a Roy Batty monologue

I saw Blade Runner for the first time when I was about twelve years old. Even though it was the now-reviled voiceover version of the film, Rutger Hauer’s Tears In Rain soliloquy still made an impact. Perhaps more than I’d ever realized.

I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain.

Melodramatic though it may be, these are the words that sprang to mind this past January as I made my way to Afghanistan. All I could think was, “The things my eyes have seen…”

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The most sunlight I saw during the flight from Atlanta to Dubai.

Part of my romantic thoughts were certainly due to being a newlywed. Afterall, who wants the honeymoon to end? I had just eight short weeks with my bride before my job and the real world called me away. My wife is wonderful and she’s always been much more sensitive than me, crying when we’d have to part after visits in our long-distance courtship. I never cried during or after our goodbyes, though I’d have obviously preferred her company. This time I wept like a baby. I like travel and seeing new things- they’re the very reason I took this job. I’ve been afraid of stagnating from being in the same place for too long and sought out adventure. But this time, none of those were acceptable enough reasons to leave behind the treasure I now had at home.

IMG_3607At some point, these lights were visible below. I don’t recall where or when this photo was taken now, but it has to have been somewhere over Africa. Morocco? Algeria? Ultimately, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Because what struck me the feeling I had. Emotion somehow isn’t the right word, but feeling. Maybe it was sleep deprivation, the disconnected feeling semi-consciousness brings. Maybe it was the dark sky and earth being divided by the dull glow of the horizon. All I know is speed of the plane and proportions of the lights made them amorphous and anything my mind could imagine: Tangier or other towns on the Strait of Gibraltar. Luminescent lily pads floating on a still, dark bayou. Galaxies moving through the universe as Elton John sings Rocket Man in my mind.

IMG_3612The next morning was much more conventional. After a night of negotiating dodgy cab drivers to get to my hotel, and a wonderful night at the Crowne Plaza in Dubai’s Festival City (they had wifi fast enough to FaceTime with my bride), I had a full day’s layover left to go. And there was no way I was going to squander 24+ hours in Dubai by staying put. There’s a great big world out there, and I want to see it all.

IMG_3620What I didn’t know at the outset of my day is that each shopping mall in Dubai has it’s own little draw or attraction, like casinos in Las Vegas. And the malls in Dubai are just as plentiful as Vegas casinos. All I knew was that a Dubai mall had built an indoor ski slope, either from reading Popular Mechanics years ago or seeing it on Modern Marvels or something. And at the Mall of the Emirates, I got to see kids that live in climates of oppressive heat having snowball fights. That’s pretty cool. I’ll freely confess that my time in the military, 9/11, and various other cultural prejudices from growing up in America had given me a rather negative viewpoint on Arabic people. Seeing families laugh and smile together, an absence of sharia enforcement, and eating some of the most wonderful food you can get did a lot to open up my heart and mind. I may disagree with Islam, but they’re still people.

While dining on some curry in the Mall of the Emirates food court (which was harder than you’d think, since it was populated by McDonald’s, KFC, etc.) I saw a Big Red Bus doing tours like one might expect in London. What better way to see more of Dubai?! So I ran off to find a boarding spot and see what I could see.

I didn’t have time or daylight to stop at the Burj al Arab, the world’s only (self-proclaimed) 7-star hotel. But I did get to see it from the road and it’s pretty. I also ran through the Dubai Mall as quickly as I could to get photos of the Burj Khalifa, even though it can be seen from almost anywhere in the region. I didn’t know tickets to At The Top sold out two days in advance, so I didn’t get to go up the tower. I guess I’ll just have to be content (for now) remembering my ears popping in the Sears Tower elevator. But I’ll be back someday. Because seeing all the Aston Martins and world’s largest acrylic panel at the Aquarium in passing wasn’t enough- I need time to prowl around and see more. Preferably with my wife, next time. Plus, I want to see what the mad geniuses that devised the Bellagio fountains could possibly do to top themselves.

In short, Dubai was amazing and I’d pay to holiday there on my own dime.

The next morning was early rising to get to the airport for the next leg of my journey to Afghanistan. My time in Dubai was short-lived but wonderful. And while photos of motorcycle delivery boxes and McDonald’s menus taken with my iPhone aren’t going to unseat Ansel Adams’ place in history, it was their shaking up of my routine that I enjoyed.

And that’s really the best part of travel. Shaking up the routine. Discovering all the world has to offer. Eating a “McArabia” sandwich for breakfast and seeing things you otherwise never would have. A life lived in safety or unyielding routine is no life at all. I want a life lived on purpose. I want to have stories from far off places that nobody else in the room can tell. I chose this, and I have (almost) no regrets from the moment I decided that I would determine my own course in life. It’s been fulfilling, adventurous, humbling, educational… My favorite adventure now is marriage, and knowing that my wife shares my zeal for life. Having a partner in adventure is a wonderful thing, because then we can share the experience and when we have children we can tell them about the things our eyes have seen. We can work together to better document our experiences and instill a love for adventure, learning and expanding horizons in our kids. I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.

In the meanwhile, I can always laugh a little about the way we always bring some of “home” with us wherever we go…

Because American forces don't go anywhere without Burger King.

Because American forces don’t go anywhere without Burger King.

The Road to Nowhere

Gallery

This gallery contains 13 photos.

The long, flat and straight roads make me understand why some guys ride cruisers. I’m still uninterested in having my feet so far forward, it makes for lousy (and if not “lousy”, inarguably worse) control when the road starts winding. … Continue reading

Calling Fargo

One of the weird things I’ve noticed here is that everybody refers to phone numbers on the Air Guard base by the last three digits. It’s funny, because there are no “extensions” on base in the telecom sense of the word. There’s nowhere on base where a single, seven digit number gets dialed to reach an exchange and further subsets of three or four digit extensions. Everybody has their own phone number. And in America our phone numbers are segmented out into three digits of prefix, a dash, and then four digits of specific number.

A three digit area code may specify what state or county is being dialed in the USA, but the three digit prefix that Hollywood always represents as “555” in a phone number tells the dialer an awful lot about a phone number. What would be gibberish of (123) 456-7890 can be decoded rather quickly to the savvy. Back home in Tucson I could tell from a 298, 730, 295, or 791 prefix if the phone number belonged to D-M Air Force base, a Verizon wireless cell phone, the Air Guard unit by the airport or the city government. I’d be willing to bet major hospitals or the University own their own prefix.

But most importantly, that means that every phone number within a common prefix everywhere I’ve been in the United States has been referred to by the last four digits. Whether it’s been a military base or a city fire station, the numbers after the dash have all been recited.

Need to call so-and-so in that other department? He’s at 5210.

Personnel office? Call 3795.

Sergeant Jones? The supply person? 7413.

So it’s very strange to hear people here refer to a number by just the last three digits. It kind of makes sense, because the base is so small all the phone numbers share the prefix and the first digit of the last four. So every number would be something like 123-4XXX.

The problem is I’ve got 30+ years of phone numbers being in a 3-3-4 format, plus 15+ years of technical understanding the “why” and background to it. I just can’t think the way they do here, so when somebody tells me to call Dave by dialing 237 I wind up just staring at them in a befuddled state. That’s not the way the phones here work. If I just dial a random three digits I get tones and the “call cannot be completed as dialed” message. I still have to dial the prefix, and the first of the four digits that I don’t know because nobody ever bothers to say it aloud. So for all I know, the phone numbers here are (123) 456-X789 and I never know what X is.

It’s frustrating because I feel like an idiot, but it’s also comical because everybody on base is saying phone numbers “wrong” but they all know what they’re talking about. Just another of the dozens (hundreds?) of little bits of culture shock here in the northern prairie…

Ze Germans

This post is attempting to tackle two topics. I am almost positive they will not be intertwined in anything resembling an artful manner. So as you muddle into this ham-fisted essay, Dear Reader, remember I write this for my entertainment and not always yours. I’d say “caveat emptor”, but you’re reading this for free. -Eric

I’m somewhat embarrassed that other book I forgot to list reading in my last post was probably the one I enjoyed most. Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman is a collection of essays much like my introduction to the author, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. These two books in particular are collections of essays, and Klosterman is only six years older than me, so a lot of the Gen-X-ish stuff he writes about really speaks directly to me. That, and I’m a recovering pop culture junkie and Kevin Smith fan. So a former music critic for Spin, Esquire, GQ, etc. that makes a lot of footnotes (have you seen how prolifically I use parenthesis?), hilarious and seemingly random pop culture references, and is also really dang smart and analytical was just irresistible to me.

And yes, the “Gen-X” and “random pop culture references” bits were specifically to say, I understand he may not be for everyone. But since Michael Chrichton is dead, Klosterman just might be my favorite living author.

Granted, I’ve only read two of his books and both are essay collections rather than longer narratives. I get that. But now I’m “stuck” living in Fargo with my job, and as fate would have it another of Klosterman’s books that I want to get now is Fargo Rock City. Fargo is a cute little town, but at least ten years behind the cultural mainstream. The big concert they had last year was Creed, and I was offered free tickets because “I don’t know who these new bands are”.

2012. Creed. “New band.” Let that swim around in your brain a little. There was a pretty quotable joke at Creed’s expense for being lame/passe in Without a Paddle, and that was in 2004.

I understand pop culture is fickle, and this isn’t intended to get off on Creed nor Fargo bashing tangent. No, more than anything I feel like I can identify with Klosterman even more now. But I’m also pretty sure if I continue down a path of “we have so much in common” praise I’ll come across like Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female (poorly re-made as The Roommate in 2011), so I’ll mention here that he’s also a huge sports nut with a couple essays devoted to the topic in both books and I only read them to avoid missing any interesting insights or particularly funny zingers. I just don’t care about sports beyond college football and motorcycle racing, and even those are pushing it.

Anyhow, if essays comparing David Koresh to Curt Cobain, analysis of Saved by the Bell, why Garth Brooks went crazy and tried the Chris Gaines project or the stupidity of sitcom laugh tracks (both of which I’ll touch on later), I recommend either book. Eating the Dinosaur struck me as a little bit shorter and harder to follow, though that may have been because it was on my kindle and footnotes were relegated to a separate section rather than available at the bottom of the printed page, a la my copy of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. The majority of complaints from the minority of low-star ratings on Amazon claim he sounds like a know-it-all. As I’ve said, I think he’s just really dang smart; I suspect these readers didn’t like having their intellects challenged. If it sounds like a personality fit for you, give him a read.

Completely unrelated has been my exposure here while deployed on a NATO installation in Afghanistan to ze German culture. It’s been interesting, because I’m developing first-hand knowledge and experience with a people most Americans know anecdotally. In recent years the Germans have morphed into an almost mythical ideal in my mind because my exposure or knowledge of them has been primarily based on the vehicles, firearms or things they produce. Jony Ive may design some beautiful products for Apple, but his influence was Dieter Rams. I’m unsure if my awareness of design is a product of a more mainstream recognition or just the websites I tend to frequent, but references to Bauhaus have been prevalent for me the past two years. My Lamy pens are from Germany. My SIG P6 was made in West Germany, and Glocks are Austrian (close enough, to an American). I drive a Porsche 987 Boxster and a BMW motorcycle, and these people have autobahns and the Nürburgring. I even started listening to techno back in 2009 and loved the somewhat cold, modern functionality of my Volvo 850 Turbo (again, Swedish, but it’ll do for my purposes here). I believe efficiency should be considered a virtue. A people regarded for their precision (Swiss watches, again, close enough) were like gods to me.

Okay, so there was their bizarre fascination with David Hasselhoff and they always play the villains in movies, but whatever.

So actually being here and interacting with so many of them has been educational. I’ve only spent 24 hours in Germany before on a long layover. It was a beautiful country and they make my favorite beer in the world, but they’re still just people. It’s odd now to think “less” of a people than before yet still not think poorly of them. I haven’t met a German yet that can’t also speak English, and they pretty much ignore the speed limit they impose on everybody else when driving on base. They walk out into the street either oblivious or rudely demanding the right of way from vehicles, which is behavior completely unlike I expected. ArnieRaveThey play some really goofy music, like “Barbie Girl” in the gym (as opposed to American gyms playing rock almost exclusively), and can listen to Abba or disco without the slightest hint of giggling, mockery, sneering, irony, or embarrassment at a guilty pleasure. My wife even mailed me a cyalume glow stick so I could mock rave with them when they blast their music in our shared hangar.

But the thing that really cracks me up as a veteran of the American military is the ze Germans obviously have no dress code regulations on grooming/haircuts. Here’s a comically bad drawing I’ve done to illustrate.

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That’s supposed to be a really long mohawk, slicked back like something out of Mad Men, worn with muttonchops. I’ve seen that particular hair cut minus the facial hair on more than one guy. I’ve seen otherwise attractive women with long hair, but either the left or right side of their head shaved. I’ve seen way too many guys rocking a chin curtain beard. (Very few people can actually pull this off, despite its wild popularity in the Fargo area. I think we’re being invaded by the Amish.) The only thing I haven’t seen in skull hair sculpting is a soul patch. I inelegantly recall Chuck Klosterman to quote why:

In the ten-thousand-year history of facial hair, no one has ever looked nonidiotic with a soul patch. In fact, the zenith of the soul patch’s legacy was Matt Dillon in Singles; Dillon grew a soul patch specifically because he was portraying an alt-rock d-bag.

Despite my concern over the chin curtain beard’s prevalence, even ze Germans have shown they have limits to their silliness.

Of course, this is really all just a difference of culture, what’s considered normal, and our general inability to see the really bizarre things we all do within our own societies. The example I offer up is polite laughter.

Klosterman’s essay on sitcom laugh tracks essentially asserts that we’ve all been subconsciously programmed to laugh at things that aren’t really very funny. (He uses a great breakdown of a Friends scene to illustrate.) But if you think about it, it makes sense in a way. How often do we type “haha” or “LOL” when we’ve uttered nothing of the sort? We don’t laugh out loud, but we claim to have in text messages all the time- all while thinking that guy on the bus who does laugh to himself at seemingly nothing is completely bonkers. And yet so much of our “laughter” is purely conditioned out of politeness, or for filler during impersonal conversations.

The Germans don’t fake laugh. To them, we all look like the crazy guy sitting on the bus. Klosterman writes, “This is not the only reason Germans think Americans are retarded, but it’s definitely one of them.”

Keeping that in mind has helped me stop calling people “weird” quite so freely and helped me experience foreign cultures better. Because apparently we’re all a little crazy, and we don’t even realize it. :)

Shooting the Boot

There’s a hidden treasure on Eden Island, a man-made resort tucked neatly into one of the Mahé bays in the archipelago of the Seychelles. It’s not one of gold or financial gain- in truth, the average man or woman would spend quite a bit of their own personal wealth to discover it. It’s not a prize that will bring power. But in a roundabout way it just might bring some youth or wisdom the seeker’s way. It’s a tiny bar, in a tiny shack on this tiny island. And it’s chock full of people who like rugby.

IMG_2542Eish! Bar is one of those places that seems incomprehensible in the United States (except maybe small towns in the midwest) in that it doesn’t have a website; just a Facebook page, and even that won’t tell you anything about it, really. The only other mention I can even find about the place in a quick Google search turns up a cursory mention in this article which is more about rugby, and tweet. And that’s if “Eish Bar” is specifically entered into Google. Otherwise this is a place with no digital signature on the web (’til now, I suppose), no signs posted or advertisements of its existence, and the entrance is facing away from any possible foot traffic. The only way to find this joint is by word-of-mouth, or happening upon the shack during a match and deciding to investigate a creepy-looking structure in the dark because screams that may well be murder intrigue you. (And if you’re one of the latter type, have you never seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre?!?!)

IMG_2544One of the guys also deployed at the site, Wally, was the latter (don’t ask me, he was a Harley nut and claimed to know Sonny Barger) and a gregarious soul, so when he found this place that was only open one or two nights a week he went exploring and came back to our villa with the coolest and most disgusting tale of initiation ritual I could imagine trying at the time.

If it’s your first visit to Eish! Bar, you have to shoot the boot.

The tale, as it is told, is that years ago a U.S. Navy ship came through the area and during shore leave a couple sailors found out about the island’s rugby club. A friendly match ensued, and to everyone’s amazement the Americans won. Generally speaking, we don’t even know what rugby is, much less play it, much less play it enough to beat a bunch South Africans. One of the sailors was actually quite rugby savvy and knew about shooting the boot, so when they won he pulled off his cleat, filled it with beer, and drank it in one long guzzle. They all became fast friends and the boot was presented to the club, where it continues to live on a trophy shelf by the door, unwashed, and as grimy and disgusting as you might imagine to greet newcomers.

SEYBREW AD (STB)

Just say “no”. It works in most languages.

I’ve already mentioned in the past that SeyBrew is a terrible beer. The “distinctly Seychellois” lager is done no great favors when poured into a stinky and decaying shoe, either. But amidst cheering South African accents and a warm reception, what can you do? You hold your nose and gulp it all down in one attempt, that’s what. And it’s easier to chug an entire beer in this manner than you might think, because the knowledge that stopping for a reprieve just means having to go back to it a second time encourages you to finish quickly.

I never knew that an entire beer could fit in a shoe, or that a shoe would be quite such a good vessel. As I saw this terrible dare being assimilated in front of me, I was really hoping the dirty and tattered looking thing might be full of holes, or that liquid would spill out and spare me from having to drink the entire thing. If anything, the newly fluid contents of the cleat seemed to soak into the sole and soft interior to revive past years of stale beer from previous dares, and drag along a new infusion of what I can only imagine was foot, sweat, and sock. Mmm… Tasty.

I wanted to hold my nose, but I didn’t know how well I’d be able to swallow then and the tongue and upper of this disgusting idea would be up against my face as I supped from the heel anyway. There was no getting my hand in there. And with thirty smiling, welcoming, expectant faces around me there was no backing out (or insulting them or acting milquetoast in front of them). I flashed back to the enthusiasm I felt earlier in the day to have this crazy story and was reminded once again of the phrase I utter all too often: It seemed like a good idea at the time. I held my breath, and I drank.

Because I’m a lousy story-teller, I’ve presented the narrative a little out of order here and already described the flavor. I won’t describe the texture, because I think it’s gross enough to mention simply that there was one. Use your imagination and you likely won’t be far off. But the cheers that erupted in that tiny shed almost eradicated any revulsion that I felt from this deed. Almost. The two fingers of Jameson on the rocks I sipped for the next hour did a lot more to cleanse my palate and ease my soul. Surely nobody had died from drinking that, had they?

IMG_2543Wally and I hung out there a bit longer as the South Africans drank more and the game (pardon me, match) went on. I demonstrated my knowledge of the game, which consisted of it being played with a ball and only being allowed to pass laterally or behind oneself. And I was pretty sure there was something called a scrum. Turns out, scoring is called a “try” in rugby, which sounds goofy until you defend the term “touchdown” for American football and have pointed out that our game rarely involves kicking the thing and is named somewhat ironically. I thought it was funny to see sponsors names actually painted onto the grass, rather than the digital overlays that seem to happen so often now in televised American sports coverage. It was the Cape Town Storm vs. New Zealand Hurricane and I didn’t have a clue what was going on. But when surrounded by South Africans, I figured cheering for Cape Town was a safe bet. The cheers and shouts drowned out anything the tiny TV we gathered around could have told us, but that wasn’t the point, really. It was the fellowship that people had gathered for.

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All in all it was a pretty great night, spent with friendly people in high spirits. I’m not about to start advocating for the abandonment of basic hygiene, but I will say I was excited by the idea from the first time I heard about it. And there’s something key in that.

It seems like the older we get the more we say “no” or resign ourselves to opportunities. So few people I know have an adventurous spirit- I’d guess maybe five percent. So I tend to think that adventures and maybe even silly dares are, in themselves, the fountain of youth. Ponce de León’s most famous obsession isn’t a thing to be found, but a spirit to be fostered. And it doesn’t have to involve some hidden away island bar in the Indian Ocean. It could be something as simple as going hiking, trying Geocaching, or turning down an unfamiliar road. My point is simply this: be willing to abandon your comfort zone, just for a little while. Because that’s when discoveries are made and cool stories are gained to tell others. The power to make your life story more interesting is in your hands. Get out there.

Getting lost

Ever been told to “get lost”? Probably not, as the phrase seems like more of a pop culture cliche of yesteryear than something one would actually say. But you know, you really should try it sometime.

It was back around 2000 or 2001 if I recall correctly. My roommate (and one of my five best friends so far in this life) Jeff Ellis and I lived off-base in Caversfield while stationed at R.A.F Croughton, about 20-30 minutes north of Oxford along the A43. We were both recently divorced, but where I had the good fortune of leaving my ex-wife and bad history behind me in the States, Jeff had married a Brit who worked on base and had to deal with that (and her sleeping with another G.I that lived just down the street) on a daily basis.

So we’re driving home from base one day and it’s been a particularly rough day for Jeff. My job on these days was basically to cheer him up, and whether through encouragement or mayhem made no difference to me. (In fact, at one point Jeff theorized that I wasn’t even real but was his Tyler Durden. That’s a story for another day.) Our friendship actually began this very same way, according to him. We met in tech school and his girlfriend had just broken up with him. I refused to allow him to wallow in self-pity and forced him to engage in a healthy amount of chaos in the name of fun. It pretty much set the pattern for our friendship, because as we’re driving home nothing I can say or do is causing him to stir from his morose state.

So I took a wrong turn.

England’s a country smaller than my home state of Arizona, and it’s pretty hard to get lost on a 20 minute drive from point A to B when there are only about 3 routes and they all involve the A43 at some point. But I was driving down one of the smaller country backroads and we came to the T-junction where we always turned right. That was the way home. That was routine. That was what we did because we were supposed to do. And Jeff got up like he’d been shot in the rear when I turned left.

“What are you doing?! Where are we going?!”

“I don’t know. But you’re in a funk so we’re going to take a bunch of wrong turns and get lost until we find something awesome or run out of gas and die in the wilderness.”

We made it less than a mile before we found something awesome. We stumbled upon The Butcher’s Arms in Fringford. It was just too cool, and though we’d both been to pubs before this was one in a small village where some houses still had thatch roofs and had been in walking distance from us the whole time- yet we never knew about it. There was a beautiful football pitch right out front that ran along the roadside and suddenly we both knew we had chanced upon something worth exploring. It hadn’t taken long to discover a reason to “get lost” and it had taken even less time to break my best friend of his sullen mood.

The pub was a small building with low ceilings and a vestibule so tiny it was almost impossible for two people to enter at once and deal with the doors both opening toward each other. There was a dartboard, a bar that wrapped around through two rooms, a ladies’ restroom indoors while gents had to use the “loo” outside, and a small group of regular locals that wound up welcoming Jeff and I like we were long-lost friends. It was like Cheers, where everybody knows your name (not difficult in a village with a population of 613) and it came to epitomize everything a pub should be in my mind.

Over the years we frequented the pub and became regulars ourselves. We made strong friendships with villagers there. We went to Fringford’s Guy Fawkes Day celebration. We had Sunday roast dinner with Steve, and had his family over to our house where I cooked them tacos. We witnessed the little feuds and bickering between families in Fringford. We stayed awake all night laying in the grass of the pitch with blowguns trying to kill a feral cat for the pubmaster (mischief!). We held going away parties for G.I.s heading to a new assignment, and if we really liked a co-worker (Sean Smith) then we brought them into the fold.

The pub changed hands over the years, with new ownership. The faces of regulars changed as some quit showing up and others joined the rotation. Reviews from last year make it sound much more insular and not as warm or fun as the fond memories I hold. That’s the nature of things, I suppose. But I have two years worth of extremely fond memories: great friendships and truly crazy antics thanks to Sid Beckett and the Banbury crew of Comic Connections and some truly dear friends made by one wrong turn that lead to the Butcher’s Arms.

My point with all of this isn’t too dissimilar from a recurring theme in my ideology. Heck, it’s exactly the same at the heart: go have an adventure. It’s imperative to having a full life, even if it’s just a “wrong” turn someday. You don’t have go scuba diving in the Indian Ocean or learn how to fly a plane (I got the chance to “take the stick” when I was in 7th grade, learn about yaw, etc.). You can have an adventure with something as small as seeing some small road off the Interstate and taking the time to find out where it goes. Or finding a small town within an hour of you that the Interstate doesn’t even touch and discover Peppersauce Cave.  Or simply go spend the weekend in your state’s capitol, another large city, another state … Just go DO something! Go SEE something! And go discover anything that you never knew was there. Don’t hole up and be a hermit. Don’t constrain yourself to a small existence. Don’t self-impose limitations that aren’t really there. Take a dance or a cooking class at the local community college. Find a martial arts class. Learn something, so somewhere, and discover a story to tell. Because it will drastically enrich your life.

And it can start with something as simple as a wrong turn, trying to get lost.

When Flying Sucks

This post began as a simple copy/paste of some notes I jotted down on my laptop during the second leg of my trip home from Seychelles on 29 Feb 2011. There have been some edits to add links, and where I”ve learned even more, but for the most part it remains intact, as typed out quite uncomfortably on the fold out tray table of a Delta 767 in flight.

Travel notes-

Charles de Gaulle airport is HUGE, and once I was in another terminal (E as opposed to F, which is ugly enough to be a modern art masterpiece) it was much nicer than my trip down to Seychelles. There aren’t many places to eat and it’s dreadfully expensive, but lovely nonetheless. I think that was especially so because the French were very kind. I simply thanked them and would attempt to speak what French I could, but they were very nice and helpful the entire time. (I didn’t have my boarding passes for the last leg of the journey once I left Qatar Airways and needed some help.)

The problems began once I boarded the plane to depart Paris. Well, just one problem, really. Delta Airlines. Or to be more accurate, flying coach on an American carrier, it seems. On the single longest leg of my journey, an 11 hour flight, we’re in an old Boeing 767. On a 4-hour flight with Qatar Airways I had my own LCD video screen with on-demand choices. On an 11-hour flight we have small TV monitors hanging every fifteen feet along and above the aisle. On a 7-hour flight Qatar Airways feeds you twice. On an 11-hour with Delta, you get lunch. And the real kick to the tenders came when I walked through first/business class, then through “Economy Comfort” (just as narrow, but about 4 inches more leg room)… and then found my seat directly aft of the wing and engine. Compared to the Airbus (I’m told the plural is “Airbi”) I’ve been riding on, this thing is LOUD. Bose QC15 headphones only manage to turn it down to a dull roar. And as I try and type a draft of this blog post I have an empty blue pleather headrest shoved back into me and closing my laptop screen as the guy in front of me reclines.

How does this happen? That’s a silly question, I know EXACTLY how this happens- Delta is willing to fly this route the cheapest and everywhere they cut costs is painfully obvious. Meaning that it pains me to be on this loud and cramped plane for this long. (At least it’s still better than the Paris-Seychelles flight on Air Seychelles! That was easily the worst flight of my life!)

The other thing I noted is Qatar Airways’ in-flight magazine has ads for nice hotels and Mont Blanc or Tag Heuer, and Delta’s in-flight magazine has ads for lawn ornaments and that Stauer 1930s Dashtronic watch they advertise for $99 in Popular Mechanics. You know the one: it looks really cool and retro or art deco, but is really just filled with the same cheap Chinese movement that’s shoved into a bunch of mail-offer garbage.

I understand this. It’s a matter of budget. And frankly, on Delta’s part, it probably makes fairly good sense. People chose this flight because it was cheap, I imagine. That’s likely why my company bought tickets for me traveling this way: SAVE MONEY. And when saving money is the priority of the customer, why would you flash $200 dress shirts in front of the crowd a la Esquire, Maxim, or Stuff magazine? It’s not the target demographic for that product. I may drool over a Tag Heuer Carrera wristwatch from time to time, but when reality sets in I simply can’t justify spending that kind of money when $300 gets me a “Swiss Made” watch from Oakley military sales that can handle diving down to 10 bar. For TAG’s $6,000, that thing had better shave an hour off every flight and long layover I have for the rest of my life! So obviously, we have a disparity of demographic.

My hangup is this: I really enjoy “the finer things” every now and then. Or perhaps (and more likely) I’m so coddled by my upper-middle class life that I’ve become an obnoxious whiner when I have to “slum it”. Because I was still flying economy on Qatar Airways, but the difference is so great that I imagine flying First Class with them would be a vacation unto itself. It’s easy to see why they win so many SKYTRAX Awards. And it’s downright embarrassing that there’s not a single American carrier in the SKYTRAX Top 10. I have this mental picture of Orville and Wilbur Wright rolling over in their graves with the state of American air transportation today.

Even if I can’t get business class, being seated forward of the engines would be a huge improvement. I doubt I can, but I need to start asking the INCREDIBLY nice and wonderful woman that does my travel arrangements what can be done about that. Or maybe it’s simply worth paying out of my pocket for business class. One thing is for sure: I need to join EVERY airline’s rewards club, just in case.

I also want an iPad, for typing on with longer battery life than my MacBook Pro. I’ve considered a MacBook Air, but I figure an iPad gets me magazine apps and newspapers as well as movies. And a Kindle (sorry, Apple) for lots of books but even better reading surface and battery life. (NO! Not a Kindle Fire! That thing is a compromise in every direction, with the sole thing people praise being it’s price. I’ll keep my $200 or spend it on something with better functionality.)

Alright. Whether it’s the two pair of headphones I’m evaluating, or the food cart’s impending arrival, I’m thinking that’s enough for now.

     Summary: U.S. domestic airlines are terrible, and TSA treating us all like barefoot suspects doesn’t help. If you want to enjoy a flight, fly on a foreign carrier from an airport outside the U.S.

     P.S.- They just announced they lost galley power in First Class, so they’re going to reset a breaker that will also disable/reinitialize the in-flight entertainment on the whole plane. I’m a little surprised at the wiring, and can’t imagine something like that on Qatar Airways.