Monthly Archives: March 2012

Your Intrepid Traveler in the Rust Belt

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 P. 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. HA-HA-HA ! 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 multitask.

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Introduction to the Intrepid Traveler

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 Texas , 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 like 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 therapeutic 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 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 wavy lines and violin music).
I will post the actual stories when I have time. Maybe in the next century.
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Mass Transit for Dummies

Well, here I am in another Asian country.  This time it is Thailand and I am in the city of Bangkok.  I hear it is a huge city.  But since I took the taxi from the airport directly to my hotel, and it was midnight, I really have no idea of how large the place is.  All I know is that it takes frikkin forever to get anywhere in a cab because of all the traffic.  This is a city of 12 million inhabitants.  They all are very petite.  They would have to be tiny because there is no way 12 million full size people would fit here.  Some would flake off the edge of the city like an overstuffed pie crust.

They all look alike to me, of course, because I am a round-eyed westerner.  They all have dark straight hair, are about four feet tall, and have a blank stare on their face, sorta like democrats. (Editor’s note:  Careful readers may remember that a similar comment about Democrats was used in my story about Korea.  Since I never miss an opportunity to make fun of Democrats, I will continue to re-use this timeless bit of sarcasm.)  The citizens here are very nice, but it would be helpful if they could say their “V’s”.  There is another letter of the alphabet they don’t care to use either, but I can’t remember what it is.  Anyway, I digress.

I am here on business.  I am attending a technical conference and my company has an exhibit showing off our technical expertise.  This will be three fun days of trying to explain my designs to people who are probably just being polite by listening to me.  They barely understand “Engrish” and, with my Texas accent, I can hardly speak it.  It makes for either a long difficult conversation or a short quick nod of the head and a smile which means “I don’t have a clue what was just said”.

In my attempts to be a more cosmopolitan traveler, I decided to use the Mass Transit system from my hotel to the conference center.  But I lost a few “Man Points” by asking for directions from the hotel concierge.  He gave me a street map and circled where the hotel was and where I was going.  Easy enough, even for this Intrepid Traveler.

The easy part was finding the train system.  It was the giant elevated concrete structure about a hundred yards from the hotel.  It was mid-morning and reasonably cool, but after lugging my computer case up four flights of stairs to get to the level of the trains, I already sweated enough to need another shower.  I now had to figure out which station I was sweating in, and compare it to street map I had been given.  But the train map had no resemblance to the street map.  I wasn’t even sure the street map was for the same city.

I made some uneducated guesses as to what platform I was to go to, but then could not figure out how to buy the ticket.  There were machines that took coins and there was a real live human behind glass.  I chose to deal with the human.  I thought I told him where I needed to go and I gave him paper money.  He gave me coins back and pointed in a general direction as added assistance.  He was pointing right back to the coin operated ticket machine.  Apparently all I had done with him was get exact change.

OK, I stood in front of this ticket machine that had a lot of squiggly lines (Sanscrit, or Hindu or graffiti; not sure) and numbers on it.  Fortunately, there was a British flag on one button.  I pushed it.  The squiggly lines became words.  Or I presumed they were words.  I think they were the station names.  But I found it impossible to know which station I needed.  They all sounded and look so similar.  What station name did the Change Maker say I needed to go to?   Was the name:   KNOT HEER, HOP SING, or BIC PEN?  Perhaps he said YAN QUI?  or U LOS?   I thought it had some K sound in it somewhere.

As if standing there, like a goat looking at a light switch was not embarrassing enough, I had to be helped by a family from India.  They didn’t know where I was going either, but they at least could show me how to get the machine to spit out a ticket. Thus armed with a credit card sized ticket, I approached the entry area.  After four tries, I finally oriented the four sided ticket properly into the gate opening mechanism.  I followed the crowd of Petite People.  A train came in to the station and opened its doors. I squeezed myself in and hoped for the best.  The train doors closed and off we went.  I had a rough idea of what name to listen for as we chugged along above the city traffic, but the recorded voice announcing the stations was so faint I could barely hear it.

After a few stops, I decided it was time to dis-embark.  I found another train map and started to do more comparisons with the street map.  I slowly started to realize that I had traveled in EXACTLY the wrong direction from where I wanted to go, of course.  I could keep relating more details of this sad tale of ineptitude, but the short version is that I finally did get to the conference.  At the end of the day I didn’t feel my manhood could stand a return trip on the Mass Transit of Doom, so I took a cab back to my hotel.

Mass transit travel and I do not seem to get along.  Once, a few years ago, I was in Rome with my family.  I wanted to go see the Coliseum since we were leaving Rome the next day.  The family was too tired, so I went on my own.  My wife told me to take the Red Line, or perhaps she said take the Blue Line from our hotel to the Coliseum.  She said I couldn’t miss it.  Well, those four words always spell doom for me.  If someone says:  You can’t miss it, you can bet your boots I will miss it.

My wife was referring to me taking the Red or Blue SUBWAY.  Instead, I took the Red or Blue painted CITY BUS.  Poor decision.  After several hours of waiting for the bus to drive past the coliseum, I finally gave up (losing man points again) and asked the driver when we would get there.  He looked at me like I was a lunatic.  Then he said something in Italian, I suppose, then opened the bus door, and rudely gestured me out.

They say necessity is the mother of invention so I wish I could say I came up with a clever solution to my problem.   But no. I resorted to pestering strangers for directions.  (losing more Man Points) Eventually I figured out where I was and what direction to walk.  It took me until dark to find the coliseum.  By then it was closed.  All I could do was stare at the outer walls of that magnificent edifice.  I felt defeated.  Like a Christian about to be fed to the Entertainment.  I was tired of trying to be a savvy consumer of big city mass transit.  I had more money than pride, so I wimped out and took a cab back to the hotel.

Some things in life just never change.

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