Forget running the country, making travel reservations is hard work. It's really, really hard work (well, if you don't care how much you'll be spending, it's actually kind of easy work... but to get any type of bargain is so hard). For instance, I've got another trip to Germany coming up. I am entirely flexible as to when I leave and when I return. You would think that such flexibility would mean that I could easily get a decent fare considering that Northwest has about a billion specials running right now.
You would be wrong, of course.
Apparently those wholly incredible wunder-rates only apply if you sacrifice a goat to the internet reservation gods, because I spent close to three hours trying to find them to no avail. I picked the proper dates. I selected the correct day of the week. I even crossed my fingers. Nothing seems to work. I ultimately ended up with a crappy $600 non-upgradeable (the horror!) fare.
Why is it so insanely difficult? I mean, why can't I go to the Northwest airlines site, tell it where I want to go, then have two calendars come up (one for departure, one for return) that will tell me when the sale rates are in effect? It's all computerized, so how difficult could it be?
Something like this would do two things... 1) Customers could easily spot which dates the sale is in effect, which dates are available, and how much the ticket will end up costing them. 2) Airlines could no longer post goofy, unachievable fares, and make their customers waste untold hours trying to find that "magic combination" that gets them the advertised promotional rate.
There are sites that attempt to do something like this, such as Orbitz's excellent "Calendar Matrix," but it's only for domestic flights and really doesn't show where you get the sale rates. Oh well. Whichever airline comes up with something to make reservations for sale fares easier to figure out will be the one that ends up getting my business. Right now they all suck.
Twelve miles down the road from my home in Cashmere is the German-inspired theme town of Leavenworth. It's billed as "The Bavarian Village," but is referred to as "The Barbarian Village" by locals because of the massive influx of tourists that descend like a plague anytime some German-inspired event comes to town. Most of the festivals (like Maifest and Oktoberfest) are predictable. But to ensure a constant stream of tourism dollars, Leavenworth invents things like "Christmas Lighting Festival," "Winterfest," "Icefest," "Artfest," "Winefest," "Accordionfest," "Kinderfest," "Autum Leaf Festival," and "Christkindlmarkt." They'll probably add a dozen new events this year, and I am anxiously anticipating "Wienerschnitzelfest" and "Sauerkrautfest."
But anyway... it's a charming little town that's worth a visit if you happen to be wandering around Central Washington. In many ways, I consider myself lucky to have it nearby, because it's an easy way to kill time with visiting friends and there's a wide assortment of good restaurants and interesting shops available.
Tonight I took a quick fifteen minute drive into Leavenworth for dinner, and see that the town is still all lit up from the Christmas Lighting Festival, but the tourists are eerily absent...
Hmmm... my little pocket camera doesn't do so well at night. Next time I'll have to take my "real" camera with me (because that's the only way to truly capture a bratwurst in all its glory).
Passing through security was, for once, a pain-free experience (no strip-search!). That is not to say that all went perfectly. When I removed my laptop from its travel case, a data CD fell out with it, so I just set it on top. Apparently, this was not a smart thing to do. "LAPTOPS HAVE TO GO THROUGH X-RAY BY THEMSELVES" the disgruntled TSA minion declared. He then grabbed the CD and asked "IS THIS SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY?" Which baffled me until I saw that the CD was labeled "Death Star Schematics." The actual embarrassment directly followed, because I had to explain that the CD really does contain Death Star schematics.
And, before you get all excited, it's not because I am a Bothan spy working for the Rebel Alliance who is attempting to smuggle the plans to Alderran. A couple of months ago I helped a friend (and fellow Star Wars geek) create a digital birthday card for his brother's 40th birthday celebration. The schematics, unfortunately, were just research (the implication being that if I possessed actual Death Star plans, and had the means to construct it, earth would be doomed).
But my geekified embarrassment quickly turned to tragedy once I made my way to the gate... I couldn't get wireless internet access in the South Concourse of Sea-Tac. There are two choices for me here: Cingular, which I can connect to but is so slow that it took five minutes to load up the login screen (you expect people to PAY for this crap service?) and Wayport, which must be down just now, since I can connect but can't get an IP address to have internet access. Lovely.
Given that I am now internet-free, I've had to go find some other amusements to keep me occupied...
Hmmm... this post is getting pretty long, and I'm not even half-way through! Time for an extended entry methinks.→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
For some reason I am an absolute magnet for annoying passengers on the flights I take. An example: the woman with a mustache next to me is smacking her gum and blowing bubbles. The man behind me is seriously hygienically-challenged. Even worse is the woman across the aisle, one row back, who is clueless as to the extent of her suicidal effect on those around her. She drones on and on, barely taking the time to catch her breath, all while the poor bastard stuck next to her is secretly praying for a heart attack (oooh... I'm having a flashback!). See if you can guess which of the following completely unrelated topics of discussion she is just dying to talk about...
The answer, of course, is all five. Fortunately, we have finally "reached an altitude where electronic devices may be used" so iPod Shuffle allowed me to tune her out before she disclosed God's real reason for smiting Asia with tsunamis (I only wish I was joking).
Please let me be seated next to a quasi-normal person for my connecting flight to Amsterdam.
Here I am, back in Cologne. It seems like just yesterday that Perry and I started our Hard Rock Run through Europe here, but it looks like it was actually five months ago. Time flies.
Anyway, I've blogged before about how I love unique hotels with something interesting about them... or grand old classic hotels that have a real history to them. Well now I have another favorite to add to my list: The Hotel im Wasserturm. This is an incredibly cool hotel in central Cologne that was built out of an old water tower (once the largest in all of Europe!)...
My "junior suite" has sweeping views of the downtown area, thanks to being on the 10th floor and having windowed walls that curve 'round the tower... a very sweet suite!
Sleep: One of the benefits (if you can call it that) of only being to sleep 4-5 hours every night is that jet-lag is a physical impossibility. I got around 3 hours of sleep on the flight to Amsterdam. Last night I went to bed at 10:30pm, and was wide awake at 3:00am. That's four-and-a-half hours, so nothing has changed. I can't even tell that I am nine hours displaced. I must be missing my internal clock.
Telly: Fortunately, with so much dead-time available to me, I brought plenty of downloaded television shows to watch. Primary amongst them are the last eight episodes of Battlestar Galactica which have already aired in the U.K. (they just finished episode #13 while we're only at #5). I can only guess it's because Sci-Fi Channel wanted to air them later so they had something new going during "sweeps?"
Powerbook: My aging PowerBook G4 has been drug around the world numerous times, and is in constant use back home as well. Because of that, it's getting pretty beat up and I should start thinking about getting a new one. Apple just speed-bumped their entire PowerBook line, added some nifty new upgrades, and lowered the prices... so now might be time. The 15-inch PowerBook I wanted last week was $2900, whereas now it's $2300 (and is faster with more features). Of course, it might as well be $23,000,000 because I ain't got that kind of cash.
Connect: My internet connection here at Hotel im Wasserturm is $13 for two hours. It baffles me that even the cheapest of hotels in the US offers free internet, whereas hotels in Europe gouge you for a connection. Hopefully some big hotel chain will start the ball rolling with free internet so everybody else will have to follow suit to compete, because this sucks ass.
Daylight: I've ranted about the stupidity of Daylight Saving Time a few times in this blog, but must admit I find it strange that it's 6:30am outside and still dark! Ah well, time to get dressed so I can go to work.
Native English-speaking people are either really lucky or really lazy, and I can never make up my mind which it is. Because every time I attend some kind of international gathering... a meeting, a trade show, an exhibit, or an event of some kind... it never ceases to amaze me how many non-English speaking people are fluent in several languages. And, of course, everybody knows English, which makes it the "lowest common denominator" for the internationally-minded traveler. I guess that puts "American-English" just one level above grunting and making obscene gestures, but at least you can watch the latest Julia Roberts movie once you've mastered it.
Since I am already fluent in English (which is debatable, I grant you) the incentive to learn a foreign language for practical purposes is quite low. Sure I can make basic conversation in Japanese, and know a smattering of helpful phrases in Spanish, French, Italian, and German, but that's a long way from fluency. In fact, unless the conversation is about finding a toilet, saying "thank you", or ordering a cheese sandwich, then I am pretty much useless.
And I hate that about myself.
Seriously... the kid clearing my lunch table here today knows German, French, Italian, English, and some Dutch. And I don't mean that he has memorized a few phrases so that he can ask "may I take your plate" - this guy can actually discuss the finer points of nuclear fission and the perils of using low grade uranium and light metals for the process, all in your choice of tongues.
And there you have one of the cultural differences that set us apart. In the USA, any native who is fluent in a foreign language is considered a genius and should be working as a translator at the United Nations to bring about world peace. In other countries, if you know five foreign languages, you are considered average and are qualified to handle dirty dishes in a restaurant.
I guess that makes native English-speaking people both lucky that we don't have to learn another language and lazy in that we so rarely bother. I feel really stupid today.
Oh, and before I forget, I received five emails about Hotel im Wasserturm, so I'll try and address the questions y'all have about it here in an extended entry (though, you should really try leaving comments so everybody can get involved... it's painless, and you don't have to even provide any personal information if you don't want to!).→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Confidentiality agreements preclude me from ever discussing my work here on this blog, but I can say that I took a nice detour to the largest candy and biscuit show in the world today ("biscuit" meaning "cookie" for the benefit of any Americans out there). This fascinating trade show which showcases sweets from around the world is the ultimate exercise in restraint, because every booth is passing out free samples of the delectable treats they make. And, since this was the last day of the show, most companies are desperately trying to get rid of everything so that they don't have to take it home with them. As I understand it, at 18:00 hours, the doors are open to the public, and scores of German sweet-tooths descend like locusts on to the showroom, devouring anything in their path. I would have really liked to have seen that.
Anyway, walking the show takes an entire day, because that's just how big it is. Even then, I was practically running from booth to booth so I would get to sample see everything. Here are my top-three favorites...
Yes, BLUE PEEPS were representin' in the house! There's something to be said for going on a pure-sugar high, and Blue Peeps are the best way to do so if you don't want to mess with any wacky flavors or other distracting ingredients that are not sugar. I also scored some Necco Wafers, Tootsie Rolls, Lemonheads, Hot Tamales, and a handful of other sugar-fied favorites that are guaranteed to keep me entertained for hours. I'm hoping my coma doesn't hit until I finish this entry.
I'm a sucker for any product that dares to put a screaming monkey on their package, and this banana candy that comes out of Brazil is a class act. All that's missing is a word balloon which says "BUY THIS CANDY OR DIE!" coming from the naughty monkey, and our slow descent into Planet of the Apes style madness can begin (so I've gone ahead and taken care of that for them). Sadly, they didn't have any bags I could take with me, but I did get a taste and it definitely kicks ass monkey-style. I'm hoping that some American importer picked it up so I can buy it at my local grocery store. This has "cult-favorite" written all over it, and I need me my monkey candy fix bad.
There were a number of products that had me saying "WTF mate?" (Swiss Army Chocolate?)... and Jack Daniel's Fudge was definitely on that list. But it's not the fact that it's an alcohol-based candy which has me confused (it's about time!)... it's because the stuff is made in Australia. Yes, for a weekend of fun, nothing beats tossing a shrimp on the barbie and then getting wasted on whiskey fudge while shooting kangaroos, koala bears, and other adorable creatures in the land down-under. I am so proud that in addition to Starbucks coffee and McDonald's hamburgers, America is now starting to export our entire redneck lifestyle to other countries. Go America!
Well, I'm off to pack my bags for a few days of vacation. Hopefully I will have internet access where I'm going so I can post the FridayQ this week.
There's nothing quite like having to plan your next trip while in the middle of your current one. Especially in a foreign country at 4:00 in the morning. It's even worse when you consider the wild acrobatics you have to endure to find the best price. And that brings me to a rant that has been building for a long time...
Frequent travelers face a mystery that seems to defy logic every time they plan a trip: exactly how do airlines calculate their fare schedules? For example, my next trip is to Memphis, Tennessee. Coincidentally, Northwest Airlines has a hub there, so there is a direct flight out of Seattle (I should know, I was just there four days ago to transfer to my Amsterdam connection). Lucky break right? A direct flight with no connections is bound to be cheaper than a flight with a layover somewhere isn't it?
The answer, if you hadn't guessed, is "no."
Once my outbound flight from Wenatchee is removed, a direct flight from Seattle to Memphis is nearly a $600 round-trip. A staggering sum considering I flew all the way to Germany for $30 less (with two connections, one of them in Memphis!). But guess what? A flight from Seattle to Nashville (which requires a connection in Detroit) is just $320. WTF?!? That's that's almost half the cost! I wonder if there's something strange that happens when you calculate actual miles flown:
Nope, that's even worse! They charge 58% less per mile to fly 22% further, and that doesn't even begin to address all the extra costs that's involved in adding a second flight. What kind of bullshit economics is that? No wonder airlines are losing money! They charge less to use more fuel, more facilities, and more labor. The stupidity of such pricing is baffling to even the most mathematically challenged.
So guess what? I get to rent a car in Nashville then drive three hours to Memphis. Fine with me, they've got a swell Hard Rock Cafe in Nashville, so I'll be stopping there for lunch before I go. And then I guess I'll be having dinner at the Hard Rock in Memphis later that evening. I was going to have to rent a car anyway and, with unlimited mileage, I will still save hundreds (even after the gas to get there is factored in). That's lame.
It would be easy to put all of this on Northwest Airlines, but it seems all major airlines are guilty of the same crazy shit. So the next time the airlines start crying about what bad shape they're in and go begging the government for a bail-out, I hope Uncle Sam tells them to go f#@% themselves and instead demand that they hire a financial manager to explain basic economic principles to the people who set the pricing, thus encouraging passengers to fly a route that costs airlines less, not more...
Sheesh! Hmmm... I'd better get packed. A few days vacation in a warmer climate awaits!
I took a quick two-hour flight on the ever-excellent GermanWings airline out of Cologne, and ended up in Barcelona. Since I had never been here before, it was going to be a new adventure for me. After taking the train into the city, I checked in to my hotel, grabbed my camera, and then headed out.
My first stop was The Cathedral, a compact yet no-less impressive church at the heart of Barcelona. Unfortunately, as with most places I've been visiting lately, the structure is completely covered in scaffolding and undergoing repairs. I was a little disappointed, but that vanished just moments after entering the grounds. It's hard to be upset when you are greeted by geese...
Leaving my new friends behind, I enter the building...
...and proceed to lose my mind. The architecture is just amazing here. Eventually I manage to tear myself away so I can go eat lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe...
Don't let the plain exterior fool you. Inside, it's all Hard Rock and very well done...
It's still fairly early, I think I'll go wander through Old Town and see what I can find.
The most famous street in all of Spain is "Las Ramblas" in Barcelona. Here you can find shops of every kind, from famous designer brands to street vendors selling pets, flowers, food, toys, and everything else you can imagine. As the sun began to set, I spied a glow off to the side and realized it was an open-air produce market. The "St. Josep Mercat" to be exact. From the outside, it looks like it might be a single street which has been covered to protect the vendors from the elements (artfully framed with stained glass tiles)...
Inside, it is entirely another matter, as it ends up being a huge, sprawling market with row after row of the most beautiful produce you've ever seen. Massive strawberries so red they seem to glow. Beautiful peppers so fresh their smell fills the air. Everywhere you look there's mountains of perfect food, all painted with a bright rosy light for maximum appetite appeal. A photo can't really capture how overwhelming an experience this is for the senses, but I decided to try anyway...
A few vendors were selling bowls of freshly cut fruits, so dessert was at hand! As I headed back to the hotel with my prize, I decided to take some side streets so I could get lost in the hundreds of back alleys and tiny walkways that create a vast maze in Old Town Barcelona...
As I sit here eating strawberries and typing away on my PowerBook, I am saddened that I've only got a day-and-a-half left in this amazing city. I can't wait until sunrise so I can begin exploring once again.
Given that this is my only full day in the city, I had made detailed plans as to how I wanted to spend it. I wrote down everything I wanted to see, then mapped from point to point, ensuring that I had the most efficient route planned. This is not the way I enjoy sightseeing, I loathe time-structured travel but, given my time constraints, it was the only thing I could do.
Museu Picasso: Most people only associate Pablo Picasso with his later, more surreal and abstract art. What seems to be overlooked is his earlier and equally brilliant works, forming a foundation from which his methods and stylistic choices were built. While a very nice museum, I actually think that Picasso is better represented in other venues I've seen. I was, however, blown away by a temporary exhibit of Alberto Magnelli works. This artist has a huge influence over my own painting efforts, and I was beside myself with excitement when I realized he was showing here. I've never seen so many of his works in one place, and cannot believe my good fortune in having seen this exhibit (it ends on Sunday!!). Sometimes I am the luckiest person on the planet.
The Arc del Triomf: A beautiful structure, and part of my effort to see city arches whenever I find them.
The Sagrada Familia: This was the most important thing on my list to see. To me, Gaudi is Barcelona, and this Modernista architectural marvel is his undisputed masterpiece even though it remains unfinished to this day, and he died before much was done on it. Wherever you look you see beauty in every form and, once it has been completed, I will be returning to Barcelona to see it (hopefully it will be finished in my lifetime!). Despite my extreme fear of heights, I took the lift to the top, and did my best to subdue my terror so I could look out over the city and better inspect the cathedral.
Casa Mila: Another Modernista wonder by Gaudi, Casa Mila is a bizarre structure, yet undeniably beautiful. There's something almost sinister about a building with no straight lines, but it somehow comes together as a compelling work of art.
Fundacio Joan Miro: I will admit I am not a Miro fan. On the contrary, I pretty much dislike every piece of "art" I've ever seen of his. Unlike Picasso, I never get the feeling that there's any talent behind his artistic endeavors, and they don't evoke any sort of emotional response either. All I see is a bunch of paint slopped on a canvas for no discernible reason. I did enjoy his "Barcelona Series" of lithographs, which are amusing doodles... almost cartoon-like in nature, but that was about it.
Museu Frederic Mares: This has to be one of the strangest museums I've ever seen. Mares collected very specific subjects, and being able to contrast and compare dozens of different versions inspired by the same source is enlightening. For example, where most museums would be content with one or two carvings of Jesus on the cross, Mares decided to show hundreds of them. All somewhat the same, but very different at the same time.
Salvador Dali: There wasn't time to visit Teatro-Museo Dali in Girona, but I was sure to stop by the exhibition here in Barcelona. Dali did so much more than the "melting clocks" that made him famous, and a nice chunk of that was on display, along with Dali photographs and sculpture.
All in all, a very full day that had me bouncing from one corner of the city to the other. Fortunately, Barcelona has an excellent public transportation, anchored by a terrific subway system. This allowed me to see everything on my list, and a few extra sights along the way. Only problem is that my legs are hurting from all the walking, and I am completely exhausted. I'd go to bed early and try to recover, but I'm meeting a friend for dinner and don't want to miss that!
It's kind of odd when an American and an Italian meet in an entirely different country, but that's what happens when you are both living the jet-set lifestyle! Anyway, my fellow Hard Rock fanatic was in the neighborhood (well, relatively speaking... she was only an hour's train ride away) and agreed to meet up with me at the Barcelona Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. Upon arrival, we both decided we'd much rather eat at an authentic Spanish tapas bar, then return to the HRC for dessert.
Unfortunately, after nearly exploding from eating too many different tapas (my favorite being "Patatas Bravas" - or spicy fried potatoes), we had no room for dessert! Still, it was great fun, and I was happy things worked out so that we could get together.
On the way to meet my friend, I ran across these two dogs who were very much bored at being tethered to a post, and were trying to entertain themselves by making friends with passing pedestrians. Some people were annoyed, but I thought the dogs were very polite about it...
I had exactly one goal on my final day in Barcelona before returning to Cologne this afternoon... touch the waters of the Mediterranean. I needed it to add to my "collection" of major bodies of waters that I've put my hands on.
It was a lot colder than I thought it would be, even for a dreary day in February.
After getting sand in my boots and frozen fingers, I took a walk up to the lobby of the world-famous Hotel Arts. I would have really liked to have stayed there, but it costs something like a billion dollars a night, so perhaps next time.
And now I bid Spain adieu...
Oh you just know the day is going to be crap when you get off to a really bad start. But first, a short tale as to how I came to be where I am now...
Because I knew I was going to be in Cologne for only six hours, I decided to book a hotel near the airport that had shuttle service. I didn't really mind how much of a dump it was, the only thing I cared about was that it had a shuttle bus. So, when I saw this "Quality Inn: Cologne Airport Hotel" among my choices at Expedia.com...
... that's all I needed to know, and I booked a room.
Except that the hotel is nowhere near the airport and does not provide complimentary shuttle service ("we don't have bus... call taxi"). The fact that I had to pay 20 Euro for a taxi to get there nearly caused me to explode with rage. Infuriated that Expedia could provide such blatantly false information, I fired off an email to customer service and got this as a reply:
Well how lovely is that? So If I list my apartment as a five-star resort complete with swimming pool, spa, beach club, and gourmet restaurant, does that mean I can rent out the hide-a-bed in my sofa as a hotel room on Expedia (even though the closest thing I have to a swimming pool is my bathtub?). I find it reprehensible that Expedia disavows all responsibility in their listings, and will start dealing with hotels directly from now on.
The really shitty part of the deal is this: for that kind of taxi fare I could have been staying in the actual city instead of in the middle of nowhere. It's really too bad, because I would have much rather eaten dinner at the Hard Rock instead of the mini mart at the Shell gas station across the street.
Anyway, In order to get to the airport on time, I have to wake up at 4:00am so I can get a taxi and be there by 5:00am (another 20 Euro down the toilet). I woke up shortly before then, chugged a Red Bull to get me moving, then started packing my things. It was then that I looked at my wristwatch and saw that it was not 4:00am... it was 2:00am. The clock in the television was wrong.
Good thing I drank that Red Bull.
After watching German television for two hours on a Red Bull buzz (or rather, American television dubbed with German translation), I'm off to the airport.
And now I am back home. Unfortunately, it was not without incident. The latch on my PowerBook somehow broke when it was run through the security checkpoint in Minneapolis. I have no idea how much it's going to cost to fix but, since I've been wanting a new laptop, perhaps this is yet another sign.
And it only goes downhill from there. When I left a week ago, the mountain passes were bare. Last night a winter storm had hit as I was driving back, making a huge snowy mess that caused the usual 2 to 2-1/2 hour drive to take just under 4 hours. Since it had rained earlier in the day, the snow was falling on ice, meaning that the roads were extraordinarily slick... cars were flung off the road left and right, and cops were everywhere trying to help out. At least twice some dumbass would blow past me at reckless speeds, only to end up in an accident down the road. Idiots. I didn't even bother to stop, because 1) nothing looked serious... just morons stuck in a ditch, 2) it's their own stupid fault that they think 4-wheel drive makes them immune to icy roads, 3) I don't have a winch, so all I could do is laugh at them for being so stupidly careless, and 4) there were so many snowplows and cops out that they can deal with it, because that's what they are paid for.
I just don't get it. The roads are truly perilous. The snow is falling so hard that you can barely see two car-lengths ahead. You can't use high-beam lights to see where you're going because the falling snow just reflects them back in your face. And cars are being tossed all over the road, meaning you may have to stop at a moment's notice. WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DRIVE AT RECKLESS SPEEDS?!? Seriously, I never drove over 35 miles per hour and barely made it home in one piece, especially considering my nerves were shot having to stare at this for four hours...
That's a car coming the opposite direction that's run off the road and appears to be hung up on a guard rail there on the left.
The night was finally made complete when I got home and noticed that the TSA had also busted the zipper pull on my suitcase. That's sucks ass because it's less than a year old! Sure I had a lock on it, but it was a TSA-approved lock!! Oh well, I guess if I can't repair it, I'll be buying a new suitcase in addition to a new PowerBook.
The one bright spot in the entire 19-hour ordeal of taxis, flights, layovers, and driving was a book I found at Amsterdam Schipol International Airport, called A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson...
I've never heard of the author before, but apparently he is well-known in the U.K. (where he lives now, though he was born in the US). He has a witty and engaging way of writing about him that I haven't seen in a long time... almost Douglas Adams-esque in a way.
Anyway, this wholly remarkable book tells the history of the universe and the scientific discoveries that have led us to understanding everything from the Big Bang and the formation of the earth, all the way up to atoms, molecules, cells, and the evolution of life itself. All presented in a relatively approachable manner that makes it tangible and understandable. I think even Creationists can appreciate the book from a historical perspective, as the stories of how things were discovered (whether you believe in them or not) are almost as compelling as the discoveries themselves. Very sweet. Now I'm going to order up some of his other books at the library.
And now I'm off to Tennessee... I'll be sure to say hello to Elvis for you.
And with that, Dave has left the building.
Back when I was a casual traveler, I often thought that flying First Class would be a utopia of flowing champagne, in-flight manicures, world-class dining, and non-stop entertainment. But, as is so often the case, such a fantasy was not to be.
This is not to say it's not better at the front of the plane... the additional leg-room and extra space alone is worth flying First Class. And sure, there are other benefits, including better food, never-ending drinks, all-you-can-eat snacks, and more attentive service. But when it comes right down to it, First Class is not all it's cracked up to be. How can that be?
Because there is so little "class" in First Class.
And to explain this, I will have to dispel a common myth... the misconception that people in the First Class cabin pay for their First Class tickets. This is rarely the case. Most people sitting in those big, comfy seats did not pay the ridiculous "F" fare, but were instead upgraded to First Class. There are many, many ways to get upgraded, but the most common is because you are a good customer. You fly lots and lots of miles with an airline, and so they reward you with First Class upgrades and other perks to keep your business and keep you flying.
And because I fly quite a lot I am pretty much assured of getting upgraded on any domestic flight, and have learned some tricks as to which days and what times to fly that will almost guarantee it. For international flights, I can sometimes pick a fare that will allow me to use my "mileage" to upgrade, but usually upgradable fares are far outside of my budget. In any event, I've got a narrow ass that fits just fine in those tiny coach seats and can easily ignore the world around me, so getting upgraded is not something I obsess about. It's nice if it happens, but I'm not devastated when it doesn't.
But my "no-care attitude" is exceedingly rare among the frequent business traveller. I have seen passengers screaming at the gate agent because they can't get an upgrade. I have seen passengers actually re-book their flight if an upgrade didn't come through. In fifteen years of constant travel, I have seen it all: drunks, drugs, sex, fights, fire, yelling, screaming, singing, praying, crying, barfing, bleeding, evacuations, medical crises, emergency landings, prisoner transfers, and even a food fight. But all of that pales in comparison to a frequent flier not getting an upgrade. And the horror doesn't stop once they've gotten it.
Which brings me (finally) to my point. The most disappointing things that occur in-flight, always seem to happen to me while flying First Class, because there are just entirely too many assholes up there. Not everybody, of course, but there always seems to be one or two of them that just make me wish I could run to the back of the plane and hide out amongst the huddled masses in coach.
Today was such a day. This arrogant, obnoxious, disgusting pig of a passenger sat two rows ahead of me and was about as bad as it gets. No rules applied to him. HE got to bring extra luggage onboard (including a huge roller bag, a stuffed garment bag, and an enormous brief case). HE got to take up an ENTIRE OVERHEAD BIN with his shit. HE needed his Jack Daniels and Soda immediately. HE demanded they take his jacket ahead of everybody else. HE wanted to trade meals because the chicken was "unacceptable." HE can talk on his mobile phone during take-off and landing. HE could use his computer when electronic devices were no longer allowed... It was an entire flight of ludicrous demands and abusive demeanor that made me want to get up and stab him in the neck with my fork. If I had to sit next to the insufferable bastard, I'm sure I would have.
And all I can do is think back to those long-ago days where I would sit in my tiny coach seat, dreaming of a life of class and elegance behind that magical curtain at the front of the plane. Too bad reality had to come along and f#@% it all up.
I end up in Memphis quite a lot, but usually just to change planes. I haven't been to the city proper in almost five years. I can't think of a really good reason for that except to say that I'm don't have work in the area very often. But come Monday, I do indeed have some work to attend to, so here I am.
And since Monday is a work holiday for me ("President's Day"), I decided to trade it out for today so I could come in early and take a drive down to the Florida Panhandle. Or, more specifically, the city of Destin, where a new Hard Rock Cafe opened up a while back.
I am planning on leaving at 7:00 in the morning for the nine-hour drive down. But right now I'm not thinking about that, I'm thinking about how my crappy airport hotel doesn't have a restaurant nearby, or even a vending machine available. I always like to go to bed a little bit hungry, but not starving. Something tells me this is going to be a long night.
When I woke up, the last thing I wanted to do was spend the entire day driving. Some vacation. But I was already committed to the trip, so it was off to the Hertz Rent-A-Car desk to pick up my ride. As usual, they decided to reward my "Gold Club" membership with a "car upgrade" from a nice compact Mazda to a massive Buick LeSabre. I know they think that they are being nice, but I HATE it when they do this! If I wanted a big-ass Buick, I would have ordered one! Not only am I uncomfortable in larger cars, I will be driving over a thousand miles, and would rather have a more fuel efficient model automobile. But I don't have time to argue with Hertz, so I pack up this gigantic beast of a car and take off. And check out that license plate, I'm a Texan now...
The drive to the Florida Panhandle was largely uneventful. Central Mississippi is pretty sparse along highway 55, with the exception of Jackson, so there's just not a lot to do along the way. There used to be the Hard Rock Beach Club out in Choctaw, but it has recently closed, leaving me with nothing but mile after mile of asphalt. About the hardest part of the entire drive through the state was at the very end when I had to make the decision to turn left and head to Mobile then onward to Destin... or turn right and head to New Orleans. Since New Orleans is one of my most favorite cities in the USA, you can understand my dilemma. But I had been to The Big Easy not so long ago, so Alabama it was.
But first I needed to stop for gas. I saw a billboard that said "EASY ACCESS" and "CLEAN RESTROOMS" with the "CLEAN" part underlined, so I figured that must be the place for me. Holy crap! If these were CLEAN restrooms, I shudder to think what a dirty restroom must look like...
Scary. I think I ran back to the car.
Now, unlike most times when you move from state to state without even realizing something has changed... entering Alabama is another matter entirely. The minute you cross the border, the majestic four-lane highway with a wide median in Mississippi instantly becomes a two-lane country road with no median at all. Suddenly there are Baptist churches popping up every five minutes. You start to see homemade billboards that say "JESUS IS LORD" and businesses with signs proclaiming "IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE, DON'T BOTHER STOPPING." Welcome to the deep, deep South.
Anyway, pretty soon I was in Mobile, then crossing into Florida, so I was making good time and all was well. After eating a late lunch at the Hard Rock and walking along a beach so white that it looked like snow instead of sand, I turned back toward Tennessee and made it as far as Birmingham (802 miles total)...
And tomorrow I am back to Tennessee for a trip into Gatlinburg to visit the only Hard Rock Cafe in the world with a wedding chapel attached, then onward to Nashville... a mere 518 miles, hah!
The drive up from Birmingham wasn't that bad until the rain started coming down... in a torrential flood. I know Seattle has a reputation for rain, but this was about as bad as I've ever seen it in either Seattle or Orlando. It made driving a bit difficult in spots (particularly when passing a truck), but I'm kind of used to the rain from my many drives over to Western Washington.
I've already mentioned how Nashville is an amazing city (even if you don't like country music), but here's the best part... they have one of my favorite hotels in the entire world: The Wyndham Union Station. If you've read my other travel notes, you already know that I have a fondness for unique, quirky, historical properties. This one is cream. What used to be Nashville's train station was turned into a stunning hotel in 1986...
"Beautiful" doesn't even begin to describe this majestic building, or even elude to the meticulous care they took in restoring it (the Tiffany stained glass ceiling could not have been easy). My room is right on the upper terrace, and is cavernous. I swear, it seems as though my ceiling is 20 feet tall! Right now, there was a wedding party below, and I am serenaded with really good music until bedtime, which is kind of a cool way to end the day.
You would think that this opulence would come at a high cost, but it doesn't. Because it's a half-mile from the downtown "scene," it is actually very reasonably priced (my internet rate was a measly $89!!). So if you ever end up in Nashville, there's really only one place to stay... the Wyndham Union Station, which I cannot recommend highly enough.
P.S. And, per request, here's a photo of the previously-mentioned Hard Rock Merch Shop, formerly known as the "Silver Dollar Salloon." Like the cafe behind it, the building is very narrow. If I remember correctly, the reason it got the name is because it was decorated with silver dollars pounded in the floor (or something like that).
Apparently, the rain gods were not done with me yet. In the morning I took a walk to get some photos and it was overcast but nothing serious. An hour later when I checked out of the Wyndham, it was pouring buckets once again. Fortunately, by the time I was an hour out, the skies cleared up.
Now that I've come full-circle, my odometer is telling me I put a total of 1558 miles in...
My work wasn't starting until 1:00, which gave me plenty of time to stop by Germantown on my way into the city. This suburb of Memphis is infamous for the Apple Store sign fiasco a while back. If you've ever visited an Apple Store, you know that the only signage is a giant glowing Apple logo. Well, that's a double strike-out, because 1)You can't use food items in Germantown signage, including an apple and 2)You cannot have any self-illuminating signs either. It was eventually all worked out, but the store opening was delayed an entire month while the debate raged on...
The reason I stopped was to see if I could get some kind of deal on a new PowerBook, but there was no deal to be had. That's kind of a shame, because I would have purchased one on the spot if they had only offered to pop in some extra RAM or something. I guess Apple being Apple doesn't feel the need to deal. Oh well, when I can managed to scrape some money together, I'll just order one online. I sure hope they've improved the durability of the latch in the newer models.
Work finished early, which means I was able to change my flight to go home tomorrow instead of Wednesday, which is kind of nice. One more extra day at home before I have to ship out again. With my reservations changed, it's off to the Hard Rock for an early dinner, then onward to the lobby of the Peabody to have a drink and visit the ducks...
The Peabody is yet another landmark historic hotel that I enjoy quite a lot. On top of that, there's ducks, of course. Legend has it that manager of the hotel had a drunken inspiration to release his live decoy ducks into the lobby fountain. That was in 1931, and there are still ducks there today. In fact, now it's a daily ritual where red carpet is rolled out and the ducks descend in their private elevator from their penthouse retreat every morning at 11:00am, then return via the red carpet treatment at 5:00pm after playing in the fountain all afternoon. It's an amazing site, with band music, a Duck Master leader, and an entire lobby full of people cheering on a bunch of waterfowl. Good times.
The thrill of getting to come home a day early was slightly overshadowed by my hotel stay last night... whoever was in the room next to mine decided to smoke some harsh drugs of some kind, which filtered into my room throughout the evening. It was a non-smoking room, but I guess when you decide to do drugs, you've pretty much already thrown caution to the wind and laughed in the face of authority. I debated whether I wanted switch rooms, but as it got later and later, I finally just decided to stick it out and not go through the extra trouble.
As it ends up, that was stupid. Because when I woke up I found that I had a sore throat from the fumes.
When I got to the airport this morning, the check-in attendant apologized up and down that there wasn't an upgrade available to me, but when I got my boarding pass it was a First Class seat. Luckily, this time there wasn't an incident with any First Class assholes, so it was a pleasant trip home. I had some episodes of the TV show House on my laptop, so the time just flew by (so to speak). While I enjoy the show, every episode seems the same. Somebody gets sick with a mystery illness that nobody understands. They try something, it doesn't work. They try something else and make things even worse. Then, just before the patient is going to die, they miraculously figure out a cure. It's formulaic and gets tiring.
Anyway, now I'm back home for a few days. In going through my photos from my short trip just now, I found one I thought was kind of funny:
It's not that I wanted to call and report him for being a bad driver, his driving was fine, it's just funny that the driver is so paranoid about people reporting him that he felt the need to put duct tape over the number.
It's a perfectly lovely afternoon for breaking out my motorcycle. Which, of course, means that I must be flying out today. Granted I'm only gone until Wednesday but, given my luck, there will be snowstorms breaking the minute I'm back home (with a foot of snow on the ground). It's not that I'm pessimistic, it's just that I've been set up for disappointment far too often when it comes to the weather.
I suppose I should pack my suitcase. And make my rental car reservations. And load a new playlist onto my iPod Shuffle. And eat some lunch. Or maybe I should just forget it all and go back to bed.
Bah. I hope I have enough clean underwear for the trip.
Things that are pissing me off right this minute...
Delayed: Naturally, my layover in Seattle for the flight to San Francisco was delayed. On-time departures are becoming exceeding rare now-a-days, and it has me seriously reconsidering air travel. To drive to San Francisco takes 12 hours. To fly here today (including all the time for transfers, security, and all the rest) took 10 hours. And it's not as if I am any less exhausted from flying than I would have been driving... they suck equally considering out of all that time, the flight from Wenatchee to Seattle is 40 minutes, and the flight from Seattle to San Francisco is 1-1/2 hours. And it doesn't help that Alaska Airline's connection schedule out of Wenatchee is pretty terrible in the first place.
Labels: The first blog entry I read this morning is from Patrick, which refers to a CNN article about how music labels are wanting to increase the cost of digital downloads so that they can make more money. What a bunch of monkey-spanking asshats! AT 99¢, DIGITAL DOWNLOADS ARE ALREADY TOO DAMN EXPENSIVE!! For example... to buy a CD of John Mayer's Heavier Things from Amazon costs $9.99 which is fine if you want a disposable piece of plastic that will clutter up our landfills once you've ripped it. To buy Heavier Things from iTunes Music Store costs $9.90... which seems pricey given that there was NO CD PRODUCED!! Digital music should be CHEAPER than CDs, and now dumbass music companies want to charge MORE?!? I can tell you right now that the minute it costs more to purchase digitally than it does to purchase a CD, I am STEALING EVERY f#@%ING SONG I WANT... WITH NO GUILT WHAT-SO-EVER!! If music labels think that punishing people who want to buy music legally is the way to increase profits, let's see how they feel when everybody is finally tired of their bullshit corporate greed and NOBODY buys music legally. Perhaps then musical artists will figure out a way to release their music WITHOUT dumbass record labels and we'll be rid of the label-system once and for all.
Verizon: Just found out that Verizon accidentally cancelled my DSL installation and has rescheduled it AGAIN... this time for MARCH 9th!! Good thing I signed up for one-month of dial-up service, because they've got their heads so far up their asses in coordinating between what is happening between the sales/service/disconnect/connect departments that I may NEVER get a hook-up.
Access: It used to be that I got pissed off when a hotel didn't have high-speed internet access available. Now that everybody seems to be getting it, I only seem to get pissed when they want to charge for using it. I am currently staying in the beautiful Westin Millbrae at San Francisco International Airport. It's home of the magnificent "Heavenly Bed" which makes me love Westin hotels so much, and gives the chain an edge when I have to decide where I am staying. Except they charge $11.95 a day for internet access, which sucks ass. I am of the feeling that internet is like running water and electricity... it is a necessary part of a hotel stay, and should be included with the room. From now on, I don't give a shit if my "Heavenly Bed" comes complete with a happy-ending full-body massage, so long as Westin charges for internet access, I'll be staying someplace else.
Hah: Just kidding. If Westin really did offer happy-ending full-body massages for free, not only would I not care that you had to pay for internet, I'd probably move in and never leave.
The one bit of good news is that BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) has finally made it all the way to the airport! So now it's just a $5 ticket to get into the city, which is a pleasant change from the $15 it costs for an airporter bus, $35 for a taxi ride, or $40 for a car rental. Too bad it's forecast to be raining all day today.
When you are a vegetarian in San Francisco, there is really only one thing you need in order to decide where to eat, and that would be Dave's SF Veggie Restaurant Page. This amazing resource gives you the low-down for many of the Bay Area's finest vegetarian establishments, and is updated frequently. Among the most highly recommended on Dave's list is a Chinese restaurant called "Golden Era Vegetarian Cuisine," which has amazing food that's so delicious you will never miss the meat...
About the only thing that could possibly be a better resource than Dave's SF Veggie Restaurant Page for hunting down veggie cuisine in the city is Dave himself...
After a truly amazing meal of Pot Stickers, Spicy "Chicken" (imitation), and Plum Lemonade, we headed off to see The Aviator, which is a terrific film. And while I haven't seen the Clint Eastwood boxing-snuff flick Million Dollar Baby, I find it difficult to believe that it could be superior to the Scorsese epic about Howard Hughes. It had just the right balance of biography and action to be constantly entertaining though, as usual, Scorsese needs a stronger editor to pare down this 3-hour film by at least a half-hour (particularly the decline of Hughes' mental state, which went on for far too long). I suppose the most surprising thing about the film was the cast, with Leonardo DiCaprio turning in a shockingly good performance that redeems his lame Titanic work. Even more amazing was Cate Blanchett's eerie rendition of Katherin Hepburn... she OWNED that role, and earned the Oscar she got (and then some). I still maintain that Sideways, while somewhat entertaining, is in nowhere near the league of The Aviator, which is truly an Oscar-worthy nomination.
Oh, and before I forget, I just want to mention something that happened while I was at Fisherman's Wharf, on my way to meet Dave for lunch. Here, take a look at this...
See that five-dollar bill? Well that's all you need in lieu of an apology now-a-days.
While standing at the street by Pier 39 trying to figure out what bus I wanted to take, some ass-clown in an expensive suit comes out of nowhere, running for a taxi... AND KNOCKS ME COMPLETELY ON MY ASS IN THE PROCESS! He has his wallet out so, as he opens the taxi door, HE THROWS FIVE DOLLARS AT MY HEAD!! He doesn't say he's sorry. He doesn't ask if I am okay. He doesn't bother to help me up. He just throws a fiver at my head and gets in the damn taxi.
What the f#@%?!?
I don't know what makes me more disappointed... 1) That this inconsiderate, monkey-spanking ass-wipe thinks that throwing money at things is an acceptable way of dealing with a problem, or 2) That he thought I was only worth a measly $5. So now I've got a jacked-up leg that feels as though my hip has been ripped out of the socket... with which I have to make a 45-minute drive to the East Bay tomorrow morning. What is WRONG with people now-a-days? When did "sorry" turn into a $5 bill?
Between family, friends, and work... I have been to San Francisco many, many times. And because of that, I'm about all "touristed out" on all the sights and attractions here. This is actually a good thing, because it allows me to concentrate on what's really important: 1) Visiting the San Francisco Museum of Art so that I can see Diego Rivera's The Flower Carrier, which is one of my most favorite paintings of all time.... and 2) Going to Chinatown so I can get some freshly-made fortune cookies that are so good, they come very close to proving there is a higher power at work in the universe...
The "Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Factory" is tiny. Barely a closet off of Ross Alley, actually. There's room for only two automated cookie machines, which are run all day long, churning out hundreds (thousands?) of cookies. In the ten years I've been going there, I see the same two ladies every time. As if the fresh cookies are not enough, if you purchase a couple of bags worth (at $3 each), they'll toss some of the ruined (unfolded) cookies in your bag... STILL WARM! There is very little that can compare to a deliciously crispy fortune cookie when it's hot off the griddle.
The forecast said it was going to rain all day today, but the weather was absolutely brilliant. Beautiful blue skies and crisp air all around. I took advantage of the day to visit the new Apple Store, then head down to the wharf so I could see if there were any interesting new pins at the Hard Rock Cafe there...
Yeah, that crab-thing at Pier 39 really freaks me out too. Anyway, it was about as perfect a day as you can get in the City By The Bay, which is very sweet indeed!
Last night I decided to sit down and figure out exactly where I want to go on vacation this year. The first step is checking into airfare and prices of the various places I'm interested in visiting for some reason or another. Right now that would be Greece, Australia, Scotland, Sweden, Japan, and Thailand. Airfare is not really a big deal, because I've accumulated enough frequent flier miles to handle that. The big issue is food, lodging, and transportation once I get there.
Houston, we have a problem.
Everywhere I check, the costs are outrageously expensive. Prohibitively expensive. As in "there's no way I can afford to leave the country" expensive. And it's not because things in other countries are costing more, it turns out that it's because the US Dollar is practically worthless. Take a look...
The above graphs show the value of the US Dollar against the Euro, Japanese Yen, Australian Dollar, and British Pound. I didn't know where to start the graph, so I went ahead and picked a random date of January 20, 2001. As an odd coincidence, it's also the day that George W. Bush took office.
The graph doesn't mean much to me except A) it looks like I can't afford to vacation outside the US this year, and B) the US Dollar is going to crash any day now. Because the world revolves around me, I decided to make a new graph that shoes how Bushenomics affects Dave...
The above graph measures Dave's Vacation Prospects, The US Dollar Value, and Toilet Paper Value. As you can see, it turns out that a roll of toilet paper is worth more than the US Dollar, and the chances of me getting to go to Australia fall somewhere in-between. It's only a matter of time before Americans figure this out, and rampant toilet paper theft starts plaguing the country. Better wipe 'em now while you still can!
Four more years of Bushenomics means that we might as well start wiping our asses with dollar bills and save the toilet paper for more important things... like making clothing and shelter.
The Dave struts confidently down the newly remodeled concourse of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. He is the picture of sweet styling and high fashion because he is wearing a classy Blogography Logo T-shirt. As a seasoned world-traveler, The Dave has seen it all. He's done it all. He knows it all. There will be no surprises on this trip. How could there be? It's a ridiculously short 2-hour flight to Salt Lake City! The world is but a playground for The Dave's jet-set lifestyle. Knowing this, The Dave turns boldly into the restroom...
And is immediately greeted by a guy shaving his chest over the sink with an electric razor.
Knowing The Dave as you do, what happens next?
But, before the answer, a brief interlude: As I sit here typing this, a man is behind me screaming at the top of his lungs... "HURRY UP!" and "MOVE IT!" and" WOULD YOU RUN DAMMIT!" A minute later, a harried housewife and a teenaged girl, both in dress shoes, go running past... their high-heels making a pleasing "click click click click" on the floor tiles as they pass. Smartass that I am, I say (loudly) "somebody needs to be slapped!" Which gets a few laughs in the waiting area and "the stare of death" from this freaky moron. It's not the first time.
It's going to be one of those days. When I first arrived at the gate, the previous flight to Atlanta was just pulling out as a man came running up. Apparently, he expected that they would call the plane back to the gate, and was quite put-out when they did not... throwing his duffle bag at the electronic ticket-taker. It never fails. Everybody seems to think that they are so important that an entire flight of people should have to wait on their tardy asses. His excuse? THE SECURITY LINES WERE LONG AND IT TOOK FOREVER TO GET THROUGH!!! Yes sir, that's why they recommend you arrive 90-minutes before your flight. Dumbass.
Anyway, the correct answer is "F" - yes, "F" is the answer. A guy shaving his chest in a public restroom is entirely too scary for me to acknowledge... especially this early in the day. Besides, I couldn't get my "Lady Soft-Touch" razor through security.
High winds and torrential rains are causing chaos in the streets of Salt Lake City tonight. A good chunk of the city is without power. Entire stretches of traffic lights are out downtown, seemingly at random. My hotel is very lucky to have power, but the television is out. Sirens can be heard screaming through the night at regular intervals. The end is near.
I just came back from a 15-minute trip to the business center so I could use the printer, and there was a continuous stream of people calling and stopping by to see if rooms were available. Since the hotel next-door is without power and this hotel got the overflow, no rooms are to be had. I feel just a little bit guilty.
And here's a helpful hint to people who may not know what to do in this situation: When a traffic signal has gone out, the intersection becomes an all-way stop. Each car comes up to the intersection, stops, and then everybody takes turns proceeding through the intersection on a first-come, first-serve basis. YOU DO NOT JUST RIP THROUGH AN UNCONTROLLED INTERSECTION AT FULL SPEED, BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE STUPID. S-T-U-P-I-D!! The car ahead of me was nearly totaled by some ass-clown in a charcoal-gray S.U.V. who was apparently oblivious to this handy tidbit of knowledge. RTFM, idiot, because it's the LAW.
Where is Judge Dredd when you really need him?
Ah well. I am out of here tomorrow morning anyway... electricity or not.
Woo hoo! Vacation-time baby! There are indeed benefits to working through the night... especially when it means that it gives me an extra day to goof off in Utah. And let me tell you, there is a lot of places to be goofing around in this state. I drug my lazy ass out of bed at 7:00am (after a blissful five hours of sleep) so I could hit the road early. All because I wanted to see "Goblin Valley" which is supposed to be a really cool place.
And it is.
The entire valley is filled with interesting lumps of rock just begging to be explored. It's kind of like a giant field of mushrooms, except the mushrooms in question are fifty feet tall, made of stone, and probably don't taste that great in a spaghetti sauce...
When I hiked down inside the valley, some bitchy woman was bitching to her equally bitchy husband saying "THIS IS STUPID! I DON'T SEE ANY GOBLINS!! WHY DO THEY CALL IT GOBLIN VALLEY??" I'd imagine that is because the skanky ho only sees this...
Whereas I was seeing something entirely different when I looked at the same scenery. Goblins everywhere I looked. Hundreds of them...
When people tell me that I act like a child, I am never offended. It just means I get to look at the world in a much cooler way than everybody else my age. Sometimes it really is good to be me.
GAAAH! I am completely without the world today. NO internet. NO mobile phone reception. NO newspaper. And only a tiny 13-inch television with four channels to let me know that there is life outside of my small corner of Utah. I guess I should have posted yesterday's blog entry when I had the chance?
I am currently in lovely Bullfrog Bay on the shores of Lake Powell. Except it really isn't a lake... it's just a big canyon full of water that flooded in when they built a huge dam down-river. Some friends asked me to meet them here so we could go boating around the inlets and see some cool stuff. Apparently, the water level is the lowest it has been in a very, very long time, so you can see things that are normally buried under water.
Like this tree, for instance...
If you look at the cliffs, you can see where the water-line usually is, because the rocks have been bleached. Only the red rocks are supposed to be showing above the water, or so I am told. That would mean that this tree is usually under about 80 feet of water, and hasn't seen daylight in 40 years. I wonder how come it hasn't completely rotted through? You can't help but feel sorry for the poor guy. He was just minding his own business, when some asshole comes along and builds a dam, then suddenly he's underwater thinking WTF?
And here is a boat that sunk years ago...
Yeah, I know that it seems to have ran aground and crashed into the shore, but it didn't. That's because the shore usually isn't anywhere near here. It just so happens that the water level is so low that it looks that way. If you examine the rocks carefully, you will see that the water-line is usually way, way back there. No sign of Gilligan or The Skipper.
But the best part is cruising into these little grottos that usually don't even exist because they're buried underwater. Some really funky shadow-and-light stuff can be found that takes your breath away...
Not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Except now I'm sunburned and tired and have a five-hour drive ahead of me later today. Bleh.
Apparently, ever-escalating gas prices are not deterring people from traveling to our National Parks. It's not even Memorial Day yet, and Zion is filled with people. I cannot fathom what it will be like in another week. I suppose I should just count my blessings and be happy I am here in the first place. After all, many people will never get to see stuff like this.
But where there are people, there are dumbasses. And where there are a LOT of people, you are guaranteed a LOT of dumbasses.
And I'm not just talking about the obvious morons... the ones who stop right in the middle of the trail rather than stepping to the side so as not to block traffic... the ones who continuously state the obvious (like "wow, that's a big rock!" and "look, it's a tree!")... and all the rest... no, I am talking about the "truly gifted dumbasses" who make you long for the day it becomes legal to shoot people for being stupid.
For example, I am walking along, actually bothering to look around me (unlike most people who practically run to the intended destination), when I spot a deer just a few feet away from me. I take a minute to compose my shot and look for the best angle...
And then took a couple of quick shots just for fun...
Then I notice an elderly couple with their cameras ready, so I quietly step out and whisper "let me get out of your way" as the old guy says "that's okay, I don't think he's going anywhere" with a chuckle. And then, rounding the corner comes the queen of dumbasses...
Loud-mouthed bitch: WHAT'S THIS? WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT? OH IT'S A DEE-AH!
She sounds like a cross between Gladys Cravits on Bewitched and Estelle Costanza on Seinfeld and every bit as annoying...
Loud-mouthed bitch: EVERYBODY HURRY UP OR YOU'RE GOING TO MISS THE DEE-AH!! HURRY EVERYBODY... IT'S A DEE-AH RIGHT HERE!!! GET YOUR CAMERA!
Well, needless to say, the deer immediately bolted and the guy who was patiently waiting never got his shot. When the stupid bitch's friends caught up, she had to tell them that the deer ran away, to which I added "yeah, because you started screaming and scared it away." She then had to tell me I was a "rude boy" which was so funny in its irony that I just laughed in her face.
Not ten minutes later, I saw a squirrel and was going to attempt to sneak a shot of the little speed demon. But then a pair of dumbasses came along with their walking sticks that apparently double as noise-makers echoing through the canyon... TAP TAP TAP! TAPPITY TAP TAP TAP! TAPITTY TAPITTY TAP!! What a couple of f#@%ers! "THANKS A LOT" I say. "Duuuuhhh... whut!" they respond. Of course, they don't even realize they are total dumbasses. They never do. This is the best I could get as the squirrel ran away...
And, speaking of squirrels, these signs are posted all over the park, and I couldn't help but wonder about it from the squirrel's perspective...
Zion National Park is pretty nifty... if you are not afraid of heights. But, for those of us who DO have problems with heights, it's not the best place to be (Bryce is even more spectacular, has easier access to the sights, and doesn't involve clinging to the side of a mountain to see them). With that in mind, I had a nice day at the park, but really didn't get to see it the way it was meant to be seen.
The conversations pretty much go like this...
Guy: Oh dude! Zion rocks! You've GOT to do the "Angel's Landing" hike... it will blow your mind!
Me: Cool! Thanks, I'll definitely look into that.
Guy: Just be sure you've got a good pair of boots. Oh... you're not afraid of heights are you?
Me: Yes. Terrified of heights.
Guy: Ah. Well there's a walk along the river that's kind of nice...
And so it goes. Everything that looks really cool on the Zion trail map has a little icon next to it of a man slipping on the edge of a cliff and the words "WARNING: STEEP CLIFFS" emblazoned on it. Uhhh... no thank you. If I were to even attempt something like that, I would start sobbing like a baby and need to be sedated and physically removed from the mountain.
Oh well. There are still some pretty sights to be seen. Ansel Adams I am not, but I gave it my best shot...
Wait a second... actually, that's not too bad! Ansel Adams must just fool people into thinking he's an artistic genius because he used black & white photography. Well I can do that...
Yeah, right. Okay, Ansel Adams actually was a genius. Probably best not to attempt a comparison like that again.
Still no sign of Neo and Morpheus.
Ah, my last day in beautiful Utah started out in Zion to watch the sun rise over the park. After that, it was all about heading North so I could get back to Salt Lake City. But, along the way, I decided to get the most out of my $20 Zion Entrance Fee and take a look at the Northwestern corner called "Kolob Canyons." It's pretty sweet, but going in the morning was a big mistake, because you have to look directly into the sun to see all the coolest scenery. That means photos are pretty much out of the question, though I did snag one that wasn't all glare...
Once back in SLC, I decided to go watch Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith in a decent theater. After reading all the rave reviews, I was really, really looking forward to it. Well, now that I've seen it, I have one thing to say...
George Lucas should never be allowed to write or direct ever again.
George Lucas sucks so much ass as a filmmaker NOW that I find it impossible to believe that he was responsible for films like American Graffiti and the original Star Wars THEN. He is an embarrassment to himself and his profession. His once brilliant talent has been pissed away to depths impossible to fathom twenty years ago.
Revenge of the Sith was indeed better than the first two prequels... but that wasn't hard to do. Both Episodes I and II were tragically bad. Horrendously, praying-for-death bad. Lucas had nowhere to go BUT up. That he managed to do so just shows he at least has the smarts to hire some very talented people to save his hack ass. In the grand scheme of the Star Wars universe, I'd probably rate them like this...
And before you decide to attack me because you think that Revenge of the Sith is the coolest movie you've ever seen... think about it for a second. What was so cool about it? The awesome space battles? The mind-blowing special effects? The stunning settings? The kick-ass light-saber fights? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But Lucas didn't do any of that shit. Industrial Light and Magic created all of that. Let's take a look at what Lucas WAS responsible for... horrible, cheesy dialog that is so bad that I was visibly wincing as phrases like "it is your love that makes me beautiful" stank up the screen. He's also responsible for getting crap performances out of otherwise incredible actors. Does he even bother to actually DIRECT his characters? You can tell they're trying, but there's simply too many scenes where they wander through like zombies spouting all that f#@%ed-up dialogue.
But what I loathe most of all is that Lucas excels at drawing you into these fantastic worlds, only to sabotage himself with stupid, unforgivable shit. A fantastic scenes of Wookies on the rampage has me totally engrossed... until it's f#@%ed up by a Wookie doing the "Tarzan yell" as he swings through the jungle. WTF?!? Congratulations you dumbass, you've just shattered the illusion you worked so hard to create. But it's nothing new... Lucas is ALWAYS destroying scenes with childish bullshit like burps and farts. He defends himself by saying that these movies are written for kids... but kids from WHEN? The 1960's when this kind of idiotic, juvenile behavior was actually funny? Now it's not just lame, it's stupid.
Despite all of that, I must admit to having a good time at the movie. If you can ignore the dialogue and acting, it's a Sci-Fi lover's dream come true to finally see the birth of Darth Vader... those epic space battles... all those geeky touches (was that the Millenium Falcon?)... it's the first movie since Empire Strikes Back that actually feels like Star Wars again. I just can't help but wonder how amazing this film could have been had Lucas done the right thing and passed the dialogue writing and directing to more capable hands.
Thanks to heinous flight connections between Delta and Horizon Airlines, I am stuck in Seattle with a three-hour layover. The good news is that they've got Wayport WiFi on the "C Concourse" in addition to the crappy Cingular service (which I have never been able to access even once). This is good news, as it allows me to sync all the work I've been doing for the past week to the office so it can be awaiting me Sunday morning. Yay.
While I sit here watching the FTP transfer, I might as well clean house from the past week...
Mobile: Some bitch is screeching into her mobile phone across the lounge from me. I am concentrating really, really hard to make her head explode, all to no avail. She is a perfectly deplorable specimen of womanhood... sitting there with her legs all spread out like a dog in heat. I can only guess that it's to accommodate the huge set of balls it takes to be so astoundingly rude and uncaring as to the comfort of others. If there is a lawyer reading this... exactly how much trouble could I get into if I were to just get up, walk across the room, grab her phone, throw it on the floor and stomp on it, then bitch-slap her gum-smacking face so hard her teeth rattle?
Sith: The topic du-jour everywhere I go is Revenge of the Sith which is interesting. The general consensus seems to be "I liked it a lot, but..." (then fill in the blank). Even more interesting? Everybody has something different as to what is bothering them about it. Some petty, but others profound. Some problems I had never even thought of until it was mentioned. The most intriguing aspect is that these are not sci-fi geeks... just "regular" people. I guess that Star Wars is so ingrained in our culture that its something everybody has feelings for.
Q-Less: Next week's "FridayQ" will mark the meme's one-year anniversary. I have not yet decided as to whether I should carry on with it. I originally intended it as an easy way to fill up a Friday blog entry when the "Friday Five" died. But now the Friday Five is back, so I wonder if it's even necessary? I guess I've got a week to decide. Maybe somebody else would like to take it over? A warning: it's not as easy as it might sound. Oh well, suggestions are always welcome.
Shirt: If I had brought some "Bad Monkey" T-shirts with me this trip, I probably could have sold dozens of them. Quite a lot of people stopped to comment on it or ask where I got it (my favorite was the woman who said "hi there you bad monkey!" as she passed me in Goblin Valley, then started laughing hysterically). I passed out the URL thinking nothing would come of it, but new orders keep showing up every day. I am going to have to order more shirts when I get back, though I was hoping to wait until the new designs were voted on.
Pod: In looking around me, everybody seems to have an iPod with them. And yet, the Apple Death Watch doomsayers are still saying Apple will go under any minute now? What does Apple have to do in order to get these people to shut the f#@% up? Obviously a wildly successful line of products and overwhelming market share in the digital music player market is not enough.
Firearm: Oh terrific, yet another screeching bitch is on her mobile phone in the next row. I need a gun. And a beer. Many beers.
Booked: My files have all been uploaded, and now I am signing off so I can get back to reading a book I picked up in Salt Lake called Just One Look by Harlan Coben. Apparently, he is quite the famous author, but I have never heard of him before. I like the book quite a lot (so far) and will definitely be checking out his 11 others once I've finished it.
Seattle is famous for its rain, which is only partially correct. The city does get its fair share, but there are many days of clear blue skies and sunshine too.
But today is not one of those days.
Today the heavens decided to split open and dump a deluge of water on the downtown city streets. It is not a pretty site, and people have vacated the sidewalks to escape the flood. I tried to photograph the chaos as thunder was booming above, but the rain was so dense all you could see was a blur. After waiting a bit for the rain to lessen, I finally managed to take a photo down 1st Street in Pioneer Square...
If you look carefully, you can see the rain still streaking through the shot. Kind of strange that just last week Seattle was suffering through record high temperatures.
I am tired to the point of collapse, so it's off to bed for me... if you are looking for a bit of entertainment, you might want to check out Maddox's review of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, which is pretty harsh (but very funny).
I am one of those people who believes that complimentary internet access should be included with every hotel room... kind of like a toilet, bed, and those little bottles of shampoo. Nothing pisses me off faster than having to pay an additional charge for internet after already having paid through the ass for a room.
But there is something worse... paying for SHITTY internet access.
Such is the case for the newly remodeled Vance Hotel in Seattle. They use "Eleven Wireless" as their paid provider. Eleven Wireless sucks ass. Primarily because you have to pay $10.95 a day to use it. But on top of that you have to create an account that expires at the end of the day AND CANNOT BE EXTENDED!! Oh no... you have to create ANOTHER account on the second day. Then another on the next, and so on. What's the f#@%ing point in creating a f#@%ing account if you can't f#@%ing buy more time to f#@%ing add to it? Dumbasses. As if that weren't enough, half the time pages don't come through, so you have to push the "reload" button two and three times to see anything.
While eating dinner at the ever-excellent Il Fornio restaurant tonight, I had the grave misfortune of spattering tomato sauce from my fabulous Cappellacci Di Zucca on my Bad Monkey T-shirt. Ordinarily, this would not be a big deal, as I have twenty more back home. But this one is my favorite because it's been washed a dozen times and has reached that comfy-soft stage that's so prized by T-shirt connoisseurs. As you might guess, tomato sauce is next to impossible to get out, so I just resigned myself to the fact that the shirt was probably a goner. But when I got back to my hotel room, I remembered I had these little "Oxi-Clean" stain sheet packs in my bag.
Miracle of miracles... the stuff actually works! With a little patience, the stain eventually disappeared, and my shirt is as good as new. NOTE TO SELF: buy more Oxi-Clean travel packs when I get back home, and stick them in my backpack, my desk drawer, and my glove box. No telling how many pieces of clothing I could have saved over the years if I had these little suckers available (or if I weren't such a sloppy eater).
Now, if you will excuse me, NBC has The Eagles "Farewell 1 Tour" running. It's not like that's something you can pass up watching.
It's pushing midnight in the Emerald City and I just had to change hotel rooms.
What kind of total ass-bag, sack-licking tool decides to throw a party ON A WEEKNIGHT in a hotel room, downtown, when most of the people staying there are undoubtedly business travelers who have to... oh, I don't know... SLEEP... so they can get up and f#@%ing go to work in the morning?
I swear, one of these days somebody is going to pull this shit in the room next to mine and I am going to totally lose it. I think it will go something like this...
ME: Knock! Knock!
INCONSIDERATE NOISE-MAKING DUMBASS: Who is it?
ME: Room service.
INCONSIDERATE NOISE-MAKING DUMBASS: (while opening door) Funny. I didn't order any...
ME: (with a shotgun) BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
ME: DIE f#@%ERS! DIIIIIIIIIEEE!
And then I would do a little dance in the middle of the room after setting the bodies on fire. I am so not kidding. This is the type of crap that turns normal, every-day people into homicidal maniacs. More and more it seems that common courtesy and manners slide just a little bit further into non-existence. People only seem to care about themselves now-a-days, and don't even bother to think about how their stupidity affects others. I honestly don't know what to think about that... do I laugh, cry, or go buy that shotgun?
After spending ten hours at work on a Saturday, nothing could be more fun than spending another four hours trying to book travel reservations.
I am being sarcastic, of course.
Despite the strides made by companies like Orbitz and Expedia, making reservations still suck ass. I am attempting to book back to back to back trips for July, and nothing seems to be working out right. For example, I go to Orbitz and manage to get the flight I need at $470. Great. But when I go to actually book the f#@%ing ticket, Orbitz tells me that the fare I selected is no longer available, and it will now cost me $588. Thinking that I could do better by buying direct, I go to Northwest Airlines. But NWA tells me they don't have any flights serving my route, which is surprising considering that Orbitz was perfectly willing to sell me a fare on their airline. And it's no dice with Expedia, which comes up with some truly freaky routes that end up taking me TWO DAYS to get to the East coast!
Having no choice now, I eat the extra $118 and buy from Orbitz.
So now I'm giving up and going to bed.
(and dreaming of bitch-slapping the people responsible for making simple online booking so freakin' difficult)
I've spent the last several hours attempting to organize my travel arrangements for the next two weeks. It's a good thing I did, because I forgot a rental car for Boston and a hotel in Hartford, Connecticut. Usually I don't make mistakes like this, but my overwhelming work schedule for the past several weeks made it easy to overlook things.
I just hope that I can get some sleep tonight so I can get up at 4am tomorrow morning. Argh. The good news is that if things go as planned, I'll accomplish a few nifty things next week:
Still trying to find time to work on Dave's Bad-Ass Blogography Show. I don't know why I thought this was going to be easy... because every step has been horrendously difficult. The animation alone takes hours for even the simplest things. I guess the good news is that once I get a sequence figured out, I can reuse the movements in other shows. I'm hoping this means that future episodes will come together much faster than this one.
Another major challenge is getting the cartoon likenesses for my guests to look even remotely like the actual people they're supposed to represent. I killed an hour story-boarding the sequence where that freak Jared (from those idiotic Subways commercials) appears. The segment requires building two additional sets and some challenging props, but I think it will be worth it...
I can't decide if Jared's appearance on the show is funny or cruel, but I don't really care. It's not my fault he makes those stupid-ass commercials which are so grossly misleading people. What an annoying, sack-licking Subway whore.
My fantasy of getting more than four hours of sleep for a long day of travel did not come to pass. This is probably a good thing, because a zombie-like state helps dramatically when trying to ignore the plethora of morons that I'm bound to encounter.
Like now. As I sit here at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, some rude bitch is screaming into her mobile phone about how horrible her vacation was. Needless to say, the rest of us here are just riveted as to the juicy details... broken shower, no hot water, not enough towels... and on and on. I try to imagine how anybody could possibly want to hear this shit, and my sympathies go out to the person on the other end of the line.
It's not all tragedy though. Whilst looking for a magazine to kill my two-hour layover, I see Elizabeth Hurley staring back at me from the cover of VEGAS...
Sure it's only a one page interview, but there are four amazing shots of the most beautiful woman on the planet inside, so I don't much care. I mean, damn! Faint with hope that she is promoting a new movie or something, I race over to her entry on IMDB and see that she still doesn't have anything past Method waaayyy back in 2004. Shucky darn.
Oooh ooh! First my flight to Seattle was oversold, now my flight to Minneapolis is oversold... and somebody at the check-in counter is very, very unhappy that he doesn't have a seat yet. On one hand, I can't blame him but, on the other, he will probably get on when they release seats at the half-hour mark (and we're 45 minutes away yet). When that happens, all his crazy antics will have been for nothing, but oh well. I suppose there's no point in telling him that he wouldn't be in this predicament if he had shown up the recommended 90 minutes early instead of 45.
I keep having Japan flash backs due to my delirious state of semi-consiousness. The first time was while riding the airport subway... the automated voice-box was cycling through a few different languages as I was nodding off. Suddenly I hear Japanese, snap awake, and then see the LED signs are in Japanese as well. For a period of two seconds I am in a full-on panic wondering how I got to Japan. And in the middle of typing the previous paragraph, a Japanese tour passed through the waiting area and I was back again.
I don't know if this means I've been to Japan too many times... or not enough.
I still can't find any current news as to the state of the original London Hard Rock Cafe catching fire yesterday. BBC News hasn't updated since last night. There's a few photos on Flickr, but it's difficult to tell anything. Perhaps they'll tell us what happened on Monday?
Argh! Some idiot just sat next to me drenched in cologne... he reeks of the stuff. It burns. IT BURNS!!! I just know I'll be sitting next to his stinky ass on the plane. I'm lucky that way. Is it wrong for me to sit here and hope he has a heart attack before boarding? Probably. I am such a horrible, horrible person.
I think everybody must like to people-watch. There's something fascinating about being a voyeur into a life that is not your own. Probably because curiosity is intrinsic to the human condition, so it's only natural to wonder who people are, what they do, where they are going, and why that rather large woman in a purple track suit is digging in the garbage can.
To me, even more fascinating than people-watching is watching the people-watchers.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is abuzz with activity, and a group of 5 or 6 girls across from me are soaking it all in like gravy. The beauty of it is that they are hardly discreet in their observations, so I am privy to everything they say. Most of the conversation concerns some random guy they see that they are totally ready to have sex with.
At this point, I have to interject that I am completely oblivious to what makes a guy handsome in the conventional sense. As an artist, I can admire the graceful beauty of the human body, and can extend this appreciation to the male form... but anything past that is lost on me. For example: I just don't "get" Brad Pitt. Yeah, he was buff in Troy, but I don't understand what makes him "hot" at all.
Anyway, back at the airport, I tire of these teen girl fantasies and decide to look for something else to divert my boredom.
And. There. He. Is.
A guy so perfect that I feel less a man for being in his presence. In the blink of an eye, a vagina has appeared where my penis once was. He's a Greek god in perfect mathematical proportion... he's not overly-muscled, but still looks like he could beat the shit out of anybody in the room. I guess "chiseled" would sum up his manly perfection. Dark hair, tanned skin, jutting chin, a T-shirt one-size too small that shows off abs so toned that I wonder if you truly could use it as a washboard. Here is one beautiful man.
To make myself feel better, I tell myself he is "most certainly gay" - but then have to stop thinking that for fear I was secretly hoping he was gay. Then I don't know what to think, because with a guy like this in the dating pool, no woman would ever look at mere mortals such as myself ever again.
And then his girlfriend/wife/whatever shows up. She's hot, of course. But it's hard to tell if she's actually hot... or if her hotness is just reflected glow from his radiant perfection. And just like that, I know what "handsome" is. Brad Pitt is hideous by comparison. As they leave the sitting area, I realize that he is not Greek, but Italian, as that was the language they were speaking.
He's probably got a 2-inch penis. In fact, I'm sure of it.
I have come to the conclusion that my hotel here in the heart of Wisconsin is frequented by hookers. This is partially because of the outrageous sounds that were coming (heh heh) from the room next to mine last night until 2am... but mostly because the shampoo and soap they give you smells like lavender or lilacs or some other whore-house boutique cologne.
Unfortunately, I didn't have anything else to use, so now I smell like I was with a hooker last night. Or perhaps I smell like I became a hooker last night... I can't decide. In any event, I have the definite air of a hooker about me thanks to a very poor choice made by hotel management in bathroom amenities.
Wisconsin, for lack of a better word, is "charming." Especially once you get out into the countryside. The people are exceedingly nice and friendly. So when I inquired at the front desk this morning as to whether the people from last night would be giving a repeat performance (two guys and a gal... let your mind wander with THAT for a while), it was very uncomfortable. Without giving details (seriously, you don't want to know) I asked if the "noisy room" next to mine had checked out today, or if I could get a different room. The woman was so apologetic that I thought she might cry. The good news is that they are gone... the bad news is that something very much worse could potentially move in for tonight.
If a donkey is involved, I'll be checking out.
There are down-sides to Wisconsin if you are a vegetarian, because they really like meat here. It is not uncommon to find restaurant specialties involving one meat, wrapped by a different meat, that is then stuffed in yet another meat. It's all very disturbing. If you like cheese, however, you are in luck. Wisconsin is famous for cheese, and they put it on everything (even the meat-wrapped-meat-stuffed-meat thing).
"Home cooking" is prized here, and there are many home cookin' restaurants scattered about. I rather like this idea, and eat at them whenever I can. The conversations go something like this:
DAVE: Yeah, I'm a vegetarian. Do you have anything I can eat?
WAITRESS: Why sure... we have a lovely beef stew that's filled with vegetables!
DAVE: Ah. I'll just have a grilled cheese sandwich please.
I end up eating a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches here.
The worst day of the week for me in Wisconsin is Friday. On Fridays, every restaurant has a massive fish-fry. Entire towns smell like deep-fat-fried fish, and it is not so pleasant. On Fridays, the conversations go like this:
DAVE: Yeah, I'm a vegetarian. Do you have anything I can eat?
WAITRESS: So you'll be having a baked potato with your fish then?
DAVE: Ah. I'll just have a grilled cheese sandwich please.
WAITRESS: And what kind of fish would you like on your sandwich?
It's almost as if they can't possibly conceive of anybody showing up at a restaurant on a Friday and not ordering fish. It just doesn't register.
Nope. On Fridays, it's much safer to leave home cookin' behind and eat at a place like Culvers, where I can hunker down with a huge plate of crinkle-cut fries and a caramel-cashew frozen custard. Oh so bad for you... but oh so tasty. Culvers is mostly famous for their frozen custard (which is sublime), but also for their "Butter Burgers" which I can only guess are named as such because they fry each burger in a stick of butter. If only they made Veggie Butter Burgers, I could die a happy man (mainlining cholesterol like that almost guarantees it). Oh well, I leave on Wednesday night, so I won't have to worry about it anyway.
And UNTIL Wednesday, my work has me on call 24-hours a day. I've maybe gotten a couple of hours in naps over the past 36 hours, so I am understandably buggin' right now (especially since I only got three hours the night before that). I think I'm starting to hallucinate. If this entry is totally incoherent, now you know why. Of course, this doesn't excuse every other entry I've made being incoherent, but it's nice to have an explanation once in a while.
Today something rather odd happened... my work was pushed back a full twelve hours. Stuck out in the Wisconsin countryside with nothing to do, I decided to meet up with a friend from Illinois for a chat and then bum around Milwaukee for the day. After a late breakfast with my friend, he went back to Joliet... but I did not go to Milwaukee after all.
I went to Iowa.
Partly because I've been to Milwaukee dozens of times and have already done the stuff there I am interested in, but mostly because I wanted to visit "Field of Dreams."
If you've read my blog for a while, you probably already know that Field of Dreams is my favorite movie of all time. It's one of the few films I honestly believe to be flawless. There is not a single moment I would change. And since it has James Earl Jones in it, I guess that kind of pushes it "beyond perfect" in my book.
"If you build it, he will come."
The corn field where the movie was shot mostly belongs to the Lansing family of Dyersville, Iowa, though a portion of it (left field from the 3rd base-line over) belongs to a neighbor. After filming was completed, the neighbor plowed under his part of the field and re-planted. But the Lansings decided to leave their part untouched because, much to their surprise, people actually did come to see it. Lots of people... from all over the world.
To help pay for upkeep, the Lansings added a souvenir stand to the attraction so that they could sell T-Shirts, hats, postcards, and such. Unlike the movie, however, no ticket is required, and guests can look around for free.
The popularity of the attraction did not go unnoticed.
Eventually, a group of crap-weasle investment bankers struck a deal to lease the land that the neighbor had plowed under. They then restored the missing part of the baseball field, open up a competing gift shop, and cashed in on what the Lansing family had so generously begun for the film's fans. I guess the good news is that you can see the complete field now... but it sure was a lousy thing to do. Fortunately, there are signs posted so that guests know where their money is going.
While I was visiting, dozens of people came and went, which really surprised me. Even more shocking: according to the souvenir book, busy summer weekends can pull in over 3000 people. This is kind of bizarre for a movie that's approaching 20 years old.
After running the bases, buying a T-Shirt, and sending some postcards, I decided to make the most of my 7-hour round-trip and drop by the nearby city of Dubuque, Iowa to have a look. It's an interesting place, filled with an eclectic mix of building styles that range from beautiful to bizarre. One of the most unusual is the courthouse, which is a scary blend of styles that doesn't really seem to come together...
Bleh. I'm tired from driving all day. A pity I have to be to work in an hour.
I think that I might be dead. I'm too tired to know for certain. As with so many things in life, It's all Mr. Jerz's fault.
He has another podcast up, and proves that his earlier efforts were not a fluke. It doesn't matter that it's 1:30am and I haven't slept in days, I am compelled to listen. The guy has talent, and I'm not just saying that because he gives me a shout-out... and certainly not because he tears into my favorite movie ever. It's because this is one of those rare podcasters that's actually worth your valuable time. Go take a listen, and then send Jerz some encouragement so we won't have to wait two friggin' months for the next one.
Anyway, I've left Hartford (Wisconsin) for Hartford (Connecticut) and two glorious days of vacation (well, kind of... I'll still be working evenings). The journey was mostly uneventful, except 3 hours at Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport without internet access...
Great. Some network monkey screwed the configuration, and now I have no idea what's going on in the world. For all I know, Cavan's finished a new book and Kazza's married with four kids. It's time to admit that I have a serious internet addiction.
Oh well, it was probably grossly over-priced anyway. At least my Mac PowerBook tells me WHY it's not working. The Windows-sufferers around me get no explanation, so they're all like "WTF? I got full signal!! WHY ISN'T IT WORKING?!?" I ignore their constant pestering ("IS YOUR'S WORKING? DO YOU HAVE INTERNET?") which is easy when you've got an iPod drowning them out. It's so much easier than pretending you don't understand English.
Oh crap. I forgot I'm on East Coast time, so my clock is wrong... it's not 11:30pm, it's 2:30am! How can I be so tired, and yet not be sleepy? My brain feels numb. Somebody poke it with a stick if I forget to keep breathing.
Connecticut is very small. Tiny, in fact. I dare say that from Hartford, you can reach any other place in the State in under an hour. As an example, a trip to the Foxwoods casino resort area was a mere 42 minutes. This is kind of disturbing to somebody like me who is from a State that would take a full day to drive across. I'd imagine it would be even stranger to somebody from Texas.
Anyway, the reason for my trip was to visit the Hard Rock Cafe Foxwoods (#106 on my list), and that's exactly what I did. Overall, it's a nicely appointed cafe with a beautiful vaulted ceiling and nifty stone accents...
Sadly, I worry about the success of this cafe when I arrive at lunch-time to find it mostly empty. And when I look around at the people visiting the casino complex, I know why... the demographic is mostly elderly people. There's walkers, wheelchairs, canes, and the smell of Ben Gay at every turn. Needless to say, these are not the Hard Rock's target audience. The people running the cheap all-you-can-eat buffet, however, have a line a mile long outside of their door. Bummer. If you have your heart set on seeing this one, I wouldn't put it off.
From Foxwoods, I continued onward to the picturesque city of Mystic, Connecticut and the famous Mystic Seaport, where it was hot and muggy...
My plan was to visit both the seaport museum complex and the aquarium. But after I had to pay $17... yes, SEVENTEEN f#@%ING DOLLARS, to get into the museum... I had no desire to dump any more of my hard-earned cash in the city. I still can't get over the fact that they charge such an outrageous amount of money to wander around old buildings and look at a couple of ships. There's no rides or shows or anything else to make it worth it. At MOST, I would have paid $7 for what little you get. If only I had known, I would have skipped this rip-off "attraction" entirely.
After the disappointment at Mystic (such a cool name for a city!), I turn north to Boston. But before you can get to Massachusetts, you have to go through Rhode Island first. And the thing about Rhode Island is that it is very small. Minute. Minuscule. Teeny. Wee. Once I hit the Rhode Island border, it was a mere 32 minutes before I had exited through Providence at the other end. Now THAT'S small. I dunno. Maybe it was more impressive back in the days when people rode in horse and buggies instead of cars blazing along at 80 miles per hour.
My trip to Boston started out as one of my worst travel days in recent memory, but ended up being really amazing. It all started when I couldn't get into the city because of an accident on I-93 & the Freemont exit. Suddenly, my ETA of 2:30 became 3:30, then 4:00. Not fun.
Things then go from bad to worse when I finally get to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts so I can take a look at their Monet collection, only to find out that they close down half of the museum each evening. This meant that the hour I spent battling Red Sox traffic in the Fenway Park area, and the $3.50 I spent on parking was completely wasted. Now I have to go back tomorrow at 10am, which means I'll be getting a very late start to my day. Fortunately, my $13 ticket is good for another visit or else I'd really be pissed.
Things go from worse to tragic when I finally make it to The Lenox Hotel. I have been wanting to visit this classic property for ages, but it's always been booked solid when I'm in town. This time I got lucky... or did I? I'm told to use the parking garage up the street to store my rental car for the night. But it's full. So are the three others I find in the area. I end up circling the block several times without success. I finally pull up and ask what I should do since there doesn't seem to be a single parking spot in a 2-mile radius. That's when I hear "oh... you're a GUEST here? If you're a GUEST, then I'll park it for you." Great. Another half-hour WASTED. Why the f#@% would I want to park at a hotel that I wasn't going to stay at? Why wouldn't you assume somebody wanting to park at the hotel WASN'T a guest? After check-in, things are looking up, because my room is pretty classy...
But happiness is fleeting when I find out that the wireless Internet sucks ass, and is only marginally improved when I get a network bridge from the front desk. That's when things go from tragic to near-suicidal when I find out that my toilet is plugged up... and I'm blameless, because I didn't put anything down there. I'm beginning to regret ever having wanted to come to Boston.
Then, as if by magic, things turn around. I meet a very good friend I haven't seen in two years for a fantastic early dinner. Then we walk over to Copley Square for a FREE concert that completely blows my mind. Playing in the park is "The Shore" and "Ari Hest" - both of which I had never heard of before. Amazing, amazing stuff. I go buy CDs from both groups, because the possibility of not finding them on the iTunes Music Store is too much to bear (yup, they're both there... which means I paid $8 more than I had to for CDs I'll end up tossing in the garbage after I've ripped them). I cannot recommend these astounding musicians highly enough. "The Shore" is kind of an inspired blend of Oasis and The Verve. "Ari Hest" has lush vocals that pierce your very soul...
After the best concert I've seen in quite a while, it's off to the Hard Rock for a frosty chocolate milkshake and some fries, which turns a bad day gone good into sweet perfection...
Tomorrow it's sleeping in late, a visit to the museum (again), and a lot of driving so I can scratch New England off my "Map of Visited States" page. Sounds like a plan.
The wait to see Boston's Museum of Fine Arts was actually worth it. I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of their collection, particularly in Egyptian artifacts, which is magnificent. It was all I could do to tear myself away from the place after three rushed hours, and I could have easily spent the entire day there.
But alas, the rest of New England was calling, so I said a quick goodbye to my friend as she left for a meeting, and then headed northward to Kittery, Maine... then westward to Manchester, New Hampshire... continued on to Brattleboro, Vermont... and then back to where I started in Hartford, Connecticut. That's 484 miles of big fun, according to my rental car receipt. It sounds kind of impressive, until I realized that the entirety of the trip is the equivalent of driving from my home town of Cashmere, to the Tri-Cities, then to Spokane, and then back... which is not so impressive after all. Washington State is bigger than I give it credit for...
The good news is that I can now fill in a bit more of my "Visited States" map (including my trip to Iowa earlier this week)...
Just six more to go!. I think I will see about flying into North Dakota in September 2006, and then driving straight down through SD, NE, KS, and OK... then swerve into New Mexico on the 27th, just in time for a wedding. I could easily drive it in a couple of days, but there are some things I'd like to see along the way, so I might just plan on making a week of it. Then I can add "Visit All 50 States" to my List of Things to do Before I Die.
Tomorrow is a nothing day. My flight doesn't leave until late afternoon, and I don't have anything to do until then except stay in my hotel room and catch up on some work. Sigh. I should have kept my rental car for one more day and taken a quick trip down to New Haven. Live and learn.
And here I am. Stuck in Hartford, Connecticut without a car. Just sitting here watching really bad television in my hotel room. Woe is me. Life sucks.
Actually, I lie. It's pretty great.
Until they kick me out of the hotel in two hours... then I have to bum around the airport for another two-and-a-half before my flight. I hope they have wi-fi access at BDL. In the meanwhile, I have a scenario for you...
I mean seriously. Why the f#@% would you sell postcards without the means to actually send them somewhere? That IS the point is it not? Sometimes you get lucky and there's a place for stamps nearby, but that's a rare event. I try to remember to have stamps with me when I travel, but then some places selling postcards refuse to mail them for you, and so you end up having to hunt down a post box.
There should be a law that anybody selling postcards should be required to sell postage too. Furthermore, if there isn't a post box within a reasonable distance, they should be required to mail them for you as well. Is that really so unreasonable?
I should pack my suitcase. I'm finally in a situation where I don't have to wait until the last minute and can take my time. That's kind of cool. I hope nothing comes along to distract me.
Oh wait... Dora the Explorer is on TV!
My flight out of Hartford BDL was delayed because the inbound flight from Detroit was late. Apparently, there was some serious weather going on there. That worked out just fine because my flight from Detroit to Seattle was delayed as well.
And this was made exponentially worse because of the drama queen at the Northwest gate counter. Actually, there were two drama queens, but one woman was so horrendous that I think she might actually qualify as a "drama whore." You'd have thought this bitch was curing cancer the way she was going on and on and on about every little thing. This is astoundingly stupid, because this type of activity only upsets the customers more than they already are. Gate agents need to stay calm, cool, and collected so that everybody feels the situation is under control. By freaking out and carrying on about things as if the world were ending, you may feel more important... but you just look like a complete tool. What an embarrassment to the truly professional gate agents that know how to handle their job.
Northwest needs to hire "Drama Monitors" that can go around the airport bitch-slapping those idiots who feel the need to add drama to their jobs when none is required.
But all that paled in comparison to the dumbass douche-bag pig-f#@%er that I had to fly home with on my last leg. He was one of those "corporate buzzword idiots" that uses words like "people networking" and "synergy" and "empowerment" when blathering on in his mobile phone about absolutely nothing. And then it wasn't enough that he had to take up the entire arm-rest... he had to stick his elbow into my seating area as well. And then, since he is obviously the most important person in the universe, he felt it was okay for him to turn on his Blackberry to try and retrieve messages during the flight (Federal regulations mean nothing to somebody whose job is Synergy Empowerment... or whatever). Whilst navigating the parking lot, I had the opportunity to run down this dumbass douche-bag pig-f#@%er, but felt I would probably have a better chance at a good night's sleep in my own bed instead of a jail cell.
Storms on the East Coast were causing delays for most every flight into Baltimore International Airport except mine. My flight actually landed five minutes early. But this minor victory was short-lived considering that it took FORTY FRICKIN' MINUTES for BWI to get me my suitcase. I'm not positive, but I am fairly certain that this has to be a personal record. We were walking off the plane at 6:55, and luggage hit the baggage claim carousel at 7:35.
FORTY FRICKIN' MINUTES!!!
I can only guess that all of the baggage handlers were reading the new Harry Potter book, and didn't want to be interrupted until they finished the chapter they were reading.
Speaking of Harry Potter... do book stores carry any other books now? Everywhere you go, they've got Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince stacked to the rafters. Sometimes it looks as if they've got nothing else for sale, which gave me a great idea for being a smart-ass while waiting for my plane connection in Minneapolis...
WARNING: Workers at the book shop do NOT find this funny for some reason. It's a pity, because I thought it was darn clever!
Anyway, I am finally in Lancaster, Pennsylvania now. This city is famous for being at the heart of Amish country. The Amish lead a very admirable life, free from all our modern conveniences like electricity and the internet. I must admit that I don't know much about the Pennsylvania Dutch except what I've seen in movies and on that television reality show called "Amish in the City." On one hand, it must be nice to live a simpler life, free from the stress and hassles that modern civilization has thrust upon us. On the other hand, I'd probably kill myself out of sheer boredom. I mean, I've never churned butter before, but something tells me it's not as much fun as playing Lego Star Wars on my Xbox.
Ooog. I need some sleep. My day started at 3:30am, and it's just now midnight. Even subtracting three hours for the time zone change, that's a long day.
After working in Lancaster and Harrisburg all day, I decided to do something naughty. Something I haven't done before.
With great nervousness I approached the Hershey Highway. I have never been this route before, and didn't quite know what to do. As I first entered, there was very little resistance. The route was smooth... a pleasure to drive. But then things started tensing up, and I ran into some heavy blockage. It was a real mess, and I didn't know if I was going to be able to get out of it. But I was determined, so I thrust onward down that brown-stained road*. Suddenly, all obstructions were gone and it was smooth sailing to the climax of my journey...
HersheyPark is a pretty straight-forward coaster park that's very clean and well-maintained, but under-staffed and difficult to navigate. They desperately need better signage to help you make your way around the park (the maps they provide are practically useless). Half the time I could SEE the ride I wanted to go on, but then wasted precious minutes trying to figure out where I am supposed to go to ride it. The worst part BY FAR is that they do not have enough fans/mist-sprayers/canopies/shade to help keep you cool. Many lines are out in the full sun, where you will melt in the summer heat. Even worse, rides that did have fans were near-useless because some units were turned off or broken.
Admission is normally $39.95, but since I arrived after 5:00, I got in for just $21.95. The park is open until 10:00pm, but after entering at 5:30, I had ridden all the coasters (except the "Roller Soaker" which looked lame) by 8:45... giving me excellent value for my money. The park was full, but lines were short because everybody was eating dinner I guess?
As a "theme park" it isn't as inspired or clever as Disney-World. As a "coaster park" it is not as thrilling as Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure. But, overall, I was very happy to have visited, and recommend it if you are in the area. If they would hire more staff to manage the queues in a more orderly manner, provide better shade and/or fans for the lines, and make better signs, HersheyPark would be a slam-dunk.
For my fellow coaster aficionados (or anybody else who cares), here's a quick recap of the rides...
After you've finished at the park, you can stop at "World of Hershey" for an informative (yet oh so lame) "ride" that explains the chocolate-making process. It's not very well done, but you do get a free piece of candy at the end. After that, there's a nice food court where you can eat dinner, but I just had a carton of Hershey's Chocolate Milk and some Hershey's Chocolate Chip Cookies and called it a day.
Tomorrow is a little better for me, because I can get a full night's sleep and don't have to be to work until 9:00am. Then it's time to head back home (again) around 2:00.
* Yes, the Hershey Highway actually is colored chocolate brown in most places! It's kind of cool, and reminds me of the red roads in Zion National Park.
As I've said many times... you don't judge a company when things go right, because that's what's SUPPOSED to happen. You judge a company by how they handle it when things go WRONG.
Unfortunately, the company in question this evening (well, morning, actually) is Northwest Airlines. And when it comes to royally screwing you over when the shit happens, nobody does it quite like Northwest Airlines... even when it's their fault that something's gone wrong.
Due to a scheduling problem, Northwest decided they needed to transfer somebody from Detroit to Seattle. So they loaded us on the plane, then had us all sit there for an hour while we waited for this ONE guy to show up. But he ended up running late, and they finally decided that they would send us on our way without him. So, basically, we wasted an hour FOR NOTHING!! Congratulations NWA dumbasses... you just f#@%ed a full flight of 112 people FOR NOTHING!!
Naturally, this meant that I missed my connection in Seattle.
So first I have to go to the ticketing counter and get re-ticketed. Then I have to wait while they fart around for 30 minutes to get me booked in the shittiest, cheapest, economy hotel they can find. Then they tell me to go get my luggage from Horizon Air, where they've transferred it, and to "have a good evening" (when it's actually morning).
But Horizon tells me that the wait to get my luggage pulled is two hours MINIMUM. And I can't go to my crappy hotel and wait for it, because they will not deliver pulled bags. If I want my bag, I have to wait there at the counter. FOR AT LEAST TWO HOURS! Screw that. So now I am stuck in Seattle with no flight and no luggage. But Horizon does give me a lovely consolation gift... this lovely "Distressed Passenger Tote Bag!"
Well that just makes up for everything!
Note how there is a spot to get the case monogrammed. Too good to be true, I say.
Anyway, so here I am in my tiny shit-bag hotel room that smells like ass. Moldy ass. Moldy ass with OLD FEET and RAW SEWAGE! They assured me that the hotel would have "WiFi Internet." But what they didn't tell me is that it was not available in the rooms (only the lobby) and that it's broken. Lovely.
Now, don't get me wrong. If my missed connection was due to weather or something outside of Northwest Airline's control... I would be grateful for my tiny, stinky room. But since this is 100% their f#@%-up, why are they making me suffer for it? I'm an Elite customer that travels 70,000 miles a year with their airline. I deserve better than this at their hands.
I'd give them credit for buying me dinner, but the crap-bag hotel they stuck me in is out in the middle of nowhere, so the dinner voucher they gave me is useless.
So there you have it. As a company, Northwest Airlines sucks ass. They have no problem screwing you and 111 of your closest friends to solve their problems, and then treats you like shit afterwards. In fact, I feel that I've been treated so badly, that they've got me thinking it must be all my fault. Somehow I am the one who didn't cover the Seattle schedule properly, and so now I'm being punished. Abandoned. Sent to hell.
Oh well. At least there's cable television here in hell, even if it does smell like moldy ass.
UPDATE: This morning, after two hours of sleep, I didn't feel like taking a shower because the bathroom smelled like urine. But I did want to at least brush my teeth. Bleary eyed, I squeezed out some toothpaste and started brushing away... only to find out I had used shaving cream instead of toothpaste. Now, why would they put shaving cream in a toothpaste tube?? Sadistic bastards... don't tell me they don't do this on purpose. I'm having a flashback now.
As I came off the bridge and rounded the corner, I saw a girl pulled over by an undercover policeman. She was crying her head off as the officer wrote her up, which I found funny for some reason. What a bastard I am. Thirty minutes later, as I drove back home to pick up my luggage, the policeman was long gone, but the girl was still sitting in her car there, red-faced and crying. I'm assuming that it was just a speeding ticket, which begs the question: if getting a ticket is going to cause you to sob uncontrollably for a half-hour, then why exceed the speed limit? Why risk it? Seems pretty stupid to me.
The three hour drive to Spokane (pronounced Spoh-can) was uneventful. It's always uneventful because there's nothing very interesting between Cashmere and Spokane. Just scrub brush, fields of wheat, and wide-open spaces. The speed limit is 70mph, but should be 100mph, because there's nothing to hit along the way.
When I finally get to Spokane, I do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not check into my hotel, do not even stop for the bathroom... I drive directly to David's Pizza, which makes the 3-hour drive actually worth the trouble...
Unfortunately, they only had one slice of Da Vinci pizza left, so I had to get a slice of cheese to go with it. And, of course, a bottle of Stewart's Orange n' Cream soda...
For those who are curious, the Da Vinci has Mozzerella and Feta cheeses, with basil pesto sauce and fresh tomatoes. I haven't confirmed it yet, but I'm pretty sure they sprinkle crack cocaine on there as well. It would explain my addiction to the stuff.
But telling you what's ON it doesn't fully explain how it TASTES. Which is amazing. I've been around the world a dozen times, eaten a lot of pizza over the years, and a slice of Da Vinci is the best it can get. Each bite is like that feeling you get when a nice tequila buzz just starts to set in... that kind of deliriously happy high you get when your mind starts to float away, but you're not quite drunk yet.
Followed by three orgasms and a full-body massage.
Yeah, it's pretty good stuff. If you're ever in Spokane, you'd be pretty darn stupid not to drop by the corner of Hamilton and Boone to have a slice. I'll be eating there again for lunch and dinner tomorrow, and would probably go back for breakfast if they were open that early.
In-between jobs in Spokane today, I decided to drop by "The Comic Book Shop" to see if I could track down a book I've been trying to find for quite a while now. I drive down Division St., arrive at Sharp Avenue, and realize I must have missed it. So I turn around and drive down Division again... still not finding it. Thinking that I must have somehow forgotten where it is, I turn around and pull over. I have a photo of The Comic Book Shop on my PowerBook, so I figure there might be a clue as to the location. Using the photo, I'm able to find the building, which is now a National Guard Recruitment Center, complete with Army jeep out front...
A pity they painted over the Batman emblem... they might have better luck getting people to join up. Who wouldn't want to fight crime with Batman?
Anyway, I go back to my hotel and grabbed a phone book to see where it had moved to. But the phone book still lists it on Division, so I thought it was probably an old book. On the verge of losing my mind, I call The Comic Book Shop to find out what in the heck was going on... only to learn that they moved from 1402 Division to 1401 Division... DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET!! And sure enough, there they were. Sitting there with a big "ZAP!" and "POW!" painted on the side of the building in bright colors.
I was so focused on where I thought it was that I didn't see where it actually was, even though it was staring me right in the face. I even got out of my car to take a picture, stood right in front of it, and didn't see it. I feel more than a little stupid about that.
To top it all off, they didn't have the book I was looking for.
But all was not lost. A quick trip to David's Pizza for lunch revealed that they actually had two slices of Da Vinci Pizza waiting for me. Now THIS is what the perfect meal is supposed to look like...
Oh yeah, and for those who were curious, I think the restaurant was built in an old gas station, then they bought the building next door and expanded into it. When I examine the concrete in front, I see an outline of where the gas pump "island" used to be. That's their "Pizza Emergency Response Team" fire truck out front...
Don't worry, I'll be returning for dinner tonight. It's not like I really have a choice in the matter.
Wow. I'm back at the hotel watching the news and have just learned that there's a dust storm so severe across central Washington that they've actually closed I-90 between Ritzville and Moses Lake. They're reporting that there's been several accidents due to high winds and zero visibility. The photos they're showing are quite shocking. It started as a brown cloud on the horizon then, within minutes, everything was enveloped and was plunged into darkness... the sun was blotted out of the sky.
This is really bizarre, because the storm is exactly half-way between Spokane and my home in Cashmere, Had I left at 6:00 as I originally planned, I would have been caught right in the middle of it. I guess that I should be thankful I had to stick around and get some work taken care of?
Today must be a day for strange weather (perhaps caused by the raging wildfires to the south)... after being scorching-hot yesterday and this morning, Spokane had a short spell of torrential rains that had storm warnings in effect for a few hours. Maybe the world is about to end and I didn't get the memo? Hopefully the sand storm will have blown over (heh heh) and the highway will be re-opened in the morning.
At what point did people start to lose all respect for their fellow human beings? For the past fifteen years of travel, I have never been so badly bothered by by my neighbors in a hotel that I've had to switch rooms. This year I've had to do it twice, and we're only half-way through.
On Thursday night, the room below me was having a party which kept me up until 2:00am. Then last night, the room next to mine woke me up at 1:00am because the occupants were out on the balcony screaming at the top of their lungs. One night of sleep I can miss. But two in a row when I have a three-hour drive ahead of me just cannot happen. I had to pack up my stuff and go beg to change rooms which, thankfully, they agreed to do.
I just don't get it.
I've gone out drinking and and partying with my friends too many times to count. But you know what? We always save our wild behavior for when we're in an appropriate place... like in a club, or (duh!) at a party. We've never gone back to a hotel room and started screaming our lungs out at 1:00am! It never even occurred to us to do something so horribly bad-mannered.
My how times have changed.
If I am paying $130 a night for a place to sleep, I shouldn't have to put up with this kind of shit. I should be legally allowed to pull out a gun, break down the door, and shoot the idiots in their f#@%ing heads... then have nothing more than a cleaning bill to answer for. Assholes like this who have absolutely no concern for anybody else deserve nothing more. There's just no reason to have them around when all they do is make other people miserable.
And why don't hotels do something about it? Why not have guests sign a "no-noise agreement?" Why not install noise sensors that can automatically detect prolonged excessive audio and then kick their stupid asses out if it goes off? Why not install doors that have hydraulic pulls so that they can't be slammed? I'd gladly pay extra money for hotels that guaranteed a noise-free environment so I could actually do what I go there to do... SLEEP!
As it is now, the moronic public at large is ruining what used to be fun things. You can't go to a hotel without people being noisy and ruining your slumber. You can't go to a movie theater without people being noisy and ruining the show. You can't go to a restaurant without people being noisy and ruining your dinner. Sometimes it's by obnoxious drunken behavior. Sometimes it's because of a mobile phone. Most times it's because people are just stupid.
All I know is that the problem is getting worse with each passing day. Every single day society doesn't care a little bit more. Every single day respect and common decency break down a little bit further. Every single day I come closer to going insane over it all.
We've already got people shooting up cars because the alarm keeps going off in the middle of the night. How long before it's PEOPLE who get shot up for going off in the middle of the night?
Oh... one last thing... am I the only one who wants to put their foot through the television when a commercial comes on where some idiot is crunching on their stupid-ass breakfast cereal? I don't want to listen to that shit in my real life... why in the f#@% do these dumbass advertising people think I want to listen to it while being entertained? I love Grape-Nuts cereal, but every time that annoying commercial comes on with that guy loudly chewing the shit, it makes me never want to buy a box of the crap ever again. Isn't that the exact OPPOSITE of what a television commercial is supposed to do?
I love languages, even though I pretty much suck at learning them. I'm incredibly envious of anybody who is able to speak beyond their native tongue. But, as I mentioned once before, it seems as though native English speakers just don't care. They already speak the most popular language on the planet, so why bother to learn something else? Everywhere you go, people speak English anyway, so who cares?
Well I do. And it's not for lack of trying that I'm not multi-lingual...
I think to truly become fluent and really have the opportunity to remember a new tongue... I'm going to have to move to a foreign country for a year and just immerse myself in nothing but the language I choose for the entire time. Sadly, the odds of this happening are quite small. So while I can always hope to one day become comfortable with something other than English, I may just have to be content in my love of languages rather than my ability to speak them.
You ever have one of those moments where you are absolutely certain that you must be losing it?
Yeah, me too.
Unfortunately, these moments seem to be coming more and more often. Like when I look at a random photo that I've got orphaned on my laptop, and can't for the life of me figure out where it was taken. I'd like to think that this is because I've been to so many places that they're all blending together (which could be true), but reality tells me it's probably just my brain shutting down. It's all downhill from here.
Usually, I can look at the date on the photo file and then look at my calendar to see where I was when it was taken. But this morning I ran across a photo which doesn't have an accurate date, and doesn't look familiar to me in any way... I can't even place what country it was taken in. I went through my entire iPhoto album to see if there was a similar shot, but couldn't find any. I am completely clueless...
Does anybody out there know what city this is? Better yet, can anybody tell me what I was doing there?
I've just spent an obscene amount of time trying to figure out where the photo I posted in my previous entry was taken. I started by searching for the filename on all three of my computers, but all the hits were wrong. After that I searched for filenames around the image name, but no dice.
Then I went through every image I have digitized on my PowerBook. This is fairly easy because they're indexed in iPhoto... all 5432 of them. But nothing matches and nothing looks close. Since the date on the file is January of 2005, that doesn't help, because I know it's not a photo of Barcelona or Cologne. In February I was in Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and the Florida panhandle... which is much more likely, but it doesn't fit anywhere.
Next I went through my digital photo archives, which is an additional 3100 photos. Nothing.
Finally, in a last-ditch effort, I work backwards through all my travels and try to match the skyline with a Google image search through all the likely cities it could be. Nothing. Not-so-likely cities? Nothing. Unlikely cities? Nothing. It's at this point I am ready to give up. I have no clue where the photo was taken.
But then I get a little bit smarter. This time I don't try to match the skyline, but buildings IN the skyline. I get lucky on my fifth try...
The reason I had such difficulty in recognizing the skyline is that the photo was taken at a bizarre angle... not the "typical" shot that is customarily shown. But the buildings do match when the photos are flipped and you look carefully enough.
It's Tampa, Florida...
...as seen from my hotel room at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino just outside the city. I was there in May of 2004, and even blogged about it. I believe that I took the photo to accompany a comment in my blog entry about the "Tampa skyline" but the photo didn't turn out very well, so I ditched the idea.
Little did I realize how insane it would make me a year and two months later, or I would have never pressed that shutter button.
Now I think I can go to sleep.
It seems that every day is turning out to be "one of those days." I was planning on a trip to Korea in two weeks, but found out this morning that I have to leave this weekend. Bummer.
So there I was trying to find last-minute airfare to Asia at a price that doesn't cost more than the buying my own plane. Eventually I find a rather decent fare from Northwest, but then decided that I don't want to "get a full-body skin rash that itches like hell and doesn't respond to any medical treatment." So instead I booked a cheaper fare with United, where I have no frequent flier status and cannot get upgraded from coach. Thanks a lot Peggy!
I have mixed feelings about the whole Northwest Airlines mechanics strike. On one hand, yeah, I think it sucks to put in 20 years and then have to lose money and benefits that you've worked so hard to get. But, on the other hand, I think it's really, really lame that the mechanics union thinks that they should be immune to financial hard times. Workers EVERYWHERE are having to take pay cuts and face layoffs so that companies can survive. What makes $70,000 mechanics so special that they shouldn't have to take a hit like the rest of us?
And then I read where the union spokesman is saying "the mechanics would rather see the airline go into bankruptcy than agree to Northwest's terms," and have to wonder exactly who this moron is representing. If Northwest goes bankrupt, and the airline goes under, then nobody has jobs. Isn't it better to save what jobs you can, even with a pay cut, than losing everything? I mean, it's not like Northwest is thrilled with the prospect of cutting jobs and salaries... they're just doing what they have to do to stay afloat in this horrendous financial climate where they're losing millions. It's sad, but that's reality in today's business world.
Of course, when it comes to saying outrageously stupid things, the union spokesman has a long, long way to go before he can top the senile ramblings of dumbass televangelist Pat Robertson, who wants us to assassinate the duly elected president of Venezuela. This kind of crazy pseudo-religious rambling sounded really familiar, and that's when everything suddenly became clear to me...
Strange. We've got kind of a "separated at birth" thing going on here.
Anyway, I could be wrong, but assassinating foreign leaders seems like it must be against the United Nations charter... doesn't it? We are still a member of the United Nations aren't we?
I just don't get it. People actually give money to this idiot. Has the "religious right" truly become so powerful that they don't feel the need to follow rational thought? Is this kind of outrageous, uninformed, and flat-out stupid commentary actually being taken seriously?
This is just what we need... whack-job televangelists influencing our foreign policy. As if the USA didn't have enough problems already.
Bah! I get home to find out I have no internet. I guess this will get posted tomorrow.
Anyway, you'd think that I would get used to short-notice travel, but it never seems to happen. Yesterday I found out I have to be in Korea this weekend, and now it's a mad dash to try and get my work caught up. And get my clothes washed. And make my reservations. And call my friends. And pay my bills. And all the other things one has to do before leaving their life behind for a week. I think I'm going insane.
The good news is that I managed to contact a friend in Hong Kong whom I have never met in person. He's going to be around, so after my work is over in Seoul, I'll be jetting down for a couple days of much-needed vacation. He's a fellow Hard Rocker, so I'm sure a visit to the Hard Rock Hong Kong will be in order. Sweet!
Something tells me I won't have time for much sleep tonight.
I am sitting here in the tiny airport at Wenatchee, Washington bored out of my mind because I forgot to bring a book. With nothing else to do, I figure I'll fire up a game of Kitty Spangles Solitaire for an hour while I wait for my plane to arrive. But when I open my PowerBook, something very strange happens. A little dialogue box pops up saying "your wireless network is no longer available. Would you like to join the network "LINKSYS?"
If there was a button that said "f#@% yeah!" - I would have clicked it.
And so here I am with full internet access in a little nothing of an airport you've probably never heard of before. I have excellent signal, and the speed is fantastic. I contrast this with the shitty slow access I am usually paying big money for in larger airports, and have to ask... what the f#@%??
If a tiny airport can so graciously offer up free internet as a convenience for their passengers, why don't the big guys do the same? It costs practically nothing, but rather than treat you as a guest, they instead rape you for a few more bucks just because they can. So way to go Wenatchee for bucking the trend of outrageous internet access, and serving your customers better than facilities fifty times your size.
Just one more reason I'm happy to fly out local instead of driving over to Seattle.
One of the little tricks I use when traveling is to wear tired old underpants and socks, so I can just toss them in the garbage when I get to where I am going and have one less thing to worry about carrying around. It also keeps my clothes from smelling like feet. Today I found a pair of really nasty tighty-whitey underwear that are pretty messed up. They practically fell apart when I put them on, so I'm quite proud of that. My socks are in fairly good shape, but mis-matched and not really white anymore.
Anyway, across the aisle from me is a bitch and her three hyperactive, annoying kids. She has no interest whatsoever in keeping them quite, and is happy to have them running around screaming at people. If security (which is much tighter and far more thorough here than at larger airports) hadn't confiscated my shotgun, I can guarantee her mis-behaving kids would be quiet. DEAD QUIET!! (that's funny if you say it as Arnold Schwarzenegger). But oh no. She is obliviously chatting away to some poor woman next to her about how she's "scared to death of these small planes because they crash all the time!"
And that's when it hits me...
What if we crash?
And I'm wearing nasty fall-apart underwear.
My mother will be so embarrassed if she shows up to claim my body and I'm in holy undies. In fact, she may even disown me right there, and say that she doesn't know the guy on the slab. "No son of mine would wear such disgraceful underwear," she'll say.
So now I am really nervous about the flight.
Not because I might die... I have no problem with that... but because my horrified mother will have to identify my body while I'm wearing underwear with holes in them and mis-matched socks. She will then spend the rest of her life wondering where she went wrong with me, and calling my brother every day to be sure he's wearing underwear that's suitable for dying in.
I should have worn my lucky boxer shorts.
I can honestly say I never envisioned a time that I would be obsessing about my underwear in a blog entry. Maybe I should just shut down Blogography right now, because there's nowhere to go but down now.
But, seriously now, if the coroner who finds my mangled body in the wreckage reads this... I would greatly appreciate it if you were to change my underwear for me. Of course, if the crash was particularly scary, you may want to do that anyway because of their contents... but thanks just the same.
UPDATE: Tragedy averted! Me and my embarrassing underwear arrived safely in Seattle. I am now typing away in disgust because the stupid-ass Hilton here charges $9.95 for internet access. WIRED internet access... not wireless, BUT WITH A CABLE... CHAINED TO THE DESK!!! Hotels that charge for internet suck ass.
As I leave for Asia, the news from hurricane Katrina is increasingly grim. The projected path is directly over New Orleans (one of my favorite cities), which could be disastrous. The "Big Easy" is very much below sea level, and a large enough storm could send water surging into the city at a cataclysmic depth. Pat O'Briens... Cafe du Monde... The Garden District... St. Patrick's & Jackson Square... Soniat House... The French Market... Bourbon Street... The Hard Rock Cafe... and so much more that New Orleans has to offer is all at risk of being destroyed. I particularly worry about the animals at the beautiful zoo they have there.
CNN has shocking footage of people fleeing the city, and all major routes have been converted to one-way highways leading out of town. It's bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way, and authorities are worried that an accident on any of these routes could trap people in the hurricane's path.
I suppose there's always a chance that the weather will change and the city can be passed by... but wherever the projected "Category 4" hurricane makes landfall, there's going to be a lot of damage. 150mph winds do not strike quietly.
It's going to be difficult to think of much else during a 13 hour flight where I am cut-off from the world and unable to find out what's happening. All my thoughts are with those facing the hurricane, and the city of New Orleans where I have been a half-dozen times (and love more and more each time I visit). Nothing would make me happier than to visit another half-dozen times in the future.
Entries from my last New Orleans trip are here, here, and here.
UPDATE: I've arrive in San Francisco only to find out that the storm has been elevated to "Category 5," which is the most severe rating you can give a storm. I board the plane not knowing if I will ever see New Orleans again. I am severely depressed right now. If the city is destroyed, I suppose all I will have is great memories. I first went to New Orleans in 1983 during my Junior year of High School for a National DECA competition. It was my first trip unaccompanied by an adult. It was my first time drinking alcohol in a bar (even though I was a year underage, nobody cared). It was my first time... for a lot of things.
I feel like my heart is being crushed in my chest and I want to scream. If I had a choice, I would cancel my trip and go home to hide under the bedcovers until the fate of New Orleans was known. As it is, I will spend the next 13 hours on a plane trying not to think about it.
But I don't think there's enough of those little bottles of alcohol onboard to do that.
And here I am back in Seoul, Korea. I am most fortunate that I don't really have a problem with jet-lag... my body just mysteriously seems to adjust to whatever time zone I am in. Though I cannot deny being totally exhausted, because 22 hours of travel will do that to you. Now the challenge is to stay awake for another three hours so that I don't wake up at 2am tomorrow morning. It's a weird, wild life I lead.
The weather here has entered into some kind of funky perpetual haze as sunset falls...
All big cities are starting to look the same to me. If I didn't know where I was, it might take me a minute to figure it out from just a quick glance out my window. The cathedral there just confuses things.
And now I'm off to Dunkin' Donuts for a quick bite before retiring for the evening.
Yet, for New Orleans, the day is just beginning. Assuming I can get to sleep knowing what is going to happen there, the storm is projected to hit the city as I wake up. All my hopes now hinge on seeing the city again some day...
Bleh. The first thing I did this morning was somehow pull a muscle in my back, which has been agonizing me all day. Add to that the hours spent in Seoul traffic... and what should have been an easy day of work, is suddenly not so much. And now I have to catch up on the work that I missed back home, so it's shaping up to be a very full day.
With no time to spare to go out to a restaurant, I instead walk across to the 7-11 to buy a junk-food dinner. One of my favorite things about international travel is discovering new and exotic snacks, and Korea does not disappoint. I've got two new favorites...
The first is Sun Chips Spicy Hot!, which are just like the Sun Chips back home... except they have delicious sweet-hot pepper flavoring sprinkled on them. I've eaten four bags since I've gotten here, and am seriously considering the purchase of a new suitcase for the sole purpose (Seoul purpose?) of taking fifty bags back home with me. They are wicked-good, and I have no idea why they are not made available in the USA. The second are Potato Fries Crips which are very popular, as they are available in numerous brands and varieties. I've been eating the brand with the "happy potato" on the front, simply because he looks like the cheerful kind of potato I'd like to hang with (though I am more of an "angry potato" myself). These are quite good because they are not oily and not loaded with salt (as they would be back home)... just yummy potato flavor in fun "french fry" shapes.
Work was completed today so, as of tomorrow, I am on "semi-vacation" in that I will still be working in my hotel room each night, but my days are free for fun and excitement. My flight to Hong Kong is fairly late, so I am thinking of making time for the Seoul Museum of Contemporary Art, the Insa-Dong market, and lunch at the Hard Rock (assuming they're open this time).
One thing I've always wanted to do in Seoul, but haven't yet, is visit the DisneyLand rip-off called "Lotte World" (even their "Sleeping Beauty Castle" logo is a total copy!). Last year when I was here, they were advertising a new "Atlantis Adventure" ride for 2005 that appears to be a combination roller coaster and flume ride. But my favorite thing about Lotte World is their advertising slogan, which appears on billboards, print ads, and such...
If you can't read it, here's the joyous English text that's so compelling...
How could you not want to visit Lotte World after reading that? I mean, I thought I knew what "The Pleasure" was... but apparently I've got it all wrong. It would seem that the REAL pleasure I've been looking for all my life is awaiting me at Lotte World. Even more surprising... it doesn't seem to involve my penis. Ordinarily, this would cast some doubt on Lotte World's claim, but one never knows. The cost to get in is $30, which certainly makes it cheaper than many of the finer penis-related activities available, so all I can do is hope.
Unfortunately, the "Atlantis Adventure" ride isn't open until October, so I won't be experiencing "The Pleasure" this trip... maybe next time.
Of course, the real pleasure of my day was finding out that New Orleans is battered, but not totally destroyed like predictions were calling for. Hopefully the remaining levies and pumps will hold so that more people are not underwater as those in the Eastern part of the city are right now. With 80% of the city flooded, there's a lot of work to be done, but at least "The Big Easy" wasn't completely taken out... this time. I wonder if the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino being built in Biloxi was as lucky?
Ah, New Orleans! Now I am craving beignets and a cup of hot chocolate from Cafe du Monde!
The earliest flight I could get to Hong Kong is at 7:40pm. That leaves a big chunk of a day where I have nothing to do. Rather than sit in my hotel until they kick me out, I decide to hit a few places I wanted to see in Seoul. Thanks to the convenient and efficient subway system here, it's pretty easy to get to wherever you want for $1 cheap.
Here is my day in Seoul...
Wake up way too early, then work for four hours. I look up the subway stop for the local cafe at HardRock.com, but they don't list it. I then look up the hours, only to remember they don't open until 5:00pm on weekdays. I've already been twice, so it's not a big deal... but how crazy is that?
Wait for the morning commuter rush to subside, and head out around 10:00am, begging the front desk for an extended check-out time of 2:00pm.
Hike to Seolleung Station and take a series of wacky connections that eventually deposit me across the river at City Hall Station, 30 minutes later.
Stop at Dunkin' Donuts (again) for a couple of "Chocolate Cookie Donuts" and then proceed to fall in love with the seriously cute girl who takes my money.
Walk to Deoksugung Museum of Contemporary Art to take in an exhibit of Korean and Chinese brush painting, which I really like. Then find out that it must be "children's day" at the museum, because the courtyard is overrun with adorable kids in their equally adorable school uniforms...
Become totally captivated with amazing pieces of brush art, and buy one of the cheapest exhibit guides for a showing I have ever seen... just $5!!
Walk to Seodaemun Station for yet another bizarre series of transfers until I arrive at Anguk Station, which is at the head of the very cool "arts & crafts district" of Seoul called "Insa-Dong"...
I Kill an hour wandering through the galleries and craft shops, resisting the urge to purchase everything in sight. Run across a woman (British accent) who is impatiently trying to get a shop keeper to understand her. She eventually raises her voice to the poor woman and says "I THOUGHT YOU SAID YOU SPOKE ENGLISH! ENGLISH!!" she then throws down some handmade papers in disgust and starts to stomp out. I cannot resist saying "she probably does understand English... it's your being a bitch she doesn't understand." She ignores me (big surprise) and I head down the street to a souvenir shop I like...
I have no idea what these little string ornaments are called, but they make perfect $1 souvenirs that people back home totally love, so I buy a dozen for those few people I haven't already given one from a previous trip. I think they are based on the ornamental button-ties that Koreans wear on traditional formal dress. But these are much smaller and come in funky designs like fish, purses, fans, flags, and such.
Am shocked to discover that it's now 1:00pm, and I have only an hour to make it back to the hotel.
On the way back to Anguk Station, my leg all of a sudden develops a stabbing pain. I limp all the way to the subway, and find a seat for the next half hour's ride back across the river. Eventually I transfer back to the #2 Green Line and get back to Seolleung Station for the 7 minute hike back to the hotel with my leg feeling like somebody put a bullet in it.
Get back to my room at 1:56pm. Even though I have to be out in just 4 minutes, I decide to take another shower to sooth my aching, hot, sweaty body. This delays my departure by 10 minutes, but the front desk says nothing (bless them).
Since I have 5 hours and 30 minutes until my flight, I sit in the lounge writing postcards for the next thirty minutes, then buy an airport transfer ticket for the "Limousine Bus." It's a fantastic bargain at $13... a taxi ride would cost at least $70 because of Seoul's horrendous traffic.
The airport run is a whopping 1 hour, 35 minutes through agonizing traffic. I notice for the hundredth time how every tenth building is a Samsung building... yet each is selling something different... computers, cars, appliances, apartments, telephone service... whatever. I have to wonder if there is anything Samsung doesn't make in Korea.
Arrive at the ticketing desk for Asiana Airlines nearly four hours early. The first thing they do when I get up to the counter is hand me a bottle of mouthwash. I wonder if I should be offended, but then notice everybody is getting mouthwash. Since Koreans eat their weight in garlic every week, I suppose this is a practical gift.
I try to get through outbound immigration to leave the country and find out that the inbound agent mis-stamped my passport with an entry date of September 28th, 2005. This causes the guy to freak out, and I frantically search for my itinerary to show him I am not a wacky time traveller. Unfortunately, the photocopies my travel agent made have cut off the date! This causes even more of a freak-out, because now it looks like I have intentionally obstructed my date of entry! Ten minutes of computer key-punching later, he eventually locates my entry record with the correct date and releases me. The people in line behind me are not very happy at all.
Eat a Subway Sandwich at the same food court I always do because they have Welches Grape Soda. Make my way to the passenger lounge at Gate 33, and find out I can't get internet. Decide to write about my day in Seoul anyway... I'll just post it when I get to Hong Kong.
Read back through this entry and realize that it is not very exciting at all, and anybody reading the entirety of it has probably fallen asleep by now. Unless there's an explosion or an alien invasion in the next hour, I'm afraid that's all you're going to get!
These seats are horribly under-padded, and my boney ass is aching tired. Decide to stop blogging now before I start getting into embarrassing territory...
Last night's flight on Asiana Air was very nice, especially since the cute counter agent put me in an exit row with tons of leg room. We arrived on time, immigration check was a breeze, and suddenly I was in Hong Kong... and 35 minutes later, my suitcase joined me. There's a train that runs into Kowloon, but the bus connection had closed for the night, so I bit the bullet and took a $30 taxi because I was tired and didn't want to have to find a way to my hotel from the station.
Half-way into Kowloon, I noticed a lightning strike out of the corner of my eye. IMMEDIATELY afterwards, the heavens opened up and a deluge of rain dropped from the sky. It was so sudden that I was startled awake, and then was treated to a lightning show through torrential rains. The driver must be used to it, because he didn't slow down at all... even though you could barely see through the windshield.
Then, almost as quickly as it had started, the rain stopped and I arrived at my hotel. After a good night's sleep, Hong Kong awaits.
I started my morning at 10:30am with a walk to the Star Ferry terminal so that I could make my way over to Hong Kong Island and the city center (known here as "Hong Kong Central"). The five-minute ferry ride has got to be one of the biggest bargains on earth, as it costs a mere 28¢ (2.20 HK) to cross! This would be an indication of things to come, because most all public transportation is fairly cheap.
Unfortunately, the haze that blanketed Seoul has followed me to Hong Kong, and most of the city is obstructed by it...
I quickly notice that the building which represented The Noble House in the television mini series adaptation of the greatest fiction novel of all time... James Clavell's Noble House... was waiting for me right off the terminal. I just bought yet another copy of the book (my fifth) so I can read it yet again (at least my twentieth time). It's very cool to see all the places named in my favorite book come to life!
After a quick bus ride to the base of The Peak, I take a tram to the top that has been operating in the city for over 100 years...
The ride is pleasant, but frightfully steep in parts. The most amazing thing about it is seeing how very tall buildings and numerous roads have all been built into the hill-side. The density of people here has got to be the most concentrated I have ever seen, and it's a wonder that Hong Kong can support itself at all. The view from the top is incredible, even though the haze is so thick I can barely see Kowloon on the other side of the harbor...
The shopping complex at the top houses a Hard Rock Merchandise Shop but, sadly, no cafe...
I'm getting thirsty at this point, so I drop by McDonalds at the Galleria. They are featuring a special promotion for "Summer Corn Cup" so I decide to have a quick meal, and get some French Fries and a Red Bean Paste Pie (which is deep-fat fried as The Ronald McDonald intended it to be, instead of the baked pie that tastes like crap we have back in the USA). The corn is okay, but doesn't come close to the deliciously famous Quincy Corn from back home. I wish our McDonalds sold McCorn...
I then take a quick taxi ride down to Queen's Road where I walk to the longest outdoor escalator in the world. It's a quick and painless way to reach the housing and shopping in the Mid-Levels of The Peak. I dump off on Hollywood Road so I can go to Man Mo Temple and get my fortune told. Like so many buildings here, the temple is undergoing repairs...
Fortunately, my "Master Fortune Teller" spoke English, so that made things a little easier...
For $2.50 ($20 HK), you could get a quick 1-minute fortune. For $13 ($100 HK), you could get a full fortune and have a question answered. I decided to spend the big money, and asked "Will I live long enough to visit Hong Kong again in this life?" After shaking some coins, consulting some charts, and writing down a lot of Chinese characters, Master Fortune Teller told me that he sees I have some health problems (no doubt, I seem to be falling apart!), but they are all controllable and so I will live to visit Hong Kong again. In fact, he sees me returning to the city as early as October of next year! He further explains that I will fall in love with Hong Kong, and the memories will call me back. This certainly seems feasible to me, so I hand over the $100 HK and buy some crappy souvenirs.
From there, it's back to the Star Ferry so I can have a late lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, which is Kowloon-side...
It's a good property, with a nicely appointed merch shop on the first floor and a restaurant spread out over the second. Memorabilia is somewhat sparse, which is quite strange, because they certainly have the room for it. They also have a stage for live music, which should be standard at ALL Hard Rocks.
As I leave, I notice two things... 1) There's a Donna Karan next door, which I am afraid to enter, because I love DK clothing and would probably buy out the store. 2) There's a Pret A Manger across the street, so now I know where I'll be going for breakfast tomorrow morning! Is it too much to hope that they have roasted tomato sandwiches on their morning menu?
I was planning on ending the afternoon at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, but they are closed Thursdays so I am out of luck. Instead I decide to head back to my hotel so I can blog my day, and read a few chapters of Noble House before heading out to the Temple Street Night Market this evening.
All in all, a pretty good first day in Hong Kong, and it's not even over!
Hong Kong Harbor at night is pretty.
Since yesterday involved a lot of running around, today I thought I'd relax a little bit and just wander around Tsim Sha Tsui and take in a couple of museums. It's a real pity that I don't enjoy shopping, because it seems that's what everybody comes to Hong Kong to do. The lobby of my hotel is packed with people trying to load up all their purchases into boxes and newly-purchased suitcases so they can get it all back home.
But not me... I can't stand shopping, and have no desire to drag a bunch of crap back to the States. With the exception of a few Hard Rock Cafe pins and shirts I've packed away in my small suitcase, I'll be able to tell US Customs to kiss my ass. I am so tired of Customs Agents treating people like crap with their condescending attitude and abusive demeanor. I will never forget my very first trip outside the US when I was returning from Japan and was SCREAMED at by a bitch at Customs because I didn't have a receipt for a few cheap souvenirs I had bought. Never mind that my meager purchases couldn't possibly exceed the allowance, she was a bitch and wanted everybody to know it. In the dozens of times I've been subjected to US Customs, I'm guessing there have been only two times I didn't want to beat the shit out of somebody.
Anyway, the first museum I went to was the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which friends had told me was amazing. I was very much looking forward to my visit, and arrived just as they opened so I would be sure to have time to see everything. At first I was blown away by a very cool exhibit of Chinese brush painting... there were precious scrolls filled with stunning artworks that boggle the mind, and every new work somehow managed to top the previous one. It was art-lover's heaven.
But then I found out that huge chunks of the museum were closed due to changing exhibits and became enraged.
Changing out exhibits is a common event at museums, but usually it's done in stages. This way, only one major exhibit is closed at any given time. But the dumbasses at the Hong Kong Museum of Art had decided to close down most of the second floor, and the entirety of the fourth floor all at the same time... effectively halving the exhibits available. Needless to say, they didn't halve the ticket price.
So this was the highly regarded Hong Kong Museum of Art? To me it was more of a joke. A lame and amateurish production with little consideration for their patrons. Disgusted with the entire ordeal, I bailed after less than an hour so I could see if the Hong Kong Museum of History would fare any better.
Fortunately, it wasn't just "better", it was spectacular. All I knew of Hong Kong history I learned from reading the brilliant James Clavell novels Tai-Pan and Noble House (which were semi-fictionalized). But here was the whole story... from geological formation and Neolithic times... to the Opium Wars, British Colonization, and eventually return to China in 1997. And all of it beautifully explained with captivating displays, dioramas and audio-visual presentation. It is hands-down one of the best museums I've visited, and that's saying a lot. If you enjoy history even a little bit, there's a lot to love about the Hong Kong History Museum.
The period of Japanese occupation during the war is a delicate matter to be sure, but I think they did an admirable job of presenting it well. These were tragic times for Hong Kong, and the horrors of day-to-day life for it's inhabitants not a pleasant subject to dwell on. But it was the most memorable portion of the museum to me because of this image...
These are British (I think) residents of the colony being led off to a prison camp from which some were likely not to survive. It's a sobering image but, when you look closely, you see something remarkable and haunting at the same time...
Two of the guys are smiling. I find myself wondering what was happening at this one moment frozen in time. Perhaps the guy in the vest had said something like "smile for the camera, boys" and the guy in front with the black shirt thought it was funny. There's just something so undeniably "human" about it all that puts life into perspective. Even at your darkest hour, your world and everything you know is just a tiny slice of history. And then you realize it's not your life that matters, but how you live it. How you face adversity. How you find your humanity in inhumane conditions.
The joy and the hurt of it all.
Then I look at the television and see the horrifying images coming out of New Orleans and try very hard to keep all this in mind as I watch people struggle to survive in a city that means so much to me. It's heartbreaking and so very human all at the same time. A moment in history where people are having to face their darkest hour.
And doing the very best they can.
And that's why I get so pissed off when I hear people saying things like "well, they got what they deserved in New Orleans, because everybody knew it was bound to happen eventually." It just seems so petty... so unworthy of historical record that people would choose to address somebody else's tragedy with this kind of attitude. A wasted moment of time.
I mean, should San Francisco be abandoned because of the earthquakes? And what about L.A.? People have been talking about the impending "Big One" for decades. Or what about the tornados in Kansas? Should we evacuate the entire State? Typhoons have decimated Hong Kong more than once, should the area be vacated? Hurricanes also ravage Florida, should the Southern Coast to the Keys just leave? Wildfires plague the area I live in... should I be moving out? What about other dangers that plague our societies... flood, drought, landslides, and all the rest? What could go wrong in YOUR town?
We humans lead a fragile existence. There's always going to be something horrifying we have to face, and it's how we deal with it that defines us. Sure New Orleans has always been in danger of destruction from storm and flood. But you know how they face it? They throw a giant party every year and call it Mardi Gras. They developed a rich and unique culture and welcomed people to their wonderful city so they could share it. It's part of what makes me love the city so much, and the reason I am rooting for New Orleans to rise again.
Tomorrow is my last day in Hong Kong. I think I'll head back across the harbor and see what adventures I can find.
How many people are happy when it rains on their vacation?
Usually, I am not bothered by the weather when I travel. If it rains, it rains, and I try to enjoy myself just the same. But the weather here in Hong Kong has been so hot and muggy that I am grateful for a break. I am tired of being drenched in sweat within five minutes of walking out the door. At least now when I'm wet, it will be for a good reason. Hopefully it will cool things down a bit as well.
I can only guess that the sudden rains are due to this big purple swirly thing that's sitting off the coast of China when I look at the weather map...
Here's hoping this doesn't turn into another swirly thing alert... Katrina's aftermath is enough just now.
I hung around my hotel room until 8:30 this morning, because that's when the Pret A Manger down the street opens up at Harbour City. They don't have my beloved Egg & Roasted Tomato Baguette, but I still love the food there, and decided it was what I wanted for breakfast.
Except when I got there at 8:40, the sign on the door said they don't open until 10:00... despite their web site stating quite clearly that 8:30 was the time. Pret bastards. Why the f#@% bother to post hours on your web site if they aren't going to be correct? Far better to post nothing at all if you are not going to update them when things change. I registered a complaint on their site, and know that they will make the change straight away because they are an amazing company, but it doesn't make me any happier about having to eat at McDonalds this morning.
After another impossibly cheap ferry-ride across the harbor, I walked up to Queens Road so I could wander the market stalls in the side streets. As you might know from previous entries, this is something I enjoy quite a lot. Hong Kong is rather surprising in that many stalls are packed into narrow streets on steep hills. This made it difficult to take photos where you could see anything, but I eventually found a flat section where I could get a shot...
The produce was beautiful, and I could tell from the boxes that some of it was fresh from Mainland China. The Beijing tomatoes in particular looked quite tasty...
Then my eye caught something that made me laugh. Some stalls were selling Red Delicious apples from my home in Washington State! They looked to be in great shape so, of course, I had to buy one. Red Delicious is not my favorite variety of apple, but it was kind of strange to travel half-way around the world to buy something from my own back yard. Eating it made me feel right at home, and at a price of 5 for $11 HK (28¢ US each) they were quite a bargain...
Despite the rain, it is still a bit miserable outside. The only difference is that instead of being hot, sweaty and miserable, now I'm hot, sweaty, miserable and soaked. But that's okay, since I'm not meeting my friend for dinner for three hours yet. Still plenty of time to blog, check email, and get cleaned up.
And speaking of email, the week would not be complete unless I get some wacky hate-mail. This time it's from a guy who has written to me a few times before, usually telling me that something I've done is getting me sent straight to hell. Apparently my visit to a fortune teller (which I'm told is an "instrument of the devil") from the other day has me queued up for a trip to hell... again.
Whatever. Fortune telling is a huge part of Chinese culture, and I'll be damned (heh heh) if I was going to miss out on the experience. It's part of exploring other walks of like, and is the entire reason I like to travel. Religious whack-jobs may feel that it's better to stick their heads in the sand and insulate themselves against all possible contact with other people's beliefs, but I think that's just stupid. That kind of lame superior attitude is what makes Americans so roundly hated the world over.
Besides, it was just for FUN! I put as much weight on fortune tellers as I do this really cool Bocca della Verita palm reading machine I saw at The Peak on Thursday...
It's just like the real "Mouth of Truth" I saw in Rome! (well, except the original doesn't have a slot for money like this one). Wouldn't it be great to have one of these in your living room for parties?
Wah. Now I have to go get ready for my last night in Hong Kong.
I dropped by the Hard Rock for drinks with a fellow Hard Rocker living in the city, but he kindly suggested I might like some Chinese for my last dinner in Hong Kong. Turns out he knows of a vegetarian-friendly place, which is a pleasant surprise. I had pretty much resolved myself that I would never be able to eat any local foods here, because absolutely everything contains some form of meat, seafood, or fowl... or is cooked using the juices thereof.
But, before heading out, he thought there was something I might like to see across the street. "Oh, I've been to the Harbour Mall, I say." Undeterred he replied "Yes, I'm sure you have... but you've not seen what I am going to show you or else I am certain you would have written about it in your blog." Intrigued, I agree to brave the crowds at the same mall where I had wanted to eat at Prat Pret earlier this morning.
And, as we walk through the largest shopping center in all of Asia, suddenly I see what it was he had wanted me to see.
Loads and loads of candy. Here's a shop filled with nothing but chips and cookies and biscuits and sweets... most of it imported from Japan. This is a huge deal for me, because I live for this crap...
Fortunately, my friend is a patient guy, and indulges me to spend the next twenty minutes buying out the shop. I buy loads, even though I have no idea how I am going to get it all home. Most of it is familiar to me, but there are some unique treats I'm tempted into trying. $40 US later, I'm leaving with two bags of treats that will most likely be entirely consumed on my way home. Here's just one bag of it...
The biggest find is my much-craved "Lucky Mini Almond" which is the incredibly tasty Meiji version of the Japanese cookie treat known as "pocky" (pronounced "p'oh-kee"). I buy four boxes. They also had Meiji "Qun" (gushing gummy candy) in sour grape flavor, which is another favorite. It would seem I'll be flying home on a sugar-high.
As we leave the mall, I spy Frank Lampard staring at me...
It's a Chelsea Football fan shop. Sure enough, the lads are in Chelsea blue, but I'm a bit puzzled as to why all their shirts say "Samsung Mobile" instead of "Emirates" (who I thought was the Chelsea sponsor). Perry?
Anyway, after dropping my booty of candy treasures off at the hotel, we're off to a spectacular dinner where I ate far more than I should have... I end up full to bursting. With no room for dessert, we head back to the Hard Rock so I can pick up a couple HRC souvenirs, and then walk around the neighborhood a bit to try and burn off all that food. Eventually, we're all caught up talking, and it's time for me to go back to the hotel and pack up for my early-morning flight.
And just like that, my Hong Kong trip has come to an end.
I woke up entirely too early this morning and, since I packed everything up last night, this leaves me with nothing to do for a good two hours yet.
I thought I would write a quick summary of all the things I'll remember from this trip, but I'm pretty sure that anything I take away will easily be overshadowed by the tragedy unfolding for the victims of Hurrican Katrina. As anybody who has read Blogography for any amount of time already knows, I have a deep... almost sacred... love for the city of New Orleans. It hurts quite badly to know what's happening there, and I go to bed each night with my heart aching, then wake up each morning overwhelmed with despair. I am not an emotional person, but entirely too many important memories are tied to this city, and I find myself grief-stricken in a way I don't understand. Especially considering I don't know anybody personally who has been devastated by the flooding.
The only thing saving me is the feeling that it's not actually happening. It's easy to do when you are in a foreign country half a world away where everything is different from what you're accustomed to. In a strange way, it's acting like a buffer between me and what I know to be a very real catastrophe back home. Right now all I can do is make donations to the relief effort and hope against hope that our government gets their shit together and finally provides some help to people who desperately need it.
But then I am reacquainted with the grim facts given by the Mayor of New Orleans, and the despair starts to set in again.
Fortunately, there are also the words of our Fearless Leader to make me feel so much better...
You know, I really sympathize with the fact that President Bush is trying to be encouraging here, but must he whip out these idiotic statements every f#@%ing time? I can forgive a lot, but it was Dubbyah's joking about starting a war that broke the camel's back for me, and it's been a long and painful down-hill slide ever since.
You would think at some point Bush would realize "hey, I always seem to make these embarrassing and inflammatory statements, so why don't I just shut-the-f#@%-up already?" But oh no, right when his slow response to the crisis is being criticized as racially motivated... he's got to try and comfort a Nation by telling us that some wealthy white dude's house is going to be re-built better than ever? Given the thousands of deaths that continue to mount even now, exactly how stupid do you have to be in order to see how this is an incredibly moronic thing to say? I mean, THIS is "good news?" Does he ever think before opening his f#@%ing mouth? Or does he just not care... he knows that people think he's a dumbass, and so he just does his part to live up to low expectations?
I remain utterly dumbfounded. And more than a little bit angry. I could go on about how fascinating it is that the so-called "leader of the free world" doesn't have a decent enough grasp of the English language to understand that "rubble" is already a plural, and "rubbles" is not even a word... but that would just be kicking a goober when he's down.
All we need now is to hire Halliburton for the clean-up, and the circle will be complete.
It's going to be a long, sad, plane-ride home (assuming the thunderstorms allow me to leave Hong Kong at all).
It's 3:45am and I've just woken up. In just over 20 hours, I'll be in China... that's after 15-1/2 hours of flight time with 5 hours worth of layovers in Seattle and San Francisco. It sucks to be me.
It's now 5:22am and I am enjoying the free wireless here at our little local airport, Wenatchee Pangborn Field. I'm hungry, but the only restaurant here has long-since gone out of business.
It's now 7:05am and I am in Seattle eating a delicious Qdoba Egg & Potato Breakfast Burrito after having been told that there isn't a seat for me on the flight from San Francisco to Shanghai. Such is the peril of flying United where I have -zero- status with the airline. But it sure beats getting a "full-body skin rash that itches like hell and doesn't respond to any medical treatment."
It's now 7:47am and I have just spent 20 minutes attempting to find out if I am actually going to get on the flight to Shanghai. The first gate agent tells me he has no idea, and I will have to check and see when I am in San Francisco because the flight "must be sold out." But then the Customer Service Desk opens up so I try again. When I explain the situation, the lady there is completely mystified as to why I wasn't given a seat, because there are plenty available. She even manages to find me a window-seat so I can sleep (even though it is all the way in the ass-end of the plane). Part of me is a little bummed out, because it would have been great to spend the night in San Francisco so I could go eat fortune cookies.
It's now 7:56am and I am paying the outrageously stupid price of $6.95 for an internet connection. I don't have much choice, because I didn't make it through my inbox at work yesterday, and need to get caught up before leaving the country. Wayport bastards. Why not offer connection by the hour at a reasonable rate?
It's now 8:52am and my plane has just arrived. It is very small.
It's now 9:02am and I have done about all I can do with work just now. Everything else will have to wait until I get to China. For the past half-hour a loud-mouthed idiot seated across the lobby has been blathering into his mobile phone LOUDLY about random political crap nobody wants to hear. From what I can tell, the call was initiated by a rather tasteless Bush-bashing television commercial that runs through the administration's failures (up to and including the Katrina fiasco), and then puts up a picture of Dubyah with the word "LEADER" underneath. But then "MIS" drops onto the screen spelling out "MISLEADER." Get it? HA HA HA HA! Whatever. Apparently, these people would rather waste money on television commercials that tell people what they already know, as opposed to say... donating the money to Katrina victims where it could do some actual good. Dumbasses. How much does a commercial on CNN cost? Enough to buy some food and clothing for a lot of people I'll bet.
It's now 9:20am and they will be boarding my flight to SFO soon. This is a good thing, because an obnoxious bitch screeching into her mobile phone sat down next to me and I'm about ready to kick it up her ass. I'm totally doped up on Ibuprofen right now, which means my back isn't bothering me much at all so I could totally do it.
It's now 1:32pm and this will be the last entry for today. In a few minutes, I'll be climbing on a 12-1/2 hour flight, trying not to go insane from the horrors of being trapped in a tiny space for a half-day. Once again I find myself in the unenviable position of leaving the country just as a hurricane is going to hit... knowing that I won't know what's happening until I land and get to my hotel. The good news, if you can look at it that way, is that Rita has been downgraded to a "Category 3" which means potentially a lot less damage. That's something.
See you in China.
I just got here and it's already been an adventure.
Most Chinese natives do not speak English, and I was well aware of this fact before I left the country. It seems only fair, considering I didn't even attempt to learn Mandarin for the trip. To this end, I thoughtfully asked my hotel to email me directions to the property in Chinese characters so that my taxi driver would know where to take me. I'm a swell guy that way.
So as we are heading into the Shanghai from Pudon International Airport, I start to get concerned. Not because I've nick-named my driver "Speed Racer" because of the way he zips in and out of traffic at high speed while flashing his headlights and laying on the horn... but because something doesn't feel right. In preparation for my trips, I always make it a point to memorize a "map" of the city so I can get my bearings and spend less time being lost. But as we approach Shanghai, I notice that we are heading nowhere near the location of my hotel. Upon closer examination of the Chinese address, I notice what appears to be a postal code, but it doesn't match the code of the address I have in English.
They sent me the directions to the wrong hotel.
After a feeble attempt to explain the problem, I finally give up and get across to him to take me to the "wrong" hotel. From there I find somebody who speaks English to give my driver directions to the right hotel. He was a very good sport about the entire ordeal, so I left him a much-too-generous tip and wave goodbye as he tears off into the night.
There's a half-hour of my life I won't be getting back.
On the bright side, I did get a nice tour of the city lights by night. I also get to fill in another country on my map (well, since Hong Kong is once again part of the Middle Kingdom, I suppose I could have filled in China already... but it didn't feel right until I step foot on the mainland).
It's 8:30pm (vs. 5:30am), so I am going to force myself to stay awake another couple of hours so I am synced to the time zone here. This may be a bit difficult considering that I've been awake for 26 hours now.
Hmmm... the maid just came for turn-down service and left me a nifty snack. It's like a small Rice Crispies treat, but with a hint of orange. Delicious!
Today was a very full day with lots to share, so I will probably be breaking the time into multiple entries.
This morning I decided to stop Pudong-side and go up the tallest building in China, Jin Mao Tower. It is a beautiful building with breathtaking views of the city from the 88th floor observation deck. This is looking towards Central Shanghai, with Pearl Tower foremost in the shot...
They have a window inside the tower so you can look all the way down to the reception lobby below. Everything is bathed with a golden light, so it is quite beautiful...
From Jin Mao Tower, it is only a short walk to Pearl Tower. This is a mighty cool structure, and you can go all the way up to the tiny third "ball," which they call the "Space Module"...
This is looking back toward Jin Mao Tower...
And then the opposite side, toward Central Shanghai...
The Chinese people are very hard working and kind, and their friendly demeanor is what makes Shanghai such a great place to visit.
Until it's time to queue.
Once it's time to form a line, the exceedingly warm and gentle Chinese will turn into a dragon. They will push, shove, weasel, cut, squirm, mangle, cheat, and no doubt kill to get ahead of you in the queue. Men, women, young, old... it makes no difference. I have had old women with canes, use their stick like a wedge to push me out of the way so they can get in front of me. There was one man who couldn't squirm past me so he SQUATTED DOWN AND CRAWLED PAST ME!! It is truly shocking to see this kind of behavior, because it is so unexpected. You really have to see it to believe it, and even then you may not trust your eyes.
There was a group of British tourists ahead of me in line for the Pearl Tower elevator. If you've ever been to Great Britain, you know that they have a natural talent for queueing... almost as if it were in their DNA or something. Every line in the country is orderly and very proper. Because of this, even more amusing than watching the Chinese do everything in their power to get ahead in line, was the horrified reaction of the British tourists watching it happen. They were mortified, and could not stop talking about what they were witnessing. Listening to their conversation was worth the price of admission!
This is not true of ALL Chinese, of course, but it is a high enough percentage that you grow tired of it very quickly. It's almost so bad that you don't want to visit any attraction with a queue. Oh well. After a while I developed some meager abilities to combat the line-cutters (usually making myself as wide as I can, holding on to rails, and using my backpack as a shield), so I imagine it gets better with practice.
After my experiences at the towers, I still had time to kill so I went to the Shanghai Aquarium. This is a truly spectacular place with dozens of beautiful dioramas that entertains you both above and below the waters. There are also several underwater walkways where the fish swim all around you. I've seen this kind of thing before, but never has it been used so ambitiously.
This is a really cool aquarium... certainly one of the best I've been to that I can recall...
This little guy was continuously reaching into the water to "pet" the reef sharks, sting rays, and other fish (despite a sign warning in English and Chinese not to do it). I was wondering if there might be piranha in the tank as well, and was worried that he would end up missing a finger or something...
After the aquarium, I needed to go to the other side of the river to meet with some friends for tea. I decided to take the "Bund Tourist Tunnel Tram" which actually goes through a tunnel UNDER the river. It's a psychedelic light show that's pretty bizarre. I think it's actually meant to be an audio-visual art project, because you've got a man speaking english who boldly introduces the various shows with odd phrases like "Acid Lava" and "Star Swirl." Afterwards, a lady will repeat the words in Chinese, but very softly. It's a unique experience, I'll give it that much.
While waiting for my friends, I wandered around the area for a bit. Eventually I spied a tiny kitten, barely bigger than the palm of my hand, who had to come and say hello. I wanted quite badly to take him home, which happens a lot when I travel (like here and here, for example). I guess cats must like me...
I then ran across this sign, which I thought was funny (also something I've done before)...
After tea, my friends and I walked through the cool shopping district in the area. Right in the middle of it all, there's what I think is a "wishing tree" where you can toss a ribbon with a coin attached into a tree. If the ribbon stays up there, your wish comes true. I don't know about all that, but it was a very beautiful site...
Apparently Starbucks is taking over the world, even in The Middle Kingdom. This has to be one of the more interesting I've seen...
In the shopping district, you can buy just about anything. A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G! I saw gloves, scouring pads, toys, kitchen utensils, clothing, shoes, antiques, and everything else you can imagine. Since I am not much of a shopper, this is all lost on me. About the only thing I really wanted was a Chinese lantern, because they look so cool hanging in the shops...
Once our meandering and chatting was over, my friends went off to meet with their family so that they can discuss their plans for heading up to Beijing on October 1st to celebrate "National Day" (named for the founding of the People's Republic of China) which is the most important of Chinese holidays, and is celebrated for an entire week.
I said my goodbyes, promised I'd look them up in Beijing when I get there, and then headed off to The People's Square and the Shanghai Museum.
I love museums and, lucky for me, Shanghai has an amazing property right on People's Square. The collection contained within The Shanghai Museum is a mind-bogglingly beautiful treasure trove that took me 2-1/2 hours to go through, and even that was at a rushed pace. I could have easily spent half a day there.
They have displays of jade carving, pottery, seals, coins, furniture, brush painting, calligraphy, statues, and much more... all beautifully arranged in a really nifty building...
There were many pieces I loved, but this statue was a favorite. His disapproving stare just cuts right through you...
Once outside, I sat at the fountain and watched the kids at play. Chinese Children are adorable, friendly, and very curious. More than a couple times they would come up to say an enthusiastic "hello!" and then wait for you to say "hello!" back so they could say it again. And again. And again. This little guy was particularly friendly, and was happy to have his photo taken...
I later learned that this area of People's Square is a popular place on Sunday because it becomes an "English Corner" where Chinese students of English go to practice their skills. As I was taking photos, I met a guy (Lane) and his girlfriend (Lucille) who were kind enough to strike up a conversation with me. We got on well enough that they asked if I wanted to go with them to a tea house so they could purchase some souvenir teas for their families and talk along the way. Lane's English is better than mine, so it made for fun conversation.
Once at the tea parlor, they asked if I wanted to go to a "Traditional Tea Tasting" which was a fantastic highlight to end my day with. It was made even better, because Lane was translating everything, giving me an understanding about what was going on that I never would have had otherwise...
There were six teas we sampled, each with a fascinating history and purpose. Everything was perfectly orchestrated, and then entire ceremony... from how you hold a tea cup... to the proper water temperature... to what was in it... to where it came from... was given. We also got introduced to the "tea god" who brings you good luck when you pour tea on his back...
The teas we sampled: Ginseng Tea, Jasmine Tea, Fruit Tea, Mountain Green Tea, Li Zhiong Black Tea, and the totally fascinating "Five Golden Flower Art Tea". That last one was the kicker. It starts out as a tea ball with green tea leaves wrapped around five chained flowers. As the water is poured on the ball and it steeps, it unfolds to become a work of art that tastes amazing...
Lucille wanted very much for me to take some back with me, but I can totally envision the Customs Agents searching my bag to find THIS inside...
Can you say "felony drug possession?" I picture myself being dragged away in handcuffs while screaming "IT'S JUST TEA! BOIL ME SOME WATER AND I'LL SHOW YOU... IT'S JUST TEA! IT'S JUUUSSSTTT TEEEEEEEAAA!! It broke my heart to have to decline, but that kind of trouble I just don't need in my life.
After tea, we exchanged email addresses and parted ways. They are also traveling to Beijing for "National Day," so we might yet meet again before I leave China.
I was going to go to the top of the Peace Hotel to see the city lights from their NightBar, but it had been a very full day, so I decided to save that for my next trip into the city. All in all... not a bad day for Dave.
UPDATE: This is a common type of scam in China, so be sure that if "somebody invites you for tea" that you ask for pricing first, and explain that you are ONLY paying for YOUR tea. Usually, it's two or three girls who approach you, and then you find out that "girls don't pay in China" and have to pay for everything. In this case, I told Lane pay for his girlfriend so, if it was a scam, I was only out the $50 for myself (which was worth it to me, because the whole thing was actually kind of cool).
Today was pretty much work all day, but on the way back into the city my host rushed me to the ancient village of Zhou Zhuang (aka "Zhouzhuang," about 90 minutes west of Shanghai) so I could try and visit before it got dark. This is a quaint little fishing village that has been kept much the same as it was in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911)... except now the structures are filled with tourist traps, where shopkeepers yell at you to view their wares as you pass by. It's kind of sad, in a way, because there's simply too many people competing over too little profit. I can't help but wonder how some of them manage to get by.
Anyway, Zhou Zhuang is cut by a series of canals, and is linked by beautiful stone bridges. You can walk along the narrow streets, or hire a boat to take you along the canals. The boats are kind of Venice-like, in that the oarsman or oarswoman will serenade you with a song as they push through the water.
Kind of a cool way to end the day by seeing China as it once was...
I'm whipped. Knackered. Exhausted. Beat. Destroyed. Something tells me I might be able to get a little sleep tonight. That would be a pleasant change from the 3 hours I managed to get last night.
Knowing that I needed to get caught up with work in the afternoon, I started the day early so I could visit the Temple of the Jade Buddha. It turned out to be more of an adventure than I had thought it was going to be.
I have been skydiving, bungee jumping, diving with sharks, race car driving, held up at knife-point twice, and had a multitude of other dangerous encounters throughout my life. But all of those pale in comparison to taking a taxi through the streets of Shanghai. Especially when you get a driver with a death-wish. Taxi drivers aren't supposed to smoke, play the radio, use their mobile phone, or spit... mine did everything but smoke and, given the ride I had, I kind of wish that I was the one with a cigarette. It was especially disturbing considering that he didn't know where the temple was (despite being a famous landmark) and had a map in his face a good portion of the time.
So there I was, bouncing around in the back seat with LOVE RADIO blasting so loud that my eardrums were bleeding, all while we were tearing through the city at a reckless pace... laying on the horn the entire way and watching the map instead of the road. There were moments where I was thinking to myself "so this is how I'm going to die is it?" And then watch helplessly as the taxi skidded around a corner, narrowly missing a mass of bicycles and pedestrians.
By the time we got to the temple, I was ready to shave my head and become a monk so that I wouldn't have to go through that again.
But the temple itself is pretty sweet, and well worth the dangerous journey to get there. You are not allowed to take pictures of the actual Jade Buddha (which is exquisitely beautiful), but there are plenty of other sites to photograph...
I particularly like the little lion guardians that are everywhere around the temple. Many of them had red "wish ribbons" tied around them, which made for a cool photo subject...
On the way out, I pass through the gift shop so I can get me a wooden "Happy Buddha" statue to take back with me. Given my luck with taxis, I can use all the luck I can get.
After my near-death experience getting to the Temple of the Jade Buddha, the ride back into the city center was positively tame. Since I ran out of time on Sunday, I decided to drop by the Shanghai Museum of Art to see the current installation. The museum itself is relatively small... just two rooms with a connecting hallway. There were maybe fifty paintings in one room and 35 in the other.
Turns out that what the museum lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality.
The current showing was for a brush artist named Wu Guanzhong, and it was remarkable. Stunning really. I couldn't afford it, but I ended up buying the show book because there was no way I could leave without it.
As I was leaving, I noticed an interesting sign out front...
I had seen a similar sign forbidding psychos in taxis (apparently this excludes the driver), but dismissed it. When I started paying attention, I noticed that signs forbidding psychopaths are actually quite common. This lead me to wonder if psychos are wandering the streets of Shanghai or something (just like New York!).
Once I had finished up at the museum, I was starting to get hungry. Noting a McDonalds down the street, I decided to see if they had the miraculously yummy fried pies that are prevalent at all McDonalds except those in the USA, where we get the shitty baked crap instead. Sure enough, fried pies!! As I sat down with my pies, fries, and a Coke, I noticed this creepy painting directly opposite me...
"Blessed is he who eats unto Him."
My fear of clowns is well documented, but this goes beyond fear... in kind of a Norman-Bates-Psycho-Not-Allowed-In-The-Museum kind of way. I'm going to be having nightmares for months. To calm my nerves, I decided to go snack shopping at the mini-mart across the street. Who knows what cool and exotic chips (crisps) and cookies (biscuits) I might find? Turns out there wasn't much, but the chip selection was rather interesting...
Among the choices... Cool Cucumber Flavor, Cool Lemon Flavor, Cool Green Tea Flavor, American-Style Original, Swiss Cheese Flavor, Italian Red Meat Flavor, and Texas Grilled BBQ Flavor. I tried the Lemon (yargh!) and Swiss Cheese (yum!) varieties, and a box of Pocky for good measure. I then hailed another taxi so I could make my way back Pudong-side. The driver was terrific, but the advertising is what caught my attention...
I think it's basically telling you that if your breasts don't fit in your dress, then visit La Zephire Beauty Management, and they'll fix you right up. I don't need the breast-job (or do I?), but was compelled to take a look at the web site they provided.
This was quite revealing.
Turns out that Heather Graham is a client and spokesmodel for their "Abundant Chest" program! I knew they were fake!!
What I was NOT prepared for was finding out that Jennifer Aniston was also a client and spokesmodel...
GAAAAH! Say it's not so! If Jennifer Aniston can have fake breasts, how can we truly know if ANYTHING is real? Who am I? What am I doing here? Am I real? Or is this all in my head? Leave it to Jennifer Aniston's breasts to make me finally lose my fragile grip on reality...
Putting aside the question of my reality, I backtracked to People's Square so I could visit the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. It came highly recommended by a friend who had been to the city, so I decided to give it a try.
Turns out I was mighty glad I did, because the contents within are fascinating in a way that Judicial Confirmation Hearings are supposed to be, but aren't.
If nothing else, it certainly is a cool building to look at...
The highlight of the entire complex is a massively huge 1/500th scale model of Shanghai that boggles the mind. Even with my wide-angle lens, there was just no fitting it into the frame, because it goes on forever...
With something this size, you'd think that they would skimp on the details. You would be wrong. Everything is faithfully reproduced, right down to the smallest detail. In addition, there are lighting cues to explain the layout of the city, all while a cute guide (with the most pleasant speaking voice I have ever heard) runs you through the model...
Interestingly enough, the model not only reflects the current state of the city, but includes future plans as well. The building I went up on Sunday, Jin Mao Tower, is the tallest building in China. But the model reveals that two taller buildings will eventually flank it on either side...
As noon approached, I needed to get back to the hotel so I could get some work done, but I decided to take a little detour first.
When I landed in Shanghai on Saturday night, I was looking forward to taking the MagLev Train into the city. Unfortunately, we arrived so late that the train had long-since shut down for the day. Not one to pass up a ride on the fastest train in the known universe, I figured today was the day. What's cool about the train, other than the fact that you'll be traveling at 430km per hour (267mph), is that you seem to defy gravity while doing it. Magnetic repulsion means that the train never touches the tracks, providing a frictionless run. It's pretty sweet-looking too...
I expected the ride to be smooth to the point of being unnoticeable but, unlike the elevator in Jin Mao Tower (where you cannot sense motion), you do get buffeted around a bit. Still, it's kind of a cool thing to have done. I bought a same-day-return fare in the comfy "VIP" section, which was completely empty...
The entire 30km journey takes just under 8 minutes. Apparently the same journey takes about 40 minutes by taxi...
The Shinkansen "Bullet Train" in Japan was my previous fasten train ride... at 210km per hour, making this one twice as fast. Kind of makes me wonder what the theoretical limit for mass-transit actually is.
And on that note... this ends my last day in Shanghai.
Last night I ended up watching Chinese television and eating in my room instead of going out. I was just too tired to head into the city again.
The show I ended up watching was an English education program with various segments that used movies and music to teach the language in context. Unfortunately, the movie in question was a Pauley Shore flick, which had me cringing at the thought of the Chinese thinking that this movie is in any way indicative of life in America. I mean, Pauley Shore?!? Is there anything that could possibly be more embarrassing? And the phrases for the evening that they were teaching? "I'll make it up to you" and "That's really cool of you."
After a whopping 5 hours sleep, I checked out of my hotel and caught a taxi to Hongqiao airport for my flight to Beijing. My taxi driver, quite surprisingly, was a woman (the first female taxi driver I had seen since I got here). For some reason, I thought that this would make for a less-eventful journey, but I couldn't have been more wrong. She was just as aggressive a driver as any of her male counterparts, if not more so. She could wedge her way into traffic, horn blaring, with the best of them. I was thrilled.
The 2-hour flight to Beijing via Air China, was pleasant enough... except for the fact that we sat on the tarmac for an hour before taking off. And thus began a day of waiting...
*The two hours to the Hard Rock was mainly due to the incompetence of the driver I got, who kept falling asleep at traffic stops and took the busiest route possible to get there... bypassing the Ring Road entirely in favor of driving through Tiananmen Square during rush hour. Easily the worst driver I have EVER had in my life. And, given the number of taxis I've taken over the years, that's saying a lot. It took every ounce of restraint I could muster not to choke the bastard for the entire length of the journey. I had to settle for kicking his seat each time the dumbass fell asleep.
Anyway, pretty much a wasted day. I am hoping to make up for it tomorrow.
Unlike the Shanghai Hard Rock, which has been flagged as "opening soon" for a year after "closing to move," the Hard Rock Cafe Beijing was open for business. It was actually worth the insanely-long 2 hour drive it took to get there. Of course, considering the distance from my hotel was only 10 miles, perhaps not.
Anyway, the HRC Beijing is a surprisingly large dual-level property that's permanently affixed to the front of the Landmark Hotel in the Chaoyang District of Eastern Beijing. As far as properties go, it's actually quite impressive.
The following two shots were taken opposite, giving you an idea of how big the main floor is. When you add the space afforded by the upstairs level, there's quite a lot of room available for seating...
The foosball tables were a nice touch, and something I had never seen at a Hard Rock before...
I loved me the "Comrade Bear" but didn't have room in my suitcase to get one...
It's even prettier at night...
Service was impeccable, and my Veggie Burger was great (though spicier than I'm used to). After a very long day, I'm glad to know that I can count of the Hard Rock to make me feel at home once again... even when half-way around the world.
Last night I arranged to hire a car and driver for today. For 900 Renminbi (about $110 USD) you can be picked up at 7am and then spend the next 9 hours doing whatever you want. A taxi hire would have been cheaper, but I wanted an English-speaking guide to take care of me, and that costs extra. Turns out it was a good move anyway, because my driver was able to explain many interesting facts about the countryside and how the people live there. It also meant that I could add or change my itinerary without any translation hassles.
I started by visiting the Ming Tombs, which house 13 of the 15 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. The entrance to the grounds, called "The Spirit Way" is a nifty path that's guarded by these amazing animal and mythical beast carvings...
My favorite was this guy because he's got some freaky hair going on...
There wasn't a monkey, so I decided to add one (nicely distorted by my wide-angle lens)...
The tombs themselves are not very extravagant but they are interesting. Only one tomb is excavated so you can go down and explore it, but there wasn't much to it at all. Probably because they filled it with a bunch of the Emperor's concubines and buried them alive or something.
It's the little details that just blow you away...
Now that I've seen all this, it has given me definite ideas as to how I want to be buried.
I don't really believe in luck. Though, I suppose if you were to press me, I'd have to say that I'm a fairly lucky individual. I do, however, believe in karma a little bit. And because I am so fortunate to be able to travel to so many interesting places around the world, it's all got to balance out somehow.
Unfortunately, it was my karma to be saddled with very, very bad weather for my trip to The Great Wall of China this afternoon. I tried to look on the bright side and say "hey, it may be raining buckets and I can't see much because of the fog... but I am here at The Great Wall of China, and that's not too bad."
But it wasn't easy to be very convincing.
It was a pretty big disappointment that I could only see small pieces of The Wall at a time, instead of being able to look out and see it stretching to the horizon. I mean, when I dreamed of visiting here all these years, this spooky visage wasn't exactly what I had in mind...
Oh well, I would rather have seen it wet and foggy than never at all. The big picture here is that I've finally stood upon The Great Wall of China, and that IS something...
I guess this means I am one step closer to death now.
Yesterday I told my driver not to bother picking me up until 7:30, since nothing really opens until 8:00am. So I awake at 7:00 and look out the window only to see yet another dreary, gray-sky morning with mist limiting the visibility in all directions. Just another depressing day of poor weather in Beijing! Oh well, at least it won't be raining for my trips to the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven.
With the conditions so dreadful, I'm in no hurry to head out into the crowded streets of Beijing, and drop down to the lobby at 7:25am to find my driver waiting for me...
Driver: "I have something to tell you."
Dave: "Uhhh... okay."
Driver: "The Great Wall is very important to you?"
Driver: "Most important to you maybe?"
Dave: "Errr... yes?"
Driver: "I think so. This morning I call Mutianyu and they say no rain. No clouds. Is clear."
Dave (trying desperately to not let my disbelief show): Really?
Driver: Yes. In city weather is bad. But in mountains it is good. No rain. No clouds. Not foggy... is clear. I call for you.
Dave (my interest piqued): So it is sunny and clear skies in Mutianyu?
Driver: Yes. I can take you back again.
Dave (with nothing to lose): Okay. Let's go.
And the entire way to Mutianyu I look out my window to see nothing but fog and mist... the likelihood of there being clear blue skies seems laughable, and I begin to wonder what the scam is. But then we round a corner, and all of a sudden the weather is drastically improved. We approach The Great Wall, and this time I can actually see it.
Now THIS is what I am talking about...
Yes. Needless to say, my driver is getting a big-ass tip.
UPDATE: I went to the "Mutianyu" section of the wall, because I was told it was less crowded with better views. The more common tourist spot is the "Badaling" section, because it is closer with easier access and closer to the Ming Tombs. There was a photo of the Badaling Wall in the China Daily that made me glad for my choice...
Yikes. Compared to this, Mutianyu was positively deserted.
After getting my second chance at The Great Wall... I was so happy that I didn't care if I saw anything else today. But I had a driver on the clock, so we headed back into Beijing proper so I could resume my tour of famous places at The Forbidden City...
A stunningly beautiful portrait of Chairman Mao welcomes you into the city. I'm afraid that a photograph can't do it justice... the colors are quite remarkable, almost luminescent, and the rendering itself is just amazing. I have no idea who the artist is, but they did an incredible job...
You can ascend the gate for a small fee and look back out at Tiananmen Square. Since tomorrow is "National Day," the most important of Chinese holidays, the square is already abuzz with activity. Tomorrow it will be overflowing in celebration...
After you walk through the city for a while, there are two things that strike you. The first is the overwhelming attention to detail in every facet of The Forbidden City. Even a simple roof column support is beautiful to the extreme...
The second thing about The Forbidden City that moves you is how OPEN it is. There is huge amounts of open space between structures. The entire city begs to be shot in widescreen...
But it's the quiet spaces I like best...
And, of course, The Forbidden City would not be complete without a f#@%ing Starbucks from those barbarians in the West contaminating Chinese culture...
I shot nearly 70 photos within the walls of The Forbidden City... everything seemed so awe-inspiring and amazing at the time. But now that I am looking through them, I'm surprised at how much that the various sections look the same. Still, it's an amazing experience to walk through the city walls and envision what it must have been like back when The Emperor was truly The Son of Heaven, and ruled all of China from this very place.
From The Forbidden City, my driver headed southward to one of the most recognized buildings in Beijing... The Temple of Heaven. Proving that karma does indeed balance out... I found that the "Temple of Prayers for Good Harvest" is closed for repairs until April of next month year. Oh well, if I had to choose between a clear day at The Great Wall and this, I'll take The Wall any day.
And it doesn't hurt that I've seen the reproduction at Epcot's World Showcase in Walt Disney World either.
Since I couldn't actually go into the main building, I had to settle for a trip to the "Imperial Vault of Heaven"...
Next to the Vault is the famous "whispering wall" where you can stand at opposite ends of the curved surface and hear a whisper across it. Unfortunately, there were dozens of people screaming at it (totally missing the point), which meant that you couldn't hear a thing, so that was that.
My favorite part of the Temple of Heaven Park was the Circular Mound which is supposed to have bizarre acoustical properties if you speak whilst standing at its center. With the hordes of noisy tourists buzzing about, it was impossible to know what this might involve. Still, it is a beautiful structure...
And thus ends yet another long day in Beijing. Tomorrow, I'm just going to relax a bit... perhaps journeying to Lama Temple and see what the festivities are like in Tiananmen Square. Or maybe I'll just stay in my hotel room and sleep all day. That sounds equally appealing.
Apparently Blogography has been linked to on a China travel forum, and my email address has been posted as well, because I awoke to find two dozen emails with questions awaiting me.
Since I am completely backlogged with my email just now (sorry) I thought I'd write a quick entry to address some of the questions I received, mostly about my driver for the past two days...
Your driver sounds wonderful. How do I get ahold of him? Does he have a web site?
I honestly don't know. I have his mobile number (in case I got lost), but won't be posting it here. The driver was arranged through my hotel's concierge desk, and I'd imagine that all hotels will have a list of reputable drivers in Beijing. When you check in, just ask them to hook you up.
You were totally ripped off at 1000 RMB a day... you can get a driver for 600 RMB!!
As I mentioned, I KNOW I could have gotten a driver for less (or a taxi for even less than that). But I wanted an experienced driver with English skills, and I went through my hotel to get him... all of this adds cost. But look at what I got in return! He looked out for me and got me a second chance to actually see The Great Wall because he knew it was important to me from our talks. How can you put a price on that? He was easily worth 2000 RMB a day for what I got in return. IMPORTANT: if you hire a driver, it is very important to know that the negotiated fee covers ONLY the car and his services... you are responsible for all tolls, parking, and fees.
How much did you tip your driver?
My hotel had told me that the 1000 RMB included tip, as tipping is not customary here. So, on the first day, I just paid him that much. But, after the effort he went through to make my trip (literally) a dream come true... I added another 200 RMB the second day. He was most grateful for the extra, and I probably should have given him more.
Is a driver safer than a taxi?
I am guessing that a professional driver is, though I can't say for sure. Unlike taxis, drivers have a reputation to maintain, so it would be pretty stupid for them to start ripping off their customers. My driver was very sensitive to my comfort level. On the morning of the first day, he was very easy-going through traffic... but as he noticed I wasn't bothered by more aggressive driving, he became more and more daring as to how he worked his way through traffic. By the end of the second day, I felt like I had hired The Transporter because he was whipping through traffic and speeding along at a breakneck pace. Had I acted nervous about what he was doing, I'm certain he would have sensed this and backed off. I am telling you right now, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for a professional driver. None.
You make it sound like you can drive right up to The Great Wall, but I don't think this is true, is it?
I can only speak from having visited at Mutianyu, but no... you can't drive right up to The Wall. Where I was, we drove to a parking area, and then I hiked to a cable car that takes you to the top. You can also walk the 1000 (or thereabouts) steps to the top, but you get a terrific view from the cable car, so I highly recommend it...
When you visit the temples and such, does your driver go with you?
No. He's a driver, not a tour guide. If you want a private guide, they can be hired separately. The driver simply drops you off, explains what to do, and then leaves you to explore. Sometimes, like when I visited "The Spirit Way" or "The Forbidden City" I arranged to have the driver drop me off at one end, then pick me up at the other end after I've walked through. If there was no place for him to park on the other side, I'd simply ring his number on my mobile phone (but hang up immediately so I don't get billed for the call) and he'd drive right up to get me. IMPORTANT: As I understand it, most of China's mobile service is CDMA (like Verizon Wireless has in the US)... and GSM coverage is limited. Be sure to check with your mobile company before you go to see if your phone will work, if you need to have one handy.
What hotel are you staying at?
It's called the "Holiday Inn Central Plaza." Unlike the US, where Holiday Inn is sometimes viewed as a cheaper, low-end hotel, in Asia it's exactly the opposite. I've stayed in amazing Holiday Inn hotels from Thailand to Japan, and they'll all top-notch. This particular hotel is very nice and not outrageously expensive, but the location is not the best, being tucked away in the South-Western area of the city (where there are few attractions). Fortunately, taxis are plentiful and inexpensive... but if you want to be closer to the action (and don't mind paying for it), there are better choices.
My intent today was to do as little as possible so I could relax on my last day in Beijing, and I think I succeeded.
After rolling out of bed at 9:00am, I had breakfast at the hotel next to a couple of annoying bitches who were shameless about being critical of their time here in China. This just baffles me. I mean, why travel outside the US if you are going to complain about things not being like the US when you leave the country? You are a GUEST here... if you are going to be dumbasses, at least have the courtesy not to do it in a public venue.
Missing my driver already, I ended up taking a taxi to Lama Temple. This is a terrific oasis of calm in the northeastern corner of the city...
I then walked the short distance to Confucius Temple, but it was under heavy construction, so I gave up on that idea pretty quickly. Since a subway station was nearby, I decided to just take the metro to the southeastern corner of the city so I could visit the "Beijing Friendship Store" and have lunch. I ended up eating at the Pizza Hut here, thinking it would be a nice change of pace from all the tofu I've been consuming over the past week. Turns out I should have just eaten a traditional Chinese vegetarian meal at the Buddhist temple, because I ended up feeling pretty sick after eating my cheese pizza.
Not feeling well at all, I decided to just walk to Tienanmen Square to see what festivities might be going on for National Day. This was a mistake, because walking 2-1/2 miles with a sick stomach does nothing to make you feel any better. By the time I got there, I was ready to puke or die or both. Turns out it was a wasted trip anyway, because I was either too early or too late to see whatever display was going on. It was just an endless mass of people waiting for something to happen...
And that was it. I flagged down a taxi to take me back to the hotel so I could chew on a few Pepto Bismol tablets and watch television. Since I had already been to The Great Wall (twice), there wasn't much else I wanted to do. All that's left is to pack my suitcase, get some sleep, and head off to the airport in the morning.
Goodbye to the Middle Kingdom. Thanks for having me. 谢谢
The flight home always seem to pass more quickly than the flight away. Part of this is because, thanks to the rotation of the earth and prevailing tail-winds, it is quicker... by about 1-1/2 hours this time... but it doesn't explain everything. I mean, what's an hour in the course of a 13 hour flight? Not much. Perhaps it's a mental thing?
Overall, I can say that I loved my brief time in China. Absolutely loved it. I have been dreaming of standing upon The Great Wall since I was very young, and now that I have actually done it, it feels as though a part of my life that was missing is now complete. All my other experiences on the trip, wonderful as they were, pale in comparison. If you ever have the opportunity to visit The Middle Kingdom, I highly recommend it.
If you do go, however, there are some things to prepare yourself for...
If you can get past these sticking points, then you will see and experience things that will blow your mind. Chinese culture is thousands of years old, and will capture your imagination in a way that few others can.
Well, I'm off for a short vacation. At last.
I will be writing an entry every day, as usual, but may not have internet access each day to post them. If you ordered a Blogography Logo Shirt or a Bad Monkey Shirt as of 2pm yesterday, Seattle time, you've been shipped. Anything arriving after that will, sadly, have to ship out the week of the 24th when I return (alas, I have nobody to cover shipments for me this trip). Custom orders and back-orders will be printed up in early November.
Everybody play nice...
A boring and uneventful drive over to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was salvaged by a fantastic flight on one of Northwest Airlines newer A330 aircraft, where everybody has their own personal entertainment center. Since this was a free flight, I was in coach, but there seemed to be slightly more room than usual on this plane, so I didn't mind much.
Thanks to dozens of movie choices and games, the flight to Amsterdam flew by (heh heh) in no time.
I got to see Batman Begins (great, seen it before), Fantastic Four (not nearly as bad as I had thought), War of the Worlds (interesting flick with a crap ending), March of the Penguins (cute, but I fast-forwarded through much of it), Bewitched (truly awful, and I fast-forwarded through practically all of it), plus play a few games of trivia and Bejeweled. I was still playing as the landing gear came down, and still can't figure out where the 9 hours went. THAT'S the way to fly international.
I was very nervous when I surfed by Apple's web site, curious to know what their "big announcement" was going to be and how much it was going to cost me. Turns out it won't cost me a thing. The new media features in the iMac G5 are nice, but I've already got both a Mac and a TV. The new video iPod isn't impressive enough to warrant purchase, and the new video offerings at the increasingly mis-named iTunes Music Store are shows I don't care about and are only being offered at a crappy 320x240 resolution. Sure that's fine for an iPod, but there are plenty of other media portables out there with bigger screens, bigger storage, and better resolution for me to pay $1.99 a pop for crummy low-res copies of Lost and Desperate Housewives. What in the heck is Apple thinking?!?
Oh well. I don't really have the money to buy a cool new toy from Apple just now. With that in mind, I suppose I should be glad that they didn't release a cool new toy I couldn't live without.
On a sadder note, a small bird seems to be trapped here inside Schiphol International Airport. He flies up to the skylight, realizes he can't get out, and then flies down to the railing and starts chirping... I am guessing in the hopes that some other bird will answer and he can go home (or at least get outside)...
The poor little guy just flies from rail to rail calling out for help... it really is heartbreaking (I seem to be having March of the Penguins flashbacks here). Hopefully he gets it all figured out. I doubt a diet of leftover french fries and being trapped in an airport is a very good life for one who is meant to fly free.
My favorite place on earth is Edinburgh, Scotland. Tying for a close second would be a dozen different places in Italy, the city of Rome included.
And so here I am in the Eternal City, almost five years after my first visit during the Catholic Church's Holy Year of 2000. My love for Roma has not diminished, and I am just as excited over being here now as I was then. There are sights here to overwhelm the senses of even the most jaded traveler...
Now I want a gelato.
According to the weatherman, it was supposed to be raining today. But looking out my window, all I saw was scattered clouds. By the afternoon, even the clouds were gone, leaving a flawless blue sky. The sun was so bright, in fact, that it made getting some photos difficult... even with a polarizing filter on my lens. I never thought that I would find myself complaining over a perfect day.
Wanting to avoid the 2-3 hour lines at the Vatican Museum, I got there 30 minutes early. The queue was already forming, and in another half-hour the line was around the corner and out of sight. It would seem that the longer you wait to show up, the longer you wait to get in.
However long you wait, it's all worth it once you get inside. They don't let you take photos of the Sistine Chapel, but there are plenty of other remarkable ceilings to photograph...
There are hundreds (thousands) of renditions of Jesus in the Vatican Museum, some of them surprisingly clever. I particularly liked this one, where he is looking around at things with a notable curiosity...
Last time I was here, I didn't get to visit their collection of Roman statue art. It's pretty impressive and, from the lack of crowds, severely under-appreciated...
After three hours wandering the museum, it was time to walk over to Saint Peter's. Unlike my visit in 2000, they now have metal detectors and baggage inspection. This adds a significant amount of time to entering the basilica, though I suppose it's a smart thing to do. Oddly enough, they looked to be setting up for a rock concert in front. I guess the new pope knows how to party...
The queue to go to the top of Michelangelo's Dome was not too bad, though it's hard to imagine anybody complaining about standing in line to see something so magnificent...
The view from the bottom back up is equally stunning... with ant-sized people scattered below...
Around noon, the clouds were mostly gone, leaving a terrific view of the city...
All that, and the day isn't even half over.
I had another full day in Rome, but didn't want to risk the weather turning, so I decided to walk through some of the major sites while the sun was shining. After a pilgrimage to the Spanish Steps and the Hard Rock Cafe Rome, it was time to get started.
First a walk to the Trevi Fountain, which was crowded as always...
Next up was The Pantheon, which is a remarkable architectural achievement considering it was built over 2000 years ago. Apparently, it's the oldest pagan temple left in the city (though it was unsurprisingly converted into a church at some point)...
After walking around the Piazza Navona, the day was wrapping up, so it was back towards the hotel and a walk through the Forum...
And back to the Colosseum...
The perfect end to a perfect day in the Eternal City!
There was really only one choice for dinner... Alfredo alla Scrofa. This is one of two restaurants in Rome claiming to be the inventor of Fettucini Alfredo, which is my favorite pasta dish. But this is the real Fettucini Alfredo, which is quite a bit different than the grotesque imitation you'll find at a typical "Italian" restaurant in the US.
REAL Fettucuni Alfredo has very thin noodles... almost noodle shavings instead of the thick, gummy crap typical of Americanized pasta. REAL Fettucini Alfredo is thick with a deliciously aged, sharp parmesan cheese instead of the flavorless, watery cream that plagues Americanized Alfredo sauce. REAL Fettucini Alfredo is so good that it's practically worth a trip to Rome just to taste it...
REAL Fettucini Alfredo is impossible to describe with mere words... but "orgasmic" comes to mind...
My fear about the weather changing was unfounded, as today was even more perfect than yesterday. I don't think I saw a single cloud in the sky all day. Bellisima!
Since I rushed to get to all the major sights taken care of the day before, I was left with a lot of time to explore some lesser known, yet no-less interesting attractions today... starting with those right out the front door of my hotel, the Temple of Hercules and the Temple of Portunus, which I can see from my window each morning...
Then it's just a quick hop across the street to see the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth), which is supposed to snap shut on the hands of those telling lies...
And then it's a short walk back past the hotel to the brilliant Capitoline Museums, atop Capitoline Hill which was the center of ancient Rome. These are probably my favorite museums of the city, and today was the last day of an amazing exhibit which focused on the architectural wonders of the city. There were beautiful pen and ink renderings from around the world of various Roman landmarks, each more fascinating than the last. The "regular" collection is pretty special as well...
The statue of the woman with -ahem- extra parts is a bit disturbing... particularly when a rather important piece of the extra parts has fallen off. This is also where the pieces of a massive statue (since fallen apart) reside, including this giant hand...
From the roof I got an excellent view of the city. Just another crappy day...
I hope the weather is even half this good as I head north tomorrow.
After lunch, I was half-way tempted to just go back to the hotel and relax, but that would be a total waste of such a beautiful day, so I decided to head north to Esquiline (this is the tallest of Rome's hills, and one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city). Unfortunately, unlike the major attractions, all the smaller churches close down for 3 or 4 hours at lunchtime, meaning that most places I went were closed. About the only thing open was Santa Maria Maggiore, a basilica so stunning that it pretty much made the entire trip worthwhile on its own...
I dare say that the interior rivals St. Peter's at The Vatican for sheer beauty and opulence...
The stained glass window here is one of the prettiest I've seen outside the Rose Window from Notre Dame in Paris. The basilica was so dark, it was difficult to get a clear shot, but I was able to capture the bright colors that make it so beautiful...
Since San Pietro in Vincoli, home of Michelangelo's Moses statue was still closed, I headed to the Barberini Museum. Unfortunately, photography isn't permitted, because there were several famous works of art stashed here... including that shot of a portly Henry the VIII that's so well known.
On the way back to the hotel, I kept seeing more and more Cabiniere (Military Police), complete with riot gear, hanging out. It started at the Column of Marcus Aurelius...
... but really became noticeable once you reached the end of the Via del Corso to the Piazza Venezia...
Once I reached the front of Il Vittoriano, a massive demonstration (protest?) march was happening, so I guess that's what all the fuss is about...
It was difficult to tell what the march was for, because all the signage seemed to be different... as if everybody was protesting about whatever was on their mind. It was very much a non-violent demonstration, so I have no idea why the Cabiniere were present in such depth (there were even helicopters hovering above). Probably just preventative measures, because who knows how riots get started?
Tomorrow is an early travel day, so that's enough adventuring for today...
I don't much care for schedules. The idea of spending my vacation glued to a clock and having every minute of every day planned out to every detail is not my idea of a vacation at all. I would much rather have a general idea of where I am going and what I want to see, then just fill in the specifics as I go.
I had exactly three goals while in Tuscany... 1) Visit the Academy Museum in Florence, so I could see the greatest sculpture in the known universe: Michelangelo's David. 2) Visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, one of the most highly regarded on the planet, to see such astounding works as Botticelli's Birth of Venus. 3) Wander out to the Tuscan countryside to take in the scenery and visit a few cities like Sienna or Lucca or San Gimignano or something.
Unfortunately, ALL these things require either timed reservations or some kind of tour. Otherwise you'll spend most of your time waiting in a queue or lost. So I decided to visit the galleries today, and save the countryside for tomorrow. Two days of being glued to the clock.
David is just as jaw-dropping stunning as you'd expect. How Michelangelo managed to inject such life into a block of stone, I cannot fathom. No words I use could adequately describe just how beautiful it is. No photograph can adequately capture the overwhelming presence such a work has. And since photography is forbidden, I suppose it's for the best. There is a copy of the original in front of the Uffizi Gallery, however...
The elegance and grace of the human body perfectly captured. Unfortunately, you'll never really get just how perfect from looking at a picture. Sorry, you'll just have to book a trip to Florence for that.
The Uffizi itself is nice enough, and contains a terrific assortment of art treasures... but, if you didn't purchase tickets in advance, it's not really worth the 3 to 4 hours of waiting it takes to enter. Since I already had reservations, it wasn't a problem. There's Botticelli's Birth of Venus, as expected, but also a more provacative The Venus of Urbino, which is worth a look (you naughty monkey!).
The city of Florence is more "interesting" than it is "beautiful," which is why I'm only here for the day, but there are a number of wonderful sights to be had... like the Duomo...
And the banks of the Arno...
And all the cool buildings, which look so great against that cloudless blue sky...
Anyway, after walking through the Central Market area and wandering through a few more museums (and eating entirely too much delicious pasta for dinner) my short stay in Firenze had come to an end.
After four flawless days of blue skies and plenty of sunshine, my luck with the weather suddenly changed. Cloudless skies from yesterday had been replaced with thick gray clouds and a dreary mist in the valleys. It never rained, but the morning was far from ideal.
Still, Tuscany is Tuscany and, even without the sunshine, is pretty special. The sunflower fields of summer have gone (with only a few stray flowers still hanging around), but the grape harvest has just ended and the leaves are starting to turn. This provided a nice splash of color against the green and gray of my day...
The tour I had selected included a visit to the tiny medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano. Surprisingly, the sun was just starting to clear out the clouds by the time we arrived...
After an hour wandering through the charming streets of a village that seems removed from time, we journeyed to a small winery for lunch. This is exactly the type of place you'd expect to see in Tuscany, and nobody was disappointed...
The last stop on the tour was a visit to the beautiful city of Sienna at the heart of Tuscany. It's large size makes it seem much like dozens of other Italian cities, but the sun had cleared away much of the gloom, leaving a beautiful afternoon at the Piazza Del Campo...
Not exactly what I was hoping for on a "Best of Tuscany Tour," but a nice outing nevertheless. I can see now the only way to really see the Tuscan countryside is to rent a car and wander the back-roads yourself. Maybe next time. Me? I was just happy to finally have some blue skies.
And on that happy note, feel free to leave Blogography and enjoy the rest of your day. HOWEVER, if you feel like listening to me bitch about why organized tours suck ass... then feel free to keep reading in an extended entry...→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Wouldn't you know it. Now that I am leaving Tuscany, the sun is out once again, providing cloudless blue skies as the train pulls into Venice. Not that I am complaining, mind you, but I would have traded just about any day on my vacation for this kind of weather while I was wandering about the Tuscan countryside.
Oh well. Venice is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and having sunshine and blue skies can only accentuate the amazing sites the city has to offer...
One of the things I love most about Venice are the details. Everywhere you look, there are little artistic touches that grace doors, walls, fountains, and everyday objects that make you really appreciate what a very special place this is.
Just a couple of cool things I noticed this morning...
How cool would it be to take a hundred of these photos and create a scavenger hunt through the streets of Venice? Given the maze-like nature of the city, it could be a very difficult game indeed.
After the perfectly clear skies yesterday, awaking to a dreary, cold, and overcast day was quite a shock. The weather took a complete 360 overnight, which kind of sucks ass.
The day started at the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) while the queue was short. In the early days of Venice, this was the "Palace of Justice" and home to the city government. It was made to show off the wealth and splendor of the Venetian Republic, and does so exceedingly well. You can't take photos inside but, even if you could, it would be difficult to capture the immense size and lush visuals each room presents. All I could manage was a picture of the courtyard...
I should have gone to the top of St. Mark's Campanile yesterday when the sky was blue, but oh well. Even cloudy, it's still a heck of a view over the city...
The weather wasn't improving, so I took a "vaparetto" (water bus) to the small island of Murano off the northern coast of Venice. Murano is famous for glassworks, and there are a number of working factories and showrooms you can tour. As a huge fan of glass maestro Dale Chihuly, I could not resist.
Sadly, much of the stuff I would actually buy is way, way out of my price range. Even if I could afford it, getting it back home in one piece would be tricky. Still, it's fun to watch (I especially like this guy's "inspiration" he's got hanging on the wall there)...
Murano itself is kind of like a miniature version of Venice, with its own system of canals and bridges. Had the sun been out, it might even be considered "charming"...
With the weather holding firm, I decided to look for some indoor activities in the Dorsoduro area. There are two notable galleries here, the first of which is the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art. It's quite a nice collection, and includes many famous artists like Picasso, Pollock (whom she discovered), Miro, Kandinsky, and some terrific Mondrians. Just across the next canal is the Accademia Museum, which houses the largest collection of Venetian art in the world. It's pretty sweet, but most of these religious-themed paintings are starting to all look alike to me. After seeing your hundredth version of St. Sebastian being martyred and your millionth version of Mary holding baby Jesus... well, even the different artistic interpretations aren't enough to keep things interesting.
As the day was ending, the weather was actually starting to clear up a bit. I can only hope that this means Venice is in for a better day tomorrow.
When I woke up I could hear the rain before I even looked out the window. I guess this only goes to prove that things can always get worse. So now instead of being merely overcast and cool, it's cloudy, cold, and wet. I didn't think it was possible to be depressed in Venice, but here it is.
My first instinct was to just lay around in bed all day, but that seems a terrible waste, so I decided to walk over to the beautiful Santa Maria della Salute, which is one of Venice's most historic churches...
With the rain letting up a little bit, I decided to schlep towards the northern part of the city so I could visit the Ca' d'Oro museum. Along the way, I happened upon the "Bridge of Sighs" which is an ornate covered bridge where prisoners were marched across to face torture and possibly death after their sentencing at the Palazzo Ducale...
The Ca' d'Oro ("House of Gold") got its name because the facade was once gilded in gold. Now it's a museum and the gold has long since weathered away. The works are pretty much more of the same, but there's a few gems that made the trip worthwhile. Out on the loggia, you can look out over the Grand Canal along with the tiny guardian lions there...
Not exactly the way I pictured my last day in Venice, but it's what I got. Tomorrow it's five hours on a train and back to Rome. Until then, it's one last walk along the Grand Canal at night...
Left a cold and wet Venice only to arrive in a warmer, yet far wetter Rome.
This is making me really, really thankful that I had spots of fantastic weather when I did. If the entire vacation had been under this weather, I would be really depressed. As it is, I'm more sad about it coming to an end than I am over the weather. After five hours on a train, all I had the energy for was to walk to the Hard Rock for dinner, then drag my soggy ass back to the hotel. After a few hours out in the rain, I'm really ready for bed.
But I can't go to bed, because I've got five days of blog entries to upload.
I haven't decided what I'm going to do tomorrow. I'm sure it will involve being wet.
Two big releases happened whilst I was in the northern environs of Italia... first, Depeche Mode's latest album, Playing the Angel hit on Tuesday. Next, Apple released some new computers and an utterly brilliant piece of software called Aperture on Wednesday.
Sadly, Depeche Mode's latest was a bit of a disappointment after the initial beauty of the single release Precious (not to mention the long, long wait since the last album). I like half the tracks well enough... but it seems more of an experiment than a refined work. Dave Gahan's voice is amazing as always, it's the musical accompaniment that's lacking. I don't know if Martin Gore is in a phase where everything has to be disjointed, raw, gritty, and stuck in a feedback loop... but it does not "feel" like a Depeche Mode album, and that's a bitter pill to swallow after the long months of anticipation. Some pretty major DM fans are referring to it as "noise" instead of music. While I wouldn't go that far, I can definitely see where they're coming from.
Apple Computer's Aperture, on the other hand, is an absolutely astounding software release that is going to entirely change how I work with digital photos. I cannot wait to get my hands on it, and will probably never shoot in JPEG mode again. If you're a professional photographer, here's a link you really need to follow.
Time for bed.
The weather wasn't bad in Rome this morning, but forecasts showed it to be getting worse as the day goes one, culminating in rain showers. I was going to spend the day wandering through churches and museums I hadn't visited yet... but, at the last minute, decided to head back up north to Pisa where it was only partly cloudy. I figured I might as well see the "Leaning Tower" before it falls over.
Unfortunately, the wait to be able to climb to the top was 4 hours... which I didn't have time for... but the thing looks scary enough that perhaps it was for the best? It's not just leaning, it's really leaning (and even this photo doesn't do it justice because of the curvature of my wide-angle lens!)...
The Tower is interesting and all, but the Duomo that sits next to it is amazing...
Heading back to Rome, the rain was only a sprinkle. After a last walk around the Colosseum and along The Forum, the rain had stopped completely.
Around the dinner hour, I found myself at The Pantheon and ended up having a perfect plate of spaghetti with a view from my table to die for...
As if that wasn't enough, dinner music was provided by (I shit you not) the Hare Krishnas, who totally rocked the house...
And so ends my last night in Italy.
Oh goody... I am back in Seattle now. Barely. And sans luggage. This was not a pleasant trip home, and I'll give all the gory details about the non-stop stupidity that deposited me here tomorrow. Right now, I have to take a three hour nap so I can go back to the airport and get my bag off the next flight (at least I hope so). This is exactly what you want to do after traveling for 22 hours.
I have to wonder exactly what a person's breaking point is when it comes to being screwed over.
Today they're called "flight attendants," but if you take a ride on the Wayback Machine, they were called "stewardesses." A while ago, I read an interesting interview with one of the first stewardesses who was asked about flying now vs. flying back then. She lamented that flying back when she was working was so much more special. People dressed up in their finest clothes and were on their best behavior instead of showing up in sweatpants and being rude and demanding. People considered the flight an adventure instead of an annoyance. People thought of the flight as part of their vacation, not just a means to get to their vacation. She thought that flying had become so commonplace that people were apathetic towards it and that it has ruined the experience.
She is, of course, completely full of shit.
What's ruined the experience of flying is how the airlines started treating their customers like cattle and abusing them at every turn. What she is bitching about is, in reality, how people have reacted to how they're treated.
As for me, I'm ready to start showing up at the airport drunk and in my underwear.
My flight out of Rome yesterday was delayed 35 minutes because the inbound flight was late. They ended up "making up the time in the air"* and landed as scheduled at 1:00. So far so good.
But here's the problem... MY CONNECTING FLIGHT OUT OF AMSTERDAM HAD ALREADY BEEN BOARDING FOR 25 F#@%ING MINUTES! On my way over I had a FIVE HOUR layover, on the way back I had NEGATIVE 25 MINUTES layover. Who is the idiot who schedules this crap?
And that's just the beginning. My Northwest Airlines flight over the Atlantic went like this...
And we won't even get into the stupid crap on the connection flight to Seattle once I connected in Minneapolis. I am beginning to wonder if I would have been smarter to PAY for my flight on a competing airline rather than use frequent flier milage to get a FREE flight on Northwest. Seriously, just how much worse can it get?
Since they're in bankruptcy now, I'm guessing the answer would be "a lot worse."
I think I am past my breaking point right now, and this was on a flight I didn't even pay for.
* When airlines say that they are going to "make time up in the air" I think we all know that this is a load of horse shit. Airlines heavily... HEAVILY pad their schedules so that they can still claim a high "on-time arrival rate" despite their constant late departures. For example, the flight I took (#45 out of Amsterdam to Minneapolis) which leaves at 2:05pm and arrives at 4:05pm is being discontinued at the end up the month. It is being replaced with a NEW flight #45 which takes off at 2:05pm but is now arriving at 4:25pm. Twenty minutes of additional slop time to make up for even later departures, I guess. I'm sure they'll claim it's some kind of annual change in weather patterns, but it's all crap no matter how you try to sell it. The simple fact is that planes DO NOT take off on time with any regularity, yet somehow end up LANDING on time?? I wish the FAA would get off their asses and start requiring honesty in airline schedules. But that would mean that they actually have to do some work, and what government agency is interested in actually working for the people they are paid to be serving? Dumbasses.
And so I'm over in Seattle for a couple of days.
As far as bigger cities go, Seattle is a wholly wonderful place. Sure the traffic is bad, and the weather isn't always the best... but it's a beautiful city with a wonderful and unique culture all its own. I don't get over here nearly often enough.
The problem is that it was snowing on the mountain passes for the drive over.
This seemed entirely impossible until I realized that it was November already, and somehow the months of September and October have totally passed me by. At first I thought I had been abducted by aliens and am experiencing lost time... but the thing about having a blog is that you can go back and verify that every day is accounted for. It turns out that it's not aliens after all. Instead it would appear that there's some kind of rip in the space-time continuum or something like that. If this keeps up, January will be arriving next Tuesday.
But even more disturbing than the laws of physics unraveling along with the fabric of reality, is the bizarre transformation my beloved "Vance Hotel" here in Seattle has taken. It's no longer a quirky historic hotel... now it's some kind of art boutique hotel. Instead of classically comfortable rooms at reasonable rates, it's become "HOTEL MAX SEATTLE" and has transformed into an odd "W Hotel" wannabe with overpriced tiny rooms, a drab military-gray color scheme, and paper-thin walls that do nothing to dampen the loud flat-screen TVs they've installed.
And the changes don't end there. In a vapid attempt to be "fresh" they've upgraded the philosophy of the hotel as well with "experiences" like the "Hubba Hubba Hanky Panky Romance Package" and the "Rock This Way" or "Gaycation Seattle" packages. This, along with original art pieces on all the walls is supposed to make the rooms worth $60 more a night.
I just don't get it.
If I want to pay this kind of money, I'm going to just bite the bullet and go to the "real" W Hotel down the street where they have larger, soundproof rooms with far better decor. The Vance Hotel was perfect just how it was and filled its niche nicely. Hotel Max Seattle is just a confusing mess, and I have no idea exactly what it's supposed to be or who it's supposed to be appealing to. They've spent tons of money and have only succeeded in ruining a once-nice hotel.
What a bummer, because the beds here are killer comfortable.
More adventures at Hotel Max Seattle.
Last night I finally had to grab my earplugs around midnight because the inconsiderate bitch in the next room continued to play her television at full-volume when I was needing sleep. Oddly enough, the street traffic was obliterated, but I could still hear her television set (which is just behind my headboard around a paper-thin wall). Sometime in the middle of the night, I must have taken out the earplugs, because I was awakened at 5:30am by the shrill tones of the same inconsiderate bitch using push-to-talk on her radio/mobile phone.
Yeah, I wanted her dead pretty bad.
But the REAL adventure started when I decided to take a shower this morning. The bathroom is tiny, but the shower is so small that you could fit three of them in a phone booth. And the curtain is so dark that you can barely see what you are washing because light can't get in. I barely had room to move. My elbows were pinned to my sides. If I were to fart, I'd probably be shot out of the shower by the pressure. This made even simple acts... like pouring shampoo... really difficult.
And of course I dropped the mini shampoo bottle.
And then proceeded to bang my head HARD on the soap tray when I tried to pick it up. I hit so hard that I saw stars and got light-headed. I literally had to climb out of the show all wet and soapy so I could lay down on the bed and wait for the room to stop spinning.
And now I have a big welt on my head...
This sucks ass! How am I supposed to get anything done with a raging headache? And I must have rattled my teeth, because my jaw aches too. Hotel Max Seattle sucks balls! And don't get me started over the new "Japanese-Fusion" restaurant on the property called "Red Fin". To give you an idea... they had natto on the breakfast menu. I wrote about natto here, but suffice to say that it is the most foul, horrifying substance on the planet which is meant to be edible. I can't fathom any Westerner wanting to put it in their mouth. I played it safe and just had the eggs and some strangely spicy potatoes.
And they don't even let you put your restaurant charges on your hotel bill, you have to pay separately.
I'm beginning to think that prisons must have better accommodations. Though bending over to pick up the mini shampoo bottle would have entirely different consequences I'm sure.
After driving home, the first thing I did was go to the bathroom. But the second thing I did was pull out my brand-new PowerBook and wipe the drive clean so I could maximize disk space and install only the things I need. After that, Apple makes transferring the files and settings off my old laptop so easy that I dare say a US President could manage it. My new PowerBook is now good to go.
Okay, wait a minute. That was actually the third thing I did. The second thing I did was wash my hands after having gone to the bathroom. Just want to be clear that I am not typing this with pee-hands.
Not that I am a messy pee-er. I'm just saying that sometimes things spatter, and I take precautions to make sure you don't have to worry about shaking my hand if we should ever meet.
And this is not to say that I am a germaphobe or crazy-obsessive about urine. I'm just saying that I do my best to keep my hands pee-free.
And when I say "germaphobe," you do realize that I am talking about germs and not Germans, right? Because I am not afraid of Germans at all. Part of me is German from my mother's side of the family, and being afraid of yourself is just silly.
Though the fact that David Hasselhoff is a big singing star in Germany makes me think that perhaps I should be at least a little afraid of Germans. But, in the interest of full-disclosure, I did think the talking car he had in that Knightrider television show was pretty cool.
Not that I believe that cars can really talk, I mean... it was a TV show and all... but if there was such a thing as a talking car, I would find that cool.
Now what was I talking about again??
Oh yes. Two-headed turtles...
On the way back from the Seattle-side of the mountains, I saw the above sign while stopped at a light outside of the city of Monroe, Washington. So many questions come to mind: Is this a zoo where a two-headed turtle is the star attraction... or is it a zoo devoted exclusively to two-headed turtles? If it's a zoo that only has two-headed turtles, how many of them do you suppose they have there? How do you think a zoo like this gets started anyway? Somebody finds a mutant turtle with two heads and decided to build a zoo or something? And, most of all... how many people see this sign and are compelled to visit such a freaky attraction?
You can bet I'll be losing sleep of those queries tonight...
Winter travel is always interesting, because you have no idea if you will actually reach your destination. Flying out of the small airport at Wenatchee this morning presented even more of a problem, because a snowstorm had just hit. Fortunately, gallons of de-icer dumped over the plane allowed us a departure only a half-hour late, which was better than I could have hoped for. Once in Seattle, it was a relatively quick three-hour hop to Chicago, which was having a snowstorm all its own. As we pulled into the gate, all the planes were getting deluged in de-icer. I can only hope the stuff is biodegradable.
Once I had arrived in the Windy City and waited a half-hour in the bitter cold for the hotel shuttle, I was shocked to see that I was not the only one waiting for a ride... a full dozen people were crowding on the small bus. This seemed unreal given that other shuttles were leaving with only one or two passengers, and I couldn't figure out why the Wyndham Hotel should be so popular.
Until I arrived to find that there is a huge Dr. Who convention here.
Apparently this one is particularly meaningful to fans because the "Fifth Doctor" himself... Peter Davison... is in attendance. This stroke of luck has me wishing that I was a bigger fan (sorry James!), though work would prohibit me from attending anyway.
Why couldn't it have been a Veronica Mars convention? I would have skipped work for that! I'd probably get fired, but at least I would have Kristen Bell's autograph to console me during unemployment!
I'm not so much into memes anymore, but Kachina has come across a musical meme I haven't seen before, so here we are...
And on that happy note, I'm off to bed. Is it too much to hope that Chicago weather will be kind to me tomorrow morning when I pick up my rental car?
BLOGOGRAPHY FLASHBACK ENTRY: Love
BLOGDATE: March 22, 2005
In which Dave professes an unnatural attraction towards his PowerBook and contemplates the merits of loving a Mac vs. loving a girlfriend.
Click here to go back in time...
After nearly killing a "K-9 robot dog" pull-toy with my suitcase while trying to escape from the Dr. Who fanatics (which got me a nasty look from a "Doctor" dressed up with a nasty hand-knit scarf)... I managed to make my way to the car rental place so that I could pick up my Dodge Neon for the trip north. The Neon itself is not such a bad automobile, but the visibility is horrendously bad, and made all the worse by the funky spoiler that's blocking my back window. I'm relieved to report that I didn't back over any Daleks in the parking lot.
Checking in at work revealed that I had nothing to do today, which meant there was plenty of time to goof off. My idea of goofing off was to get a long-overdue haircut at the Mayfair Mall (which is considered to be Milwaukee's largest, which is odd considering it is located in the city of Wauwatosa... not Milwaukee... just down the highway from the Harley Davidson factory).
This was a big mistake. The mall was so crowded that I had to park in the next county and, once inside, found myself wising that I had brought my Papal Power Staff...
Yes, there are benefits to being The Pope.
The Apple Store was so packed with people trying and buyng iPods and iMacs that I couldn't even get near the iPod accessories to buy a case for my new nano. Eventually I just gave up at the mall and headed to Culvers for a plate of delicious crinkle-cut fries and a caramel-cashew sundae. Sweet!
It's cold out, so I'm going to sleep in tomorrow.
BLOGOGRAPHY FLASHBACK ENTRY: I Want a Gun
BLOGDATE: April 26, 2004
In which Dave denounces violence in all forms, but then wishes he had a big-ass gun so that he can have a more pleasant driving experience.
Click here to go back in time...
My work necessitates that I drive between my hotel and the job site every 2 or 3 hours, which doesn't leave me much time for things like eating and sleeping. But that's the job, and I'm used to it, so I try not to worry about what my freaky schedule required of me. Of course, doing that for eighteen hours straight on only 3 hours of sleep is not the best way to spend an evening, but I do my best not to let the hallucinations and voices in my head get the best of me.
This time, the situation was made all the stranger by the weather here. Wisconsin is flat and on a big lake, so the environment can be really freaky and changes quickly...
After relatively calm weather all day, I was surprised when I left my hotel at 2am and couldn't see anything. The fog was so thick that I could barely see the front of my car, and the headlights were reflected back as if they were hitting a wall. Two hours later, it was mostly clear, but pouring rain. The two-minute walk from my car was enough to soak me to the bone. Two hours after that, it had stopped raining... but there was a nasty haze and winds so strong that I was very nearly blown off the road.
Two hours after that, blue skies were starting to peek through the clouds, and it was time for breakfast at McDonalds.
So there I am eating my Egg & Cheese Biscuit when I hear this "CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!" - the dreaded and unmistakable sound of some COMPLETE F#@%ING IDIOT CLIPPING THEIR F#@%ING FINGERNAILS IN A F#@%ING RESTAURANT!!! AAAARRRRRGGGHHH!! How gross to be trying to eat your breakfast only to have some UNBELIEVABLY RUDE AND TOTALLY DISGUSTING WHITE TRASH BITCH performing her personal grooming two tables back with fingernails flying all over the place. I mean, holy shit! How big of a f#@%ing moron do you have to be to realize that this is not appropriate behavior in a restaurant?
But that's not the worst of it.
SHE WAS A F#@%ING McDONALDS EMPLOYEE ON HER BREAK!!!
Yet no manager told her she was a DISGUSTING BITCH or instructed her to STOP DOING THAT GROSS SHIT WHILE PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO EAT AND SHOVE THOSE F#@%ING FINGERNAIL CLIPPERS UP HER ASS. Oh no. They just merrily let this REVOLTING, REPELLANT, ABHORRENT, SICKENING, NAUSEATING, FOUL, NASTY, DETESTABLE PIECE OF SHIT keep clipping away!!
I left before this REPUGNANT VOMITOUS DUMBASS CRAP-BAG BITCH had a chance to start on her toenails.
And yet, if I had pulled out a gun and shot her, I WOULD BE THE CRIMINAL HERE!! That's just wrong. How will these IGNORANT HALFWITTED RUDE IDIOTIC SHIT-HEAD WHITE-TRASH ASS-LICKERS ever learn proper manners if nobody pops a cap in their ass from time to time?
I wonder if she shaves her legs and gives herself enemas in public too? I wouldn't doubt it.
My nightmares are going to be particularly nasty tonight.
With nothing to do today, I decided to take the Blue Line into Chicago proper to have a delicious Giordano's pizza for lunch and see what's new at the Apple Store. I've been to Chicago many times, which makes it easy for me, since I already know where everything is and how to get there.
The pizza was bitchin' (as usual), though I ate too much (also as usual). There are several Giordano's locations in the city, but I like the one on Rush St. best, and was not disappointed. Around the corner on Michigan Ave. was the beautiful Chicago Apple Store, where I proceeded to immediately fall in love with the new iPod that can play video. When it was first released, I decided the screen was too small... but, after holding one in person, I see that it is perfectly watchable and totally sweet. Damn you Apple! I want one bad. So bad I nearly dropped the FOUR HUNDRED FREAKIN' DOLLARS to take one with me. Ultimately, I decided it might be nice to eat for the month of December and... very reluctantly... decided against it.
I did buy a copy of Bejeweled 2, which is the sequel to one of my favorite time-wasters. The new version is really beautiful, and they've added some cool new toys that make it even more fun than the original...
After drooling over everything in the Apple Store, I decided to head to the Art Institute Museum since I missed it the last time I was in the city. The guardian lions at the entrance have been dressed for the holidays, which is kind of cool...
This truly sweet museum holds numerous well-known works, including American Gothic which, oddly enough, is out on loan to a museum in Rapid City Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Most children of the 80's (such as myself) will best know the museum for Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte from the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off...
And Mary Cassatt's beautifully rendered painting The Bath...
And Edward Hopper's much-imitated work Nighthawks...
But my favorite is the nifty collection of Monet's, which includes an entire series of Stacks of Wheat, painted in different seasons and different times of day, along with this haunting Waterloo Bridge painting...
Two hours is much-too-brief a time to spend at a museum this fine but, since I had been here a few times before, I decided it would be best to be getting back to my hotel before rush hour came.
And just like that, my Chicago adventure comes to a close... but not really...
Turns out my "Chicago Adventure" was NOT over last night... I had a Depeche Mode concert to go to with fellow-blogger Kevin Apgar and his charming wife Katie!
As expected, it so totally kicked ass. Depeche Mode is easily the best live band I've ever seen, and one of the very few who sound better live than in a studio. Their latest album, Playing the Angel, is not their best work... but every song was -stunning- when performed live (oh how I want a DVD release of the concert). Dave Gahan is an amazing singer who puts everything he has into a performance yet STILL manages to deliver crisp vocals that strike you at your very soul. Personally, I don't understand where he gets the energy... I think he must be 45 years old now, but is kicking more ass on stage than guys half his age.
And what a funky cool stage it was...
The artistic genius behind the band, Martin Gore, was in fine form... delivering emotionally wrenching lead vocals for a few songs, including Home which is a favorite of mine. But I think people will most remember him for running around the stage in a little black chicken suit. Needless to say, I simply must get one of my own, because I think I would look fabulous in feathers...
As I mentioned, the set list was a pleasing blend of new and old that ensured there was something for everyone. All songs were well-received, but I dare say that the older material had a bigger impact on the crowd than the new stuff. When songs like Enjoy the Silence and Just Can't Get Enough started blasting through the arena, the crowd just went nuts. This in turn energized the band, so it looked like they were having more fun with the old stuff as well. And as if that weren't enough, they've managed to update the classics yet again to make them sound all shiny and new (one of my favorite DM songs, Everything Counts was given a blistering rock beat that totally killed).
My only complaint was the band's selection for the final song of the evening... Goodnight Lovers from their somewhat boring Exciter album. After all the high-energy drive they put into the rest of the concert, it seemed like a week weak ending. Had they went out with a pumping crowd-pleaser like People Are People or something... they would have totally freaked out the entire arena and allowed them to sign-off on a high note. And isn't that how you WANT to leave a room when you're a rock band?
Anyway, even though I had to catch a plane to L.A. just five hours after the concert, and only managed to get 3 hours of sleep... it was all so totally worth it. My only regret was not getting to spend more time with Kevin and Katie, because they are alarmingly nice people. Not only that, but Kevin thinks I'm cool. You can read about just how totally cool I am in his entry over at Kapgar.com (oh... and I think that he wrote something about the concert as well).
Seriously though, meeting your readers and fellow-bloggers is really the best part of having a blog.
Well, except the guy who keeps emailing me to tell me that I am going to hell.
That's just mean.
Somehow the stars aligned over Los Angeles and I managed to find time to have lunch with Liz of "Everyday Goddess" fame today. It turns out that she is just as smart and funny as you'd think from reading her blog. I guess I shouldn't be surprised... but you never really know. I mean, I spend my time complaining about bitches clipping their fingernails in McDonalds, so heaven only knows what people expect when they meet ME in person.
I have mixed feelings whenever I'm in L.A. — so many miserable memories for me here. But then somebody pounds on the window of my taxi so they can sell me a pair socks and suddenly I want to move here. Perhaps I could get work as a movie "extra" for a career...
Hey, I'm as real as the next guy. Maybe even REALer (uhhh... you know what I mean). And $250 a day? That's some serious bank!
But there's still no vegetarian hotdogs at Pinks, so I guess that I won't be packing my bags just yet...
Oh... and the traffic still sucks ass.
After my taxi showed up, I told the driver to take La Brea all the way down to Century Blvd. because I didn't want to spend my time parked on the 405. But the driver doesn't like that idea and says "it's only 2:30... no traffic until later!!!" I know better, but I didn't feel like arguing the point and told him to do whatever he wanted.
I think we all know how this story ends.
... and so there I am parked on the 405 with a taxi driver saying "oh... there is traffic!" and me wanting to say "NO SHIT THERE IS TRAFFIC YOU DUMBASS!!" But I hold my peace as a $40 cab ride quickly turns into a $47 cab ride that's 15 minutes too long.
I think we all know what kind of tip my driver got.
And thus ends my sojourn into the wilds of La La Land. I hope I can sleep on the plane ride home.
Sometimes things just don't go as you planned.
I am typing this at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where I have arrived to find that my flight into Weantchee had been canceled. Dreading the idea of spending the night in the urine-stained hotel that Horizon Air put me in last time... I head to the Customer Service Center to find out what my options are.
"There's a bus leaving at 9:30pm that's arriving in Wenatchee at 1:00am we can put you on" the lady tells me. "Great" I say... I'll take it!"
Yet here I sit at 10:00pm and no bus has arrived. Some people here were told a bus was arriving at 2:00, then 4:00, then 6:00, and then 9:00. But no bus ever comes. I ask at the counter "is this bus REAL, or is it just a story you make up to keep anarchy from breaking out at the airport?" Not at all amused, the lady answers "WE CAN'T CONTROL THE WEATHER!!" which, naturally, doesn't answer my question OR give me any encouragement.
With nothing better to do, I decide to open up the Lego Advent Calendar I bought while I was in Chicago. It's December 1st, after all...
Every day until Christmas, you get a new Lego toy to play with, and that was just too cool to pass up! Tonight, for instance, I get a little Lego fire fighter to put together...
That's not much to play with, so I become torn over the idea of opening up the other 23 windows and seeing what else I'm going to get. Eventually I decide against it, and figure I can be happy with just the fire fighter. It's going to be a long night.
UPDATE: The bus didn't arrive until 10:30, and then we had to all claim our luggage and wait for clearance before leaving. It is currently 11:30 and snowing pretty hard, but at least we are finally leaving Seattle. I'm told we'll get to Wenatchee at around 4:00am, at which time I have to clean off my car and drive back to Cashmere. This sucks ass. Mainly because this bus SMELLS like ass, and they've got a video for the very stupid movie Kangaroo Jack playing at full-volume over crappy speakers. (thank heavens for iPod!). Sigh. Yet another night with no sleep.
UPDATE: I'm bored, so I've decided to write a story about the toys in my Lego Advent Calendar. Every day I'll open up a door, see what I get, then continue on until Christmas when I'll post the grand finale. That's good, wholesome, creative fun! But it's also slightly insane. Hopefully I can live with that.
CHAPTER 1: Psycho Roasting on an Open Fire
LEGO ADVENT CALENDAR TOY OF THE DAY: Firefighter
Once upon a time there was a little boy named Lego Dave who grew up wanting nothing more than to become a fireman. Hour after hour he would look at fireman books, watch fireman videos, sing fireman songs, and play fireman games. And every night Lego Dave would dream of riding in fire trucks, charging into burning buildings to save puppies, and all the things that firemen do which made Lego Dave love them so much.
Then one day, after many years had passed, Lego Dave graduated from High School and pursued his only dream by applying at the Fireman Academy. The classroom tests were challenging, but he welcomed them. The physical tests were hard work, but he pushed onward. With each new dawn, Lego Dave was happy because he was one day closer to fulfilling a life-long wish.
And then the day finally came when the Fire Chief called Lego Dave aside from his training. "This is it" Lego Dave decided... "the Chief has seen my potential and wants to make me a fireman this very day!"
"Hey" said the Fire Chief.
"Yo!" said Lego Dave.
"I have some news..." the Chief began. "I'm afraid we have to let you go..."
"Awesome!" exclaimed Lego Dave. "Where do I go to get my coat, hat, and red suspenders?"
"No, you misunderstood" the Chief declared. "You can't be a fire fighter, and so we have to ask you to leave."
"WHAT?!?" cried Lego Dave. "BUT I AM A FIREMAN!!"
"Errr... well... we ah... we got back your psychological examination and... errr... well, you're not exactly fire fighter material" the Chief said gravely.
"How can this be?" Lego Dave sobbed. "My dreams!"
"Sorry buddy" the Chief mumbled sympathetically.
Lego Dave was beside himself with grief as he walked home. "I am a fireman! I am a fireman! I AM A FIREMAN!!" he screamed to nobody in particular. And then something occurred to him: "Just because the Fire Chief says I can't be a fireman doesn't mean it has to be true!" A plan started to form. "I can make my own fire department and put out fires all by myself!" Lego Dave decided triumphantly.
And so it was decided. Late one night Lego Dave broke into the fire house and took the equipment he needed. He took a coat, hat, red suspenders, and a pair of sweet fire fighting axes that were attached to the side of the fire truck. "Now all I need is a fire so I can be a real fireman!" he declared. "I'll show that stupid Fire Chief" Lego Dave swore... "I'LL SHOW THEM ALL!!"
But where would he possibly find a fire to put out?
FIND OUT TOMORROW WHEN DAVE'S "A VERY LEGO HOLIDAY TALE" CONTINUES!
The only good thing about driving home at 4:15am in the morning is that the streets are relatively idiot-free. This is particularly sweet given that the roads were covered with snow and ice. On the way home I stopped off at work to upload my job files (and post last night's blog entry) so that I wouldn't have to worry about it later.
And now that I'm finally home, I find that my DSL is apparently broken. That's probably a good thing because I really should be sleeping instead of goofing around on the internet.
But I've got to finish listening to Songs of Faith and Devotion first, so I might as well see what my Lego Advent Calendar has for me today...
Ummm... I'm not sure what it's supposed to be. Is that a flame thrower? What's a fire fighter need with a flame thrower? Oh well. That will certainly make for an interesting chapter...
CHAPTER 2: Have Yourself a Merry Little Bonfire
LEGO ADVENT CALENDAR TOY OF THE DAY: Oxygen Tank, Fire Hydrant, Flame Thrower(?)
Impatient to prove his worth as a fireman, Lego Dave decides he can't wait for a fire to break out and determines that the only logical course of action is to start a fire of his own...
"Let's light this bitch up!" he yelled as he grabbed a flame-thrower and torched the meth lab. As the flames began to spread, Lego Dave suddenly realized that he didn't have a fire hose to hook up to the hydrant. Even worse, he didn't have a wrench to open the hydrant in the first place.
Deciding to solve one problem at a time, Lego Dave grabbed his axe and started chopping away at the hydrant so he could get to the watery goodness within. After several bold strokes, water began gushing from the hydrant, spilling out onto the street. "Now what can I use as a hose?" he wondered. But before he could come up with a solution, he heard screaming from within the meth lab.
"Wow, there must be a crack whore trapped inside!" Lego Dave said excitedly as he put on his oxygen tank. "Finally, somebody I can rescue!"
But will he get to the crack whore in time?
FIND OUT TOMORROW WHEN DAVE'S "A VERY LEGO HOLIDAY TALE" CONTINUES!
Winter travel sucks ass.
First my flight out of Wenatchee was delayed (bad weather). Then my flight out of Seattle was delayed (first fog, then the infamous "mechanical difficulties" excuse). As if the delays weren't bad enough, hanging around airports when people are freaking out is about as bad as it gets. Passengers screaming at gate agents. Passengers screaming at other passengers. Kids screaming at nobody in particular... if it weren't for my iPod drowning out the chaos, I'd be pretty insane right about now.
Panic on the runways of SeaTac...
Proving that you simply cannot travel without the inevitable freak-factor (the last time I flew to Salt Lake City, I had to witness a guy shaving his chest in the bathroom), today I got to see an older hippie couple (the sixties were NOT kind to these people) picking out porn mags together at Hudson News. "Oooooh she's pretty" says the woman. "You know she's not my type" says the man. Gack! Now I have heinous images running through my mind, and almost need to buy a porn mag myself so that I can put my head back to "normal."
Of course, "normal" is a relAAAAAAAAAAHHH! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!
Somebody is clipping their fingernails. SOMEBODY IS CLIPPING THEIR FINGERNAILS!!!
And the worst part is that his fingernail clippings are probably flinging off into that lady's hair and stuff! Oh gag! Public nail-clipping should be punishable by bitch-slapping. Still, this is not quite so bad as the lady in McDonalds from a couple of weeks ago.
Oog. Because of the flight delays, it looks like today's Lego Holiday Tale chapter is going to have to be done under less than ideal conditions...
CHAPTER 11: Crash the Walls.
LEGO ADVENT CALENDAR TOY OF THE DAY: Road Barrier.
Lego Dave and his faithful companion Barky the Dog are rushing the brave construction worker to the hospital all while being chased by the evil Lego Buzz...
"HEY! LOOK OUT!" the construction worker yells. "THERE'S ROAD CONSTRUCTION AHEAD!"
"Bark! Bark" warns Barky the Dog as he hops in the wheelbarrow.
Lego Dave nearly runs into a steamroller, but managed to skid around a street corner instead.
"That was close!" sighs the construction worker.
"Bark! Bark!" agrees Barky the Dog.
"We're not out of the woods yet!" says Lego Dave... "there's a barrier ahead!"
"That's not all!" the construction worker hollers. "That lunatic with a saw took a short-cut and is coming this way!"
"Oh no!" exclaims Lego Dave. "Doesn't his rotary saw ever run out of gas?"
"DIE! DIE! DIE!" shouts Lego Buzz.
Things are looking mighty grim for our heroes... how can they possibly escape from Lego Buzz this time?
FIND OUT TOMORROW WHEN DAVE'S "A VERY LEGO HOLIDAY TALE" CONTINUES!
After last night's culinary disaster for dinner, I took absolutely no chances today. For breakfast I went straight to McDonalds for an Egg & Cheese Biscuit, then for Lunch I went to one of my most favorite places to eat in all the land... Big City Soup! Seriously, the soup here is so good that it should probably be a controlled substance. As if that wasn't enough, they've usually got two or three vegetarian selections on the menu, so there's always something good for me to eat.
Today I decided on a Cheese Panini with their delectable Tomato-Basil soup that was ever so yummy. Almost worth a trip to Salt Lake City all by itself...
If you're ever in town, I'd highly recommend dropping by Big City Soup.
It came as no surprise that SLC has a new Apple Store here at The Gateway, and I felt compelled to run in and caress a video iPod for a few minutes. This is always a dangerous gambit, because one day the temptation will be too great. Fortunately I was semi-rational today, and was able to leave without a $400 dent in my credit card.
But I want one ever so bad.
CHAPTER 13: Jingle Hell.
LEGO ADVENT CALENDAR TOY OF THE DAY: Crossing Arm.
Lego Buzz has just chopped a crossing guard in half, and is moving in on Lego Dave and his friends...
"YEEEEEEEEE HAAAAAAW!" screams Lego Buzz as he starts inching towards Lego Dave, his rotary saw slicing through the air in wide arcs. "I'm gonna cut you... CUT YOU UP!"
But before Lego Buzz can take another step, a crossing arm comes crashing down on him! Barky the Dog has snuck into the dead crossing guard's control booth and managed to press the "DOWN" button!
"Bark! Bark!" says Barky the Dog triumphantly!
"Argh!" says the evil Lego Buzz!
"Cool!" says the construction worker with his hand chopped off!
"Way to go Barky!" says Lego Dave! "Now hop in the wheelbarrow, because we need to get Mr. Construction Worker to the hospital before gangrene sets in!
Is this finally the end for Lego Buzz?
FIND OUT TOMORROW WHEN DAVE'S "A VERY LEGO HOLIDAY TALE" CONTINUES!
For the third time in a row, I was stuck in Seattle last night. All flights back to Wenatchee were cancelled yesterday, and it was so foggy that they couldn't even get a bus on the tarmac to take us over the pass. Worse, there was no guarantee that any flights would be leaving today (and, as far as I know, none ever did).
The good news is that I managed to find a ride back this morning. The bad news is that I had to make the trip on only three hours sleep.
The fancy hotel I stayed at had advertised wireless internet. But when I tried to log on, the billing page refused to fully load. The hotel blamed me, saying my computer "probably wasn't configured properly" and passed me to the provider's support desk at 10:15pm. Unfortunately, they didn't know anything, and said that they would have a "tech manager" call me back.
So I waited, and waited, and waited. But they never called. So I called back at 11:00pm and was told they would send another request. After waiting until midnight, I decided to give up and go to bed. I was looking forward to getting a full 6-hours sleep, because I haven't been getting nearly enough rest the past several weeks.
Naturally the internet support guy decided to call me back at 3:00am.
Since I couldn't get back to sleep, I spent the next three hours catching up on work and random blog surfing now that the billing page was working again.
The hotel refunded me the $9.95 access fee after I complained, but none of this would have happened in the first place if they offered free internet to their customers like they should. I can't help but think that hotels who charge for internet actually end up losing more than they ever gain by the meager fees they receive from charging for it.
I can honestly say that free internet access has now become more important to me than how many stars a hotels has, how fancy the lobby is, how big the rooms are, how many pillows you get on your bed, and whether or not you get a mint on your pillow. Give me a Hampton Inn or a Holiday Inn Express over the competition any day. Why? Complimentary internet.
CHAPTER 14: Crashing Through the Snow.
LEGO ADVENT CALENDAR TOY OF THE DAY: Traffic Light.
After escaping from the evil Lego Buzz, Lego Dave and Barky the Dog rush to get Mr. Mechanic and his severed hand to the hospital...
"Don't worry Mr. Construction Worker" exclaims Lego Dave. "We'll get you to a doctor in time! The hospital is just two blocks away after we turn this corner."
"Thanks guy!" the construction worker replies.
"Bark! Bark!" adds Barky the Dog encouragingly.
As Lego Dave rushes to push the wheelbarrow around the corner, a soccer mom talking on her mobile phone while driving an SUV suddenly runs up onto the sidewalk, heading straight for our heroic trio! With not a moment to lose, Lego Dave veers off the sidewalk, straining to maintain control. He manages to avoid being killed by the idiotic driver, but the wheelbarrow can't hold the sudden turn and runs into a traffic light pole.
Barky the Dog and Mr. Construction Worker are thrown from the wheelbarrow, but are relatively unscathed.
"The wheelbarrow has busted an axle, so we're going to have to walk the rest of the way" declares Lego Dave. "Come on Barky, help me carry Mr. Construction worker to the hospital. We're running out of time!"
"Yeah, my severed hand is starting to smell funny" says the construction worker.
"I hope nothing else comes up to delay us" Lego Dave says cautiously.
Can they make it to the hospital in time to save Mr. Construction Worker's hand?
FIND OUT TOMORROW WHEN DAVE'S "A VERY LEGO HOLIDAY TALE" CONTINUES!