Tuesday, November 3, 2009
My Omaha Cab Driver
As Max spoke, I could not place his accent. Max said he was from Burkina Faso, a small nation in Africa. As all of my readers know, I am a world traveler. I have been to more than 25 countries, from the most cosmopolitan locales in Europe to the dreariest mud holes in Asia. I am intimately familiar with the global map, and can even spell MAP, when pressed to do so, But, I had never heard of Burkina Faso. Max said the country of Niger (pronounced Ny-Jer) borders Burkina Faso, (pronounced Burkina Faso). He said that perhaps I was not familiar with it because it has been recently renamed. The former name was Upper Volta. Ahh yes, good old Upper Volta. I wonder how Lower Volta is doing these days? I am not an expert on languages, but if the name Upper Volta, needed to be changed it does not seem to me that Burkina Faso is an improvement. Why not come up with something simpler, like “Arm pit” or “Not Nigeria” or perhaps “Formerly known as Prince”?
Speaking of Nigeria, Max said his country is located near Nigeria. He was not too keen on the place. “Nigeria is a hotbed of corruption and lawlessness”. He did not use those exact words, more like “it is a bery, bery bad place, Mon”. Max asked if I had ever heard of a Prince in Nigeria who desperately needed to send funds to my checking account. He warned me that it was a scam. A scam originating from Nigeria? Impossible!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
the very first Intrepid Traveler report
I am still alive in the Far East, at least I think so. I have been gone so long that I’m sure the kids, wife and animals will have forgotten me. At least the VISA card people will remember me. They get messages from me every day. It is expensive in Singapore, but not so bad in Indonesia. I spent 395,000 Rupes in Indonesia for a first class hotel. The exchange rate made it come to about $40 U.S.
The food has been good with one exception. I was served deep fried chicken feet, which were not very good. I was told the fried duck feet would have been better…I’ll take their word for it. I’ve not seen a single dog, cat or even any road kill. Makes me wonder about the food sources in the restaurants.
The poverty, dirty air and 14 million people that live in Jakarta make me think that Mexico isn’t such a bad place after all. If ANY “poor” American ever complains about their own living conditions, we should send them, with one-way airfare, to Indonesia. They would learn that they live like kings compared to many people in the world.
Well, time to go. I must look for some roadkill, er, dinner. Bill
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Introduction to the Intrepid Traveler
It was a dark and stormy night….
Well….it’s not very dark. And it’s not stormy, but as I write this, it is night. Right now it is actually quite nice here in SE Tx, in my secret lair, where I sit and create this first blog. Like Al Gore inventing the internet, this night will soon be forgotten.
Blog. Now who came up with such a term? I feel I need to wash my hands after typing it. The name sounds likd something that it is oozing up from beneath the toilet. Something is oozing up from our toilet but I would rather do this than deal with the ooze.
Now, as an explanation of why the heck these little stories were written, you must understand that I do not have much of a social life. And when I travel for business, I have nothing fun to occupy my mind. Therefore, I observe and record for my own pleasure, the things that occur when I travel. It is theraputic for me and unfortunate for the reader. Oh well. You don’t have to read any of this drivel. Take that as a warning.
These stories probably date back to the beginning of this century. Damn, that makes it sound like I must have written the first ones on parchment. But I didn’t. Since I am a confirmed Conservative, and don’t like change, I used a clay tablet. I remember writing the first story as if it were yesterday (cue the wavey lines and violin music).
I will post the actual stories when I have time. Maybe in the next century.
This is a follow-up to my column written May 13 where I wrote that I must be the dumbest man alive.
In response to what I wrote, I must have received thousands, or hundreds, ….OK two very kind notes from readers that told me I couldn’t be the dumbest man in the world, but could easily be number two.
Actually, both my daughters wrote loving notes to me telling me how smart I always made them feel. I know the notes were from them because they were addressed, as usual, to “Dear Sir or Madam”. I read their kind remarks many times so as not to miss any nuances to what they wrote. I did not want to make the same mistake I did with one reader’s letter. I thought it was an invitation when it was, in reality, a restraining order.
That blog post that I wrote where I questioned my own intelligence was inspired by my frustration from trying to get my lawn tractor fixed. My wife, the fetching Mrs. Intrepid Traveler, and I live in a rural area and we have lots of acreage around our house. I purchased a riding lawn tractor in order to mow the grass quickly. The drive belt kept slipping off of the mower deck and it eventually broke. I do not have an owner’s manual because I bought this mower second hand, naturally, to save money. So being a modern, tech savvy guy, I went to the Toro Lawnmower website to look up the part and find out where to buy it. I could not find any numbers on the website that matched the serial number or model number of my mower. I was getting angrier the longer I searched.
I even wrote to the “Contact Us” address on the Toro website for some help, although I knew it would be days before I would get a response. I told my wife of my dilemma, and that I could not find ANYTHING that remotely matched my mower on the Toro website. “Toro? Why are you looking on the Toro website?” she said in a perplexed voice. “You have a Troy-Bilt” mower”. Duh. I had just wasted hours on this wild goose chase and worse yet, I knew that the Toro guys were gonna put my email up on the bulletin board as their dumbest question ever submitted.
And the second stupid thing I did was to forget to include the Toro story in the very blog post which was inspired by that incident. Had I included it, perhaps not even my daughters would have been able to overlook my folly. No wonder both were so eager to get married and change their last names.
Again, thanks for the warm words of encouragement that I am sure you readers are thinking, but apparently are not sending. I enjoyed reading all of the ones I did get, except one. I definitely could have done without the note from the Director of Rusk State Mental Hospital, who sent me an Admissions Form.
Greetings Gentle Readers. Today’s writing effort does not have anything to do with traveling, so if you cannot stand to drift off subject for even one exciting installment of the Intrepid Traveler, I suggest you stop reading this right now. Of course, I have been suggesting you stop reading this blog for years but some of you must be deranged. I hope that the remaining readers…OK, reader (thanks Mom) of this blog will bear with me as I discuss and review an event that I have been preparing for now for many months. Without giving away any industrial secrets or legal positions, I thought I would tell you about my first experiences with the legal profession.
I am learning that Lawyers and their minions live in a completely different world than I do. Their world is a world of black and white, yes or no, where I live in the world of grayscale. I don’t see things as having yes or no answers. Life is too complicated for me to boil it down to yes no / black white. I am a simple man, with simple wants and needs. I want to start my day with a hot cup of coffee. I want a clean, orderly house, and I want the power of Invisibility. I am still working on getting the clean house. But, as usual, I digress.
This legal matter I mentioned is a law suit between a giant multibillion dollar corporation and the small company that I work for. There was an incident and damages, but thankfully no injuries. I was selected as the Corporate Representative for this case since my knowledge of the situation exceeded that of our janitor. I have spent months reviewing documents, reading emails and watching Perry Mason re-runs to prepare for my deposition. I have been given thousands of pages of notes by our team of attorneys so that I could master the subject. I got very good at carrying those massive files around under my arms while walking around the office. This sorta reminded me of being back in college, when I’d go to the library; gather a giant pile of important looking textbooks on my table, then take a nap.
Anyway, the day came for my deposition. The meeting was in a very imposing skyscraper in the heart of the city. I was ushered in to a large conference room. I sat at the very end of the long table. At the other end of the table was a camera man and video equipment. My lawyers had prepared me for this and told me to wear a coat and tie to look “professional” for the camera. They did not, however, instruct me to wear pants. Oops. Soon the room was swarming with attorneys, the corporate reps of the other companies involved, and a few street performers. (it did not take long for the Mime to get annoying. The Mime was standing in the back of the room silently depicting me, with a noose around my neck) My stomach was in knots. My heart rate was off the chart. My spleen was having a world class jousting match with my gall bladder. But on the outside I was cool as a cucumber. I was sure my uncontrollable drooling would stop before the camera started rolling. I picked a bad day to stop smoking.
Each team of opposing lawyers had a lead person designated to ask me questions. Keep in mind that this incident happened over six years ago, and I cannot remember how to find my garage, so you can imagine how difficult it has been to prepare to respond to their queries. When one lawyer exhausted his list of questions, the next lawyer at the table took over. This hand off of inquisitors happened four times. I was picturing in my mind a pistol revolver and each attorney was a potentially deadly bullet in one of those chambers. When the last lawyer was finished, they started the cycle again! The first guy now had a whole new set of questions based on what my previous responses had been.
But surprisingly I am feeling like Errol Flynn sword fighting with the King’s guards. I am thrusting and paring and deftly avoiding their razor sharp questions. If only there was a candelabra on the table to whack the top off. But after several hours of this it was getting fatiguing. The round-robin questioning just never seemed to end. For those of you who are familiar with the movie “Airplane!”, there was a scene where a hysterical woman was slapped in the face by her companion in order to calm her down. Another passenger on the plane steps up and slaps her too. The camera pans away from the scene and you see a long line of passengers waiting for their turn to slap the woman. Some holding baseball bats and Billie clubs. Well today, in this conference room, I was just like that woman. I picked a bad day to give up heroin.
Late in the day, after endless testimony, they wanted to get on the official record of my lack of technical expertise. “Sir, are you a Corrosion Engineer? I couldn’t stand playing it straight and proper any longer and said “No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night”. There was a long moment of silence. It was deathly quiet in the room. I could hear the steel beams in the building creaking. Then the room exploded with laughter. I could see in their faces a look of dumbfounded confusion. No one in the room could believe that I would insert an answer in my sworn testimony referring to a hotel commercial. From that moment on, I felt even stronger. More empowered. Suddenly I was the champion of the Little Guy, taking on these fancy hired legal guns armed solely with my wit and charm. At least that is what it seemed like in my fried brain.
The session finally ended around 6pm that night. I was ecstatic that it was over. I had survived! I still felt strong until they told me they needed me back for another deposition. This next one would be for my personal knowledge and involvement in this case, not as the Corporate Representative. Damn. I should not have used up all my wit and charm. I guess this means I have to pay for another room at the Holiday Inn Express. Oh, and to answer the question posed at the beginning of this piece: Have I stopped beating my wife? Answer: “No, I did not know there was a time limit”.
Your Intrepid Traveler in the Michigan Rust Belt. July 2008
Here I am, in a cab, going from Detroit’s Metro airport to Utica, Michigan. The cab driver is a foreigner. Based on his accent, the cut of his clothing, the spelling of his last name and other subtle clues, I have used my world traveling experience and my powers of deduction to conclude that this chap is originally from India. Also, he told me he was.
The driver is wearing a turban. I have always wondered if those things had any functional value or are they just for looks?, Just like parsley. He is using a Garmin GPS that is speaking English. That is a good sign, but you’d think it would have an Indian accent. I expected to hear it say “turn right in one mile. Why would I lie to you?” This cab driver must not buy his own gas because he has no clue about conserving fuel. He does not understand the concept of slow acceleration or deceleration. It is either full throttle or full brake. It is amazing that I can continue to type on my laptop while the cab is turning on two wheels as we change lanes.
His name tag says he is Rastaffahdullah Shiknoterluciferous. I can’t tell if that is a name, a location, a religion or a no smoking sign. This driver is definitely from India. Or got his driver training there The traffic is fairly heavy and he is multi-tasking by using his cell phone, the two-way radio, and punching the hotel address into the Garmin, all while nimbly dodging trucks and other cars. Oh, and he is also snacking. Wait a minute. I might have been too hasty in guessing this driver’s origin. He just used his turn signal. That driving technique is unheard of in India.
The road signs all mention locations which sound familiar, even though I have never been up here for business before. I see signs for “Lansing”, “Dearborn”, the Ford Museum and other locations that I have heard of before. But here’s a shock: there is apparently an entirely different country up here, very close by. They call it Canadia. It is full of Canadianns. They are very grumpy, I hear. They have a ritual of throwing out perfectly good coffee to signal the end of the work day. I would be grumpy too if I lived in a country where the national dress code specified wearing a plaid cap with wooly earflaps.
I have been keeping my eye peeled for the Harold Ploegstra Museum, but have not spotted it yet. Harold is my father-in-law and he grew up in the state. Perhaps they do not advertise the museum in order to keep the crowds manageable. This is the state that Harold made famous with his description of the weather: 10 months of winter and 2 months of poor sledding. But today is lovely. 75 degrees and sunny. And no visible air pollution. I guess that is the upside to zero economic activity here in the Rust Belt. This must be Al Gore’s dream city. One giant carbon offset for the rest of the nation.
I am here to add some economic activity of my own. I am hoping to sell my equipment to the evil oil companies that have pipelines in Michigan and Canadia. There is that other country’s name again. It is a wonderful thing to be able to exploit the masses that depend on petroleum and other toxins. I sell the equipment that controls the flow of that stuff to them. I can cut off the supply of oil or gas in a moments notice if I get word from the fat cats on Wall Street that there is an ounce too much product available in the marketplace.
“We” (me and my fellow industry kingpins) have been amazed that the public hasn’t changed their driving habits even with the price of gasoline reaching $4.00 a gallon. Geez. Had we known this, we would have jacked the price up years ago. Some of us Big Oil men have even colluded on wind energy. We are quietly buying up all the rights to wind farm acreage, with the plan to press congress for tax credits to develop an energy source that is completely uneconomical. Just like we did with corn ethanol. Life is good when congress is in session.
I need to wrap up this report so I can continue develop my plans to exploit the poor and gullible. And I need to tell Rastaffahdullah Shiknoterluciferous what exit to take. I don’t trust his GPS. Now that I have had a closer look at it, it turns out to be a video game. This guy really can mulit-task.
Hello Gentle readers. Those of you who follow this blog, and who are not incarcerated, need to find something better to do. But, if you are a reader, you may know that when I am not gallivanting around the globe, I invest in income producing real estate back near where I live. I buy foreclosed homes as a way to diversify my money away from the stock market. I don’t like having all my investments under the control of some fat cat banker or greedy stock broker. I would rather be the fat and greedy one and control my investments personally.
At the time of the incident to be discussed here, I owned four single family homes that had been foreclosures. I fixed them up, and leased them out. I have not had any major problems yet and I have been doing it for two years now.
A new foreclosure came on to the market that I was interested in. It was a very nice little home in a typical middle income neighborhood. It was all brick, three bedrooms, two baths and had a nice back yard and was on a quiet street. It had been recently painted on the outside and the inside looked good. I planned to re-paint the inside and put in new carpet. It should have been a painless, low cost rehab. Since I am a guy, I think about the mechanicals of a house more than the floor plan or paint colors. This house had a new HVAC system. And it had copper water pipes which indicated to me that the original builder put in more quality in to this home than a home that just used galvanized steel water pipe.
The day I was supposed to finalize the purchase of this house I decided to swing by the property to check it out one more time. I discovered that the outside air conditioner compressor was missing. Thieves had stolen it. All that was left was the small concrete pad that it sat on. Crap! That was a problem.
I made a few frantic phone calls to see what it would cost me to replace the outside unit. The prices ranged from $500 for a used unit, to $2,900 if the inside unit had to be replaced to match the new outside unit. Crap again! I had my Real Estate agent tell the seller, a big fat cat banker, that if they did not lower the price by $3,500, the purchase was off. They came back with their counter-offer, which was a $500 reduction. I came back with a $2,000 lower price. The seller acquiesced to my stern demands and reduced the price by $2,000. HA! Now I could buy a $500 used A/C unit for the house and have an extra $1500 to use for putting more tile flooring in the house. What a wheeler-dealer I was! So, I signed all the paperwork, and now owned this cute little house.
It was a few days later before I had a chance to go inside the property. I was showing the house to my wife when, as luck would have it, the city water dept. worker stopped by and turned on the water for us. We suddenly heard a loud gushing sound. My wife and I look at each other. “What’s that noise?” It sounded like a water hose blasting the wall in the garage.
I ran outside. The City worker said he turned the water back off since there was water pouring out of the attic and running down the outside brick. NOT GOOD. I was astonished. I went in to the garage and saw that the water heater had been pulled away from the wall and all the copper pipes and connections to it were cut and mangled up. The power cable to it was also severed. What on earth could have caused that? How weird! But that did not explain why water would be coming out of the attic.
I pulled down the retractable stairway and scrambled up in to the dark attic. My flashlight zeroed in on the area where the water would have been pouring out. Everything was soaked. The insulation looked like a giant serving of over cooked linguini. The sheetrock had a half inch of water puddled up on it. And I suddenly realized that the source of the water leak was a ragged stub of copper pipe sticking out of the ceiling rafters. I looked around and realized that all the copper pipes in the attic were gone. Every foot of it. And most of the copper electrical wires that crisscrossed the attic were gone too. I was dumbstruck.
I slowly crawled back down the stairs. My wife was standing in the garage, anxiously waiting for an explanation. I could hardly spit out the results of my examination. I told her what I found and she was dumbstruck too. That often happens to her when I open my mouth, but that is something she has learned to handle, with the help of her psychologist.
So, fast forward a few days later. I found a plumber who could quickly replace the piping system. Then I found an electrician to replace and repair the damaged electrical wiring. Then I had to replace the water heater and rewire it. The last item was to replace the outside A/C unit and repair the damaged inside unit. All total, the cost for all these repairs were around $5,000. Ouch. That $2,000 I got deducted from the house price looks very inadequate right now. The pathetic thing is that the thieves probably got less than $50 bucks for the scrap copper.
A few days later I called the Sheriff’s Dept. to discuss the incident. I didn’t really think it would do any good but one of the contractors told me that the police were taking this sort of crime seriously, so I reported it. A sheriff came out and took some basic information from me. He asked why I didn’t report the crime right after it happened. I told him I thought it was a waste of time. I asked him what they would be doing to investigate. He said they were too short handed to investigate, and it would be a waste of time. Arrrrgh.
But this tale did have a happy ending. My wife and I installed a lovely tile floor in the kitchen and entry. The painter did a great job patching the holes that the plumber had to cut in the walls to connect new pipe to the un-stolen pipe. And, best of all, I found a nice family to move in and make a home out of the house. They hope to buy it one day. I just hope we don’t have to call the plumber, electrician, or the police again. But I make no bets about whether my wife will need to keep that appointment with the psychologist.
Traveling to the Middle East from Singapore Sun, 26 May 2002
Another report from your intrepid traveler…
I have now changed time zones for the 6th time on this trip. I was supposed to return toHouston May 22nd but my Middle East office asked me to come toDubai, in theUnited Arab Emirates, to put on a presentation with a potential customer. And hey, I was in the neighborhood, just 7 hours and $700 away by Emirates Airlines (fondly known by me as Air Jihad), so I delayed my trip home.
As a side note, on one of my in-flight meals I was provided with eating utensils, as would be expected. But with all the security concerns that abound in the airline industry, it seemed strange to me that they provided all plastic forks and spoons EXCEPT a metal knife. I figured it was a trick so I did NOT commandeer the plane with my knife. But I digress… I am now in sunnyDubai, where it is a balmy 42 degrees centigrade IN THE SHADE. (That’s 108 degrees F to you roundeyed westerners) But, THERE IS NO SHADE since nothing will grow in this gawd-awful land of ragheaded, sheet wearing, camel jockeys. To illustrate just how hot it is, there was an automobile company, Citroen, who sold their first car inDubaiwhich featured a sloping windshield that allowed sunlight to cheerfully fill the vehicle. The problem was that, with all that glass, the heat building up in the car caused the dash board and the steering wheel to melt like cheese in a microwave oven. So much for style over function.. I wanted to try the old “fry an egg on the sidewalk trick”, but the chickens here all lay hardboiled eggs…
I got up at5AMthis morning to drive toAbu Dhabi, the capital of the seven Emirates (a loose confederation of city states) to see the customer that this segment of the trip was dedicated to. We ate breakfast inAbu Dhabi, at a very nice hotel restaurant. They think a little differently here in the Middle East…maybe it’s the heat, but I saw a big poster of an upcoming festival….celebrating Asparagus. Yes, this tasty vegetable sensation has it’s own holiday weekend here inAbu Dhabi. Too bad my dance card is already filled or I would work this timeless bit of heaven into my plans…
The customer did actually like what I told him and they have need of over $1million in valves for some projects coming up. He wants to use our product, so I believe the extra time, effort and expense may have been worth it. I later met with the owner of my company, who happened to be in Dubai this week also, and he wants me to plan a trip to Cairo, Bangladesh, Syria, Palestine, ……hey!!!, is he trying to get rid of me??
Anyway, I am done in the Middle East for this trip, and my flight BACK toSingaporeleaves bright and early at2:45AMtomorrow morning. I get the pleasure of spending some quality time with my knees which will be tucked under my chin. I then stay inSingaporefor a half a day and then fly toTokyoand on toHouston. Life just doesn’t get any better than this. Of course, I also like rancid milk….So Gwen, please pick me up at the International Terminal “D” at Bush, on Tuesday, May 28th at1:45PM. Please have some crowd control arranged for. I know how Houstonians love to greet a returning hero. I will try to call you fromTokyoto reconfirm that you are still married to me. It will probably be in the middle of the night for you, so tell the sailors to expect a call.
This may be the last report from your intrepid traveler, dear reader, unless something interesting happens. But why should things change now? I took a few photos during this adventure and hope to create a photo essay of the trip. I am sure a Pulitzer is in there somewhere. So it is onward and upward on Air Jihad.
Signing off for now, Bill
I have lost my cell phone and a credit card on this trip, so if bad things happen in threes, I can hardly wait for the third thing. Maybe my wife….Gwen has been very patient with me up until now…. Before this trip came up, we had planned to take a short vacation after she got out of school for the semester and before her summer school started. Well, the day she got out of school I left on this trip and now I won’t get home until her summer school starts. So I guess I’ll start planning on doing a planning.
Random thoughts stolen from other smarter, more creative people, who don’t know how to use copy write protection, apparently.
1.Life isn’t like a box of chocolates, it’s more like a jar of
jalapenos, you never know what’s going to burn your ass.
2.Tell me what you need, and I’ll tell you how to get along without it.
3.Needing someone is like needing a parachute. If he isn’t there the
first time, chances are you won’t be needing him again.
4.I don’t have an attitude problem, you have a perception problem.
5.Last night I lay in bed looking up at the stars in the sky and I
thought to myself, where the fuck is the ceiling?
6.My reality check bounced.
7.Everyone is someone else’s weirdo.
8.Never argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level then
beat you with experience.
9.A pat on the back is only a few centimeters from a kick in the
10.After any salary raise, you will have less money at the end of the
month than you did before.
11.The more Shit you put up with, the more Shit you are going to get.
12.Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves for they shall never
cease to be amused.
13.Men have two emotions:
Hungry and Horny. If you see him without a boner, make him a
14.How can you tell which bottle contains the PMS medicine?
It’s the one with bite marks on the cap.
15.No matter how fine you think a chick is, somewhere there is someone
who is tired of her crap.
16. Life is like a shit sandwich. The more bread you have, the less shit you