and get re-booked (again). But this time I get actual tickets from the gate agent, and everything works out... well, at least until I get to Minneapolis and find out that I've dropped out of the computer and my boarding pass doesn't work (yet another blow after having lost my First Class upgrade). The gate agent there takes pity on me and gets me on the flight anyway, which is good, because I was abut ready to kill somebody.
I realize that we are in the middle of the busiest travel weekend of the entire year, but WTF mate?!? Even if I were a rude asshole (which I absolutely was not), I did not deserve to be treated this badly. After I fire off a nasty complaint letter to Northwest, I hope (for their sake) they make this up to me somehow.
Posted on Sunday, November 30th, 2003
Today was a busy day of work here in chilly Wisconsin, and I still have the entire night left to go (the job doesn't end until 7am tomorrow morning). Being too tired to eat after traveling all day, I decided to stop at the Piggly Wiggly for some junk food. On the way to my lodging, this beautiful sunset was out my window:
Which just goes to show that even on rough days there's always something cool going on if you stop and look for it.
Posted on Monday, December 1st, 2003
My work takes me to Milwaukee twice annually, and over the years I've tried to tour the Harley-Davidson Plant here, but end up missing out for some reason or another... either they're closed, there's some special event, all the tours are full-up for the day, or whatever. Today, my luck had finally changed, and I ended up getting a tour (my fifth attempt!).
Overall, the tour is an hour well spent, and is really interesting if you are into motorcycles (and probably even if you aren't!). But if you are expecting to completed Hogs rolling off the line, you are bound to be disappointed, because the Milwaukee plant just builds/re-manufactures engines (to see final assembly, you need to visit a finishing plant in either Kansas City, MO or York, PA... which also houses the Harley Davidson Museum).
If you are wanting to visit, there are a few things you need to keep in mind: 1) There are only three tours each day, with the last being at 1:00, so get there early. 2) They are not open weekends and, during the winter months, are closed Tuesdaysand Thursdays. 3) You must have a government-issued ID on you (such as a driver's license or passport). 4)You must be wearing closed footwear that are not open-toed, open-heeled, or open-sided... they will not permit you to tour if you show up in sandals or something like that. 5) If you ride up on a Harley or a Buell, you get preferred parking right up in front of the factory(!).
Posted on Tuesday, December 2nd, 2003
What is it with f#@%ing idiots that feel the need to drench themselves in after-shave, cologne, perfume, or other such annoying stench? Especially in an enclosed airplane cabin where they stink up the entire plane and make the journey miserable for everybody. Instead of trying to mask the fact that you smell by covering yourself with an even more horrifying aroma, why not take a shower next time?
I think it's a general trend in society where nobody gives a crap about others, and nothing brings out the worst in people than holiday travel. I take one small carry-on knapsack on the plane with me, and yet I'm expected to move it so that somebody who packs their entire f#@%ing wardrobe in huge suitcases has room for their shit. I get to the airport early so that I can be to the gate on time, but have to let idiots who wait until the last minute pass me in the security line. I keep to myself and try hard not to bother or inconvenience others, but that doesn't keep some stupid bitch from cackling and screeching about her miserable life (that nobody but her cares about) in the seat behind me. The list goes on and on.
Sadly, it seems to bet a "me-me-me" society, and people just don't give a crap about annoying others so long as they get their way. Wouldn't it be great if people would bathe, be even a little courteous, and shut the f#@% up already? Travel sucks bad enough
I am so not looking forward to this 11-hour flight.
Posted on Thursday, December 4th, 2003
So now I finally know how tough life can be outside the USA:
The above is what I get when I attempt to load up the iTunes Music Store from Korea. Fortunately, I do have a US billing address, so it's all good for me... but what a bummer this must be for a good chunk of foreign Mac users around the globe!
Posted on Friday, December 5th, 2003
The front of the Hard Rock Seoul has the Hard Rock Cafe motto "Love All, Serve All" emblazoned in big letters above the door... but it turns out this is a crock of shit. First of all, they do not open weekdays for lunch... you can only eat there from 5pm until 10:30pm... a pitiful 5-1/2 hour window. Second of all, the cafe seems to regularly close down for "special functions," meaning that even if you happen to get there at 5:00, there is absolutely no guarantee you can get in.
So I show up at 5:00 and of course, there is a "special function" from 7 to closing... luckily I got their early enough to have dinner, right? Wrong! They don't want to open the kitchen for a measly two hours, so all I could do was snap a few photos and then have dinner at TGI-Fridays down the street.
I suppose this means that the Hard Rock Seoul's actual motto is "Love All, Serve You Only if We Can't Whore Out the Restaurant for a Special Event." Given that Hard Rock Cafes are destinations sought out by tourists, collectors, and the like, I find it incredibly stupid that they should be allowed to close down the entire restaurant like this. When you are granted a license for a HRC franchise, you should be required to maintain consistent operating hours... if you want to host private functions, then build a separate room that can be closed off for that purpose (like most other cafes do).
So, while Seoul appears to have a nice cafe and would seem to have a friendly staff, I still think that it sucks ass because of the lame hours of operation that are not actually guaranteed to be hours of operation. When I come back to Seoul, I wonder if I'll even bother to try again?
Posted on Friday, December 5th, 2003
The traffic in Seoul is bad. I mean, really bad. It's so heinously bad that it can take hours to get from one side of the city to the other. Because of this sad fact, you can't just hop in your car to run something across town... it would take the entire day.
Enter motorcycle couriers! The city is packed with motorcycles (most of them a brand called "Daelim" that I've never heard of before), each with a large rack on the back for hauling cargo...
That alone would not be shocking, but the fact that they will pile the thing 10-feet and higher is pretty scary...
I tried to get a photo of this ridiculous load a guy was hauling through my taxi window (sorry it's a bit blurry). These couriers drive like high-speed maniacs anywhere they can (including sidewalks), but you can see that the guy (and his bike) is dwarfed by stacks and stacks of foam. I hope a gust of wind doesn't catch that and blow the motorcycle over!
The good news is that I found a cool Harley-Davidson shop here in Seoul. It's a pretty class act, and well worth a stop if you find yourself headed toward the North side of the city...
Posted on Friday, December 5th, 2003
A friend was kind enough to take me to a traditional Buddhist/Vegetarian restaurant in Insa-Dong today (which is kind of a touristy area, thanks to the huge number of souvenirs and traditional Korean antique shops and restaurants). As a vegetarian, my eating options are fairly limited at home, so I was pleasantly surprised at the 16 courses that were served in no less than 25 bowls! As the goodies started to pile up, I was beginning to wonder if I would have a place for my soup bowl and plate...
Garlic, which is a staple of Korean cooking was present (nobody uses garlic like the Koreans!), but my favorite dishes were those with a kind of spicy chile paste, which kind of reminded me of enchilada sauce, but not exactly. I definitely have to see if I can find some of this stuff... perhaps in Seattle... when I get back, as I think it would be an amazing addition to any kind of fried or steamed vegetables (and sticky rice, of course).
Posted on Saturday, December 6th, 2003
On the Korean Airlines Limousine Bus to Incheon International, I was thumbing through their magazine when I ran across an ad featuring George Clooney whoring himself out for whiskey. This is quite common in Japan (as the excellent film "Lost in Translation" fictionalizes), but I was a bit surprised to find that same practice here in Korea. I can only guess that George was offered some serious bank to do the spot, and figured "What the hell, nobody I care about is going to see it."
The funny thing about it is the catch-phrase, conveniently written in English: "Good whiskey needs no bush." I have no clue what this means. I doubt it would be some kind of pun against President Bush, but you never know. Perhaps Clooney is just letting us in on his preference in ladies' grooming habits?
Posted on Saturday, December 6th, 2003
Maybe its because I've been here a number of times before, or perhaps I was Japanese in a past life or something... because every time I come back to Tokyo, I feel very much at home. Within minutes of arriving at my regular hotel in Akasaka, I was running off to see what's new in the area.
The first thing I noticed while on the limousine bus ride in from Narita, was that there is a BMW Motorcycle dealership just around the corner from Tameike-Sanno station (exit 9), so that was my first stop. It's a nicely appointed shop with a good selection of models (including a blue version of my beautiful F650-GS!), and about a dozen bikes in stock. Due to the insane Tokyo traffic, motorcycles are everywhere, and it's nice to know that pricey BMW motorcycles can make a home here given the massive number of Japanese bikes on the street.
Next I'm off to the very, very cool Apple Store Tokyo. Surprisingly, this store is not located in Akihabara, which is the electronics and computer district. It is instead located in Ginza, which is the high-fashion district. This makes it very clear that Apple is positioning Macs and iPods here not as electronic gizmos, but as fashion accessories that compliment your lifestyle. Given the high cost of real estate in the Ginza, I shudder to think how expensive this store must have been.
When I arrived, the store was jam-packed... apparently Japan doesn't have the fire codes we have in the States! The first floor is computers, the second is digital lifestyle apps and the Genius Bar, the third is a cool presentation theater, the fourth is software and accessories with an internet Bar, and the fifth is a training center (which you can only see if you pay for one of Apple's hands-on classes). All the floors are connected via two nifty glass elevators at the back of the store, for which there was quite a line-up to access.
In the above shot, you can see how the huge rotating Apple sign at the top makes the building stand out, even when you're down the street. Compared to some of the key stores in the US (like L.A.'s Galleria and New York's Soho stores), this is not a very big property. But for Japan, it's monster-sized, and easily one of the most impressive shopping experiences in the entire city. The wide-open spaces and minimalist decor is almost unheard of in space-impaired Tokyo, but since every available square foot is packed with people, I suppose it's probably a good thing. I really, really hope that the store's instant popularity translates into brisk sales, because this is a flagship Apple Store that deserves every success.
And then I was off to explore Ginza, a part of the city I can only afford to look at...
But probably not even that.
Posted on Sunday, December 7th, 2003
The Japanese have this astounding ability to orchestrate nature into spaces that are beautiful in their simplicity and elegance. After a fine Japanese dinner with a friend at the Four Seasons at Chinzan-so, we walked the gardens to see the leaves turning on the Japanese maples there.
The park here is famous for weddings (there are eight scheduled for today!), and the Four Seasons has a number of "wedding consultants" running at full capacity with young brides-to-be planning extravagant ceremonies for cringing grooms-to-be (who wisely say nothing except "Yes," "Yes," and "Yes")... the dollar total escalating with every minute. I certainly hope that the money spent is truly for a "once in a lifetime event!"
Posted on Sunday, December 7th, 2003
The Hard Rock Uyeno-Eki is located in the JR Eki (Japan Rail train station) building of Ueno. It is easily one of the smallest HRC properties I have ever seen, with very limited seating... I just ate at the bar so I could avoid the line for a table. Like all cafes in Japan, the service is impeccable, which cannot be easy given the cramped quarters that the staff has to operate in. The merch shop, while also quite small, seems huge when compared to the size of the actual restaurant. The atmosphere is a bit subdued, which is the norm for Japanese properties, but you can tell the staff is having a good time and working hard to keep the energy level up.
While not quite on the same level as the first Tokyo property in Roppongi, Uyeno-Eki is well worth a visit... especially given how easy the rail and subway lines make it to navigate through Tokyo. I suggest having dinner in Roppongi, then heading over to Uyeno-Eki for dessert (since they don't have veggie burgers there).
Posted on Monday, December 8th, 2003
After 2-1/2 hours on the speedy Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka I met up with a fellow Hard Rock Cafe fan, Kimono-san, at the new Hard Rock Cafe Osaka Universal Studios (quite a mouthful!). It's a rather impressive dual-level property directly opposite the main entrance to the park. Though smaller in size, I do like it better than the HRC Universal in California, as it seems to have a bit more personality.
After a great lunch, we headed to the new cafe in downtown Osaka. It has been a very long time since I had been to the first cafe here, so I can't really say if this new one is any better than the original. I can say that it's a great addition to the chain. Kimono-san tells me that the building used to be a bank. And, sure enough, you can see in the back of the cafe where the bank vault used to be. As an homage to its origins, they've put some bars at the "vault bar" entrance, which is a clever touch.
As usual for Japanese cafes, the service is perfect and the staff works very hard to make sure you have the best possible visit. When I got back to Tokyo, I decided to make it a "Hard Rock Day" by going to the Roppongi cafe for dinner (which was also excellent).
Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2003
Just a couple Japan-oriented questions I received:
Is it possible to visit Japan if you don't speak Japanese? Absolutely. It's a little more difficult than visiting non-English-speaking European countries (because they don't use the Roman alphabet in "real" Japan writing), but certainly possible. In major cities any important signage is written in both English and Japanese, so all you really need is a good guidebook and you are good to go. Many locals (especially younger people) in larger cities can speak some English... particularly those working in hotels, restaurants and the like. Just prepare yourself to be patient and very observant (subway and train stations can be very confusing!), and you should be fine. Even so, I always recommend learning some basic conversation phrases, which will make your trip a bit easier (and more fun!).
I like your funny stories about annoying American tourists. Anything happen to you this time? I usually find such stories to be more sad than humorous, but yes. On my very first day I was waiting for the subway when two gai-jin (foreign, and most probably American) guys in their mid-40's came up to me to ask directions... for some reason, I am an absolute magnet for lost and confused anglo-tourists. After helping them out, a Japanese man walked by with a surgical mask on. Almost immediately, while the Japanese man was still within earshot, one of the idiots has to say "WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?" to which idiot #2 responds "HEY-HO SILVER AWAY!" Usually, I find it easier to just ignore stupid shit like this but, since I had just helped them out, I felt I could respond. I explained that the gentleman was sick with a flu or a cold, and he is wearing the mask as a courtesy to others so he doesn't infect them with his germs. Unlike in America, where people can barely be bothered to cover their mouths when they cough, the Japanese are much more courteous. As expected, my explanation had no effect, because idiot #1 was compelled to say "ARE YOU SURE? I THINK TONTO MUST BE AROUND HERE SOMEWHERE! HA HA HA!!" Sigh. Why do I even bother. Since Japan is not a very big tourist destination, I'd have to guess that these morons were here on business. With a redneck attitude like that, you aren't going to get very far, assholes.
If you think Americans are so stupid why don't you get the f#@% out! Don't tempt me. It's not that I think all Americans are stupid, I just feel that far too many have extremely narrow world-views that reflect poorly on us in the global community. Particularly when I see how badly we can behave when visiting foreign countries. How hard can it be to take a few hours or so to read up on the customs and culture of the place you are visiting so that you don't offend anyone? It's just common courtesy, but you would be absolutely shocked at how few of us actually make the effort when traveling abroad.
And lastly: Is Japan as expensive as everybody says? Uh... yes. Very. The US dollar is pathetically week right now and Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities on earth (probably tied with Stockholm for the most expensive city?). I always end up spending quite a lot more than I planned when visiting Japan.
Posted on Monday, December 15th, 2003
Nothing quite like showing up in Minneapolis for some bone-chilling weather. I want to stay in my hotel bed, but it's off to work I go...
Posted on Tuesday, December 16th, 2003
After a l-o-n-g four hour drive out of New Orleans, I finally reached Philadelphia, Mississippi which is listed as the home of the Hard Rock Beach Club in Choctaw"] on the official Hard Rock web site. As it turns out, this is not quite true. The property is not in Philadelphia, but part of the ever-growing Pearl River Casino Resort on the nearby Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Reservation. If you don't know where you are going, there are no signs to really help you out, and not much to lead you to it. Since it was dark and there were no signs, I got a bit lost, but eventually found the Beach Club Cafe on Highway 16 (though I took the photo below the next morning)...
While not even close to the magical extravagance of the Bali Hotel & Beach Club, this is still a pretty cool property. There's a heated pool for year-round enjoyment, a sandy volleyball court, and a really great tiki-themed cafe with a staff that was psyched to have visitors during the slow off-season. Is it worth a four-hour drive? I'm not so sure... certainly it could be if you wanted to gamble at the reservation casino or play at the water park. On its own, however, it could use a Hard Rock Hotel, Hard Rock Casino, or some other Hard Rock-type venue to make it truly worth the trip.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Hard Rock Beach Club Choctaw was closed in January 2005.
Posted on Wednesday, December 17th, 2003
One of my favorite cities on earth, New Orleans is one of those places that never leaves your blood once you've experienced it. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the atmosphere... it's all intoxicating. And if you want something really intoxicating, there's always Bourbon Street. Of course the first place I have to visit is Cafe Du Monde for some hot chocolate and beignets, but then it's off to the market to see all the clever crap that we tourists can't live without...
I rarely get the time to take a vacation, but you could do a lot worse than spending it in The Big Easy!
Posted on Thursday, December 18th, 2003
Thanks to Gone with the Wind and numerous other glamorizations of plantation living in print and film, most people have this lovely mint-julep tainted vision of the Old South in their heads... filled with stately mansions like this one called "Oak Alley:"
Truth be told, it's a lovely home, and they have it fully decked out for the holidays.
But then you run across a shocking document recreation like this posted out back...
... and you are instantly able to put everything into perspective. Something about seeing a monetary value put on a human life that kind of destroys any beauty you might otherwise find in the surroundings. Good for Oak Alley in telling the truth instead of (literally) white-washing the horrors that took place there. We will never learn from history if we don't know our history.
Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2003
New Orleans has many amazing things to offer, but the tree-lined streets and beautiful houses in the Garden District are pretty hard to beat. It's here that you'll find a great example of something uniquely New Orleans... the crypts in Lafayette Cemetery. Since the water table is so low (just 12-inches in the older days), there was no way to bury a coffin without it popping right back up the next time a heavy rain hits. So, to accommodate the problem, they have above-ground burials in really cool family crypts:
But the garden district is famous for its classic houses, and you can see a lot of them here... one of the best is owned by novelist Anne Rice (of Interview with a Vampire fame):
Also in the Garden District is one of my favorite zoos in the world... the Audubon Zoo. It's not only really huge, it's one of the more "animal friendly" in that they painstakingly re-create a natural environment to make the animals feel more at home. This silver fox has a great set-up with a den and space to run around and everything:
And, given Audubon's bird infatuation, there's some pretty cool bird exhibits as well. One of the critters that caught my eye this time around was this fuzzy little thing whose name I cannot remember:
Posted on Saturday, December 20th, 2003
Today I happen to be in New Orleans on the occasion of the two-hundred year anniversary of one of the most lucrative land deals of all time... the Louisiana Purchase. It was from this event that Napoleon got the money he needed to finance his wars, while the United States got enough land to double its size (at a fire-sale price of just 15 million dollars!).
To celebrate to occasion, a historical reenactment of the event was held in Jackson Square in front of the St. Louis Cathedral... just 4 blocks from my hotel room. It was a fairly boring ordeal, so I didn't bother to stick around, but it was a pretty landmark day to be in the Big Easy. The Hard Rock here even came out with a limited edition pin for the event:
Times like this make me think about how changed the world might be from what we know if history had been just a little different. What if Napoleon was able to come up with some other way to raise the money he needed and didn't have to sell Louisiana Territory? Or what if it had been sold to some other country? That's history for you.